Book Review – Countdown to Death by Iain McChesney.

Countdown to death

4 out of 5 stars

I would like to thank Wayzgoose Press for providing me with a free electronic ARC of this book, via Netgalley, in exchange for an open and honest review.

Okay, so I am a fan of Agatha Christie, no surprise there. And I do in fact have one of the older printed copies of her novel now known as ‘And then there were none’. But my copy is so old it is still called ‘Ten little N…’ yeah, I’m not going to type that word as it is not a nice one. But you get my point, right? If not, go google the original name. Anyhow, I love the tale and know it well. So when I asked to read ‘Countdown to death’ I was perfectly aware of what it was paying homage to and had a little trepidation as to whether it could pull it off.

It did. And it did it in a lovely and entertaining manner too. Very much in the fashion of the original tale, while also breathing a new life and a new voice into the tale. Mr McChesney wasn’t just repeating Ms Christie’s work, he is truly paying her a homage by taking the old story and not making it new… but simply making it modern… if that makes sense? Yeah, no it probably doesn’t make sense outside my head but let’s just go with it okay? It was a compliment and we will just run with that. 😉

Did I feel the need to go to an island with ten people and kill them off one by one to ensure I could truly review this book open and honestly? No, sadly I could not make that happen and I do know how that is seen as a flaw in my reviewing by some – that I can’t have an opinion without trying what the book is about first – but yeah, not in my budget and the closest islands I could use are either Granite Island or Kangaroo Island and both out of scope so ah well… Instead I just read it as the mystery it was, tried to see how identical to the original plot it would be, see if I could wade through the small school of red herrings and guess the killer and all in all have fun reading the book. No need to smash glass bottles or plot my revenge on people I feel have done me wrong before I could enjoy this tale!

And did I guess who the murder was? Yes, I did. To me it was a pretty obvious option, but the story was woven so well that I did have myself second guessing a few times, but in the end my original choice was proven correct. And, sadly, I figured it out rather early on. Unlike an Agatha Christie where it takes me most of the book to work it out. But never fear, it did not detract from the story, did not ruin the enjoyment of it all and it was nice to see how it was all explained and done in the end.

Plus I am a stinker and one of those annoying people who can watch a mystery for 5 minutes or read the first three chapters of a book and tell you whodunit. It’s the savant part of my idiot really – and yes, I am allowed to make such jokes about myself, I am neuro-diverse! 😀

As to the formatting and other “boring bits” side of things, there were a few typos and grammatical slip ups… but it was an ARC and so accepted. Plus I am a typo Queen and so don’t have the right to judge someone else on the odd slip up! It did not detract from my rating. Nor did the fact it sometimes seemed to get jumbled up and confused as to who was saying what. And I don’t mean those gorgeous snippets here and there deliberately meant to be ambiguous – those I liked. Just sometimes when they were all together talking, the formatting let down the narration as it wasn’t clear who said what. But hey, in some ways that is mimicking Ms Christie’s style too!

Would I recommend this book to others?

Yes I would. Though I really do feel someone who has read the original Christie tale would get the same appreciation of it that I did. However, I really don’t feel reading ‘And then there were none’ is a prerequisite to reading or enjoying ‘Countdown to death’. I feel it is a good, solid and enjoyable story all on its own. A homage yes, but it is worthy of being its own entity too and could easily be enjoyed as such.

Would I buy this book for myself?

Possibly? I mean, I enjoyed it, loved it for the salute to the old crime thrillers and liked it for its own potential and talent. But right now I am not drawn to wanting to read it again and again at a later date – as I would with an Agatha Christie novel. ‘Countdown to death’ is good, very good. But for now is more a “borrow from library” level of tale for me. Sorry. I feel I am doing this book a great injustice in saying that, but I am being open and honest.

In summary: A well written mystery in its own right, but also a beautiful homage to the crime Queen herself.

Book Review – Healthy Baking: Nourishing breads, wholesome cakes, ancient grains and bubbling ferments by Jordan Bourke.

Healthy Baking

4 out of 5 stars

I would like to thank Orion Publishing Group for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book, via Netgalley, in exchange for an open and honest review.

If I was allowed to name this book, I would really call it the ‘Great Big Baking book of Everything’ as it covers such a wide range of recipes and dishes.

