August 27, 2013

Chickens in the Road by Suzanne McMinn

**This review is part of the Amazon Vine program**

I greatly enjoyed this memoir. Partly because it reminded me some of my own life, and partly because I liked the descriptions of farm life and animal stories. And I never even knew there was a blog that it came out of, I'll definitely be checking that out.

After a divorce, McMinn packs up her kids and moves to West Virginia, right in the area that her father grew up. For the first year or so, they live in a slanted house that is rural, but not a farm. And after meeting a man she calls "52", they eventually buy a farm and forty acres out in the middle of nowhere and she starts her farm dream. She starts adding animals and discovers that there is a lot of work to running a farm. And even more when relationships aren't all you thought they would be.

McMinn is living a dream. I'm very envious of her. I've always wanted my own farm and to have animals and chickens. And I did once, but I ended up with someone much like 52 and that dream got put on hold as a result. So that's why I feel a kinship to McMinn. She's experienced the same as what I have. 52, while originally nice, started becoming emotionally and verbally abusive as soon as they bought the house. When she wrote about what he said it could have been taken right out of my life, down to the same type of words. It was a little scary actually. And it drove me nuts that she tried to overlook things that he did because love is blind sometimes. She does meet a lot of good people though. Just the townsfolk and neighbors that she has are often characters and lend a helping hand whenever needed.

I enjoyed hearing about her farm life and the animals she took care of. She has some great stories. But this book could have also been called "Escape from 52" because that was just as much of the plot. And she writes it very well. I couldn't put it down because I wanted to know what happened and how she dealt wit him. A lot of suspense there. This is a memoir in every sense of the word, not just a homesteading book. Although it had those elements as well. And there is a nice little section in the back with craft instructions and recipes. And a section in the middle with a lot of great pictures.

An inspiring book and one that rekindles my want of a farm someday. It's nice to know that people can make dreams happen, even if they have to face some obstacles to get there.

Chickens in the Road
Copyright 2013
294 pages

August 26, 2013

The Glass Lake by Maeve Binchy

My first experience with Binchy, The Lilac Bus, didn't really thrill me.  So it was with trepidation that I started this book.  But it completely redeemed Binchy for me; I really enjoyed it.

Kit has a strange family dynamic.  Her father the pharmacist is content to sleep in a different room from her mother.  And her mother, well she's a wild spirit that wanders around the lake at odd times.  Until one day she wanders and doesn't come back, and a boat shows up capsized.    But Kit's mother has another secret.  One that just grows harder to keep with age and could have the whole small town reeling if it was ever found out.  And it is amidst this that Kit has to grow up and find her own place in the world, despite everyone's expectations of her.

I actually found Kit to be a secondary character to her mother Lena.  She just wasn't written as strongly.  She's likable though and definitely has strong thoughts on everything and seemingly knows what she wants.  Which is admirable.  She doesn't ever back down.  Lena is actually a little weaker in that regard.  She is able to be pushed around by the men in her life despite being strong in all other aspects.  But she's kind and even if I initially didn't like her, you have to admire her resilience.  There's a whole cast of secondary characters too and they each have their own stories.  I do feel that some of them were unresolved but they added a little something to the story whenever they were introduced.

This was a long ongoing story.  At times it was even tedious and slow moving.  But it was interesting for the most part and I like how Binchy showed that even life in a small town can be complicated.  And all of it felt real, like something that could happen in real life.  She had you cursing at the characters for some things and loving them for others.  And there wasn't too much jargon or anything to make it hard for people not familiar with the culture to understand what was going on.  Maybe a mention of "chips" now and then, but that seemed to be it.  Overall, it was well written and just felt authentic.

I won't write off Binchy now after this book.  It was a definite improvement over the other that I had read and I hope the rest turn out to be just as good.

The Glass Lake
Copyright 1995
757 pages

August 25, 2013

Lonely Plant: The World's Best Street Food

**This book is part of the Amazon Vine program**

Travel and food. Two wonderful things. And this book combines the two of them. Although in some ways scary and it some ways fantastic.

The book is broken up into two sections, the savory and the sweet. Each recipe has a description the left hand side including "What is it?", Origin, Tasting, and finding it. Sometimes there are tips, variations and other tidbits. The right hand side is the recipe itself, usually with a picture. And they come in alphabetical order so it's somewhat easy to find what you're looking for. And there's a lot of color in the book too in the backgrounds and text. It's very visually pleasing.

