Sunday, January 31, 2021

Maker Camp: Heritage Crafts and Skill-Building Projects for Kids

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Maker Camp is a cool project book and philosophy guide to heritage crafts and skills by Delanie Holton-Fessler. Due out 23rd Feb 2021 from Roost Books, it's 176 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

This is a no-nonsense usable guide to crafting and skill-building tutorials aimed at kids (but with useful takeaways for all ages). The author has experience with community based crafts and skills workshops aimed at kids and it shows. Her instruction is basic, accessible, fun, and full of positivity (you *can* do it and, refreshingly, what to do when it doesn't go to plan). The introduction covers safety, workshop setup, materials, and best practice. The section on shop safety is very well written and full of good advice. There are a lot of good prompts in this section which will guide crafters into thinking about their creative processes and using what they've learned to improve further skills and outcomes. 

The following chapters contain the tutorials and are arranged roughly thematically: heritage skills (shelter, soap carving, fire-making, bows & arrows, herbal salves), fiber arts (weaving, creating cording, mending, hand sewing a stuffie, natural dyes), woodworking (toolbox, bee hotel, limberjacks, toy cars, 2x4 challenge), and tinker build & play (junk robots, tiny town, simple machines, mini kites, cardboard creators). These are appealing and whimsical, useful and do-able crafts and skills. 

This is a really useful resource guide for parents, educators, child-minders, grandparents, makers' and scouting groups, library activity groups, and the like. Some of these activities would really work fine over remote meeting/zoom (with adult supervision, obviously). A lot of these projects result in useful items (bee hotel, construction projects, and others) and will give kids confidence, planning experience, and skills. 

Five stars. Well worth a look. 12 year old me would've absolutely *loved* this book.

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

The RHS Book of Garden Verse

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The RHS Book of Garden Verse is a beautifully curated collection of poetry accompanied by garden related images from the RHS' Lindley Library collection . Due out 2nd March 2021 from Quarto on their Frances Lincoln imprint, it's 128 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

This is such a restful and lovely book. The images are varied and beautiful and the poetry is well curated and classic.  The selections are arranged roughly thematically: seasons, gardening, plants, creatures, gardens, and past present & future. The poetry and the illustrations represent a broad range of styles, schools, and times. There are selections from incomparably famous poets and writers (Dylan Thomas, Coleridge, Browning, Kipling, the Bible, and many more) as well as ones who were previously unfamiliar to me. The illustrations run the gamut from 14th century woodcuts to 19th century botanical prints, and on to the 20th century. 

The book also includes a couple of useful appendices in the form of first lines from the included poem offerings along with an image index. 

This would make a superlative gift for a gardening friend (or oneself), as well as a lovely acquisition for public library, and gardening club lending library use. 

Five stars.

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


Alan Turing and the Power of Curiosity

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Alan Turing and the Power of Curiosity is a fictionalized biography of the famous mathematician and cryptanalyst and part of the My Super Science Heroes series. Due out 1st March 2021 from Sourcebook Kids, it's 50 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.

I'm a pretty huge science nerd myself and really love good biographies for kids about scientists. This was such an odd treatment. I do understand that the author/publishers are trying to jazz up the presentation and make it more super-hero-y, but the final product does a distinct disservice to the pretty super-hero-y reality of Turing, his *immense* contribution to the war effort, and the efforts of the entire team at Bletchley Park. 

Instead of being about Turing and the history of enigma and the war effort, it's fictionalized with an evil monster (Super Evil Nemesis) and his hench-monsters trying to Take Over The World (boo-hiss). With every hurdle, young Alan seems to sail effortlessly through (which is dangerous for young kids who take frustration for lack of talent with potentially disastrous results). Additionally the biography part of the book consists of young Alan being born, going to school, and suddenly being an adult. There's nothing about his life, really, apart from being born and going to school. I know there are a lot of aspects of Turing's life (and tragic death at the age of 41) which would be... challenging to include in an age-appropriate manner, but the author here has simply sidestepped the whole issue to the distinct detriment of the whole.

I will say that the art and illustration are top notch. There are some really captivating graphics, with sidebars and fun reader puzzles as well as lots of age-appropriate resources for further reading. The illustrations are colorful and full of small details which will fascinate and engage readers. It's unfortunately not, in my opinion, enough to counterbalance the really odd treatment. 

Three stars.

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

Gardening to Eat: Connecting People and Plants

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 Gardening to Eat is a tutorial gardening guide with some recipes by Becky Dickinson. Due out 28th Feb 2021 from Pen & Sword on their White Owl imprint, it's 152 pages and will be available in hardcover format. 

I liked the no-nonsense logical layout of the book. Beginning with an exposition about why to grow food, what the benefits can be, the payoff in terms of mental and physical health, the benefits locally and globally, the author moves along to a short (and very encouraging!) very basic gardening how-to tutorial. 

The second section of the book (and the lion's share of the content) is given over to chapter by chapter treatment of individual veggies, resources, varieties, how-to-grow info, and a selection of recipes using the harvest. All of the "big name" veggies are of course represented: tomatoes, peppers, cole crops, sweetcorn, onions and beans of many types... but I also appreciate that the author also has included many overlooked crops which might not immediately suggest themselves to beginning gardeners: blackcurrants, blueberries, chard, and rhubarb as an example. 

The recipes are meat-free, varied and simple and interesting and allow the tastes of the vegetables to shine through on their own. There's a lovely traditional gazpacho, but also a rather unexpectedly adventuresome beetroot burger recipe. Recipe ingredients are provided in standard metric measures (yay!) and should be available at well stocked grocers. Nutritional information is not provided. The photography throughout is gorgeous - clear, colourful, and appealing. The author's style is very upbeat and positive and a lot of fun to read.

