Thursday, June 30, 2011

Nerds Heart YA Decision

I mentioned Nerds Hear YA before and yesterday I had to submit my decision for which book should go forward to the next round. The two books I had to read were Bamboo People and Abe in Arms. Both books tackled really difficult subject matters and it was a really hard decision for me make. (Of course I'd get the two books that deal with such political issues.)

1. Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins
hiko isn’t a fighter by nature. He’s a book-smart Burmese boy whose father, a doctor, is in prison for resisting the government. When Chiko is forced into the army by trickery, he must find the courage to survive the mental and physical punishment meted out by the training facility’s menacing captain.

Tu Reh can’t forget the image of the Burmese soldiers burning his home and the bamboo fields of his oppressed Karenni people, one of the many ethnic minorities in Burma. Now living in a Karenni refugee camp on the Thai border, Tu Reh is consumed by anger and the need for revenge. He can’t wait to join his father and the Karenni resistance in the effort to protect their people.

Chiko and Tu Reh’s stories come to a violent intersection as each boy is sent on his first mission into the jungle. Extreme circumstances and unlikely friendships force each boy to confront what it means to be a man of his people.

Set against the political and military backdrop of modern-day Burma, Bamboo People explores the power of courage and compassion to overcome violence and prejudice.
As the summary explains, this is a book about some of the political struggles in Burma. The book follows two boys on opposite sides of the struggle, Chiko and Tu Reh and their ultimate coming together. While I learned a lot about the situation in Burma, I think the transition from Chicko to Tu Reh made me lose a lot of the emotional connection I had in the story. My favorite character was actually a secondary character named Tai and I loved the information Perkin included at the end.

2. Abe in Arms by Pegi Deitz Shea
Portraying the pressures of teens to live a normal life while facing mental illness, this suspenseful young adult novel follows the journey of success-bound Abe, who struggles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A senior in high school, with a loving and wealthy adoptive family, Abe is on track for a big scholarship and an open future. Suddenly, horrific flashbacks rip him back to war-torn Africa, where five years previously he lost his mother, sister, friends, and almost his own life to torturous violence. During therapy, he uncovers even darker moments from his past that make him question how he survived. This action-filled thriller will open the eyes and hearts of teenagers to the lives of young people who have been exposed to profound violence around the world.
After being forced to work as a child soldier in war-torn Liberia, Abe is struggling to come to grips with his violent history in what should be a perfect new life. Starting as flashback and slowly becoming something much worse, this story is about Abe coming to grips with what he did and what was done to him. At only 172 pages this story was a quick read and a good way to introduce readers to child soldiers. Parts of Abe's story were extremely difficult for me to read. I also thought Shea did a good job of fleshing out all of the characters around Abe.

Even though both books tackled difficult subjects in really great ways, I ended up choosing Abe in Arms to continue in the tournament. It's completely personal, but I had an emotional connection with Abe that I didn't have with Chiko. At the end of the day that's what I used to make my choice since both books were good. I have no idea how a book like Abe in Arms can be measured against a book like Bleeding Violet (it's next competitor), but I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Grilled Barbecued Chicken Kebabs

Ryan works with this Filipino couple who make the most amazing bbq grilled chicken ever. The first time I had it I was filled with insane jealousy that my chicken never turns out half as good. Because lets be honest, we've all had chicken kababs that just don't make the cut. Too bland or too burnt, I like my chicken to be smoky, sweet with a little zing, flavorful, just a tad burnt, and super tender, but my attempts at finding this perfect balance has always ended in utter failure. I am happy to report that this is no longer the case. And I owe it all to one incredible ingredient: bacon paste.

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I know the bacon paste seems really weird, but it's amazing. It adds a depth of flavor that a lot of grilled chicken is missing. I also recommend using chicken thighs which have more flavor and become incredibly tender. Seriously, this is the chicken kebab recipe to rule all chicken kebab recipes.

ETA: I've made this recipe with both chicken thighs and chicken breasts now and I can say the thighs are much better. The breasts were good, but they didn't have the same flavor.

I heard the sauce is really good, but I got to admit I just used my favorite bottled bbq sauce. Mostly cause I'm lazy, but since you don't really need a dipping sauce it seemed like an unnecessary effort. I also didn't have any smoked paprika so I just omitted it and used smoked salt in place of the kosher salt. In combination with the bacon the kebabs had a lovely smokiness. I found it easiest to put the chicken and salt in a large zip-lock bag and then just add the spices and bacon paste directly to the mix. I worked the bacon paste into the chicken the best I could, but when I put the chicken on the skewers most of the paste was left in the bottom of the bag. At that point I just smeared the leftover on top of the chicken.

Would I make this again? I may never make use another bbq chicken recipe again.

Grilled Barbecued Chicken Kebabs

Ingredients:

Sauce:

1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup molasses or honey
2 Tbs grated onion (grated on the large wholes of a box grater)
2 Tbs Worcestershire Sauce
2 Tbs Dijon mustard
2 Tbs cider vinegar
1 Tbs brown sugar
hot sauce, to taste

Kebabs:

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tsp kosher salt
2 Tbs sweet paprika
4 tsp sugar
2 tsp smoked paprika
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
2 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
skewers

Directions:

1. For the sauce, bring all the ingredients to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens and reaches a ketchup-like consistency and is reduced to about 1 cup, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat. Transfer 1/2 cup of the sauce to a small bowl and set aside to serve with the cooked chicken.

2. For the kebabs, toss the chicken with the salt in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes, or up to 1 hour.

3. For a gas grill, turn all the burners to high, close the lid, and heat 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Combine the paprikas, sugar, and cayenne in a small bowl.

4. Process the bacon in a food processor until a smooth paste forms, 30-45 seconds, scraping down the bowl twice during processing. Add the bacon paste and the spice mixture to the chicken and toss to coat using your hands or a rubber spatula. Thread the meat onto skewers, rolling or foldin meat as necessary to maintain 1-inch cubes.

5. Scrape the cooking grate clean with a grill brush. Leave the primary burner on high and turn off the other burners. Place the kebabs over the hot burner and grill, covered, turning one-quarter of a turn every 2 minutes or so, until well browned and slightly charred, 8 to 10 minutes.

6. Brush the top surface of the kebabs with 1/4 cup sauce; flip and cook until the sauce is browned in spots, about 1-2 minutes. Flip again and brush with remaining 1/4 cup sauce; continue to cook until browned in spots and cooked through, about 1-2 minutes.

Remove from grill and allow to rest 5 minutes. Serve, passing barbecue sauce separately.

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Source: Cook's Illustrated

Monday, June 27, 2011

Book Review: Aftertime by Sophie Littlefield

Title: Aftertime
Author: Sophie Littlefield
Genre: Zombies, Horror, Post Apocalyptic, Dystopia

Publisher: Luna
Publishing Date: February 22nd 2011
Paperback: 384 pages

Stand Alone or series: Book 1 in the Aftertime trilogy

Summary:
Someone once said that all apocalypses are experienced locally. In the case of Cass Dollar, the nightmare occurred with the violent abduction of two-year-old Ruthie, which she vividly remembers. Only later is young Cass assaulted also by the vague, twisting memories of a much wider conflagration that she herself only narrowly survived. A government experiment had turned the entire California landscape into the hunting grounds of zombie Beaters, but Cass can only think of the helpless toddler she is missing.
Review:

Like most post-apocalyptic zombie books, this story takes place in a world gone to pieces. In California people are struggling to survive in a landscape that has been decimated by bio-warfare. In response to the destruction of most plants and domesticated animals, the government came up with a lab-engineered crop called kaysev. Kaysev was intended to provide all the nutrition a person needs in one plant, but something unexpected happened. It appears some of the plant mutated into a second plant called blueleaf. As people ate blueleaf they came down with blue-leaf fever and those unlucky enough to survive were transformed into flesh eating zombies, commonly referred to as Beaters. With the onslaught of Beaters and the breakdown of organized government, each person was left to look out for themselves. Aftertime is about one woman's struggle, Cass, to survive in this new world and find the only thing that really matters to her: her two year old daughter.

