Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Death By Dumpling

Death By Dumpling is the first book in the Noodle Shop mysteries by Vivien Chien. Due out 27th March, 2018 from St. Martin's Press, it's 352 pages and available in ebook and paperback formats. 
I'm a huge fan of cozies and this one is lovely.   

I was surprised that this is apparently a first book release for this author; she has a confident and comfortable voice.  I enjoyed the plotting and characterizations very much.  It doesn't often happen that an a series finds its way right out of the starting gate.  This one delivers.

The length is a little longer than most cozies at over 350 pages but the plotting is tight and it doesn't drag.  The clues are well interspersed in the narrative and the book follows the 'rules' for amateur detective fiction.  Lately I've gotten my fill of southern catering homestyle bookmobile cat loving bakery shop ladies; this young woman with a great best friend and good relationship with her parents is such a breath of fresh air.  There's a lot of warmth and humor here.  The book is relatively clean, with only a sprinkling of 'hell' and 'damn' and nothing more objectionable in the book.  Definitely safe-for-lunch reading at work.

It was a delight to read and I'll definitely be back for a second helping (the second book, Dim Sum of All Fears is due out in August 2018). Only downside, I've been craving noodles. I've gotten takeaway sesame pho three times from my favorite Vietnamese restaurant after work in the last week!

Five stars, delightfully fun light cozy mystery.

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

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Little Library

The Little Library, due out 26th March, 2018 by Kim Fielding is a very well written, sweetly cozy M/M romance.  The main story balances love and career choices for two outwardly different guys, former cop Simon, injured in the line of duty, and historian and professor Elliott, a book hoarder nerd.

They meet in their neighborhood and catch one another's eye, but it isn't until Elliott builds a Little Library that they find a common ground.  The library becomes a center point for the entire neighborhood and introverted Elliott begins to come out of his shell and interact with the people around him as his neighbors enjoy borrowing and sharing books.

There is an awful lot to love here.  The theme of books is ever close to my heart.  I find it very difficult to weed through my own library, even those books which I've bought in e-format.  I love it that Elliott built a little library and shows incredible strength and growth as a character which is believable.  I found myself rooting for Simon and his issues with his family and his burgeoning relationship with Elliott.

I love that the author is clearly a huge book fan herself.  This book is chock full of real book references to chase down for further reading and reference.  I really like books that turn me on to other books! 

There was some drama, but relatively low-angst and sweetly reassuring.  I just really really enjoyed this book.  Their first date was hysterically funny.  Real laugh-out-loud funny is very difficult to write, but Ms. Fielding does a great job. 

The author manages to sneak some really good messages into the narrative without being preachy or smug.  Themes such as tolerance, community, strength in adversity, love over money, personal growth, family, and the importance of education and preserving our cultural history, the author handles all of them deftly and with sensitivity.  

Four and a half stars.  Well written, well edited, and entertaining.  Bonus points for rescue dog Ishtar.

300 pages, due out 26th March, 2018 from Riptide Publishing available in print & ebook formats.

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

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A Guide For Murdered Children

A Guide for Murdered Children is a genre defying book.  I had no real expectations when I began reading it and was completely unfamiliar with the author.  I also try to avoid looking at reviews before I am finished with a book and have my own review mostly completed, so I had quite a lot of difficulty in getting into sync with the narrative and, frankly, understanding what was going on before about 50%.  The premise is quite creative, it's just that the prose was so very difficult for me to read and understand.  I didn't find the host (landlord) characters particularly sympathetic, and Willow Wylde (bizarre name) was off putting to say the least. 

The book -is- full of unpleasantness and rape, abuse, murder (of children and others).  It's ostensibly a revenge book, which would normally work for me, but in this case it's muddled and confused and I couldn't follow a lot of what was going on, and the bits I understood clearly didn't move me much.  There was a huge *squick* factor for me because the kids were 'rooming' with adults who were acting like adults...  if I had a child sharing my mind/body, I would be hyper aware of doing adult things with them present... 

As others have stated, this is a polarizing book.  Readers seem to love it or hate it.  I really believe the author has prodigious creativity and talent.  There is huge potential here.  With a gifted/committed editor this novel could be mind-blowing.

