July 2019 Reading Recap

Oh boy… July. My second least favorite month, first being August. I’m not a summer girl, and tend to come to a grinding halt when the temperatures go up over 85. My reading seems to be reflecting that slow-down with lighter choices.

I found a link to my 2017 July recap and was delighted to discover that I’d read Wishful Drinking in July of that year as well. Will this become a tradition? Time will tell.  Okay, onward…

  1. American War  by Omar El Akkad — But of course the first book on this list is not a lighter choice.  It’s a dark, devastating look at a United States ravaged by climate change, in which southern states, unwilling to give up fossil fuels, secede from a union where those fuels are outlawed, and bring about a second American civil war.  I found it impossible to sympathize with anyone in this book, but I expect that’s part of the point.
  2. Hot Six (Stephanie Plum, #6)by Janet Evanovich — Yes, still reading the Stephanie Plum books. I’m not sure there’s anything new to say about them; they’re formulaic down to repeated phrases like “swiping on mascara” and so on. And yet they’re each different enough, and appeal to my sense of the absurd, and I’m enjoying them.
  3. Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body by Armand Marie Leroi — Contrary to the rather sensational title “Mutants,” and sometimes equally sensational covers, this isn’t some kind of wild expose of the world of different people. It’s a scientific (often highly so) exploration of how mutations occur, what their functions are, and the historical attitudes and ideas surrounding them. Really fascinating.
  4. Notorious Nineteen (Stephanie Plum, #19) by Janet Evanovich — I read this in one night. It really was a lot of fun, and it kept me occupied so I didn’t fret too much about the insomnia.
  5. Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #1) by Louise Penny — A good friend has been raving about this series, and I, who have never (before this year) been much of a fan of mysteries decided to give the first one a try on her say-so. I am so glad I did.  While Penney’s style is difficult at the beginning of the book — her POV is really awkward and confusing — it calms down enough that I got hooked. I love the town and the people in it, and while Gamache seems like a decent enough guy, I’m looking forward to getting to know him better. He unfolds slowly. That’s okay, I’m ready to try #2 as soon as the library sends it to me.
  6. The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan — So this morning I sat down to breakfast, turned on the audiobook which I’ve been listening to for days, and thought “I think I’m too old to enjoy this.” I felt a lot of impatience with this book. I spent a lot of time muttering, “Just fucking talk to each other!” It’s not like I don’t get it. I have an acute understanding and experience of grief and loss and their attendant guilt, trust me on this. And I understand family secrets; my family had some gonzo ones. But it makes me nuts when an author propels their plot by ensuring that the characters never actually talk about things.  At about 75% I stopped listening, returned the audiobook to the library, and I feel much better.
  7. All You Need to Know about Kefir Water Plus 45 Recipes: Today’s Superfood, Facts, Health Benefits, Weight Loss (Today’s Superfoods Book 7)  by Jennifer Weil — I confess I read this the way I read most cookbooks, sideways. I start at the ToC and move through the chapters based on what I’m curious about.  The one thing I would say about this book, which is quite good, is that Weil often writes about both sorts of kefir (water and milk – very different!) in the same chapter, and it can be confusing.
  8. Seven Up (Stephanie Plum, #7) by Janet Evanovich — Yup, another Stephanie Plum. I’m nearly caught up to The Housemate on the series so I can finish reading them in order.  This one made me laugh a lot. I love the characters in this series.
  9. Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain  by
    Maryanne Wolf — I’d call this more science than story, making it rough going for most of us who have no real background in neuroscience. And while it’s mostly interesting, much of it flew past me. I’m glad I read it; doubt I’ll ever look at it again.
  10. The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas — Not at all what I expected.  Rather than a story/stories about adventures in time travel, this book is about the politics, and yes the psychology of time travel. How it affects people, the power it confers and how that power is over-stepped and even abused. It’s about meeting your future or past self, getting used to the idea that our loved ones are never really dead to us if we can always go back to visit, and who exactly has the right to travel in time.  Thought-provoking and complex.
  11. The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar — For much of this long, leisurely novel I felt I was watching a slow-motion train wreck. I was horrified by what I thought was going to happen. And then suddenly I realized that it wasn’t a train wreck at all, but a story that made me feel that all was right with the world. Gowar won me over by art and a bit of magic, and I am so very glad I read this. The language is dazzling and the audiobook, narrated by Juliet Stephenson is superb.
  12. Girl Waits with Gun (Kopp Sisters #1) by Amy Stewart — Got this via Kindle Unlimited purely on a recommendation from Book Riot, and I’m happy I did. It’s less a mystery than a story of the guilty finally paying the price for their crimes, and the Kopp sisters are a delight. On the strength of it, I’m going to look for the rest of the series.
  13. Housekeeping  by Marilynne Robinson – I wanted to read this because I’d enjoyed the movie. What I found was that the film, though compelling enough to provoke my interest in the book, failed to capture the beauty of it. It isn’t just the glorious use of language that doesn’t translate well, but what that language describes, turning a bleak landscape and story into something deeper and almost mythic.
  14. Takedown Twenty (Stephanie Plum, #20) by Janet Evanovich – More Stephanie. Honestly the allure of these books is the craziness, the absolute impossibility of any of these people existing or events occurring. And yet, Evanovich makes them feel like they’re just everyday things.
  15. Great World Religions: Judaism by Isaiah M. Gafni – This is one of the Great Courses, and one I’d been wanting to listen to for a long time. It’s a short course, only 12 half hour lectures, but it’s an excellent overview.  I learned a great deal, and found a lot of threads I want to pursue. If you’re interested in the history and structure of Judaism, this is an excellent starting point.
  16. High Five (Stephanie Plum, #5) by Janet Evanovich – I wasn’t feeling All That last night, so I retired to my bed, read this in one sitting, and caught up to The Housemate’s reading of Stephanie Plum. I loved this one, and I’m kind of glad I read it out of order because I knew about some of the events, and knowing intensified the creepiness factor. Also? Funny as hell.
  17. Never Out of Season: How Having the Food We Want When We Want It Threatens Our Food Supply and Our Future by Rob Dunn – Dunn has become one of my favorite science writers, and this book is not just exceptionally interesting, but it’s a warning about how our eating habits (global, not just in N. America and Europe) are setting the stage for an enormous disaster on the level of the Irish potato famine, but this time world-wide.
  18. Cafe Neandertal: Excavating Our Past in One of Europe’s Most Ancient Places by Beebe Bahrami – In spite of a slightly dodgy audiobook file, I have fallen completely under the spell of this book and its author, and now I want to read everything she ever wrote. This is so much more than a scientific overview of the Neanderthals. It veers in and out of the personal, paints indelible and often humorous portraits of the people who study Paleolithic life, offers enchanting portraits of places that I now want to visit, and makes some important points about what it means to be human.
  19. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – I had lunch with my girls the other day and all of them recommended this book. I raced through the post-apocalyptic story, (I seem to be reading a lot of these lately.) but I have the sense that the deeper aspects of it will be poking at me for a long time to come.
  20. Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher – A reread, this time in audio form which could account for why I had no memory of having read it before. It is so very different when I hear it in Carrie’s voice rather than the voice inside my head that interprets words on a page. So different that it makes me wonder how any two people ever manage to agree on what a book says or means. And I confess I loved the book even more this time around. I adore Carrie, and miss her. She was a take-no-prisoner sort of woman, and she is missed.
  21. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig – Another reread. Actually I have reread this book on a semi-regular basis since it was first given to me by one of my teachers at the Art Institute. It’s a book that changes as the reader does. This time around I’m finding a lot of meaning in Pirsig’s discussion of mental illness, and somewhat less in the philosophy, though much of what he discusses had echoes in other things I read. This book may not be all things to all people, but I never fail to take some new ideas away from my reading of it.
  22. Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson — The author just loves bugs and wants us to love them as well. 40 years ago, this would have been a hard sell for me, but as I’ve grown older, learned more about insects, and decided that I was not going to be held hostage by creatures so much smaller than I am, I have learned to love them. Sverdrup-Thygeson gives an excellent overview of what bugs do and how necessary they are to our existence. Without them we wouldn’t last a year. Seriously, they’re that important to human life.
  23. A Grown-Up Guide to Dinosaurs by Ben Garrod – This was a last minute decision after I finished a longer audiobook. Interesting overview and guide to some of the newer thinking on dinosaurs.
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American War by Omar El Akkad