Five stars. This is a beautifully made garden-to-table book which will certainly get readers' fingers itching to get started. I would recommend it for home gardeners, public or school library acquisition, allotment garden associations' lending libraries, gardening clubs, and similar groups. 

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

The Morning After Death (Nigel Strangeways #16)


The Morning After Death is the 16th (and final) novel in the Nigel Strangeways series by Nicholas Blake. Originally published in 1966, this reformat and re-release from Agora is 229 pages and available in ebook format (other editions available in other 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 (and the other Agora editions) are currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

I hadn't read the Strangeways series for many years until Agora reformatted and re-released them in electronic format and made them easy to find and access for a new generation of readers. The series was released from the 1930s to the 1960s and presents a capsule glimpse into social mores and culture of the time. This entry sees Strangeways visiting an old friend from Oxford at an Ivy League school near Boston (fictive Harvard) when a murder is uncovered and Nigel is dragged unwillingly into the fray to uncover a murderer and clear up a clever crime. 

Nicholas Blake's amateur detective Strangeways stars in one of those classic civilized British series that I revisit again and again. I've reviewed a number of the books previously and they're always very entertaining. The situations are outlandish, the characters often caricatures, the dialogue is quippy, but despite all that, they're always fun to revisit. I'm honestly not sure if I had ever read this entry before, because I can't remember a Strangeways novel which wasn't set in Great Britain, but this one is a good addition with a cleverly plotted mystery, well written dialogue and finely rendered characters. 

I would recommend this one to lovers of golden and silver age mysteries. There are some bits of dialogue and prose which do show their age, but all in all it's a well engineered and satisfying read. It works perfectly well as a standalone, they all do.

Four stars. 

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

Glimpse, The Angel Shot

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Glimpse, The Angel Shot is a book in the Deadly Glimpses series by Stephen B. King. Released in this edition 11th Nov 2020, it's 374 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats.

This is a difficult to classify hybrid of psychological thriller, police procedural, with a touch of psychological magical realism(?). It's not so much a "whodunnit", since that's heavily foreshadowed throughout as a study in psychosis and the mind of a murderer. 

Although it's the fourth book in the series, it works well enough as a standalone.  The writing was highly uneven to me. I found myself being yanked out of my suspension of disbelief at several points by oddly clunky oversimplified dialogue or strangely overwrought prose. The plotting was also uneven and raced in some places skipping over implied scenes whilst dragging in between. Overall, though, it's a readable and fairly engaging psychological thriller with well rendered characters and a well-thought out plot. I found several of the characters personally repellent and I was annoyed at their intermittent unprofessional and immature conduct throughout much of the read. I did appreciate that the author manages to instill a sense of menace and psychological stress into the scenes without resorting to graphic gore and violence. The themes of abduction, rape, victim drugging (rohypnol), and murder might be triggering for some readers. 

Three and a half stars. I would recommend it for fans of psychological thrillers, murder procedurals, and the like. 

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


Saturday, January 30, 2021

An ABC of Families


 An ABC of Families is a sweetly and whimsically illustrated ABC primer on diverse families written and illustrated for the youngest readers. Due out 23rd Feb 2021 from Quarto on their Frances Lincoln Children's imprint, it's 52 pages and will be available in boardbook format.

This is an adorable ABC book with an age-appropriate amount of info, presented in a non-judgemental, multi-ethnic, representative manner. It's colorful and fun and will appeal to babies and young kids. I feel certain small readers will enjoy finding families here which remind them of their own or their friends' families. Representation is so important and seeing these loving families represented positively and non-critically is normalizing and healthy. The book includes blended families, grandparents, love, and lots of wholesome fun pictures of kids and their grownups. 

I enjoyed it very much and recommend it. This would make a great selection for kindergarten classroom or public library, gift giving, home library, and similar. It would also be fine and appropriate for doctor's offices, public/municipal/social service areas and the like. 

Lovely little book and well worth a look. Five stars. 

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

The Paradise Affair: A Carpenter and Quincannon Mystery (A Carpenter and Quincannon Mystery #9)

 


The Paradise Affair is the ninth outing for husband and wife investigators Carpenter and Quincannon by the talented and capable Bill Pronzini. Released 26th Jan 2021 by Macmillan on their Tor Forge imprint, it's a compact 176 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.

Most readers have their favorite authors/series. The must-reads.. and the ones which come highly anticipated. These books are on my list. They're consistently well written, always entertaining, cleverly plotted, well paced, and intricately put together. The story is told in alternating point of view (mostly alternating by chapters and clearly labeled in the chapter headings). This allows the author to incorporate two mysteries within the book and allow for independent denouements with a final wrap up at the end. 

The exotic destination (Hawaii at the end of the 19th century) is well researched and based around a historical framework of period events and characters. The author is quite skilled at interweaving actual and fictional events seamlessly into an entertaining whole. Although the plot works fine as a standalone, there are some spoilers for earlier books in the series, so I do recommend them in order for completists. 

Four stars. Solidly engaging and capably written. I'd recommend this one to fans of the private enquiry agent historical mystery genre, as well as previous fans of the series. 

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

Kawaii Kitties: Learn How to Draw 75 Cats in All Their Glory

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Kawaii Kitties is an adorable tutorial drawing guide for all ages by Olive Yong. Due out 23rd Feb 2021 from Quarto on their Rock Point imprint, it's 144 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. 

