The Artsy Engineer, Seraphina, and a mini-review of Shadowscale

sscaleAre there any Seraphina fans out there? I just finished reading Shadowscale and was reminded of how much I love the concept behind this book. (Very mild spoilers for Seraphina follow).

Seraphina is half-dragon, half-human. So she has this wonderful, human artistic side that she pours into her music. But her half-dragon side is brainy, analytical, intellectual. It’s a perfect band-nerd dichotomy that she struggles with every day.

As an artsy engineer myself, I struggle with this dichotomy every day, so I identify intensely with Seraphina. It’s what made the eponymous first novel so compelling for me, and it got me through the somewhat rougher second novel, Shadowscale, too.

All-dragon types should avoid Shadowscale, as it has some plot inconsistencies and other technical issues. On the other hand, those of you who loved Seraphina’s garden in the first novel will love exploring it further. And my half-dragon, half-human, mixed up engineer friends out there will love it most of all.

Readers: Any half-dragon / half-human types out there? Or is it just me and Seraphina?

Library Loot: Back for the Summer

librarylootnewLibrary Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by The Captive Reader and Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

I’m back to the library after spending a month or two reading through my backlist of ‘owned’ books. It feels wonderful, and so RIGHT, to be hauling out sacks of books from the library on a hot(ish) summer day!! Here’s a few selections:

What did you pick up this week?

vander

From a favorite blogger

brightplaces

I forgot how annoying teenagers are!

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A new – and bookish – release

Reading the Backlist, part 3: Rumer Godden

bredeThis week, I’m continuing my exploration of favorite authors’ backlists by picking up In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden.

Godden’s 1945 novel, Take Three Tenses, was one of my Top Ten Books in 2014 as well as a recommendation from Jo Walton in her book, What Makes This Book So Great. It was a short, very feminist book about the life of a house over 100 years. (Check out this interesting publisher’s note from the wartime printing).

I skipped ahead over 20 years of Godden’s work when I opened In This House of Brede, which is a thick novel about the lives of Benedictine nuns. It was a very different experience, and one that was probably colored by my expectations from Take Three Tenses

In This House of Brede could easily be a TV miniseries. Although there is an overarching plot in the spiritual development of Dame Phillippa the executive-turned-nun, this book is really a string of subplots involving scandal, money troubles, intrigue, and personal crises among the nuns. There’s also a lot of info-dumping about how a Benedictine monastery works, and about the changes taking place in the Catholic church in the 1950s.

I was initially intrigued by Dame Phillippa’s story, because she started as an executive-level businesswoman (type unspecified) in her 40’s. Based on my expectations from Take Three Tenses, I expected this very feminist character to further develop her leadership skills when she became a nun, and triumph in that way. Nope – this was primarily a book about spiritual development, and so instead, she grows in humility and patience while working on her personal issues. Plus, she does this somewhat in the background, because there’s so much other drama going on around her. By the end of the book, her narrative has almost been dropped, and is wrapped up for a hasty conclusion.

In the end, I’m not warning anyone off of In This House of Brede. Just don’t read it because you loved Take Three Tenses. If you  are looking for entertainment in the form of a dramatic, soap-y read about Benedictine nuns, this is a good offering.

Readers: Have you tried anything else by Rumer Godden?

Reading the Backlist, part 2 – Elizabeth Wein

This week, I’ve been digging deeper into Elizabeth Wein’s backlist.

I first fell in love with this author’s work when I read Code Name Verity. Rose Under Fire was just as good, and I have her latest release, Black Dove White Raven, on my TBR (here’s a really positive review from In Bed With Books, and a less enthusiastic one from Bookshelf Fantasies). All are excellent character-driven YA novels with unusual historical settings, and a moderately strong feminist perspective. lionhunter

Last year, I dipped into her backlist when I read the Mark of Solomon series which wins my award for diversity in setting: Aksum (modern-day Ethiopia) in the sixth century A.D. While I loved being introduced to a new world, and there was nothing really wrong with the books, I wasn’t in love with them either. I blogged more about this series last August – we’ll call that Reading the Backlist, part 1.

