Review: “Pure Skin Care” by Stephanie L. Tourles

Whaaat, another review already? What is going on here? Yes, I do seem rather prolific this week, but I’m eager to get through some of the excellent non-fiction titles so that I can give you a few awesome fiction titles to meet!

My interest in natural skin care first arose in my teen years. Like so many of my peers, I was plagued with acne and sought both to alleviate the ugly, red pimples and reduce the appearance of my pores. Because I had better things to spend my allowance on than expensive creams and tinctures (hello! Books and music, of course!), and because I’ve always enjoyed stirring things together, I experimented with making my own products. Over the years, I’ve bought, read, and discarded a number of instruction manuals on the subject, but this is one I would actually get for myself.

“Pure Skin Care” is divided into two major parts. In part one, you learn what skin is made of and what it does for you, how to determine your skin type, and how best to pamper it. From the get-go, you’ll find the chapters augmented by info boxes to deepen your understanding on the given subject. You’ll also find out how to choose your tools and containers to store your products safely, and there is an introduction to basic techniques to make the magic happen.

As you might have guessed, part two is all about recipes. The remaining four chapters provide a plethora of easy-to-make products that will have you glowing from face to feet. Notice that haircare is not covered in this book; after all, hair is not skin. Every recipe notes which skin type the product is recommended for and comes with easy instructions on making, storing, and using it. The vast majority is vegan-friendly, although some recipes include honey, yoghurt, or buttermilk. I love that a good number already reside in my fridge and pantry: the best for your skin without having to empty your wallet or spend loads of time searching for exotic items. Friends of short ingredient lists will love this book: some recipes require only one or two items, and most can be made with a small handful.

If you’re unsure where to source your oils, etc., you will find a handy resource guide after the glossary (look here to learn the difference between base oils and essential oils, what to look for when buying essential oils, and everything you need to know about using herbs) and the ingredient dictionary. At the very end is also a recommended reading list, if you would like to delve deeper.

The book has a layout that is easy on the eye and is illustrated with luscious photos that will get you in the mood for a spa day right away.

“Pure Skin Care” is published by Storey Publishing. I received a free copy via Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own. Publishing date is September 18, 2018.

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Review: “Go Dairy Free” by Alisa Fleming

There are many reasons to forgo dairy products: you may suffer from an intolerance or a full-blown allergy, you may have other health concerns or ethical reservations, or you’re simply not interested (some of us aren’t). Alisa Fleming was born with a severe milk allergy which she never outgrew. Ten years ago, when the first edition of “Go Dairy Free” was released, there were far fewer non-dairy food options than there are today, and of course research has advanced, as well, so now seemed like a good time for an updated version.

Sure enough, whether you actually want or have to skip out on dairy, or whether you’re merely curious, this book is filled to the margins with interesting information. In part one, you’ll learn the difference between an intolerance and an allergy, what the latest medical findings are, what dairy really is and which bits the body needs for what, how you may substitute these important bits, and much more. In part two, you will find more than 250 recipes to accommodate the dairy-free lifestyle, from simple staples like non-dairy mylks and butter replacements to breakfast favorites like muffins, breads, and even French toast sticks, soups, entrees, and desserts, and again: MUCH more. All recipes are vegan-friendly, as well, listing modifications where required to replace eggs (which are not in fact dairy products, no matter how cuddly they get with milk at the grocery store).

I found the information presented interesting and written in a very accessible format. The recipes span a huge variety. For people wanting even more, Ms Fleming also operates a webzine called Go Dairy Free, in which you could easily get lost for days.

