Monday, March 1, 2021

The Mitford Trial (Mitford Murders #4)

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The Mitford Trial is the fourth Mitford Murders mystery by Jessica Fellowes. Released 19th Jan 2021 by Macmillan on their Minotaur imprint, it's 368 pages and available in hardcover, paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. 

These are very well written and plotted books with fictionalized accounts intertwined with real historical events and people. The author is quite adept and it's not always easy to tell where fiction shades over into actual history. The descriptions of the settings and the relationships of the glitterati of the interwar period and the "regular" people who served them makes for engaging reading. The characterizations are spot on (even though I have a distinct antipathy for Diana Mitford Guiness of long standing which colored my reaction to her fictionalized counterpart). Definitely a readable historical mystery and a well crafted book.

The author's historical notes on the plotting and murder itself added a lot of background detail (don't read it until the end of the book as it contains spoilers). The author has also included a bibliography and reading list for readers who are interested in filling in the backstory.

Four stars. Well written, well paced and plotted, satisfying and undemanding read.

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

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Grow Bag Gardening: The revolutionary way to grow bountiful vegetables, herbs, fruits, and flowers in lightweight, eco-friendly fabric pots

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Grow Bag Gardening is a tutorial and technique guide by Kevin Espiritu. Due out 16th March 2021 from Quarto on their Cool Springs Press imprint, it's 176 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats (ebook available at time of review). 

Several years ago I began noticing these fabric bags showing up in garden centers in my area. I didn't give them much thought because I had a fairly fixed idea about what my home flower and vegetable beds should look like and wasn't all that intrigued with things which didn't fit into my preconceived mental image. (shame on me). I had some serious problem areas with my home garden, for one thing my house is literally built on solid rock - zero soil, lots of gravel and no options other than raised beds or other permaculture type structures. These challenges also made grow bags a viable option for areas which I hadn't yet converted to raised beds. So I bought a dozen grow-bags and off I went and had one of the best gardening years with the vegetables I had growing in the grow bags.

This is the manual I wish I had had when I started with grow bags. The author is knowledgeable, cool, and writes with enthusiasm and genuine warmth. He knows what he's talking about and his positivity and encouragement are infectious. The book's layout it logical and information is easy to find and remember. The introduction explains why grow bags might be a good option (and where), choosing and sourcing them, what to grow in them, soil and substrates which will give optimal results, maintenance/culture, and ideas for planting and siting. 

The book includes a short resource list with links (aimed mostly at North American readers, but including some useful for readers located elsewhere), and a cross referenced index. As with most Quarto books, the art layout and photography are superlative (they must have a killer graphics department). The photos are colorful and engaging and got my fingers itching to get started gardening immediately. 

This is a well done gardening book and would be a good choice for coop garden libraries, public or home library acquisition, gifting to a gardening friend (maybe someone with limited space who wants to get their fingers into the dirt), or for activity/scouting group projects, or even rehab/retirement/or school gardens. 

Five stars.

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

A History of the Peak District Moors

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A History of the Peak District Moors is a well written and illustrated guide to the area by David Hey. First published in 2014, this reformat and re-release is due out 28th Feb 2021 from Pen & Sword. It's 207 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats (other editions available in other formats). 

This book is an great example why I love reading local history. The author was certainly a gifted writer and deeply knowledgeable in his expertise; but mostly it's the respect and abiding love local historians have for their subjects which shine through, and move us, and which leave an indelible connection to an area. 

The author writes well and authoritatively and the book is laid out logically. The writing is succinct and information dense, but not pedantic or overly academic. The chapters are arranged thematically in very roughly geographic and chronological order from prehistory to the modern day, with emphasis on uses, "improvements", enclosures, and eventual recreational/access rights. There were so many things included here of which I was utterly unaware (my previous education seems to have been sorely lacking especially concerning neolithic through iron age encampments and military movements) as well as a fascinating and exciting (really truly!) recounting of the Right to Roam movement of the area in the 19th and 20th centuries. 

My biggest takeaway here was the impressive breadth and comprehensiveness of the included information - it's a truly splendid testimony to the author's competence and deep familiarity with his subject. I can easily imagine that he was a fascinating and very knowledgeable lecturer.

Although there are no chapter notes or annotations, the author has included a fairly comprehensive bibliography and cross referenced index. The book contains numerous photographs and charts to support and illustrate the salient points. 

