Saturday, June 18, 2016

Review: Vegangelical by Sarah Withrow King

Vegangelical: How Caring for Animals Can Shape Your Faith
 by Sarah Withrow King
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Zondervan (June 7, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0310522374
  • ISBN-13: 978-0310522379
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x

 There are so few books that present a Christian answer to worldwide issues. The world tends to have spiritual takes on many situations, issues, etc but when a Christian attempts to write about a worldview, either the Christian sounds uninformed, utterly flaky, pseudo-Christian (or non-traditional/un-Orthodox), like a copy-cat jumping on some trendy bandwagon, or seriously arrogant and proudly-pious.  Those are a few of the reasons why I avoid reading Christian non-fiction.

Imagine my happy surprise when, after taking a leap of faith to read a Christian non-fiction book, that the book is incredibly well-done.

This is a book I want to give to my Native American friend who interprets Christianity as a nature-hating religion. A book that shows that our interpretation of certain verses about dominion/stewardship might very well be interpreted wrongly, but also a book that shows how loving the Christian God is toward all His creation.

The book is divided into two major parts. The first is theological and deals with theology, semantics, religious ethics. The doctrinal discussion is accessible but well-researched, coming together as conversational and passionate but grounded in Scripture.  It's such easy reading and could be read in an afternoon if one wished. Also the implications of the author's doctrinal stand are so clear that there is no confusion or inclination to debate the author. We Christians generally open Christian non-fiction books with one of two attitudes: either we are geared to disagree with the writer or we are geared to totally agree with them. Whichever kind of reader we are, this book will open our eyes and will definitely make us see some Bible verses with new eyes, and will make us notice others we hadn't seen before. There are a lot of verses to support the author's point but I did wish she had included a whole spate of verses in the back. I'm not an easy reviewer. But this book was worth my time. And the second part is about how we humans have treated animals.

I received this book free in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Review: Broth and Stock from the Nourished Kitchen

Broth and Stock from the Nourished Kitchen: Wholesome Master Recipes for Bone, Vegetable, and Seafood Broths and Meals to Make with Them 
by
Jennifer McGruther
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Ten Speed Press (May 31, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1607749319
  • ISBN-13: 978-1607749318

Maybe I had a bad idea about broths. After all, the front cover of this book hints at the basics, and feeding sickly folks who can't keep down "real" food. Luckily, the back cover shows that the book is more than just for invalids.

This little book will probably be treasured by those who buy it. It contains recipes for broths that can become foundations for other meals and it has lots of helpful nutritional information.


The Table of Contents are:
Introduction
Broth maker's kitchen
Master broths and stocks
Poultry
Meat
Fish
Vegetables
Where to shop
Bibliography
Measurement conversion chart
Gratitude
Index

I liked this book a lot. It's definitely informative and contrary to the impression given by the cover, this book doesn't only have broth and stock recipes. It's got some really great stews and chowders as well. Like every good recipe book, this book generates ideas. For instance, it has never occurred to me to take soft peas and make a veggie soup out of them. Nor did I really know what to do with veggies in my fridge to turn them into a good soup or vegetable stock. And although I'm always boiling hamburger for my son, it never occurred to me that instead of boiling down the water I could actually make a beef broth. The use of vegetables, seafood, meat, and poultry makes this recipe book perfect for everyone.

I've got to say that this is also one incredibly well-written recipe book. Very MFA. But not pretentious, and not inaccessible. Just well-written.

I recommend this book for all cooks: those interested in good nutrition, those who want to add tasty recipes to their repertoire, and those who want to learn how to cook.

I received this book for free in exchange for  fair and honest review.
                              

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Review: The Elements of Pizza

The Elements of Pizza: Unlocking the Secrets to World-Class Pies at Home Hardcover – April 19, 2016
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Ten Speed Press (April 19, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 160774838X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1607748380
The Elements of Pizza is a new book that shows the history, making, and varieties of pizza -- traditional and artsy.

I seriously now know more about the history of pizza and the making of pizza than I ever dreamed of. The question is, of course, "Will I commit to all this knowledge?" I mean, that's what knowledge is about, right? Just how much of one's learning one actually uses.
For instance, in the section on dough-making, detail four states, "Mix your pizza dough by hand, not by a machine." So yeah, I won't use a machine. But....Sorry, I'm not going to be making pizza dough by hands either. I am just that lazy. Neither do I see myself getting perturbed over the varieties of good pizza cheeses. I might buy some of the recommended equipment though.