There are two caveats I noticed: one, Ms Fleming mentions borage oil in the section of butter replacements. In recent years, experts have warned people away from the frequent use of borage (the plant) because it contains parts that act as carcinogens. I do not know if this also applies to the oil, but do exercise caution, if you can even find borage oil for a price that will not send you to the poor house. Secondly, red palm oil is gaining in popularity, but I for one am not buying into the claims made by virtually every company on the planet these days that their palm oil is sourced sustainably. The two biggest palm oil producing countries still destroy swaths of precious wildlife habitat every single day to accommodate the market. The trees from which red palm oil is made naturally grow in Africa, so if you can find oil sourced from there vs. Latin America or Southeast Asia, you’re better off using that. And then, of course, the debate is ongoing whether the saturated fats in palm oil are any better than those found in animal-derived products. You can do your own research on that.

“Go Dairy Free” is published by BenBella Books. I received a free copy via Netgalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

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Review: “The Warehouse Industry” by William Macbeth

Perhaps it is an odd life goal to not draw attention to oneself, but that is exactly the place in which the narrator of “The Warehouse Industry” finds himself. Socially awkward and insecure, he does his best to blend in, yet still manages to stand out far more than he’s comfortable with. In order to fit in, he often finds himself going along with things he actually finds disagreeable. Slowly, over the course of twenty years, he reveals his story, told through flashbacks from his elder brother’s stag night, his own sketchy employment history, up to his brother’s second wedding. It is this wedding which turns out to be a pivotal, indeed cataclysmic, point in his life.

The narrator seems oddly disengaged, but the book draws the reader in, nonetheless. For those disinclined to read lenghty tomes, fear not: I found this book well-paced to the point where I was somewhat surprised to suddenly find myself deposited at its conclusion.

Mr. Macbeth employs repetition as one of the narrator’s distinguishing features; after all, he has problems holding on to facts. What could make events and people more real than searing their details into one’s brain? The reader may find this way of storytelling somewhat irritating to begin with, but I ask you to persevere. “The Warehouse Industry” has a few unexpected twists in store that will definitely do anything but not draw your attention.

“The Warehouse Industry” is published by Thistle Publishing. I received a free copy for review. All opinions are my own.

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Review: “Vegan Yack Attack on the Go!” by Jackie Sobon

If you’re a vegan, and especially an American vegan, chances are you have heard of Vegan Yack Attack. Maybe you’re a fan of Jackie Sobon’s excellent blog, or perhaps you already own her first book, “Vegan Bowl Attack!” Possibly, you follow her column in VegNews magazine. As a food photographer, she has also illustrated some of my favorite cookbooks, like “NYC Vegan” and “Superfoods 24/7.” Many readers value illustrated recipes, and as we say in German, ‘das Auge isst mit’ (‘the eye eats, as well’). In any case, you know you’re in good hands with Jackie.

Requesting books by popular authors is a game of chance because publishers get TONS of requests, and so I consider myself particularly lucky to receive a preview copy of “Vegan Yack Attack on the Go!” Many, many people online have expressed frustration when it comes to putting meals together quickly, or coming up for lunch ideas for school and office. In this book, you will find answers in form of dishes that come together fast, can be made ahead, or both.

After a blissfully short introduction (I’m not big on intros), new vegans especially will find the first chapter, Vegan Eating Made Easy, a huge help for creating a kitchen well stocked with basic necessities. The Helpful Tips and Tricks are helpful indeed to ensure maximum enjoyment of your culinary creations and also a word on oil-free cooking. I would like to point this out in particular, because all too often comments show up by reviewers who have neglected to actually read the entire book and then complain that they ended up returning it for not accommodating an oil-free lifestyle!

But on to chapter 2, Quick Breakfasts, Snacks, and Treats. Here you find 14 recipes to suit your preference, from smoothies and floats to bars, cheesecakes, and chickpea scramble to burritos. Chapter 3, Prep-Ahead Recipes, contains all-purpose items like trailmix, overnight oats, crackers, popcorn, and even mushroom jerky. As a huge fan of overnight oats, I have put the Overnight Peach Pecan Oats on my “must try” list before the preview expires. This chapter isn’t all sweets and snacks, though: you’ll also find a recipe for Freezer Black Bean Burritos and Millet Sweet Potato Soup Bags, for example. Please note that from here on out, recipes may require several steps to prepare different components; be sure to read the entire recipe ahead of time and plan accordingly. Then, you will have a fridge and freezer filled with dishes that will reheat or can be assembled in no time at all.

