Book review: A Song of Ice and Fire series

I admit that I started watching the first two seasons of Game of Thrones before I started reading the A Song of Ice & Fire series.  The show follows the books pretty closely (so far).  I am on book three of the series, so needless to say, I like the books.

The characters in the book are so interesting!  I think my favorites are Arya and Tyrion.  I hope they don’t die.  It seems like all the good people in the series die.

The chapters in the books are titled with different characters’ names and tell about the corresponding character’s experience.  The books are written in the third person, but the characters’ voices still come out clearly in the writing.

One of my favorite things about this book is that there is a lot of gray.  Sometimes, events are presented as black and white, but as the story progresses, you learn more of the background that led up to the events or your get the perspective of one of the “bad” guys in the book and you see why they did what they did.  There aren’t many hard and fast “good” and “bad” characters.  The bad characters have some good characteristics and the good characters have some bad characteristics, just as regular people do.

It was a little hard to keep all the characters and their loyalties straight at first, but if you keep reading, you’ll get drawn into their intrigues.

Cookbook review: The Slanted Door: Modern Vietnamese Food

I had high hopes for The Slanted Door: Modern Vietnamese Food, but I was disappointed upon receiving this book.  First, the book is huge.  It’s one of those big cookbooks that looks good on your coffee table.  Unfortunately, that’s the most use I’ll be getting out of this book.

My first disappointment came with the formatting of the pages.  Even though the pages are big, the recipes themselves are written in small font.  There is a lot of white (wasted) space on the pages with recipes.  You can look at the preview on Amazon to see what I’m talking about.  When you’re in the kitchen, you want a recipe book that is easier to read.  I don’t know why the author and publisher didn’t fill up the wasted space to make the recipes easier to read.  Note: my eyesight is fine; I just don’t understand why they didn’t use the space to their advantage?

The second issue I had was with the format of the book itself.  It seemed like appetizers were listed first and then were listed again after cocktails.  There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the order of the recipes.  The restaurant stories that preceded the recipes weren’t very interesting to me because I’m not a regular at The Slanted Door and really didn’t want to learn about how their business started.

This leads me to my third gripe about the book.  I wanted a cookbook with Vietnamese recipes.  The stories about the restaurant, as I mentioned earlier, were not interesting.  I didn’t care for the cocktail recipes.  There were also a lot of recipes that were not Vietnamese – they were Western dishes to which the author added some fish sauce.  This does not make a Vietnamese dish, even if you stick the word “modern” in front of it.

Even simple recipes like the spring rolls were a failure for me.  I understand that mayo is popular in California (many people dip their fries in mayonnaise).  Putting mayo in a spring roll is just wrong.  Spring rolls are supposed to have light, delicate flavors.  The rice noodles, shrimp, mint, and cilantro complement each other subtly and pick up on the nouc cham to make the dish.  Mayonnaise in the spring roll overpowers those light flavors.  The vegetarian spring roll recipe called for cabbage.  I find that cabbage is too tough a texture for spring rolls.  It’s much better with green leaf lettuce.  Again, spring rolls are supposed to be light.

This book was not for me.  Mai Pham has better Vietnamese cookbooks.

I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

Book review: Defending Jacob

Defending Jacob by William Landay is a book about an Assistant District Attorney whose son is accused of murdering a classmate, hence the title.  The book switches between first person narrative and transcripts from the trial.  The book shows how the lives of the parents are absolutely destroyed.  Their friends and neighbors, for the most part, abandon them and they are left questioning, not only whether or not their son is guilty, but whether or not they are responsible.  Was it the dad’s fault because he is descended from murderers?  Was it the mom’s fault because she put the kid in daycare when he was young?  If Jacob is innocent, how do they face him, having thought that he could have possibly done such a thing?  What if he is guilty?  How do they reconcile themselves with the fact that the boy they kissed as a chubby baby could have taken someone’s life?  If they are having doubts about their son’s innocence, are they morally obligated to tell someone about their concerns?  Or, are they morally obligated, as parents, to support and defend their son?

The biggest disappointment of the book was how the author portrayed teenagers.  Yes, teenagers are self-centered and they don’t always speak well, but having ALL of his teen characters use “like” and “you know” in every other sentence was a bit much.  The teen characters in this book had very little personality, except perhaps Jacob, but Jacob is mostly presented as a sullen, withdrawn, spoiled, entitled, brat.  However, the teenage characters play a minor role in the story.  Their role is to present information/evidence that the adults who aren’t computer savvy can’t figure out on their own (this, by the way, I found to be ridiculous because any police force is going to have some sort of cyber crimes unit – the book was published in 2013 – and where teenagers are involved, they’re certainly going to check social media sites like Facebook and Twitter).

