Friday, January 26, 2018

Mississippi Roll

Mississippi Roll is the 24th book in the Wild Cards series published by Tor Books. There are 5 stories bound together by a segue/interlude story written by Steven Leigh. The book credits G.R.R. Martin and Melinda Snodgrass as editor/assistant editor respectively.

I remember picking up the original books in the series in about 1987(ish) and loving the whole idea of a shared universe anthology series.  I'm already a huge fan of anthologies because there are always at least some stories that appeal at any given time and there are always new-to-me authors to follow up on after devouring the anthology.  I'm also very fond of short fiction because it provides a whole different set of problems and it's always fun (and often enlightening) to see how authors adapt to the constraints of a shorter narrative.

This book is 336 pages of well edited and curated fantasy goodness.  If you're familiar with the wildcards universe and premise, this is a good one. If you're not familiar with wildcards before now, this is a very good standalone novel to introduce the concept and some of the characters.

I loved the character Steam Wilbur ("In the Shadow of Tall Stacks" Steven Leigh). That's him on the cover. Leigh's interlude stories give the whole anthology a nice cohesiveness.

The stories are all strong, but I especially loved "A Big Break in the Small Time" by Carrie Vaughn.  I couldn't stop smiling reading it.  Deftly written and exciting and I'm a total sucker for couples who really care about one another.  Sweet!

Four and a half stars

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

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Bloodstains with Bronte

Bloodstains with Brontë is the second book in the Crime with the Classics series by author Katherine Bolger Hyde. Released 12th Dec, 2017 from St. Martin's Press (Macmillan) it's currently available in ebook, hardcover, and audio versions.

At almost 300 pages, it's a substantial size for a cozy mystery, but the author has a deft hand at plotting and it goes quickly.  This was my commute read to and from work, and I devoured it in a couple days.  The chapter headings are quotes from Bronte novels and I was impressed with the way they coordinated and preshadowed each chapter.

The characters are well written and mostly fleshed out.  I had some trouble with some of the dialogue, but in general there wasn't much clumsiness or being yanked out of the story by anything egregious.  It's basically a bed and breakfast cozy with a literature professor as the amateur sleuth. It's comfortable and clean (totally SafeForWork), very little mild cursing (a handful of hells, damns, and shits).  You know the deal going in, and it doesn't disappoint.  The clues are presented in the story and while most experienced readers will have worked out 'whodunnit' before the end of the book, there are a few unexpected twists along the way.

The book is written in third person omniscient PoV, but there are journal entries written by Katie (a young woman who works with, and is like a daughter to, the main character Emily).  The journal entries (in 1st person PoV) are italicized, but are placed without any segue, so they seem occasionally disjointed from the rest of the narrative.

There is a strong element of Christian faith and sensibility running through the novel, but nothing most readers would find very objectionable.  Emily is written as a person of faith and that affects the choices she makes and her reasoning processes in the book.  She has a different worldview than do I and as long as I remembered that, it wasn't a problem. She is a good person and tries very hard to live her life in accordance with her faith.  

Much of the plot hinges on date rape and non-consent, so if that's a trigger, it's probably best to skip this one.   The author does a pretty good job of writing the necessary awful bits without being too graphic or glossing over the trauma entirely.

I read this second book as a standalone and it worked perfectly well.

Three and a half stars.

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

Wednesday, January 24, 2018


This is the first book of a (for now) 2 book series.  This is a very low-angst sweetly HEA m/m romance told in alternating first person PoV. The plotting and story arc are readable and entertaining.  The dialogue between the two lead characters is just so sweet.

People who love seriously angsty novels with lots of insurmountable problems and crises galore will undoubtedly break something rolling their eyes when reading this book.  This is a refreshingly sweet romance with no major trauma or tears.  That's not to say that it's lacking in narrative tension, there are several potentially dangerous situations.

Definitely NSFW, this is one you probably don't want to be reading on the bus or in public.  The explicit content in several scenes is also well written and steamy.

Just an all around sweet book.  I enjoyed it very much.

Buzz Books 2018: Spring/Summer

It's traditionally been the fall/winter season when publishers get the publicity juggernaut going full gear.  It's therefore really exciting for me to see a fair number of big name authors' books being released this spring and summer season, 2018.