This spring, I picked up her very first novel, The Winter Prince, as well as its sequel, A Coalition of Lions. winprince First novels are tricky beasts – but The Winter Prince satisfied in every way. It was wildly imaginative with an interesting structure, and I zoomed through it in a single day. It focuses on the story of Mordred in the Arthurian legend. If you’re not familiar, Mordred is the incestuous son of King Arthur and his sister, and he can play a very dark role in the Arthurian saga. In this case, the story focuses on Mordred’s perspective on the later part of Arthur’s story as he is explaining it to his highly dramatic and influential mother. It’s also the story of Mordred’s relationship with his half-sister and half-brother, and his eventual ability for self-determination. In strength and scope, if not in subject matter, The Winter Prince is the equal of Wein’s later novels such as Code Name Verity.

coallionsI can’t say as much for A Coalition of Lions. This story picks up where The Winter Prince left off, but follows the story of Mordred’s half sister as she flees Arthur’s crumbling kingdom after a series of disasters that have occurred between the two books. Her flight takes her to Aksum in Ethiopia (sound familiar?) where she is involved in court intrigue to ensure the future stability of Arthur’s empire. It may be my own distaste for court intrigue related plots, or it could be related to my lack of enthusiasm for this author’s Aksum books, but I’d recommend skipping A Coalition of Lions.

However, if you are a fan of Wein’s recent novels, definitely give The Winter Prince a try.

Readers, what’s your favorite Wein novel?

Read-through Reviews: More New Gluten Free Cookbooks

Wrapping up gluten-free cookbook week on the blog, I’ll review the final two cookbooks from my library loot. Check out my first two reviews if you haven’t already.

photoI check out a lot of cookbooks from the library. When I get them home, I do a quick read-through of each one to make sure that it’s something that fits my family’s tastes and needs. In the area of gluten-free cooking especially, some books may rely on a flour or ingredient that we don’t use. Do I want to spend my time making substitutions in an unfamiliar cookbook, or move on to something that’s a better fit?

 

3. The Gluten Free Vegetarian Family Cookbook by Susan O’Brien

So far, I’ve reviewed only baking books, so although we’re not vegetarians, I was excited to look through some what’s-for-dinner recipes.

The style of the cookbook was very simple: black and white, one page per recipe, with a few color pages for pictures in the middle. Flipping through the cookbook, I noticed a great feature: the top outside corner of some pages marked with a gray disk reading “Quick and Easy”. This made it really easy to zero in on the recipes I was most likely to try.

Even though the breakfast section was mostly baked goods involving vegan ingredients like almond meal, coconut oil and palm sugar that we don’t normally eat, I found a few recipes that I want to try. The teff and chia seed waffles sounded good, mostly because I have a bag of each laying around that I don’t know what to do with. I hope the teff waffles don’t taste like horse feed like the last thing I made with teff.  There are also two protein bar recipes – one a fairly standard oat-seed-peanut butter-brown rice syrup concoction that I’ve probably made before, and another made from all seeds and brown rice syrup that is recommended for a pre exercise snack.

The rest of the cookbook was some serious veggie lovin’ – even the stuffed mushrooms were veggie stuffed. This is no starch, tofu, and fake meat cookbook – it reminded me more of the Moosewood cookbooks, especially the low fat one. While I would have eaten most of the recipes, my veggie-averse family wouldn’t, so I moved on…

4. Let Them Eat Cake – by Gesine Bullock-Prado

Ahh. Back to baking. This cookbook doesn’t even bother with boring bread and muffins – it’s all dessert. It’s also not strictly a gluten-free cookbook. Rather, it offers gluten free variations as well as vegan and “healthy” ones.

l admit it. I went straight to the Pop-tarts. And I wondered: would the author offer me an actual alternate gluten-free recipe, or just tell me to substitute a GF blend? Because I could do that with any cookbook. As it turns out, the recipe does provide a reasonable looking sorghum/brown rice flour blend with potato starch and tapioca, although the resulting dough is noted as “delicate to work with”. Some of the other recipes, like the brownie variations, had a much sketchier flour substitution – cornstarch.

