Posts Tagged: 4 stars

The Season
by Jonah Lisa and Stephen Dyer

June 10, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 1

Dyer_TheSeason

★ ★ ★ ★

The Season by Jonah Lisa Dyer and Stephen Dyer | July 2016 | Viking Children’s| Hardcover $17.99

She can score a goal, do sixty box jumps in a row, bench press a hundred and fifty pounds… but can she learn to curtsey?

Megan McKnight is a soccer star with Olympic dreams, but she’s not a girly girl. So when her Southern belle mother secretly enters in the 2016 Dallas debutante season, she’s furious — and has no idea what she’s in for. When Megan’s attitude gets her on probation with the mother hen of the debs, she’s got a month to prove she can ballroom dance, display impeccable manners, and curtsey like a proper Texas lady or she’ll get the boot and disgrace her family.

I received a copy from the publisher via Edelweiss for review.

This is a fun, modern take on Jane Austen’s timeless classic Pride and Prejudice. Highly recommended for fans of the popular YouTube series The Lizzie Bennett Diaries or Clueless, or just for anyone who likes contemporary YA fiction about spunky gals getting into trouble in improbable ways. And it would probably make a good beach/poolside choice, if you’re looking for a bit of cute summer reading.

This, for me, was a something of a palate cleanser between some brain-demanding nonfiction and a heavy duty fiction classic, so I worry that my view might be biased. I wanted something fun and quick and familiar, and this book delivered. But then, how impossible is it for a book review to not be biased in some way? So I’ll simply tell you that I enjoyed this book and let you decide for yourself whether or not you trust my opinion.

The Season is not a book that’s aiming to teach the reader big life lessons, nor is it one-of-a-kind as either a P&P re-telling or a contemporary YA romance (unless the reader is actually entirely ignorant of the story upon which it’s based, in which case I don’t think this book should serve as a replacement for the original). If you take Austen super seriously and couldn’t bare to see her beautiful prose defiled, give this one a miss. But if you think “Pride and Prejudice, but with disgustingly rich Texas cattle/oil barons and 21st century college kid mores” sounds like a good time to you, well, put this title on your to-read list!


Links:


Publication information: Dyer, Jonah Lisa and Stephen Dyer. The Season. New York: Viking Children’s, 2016. EPUB file.
Source: ARC provided by Publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Summer Days & Summer Nights
edited by Stephanie Perkins

April 30, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 0

Perkins_SummerDaysSummerNights
★ ★ ★ ★
Summer Days and Summer Nights ed. by Stephanie Perkins | May 2016 | St. Martin’s Griffin, and imprint of Macmillan | Hardcover $19.99

Maybe it’s the long, lazy days, or maybe it’s the heat making everyone a little bit crazy. Whatever the reason, summer is the perfect time for love to bloom. Summer Days & Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories, written by twelve bestselling young adult writers and edited by the international bestselling author Stephanie Perkins, will have you dreaming of sunset strolls by the lake. So set out your beach chair and grab your sunglasses. You have twelve reasons this summer to soak up the sun and fall in love.

First, let’s all just acknowledge that we suddenly have ‘Summer Nights’ from Grease stuck in our heads now, OK? OK.

Next, I also have to acknowledge that I am not normally one for romance – in books, at least. If I hadn’t read Perkins’ last multi-author “romance” short story collection, My True Love Gave to Me (Christmas 2014), I don’t think I’d have given this one a second glance. As it is, I was a bit surprised that none of the authors beyond Perkins were repeats from that previous winter-themed collection, and I was a little unsure about the whole thing. I needn’t have been.

If you’re wondering who all contributed to this book besides Stephanie Perkins, here ya go: Leigh Bardugo, Francesca Lia Block, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, Brandy Colbert, Tim Federle, Lev Grossman, Nina LaCour, Veronica Roth, Jon Skovron, and Jennifer E. Smith.

