Review: “The Art of Eating through the Zombie Apocalypse,” Lauren Wilson

Pros: Funny, useful
Cons: Sense of humor is a matter of personal taste; photos would have been useful
Rating: 4 out of 5

NOTE: Review book provided by publisher

Lauren Wilson’s The Art of Eating through the Zombie Apocalypse: A Cookbook and Culinary Survival Guide is a fun, lighthearted way to pick up a few survival tips. It frequently suggests reading resources for additional information, which is good–for example, the drawings of various plants and nuts you can forage would be a lot easier to use with photos instead of drawings. The drawings are nice, speaking of; they add to the fun atmosphere of the book.

Obviously, a guide to survival without many modern conveniences is potentially useful for reasons other than a zombie apocalypse (or ‘zpoc’), but this makes a really fun way to introduce people to the subject. It should have a much wider audience than a straight survival guide. There’s clearly an obsession in modern horror with the question of how we would survive given a civilization-destroying event; The Art of Eating addresses that head-on. There are suggestions for putting together survival bags so that you immediately have a few essentials when the zpoc comes, and those would be potentially useful for everyday. For example: is there a chance your car could break down in an area where you can’t immediately get help? Then keeping these sorts of resources in your car could make such an event much easier to cope with.

This book covers all sorts of things from short-term needs to long-term planning. It presents ways to cook foods that range from extremely simple fire-building to a myriad of ‘oven hacks’ and methods for building more long-term cooking essentials. There are instructions for judging the temperature of your fire to help you cook things properly. You’ll find instructions for preserving food, skinning animals, and scavenging foods from the ruins of civilization. There’s a list of buildings to raid for food and supplies that probably won’t be first on everyone else’s lists, giving you a bit of a head-start.

Instructions for preparing yourself and what to do first vary depending on whether you’re planning on holing up where you are, going out into the wild, or running off to a pre-prepared safehouse. There are instructions for putting together traps and snares, and even creating your own makeshift root cellar to store food in.

If you don’t expect to ever need this book it’s still useful–you never know when a half-remembered survival tip could make all the difference in the world. The zombie-specific humor is fun, but not amazing; however, humor is a personal taste thing, so you might enjoy it more than I did.

If you really want to prepare for a possible apocalyptic scenario, I’d recommend getting some of the many recommended further reading books. For instance, I’d want more thorough instructions on creating snares and so forth. Consider The Art of Eating … as a fun way to see whether you’d enjoy learning more on the topic.

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Review, Novella: “Cast in Moonlight,” Michelle Sagara

Pros: Finally! A look at where and how Kaylin started with the Hawks
Cons:
Rating: 5 out of 5

Cast in Moonlight (The Chronicles of Elantra) is a novella set several years before the events of the rest of the Chronicles of Elantra. In it, Kaylin finds herself taken in by the Hawklord, who despite her age of thirteen years gives her a place in the Halls of Law attached to his Hawks–those who patrol the city and investigate crimes. She works her way into most people’s hearts without intending to. She’s (awkwardly) trying to learn the ropes of city life, and due to her unusual magical talent she ends up being a lot of help to those trying to investigate the murder of several children.

We finally get to see more of Caitlin, the sort-of den mother for the Hawks, as she gets Kaylin settled into her new life. An attempt on Kaylin’s life while in the presence of Caitlin marks her importance even further. We also see the first stirrings of Kaylin’s desire to learn the languages of the city, and we see her ability to heal others’ injuries. She hasn’t yet developed her relationships with the Foundling Halls and the Midwives’ Guild–actually, it would be lovely to read another novella that covered that part of her life. We also meet Teela, Tain, and Clint, and see how it is they came to consider Kaylin part of their lives.

Since this entry into the series is set much earlier than the others, Kaylin doesn’t yet have enough knowledge of magic or of her mysterious markings for the story to get quite so windingly philosophical as it does in later volumes. Instead this entry is a bit more action-oriented and tension-filled. It was a nice interlude while reading the series.

