Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Review: Kindred

Kindred Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

All the Stars.

It's taken me a full day to collect my thoughts about Kindred.

Talk about my getting to the game late, Kindred was published in 1979, still relatively early in Octavia Butler's lauded career. This is, shockingly, the first Butler novel I've read.

This is a genre-bending book that is simply stunning in its psychological complexity and is probably the best use of time travel in a novel that I've ever read. Kindred employs the concept of time slip (the first really successful example of this subgenre of time travel was Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court). Time slip is a plot device in which a person travels to another time (and place, in many instances) and has no control over the travel. Additionally, the mechanism of time slip is often ultimately unexplained- neither the person enduring it nor the reader fully understands the process leading to the time slip(s). This lack of control over barreling back in time is the perfect foil for the protagonist Edana Franklin's experience in antebellum Maryland, in which she experiences the lack of control over one's life, family, and destiny that was slavery. It is a brilliant use of the plot device.

When we meet Dana, the year is 1976 and she lives in California with her new (and white) husband, Kevin Franklin. Both the Franklins are writers. As she is moving into their new apartment she undergoes the first of a series of progressively more disastrous time slips which take her back in time to antebellum Maryland and the plantation of her ancestors, the Weylins. Over the course of a year in modern time but two decades in Weylin-era time, as she struggles to deal with her own lack of power over her time slippage, Dana slowly comes to see the courageous battle fought for survival by slaves (and sometimes even free black people) that all too often is insultingly called weakness or complicity by those who have never experienced systematic subjugation. (You can also apply it to blaming Jewish people for not fighting back more during the Holocaust.) Butler challenges your imagination to walk a mile in their shoes. Her depiction of their trauma, the indignities, and inhumanity suffered culminates in their, and Dana's, will to survive.

This isn't the stuff of fun time machines, time-traveling husbands or going back to brutal times but being rewarded with lusty highlanders. This is a revelatory view of a brutal period in African-American history as (re-)lived by a woman from the post-Civil Rights Movement era.

Kindred makes me want to read more Octavia Butler. I have great respect for the depth of her work here. If you've never read her work, you should.

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Monday, January 29, 2018

Review: Curiouser and Curiouser

Curiouser and Curiouser Curiouser and Curiouser by Melanie Karsak
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.25 stars

This was a steampunk retelling of Alice in Wonderland in which Alice Lewis, a bit of a Mary Sue "guttersnipe," is drawn back from a life she had hoped she had left behind. The story starts out smashingly, with the good-hearted Alice, aka "The Bandersnatch" rescuing her sister Bess's beloved Hatter from a horrible fate due to unpaid gambling debts by agreeing to use her skill set to commit an audacious crime. The characters redrawn from Carroll's Alice were interesting but the romance angle got a bit repetitive for my taste. An amusing read for the most part, but possibly not enough to satisfy serious Wonderland fans.

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Sunday, January 28, 2018

Review: The Hazel Wood

The Hazel Wood The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3 Stars

Back in mid-2017 I saw first saw DRCs of The Hazel Wood go up and was intrigued. Then I saw and received a paper ARC and shared the photo on the blog's Facebook page because it was impossibly lush. I frankly don't know when I've seen such work go into a cover in a genre fiction ARC. And the cover was designed by someone who read enough of the book to capture so many elements of the story. Clearly, the publisher felt it was special. Reviews began to pour in and it was a love it or hate it affair. When my own blogging buddy, Alex (Alex Can Read), a professed lover of Alice in Wonderland stories, didn't find much to enjoy, I actually got worried about reading this book. And all the while I was puzzled. It looked like so much effort went into The Hazel Wood. Well, some of the effort was put in the wrong places, is my take. I think much of the criticism this book is taking in harsher reviews is about things that could have been improved by better editorial direction.

Some of what follows might be considered spoilery. Read at your peril or skip to the end!

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First, let me say that Melissa Albert is a writer with a great deal of promise. Her writing is easy to read. In fact, you easily keep reading, on and on, waiting for the real action to begin. And therein lies one of my first problems with this book- the pacing of the story. By the conclusion, I felt like I was reading in German, where all the verbs in a clause end up at the end of a sentence. Here the prelude to the Hinterland section seems to drag on and on, punctuated by the occasional weird and twisty invasion of Story. At the end of the book, the action is so fast that in the last 30 pages if you blink you miss something. This odd pacing made me feel as if I was either reading a story that should have been edited to novella length or should have been patiently built out to a fuller novel. And that leads me to some other observations.

