Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Gallows Court

Gallows Court is a new standalone mystery by Martin Edwards. Due out 17th Sept 2018 from Poison Pen Press, it's 368 pages and will be available in paperback format. Other editions are available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. Mr. Edwards will be known to most classic mystery fans as a consultant for the British Library Crime Classics series as well as for his authorship of the modern Lake District series published by Poisoned Pen Press.

Despite being set in the interwar London period of classic mysteries, this book had a lot more of a noir thriller vibe for me than a classic golden age 'Christie' feel.  The bad guys are archetypal, the plot devices rather devious.  It was unclear for much of the book whether the female lead character, Rachel, is evil, manipulative, devious, crazy or a combination of the above. The male protagonist, and indeed the supporting characters are well written and follow their internal motivations.  The dialogue is very well written and never clunky or distracting.

This is an intricate and very well plotted mystery which follows the rules of detective fiction for readers who enjoy racing against the fictional detective. The pacing is incredibly finely tuned and there are twists and turns aplenty. This is a solidly well written entertaining book from a gifted author.  It's not a classic golden age country house mystery, but it's a perfect satisfying (and edgy) read nonetheless.

It's definitely good enough for a reread, which is my benchmark for buying my own copy (and I intend to do so).

Five stars

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Long Call (Two Rivers #1)

The Long Call is the first book in a new procedural series by Ann Cleeves. Set in North Devon, Detective Matthew Venn has returned to the area where he grew up and is involved in solving a murder which keeps threatening to become entangled in his difficult past as well as his present life.

Ms. Cleeves is a masterful storyteller and her characterizations are nuanced and deftly rendered. The dialogue is pitch perfect but never intrusive to my ears (and it could so easily have been over the top).  The plotline revolves around a community centre for the county which hosts programs for people struggling with mental illness, depression, and developmental delays as well as functioning as an arts instruction and social centre for the members of the community.  The author's characterizations are sensitive and non-judgemental. The sense of place and atmosphere are so well done. It's a characteristic of her work that the setting actually becomes a significant character in the narrative and this series is no exception.

This was a joy to read, despite the potentially sad themes of mental illness and exploitation. The author is an exceedingly gifted craftsman and the plotting and pacing here are things of beauty. For non-UK readers, the slang and language are British idiom, but there's nothing undecipherable in context. The language is PG, there's no graphic sexual content.

Five stars. A strong start to a new series with an appealing procedural unit set in an interesting area of the English coastal countryside. I'm very much looking forward to more in this series.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes

Who Was Jack the Ripper?

Who Was Jack the Ripper?: All the Suspects Revealed is a semi-scholarly look at the possible identity of Jack the Ripper examining the 11 most likely persons of interest using modern forensic and detection techniques.

Due out 19th Nov 2019 by Pen & Sword on their True Crime imprint, it's 208 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

This is a dense, fact-heavy book written by acknowledged 'Ripperologists'. The 11 potential real identities of Jack the Ripper are elucidated one by one with verifiable historical facts and with a (mostly) logical progression. I found myself reading each chapter and thinking that the author/essayists made a darned good case for every one of the candidates.

The essays themselves are a variable lot. All are well written and enjoyable (if that can be said of the sometimes graphic descriptions of the crimes themselves). The stark reality of existence for the poorer classes in London (especially women without the protection of a family) is a red thread throughout the essays and the authors don't mince words.

I would recommend that readers not try to binge read the book, since the variable voices and information loading were sometimes overwhelming. (I kept having to look up which of the historical players was which).

Especially for historical true-crime aficionados, these essays will make a diverting read. (Spoiler alert, this is a treatise of 11 identified possible culprits, there are no eye-searing 100% incontrovertible denouements presented here). 

Very enjoyable.  Four stars.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes

Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Little Book of Drawing Dragons & Fantasy Characters

The Little Book of Drawing Dragons & Fantasy Characters is a tutorial book aimed at artists of all levels of experience. Released 3rd Sept by Quarto on their Walter Foster imprint, it's 128 pages and available in paperback format.

The book follows a logical, easy progression. The general introduction covers tools and materials, along with a short treatment of breaking subjects down into geometric shapes and refining them, adding details, shading and texture. It separates the drawing process into technical elements which can be studied and mastered by any student with practice.