I don’t think there’s a bad story in this collection, though some of the stories are more satisfying/interesting than the others. Some of them have elements of fantasy/sci-fi, some of them are more realistic. Some of them are cute, some just kinda weird.

I think my favorites were ‘Head, Scales, Tongue, Tale’ by Bardugo (about a mostly-sensible teen and her budding friendship/romance with a mysterious summer visitor) and ‘In Ninety Minutes, Turn North’ by Perkins (actually a continuation of her story from My True Love Gave to Me).

I think I’d recommend this to someone who wants a little light beach reading, or perhaps something to distract you on a plane while you’re thinking about how a 970,000 lb hunk of metal with seats in shouldn’t really be able to fly without pixie dust.

Please note: I received an e-ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss.


Links:


Publication information: Perkins, Stephanie, Leigh Bardugo, Francesca Lia Block, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, Brandy Colbert, Tim Federle, Lev Grossman, Nina LaCour, Veronica Roth, Jon Skovron, Jennifer E. Smith. Summer Days and Summer Nights. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016. EPUB file.
Source: ARC provided by Publisher.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


The Romanovs
by Simon Sebag Montefiore

March 24, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 0

Montefiore_TheRomanovs

★★★★

The Romanovs: 1613-1918 by Simon Sebag Montefiore | May 2016 | Knopf | Hardcover $35

In this fascinating chronicle, Simon Sebag Montefiore focuses his gifts as historian and storyteller on the greatest and most complex of the emperors and empresses of the Romanov dynasty (1613-1917), on how their courts worked, and on the meeting of personality and power in each reign. Scouring archives that opened up only after the fall of the USSR, the author reveals the real world of the most storied and myth-shrouded rulers — Catherine the Great, Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra — and introduces readers to the lesser-known but even more scandalous Elizaveta (daughter of Peter the Great) and Alexander II (whose wild sexual passions were bestowed upon a teenage mistress). The author illuminates the eighteenth-century Age of the Imperial Petticoat; makes clear the full extent of the remarkable political-amorous partnership between Catherine the Great and Prince Potemkin; and uncovers a deep vein of decadence and stupidity underneath the accepted, romantic portrait usually presented of Nicholas II, the last of the Tsars. As with all of his previous and widely acclaimed works of history, Simon Sebag Montefiore gives an absolute scholarly and archival foundation to a book that is both exceptionally informative and dazzlingly entertaining from first to last.

The Romanovs is due to be published in the US in May 2016 (it’s already out in the UK). This review is based on a digital ARC from the publisher, Knopf, via Edelweiss.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Despite its impressive length — nearly 800 pages! — this is still a rather whirlwind tour of Russian history. After all, the Romanovs ruled the country for over 3 centuries, and any one of the tsar or tsarina’s lives would make for an interesting book alone.

The book is divided into “Acts” (sections/parts/whatever) and “Scenes” (chapters). Each chapter begins with a cast of characters and concludes with a handful of notes regarding various events and people that might help clarify some points for the reader. This was particularly helpful for me, because I was reading this book in little half-hour chunks during my lunch breaks over the past month or so.

Being only passingly familiar with a few events in Russian history (most of them fairly recent, in the grand scheme of things), I admit that I got a bit lost at some points. It doesn’t help that royalty likes to recycle names, or that Russian names can begin to look like little more than a bunch of letters randomly strung together if you aren’t comfortable with the language. Montefiore did try to alleviate the confusion a bit by referring to each major player with a consistent name or nickname, though.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

I did enjoy the occasional little references to what all was going on in the rest of the world while Tsar So-n-So was forcing religious reform or Tsarina Such-n-Such was beheading all her enemies. I’m much more familiar with the history of a couple of other European countries, so this was particularly helpful for my own comprehension.

