Tuesday, November 29, 2022

How to Become a Gardener: Find Empowerment in Creating Your Own Food Security

How to Become a Gardener is a no-nonsense, well written, beginner accessible guide to getting started with food gardening and improving personal and community food security written and curated by Ashlie Thomas. Released 1st Nov 2022 by Quarto on their Cool Springs Press imprint, it's 208 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formast. 

Food security and transportation costs and availability are real and immediate concerns for the vast majority of people worldwide. We only have to look at the supply issues of the last few years to see how vulnerable we are to interruptions and resource scarcity. It's not possible to be self-sufficient with toilet paper and toothpaste (well, not really), but providing for part of our food needs ourselves is a great way to reduce some stress, gain valuable skills, and gain a fun and relaxing hobby. 

The author has a great encouraging writing style and she is willing to share her experience to help other would-be gardeners improve their outcomes.  The book contains tangible advice for starting, sourcing materials, planning, seed starting, growing, harvesting, troubleshooting and compensating for less than ideal results, but it -also- contains a lot of useful and thought provoking philosophy and interesting info for ruminating about our consumerist lifestyle, our definition of community, and how we can be less dependent on unstable supply chains for our daily nutrition. Plus it's good fun and healthy exercise.

Five stars. This would be a superlative choice for public or school library acquisition, activity groups, community garden collections, and home use. There is an emphasis on urban and to a lesser degree suburban gardeners, but there are valuable takeaways for gardeners in other situations.

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

The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks

The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks is an engaging, humorous, and light comedy/romance by Shauna Robinson. Released 1st Nov 2022 by Sourcebooks Landmark, it's 336 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. 

I liked the characterizations here - the author is quite adept at making her characters live and breathe and although I found myself horrified over some of Maggie's choices (I'm supposedly older and wiser), I could sympathize. There's a definite "Bridget Jones" vibe about some of her actions. The whole has a warm and quirky vibe which will appeal to most readers, and Maggie herself is mostly appealing and clearly well meaning. 

I'm never sure (as a ghostly-pale reviewer) how to mention that the MC is a woman of color - but she is, and the author does a great job of portraying her as real and certainly not as a prop. She has foibles aplenty, but she's never a cardboard cutout and Ms. Robinson doesn't ever make a huge case of her ethnicity. 

There were several places where I kept thinking "oh, this isn't going to go well", but Maggie's heart really does seem to be in the right place, and she seems to manage to just about hold it together. The "frenemies" romance part wasn't personally to my taste, and the whole subplot with the "cranky white guy running the show" was a bit over the top for me personally. I don't read a lot in the light slice-of-life romance genre, but fans will find quite a lot to appeal here. It's undeniably competently written. That didn't stop me wanting to shake some sense into Maggie, and, if I'm 100% honest, her helicopter parents as well. 

Three and a half stars, with the codicil that it will likely be higher for fans of the genre. 

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

Monday, November 28, 2022

Spring of Hope A Gaslight Mystery #4


 

Spring of Hope is the fourth Gaslight historical mystery by Cora Harrison. Released 1st March 2022 by Severn House, it's 240 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 and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is an engaging and well written historical mystery featuring historical characters and a framework of actual historical events and people. It's set in 1859 in and around London environs and Dickens has befriended English civil engineer Joseph Bazalgette who is working on London's intractable sewage problem and the resulting dangers to the general population. His friend Wilkie Collins (yes, that one) has domestic issues in the form of a servant and her daughter who are terrified of something/someone from their past. 

I was impressed that the author managed to weave the fiction around the bones of historical events so skillfully that it wasn't always clear where fact shaded into fiction. She's clearly very adept at research and giving the writing verisimilitude of the period without being at all impenetrable or awkward to modern ears. 

The pacing was relaxed, but I didn't find it overly slow and never found my interest waning. The climax and denouement were satisfying and well written. It was enjoyable enough to me that I fully intend to seek out the three previous books. The background is presented well enough that it worked well as a standalone story. 

Four stars. Definitely one for readers who enjoy historical mystery.

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

Where Loyalties Lie

 


Where Loyalties Lie is a murder thriller with an investigative reporter by Val Collins. Released 1st March 2022, it's 270 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. 

This is a very fast paced, action driven thriller featuring a reporter protagonist and a heap of unreliable witnesses. Despite being the fourth book in the series, it works quite well as a standalone, and readers coming into the series with this book won't have any troubles keeping up with the plot or characters. I liked that Aoife is tenacious and intelligent, and her interplay with the other characters is well written and nuanced. 

Four stars. The ending is definitely a page-turner, and I found the climax, denouement, and resolution satisfying and well done. This is one for fans of procedural/investigative thrillers. 

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

A History of Women in Medicine and Medical Research: Exploring the Trailblazers of STEM


A History of Women in Medicine and Medical Research is a well written and layman accessible collection of short biographies of women luminaries in the medical fields, written and curated by Dale Debakcsy. Released 3rd Nov 2022 in the UK (due out 15th Dec elsewhere) by Pen & Sword on their History imprint, it's 224 pages and is/will be available in hardcover format. 