The recipes are also quite interesting. While I can't envision myself preparing chicken feet, there are plenty of approachable recipes that can be tried even if you aren't that brave. I've tried quite a few recipes in the Savory section though.

Bsarra, from Morocco, was a lovely soup that while thicker than I expected, had a terrific flavor. The Burek, from Bosnia, was also good, but it just didn't hold together well and was hard to shape. I did like the Mushroom Crostini, it was quick to make too. Pastys are either a love or hate food, but these weren't too bad and the variety of fillings are endless. Currywurst was actually really sweet, and I didn't enjoy it that much. One of the best recipes is Gozleme which, while time consuming, was tasty and filling. The Chicago-Style Hot Dogs are just that, down to the celery salt. Kelewele was easy to make, but you couldn't taste the spices, it needed to be stronger. The same with the Knish, just not a lot of flavor. One of the most interesting recipes was the Kushari. Although I didn't like the massive amount of dishes it produced, I did like the food itself. The tomato sauce had good flavor.

The Maine Lobster Roll was easy to make, surprisingly. But I felt it was kind of a waste of Lobster, to smother it in mayo like that. The Pastizzi was also relatively simple, and interesting, but a bit plain. But the pierogies. Oh, they turned out fantastic and I'll be returning to that recipe. It was fantastic. Same with the Poutine. It's fattening, but delicious. And the Pretzels. Must be something about food that starts with "p". Lastly, the Zapiekanka, was kind of like a french bread pizza, but I wasn't thrilled with the mayo.

The Sweet section wasn't near as bit as the savory. And admittedly I didn't make as many recipes in this section either. But the Baklava did taste just like store bought and were quite good. However, the Beaver Tails were ok, but didn't hold on to their cinnamon sugar that well. The Sfenj was good. But the water measurement was off by 1 1/2 cups for me. And it definitely needed a sweet topping or it was kind of savory.

Overall, most of these recipes were a success. Not all had a ton of flavor, and some were hard to cook, but the majority were well worth making. I enjoyed them quite a bit. And I did love the pierogies. The whole book is worth it just for that one recipe. And I enjoyed all the stories and history that were included for each recipe.

A great book! This is one that either a cook or world traveler will like.

August 21, 2013

The Scavenger's Daughters by Kay Bratt

**This review is part of the Amazon Vine Program**

I know this is fiction, but a part of me wants it to be real life. If only for the girls that Benfu and his wife take in. But even being fiction, it does have a lot of truth to it, and I think that's what makes this such a great book. And even better, this is the first in a series, so there will be more of it to enjoy eventually.

Benfu survived China's Cultural Revolution, mainly in part to being rescued by his wife's family after collapsing near their home. Now, many years later, he and his wife have over twenty daughters. All of them a result of having been found while Benfu was at his job scavenging. Often, when a child has a disability or is a girl, they will be abandoned in China. And Benfu and his wife share what little they have with their foundlings. But they're not as young as they used to be, and it's becoming harder to make ends meet.

Benfu and his wife are both wonderful characters. But Benfu gets more time than Calla Lily. She just doesn't feature as much and it appears that this is Benfu's story to tell. To a lesser extent it is also Linnea's, one of his foundling daughters. She features quite a bit in the book and she is as headstrong as Benfu believes her to be. But they both just want good for their family. Linnea has a boyfriend named Jet, and he was quite wonderful. So good in fact that I kept waiting for the author to make something horrible happen to spoil him, because it's hard to have a character that good without causing strife somehow. And of course the other daughters all have their own personalities, but they play smaller roles in this book too.

The whole subject is a sensitive one. It is true that many children are abandoned in China, even in the present time. And more often than not, they are girls. To have a character set in China, that cares about these girls and takes them in is automatically endearing. And shows that there are good people in the world right where there are bad ones too. The story was engrossing, you wanted to find out what would happen with Benfu and his daughters. But as the book went along new things kept getting added and didn't quite mesh with the original storyline. For big topics to be introduced midway through the story and the character referencing it then, but not in the beginning, it was a bit distracting. A few mentions or hints in the beginning of the book would have helped tie certain plot lines together. But really, this was a well written book for the most part.

If you're interested in China, or a story about a group of people doing the best they can, then this is going to be a good book for you. It shows the resilience of the human spirit and the compassion that people feel for one another. I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.