One thing I was surprised by (though I shouldn’t have been, really) was the impressive amount of violence perpetrated both by the Romanovs and against them. Public torture, dismemberment, and death by impalement were common occurrences during the reign of Alexis I (and later reigns as well), while his contemporary Louis XIV in France resorted somewhat less enthusiastically to execution by the slightly more civilized guillotine. The murder of the last of the Romanovs, Nicholas and Alexandra and their children, was frenzied and bloody.

On a similarly disconcerting topic, serfdom was the fate of the vast majority of people in feudal Russia up until the mid-19th century, while feudalism in Western Europe had been mostly done away with after the dark ages, or by the end of the 1700’s at the very latest. Blood and oppression made up the foundation of the Romanovs’ autocratic dynasty — as well as the foundation of Russia’s current autocratic state.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

The book is obviously well-researched and — be still, my heart! — includes plenty of notes and citations. Montefiore writes in such a way that it is obvious that he’s trying to make his subject accessible to non-scholars, too, but I still had to look up a lot of terms and events on Wikipedia just to catch up and figure out what the heck was going on.

Overall, I’d say that this is a good summary of the long rule of the Romanov family over Russia, though it might not be the very first title a person should pick up if they’re just getting started on Russian history. Anyway, I’m quite glad I got a chance to read it.


Links:


Publication information: Montefiore, Simon Sebag. The Romanovs: 1613-1918. New York: Knopf, 2016. EPUB.
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline

March 6, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 0

Cline_ReadyPlayerOne

★★★★

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline | November 2011 | Broadway Books | Paperback $16

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win — and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

I didn’t actually intend to review this particular book here on the blog — about 1/3 to 1/2 of the books I read will just get a few stars and maybe a quick paragraph or two on Goodreads, especially backlist stuff that I’m not reading for a particular challenge/event.

But I’ve been in a little bit of a reading slump lately. Not that I’m not reading, because I am, but I’ve been taking it pretty slow, plus I just don’t have much to say about what I’m reading. So maybe it’s more like a reviewing slump. So when I felt like blathering on just a little bit about Ready Player One, I figured I’d better seize that feeling and run with it!

– – –

My husband received this book a few months ago in his Loot Crate, a monthly subscription box that delivers themed “loot” for geeks — he’s gotten all kinds of things, from a Fallout Vault Boy bobblehead to a World of Warcraft hearthstone stress ball thing. Now our dog gets a monthly box (Loot Pets), too, and they get matching t-shirts. It’s adorable.

Anyhow, mi esposo really enjoyed Ready Player One, and even though our taste in books doesn’t always match up he was pretty sure that I’d like it, too.

Plus, get this: Spielberg is working on a movie based on this book, due out in 2018!

– – –

But… I almost DNF’d this book before I even got through the first couple chapters. It starts off like just another YA dystopia, all doom and gloom and “energy crisis” this and “giant evil tech corporations” that. Which, y’know, I get it. The human species is slowly suiciding and taking this little planet with it, yes, OK, but after a while the dystopia fatigue starts to set in. And the beginning of Ready Player One seemed to me like just another teenager bemoaning the predictably broken state of the world… which I was frankly just not in the mood to pay attention to.

Anyway, I’m glad I continued on with it. Once the plot picks up, the pacing and tension and character development help keep it moving and make the book pretty hard to put down. There are a lot (A LOT) of fun references to 1980’s pop culture — not just video/arcade games, like you’d expect with a title like Ready Player One, but also tabletop games, movies and TV, music (lots and lots and lots of music), and technology.

– – –

My only real complaint is the unnecessary amount of exposition, especially at the beginning of the story. And listen, I’m normally one of those readers who loves exposition. I can’t resist a carefully built, detailed world, and I don’t do well with stories are so plot-centric that they have barely a sketch of a setting/history. So, you know the exposition must be pretty excessive if even Louise is getting tired of it. The first quarter or so of the book is like 90% infodumping!