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Upcoming Cookbook Reviews

I always make recipes from the cookbooks I review. At the moment we’re making things from:

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Review: “Grave Peril,” Jim Butcher

Pros: Great ups and downs!
Cons: Thought I’d missed an installment or two…
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

The ghosts of Chicago are up in arms, and Harry and his friend Michael can barely keep up. Harry tries to help a young woman named Lydia, only to find that an unknown force is stalking her. Ghosts wouldn’t be able to affect the real world so much, but almost anything else should have left footprints while tearing up the place. Harry has to figure out what sort of evil stalks Lydia–and soon he realizes that it’s hunting him and his friends as well. The vampires are involved, as is Harry’s ‘faerie godmother’, who comes to collect on a bargain Harry made. Add to that a romantic relationship that’s getting serious, and the stakes are high.

 

Jim Butcher’s Grave Peril (The Dresden Files, Book 3) confused me a little at first. Harry is running around town dealing with ghosts with the help of Michael, who uses faith (and a really big sword!) as his weapons. He and Michael have the feel of having been fighting together for some time, yet I don’t remember Michael showing up in either of the previous novels. For a little while I thought I’d gotten the order of the books wrong and accidentally missed an installment; I was surprised to find out I hadn’t. Still, despite the feeling of displacement, I didn’t feel lost or confused within the context of the book. Things were explained well without resorting to infodumps.

I love the characters in the Dresden Files books. Harry is just fantastic as the powerful-yet-beleaguered wizard. Susan as his girlfriend (and also a tabloid reporter who mines Harry for stories) works well with him. They’re an unusual pairing but they have chemistry. Michael is great as a man of God whose faith is so strong that it can bend reality in its own ways. There are some interesting new side characters in this installment, including Thomas the vampire, a possible ally who can’t be trusted. Harry’s ‘godmother’ is quite something herself, and she and Harry go several rounds in which she tries to collect on a bargain and he tries to weasel out of it. Faerie bargainings are something to behold. We see more of the vampires, ghosts, wizardry, name-based magics, and so forth.

All right, so. The entire day wasn’t a living hell.
But, as it turned out, hell got up awfully early in the morning.

The Dresden Files books have a lot of humor and whimsicality in them, but that in no way means that they’re fluff. Very dark things happen, and Butcher isn’t afraid to bring the hammer down on interesting characters. He’s perfectly comfortable stirring things up and changing the face of his world, which means you never quite know how things will go down. There’s plenty of tension, some horror, great pacing, and wonderful humor.

I don’t know how I managed to go so long without reading these, but I’m slowly making up for it now!

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Authors Behaving Badly: Hale

I’m lucky. On only a few occasions has an author gone nuclear in my direction because of my reviews, and at least they didn’t resort to stalking in order to voice their displeasure. One of the reasons I dislike taking review books directly from most authors (instead of through publishers, etc.) is because it means that if I didn’t like the book, I’ll have to directly tell the author that I didn’t like their work. As soon as I do, I have to worry about how they’ll respond. Of course it used to be that all I worried about was getting cursed out and told what a horrible person I was. Now I have to worry that an author might stalk a reviewer they disagree with, and that other members of the author/publisher community could happily be complicit in that stalking by condoning what was done. Let me tell you, that’s both sobering and scary as hell.

For a thorough round-up of links to this latest debacle, check out Librarian Next Door. If you do any reviewing, it’ll give you a chill. If you’re an author and you think this kind of stalking is not okay, then please speak up, on Twitter, on FB, anywhere. Authors and publishers need to step up and agree that this behavior from one of their own is NOT alright–too many for comfort have backed up Hale in her crusade.

Edited to add: a good, detailed opinion piece about Hale’s actions.