This would be a good choice for readers of local history, public or home library use, cooperative/hikers/ramblers groups, Bed & Breakfast accommodations - especially those which cater to ramblers, and writers researching the area and history for background.  

Five stars. 

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

A Visitor's Guide to Victorian England

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A Visitor's Guide to Victorian England is an interesting and layman accessible guide to the social mores, dress, dangers, and sights of Victorian England written by Michelle Higgs. Originally published in 2014, this reformat and re-release due out 28th Feb 2021 from Pen & Sword is 224 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

I love the Victorian era in theory. I love the literature, the music, the dress, the civilized aspects. In short, I love the curated sanitised version provided in a modern BBC costume drama and would have in actual fact decried the squalid and desperately short lives of the actual reality of the time (and probably been locked up and/or beaten to death for my troubles). This interesting and fairly comprehensive guide gives a glimpse into the day-to-day lives of people who lived then, from the recollections and contemporaneous period writings. 

The book is arranged in a format which will be familiar to readers of other tourist and "visitor's guides". Topics are arranged thematically: orienting oneself, accommodations, clothing, food & drink, travel, shopping, health hazards, interacting socially, entertainment, and customs & traditions. The information is relayed in plain language liberally interspersed with quotes and references to contemporaneous sources. 

The text is not annotated and there are no footnotes or chapter notes included, however the author has provided a number of very useful appendices including a schedule of typical costs of daily life as well as wages and salaries during the period. There's also a cross referenced index and a succinct timeline. There are numerous illustrations and facsimile documents scattered relevantly throughout which I found illuminating.The extensive bibliography invites exploration and will provide useful avenues for further research. 

Four stars. It would make a good choice for public or home library acquisition, as well as being a good resource for writers interested in background research for the period. 

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

Mystery at the Masquerade (Secrets and Scrabble #3)

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Mystery at the Masquerade is the third book in the Secrets and Scrabble cozy mystery series by Josh Lanyon. Due out 28th Feb 2021, it's 219 pages and available in ebook format.

As a light and engaging series, this one is so appealing. Protagonist Ellery is drawn into murder and skullduggery again. That obviously puts the skids on his budding friendship/romance with the local island police chief, Jack who is on and off again. (Sort yourselves out, boys! Don't make me come over there).

Although this is the third book in the series, and I have admittedly read and reviewed the other two, I think it would work perfectly well as a standalone. The author is a technically adept writer and provides necessary backstory without info-dumping. The narrative is lighthearted, including an ensemble cast of oddball small-town characters. This is one I recommend without reservation to my cozy/romance/mystery loving friends.

There are some fairly silly and over the top developments and plot twists, but it's a village bookstore cozy, so it's really part of the whimsy. The "over the top" characters and dialogue were always on the right side of whimsical and charming and didn't shade over into annoying or yank me out of my suspension of disbelief, so it was a very fun read.  There's also the required slow-burn on/off romance subplot with the handsome lawman, again par for the course (although I -did- find myself wanting to bang their heads together because of stubborn wilful pride and intentional misunderstanding!).  The language is clean, the murder(s) are off screen and free from violence, there's no direct graphic sexual content; it's a well written and charming bookstore cozy. The author/publisher has taken pains to make it clear that the romance is between two men, so I won't mention that, but there's absolutely no content which would scandalize anyone's maiden auntie. This is pure escapist comfort reading, simple and fun. There's no covid-19 in Pirate's Cove, Rhode Island, for which I'm grateful. Sometimes it's wonderful to just escape and live vicariously in the pages of my books.

Charming, diverting, and well written. I intend to seek out future volumes in the series. Four stars.

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

John Christie of Rillington Place: Biography of a Serial Killer

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John Christie of Rillington Place is an annotated and comprehensive look at the facts and investigations surrounding the crimes in and around 10 Rillington Place in the 40s and 50s written and presented by Dr. Jonathan Oates. Originally published in 2012, this reformat and re-release due out 28th Feb 2021 from Pen & Sword is 224 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. 

This is a meticulously researched and annotated history of the occupants of 10 Rillington Place and their fate as well as the fate of the perpetrator(s) of the crimes which occurred there. It's presented in roughly chronological order starting with the family history of John Christie, through his early years, education, brushes with the law, marriage, and crimes. The author has a measured and factual tone throughout which actually helped me maintain some objectivity whilst reading descriptions of otherwise horrific crimes that would have had me running away if they were more explicit. 

