Recipe: Vanilla White Chocolate Eggnog

I was going to make white chocolate tapioca pudding, but it turned out that my tapioca was stale, so it didn’t thicken. After noting that the result was basically white chocolate eggnog, I decided to actually try making vanilla white chocolate eggnog. Here’s the result!

Ingredients:

*If you prefer your sweets a little less on the sweet side, reduce the sugar to 1/2 cup.

**I almost never recommend specific brands, but I’ll make an exception for white chocolate. G&B’s is far less “chalky” than other brands, and is rich and smooth with cocoa butter.

Pour the half-and-half into a large saucepan, add the vanilla, and set over medium heat until scalding hot (but not boiling).

Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until thick and pale, 2-3 minutes.

Once the milk is hot, gradually drizzle half of it into the eggs while whisking vigorously. A ladle works well for this purpose. Pour back into the saucepan. Add the finely chopped white chocolate. Stir constantly over medium to low heat (do NOT boil–turn down the heat if necessary) for six minutes; the white chocolate should be thoroughly melted in. Pour into a container. Cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate until cold.

Strain into a pitcher before serving–there’s so much cocoa butter in the white chocolate that some of it will have separated and solidified, so you need to remove that. If you want alcoholic eggnog, add alcohol to taste and stir.

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Review: “Night Blade,” J.C. Daniels

Pros: Wow what an emotional roller-coaster
Cons: Seemingly dropped plot thread; gets VERY dark
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

In book one, Blade Song, Kit Colbana took on a job to find a missing boy, Doyle, who was just on the cusp of becoming a full-fledged were-cat. She found him just in time, and ended up in a relationship with the new werecat Alpha, Damon. In J.C. Daniels’s (Shiloh Walker’s) Night Blade (Colbana Files Series Book 2), the authorities come to Kit in the person of Justin, her ex-boyfriend. The authorities believe Damon’s been killing off various powerful non-humans (NHs), and they’re afraid it’s some kind of power-play. If Justin can’t find a good explanation for what he’s doing, Damon will be killed. He binds Kit with an oath that prevents her from talking to Damon about it, and now she has to hurry if she wants to keep her lover alive.

The story starts off with a courier job that brings up a plot thread (the people who tortured Kit’s old friend TJ) and then seemingly drops it again. Don’t worry though–it comes up again in later books in the series.

It’s fascinating to watch Kit and Damon try to navigate the waters of their new relationship. They’re two different species, with different drives and social conditioning, but they’re making a go of it. Of course the moment Justin binds Kit so she can’t tell Damon what she’s doing it’s inevitable that this will cause problems; that one part was a bit painfully predictable.

Jude (the vampire who’s fascinated with Kit) makes a reappearance in this volume. I’m glad that while vampires in this world are capable of doing the stereotypical thing of being seductive and fascinating, they can also be complete, unrepentant monsters in some cases.

Which brings me to a warning: trigger warning for rape and torture. This book gets seriously dark. It’s not titillating when these topics come up, but it’s still hard to read, and I cried my eyes out.

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Review: “Blade Song,” J.C. Daniels

Pros: Deliciously intense
Cons: A little confusing at first
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

J.C. Daniels (Shiloh Walker) is the author of Blade Song (Colbana Files Series Book 1). Kit (Kitasa) Colbana is a private detective in a world where humans and non-humans co-exist uneasily. She’s half-human, leading most of her non-human peers to think of her as weak. And it’s true that she doesn’t have the sheer physical power of some of the vampires and shape-shifters, but her Amazon heritage and her tortured past has left her with a unique set of skills and a few unusual talents. More importantly, she never gives up. Now Damon, a cat-shifter, has come to her with a job from his Alpha. Doyle, a boy on the cusp of learning to shift, has gone missing, and he’s the Alpha’s nephew. Unfortunately, the Alpha is batshit crazy, and taking a job from her will just as likely end in death. Kit has a weakness, though, and she can’t let go of the idea that she might be able to save a kid. Matters get complicated when Jude, a vampire who seems to have a preoccupation with Kit, insists that she’s going to need him to save her from the Alpha when things inevitably go bad.