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Review: “The Silvered,” Tanya Huff

Pros: Riveting tale of war, conquest, magic, and technology
Cons:
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

The Empire is spreading, conquering its neighbors; the emperor seems to have a particular interest in overthrowing Aydori. In Aydori the Hunt Pack (werewolves) rule together with the Mage Pack. They’re powerful, but the emperor has new weapons including silver bullets, rockets, and more. Within the borders of the empire werewolves have been declared abominations. Mirian–who tested as high in magic, but was never able to progress beyond first level magics–witnesses the kidnapping of the Mage Pack by Imperials, and sets off to free them. Joining her is Tomas, a young werewolf who has just lost most of his family. The mages have been neutralized using old magical artifacts, so while they certainly aren’t harmless, they’ve lost most of their tools for escape. The mages are being transported by carriage back to the heart of the empire, while Mirian and Tomas have only their feet. Mirian’s magic seems to be slipping past the bounds of what she should be capable of, but there are other dangers in losing herself to her magic.

 

Tanya Huff is one of my all-time favorite authors. I only really discovered her this year, so I’ve been devouring her past publications (luckily there are lots of them). Today I got to The Silvered; it’s a blend of fantasy, steam punk, and military fiction. Ms. Huff seems able to conquer any genre she sets her mind to, and I love this particular blend. I was riveted shortly after starting.

I love the characters. Tomas and Mirian and their gradually shifting relationship have so much depth and warmth to them. The members of the Mage Pack are wonderful–they have their strengths and weaknesses, their foibles and cares, and watching them trying to survive the situation they’ve been placed in is heartbreaking. There’s also plenty of depth given to most of their pursuers; it becomes quite easy to empathize and sympathize with characters on both sides.

The ‘country using steam-tech’ and ‘country using magic’ are not nearly as straightforward as they are in other novels. Aydori has electric lights and pocket watches despite their reliance on magic. The empire has its Soothsayers and old, barely-understood magical artifacts that they occasionally use to supplement their technologies. (As well as a few werewolves hidden away here and there.) It makes more sense, that the magic and tech would be on a continuum rather than a binary setting.

There’s plenty of tension, action, horror (there are some dark moments in here–appropriately so, not excessive). I had trouble putting the book down for lunch and kept reading snatches of it around everything else I had to get done. Thankfully, much like other Tanya Huff novels, The Silvered does not end on a cliffhanger, but does leave plenty of room for further stories. I certainly hope there will be more!

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Review: “Blind Alley,” Iris Johansen

Pros: Interesting mystery
Cons: Confusing and unnecessarily complex
Rating: 2 out of 5

 

From promotional material:

As the trail of faceless bodies leads to a chilling revelation, Eve finds herself trying to catch a master murderer whose grisly work is a testament to a mind warped by perversion and revenge. Now she must pit her skills against his in a showdown where the stakes are life itself—and where the unbearable cost of failure will make Eve’s own murder seem like a mercy killing.

Please note that although this is a book in Iris Johansen’s Eve Duncan series, the real star is Jane, Eve’s ward. The wording of that promotional material above is much more accurate if you substitute ‘Jane’ for every instance of ‘Eve’. As it turns out, there’s a serial killer who’s become convinced that Jane is the reincarnation of an enemy simply because of her facial appearance.

Blind Alley: An Eve Duncan Forensics Thriller is a book I found via the online public library, so I went into it not realizing it was part of a series. It made a lot of sense despite that, though; Ms. Johansen made this book stand alone fairly well.

Jane and Trevor are interesting characters. I did feel that Jane warmed up to Trevor a little easily, but when you remind yourself that the grown-up-seeming Jane is actually still a teenager, it makes enough sense. Jane displays a nice duality: she’s mature enough to sound older than her age, but she’s inexperienced enough that she’s still feeling her way through what is the right thing to do, how does she make that happen, and how far does she have to go? I can see why she and Trevor have a sort-of weird beginnings-of-a-crush going on. Trevor is just such an unrepentant pain, blithely lying his way into an investigation, spying on Jane; but he also rushes off to help Jane when it might not be in his best interest to do so.

