Friday, November 17, 2017

YA Review: Otherworld by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller

I'm a big fan of Kirsten Miller, one of the coauthors of this book. I loved her Kiki Strike series, and wish it hadn't ended. This book has in common with those smart-mouthed teens and excitement, but not much else. It takes place in a not distant future (the only difference from today is that they have more advanced AI and virtual reality technology, but other than that, there is nothing that would be out of place in a contemporary setting), and a new video game with amazingly lifelike play and graphics has just been released.  It soon becomes clear that something much more sinister is going on, and the main character, Simon, goes on a quest to save his best friend from being killed by the "game."  Comparisons to Ready Player One are inevitable, but while they share a basic premise, the world describe here is much less fun and much more violent and disturbing.  This was an interesting and very quick read, and it had a good mix of humor, adventure, high stakes, and social commentary.  
(I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Non-Fiction Review: The Crown: The Official Companion, Volume I, by Robert Lacey

This is a gorgeous production of a book, and a must-have for fans of the lavish and delicious Netflix show, The Crown.  The title is a little strange, since it doesn't stipulate what it is a companion to: the life of Queen Elizabeth II?  The show itself?  The answer is, both.  It's an odd book because of that, and I think the lack of clarity is very much intentional.  The publisher collapses and confuse the life of the actual woman with the storytelling on the show.  It's a bit disconcerting, and probably actively problematic for those who don't know much about the Queen outside of the show.  Lacey's text, however, is very clear about the difference.  But it's very odd to have a book that implies in the title to be about the Queen, the actual person, to begin with images of the fake queen and the fake Duke of Edinburgh, etc.  Stills from the show are randomly interspersed with actual photographs, and most disturbingly, the screen stills are in black and white!  And without captions.  Can there be any doubt that the publisher is intentionally trying to elide the difference between fact and fiction here?  It's a strange choice, and I don't see why it was necessary.  The text and the image seem to intentionally mix and confuse these elements, to the point where you're not immediately sure what's real and what's TV anymore.  The gorgeous cover perfectly illustrates what this book is going for.  It's informative, but, because it is both about the show and the woman, it is not really an adequate biography.  Luckily, there are plenty of those to go around, best, in my opinion, being Sally Bedell Smith's excellent biography, which seems to me to be an important source for the show.  This book is beautiful and a lot of fun, but it's very slight, and it's a weird combination of light biography, TV show companion, and coffee table book.  
(I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Cookbook Review: The Grand Central Market Cookbook by Adele Yellin and Kevin West

The very first thing to say about this cookbook is that the cover is absolutely amazing.  You can't tell from photos, but this dust jacket-free book is not only printed with the design of 50s oil cloth; it's actually got the rough yet glossy texture of oil cloth.  It's such a cool touch.  The design of this book overall is excellent.  It's colorful, with cool fonts, and then are lots of photos.  There is also an excellent range of recipes from the various vendors at the Market, including both the newer hipster vendors and the more long-established old-school vendors.  This is also not the stereotype of California food that people who know nothing about California have: the food is, yes, made of whole, fresh foods, but the recipes are by no means all vegan (or vegetarian), or healthy.  There's Eggslut's famous The Slut (coddled eggs with potato puree), Market Recipe's Coconut Cream Doughnuts, Golden Road Brewing Vegan Crunchy Avocado Tacos with Corn Salsa and Chipotle "Mayo," Sticky Rice II's Drunken Noodles, Ramen Hood's Soy-Chile-Glazed Broccoli, Golden Road Brewing Artichoke Hot "Wings", and Valerie Confections Bakery & CafĂ©'s Salted Caramel Bread Pudding.  This is a great souvenir for those who love LA, both old-school and hipster, and it also has some yummy recipes.

(I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Fiction Review: The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir is American author Jennifer Ryans' first book.  It is very clearly inspired by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer's lovely and wonderful 2008 novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  The cover even reminds me a bit of that brilliant and touching novel.  This is itself a lovely novel that also takes place in a small English village during World War II.  This is an ensemble drama as well, and deals with the struggles of those left behind.  Instead of literature, it is music that provides the connection between the various voices that speak here.  This is a charming and touching novel, but it is not quite on the level of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  I can't help but be bothered, also, by the obvious way in which this book attempts to piggyback on the popularity of Barrows and Shaffer's early novel.  I do love that this novel gives us World War II from the perspective of women and others not on the frontline.  The story is told in the form of letters and diary entries.  It is a strong novel, but it is a little bit too much of what we've seen already.
(This book was received from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Self-Help/Pop Psychology Review: The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin's latest self-help book, The Four Tendencies, follows on the heels of Better Than Before and The Happiness Project.  With The Four Tendencies, Rubin has written another book that approaches popular psychology from an outside perspective, although at this point, Rubin is not that much of an outsider to self-help.  She is a journalist, and brings less jargon and more practical application and explanation to the genre.  Here, Rubin has come up with a new and very simple set of personality categories.  Her book includes a very short quiz that will sort readers into one of four personality categories: Upholder, Obliger, Rebel, or Questioner.  After readers figure out their category, they can go on to read the two chapters that apply to their type, one called "Understanding the X" and the other called "Dealing with a X."  After these sections, Rubin includes a few chapters on how to date or speak to the different types.  I appreciated the stream-lined approach that Rubin brings to the overstuffed self-help personality type bookshelf.  It's refreshing to take a personality quiz that takes less than 10 minutes, and the brilliance of Rubin's categories is that they focus on how people respond to inner and outer expectations, thus making it possible to figure out your type with just a few questions.  As with all of her books, this one is well-written, clear, and straight-forward, and I enjoyed her insights. 
(I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Fiction Review: The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn

Harper Voyager is one of my favorite imprints these days.  In addition to publishing this delightful novel, they also published the magnificently fun, original, and heartfelt Wayfarers space operas The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers.  They also published another excellent Jane Austen-inspired novel, this one a fantasy, called Heartstone by Elle Katharine White.  Heartstone is a feminist Pride and Prejudice with dragons!  Needless to say, it's awesome.  Another great thing about Harper Voyager is that their books are all (I think all of them, but at the very least all of these books) paperback originals, which means they aren't published first in hardback.  This is great for those who are budget-conscious but still want to read the newest books.