I’m also not sure how to categorize this book for my review index. I think it is being marketed mainly as an adult SFF because the whole focus on 1980’s pop culture probably appeals mainly to grown-ups who lived through that time period. But the age of the characters, some of the experiences they go through, and the kind of “stick it to The Man” mentality are all very YA-ish. Anyway, Ready Player One did get an Alex Award for “books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults” from the American Library Association’s YALSA group, so I guess it really does have some serious crossover appeal.


Links:

Read My Own Damn Books Challenge Image

This book also counts for my #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge.


Publication information: Cline, Ernest. Ready Player One. New York: Broadway Books, 2011. Print.
Source: Loot Crate
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


The Yellow Wallpaper
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

February 6, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 0

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman Book Cover

★ ★ ★ ★

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman | January 1892 | Project Gutenberg | Public domain

First published in 1892, The Yellow Wallpaper is a very short novella, which traces a woman’s descent into madness, when she is subjected to the Weir Mitchell Rest Cure and forbidden to use her imagination or undertake any activity.

My goodness, what a creepy/depressing piece of literature this is.

It’s clear to the modern reader that the narrator is suffering from some form of mental illness. Postpartum depression, perhaps, or an anxiety disorder. Of course, in the Victorian era (when this short story was written), a woman with these kinds of problems was simply labelled “hysterical” or was said to have a nervous condition.

The narrator’s husband, being a physician, is the one who has diagnosed her with a slight hysterical tendency and ordered her to take a rest cure in the countryside. Thus she must spend all day every day under his direction, and her schedule consists of nothing much more than brief walks in the garden, meals, and solitary time in the room with the yellow wallpaper.

She hates this yellow wallpaper, with its irritating and repellent pattern which has been stripped off the wall in some places by previous occupants, and she begins to obsess over it.

The poor woman is not only anxious/depressed, but she has absolutely nothing to do to occupy her time. She is not even allowed to write, much less have any useful exercise or roll in the running of the household. Her own baby is being nursed by someone else. Her husband infantilizes her and tells her that she would get well if only she had more self-control. This, as much as any preexisting mental condition, is what ultimately drives her over the edge of sanity.

It’s amazing to me how much of a punch can be packed into a short story of only 15 pages. I couldn’t help but feel sadness for this woman who slipped so quickly into severe mental illness, exacerbated by the patronizing treatment she’d been subjected to.

This is a tough one to rate, partly because it’s so short and partly because it’s brilliant but not in any way a favorite of mine. I won’t personally re-read it (it is very disturbing!), but I do want to recommend it to anyone interested in the way mood disorders were handled in the late 19th century.

This is a selection from my Classics Club list, and counts towards the Women’s Classic Literature Event.


Links:


Publication information: Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. Salt Lake City, UT: Project Gutenberg, 2008. EPUB.
Source: Project Gutenberg Ebooks, www.gutenberg.org/ebooks.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


From Silk to Silicon
by Jeffrey E. Garten

February 1, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 0

Garten_FromSilktoSilicon

★ ★ ★ ★

From Silk to Silicon: The Story of Globalization Through Ten Extraordinary Lives by Jeffrey E. Garten | March 2016 | Harper | Hardcover $29.99

This is the first book to look at the history of globalization through the lens of individuals who did something transformative, as opposed to describing globalization through trends, policies, or particular industries. From Silk to Silicon tells the story of who these men and women were, what they did, how they did it and how their achievements continue to shape our world today.

This is the story of globalization in historical and personal terms, starting with Genghis Khan conquering vast swaths of Asia and to build a massive empire and concluding with the efforts of more contemporary characters like Margaret Thatcher, Andrew Grove, and Deng Xiaoping. Each individual profiled in this book had some huge impact on the way our modern world works.

I knew very little about Genghis Khan, Henry the Navigator, Cyrus Field, or really any of the other people featured in this book before reading it. Each chapter is really a broad summary of each person’s life with particular emphasis on their contributions to globalization, rather than an in-depth biography. But I’m intrigued now by these people and plan to find more books about them, or maybe track down some documentaries or something. The details of their lives must be fascinating.

