Cookbook

Ready or Not – Nom Nom Paleo/Michelle Tam

4 Stars

I recieved an eARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Michelle Tam, also known by her blog name Nom Nom Paleo, is at it again. She brings her signature wit, charm and realistic approach to Paleo cooking to her second cookbook in spades. Ready or Not! Features 150+ make ahead or “make-now” meals.

Ready or Not Cover

In this beautiful book, once again filled with cartoon drawings of the whole family done by her husband and co-author Henry Fong, Tam shares the kind of recipe many of us are looking for:  easy, delicious, and on whatever timetable you have at your fingertips. It’s an added bonus that many of the recipes are easily labeled “healthy” since Nom Nom Paleo is a blog dedicated to the Paleo lifestyle. While I don’t adhere to the Paleo diet, I’m familiar with its parameters and find many of Tam’s recipes mouthwatering and delicious.

I own her first cookbook and cook from it frequently. I can tell Ready or Not is going to have a permanent home on the counter, rather than living over on the cookbook shelf. It’s apparent from the book that her blog and lifestyle truly is a family affair. Her kids and husband feature as illustrations and contributors throughout.

Tam doesn’t preach endlessly about the benefits of Paleo, she gives a quick overview and moves on to the good stuff, what we’re really here for – the quick and easy recipes. She organizes the book into four “readiness” levels, rather than dish or component, so depending on where you’re at in meal planning, from “I’m sitting down now to plan for the week” to “I need dinner on the table NOW!” you know just where to look in the book. It’s a well thought-out organization, that’s very user-friendly.

The first actual cooking section “Get Ready” is full of sauces, salsas, dressings, and condiments, with a few other meal components such as hard boiled eggs and pre-roasted chicken breasts. Many of the recipes are Paleo-ized versions of sauces easily found at the grocery store such as hoisin sauce, gojuchang or Thai peanut sauce. For people not eating the Paleo diet, this section is really the least helpful or interesting. I’m personally just going to buy the sauce in the jar from the store. She also spends time in this section outlining useful basic kitchen tools and pantry items, which is great advice for a novice chef. The best part of this section is at the end when she lists ways to mix and match these super basics into quick meals like Mexi-Chicken Salad using the chicken, salsa, smoky lime pepitas and some avocado.

The “Ready” section is for those times when you actually have time to sit down, meal plan and do some food prep for the rest of the week. Lots of slow/pressure cooker recipes fill these pages, along with a few soups and crunchy things. My personal favorite recipe of the section was the Mok Mok Wings, which is reminiscent of the fish sauce laden wings at the iconic Portland restaurant Pok Pok. The Nom Nom Family has a second house in PDX, so it’s not a leap to guess they’re related flavor-wise.

The “Kinda Ready” section is where the going really gets good though. It’s comprised of recipes that are quick to throw together and lean on stuff you’ve probably already got in the pantry or the leftovers from earlier in the week before you lost your motivation to cook for the week. It’s the inspiration a lot of us lack when we’re staring at the fridge on a Wednesday night after a long day at work when dinner just needs to be on the table and take out isn’t gonna cut it.

Finally, the “Not Ready” section is the section for “Oh my god just put food on the table” nights.  Some of these recipes had me a bit skeptical – for example, one of the first recipes in the section is a soup that has a pretty long list of ingredients and takes 15 minutes hands on/45 minutes total to make. Not sure that I’d call that quick. Her egg drop soup and following variations are quick however and delicious. Definitely what I’d consider appropriate for this section.

The final section of the book is the roadmap section, where Tam puts together weekly meal plans and shopping lists, to really make this whole cooking during the week thing seem feasible. A really nice addition to the book, making it extra friendly to the busy home cook who wants to eat healthier.

Parts of the book read like product ads, as Tam is a big fan of both the InstantPot pressure cooker and Red Boat Fish Sauce. She devotes pages to both these products, which feels a little weird.

