Pressure Cooker Cookbook For Beginners by Ramona Cruz-Peters

When looking for a recipe book for my new pressure cooker, I was hoping for something that started with the basics: easy to make, simple directions, tips and cautions, and a clean presentation. I was new to pressure cookers and didn’t want to be overwhelmed from the beginning while learning to make the most of this new appliance. Fortunately, this book was nearly everything I hoped to find, missing only images to make a perfect cookbook. The book is suitable for stove top and electronic cookers – tips/directions/notes are given to explain the differences and how you will approach the recipes for each.\

The book has a simple and clean presentation. Chapters include ABCs of pressure cookers, pressure cookers for cooking perfection, breakfast, snacks and appetizers, vegetables and sides, seafood, poultry, beef/lamb/pork, beans/rice/pasta/grains, stews/soups/chilis, broths and sauces, desert, measurement conversions. The recipes aren’t meant to be comprehensive and each chapter has around 8 recipes. But each recipe is a very common meal or food item that you can use as a litmus to ensure you are using your pressure cooker correctly.

Recipe examples include New Orleans BBQ shrimp, one pot chicken and rice, beef with broccoli, pulled pork sliders, spaghetti squash, stuffed mushrooms, feta and spinach artichoke dip, blueberry coffee cake, pepperoni pizza dip, garlic sesame chicken wings, and herbed asparagus.

Each recipe has a blue font italic title, a bar with time/allergy info/serving size, then a very short 1-2 sentences about the recipe in red italic font. Another bright yellow callout box makes finding prep time/cook time/pressure build time/ cooking/release time easy to find. I especially like that the recipes are honest about the time to make, which includes having to wait for the pot to heat up and then to slowly cool down and relieve pressure. Actual cooking time is often the shortest time for a recipe. After the yellow callout box are the ingredients. Then the numbered short steps. Cooking tips and per serving nutrition info (calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbs, fiber, protein) are listed at the bottom. Tips include substitutions, cautions, and other info. Some recipes have ingredient tips (such as using different apples for applesauce or ground cinnamon instead of stick cinnamon).

The downside to this book is that there are only 3-4 photographs in the entire book. Since the recipes are simple and familiar, that isn’t a deal breaker. But I always appreciate photographs, especially in a book targeted at beginners. I often had to look up terms such as a pressure cooker sling.

With the lack of photographs being the only reservation, this is an excellent book. It truly is written for beginners in a friendly way. The presentation is very reminiscent of old fashioned cookbooks like the old Betty Crocker ones, which is a nice touch. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Ghosted in L.A. Volume 1 by Sina Grace, Siobhan Keenan, Cathy Le

I feel that there is a good story somewhere at the heart of Ghosted but it never made it onto the pages. Reading more like someone was inspired after binge watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer (or especially its spinoff Angel), the book meanders quite a bit and never solidifies either the protagonist or the plot. I wish the writer would have taken a cue from manga and learned to evolve the mysteries in a vertical (and therefore more organic)fashion rather than a rambling horizontal fashion. That might have kept the focus cleaner and left room for more surprises and reveals.

Story: Daphne is moving from Missoula to Los Angeles to go to school with her boyfriend, Ronnie. But when she arrives, all she finds is a hostile roommate and a boyfriend who dumps her so he can ‘find himself.’ Depressed and running away from a bad date, she ends up on the doorstep of a seemingly abandoned mansion called Rycroft Manor. What she finds, however, is that the manor is definitely inhabited – by ghosts.

Right off the bat, I had a lot of problems with protagonist Daphne. She is consistently rude, obnoxious, or nasty to everyone with whom she interacts – her best friend, her ex, her roommate. She’s a self absorbed walking ball of selfishness and melodrama. She also spends most of the book doing actions that are incredibly stupid and creating melodrama or conflict that could easily be avoided. E.g., the first time she so lightly betrayed the ghosts’ presence I was annoyed but the second time meant I was kind of hoping she’d get eaten by one of the ghouls since she was such an idiot. I kept wanting more show and less tell about her. E.g., Daphne is told repeatedly that she just does what others tell her and molds to their personalities and likes. Yet through this whole book she does nothing of the sort with anyone – she does her own thing, gets mad and yells at people, or insults them under her breath. I was hard pressed to find one instance of this personality trait that the characters kept saying she does but we never actually saw happen. I imagine that Daphne will have room to grow as the story progresses but for now she is not a character I want to follow or will cheer.

