Posts Categorized: Books

The Monkey’s Voyage
by Alan de Queiroz

January 29, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 0

deQueiroz_MonkeysVoyage

★ ★ ★ ★

The Monkey’s Voyage: How Improbable Journeys Shaped the History of Life by Alan de Queiroz | January 2014 | Basic Books | Hardcover $27.99

Throughout the world, closely related species are found on landmasses separated by wide stretches of ocean. What explains these far-flung distributions? Why are species found where they are across the Earth?

Since the discovery of plate tectonics, scientists have long conjectured that plants and animals were scattered over the globe by riding pieces of ancient supercontinents as they broke up. In the past decade, however, that theory has foundered, as the genomic revolution has made reams of new genetic data available. And the data has revealed an extraordinary, stranger-than-fiction story that has sparked a scientific revolution.

I found The Monkey’s Voyage surprisingly amusing; the narrative “feel” of it makes it appropriate for casual reading as well as academic. It reads as though one is having a nice discussion with someone who is clearly well-versed in his subject but who can’t hide his amicable humor — or, in some instances, his sharp snark. I don’t know the author personally, obviously, but this book makes a nice contrast to those cases (all-too-common in science writing) where the author seems to be impatiently talking down to or obliviously over the head of the reader, or where the story could be quite interesting if only the voice that was telling it wasn’t so dry and robotic.

Alan de Queiroz’s first full book serves as a kind of primer on biogeography, the study of the distribution of species across our planet (or the “analysis of the spatial distributions of organisms” if you want to get fancy). Well, perhaps it isn’t so much a primer — though the author does patiently explain some of the basic concepts of the field — as a sort of history of the development of biogeography as a science, like a narrative tour of sorts.

My impression is that The Monkey’s Voyage is written for a semi-scientific audience, by which I mean one should definitely already be familiar with the basics of ecology and evolutionary biology but needn’t be a professional in the field. Certain unavoidable terms (vicariance, dispersal, taxon, cladistics, etc.) are briefly and nicely explained, but a quick familiarity is definitely expected of the reader. Maps and charts and things aid understanding, if you can decipher them.

Bits of snark make for an amusing, if not entirely neutral, read (though the author never claims neutral ground). My favorite example of this can be found on pages 89-90, in an examination of Gary Nelson and Norm Platnick’s particularly enthusiastic insistence on a certain point of view: “It’s a grand vision for humanity, placing us within the great story of the fragmentation of the world’s biotas through continental drift. It’s an epitome of the Croizatian vision that ‘Earth and life evolve together.’ It’s . . . [page turn] . . . also completely looney.”

I’d recommend this for those who are curious about biogeography (obviously) as well as those who might like a somewhat idiosyncratic glimpse of some of the less-than-gentlemanly “feuds” that can erupt between scientists when their major hypotheses are at odds.


Links:


Publication information: de Queiroz, Alan. The Monkey’s Voyage: How Improbable Journeys Shaped the History of Life. New York: Basic Books, 2013. Print.
Source: I received a free copy of this book from Basic Books via a Goodreads
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Boxers and Saints
by Gene Luen Yang

January 18, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 0

Yang_Boxers Yang_Saints
★ ★ ★ ★

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang | September 2013 | First Second (an imprint of Macmillan) | Boxed set $34.99

In two volumes, Boxers and Saints tells two parallel stories. The first is of Little Bao, a Chinese peasant boy whose village is abused and plundered by Westerners claiming the role of missionaries. Little Bao, inspired by visions of the Chinese gods, joins a violent uprising against the Western interlopers. Against all odds, their grass-roots rebellion is successful.

But in the second volume, Yang lays out the opposite side of the conflict. A girl whose village has no place for her is taken in by Christian missionaries and finds, for the first time, a home with them. As the Boxer Rebellion gains momentum, Vibiana must decide whether to abandon her Christian friends or to commit herself fully to Christianity.

I recommend that you read Boxers and Saints together. Though the stories are fictional, and do include some fantasy elements, I still think I learned more about China during this time period than I ever did in history class at school — probably because I kept feeling compelled to look things up as I read!