These semi-annual previews are available free for download from the Buzz Books website here (or Amazon here) and are invaluable for planning summer TBR lists, avoiding some books which the buzz has overhyped (or just don't fit with you personally), and one of my favorite uses, to stretch our boundaries.  I am guilty, I admit it, of walking straight toward my favorite sections of any bookstore.  I think the vast majority of us are guilty of the same... we have limited book budgets and time and want to stick with the tried-and-true authors who have traditionally delivered for us. When I find an enjoyable free way to maybe find a book which is a great fit for me without committing to a purchase first, it's a win-win.  I have found a number of debut authors this way who have gone on to become fast favorites.

These collections are a great way to get a free 'taste' sample from authors who might well otherwise fly under your radar entirely.

Aside from the generous chapter excerpts included in the book, there's always a publishing preview with notable upcoming releases along with author and publisher info.  I always find upcoming books from authors I love without having known they had an upcoming release.  Valuable timesaver for that reason alone.

There's also a YA version which gets its own volume: Download here from Amazon, or here at the Buzz Books website.

Five stars (though I -should- ding half a star for always making my TBR list grow by too much!  How long can a human go without sleep I wonder??).

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

The Art of Botanical & Bird Illustration

Walter Foster art and graphics publishing have a catalog which encompasses all types of graphic and mixed media arts as well as art history and culture.  The Art of Botanical & Bird Illustration is a 144 page instruction and tutorial manual available in ebook and paperback formats.  The author is an experienced artist and illustrator.

There was a lot to like here.  I really like the author's calm and reassuring writing style.  The photography and individual technical tutorials are well written and very well illustrated.  The biological/botanical/anatomical information in the book is well presented and correct.   She also emphasizes the importance of nomenclature and precision when drawing and illustrating plants.  The book abounds with creative and useful tips for natural positioning and drawing botanical samples.  I loved the tip about using floral water tubes and a third hand to hold botanical samples during the drawing process.
I also really liked that the author isn't a purist.  It's clear that she's not a shill for any particular brand name.  She shows what -she- uses and works with and leaves it up to the student to find methods and tools which work for them.
She even manages to sneak a little philosophy into the book without being preachy or strident at all.  She mentions the use of reference photographs and that ethical artists will use stock photographs as reference guides but not slavishly copy them and claim them as original.  (She says it in a much less confrontational manner).  Intellectual theft and copying is so rife.  I think her subtle message is both needed and timely.

There are many things to like about this book. I read it in one sitting and went back and worked on some of the introductory shading and shadowing exercises with a still life. My results weren't terribly impressive, but it's made me want to work on my drawing more rather than frustrating me into quitting.  This is not a beginner book.  It is, however, an inspirational book and one to grow with.

There is basically zero handholding/spoonfeeding.  This is not a book to pick up if you've never held a pencil before.  She does go over some basics of perspective and shading, but not nearly enough to get a beginner from a starting point to a position of confidence without a lot of (possibly insurmountable) frustration.

I received the electronic ARC of this book, so I can't speak to the quality of the physical book, but I'm assuming it's the same quality as the other Walter Foster tutorial titles.

Four stars, beautifully illustrated and a valuable resource.

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

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Tilda Sewing by Heart: For the Love of Fabrics

Sewing by Heart is the newest pattern and fabric collection book from 'Tilda' (Tone Finnanger). The fabrics are (as always) beautiful and delicately colorful and so wonderfully coordinated.  I absolutely love the designs.  The patterns include several groups of coordinating projects: quilts with matching pillows, soft toys or decor items.  The quilts are pieced in the traditional fashion but the patterns are new-to-me and original.  There are both pieced, modified mola (reverse applique) and traditional applique projects.  They are all beautiful and I had trouble picking out what to do first.

There are (by my count) 24 separate projects in 7 broad categories.  The 7 quilt patterns alone are worth more than the purchase price.  The book also includes chapters covering materials, techniques, scale and full size patterns (there are also printable pattern links),  and a handy suppliers list at the back of the book.

There are nice full color photographs and illustrations throughout.

Published 17th November, 2017 through F+W Media and  Sew and So, it's 144 pages and available in ebook and softbound formats.

Four stars, beautiful and original quilt patterns and beautifully showcased quality fabrics.

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

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Hat

The Hat is a novella length (116p.) story by C.S. Boyack.  It's quite hard to categorize, with elements of speculative fiction/fantasy, a little dash of noir, and some chick-lit thrown into the mix.

I'm truly not a book snob and I do make an effort to read and review smaller self published books.  I'm so glad this one caught my attention.  It's a joy for me to be able to give a good review for books which don't fit the mold and aren't mammoth-juggernaut-publishing-wonders™ with gazillion dollar budgets.