There is a sweetly whimsical innocence about these kitties which just brings the smiles. There are 75 step by step tutorials with kitties doing adorable kitty things as well as fantasy kitties (mermaid kitty, cheering kitty, kitties in costumes - so many kitties). The tutorials are arranged thematically: general introduction with basic tutorials, playtime, daily activities, being curious, playing dress up, sharing love, discovering breeds, bon appetit, and some coloring pages. 

The tutorials are very simply written with small achievable steps for a surprisingly detailed finish. I am a beginner with drawing and I was able to achieve credible results with these tutorials. They're a lot of fun to do. I would heartily recommend this one for gift giving (perhaps bundled with a sketch pad and some pens/markers?), library, classroom or makers' group. I would also recommend this book to babysitters, grandparents, parents, and basically anyone who spends a fair bit of time with small kids in order to up their 'draw with me' game.

Five stars. A truly happy book.

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

Gates' Bookstore (Diane Gates #1)

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Gates' Bookstore is the first book in a mystery series by Jamila A. Stone. Released 7th Dec 2020, it's 310 pages and available in ebook format (other editions available in other formats). It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

The setup for the book, a former forensic investigator turned bookshop owner who gets unwillingly dragged into a murder investigation - ticks a lot of boxes for me. Strong intelligent female protagonist, bookstore, murder mystery all go straight into the plus category. The execution sadly leaves quite a lot to be desired. The writing is uneven, the pacing is shuffling in some places interspersed with warp speed hopping over vital progression in others, the dialogue is clunky and the whole feels unedited at best, and unfinished in general. The joy-killer for me was the prose. There are -so- many mixed metaphors and jarring similes accompanied by grammatical mistakes which would be fixed by even the most superficial editing. "She stretched her slender frame, spreading her long legs to the sides of the queen size mattress and sighs."

I did read the entire book and was rewarded with a completely unbelievable denouement and a massive cliffhanger. I will not be picking up further volumes.

Two and a half stars.  

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

Friday, January 29, 2021

Simply Quantum Physics

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Simply Quantum Physics is a concise survey course in quantum mechanics and allied concepts in physics collected and curated by the DK editorial group. Due out 23rd Feb 2021 from Penguin Random House on their DK imprint, it's 160 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

The book is arranged in categories with numerous short capsule entries covering diverse related points. The editors have grouped the material around broad categories: the quantum world (motion, particles, force), the genesis of quantum physics as an attempt to explain and codify different phenomena (ideal bodies, energy quantization, energy states, electron orbitals), wave function, quantum phenomena, technology applications, and many more.

The text is clearly written in fairly accessible language which can be understood by the average reader. Despite being very short (most are 1 page long), they provide some surprisingly subtle insights into physics concepts and schools of thought (with a little history). The short subject pages are enhanced with graphics and illustrations to help the information be more easily retained by the reader.

This volume won't obviate the need for a textbook for studying physics, obviously, but it will provide a good intro to some concepts in language which can be understood by most readers. This would be a good choice for students looking for a supplementary text, adult readers who want a condensed and concise broad survey of concepts and terminology used, and readers who are curious about physics for whom a short introduction is sufficient. The book does include a short cross referenced index, but no bibliography or links for further reading.

Four stars.

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

Why Wakanda Matters: What Black Panther Reveals About Psychology, Identity, and Communication

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Why Wakanda Matters is a collection of essays by several different contributors on the psychology and cultural impact of Black Panther edited by Dr. Sheena C. Howard. Due out 2nd Feb 2021 from BenBella Books, it's 288 pages (print edition) and will be available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. 

I've been a comics/speculative fiction/SF/fantasy nerd my whole life (literally, my dad was also a comics fan, and my grandfather taught himself English by reading comics). I've enjoyed seeing the massive commercial success of many comics franchises in film and television and the serious consideration of comics and graphic novels as valid vehicles for profound and relevant storytelling. That is one reason this collection really appealed to me. These essays are from recognized professionals analyzing the psychology and cultural relevance of Black Panther and how it dovetails with the modern African American diaspora. 

The essays are grouped roughly thematically: collective identity and connectedness, racial identity, intergenerational trauma and resistance, and cognition and identification. The essays themselves are written in layman accessible language with an academic slant. I often found myself challenged and moved while reading. It certainly gave me a lot to think about. The chapters are extensively annotated and the referenced materials will give keen readers a lot of directions for further reading. 

Five stars, I think this is an *important* and relevant book. This would be a superlative choice for classroom use/lecture/ or support material for race/gender studies, sociology, media, psychology, communication, film/literature, and allied subjects. It would also be a great choice for library acquisition, home library, or gifting. Well written.

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

The Hatmakers

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The Hatmakers is a rollicking adventure for young readers by Tamzin Merchant. Due out 2nd Feb 2021 from Norton on their Young Readers imprint, 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 and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. The art by Paola Escobar is whimsical and appealing and really sets off the story very well.

It's always a red-letter day when I come across a really good juvenile book. This one took me back to my own early book-loving days. A love of reading which lasts a lifetime is an incredibly precious gift and it wouldn't surprise me at all to hear someone in 20 years claim this book was the start of the bibliophile life for them. A dark and stormy night, an unexpected crash at the door, a shipwreck, and the start of a boundless adventure for young Cordelia Hatmaker who is brave, loyal, resourceful, and magical. There are so many cool details in the storytelling and the book itself that it's hard to narrow down to a few. The characters are wonky and wonderful. There is an abundance of whimsy, but it doesn't detract from the fact that it's really well written and put together. I loved loved loved the addition of a glossary at the end containing an abbreviated herbal ingredients (with funny made up (but appropriate) botanical names).