The Scavenger's Daughters
Copyright 2013
271 pages

August 19, 2013

Radical: My Journey out of Islamist Extremism by Maajid Nawaz

**This book was received as a Goodreads Giveaway**

More of a political book than a memoir, Radical was written by Nawaz to show how he was brought into the world of Islamist extremism, and why he decided to leave it and advocate for a more balanced view.  It shares a good deal of knowledge on Islamism and Muslims and does have a little bit of memoir that is used to explain Nawaz's own path. 

As a teenager, Nawaz experienced a lot of racism.  Between that and other factors, it was no surprise when the Islamist group Hizb ut'Tahrir was a draw.  Having an answer for everyone, Nawaz found somewhere to put his energy.  And in joining the group he made a decision that would later see him in an Egyptian prison.  But it was there that he began to question his views, and after being released, he kept discovering more views that meshed with his previous thinking.  Because of this, he wen ton to start Quilliam, a foundation that wants to reverse extremism and shed light on misconceptions of both the West and Muslims.

Nawaz's journey is fascinating.  He does a great job explaining his thoughts and actions and you can see why he made the choices he did.  And he admits his faults and why he feels guilty, taking blame for things instead of trying to blame someone else.  It's that aspect that makes this book read as authentic.  I also like that he shared how the organizations worked and how they targeted people to join.  It definitely helped me understand why extremists may think like they do, although it certainly doesn't explain the motivations for 100% of the people like that out there.  Regardless, it's easy to see why Nawaz's current role is that of a speaker on the subject.

Because this was in a memoir form we go from Nawaz's childhood to the present day and it covers his years as a teenager in a gang of sorts, to his time in prison, to creating his foundation.  I actually found the book to be a bit choppy and jumpy; so much time was spent on the first half and then it seemed like once he got out of the prison the book flew by too fast without as much detail.  But really, that's my only complaint on the book.  I don't normally go for political books as they operate in a realm that is not my expertise, but Nawaz made his subject matter presentable for anybody in this book.  I learned that Muslim and Islamist don't mean the same thing necessarily.  I learned how the Jihad is different from Hizb ut-Tahrir, and I think that that understanding is very important.  Too often everything is painted with a broad brush and people, regardless of individual feelings, get swept into it just because they fit a certain characteristic.  And that's part of the message Nawaz was trying to give.

I think this is a very valuable book for understanding extremism and feelings against the United States.  As I said, it doesn't encompass everyone, but it does explain the motivations for a lot of people, and it has a great lesson in trying to prevent extremism and violence.

Copyright 2013
270 pages

August 15, 2013

Rose Madder by Stephen King

Stephen King is known for writing horror stories.  And what's one of the most horrifying things out there?  Domestic abuse.  Which he explores thoroughly in this book.  Sadly though, since it is King, he adds an element of the supernatural to it though, which it really didn't need.

Rosie's life is changed by one drop of blood.  She's been in an abusive marriage for over a decade and suffered many brutalities.  But seeing one drop of blood on her clean bedding one day wakes her up, and before she knows it she is fleeing.  She lands at a woman's shelter, where they help her find a job.  But she worries that her husband will find her.  He is a cop after all, and has ways of finding people.  But with so many things going wonderful in her life, and a new painting that symbolizes her new beginnings, she wants to believe that the best is out there for her.

Norman is probably one of the creepiest literature bad guys out there.  Granted he pushes it to the extreme at times, beyond human intolerance for pain really, but everything he does seems drastically real.  And it's something that could and does happen out there.  Abuse is very real and abusers have something inside them that just doesn't tick right and they can create their own little horror show for their victims.  Rosie is a pretty strong abuse victim though.  After what she's been through she bounces back pretty fast and while she has some accurate tendencies of an abuse survivor, her timeline is a little quick.  But she's got a wonderful group of people at the shelter to act as side characters and help her on her journey.  Bill, one of the men she meets in her new life is supposed to be a pretty good character, but I found him a little flat and not well developed. 

This is a good story.  In fact, it didn't need the supernatural added in at all and I actually found that it kind of ruined it for me.  Had King not done such a great job with Rosie's life and her abuse and the drama there, I would have welcomed his thriller odd happenings tone, but it just wasn't needed here.  And don't even get me started on the epilogue.  Maybe I missed something, but I couldn't quite figure out the whole lesson that was being learned in that.  Or really the whole ending of the book at all.  I do want to warn the reader that this is a gruesome book.  Foul language, racial slurs, violence, rape, abuse; pretty much everything you can think of is in this book.  And it's all done very descriptively.