The plot is similarly problematic. It is like reading several short story vignettes that sort of tie together but whose purpose is only to push a plot point rather than to give an organic story. There are no ‘little moments’ or bits of saving grace to elevate the storytelling – just Daphne doing selfish and thoughtless things that cause problems for others, scene after scene. Even her voice feels wrong; instead of sounding like someone from the midwest, she has all the hipster quirks of a Santa Cruz native. Not to mention the believably issues – e..g, that someone would chance upon an empty and seemingly abandoned mansion and just walk in, take off her clothes, and go swimming (without even knowing if the pool is cleaned or chlorinated!). Ghosts I can believe but still there has to be some grounding in reality to keep the story relatable.

The oddest aspect was the very strange ‘character’ of Los Angeles. While there are some nods for natives (e.g., a thinly disguised Amoeba Records and Rycroft’s distinctly 1930s Fairfax district type of house (homes to movie stars of the era)), LA just isn’t featured. No palm lined streets, quirky Melrose storefronts, Santa Monica strip malls, etc. It’s a faceless LA – one that you can unrealistically walk around in easily (the city is sprawling!) or take the bus (who takes a bus in LA?) and end up somewhere within a few minutes. It wasn’t an LA that had a character so much as a bland nod. That loss was such a missed opportunity here.

The side characters were a bit more interesting than the main but there are several and so they all get short shrift. I can’t help but feel it would have been better to start with just a few characters and let the others come out of the woodwork as the story progressed. Then they could have had been developed more distinctly and independently from each other.

The artwork was quite lovely – probably the best part of the series. It is clean and easy to follow, though admittedly I always prefer a bit more detail in the background (especially for a story set in a city with so much dynamism). The inside art is a bit different than portrayed on the cover and in my opinion much nicer.

In all, this needs much more focus, a more interesting main character, a plot that doesn’t feel stilted and vignette-oriented, and a richer and more interesting take on the milieu of Los Angeles. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Intangibles by Joan Ryan

More reviews (and no fluff) on the blog it uses sports teams for most of its analyses since they are author Joan Ryan’s work, this is clearly applicable to other areas such as businesses as well. Through careful research over decades, Ryan tries to define the elusive topic of ‘chemisty’ and why some teams play better than the sum of their parts while others do not.

Through her research, she identifies key elements that make teams synergize better: players who add wisdom, guidance, defuse tough situations, motivate, or just hold the team together. This is balanced against the negative assets: players who malinger (don’t show up on time, miss practices, etc.) or who are toxic to the culture (through complaining, whining, wheezing, etc.). She isn’t afraid to name names on either and often uses the San Francisco Giants baseball team players as examples since she worked closely with the org over several decades.

The key takeaways from the book are a) identifying the soft skills that players bring beside talent and b) quantifying/proving/disproving the concept of team chemistry. Both are nicely defined and analyzed and bring quite a bit of food for thought for those who work with any kind of team.

One aspect that wasn’t covered that I would have liked to see is a discussion about the emergence of online esports and teams that have to find chemistry despite often never having met each other in person (and therefore never having had the chance to fraternize which is noted in the book as being so important to develop chemistry).

Because of the breadth of the topic covered, this is an excellent read for coaches and managers. The writing is very approachable and conversational, creating a pleasant read. Examples run from Olympic teams (US Women’s Basketball) to corporate team building but the focus is very much on sports, specifically baseball. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Therapy Game Volume 1 by Meguru Hinohara

The story didn’t catch me at first – we get dumped right into the protagonists’ first night together and then take a step back to focus more on characterization. The artwork is solid and conveys the thoughts nicely, though there are a lot of words here as well. It’s a plot that we’ve seen ad nauseum but the author does a decent job of trying to give it heart, if not originality. Characters from the author’s other series, Secret XXX, make a quick appearance but you won’t need to have read that to understand Therapy Game.

Story: Minato gets very drunk at a bar after a cruel breakup with his girlfriend. When he wakes up the next morning, he doesn’t remember much of the previous night and is surprised to find himself in bed with Shizuma – a guy. Annoyed that he must have meant little to Minato if Minato doesn’t remember anything, Shizuma decides to get a bit of revenge and seduce the straight guy Minato. But over the course of coming together, both men will discover a mutual attraction; but does the relationship mean more to one than the other?