By the time Trevor and Jane come up with an elaborate plan to attract and catch Aldo, the serial killer, Aldo has made it clear to Jane that now he knows who she is and he has all the time in the world to attack her. However, he’s shown himself to have absolutely no patience (such as killing a handful of additional women when he had difficulty getting to Jane), so I don’t buy that he really is going to take however long.

Because of that, the trap that Trevor and Jane set seems outlandishly and unnecessarily complex. It involves convincing (or hacking into) a handful of publications to plant false information. It requires flying to another country. It’s an intricate setup that could fall apart in any of a bunch of steps, and I totally fail to see how it’s a better plan than setting up a death trap back home would be. Because I couldn’t suspend disbelief in this it felt… hollow. It felt like seeing a page on which someone has been writing, but halfway through they switch to writing in a different script and using a green magic marker instead of a blue pen.

There are also some bald info-dumps. Some of the dialogue feels… stilted.

Ultimately I enjoyed some of the book, but it didn’t wow me.

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Review: “Cast in Peril,” Michelle Sagara

Pros: Adds another layer of depth to the Barrani
Cons: Small things…
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

It has been a busy few weeks for Private Kaylin Neya. In between angling for a promotion, sharing her room with the last living female Dragon and dealing with more refugees than anyone knew what to do with, the unusual egg she’d been given began to hatch.

Kaylin is finally heading off to the West March as the result of an agreement with Lord Nightshade. Teela of course is coming with her, as is Severn. One unexpected companion is the Barrani Consort, who is still quite upset with Kaylin. Not only does Kaylin have to survive the often-deadly world of Barrani politics, but she has to figure out how and why people have gone missing in large numbers from the fiefs–and she has reason to believe a Barrani Lord was behind the disappearances. Add to that the contents of the egg, and things are about to get crazy.

Cast in Peril is book eight in the Chronicles of Elantra. Don’t even try to break into this series in the middle; there’s no real way for an ongoing story and world of this complexity to appear as standalone novels. That is a little awkward with a series this long, but I just don’t see a way to avoid it here. It also really helps if you’ve read the previous book recently.

Just a warning for anyone who hasn’t seen my reviews of previous installments: These are NOT action-oriented books. They focus on worldbuilding and oddly philosophical clashes. Much of the magic comes from pondering and learning to wield language, true names, ancient words. The conflict is very character-oriented. If you are looking for the kind of fantasy epic that has long sword battles, this is not it. I say this because this is entirely a reader-dependent taste issue, and it would be sad to have people dislike the books just because they didn’t get what they expected from them.

This isn’t the first book in the series to focus on the Barrani (elf-like immortals with a vicious taste for politics, back-stabbing, and anything that’ll stave off boredom); this one does go a layer or two deeper. We get to see that the Consort, who had behaved more warmly toward Kaylin than the other Barrani have, is in some ways more and in some ways even less like them than was obvious, and it really pokes at how immortals view mortals. Kaylin is also forced to look at some of Nightshade’s actions a little more baldly. I particularly like seeing how Barrani handle being in debt to someone. There are multiple ways to get rid of such a debt, obviously; you could pay it back… or you could just kill the person you’re in debt to.

Kaylin experiences some character growth in here. She’s learning when–occasionally–not to speak. Of course there are characters she encounters in this volume who can read her thoughts (much like Tara, the tower’s avatar, in Tiamaris) and thus respond to them as though she’d spoken them out loud–a situation that can be both amusing and frustrating to Kaylin and those around her. I also like that Teela described Kaylin’s younger self as being much like a puppy or kitten–it fits her personality very well.

There’s plenty of tension as Kaylin tries to negotiate Barrani politics, figure out what her newly-hatched friend is, wants, and can do, and save a whole bunch of people she knows almost nothing about. There’s enough going on that the book ends much earlier in Kaylin’s journey than I expected.

