19 July 2021

12 Science Fiction, Dystopian, & Fantasy Books for July 2021

What's your favorite type of escape reading for hot summer days? I go for either speculative fiction or crime fiction. In today's roundup, I'm sharing some of the science fiction, fantasy, and dystopian books that caught my eye this month. I've already read some of them (reviews to come) and haven't been disappointed yet. All of the following books will be available in July.

The short descriptions are based on the publishers' summaries or from my own impressions, and I've included audiobook information. Thanks to the publishers for the review copies (either print, digital or audio).

Science Fiction Meets Mystery/Thriller

Speculative Fiction for July 2021

The 22 Murders of Madison May by Max Barry
(Putnam): Set in an alternate New York City. A space/time-traveling serial killer is perused by the journalist who was assigned to report on the murder of Madison May. The audiobook (Penguin Audio) is read by Helen Laser.

Midnight Water City by Chris McKinney (Soho Crime): First in a science fiction noir trilogy. A kind of police procedural set in the not-so-distant future involving the murder of a space scientist and the detective who will stop at nothing to solve the case. The audiobook (Recorded Books) is read by Richard Ferrone.

We Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen (Daw). Set on a space ship. A behavioral psychologist attempts to save her fellow crew members from a mysterious mental breakdown that begins to manifest after the ship was hit by a radiation storm. The audiobook (Recorded Books) is read by Catherine Ho.

It's a Dystopian World

Speculative Fiction for July 2021

Appleseed by Matt Bell
(Custom House). Set in an alternative North America with sci-fi, historical fiction, and fantasy elements. In the past, two brothers plant apple trees in the territories slated for colonists; in the near future, a group of people are devoted to the rewilding of the continent; in the far future an AI being makes a startling discovery. The themes include climate change, survival, and humankind's relationship to the environment. The audiobook (Harper Audio) is read by Mark Bramhall.

Council of Animals by Nick McDonell, illustrated by by Steven Tabbutt (Henry Holt): Set in the future when humans are almost extinct thanks to pandemics, climate change, and more. The fate of the remaining people are in the "hands" of the animals. The audiobook (Macmillan Audio) is read by the author.

East Asian Roots

Speculative Fiction for July 2021

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers
(Tordotcom): This hopepunk novel is set on a moon. A tea monk travels the wilderness offering solace to those they talk to; when they cross paths with a sentient robot, the two begin a series of discussions about the nature of humankind and what people need. The audiobook (Macmillan Audio) is read by Emmett Grosland.

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan (Tor Books): Set in an alternative ancient China. This is a reimagining of the founding of the Ming Dynasty with a young woman, who must pass as male, at the center. The audiobook (Macmillan Audio) is read by Natalie Naudus.

Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim (Knopf BYR): Based on Asian folklore and Western fairy tales. This is the story of a banished and silenced princess who must find a way to save both her cursed brothers and her repressed kingdom. The audiobook (Listening Library) is read by Emily Woo Zeller.

A Return to Camelot

Speculative Fiction for July 2021

Half Sick of Shadows by Laura Sebastian
(Ace): A retelling of the Arthurian legend from the point of view of Elaine, the Lady of Shalott. The audiobook (Penguin Audio) is read by Ell Potter.

Sword Stone Table edited by Swapna Krishan and Jenn Northington (Vintage): A collection of reimaginings of Arthurian tales from a variety of perspectives, times, and places, emphasizing diversity in its many forms. The audiobook (Random House Audio) is read by a stellar cast of narrators.

Strong Young Women

Speculative Fiction for July 2021

Red Wolf by Rachel Vincent
(HarperTeen): A fairy tale retelling of "Little Red Riding Hood" in which the wolves have a surprisingly different role to play and a young woman must decide her fate and that of her community. The audiobook (Harper Audio) is read by Taylor Meskimen.

What We Devour by Linsey Miller (Sourcebooks Fire): A young woman is caught between believing what she’s always been taught--that the rulers of her land are evil--and an alternative view presented by the crown prince himself. Down which path will she find the salvation of her land? The audiobook (Recorded Books) is read by Amy Scanlon.