So yes, it’s the old “get them together and then break them apart when one learns he was just a bet” scenario. On the one hand, I liked that in this story, Minato knew what he wanted very early and remained stolid throughout. There was very little angst on Minato’s part, which was refreshing. Shizuma, meanwhile, has more of a broken past to make up for and so despite not having to question his sexuality as Minato does, still has emotional scars to rise above.

The focus is nearly all on the two protagonists, with few side characters. We see the building of the relationship and by the end, more misunderstandings (the hallmark of any romance manga) ensue. It wasn’t much of a cliffhanger, though, since a simple call would immediately clear up the confusion. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Recipe For Persuasion by Sonali Dev

I went into this book not knowing it was second in the series but did not feel lost at all. This is a self contained story of one of the Rajes and while likely the book would have had more nuance had I read the first in the series, I don’t feel that it will ruin anything if you haven’t. Also important to note is that this only touches VERY superficially on Jane Austen’s Persuasion; you definitely will not be missing out on anything if you don’t know the plot of that book.

Story: Ashna is desperately trying to keep her father’s Northern California restaurant going after his suicide but things are looking dire. When her sister suggests she help her husband by being a ‘celebrity chef’ in a competition reality show, Ashna sees a way to ease her financial troubles. That is, until her ex, a famous football/soccer star, shows up as her celebrity partner. Can Ashna fix her troubled relationship with her mother, overcome her anxiety about using her own recipes rather than her father’s, and finally deal with the ex she never really got over?

Persuasion’s central plot revolves around a woman who, when she was younger, was persuaded not to marry a man ‘beneath her station.’ Ten years later, the man returns wealthy and lauded while her family’s fortunes have fallen. Similarly in this book, Ashna once had a relationship with Brazilian Rico Silva; he was an aspiring athlete when she knew him but now is world famous. Where Persuasion was about our heroine spending too much time helping and following others instead of herself, this book is more about dealing with a large family and getting over modern anxieties as a neurotic but somewhat selfish person. Where the hero, Wentworth, in Persuasion had an integrity and strength of character, here Rico Silva is more of a free wheeling playboy, more annoyed that he was turned down years ago by Ashna than bitter. For these reasons, this has a very light Persuasion influence and is not a modern retelling in any regard.

That said, I did not enjoy Recipe. The author seemed to take every situation to the nth degree: the father is a prince, the mother is receiving India’s highest civilian award for her services to the country, one relative was in a horrific plane crash and is now psychic, etc. etc. It was all so completely over-the-top; nothing could be ordinary, from the accidents to the family’s situation. Even Rico had to be the best thing to hit soccer since Pele.

Similarly, nothing was believable in the plot. Who would hire an owner of a failing business as a ‘celebrity chef’? How would Rico be able to so easily finagle his way onto the set as her specific partner? Right upon meeting her, he saves her from cutting off her toes by sliding across a set studio floor while having just undergone extensive knee surgery. It stretched my credibility too much for a book written in such a straight-forward fashion.

Another reason I had a hard time is that I just wasn’t invested in any of the characters, especially Ashna. She has the tools to fix her business but stubbornly opposes all attempts. The people trying to help her come off as manipulative or overbearing. Ashna’s interest in Rico and vice versa was never really understandable. No one was relatable or even very likable.

I have to think that for a retelling or inspiration using Persuasion, authors should not focus on the ‘long separated sweethearts’ and instead bring in the traits that made the characters so memorable. Persuasion is about two people meant for each other for very obvious reasons and that’s just not something I got out of Recipe at all. Even the title is clunky. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Siri, Who Am I by Sam Tschida

First and foremost, go into this knowing it is a tongue-in-cheek satire. As superficial as the Southern California milieu in which it is set, the book is at turns light and then ascerbic as it skews a lifestyle that is especially familiar to Los Angelenos. As the movie Clueless did with teens in the 1990s, the protagonists in Siri, Who Am I? are silly, self centered, but completely amusing and fun. As such, this makes for a lighthearted and enjoyable Summer read where you don’t think too much about it and just go with the flow and let it happen.