33311863._SY475_[1]I found that I had a lot more to say about this book than I was willing to add to my July recap, so I’m doing a stand-alone review of it. I hope this will become a more regular thing again, but since a lot of my summer reading is lighter fare, I don’t think there’s going to be all that much to say about most of my books.

But of course this book is not a lighter choice.  It’s a dark, devastating look at a United States ravaged by climate change, in which southern states, unwilling to give up the fossil fuels that are making the south almost unlivable, secede from a union where those fuels are outlawed, bringing about a second American civil war. Does that sound insane to you?  It did to me as well, so I wasn’t inclined to be particularly well disposed to the secessionists. Yet the protagonist is a southerner and we’re drawn into her world where the political issues are far less important than the personal ones.  You take care of your own. What’s done to your family is done to you, and to not exact revenge for damage is to fail your people.

Yet it’s curious that the protagonist, Sarat Chestnut, loses family to both sides in the war, and still chooses to side with the southern cause. I suspect her decision was colored more by the actions she was able to take rather than by any serious thought about what she ought to do to support her family. You desperately need to take action, any action. Someone who is intent upon using you as a tool for his own agenda gives you the opportunity. Of course you take it! And then you can’t afford ever to look back.

I liked Sarat less and less as the book wore on; for such a smart woman she seemed unable to think critically about what was happening to her. I liked every character less and less. I distrusted them all, certain that this endless war was about enriching those who stood outside of the fighting. (That’s the cynic in me, I guess.) Sarat’s final, nihilistic act horrified me, and I wanted to shout at her that she was simply handing her country to those who wanted to profit from it. But by that time, Sarat was so broken that it wasn’t any kind of surprise. She wasn’t going to have an epiphany and turn into a peacemaker.

I’m glad I read it, but it left me feeling empty, angry, and so very sad that humans never seem to learn anything from conflict except how to escalate it. And now I need to read something frivolous because I can’t bear feeling like this.

June 2019 Reading Recap

The month started out with a bad case of the flu which allowed me to finish almost a book a day.  Who knows what might happen over the next three weeks?? It’s also gotten me reading more audiobooks than ebooks because when you’re feeling like hammered shit, they’re just easier to concentrate on.

I seem to be drifting into the mystery genre these days.  Mysteries, books about food, and sciences (mostly paleontology or paleogenetics.) It’s a change, and I’m enjoying it. I’m also taking more books out of the library, and buying fewer, which is a good thing.

This month I completed my Goodreads Challenge to read 100 books this year, so yeah I’m a bit ahead of where I thought I’d be. Let’s hope the rest of the year is as productive.

