On Frequency of Review Posts

I said some time ago that bipolar/ADD/PTSD/anxiety sometimes affects my review postings, up to months at a time. Usually whenever my medication gets tweaked that changes in one way or another. A couple of months ago I had two perfect weeks where everything felt… right. Ups and downs were normal ups and downs, not mania or depression. I was thrilled; I was back to reviewing five books a week, and even got ahead of myself with reviews lined up for two weeks out.

Then that perfect two weeks went wrong. I started getting bad side effects from one of the meds, and that resulted in a cascade of medication changes that makes it hard for me to concentrate on reading a book–hence, fewer reviews. I remain hopeful that there may be another set of tweaks next month that reverses that, but for the moment I’m just trying to keep reviewing at all. As usual I have high hopes that my ability to get things done will improve soon, but I’m trying not to expect too much.

Posted in Reviews

On Reviewing Cookbooks

Any time I review a cookbook I make recipes from it first. You can have a gorgeous cookbook written by a famous chef that’s full of errors, and you can have some ugly little book written by someone you’ve never heard of that produces fantastic food. None of which you’ll find out without trying at least a few of the recipes. My rule of thumb is never fewer than three recipes. More if the cookbook is particularly large or has a wide variety of types of foods or recipes. I try to find several types of recipes: something I’m familiar with so I can judge the results against the results of other recipes I’ve tried. Something that sounds off-the-wall ridiculous that I wouldn’t expect to work, just to see if they know some cool thing that I don’t and can make it work. Also, at least one semi-random recipe as extra data to work with. (More if there are other things I’d like to check.)

Right now I’m going through a review cookbook called Bread Revolution. As it turns out, I’m not going to be able to test most of the recipes within the time frame I have. I can get sprouted wheat flour, so I can try out a couple of recipes that use that. Much of the ‘revolution’ the author (Peter Reinhart) is talking about, however, is the concept of “whole-milled flour” which has some differences from regular whole grain flours. I can’t find whole-milled flour in my town so far (and yes, I’ve checked the Whole Foods), and there’s a limit to what I’m willing to track down and pay for in order to write about a book someone gave me for review. Also, in searching for whole milled flour, I found a bunch of flours that didn’t use that particular phrasing but from the descriptions might qualify as what Reinhart’s discussing. So no, I’m just not going to be reviewing recipes that use whole-milled flour.

If I find it later, if it does become as big a thing as the author seems to think it will, then I’ll come back and add to the review when I can make more recipes from the cookbook. Think of it as a two-stage review. I believe this may be the first time I’ve had to do this.

Posted in Cooking, Reviews Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Cats, redux

The beginning of 2014 still found me in the grip of inertia (which has been partly fixed at this point by medication tweaks). So I never introduced the two cats we got in February!

Our first cats, we got the year we got married. Cahlash and Selene, both Cornish Rexes because that was easier on our allergies. They were incredibly fun, had a ton of personality. Selene knew she was the tyrant queen of the household, while Cahlash was cute as hell but a few marbles short of a bag. This was his sister’s fault: she grew more slowly than he did, and was smaller overall. So when he chased her she’d run under the couch. He however was not used to how fast he was growing and would hit his head on the couch. This happened… a lot. Here are our two awesome Rexes. Selene is the tortoiseshell pixie-cat. Cahlash is the seal-point.

In 2013 both of our cats died, of separate causes. In April 2013 Cahlash went straight into kidney failure. We were devastated, as was Selene. Eventually she perked up… and then in October she had a hernia and died very shortly after I got her to the emergency vet. Again we were devastated. These two had been our constant companions for twelve years.

In February of 2014 we decided we were finally ready to get cats again. (It turned out that my allergies aren’t too bad for non-Rexes any more; I presumably developed a tolerance.) Jeffrey remembered that Susan, one of the techs at our vet’s office, participated in rescue. So we got in touch with her. It turned out that she had a bunch of fosters and would be more than happy to introduce us to some of them to see if we clicked. We went to meet the cats, which was an awesome and fairly hysterically funny experience. One of the cats, Digby, a 10-month-old Siamese, immediately adopted Jeffrey. He flung himself against Jeffrey, then walked around, settled by Jeffrey’s side, and got unhappy any time Jeffrey stopped petting him. The hilarity here is compounded by the fact that Digby shared a carrier on the ride over to the vet’s office (where we were having our meet-and-greet) and the other cat peed on him. So he was rather rank, but we didn’t care. He was just so adorable. Then there was Harley, a very relaxed and self-confident snowshoe (I’d never even heard of the breed) who kept rubbing his face all over mine. Just like that, we knew we had cats again. A week later they came home with us, although we renamed Digby to Niko and Harley to Dax.

