Monday, April 30, 2018

Review: Song of Blood & Stone

Song of Blood & Stone Song of Blood & Stone by L. Penelope
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Song of Blood and Stone was originally an indie publication in 2015 at a much shorter length (around 260 pages). After it was picked up by St. Martin's Press, it was built out into a fuller novel, now around 380 pages) and given a beautiful graphical treatment with a gorgeous cover, a map and chapter header images that match the folklore quotes that begin each chapter. I wish the book had a clearer tone, however. It seeks to balance many elements, and the result didn't resonate with me as a reader.

Set in a fantasy world in which the neighboring regions of Elsira and Lagrimar are separated by a magical mantle over a mountainous region, we find they are separated by more than just magic and mountains. They are separated by skill and by race. In Elsira, dark-skinned people and those with magic (Earthsingers) are regarded with suspicion. In Lagrimar, dark-skinned people are the norm and though the people often had Earthsongs, they are expected to surrender their magic to the True Father, something of a fanatical dictator, in tribute. The world has a Western and steampunkish feel in some ways, there are telephones and airships and radios, but these are early versions of all these. But there is also the fairy-tale palace with a handsome prince garbed in jewels and robes of office.

Jasminda ul-Sarifor, our heroine, is a kindhearted Earthsinger. Descended from a Lagrimari father and an Elsiran mother, she is dark-skinned like the Lagrimari and has only weak to average Earthsong, unlike her father, now missing, who was a strong Earthsinger. Jasminda's mother died years before and her father and brothers went looking for something in the mountains around their valley and never came home. (Those would be the same mountains separating Elsira and Lagrimar.) The story opens with Jasminda receiving a letter from her maternal grandfather, who is offering her a small fortune to disavow all relationship to his family, including her now-dead mother, because he is running for political office in Elsira and doesn't want the embarrassment of having to explain his beautiful black granddaughter to anyone during the campaign or after. Conveniently, the Elsiran tax bureau had only recently detected that Jasminda's family home, in a small valley ringed by mountains, hasn't been on the tax rolls and they are now demanding a fortune back taxes, 20,000 pieces or the property will be put up for auction. Jasminda, who is eking out a living as a goat farmer and who has no money to her name other than the pittance she makes selling her Earthsong blessed salves and balms, is sorely tempted to take her grandfather's offer of 40,000 pieces. As she struggles with her decision while walking home from the nearest town's post office, she encounters a wounded man on the roadside. He is fleeing Lagrimari troops, who have pursued him into Elsira to return him to Lagrimar. Jack is an Elsiran spy, sung to look dark-skinned when in fact a typical fair-skinned redheaded Elsiran. The magic wore off, he was outed as a spy and injured during his escape. The encounter culminates, after a bit of a wind in the road, with Jasminda holed up in her cabin with six Lagrimari soldiers, and Jack, as they weather a storm. Jasminda is almost raped, she is rescued by Jack, four of six soldiers are wounded or killed and Jack and Jasminda escape. Thus, a romance is born.

The tropes are strong with this one, readers. For Jack is more powerful than he seems to be, thanks to the untimely airship accident that kills his half-brother. He will rescue Jasminda several times, just as she rescued him at the start of the story. Jasminda is called upon to rise above her weak Earthsong. The embattled history of Elsira and Lagrimar is explained to her in visions. A queen rises. Peace is sought and found. All in a pastiche magical world that has a Western feel but elements of Sub-Saharan African folklore in chapter headers and a heroine with a North African sounding name. There are also the issues of the race relations and the interracial relationship, which feel unsophisticated in their handling at times, though a revelation at the end of the book was at least a positive point. A romance and fantasy mixed-genre can always risk predictability, and from the outset of the book you know that Jasminda and Jack will be "together after adversity." What I didn't feel was a depth in this novel. Penelope has pulled together a pastiche of elements any one or two of which might have been enough to build a novel around. But by mixing so many elements together and not building any of them out fully, I felt I was reading disparate things sewn into a crazy quilt. It's warm but it isn't well-turned out. The folklore quotes at the head of each chapter sometimes foretell events in a chapter but many times the allusion to the events is so liminal as to be invisible. I compare similar use in books by say, Nnedi Okorafor, and feel interested that Penelope wanted to give us these quotes and parables but wonder why she didn't develop more with their actual relationship to Jasminda's world and the Elsiran and Lagrimari culture? Honestly, there were times in this book where I felt like I was reading a Disney Princess met Firefly Joss Whedon mashup.