After a poke around his blog and having read this novella, I can say with certainty that the author is a gifted and creative storyteller with a sure voice.  Most of the characters are well written and the dialogue and plotting are entertainingly readable.  One big thing that struck me whilst reading The Hat was how consistently funny it was.  Humor is so variable and so difficult to write.  This book is really really funny in a lot of places.  I was also struck by how sure the author's voice was when writing the female protagonist.  She is believable.

There were a few less than stellar moments.  Her interaction with her uncle was flat and seemed like exactly what it was (a plot device to get The Hat into her possession).  A lot of her interaction with the bad guys was over the top, but then again, she's teamed up with a sentient inanimate object, so the author is owed a lot of suspension of disbelief wiggle room.

Just an all around fun read.  It's a couple of hours' diversion and entertainment.  I, for one, would love to read more adventures from Lizzie and co.  Intergalactic do-goodery with a rockabilly soundtrack?! Count me in!

Four and a half stars, beautifully written and funny.

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

The Joy of Mindful Writing

This is a short (144 pages) but surprisingly deep treatise of conscious creativity and mindfulness as they relate to the writing process.  It's not so much an instruction book as a philosophical examination of writing and how to open a conduit and tap into one's inherent ability.

The text is accompanied by sidebars with various mindfulness exercises to lead and inspire the writer's creativity.  They focus on diverse goals such as breathing, awareness, dealing with a block, stream of consciousness and others.

The book is not so much a treatise on writing craft or mindfulness, but the intersection of the two.  The included exercises could well be adapted to mindfulness and meditation without the intention to write, and can be used to bring more awareness and meditation to our everyday lives.

For people who are interested in incorporating more organic and philosophical working methods into their writing process, this book could be a useful tool.

Basic info:
Author: Joy Kenward
Publisher: Quarto Publishing - Leaping Hare Press
Release date:15 Oct, 2017
144 pages, ebook and hardcover formats

Four stars

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

Hand Tool Basics

Hand Tool Basics is exactly what the title claims, a solid handbook on the care, use, and feeding of hand powered woodworking tools. Self taught woodworker, author and blogger Steve Branam has teamed up with F+W Media and Popular Woodworking; the book is available in hardcover and ebook formats, and was released 12th January, 2018.

The book opens with an introduction which explains why someone would choose hand tools when electrical tools are available, materials, the value of practicing new skills to become comfortable with them, setting up a work space, using jigs and guides, etc.  The intro covers about 5% of the page content.
Chapter 1 (roughly 5% of the book) covers tools: workbenches, safety, saws and planes and other basic info.

Chapter 2 (18% of the content) - Sharpening and care of tools is important from a safety standpoint as well as to get the best results from the tools. Dull and badly maintained tools suck the joy out of any project as well as being a dangerous safety risk.  This chapter provides clear concise instructions with full color photos in a step-by-step format.  I came away with a clear understanding of  single and double bevel edges and sharpening everything from chisels to saws.  Maintenance is so important and the author uses easily followed and complete language (and pictures).  It really felt like having a one-on-one instructor available.

Chapter 3 (21%) covers  the tools used in preparing stock materials: gauges, squares and marking tools, planes, and how to prepare and face stock.  I really like that the author gives considered opinions about potential strengths and drawbacks of different methods throughout the book.  He often refers to these as 'fistfights' or places where woodworkers tend to have very fixed opinions about the relative merits of one approach over another.

Chapter 4 (20%) - is a really complete treatise of joinery in all its forms and functions.  I can't emphasize enough how helpful it was for me to have the reference photographs to see hand and tool positions.  He covers simple joinery with glues and this chapter has the best illustrations of any book in my library on using a chisel and how to use the bevel (forward or backward facing) to cut exactly to the desired depth and removal area.

Chapter 5 (11%) Mortise & Tenon joinery - well photographed and complete step by step instructions.  I really like that he explains potential problem areas and pitfalls before they can arise and ruin progress.

Chapter 6 (12%) - Dovetail joinery.  This is a solid chapter.  The instructions and photography are -so- good that even beginning woodworkers will feel like they can succeed with the step-by-step instructions.  There's a tutorial for practicing dovetail sawing.  This chapter alone is worth the price of admission.

Chapter 7 (4%) - Boring holes and curved work. This chapter has a lot of info about boring holes and roughing and refining curves. 