The recipes themselves are laid out almost like a comic book, but using real photographs of the process rather than simple description or drawings. And, while a number of the recipes are Paleo-ized Asian or Asian-inspired, this is not an Asian cookbook. There are recipes for chicken tinga, baby back ribs, souvlaki and buffalo wings as well. I love a lot of Asian flavors so Ready or Not is absolutely packed with recipes that appeal to my palate.

All in all, Ready or Not is a book I plan to purchase for myself, though I knock a full star off because while it’s very useful and a fun resource, it just didn’t excite me the way other cookbooks do.

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Urban Fantasy

The Furthest Station – Ben Aaronovitch

 

I received an e-ARC from Net Galley in exchange for my honest review. I also purchased the Deluxe Signed Edition from Subterranean Press, which was released June 30. A non-deluxe release is planned for September 8, 2017. 

5 Stars

A fun installment in the Rivers of London/Peter Grant series, The Furthest Station is a satisfying jaunt away from the main thread tying the series together. In this novella, we spend time with Peter’s cousin Abigail – who I was delighted to see more of – and learning about ghosts.

A photo of the cover of The Furthest Station.
My copy of The Furthest Station.

As with the rest of the series, Aaronovitch spends an unusual amount of wordcount describing locations and buildings for an Urban Fantasy series. However, since geography and locality play such important roles in the overall series, it doesn’t feel like wasted space. I always finish a Rivers of London story having learned something new about architecture (though if you take note of Peter’s opinions, you’d think England had nothing but terrible buildings throughout).

If you’re a fan of Rivers of London/Peter Grant, definitely pick up The Furthest Station – it’s a satisfying story to tide us over until the next installment of the series comes out, whenever that may be.

The Furthest Station is a novella set between books 5 and 6 of the PC Grant/Rivers of London series.

This review was originally published on Goodreads April 20, 2017. 

Anthology · Horror

Dark Cities – Christopher Golden

Zero Stars

TW: bestiality, rape

Dark Cities is a horror anthology edited by Christopher Golden around the theme of “cities.” 

I have to seriously question the thought process of Christopher Golden in choosing to put The Dogs as the first story in this anthology. I question why it was even included in the anthology, but if it were to be included, it should not have been the first story. Yes, this is a horror anthology, but that story alone made me put the book down and walk away. It took me over a week to talk myself into picking it up again to skip to the short stories from authors I already know I like/trust. Why? Because The Dogs features a very graphic bestiality/rape scene. I was suspicious of the story as soon as the Main Character was revealed to be a sort-of sex worker. I should have stopped reading then. The first story in an anthology sets the tone, and the tone The Dogs set was unpalatable.

I skipped forward. The short story Dear Diary was good. Amber Benson’s entry was interesting but very short. Seanan McGuire’s story was creepy and sad. I did not read the other stories in this anthology, especially Golden’s own, because I couldn’t trust that the other authors wouldn’t cross lines I am uncomfortable with, and in putting The Dogs first, Golden showed me that I can’t trust him. This may be a shame. I may be missing out on some excellent short stories by other authors in this collection. I’ll never know.

This review was originally published on Goodreads on July 12, 2017.

Cozy Mystery

A Perfect Manhattan Murder – Tracy Kiely

I received an e-ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

4 Stars

A Perfect Manhattan Murder was a fun read. I’m not familiar with the other books in the series, but I didn’t need to be to enjoy APMM.

The plot was built skillfully, with lots of possible suspects and respective motives. By the time the murder finally occurs (about 25% through the book) the author has built such an air of repugnance around a particular character that as a reader I was hoping for his death and loudly exclaimed “Oh thank GOD!” when his death was revealed. Because the character is so abhorrent to everyone around him I wasn’t sad to see him go, and the author had created a lovely stable of potential murderers – all with fairly reasonable motives.

From that point on, the novel ticks right along to a satisfying conclusion. Paced well, not slow but not an unrelenting pounding some mysteries offer APMM was a good read. I didn’t put the book down until I was finished.