The next couple of chapters are full of tutorials for dragons (western and eastern), wyverns, wyrms, centaurs, fairies, and 8 more.

The fourth and final section gives a short tutorial with projects for adding color with markers, colored pencils, and watercolors. There is a small amount of filler in the page content with 'practice pages' scattered throughout, but there is a lot of good instructional content here. I found a lot of useful information and added a couple of sketches to my sketchbook based on the siu riu (Japanese water dragon).

This would make a super gift with a set of pencils or drawing materials for learning realistic anatomy based graphic fantasy art.

Five stars.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Zentangle Dingbatz: Patterns & Projects for Dynamic Tangled Ornaments & Decorations

Zentangle Dingbatz is a new tutorial guide for alternative and additional Zentangle techniques by Brian Crimmins. Released 11th June 2019 by Fox Chapel on their Design Originals imprint, it's 160 pages and available in paperback format.

Zentangle is an accessible, fun, and valuable creativity exercise which packs a lot of mindfulness and stimulation into a very short time commitment. They're also really really fun to do. These extra techniques can be used on a variety of surfaces and in a variety of sizes. For readers who are previously unfamiliar with the process, the introductory chapter in this book explains the process including a step by step visual tutorial.

The book has an easily accessible and logical layout. The introduction (~17% of the page content) introduces basic Zentangle concepts, starting instructions, and supplies for doing the projects. The next chapter provides the reader with a thorough tutorial showing the differences between the basic Zentangle tile art and 'Dingbatz' alternatives.

The next chapters include specific project tutorials and inspiration including stationery, a handwritten 'zine, place cards, nametags, gift tags, journals, and several more.  Each of the chapters include a self-practice workbook area.

The final chapter includes a tangle gallery with tutorials for some of the tangle elements used in the book. There is also a brief acknowledgement section with some references for further reading (including the facebook group mention), as well as an author statement and a short index.

This is a useful, energetic, and accessible tutorial for all things Dingbatz.  The author has a refreshingly encouraging voice and readers of all levels of expertise can use this guide to produce beautifully useful finished objects. The style of zentangle art makes them organic and structured at the same time. I really love the look of them.

This would make a superlative gift along with some pens and tiles or a journal for a drawing friend (or oneself).

Five stars.  Well written, superbly photographed, accessible, and complete.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Meet Me in the Future: Stories

Meet Me in the Future is a collection of 16 works of short fiction by Kameron Hurley. Released 20th Aug 2019 by Tachyon, it's 288 pages and available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. All of the stories are previously published between 2006 and 2018, but collected here for the first time. The author has also written an erudite and thought provoking introduction (not previously published elsewhere) in which she discusses the writing process, some history, what things really mean (hint: don't be lazy, we should figure it out ourselves), and shares other thoughts about creativity, the writer's life, and the world in a really personal conversational style. I felt as though we were talking about deep stuff over the last half bottle of wine at 3 in the morning.

These stories are top shelf fiction. Every story I read was the best one yet. I had planned to read them slowly and savor them. That certainly didn't happen. I wound up reading late into the night and almost missed my work bus stop the next morning. It's difficult to pick out a standout story from the collection, but if forced, When We Fall was amazing and made me sniffle (in a good way).

It's unclear from the publishing info available online, but the eARC I received has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references. I hope the ebook release version does also. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. Presumably that feature will carry through to the final release version.

Five stars. Beautifully curated collection of extremely well written stories.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Mythos (Stephen Fry's Great Mythology #1)

 Mythos is a retelling with etymological asides and historical nuggets told by the inimitable Stephen Fry. Originally published in 2017, this reformatting and re-release for American readers, out 27th Aug from Chronicle Books, is 352 pages and will be available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats.

Stephen Fry is simply a treasure. He's erudite and genuinely funny, urbane but not stuffy. He's self deprecating and frighteningly intelligent but not above being naughtily delighted over a raunchy pun. No surprise, then, that he turned his prodigious writing talent to Greek mythology. Most readers will be familiar with the basic stories; what's new are the asides and footnotes. There are comments on etymology and how the genesis of these stories disappears into our human prehistory. There are also plenty of linguistic asides, showing the threads between the origins of words which are used down through history to today.