Right away I need to clarify that this is NOT a YA book. I've seen it marked as such, but it really isn't. This book contains lots of cursing, sex, drug use, sexual assault, and all kinds of other ugliness. And while I think these are all themes that teens should read about, calling this book 'young adult' is still a stretch. After being smacked in the face by Tender Morsels I wanted to throw that out there so there would be no surprises. This book felt very 'adult' to me. There's really no other way to explain it.

Now that that's out of the way, I want to say upfront that is one of the best zombie books I've read in a while.

There's a quiet desperation to Cass that I think a lot of readers will connect with. Her struggles with addiction and the way she used sex as a both a weapon and a way to hide from herself were written in a way that really resonated with me. I actually felt for Cass and her struggle and this is testament to Littlefield's ability as a writer. I loved that Litterfield wasn't afraid to make Cass ugly in a lot of ways. Because of this Cass breaks the mold and becomes someone you can root for. Maybe it's because I read so dang much, but I have a hard time getting emotionally invested in books sometimes. Other times I cry like a baby. And while that can wreck havoc on my mascara, I love a book all the more for it. In this story I wanted Cass to succeed and every piece of hope for her was a little bit of hope for me too. She's not a bad ass zombie hunter looking to save the world. All she wants is her daughter and she'll do whatever it takes to find her.

This book also made me think about how a lot of people already live their lives as if the wider world doesn't really exist. As the reader we're slowly shown a lot of Cass' struggle, but surprisingly most of that struggle took place before the zombie outbreak. In setting the story up this way Littlefield made her world more realistic and made me question the way we live our lives. While a book like Warm Bodies attempts to get readers to do the same thing by hitting them over the head with THE MESSAGE, Aftertime does it effortlessly. In this book horrors are real but Littlefield never lets the reader forget that there are also horrors in today's world. All the zombies did was shake things up and the power structures in the story felt genuine to me. In a world full of different people you'd expect everyone to handle the zombie apocalypse in different ways, but a lot of books don't seem to reflect this. Instead everyone lives pretty much the same, if not with different power structures. In Aftertime I liked that some people lived alone, some together, some started a power hunger group, some turned to religious fanaticism, and some are just looking for an escape.

And that brings us to the zombies themselves. A lot of zombie books suffer from not enough zombie. Instead the zombies are a tool used to examine socio-political themes in our societies. This is the very reason I love zombie books in fact (and dystopia and post-apocalyptic), but I also read zombie books because I want to be scared. I want to be horrified. That's where a lot of books seem to fall short for me. Aftertime on the other hand, had truly interesting zombies. The way they feed (no brains here) and the idea of outliers was brilliant while also a bit terrifying.

My only complaint about this book is the ending. While I think the ending was actually perfect, the flow of the story was off. There's a frantic bit of action and then one paragraph later the book ends. This felt wrong to me. It'd be like the seventh Harry Potter book ending with the fight with Voldemort. While I liked why the story ended where it did, an extra paragraph about what's to come or I don't know something could have helped. As it is it felt disjointed.

Notable Quotes/ Parts: You can read more here.
That it was summer was not in doubt. The nights were much too short and the days too long. Something about the color of the sky said August to Cass. Maybe the blue was bluer. Hadn't autumn signaled itself that way Before, a gradual intensifying of colors as summer trailed into September?

Once, Cass would have been able to tell from the wild-flowers growing in the foothills where she ran. In August petals fell from the wild orange poppies, the stonecrop darkened to purplish brown, and butterweed puffs drifted in lazy breezes. Deer grew bold, drinking from the creek that ran along the road. The earth dried and cracked, and lizards and beetles stared out from their hiding places among the weeds.

But that was two lives ago, so far back that it was like a story that had once been told to Cass, a story maybe whispered by a lover as she drifted off to sleep after one too many Jack and Cokes, ephemeral and hazy at the edges. She might not believe it at all, except for Ruthie. Ruthie had loved the way butterweed silk floated in the air when she blew on the puffs.

Ruthie, who she couldn't see or touch or hold in her arms. Ruthie, who screamed when the social workers dragged her away, her legs kicking desperately at nothing. Mim and Byrn wouldn't even look at Cass as she collapsed to the dirty floor of the trailer and wished she was dead.

Ruthie had been two.

Cass pushed herself to go faster, her strides long and sure up over a gentle rise in the road. She was barely out of breath. This was nothing, less than nothing. She dug her hard, sharp nails into the calluses of her thumbs. Hard, harder, hardest. The skin there was built up against her abuse and refused to bleed. To break it she would need something sharper than her nail. Teeth might work, but Cass would not use her teeth. It was enough to use her nails until the pain found an opening into her mind. The pain was enough.

She had covered a lot of ground this moon-bright night. Now it was almost dawn, the light from the rising sun creeping up over the black-blue forest skeletons, a crescent aura of orange glow in the sky. When the first slice of sun was visible she'd leave the road and melt into what was left of the trees. There was cover to be found—some of the native shrubs had survived. Greasewood and creosote still grew neck high in some places.

And it was easy to spot them. You saw them before they saw you, and then you hid, and you prayed. If they saw you at all, if they came close enough to smell you, you were worse than dead.

Cass stayed to the edge of the cracked pavement of what had been Highway 161, weaving around the occasional abandoned car, forcing herself not to look inside. You never knew what you would see. Often nothing, but…it was just better not to look. Chunks of the asphalt had been pushed aside by squat kaysev plants that had managed to root in the cracks. Past the shoulder great drifts of it grew, the dark glossy leaves hiding clusters of pods. The plants were smooth-stemmed without burrs or thorns. Walking among them was not difficult. But walking on pavement allowed Cass, now and then—and never when she was trying—to let her mind go back to another time…and when she was really lucky, to pretend all the way back two lifetimes ago.

Taking Ruthie, barely walking, down the sidewalk to the 7-Eleven, buying her a blue raspberry Slurpee, because Ruthie loved to stick out her blue tongue and look at herself in the mirror. Cutting across the school parking lot on the way home, jumping over the yellow lines, lifting Ruthie's slight body and swinging her, laughing, through the air.

Yes, pavement was nice. Cass had good shoes, though she didn't remember where she got them. They seemed like they might have been men's shoes, plain brown lace-up walking shoes, but they fit her feet. A small man, then. How she'd got the shoes from him…it didn't bear thinking about. The shoes were good, they were comfortable and hadn't given her blisters or sores despite the many days of walking.

A movement caught her eye, off in the spiky remains of the woods. Cass stopped abruptly and scanned the tree skeletons and shrubs. A flash of white, was it? Or was it only the way the light was rising in the sky, reflected off…what, though? There were only the bare trunks of the dead cypress and pine trees, a stand of dead manzanita, the low thick growth of kaysev, a few of the boulder formations that dotted the Sierra Foothills.

Snap

Cass whipped her head around and saw the flash again, a fast-moving blur of fabric and oh God it was white, a slip of a little dark-haired girl in a dirty white shirt who was sprinting toward her at a speed that Cass could not imagine anyone moving, Cass who had run thousands of desperate blacktop miles one life ago, trying to erase everything, running until her legs ached and her lungs felt like tearing paper and her mind was almost but never quite empty.

But even Cass had never run like this girl.

She was twelve or thirteen. Maybe even fourteen, it was hard to tell now. Before, the fourteen-year-olds looked like twenty-year-olds, with their push-up bras and eyeliner. But hardly anyone dressed like that anymore.

