Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Banh Mi Handbook

I am very thrilled to have received a free review copy of Andrea Nguyen's beautiful new book, The Banh Mi Handbook! It is a feast for the eyes with some of the most gorgeous food photography I have seen.

Nguyen makes what may be a new food experience to some people accessible and inviting. I enjoyed the opening in which she gives readers a bit of background to her country and this particular culinary delight. (This is a part of cook books that I always appreciate!) She lets readers know from the start the types of ingredients which are typical to these Vietnamese sandwiches, and then breaks the chapters up according to the layers you would normally find included in a banh mi experience.

I love that Nguyen helps readers on each step of the journey toward building a perfect replica of the typical street fair. The photographs, which are all well lit and artistically composed, include pictures of some of the less familiar ingredients readers might be looking for at the store.(For instance the lemon grass used in one of the pickle recipes.)

Another small, but appreciated feature is Nguyen's tips on ways to use parts of the ingredients which might otherwise be overlooked. She suggests using the liquid from your homemade pickled vegetables as part of a dressing for salad--something many of us might not think to do. (What other uses for pickle juice have I been squandering all these years?!)

Because banh mi is an everyday, street vendor type food in Vietnam, the ingredients are fairly easy to come by. I was reassured that it will be possible for me to make the sandwiches in my own kitchen, and without spending a fortune to do so. (I love that she says the bread need only be what is readily available and least expensive at your local store!)

My only criticism of this book is that it left my mouth watering and my tummy grumbling.

If you like trying new cuisine and haven't had the pleasure of experiencing banh mi, you will love this book! If you have had the pleasure of eating the delectable sandwiches, you will love having this recipe collection so you can make your own!

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Catch

I'd like to begin by thanking the publisher for the complimentary review copies of Taylor Stevens' series.

I had not read any of Stevens' novels before cracking open her latest novel, The Catch. I love a good thriller and was eager to meet a character who must have staying power with readers for Stevens to have written several in a series. I hoped that jumping in on book four would allow me to have a good experience even though I didn't have the background knowledge that those who've read the previous books would have.

I was not disappointed!

Vanessa Michael Munroe is a fascinating character who likely appeals to both male and female readers. Her ability to change appearance between masculine and feminine, local and foreign, harmless or deadly paired with her gift of picking up languages in short order allow Munroe to operate anywhere in the world. She is a fascinating, strong, woman who knows how to put her skills and attributes to their best use. She is tough. She is a survivor. Her intuition is killer--and so is she.

The Catch is set in Africa, specifically off the coast of Somalia and in and around Mumbasa, Kenya. Munroe is hired on board a ship as part of a security team charged with helping a shipment reach its destination despite its route through Somali pirate infested seas. When the ship is attacked, Munroe is the first to discern that the apparent reason for the hijacking may not be the real motive after all. Having escaped the ship with it's injured captain, she figures out that it is the captain the hijackers were after rather than what lies in the cargo hold.

The book is an espionage type thriller that will keep readers on their toes trying to put the pieces together as quickly as Munroe seems to be doing. I found it nearly impossible to put down!

The exotic setting is made real due to Stevens' time spent in Africa. She paints a picture that readers will experience with all their senses. The lives of the native populations ring true. The poverty and violence along with the family loyalties and treatment of foreign business travelers and tourists. I found it interesting to get a feeling for the normalcy of the petty thefts that occur as well as a view as to how the medical system operates. (I must admit, reading The Catch has made it far less likely that I will ever travel to Africa for fear of needing medical attention alone!)

I found that this book stood on its own quite well. I had enough information about Munroe to get caught up in her situation and to care what happened to her. I am excited that I now have the opportunity to go back and read the first three novels and I wonder if that will make me see what happened in The Catch any differently.

From the publisher:

About Taylor Stevens…

When Stevens published her debut novel, The Informationist, it was celebrated by some of the best writers in the genre, including Lee Child, Vince Flynn, Michael Palmer, and Tess Gerritsen; it was widely covered in the national media; its rights were sold in twenty countries; it was optioned for film by James Cameron; and it became an instant New York Times bestseller. Reviewers and readers alike were drawn to Stevens’s complex characters—particularly her butt-kicking protagonist Vanessa Michael Munroe, who has drawn comparisons to Jason Bourne, Lisbeth Salander, Jack Reacher, and James Bond—and the page-turning plot that transported us from the United States and Germany to Equatorial Guinea and France. Her follow-up novels, The Innocent and The Doll, received critical acclaim and served to solidify her talents.