There is plenty of truly bloody horrifically violent material in the Greek mythos, but Mr. Fry finds the absurd, the comedic and gives it his own twist, and in a few cases left me gasping with laughter. There was a lot of obscure information with which I was unfamiliar, despite my unhealthy obsession with Bullfinch and Graves. Case in point, the not-terribly-well-known sea goddess Doris (seriously. Doris).  Even better, this volume is the first in a series.

Loved this. Laughed so much. This would make a superlative classroom support book or recommended text for history, classics, group read, home library, etc.

Five stars. I'll be revisiting this one again and again.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

Papercutting: Geometric Designs Inspired by Nature

Papercutting is a tutorial and theory guide to paper sculpture by Patricia Moffett. Due out 28th Sept 2019 from Schiffer publishing, it's 128 pages and is available in paperback (and possibly hardcover, it's not clear from the publishing info).

The inspirations for the pieces which are included in this volume come from nature. There are birds, insects, trees, and natural landscape features among the projects. The forms are fluid and dynamic. The detail on some of them is stunning. All are gorgeous. Even the most intricate pieces are built up of simple units into a deceptively complex whole.

The introductory chapters (~13% of the page content) cover tools, materials, Fibonacci sequences, cuts, folds, transferring patterns, scoring, using templates and more.
The following chapters contain the tutorials and are generally progressively more complex. There are really good general discussions of axes of symmetry and the subchapter on tesselations was concise and easy to understand.

I was so impressed with the inclusion of a really good discussion of the mathematics and symmetry of nature in the form of whorls on flowers, insects, fruits, shells, the growth pattern of trees and more. This is a layman accessible book, but it really adds to the depth and detail of the sculptures to know some theory behind the forms.

This would make a very good book for crafters as well as a wonderful resource book in a classroom art setting for middle-grades+ to tie-in with coordinating math lessons. It would be a good addition to the homeschooling library as well.

Five stars. Really lovely book.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

Wonton Terror (A Noodle Shop Mystery #4)

Wonton Terror is the fourth book in the Noodle Shop mystery series by Vivien Chien. Due out 27th Aug 2019 from St. Martin's Press, it's 320 pages and will be available in ebook and paperback formats.

This series was pretty strong from the start. Protagonist Lana Lee is a 20something trying to find her way independently and working in her very close knit family's noodle shop. Over the series, she's become (somewhat) unwillingly entangled in several mysteries. This entry in the series has much the same form as the others, a tragic accident (or was it murder?), lots of back history in her extended family and their families, interactions with her family and best friend Megan, and handsome cop boyfriend Adam.

Despite (or maybe because of) all the cozy mystery tropes, the book was such a fun read. From the punny title, to the oddball secondary characters, to the completely off the wall murder, to the denouement, it's a fun and comfortable read. The author is technically sound enough to make it read well, with a plot driven narrative that doesn't rush or lag; the pacing and tension are precise and controlled. I really care about Lana and her family. They're close (sometimes too close) but they have a good and functional and loving relationship with one another.

I sometimes get a fleeting thought about the setup and whether I should be so comfortable about the setting being written in an Asian shopping center with lots of tourist trade almost like an Asian theme park.  I wonder if I should be bothered that it doesn't bother me. My take on this is: the characters are varied, they aren't depicted weirdly or in an especially racist/stereotypical manner. They aren't all good guys or bad guys or anything like that. They have close, healthy family relationships and in fact, one of the themes of earlier books in the series is that main character Lana is the target of harassment for not being 'really' Asian since her dad is Caucasian. Anyhow, I don't think it's weird, and the series is delightful.

The language is clean (P.G., an occasional damn, nothing worse), there's a little romance, but nothing to scandalize, and the denouement is satisfying. I worry for poor Lana, being mixed up in all these murders. It reminds me of poor Jessica Fletcher; "It's ok, aunt Jess, don't come to the wedding, we don't want anyone dropping dead in the punch bowl"!

Five stars. Entertaining, escapist, fun reading.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

The Autoimmune Protocol Comfort Food Cookbook: 100+ Allergen-Free Recipes for the Delicious Foods You Crave

The Autoimmune Protocol Comfort Food Cookbook is an action plan and recipe collection for allergen free comfort foods by Michelle Hoover. Due out 10th Sept 2019 from Quarto on their Fair Winds Press imprint, it's  192 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

Most of us have comfort foods; foods which make us happy or are associated with special memories or family recipes which are tied up emotionally with our life experience. Getting a diagnosis which includes an auto-immune component can literally turn our lives upside down. This cookbook tries to replicate some of the comfort foods which are also autoimmune diet protocol compliant.