Despite the really difficult subject matter, I think the author did a great job of keeping the story perfectly “age appropriate” … that is, not for little kids but not at grad dissertation level either. The atrocities of war and what it can do to otherwise normal, relatable people — particularly in a “civil” war — are not glossed over, but are presented clearly in lovingly illustrated but unflinchingly realistic fashion (despite the bits of fantasy and the usual narrative license you get from historical fiction, I guess). Maybe I’m getting a little overenthusiastic with my adjectives, but I’m not sure how else to describe what I mean.

Definitely recommended for folks interested in war histories and/or the history of China, those who want to try graphic novels but who aren’t tempted by the popular superhero stories, and readers who are willing to face the philosophical difficulties of human nature.


Links:


Publication information: Yang, Gene Luen. Boxers. New York: First Second Books, 2013. Print.; Yang, Gene Luen. Saints. New York: First Second Books, 2013. Print.
Source: Public library
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


The Girl of Fire and Thorns
by Rae Carson

January 6, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 0

Carson_GOFAT Carson_CrownofEmbers Carson_BitterKingdom
★ ★ ★ ★

The Girl of Fire and Thorns, The Crown of Embers, and The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson | Greenwillow (an imprint of HarperCollins) | 2011 – 2013 | Hardcover $17.99

Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness. Elisa is the chosen one. But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can’t see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king — a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess. And he’s not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people’s savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.

Most of the chosen do.

I really liked the first book in this series, The Girl of Fire and Thorns. There’s quite a lot of action from start to finish, which I think makes up for the slower character development… or in some cases complete lack of development, but if you’re looking for a quick-paced YA high-ish fantasy, this is it. My main beef was with the religious/magic system, which seems to be based on some combo of Catholicism and some kind of pink-toy-aisle idea of sparkly things = power… shiny gemstones implanted in your belly button make you special? Really? But I know I’m being a grumpy cynic here, and a little eye-rolling over this doesn’t really affect my enjoyment of the book all THAT much, so whatevs.

The Crown of Embers is pretty strong second installment… and I’m always a little wary of YA trilogies, because it is so so so easy for the second book to be nothing more than exposition/set-up for the 3rd book, but thankfully that was not the case for this one! It had enough action and character growth to stand up for itself, I think.

The Bitter Kingdom is a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, with plenty of little twists and turns to keep the reader guessing but ultimately gratifying. Still plenty of space for a continuation of the series, too, should the author decide to try it (or space for the reader to let her imagination run free, should she feel so inclined).

Let’s get real for a minute: the series as a whole is just a little hokey, honestly. I mean, the entire thing revolves around a princess with a magical gemstone in her belly button for heaven’s sake. But it’s all super fun anyway if the reader can just get over it. Reminded me of Tamora Pierce’s Alanna stories.

That said — and I’m not the only one who’s noticed this, based on Goodreads reviews — Carson could have used a way more thorough editor for this series! I try to be forgiving because, hey, mistakes happen, and the story is strong enough to draw me in anyway, but all the little mistakes really started to add up!

Actually, I found myself wishing that the books were done as a full-fledged series rather than “just” a trilogy. Glowing belly jewels aside, I think the story and the world it’s built in could easily have been expanded (and in some ways refined) into multiple huge volumes… but maybe that’s just me.


Links:


Publication information: Carson, Rae. The Girl of Fire and Thorns. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2011. Print. ; Carson, Rae. The Crown of Embers. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2012. Print. ; Carson, Rae. The Bitter Kingdom. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2013. Print.
Source: Public library
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Seraphina
by Rachel Hartman

December 1, 2013 Book Reviews, Books 0

Hartman_Seraphina

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman | Random House Books for Young Readers | July 2012 | Hardcover $17.99

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

One of my new favs! I checked it out from the library, but I think I’ll be buying a copy of my own as soon as I can.

Seraphina is the first book in a new young adult fantasy series by Rachel Hartman. The story is set forty years after the end of the war between humans and dragons in a kingdom where both species must attempt to share both space and knowledge. The peace is tenuous, though, and the particularly gruesome murder of a member of the royal family seems to indicate rising dragon aggression. Tensions between the species are mounting despite the best efforts of the leaders on both sides. Titular character Seraphina suddenly finds herself in the middle of it all when she is thrust into the spotlight as the court’s most talented young musician and confidant of the heirs to the throne, despite her attempts to avoid attention in order to guard the terrible secret of her true heritage.