While readers quickly fell in love with Stevens’s fearless heroine, they were also fascinated by the author’s own compelling history: born into the Children of God, Stevens was raised in communes across the globe and denied an education beyond the sixth grade. She escaped the cult in her twenties, leaving everything behind to start over in the United States, and it was there that she taught herself to write. In her riveting new novel, THE CATCH (Crown; July 15, 2014), Stevens draws on her years spent living in Africa to craft the unforgettable scenes, settings, and cultures within the book.

Vanessa Michael Munroe, chameleon and information hunter, has a reputation for getting things done—often dangerous and not quite legal things. The difficult and deadly work has left her with blood on her hands and a soul stained with guilt. Having borne the burden of one death too many, Munroe has fled to Djibouti, Africa. There, where her only responsibility is greasing the wheels of commerce for a small maritime security company, she finds stillness—until her boss pressures her to join his team as an armed transit guard on a ship bound for Kenya. Days into the voyage, Munroe discovers that the security contract is merely cover for a gunrunning operation. The ship is invaded off the Somali coast, and in a moment of impulse while fighting her way out, she drags the unconscious captain with her. But nothing about the hijacking is what it seems. The pirates were never after the ship; they’d come for the captain. In chasing him, they make their one mistake: targeting Munroe raises the killer’s instinct she’s tried so hard to bury. Wounded and on the run, Vanessa Michael Munroe will use the life of her catch as bait and bartering chip to manipulate every player with a stake in the ship’s outcome, and find a way to wash her conscience clean.

An adrenaline-fueled ride of foreign intrigue that is filled with double-crosses and boots-on-the-ground scheming, THE CATCH is sure to be one of this summer’s biggest thrillers.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Knitting Reimagined - Part 2

In the Introduction to her newest knitting book, Nicky Epstein writes, "My goal was to fill this book with chic, wearable, but uniquely atypical garments that will appeal to knitters of all skill levels." This reader would say that she has, for the most part, succeeded in her goal.

The patterns in Epstein's book are very well written and easy to follow. One of the fun aspects of the book is the "Reimagine It" box on the introductory page to each pattern. There Epstein gives knitters ideas for thinking outside the box and for changing up her patterns and designs to add a sense of personal style or design to the garments. As an experienced knitter, this part really strikes a creative chord with me and I appreciate a designer who not only acknowledges that readers may play with the pattern, but encourages them to do so!

As I went through the book more slowly I came to better appreciation of some of the patterns I had first thought no one in my small, rural community would likely ever wear. (I confess to still being fairly certain that no one is going to look good/feel comfortable in the "Glory Rising Circle Cardigan"--it may just be too far in the deep end of "uniquely atypical" to fit a human form.) The Cool Construction section along with the patterns in Stitch Impact provide some of my favorite garments in the collection. I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of styles Epstein designed using basic rectangles--a knitting feat even beginning knitters can easily pull off. (I may have to create the Renaissance Castle Tunic before fall and my planned trip to a neighboring state's Renaissance Festival!)

Another thing I really like about Epstein's collection in Knitting Reimagined is the fact that it contains items from casual to classic to elegant/formal. There really is something for everyone! I also like the fact that she includes a time gauge as part of the pattern--letting newer knitters have a realistic idea of which projects are bound to take more time/effort than others.

Thanks to Blogging For Books for allowing me the opportunity to read and review Nicky Epstein's Knitting ReImagined!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Knitting Reimagined

So excited that my review copy of Nicky Epstein's new book, Knitting Reimagined, arrived today! My first look through has shown me that it is gorgeously photographed and laid out. I can't wait to dig in and and read some of the patterns in detail. I am going to try and knit some of the patterns so that I can let you know what the real world "knitability" of the patterns is.

A while back a knitting instructor once warned me about patterns in magazines and books by saying to be wary of those where the person modeling the garment is posed funny or looks uncomfortable. That is a sure sign that the design of the garment or the fit has a problem that will only be made worse on "real" bodies. My first glance at the photos revealed to me a couple of the garments in the collection are likely for serious fashionistas only and not likely to be very flattering on anyone above a size 2. But I will tell you more when I've actually had a chance to read the book, study the patterns, and try my hand at knitting the stitches! Until then, knit on!