This book did a great job of presenting the psychological trauma of the family before, during, and after the trial.  I liked the moral dilemmas that were presented, and seeing how the characters dealt with them.

This was an interesting read and I look forward to reading more of the author’s work.

Book review: Catch Me by Lisa Gardner

I read Catch Me by Lisa Gardner this weekend.  It’s a part of a series by Gardner about D.D. Warren, a detective in the Boston area.  This was the first book I’ve read by Lisa Gardner, and it wasn’t the first book in the series, but it doesn’t really matter a whole lot.  Some of the characters appeared in earlier books, but you don’t have to read the other books to know what is going on in this book.

In this book, D.D. Warren has to solve two crimes – one involves a girl whose two best friends were murdered on the same day exactly one year apart and the other a vigilante who has been killing pedophiles.  The girl, Charlie, believes that she will die on January 21st because her friends’ murders had the same MO.  In both cases, the women were murdered in their homes, with clean crime scenes and no signs of struggle.  This leads Charlie to believe that the murderer is someone that she knows.  She flees from her home and goes to Boston in the hopes of being able to flee from the murderer.  In Boston, she locates D.D. and explains why she thinks she is going to die, giving D.D. details about her preparations in case she is murdered so that D.D. will have a better chance of finding the murderer.  In the case of the pedophile-shootings, there was also no sign of a struggle and the victims were shot at close range.

This book caught my interest quickly because it reminded me of John Sandford’s books and because it deals with mental illness (I seem to be on a mental illness kick lately).  It was interesting to hear about how pedophiles lure their victims and how easy it is, despite kids being taught by their parents about staying away from strangers.  Even though the book is fiction, the author did her research.  If you look up information about internet safety for children, you’ll find that the book is accurate, even if the situation in the book is a dramatization.  Check out the FBI’s Parent Guide to Internet Safety for more information on protecting your children.

The plot was interesting and I learned information about pedophiles on the Internet.

I also read another book by the same author called The Seventh Month, which was really more like a novella or a short story, also starring D.D.  It was cute so after reading two books that I liked by the same author, I looked up the her website.  She has a sweepstakes on her site where you can submit a potential victim to be killed off in her next book.  Fun!  If you like crime novels or mysteries, I would recommend checking out some of Lisa Gardner’s books.

Book review: Something Wicked This Way Comes

I read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury for the first time last year and loved it.  I just read Something Wicked This Way Comes and was disappointed.

This book has some interesting themes, but I feel like everything was over-said.  It’s more fun to read books that take a bit of thinking to unravel.  For example, the carnival represents something evil.  It’s set apart from the town (ordinary people), and in case you didn’t get it when he mentioned that the Funeral March was being played at the carnival and all the characters had bad feelings when they attended the carnival, one of the carnival people is named, “Mr. Dark.”  Another example is with the importance he places on age.  Charles Halloway, Will’s father, was uncomfortable with himself because he felt old.  His issue with age was pointed out over and over again throughout the book.  I kept thinking, “Okay, okay, I get it” as I was reading this book.

This isn’t a bad book by any means.  It was interesting – it’s just that I got impatient with it.  I think it would be a great book for a middle school student to read to talk about some of the symbolism (carnival representing evil and Will & Jim – Will representing the better side of a person and Jim representing our darker side).  I also found it annoying that Will was fair-complexioned and Jim was dark complexioned.  It wasn’t that Jim was evil, but he wasn’t as cautious as Will.  He cared more about adventure and freedom than about how people felt or about their safety (exp: when he took the lightning rod off his roof).

Warning: don’t read the next part if you haven’t read the book because I’m going to talk about a spoiler.  The ending of the book was awful.  First, Will’s dad finally learns to accept himself when the witch comes after him at the library.  He laughs at the witch, thereby making her powerless because his laughter shows that he thinks she is ludicrous.  This is where I have a problem.  The author is saying that something only has power if you give it power so when he laughs at the witch, the witch loses her power.  However, the witch doesn’t die.  The witch lives on.  Later, they end up back at the carnival and Will’s dad slaps him because he is crying.  Will’s dad makes him laugh in order to kill off the witch.  I understood Ray Bradbury’s message, but I just found the whole ending ridiculous.

If you’re going to read a Ray Bradbury book, read Fahrenheit 451.

