Sunday, May 27, 2018

weeks late

I've been reading bunches and am now way ahead of schedule (in your face, GoodReads count!) but have been doing a poor job writing things down.  Trying to get myself caught up a bit on that front.  

The prisoner in the castle by Susan Elia MacNeal.Ugh, nothing happened in this book. The main character wasn't integral to the plot at all, she was merely the vehicle through which we watched the story. She didn't find the bad guy, she didn't do a good job protecting her fellows, and she didn't [spoiler alert] even take down the bad guy on her own: he met his demise accidentally while she was trying to escape. This character is a strong, educated, brave woman when she's the leading lady; this book wasn't about her at all.

I keep reading these books because the first few were so good and I keep hoping a new installment will be a pleasant surprise. I really need to stop.

On highland time by Lexi Post.  I thought this would be a fun little bit to take on vacation-- romance! and time travel! But it's too full; there's also secret societies and other mentioned-but-not-explained mystical and magical powers. There is way too much going on to even be able to get into it.

True fiction
 by Lee Goldberg.  omg, this was horrible. Who is the intended audience for this? The book is plot-based, which is not my normal cuppa, but I can see that the pacing is pretty good. Although there's not much in the way of character development, actions are taken and the world is changed; things are different at the end of the book than they were at the beginning.

What is horrifying is how any non-main character is defaulted to a sex object. The waitress is introduced by her hair color and a description of her posterior. A henchman is described with height, eye color, and how masochistic he may or may not be in his intimate relationships. Bad guys are hacking private information to track down a side character; they find her glee club record, her parking tickets, and a specific model of vibrator she recently bought on Amazon. I have no problem with explicit content when it makes sense, but this makes no sense at all: there are no romantic relationships, and comments aren't made in the context of romance or consent. All these comments and asides are shoe-horned in; they don't fit and they are jarring, throwing off the flow of the narrative. It's like this author embodies the myth that guys think about sex every 7 seconds and he's... what? Trying to prove he's a man by showing how often he thinks about it? Hoping to captivate lowest-common-denominator readers who, he assumes, will get bored if we go more than two pages without explicitly commenting on someone's ass? I'm working up to a good angry about the social implications, and I'm properly angry about how clunky it makes the storytelling. Without this shameful fascination with all things sexual, this could have been a 3-and-a-half-star book with a likable, humorous main character and an over-the-top, Bond-villain-esque bad guy, all good fun for summer lounging. All crass comments are made about female characters, about inanimate objects, or are characters bragging, except for one comment made about a male character. This objectification is not ok, and shame, shame on the author Lee Goldberg and on the publisher Thomas and Mercer.

Kiss of the spindle by Nancy Campbell Allen.  I distinctly recall that the review I read about this was in a journal under "Romance." The subject headings on Baker & Taylor also specify "romance." For clarification, this is not a romance by any stretch of the imagination. It's steampunk with world-building and adventure, and it's a good book. It captures what the Soulless series offered before the author sold out.

Although marked as book two of a series, this completely stands on its own. It would be more accurate to say that the two (so far) books take place in the same universe, but do not have to be read in order.

Food pharmacy: A guide to gut bacteria, anti-inflammatory foods, and eating for health by Lina Nertby and Mia Clase.  There appears to be a lot of information in this book, but in the first quarter, there are no citations.  Many sentences include variations on "studies show" or "reserchers are finding" sorts of statements, but no specific studies, researchers, or articles mentioned.  There is a "References" section at the end, but it's only three pages of widely-spaced text and doesn't seem adequate for a book of this size.  Since neither of these writers are health professionals in the first place, this is the type of book that seems to rely on the reader feeling its truthiness.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Feed me, Seymour.

I think I keep checking these out because I'm hungry.  I can't hope to eat any of these things any time soon, but they are so lovely to look at.

PNW veg: 100 vegetable recipes inspired by the local bounty of the Pacific Northwest by Kim O'Donnel.  I really wanted to like this book.  The content might be useful for people who do a significant amount of shopping at (large) farmers' markets (most of the regional produce she focuses on doesn't show up in our market, which has only two actual farmers).  Many readers will be put off by the lack of pictures: many recipes don't have any picture at all; the ones that do either have a photo of an ingredient (leeks, green onions, asparagus), or the photo of the finished product is on the next page, not visible from the page with the ingredients and directions.  Those had me flipping back and forth; it was annoying.

Real food heals: Eat to feel younger and stronger every day by Seamus Mullen.  The very short introduction talks about how the author came to what is essentially an anti-inflammatory-style diet after being ill.  He mentions the Wahls protocol and several other researchers he talked with, but it isn't enough information for someone thinking about a diet change; it's more appropriate to comfort someone, who has read about anti-inflammatory diets elsewhere, where the author started from when he designed his diet.

Only about half the recipes, or maybe even fewer, have photos.  Since many of these dishes are gourmet-ish, I'm not sure how the finished product is supposed to look.  What's a caponata?  Or carpaccio?  Although there are no beans or gluten, and most of the inclusion of dairy seems optional or can be substituted, this book is primarily appropriate for people who like to cook a la froo-froo.  I did see a number of ingredients that seemed extremely specific that I might have difficult in purchasing locally: watermelon radishes, specific types of mushrooms and chiles I haven't ever seen before, something called gochujang, and that yuzu stuff again, as examples.

Wild fermentation: The flavor, nutrition, and craft of live-culture foods by Sandor Ellix Katz.  If you want information about fermentation, in addition to recipes, this is it.  There's a ton of history, regional information, and very clear directions.  If I ever ferment, I will use this book.

The anti-inflammatory diet and action plans: 4-week meal plans to heal the immune system and restore overall health by Dorothy Calimeris and Sondi Bruner.  This is not a worthwhile book to have.  I have to admit, I largely checked out when the authors described GMOs as "serious heath risks" (28).  Science is bad!  Looking ahead, the authors offer four different action plans.  There is a very short discussion on the differences between the plans (vegan, Paleo, Mediterranean, and "time-saving") but each type of plan gets less than 2 full pages-- certainly not nearly enough information for anyone to make an informed decision.  Neither of the authors are doctors; both have inflammatory diseases, and one is a nutritionist (credentials and institutions not specified), but they both are writers and (professional?) bloggers, so their authority is perhaps in question.

The recipes themselves, which make up over 2/3rds of the book, seem fine.  They are marked as to which of the 4 plans they are allowed under.  Each also lists nutrition information, including calories per serving, fat, carbs, fiber, and more, which is fantastic.  But overall, the information and authority is lacking.

The perfect health diet: Regain health and lose weight by eating the way you were meant to eat by Paul Jaminet and Shou-Ching Jaminet.  After nearly a month on the Wahls protocol, I was having a recurrence of the same problems I had before starting; I started adding back in non-gluten starches, trying to up my caloric intake.  Coincidentally, a few days after that, I started this book, which pretty much mirrors what I was already doing.  It has been about a week on this eating plan, and I'm doing better.  I need to find a way to incorporate more healthy fats, and I'd like it if my body could tolerate more vegetable variety, but I'm doing ok.

To be honest, I skimmed quite a bit of this.  This is a thick book with a ton of very technical information.  It wouldn't be out of reach of someone with basic undergraduate-level science education who was emotionally invested, paying attention, and taking notes.  The writing seemed comfortable and appropriate: not too jokey or hokey, but believable and reliable.

