30 August 2006

Reads & Listens, August 2006

Shadows in the Darkness by Elaine Cunningham
Ex vice cop turned detective starts working a case about a missing lawyer's daughter and stumbles into something much bigger that the disappearance of one pretty suburban white girl. Also, discovers she is a Changeling. Not a bad read, but obviously the first in a series and I can take only so much "elf detective" fiction before I need a lie down.

Heroics for Beginners by John Moore
A fast read about a "layabout" prince who wants to marry the princess meant for the military guy who defeats the Evil Overlord and retrieves Ancient Artifact Number 7. Mostly amusing in its spoofing of fantasy conventions, but some of the jokes (about Valerie's clothes, for example) fall flat (mainly due to repetition).

The Abortionist's Daughter by Elisabeth Hyde
I was expecting something more controversial. More political. Instead, I got a decent detective novel with just enough new-to-me medical information about abortion to make me go hmmm. Wasn't keen on the daughter's relationship with the ex-cop, but I'm becoming a prude in my old age.

Devices and Desires (The Engineer Trilogy: Book One) by K.J. Parker
First book in a trilogy and, goddamn, what a doorstop of a book! Interesting, yes, but can I read two more of them? Despite Parker's obvious skill at world building and knowledge of engineering, this book just dragged in too many places.

The Trouble With Tulip by Mindy Starns Clark
Picked this up more or less on a whim. It was a nice summer read -- mildly funny with likeable characters and an uncomplicated plot. That said, I won't be reading the other Jo Tulip books as the religious bits annoyed the shit out of me.

At the Sign of the Star by Katherine Sturtevant
Meg is the spoiled/wilful/improper only child of a widowed bookseller and fully expects to inherit her father's business. Then her father remarries and Meg's world is stood on it's head ... A fast read with good historical detail and a nice amount of character development on Meg's part.

The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Yes, this is the same author who gave us those great girlie masterpieces The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. In this rather amiable little novel, we have the story of Miss Fox-Seton, a gently bred but hopelessly impoverished and no-so-young woman who finds riches and happiness in marriage to a marquis. I liked it a lot, though I could see why other (more romantic readers) might find bits of the story rather horrifying.

A Girl Like Che Guevara by Teresa de la Caridad Doval
A sheltered urbanite, Lourdes believes in Che and Communist Cuba. When she is sent to school-in-the-fields, her eyes are opened to the truth of Cuba (and her family and her self). Powerful coming of age story with honest depictions of same-sex desire, too. W00t.

La Perdida by Jessica Abel
Girl, looking to find her roots, rejects the culture of her youth and, while searching for authenticity, falls in with some lowlifes who fuck her up (of course). Lots of cringe-worthy moments.

Tinker by Wen Spencer
Worst cover art ever and such a pity as this is quite an interesting and extremely entertaining fantasy novel. I mean, gutsy girl genius? Elf sex? Weird cultural quirks? What's not to like? Well, okay, the (seemingly) racist bits toward the end did spoil my fun and crimped my desire to read Wolf Who Rules. I mean, the bad, animalistic, and thoroughly wicked people were Asiatic Devils while the good, beautiful, and advanced heroes were Westernized Whites?? Wtf?

Hetty Dorval by Ethel Wilson
In some ways, Hetty seemed so sympathetic -- a woman who lived her life as she saw fit with no concern for anyone's happiness but her own in a time in which women did not behave so (do we now??). Yet, if gossip and Frankie's own sensibilities were to believed, then Hetty was also a cold-hearted mantis woman and who wouldn't want her friends warned away from? Basically, a fast but not unsubtle read with all those little quirks I love in period pieces. Wish we had read this in "Introduction to Canadian Literature 2."

Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda by Jean-Philippe Stassen (trans. by Alexis Siegel)
Dark and beautiful and wretched -- not an easy read, but a compelling and necessary one. Should be required reading.

Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner
Please ignore the paperback edition's cover art. Holy crap, it is not good art, but the story is very good. I mean, girl with sword? Duels over points of honor? Gay and lesbian sexcapades? Political skulduggery? True love? Adored it all. While this is, apparently, a book in a series, I haven't read any of the other ones (and probably won't as Kate isn't in them). However, Privilege still made perfect sense and I highly recommend it.

17 August 2006

Year of Cake: Fun With Double Boilers

Dad's been complaining it's too hard for him to think up cake ideas all on his own, so I let him borrow two cookbooks to help him along. They came back to me full of bookmarks and little notes on preferred variations. His selections are rather interesting in their diversity -- everything from "Lemon Coconut Layer Cake" to (four layer!) "Pecan Cake with Tangerine Cream Frosting" to a brandy soaked fruitcake (aged for two months, no less) -- but not especially complicated and my worries involve ingredient procurement more than possible technical problems.

I'm looking forward to the fruitcake. Like the Battenburg, it's one of those things I've wanted to try, but haven't had sufficient reason to. I'm going to get my fruits from the King Arthur catalog as I'm generally pleased with their products and the brandy will be whatever Dad loves best. But, I'm getting ahead of myself, here.

August's selections was "Sponge Cake with Fruit and Cream" from Mary Wilkinson's Desserts: Mouthwatering Recipes for Delectable Dishes (pages 172-173, Anness Publishing: 1997) and it was as it sounds. Split sponge cake filled with sweetened whipped cream and berries then topped with more cream and berries. Strawberries are starting to look a bit crap again (out of season) so I used raspberries, instead, with good results.


The cake recipe called for filling a saucepan with hot water set over low heat then putting the eggs in a heat proof bowl which nested inside the pan without touching the water and (using an electric hand mixer) beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla together until the mixture was very thick. I don't have an electric hand mixer, so had to whisk it and I'm pretty sure the cake batter never quite reached the right consistency. I mean, it tasted just fine in the end, but the layers seemed much thinner than those in the photo -- not enough aeration, I guess.

I'm also guessing that I could have substituted any old cake batter recipe with just as good results. Any cake filled with fruit and cream is bound to taste good. Mmmm. A chocolate sponge with cream and raspberries ... that would be good ... or lemon with blackberries ....

Next month: "Lemon Coconut Layer Cake" also from Mary Wilkinson's Desserts: Mouthwatering Recipes for Delectable Dishes (Anness Publishing: 1997).

14 August 2006

Flutterbys

Yesterday was our seventh wedding anniversary. Yes, seventh. That's wool/copper or desk sets, if you believe in that sort of thing. Which we don't. Which is why we ended up with no gifts and a lot of butterfly pictures.

We drove up to Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory on Sunday and ooo-ed and ahhhed over all the flutterbys.