The biographies are arranged in roughly chronological order, from Peseshet (~27th century BCE) to Dr. Virginia Apgar (1909-1974) and cover a gratifyingly large range of specialties and subjects. The subjects are from all geographical areas, not just well born women from Europe and North America.

Although it's not annotated and there are no chapter notes, this is a readable and fascinating look at some of the contributions of women over the last millennia to furthering the sciences, especially in medicine and biotech. It's completely accessible for readers of roughly teen to adult ages. The author has included an abbreviated bibliography, and there's an included index. It's not lavishly illustrated, but there is a chapter with interesting black and white photos at the end of some of the biography subjects.

Five stars. It would make a superlative choice for public and school library acquisition, gift giving, and home use.  

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

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Playful Peg Loom Weaving: A modern approach to the ancient technique of peg loom weaving, plus 17 projects to make

 

Playful Peg Loom Weaving is a beginner friendly instructional guide with tutorials for getting started with simple peg looms written by Stephanie Fradette. Released 31st Oct 2022 by Pen & Sword on their White Owl imprint, it's 120 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats. 

This book *is* playful and exuberant, full of colourful and fun projects which will get readers' fingers itching to dive in. In addition (perhaps as importantly), it's a solid instruction book for making/acquiring tools and techniques to craft items with simple movable peg looms & weaving sticks, yarn/fibres, and hands. The author presupposes no previous experience or familiarity with the techniques and gives a step-by-step introduction to the process from start to finish. Full sized templates are included in the back of the book, as well as an abbreviated suppliers list with links (mostly aimed at readers living in the UK).

The book is arranged logically and the tutorials are grouped thematically: getting started (making/acquiring tools and sourcing supplies through setting up, materials choices, and even a little colour theory), followed by the 17 tutorials arranged roughly by time investment needed to finish each project. The projects range from utilitarian to purely decorative and there are several jewelry type accessories included. The photography is clear and in colour.

Four stars. Lovely and useful book. This would be a nice choice for public library acquisition, maker's groups, school art classes (even for young students), and for home crafters. 

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

Craft Your Own Cosy Scandi Christmas


Craft Your Own Cosy Scandi Christmas is a well written and accessible guide with tutorials to creating seasonal gifts, craft projects, and recipes by Becci Coombes. Released 30th Oct 2022 by Pen & Sword on their White Owl imprint, it's 168 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats. 

This is a beautifully photographed and appealing collection of food, decorations, gifts and more, for helping readers create the perfect holiday with family and friends. The book is well laid out and the tutorials are appealing and easy to follow. The projects are arranged thematically: decorating, edible gifts, quick & easy crafts, Christmas comfort food, and family fun. 

The tutorials are written with an introduction, examples of the finished project, supplies in a bullet list, and step by step instructions. Full size templates are included in the back of the book. Tutorial supplies and recipes have ingredients given in metric measurements. There are many beautiful ideas for upcycling and recycling which look professional and appealing and would be welcome in any crafter's home. 

The book stands out especially with the lovely photography. All the projects contain a finished photo, but also many (many) tutorial photos. Photos are clear, in colour, and well staged so that hands and tools aren't in the way of the action. 

Four and a half stars. Lovely and useful book. This would be a nice choice for public library acquisition, maker's groups, and for home crafters. 

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

Cooking with Nonna Sunday Dinners with La Famiglia


Cooking with Nonna Sunday Dinners with La Famiglia is the newest cookbook with recipes and tutorials by Rossella Rago. Released 25th Oct 2022 by HarperCollins on their Harper Horizon imprint, it's 272 pages and is available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

These are traditional Sunday family dinners to be shared with loved ones. There's such a homey and warm vibe to the whole book along with the reminiscences for which she's well known. She has a chatty and informal style of writing, and I enjoyed her stories about her family and growing up (and learning from her Nonna) almost as much as the recipes and instruction. 

The recipes are arranged by courses just as a dinner would normally be served: basics (doughs & sauces), antipasto, soup & salad, sides, pasta al forno lasagne & primi, secondi & parms, oven dishes (with love), sweets, biscotti, and alcoholic & non-alcoholic drinks. Recipes are written with an introduction/history, servings, ingredients in a bullet list sidebar, and followed by step-by-step directions. Ingredient measures are provided in imperial (American) measures only, no metric equivalents. Nutritional information is not included. Most of the ingredients will be readily available in an average well stocked grocery store in North America. Some few specific ingredients and types of olive oil, anise oil, etc might require a gourmet food store or specialist supplier. 

The photography is stellar. The dishes are beautifully prepared, appetizing, and professionally styled. 

Four and a half stars. This is a very good Italian cookbook with lots of traditional sauces, pasta doughs, prep instructions, serving suggestions, sweets, and everything needed to prepare a traditional Sunday dinner. 