The elimination diet: Discover the foods that are making you sick and tired-- and feel better fast by Tom Malterre and Alissa Segersten.  I quit.  First, this isn't really applicable to me, as I've already eliminated pretty much everything.  I would have skimmed it, though, except it was driving me crazy: the tone is unbelievable.  Obviously the writer wants to come across as upbeat, confident, and reliable, but this was unreal.  Every example patient encounter was "I immediately knew exactly what was wrong" and after eliminating the problem food (which is always presented as being the first guess), everything is 100% better.  The patient experiences are completely unbelievable and the instruction and other information is disturbingly overconfident.

Simple green suppers: A fresh strategy for one-dish vegetarian meals by Susie Middlleton.  Even if I were physically able to eat most of these ingredients, this still wouldn't be the cookbook for me.  My new theory is that most people I know aren't vegetarian because it would be impossible to support at our small-town grocery stores.  Although this cookbook didn't have the outlandish ingredients of some others-- the kind of ingredients where I wouldn't even know which aisle to start looking in-- this still had plenty of specialty radishes and greens and such that you just won't find out here.  Additionally, although the author asserts that all of these dishes can be made in under an hour, they all seemed fussy.  I prefer meals that focus on a few ingredients and flavors, not six or seven things plus a custom spice blend plus a home-made dressing.  Not enough pictures.

Saturday, April 21, 2018


I silently observed Edible Book Day this year.  I have been unable to get any coworkers on board, and with my current food restrictions, I wasn't up for making something big on my own.

Spider woman's daughter by Anne Hillerman.  I knew that this was a continuation/spin-off, and it seems not too terribly difficult to jump into the story here, although references to previous cases seem unnecessarily heavy.  Annoying, but  I probably could have lived with it.  I quit because of the language and writing, though: it's amazingly clunky and unrealistic, especially the dialogue.  There were also some awkward, obvious info-dumps not at all incorporated into the story.  Super poor-quality writing.

Kingdom, series 2 and 3, with Stephen Fry.  Enjoyable, glad I watched it, recommended for fans of British TV.  I'm not sure why they ended series 3 on such a big cliffhanger, since another season wasn't guaranteed.  It made for a weird ending.  Also, the plot device didn't make sense: there was no reason (trying not to be too spoiler-y here) for the hospital to run the kind of test they did, and seems like it may have been an invasion of privacy.  So, general confusion and dissatisfaction with the final episode, but otherwise good.

The folklore of Discworld by Terry Pratchett and Jacqueline Simpson; narrated by Michael Fenton Stevens.  This was great fun, but definitely only of interest to the author's fans.  It was very interesting for me, since I have gone through periods of reading a lot of folklore and mythology.  There are so many things in the Discworld that seem sorta like they are probably based on something real but not anything in particular that I was familiar with, so it was interesting and delightful to hear about all these traditional customs, mostly from rural or historical Europe, that I hadn't come across before. 

Stone mad by Elizabeth Bear.  This is short-- more of a novella, really-- and I'm not sure what it's supposed to add to the series' universe.  Granted that it has been a while (wow, quite a while) since I read the first one, but I remembered it as being more steampunk, less gaslamp, whereas this one, while it certainly had some steampunk accoutrements, relied more on a paranormal being.  This made it seem like it didn't fit as well into the universe established in the first book.  Still enjoyable if short.

The secret loves of geek girls, edited by Hope Nicholson.  I think I picked this up based entirely on the title, so made up some interesting expectations going in.  Although not what I was expecting, this was mostly still pretty good.  Some of the essays felt like something shot off in an hour, but most of them felt more complete.  The essays and illustrations cover a wide array of topics related to relationships: long-distance relationships, coming out, work-home balance, and learning about oneself. 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

I'm not done yet

My holds keep coming in.

Weeknight Paleo: 100+ easy and delicious family-friendly meals by Julie and Charles Mayfield.  This is not a useful cookbook.  Like in their first book, the authors are a bit wishy-washy about what "Paleo" is or means.  In this book, they do come off more as "find out what works best for you."  The recipes all seem fussy, with ingredient lists that go down the whole length of the page sometimes.  Canned items, butter, and coconut products are in nearly every dish, so not useful for me.  Specialized equipment, including spiralizers and insta-pots, are also featured.  I still wouldn't recommend this even for eaters with fewer restrictions: none of the recipes seem particularly special and in general the notes, introductory paragraphs for each recipe, and other writing all seems forced-folksy.

Meals that heal inflammation: Embrace healthy living and eliminate pain, one meal at a time by Julie Daniluk.  There are so many anti-inflammation diets.  How many have I looked at and each one is different.  This author does note several times that the perfect diet is unique to each person, but there's so much variation, it is difficult to know where to start.  This diet incorporates a lot of beans and tree nuts.

The health-information part-- fully half the book-- is ok.  The author is a trained nutritionist, but also some kind of a celebrity, so some of the information is good (matches information from other sources) but some of it... well.  She heavily cites or quotes health books by other authors, including the note that "some health practitioners believe that dehydration is at the root of almost every chronic condition.  (See Dr. F. Batmanghelidj's book, Your body's many cries for water, for an in-depth look at the link between dehydration and disease.)"  (p.98)  That sounds a lot like an endorsement of the idea.

While most of the book is at least understandable and good for me to review, a few parts stand out as being too technical or specialized, especially since the book seems to be designed for people who need introductory-level information.  An example: "Minerals also provide impressive antioxidant protection.  For example, many minerals function as cofactors for various classes of antioxidant enzymes that your body produces.  A cofactor is a nonprotein compound that binds to a protein and is essential for that protein's function (enzymes are a type of protein).  Selenium is a mineral cofactor for glutathione peroxidases..." (p. 102)  These terms and this process receives no more explanation, either before or after.  I'm not sure what this means.

And just because it annoyed me, the text is justified throughout, which made for some really messed-up spacing.  Improper spacing between sentences is the first thing on the list of "Things Guaranteed to Mess With My Dyslexia." 

Savor: Rustic recipes inspired by forest, field, and farm by Ilona Oppenheim.  This book is undeniably beautiful.  Every recipe has its own picture, and landscape and family shots are included throughout.  The pages aren't glossy, which goes with the "rustic" theme.

As for content, this book is mostly for people who romanticize homesteading; people who might actually use it must have obscene amounts of time and money.  It's a bit pretentious, every egg in every recipe marked as "pasture-raised," every dairy product followed by "ideally raw or nonhomogenized grass-fed."  This is another author who talks so much about herself and her family that you'd think she's some kind of celebrity.  Of course, if I snowbirded between Miami and Aspen and had a custom-built home on a mountain, I suppose I would eventually become out of touch with reality, too.  Several pages on how to mill your own grains at home?  Yeah, right.

Gorgeous and useless.  Nice to look at, but completely unnecessary for anyone to actually own. 

100% real: 100 insanely good recipes for clean food made fresh by Sam Talbot.  Too bad I didn't find this book when it was new and I might have been able to eat like this: some of these recipes look truly delicious.  And it's a beautiful book, with matte photos for every recipe.  There are some weird ingredients I couldn't hope to find in my small town (sambal oelek? yuzu juice? We don't all like in New York, Sam) and some of the recipes seem like odd combinations, too hands-on/time-intensive, or otherwise fiddly, but this book has more realistic recipes than Savor

Vedge: 100 plates large and small that redefine vegetable cooking by Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby.  This isn't at all practical.  Most recipes have an ingredients list that runs the length of the page; plenty of ingredients aren't found at my local grocery or are too specialized to keep on-hand: thumbelina carrots, porcini powder (I had to google that), two kinds of sesame seeds for one dish, sea beans, and lupini beans.  Many of the recipes don't have pictures.  Since so many of the recipes use ingredients I might not even recognize, more photos seem necessary.  This doesn't seem at all useful for average people.  I didn't write down any recipes at all.

