Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Crafting Authentic Paper Flowers

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Crafting Authentic Paper Flowers is a very well written and attractive crafting guide with tutorials by Sophie Longhurst. Released 30th Nov 2021 by Pen & Sword on their White Owl imprint, it's 144 pages and is available in paperback format.

This is an exceptionally pretty book full of inspiration and amazingly realistic papercrafted flowers which are actually honestly authentically realistic. The tutorials are arranged in increasing intricacy (roughly) and the book begins with general techniques and directions, tools, supplies, and tips for getting the best results. The intro is followed by 20 fully illustrated tutorials for specific flowers with step by step directions (and lots and lots of clear colour photos). The author has also included a number of good tips for arranging and -using- the flowers after they're created.

Full size templates are included with the book. There are no stockists listed, but most well stocked crafts/hobby/arts type stores will carry most of the supplies called for in the tutorials. 

Really beautiful flowers which really look authentic. Elegant and understated. 

Five stars. This would make a great selection for makers groups, hobbyists, creative types who are interested in paper sculpting, as well as public or school library acquisition. 

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

Sunday, November 21, 2021

The Unofficial Bridgerton Cookbook: 100 Dazzling Recipes Inspired by Bridgerton

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The Unofficial Bridgerton Cookbook is an engagingly whimsical collection of period style recipes with tie-ins to the popular historical costume drama. Due out 23rd Nov 2021 from Simon & Schuster on their Adams Media imprint, it's 240 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

This is a fun themed cookbook full of small delightfully civilized dishes and trifles. The author has arranged them thematically: breakfast, luncheon, afternoon tea, banquet dishes (soups, vegetables, fish, and meats), and sweets & libations. The recipes are full of small details and descriptions highlighting details about ingredients or historical preparation and presentation methods.

Each recipe includes serving yields, lots of special notes, and prep times. Recipe ingredients are listed bullet point style along with optional ingredients. All measurements are given in American standard measures only. The directions are given step by step, numbered sequentially. The nutritional information is not provided.

Most of the recipes' ingredients are easily to find and the resultant dishes are quite fancy and appealing. Some of the ingredients will be difficult to source outside of specialist retailers and/or large metropolitan areas (or mail order). Roughly 20-25% of the recipes include photos. The photos are beautifully styled with elegant place settings, china, silver, and presentations.

Four stars.This is the perfect gift for cooks who love high tea, brunch, entertaining, and aren't intimidated by time/labor intensive dishes. 

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

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Fire And Cinder (Fairy Tales of the Magicorum #6)

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Fire And Cinder is the 6th book in the Magicorum series by Christina Bauer. Originally released in Feb 2021, this reformat and re-release from Monster House is 320 pages and is available in ebook and paperback 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; it makes it so easy to find information with the search function. 

This is an easy to read, very very light cozy paranormal romance novel aimed at YA readers. The book is written in alternating first person perspective and labeled in the chapter headings which character is being written. They're full of snarky sarcastic dialogue and action driven. The main characters' arcs are written throughout the previous 5 books in the series, but can certainly be read out of order without any confusion.

The books are full of fractured fairy tale archetypes and riffs on classic fairy tales. The happily-ever-afters are not easy to attain and there's a metric ton of crisis and drama and tortured teenage angst and longing between the start and finish.

I'm about 4 decades outside the target audience (older teens and YA), but I am confident that they'll be gobbled up by the readers for whom they're intended. There is a little bit of rough language, but nothing which would raise an eyebrow in the average school hallway.

The dialogue is sometimes eye-wateringly sarcastic, but again, for readers in the target audience, that will likely be a plus and not at all negative. This would be a good series to binge, since book 8 has just dropped. For fans of Twilight, Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles, and similar, these books will fit the bill. 

Three and a half stars for this entry, rounded up for quite competent writing and plotting. I would imagine it will likely be higher for the target audience. 

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

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Creative Gouache: A Beginner's Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Vibrant Paintings with Opaque Watercolor Mixed Media

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Creative Gouache is a tutorial and technique guide to gouache for beginners by Ruth Wilshaw. Due out 30th Nov 2021 from Quarto on their Quarry imprint, it's 144 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. 

This is a graphically appealing, well written, and attractive technique book for opaque watercolor and gouache with 9 pretty tutorials including bullet journal layout, dimensional painting, notebook cover, and a painted slab clay dish. The author provides a good basic introduction covering tools, supplies, brushes and other tools, paints, papers, and other surfaces. The supplies covered should be readily available from any art supplies and painting crafts retailer. The technique chapters are arranged around specific settings or effects: basic techniques, inspired by nature, landscapes, lettering, gouache and mixed media techniques. 

Each of the tutorials includes a bullet list of materials in a highlighted sidebar, pictures of the finished project, and step by step illustrated instructions. The photos are clear and in color. The lessons and tutorials are creative and can be easily adjusted and adapted to suit many other purposes. Full size templates are included in the back of the book. 

Five stars. Useful and appealing. This would make a good choice for public or school library acquisition, maker's groups, activity/scouting groups, or the home studio. 