I found things slightly confusing at first, with references to previous things that I didn’t understand despite the fact that it’s labeled as book one in the series. It isn’t that bad, though, and it does establish an ongoing world, which is nice.

Kit presents a hell of a portrait of a trauma survivor, and there’s serious trigger warnings here for child abuse. Her grandmother, a full-blooded Amazon, tortured her for not being full-blooded, for being weaker than her peers and relatives. She has memory flashbacks and emotional flashbacks, and things are definitely not easy for her. Particularly since her reactions mean that she’s showing weakness in front of Damon. Her strength, though, is what ultimately attracts him to her. He’s hard and pushy, but ultimately her consent and her desire for him matter to him, and that’s important. In my opinion, it’s okay to depict pushy or demanding people in romanticized relationships as long as the relationship itself is uncoerced and mutually desired. Standard adult material warning–there is sex in here. On the flip side, I like the fact that while Jude, the vampire, is physically attractive, that in no way overwhelms the negative aspects of his behavior and attitude. Daniels is a pro at depicting relationships that in other hands might be problematic. I do think that the relationship between Kit and Damon moves forward a bit quickly in some ways, but not to an extent where I can’t believe in it.

There are complex characters in here who are capable of being good people with negative character traits, and vice versa. I really enjoyed this story, and it’s hard to put off the sequel to get some Anatomy reading done! Ah well. I’ll just have to view it as my reward when I’m done.

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On Writing Stereotypes (and that one pet peeve of mine)

I think stereotypes get so ingrained into us that it’s possible for us to express them without actually buying into them. Which is why it’s so important to point out to someone when they’re expressing a stereotype, and to try not to do it again once someone points it out to you. It’s important for us to become aware of the biases we’re expressing, and choose to avoid them in the future.

This has come to mind because of one particular sexist stereotype I run into occasionally when reading books that annoys the hell out of me (it’s becoming a bona fide pet peeve of mine). I don’t believe that most authors who use this stereotype are sexist. I think they just don’t realize this is a stereotype and what the implications of it are. Hopefully if people point it out to them they won’t use that stereotype again.

Said stereotype is when women (usually of similar age) in a piece of fiction cannot trust each other, cannot rely on each other in a pinch, and often backstab each other over the affections of a man. Often they’re rivals in one sense or another–for those aforementioned affections, and/or in other ways. Usually in these books there are no positive female-female friendships depicted. The message it sends is that women cannot trust or rely on each other–only on the men who profess to care for them.

Now you know. So please avoid this particular stereotype so I don’t have to keep grumbling about it every time I run into it!

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Review: “Guilt in Innocence,” Keith R.A. DeCandido

Pros: Engrossing action and characters
Cons: Telepathic abilities don’t feel consistent
Rating: 4 out of 5

Keith R.A. DeCandido is the author of Guilt in Innocence (Tales of the Scattered Earth Book 4), Tales of the Olodumere Hegemony Book 1. The Scattered Earth is a multi-author world; the Olodumere Hegemony is DeCandido’s portion of that world. I have not read other Scattered Earth books, and didn’t have any trouble reading this volume on its own.

Folami is an Ori-Inu, a telepath/telekinetic who works as an agent for the government. When other Ori-Inu go missing and the man sent to investigate the disappearances is nearly killed in a massive explosion, she and a bunch of other Ori-Inu are sent to figure out what’s going on. When Folami is exposed to an unknown gas, the memory-wipe that’s used on all Ori-Inu when they finish training begins to fade, and she starts to remember who she is, what she’s done, and what she’s really capable of. An old friend of hers, Oranmiyan, returns from the dead, and starts insisting that they can be free. But his true aims could be deadly.

I think DeCandido’s greatest asset in this book is his ability to create characters with real depth and interest. They feel so well-rounded and full of life. Details just naturally layer themselves as the story progresses to create rich, complex personalities. I’m also fascinated by the place the Ori-Inu occupy in things. They’re feared and hated by many, but they also save a lot of lives and do great things for the Hegemony. I’d like to see more of the non-military culture in the Hegemony now that we’ve seen so much of the military culture.