The first mess cookbook: Vibrant plant-based recipes to eat well through the seasons by Laura Wright.  It turns out this is a vegan cookbook, as well as being gluten-free, so there are some atypical ingredients in these.  Most of the recipes use large amounts of raw nuts as a base, so I can't even think of using them now.  Very pretty, lovely pictures, would probably be useful for veg(etari)ans who do all their cooking from scratch.

I would love to see a cookbook written by someone who didn't grow up on an idyllic 10-acre farm or helping since age 6 in their family's organic gourmet restaurant.  Normal people have to cook, too.

Monday, April 09, 2018

back to your regularly-scheduled programming

The deal of a lifetime by Fredrik Backman.  Despite the Christmas tree on the cover, this isn't a holiday story necessarily.  An emotional read, though not nearly as devastating as any of his other books.  Recommended, of course.

First bite: How we learn to eat by Bee Wilson.  I was asked to reread this to lead a book group meeting at a branch.  Since I suggested this title when brainstorming for the group, I could hardly turn down such an opportunity, especially since I liked it so much the first time I read it.  I was shoving ARCs and library copies into the hands of family and coworkers left, right, and center.

It was interesting for me to reread this as I tackle my anti-inflammation diet and binge on cookbooks.  The author 's main point, repeated throughout the book, is that eating (food choices, really) is a learned behavior, and if it's something you can learn, then it's something you can unlearn or relearn.  That felt very hopeful to me.  When the author talked about her own history with an eating disorder, it reminded me very strongly of some of the sentiments and points in Hunger; they would make good companion books, to read together.  Still highly recommended.

Owly and Wormy: Bright lights and starry nights by Andy Runton.  !  This happened to be sitting on top of a shelf in the children's area on a day I was closing; it was a coincidence that I walked through on the right day to spot it.  I love Owly so, so much!

This is a picture-book in size, but otherwise feels like the graphic novels.  I'm not sure why the format change, but the story doesn't suffer.  Adorable.  Everyone must read Owly.

Old cook books: an illustrated history by Eric Quayle.  My coworker weeded this because it hadn't checked out in an amount of time probably best measured in decades.  I saw it among the discards and of course was interested.

This had a lot of formatting problems and some content issues, but it was very interesting.  I didn't know when I started reading this that I would be basically inventorying sections of cookbooks, but this, along with First bite and the cookbook deluge, made for an interesting reading experience.  The example recipes throughout were informative and illustrative.

There were a few problems that effected the reading.  There are illustrations every few pages, but the illustration rarely corresponds closely to the text.  The tenuous tie-in could be as loose as [chapter about cookbook from 1750] and [reproduced artwork showing kitchen scene from 1810].  The few times there was artwork directly related to the chapter's contents (author portrait, book cover or frontis piece, etc.), it was usually several pages away with an in-text note to see page [x].  This seemed poorly planned.  There were also several text sizes and levels of indentation used to give long reproductions from historical cookbooks and recipes, but they were used very inconsistently, making it very difficult to tell at a glance the origin of any given paragraph.  The author also jumped topics rather abruptly a number of times, for instance, talking at length about an important and unique cookbook and the author, then transitioning mid-sentence to a new author and cookbook.  Not all cookbook authors were given space for biographical information, and it wasn't made clear as to why; certainly for some, given the length of time intervening, records may not exist, but this was not stated.

Chance, season 1, with Hugh Laurie.  This reminded me a lot of The night manager in its style, except I didn't like it as much.  The main character is a bit annoying; he's aware that he's making bad decisions and he's generally unmotivated to do anything about that.  The show is also a bit more violent than anticipated.  I see there's a season 2; I cannot imagine what you could do with the characters, since season 1 is kind of a self-contained story.  I'm not terribly motivated to watch it and find out, though. 

Person of interest, seasons 4 and 5, with Jim Caviezel.  This... got kind of weird, especially season 5.  I felt like I wasn't following all the conspiracies and related tendrils.  Kinda glad it's done.

Kingdom, series 1, with Stephen Fry.  I'm not really digging the sister character-- she doesn't seem realistic and she's given no depth-- but I like the show so far.  It's got all the best bits of Doc Martin-- small rural community, eccentric townspeople, loving yet trying family, wise but sassy elderly relative-- while having a main character that's a bit more likeable.

Flat broke with two goats: A memoir by Jennifer McGaha; read by Pam Ward.  Oh, bad.  I did the press prep for this, OverDrive's Big Library Read, and it sounded pretty fun-- suburban types move to more rural surroundings and learn through trial and error that rural living isn't all sunflowers and fluffy baby animals. 

This is a huge disappointment.  First, the author spends most of the book explaining events that lead up to moving to the more rural surroundings.  In all that time, the author never comes off as sympathetic.  She was willfully ignorant of the family's situation and then casts herself as the victim.  They lose their house and owe thousands to the goverment, but routinely make ridiculous decisions with what money they do have.  The author makes off-handed comments about "at the time" or "I now realize" but it doesn't make the situation any less unbelievably stupid, nor does it seem like she would truly make a different decision today.  We're talking about middle aged adults with grown children, not 20-somehings who were never told how to budget or prioritize. 

I finally quit about halfway through, for 2 reasons:
1.  There's a scene in which the author comes home and wants a shower; their water is heated by a wood fire, which has not been lit, so there is no hot water.  She yells at her husband that the situation (living in the rural setting with few creature comforts) is not her fault and he needs to step up and make it more comfortable.  First of all, it is her fault, too, and it doesn't look like she's going to recognize that any time soon.  Secondly, it's 2000-and-whatever and women rock.  Light your own damn fire.
2.  We've never made a ton of money.  For several years in the late 2000s, we qualified as earning below the poverty line.  You quickly learn things about priorities (assuming you've got two brain cells to rub together), and organic yogurt, restaurants, and spending $450 on improperly-penned farm animals do not make the list.  I think the thing that tipped me over the edge on this person's sheer stupidity may have been the garden fiasco-- they picked a spot to grow vegetables and (spent the money on seeds and) planted it, without first observing anything about it.  As a result, the whole area flooded and never dried out, as the sun wasn't above the ridge long enough each day.  These seem like pretty basic things to think about, and my gardening results have been hit or miss at best.

I wasn't a big fan of the reader, just as an added bonus.  The author is in her 40's (I think she says) at the beginning of the story, but the reader sounds much older than that.  When she read parts that were supposed to be more emotional, it sounded fake.  And I'm not at all sure her accent is real, either: sometimes a word here or there slips out that doesn't match.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Paleo and friends

Anti-inflammatory eating for a happy, healthy brain: 75 recipes for alleviating depression, anxiety, and memory loss by Michelle Babb.  "Anti-inflammatory" in this book is defined as a Mediterranean-style diet.  The author talks a very little and rather generally about recent research into the connection between the brain and the gut, and mentions a few studies that show patients more frequently co-presenting with both a mood disorder and a food sensitivity.  She's not trying to convince anyone, though: the introductory information in this book is for people who already think this eating style will benefit them.