Of course, not every person profiled here is what I’d call “admirable”… not by a long shot. They were conquerors and capitalists and probably other questionably-virtuous things that start with the letter C. War, slavery, and questionable ethics in general abound in their stories What they all have in common, saints or sinners or something in between, is that they actively transformed the world in irreversible ways.

The book entirely “readable” in that you don’t have to be a historian or economist or whatever to understand the language or the salient points. (See above re: my unfamiliarity with most of the highlighted people.) One of the things I really liked about it was the inclusion of maps. Maps! I mean, I like maps in general, but in this case they really were necessary for me to be able to visualize the spread of each profiled person’s impact on the world.

I’m afraid I can’t personally comment on the accuracy of any of the information in this book because I am not a historian of any kind, but the author is an economics professor at Yale and former international trade official for the federal government, plus he’s been widely published in the topics of global economies and politics… so I’m inclined to believe that what he has to say in this book is probably accurate. Garten is also careful to qualify statements when the historical record is incomplete or when scholars disagree on the details, and I very much appreciate that kind of intellectual honesty.

– – –

Please note: I received an e-ARC from the publisher for review via Edelweiss. From Silk to Silicon will be released March 1, 2016.


Links:

Publication information: Garten, J. E. From Silk to Silicon: The Story of Globalization Through Ten Extraordinary Lives. New York: Harper, 2016. EPUB. 
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss. 
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Cooking for Geeks
by Jeff Potter

December 23, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0

Potter_CookingforGeeks


★ ★ ★ ★

Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Cooks, and Good Food by Jeff Potter | July 2010 | O’Reilly Media | EPUB (Barnes & Noble Nook) $38.99

Why, exactly, do we cook the way we do? Are you curious about the science behind what happens to food as it cooks? Are you the innovative type, used to expressing your creativity instead of just following recipes? Do you want to learn how to become a better cook?

When you step into the kitchen, you’re unwittingly turned into a physicist and a chemist. This excellent and intriguing resource is for inquisitive people who want to increase their knowledge and ability to cook.

Please note: This review is for the FIRST edition of this title. There is now a 2nd edition, which incl. an additional 150 pages of new content!

This book includes an interesting combination of super basic recipes (hard boiled eggs, no-knead bread) and complicated or time-intensive recipes (duck confit sugo, 48-hour brisket). The focus in all the recipes, regardless of required skill/interest level, is how the cooking techniques work.

For example, Potter doesn’t just tell you that the “shock and awe” method of hard boiling eggs produces better-tasting eggs with shells that are easier to peel off; he walks you through the thermal gradient of the egg and what the shock of hot/cold water will do to the insides as well as the shell.

That being said, I have to confess that I have not actually tried any of the recipes in this book yet (no, not even the supposedly super-scientific perfect eggs). I hesitate to “review” a cookbook without having tried the recipes, but here’s why I went ahead and did it anyway:

1. Cooking for Geeks isn’t just a collection of recipes. It includes interviews, lots of tips for beginners, kitchen organization + equipment advice, and all kinds of science-y info on topics like taste, heat conduction methods, and food safety.

2. I just wanted to finish my last review for both my TBR Pile Challenge and Foodies Read goals.

Since reason number 2 is boring, let’s talk some more about reason number 1.

– – –

I especially liked the sections on tastes (like bitter, sweet, sour, etc.) and the kitchen organization + equipment info. These are not topics that most “cookbooks” delve into but they’re still very important to successful cooking. I would recommend this book to beginner cooks, despite some of the more complicated recipes, simply because these sections are so dang helpful.

Potter encourages experimentation. There’s a lot of “What happens if we… ?” and “Try X, Y, or Z instead and see how it turns out!” going on here. That’s cool with me, but if you’re looking for extremely precise or strict recipes (and some people do prefer that!) you’ll just want to be aware that this is more of an experiment-friendly book.