The girl held the blade the way they taught the kids now, firmly in front of her where it would have the best chance of slicing through a Beater's flesh. Because that's what she thought Cass was, a Beater, and the thought hit Cass in the gut and nearly knocked her over with revulsion. Her hands went to her hairline where the hair was just growing back in, soft tufts, an inch at most. She knew how her arms looked, covered with scabs, almost worse now that they were healing, the patches of flesh falling away as the healthy skin pushed to the surface. But that was nothing compared to the ruin of her back.

She hadn't been able to clean herself in days, and she knew she carried the smell. The long hair on the back of her head, the hair she hadn't pulled out, was knotted and tangled. Her nails were blackened and broken. Real Beaters usually had no nails left, but how could the girl be expected to notice a detail like that?

In the second or two it took the girl to cross the last dozen yards of scrubby land, Cass considered standing firm, wrists out, chin up, giving her an easy target. They were taught well; any child over the age of five could find the jugular, the femoral, the carotid, the ulnar. They practiced on dummies rigged from dolls and clothes stuffed with straw. Sometimes, they practiced on the dead.

At the last minute Cass stepped out of the way.

She didn't know why. It would have been easier, so much easier, to welcome the blade, to let it find its path to her vital core and feel the blessed release of her blood, still hot and red despite everything, bubbling over the slice in her flesh, falling to the hardened earth. Maybe her blood would help the land heal faster. Maybe on the spot where her blood fell, one of the plants from Before would return. A delicate mountain bluebell; they had been her favorite, the tiny blossoms shading from pale sky blue to deep lilac.

But Cass stepped out of the way.

Damn her soul.

Three times now it had refused to die, when death would have been so much easier.
Verdict:

I don't want to ramble on forever about this book, but this is a must read for zombie lovers.

Rating: 9. Damn near perfection

Sunday, June 26, 2011

10 LGBT Fantasy Books

Today is Gay Pride Day and in celebration I thought I's share ten books that feature LGBT protagonists. Some people may not be comfortable reading books with gay characters, but I've noticed a huge difference in the way gay relationships are often written compared to straight relationships.

One of the things I hate most about books is instant attraction. Two characters see one another and as the reader I know instantly "this is the one." I hate that. How boring can it possibly get? That's not because two people can't be instantly attracted to one another. When I first saw Ryan I knew I wanted to get to know him. But that initial interest had to develop into love and lots of books miss the latter part of the equation. When gay relationships are featured in books, they usually avoid this problem and are more fleshed out. It’s as though these relationships are treated with more delicacy and it makes them feel more authentic to me. Too often authors just throw two people together and that’s that. This laziness annoys me to no end. I want characters that have to make the hard decisions and grow into their love a little day after day. I don't want to be told these people belong together. I want to be shown. And books featuring gay relationships are more likely to do this. (I know I bring this up all the time, but that's because too many books fail at this.)

It makes me wonder why the relationships are handled so differently though. Is it out of the need to make the gay relationship more palatable for some people? Is it out of the hope people won’t disregard the relationship as something trivial or as simply an attempt to be shocking on the part of the author? I don’t know the answer but it is kind of interesting. Some of the most tender and touching relationships I’ve read have been between two men. And though some are more touching then others, I can’t think of one fantasy story where the characters treat their relationship with the same disregard as a character like Anita Blake. Instead the budding relationship is treated as something delicate and fragile.

That being said, here are ten books I'd recommend reading:

1. Kirith Kirin by Jim Grimsley
Kirith Kirin is like no other fantasy that you have ever read. Jim Grimsley has created a fantasy that could have come right from our world where power and greed can tempt, and sometimes conquer, even the most rightist person and where knowing who your friends and enemies are can be very difficult if not impossible. Yet it is not our world. For in Kirith Kirin's world magic is real, immortals walk the land, and people are sometimes the playthings for the dark arts.
The Blue Queen, upon resuming the throne while King Kirith Kirin's eternality is renewed in the Arthen forest, has partnered with a magician of the dark arts. No longer does she need to leave the throne to renew her eternal nature. Swayed by promises of the dark magician, she has claimed the throne forever and is extending her influence to the far corners of the world.

Malleable grey clouds, sidewinding wind, and intelligent lightning bolts made the trip across the vast Girdle nearly impossible. Out of nowhere, the Blue Queen's Patrols made haste to kill the boy and the warrior before they could safely reach the deep forest of Arthen. Riding upon two magnificent stallions, one a royal Prince out of Queen Mnemarra, Jessex and his uncle Sivisal reached Arthen despite a deadly storm that reeked of magic.

Thus begins Jessex's new life as he enters Arthen and moves into the royal court of Kirith Kirin.
This book is really Jessex's coming to age story. Even though the story gets bogged down by too much telling and not enough doing, I was completely side-blinded by this book. I laughed and I cried. It was wonderful. I also liked that this is a stand alone story.

2. Alcestis by Katharine Beutner
In Greek myth, Alcestis is known as the ideal wife; she loved her husband so much that she died and went to the underworld in his place. In this vividly-imagined debut, Katharine Beutner gives voice to the woman behind the ideal and reveals the part of the story that’s never been told: What happened to Alcestis in the three days she spent in the underworld?
In this book Beutner gives voice to a character that had none. In this story we get to follow Alcestis on her trip to the Underworld and see the many surprises that come up along the way. Overall the story was surprising and refreshing. I didn't love this book as much as I did some of the others on this list, but it's worth checking out.

3. Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling
When young Alec of Kerry is taken prisoner for a crime he didn’t commit, he is certain that his life is at an end. But one thing he never expected was his cellmate. Spy, rogue, thief, and noble, Seregil of Rhiminee is many things–none of them predictable. And when he offers to take on Alec as his apprentice, things may never be the same for either of them. Soon Alec is traveling roads he never knew existed, toward a war he never suspected was brewing. Before long he and Seregil are embroiled in a sinister plot that runs deeper than either can imagine, and that may cost them far more than their lives if they fail. But fortune is as unpredictable as Alec’s new mentor, and this time there just might be…Luck in the Shadows.
Where the last two books are heavy on the characterizations and lighter on the plot, this books is all about the action. From the beginning this story takes you on an adventure and romance has little to do with it. Instead the romance is built throughout the novels and feels as natural as breathing. Both characters are complex and I loved the first two books in this series.

4. Magic's Pawn by Mercedes Lackey
Though Vanyel has been born with near-legendary abilities to work both Herald and Mage magic, he wants no part of such things. Nor does he see a warrior's path, wishing instead to become a Bard. Yet such talent as his, if left untrained, may prove a menace not only to Vanyel but to others as well. So he is sent to be fostered with his aunt, Savil, one of the famed Herald-Mages of Valdemar.

But, strong-willed and self-centered, Vanyel is a challenge which even Savin cannot master alone. For soon he will become the focus of frightening forces, lending his raw magic to a spell that unleashes terrifying wyr-hunters on the land. And by the time Savil seeks the assistance of a Shin'a'in Adept, Vanyel's wild talend may have already grown beyond anyone's ability to contain, placing Vanyel, Savil, and Valdemar itself in desperate peril...
Is there anyone who hasn't heard of this series? Vanyel is an outsider in a world that ostracizes people who don't belong. As we follow Vanyel on his journey, the reader learns all about magic and the world around Van. Even though this book is actually pretty light on the plot, I still really loved this book. Part of me wants to be critical and complain about the obvious message this books has, but I can't. At the end of the day I loved this book. It broke my heart in a thousand little pieces and I've never wanted a character to find happiness as much as I did for Van. I think I pretty much cried throughout the entire trilogy if I'm being honest. But I like that in a book.

5. Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
In the highly stratified world of Kushner's nameless old city, the aristocrats living in fine mansions on the Hill settle their differences by sending to the thieves' den of Riverside for swordsmen who will fight to the death for a point of someone else's honor.

Young Lord Michael Godwin is so taken by these romantic figures that he studies the art himself until challenged by the best of them.

