Monday, May 27, 2013

Monthly Preview of Brand New Books

Put your sensors on high alert because some great new non-fiction books continue to roll off the presses! A couple of those had their phasers on stun: Mitchell Zuckoff's Frozen in Time and Marie Arana's Bolivar: American Liberator. That is not to slight Michael Pollan's Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation or  Glennon Doyle Melton's Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed in the least. I thoroughly enjoyed each reading experience and took away something valuable from each.

This week's blog selection defines eclectic. Adventure. History. Food. Life. The stars consist of plane crash victims, a South American patriot,  elements of the earth and a mommy blogger. The scope of travel expands from Greenland's frozen tundra to Bolivia's scorching sun to the East and West Coasts of the USA. The books effected me differently. Melton's Carry On, Warrior left me enthused and energetic upon initially finishing it, but the enthusiasm faded while I can't get Arana's Bolivar out of my mind. The more I think about what I read about Bolivar, the more respect I have for him. Pollan's Cooked taught me how to prepare meats so that they taste better.  Zuckoff should hire me to market his books - I've loved all two of his books I've read and recommend them frequently online and in person.

This could've been me.

 What I liked about Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan 

First off, while the title left me wondering if it would be a boring slog, it describes the book perfectly-  like a title should. the book isn't boring although the sections that cover aspects of cooking that I haven't experienced failed to hold my attention as closely. Pollan divides the book as follows:

 Part 1: Fire  - Celeb BBQ chef, Ed Mitchell, rises from the ashes here and allows Pollan to assist him. This section is more than Mitchell though, the reader takes a journey through the world of barbecue: preparation, what makes it sizzle, what defines barbecue in different parts of the USA, shortcuts, essentially the whole hog on barbecue.

Part 2: Water - Pollan saturates himself in learning all he can about how to properly braise meat in water. Who knew that deliciously prepared meat requires so few ingredients? He suggests prepping  the meat days before eating by shaking plenty of salt on it and letting it sit. It seems that the salt gets busy and breaks down the muscles in the meat and allows for greater absorption of herbal flavors and such. I tried a mini-version of this, an afternoon salt/herb-marination of hamburger for tacos, no kidding, that was the best hamburger I ever tasted! (This coming from someone who eats little meat.)

Part 3: Air - Hubby makes the bread in our family. Oh, by the way, if you are wondering why I suddenly mentioned bread when speaking about air its because yeast requires air to rise, hence the association with air in this section of the book. Anyhow, back to hubby and bread and air. Pollan apprenticed himself out to several bakers in the quest of making the perfect loaves of bread. He learned much, and I passed on what he learned to hubby. The only problem is, I found, since we bake gluten-free bread, and Pollan didn't, not much applies. Not to mention, hubby needs little help with his bread, its all been good!

Part 4: Earth - Okay, honestly, I found little in this section with which I could relate since it delves into  fermentation and food-processing that involves bacteria. While some of the characters and anecdotes entertained, I found myself doing more skimming than reading. Pollan made sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi and cheeses (with a nun). He also brewed. What did grab my interest was his narrative about a gathering he attended that included many health-conscious folks who advocated fermentation for the purpose of increasing the good bacteria we all have in our guts. They discussed problems many people have with conditions such as "leaky gut" and immune problems. At first, Pollan thought these folks were quacks but as he began researching their claims, he found most of their claims legitimate. I appreciated his open-mindedness - something that can be respected in an already popular author.

Why this book won't be for everyone:
Unless the reader has an interest in cooking, I can't imagine this book entertaining.

My 4.0 star Goodreads review

What I liked about Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed by Glennon Doyle Melton
A candid account of Melton's encounter with drug and alcohol abuse,bulimia, marriage and childrearing crises all from her humorous, positive frame of mind. Its a nice mix of serious and funny, wise and down-to-earth. Actually, its always down-to-earth as the author's goal is to live her life "unarmed" - no phoniness, pretending to be something she isn't. Its hard to be open and honest and still "fit in".