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10 July 2021

Weekend Cooking: 4 Winning Recipes

White Texas Sheet Cake from Six Sisters' StuffHappy Saturday, my friends. If you're in the Northern Hemisphere, I hope you are seeing the end of the unbearably hot weather for a while. I'm so glad things have moderated a bit here in Pennsylvania. For those of you on the other side of the equator, let's hope winter has done its worst and signs of spring have arrived.

Most of my cooking lately has been from tried-and-true recipes or from online sources. I have a couple of new cookbooks and food-related books to talk about, but today I want to alert you to four new-to-me recipes that have earned a spot in my permanent files.

Let's start with dessert first. I was looking for a sheet cake to make for July 4 and came across this one from Six Sisters' Stuff. If you don't know about Six Sisters, you should check out their website and YouTube channel. It's true that many of their recipes rely on processed foods (like cream-of ___ soup), but you can also discover some real gems, like this cake. I find their recipes to be reliable and delish.

The cake came out moist and light, and it was truly good. In fact, our dinner guests asked for the recipe. In case you're not sure, the correct pan size for this Easy White Texas Sheet Cake is a half-sheet pan. I looked for red, white, and blue sprinkles, but my grocery store was out of them, so I used the standard mix of colors. The website says the cake freezes well, so that's what we did with the leftovers. We'll have cake again later in the summer.

Easy Eye Round Roast from ButcherboxYou may recall that we are now getting the bulk of our meat from Butcherbox. We've been with them for over a year and have never had a bad piece of meat. When we first signed up, we used a friend's discount code; if you're interested, mine's here: $30 discount to Butcherbox (I will also get a $30 credit if you use the code). Anyway, their site also includes tips for cooking various cuts of meat, informative videos, and recipes.

I decided to give their Easy Braised Eye Round a try. Our roast was about 2 pounds, and I used a meat rub from the cookbook BBQ&A (recipe available on my blog here). I followed the beef recipe exactly. We sliced the roast across the grain and made hot sandwiches: we put mustard on ciabatta rolls, then the meat, and topped with the oniony sauce. Yum!! (Photo from the Butcherbox site.)

Kale and White Bean Bowl from Budget BytesThe next recipe is vegetarian, but it could easily be made vegan by substituting something for the feta cheese. This main-dish grain bowl comes from one of my favorite recipe sites: Budget Bytes. I wrote about the Budget Byte cookbook a few years ago and still use that book and the website frequently.

The recipe for Kale and White Bean Power Bowls says it serves four, and that was just about spot-on; we had it for dinner two nights in a row. This was really good just as written. When I made the vinaigrette, I was worried there wouldn't be enough, but it was perfect. Instead of separating the servings, I put the rice in the bottom of a serving dish, tossed the kale and beans with the dressing, and scattered on the toppings. The dish held up beautifully for two days, even with the vinaigrette. I used oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes. Note: next time, I'm going to skip sauteing the kale; instead I'll wilt it under boiling water and add extra garlic to the dressing.

Finally, I made a ramen noodle and chicken dish from Epicurious, another recipe site I use all the time. This is billed as "a perfect summer picnic dish," and I would have to agree. It was all that we could do to not eat the entire salad in one sitting. It was really just that good. And it would defintely be fine as a picnic dish, because it was just as good the second night as it was the first.

Chicken and Ramen Noodles from EpicuriousThe Garlicky Instant Ramen Noodle Salad with Grilled Chicken Thighs was easy to put together. I made only a couple of simple changes. First, I used cilantro leaves and stems (no roots) in the marinade. Second, as is often the case, Wegman's was out of Fresno chiles, so I used jalapenos. Third, I had a fresh lettuce mix from a neighbor's garden, so I used that instead of romaine. Finally, I have a mild peanut allergy, so I used sliced almonds instead. I would make this again and again. It was truly a winner. (Photo from the Epicurious site.)

I plan to catch up on your Weekend Cooking posts from last week as well as from this week as soon as possible. We have a couple of family activities this weekend (including a christening!) that will take me away from my phone and computer.

