It’s finally fall here in the Seattle area, and typically the weather can’t make up its’ mind. Last week I was wearing fleece lined tights and last night we ran the air conditioner at bedtime. For the first time in memory, I’m excited for the summer to end and for fall to descend. It’s been long, hot and very smoky here and I was *done* with summer by mid-July.
One of the things I’m looking forward to most about fall is Halloween at our new house. We bought a house earlier this year in a neighborhood full of kids. We never got trick or treaters when we lived in apartments. One year the guy who lived below us brought his two kids up, but that was only because I mentioned that we had some candy and would be generous. This year, our neighborhood is teeming with elementary and middle-school aged kids, so I’m anticipating at least a 300% increase in doorbell rings. I love seeing kids in costumes.
Okay, so back to the books – this is a book blog after all. I’ve got an exciting lineup for you this month – lots and lots of ARCs!
This month, you’ll see reviews for:
Our Native Bees
City of Lies
Plague of Giants
The City of Brass
Booke of the Hidden
I also have an enormous stack of library books sitting next to the bed. I’ll squeeze in as many of those as I can as well.
I think this might be the most “seasonal” TBR list I’ve ever had. I don’t usually read seasonally since I generally read whatever comes in from the library, but Deadlands is definitely a Halloween-feeling book.
Two cookbook reviews in one week? It’s no secret in my family and social circles that I love food. My family nickname is “Food” even. I love to eat, I love to scope out new restaurants, love to cook (but hate the cleanup) and naturally, because I love books, I adore cookbooks.
It’s no secret in my family and social circles that I love food. My family nickname is “Food” even. I love to eat, I love to scope out new restaurants, love to cook (but hate the cleanup) and naturally, because I love books, I adore cookbooks.
Unfortunately, I have a small house and a small budget for books, so I’ve gotten into the habit of checking out cookbooks I’m interested in from the library before I decide whether or not to take the plunge and make the purchase and commit to making space for another cookbook in my little kitchen.
I also try to participate in Food52’s Cookbook Club Facebook group, where each month the group cooks from a pre-chosen book. A few months ago, just as I joined, the club was cooking from Julia Turshen’s Small Victories. I requested it from the library right away but discovered, much to my chagrin, the waiting list was very long.
Finally, finally, finally, it landed in my hands…just as some Life Stuff happened and it wasn’t until the day before it was due back to the library that I finally, finally, finally made some time to peruse the book.
As I paged through the Small Victories, it quickly became clear to me that this was a book I had to buy.
Why? What makes this book worth making space on my tiny shelf for?
Small Victories is magical. That’s why. Small Victories is accessible, beautiful, inspirational, and beginner friendly.
Turshen’s book is beautifully and simply laid out. Definitely easy on the eyes and the photos are so gorgeous and inspirational.
But as gorgeous as it is, that’s not the magic. The magic is in Turshen’s writing and her celebration of “small victories” – the little lessons sprinkled throughout the recipes. Her recipes and stories are not only easy to follow, but she doesn’t condescend. It’s almost as if she’s standing in your kitchen with you, not holding your hand, but sitting at the bar cheering you on as you work your way through one of the recipes.
Then, once you’ve mastered the recipe, she adds another layer of magic and suggests ways to riff off the recipe you just made to make it into something new. Avocado Toast with Kimchi becomes a fancy salad with just a couple of small tweaks and some champagne on the side. (This is just the first recipe in the book, folks! She does it for every recipe in the book throughout.)
My personal favorite, which I made immediately upon reading it, is waaaay at the back of the book in her Drinks section. She amps up a gin and tonic (my favorite at-home cocktail) by adding a sprinkle of fresh-cracked pepper and a thin slice of cucumber. I’ll never make a G&T without pepper or cucumber again! The cucumber adds a new fresh brightness and the pepper adds just another layer of depth, without tasting peppery or spicy. Heaven.
5 Stars, without a doubt. Turshen’s approach makes Small Victories into a cookbook that melds inspiration with the confidence-building of a cooking for beginners book and something any cook will enjoy.
I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
I love Mexican food, and one of my favorite dishes has always been chile con queso. I had always wondered at the authenticity of the dish, however. How “Mexican” is it really? Is it TexMex instead? Lisa Fain sets out to answer that question (and provide many delicious recipes) in Queso!
Questions of authenticity aside, chile con queso – queso for short – is delicious. Chiles, cheese, and spices melted together into a delicious blend perfect for dipping chips in or drizzling over the top of a taco. Yum. So, when I saw this book pop up on NetGalley I knew I had to request it!
