Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Atwelle Confession

As other reviewers have said, I came here via the 'gargoyle groupie' door.  I do love gargoyles.  I also love period mysteries and old/ancient churches.  This book ticked a lot of boxes for me. 
The book is written in alternating flashback chapters which are labeled, so the story isn't difficult to follow.  It's a good thing, since the dialogue is -very- anachronistic and clunky in places.  I found myself wincing occasionally after a particularly wooden bit of narrative.  There were 'academic interactions' which bordered on being painful to read. 

The 16th century bits of the story are well researched and I found no obvious problems with the historical timeline.  It's worth noting that I am not a historian, just an interested amateur, so if there are anachronisms (outside the dialogue, yikes), please don't poke me with pointy sticks, thanks.

The characterizations are not in-depth or well developed.  I never found myself connecting on any level with any of the characters.  I wasn't engaged beyond wanting to find out why these murders which are separated by 500some years happened.  The resolution of the mystery was mostly satisfying and without spoiling anything, I was amused that a lawyer came up with such a convoluted solution.

The book is a solid 3 stars and I enjoyed reading it. It would make a good summer airport/travel read.

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

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


Narrative history is tricky. There's always a danger that the history audience will find the book lacking academic rigidity and the fiction crowd will find it too dry. Happily, this book manages to find the delicate balance between meticulous research and detail on the one hand and a well written narrative story on the other.

Despite (or possibly because of) growing up in America, I was not terribly familiar with Acadian history. Pierre Belliveau was a folk hero from the mid 18th century who led a group of persecuted francophone Acadians into exile in the Canadian wilderness in search of a better life rather than suffer under English rule.

At roughly 300 pages, the story develops steadily and evenly. I personally had some trouble keeping the characters distinct in my mind - parents, mothers and daughters & fathers and sons often shared names, which made it challenging to keep them straight sometimes.

Beautifully crafted and entertaining, I really liked this book a lot.

Four stars

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

Holy Crap! The World is Ending

It doesn't often happen that a book makes me visibly react. This was my morning bus commute book over a work week. It made me giggle and snort out loud (not terribly professional) as well as sigh and cry just a little bit.

There are back to back genuinely funny bits, liberally peppered with cultural and nerdy references, then * ka-bam* crap gets real. There are a fair few scenes which come on suddenly without preamble and which will offend some readers (concerning rape/murder/etc).

The writing is masterful and rapid fire. It reminded me a lot of Douglas Adams, or Grant/Naylor at the top of their games. Another reviewer was reminded of Shawn of the Dead. That's a fairly apt comparison.

The chapter headings and illustrations are perfectly hilarious and really add to the story.

This was a five star book for me right up until the last chapter. It ended so abruptly, I got reader's whiplash. Yes, I understand that it's the first in a series and the unresolved plot lines will be revisited later, but criminy, it just left me thinking "wait, what"?!

Interestingly enough, there's an afterword with enough conspiracy theory & alien/UFO info to keep the reader bemused for ages.  I did not take the afterword info into consideration when tallying up stars and writing this review. A lot of readers will see the inclusion as an important part of the book and a positive thing.

For readers who are offended by fairly explicit sex or rough language, this book has both.

Altogether, a well written very funny book.

Four stars

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

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Man Who Loved Libraries

When I was growing up, the library was magical to me.  (They still are).  My local public library was a wonderfully built neo-classical blonde stone building (wikipedia commons pic below) full to bursting with books which could take me anywhere and anywhen and I had a card of my own, and by gosh I knew how to use it! And that smell... it still transports me to a seriously happy place.

The point is, my first, beloved, public library was a Carnegie library, built with funds from the Carnegie foundation.  I've always been fascinated by the concept of noblesse oblige which seemed to be expected of the wealthy and powerful in all but the most modern times.  The concept is sadly outdated now (with a few exceptions).  Andrew Carnegie was the quintessential bootstrap success story, running messages, working his way up through the ranks, investing and becoming hugely wealthy and influential.  He gave quite a lot of that wealth back to communities all over the world by endowing over 3,000 libraries along with many other charitable contributions.