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

Cooking with Whey: A Cheesemaker's Guide to Using Whey in Probiotic Drinks, Savory Dishes, Sweet Treats, and More


Cooking with Whey is an accessible and well written guide to using whey alongside recipes developed by Claudia Lucero. Released 25th Oct 2022 by Storey, it's 128 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats. 

For folks who make cheese, yogurt, and other related foods at home, whey (the liquid left over after curding, straining, and processing dairy) is usually seen as a waste product. I live and work in Norway and except for "brunost" (caramelized whey pressed into blocks and eaten on everything from pancakes to lunch sandwiches), I was not familiar with other thrifty uses of whey. This book is so much more. 

The layout is accessible and easy to follow. The author's friendly and competent instructions are well explained and accessible to non-experts/beginners. The book has a retro vibe; there aren't any photos in the text or the recipes. The illustrations are simple but easy to understand and recognize (see cover). 

Four stars. Definitely a niche book, but quite a good one. The recipes are varied and appealing. This would be a good choice for public library acquisition, home use, as well as for self-sufficiency and smallholding folks.

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


The Battle Cry of the Siamese Kitten


The Battle Cry of the Siamese Kitten is the third collection of stories by Dr. Philipp Schott from his 30 years in practice as a small animal practice veterinarian. Released 11th Oct 2022 by ECW Press, it's 282 pages and is available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. 

This is a warm and entertainingly written collection of stories gathered over a long and full career of service to his patients and their humans. He's a gifted writer and the stories are told with wit and compassion (and occasionally a little eye-rolling exasperation). The stories are arranged alphabetically by the author's admittedly eccentric chapter names (Thud, Scrumpy, and Emotional Slot Machine to give a few examples). 

My family had a tradition of reading short, well-loved, stories to one another after traditional "family" meals such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's. This book, and its predecessors, would be ideal candidates for those situations. Inevitable comparisons will be made with Herriot's classics. They're not at all derivative, obviously, but fans of the latter will find much to love here.

Classic and humorous, this would be a good choice for holiday gift giving, public library acquisition, and home use. For reading out loud, readers should be aware the book contains some mild cursing (sh*t and d*mn a couple times, nothing worse).

Four and a half stars. 

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

The Mystery of the Painted Fan

 

The Mystery of the Painted Fan is an engaging and empowering illustrated chapter book for grade school age readers by Linda Trinh and the third book in the Nguyen Kids series. Due out 25th April 2023 from Annick Press, it's 128 pages and will be available in hardcover and paperback. 

This is such a fun and respectfully written book which will engage, entertain, and inform young readers. Despite the action filled plot (Jacob loves hockey, drawing, and dance but feels bad when his friends laugh at the pink hockey helmet he chose, and why *can't* he like bright colors??), the author manages to delve into deeper and meaningful themes such as integration and isolation, respect for culture, honesty, integrity, dealing constructively with gender identity, gender roles, activism, and family in an age-appropriate manner.

The art by Clayton Nguyen is expressive and colorful and is full of small details which invite readers to take a closer look and really think about the concepts being expressed.

Five stars. Representation is important for *everyone*. Highly recommended for public and school library acquisition, home library use, reading circles and similar. This is a great kids book for -all- kids whatever their ethnicity, background, or gender.

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

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Hercule Poirot #3

 

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is the fourth Hercule Poirot mystery by Dame Agatha Christie. Originally published in 1926, this gift edition was released 25th Oct 2022 by Penguin Random House on their Pushkin Vertigo imprint. It's 156 pages and is available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

This is one of the classics of crime literature and most readers who enjoy the genre can remember the delight of reading that shock twist ending. Now re-released in a new format with high quality production values and typesetting, I really enjoyed reading it again with "fresh eyes". I still enjoyed Poirot doing what he does so well, and as always, I noticed a few new details with every re-read. 

It's a well written subtle and beautifully engineered plot. The denouement and resolution are classics. At the time it was written, it was a shocking departure. If it seems less so now, it's because so many authors who have come after Christie have borrowed her twists and tricks. 

Five stars. Even for readers who have read it before, it makes a splendid re-read. 

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

Norway: Land of Fjords and the Northern Lights


Norway: Land of Fjords and the Northern Lights is a well written and beautifully photographed pictorial tour of Norway by Claudia Martin. Released 15th Nov 2022 by Amber Books, it's 224 pages and is available in hardcover format. An earlier edition of the book was published in flexi-bound format. This is book 15 of the Visual Explorer Guide series. 

Norway is full of awe inspiring "pinch me" scenery and this book highlights the vast expanses of mountainous terrain, glaciers, fjords, wilderness, and urban areas beautifully contrasting austere ice-fields, charming small fishing villages, and big city night life side by side. 

Five stars. This would be a good choice for public or school library acquisition, home use/display, or gift giving. 