Lisa Fain doesn’t disappoint. Queso! includes 55 recipes, most of which are variations of chile con queso. Certainly more variations than I can think up on my own!
Some of the recipes are included not to be made, but for historical context. Fain includes some of the earliest printed versions of queso or cheese dips she could find. You could certainly make any of these recipes, but I feel like they’re mostly illustrative.
I particularly loved the section on regional queso variations, where Fain shared recipes from along the US’s southern border. There was such variety from place to place! One of my favorites is the Van Horn Chile con Queso, which features one of my favorite ingredients of all time – sour cream. (I frequently go out of my way to choose meals for dinner just so I can have sour cream.) This is the recipe I opted to try out and while it didn’t last long enough for me to photograph, I can tell you it was delicious and a hit with my queso-loving husband.
I did also appreciate the vegan queso recipe Fain included in her Quirky Quesos section. As she points out, it seems kind of like an oxymoron to make a queso-free queso (since queso literally means cheese) but I know many vegans who miss dairy products, including queso. She also includes Greek and Indian inspired versions, as well as renditions that include sausage and mustard.
Overall, Queso! is a fun, single-subject cookbook that offers wonderful variations on a favorite dip. For many people, “football” season has just begun, and Fain’s queso varieties would be a welcome change-up of an old-standby game-day snack.
Reader, I just had to see what all the buzz was about. I’m in a fair number of bookish Facebook groups and one happens to have a focus on YA books and that group has just been absolutely abuzz about Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae Files and Nevernight series. A good friend of mine vouches for Illuminae, so I plan to pick that one up from the library in the near future, but my library hold for Nevernight came first, which is convenient since the second book in the series, Godsgrave just hit shelves earlier in September.
I have no idea how or why, but my library is circulating a signed first edition of Nevernight.
So, what is Nevernight about? Here’s the synopsis from Goodreads:
In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.
Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.
Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. If she bests her fellow students in contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts, she’ll be inducted among the Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the vengeance she desires. But a killer is loose within the Church’s halls, the bloody secrets of Mia’s past return to haunt her, and a plot to bring down the entire congregation is unfolding in the shadows she so loves.
Will she even survive to initiation, let alone have her revenge?
Kristoff has built an interesting new universe – one where the Light is dark and the Dark is darker. This universe of his feels like he threw Leigh Bardugo’s Ketterdam (from Six of Crows), the Roman Empire and Renaissance Italy into a blender. It’s dark, unforgiving, classist, full of subterfuge and betrayal, with a dash of occasional kindness and finished with more than a few hard knocks.
Kristoff opens Nevernight with gorgeously lyrical prose and an interesting use of parallel storytelling. He uses this device throughout the book, to an interesting effect. He adds backstory and context through flashbacks and repetition as though Nevernight were an epic poem being recited to an audience, rather than a novel being read silently. This makes me curious about the audiobook; I wonder if that experience is as lovely as reading the book.
The novel itself is peppered with footnotes galore. While I did enjoy the asides and additional backstory and worldbuilding the footnotes offered, I found they broke up the flow of the story quite distractingly. Some of the asides were very funny, but others were basically history lessons that I’d have preferred woven into the actual story itself better.
Kristoff’s Nevernight universe is built well as are his characters. All of the main cast, except for the villains of the series, are multi-dimensional. They’re crafted to have strengths, flaws, backstories, and mysteries of their own. When any of the main cast die (and of course they die, it’s a book about a school for assassins) their deaths hit like a punch to the gut (or in some cases are cause for audible shouting of “YES!”).
I didn’t blow through Nevernight as quickly as I have other, similar novels from Leigh Bardugo and Sarah J Maas, but I really enjoyed the journey and definitely understand what all that buzz has been about. Kristoff has built an interesting universe and set his characters up with a hard road ahead.
I’m very much looking forward to picking up Godsgrave when my hold comes in at the library.
Nevernight was released August 9, 2016 and the next in the series Godsgrave was released on September 5, 2017.
What did I just read, Reader? Touched by an Alien was absolutely absurd.
Here’s the synopsis from Goodreads.
Marketing manager Katherine “Kitty” Katt had just finished a day on jury duty. When she stepped out of the Pueblo Caliente courthouse, all she was thinking about was the work she had to get caught up on. Then her attention was caught by a fight between a couple that looked like it was about to turn ugly. But ugly didn’t even begin to cover it when the “man” suddenly transformed into a huge, winged monster right out of a grade Z science fiction movie and went on a deadly killing spree. In hindsight, Kitty realized she probably should have panicked and run screaming the way everyone around her was doing. Instead she sprinted into action to take down the alien.