This book, by Owlkids Books , is a beautifully illustrated short biography aimed at young readers.  The writing style is unforced and not patronizing.  The art is lovely and simple and compliments the story very well.  The author also doesn't shy away from writing about the inherent dichotomy of funding open and free access to libraries and learning and supporting communities on the one hand, and his anti-worker, profit driven, union breaking activities on the other hand.  I enjoyed reading this small book very much and recommend it unreservedly.  Delightful book, well written.

Finally, below, 'my' beloved hometown library.  I wonder if the librarians knew how much they shaped me and comforted and inspired me?  I never really got to tell them, but I thank librarians and teachers often to this day, and it really started with the people in this library.

Five stars

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

Deadly Intent

This is the third of Sheryl Browne's DI Matthew Adams series.  It was my first read in the series and the necessary backstory and information was presented seamlessly and painlessly into the narrative.  I never felt like I was lost, and I certainly never felt like I was being spoonfed information either. I intend to hunt down the other two books as soon as I can.

The book is very well written and I engaged with the characters and the story right away.  The slimeball antagonist is a really skeezy creep and I spent pretty much the entire book wanting him to get his comeuppance in a spectacular manner.  

The Connors have suffered so much tragedy and difficulty after the accidental death of their youngest daughter and everyone in the family are still reeling and raw and haven't found any kind of balance in their new family dynamic. 

The psychological thriller (not really mystery) and procedural parts of the book are very well crafted and never ring false or feel set up.  The dramatic tension ratchets up quickly and doesn't let up until the denouement, which was exciting and satisfying.  There's also an epilogue which adds a bit of information and closure afterwards.

Just a really solid procedural thriller and I enjoyed it very much. 

Five stars

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

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Of Menus and Mythology

Dover Publications can always be counted on to provide a virtually neverending source of obscure beautiful graphics and arts books.  This one is no exception.  I wasn't familiar with Franz von Stuck before reading this book, he was an important artist and teacher in Munich in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  His students included Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky.

The book includes 50 early plates which were originally used for commercial purposes such as menus, wine lists, and concert advertisements.  The designs are beautifully rendered and detailed.  Some of them are also quite humorous (the cherub holding up a giant shoe in absolute raptures of delight made me giggle out loud).

The book also includes a short historical introduction and summary which I found enlightening and interesting.

The world is a richer place because of Dover Publications

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

Perilous Poetry

Perilous Poetry is the third book in the Book Barn mystery series.  It's also the first book which I've read in the series and all necessary back-story was written into the story. I didn't have any trouble following the characters or finding out how they related to one another.
The characters are well written and fleshed out.  The story itself is appealing.  There are some quirky characteristics which some readers might find annoying.  Scarlet (the main character's best friend) constantly says O.M.W. which is apparently shorthand for Oh, My Word, even though OMW has more syllables and takes longer to say than oh, my word (or just my word, or heck, change it up and say my stars and garters occasionally).  For a cozy, the murders are fairly graphic.  Not extremely so, or offputting, but somewhat out there.  One of the plot elements has to do with a phone app, and the language and characterizations of the coders/computer geeks bordered on 'too much'.   The main character is also distractingly damsel-in-distress-ish.

It's a cozy mystery romance, so obviously there aren't long passages of difficult dialogue and depressing themes.  It's cozy.  It's lightly romantic.  It's wholesome. I really loved the pet armadillo (and bonus points to the author for tossing an obligatory message in there about people not owning exotic animals, well done).

If I get to a lull in my TBR pile, I'll check out the previous books in the series.

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

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Shoebox Funeral

A young adult book by Elizabeth Voltz, from Animal Media, about growing up in a very large family on a farm in rural Pennsylvania. The memoir is a series of short vignettes about different animals who came and went (mostly went) during her life growing up.

I also grew up on a smallholding and I am very familiar with the widespread practice of people driving by and dumping no-longer-wanted animals (generally scared and confused, often with health or behavioral problems) and then driving off in a cloud of dust, 'problem' solved.

The book was well written and beautifully, quaintly illustrated by the author.  Many of the stories are sad and the author's compassion and caring come through.  The biggest takeaway for me from the book was how brutal and awful and often short life can be for vulnerable animals. 