Again, this food plan-- high in fresh vegetables, no gluten, no dairy-- would be feasible and heathy for most people.  Very few recipes are useful for me, as they tend to rely heavily on beans and leafy greens.  There's very little health information here aside from "eat more whole foods," so not recommended except for those few people who already know about the Mediterranean diet, know it works for them, and just need more recipes.

Paleo lunches and breakfasts on the go: The solution to gluten-free eating all day long with delicious, easy and portable primal meals by Diana Rodgers.  This book has some pretty delicious-looking recipes.  The lunch options seem both easy and unique.

The author does a good job of making this way of eating seem approachable-- she explains her work history and her current family situation, so it does seem like she's a "real person" and not some independently wealthy individual who can spend 6 hours a day on cooking.  She contradicts herself, however, in trying to make the book the one-stop-shop for too many different kinds of Paleo eaters: she talks about people who are 100% Paleo, people who eat clean for health reasons but can "cheat" up to a certain percent with few ill effects, people who can't cheat because of inflammatory reasons, people going Paleo as a whole family with kids, people going Paleo for about 6 other reasons...  If most people are cheating up to one meal a week, why spend so much time and effort making sure your restaurant meal is perfectly Paleo?  Eat the sauce that might have a whole tablespoon of flour in as a thickener, call it your cheat day, and be done.  If your advice is for people who need to eat this way all the time, why spend pages talking about "acceptable" types of cheat meals?  She's also trying to fill space: many pages have more text in the little blurb about the food than devoted to the actual recipe or instruction; most are fairly simple, so a whole page for each is unnecessarily generous.  Better use of given space could have made a more compactly-sized book, or doubled the amount of actual content.

The bulk of the book is lunch-type meals, then breakfasts, then other sides and small items.  Worth it for libraries to have for the recipe variety, not worth owning personally.

The ancestral table: Traditional recipes for a paleo lifestyle by Russ Crandall.  This is a very useful book.  The author approaches Paleo from the anti-inflammatory side, having dealt with autoimmune problems.  After using Paleo to let the inflammation heal, he does incorporate some dairy into many recipes.  Health information in the front of the book is geared toward anti-inflammatory information and toxic load, and has footnotes!  Instructional information in the beginning is geared for people who may be new to cooking, and a complete table at the end gives amendments for each recipe to sub out the "non-Paleo" foods he uses (dairy, rice, potatoes, and peas).  Each recipe is accompanied by an informational paragraph, but each paragraph is almost exclusively about the origin and history of the food.

This will be a cookbook I want to check out again in a few months, when (if?) I'm able to introduce a wider array of vegetables.  The variety of cooked vegetables is the most useful part for me.  Most of the main dish recipes tend toward the time-intensive (2 hours or more is not uncommon), and tend to require many ingredients: not really something I can handle right now.  Canned tomatoes and tomato products seem to feature heavily.  Many of the meat dishes and also the fruits and desserts call for a dizzying array of different types of flours: chestnut flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, rice flour, arrowroot starch... there are a few other exotic ingredients (sweet potato noodles?!) that make quite a few of the main dishes not so do-able for weeknight dinners and would probably require online shopping.

Not something I'd ever probably buy mysef-- in addition to canned goods and dairy, coconut oil is very common in the recipes-- but I'm glad it's available at my public library.

The nourished kitchen: Farm-to-table recipes for the traditional foods lifestyle by Jennifer McGruther.  I don't know what the "traditional foods lifestyle" may be, but the library catalog returned this when searching for fermented foods cookbooks-- fermented foods feature heavily in level 2 of the Wahl's diet spectrum and my doctor has been encouraging me to try to incorporate them.  Difficulties include (1) my family never ate any fermented foods growing up*, so I'm starting from scratch, and (2) all the fermented foods that immediately spring to mind are outside my ability to tolerate: can't have tea of any sort, so kombucha is out; not having any dairy, so no yogurt; have not yet tried to reintroduce non-dairy substitutes, so non-dairy yogurt isn't a given; have never liked pickles.  I don't like even the smell of sauerkraut, but so far eating a little cabbage has been ok, so that may be my first experiment.

There is nothing useful in this book.  The only fermentation recipe that appealed to me was unappealingly time-consuming, requiring additions every day.  None of the recipes in the other sections seem particularly unique; they don't stand out from all the other books and websites focused on using locally-produced vegetables.

The writing, however, tips the book from "nothing special" into "actively avoid" status.  Each recipe is preceded by a paragraph from the author, which is usually longer than the recipe and instructions together.  The author's favorite words are "I," "me,"  and "my;" while there is information about nutrition, local food production, benefits, etc., they are far outweighed by the "I like to," "I prefer to buy," and "I typically use," along with paragraphs about "my garden" and "my CSA."  The author talks about herself so much I'm forced to assume she's some kind of TV or online personallity with a following of fans interested in her life, a la the Pioneer Woman.  She's certainly not a "regular person" and I have to give her credit that she doesn't pretend to be.  I can't imagine anyone I know being able to make their family's yogurt, butter, bread, pickles, and everything else from scratch.  She apparently makes bone broth every week (a 12-hour project minimum) and many of the recipes are too time-consuming or fiddly to be common menu additions in most homes.  I know precisely three people who don't work outside the home-- the stay-at-home home-schooling mother of 7, and my retired dad and step-mom, who shuttle and baby sit their 5 local grandkids, care for elderly family, and try to visit their 4 non-local grandkids as much as possible.  I imagine any "regular" working/busy person who wanted to embrace a closer-to-the-earth eating style would be depressed by this book-- it would be almost impossible to actually implement.

*my Swedish grandma makes a point of going to a Sons of Norway gathering once a year so she can eat lutefisk.  I get the impression she doesn't even like lutefisk, and she complains about having to spend time with all those Norse.  She never eats it at home, and it was never offered to us.

Fresh food from small spaces: The square inch gardener's guide to year-round growing, fermenting, and sprouting by R.J. Ruppenthal.  We didn't sign up for a community garden space this year, and, although we had meant to, we didn't get raised beds installed in the back yard.  But, in addition to enjoying gardening just for fun, I was interested in trying to get some kind of gardening done this year, since younger produce often has lower nickel content.  So I collected up all my various pots and sent the boys to the hardware store for potting soil.

I was hoping for tips to maximize the output from my container garden.  Surprisingly, that's not really what's in this book.  Most of the space that's dedicated to vegetable gardening is really just basic gardening advice, appropriate for people who have never gardened before.  Sections for fruit and vegetable gardening in containers are vague and not helpful.  Other chapters are about bees, chickens, worms, mushrooms, bean sprouts, and the author's views and strategies for resource shortages in the event of drought, earthquake, or fuel shortage.  There's nothing in here that isn't covered better in other resources.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Paleo titles

I've been pretty sick on and off for about a year, although not with anything that has a particular name.  Just sort of high "food intolerances" with overflowing "generalized inflammation" of multiple systems.  My doctor suggested an anti-inflammatory diet which has given me good results so far.

The Wahls protocol: How I beat progressive MS using Paleo principles and functional medicine, by Tery Wahls.  It will be hard to cover absolutely everything about this book, because there's so much going on-- the diet, the health information, how it applies to my heath, and also the writing technique and style.  I'm counting this as a "read" book, although, to be truthful, there were parts I skimmed (and a few non-relevant-to-me parts I totally skipped).