The recipes themselves aren’t even written in the traditional cooking time | ingredients list | steps | notes kind of way, nor will you find a lot of big glossy photos of pretty dishes. The focus is all on figuring out how stuff works and how you can make it work even better.

(That said, I love cookbooks with pretty pictures and would have appreciated some more illustrations/photos. Still, since I was reading this on my Nook + phone, I wouldn’t have been able to fully appreciate them anyway!)

– – –

Also, keep in mind that a lot of the “geek” references are geared more towards developer/hacker types. Like, if you think of yourself as a geek or nerd or whatever because you read a lot of comics and play tabletop RPGs, cool, let’s be friends, but also you might miss out on some of the references meant for the more computer-y species of geek.

Despite those geek species-specific references, this book covers a lot of science and techniques that you don’t have to know anything about coding to get. I’m saying that with a background in the natural sciences so basic household chemistry doesn’t scare me anyway, but I truly think that as long as you have an interest in the subject of kitchen science you’ll be able to understand all or most of the topics in this book.


Links:

So, what do you think? I’m open to recommendations for other geek-friendly cookery books!


Publication information: Potter, Jeff. Cooking for Geeks. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, 2010. EPUB.
Source: Purchased from Barnes & Noble.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


100 Million Years of Food
by Stephen Le

December 22, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0

Le_100MillYearsofFood

★ ★ ★ ★

100 Million Years of Food: What Our Ancestors Ate and Why It Matters Today by Stephen Le | February 2016 | Picador | Hardcover $26

There are few areas of modern life that are burdened by as much information and advice, often contradictory, as our diet and health: eat a lot of meat, eat no meat; whole-grains are healthy, whole-grains are a disaster; eat everything in moderation; eat only certain foods–and on and on. In One Hundred Million Years of Food biological anthropologist Stephen Le explains how cuisines of different cultures are a result of centuries of evolution, finely tuned to our biology and surroundings.

This book is due out in February of 2016. This review is based on an e-ARC provided by the publisher through Edelweiss.

This is an ambitious summary of what we know about traditional cuisines and how various common (or not-so-common) foods can affect the human body, told in part by way of the author’s memories of travelling around the world in search of new food experiences.

The author’s main focus, other than the whirlwind tour through world cuisines and modern hypotheses concerning human evolution, is this:

The robustness of meat-eaters and the long lives of meat-abstainers are two sides of the same biological coin. It all depends on how you define ‘healthy’. Does healthy mean being in a great mood and being fertile and stronger at a younger age, or does healthy mean delaying cancer for a couple of years and hanging out with your great-grandchildren?

I did learn a few intriguing new-to-me factoids. For example:

As a result of losing the ability to manufacture uricase [the enzyme that helps dispose of uric acid, by-product of purine and fructose from food], humans have uric acid levels three to ten times higher than other mammals and unfortunately a greater predisposition to gout and possibly hypertension. The loss of uricase over millions of years of evolution is one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in the evolution of the human diet. 

The author goes on to explain various hypotheses that have been proposed for this seemingly maladaptive quirk of human evolution. Everything from protection against brain damage to more effective fat storage on a fruit-heavy diet has been proposed, but each hypothesis has its problems. Le prefers the idea that this uric acid problem is merely an accidental side effect of the body’s need for protective antioxidants in the absence of dietary or self-synthesized vitamin C. This is because uric acid mimics some of the effects of vitamin C, and in fact higher levels of vitamin C in the body correlate with lower levels of uric acid.

Though I found this topic fascinating, I won’t try to summarize or quote the entire chapter for you — the little teaser above might be enough to get you to try this book, if you’re interested in this sort of thing.

– – –

The book touches briefly on the history of human consumption of almost every type of food, from lard to milk to insects, as well as their associated health effects, both good and bad. It’s a bit of a whirlwind, but the upshot is this: whether any given food is “healthy” often depends entirely on how you consume it and how you want to interpret its typical results.

