Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Blog Tour: "Darktown" by Thomas Mullen | Book Review

Hi everyone! Welcome to this stop on the Darktown blog tour! This is my first ever blog tour, so I'm super excited to be writing to you about a book I really loved. At the end of this post there'll be a 1940s playlist, put together by the lovely people over at Simon & Schuster Canada, which I highly recommend you give a listen while reading the book (I've been listening to it on loop - I love 40s music!). Also, be sure to check out the other stops on this tour - which are shown below - for some cool extras!

Darktown by Thomas Mullen
Publishing Date: September 13, 2016
Publisher: Atria Books
Pages: 384
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book Depository | Amazon | Kobo

From Goodreads:

"Responding from pressure on high, the Atlanta police department is forced to hire its first black officers in 1948. The newly minted policemen are met with deep hostility by their white peers and their authority is limited: They can’t arrest white suspects; they can’t drive a squad car; they can’t even use the police headquarters and must instead operate out of the basement of a gym.

When a black woman who was last seen in a car driven by a white man turns up fatally beaten, no one seems to care except for Boggs and Smith, two black cops from vastly different backgrounds. Pressured from all sides, they will risk their jobs, the trust the community has put in them, and even their own safety to investigate her death. Their efforts bring them up against an old-school cop, Dunlow, who has long run the neighborhood like his own, and Dunlow’s young partner, Rakestraw, a young progressive who may or may not be willing to make allies across color lines."

This is a fantastic read. It's a compelling story about a murder and the racial tensions surrounding it in 1940s Atlanta. It's about what happens when the black officers try to do the job they were hired to do, without the constraints the white officers have put on them. It's incredible and eye-opening to read a story about cops who aren't publicly allowed to do their jobs - all because of the colour of their skin. They have the title of "Police Officer", but when they try to flag down a white officer to help them make an arrest, instead of help they nearly get run over as the white officers yell racial slurs and laugh. Not even the Records lady wants to help them when they request information.

The characters were fascinating. The main characters felt so well-rounded and full of life to me, and it was interesting to read their different perspectives. Boggs and Smith, both of whom have pride in their jobs and want to actually be able to help, go through and deal with so much over the course of this story. They're faced with the choice of obeying the rules black cops were bound by and not doing anything about the murder, or doing the right thing, the job they as human beings should be allowed to do. As I mentioned earlier, it was eye-opening to read about the horrible racism and injustice they faced every single day.

Rakestraw was also an interesting perspective because you can tell that he's uncomfortable with the way his partner, Dunlow, treats the African American people they encounter, and yet for a long time he cowers, not wanting to mess with his comfortable position among his fellow white officers. On one hand, seeing the awful ways in which the white cops treat black people, you can sort of understand being afraid to disrupt the status quo - but nonetheless, it was frustrating to read about Rake wanting to step in and stop the racism and brutality, and then doing nothing. It was a real relief when he decided to help Boggs and Smith with their investigation.

The city of Atlanta itself seems like a character - the way Mullen creates the atmosphere of 1940s Atlanta really brings the place to life, and the whole time, I felt like I was there. I could feel the thick, muggy heat - it, like the tension, was palpable.

This book is incredibly uncomfortable at times. It can be jarring to read or even think about how cruel humans can be to each other and how terribly prejudiced someone can be toward another simply because of the colour of their skin. The depth of injustice and of corruption in the police force back then is almost unimaginable, and Mullen does a great job of interweaving these tensions with a compelling murder mystery.

Now, while you go read this awesome book, be sure to check out this Darktown-inspired playlist:

*This book was kindly sent to me by Simon & Schuster Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

"Clean Soups" by Rebecca Katz | Cookbook Review

Clean Soups by Rebecca Katz
Publishing Date: September 6, 2016
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Pages: 160
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book Depository | Amazon | Kobo

Rebecca Katz grew up watching in wonder as her mother and grandmother conjured up delicious soups. While working at the Commonweal Retreat Center in Bolinas, California, she realized just how healing nutritious soups could be; people who previously were barely able to eat would return again and again for a taste of her soup.

The recipes within this book can be made for a variety of purposes. If you want to start incorporating soup into your regular diet because of its nutrient-rich, easily-digestible properties, this is your book. On the other hand, you might be interested in trying a brief soup cleanse because of its detoxifying effects on the organs; in that case, this is also your book.

I love that at the beginning of the recipes, there's background information and a short history of the dish, including where it originated from, as well as what it's been said to treat and heal. I love that as you're cooking up a delicious meal, you can learn a bit of history so that you're knowledgeable on what exactly you're eating. Another thing I really appreciate about this book is the fact that it has such useful "Cook's Notes" - if you're ever in doubt about anything, your questions are usually answered within these notes.