First, this is a useful book, for me and for other people with chronic autoimmune disorders.  I don't have MS but I do have multiple body systems suffering from general inflammation.  Although many sections in the book talk specifically about MS and/or brain-related disorders (Parkinson's comes up most frequently), most sections are applicable to a number of other autoimmune disorders.  It's clear why MS is the subject of the most specificity: that is the author's personal experience, and it's also the disease being targeted in her clinical trials.  Other immune/autoimmune disorders that share obviously similar body processes make sense to include and to treat similarly.  Less relevant or believable are the author's assertions that this diet would necessarily have profound impacts for people suffering from a wider variety of problems-- she suggests everything from depression and autism to diabetes and hormone disorders.  That strikes me as unsubstantiated.  While that ascertion makes me question the credibility, I can't see the harm in anyone trying a diet like this; unless you have very specific food problems, it is, at its base, a diet focused on fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and lean meats.  It might not be the perfect help for someone with a mood disorder or thyroid problems, but it hardly seems likely to make it worse.  (I am not a doctor.  Ask yours.)

I have been on the "first level" of the proposed diet plan since 3/25, and I immediately saw an improvement in my symptoms.  I can't at this time say whether that means the book is mostly or entirely "right" about everything, but it's hard to argue with my results.  Caveat: I did have to modify the protocol to allow for my additional food allergies.  The base plan is to consume 9 cups daily of different types of fruits and vegetables, 3 each of leafy greens, sulfur-rich vegetables, and colorful fruits and vegetables.  Because I am allergic to (the high nickel content in) all leafy greens, I'm instead getting 4 cups, aiming for 6 cups, of other types of produce.  Between some gentle easing-in, modifications to level 1, and trying to incorporate what I can manage from level 2, I'm definitely in a class by myself.

In terms of some of the other science content, I'm not in the best position to judge.  I have seen more about Functional Medicine in the last few years, and a lot of what the author talks about seems to make sense, at least to me: all the body systems are interrelated and a problem in one area can cause inflammation in another system.  Stress, toxins, allergies, and illness all push on each other and on our bodies.  My experience the last year has been a bad domino effect: I struggled with a food allergy for several years but after a bone fracture last summer, things stacked up against me.  My food allergy became more sensitive, limiting even more what I could eat.  I developed secondary lactose intolerance.  I was unable to exercise effectively because of my recovery, then I was unable to exercise at all because of constant fatigue.  The sicker I felt, the fewer foods I could eat without issue.  These things all increased the stress at home; stress at home is always up and down because of kids, school, family, etc.  I was physically uncomfortable at best, feeling sick and miserable at worst, daily for more than 6 months.

Science-wise, I'm not in a position to say if the Functional Medicine approach behind the protocol is right, only that it seems to make sense.  It reassures me that the author is a clinically-trained physician from a "real" medical school and working in a "real" hospital.  The protocol is undergoing legitimate clinical trials (at least as a treatment for MS) so it does not strike me as faddish, hippy, or fringe.

The book is understandable for beginners without much formal science education.  I am new to reading about autoimmune problems and Functional Medicine, but I felt like I understood very well.  I do wish the tone was a little less informal-- the author uses exclamation marks all over the place; she's probably aiming for friendly and reassuring, which must be comforting to readers who are ill.  The writing doesn't *quite* feel dumbed-down, although it could maybe be described as hokey.  Although there are end notes, there isn't nearly enough in-text information: she tends to say "studies show" instead of saying "in a 2009 study which appeared in the peer reviewed [Journal]," which I felt would have added substantially to her credibility.

Finally, although many of the food rules and other life modifications (exercise, stress maintenance, etc.) seem reasonable, there were a few things here and there that struck me as the author not really being in touch with reality.  She talks about how normal people doing the clinical trials are able to do such and such or to make modifications to x, y, and z in their lives, but then she gives what she prefers, is able to do, or would highly suggest.  Ones that stuck out most to me were:
1.  For her exercise, the author swims every day in her home lap pool.  Then, for detoxification, she spends at least 30 minutes in her home sauna.  She mentions how this "probably" isn't an option for most people and that local fitness centers could be used.  Let's recognize, though, that there is a huge difference between being able to exercise at/around home and having to go out/elsewhere-- the difference is way bigger than the time spent in transit.
2.  The author suggests lunch menus, but admonishes people not to use microwaves.  It's not really clear where she is day-to-day or how she manages lunch, but a freshly-made hot lunch every day is out of the possibility at my work place's staff room.  Does your staff room have a cook top?  And cold lunch every single day?  I guess the suggested foods could be eaten cold but that doesn't seem very satisfying.  The mechanics of managing this were missing.
2.b. Although diet level 1 allows non-gluten carbs (corn, rice, potatoes), these aren't included in the example recipes.  She also doesn't talk at all about gluten-free prepared products (pasta, cereals, etc.).  With the emphasis on whole foods, they obviously aren't ideal, but quicker, convenient foods in the amount allowed (up to 1 serving per day) seem important to add variety, convenience, and comfort.

Overall, I'm impressed with my health results.  I'll be staying on this diet for at least a few weeks, until other tests or information suggest another course.  Book content: 4; book quality: 3.

Since the diets in The Wahl's protoco are Paleo, or at least kind of Paleo-ish, I checked out a stack of some of the more "normal" seeming Pale-type cookbooks from my library.  I have no opinion on whether Paleo is the "right" diet or if "everyone" should try it; this food modification is working for me right now, and here's how well these cookbooks stack up against my normal criteria for useful and accessible.

Well fed: Paleo recipes for people who love to eat by Melissa Joulwan.  The forward and introduction are warm and down to earth-- focusing on fresh foods that make you feel good, recognizing that people have work and commitments that take time.  The author is honest about occasionally cheating, and some other comments make it clear that this is a book for people who are going Paleo as a health optional choice, not a health requirement.  She also talks a bit about CrossFit; those two seem to pop up together a lot.

The book is also obviously for people for whom cooking from scratch will be a big change-- there are many pages of introduction to spices, kitchen gear, and meal planning, which seem informative but not daunting.  Despite that, some of the recipes seemed like they woud be a bit of a stretch for true novices: she gives a formula for "hot plate" fry-ups (3-6 oz protein of choice, 2 c veggies of choice, spices as desired) and gives some suggested combinations but it seemed maybe scary to have this in the front of the cooking section if people really don' know how to approach this type of cooking.

The recipes are all international flavors but definitely seem reasonable: nothing I couldn't find at my supermarket, and not a spiralizer in sight.  I wrote down a few recipes-- I was nearly salivating over some of the dressings-- and I will definitey be checking this out again if/once I get a possible-coconut-problem figured out.  (If I'm ok to eat coconut, I might even buy this for myself!)  Recommended for libraries and for Paleo eaters who like Asian and Middle Eastern foods.

Paleo comfort foods: Homestyle cooking for a gluten-free kitchen by Julie and Charles Mayfield.  This book seemed to suffer a bit of an identity crisis: most interpretations of "Paleo" equate to more than just guten-free but the authors are a little laissez faire about how they define things.  There is a lengthy introduction about each co-author (which I totally skipped), plus a short paragraph before every singe recipe about how it was made, which family member requests it, etc.; these added unnecessary clutter to what is a pretty thick book.  Readers are here for recipes, people.

