Review: Cook It in Cast Iron: Kitchen-Tested Recipes for the One Pan That Does It All

Cook It in Cast Iron: Kitchen-Tested Recipes for the One Pan That Does It All (Cook's Country)Cook It in Cast Iron: Kitchen-Tested Recipes for the One Pan That Does It All by America’s Test Kitchen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve only made a couple recipes from the book, but I love a lot about it. I like the technical section that opens the book. I really like all the descriptions that preface each recipe. It gives you an idea of what they tried and how it screwed them up – key since everyone I know who’s a really good cook improvises. So why end up making a mistake they already made? It also gives context to the recipes and where they come from. I added a good chunk of the recipes to my to-cook personal wiki. I’ll adjust the stars later if the recipes turn out to be hard to follow – but that usually isn’t the case when it’s something from America’s Test Kitchen. (This is from the Cook’s Country side of the house)

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Review: Weber’s Big Book of Burgers: The Ultimate Guide to Grilling Backyard Classics

Weber's Big Book of Burgers: The Ultimate Guide to Grilling Backyard ClassicsWeber’s Big Book of Burgers: The Ultimate Guide to Grilling Backyard Classics by Jamie Purviance
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What it says in the title and more. It’s burgers, dogs, etc. All the stuff you think of when you think of prototypical non-nerdy American grilling. Lots of good recipes with lots of variation – including lots of variations on veggie burgers that aren’t mushroom-based. There are a few even I (an avowed carnivore) would like to try. If I had to fault the book it would be that, unlike Meathead, America’s Test Kitchen, or Milk Street – there’s no context to the recipes. You just have recipe after recipe. No mention of why the ingredients work or where Jamie Purviance got the recipes from. I’ve grown to really appreciate this context and how it helps me appreciate the recipe and understand how it was put together so that I understand how best to modify it as I go through iterations.

That said, I added just under half the recipes in the book to my to-try cooking list on my personal wiki. I’m excited about the variations and having some guidance on where to go. I’ve done some experimentation with burgers before, but the varieties are so vast I haven’t quite known where to go with them. And with a trend towards eating healthier as we get older, I don’t have tons of opportunities to try out variations if one of them sucks. So a curated list like this one from an author I can trust is a boon. Who knows, we may even find out next favorite burger in here, supplanting Meathead’s Diner Burgers as the current king of burgers in our house.

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Review: Barbecue Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades–Bastes, Butters & Glazes, Too

Barbecue Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades--Bastes, Butters & Glazes, TooBarbecue Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades–Bastes, Butters & Glazes, Too by Steven Raichlen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Raichlen has put together a great book on all the things that add flavor to our grilled, BBQ’d, and smoked foods. As is his style, he adds a biography for each of the recipes that explains where it comes from or where he discovered it and what it goes well with. He also includes a few recipes that include both the meat and the accompaniment. I wish he had more pointers to recipes from Project Smoke or the Barbecue Bible to help provide more illustrations of what goes well together. A lot of it was “this goes well with grilled beef”, but I wish I had just a few more examples of which flavors go well together. Especially when talking about bastes and butters that would likely be combined with rubs, seasonings, or other flavorings. Speaking of which, he has lots of sections with definitions and I now know the difference between those.

I think this is a great accompaniment to someone who’s already a grill master or pit master to help add some creativity to their traditional output. It’s not a how-to book like his other books (because those other books already exist), it’s a book to expand your horizons.

Final note, it’s been interesting to compare Raichlen to Meathead. Raichlen was classically trained in Paris (unless I’m misremembering) and gravitated towards BBQ recipe authorship. Meathead was a reporter who moved towards book writing. Meathead’s recommendations come with scientific backing while Raichlen’s are rooted in a mix of trial/error and classical recipes. They compliment each other well although I tend to err on the side of Meathead when they disagree since he and Dr Blonder seem to really love the scientific method.

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Review: Raichlen’s Burgers

Raichlen's BurgersRaichlen’s Burgers by Steven Raichlen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What I like about this book is that Raichlen gives a little biography about each burger recipe. I’ve got tons of new recipes to try. I also like that he’s got some recipes for sides and sauces at the end. It’s not as comprehensive as some of his other books, but I got it free in exchange for getting his newsletter, so I wasn’t expecting too much.

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Review: Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture

Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop CultureMasters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture by David Kushner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once again Will Wheaton knocks it out of the park as narrator.