Master of the Sword, Richard St. Vier is picky in his contracts and precise in his killing but he nevertheless becomes embroiled in the nobility's political, social and sexual intrigues. When his lover Alec is kidnapped by Lord Horn, St. Vier must take drastic action.
This is one of those fantasy books that doesn't deal with magic, but rather with political intrigue. If that makes some of you groan well, what can I say? I love political intrigue. This story is familiar and yet wholly its own in a way I can't easily explain. I loved the characters and thought they were different from what I was expecting. Even though the romance aspect of this book isn't as pronounced as in some of the other books here, I liked it. I guess that's all I can really say.

6. The Gumshoe, the Witch, and the Virtual Corpse by Keith Hartman
Welcome to 21st century Atlanta.

During your stay, depending on your tastes, you can cruise gay midtown (I hear that the Inquisition Health Club has introduced manacles and chains to the aerobics class) or check out the Reverend-Senator Stonewall's headquarters at Freedom Plaza (watch out for the Christian Militia guarding it, though) or attend a sky-clad Wiccan sabbat (by invitation only). Avoid the courthouse, where the Cherokee have turned out in full war-paint to renegotiate a nineteenth century land deal.
Also stay away from all cemeteries, at least until the police find out why someone is disinterring and crucifying corpses.

As you can tell, this is a lively novel, full of intricate plotting and engaging off-beat characters. Among the latter are a gay detective, a Wiccan family, an ambitious televangelist with an eye on the White House, an artist whose medium is flesh and blood, a Cherokee drag queen--and then there's poor Benji, who would just like to make it to his fifteenth birthday, assuming the MIBS don't get him first or his Baptist parents don't ground him for life because his new girlfriend is a witch.
One of the few urban fantasy books I've read with a LGBT protagonist. There's solid plot and a lot of action in this story. Relationships aren't the primary focus of the book, but Hartman still managed to make it special in a way. One of the my favorite lines in the books was, "In his overly dramatic way, Daniel once told me that while his body might have racked up the mileage, his heart was still virgin territory. But I don’t want a virgin. I want someone who has been hurt, and stepped on, and had every last illusion shattered. Someone who comes to me cautiously, knowing the falling in love is easy and staying in love is hard, that passion dies and most relationships are doomed before they start. Someone I can love and an equal, not a student." This book has a little bit of everything: science fiction, detective work, fantasy, religious commentary, politics, and all kinds of goodies.

7. Ash by Malinda Lo
In the wake of her father’s death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, re-reading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.

The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash’s capacity for love—and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.

Entrancing and romantic, Ash is an empowering retelling of Cinderella about choosing life and love over solitude and death, where transformation can come from even the deepest grief.
This is a re-telling of Cinderella with a surprising twist (which is why it's on this list). Ash and Kaisa’s relationship is just so damn sweet. It perfectly suits the lyrical fairy tale style Lo wrote this book in and I love the fact that it’s not the expected “prince charming” of the original Cinderella. Even though the front jacket makes Ash and Kaisa’s relationship clear from the beginning, I still kept waiting for it to happen. The slow budding of their relationship was torturous and realistic at the same time. You can read my full review here.

8. Melusine by Sarah Monette
"Melusine - a city of secrets and lies, pleasure and pain, magic and corruption - and destinies lost and found." "Felix Harrowgate is a dashing, highly respected wizard. But his aristocratic peers don't know his dark past - how his abusive former master enslaved him, body and soul, and trained him to pass as a nobleman. Within the walls of the Mirador - Melusine's citadel of power and wizardry - Felix believed he was safe. He was wrong. Now, the horrors of his previous life have found him and threaten to destroy all he has since become." "Mildmay the Fox is used to being hunted. Raised as a kept-thief and trained as an assassin, he escaped his Keeper long ago and lives on his own as a cat burglar. But now he has been caught by a mysterious foreign wizard using a powerful calling charm. And yet the wizard was looking not for Mildmay - but for Felix Harrowgate." Thrown together by fate, the broken wizard Felix and the wanted killer Mildmay journey far from Melusine through lands thick with strange magics and terrible demons of darkness. But it is the shocking secret from their pasts, linking them inexorably together, that will either save them, or destroy them.
When I think about this book part of me wonders why I liked it so much. Because there are plenty of things to dislike about this story. Felix's treatment is pretty horrific and his parts of the book dragged on. Monette's story building and Mildmay saved this book though. By the end of the story I loved both Felix and Mildmay and I genuinely wished for their happiness. I thought the story got better as it moved along and I'd recommend reading all four books in the series.

9. The Left Hand Of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
Genly Ai is an emissary from the human galaxy to Winter, a lost, stray world. His mission is to bring the planet back into the fold of an evolving galactic civilization, but to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own culture and prejudices and those that he encounters. On a planet where people are of no gender--or both--this is a broad gulf indeed. The inventiveness and delicacy with which Le Guin portrays her alien world are not only unusual and inspiring, they are fundamental to almost all decent science fiction that has been written since. In fact, reading Le Guin again may cause the eye to narrow somewhat disapprovingly at the younger generation: what new ground are they breaking that is not already explored here with greater skill and acumen? It cannot be said, however, that this is a rollicking good story. Le Guin takes a lot of time to explore her characters, the world of her creation, and the philosophical themes that arise.
I've decided to add this book the the list even though I haven't read it since it's science fiction and I wanted to throw some variety into the mix. This book is pretty much a science fiction classic and it's exploration of gender had me interested from the start. I've put it on hold at the library, but you can read tons of reviews for the book at goodreads (just follow the link).

10. Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey
Lushly written with rich and vivid characters, Santa Olivia is Jacqueline Carey's take on comic book superheroes and the classic werewolf myth.

Loup Garron was born and raised in Santa Olivia, an isolated, disenfranchised town next to a US military base inside a DMZ buffer zone between Texas and Mexico. Loup's father, a fugitive "Wolf-Man" who had a love affair with a local woman, was one of a group of men genetically-manipulated and used by the US government as a weapon.

After her mother dies, Loup goes to live among the misfit orphans at the parish church, where they seethe from the injustices visited upon the locals by the soldiers. Eventually, the orphans find an outlet for their frustrations: They form a vigilante group to support Loup Garron who, costumed as their patron saint - Santa Olivia - uses her special abilities to avenge the town. Aware that she could lose her freedom, and possibly her life, Loup is determined to fight to redress the wrongs her community has suffered and, like the reincarnation of their patron saint, bring hope to all of Santa Olivia.
Another urban fantasy book that completely surprised me. Maybe it's the dystopian vibe this book has, but I was hooked from the beginning. As the relationships unfold they feel natural and very sweet. All in all this is a great story and I can't wait for the sequel.

So there you have it. Keep in mind that this is just ten out of many. If you're interesting in more you can find two really good lists here and here. Unfortunately not one of these books represents the "T" in LGBT. I don't know if this is simply my ignorance, but the fantasy book I can think of with a transgendered character is Eon by Alison Goodman (I didn't add it to this list though since it's a secondary character). Tons of books feature girls pretending to be boys, but that doesn't cut it. I'll look to see if I can find more though.

ETA: The Book Smugglers out out a great list his morning that features more contemporary fiction. You can find it here.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

BBQ Chicken Packs

I feel a little embarrassed posting this recipe since it's so simple, but I figure I might as well. Any fan of bbq chicken pizza will love this dish. It's tasty, simple, and super inexpensive as well. You can use any type of filling you like too. Don't like bbq? Try ham, Swiss cheese, and dijon instead. Pillsbury has a lasagna version that looks pretty good as well. My all time favorite is probably roasted chicken sandwich meat, chipotle cheddar, and yellow mustard. Yum.

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These little packets are great for movie night or feeding little ones. Add a simple side salad and you've got a simple and filling lunch. For this version I like to throw some red onion and cilantro into the mix, but that's entirely up to you. You can also use two biscuits on top of each other to make a bigger biscuit pack.