Despite the title, this cookbook is pretty comprehensive, going far beyond "comfort foods"-- sides, main dishes, salads, soups-- although comforts like biscuits, fried chicken, and desserts do get some space.  However, most of these recipes seem a bit unnecessary; surely anyone embarking on Paleo recognizes they can have salsa, deviled eggs, and roasts-- things which seem too simple to have to include.  It felt like the authors were trying to bulk up the page count.  For a longer book, I wrote down fewer recipes than I did for Well fed.  Not recommended.

More Paleo cookbook reviews to come once my holds arrive!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

one challenge complete

One of my goals for the year was to check off 75 challenges from my list.  I'm done.  I'm intentionally not setting a new number goal, although I'll still keep track of any more I complete.  I'm still trying for 125 total books for the year; GoodReads has snottily been reminding me that I've been behind schedule but shove it, GoodReads.

So, completed boxes:

A book with a bird on the cover: Aru Shah and the end of time
A book cover that features nature: Warriors of the storm
A book with the moon or stars on the cover: A closed and common orbit
A book you chose without seeing the cover: The right word: Roget and his thesaurus
A book with a green cover: Acadie
A book with a red spine: The dirty book club
A book with an attractive cover: How to stop time
A book with a red cover: The fortune teller
A book with a yellow cover: Rex Libris
A book with a blue cover: The gone world
A book with a black cover: Quackery: A brief history of the worst ways to cure everything
A book with any other color combo on the cover: The librarian and the spy
A book with the character(s) on the cover: My grandmother asked me to tell you she's sorry
A book with a body of water on the cover: Us against you
A book with no people on the cover: Don't let the pigeon stay up late

A book with A in the title: Going into town: A love letter to New York
A book with a one-word title: #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American women
A book with a two-word title: Rex Libris
A book with a subtitle: The right word: Roget and his thesaurus
A book with a title that starts with M: Mufaro's beautiful daughters
A book with a weather element in the title: Warriors of the storm
A book with a person's name in the title: Aru Shah and the end of time
A title with a species of bird or the word "bird": Don't let the pigeon stay up late

An author who is an immigrant: The moon in the palace
A book by two authors: Quackery: A brief history of the worst ways to cure everything
Your favorite author: Us against you
A book by or about someone from an indigenous culture: #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American women
A male author of color: Mufaro's beautiful daughters
A female author under 30: Aru Shah and the end of time
An author with your same initials: The librarian and the spy
A book by an #ownvoices or #diversebooks author: If I was your girl
An author from a country you've never visited: My grandmother asked me to tell you she's sorry
An author of a different ethnicity than you: Bad news for outlaws: The remarkable life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal

A Caldecott Medal winner or honor book: The right word: Roget and his thesaurus
A Coretta Scott King Award or runner up: Bad news for outlaws: The remarkable life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal
A RITA Award winner: The moon in the palace
A Stonewall Award winner: If I was your girl

A book from a genre you normally dislike: A covert affair
A book in a series: The moon in the palace
A book from a speculative fiction subgenre: Warriors of the storm
A nonfiction book: Quackery: A brief history of the worst ways to cure everything
A stand-alone book: The fortune teller
A stand-alone novel: [apparently I have this on here twice; I'll have to make a substitution] If I was your girl
A women's fiction novel: The dirty book club
A work of Literary Fiction: Us against you

A book published before 2000: Warriors of the storm
A book published 2000-2016: My grandmother asked me to tell you she's sorry
A book published in 2017: The fortune teller
A book published this year: The gone world
A debut novel: The moon in the palace
A book in translation: Us against you
A book targeted at your gender: A covert affair
A book published by an indie press: #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American women
A novella: Acadie

The protagonist is a loner, outcast, recluse, or introvert: The gone world
The protagonist is a Person of Color of Bi/Multiracial: Aru Shah and the end of time
The protagonist is a writer: The dirty book club
A book in which all POV characters are POC: The moon in the palace
The protagonist is Trans: If I was your girl
A book with aliens: A closed and common orbit
A book with an eccentric character: My grandmother asked me to tell you she's sorry
A book with an unreliable narrator or ambiguous ending: Acadie
A book with nonhuman characters: Warriors of the storm

A book set during a competition: Us against you
A book set in another state: If I was your girl
A book set in Africa: Mufaro's beautiful daughters
A book set in Asia: A covert affair
A book set in Europe: My grandmother asked me to tell you she's sorry
A book set in North America: The dirty book club
A book set in the future: Acadie
A book set in two different time periods: The gone world
A book set on a different planet: Warriors of the storm
A book set more than 5,000 miles from your home: The moon in the palace

Story Element:
A book about science: Quackery: A brief history of the worst ways to cure everything
A book based on a true story: The moon in the palace
A book based on diverse folklore/mythology: Aru Shah and the end of time
A book involving sexuality and gender identity: If I was your girl
A book of any genre that addresses current events: #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American women
A book that involves a bookstore or library: A covert affair
A book with a love triangle: The dirty book club
A book involving family relationships: My grandmother asked me to tell you she's sorry

A back-list book from a favorite author: My grandmother asked me to tell you she's sorry
A book recommended by a librarian: The librarian and the spy
A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure: The dirty book club
A book you meant to read in 2017 but didn't get to: #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American women
An out-of-print book: Warriors of the storm
A book that has been on your TBR list for 2+ years [this category was subbed in for "A book you started but never finished," which appears twice]: Rex Libris

By my count that's 86 (87, counting the doubled-up stand-alone novel).  Well done, me.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

bits and pieces

The dirty book club by Lisi Harrison.  This book didn't quite reach it's full potential, but I still devoured it in less than 36 hours.  As you could guess from the description and the cover, this is a light women's-fiction-type story.  The characters are likeable if a little thin.  The main character especially is a bit frustrating; she's in her 30s but most of her problems feel like "New Adult" indecisiveness.  I wanted the characters to connect more to, and connect more over, the book club books, but that's also a bit floppy: months go by where they only see each other at book club, but they get miffed at each other that they aren't up to date on each others' goings on. 

Not exactly recommended, per se, but suggested for fans of Janet Evanovich.

If I was your girl by Meredith Russo.  I read this at the end of January but I can't find a note about it; I guess I missed reviewing it somehow.

This book did a good job of achieving it's purpose: presenting a teen whose main concerns are family, friends, and boys, and balancing her gender transition with regular teen life.  The main character seemed fairly realistic and likeable.

This book did not do a good job of being a well-written teen problem novel.  Several plot points felt completely unsupported, (spoiler maybe?) particularly the character's election as prom queen: new in town her senior year, she makes a few good friends and dates a jock but is in no way presented as super duper social, or even really remarkable.  The prom business seemed like... the author's fantasy that got shoved in? 

Other characters seemed rather shallow, especially when the main character's "secret" became known.  A few obviously "good" people had no problems, most were presented as unthinkingly bad and unaccepting.  The few characters who struggled with the information seemed to lack depth or subtlety.  It also seemed like maybe the whole point of setting the book in the rural south was so that the author could lean on the unthinking-rural-southerner thing.

Saturday, March 17, 2018


I have been doing a very poor job of keeping track of what I've been doing.  Allow me to scroll back through my GoodReads (and my Netfix) to refresh my memory...