Kushner does a great job telling the story of The Johns who created Doom. I was just a kid when those games were coming out and while my dad didn’t mind us playing Castle Wolfenstein and Doom, my mom wasn’t cool with it. So most of this was on my periphery and it was great to read the history of how transformative this game was and what a genius Carmack was with his engine work. I wish the book was an update version that covered the VR work Carmack has done recently – it ties in perfectly with the threat Kushner was pushing about VR and Snow Crash and how Doom was the first step in that direction.

Anyway, this book is a great history of how The Johns changed video games with awesome narration.

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Review: The Mongoliad: Book One

The Mongoliad: Book One (Foreworld, #1)The Mongoliad: Book One by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book grew on me slowly. At first I was intrigued, but wasn’t hooked. But eventually I grew to really love both the Gansukh/Lian chapters and the Korean/Japanese fighters’ chapters. The historical fiction is Neal Stephenson at his best and I did eventually enjoy the chapters with Cnan and the Shield-Brethren.

To some degree the western chapters are a medieval road trip/quest story. The Gansukh chapters are a palace intrigue story. They don’t really overlap other than both have Ogedai Khan as a central character.

So, there isn’t much yet to say about this story as it appears to be progressing extremely slowly and not only is there not a resolution to anything in this book, it ends on several cliffhangers. I’ll read the rest of the trilogy (which I got for $0.99 each on sale on Amazon), but at this point in time I’m not dying to get to them.

Stephenson has done a good job, but I’m more of a SF than a historical fiction person – especially when it comes to this part of the world.

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Review: Golden Son

Golden Son (Red Rising, #2)Golden Son by Pierce Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

To be fair to Mr. Brown, I find it hard to fairly rate second books in a trilogy. They have to both be the middle part of what is essentially one large story split into 3 books (or pdfs or epubs) and also as a standalone book have a beginning, climax, and resolution. So this tends to leave them a little unfulfilling. I’ve noticed (and mentioned in a few reviews) that with most modern trilogies the first book is more of a complete book in order to get the reader hooked into the series. The second one seems to be disappointing because it can’t resolve anything or else there wouldn’t need to be a third book. So this book might have a lower rating than I would rate the trilogy as a whole.

That said, it’s been at least 2 years (if not 3) since I listened to the audiobook of Red Rising. So I’d lost a lot of the meaning of the relationships between the characters. And that’s KEY to this book. Really, to the series as a whole. Darrow is a man with no home. He’s playing the politics/civil war game which means he doesn’t know who he can trust. There are people in every aspect of his life who are lying to him and/or spying against him. And, as with any sufficiently complex spy narrative, there are double agents everywhere. So his agonizing over who to trust and who to keep at arms’ length is the core of this book. This is, of course, the problem with a serialized story. Some would have gone back to the first book, but I’ve got 273 books on my To-Read list. I don’t have time for that.

That said, this was a good book. While 3/5 is slightly better than the middle (2.5), the hover-text for 3 stars on Goodreads does say “I liked it”. And that’s true – I did. Brown does a good job furthering Darrow’s story and continuing to complicate matters for him. And the ending of this book finds a way to both be predictable and a complete shock at the exact same time. (Although there’s some phrasing that tips you off right at the end – instead of describing a box as containing something, it says it’s big enough to contain it. And that was strange enough that I got it)

While my favorite thing about SF is learning all the ancillary details of the universe and how it works, I definitely enjoy Brown refraining from info-dumps. Instead you gain a huge insight into how the Golds control the Reds during a paragraph in which someone is describing how they would get the Reds to be more productive.

In fact, I came to a realization while reading the chapter on the Reds. Unlike many other dytopias I’ve read (eg The Hunger Games or The Girl with All the Gifts), the mining Reds don’t actually know they’re living a dystopic life. They know things are tough and so on, but it’s for a supposed purpose. Brown confirmed this realization when he has someone tell Darrow the same thing a few paragraphs later. And this puts Darrow in an interesting situation. In The Hunger Games Katniss knew she had the support of the disenfranchised in the districts. But in the Red Rising trilogy, Darrow does not really have any popular support for his TRUE cause. He has support from Golds for his military prowess. He has support from lowColors and Reformers for tweaking things and perhaps reducing the burden on lowColors. But no one outside the Sons of Ares knows his true purpose.

We’ll see where it all goes with Morning Star.