The one complaint I have is that Folami’s telepathic and telekinetic abilities (and sometimes those of other people) don’t seem to be used consistently. Particularly once we find out about some of the things Folami’s done in the past, it seems hard to understand how easily she uses up her psychic resources in the present. It’s also very convenient how she starts running out of psychic strength, has to be clever, then has the strength she needs the next time the plot calls for it, repeatedly. This is, of course, one of the problems with trying to write for a character who has such wide-ranging and powerful abilities, and DeCandido doesn’t entirely manage to pull it off.

All in all, though, I really enjoyed Guilt in Innocence. There were plenty of surprises, there’s clever plotting, and the characters just wowed me.

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“Weird Thriller” Storybundle

I’m never going to catch up on all these books, but I’m not complaining! There’s a new storybundle, of weird thrillers. Only up for another 20 days, so get it while it’s hot!

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Review: “Fiction River: Valor,” edited by Lee Allred

Pros: Excellent military science fiction stories
Cons: As always in anthologies, some stories are better than others
Rating: 4 out of 5

I was going to read the next Anatomy & Physiology chapter today. Somehow, Fiction River: Valor (Fiction River: An Original Anthology Magazine Book 14), edited by Lee Allred, got in my way. I read a little bit of it last night, and then today I couldn’t help finishing it. As always when it comes to anthologies, some stories are better than others. A few items were a little confusing, lacked in some additional context that would have been nice, or simply tried a little too hard to save surprises for down the pipe. A couple of stories were a bit slow. But there are some fantastic tales in here that I very much enjoyed reading.

Steven Mohan, Jr.’s “H-Hour” is a nice little thought-piece on why individuals go to war. Steve Perry’s “John Henry” is a good story about a soldier who gets caught out when the aliens come, but it ends a little abruptly. Jamie McNabb’s “The Happy Man” is just an interesting piece about what it takes to make a certain man “happy” in the military. None of these three wowed me, but they’re all solidly good.

Kris Austen Radcliffe’s “Ice Dogs” is an utterly bizarre first contact tale that still kind of leaves me scratching my head. Kara Legend’s “In the Shadow of Pittsburgh” is delightfully creepy, and I don’t want to give away any details; it gave me a chill. J.C. Andrijeski’s “Charlie Company” ended up being one of the more interesting stories, very bloody and dark, but it confused me at first; the necessary context bled in rather slowly. Andrijeski makes up for the confusion with some elegant writing:

There’d been talk about medals already, extended leave, light duties, R&R, however else you wanted to throw bones and confetti at what they’d done.

Louisa Swann’s “Jelly’s Heroes” is a somewhat silly entry in which Staff Sergeant Jillian K. “Jelly the Belly” Wilson has to figure out how to train a bunch of alien blobs as soldiers. It’s more touching than you’d expect, and I liked it more than I thought I would (sometimes humor pieces can break the tone of an anthology; I felt this one didn’t). “Embedded” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch sees a reporter embedded with a military unit on a strange planet. Because no one thought to brief him on one of the more unusual details of the world, terrible things happen.

Paul Genesse’s “Neo Nihon” is a dark story of a Japanese space colony that comes under devastating Chinese attack, and what the colonists are willing to do to survive. Scott R. Parkin’s “Beloved of the Electric Valkyrie” sees oddly enhanced people exploring a planet for the Planetary Assessment Corporation. Things get strange, and while it ultimately made sense to me and tugged at my heart-strings, the going was a little rough.

Lee Allred’s “Milk Run” is my favorite story in the book, so it’s good that it’s also the longest one! A new Second Lieutenant straight out of Officer Training School, Charles “Chick” Martel, seems like he’s going to be your stereotypical overeager, overconfident new officer. I was all set to not like him, but he steadily grew on me as the story progressed. He’s tasked to see two cryogenically frozen people to be part of a peace treaty–supposedly an easy task–but things start going wrong right from the start. Soon it’s going to take all of his unusual background and military training to see the job through.

