2017 in Books

There there 3 big trends in my reading in 2017: 1) I decided that my new policy for making sure I got to all the books I was buying in Humble Bundles and Storybundles (and, therefore, not just wasting my money on a “good deal”), was that every time my To-Read list would get to its end, I would start with the earliest book I’d added to Calibre and then work my way up, adding at least one book from each bundle or Project Gutenberg raid. This is why I ended up reading books like Hunt at the Well of Eternity and Black Mercury. 2) I read a LOT of cookbooks. A couple years ago I got into serious BBQing and grilling rather than simply throwing some burgers on the grill on Memorial Day and Independence Day. This year I got into indoor cooking. It started with making bread in a dutch oven and just cascaded into me making 1-2 of our family’s meals per week (on average). 3) I started series I’d been hearing about or discovered via Humble Bundles. This includes getting sucked into Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere universe of books via Humble Bundle, starting GRRM et al’s Wild Cardsseries, and finally starting The Expanse. I’ve also continued my trend of reading multiple books at once. This has the side effect of keeping me interested in reading as I don’t get trapped  by a boring book.

I usually list the books I read and link to their reviews on this blog, but that’s rather tedious and I’m rather short on time (as you might have seen on my post on video games in 2017) so I’m just going to list the books  and if you’re really interested in my review you can use the search function on this site with the title of the book.

  1. The Emperor’s Agent
  2. Hanzai Japan
  3. Tampa
  4. Starship Troopers
  5. Absolute Power: Tales of Queer Villainy
  6. The Forever War
  7. The Girl with All the Gifts
  8. Singular Irregularity
  9. Pretties
  10. Dynamite Art of Alex Ross
  11. Angel’s Ink
  12. Augie and the Green Knight
  13. Hunt at the Well of Eternity
  14. Massively Multiplayer
  15. Black Mercury
  16. The Machine God
  17. Big Pulp Fall 2011
  18. The Making of Prince of Persia
  19. Clipping Through
  20. The LEGO adventure book
  21. To Sue the World
  22. Whiskey and Water
  23. Lightspeed Magazine March 2013
  24. You are Not so Smart
  25. The Handmaid’s Tale
  26. The Trinity Paradox
  27. Warbreaker Audiobook Part 1
  28. Pay Me, Bug!
  29. Solid State
  30. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
  31. Warbreaker Audiobook Part 2
  32. Put this in your Brain
  33. Warbreaker Audiobook Part 3
  34. Uncanny Magazine Nov/Dec 2014
  35. Elantris Audiobook Part 1
  36. Battle Royale Slam Book
  37. Elantris Audiobook Part 2
  38. The Camelot Shadow
  39. Infomacracy
  40. The Hope of Elantris
  41. Elantris Audiobook Part3
  42. Clarkesworld Magazine #124
  43. Wild Cards
  44. Station Breaker
  45. Orbital
  46. The Holy Bible abridged beyond the point of usefulness
  47. Science abridged beyond the point of usefulness
  48. The Lives of Tao
  49. Race for the Iron Throne
  50. Meathead
  51. Buying Time
  52. The Bloodline Feud
  53. Golden Son
  54. Weber Charcoal Grilling
  55. The Mongoliad
  56. Masters of Doom
  57. Raichlen’s BURGERS!
  58. Raichlen’s BBQ Sauces
  59. Weber Big Book of Burgers
  60. Sandman Slim
  61. Cook it in Cast Iron
  62. Project Smoke
  63. To Pixar and Beyond
  64. Milk Street: The New Home Cooking
  65. Leviathan Wakes
  66. Specials
  67. Truckers
  68. ODY-C
  69. Eden M51
  70. Paul Ryan Magazine
  71. Lumiere
  72. Big Pulp Winter 2011
  73. Chew Vol 1
  74. Chew Vol 2
  75. Chew Vol 3
  76. Dead Witch Walking
  77. Cook’s Illustrated 2016 Annual

Review: Dead Witch Walking

Dead Witch Walking (The Hollows, #1)Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I got the book as a part of a bundle, and I’ll say that the cover (same as the one currently associated with the book on Goodreads – a red-head in a backless top and black pants) kept me away from the book for a while. It seemed it might not be up my alley. Interestingly, the cover is a counter-example to the Trope “Covers always Lie” (mostly attributable to comic book covers). It is essentially a depiction of the opening scene of the novel.