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

Friday, November 12, 2021

Magicorum Box Set

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Magicorum Box Set contains the first novels of the Magicorum series by Christina Bauer. The original books included were released from 2017-2021, this reformat and re-release 4th Nov 2021 is 1,220 pages and is available in ebook format.

These are well written and engaging action driven YA/NA paranormal romance novels. The narrative is written in dual first person alternating chapters between two of the main characters Knox (a shifter and alpha) and Bryar Rose (female  protagonist and general snarky badass 18 year old). 

The books are full of fractured fairy tale archetypes and riffs on classic fairy tales. The happily-ever-afters are not easy to attain and there's a metric ton of crisis and drama and tortured teenage angst and longing between the start and finish.

I'm about 4 decades outside the target audience (older teens and YA), but I am confident that they'll be gobbled up by the readers for whom they're intended. There is a little bit of rough language, but nothing which would raise an eyebrow in the average school hallway. There is also a fair bit of nudity, since lead love-interest Knox is a shifter and they do a lot of clothes shredding, so there's some discussion of his "junk". 

The dialogue is sometimes eye-wateringly sarcastic, but again, for readers in the target audience, that will likely be a plus and not at all negative. This would be a good series to binge, since book 8 has just dropped. For fans of Twilight, Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles, and similar, these books will fit the bill. 

Four stars for this collection. The individual books for me range in the three and a half to four star range. Likely higher for the target audience. 

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

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Customising Clothes With Embroidery: 15 Fun Projects to Inspire You to Upcycle the Clothes You Already Own


Customising Clothes With Embroidery is a tutorial guide with patterns for updating and upcycling clothing with surface embroidery machine and hand sewn embellishments by Connie Mabbott. Due out 30th Nov from Pen & Sword on their White Owl imprint, it's 152 pages and will be available in paperback format.

It's nice to see embroidery and other fibrecrafts enjoying a renaissance of sorts. In times past, people would learn these skills as a matter of necessity, handed down from generation to generation in the family. That's no longer true, so crafters must turn to other sources of instruction. The internet (youtube, ravelry, et.al.) and other social media channels are good sources of instruction, but for not-strictly-visual learners like me, books are still vital. I learn better if I have a book sitting in front of me and if I don't feel like I constantly have to pause the video to figure out what I'm doing. 

It's also very nice to see people being more aware of the destructive habits of fast fashion and disposable clothing. It's cool to be able to repair, enhance, and upcycle clothing into something beautiful and custom-made. This book is full of good tips for turning basic clothing into something unique and wonderful. 

The book has a logical and easy to follow layout. These projects utilise both machine (straight foot and free-hand) and hand surface embroidery. The tutorials are arranged in progressive difficulty from simple introductory designs to much more complex. The author does a good job of introducing and explaining techniques and equipment in accessible and understandable terms. Tools and supplies will be readily available in most areas. 

The tutorials are arranged thematically: basic embroidered lettering (3 introductory projects), free motion onto patches (to sew onto base items later), free motion directly onto items, and an advanced (and gorgeous) denim jacket project. All of the projects are easily customisable depending on readers' own needs and taste. Each tutorial includes a bullet list of materials in a sidebar, suggested skill level, step-by-step direction, and clear colour process photos of the project. 

Four stars. This would be a good selection for public or school library acquisition, home sewists, makers groups, or gift giving.  

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


Wednesday, November 10, 2021

How to Sous Vide: Easy, Delicious Perfection Any Night of the Week: 100+ Simple, Irresistible Recipes

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How to Sous Vide is a tutorial guide with recipes by Daniel Shumski. Due out 23rd Nov 2021 from Workman Publishing, it's 240 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

The introduction covers the basics of sous vide cooking (long time low temp with food sealed in pouches) and essential accessories as well as an intro to the processing, uses, ingredients, tools, supplies, and how-to. The following chapters include the recipes arranged roughly by category: poultry, pork, beef, duck & lamb, seafood, eggs, vegetables, and desserts.
 
Ingredient measurements are supplied in American standard measurements only. There is a metric conversion table in the appendix.  The nutritional information is not included. Each recipe has a header with special info - cooking times and temps, and yields, along with a short description. Extra tips and recipe alternatives are listed in text boxes. The recipes themselves are fairly straightforward and are made for the most part with easily sourced ingredients.  Special equipment is listed in the directions as well as in the tools overview in the introduction.

The photography is clear and well done.  The serving suggestions are stylish and appropriate. Roughly 30% of the recipes are accompanied by one or more photos.

Because of the nature of the cooking process (long cooking time, relatively low temps, multiple processing steps), many/most of them are not really what I would consider "have to get dinner on the table or the kids will gnaw the legs off the table" after-work dinner type dishes. They're fine for weekend or special occasion cooking.

We're definitely going to try more of these recipes.  Well written book, very tasty recipes and a style of preparation which places emphasis on safe and nutrient dense food.

Four stars. This is a solid recipe book which will be used. It would make a superlative gift for a culinarily adventurous friend or family member, as well as readers looking to branch out and learn new techniques. 