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Sweet Land of Liberty: A History of America in 11 Pies


Sweet Land of Liberty: A History of America in 11 Pies is a well written microhistory of the social growth and development of the USA as related to food, specifically pies curated and written by Rossi Anastopoulo. Released 25th Oct 2022 by Abrams, it's 336 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 and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is an accessible, almost conversational, history of the USA as it intersects pies. The author has included recipes for each of the 11 pies featured in the essays. The history parts of the book don't always make for comfortable reading. I've heard that if history makes you feel proud and comfortable, then you're not reading about history. There were a number of uncomfortable undeniable hard truths included here: namely that the USA was built on the backs of enslaved people and brought about largely on lands stolen from indigenous peoples. 

There are careful annotations and chapter notes included throughout, which will provide keen readers with many hours of further reading. Despite being very well researched and annotated throughout, it's not at all academically stiff or formal or difficult to understand. 

Although I didn't fully test any of the recipes, I didn't see any glaring errors with a careful read-through. The recipes are written with ingredients provided in a sidebar bullet list. Ingredient measurements are given in both imperial (American) and metric units (yay!!). There are no photos of pies (or indeed anything else) included in the eARC provided for review. The layout of the recipes is easy to navigate and will undoubtedly produce a good pie with care. 

Four stars. It's an odd premise for a book (which the author freely admits). I found it fascinating, honestly and unflinchingly written, and in places, quite fun. 

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

Monday, November 21, 2022

The Paper Dolls of Zelda Fitzgerald


The Paper Dolls of Zelda Fitzgerald is, of course, a pictorial catalogue of most of the paper dolls which were painted by Zelda Fitzgerald during her life, but it's so much more than just a well curated pictorial history. Due out 22nd Nov 2022 from Simon & Schuster on their Scribner imprint, it's 127 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. 

Curated and annotated by Zelda's granddaughter, Eleanor Lanahan, this charming book is full of colorful and well reproduced paper dolls as well as full of recollections of playing with the dolls (gently), pictures of her mother playing with paper dolls, and many recollections of her family and growing up as a part of a very famous literary family. 

The reproductions are clear and beautifully detailed with tiny intricate wardrobes and historical figures with armor and fancy dress.

This would be a good choice for public library acquisition, for lovers of paper dolls and ephemera, and for drawing and painting inspiration for home use. 

Four and half stars. 

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

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Adorable Art Class: A Complete Course in Drawing Plant, Food, and Animal Cuties:


Adorable Art Class is a delightful drawing guide with tutorials by Jesi Rodgers and book five of the Cute & Cuddly Art series. Due out 10th Jan 2023 from Quarto on their Rock Point imprint, it's 160 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats. 

The text throughout is upbeat and positive and very fun. There are lots of confidence building exercises for all ages to get pencils moving. The individual tutorials are arranged thematically: food & drink, the natural world, delightful doodads (like an umbrella, book, teapot, etc), holidays and combinations/larger pictures. The introduction includes a good beginning tutorial with tips and tricks for getting started, choice of tools and supplies and other support for making progress. Tutorials are shown in step by step completion series with lines added over several drawing steps to make a final drawing. The author has included colored versions of each finished drawing for inspiration.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is the lessons on how to combine and build on simple elements to produce hybrid drawings with two of more elements (like a cat donut and a snail with a house on its back).  There are practice pages at the end of the book which are provided develop techniques, but which would also a good tutorial for planning full page illustrations.

I've been using doodling as an awareness/mindfulness exercise and it really does work.  These are cute and good fun. It would make a really fun rainy day activity for younger kids to adult age.  They're appealing and whimsical and sweet. 

Five stars

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

Zigzag Rope Sewing Projects


Zigzag Rope Sewing Projects is a well written and accessible tutorial guide with projects for utilitarian and decorative objects made from rope/twine by Katherine Lile. Released 16th Nov 2022 by Fox Chapel on their Landauer imprint, it's 152 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats. 

The 16 (by my count) included projects are really attractive and many are useful and will make welcome gifts for others or for readers themselves. There are coasters, bags/totes, and baskets aplenty with varied and creative finishes. The tools and materials couldn't be easier: a sewing machine with zigzag capability and rope in various thicknesses. The rope used in the book's galleries is cotton braided rope (think clothesline cotton rope) in various thicknesses from 1/8th to 3/8ths inch. The included project tutorials are built around 3/16" and 5/16" (5 and 8mm). 

The tutorial photos are clear and easy to understand. Each tutorial includes many pics of the project steps and final product. Tools and supplies are given in a bullet list with estimated lengths of rope for different diameter rope included for each piece. Measurements are given in both imperial (American) and metric units (yay!). Tips and tricks are provided in highlighted text boxes throughout the book. The author has also included a lot of creative finishing techniques for dying, fabric wrapping, stitch enhancements, knots, etc which will be useful for other creative projects. Project templates are not provided, but the shapes are simple (circular, oval, coiled tubes, etc) and all the measurements for the finished projects are provided. 