In addition to the meticulous research and writing, the book is comprehensively annotated with reference chapter notes and documents for further reading. There are also a number of historical photos and facsimiles reproduced from court and historical records which add depth and interest. 

I found the author's writing style academic and a bit dry, but I appreciated very much that in contrast to many (most) true-crime offerings, the book was not lurid at all, and I never felt that the author was sensationalising any aspect of the history or the sad stories of the perpetrator(s) and victims. 

The facts of the crimes are such that there is discussion of psychosocial and sexual dysfunction and illness, but there is no direct description or discussion which were inappropriate or gruesome (thankfully).

Four stars. Recommended for readers of history, local history, aberrant psychology, and allied subjects; readers of lurid explicit true-crime might not find much here which is titillating.

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


How Our Ancestors Died: A Guide for Family Historians

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How Our Ancestors Died: A Guide for Family Historians is a very well written, information dense, layman accessible tome aimed at genealogists and family historians presented by Dr. Simon Wills. Due out 28th Feb 2021 from Pen & Sword, it's 240 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. 

I'm a medical professional and I work in pathology. The study of disease is literally my day job. I also happen to be a huge history nerd and my family hail from the British Isles, so this book was a happy confluence of interests for me. I learned quite a lot here and it's no stretch to imagine that the author is a gifted speaker/teacher. His style throughout the book is information rich but not pedantic and he has a rare gift of highlighting salient points without just drowning the reader in less useful information or getting bogged down in minutiae. 

The introductory chapters give good background information on the often lacking scientific accuracy of medical care and diagnostics in centuries past. In these chapters the author provides good background info on the normal historical methods of recording information and where and how modern seekers can access the information (and what records are likely to be available and from whom). 

The following chapters are arranged by cause of death, roughly alphabetically, and range from Accidents & Disasters to War & Wounds, with pretty much everything else one could imagine in between. The chapters are well supported with attributed quotes (for further reading) and photographs and facsimile documents scattered throughout. The author has also included a short bibliography and cross-referenced index.

This will be a valuable resource for family researchers, readers of history, public & home library acquisition, as well as writers of historical fiction/non-fiction. It's layman accessible and interesting. I read it through cover to cover like a novel. 

Five stars. 

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

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction

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Beloved Beasts is a definitive modern survey course of the conservation movement and the players, both well known and lesser known who have shaped and guided our stewardship of the planet and our fellow creatures presented by Michelle Nijhuis. Due out 9th March 2021 from W.W. Norton & co, it's an information dense 352 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

The author has a flowing journalistic voice with a no-nonsense accessible layman-friendly prose. The writing is readable and understandable. She doesn't sugar coat the facts or the realities, including the profiles of the conservationists she examines. The chapters follow a roughly chronological timeline and the thread which weaves them together is species conservation. The whole is punctuated throughout with illustrations drawn from media, history, and the arts. The chapter notes alone provided hours of further exploratory reading, along with the bibliography (usefully arranged by chapter relevance). 

This would make a superlative choice for public library acquisition, gift giving, or home library, as well as a good support text for conservation, biology, ethics, and allied studies courses. One of my strongest reads so far in 2021.

Five stars.

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

The Tipsy Grandma… An Anthology of Thirty, Made-from-Scratch, “Boozy” Desserts!: Perfect for Any & Every "Adult" Occasion! (The Dough-Puncher's eBook Series 4)

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The Tipsy Grandma is the fourth collection of recipes is a short e-cookbook by the editors of CakeChatter. Released 3rd Feb 2021, it's 162 pages and available in ebook format. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free. As far as I can see, the recipes are curated from the content included on the blog, sparing the reader from having to hunt for them.

The recipes have their ingredients listed bullet style in a sidebar. Measurements are given in US standard only. Special tools and ingredients are also listed, along with yields and cooking directions. Most of the ingredients are easily sourced at any moderately well stocked grocery store. Nutritional information is included in the footer at the end of the recipes and includes calories, fat, sodium, carbs, protein, sodium, potassium, fibre, sugar, vitamin content and micro-nutrients.Tips and variations on each recipe are included in after the step by step directions. There are small color photos for each recipe. The recipes themselves run the gamut from garnishes and add-ons (maraschino cherries, boozy berries, hard sauce, etc) to puddings, pies, cakes and cookies, and all of them except the maraschino cherries have a boozy twist.