The chapters are:
The Soul of Pizza
Pizza Styles
Eight Details for Great Pizza Crust
Ingredients and Equipment
Methods
Pizza Dough Recipes -- with subchapters: Saturday Doughs, Refrigerated Long Doughs, Naturally Leavened Doughs, Specialty Doughs
Pizza Recipes -- with sub-chapters: Sauces, Italian and Italian Inspired, New York and New York Inspired, Ken's Artisan Pizza Classics, Trifecta Flatbreads, Vegetables and Just Because
Measurement Conversion Charts
Acknowledgments
Index

The book has many wonderful photo illustrations (although for some reason at least one of these photos was repeated, which seemed odd to me.) Like any great recipe book, the photos are often enough to spur a cook's creativity. But still, all that said, the recipes are very detailed. I'd almost say a tad too detailed. I prefer all the steps of a recipe to be given as distinct different steps. The writer of these recipes numbers each steps of the recipe yet each step is often a collection of two to three different steps lumped into one. This makes prospective cooks have to re-read each numbered step. I would've liked things broken down a bit more so I could easily tick off each step.

I'm a lover of pizza but I simply refuse to make dough. I tend to buy dough made from the store. So the sections in this book that showed how to make various doughs is totally lost on me. I will however use their sauce recipes. The fun of this book for me is that it widens my horizons about what kind of stuff I can add on top of the dough. But for people who want to experiment with making traditional and perfect pizza, this is the perfect book.

For people who like their foods healthy and who wish to avoid processed foods or foods they are allergic to, for folks who want varieties in their pizza, and to folks who want to avoid processed foods and for folks who want to stop eating out so much.

So I recommend this book, especially if you're a baker or if you fear casein, soy flour, etc in your pizza. You'll also learn how to make your own version of traditional pizzas. Which is always good. Store bought pizzas are generally pretty crappy.

I got this book free in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Review of the Netflix series Zoo

Zoo, 13 forty-minute episodes CBS/Netflix, based on the novel by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

I'm posting this now because a second season of Zoo is due the summer of 2016

Confession one: I tend to harbor ill will towards what I perceive to be false advertisement. Even when the false perception was primarily my fault. I was hoping to see humans living hiding out from marauding wild-eyed vengeful lions. Therefore I had to shake off my annoyance that this book turned out to be more spy-medical-thriller than sci-fi.

Confession two: One of the effects of watching Korean dramas is that whenever I return to American storytelling tropes, I feel just a might underwhelmed.  So, yes: I had to get my mind sorted out.

The first thing I noticed was that Zoo presents viewers with a cosmopolitan multicultural world. I never know what to do with this sort of thing. Should I praise the writers for doing the quota thing? Or should I cringe because it’s so dang aggressive and yet --no matter how hard it tries-- it is so rooted in ya know...whiteness?

But -- my qualms and uneasiness aside-- let us move on: Meet Jackson Oz a (white) zoologist who lives in Botswana and is pretty chill. His best friend is a happy, philosophical, stocky (aren’t we all happy and philosophical, though?) African safari guide named Abraham. Not that we see a lot of friendshippy moments between these two but hey, the friendship is established. So the plot can move along. Jackson’s dad went mad while developing a radical-enough-to-knock-him-out-of-responsible-academia theory of animal uprising. “A manifesto, of sorts.” But, yeah, you know how it is with prophets -- or the prophetic trope: no one paid attention to him.

Then there is Jamie, a blogger with a passionate axe to grind against Big Food/Big Corporation Reiden Global. You know this kind of axe; if the sun doesn’t set, Jamie would find a way to blame Reiden Global. Then there are the mysterious Chloe and animal pathologist, Mitch. And a whole bunch of other people.

The plot begins when some lions escape from the Los Angeles zoo and go on a murder spree. Wouldn’t you know? Some African lions are doing the same thing. Then there are missing cats in LA, dogs, rats, and birds. Ah, yes, birds. See, this brings me back to where this drama lost me. I was hoping something more was going on. Ya know...like a natural “reset.” Heck, I’ll say it. I was hoping for a kind of Walking Dead with zombies replaced by animals. But no, this epidemic is man-made and greed-caused. Which is cool, I guess. After all, that’s how many zombie apocalypses begin. But my heart sank when the hordes of terrified fleeing humans didn’t really materialize and the story took a detour into medical investigation.