Shared with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader (and Baker)

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19 June 2021

Weekend Cooking: Pizza Czar by Anthony Falco

Review of Anthony Falco's Pizza CzarWe love pizza here in the BFR household. We especially like homemade pizza, and we have it often. So, you might ask, why am I so over the moon about Anthony Falco's Pizza Czar cookbook, which I received as part of the Abrams Dinner Party program? Well, this book is much more than a collection of recipes. Falco, a well-known pizza expert, draws back the curtain to reveal all the pizza-making tricks and tips that will elevate your home-baked pies.

The book is so full of useful and interesting information, it's a little hard to summarize. Falco tells us how he became an international pizza consultant and then shares his wisdom on ingredients, tools, and methods. Photographs and tip boxes accompany his directions for making mozzarella and a variety of sauces and doughs. He has opinions on toppings, and attempts to distinguish among grandma pizza, pan pizza, and Sicilian pizza. And that's just small bit of what you'll find in Pizza Czar.

I homed in on a few specific sections. First, I checked out Falco's four standard sauces. All were tasty, but it's the Spicy Grandma Sauce that won our hearts (recipe to follow). I'm pretty sure I won't bother to make any other sauce, though his Tomato Flavor Bomb was pretty darn good too.

Review of Anthony Falco's Pizza CzarNext, I devoured the sections on baking methods and was so intrigued with his tips for augmenting a home oven, that I broke down and bought a baking steel. No, not for baking on but for helping my oven trap the heat better. When I used his trick while baking a grandma pie (see my photo), I was completely sold. Even though I always put my half-sheet pan on a baking stone, I've often had trouble getting the crust to completely cook before the topping got too dark. However, when I used Falco's advice for turning my oven into a pizza oven by placing a baking steel on an upper rack, I got a perfectly baked crust and perfectly melted cheese. One of the best grandma pies I've ever made.

I also carefully read the sections about different techniques for layering ingredients, shaping dough, and even how and when to put the sauce on. Though I've been making homemade pizza for decades, I learned a lot and had fun trying the various ways of assembling a pizza.

Review of Anthony Falco's Pizza CzarFinally, I need to say a word about the dough recipes. All the recipes rely on a sourdough-like starter. Although I've made sourdough, I have long since lost interest in keeping a starter going. Instead, I made my favorite yeast crust, but I followed Falco's suggestions for how many grams each dough ball should weigh. All the pizzas we've made since I got this book (one grandma pie, six grilled pizzas, and two oven-baked Neapolitan-style pizzas) have been excellent, with perfect crusts and delicious sauces.

If you're a pizza maker--even if you use store-bought, premade dough--you need to take a look at Anthony Falco's Pizza Czar. I bet you learn something new and that your pizza skills will reach new heights.

The following sauce is my new favorite. Take note of my changes: I use less than 1/4 cup oil to brown the onions. I couldn't find the suggested chiles, so I used 14 grams of a Hungarian Wax pepper; use whatever pepper you'd like. I used crushed red pepper flakes to taste instead of the Calabrian chiles.

Spicy Grandma Sauce
Makes about 1 liter

  • 1 (794-gram/28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes (preferably Bianco DiNapoli), drained
  • 4 grams (1 teaspoon) kosher salt
  • 110 grams (1/2 cup) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
  • 40 grams (about 1-1/2 ounces) yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 30 grams (5 cloves) garlic, chopped
  • 14 grams (about 4) fresh red chiles (bird's-eye or similar), thinly sliced
  • 8 grams (about 3) dried Calabrian chiles
  • 10 grams (about 1/3 ounce) basil, chopped
Put the tomatoes in a large bowl. Using your dominant hand, crush each tomato into walnut-sized pieces. Season with the salt and 55 grams (1/4 cup) of the olive oil. Mix thoroughly and set aside.

In a medium saute pan, heat the remaining 55 grams (1/4 cup) oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until it begins to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes, or until the garlic is soft.

Add the fresh red chiles and Calabrian chiles and continue to cook. Raise the heat to high, add the tomatoes, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring vigorously. Add a bit more olive oil if the mixture begins sticking.

Add the basil, taste, and adjust the seasoning. Transfer to a container, cool, and refrigerate until ready to use. Use in the first 2 days or freeze.

