Atkins Eat Right, Not Less by Colette Heimowitz

Atkins’ Nutritional’s Colette Heimowitz has updated their diet regime to put more of an emphasis on hidden sugar avoidance to combine with the ‘low card’ regime that made Dr. Atkins famous. The book is beautifully laid out – from full color photographs to a very professional presentation of the discussions and recipes. To modernize the program, readers are presented with three plans: Atkins 20, Atkins 40, and Atkins 100 (referring to the amount of carbs in the day).

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The book breaks down into two parts – Eat Right, Not Less and Let’s Get Cooking. The first part’s chapters include: The hidden sugar effect, How Atkins works, Let’s get started, Atkins your way (20, 40, 100), Living a low-Ccarb and low-sugar Lifestyle (small changes equal big results). The second part of the recipes breaks down as follows: Breakfast, Snacks and sides, Soups and stews, Salads, Appetizers, 15-minute meals, One-pot meals, Just desserts. There are several nicely laid out appendices at the end: Atkins 20, Level 1 acceptable foods, Atkins 20, Level 2 acceptable foods, Atkins 20, Level 2 acceptable foods, Atkins 40, acceptable foods, Products for your low-carb lifestyle, and Scientific studies supporting Atkins 20, 40, and 100.

The discussions are what you will find in most diet/nutrition books: watching out/removing hidden and non-hidden sugar foods. Avoiding processed foods. The nutritional, health, attitude benefits of eating better. How to read nutritional labels, dispelling myths of fat, and the importance of vegetables in every meal are covered. Better family eating and tips for eating out.

The plans themselves are broken down by how strict a regimen you want or need to create your new lifestyle. The Atkins 20 has the most constraints because you are sticking to only 20 grams of carbs but it will also produce the greatest results. But others may wish to start a less restrictive diet and ease into or out of the other plans. The author recommends that those with over 40 pounds to lose, start with the Atkins 20. Those with less than 40 pounds start with Atkins 40. And for those who want to make smaller changes and start slower, there is Atkins 100.

There are suggested plans for eating for the day and then the rest of the book includes the recipes. Each recipes is three color and with numbered small steps. They include net carbs amount, serving size, time (active and total), and calories. A small pull out also lists fiber, protein, fat. A short introduction to each recipe item is included and why that recipe is useful/tasty/its history is discussed. Many recipes have a full page photograph of the final result. The type is huge, each recipe full page and very easy to follow. The ingredients list is in italic and bold font and clearly separated to make them easy to read. In all, the large format of the recipes, large font, clean layout with plenty of white space, use of different colors and italics, make following and creating menu items easy.

The author’s tone is very no-nonsense and up front. It is written by a clinician who has spent her career working directly with people and their nutritional issues. One important deviation from most modern nutritional programs is that this plan doesn’t discourage the use of artificial sweeteners or eating sweet items (many authors today feel that artificial sweeteners, even Stevia, create problematic cravings and prevent people from lowering sweetness values to where they don’t need to sweeten everything any more). There is also no discussion of fitness or exercise.

The recipes are what you would expect – everything from cinnamon waffles to an apple crumble dessert that doesn’t have apples in it. Along with the recipes are guidelines for eating out and how to make the best of various ethnic dinners such as Japanese, Mexican, and Italian.

In all, a beautifully presented nutrition book that is easy to follow. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Dream of the Butterfly by Richard Marazano, Luo Yin

I vacillated between a 3 and 4 star rating before settling on 3 due to the abrupt ending and very little story maturation by the end of this first volume. The illustration work is absolutely stunning and greatly reminded me of the Avatar: The Last Airbender series of graphic novels (not just for an pseudo Asian setting and young protagonists, rather for the very colorful and intricate layouts). But the story was frustrating – nothing happens, our heroine is petulant for most of the story. When we might finally get some answers, the book ends suddenly.

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Story: Tutu is separated from her colleagues and trapped on the mountainside by a severe snow storm. Afraid and cold, she takes refuge in a cave – only to find herself suddenly in a land of talking anthropomorphic animals. Alone, cold, and afraid, she is despised in the land as a ‘dirty little girl’. Sent to work at a factory that produces heat by running hamsters through wheels, Tutu is frustrated by the dislike toward her, by a capricious emperor, and by the cat who hints that there might be a rebellion interested in her. All Tutu wants is to get back home and the key is to find the magical butterfly that appears and disappears in her dreams.