Just what is this novel? It takes place in an alternate Earth in which the existence of fantasy humanoids – witches, vampires, werewolves, pixies, and fairies – is common knowledge after an incident that took place in the 1960s. Geographically, it takes place in Cincinnati, Ohio. There is essentially a human side of town and an Inderlander (the fantasy creatures) side of town. Our main character works for the Inderlander version of the FBI when the novel starts. The meat of the story is both setting up this universe for the sequels and our protagonist’s quest to find the evidence necessary to bring in a mob boss who is careful to maintain a legitimate front. It’s a fun cop plot with all the usual tropes coated in urban fantasy paint.

As usual with fantasy or urban fantasy, a lot of the fun comes from learning the rules that govern the fantasy world of THIS book. Ms. Harrison has taken the trope of vampirism as metaphor for sexuality to 11 with this world. A lot of vampire rituals involve sexual acts and vamps essentially glamor their victims into lusting after then. Additionally, a lot of that can feedback on itself where the more a vamp gets in the mood, the more they make the human in the mood and on and on. Some of the scenes involving a vamp are among the most sensual I’ve read in 2017.

I’m not hooked on the characters and the settings. With all the sequel-laden books I have on my list, I don’t think I’m going to continue in this world. It’s a fun one and Ms. Harrison does a good job taking us on a fun, sexy journey. But I’m drowning in books to read, so a series has to have just that right hook to keep me going.

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Review: Chew, Vol. 3: Just Desserts

Chew, Vol. 3: Just DessertsChew, Vol. 3: Just Desserts by John Layman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finally got the last hardcover book and I can read Chew in its entirety. I’ve only read the first five trades. After that the anticipation was driving me nuts, so I resolved to wait until the series was done to read it all in one shot. That’s what I’ve just started this week. In the end, I’ll have a massive review of the series. Today entry #3.
—–

In 2011:
It seems that, to round off the first 1/4 of the planned 60 issues of Chew, the author has chosen to bring together all the plots from the previous issues. We see the return of many characters including the awesome Poyo. And the cliff-hanger at the end of issue 15 is even a callback to something from the first book. I think this series continues to impress with its twists and turns. And the humor continues to be great. All these books should be in your library.

——

In 2017:

A good interstitial trade. It continues to pay off dividends on plots started in the first book while setting up plots that will be important in the upcoming trades. At the same time it is a return to the police-work and keeps the series from going off the rails too early.

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Review: Chew, Vol. 2: International Flavor

Chew, Vol. 2: International FlavorChew, Vol. 2: International Flavor by John Layman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finally got the last hardcover book and I can read Chew in its entirety. I’ve only read the first five trades. After that the anticipation was driving me nuts, so I resolved to wait until the series was done to read it all in one shot. That’s what I’ve just started this week. In the end, I’ll have a massive review of the series. Today entry #2.
—–
2011 review:
Chew: International Flavor # 1 – Chew: International Flavor
This book is just as great as the first one. We take a bit of a pause from what I believe to be the main storyline – the reason Mason left. Still, there are plot threads from the first book that get some more play in this book. So it’s not ignoring continuity at all, but it is definitely taking its time to get to resolution.

A large portion of this book takes place on a Micronesian Island that has a plant that tastes just like chicken. Tony goes on a trip to see what that plant is and how it’s connected to an early case. We also get to see his new partner.

Overall, the same humor continues from before and the art style continues to work perfectly with the writing. The art does tend to impossibly busty women, but I feel that it helps to convey the crazy exaggerated feel of the book and isn’t exploitative. I definitely can’t wait to get to the next book.
—-
2017:

Interestingly, I wrote almost the exact same stuff in my notes. The only thing I’d add is that it’s funny I had no idea how big of a role Poyo would eventually play.

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Review: Chew, Vol. 1: Taster’s Choice

Chew, Vol. 1: Taster's ChoiceChew, Vol. 1: Taster’s Choice by John Layman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finally got the last hardcover book and I can read Chew in its entirety. I’ve only read the first five trades. After that the anticipation was driving me nuts, so I resolved to wait until the series was done to read it all in one shot. That’s what I’ve just started this week. In the end, I’ll have a massive review of the series.
—–

I first read this book in 2011, but I guess I wasn’t writing reviews on goodreads back then. However I did find my review on my blog. Here’s the original 2011 review (2017 review below):

When my younger brother explained the premise of ‘Chew’ to me, I thought it was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard. This guy can see memories of whatever he eats. So eating is a real pain for him because he feels the slaughter. He tastes the fertilizer used on the plant. How could anyone ever make a comic out of that? And it’d won awards? WTF?

