BOOK REVIEW: The Vegan 8

The Vegan 8With 100 delicious recipes, The Vegan 8 by Brandi Doming offers simple, healthy dishes made from eight ingredients or less (not including salt, pepper, or water).Beautiful photographs accompany the scrumptious recipes making the book a feast for the eyes, not just the palate.

Right away, the cookbook demonstrates its uniqueness. The “My Pantry” section is different than other cookbooks providing comprehensive information on spices, non-dairy milk and yogurt, liquid flavorings, flours, nut butter, and starches. Here, Doming indicates which are available commercially and recommended brands and which ones best made from scratch. Many of the descriptions included insight that was new and fascinating to me!

Every chapter is filled with enticing recipes written in a conversational style and labeled nut-free, gluten-free, or oil free as relevant along with the expected prep and cook time. The dishes utilize ingredients in interesting and unconventional ways I had never imagined before such as Pizza Quesadillas using mashed potatoes. Doming emphasizes non-commercial food for the most part but when an ingredient needs to be purchased, she recommends brands and where to purchase them.

Notes for recipes provide very clear information about what substitutions are possible or not advisable and give insight into what gives the dish its signature characteristics such as creaminess. Tips offer ways to enhance recipes, rework them based on allergies (or lack thereof), or to make them more kid-friendly.

I am a disaster in the kitchen, and some of the recipes intimidated me a little because of the preparations involved (or the need for a Vitamix), but I was still very interested in trying them. While I found dishes in every chapter that I wanted to attempt (the soups look particularly creamy and the sides delicious, particularly Almond-Coated Asparagus with Dijon-Tahini Sauce), I thought the Easy Entrees and Staples chapters were most relevant to me. The chickpea dishes–Protein-Packed Curry Chickpeas and Sweet Potato Rounds and Spicy and Smoky Chickpeas in Creamy Tomato Sauce–immediately caught my attention. The Ultimate BBQ Bean Ball Sub looks like a tasty sandwich from one of my favorite vegan restaurants. From Staples, I wanted to make the Emergency BBQ Sauce and the Sesame Teriyaki Sauce posthaste. The Desserts chapter offers options for every taste–chocolate lovers, peanut butter fanatics, fruit fans, or gingerbread enthusiasts.

This cookbook will delight vegans and non-vegans alike and provide strategies for making tastier, healthier dishes.

Thank you to Netgalley and Hachette Book Group for providing an electronic advance reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Restoration Heights by Wil Medearis

Restoration Heights - Cover ImageReddick worked as an art handler and spent his free time playing basketball at the Y, ignored his own painting career. On a winter’s night in his Brooklyn neighborhood Bedford-Stuyvesan, a young blond woman, drunk, followed Reddick into an alley and invited him to kiss her. He declined, offering instead to get her a ride home. Before he could call a car, she disappeared into his apartment building, apparently returning to a party that she’d momentarily escaped. The next day, he mined the story for laughs until a coworker reminded him that a woman went missing under similar circumstances in Coney Island a few years earlier and her body had been found on the beach. He began questioning his inaction, worrying about the fate of the girl.

That day he was working with a crew dismantling and installing art at the home of the Seward family, one of the wealthiest families in the country and a patron of the arts. While at their home, he learns the woman he encountered the night before was Hannah, the fiancee of Buckley Seward, the family’s only child. He was eager to share his information, but the family was hostile, demanding he refrain from contacting them about Hannah or going to the police hardly veiling that they would have him fired if he disobeyed.

Aghast at their reaction and convinced Hannah was in peril if not dead, Reddick began his own investigation. As he uncovered the layers of relationships in the Seward family and among Buckley’s friends, he confronted the scourge of gentrification in his neighborhood, the specter of a mysterious crime boss, The Genie, and his own racial identity.

Something about the book grabbed me, and I stayed up almost all night reading it. I enjoyed the writing style and was invested not just in the mystery of Hannah’s disappearance but in the question of Reddick’s investment in the case. The characters engaged in difficult and honest questions about race, class, and privilege. Fittingly, these themes were never resolved but offered continual touchpoints throughout the novel. The book also returns to the idea of biases that distort the truth, and Reddick must confront his own assumptions as he unfurls the connections between Hannah, his neighborhood, and the elite world of the Sewards.

In the vein of Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda, Restoration Heights vividly evokes a Brooklyn neighborhood and its class and racial tensions. Wrapped in the guise of a mystery, Restoration Heights delivers much more.

Thank you to Netgalley and Hanover Square Press for providing an advance electronic reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Martha and George drunkenly return from a faculty party held by Martha’s father, the college president. Martha announces they are expecting visitors, a new faculty member and his wife, Nick and Honey. Exasperated, George wonders why they had to come over at 2:00 a.m. after a party instead of another day, but Martha insisted her father told her they should take care of the new couple. George and Martha play verbal games with each other, and their guests, that involve cruel teasing and doublespeak as they each try to exert power and gain control of the gathering, Martha with an antagonistic, flamboyant style, and George in a passive-aggressive, cynical manner. Nick, handsome, fit, and nearly twenty years younger than George, an ambitious professor in the Biology Department, threatens history professor George has plateaued in his career and who describes himself as fading into the background. As they divulge their pasts and reveal their desires, the quartet face uncomfortable and shocking truths.

