Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Modern Tiffin: On-the-Go Vegan Dishes with a Global Flair

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The Modern Tiffin is an engaging collection of plant based recipes drawn from many different world cuisines collected and curated by Priyanka Naik. Due out 2nd Nov 2021 from Simon & Schuster on their Tiller Press imprint, it's 224 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

Vegan food has (until quite recently) had a fussy non-portable and somewhat boring reputation. This is a collection of tasty and portable dishes which are suited to picnics and other on-the-go dining. The food is designed to fit into a tiffin box and is varied, interesting, and appetizing. 

I really liked the layout and formatting of this cookbook. I also really enjoyed the author's chatty style and the overall informal and adventurous vibe of the recipes. The introduction gives a good overview over tiffin (the concept), the author's experiences growing up on Staten Island, and her food and travel philosophy. The author gives a comprehensive crash course on tools and products (including where to acquire a tiffin box), shopping, food prep & seasoning, and storage. The recipes are arranged in 10 complete thematic meals and a finishing chapter with drinks.

Ingredient measurements are supplied in American standard measurements only.  The nutritional information is not included.  Each recipe includes a header with a short description of the recipe and approximate servings (generally the recipes will feed 2). Extra tips or recipe alternatives are listed in text boxes in the recipes. The recipes themselves are fairly straightforward; many will require specialist international grocery suppliers or online sourced ingredients. Most are simple, none of them are overly complex. The photography in the aARC provided for review is in black and white - they will presumably be in color in the final release (but possibly not). Many of the recipes are illustrated simply and clearly. 

Four stars. It would make a nice choice for public library acquisition, foodies who enjoy plant based cuisine, and lovers of world-cuisine.

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


Sunday, October 17, 2021

America the Beautiful Cross Stitch: 30 Patterns of America’s Most Iconic National Parks and Monuments

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America the Beautiful Cross Stitch is a stitching tutorial and pattern collection which includes scenes to cross stitch from iconic American parks and monuments. Due out 19th Oct 2021 from Quarto on their becker&meyer! imprint, it's 128 pages and will be available in paperback format.

This collection includes 30 patterns and a good introductory tutorial.  This would probably be a good starting book or gift for someone who was interested in learning the basics of cross stitch and finishing some fun gifts for themselves or friends. The patterns are recognizable and colorful without too much "confetti" stitching.  The first chapter provides a short beginner friendly introduction to materials and supplies. It discusses needles, fabrics, thread counts, embroidery floss, hoops, etc. The photos are full color and clear and the instructions are easy to follow. All the patterns contain only full stitches and there's no outline or backstitching. The patterns are all round (see cover) and suited to framing in hoops. 

Each pattern also includes facts and locations for the national parks and monuments depicted. There are tips and factoids scattered throughout as well. The pattern keys contain the flosses by both DMC 6 strand floss number as well as letter. Conversion charts for other brands of floss are not provided in the book, but conversion charts are readily accessible online for readers who prefer another brand of floss, or silk instead of cotton. 

The pattern charts are in full color with color keys in a footer bar under the pattern. The charts also contain letter designations for each color. I found the charts very dark, but if readers print off working copies in lighter greyscale format, they're easy to follow and the letter symbols can be differentiated from one another. The patterns are simple and I think many stitchers will probably want to do some detail backstitching on them for a more finished appearance, but it's not absolutely necessary. 

This would make a nice gift, perhaps bundled with some stitching supplies, for a friend who wants to learn to stitch, as well as readers who enjoy nature and the outdoors. 

Four stars. 

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

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen (Jasmine Toguchi #1)

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Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen is the first book in the young reader series by Debbi Michiko Florence. Released in 2017 by Macmillan on their Farrar Straus & Giroux imprint, it's 160 pages and is available in most formats. The audiobook version was released by OrangeSky Audio on 13th Oct 2021. 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. 

This is an adorably illustrated and very well written young reader chapter book which entertains readers with an engaging story and also explores themes of growing up as a Japanese American kid, traditions, family, gender roles, and just wanting to be "big enough" for once (she's a younger sister). She's feisty and intelligent and outspoken and I loved her character dearly. The book also includes some Japanese cultural traditions, foods, and celebrations. 