I enjoyed this one very much and would recommend it without reservation for public and school library acquisition, gift giving to a 9-12 year old friend/family, or as a bedtime read for precocious younger kids. 

Five stars. 

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

 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

A Wicked Yarn (A Craft Fair Knitters Mystery #1)

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A Wicked Yarn is the first book in a new crafter cozy mystery series by Emmie Caldwell. Released 29th Dec 2020 by Penguin Random House on their Berkley imprint, it's 304 pages and available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is an engaging and well written crafter cozy (with cat). I enjoyed the characters and the development of the mystery which although admittedly comfortably predictable and trope-y, is also appealingly well written and paced. The characters are fleshed out and interact believably with one another. There are some early exchanges between Belinda and her ex-husband (in the role of first corpse) which are fairly clunky - but the dialogue improves quickly and I didn't find myself being yanked out of the story after the first chapter. 

All-around comfortable cozy with an amateur group of knitters. I'm looking forward to future installments.

Four stars. (Clean language, no sexual content). 

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

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Simply Philosophy

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Simply Philosophy is a concise survey course in philosophy and philosophical concepts collected and curated by the DK editorial group. Due out 23rd Feb 2021 from Penguin Random House on their DK imprint, it's 160 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

The book is arranged in categories with numerous short capsule essays covering diverse related points. The editors have grouped the material around broad categories: our interaction and exploration of our world and our place in it, on being and language, mind and matter, right and wrong, politics and power, and logic and argument. 

The essays are clearly written in accessible language which will be easily read and understood by the average reader. Despite being very short (most are 1 page long), they provide some surprisingly subtle insights into philosophical concepts and schools of thought. The short subject pages are enhanced with graphics and illustrations to help the information be retained by the reader.

This volume won't obviate the need for a textbook for studying philosophy formally, but it will provide a good intro to basic concepts in everyday language which will be understood by most readers. This would be a good choice for students looking for a supplementary text, adult readers who want a condensed and concise broad survey of concepts and language used in philosophy, and readers who are curious about philosophy for whom a short introduction is sufficient.

Four stars.

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

New Naturalism: Mastering the Art of Designing and Planting Resilient Home Gardens

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New Naturalism is a tutorial, style, and selection guide to designing and implementing resilient and ecologically responsible gardens utilizing a holistic synergy and interdependence between healthy soil, understanding local conditions and wise choice of plant materials. Due out 16th Feb 2021 from Quarto on their Cool Springs Press imprint, it's 208 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

There is certainly no shortage of gardening advice to be found. I find myself enthusiastically clipping pictures of garden layouts and styles which appeal to me but wind up being completely impractical to implement. This book does an unusually fine job of giving solid information on the interplay of soil, siting, local climate, culture, and plant selection. In choosing plants wisely we allow them to do what they were *built* to do, instead of torturing them into conforming to follow potentially unrealistic expectations of what *we* want them to do. 

This book allows gardeners to take a close look at what sort of garden spaces they have and gives concrete advice on planning those spaces based on that information to allow the chosen plants who are at home in those environments (wet, dry, rocky, sandy, etc) to thrive. 

It's split into two main sections. The first chapters provide a thorough grounding in different types of planting environment and techniques for building robust ecologically diverse garden spaces. The second (larger) part of the book provide "palettes" for different spaces: open landscapes, planting around the outdoor living spaces, using hardscape areas, and shady/dappled areas. Each of the planting sections contains numerous suggestions and tutorials for finding and choosing planting material. 

Plants throughout the book are listed by both common and botanical (Latin) nomenclature for clarity. The book is beautifully photographed throughout with color photos on every page. This is a solidly useful book full of good advice which goes way way beyond the single chapter on xeriscaping offered by most gardening books. 

Five stars. This would be a superlative selection for library acquisition, gardening groups, community gardens, home gardeners and the like. 

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

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Rosa: The Story of the Rose

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Rosa is a beautifully illustrated and very well written study of the history and uses of the "queen of the flowers". Due out 16th Feb 2021 from Yale University Press, it's 256 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

Almost everyone loves roses. They have been prized throughout history for their beautiful color, scents, medicinal and food uses, for their blossoms, and their usefulness in the garden plantings.This book is information dense and beautifully illustrated survey of the history and uses of plants in the rose family. 

The information is logically arranged and accessible. The introduction gives a review of the plants in the rose family, including fruits, trees, and shrubs. The following chapters cover history, migration (by humans), through the middle ages and into the modern era. Throughout, the book is gorgeously illustrated and photographed with color photos on every page. The book also includes valuable links and bibliography resources for further reading as well as an index.

Five stars. This would be a superlative choice for public library, gardening groups, for gifting to a gardening friend, or for the gardener's own home library. 

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

Monday, January 25, 2021

Mrs. Jeffries Demands Justice (Mrs. Jeffries #39)

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 Mrs. Jeffries Demands Justice is the 39th Victorian mystery by Emily Brightwell. Due out 26th Jan 2021 from Penguin Random House on their Berkley imprint, it's 304 pages and will be 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. 

These books are always a sure bet for an enjoyable and engaging story with an ensemble cast of comfortable well written characters. It's like a visit with an old and trusted friend. You know what to expect and it's always a fun and satisfying time.  

In this installment an ice delivery man is shot at close range and Inspector Witherspoon and his faithful retainers are searching for clues to his secret background, his murder, and the criminal underground of Victorian East London. Things start looking grim for Witherspoon's old adversary Nigel Nivens and Mrs. Jeffries and co. are soon on the case.