Sample: (Author discussing small town life.)
"It's the small town attention to detail. It's harder to pretend that people or moments are dispensable here. You have to be careful in a small town. If someone has a barking dog, or is driving too slow , you should not give the dog dirty looks or cut the slow person off. Because then you will forever be The Lady Who Gives Dogs Dirty Looks and Cuts People Off. There is no anonymity here. People are responsible for their actions. And if you don't like your neighbor, well you best find something you like, because nobody's going anywhere. There're just not enough folks to keep trying people out until you find one who matches you perfectly. I'm learning to practice what I preach to the kids: you get what you get, and you don't throw a fit."

Why this book won't be for everyone:
1) Although Melton is not "preachy" about her faith, it is an important part of her life, some readers will be turned off by her many references to God and Jesus. She is not a church-y Christian as she has no use for denominational rules, standards but much respect for living what one believes is true. Many people of faith may be offended by her use of colorful language. Personally, it endeared her to me because it showed me that she was serious about being herself and not conforming to standards.
2) Melton comes from a blogging background. She has a highly successful blog, In reviews, one of the criticisms offered by readers was they felt the book had too much of a blog flavor to it. I suppose I'd have to concur mildly, however, how little blog-iness it had compared to other blogger/writers impressed me! (Think: Pioneer Woman and you will see what I mean.)

My 4.5 star Goodreads review.

What I liked about Frozen in Time by Mitchell Zuckoff

Okay, okay, I know this book made my Derring-do Dozen in last week's blog, but I LOVE it! What's not to love? Its history thawed out. WWII, a dash of Greenland culture, bomber crews from all over the US learning to survive together on the ice. Innovation, courage, strength of mind, spirit and body, loyalty, caring for the ill all show up in this slice of history. Who would you prefer to rescue you? The Navy, Coast Guard or Army? I know who I would choose after reading this book.

Another question. How do you get the government to pay for your recovery expedition? Find out here.

Why this book won't be for everyone:
Still thinking, I'll get back with you. *grin*

4.5 stars

What I liked about Bolivar: American Liberator by Marie Arana

Was there ever a man who did so much for his continent who was so unappreciated? How could this be? Simon Bolivar grew up wealthy, spoiled but submitting to the cruel Spanish rule. His parents died while he was young. His guardian uncle thieved from his inheritance and tossed him off to be raised by his tutor. Bolivar behaved terribly. Insert a passion for a cause: freedom from the Spanish and discover a new Simon Bolivar, a man committed to freedom for all.

Six thoughts about Simon:
1) This was a man who lived and breathed bringing freedom to South America. This in spite of betrayal, assassination attempts, rugged, frozen mountains to travail over, fever and personal sickness - nothing stopped him.
2) He was unprejudiced in an horribly prejudiced world. He fought for all, Indian, mulatto, English, etc.
3) He desired no payment for his services as Liberator. He refused enormous sums of money for freeing countries from Spanish rule. He gave away money liberally to his soldiers and fellow sufferers.
4) He didn't desire to rule. Yes, he did rule about every country he conquered at some point, but he repeatedly saddled someone else with the job as soon as possible.
5) He astounded me with his insight into power, money and freedom. For being a once silver-spooned young man, he impressed me with his wisdom garnered through living like the common man.
6) Bolivar lobbied for a canal to be built through Panama. Was it his idea? I don't know. But it shows his progressiveness.

Why this book won't be for everyone:

The first reason would have to be the length. Even though the actual biography is only 400+ pages, there is a healthy-sized section of notes and such. Even though it is easier to read than most biographies, it isn't something to be zipped through, it requires concentration.

4.25 stars

New Stuff Links:
Books released in April, 2013
Books released in May, 2013
Books to be released in June, 2013
Books to be released in July, 2013
Books to be released in August, 2013
New York Times Bestseller list

Next week brings more of 2013's books reviewed. In the meantime, stop by and check out New Updates to the Around the World List Page

Until next week, happy reading to you!