Sunday, October 23, 2016

Review: The Fir Tree by Hans Christian Andersen illustrated by Sanna Annukka

  • Age Range: 4 - 8 years
  • Grade Level: Preschool - 3
  • Hardcover: 48 pages
  • Publisher: Ten Speed Press (October 4, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039957848X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399578489

I had totally forgotten why I disliked Hans Christian Andersen. After reading The Fir Tree, I remembered: Andersen is seriously melancholy. I don't think I have a problem with sad fairytales, per se. But I'm not sure about sad fairytales being told about young kids.

Ah well, I read the book. So I should  just suck up and accept the story.

First: story -- sad, melancholy, humanistic but vaguely nihilistic. It's a story about enjoying the good times while you're young because you'll end up getting old and being burnt.
Second: font and typestyle -- I found the font  bit small. Too tiny for tiny kids' eyes or for squinty grandparent's eyes.
Third: illustration -- beautiful, creative, ethnic tribal natural style, but somewhat cold. The illustrations don't really illustrate the story, they decorate it. Most kids would prefer seeing depictions of the various scenes and pictures of the characters mentioned.
Fourth: vocabulary -- an elementary school kid should be able to read this.

Upshot: I think this is a book for older people who like fairytales. Not for young kids.

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


Monday, September 26, 2016

Review: The Dim Sum Field Guide

There's a Dim Sum place down the road from me. I've never gone because I get all panicky about how to do the whole Dim Sum thing. This book will definitely help me understand what I'm ordering. Plus, because it describes the foods so well, I'm thinking I could use it to make my own little tidbits.

Imagine you're out in the wilds of a Chinese restaurant, Asian Market, or Street Vendor and you spot the elusive "Deep Fried Shrimp Pouch." Wouldn't you want to know how to identify it, its basic fillings, its nestng habits, origins and various species and genera -- not to mention its typical dipping sauce? of course you would!

The book is divided in the following sections: Introduction, How to use this guide, Key, Savory Dim Sum (which contains the sub-headings Steamed Wrappers, Unwrapped Proteins, Baked Dim Su, Pan and Deep-Fried Dim Sum, Delicious Extras) and Sweet Dim Sum (which are further broken down into Hot and Warm Sweets, Sweet Buns, Chilled Sweets, Cakes and Tarts.), Acknowledgments, About the Author, Index.

The Introduction explains the various teas and etiquette one should know in a Dim Sum restaurant.

Each variety of food is introduced with a hand-drawn illustration on the left page and brief descriptions on the right.

If you ever had one of those field guide books -- for birds, butterflies, mushrooms, whatnot-- you'll get the hang of this book. It's a cute, fun, and handy idea because the book is easily-carried and can fit into a bag easily.

I like this book a lot. I highly recommend it. I'm sure some folks would prefer photographs to the illustrations but I'm cool with the illustrations. They're nicely old-fashioned and they are part of the marketing gimmick. If I were giving a dim sum guide to a friend, though, I would probably give them one of the many guides which have photographs.

This book was given to me free in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Here's an Excerpt:

Welcome to the delicious world of dim sum. This is an exquisitely leisurely way to brunch, a meal that, when done right, can easily stretch out for a couple of hours into the afternoon. Each one- or two-bite morsel of dim sum is essentially a small packet of unique flavors—just enough to grab your attention and whet the appetite—but small enough that you can move on to the next tantalizing dish before your palate becomes bored.

This book explores the Cantonese form of dim sum, which was born in the teahouses of Southern China—specifically, the capital city of Guangzhou that straddles the great Pearl River—about two centuries ago. Of course, the history of dim sum stretches back much farther than that ( jiaozi-like dumplings, for example, were discovered in a Tang dynasty tomb dating from thirteen hundred years ago), and many other parts of the country boast of wonderful arrays of teatime snacks and petite sweets. However, I would have to agree with those who claim that the culinary art form known as dim sum reached its absolute pinnacle in Guangzhou.

Perhaps the secret lies in the land. Located on the lush, fertile plains of southern Guangdong, this area has an almost endless selection of vegetables, starches, fruits, animals, crustaceans, and seafood. Or maybe it’s the people, for Guangdong has been the destination for immigrants from all over the country who longed for more peaceful lives and who made Guangzhou synonymous with gracious living. Or maybe it’s the tropical weather, the type of climate that encourages a person to laze in the shade with a hot pot of tea and some savory snacks, a trickle of water and the rattle of bamboo leaves in the warm wind coming together to form a natural lullaby. Or maybe it is because Guangzhou was a nexus between East and West, as well as North and South, a place where foreign culinary inspiration gave birth to marvelous ideas in the kitchen, while imperial and Muslim tastes added their own rich notes to this culinary symphony. Or maybe it is because all of these great food traditions eventually made their way down the Pearl River to Hong Kong, where ancient history crashed into the modern world, and many dim sum dishes evolved into their delicious, present-day incarnations.

