Review: Sirena

SirenaSirena by Donna Jo Napoli
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another book that was on my To-Read list since 2014. I *think* I heard about it on Boing-Boing, but I wasn’t making good use of my GR shelves that way back then to keep track of such things. Wherever I heard about it, I was expecting this to be a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid. (Looking at the other Donna Jo Napoli books I have on my To Read list – Beauty and the Beast, Mulan, etc – it’s not hard to see why) But this turned out to be so much better for my sensibilities – it’s really more of taking the barebones of the Anderson telling and porting it back to the original Western source of mermaids – the Sirens of Greek Mythology.

Ms. Napoli makes such a compelling character out of Sirena, a naive mermaid trying to get a human to fall in love with her so that she might achieve immortality. What propelled me through this book, causing me to finish it in just a little over a day (ignoring my kids and chores), was the way Sirena’s personal growth is portrayed. In a lot of ways, this is one of those novels that doesn’t have a traditional storytelling structure. It is simply the tale of Sirena’s awakening. But it just works so darned well! I’m mad at myself for waiting 5 years to read it.

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Review: Dead Man’s Deal (The Asylum Tales, #2)

Dead Man's Deal (The Asylum Tales, #2)Dead Man’s Deal by Jocelynn Drake
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow, Ms. jocelynn Drake did something pretty rare among the trilogies I’ve been reading for the past half decade – she made a second book in the trilogy that doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. My memories of books I read when I was younger have this happening more often. But I know I have written many, many reviews on Goodreads where I talk about how hard it is to rate the second book because it’s a setup for the third. So it was nice and refreshing to have a second book in a series where if Ms. Drake had never continued, we’d be satisfied with the ending. That said, she certainly provided enough change in the status quo that I’m curious to read the next book and find out what happened.

This book picks up a couple months after the last one, but I was getting back to it a year or so later so it took me a couple chapters to remember all the details of what was now going on in Gage’s life. Once I did, I often found myself unable to stop reading. While things may sometimes seem to be getting hyperbolically bad for Gage, the constant stake-raising makes sense given what he got himself into last book. If you enjoyed the last one, you’ll enjoy this one.

Just a reminder, there are some very explicit scenes, so I’d keep away from minors.

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Review: Kingdom Hearts II (Boss Fight Books, #16)

Kingdom Hearts II (Boss Fight Books, #16)Kingdom Hearts II by Alexa Ray Corriea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As with the best books in this series, Ms. Corriea has a deep passion for the game she’s writing about and it had a profound impact in her life. Over a number of chapters, she makes a great case for why this series is capable of deeper reflection than it would seem for a game with Donald, Goofy, and Cloud McCrono-face the protagonist (Sora). She does a great job blending the history of the series as well as pulling in information from later games to show the deep universe the creator put together in this series. It’s a game I own, but never got to play as I got it in college and from that point on I’ve had trouble finding the time needed to complete a jRPG. After reading this book, I’m keen for my kids to play it during that magical 9-14 years old where jRPG melodramatics play so hard. (And I think part of why FF6 and Chrono Trigger hit me so hard while I never really got into FF7 – FFX)

If you read this close to when I’m publishing this review, you should definitely check out the Boss Fight Book Humble Bundle. More often than not the books are great like this one and really showcase how a game can be so transformative for the player.

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Review: Aces High (Wild Cards, #2)

Aces High (Wild Cards, #2)Aces High by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As usual for an anthology, I’m going to post my thoughts on each story, but before I get to that, my thoughts on the book as a whole. It was a big change from the previous book and that might be good, bad, or neutral to you. The first book, our introduction to the Wild Cards universe, was basically a series of stories that took place in the same universe and used the same characters (everyone LOVES to play with Croyd) but there wasn’t any unifying story outside of Dr. Tachyon coming to terms with the effects of the virus. But the stories mostly stood alone and even explored different narrative techniques like a Hunter S. Thompson parody. By contrast this book is one tight story that goes from beginning to end strongly being involved in each of the stories. It also once again expands the Wild Cards universe, more literally than metaphorically. Where this works best is with the theory of the small man of history. Many of the characters are just doing their own thing and only tangentially interacting with the PlotDevice.. It’s constantly changing hands and driving the plot and almost no one understands what’s going on until near the end of the book. But everyone’s actions are leading towards the various major plot points of the anthology.