Ah.  Yes.

Don't let the pigeon stay up late! by Mo Wilems; read by Jon Scieszka.  I checked this out on hoopla! to download and test on several different devices before a presentation to a parent group.  Since it's only about 4 minutes long, I listened to it multiple times, so I'm counting it.

I'm not entirely sure how creators of this type of audiobook (less than 10 minutes in length) imagine people using them.  Without the pictures, it's kinda boring.  The narrator did a fine job, but isn't the definition of a *picture* book the fact that the illustrations add substantially to the story and the reading experience?  While a read-along book (auto-turning pages plus narration; go, OverDrive!) is a really cool multimedia reading tool for kids, I'm just not sure about this.

Mufaro's beautiful daughters: An African tale by John Steptoe.  This was read aloud at a program I attended.  I was in the back so couldn't see terribly well, but the illustrations reminded me of King Bidgood's in the bathtub.  (Don't ask me why.)

The story is simple enough to follow, but long-- most appropriate for kids first grade or older.  I particularly liked that the story features (as you might guess from the subtitle) girls from a(n unspecified) African location, but never overtly points that out.  When I was looking for a Coretta Scott King Award winner to read, it seemed like every book was *about* *being* Black/African American.  Where are the good books that just happen to feature Black characters without it being the entire point of the book?  I later saw this list from Scott Woods that helpfully collects just that type of book.

The Librarians, season 4, with Rebecca Romijn.  OK, I am officially tired of these.  Too campy, too obvious, not enough mystery.  Anyone who has picks up more than a book a year must know all the myths and magic-origin stories.

But Stone...

Person of interest, seasons 1-3, with Jim Caviezel.  I was home sick over a whole 4-day weekend with a sinus infection a few weeks ago.  Propped up in bed I opened Netflix to watch Burn notice but it was gone.  The rate at which Netflix is making this disappear makes me cross.  This was suggested instead.

This is fair, although if I hadn't've been sick, I probably wouldn't have watched past the first five or six episodes-- the balance isn't very good in the whole first season.  There isn't enough backstory given, so it's hard to care about and connect with the characters.  Fortunately for Netflix, I was half-comatose.  Once they start incorporating backstory, the series gets pretty good.  There is now a continuum of using-evil-skills-for-good shows:  White collar (very light) -- Burn notice (a bit darker, some bad guys get hurt) -- Person of interest (purposefully shooting bad guys all over the place).

The gone world by Tom Sweterlitsch.  This was super weird.  Not recommended.  I don't normally have trouble with time-travel changing-the-timeline stories, but I think where this story was anchored messed it up.  The "real time" parts are in the (late 80s? early 90s?  sometime when I was young but old enough to remember) but it was a kind of alternate past that had technology way past what actually existed.  Characters used that technology to, among other things, jump into the future/the current time for the reader.  This was outside my zone of believability, it turns out, so I couldn't follow, or much care about, anything else.

Aru Shah and the end of time by Roshani Chokshi.  I was really excited about this, coming out of the new Rick Riordan imprint.  But it's not great.  I can give it good marks for being an easy-to-follow young-reader adventure story with female main characters who save themselves, characters of nationalities not typically starring in U.S. authors' books, and using a mythology and history that's new to many readers.  That makes it sound great!  It had some rendering problems, though: there's too much focus on the action, not enough on the characters, making them less real.  Readers will enjoy the story, but they won't care deeply about the characters.  The mythology is also kind of thin; gods, demons, places, and animals are there, but the author doesn't take the time to explain their significance.  Readers will like that it's a new and exotic world, but they won't be able to remember much of the mythology in depth.  Most public libraries should buy a copy, but this is definitely not the next Percy Jackson.

The librarian and the spy and A cover affair by Susan Mann.  Another disappointment; I will not be reading the third series installment.

There are two main problems: first, this isn't so much a story as the author's excuse to show off how much research she did.  It's most blatant in the first book, when there are sentences and even whole paragraphs of Intro to Librarianship concepts.  The average reader does not need to know how the character conducted a Boolean search.  Exposition just slows down the plot.  In the second book, it was a lot of history info-dumping, sometimes in the oft-loved format of one character lecturing another on a topic.

The second problem is, these are not romance novels.  At all.  Despite the covers-- and the titles-- these are light thriller/suspense.  Working under the idea that in a romance story "the Relationship" is the major character, that the tension would come primarily from the two main (people) characters getting to know each other, or that (lets be honest) there would be steamy scenes, this book fails to meet any of those.  This isn't a story about a couple falling in love; it's about a young woman who goes on adventures.

Although Quinn is a fun character, there's very little likeable about the books.  In every scene, every tiny detail is there on the page-- each step in getting dressed, washing dishes, whatever mundane task is at hand.  I notice this in romances-- maybe it's a suggested tool to try to make the reader feel "in the momen"?  It always comes off as repetitive, with the author obviously reaching for the thesaurus in an effort to not say the same noun for the fifth time in as many sentences.  The dishes got washed; does it really matter how?

The spy/boyfriend character is horrid.  He jumps all over the place, doing the overly-dramatic giant alpha-male romance novel schtick when a run-of-the-mill creep hits on his girlfriend at a bar, but waltzes on with the mission when she's in actual danger from gun-toting terrorists.  The "playful banter" is bland but is the only kind of non-work communication between the two characters so there's far too much of it.  Do yourself a favor and give it a pass.

How to stop time by Matt Haig.  I read this very quickly, because I wanted to find out what happened, and all the while I was sad because I very much wanted to read it slowly, because it's beautiful-- both the historical detail in the historical scenes and the emotional realism in the contemporary scenes.  I will read it again in a few years; it will make a wonderful rereading book.

The author used short sentences followed by longer sentences that repeated key words from the preceding short one.  I noticed the style because it was unique, and because I've seen it used poorly, but this author had a really good handle on it.

I'm afraid many readers will dismiss this as "sci-fi" when it's more like The time-traveler's wife; it's not even magical realism.  It's a world exactly like ours except there are characters who have a medical condition we don't recognize.  It's not time travel in any sense of the word beyond that we've all managed to time travel from yesterday to today.

Us against you by Fredrik Backman.  This is a different sort of book.  The events aren't exactly linear; we don't follow the town and the characters day by day.  It's almost more like a collection of linked short stories.  The reader has to keep in mind what's going on with everyone and overlay each new character's actions and experiences.

Reading Beartown first will definitely add to the experience, but probably isn't required.

Quackery: A brief histor of the worst ways to cure everything, by Lydia Kang and Nate Pedersen.  This was kind of fun, definitely gross, generally ok.  I often wished there was more information on a topic, or additional topics included in a chapter (under use of animals in medicine, we cover leeches and animal horn but not maggots?).  Overall I found the tone a little too flippant.  Yeah, I'm all down to make fun of snake oil salesmen knowingly defrauding sick people, but it seems like many of the doctors mentioned were legitimately trying to help people; it's not nice to make fun of them just because we know more now.

Star trek: Enterprise, seasons 2 and 3, with Scott Bakula.  I'm annoyed.  Why time travel everywhere?  They have the whole Alpha Quadrant to introduce us to; the Klingong first-contact episode was good; the Ferengi first-contact episode was fantastic.  But they're inventing new species left and right; there's no way there would be that many new species that close to earth that didn't appear in TOS or TNG.  And all this back-and-forth-through-time business feels a lot like the evil-twin universe in DS9 when the whole Gamma Quadrant was right there.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

keep moving forward

Bad news for outlaws: The remarkable life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie.  I grabbed this to check off my to-do box for a Coretta Scott King book award winner, as I haven't yet read one.  It's hard to comment about my choice of book without falling into political statements about the choices of the awards committee.  I shall resist.