Readers with some experience with sewing and crafting could definitely use this book and produce a useful and attractive finished project, armed with supplies and only this book for instruction. Highly recommended for makers' groups, crafting/fibrearts guilds, home studio use, and public library acquisition.

Five stars.  

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

Buttercream Botanicals for Beginners: Decorate Cakes and Cupcakes with Beautiful Flowers, Foliage, and Plants

 

Buttercream Botanicals for Beginners is a well written, accessible, and beginner friendly tutorial guide by Leslie Vigil. Released 8th Nov 2022 by Quarto on their Quarry imprint, it's 128 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats. 

This book reads like a really well run and enjoyable workshop with a competent and fun facilitator. She begins with an overview over tools and supplies (including the best tutorial on choosing and using piping bags and tips I've ever read), and builds up slowly to introduce recipes, techniques, icing surfaces for decoration, and finishing and arrangements and presentations. 

There are tutorial exercises throughout which build up techniques through repetition and clear step by step photos. The recipes for buttercream and vanilla cake are basic and no-frills, so learners can concentrate on acquiring technique instead of varying the "tools" of cake base and frosting. The book is beautifully photographed throughout and readers could definitely build the skills necessary to produce the cupcakes on the cover using only information contained in the book. 

Five stars. This is an impressive and accessible book. Highly recommended for public or school library acquisition, as well as home use and gift giving. 

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

Neom -Central Station


Neom is a beautifully imagined novel in the world of Central Station written by Lavie Tidhar. Released 8th Nov 2022 by Tachyon, it's 224 pages and is available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is such an engaging story, told in such lush and exquisitely crafted prose that I was swept away from the first few pages. At its heart, it's a story of longing and family, beauty and danger, and a coming of age adventure with a clever and loyal young protagonist who has a dream and a path to follow. There are several disparate plot threads which wind closer throughout the book though it never comes to a clean denouement and resolution. There are glimpses of overarching themes which center around the interplanetary hub from Tidhar's earlier book but most of the book is word pictures and allegory.

There are also glimpses of homage to the great SF writers of yesteryear, especially Clarke, Heinlein, Asimov, and Bradbury (mostly in the prose - Tidhar can write). It's not derivative in any way, but I did get a definite vibe in places. Although it's the second book set in this world, readers who haven't yet read Central Station won't have any trouble keeping up.

The unabridged audiobook version of the book has a run time of 5 hours and 15 minutes and is expertly read by Rasha Zamamiri. She has a rich, lightly accented, alto voice and does a beautiful job of delineating the large number of characters. She enunciates clearly and well and is never difficult to understand in any way (no mumbling). Sound and production quality were high throughout the read. I alternated between print and audio for this read and when I was reading the print version of the book, I found myself "hearing" her voice for the characters and narration which is high praise. 

Four stars for both the audio and print formats of the book. Highly recommended. 

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

The Last Hope in Hopetown


The Last Hope in Hopetown is a charming and well written adventure for middle grade readers by Maria Tureaud. Released 4th Oct 2022 by Hachette on their Little, Brown & co. 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 and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

The protagonist, 12 year old Sophie, is a human with two vampire moms, but the inhabitants of Hopetown live in harmony. Everything is fine until some vampires start mysteriously going rogue and becoming dangerous to those around them. When Sophie's own mom goes rogue, she is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery and save her family. There are big themes here: found family, the meaning of love, our interconnectedness, friendship and honesty, bravery, and the struggles minority groups live with to be perfect in every way, all the time, or face the prejudice that's simmering just under the surface. The author does a great job exploring these subjects with sensitivity and (importantly) in an age appropriate manner.

The unabridged audiobook has a run time of 6 hours and 1 minute and is expertly narrated by Mary Cross. She has a warm and richly timbred voice and does a great job delineating the characters. I never found myself lost or wondering who was speaking during the well paced dialogue. Sound and production quality were high throughout the read. 

Four and a half stars. Highly recommended for public library acquisition, for school library acquisition in more liberal areas (sadly), and for home use. My 12 year old self would've devoured this book. 

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

Angelbound Series Reading Order


Angelbound Series Reading Order is a reader guide to the interrelated titles and series in the YA Angelbound universe by author Christina Bauer. Released 25th Oct 2022, it's 15 pages and available as a free electronic download from most ebook retailers. 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.

As the author herself states, she's not a linear thinker. Her books feature a lot of tie-ins and cameos, and interrelated plotlines which can be confusing to readers. This book includes charts and lists of the books and how they related to one another, as well as generous reading samples/teasers.

Four and a half stars. Definitely a nice resource for fans of her books. It will give potential readers enough samples to make an informed decision about acquiring the books (and there are a lot of them - prime binge reading material). 

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

The Costa Affair


The Costa Affair is a modern police procedural set in NYC and written by by Lisa Fantino. Released 18th March 2022, it's 279 pages and is available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links 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. The first book in the series, Fractured, is also currently available on KU. 