The rest of the content covers conversions, extra available instructions and patterns, links and inspiration.

I previously spent a lot of time frustrated with the results of my woodworking projects because I felt that they were lacking something.  I came to woodworking mostly as a result of needing improved skills for repairing and refinishing and replacing pieces on the furniture I was refinishing and refurbishing.  I'm constantly learning but I really wish I'd had this book years ago.

The author has a real knack for teaching in a calm and clear manner.

Five stars.  This is a good solid book.  I'm going to buy a hardback version for my shop bookshelf; that's high praise from me.

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

Saturday, January 20, 2018


Chained is the third entry in the Kate Turner, DVM mystery series by Eileen Brady.  The protagonist is a practicing vet in a rural area of New York state.  She's a temporary replacement for the clinic's owner, Doc Anderson. When one of her dog patients discovers a human arm bone, she gets involved in solving the cold case disappearance of the arm bone's original owner.

I enjoyed reading this book.  Though I read it as a standalone, the necessary backstory is included in the story and it doesn't suffer for being read out of order.  I really liked Kate.  She's no-nonsense and unpretentious and not superwoman.  I also liked the interaction and small town feeling between the characters in the book and the good relationship she has with her coworkers. There's a lot of humor in the book and it's a fun and diverting read.  (The scene with the hamster in the bottle made me giggle).

The plot resolution does depend on a deus ex machina, but it wasn't completely over the top.  It's a cozy mystery and the book adheres to the 'rules' in every other way.  The author is an experienced vet herself and it shows in the narrative.  They say 'write what you know', and I've no doubt that some of the dialogue and situations in the book have their origins in the author's experiences.

It's a diverting read and at 269 pages, a good length for a cozy.  It's well written and plotted and doesn't drag.

Released 5th Dec, 2017 by Poisoned Pen Press, it's available in hardcover, paperback and ebook formats.

Four stars, enjoyable, escapist, cozy fun.

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

The Linking Rings

The Linking Rings is the 4th Eli Marks mystery by John Gaspard.  I read it as a standalone and it worked very well.  I intend to chase down the first three books in the series.

The 'hook' for the series is that the main characters are, and the action happens around, magicians and their performances.  The main character, Eli, is a performer and co-owns a magic store with his famous uncle Harry, also a magician.  Harry and Eli are off to London for a special set of performances at a famous magic venue, The Magic Circle.  The performance schedule is upended when one of Uncle Harry's former cronies, Oskar, is literally stabbed in the back by a chair prop on their first night.

This is a traditional whodunnit.  The characters are maybe a bit standard (the bumbler, the femme fatale, the lush, the womanizer, etc), but they're pretty well written and the book is a fun read. The dialogue is well written and the foreshadowing and clues are presented creatively and relatively subtly. One thing I really enjoyed a lot about this book was the humor.  The main characters definitely don't take themselves too seriously and the dialogue is often sparkling and witty. I really liked the repartee and patter between Roy and his wife, Roxanne; they seemed to genuinely like one another (at least under the surface).

This is a clean mystery and the murders (though one of them is fairly horrific) are all written tamely and without graphic descriptions.  The dialogue is also clean and except for an occasional 'hell' or 'damn' has nothing which will dismay readers.

I enjoyed it very much and recommend it to lovers of classic amateur sleuth fiction.  One small caveat, the author writes at a couple of different points in the book that Eli's uncle Harry is being held because murder is 'a capital crime' in the UK.  I thought at first that the book itself was set pre-1965 (the point at which capital punishment was abolished in Great Britain), but then the author talks about clearly modern landmarks like the London Eye. It's not a huge discrepancy and it doesn't have any overall effect on the plot, so it isn't going to be any sort of issue for the vast majority of readers.

I intend to find the first three books in the series, high praise from me.

Four stars, well written and entertaining.

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

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Treacherous Curse

This is the third book in the Veronica Speedwell mysteries by Deanna Raybourn, due out January 16th, 2018 from Penguin/Random House - Berkley imprint.

This is a Victorian cozy mystery with modern characters, language and, mostly, sensibilities.  It goes quite well on a shelf with Amelia Peabody, Kathryn Ardleigh, Charlotte Pitt, and others in that vein.  I love that genre (Victorian cozy mysteries with plucky modern heroines?).  I don't think many would argue that a big pot of Earl Grey tea, a wet and wintry afternoon and a fully charged kindle loaded with modern Victorian mysteries is a guaranteed recipe for bliss.