The book follows a logical progression. The introductory chapters explain what the AIP diet is, some history, a very basic explanation of the mechanics behind auto-immune responses, along with a list of non-inflammatory foods and foods to avoid. The intro includes an explanation of the four phases of the diet. The author (and many dieticians) recommends keeping a food journal to gauge the body's reactions to reintroduced foods.

The next chapters contain recipes arranged by meal category: breakfast, appetizers, soups & salads, mains & proteins, holiday dishes, and desserts & drinks. There are over 100 recipes included as well as a massive amount of supporting information. Many (many!) of the ingredients will probably be unfamiliar to readers who haven't followed an anti-inflammatory diet before. Some ingredients will probably be difficult to source outside of special order or a specialist grocery.

Each recipe includes serving yields, special notes (cocnut-free, one pan, simple to prepare, and made in under 45 minutes), along with estimated prep/cook times. Recipe ingredients are listed bullet point style along with optional ingredients. All measurements are given in American standard and metric measures. The directions are given step by step, numbered sequentially. Special notes about the recipe are given in sidebar boxes.

Roughly half of the recipes are accompanied by serving photographs. The photography is lush, appetizing, clear, and appealing.  The typesetting and layout are clear and easy to read.  It's a well written, content dense book.

Four stars.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

50 Essential Etiquette Lessons

50 Essential Etiquette Lessons is an accessible, easily read guide to some basic rules for polite interaction today. Due out 10th Sep 2019 from Callisto on their Althea Press imprint, it's 195 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

I grew up in the dark ages before the internet (yes, really). Mail was generally hand written and posted and delivered by hand. Thank you notes were de rigueur and dress codes were a lot more rigid than they are now. In many ways, the social barriers being removed and the heightened casual freedom is a good thing, but we've become remiss in etiquette and it shows. If society is to function, we must maintain standards of behavior which allow people to interact without being abrasive/annoying/abusive to one another. I feel like our standards have not just slipped, but descended catastrophically in the last few years. That's a lot to expect from a book, but at least it's a step in the right direction.

This is a handy, layman accessible book of essential etiquette and behavior lessons for modern people. It purports to help readers navigate social occasions without embarrassment or mishaps.  The book follows a logical format which moves from general explanations of manners and politeness to specific interactions and how to avoid common pitfalls.

The introduction, about 10% of the page content, with a short explanation of etiquette and some general vocabulary (and why manners are important), also has handy recommendations for using the book and incorporating the lessons into daily life.

The following chapters contain important lessons for day to day life, grouped by category. There are subchapters on interacting with people for the first time (making a good impression), why gossip is bad, building mutual respect, general politeness, appropriate greetings, not wasting people's time, and others. There are chapters on office etiquette (so incredibly important, vital even!),  texts chats and email etiquette, eating out and social occasions, dating and social life, and special occasions (including extending condolences, funeral etiquette, and how to navigate breakups and divorces). The end of the book includes an FAQ on faux pas and how to deal with unplanned unpleasantness. The author doesn't shy away from the gritty realities of non-functioning toilets, dealing with coworkers with bad breath, and when it's ok to eat stinky foods for lunch in the break room (hint: it's not ok).

It's unclear from the publishing info available online, but the eARC I received has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references. I hope the ebook release version does also. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. Presumably that feature will carry through to the final release version.

The author has a breezy and appealing writing style with a lot of good, logical, no-nonsense advice. The book is slanted toward the younger adult reader (the author uses 'Millenials'), but there are nuggets of usable info in there, compassionately rendered for everyone, irregardless of age. I really liked the example letter of condolence and thought it was perfectly and compassionately written.