My one criticism of the book is that there's too much back and forth for me. For many of the recipes, they require you to also make a recipe (usually some type of stock or garnish) from elsewhere in the book. Generally, I'm not a fan of making multiple things for one dish - when I'm making a recipe, I usually want to be making one recipe, not multiple. That said, none of the recipes I tried were particularly difficult.
Clockwise from left: Simplest Chicken Pho (p.108); 
Greek Cucumber Yogurt Soup (p.52); Mulligatawny (p.95)

Now, let's get into what I made!

The first thing I made from this cookbook is something I don't have much experience with: Pho. I'd tried Pho exactly one time before I made this and I knew I liked it, so I thought it'd be a good idea to try and find myself a good recipe for this tasty Vietnamese soup. And let me tell you, the Simplest Chicken Pho recipe (p.108) is so. freaking. flavourful. I don't have much to compare it to, but I'd definitely say this is the best Pho I've had. I made it for a get-together and everyone flocked to it and complimented me for it, so it's not just me who liked it - I highly recommend this one!

For that same get-together, I made Mulligatawny (p.95), which is an Indian soup. It didn't get as much love because everyone wanted Pho, but those who tried this liked it. I thought it was really tasty and if you're in the mood for Indian food but you're maybe not feeling the best, hey, soup is great for that kind of a day, so Mulligatawny's got you covered.

The Greek Cucumber Yogurt Soup (p.52) & Avocado and Cucumber Salsa (p.132) is a cold soup that reminds me of Tzatziki sauce, which I'm obsessed with. Out of the soups I made, this was definitely the easiest because you stick all the ingredients in a blender and simply whirl away.

Clean Soups is all about the healing power of soup. The recipes are super healthy, nutritious, and let's not forget - absolutely delicious.

*I received a NetGalley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

"Easy. Whole. Vegan." by Melissa King | Cookbook Review

Easy. Whole. Vegan. by Melissa King
Publishing Date: September 6, 2016
Publisher: The Experiment
Pages: 224
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book Depository | Amazon | Kobo

Melissa King was vegetarian for a long time before she became vegan and gluten-free, and the lifestyle permeates much of her life. The writer, photographer, and recipe developer for the blog My Whole Food Life, who is also a wife and mother, decided to switch to a plant-based, whole-food diet when a nutritionist suggested it could help her daughter, who had a host of serious medical issues. The new diet transformed her daughter and her family and now they swear by whole foods.

I've heard so many stories like Melissa's, about how embracing a vegan or plant-based diet has cured people of their ailments. It seems that natural foods, sans added chemicals and hormones, are best for us! Who would've guessed. Although I'm not vegan myself, I like to eat mostly vegetarian and vegan foods, and I find that I feel best when I eat plant-based foods. So I'm always excited to try new vegan recipes and cookbooks!

After we learn Melissa's family's story, she walks us through some common ingredients in a vegan pantry. I always find these sections useful because a vegan kitchen by nature has different staples than a "regular" kitchen does. One important distinction is that vegans need egg substitutes when baking! And did you know there are several ways to substitute an egg, including with chia and flax seeds?

I made a few recipes from the cookbook and the first one I want to mention is the Blueberry Muffin Smoothie (p.198), because it is SO GOOD. *Ahem* So. Good. I'm definitely a smoothie lover, but this is by far one of the best smoothies I've ever had. It feels like a hearty breakfast smoothie with just the right amount of sweetness. And I can't get over the shade of purple it was - the picture doesn't even do it justice. This is going to be a staple in my diet from now on.

Clockwise from top left: Maple Vanilla Bakes Oatmeal
Squares (p.33); Avocado and Chickpea-Stuffed Cucumbers
 (p.66); Caramelized Onion Soup (p.89); Blueberry Muffin
Smoothie (p.198)
The Maple Vanilla Baked Oatmeal Squares (p.33) were up next. I was excited to try these because based on their appearance, I thought they'd be granola bars, but they actually weren't. That would've been fine, but I found the texture really strange - I'm not really sure how to describe it, but I guess I'd say it was kind of soft and kind of like hard foam. That said, I know some vegan recipes take some adjusting to because they don't always use common ingredients. And these squares do taste good and would be great for on-the-go snacking!

I made the Avocado and Chickpea-Stuffed Cucumbers (p.66) as an appetizer for a get-together, and let me tell you, they went fast! These little bites pack a refreshing punch and are perfect for the summer weather we've been having.

The final recipe I made was the Caramelized Onion Soup (p.89). It was incredibly easy to make, as you just chop up your onions and gather a few other ingredients and then stick everything in a crock pot for a few hours. I found it nice though a bit bland, however, so I recommend using some pepper if you feel the same way. Since I'm not vegan, my quick fix was to eat it the traditional way, with some bread and melted cheese on top, and I found that it was great that way.

Overall, this is a useful cookbook if you're interested in going vegan. It provides good information how to adjust your pantry's staples and you'll learn vegan alternatives to common animal products. I have mixed feelings about the recipes I tried, but there are plenty more delicious-sounding recipes in the book, and the recipes I did enjoy were ones I loved.

*I received a NetGalley copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.