It starts out as I had expected with sourdoughs, yeast breads and other baked goodies that had me want to own my own paper copy of ‘Healthy Baking’. But there is then just so much more to this cookbook than bread, pastries and pizza! Oh so much more. We get into main meals – I am a sucker for roast whole head of cauliflower recipes and so need to try that one. And then into preserves, fermentations and more. I simply loved this book.

And no, no I didn’t get a chance to try any of the recipes… Yet. But from my 30+ years of cooking, making and baking I know how to read a recipe and I know what I would like to make and what I would avoid. I also know a well-constructed and tasty meal idea when I see one. And yes there were a few too many allium rich dishes within ‘Healthy Baking’ to have me want to try everything. But there was enough other ideas to try and I can see myself opening this book and trying them.

Oh, and for the record – whoever tries a recipe in a cook book at the shops before deciding to buy it and take it home? Anyone? Yes, you can see I am still bemused by a recent accusation I can’t really comment on or review a cookbook if I’ve not tried any of the recipes… but hey, I am giving you my opinion as if I saw this book in the shops. I would go through it (not read it cover to cover like I actually did mind you) and judge whether or not it was something I would want to take home and cook from. So those who tell me I can’t review a book without having tried everything in it first… you’re so funny! I don’t kill people before reviewing cosy crimes either, maybe that’s why the comments were left by ‘anonymous’… so there would be no volunteers to ensure I review murder books appropriately too? 😉

Anyhow, back to ‘Healthy Baking’. Loved it, I did say that though. So here is why I loved it. I can’t eat wheat – I have a medically diagnosed wheat protein intolerance (not coeliacs) that means a lot of wheat, barley or rye makes me sick. So a bread book that relies on spelt, dairy free options and unrefined sugars – all how I live and eat – was just a dream come true to me!

Yes there were all the allium issues, but I am just so used to people never thinking of the allium allergies and intolerances I just let it slide. Especially as ‘Healthy Baking’ never states it is a diet specific cook book. It is just a cook book demonstrating… Healthy Baking. Yeah, its title pretty much explains it all – nailed it.

For the formatting side of things – gorgeous, enticing and clear pictures draw the reader in and make us want to see more. A great deal of helpful information is provided for each section and some of the recipes too – I do like those personalised touches as to why a recipe is important enough to the author to appear in their work. And the recipe layout and other essential information was clear and precise too. Being a cook book made in the UK, no conversion to metric issues either.

Would I recommend this book to others?

Yes I would. In fact, I already have been. There are a lot of people out there who aren’t just on the kale drinking, raw vegan, “hippy food” bandwagon as it matches our shoes. We have legitimate allergies and intolerances that seem to be overshadowed by foodisms and gimmicks. ‘Healthy Baking’ is NOT one of those foodism gimmicks. It really does come across as one of the open and honest cook books wanting to help everyone eat better and therefore feel better through whole foods and great recipes. So people with or without food allergies and intolerances will all enjoy this book. Maybe not every recipe… but there are enough there to keep us all amused.

Would I buy this book for myself?

Yes I would. It’s already on my Amazon wish list and I have been shopping around the various online bookstores to find the best deal on where to get it. 😉 Yes, this is really one of those books where I will happily put my money where my mouth is and hope to own my own copy very, very soon.

In summary: This is indeed a great book about Healthy Baking, and then some. Highly recommend.

Until next time,

Janis.

Book Review – Backyard Chickens: How to keep Happy Hens by Dave Ingham.

backyard-chickens_cvr4 out of 5 stars

I would like to thank Murdoch Books for providing me with a paper copy of this book in exchange for an open and honest review.

And what a book it is too. As corny as it sounds, it really is something my whole family can enjoy. This was proved many times when I went to read it to find my children had “borrowed” it and were either reading it themselves, or outside reading it to our chickens.

backyard chickens feathers

Our children (or chooks) have been book marking the book!

Though I will state here and now I don’t think you need to have chickens (or book stealing children for that matter) to find this book enjoyable and useful.

It covers all the needed basics of setting up some backyard chooks for yourself – shelter, feeding, watering, common ailments, etc. It’s all there and all written about in a manner I loved as it was factual, but enjoyable and entertaining all at the same time.

And, as much as my kids loved reading it and using it to ensure our chooks were being looked after appropriately, that does not make this a childish or immature book. It’s something young and old interested in sharing their yard with some feathered girls will love.