This is a book that can easily be enjoyed by both teen and adult fans of fantasy fiction. It might also be a great story for parents to share with their younger kids, though the reading level is definitely most appropriate for middle to high schoolers. It has all of the expected elements of a classic fantasy tale: looming war, royal drama, a bit of magic, and, of course, dragons. However, the story itself is anything but expected. The reader will be delighted by little surprises throughout and will finish each chapter wondering what will happen next and trying to guess who did what.

The plot wraps up nicely at the end, though the reader is left wanting more – not in the way that one is left unsatisfied after eating a bag of chips, but in the way one hopes to return to a restaurant after enjoying an exquisitely perfect meal. Hartman’s fans will be happy to know that her next novel, tentatively titled Shadowscale, is expected in early 2014. Readers can also enjoy her short story, The Audition (a prequel to Seraphina), in ebook form for free at Scribd, an online library/publishing platform.

Winner of both the William C. Morris YA Debut Award and the Cybil for Fantasy & Science Fiction, Hartman’s first novel is highly recommended by professional critics and recreational readers alike. Seraphina is also included in this year’s Teens’ Top Ten list, which is put together by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) each year. The list is released on Celebrate Teen Literature Day in April and teens have all summer to read as many of the 28 nominated titles as they can. Teens can then vote for their favorites when nominations open in August. Winners will be announced during Teen Read Week in October. The list can be found online on YALSA’s website.


Links:

A version of this review originally appeared in the Galveston Daily News in May 2013. My opinions do not reflect the views of my employer.

Publication information: Hartman, Rachel. Seraphina. New York: Random House, 2012. Print.
Source: Public library
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Going Bovine
by Libba Bray

November 1, 2013 Book Reviews, Books 0

Bray_GoingBovine
★ ★ ★ 

Going Bovine by Libba Bray | Delacorte Books | September 2009 | Paperback $10.99

All 16-year-old Cameron wants is to get through high school — and life in general — with a minimum of effort. It’s not a lot to ask. But that’s before he’s given some bad news: he’s sick and he’s going to die. Which totally sucks. Hope arrives in the winged form of Dulcie, a loopy punk angel/possible hallucination with a bad sugar habit. She tells Cam there is a cure — if he’s willing to go in search of it. With the help of a death-obsessed, video-gaming dwarf and a yard gnome, Cam sets off on the mother of all road trips through a twisted America into the heart of what matters most.

Read this one on a long, cramped airplane trip. I bring that up because the odd reading circumstances may have colored my opinions.

Libba Bray (an awesome Texas author with a real connection with her fans) give us unique story over all, even if the road-trip-as-coming-of-age-story thing gets to be a little cliché sometimes… but there’s just enough weirdness to make it different and keep up the head scratching.

The ending drags out a little, and it is not a surprise BUT it still manages to tug lightly at the reader’s heartstrings. Think of this book as a cross between Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Catcher in the Rye. Definitely recommended for readers who like ’em a little weird!

You see that big shiny medal with the “P” on the front cover? That means this book won the prestigious Printz Award in 2010. Fans of Libba Bray, author of  the popular Gemma Doyle series and contributor to some awesome story collections like Zombies vs. Unicorns and 21 Proms, will be pleased to know that she is currently working on Lair of Dreams (a sequel to The Diviners, which was nominated for both the Bram Stoker and Andre Norton awards last year).


Links:


Publication information: Bray, Libba. Going Bovine. New York: Delacorte, 2009. Print.
Source: Public library
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Rose Under Fire
by Elizabeth Wein

September 8, 2013 Book Reviews, Books 0

Wein_RoseUnderFire
★ ★ ★ ★

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein | Disney Hyperion | September 2013 | Hardcover $17.99

While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women’s concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?

The author of best-selling WWII thriller Code Name Verity has produced another work of the same impressive quality. Fans of Verity will find Rose Under Fire very much to their liking.

Rose Under Fire is the dairy style first-person narrative of Rose, a young American woman who is working for the war effort in England during the 2nd World War.