Whatever the reasons, dim sum remains one of the most delightful ways ever invented for whiling away a few hours in the middle of the day. And despite what some think, dim sum is a whole lot more than “dumplings,” a sort of catchall English term for anything vaguely starchy and small in the dim sum brigade. There’s nothing inherently wrong, of course, with calling these dumplings, but it’s sort of like labeling scarlet, chartreuse, and bronze simply “colors,” when they are so much more thrilling than that. The fact is that dim sum covers an intense spectrum of flavors, aromas, textures, and ingredients, and they are very much worth getting to know on a personal basis.

Which is where The Dim Sum Field Guide fits in. My hope is that this book will inspire you to explore the many offerings in dim sum teahouses, whether you carry it with you on your next field excursion, or simply flip through it at home. If dim sum ends up giving you even half the pleasure it has handed to me, I know you will be a dedicated fan for the rest of your life.

Another Excerpt:


GENUS 滷雞 lǔ jī lou5 gai1 
IDENTIFICATION A whole chicken is slowly cooked in broth seasoned with ginger, green onion, sand ginger, black pepper, and traditional Chinese herbs. The sauce may be slightly sweet or deeply savory. The bird is generally poached over very low heat to keep the meat tender and to prevent the skin from tearing. Unlike Roast Chicken, the fat and skin remain attached to the meat. It is often hung up to dry a bit and then chopped before serving. Exterior is slightly sticky and glossy; interior is juicy and contains bones.

Savory meat juices for the dark varieties; lighter birds are often accompanied by bowls of shredded ginger and green onions bathed in hot oil and salt.


A quarter, half, or whole bird is chopped into chunks and served on a plate; deeper-hued varieties will often be perched on a scattering of braised soybeans.


Most probably traveled to Guangdong from Eastern China, where red-cooked and poached chickens are still enjoyed to this day.

Poached Chicken 白切雞
báiqiē jī baak6 cit3 gai1 
A bird cooked in a pale broth, this subgenus includes Consort’s Chicken
貴妃雞 guìfēi jī gwai3 fei1 gai1.

Master Sauce Chicken
chĭyóu jī si6 jau4 gai1 
The bright, dark skin and juicy flesh are courtesy of a rich, seasoned soy sauce broth.

Crispy-Skinned Chicken
cuìpí jī ceoi3 pei4 gai1 
Pale poached chicken is coated with a maltose mixture and then fried until reddish and crunchy; usually served with fried shrimp chips.

Magistrate’s Chicken
tàiyé jī taai3 je4 gai1 
Smoked master sauce chicken.
Excerpted from The Dim Sum Field Guide by Carolyn Phillips. Copyright © 2016 by Carolyn Phillips. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

About the Author

CAROLYN PHILLIPS is a scholar, author, and artist whose work has appeared in Lucky Peach, Huffington Post, Alimentum, and Gastronomica. She is the author of All Under Heaven, the first comprehensive cookbook on the 35 cuisines of China (with more than 300 recipes), which will be co-published by Ten Speed Press and McSweeney’s in April 2015. Visit her at

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Review -- Wee Alphas: 26 A to Z Postcards, from Angelfish to Zebra Cards

Wee Alphas: 26 A to Z Postcards, from Angelfish to Zebra Cards
Published by Wee Society

  • Age Range: 2 - 5 years
  • Grade Level: Preschool - Kindergarten
  • Cards: 26 pages
  • Publisher: Clarkson Potter; Pos edition (August 23, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553459783
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553459784
Ah gee! I feel seriously out of the loop. I've never heard of the Wee Society. I must've seen their artwork before though because apparently they are a thing.

Wee Society aims to bring the concept of design art to kids.  They also must have been thinking of easy ways for older folks to communicate with their grandkids, young nieces, and nephews. Or vice versa.

The package contains 26 postcards. All the postcards are useful and official and can be used as regular postcards. One side of each postcard shows an animal illustrated on glossy paper in such a way as to depict one of the letters of the alphabet. For instance the K is a koala. The drawing is made up of easy to see (and even easier to draw) lines, curves, circles, rectangles, and arcs.  The other side of the postcard contains a place to put a USPS stamp, lines for the recipient's address, and a section with copy where one can fill-in-the-blanks, or write a small note,  

I like these postcards. They aren't as useful as they could be. Or maybe they are useful for building up friendships by encouraging people to send a friendly card to a good friend. Because of the copy on the back of these cards, they definitely cannot be sent to just anyone.  They are postcards, after all. Some of the postcards have room for a message or a short note. Some postcards, however, have words that take up the space. The S card, for instance, which features a squirrel, has the addressee section on the right but the left side has the following copy:

You are:
Sassy                 Smart
Special               Stunning
Sweet               Sorta Silly

Secret Handshake,


PS Can you spot the hidden letter in Sidney the Squirrel?

There are boxes beside the descriptions for the sender to check. But you see what I mean. Unless you're close with a friend or family member, the cards are limited. I think this collection of postcards would be perfect for grandparents who would like to send these postcards to their grandkids... or for older relatives to send to younger relatives. The alphabet inspired pictures are just perfect for kids to puzzle out and the back copy would be fun for kids who like wordplay.

I was given this set of postcards free in exchange for a fair and honest review.