The audiobook version has a run time of just under 1 hour and 15 minutes and is capably narrated by Allison Hiroto. The book contains quite a number of different characters, both male and female, of all ages and different accents and the narrator does a good job of keeping them easy to understand and separate. 

All in all it's an exuberant and entertaining read and will appeal to all ages. This would make a good selection for public or classroom library acquisition, home library, or gifting to a young reader.

Four stars for the book and four stars for the audiobook version.  

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

Off Grid Living for Beginners: Step-by-Step Guide From Planning To Building a Homestead To Living Off The Land and Become Self Sufficient

 

Off Grid Living for Beginners is a general guide to starting planning and list-making and resource gathering to move to an off-grid self-sufficient lifestyle by Emma Nora. Released 27th Sept 2021 it's 132 pages and is available in hardcover, 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. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

This is a logically formatted and easy to read guide to planning and troubleshooting.The chapters are arranged thematically: examining readers' own motivations, learning from other's mistakes, minimalism and preparing for change, finding and acquiring property which suits the purpose, building a homestead, making the actul transition, making a living and keeping everything running,  and some thoughts about the subsystems of a working farm such as power, water, livestock, etc. 

The author's style is very informal; more like a casual chat with friends than an actual instruction manual. Because of the arrangement of the chapters, and that the book feels more like an À la carte presentation to be read in sections instead of straight through, some of the information is repeated in relevant locations throughout the book. 

There are no photographs or illustrations. There are also no tutorials or plans included; they're beyond the scope of the book but many good building plans can be found online or through the library. That's one place where this book is very strong. The author has done a good job of collating and curating references, and this book has a comprehensive annotation and resource lists which will provide readers with many hours of further reading.

This would make a good selection for the smallholder's library or for anyone information-gathering before making the commitment to move to a more self-sufficient lifestyle. I've spent the last few decades gardening and doing what I can to increase my own food security and independence (I learned at my grandfather's side), and I still *strongly* recommend getting a mentor and finding like minded folks and resources to get off to the best start, but this book will definitely fill a gap and provide enough information to at least get started.

Four stars.

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

 

Aloha Alibi (Charlotte Gibson Mysteries #1)

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Aloha Alibi is the first book in a new cozy mystery series by Jasmine Webb. Released 8th June 2021, it's 272 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 throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is a undemanding and fun small-town cozy mystery with a young female protagonist set in Hawaii. The largely female cast is filled with quirky humorous characters including two septuagenarian sleuths who are also determined to solve the mystery and claim the reward for the murder of a New York property developer who was on the island to put the finishing touches on a wildly unpopular glitzy resort when he got himself stabbed. In addition to Charlotte "Charlie" Gibson, and the aforementioned amateur private investigators who are in their 70s, readers also meet Zoe, Charlie's best friend, who is her sensible and logical buddy, and who works as a physician in the local hospital. 

There are a lot of trope aspects included: a slow burn romantic interest (who is, of course, the handsome local lawman), a collection of eccentric small-town oddballs for local color, political corruption, and Charlie's mom, who is by turns warmly sympathetic and cringe-inducingly inappropriate. The dialogue aims for very light bantering humor and mostly succeeds. Some of the dialogue is so unrealistic that it yanked me out of the story, but mostly, it's standard for the subgenre. The author does a good job with including enough backstory to move the narrative along without drowning readers in too much info.

There are several intertwined plot threads including why Charlie's moved back to Hawaii (she's on the run from Seattle gangsters), the murder of a businessman (there's a substantial reward offered for solving the crime), best friend Zoe's issues with a stalker, and corruption and bribery in local island government. 

The unabridged audiobook version has a run time of 6 hours and 13 minutes and is capably narrated by Khristine Hvam. There are both male and female characters of a range of ages, and she keeps them distinct and perfectly understandable. The sound and recording quality and production values are high throughout the recording.

It's a very lighthearted, often silly, humorous cozy mystery with fun characters and a satisfying denouement and resolution. The solution was foreshadowed fairly heavily, but there were a couple of twists in the climax which, although completely over the top, added some excitement. 