Kathleen A. Flynn's The Jane Austen Project is, I really hope, the first in a series.  This was definitely one of the better Jane Austen-themed novels I've read, and I've read a good many of them. They're often pretty trite and saccharine, which is ironic, since Austen's books are so incisive, smart, and biting in their satire. Flynn's novel has an original premise, involving a doctor from a future in which time travel is possible, who is sent with a male colleague to befriend Jane Austen and her family in order to obtain copies of her letters and the purported finished version of her unfinished (in our time) novel, The Watsons. The protagonist is a strong, confident and smart woman, which suits an Austen homage, and the romance in the book is very modern and not the whole point of the protagonist's life. Fun and smart.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Cookbook Review: Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn by Chitra Agrawal

Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn is a beautiful new cookbook from Brooklyn Delhi owner and chef Chitra Agrawal from Ten Speed Press.  It is filled with gorgeous photographs of food and ingredients, and beautiful illustrations.  Every recipe comes with a full-page overhead photo (like the one on the cover), and all of the photos are full of color.  All of the food sounds absolutely mouth-watering.  I have tried a lot of these dishes at restaurants, and never imagined the I could actually make them myself!  Dosas (scrumptious, very thing and crisp crepes made of rice and lentil flour), idli (rice and lentil cakes), and roti (yummy fried flatbreads) are some of my favorite dishes from southern Indian restaurants, and they are all represented here with very clear recipes that explain these admittedly complicated dishes in a straight-forward way.  This is not to say these recipes are super easy or short; in fact, many of them are pretty long, but again, they're clearly explained.  The dosas, idli, and roti are classic Indian dishes, but there are also lots of dishes that are less traditional takes on Indian flavors, like chickpea salad with summer vegetables and avocado; lettuce dosa wraps with curried potato and chutney; stuffed shishito pepper fritters; and pan-roasted masala peanuts.  This is a lovely book, and the recipes are good, but don't expect super easy and fast home-cooking!
(I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Monday, January 2, 2017

YA Review: A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

A Shadow Bright and Burning is the first book in a new YA fantasy trilogy called Kingdom on Fire.  I love YA and I love fantasy, but in the long wake of The Hunger Games, Twilight, Divergent, etc., there has been a continuing onslaught of YA fantasy with badass heroines.  Now, I am definitely behind this trend, but it also means that it's increasingly difficult to find something original in this genre.  A Shadow Bright and Burning was a lovely surprise.  I hadn't heard of this book, which was released last fall, so I didn't have high hopes.  This was a beautifully written book, with a wonderfully complex, imperfect, and strong female lead character, and many wonderfully drawn secondary characters.  It was also a relentlessly engrossing and exciting adventure.  I am so excited to read the next book in this trilogy, which does not come out until this coming fall, unfortunately.  Cluess has not only created wonderfully complex characters, but also a very clear and fascinating picture of the world that these characters live in.

A Shadow Bright and Burning takes place in an alternate Victorian England, mostly in London.  This is a world in which there is magic, and witches, magicians, and sorcerers.  A decade before the book begins, a witch and a magician opened a portal that let the Ancients, six grotesque and truly horrifying monsters into the world.  Sorcerers are the only people standing between humanity and these very frightening and original creatures.  The main character, Henrietta, is discovered in a horrible boarding school and turns out to be the first female sorcerer in centuries.  She is believed to be the prophesied one who is going to save England.  The book covers Henrietta's training alongside a few dashing young men in the home of a gentleman sorcerer in London.  There are a few hints of Jane Eyre throughout this novel, particularly in the beginning.

In addition to all of the magic, training, and adventure, there is also a fair amount of subtle and well-done social commentary.  Henrietta is an excellent and very strong woman, and she faces a lot of discrimination, ridicule, and even violence due to her gender in a world dominated by men and very strict rules for the behavior of women.  Cluess does not shy away from a fairly realistic portrayal of what it would be like for a strong-minded woman in such a world.  The book also deals with issues of class.  Cluess does an excellent job of articulating the differences between the statuses of the three types of practitioners of magic in this world (witches, sorcerers, and magicians).  Sorcerers are highly lauded in this society, and they are all upper class men.  Witches, female practitioners of magic, are banned, and if discovered, are put to death.  Magicians are male practitioners of magic, and they are banned from practicing and from training new magicians.  This is due to the fact that a witch and a magician were responsible for letting the Ancients into the world.  Cluess deals with class and gender in a smart, and nuanced manner and is never heavy-handed, and yet she gives you a strong sense of empathy for all of the main characters, and especially Henrietta.

This was a wonderful read: original, smart, fascinating, and great fun.

(I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Boden X Roald Dahl Children's Clothing Collection


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory


 Fantastic Mr. Fox

 James and the Giant Peach

The Twits