Oh and Mr Fox came a calling for the first time ever while I was reading this book…. No, not blaming ‘Backyard Chickens’ or Mr Ingham for that. We have just been very lucky in the years we’ve had chickens to not meet him until now. What was most shocking – despite the demise of Pepper the Australorp – was Mr Fox came for a visit at about 11am! Following guidance from Mr Ingham’s fine book we have done our best to improve security on the yard. The pen they are put in at night still has not failed us… but obviously when they are free ranging the yard during the day, we had left gaps in our yard, despite it being surrounded by a 5 foot, concrete embedded metal fence. We know that fence was good at keeping foxes at bay as, when we were chasing the critter around the yard  – after penning the remaining girls in cat carriers – it couldn’t jump over our fences to escape! But we followed it to the gap at the front – bushman’s gate of wire and lumber – and have since sealed it tighter.

So, you could say ‘Backyard Chickens’ was here at the right time! We are now down to 6 chooks, but it could have been worse! And come next spring the useful guide in the back as to the different sorts of chickens that make the best backyard buddies, will be used to get more girls. We will then follow the wise words in the ‘Flock Management’ section and go from there.

Can you see this book is very relevant to us? And such an essential addition to ensuring our feather babies have the best life they can and keep giving us those giant, golden yolk eggies!

Finally, I will also say that, despite growing up with chickens in my life and knowing most of their ins and outs and foibles, I still found ‘Backyard Chickens’ a good read as it did cover some stuff I didn’t know. Backed up some the stuff I already did and helped share my love of chooks with my children.

Would I recommend this book to others?

Yes I would. And not just to people who already own chickens in their yards, but people who care about where their eggs come from and are considering getting their own chooks to ensure their egg providers are getting the best treatment. Mind you, pasture eggs are also a good option… but that doesn’t give you a chook to chat while you hang out the washing.

Would I buy this book for myself?

I may have to if my kids keep stealing my current copy! 😉 If I lost it or had to replace it (after too many chickens were taught to read it) then yes, yes I would buy it. For now I am very happy and feel very honoured to have been gifted a paper copy.  If my kid’s school ever gets chickens again, I might just need to buy a copy and donate it to them as it’s really a book for adults and children alike to read, learn from and enjoy.

In summary – an excellent, very comprehensive book aimed at Australian’s learning to raise their own backyard chooks.

Until next time,

Janis.

Book Review – Bad Housekeeping (An Agnes and Effie Mystery) by Maia Chance.

Bad Housekeeping

4 out of 5 stars

I would like to thank Crooked Lane Books for providing me with a free electronic ARC of this book, via Netgalley, in exchange for an open and honest review.

Okay, open and honest bit… I was introduced to Ms Chance’s writing via an anthology of Christmas themed short stories. Due to liking that book I was approached and asked to read her 1920’s cosy crime/ mystery series and loved it. To the point I started fan following Ms Chance on social media. And a fan I did become. So when I saw another story by her on Netgalley, I wanted to see what else she could do… and I was once more not disappointed by Ms Chance’s skill to write in another era, style and tone. No cookie cut outs from this author! Yet another new world, new characters and new ways things got done. Simply her great level of humour – similar to my own – and her talented ability to weave a good story linked this book to previous works I have read.

Fine, enough fan-girling from me, on to the review of the actual book… In two words – loved it. It reminded me of Sharyn McCrumb’s Elizabeth MacPherson series, without it being in any way a rip off. There were no actual similarities… it was more a feel. And as I have been a fan of Ms McCrumb’s for decades… this is a big compliment.

It also had that small town America cosy crime/ mystery feel I enjoy and ticked all the right boxes for an entertaining read – our self-doubting, sarcastic protagonist, erratically eccentric side kick, a town of its own colourful characters, the dud ex, the cute new guy, some red herrings and entertaining padding out of the tale and a crime to solve. And it did have me thinking whodunit until near the end and then finished it off with a good bit of drama and a neat wrap up. All in all – the perfect cosy crime/ mystery and something fans of this genre will delight in adding to their summer/ winter reading lists.

Would I recommend this book to others?

Um, I think I just did. 😉 But yes, cosy crime/ mystery fans – you will love ‘Bad Housekeeping’. Better yet, it’s the first book in a rather promising new series so you’re getting in at the beginning and will no doubt enjoy the tales as they are brought to us.

Would I buy this book for myself?

Yes I would, as an eBook – my virtual shelves are far bigger than my real ones. When a story reminds you of one of your other favourite authors, without being in any way a rip off of their work… you know you’re onto a good thing and so yes, a book – and series – for me.

In summary: Great first book to a potentially highly entertaining new cosy crime/ mystery series. Highly recommend.

