Stuff and Nonsense: January 2018


Star Wars: The Screaming Citadel by Kieron Gillen

Star Wars: The Screaming Citadel is a classic dark-and-stormy night kind of Gothic horror, but ... you know ... also very Star Wars. It's weird and delightful. Lots of witty banter, double and triple-crossing, lavish Bram Stoker's Dracula-esque clothes, symbiotes, snarky droids, and a possessed Wookies.

Skywalker, desperate to become the Jedi Knight he needs to be to beat Vader, teams up with the rogue archaeologist (and general bad 'un) Doctor Aphra. Aphra has an ancient Jedi crystal thingamajig in her possession that she cannot unlock, but she knows a very old, very bored alien queen who will ... if she's introduced to the right bit of interesting organic life. Skywalker's willing to be that bit (not at all understanding what it will cost him) to get the ancient Jedi crystal thingamajig unlocked. It's a win-win for everyone, right? Well, no. Not at all.

Star Wars: The Screaming Citadel is five-issue crossover between the main Star Wars and Star Wars: Doctor Aphra comic book series. Chronologically, it appears to be set sometime between the films A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Do you need to have read the Doctor Aphra series for The Screaming Citadel to make sense? I don't think so. Your level of enjoyment may be increased, but enough of Aphra's backstory is provided by Skywalker & Co. that you get the gist of it. But maybe don't listen to me as I'm off to read Star Wars: Doctor Aphra, Volume One.

Star Wars: The Screaming Citadel by Kieron Gillen, Jason Aaron, et al. Marvel, 2017.


Bryony & Roses by T. Kingfisher

In Bryony & Roses, Bryony and her sisters have been forced to retire to a small cottage in the remote village of Lostfarthing on the outer edge of nowhere after the death of their father following a series of terrible investments. They have made friends in the village, found purpose in their new lives and are, at least for Bryony, more truly themselves than they ever were during their rich days in the city. (While they've definitely come down in the world, I saw them more as genteelly impoverished, like the Dashwood sisters, than truly poor).

Anyway, one day Bryony goes off to fetch some particularly hardy rutabaga seeds from a nearby village and she finds herself caught in a spring blizzard. Miles from home, disoriented and freezing, she stumbles upon an impossible manor house. In the manor house is ... well, you know. The Rose. The Beast. The Curse.

Bryony & Roses is a lovely, playful, and yet surprisingly dark retelling of the classic fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast. In the introduction, Kingfisher writes that she was inspired by Robin McKinley's Rose Daughter and, taken in its entirety, Mckinley's influence is clear. This is no bad thing -- McKinley’s Beauty and the Beast retellings, Beauty and Rose Daughter, remain two of my favorite fantasy novels. Indeed, Beauty was my very first fairy tale retelling and I’m always eager to find similar works.

The ending was, I thought, perfect and I loved the message it sent -- not that love conquers all or that love can turn a monster back into a prince, but simply: if you love someone, you love them for who they are not who they could be or were once upon a time.

Bryony & Roses by T. Kingfisher. Amazon Digital Services LLC, 2015.


Exploring Food52 Vegan for Cookbook Club

January's library cookbook theme was veg*n -- vegetarian and/org vegan -- cooking. January is the time of year when many people embrace new lifestyle choices and I thought veg*n cooking might appeal as plant-based diets are very much on trend. Also, I wanted to push the boat out a bit and challenge my regular participants to venture (at least a little bit) outside their comfort zones.

In the lead-up to January's meeting, I made two recipes from Food52 Vegan: 60 Vegetable-Driven Recipes for Any Kitchen by Gena Hamshaw (Ten Speed Press, 2015). It's a beautifully-packaged introductory cookbook, full of tempting photos, uncomplicated recipes, and handy little "Vegan 101" tips. If you've used other Food52 cookbooks, you'll be familiar with the look and feel. As an omnivore who occasionally dabbles with veg*nism, I didn't find any of recipes "too weird" -- by which I mean I already owned the ingredients I needed or easily found them locally.

The first recipe I tried, "Banana Chia Pudding," was ... okay. It was an easy-to-assemble mixture of unsweetened almond milk, bananas, maple syrup, cinnamon, vanilla, salt, and chia. The flavor was good -- creamy, maple-y, sweet-but-not-too. Consistency-wise, I found the pudding a bit runny. In all the photos I have seen of chia pudding, it always looks thick -- like tapioca pudding -- but that's not how mine ever comse out. Could my seeds be duds? Is it possible to have old/nonreactive chia seeds?? Anyway, as I said, good flavor. Just a bit soupy.

The second recipe I tried, "Mexican Chocolate Date Truffles," was the dish I ended up presenting at the club meeting. I actually made the truffles the morning of the meeting and then, as they did not require refrigeration, left the truffles out on my desk until it was time to serve them. It took, maybe, 20 minutes to make the truffles and most of that time was just me trying, obsessively, to shape perfect orbs and then settling for orbish truffles.

While mine did not look quite as nice as the ones in the book, they were so easy to make that I know I will make the recipe variations -- oatmeal raisin, key lime, and lemon coconut -- at some point, too, just to see what they're like. The "Mexican chocolate" variation was very date-y and nutty with just a faint bloom of heat and, surprisingly, very little chocolate flavor. I'd used Hershey's Special Dark unsweetened cocoa powder and I think I should have gone for something more robust, like King Arthur Flour's Double Dutch Dark Cocoa. However, the cookbook club participants all enjoyed the truffles just as they were and there wasn't much in the way of leftovers!