This book is pretty ok.  Nonfiction picture books are always iffy-- matching the content level to the audience level-- and the sentence structure is a bit stilted, but the inclusion of "wild west" vocabulary add a nice element.  The illustrations aren't concrete enough for my preference but the consistent colors used was nice.

Warriors of the storm by Jack L. Chalker.  This author is weirdly obsessed with sex.  I have to keep in mind that this was from the late 80s.  The author also has a tendency to info-dump.  The multiple worlds are complex, but he lets the characters lecture each other in order to explain things to the reader.  The topics in each paragraph don't even flow together-- the writing is awkward and clunky, and espeically so in the "informative" sections.

A closed and common orbit by Becky Chambers.  Because I recently reread The long way to a small, angry planet, and in excited preparation of the third book coming out this year, I grabbed this again.  Like the first book, the second one is even better during the second reading.  Knowing where the story is going, the details add up faster; the emotional bits resonate stronger.  Sidra still comes off as whiny much of the time; it's true she didn't have much experience when she made her choice, but it was still hers to make.  It's more annoying than a major problem.  Cannot wait for book 3!

Star trek: Enterprise, season 1, with Scott Bakula.  I haven't seen a single episode of this before, so this has been treat, even though I know this wasn't very popular.  I particularly like how perfectly the technology looks like earlier versions of what's seen in TOS.  The plots meet the original plan of meeting new peoples and cultures; I'm kind of disappointed that there haven't so far been many episodes that seemed like social commentary.  That was more a TOS and NG thing, but it popped up often enough in DS9 and Voyager.  Well into season 2 already.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

caught up

Acadie by Dave Hutchinson.  Another book that was a pretty good read until the penultimate scene, when it totally fell apart.  There are some world details that are skipped over in the early part of the book, which the reader can excuse as a necessity of the very short format.  The last encounter, however, was very poorly managed.  It is probably supposed to throw the reader for a loop, but it doesn't fit.  There's no reason for the story to end that way.  The frustrating thing is, this could have been a pretty good story if the author had taken more time and more pages to build the world, to drop in some suspicions, and to give a reason for the twist ending.  Making it super short did everyone a great disservice.

Star trek: Voyager, seasons 6 and 7, with Kate Mulgrew.  Star trek good, Star wars bad.  Voyager better than DS9.  Writers: stop trying to use time travel; it is a bad idea, and a bad plot device. 

Burn notice, seasons 1-4, with Jeffrey Donovan.  This is what I've been doing in the evenings while the boys are watching LotR and playing chess.  It's a really good match for people who like White collar: mostly-good people with questionably-legal skills use said techniques to foil actual bad guys.  This series comes off a little darker, though: they find the bad guys and stop them, but stopping them usually involves pitting them against each other and letting them blow up themselves instead of downtown shopping areas, sort of thing.  At least one person usually dies, there's quite a bit of violence, and usually some pretty impressive-looking explosions.

My favorite character's is Bruce Campbell's-- a likable, flawed yet decent guy.  The main character is ok, but the actor has a little lisp he usually covers but it comes out  in the narration and quickly gets annoying.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

beside the noodles

I remembered to bring my little tablet to work today so I could work on reviews comfortably on my lunch break, instead of tiny typing on my phone or forgetting to do it at night.

#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American women, edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale.  I'm not sure who this book is supposed to be for: there are some pieces that are more about generic ethnicity or feminist themes, but other pieces seemed like they were for an insider audience.  As a reader not from that culture, they didn't make sense, weren't clear, or didn't explain enough.  Perhaps the book is intended primarily for Native readers.

Rex Libris: I, Librarian by James Turner.  I had sort of kind of been meaning to read this for several years but never really felt strongly about it.  I think I picked this up on another day that my bookbag was full of returns and my in-progress novel got left at home.

This is not the GN for me.  The illustrations really put me off-- very blocky and stark.   The use of geometric shapes or patterns for people was interesting, different, and arty, but not easy to read.  The plot was ok, but I tend not to love stuff that explores the fourth wall. 

Noble savage: My life among two dangerous tribes-- the Yanomano and the anthropologists by Napoleon A. Chagnon.  DNF.  This isn't so much about the tribe or even about the author's experiences in the field as it was comments about academia.  Maybe it changes farther into the book, but after a few chapters, there's still quite a lot of commentary on who said what and how that academic turned out to be wrong, etc.  Reads like academic history with a touch of highschool cheerleader. 

Friday, February 02, 2018

little bits

Going into town: A love letter to New York by Roz Chast.  I didn't enjoy this.  The illustrations were less refined than Can't we talk about something more pleasant?; instead of looking zany (which I think is the intention) they just look messy.  The content isn't particularly organized, which is expained in the text but still comes off as jumbled.

The right word: Roget and his thesaurus by Jen Bryant; illutrated by Melissa Sweet.  I read this to check off my Caldecott box.  It was interesting but odd.  For a book about the maker of the thesaurus, it had a lot of lists but seemed disorganized: stuff was jumbled all over the pages.  The colors were bright and engaging, but the overall organization made me uncomfortable.

Thursday, February 01, 2018


I read two books in a row that both really disappointed me.  I didn't know what to say about them.  Then I read some that I did like but the number of titles I had to review started to quickly stack up.  Instead of trying to be fairly comprehensive in my comments, you're going to get quick and dirty impressions in small bursts, so I can knock all these off my list.

The fortune teller by Gwendolyn Womack.  This was so good!-- for about 3/4 of the book.  The end was a major flop.  There was a great story about the ancient piece and all the hands that held it.  For the modern-day-setting, the story was reasonably competently handled.  There were a few things that weren't a great choice-- the mysterious text messages between chapters were supposed to increase tension, but since there wasn't much in the story to support them, they were merely annoying.

The ending was horrible!  Spoiler time: the main character's paranormal manifestations came out of nowhere and made no sense in the story.  They were explained away as having been ignored or suppressed by the character, but that was invisible to the reader in the early part of the book.  Making that a part of the story from the beginning would have made it believable.  Also, the life-or-death chase around the world was rushed and contrived.  This was a good story without shoehorning in unnecessary thriller plots.

Partway through reading this, I recommended it to friends who liked parts of People of the book.  Unfortunately, it's like this author read that title and said "I can go bigger."  The good parts are better-- smoother writing, more realistic-sounding characters and believable relationships-- and the bad parts are way worse-- fake-feeling and poorly planned, like the author was unsure of who her readers were and what they'd want.

The moon in the palace by Weina Dai Randel.  Since this won a RITA award, I was definitely expecting something very different-- this is historical fiction and Women's fiction, not romance by any stretch of the imagination.

Historical fiction readers will appreciate the detail and setting-- unique and richly described-- but there are problems with the writing.  Primarily, if we can't see the character, she doesn't exist.  Between chapters, there are sometimes time jumps; during those periods, nothing has changed.  The character hasn't grown, she hasn't had a life off-screen.

It's not obvious from the way the story unfolds that this ends up being a short series.  It reads as a poorly-planned plot.