Something else bothered me. The tropes. Tropes galore. The story felt like screenwriting by the American cultural book. There are gun-toting rednecks, Black men who will say wise insightful philosophical paternal stuff one minute then make piropos at non-Black women the next, a young scientific-minded African boy, a possibly-shifty FBI operative, a sick dying little girl who speaks like no real sick girl but like all the sick dying kids ever in Hollywood movies, a gang, a Charles Manson type (complete with southern accent and Bible), a rich Asian safari-hunter and many others. The drama had a kitchen sink feel and if the writers hadn’t aimed to shoehorn all these tropes/beats into one story, I would’ve been more interested. But in their rush to hit all the templates, none of these sub-plots touched the heart.  

Okay, so did I like it? Once you accept the tropes, the rushing about from country to country, the convenient-to-the-point-of-ridiculousness-plot, the iffy CGI, and the dang slow mystery, it’s really an okay show. Writers will be ticked off by the stereotypical beats, even more stereotypical people, and cringey dialog but kids and non-writers might like it. It’s pretty safe. No major sex scenes. I will also say that James Wolk, who plays Jackson Oz is seriously hot and boy-next-door hotness does wonders to keep this female viewer watching even after she realizes a story isn’t going the way she wants it. So yeah, good for teens who like medical thrillers. And hey --a multicultural cast and a Black person helping to save the world. Aggressive multiculturalism covers a multitude of bad plotting.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Review: Shatterworld by Lelia Rose Foreman


This is the first Christian fiction book I’ve read in ages; the first I’ve really actually liked, and the first where I’m actually tempted to read the sequels to. This surprises the heck out of me, because usually I find reading contemporary Christian fiction (and non-fiction for that matter) a hard row to hoe. Christian though I am, whenever I read Christian books, I usually peeve, complain, and quarrel with every other sentence.

That’s not to say I didn’t find myself groaning a few times, because seriously, reading Christian fiction requires a certain mindset, especially because the rules for Christian fiction are a little different than the rules for general fiction. But even then, Lelia Rose Foreman plays with those rules quite well and also quite humourously.

Shatterworld is primarily a young adult book. Therefore it has all the required tropes such as teenaged rebellion, generational gap issues, preachy parents who –because they don’t want to upset their kids-- aren’t telling their kids the “entire” family story.

But Shatterworld is also speculative fiction, and this is where it excels an even surpasses most Christian speculative fiction. The novel recounts the voyage of the Star Flower and its settling of New Earth by spiritual pilgrims who fled their oppressive country. The comparisons between the settling of the Americas and the settling of New Earth goes even further. But, there are subtle differences. For instance, the star-traveling pilgrims are very respectful of the aboriginal sea-dwelling hexacrab natives of New Earth. They struggle to understand each other’s phyla/species/order/kingdom and grow to understand each other’s linguistics, culture, history, and fears. Our Pilgrims are very careful about bringing theology into their conversation and so far – the book is part of a trilogy—have not set about attempt to save any hexacrab souls. The settlers are respectful and as curious about hexacrab history as the hexacrab are. There is no notion that the hexacrabs are the Hivites/Perrizites/Jebusites etc who must be overthrown in order for God’s people to have their manifest destiny. There is sharing of resources and goodwill between the pioneers and the hexacrabs who are seen as perhaps members of The Creator’s Other Folds.

At least that’s what it seems like so far. The new settlers are of all races – a multicultural Christian community a bit like the Amish or Mennonites,  so they are respectful of sentient life wherever they find it and however it has evolved or been created by the Creator. It’s a rigid, (some might say over-disciplined) community. And perhaps they had to be all those years of warp travel, but some youngsters-- like Rejoice, our main protagonist—chafes under it. There is the basic truth that they have to farm and terraform the new world, but there is also the age-old rural vs urban /agrarian vs industry /utilitarian vs heart’s desire issues.    Rejoice wants to be an astronomer but, like every other Christian teen, has more than her share of rules to obey and has to endure parental spiritual speeches all meant to challenge what they believe is her selfishness.