Story: Mia wakes up in a hospital, has staples in her head from an accident at a museum opening, is wearing a Prada gown, has a semi broken phone, and little memory of who she is and how she got there. In trying to track down her current address, she ends up at a home in Long Beach – and comes to know the guy house sitting for the extremely wealthy owner. An owner who may or may not be Mia’s boyfriend. Together, they begin to track down Mia’s life and help her figure out if someone attempted to murder her or she just had a nasty accident.

Most of the story is Mia taking clues from her phone and following up on leads from instragram photos, phone contacts, and messages. Is she the wealthy owner of an elite dating service? Is the hunky French chocolate millionaire her boyfriend? Does she own that yacht in the picture? What is her relationship to the people on her phone: a hostile Crystal, a drug lord with a snake tattoo across his entire chest, and a billionaire underwear model/business owner? There are a LOT of fun characters here and it is as amusing to watch Mia unravel her life as she does house sitter/neuroscientist Max’s own home issues. Because Max is having problems with his ex girlfriend and may just be in denial as to why the breakup occurred and why the ex is so bitter about it to the point of sabotaging his life.

Those familiar with Los Angeles will enjoy the locales – riding down the 710, being disgusted over banks sitting on property with great views of the ocean, urine soaked police stations, sun-drenched Starbucks outlets employing barristas hoping to find the perfect wealthy husband while they work, and the underworld of sex, drugs, stripping, and call girls in the seedier parts of the city. Those who don’t live in LA will get a great glimpse of the shallower sides, perfectly embodied by the heroine’s enjoyment of the Kardashian’s TV show.

As an interesting writing quirk, Mia’s quippish afterthoughts/musings are footnoted, often giving a rebuttal or zing to points in the book. E.g., when Max learns his ex was faking enjoying sex, Mia will have a footnoted thought along the lines of, “Now I know why Max is making a lie-detector.”

In all, it took about 10% into the book before I got the vibe down well enough to begin to really enjoy the ride. I think many people will have a hard time right out of the gate since we have a scene of a hospital forcibly releasing out onto the street a patient with head trauma and no ID or knowledge of herself. It would have been fairly obvious that she has no money and no knowledge of where she lives; therefore nowhere to go. Similarly, the ending may be anticlimactic about who/how of the accident that put her in the hospital but this is a book about the journey, not the beginning or ending (yes, the head injury is a maguffin). It is a very amusing read and I enjoyed as the mystery unfolded as to Mia’s identity and her life. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Sixteenth Watch by Myke Cole

Although for me personally this was not what I am looking for in my sci fi books, I have to also respect that this is not a bad book by any means and I think many will enjoy it. The story is very inclusive with a cast of characters that are extremely diverse and unique. My lack of enjoyment stems from the book being very realistic and detail oriented with regards to all the coast guard milieu. It feels more like a book about the Coast Guard of now, described in tedious detail from rules, regulations, lingo, to rivalries with the navy – just set in the future. It does tread a fine line back to the old dreary military sci fi of the past where there are as many pages describing how a rail gun operates in space as there is of the action. Instead of gun specs, we get Coast Guard specs.

Story: Jane is ready to retire with her husband when she loses him in a rebellion on the moon. Suddenly, the neutral Coast Guard is the only entity with the ability to step in and prevent the rebellion escalating to a full blown war. Against Jane’s wishes, she is chosen to lead a special mission, something only she with her people skills and leadership can accomplish. At the same time, she is determined to train her group to win the famed ‘olympics’ of the military boarding competition.

This is the second book recently published to have a sci fi military’s boarding competition and the Coast Guard seeking respect through it as a subplot (A Pale Light In The Black by K.B. Wagers also had a very inclusive set of characters revving up for the Boarding Competition and were involved in putting down a rebellion on Mars). The difference here is that this book is fully focused on the technical details of the Coast Guard whereas the other book was focused on the characters and drama. Each has its own unique flavor and neither takes away from the other.

It’s odd to think of the Coast Guard as a hard sci fi subject but to me, that’s what we have here. I wish the competition subplot had been ejected but also respect that it is a huge part of being in the CG and therefore almost a requirement to do the topic justice. All the same, I wanted to skip through all the endless training and discussions of how the CG would finally beat the Navy. I read sci fi for the battles and strategy, not the weapon descriptions, military jargon, or competitions.

In all, well written and with a great perspective on the Coast Guard. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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