I was saddened reading this book (written from the young author's viewpoint through the lens of her adulthood) about how often animals in her world suffered and often died without professional care because it just wasn't feasible to take them to the veterinarian.  There were some viewpoints with which I felt uncomfortable (she was excited about a new cat which came to the farm because it brought a different color pattern and genetics to the constant uncontrolled litters the cats produced).  There were also passages which seemed very sad to me because they led directly to the unnecessary suffering of an animal in her care.  (She refused to euthanize a terminally ill beloved pet because it was devastating to her, but the very ill animal eventually died alone in a snowstorm and wasn't found until the spring thaw). 

I really do understand about the realities of living on a farm, and I've been there myself, perhaps that's why this book resonated so deeply with me. I just wish there had been more specific 'spay and neuter your pets and don't dump them at your local small farm' and less of 'this is how fuzzy/spot/kitty met their untimely end'.

Oddly enough, personal aside, I also grew up on a farm terrorized by my grandmother's goose, and though I was an only child (and always wanted a pack of siblings), my parents and grandparents were also mathematicians and physicists and my grandfather reminded me a lot of Elizabeth's description of her grandfather Voltz also :)

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

Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Backyard Homestead Seasonal Planner

Some of my most treasured possessions are the garden journals I inherited from my paternal grandmother.  They're full of notes, clippings, drawings and information which she wrote down over more than 50 years of active gardening and permaculture.  It's a habit which I've carried on myself.  This book, an adjunct of the wonderful Backyard Homestead series, is a similar guiding hand from knowledgeable understandable people who -want- to help others be successful gardeners and homesteaders.

My access to this book is an advance reader (electronic) copy, but the published version is listed as spiral bound and has room for personalized notes. The chapters are arranged by season and include tasks and what-to-expect for each time period.

This book will be a very useful addition to any active gardener who needs a little help and guidance putting pen to paper along the way, and also to new/wannabe gardeners who occasionally feel overwhelmed and confused about what to do when.

I found information in this book which would be useful for beginning to advanced homesteaders. 

A very well designed and logically arranged book.

Five stars

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

ABCs of Mathematics

I love the idea of this book.  By the time children get to formal STEM (science tech engineering and math) education in school, for a lot of them, the level of delight and discovery isn't what it could/should be.  A baby book introducing mathematics concepts through bright engaging colors and illustrations is a wonderful idea. 

Unfortunately the choices and explanations are dissatisfying in a lot of ways.  Other reviewers have pointed out specifics, but there are many places where the illustrations and text aren't at all explanatory (G for Golden Ratio for example)...

Wonderful concept and the book is very appealing. 

Three stars

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

Kind Nepenthe

This is an amazing book. The writing is astonishingly good.  I'm not usually a huge fan of modern horror and I fully intend to keep my eyes out for other work by this author.  The story arc ratchets up the tension from the beginning and it just keeps getting more and more creepy (and scary) ....  the ending had me turning the lights on because reading in the dark was too darned much for me.

Even though the characters were not particularly likeable, they were all understandable and sympathetic to a degree.  I really found myself rooting for Rebecca and her small family. I even found myself hoping things would go well for Diesel, which is saying something considering I'm about as diametrically opposed to his character as it's possible to be and still be human. 

People who already really enjoy horror will find more than enough to satisfy here... people who enjoy noir will most likely enjoy this book as well...  the people who enjoy literary/dystopian fiction will almost certainly be in raptures of delight.  A really well crafted enjoyable(?) creepy read.  Any fans who entered the room through the Joe Hill/Clive Barker/Stephen King door, enjoy this new source of horror from a new author who can stand up there with the masters.

Five big stars.

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

Celilo's Shadow

I love murder mysteries, especially 'crimes from the past' type mysteries, plus 'bonus points' for wilderness or native American themes.  This book ticked all the boxes for me personally.

There are some rough areas with dialogue and character development (the 'bad' guys are ALL bad, Snidely Whiplash meanie-pants, the good characters are pure in heart etc).  It doesn't stand in the way of an enjoyable read and I didn't feel like the rough areas prevented me from enjoying the story.

For a fairly tame/clean mystery, there was a great deal of sexual violence and misogynistic violence as well as overt racism, which was unpleasant to read about (but certainly in period for the time/place setting).

Enjoyable undemanding read.

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