Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Longevity Kitchen

If you are interested in a healthy diet to help optimize your wellness and promote longevity, you are going to want to run out and pick up a copy of The Longevity Kitchen: Satisfying Big-Flavor Recipes Featuring the Top 16 Age-Busting Power Foods by Rebecca Katz.

The book features everything you would expect to find in a cookbook: delicious, well-written, and easy to follow recipes grouped in intuitive sections (“Life-Enhancing Soups and Broths,” “Vital Vegetables,” “Protein-Building Foods,” etc.), beautiful, full-page color photographs of scrumptious dishes, nutritional information for each recipe, notes and tips to help ensure your success, and an extensive resource directory to help those of us in less urban areas acquire some ingredients and supplies that may not be available in our area.

What is unique to Kates Longevity Kitchen is the first three chapters of the book. There Katz walks readers through a fascinating tour of the body’s various systems such as bones & muscles; the immune system; the gut, liver, and kidneys; the respiratory system; etc. She explains how each system is designed to work and the fuel needed to help it do so. In chapter two, Katz discusses how the foods we eat can play either a harmful or healing role in our bodies. She provides readers with an extensive list of nutritious, healing foods, detailing the benefits of each. I found this both fascinating and enlightening! Finally, Katz offers readers some words of wisdom in making the most of the book. I found her list of questions regarding discovering your culinary GPS thought-provoking and a bit unnerving in places which highlighted some of my poor habits!

The Longevity Kitchen will be making a permanent home on my counter as it becomes my go-to standard in cooking for my family in the days ahead. I’d like to thank Blogging For Books for the review copy I received in exchange for this review.

From the Publisher . . .

A collection of 125 delicious whole-foods recipes showcasing 16 antioxidant-rich power foods, developed by wellness authority Rebecca Katz to combat and prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, inflammation, arthritis, and other conditions that plague American adults, enabling readers to live longer, healthier lives.

In this collection of more than 100 recipes that combine smart nutrition and superb flavor, culinary nutrition pioneer Rebecca Katz highlights the top sixteen foods proven to fight the most common chronic conditions. Katz draws on the latest scientific research to explain how super foods such as asparagus, basil, coffee, dark chocolate, kale, olive oil, sweet potatoes, and wild salmon can build immunity, lower cholesterol, enhance memory, strengthen the heart, and reduce your chances of developing diabetes and other diseases.

This practical, flavor-packed guide presents the most effective—and delicious—ways to use food to improve the performance of every system in the body. Katz explains the health advantages of each main ingredient, and includes menu plans to address specific symptoms and detailed nutritional information for each recipe.

Easy-to-find ingredients are incorporated into a powerful arsenal of tantalizing recipes, including:
• Roasted Asparagus Salad with Arugula and Hazelnuts
• Costa Rican Black Bean Soup with Sweet Potato
• Black Cod with Miso-Ginger Glaze
• Herby Turkey Sliders
• Thyme Onion Muffins
• Yogurt Berry Brûlée with Almond Brittle

Based on the most up-to-date nutritional research, The Longevity Kitchen helps you feed your family well and live a long and vibrant life.

About the Author . . .

As the senior chef-in-residence and nutritional educator at one of the country’s leading cancer wellness centers, REBECCA KATZ, MS, is the culinary link bringing together physicians and patients with a common goal: eating well to maximize cancer treatments, minimize side effects, and improve outcomes. She is the founder of the Inner Cook, a Bay Area culinary practice that specializes in meeting the specific nutritional and appetite needs of cancer patients, and a senior chef at Commonweal Cancer Help Program in Marin County, California. Katz has been a guest chef and lecturer at top academic medical centers throughout the country, including the annual Food As Medicine conference.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Coloring With Daria Song

I have always loved to color. There is something very calming and soothing about laying down color, be it marker, crayon, or pencil, on a smooth sheet of crisp, white paper that gives my spirit a lift. That’s why I was so excited to get my hands on a copy of Daria Song’s newest offering, The Time Chamber: A Magical Story and Coloring Book.

Song’s illustrations are detailed without being overwhelming or intimidating. The simple story line adds a spark of fun to the coloring experience. (Although I do wonder how many rebels will be coloring the fairy with some other color of hair besides red!) This is an adult coloring book that could easily serve as a way to spend time coloring with a younger artist at your side. I like the fact that she has left room for relative input by readers in some of the images. I also found the hidden pictures key at the end helpful. And if you like surprises, don’t miss what’s hiding under the book jacket!

The paper used in the book is a bright white, smooth, and heavy sheet which will hold up to just about any type of material you choose, including markers. I don't know that I'd try painting in it, that could get messy and potentially interfere with other pages.

I'd like to thank Blogging For Books for the free ARC I received in exchange for this review.

From the Publisher . . .

Korean artist Daria Song’s sequel to The Time Garden takes readers on a visual journey into a magical nighttime world seen through the eyes of a fairy.

This second book in the bestselling Time coloring series features the voyage of a fairy who, when the cuckoo clock chimes midnight, enters the human world. To the tiny fairy, everything seems enormous and magical, from the curtains to the chandelier to a mystical rowboat that takes her further into an inky adventure. With her she packs her favorite items, which colorers can find throughout the book’s pages: an owl-feathered pen, a star-scented spray, a time tape measure…even the key to the time chamber itself!

Filled with the imaginative, intricately detailed illustrations Song’s readers have come to love, The Time Chamber presents a view of our world made new—and ready for coloring.

The Time Chamber features extra-thick craft paper, ideal for non bleed-through coloring, and the jacketed cover with flaps is removable and colorable. Special gold-foil stamping on the cover and spine and a To/From page make it perfect for gifting to adults and kids alike.

About the Author . . .

DARIA SONG is an author and artist with a master’s degree in fiber arts from the Ewha Womans University Graduate School of Fine Arts. Winner of the Kyung Hyang Arts Contest, Song has exhibited at numerous galleries and museums in Korea, Singapore, Turkey, and Hong Kong. She is a lecturer at the Kaywon School of Arts and her illustrations can be found in Amore Pacific and SK Planet. She spent five years of her childhood in San Francisco before returning to Korea, and the sense of wonder and mystery that comes from living in a far-off place inspired her internationally best-selling adult coloring book, The Time Garden.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Food52 Baking Is a Treat

I consider myself blessed to come from a long line of solid cooks who know their way around a kitchen. My mother was in her element baking dozens upon dozens of cookies and breads for Christmas. My grandmother kept a variety of freshly baked treats in her kitchen "just in case company stops by." Both would appreiate Food52's newest offering, Baking: 60 Sensational Treats You Can Pull Off In a Snap.

Personaly, I'm thrilled that the 60 treats includes some breakfast treats (I have a love affair with scones going) and some savory delights (pizza dough! Basil onion cornbread! Cheese crispettes!) for times you want a special something that's not sweet. The recipes are divided into seven sections: breakfast, cookies & bars, fruit desserts, custardy cakes & puddings, everyday cakes, special occasion cakes, and savory baked goods. The recipes themselves are clearly written with ingredients listed in a column on the left, an introduction to begin (which often includes serving suggestons, help with less familiar ingredients, and personal anecdotes from the contributor'a experience), and step by step instructions below. Any special technique instructions are also included at the end. (This is why it is always a good idea to read any recipe through to the end before beginning.) For example, p. 63 instructs readers "How to Cut in Butter."

The fact that each section is delineated by a full-spread color photo (try not to drool) and each recipe includes an equally scrumptious image (if only it were scratch & sniff!) had me me ogling the pages like teenaged boys who've gotten their hands on their first swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated. What really hooked me in and made me fall in love with this book were the slight twists on familiar treats that made me exclaim things like "of course!" and "genius!" aloud. The addition of cinnamon and yogurt in "Bestest Banana Bread" now seems like something I should have known before. The recipe for Spiced Parsnip Cake (parsnips replacing carrots) is pure genius. And although it sounds really odd, I'm willing to trust the authors that the addition of a can of tomato soup will enhance a spice cake with cream cheese frosting in ways that will leave your guests asking for more.

I'd like to thank Blogging For Books for the review copy I received free in exchange for this review. I am thrilled to add this to my cookbook collection and look forward to baking delicious treats from it for years to come!

From the Publisher . . .

A stunning collection of hassle-free recipes for baking cakes, cookies, tarts, puddings, muffins, bread, and more, from the editors behind the leading food website Food52.

Whether it’s the chocolate cake at every childhood birthday, blondies waiting for you after school, or hot dinner rolls smeared with butter at Thanksgiving dinner, homemade baked goods hold a place in many of our best memories. And that’s why baking shouldn’t be reserved for special occasions.

With this book, curated by the editors of Food52, you can have homemade treats far superior to the store-bought variety, even when it feels like you’re too busy to turn on the oven. From Brown Butter Cupcake Brownies to “Cuppa Cuppa Sticka” Peach and Blueberry Cobbler, these sixty reliable, easy-to-execute recipes won’t have you hunting down special equipment and hard-to-find ingredients or leave you with a kitchen covered in flour and a skink piled high with bowls. They’re not ordinary or ho-hum, either: ingredients you’ve baked with before (and some you haven’t – like black sesame, coconut oil, and lavender) come together to create new favorites like Baked Cardamom French Toast and Olive Oil and Sesame Crackers. Filled with generations’ worth of kitchen wisdom, beautiful photography, and tips you’ll return to, Baking is the new go-to collection for anyone who wants to whip up something sweet every day.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Two Titles For Your Consideration - Tacos & A Mystery!