This wasn't a terrible book, but as I said before, it was an intriguing story that was cheapened by supernatural elements.  Just average to me.

Rose Madder
Copyright 1995
479 pages

August 12, 2013

Daughters Who Walk This Path by Yejide Kilanko

**This book was received through the Amazon Vine program**

What a sad, yet hopeful book. Daughters Who Walk This Path opens up not only a culture, but a topic that focuses on abuse in the home and how sometimes the ones that hurt us most are those known to us.

Morayo is a young girl growing up in Nigeria. The older sister, she feels a sense of responsibility to her younger sister, most especially because her younger sister is an albino and considered unlucky in their culture. But when she's looking out for her sister, no-one is looking out for her and a cousin who has come to stay forces her to do unspeakable things. And the aftermath of that will follow her for many years as she struggles to believe in herself again.

Morayo is a fantastic character. She grows, she has troubles, but overall, she is very real. The pain that she goes through is heartbreaking, and I will admit that I shed a few tears while reading about her plight. And the reactions to her troubles are heartbreaking as well. Reading about her loneliness and the denial that her family seemed to go through was tough, but yet oh so true when you look at real life abuse statistics anywhere in the world. I did think her sister could have been a better character. She almost doesn't seem needed, and very rarely adds to the plot. Morayo's aunts add more insight and development to the book than she does. And given that she has her own troubles with being an albino, I think she really could have been used better in the story.

Abuse is a hard subject to talk about. Especially since often times it is someone the person is close to instead of a complete stranger. And the awkwardness it makes between family members just further hurts the victim. I think that Kilanko did a great job with showing how the events in her childhood shaped Morayo's adult life and made her make the choices that she did. And while all this was going on she even managed to share a little bit about how schooling and university works in Nigeria, which I thought interesting. The only part I didn't really care for was the chapter in which she tried to dive into the political realm. It just felt out of place and didn't flow as nice with the rest of the book.

I think this is a very interesting book and while it's sad, it also is a little uplifting because it proves that the human spirit can get through some terrible things. This is one that's well worth reading.

Daughters Who Walk This Path
Copyright 2013
329 pages

Children of the Lion by Peter Danielson

Children of the Lion is the first in a series that mixes biblical themes with fiction and tells an in-depth story of some of its characters. What am I doing reading a book like this you ask? When it is so obvious that it's not something that I would normally seek out. Well, it was sitting on my shelf, I don't know where it came from, but I decided to read it anyway.

Children of the Lion tells the story of Hagar, concubine of Abraham, and her trip from slavery to having the son of one of the most powerful men in the world at the time. It also tells of her slave friend Shepset, who was part of the household of Lot, and the shame and depravity she had to endure there. There is also Zakir, a blacksmith who takes in Ahuni, a boy who may be able to trace his lineage back to that of Cain himself. Because of what Abraham's God has told him, he runs his family with an iron fist, and plans to hold the land that God has given him.

Abraham was not a likable character in this book. He was so focused on his visions that he didn't manage his family well and allowed horrible things to happen because he wouldn't pay attention. His wife Sarah was just a horrible person (in my opinion) and her treatment of those under her reflects this. Lot and his family were able to make your eyebrows go to your hairline at their depravity, and poor Shepset was just a victim of their excesses. On her own, she didn't really have any personality though. She was kind of just a scapegoat for every sort of injustice you could imagine. Hagar was also kind of a flat character. Maybe this is the fault of her actually not getting a ton of time in the book, but while we see little glimpses of her feelings about everything that is going on, she seems easily distracted. Probably the best developed characters were Ahuni and Zakir. They had an interesting trade and a kind relationship and they were the characters you could feel the most emotion from.

Despite this book being over four-hundred pages long, it was way too rushed and I think the author tried to tell too much story in its pages. It seemed like things were constantly jumping about and not as fully developed as it could be. While I think the story of Ahuni was done real well, it seemed like that of Hagar and Abraham suffered because so much detail was given elsewhere. Considering they should have been powerful characters in this book, it seemed odd that the other story would have more precedence. Because it is biblical in nature, there are strong biblical themes that may not agree with everybody. I kind of knew that getting into the book after reading the description on the back. After all, when you have a fairly religious book talking about the events of Sodom, you know it's not going to take a light stand on things. So while not to my normal range of beliefs on a book, I can respect that it contains its authors views, but still warn the reader that they may not like the content. Also a warning, there is quite a bit of violence and reference to unconventional sex in this book.