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

The Bath Conspiracy

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The Bath Conspiracy is the 24th (!) book in the Dorothy Martin cozy mysteries by Jeanne M. Dams. Released 1st June 2021 by Severn House, it's 224 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 throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This entire series is very cozy and enjoyable and the characters are refreshingly down to earth, intelligently portrayed, and believable. All of the books work well as standalones and this would be a good starting point to hop on the series. The author is adept enough to provide the necessary back story without spoon feeding or info dumping and there aren't any major spoilers from earlier books which aren't included in the blurb on the back cover, namely that Dorothy is an expat American who is married to a retired English chief constable and who now resides in England and they solve mysteries together as a sort of superannuated Nick & Nora. 

This is pure escapist entertainment and the language is squeaky clean. There's *very* light unspecific consensual sexual content hinted at in the book, but nothing at all suggestive or off-color (and the characters are married). The narrative arc doesn't contain any real danger or threat and I found it a lovely interlude to a very stressful time. This is the book for a pot of tea and nibbles, curled up on the sofa on a rainy weekend. 

Four stars. A lovely read. 

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

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Well-Offed in Vermont (Pret’ Near Perfect Mystery #1)


Well-Offed in Vermont is the first book in a small-town cozy mystery series by Amy Patricia Meade. Originally published in 2011, this reformat and re-release 5th Oct 2021 is 181 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats (other editions in other 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. 

This is an entertaining and engaging cozy featuring a married couple who have moved to the country in Vermont to get away from big city life and the first thing they find on the first day moving in is a dead man hidden in their well. The local sherriff closes off their home as a potential crime scene and Nick & Stella decide to help investigate. 

The pool of suspects is small, and although the denouement and resolution are fairly easy to guess beforehand, they're well written and satisfying. It works perfectly well as a standalone, and is a nice lead-in to the next book in the series. The language is clean, and there's no graphic violence or sexual content. This would be a good choice for lovers of light cozies, the kind with whimsically eccentric small town characters, a town diner, and rural countryside.

Four stars. This will appeal to cozy readers. 

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

The Drowning Kind

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The Drowning Kind is a psychological mystery paranormal thriller with a creepy gothic vibe by Jennifer McMahon. Released 6th April 2021 by Simon & Schuster on their Gallery imprint, it's 336 pages and 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. 

This is a well written, extremely creepy and atmospheric, character driven mystery with a very strong paranormal ghost story subplot central to the story. It's told in a parallel timeline narrative which resolves at the denouement. I found the plotting quite uneven throughout and there were a lot of plot threads which were never resolved which niggled at me annoyingly. 

There is some potentially triggering content including self harm (a *lot* of it), suicide ideation, death of a child, mental health issues, death by drowning, and a shed load of paranormal death in addition. There is a nebulous plot, but nothing linear at all. The scenes are strung together sequentially, but don't resolve to any meaningful degree. The end (for me) was something of an anti-climax. Despite the drawbacks, the scenes are beautifully rendered with clear and evocative prose and the characters are finely drawn with believable motivations and dialogue. The author is clearly good at her craft. 

Three and a half stars, rounded up for the writing. This would be a good fit for "women's paranormal"/ghost story readers. For me, the ending was the weakest part of the story.

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

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Heroine with 1001 Faces

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The Heroine with 1001 Faces is an immersive folklore based examination of the heroine archetype in the collective cultural consciousness written and presented by Dr. Maria Tatar. Released 14th Sept 2021 by W.W. Norton on their Liveright imprint, it's 368 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. 

This is an erudite, very well written, layperson accessible look at the archetypes and portrayals of women in cultural narrative from the ancient world to the 21st century. It's a meticulously researched and annotated survey course and also, in a way, a companion volume (rebuttal?) to Campbell's Hero With A Thousand Faces.  I loved poring over the illustrations as well as the exhaustive bibliography and full chapter notes and annotations. The chapter notes are likely worth the price of admission for anyone interested in the subject and there's obviously been a swoonworthy amount of time spent on research and resource gathering on the part of the author. I took notes during the read and harvested an impressive number of items which warranted further examination later.