BBQ Chicken Packs

Ingredients:

1 tube refrigerator biscuits (the big ones are easier)
1/4 cup barbeque sauce
1/2 cup cheese
1 cup cooked, shredded chicken

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350

1. Remove biscuits from package and flatten with your hand or a rolling pin.

2. In the middle of each biscuit, place some chicken, some barbecue sauce and some cheese. Fold biscuit over, seal edges well with a fork, and place on cookie sheet.

3. Bake for until brown, 10-18 minutes.

Source: Sam the Cooking Guy

Thursday, June 23, 2011

New Music Thursday


New Music Thursday is an attempt to keep my goal of listening to some new music alive and kicking. Not all of these bands/artists are new to me, but all of the songs are.

These are the songs I'm diggin this week:

Hold On Hold On by Neko Case:



Power by Kanye West:



In Your Hands by Charlie Winston:



This Too Shall Pass by Ok Go:



Mega MashUp Remix by MaNuMixx:



This song features Lady Gaga, Shakira, Pitbull, Madonna, David Guetta, and Akon.

Mother of Pearl by Roxy Music:



Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Chocolate Sheet Cake

I've never had a Texas sheet cake, but I can't imagine not being happy with this cake. The cake itself is light and fluffy with a delicateness from the buttermilk and the frosting is chocolatey and rich. Add the crunch of toasted walnuts and this sheet cake is a little slice of heaven. I practically devoured this cake to be completely honest. Even though this recipe makes a huge cake, the fact it's thin makes the cake to frosting ratio perfect.

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It's important to note that the frosting needs to be added to the cake while it's still hot. This gives the frosting a fudgy quality. Very good. Also, make sure your sheet pan is 18×13. Otherwise you'll have a huge mess on your hands. I only had half a stick of butter left over so I had to use some shortening in the frosting to make up for it. Turned out great though.

Would I make this again?
Oh yes! Perfect for summer entertaining. I plan on making it for our next bbq.

Chocolate Sheet Cake

Ingredients:

Cake:
2 cups Flour
2 cups Sugar
1/4 teaspoons Salt
4 Tablespoons (heaping) Cocoa
2 sticks Butter
1 cup Boiling Water
1/2 cups Buttermilk
2 whole Beaten Eggs
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 teaspoon Vanilla

Frosting:
8 tablespoons butter (one stick)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup dutch-process cocoa powder
1 tablespoon corn syrup
3 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 cup toasted pecans, chopped

Directions:

1. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, and salt. In a saucepan, melt butter. Add cocoa. Stir together. Add boiling water, allow mixture to boil for 30 seconds, then turn off heat. Pour over flour mixture, and stir lightly to cool.

2. In a measuring cup, pour the buttermilk and add beaten eggs, baking soda, and vanilla. Stir buttermilk mixture into butter/chocolate mixture. Pour into sheet cake pan and bake at 350-degrees for 20 minutes.

3. For the icing: About 5 minutes before the cake is done, heat the butter, cream, cocoa, and corn syrup in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Off the heat, whisk in the powdered sugar and vanilla. Spread the warm icing evenly over the hot cake and sprinkle with the pecans.

4. Let the cake cool to room temperature on the wire rack, about one hour, then refrigerate until the icing is set, about one hour longer. Cut into 3″ squares. Serve. Cake can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for 2 days. Return to room temperature before serving

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Source: Adapted from the Pioneer Woman and America's Test Kitchen

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Book Review: Chime by Franny Billingsley

Title: Chime
Author: Franny Billingsley
Genre: YA, fantasy

Publisher: Dial
Publishing Date: March 17, 2011
Hardcover: 361 pages

Stand Alone or series: Stand alone

Summary:
Before Briony's stepmother died, she made sure Briony blamed herself for all the family's hardships. Now Briony has worn her guilt for so long it's become a second skin. She often escapes to the swamp, where she tells stories to the Old Ones, the spirits who haunt the marshes. But only witches can see the Old Ones, and in her village, witches are sentenced to death. Briony lives in fear her secret will be found out, even as she believes she deserves the worst kind of punishment.

Then Eldric comes along with his golden lion eyes and mane of tawny hair. He's as natural as the sun, and treats her as if she's extraordinary. And everything starts to change. As many secrets as Briony has been holding, there are secrets even she doesn't know.
Review:

Briony lives in a world of swamps and silences. Living with her twin sister and absent father, Briony's only comfort is her own self-hate. See, Briony's done some pretty awful things and the worst are the secrets that she keeps. These secrets, and the guilt of her actions, have led to a life of disappointment and quiet desperation. But when the interesting and compelling Eldric comes along, bringing vibrance to Briony's dull world, Briony starts to want things she never thought she deserved. As Briony tries to come to terms with who she is and the mistakes she's made, she finds sometimes the hardest thing to do is just let go.
"It's strange how a person can have a distinct distaste for herself, but still she clutches to life."
Sometimes a book has the power to sneak up on me. Usually it isn't until I try to describe the story to a friend that I realize part of the book has stayed with me in that special place only great books can reach, but sometimes it happens with every turn of the page. I start a book with low expectations and yet, inexplicably, I find myself completely surprised. That is exactly what happened with Chime.

I've said many times before I'm not a fan of romance. While I love my characters to have a bit of romantic entanglements, I don't want that to be the main focus of the story. Maybe it's because we're already bombarded with romance driven music, television, movies, commercials, and other forms of media, but I just don't care for it. So when I read the blurb on the book, I had a hard time believing this was going to be a book I'd enjoy. I mean, the summary is pretty much standard romance fodder. And yet, Chime turned out to be so much more than the inevitable triumph of love over impossible odds. While the summary makes it sound like Briony's journey is about Eldric, it's really about learning how love oneself when the world has told you you're worthless.

I often complain that protagonists in YA books are bland, but Briony was anything but. She's a layered and complex character who tries to do what's right even when her heart screams out for something different. She's smart and playful, but slowly being crushed under the belief that she's not a good person and doesn't deserve happiness. Even though Briony's self-hate grated on my nerves, her constant warring with herself made the story for me. We get to watch Briony's self-journey as she tries to learn to love herself and allow herself to be loved. I know that sounds incredibly cheesy, but I really connected with it. Briony is flawed. I can't tell you how incredibly refreshing that is. Eldric was also a refreshing love interest. Instead of being cliched and two-dimensional, Eldric was actually likable. I could see why Briony was drawn to him rather then having to be told that she liked him. They didn't fall in love instantly or swear to be together forever. Instead they actually got to know each other and became friends first. Craziness I know. That's one of the things I really liked about the book in general though, the characters around Briony were fleshed out more than usual. Briony's sister in particular was a fantastic character and it made Briony's world more real for me.
"If you say a word, it leaps out and becomes the truth. I love you. I believe it. I believe I am loveable. How can something as fragile as a word build a whole world?"
In the end though, it was the prose that won me over. There was something appealing and wonderful about Billingsley's writing. The setting was brilliant and it reminded me of Sleepy Hallow (the movie) for some reason. I guess both have that...leached out quality about them. Like the town's happier days have already passed and the people are still clinging on to yesterday. Briony's narrative was also unreliable and full of secrets that kept me glued to the book. The story felt like a new take on old folk tales and I just loved it.
Notable Quotes/ Parts: (Prologue)
I’ve confessed to everything and I’d like to be hanged. Now, if you please.

I don’t mean to be difficult, but I can’t bear to tell my story. I can’t relive those memories—the touch of the Dead Hand, the smell of eel, the gulp and swallow of the swamp. How can you possibly think me innocent? Don’t let my face fool you; it tells the worst lies. A girl can have the face of an angel but have a horrid sort of heart.