The book also includes an interactive links list for the contributors of the recipes, but lacks any index or ingredients index. There is no metric conversion chart included (but most bakers prefer to do their own conversions anyhow).

Four stars. This would make a superlative selection for busy cooks, and the series is ongoing.

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

The Postscript Murders (Harbinder Kaur #2)

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The Postscript Murders is the second book featuring Detective Harbinder Kaur written by Elly Griffiths. Due out 2nd March 2021 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, it's 336 pages and will be available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats.

The first book in the "series" was one of my best reads picks for 2019. The author is adept and widely talented with a whatever she sets out to write. The Ruth Galloway novels are engaging and atmospheric, academic, and warmly compassionate as well as intelligent (like the protagonist). The extant novels in this series are altogether different in focus and feel. I use "series" in quotation marks because the common thread between the two books is Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur and in both books, she's almost secondary to the plot. The focus, the main driving force, in the action in this book and The Stranger Diaries, is someone closer to the murders - in the first book an English teacher colleague of the first victim, and in this book it's the first murder victim's carer.  

Throughout all the books, both this series and her others, it's the author herself - her well-crafted plots, engaging and intelligent dialogue, prose, likeable characters, and settings which keep everything she writes on my "must read" list. This book works very well as a standalone, and has only secondary connections to the first book. This is an engaging read with a tightly plotted narrative arc and very well rendered characters who are believable and varied. 

Four stars. Classic plotting and a wonderful mystery. I loved the crime book and author tie-ins. Highly recommend this one to fans of classic golden age British mystery. 

Four stars.

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

A Deadly Discovery (Allie Cobb Mystery #4)

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A Deadly Discovery is the fourth Allie Cobb mystery by J.C. Kenney. Released 19th Jan 2021, it's 218 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats.

Although it's the fourth book in the series, this small-town cozy works perfectly well as a standalone. The author is adept at providing necessary backstory without spoon feeding or info dumping all over readers. The characterizations in general are three dimensional and believable with a protagonist who's a literary agent and a delight. The action moves along at a fast pace and never drags or meanders (a definite danger with cozies). There are some slightly rough spots with the dialogue in a couple of places, but it never detracted or yanked me out of the story. I liked the information the author provided about the publishing industry and marketing; I found it interesting. 

The plot resolution was a little more linear than I'm used to, but all in all the denouement was satisfying and well written. The language is squeaky clean and there's no on-page blood or gore. I recommend it to fans of small-town cozies with amateur sleuths (plus cat). It's a quick and satisfying read. I enjoyed it enough that I intend to go find the previous books in the series. 

Four stars.

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

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Inspired Artist: Block Print for Beginners: Learn to make lino blocks and create unique relief prints

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Block Print for Beginners is a tutorial and instruction guide for block printing written and presented by Elise Young. Due out 16th March 2021 from Quarto on their Walter Foster imprint, it's 144 pages and will be available in paperback format. 

It's nice to see arts/crafts tutorial instruction books aimed at other things than drawing and painting. This one is well written and accessible and perfectly suited for beginners with no previous experience. The introductory sections cover a bit of background and a very thorough tutorial on tools and supplies including selection, maintenance, technique, and safety. The book is beautifully photographed throughout in color. 

The following chapters contain tutorials which build up progressively from simple to more advanced techniques and projects. The last chapter contains some project tutorials: bookplate, card, wrapping paper, tea towel, and wallpaper. All of the designs are beautiful and inspiring (and can obviously be changed around to suit the artist). Each tutorial includes tools and supplies in a bullet list along with both written and photographic tutorial instructions. Templates are linked from the instructions, not included in the physical book. Important alternatives and creative ideas are provided in highlighted text boxes in the tutorials.

The author and publishers have also included some useful appendices including a glossary and bibliography/resource links lists which are refreshingly international in scope. This is a well made book which would make a superlative choice for group artists' studio, makers' groups, school or public library acquisition, activity groups, and the artist's home studio. 

Five stars.

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


 

Lore

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Lore is a (Greek) mythology mash-up with a sort of Percy Jackson meets Hunger Games vibe, reimagined by Alexandra Bracken. Released 5th January 2021 by Disney, it's 480 pages (print edition) and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats.

