Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Flavor Thesaurus: Pairings, Recipes and Ideas for the Creative Cook, by Niki Segnit. Bloomsbury, 2010

This is a book about food, and has recipes in it, but it’s not a cookbook as one usually thinks of it. The author set out to classify all the possible flavor elements, describe them, and list the foods that contained them. She lists flavors such as roasted, meaty, mustardy, green & grassy, spicy, woodland, fresh fruity, citrusy, floral fruity, marine, and sulfurous- there are a huge number of possible flavors. Some I already knew; a few surprised me- I would have never guessed ginger root went under ‘citrusy’! The recipes are right in the thesaurus, put down as one would tell a friend how to create the dish rather than as a list of ingredients & quantities followed by instructions. The book includes an extensive bibliography, recipe index, ingredient index, and a regular index, so you can find anything easily. I wouldn’t recommend reading it straight through like I did (I was getting a bit restless by the ‘T’s, but what can I say, it was a library book) but rather to keep around for inspiration when faced with an ingredient and no ideas. It’s a fun read, though- it’s like listening to a friend describe what she’s eaten in places and how those things were made.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Hollow Kingdom, by Kira Jane Buxton. Grand Central Publishing, 2019

This is an end of the world as we know it, zombie apocalypse, quest novel… narrated mainly by a human-raised crow named S.T. – Shit Turd. There are occasional short passages by whales, polar bears, and others- including Genghis Cat, a true ninja. S.T.’s human has gone zombie, his eyes have fallen out of his head (and neatly saved for later by S.T., just in case Big Jim wants it back), and he’s lunging around dangerously and S.T. is afraid he’ll eat him if Big Jim catches him. So S.T. and Dennis, Big Jim’s bloodhound, take off into the great new landscape of Seattle, post zombies.

Big Jim may not have been very good with naming pets, but he taught S.T. to speak human, turn on cell phones, and a lot of other things that the average crow doesn’t know. And, when S.T. concentrates, he can also hear the Aura, Web, and Echo- the extra-sensory strands of animal communicate via.

S.T.’s quest is at first one for food, as he travels around the Seattle area standing on Dennis’s back, he starts to realize he has to do more. All around, pets – the Domestics- are trapped in houses, some with zombies inside. How can he and Dennis free them from death by starvation?

This story is several things- an epic fantasy quest tale, an ecological statement, humor, a statement on human’s over dependence on technology, a story of learning to trust, and a coming of age for S.T. as he learns who he really is. It’s sort of like if Watership Down was written by a team consisting of Tolkien, Hunter S. Thompson, an ecologist, and a zoologist. I loved it and couldn’t put it down, but it is uneven in places and is heavy handed on the ecology and technology issues. The book could have used a good edit. But S.T. is such a great narrator that (almost) all can be forgiven.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

The Witch’s Kind, by Louisa Morgan. Redhook Books, 2019

A magical realism/historical fantasy story, The Witch’s Kind completely captivated me. It’s the story of Barrie Anne Blyth, a young woman in the time of WW 2, and her aunt Charlotte, who raised her. Barrie has a past with a man who turned out to be not what he seemed: a college man who joined the service when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  This past led her to a run-down farm that her husband bought without telling her; while she knows nothing of farming, she quickly learns from neighbors, books, and just doing. Soon she has a thriving food garden and flock of hens, right on the Hood Canal. When her husband disappears, she continues the farm on her own. When her dog, Willow, finds a new born baby on the beach, she takes it in, and Aunt Charlotte comes to stay with her a lot of the time.

The baby, Emma, isn’t quite “normal”, but Barrie loves her. She lost her own baby after only a few hours, so she’s ready for a baby, no matter what. Her long lost husband, Will, returns and has his own plans for the child. Government agents hang around the small town and the farm. Barrie and Charlotte invent stories to cover Emma’s origin, and try to keep her secret covered. There is never a time to feel secure and relax.

I LOVED this book. It’s a hard one to classify; my first thought was magical realism, but there is also sci-fi, women’s fiction, historical fantasy… so much, blended together to get a book that I sat up most of the night reading. The descriptions of the town, the farm, the canal, Port Townsend, the Olympic Peninsula, are all wonderful and bring things to life. It’s an area I love anyway, and to see it through the lens of the 40s was great. I loved Aunt Charlotte. I liked Barrie, too, although I was impatient with her in much of the flashbacks, as she was learning about life and growing up. Five stars.

The Lost Coast, by Amy Rose Capetta. Candlewick Press, 2019

When Danny and her mother pick a random spot on the map to move to, they have no idea that Danny’s hand with the pin in it was being controlled by others. Now, in a small town in Northern California, the people who guided that selection need her to help them find their lost friend, Imogen. This group, a small sort of coven that the local kids call the Grays, are in high school and hang out together doing magic, which comes naturally to them. Being with them leads Danny to discover her own magic- she is a dowser, a finder. She must find the lost Imogen- who is, in fact, physically present, but with her soul gone. There is someone or something in the redwood forest that is willing to kill; can Danny overcome it and find Imogen? And is she anything more to the Grays than a useful tool? She is falling in love with one of them and really wants to know…

This sounded like a book I’d love, even though it’s YA- northern California? Check. Girls working magic? Check. Quest? Check. But I had a hard time really getting into the book. The book has good atmosphere, good descriptions of location, and good diversity of characters (racial, sexual orientation, gender). But the characters still blended together when the action got going and I had trouble remembering who was who. The never seemed to be in school, and other than Danny’s mother and the parents of Imogen, never seem to wonder where they are. Even Danny, who constantly breaks curfew to be with the Grays, mostly does as she pleases. The move to California was brought on by Danny doing something that required a ‘clean slate’- it’s never said *what* she did, but it seems to have something to do with her falling in love with another girl. What her mother thought about her joining a group of queer girls is never stated! Three stars.