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

Damn Good Chinese Food: Dumplings, Egg Rolls, Bao Buns, Sesame Noodles, Roast Duck, Fried Rice, and More—50 Recipes Inspired by Life in Chinatown

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Damn Good Chinese Food is a well written Chinese cookbook with recipes by Chris Cheung. Due out 23rd Nov 2021 from Skyhorse Publishing, it's 208 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is a graphically appealing, well written, and accessible cookbook with an array of Chinese/American fusion recipes to appeal to most tastes. I really liked the layout and formatting. The introduction covers the basics, with a good overview of tools, ingredients, techniques, and supplies (which might not be familiar to many western cooks). The recipes which follow are arranged roughly thematically: dumplings (the author is a -virtuoso-), Chinese American, vegetables, fish & seafood, meat & poultry, small snacks, birthday dinner, and sweets.

Each recipe has its ingredients listed bullet style in a sidebar. Measurements are given in US standard only. (There's a metric conversion chart in the back of the book). Special tools and ingredients are also listed, along with yields and cooking directions. The ingredients are mostly easily sourced at any moderately well stocked grocery or international foods store. Nutritional information is not provided.

The recipes and tutorials are well photographed in color. The serving suggestions are very well styled and give visual cooks information about presentation and serving (especially important for cooks who are not familiar with all of these dishes). Essential info, alerts, facts, tips & answers are highlighted in text boxes. The book includes a cross-referenced, hyperlinked index.

Five stars. There are a large number of really tasty recipes here. We've tried a number of them at home and they've all been wonderful and error free. 

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

DIY Resin Crafting Projects: Jewelry, Paperweights, Coasters, and Other Keepsakes

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DIY Resin Crafting Projects is an instruction guide with tutorials to resin crafting for beginners by Teodora Petkova. Due out 26th Apr 2022 from Fox Chapel, it's 104 pages and will be available in paperback format.

This is more than just a collection of pretty resin casting tutorials. The author spends a fair bit of of the intro showing how to choose and use resin along with the tools, supplies, and techniques for getting the best finishes. The tutorials (18 by my count) include decor items, jewelry, ornaments, keychains, and more. All of the items are really professional looking and beautiful. There are many which appealed to me, and I could imagine myself making.

Each of the tutorials includes tools and supplies in a highlighted text box, a pic of the finished project, and step by step tutorial photos with instructions. The detailed process photos are clear and easy to follow. Almost all of them take a very small amount of materials and would be great for a family weekend project (with an adult or responsible older kid to help). The author has included a one page index along with a list of supplies links suitable for materials sourcing.

There's so much good information here. The tutorials are upbeat and fun and the finished products are just beautiful. Definitely a good selection for the crafter's home library as well as for maker's groups and crafting studios when we're allowed to assemble together again. 

Five stars.

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

Energetic Herbalism: A Guide to Sacred Plant Traditions Integrating Elements of Vitalism, Ayurveda, and Chinese Medicine

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Energetic Herbalism is a guide to sacred (Eastern) herbal traditions presented by Kat Maier.  Due out 26th Nov 2021 from Chelsea Green Publishing, it's 392 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. 

The author is a clinical herbalist (with 3 decades of experience), physician's assistant, and holistic practitioner. She teaches herbalism, energetics, and elemental medicine (humors, seasonal medicines, the western pre-Christian/Druidic calender). If that sounds like this book contains a fair bit of new age 'woo', well, it does, honestly. That being said, I (firmly 'school of western medicine' and about as non-'woo' as it's possible to be) found quite a lot of interesting food for thought here. It's a well structured and well-written book. The author seems to have a balanced sense of both indigenous (Asian) traditional herbal medicine and an awareness of the western medical system and she manages to have an encouraging and supportive voice with a foot in each camp. She's not strident or preachy or condescending and she presents the information in a reasonable and measured way.

For readers who are interested in alternative/eastern philosophy & healing, this is well written and accessible, containing quite a lot of info. The chapters present the material in an understandable and logical manner: basic information, followed by recipes and tutorials. The text throughout is enhanced by line drawn illustrations by Lara Gastinger.

Graphically the book is light and clean looking with high contrast text and clear directions.

Four stars. Interesting alternative ideas and recipes. This would be a good choice for public library acquisition, smallholders, foragers, and students of natural healing.

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

Charles Dickens (Little People, Big Dreams)

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Charles Dickens is a short illustrated biography of the famed author 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 icons of innovation while maintaining an age-appropriate level of detail.

Released 9th Nov 2021 by 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.  There is so much information included in this little book. The art by Isobel Ross is appealing and colorful and I found myself drawn into the pictures. The illustrations are active and kinetic and suit the subject.

Well written and appealing, I am really enjoying all of these little books. This one is a worthy addition.

Five stars. This would make a superlative reading circle book, classroom library book, or gift. Dickens lived a difficult life in many ways and the author does a wonderful job of relating information in an age appropriate way without being hurtful or maudlin. This would make a great starting point for deeper research for young readers and a good introduction to his work. I felt that there was an overemphasis on A Christmas Carol, but this book could serve as a springboard and introduction to his *other* works as well.