I think more time and care could have been taken with a lot of this book. It was averagely good, but with a little more detail added and the characters fully developed, it could have been great. As it is, people interested in biblical history might like it and the rest of the series. Personally, I don't really have a need to read past this book.

Children of the Lion
Copyright 1980
464 pages

August 10, 2013

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

I guess I just don't have an appreciation for this book like most people do.  I wanted to like it; I actually did like some parts of it.  But I also found it a hard read, like slogging through quicksand.

Major Pettigrew is living a quiet life of a widower in town.  His son lives in a bigger city, making a name for himself as a banker.  And his brother, well he has just died and so the Major finds himself very distraught when the nice shopkeeper, Mrs. Ali, a widow herself, comes to the door to collect the newspaper money.  Mrs. Ali sets to help him and this starts the beginning of a friendship that is only marred because Mrs. Ali is of Pakistani descent and therefore not an "approved" companion for the Major in the eyes of most of society.  Throughout this growing relationship, there is a dance to plan, guns to sell, and other rocky relationships that make things interesting.

The Major is an ok character.  But while I found him proper I also found him a little selfish.  Not intentionally of course, and not as bad as his son, but he still was very concerned with appearances rather than with other people's emotions.  He improves somewhat, but it left a bad taste in my mouth.  His son, like I said, is worse.  I couldn't stand Roger.  Wanted to give him a good kick in a sensitive place.  Actually, the only character I really did like was Mrs. Ali.  She was a sensitive person and put others first.  Just very nice and understanding when there was a lot of prejudice around her.

I liked the actual storyline of the book.  The mature relationships aren't something I read about very often and I thought it was very sweet.  The way Simonson brought the two together and developed their relationship was adroitly done.  I did not however like all the stereotypes in the book.  It would seem that Simonson hasn't had good experience with Americans and they were portrayed as very brash and self-centered.  The one gets a little better, but even so, it was kind of insulting since we're not all the same.  I also thought the other plots about the guns, etc. distracted from the love story.  I found myself wishing they'd be over as they kind of made the book a bit boring.  The romance part though was wonderful and really the best part of this book.

I think it's a nice book but not as outstanding as I was expecting it to be.  Fans of British literature and "drama" may enjoy it quite a bit better than I did.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
Copyright 2010
355 pages

August 08, 2013

Gravelight by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Well, this book was better than the first in the series, but still not that great. As the third book in the "Light" series, it doesn't necessarily have to be read in order, but it does help with some of the background.

Sinah has come back to where she was born to try to rediscover some of her past. The problem is, the townsfolk vehemently deny that she belongs there or that her relatives have ever lived there. Wycherly too is there, trying to escape nightmares and slowly drowning himself in alcohol. And Truth and a gang of people from the Bidney Institute that researches the paranormal are also in town. And there's something aside from the location that connects them altogether. A powerful magic, one that's out of control, and that's slowly claiming the lives around it.

Truth is usually a good character. But she was just different in this book. Colder in some ways and more prone to temper in others. Her fiance Dylan, I absolutely detested in this book. He was nothing like he was in the previous two books and it seemed that the author just randomly changed his personality to cause some strife in the book even if it wasn't the way he would have normally acted. Sinah I didn't really care for either. She was too weak a character and despite this, used entirely too much. And then there's Wycherly. Aside from wondering what the heck was going on with his name (as a first name it is just not working), he was a constant stream of drunkeness and bad decisions and his redeemable qualities just weren't authentic.

For a plot there wasn't a bad one. Untapped magic, evil powers, people trying to get on with their lives despite conflict; there's enough here to make it interesting. But because of the less than stellar characters it just didn't make it into that realm of being a great book. It's very readable though, and despite some of the magic and occult references being beyond me, I found myself becoming somewhat immersed in the story. Unlike the other two, there were references to sex in this one, which surprised me since it wasn't that style of writing in the rest of the series, but it wasn't very graphic or offensive so I don't see it being a problem for most readers.

I can't say that I'm going to go out of my way to find the fourth book in the series. I'm just not invested enough in any of the characters or the plotline as a whole. This is just an average fantasy series.

Copyright 1997
350 pages

August 06, 2013

Run or Die by Kilian Jornet

**This review is part of the Amazon Vine Program**

I'd never heard of Kilian Jornet before reading this book. Which is probably to be expected. Despite considering myself a "runner" I still think a 10k is a distance to shoot for. Ultramarathons and what Jornet does is just beyond me. But in search of the ever elusive secret to not getting bored while running long distances, I decided to take a chance on reading this book.