One of the things that makes me confidently say that Melissa Albert is a good writer is that she has taken a sub-genre that has been popular- fairy tale retellings, of a sort- and which has been done quite well (especially relevant would be Story incursions such as those in Seanan McGuire's Indexing series) and still has managed to make her own mark. This is no small feat in the crowded arena of fairy tale-based stories. Much in the way that Seanan McGuire or (her alternate writer persona) Mira Grant have created their own fairy tale or nursery rhymes and woven them like fine-spun steel into a broader story (hence, stories within a story) Albert gives us her own dark Tales of the Hinterland with story titles and two detailed retellings, as recalled by Alice's friend Ellery Finch. But here's the problem with the execution of that idea. Occasionally, we see some characters who are noted to be from the Hinterland stories but they are often thin to the point of being two dimensional, and are all good or all bad or trying very hard to be edgy. (As Alex says, this whole book tries to be edgy.) And this is what I mean about patiently building out a fuller novel. I never felt the majority of the fairy tale characters were real characters, and precisely because of that fact, some of the twists of the novel became less real and therefore far more easily anticipated by the reader. 

In reading this book, I wanted to understand why and how Twice-Killed Katherine was killed twice and where her bird came from. I wanted more especially from the Alice-Three-Times storyline, for obvious reasons. We briefly meet but know nothing about Hansa. Who and where is Ilsa? And I wanted much, much more from the Story Spinner, her relationship with Althea Prosperpine, and how the interweaving of their stories created this story. I felt keenly that the Tales of the Hinterland that are the complete underpinning of The Hazel Wood were not yet written, or at the very least, they had not been written and polished into a fine and hallowed anthology of dark fairy tales that would inform every corner of this book. 

Alice, as the central character, was well-written for the purpose of the story. That her harsh coldness had a reason came as no surprise to any reader of Andersen's tales. Her relationship with Ella, her mother, and Audrey, her half-sister, were nicely drawn and written. The complete lack of discussion of who Alice's real father was an early tip-off to me that something was "wrong" in Alice's situation. I was bothered by the character development of Ellery Finch, who felt in some ways like a token, albeit conveniently wealthy, person of color. I even felt as if some scenes may have had to be rewritten in recognition of what the writer and editor got themselves into there. At times, much as I liked Finch, I felt there was a vein of inauthenticity about the character. It felt like there were awkward moments when his POC status was highlighted, instead of building out the character throughout the story. I wanted more from and about him. I wanted more realistic diversity in their NYC circle and in the Hinterland itself. Finch's relative abandonment by his neglectful and disinterested parents, which mirrored a series of abandonments of parental care that we see in The Hinterland was interesting and yet remained unexplored as one of the connection points between the two lead characters.

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All in all, I found things to enjoy in The Hazel Wood. I am looking forward to seeing what Melissa Albert does next, either in the sequel or in a novel set in a fresh world.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Review: A Treacherous Curse

A Treacherous Curse A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A solid 4-star entry in the Veronica Speedwell series.

Even though I find this series a bit overflowing with its protagonist's Mary Sue-ness and its social and technological anachronisms, this series is such fun! You can rely on the Veronica Speedwell mysteries to be enjoyable, though you can usually start to discern where it's all going pretty early on, but Raybourn always manages to interject some novel (*groans*) twists and turns for the reader. In this entry, Veronica and Stoker manage to tackle a mummy's curse scenario, we finally learn more about Stoker's past, and Veronica draws ever closer to a rapprochement with her errant father. All in all, a nice entry in the series, which has grown on this reader over time.

I was fortunate to receive a Digital Review Copy from Edelweiss and a paperback ARC edition of this book from another reviewer.

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Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Craft Sequence Buddy Read, Review and Discussion of Book 1: Three Parts Dead

Welcome to Alex and Marzie's Buddy Read of The Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone! You probably already know my blogging buddy Alex, who blogs over at Alex Can Read. We are happy to be joined by our friend Jenni, a former reviewer at another blog. We decided to read the books in publication order, rather than chronological order, because Jenni had never read the books before (such fun for her, discovering them!) and in the end, after some discussion, Alex and I felt that progressing in publication order was probably going to be the easiest entry point for a new reader.