Most of the book is Tutu being despised by the local folk, followed around by rabbit ‘spies’, talking back and yelling at the animals, and pretty much doing whatever she’s told to do. This first volume takes a long time to set up the story and so much is repeated that it is hard to maintain interest. I had a distinct “Alice in Wonderland” feeling but without a lot of the social commentary that added the layers of meaning to Carrol’s work. Dream of the Butterfly never seemed to go anywhere and wandered aimlessly and rather resentfully in this fantastical world. Tutu herself was hard to like – she spends most of the story annoyed, disgusted, miffed, or being rude to the animals.

The artwork is superb and almost makes up for the stagnant story. From beautiful and bright visuals to inventive ways of creating/drawing the anthropomorphic animals. Inexplicably, not all of the animals walk/talk and there isn’t much in the way of rhyme or reason in the art or story to explain that anomaly. But each page was a feast and the art on the cover is an excellent representation of what you will find within.

I never got into the Tutu character; she is very much like Alice, though, frustrated with the absurdity of the situation in which she finds herself and wanting very much to return home to the familiar. The author sets up many mysteries here, however, that will likely reward in future volumes. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Niourk by Stefan Wul and Olivier Vatine

From the 1930s to the 1950s, we saw dystopian become the hallmark of the new view of the future: from Brave New World to 1984, Fahrenheit 451 to Atlas Shrugged. In 1957, a French dental surgeon wrote several science fiction stories under a nom de plum: Stefan Wul. More famous for the animated version of his Fantastic Planet novel, his 1957 dystopian work Niourk now gets the modern treatment with this graphic novel adaptation. Surprisingly, it holds up well through it is clear to see where the author took liberties to modernize a science written written before the US put a man on the moon.

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Story: A lone child is shunned by his primitive tribe. When the elder shaman goes on a pilgrimage, the boy known only as “Dark Child” follows and thus begins a grand adventure through an Eastern Seaboard US destroyed by climate and man.

The story has two clear arcs and stories/messages: the first follows a primitive ‘cave men’ like tribe of which Dark Child is a part. They exist hand to mouth in the Caribbean region of Haiti/Dominican Republic. The second story involves people evacuated to Mars returning to the world illicitly (it’s prohibited due to the radiation contamination) and encountering the mutated creates and Dark Child.

The story is, admittedly, odd. Dark Child goes from speaking only a few words and with neanderthal-thinking capabilities to eventually turning into a messianic figure. There’s some radiatation telepathy, computer monitoring, lots of eating of brains, stupid human Martians, walking arthropods, and a faithful bear in between. In all, it’s fairly incredulous how the story goes from boy to god, even with the modern updates from the illustrator, so you’ll need to suspend disbelief a bit. A lot of the book is a road trip of discovery for our Dark Child/Alpha and it really does all hinge on that eating the brains of the person/thing you’ve defeated in order to gain their intelligence/experiences.

I won’t go into too much detail of the plot for spoiler reasons but the author did a fairly convincing job of creating a reason for the dystopian/devastated Earth and the consequences after. Thought it came a decade later, I can’t help but feel French author Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel La Plan├Ęte des Singes (Planet of The Apes) owes much to Wul’s work and there are similar themes (though no ‘damn dirty apes’ in Niourk). The animals are always smarter than the humans and often more noble.

The title refers to New York – the eventual destination of Dark Child’s first road trip. I enjoyed the first story though not much happens. It’s about the mystery of this ruined Earth. The second half with the Martians and Dark Child’s transformation into omnipotent being was honestly kind of silly. The Martians were pointless and the story went from 10 to 1000 in the span of a few short pages. Those looking for a bit of nostalgia won’t find it here – this has been thoroughly modernized and there are few, if any, aspects of the 1950s dystopian remaining. That is both an asset and a negative here since the story can feel ludicrous outside of its period perspective.

The illustrations are perfectly suited for the story and keep it very grounded in a modern sensibility. There are some very good panel choides and the colors are appropriate for the story. The overall feel is quite rich and the illustrator keeps the characters from feeling cartoony or silly (as I imagine they came off in the original story).