Other reviewers have done a stellar job of summarizing the plot.  I'll just add that the pacing is well done and though the book is relatively long, at 352 pages, it doesn't drag.  The story is cleverly written and even though the dialogue is fairly snarky in places, I didn't feel tempted to roll my eyes much at all.

I like that Veronica is a lepidopterist and naturalist.  I also enjoyed the romantic tension between her and her colleague Stoker. Even though it seems inevitable that they will wind up together, I hope Ms. Raybourn delays the inevitable as long as possible.  The book is well written and the scene descriptions are wrought with care and technical expertise.

The cover art for this series is beautiful and intricate.  

Four stars

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

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Success With Succulents

Success With Succulents is a very colorful, well photographed guide to choosing and successfully growing a broad range of cacti and other succulents. Released 5th Dec, 2017 in paperback format from Quarto - Cool Springs Press, co-authors John Bagnasco and Bob Reidmuller, Jr. have between them many decades of plant and gardening knowledge which they generously share in this easy to read and well presented book.

One of the dangers of gardening books is that there's a temptation to concentrate on only the newest and most popular cultivars, making the info in the book seem outdated quickly.  That's not the case here and although there are a number of gorgeous new cultivars highlighted and described, there's a solid basis of good tried-and-true general advice for getting the best performance out of and succeeding with any succulents.

The book has an easily read, accessible format.  A short introduction is followed by a botanically correct (worded in layman terms) definition of the terms cactus and succulent, the difference between spines, thorns and prickles, and also covers the ranges, culture and habitats of the various members of the succulent family.  All of the text is accompanied by really detailed macro photography which explain and support the text.

The next two chapters (totaling about 50% of the book's content) concern the culture and growing of succulents outdoors and indoors.  The book covers choice, placement, uses and culture for a wide variety of different plants.  With the emphasis on careful use of water and other precious resources, xeriscaping has a rightful place in garden design and the authors do a masterful job of presenting both the challenges and benefits of choosing the right plant for the desired use.

The table of contents includes a well indexed list of 100 featured plants representing both the classics and newer selections and covering a very broad range of styles.  There's a complete alphabetical index at the end of the book which also includes conceptual and gardening terms.

My only gripe, and I do freely admit that it's a trivial one, is that the authors use 'cactuses' instead of 'cacti'. This is clearly a conscious choice (and indeed, even a search of Wikipedia shows that 'cactuses' is a perfectly acceptable plural form along with 'cacti' and 'cactus').    They use the term consistently, so stylistically it isn't a problem. It's just a case of 'po-tay-to' 'po-tah-to' and I'm on the wrong side of the fence.

In all seriousness, it's a very well written, beautifully photographed gardening book, full of good solid advice for succeeding and growing these fascinating plants well.

Four stars

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

Black Goat Blues

Black Goat Blues is the second book in the Mythos War series by Levi Black. I read this book out of order as a standalone and was immediately drawn into the story and wound up reading it in one sitting. After finishing it, I sourced the first book and am looking forward to reading it as soon as I can.

This is a Lovecraftian horror urban fantasy with all the trimmings.  There are elder gods aplenty, machinations, revenge, crazy (extremely creepy) cultists, a brooding atmosphere which explodes into action, and there's even a backwoods horror filled semi-homage to classics with a 'Deliverance'/'Chainsaw Massacre' vibe.  The protagonist is a wonderfully flawed character with a serious attitude and an unswerving mission.  She (yes, she's female) is deeply vulnerable and nevertheless badass.  She walks around in a flowing semi-sentient black leather coat made from the flayed skin of a fallen angel.  She winds up collecting and inspiring a 'crew' on her stated mission to track down and kill her former mentor, Nyarlathotep, a.k.a. The Man in Black.  Her crew includes a skinned hell-hound originally sent to hunt her down, a damaged young man bent on personal revenge who is accidentally sucked into her world and the goddess Ashtoreth.

This book is powerfully written.  The dialogue is machine gun fast and pitch perfect.  The writing is spare and electric.  It's literally nonstop taut creepy action for 288 pages.  The denouement is satisfying and inevitable and left me really wanting to read the next book in the series.

I'm generally not a huge fan of horror.  I make an exception for Lovecraft pastiches and I'm so glad I did.  This is high octane stuff; extremely well written.

Available in hardcover, ebook and audiobook formats, 288 pages, from Tor-Forge (Macmillan).