All in all, I'm not sorry I picked up Song of Blood and Earth, and I'd probably make an effort to read the next book in the Earthsinger Chronicles to see where Penelope goes from here. Rewriting a first novel for a mainstream publisher can be a challenge, so it's possible that in a brand new second book, Penelope will have greater freedom in developing the story of Jasminda further. I'll look forward to that.

I received a Digital Review Copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Craft Sequence Buddy Read Book Four: Last First Snow, Review and Discussion

Elayne Kevarian by CoolCurry.
I need more Elayne images. There are so few. 
And NO bookcovers with Elayne. Why Tor, why?

So here we are at our fourth Max Gladstone's The Craft Sequence Buddy Read, for Last First Snow.  In a long glance back in time, we learn more about Elayne, about Caleb Altemoc's father Temoc Almotil and about the King in Red. First, let me offer you my review of this entry and then we can get to our Buddy Read Discussion where Alex, Jenni and I debate just how awful the King in Red is, why Elayne isn't on this book's cover (Boo!) and whether becoming Deathless is all that hot an idea.

Last First Snow
Last First Snow by Max Gladstone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The fourth entry in The Craft Sequence series takes a big step back in time and gives the earliest part of the Craft chronology, during a period called the Skittersill Uprising. We find ourselves in Dresediel Lex, with the King in Red, an investor named Tan Batac, and my favorite Craftswoman, Elayne Kevarian, trying to broker a deal for the gentrification of a run-down area of the city, the Skittersill. As is the usual issue with gentrification, there are poor people living in the Skittersill. They have lived there for generations and they can afford to live there. They don't want to leave. Their chosen leader and negotiator is Temoc Almotil, a familiar face from book two, Two Serpents Rise. We meet Temoc's wife Mina, and see a six-year-old Caleb, already an avid card player. But most of all, we see much more of Elayne, including her interior life. It's a life full of questions about the long-term effects of Craft on a person. Does Elayne want to become like Kopil, the King in Red? All I can say is, let's hope not.

The account of the Skittersill Uprising forms an excellent entry in the Craft series but a frustrating one in that characters I already wasn't too fond of (the King in Red, Temoc) are rendered in full light of day in ways that make me like them even less. The interplay between corporate greed, belief systems, and support of the marginalized is deftly handled by Gladstone. Although I like this actual story less than any of the prior Craft books, I love this story for what it tells us about Elayne Kevarian. As I asked my friends in the Buddy Read, why is Temoc on the cover of this book and not Elayne? She is the one true thing, the one good thing, railing against the injustices of the Skittersill situation. Testosterone clashes between a male skeleton and an unsteady Eagle Knight almost crush the people of the Skittersill. Elayne, the common thread through all the Craft books, is the one person of immense power who still seems to have a conscience and who shields them.

The first part of our Buddy Read is on Alex's Blog, Alex Can Read right here. I'm hosting part two of the discussion, below. Just remember there are HUGE SPOILERS in our discussions. With no further adieu...

Part Two: Alex, Jenni and Marzie's Buddy Read Discussion of Last First Snow

Marzie:  Alright, alright... Geez. So I found the topic of gentrification to be another of Max’s interesting and insightful issues in these books. The plight of Skittersill is one that has played out in the US and places with megacities like Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, and Kolkata, where corporate interests are always trying to recover land for development, evicting the poor who have lived there for generations.

Alex: I had a hard time understanding gentrification as a concept before reading this book. I understood the theory, but not how it would look and play out. Last First Snow really helped me understand how it would affect people.

Jenni:  Guess you’ve never been priced out of the area you grew up in, huh?

Alex: Well, no. I couldn’t wait to leave where I grew up, and I am just at the start of my adult life.