This is, I think, something most people with an ounce of common sense + basic knowledge of nutrition can intuitively understand, but it’s nice to see it spelled out with lots of examples. Le is careful not to promote one type of diet over another, except of course for his point that traditional diets are generally better suited to our bodies’ needs than the typical “industrialized” diet of the modern American.

– – –

I’m sure Stephen Le’s adventures were quite exciting and I might be interested in reading his travel-focused memoirs, but I found myself getting a little impatient over his little side trips down memory lane at some points. These experiences were usually used as jumping off points for essays on particular foods or cultural traditions, though, so at least they weren’t entirely out of place.

There was also a pretty heavy focus on east/southeast Asian foods — which is entirely understandable given the author’s cultural background and his choice of countries to visit, but I did hope to see a little more info about other cultures, like maybe more details about Native American or Australian Aborigine cuisine history.

– – –

Overall I think this book offers a good summary of what scientists + historians currently understand about traditional foodways and how modern dietary choices/habits impact the human body. Definitely recommend it for anyone interested in diet-based health improvement or historical cuisines.


Links:


Publication information: Le, Stephen. 100 Million Years of Food: What Our Ancestors Ate & Why It Matters Today. London: Picador, 2016. EPUB.
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
by Deborah Madison

October 24, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0

Edited to add: Right now we’re getting hit by the remnants of Hurricane Patricia. A tornado touched down just a few miles to the eat of us, and our neighborhood is right on the edge of a flood zone. Wish us luck….

Madison_VegCooking


★ ★ ★ ★

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison | November 1997 | Broadway Books, a division of Bantam Doubleday | Hardcover $40.00

hat Julia Child is to French cooking, Deborah Madison is to vegetarian cooking—a demystifier and definitive guide to the subject. After her many years as a teacher and writer, she realized that there was no comprehensive primer for vegetarian cooking, no single book that taught vegetarians basic cooking techniques, how to combine ingredients, and how to present vegetarian dishes with style. Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone teaches readers how to build flavor into vegetable dishes, how to develop vegetable stocks, and how to choose, care for, and cook the many vegetables available to cooks today. Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is in every way Deborah Madison’s magnum opus, featuring 1,400 recipes suitable for committed vegetarians, vegans (in most cases), and everyone else who loves good food.

I read this book for both my Foodies Read list and the TBR Pile Challenge.

No, this is not The New Vegeterian Cooking for Everyone, the updated version produced by the same author in 2014. It’s the original version, with all the quirks and “outdated” dishes that made this book so popular in the late 1990’s.

Well, perhaps I should rephrase: It wasn’t the trendy stuff that made this book popular in the first place. It’s the comprehensive examination of the edible plantstuffs (and some non-meat animal products) that make up a vegetarian (or simply vegetarianish) diet. All kinds of ingredients and ways of cooking are explored in this book; the recipes, though varied and generally well-done, are not the real stand-out parts of this book.

Take as an example the “Grains” chapter. Of the 48 pages that make up this section, about 11 of them are made up of informative essays on types of rice, ways grains are harvested and prepared prior to hitting grocery store shelves, and even tips for making grain-based dishes attractive instead of just piles of mush. Recipes range from the simple, like polenta or even just plain white rice, to the more complex or exotic, like artichoke risotto or a curried quinoa dish that somehow involves orange juice and cashews.

– – –

I’ve used several very simple recipes from this book over the years. It includes instructions for everything from baking sweet potatoes to grilling corn and the book is so well-organized and carefully arranged that turning to it for reference is often quicker and more accurate than Googling and just hoping for the best.

