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.