I know you believe you’re giving me a chance—or, rather, it’s the Chime Child giving me the chance. She’s desperate, of course, not to hang an innocent girl again, but please believe me: Nothing in my story will absolve me of guilt. It will only prove what I’ve already told you, which is that I’m wicked. Can’t the Chime Child take my word for it?

In any event, where does she expect me to begin? The story of a wicked girl has no true beginning. I’d have to begin with the day I was born.

If Eldric were to tell the story, he’d likely begin with himself, on the day he arrived in the Swampsea. That’s where proper stories begin, don’t they, when the handsome stranger arrives and everything goes wrong?

But this isn’t a proper story, and I’m telling you, I ought to be hanged.
Verdict:

The beginning might be kind of clunky, but this book is a real treat. My only complaint is that I had no clear understanding of where or when this story takes place, but I can let it slide.

Rating: 8. Excellent – some laughing and/or crying involved

Monday, June 20, 2011

Janie Bryant: Mad Men Costume Designer

Here's an interesting video I came across on youtube. It's an interview of Janie Bryant, the Mad Men costume designer. Mad Men has the best clothes by far out of any tv show.



I really like Bryant's comments about Betty and how her outward perfection hides her inner unhappiness.

Friday, June 17, 2011

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 24 and 25

A Book you later found out the Author lied about: A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
James Frey's memoir of drug addition and recovery was a bestseller even before Oprah Winfrey picked it for her book club in 2005, but the subsequent revelations about discrepancies between the story and the author's real life touched off a national debate about the line between fact and fiction.

Filled with graphic scenes of epic substance abuse and the torments of withdrawal, A Million Little Pieces was widely heralded upon its publication as a harrowing, self-lacerating, and courageously confessional autobiography. It received many admiring critical reviews, carried cover endorsements from noted literati, and was selected by Barnes & Noble as a 2003 Discover pick. (Our reviewer called Frey prodigiously talented, poetic, and unflinchingly honest).

In January 2006, the author acknowledged the truth of charges that many details in the book were embellished or fabricated. In a note to readers that was prepared for subsequent printings, he apologized to those who felt they had been misled and explained why he wrote the book the way he did. Reactions to these revelations included soul-searching by publishers about their responsibilities for ensuring accuracy, ruminations by critics on the line between fact and fiction in modern culture, and spirited defenses of the author by readers who maintained that the book's inspirational message was of primary importance. One thing seems certain: A Million Little Pieces is a book that promises to have a long-lasting impact.
That kind of explains it all doesn't it? I feel like this book is the obvious answer, but the only other book I can think of is Go Ask Alice. I read this book before all the hoopla surrounding it went down so I can say I enjoyed it without associating any negative preconceived notions about it. Is it less impressive knowing the author lied? Sure. But this novel still speaks out to the loneliness of addiction and all other manners of ugliness.

Favorite Autobiographical/Biographical book: Moab Is My Washpot by Stephen Fry
A number one bestseller in Britain that topped the lists there for months, Stephen Fry's astonishingly frank, funny, wise memoir is the book that his fans everywhere have been waiting for. Since his PBS television debut in the Blackadder series, the American profile of this multitalented writer, actor and comedian has grown steadily, especially in the wake of his title role in the film Wilde, which earned him a Golden Globe nomination, and his supporting role in A Civil Action.

Fry has already given readers a taste of his tumultuous adolescence in his autobiographical first novel, The Liar, and now he reveals the equally tumultuous life that inspired it. Sent to boarding school at the age of seven, he survived beatings, misery, love affairs, carnal violation, expulsion, attempted suicide, criminal conviction and imprisonment to emerge, at the age of eighteen, ready to start over in a world in which he had always felt a stranger. One of very few Cambridge University graduates to have been imprisoned prior to his freshman year, Fry is a brilliantly idiosyncratic character who continues to attract controversy, empathy and real devotion.

This extraordinary and affecting book has "a tragic grandeur that lifts it to classic status," raved the Financial Times in one of the many ecstatic British reviews. Stephen Fry's autobiography, in turns funny, shocking, sad, bruisingly frank and always compulsively readable, could well become a classic gay coming-of-age memoir.
Fry's writing is simply delightful to read. There's not much to add except give this book a read. I loved it.

Chicken Teriyaki

Chicken Teriyaki is one of those things everyone loves to eat but no one loves to make. When I came across this recipe the simplicity is what really won me over. This is by far one of the best ways to use up chicken thighs in my opinion. Flavorful and yummy in every way.

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I changed this recipe quite a bit. For one, I didn't have sake so I substituted sherry. Also, I halved the soy sauce and added another tablespoon of brown sugar. This is because some of the reviews said the dish was too salty and I don't like really salty dishes. for some extra oomph I added a bit of red pepper flake to the chicken (which is a must in my view). Then I added a squeeze of lemon at the very end for freshness. I decided not to change the recipe though since this is the type of thing that can easily be thrown off and I don't want the blame. If you follow my advice and it turns out great, well you're welcome. ;)



Would I make this again?
For sure.

Chicken Teriyaki

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons sake
1/4 cup mirin (sweet Japanese Rice wine)
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
4 spring onions, white part only, sliced
splash of sesame oil
1 3/4 pounds chicken thighs (no skin or bones), cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 tablespoon neutral vegetable oil
freshly ground black pepper
handful of parsley leaves, chopped
rice, to serve

Directions:

1. In a bowl large enough to hold all the chicken pieces, mix together the sake, mirin, soy sauce, sugar, ginger, spring onions and sesame oil. Add the chicken pieces and turn to coat each one of them in the sauce. Leave for 15-20 minutes.

2. Heat the oil in a large, shallow frying pan (with a lid) and, using a perforated spoon, transfer the chicken pieces to the pan and sauté until they look cooked on the outside.

3. Pour the marinade over the chicken, bring to a boil, then cover and turn down the heat, cooking for 5-10 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and sauce is thick.

Stir in freshly ground black pepper and the parsley. Serve immediately with rice.

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Source:
Nigella Lawson

Thursday, June 16, 2011

New Music Thursday


New Music Thursday is an attempt to keep my goal of listening to some new music alive and kicking. Not all of these bands/artists are new to me, but all of the songs are.

These are the songs I'm diggin this week:

Blank Generation by Richard Hell and the Voidoids:



Always Where I Need To Be by The Kooks:



Waiting On You by Sun Airway:



The Need by Tech N9ne (featuring Big Krizz Kaliko):



Despicable Dogs by Small Black:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

DIY Cheese Platter Printable

I'm one of those people that daydreams about elegant parties with understated food spreads and delicate wine tastings. You know the kind you see in magazine shoots where everyone has impeccable taste in clothes and looks like they stepped out of an Anthropologie catalog. This adorable idea makes that dream one step closer.


Nah. Who am I kidding? I hate wine and my boyfriend looks like he stepped out of 90s Seattle. If you'd like to print some of these labels out for yourself though, you can find them here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Title: Wither
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Genre: YA, Dystopia, Post-Apocalyptic

Publisher: Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing
Publishing Date: March 22, 2011
Hardcover: 358 pages

Stand Alone or series: Book one of the Chemical Garden trilogy.

Where did I get this book: Library (as usual)

Summary:
What if you knew exactly when you would die?

Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb — males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.

When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden's genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape — to find her twin brother and go home.

But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden's eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limited time she has left.
Review:

In the hope of curing all ailments, scientists in the near future found a way to genetically alter embryos in order to create a generation of perfectly healthy children. These children will never have to suffer from cancer or disease. Instead, they're free to live their lives without the fear of tuberculosis or malaria. As an entire generation of perfect children are born, everyone's hopes are high and the future looks bright. But this new generation slowly learn they have to pay a high price for their perfection. As these children grow older and decide to have children, the scientists discover their deadly mistake. Now all children die young. Girls at age 20 and boys at 25 to be exact. 70 years after this fatal genetic tinkering, 16 year-old Rhine is kidnapped and forced into a polygamist marriage that has become routine amongst wealthy families trying to cling on to their dying families. There Rhine will have to decide what matters more: privilege or freedom.