She flies military planes as a transport pilot; though women at the time were not allowed to be actual fighter pilots or bomb droppers, moving planes and occasionally people from one Allied airfield to another was considered a relatively safe job for them. Of course, this occupation still involved some definite dangers, like malfunctioning equipment and rough weather conditions — not to mention the bombs that rained down on Britain in a near-constant storm of explosive destruction.

The book is split into two parts. The first is a diary of a young woman who is far from home in a war-torn land, who experiences fear and thrills and romance and grief and every other kind of thing you might expect a person in her situation to experience. Rose is brave and perhaps a little overenthusiastic, but she’s certainly a relatable character. She’s an aspiring poet and her poems add a special something to this book-as-journal interpretation of her story. Everything seems normal, or at least as normal as an expat wartime pilot girl can expect… until Rose crash lands behind enemy lines.

The second part of the book is told primarily in retrospect, as Rose remembers and comes to grips with her experiences at the Ravensbrück concentration camp prior to escape and rehabilitation in Paris. This is some real punch-in-the-gut stuff, made all the more startling by being based on actual historical events. Our protagonist meets girls and women who have been experimented on and horribly abused by Nazi guards. Rose herself is soon subject to the kinds of cruelties that are so astonishing that the real concentration camp survivors upon whose own experiences this part of the story is based were accused of exaggeration or outright lies even by their rescuers. Rose struggles to heal, both physically and psychologically, as she relives her POW experience and tries to reclaim her own life.

Though powerful in its treatment of WWII Nazi atrocities, this book isn’t exactly a tear-jerker. Recommended as a companion read for The Diary of a Young Girl (The Diary of Anne Frank) or for folks interested in realistic early-mid 20th century historical fiction.


Links:

This is a partial draft version of a full review that was submitted for publication to the Galveston Daily News in October 2013. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer.

Publication information: Wein, Elizabeth. Rose Under Fire. New York: Hyperion, 2013. Print.
Source: Public library
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


The Rithmatist
by Brandon Sanderson

August 31, 2013 Book Reviews, Books 0

Sanderson_Rithmatist

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson | Macmillan – Tor Teen | May 2013 | Hardcover $17.99

More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.

As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing — kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery — one that will change Rithmatics — and their world — forever.

Brandon Sanderson is well known amongst sci-fi/fantasy fans as a prolific source of imaginative epics packed with never-a-dull-moment storylines on top of complex settings and backstories. Sanderson, who is only in his late 30’s, is already the author of 82 distinct works. He is perhaps best known for his Mistborn series and for completing the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, who passed away before he could complete his 14-book behemoth.

Most recently, Sanderson was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Novella for The Emperor’s Soul. He is currently working on 3 different projects and has several more on the backburner; fans will be happy to hear that his next novel, Steelheart, is due out in September. Though his works generally appeal to SF/F genre enthusiasts of all ages, The Rithmatist is his first work to be specifically targeted to middle-to-high-school readers.

The Rithmatist follows the story of a young man who goes to school with people who possess a magical power – but he himself does not possess that same ability. The idea for this story came to Sanderson as he contemplated the possibility of non-magical students attending a magic-focused school, such as the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry from the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. Sanderson, of course, puts his own spin on the rules of magic. The book is illustrated by Ben McSweeney with examples of typical chalk drawings. Sanderson has clearly put quite a bit of thought into the mechanics of this world’s distinct magical system. The power to animate simple lines of chalk is extended to only a select few students during a one-time initiation ceremony. These young rithmatists are trained to draw chalk circles and lines that can attack enemies, defend positions, and act as small helpful creatures called chalklings.

Joel, our “muggle” in this case, missed out on his initiation ceremony and wishes for nothing more than to be allowed the chance to train as a rithmatist. He jumps at the rare chance to study with a rithmancy professional alongside a particularly apathetic rithmancy student named Melody; they are soon pulled into an investigation of mysterious kidnappings committed by improbable chalk creatures. What he and his new companion discover could change the way rithmancy is used forever.