Jenni:  I grew up in a town that’s gone from 50,000 residents to 150,000 residents in the past 30 years, and the cost of living has ballooned. I make a decent living and feel lucky to be able to afford to live here now.

Alex: I am feeling it now. Living in the Seattle area, I managed to buy a house with a lot of luck and a hope and a dream - but I honestly didn’t expect it to happen for another decade because of the cost of living here.

Marzie:  Max is also very good at explaining how unscrupulous the process of gentrification can be. It’s not a clean process of pricing people out of their living arrangements, however, humble those living arrangements may be. They are people's homes.

Jenni:  Pricing people out of their living arrangements is never clean.

Marzie:  I think it was clearly also strategic to affect these people. They were the rebellion, and still god-worshipping. The King in Red despises them. So it isn’t like Red King Consolidated and the others said here’s a bunch of money, let us buy your land and build something you can’t afford. It was obvious that a lot of dwellings were going to be conveniently rendered substandard, by hook or crook.

Jenni:  They didn’t even have to be rendered so. The crooks already owned the area; they just couldn’t unload it because of the insurance issue. As soon as the land could be sold, the tenants could just be evicted.

Marzie:  I think that Temoc agreed to the slimmest of protections.

Jenni:  (You really want him to be a bad guy, don’t you?)

Marzie:  What did he agree to that was so awesome? I think he had moments of really enjoying being the big man for his people.

Jenni:  That fact that he was able to even bring all those people to the table and get ANY kind of compromise hammered out was pretty awesome.

Marzie:  Who brought those people to the table? ELAYNE.

Jenni:  No, Elayne created the opportunity. None of the Skittersill people would have come to negotiate without Temoc.

Marzie:  No, Elayne sought out Temoc at the beginning. She knew she needed him at that table along with what he could bring- his followers.

Jenni:  I’m surprised that you don’t trust Elayne’s judgement more. She’s saved Temoc - twice. She must see something redeeming in him. (That said, I still want to strangle him. He’s not off the hook in my book, but for different reasons that you, I think.)

Marzie:  Either that or she doesn’t want to feel she was wrong to have saved him the first time. That could be a powerful factor here. And if we are on the subject of trusting Elayne, Elayne likes Mina. Why do you despise Mina since Elayne seems to think highly of her.

Alex: I think it was a mix of both of those things.

Jenni:  Oh, I like Mina. Doesn’t mean I think she was blameless, or that I didn’t want to strangle her, too...

Alex: Overall, it was a pretty awful situation. Max sure makes it easy to think lawyers and businesses are never to be trusted.

Marzie:  Which is funny since his wife Stephanie is a lawyer, right?

Alex: It’s hilarious!

Marzie:  So what other thoughts do we have about how this book fits into the overarching series thus far?

Alex: I think it adds a lot of context for Two Serpents Rise and The King in Red’s response in that book, as well as give us more insight into Caleb and Temoc’s relationship.

Jenni:  I think it paints the God Wars in a much more morally dubious light than they’ve been previously presented.

Marzie:  A very brutal light.

Alex: I really want to wait a couple of years and then come back and reread the books in chronological order, to see how the experience is different reading this and then moving into Two Serpents Rise.

Marzie:  Another question I have for Max is whether some of this world was already outlined with these events sketched out in all the various locations when he wrote Three Parts Dead.

Alex: I would be really curious to see how much of the series he had outlined when he wrote Three Parts Dead. This seems like a series that you couldn’t write successfully without carefully plotting ahead.

Jenni:  Is he a plotter or a pantser? ;-)

Marzie:  Some authors really get annoyed with the plotter vs. pantser thing nowadays. I’m trying to remember who it was that was ranting about that recently...

Jenni:  Really, how odd. It’s just a question of working style. Although I suppose people probably get theological about it. Or imply that one way is morally superior...

Marzie:  For some authors, there are no simple questions about writing anymore. Sigh.

Marzie:  So about the issue of the overarching series, does it seem like this fantasy world cannot function without a balance between the gods and Deathless Kings?

Jenni:  I don’t think it’s that it couldn’t, but more that the two systems serve as a form of checks and balances against each other. When one system is utterly ascendant, there’s nothing to check the power (and its abuse) by either gods or Deathless Kings.