Timely appropriate advice, especially for young people, and younger professionals. Five stars.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

The Vegan Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook: Simple 5-Ingredient Recipes for Your Plant-Based Lifestyle

The Vegan Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook is a new cookbook with recipes for 5 ingredient plant based cooking by Heather Nicholds. Due out 10th Sept 2019 from Rockridge, it's 160 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

Electric pressure cookers have changed the face of home cooking, and they're more popular than ever, with more programmable options and different volume capacities and cooking programs. I admit that I love the convenience factor for myself and that you can add ingredients and come back to well cooked, tasty food that isn't overcooked or mushy. Especially with vegetables, overcooking destroys a lot of the nutritive value, so cooking more quickly is a definite benefit. This cookbook has one huge benefit for me, it's convenient. None of the recipes require more than 5 ingredients. At the end of a busy day of work, it's so great to be able to (mostly) pop ingredients into the cooker, program it, and come back to dinner.

The book's logical and appealing layout mean that recipes are easy to find by category. The introductory chapter ~17% of the content) covers some background, how to cook with an electric pressure cooker (it's much MUCH easier and safer than people think), an FAQ on pressure cooking, a little bit about protein and plant based diets, and other general info.

The main recipes are grouped by category: grains, legumes, soups/stews, pasta, veggies, holidays, and desserts. Additional resources and references, along with cooking measures and time charts are included at the back of the book. Each recipe includes serving yields, special notes (dairy-free, gluten-free, budget friendly, etc), and prep times. Recipe ingredients are listed bullet point style along with optional ingredients. All measurements are given in American standard measures only (there is a measurement conversion table included at the back of the book, but it's a hassle not to have them included). The directions are given step by step, numbered sequentially. The nutritional information is given in a footer under the recipes and includes calories, fat, protein, sodium, and fiber.

The recipes' ingredients are easily sourced and the resultant dishes are family friendly and appealing to kids and adults. My one small quibble with the book is that the recipes are mostly not photographed. There are some photos, and they're clear and attractive, but they represent about 5% of the recipes. Everything else is well done and I heartily recommend the book overall. There are a number of these recipes which have made it into my personal potluck recipe book of dishes to take to group dinners and family gatherings. The Pistachio-Apricot Quinoa is just a lovely dish full of bright flavors and textures and even picky eaters like it. It makes a really appealing side dish for non-vegetarian meals as well.

It's unclear from the publishing info available online, but the eARC I received has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references. I hope the ebook release version does also. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. Presumably that feature will carry through to the final release version.

Good recipes, full of hearty and satisfying food. The current pre-order price for the ebook is super reasonably priced. (Enough so that I ordered my own retail copy).

Five stars. I would recommend it for veg*n curious cooks and non-veg*ns for the side dishes and salads.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

Nature Tonic: A Year in My Mindful Life

Nature Tonic: A Year in My Mindful Life is a year long journaling guide with 365 mindfulness prompts which actively encourage the reader to slow down and find balance and relax in nature. Due out 10th Sept 2019 from Quarto on their Leaping Hare Press imprint, it's 240 pages and will be available in paperback format.

This is a beautifully calming and charmingly presented guide to re-learning awareness of our natural rhythms and re-learning to live more in sync with our natural environment. There are multiple activities to prompt examination and reflection. The days whose exercises I followed diligently and wrote down my reactions and feelings were really good days. The self reflection exercises the author has included gently allow the reader to slow down and experience their existence instead of just rushing exhaustedly from one activity to the next at maximum speed every waking moment.  The illustrations, by Clare Owen, are restful and lovely and really enhance the whole message of the book.

Though the book is dealt into 12 chapters with different themes which encompass 365 guided prompts, it's not specifically written serially with seasonal activities. The individual activities could be experienced in any order. Whether the reader follows the prompts in order or not, there are real, proven benefits to slowing down and spending more time interacting with nature. I have no doubt that following the prompts regularly over the course of a year would give measurable positive results.

Beautifully illustrated and calmly and appealingly written, it would make a superlative gift for a journaling (or would be journaling) friend or family member, or oneself. Many meditation guides in my experience are quite full of metaphysical 'woo'. This one is refreshingly practical and 'woo-woo' free.

Five stars.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

Macrame for Home Decor: 40 Stunning Projects for Stylish Decorating

Macrame for Home Decor is a tutorial crafting guide for home dec macramé by Samantha Grenier. Released 11th June 2019 by Pepperell Braiding Co. and Fox Chapel, it's 144 pages and available in paperback format.