Just look at Dax’s huge blue eyes!

They both had somewhat traumatic pasts. Niko was a day away from being euthanized when Susan took him in, and he had a URI they didn’t think he would survive. Dax had been given to his previous owner’s hunting dogs to ‘play with’ resulting in a compound fracture of the leg. His joint got fused, and Susan nursed him back to health. He can now run and fight and play with the best of ‘em.

Things were rather funny when we brought them home. It turned out that Niko was used to short people (Susan and I are both somewhere around 5 feet tall), and he’d only seen Jeffrey sitting down. So when Jeffrey stood up he completely freaked out. Apparently tall people scared him. Jeffrey coaxed him into coming out by lying on the floor so that Niko was essentially taller than him. A few days of that and Niko started calming down. I thought he’d always be a little skittish, but now he’s almost as self-confident as Dax is.

Both cats show love to both of us, but Jeffrey clearly belongs to Niko and I clearly belong to Dax. It’s a wonderful situation. Dax is the most self-confident cat I’ve ever seen as long as he doesn’t hear dogs barking outside. Niko is a silly little love who even plays fetch sometimes. We still miss Cahlash and Selene horribly, but Dax and Niko have our hearts as well.

Posted in Cats

Review: “The Killer Wore Leather,” Laura Antoniou

Pros: So much better than the last mystery I read that tackled a sex-related subculture
Cons: Too many characters to keep track of.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

 

First, per FCC guidelines I should note that this book was loaned to me for free, by someone who knows the author.

 

Forgive me for a moment, but I must take a few words to compare Laura Antoniou’s The Killer Wore Leather: A Mystery with Paul Heald’s A Death in Eden (which I read very recently). Both books involve a death in a subculture that most people shy away from (yet find fascinating). In Heald’s book that was the adult film industry; in Antoniou’s book it’s the fetish/leather subculture. But where Heald took what should have been a fascinating milieu and instead turned it into a series of dull, didactic monologues, Antoniou dove straight in, allowing her characters to not just explain and argue, but also show through their actions. The Killer Wore Leather is subculture exploration done right, with a great confusing mystery to boot.

Back to the premise: Rebecca is a lesbian and a detective. She still gets some ragging on from other cops, but they’ve mostly backed off at this point. She has a new partner for this case, Dominick. When they’re called to a leather-and-fetish convention to check out a murder, they experience quite the case of culture shock at first. There are so many fetishes on display. There’s a contest for the leather-wearers. There are dominants and submissives everywhere. There are folks who get off on polishing other people’s shoes. There’s even a small sub-culture of ‘Zodians’ who take their cue from an old bunch of novels, and who are very strict about the male being dominant and the female being a submissive slave. (I’d guess that Antoniou was doing a send-up of the Gor novels here.)

There are so many potential killers, and I did get somewhat confused trying to keep track of which characters were which. While I wasn’t ultimately all that surprised by the identity of the killer, that didn’t detract from the book at all: right until the last minute the author kept throwing revelations, implications, and red herrings in my way, so I could never be sure that my guess was right.

The real fun was all the wonderful melodrama between characters. While some of the characters felt like stereotypes at first, and the as-yet-alive murder victim seemed obvious, everyone got a shot at some additional complexity throughout the book, even that seemingly one-note murder victim. Any kind of insular group like this is likely to experience plenty of drama, and that drama made for a terribly fun read. I was also amazed that one character managed to pull off what, in any other book, would have been an info-dump. Instead, since the person was exploring their views on a particular topic and thus seeing it through a biased lens, it made the monologue fascinating and revealing.

If I go on much further I’ll risk giving plot points away, so I’ll stop here. Not only did I really enjoy The Killer Wore Leather, but I’d be happy to read more by Laura Antoniou.

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: , , , , ,

Working On…

Reading “The Killer Wore Leather,” which so far is at least as good as the last few mysteries I’ve read. I have to compare it to Heald’s A Death in Eden. That mystery took place in the porn industry–should have been a slam-dunk for having a fascinating milieu, but managed to be dull and talky. This one is about the leather scene, and succeeds much better in milking its setting for fascination, laughs, and genuine mystery, all without the massive infodumps the other book had.

