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How to Bake More Bread: Modern Breads, Wild Yeast

Michael Kalanty. Red Seal, $24 trade paper (292p) ISBN 978-0-692-54602-4

Kalanty’s follow-up to 2011’s How to Bake Bread expands on the theme, focusing on wild yeast and how it can impart unique flavors into artisan breads. It all begins with a starter, a living culture of flour, water, and yeast that deepens in flavor complexity over time. The wild yeast found in the whitish bloom on fruits such as grapes and plums is employed in lieu of commercial yeast to create the starter. Kalanty walks readers through the entire process, from creating the starter and daily feedings to tips on keeping that culture alive and thriving so it can be used for future loaves. Once readers have their starters, Kalanty gives detailed instructions on baking classics such as pain au levain and sourdough, as well as an apple-walnut farmhouse bread studded with caramelized fruits and a grits and goat cheese porridge bread. The book’s textbook approach and abundance of charts, figures, precise measurements, and detailed steps are probably best suited for professionals and culinary students. That said, novices are sure to come away with a much greater understanding of bread fundamentals (there are lots of photos and asides on techniques such as rotating breads in the oven and ornamental scoring), and amateur bakers obsessed with making perfect bread will have a hard time finding a better guide. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Operation Crossroads: Lest We Forget! An Eyewitness Account, Bikini Atomic Bomb Tests 1946

William L. McGee, with Sandra V. McGee. BMC Publications, $19.95 trade paper (132p) ISBN 978-0-9701678-5-9

In this brief firsthand account, McGee revisits the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests, the first such tests administered after WWII. McGee served on the USS Fall River, a U.S. Navy cruiser that was present as the flagship of the supporting task force during the detonation of two atomic bombs in July 1946. Using his own and his shipmates’ recollections, supplemented by ship’s logs, he recreates his day-to-day experiences as one of over 40,000 U.S. military personnel who lived and worked for months within a 15-mile radius of the Able and Baker detonations, both of which were bigger than those that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The most startling revelation that McGee relates is the absolute ignorance of the military and civilian leaders of the dangers of nuclear radiation poisoning. After the blasts, sailors and scientist went about routine duties for weeks in a highly contaminated environment with virtually no extra precautions. McGee points out that this tragedy was largely the result of ignorance, compounded by the more egregious actions of the Veterans Administration, which in subsequent years denied veterans the health care necessary to treat their radiation-related illnesses. Though slight, McGee’s work offers a good introduction to the subject. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Multiples Illuminated: A Collection of Stories and Advice from Parents of Twins, Triplets, and More

Edited by Megan Woolsey and Alison Lee. Megan Woolsey and Alison Lee, $15.95 trade paper (210p) ISBN 978-0-9968335-0-9

According to Woolsey and Lee's introduction to this helpful guide, when Woolsey was pregnant with triplets, she found herself filled with questions that the usual parenting resources couldn't answer. Woolsey and Lee have compiled what they learned on their own as parents of multiples (in Lee's case, twins) alongside stories from other women in a collection arranged into chronological sections: trying to conceive, pregnancy, labor, post-pregnancy, and the first few years of parenting. Woolsey kicks off the discussion by opening up about her own difficulty with fertility treatments and giving readers practical tips on "surviving fertility." In the pregnancy section, Lee shares important best practices for health and safety. To prepare for labor, Woolsey lists what to pack for the hospital, and readers learn the importance of an "outplan." In the post-pregnancy section, Lee prepares readers for the possibility of ill or premature babies being placed in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), and the parenting section covers breastfeeding and handling stress. Each story is short and sweet, replete with helpful information and examples of the ways in which parents have coped, and will appeal primarily to women, since every story (with one exception) was contributed by a mother. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Catalyst: Decay Chains, Vol. 1

Kate Wars. Staten & Cross, , $14.99 ISBN 978-0-9975055-0-4

Wars makes an uneven debut with this energetic modern zombie novel. Stormy accompanies her boyfriend, Matt, to the hospital, where he’s undergoing an emergency appendectomy when terrorist organization Cold World attacks the building with a zombifying biological agent. Matt partially turns into a zombie, and he hounds Stormy as she collects a ragtag group of survivors and forms them into a counterterrorist cell based out of an isolated rural house. The group gathers intelligence and resources even as Cold World escalates its attacks, bringing on a global epidemic that portends apocalypse. Wars’s dedicated focus on action and frenetic pacing ultimately cripples the narrative, leaving the continuity and transitions too sketchy to follow easily. The story also suffers from awkward, uneven characterization and the conspicuous use of pseudoscience. Readers are left with the impression of a book that could have been stronger but instead relies too hard on the reader’s dedicated fondness for the genre’s most time-worn tropes. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Perception of Power

Bruce Thomason. Batjak Publishing, $14.95 trade paper (374p) ISBN 978-0-9832203-3-6

Thomason’s heroic Florida cop, Clay Randall, gets into major trouble in his dramatic third outing (after 2010’s The Six O’Clock Rule) after a bizarre chain of events leads to tragedy. Clay, a commander with the Jacksonville Beach PD, happens to be in a convenience store when an elderly man in a wheelchair shoplifts some snacks. When Clay intervenes, the would-be thief flees the store into the street, only to be fatally struck by a concrete truck, which, in turn, slams into the SUV carrying Gina Starks, a close friend of Clay’s wife. Gina is killed instantly, and her young daughter is seriously injured. Clay’s inadvertent role incurs the wrath of Gina’s father, U.S. Senator Thomas Barclay, a leading contender for the White House, and places him in Barclay’s crosshairs. Barclay’s unscrupulous chief of staff, Lou Dunlop, eventually devises a fiendish scheme to ruin Clay, and the plot follows up the action-packed opening with even more surprising developments. The author’s four-plus decades in law enforcement lend the story verisimilitude. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Satin Cinnabar