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Review: The Bloodline Feud (The Merchant Princes, #1-2)

The Bloodline Feud (The Merchant Princes, #1-2)The Bloodline Feud by Charles Stross
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was a free giveaway for Tor’s ebook club

This book checks a lot of boxes for me: thriller, science fiction, multiple universes, alternate histories. But I just couldn’t get into it as much as I wanted to. I think it was mostly around the way Stross writes his dialogue. I can’t quite figure out exactly what it is about it, but it just didn’t do it for me.

The plot twists were pretty good.

I’m never a huge fan of chapters where we don’t know WTF is going on and everyone’s being all cryptic. There were a few of those here. I’d rather either we know a lot more than the protagonists or know only what they know. But it wasn’t too hard to eventually figure out what was going on.

I did enjoy the universe building he did. It definitely felt as though he was one of those authors who builds out whole towns and economies we never see in the book, just to make sure he’s being thorough.

Not too much else to say. I did enjoy our protagonist being a literal kick-ass woman. I thought the journalist trope worked well for her as it gave her a reason to have good deductive reasoning skills around what was going on as well as a way of getting information out of people. She was, however, THIRSTY AF! I don’t ever think I’ve read a book with someone so constantly sprung outside of the strange, semi-erotica of Vagina Mundi. While it’s never explicit (that I can remember), you definitely know what’s up when she’s with her beau (pun intended).

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Review: Buying Time

Buying TimeBuying Time by Joe Haldeman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Earlier this year I read The Forever War for the first time after having read Starship Troopers. So when there was a Humble Bundle with a bunch of books I didn’t care about, but which had a book by Joe Haldeman, I jumped on the bundle.

Having read these two books, the biggest thing I’ve noticed abut Joe is that he is GREAT at world-building. It doesn’t mean the story suffers, but I almost want to read more to wander around his worlds than I do for the story to continue. What’s the world here? Some scientists invent The Styleman procedure – undergoing this procedure reverses the aging process. As long as you go through it every 10 years, you can remain a perpetual 20-year-old (body-wise). That, by itself, would be a near world. But in order to get the initial financing to setup The Styleman Institute, they wanted to use it to redistribute wealth in the world. The process would cost $1 million dollars and the person who did it would have to give away all their money and posessions to the institute, which would then spread it around various charities. This is also a world where people take pleasure trips out into space and where there are lawless colonies among the asteroids. (And also on Florida)

Of course, for most rich people you can take away their money and they’ll earn it back again because that’s how they became rich in the first place. But the ability to live forever also creates incentives to find ways to cheat. So we meet characters who have various levels of morality about following the letter of the Styleman agreement.

Eventually the story evolves into a thriller in which our protagonists have upset some very important people and are chased around the world and through space while trying to figure out who exactly is after them and why.

The story-telling is really neat, including using a technique I’ve seen a lot in comics (particularly by Alan Moore), but rarely in books: a variety of media are used to tell the story. So in addition to jumping back and forth between our main characters POV chapters and an omniscient third party POV, there are chapters that tell the story via ads, TV commercials, TV interviews, news stories, etc. It makes for a very rich and varied experience while expanding the scope of the world. There’s even one chapter that was a bit rough in audiobook, but probably really awesome in text – where they show what a conversation between an AI and a human would be like since AIs would be able to think as fast as computers can.

Overall, it’s a well-told story that makes you think a lot about the main premise (being able to live forever for a price) and works well as a thriller.

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Review: Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling

Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and GrillingMeathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling by Meathead Goldwyn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are literally tons of BBQ cookbooks out there. Why this one? Well, Meathead does something most of them don’t – he backs up his techniques with science. BBQ has existed as long as mankind so a lot of what we do is just father->son or mother->daughter (or some combination of gen 1 to gen 2) and a lot of it is wrong. Humans suck at intuition. So Meathead along with Dr Blonder use science to backup their techniques and ideas. This leads to 2 great benefits.

When it comes to the opening section about techniques, software, and hardware – Meathead is able to calmly present all the pros and cons to everything he talks about. Rather than get into a religious war about charcoal vs gas vs wood – he just lists out the pros and cons of each. (Along with the best advice: If you can afford it and have space – get both!) When it comes to myth-busting he uses science and trial runs to back up his bustings.

When it comes to the recipes, he’s able to cut away a lot of the fluff from recipes by getting them to the essence of what you need. I was able to master a prime rib roast on the first try thanks to his scientific proofs of why it was better to get rid of the bones and try and get the roast as cylindrical as possible.