This is an appealing and well written tutorial for learning the skills necessary to complete any of the 40 included projects. The introduction and basic tools and materials guides (~18% of the page content) cover sourcing supplies and learning the basics of macramé. The following chapters are split into project categories and include: home decor, mats and rugs, plant hangers, and decorative wall hangings.

For anyone who lived through the 70's and for whom the word macramé summons to mind 'rustic' jute plant hangers in lime green, orange, and russet brown, this book is full of completely updated and modern/neutral color schemes and projects which will look good in modern homes.  It includes large projects such as chair backs and room dividers, along with smaller projects such as placemats and coasters.

The layout and typesetting are appealing and accessible. The instructions are very clearly written and easy to follow and, more importantly for visual learners, very well photographed. The weaving and knotting diagrams are well drawn and simple to follow. Of the 40 projects, probably half of them really appealed to me and that's unusually high. These are nice projects and can be adapted to suit any decor. Each of the projects includes a difficulty level, a project time estimate, a bullet list of supplies, and step by step directions.
The end of the book includes a very short supplies resource list, and readers will also have no trouble sourcing necessary tools and gear via internet e-tailers or local crafts/hobby suppliers.

It amused me to see that although the book is well updated for modern readers, it does include an homage to 70s culture, the perennially undying macrame owl.

Four stars. There's a lot to like here.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

Birds & Butterflies Drawing & Activity Book: Learn to draw 17 different bird and butterfly species

Birds & Butterflies Drawing & Activity book is a new tutorial guide with additional activities aimed at younger artists, but fun and usable by everyone. Originally released in 2016, this reformat and re-release from Quarto on their Walter Foster Jr. imprint is 64 pages and available in spiral bound format.

There are 17 tutorials included which utilize basic techniques such as grid drawing, geometric base shape sketching, and tracing, along with word hunts, geometric grid coloring, map range matching puzzles and more. The drawing tutorials are species specific and include a lot of support information about the different species of birds and insects (specifically Lepidoptera).

This would make a great travel activity book for a trip. I always packed sketch pads, drawing materials and quiz/puzzle books for my kids when traveling. This book packs a lot of possibilities into a little space. It would also make a super gift for a young nature drawing enthusiast. Although the text and word puzzles are aimed at younger artists, it would make a fine drawing guide for beginning artists of any age. I managed a creditable adonis blue butterfly drawing by using only the tutorial steps in the book.

Five stars. Well made and engaging.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

Grease Bats

Grease Bats is a collection of comics from Archie Bongiovanni. Due out 3rd Sept 2019 from Boom! studios, it's 304 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook (comiXology) formats.

Grease Bats is a slice of life comic in multi-page panel story format. The drawing style is simple and appealing, with clearly well developed characters who go about their daily lives and interact with the sometimes inexplicable world in which we all live.

I liked so many things about these stories. Little things like the character's t-shirt changes and the angst when a favorite hang-out closes or turns into something you don't recognize (or becomes a freakin' FERN BAR - Lookin' at you Lof's). There were a lot of big things I liked too, like characters who are PoC, that the characters felt genuine to me and not like they had to be paragons of virtue because they weren't straight,. The author/artist manages to impart some grammatical and etiquette advice without resorting to being strident or preachy - preferred personal pronoun use for one thing, acceptable mobile phone use in company for another (huge pet peeve of mine). There were also recurring themes of consent, interpersonal interaction, flirting, dating, real friendship, fighting the establishment, etc. The stereotypical characterizations of the straight characters was a bit over the top, but didn't degenerate into cruelty, so that's cool. I understand that the majority of the target readership doesn't identify as straight, but there are a lot of good points here which could make for valuable reading for CISgender people. There were also a number of typos in the early eARC I received for review purposes. I imagine they'll be edited out before release (they usually are).

There are over 50 self contained short stories in this collection. Like all collections, some of the stories resonated more than others, but they were all readable and some were quite thought provoking. This would make a really good afternoon binge read, or a sampling of a story at a time over a longer period of time. It might also make a good gift for a friend or family member who's coming out or potentially for straight family members who just don't understand the whole 'they/them' pronoun 'thing'. It's not a handbook, it's a collection of light humor whose primary characters are not straight and CIS.