Let's look at the publisher's synopsis of Three Parts Dead:
A god has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.
Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot. 
Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith. 
When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts—and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb’s slim hope of survival. 
Set in a phenomenally built world in which justice is a collective force bestowed on a few, craftsmen fly on lightning bolts, and gargoyles can rule cities, Three Parts Dead introduces readers to an ethical landscape in which the line between right and wrong blurs.

First, I wanted to gather my own thoughts about Three Parts Dead. You surely know that Alex and I wouldn't be doing a project like this if we didn't already love Gladstone's writing. Why do we love it? You'll read more in our discussion below, but looking back on my initial review last year, when I first started reading The Craft Sequence because it was a finalist for the special Best Series Hugo Award,  I already could sense in this first book of the series that Gladstone has created something truly unique in the fantasy world:

4.5 Stars (June 2017) So much love for this book, in which the protagonist, necromancer Tara Abernathy, gets to follow her own path, and gets to talk to other women characters about life, work and sense of self rather than relationship problems. (So refreshing!) Other characters, even more peripheral ones, are richly drawn with complex motivations. Elayne Kevarian, Tara's supervisor, is especially fascinating and inscrutable. Gladstone's magical world, shackled to contracts, legislation, compensation and the required jurisprudence to make it all work, was engrossing to dive into. Can't wait to continue with Two Serpents Rise
N.B. The omnibus ebook edition of the first five books is available at an absolute steal of a price. (STILL TRUE!)
If anything, this is a series of books that improves upon rereading. Each book broadens the original concepts of the Craft world, builds on characters that are woven throughout the series and gives us a rich tapestry. It's a rare thing to find truly original fantasy worldbuilding. (Just when you think it's all been done and only the characters will change, along comes Max Gladstone.) These books give us that unique world. But they also give female readers the rare satisfaction of well-written female characters created by a male author, something I felt even more strongly about in my updated review of the book on Goodreads:

5 stars (January 2018) I have come to appreciate Max Gladstone's amazing world building and character development even more, as I reread the Craft Sequence. I'm really not sure I can think of another male writer that writes women characters as wonderfully as Gladstone does. His books pass the Bechdel test with flying colors.

And so with no further adieu, let's get to the discussion of Three Parts Dead!

"Three Parts Dead"  Buddy Read, Part One 
with Alex, Jenni and Marzie

Alex: So, Marielle and I have read this series before, but it’s new to Jenni. I’m curious to get your first impression, Jenni.

Jenni: My first impression when reading the book was a bit of confusion. As Marzie has remarked, the underlying world concept is very unique, thus unlike with a lot of fantasy stories, I couldn’t rely on some basic fantasy concepts to help me immediately understand the way this world functioned. It took me a while to grasp how things were set up. I’m looking forward to a re-read, where I already know how the magical economy is structured!

Alex: yes, the first time I read through I spent a lot of the time with my eyes kind of wide as I tried to take in the scope of things and make sense of it all.

Marzie: I believe I have been known to call the steep learning curve akin to “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.” We are dropped in, just like Tara, to a strange and complex world. One of the most obvious aspects of The Craft Sequence, even in this first book, is what an accomplished writer Max Gladstone is. Leaving aside the amazing world he has created for the reader, the writing itself is so lovely.

Alex: The writing is beautiful - full of metaphors and lovely turns of phrases. I was really drawn in by Gladstone’s description of his characters. Max has a particular way of writing his female characters in a way that I wish other authors could replicate. None of them are sexualized. Even when he’s describing Cat club hopping trying to get her fix, she’s not sexualized.

Jenni: It’s interesting you say that Alex. I agree that they aren’t sexualized in the least, but I think that Tara, at least, as the main character POV, was also missing some of the emotional resonance that I would expect for a female character. I think it’s always difficult for a man to write a woman well, and vice versa.

Alex: Jenni, I actually kind of disagree. I thought the women were written in really compelling ways. They weren’t super emotional, but they weren’t sad, flat characters that felt badly constructed. (If you want that, see Artemis)

Marzie: This is actually something I love intensely about Max’s female characters. I do not find them lacking in emotion but find them emotionally subtle and not hearts-on-their-sleeves types. And they are all SO different.