Saturday, September 03, 2016

Review: Tox-Sick - From Toxic To Not Sick by Suzanne Somers

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harmony; 1 edition (April 14, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385347723
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385347723
I really like this book. But dang, it's scary. It's scary for me and I've already had my eyes opened to the scary facts of the American diet and environment. I can imagine how formidable it must be for those who know little or nothing about the toxic stuff we eat, drink, breathe, and live in.

Everyone, sick or otherwise, should read this book. Young or old. Because one is never too young to learn how to truly take charge of one's health. Nothing worse than closing the barn (to mold, to GMO's, to plastics, to outgassing furniture, EMF's, and an assorted number of health-destroyers) after the horse (of health) has run off.

Confession: I generally do not like books written by Celebrities. Even when they are self-help or written for the public's own good, I often find myself rolling my eyes. Because the Celeb often sounds so glib, superior, and patronizing. But there are a few -- like this book-- that are perfectly written and after a while one actually begins liking having a celebrity preaching to you.

The book consists of facts, research, interviews, all told in a very accessible conversational manner. Okay, okay, sometimes a couple of the inserts and comments by some of the doctors need to be read once or twice for the reader to get some complicated point. But that's not often. This is a good book...and I suggest everyone get it and give it to family members and friends who are sick, tired, or sick and tired. But only give it to those who are sick and tired of being sick and tired because being healthy in the USA requires a heavy commitment to changing one's lifestyle.

It's best to start working on one's health when one is healthy. But the book also helps one get better. Some of the therapy might be expensive and most require commitment to a whole new way of life but this book will help everyone who doesn't know (or is not yet convinced) that the American way of life is really the American way of death.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Review -- Misconceptions: A look at God’s Word through First Century Hebraic Eyes

MISCONCEPTIONS: A look at God’s Word through First Century Hebraic Eyes
by Steven Reider
  • Paperback: 146 pages
  • Publisher: WestBowPress (January 28, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1512728993
  • ISBN-13: 978-1512728996
I'm a writer so I don't like being hard on fellow writers but this book was either wrongly-titled or --for lack of a better word-- chintzy.

The writer has about six or seven main points or --one could even say-- "agenda." And that agenda is pretty "meh" because most Christians who read their Bibles probably have picked up on all the insights this writer is showing us. We have 146 pages of the salvation message with certain twists or different meanings/translations of words wedged together. It's as if the writer sat through several episodes of Sid Roth or some other Messianic Program and decided to write a book. The book is scant, the insights and new "look" is pretty old by 2016 standards.

Who doesn't know that the camp of the Israelites was in the shape of a cross? Who doesn't know about the different names of God? Heck, who doesn't know that the name of the Christian God is Yahweh? Who doesn't know that the Hebrew language is numerical, pictorial, and alphabetical? I kept reading this book and saying, "Really? This is new to you, but most modern Christians who study their Bible know this?

I really dislike panning a book but the title felt so misleading. Better to spend a bit more money and buy an archaeological or anthropological Bible than to buy this. I'm so sorry I couldn't praise this book more.

I don't mind non-clergy and non-scholars studying the Bible, and obviously this author must have thought his insights were important and necessary for the rest of the Christian community, but really? Oh gee! I so hate panning this book but I have to. If I didn't have to review it, I would just have ignored it and let it go.

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


Review: Punderdome the card game

by Jo Firestone (Author), Fred Firestone (Author)
  • Game: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Clarkson Potter; Box Gmc Cr edition (June 21, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1101905654
  • ISBN-13: 978-1101905654
Every once in a (great) while, a book/movie/game I set out to read/see/play and review turns out to be too much for me. By "too much" I mean that I come face to face with the limits of my own intelligence.

Based on the description of the gameplay, the game seem serious enough. A group of 3 or more players, take turns choosing two cards with different words or phrases on them. The goal is to come up with puns that somehow links the words/phrases of one card to another. Hey, it need not be funny. It just has to bring both these cards together.

So let's say the two cards chosen are "Going to the bathroom" and "flowers." How many puns can you make out of that?

Alas, I came up only with one. And I couldn't even put the pun into a sentence.

So I thought Punderdome would be fun. Who doesn't like puns, that wonderful game of word play and the subversion of expectation? Even folks who hate them love them. But even the worst pun takes either incredible intelligence and a fast wit OR a lucky blip/spark in the brain.

In this generation, too, where one is surrounded by rap (which itself is full of wordplays that often make you wince and cringe), one would think I would've been somewhat good at this game.

But no!!!! Let me just admit it right now. This game is very very very difficult and it felt as if I was in a serious SAT test as I tried to play it. So yes, if you aren't already gifted with making puns, do not get this game. If, however, you are a genius-pun-maker, buy the game and enjoy the cringe.

The perfect player for this game is someone who already has a mind that plays around with homonyms, homophones, double entendres, etc. It'll be a fun game for folks with active, quick minds. Not me alas.

I got this game free of charge in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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 
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:
Broth maker's kitchen
Master broths and stocks
Where to shop
Measurement conversion chart

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
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

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. 

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