Four stars.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Soldier of Fortune: A Gideon Quinn Adventure (The Fortune Chronicles #1)

Soldier of Fortune is the 1st book in the Fortune Chronicles by Kathleen McClure. Originally released in 2015, this reformat and re-release in 2018 is 318 pages and available in ebook, audio, and paperback formats.

I was captivated by this book. This is runaway fun on a -huge- space western scale. Gideon Quinn is a paladin... a soldier with a conscience who was unfairly imprisoned for crimes he didn't commit. When he gets the chance to investigate what -really- happened, he manages to get involved in saving street urchins and damsels in distress along with routing the rotten and corrupt government officials who allowed him to be railroaded. He also has a travel-sized dragon. A -dragon- named Elvis. Honestly, the author had me at mini-dragon.  This is also, however, a really well written book. The characterizations are solid. The worldbuilding is impressive, including a self contained, contextually accessible slang and dialogue. It's nonstop action, of course, with lots of explosions, and bar fights, and plasma guns, and shoot outs, and evil powerful antagonists whom I was really really looking forward to watching get smacked down spectacularly.

For Kindle Unlimited subscribers; this title, as well as the much of the author's oeuvre is available in the KU subscription to borrow and download.I binge read the series during a long weekend.

These characters would be wonderfully appropriate for film media as well. It's been a while since I've been totally captivated by an SF/fantasy series. The author writes so visually, it's easy to see the action whilst reading. Please cast this series soon, Netflix or Amazon!

I heartily recommend this book to lovers of space westerns, good-guy action series, and such.  It's very fun escapist reading.  There's a fair bit of light banter (even the bad guys - maybe especially the bad guys). There were only a few places in the story which felt to me to be a little over the top (almost always scenes with the Ohmdahl triplets...their dialogue made me wince), but they were fleeting.

Well written, humorous, action packed, rollicking, lots of explosions, Elvis (!) the draco. Bliss.

Five stars. I enjoyed this one immensely.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

Silent Night (Detective Iris Locke #1)

Silent Night is the first book in a new series by Geraldine Hogan. Released 23rd Aug 2019 by Bookouture, it's 301 pages and available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats.

This is a modern Irish police procedural set in the mid-west region of Ireland, in Limerick. DS Iris Locke is perpetually trying to avoid comparisons with her legendary father, a former police inspector in the same district. I enjoyed that the author managed to make Iris believable and avoided making her completely perfect. She's keen to prove herself and that makes her impatient and sometimes abrasive. She's got a chip on her shoulder from trying to compete with the shadow of her father (who's retired). She's sensitive to criticism and especially so from her male colleagues. On the other hand, she's also intelligent and meticulous. 

The plot of the novel turns on the fact that the first murders in the book are linked to a kidnapping disappearance almost 30 years ago.  Locke is convinced the disappearance (unsolved) of the current murder victim's infant sister 29 years ago is tied to her murder now. The writing and plotting are very solid and the characterizations are strong and believable.  The police colleagues are well fleshed out and their motivations are written clearly and adroitly. There is a fair bit of foreshadowing and the big denouement for me was more of an aHA!  It was cleverly done, and fans of modern procedural thrillers will find a lot to enjoy here. The Irish setting was lovely and very much an atmospheric part of the story. Interestingly, I usually find dialect dialogue tiresome, and I didn't find myself yanked out of the story once by the very strong Irish accent in the dialogue. I could definitely 'hear' it in my head though. The writing and slang are Irish, so readers from elsewhere will need to keep that in mind (fag, lift, torch, flat, petrol, biscuit, etc). It didn't seem to be any problem at all in context.

The writing is exceptionally good. The editing is seamless and invisible (as it should be). I didn't find any continuity breaks or spelling or formatting problems in the electronic ARC I received.

I would recommend this one to fans of procedurals who don't mind some violence and rough language. This would make a good buddy read or group read.

Four stars. Very strong start to the series. I'll be looking out for the next ones.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Silo: The Zero Waste Blueprint

Silo: The Zero Waste Blueprint is ostensibly a part philosophy and part DIY book by Douglas McMaster. Due out 27th Aug 2019 from Quarto on their Leaping Hare imprint, it's 176 pages and will be available in ebook and hardcover formats. The ebook version is available now.