Jenni: Oh, don’t misunderstand! I don’t mean the characters were sad, flat, 2D things. They weren’t at all! Tara was an extremely complex, enjoyable character. But she didn’t have the interior emotional landscape I might have expected.

Marzie: I think Gladstone conveys Tara as somewhat emotionally flat for a reason.

Alex: I do agree it was done on purpose. I think it’s one of the things about “Craftspeople” that sets them apart. They talk about it a lot - that use of the craft makes them inhuman.

Jenni: In Elayne’s case, she’s something other than human, and I agree that the alien-ness of her is purposeful - a result of her heavy use of Craft. But Tara has just begun this journey. I would expect her to still be vibrant in her humanity. Like the monk, Abelard; his emotions, his spiritual anguish, leapt off the page.

Marzie: Actually, I read Tara’s emotional state as largely informed by trauma. She seems numb in some ways and, for me, that’s a PTSD thing, stemming from her brutal expulsion from the Hidden Schools. She continues to have flashbacks about what she suffered throughout the book. She is still processing her trauma and I think all her emotional energy is caught up in that processing.

Alex: I agree her emotionless state was on purpose. She was thrown out of the Hidden Schools for her coup against Denovo. She has spent years mired in the Craft and building herself into a Craftswoman. Compared to Elayne, she’s at the beginning, but this isn’t day one. She’s already years down the path. And I also agree that Abelard’s spiritual anguish leaped off the page - and I think that was also on purpose.

Marzie: Abelard’s open anguish and questioning is a natural point of engagement for the reader. We end up questioning many things just like he does. And by the end, I felt that Tara was more emotionally engaged because she was not ‘all in’ on the whole “magical law firm where you serve your clients and ignore what is morally questionable.” I think she has retained a strong sense of morality, as, in her way, has Elayne. She’s retained enough of her humanity to want to explore her options. Elayne accuses her of immaturity but to me, I almost felt like Elayne liked it that Tara wasn’t going to follow the predictable course.  What did you think about Cat, a character that is certainly battling her demons?

Jenni: The addiction aspect of her character was extremely well done.

Marzie: Agreed. The aspects of her black suit’s interface with her addiction were fascinating and so well done. And the resulting search for a dangerous “hit” on her off hours out of the suit.

Alex: I thought Cat’s addiction as a result of Justice was a really interesting choice. I felt like it was a commentary on our modern police forces/military forces. How that power is so easy to fall in love with and abuse. We can’t go a day without another story of police brutality, only in this case, the brutality was not only external but internal.

Marzie: It kind of leaves me wondering if brutal behavior in the name of justice doesn’t become addictive itself.

Jenni: Also, it was a strong commentary on the perils of justice if not tempered by mercy.

Marzie: Definitely “Blind Justice” can miss the salient bits. It’s a nice concept with flaws and as is amply proven here.

Jenni: Speaking of things being done in the name of Justice - I thought the idea that the Gods are as much bound to their relationship with those that worship them as their followers are to the Gods themselves was fascinating. That the chains of obligation go both ways. So very different from, say, Greek mythology.

Alex: Absolutely! I found the whole concept of the economy of soul stuff and belief and power to be completely fascinating. Contracts, obligations, power. It’s something that I’m still kind of in awe of, despite having read six books full of it. The soul stuff is a metaphor for capitalism. We’ll see more evidence of that in later books.

Jenni: The fact that the magicians of this world are essentially contract lawyers was hilarious to me.

Marzie: It’s truly fabulous, and one of the most unique things I’ve read in fantasy. He’s managed to connect our litigious western world with a fantasy world in a fascinating way.

Alex: It was hilarious to me, too. I’ve been describing this book to my friends (badly) as magical lawyers saving the world through contracts and blood. “God is in the details, literally.”

Jenni: But are they really saving that world? That’s not so obvious from reading just the first book.

Alex: Well, I think we could argue Tara and Elayne are trying to.

Marzie: I think they are at a minimum trying to right what wrongs they can. The two characters have a common ethos in that.

It doesn't end here! Check out Part Two of our discussion, over on Alex's Blogwhere we further discuss the intriguing Elayne Kevarian, share our thoughts about Kos and Seril, and the puzzle of Denovo's abuses in the Hidden Schools!