  1. Hard Eight (Stephanie Plum #8) by Janet Evanovich — Yeah I’m reading them out of order. Trust me, it doesn’t matter. Lots of fun.

  2. Three to Get Deadly (Stephanie Plum, #3) by Janet Evanovich — She always makes me laugh out loud.

  3. Our Native Bees: North America’s Endangered Pollinators and the Fight to Save Them  by Paige Embry — What I didn’t know about bees was a lot more than what I did know. And Paige Embry has done a lot to change that.  Lovely discussion about wild bees, and how they fit into our food chain.
  4. Outlaw Marriages: The Hidden Histories of Fifteen Extraordinary Same-Sex Couples by Rodger Streitmatter — Not scintillating. Certainly not titillating.  A fairly pedestrian, often forced-feeling narrative about same sex couples of the 19th – 21at centuries. Steitmatter does try to make both partners interesting, but sometimes it’s a losing battle.
  5. Twelve Sharp  (Stephanie Plum #12) by Janet Evanovich — Rather surprising book. I was genuinely worried about Ranger in this one.

  6. Ghost Riders: When US and German Soldiers Fought Together to Save the World’s Most Beautiful Horses in the Last Days of World War II   by  Mark Felton  — Lovely book about saving the Spanish Riding School of Vienna from the Red Army. There’s a whole lot of military stuff here, and much less about the horses than I would have hoped, but it was still fascinating.

  7. One for the Money (Stephanie Plum #1)  by Janet Evanovich — I made the mistake of borrowing the audiobook, only to find it was abridged. That kind of ticks me off.  Good start to the series though.

  8. The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan — I bailed about 75% of the way through the book. I simply found it impossible to care about what he was discussing.  Some interesting stuff, but unless you’re a die-hard student of the history of the Great Lakes, I’d say don’t bother.
  9. Two for the Dough (Stephanie Plum #2) by Janet Evanovich — Against my better judgement and because I’m impatient, I borrowed the second audiobook from Hoopla in spite of it being abridged. And it was okay, but like the first one, it lacked something. Between that and this flu, I fell asleep several times while listening.
  10. Even Tree Nymphs Get the Blues (Mystic Bayou, #2.5) by Molly Harper — An Audible original, and one of my June freebies. Sweet and lightweight, but charming take on the paranormal interacting with the human world. Utter brain candy with a nice bit of humor, and female friendship which I always enjoy.
  11. Vegetables Unleashed: A Cookbook by José Andrés — Mostly I’m one of those people who find recipes online and skip right to the recipe, bypassing the backstory. (Not always, but mostly.) However Andrés is so appealing and I enjoy his take on food, eating, cooking, people, et al, that for me the real appeal of this book is the introductory chapters that discuss not just cookery, but gardening, produce in general, and other things which are important to him.  The recipes are a mixed bag for me. Some look amazeballs, others elicited a “meh.”
  12. Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook: A Guide to Eating Well and Saving Money By Wasting Less Food by Dana Gunders — I don’t want to say “Game Changer” about this book because it’s a nuts-and-bolts guide to being a more frugal cook in every sense of the word, and doesn’t have the sparkle of Marie Kondo or some other self-help books I’ve run into. But boy howdy it’s about as detailed as you could want with a lot of information you didn’t really know you needed.  The recipes are pretty much ancillary to first half of the book.
  13. Alien III by William Gibson — The other June Audible freebie. Wow, I’m sorry to say that this just doesn’t work for me. First, much of the dialogue is incomprehensible because it’s delivered over ship-to-ship radio, often in heavily accented voices.  Audio also doesn’t serve the action genre well, and this is pretty much all action. What isn’t action is more of the Weyland-Yutani are total jerks stuff that we’ve been getting all along, and it’s capped with a fairly preachy suggestion by Bishop that maybe they all gotta hang together against this larger threat.  Gee, ya think?
  14. Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich — For the most part I enjoyed the story, but by the time I got to the end I found myself wondering, “So?” Honestly I’m not sure it works, but boy is it beautifully written.
  15. Lean Mean Thirteen (Stephanie Plum, #13) by Janet Evanovich — Another fun Stephanie Plum. I honestly don’t recall what happened, they mostly run together. But while I’m reading them, I’m getting a real kick out of them.
  16. Fearless Fourteen (Stephanie Plum, #14) by Janet Evanovich — So far my favorite Stephanie Plum. More crazy people doing more crazy things. A potato canon, Lula in a bridal gown. I love these things, they’re like potato chips.
  17. The Fermented Man: A Year on the Front Lines of a Food Revolution by Derek Dellinger — I didn’t honestly know what to expect from this one since I picked it out of the available library offerings on a whim.  And I loved it.  I loved it so much that I went out and bought the ebook. Yes, it’s one of those weird food books, but it’s way more than that. It’s about food, health, how we perceive the world, and a whole lot more. On the strength of this book, I want more by Dellinger.
  18. Medical Marijuana: The Basic Principles For Cannabis Medicine by Aaron Hammond — Recreational MJ becomes legal in Illinois in January and I’m studying the subject now so I can make some sensible choices about pain relief, better sleep, and maybe alleviating depression. Why not medical MJ? Because prior to the last month or so the list of ailments which could qualify someone for a card was ridiculously restrictive. Good basic info here, but nothing comprehensive.
  19. The Neanderthals Rediscovered: How Modern Science is Rewriting Their Story  by Dimitra Papagianni — I enjoyed it, though I think it could have been better.  Nice background on the Neanderthal presence, and some interesting speculation on how much contact there was between them and other hominins,. Yes, the word used to be hominids. Yes, I am aware that hominin, and homonym are (almost) homonyms, and yes, I find that amusing.
  20. Uncommon Type  by Tom Hanks — You can trust Tom Hanks.  You can trust him to tell you a pleasant story that won’t squick you or make you feel like going out to the garden to eat worms. There’s nothing really deep about these stories (many revolving around typewriters) but they made me smile, occasionally laugh out loud, and feel as if life might actually not be quite as dire as I sometimes think it is.  Thanks, Tom.
  21. Kombucha: for Beginners: How to Make Kombucha at Home (Kombucha, Kombucha Recipes, How to Make Kombucha, Fermented Drinks, Fermented Tea, Kombucha Mushroom Book 1)  by Sakura Yamazaki — I picked this up from Kindle Unlimited, and I think it’s good enough to spend the very modest $2.99 on if you’re looking to start making kombucha.
  22. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn — Sweet Jeebus these people are insane, and horrible, and the story is riveting.  I want to read more Flynn!
  23. Finger Lickin’ Fifteen  by Janet Evanovich — Another fun Stephanie Plum book, with pretty much the same cast of crazies doing their thing, but it always seems to work. There’s always a scene where I laugh out loud, and I really do get Stephanie’s inability to choose between her two men. I love these characters, even Rex, the longest-lived hamster on the planet.
  24. Sizzling Sixteen (Stephanie Plum, #16) by Janet Evanovich — Yeah these really are like potato chips. They’re fun, fast reads with characters so crazy that your own weird friends and family look dull by comparison. Which is fine because a week inside Stephanie Plum’s head would probably kill most of us. It’s not a problem reading these out of order since Evanovich is good at getting her readers up to speed, so jump in anywhere. You’ll catch on fast.
  25. Hemp Oil and CBD: Complete Beginners Guide to CBD to Faster Healing, Reduce Pain & Better Health by: Emily Mayr — So-so guide to hemp oil and CBD. I didn’t really learn anything new, but I’ve read better guides this month. Possibly good for someone new to the subject.
  26. Devil in the Details: His demon lover by Tracy Rowan — One of mine, and just here because my reread does count. I mainly reread it because I’ve been wanting to revisit the characters in a different context. I’m a better writer now, I think.
  27. The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by Steve Brusatte — There’s an infectious enthusiasm to this book. Oh boy, dinosaurs!  Wowie!! But there’s a whole lot of information here as well, possibly more than the casual reader would want. But it goes down easy.
  28. Smokin’ Seventeen (Stephanie Plum #17) by Janet Evanovich — Oh yeah another Stephanie Plum.  The Housemate has all of them on hold or on her wishlist at the library and they seem to be dropping fast these days. As ever, it’s a fun read. I was pretty sure I knew who was doing what early on in the book, but it hardly matters. I don’t really read these for the mysteries, you know?
  29. Waiting for the Moon: A lynx shifter romance by Tracy Rowan — Another of mine. Held up better than I feared.
  30. Four to Score (Stephanie Plum, #4) by Janet Evanovich — And one final Stephanie Plum to round out the month. This one was okay, nothing special. The characters seemed less developed than in the first couple of books which was a surprise. On the upside, we meet Sally Sweet in this one, and that’s good news.