This is a comfortable and enjoyable read. The language is clean, the plot is easy to follow, the pacing is gentle, and the denouement is satisfying. It works reasonably well as a standalone. The author is adept at providing back info without spoon feeding or info dumping.

Four stars. Recommended to fans of historical cozies, Victorian procedurals and general cozy mystery series.

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

Sunday, January 24, 2021

1000 Vegan and Vegetarian Meals: Everyday Recipes to Make Healthy Eating Easy

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1000 Vegan and Vegetarian Meals is a new veg*n recipe collection with recipes curated and presented by the Chartwell editors. Due out 23rd Feb 2021 from Quarto on their Chartwell imprint, it's 256 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

This is a graphically appealing, well written, and accessible cookbook with an array of vegetarian and some vegan recipes to appeal to most tastes. I really liked the layout and formatting of this cookbook. There is no introduction or basic techniques or tool info. The book hops right into the recipe selections. The recipes which are included are arranged roughly thematically: breakfast & brunch, super salads, healthy soups, grazing dishes, quick & tasty, hearty comfort food, feed a crowd, and sweet treats. There are a huge number of recipes, though many are not very complex at all, and they represent a broad number of different world cuisines. I noticed some variations in the way the recipes were actually written and the way the ingredients were measured. According to the editorial information, there are three main recipe developers: Susannah Blake, Deborah Gray, and Michael Keogh, which could possibly explain variations. It's not a deal-breaker, there isn't that much difference really, but it is noticeable.

Ingredient measurements are supplied in American standard measurements with some metric measures included (yay!).  The nutritional information is not included.  Each recipe includes a header with a short description of the recipe and approximate servings. Extra tips or recipe alternatives are listed in text boxes in the recipes. The recipes themselves are fairly straightforward and are made for the most part with easily sourced ingredients. Many are very simple, none of them are overly complex. The photography is abundant and clear and the recipes are illustrated simply and clearly. Nearly all of the recipes also include a highlighted text box offering tips and alternative presentations and variations.

This is a large collection of recipes and even allowing for the fact that some of them are very similar to others in the same category, this will keep meat-free cooking fans going for ages. There are many simple "everyday" recipes which are anything but boring alongside fancier "special" dinner recipes. We tried several dishes and all of them were tasty and well written.

We're definitely going to try more of these recipes.

Five stars. This is a massive cookbook which will be used. It would make a superlative housewarming gift to a friend or family member living on their own - college student, new graduate, newlyweds, kids flying the nest, etc or a friend trying to eat more health consciously with better quality ingredients as well as a nice acquisition for the home library.

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

The Book of Tiny Creatures

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The Book of Tiny Creatures is a science based book on invertebrates for all ages. Originally published in French in 2018, this English language edition is due out 16th Feb 2021 from Princeton Architectural Press. It's 72 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

I've always loved inverts. Even as a kid, I was fascinated and would sit and watch ants or snails go about their business for hours. I had freshwater and reef tanks as an adult and they were full of snails and other inverts. Nine-year-old me would have *loved* this book.

The book moves from a general introduction of what invertebrates are, their biology and anatomy, how they reproduce, how they grow, and where they live. The language is simple and accessible, but scientifically accurate. The following chapters cover different environments - flying creatures, crawling creatures, and ones which live (at least part of the time) in the water. 

There are short multiple-choice quizzes scattered throughout to challenge readers' comprehension and retention as well as small question and answer sidebars. Answers are provided in answer keys in the back of the book. The illustrations are beautifully expressive and full of small eye-catching details. The eARC I received for review doesn't contain specific information about the art or artist's process, but it appears to be a mixture of different media - pen & ink, colored pencil, watercolor. The illustrations are beautiful and easily recognizable down to tiny realistic details of anatomy and environment.  The species represented in the book are not labeled with their proper taxonomic names, so facilitators/teachers/parents may have to make some more effort to help young readers with precise names if they're drawing or filling out observation journals. The book also has a slight European emphasis on the animals which are included (European hedgehogs, admiral butterflies, and the European garden snail are included in some form in the text, not so much opossums, skunks, and North American indigenous inverts). There is a major overlap of course, and North American readers will find plenty of species which are ubiquitous and are included.

Five stars. This would make a wonderful choice for school or public library, activity group, scouting or science activity, home library, or gifting. 

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

Kaleidoscope of Creatures: The colors of nature explained

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Kaleidoscope of Creatures is a new science based children's book on the biology behind colors and patterns of animals in nature. Due out 16th Feb 2021 from Quarto on their Wide Eyed Editions imprint, it's 64 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

Although aimed at young readers, there is a lot of information here which will probably be new to most of the audience, whatever their age. The text is accessible, accurate, and precise and the information is explained well and logically. The book divides the animal kingdom by following the Linnaean classification system into vertebrates and invertebrates and then further by phyla, family, etc. The *types* of coloration and the reasons behind them are covered in two-page spreads with explanatory text and examples: mimicry, camouflage, warning, juvenile to adult coloration, sexual dimorphism (different colors for male and female of the same species), the biomechanics behind color changing cells, and more. Each particular color gets its own section with drawn examples.

The entire book is beautifully illustrated with bright colors and clear pictures. Even the e-book version has high resolution images and good contrast easy-to-read text. The drawings are very simple, but clear enough to recognize and enjoy. It would also provide a good resource for budding scientists to practice drawing for their field journals by copying the drawings in this volume.

Five stars. This would be a superlative selection for school or public library acquisition, youth nature/garden groups, scouts, library activity groups (when we're allowed to gather again), gifting, or for the home or homeschooling library. 

