The Timeseer’s Gambit by Kate McIntyre

With The Timeseer’s Gambit, McIntyre delves further into her distinct characters and their unique world. While we learn more about Chris, Olivia, and especially the dark truths about the spiritbinders, there is also another series of murders to solve in tandem. Everything is interconnected – and it all comes back to the Floating Castle disaster. Intricate plotting, pathos so palpable as to be crushing, and solid writing make this one of my best reads of 2016. This series is highly recommended.

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Story: Chris and Olivia are asked by Inspector Maris to sniff out clues behind several murders as the church of Three and Three. Rogue spirits have become unbound and attacked innocent initiates. As the pair hunt down information, Chris is bothered by his attraction both to his sister’s governess, Rachel, and to his best friend, Will. Lonely and alone, preoccupied by the impending trial of Dr. Livinstone, greatly missing his sister, and still grieving over the death of Fernand, Chris is having a hard time coping with the grisly murder scenes as well. At the same time, he’s beginning to realize that something is very wrong with his memories.

Neatly interwound are several storylines: Chris’ pathos and emotional fragility, Olivia’s church murders case, need to save Dr. Livingstone, and more information about the reason the floating castle fell. They are all interconnected in surprising ways and McIntyre is very smart about how she releases clues and answers. Taken as a whole, the body of the book is the mystery, the heart is William’s raw emotions, and the soul is his relationship with Will.

Many readers will probably have glossed over Will (the timeseer) in the first book but admittedly I was hungty to learn more. I wasn’t disappointed with this second book and we get quite a bit more information about him and his connection to Chris. It was their interactions that really struck a cord in a book with peerless emotional resonance. I almost hoped he would be in every scene at one point.

The world building is so beautifully crafted and never takes back seat to the characters. Dark, edgy, but so believable in this pseudo-victorian society, the cruelty of how the binding process is brought out as well as the dwindling efficacy in each new generation of spiritbinders pose some interesting questions. The Farraday Files is a series that is not one book shamelessly (and pointlessly) extended into a series. There is a clear overall arc and we are steadily learning more and more with each volume.

I really can’t fault much in the book. The writing is crisp, dialogue sharp, character pathos exquisite, and the worldbuilding superb. I greatly look forward to the next volume. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Translucid Dragonfire Station Book 1 By Zen Di Pietro

Translucid is an easy to read sci fi adventure featuring a strong female protagonist. Although yes, this character has a wife, the romance is non-existent here with the focus being on the mystery of whether our heroine was in an accident or was the target of an assassination. While the book is enjoyable, I did find the pacing to be very off and tone surprisingly passive considering the nature of the revelations as they unfolded

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Story: Eme is the head of security on a small space station. A shuttle accident has taken away her recent memories and all she has to work with is the knowledge that she has skills that go beyond what is needed for the position or that she should have. As she begins to piece together her life with the help of friends (not so much her wife), she begins to realize that the accident may have been planned – and that she is much more than what she thought.

As noted, those looking for romance will not find it in this first book. Eme’s wife is poorly described and fairly written out early. That was surprising but it does keep the focus on the mystery instead. But good interactions with interesting side characters do make up for that lack of development.

The action and story are extremely passive and that does hurt the pacing of the book. Our main character recounts things almost as if bored and they already happened – a serious writing flaw that robs the book of so much energy. It was hard to stay interested in the plot at times and instead it was all about the various characters that Eme encounters. The book could really have used some creative and dynamic writing to elevate a decent read into a good one.

In all, because the writing is smooth, Translucid station is a quick and easy read. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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The Forgetting By Sharon Cameron

I have enjoyed Cameron’s other books (Rook, Dark Unwinding) and this was no exception. Mixing dystopian, sci fi, a bit of romance, and solid writing, The Forgetting is reminiscent of books such as Beth Revis’ Across the Universe, in which much has been forgotten and needs to be remembered. The book is a stand alone with a solid and satisfying ending.

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Story: Nadia’s small community lives with the knowledge that every 12 years, people will lose their memories. To prevent total chaos, lives are recorded in books, and through the books they can resume their lives. But not all books survive the upheaval of the forgetting and many become ‘lost’ in their small community. Safe from the unknown outside her walled town, Nadia should be content. But she remembers things she shouldn’t – things that some don’t want her to know. With the help of Grey, she will work to save her community from the next forgetting.

The setting is not a dystopian US or such – in fact, the small community in which Nadia lives is unexplained until the end. Sharp eyes will catch clues in the beginning but it makes for a satisfying ending when the secrets begin to reveal.

Nadia as a character is interesting and Cameron does an excellent job in developing her personality and growth throughout the book. The romance with Grey is very understated and nicely done – it never gets in the way of the plot. Side characters are less developed, though, since the focus is completely on Nadia.

The story moves briskly and holds interest. It doesn’t bog down and there is plenty of mystery to keep readers intrigued. If I have one nitpick, it’s that I’ve read this story before – many times. The ending did not come as a surprise for that reason. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Taste and Technique by Naomi Pomeroy

While chef Pomeroy does present an argument for a homegrown attitude and distances herself from the ‘cult of celebrity’ of famous restaurant-owning chefs around the world, I have to admit I did find almost all of the recipes to seem somewhat pretentious in and of themselves. Half the names I couldn’t pronounce and likely wouldn’t order in a restaurant because they all felt ‘high concept’ – cooking as an art or obsession rather than casual or pastime recreation. As such, this is an amazing book for the aspiring gourmand or inveterate home chef. But for all others, the intricate and exotic recipes may be a tough nut to crack.