Chapter 4’s Lunchbox Stuffers primarily consist of wraps, sandwiches, and salads, but there are also empanadas, spring rolls, and even a Veggie Sushi Bento Box. Chapter 5, Meals in 30 Minutes or Less, has the wonderful subtitle ‘Home-Cooked Meals for the Hangry’, people like me who sometimes (or maybe as a general rule) want dinner RIGHT NOW! Whether you crave a filling stew or chilli, a hefty burger, or your favorite comfort food, chances are you’ll find something here. Personally, I have been experimenting with exotic -read: beyond crumbles and lentils- taco fillings, so I am looking forward to testing the Sheet Pan Squash Tacos. If you’re a fan of the pressure cooker, try the Pressure Cooker Pesto Spaghetti Squash. Chapter 6 addresses Bulk Cooking, featuring an international potpourri of recipes, like kluski, pierogi, and Middle East-inspired dishes, and even a seitan roast made in the slow cooker.

My favorite chapter, though, is Chapter 7, Food on the Move, because it contains loads of things that can go on the grill. It is, after all, finally summer, even in Indiana! Because these recipes are quite portable (even if the caveat Some Assembly Required is given), these can go with you when you’re invited and not sure your host will be able to accommodate your dietary needs. There are quite a few dishes I’m itching to try, like the Cauliflower Curry Grill Packets with Yogurt Sauce, Campfire Banana Splits, and Beer Can Pulled Cabbage, which is why this book has been placed on my wishlist: I need my own copy!

In the final chapter, Chapter 8, you will get ideas on creating your own staples. Besides the usual suspects, tomato sauce, pesto, cheeze sauce, and mayo, you’ll also get some out-of-the-ordinary variations, like Berry Rhubarb Chia Jam (so psyched to find the far-too-neglected rhubarb here!) and Buckwheat Taco Meat. The latter found its way into my frying pan last night: it was easy to put together, smelled heavenly, and tasted quite good, although the buckwheat I have seems to have a peculiar flavor that doesn’t entirely go away even among all those spices. As I have noticed this in a buckwheat-based smoothie bowl before, I can honestly say it’s the grain, not the particular recipe, and results may vary. Still, I’m looking forward to taco night!

If my math is correct, you get a total of 107 recipes to keep you well fed and happy. The vast majority comes with a photo, so there is no guesswork as to what the final result might look like. Each recipe has a sub-heading with useful information, like ‘under ten ingredients’, ’30 minutes or less’, ‘gluten-free’, ‘soy-free’, etc. Most come with helpful notes at the end. Haters of “exotic” ingredients will love the fact that everything can be bought in a regular supermarket, at least here in Podunk, IN, with the exception of kala namak, which I found at the local Indian grocer without any fuss. And of course every recipe tells you how many servings you’ll end up with. What I really appreciate is the table of contents at the beginning of every chapter. As is common in vegan cooking, you will not find nutritional information for the dishes included.

“Vegan Yack Attack on the Go!” is published by Quarto Publishing Group – Fair Winds Press. I received a preview copy in exchange for a review via the publisher and Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

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Review: “Cook, Share, Eat Vegan” by Áine Carlin

Since going vegan roughly two years ago, I have joyfully spent more time in my kitchen trying out recipes than ever before. Anything by Isa Chandra Moskowitz is usually a winner, as are recipes by Ella (Woodward) Mills. And now, there is Aine Carlin, blogger, actress, and fashionista, who has just released her third cookbook, the somewhat oddly titled “Cook Share Eat Vegan: Delicious Vegan Recipes for Everyone.” Her second book, “Keep It Vegan,” remains another of my favorites, thanks to her down-to-earth, non-preachy writing style and the ease of her recipes. The writing style remains in the new release, the recipes are getting a little more demanding in parts. That means that alongside quick and easy dishes like Angel Hair Pasta with a Lemon, Dill & Walnut Sauce, there are some that require a bit more prep work. Fortunately, sauces, dips, and salsas can be made in advance, and the dishes still come together fairly fast. No complicated techniques or exotic ingredients are required, either.