Marzie:  The checks and balances idea is an interesting one. I could make analogies to our present government, but I might become despondent.

Jenni:  How very true...

Alex: I would be interested to see in a future book if there is a culture in this world that doesn’t have the gods present anywhere. Every place we’ve seen has had the gods in one form or another.

Marzie:  So you’re looking for a de novo Craft world culture that is secular at a minimum or atheistic?

Alex: Well, not a Denovo culture. ;) Kavekana was the closest to an atheistic culture we’ve seen, but even they were “waiting for their gods to return.”

Marzie:  GROANS. Bad puns, bad Alex. I didn’t really feel Kakevana was even close to atheistic, though.

Alex: That’s kind of what I’m saying - we haven’t seen a fully athiest culture. Though I’m not sure that we CAN have one, the way the gods and religion is tied to the economy.

Marzie:  I wonder if Max can’t envision a world culture in which faith has played no role. I am not sure that one exists even now in our world.

Jenni:  It seems like it would be a little hard to be a full-on atheist when you know for a fact that gods exist.

Alex: Agnostic then. One where the culture doesn’t have religious ritual at the core.

Jenni:  If you supplant religious ritual with commercial/legalistic ritual, is there really a difference? It seems semantic to me.

Marzie:  I’m with Jen. And I was really kind of stunned when Elayne reached out for the gods. 

Jenni:  I don’t think she reached for HIS gods. I don’t think she reached for anything she knew how to define. I think she reached for anything that would hear her, and was shocked when she got a response. The Mystery of the Voice!

Marzie:  Yes, I just reread that and you’re right. She reached for "something," and that something spoke back to her.

Alex: Ehh, I have a hard time being surprised that someone responded. In a world where gods are obviously real, and there are tons and tons of them.

Jenni:  Oh, I’m not surprised that someone responded, I just think Elayne was!

Marzie:  Yes, she was. I wonder if that will be explored further later?

Jenni:  I certainly hope so! It was one of the most intriguing things that happened in the book!
Marzie:  I’m always intrigued by Elayne-related things.

Jenni:  She seems such an unlikely Craftwoman. Like she doesn’t fit the mold it keeps trying to force her into. She keeps on remaining stubbornly human and compassionate, against all odds.

Marzie:  I think she was a reactionary Craftwoman when she was young because they tried to kill her in her village. She seems so much wiser than many of the others and still… a person, a human being of sorts.

Alex: She is the central thread tying all five books together!

Marzie:  Which is why she should get a damn COVER.

Alex: Do we have any final thoughts?

Marzie:  This book makes me question the whole plan to become Deathless, okay?

Jenni:  Kopil is NOT a good salesman for the condition...

Alex: I think Elayne is questioning that as well. She does seem to like her fleshsuit a lot.

Marzie:  I want to see her stop short of that, even if it means real death. She’d be giving up too much of her essential nature if she becomes anything like Kopil.

Jenni:  I very much agree.

Alex: This is an important book for context in the series, but ultimately is my least favorite. I am looking forward to Four Roads Cross. It’s been long enough since I read it last that I don’t remember what it’s about AT ALL!

Marzie:  Actually me either, as I read it in my Hugo haze last year.

Jenni:  I definitely don’t “remember.” ;-)

Marzie:  LOL! Thanks so much for sharing with us Jenni!

Jenni:  My pleasure!

Thanks for joining us! Next month we are reading book five, Four Roads Cross, where we reconnect with Tara Abernathy and a handsome gargoyle named Shale.

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Review: Only Human

Only Human Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the conclusion of Sylvain Neuvel's action-packed Themis Files trilogy we jump forward in time, almost ten years after the conclusion of Waking Gods, when Dr. Rose Franklin, Vincent Couture, his daughter Eva, and General Eugene Govender were abruptly whisked away on Themis, while celebrating aboard Themis, after seemingly stopping the alien annihilation of the citizens of earth who possessed alien blood. The book opens with a prologue shock. Two American pilots are controlling an abandoned giant, named Lapetus and they are using it to take control of Libya. This, as it turns out, has been status quo. America now controls North America and various other locations around the world. As we will later see, some other countries have gone the land-grab route, too. In Chapter 1, Rose, Vincent, and Eva are returning to earth from the alien planet Esat Ekt (the Home of the Ekt) with the aid of a young alien named Ekim. As we will later find out, in order to return his daughter to earth, Vincent has made terrible moral decisions. And as a result, Eva is not happy.