The only reason I’m being a little cagey both here and in my status updates with a 20-30 year old story is because it’s going to be a Hulu show pretty soon. So I think that puts a fresh bit of spoiler-paint on it. Anyway, I really enjoyed revisiting this world and its characters. That said, a few things haven’t aged well – particularly use of homophobic slurs that were de rigueur in the 80s and some of the female characters. That said, I recommend it if you’re into SF and a more realistic version of an X-Men crossed with some Fantastic Four section of the Marvel Universe.

Now, the individual stories:

“Pennies from Hell:” Fortunato, the half-black/half-Japanese pimp who (in the first book) gained Tantric magic powers, solves a mystery. A good pulp mystery with all that entails. I think I spotted Zelazny’s chimeric character at the climactic meeting. A great reintroduction to the NYC of Wild Cards.

“Jube: One”: Impossible to talk about without ruining the final reveal, but suffice to say it’s a brilliant use of the Wild Cards world to subvert expectations. Also love reading about intel informants. Usually pretty neat stories.

“Unto the Sixth Generation”: Connected somewhat to the Jube stories. A warning that goes unheard.

“Jube: Two”: A continuation of both Unto the Sixth Gen and the previous Jube story. It gets filled in a bit more as well as introducing us to more of Jube’s life and friends.

“Ashes to Ashes” – Continues exactly at the end of Jube 2. The stories seem more connected this anthology than the first one. Croyd again! A really, really fun story as he does a task for Jube that connects all of the stories including the Fortunato one.

“Unto the Sixth Generation Part 1”: A modern Frankenstein story. … Alien invasion. Wonder if this leads to a different modern world for Wild Cards or if it swings back towards our trajectory. In other words, do we still have Reagan, Bush, Clinton, etc.

“Unto the Sixth Generation Part 2”: The aftermath of the Alien invasion. Hmm…gentrification was a thing in the 80s! A terrifying end, but at least progress has been made in the stories that both started with Fortunato and Jube.

“Jube: 3”: Jube makes a plan in the aftermath of the previous chapters.

“If Looks Could Kill”: A guy with the ability to kill others by making them experience his death gets involved in the book’s overarching plot.”

“Jube: Four”: He starts workign with Chrysalis. Love the trope of no one believing honesty because the truth is too ridiculous.

“Unto the Sixth Generation: Epilogue”: Modman’s creator is robbed and somethin changes hands again.

“Winter’s Chill”: Of course this is GRRM’s entry. A more realistic version of what I think might have happened to Peter Parker or any other child superhero as they grew up. We catch up with The Turtle. Learn about some tragedy. Perhaps also a setup for future books with the concept of latent Wild Cards. And The Device once again changes hands. I think the cover on Good Reads makes more sense than the cover from the Tor re-release. (It’s a picture of Jube)

“Jube: Five”: Jube’s storyline crosses more directly with the antagonists from the first story now.

“Relative Difficulties”: That ship we learned about in the previous Jube chapter….now we deal with it. And so ends another chapter of Dr. Tachyon’s life. We learn a bit about Takisian culture and technology. The item shifts owners once again.

“With a little help from his friends”: a detective story with Dr. Tachyon. The mystery is solved, we encounter foes from a previous story. The main story of the anthology continues. With all I’ve learned about Tiamat from this book, I think I can guess what happens in the next Expanse book – the one that came out in March 2019 (Tiamat’s Wrath).

“Jube: Six”: Jube reflects on what has happened since the last Jube story while he heads towards a meeting.

“By lost ways”: A return to the antagonists of this book. An innocent young lady gets caught up in the antagonists’ plots. Overall a fun story. Although things got absurdly chaotic in the climax. I wonder if she’s the girl from the Tor re-release cover redesign. Frankly, given the novel’s focus, I think the Jubal cover is a better one.

“Mr. Koyama’s Comet”: A very fun short story that seems to have no relevance to the book until the final, fun twist. Although I was starting to see where it was going just before the twist.

“Half Past Dead”: Finally learn who’s playing The Green Arrow in town. Great mystery story, very pulpy. And I believe the main antagonist has now been dealt with.

“Jube: Seven”: Everything is completed.

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Review: His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire, #1)

His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire, #1)His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I added this book to my Goodreads To Read list in 2014. The reasons for doing so are lost to time and slightly baffling. I don’t believe I had any previous experience with Ms. Naomi Novik. I’m not a big fantasy person (I’m certainly much more of one thanks to Sanderson than I was in 2014). That leaves 3 possibilities: a recommendation from someone whose opinions I admire, a fondness for historical fiction, and/or my love of counter-factual history. Either way, five years later it had big expectations to fill. AND IT SUCCEEDED. I’m kind of mad at myself for not getting to this earlier.

