Thursday, September 16, 2021

Striking Range (Timber Creek K-9 Mystery #7)

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Striking Range is the 7th Timber Creek K-9 mystery by Margaret Mizushima. Released 7th Sept 2021 by Crooked Lane Books, it's 280 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. 

This is a series procedural with well established characters and a rural small town police department integrating (more or less) successfully with area and national task forces. This is an ensemble returning cast and a solid western mystery. The central players have a long and varied history together. There are familial and generational connections (and not always in a positive manner). Despite being the 7th book in this series, the author is a technically adept writer and sufficient backstory is written in to provide readers enough backstory without info-dumping. I was unfamiliar with the series previously though I believe I might've read one or two of the author's earlier works, and I had no trouble following along.

There were some dangling threads on a couple of the plot points, but overall it's a well written and engaging mystery. I could've done without the strong romance subplot, but I appreciate that there are many readers who really enjoy mystery with a healthy romance angle. 

There is some potentially triggering content for some readers including opioid use and overdose, kidnapping, and human trafficking.

The unabridged audiobook has a run time of 9 hours, 47 minutes and is capably narrated by Nancy Wu. She does a good job of bringing characters of varying ages to life (from children to adults) and both men and women and managing to keep them distinct and identifiable. Production and sound quality are high throughout.

Four stars for both print and audiobook versions.

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

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The First Sister (The First Sister Trilogy #1)

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The First Sister is the first book in a grand space opera trilogy by Linden A. Lewis. Released in 2020 by Simon & Schuster on their Gallery Books imprint, it's 352 pages and is available in most formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately; it makes it so easy to find information with the search function. 

This is classic science fiction on a grand scale. It hearkens back to old school SF, unafraid to explore social themes such as power, loyalty, humanity, body autonomy, conflict, and grace. I've seen this book being compared to The Handmaid's Tale, but I got much more of a Frank Herbert Dune vibe with shadings of Shari Tepper. One thing I really liked about the book was the LGBTQ+ friendly writing with positive portrayals of a variety of gender identities and sexualities. 

The writing is sublime and it held my attention and engagement throughout. Thematically it's not always easy reading and readers should be aware that the author explores uncomfortable themes such as nonconsensual sexual exploitation, child abuse, loss of body autonomy, PTSD, violence, and gender dysphoria. I was glad to see, however, that there was -no- glorification or positive spin on abuse or sexism - but more of an expository examination of what could be changed to make a better outcome. There is very little on-page abuse - it's implied, but it is there.

The author has a deft and sure voice and it certainly doesn't feel like a debut novel at all. The adult themes, although not explicit in the narrative, would make me hesitate to recommend this book to YA/NA readers. 

Four stars. 

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

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons (Game Histories)

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Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons is the newest book in the Game Histories series, this volume written by Jon Peterson. Due out 12th Oct 2021 from MIT Press, it's 400 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. 

This is a very well written book assembled from extant notes, legal documents, eyewitness accounts, and recollections about the rise, fall, rise, and pitched battles involved in the emergence and control of TSR and Dungeons & Dragons. I was working in a gaming & hobby shop in the late 70s and early 80s and I well remember our regular gaming group geeking out over the newest editions and modules from TSR. Our regular members were mostly tabletop wargamers, but the balance soon shifted as more and more of our members became more interested in D&D and later on, Warhammer. 

There wasn't much behind-the-scenes information on display (this was pre-internet, and almost pre-BBS). Several members of my core group were very active in fandom at the time on a large scale (worldcon, etc), and even at that level, news was slow to be disseminated. This book answered quite a number of question from those days and I was fascinated to learn what went on outside the public purview. 

This is a semi-scholarly book and the author writes authoritatively. Readers who are not especially fascinated by the subject matter might well find the style academic and dry. I found the writing precise and engaging. I also liked reading the chapter notes and readers who are interested in the minutiae will find many hours of further reading and reference hunting contained in the notes and sources mentioned throughout the text.

Four stars. Fascinating deep dive in early geekdom and the fallout from the clash of the titans which fractured D&D. 

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

Monday, September 13, 2021

Scrumptious from The Girl Who Ate Everything

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Scrumptious is a cooking and recipe guide with recipes developed and curated by Christy Denney. Due out 2nd Nov 2021 from Shadow Mountain, it's 224 pages and will be available in hardcover and paperback formats. 