This time, the book is divided into chapters according to the primary flavor compound: Zesty, Fresh, Spice it Up!, Grains&Goodness, Nuts’n’Seeds, Earthy, Sweetly Does It, and finally Baking Brilliance. I started bookmarking recipes to try and ended up running out of flags, so I simply started in Chapter One and have cooked my way through from there. So far, every recipe we have made has been enthusiastically received, and the picky husband has even made repeat requests for a few, namely the Pea & Rocket Chickpea Flour Pancake, the Watermelon, Watercress & Cucumber Salad, and My Favourite Penne alla Norma. You can probably tell that I simply did not want to wait to find out when the book would be released in the US and pre-ordered it from Europe. Incidentally, it has been available here since May 1, as well.

Another fact I really appreciate about this book is that there are no repeats: no “fluffiest vegan pancakes”, no 115th recipe for the perfect guac, no “cheesiest mac and cheeze”. Instead, you get innovative takes on taco night, pasta dishes, and pizza, right along with a shlew of exotic-sounding combinations like Melon, Avocado & Butter Bean Salad (next on my list, by the way). Because of the huge number of recipes, you can find dishes for every season, from Green Bean Summer Rolls (dinner tonight) to Spicy Mushroom-Stuffed Calzone to Savoury Fid & Walnut Stuffing Slice and Chestnut & Miso Soup. I don’t know how long it will take me to get through this book, but I know I’ll be happily cooking out of it for some time to come!

Is there anything I don’t find so hot? Yes, there is. It appears Ms Carlin has jumped on the bandwagon to promote Himalayan pink salt. Unfortunately, salt is not a sustainable resource, nor is mining it environmentally friendly, especially in a fragile eco system. Stick to your favorite table or sea salt, instead.

“Cook Share Eat Vegan: Delicious Vegan Recipes for Everyone” is published by Mitchell Beazley.

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Review: “The Brew Your Own Big Book of Clone Recipes”

Brought to you by the folks who publish Brew Your Own magazine, this beer bible features 300 clone recipes, put together in cooperation with the original brewers and frequently including tips and tricks of the trade from these brewers. Although the introduction claims that the book is aimed at home brewers of all skill levels, it clearly helps if you have worked with more than just a Mr. Beer kit before. The first chapter, ‘Cloning Basics & Recipe Standards,’ offers a brief guide on how to analyze any commercially available beer to determine the factors that must be present in a successful clone. It also gives instructions on how to best evaluate how your clone recipe stands up to the original brew and any former batches you may have made. Ultimately, with some practice, the home brewer should be able to use these processes to create his or her own clone recipes from scratch. You can see where prior brewing experience and having established a brewing procedure comes in handy.

If you don’t want to bother with the fancy footwork, delve right in by choosing your favorite style of beer from the recipes grouped into 17 different chapters, from IPAs, Porters, and Stouts over Belgian-style and British-style Ales to Brown Ales, Pilsners, European- and North American-style Ales & Lagers to Winter Beers and much more. Every recipe comes in an all-grain or extract with grain version to accommodate personal preference.

The “Big Book” ends with a resource chapter for those needing help or wishing to connect to fellow brewers; here, you find a listing of books, websites, tools & calculations, and message boards/forums for more information. My only beef with this list is the lack of locations where the less established home brewer might find specialty ingredients. At least a couple of suggestions may have been helpful. My personal preference would also have been to give a listing of beers contained in each chapter at the beginning of the chapter instead of just jumping in. Input from my home brewing husband, when he discovered the inclusion of a Pliny the Elder clone: “This might be a cool book to have!”