I believe I have never eaten a "real" taco.

I'm not easily intimidated by cooking/food books, however, Alex Stupak's Tacos: Recipes and Provocations, left me quivering. Not only did I discern a visceral sense that I would never be able to measure up in the taco making realm while reading Stupak's book, I also sensed a longing for said "real" taco that may never be fulfilled. All in all, I felt a bit empty.

The book is lovely to look at and inspiring in its attempt to familiarize us gringos with the foods that are so much more familiar to those living closer to the southern border and beyond it in foreign lands. Although my part of the country has some immigrants from Mexico and points south of there, most people in my immediate area equate Mexican food, and tacos, with the national chains. For us tortillas come in "shelf stable" packages that last forever, and salsa comes in jars or packets.

Thus the overwhelm I felt when Stupak writes, "There is absolutely no substitute for a fresh, homemade tortilla, and suggesting any kind of store-bought alternative would keep me up at night. To fully use this book as it's intended, you have to reconcile to the idea of making your own." (p. 27) Despite my gut screaming, "Turn back! You're in too deep!", I forged ahead with the discussion of types of corn. (I live in Iowa. I am surrounded by fields of field corn. Every kid in Iowa gets a detailed education on the bamboo-related grass that is corn which is growing all around us. Still, onward I read.) Stupak presents an interesting and detailed account of the types of corn, the process needed to make field corn digestible, and the tools and machinery needed to make it happen. On page 33 you learn the truth: masa fine enough to make tortillas with cannot be made at home. He tried. Extensively. It did not work. (At least according to his standards--yours may vary.)

I was quite disappointed at this stage of the reading, because I realized I was never going to make a tortilla.

I'm glad I kept reading, however. I eyed all the recipes for the delicious varieties of tortillas Stupak offers with equal parts longing and jealousy. There is a wonderful section on the many different types of chilies available along with their various attributes (taste, heat, etc.). I found this very educational. I wanted to be able to taste the different proteins that Stupak offers readers. The wide variety of salsa types blew my mind: I had no idea there were so many options to choose from!

If you are a serious foodie or a very adventurous cook, you may want to get your hands on a copy of Stupak's Tacos. Perhaps you've never really spent much time considering the taco from the perspective of artful cuisine. This book affords you that opportunity. Thanks to Blogging For Books for the free copy I received in exchange for this review!

From the Publisher . . .

Superstar chef Alex Stupak’s love of real Mexican food changed his life; it caused him to quit the world of fine-dining pastry and open the smash-hit Empellón Taqueria in New York City. Now he’ll change the way you make–and think about–tacos forever.

TACOS is a deep dive into the art and craft of one of Mexico’s greatest culinary exports. We start by making fresh tortillas from corn and flour, and variations that look to innovative grains and flavor infusions. Next we master salsas, from simple chopped condiments to complex moles that simmer for hours and have flavor for days. Finally we explore fillings, both traditional and modern–from a pineapple-topped pork al pastor to pastrami with mustard seeds.

But TACOS is more than a collection of beautiful things to cook. Wrapped up within it is an argument: Through these recipes, essays, and sumptuous photographs by Evan Sung, the 3-Michelin-star veteran makes the case that Mexican food should be as esteemed as the highest French cooking.

About the Author . . .

(From his Facebook page): Alex Stupak is the chef and owner of Empellon Cocina and Empellon Taqueria in New York and is one of Food & WIne's Best New Chefs 2013.

His address on the Web is:


I really enjoyed returning to a mystery and discovering a new author whose writing I found engaging.

Secret Sisters is written mainly from the viewpoint of the main female character, Madeline Chase, who is called back to the scene of her traumatic childhood incident that has changed the lives of several people. She arrives just in time to witness the death/murder of the man who has been the property's caretaker for the intervening 18 years. From there, I found it a compelling read with a variety of suspects, motives, and danger to keep me flipping pages as quickly as possible.

One of the things I really enjoyed about the book is the fact that there were several crimes that had to be sorted through. The 18-year old incident that involved Madeline and Daphne, revealed an older murder two states away and prompts a closer look at the current deaths for signs murder too. This makes the perpetrator unfold more dastardly deeds in an attempt to throw off suspicion.

The romance part of the mystery didn't bother me as I thought it potentially might. (I generally like to keep my genres separate.) It is integrated into the overall story in such a way that it unfolds naturally but does not detract from or overpower the mystery.

If you enjoy a good "who-dun-it" that keeps unfolding even when you think it has wrapped up, you need to give Krentz's Secret Sisters a read. (Be warned that it does involve a child abduction and near rape, if that is a trigger for you.) Thanks to the publisher for the Advance Reading Copy I received in exchange for this review!

About the Book . . .

No one does romantic suspense better than Jayne Ann Krentz. Now, the New York Times bestselling author of Trust No One and River Road delivers a novel that twists and turns into a read that will leave you breathless.

Madeline and Daphne were once as close as sisters—until a secret tore them apart. Now it might take them to their graves.

They knew his name, the man who tried to brutally attack twelve-year-old Madeline in her grandmother's hotel. They thought they knew his fate. He wouldn't be bothering them anymore...ever. Still their lives would never be the same.

Madeline has returned to Washington after her grandmother's mysterious death. And at the old, abandoned hotel—a place she never wanted to see again—a dying man’s last words convey a warning: the secrets she and Daphne believed buried forever have been discovered.

Now, after almost two decades, Madeline and Daphne will be reunited in friendship and in fear. Unable to trust the local police, Madeline summons Jack Rayner, the hotel chain’s new security expert. Despite the secrets and mysteries that surround him, Jack is the only one she trusts...and wants.

Jack is no good at relationships but he does possess a specific skill set that includes a profoundly intimate understanding of warped and dangerous minds. With the assistance of Jack's brother, Abe, a high-tech magician, the four of them will form an uneasy alliance against a killer who will stop at nothing to hide the truth....

About the Author . . .

The author of over 50 New York Times bestsellers, JAYNE ANN KRENTZ writes romantic-suspense in three different worlds: Contemporary (as Jayne Ann Krentz), historical (as Amanda Quick) and futuristic (as Jayne Castle). There are over 35 million copies of her books in print.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Owls A Most Charming Book

As a person who is enamored of owls, I was eager to get my hands on a copy of Matt Sewell's little tome, Owls: Our Most Charming Bird. Its arrival in the post sent me into a flurry of reading; enraptured, I did not put it down until it had been read in one fell swoop!

The book provides a very basic narrative description of the owls Sewell has chosen to illustrate. At times, bits of humor are interwoven in these descriptions which caused me to smile and chuckle as I read.

Do not get this book if you are looking for a field guide to take out into the woods to help you identify specific species by photograph. DO run out and grab a copy if you enjoy lovely watercolor illustrations that provide a sense of personality for each bird. I found myself lingering longer over the illustrations than I did the text, even though Sewell uses some delightful words throughout. (Who doesn't like a book that uses words like "flammulated" and "hullabaloo"?)

I found Sewell's book to be a delight! I plan to keep it on my shelves and share it with youngsters who come to visit as my way of passing along a love for owls! Thanks to Blogging For Books for the ARC I received in exchange for this review.

From the Publisher . . .

An enchanting illustrated guide to owl species of the world.

In this beautiful and highly giftable art book, artist and ornithologist Matt Sewell captures 50 species of the world’s most evocative bird: the owl. Using pop-art watercolors and accompanied by witty and irreverent descriptions, Sewell expresses the individual characters of owls as never before. From tiny elf owls to huge Eurasian eagle owls, from the haunting barn owl to the elegant great horned owl, these wise, magical birds are otherworldly in their striking colors and stature. It’s not just birdwatchers who are obsessed: Owls are a perennial favorite in pop culture, decorating, and among children as well as nature lovers and serious birders. From David Sedaris’s Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls to Harry Potter’s pet Hedwig, and throwback interest in Twin Peaks (which is returning to TV in 2016) and its trademark spooky owls, these birds are here to stay.

About the Author . . .

MATT SEWELL, who has been described as “the Banksy of the bird world,” is an avid ornithologist and artist. He is the author of Our Garden Birds (2012) and Our Songbirds (2013), and has illustrated for The Guardian and Big Issue amongst many other publications. His art has been exhibited in London, Manchester, New York, Tokyo, and Paris.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The New Sugar & Spice Is Nice!

As someone who is attempting to eat a healthier diet might, I always feel a bit guilty having dessert. But I love it so! You can imagine my delight in reading Seneviratne's introduction to her wonderful new cookbook, The New Sugar & Spice, and discovering the idea that less sugar + more spices = more flavorful, slightly healthier, and equally or more satisfying dessert experiences. Now here's an "all things in moderation" (the limited sugar) diet idea I can rally behind!

Seneviratne has family in Sri Lanka and spent time there visiting them during her childhood. I love the stories and anecdotes she includes in both the introduction to her book and before each recipe. This gave me the sense I was in the kitchen with a friend who was happily recounting the tales of how the recipe came to her. It also stirred my imagination and wanderlust as I pictured the lush gardens in which her grandparents and their siblings grew the very spices included in so many of the recipes.