Then he told me about how Tony Chu worked for the FDA and that they were essentially like the FBI in this comic world. And, after the bird flu, chicken was banned in the US and it had become like alcohol in the 1920s. My interest was piqued. Then he brought the comic over to my house. I really dug the art style. It looks similar to a style that the Penny Arcade guys have used from time to time.

He left me the first three graphic novels to read. After finishing the first one, I have to say that you NEED to read this. This book is a dose of creativity that’s missing from the mainstream comics. Don’t get me wrong – I’m reading and loving a bunch of typical super hero stories by the big two publishers – but we need a lot more amazingly creative ideas like Chew if we want to keep the comic book industry alive.

I don’t think it’s printed anywhere on the outside of the book, so just a fair warning that this is essentially an organized crime story. There are guns, blood, and crazy violence. There is profanity. This book is not for the dainty or for young children.

—-

2017 review:
The first time I read this I was in WTF mode. Going back and reading this, Layman’s comedic timing is pretty incredible. The pacing and punchlines are great, even when it’s less of a surprise than it was the first time around. I also like the way Layman doles out the cibo-powers. One of my faves for this book is the hospital reveal. With knowledge of only the first five trades, it’s also interesting how much foreshadowing Layman packs into the first book. I don’t think I even gave the frogs all over the one scene much thought.

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Review: Big Pulp: Interrogate My Heart Instead

Big Pulp: Interrogate My Heart InsteadBig Pulp: Interrogate My Heart Instead by Bill Olver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As per usual for anthologies, a collection of my status updates:

“Interrogate my Heart Instead” – an interrogation in a fascist regime that goes to some interesting places because of its brevity and the look inside the interrogator’s head.

“What Blooms in Winter” – HOLY MOLY! Now, that’s a poem.

“Double Prints” – BAM. Raw, raw poetry!

“Tears in the River” – Some kind of deal with devil for guitar playing skills in the 40s in Germany. Very interesting tone, scenery, and characters.

“The Cinnamon Forest” – a very cute fairytale. Brought me back to my childhood days of hearing European fairytales.

“Gregory finds his way” – That was pretty trippy.

“Voice of the Witch” – Ha, a poem about Hansel and Gretel.

“The Daimyo’s Harigata” – I had no idea what a harigata was before reading this. I did a google define search and…well. Let’s just say that the author puts this to good use in a plot I didn’t see coming at all. It’s also full of great dark humor.

“A Thug Like Me” – a great story; worth of neo-pulp status. I really, really enjoyed it. Every bit, including the slight 4th wall breakage near the end.

“Watching You” – fun poem

“Woman in White” – Another great example of neo-pulp. Very dark & tailored to the base senses. Also, good, surprise ending.

“Beauty and the Punchline” – mystery that’s also somewhat urban fantasy? At least that’s what I think from the ending. Despite the weird ending that I’m not 100% sure about, I think the reveal is pretty good and only just barely saw it coming at the last minute.

“The Battle of Hutchinson’s Crossroads” – that was such a great ending. And so good at showing the emotion of war.

“In the nick of Mime” – a pretty funny take on the spy thriller short story.

“Daddy’s Little Girl” – a neat story about a paparazzi and his mark. It didn’t go where I thought it would, but I’m glad. It was a good story.

A series of gruesome poems

“Last of the Irish Rover” – a sailor’s tale

“Murder Knife” – a creepy story told in a reverse chronology.

“Knock-Knock” – Pretty hilarious deconstruction and reconstruction of the Christian afterlife

“Meat Bag” – That was a surprise given the title. Somewhat scary considering it’s something that could truly happen. But scary in the sense that humanity can be all about the money sometimes instead of compassion.

“Influx Capacitor” – Hilarious take on time travel paradox

Some funny poems

“Live today, forget tomorrow” – super short story, but GREAT twist!