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Review: “Cast in Ruin,” Michelle Sagara

Pros: Rich worldbuilding
Cons: Not everyone’s cup of tea
Rating: 4 out of 5

Kaylin is called into the fief of Tiamaris to help solve a mystery: How is it that there are seven identical corpses, all of them the same woman, wearing the same dress. At least the case is delaying Kaylin’s etiquette classes at the palace, but there’s a deadline of sorts: the dragons believe there will ultimately be nine identical corpses, which means Kaylin will have to hurry if she wants to save numbers eight and nine.

 

Michelle Sagara’s Cast in Ruin (Chronicles of Elantra, Book 7) is an intense read. Again I’ll mention that these books are high on philosophy and are not action-packed. It’s a personal taste thing. In this case you really can’t start with a later book; the world and story are too complex. You need the background. On the plus side, this means you’ll know whether you like the style well before you get to book seven!

We’ve been seeing bits and pieces about the dragons throughout the first six novels, but this time we get a more intensive examination. The Arkon leaves his library again! We find out a few fascinating details on how they reproduce and grow. I also love the fact that Tiamaris, now that he has gone off to rule his own fief, is showing more individualism in how he’s acting and thinking. It’s a nice bit of character growth. On a related-but-not-dragons note, Severn is finally showing more individuality and personality, and Kaylin is learning to be a bit more adult (and restrained). Don’t worry, it isn’t a large enough change to make her anything other than her own unique self, but it’s good to see growth in a main character. Also, a new major female character is introduced, which helps to distance Kaylin from her constant danger of becoming a Mary Sue. (To be honest, it’s been borderline enough in some of the preceding books that I imagine some people would argue that she is, in fact, a Mary Sue. For me, her personality keeps that possibility at bay.)

I feel like I’m getting a better handle on the world’s language- and true name-based magic. I shed one or two tears at pivotal points in the story, which means the book provides an emotional connection with its events. The new major character introduces an interesting dynamic between Kaylin and the dragons; I’m looking forward to seeing what comes of that in the next book. Some of the refugees are also winding their way into the story. But mostly, I just want to know what’s going to happen with that damn egg!

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Review: “Tacolicious,” Sara Deseran

Pros: Yum!
Cons:
Rating: 5 out of 5

 

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

 

Tacolicious: Festive Recipes for Tacos, Snacks, Cocktails, and More, by Sara Deseran, is the companion cookbook to the restaurant by the same name. It’s a lovely book–hardcover, some pictures included, and a fairly clear recipe layout. Contents include a salsas, pickles, & more chapter, followed by snacks & sides. The salsas chapter includes a very nice corn salsa with tomatoes and basil (we liked it both as a salsa and as a veggie side–it has enough heft to it to work that way). It includes a cumin-lime crema that is out of this world–so perfect on pulled-pork tacos. Other recipes include smoky chipotle-tomatillo salsa, pickled red onions, chile con queso, shrimp cakes with corn-basil salsa, spicy tamarind-glazed pork ribs with jicama salad, and more.

Cumin-Lime Crema

Cumin-Lime Crema

Next is a ‘tacos, tacos, and tacos’ chapter. Our favorite so far is the potato and homemade chorizo taco. It has SO much flavor, was easy to make, and reheated beautifully. You’ll also find lamb adobo taco with spices and orange, shot-and-a-beer braised chicken taco, and a breakfast taco that was also quite delicious–and very filling!

Potato and homemade chorizo taco

Potato and homemade chorizo taco

There’s an extensive chapter of cocktails and other beverages (I can’t wait to make the horchata). Beverages include infused tequilas, cocktails (la siesta, sangrita, mucho gusto), agua frescas “and other G-rated drinks” (mango agua fresca, kiwi aqua fresca), and a “syrups, salts, and infusions” section (chile salt, pink peppercorn salt, chile vinegar, and more).

Breakfast Taco

Breakfast Taco

We loved everything we tried out of this book, and definitely plan to make more. Some of the recipes are more complicated than others, but we found no mistakes in any of the recipes we tried. I would recommend it to any taco-lover!

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