APMM is a great option for a vacation read. It’s not too heavy, easy to follow and fun. I particularly enjoyed the addition of the cocktail recipes at the end – delightful!

A Perfect Manhattan Murder is the third in the Nic and Nigel Mystery series.

This review originally published on Goodreads on April 14, 2017.

Science Fiction

Raven Stratagem – Yoon Ha Lee

5 Stars

I was given an eARC by NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

Prepare for your eyeballs to be replaced by question marks. Raven Stratagem, the second in the Machineries of Empire duology(?) by Yoon Ha Lee is just as confusing and satisfying as the first book, Ninefox Gambit, was.

NetGalley’s synopsis:

War. Heresy. Madness.

Shuos Jedao is unleashed. The long-dead general, preserved with exotic technologies as a weapon, has possessed the body of gifted young captain Kel Cheris.

Now, General Kel Khiruev’s fleet, racing to the Severed March to stop a fresh enemy incursion, has fallen under Jedao’s sway. Only Khiruev’s aide, Lieutenant Colonel Kel Brezan, is able to shake off the influence of the brilliant but psychotic Jedao.

The rogue general seems intent on defending the hexarchate, but can Khiruev—or Brezan—trust him? For that matter, can they trust Kel Command, or will their own rulers wipe out the whole swarm to destroy one man?

Well, those first three words do sum up the novel quite succinctly.

Despite reading the first book only weeks ago for the Hugo ballots, I was unprepared for Raven Stratagem. I thought I had finally grasped the terminology and concepts introduced in Ninefox Gambit – calendrical warfare, rot and swords, heresy, the broad strokes of the societal structure. That was just the 101. Raven Stratagem lobs even more terminology and complex social structure at the reader. I found myself rereading sections over and over again to parse their meaning. But despite having permanent question marks for eyes while reading, I didn’t want to put the book down.

Ninefox Gambit ended with such a twist that I fully expected that to be the case here and I was not disappointed! I was expecting a twist and even though I was looking for clues, I was still surprised when it happened. Once the twist(s) were revealed, a number of details added up and I saw the trail of breadcrumbs Yoon Ha Lee left for the reader to find.

I found the characters to be really compelling and well developed with strong individual personalities and motivations. Yoon Ha Lee doesn’t spend a lot of time spelling things out for us as readers, which does lead to some confusion on a conceptual scale, when applied to characters he does an excellent job of showing us why characters behave the way they do.

Even in novel about war Yoon Ha Lee finds the space to be inclusive. The society he’s built has a fluid relationship with gender and pronouns and sexual identity. Family structures aren’t limited to one or two parents – they’re open to any number of parents of any combination of genders.

Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem are books I can see myself rereading again and again, while I look for clues I missed the first time around.

Raven Stratagem is the second book in the Machineries of Empire series and was released June 13, 2017. I believe it is the final book.

Science Fiction

A Closed and Common Orbit – Becky Chambers

5 Stars

Absolutely excellent. Loosely tied to A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (set after, one major spoiler), A Closed and Common Orbit follows characters that were side characters in the first novel as they continue their lives without the members of the Wayfarer’s crew.

We follow these characters as they navigate what it means to be a person and adapting to the rules of a complex and multi-species society.

Chambers once again demonstrates a deep level of thought and care in the development of her characters and species, especially in their genders and how characters relate to each other. I am impressed.

Read this book for a fun and engaging story that also chews on tough moral and ethical questions.

A Closed and Common Orbit is the second book in the Wayfarers series.

This review was originally posted on Goodreads on June 4, 2017.

Science Fiction

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

5 Stars

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is one of the most fun books I’ve read in a while! It is a story about the journey, not the destination and it’s a fun, well-written journey. The pacing is tight, the plot isn’t confusing and Chambers doesn’t leave plot threads laying about.