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

Immune: A Journey Into the Mysterious System That Keeps You Alive

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Immune is a layman accessible and thorough look at the immune system by Phillipp Dettmer. Released 2nd Nov 2021 by Penguin Random House, it's 368 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

The author is a gifted teacher (from an unexpectedly non-academic background) and this is what I would call a layman accessible academic treatise of the subject in all its difficult subtleties. I enjoyed poring over the chapters.

I found the entire book quite interesting and fascinating. It is, admittedly, a niche book and will appeal to readers interested in biology and physiology. The language is accessible and informal. The author has a gift at distilling difficult and complex concepts into smaller digestible bits and I can imagine he would be an engaging and worthwhile lecturer.

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

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

Short-Circuited in Charlotte (Pret’ Near Perfect Mystery #2)

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Short-Circuited in Charlotte is the second book in a small-town cozy mystery series by Amy Patricia Meade. Originally published in 2017, this reformat and re-release out 2nd Nov 2021 is 181 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats (other editions in other formats). It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is a fun cozy featuring a married couple who have moved to the country in Vermont to get away from big city life. Husband Nick is a Forestry Service officer who is invited to speak at an environment & technology event where murder soon makes an appearance. Stella (Nick's wife) is along for the seminars and the two are soon trying to unravel who, what, where, and why.

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

I found the plotting and development slow and the secondary characters somewhat two dimensional. That being said, however, the author is adept at writing and much of the descriptive prose is well done and engaging.

Three and a half stars. This will appeal to cozy readers. 

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

Big Boards for Families: Healthy, Wholesome Charcuterie Boards and Food Spread Recipes that Bring Everyone Around the Table

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Big Boards for Families is a fun and plainly written tutorial/entertaining guide with recipes and serving suggestions by Sandy Coughlin. Released 2nd Nov 2021 by Quarto on their Fair Winds Press imprint, it's 176 pages and is available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

The introduction covers the basics of building a board including the board itself (not necessarily wooden), bowls, serving utensils, and food considerations. There are a lot of good tips scattered throughout, such as choosing boards which have a lip/well so food doesn't slide off and create unnecessary mess as well as choosing utensils and food for making boards (including *big* boards).

The board setups are arranged thematically: breakfast & brunch boards, grazing at home, meal boards, and desserts. The highlighted recipes used in the boards are listed right with the boards to which they belong, saving readers searching or bookmarking and having to flip back and forth. Recipe ingredients are listed in a bullet-style sidebar. Measurements are in American standard with most metric measures in parentheses (yay!) followed by step by step instructions. The book doesn't include nutritional information or portion sizes. The recipes are pictured with the finished boards and the pictures are beautifully clear and colorful. Many of the recipes do use pre-packaged ingredients and condiments for convenience.

The dishes and boards here aren't *fancy* but they really *feel* special because of the presentation. I liked everything about this book, from the varied dishes, to the presentation, the clearly written recipes, and the beautiful photography and food styling. Five stars.

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

Draw 500 Awesome Animals: A Sketchbook for Artists, Designers, and Doodlers

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Draw 500 Awesome Animals is a basic collection of line drawings of different animals by Julia Kuo. Released 2nd Nov 2021 by Quarto on their Chartwell imprint, it's 208 pages and is available in paperback format.

I love to draw and doodle. Despite not being super advanced and skillful yet, I find drawing very relaxing most of the time. This is an accessible guide full of very simple animal drawings. The animals are mostly stylized, they aren't overly realistic. There is no tutorial instruction; the pages are laid out very roughly thematically (but not labeled, there's no table of contents or index). Animals with similar shapes are often shown side by side for comparison purposes and inspiration: a pig from behind stands next to a similarly positioned skunk, pigs and sheep with similar outlines are arranged together, etc.

The book includes the line drawings alone. There is no introduction or step-by-step tutorials. There isn't any text. Most of the drawings are greyscale monochrome but there are some (roughly 10%) which are rendered in colored pencil.

Great selection for a gift for a young artist, perhaps with some added sketch pads and pencils. This would also make a good classroom or library book.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. I will use these to decorate journals and notes for friends.

Four stars.

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

Pub Quiz

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Pub Quiz is a very well written and presented guide to planning and executing a successful quiz night, including question rounds (with an answer key) written by Eric Saunders. Released 15th Oct 2021 by Arcturus Publishing, it's 494 pages (print format) and is available in paperback and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. (The book's questions are directly hyperlinked to the answers in the back of the book; a really handy feature).

This is such a fun and well written book. The introduction covers the basics: who, what, where, how, when, and why. There are more specifics about venues, cover charges (if any), drinks & snacks, acoustics, scoring, and, really, all the info needed to run a quiz night. 

The bulk of the book is taken up with the questions. They're hugely varied, concisely written, and definitely not all easy. I pride myself on being a trivia maven and these weren't a walk in the park. 

Four stars. This is a one-stop resource for planners of trivia nights. It will be a solid resource for trivia fans as a study guide also. There are some repeat answers, but I didn't see any repeat questions. 