So thirty books this month, and 105 for the first six months of the year. And way more being borrowed than bought, which is an excellent thing. Now it’s time to go through my bookcases and get rid of things I’ll never read/never reread.

Prices Reduced!

Definitely an attention-getting device. Hope it works because I just dropped my prices on the books I have for sale on Amazon to $0.99 each.  And if you’re a Kindle Unlimited member, you can read them for free and I’ll still get paid!

51WtLcoTAXL[1]Waiting for the Moon is a m/f paranormal romance about an artist who falls for a lynx shifter:

Andy Crawford has been treated ungently by life. Deserted by her father, abused by the men her mother took up with, she fled home at an early age and threw her energy into her art. Against her better judgment she engaged in an affair with the sheriff of her town, but now she’s ended it and plans on spending the rest of her life alone. However, a mysterious man she meets in the woods one night has other ideas.

Though her common sense tells her to stay away from Alec Vardász, her instinct says that he is her true mate, and that he needs her help coping with the curse that turns him into a dangerous predator under the full moon.

51ecoRBYrpL[1]Devil in the Details is a m/m fantasy romance in which a bad man gets his comeuppance, and two really sweet guys fall in love with each other.

Rafe is a young man with a problem. His lover, a wealthy and powerful man, has become increasingly demanding and possessive, and is occasionally abusive. Gavin is prepared to do anything to get what he wants. What Rafe wants is a little peace and security. And he wants it with the owner of the new cafe in the neighborhood. Driven to despair by his lover, Rafe calls on his half-brother, a demon named Grim, to help settle things.

I’m hoping to get more of my backlist up on Amazon soon, as well as some new stuff, so stay tuned.  And thanks!

May 2019 Reading Recap

Oh the merry month of May when life goes into high gear. I’m hoping to coerce myself into spending more time in the garden this summer, and planning to get a nice outdoor footstool so I can kick back and read out there weather permitting.

cf071440c63945d18d1c44a94f33f327[1]My fascination with microbes continues unabated to the point where I’m now seeking out podcasts about microbiology and related content. Cuts down a bit on my audiobook time, but I’m learning a whole lot, and that’s what matters to me. Also scoping out cookbooks with an eye to improving our health by making our diet more plant-centric. I’ve actually reached the point where I’m baking a loaf or two of (partially whole grain) bread each week.