What impressed me most about the book was the thought and care Chambers put into creating the different alien races. Too often alien races are simply “humans but blue and with gills but more or less the same, with similar cultural values” which is boring. Chambers’ alien races are varied and creative. Chambers’ characters feel real and relatable, even when they’re utterly alien.

I didn’t want to put the book down. All the characters felt fleshed out and real and nothing ever felt forced or contrived. Immediately after finishing this book, I texted my two best reader friends and told them to go pick it up right away. They both did and THEY couldn’t put it down either.

The Long Way isn’t a space opera, and it’s not High science fiction where you feel like you need advanced mathematical and scientific degrees to follow what’s happening. It’s a fun, easy to follow read that left me simultaneously satisfied and begging for more.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is the first book in the Wayfarers series.

Review originally published on Goodreads May 30, 2017.

Urban Fantasy

Magic for Nothing – Seanan McGuire

5 Stars

I was lucky to receive an ARC copy of this book.

Magic for Nothing is easily my favorite installment in the InCryptid series. (So far.)

A photo of the cover of Magic for Nothing.
My copy of Magic for Nothing

Antimony Price Does The Right Thing But She Is Not Happy About It. She leaves everything behind to clean up the mess her sister has made for the Price family by declaring war against The Covenant of St. George on live TV. She does it because she’s the only one who can and it’s her duty.

While following her on her (mis?)adventures, I fell in love with Antimony. I already liked Annie from the short story Blocked, but I really fell for her hard in this one. Since this book is from her PoV, we have the opportunity to see her siblings Verity and Alex through her eyes, and boy do we get her Point Of View. Annie doesn’t hold back, and I found her unfiltered commentary enchanting. Her relationship with Verity reminds me – almost painfully – of my own relationship with my younger sister and gave me a new perspective on how my own sister might see me. Eye opening, let me tell you.

This book is still 100% an InCryptid adventure – full of action, fun and Aeslin mice. Everything I loved about the first five books is there, but Seanan adds a depth to Magic for Nothing that hasn’t really been present in earlier installments, to the benefit of the story and the overall series. It’s still not a /serious/ series (and it doesn’t need to be) but there’s a new richness that makes Magic for Nothing so very satisfying.

Magic for Nothing is the sixth book in the InCryptid series. The cover of the next installment, Tricks for Free was revealed earlier this week! Check it out at Tor.com!

This review was originally posted to Goodreads March 6, 2017. 

Fantasy

The Fifth Season – N.K. Jemisin

3 Stars

NK Jemisin’s forte is novels with a slow, precise pace and non-linear storytelling. As her characters and the plot creep forward, realizations start to hit you like heavy bricks. As you start to get a handle on what’s happening, the creeping plot begins to speed up and the significance of events becomes clearer. You’ll start to make connections between the threads she’s woven in the story around you.

All that being said, The Fifth Season was slow, up until the final 30% of the book. It starts grim, stays grim and ends grim. I wouldn’t call it dark, but it’s definitely grim. There’s literally a section of the book that says (paraphrasing) “here is a part of your life that’s happy – we’re going to skip over it and get back to the grim stuff.”

The writing is beautiful and the characters are interesting. It’s a well-crafted novel, but it’s not ever going to be my favorite.

The Fifth Season is the first book in The Broken Earth series.

Review originally published on Goodreads May 22, 2017.

Uncategorized

Welcome!

Welcome to my little corner of the internet!

Alex Can Read is a labor of love and geekery. I’ve been reading voraciously since the 3rd grade and I don’t see myself slowing down anytime soon.

I’ve been dipping my toes in the pond of book reviews on Goodreads, and I figured it might as well be time to take the plunge and start the blog I’ve been talking about for so long.

Alex Can Read is very likely to be heavy on Urban Fantasy, Fantasy, Science Fiction and the YA versions thereof. You’re also likely to encounter Cookbook reviews and the occasional Horror and Comic review. Every so often, I get a wild hair and read something outside of that scope, but you’ll be as surprised as I when that happens.

Come along with me on this wild ride, because I can read, and I wanna talk about it.