Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Murder of MagpiesA Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Murder of Magpies has just the right balance of wit and puzzle, smart and snark.
British book editor Samantha and her author/friend Kit did not expect to be caught up in a tale of money laundering and murder, but Kit’s new book puts them in the path of danger. Kit’s manuscript is stolen, the publisher’s servers are hacked, Sam has a break-in—and Kit disappears.
Both an old-fashioned puzzle mystery and a modern send-up of publishing, the book is not meant to be sped through, but savored. Sam’s relationship with her formidable lawyer mother is wonderfully done. The obligatory attraction between the main character and the main cop is cleverly (modernly) handled. And book professionals can’t help but smile at the insider perspective. British/bookish/puzzle/cozy/humor/mystery subgenre, rejoice! Keep writing, and sign me up for more.

I received an EARC for review from Macmillan and Netgalley.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Dream On

Dreaming Spies (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #13)Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Puns and poetry, high flyers and fools abound in the latest Mary Russell novel. And ninjas. Yippee! I was a bit wary when I started reading; somewhere along the line, though I read the first five or so Mary Russell novels, I quit the series. I was reminded of it recently when asked for recommendations, and this solidifies my intention to read them all. King is a very good writer of prose. There's action, an intellectual puzzle, travel to Japan and Oxford, scene-setting and character building in descriptions all the way from lush to lurid and everything in between. King aims to both instruct and entertain, and succeeds.

Basho and Buddhism make appearances. Threats of international incident. The arrogance of empire; the smug assumption of superiority by the very smart; the blinkers and shades of custom and culture. And honor: among thieves, nations, detectives and spies.

Such are the themes and meanderings in this homage: for it’s really a love story about Japan and Oxford all boxed up in a mystery. I'm sure there will be others who think one of the stars of the story is the missing book--so lovingly described I can feel it in my hands, and I surely desire to hold it and its beautiful illustrations. I want to walk along the road that Basho walked on. I want to look at the Pinterest board.

Haiku of varied
Quality sprinkle the text
Like cherry blossoms

but I hope the reader is inspired to look up Basho and Issa and other masters of this deceptively simple form. Dream on!

I received an EARC for review from Penguin Random House and Netgalley.

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Monday, February 9, 2015

The Very Best of Kate ElliottThe Very Best of Kate Elliott by Kate Elliott

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Short stories and essays by a writer of both science fiction and fantasy, this glimpse into the mind and work of Kate Elliot is a must for collectors. The theme of this collection is power—who has it, who doesn’t, who wants it, who doesn’t, who deserves it, who doesn’t. If you are an Elliot fan, read it!
That said, it does not serve well as an introduction to her work—that’s ok, the work speaks for itself.  Please go read all her series if you haven’t—especially the Highroad trilogy and the Jaran novels, now being re-released. Then the essays might make more sense. This world was a poor place for female heroes when we were growing up and Elliot’s novels helped enrich it.
So buy and read everything else, then this. Your appreciation for the work will deepen, and you will have had the pleasure of reading one of our finest SFF writers.
I received an EARC for review from Tachyon and Netgalley.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Bon Appetempt: A Coming-of-Age Story (with Recipes!)Bon Appetempt: A Coming-of-Age Story by Amelia Morris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this book more than I expected and as much as I had hoped. Bon Appetempt lives up to the quiet humor of the title. It’s a satisfying home-cooked meal, comfort food, a memoir with recipes. It’s a book about resilience, really—and not to ignore the uniqueness of each life, original and beautiful as snowflakes, yadda yadda—it’s about ordinary life, ordinary pleasures, and how great the ordinary can be.

After growing up in the Eastern U. S., Amelia and Matt follow the dreams of typical creatives and move to Los Angeles. He has a bunch of projects that get greenlighted by Hollywood, then not made; she gets her MFA in creative writing; they struggle to pay the bills. They try to figure out day jobs that will still allow them to do their creative work. While she’s working on her novel, she starts the blog, Bon Appetempt. It started out to be a comparison of how a dish looks in the cooking magazines and cookbooks, and how it ends up looking after being made by an amateur at home: layer cakes that turn into Leaning Towers, etc. But the blog evolved, as did Amelia’s life and cooking skills and readership, and so we get this book.

It is a bit slow and recipe-shy in the beginning, but well worth reading on. Loved the crèpe chapter, and can’t wait to try Matt’s Lemon Pasta recipe. I do disagree that every soup should have cheese on top, but certainly some should. Shrimp pancakes—yum! And I’ll be looking for the cookbooks she quotes from, too.  There’s a quote from Julia Child that sums up the book, the blog, and the life lesson: "The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude." Would make a good book club book. Go for it!

I received an EARC of the book from Grand Central and Netgalley for review.

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About a Girl

Funny GirlFunny Girl by Nick Hornby

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took me a while to get into this book.  It’s written by someone close to my age. It’s called Funny Girl; it’s about a theater star named Barbara; a gay man is one of the characters. But once I realized that the other shoe was not going to drop and the Streisand reference was unintentional—though I think anyone from the U. S. would have changed the character’s name—I was able to get into the story the author meant to tell.

It’s a sweet story about a girl who wants to be the Lucille Ball of Britain. It covers the early 1960s, British culture and the BBC during the beginnings of the sexual revolution. Like all of Hornby’s novels, it’s a love story that covers more than romantic love. It’s about ambition and artistry, friendship and family, social change, and the common eternal verities of relationships.

Hornby is always generous to his main characters, the main thing I love about British pop fiction: slightly quirky, endearing people who muddle through and carry on through life’s crises, winning hearts in the end. Despite the initial hiccup, he won me over, as always.

I received a temporary egalley of the book through First To Read.

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