I had a lot of issues with this book from the start. For one, dystopia works because it reflects the scary possibility of horrible things to come. Even if the reader doesn't believe their world could ever turn into the author's vision, there is still a believability that all good dystopians have. Do I think I will ever live to see something like 1984 come to fruition? Of course not. But as a reader I can understand how it could happen. How fear and want for safety can convince people into giving away something sacred: their freedom. In a post 9/11 world this isn't hard for anyone to understand. Dystopia is one of the genres where world building really matters. If an author does a shoddy job then it's hard to connect with the characters because the reader can't accept them as real (in the fictional sense) because the reader can't accept the world they live in as real. And Wither never meets this simple expectation.

Obviously readers are required to have some "suspension of disbelief." It's kind of hard to get into a fantasy book if the reader keeps thinking "magic isn't real." The problem with Wither is while the reader is ready to buy into its premise, DeStefano finds ways to slap that suspension in the face. In the book, DeStefano actually writes "the polar ice caps were vaporized long ago by warfare." Um what?! Even if we ignore all the things a claim like this requires, like actual information or some details, it's kind of hard to take this serious when the story takes place in Manhattan and Florida. Do you have any idea how high the seas would rise? I don't know either, but it's a lot. Enough that Florida would not be around to become some polygamist playground. Even if I'm supposed to believe all the water from the polar caps became vapor and went somewhere so the coasts weren't damaged, the rising temperature of the oceans would still make the water expand. And it would be hell of a lot hotter. I just can't accept this statement at face value. To make matters worse, DeStefano also writes "a third world war demolished all but North America, the continent with the most advanced technology and the damage was so catastrophic that all that remains of the rest of the world is ocean and uninhabitable islands so tiny that they can't even be seen from space." Sweet Jesus. This makes no sense at all. For one, North America is the continent with the most advanced technology? I think not. Also, destroying the continents so only tiny islands exist? Sorry, I don't buy it. Even though the reader is given reason to believe this isn't true, I don't understand how anyone in DeStefano's world would buy into this. If she had said the land was inhabitable, then okay. But totally destroyed while Florida still exists? No way.

Even if you ignore all the science stuff and try to focus just on the story itself, there's still a lot of problems with DeStefano's overall premise. The only thing more unbelievable than vaporized polar caps and yacht parties on Florida's coast is the idea that everyone on the North American continent would have had access to the genetic engineering that made the generation of people whose children die young. There's no way. There are people dying right now because they don't have access to medicine that costs cents. Even if we buy into this idea, DeStefano never gives the reader a compelling reason for why these young people are so obsessed with keeping the population from dying out. There's no sense of a strong sate power that conditions its citizens to be baby making factories so I just can't see why people care so much. I also don't understand why girls are kidnapped. Throughout the story the reader is often told America has a huge orphan problem. This makes sense since people die so young, but it would also stand to reason that there would always be a steady supply of willing and eager wives who want to get out of poverty. So why the kidnapping? DeStefano also doesn't explain why girls who are so valuable they have to be kidnapped would be killed if they weren't chosen by the buyer. It just doesn't make sense. Plus, the original generation is still alive. Why have women lost all power in society?

I know I've rambled on for a while here, but I want to highlight that this book as no explanations for any of these questions. I've seen this book called The Handmaids Tale for YA, but there is simply none of the social or political explanations as with that story. Why are young people sold into slavery? Why do women have no political autonomy? Who maintains this system? Why do men live five years longer then women (especially when women outlive men)? This story would work so much better if only one sex died young. That alone would answer a lot of the questions people are left wondering and explain why women have to be kidnapped. As it is, this story just doesn't make sense.

One more thing, the characters are boring and completely unbelievable. If there had been superb characterizations then maybe I could excuse the major problems I had with the story. We all have books we love that aren't very good. But that's not the case here. All of the characters are too one dimensional. The villain is too villainous. Linden, the husband, is too ignorant. Apparently all kidnappers have to do is draw some pictures and they can start to win over their captives. Is the reader really supposed to feel sympathetic towards a man who refuses to learn anything about the world? If the reader really suppose to quietly accept Rhine's softening towards him? If Linden is so nice then why didn't Rhine just tell him the truth? Rhine is also too bland. There's nothing special about her and yet we're forced with her narration. It also felt like DeStefano was trying to titillate readers with the sexual aspect of young teens in polygamous marriages while also keeping Rhine free from it. And while I'm glad I didn't have to read a rape scene, the lack of Rhine having to face the ugly side of her marriage felt unbelievable to me. Rhine shows more anger towards a teenage girl, who is just as much as a victim, than Linden. It's ridiculous.

Notable Quotes/ Parts:

You can read an excerpt here.

Verdict:

The cover is the best thing about this book. Maybe the next two books will get better, but these watered down YA dystopias are driving me crazy. The themes are handled with kid gloves and nothing feels believable.

Rating: 4. Bad, but for some reason I still needed to know what happens in the end

Monday, June 13, 2011

Churros with Cinnamon Sugar

For Cinco de Mayo we decided to have some friends over for a little get together. As usual I made too much food, but had lots of fun doing it. It was also our first real weekend after finals so margaritas and piña coladas were a must. I made Ricky Bayless' Chipotle Meatballs, Mexican Chocolate Crunch Brownies, Black Bean and Corn Wonton Cups, chicken and guacamole wonton cups, churros, and chips and dip (which my lovely friend Tiffany got from a local Mexican restaurant).

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Unfortunately the wonton cups and the churros were the only dishes I really liked. The brownies were good, but I didn't like the cereal base and the meatballs were perfectly fine, but I absolutely adore Ina's Spicy Turkey Meatballs and don't see the point (plus I thought the mint was kind of weird). The churros though were very good. Easy to make and a pleasant little treat, who doesn't like fried dough rolled in sugar? The only thing downside is they seemed to get soggy fairly quickly. The original recipe came with a chocolate dipping sauce that I plan on making next time. Just follow the link at the bottom of the post if you're interested in that.

Here's a video of Giada De Laurentiis making churros. It's a different recipe but you can see how simple it really is:



Would I make this again? I'm not sure I've found the churro recipe yet, but this one was very good.

Churros

Ingredients:

1 cup water
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
canola oil

Cinnamon sugar:
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
1 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Directions:


1. In a medium sauce pot bring water, butter, salt and sugar to a low boil
Add in flour and stir until mixture comes together and begins to roll into a ball and becomes shiny. Turn off heat and continue to cook, stirring for an additional 2 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

2. Once cooled but still warm stir in eggs and vanilla one at a time until incorporated ( you may use a mixer or stir by hand). Place dough into a pastry bag fitted with a medium star tip.

3. Heat 2-3 inches of canola oil to 375 degrees in large heavy bottom pot or a shallow saute pan with high sides. Carefully squeeze 3 inches of pastry dough into the hot oil, cutting off each churros by swiping off at the tip with your finger or a knife. Oil will bubble around the churros vigorously- when bubbles begin to die down and churros are golden- flip over and repeat, about 1 minute on each side.

4. Place cooked churros onto paper towel to drain off excess oil and toss in sugar and cinnamon. Serve warm.

Source: Satisfied

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Home is Where the House Is

As some of you may know, I’m from San Diego but currently live in Salt Lake City. Inspired by a city coordinate wedding print I saw, I decided to make this quick print of San Diego and Salt Lake City’s coordinates for this weeks art challenge.

Project1

I originally used the quote “home is where we start from” but I decided to change it since I thought “home is where the house is” was kind of funny. The print was easy to put together, but I really like it. Then again, I like anything that reminds me of home.

