Monday, June 17, 2019

Review: The Chef's Secret

The Chef's Secret The Chef's Secret by Crystal King
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars

A delicious historical mystery set in Rome, largely in 1577, we follow Giovanni Scappi as he seeks to unravel the history of his purported uncle, Bartolomeo Scappi, chef to several popes. Left his uncle's estate and several mysterious strongboxes, we follow in Gio's path as he discovers love, murder, and his uncle's passionate history. Scappi, a real figure whose cookbook "Opera dell'arte del cucinare" was published in 1570, was perhaps the most famous chef before the modern era. Cutting back and forth between Bartolomeo's past and Gio's present, King does a wonderful job of world-building, though the pace of the story was a bit uneven to me. Nevertheless, a very enjoyable read.

An excellent audiobook.

Interested readers can find some of Scappi's delightful recipes adapted for modern cooks at the Dutch blog Coquinaria (just search for Scappi), including this one, Tortelli(ni) en brodo, here. (Broth is everything!)

(Image credit: Coquinaria)

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

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Review: The Beginner's Guide to Raising Chickens: How to Raise a Happy Backyard Flock

The Beginner's Guide to Raising Chickens: How to Raise a Happy Backyard Flock The Beginner's Guide to Raising Chickens: How to Raise a Happy Backyard Flock by Anne Kuo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My longtime readers know about my love of chickens and some even know about the current delay of my New Hampshire Chickens Plan, due to the presence of Mama Fox, her two kits, and two feisty raccoons, Roxy and Hissy, frequently out during the daytime hours in my backyard. (Insert image of Edvard Munch's scream here.) Nevertheless, I'm still planning for chickens, and while not as detailed ask some of Chicken Chick Kathy Shea Mormino's books, this is a great starter book for families wanting to raise chickens. It's packed full of advice in a very accessible format. I can heartily recommend it for anyone considering chickens as pets, or part of an integrated pest management program (they will eat ticks!). There's a bunch of simple and practical advice about building a coop, making it secure, and where precisely to locate it to prevent your chickens' being exposed to excessive damp or heat. That is your first and most important step, other than assuring you know how to select healthy chicks, and how to keep them healthy.

Here's that image relating to foxes and raccoons and how they can impact your chicken safety plan...

I received a Digital Review Copy of this book from Callisto Media via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

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Thursday, June 6, 2019

Review: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received the review copy of this book several months ago but, within the first few pages, I was so distressed for its protagonist that I had to set the book aside. I had been drawn to it both by the pack horse librarian aspect of the story but also because I have a friend from Kentucky who knew a blue person, likely from the original Fugate family.(1) All in all, it sounded like a fascinating book of historical fiction, and it is, but reader, it is an emotionally grueling read. Still, I'm glad I read it and can only recommend it. But expect heartbreak, even though the ending is very hopeful.

Logically, I suppose one can always equate the color of one's skin with one's genes and skin color is something we can seldom change and, at least to me, the whole concept of race is a stupid construct that says nothing about a person other than whether they're more prone to getting melanoma or something. The blue people of Kentucky were counted as black, and in the Depression-era Deep South, you can imagine how most black people were treated. With that in mind, cast your mind to the isolated hollers of Kentucky, where areas like Troublesome Creek were insular, hard to reach, with high levels of illiteracy. Books and school were often a luxury. The pack horse librarians, who worked for the Pack Horse Library Project funded by the WPA (Works Progress Administration), were a favorite project of Eleanor Roosevelt.(2,3)

Nineteen-year-old Cussy Mary Carter, daughter of a slowly dying coal miner, is an unforgettable heroine who sees the power of books, of literacy, to broaden people's minds, offer the solace of escape, keys to a better life, and hope for a better future. She's a brave, kind, and transcendent figure in this story. There is nothing easy in this story, however. Be prepared to cry. A lot. But read it. Really. It's worth it.

The audiobook is beautifully narrated by Katie Schorr.

(1) Read more about the Blue People here, from a reprint of a Science article.

(2) You can hear a bit more about the Pack Horse Library Project on this NPR episode here.

