Stuff and Nonsense: November 2014


11.28.2014

The Blood Spilt by Åsa Larsson


Nearly two years since the murders in Kiruna and Rebecka Martinsson is still picking up the pieces of her life. On sick leave from the law firm, she's been hanging out in one of the partner's summer cottages, making compost, and puttying window frames. And definitely not remembering what happened in Kiruna. But then, of course, she's drawn back to the area and the mystery surrounding the murder of another controversial, charismatic priest.

I love the characters of Rebecka Martinsson and police inspector Anna-Maria Mella. They're both so clearly drawn, so real, and such perfect foils for each other. And Sven-Erik, missing but pretending not-to-miss his cat! Why are these books not a television series? They'd be perfect -- great characterization, secrets, scandal, truly terrible doings, and just the smallest dash of kindness to keep everything from being completely unbearable.

For, while I'm loving the series, I have to admit it is emotionally draining. Both book in the series have featured a dead religious figure, tortured animals, and Rebecka Martinsson getting beat to hell. Is that what I have to look forward to in the next book, The Black Path? If so, I'm going to need a good eight-week break between books -- short enough that I'll still remember the previous plots, but long enough that I'm no longer emotionally wrecked.

The Blood Spilt by Åsa Larsson w/ trans. by Marlaine Delargy (Delacorte Press, 2007)

11.26.2014

Wordless Wednesday: Architectural Details

Inside the Zoo Center at the Bronx Zoo. Building designed by Heins & Lafarge
and originally known as the Elephant House.

11.25.2014

Top 10 Tuesday: Winter 2015 TBR


It's a month early, but here are the top ten books on my Winter 2015 TBR list for this week's Top Ten Tuesday!

Insurgent by Veronica Roth. Own the trilogy, but have only read Divergent. Feel I should read Insurgent before the movie comes out in March for fear of SPOILERS from overly enthusiastic friends.
One choice can transform you—or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves—and herself—while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. Read The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, but have avoided Mockingjay as I heard not very good things about it. However, the second half of the movie is due out in November and I’d like to be caught up with the books so I can watch the movies.
Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she's made it out of the bloody arena alive, she's still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what's worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss's family, not her friends, not the people of District 12.

Red Rising by Pierce Brown. I read the first three chapters a few months ago and was pretty intrigued by the story … but then, you know, life happened and I FORGOT ABOUT FINISHING IT. The next book, Golden Son, is out in January so I’d better get cracking.
Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations. Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.
But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed.

The Female Man by Joanna Russ. Nominated for a Nebula and winner of a (retrospective) Tiptree Award.
Living in an altered past that never saw the end of the Great Depression, Jeannine, a librarian, is waiting to be married. Joanna lives in a different version of reality: she's a 1970s feminist trying to succeed in a man's world. Janet is from Whileaway, a utopian earth where only women exist. And Jael is a warrior with steel teeth and catlike retractable claws, from an earth with separate-and warring-female and male societies. When these four women meet, the results are startling, outrageous, and subversive.

The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah. A new Hercule Poirot novel! /swoons
Hercule Poirot's quiet supper in a London coffee house is interrupted when a young woman confides to him that she is about to be murdered. She is terrified, but begs Poirot not to find and punish her killer. Once she is dead, she insists, justice will have been done.

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki (Author) & Jillian Tamaki (Illustrator). I adored Mariko’s Skim and Emiko Superstar and Jillian did some lovely covers for Penguin Threads.
Every summer, Rose goes with her mom and dad to a lake house in Awago Beach. It's their getaway, their refuge. Rosie's friend Windy is always there, too, like the little sister she never had. But this summer is different. Rose's mom and dad won't stop fighting, and when Rose and Windy seek a distraction from the drama, they find themselves with a whole new set of problems. One of the local teens -- just a couple of years older than Rose and Windy - is caught up in something bad ... Something life threatening.

The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg. Late Victorian England with origami magic? Oh, yes!
Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic…forever.

Book club selections I “have to” read for work:

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. [December]
Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Hauser. [January]
When Anne Morrow, a shy college senior with hidden literary aspirations, travels to Mexico City to spend Christmas with her family, she meets Colonel Charles Lindbergh, fresh off his celebrated 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. Enthralled by Charles’s assurance and fame, Anne is certain the aviator has scarcely noticed her. But she is wrong. Charles sees in Anne a kindred spirit, a fellow adventurer, and her world will be changed forever.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. [February]
A Love Story for this generation, Me Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common—a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?

Now I just have to wait ...

11.21.2014

Thoughts About Where I Get Books & Why

I had a conversation with a friend recently about how much, if at all, customer reviews on sites like Amazon influence the purchase of books and what we're looking for when we read a customer review. And that conversation quickly got my mind wandering off on a tangent, thinking about something I'd never really considered -- that I don't browse online bookstores the way I do physical bookstores and, thanks to the Internet and libraries, I don't really browse bookstores either. I'm generally there to buy a specific object. Huh. Has The Internet (and libraries) "ruined" book shopping for me?

My library consortium is large -- more than thirty libraries currently belong -- with fairly generous lending practices. While some pesky libraries are rather stingy (shame on you for not being team players!) about lending their materials, by and large, I can get whatever I want through the consortium. And if I can't get material through the consortium, the state-wide inter-library loan system is available to me. I place a special request and within two weeks (more or less) the item is in my hands!

When I was growing up, my town library was (and still, I am told, is) quite small and underwhelming so my mother would take me to the library in a neighboring town. It was certainly bigger, but nothing like what is available to me now. I used to have to buy books at shops because there was no other way of getting what I wanted and, because there was no Internet or book journals to tell me about books I might like, I spent a lot of time at the library and bookstores browsing for what I might want to read next. And, of course, I was limited to what was available to me locally.

Now, of course, information about new or forthcoming (or simply old and fascinating books) is constantly flowing over and around me. I can't help but be influenced by it. And, yes, I have a slightly unfair professional advantage -- as a librarian who does a lot of collection development I have developed a good eye for spotting interesting stuff -- but quite a lot of the bookish information I receive still comes from my own personal interests. I don't need to pay attention to Amazon(etc) reviews because I already know all about the book and I'm only at Amazon(etc) because I can't get the book through my library consortium or inter-library loan system and STILL want to read it. Or it's one of the few authors I love so much I feel I must buy their works, regardless of how easy it would be to get them from the library.

(Anyway, regarding the Facebook conversation, we decided customer reviews don't really influence us at all and a longer customer review is even less likely to influence us than a shorter one ... because we don't go to Amazon(etc) for "proper long" reviews. We want ratings and succinct reviews of 100-150 words. But mostly we're there to buy a book we already know we want, customer reviews be damned).

11.20.2014

Improv Challenge: Apples & Cinnamon

November's Improv Cooking Challenge ingredients are apples and cinnamon. While I considered pie and bundt cake and cookies, I knew my greedy little heart wanted something savory. And simple, because I'm also feeling lazy. It should be a one pot dish, preferably, with minimal washing up or ingredients to be prepped!

Well, I don't think it gets much simpler than this -- apples and sweet potatoes mashed with cinnamon and maple syrup! While the cooked apples dissolve into the mashed potato, the slightly tart Granny Smith flavor is still there balancing out the sweetness of the potato and syrup and the cinnamon makes everything sing. The butter is just gilding the lily, adding a touch of richness to a mixture that could stand just fine without it. (But I'm not going to leave it out, am I? Of course not).


This recipe is suitable for vegetarians and would be fine for vegans if you swap the butter out for something like Earth Balance.

Apple-Cinnamon Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Yield: 2-4
Prep Time: 00 hrs. 15 mins.
Cook time: 00 hrs. 30 mins.
Total time: 45 mins.

Ingredients

  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, cored, peeled, and cubed
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. Put sweet potatoes and apple in large saucepan, cover with water, and cook until potatoes are easily pierced with a knife (about 15 minutes). Drain water.
  2. Add butter, maple syrup, and cinnamon. Mash until your preferred texture is reached (I like mine a little lumpy). Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

Mashed Sweets & Apple

Goes really well with maple-glazed roast pork tenderloin and nutty roasted broccoli. Or, you know, it's great just by itself!