So I liked this book a lot and I’m even interested in discovering more of this community, and learning more about hexacrab communities, and wondering how the two worlds will grow together. I also liked the “puritanical” names. Very funny.

As for what I don’t like: The book is a bit light on description. I would’ve loved to see the world better.  There are many characters and many times there are scenes where the author throws many characters at the reader so that we can get the communal overview. But still, there could’ve been a less crowded way of doing that. In the end, many secondary characters are reduced to their job description or their personality. It makes the book read faster because we know what each character is like. But still. Certain sections feel rushed: The growth of the friendship between the hexacrabs and the humans. The ending  of the book. But all in all, it was a fun quick read.

The book comes with a study guide at the end.

I received this book free of charge in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Review: The Whole Coconut Cookbook

The Whole Coconut Cookbook
by Nathalie Fraise
  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Ten Speed Press (January 26, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1607748053
  • ISBN-13: 978-1607748052
Since I started trying to be gluten-free, I've been experimenting with chickpea flour and coconut flour. Plus I can't really drink milk either. Plus coconut oil is good for massages. Plus I'm Jamaican. So all this comes together to make me want to reacquaint myself with coconut again.

Hence this book. It's one of a few coconut cookbooks out there so it looks as if coconuts are making a comeback. The good thing about the coconut is that it can be used in many forms; the other good thing is that it's a staple of many cultures. So it's in different kinds of cuisines: Thai, West Indian, etc.

So: the good thing about this book: the recipes are easy and healthy.

The good (but also possibly bad) thing about this book is that it's made for a foodie generation. I was hoping for a lot of  Southeastern, African, West Indian, etc dishes. No such luck. The recipes here are the kind of recipes one would find in a healthfood store. Tasty but healthy and seemingly created by the author or  I guess that's okay because Americanized taste buds may not connect to anything too exotic-tasting or too full of fat, meat, wheat etc. So that's good.

Coconuts, in all their forms, are present in all the dishes...whether it's flour, sugar, "aminos," milk, vinegar, kefir, water, nectar. Sometimes the coconut is a large portion of the meal, sometimes it is merely present as coconut milk or coconut oil (which might feel like a bit of a cheat but I guess the taste of coconut does go a long way.) The chard chip recipe, for instance, consists of chard, sea salt, and coconut oil.

The book's chapters consist of the following:
Introduction
A guide to coconut ingredients
Cooking with coconut
Breakfast dishes
Main Courses (which includes mostly vegetarian dishes)
Salads and sides
Snacks
Drinks
Desserts
Resources
Acknowledgments
About the Author
Index.

It's a small book and for those who generally don't eat coconut or veggie meals, this is a good introduction. It's a good-enough book, I think. Not bad, but not great.

I received this book free in exchange for a fair and honest review.

 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Review: Koreatown: A Cookbook

Koreatown: A Cookbook



Hardcover
Published by Clarkson Potter
Feb 16, 2016 | 272 Pages | 8 x 10 | ISBN 9780804186131


I love this book! This is yet another recipe book that I will actually use.

Unlike most recipe books, this recipe has little anecdotes about how and why certain (famous) folks became Korean food-lovers Which is odd, right? Most recipe books don't deal with the cachet of why the author is doing a book on ethnic cuisine. I guess part of the reason is because the book is also trying to show the culture of Korea and Korean foods in addition to give us the recipes.

The authors are a chef of a famous Korea restaurant and a food writer who has lots of food cred. So yeah, this is not just a regular recipe book. There's a lot of fame, style, cred, "hauteness" ;-) in this book.

The book  is divided into the following chapters:
Introduction
Ingredients & Equipment
Kimchi & Banchan
Rice, Noodles & Dumplings
Barbecue: Grilled, Smoked & Fired
Drinking Food: Pojangmacha
Soups, Stews & Braises
Respect: Guest Recipes
Drinks
Sweets & Desserts
Acknowledgments
Index

As in all good books on ethnic cuisine, one learns a lot about the culture's cooking style, food, and people. And of course one learns a lot about many Koreatowns across the nation.