Fan Art
Kos the Everburning by Katie Yu

Friday, January 19, 2018

Review: My Little Heart, Ruthie

My Little Heart, Ruthie My Little Heart, Ruthie by Toni Jannotta
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 Stars

This is a unique little book with gorgeous illustrations and a message about self-esteem and resilience, told with a jazz theme. Jazz music accompanying the book is lovely but the narration of the story disappointed me, both in vocal tone (so twee) and in cadence and pacing.

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Review: Take Me with You

Take Me with You Take Me with You by Andrea Gibson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Boulder, Colorado poet Andrea Gibson has been writing about gender, orientation, and social and political LGBTQ issues for more than a decade. Their eminently quotable work first broke onto the scene with poetry slam performances in the early 2000's. "Take Me With You" is a volume of love found and lost poetry that also touches on one of their frequent themes- being, whether the risks of being yourself, of being lost, or of being here. With beautiful ink and gouache illustrations, the book speaks not just to LGBTQ persons but to anyone who has struggled with becoming who they really are, or to those searching, finding, losing love.

Gibson, who also records albums of poetry with music, recently released their latest album, "Hey Galaxy."

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Review: The Night Masquerade

The Night Masquerade The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the action-filled conclusion of the Binti trilogy, Binti finds new sides of herself, interacts with a Night Masquerade, who is a friend, and she is fortunate, multiple times, to have escaped terrible losses. She is haunted by the trauma of past events and experiences new trauma that triggers old trauma. But Binti, being Binti, manages to overcome all of it. Okorafor has given us another colorful entry in the series, with her trademark imaginative people and creatures. So why my 4-star rating?

First, I'd have to be honest that I had a feeling that some aspects of the story are a bit iterative of things covered in the Akata stories. And I'm not just talking about Masquerades, especially because I guess sometimes masquerades can be unmasked in Binti's world. But to me, the thing that bothered me the most in this final Binti book was how jarring the continuing use of the pronoun "it" feels when applied to Okwu, her joined friend, or New Fish, or Oomza Uni's President Haras. This has been a growing issue over the course of the trilogy for me. Using the pronoun "it" for sentient beings feels not just awkward but dehumanizing. And yes, I realize these entities aren't human, and yes, I realize one of them is connected to a hive mind. But that latter fact makes me focus on the idea of the more appropriate use of "they" as a pronoun for an un- or bi-gendered being. Okwu loves Binti in their way and is willing to make sacrifices to protect her. If that is the case, is Okwu really just an "it," like an object? Binti has evolved as a character and found a voice as a master harmonizer. If harmonizers can understand and communicate in many languages with many sentient beings, the pronoun usage issue stands out even more. Sadly, this just got me so hung up by the end that I didn't enjoy the book as much as I hoped.

This is, nevertheless, a good close to a striking trilogy.

I received a paper ARC of this book. Because of my questions about pronoun usage, I delayed my review to release day to examine the final version of the book, which I purchased on Kindle.

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Saturday, January 13, 2018

Review: The Widows of Malabar Hill

The Widows of Malabar Hill The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I received a Digital Review Copy from Edelweiss+ and a paper ARC copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.

4.5 Stars

I thoroughly enjoyed The Widows of Malabar Hill, less for its mystery aspect than for the fascinating insights into the Parsi culture of early 20th Century Bombay/Mumbai. A mystery about the fate of three Muslim widows is the central mystery but the personal history of lawyer/de facto detective Perveen Mistry was more of a draw for me. Massey, an experienced author who enjoys Asian backdrops for her stories has captured many of the things I love about India for the reader, letting us feel the immense differences between India's great cities of Bombay and Calcutta and the differences between gender roles among the various principal faiths in India in the early 1900's.

I'm eagerly looking forward to the next installment in the Perveen Mistry series!

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Monday, January 8, 2018

Review: Robots vs. Fairies

Robots vs. Fairies Robots vs. Fairies by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a Digital Review Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The premise of this anthology is declared in its title. Packed full of work by authors I love, we have short stories and novelette length works by Seanan McGuire, Catherynne Valente, Max Gladstone, Mary Robinette Kowal and many others. Anyone who follows my reviews knows why this anthology, edited by the Hugo, Locus, and Nebula-lauded team of Navah Wolff and Dominik Parisien (The Starlit Wood) caught my eye. Some of the authors in this anthology took the title seriously, albeit in a humorous way, giving us fairies and robots in the same tale. Others have chosen sides and clearly declared allegiance. While all of the stories in the book are well written, the three that have lingered with me are not by authors whose works I have read in the past: Ken Liu, Sarah Gailey and Lavie Tidhar. In that sense, this book is doubly a gift, because now I'm determined to search out more of their works. Ken Liu's Quality Time, with its wonderful interweaving of Tamarian language, was a quiet delight on the side of robots. Sarah Gailey's Bread and Milk and Salt gives us a human more monstrous than the fairy who is obsessed with him. Lavie Tidhar's The Buried Giant is a memorable evocative piece.

