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November 2016

All the Pretty Things: The Story of a Southern Girl Who Went through Fire to Find Her Way Home by Edie Wadsworth

This book will simultaneously charm, disarm and devastate you; then it will pick you up, dust you off and send you on your way with hope and a song in your heart. Edie’s story is incredibly unique, but the thoughtful words she uses to describe her lifelong journey to peace will appeal to every reader. We are connected by emotions. “All The Pretty Things” binds us together by those emotions. Though our situations may be completely different than those in this book, they’re relative because of the masterful way Edie connects hearts and minds with pain, hope and redemption. Life holds us over hot coals. Life makes us walk through fire. But always, all the pretty things continue, if only we have the strength and courage to lift our eyes and focus on the Father’s love. I couldn’t put this book down, couldn’t wait to turn every page. It will bless your heart.

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Larger-Than-Life Lara by Dandi Daley Mackall

Another Dani Mackall winner. Very gritty, much like a 4th grade version of Todd Solandz’s “Welcome to the Dollhouse” (1996). Somebody has already mentioned the “To Kill A Mockingbird” parallels so I am confident that I was not the only one to immediately form a mental image of Mary Badham.

Laney Grafton is the ten-year-old narrator of the story, which she claims (at the beginning) is not about her but about the title character, a 300-pound girl who has just joined Laney’s 4th grade class. The story soon begins to contradict Laney’s early claim and by the end the reader realizes that it is really Laney’s coming-of-age story, with Lara serving an allegorical purpose.

There are some moments of especially profound insights such as when Laney discusses everyone’s laughter the first time Lara is insulted: “Theresa laughed. She’s kind of chubby, and I got the feeling she wasn’t entirely against the idea of having someone in class who made her look skinny. I got to admit that I laughed too. But it wasn’t a real laugh, and I guess that makes it worse”. This assessment (or confession) says all that needs to by said about Laney’s and Teresa’s positions in the classroom dynamic, occupying that large middle ground between the bullies and the main victim; feeling a sort of guilty relief that someone else is drawing the majority of the cruelty and abuse.

Mackall does a good job of steering clear of the standard child’s book formula, which would have made it mandatory that Laney became good friends with Lara (she doesn’t). And Mackall structures the chapters in such a way that Laney gives young readers instruction on story elements and the pitfalls that a young writer should avoid. While you would not wish to see this device in widespread use, it is quite instructive and its very uniqueness keeps it from becoming tiresome.

There are occasions when Mackall gets a little condescending in style, as she tries to convince the reader that the book was written by a child, but these probably seem less lame to someone in the book’s target audience.

Classic German Baking: The Very Best Recipes for Traditional Favorites, from Pfeffernüsse to Streuselkuchen by Luisa Weiss

Classic German Baking is filled with 100 recipes of authentic German baking for breads and sweets! We learn what it means to bake like the Germans do and learn what techniques are different from us in America. With recipes like Apple Strudel to chocolate cakes that are to die for and even some healthy recipes as well. This book is the definition of German Baking that everyone will enjoy reading and making these recipes in their own homes!

My closest friend is a German and during the short time she was here in the states, I grew to love the baking that come from that house and even though she is in Germany, I can try to recreate those recipes with this book in hand but I have the feeling it won’t be the same! Just reading this book, made me homesick for what the German baking is like and if any of you have the chance to eat anything German, than you understand what I mean! The only problem I had with this book, is that some of the ingredients maybe hard to find for some people like myself who live in the middle of nowhere but it’s not gonna stop me from trying these recipes!!

Taste & Technique: Recipes to Elevate Your Home Cooking by Naomi Pomeroy

Description
James Beard Award-winning and self-made chef Naomi Pomeroy’s debut cookbook, featuring 95 lesson-driven recipes designed to improve the home cook’s understanding of professional techniques and flavor combinations in order to produce simple, but show stopping meals.
Combining elements of Julia Child’s classical aesthetic and ambition to teach the world how to cook with Naomi Pomeroy’s own unique history, style, and verve, this book is an inspiring guide for home cooks who want to up their game in the kitchen. Pomeroy demystifies professional techniques by paring back complex recipes to the building blocks necessary to create them. Her “master lessons” approach will appeal to home cooks of all levels who want to improve their skills. And her nurturing, self-deprecating tone is a welcome change from the ethereal fine-dining tomes that home cooks can’t actually cook from or the snapshots of a specific restaurant meant to celebrate the chef’s cult of personality. Beginning with sauces, and working from straightforward to more complex recipes, Pomeroy presents a collection of dishes you want to eat every day, including salads, vegetables, fish, pork, meat, and desserts–along with the tools and techniques you need to make each meal shine.
Review
The first thing I noticed and liked about this book is the abbreviated history of the author including her path to becoming a chef and of both her business successes and failures, I like to know a little of the road people have travelled.