Until next time,

Janis.

Book Review – Fearless Food by Katrina Jorgensen.

Fearless Food.jpg

2 out of 5 stars

I would like to thank Capstone Young Readers for providing me with a free electronic ARC of this book, via Netgalley, in exchange for an open and honest review.

Sadly, this cook book wasn’t everything I had hoped it would be. Firstly, it is presented as being a child friendly cookbook and worded in such a way as to suggest that children can cook the recipes. Some of them? Yes. Most of them? No. And I don’t just mean young children, there are some I would be wary of my kitchen savvy 12 year old trying without assistance. So, yes it might be a cook book aimed for feeding children, but not a cookbook teaching children how to cook for themselves – despite its childlike appearance and formatting.

Secondly, I know it says in advance it’s only looking at the “big 8” allergies, but stating there are “no major allergies” is rather misleading as some people may take it to mean “this is a safe thing to make” and then feed it to someone with say salicylate or allium issues… and then wonder why they got sick. These might not be part of the “big 8” but they are big issues in my line of food prep and so this book is rather useless to us because of it. Normally I don’t take offence to recipes that use allium. I’m used to it; I know allium allergies and intolerances are thought to be minor league. But to dismiss them entirely? Just put me off this book in the first recipe and I never really recovered enough to like it a heck of a lot.

I mean, yes, there are some good recipes in there, but they are few and far between. Any recipe that calls for a “packet of this” or a “tin of that” while proclaiming it is a healthy whole food cook book also will get the squinty eye from me. This book got the squinty eye.

Okay, I want to say something nice so… The formatting was good – childish, but good. Clear and precise and basic instructions easy to follow (but when you say use a packet of so and so, instructions will be easy). I did find some of the pictures confusing and misleading as they showed images of foods that were for recipes later on in the book… as if they had to advertise things to come to keep you interested. It might work better in paper format, but when reading an electronic copy, it just added a dimension of clutter and confusion.

This book is also marketed for an American audience. No biggie, I am used to that when working with Netgalley and accept it as part of the deal. But it did narrow the field down even more for those who can read, use and enjoy this book. Yes it starts with a great little conversion table at the front, big thumbs up there, but it then uses those pre-mades I’ve mentioned and without knowing the ingredients and being unable to buy those items outside of the USA… those recipes therefore become useless to try. So if pre-mades must be used, add a glossary explaining them maybe?

Please note that I personally feel cook books that try and tackle multiple food allergies as a thing tend to fail miserably. They up sell themselves and then can’t follow through on being THE food friendly cook book. It would have worked much better as a whole food, real food (besides the pre-mades) cook book that offered suggestions on how to make things say dairy free, nut free or gluten free. Trying to cover all those bases just let it down and meant it didn’t really help many of those with food intolerances and allergies. I mean, saying “if you have a wheat/gluten intolerance, use a GF flour” as a tip. Uh, yeah, thanks! I figured that out in all the other books I use containing wheat. How about just cooking without it?

Would I recommend this book to others?

No I wouldn’t, sorry. In this day and age of online recipe databases, there are far better (free) options out there teaching people how to cook foods for those with food allergies, intolerances and similar issues. This book is too sporadic and the wording just too misleading to be something I would recommend.

Would I buy this book for myself?

I’m pretty sure we all know that answer, right? No, I can’t say I would as, again, there are a lot of much better resources available to me that are far more flexible at meeting our dietary needs.

In summary: Yes this book might be helpful to some with food allergies, but not that fearless as I’d hoped.

Until next time,

Janis.

Book Review – For Whom the Bread Rolls (A Pancake House Mystery) by Sarah Fox.

For Whom the Bread Rolls.jpg

4 out of 5 stars

I would like to thank Random House Publishing Group – Alibi for allowing me a free electronic ARC of this book, via Netgalley, in exchange for an open and honest review.

And I really am quite thankful they did approve me to read it as I wasn’t too sure they would after what I said about book one ‘The Crepes of Wrath’. 😀

In my defence I did say a lot of nice things about book one as it really did tick all the right boxes to be a great little cosy crime… I just could not connect to or truly enjoy it and I don’t know why. I do blame myself. Maybe I was in the wrong mood?

Still, I am so very pleased to be able to tell you that my belief that my failure to connect was a one off and due to it suffering ‘first book jitters’ is true as…. I loved ‘For Whom the bread rolls’. I don’t know why, but this time there was just that right bit of everything and so it clicked, was enjoyable and read within three days or so. Obviously a good read when my brain inhales it that quickly.