I found the entire book quite interesting and fascinating. It is, admittedly, a niche book but will definitely appeal to readers interested in cultural anthropology. It's not a very easy read. The language is rigorous and formal. I definitely don't think it's inaccessible for the average reader, but it will take some effort (and I think that's a good thing). This would make a good support text for classroom or library use, for cultural anthropology and allied subjects, as well as a superlative read for those who are particularly interested in history, culture, and the arts.

Five stars. This is well and deeply researched and engaging.

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

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Murder at the Wedding (Miss Underhay #7)

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Murder at the Wedding is the 7th Miss Underhay cozy by Helena Dixon. Released 6th Oct 2021, it's 277 pages and is 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. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

This is an engagingly well written classic country house murder set in the interwar period in the north of England. Kitty and her intrepid maid/companion/sidekick Alice are off to Kitty's cousin's wedding and it's not long before a murder shows up to disrupt all their well laid plans. When Kitty's friend Matt arrives, they help one another investigate. There are several disparate subplot threads which entwine to a satisfying denouement and resolution. 

This is a consistently well written and entertaining modern classic English mystery series with well wrought characters and clever plots. The dialogue is well written and never clunky or overwrought. 

Well worth a look for mystery lovers and fans of the golden age.  I really enjoyed it.

Four stars.

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

Death in Bloom (A Flower House Mystery #1)

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Death in Bloom is a new series opener for a new small town cozy mystery series by Jess Dylan. Released 25th May 2021 by Macmillan on their St. Martin's Press imprint, it's 320 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is an engaging and well written small town "shopfront" cozy with a young female protagonist (complete with unexpected puppy, slow burn nerdy potential romantic interest, and wise grandma dispensing charms and baked goods with equal abandon). The pool of suspects is small, and although the denouement and resolution are fairly easy to guess beforehand, they're well written and satisfying. There's a nice foreshadowing twist at the end of the book which I didn't see coming. It works perfectly well as a standalone, and is a nice lead-in to the next book in the series. The language is clean, and there's no graphic violence or sexual content. This would be a good choice for lovers of light cozies, the kind with whimsically eccentric small town characters, a town diner, and pets.

Four stars. This will appeal to cozy readers. 

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

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed (Äldre dam #2)

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An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed is the second collection of short fiction from Helene Tursten featuring Maud, an octogenarian killer who is not to be underestimated. Originally released in Swedish in 2020, this English translation released 5th Oct 2021 from Soho Press on their Crime imprint. It's 272 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is such a deliciously dark and enchanting collection of stories about a deceptively innocuous little old lady and her encounters throughout her life with the unsavory people who (in Maud's opinion) richly deserved their fates.  The stories are tied together with the original tale segueing into the following stories which are told through flashbacks. 

The writing is unvarnished and direct, disarmingly simple, and always there's Maud, thinking (and doing) what most people have probably at least thought about at some point in the deepest darkest recesses of their minds. 

The translation work by Marlaine Delargy is seamless and although the scansion and rhythm of the text is a bit choppier than usual for English original prose, the simple way the stories are told suits the directness and short sentence structure very well. 

The unabridged audiobook has a run time of 4 hours and 52 minutes and is expertly narrated by Ann Richardson. She does a good job with the individual character voices. Sound quality and production values are high throughout.One thing of note for English speaking readers, most character and place names are pronounced as they are in the original Swedish, so Charlotte is read as "where-lot" and Johanneberg sounds like "yohanneberg". It doesn't take long to get used to the pronunciation - it's just with places and people, mostly.

Four stars for both the print and audiobook versions. 

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

Buried Memories

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Buried Memories is the 10th book in the Ishmael Jones SF mystery series by Simon Green. Released 5th Oct 2021 by Severn House, it's 192 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is a humorous and well written mystery with a strong SF element (the titular protagonist is an alien in more or less human form). His sidekick and partner is a human espionage agent and despite the occasional necessary badassery and alien tech (and weapons), they drink tea, eat scones, and reprimand baddies with the best traditional classical sleuths. If readers can stretch to imagining a mashup where Agatha Christie's Tommy & Tuppence are set down in Stross' world of the Laundry Files by a cinematographer from the X-Files, they'd come remarkably close.