This is, admittedly, a very well written book. The author is adept at her craft and the world building and characterizations, the narrative arc and the dramatic tension are engagingly rendered and believable. It took quite a long time for me to read and review this book not because of any technical defect, lack of editing (superlative editing and continuity for what it's worth), but simply because this is a brutal book. I thought it would be fairly safe since it was marketed as a Disney YA selection, but *wow* it's violent. Trigger warning: there is graphic violence, torture, rape, graphic murder, etc. Every time I would pick it up, I would wind up putting it down again because I was distressed at the gore and violence. 

Readers who don't mind fighting and gore with a side serving of angsty angry young heroines will find a lot to like here. Readers who are well immured to hardcore ancient Greek tragedy a la Euripides, Aeschylus, and the other boys in the band, but who looking for modern retellings will enjoy this one. 

Three and a half stars for me, likely four+ for readers who don't mind violence. (It's not egregious, it is integral to the story). 

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

Small Magic: Short Fiction, 1977-2020

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Small Magic is a collection of short fiction by Terry Brooks from 1977 to 2020. Due out 2nd March 2021 from Penguin Random House on their Del Rey imprint, it's 464 pages (print edition) and will be available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats.

Despite having said himself that he prefers the longer forms and generally finds short fiction more challenging, Terry Brooks writes very very well no matter what he's writing. He's a titan of the speculative fiction genre, and the stories included in this collection are all top-shelf selections and provided me hours of enjoyment. 

There are 11 stories included in this collection and they run the gamut - many providing background story for existing characters from his other longer works. The lead story (oddly, to me) was written for an anthology for Poul Anderson's Multiverse anthology, and ties in with Anderson's own iconic "Queen of Air and Darkness" (which is one of my favorite stories of all time and which won the 1972 Hugo). They're all good and varied. The author himself provides introductory notes for each story which are always a lot of fun to read.

Four and a half stars. I would recommend this collection to fans of Terry Brooks and/or fans of classic speculative fiction and fantasy. Four stars. There are several standout stories here and will enthrall fans of the genre.

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

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

That’s My Piano, Sir!: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

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That’s My Piano, Sir! is part of the Little Stories of Great Composers Series - this volume dedicated to young Mozart. Due out 1st March 2021 from The Secret Mountain, it's 32 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

This is an engaging and very well illustrated story from Mozart's early life told from the point of view of a little music (and cheese) loving mouse narrator named Minim. The illustrations are full of small details which will provide a lot of fun for reading-time to hunt and find. There are a number of human characters as well which will give ample opportunity for lots of voices during reading-time with the small humans. 

Music is such an enriching and important part of our lives and an early introduction to great music will provide lifelong rewards. This is a sweet story which everyone can relate to. The book also includes a short timeline with highlights from Mozart's life. 

Five stars. Lovely little book. Recommended for public & classroom acquisition, library activity groups, gifting, and home use. 

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

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Floret Farm's Discovering Dahlias: A Guide to Growing and Arranging Magnificent Blooms

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Floret Farm's Discovering Dahlias is a tutorial and style guide to growing and using dahlias presented by Erin Benzakein. Due out 9th March 2021 from Chronicle Books, it's 224 pages (print edition) and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.

Dahlias are wonderful flowers in the garden from old fashioned cottage gardens, to formal stately homes (and everything in between). This is a solid guide to selecting, using, propagating, and succeeding with dahlias. The book is laid out logically and information is easy to find (there's a solid index to contents in the appendices). The chapters on storing and cold-weather care and propagating tubers are useful and botanically correct. There's a good chapter on designing with dahlias with lushly gorgeous cut flower arrangements with very specific varietal info. The last 40% of the book is given over to the best dahlia variety selector arranged by colors which I've ever seen. The book is gorgeously photographed clearly in full color throughout. The author/editors have also included a resource guide for sourcing materials.

This would make a superlative selection for library or gardening group acquisition, gifting, or for the home gardener's (or gardening professional's) library. Gorgeous and inspiring. 

Five stars.