The post brought me two books to feed (see what I did there?) my interests. The one to the left is an old favorite that I had in paperback, and an older, smaller edition, I think. The Moosewood one is new to me though I’m a big fan of the Moosewood books.

Fiction has been okayish. Mostly I’ve bailed on things I wasn’t enjoying, early enough that I didn’t even bother to note them here. I find I’m wrapping up the month with a desire for uncomplicated novels (brain candy, palate cleansers) to compliment all the non-fiction I’m reading. I’m also on a quest to get more of my reading material from free sources. It’s an interesting process.

Onward…

  1. I Hate Vegetables Cookbook: Fresh and Easy Vegetable Recipes That Will Change Your Mind  by Katie Moseman – Neither of us hate vegetables, but I never underestimate the power of a recipe designed to change the mind of skeptics. They’re usually extra yummy.  This book is no exception. Some wonderful riffs on veggies here.
  2. The Whole-Body Microbiome: How to Harness Microbes–Inside and Out–for Lifelong Health by B. Brett Finlay, PhD – Not precisely a nuts-and-bolts how-to, but close enough. I listened to the audiobook, which was great but as there was no downloadable PDF for all the references, I ended up buying the Kindle version as well so I could follow more of the information.
  3. My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh – This one was disturbing because I understood it too well. The protagonist wants to sleep.  It’s not that she can’t, it’s that she can’t sleep 24/7 for the next year that bothers her. To achieve sleep on her terms she finds a therapist willing to furnish her with every sort of sedative and sleeping pill ever invented, many of which she chases down with cough syrup or gin. She knows what can happen, it happened to a schoolmate of hers. But it takes her about 75% of the book to get at what she’s really chasing. When she does, she clears her head, clears her life, and makes herself a promise to do or die.  Not a restful book.
  4. Doing Justice: A Prosecutor’s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law  by Preet Bharara — I heard Bharara on a podcast recently, and he was such a compelling speaker that I knew I had to read his book. What I gleaned from it was a deeper understanding of the whole process of justice in our country. And while he makes some pointed and not very flattering observations about Trump and his policies, though rarely by name, they are well deserved rather than cheap shots, because they make a point about how the rule of law is being strained to the breaking point in this administration. Bharara is thoughtful, intelligent, and incredibly well-educated. Listening to this book is a legal education.
  5. The Big Book of Kombucha: Brewing, Flavoring, and Enjoying the Health Benefits of Fermented Tea by  Hannah Crum, Alex LaGory, Sandor Ellix Katz (Foreword) — Pretty much THE book on kombucha.
  6. Small Spaces by Katherine Arden — A YA horror novel by the author of the Vasya trilogy. She does not disappoint. This is genuinely creepy, with good characters, and a plot that moves along at a good clip.
  7. Ten Big Ones (Stephanie Plum, #10) by Janet Evanovich —The Housemate loves the Stephanie Plum books, so I decided to try one. It was fun. This isn’t deep or literary, it’s brain candy, and we all need it from time to time. There’s a scene where three women are trying to get information from someone via torture, and it got me laughing out loud. Why? Read it and find out.  Yes, it stands alone.
  8. Indian-ish: Recipes and Antics from a Modern American Family by Priya Krishna — Priya Krishna is a hoot, and it sounds like her parents are as well.  But what originally sold me was that this cookbook would be a way for me to get into Indian (ish) cooking with its big flavors, high fiber, and wicked good nutrition. This kind of food is cheap and good for you, something The Housemate and I truly need. And the bonus is that the cookbook is immensely readable and fun.
  9. The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long-term Health by Justin Sonnenburg — If you’re going to investigate gut health and its influence on our whole body, this is a good place to start. It’s comprehensive and informative, with sample menus and some good recipes as well.
  10. Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore — This one had been on my TBR list for yonks, and I finally got the audiobook from the library. By this time I couldn’t really remember what it was that made me want to read it, but once I got into it, I fell totally and completely in love with it.  I love Michael Poore’s brain, I love his writing, I love his weird and whacked-out imagination. One of the best things I’ve read all year.
  11. This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class by Elizabeth Warren — I love Elizabeth Warren. I think she’s a smart, amazing woman who gets things done. This book restored my faith that we can still win our country back.
  12. Lock In (Lock In, #1) by John Scalzi   and…
  13. Head On (Lock In, #2)  by John Scalzi — I don’t know why I haven’t read more Scalzi, he’s SO good. His prose is tight and clean, and it propels  the reader through stories that seem simple, but which have layers of meaning and importance. This series (and I hope there’ll be more) concerns an FBI agent who contracted a disease as a child that left him completely paralyzed, trapped in a body that doesn’t listen to his brain. “Huh?” you say.  Read it, you will not be disappointed. Damn, he’s good.
  14. I, Claudius: From the Autobiography of Tiberius Claudius Born 10 B.C. Murdered and Deified A.D. 54 by Robert Graves  — Like virtually everyone else on the planet, I was familiar with the book because I watched the PBS series. And unlike the series, the book is chatty and catty, like a gossip columnist pretending to write history.  There’s a lot of the latter there, but of course the real draw are the foibles of the Roman ruling class. Fun.
  15. Eleven on Top (Stephanie Plum, #11) by Janet Evanovich — Everyone needs a palate cleanser from time to time. Thanks to The Housemate for introducing me to Stephanie Plum and her crazy family.
  16. Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 by Simon Winchester — I’ve been meaning to read this for a good long time, but purely on a whim, got the audiobook from the library, and enjoyed the heck out of it.  I didn’t know much about Krakatoa or the events that essentially turned the volcano into a gigantic caldera, and killed more people than any other volcanic eruption in history. Absolutely fascinating.