Note: Recipe is shared in the context of review; all rights remain with the original copyright holder. The pizza photos are my own.

Shared with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader (and Baker)

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12 June 2021

Weekend Cooking: 9 New Food and Cooking Books

Food and cooking books spring 2021Hello, my friends. Hope that all has been well with you. I'm still cooking and reviewing, but needed a little break.

In today's post, I want to share with you a bunch of food-related books I have on my list to examine more closely. I haven't fully read or cooked from any of them yet, so the following thoughts are gleaned from a combination of skimming through the text, marking dishes I'd like to try, reading bits here and there, and (in some cases) actually trying a recipe. I'll let you know what I think--either here or on GoodReads--after I take the time to read and explore each title.

Thank you to the publishers for providing the review copies. My reactions are purely my own.

Recommended Cookbooks for Spring 2021

What's the Difference? by Brette Warshaw (Harper Wave, June): This handy kitchen reference helps cooks distinguish between similar ingredients, like ale vs. lager, prawns vs. shrimp, and all the different styles of barbecue and types of flour. The information is presented in a straightforward manner and is divided into logical sections, making it easy to find what you're looking for. While it's certainly convenient to have a book that gathers all these kinds of data in one place, my guess is that most readers would simply use Google or the equivalent to figure out the difference, for example, between creme fraiche and sour cream.

At the Chinese Table by Carolyn Phillips (Norton, June 15): This memoir details Phillips's transformation from a food-loving language student in Taipei to eldest daughter-in-law of a traditional Chinese family. She talks about her discovery of the full range of Chinese cuisine, her courtship and marriage to a Chinese scholar, and how she eventually was accepted by her husband's family. Here she shares her almost 50-year love affair with China and its foods, ending each chapter with at least two recipes. Throughout are charming black-and-white drawings.

We Are What We Eat by Alice Waters (Penguin Press, June 1): In her latest book, Waters stays true to her ideals, outlining her philosophy on sustainability, the need to use local products, and the importance of home cooking or slow cooking. She talks about the pressure of advertising and economic issues as well as the effects the fast-food and convenience food industries have on farmers, on the planet, and on our health.

New Cookbooks for Spring 2021

One-Beer Grilling by Mike Lang (Castle Point Books, May): The point of this cookbook is to provide grilling recipes that can be made "before you finish your first cold one." The cookbook is full of easy and very tasty-sounding recipes for sides, meats, sandwiches, appetizers, and even pizza. Almost every recipe is accompanied by a full-page color photo of the finished dish. I like the variety of dishes and the idea of quick grilling, which is perfect for busy families, weeknight dinners, and casual entertaining.

The Maine Farm Table Cookbook by Kate Shaffer (Countryman Press, June): We love Maine, so I was excited to see this cookbook pop up on my list. Here Shaffer introduces us to a wide variety of Maine producers, farmers, and fishermen, located throughout the state. We meet the people, we see gorgeous photos, and learn about Maine's food culture. The recipes are often family dishes provided by the local growers and producers. While the recipes feature local foods, they can be reproduced in any out-of-state kitchen.

What's Good? by Peter Hoffman (Abrams, June): This chef's memoir is one I plan to read a chapter at a time. Hoffman intertwines his journey from childhood to well-known chef with his discovery of specific flavors (maple syrup, garlic, stone fruits, for example), with inside information about the restaurant world, visits to farmers markets, seasonal foodie delights, travel, and the farm to table movement. This is just my kind of foodie memoir, and I'm looking forward to trying out the recipes scattered throughout. In fact, I've already tried one of the cocktails, which is made with a maple syrup simple syrup. Yum.

Books for Foodies, Spring 2021

Cheese, Wine, and Bread by Katie Quinn
(William Morrow, April): Though Quinn's new book does include a few recipes, its not really a cookbook. Instead this book is a deep dive into three specific types of food and three countries. In England we learn about all things cheese: how it's make, different types, melt factors, and the people and places that make cheese so delicious. Italy is all about the wine, from harvest to bottle to table. Again, we travel throughout the country and discover all its vast diversity. Finally we head to France to learn about bread, bread starters, baking bread, different kinds of bread, and the boulangeries we want to visit. Beautifully illustrated with drawings, graphics, and photographs.

