Foreword Reviews

Book of the Day Roundup: December 14-18, 2020

The Nutritionist’s Kitchen

Transform Your Diet and Discover the Healing Power of Whole Foods

Book Cover
Carly Knowles
Roost Books
Softcover $24.95 (272pp)
978-1-61180-777-6
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

While living in a remote village in Peru, Carly Knowles observed that many villagers had gone or were going blind due to a lack of vitamin A in their very limited diets. This led to a realization that changed her life: food is medicine. Her cookbook The Nutritionist’s Kitchen is packed with helpful facts and advice to shows that food can be very tasty medicine indeed.

As a registered dietitian nutritionist, Knowles’s approach is holistic. While its focus is on food, the book does not neglect to mention that mental and spiritual health support and sustain bodily health. It first explains the science supporting links between the human genome and nutritional health before outlining the pillars of food as medicine. It then breaks down the tenets of “food agency,” whether that means buying organic, locally sourced food or eating rainbow meals with high nutrient density. The first section is thorough in establishing how to buy, what to buy, and how to set up one’s kitchen and pantry for this style of eating.

The second section settles into delivering recipes, with glossy colorful photographs and explanations for batch cooking to support busy cooks. Some of the recipes are for expected fare, while others make use of unexpected ingredients or combinations, like Vegetable Miso Soup with Kombu Dashi and Tofu, and Chocolate and Chai Spiced Granola. The palate crosses from East to West, favoring simple, fresh flavors over any particular culture.

Knowles makes following her advice an easy prospect. Her book contains shopping lists, seasonal menus, and information about which foods boost particular vitamins and minerals for the body. Perfect whether you want to cook as medicine, sustenance, or to nurture, The Nutritionist’s Kitchen contains sensible, direct advice and delicious, mouthwatering recipes.

CAMILLE-YVETTE WELSCH (December 11, 2020)

A Land Like You

Book Cover
Tobie Nathan
Joyce Zonana, translator
Seagull Books
Hardcover $27.95 (350pp)
978-0-85742-788-5
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Tobie Nathan’s historical novel A Land Like You is a feast for the corporeal and spiritual senses.

In twentieth-century Cairo, a newborn Jewish boy and an infant Muslim girl, along with their families, are thrust into an unusual and unbreakable bond when the Jewish mother is unable to suckle her child and so seeks out a wet nurse from the surrounding Muslim community. The two children become milk twins. They are further tied together by a powerful, mysterious protective amulet devised by the local rabbi. Coming of age during tumultuous WWII, they see their world transformed.

Each page of this rich novel drips with scintillating descriptions of every food prepared and tasted by its characters, as well as every scent that wafts through the dank Cairo alleys and the nearby countryside. From the dingy hovels of the city’s poorest residents to the glittering palaces of the wealthy international aristocracy, A Land Like You exists in visual and auditory splendor. Enlivening sensual details leave no doubt about how it feels to experience each moment. And the spirit world, which is as real and present to the book’s Jewish and Muslim Egyptians as the city itself, plays a potent role in the conception, rearing, and repeated reunification of the peculiar boy, Zohar, with his first and most enduring love, Masreya.

As they grow, fate and history bring Zohar and Masreya together again and again. They rub shoulders with royalty and brush elbows with political power. Their particular talents—business for Zohar and singing for Masreya—are sought by those caught up in the thrill and peril of war. They lose themselves and find themselves in a city that exists between the ancient pulse of Africa, the throbbing influence of the modern European continent, and the winds of the East.

SARAH RICHARDS (October 27, 2020)

The Dubious Gift of Dragon Blood

Book Cover
J. Marshall Freeman
Bold Strokes Books
Softcover $13.95 (334pp)
978-1-63555-725-1
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

In J. Marshall Freeman’s fantasy novel, Crispin wants to leave the shadow of his sophomore year, when he was outed and lost his first boyfriend, behind him. He takes comfort in starting his junior year as part of the popular clique, even if their ringleader treats him as a filler.

Then Crispin finds out that he is one of twenty not quite humans living on Earth who have dragon blood. The five ruling dragons, and the society built around them, reside in the Realm of Fire, and they want Crispin back. A prophecy has predicted that one of the five will die, and Crispin has been chosen to mate with the queen and produce an heir. Overwhelmed, Crispin spends the night with a friend; after his popularity bubble bursts the next day, he flees to the Realm of Fire to escape his embarrassment and grief.