The cookbook divides the recipes according to the spice (or spice family) used in the recipes. These are: Peppercorn & Chili; Cinnamon; Nutmeg; Cloves & Cardamom; Vanilla; Ginger; and Savory Herbs & Spices. Each chapter begins with a brief history and geography lesson recounting where the spices originated and grow and their importance in establishing world commerce via the spice trade routes. I found it a fascinating part of the book's charm.

There is a wonderful variety of desserts presented throughout The New Sugar & Spice, including breads and pastries; cookies and cakes; puddings and ice creams; and much more. I found some of Seneviratne's comments about the dishes endearing. She writes of the True Love Cake, "This cake doubles as aromatherapy" (p.66). Regarding the "Bombay Cream" (as opposed to Boston Cream) for her Cardamom Cream-Filled Sugar Doughnuts she says, "Cardamom mixed with cream is one of the loveliest things on the planet" (p. 130). (Having dipped my grandmother's Christmas bread (which features cardamom) in warm milk for a heavenly treat, I'd have to agree!)

The recipes in this book are arranged in a manner that makes it easy to assemble your ingredients and follow the detailed, step-by-step directions. I believe even those without much kitchen experience will find recipes with which they are sure to be successful. Many of the recipes are accompanied by full-page, gorgeous photography that makes you long for a fork and a nibble of the finished product. (S'more Pie, I'm looking at you!)

I'd like to thank Blogging For Books for the ARC I received in exchange for this review. I believe The New Sugar & Spice will be my go-to for desserts for years to come!

From the Publisher . . .

Raise your desserts to a whole new level of flavor with The New Sugar & Spice, a collection of more than eighty unique, unexpected, and uniformly delicious recipes for spice-centric sweets. Veteran baker Samantha Seneviratne’s recipes will open your eyes to a world of baking possibilities: Her spicy, pepper-flecked Chile-Chocolate Truffles prove that heat and sweet really do go hand-in-hand, and a fresh batch of aromatic, cinnamon-laced Maple Sticky Buns will have the whole family racing into the kitchen.

Discover new recipes from around the globe, such as Sri Lankan Love Cake or Swedish-inspired Saffron Currant Braid. Or, give your classic standbys a bold upgrade, such as making Raspberry Shortcakes with zingy Double Ginger Biscuits. Filled with fascinating histories, origin stories, and innovative uses for the world’s most enticing spices—including vanilla, cinnamon, peppercorns, and cardamom —The New Sugar & Spice guarantees that dessert will be the most talked-about part of your meal.

About the Author . . .

SAMANTHA SENEVIRATNE is New York-based food writer, recipe developer, and food stylist. She is a graduate of the International Culinary Center and has worked as a food editor in the kitchens of Good Housekeeping, Fine Cooking and Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food. She blogs about dessert at Love, Cake (

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Speed Kings

I am an avid fan of bobsledding in the Olympic games. It's one of the events I try not to miss. So I was excited to be offered the chance to read an early copy of Andy Bull's new book, Speed Kings, which highlights the 1932 American Olympic bobsled team.

In the years leading up to bobsledding being added to the Olympics, people had not experienced the types of speed that you and I are accustomed to. They traveled at the speed a horse could travel, whether on horseback or the horse pulling a buggy or wagon. The first automobiles traveled a whopping 20-30 miles per hour. But with dirt roads, they bogged down easily and often had to drive slower.

Just imagine how thrilling it must have been to hurtle down a snowy, icy mountain side on a bobsled! Those first thrill-seekers must have imagined themselves being shot out of a canon as they blasted down the slopes!

Alas, this is where I must confess I got hung up in reading the book. Apparently the best bobsledding to be had happened at St. Moritz, the playground of the rich, elite, and famous. The book became a veritable "who's who" of the silver-spoon set and, although the writing is excellent, it simply became more of a celebrity name-dropping scene than I could stomach. I kept trying to get into it, but the faster the names and titles of the heirs and heiresses came hurtling past me, the slower and slower my trudge through the piles of people became. Until, finally, I surrendered.

Your experience with this book may be vastly different! Perhaps you enjoy celebrity sightings and rubbing elbows with the upper echelons of society. Maybe you will be better able to simply skim the early chapters in order to move on to what is surely the best parts of the story these daredevils have to offer. I hope that at some point in the future I may be able to pick it up again and do so myself. For now I thank the publisher for the ARC and will shelve this one on my "Try Again Another Time" shelf.

From the Publisher . . .

A story of risk, adventure, and daring as four Americans race to win the gold medal in the most dangerous competition in Olympic history.

In the 1930s, as the world hurtled toward war, speed was all the rage. Bobsledding, the fastest and most thrilling way to travel on land, had become a sensation. Exotic, exciting, and brutally dangerous, it was the must-see event of the 1932 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, the first Winter Games on American soil. Bobsledding required exceptional skill and extraordinary courage—qualities the American team had in abundance.

There was Jay O’Brien, the high-society playboy; Tippy Grey, a scandal-prone Hollywood has-been; Eddie Eagan, world champion heavyweight boxer and Rhodes Scholar; and the charismatic Billy Fiske, the true heart of the team, despite being barely out of his teens. In the thick of the Great Depression, the nation was gripped by the story of these four men, their battle against jealous locals, treacherous US officials, and the very same German athletes they would be fighting against in the war only a few short years later.

Billy, in fact, went on to talk his way into the Royal Air Force—despite their Brits-only policy—and was there to fight the Nazis during the Battle of Britain. King of speed to the end, he would become the first American fighter pilot killed in WWII.

The exploits of Billy and his teammates make up a story that spans the globe, from Golden Age Hollywood to seedy New York gambling dens, to the most fashionable European resorts, the South Seas, and beyond. Evoking the glamour and recklessness of the Jazz Age, Speed Kings will thrill readers to the last page.

About the Author . . .

Andy Bull is the senior sportswriter for the Guardian. After studying English at Oxford, Andy Bull entered journalism and has now worked at the Guardian for eight years, during which time he has covered two Olympic Games, the Cricket and Rugby World Cups, the World Athletics and the World Swimming Championships, the Commonwealth Games, and Wimbledon. He has also written features, interviews (ranging from Oscar Pistorius to Harold Pinter), blogs, and colour pieces. He has received multiple nominations and commendations at both the British Press Awards and Sports Journalism Awards, and has his own cricket column, “The Spin,” e-mailed out to 20,000 readers each week.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Jewish Baker's Pastry Secrets

This book should come with a warning label: May Cause Drooling and/or Hunger Pangs.

I will be the first to admit I have a problem passing up pastries. So it is my own fault I found it hard to put this book down. I grew up with a grandmother who baked and I miss her cinnamon rolls, coffee cakes, Christmas bread, and pastries. Discovering this book is like wandering into her kitchen while she was in the throws of kneading the dough or forming the rolls. What a treasure!

If you haven't baked pastries or been around others who do, one thing that you may find surprising about this book is that several different creations can be made from each "master dough". The main difference in results comes from the fillings and the way the dough is formed or shaped.

Greenstein, and his off-spring who helped compile this book following his death, offers readers detailed instructions not only on each recipe, but also on things such as why measuring is most important in baking and how to "read" your oven and adapt your baking to maximize what's going on in your particular kitchen. (I found this insight most helpful!)

Two drawbacks I discovered while enjoying this book: 1) I began to feel sorry for myself for not having a stand mixer (this would make the job of producing yeast bread doughs infinitely easier!) and 2) I found myself hating the fact I live in the middle of Iowa in a place devoid of a bakery (other than what you can find at the local grocery store. Which is better than nothing, I know.) I found myself ruminating on what it must be like to live in New York or another metropolis where neighborhood bakeries abound, and you come to know what day the baker is going to have your favorite pastries fresh in the display case just waiting for you to stop in and pick one up. A girl can dream, can't she?

If you have the slightest interest in learning to bake, you NEED this book! It'd be crazy to pass on the lifetime of insights a professional baker is offering you! Many of the treats are of Eastern European or German descent, which is a plus in my book since that is a big part of my own heritage. I am going to pass this free copy (which I received from Blogging For Books for this review) on to my daughter (who does have a stand mixer and a love of baking!) in hopes she will bake me something, ANYTHING from it!

From the Publisher . . .

This follow-up to the author’s James Beard award-winning Secrets of a Jewish Baker is a charming collection of European-style bakery classics, such as coffee cake and strudel.

George Greenstein had a gift for teaching home bakers to think, work, and bake like the pros with his evocative and tactile descriptions of baking. In A Jewish Baker’s Pastry Secrets, he crafts master dough recipes for Jewish holiday baking and European classics, creating a comprehensive set of building blocks for both beginners and baking enthusiasts. Greenstein’s expert guidance for making doughs like bundt, babka, strudel, gugelhopf, stollen, pressburger, puff pastry, and Danish create a jumping-off point for more than 200 variations of classic pastries, including napoleons, coffee cakes, and sweet buns. The book also offers an in-depth guide to ingredients and equipment, including both professional and home ovens, as well as basic recipes for fillings, icings, and glazes. With Greenstein’s steady guidance and familiar voice, home bakers and professionals alike will be encouraged to turn out flawless pastry creations for any occasion.