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

 


Tuesday, November 9, 2021

The Mummy's Curse (Museum Kittens)

      

The Mummy's Curse is a new tale for young readers in the Museum Kittens series by Holly Webb. Released 12th Oct 2021 by Tiger Tales Books, it's 160 pages and is available in paperback format. 

This is a very simply written and whimsically illustrated adventure style chapter book about a group of kittens tasked with guarding a museum. They are varied in size and ability and the author makes them understandable and realistic to the target audience by showing them experiencing and learning from frustration (and problem solving) as well as fear, bravery, differences, and supporting one another. There are also themes of found/blended family, work, and cooperation. 

The book is peppered with monochrome pen & ink illustrations by Sarah Lodge which support and expand the text and are full of small details which invite a lingering look.

There's a lot of action and adventure along the way with the exhibits in the museum providing a backdrop for some educational tidbits in the form of Egyptian and natural history. Although most adults should be shaking their heads over the shocking lack of archival protocol in this shockingly lax museum (full of sleeping guards, marauding rat gangs, broken leaking pipes, flooding, and a pack of cats), it is a fun and full speed romp for younger readers. The author has also included a short author's notes at the end with interesting facts about Egyptian history, the Book of the Dead (funerary book from ancient Egypt), and cats. 

This would make a good choice for public or school library acquisition, reading circles, read-a-longs, and solo reading for youngsters. 

Four stars.

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


 

It's a Wonderful Woof (Chet and Bernie Mystery #12)


It's a Wonderful Woof is the 12th outing for Chet and Bernie by Spencer Quinn. Released 19th Oct 2021 by Macmillan on their Tor Forge imprint, it's 272 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is another fun and engaging read starring Chet (the dog) and Bernie (the human) doing what they do best, solving crimes, righting wrongs, and keeping each other (relatively) safe and functional. Although it's the 12th book in the series, all the books work very well as standalone novels. There are a few minor spoilers in the background story if read out of order, but nothing major. 

Probably the most unusual aspect of the story is that it's told in the first person point of view of Chet, Bernie's Dr. Watson. Chet's a Very Smart Dog (and a Very Good Boy), but he is a dog and so there are many asides about smelling things and sort of a stream-of-consciousness commentary running throughout. I found it very distracting at first, but after a few chapters it wasn't as noticeable. 

For current fans of the series, this is another solid mystery with a cleverly constructed plot complete with a satisfying denouement and conclusion. The language is fairly clean throughout and on the same average as the other books with regards to violence.

Recommended for fans of mysteries with strong animal protagonists, and American PI mysteries. I'm impressed how this series continues to be solidly entertaining without being overly formulaic. Chet and Bernie are the good guys.

Four stars.

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

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Mrs Hudson and the Blue Daisy Affair (Mrs. Hudson #5)


Mrs Hudson and the Blue Daisy Affair is the fifth book in the cozy English mystery series by Martin Davies. Released 4th Nov 2021 by Canelo, it's 305 pages and is 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 is on the surface a nice tie-in series starring the redoubtable Mrs. Hudson (of 221B Baker St. fame), and featuring lots of nice Holmes and Watson cameos. As always, this installment also features Mrs. Hudson's assistant Flotsam who has blossomed into a capable, honourable, intelligent, and fearless protagonist in her own right. 

There are several disparate plot threads - Russian spies, assassination plots, women's suffrage, rigid social class divisions - and they all twine ever more tightly together to reach a satisfying climax and denouement. The author weaves fictional characters and events so skillfully around real historical characters that it's not always easy to figure out where fact shades into fiction. 

Despite being the 5th book in the series, it works perfectly well as a standalone, and I had no trouble keeping up with the plot. 

Four stars. This would be a good choice for public library acquisition as well as for fans of historical British cozies.  It would also make a good choice for bookclub discussion or a buddy-read for online cozy enthusiasts. 

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

A Peculiar Combination (Electra McDonnell #1)

 


A Peculiar Combination is the first book in the Electra McDonnell WW2 period mystery by Ashley Weaver. Released 25th May 2021 by Macmillan on their Minotaur imprint, it's 304 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is such a well written and immediately engaging book. The protagonists are understandable and sympathetic (despite being firmly on the wrong side of the law) that the reader is instantly drawn to their side. The hook was firmly embedded within the first few pages of setup and I found the entire read satisfyingly action filled and fast paced. 

The resolution and denouement were exciting with espionage and skullduggery aplenty, whilst foreshadowing the possibility of future adventures for Electra and her compatriots. 

Four stars. This would be a good choice for fans of historical spy thrillers and general historical mysteries who don't mind a touch of romance in their reads. I found the characters especially well rendered and the dialogue flowed well and believably. The author is adept at her craft. 

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

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

The Best American Mystery and Suspense 2021

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The Best American Mystery and Suspense 2021 is a well curated annual collection of new short mystery & suspense fiction edited by Alafair Burke & Steph Cha. Released 12th Oct 2021 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on their Mariner imprint, it's 320 pages and is available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats.

