Review: Sourdough

Sourdough, Robin Sloan

Published September 5th 2017 by MCD Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Hardcover, 262 pages

Source: Library!


Lois Clary, a software engineer at a San Francisco robotics company, codes all day and collapses at night. When her favourite sandwich shop closes up, the owners leave her with the starter for their mouthwatering sourdough bread.
Lois becomes the unlikely hero tasked to care for it, bake with it and keep this needy colony of microorganisms alive.  Soon she is baking loaves daily and taking them to the farmer’s market, where an exclusive close-knit club runs the show.
When Lois discovers another, more secret market, aiming to fuse food and technology, a whole other world opens up. But who are these people, exactly?

So I have a new love in my life.  A few months ago off a neighborhood Facebook page I claimed a container of sourdough starter.  His name is Bruce – Bruce Rauner to be specific thanks to my 7 year-old.  I’m obsessed.  Like Lois in the book I didn’t know quite what to expect of my starter but have learned it is like having a pet.  A stinky yet delicious pet full of possibilities.  I haven’t been brave enough to actually bake a loaf of bread but I’m having so much fun baking other things with Bruce.

So you see why I HAD to read Sourdough when I read in a review that this book is about a sourdough starter that wants to take over the world.  Lois lives a lonely existence aside from a nightly delivery of amazing spicy soup and sourdough.  When the brothers cooking the food move on, they gift Lois with some sourdough starter and instructions to bake her own bread.  She just starts baking!  As someone who has watched a number of how to bake sourdough videos on YouTube and started obsessively listening to baking podcasts this threw me.  But she bakes her own magical sourdough and life changes dramatically from there.   

This book was delightfully quirky and just what I needed.  Now I have to finally pick-up Sloan’s other book, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Book Shop and work-up the nerve to bake a loaf of bread.  Any bread bakers want to advise me?


Review: Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the WWII Ghost Army

I’ve been reading a lot of middle grade fiction lately, maybe I’m just way too excited for my big 7 year-old to be reading with me.  When asked to look at this middle grade non-fiction book I was way too curious to pass it up.


Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the WWII Ghost Army, Enigma Alberti

Published January 23rd 2018 by Workman Publishing Company
Hardcover, 96 pages
Source: Finished copy received from publisher

Your mission: Find Victor Dowd’s missing sketchbook. And discover one of the most unusual stories of World War II.

Meet the 603rd Camouflage Engineers, better known as the Ghost Army. This group of artists and sound engineers were trained to deceive the Germans in World War II with everything from fake tanks to loudspeakers broadcasting the sound of marching troops. And meet Victor Dowd, a real-life sergeant who with his fellow Ghost Army troops fought his way from Normandy, through France, and eventually across the Rhine.

First of all, why have I not heard of the Ghost Army?  A whole unit devoted to fooling Hitler and the Nazis with artwork, sound effects and clever camouflage – what an amazing story!  I read this almost entirely in a train ride, so less than an hour, a fast read but I was completely engrossed.  Yes, this was written for kids but my interest is piqued and I will be finding some more titles on this unit to read soon.
This book didn’t talk down to the young reader but made the Ghost Army’s story engaging by talking about Victor Dowd and his experiences as an artist being used to paint planes and trucks to trick the Nazis about the soldiers and units in place.  I haven’t looked at kids’ nonfiction since I was a kid and I wasn’t sure how it would come together.  Victor’s individual story made it compelling on an individual level I think and then makes the branching out into the rest of the Ghost Army easier for a young reader who might not be used to nonfiction.  
And then there are the spy tools.  Spy tools!  My daughter wasn’t interested in the topic – she is too young and this isn’t her thing – but even she was ready to break out the spy tools to solve the mystery of the missing sketchbook.  These were awesome!
I loved this book! I will definitely be gifting copies to some young readers in my life and sending it to my daughter’s school.  I can’t wait to pick up Enigma Alberti’s first Spy on History book, Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring -that is a topic we’ve talked about at home so I hope the kid is ready. 
Thank you so much Workman Publishing for this copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Overdue Reviews: Two Books About Crowns

One I loved – and one not so much… Both have sequels out too so you can not have to wait like I did for reading!


First – the good.

Three Dark Crowns

When kingdom come, there will be one.

In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born—three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins.

The last queen standing gets the crown. 

I mean I’ve never wanted to kill my sister (I swear Holly!) but that doesn’t mean this build up to battles to the death between triplets isn’t fun to read about.  These sisters are separated at a young age knowing that when they come back together two will die for one to become queen.  That’s a lot to live with!  The magic is cool, the scheming from all sides is great and I feel like the battles to come will be epic. 