If you enjoy military science fiction, I recommend giving this collection a shot. Several of these stories are noted as being offshoots of the authors’ pre-existing universes, so you might discover some new series to follow!

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Review: “Farm Land: Sentience,” G. Lawrence

Pros: Beautifully drawn
Cons: So over-the-top black-and-white; endless sermonizing
Rating: 3 out of 5

G. Lawrence’s Farm Land: Sentience (The Farm Land Trilogy Book 1) takes place far in the future, after climate change has drowned most of the land and killed most of the animals. Most people couldn’t give up their taste for meat, so now they farm people as food. The people who eat meat are simply referred to as “flesh-eaters” throughout the book. Holt grew up in a cage and has never seen the outside world. One day she escapes and ends up at a small village hidden away in the forest, where All Life is Sacred and no one eats meat. There she learns to live and love. She discovers she’s a Reacher–able to reach her consciousness outside of herself and into the minds of others–and she establishes communication with the Farmers (giant ants) who live nearby. Everyone in the forest lives in bliss and hard-working harmony until they’re found by the flesh-eaters.

Why are insects and arachnids all so huge? It’s stated that it’s because there aren’t so many humans to check their growth, but then the land mass has shrunk incredibly, so there should be much fewer resources and land on which they can live.

I’m actually pretty impressed by how well-drawn the setting is, as well as a few of the characters. I cared about what happened to them. Some of the later excitement made me tense. However, this doesn’t make up for the rest of the book.

The sermonizing is so thick you could cut it with a dull spoon. “Flesh-eaters” is the defining characteristic of the bad guys. Their own people live in squalor and filth and abuse each other. They rape (trigger warning) and kill just because they want to. They’re defined by their greed and sadism. Apparently wanting to eat meat means perfectly willing to eat humans–it’s obvious that meat-eating is meant to be a moral failing and indication of bad character in general. In contrast, the group of free people living hidden in the forest are vegans to whom All Life is Sacred. They live in a utopian society where everyone seems to work hard and feel happy. They’re socially enlightened (same-sex marriages, no forcing people to do what they don’t want to do, etc.). The majority of the book is spent on drawing out this utopian society and how wonderful it is. There are tons of speeches and sermons about the evils of meat-eating and meat-eaters. Everything is completely black-and-white: people are either good or evil. Not until the end do we even see any acknowledgement that there might be any in-between, and it’s rushed over.

If this book hadn’t been so black-and-white, if the author hadn’t felt the need to sermonize about everything, it would have been a really good read. There’s always at least some audience for utopian fiction, and I’m sure that audience will overlap with vegans who feel that meat-eating of any kind is evil, so I’m sure this book will work for a few. I’ve never felt the urge before to refer to a book as “propaganda,” but the first thing I thought of Farm Land: Sentience is that it was vegan propaganda.

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Review: “Doomsday Magic,” Linsey Hall

Pros: Still so much fantastic action!
Cons: Fickle time-turning abilities
Rating: 4 out of 5

In book one of The Druid, Ana and Lachlan hunted down a massively dangerous stolen spell and rescued a kidnapped friend. In book two, they recovered Dracha’s stolen magic from three ghostly Fates. In book three, they had to simultaneously locate a charm that would help to balance Ana’s growing powers while saving the Celtic Otherworld from an invasion by the Fates and an army of demons. Book four saw most of the members of the Undercover Protectorate get kidnapped. And although the sisters found and freed them, they’re still bound by a spell that will eventually enslave them to the Fates. Now, in Linsey Hall’s Doomsday Magic (Dragon’s Gift: The Druid Book 5), Ana must find out how to reverse the spell–before the Fates break through the castle’s protections. Otherwise the Fates will command an unwilling army of some of the most magically powerful people in the world. This will require not just figuring out Ana’s powers and completing her transition to Dragon God, but also a trip through Dante Alighieri’s version of Hell!