“Saturday Station” – neat dystopian story

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Review: Lumière

Lumière (The Illumination Paradox, #1)Lumière by Jacqueline Garlick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #71 for 2017 was this gem I’d overlooked on previous trawls through Calibre to select which book I’d read next. I’d have to check Calibre later to check my tags, but I’m pretty sure I got this book from one of the Storybundles – maybe Steampunk or maybe Alternate History. Either one works given what we learn of the world throughout the book. This is a long-winded way of saying that I didn’t choose this book on its own merits, I own it because it was part of a bundle I found interesting.

I’m no Steampunk know-it-all, I’m just a fan of the genre. But what I like about Lumière is that the steampunk elements are window dressing rather than the main focus. Compare it to the difference between a movie with 3D as a gimmick vs using 3D as an element of the storytelling or simply to add depth. Lumière is an example of the latter. Yes, there is an inexplicable device at the center of this plot, but it’s neither a MacGuffin nor does it dominate the story. Outside of that, there are a few devices used here and there, but it’s mostly a Victorian society with some tech that straddles steampunk and magic. It’s almost Urban Steampunk Fantasy if things aren’t being called magic by unreliable narrators.

So, if it’s not a story for tech’s sake or a caper (as many steampunk novels seem to be), what is it? Well, it’s mostly a character study with hints of romanticism and also using the Victorian setting to comment on both feminism and superstition. Let’s take these one at a time, even if this review is going to end up getting a bit rambly.

While I love the things Ms. Garlick does differently than most Steampunk novels, I also enjoy one thing she does that seems to be a staple of steampunk – have a female protagonist. (Well, to be accurate, somewhere around the midpoint it becomes a multiple point of view novel in which one of the POVs is a male) I don’t know why this segment of SF ends up so female-centric vs traditional SF, but I think it’s a good thing. We need more females – especially written by women. There is a different tone to things – thought processes, gaze (as in male gaze or female gaze), pacing, and of course the way love/sex/attraction is treated. Of course, men can succeed at this and women can succeed at the exact opposite, but there’s just something about writing what you know that tends to work out better. And, as a male-bodied person, it’s always refreshing for me to see things from a different point of view. And I could be completely speaking out of turn, but I think it’s this female-writer influence that strongly affected the way the one bit of female/female conflict plays out.

Sticking with Eyelet, our main character, I also enjoyed a rising trend I’ve noticed in indie SF and fantasy – including a protagonist who isn’t neurotypical. I’ve noticed a lot more autistic or spectrum heroes recently. Eyelet isn’t autistic, but she does suffer from seizures. Of course, in a Victorian society women are more vulnerable than now (although with all the news recently you wonder, don’t you?) because they are legally second-class citizens. Eyelet, as brilliant women have done in the real world, struggles against this and the view of women as too weak for strenuous work and thought and then has to deal with something that seems to prove she’s too weak that she has no control over. Additionally, it obviously puts her at greater bodily harm risk both sexually (which I don’t remember being in this book – again probably because it’s not written by a guy) but also from passing out at the wrong time – which is something she deals with as the plot needs. Of course, it’s also worse for her as Ms. Garlick explores the issues with science giving way to superstition and a somewhat accurate explanation of what we used to do to people who had disabilities even if they were disabilities that allowed them to function well in society most of the time. Victorians through to the modern period finding people deathly afraid of shame.

As a character study based on POV chapters, most of Eyelet and Ulrick’s (the guy) growth comes from the fact that they had imperfect knowledge surrounding their circumstances. So they force each other to grow as they literally take each other out of their figurative cocoons. (Eyelet from her city and Ulrick from his fortress-home) Ulrick had two paths available to him as a disfigured outcast – to become the most macho-est of machos or withdrawn. Ms. Garlick goes with withdrawn. This leads to fun moments as Ms. Garlick plays with the trope of “OH MY GOD YOU SHOWED AN ANKLE!” that makes fun of our nudity taboos by pointing out how strict they were back then. That they are both outcasts makes the subplot between them a fun bit of tension that you can see somewhat reflected in my status updates rather than a boring cliche. Speaking of breaking cliches, I love that (view spoiler)

The growth of the main characters was great as well as necessary. Because the one and only complaint I have is that the book doesn’t end the plot. Yes, something major happens, but it’s not like The Matrix (first movie) or The Hunger Games that tells a complete story. Yes, there’s more to be done – hence the trilogies – but you could read the first book, stop, and be happy. This book 100% ends with a wink at the audience (ALMOST literally) that the characters will be back. I know, I know – we haven’t gone 100% digital yet so books have to be a certain length to fit in people’s hands. But I think a trilogy should expand on an already completed story, not exist simply because it would be absurd to have a 1000 page book. (Tell that to GRRM) Anyway, my gripe is over. It was a great story of character growth and that was good enough.

Anyway, there’s a lot left unexplored at the end. If you’ve read my reviews before, you know that’s not enough by itself to guarantee I’ll come back. I won’t DNF a book because I have to see how the book ends, but I feel no such compulsion against series. When it comes to The Illumination Paradox ……. I CAN’T WAIT TO READ THE NEXT TWO. I’ll have to wait because I have a long TBR list, but I have added the books to my to read list and will probably be getting to them in a few months. (Unless the Winds of Winter comes out)

I’m probably forgetting some stuff I wanted to comment on, but that’s what the comments section of Goodreads (and my blog when this ends up there) are for.

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Review: Paul Ryan

Paul RyanPaul Ryan by James Folta
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

disclaimer: I was in the Kickstarter for this

I was excited about this project because we need a laugh from politics now. Also, it was going to be style parodies of various magazines. But, I forgot something – humor is very subjective. And so I often found myself wondering when I was going to finally finish this blasted thing. Just as with my biggest criticism of SNL for the past decade or so – the smaller articles tended to work best. The longer ones just stretched what was usually a pretty thin joke even thinner.

This is the first creative thing I’ve kickstarted where I wish I’d just saved my money. Oh well.

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Review: Eden M51

Eden M51Eden M51 by G.R. Paskoff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I recieved this book in exchange for a review (I think – I can’t remember, but I know it was something I either got for review or as a free prime read-ahead book)

This book combined a few things I enjoy: space sci-fi, religion, first contact, and thriller mysteries. Overall the combination works well. Paskoff does a good job nesting the mysteries so that the reader is still discovering new truths about the plot at the 95% mark. I also appreciate that Paskoff knows his strengths and weaknesses and so does fade to black sex scenes rather than subjecting us to potential entries to the awkward sex scenes article the guardian puts out every year.

There is a plot point that appears to borrow from a CS Lewis series and I like the way Paskoff rolls with it.

Since it’s a mystery, I don’t want to get into too many plot points. But I will mention that I think Paskoff did a good job of building up even many of the smaller characters. The reader does end up feeling strongly about what happens to them.

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Review: Truckers: The First Book of the Nomes

Truckers: The First Book of the NomesTruckers: The First Book of the Nomes by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While this book started off kind of slowly, it does eventually pick up and get pretty darn interesting. The story begins with the last of the nomes making a desperate play to try and leave their lives behind because they’re in danger of going extinct. The lack of nomes doesn’t leave them with enough “manpower” to hunt or keep predators away. They end up at a department store and discover that thousands of nomes live there.

At that point the plotting picks up and the story becomes a satire of blindly following religion in the face of opposing proof, a satire of politics, and a fish out of water story. There are lots of cute jokes around what the nomes have interpreted about human culture since they’re unable to understand humans. If you remember Disney’s The Little Mermaid – think about the way Scuttle describes the human artifacts to Ariel.

The book eventually drops its plot twist: (view spoiler).

I didn’t find it as funny or well-plotted as his Discworld books, but it was only his second attempt at a YA book. And Nation was awesome, if not comical at all.

Give it a shot if you’re a Pratchett completionist. I think it eventually redeems itself, but I wouldn’t recommend that you go out of your way to read it.

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Review: Specials

Specials (Uglies, #3)Specials by Scott Westerfeld
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The story of Tally Youngblood is over. At least, the Extras chapters that were included at the end of this book seemed to suggest it was a kind of epilogue to the Tally Trilogy.