This is a difficult book to review. On the one hand, the idea of zero waste and putting a stop to our out of control consumerism is admirable, necessary, and absolutely vital. On the other hand, there's something weirdly dichotomous about a professional restaurateur (however well meaning) whose products the public pays for, using the platform to condemn consumerism.

The subtitle is 'A Food System for the Future' which led me to expect some sort of blueprint for making steps toward implementing measures for reducing or eliminating waste in our daily lives. The book seems to mostly be a memoir of the difficulties of opening Silo, the restaurant, and adhering to his original vision of a zero waste establishment. There's a fair bit of reminiscing about his educational and training path as a chef, his encounters with other chefs and the cooking competitions in which he took part (and won or lost spectacularly). The first part of the book is fairly self indulgent, rambling, egotistical, and full of sentence fragments. It's quite literally difficult to read. In addition, each of the first sections are accompanied by high contrast sidebars with koans such as LIMITATION BREEDS CREATIVITY, FOOD IS PRECIOUS, and PROGRESS IS MESSY.

The second part of the book (roughly 19% of the content) contains a rambling discussion of distribution webs and gigantic waste in the forms of fossil fuel use, energy, packaging, time, etc. There are numerous diagrams showing different methods of transport and delivery.

The third part includes  recipes for buying in bulk and cleaning supplies minimizing packaging and using reusable compostable sponges, cloths, etc. This section also contains a year's worth of recipes in menu form which utilize local seasonal ingredients. Some of the recipes are really odd (potato skin ice cream), most all of them are 'way out there'. Quite probably adventuresome foodies will find something to titillate (Hokkaido pumpkin, forced rhubarb & British sumac?). 

The fourth part of the book draws together many of the ideas in the earlier sections. There are no definite hard and fast conclusions, however there is a lot of food for thought. There are no quick fixes for healing the planet, or sustainability, or any overarching plans to get started on. This section of the book also includes intriguing, slightly surreal, visual art.

It's unclear from the publishing info available online, but the eARC I received has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references. I hope the ebook release version does also. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. Presumably that feature will carry through to the final release version.

I did not winnow out a lot of useful information from this book. There is a huge amount of enthusiasm and burning fervor here and especially foodies who would know where to source sea beets and  pineapple weed locally and in season will doubtless find usable recipes and philosophy. This would make a good read for people who really enjoy restaurateur and food culture biographies.

Two stars for me, three+ for serious foodies.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Keto Sweet Tooth Cookbook: 80 Low-Carb Ketogenic Dessert Recipes for Cakes, Cookies, Pies, Fat Bombs, Shakes, Ice Cream, and More

Keto Sweet Tooth Cookbook is a new low-carb dessert cookbook by Aaron Day. Released 9th July 2019 by Penguin on their DK imprint, it's 160 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats.

I have heard so many people comment that they could never follow a low-carb diet because they would have to give up desserts 'forever'. This interesting collection of recipes provides 80 tasty counter-arguments.

The author has done a good job of writing an accessible and logically formatted cookbook. The introductory sections (~14% of the total content) define the terms and give a very basic layman accessible overview of the metabolic processes behind ketogenic diets and how to make sweet foods sweet without adding sugar to them. This chapter also includes an overview of nut flours, binding agents and other specialized ingredients used in the recipes. The next chapters contain the recipes arranged by type: cakes, puddings, cookies, tarts, fat bombs, and frozen treats. The book does include an index.

The book is very well photographed and the composition is pleasant and easy to read. The recipes themselves are clear and easy to follow. Each recipe has a header with special symbols such as nut-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, with a short description of the recipe and approximate prep-times. The ingredients (given in American and metric measures) are listed in a sidebar, along with yields and serving sizes. Step by step directions are followed by nutrient information.  Many (but not all) of the recipes are pictured.

We tried the peanut butter cups (p. 120) and have made them twice since the original experiment. They're a huge hit. We also tried the chocolate covered cheesecake fat bombs (p. 126) and they were also delicious. 

It might be worth noting that some of the ingredients (nut flours, binding agents, confectioners erythritol) could possibly be difficult to source outside of mail-order or unless the reader lives near a very well stocked specialist grocery store.

Four stars. Highly recommended for people who enjoy dessert treats who are following a keto diet and also nice to have some keto-friendly recipes for work functions or keto-friendly dinner guests.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes