30 December 2006

Reads & Listens, December 2006

Singer in the Snow by Loise Marley
When I picked Singer up, I didn't know it was part of a series and so didn't enjoy it as much as I might have. Spent too much time wondering how the characters managed not to starve to death on a world where summer only comes every five years (where does the grain come from? do they grow it during the brief summers? if so than why is summer some universal holiday when it should surely be "all hands to the plough and let's hope the crops don't fail?" and what insects survive between summers to fertilize the plants, anyway?) -- and not enough time worrying about the trials and travails of our heroes. I think I might have enjoyed it with more back story, but I'm not desperate to read the other books.

Women of War ed. by Tanya Huff & Alexander Potter
I was hoping to find strong "military" characters like Signy Mallory or Paksenarrion and was ... disappointed. None of the stories in this collection grabbed me or made me want to look the author up.

Saints Behaving Badly: The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men, and Devil Worshippers Who Became Saints by Thomas J. Craughwell
The subtitle pretty much says it all.

Double Crossed: Uncovering the Catholic Church's Betrayal of American Nuns by Kenneth Briggs
Grrr. This book makes me want to shout at people and donate all my savings to the Retirement Fund for Religious, for all the good that would do.

After Midnight by Teresa Medieros
Despite the silly vampire shtick, this was quite a fun (and frequently funny) read. The chemistry between Caroline and Viscount Trevelyan (Adrian Kane! Who really thinks that is a probable name for a peer c1820?) seemed quite believable and delicious. The relationship between the sisters was also quite excellent. Still ... the set-up for the next novel (Portia & Julian's love story) was clear from the moment I found out Caroline had sisters and several events -- which didn't really have much to do with Caroline's -- just seemed tacked on to get me to read the next book. The Children of Men by P.D. James
By the sixth chapter I very much wanted to chuck the book out a window, but I forced myself to soldier on. Stupid. Horrible book. Haven't hated a book so intensely since American Psycho.

Night's Edge by Maggie Shayne et al
Collection of three novellas of which I only read Charlaine Harris's "Dancers in the Dark." It was pretty okay, but lacking some of the depth and wit I enjoy in her Sookie Stackhouse books.

Bite by Laurel K. Hamilton et al
Collection of five short stories about vampires. Of the five, only read Charlaine Harris's "One Word Answer" (bridges the gap between Dead as a Doornail and Definitely Dead).

Mates, Dates, and Inflatable Bras by Cathy Hopkins
First book in the series. Pretty good YA story about friendship, kissing, growing up, and all that rot. Frequently funny and often quite introspective.

Village Christmas by Miss Read
The Christmas Mouse by Miss Read

I thought I'd like to read some twee "Christmas in Merry England" type stories to get me in the mood and these were what was on hand. I hadn't enjoyed my other excursions into Miss Read's England, but thought Christmas stories would be safely saccharine. Well. Yes and no. What a nasty and hateful undercurrent runs through all these stories! And what small-minded bigots so many of her characters seem to be! Miss Read's England is one I would never wish to live in and I cannot comprehend why her books are so beloved by so many.

Rain Fall by Barry Eisler
Thriller set in a noir Tokyo full of jazz and whiskey bars. Very atmospheric and beautiful -- I want to believe in this Tokyo. However, neither the plot nor the characters were ever particularly compelling and (let's face it) anything with a nerdy computer whiz sidekick makes me cringe. Still, if you're tired of Eric Van Lustbader, this book might appeal to you.

The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy ed. by Leonard S. Marcus
Interviews of thirteen fantasy writers including Terry Pratchett, Ursula k. Le Guin, Susan Cooper, and Madeleine L'Engle. Very informative and intriguing -- almost all of the authors discuss the impact of WII and Tolkien on their work. Maybe that is because many of these authors are of the same generation and class? In some ways the interviewees are too homogeneous. But still, a fun read for those of us interested in the person behind the page. The manuscript excerpts make a nice bonus, but the reading lists aren't always complete ... only the juvenile/young adult books are included, I guess?

04 December 2006

Year of Cake: Everything Is Better With Brandy

Made fruitcake over the weekend. Fruitcake being Dad's December cake selection. I'd never made fruitcake before and was, as usual when faced with a new recipe, a little nervous in the kitchen. It was not that I worried my technique would suck and I would ruin the cake, but rather that the cake would suck all on its own -- merely by being fruitcake. I don't really know what my father is expecting from his fruitcake and I worry that what I have baked is not what he wants. Certainly, the four loaves I baked look much more like tea bread than the candy-like fruitcakes I see at the market or the dense marzipan enrobed bricks I saw in England (where fruitcake is a normal celebratory cake and not a seasonal aberration).

My loaves are currently mellowing in the bottom drawer of the fridge -- all brushed with brandy and wrapped in layers of brandy-soaked cheesecloth and aluminum foil. Every time I open the fridge, I look at them and think you bastards had better taste good. It is going to be a long three weeks. Yes, I know they should mellow for five, but three will have to do for (at least) one loaf as there no time to bake fruitcake before Thanksgiving and I plan on giving Dad (at least) one loaf for Christmas. One of my fellow reference librarian claims to adore fruitcake so I may give her one, as well. I myself can probably manage half a loaf. Obviously, I will be taste testing these the week before I give them away -- in time to buy a professionally prepared one if these turn not so good.

I used King Arthur Flour Co's "Our Favorite Fruitcake" recipe with four cups of the Dried Fruit Blend/Fruitcake Fruit rather than the Fruitcake Fruits blend. That was completely my mistake -- I saw Fruitcake Fruit and didn't think twice -- so the cake may be more "real" fruit-y and less candied fruit than my father anticipates. The Dried Fruit Blend is really yummy, though. I keep nibbling it straight out of the bag. Bet it would be good stirred into my hot breakfast Kashi.

The recipe was very easy to follow and I don't doubt my loaves are edible ... I just worry they're not the fruitcake of my dad's dreams. Oh well, soak them with enough brandy and no-one may care!