In Cliffside, the home of the humans who serve the five, Crispin is revered, though not everyone is welcoming. Under the leadership of the Prime Magistrate, the prophecy has become heresy, and Crispin struggles to earn allies. He forms an unlikely alliance with a young acolyte, Davix, and they investigate strange events plaguing Cliffside, including a series of suspicious deaths.

The story includes many perspectives, but Crispin and Davix dominate. Davix provides insight into the culture of Cliffside; his struggle to abandon lifelong loyalties and beliefs in order to do what is right is palpable and moving. Crispin’s charming awkwardness is a balm; he enlivens austere Cliffside with his rambling speeches and draws parallels to pop culture that are lost on his compatriots.

Most concerned with a boy who has always felt out of place, The Dubious Gift of Dragon Blood is a young adult fantasy that’s primed for a sequel.

DANIELLE BALLANTYNE (October 27, 2020)

Plutocracy

Book Cover
Abraham Martinez
NBM
Hardcover $24.99 (144pp)
978-1-68112-268-7
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

A money-ruled future is the setting for the inspired, unnerving graphic novel Plutocracy.

Homero quits his job as a detective and turns to investigative journalism, researching the Company, the all-powerful organization that has united the world and all but eradicated serious crimes. To his surprise, Homero finds a willing, Company-associated publisher for his planned exposé, and is granted access to Company archives and an interview with its president. It is later revealed that the Company’s cooperation is driven by reasons other than educating the public.

The story extrapolates many modern political issues: health insurance, public funds propping up businesses, selling human organs for transplants. The Company’s policy of recording and collecting personal data, including phone calls, creates an emotional moment as Homero hears his dead mother’s voice.

The plot goes to extremes; on a television game show, a man sells shares of himself, surrendering his freedom to make decisions. But there are also sober and thought-provoking debates about ethics and morals, as one Company man points out that death is a cost of business, observing that tunnels were built under waterways despite the statistical knowledge that four workers would die for every mile.

There are enough surprises to propel the story beyond its politics. Its art, aided by a moody color palette, is bleak and effective in depicting an efficient, organized, and soulless society. Dazzling cityscapes and interior architecture details convey those aspects with cold symmetry, seen in the Company’s archives, rows of power lines, even an overhead view of a parking lot.

Plutocracy is fine entertainment, but it’s also a firm, memorable warning about the dangers of unfettered capitalism.

PETER DABBENE (October 27, 2020)

A Certain Hunger

Book Cover
Chelsea G. Summers
Unnamed Press
Hardcover $26.00 (240pp)
978-1-951213-14-5
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

In a culture that fetishizes male power, the heroine of A Certain Hunger is a rapacious, bloodthirsty monster—a perversion of every male fear.

Dorothy is a food critic. She has exquisite taste and she hungers for new sensations. So she transgresses on behalf of those governed by social contracts—and for women in particular. She becomes a ball of sensate wickedness and a delightful anti-heroine who, driven by her appetites, is a sexual terror, a gustatory snob, and an irrepressible misandrist.

Dorothy revels in her power, which derives from her resistance to male dominance and her willingness to assume the same role. She lives in a state of erotic suspension, trailing from lover to lover, and restaurant to restaurant, in Manhattan and Italy. No man is left unscathed: Dorothy eats her boyfriends’ organs, and soon she is addicted to the thrill of cannibalism and on the run from its consequences.

Leaning on the overwrought, hyperluxurious language of professional gourmands to describe dishes like duck liver toast—“unctuous as a Vegas emcee, salty as a vaudeville comedian”—and steak and kidney pie—“tender as a love song, rich as Warren G. Harding”—the book is sometimes overwhelming. Its layered descriptions distract from its plot: with so many images on the table, characters are lost. Throughout, Dorothy asserts her superiority to the men whom she murders, but her psychopathy is terminal. In proving that she is better than her prey, she becomes what she hates, but she’s not self-aware enough to dispatch her ego along with her dinner.

A Certain Hunger is a hearty novel that, despite its graphic themes of murder, flesh eating, sex, and the dessert menu, is also quite funny. With direct jabs at toxic masculinity and razor-sharp awareness of feminist tropes, Chelsea G. Summers’s novel is a slasher-sexy, rich satire.

CLAIRE FOSTER (October 27, 2020)

Barbara Hodge

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