11.19.2014

11.18.2014

Top 10 Tuesday: Sequels I Can't Wait to Get


There aren’t many sequels or series continuations I’m longing to read as I’m not much of a series-reader anymore. (Too many books. Too little time. Shorter attention span. Shiny things. Etc). However, there are two that I’m DESPERATE to read.

Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen by Garth Nix. Yes, a new book in the Abhorsen series!!! Kermitflail. Confetti. Parades. It came out in October, but I delayed buying it or borrowing it from the library in hope that the Birthday Fairy would bring it to me. Did the Birthday Fairy bring it?

No, he DID NOT.

Also, I’m a little (nerdily) put out that the cover art for Clariel is so radically different from the rest of the series (in the editions I own) that it will stand out like a sore thumb amongst my neatly ordered shelves. It is deeply irritating.
Clariel is the daughter of one of the most notable families in the Old Kingdom, with blood relations to the Abhorsen and, most important, to the King. She dreams of living a simple life but discovers this is hard to achieve when a dangerous Free Magic creature is loose in the city, her parents want to marry her off to a killer, and there is a plot brewing against the old and withdrawn King Orrikan. When Clariel is drawn into the efforts to find and capture the creature, she finds hidden sorcery within herself, yet it is magic that carries great dangers. Can she rise above the temptation of power, escape the unwanted marriage, and save the King?


Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie. This is the second book in Leckie’s Imperial Radch and it just came out in October. Originally, it was to be published in 2015, but I'm guessing all the awards Leckie has won recently accelerated the publication process.

The first book in the series, Ancillary Justice, rightly won the 2014 Hugo Award for Best Novel as well as the Nebula Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the BSFA Award. And is the BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL I read in 2014. Yes, it’s that good. And I need more. But I must be a good worker bee and read the library book club selections first. And catch up with all the Doctor Who for the library Christmas social. Truly, librarianing is terrible work.
Breq is a soldier who used to be a warship. Once a weapon of conquest controlling thousands of minds, now she has only a single body and serves the emperor.

With a new ship and a troublesome crew, Breq is ordered to go to the only place in the galaxy she would agree to go: to Athoek Station to protect the family of a lieutenant she once knew - a lieutenant she murdered in cold blood.

11.14.2014

Again, Dangerous Visionss: 46 Original Stories ed. by Harlan Ellison


I must say that, given a choice, Again, Dangerous Visions is not how I would have chosen to read Joanna Russ's "When It Changed" and James Tiptree, Jr's "The Milk of Paradise." My library system's only copy has not aged well and, in general, neither has the collection itself. The stories themselves are still fairly okay, but their individual introductions/afterwards as well as Ellison's introduction to the volume "An Assault on New Dreamers" feel both extremely dated and unnecessary. In some cases, as in Saxton's "Elouise and the Doctors of the Planet Pergamon," they actively detracted from the story.

In the end, of the forty-six stories in Again, Dangerous Visions, I only read five. They're all pretty grim, discomforting stories and I could only read one per sitting. Even then, each one left me feeling like my brain needed a good scrubbing. Or the world needed to be set on fire.

"The Word for World is Forest" by Ursula Le Guin
This is the Hugo award-winning novella that eventually spun into a full-length novel of the same name. I've read the novel and found the novella at once both familar and strange.

"The Funeral" by Kate Wilhelm
A very Margaret Atwood-esque story set in an America in which women are objects with no rights or merits except those awarded to the roles -- mother, teacher, sex slave -- they are trained for in prison-like schools.

"When It Changed" by Joanna Russ
Thirty generations ago, the males of Whileaway where all killed by plague. The females adapted, learning to create (female) offspring, and eventually established a perfectly functional civilization. Then men -- thoroughly average men, I tell you -- arrive from space and everything changes.

"Elouise and the Doctors of the Planet Pergamon" by Josephine Saxton
On Pergamon equality has been achieved by making everyone equally ill. Except a few hardy outliers, who are imprisoned and studied before they are sacrificed for the greater good.

"The Milk of Paradise" by James Tiptree, Jr.
A man, orphaned and raised among aliens "fairer than all the children of men," finds no joy amongst humans when he is returned to them. It's an interesting take on perception and what we're willing to believe (or can be made to believe?) to survive.

Again, Dangerous Visions: 46 Original Stories Edited by Harlan Ellison (Doubleday & Company, 1972)

11.12.2014

Wordless Wednesday: Snuggling Cats




Two mellow kitties, snuggling on the window cushions on a brisk November day.

11.11.2014

Top 10 Tuesday: Characters Who Deserve Their Own Books


For this week's Top Ten Tuesday, we're talking about the characters we wish would get their own books. I thought I'd have no trouble compiling a list, but the more I thought about it, the shorter the list became!

  1. Lolita from Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. The novel ends with her at seventeen, pregnant and married to a man entirely ignorant of her childhood. What happens to her? To her marriage? To her child? What story does she tell herself about her childhood? (I want this book to exist and yet am also completely creeped out by the idea of it).
  2. Mary Bennet from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. While Mary frequently comes across as an awful prig, the novel suggests she mellows a bit after her older sisters marry and leave home. I wonder if she should would mellow even more if exposed to society greater than that of Meryton by, say, visiting with Aunt and Uncle Gardiner in London? I’m not talking about a duck becoming a swan ... I just want to know she gained a smattering of “genius and taste” and found happiness with other ducks.
  3. Priscilla Grant from L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Avonlea. Clever, smart, lovely Priscilla married a Japanese missionary and moved to Japan sometime before Anne’s wedding ... I’d love to know what her life was like. “You should have seen the foreign missionary Priscilla married. He was as handsome and inscrutable as those daydreams we once planned to marry ourselves, Diana; he was the best dressed man I ever met, and he raved over Priscilla's 'ethereal, golden beauty.' But of course there are no cannibals in Japan."
  4. Susan Pevensie from C.S. Lewi’s Narnia series. Really, Susan deserves better than the casual and rather snotty dismissal she receives in Lewis’ books -- a woman should be able to take unrepentant pleasure in lipstick and nylons (and the adult sexuality they’re used as shorthand for) and still be worthy of Aslan’s Country. I really recommend fans of Narnia read Neil Gaiman’s short story, “The Problem of Susan,” which is an answer of sorts … but not, frankly, happy enough to have done right by Susan!

11.08.2014

A Soggy Saturday Means Soup

This soup is based on a Taste of Home recipe for "Stuffed Pepper Soup" that went a little awry. First, I intended to simply halve the original recipe. Then, I thought it needed additional seasoning. Then, I realized the original recipe wanted cooked rice instead of raw. So mine is a very rice-y soup. But still yummy!


Stuffed Pepper Soup

Yield: 6 generous servings

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground beef [Nature's Promise Organics]
  • 1 small red onion, chopped [Farmers Market]
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped [Connecticut Garlic & Harvest Festival]
  • 2 32 oz containers beef stock [Nature's Promise Organics]
  • 28 oz crushed fire-roasted tomatoes [Muir Glen]
  • 1 cup medium grain rice
  • 1 large chopped green pepper [Farmers Market]
  • 2 Tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp kosher flake salt
  • 1 Tbsp parsley flakes
  • 1 Tbsp salt-free Italian seasoning blend [Penzeys]

Instructions

  1. Heat olive oil in a French oven. Add onions, garlic, and beef and cook until beef is no longer pink.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients; bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce heat; cover and gently simmer for 30-40 minutes or until rice is cooked the way you like it.
Medium-grain rice became my white rice standard in 2010 when The Husband bought a bag by mistake. Medium-grain rice is, unsuprisingly, shorter and plumper than long-grain rice. In my experience, it's also a little bit stickier. I find that I prefer it's flavor and texture and now use it wherever I would use long-grain white rice.

11.07.2014

A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller


After engaging in some simply scandalous behavior in France, artsy Victoria Darling is sent home in disgrace. Appalled by her hoydenish behavior, her parents try to explain to Vicky why her behavior and desires are so terribly wrong. They're not written as ogres and, while they break her heart, they clearly believe they're doing it for her own good. Basically, this statement by her father sums it all up:

I know you have ideas for your future, but I must say that further schooling is quite out of the question. A girl’s duty in life is to be a pretty and entertaining wife to her husband. She should not outshine him in knowledge lest she show him up among his peers. Advanced study is harmful to women as it makes them discontent and unfit for lives as wives and mothers. You are quite a pretty girl, so your prospects are much more promising than Louisa Dowd’s anyhow, poor thing. She is but a plain girl, and education is the only option for her.

Of course, Vicky longs to be more than a pretty, entertaining wife. She wants to be a proper artist and study at the Royal Academy. But her father would never grant permission (or pay tuition) and, as an unmarried miss, she has no voice or funds of her own. But maybe the man her parents so clearly desire her to marry (her family has new money, his family has title and ton) will allow her ...

What a romp! Ohh, yes, A Mad, Wicked Folly frequently made me angry because the limited sphere historically allowed women is ANGRIFYING and the novel does not downplay that at all -- the arrests, the forced-feedings, the appalling lack of public sentiment is all there. A Mad, Wicked Folly is essentially a select history of British suffragette movement wrapped up in pretty ribbons of artistic yearning and class-crossing love. All in all, a highly enjoyable read and I look forward to its sequel -- set during WWI, yay! -- whenever it comes out.

A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller (Viking, 2014)

11.05.2014

Wordless Wednesday: Someone Woke Up Grumpy

Just woke up. Kind-of grumpy. What is The Woman doing with that camera?

Fall Gardening

I've hated our front flower beds since we moved into the house as they were a mess of weeds and boring foundation plantings. And godawful slug-infested hostas. Cleared the weeds and hostas out straight away, of course, but that just left an expanse of mulch dotted with azaleas and mutant gumdrop evergreens. We've pulled out one of the evergreens and a azaleas after they received some heavy winter damage (a perfect excuse!) and I've been faffing about with iris transplants from my mother's gardens, but I haven't made any really changes. I've certainly never managed to come up with a plan.

New plants from White Flower Farm.

And I'm still not sure I do. I bought and planted three wee BrazelBerries Jelly Bean blueberry bushes last autumn with the hope that, if they took, I'd plant more of them. And, as they seemed to take over the summer, I did buy three more.

Garden before new plantings.

Plus groupings of Lady's Mantle and Geranium "Rozanne" (cranesbill) interplanted with summer-blooming Allium sphaerocephalon ("drumstick allium") in hopes that I would create big, bold swathes of color through the spring and summer with minimum need for maintenance. I have no idea if this will work.

Irises on their way to friends and coworkers.

If it doesn't, I'll just dig everything up and move it to the back flower bed, which I'm much happier with already as it has the lush, overgrown country cottage garden look I prefer. The front garden, I think, scares me a little because it's the public garden everyone sees and judges. Oh, I know, probably no-one actually cares about what my front garden looks like. But I think they do and that's the bit that matters.

Bed with new plants all snug and cozy for the winter.

11.04.2014

Top 10 Tuesday: Rereads


I tweaked this week's Top Ten Tuesday topic a little. Instead of books I want to reread, here is my list of favorite rereads:

  1. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
  2. By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  3. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman
  4. Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery (also, obviously, the Anne books)
  5. Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson
  6. Persuasion by Jane Austen (also Northanger Abbey)
  7. Small Gods by Terry Pratchett
  8. The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip
  9. The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin

11.01.2014

Pumpkins & Drill Bits

On Pinterest, I kept seeing examples of adorable jack-o-lanterns carved with a drill and I thought the technique sounded pretty interesting. Since I was not doing my usual take-Halloween-off-so-to-decorate-all-the-things, but simply leaving work a few hours early, I thought drilling jack-o-pumpkins would be a brilliant time-saver.


I used an apple corer and electric drill to carve these three jack-o-lanterns. It's a pretty easy process -- the worst part was clearing excess pumpkin guts from the drill holes. My pumpkins seemed extra fibrous this year and there were just stringy bits everywhere no matter how much I scraped. Still, I think my jack-o-lanterns turned out pretty well for a first attempt and I might do them again this way next Halloween.

Skel-A-Mingos and DevilMingos!