In all, an interesting story that derailed completely by the end. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Sleepless by Sarah Vaugn, Leila Del Duca, Alissa Sallah, Deron Bennett

Drawing upon Renaissance Italian and Moroccan themes, this fantasy piece features a semi-magical world. The two main characters are an illegitimate princess mourning the death of her father and the knight who guards her. The knight has taken vows in an order that becomes sleepless due to a particular spell and the caste protects the royalty.

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As our story opens, the King’s brother has taken the throne and all recognize a new political milieu has begun. Lady Pyppenia is not bitter she cannot take the throne but her knight, Cyrenic, knows that the changing of royalty puts his charge in a precarious position. There had already been one mysterious attempt on her life in the past and the upheaval of a new ruler is the perfect opportunity for another attempt. Lady Poppy and her Knight will have to be very careful in the coming days.

Since this is the first issue, we have mostly set up and not much of the story yet. Clearly, this is going to be about political machinations, the consequences to one’s life span when using/taking sorcery, and how Poppy will survive in the new order.

The world is fantasy and so the population can be much more diverse than the typical European or North African Renaissance historical period. The magic appears to be fairly rare but also very powerful but with great limitations. This is described as a romance but that hasn’t appeared in the story yet. The author predicts the series to be two arcs of 12 issues long.

The artwork is quite stunning – detailed and beautifully rendered. The artist noted that she did want to fall into pure historical guidelines and so plays this as a straight fantasy with Renaissance inspirations. Admittedly, that includes quite a bit of medieval influences as well that do feel incongruous with the Renaissance.

But in all, it will be interesting to see where this goes and when the romance aspects arrive.

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Valerian Shingouzlooz Inc by Wilfrid Lupano, Mathieu Lauffray

I have not read the previous incarnations of Valerian comics nor had I seen the movie. So I was going into this fresh and with no expectations. Unfortunately, this wasn’t my cup of tea. I’m not a big fan of slapstick comedy, where people do stupid things and expect good results anyway. I think Douglas Adams fans will find a lot to love with Shingaouzlooz but I found it a tedious read.

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Story: Valerian and Lurline track down a robot doing illicit major banking transactions – and end up embroiled in a bigger mystery when an old friend with a temporal accelerator on his Renault appears and messes up Valerian’s assignment. Turns out, the Earth accidentally became owned by the strange creatures of Singouzlooz inc – and they promptly lost it in a card game. In between dealing with a cosmic tuna, the beheaded robot, and their friend Albert who wants to save the Earth, Lurline and Valerian are in over their heads.

Here, Valerian is your typical George Jetson of the Jetsons type – pretty dumb and managing to survive thanks to being paired up with smart female. Her role, mainly, is mostly to be the serious fall guy and for titillation / the requisite sex object in comics. The story is very “Hitchiker” with a lot of dumb people doing dumb things to create funny situations.

The art is an interesting contrast to the hijinks – it feels very 1970s in a Barbarella sort of way. I can’t say I liked or hated it – it just sort of was there. Valerian was drawn suitably clueless and Lurline’s capacity for stupidity was captured perfectly.

I skimmed through a lot. Much of the humor is in the dialogue to set off the sight gags but it was still overly wordy and felt kind of pointless. If you like silliness and ‘The Jetsons’ level of sci fi humor, this will likely appeal. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Marzi Little Carp by Sulvain Savola and Marzena Sowa

Marzi is a long running graphic novel biography of a girl growing up in Poland at the end of the Communist era. This isn’t a story so much as her memories in the series of vignettes about events and places as viewed through author Marzena’s eyes as a youth and then a teen. This first volume covers early memories at the age of 7 in 1976 – including food shortages, the visit of the pope, and life in both rural and agrarian Poland. Through her memories we are given a very honest and yet emotional observation of the place and the period as it would go through great change.

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The story begins with her father going to the market to haggle for a Christmas Carp. The fish is kept in the tub until time for slaughter for their dinner. Drawing parallels to communist Poland, the fisht only knows a small world that is very bland and missing food. This would set up the following stories of food crisis, standing in line for basic necessities, and the heartbreaking of sometimes not getting something as simple as oranges before they sell out. It also tells of how important it was to have relatives and connections in order to get beyond the basic necessities in life in Poland.

But through all the dreariness Sowa is careful to note that she does not feel deprived. She played with the other kids daily, had sled trips, was greatly loved by her parents, and never missed what she didn’t know she didn’t have at the time. From an historical standpoint, it’s fascinating to see the results of collectivization when Marzena visits her agrarian relatives and contrast that with the industrialization life of her parents who work in factories in the city. Stalin’s lingering influence was mentioned off hand but clearly had a huge influence on her life: she grew up in a large communist apartment building in a city industrialized by Stalin’s five year plans in the 1930s.