Five stars, super creepy and very very well written

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

Keto Slow Cooker & One-Pot Meals

Keto Slow Cooker & One-Pot Meals is the newest cookbook from author and keto-lifestyle advocate Martina Slajerova, published by Quarto - Fair Winds Press and available 21st November 2017.

The book is very well illustrated with most pages having full color photographs which support and fill out the text. The content is presented in plain and understandable language blessedly free from mumbo-jumbo. It includes a good layman accessible introduction, explaining the biological basis and uses of a ketogenic diet, the history of the diet and what to expect from a lifestyle change which includes replacing some (or most) dietary carbohydrates with fats as a source of energy.

After the introductory content is a basic chapter including slow cooking theory and how-tos along with how to choose proteins and fats and which to choose for optimal results, spices and how to flavor foods.  This chapter is full of useful information for anyone, even people who aren't particularly interested in following a low carb diet.  There are complete recipes for homemade spice mixes (the ranch one is -fantastic- and is my new go-to make ahead ranch seasoning), homemade curry paste (tikka masala, rogan josh, and korma), mayonnaise and even a short introduction to macrobiotic fermented vegetable based things like sauerkraut and kimchi.  The first chapter along with the slow cooking info and how-to's encompass roughly 14% of the total page content.

The next chapters are full of recipes which are good-tasting and made from easily sourced ingredients.  There are chapters for making homemade basics, soups, one pot meals, stews roasts & casseroles, and desserts.  I really liked that many of the recipes come with built-in alternatives which make it very easy to switch things up and add even more variation to menu planning without a lot of extra effort.

Despite being insulin resistant myself (borderline type II diabetes), I've resisted trying out a low carb diet mostly because I'm crazy for carbs.  I love potatoes rice and bread like nobody's business.  I couldn't imagine I would care for any sort of low/no carb version of those three staples.  However, I always try out several recipes for any cookbook I'm reviewing, and I thought I'd give the bread and potato alternatives a test drive. 

We tried the lemon & herb cauli-rice (p.51) which wound up fluffy and flavorful but I wouldn't say it would honestly substitute for rice in any normal situation.  Most people wouldn't take a bite and think they were eating rice.  It was tasty however and certainly could make a nice vegetable side dish.

Bread was my second 'acid test'.  We tried the sourdough keto-buns (p. 52).  My 'complaint' with keto diets previously is that the bread is unsatisfying to me.  That is not the case with these rolls.  They were crusty and flavorful and satisfied my bread craving.  Delicious.  Some of the ingredients were a little hard to source (psyllium husk powder for example; had to go to the international health food co-op in town to find it, but they also had ALL the ingredients mentioned in the recipe, so it was one-stop-shopping anyhow).

The third recipe we tried was creamy "potato" soup (p. 63).  I'm all over rich potato and bacon soup.  It's my number one comfort food, so this was a real taste test, definitely a high bar for me.  This soup substitutes rutabaga for starchy potatoes and is a vegetarian version without any meat in it, otherwise it's a traditional root vegetable type hearty soup.  I enjoyed the actual soup.  It's hearty and filling.  It's not potato soup and it doesn't taste like potato soup (or at least it didn't fulfill the 'potato soup' criteria up in my head and in my tastebuds).

Final thoughts?  These recipes really are delicious and made from (fairly) easily sourced ingredients.  They -are- keto friendly and I would feel fine serving them to non-keto guests.  There's a lot to love here.  Many of the recipes (maybe even a majority(?)) are vegetarian/vegan friendly or adaptable. Many of them come with author recommended alternatives to make several different styles and presentations by shifting a few ingredients.  All the recipes have nutritional information included in a sidebar.  The information for each recipe is printed like the quote below, in a very accessible no-nonsense and understandable format:

Total carbs: 11.3 g / Fiber: 3.4 g / Net carbs: 7.9 g / Protein: 2.3 g / Fat: 9.6 g / Energy: 135 kcal. Macronutrient ratio: Calories from carbs (25%), protein (7%), fat (68%)
I would recommend this cookbook for anyone who is curious about the benefits of a ketogenic diet and wonders if it's easily incorporated or 'do-able' for normal folks. The included recipes are tasty and convenient and made from healthy ingredients which don't rely on highly pre-processed and refined ingredients or mixes.