April Reading Recap

This month I’ve been obsessed with practical applications of microbial science. In other words, I’ve been fermenting the living heck out of a lot of different foods, and reading about the processes as well. And in a related vein, I’ve also been gobbling up cookbooks (pun very much intended just in case you were wondering) like mad because one of the things I’m learning is that changing our diet will help nurture the good microbes as much as downing probiotics and ferments.

Eleven out of seventeen books this month are non-fiction which is probably a new record for me, but the fiction I did read was excellent. Much of it was a result of an interview with Victor LaValle who talked about the books he was currently enjoying, and he didn’t disappoint me.

  1. Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez — this is a book of surreal horror that makes me wonder what life was like in Argentina to provoke this sort of gut-wrenching and bizarre fiction. The stories are compelling, but really fucking disturbing. I can’t say “enjoyed” here; rather, I appreciated the power of them. So far (mid-April) the only fiction I’ve read this month.
  2. Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer — Though it comes under the sciences heading, this book is almost more a love letter to mosses, and their environments. Kimmerer is deeply involved with her subject and knows not only the facts of its existence, but the deeper meaning of mosses to human culture.  I listened to the audiobook, and Kimmerer was the narrator, a woman with a voice that sounded so much like Meg Tilly’s voice that I had to keep checking to make sure I’d read the name of the narrator correctly.
  3. The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe — A reread in the form of the audiobook narrated by Dennis Quaid, who not only is intimately familiar with the story, having starred as Gordon Cooper in the film, but who does a remarkable job conveying Wolfe’s often breathless and frequently slyly funny prose.  If all you know is the film, and lord knows I love that movie, this book will enlarge and enrich your knowledge of those events. The story is way bigger than you can imagine.
  4. Ferment: A Guide to the Ancient Art of Culturing Foods, from Kombucha to Sourdough by Holly Davis, foreword by Sandor Ellix Katz — This is a wonderful, hands-on volume that covers many different forms of fermentation in a no-nonsense manner.  The instructions are clear and simple, the photos are excellent, and Davis’ clearly loves her subject.  
  5. Saladish: A Crunchier, Grainier, Herbier, Heartier, Tastier Way with Vegetables by Ilene RosenDonna Gelb — The Housemate calls me a “salad whisperer” but the truth is that I get a kick out of making salads, and spend a lot of time composing them inside my head before I ever start chopping veggies.  This is one of the better salad cookbooks I’ve found. 
  6. Cultured: How Ancient Foods Can Feed Our Microbiome by Katherine Harmon Courage — Yes, another book on fermenting and cultures, and how they affect us and our world. And a really excellent and interesting one. Still a bit more sciency than practical, but well worth your time if you are fascinated with the subject as I am.
  7. The Art of Fermentation: An in-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World by Sandor Ellix Katz — Katz is something like the guru of the fermented food movement, and I confess I was skeptical about that reputation. But once I started reading, I realized that it’s well-deserved.  This is the most comprehensive practical guide to fermentation I have yet encountered, and I don’t honestly know how anyone could one-better it. I learned about ferments I could barely imagine (parts of animals made edible by people who clearly were very, very… very hungry) as well as interesting facts about more familiar cultures. Seriously, if you’re looking for in-depth, it’s all right here. I listened to the audiobook, and now I have the hardcover on my wishlist at Amazon because it’s just that good a reference book.
  8. Platters and Boards: Beautiful, Casual Spreads for Every Occasion by Shelly WesterhausenWyatt Worcel (Contributor) — The first of four books that I’d begun a while ago, and finished up quickly this month. This, and 
  9. Graze: Inspiration for Small Plates and Meandering Meals by Suzanne Lenzer— were books that I picked up because I’m interested in the kind of eating The Housemate’s mother called “småting” (pronounced smossing according to The Housemate) or picking, grazing, noshing; the sort of casual here’s-the-food-take-what-you-want arrangement that is so conducive to hanging with friends, having long, free-ranging discussions over a meal that lasts for hours.  It’s a pickles and olives, cheeseboard, crudites kind of eating that feels tremendously friendly to me.  Both books were lovely and inspirational.
  10. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (Magic Cleaning #1) by Marie Kondō — Oh yeah, I watched the series, then went right out and started Kondoing the bejeebers out of my apartment until I ran out of steam and moved on to less stressful activities. It’s a worthwhile effort, never doubt it, and Kondo has a lot of good, helpful things to say, but I still prefer the Swedish death cleaning approach. 
  11. ScandiKitchen: The Essence of Hygge by Brontë Aurell — I love Bronte Aurell’s books and between us, The Housemate and I have most of them.  The only problem I have with any book about hygge is that it’s so hard to define because one person’s hygge is another person’s tedium. In reading about hygge, you need to take what you like (i.e., whatever makes you feel cozy) and leave the rest.  Still, Aurell’s book is lovely and worth a look.
  12. The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (The Road to Nowhere #1) by Meg Elison — I was lucky enough to get both the ebook and the audiobook via Prime Reading, so I’ve been listening for the last two days, and finding this book both horrifying and compelling. It’s a post-apocalyptic novel set at the tail end of a pandemic that wipes out most of the world’s people, though men fare a bit better than women or children. The net result is a world almost without women in which children are born dead and mothers often die at the same time. The effects on people’s psyches are predictably ugly, for the most part, and all-too-human. I really enjoyed it, though that’s a word I use guardedly in this case.  I just found out that there are two sequels, but I honestly don’t think the story needs them. It’s tight and complete as it is.
  13. Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World, #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse — This was the last of the Victor LaValle reccs on my list, and it’s probably the one I enjoyed most, well enough to pre-order the second book in the series. The setting is post-apocalyptic (the drowning of the world after the ice caps melt), the protagonist is Maggie, a Navaho bounty hunter, but her quarry are monsters, not criminals. Trained by a legendary Navaho hero, and deserted by him a year before the story begins, she has pulled into herself, caring about very little until she’s dragged into a plague of monsters that will eventually make her question who she is and what she wants. Well thought out and rather chilling in its matter-of-fact horror.
  14. The Human Superorganism: How the Microbiome Is Revolutionizing the Pursuit of a Healthy Life (Audible Audio) by Rodney Dietert — Oh microbes, how I love thee.  Dietert covers a lot of the same ground I’ve been over this month, but rings a lot of valuable changes, for me at least. The most interesting thing is that he believes that we can change our faulty microbiomes with a better diet and probiotics. And he doesn’t just talk the talk, he has and continues to walk the walk. After suffering for 30 years from NCDs (non-communicable diseases, i.e., asthma, allergies, diabetes, autism, depression, obesity, and a myriad of others) a simple change in diet showed him that his body could and would work with him for better health.
  15. Orlando by Virginia Woolf — Each time I read Orlando I get more out of it, and this time I saw myself there so clearly in the gender fluidity and the vast sense of history and nature and the desire to know who I am within both.  Gorgeous book if you just go with its flow.
  16. Storm of Locusts (The Sixth World, #2) by Rebecca Roanhorse — The sequel to Trail of Lightning (above) came out the day I finished the first book so of course I devoured this one. And it was just as good as the first, possibly even better. The only thing I’m not happy about is having to wait for the third book.
  17. Bad Monkeys: A Novel by Matt Ruff — After having read Lovecraft Country last month, I tried to read Mirage, but found it rough going. Then I gave Bad Monkeys to the Housemate for her birthday and (of course) read it as well. It was everything I love about Ruff’s work, weird, unexpected, twisty, the sort of story that keeps you guessing. I’ll go back to Mirage eventually, but there’s more than enough Matt Ruff to hold me for a while.