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

Cozy Case Files, A Cozy Mystery Sampler, Volume 11


Cozy Case Files is the 11th promo chapter preview for upcoming releases. Due out 26th Jan 2021, from Macmillan on their St. Martin's Press imprint, it's 180 pages and will be available in ebook format. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. This (and the 10 other promotional previews with chapter samples) are free to download and read.

This is a nicely curated selection of upcoming big-name cozies from a major publisher. I love using these collections to (try to) plan my TBR pile. At any rate, the generous previews give a good feel for the books and allow readers to find the ones which pique their interest. There are 6 series cozies included in this volume with both modern and historical timelines as well as American and European settings.

I have read and reviewed 3 of the 6 included books and the ones I've read have worked very well as standalone reads. High quality engaging cozies from a big name publisher. Release dates for all 6 are between December 2020 and April 2021.

Five stars. I do also enjoy small indie publisher offerings, but it's very nice to pick up a book from a larger publisher and know that what the reader is getting is well edited, well written, polished, and professionally finished.

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

One for the Money (Cat Caliban #1)

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One for the Money is the first Cat Caliban cozy mystery by D. B. Borton. Originally published in 1993, this reformat and re-release from Boomerang Books is 226 pages and available in paperback and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. This, the first book in the series, is also currently available at reduced cost (or free in some places).

This is a well written, genuinely funny murder cozy set in Cincinnati with a feisty protagonist who's survived raising a family and isn't inclined to put up with anyone's crap. She's salty, down-to-earth, and kind and loyal to her friends. The mystery itself, the plotting, and the pacing are very well done. The author definitely has a solid handle on her craft. I found myself engaged in the story and never felt it dragged or raced. The dialogue is superlative. It flows naturally and believably. It has a delightful retro vibe being set in the 1980s and the author's references to cultural icons of the time ("Cagney & Lacey" for example) will make those of us who remember the 1980s smile, or maybe wince. Writing humor is challenging. This one actually surprised a bark of laughter out of me a couple times. That happens very very rarely. There are also positive (admittedly stereotypical) depictions of people who are LGBTQIA+ in the book, as well as a warm fuzzy theme of "found family". Slight warning for rough language (sort of Bea Arthur Golden Girls level snark here).

I was previously unfamiliar with the author and have added her to my "update regularly" list. Looking forward to more.

Five stars. Tone perfect, very entertaining. 

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


Saturday, January 23, 2021

David Bowie

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David Bowie is a new bio about the iconic entertainer/artist . Due out 9th Feb 2021 from Laurence King publishing, it's 156 pages and will be available in hardcover format. 

The biography follows Bowie's life and career chronologically from his childhood through his chameleon-like stylistic reinventions and the personas he created. The biographer does a good job of avoiding info-dumping dry facts and provides a lot of back-story anecdotes and behind-the-scenes glimpses of Bowie's interactions and friendships and collaborations. 

It's difficult to overestimate the cultural impact Bowie had on modern music and art. The author spends a fair bit of content delineating his artistic periods and documenting them, but the book doesn't only talk about Bowie in a creative vacuum. I also enjoyed very much the stories behind his amazing collaborations with other musicians, actors, and visual artists, and the massive body of work he left behind with so very many talented people.

There isn't much here about his personal life, marriages, or family life with his children. For readers looking for the TMZ version of Bowie's life or conquests, this book will be something of a disappointment. For readers looking for a concise and succinct music history of Bowie and how he shaped modern music through his collaborations, this will be much more appealing. 

There are some useful appendices included in the book: a chronological discography, abbreviated bibliography, and cross referenced index. There are also a number of publicity and press photos included, but very little personal photography. 

Four stars. This would also be a good support text for classroom instruction on modern music history, culture, and allied subjects. 

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


Out of Hounds ("Sister" Jane #13)

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Out of Hounds is the 13th "Sister" Jane mystery by Rita Mae Brown. Released 19th Jan 2020 by Penguin Random House on their Ballantine imprint, it's 320 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 and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

Like nearly all of Ms. Brown's oeuvre, this is a capably written, well told story that is character driven, neatly plotted, and finely paced. I've long been a fan of the author, and enjoyed her cozy Mrs. Murphy series as well as her more serious writing.  The Sister Jane books are cozies and full of the American foxhunting traditions and culture.  If you don't know anything about riding to hounds, you will after reading this book.

The dialogue and writing are pitch perfect.  Typically for Ms. Brown, the writing is solidly comfortable and engaging.  Reading her books is almost like visiting with an old friend you haven't seen for a while; you just pick up where you left off the last time, even if you haven't seen them for ages.

I personally love anthropomorphic mysteries, but fair warning, if talking animals bug you, this probably isn't the series for you.  The book also does a superlative job of giving a glimpse into Virginia hospitality and etiquette and the riding subculture.

Four stars (mostly because even though American fox hunters just chase the foxes and don't kill them, it still distresses me and I'm always rooting for the foxes - the books are also *full* of upper class extremely wealthy people who often rub my proletariat heart the wrong way). Bonus points for the author's managing to make her characters ethnically diverse, and not just pasted on, either. Many of the characters have faced and worked through part of their tragic shared traumatic past, from slave times onward and at this point there seems to be more good natured camaraderie than any festering resentment.

The art theft and murder plots felt secondary to the fox hunting in this one, but still overall quite a solidly entertaining read. 