There are 20 stories by my count and they're from authors both familiar and new to me. The stories are varied, there were (as always) some which didn't grab me personally, but all were well written and competently plotted. They were mostly in the 4 star range(ish) with a a fair smattering of really standout stories. This is a well done anthology of stories in the 3-5 star range.

One reason I like 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.  

Four stars on average. It's a diverting read.

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

Little Homesteader: A Winter Treasury of Recipes, Crafts, and Wisdom

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Little Homesteader is a well written and heartwarming collection of hands-on crafts and activities for young readers by Angela Ferraro-Fanning. Released 7th Sept 2021 by Quarto on their Ivy Kids imprint, it's 32 pages and is available in paperback format. 

This is such a fun book full of colorful illustrations by Annaliesdraws which are full of small details and suit the simple projects very well. There's such a wholesome and inclusive vibe throughout that I found myself smiling along. The projects are safe and will provide lots of ideas for families with young kids. There are some projects which can be done alone, but the ones which need adult supervision are clearly marked. They're all winter themed and include both indoor and outdoor activities. Some of the projects are also designed to help support wildlife with food and shelter/habitat.

This would make a great choice for public or classroom library acquisition, maker's groups, scouting/activity groups, church youth groups, and families. The included projects are aimed at roughly 5-8 year olds, but can be adjusted. 

Five stars. Fun projects, a wholesome book.

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

Dessert Boards: 50 Beautifully Sweet Platters and Boards for Family, Friends, Holidays, and Any Occasion

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Dessert Boards is an exuberantly well curated ode to desserts with recipes by Kellie Hemmerly. Released 2nd Nov 2021 by Quarto on their Harvard Common Press imprint, it's 144 pages and is available in paperback format. 

This is a well presented and easy to follow book full of good tips and tricks for presenting tasty food and creating a convivial atmosphere with platters and boards full of sweets. I like that the author has a very friendly upbeat style of writing and the food is beautiful. 

The introduction covers the basics of building a board including the board itself (not necessarily wooden), bowls, serving utensils, and food considerations (including transportation logistics). The boards themselves are arranged thematically: early day (coffee, breakfast, etc), holidays, international, family gatherings, celebrations, and anytime. The boards contain both homemade treats (recipes in the back of the book) and store-bought additions such as fruit, trail mix, granola bars, donuts (no recipe included), croissants (ditto), and jams/jellies. The following section of the book contains the recipes used in the boards. Recipe ingredients are listed in a bullet-style sidebar. Measurements are in American standard with most metric measures in parentheses (yay!) followed by step by step instructions. Boards using the recipes are listed in the header. The book doesn't include nutritional information. The recipes are pictured with the finished boards and the pictures are beautifully clear and colorful. Many of the recipes do use pre-packaged ingredients and condiments for convenience.

Five stars. The dishes and boards here aren't super *fancy* but they really *feel* special because of the presentation. I liked everything about this book, from the presentations, the clearly written recipes, and the beautiful photography and food styling. This is a very popular instagram/pinterest trend and this book contained a lot of time-saving shortcuts and suggestions. Perfect for holiday entertaining.

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

Modern Crochet Style 15 colourful crochet patterns for your and your home, including fun sustainable makes


Modern Crochet Style is a pattern book with tutorials by Lindsey Newns. Due out in late Dec 2021 from Pen & Sword on their White Owl imprint, it's 112 pages and will be available in paperback format. 

The layout is clear and bright with high contrast text and modern feeling colors. The chapters are arranged thematically: a tutorial introduces the basic stitches and concepts and is followed by the project patterns (there are 15 total) grouped seasonally: spring (hair scrunchies, an adorable gingham bag, wallhanging, kitchen cloths), summer (eye mask, cushion, basket, placemats), autumn (bathmat, duffel, scarf), and winter (hat, cowl, rug, and stocking). The photography in the sample pages is excellent, clear and full of color.

The projects are quite appealing and not-too-trendy (but not stodgy), and are versatile enough to invite crafters' personal embellishments or followed as written. The author gives specific information about yarn weights and good tips on fibres and colourways.

Four and a half stars. This would be a superlative choice for public or school library acquisition, maker's groups, fibrecrafts groups, activity groups, pension homes and similar. The projects range in difficulty but none are beyond the scope of a keen amateur. I was impressed how cute the hair scrunchies turned out and it's a really great pattern for using up tiny scraps of yarn which we all seem to collect.

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

 

The Christmas Killer (DI James Walker #1)

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The Christmas Killer is the first book in the murder procedural by Alex Pine. Originally released in 2020, this reformat and re-release (coinciding with the publication of book two) is 416 pages and is available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

Despite the slow plotting and often lax tension, this was an entertaining and engaging read. It's holiday themed and the 12 days of Christmas plot was slightly creepy and relevant. I personally had some trouble relating to main protagonist James' motivations and found him patronising and unsympathetic. The denouement and resolution were not unexpected and there was quite a long exposition which amounted roughly to "why I did it" from the killer. 

There's very little subtlety in the writing, characterisations, or plotting. It's very simply written and the dialogue was often flat and unbelievable to me. I just didn't find much to grab or hold my attention. 

Three stars. It might make a good choice for picking up to read in 10 minute snatches during the holiday planning madness. 