In the informative “How this book works” section Chef Pomeroy explains her cooking philosophy in a down to earth workmanlike way, from the building blocks of technique to how the mood you take with you to the kitchen can affect the taste and quality of the food you produce.

It has an easy to read layout, divided into sections with each section having a little “menu” of contents so the reader can easily see the recipes at a glance.

The techniques are built in to each recipe , a good example being the very detailed instructions for making consommé, a long and many staged process, but if you can master it you will learn some very useful techniques. However, many of the recipes are what most people would consider to restaurant standard and a little too challenging. Nevertheless, ambitious home cooks will find plenty to challenge and inspire them.

As for myself, I discovered a couple of recipes that I will certainly be trying, one being for aioli with variations. Another recipe I thought I might manage is Classic French Onion soup. I thought that the cabbage veloute with lemon confit creme fraiche and herb oil would be a bit too difficult and fancy for my taste!

Other useful sections include the choosing of equipment, a handy pantry guide and a most excellent glossary of techniques.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in food, even if the recipes are not exactly everyday cooking, there is something of interest for every food lover, no matter their level of expertise.

The Vegetarian: A Novel by Han Kang

This novel has a chilling, dark premise of a woman slowly descending into madness. I was allured by that and the beautiful cover art. Yeong-hye decides one day that she wants to stop eating meat because of a nightmare she had. She does succeed even though it puts tension between her and her husband and her family. It’s set in present day South Korea and told in three different perspectives: her husband, her brother-in-law, and her sister. It made the story more riveting to see the people closeted to Yeong-hye, but never actually seeing her perspective.
Yeong-hye is very taciturn and slowly plummets into madness after experiencing nightmares that cause her to go vegetarian. She eventually suffers from insomnia and becomes anorexic. Told in her husband’s perspective, he witnesses her lose an unhealthy amount of weight and becomes more sickly appearing. The whole time the husband is more embarrassed by her instead of caring for her. He comes off as very cold and insensitive. One of the first things he says in the book about his wife, Yeong-hye, is that she is unremarkable and why not marry her. I didn’t particularly like him, although the first third of the book was the best and it slowly went downhill from there.
Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law becomes obsessed with her after his wife (Yeong-hye’s sister) mentions that Yeong-hye still has her Mongolian mark. This is a small blue mark on infants’ lower back and buttocks after birth and it usually fades into adulthood. The brother-in-law is an artist and has these crazy ideas of painting flowers on bodies and filming them having sex. He wants to do this with Yeong-hye. He develops a sexual tension towards her because of this mark and says that her vegetarianism just makes her more interesting.
Yeah, it’s that weird.
The first 75 pages or so were the best and the book just gets weird and unnecessary. It left me feeling unsatisfied with Yeong-hye’s character. I wanted to see more of her and what she was going through. I thought at first she would be as this enigmatic figure and the story would be compelling but it ended up being lackluster.

Ghosts from Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively: The Study of the Paranormal by Erin Gilbert

I’m a sucker for in-universe books, and as a lifelong fan of the Ghostbusters, I felt obligated to check this out.

And I’m glad I did! This is a great little book, with a legitimately informative first half that gives a great overview of the real-world history of paranormal research before gently transitioning into the in-universe history (and fictional scientific theory) of the Ghostbusters world, all while written in a really, fun, laid-back conversational style.

This is a good refresher for adults who are into casual supernatural science stuff, an even better introduction to paranormal history & science for, say, middle school-aged kids, and an all-round great treat for any Ghostbusters fan who wished a book like this had existed when he/she was kid when the first flick came out 30 years ago. In fact, it’s kind of a shame that the new movie takes place outside of continuity with the old films, because the author(s) of Ghosts From Our Pasts would’ve undoubtedly had a field day incorporating stuff like Tobin’s Spirit Guide and the works of Ivo Shandor into this thing.

Anyway, yeah, thumbs-up. This is a way more entertaining book than you’d expect a one-off bit of licensing to be. In the very least, if you know a kid who digs the new flick (especially if that kid happens to be a little girl and/or is a science nerd), grab them a copy of this thing ASAP.

Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State by Karen J. Greenberg

Most of us lived through 9/11 and its aftermath, and will be familiar with the topics addressed in this book. Greenberg excels in describing the initial degradation in constitutional protection and the different forces that have resulted in continued incursions on our rights. Everyone has heard about Abu Ghraib and Edward Snowden, but unless you keep an eye on the courts, you may not have been aware of the continued tussles between the judiciary and the executive branch over jurisdiction and presidential power.