This is a nice cookbook with an emphasis on ease of preparation, tastiness, casual dining and family appeal. These are really uncommonly tasty dishes. Many of them are one-pan/sheet pan dinner which make cleanup easy, and all the ones we tried were delicious. 

There is no lead-in or introduction, the author opens with the recipes, grouped in chapters thematically: one pan dinners, feeding a crowd, game day eats, low-carb favorites, quick and easy, tried and true, and something sweet. The recipes are nearly all based on wholesome unprocessed ingredients (the exceptions are for things like premade marinara sauce which almost everyone has on hand).

Each recipe includes serving yields, special notes, and prep times. Recipe ingredients are listed bullet point style along with optional ingredients. All measurements are given in American standard measures only. The directions are given step by step, numbered sequentially. The nutritional information is not provided. The recipes' ingredients are easily sourced and the resultant dishes are family friendly and appealing to kids and adults. All of the recipes include photos. The food is beautifully presented and the serving suggestions are appetizing and appropriate. Nearly all of the recipes make a LOT of servings. This would be great for meal planning fans - make enough for dinner and have enough to pack a lunch for work the next day(s). 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.

Good recipes, full of hearty and satisfying food.

Four and a half stars. 

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

The Language Lover's Puzzle Book

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The Language Lover's Puzzle Book is a wide ranging mixed bag of wordplay and linguistic puzzles by Alex Bellos. Originally released in the UK in 2020, this reformat and re-release by The Experiment is 416 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. 

This book is full of thematically grouped word puzzles to solve and as well as a multiple choice test (lingo bingo). The puzzles range from very easy to quite difficult and they will provide readers with hours of solving fun. 

One of the things I liked about these puzzles in particular was that they've got a linguistic twist. Many of them are set up particularly to allow readers to use given information to logically extrapolate an answer by using patterns and language to build from A to B. Here's an example from the book blurb: 

boru niko = two balls
tsuna nihon = two ropes
uma nito = two horses
kami nimai = two sheets of paper

ashi gohon = five legs
ringo goko = five apples
sara gomai = five plates
kaba goto = five hippos

Now, how do the Japanese say “nine cucumbers”?*
a) kyuri kyuhon
b) kyuri kyuko
c) kyuri kyuhiki
d) kyuri kyuto

The book includes word chains, acrostics, crosswords, and other variations more difficult to describe and further outside the standard puzzle fare.

Four stars. Due to the nature of the puzzles (and because writing in library books is a big no-no) this would probably be less than ideal for library acquisition. It will, however, delight language and word-puzzle fans. 

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

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Staples + 5: 100 Simple Recipes to Make the Most of Your Pantry

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Staples + 5 is an intriguing and well written cookbook written by Tanorria Askew. Due out 2nd Nov 2021 from Penguin Random House on their DK imprint, it's 160 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. 

This is a really upbeat and useful cookbook. The idea is to have a well and simply stocked pantry with a range of staples which can form the basis of a good meal with the addition of 5 ingredients (or fewer). The first section of the book gives a good overview of pantry and staple building with specific ingredients and dried items to keep on hand. The list includes expected food items such as dried pasta, beans, baking products, oils, spices and condiments, canned goods, proteins, and dairy. She covers tools and supplies as well.

The recipes are arranged thematically in chapters: appetizers & snacks, main dishes, side dishes, condiments & fixin's, and desserts. Each recipe is presented with title and description, cooking times, yields, and serving sizes. Recipe ingredients are given in a bullet list sidebar. Measurements are given in American standard measures only. Ingredients will be easy to find at any moderately well stocked grocery store in North America. The recipes run the gamut from simple comfort (flaky homemade biscuits) to fancy (crème brûlée,). Many of the recipes have a southern cuisine emphasis and are simple homestyle cooking.

There is such a warm, inviting, friendly, and sharing vibe throughout the whole book. It's charming and the author's voice comes through clearly: welcoming, kind, and inclusive. I was impressed enough with the writing and style included here that I made it a point to go back and look up some of her media output on Masterchef and her podcast. She's very funny and warm (and professional) and I've become something of a fangirl since reading this book. 

Lots of good ideas and techniques here. Keeping a stocked pantry and adding fresh or seasonal ingredients to the year-round staples is a logical way to cook. 