3) A Smithsonian article for your further reading.

Content Warnings: rape, attempted rape, domestic violence, racist violence, child deaths, suicide, animal abuse.

I received a Digital Review Copy and a paper review copy of this book from Sourcebooks via Net Galley, in exchange for an honest review.

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Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Review: We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time

We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time by José Andrés
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We Fed an Island is famous Chef José Andrés' account of feeding the hurricane survivors of Puerto Rico in the weeks and months following Hurricane Irma and Maria's devastation of this US Territory. Unabashedly critical of the Federal Emergency Management Administration's handling of aid to the island and other US soil disasters, Andrés sings the praises of organizations which are largely unheralded providers, like the Southern Baptist Convention, of mass-scale aid. He's learned from more than a decade of providing relief and observing other organizations much that became vital in aiding our citizens in Puerto Rico.

When Andrés first arrived five days after Hurricane Maria, he managed to serve 1000 meals a day (stew and sandwiches) from a friend's restaurant. As he grasped the extent of the evolving disaster, he refused to listen to naysayers, and gradually managed through a network of local providers and his wide range of contacts to build an operation on Puerto Rico that was feeding 150,000 people a day at its height. This is a compelling story made even more engaging by Andrés' heart-felt narration of the audiobook. Regardless of your political leaning, this kind, caring man has provided sustenance in times of need for countless people. He's proven that mass scale delivery of food and water is possible and has lessons to share about how it can best be accomplished.

Andrés' World Central Kitchen continues to provide aid to the island in the form of grants for rebuilding. WCK was also on the ground in Houston after Hurricane Harvey, in California after the wildfire, and has served meals and created food delivery networks after disasters in seven countries.

We Fed an Island was my non-fiction read for the blog for the month of May. (Sigh, yes, I know, late again, but getting better!)

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Review: The Soul of Power

The Soul of Power The Soul of Power by Callie Bates
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Callie Bates' Waking Land trilogy has been an unusual one in that each volume has explored a different POV character in the triumvirate that promises peace and security for the future of Eren and Caeris. In the first book, The Waking Land we meet Elana Valtai, the Caveadear (Steward of the Land) who will wake the land in the strained nations of Eren and Caeris. Elanna comes to terms with her power, a theme that is central to this trilogy. In the second novel, The Memory of Fire we see Elanna's lover Jahan facing the trauma of his childhood and teen years at the hands of a brutal witch who seeks to make him resistant to the anti-magical methods of the powerful kingdom of Paladis. Jahan, too, must embrace his power and forge a path for what he believes in and the woman he loves. The third person in this trilogy is Sophy Dunbarron, a young woman raised by Elanna's family, who ascends to the throne though she is not legitimately born, is young, unmarried, pregnant, and not too sure that she can do what she's been raised to do. The challenges facing Sophy are real and are only worsened when Elanna (in events covered in The Memory of Fire) is kidnapped by witch hunters and taken to Paladis. How is she to make peace in Eren and Caeris and how can she lead when so many of her subjects doubt her right or her ability to do so?

The Soul of Power is mostly devoted to Sophy finding a way to make peace and progress in her two countries, and how to help her people as magic seems to be sprouting up everywhere now that Elanna has awakened the land (before she was snatched). Once again, as with Elanna and Jahan, Sophy struggles until she fully embraces her role and her right to a partner of her choosing.

Bates' writing has grown in depth and complexity over the course of the three books. This third novel is the most polished of the three novels. Also, I enjoyed Sophy's story, in part because of how relatable she is. She's not bestowed with amazing magical abilities like Elanna and Jahan, but she recognizes her power and her responsibility to her people.

Emily Woo Zeller, an excellent voice talent, narrates the audiobook.

I received an Advance Review Copy of this book, along with a Digital Review Copy, from DelRey in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Fire Opal Mechanism

The Fire Opal Mechanism The Fire Opal Mechanism by Fran Wilde
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars bumped because I just love the underlying message here.