I would have liked more about the history of the island and the queens – but I feel like there must be depth still to come.  I thought this was a duology but it turns out there are 4 books planned. As, as I’m so slow, the sequel, One Dark Throne, is also out and it was equally creepy and violent.  Things definitely did not go the way I expected for these sisters and my feelings totally changed about them.  I can’t want to see what happens next!

And the other…

The Crown’s Game, Evelyn Skye

Published May 17th 2016 by Balzer + Bray

Hardcover, 399 pages

Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the Tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the Tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love… or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear… the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

Between this gorgeous cover and this description I was dying to get my hands onto The Crowns Game – Imperial Russia and magic AND romance?  Yes please.  I was really sad that this wasn’t the magical and romantic book I wanted it to be.  Yes, the magic was really cool at times, but at the heart of it this was two magicians dueling – and nowhere near as cool as the Night Circus.  The romance was just kind of meh here and the love triangle boring too.  I might pick up the sequel if I came across it on a library shelf – but this isn’t one to seek out I’d say.  If you want a Russian story and not dueling magicians go for The Bear and The Nightingale (which I need to review)!

Maybe the title should have clued me in…

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, Balli Kaur Jaswal

Published June 13th 2017 by William Morrow
Hardcover, 304 pages
Source: Library!

Every woman has a secret life . . .Nikki lives in cosmopolitan West London, where she tends bar at the local pub. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she’s spent most of her twenty-odd years distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her childhood, preferring a more independent (that is, Western) life. When her father’s death leaves the family financially strapped, Nikki, a law school dropout, impulsively takes a job teaching a “creative writing” course at the community center in the beating heart of London’s close-knit Punjabi community.

Because of a miscommunication, the proper Sikh widows who show up are expecting to learn basic English literacy, not the art of short-story writing. When one of the widows finds a book of sexy stories in English and shares it with the class, Nikki realizes that beneath their white dupattas, her students have a wealth of fantasies and memories. Eager to liberate these modest women, she teaches them how to express their untold stories, unleashing creativity of the most unexpected—and exciting—kind.

As more women are drawn to the class, Nikki warns her students to keep their work secret from the Brotherhood, a group of highly conservative young men who have appointed themselves the community’s “moral police.” But when the widows’ gossip offers shocking insights into the death of a young wife—a modern woman like Nikki—and some of the class erotica is shared among friends, it sparks a scandal that threatens them all.

I’m pretty positive the delightful Reading with Hippos pointed me to this book.  The title is amazing – but really it should have tipped me off that that there were actual – you know EROTIC STORIES.  I was expecting the family dynamics, marital stress, the complicated lives of immigrants living in London.  I wasn’t shocked by the racism experienced, the religious bias, or even the question of possible murder.  But some of those stories – whoa were those a surprise!
Yes things got a bit cheesy or moved too quickly maybe – but overall this was just a fun read with more depth than you’d expect to go with the erotic stories.  When you need a book that will make you laugh and reconsider all the produce in your fridge check this out.

Overdue Review: Among the Ruins

Among the Ruins,  (Rachel Getty & Esa Khattak #3) by Ausma Zehanat Khan

Published February 14th 2017 by Minotaur Books

Hardcover, 368 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley


On leave from Canada’s Community Policing department, Esa Khattak is traveling in Iran, reconnecting with his cultural heritage and seeking peace in the country’s beautiful mosques and gardens. But Khattak’s supposed break from work is cut short when he’s approached by a Canadian government agent in Iran, asking him to look into the death of renowned Canadian-Iranian filmmaker Zahra Sobhani. Zahra was murdered at Iran’s notorious Evin prison, where she’d been seeking the release of a well-known political prisoner. Khattak quickly finds himself embroiled in Iran’s tumultuous politics and under surveillance by the regime, but when the trail leads back to Zahra’s family in Canada, Khattak calls on his partner, Detective Rachel Getty, for help.

Rachel uncovers a conspiracy linked to the Shah of Iran and the decades-old murders of a group of Iran’s most famous dissidents. Historic letters, a connection to the Royal Ontario Museum, and a smuggling operation on the Caspian Sea are just some of the threads Rachel and Khattak begin unraveling, while the list of suspects stretches from Tehran to Toronto. But as Khattak gets caught up in the fate of Iran’s political prisoners, Rachel sees through to the heart of the matter: Zahra’s murder may not have been a political crime at all.

It is not easy to try to review a series from the middle so I will mostly just tell you that if you like mysteries and haven’t read these books YOU SHOULD START!  Book one of Esa and Rachel’s partnership, The Unquiet Dead, blew me away and The Language of Secrets was a worthy follow-up.  Now Esa has found his way into a new mystery while vacationing in Iran and Rachel tries to help as best she can from home in Canada.   As they had to work to communicate I found myself uncomfortably tense with worry about what would happen.  I was also 9 months pregnant when reading this – I might recommend against combination on reflection.  Too much anxiety!  We had deeply corrupt government figures, international drama, possibly stolen royal jewels and then family dramas – all wrapped up with murder.   