Book review: Sugar Rush (cookbook)

“Wow!” was my first thought as I opened Sugar Rush by Johnny Iuzzini.  I kept thinking it as I flipped through the pages, reading the recipes.  First, the photos are amazing – they’re full color close ups of mouth-watering sweets.  You will be hard pressed to find pages without color photos.  There are some, but this book is packed with pictures.

The sections in the book start with a few pages going over a technique.  Then, the following pages include recipes that use that particular technique in various ways to create different treats.  The technique pages include photos and descriptions for the various steps.

I was completely bowled over by how complete this book seemed.  It covered everything from mousse to donuts to creme brulee to crepes to homemade marshmallows to meringues.  I could go on and on.  Here’s where I have to admit that I haven’t actually made any of the recipes.  I usually make at least 1-2 recipes from cookbooks before writing a review, but unfortunately, I decided to cut desserts from my diet between the time I requested this book and the time it arrived (we’ll see how long I last, but you probably aren’t interested in that).  The instructions were easy to follow, even for more challenging recipes like Kouign-Amann (where the preparation is similar to that of croissant dough).  This cookbook covered everything from simple desserts to more complex ones that you order from a fancy bakery because you are too afraid to try them on your own.

If I had to offer a criticism for this book, it’s that you do need a bit of equipment.  If you are a serious baker, you weigh out all your ingredients like the flour.  If you fall into the other category, like me, you pull out your measuring cups and spoons.  I’m sure that it makes a difference because the amounts are actually off, but for the most part, my laziness as a cook wins out over dirtying extra bowls and the extra time it takes for the weighing of ingredients.  I haven’t had any complaints about my desserts so my laziness will probably continue to win out.  Also, in some recipes the author calls for active dry yeast and in others he calls for fresh yeast.  Again, if you’re not a serious baker, you probably only have the active dry yeast at home.  It would have been nice if he had included the conversion in his recipes.  For those who are interested, 1 tsp of fresh yeast = 1/2 tsp of active dry yeast = 1/3 tsp of instant yeast.

If you like to bake or want to try some new dessert recipes, this is an excellent book.

I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books for my honest review.

Book review: Gone Girl

Gone Girl is a novel by Gillian Flynn about Nick, whose wife, Amy, disappears on their 5th anniversary.  I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that Nick ends up being the prime suspect.  The book has quite a few twists and turns … and though I saw most of them coming, the very end of the book was a surprise to me.  This book was a fun read and a bit of a mindtrip into different personalities.

The book is narrated by Nick and Amy (mostly via a diary she left behind).  The author used the first person for both, but the characters’ distinct personalities came through.  It’s hard to write much about this book without giving away too many spoilers.  If you like suspense/thrillers/crime fiction, you should give this book a shot.  It was a simple read, but it was very enjoyable.

I’ve already recommended this book to a few people I know.

Book review: Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It

This was a fast read that I finished in a day.  Basically, Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes presents the argument that we are getting fat due to the amount of carbohydrates that is in our diet.  This book is sort of like a synopsis of his other book, “Good Calories, Bad Calories.”  In short, Taubes argues that obesity cannot be fixed by exercise and the belief that we need to consume fewer calories than we take in is flawed.  Instead, obesity is caused by insulin and other hormones in our bodies.  Eating carbohydrates and other simple sugars causes our bodies to produce more insulin, which stimulates the storage of fatty acids in our fat cells, which means the fatty acids aren’t available to our bodies to use as energy, which then causes us to feel more hungry and eat more.

I checked out his references before reading the book.  He is not a medical doctor, but he studied physics and aerospace engineering and received a master’s degree in journalism.  While he isn’t qualified to do nutritional research himself, his background gives him enough credibility (with me, anyway) to not dismiss his review of scientific research.

He presents a lot of evidence and makes a compelling argument against eating carbs.  My problem with this book is that he supports a high in saturated fat diet (like the Atkins Diet) and he suggests that exercise can actually be detrimental to losing weight because exercising makes you more hungry.  Exercising helps your body – physically and mentally.  It not only makes your body stronger, it releases endorphins that make you feel better.  There is little long-term research showing the effects of such a diet (most of the research done on this kind of diet lasts <2 years).  It also doesn’t address the side effects and risks of such a diet (see http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/weight-loss/in-depth/atkins-diet/art-20048485?pg=2  and http://www.diseaseproof.com/archives/diet-myths-case-histories-the-atkins-diet.html for more info).

I would recommend this book so that people can learn more about the dangers of eating carbs, but personally, I would never follow a high in saturated fat, low exercise regimen.  I would suggest cutting back on carbs, exercising, cutting out sugary drinks like sodas and fruit juice, and eating a balanced diet with some protein and lots of green vegetables.