The premise is quite promising: a disappearance in the rarefied art milieu and an impulsive female investigator with the Bronx police who sets out to solve the disappearance and uncover corruption and dark money in the high end art market with her colleagues. 

The prose is often, frankly, exceedingly purple. When reading, I felt as though the author were making a Herculean effort to remain in gritty NYC cop voice the entire time which made the whole difficult to engage with and read. There are several places where the tense shifts, which is distracting. There are malaproprisms aplenty, referring to a car as "pot-marked" and not "pock-marked", as well as several places where "your" is substituted for "you're". Most of the problems could be solved with some ruthless editing. I sincerely hope the author can find a good editor, or possibly a group of hardcore beta readers who aren't afraid to give detailed feedback.

I think the low ratings are premature and somewhat ungenerous, but not completely unwarranted since in its present form, it's unfinished and quite difficult to read. There is a fair bit of graphic violence and situational horror, and some of it is potentially triggering. It wasn't gratuitous in context, but it is brutal. The language is relatively curse free.

I'll be interested to see the development of this author in future.

Three stars.

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

Shady Hollow #3 Mirror Lake


Mirror Lake is the third Shady Hollow murder mystery by Juneau Black. First released in 2020, this reformat and re-release 28th April 2022 from Hatchette on their Hodder & Stoughton imprint is 240 pages and available in paperback format. Other editions available in audio and ebook formats.

This is a whimsical and offbeat semi-cozy mystery with the unusual twist that all the characters are highly anthropomorphic animals who talk, have jobs, and occasionally commit crimes. The story is set in a village (Shady Hollow) and the book is replete with those oddball/eccentric small-town cozy characters. Main protagonist Vera Vixen is the local beat reporter who is investigating events surrounding the discovery of a skeleton long buried in a local orchard. 

All the standard cozy tropes are front and center: amateur plucky reporter who can't let a mystery go uninvestigated, handsome lawman love interest (he's a bear), a long ago unsolved disappearance, skullduggery, and village secrets. There are several disparate plot threads which are skillfully woven together into a comfortably satisfying denouement and resolution.

Despite being full of talking animals with "schtick-y" alliterative names, it's definitely not a children's or juvenile book and wouldn't be appropriate for small kids. It's also not animals as characters (à la Rita Mae Brown, Lillian Jackson Braun, & co.), but more like Mandy Morton's trippy Hettie Bagshot mysteries. The characters - are - animals. They speak and go about their business like humans in animal form. They do seem to refrain from eating one another for the most part and rabbits and mice coexist mostly peacefully with foxes, mink, and bears. 

The mystery was straightforward, if somewhat surreal. A local wealthy socialite (who is a rat, whiskers and all) claims her husband has been murdered, though everyone can see him standing beside her, perfectly alive (or is it an imposter?). The dialogue was a bit choppy in places, but more oddly paced than badly constructed in any way. There is a weird atmospheric vibe throughout, but that could just be the surreal effect of the characters being talking animals which is never addressed. I had some issues engaging with the main protagonist. She strikes me as an appalling combination of gullible and obnoxious, but she is undoubtedly plucky.

Odd mystery. Well constructed, but off-kilter in some way which is difficult to define. It has definite shadings of noir, but is, at the heart of it, a village cozy. 

Three and a half stars. There are currently three full length novels and a shorter work in the series, making it a good choice for fans of anthropomorphic mysteries, for a buddy/binge read. I would strongly recommend reading the books in order, to get a feel for the characters and setup.

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

Michaels Desserts: Sweets for a Cause


Michaels Desserts is a fun and high energy cookbook with a social conscience by young entrepreneur Michael C. Platt. Released 1st Nov 2022 by Union Square on their Get Creative 6 imprint, it's 128 pages and is available in paperback format. 

This is a beautifully presented book with tutorials and recipes aimed at beginning bakers (8-12 years old) but definitely all-ages friendly. The author writes clearly and well, and his empathy and commitment to social equity and food security comes through clearly. This book is part of the "Our Tomorrow" series, highlighting young socially conscious entrepreneurs and their missions.  

The recipes are arranged thematically: cupcakes, pies & tarts, cakes, and snacks & breads. Recipes contain an introduction/background, bullet list of ingredients, and clear step-by-step preparation instructions. Ingredient measurements are given in imperial (American) units. Nutritional info is not included (which is probably a good thing - these are wonderfully decadent gooey delicious desserts). 

The instructions are simple and easy to follow but not too easy. The photography is gorgeous throughout and there are also lots of publicity photos of the author in photo-op pictures with various celebrities in relation to his philanthropy work on food security and with epilepsy awareness. 

I thought the social activism parts of the book fused nicely with the included recipes and the message for young people throughout is encouraging and important: namely that no matter how much you can accomplish for good, it counts, and it's important, and never give up. 

Four stars. Very well done. This would be a great choice for public or school library acquisition, home use, and gift giving.

