Micro-Reviews, December


I’ve been reading a lot, but not finding much time to write full-on reviews. So, here are some micro-reviews, all for books that are either just published, or coming out in the next few months.

8703F7E4-AA98-463F-9179-F2CB1EB0CEA1Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins – New fantasy series get started all the time; some are better than others. This one, my friends, is going to be EPIC! There is nothing here not to love, from the gorgeous cover to the big, fat, luscious story that features women in non-traditional roles (well, at least one of them!) The power held by the women in this story is remarkable, even if some of the characters aren’t always likable. Bluebell is a character to remember. Is there anyone like her in literature today (I haven’t read Game of Thrones, so maybe there is…). Even so, she is the alpha and omega here, the male and female, hero and antihero, and oh, how I love her! Highly recommended.
Publication Date: March 2018

 

2A530BA3-E296-46CF-A7B5-6FF5B4FD18BBChord of Evil by Sarah Rayne – Sarah Rayne has become a go-to author for me – I eagerly read anything she writes, and I constantly recommend her to people in the library and friends in my Reader world. Rayne has a remarkable ability to weave history, horror, mystery, and a little bit of romance into can’t-put-it-down books. She succeeds again with Chord of Evil, the second in her Phineas Fox series. Not every author can pull off a parallel narrative with one set of characters in the present day and another in the past. Rayne has mastered this technique in previous books, and uses it again here as we learn the present day story and how it entwines with the past. If I have one issue with this book, it’s Phin’s reaction to actually meeting the fabulous Arabella in person. He’s disappointed? Are you freaking kidding me? At that moment, Phin is pretty much a jerk, but he comes around. Despite this one issue, this is a winner.
Publication Date: December 2017

72ADCE41-784A-46A7-BC38-AE7768839B2EThe Darkling Bride by Laura Anderson – This transported me back to the 1970s, when I would spend hours browsing the Gothics section of bookstore and library shelves. Everything I loved about Gothics is here – the spunky heroine with a tragedy in her past, the brooding but ridiculously handsome “lord of the manor,” his disagreeable sibling, and the forbidding matriarch – all squished up together in a remote castle or manor with a mystery and maybe a few ghosts. If you love Irish folklore, you will love this book. The story here is original and well developed, the characters appealing, and the outcome satisfying. I had a hard time putting this one down. Recommended for lovers of mysteries & family drama, and for the YA audience.
Publication Date: March 2018

400E1E62-1235-4258-B8FD-77893114B8EADemon Crown by James Rollins – James Rollins delivers another pulse-pounding, action-packed, roller-coaster ride of a story. Once again, we’re dropped down into the world of Sigma Force, and are carried along with the action as Gray and the team race against time to stop a deadly enemy from ending the world. There’s no question about Rollins’ writing ability. He *knows* how to write in a way that grips you by the throat and doesn’t let you go until the very last moment, when you need to breathe more than anything in the world. And that definitely happened here. I’m still having dreams about those effing bees! There are a lot of authors writing action-adventure like Rollins, but where he draws ahead of the pack is in his ability to weave non-fiction elements into whatever global disaster he’s cooked up. In Demon Crown, we learn about bees, a little bit about Imperial Japan, and about amber. Pair that with likable, kickass characters, and there’s no way this one won’t shoot to the top of the charts. Highly recommended.
Publication Date: December 2017

October Micro-Reviews


CE38AF4E-3FC8-4A20-B43A-1CDEF146C375Clue in the Trees by Margi Preus – Second in what is shaping up to be a nice little YA mystery series, Clue in the Trees finds Francie from the author’s earlier Enchantment Lake, settling in to life in Minnesota. She’s a senior in high school, and is living in a sweet apartment paid for by her grandfather who seems to think she’s safer in Minnesota than in New York. How little does he know! Francie starts school, thinking she’s in for a quiet, uneventful year but is right away blindsided by the return of brother Theo AND the discovery of a dead body at a local archaeological site. Of course, Francie gets involved in solving the mysterious death, but she’s also drawn into a bigger mystery surrounding her mother, who may or may not be alive. The writing here is straightforward and uncomplicated, perfect for upper middle grade and reluctant teen readers. The story is compelling and suspenseful, and full of all the things you expect in high school. There is some subtle humor here as well, which adds a nice kick to the story, and the reveal of the villain was wonderfully creepy. I was reminded a bit of my own early teen years reading Nancy Drew and thought more than once that Francie and her friends are Nancy and the Gang for the 21st century. Recommended.

11395661-1E1A-4C57-B4EC-091CACFAB9EAA Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne – I love immersing myself in a well-constructed world, and Kevin Hearne took me there in A Plague of Giants, the first in a new fantasy series, Seven Kennings. No stranger to world-building, Hearne begins his story with the story of how the kingdom was invaded by giants and introduces us right away to the characters who will carry to story forward. For sure, this is dense, epic fantasy replete with unusual place and person names and people blessed with special gifts. The complex language and landscape alone will likely put off casual fantasy readers, but die-hards will lap this up. I look forward to the next entry in the series. Recommended.

C07C629F-BB62-42E3-B240-8333A651B957The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley – The prospect of a new Flavia de Luce book has always quickened my heart, but the last two books have been slightly disappointing. I had high hopes for this one, which were somewhat met. I think that Bradley has had a hard time transitioning Flavia from precocious child to teenager and that the last two books were awkward in the way real life is awkward when that transition happens. With The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place, I feel as though Bradley is finally starting to bring Flavia out of that awkward stage. While this was not the kind of clever, multi-layered mystery we’ve come to expect from the author, it was interesting and fun. Most importantly, it was a bridge to the next chapter of Flavia, her sisters, Dogger, and Buckshaw. I really enjoyed the bigger role here for Dogger, as well as the peek into his past, and I am totally looking forward to the adventures of Arthur W. Dogger & Associates – Discreet Investigations.