Cutting rapidly back and forth between their logs of life on Esat Ekt and dealing with the seeming mindboggling bureaucracy of the Ekt people, over the course of the book, although we seem to learn relatively little about the Ekt in a snazzy "let's show aliens!" kind of way, we learn a lot about their way of life and their tendencies, just like their earth relatives, toward discrimination and prejudice. In a seeming democracy, which Rose doesn't initially assess as clearly as Vincent and Eva, some people on Esat Ekt are disenfranchised due to lack of racial purity. It sounds all too familiar... But in spite of this, when Rose, Eva, and Vincent return to earth they are taken aback to find that a decade has wrought horrible changes on our planet. As Rose says, people are being "willfully stupid," ignoring scientific findings for the sake of comfort when marginalizing and doing active harm to a fraction of the population deemed unfit. "Our entire race is trying to lobotomize itself." These perceptions of Earth come deep in the book, and are discussed with a character that I had wrongly assumed died in Waking Gods but who, it turns out, survived, has been interred, and is then saved by none other than the dreadful Alyssa Papantoniou. Yes, I used the word interred. Earth has become a very frightened and frightening place after the alien attack. And as a result, your perceptions of someone like Alyssa may change, as well.

The battle that at the core of Only Human deals with the battle to (re?)gain some sense of an evolved human zeitgeist. While there are things I can quibble with in this book, such as the sketchy business of how Ekim is handled as a character, and the Ekt ultimate solution, which is little better than what's been going on, this is still, an interesting conclusion to the Themis trilogy.

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

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Friday, April 27, 2018

Review: I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land

I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land by Connie Willis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars, rounded up because of Booklove.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert... near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed;

And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings;
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

~ Percy Bysshe Shelley

It's an odd thing to begin a review with a sonnet, but therein, you get insight into the theme of this book: things that are lost, forgotten by time. Willis offers us a story about books and bookstores and searching for things you've lost. This novella is built on an interesting kernel of an idea but honestly, I felt it might have been better edited at novelette or even short story length. The last twenty-five pages of Jim's searching for what he couldn't find seemed to stretch as long as the corridors of Ozymandias Books. That said, I enjoyed the novella in spite of this, and found myself with the desire to run my fingers over the spines of all my childhood books that I still have, and whisper that they, unlike Ambush in Apache Canyon are not yet lost to time.

I received a Digital Review Copy of this book from the kind folks at Subterranean Press via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

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Thursday, April 26, 2018

Review: Two Low FODMAP diet cookbooks.

I am closing out this week's cookbook extravaganza with two excellent cookbooks for those seeking to follow a Low FODMAP diet. As some of my readers know, I have celiac disease. I also am blessed with IBD (irritable bowel disease) problems, and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), sort of equivocally due to SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). Yeah, it sounds like TMI but you know what? These are some incredibly common issues for people of all ages, from infants to nonagenarians. About three months ago, after a particularly painful bout of IBS, it was suggested I try the low-FODMAP diet. And oy, is this a complicated diet. It makes the simplicity of avoiding overt gluten (versus kitchen contamination gluten, a serious issue when eating out) look positively alluring.

What are FODMAPs? They are a type of carbohydrate that falls into the class of fermentable oligo- di- and monosaccharides and polyols. Unfortunately, if you are looking for a quick list, like gluten free's mandate to avoid wheat, barley, rye, spelt, triticale, farro, and malt, you should prepare to be sadly disappointed. I can, in the strongest possible terms, recommend that if you decide with your physician to go on this diet that you get Monash University's FODMAP app for your smartphone. You have to pay for it. It's expensive for an app. But it is the best and most up to date information on FODMAP content in food that you are going to find. It's the best thing to have in your hand when you are in the grocery store and can't remember if apples are bad and blueberries okay.