About the Author . . .

GEORGE GREENSTEIN is a third-generation professional baker, now retired. For twenty years he owned and operated a Jewish bakery, The Cheesecake King, on Long Island. He lives in Monroe Township, New Jersey. This is his second book.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Seven Sisters Is A Tease

My inexperience with the bold new world of publishing options in this day of e-readers comes to light with my reading of M. L. Bullock's serial novel, Seven Sisters. The site offering up the book lists the information you read below in "From the Publisher". It is listed as "Seven Sisters Series #1". What is more accurate, is that this the first installment of the serial, and NOT a complete book. It ends after a scant 100+ pages in the middle of a cliffhanger.

I was suspicious when the book downloaded and only had 122 pages. (Some of these final pages are the first chapter of the next "book"--which I can only guess is another installment as I suspect that each one is going to end in a cliffhanger.) The writing is mediocre at best. The characters, while believable, feel stereotypical and not very well fleshed out. It's unfortunate because the concept for the book seems good. A young woman has the "gift" (Carrie Jo would define it in other terms) of slipping into the past lives of people who inhabit the place she where she falls asleep/unconscious. This ability to see what happened long ago has impact on the here and now. Like I said, an interesting premise to run with.

It's truly unfortunate that the book feels like a bait and switch experience which leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Had I paid for a complete work, I may have kept on reading despite the writing not being great. But I'm not going to keep paying for sections of one book distributed in serial fashion, not knowing how many times the author will be trying to lure me back to the paypal button.

Thanks, but no thanks. I won't be recommending this book to anyone.

From the Publisher . . .

Carrie Jo has a secret—she dreams about the past. The handsome and wealthy Ashland Stuart has hired her to uncover the history and the secrets of Seven Sisters, an aging antebellum mansion in sultry downtown Mobile, Alabama. A series of dreams, an untimely death and the betrayal of someone she loves lead her back in time to uncover the truth about a missing young heiress and a web of secrets.

Will Carrie Jo slip into the shadows of Seven Sisters, following in the ghostly footsteps of the lost young woman, or can she solve this tragic mystery and find her own happiness?

About the Author . . .

Author M.L. Bullock enjoys the laid-back atmosphere and the spooky vibe of the Gulf Coast, especially the region's historic districts and sites. When she isn't visiting her favorite haunts in New Orleans or Old Mobile, you can find her flipping through old photographs or newspaper clippings in search of new inspiration.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Healthier Eating Is Possible With Everyday Detox

"Dear Food,
It's not you. It's me.
I've just discovered I've had a dysfunctional relationship with you all my life."

So begins my imaginary letter to one of my life's great loves after reading Megan Gilmore's new book, Everyday Detox: 100 Recipes to Remove Toxins, Promote Gut Health, and Lose Weight Naturally.

I found the introduction and premise behind the book to be both fascinating and insightful. I had never considered that there might be a different experience other than feeling gassy & bloated after eating. Also, I have a very difficult time sticking to any plan that asks me to give up my nearly 50-year desire for something sweet. Gilmore states at the outset that her plan does NOT make you give up those sweet indulgences, nor the pasta or potatoes, nor any other food that you might enjoy. She simply asks that we begin to rethink the need to consume ALL the things we love at every meal. (What? I can still have some chocolate now and again? A muffin? Mac-n-cheese? That's HUGE!)

Gilmore suggests that so many of our digestive and weight issues stem from the fact that we are eating the wrong foods together. She presents some "new rules" for putting meals together which ultimately bring more good news: these meals are simplified, quick and easy, and made from better ingredients (which lend more nutrition, taste, and ultimately satisfaction to the experience). She suggests that we eat meals focused on one food type (think animal protein, nuts & seeds, starches, etc.) with a host of supporting "neutral" cast members (typically, non-starchy vegetables) on the side.

After laying out the method and philosophy, Gilmore then presents a host of recipes from smoothies to packable lunches, satisfying dinners and even sweet treats. She lists out how to stock your pantry and kitchen to make her plan a lifestyle and not a passing fad. She advises that even if you don't want to follow the well laid out plan for a full week of detoxing, taking her advice on what foods to avoid eating at the same time and eating more whole foods (versus processed foods), you are sure to feel better (no more bloat! less gas! higher energy!) and possibly lose some weight at the same time.

I for one am very stoked to dive in and put these ideas into practice. I would love to come away from the table feeling satisfied and full of energy rather than ready to curl up on the couch and nurse the pain under my ribcage. I can't wait to try some of these recipes. (The chia cereal/pudding is at the top of my list!) I'd like to thank Blogging For Books for the review copy I received in exchange for this review!

From the Publisher . . .

A healthy guide to detoxing naturally, all year round–no dieting, juice fasting, or calorie counting required–to lose weight, improve digestion, sleep better, and feel great, featuring 100 properly combined recipes for every meal of the day.

Most diets and cleanses have all-or-nothing rules that encourage unhealthy cycles of intense restriction followed by inevitable bingeing. In this healthy guide to detoxing naturally, nutritionist and blogger Megan Gilmore shares 100 delicious, properly combined recipes that will leave you feeling satisfied and well nourished while promoting weight loss and improving digestion and sleep.

Because the recipes were developed with digestion mechanics in mind, detoxers won’t feel bloated or uncomfortable after eating. And crowd-pleasing recipes for every meal of the day—such as Banana Coconut Muffins, Chocolate Chia Shake, Broccoli Cheese Soup, Mediterranean Chopped Salad, Skillet Fish Tacos, Cauliflower Flatbread Pizza, and Peppermint Fudge Bars—are packed with all-natural, whole-foods ingredients designed to stave off feelings of deprivation. With helpful information on how to stock your detox-friendly kitchen plus a handy food-combining cheat sheet that demystifies this cutting-edge health principle, Everyday Detox makes it easy to start eating this way today.

About the Author . . .

MEGAN GILMORE is the creator and recipe developer behind, a website that makes healthy living easier and more accessible. Though she wasn’t raised as a healthy eater, Megan credits her former junk food habits—and a penchant for baking—in helping her re-create healthy favorites using whole-foods ingredients, without sacrificing taste or texture. Megan is a certified nutritionist consultant and health coach, and her recipes have been featured in The Guardian as well as Shape and Clean Eating magazines. She lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband and son.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Medicine Walk

I really enjoyed this book which centers on the heart-rending moments of a young man's journey through the dying and burying of his biological father, and that man's attempt to share who he is with a son he does not know.

The book is set in the mountains of Canada and features strong influences of issues surrounding Native American which play a major part in the novel. The writing reminded me of Kent Haruf's Plainsong triology, which I also loved. Who we are, where we come from, what makes a family: these are the things so many of us struggle with since each family has its struggles, difficulties, and dysfunctional moments. Wagamese taps into these essential questions in a very poignant way which drew me in from the beginning. My heart immediately went out to Franklin and the old man, and eventually came to embrace Eldon and the other characters we meet.

Those who say that Wagamese is a natural storyteller speak the truth. It should be no surprise then, that this novel revolves around the stories that the characters have to tell and the importance of sharing our selves through that medium. That the two most influential women in Eldon's life had been natural storytellers was no surprise. That the old man and Franklin value words so highly that they use them with economy and purpose is a marvelous flip-side of that coin.

I love the title Medicine Walk because it works on so many levels with the story. Franklin mentions that this is what the old man called their forays into nature to live off the land and all that the Earth provides. It also serves as an apt description for the journey Franklin and Eldon are on as they rely on Becca's medicine to see them through to the journey's end. Finally, the time spent together and the stories shared along the way provide the medicine each man's soul needs through the reconciling of lives.

I am so thrilled to have been introduced to this author and I offer thanks to the publisher for the ARC I received in exchange for this review. You can be sure I will be getting my hands on more of Wagamese's writing in the future!

From the Publisher . . .

When Franklin Starlight is called to visit his father, he has mixed emotions. Raised by the old man he was entrusted to soon after his birth, Frank is haunted by the brief and troubling moments he has shared with his father, Eldon. When he finally travels by horseback to town, he finds Eldon on the edge of death, decimated from years of drinking.

The two undertake difficult journey into the mountainous backcountry, in search of a place for Eldon to die and be buried in the warrior way. As they travel, Eldon tells his son the story of his own life—from an impoverished childhood to combat in the Korean War and his shell-shocked return. Through the fog of pain, Eldon relates to his son these desolate moments, as well as his life’s fleeting but nonetheless crucial moments of happiness and hope, the sacrifices made in the name of love. And in telling his story, Eldon offers his son a world the boy has never seen, a history he has never known.

About the Author . . .

Richard Wagamese is one of Canada’s foremost Native authors and storytellers. Working as a professional writer since 1979 he’s been a newspaper columnist and reporter, radio and televison broadcaster and producer, documentary producer and the author of eleven titles from major Canadian publishers with a new novel, Indian Horse, coming in early 2012.