I could definitely see this book becoming a phenomenon and I feel like I probably wasn't cool enough to 'get it'.  (I admit, I've had problems with other books that my bookish friends *gasp* and swoon over).  Definitely difficult themes and a difficult narrative.

Title: A Guide for Murdered Children
Author: Sarah Sparrow
Publisher: Penguin - Blue Rider Press
Publication: 20 March, 2018
500pages, Hardcover and ebook format

Three stars

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

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Flaw in the Stone

The Flaw in the Stone is the second book in the Alchemists' Council series by Cynthea Masson. It had been over a year since I read the first book in the series, but I decided to go ahead and read the second one and go back and refresh if I got lost and couldn't follow along.  There was enough backstory in this installment that I never felt the lack of background info, especially since several centuries separate the two narratives.

The thing that drew me to this book and kept me reading was the careful and lush language.  It's a really enjoyable read.  For me the prose was more engaging than the world building or characterizations, though the magical system and explanations were well done. 

I would have originally categorized this as a new adult novel, and it really is, but there is a fair amount of sex (not at all gratuitous; it's intrinsic to the plot).  If that's a problem for the reader, it might be best to be forewarned. 

I think the book would be somewhat confusing and/or frustrating without having some familiarity to book one (The Alchemists' Council).

All in all, a somewhat complex read, occasionally confusing for me but beautifully written.  The prose is the standout star of this novel.

Four stars, I'll be back for book #3.

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

Monday, March 12, 2018

Beginner's Garden

Beginner's Garden is an introductory guide for new gardeners.  Author Alex Mitchell has teamed up with Fox Chapel Publishing to produce an upbeat and encouraging guide for the less experienced gardener.

Especially slanted toward urban and suburban gardening, there's a lot of emphasis on easily grown crops which are suited to containers.  The most common crops get their own listings with cultural info and are ranked with regard to difficulty with 1-4 trowels (1 is 'You couldn't kill it if you tried' :)  The entire book is filled with full color photographs of everything including growing spaces, plants, bugs and food. 

The book is split up into logical sections which start with an easily digested introduction and getting started sidebar.  The introduction includes a short discussion of tools and supplies (which are few and easily acquired). The next chapters detail seasonal jobs and crops starting with spring and moving through the year to winter. There's an interlude chapter in the middle of the year which talks about entertaining and includes recipes which showcase the production from the gardener's efforts.  I loved the inclusion of recipe themed containers: 'Salsa in a box', 'Patio Friendly Greek salad', 'Ratatouille riot', etc. 

The end of the book has a short chapter on parasites and 'garden villains' and some info about how to identify and deal with unwanted critters in the garden.  There are also reference and glossary sections which cover the basics. The index and resources sections finish up the book and include useful links for further reading.

Four stars, encouraging and supportive help for new gardeners with some interesting takes on common problems and recipes for the more advanced gardener.  Very chatty and informal.

160 pages softbound, expected publication date: 12th March, 2018

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

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Bizarre Romance

Audrey Niffenegger and Eddie Campbell team up in a really eclectic collection of graphic stories. Some of these were published before in other non-graphic formats, but all are oddly engaging.
There were several really standout stories included here.

The leading story, Thursdays, Six to Eight p.m. is sublime.  It combines shades of Bluebeard with modern neuroses and is humorous in a wonky way.  Most of these stories are somewhat off-kilter and unexpected.

The Composite Boyfriend is a sharply funny commentary on gender bias and objectification and expectations.  The first couple of pages are set up like old-fashioned paper dolls.  There are several outfits, genitalia, accessories, shoes etc from which to choose.  The prose which follows is written in a sort of 'choose your own adventure' format with several alternatives to each sentence.  The ending (though expected) delivers a nice payoff.

There are 13 vignettes included and all of them are strong; a few are sublime.

I came to the party familiar with both of the creators, but had no idea they were a real life partnership.  It works very very well and the book really resonates with both personalities and two completely different creativities.   There's a cool synergy at work here and I enjoyed it very much.

Four and a half stars.
168 pages, due out 20th March, 2018 from Abrams publishing

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

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Wild Winemaking

Wild Winemaking, due out