Jornet, originally having started out as a skier, was always a fan of the outdoors thanks to the excursions his parents took he and his sister on as children. Now, grown, and a very competitive athlete, he currently is a trail runner, ultramarathoner and skyrunner. All of which are humongous feats of athleticism. In this book he gives a stream of consciousness on some of the races he's won, some of his past memories, and a little bit of his personal life.

Jornet really focuses on the running in this book. While people are mentioned, they are secondary. We have a little bit of his mother and sister as they accompanied him on some of his adventures. Not much of his dad at all though. A little bit more of his family and what they thought about his running wouldn't have been out of place. And there was some of a previous girlfriend, but I didn't really enjoy those parts so I can't say I was thrilled to read about her. About himself Jornet really is able to exude his passion for running. And he admits his faults too, giving his true reasons for really wanting to run and acknowledging that he really needs praise from others for motivation. I like that kind of honesty and think it's a very real perspective.

This book is a little more flowery in the writing that I normally like (maybe as a result from the translation?) but I actually found myself enjoying it here. What I didn't like however, were the odd instances of his time with his girlfriend thrown in. Unlike his reminisces about his family, they just didn't fit and were distracting. Perhaps if they had had their own area they might have worked, but fit in between some of his challenging races they were definitely out of place. The sections where he is describing the races are wonderful though. You can almost feel what he's feeling and really commiserate with his pains and sore muscles and just marvel at how he's still moving after so many miles. If the whole book had focused on the races themselves I think it would have been excellent.

I would probably rate this book 3.5 stars. It had some fantastic parts, great writing in some areas, but ultimately had its readability disrupted by some of the personal stuff. While I can never envision myself running those kind of distances, I have nothing but the deepest admiration for Jornet and his running skills.

Run or Die
Copyright 2013
145 pages

August 05, 2013

Witchlight by Marion Zimmer Bradley

After the mess that was Ghostlight (book one in the Light series) I was relieved to find this one was written a little better. It isn't really necessary to read them in order, although you will miss out a little on the backstory of some characters. And there's been some uproar about the fact that this book was co-authored (ghostwritten, completely written, noone seems to know for sure) by someone other than Marion Zimmer Bradley, despite her name being on the cover.

When Winter Musgrave finds herself in an old house all she remembers is that she released herself from a mental institution. The rest of her past is fuzzy, and strange occurrences keep happening around her, the worst of which being the mutilated animals on her doorstep. Having been a powerful trader on the stock exchange, Winter is surprised to learn that she once went to the local college and was studying the arts, but left before she was to have graduated. Realizing that the phenomena happening is getting more violent though, she desperately seeks her friends from back then, hoping they can fill in the gaps before it is too late.

Winter bounces all over the place in personality. She goes from being cold to hopeful to reminiscent and back again over the spectrum. This is to be expected, she's undergone a lot of stress. But it just didn't feel genuine at times. In fact, the only character who really felt real was Truth, and maybe that's because she was in the first book. The rest were just flat characters who were there to serve a purpose. At least they had some interesting histories though, so you did care about where they came from.

This book started out great. You really wanted to know what happened to Winter and cheered for her when she started making discoveries about herself. But by the end of the book, the pace was all off and things started happening too quickly. The author also assumes that the reader has more than a base knowledge of the occult/magic/etc. and if you don't, it can make the concepts of this book difficult to understand. I had a general idea of what was going on, but I suspect I missed a lot of the nuances that having a broader knowledge depth would have given me. It just made the book more difficult to read.

I think someone more familiar with the occult and magic in different forms might enjoy this book more than the average person. It definitely has a specific audience unlike some of the other books with Bradley's name on the cover. I've got one more of the Light series at home that I'll probably read, but they're definitely not books I would seek out otherwise.

Copyright 1996
303 pages

August 04, 2013

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya Von Bremzen

**This review is part of the Amazon Vine program**

A memoir of food and longing, that's the sub-title of this book. And I think it's a very apt one. But it's also a book of history. I think I learned more about Russia from this book than I did in the few classes I took in college.