He has been a success in every genre of writing he has tried. The 56 year-old Ojibway from the Wabaseemoong First Nation in Northwestern Ontario became the first Native Canadian to win a National Newspaper Award for Column Writing in 1991. As a published author he was won the Canadian Authors Association Award for Fiction for his third novel Dream Wheels, in 2007 and the Alberta Writers Guild Best Novel Award for his debut novel, Keeper’n Me in 1994. Addititionally, his memoir One Native Life was one of The Globe and Mail’s 100 Best Books of 2008 and the memoir One Story, One Song was awarded the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature in 2011.

He published an anthology of his newspaper columns, The Terrible Summer in 1996 with Warwick Press and his second novel, A Quality of Light, in 1997 from Doubleday. A critically acclaimed memoir entitled For Joshua: An Ojibway Father Teaches His Son arrived in October 2002, Dream Wheels in 2006, and the novel Ragged Company and his acclaimed and bestselling memoir One Native Life in 2008. He published the follow-up to One Native Life, the acclaimed memoir, One Story, One Song in February 2011 and his first collection of poetry, Runaway Dreams, in July 2011, followed by The Next Sure Thing, a novel in Orca Press’ Rapid Reads Series in October 2011.

He has twice won the Native American Press Association Award and the National Aboriginal Communications Society Award for his newspaper columns. Currently, his series One Native Life runs as a radio commentary and newspaper column in both Canada and the U.S. and was a weekly television commentary on CFJC-TV 7 in Kamloops, BC from 2007 to 2010.

Richard continues to lead writing and storytelling workshops in communities across the country. He was honored with an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops in June 2010 in recognition of lifetime achievement in writing and publishing and was the 2011 Harvey Stevenson Southam Guest Lecturer in Professional Writing at the University of Victoria. Richard has also been honored with the 2012 National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Media & Communications.

An esteemed public speaker and storyteller, he lives in the mountains outside of Kamloops, British Columbia with his wife, Debra Powell, and Molly the Story Dog.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Get Your Brew On

When learning something new, it only makes sense to learn from someone who's an expert. Having been there and done that in the realm of home brewing, Emma Christensen's new book, Brew Better Beer is the expert advise you need to walk you through getting started making your own beer. (Or, if you've made a few batches and aren't quite sure why it's not tasting how you'd like or imagined, the book will steer you in the right direction!)

Christensen does a super job at laying out the basics for everyone who has wanted to try making beer but found themselves overwhelmed in the beginning. I appreciate that she does a bit of hand-holding (and lets experienced brew masters know when to skip ahead unless they want to review the basics with us newbs). In addition to in-depth narrative, the book includes easy to read and follow charts on all the basics from equipment needed to the rich variety of ingredients needed. She even has a chart to help beginners figure out if they are more likely to enjoy and find success with brewing smaller 1-gallon batches or larger 5-gallon quantities. (I suspect I'm more your 1-gallon sized brewer as I'm the type who doesn't want to have to drink through a whole lot before I get to try something else.)

My eyes were certainly opened to the plethora of possibilities home brewers have when it comes to ingredients that will affect the beer you make. Varieties of hops, types of grains, different yeasts, even the mineral content of the water used will provide different flavors in the final product. Christensen takes each ingredient in hand, explains what its purpose in the brew is, and then lists the options available for each ingredient and what it will do to your beer. I was amazed and thankful for a concise "play-by-play" scorecard that will provide handy reference in the future.

With the opening elementary chapters behind, the rest of the book is divided up according to styles of beer to brew: Pale Ales, India Pale Ales (IPAs), Brown Ales, Porters & Stouts, British Ales, Belgian Ales, Scottish & Irish Red Ales, Wheat Beers, Rye Ales, Session Ales, Gluten-Free Beers, and Lagers. Interspersed between chapters are great tips and talks on things like "How To Pour and Taste Beer" and "Ten Small Habits That Will Make You a Better Brewer". (Especially helpful, the section labeled "Common Problems, Easy Solutions"!)

Each chapter on a style of beer includes several tried and true recipes for brewers. What I love is that each recipe offers readers several beers that are already out there on the shelves to try which are similar in nature to the one in the recipe. Don't know if you're up for a whole batch of "Bitter Brit English-Style Pale Ale"? Well, run out and grab Whale's Tale Pale Ale by Cisco Brewers, Inc. or Schlafly Pale Ale from The Saint Louis Brewery to find out!

Each recipe also includes "Brew Notes" to help ensure optimal success with your batch of brew and "Make It Yours" ideas on ways to switch up the ingredients to tweak your flavor results in a way that might be more to your own liking.

If you've ever thought of making your own home brew, Brew Better Beer is the book you will want to get! Thanks to Blogging For Books for the review copy I received in exchange for this review.

From the Publisher . . .

In this colorful homebrewing guide, The Kitchn’s Emma Christensen gives you the keys to the brewery. Start out by mastering the basic styles, like A Very Good IPA and A Very Good Porter, then move on to inspired variations such as Centennial Dry-Hopped Double IPA, Campari IPA, and Smokey Chipotle Porter to discover which flavors, infusions, hops, and yeasts work best with each ale and lager. Want to brew a signature beer with your own personal stamp? Go wild with the “Make It Yours” suggestions and try tossing anything from cherries to chai spices into your brew.

This handy manual also dives deep into the mechanics of brewing all-extract, partial-extract, and all-grain brews, and includes a big, beautiful photographic guide to brewing beer so you can see exactly how each step is done. You can brew small 1-gallon batches, perfect for apartment brewers and low-risk experimentation, or brew 5 gallons and have enough to share with all your friends. You’ll also be introduced to up-and-coming beer trends like rye malts, barrel-aging at home, sour beers, gluten-free beers, and Old World beer styles.

Filled with inspiring recipes like Riding Lawn Mower Pale Ale, Maple Cider Dubbel, Finnish Juniper Rye Sahti Ale, Figgy Pudding British Barleywine, and Farmers’ Market Gruit, Christensen’s accessible approach will have you brewing better beer in no time.

About the Author . . .

EMMA CHRISTENSEN is the recipe editor for the popular homecooking website The Kitchn (, and a graduate of the Cambridge School for Culinary Arts in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A former beer reviewer for the Columbus Dispatch, she is a dedicated home-brewer always eager for the chance to nerd out about fermentation. Emma lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

To learn more, visit

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


What would you do if a bunch of confused, naked people walked into your back yard from the woods next door? It happened to Sean Casey in Boone County, Iowa this past Sunday*!

This book was impossible to put down after Sean's house becomes ground zero. As quickly as he was running through sheets and towels to help the confused no-longer-dead folks cover up, I was reading through the pages trying to find out what would happen next!

You might think that having loved ones return from death would be a good thing. Some people don't see it that way. And it seems that only the folks who died from accidental causes are coming back. Aunt Jenny died of cancer? Not likely to see her again... Jones does a great job of explaining the ins and outs of why some dead come back and others don't. In the Spore universe, it all makes perfect sense.

Unfortunately, this mass resurrection sets in motion a nearly insurmountable catastrophe in the small communities of Boone County, Iowa. (I just LOVE that the story is set in a location so close to where I live!) Is is just a coincidence that kids start disappearing about the same time? And that the M.O. is eerily familiar to a crime spree that happened 20 years ago?

Also coinciding with the miraculous return, Sean's nightmares from his own childhood abduction are increasing and intensifying. What is his subconscious mind trying to tell him?

If you're a fan of horror, enjoy putting the pieces of a mystery together, or get a kick out of books set close to home (in this case, central Iowa), you are going to want to get your hands on a copy of Jones' book, Spore--ASAP! I'm thrilled mine came from a book signing event where the author herself signed my copy!

[Do note: the book contains adult language and references to child sexual/physical abuse. If these offend you, just know that you are going to encounter them in this text.]

*The book lists the event as happening on July 19, 2015.

From the Publisher . . .

The dead are coming back.

Ten naked people walk from a cemetery into artist Sean Casey’s backyard: ten Spore People who used to be dead. One, Mindy, stays with Sean while trying to reclaim her life, but her ex would rather she return to her grave. Sean struggles to protect Mindy and other Spores while battling his recurring—and worsening—nightmares. Meanwhile, the media feeds a panicked frenzy that leads both the hopeful and hateful to Sean’s front door.

As the Spore fungus spreads, so does the fear. When mutilated children match Sean’s nightmares, he realizes his own worst terror may be closer than he thinks.

About the Author . . .

Tamara started her academic career as a science geek, earned a degree in art, and, when she's not making quilts or herding cats, writes tense thrillers as Tamara Jones and Tamara Siler Jones. Despite the violent nature of her work, Tam's easygoing and friendly. Not sick or twisted at all. Honest.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Go Set a Watchman

Although written roughly 60 years ago, Harper Lee's novel, Go Set a Watchman, could not be more relevant to the world in which we live.

You can read the plot synopsis below in "From the Publisher." Suffice it to say that this is the story of a young woman coming to terms with the fact that her idol is a human being; that she is her own person; and that the world operates in terms of murky grey areas rather than clearly defined black/white rules.

As I scan my Facebook page I see a plethora of memes offering up the idea that the world is black and white. This is courage. This is not. This is right. This is wrong. This is good. This is bad. Taken at face value, it's a very polarizing world on social media. Sadly, this is the world in which many people are immersed. It's no wonder that people find themselves feeling isolated and afraid.