Five stars. 

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

Yearbook of Astronomy 2022

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Yearbook of Astronomy 2022 is the 60th annual edition of the series, curated and edited by Brian Jones. Due out 30th Oct 2021 from Pen & Sword on their White Owl imprint, it's 352 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

This is the diamond jubilee edition of this amazing perennial resource. It's built on a no-nonsense, useful, and familiar format.  A forward and introduction are followed by recommendations for using and getting the most out of the book. The following star charts, which comprise roughly 15% of the content, are split into charts for the northern and southern hemisphere. Following the charts, there's a short section with dates and data for moon phases and eclipse info and best viewing areas.

The bulk of the yearbook (as in previous years) is taken up by the monthly sky notes and articles.  I really love that the 'meat' of these yearbooks are accessible and interesting to a broad range of users, from amateurs to academics.  It's a very inclusive, well (and entertainingly) written guide for everyone.

Following the monthly sky notes are the articles whose author list reads like a who's who from Astronomy, Popular Astronomy, Astronomy FM, etc etc.  Contributors include Neil Haggath, John McCue, Rod Hine, David H. Levy, Damian Peach (with whose gorgeous photography many readers will be familiar even if they don't know that they know his work), and many others.

Practical, well written, inclusive and classic, it's a worthy successor to a long line of Astronomy Yearbooks.

Personal confession.  Some of my best memories are going out (with a homemade redlight) with my dad to look up at the stars.  He gave me a lifelong love of and joy in learning and an appreciation for physics and astronomy particularly. I'm overjoyed that my dad lived long enough to know that my daughter, his granddaughter has gone on to study astrophysics and pursue a career as an astrophysicist.
I'm very happy and thankful that Pen and Sword picked up the publication for the Astronomy Yearbook and continue to offer it to enthusiasts worldwide.

I would encourage everyone to get outside and look up at our beautiful and amazing night sky.

Five stars, plus nostalgia value

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

Pursuit: A Victorian Entertainment

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Pursuit: A Victorian Entertainment is a well written period mystery with a somewhat ruthless anti-hero protagonist written by Felice Picano. Released 11th May 2021 by Bold Strokes Books, it's 242 pages and is 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 throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately; it makes it so easy to find information with the search function. 

This is an undeniably well written and plotted Victorian thriller written in epistolary style. The language and dialogue give it a period feel with the main character's letters to his employer, the Exchequer of England, moving the plot forward and describing his efforts to find a marchioness who has run away or been kidnapped. In this service he tracks her across Europe and has numerous dalliances along the way. 

The story is liberally interspersed with descriptions of dalliances. Main character Addison is pansexual and voracious (and, apparently, insatiable). The naughty parts of the book are written in period style as well, so they're not really graphic, and leave a little to the imagination which was nice. 

The denouement and resolution are satisfying, if a bit happily-ever-after. This is a book I enjoyed quite a lot. Due to the sexual content, I don't think it would generally be a good fit for public library acquisition, but is written well and would be great for readers of historical mystery who don't mind erotica in their reading material. 

Four stars.

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


Pup Culture: Stories, Tips, and the Importance of Adopting a Dog

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Pup Culture is a heartwarming collection of dog adoption stories along with dog parenting tips and tricks curated and presented by Victoria Lily Shaffer. Due out 26th Oct 2021 from Simon & Schuster on their Tiller Press imprint, it's 176 pages and will be available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. 

This is an exuberant and chatty book. The author's enduring enthusiasm for rescue, adoption, and animal welfare shines throughout. She tells her own story of dog adoption (after wearing down her parents, a familiar story to most readers) and their family's life after adopting their dogs. Scattered throughout the biography and dog life stories are small DIY tutorials, checklists, and tips for making canine family life less stressful and more successful. 

I really enjoyed reading the vignettes and stories related by friends and acquaintances of the author. Bob Letterman's (Dave's shepherd mix) adoption is related along with a cute Thanksgiving story as well as many stories of adoption and fostering by the author and her immediate family. All of the stories throughout the book are interspersed with highlighted text sidebars with facts and tips about dog ownership and the daily realities of being a dog-parent. I was unaware, for example, that most large pet supply stores will allow returns of opened food packages if the animal is allergic or refuses to eat the purchased food.  