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“The Brew Your Own Big Book of Clone Recipes” is published by Quarto Publishing Group – Voyageur Press. I received a free copy in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own, except where otherwise stated.

Review: “Diary of a Beatlemaniac” by Patricia Gallo-Stenman

When Patricia Gallo was thirteen, the Beatles hit the shores of America, and they arrived with a flash and a bang. Legendary Philly DJ, Hy Lit, was instrumental in getting the Fab Four overseas and into the local music hall. Patty and her “Beatle Buddies” quickly become immersed in the cult around the band, writing letters on the boys’ behalf to less-than-favorable reviewers, founding a fan club, sneaking off to movies and gigs, and even befriending actor Victor Spinetti, who appeared alongside the Liverpudlians in all three of their live action films.

When I was thirteen, the Beatles were well beyond broken up, and John Lennon had been shot and killed outside his home in New York City. Instead of the Beatles, I had Depeche Mode. But thanks to my Beatles-loving father, an enthusiasm, nay, almost an obsession for their music had been instilled in me when I was a nipper. For me, it was very exciting to be able to follow Patty’s Beatles experience via the diary excerpts, newspaper articles, and interviews presented in this book. In fact, I was hooked from the get-go, to the detriment of a couple of books which had been in the reading queue much longer. I recognized the thrill, the love, the disappointment of being a devoted fan, marveled at the ingenious gimmick used to announce the arrival of the band in Philadelphia, smiled at the generous spirit of Vic Spinetti towards these young girls. Of course all things, good or not, must eventually come to an end, and when Patty graduates from high school and meets her first boyfriend, the Beatles end up taking a backseat to real life. All too soon, the story and the book were over.

If you are a longtime Beatles fan who can recite not only all lyrics, but also chords to their songs, someone who owns rarities and knows more about the band than they did themselves, this is not a must-read for you. But if you love the music of these boys who were unlike anyone else before them, or if you simply enjoy an engaging yarn, this is definitely for you.

“Diary of a Beatlemaniac” is published by Cynren Press. I received an advance copy from Netgalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

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Review: “Secret Passages in a Hillside Town” by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen

Olli Suominen, publisher, husband, and father, lives in small town in Finland. His two most distinguishing traits are a tendency to lose umbrellas and a penchant for detailed, disturbing dreams. When the town is gripped by the surprising bestseller, How to Live a Cinematic Life, by local author, Greta Kara, Olli, like many of his fellow citizens, joins a film club whose mission it is to work through Greta’s film suggestions and the advice based thereupon. It turns out that Greta is looking for a publisher for her upcoming book, a magical travel guide set in the small hillside town of Jyväskylä, where both she and Olli grew up. When she reaches out to him via Facebook, Olli’s life is thrown into turmoil.

Up to now, you might think that Secret Passages is just another novel about an unhappy man trapped in an unhappy relationship looking to rekindle a long-extinguished romance. You would be wrong. This is, after all, a book of magical realism, where abovementioned passages appear in unlikely places and lead to unpredictable destinations, with unforeseeable results. The events that happen to Olli and Greta in the course of the story are rooted in a long-buried secret from their shared past whose actual enormity is skilfully and purposefully unveiled to the reader chapter by chapter, like a bud blossoming in slow motion. In the end, the novel presents two alternative courses of action, but can there be a happy ending in either one? I’m not going to tell you, because Secret Passage in a Hillside Town is a book you need to read for yourself to experience its beauty and tragedy fully.

Besides being an engaging read, this novel is also a wonderful example of an excellent translation, work that in my opinion isn’t really appreciated enough. In this case, translation credits go to Lola M. Rogers.