Most of the book is about the playing and mischief of Marzi and her friends in the apartment complex and then visits to her mother’s relatives. From sledding down hills in Winter, food coupons and lines, the monumental impact the pope’s visit had on her mother and her own playtimes, church services, and the friendly and unfriendly people she interacted with daily. It’s all you would expect from a 7 year old and free from guile or judgement.

The art is appropriate for the story and serves it well. Drawn in a Schultz style, we have a feel for 1980s Poland that is from a 7 year old’s eye view – looking up at the adults and going through life with a positive and curious outlook. The illustrations are full color and emotive. At this age in Marzena’s life, she’s curious and hopeful and unaware of the politcal unrest other than knowing her family occasionally discuses issues in hushed whispers.

Both as a biography and as a graphic novel, I enjoyed Marzi and look forward to future volumes as she grows and experiences the great upheaval of a country moving painfully away from Communism. Marzi is a genuinely likable character whose story gives us an insightful and artlessly authentic view into 1980s Poland. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Nemo Rising by C. Courtney Joyner

This should probably be classified horror rather than science fiction since the author seems to take great pleasure and with particular emphasis on setting up or visiting people being brutalized or dying messily. Torture-porn enthusiasts will find nirvana here but for the rest of us, there wasn’t much to enjoy. The writing was particularly stilted and disenfranchising with protagonists spending most of the book making statements rather than actually living or breathing. Add in an incredibly dreary mood of ‘everyone is basically brutal/vicious, even when they supposedly have high minded altruistic values’ and you get a reading experience more likely to make you clinically depressed than engaged.

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Story: Nemo has been captured by the US Government and is held in a horrific prison in Virginia. When all ships coming to the US area are brutally ripped apart by various types of ‘giant monsters’ (flying manta rays, squids, etc.), Nemo is freed by President Ulysses Grant on the condition hetakes the Nautilus out again and finds the monsters. At stake is the likelihood of world war since all the foreign powers believe the US is behind the sinkings.

To understand the level of depressing brutality, the first 10% has vivid descriptions of how sailors are chewed up, skewered, drowned, or otherwise have limbs removed as they are crawling away to (never) escape death. Then we get to Nemo in prison where he is being systematically tortured along with the other inmates – just because. Grant doesn’t care – just demands that Nemo get back in the Nautilus or he hangs. Nemo wants justice for the prisoners but takes bullets calmly while standing there – just because he expects no less brutality from the world. And meanwhile Nemo himself killed thousands to try to stop people from warring more, which doesn’t make a lot of sense logically but paints him as a idealistic zealot. Cut away to another few pages of another ship, this time from Italy, with shipmates being ripped apart or having half their body eaten off while still alive. Then back to Nemo coming to the Nautilus, which is in poor state, and being depressed that the US couldn’t even bother to keep a treasure like the ship repaired or in good working order.

If we had characters we could understand or get behind, I think I would have enjoyed this more. But the writing is stilted and the characters are so underwritten as to be cardboard. More frustratingly, I had to keep rereading whole passages to understand what was going on with the story. The segues were nonexistant and the story bounced around everywhere without really landing on any one person or subject.

Inexplicably, the author had the foreign sailors giving dialogue in their own language but thinking in English, which made their passages even more confusing (and put the focus completely on the horrifying death scenes). I’d like to say that this is gritty in a good way or even as engaging as a bloody Tarentino story. But honestly, this is Tarentino gore without the personable characters.

For me, I’ve always found Nemo to be a fascinating and highly nuanced character. But none of that is here and for that reason, I found this book particularly disappointing. I think Moore got Nemo best in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: a man disgusted by the imperialism/colonialism of the world and fighting back against it. In Nemo Rising, he is a superhuman who doesn’t feel pain and just makes a lot of pronouncements and commands. He, like everyone else in the book, never really thinks or has depth of emotions.

Baen definitely has an audience for these types of stories and I feel that those who enjoy John Ringo’s Black Tide Rising will find more of the same here. It’s definitely a very macho book that pretty much ejected Verne’s Victoriana in favor of Tarantino shock value gore and violence.

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