This book posits a world where Earth has always had dragons and, now, at the time of Napolean they’re being used in warfare. This has the effect of pushing aerial warfare forward from World War One to The Napoleonic Wars. Although this book is much more about a personal journey than warfare (there isn’t really any dragon combat until the last 30ish percent of the book) the idea really fascinates me. Understanding how much planes changed combat in WWI and WWII makes this fun to think about.

I think the smartest thing Ms. Novik did – the thing that made me love this book – is that she made her dragons intelligent. They are not akin to Ghengis Khan using horseback combat or Hannibal of Carthage using elephants. The dragons are sapients with feelings and intelligence and able to contribute to how well the battle goes based on how they react. They can panic just as men can panic at war, but this means even if their captain is incapacitated they can still make the right choices rather than just running away.

Second thing I loved about this novel was the way Ms. Novik creates a novel that contains complex characters. With one potential exception, all of the characters are complex characters rather than simply good or bad. I think this really came home for me with our protagonist’s father. Because we’re mostly in Laurence’s head (although this is third person novel, we mostly understand things from his perspective) we’re setup to see him as a monster, but he turns out to be a completely reasonable and rational person given the society that Ms. Novik sets up.

Speaking of which, it’s an interesting military hierarchy that she sets up in this first novel. While the Navy is not necessarily something for respectable young men, it’s certainly better than the [dragon] air force. I wonder if Ms. Novik simply created this to create tension in the book or because when airplanes did show up, there was a hierarchy.

Outside of that, it was fun to live in the Napoleonic age for a few weeks. Although I had to make use of the Kindle’s dictionary quite a bit. This book is part of the trope (probably based in fact) that people back then (at least people of the protagonist’s class) used bigger words. So while I was always able to guess from context, sometimes looking up the word brought to bare some extra connotations.

Finally, I loved the epilogue twist that sets things up quite nicely for the next book. I also enjoyed the excerpts from an in-universe encyclopedia of dragons. I’m definitely in for book 2 and as long as they’re all this good – I’m in for all 9.

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Review: Huckleberry: Recipes, Stories, and Secrets from Our Kitchen

Huckleberry: Recipes, Stories, and Secrets from Our KitchenHuckleberry: Recipes, Stories, and Secrets from Our Kitchen by Zoe Nathan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My favorite part of this cookbook has been the intros to each chapter. Mrs Zoe Nathan has organized the chapters into the time of day needed to start working on the items to be ready to open Huckleberry for breakfast. Her stories are entertaining and reveal a lot about her personality. My second favorite part is that each recipe has an intro that explains the origins of the dish as well as pairings and substitutions that work well with the recipe. The only bad thing is that her recipes use a LOT of butter. A LOT. So while all baked goods are less healthy for you than, say, veggie dishes or even some burgers, these are not for those taking lipitor. That said, I ear-marked a good 2 dozen or so recipes I’d like to make, including a banana-poppy seed muffin I can’t wait to make this weekend.

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Review: The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut, #1)

The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut, #1)The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I decided to participate with the Sword and Laser book club for the February 2018 pick. Before I get to the review proper this was a very interesting time to be reading this particular book. At Farpoint 2019 I attended a panel about SFF books in alternate timelines. Simultaneously I read The Just City which makes the point that our moon missions should have been called Artemis, not Apollo for Apollo is the god of the sun and Artemis of the moon. I wonder if it was just in America’s 1960s we couldn’t name something as militarily important as the moon missions after a goddess? Also, in the book they think about launching from Brazil and I just saw a headline a few weeks ago about one of the US private space companies considering launching from Brazil. And I recently learned that female astronauts were a real thing that politicians killed because of ego.

This book made me mad so often at the way we treated people in the US in the 1950s. And it was made even worse by the past decade’s calls by the Boomers and Conservative’s calls to return America to the way it was back then. The 50s was this transition period where were were now allowing women to get engineering (and other traditionally male) degrees, but then not allowing them to do the most meaningful work with those degrees. Our main character is a polymath with a PhD and is more often referred to as Mrs something than Dr. Something. While reading this book, the most annoying thing was that her husband (her biggest ally) rarely understood what she was going through. I think that was MRK making the characters more realistic, but I’m used to my fictional male allies being all-knowning. And I kept feeling like her husband was screwing it up.