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Most of the book’s techniques are hidden in the recipes themselves. So you’ll want to make every recipe in order to really learn the art of cooking. As well, this is about gourmet food – so those on restrictive diets (e.g., vegan) won’t find a lot of love in this cookbook. The tone is very serious and at times I felt like I was taking part in a high end cooking class with (yes) a fairly snobbish chef. By that statement, I mean that the chef requires the food to be respected (and not the chef him/herself respected).

The recipe layout is dense and problematic. Paragraphs for steps is a disaster and difficult to follow. I will always prefer simple numbered sentences so I can easily go from book to stove and then back to book again. There are nice images and the layout is attractive. It’s just a shame that the actual recipe steps are confusing and definitely frustrating.

As mentioned earlier, to get the most out of this book, you’ll need to do each recipe. The ‘lessons’ start with sauces and work up to main meals. Almost everything in the book is quite exotic, so those looking for new and interesting meals will find a lot to love here. Those with finicky eaters in the house, though, will likely run into problems.

For me, the book was not the down to earth basic cooking guide that I had wanted. But for those looking for high end techniques interspersed into recipes that are actually lessons, this will be a very rewarding experience. So adjust your expectations and I think you’ll know best if you want to take on this book. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Slough Dough Real Bread by Chris Young

Slow Dough Real Bread is a beautifully presented and easy to follow cookbook featuring bread recipes from around the world. Whether a Finnish pulla, San Francisco sourdough, or Istanbul breakfast bread, the list is quite comprehensive.

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This is a collection of recipes from various individuals from the ‘real bread campaign’ in England. The campaign aims to bring back real breads and avoid the chemical premade loaves that dominate store shelves. As the book title suggests, most of the breads are made by having the dough rise slowly overnight – either in warm areas or in the refrigerator.

None of the recipes are particularly difficult and most of the ingredients are fairly common. Most of the work is in the kneading and tips are given if breads come out wrong – too hard, too soft, not risen, etc. A comprehensive list of tools as well as techniques are also presented.

The book has copious amounts of pictures for the different breads (with several recipes focused on what to do with bread leftover pieces). The recipes break down by : pre-ferment, long ferment, sourdough, and leftovers. Recipes cover everything from overnight white to stout stilton and walnut bread. Leftovers can be used for pies, salads, soups, etc.

Clearly, this is a labor of love by the bread bakers. Although they are based mostly in the UK, I found the recipes easy to follow from an American perspective. There is a nice long list of recipes as well so quite a bit of breads to explore over the coming year. In all, very pleased with th

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Gamescape Overworld by Emma Trevayne

Somewhere around the 10% mark, I really lost interest in the story or the characters. The book is written quite passively, with major action/events completely glossed over. The ‘game’ that has taken over the world is a generic World of Warcraft clone (our protagonist has to defeat demon bosses blech) and we’re to believe that it rules the world – people have implants that they ‘earn’ through playing and advancing levels. As with nearly all YA, our hero is a speshul snowflake with a special need (bad heart) that the game can heal if only he can get high enough in the leveling….

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The generic nature of the game and the characters made this maddeningly disenfranchising. As well, characters speak without much gamespeak (e.g., no one uses hardcore game terminology such as “I play a hitscan dps as my main” and instead we get bland dialogue from very well adjusted people. For a game the whole world plays obsessively, it is surprisingly absent from the evolution of this dystopian society.

By the 50% mark, I was skimming until the ending came and it was a lot of nonsense. I was hoping the story would go elsewhere but no, it instead went completely off the road and off a cliff at full speed. It’s a shame considering there was so much build up as to why the game existed at all. I might have been able to give a higher rating, even with the mundaneness of the language, if not for the silly ending. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Forks Over Knives: Family by Alona Pulde, Matthew Lederman

The author and chef did get a lot of things right with this book: the difficulty of transitioning a family into a vegan diet, defending the switch to others, supplements that may be needed, ease of preparation, etc. The language is clear and the presentation brief but informative. The recipes are nicely laid out and easy to follow. But this is a plan that, although touted as something that can be transitioned into in stages, in reality will require major changes or a lot of food items will be wasted. E.g., meals call for several different ingredients that may need to be prepared separately and used in a variety of dishes. If you don’t use the plan, then you will have too much/wasted ingredients (like marinara sauces, etc.).

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In trying the recipes, they are very easy to prepare and do taste quite good. There’s nothing really exotic here – just variations on things such as baked ziti or chocolate pancakes. Bad ingredients aren’t necessarily imitated so much as replaced, so it is about training young taste buds toward healthier foods. But there aren’t really any recipes in here that would frustrate or deter little ones from eating.

The book covers recommendations from pregnancy to teen years but the focus is on the elementary school age kids. Ideas for dealing with birthday parties, Disneyland trips, etc. are nicely covered with smart ideas. There are also many testimonials at the end of each chapter with individuals talking about their success stories with their own families. I found those the least interesting, though, since it was a bit to ‘rah rah’ preaching to the choir in my opinion.

In all, the recipes are quite good and there is good advice to be found here. The writing isn’t preachy and neither the author nor the chef come across as zealots who don’t understand real-world concerns of the average family and what they would have to go through in order to transition to a plant-based diet. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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