Barbara Gaskell Denvil. CreateSpace, $16.99 trade paper (468p) ISBN 978-1-5174-5439-5

This medieval thriller has some of the earmarks of Denvil’s The Flame Eater—a complicated romance, the darkly comical portrayal of family, and a murder mystery to keep the suspense going. The hero is Sir Alexander Quyrril, Baron Mornington, who survives the same battle in 1485 that takes King Richard’s life, ushers in the new Tudor monarchy, and brings about his family’s political downfall. Staggering from the battlefield, he tousles in a barn with Katherine Ashingham, who is in a boyish disguise and betrothed to the Earl of Sheffield. They part ways, but both end up in London in the grand Sheffield House with Alex in disguise as a servant and Katherine married to the Earl. To avoid consummating her marriage, each night Katherine enlists Alex, the spice clerk, to spike her husband’s wine. As Alex becomes the prime suspect in three murders and a kidnapping, much entertaining mayhem follows—lightly farcical at times and darkly sinister at others—and an unhinged cleric becomes obsessed with Alex’s alleged sins. Poisoning, false accusations, and the plague all play a hand. Marring the story are Katherine’s prudishness and her tortured romantic naiveté; however, the revelatory characters and medieval history will give readers much to enjoy. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Stone Angels

Michael Hartigan. Merrimack Media, $17.95 trade paper (340p) ISBN 978-1-939166-79-1

Hartigan’s psychological thriller is not for the faint of heart. College senior Augustine Shaw takes a vacation to Key West with three friends during his final spring break to clear his mind of his former misdeeds, but on the way back to Providence, R.I., he can no longer contain his guilt at the lives he’s destroyed and continues to affect with his lies. Shaw is a murderer, and it doesn’t take him very long in the story to confess. However, even then, he still has explaining to do. How did he come to be involved in this crime? What inspired him to kill the young woman he loved and his abusive best friend? To answer these questions, Shaw takes us back to his sophomore year of college, when he first met Lily, and then back even further to high school, where he met his future college roommate, Duncan. Their story is not a love triangle, nor is it your average boy-meets-girl saga. Instead, it is a stirring page-turner that follows a group of friends and the events that bring them together—and eventually tear them apart forever. Hartigan’s well-crafted novel moves quickly and hits hard with shocking twists that will keep readers engaged until the end. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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100 Years from Now Our Bones Will Be Different

Lawrence McWilliams and Anand Vedawala, illus. by McWilliams. 540 Collab, $14.99 ISBN 978-0-692-51743-7

Inspired by Edgar Lee Master’s Spoon River Anthology, this illustrated collection of first-person epitaphs follows 40 members of a fictional African-American family from 1915 to 2015. The epitaphs provide brief but powerful glimpses into the family members’ lives and personalities, social changes, and a web of secrets and traumas. Opposite the first-person epitaphs, McWilliams’s expressive sepia portraits freeze glimmers of hope, pain, uncertainty, and weariness on each face. Throughout, McWilliams and Vedawala achieve a haunting beauty through the voices of the dead: within the first few pages, readers witness the deaths of Sarah Williams (1878–1915) and her newborn son in childbirth (his epitaph is left blank) and husband Elijah’s grief over those losses, as well as that of son Arthur after tipsily stumbling in front of a car. Albert Williams (1911–1931) was killed by the Klan at age 20 (“Take my advice, don’t ever go to Portland,” he laments), and Alice, who is trans, is killed at almost the same age in 2008. Alternately melancholy, raw, and hopeful, it’s a striking account of a family’s perseverance in the face of recurring injustices, violence, and tragedy. Ages 12–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Stone Circle

Anthony Tuck. Wheatmark, $12.95 paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-62787-307-9

Siblings fight ancient evil with help from mythological figures in Tuck’s engaging first novel. Telepathic 12-year-old twins Maisie and Jasper Tuck are spending the fall with Professor Winslop while their parents are away on an archeological dig. With nothing to do but listen to the Professor’s lectures on history and myth, the twins take to exploring the New Hampshire woods. After they find a circle of stones reminiscent of Stonehenge, the professor reveals that they are the Children of Gemini and they must use the stone circle to locate four jewels to complete the Crown of Seasons and defeat the Dark Ones. Tuck draws on a wealth of mythological elements from Norse, Greek, Native American, and other sources to create an appealing adventure, though the story can get bogged down in details and lore surrounding barrow wights, selkies, and other creatures and legends. While Maisie and Jasper are equally capable and important to the story, the characters as a whole are fairly one-note. Regardless, Tuck provides intriguing food for thought about the oral tradition of myths and the ways stories change as they’re told. Ages 9–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Song Birds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music

Heather Augustyn. Half Pint, $25 (423p) ISBN 978-1-5024-3604-7

In this engaging, well-researched book, Augustyn (Ska: An Oral History) states that women had almost no chance in the male-dominated Jamaican music industry in the 1940s–1980s; it was all “overt power and testosterone.” In the songs, women were “the playground for men” or “wrongdoers,” and the lyrics were “misogynistic and thus not very appropriate for female consumption, must less creation.” She shows that the women who pursued music careers in this setting were trailblazers. Augustyn profiles dozens of women who persevered through tough times, juggling child rearing, gender discrimination, and low pay. She includes Louise Bennett, who “brought the Jamaican patois, folklore, and culture to the stage [and] her talents to Harlem”; Millie Small, whose “bubbling” voice made her cover version of “My Boy Lollipop” an international hit; and Susan Cadogan, who went from “quiet library assistant to... superstar.” This is an exhaustive, if overlong, history of Jamaican music. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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