Full disclosure: I am not a vegetarian. Part of the appeal of this book, to me, is that Madison doesn’t come across as preachy or judgmental in any way, whether you’re a full-on vegan or an unrepentant omnivore who just wants to try new stuff. She herself is really a locavore, eating meat and animal products as well as produce when in season and ethically farmed in her own area. I really admire this! Here’s a relevant quote:

When it comes to forming a philosophy or a political position about what to eat, I leave that to each of you to work out. But whether you place your vegetables at the center of your plate, reserve that place for meat, or find comfort somewhere in between, enjoy, eat well, and raise a glass to life!

Lest you think this is a re-read and shouldn’t count for either of my reading challenges, the sad truth is that until now I’d totally ignored all the lovely little extras. The introductory chapters — all about finding proper equipment, types of seasonings, etc. — and the other little educational bits got completely skipped over when all I really wanted to know was how long to steam the broccoli.

– – –

That said, I haven’t tried very many of the “real” recipes, y’know, the ones that involve more than 2 ingredients and multiple steps. I paid particular attention to the section on “Asian Noodles”, which covers cellophane, mein, rice, and soba types of pasta. My husband and I both enjoy Italian pasta dishes and Japanese- and Chinese-inspired stir-fry type dishes, so I think he would be open to trying some of these recipes. Well, modified versions of them. Neither of us eat tofu, and he would probably not be open to trying ingredients like hijiki or dulse (if I could even find them).

This is why I ultimately settled on 4 stars for this book. Not having tried many of the recipes yet, I obviously can’t judge them. However, a significant portion of them don’t appeal to me, or I know that if I tried them my husband wouldn’t even touch the results. Sometimes I just cook for myself, but given the cost/difficulty of finding of some of these “fancier” ingredients I’m hesitant to bother with them at all.


Links:

Tell me: If you have used this cookbook, do you have a favorite recipe? If you’ve read the newest edition, what did you think of the changes?


Publication information: Madison, Deborha. Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. New York: Broadway Books, 1997. Print.
Source: Owned, unsure of original purchase location.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


The Road to Dr Pepper, Texas
by Karen Wright

September 27, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0

Wright_DrPepperTX

★ ★ ★ ★

The Road to Dr Pepper, Texas: The Story of Dublin Dr Pepper by Karen Wright | January 2006 | State House Press | Paperback $16.95

The Road to Dr Pepper, Texas is the story of Dublin Dr Pepper Bottling Co., a David-Goliath case study of the world’s first Dr Pepper bottling plant and the only one that has always used pure cane sugar in spite of compelling reasons to switch sweeteners. The book traces the story from the founder’s birth through the contemporary struggles of a tiny independent, family-owned franchise against industry giants.

I read this book for my Foodies Read 2015 challenge.

It’s a slim volume, clocking in at just about 175 pages, so it didn’t take long to get through. Which is a good thing, because I don’t think it would have held my interest any longer than the few hours it took to read it. Not that it is a boring book! Rather, it’s very interest-specific. If you don’t care anything about the Erath County, Texas area, or the families of the people profiled in this book, or the history of Dr Pepper in its home state, you can safely skip this particular title.

I do have some family ties to Erath County, and I think my interest in genealogy and associated obscure little local histories made this a good book for me to pass the time with. I’ve also been a long-time Dublin Dr Pepper fan, if one can be a “fan” of a now-defunct subspecies of a particular soft drink.

Unfortunately, Dublin Dr Pepper is no more. This book was released about 6 years before the industry giant Dr Pepper Snapple Group forced the bottling plant to cease production due to branding issues + distribution violations. The bottling plant still exists and still produces cane sugar soft drinks of various vintage flavors, but it ain’t the same stuff that I grew up with.

Some of my fondest memories involve Dublin Dr Pepper. There was one particular BBQ joint in my grandparent’s small town that made the best brisket and potato salad, perfectly accompanied by a little glass bottle of the good stuff.


Links:


Publication information: Wright, Karen. The Road to Dr Pepper, Texas: The Story of Dublin Dr Pepper. Buffalo Gap, Texas: State House Press, 2006. Print.
Source: Owned, unsure of original purchase location.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.