Go Set a Watchman presents the notion that sometimes things are not as clearly "black and white" as they appear. We live in a world that daily offers us not simply "either/or" choices, but "both/and" options. How we choose to navigate in such a world speaks volumes to our character and beliefs.

I have been sitting with Lee's words for a couple of days now. I plan to go back and re-read the book. It will join my list of books that must be re-read every couple of years or so. As I do, I hope that I will be inspired to work towards those causes which seem to me to be to the betterment of humanity while at the same time maintaining tolerance and an openness to dialogue and learning from others.

From the Publisher . . .

From Harper Lee comes a landmark new novel set two decades after her beloved Pulitzer Prize–winning masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch—"Scout"—returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise's homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town, and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past—a journey that can only be guided by one's own conscience.

Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor, and effortless precision—a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context, and new meaning to an American classic.

About the Author . . .

Harper Lee was born in 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama. She attended Huntingdon College and studied law at the University of Alabama. She is the author of two novels, To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman. Harper Lee has been awarded numerous literary awards, including the Pulitzer Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Genius Recipes

Have you ever wished that you could have professional chefs right beside you in the kitchen, giving you their secret tips to ensure the dish you're working on turns out better than ever? Now you can!

Food52's Genius Recipes serves up 100 recipes from top chefs with genius tips, easy to follow directions, and extra help in note form--all designed to ensure your success in the kitchen. Along the way, you are sure to discover and adopt some new techniques which will change the way you cook other dishes too!

What's a great way to add creaminess to soups, purees and sauces without using cream or butter? Look to the Genius Tip on page 194 which is included with Julia Child's Gratin of Zucchini, Rice, & Onions with Cheese for the surprising answer.

Want a great way to simultaneously prepare both a first course and a vegetable course that everyone will be talking about for days to come? Don't miss the Genius Tip that goes with Alon Shaya's Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Whipped Goat Cheese on page 174.

The book is beautifully put together with introductory explanations, clear layouts, and gorgeous, full-paged photographs guaranteed to make your mouth water. Sections include: Breakfast, Snacks & Drinks, Soups & Salads, Meaty Mains, Meatless Mains, Vegetables, and Desserts. If you can't find at least a dozen recipes to try from this generous offering, I'll be surprised! (Did I mention that some of the recipes include secondary recipes that ride alongside? Cheater Soft Served Ice Cream anyone?)

I am thankful to the folks at Blogging For Books for the free copy I received in exchange for this review. I will be putting this one to good use for many years to come!

From the Publisher . . .

There are good recipes and there are great ones—and then, there are genius recipes.

Genius recipes surprise us and make us rethink the way we cook. They might involve an unexpectedly simple technique, debunk a kitchen myth, or apply a familiar ingredient in a new way. They’re handed down by luminaries of the food world and become their legacies. And, once we’ve folded them into our repertoires, they make us feel pretty genius too. In this collection are 100 of the smartest and most remarkable ones.

There isn’t yet a single cookbook where you can find Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter, Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread, and Nigella Lawson’s Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake—plus dozens more of the most talked about, just-crazy-enough-to-work recipes of our time. Until now.

These are what Food52 Executive Editor Kristen Miglore calls genius recipes. Passed down from the cookbook authors, chefs, and bloggers who made them legendary, these foolproof recipes rethink cooking tropes, solve problems, get us talking, and make cooking more fun. Every week, Kristen features one such recipe and explains just what’s so brilliant about it in the James Beard Award-nominated Genius Recipes column on Food52. Here, in this book, she compiles 100 of the most essential ones—nearly half of which have never been featured in the column—with tips, riffs, mini-recipes, and stunning photographs from James Ransom, to create a cooking canon that will stand the test of time.

Once you try Michael Ruhlman’s fried chicken or Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s hummus, you’ll never want to go back to other versions. But there’s also a surprising ginger juice you didn’t realize you were missing and will want to put on everything—and a way to cook white chocolate that (finally) exposes its hidden glory. Some of these recipes you’ll follow to a T, but others will be jumping-off points for you to experiment with and make your own. Either way, with Kristen at the helm, revealing and explaining the genius of each recipe, Genius Recipes is destined to become every home cook’s go-to resource for smart, memorable cooking—because no one cook could have taught us so much.

About the Author . . .

Kristen Miglore is a food writer who blogs at Food52.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

We Never Asked For Wings

What I love about Vanessa Diffenbaugh's books is that she exposes me to people who could be living next door or just down the street, people I'd likely never meet or know.

My book club read her first novel, The Language of Flowers, which was a great book which offered up a lot of discussion. I found it interesting to read at the end of this novel Diffenbaugh's struggle with writing the dreaded second book. In my opinion, her efforts shine through another great story of struggles overcome and the triumph of the human spirit.

Set in southern California, the novel deals with issues of illegal immigration, motherhood, ramifications from teen/young pregnancy, class struggles, family, and more. Diffenbaugh draws well-defined characters who draw you in from the get-go. At the beginning I thought the main character, Letty Espinosa, was a self-centered person who had managed to get herself pregnant by two separate men and foisted her kids off onto her mother to raise so she could keep on living life on her own terms. What I discovered, however, was a person who had fewer choices because of the decisions she had made as a young person (i.e. getting pregnant at 18 and not wanting her boyfriend to feel obligated or trapped, she did not tell him about the child.) She was not unwilling to raise her children; she was simply young, afraid, inexperienced, and had a mother willing to step in and help. (Unlike her counterpart in the story, Carmen, who had no support system and even fewer choices as an illegal immigrant.)

If you are looking for a book with great characters and a lot of potential talking points for discussion, you will definitely want to get your hands on We Never Asked For Wings. It will give you pause to consider the people around you in a new light and with more compassion. For that, I say thanks Vanessa!

I received an Advance Reader Copy of Diffenbaugh's novel from Shelf Awareness in exchange for this review. Thank you!

From the Publisher . . .

From the beloved New York Times bestselling author of The Language of Flowers comes her much-anticipated new novel about young love, hard choices, and hope against all odds.

For fourteen years, Letty Espinosa has worked three jobs around San Francisco to make ends meet while her mother raised her children—Alex, now fifteen, and Luna, six—in their tiny apartment on a forgotten spit of wetlands near the bay. But now Letty’s parents are returning to Mexico, and Letty must step up and become a mother for the first time in her life.

Navigating this new terrain is challenging for Letty, especially as Luna desperately misses her grandparents and Alex, who is falling in love with a classmate, is unwilling to give his mother a chance. Letty comes up with a plan to help the family escape the dangerous neighborhood and heartbreaking injustice that have marked their lives, but one wrong move could jeopardize everything she’s worked for and her family’s fragile hopes for the future.

Vanessa Diffenbaugh blends gorgeous prose with compelling themes of motherhood, undocumented immigration, and the American Dream in a powerful and prescient story about family.

About the Author . . .

Vanessa Diffenbaugh is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel The Language of Flowers, which was translated into more than forty languages. A mother of four, she lives with her husband in Monterey, California. In addition to being a writer, Vanessa Diffenbaugh is a passionate foster care advocate and sits on the board of Youth Villages, where she supports their mission to radically improve outcomes for America’s most vulnerable children and families.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

This Book Will Stir You

I can only imagine that Jessica Fechtor's journey through the trauma of a broken aneurysm and surgeries on her brain was a long and arduous road to follow. Yet her memoir about the event that re-shaped her entire life, Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home, is a story of courage, resilience, and grace.

As I read about this young woman's experience with a brain bleed, brain surgery to correct the aneurysm, and subsequent issues (some of which lead to yet more brain surgery!), I was amazed and uplifted by the fact that she was able rise above what so many of us might imagine for ourselves if we were in a similar situation. She did not get bitter. She did not assume the role of victim. She never saw herself as handicapped or limited. (Yes, she acknowledged her physical limits post-op and during her recovery, knowing it would take time to rebuild her stamina. This is a normal, healthy part of getting your life back.)

During the long hospitalization and rehab process and the equally long recovery process at home, Fechtor was surrounded by people who loved her and cheered her on. She found her way back to them, and to living her life to its fullest once more, through the foods she was able to enjoy, to create, and ultimately share with them and all of us fortunate enough to read her book.

Some may find it odd that a memoir about a life-changing trauma would center on and include so much talk of food and recipes. I find it most a propos! Because I was bed-ridden with pneumonia on my 18th birthday, my mother nursed me back to health by driving across town (in horrible wintry weather!) to get matzo ball soup from the only restaurant in town that made it. To this day I crave that soup whenever I get a winter cold or flu. Food has that kind of power in our lives!

I hope you will run out and get a copy of this amazing woman's story! I found it so encouraging and uplifting. Also, there are some great recipes included! My daughter and I can't wait to try her buttermilk biscuits and the cherry clafoutis! There are some serious comfort foods included. (Though I confess to a few fits of jealousy as I read about the seriously scrumptious toast in her near-by cafe and the ability to buy Copper River salmon in Seattle. I've had it twice. BEST. SALMON. EVER.) You will not be disappointed in this most stirring memoir!

My thanks to the publishers for the copy of Stir which I received in exchange for this review.

From the Publisher . . .

An exquisite memoir about how food connects us to ourselves, our lives, and each other.