Like all printed material, the con about this book over his free website is that the website can be updated as Meathead discovers new techniques and ideas. For example, the website now has a section dedicated to starting BBQ in a sous vide and finishing it on the BBQ. Also, the website has more up to date equipment reviews and recommendations.

However, there’s one benefit to the book over the website. Because books have to be succint due to a per page cost, you don’t get all the commentary with each recipe. You just get the recipe. On the website, many of the recipes contain the same info about how to do a 2-zone cook. In the book that’s at the beginning and then each recipe stands on its own along with a short intro paragraph. So I like to read the website during my lunch break to see any gotchas he lists. Then when it’s time to actually cook, I use the book to quickly cut to the chase.

One last important thing. Meathead, at least in this book, is not as self-centered as many of the other well-known BBQ book authors. Other cookbooks waste time talking about how awesome the author is. Not so with this one. It’s just spreading the love and joy of cooking with fire. In fact, Meathead doesn’t hold back on any of the recipes including rubs and marinades that many others make their money off of. I bought the book as a show of support to keep him able to work on the website fulltime and continue educating people in this great way of cooking food.

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Review: Race for the Iron Throne: Political and Historical Analysis of “A Game of Thrones”

Race for the Iron Throne: Political and Historical Analysis of Race for the Iron Throne: Political and Historical Analysis of “A Game of Thrones” by Steven Attewell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I heard about this book when Steve Attewell appeared on Boars, Gore, and Swords – my favorite Game of Thrones podcast. On that episode he mentioned how both GoT and the books pull from a variety of historical periods, not just dark ages England. The fact that he is a real historian analyzing the books seemed too great to pass up so I got the book.

And it has been a very great read. Each chapter tackles the corresponding chapter in A Game of Thrones. After a very funny intro paragraph to what happened in the chapter, he gives a Political Analysis within the world of ASOIAF, A historical context section, and a counter-factual What-If section. He ends with a comparison to the TV show – something that I think will get harder and harder past the first book as the divergence increases.

The Political Analysis have been great in explaining why the characters do what they do and pointing out when GRRM needs them to do something for plot vs when the characters are actually constrained by the politics of the world they live in. In the historical sections what elevated the book is the fact that he doesn’t just go the easy route of comparing to the York and Lancaster War of Roses. He pulls from various parts of history – whereever the best parallels exist. Sometimes he even pulls from mythology or archetypes to discuss things about how Arya is on a Hero’s Journey and how Sansa is a deconstruction of a Disney (or Romantic) Princess.

Game of Thrones is a very fun TV show, but if you read the books in A Song of Ice and Fire you tend to either give up partway or become a fanatic. I can think of no better companion for ASOIAF fanatic than this book.

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Review: The Lives of Tao

The Lives of Tao (Tao, #1)The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While reading The Lives of Tao I kept having this nagging feeling in my head that there was something familliar aobut this story. Then it hit me, it seems as though Wesley Chu was given the writing prompt, take Scientology and make it into a viable science fiction story: Aliens in people’s bodies responsible for the pain in the world.

Actually, Chu has created a pretty compelling world in which we discover that a race of aliens crash-lands on earth and can’t survive in our atmosphere, but can inhabit and communicate with animals on earth. Eventually they make the move to humans and are able to use humans’ ability to build tools and communicate to form a plan – they will figure out how to build a spaceship to get back to their planet. Something that just occurred to me (fridge moment) is that it’s literally been millions of years – their planet may not exist. It may not even be worth returning to. Oh well.

I enjoy books that posit alternate explanations for history and this one has the aliens responsible for many of the conflicts on Earth – under the theory of all science comes from war, which I’d definitely read before in non-fiction books. Eventually this strategy causes a rift between the alieans and they split into opposing groups. There’s also the idea, mostly hinted at, that ancient gods were really just the aliens speaking to humans and not revealing their true identities. In fact, it’s revealed at some point that one of the sides ended up taking over the Catholic church and humans with those aliens in them refer to the aliens as “holy ones”.

All that world building was my favorite part, including main alien protagonist Tao’s stories of his former hosts. But the main thrust of the book is a premise that makes me surprised it hasn’t been adapted for the large or small screen yet. Tao ends up going from being in a secret agent to a schlub of a programmer. Of course, there’s lots of comedy to mine from that. I think where Chu excels and pushes this novel from 3 to 4 star range is that he slowly moves the slider from comedy to drama. And he does it successfully so that by the end the reader doesn’t experience mood whiplash when things become deadly serious. As with some of the other books I’ve read recently, Chu does a good job balancing the need for the protagonist to have plot armor with relatively realistic high stakes. Even if he can’t die early on, he can be harmed and it’s pretty clear the antagonists have no qualms with incapacitating people and/or killing them if necessary.