Available in paperback and ebook versions, 208 pages

Four stars

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

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Creatures of Will and Temper

Creatures of Will & Temper is a fleshed out story covering the bare bones of Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray.  The author, Molly Tanzer,  freely adds to and twists the Wilde icon into something that is different and original and wholly itself.

This book ticked a lot of boxes for me; among other things it has Victoriana, demons, an impressively built and well thought out magic system, dastardly antagonists, some mystery subplots and fencing! *swoon*.

It takes a lot of chutzpah to stand up and rewrite, however well intentioned, Wilde.  Wilde. Ms. Tanzer is very competent, the writing is very well done (and not overdone).  The plotting is tight and for an almost 400 page book, the story arc moves along at a brisk pace.  I didn't find the story dragging at all.  There were a few moments of internal eye rolling from me for the anachronistic dialogue and sarcastic sibling squabbling (say that five times fast :).  It's much more a function of it being a YA modern light romance urban fantasy and that I'm a grumpy old fart than sloppy writing however.  This is a surprisingly deftly written book.

Must read for fans of YA urban fantasy, especially Victoriana.  It's not extremely graphic except for one particular brutal passage, which does set up a plot element but felt out of proportion compared to the rest of the book.

Four stars, deftly written prose, fencing demonists, strong(ish) female protagonists.

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

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Forsaken Throne

The Forsaken Throne is the 6th (final?) book in Jeff Wheeler's Kingfountain series. The series is an epic multi-book fantasy with some crossworld tie-ins from the author's other series.  There are several interconnected storylines, most of which are tied up in this, possibly final, installment.

I enjoyed reading this one a lot and seeing how the storyline would unfold and resolve, though, as other reviewers have mentioned, the pain that the heroine Trynne suffered seemed unending.  Lady of Sorrows, indeed.  Building a rapport with characters only to see them pushed and broken and betrayed over and over again felt wearying to me and I often took a pause for a few days.  This was not a read-in-one-sitting book for me.  I liked it very much that she was emphatically not a pampered soft and pliable princess.  She is honorable and, frankly, pretty badass. 

By my rough reckoning, the main series includes well over 2000 pages; that's a lot of room to develop a world and characters.  The plotlines are in my opinion, certainly worthy of the epic scale of the books.  I never had problems keeping the characters straight in my head, though I wouldn't suggest this book as a standalone, especially to people who aren't die-hard epic fantasy fans.

Though I would certainly class this series as comfortably inside the fantasy genre, it's not the same sort of gritty massively epic fantasy of G.R.R. Martin or Joe Abercrombie, full of pitched battles and people disemboweling one another.  Never fear though, there's lots of evil magic vs. good magic, betrayal, sacrifice and dishonesty.  I liked the ending a lot, without spoiling anything.

Four stars for this installment and four for the series as a whole.  I'll be picking up his other books.

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

Saturday, January 6, 2018

I Love My Purse

I Love My Purse is a sweetly whimsical book aimed at children and younger readers (K-2, Lexile 560 ).  At 34 pages, hardcover format, it's the right size and length for a solo reading session with a colorful message that isn't preachy or threatening.

I loved the way that Charlie, who's a normal, active, friendly and fun kid, influences the people he meets in his everyday life by being himself.  The book could so easily have been strident or unhappy, and it's not.  It's full of full color illustrations by Sonja Wimmer, accompanied by Belle DeMont's bouncy text.

There's a lot to like here.  Charlie isn't threatened or bullied, he's a really polite kid who sticks up for his desire to use his purse to carry his stuff.  He's not feminized or anything other than a boy (the art really shines here when the reader gets to see what a typical kid carries around, including a half eaten apple,  a shoe, a frog in a bathtub and other even more whimsical things).  It's never mentioned, but the characters are ethnically diverse and Charlie's father seems to be a positively portrayed single parent.

I enjoyed this beautiful little book very much.

Five stars.  Positively portrayed non strident message about gender role conformity.

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

Monday, January 1, 2018


Spanksgiving is an anthology (164 pages), edited by Lori Perkins which includes 9 short stories with spanking.  As with most anthologies, the included stories are a mixed lot.  They're all consensual and M/F pairings with both men and women on the receiving end.

There are some continuing characters whose stories form bonus scenes from other works, such as a bonus scene from Bad Boy Alphas #1, and another short installment from Trinity’s Blacio's naughty stepbrothers series (bonus for folks who love shifter romance). 

One of the reasons I really love anthologies is that there's always something that appeals to readers for further reading.  I found several of the included stories both appealing and sweetly spicy. 