Technically Food by Larissa Zimberoff (Abrams, June): This expose, written by an investigative journalist, takes a hard look at high-tech foods: those better-than-beef burgers, non-dairy cheeses, and molds and fungi. Zimberoff asks--and answers--the questions many of us have: Are these "foods" safe and nutritious? Are they really environmentally and ethically sound? Is the high-tech food industry just a way for Silicon Valley to make money or is it the answer to food shortages around the world? This book may change the way you shop and read labels.

Cook for Your Gut Health by Alicia A. Romano (America's Test Kitchen, April): I picked up this cookbook for a couple of reasons. First, it's from ATK, and second, it includes recipes specifically for people on gluten free, diary free, and/or low FODMAP diets. Though I don't have any of those restrictions, several of my friends and family do have to watch their diet. I wanted a reliable source of flavorful recipes so I don't have to worry about inviting those people to eat at my table. Not every recipe will fit all three diets, but ATK clearly labels their dishes so you can find exactly the right foods to cook. I've already made several recipes from the book and loved each one. I still need to read the information at the beginning of the book, which goes through gut health, discusses ingredients, and offers tips and suggestions. If you are on a special diet, you might want to buy or borrow this cookbook.

Shared with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader (and Baker)

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22 May 2021

Weekend Cooking: Keto BBQ by Myron Mixon (Plus Giveaway)

Review of Keto BBQ by Myron MixonA couple of years ago I wrote about Myron Mixon's BBQ&A cookbook, which totally upped our grilling game. We still turn to that book for sauces, spice rubs, and just plain good advice on how to grill successfully. Now Mixon has come out with a new book, Keto BBQ, which, as the title suggests, reworks his recipes for those who are following a keto diet. (Thanks to Abrams and the Abrams Dinner Party for the review copy.)

Mixon is a world-famous barbecue pitmaster champion, and so, as you can imagine, he really knows his stuff when it comes to traditional grilling and smoking and making any BBQ meal delicious.

When he realized it was time for him to lose weight, he picked the diet/eating plan that suited his lifestyle best: the low-carbohydrate, no-sugar, meat-heavy plan known as keto. By tweaking his tried-and-true recipes and changing his eating habits (explained in the Keto BBQ), Mixon lost more than 100 pounds and has kept it off.

Now, to be fully transparent, I don't know a whole lot about keto eating, so I can't evaluate the information he provides. He, however, doesn't claim to be a nutritionist or doctor; he just knows what worked for him. Though I too am not a keto expert, I do know about cooking and how to evaluate a cookbook. Here's what I discovered about Mixon's Keto BBQ: The flavor profiles of the new recipes--from the spice rubs and sauces to the meats and side dishes--are very similar to those found in his earlier cookbook. I have full confidence that the recipes in this book will lead to delicious low-carb meals.

Review of Keto BBQ by Myron MixonI made the slow-cooker pulled turkey recipe from Keto BBQ, but I used Mixon's original poultry rub and one of his original sauces (because I already had them made up and because I didn't want to buy monk fruit powder). Note, however, that the new rub and sauce recipes in Keto BBQ are almost identical in ingredients, minus the sugars, to his originals. The recipe worked great and the meat was really juicy and delicious.

Mixon includes a number of recipes for side dishes, drinks (with and without alcohol), and appetizers in his new book--all keto friendly. Note too that a number of recipes call for a backyard smoker.

GIVEAWAY: Because we don't follow a keto diet, but we do love Myron Mixon's flavor combos, I'd like to give this cookbook away to someone who will get way more use out of it than I will. All you have to do to be entered in the international giveaway (yes, I'll ship the book to you no matter where you live) is to fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner via a random number generator on Friday, May 28. Once the winner has been confirmed and has sent me his or her mailing address, I'll delete all the email info from my computer. Good luck to those who enter.

Shared with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader (and Baker)

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All content and photos (except where noted) copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads 2008-2020. All rights reserved.

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