No Other Duke Will Do by Grace Burrowes

After Anne Stuart’s Never Kiss a Rake, I knew I wanted a quiet, sensible romance. Something sweet and fun, centered on two people who talk to each other like sensible adults (with, yes, some quiet, gentle ribbing and flirtation thrown in for good measure), listen to each other, and fall in love in very real way. And that’s precisely what I found in Burrowes’ No Other Duke Will Do. No frustrating misunderstandings due to a lack of clear communication. No dark secrets. No masquerades.

I enjoyed the small domestic details of Elizabeth and Julian’s romance -- Elizabeth gave Julian the supportive and loving friendship he didn’t know he was missing while Julian showed Elizabeth how verrry good a good man could be. She mended his waistcoat, befriended his siblings, and helped sort out his runaway house party. He brought her flowers and pillows to increase her bookish comfort and generally showed her that she was both desired and beloved. It was all very sweet and nice.

Of course, there had to be some obstacle standing in the way of True Love. In this case, the obstacle was a thirty-thousand volume library which, while of little presumed value, had impoverished the dukedom to such a point it was impossible Julian should marry anyone anytime soon. There was also the so irritating (but probably completely correct) Lucas Sherbourne, who saw no point to the aristocracy and would have dearly loved to chop down Julian’s woods and put in a colliery to improve the local economy.

The whole "there’s nothing of value in this library!" shtick irritated me to know end. I was, like, really? How have you not had anyone who knows books in to value your collection? And then, of course, my suspicions re: value of books were proved correct and Sherbourne kind-of made friends with Julian (and, more importantly, Elizabeth’s sister Charlotte) and it was just a complete Happy Ever After. Hooray.

Books, kissing, friendship ... it’s all good.

No Other Duke Will Do is the third book in Burrowes’s Windham Brides series, but made perfect sense on its own. Yes, the scandal in Elizabeth’s past and the various relationships between characters would probably have been clearer had I read the preceding books, but I got the gist of it and that was enough for me. While I could go back and catch up with Megan and Anwen, I’m more likely to steam ahead and read Charlotte’s story in A Rogue of Her Own as I really want to see how Burrowes will turn Lucas Sherbourne into a romantic hero. He was such an ass in No Other Duke Will Do that my mind boggles at the very idea! (But, if any woman could bring him up to scratch, it would be Charlotte).

No Other Duke Will Do by Grace Burrowes. Forever/Hachette Book Group, 2017.


#WordlessWednesday: Jigsaw Weather

Winter is for jigsaws & cocoa! "Remington the Horticulturist" from Buffalo Games' The Cats of Charles Wysocki series.


Never Kiss a Rake by Anne Stuart

After the Russell sisters’ father dies in a carriage accident, whilst attempting to flee the country with embezzled funds, they find themselves friendless and in greatly reduced circumstances. Unwilling to accept their father’s presumed perfidy, Bryony -- the eldest sister -- decides to masquerade as a housekeeper in order to infiltrate the home of one of their father’s business partners and discover the truth.

Of course, the Earl of Kilmartyn quickly suspects his new housekeeper, Mrs. Greaves, is more than she appears to be and determines to get the truth from her. Also, to get up her skirts. Because this pox-marked, prim, and prickly woman is totally, inexplicably hot. Way hotter than his impossibly beautiful, but duplicitous blackmailing wife. It’s clear Bryony is a virgin, though, and Kilmartyn is a gentleman so he just can’t “fuck the hell out of her, hard and fast, as he desperately needed to do.” No, he has to woo her.

It’s a hard thing, being a gentleman of principles.

To me, there was no real romantic connection between Kilmartyn and Bryony -- he clearly wanted her and she clearly had feelings for him and they did have, apparently, really hot sex after he de-virgined her. But love? Eh.

And the ending ... well, it didn’t make a lot of sense. The villain -- who threatens Byrony with necrophilia and might have an interest in pederasty and, well, just needed a monocle and twirlable mustache to complete the whole over-the-top Evil Guy ensemble -- did not really explain who he was, why he was fucking Kilmartyn's wife, why he hated Kilmartyn, and why he killed Bryony’s father. It’s clear he did some of it because of a flippin’ country house, which is sheer bonkers when you realize the house would have come to him, anyway, when Bryony’s dad died of old age. But why he slept with Kilmartyn’s wife when he clearly hated and despised her, and why he hated Kilmartyn so much ... I don’t really know. Anyway, I’m sure he appears in the next two books -- starring the two younger Russell sisters and the other business partners -- and I’ll eventually learn his story in its entirety. Were I to read them.

But I don’t think I care to. In hindsight, I realize I would have preferred far less Upstairs shenanigans and more Downstairs adventures in housekeeping. Indeed, if someone would write me a fanfic about the romance between Mrs. Patmore Mrs. Harkins and Mr. Molesley Mr. Collins with some lavish descriptions of baking and general housewifery chucked in for good measure, I’d be over the moon.

Never Kiss a Rake by Anne Stuart. Montlake Romance, 2013.


#WordlessWednesday: A Splash of Summer

It's bitterly cold & grim out. Happily, the gardening catalogs have begun arriving & my daydreams are full of soft summer days.