There were, however, a few places in the text where typos or grammar mistakes jerked me out of the story, for example a typo where 'you're' was substituted for 'your'.  I know I'm a nerd. This probably won't bug most readers.

Available in ebook and paperback formats from Riverdale Avenue Books and released 22 November, 2017.

Four stars

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

Follow the Link: A Journey Through Technology

Follow the Link is a fun book showing the historical connections in science and technology from prehistory to the present (and a glimpse of potential future innovations) aimed at young to middle readers (aged 7-12).  The book starts with a background explanation of electricity and arrows move the reader along paths to explain those innovations and progress from early (non-scientific) reasons for natural phenomena to modern day concepts such as radio, electromagnets and smartphones.
Along the way, sidebar arrows and pictures describe all sorts of fun trivia (Donner & Blitzen's names translate to Thunder and Lightning, for example).

The text by Tom Jackson is well and clearly written, if somewhat frenetic. There is so much information that it seems scattered and random at times.  Nick Shepherd's  art is very simple, appealing, and colorful and the arrows and paths give the potentially overwhelming text a little more structure and flow.

Follow the Link is 80 pages, hardbound, and includes a  useful timeline, glossary, and index.  Published by Quarto - QEB Publishing.

It would definitely appeal to science interested youngsters and fun-leaning adults.

Four stars.  Interesting material, well presented in a fun manner.

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

Creative Folk Art & Beyond

Scandinavia ranks very high on the international 'happiness index'.  The folk and primitive art of Scandinavia has regional differences of course, but in general reflects the happy, relaxed, and natural 'vibe' most Scandinavians enjoy.  The motifs are 'hyggelige' (cozy) and colorful and most of them represent things found in nature: birds, flowers, natural features, etc.

This book is one of a series of how-to books from Walter Foster called Creative ____ & Beyond.  For another example in this series, I reviewed Creative Marker Art & Beyond back in October 2017. 

This book is split into four sections, from four different artist designers; each section includes projects and inspiration pages, along with tools and materials.  A short basic introduction covers general info about the supplies necessary for the projects in the book.  The designers' work varies quite a lot, from more primitive folk art to more polished.  The projects are a very accessible source of inspiration, there's plenty here to inspire and reassure even the most novice would-be artists.

The four included designers are Flora Waycott, Oana Befort, Marenthe Otten, and Terri Fry Kasuba.  They each have varying styles and projects.  Most of the actual art appealed to me, however, there weren't many of the included projects that grabbed me and insisted to be made.  All of the included project designs are full of inspiration to be used elsewhere though.  The cover gives a pretty good indication of the contents.

 147 pages, paperback format.  It's worth noting that roughly 13% of the page content is given over to practice pages. 

Accessible, doable, beautiful and fun projects and inspiration.  I really like art project books which are doable by anyone.  For what it's worth, none of the included designers is actually Scandinavian, proving that anyone can enjoy and produce hygge for themselves.

Four stars, a very happy book.

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

Hotsuka's Story

Hotsuka's Story is the first book of a 6 book series called The Dragon Pearls. This beautifully written narrative takes place in a world based on Eastern mythology with djinni, nagas, quarrelsome gods and goddesses and spirit beings (meijin, roughly equivalent to celestial angels). Meijin have hierarchies and different responsibilities, and Hotsuka's job was to travel all of existence and observe the creations and beings contained therein.  Hotsuka becomes infatuated with a human woman and the consummation of his infatuation and the subsequent child produced threaten to unbalance the entire universe.

The writing is truly deft and immaculately paced.  I was drawn along and never once felt myself dragged out of the story by an awkwardly written bit of dialogue or plotting.  

According to goodreads and Amazon, this 6 book cycle is author J F Mehentee's first published work.  It's an impressive debut.  Further amazement ensued when I learned that all 6 books were self-published simultaneously 1st Nov, 2017 and promoted by Xpresso Book Tours on NetGalley.   Books aren't just written and they don't just spring into creation fully formed.  The author's credits in the afterword credit editor James Christy and copy editor Richard Shealy and I have to say that they did a stellar job.  I found not one single typo or formatting error and the structural and story arc editing were seamless and completely unobtrusive.

Kudos for the gorgeous cover also, by  Deranged Doctor Design. The cover is what first caught my eye, and I'm so glad it did.

Just a really wonderfully written book.  I intend to acquire the rest of them asap.

Five stars

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