Though distinctly Sandersonian, The Rithmatist is not an intimidating brick of a book. Younger readers who are just beginning to test the waters of the fantasy genre should definitely get their toes wet with this story. Fans of the aforementioned Harry Potter may recognize and enjoy some familiar elements, but this is in no way a “copycat” series (and yes, Sanderson has indicated his intentions to continue Joel’s story – the 2nd installment is expected sometime in 2015). This book is recommended for teen readers who enjoy detailed magical systems and fantastic plotlines tempered with doses of realistic coming-of-age character development.


Links:

This is a partial draft version of a full review that was submitted for publication to the Galveston Daily News in August of 2013. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer.

Publication information: Sanderson, Brandon. The Rithmatist. New York: Tor, 2013. Print.
Source: Blue Willow Bookshop
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Book Review Fangirling – A Memory of Light

February 8, 2013 Books 0

First can I just say:

FINALLY

WoT14_MemoryofLight

Book 14: A Memory of Light
[That link takes you to the Goodreads page for this book.]

Edited 1/1/2015 to add: This is not really a book review, so the regular star ratings and stuff don’t apply. I wrote this post long before I started really blogging about books on a regular basis. I may do a re-read of this series in the future though.



Thoughts

Even though it’s been nearly a month since the book was released — a month since I dashed down to the bookstore and purchased the first hardback I’ve bought in over a year — I still find it difficult to fully express all the feels I have about this book.

I don’t know if the ending really could have been any better. No, no, I don’t mean the book was perfect — after all, after 14 books and 23 years and the death of the original author, how could it be? But I think that it was exactly the end that we needed.

I don’t want to write too much about it here, because I know several people who are still reading, or who are waiting for the ebook release in April, and some of them occasionally read my blog, and I don’t want to spoil this book for them. Besides, other folks have done a much better job of really hashing out the details than I ever could:

Brandon Sanderson’s blog on release day: It’s finally out.

Non-spoiler review of AMoL from The Thirteenth Depository.

“Dear Robert Jordan”: a letter from fan/friend Jason Denzel.

Book review at HuffPo.

Brandon Sanderson’s post-AMoL #TorChat on Twitter.

The book printing process at Quad Graphics in Pennsylvania.

Leigh Butler’s spoiler-free review at Tor.

Leigh Butler’s spoilerific and rather stream of consciousness-y review at Tor.

Part 1 of Tor’s WoT: AMoL “re-read” series.

I have to say that I’m not sure about the open-endedness of the ending. Not that I expected some sort of Happily Ever After with a White Picket Fence and 2.5 Children (Per Wife) kind of ending, just… I still have so many questions and there are still so many loose ends and probably none of that will ever be addressed outside the realm of fanfic. In fact, that’s probably exactly what the authors intended.

– – – – – –

Where is a reader to go from here?

There are plenty of other epic fantasies out there, I guess. And, even better, plenty of speculative fiction in general.

I’m moving on the A Song of Ice and Fire series now. A coworker was kind enough to lend me the first season of Game of Thrones and now I feel more compelled than ever to tackle those brick-like books. But now that my commute is taking up a bit more time, I think I’ll be listening to the audio versions instead.

I’ve become more and more interested in YA over the past few years, too, to the point that several items on my to-read list have been pushed back a dozen times or more in favor of some shiney YA thing that I just can’t resist because oh, it’ll only take a couple of days to read. The great thing about YA is that the “genre” stuff is just as (if not more) common and respected as the “literary” stuff.

I have all kinds of reading plans for the coming year, though, plans that don’t necessarily involve SF/F (or at least not only SF/F). More about that in the year-in-review post(s) next month (maybe).


The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
by Deb Perelman

December 7, 2012 Book Reviews, Books 0

Perelman_SmittenKitchen

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman | Knopf | January 2012 | Hardcover $35.00

Deb Perelman loves to cook. It’s as simple as that. She isn’t a chef or a restaurant owner—she’s never even waitressed. Cooking in her tiny Manhattan kitchen was, at least at first, for special occasions — and, too often, an unnecessarily daunting venture. Deb found herself overwhelmed by the number of recipes available to her. So, she founded her award-winning blog, smittenkitchen.com, on the premise that cooking should be a pleasure, and that the results of your labor can — and should be — delicious… every time.