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

Hooked: Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions

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Hooked is a thought provoking (and at times distressing) expository look at the food industry and its effects on our eating habits by Michel Moss. Due out 2nd March 2021 from Random House, it's 304 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

The author has a casual academic style of writing; accessible and careful, but not overly convoluted or impenetrably difficult to read. He manages to convey a wealth of information without being pedantic or preachy. He writes clearly and concisely with a logical progression and a clear threads to follow which interweave the reality of the modern model of food production and processing, backed by a plethora of sources. Where actual contemporaneous sources shade into speculation, he says so clearly and unambiguously. 

I found myself shocked at several points in the narrative. I was unaware of the connection between major agribusiness and tobacco (I shouldn't have been - it seems obvious in retrospect). I've been harping on processed food and food safety and security for *years*. I've combated it in part by growing as much of our food as practical, and trying to choose our other foods responsibly. I was also unaware of the psychological conditioning which happens subtly and inexorably.

This book definitely gave me a lot of information to think about. The author/publisher have also included chapter notes and a solid bibliography for further reading.

Five stars.

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

 

The Best of Walter Jon Williams

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The Best of Walter Jon Williams is a new collection of short fiction (mostly novella length) by speculative fiction veteran Walter Jon Williams. Due out 28th Feb 2021 from Subterranean Press, it's 616 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

I enjoyed every single story in this collection; there were no weak ones.  All of these have been published previously and date from 1986 through 2014. Many of the stories are quite difficult to find and several were new to me in any form. One reason I prefer collections and anthologies is that short fiction is really challenging.  It's spare and the author doesn't have a wealth of wordage to develop characters or the plotting.  Well written short fiction is a delight. I also love collections because if one story doesn't really grab me, there's another story just a few pages away.  I can only recall a few times where I've read a collection (or anthology) straight through from cover to cover.  This one I did. I even re-read the stories which I had read before. 

Although the stories are strong and the collection is worthy of consideration on its own merits, the author and publisher have included story notes at the end of the book which added a lot of enjoyment for me. I love seeing what the author used for inspiration and other behind-the-scenes glimpses and recollections. 

Very enjoyable interlude - well written and engaging. Reading is an escape and sanity saver in the current world climate and it's nice to be able to escape in a vehicle which is well built, comfortable, and exciting.

Four stars.

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

Farm to Trouble (Farm to Table Mysteries #1)


 

Farm to Trouble is the first book in a new series by prolific author Amanda Flower. Released 23rd Feb 2021 by Poisoned Pen Press, it's 288 pages and available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

I'm a huge sucker for cozies. Bonus points for pets (cats or dogs, I'm not picky), baked goods, knitting, book clubs, and I don't mind the occasional obligatory hunky sheriff/detective love interest. This book ticked a lot of boxes for me. Underdog heroine/amateur sleuth lead character moves back to her small-town home from "the big city", complicated history with the local hunky lawman, an adorable pug sidekick (awww), and a few other appealing plot features which might be a little standard, but that's why we devour cozy mysteries.

This one is pretty well written, with good characterizations and pacing. The book's written in first person point of view which could have been a little distracting, but it didn't detract from my overall enjoyment - the author is quite adept at her craft. There are a scant few places where the dialogue was a bit rough, but again, nothing that killed my suspension of disbelief or lessened my enjoyment.

The language is clean, the crimes are (mostly) bloodless, and there's a romance subplot but nothing sexually graphic. There are some minor plot elements leading to the next book, but no major cliffhangers.  It's a safe and fun read.

Four stars. Recommended for cozy mystery lovers.

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

Monday, February 22, 2021

Takakush: Genus Magica Book 1 paranormal suspense

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Takakush is the first book in a new paranormal suspense light horror series by Raine Reiter. Released 28th Dec 2020, it's 186 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

I was expecting something vaguely comparable to Katherine Arden's Winternight trilogy. Takakush is Eastern European (specifically Lithuanian) folklore inspired, but this is definitely not cozy or warm and fuzzy - lots more sharp pointy teeth and claws in this one. The author has a good grasp on plotting and dramatic tension. The story is told in alternating PoV which I found a bit distracting, but the chapters are clearly delineated, so it's not untenable.  

There is a strong instra-love romance subplot alongside the paranormal/horror as well as some graphic violence and death. I did enjoy the beautiful descriptions of the outdoors in the Pacific Northwest - clearly an area with which the author is familiar. 

It was a little too creepy/gothic/violent for me particularly, but will be enthusiastically received by fans of the paranormal light horror genre.  Three and a half stars; likely 4+ for fans of the genre.

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