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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Review: Food Pharmacy: A Guide to Gut Bacteria, Anti-Inflammatory Foods, and Eating for Health

Food Pharmacy: A Guide to Gut Bacteria, Anti-Inflammatory Foods, and Eating for Health Food Pharmacy: A Guide to Gut Bacteria, Anti-Inflammatory Foods, and Eating for Health by Lina Nertby Aurell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a Digital Review Copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

This is such a quirky book that I have been stumped by rating it. Was it a 4-star book because of the odd dialogues or a 5-star book because of its solid and current information about gut flora, prebiotics, and inflammation? But, the yummy cold potato recipe... Okay, honestly, that one tipped the rating. These Irish genes don't allow for me to abandon potatoes which, as it turns out, are a source of an important prebiotic, resistant starch. Other topics include glycation of protein from cooking at high temperatures* and natural anti-inflammatory foods.

Beyond the cold potato recipe, so important because of its resistant starch, this is a book filled with wise information about healthy eating and trying to minimize inflammation through diet. As many of my readers know, I have celiac disease, an autoimmune disease in which exposure to gluten significantly damages the small intestine, and can cause chronic inflammation, malabsorption, and dysbiosis that impacts your entire digestive tract. Many celiacs suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, as well. Even without an autoimmune disease, your whole GI tract can be unhappy when you have the wrong bacterial microbiome and that unhappiness can cause inflammation, and make you more prone to metabolic syndrome or diabetes type 2.

This book explains in layman's terms how and why to eat better. It's a good starting point for anyone with a New Year's resolution to change the way they eat.

*And on this point, you might want to check out my review of Sous Vide At Home.

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Review: Sous Vide at Home: The Modern Technique for Perfectly Cooked Meals

Sous Vide at Home: The Modern Technique for Perfectly Cooked Meals Sous Vide at Home: The Modern Technique for Perfectly Cooked Meals by Lisa Q. Fetterman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In recent years the number of restaurants offering meats, poultry, seafood and even vegetables cooked sous vide style has noticeably increased. Sous vide ("under vacuum" as a method has been around for quite some time but it's becoming all the rage in upscale restaurants to mention the method that yields rich and never dry dishes. Now that thermal regulators can be purchased for home use for as little as $150, the method is starting to become more popular with home chefs, and my household is among them. One of the lures for those who are conscious of healthy eating is that sous vide cooks food at substantially lower temperatures than routine cooking methods. For instance, with temperatures substantially below 150 F, you can pasteurize an egg and still have a flowing yolk and egg white with which to make that cookie dough or caesar salad dressing you worry about getting salmonella from when using raw egg. Sous vide methods also allow you to cook protein at temperatures well below those at which glycation occurs. (If you want to know why glycation of protein is bad, be sure to read my review of Food Pharmacy .) With proteins slow-cooked under vacuum in a thermoregulated water bath for an hour or two and then only briefly seared to achieve Maillard browning, you cannot find a healthier way to still include protein, especially red meats, in your diet.

Fetterman explains the logic and benefits of the sous vide method and the book is packed full of delicious recipes. I haven't found a bad one in this cookbook yet! I strongly recommend it.

Sous vide prep with the thermoregulator heating the water bath. 
~ Fetterman's Nomiku Instagram

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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Review: I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O'Farrell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a Digital Review Copy of this book from First to Read, along with a paperbound Advance Reader Edition.

4.5 Stars

Maggie O'Farrell's memoir of her brushes with death covers the gamut from listening to that inner voice and avoiding not just disaster but rape and murder to the event that was the inception of her fascination with near-death: suffering an almost fatal bout of encephalitis as a child and having to learn to walk, write and be a normal child again, slowly and gruelingly, over many months in physiotherapy. That chapter, Cerebellum was stunning. From her naughty walkabout days as a younger child to the startling revelation about what parenthood brings to the table when it comes to risking or skirting death's clutches, O'Farrell writes with crystalline prose, recalling the many events in her life that could have gone otherwise. Perhaps her most poignant writing is saved for the brushes with death that her child, who suffers from allergic and immune dysfunction, has endured.