The Ballad of Biff and Sally

9daa921d19f9bcbe007c9ea86d353684[1]I actually don’t have the mental energy to do a parody ballad about the love of Biff and Sally.  Suffice to say they are doing well, and got dunked into a new vat of sweet tea this afternoon.  I bottled up the old stuff after I tried it and found it delicious. (And I have to tell you that I used a brand of tea I found at Aldi and HATED because it smells like fish when it’s brewed.  But this? Nothing fishy about it.  Win-win) It tastes a bit like an Arnold b7ac1a6a047a04427fc69c97b645b413[1]Palmer, a drink I love. And it’s got a little fizz to it.  I honestly thought I’d prefer the tibicos to the kombucha, but I was dead wrong.

And the tibicos?  The coconut-pineapple water brew was about as foul a drink as I have ever tried to swallow, and I’ve swallowed the ridiculously awful Norwegian combination of non-alcoholic beer and orange soda without wincing.  So I made an executive decision and tossed all the tibicos grains into the garbage.  Not going to waste more time and money on them.  It’s Biff and Sally all the way!

I also bet the farm, or at least the better part of a gallon of milk, that the Siggi’s cultures were still active enough to produce a decent batch of filmjölk.  The quart I made two days ago was nice if a bit thin.  I have, however, ordered some culture off of Etsy from a place in California, and that should prove pretty close to immortal as long as I don’t fuck it up. If I like the place’s cultures I’ll go back for some others.  They have both thermophilic (requiring heat) and mesophilic (cultures at room temp) cultures including a wide variety of Scandinavian fil varieties.  I’m thinking about trying their Greek yogurt, French-style yogurt, and several of the Scandinavian ones.

So yeah, I’m off to a birthday party now. The Housemate turned *mumble-mumble* on Friday, and there was much rejoicing.  Here’s a photo of her cake.  She baked it — and yes, she and I are both grown-up enough to be able to bake our own birthday cake without feeling deprived — and I made the frosting out of homemade lemon curd and whipped cream.  I think it’s kind of pretty.

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I can’t stop seeing microbes!

I’ve become hyper-sensitive to the existence of microbes on everything. I look at my cats and wonder what microbes we exchange when I cuddle them. Produce departments stop me cold as I stare at the fruit and veggies and think, “what’s on your skin? Is it good or is it bad?” And while I’m always aware of pathogens, and unwanted chemicals, I’ve pretty much decided that microbes = good.  Most of them are, and worrying a lot about the bad ones is pointless.

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Cherry Tibicos
My little microbe farm is chugging along, and I’ve been keeping a written diary of my work, which involves me enough that I don’t think about sharing here.  My bad.  I like to blog about things like this because finding someone who is banging away at the same problem or project I am always makes me feel a little less like I’m out here in the weeds, and I like to extend that sense of connection to others. If I was still a caregiver I’d be blogging about that.

Biff is floating in a new vat of very strong sweet tea along with a new bit of SCOBY from a bottled kombucha I got from Trader Joe’s last weekend. (If it grows, I’m calling her Sally.) I still haven’t actually tasted it, possibly because I’ve come to think of Biff’s kombucha as an experiment rather than something consumable.  On the other hand, I finally decanted my first batch of tibicos (water kefir) and tossed the dregs of a bag of frozen black cherries into the liquid for a second ferment, something that happened surprisingly quickly.