At 28, Jessica Fechtor was happily immersed in graduate school and her young marriage, and thinking about starting a family. Then one day, she went for a run and an aneurysm burst in her brain. She nearly died. She lost her sense of smell, the sight in her left eye, and was forced to the sidelines of the life she loved.

Jessica’s journey to recovery began in the kitchen as soon as she was able to stand at the stovetop and stir. There, she drew strength from the restorative power of cooking and baking. Written with intelligence, humor, and warmth, Stir is a heartfelt examination of what it means to nourish and be nourished.

Woven throughout the narrative are 27 recipes for dishes that comfort and delight. For readers of M.F.K.Fisher, Molly Wizenberg, and Tamar Adler, as well as Oliver Sacks, Jill Bolte Taylor, and Susannah Cahalan, Stir is sure to inspire, and send you straight to the kitchen.

About the Author . . .

JESSICA FECHTOR writes the popular food blog, Sweet Amandine. She is a PhD candidate in Jewish Literature at Harvard University, where she has received numerous awards for her research and teaching. She lives with her husband and daughters in San Francisco, and doesn’t believe in secret recipes.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Library At Mount Char

When this book popped up on my radar, I knew I had to get my hands on a copy ASAP!

Scott Hawkins has included so many of my favorite elements in this enthralling tale: THE best and most complete library in all of time and space (and the librarians to go with it!); a fresh take on deities; a mystery; zombies; action, action, action; and a new god on the block. (I trust you can read the synopsis below for the details!)

Hawkins' writing style is very accessible. I always find it interesting when male authors adeptly write a strong female protagonist as Hawkins has done so brilliantly. Some parts of the book contain strong torture/violence, which may not be for the squeamish or faint of heart. (The scenes are not superfluous; they really are, in my opinion, integral to the story line.)

Once I got started, I couldn't put it down! In the beginning I had to know what had happened to Father and who was keeping the librarians out of their domain. Then, as the truth began to dawn like the horrific new sun over Hawkins' Earth, I was compelled to find out what sort of reign this new god would have and whether there would be any redemption/salvation for her. I love that about this story! It grabs you and won't let you go until the end.

I haven't read a lot of fantasy. It's not my "go-to" genre. But The Library At Mount Char certainly makes me rethink that!

From the Publisher . . .

A missing God.
A library with the secrets to the universe.
A woman too busy to notice her heart slipping away.

Carolyn’s not so different from the other people around her. She likes guacamole and cigarettes and steak. She knows how to use a phone. Clothes are a bit tricky, but everyone says nice things about her outfit with the Christmas sweater over the gold bicycle shorts.

After all, she was a normal American herself once.

That was a long time ago, of course. Before her parents died. Before she and the others were taken in by the man they called Father.

In the years since then, Carolyn hasn’t had a chance to get out much. Instead, she and her adopted siblings have been raised according to Father’s ancient customs. They’ve studied the books in his Library and learned some of the secrets of his power. And sometimes, they’ve wondered if their cruel tutor might secretly be God.

Now, Father is missing—perhaps even dead—and the Library that holds his secrets stands unguarded. And with it, control over all of creation.

As Carolyn gathers the tools she needs for the battle to come, fierce competitors for this prize align against her, all of them with powers that far exceed her own.

But Carolyn has accounted for this.

And Carolyn has a plan.

The only trouble is that in the war to make a new God, she’s forgotten to protect the things that make her human.

Populated by an unforgettable cast of characters and propelled by a plot that will shock you again and again, The Library at Mount Char is at once horrifying and hilarious, mind-blowingly alien and heartbreakingly human, sweepingly visionary and nail-bitingly thrilling—and signals the arrival of a major new voice in fantasy.

About the Author . . .

SCOTT HAWKINS lives in Atlanta with his wife and a large pack of foster dogs. When not writing he enjoys woodwork, cooking long and impractical recipes, and playing fetch with his dogs. He works as a computer programmer. The Library at Mount Char is his first novel.

Monday, June 22, 2015

J'adore The Little Paris Bookshop

Monsieur Perdu is a bookseller, a very special bookseller who recognizes, that "it was a common misconception that booksellers looked after books. They look after people." His little barge, affectionately christened "Lulu" and publicly known as the "Literary Apothecary," floated along the Seine in Paris as Perdu's life mostly unwound itself with little real involvement from him for the past 20 years. But a new tenant has come to 27 Rue Montagnard, and for the first time in decades, Jean Perdu senses something astir within.

So begins Perdu's adventure and journey to rediscover life and his own essence. Nina George has presented readers with a wonderful volume "dedicated to the therapy of private life. It addresses--mainly in homeopathic doses--the minor and major ailments of existence and helps with the 'treatment of the average inner life.'"

Devastated when he discovers the letter his lover left on his table 20 years ago when she last graced his rooms with her presence, Perdu unties his boat and sets sail through the navigable rivers and canals of France for the place where she went to die those many years ago. Along the way he gathers a couple of travel companions (in addition to his literary cats!) to share thoughts, experiences, and philosophies with.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Little Paris Bookshop! George's writing is full of sensual details that left this reader feeling as though I was immersed in the French countryside along with Perdu and his companions.

I love the respect and honor given to reading and writing and the role that books play in our lives! (Subsequently I was thrilled to discover, at the back of the tome, "Jean Perdu's Emergency Literary Pharmacy" in which all the books mentioned throughout the text are listed with brief descriptions included. What a treasure! One could make a wonderful reading list from this delightful addition!)

It's also great fun that several recipes are included for the dishes mentioned which are cooked and/or enjoyed along the journey's route.

I adopted Perdu's advice that a book is not to be rushed through, but rather savored, pondered, and adored page by page (and at times word by word). Because it is the story of mourning loss, resolving grief, and learning to live and love again, the story deserves a slow and thoughtful reading.

J'adore The Little Paris Bookshop. I believe you will too!

Thanks to Blogging For Books for the Reader's Copy I received in exchange for this review.

From the Publisher . . .

“There are books that are suitable for a million people, others for only a hundred. There are even remedies—I mean books—that were written for one person only…A book is both medic and medicine at once. It makes a diagnosis as well as offering therapy. Putting the right novels to the appropriate ailments: that’s how I sell books.”

Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can’t seem to heal through literature is himself; he’s still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.

After Perdu is finally tempted to read the letter, he hauls anchor and departs on a mission to the south of France, hoping to make peace with his loss and discover the end of the story. Joined by a bestselling but blocked author and a lovelorn Italian chef, Perdu travels along the country’s rivers, dispensing his wisdom and his books, showing that the literary world can take the human soul on a journey to heal itself.

Internationally bestselling and filled with warmth and adventure, The Little Paris Bookshop is a love letter to books, meant for anyone who believes in the power of stories to shape people’s lives.

About the Author . . .

NINA GEORGE works as a journalist, writer, and storytelling teacher. She is the award winning author of 26 books, and also writes feature articles, short stories, and columns. The Little Paris Bookshop spent over a year on bestseller lists in Germany, and was a bestseller in Italy, Poland, and the Netherlands. George is married to the writer Jens J. Kramer and lives in Hamburg and in Brittany, France.
@nina_george • @jean_perdu

Sunday, June 14, 2015

After A While

Do you secretly watch reality television shows about hoarders or people with bizarre eating habits so that you can feel better about your own living space or eating habits? Have you ever attended a support group and thought to yourself, "Well, I may have this problem, but at least I'm not as bad as THAT person!"? If so, Gwendolyn Knapp's memoir, After a While You Just Get Used To It is the book for you!

Less Cousin Eddy (from the Vacation series of films) and more the feeling of TMI (too much information), I didn't find Knapp's memoir as "hilarious" and "side-splitting" as many other readers seem to have found it. It left me feeling a bit squeamish at times for being witness to a little too much "family clutter".

Knapp's writing style is crisp; her vocabulary is earthy and raw. It will punch you in the gut in a few places. But it does grab you and take you along for the ride. I did find myself smiling in a few places even though, in the end, much of the intended humor fell flat for me.

Thanks to Shelf Awareness for the free copy I received in exchange for this review.

From the Publisher . . .

A dive bar palm reader who calls herself the Disco Queen Taiwan; a slumlord with a penis-of-the-day LISTSERV; and Betty, the middle-aged Tales of the Cocktail volunteer who soils her pants on a party bus and is dealt with in the worst possible way. These are just a few of the unforgettable characters who populate Gwendolyn Knapp’s hilarious and heartbreaking—yet ultimately uplifting—memoir debut, After a While You Just Get Used to It.

Growing up in a dying breed of eccentric Florida crackers, Knapp thought she had it rough—what with her pack rat mother, Margie; her aunt Susie, who has fewer teeth than prison stays; and Margie’s bipolar boyfriend, John. But not long after Knapp moves to New Orleans, Margie packs up her House of Hoarders and follows along. As if Knapp weren’t struggling enough to keep herself afloat, working odd jobs and trying to find love while suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, the thirty-year-old realizes that she’s never going to escape her family’s unendingly dysfunctional drama.

Knapp honed her writing chops and distinctive Southern Gothic–humor style writing short pieces and participating in the renowned reading series Literary Death Match. Now, like bestselling authors Jenny Lawson, Laurie Notaro, and Julie Klausner before her, Knapp bares her sad and twisted life for readers everywhere to enjoy.

About the Author . . .