I didn’t like this book as much as the the first two. The thing is, I can’t quite put my finger on why that is. Westerfield certainly writes great chapter-ending cliffhangers. This is probably one of the fastest completion times of any books I’ve read this year. It pulled me in enough that I spent the last few nights reading for half an hour before passing out asleep. Yet, as a whole it didn’t pull me in. My pop-psychology studies have warned me that trying to put a finger on why you like or dislike something tends to end up with your brain making up a plausible answer that isn’t necessarily the right answer. But, I guess if I had to put my finger on it it’s that some of the wins like (view spoiler) felt a little unearned after all the animosity between them. The book, for all its setup (especially if you include Pretties) seems a little rushed at the end.

That said, there was a lot to recommend about this book. More than the other two books, it really does a great job of making the case that there is no perfect society. We often read these dystopic books in which it’s implied that everything will be awesome if society can lift the yoke and become like us. And that ignores that we’ve got a lot of bad stuff going on even among our time of great personal freedom. Westerfield shows both the positive and negative aspects of Tally’s world, our world, and the potential new world. In fact, Tally’s final chapter is a thesis about still needing some checks on freedom.

In world building, it’s fun to see Westerfield make a nod to another SF staple – grey goo. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a possible human-made destructive scenario where we make self-replicating nano-machines that go awry and replicate over the entire world, consuming it all for the resources to replicate. Even though it’s mention in the other two books, this book also really brought home the fact that the world has reverted to city-states in the sense of Ancient Greece.

In other random things, while Shay and Tally fail the Bechdel Test (the source of all their friction is conflict over a boy), I did think it work to convey how at that age (they’re 16 – we’ll return to that later) relationships with those you’re attracted to can destroy your platonic relationships. Speaking of relationships, I thought the Tally/Zane arc was a good, if heightened, example of caring for someone who had once had all their faculties, but was now a little more frail. (Think of someone going through alzheimer’s or getting into a paralyzing accident) I also enjoyed the interesting body modifications we see late in the book.

In things I wasn’t quite a fan of, there was the cutting. I was a pretty straight-laced kid. No drugs or booze or cutting. I was a fair deal more religious then so most of my internal drama came from the tug of war of wanting to mess around with girls and finding a way to square that with the man upstairs. So I don’t know what goes through the mind of those who are or have been cutters. (or even if it’s offensive or demeaning to put their mental state into such a trivial word – cutter) But for a YA book I was left unsure of how I felt about Tally getting into a higher mind state from her cutting. I’m not into censorship. And I think kids and teens tend to be smarter about things than we give them credit. But it made me feel weird. Maybe that’s just an artifact of being older/being a parent. The other thing that was slightly odd was that Tally’s naked a lot in the latter half of this book. And that probably wouldn’t have been as squicky had the book not constantly reminded me that she was 16. So…yeah…..

But talking about 16, I think that was one thing that threw me off on this trilogy. Tally does and goes through a LOT and I think only a year or so has passed. When she has that thought somewhere near the end it through me for a bit of a loop. So she went from the uglyville to the smoke prettytown to specials in the span of a year? Plus all the stuff that’s happened (that I don’t want to spoil) in the cities since the second book. It seems a bit much.

Overall, I think it was a good ending to Tally’s story. She has some good personal growth. The world is different, but it’s not like suddenly everything’s rainbows and unicorns. It’s not my favorite ending to a trilogy, but it’s not bad and I’m glad I went on that hoverboard ride.

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Review: Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse, #1)Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So, I’m late to this series. There’s 7 books out of a planned 9 (plus novellas). There’s a TV show that I hear the authors love, despite its deviations from the books. (I haven’t seen it yet) I heard an interview on Sword and Laser with the two men who make up James S.A. Corey and the series intrigued me; especially the part where the first book was a noir detective story. I LOVE those. Plus I’ve really been getting into working-man-in-space stories since many of our SF stories are about the best of the best (or people destined to become best of the best). JSAC makes a reference to Alien in an interview added to the end of this book and I agree with that.

Just like George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones (who is also mentioned in the post-story interview) this book switched POV chapters and has opening and closing chapters with POVs who aren’t main POV chapter characters for the rest of the book.

I really enjoyed this book and I thought JSAC did a great job of balancing heroics with realism. Yeah, it’s a heroic tale in which the protagonists are mostly great and the enemy is mostly evil. But there are important shades of grey as well as a world that operates realistically in the way it deals with news. In 2017’s Fake News and so on era, this book even hits harder than it did when first published.