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

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Orders to Kill (Home Front Detective #9)

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Orders to Kill is the 9th historical procedural mystery in the Home Front Detective series by Edward Marston. Released 21st Oct 2021 by Alison & Busby, it's 320 pages and is available in hardcover and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is a well written historical series and this installment sees inspectors Marmion and Keedy investigating the particularly brutal murder of a revered orthopedic surgeon. It's set in London during WWI and the inspectors will travel outside their home precincts to find the guilty and bring them to justice. 

Despite being the 9th in the series, it works well as a standalone and there are no huge spoilers for the earlier books if read out of order.  This is a well written and engaging series, however, the writing is uneven in places and there are a few instances of dialogue which yanked me out of my suspension of disbelief. The end conflict, denouement, and resolution were a trifle two dimensional and flat. There was very little sense of danger. There were also some plot threads which seemed tacked on and could have been trimmed down and streamlined without problem (Alice and Iris' entire interaction and shopping trip, for example).

All in all, though, the author is quite competent and the mystery is a light and engaging one.

Three and a half stars. This would be a good choice for fans of historical British police procedural mysteries. 

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

Ghost Electricity (Hawthorn House #1)


Ghost Electricity is the first full novel in the Hawthorn House urban fantasy series by Sean Cunningham. Originally released in 2018, this reformat and re-release is 244 pages and is 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. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

This is an absolutely character driven chaotic urban fantasy which slams along chaotically like a zoetrope filmed strobe-lit mosh pit. The characters are worth the effort though. Warlock & vampire flatmates Julian & Rob respectively are living next door to a sort of Wednesday Addams/Flavia de Luce 10 year old metaphysics supergenius whose elder sister may-or-may-not-be possessed (and who undeniably has a monster in her shadow). Add lots of monsters, a huge amount of fighting and bloodshed, and stir. 

Despite hopping from scene to scene like water droplets on an overheated griddle, there are some genuinely funny moments and the author has a deft touch writing comedy. There are fascinating glimpses of cohesive and potentially amazing world building here, but they're mostly obscured by the chaos and constantly changing scenes. 

I feel that there is an impressive amount of potential here and recommend it to fans of UF. There is at least one other book and several shorter novella length works set in the same universe for readers who enjoy a binge series. (They all seem to currently be available for kindle unlimited subscribers).

Three and a half stars.

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

The Heathens (Quinn Colson #11)

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The Heathens is the 11th Quinn Colson novel by Ace Atkins. Released 13th July 2021 by Penguin Putnam on their G.P. Putnam's Sons imprint, it's 416 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. 

This is a plainly written gutsy investigative procedural featuring an interesting dual plot following both Quinn Colson's investigation into the murder of a local woman and his ex-deputy's tracking the suspects wanted in the same murder. The writing is, as always, tight and unvarnished and engaging. The author's adept at writing action and equally talented with natural and believable dialogue. 

I have enjoyed the other books in the series and recommend them, but this one works pretty well as a standalone. The author has tied up a number of multi-book plot threads in the previous book, so logistically speaking, this is a good place to jump in to the series.

This book will appeal to fans of the Longmire books, as well as Crais' Cole & Pike. This is by no means a derivative work, but it certainly has the same authenticity and realism in the characters, descriptions, and dialogue. 

Four stars. 

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

To Know a Starry Night

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To Know a Starry Night is an often breathtaking photographic ode to the night sky and darkness in its myriad colors written by Paul Bogard and featuring photographs by Beau Rogers. Released 12th Oct 2021 by the University of Nevada Press, it's 144 pages and is available in hardcover and ebook formats.

The written parts of the book are gathered very loosely into 8 thematic meandering essays. The author explores light pollution, the primal satisfaction and awe of true darkness (mostly lost to us now), solitude, heavenly bodies, and stars, always the stars, so distant. Really though, it's the breathtaking skyscapes which are center stage here, both varied and similar and of an unusual virtuosity. The themes are universal, but the photos are weighted to the western contiguous USA: California, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Montana, Washington, and Oregon. 

Four stars. This is a beautifully curated coffee-table worthy collection of masterful photos of the night sky. Although the quality of the digital eARC provided for review was high quality, this is a book which will shine brightest in physical print. This would be a good selection for library acquisition, home library display, or a lovely gift for an outdoors-y friend. 

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

Beyond the Headlines (Clare Carlson #4)

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Beyond the Headlines is the fourth investigative procedural mystery featuring reporter Clare Carlson by R.G. Belsky. Released 4th May 2021 by Oceanview, it's 336 pages and available in hardcover and ebook formats.

Writing realistic gritty procedurals is an art. It's all too easy for that realism to shade (unironically) over into self-parody. So I'm always on the lookout for series and authors to follow. This is a very well written and engaging procedural with a gutsy and intelligent female protagonist which is cleverly plotted and written and with believable characters who aren't perfect cookie cutter archetypes and who have realistic internal motivations and interactions. 

I was unfamiliar with the series before reading the fourth book and although it works perfectly well as a standalone; I was intrigued and impressed enough to seek out the first three books in the series before finishing this one. It's not necessary though, but they're worth a look as well. 