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


Comfort Baking: Feel-Good Food to Savor and Share


Comfort Baking is a well curated collection of tasty comforting baked goods with recipes by Stephanie Wise. Released 18th Oct 2022 by Herald Press, it's 336 pages and is available in hardcover and ebook formats.The publisher is a well known Christian press but there is no proselytizing contained in the book (she does share part of her own faith journey in the introduction); just wholesome recipes with high quality ingredients. The author does use

The joy of feeding our friends and loved ones is tied deeply into emotion, pleasure, and contentment. This author really gets that. The book is bursting with attractively styled and presented food full of taste and that idea of comfort and connection. The introductory sections contain the author's tips for success and the most common ingredients and tools and equipment. The recipes are arranged thematically: quick breads, breakfast/brunch, cookies, cakes, pies/tarts, breads, and meals (to take to friends). She's also included a bonus chapter of extra recipes for taking to friends, visiting, bereavement, or make-ahead potluck type situations. 

Recipes are written with an introduction, prep & cook times, and yield in the header, followed by ingredients in a bullet list, with step-by-step instructions after. Ingredient measures are provided in imperial (American) units only, no metric. Flours, leavening agents, and sweeteners are also slanted toward products easily accessible in North America, which makes sense, but should be noted for bakers who live elsewhere and are used to flours/sugars/ingredients available in Europe and elsewhere. 

The photography is stunning, including many (many!) macro shots of mouth-watering cookies, cakes, and other yummies. The author's chatty and friendly style of writing is fun to read. It's a beginner accessible collection and there are lots of easy confidence building recipes included. 

Five stars. This would be a good choice for public library acquisition, gift giving, and home use.

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

Saturday, November 19, 2022

The Best American Mystery and Suspense 2022


The Best American Mystery and Suspense 2022 is the annual anthology (the 26th!) of well curated mystery and suspense short fiction of the year chosen by guest editor Jess Walter and with an insightful and interesting foreword by series editor Steph Cha.  Released 1st Nov 2022 by Harper Collins on their Mariner imprint, it's 336 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.

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. 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. 

A special aside about the book's introduction, engagingly written by Jess Walter. I -love- reading author notes, journals, thought processes, heck, even the "music I listened to whilst writing this book" lists authors occasionally include in their notes. Mr. Walter writes charmingly and geekily with humor and wit about all of the above and even ties it in to Patricia Highsmith's reprinted journals (which I must now chase down and read immediately, thanks for increasing my TBR pile).

Four stars on average. It's a quality read, and highly recommended. It's also a good resource for finding new authors to follow, and being reminded of ones you haven't read for a few years.

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

Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults


Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults is a generous and rich collection of stories and indigenous wisdom written and curated by Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer and adapted from her book Braiding Sweetgrass. Released 1st Nov 2022 by Lerner on their Zest imprint, it's 304 pages and is available in paperback, library binding, 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 book combines folkloric wisdom as it intersects science/botany and the deep longing most people feel to *belong* to something larger than the individual. Throughout the book there are stories handed down in an unbroken chain through oral tradition as well as practical knowledge. It's a hopeful, gentle book full of optimism. 

Graphically, it's quite appealing, with pages broken up into sidebars and text boxes, interspersed with line drawn illustrations by Nicole Neidhardt. The author has also included an abbreviated bibliography and links for further reading. 

Five stars. This would be a good choice for public or school library acquisition, home use, or possibly as a support/adjunct resource for related classroom study (world cultures, comparative religion, history, ecology/science, etc). The book is adapted for ~12-18 year olds, but there are valuable takeaways here for all ages.

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

Better Broths Healing Tonics: 75 Bone Broth and Vegetarian Broth-Based Recipes for Everyone


Better Broths & Healing Tonics is a tutorial guide with recipes by Dr. Kara N. Fitzgerald and Jill Sheppard Davenport aimed at increasing the nutrient density of foods we eat. Released 8th Nov 2022 by Hatchette Go, it's 256 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

The food we put into our bodies is the fuel which makes a profound difference in our mental and physical health. Too many people access less than ideal food over a long period of time while living with mental and physical stress and a less than ideal lifestyle.  This book explains the nutritional concepts of functional "food as medicine" and provides usable recipes to support gut health and reduce inflammation. 

The book isn't veg*n specifically, but there are a large number of vegetarian and vegan friendly recipes and more importantly, the authors give alternatives to make the recipes conform to a number of special diets: keto, paleo, vegetarian, vegan, AIP, elimination, etc etc. 

The introduction is well annotated and contains an information dense (but accessible) crash course on the evidence and practice and how to use the book to increase nutritional benefits from foods we eat. 

The following chapters cover specific ingredients (berries, pepper, pumpkin seeds, rosemary, and turmeric to give a few examples), special diets, and tips for making broths. The second section of the book contain the recipes for making and using the broths. Each recipe contains a background introduction, ingredients in a bullet list, and is following by step-by-step instructions. Ingredient measures are given in imperial (American) units only. Variations for different specialized diets follow the instructions for each recipe. Nutritional information isn't included.

