Cookbook · Uncategorized

The Wildcrafted Cocktail – Ellen Zachos

I received an e-ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my unbiased review.

4 Stars

Some of these recipes sound seriously delicious. Others, like the Hobbit Hollow, which features acorn and mushroom flavors sound like Radagast the Brown wrote them (as a friend commented when I read her the recipe) and I’m not entirely sure they’re flavors I’m willing to try. I’m enthusiastically waiting for the weather in the Pacific Northwest to warm up so that I may try foraging for some of the ingredients needed to make some of these tasty sounding cocktails and infusions!

I’ll be honest, foraging for some of the ingredients used in the book is more work than I’ll ever be willing to put in, but there’s a nice selection of recipes I can make from things I have easy enough access to in my own yard or friends’ yards. I haven’t yet made any of the recipes because the ones I want to try are out of season, but I’m looking forward to when they are in season and I can try them out! The recipes are easy enough to follow and I anticipate interesting tasting results!

This book was beautifully designed with lovely photographs and a fun Northwest style throughout the book, even though it’s inclusive of foraged foods from other regions of the country. My only gripe is that I wish recipes had some kind of visual cue as to what season to forage the ingredients in. So many of the foraged ingredients are seasonal, it would be nice to have an at-a-glance way to tell what recipes I can make in each season, rather than having to research every ingredient before I can decide what to make when. That aside, I appreciated the responsible foraging tips Zachos included throughout.

This review was first published to Goodreads on April 7, 2017.

Anthology · Urban Fantasy

Urban Enemies – Joseph Nasisse

4 Stars

I received an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

Urban Enemies is an anthology containing 17 short stories from a slew of big-name authors in the Urban Fantasy genre. The authors contributing to this collection had a fine line to walk. Each of their stories is set within their own larger universes, so they’re tasked with writing a story that will 1 – not alienate readers new to their universe (and maybe even convince them to pick it up?) and 2 – satisfy readers already familiar with their characters and storylines. I felt like most of the authors pulled this off. I will note, that I was somewhat disappointed that not all the stories were actually about villains – some were just anti-heroes.

I’m not going to do a story-by-story rating, as I might if these stories were standalone because it wouldn’t be fair. I’m already biased to prefer the stories from authors’ whose series I read – Jim Butcher, Seanan McGuire, Kevin Hearne – over the authors who write series I haven’t even heard of.

Of the authors I’m already familiar with, I really enjoyed Kevin Hearne and Seanan McGuire’s contributions. Both were satisfying and added dimension to their universes. I was disappointed with Jim Butcher’s contribution – not because it was a bad story but because it’s a reprint. Not a new story, it’s been printed in earlier anthologies.

About half of the authors I wasn’t familiar with I was intrigued enough by their villain or worldbuilding that I plan to check out at least the first novel in the series. In particular the stories by Craig Shaeffer, Caitlin Kitteridge and the editor Joseph Nassise. Other stories were either major turnoffs or just not my thing.

Overall though, I enjoyed the collection. I didn’t read anything particularly standout in either direction as good or bad (it’s hard to like stories about unlikable characters.) If you’re a fan of any of these series, check this collection out. If not, these stories may not be the easiest entry point into these universes, but you might find one you like (or like to hate.)

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.

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.