I've been impressed with Green's masterful control of the tension arc in his other books and this one is no exception. He has a wonderful way of making the most mundane occurrences seriously *creepy*.  I devoured this installment in one sitting. All of the books work well as standalones (there's an intro back-story to get readers up to speed). Some of the main plot points in this book are dependent on back history from previous books, so there will be some pretty major spoilers if read out of order, but readers won't be lost or have trouble following along if they choose to read them that way.

The dialogue is often sarcastic and slyly humorous. The book is populated by weird and bizarre characters (and some of them are even human). I found myself grinning often and chuckling out loud a few times. The denouement and resolution were exciting and satisfying and I am really really looking forward to What Comes Next.

Four stars. SF mystery weirdness at its creepy best. 

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

 

A Tomato Grows in Brooklyn


A Tomato Grows in Brooklyn is a cookbook interspersed with warm memoir recollections by David Ruggerio. Due out 12th Oct 2021 from Black Rose Writing, it's 252 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. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

This is an unvarnished memoir written in chapters through Chef Ruggerio's childhood and professional life. He talks plainly in a direct voice with the reader about his difficult childhood, trouble with the law, and eventual redemption and professional success as a culinary professional. He is unabashedly plain spoken, brash even, and his recollections and reminiscences are often bittersweet. He doesn't dwell on the tragedies (he was orphaned at 5 years old) or the systemic racism which Southern Italians experienced - they are just facts of life to be gotten around or compensated for. What does come through clearly is his love of and respect for food and family which are inextricably entwined. In fact, the recipes are gathered in each memoir chapter in a sort of stream-of-consciousness manner, and only coded with their uses: a (appetizer), b (breakfast/brunch), m (main course), c (side dish/contorni), and d (dessert). At least in the pre-release ARC I received for review, there was no comprehensive index, which will make the recipes a challenge to find without a systematic read-through of the book. 

I was entranced by the brash style of the memoir and his unapologetic (and presumably) unvarnished reminiscences of growing up in the 70s in Brooklyn. The comforting home life with scents of olive oil, tomatoes simmering with basil, and handmade traditional sausages are there, related on the same page as violence on the doorstep with drug abuse, stabbings, and murder. The dichotomy is dizzying and somehow fascinating at the same time. 

Recipes are written with names in both Italian and English, the aforementioned code (breakfast, appetizer, main dish, dessert), an introduction and recipe ingredients listed bullet-style in a sidebar. Ingredients are given with American standard measures (no metric equivalents given), followed by step by step preparation instructions. Roughly a third of the recipes are accompanied by photographs. The food is not overstyled and looks genuinely appetizing and real. Serving photos are appealing and appropriate. Most recipes are written for family sized portions (generally 4-8 servings, sometimes more). 

There are a number of "fancier" dishes which aren't generally available outside of specialty cookbooks, as well as quite a number of specific holiday recipes (Saints days, Christmas, etc). My major problem with the book was the apparent lack of a table of contents or index. Both of these issues are possibly fixed in the release copy. The memoir itself is quite worthwhile and I compensated for the lack of index by bookmarking recipes I wanted to revisit as I read through the book. Not ideal, but workable.

Three and a half stars, rounded up for the unvarnished and enlightening memoir. 

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

Monday, October 4, 2021

1979 (Allie Burns #1)

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1979 is the first book in a new series by Val McDermid. Due out 5th Oct 2021 from Atlantic Monthly Press, 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is an engaging and very fast paced start to a new murder mystery series featuring a young female reporter in Scotland at the end of the 70s. McDermid is one of the best living writers of crime fiction in English and this novel (although a little different than her other series) is both technically brilliant and very very well written. I have read most of the author's oeuvre, and I was pleased that this book at least isn't nearly as graphic/grisly as some of her other books (the Hill & Jordan books for example). Protagonist Allie is intelligent and driven and that translates well into her inevitable clashes with patriarchal and classist society at large and the men with whom she works. This is a milieu the author is intimately familiar with, having worked as a reporter herself for a number of years in the same time period as the book. It has bone-deep verisimilitude and I enjoyed reading about the fact finding and investigation in the pre-internet "dark ages". The tension arc, denouement, and resolution are up to McDermid's high standards. The read was very satisfying and I'll definitely be seeking out future installments of this promising series.