The Low-FODMAP Diet Step by Step: A Personalized Plan to Relieve the Symptoms of IBS and Other Digestive Disorders--with More Than 130 Deliciously Satisfying Recipes   The Low-FODMAP Diet Step by Step: A Personalized Plan to Relieve the Symptoms of IBS and Other Digestive Disorders--with More Than 130 Deliciously Satisfying Recipes by Kate Scarlata
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As anyone exploring the FODMAP diet will find, figuring out how to cook low FODMAP meals is going to take a change of pace, a huge amount of label scrutiny, and some tricks of the trade. Enter Kate Scarlata's fabulous book. Scarlata is a Registered Dietician and she is thoroughly versed in GI issues like Celiac Disease, IBD, SIBO, and GERD. (And that is in stark contrast to a book I one-starred earlier this week where an author (who was not a similarly trained dietician) blithely said that people eating a low FODMAP diet don't have problems with gluten. It is quite possible to have problems with gluten (a protein) and with FODMAPs (a class of fermentable carbohydrates). I am standing here waving to you as an example.) One of the things to love about Scarlata's books is her comprehensive explanations and recipes that are very clearly labeled for those eating Vegan, Vegetarian, Gluten-Free and Dairy Free diets. She also tells you if the recipes are quick or easy. All of the recipes I have tried in this cookbook have been excellent.

The heart of this book lies in her explanations of how to prepare your kitchen for eating a low FODMAP diet. Because the toughest thing you are going to find about this diet is that eating low FODMAP means eating no onions and no garlic. And those two things are in SO MANY prepared foods, sauces, etc. There are tricks to still gaining the flavor of onion and garlic, though.

This book is my favorite resource for the low FODMAP diet. Scarlata makes it as straightforward and easy for you as a complex issue can be. It's a longer book, about 400 pages, so it lives on my iPad mini, which probably has spatters of shallot infused olive oil on it.

If you are looking for a second FODMAP cookbook, or a slimmer but equally informative volume, look no further than...

Healthy Gut, Flat Stomach: Low-FODMAP Recipes for Better DigestionHealthy Gut, Flat Stomach: Low-FODMAP Recipes for Better Digestion by Danielle Capalino
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars

This cookbook is a very good addition to your Low FODMAP resources if you are looking beyond Kate Scarlata's excellent and thorough The Low FODMAP Diet Step by Step. (As Capalino points out herself, Scarlata is one of the leaders in the Low FODMAP field.)

One of the things that I like about this book is the way Capalino, also a Registered Dietician like Scarlata, supplies you with very explicit serving sizes. And she offers case studies to prove her point as to why you should pay attention to your dietician's advice on content and portion size. For instance, for many fruits, if you have too much, will put you over a safe low-FODMAP threshold. (This is truly one of my great downfalls in low FODMAP eating. Portion size. (And that's not even getting into the fruits you can't have at all on this diet. Goodbye apples, I'll miss you.) Capalino offers up recipes for many favorites I can no longer buy in the grocery store, like hummus, baba ghanoush, pesto, miso, and so many things that you'll be shocked to find in the grocery store have onion and garlic in them. Ditto on spice mixes. These things are easy to make and they actually taste better fresh. While one of the most common grumbles about the low FODMAP diet is that you have to make things from scratch, taking the time and buying fresh ingredients actually puts the focus on your food and makes you aware of how you feel after eating food that is better for your gut.

Capalino's book is the one I keep in my phone's Kindle reader. I look through it when I'm shopping and trying to come up with meal plans. Its shorter length (less than 200 pages) makes it easier to sort through on the fly.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Review: All Systems Red

All Systems Red All Systems Red by Martha Wells
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Martha Wells has given us a mixed organic and synthetic 'droid with a self-deprecating sensibility and a deliberately disabled governor unit, allowing them the freedom to ditch the annoying extraneous info and spend their time watching endless episodes (as the story begins they're on episode 397 of The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon) of their current serial. Labeled a SecUnit, the self-titled MurderBot, is the security, safety and surveillance unit assigned to safeguard corporate property and the fools who rent such cheaply maintained HubSystems. Murderbot has to wake up a bit because their current mission has gone very wrong. Maps segments are missing, there are treacherous large predators that were left out of their survey safety information and another group's HubSystem, DeltFall, appears to have gone offline. Against this backdrop, we're introduced to this first novella in the MurderBot diaries, a series about a very interesting android.