This is a quirky but engaging book and I enjoyed reading it and looking at all of the adorable dog pics. It would make a good choice for library acquisition, gifting to a dog lover, or for readers who enjoy slice-of-life animal stories. I would also recommend this selection for people contemplating pet adoption. The author doesn't shy away from discussing some of the difficulties as well as the joys of being a pet parent.

Four stars. Cute and enjoyable.

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

Armies of the Vikings, AD 793–1066

 

 

Armies of the Vikings, AD 793–1066 is a capsule survey of the expansion and exploration by Scandinavians, collated by military historian Gabriele Esposito. Due out late Oct. 2021 from Pen & Sword, it's 176 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

This is one of a series of books on ancient military history by the publisher with similar layout and historical overview. They're accessible to the average layman with some background in military history and the language is clear and understandable. The work is not rigidly academic; it's not annotated and there are no chapter notes. The author has included an abbreviated bibliography including some contemporaneous primary sources, but most of the work he's based this work on are secondary histories and modern re-enactors (primarily five different groups of modern living history re-enactors: Jomsborg Vikings Hird from Poland, Brokkar Lag from Spain, Sjórvaldar Vikings from the United States of America and Confraternita del Leone/Historia Viva from Italy); there are also resources and links appended to some of the sources. That's not necessarily a *bad* thing, but it is something to know going into the read. 

There are a number of photographs; they're mostly from the aforementioned modern historical re-enactor groups. I found the actual information was presented somewhat haphazardly and difficult to find again. The timelines hop around quite a bit, and the chapters end quite abruptly. The photographs (which are the book's best feature) are scattered throughout the text capriciously. 

Four stars. I think this would make a good choice for modern readers interested in costume re-enacting groups like the SCA, serious cosplay, and similar. It would also be a good choice for readers who are already invested in this series from the publisher. 

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

The Complete Guide to Restoring Your Soil: Best Practices for Farmers, Ranchers, and Gardeners

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The Complete Guide to Restoring Your Soil is a well written and layman accessible guide to soil building and restoration by Dale Strickler. Due out 26th Oct. 2021 from Storey, it's a comprehensive 352 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. 

The author is an agronomist with a lot of experience in the field. He explains in the intro that he intended to write the definitive volume on soil-building and discovered along the way that there was already vast amounts of academic research on each facet of the information he originally intended to include. A great deal of the research on soil and the biome was so technical it was difficult to access and understand. The original scope of this book became impossibly huge and he decided to simplify and streamline the concepts into layman accessible and understandable language. In this goal, he has succeeded. This is a book which doesn't go into unnecessary depth on any one facet of soil building, but does manage to give the highlights over a wide spectrum of practical information.

The information is grouped thematically into sections: why build up soil, what ideal soil structure is made of, practice and practical methods for soil-building, and comparisons of previous and possible future improvements in systems and protocols. Graphically appealing and easy to understand, it's full of graphs and tables, simple illustrations, and clear color photographs.

The broad focus here means that not all the information included will be relevant for all (or even most) readers. There are significant takeaways for the home gardener here, but there are also many relevant practices aimed at large scale farmers (and even mega-agribusiness models). The relatively callous treatment of our soil over decades and non-sustainable agricultural methods of post WW2 mean that most people are looking at a real crisis of depleted and infertile land, destroyed microorganism populations, and loss to erosion. This book covers some of the ways to rebuild and turn around the destruction we've wrought before it's entirely too late. 

This would be a good choice for public or school library acquisition, gardening groups, maker's and outdoor activity groups, agriculture trade schools, smallholders, and gardeners. There's a lot of good information here. 

Four and a half stars. 

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

What Doesn't Kill Us (Mac McKenzie #18)

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What Doesn't Kill Us is the 18th PI procedural mystery featuring McKenzie written by David Housewright. Released 25th May 2021 by Macmillan on their Minotaur imprint, it's 352 pages 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 throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately; it makes it so easy to find information with the search function. 

This is a departure for this series because it's told in first person retrospective. McKenzie himself has been shot and is unconscious and in a coma for most of the book. Though it's the 18th book in the series, it works pretty well as a standalone and the author is adept enough to give enough background without overloading readers with unnecessary detail. 