The audiobook is unabridged, has a run time of slightly over 11 hours, and is most expertly narrated by Katie Leung. She has a pleasantly nuanced voice and manages the characters with widely divergent accents (and ages, and both sexes) impressively well. The accents are as disparate as Scotland, various English accents, to the Southwest and points in between (even American/Caribbean), and she manages all of them with expertise and precision. To be honest, there aren't very many UK/Scottish narrators/voice actors who can manage American accents (or the opposite) without being truly painful to listen to. I've from the USA but have lived in the UK and Europe for a long time and Ms. Leung's command of accents is virtuoso.  Sound quality and production values are high throughout. 

Four and a half stars for the text, five stars for the narration. 

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

Bernoulli's Fallacy: Statistical Illogic and the Crisis of Modern Science

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Bernoulli's Fallacy is an expository academic comparison of the statistical methods and accepted methodologies used by modern empirical scientists, analyzed and presented by Dr. Aubrey Clayton. Released 3rd Aug 2021 by Columbia University Press, it's 368 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. 

This is an esoteric book with urgent, potentially catastrophic, foundational implications for science (and society). The way we interpret, group, and present data has fundamental connections to what we see as "objective truth" and "facts". This is especially frightening when considered in the light of recent crises such as systemic racism, alleged election/voting fraud, and pandemic/public health methodology and data. 

This is a deep dive into the subject material and will require a solid background in mathematics and statistical methodology at the very least. I have a couple degrees in engineering sciences (and a real love for bioinformatics), and it was significantly above my pay grade.  I could understand much, but by no means all, of the author's exposition and there were tantalizing glimpses of deeper information which I simply couldn't grasp. Readers should expect to expend some effort here to even make an informed decision on the veracity of the author's claims.

It's an academic book, the author is an academic, and it reads very much like an academic treatise. The language isn't *quite* as impenetrable as many academic volumes. The text is well annotated throughout and the annotations will make for many hours of background reading enjoyment. I get the distinct impression that the author has made a herculean effort to use accessible language to make it more easily understood, but there is a basic level of understanding which will render it inaccessible to many readers. That being said, the author writes with style and humor and tries to make the read minimally pedantic. I can well imagine that he's a talented and popular lecturer.

At the end of the day, Disraeli wasn't wrong when he decried "lies, damned lies, and statistics". I am not strong enough in this particular field of study to say where on the above spectrum Dr. Clayton's exposition falls.

Five stars (readers should keep in mind that the subject will require significant effort). I would enthusiastically recommend that people in education and policy expend the necessary effort. It would be a good selection for public/university library acquisition, as well as for more academic settings in philosophy of mathematics and science and allied fields of study.

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

Murder at the Royal Botanic Gardens (Wrexford & Sloane #5)

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Murder at the Royal Botanic Gardens is the 5th Wrexford & Sloane regency mystery by Andrea Penrose. Released 28th Sept 2021 by Kensington, it's 368 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is an engaging and well written series addition. It's an ensemble character driven cozy(ish) historical murder mystery with a strong element of romance. The author has written the story around a framework of fictionalized historical characters and she does a good job of interweaving the historical facts with the fictional narrative allowing for some minor poetic license regarding names, dates, and times. 

Although self-contained in the narrative arc, the cast of characters have a long history together, so it works well enough as a standalone, but I strongly recommend reading the series in order because of  character development spoilers (in fact the titular series characters have progressed from near-enemies in book one to betrothed in this entry). The language is very clean, there's some violence used in context, and little sexual content. 

The author does take some thinly veiled pokes at racism, slavery, unscrupulous profiteers, and the for-profit medical industry in this book which have distinct takeaways for our modern world.  The narrative arc and denouement and resolution are satisfying for the genre (a little swoony and overwrought, but not egregiously so).