If you're interested in making your own, I found the coordinates on the city's Wikipedia page on the right under the general data.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Tortellini in Mushroom-Walnut Cream Sauce

I've seen a few pasta dishes that have walnuts in them, but this is the first I've ever made. Maybe it's because I'm a huge fan of crunch and therefore a huge fan of nuts, but I loved how something as simple as a handful of walnuts turned this dish into something special. I really enjoyed the combination of creamy sauce, yummy mushrooms, and the crunch of the walnuts. The best thing about this dish has to be how simple it is. You know all those 30 minute meals that aren't so 30 minutes? Well this dish will be on your table in no time.

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This dish is a lot like a mash-up of the Ravioli/Tortellini with Wild Mushroom Sauce and Creamy Lemon Pasta with Spinach and Tomatoes recipes I've posted before. The latter because of the creaminess of the sauce and the former because of the mushrooms and tortellini. Since I had some pancetta in the fridge, I decided to add it to this dish. I think it added a nice salty bit to the pasta. Other than that all I added was some garlic. If you want to lighten the dish, use the chicken stock and butter from the Ravioli/Tortellini recipe instead of the heavy cream.

Would I make this again? I'm not sure. Even though I liked the pasta, I felt like it was missing something (maybe some lemon?). The texture combinations was perfect though.

Tortellini in Mushroom-Walnut Cream Sauce


Ingredients:

12 oz ravioli or tortellini, cooked according to package directions
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

1. Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Sauté mushrooms and walnuts until mushrooms are golden brown.

2. Add heavy cream stir frequently for 5 minutes, until sauce has slightly thickened. When cream stops simmering, turn heat to warm. Add pepper and Parmesan cheese; stir until sauce is smooth. Do not boil.

3. Drain pasta and place on a serving plate. Pour sauce over pasta. Garnish with parsley. Serve immediately.

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Source: Olive Garden

Thursday, June 9, 2011

New Music Thursday


New Music Thursday is an attempt to keep my goal of listening to some new music alive and kicking. Not all of these bands/artists are new to me, but all of the songs are.

These are the songs I'm diggin this week:

St. Christopher Is Coming Home by Frank Turner:



Tighten Up by The Black Keys:



This song got lost in my drafts so I'm putting it here.

The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid by The Decemberists:



Sail by Awolnation:



Ours by The Bravery:

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 21, 22, and 23

A guilty pleasure book: Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton
Introducing Anita Blake, vampire hunter extraordinaire. Most people don't even bat an eye at vampires since they've been given equal rights by the Supreme Court. But Anita knows better--she's seen their victims. . . . A serial killer is murdering vampires, however, and now the most powerful vampire in town wants Anita to find the killer.
I finally had to stop around book 17 or so (I wouldn't recommend going past book 10), but the Anita Blake series is definitely a guilty pleasure. It's actually more like guilty frustration if I'm being honest. This series was the first one that got me into urban fantasy. In fact, two of the series in the next answer came as a direct result of reading Anita Blake and wanting something similar. The continued deterioration of this series is my biggest disappointment when it comes to books. That's what makes liking the earlier books feel like a guilty pleasure.

Favorite Series: I wanted to list so many books, but I'll have to be satisfied with four.

1. Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
Harry Dresden--Wizard
Lost items found. Paranormal investigations.
Consulting. Advice. Reasonable rates.
No Love Potions, Endless Purses, Parties, or Other Entertainment.

Harry Dresden is the best at what he does. Well, technically, he's the only at what he does. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal creativity or capability, they come to him for answers. For the "everyday" world is actually full of strange and magical things--and most of them don't play too well with humans. That's where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a--well, whatever.

There's just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks. So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry's seeing dollar signs. But where there's magic, there's a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry's name. And that's when things start to get... interesting.

Magic. It can get a guy killed.
It's pretty impressive when a story can hold your interest for so many books. Butcher has managed to do what Hamilton apparently can't: keep coming up with new ideas and places to take his characters. Another thing I love about this series is the way Butcher ages his characters. Instead of living in a seemingly unchanging bubble, Butcher makes it feel like time is the same in the books as it is for us. It's always a bit odd when you don't pick a series up for a year and everything is exactly as the last book left off. The Dresden files has a more natural feel. I always describe it as a grown up Harry Potter, but it's so much more than that. (Butcher's Codex Alera series was also good.)

2. Rachel Morgan/The Hollows by Kim Harrison
The underground population of witches, vampires, werewolves—creatures of dreams and nightmares—has lived beside humans for centuries, hiding their powers. But after a genetically engineered virus wipes out a large part of humanity, many of the "Inderlanders" reveal themselves, changing everything.

Rachel Morgan, witch and bounty hunter with the Inderland Runner Services, is one of the best at apprehending supernatural lawbreakers throughout Cincinnati, but when it comes to following the rules, she falls desperately short. Determined to buck the system, she quits and takes off on the run with an I.S. contract on her head and is reluctantly forced to team up with Ivy, Inderland's best runner . . . and a living vampire. But this witch is way out of her league, and to clear her name, Rachel must evade shape-changing assassins, outwit a powerful businessman/crime lord, and survive a vicious underground fight-to-the-death . . . not to mention her own roommate.
This, along with the Dresden Files, is a book I really look forward to getting a new installment of each year. I'm not gonna lie, when I re-read the first books I get super annoyed with the characters. But I loved them the first time around and I always devour the new book the day it comes out. The series feels like it's starting to wind down and I'm looking forward to seeing how it ends.

3. A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin
Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister forces are massing beyond the kingdom's protective wall. To the south, the King's powers are failing, and his enemies are emerging from the shadows of the throne. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the frozen land they were born to. Now Lord Eddard Stark is reluctantly summoned to serve as the King's new Hand, an appointment that threatens to sunder not only his family but also the kingdom itself. A heroic fantasy of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and evildoers who come together in a time of grim omens. The first volume in George Martin's series.
If Hamilton's dwindling inspiration is my first biggest disappointment, then the delay of the last portion of this series is the second. I love that you never know where Martin is going with his story and no characters are safe. This series deserves the hype.

4. Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness
Prentisstown isn't like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else's thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee - whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not - stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden - a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives.

But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought?
It was a toss up between this trilogy and the Hunger Games, but at the end of the day this one wins. The Knife of Never Letting Go is simply amazing and if you haven't read this series then you're crazy. There's just no other explanation for it.

Favorite Romance Novel: I don't really like romance as a general rule but I've read a few good ones. Sticking with the series theme, here are two romance series I like.

1. Gardella Vampire Chronicles by Colleen Gleason
Beneath the glitter of dazzling 19th-century London Society lurks a bloodthirsty evil...

In every generation, a Gardella is called to accept the family legacy of hunting vampires, and this time, Victoria Gardella Grantworth is chosen, on the eve of her debut, to carry the stake.
I don't know how but this series wormed its way into my heart. Even though the books are a bit expected, you're all the more happy for it. I also like that this series has a strong plot. They have more plot then the last five Anita Blake books combined actually.


2. Night Huntress by Jeaniene Frost
Half-vampire Catherine Crawfield is going after the undead with a vengeance, hoping that one of these deadbeats is her father—the one responsible for ruining her mother's life. Then she's captured by Bones, a vampire bounty hunter, and is forced into an unholy partnership.

In exchange for finding her father, Cat agrees to train with the sexy night stalker until her battle reflexes are as sharp as his fangs. She's amazed she doesn't end up as his dinner—are there actually good vampires? Pretty soon Bones will have her convinced that being half-dead doesn't have to be all bad. But before she can enjoy her newfound status as kick-ass demon hunter, Cat and Bones are pursued by a group of killers. Now Cat will have to choose a side . . . and Bones is turning out to be as tempting as any man with a heartbeat.
Again, this is a romance series but it also has a good amount of plot. I stopped reading after the third book since things felt satisfying enough for me to stop reading, but I think they were three solid books.