Gwendolyn Knapp holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina. Her fiction has appeared in Crazyhorse and Quarterly West, and her nonfiction has appeared in The Southeast Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Best Creative Nonfiction Vol. 2, and She also had a notable essay mention in The Best American Essays 2013. Knapp lives in New Orleans, where her mother also relocated in 2010, along with tons of her junk.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Ghost Bride

I found this novel very engaging! I love reading stories set Asia, and the fact that it is historic adds another level of intrigue for me. Now add the element of spirits, ghosts, and afterlife beliefs and I'm all in!

Choo's writing style is evocative yet accessible. She engages her readers and expands our horizons on many levels. I was wrapped up in Li Lan's fate, the choices she made and their implications, and how everything was going to unfold.

If you enjoy ghost stories, romance, historical novels, exploring the beliefs of other cultures, coming of age stories, strong female protagonists, and supernatural beings, you will love The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo. I know I did!

From the Publisher . . .

A wondrous coming-of-age story infused with Chinese folklore, romantic intrigue, adventure, and fascinating, dreamlike twists.

Malaya, 1893 Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt Chinese family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives a proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family's only son, who died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, ghost marriages are often meant to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a comfortable home for the rest of her days, but at what cost?

As she reluctantly considers the offer, Li Lan is unwillingly drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities and vengeful spirits. There Li Lan must uncover the Lim family's darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family—before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.

About the Author . . .

Yangsze Choo is a fourth-generation Malaysian of Chinese descent. She lives in California with her husband and their two children, and loves to eat and read (often at the same time).

From Barnes & Noble: A Conversation with Yangsze Choo, Author of The Ghost Bride

The Ghost Bride centers on a girl who marries the ghost of a wealthy family's recently deceased son. Can you please explain the concept of a "ghost marriage"? When did you first become intrigued by this practice?

I think I was vaguely aware of this practice as a child. My grandmother lived in a small town in Malaysia opposite an old cinema that often showed scary Chinese movies. We children were not allowed to go and watch them, although from the front window we could see people lining up to go in. I remember the gigantic cinema posters that would cover the billboard in front. In those days, they were all hand painted so that they looked even more lurid - both fascinating and forbidden to us!

The folk tradition of marriages to ghosts, or between ghosts, usually occurred in order to placate spirits or repair familial relations. There are a number of allusions to it in Chinese literature, but its roots seem to lie in ancestor worship. Matches were sometimes made between two deceased persons, with the families on both sides recognizing it as a tie between them. However, there were other cases when a living person was married to the dead. These tended to be the fulfillment of a dying sweetheart's wish, or to give the rank of wife to a concubine who had borne a son. Sometimes, an impoverished girl was taken into a household as a widow in order to perform the ancestral rites for a man who died without a wife or descendants. This is the case for Li Lan, the main character in my book.

More recently, however, one of the things that sparked this novel was a sentence in an old newspaper article. While researching another book I was writing, I happened to go through the archives of our local Malaysian newspaper and found a brief mention of spirit marriages that offhandedly declared them "increasingly rare." At first, I wondered what this referred to, and then I realized that it must be the folk superstition of marriages to the dead. This was so intriguing that I ended up putting aside my first book to write this one instead.

The Ghost Bride delves deeply into the complex world of the afterlife as it's understood in Chinese culture. In what ways does this supernatural element compare to fantasy, and in what ways is it different?

There's a long Chinese literary tradition of tales set in the blurred borderline between spirits and humans, where beautiful women turn out to be foxes, and the afterlife is run like a monstrous parody of Imperial Chinese bureaucracy. When I was a child, I loved reading such stories and was always intensely curious, imagining if these things actually happened. How would you feel if the pretty girl you picked up had no feet, or the palace you visited was actually a beehive?

In this sense, it is fantasy. A very rich and curious Chinese mythology that I'd love to introduce readers to. In fact, when I was growing up, there were lots of old comic books about swordsmen who could fly, had amazing powers, and battled with deities. I don't know where these comics came from - possibly Hong Kong? They were thin, cheaply printed, and had black and white illustrations of old fashioned scholars and heavenly maidens. The ink came off on your hands and had a distinctive smell. I remember struggling to read the more complicated Chinese characters, and even painstakingly looking them up so that I could continue the story. My textbooks at school were never as interesting!

At the same time, my book is also concerned with how these supernatural beliefs are part of the everyday life of the characters. The Chinese concept of the afterlife, with its elements of Buddhism and Taoism mixed with folk religion, is taken quite seriously and still practiced today. For example, the burning of paper effigies as offerings to the dead, and the idea that the afterlife still requires pocket money, cars, and even modern day offerings such as paper iPhones and Gameboys. On a recent trip to Singapore, I noticed that there were even paper replica chickens sold in sets of three and realistically rendered so that you could tell what flavors they were (plain boiled, soy sauce, and roast).

How is The Ghost Bride similar and/or different from the stories you were told when you were young?

Most of the classic Chinese literary stories about ghosts are actually about young men, usually scholars, to whom all these strange things happened. The archetype would be "Once, there was a poor scholar, who was studying alone at night when there was a knock on the door..." Of course, he opens it to find a beautiful girl who turns out to be either a ghost, a fox, or a flower spirit. All sorts of trials ensue, usually with the not-so-subtle warning that you shouldn't be tempted away from your studies!

In my case, I wanted to tell a story from the point of view of a girl. Respectable women, even in late 1890s colonial Malaya, still had fairly restrictive lives. I was captivated with the idea of parallel worlds. You see it in the world of the living vs. the elaborate Chinese afterlife, where there are ghostly mansions made of burned paper offerings, and also in the way that the main character Li Lan develops as she moves from being alive to being partially dead herself. Despite the misery of the second situation, I think it's interesting that she's far freer wandering around in the spirit world than she ever is in the real world.

How do you feel your lead character, Li Lan, conforms to and breaks some of the expectations of her in her time?

That's a great question, because it sometimes bothers me when historical characters have completely modern sensibilities. I think it's natural that Li Lan should be concerned with the conventions and aspirations of her time. She understands very well that it's important for her to get married and not only that, but to make the best match possible. It reminds me of Jane Austen, where all the women are deeply concerned about marriage. There's no suggestion that Elizabeth Bennett desires, for example, the right to vote. She (and her mother and sisters) are focused on marrying well because it has immediate ramifications for their lives.

At the same time, Li Lan is a girl who wants to travel. She wants to visit other countries and see new sights, but she's hampered by social and financial restraints. I thought about those incredibly detailed 19th-century armchair traveler's books like Swiss Family Robinson and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which were written for people who had no chance to go on such voyages. There was probably a real hunger for such experiences that couldn't be satisfied even fifty, let alone a hundred years ago. In Li Lan's case, she gets her wish but her travels turn out to be to the shadowy Chinese afterworld, in the grey border between spirits and humans. It's a terrifying place, yet full of strange beauty.

You have an amazing blog where you talk about your writing process, being a mom and wife, and all about your life as a foodie. Did research for The Ghost Bride introduce you to any new favorite foods?

Oh dear, I was forced to write large sections of the book late at night, because it was the only time that my kids weren't charging around the house. Unfortunately, it was also when I would start feeling terribly hungry. There were sections of the book that we had to remove during editing because they were just descriptions of food. Glossy fried rice. Succulent cockles dipped in chili sauce and lime juice. Ikan pari (skate) grilled in banana leaves over a smoky charcoal fire.

Since I was writing about colonial Malaya in the 1890s, I spent a lot of time thinking about the sort of food that I'd eaten during my childhood. Women in those days spent most of their time in the kitchen, probably because they led these constrained lives. I remember flipping through my mum's old cookbooks and finding a recipe for duck that involved deboning it, stuffing it and doing all sorts of complicated things. When I got to the bit that said "the next day, take the duck..." I gave up.

That's not to say that I don't want to eat that sort of time-consuming cuisine. I do! Just as much as I want to eat noodles that have been flash-fried in a cast-iron wok, preferably over a roaring gas inferno. But since I couldn't get hold of any of this at 11 p.m. at night, I ate a lot of dark chocolate and Manchego cheese instead.

You've mentioned in other interviews that you were researching another book when you became inspired to write this one. Are you back to work on a second novel and if so, does it also delve into Chinese culture?

I'm currently at work on a second novel about sacred tigers, although I'm a bit stumped right now. That's the problem with writing by the seat of your pants. It's either very good going, or it's horrible. This book is also set in colonial Malaya, but in the 1920s instead. I think I still have a lot of Chinese and Southeast Asian stories to tell, as this part of the world is very dear to me and I feel that I can write authentically about it.

Who have you discovered lately?

I just finished a book by Yoko Ogawa, called Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales. They are beautifully creepy short stories, in which the protagonist in one tale becomes a bystander in another so that all the stories are linked in the end. It's the kind of book that makes you want to rush out and write your own take on, for example, carrots that look like human hands.

Another book that I love is Viktor Pelevin's The Sacred Book of the Werewolf, which (contrary to appearances) is not a zombie thriller. Instead, it's a bitingly funny satire about the Russian oligarchy and the oil industry. I keep telling people it's brilliant, combining elements of Russian folktales with Wong Kar Wai's movies, but the words "satire" and "oligarchy" seem to put them off for some reason!