Secret Passages in a Hillside Town is published by Pushkin Press. I received a copy via Netgalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

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Review: “How to Love a Jamaican” by Alexia Arthurs

Short stories are a genre I never paid much attention to. Sure, I have some Bradbury on my shelf, alongside Salinger and Roald Dahl, but the label “short story” was not a good endorsement to get me to read a particular book – until recently. Interestingly, it’s been the young, female writers that have awakened a never-before-suspected passion for story collections (and poetry, but that is another thing altogether). Alexia Arthurs is one of these writers that should not be missed.

The most significant summary of Ms Arthurs’s biography is the fact that she was “born and raised in Jamaica and moved with her family to Brooklyn when she was twelve.” This real-life experience informs the characters and narratives in “How to Love a Jamaican.” The primary focus lies on female characters (although brothers, lovers, fathers, and other males are definitely present, and one story is even told from the perspective of a male narrator): Mothers and daughters, grandmothers, best friends, and even mermaids make appearances. Ms Arthurs ponders questions of identity and heritage, often leaving her characters in a state of tension as they struggle with finding a place for themselves in their given circumstances. From the get-go, her writing style is lively and immediately engaging. I found myself looking forward to meeting each new character as one story after another unfolded among the pages. Often, the reader is left with a sense of profound loss or melancholy, a clear sign of how masterfully Ms Arthurs manages to engage her audience.

Oddly, the one story that did not resonate with me at all was the rather long title story, and the reason for this disconnect was the irritating use of grammar. Within the narrative, Arthurs continually switches between past and present tense, without a clear indication of the purpose of this narrative device. While the main character, a successful singer more than casually reminiscent of Rihanna, clearly struggles with her own loneliness and the death of an acquaintance, this pain stays well locked on the page, making her seem distant and therefore not quite relatable. Then again, never having been a famous anything myself, perhaps I’m missing a crucial piece of experience in order to fully “feel” the story.

“How to Love a Jamaican” is published by Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine. I was provided a copy by Netgalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

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Review: “Woodcutter” by Shaun Baines

From the publisher’s description:

“SOME FAMILY TREES ARE MEANT TO FALL…

On the run from his criminal family, Daniel Dayton returns home to Newcastle Upon Tyne when his abandoned daughter is attacked.

But his family have problems of their own. Targeted by a brutal mercenary, their empire is destined to be destroyed should Daniel refuse to help.

Betrayed by his parents. Despised by his brother. In love with his sister-in-law. Home has become a dangerous place to be.

Daniel wants his daughter safe. And he wants his revenge, but in the shadowy streets of Newcastle, things are never what they seem.”

If you want to know what Shaun Baines’s debut novel is about, this blurb will give you the right idea without me having to provide spoilers. At first, I found it somewhat difficult to really get into the rhythm of the story, primarily because the writing reminds me very much of the German dimestore publication, “G-Man Jerry Cotton”, which is full of gangster jargon and clichés. Then again, ol’ Jerry has been going strong since 1954, so clearly, this type of writing does not necessarily speak against a book. In fact, as I continued reading, I eventually stopped noticing (or possibly, Mr Baines hit a more literary stride in his writing style). Mind you, this says nothing at all about the quality of the story yet; just be forewarned that if you tend to be as picky as I am, you may have a tough time enjoying Woodcutter.

‘Yeah, yeah, but what about the STORY?’ Well, dear readers, here you are in luck: Mr Baines skilfully weaves a tale of conflict and deception, with clever twists and turns that maintain the suspense. By the middle of the book, I was so engrossed that I felt compelled to keep reading all the way to the end! The deviousness of those aiming to use Daniel Dayton for their own purposes runs deep, indeed. I am pleased to say that although I am not aware of any plans for a follow-up, Mr Baines has certainly left himself the option to write one (or more), having established his characters, some future conflict, and even potential storylines.

Woodcutter is published by Thistle Publishing. I received an advanced copy for review; all opinions are my own.

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