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

Thursday, January 21, 2021

A Universe of Wishes: A We Need Diverse Books Anthology

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A Universe of Wishes is an attractive and well curated anthology of YA/NA fantasy edited by Dhonielle Clayton. Released 8th Dec 2020 by Penguin Random House on their Crown Books Young Readers imprint, it's 416 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 and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

One reason I prefer collections and anthologies is that short fiction is really challenging.  It's spare and the author doesn't have a wealth of wordage to develop characters or the plotting.  Well written short fiction is a delight. I also love collections because if one story doesn't really grab me, there's another story just a few pages away. This is a nice diverse sampling and I believe the included stories are all previously unpublished.

There are 15 stories by authors both familiar and new to me. This is another big reason I love anthologies - they often introduce me to new authors to follow and read. This collection has the additional benefit of providing some much needed representation and diversity to a beloved (but traditionally overwhelmingly caucasian, usually male) genre. That's changing and in part it's because of the incredible endurance and fortitude of the groups of writers inviting *all* young readers to have a seat at the table. It fills me with hope and happiness that I truly believe we're starting to really understand that our diversity is our fundamental strength. 

These are well written stories. There are some standouts (Habibi, Unmoor, and the titular A Universe of Wishes were all beautifully written and powerfully moving). There are a number of stories included from series authors with tie-in stories which will certainly appeal to fans (A Royal Affair was charming and will have V. E. Schwab fans dancing in the bookstore). 

The stories as they affected me personally were all in the higher 3-5 star range. Fiction is so subjective  it's pointless to rate, but I will say that nearly all of the stories contained in this anthology were engaging, well crafted, readable, and high quality. There were a couple which were outside my personal taste range and/or failed to hold my interest, but they were few and far between. 

Four and a half stars for the overall collection - rounded up because thematically, representation is monumentally important. I'm writing this the day after I watched a strong young poet giving all of us wings, reciting her work at the inauguration of the 46th president of the USA and knowing that somewhere out there, there might be another young artist/poet/writer/philosopher being inspired by the characters being written here. 

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

The Black Civil War Soldier: A Visual History of Conflict and Citizenship

 

The Black Civil War Soldier is a well researched and thoroughly annotated study of the black men who served (on both sides) in the American Civil War. Due out 21st Jan 2021 from the NYU Press, it's 240 pages and will be available in hardcover format. 

The author, Dr Deborah Willis, is a historian and film/ephemera researcher as well as a photographer in her own right. This book, while academically rigorous and prodigiously annotated throughout is refreshingly accessible to non-academics. The language is understandable and readable and most often, she allows the subjects to speak eloquently for themselves, through their photos and the ephemera (letters, diaries, family oral history, and archival evidence) they left behind. 

I found myself often moved emotionally during reading this book and affected deeply by the plight of the young men and their families depicted here. There are epigraphs aplenty from luminaries (Frederick Douglass, Lincoln, Dr. Alexander T. Augusta, and many others who will be familiar to many readers), but it's the unknowns, lesser knowns, the family men, the wives and mothers whose histories are preserved here who affected me the most. I grew up in West Virginia and am intimately familiar with many of the cities and towns described.

Seeing the resilience and bravery and honor and mettle of the men here against the backdrop of the nauseating prejudiced mishandling by everyone *including their comrades at arms and commanding officers* was often difficult to read and process.

The chapters are laid out chronologically: 1860-61, 1861-62, 1863, 1864, and 1865-66. The text is liberally annotated and illustrated with line drawings, facsimiles of period documents, and an impressive number of photos. Although the treatment is admittedly academic, there's enough annotation and chapter notation and bibliography to satisfy the staunchest pedant - at the same time, there's a clear and compelling biographical narrative. I'm amazed that there's enough period record to reconstruct the stories of these families after more than 150 years. 

Five stars. I would recommend this book to readers of American history, war history, American culture, classroom instruction in the Civil War period or allied subjects, ephemera, etc. 

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

Toaster Oven Takeover: Easy and Delicious Recipes to Make in Your Toaster Oven

 

Toaster Oven Takeover is a beautifully presented niche cookbook with recipes developed by Roxanne Wyss & Kathy Moore. Due out 21st Jan 2021 from Simon & Schuster on their Tiller Press imprint, it's 192 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats.

Toaster ovens (and most other appliances) have come a long long long way since I was a university student in the 80s. My dorm room toaster oven could just about be relied on to process a pre-made pot pie (remember those?) or toast a couple of slices of bread. I don't remember ever cooking anything in mine other than the aforementioned or possibly some frozen pizza rolls or a baguette. Today's versions come with multiple functions, convection cooking, adjustable trays, exact temperature controls and lots more bells and whistles. 

This cookbook does a great job of providing recipes which exploit the benefits and minimize the drawbacks of the modern toaster oven. Toaster ovens heat up faster, are more energy efficient, are the perfect size for smaller quantities of food, and are more convenient. The introduction covers the different types of ovens, tips for using convection settings, tools and supplies, related safety (no parchment paper!), pantry ingredients, and some other general considerations. 

The recipe chapters are arranged thematically: breakfast & brunch, pizza & flatbreads, toasts crostini & sandwiches, appetizers & snacks, side dishes, sheet pan dinners, casseroles & one pan dinners, meats & mains, desserts, and breads. It really is a surprisingly comprehensive and varied selection. Recipes are arranged with an introduction and yields in a header, ingredients in a sidebar bullet point list, with step-by-step directions. Ingredient measures are given in American standard measures, no metric conversions provided. Most of the ingredients are easily sourced at any moderately well stocked grocery store (some few items might need a co-op or world-food/specialist grocery). Nutritional information is not included.  Cook's notes and variations for each recipe are also included in a footer at the end.The recipes all fit on a single page (which is super convenient for reading from a tablet when your hands are full).