There are full-colored pictures of the dishes and of food-workers and food eaters and drawings of the guests whose anecdotal histories with food are included. I'll say that the important people who are included to tell us about their love of Korean food was a bit off-putting. This book is great without famous people telling us about themselves. But some readers might like that. And mercifully these folks -- food critics, actors, etc-- don't take up more than two pages each.

The photos are amazing. The description of each recipe and the layout of each recipe is accessible and helpful to all readers.

Highly recommended.

I received this book free of charge in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

CURE: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body

CURE: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body by Jo Marchant.

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (January 19, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385348150
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385348157

  • I set out to read this book with an open mind. Actually, I was very happy to read it because since I battle certain so-called incurable illnesses and since my son is diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum I figured I would read a book to give me faith in the human body and spirit. And hey, it’d be a scientific book so that would be better!

    But the book pretty quickly got on my last nerves. First there was the introduction where she pretty much disses anything (and anyone) who might be “unscientific.” It wasn’t even her idea about homeopathy, which really to me is pretty much the precursor of vaccines. They both deal with something being diluted and “like curing like,” after all? It was her insistence on how science validates the flaky stuff New Ager types have been saying. Yes, I thought to myself (although I’m not a New Ager), here we are dealing with someone who looks down on any kind of knowledge or tradition which isn’t rooted in the Western Scientific medical tradition. Nevertheless, I soldiered on. Cause I want to believe, and all that. After all, the book is written by a science journalist who was going to –in a small way—affirm some of the stuff flakes like me believe. She was, after all, on our side. Kinda.

    So the first chapter: Marchant discusses the secretin trials and how it had seemed as if secretin would be a cure for autism because a young boy suddenly improved. But then in subsequent trials – between secretin and a saline solution—it was shown that people of both the secretin group and the saline group had some improvements. Hence, she hints, there is a placebo effect. (The first chapter is called “Faking it” by the way.)

    While I do believe in the so-called “placebo effect,” I really had to groan at this particular scientific methodology of supporting the mind over matter placebo effect. Why? Because from the first chapter I began to see the narrow-mindedness of the scientific mind. I expected Marchant to discuss other trials that did not include the saline solution. Why? Because perhaps saline is not really a placebo. And in a science trial –or a book about a scientific trial--, shouldn’t a scientist or writer step back to see if an assumption is being made. But that is the point, the scientific mind doesn’t realize its assumptions. An example, there are countless studies and papers detailing the fact that people on the autism spectrum are often dehydrated, and often their mothers were dehydrated during their pregnancy. Shouldn’t a science writer be aware of this and include a chapter to help build her case? In addition, what happens to people who go to hospitals? They are usually put on a saline drip? There are scientific reasons for that. And in hospitals in Asia, going to the hospital to get hydrated is common. Doesn’t this science reporter know this? Shouldn’t a writer know how to build her case for science?

    And that was just the FIRST three pages of the first chapter. This kind of thing goes on throughout the book! If one has eyes to see it, one can see clearly how scientific types don’t seem to understand their assumptions.

    Once one accepts that the trials Marchant espouses often miss out on some  aspect because the scientists and scientific journalists don’t even see, then reading the book becomes a kind of perverse search for What Is Missing. I swear! It was just plain infuriating.

    And i did laugh when I read on page 212: "Carol feels that the doctors ignored factors such as her caffeine addiction and how anxious the tests were making her." Cosmic moment: Because I (Carole) had been spending the book thinking, "These scientists and their trials are ignoring factors." I love serendipity and weirdness like that.

    I’m not saying this book is bad. It’s actually quite good in some places. The “Looking for God” chapter was quite good, for instance. It wasn’t as sneery as I expected it to be. But for those who already believe in the power of the mind this book is old news. Buy this book as yet another book to put beside all those other self-help health books that encourage and inspire you. Or buy it for someone who thinks he’s scientific who won’t see through ignored factors (the assumptions and unexplored holes) in these examples and trials.  I suppose I should recommend this book. It’s flimsy, definitely (or perhaps it is only the scientific methodology of scientific trials that are flimsy) because it says nothing new. But it might be able to help those who are afflicted with stress-related illnesses, or illnesses rising from the feeling of being unloved.

    Of course, religion has already told us all that.
    Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Proverbs 4:23

    Jesus did say:
    But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. -- Matthew 15:18-19

    I received this book for free in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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