I don’t know whether it was just because the characters were more established, whether it was because the whole storyline was more grounded and seemed to know where it was going… I really can’t say. But I will say that all the positives I said about the first book in the ‘A Pancake House Mystery’ still stand. And all the constructive criticisms (not negatives) I said are now gone. All the boxes for a good American cosy crime/ mystery are still ticked, this reader was satisfied and we can all go on living happily ever after…. Until the next one. 😉

What may have happened is this book wasn’t so cluttered and wasn’t trying to fit so many things in all at once… which is often the case of the first book in a series and so one should never judge a series on the first book alone. Wait for the next one, read it and realise the author has it all together now and it is going to be fine. Then just sit down, grab a cuppa and enjoy the ride… I mean read.

So – story plot good. Cosy/ Mystery – well paced. Characters – approachable and believable. Padding and red herrings – just enough to keep it ticking over and interesting without smothering the actual story. All in all as perfect as an American small town cosy/ mystery could be and something I feel is going to be perfect on the summer reading lists of cosy crime lovers all over the Americas this coming summer. It works just as good for we who are descending into winter down here in Australia. 😉

Would I recommend this book to others?

I would… but with any series I would always say start at the first book and move forward. But I would also warn people to not panic if they didn’t quite gel with ‘The Crepes of Wrath’ as ‘For Whom the Bread Rolls’ totally makes up for is and will ensure you really get hooked on the ‘A Pancake House Mystery’ series.

Would I buy this book for myself?

I can honestly see myself collecting them as eBooks. Yes I wasn’t that enamoured with the first book, but I could still see its potential. Second book well and truly makes up for it and really makes me look forward to the next one and filling my Amazon cart in a bit of a cosy spending spree. 😉

In summary: Great second book in an American cosy/ mystery series that has a LOT of potential to be awesome. Highly recommend.

Until next time,

Janis.

Book Review – Death of a Ghost: A Hamish Macbeth Mystery by M. C. Beaton.

 

Death of a Ghost

3 out of 5 stars

I would like to thank Grand Central Publishing for providing me with a free electronic ARC of this book, via Netgalley, in exchange for an open and honest review.

For the record I have been a huge fan of Marion Chesney (AKA M.C. Beaton) for at least a decade now… and not just of her Hamish Macbeth series… which is far, far better than the silly TV series.

And so I was thrilled to be given an opportunity to read the latest Hamish tale… even though I think I am now about 8 books behind in the series… Boy I’ve been slack! There, that is me being open and honest so please realise I am not a terrible person when it comes to the following constructive criticism… Uh oh.

So! As I’ve said, I am not as up to date with the series as I would have loved and so am not going to make comment on it referring to stuff I didn’t know as the only person I have to blame there is myself. But I have to say there was just something lacking in ‘Death of a Ghost’ that made it not seem that polished and finished as the other books I’ve read in the series. Though, this is the first time I’ve read an ARC of the series and so the less than polished to perfection feel could simply be due to that.

All the same I just found the story a little sketchy at times. You would have the major scene… followed by a few one liners that filled in the next few hours (sometimes days) until the next big major scene. It almost came across as notes and I expected to see the editors scribe on in the margin saying “to beef out later” or something. I really got despondent in the quality of the writing after a while as it really came across as if half the story (the boring filler bits) was just missing and the sketchy one liners therefore diminished the quality of the overall work.

I mean, all the usual “Hamishness” was there and it all seemed to fit the usual pattern of a Hamish Macbeth tale… but it simply felt half-finished to me. Perhaps I am just being a perfectionist and asking too much? I don’t know. But I will have to admit the sketchy quality of the writing has put me off being as eager to read other new works by Ms Beaton just in case this is common to her writing style these days.

Would I recommend this book to other?

Saying all of that, I would. But, of course, being the 35th book I would recommend those who have not read the series before start back at book one. And for those who have read the series… I wouldn’t mention my sketchiness concerns until after they’d read and to see if they saw it too or if I really was just being a bit of a book diva again.

Would I buy this book for myself?

Despite the flaws I perceived in it… Yes I would. I mean, I have bought most of the other books in the series and what sort of fan would I be if I didn’t ensure I had copies of all the books in the series?

In summary: Even after all this time, Hamish can still solve some of the cleverest crimes by jumping to conclusions and guessing. 😉

Until next time,

Janis.

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