Posted in News & Musings

Review: “In the Woods,” Merry Jones

Pros: Good mystery
Cons: Tonal confusion
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Review ebook provided free by publisher Severn House via NetGalley.
Expected publication early 2015

 

Harper Jennings and her husband, Hank, are having a camping vacation out in the woods. A little peace and quiet, maybe a few soil and water samples out of habit for Hank, and that’s supposed to be it. Everyone seems to stumble through their camp, however. A pair of young men with mysterious burns. A woman who’s looking for her husband. A semi-mythological Bog Man intent on scaring them away. An explosive goes off in the distance, and soon the woods are swarming with media, law enforcement officers, and idiotic tourists. It seems there’s a group of locals who’ve had enough of their town getting poisoned through fracking and similar ventures, and they’re ready to rebel–in force.

 

Merry Jones’s In the Woods: A Harper Jennings Mystery is an odd combination of wacky and… not. Harper and Hank seem to have a somewhat unstable relationship. Harper goes into ptsd-caused flashbacks, but sometimes they feel a bit forced, or out of place in tone. Then there’s the ‘Bog Man’, who seems alternately played for laughs and serious scares.

There’s more than one mystery to be solved. There’s the explosion that took out an old and disused hunting lodge. There’s the missing husband of another visitor/hunter, and her ex-husband with his new wife as suspect. There’s the appearance of the Bog Man himself–Harper saw him, and Hank seems to think it’s just part of her ptsd. I’ll give them this: Hank’s helpfulness yet his tendency to leap to blame anything odd that Harper says or does on her ptsd/flashbacks is… well, realistic, if painful to see.

At some point there was a bit of a summation of all the things that have happened to Hank and Harper, presumably across earlier books in the series. All wrapped up baldly in one piece made the events look ridiculously overblown–there were so many things both of them had gone through that it felt unbelievable.

There’s a mystery for a while of the identity of the man leading the local militia that wants to rise up against outsiders; it felt like it was supposed to be harder to figure out than it was. The woman, Angela, who can’t find her new husband, seems crazy–there’s just the question of whether she’s nuts or crazy like a fox. Either way she’s a hugely annoying character that scraped across my nerves like chalk on a chalkboard. I get why she was behaving like that, but I seriously could have done with less of her character.

The whole thing had a weird balance of wacky shenanigans and serious things like ptsd flashbacks that didn’t jive in tone. As often happens with reviewing books I ended up reading this out of order–only this time the book doesn’t make me want to go find earlier books in the series.

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Review: “Bound by Ink,” Marcella Burnard

Pros: Very interesting world
Cons: Confusing
Rating: 4 out of 5

Review ebook provided free by Penguin Group via NetGalley.

 

Marcella Burnard’s Bound by Ink (A Living Ink Novel) is not the first book in the series (that distinction belongs to Nightmare Ink), but as usual, the vagaries of receiving review books meant that I read it first. I do not recommend trying this; there’s a lot that seemed out of the blue, or confusing, that probably would have worked fine if I’d read the other book first. Since I didn’t get to see the buildup of the character chemistries I had trouble buying into one or two of them. It’s a very rich world, but it’s also a very complex world that clearly relies upon the worldbuilding in the first novel. I enjoyed it enough that I do plan to read that prior book. I already have it on my wish list, and as an ebook it currently seems to be at a very reasonable price.

 

After being kidnapped and forcibly Inked with a Living Tattoo named Murmur, Isa thought she’d survived the worst her enemies could throw at her. She was wrong. Murmur is walking around her world in someone else’s body, and without him, Isa is losing control of her magic.

Then, in the middle of rush hour, a Live Tattoo comes off its host, killing over a hundred people. Isa discovers that Murmur’s nemesis, Uriel—a demon she believed defeated—is responsible. He’s seeking the power to force his way back into Isa’s world. If he succeeds, everyone Isa loves will be destroyed. There may be a way to stop him, but it will mean sacrificing Murmur—or herself…

 

Living tattoos are a wonderful concept with so much potential. There’s a lot of tension and some heart-pounding moments. Some of the high moments are a blend of philosophy and dialogue; I believe those would mean more to me if I had the background of the first book. The slowed pace that makes room for that dialogue needs that background to up the tension, so if it’s been a while since you read book one, I recommend that you refresh your memory by reading it again first.