This is not an anti-Bush screed, though there is a moment of hope when Obama comes into office and appoints Eric Holder as Attorney General. Alas, confounded by battling with the judiciary, which mostly will not concede that it’s ok to torture anyone, including US citizens, the Obama administration resorts to drone kills.In one particularly horrific case, the father of a non-terrorist target of this program tries to take legal action to prevent his son’s murder. He is told that he has no standing to sue, and that “there are circumstances in which the Executive’s unilateral decision to kill a US citizen overseas is…judicially unreviewable.” A few months later the son, along with some unfortunate friends, is drone-killed. At least 1000 others have met a similar fate, many of them as collateral damage. Note that the guilty parties need not have committed a crime, but must only be deemed capable of committing a crime. The thought police are among us.

If you despise the ACLU and believe we have been engaged in a nonstop battle against the forces of evil since 2001, you will not enjoy this book. Don’t even bother. If, on the other hand, you want to cheer when a Supreme (in this case, Justice Anthony Kennedy) says: “The Nation’s basic charter cannot be contracted away like this….to hold that the political branches may switch the Constitution on or off at will would lead to a regime in which they, not this Court, say what the law is” you will find this book a riveting read. The writing is a little dry, more academic than journalistic, but once I got into it, it was hard to put down.

I have picked up Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals and also Guantánamo Diary for more background. I recommend reading Rogue Justice on a kindle or other e-reader so you can more easily follow up on references to people and places — Rogue Justice covers a lot of ground, and you could use up a batch of sticky notes on this book.

How May We Hate You?: Notes from the Concierge Desk by Anna Drezen

“How May We Hate You” grew out of a very successful Tumbler (with the same name) written by two young comedians that took jobs in the hospitality business to support themselves. If you like your humor served with some snark and a little nastiness on the side, then you’ll find this quite entertaining and at times laugh-out-loud funny.

The book is filled with stories and commentary on the crazy things that people do and say. At only three hours long, it’s short enough to not wear out its welcome with repetition or excessive snark, and was long enough to give me a humorous reading break.

Audio production
The authors performed the narration themselves often using a conversational dialog or questions and answers. They did a great job that only added to the entertainment value of the book. It was an easy listen and one I would recommend to new audio listeners or those wanting to try the format. It is also a good choice for the car, especially if you make a lot of short trips as there is no plot to forget and the stories are all short.

Armada: A novel by the author of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I loved Ready Player One and I wanted to love Ernest Cline’s new book Armada just as much. Unfortunately, I did not. (I apologize to Mr. Cline for comparing his second book to his first, but it’s just the easiest way to review the book.)

Ready Player One was original and inventive. Armada is neither, and it is very predictable. It’s so predictable that I thought it would surely end in another way, as the author points us so strongly in the direction of the predicted ending. Plot points along the way were also predictable, and Armada falls back on tired clichés (like the school bully accompanied by his two “big and dumb” thugs).

I totally bought into the world of Ready Player One. I can fully imagine our world disintegrating into the chaos of Ready Player One by 2044. I did not buy into the world of Armada, which is set in 2018. The whole scenario – sentient beings on a moon within our own solar system, a secret plan to prepare all of Earth’s citizens for war through popular culture and video games – did not seem plausible. I felt like I was reading a script for a forgettable alien invasion movie. I did not get caught up in Zack’s world.

Zack was also not nearly as likeable as Wade from Ready Player One, and Zack’s band of compatriots felt clichéd (African-American, check; gay, check; middle-aged, check; Asian, check).

I’m not a gamer, but that bothered me not a bit in Ready Player One. The gaming in Armada is much more focused on one type – “space invader” shooting games. I was bored by the long descriptions of game playing and combat.

The popular culture references in Armada feel forced. I didn’t get a lot of the references in Ready Player One, but they came so fast and furious, and were built so seamlessly into the dialog and plot, that I didn’t care. Multiple times while reading Armada I found myself feeling annoyed that I didn’t get a reference.

Although I couldn’t help but read Armada in the shadow of Ready Player One, if I’d never read Ready Player One I would not have enjoyed Armada any more. In fact, I probably gave Armada an extra half star because I love Cline and his first novel so much.

Armada is not without merit. I was amused off and on. I enjoyed Zack’s online call sign of IronBeagle, a combination of the hero from the movie Iron Eagle and Snoopy fighting the Red Baron. Cline has a nice way of putting words together (“I reminded myself that I was a man of science, even if I did usually get a C in it.”) Armada was a quick read, and there are worse ways to pass some time. I will definitely read his next book.

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