There were, of course, the upsetting ways that African Americans and Jews were treated, but those were more offshoots of Dr. York’s interactions with African Americans and a couple (relatively rare) anti-semitic things she had to deal with as a Jew herself.

Actually, going to the religion brings me back to the authenticity of this novel. I thought it was pretty realistic that in the face of losing everything she decides the rituals that define who she is and where she comes from are more important. She doesn’t become a fanatic, just decides to make sure to honor her heritage. Not only was her husband’s clueless behavior authentic, but I also found their sex life to be pretty authentic. And that’s something that’s often missing from non-romance novels. In my experience there’s the erotic sex scene or the one-night stand that appears in most SFF. Not so often just a regular husband/wife relationship, flirting, etc. Also, the constant need to keep Congress on track in the face of a long-term threat like greenhouse gasses was only too real.

I think this is an interesting story because MRK hasn’t changed much and yet it’s also a huge change. I like that it works well as a self-contained story. I’m already involved in too many series and I don’t think I’m doing to explore any of the rest of the Lady Astronaut series, but I will be on the lookout for more Mary Robinette Kowal books and stories.

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Review: Grilled Cheese Kitchen: Bread + Cheese + Everything in Between (Grilled Cheese Cookbooks, Sandwich Recipes, Creative Recipe Books, Gifts for Cooks)

Grilled Cheese Kitchen: Bread + Cheese + Everything in Between (Grilled Cheese Cookbooks, Sandwich Recipes, Creative Recipe Books, Gifts for Cooks)Grilled Cheese Kitchen: Bread + Cheese + Everything in Between by Heidi Gibson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn’t know there could be so many kinds of Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, although as a coworker remarked – “Technically, most of those are melts, not grilled cheese.” Fair enough, but I still loved the various suggestions for different sandwiches. If I’m at home I usually end up making the same roast beef or smoked ham sandwich, so it’s nice to have someone say, “hey, these tastes all work really well together!” Because once you get past a PB&J, for all the effort it takes to make a sandwich (including washing and cutting the veggies, cheese, etc) you really don’t want such a basic food to taste bad. Also, to be honest, I’ve NEVER been a basic grilled cheese person. They always just tasted greasy to me. Even better, and elevating this book into 4-star territory is the chapter that provides recipes for soups to pair with the grilled cheese sandwiches.

Can’t wait to try a bunch of these!

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Review: Rachel Khoo’s Kitchen Notebook

Rachel Khoo's Kitchen NotebookRachel Khoo’s Kitchen Notebook by Rachel Khoo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the first time I’ve read a cookbook written by a European and it was interesting to see where they are similar and different. Some of them really intrigued me and some of them were a bit too far. But I look forward to making a few of them, particularly the tomato soup with chickpeas as croutons.

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Review: The Just City (Thessaly, #1)

The Just City (Thessaly, #1)The Just City by Jo Walton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’d had this book on my To Read list since 2014 when I read about it on Boing-Boing. I don’t remember what they said about, but something piqued my interest. Of course, when you have a To Read list that’s hovering near 400 books, it takes a while to get to things. In his case, it was a good thing because eventually I nabbed it for free from the Tor eBook club. If you’re into SFF, I think it’s one the best deals you can get in exchanged to be emailed at from a company. So what about the book?

This is a book that a decade ago I would have hated. There isn’t a natural progression through plot and there isn’t a true climax until the last 10-15 pages of the book. The book ends as abruptly as early Neal Stephenson books from the last 90s/early 2000s. But I’ve grown to enjoy books where the journey is the point (as long as it’s a good journey, that is!). And ever since I first came across the idea of the Platonic Republic as background when I read it in middle school via … (a book that’s on my Read list here, but I can’t remember right now – may come back and fix the review), I’ve been fascinated with the idea. The Just City upon which this book is named is an attempt to create Plato’s Republic and the book is about where it works and doesn’t work in the real world.

Given what the book was about, I found the first chapter a bit confusing at first. But, it eventually becomes clear that in this book, the Greek gods are real. That also got me interested because, while I’m not a Greek Geek (I couldn’t tell you the proper versions of many of the stories), I do enjoy them and what they said about the Greeks as well as how universal they were that the Romans could adopt them as their own (probably with some mods).