I'm also slightly wary of male authors who write strongly female dominant character driven books. There are some wonderful authors who nevertheless still make me cringe when reading their female characters (John D. MacDonald, I'm looking at you). This wasn't a problem here. He writes Clare with wry and sarcastic wit, unapologetic appetites (physical and sexual), and a sharply cynical worldview. 

Four stars. Worth a look for fans of modern procedurals. 

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

Monday, November 1, 2021

The Last Diving Horse in America: Rescuing Gamal and Other Animals--Lessons in Living and Loving

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The Last Diving Horse in America is a warmly personal memoir of animal (and human) rescue and the special inter-species bonds which define and enhance us. Released 19th Oct 2021 by Knopf Doubleday on their Pantheon imprint, it's 288 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is a touching and well written memoir full of anecdotes of a lifetime of animal rescue by Cynthia A. Branigan. She begins with the plight of performing animals and "diving" horses, specifically Gamal, one of the last, and moves on to other rescue animals and their stories. The book moved me deeply and is written in an honest and unvarnished way in plain language. I enjoyed reading about her life and her family and her work in rescue and animal protection. The book is peppered with personal and family anecdotes and wry self deprecating humor. There are a number of black and white photos from the author's personal family archive as well as publicity and newspaper historical photos.

Four stars. This would be a superlative choice for public or school library acquisition, and for readers who enjoy memoir and biography. Well written, informative, and engaging.

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

The Fall of the House of Thomas Weir (The Casebook of Johnson and Boswell, #1)

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The Fall of the House of Thomas Weir is a historical mystery and the first book in a new series by Andrew Neil MacLeod. Released 4th July 2021 by Burning Chair, it's 246 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

Historical mysteries woven around a framework of real history and featuring real historical characters are one of my very favourite subgenres. This one features Dr. Samuel Johnson and friend Scottish diarist and attorney James Boswell against shadowy secret organisations, skullduggery, administrative corruption, and the forces of evil. The story is fictionalized but written around a real historical framework and intertwined so skillfully that it's not always easy to tell where real history shades over into fiction. 

The denouement and resolution are well done and satisfying. There is a *strong* horror element and I would personally place it in that genre first, and historical mystery second. Readers looking for a nice Georgian costume mystery will be getting more than they bargain for. There are many scenes of graphic gore and horror. It was honestly much scarier and more graphic than I was comfortably equipped to handle. It is very well written and plotted however, and the author clearly knows his craft.

It's the first book in a series, so it works very well as an introductory stand-alone. 

High quality historical horror mystery. Four stars. 

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

The Beautiful Ones

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The Beautiful Ones is a genre-crossing atmospheric YA romance with elements of magical realism by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Released 27th April 2021 by Macmillan on their Tor imprint, it's 304 pages and is available in most formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is a very well written but slowly developing narrative about family, love, loyalty, social constraints and expectations with magic. The author is quite adept at her craft and her command of narrative prose is exceptional and impressive. Despite that, I found my interest flagging at several points. It took much longer to finish reading than it should have and my overall impressions were no doubt negatively impacted by having picked it up and put it down over a period of months (I generally finish books in one or two sittings). 

There is an overarching grand theatrical feeling to the work which, although unquestionably original, called to mind Wuthering Heights, Pride & Prejudice, and with a shading of tortured Russian grand literature. My difficulty with the reading was at least partly due to the antipathy I felt toward the deeply unhappy character Valerie. 

Beautifully well written. It didn't enthrall me. Three and a half stars.

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


Old-Time Country Wisdom and Lore for Hearth and Home: 1,000s of Traditional Skills for Simple Living

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Old-Time Country Wisdom and Lore for Hearth and Home is a volume in a series of republished and collated Old Farmer's Almanac type tips and folklore from the 1970s.Originally released in the 70's, this re-release from Quarto on their Voyageur Press imprint 12th Oct 2021 is 176 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats.  

This is a wide-ranging collection of "Old Farmer's Almanac" type of wisdom and trivia. The tips and tricks are very roughly arranged thematically: hearth and home (cleaning and general info) and the country table (food prep & handling).

There are some hair-raisingly scary "tips" and observations included here and they are blended willy-nilly with old wives & farmers tales without regard to the veracity of any of the claims. In fact, the publisher states quite clearly in the disclaimer that "Any recipes or “health cures” are intended as a historical reference only. They are NOT recommended by the editors or publisher of this book. They have been compiled as a historical narrative for historical purposes only. The publisher assumes no responsibility whatsoever for any injury or damage resulting from reader’s use of any of the material or information contained in this book".

The graphics are simple with old fashioned monochrome illustrations and line drawings throughout. This would be a good selection for the smallholder's winter home library reading, allotments, fans of old farmer's almanac type publications, and similar. I would go so far as to suggest its usefulness for historical research and background context for authors, historical re-enactors, etc. This is *not* a book to be followed or used as a reference to any degree.

Three and a half stars. It's of limited practical use, but will be enjoyed by people who remember the old almanacs fondly.

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