I have of course found myself emotionally caught up by characters in mysteries, even tearful (Flavia  de Luce I’m looking at you).  But I can’t think of a mystery book or series that gets me so caught up in the real fate of a group of people or nation or really just what the fuck is wrong with humanity sometimes.  Khan had me terrified and sad for the plight of prisoners in Iran – so much so I’d never want to go there- and at the same time longing to see the sights she described. Thankfully she started posting pictures on Facebook and saved me the searching time!  What a beautifully sad place.  

I’m also currently reading Khan’s foray into fantasy, The Bloodprint, and I’m really enjoying it.  Definitely getting flashbacks to the setting for Among the Ruins which is cool and different. 

Are you reading this series?  Any other good mysteries I should pick-up?  I think that’s the mood I’m heading into for fall.

Thank you Minotaur Books and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review! 

It’s Monday What Are You Reading? 

How is July half way over? I’m finding myself thinking about back to school reading which is insane!  I just put A Wrinkle in Time on hold at the library- cross your fingers that my First Grade queen of the Rainbow Fairies series will read something else!

I’m reading Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin which I am loving. Next up are library books Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire and after hearing about Prey of the Gods from Michelle at That’s What She Read I had to check that out.

I’m on a mission to read off my own shelf so I also am going middle grade and trying The Sixty Eight Rooms about my beloved Art Institute of Chicago.

Phew that’s a lot. What are you reading this week? Thanks to The Book Date for this check-in!

Overdue Reviews: The Dragon Behind the Glass

The Dragon Behind the Glass: A True Story of Power, Obsession, and the World’s Most Coveted Fish, Emily Voigt

Published May 24th 2016 by Scribner

Hardcover, 336 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley


A journalist’s quest to find a wild Asian arowana — the world’s most expensive aquarium fish—takes her on a global tour through the bizarre realm of ornamental fish hobbyists to some of the most remote jungles on the planet.

A young man is murdered for his prized pet fish. An Asian tycoon buys a single specimen for $150,000. Meanwhile, a pet detective chases smugglers through the streets of New York. Delving into an outlandish world of obsession, paranoia, and criminality, The Dragon Behind the Glass tells the story of a fish like none other. Treasured as a status symbol believed to bring good luck, the Asian arowana, or “dragon fish,” is a dramatic example of a modern paradox: the mass-produced endangered species. While hundreds of thousands are bred in captivity, the wild fish has become a near-mythical creature. From the South Bronx to Borneo and beyond, journalist Emily Voigt follows the trail of the arowana to learn its fate in nature.

With a captivating blend of personal reporting, history, and science, Voigt traces our fascination with aquarium fish back to the era of exploration when intrepid naturalists stood on the cutting edge of modern science, discovering new species around the globe. In an age when freshwater fish now comprise one of the most rapidly vanishing groups of animals, she unearths a surprising truth behind the arowana’s rise to fame—one that calls into question how we protect the world’s rarest species.

An elegant examination of the human conquest of nature, The Dragon Behind the Glass revels in the sheer wonder of life’s diversity and lays bare our deepest desire—to hold on to what is wild.

When I read the above blurb – a pet fish that people commit murder over! –  I knew I had to read this book.  What with life and babies and all I didn’t read this right away, but when I read mention of an arowana getting plastic surgery in Rich People Problems it sparked my memory and I knew I had to read the Dragon Behind the Glass soon.  And I learned Kevin Kwan didn’t make it up – people really are that extreme about the Asian Arowana!  

Once I started reading I was hooked!  (Also I’m clearly hilarious)  What started as one story in New York let Voigt into places that very few people travel to try to find the story of the wild arowana.   She follows both the collectors who want the fish for the prosperity it can bring and the scientists trying to study a possible new strain.   I know I am not such an explorer so it was fascinating reading how far the quest to see something new and wild would take Voigt and the biologists that she worked with.  I know I wouldn’t try to get into Burma just to catch a glimpse of a fish in its native environment! Especially for such an odd looking fish.  Fish conventions, fish nicknames, fish theft – quite a world out there.

Voigt also left me thinking more deeply than I expected about how we treat endangered or threatened species and how those animals end up on the list in the first place.  While I fear without an endangered list we would drive even more species to extinction she has me wondering if instead we do even more harm than good.  When my daughter and I took our usual turn around the fish department at the local pet store last week I definitely was looking at all those tanks differently.  

Thank you Scribner and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!