The characters are quite interesting. I love Isa and Murmur the most; they have a lot of personality and they interact in fascinating ways. The difference in the ways people react to Isa (particularly during some demanding events for which she sometimes has to make sacrifices) adds danger and tension to even the quieter, slower moments. There’s a fascinating look at spiritual journeys, other realms, attitudes toward Living Ink tattoos and so forth that enrich the already lively world. This is a delicious example of strong worldbuilding and I look forward to seeing more of it.

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: , , , ,

Feasting Resource

Recently I used and reviewed the Taste of Home Christmas cookbook. We liked it so much we decided to make our Thanksgiving meal entirely from that cookbook, just for the Hell of it.

For desserts, we had a pumpkin mousse with gingersnaps. I always need a pumpkin dessert, and this was a nice change from the usual pie. We made a white chocolate strawberry tiramisu that was amazing! I got seduced by the name of the eggnog cream pie, but it uses enough pre-made ingredients that it tasted rather artificial. It’s still enjoyable, but the tiramisu kicks its ass. We’re experimenting by freezing one of the eggnog pies and half of the tiramisu since we shouldn’t eat all of that this week (I’ve gained two pounds already this weekend).

There were some lovely cheddar drop biscuits. You’re supposed to brush the tops with melted butter mixed with garlic powder, but we went for butter mixed with ground chipotle. They were awesome. The ham with orange glaze is awesome, and it definitely encourages us to do more hams in the future (believe it or not, this was our first). The sausage raisin dressing was very nice; I thought the water chestnuts in it might be weird, but they just add a nice little bit of crunch.

I forgot to include the parmesan cheese when making the pear and mushroom strudel, but it came out wonderfully. Just remember that the filling comes out really hot. Don’t be stupid like me and burn the heck out of your tongue! The cranberry chutney is divine, but then I’ve grown attached to cranberry sauce/chutney in recent years.

A crunchy sweet potato bake had a nice topping of crushed cornflakes, chopped pecans, etc. Since the pecans don’t go soft after storage it still has a nice crunch to it even after a night in the refrigerator. The “coffee punch” which you pour over softened ice cream was also delightful.

There were a few dishes we didn’t get around to, but that’s okay. We had plenty of food! The eggnog pies were the only disappointing recipe, which is an awfully good ratio for any cookbook!

Posted in Cooking Tagged with: , , , , ,

Review: “Summer Knight,” Jim Butcher

Pros: dark, fascinating
Cons:
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Wizard Harry Dresden is in bad shape after the events of Grave Peril. He’s poured every ounce of energy he has into the search for a cure for his girlfriend, Susan. He’s about to be evicted from his home, so he’s forced to take on a case. Unfortunately it’s the faerie Winter Queen, Mab, who shows up on his doorstep. The Summer Knight was killed, and Mab needs to prove it wasn’t her doing. That’s where Dresden comes in. She bought his contract from his godmother and now Harry has little choice but to serve as Mab’s emissary.

Summer Knight: The Dresden Files sees Harry venture farther into the world and politics of faeries than he’s ever gone before. The balance of power between the two Queens is about to be skewed, something that would have terrible repercussions for everyone. One of the members of the wizards’ Council is nearly rabid in his desire to get rid of Harry, permanently.

I love the faeries of Butcher’s milieu. They range from tiny things that can be baited with pizza to the powerful and inhuman Sidhe. Their bargains color all that they do, and it’s easy to end up on the wrong end of a deal with a faerie.

There’s plenty of danger and adventure in this installment. Murphy is shown taking a larger and more explicit role in helping Harry through a couple of close calls. I do love the scene where she picks up a chainsaw and goes to town on a plant monster. Huge amounts of power are being tossed around, and Harry’s having the worst time of trying to figure out whodunit as a key to stopping the upcoming fae war. It’s fascinating to see what happens when Harry’s at the end of his rope, and how the friends he’s been picking up come to his rescue, or vice versa. I’m wholly enjoying catching up with the Dresden Files!

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Update

It’s been a weird couple of weeks, with a bunch of things to do. So, not as many reviews have gone up. No worries–I just finished one library book (Summer Knight by Jim Butcher) to hopefully put up a review tomorrow. Then I have several more lined up. I’ll be spending Thursday through Saturday cooking, so, no reviews then. Mmmm, cooking a feast and possibly having a friend or two over. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Posted in Cooking, News & Musings

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