Thursday, May 14, 2015

Book Reviews for Spring

Ok so somehow, through following small authors on social media and leaving reviews on goodreads and Amazon of the books I devour, I got on a small email list of people who can get early copies of books to review. It's kind of cool because you get the book directly from the author--and I'm a huge book nerd so this makes me feel semi-connected to the worlds I absorb myself in somehow. I recently read these books and thought I'd put their info here and synopsis. You never know who is out there looking for a good read. I wasn't paid or anything, but I was provided the book for review purposes. 

Lykaia by Sharon Van Orman

Synopsis"We are the terrors that hunt the night. And we have never been human" In Greek mythology there’s a story of King Lykaonas of Arcadia and his fifty sons who were cursed by the father of the gods, Zeus, to become wolves. The very first Lycanthropes. Forensic pathologist, Sophia Katsaros, receives a cryptic phone call from Greece telling her that her brothers are missing and leaves to search for them. With the help of Illyanna, her brother’s girlfriend, Sophia examines the evidence but cannot accept a bizarre possibility: Has one or both of her brothers been transformed during the Lykaia, the ceremony where Man is said to become Wolf? Who is Marcus, a dark stranger that both repels and excites her? And what is the real story behind the 5000 year old curse of King Lykaonas?

Review: The book starts out slow and sort of odd in random details and what you later discover are flash-backs. But after a few chapters it settles into a consistent style of writing and the story is so different and the main character is really likeable. I really enjoyed the plot and it was super engrossing the last 30 pages or so. It was nice to read something unique for a change. Very smart, with an intelligent female lead.  Always nice to read something where the woman doesn't cower.

Basically: Great story and great characters.
Drawbacks: Could have used the touch of a good book editor on the front end of the book.
Overall: Give it a go! It'll hook you.

Erato by Sharon Van Orman.

Synopses: "A wolf knows nothing of revenge, but a man does.” When the smoldering remains of werewolves are discovered the alpha of the Lykaonas Pack has one suspect, Dr. Sophia Katsaros, the only human to learn their secret and live. The Efarmostís, a trio of cinder colored werewolves. A law unto themselves, they have done the dirty work of the pack for thousands of years. Once dispatched, they won't stop until they catch their prey. As the body count rises, Sophia fights for her life and the lives of those she loves. Out of desperation Sophia strikes a dangerous bargain. Will she discover the truth of the dryad? What is the ancient evil that has risen? Will she find the killer before the Efarmostís find her?"

Review: I liked the first in this series a lot, enough to want the second right away. But this book totally had its ducks in a row from the beginning, fixing the kinks that the first one had. The author definitely flushed through her plot lines better in this book and it makes it a really great read. It's rare when a sequel is as good as the first, even rarer when the sequel is better than the first—and Erato definitely falls into the later. The characters are really well developed and you are starting to enjoy each one of them separately, all while watching the story move them. Can't wait to see where the story continues on. 

Basically: Very good continuation of the first story.  Characters are well developed, story line is good.
DrawbacksSometimes the characters get a little muddied in minutiae or things seem overly complex (the Tiger? what?).
Overall:  Good series and ironed out the writing kinks of the first book.

The Lazarus Code by Sharon Van Orman

Synopsis“I am Ryder of the Pentimalli, a member of the first families and Captain of the deep space exploration vessel, Serendipity.  In the centuries since our forefathers tamed an uncivilized land and revolted from a King we had grown complacent. When our government waged cyber war on us the spirit of those long dead patriots was ignited, sparking a second revolutionary war.  It was then that the First Families were born. Genetically enhanced humans who carried within our blood stream nano-bots that repair and regenerate. We were meant to be the record keepers. The vanguard of our species as we spread across time and space.  I have returned home after a decades long mission to find Earth devastated by the Weeping Death. A disease that has made it possible for the dead to rise. With the help of my brothers and my crew we will find who is responsible. They expected us to be complacent. They were wrong."

Review:  So different than you think. It really isn't a zombie novel, which is what almost prevented me from reading it.  Ryder is an amazing, strong female character hell-bent on protecting her planet when it is almost destroyed by the outbreak of "weepers".  The dialogue switches between main characters offering a lot of diverse outlooks, but like Van Orman's other works—it's the strong, yet still feminine, women where the story shines. The plot is really good, complex but not overly so, and the story envelops you.  It's really very unique the way she approaches space travel, the future of humanity, society, science, and aristocracy and diplomacy.  It seems so plausible even if currently out of our reach. 

My only critique is in the first few chapters it feels a bit forced, putting character details too quickly at the reader.  The flashbacks/current time shifts sometimes leave you reversing pages to try and make sense of it. But once it settles in, you're taken away.

Basically: Loved the premise and unique story, it wasn't a tired zombie or syfy novel at all.  
DrawbacksLike Lykaia, Von Orman could really use some help in the first few chapters ironing out her kinks.
Overall:  Super imaginative and great characters.  Totally excited to read the next installment. 

He Who Fights and Runs Away by Taylor P. Davidson

Synopsis600 years from now, mankind has left Earth behind. The Milky Way is filled with seed colonies and teems with human life. Yet despite all our advances in science, we have yet to surpass our most primal natures. We carried all of our greed, wars and decadences with us into the stars and our far flung worlds are every bit as dangerous as Earth is now. 