I found the cookbook hard to browse; although it was in color, most of the color was dedicated to cute formatting, borders, and boxes for all the variations. There were few pictures, and I found myself skipping through recipes. In the end, the recipes I found were similar to ones I have in other cookbooks already, like Samoas – try The Ultimate Gluten Free Cookie Cookbook if your ears perked up for that one – coffee cake, cherry pie. ice creams. There were some really fancy cakes if you’re into that, but I’m not. In the end, this cookbook just wasn’t the right fit for me.

Final Haul: Two more cookbooks back in the bin, but I finally get to use up that bag of teff.

Remember, I haven’t tried any recipes from these cookbooks yet. Have you? If so, please post here and add your recommendation!

Read-through Reviews: New Gluten Free Cookbooks

Earlier this week, I posted about my library loot: four new gluten-free cookbooks!

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I check out a lot of cookbooks from the library. When I get them home, I do a quick read-through of each one to make sure that it’s something that fits my family’s tastes and needs. In the area of gluten-free cooking especially, some books may rely on a flour or ingredient that we don’t use. Do I want to spend my time making substitutions in an unfamiliar cookbook, or move on to something that’s a better fit?

1. Bread & Butter by Erin McKenna

Written by the author/owner of BabyCakes, this is no simple bread cookbook: It’s all about everything bread – first the recipes, and then what you can do with what you’ve made. Loaves, sandwiches, pizza, crackers, pastry, dips and spreads, and sweet breads (but no muffins or cupcakes). It does have a few odd entries like kale chips – are those just obligatory now? – but overall presents a comprehensive collection of bread recipes, from a basic white loaf to puff pastry to Ethiopian bread.

My family’s take: We don’t eat yeast, so bread books are tricky. Some, but not all, gluten-free bread cookbooks include yeast-free loaves: Gluten-Free on a Shoestring Bakes Bread gives it a good try; Celeste’s Best is a lot more successful. Bread and Butter doesn’t even go there. But I am eager to try some of the cracker recipes: imitation cheez-its, Ritz crackers, and wheat thins look promising. Since most of the recipes include gluten-free oat flour, we’ll have to add that to our repertoire before trying anything out.

2. Gluten-Free Flour Power by Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot

This thick cookbook covers much of the same turf as Bread and Butter, plus adds in pasta and desserts. It looks – and reads – like a more serious cookbook, with lots of detailed instructions and pictures. The format reminded me of the America’s Test Kitchen series, and some of the recipes – kimchi cavatelli with bulgogi sauce – were too ambitious for my purposes.

But can I find some good recipes in it for my family?: The first thing I noticed is this is one of those “flour blend” cookbooks. They offer you three possible flour blends up-front. One, the low-allergy blend containing tapioca flour, sweet rice flour, arrowroot, sorghum, potato flour, and golden flaxseed meal, will work for us. Once again, though, the yeast bread section is just that — all yeast breads, followed by yeasted flatbreads and puff pastry. They’ve even got yeast in the bundt cakes (which are numerous).

I was almost ready to set this book aside, when I found the microwave sweet rice cakes. They’re based on traditional Japanese mochi, but made from sweet rice flour. They look so easy and delicious, and can be served with sweet or savory accompaniments. The authors suggest grilled shrimp or fresh berries and ginger ice cream.

From there, it gets better: peanut butter blondies, chocolate piecrust, and banana butterfinger cream pie all sound good.

Final Haul: A few recipes to try (Ritz crackers and microwave sweet rice cakes)  before putting these two books back in the library bin. I’ll review the other two books in a later post.

Remember, I haven’t tried any recipes from these cookbooks yet. Have you? If so, please post here and add your recommendation!

Library Loot: Four New Gluten-Free Cookbooks

librarylootnew

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by The Captive Reader and Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries

 

For some reason, I got a huge haul of gluten-free cookbooks this week. I’m especially excited about Bread and Butter, which is by the author of Babycakes. I’m hoping I can sneak some Gluten-Free Vegetarian Family Cookbook recipes by my husband, who is a meat-and-potatoes guy. Gluten-Free Flour Power is the thickest book of the bunch, and Let Them Eat Cake is a regular cookbook with GF variations.

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What did you pick up this week?