I want to leave you with this quote I loved from the epilogue because I love the honesty of how death so dramatically changes our memories:

“He was a good man,” Holden said.
“He wasn’t,” Fred said. “But he did his job. And now I’ve got to go do
mine.”

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Review: To Pixar and Beyond: My Unlikely Journey with Steve Jobs to Make Entertainment History

To Pixar and Beyond: My Unlikely Journey with Steve Jobs to Make Entertainment HistoryTo Pixar and Beyond: My Unlikely Journey with Steve Jobs to Make Entertainment History by Lawrence Levy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think this book would probably pair quite well with Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, although I haven’t read that one. If it’s about the movies they were making at the same time that this book takes place, that’d be brilliant. If it’s also about management, that wouldn’t be horrible – at the very least it would be told from a different point of view – from that of an insider. This book is about how Steve Jobs tapped Lawrence Levy to be the CFO of Pixar in its darkest hour. Levy then leads the company through a series of situations that without a combination of his skill and some luck would have left us in a poorer cultural state.

I came to this book already knowing the general outline of Pixar’s history because I’m an animation geek. But I had no idea of the many leadership obstacles it took to get there. In this book I learned of the original deal Pixar and Disney had and how it would have killed the goose that laid the golden eggs. It was also interesting to see how Steve Jobs was moderated by Levy, but also provided a backbone for Levy in negotiations.

It’s a bit light on the struggles of creating movies from a story standpoint, but it’s very strong on details of how they created a company that is equal parts technology company and movie studio.

The ending reveals that the entire thing has to do with Buddhism, but I won’t spoil how it all goes together.

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Review: Milk Street: The New Home Cooking

Milk Street: The New Home CookingMilk Street: The New Home Cooking by Christopher Kimball
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As you know by now, I like my recipes to have introductions. These can serve many purposes. They can introduce an unfamiliar recipe, contain a bit of biography, or explain different techniques the author has tried so that as you improvise you don’t repeat mistakes unnecessarily. Chris Kimball does all of that and also has some ideas about replacing ingredients if you can’t find the ingredients he’s talking about.

The thesis of this cookbook is that there isn’t ethnic cooking anymore. There’s just cooking. You cook whatever you want from wherever in the world it originates. He takes a lot of skills he learned at America’s Test Kitchen and tends to go for simplicity over authenticity as long as the taste is preserved or improved. So if a recipe traditionally takes 4 hours and he found a way to do it in 1 hr while still tasting good, he tells you how to do that.

This is a very global book so this isn’t the place to go to for recipes that are traditional Americana fare. There are other cookbooks for that. This cookbook is Kimball introducing America to world cooking while taking advantage of our cooking techniques, tools, and easy-to-find ingredients. I noted many recipes I’d like to try as a window into other cuisines.

If you’re an adventurous cook who likes the ATK style (since Kimball was there for a long time), this is a great cookbook for you.

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Review: Project Smoke: Seven Steps to Smoked Food Nirvana, Plus 100 Irresistible Recipes from Classic (Slam-Dunk Brisket) to Adventurous (Smoked Bacon-Bourbon Apple Crisp)

Project Smoke: Seven Steps to Smoked Food Nirvana, Plus 100 Irresistible Recipes from Classic (Slam-Dunk Brisket) to Adventurous (Smoked Bacon-Bourbon Apple Crisp)Project Smoke: Seven Steps to Smoked Food Nirvana, Plus 100 Irresistible Recipes from Classic (Slam-Dunk Brisket) to Adventurous by Steven Raichlen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Everything you ever wanted to smoke, plus a bunch of tips. Very clear guidelines on the tools you need and what food to buy. A great intro paragraph or two on why Raichlen likes this food and why his recipe works. Also, sometimes some alternate ways to cook – like grill vs smoker or hot vs cold-smoking. Note, this one is not for tyros. Newbies would be better served by Raichlen’s BBQ Bible or Meathead’s book: Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling

If I had to give it one fault it’s a call for smoking with hay without explaining what kind or where to get it. (Or maybe I blanked out while reading that section) And the internet is no help it’s either people saying they think it would stink to high heaven or that restaurants are starting to use it. Also, went to a farm and they only sell straw – is that ok? Book doesn’t answer that.

Overall, it’s a wonderful companion to his PBS show of the same name. It’s a great BBQ Smoking cookbook and I have added a lot of recipes to my personal wiki.

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