Lord Alasdair Donaghue, Duke of the British Stellar Dalcross Systems, has tried to remedy this with a second war on alcohol. But just as bootleggers emerged in the United States of America in the 1920’s, Prohibition has opened the door for criminals to grow rich once again. Famed for her resourceful and ruthless nature, Lisa Tant is one such smuggler. She has grown bold and confident with her ever growing infamy and it is on Calgany Space Station that she faces her reckoning. Betrayed by someone in her own crime syndicate, Tant finds herself the focus of the Alcohol Enforcement Agency and must flee the space station with her crew, cut off from her ship with seemingly nowhere to run.

ReviewNormally I am a huge scify fan girl and eat this kind of stuff up. The introductions overly verbose writing set me off of the story from the start and took me a while to sit back down to it (and I was putting off reading it, something totally unlike me). The premise picked up and it is very action packed. It reads very much like an overly star-studded, cgi-filled action movie. But I didn't find myself very drawn to the characters at all. You don't get any background on them within this book or why they are the way they are, so to me it is hard to get invested in a person or story line that has nothing drawing me to the people it surrounds. I feel no desire to read "episode 2". Which considering the book I read prior to this I reread immediately, was pretty disappointing. 

Basically: Great ideas but not my style.
DrawbacksThat introduction. Good grief, someone remove the thesaurus app from that guys devices.  The attempt to be theological was just a fail.  
Overall:  If you like the books I like, skip it. If you like Van Damme movies set in space with no character background, try it.  Or if you like action.  In a book.  I duhno.  Was not my cuppa tea.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Gluten Free, Vegan Sandwich Bread

Lately more people have been asking about the bread recipe I use for the boys.  My written version in my allergy-free notebook has seen so many revisions when I scanned it it was a bit embarrassing.  So I finally have gotten around to typing it out.  It is a bit odd the first time you make it, but trust me it gets easy--and is infinitely easier than many of the other recipes I've looked at or tried to make.  Like most breads, humidity can effect it but it always tastes good.  It just won't rise as high on a humid/raining day.  
It also freezes super well. I usually make a double batch which yields me 4 loaves to freeze at a time. I have lately also started prepping and measuring all the first set of the dry ingredients for four full recipes, two to make and two to freeze.  One batch each into my two bowls for my stand mixer (my glass bowl and then my metal bowl, love the glass bowl), and then an additional two batches into two extra tupperwares that I then freeze--just omit the yeast from these batches and write yourself a note on the top of each tupperware to add it when you mix it later.  So it ends up that I only have to do the messy measuring every other time I run out.  Which is super convenient for me.  Just let them come down to room temperature (like I mention in the recipe for all your flours since they have to be stored cold) before mixing.  It helps them come out consistent each time you make it.  Took me a while to figure that out.  Duh. 

Leave me a note if you need help, but hopefully it works for you as well as it's been working for us for almost 2 years now!

Gluten Free, Corn Free, Egg Free Sandwich Bread

Adapted from here
makes 2 loaves

1 1/3 c Brown Rice Flour
1 1/3 c Potato Starch
1 1/3 c Tapioca Starch
1 Tbsp Sorghum Flour
1 Tbsp Egg Replacer (here is the corn free version I make or you can buy it)
2 tsp Salt
2 tsp Xanthan Gum
2 1/2 tsp Yeast

1/4 c Butter, melted
1 c Boiling Water
1 c Dairy-Free Milk
2 Tbsp Sugar (or honey for non-vegan)
2 tsp Apple Cider Vinegar
4 1/2 tsp of Egg Replacer mixed with 6 Tbsp Boiling Water

In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix all the dry ingredients until well incorporated.  If your flours were stored in the fridge/freezer, allow them to come down to room temperature (VERY important).  I boil my hot water kettle and pour my 6 Tablespoons of water into the egg replacer and combine, then pour the cup of water into my milk (to make it warm and perfect to help the yeast).  Add your apple cider vinegar to the milk/water mixture.  Pour the butter, liquid, sugar/honey, and egg replacer mixture into your dry ingredients and turn your mixer on low.  Scrape the bowl down a few times, then crank it up to medium-high for 6 minutes.  It will be moving fluidly and well combined.  

Grease two bread pans.  Using a wet hand, divide the dough into each pan.  Re-wetting your hand, smooth the tops and then lightly tap the pans to release any large air holes.  Place in a warm, dark place for at least an hour to rise.  

Preheat oven to 375.  Bake the loaves in the center of your oven, rotating and turning half way through, for 50-60 minutes.  Remove the loaves from their pans and place back in the oven for an additional 15 minutes.  Immediately remove and place on wire racks to cool OVERNIGHT.  This will allow them to cool completely and the crusts to be dry on every surface.  Slice and store in ziplock bags in your freezer for easy toasting.

NOTE: I have also used my French bread pans to make French bread out of this for garlic bread, crostini, that kind of thing—super great there too if you have a French bread pan.

TIP: Do not discard the heels, I cut them, allow them to "stale" a bit in the toaster on low heat, then pop them in the food processor to make gluten free, egg free, corn free bread crumbs. I store them in a jar in the freezer for meatloaf and shake-n-bake. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Book Stuff

Ok. I, Colleen C, an staring here publicly that I am going to (eventually) write a cookbook / help book. Tentative title: 

Suck It UP Buttercup: Transitioning to an Allergy-Free Kitchen

Because, really, sometime I just want to tell people to reference Chapter 1: You Know Nothing.