The layout is clear and easy to read with a sort of retro vibe. The photography is clear and well done. It's not apparent from the publishing info, but the pre-publication ARC I received had greyscale black and white photography throughout (that could well change to color for the publication version). At any rate, the photography is top notch and serving suggestions are appetizing and appropriate.

This would make a superlative addition to a 'moving out' care package for newly independent youngsters/singles/newlyweds, etc. I was impressed enough with the book that I am planning on buying one for each of my kids who are moving (or have moved) out on their own.

Four and a half stars.

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

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Shadow Drawing: How Science Taught Leonardo How to Paint

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The Shadow Drawing is an academically rigorous look at Leonardo da Vinci's development as a polymath and especially how his understanding of mathematical principles and physics informed and helped develop his visual art (as opposed to most traditional historical interpretations which have daVinci moving from visual art to more engineering, design, and invention in the later years of his life). Released 17th Nov 2020 by Macmillan on their Farrar Strauss & Giroux imprint, it's 384 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

Despite being an academic, Dr. Francesca Fiorani writes accessibly and authoritatively on the subject and I found myself often so fascinated and caught up in the story that I forgot the amount of time I'd spent reading. Despite being partially an expository work, it is exhaustively annotated and defended with period and contemporary references. The language is precise, but certainly accessible to the average layman reader. 

The book is full of facsimile drawings and artwork reproduced in grayscale and in the electronic format, in high definition. The chapter notes and annotations are thorough and provide rich resources for further learning.

I would recommend this one to students of art and history, science, the Italian renaissance, mathematics in art, and lovers of well written nonfiction. This would also make a superlative selection for library acquisition as well as a good supplemental text for classroom study in allied subjects.

Five stars. 

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

Deer-Resistant Native Plants for the Northeast

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Deer-Resistant Native Plants for the Northeast is a tutorial and gardening guide to making gardens less irresistible to deer and similar ruminants. Due out 16th Feb 2021 from Workman Publishing on their Timber Press imprint, it's 220 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. 

Timber Press is well known for solidly usable gardening and nature tutorial guides and this is another winner. The information is logical, solid, up-to-date, and well arranged in an accessible and logical form. Everyone who has gardened in the northeastern parts of the USA has experienced losses to deer. I haven't met many gardeners who haven't looked forward to a dream harvest and come out to find that the eagerly awaited blooms and veggies have disappeared. 

The native plants and flowers in this volume are not only unpalatable and resistant to depredation by deer but also fill important ecological roles in the garden, providing food, nectar, and habitat to important native species. The selections are all well acclimated to the climate in the northeast and most are indigenous. 

The plant selections are arranged thematically: annuals & biennials, perennials, ferns, grasses, sedges, and shrubs. Each entry contains the name, botanical name, some of the common names, and family in the header. The header info also contains a "deer resistance" rating and some general culture info, zones, native areas, height, and spread. The following descriptions are well written and understandable in plain language. The entries also include companion planting suggestions as well as specific culture info. All the entries also contain a clear close-up photo. 

The book could have included some plant propagation info as well as some more seasonal photographs showing dormant phases but in general the info included in the book is sufficient to make good decisions about choice and siting. There is also a useful cross referenced index included to make information easy to find.

This is a really useful and information dense collection. It would make a superlative choice for library acquisition, garden club library, community garden, smallholding, or similar. Very well done. Four and a half stars.

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


Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Megan Rapinoe

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Megan Rapinoe is a new biography for young readers in the Little People, Big Dreams series. I've reviewed a number of these titles and all of them are delightful and exuberant little books which cover the lives of famous cultural, science, arts, and innovation icons while maintaining an age-appropriate level of detail. Due out 2nd Feb 2021 from Quarto on their Frances Lincoln imprint, it's 32 pages and will be available in hardcover, and ebook formats.

Written by Isabel S├ínchez Vegara it's well written in clear accessible language.  The whimsical and energetic illustrations were well done. The art by Paulina Morgan is full of fun - appealing and colorful, they just bounce off the page. The illustrations are bold and full of bright contrasting colors and simple lines and lots and lots of energy.

Well written and appealing, I am really enjoying all of these little books. This one is a worthy addition. The author has included a timeline at the back of the book with some photos and highlights from Ms. Rapinoe's life, as well as a very short bibliography including books to explore further.

Five stars. This would make a superlative reading circle book, classroom library book, or gift.  I like that these books cover arts, sports, science, historical, and entertainment icons. There's something for everyone.  

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

Absence of Mercy (Lightner and Law Mystery #1)

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Absence of Mercy is the first book in a new historical mystery series by S.M. Goodwin. Released 10th Nov 2020 by Crooked Lane Books, it's 320 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. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is an intricately crafted and well engineered mystery wrapped around an accurate historical framework. The characters are well established with realistic and believable internal motivations and agendas. The setting, pre-civil war New York is gritty and believable, with palpable desperation side by side with almost unimaginable wealth and privilege. The author is skilled enough that it's sometimes difficult to distinguish where history ends and the fiction begins.

There are a number of potentially distressing themes included in the narrative including child prostitution, slavery, rampant sexism, abuse (and murder) of vulnerable people, drug abuse, rape, graphic depictions of war, and a few others. They are used in context, but I found it tough going in some places. 

The writing itself is very good and the author can certainly tell a compelling story. I would recommend this ones to readers of the historical mystery genre. I think that fans of C. S. Harris (and I am one such) will find a lot to enjoy here. Four and a half stars. 

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