Fran Wilde's second book in the Gemworld series takes place long after the events of her Hugo Award-nominated novelette, The Jewel and Her Lapidary. Set in the Far Reaches, we see a treacherous time where the nature of knowledge itself is explored. Ania, a librarian, working in a university library, is struggling against losing odds to safeguard her books from being destroyed and churned into pulp by a group called the Pressman who make them into the self-updating Universal Compendiums of Knowledge. Professors and students are bullied into joining the Pressman or have their minds altered if they resist. Jorit, a thief who encounters Ania in the library while trying to escape the Pressmen and steal a few books herself, flees with Ania into another era via a clock running with the titular fire opal mechanism, which permits time travel. Of course, traveling in time allows them to set things right. And if Ania and Jorit have a jewel what if there are other jewels out there. What if that's how the Pressman are updating their Compendium, they wonder?

The Fire Opal Mechanism offers some interesting thoughts on freedom of information, and about what is lost when we have knowledge without context. The Pressmen are clearly analogous to the firemen of Fahrenheit 451, collecting books to destroy and redistributing "knowledge" in a continuously updating format that is not unlike the "parlor walls" in Bradbury's novel. The obvious risks of curated knowledge, of knowledge as information without context, and of limiting information that, au courant, is unpopular or out of favor, strikes the heart of an era of fake news, media distortion of information, and governments that limit scientific discussion or offer textbooks that rewrite history changing the reasons that led to civil war.

I received an Advance Review Copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Sunday, June 2, 2019

Review: Magic for Liars

Magic for Liars Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If Alice Hoffman and JK Rowling had a novel lovechild, that book might be Hugo Award-winning writer Sarah Gailey's novel debut, Magic for Liars. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

When we first meet Ivy Gamble, she's busy being mugged and getting slashed accidentally in the arm by her clumsy mugger's knife. Her day only goes downhill from there. That's really saying something considering she gets hired for the biggest paycheck job of her career as a private investigator. The job comes with all sorts of feelings.

Set mainly at a magical high school called Osthorne Academy in Northern California, we see Ivy trying to solve a strange murder case that's already been investigated by the National Mage Investigative Service, i.e., the magical police. She's hired, in spite of their findings, by Osthorne's headmaster, Marion Torres. The job is further complicated by the fact that Ivy's very magical sister Tabitha teaches at the school. Ivy, you see, drew the short straw in the magical lottery, and Tabitha got (in theory) all the smarts, luck, and magical talent in the family. Ivy has been getting by as a PI (mainly marital infidelity cases) who drinks a bit too much and makes it a habit of never possibly outstaying her welcome by always being the first to leave. Especially in relationships.

The murder victim in question was one Sylvia Capley, a faculty member beloved by the students, and, also as we come to see, by some of the faculty. So who magically bisected Sylvia, and how did she end up in the library bleeding out, in the theoretical magic section, with all its perpetually murmuring books and their running, yet hard to grasp, commentary? And will this investigation spell the beginning of recapturing the sisterly bond between twins Ivy and Tabitha or will it be the final straw in their frayed sisterhood? Because ever since Tabitha sailed off to magical Headley, an elite academy for magically talented students up in Portland, Oregon, leaving Ivy dealing with their dying mother and grieving father, things have been tense between these two sisters. Ivy is full to the brim with unspoken blame and not a wee bit of jealousy. She regards Tabitha, who briefly comes home when their mom is dying with all kinds of magical cosmetic and personality boosts, as cold, callous, and abandoning. Was Tabi just not able to deal with their mom, or is Ivy's sad, angry assessment spot on?

Gailey has woven a mystery that is just a tad less interesting than the many memorable characters living in this practical/suburban magic world. Her complex portrait of sister love, jealousy, competition, and loyalty shines in this novel. I loved the book and I wonder if there is still more she can tell us about Ivy and Tabitha? Because I would enjoy learning more about this world!

Content Warning: This book takes a definite stance on a woman's right to choice (an stance I 100% agree with), but this is a point I both want to applaud, and apprise readers about, simultaneously.

A strong debut novel that is sure to be lauded and nominated for awards in its genre.

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