Enjoyable cozy murder / romance. Four stars.

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

The Last Graduate (The Scholomance #2)

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The Last Graduate is the second book of The Scholomance trilogy by Naomi Novik. Released 28th Sept 2021 by Penguin Random House on their Del Ray imprint, it's 400 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats.

Naomi Novik is a gifted author. This time she turns her sights on the YA fantasy magic wizard school in trilogy format and the result is engaging, readable, and a full-octane-out-of-control roller coaster ride from start to cliff-hanging finish. It's very much a series book, and there are *major* spoilers for readers who choose to jump in here instead of reading the books in order.  

The prose is so immersive and the tension arc so perfectly controlled that the reader is swept along breathlessly. Although the book is chock full of threat and violence, it's cleverly enough not graphic violence, and will undoubtedly be devoured by readers of YA fantasy in droves. The staging and scenes are quite visual throughout and during the entire read it was very easy to picture the action; it's written very cinematically. When the (inevitable) films come out, the screenplay writers will have likely mostly just transferred the book directly to script and turned the special effects engineers loose with the rest of the film budget. 

I'm not the target audience (by several decades), but this series could easily prove to be the current generation's Maze Runner or Hunger Games. (Note, I did not compare to Twilight or Harry Potter, it's much better written than either). There is a strong romance element but the "kissy bits" are easy to ignore if that is the reader's wish. 

The author's nod to traditional eastern European folklore is duly noted, however, as a die-hard World of Warcraft player, I twitched every time I read "Scholomance" (the school where the action takes place). 

Five stars. Strongly suggested to read the series in order. 

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

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Sexton Blake's New Order (Sexton Blake Library #5)

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Sexton Blake's New Order is the 5th collection of Sexton Blake stories, this collection from the 60s. Released 27th April 2021 by Rebellion, it's 400 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats.

These are enthusiastically action driven adventures and they're full of non-stop intrigue and espionage. The stories are simply written and plotted and they rush along at a gallop. The bad guy are unrepentantly bad - the good guys are brave, lucky, and always on the side of the angels. The stories are easy to read and easy to like.

The writing quality is surprisingly high, especially considering that they're channeling the style of stories which were banged out as public entertainment.

I definitely would recommend the updated versions to anyone looking for light and entertaining action books, especially fans of series characters. For all my friends and acquaintances who enjoy the old John Creasey series like The Toff and The Baron, these (though set somewhat earlier in time) will fill the bill nicely.

Four stars (warning, product of its time and reflects many of the social mores and attitudes of same).

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

Shadow & Claw (The Book of the New Sun #1-2 )

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Shadow & Claw is the first half of the Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe. Originally published in 1994, this reformat and re-release by Macmillan on their Tor Forge imprint was released 8th June 2021. This edition is part of the Tor Essentials collection. It's 512 pages and is available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

I distinctly remember reading this at release almost 30 years ago. I found it, then and now, disturbing and unsettling (completely intentional on the author's part) as well as bluntly (but not at all simply) written. I agree with Wolfe's adherents, including Gaiman, who proclaim his genius long and loud. There certainly aren't many books in the genre which can be legitimately be compared to Book of the New Sun in scope or reach. The problem is that it's also been misread as a rallying cry in fandom, drawing the less savory fans who enjoy the torture porn layers of the book without considering what Wolfe was really trying to *say*. I've heard it attributed to Jonathan Swift, that readers had never read Gulliver's Travels because they read it too young. I believe that a similar mechanism occurs here as well. Readers who read through the text and interpret it as a dark tale of torture and retribution with well oiled swords (*snerk*), obscene systemic misogyny, and torture with a side order of more torture have missed the point. 

This is a nuanced read and will repay close attention and contemplation during reading. At the same time, much of the book is graphically violent and difficult to read for anyone with any empathy whatsoever. Trigger warnings abound - suicide, body horror, torture, rape, degradation, physical violence and more. 

Three and a half stars. Difficult to read. Impressive and perennial. It belongs with the classics of the genre but I cannot say I enjoyed reading it either time and I don't know that I'll be revisiting it. 

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