The plotting is well crafted with several subplots including solving McKenzie's shooting, the criminal underworld, and a well connected ultra-rich tech fortune family complete with infighting and inheritance disagreements. McKenzie is an inveterate favor-granter to his friends and this time he's gotten himself mixed up in something that's nearly gotten him killed. 

The whole book felt like a visit with characters the fans of the series have been following for almost 20 years. I did appreciate that the author didn't leave the "did he die or not" plot element hanging, he resolved it from the first page, with McKenzie himself narrating. There's plenty of dramatic tension to be found throughout and I also liked that the supporting ensemble of characters get a starring role in this book. 

Recommended for fans of PI procedurals. The language is R rated. There's some light sexual content, but nothing on page. There is some violence and blood. 

Four and a half stars.

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

Cooking at Home: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Recipes (And Love My Microwave)

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Cooking at Home is a well written guide by David Chang and Priya Krishna on making the most of readers' cooking skill in the home kitchen. Due out 26th Oct 2021 from Penguin Random House on their Clarkson Potter imprint, it's 304 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.

I can't even count the number of times I've stood in front of the refrigerator trying to find inspiration and figure out what to cook for dinner. This is a book by two food professionals which doesn't contain actual precisely measured recipes (really). Instead, they've taken the route of showing (and not telling) readers how to follow guidelines which they've provided and find their own dishes and seasoning profiles. This is much more theory than slavish recipe following. I found it intriguing. 

Both Chang and Krishna have an active voice in the text and their interactions are labeled with their initials to keep them distinct. Honestly, their voices are so different from one another, it's not difficult to keep them straight when reading. The tone throughout is light and full of warmth and humor. I enjoyed listening to what they had to say and their different perspectives (Chang is quite brash sometimes, Krishna more thoughtful). 

The book is graphically very bold and colorful. It's full of bright *popping* sidebars and simple illustrations. There are numerous photographs, of the authors cooking, process cooking photos, and some finished dishes. The book's emphasis is on ingredients and how to utilize them to make different dishes, as well as different appliances and cooking methods.

Famous chefs and professional foodies might be famous, but they still have to eat. This book helps the rest of us as well. I'm not sure how much I'll use this book, but it's an enlightening and engaging read. 

Five stars. It would be a good selection for public library acquisition, and for cooks who enjoy deeper food theory and want to learn to develop their own techniques and recipes. 

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

Saturday, September 11, 2021

The King's Painter: The Life of Hans Holbein

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The King's Painter is a well written biography of Hans Holbein presented by Franny Moyle. Due out 5th Oct 2021 from Abrams, it's 400 pages and will be available in hardcover format. 

This is a layman accessible, precise, and exhaustively annotated biography of Hans Holbein the Younger shown through the lens of his patronage by the important and influential families of the Tudor period, most specifically his interaction and service to King Henry VIII. 

The author does a good job of explaining some of the more esoteric political machinations and background. Holbein was a supremely gifted artist, but he was also a politically astute and intelligent man who often had the regard of the king and managed (for the most part) to avoid being embroiled unnecessarily in the deadly political machinations at court.

The book is not strictly chronological; the author has arranged it in a series of thematic chapters each of which explore Holbein's relationships to other great persons of the time period.The narrative is enhanced by excerpts from extant period letters and journals. It is exhaustively annotated and the chapter notes and bibliography will give readers opportunity for many more hours of learning and research. I cannot state with certainty what this biography provides which is lacking from other biographies of Holbein, but I can say I found it accessible and enjoyable to read. The author doesn't make the reading onerous with overly academic constructions, and I appreciated that.

There are no illustrations included in the early ARC provided for pre-release review. 

Five stars. This would make a superlative selection for public or school library acquisition, or for the home library, especially for fans of art, or history, or both. 

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

Murder at Beaulieu Abbey (Abbess of Meaux #11)

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Murder at Beaulieu Abbey is the 11th Hildegard of Meaux medieval mystery by Cassandra Clark. Released 1st June 2021 by Severn House, it's 256 pages and is 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is a beautifully written historical mystery. The story revolves around a background historical framework so seamlessly, it's not always apparent where real history shades over into fiction. The author writes authoritatively and accurately about the time period and includes characters who are three dimensional and believable. Although it's the 11th book in the series, it works quite well as a standalone.