If I may be permitted to spoil the second chapter just to continue talking about the setup, essentially, a couple of the Greek gods (I’ll leave the identities to the reader) decide to set up The Just City as an experiment and pull in folks from throughout history to be the adults to guide the first generation of children through the experiment. Those children would be the first generation of potential philosopher-kings. Wisely, Ms. Jo Walton gives us three POV characters for this novel: Simmea, Maia, and Pytheas. I’ll keep the last one’s identity a secret as it’s a reveal for the first third-ish of the novel, but Simmea and Maia represent a child in the city and a master of the city, respectively. So we get to see things from the POV of someone trying to make things work and someone who’s being raised in that system. It’s also quite important that 2/3 of the POVs are female because a long-running theme of the book is the injustice of the way woman have been treated throughout a VERY long portion of human history. Also, of the books I’ve come across (mostly SFF with some in other categories) it’s got one of the more realistic birth and post-birth sets of stories, including a character who suffers from postpartum depression.

Overall, a great rumination on what it would be like to set up a Platonic Republic and fun for anyone who’s into philosophy, theoretical government frameworks, Socratic dialogs, and a story in which the journey of the characters is more important than an overarching plot. (Although there may be an overarching plot present across the trilogy) For those who care: more or less no profanity. Some frank discussion of sex, but no real erotic passages or overly descriptive scenarios. Other than the trigger warning coming below, I think it’s probably fine to hand to any precocious kid who already understands the mechanics of sex.

Trigger warning: a few non-consensual sex encounters. One is an out-and-out rape. The others are mostly situations where consent is given for sex itself, but things go off the rails for one of the partners. For those it’s mostly it’s about how the person feels afterwards and less about being descriptive of the acts. On the positive side, for one character, their entire arc is about coming to an understanding about why consent is so important.

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Review: Persepolis Rising (The Expanse, #7)

Persepolis Rising (The Expanse, #7)Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Holy Time-Skip, Batman! As is clear from the first chapter (and maybe the synopsis? I never read those once I know I’m going to read a book because they tend to spoil a bit or mess with my expectations) we’ve jumped 30 years into the future. I would have to say that is probably the second ot third best thing James S.A. Corey have done in this series. Yeah, earlier on there was a five year time-skip, but things for the crew of the Roci and the Solar System as a whole hadn’t changed much. But with this book we get something that I wish more authors (and the comic book industry) would do – show us what happens to the characters we have become attached to when they’ve grown old and had to deal with the consequences of their actions. (Or, in the case of the Mistborn series of trilogies – what happens 700 years after you massively change the world) I was constantly enjoying seeing the world that was the consequence of the actions of book 6 (and, to some extent, all of Holden’s life since the Protomolecule).

Not only that, but you just can’t get out of the same scrapes 30 years later. When I was in high school I was up until 2AM almost every day and at school at 7AM and alert and awake enough to score all As and Bs. My mom came to visit me a couple weeks ago and I stayed up 3 days in a row and it wrecked me, allowing me to get seriously sick for most of a week and I’m still not 100% recovered. While Holden and Naomi were usually using their brains to get out of trouble, Amos and Bobbie were usually the muscle. There are consequences now to their age.

At the same time, it gave some realism to what happened in Laconia. Our primary antagonist was just a kid during the events of book 6. Now he was an adult old enough to command a ship. But the previous world didn’t mean anything to him.

As for the structure of the book, we got a very good chunk of POVs. In fact, while it didn’t cycle through too many for the majority of the book, I think by the last chapter everyone from the Roci had at least one POV chapter. That was as ton of fun, especially when it came to Bobbie and Amos. But, really, my favorite POV ever since JSAC started doing it around book 2 or 3 is the POV of the antagonist. Like any good modern novel, the antagonists are not mustache-twirling balls of evil. They are folks who believe they are making the right choice – as the saying goes “everyone is the hero of their story”. While there are sociopaths, I think that’s why I had the least fun with the villain of Ilus. Contrarily, I thought Filip was a great POV character for that chunk of story and the character growth he had back a couple books ago.

One thing the flipping POVs brings into relief is the saying that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. We often end up rooting for terrorists (eg Final Fantasy VII’s characters) in books because we’re on their side. They’re defeating the evil empire or whatever. But by flipping back and forth it brings it much more into relief that terrorism isn’t quite as simple as it’s portrayed in the media in our real world.

As a student of history, it can be pretty interesting to read how history can swing on the egos of the powerful. There have been great examples of that in this series and that continues with this book.

The book ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger, but since book 8 only just came out and book 9 is not due out for some time, I’m not in a hurry to get to the next one. Either I wait now or I wait later. This isn’t a slam on this book or the story. If book 9 was out, I’d just tear through those two to see what ending JSAC have in story for this saga.