I do not understand why the characters didn’t go straight to Roarke the moment they found out they’d need to go to Hell. He is, after all, Warden of the Underworlds, and he should have been able to give them some sort of aid or advice. I was also disappointed to find out that Hall gave another character (Ana) a time-turning ability. The ability to turn back time–particularly when it’s limited to a small area so you have to worry about how it interacts with the rest of the world–is pretty much a walking plot-hole generator.

The action quotient is delightful, as always. We get to see our favorite blood sorceresses again. There’s a deadly gigantic whirlpool that Ana and Lachlan have to sail through. There are trials and tests to be won. Ana gets her final powers and finds out she can shape-shift into a giant crow. The characters fight harpies, make alliances with sentient trees, trek through sandstorms in Hell, get aid from gods, and speak with Dante himself (who used to belong to the Protectorate). It turns out the first heist the Cats of Chaos ever ran was on the fourth level of Hell, so they know a few shortcuts to help our heroes get where they’re going. I love how much the Cats get involved in the goings-on, and hairless, winged Muffin makes such a hilarious and wonderful cheering section when the situation gets dire. As always, there are hundreds of demons to kill.

I loved the climactic battle in this one. Hell, I love the climactic battles in all but one of the books, because they’re Hall’s major strength. I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of the next set of five books come out (Rowan’s sub-series) so that I can continue this series!

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Review: “Captured by Magic,” Linsey Hall

Pros: Fantastic action
Cons: A few missteps
Rating: 4 out of 5

In book one of The Druid, Ana and Lachlan hunted down a massively dangerous stolen spell and rescued a kidnapped friend. In book two, they recovered Dracha’s stolen magic from three ghostly Fates. In book three, they had to simultaneously locate a charm that would help to balance Ana’s growing powers while saving the Celtic Otherworld from an invasion by the Fates and an army of demons. Now, in Captured by Magic (Dragon’s Gift: The Druid Book 4), most of the members of the Undercover Protectorate have been kidnapped! It’s up to a handful of leftover people, plus the FireSouls, to track down what’s happened to them and retrieve them. While following a lead, the Dragon Gods find themselves back in Death Valley, once again making the run to Hider’s Haven–only the lay of the land has changed!

There are a few little missteps, IMO. The women take out several people with sleeper holds that are casually described as lasting an hour (I didn’t know these things came with a built-in timer). Rowan, who has no access to her magic, uses a bow and arrows for distance fighting–I still don’t understand why guns never even get discussed as a possibility. There’s also a quote that goes:

Heck, I was a woman. I was predisposed to carry guilt like a sad knapsack full of misery.

This may not seem like a big deal, but through 20+ novels one of the greatest things about this series has been Hall’s ability to not just avoid female stereotypes, but to blow by them like they don’t even exist, without even mentioning them. So to have an “all women” dropped in there out of nowhere gave me a feeling like the screeching of cartoon brakes. It was completely out-of-place.

These books are rather formulaic, and one of the formulas is that each book encompasses one task, which is predictably nailed down in full by the end. This installment partially breaks that formula by having aspects to it that don’t entirely get finished with, which is a wonderful bit of variety.

I love, once again, the respect that each love interest shows to each main female character. In this installment Ana and Lachlan find themselves finally sharing a bed for the night, but it’s mentioned that the behind-closed-doors activity never went all the way. Casually implied is the fact that Lachlan is fine with this–he doesn’t in any way push Ana to go past what she’s comfortable with. It’s never implied that because she’s fooling around with him she should be prepared to go any further than she’s okay with, and it’s about time we normalized this sort of behavior. Serious kudos to Hall for writing this stuff as normal.

As usual, Hall’s greatest talent seems to be her penchant for original, extensive, exciting action sequences. There are rabid fauns, stone beasts, Roman armies, fire-hurling giants, armies of snakes, and more standing in our heroes’ way. No matter how powerful our heroes become, the enemy makes them fight every bit as hard to succeed.

I’m looking forward to reading the final installment in Ana’s sub-series!

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