I really enjoyed Hildegard's practicality, intelligence, and wit. She works well with her 'team' and they complement one another's strengths. The book reminds me in a lot of ways of Brother Cadfael, although Ellis Peters' superlative series was set a couple of centuries earlier.

I was a bit let down about 2/3rds of the way through, being sure that I knew precisely what was going on. I was therefore delighted to find that I was more or less completely wrong. Well played, Ms. Clark, well played. The denouement is well written and satisfying. It's a solid period murder mystery and a good addition to the series.

Four stars. I really enjoyed it.

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

Feels Like Home: Transforming Your Space from Uninspiring to Uniquely Yours

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Feels Like Home is a style and tutorial DIY guide by Marian Parsons to help readers to put their individual mark on their personal space. Due out 12th Oct 2021 from Hatchette on their Worthy Books imprint, it's 304 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 throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately; it makes it so easy to find information with the search function. 

I really liked the casual conversational style the author uses. It felt almost like a chat with a friendly and reassuring friend ("It's only a bit of paint, no worries it'll be fine"!). The layout is beautiful, full of clear and well styled rooms which actually look lived in. The photos are drawn from a wide variety of styles and periods and there will be something to appeal to most readers.

The book's chapters are arranged thematically from finding out what readers' own desires and goals are, through to planning and executing projects. The following chapters provide inspiration room by room: living spaces, kitchens, dining areas, bedrooms, creative & work spaces, and the rest of the house (bathrooms, etc). Custom furniture and finishing spaces round out the content along with a relevant bit of philosophy (why are we decorating or working on these projects and how can we find inspiration?). 

The author has included some short DIY tutorials including a hand painted wall mural project that is probably worth the price of the book. It's beautiful and really looks do-able.The book also includes some really useful appendices. There's a before and after exhibit showing the same areas for comparison and inspiration as well as a resources and links lists. 

I liked that the book isn't locked into one particular style or level of exclusivity. Sometimes I feel like home style and interior guides are fairly useless for readers who don't have a seven figure salary. There are casually styled rooms included here as well as exclusive period stately homes and everything in between. 

Lots of useful info here. Four and a half stars. 

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


 

 


Friday, September 10, 2021

They Stole Our Hearts: The Teddies Saga, Book 2 (The Teddies Saga #2)

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They Stole Our Hearts is the second book in the Teddies Saga by Daniel Kraus. Due out 11th Jan 2022 from Macmillan on their Henry Holt imprint, it's 240 pages and will be available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. 

Although this is marketed for middle grades (10years+), I found it really quite scary, more horror than thriller/fantasy. There is quite a lot of blended real life trauma (parents fighting in front of the little girl, Darling, Darling's mother screaming and belittling her, teddies being dismembered quite graphically, dead teddies left right and center, and more). In addition, there are "dream sequence" interludes which are unsettling and scary-ish. 

The book is undeniably well written though. The atmosphere throughout is charged with tension and palpable danger. The author absolutely knows his craft. There is very little backstory given in the narrative, so I would not recommend this one as a standalone. I hadn't read the first book when I read this one and I am sure it wouldn't have been nearly as confusing in the start. For readers who pick this one up without having read the first one, give it a few chapters to get up to speed with the plot.

The unabridged audiobook has a run time of 5 hours and 40 minutes and is well narrated by Kirby Heyborne. He has a rich and expressive voice and manages to read the different characters (including young, old, teddy bears, and adults) distinctly and clearly. The sound and production quality throughout are to a high standard. 

The next book in the series is foreshadowed heavily with a cliffhanger ending which left me feeling somewhat frustrated.

Four stars for the print and audiobook versions. 

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

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Flush: A Robin MacFarland Mystery

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Flush is a humorous midlife crisis murder mystery by Sky Curtis. Released in print in May 2017, the audiobook is due out 15th Oct 2021 from Inanna. The book is (or will be) available in paperback and ebook formats. The print version is 312 pages.

This is a murder mystery with an amateur sleuth who's middle aged, overweight, lonely, desperate, and alcoholic. The author spends *pages* describing cellulite, saggy arms, chins, and wrinkles. Some readers might find the constant harping on her physical characteristics funny, to me they just seemed sad and bullying. The characterizations are trope-y and two dimensional (chain smoking hard@ss editor, dithery but well intentioned main character, lesbian friend who constantly makes passes at her (and any other female within 500 miles), jerk-y sexist rich guy businessmen, society trophy wives, etc).