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Unity 2D Game 5: Glitch Garden

The fifth video game I made in Unity was another clone of a game I spent a lot of time playing, this time as an adult – Plants vs Zombies.

Glitch Garden during development

For comparison, here’s Plants vs Zombies:

Plants vs Zombies

and here’s my finished Glitch Garden:

Glitch Garden

We learned a lot of techniques and reinforced even more, but the biggest thing I learned was how to do Sprite Sheet animation. Having done bone-based animation in Blender years ago, I have to say that in comparison, sprite sheet animation is easy-peasy. The tradeoff is less flexibility – you only have what your artist drew (or you bought or got for free online), but it essentially automates everything about animation.

If you want to play my version of Glitch Garden you have a few options. You can play it on the web. Or you can go to the github releases page and grab the binary for Linux or Windows.

There’s still some tuning I need to do an a couple glitches (pun intended) to work out, but it’s probably the most polished of the games I’ve worked on as part of this Unity 2D series. There’s just one game left – one they call Tilevania that is ported over from an earlier version of their Unity class (one that I think combined 3D and 2D into one class). I think, of all the games they’ve used as the basis of their lessons, this is the first one that I don’t have too much experience with. When I saw their intro video, it looked like some of the games I came across in my DOS Shareware days, but unlike everything else, it isn’t a game I have lots of fondness for. Nevertheless, it looks like I’ll learn a final great batch of lessons related to 2D game development in Unity.

After that I’m probably going to take a short break from game development to work on a couple of programming projects before taking a swing at their Unity 3D courses.

Review: Bread Illustrated: A Step-By-Step Guide to Achieving Bakery-Quality Results at Home

Bread Illustrated: A Step-By-Step Guide to Achieving Bakery-Quality Results at HomeBread Illustrated: A Step-By-Step Guide to Achieving Bakery-Quality Results at Home by America’s Test Kitchen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Even though I started this book nearly a year ago, I haven’t made any of the recipes yet. This is mostly because I didn’t get a stand mixer until late last year. That said, I’m very confident I’m going to really enjoy this book. Why? Well, I’ve made recipes from Dinner Illustrated and the multiple pictures is VERY helpful when you’re trying to a new cooking skill. Second, I’ve made their bread recipes from their magazines and other books and they’ve often been really awesome (with only a few misfires – and those could have been chef error). Tonight, for example, I made their recipe for North Carolina Cheese Bread from Cook’s Country June/July 2017 and it was a huge hit with both myself and the wife (and she will NOT hesitate to tell me I’ve “ruined her dinner” if the food isn’t up to par for her). Like most of ATK’s topic-based cookbooks, the intro section is VERY comprehensive and has everything you need to know to start baking so that you have a one-stop shop to learning how to bake bread. Often the same cannot be said of most cookbooks which assume some domain knowledge. I’ve used some of the intro section from this book when baking bread and biscuits from other recipes.

If you’ve always wanted to make your own bread, but were intimidated at the prospect, I highly recommend.

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Review: Bowls!: Recipes and Inspirations for Healthful One-Dish Meals (One Bowl Meals, Easy Meals, Rice Bowls)

Bowls!: Recipes and Inspirations for Healthful One-Dish Meals (One Bowl Meals, Easy Meals, Rice Bowls)Bowls!: Recipes and Inspirations for Healthful One-Dish Meals by Molly Watson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

BOWLS! They’re both a new phenomenon and one of the oldest ways to eat food. My younger brother recently suggested eating at one of those food-court style places that are really trendy right now and nearly all ten of the restaurants there had at lest one dish that was a bowl-based dish. The first 2/3s of this book are great for the cooks like my wife and mom who just need a suggestion and can use that to come up with wonderful food. The last third was for me, who needs recipes of an entire dish which I can then make small modifications to.

What I liked most about this book was the opportunity to create some new dishes unlike anything we normally prepare at home.

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Review: Vegetables on Fire: 50 Vegetable-Centered Meals from the Grill

Vegetables on Fire: 50 Vegetable-Centered Meals from the GrillVegetables on Fire: 50 Vegetable-Centered Meals from the Grill by Brooke Lewy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think the recipes in this book allow your veggies to be first-class citizens on the grill. Plus they provide some pretty awesome items for your vegetarian friends to eat instead of the usual mushrooms or tofu burgers. The dishes I’ve made have been pretty good and I hope to try many more of them.

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