Interestingly, Chu wraps the story up so well that I’m not DYING to read the next entry. I do want to read it to see how things progress now that we’re past the neophyte stage with our protagonist. While publishers might cry to read that, I appreciate it as a reader. It allows me to enjoy a story without being burdened by needing to continue a series to get closer. And the world is compelling enough that I’m adding it to my list of sequels to read.

If you like spy v spy thriller and historical conspiracy fiction, you’ll definitely like it.

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Review: Science: Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness

Science: Abridged Beyond the Point of UsefulnessScience: Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness by Zach Weinersmith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Weinersmith acknowledges on the last page that he may have ignored notes from PhDs to make a joke work. That said, there’s enough truth in here that every one I’ve shared the section of their degree with has found it really funny. It’s a quick read and a great gift for the science nerd in your life.

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Review: The Holy Bible: Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness

The Holy Bible: Abridged Beyond the Point of UsefulnessThe Holy Bible: Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness by Zach Weinersmith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is like God Is Disappointed in You except each book of the Bible is only 1-2 setences. Like the other book, the humor comes from finding a funny way to express what’s actually in there. I think this book (if you bought the e-book version) makes for a bunch of fun pages to put up on your cubicle or print up in a calendar with one book per month for a few years. But I enjoyed GiDiY more because the extra text allowed the satire to be a bit deeper by being even more truthful to content of the Bible. That said, it was pretty fun to read the entire Bible in about five minutes.

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Review: Orbital

Orbital (Station Breaker #2)Orbital by Andrew Mayne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Recieved this book in anticipation of a review

As I mentioned in my review of the previous book of this Duology, I got this book free and so I went back and bought the first book. Where the first book is a self-aware reconstruction of the thriller action book, this book is more of a detective novel; in SPAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACE! So it’s a MUCH, much slower pace than the first book. As I mentioned in my status updates – that’s fine with me because the pacing should serve the story. And detective stories are usually a much slower pace than thrillers.

BY THE WAY – spoilers for book 1 below.

This book picks up EXACTLY where the first book left off. Dixon, our protagonist, is falling through space with the barest of protection after having saved the world from nuclear EMP destruction of technology. The previous plot had me a little nervous when he’s rescued, but this is not that story anymore. Mayne does a good job of dealing with the fallout for Dixon of being inadvertantly involved in spy stuff (technical term) – making it as realistic as he could while still giving our character a bit of plot armor. Let’s just say that, given what happened to Dixon with the DIA in the first book, he’s a bit ballsy with the CIA in ways I wouldn’t have had the balls to do. So eventually he ends up doing spy stuff again after what I think is a pretty logical series of missteps. That snowballs into more spy stuff and at about the 44% mark we’re at the meat and potatoes of this story.

That’s probably what costs the book that elusive fifth star for me. Mayne NEEDS this in the book because it’s logical, makes the story more believable, and grounds Dixon’s actions. But it means we’re nearly halfway through the book before we get to the real plot. And with how much fun Mayne has with the cast of characters on the space station, I wish we got to spend more time there. I’m no published author, so I can’t say how it could have been done better, it’s just a bummer.

At least once we get up there it’s great. There’s more discussions of tech that may come to pass, great attempts at subterfuge, awesome feats of duct tape, and horny astronauts. Wait, what? Actually, what I like about that last one is that it takes what I enjoyed about the last book – Mayne’s resistance of the thriller trope that the guy and girl have to hook up – and builds a real relationship that the aformentioned sexnaut challenges. It moves that particular plot point forward and gives us more inside into Dixon.

In the end, Mayne has done a great job because I want more Dixon and, hopefully, Laney. As is often the case, perhaps we don’t get any more in this universe because it would be a stretch for Dixon to keep ending up in these situations. And the audience rarely knows what they want and when they get what they want, it’s not always a good thing. But I wouldn’t mind Dixon and Laney on one of those deep space missions they’ve mentioned in the books. It’d be fun to see them in that kind of high stakes environment and what Mayne can do with that.

So, do you like mysteries? space nerd stuff ? spy stuff? Yes to one or all three and you’ll enjoy this book.

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