Reading the play was captivating, almost in the way that watching a disaster unfold is mesmerizing. The dialogue is clever and cutting, and the stage directions succinct and apt. The characters, particularly George and Martha, are so complex and multifaceted, they are fascinating. Albee uses language interestingly, for example repeating certain phrases to underline circularity or using all caps for emphasis. Although a few references, like refusing to surrender Berlin, have less impact now, the subject matter is as relevant now as it was when the play was first performed in the 1960s. What really made the play spectacular in my opinion was the layers of meaning and the artful use of symbolism.

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Broken Angels by Richard K. Morgan

broken angels - richard k morgan.jpgThirty years after the events of Altered Carbon, Takeshi Kovacs has taken sides in a war on Sanction VI working as a lieutenant for the Wedge, an elite and brutal mercenary army. Yet his thin allegiance frays when pilot Jan Schneider bluffs his way onto a highly secure hospital ship and dangles an opportunity Kovacs can’t ignore. An exorbitant payday to secure a Martian ship in deep space, the gateway to which was discovered by archeologue Tanya Wardani. All they need to do is form an alliance with an untrusty corporate executive, operate in an area full of radiation, steer clear of nanotechnology with unlimited evolutionary power, and steer clear of the fighting forces that have made the location of the gateway a key strategic acquisition. With his Envoy training and a new sleeve maximized for war, Kovacs leads the expedition and tries to maintain its safety while they grapple with the ancient puzzle opening the gateway and the mysteries beyond it.

Kovacs is as sardonic as in Book 1, and despite his training often defaults to violence, so it is interesting to watch him navigate the events of the novel. He just can’t keep himself from making bad situations worse, it seems. How can he lose control so often when he is supposed to have so much self-control? More background on Martian society and what Earth colonization owes to it is included in this book, and the setting, Sanction IV, a war-ravaged planet, provides a different perspective on the corporations and the Protectorate, the ruling government.

Though I thought this would be a heist novel, it isn’t, though it does have a captivating story that kept me engaged. Some aspects of the novel were less appealing. Characters like Jan Schneider were thinly developed. Kovacs seemed at times to pine for Detective Kristin Ortega which seems unwarranted given how Altered Carbon ended their relationship. The resolution of one story line came completely out of the blue for me, and it didn’t seem to be an organic development. Finally, Morgan used a device to indicate pauses in character’s speech that was very annoying and overdone, for example, “You seem. Close to her” or “Well, he’s not a. Bad looking. Guy for a. White boy and. Wardani, well. She’d probably. Take whatever. She can get.”

It’s hard not to compare the book to Altered Carbon, though the two are so different, comparisons are almost unfair. In fact, besides the introduction to Kovacs, the Envoys, Quellism, sleeves, and needlecasting, Book 1 has little to do with Book 2. Kovacs is the only returning character. If readers approach Broken Angels expecting a second Altered Carbon, I think they will be disappointed. However, it is a solid read with an unpredictable plot and a charismatic narrator.

Vox by Christina Dalcher

VoxIn the not-too-distant future, Sam Meyers, advised by the fanatical Reverend Carl Corbin (leader of the Pure Movement), becomes President. Just a year into the Administration, they had systematically disenfranchised women. Women were no longer allowed to work, their passports were invalidated, premarital and extramarital sex were illegal, LGBT and other undesirables were put into labor camps–and women were fitted with word counters. These counters monitored women’s speech, and if a woman uttered more than 100 words in a day, she was shocked with an electric current that increased with the number of infractions.

Dr. Jean McClellan, previously a preeminent neurolinguist, was lured into the President’s service when his brother and key adviser, Bobby Meyers, suffered a skiing accident and developed aphasia. While Jean worked on a cure, she–and her daughter Sonia–were exempt from wearing the word counters. In a state-of-the-art lab, reunited with her previous team, Jean wrestles with the implications of her work and the fact that when it concludes, she’ll be subjected to the word counter again. Her estranged best friend from graduate school, Jackie Juarez, previously active politically but now assumed to be in a labor camp, became the voice of Jean’s conscious asking Jean what she would do for her freedom. Jean pushes herself to the limits of what she will do not just for her own freedom, but for that of all women in the United States.

The book has an interesting premise and draws from the likes of The Handmaid’s Tale and Future Home of a Living God. In flashbacks, Jean considers how the government laid the foundation for such widespread oppression–for one by requiring a religious class in high schools that taught the “proper” realms of men and women–and how she was complicit for failing to become involved politically. She also traces how men respond to their new power, often through reflections on her husband, Patrick, who doesn’t believe in the Pure Movement but who is willing to keep Jean’s books locked up and prevent her from using the computer, so far as telling her that things aren’t that bad. How a class of people might react to newfound power is an interesting component of the book. Jean’s son, Steven, becomes a true believer in the Pure Movement, and it is revealing how she struggles in her relationship with him.

The society under Meyers is harrowing, and, like many of these dystopian novels, not impossible to imagine. Especially in the last half of the book, I was compelled to read to find out what would happen. Diminishing my enjoyment of the novel, though, were frequent plot holes, unconvincing twists of logic, or simply confusing passages. I also didn’t like the writing style which to me was too conversational and casual. That said, I do think readers who are fans of this genre will enjoy Dalcher’s addition.

Thank you to Netgalley and Berkley Publishing for an advance reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review.