In the middle of all the screeching and the ensuing chaos, a hunk in an Armani suit suddenly appeared beside her, introduced himself as Jeff Martini with “the agency,” and then insisted on leading her to a nearby limo to talk to his “boss.” And that was how Kitty’s new life among the aliens began…Touched by an Alien is the thrilling first installment of the Alien novels.
Touched by an Alien is “urban science fiction” in that it’s all of the elements of urban fantasy, but with aliens rather than magical creatures, which bleeds it over into science fiction. I’d also probably slot it into “Paranormal Romance” And it was ABSURD and over the top.
This is one of those books where I just don’t know how I feel about it at the end. On the one hand, I enjoyed the plot and thought the writing was reasonably well done.
But there was an ever growing list of things that I just couldn’t help but roll my eyes over:
Kitty Katt (seriously, what a name)
Mary Sue, I mean Kitty Katt is just an average marketing manager but somehow manages to be a great shot, excellent military strategist, and like The Most Clever Ever, learns flying on the literal fly, code breaker and somehow manages to be better than people who have been doing this their whole lives – all in two days!
Hunky, overly-aggressive, possessive dude love triangle
Newsflash, it’s not hot when dudes are that insecure, no matter the backstory
It’s rape when a woman says no and a dude keeps going. That’s not hot, thanks.
Thanks for all the opportunities to roll my eyes at the male characters
Overdone sex scenes that go on for pages – which I skipped over
Conveniently the book really is all about her, despite what it appears at the beginning
Conveniently there’s a vague description of how the “science” works
Conveniently her parents ALSO have relevant skills
Too many instances of “conveniently”
Overuse of the word “baby in reference to Kitty or Martini
Overuse of the word “girlfriend” from a gay character in reference to Kitty
But, despite all that, I’m seriously thinking about requesting the second book from the library. When I finished, I texted my best friend “I just read the most ridiculous book. I need you to read it and laugh at it with me.” It was a fun and silly read. Sometimes a Mary Sue story is a nice refreshing break. Brain candy can be a treat sometimes. This book definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously. I have the feeling that Gini Koch wrote the whole thing half-seriously, half-satirically.
Anyway, Touched by an Alien is the first in the “Kitty Katt” series by Gini Koch and was published April 6, 2010.
I received an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
Distillery Cats is a charming book full of lovely little profiles of the cats that live and work in distilleries and breweries throughout the United States. The profiles are accompanied by cocktail recipes from the respective distilleries, many of which are named after or inspired by the featured feline. In addition to the drink recipes, the profiles include illustrations of the cats in their element.
As a cat-lover (I have three) and spirited-liquor lover myself (currently sipping on a gin and tonic), Distillery Cats appealed to me on both fronts. Not only do I now have about 20 new Instagram accounts to follow (never too many cat pictures!) but I have been introduced to new distilleries and breweries to seek out. A few are even local to me in the Seattle area! (Field trip!)
I particularly loved the profiles of Pizza and of General Patton. Their stories put a smile on my face.
Distillery Cats is a quick, fun read and would make the perfect gift for any cat-loving drinker you know. It hits shelves on September 19, 2017.
I was given an eARC by NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
Oh. My. Goodness. The Tea Dragon Society is Just. Too. Cute.
This adorable graphic story was first published on Tumblr by Katie O’Neill and has been adapted to book form by Oni Press. Unlike most of the books I review, this one has a much younger intended audience.
I stumbled across a page of the comic early on – only three or four pages had been posted by then and was absolutely enchanted. Greta is a part-goblin girl in training to be a blacksmith when she happens upon a tea dragon. The world of tea dragons opens up to her, and The Tea Dragon Society is her journey of discovering the dragons, their keepers, and their history.
As Greta discovers the history of tea dragons and their keepers, The Tea Dragon Society shows the power and rewards of kindness, gentleness, and patience. Even strong blacksmiths can be all of those things.
Additionally, the book features same-sex relationships with about as much fanfare as an apple sitting on the table. I love when same-sex relationships are regarded as mundane – just as normal as any other relationship.
The art is ethereal and cute in a really attractive way. Each page is beautiful and could easily be hung on a wall.
The Tea Dragon Society is a heart-meltingly sweet, beautifully illustrated story of friendship, kindness, and craft and will be published on October 31, 2017.