1C9872DA-530D-451E-9810-C9C73F270F8FThe Witches’ Tree by M.C. Beaton – Speaking as one who has not been a fan of the Agatha Raisin series I thought I’d give it a try again after watching the hugely entertaining series on Acorn.TV. I am very glad I did. The series is formulaic, to be sure, but the writing is witty and crisp, and the characters are a hoot. Recommended for fans of British cozy mysteries.

 

24C3B8AD-F453-45C0-A09F-337ED24E82B1What the Hell Did I Just Read. By David Wong – This is the first David Wong novel I’ve read and, OMG, it was fabulous! The action started immediately and never let up, and the writing is that kind of weird, twisty style I associate with graphic novels. Usually, that kind of writing doesn’t translate to a full blown novel, but it does here with no problem. The adventures of Dave, John, and Amy, residents of Undisclosed, reminded me of the cast of Eerie Indiana, all grown up. The monsters were irreverent and terrifying, and the trio of monster-hunters was hilarious and not as incompetent as Dave would like us to believe. I seem to be reading a lot of middle entries in series, and this is another one where I’m going to have to go back and read the earlier books, with pleasure. I would *love* to see this in movie or TV series form. Recommended.

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

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IMG_0225I fell in love with Eowyn Ivey’s work when I read her debut novel, The Snow Child, and then met her while she was in Rochester for Writer’s & Books “Rochester Reads.” When To the Bright Edge of the World was first published, I devoured it, and wrote this on Goodreads:

Ivey has produced another brilliant novel of the Alaskan wilderness, blending history and adventure through the telling of three simultaneous stories. Typically, South American authors tend to write the best magical realism, but Ivey is just as adept at merging fantasy and reality, plus she has given us a splendid character in Sophie Forrester. Hands down, one of the best of 2016.

The book is newly released in paperback, so will be showing up on shelves in stores and libraries again. My recommendation from 2016 still stands. If you love magical realism blended with a little history and a strong female protagonist, you should pick this one up.

 

Micro-Reviews


I’ve been reading a lot lately, but not all of what I’ve read has inspired me to write a fully fledged review. Instead, here are a few micro-reviews of some books slated for publication this Fall.

IMG_0204David Tanis Market Cooking: Recipes & Revelations, Ingredient by Ingredient by David Tanis
Artisan Books
Publication Date – October 3, 2017

Cooking with fresh, seasonal produce is certainly not a new thing – experienced cooks have been doing it for years. However, as Tanis points out in this lovely, information-packed, highly readable cookbook, many cooks today are seduced by easily acquired but often flavorless supermarket produce. Tanis’ mission is to direct cooks back to their own locally produced food, which always tastes better.

This title caught my eye on NetGalley because it’s CSA season, when I invariably get the odd vegetable that I’ve never cooked. I was not disappointed. Tanis provided me with tasty ways to cook parsnips, greens, and even celery root, as well as new takes on old favorites like corn and potatoes. His recipe for Creamed Corn is super simple and absolutely delicious.

There is no pretentiousness here, as I often find with “cheffy” cookbooks – just simple, easy to follow recipes that rely on the deliciousness of fresh food. Highly recommended.

IMG_0205Brave Red, Smart Frog: A New Book of Old Tales by Emily Jenkins
illustrated by Rohan Daniel Eason
Candlewick Press
Publication Date – September 5, 2017

Emily Jenkins has taken the language of old timey fairy tales and turned it upside down in this 21st century retelling of classics like Snow White and the Frog Prince. The bones of the stories remain, but each has new language, new cadence, and new sassiness in the characters, which is completely refreshing. As I read, I felt like these stories could easily turn up in an animated series on Nickelodeon. What a wonderful way to take beautiful but clunky old fairy tales and make them new again. Well done!

IMG_0206Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks
Knopf Doubleday
Publication Date – October 17, 2017

I really tried to like this book, but it was a straight-up snoozer for me. There’s no question that Hanks can write. His prose is really quite good, but I just found this collection of short stories to be D.U.L.L. There are a couple stories built around a kernel of an idea that could be developed into full-blown books, but most are just odd and sad. It may just be that I am not a fan of literary fiction, but I have to wonder if this collection would have been published at all if not for Hanks’ fame. It will be popular and in demand, though, so libraries should buy a copy.

IMG_0203Healthy Meal Prep by Stephanie Tornatore and Adam Bannon
DK Alpha Books
Publication Date – December 12, 2017

My daughter and I have recently become meal preppers, since I always struggle to have a healthy lunch and she is just beginning her first year of a rigorous doctorate program and will be at school all day, then go right to work. We’ve had some fun trolling Pinterest for ideas, but quickly found that there’s not a lot of variety there, so I was happy to find this book on NetGalley.

Tornatore and Bannon have created a readable, attractive, and easy to follow guide to prepping a remarkable variety of meals. While I am not vegan, I appreciated the inclusion of meat-free meals. I also really liked the inclusion of an equipment list for each week, as well as the Prep Day Action Plan. Another bonus is the inclusion of breakfasts and desserts. The book is filled with helpful tips and advice, and the recipes are easy to follow. Combine all that with beautiful, eye-catching photography and you’ve got a hit. Recommended.