Four and a half stars. This is a very well written health and lifestyle cookbook. It would be a good choice for public library acquisition as well as home use. There aren't too many photos throughout, but there -are- a phenomenal number of included annotations (most with links) and resources for further reading.  

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

Friday, November 18, 2022

Rabbit Factor #1 The Rabbit Factor

The Rabbit Factor is a blackly humorous comedy of errors with mystery and a fair bit of slapstick by Antti Tuomainen. Released 15th Nov 2022 by Orenda Books, it's 300 pages and is available in hardcover, paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is one of the weirdest / quirkiest books I've read this year (and having read something shy of 650 books thus far in 2022, it's a pretty wide field). It definitely made a deep impression. It's a fair play mystery and darkly funny action/situation comedy with a fun-house-mirror collection of oddballs who are supposedly working for the protagonist (a truly nerdy hapless actuarial mathematician) in the adventure park (don't call it an amusement park) he inherited from his deceased brother. 

There are aspects of mystery, as mentioned before, some light heist movie vibes (Ocean's 11, but made by a tag team of Joel Cohen and Quentin Tarantino), and a generous portion of The Office. As the book progressed, I confess I became quite worried that the whole was going to melt down into a distressing slag heap of dystopian death and destruction. I was delighted and satisfied with the climax, denouement, and resolution. 

There is some rough language and some graphic descriptions of violence which are integral to the plot and used effectively. 

The English language translation, from the original Finnish, is a thing of beauty. It's seamless and truly doesn't read like it was written in another language (especially Finnish). I don't know how much translators generally get paid, but David Hackston deserves every bit of whatever sum they tossed at him. 

Four stars. Five if you're a fan of movies like Fargo, Twin Peaks, and the like.  

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Gabriel Taverner Mystery #4 Magic in the Weave


Magic in the Weave is the 4th Gabriel Taverner historical mystery by Alys Clare. Released 1st Feb 2022 by Severn House, it's 256 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. (Paperback format due out in 1st quarter 2023). 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.

Set during the reign of James I, a band of performers has fled London ostensibly to escape the plague. Dr. Gabriel Taverner and his household and friends become involved with the players, whose performances are compelling and Gabe is worried that his sister Celia has become uncomfortably close to some of them who had other reasons for escaping London.

The plot is well paced and constructed and I was engaged from the beginning. There is a significant supernatural element which I admittedly found somewhat surplus to requirements in a murder mystery, especially a historical mystery without the access to forensic tests which modern settings possess. That being said, the characterizations are top notch, and the supernatural aspects weren't *too* overpowering. The dialogue is accessible and the author manages to suffuse the speech with verisimilitude without sacrificing clarity. 

Since it's the 4th book in a continuing series, some of the interrelationships and character backgrounds will be spoiled by being read out of order, but the mystery and denoument are (mostly) self contained in this volume and could be read as a standalone. 

Four stars. A well crafted mystery.

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

Monday, November 14, 2022

Africa Risen: A New Era of Speculative Fiction


Africa Risen: A New Era of Speculative Fiction is a very well curated anthology of SF/Fantasy/horror edited by Sheree Renée Thomas, et. al. Due out 15th Nov 2022 from Macmillan on their Tor/Forge imprint, it's 528 pages and will be available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

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 smattering of really standout stories. There are 32 stories in the anthology and all are previously unpublished from mostly new-to-me authors from Africa and the AfroDiaspora.

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.  I can only recall a few times where I've read a collection (or anthology) straight through from cover to cover as I did this one.  

The unabridged audiobook format has a run time of 16 hours and 30 minutes. Sound and production quality are high throughout and it's well narrated and relaxing. 

Four stars on average. It's diverting.

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

Scottish Bookshop Mystery #7 The Burning Pages


The Burning Pages is the 7th Scottish Bookshop cozy mystery by Paige Shelton. Released 5th April 2022 by Macmillan on their Minotaur imprint, it's it's 304 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. Mass market paperback due out second quarter 2023. 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.

All of the Scottish Bookshop mysteries are self contained and as such work well enough as standalones. The characters' interrelationships have developed over the course of the books, so there will be some missing backstory, but the author is adept at giving the necessary information, so readers who choose to pick up this one first won't likely experience any problems with keeping the story straight.

For lovers of very light bookstore cozies, these are engaging and fun. This outing sees Delaney and her boss, Edwin, are involved in a Burns' night dinner fiasco which sees the Burns House itself up in flames and this time there's a body in the ruins.

All in all, it's a diverting, very light, readable cozy mystery with an eccentric ensemble cast. Some of the plot setups and developments are a bit much, and the dialogue is occasionally unpolished. A strong suspension of disbelief is required. The language and content are squeaky clean and perfectly safe for commute or work reading.

Four stars. The author is a talented and capable storyteller, and bookstore cozies are very popular.

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