Anya grew up in Russia. But her mother, discontent with the way things were, finally left for the United States, and took Anya with her. Now, years later, Anya reflects on her time and of her parents and grandparents lives in Russia as well. Anya and her mother decide to cook through the dishes of Russia by decade. Starting with the decadent 1910's all the way up through the new millennium. Sadly, most of these decades are marked with hunger and shortage and encouraged a creative use of ingredients. But these are the same dishes that have Anya longing for the past.

Anya had a lot of complicated relationships. Probably the most important person in her life was her mother. They appeared to be constant companions and her mother is a very strong person. It was amazing how she was able to raise a child on so little and be brave enough to go to a new country on her own. Her father was a little less stellar and seemed to have a form of depression or drug addiction. And the way she made it sound was if that was a very common thing for men in Russia. Her grandfather was also an unusual type, being in the military he had a very strong pride in his country and some advantages that probably helped in their survival (or hindered it at times).

I had originally thought this book would be mostly about food. And it had some food included. Anya and her mother did a lot of cooking and reminiscing over food they ate while living in Russia. But I'd actually classify this book more of a history. It told of the different leaders and the living conditions under each. It also went into a little of how the military worked and the difference between classes of citizens despite the communist state. And of course there were the personal stories of Anya's life. The pace was decent, although when describing the politics it could drag a little bit sometimes. The little bit of the food that was described I have to say didn't sound very appetizing to me. Lots of mayonnaise, although it sounds as if Russian mayo is different than American. She did include some recipes, one for each decade, at the back of the book.

While I would have liked just a little more food, I thought this an informative memoir. It certainly opened up a bit of Russia from the perspective of someone who lived during some volatile times.

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking
Copyright 2013
334 pages

August 03, 2013

Edible Cocktails by Natalie Bovis

**This review is part of the Amazon Vine program**

Ok, I always try to make at least 10-20% of the recipes in a cookbook before reviewing, but I'd be a downright drunk if I tried to do that with this one. I just can't consume that much alcohol by myself. But I did get to try a few, and I thought this was an interesting book.

The book is split up into several different parts. There is an introduction and list of kitchen and bar tools and their uses, glasses, and the types of alcohol. Chapter 2 talks more about gardening and growing your own ingredients. Then we get into the chapters that actual deal with making the drinks, starting with a very large section on grapes and including grape based cocktails, sparkling cocktails and specialty sangrias. Out of this section I tried the Classic Champagne Cocktail and the majority of people with me who tried it enjoyed it. The bitters gave it a very unique taste.

Chapter 4 is syrups, shrubs, and other sorts of additives. There are actually recipes for jams in this section, although I prefer to use actual jam books for that sort of cooking (although there is a recipe for making your own pectin). The variety of syrups is endless though and there was a huge selection. I made the cherry-cinnamon and it was only slightly medicinal tasting but the taste was good and it had a nice thickness to it.

Chapter 5 is the odd one. This has all the infusions with ingredients like meat and eggs. I'm a sucker for Bacon so I made the Smoked Bacon-Washed Bourbon and the accompanying Bacon Cherry Creek Cocktail. By itself the bourbon had a slightly fatty flavor and the smoke was strong. When mixed into the cocktail I thought it was horrendous. My grandpa liked it though and thought it had a strong smoke flavor but was light on the cherry. If you're not into bacon there's recipes using prosciutto and chorizo too. Also in this chapter I tried out the Homemade Irish Cream. It did taste like the popular brands but was quite a bit stronger. I had to cut it with more than the usual amount of chocolate milk that I normally use.

Chapter 6 is the Mixers, Garnishes and Ice. This is where you find the salt and other such things. I didn't give anything a try, but they had a few interesting recipes like the Strawberry Pink Himalayan Salt rim. The last chapter, 7, is also one I didn't utilize but it just had a lot more drink recipes from margaritas to martinis.

I think this is definitely a book that would be more utilized by an experienced mixologist. As only a casual drinker that enjoys a wine cooler now and again, getting over the sticker shock for some of the prices and then the complicated mixings of the alcohol was a little much for me. But I appreciated all the fresh ingredients and the syrup mixes. Using some imagination, a lot of these ingredients could be put to use for non-alcoholic drinks too (there's a recipe for lemonade in the book that would be good to mix the syrups with).

The format is nice, with bright colorful pictures and the text was easy to read. While there was the introduction and beginning to let you know what some of the terms meant, it was still hard for a beginner though.

There's definitely a better audience for this book than me, but it was still well done. I can see a lot of people who enjoy their mixed drinks really loving this book and using it for all sorts of events.