I really enjoyed this first novella in the series. I'm reviewing the Audible version because I blasted through the ebook right before the Hugo nominations closed and wanted to reread since I am reviewing my ARC copy of book two, Artificial Condition in the coming week.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Review: Eat a Little Better: Great Flavor, Good Health, Better World

Eat a Little Better: Great Flavor, Good Health, Better World Eat a Little Better: Great Flavor, Good Health, Better World by Sam Kass
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars

This is Part 3 of today's food and cookbook extravaganza! Stop back Thursday for two more cookbooks- on the FODMAP diet recommended for those with IBS, MCTD with GI features, and Crohn's Disease.

"Don't count calories. Make calories count."

This is a beautiful looking and well laid out cookbook by the chef and senior food policy advisor to Barack and Michelle Obama. This is a book about mindful cooking and eating.

As a book about food, the emphasis is on food that is healthful and flavorful. The first 50 pages of the book discuss food and how to eat better and how to avoid waste while being a better judge of what you can use when you cook. (If you make broth, all those stalks and stems can go in broth. If you don't, compost!) Additionally, the spirit of eating what's in season is emphasized. And of course, buying locally and buying fresh, and organic if you can. Kass has some great things to say about calorie counting, essentially saying counting calories isn't as important about making the calories you eat count for something by not wasting calories on empty food. If you eat nutrient-rich foods, you are more likely to achieve satiety sooner.

As a cookbook, this is an extremely approachable book with simple recipes that I would say a responsible teen could make for their family. These are not complicated recipes. The ones I've tried have all be clear and well-explained. (Braised chicken was particularly yummy, once adapted for the low FODMAP diet.) It's rare to see a recipe with more than 6-8 ingredients in this cookbook. And that is kind of Kass's point. Fresh, flavorful food, well-cooked and properly seasoned, doesn't need a lot of "stuff" to make it enticing.

This book is a great resource for teaching our teens and young adults how to eat better, and ultimately, how to live better, too.

I received a hardcover copy of this book from Blogging for Books, their last offering before closing down. :(

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Review: The Kefir Cookbook: An Ancient Healing Superfood for Modern Life, Recipes from My Family Table and Around the World

The Kefir Cookbook: An Ancient Healing Superfood for Modern Life, Recipes from My Family Table and Around the World The Kefir Cookbook: An Ancient Healing Superfood for Modern Life, Recipes from My Family Table and Around the World by Julie Smolyansky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is Part 2 of today's food science and cookbook extravaganza!

Last year I reviewed a book on Probiotic Beverages by Felicity Evans about six weeks after I started making my own goat milk (different type of casein and lower lactose) kefir from scratch. Making kefir was easy. But staying on top of production at the consumption end, ah, that was a challenge. With only two of us in this house, adding kefir to recipes was a natural way to make sure we didn't waste any kefir. Enter this cookbook!

I have now tried a variety of recipes from this book, which is about as thorough a book on kefir as I can imagine. Smolyansky provides a huge array of recipes, from other ways to use your kefir (butter to cheese) to breakfast, baked goods, smoothies, salads, and dressings, in soups (in lieu of cream), small plates, entrees, and desserts. (YUM). Every recipe that I have tried (some have to be adapted for my gluten-free diet) was delicious and goat milk-kefir is one way that I can indulge in my butter chicken fantasy without having regular dairy. I use ghee on the rice and chicken but my kefir adds the right touch of creaminess. (I have to further adapt this recipe to be low FODMAP but it's doable and still yummy!

If you are looking for a great and affordable way to get a wide spectrum of probiotics in your diet, kefir is the way! And this book will teach you how to enrich your meals with those probiotics. A great find for those seeking to improve their gut microbiome.

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

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