Deb is a firm believer that there are no bad cooks, just bad recipes. And now, with the same warmth, candor, and can-do spirit her blog is known for, Deb presents her first cookbook — more than 100 new recipes, plus a few favorites from her site, all gorgeously illustrated with hundreds of Deb’s beautiful color photographs.

I recently acquired a copy of Deb Perelman’s The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. The author has been writing about food/cooking over at “The Smitten Kitchen” blog for years now, and her expertise is evident in this long-awaited book.

First, and most obviously, the book is beautiful. Ms. Perelman did all of the photos herself in her tiny little kitchen. And every single recipe has at least one photo — the more involved/complicated ones have more. Plus, I love that the cover looks great with or without the dust jacket. Oh, yeah, and it opens flat on your kitchen counter. Details like this make me so happy.

I do want to make it clear that this is not a cookbook for beginners. The instructions are all clear and the author has included plenty of little asides and tips, but if you can barely boil an egg this book is not for you! And it isn’t for folks who only like simple, meat-n-taters type meals, either. Ms. Perelman was once a vegetarian, and that comes across in her creative use of produce (and relative dearth of heavy meats) in these dishes.

But if you think cooking is a fun hobby, if you like trying new ingredients and combinations, if you want to try something different but not unrealistically complicated, if you appreciate recipes that have been tested and perfected by a foodie who knows what she’s doing — this is the cookbook for you.

I’ve already tried a couple of recipes from the book: a fancy sort of grilled cheese (which involved caramelized onions, and which made me seriously ecstatic) and a cucumber dill ‘slaw. Planning on trying the latkes this weekend (it is Hanukkah, after all).

This is one of the few cookbooks I have that I know will get lots of repeated use. And that’s probably the best recommendation a cookbook can get.


Links:

Publication information: Perelman, Deb. The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. New York: Knopf, 2012. Print.
Source: Blue Willow Bookshop
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


We Are What We Pretend to Be
by Kurt Vonnegut

November 16, 2012 Book Reviews, Books 0

Vonnegut_WAWWPTB

★ ★ ★

We Are What We Pretend to Be: The First and Last Works by Kurt Vonnegut | Vanguard Press | October 2012 | Hardcover $19.99

Called “our finest black-humorist” by The Atlantic Monthly, Kurt Vonnegut was one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. Now his first and last works come together for the first time in print, in a collection aptly titled after his famous phrase, We Are What We Pretend To Be. In this fiction collection, published in print for the first time, exist Vonnegut’s grand themes: trust no one, trust nothing; and the only constants are absurdity and resignation, which themselves cannot protect us from the void but might divert.

I was lucky enough to win a copy of We Are What We Pretend to Be by Kurt Vonnegut from a giveaway at Book Riot. It is actually 2 books in 1: his first novella Basic Training + his final novel If God Were Alive Today + an intro by the author’s daughter, Nanette Vonnegut. Basic Training was never actually published, and Vonnegut didn’t get a chance to finish If God Were Alive Today before he passed away in 2007.

I think I enjoyed Nanette’s introduction more than either of the actual stories, which is unfortunate because I count Vonnegut as one of my favorite authors. Neither of the stories were actually bad, but neither of them were anywhere near the quality of his other works — and that isn’t surprising. These stories were never published in the first place because they weren’t really ready for publication. I guess the novelty/nostalgia factor is supposed to make up for that now, for Vonnegut fans who are obviously never otherwise going to get new works out of him because, y’know, he’s dead.

I caught glimpses of the author’s budding genius in Basic Training, but it is definitely in need of some editing (which I suspect the publisher was reluctant to do, and I can’t really lay blame for that). And If God Were Alive Today has the makings of something truly profound, but I found it very, very obvious that it was unfinished (and, again, in need of more refined editing, but then it would be, being unfinished and all).

Overall, I’m glad I got a chance to read it and I wouldn’t be embarrassed to lend it out, but I wouldn’t recommend this to Vonnegut virgins as an introduction to his works.


Links:


Publication information: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Literary Trust. We Are What We Pretend to Be: The First and Last Works. New York: Vanguard Press, 2012. Print.
Source: Giveaway from Book Riot
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.