This is a beautiful book with an episodic nature that is similar to that in an anthology, albeit these stories are real. This is a perfect read for that week in which you slowly wend your way through a good book.

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Review: Heart Berries

Heart Berries Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received an Advanced Reader Digital Copy of this book from Edelweiss+, and a paper review copy in addition.

In Sherman Alexie's almost effusive introduction to Terese Marie Mailhot's book Heart Berries he glibly (by his own admission) says that Terese puts the "'original' in aboriginal." He obviously has a lot more experience reading the writings of Native Americans, Indigenous, and First Nations writers than I but I can absolutely concur that her writing is truly original and a voice of heartbreaking authenticity. This book is like a prose poem in places and in others is like a crazy quilt of connections to events in Mailhot's life. Some of the passages in this book were originally intended to be polemic fictional accounts of the lives of First Nations/Native women. But Mailhot, according to a wonderful interview with Joan Naviyuk Kane in an Afterword, says she quickly decloaked and began to strip away any fiction from her narrative. What was left behind is raw, painful, and incredibly brave writing reflecting on relationships, loneliness, parenting or lack thereof, mental illness, abuse of all sorts, and gives us a fierce soul surviving and thriving against what seem like steep odds.

While I understand that Mailhot writes with the paradigm of a First Nations woman, she is also writing about the general human condition, with all our awful mistakes, broken families and illusions, our vulnerabilities, and idiosyncrasies. I'm sure there are going to be some who pick up this book and think that this is going to require some esoteric understanding of Native culture or that this is some chick lit memoir. I'm assuring you it doesn't and it's not. This book is filled with powerful stuff. It's as searing and personal as Rupi Kaur's Milk and Honey but has a unique voice that is often wry and sometimes even just plain hilarious. Just show up. You won't be sorry. Filled with what she calls the ugliness of life (I refuse to think of it as the ugliness of her life), Mailhot has definitely made a honey reduction. I cannot wait to read more of her work in years to come.

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Monday, January 1, 2018

The Plan for 2018

David Krachov - The Book of Life

Last year I read more than 218 books, according to Goodreads. Since this blog started in July, I'm not even sure that count is correct because sometimes I would rate books without entering reading dates. That's a lot of books, and to be perfectly frank, I wasn't always happy with my reading. I accepted so many ARC books and some of them were not of the quality I might have chosen to keep reading before venturing into reviewing. So this year, I'm planning to change things up a bit. Of course, I'll still be trying to snag some of the best and most interesting ARCs I can find to share with other readers. And of course, I'll tell be reviewing Hugo, Locus, and Nebula nominees. But I'm also going to make time to catch up on reading that I've wanted to do for a while (Leigh Bardugo, Sarah J. Maas, Tamora Pierce...) and to bring some classic books to the attention of readers. In the latter category, I've decided that each month I'm going to pick a classic sci-fi book and a classic literary book to read and review. In January, those books are going to be Octavia Butler's Kindred, the first science fiction novel written and published by an African-American woman, and Anne Brontë's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, a novel that pierced the veil of the gender confinement in Victorian English society, which viewed women as chattel, giving us a heroine trying to live independently after the failure of a disastrous marriage. (Anne Brontë's writing is quite different from that of her sisters Charlotte and Emily!) In the meantime, in the coming weeks, I've got some great reads to share- excellent memoirs, the usual mix of sci-fi and fantasy, and of course general and historical fiction.

And, for the first six months of the 2018, each month, Alex of Alex Can Read, Mrs. Allen of Wishful Thinking and I are going to be doing a buddy read of the books of Max Gladstone's Craft Sequence! I'm really excited because I don't think these books have received nearly enough attention (though please note that the whole series was a Hugo Award Series finalist in 2017!) We're going to be blogging about these books across our three blogs and a little bird told me there might be a Craft Sequence nail lacquer collection coming out in the early summer.

What classic works would you suggest I read for review? Give me a shout out here, or on Facebook or Twitter to share your thoughts!

Wishing you a happy, healthy 2018, with lots and lots of great books.

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