There were major problems for me in the narrative. The main character is supposed to be an intelligent media professional but she's constantly dithering, impractical, panicked, and falling to pieces about really weird and inconsequential things. Her internal monologue was so cringe-worthy most of the time. I was often yanked out of the story by oddly written phrases and dialogue. When she learns about a death early in the narrative, her colleagues all immediately look at her and more or less convince her she's going to be the primary suspect in the investigation. The pacing just never gelled for me. There is quite a lot of "telling" and almost no "showing". 

Humour is difficult to write and I felt that the author was going for a Kinsey Millhone vibe and it just never got there for me. The language is R rated and there's also quite a lot of unnecessary body objectification (of both men and women).

The unabridged audiobook has a run time of 10 hours and 30 minutes and is narrated by Rebecca Jenkins. She does a fairly good job of individual character voices, but two of them, chain smoking Shirley and BFF Cynthia were like nails on a chalkboard. Shirley was more difficult to listen to than Cynthia for me personally because I got used to the nasal Fran Drescher-esque quality after a while. 

Three stars for both the print and audiobook versions. 

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


Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Real-Life Tales of Black Girl Magic

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Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is a wonderful series and this collection of 100 short biographies of women of color are phenomenal. Due out 28th Sept 2021 from the editors of Rebel Girls, it's 240 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.

This is a wide-ranging collection of 100 short biographies of girls and women of color representing a spectrum of careers and callings; from medical professionals to athletes, and from scientists to entertainers and activists. This collection will show youngsters that their dreams are important and achievable. 10 year old me would've absolutely loved this book. This will be one that young readers will revisit again and again. 

Each mini-bio has the name of the subject, a short header with their field of expertise, and an interesting and well written (age appropriate) biography. The biographies are enhanced by very well rendered portraits of the subjects, short inspirational quotes, as well as a footer entry with biographical info such as birthdate and birthplace. I learned quite a lot myself reading through this book. Many of the biographies will be immediately familiar to readers, but many will likely be new.

Like all of the other books in the series, the editors have included a number of links and resources for further reading. One of the things I really liked about this book was the format of the biographies... they're all sort of written in a fairy-tale style: "Once there was a girl named....", "When Octavia was young, she saw...", "Once upon a time..". This collection would be wonderful for bedtime reading, and by the time the book is read through, youngsters will be ready to start at the beginning again.

Truly worthwhile. This would make a superlative selection for home use, library acquisition, gifting, or school/classroom library. 

Five stars.

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

Best in Snow (Andy Carpenter #24)

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Best in Snow is the 24th (!!!) Andy Carpenter legal procedural mystery by David Rosenfelt. Due out 16th Oct 2021 from Macmillan on their Minotaur imprint, it's 320 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 throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately; it makes it so easy to find information with the search function. 

This is a holiday themed, dog filled, legal procedural murder mystery and very much in the vein of the other books in the series. It's an ensemble cast and it's always a lot of fun to see how much work office manager Edna can avoid, how long it'll take Andy to figure out exactly what's going on, and how many burgers, beers, and fries his friends Vince and Pete can get him to buy at their regular sports bar, Charlie's. 

I can't think of many series which continue to be genuinely funny, genuinely warm, not derivative, and so cleverly plotted as the Carpenter mysteries. The author is on my must-read list and I really enjoyed this installment very much. It's exciting and tightly plotted but not too graphic. There is no sexual content (excepting the occasional sweetly goofy double entendres between Andy and his wife, Lorie). The language is mostly clean (PG rated). The characters are very well delineated at this point and it feels like they live and breathe. Although it's the 24th book in the series, it works perfectly well as a standalone and would make a good entry into the series as a whole. 

The audiobook has a run time of 6 hours and 51 minutes and is expertly narrated by Grover Gardner who manages to juggle the various local accents and characters of all ages and both sexes without problems. I found myself grinning and laughing along several places with the wonderful narration. The read was definitely enhanced by the narrator. I especially loved his interpretation of Vince and Pete (Andy's best buddies). The sound and production quality are high throughout the recording.

Five stars for both the text and audiobook versions. All around fun read. 

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