I tasted the cherry tibicos yesterday morning and made that face you make when something is really disappointing, but later, when I poured myself a glass after it had been in the fridge for a while, it was… not great, sorry I’m not going to lie.  But it was better. And to my vast surprise it was gently alcoholic. I slept really well last night!

The tibicos grains are now in a pitcher of coconut-pineapple water, and should have properly fermented by this afternoon.  I may try fermenting a bit of fresh orange juice with the grains, but so far I’m not awfully impressed with tibicos. I will keep banging away at it until I’m sure I don’t want to be bothered with it anymore.  It’s a bit easier than the milk kefir, which is still sitting in my fridge, doing nothing.  I keep telling myself this is an experiment in storage.  Uh huh.

I also tossed the red wine because it wasn’t culturing into vinegar, and I think that the probiotic powder I added might have been part of the problem.  I should have stuck to the cider vinegar only.  So I opened another bottle of old wine, a vouvray, and added a tot of Bragg’s. I could tell the difference within a couple of days, so I’m well on my way to homemade white wine vinegar!

c13dbdc5b843189209453ad81d9f257f[1]But this week, I’ve been mostly taken up with bread.  I unearthed my Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book, and got some white wheat, and rye flour, and whipped up a batch of peasant bread. The  smell of the dough was so wonderful! Honestly, there’s nothing like it.

The first loaf was good, but bland.  Great chewy crumb, which is how I like my bread, and a crisp crust.  Two days later, the second loaf had much more developed flavor, and by yesterday, the flavor was excellent, exactly what I’d hoped for.

The weekend project is a new brioche recipe.  I’m making a loaf for our Easter dinner, and I suspect it’ll be really good, but if it’s not at least as good as the King Arthur flour recipe, it’s toast.  (See what I did there?)

Happy Spring, and Happy Easter.

In my rush to judgement, I was too hasty.

Remember that I declared Biff to be dead? An ex-Scoby? Well, thanks to my less-than-stellar housekeeping habits, and a day of serious brain-fog depression, I neglected to dispose of Biff as I had intended.  When I finally got around to it today I found not a teensy Biff with a load of scummy bubbles and other mysterious and icky-looking stuff, but an honest-to-gawd kombucha scoby!

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Yes, one of these.
Color me absolutely flabbergasted (which seems like the perfect word to use for something that looks like this, doesn’t it?) thrilled and confused.  I immediately rinsed him off and plunked him into a fresh jar of sweet tea. As I had been so completely bumfuzzled at finding him alive and well, I neglected to save any of the old brew, so I added a tot of raw vinegar with the mother hoping it would be an adequate stand in.

And then I looked up what to do if you don’t have starter tea.  Really, my impulse control is not good.  But it turns out my instinct was right and vinegar is exactly what I needed to add.

So now Biff is gettin’ busy with the sweet tea, and I’m taking a breather from kefir again, having made one more batch — rather thin and easily separated — then rinsed the grains, patted them dry, and stored them in a jar with milk powder.  And one small jar of resting kefir in milk at the very back of the fridge.  This stuff is wearing! It’s like having a bunch of infants that need constant care. Only you can eat or drink them later.

So Biff? Not dead yet, and not going on the cart.

RIP Biff, 4/7/2019

I am sad to announce that Biff the Scoby is no more.  I found him looking… odd yesterday, a scummy-looking blanket of bubbles stretching across the liquid he was in.

Rather than panic, I did some research, and discovered that there are a lot of things that count as Not Mold in kombucha, but none of the photos looked anything like what I was seeing.  Yes it’s possible this bubbly scum was completely normal, but I thought about the other experiments where there were clear indications of whether something wasn’t working, and made an executive decision.  Kombucha is not something I want to pursue just now.  Accordingly Biff and his scummy bubbles will go down the drain.

Fare thee well, fallen hero.

However, over the weekend I did manage to make two loaves of no-knead bread with Penzey’s Mural of Flavor seasoning, and a generous sprinkle of the Trader Joe’s super seed and ancient grains mix.  I also used half white whole wheat flour rather than all all-purpose.

The crust on this bread smelled better than any crust I have ever smelled! It was warm and toasty, nutty and sweet. I sat at the table for a good ten minutes with the bottom of the loaf pressed against my face, just breathing in the goodness.  And the taste was wonderful. Not quite as unique as I was hoping, but still outstanding. It was a dense, springy loaf with a good, crunchy crust. I say was because I just finished the last of it for lunch today.

Once again I credit the probiotic capsule with adding some oomph to the dough.  Look at those air pockets!

Also look at how thin that slice is. That’s down to my new bread knife which was something of a revelation. I’ve never been able to cut bread that thin or that well before.  See? This is what happens when you don’t use crap tools.

I also made half a gallon of filmjölk, and it’s the best batch yet. It’s so smooth and buttery, I could just about drink it all down in one sitting. The beautiful tang of it made me decide to use some of the batch as a starter for cream so I can make cultured butter. I’m also wondering if I can over-ferment it slightly to make it very thick, and then strain out the whey. Would I get a mild, thick yogurt-type food?

The resting kefir came out of the fridge this afternoon. I’m going to strain the grains out and toss it because it’s clearly over-fermented, in spite of being in the refrigerator, and I’m going to make a large batch, then rest the grains again. I may prefer filmjölk, but for the time being I want to get as many different cultures into my system as I can.

To that end, and because I am putting the kombucha experiments on hold for the time being, I’m getting some water kefir grains to see what I can do with them.

Honestly, cooking isn’t so much a hobby for me as it is an alchemical art.