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Friday, June 29, 2007

His Magesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

This is one of the Hugo Award Nominees in the novel category for 2007. This is not in anyway, shape or form a science fiction book, but a very light fantasy set in the Napoleonic wars. What makes it a fantasy? The dragons!

Capt. Will Laurence, of the ship HMS Reliant engages and captures a French ship while out at sea. In its cargo is a dragon's egg and the Reliant takes it aboard as is its due - to the victors go the spoils sort of thing. While returning to port, the dragon hatches, and said young dragon picks Capt. Laurence as his handler. This is a mixed blessing for Capt. Laurence: he will have to now leave the navy's service and become a member of the Air Corp, but Temeraire quickly becomes his closest and most dear friend. However, since he is entering the air corp at such a late age, he and young Temeraire have a lot of learning to do and quickly at that, as Napoleon is knocking at England's door.

This was just a fun, fluff fantasy. It is set in that ever so proper age of honor and duty, where your bloodlines mean more than your character and women are to be protected. And it was here that I had some problems with the setting. Novik establishes the period, then she seems to deviate a bit from the societal norm. Women are found in the air corp as the longwing dragons will take only female riders. Laurence does initially have some qualms about the more delicate sex serving, but he seems to adapt to it darn quickly and in fact takes a fancy to one woman who (gasp!) even admits to having a child out of wedlock. Next thing they are smoking cigars and sharing a bottle of port together.

So is this worthy of being a Hugo contender? In my opinion, I don't think so. This is a nice fantasy but that's about it. I had some trouble with some of the historical anachronisms (if you're going to set something in a period, keep to that period). If you don't care for the Jane Austin type novels and settings, this may not be for you. If you just want a bit of brain candy for the beach or a lazy afternoon in the lawn chair, sit back and enjoy.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre

Dreamsnake won the Hugo award in 1979. The premise of this story is the healer Snake goes beyond the first desert (against the advice of her teachers) to the outer tribes to give aid. She carries with her three snakes: Mist, a cobra; Sand, a rattlesnake; and her most valuable snake, Grass, a dreamsnake. While helping the young boy with an advanced tumor, the parents kill Grass thinking the small snake is going to harm him.

During her brief and tragic stay with the desert people, she befriends Arevain, cousin to the young boy. He asks her to stay, to help other tribes, but without her dreamsnake, Snake cannot call herself a healer and she must return to her training center for guidance. For dreamsnakes are given to only a very few Healers as they are extremely rare.

Snake's return to the training facilities is very indirect - she is called upon to help heal a prospector, only to find the woman suffered extreme radiation poisoning and the most Snake can do is ease her death. However, this woman has ties to the Center (the domed city that has ties with the offworlders) which may help her obtain more dreamsnakes. Snake leaves the now dead prospector and her family and continues on. When she returns to her camp after the prospector, she finds it was raided: her cloths slashed, her meager belongings bent or destroyed, her journals and maps missing. With resignation she continues on to the lush and beautiful city of Mountainside, where it seems everyone is drop dead gorgeous.

It is here that Snake adopts an abused 12 year old girl and informs an 18 year old that he can receive better training for his, ah, "lack of control" from certified trainers who aren't 100 years old. (If that doesn't have you intrigued I don't know what will.) Snake takes the young Melissa with her across the very dangerous desert to the Center's walls, where she finds they have now closed them for the winter sand storms and will not admit anyone, especially a healer. It is here Snake captures the person who riffled her camp previously and has been following her. He talks of dreamsnakes by the 100's, and so now she must follow him to try and regain one.

This was an odd book. It straddled the line between being a futuristic world and setting and a middle ages fantasy. There are people who know about gene splicing and modification, yet they administer drugs through snakes and have only a rudimentary understanding of surgery. People partner in groups of three and birth control is taught using biological methods where both guys and gals learn to increase or decrease their body heat. The desert people have cool names, everyone else is called Jesse, or Alex, or Melissa, or something rather mundanely modern. It seemed to be a book about personal emotions and sex with a bit of science tossed it. I also felt this book was incomplete - not only did the ending leave me rather dissatisfied, but there were several avenues that could have used further elaboration.

Again, I am left wondering if this was truly the best the Hugo's had to offer for 1979 or if she won the popularity vote.

Hugo Winner's left to read:
Johnathon Strange and Dr. Norell by Suzanna Clark
The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge

Monday, June 25, 2007

Recipe Review 6/25/07

Well, I’ve finally segued from a panty reduction project into all new recipes again. Partly because I’ve grown tired of focusing solely on the items in my freezer and pantry and partly because it was taking so very long. I’m still going to continue to use items I have around, but I’m going to allow myself a bit more liberty in the recipes that I choose.

With that lengthy explanation out of the way, here’s what I made last week:

Couscous and Garbanzo Bean Salad (Ckng Lght, June 07, pg 182) 8
This was very good. I subbed Israeli couscous for the regular but that was the only substitution I did. I made this for lunches, serving it (can it be called serving when I’m feeding just myself?) with Trisket rye crackers (my new favorite!), cheese and fruit. The recipe calls for a vinaigrette dressing to be tossed just before serving. I stored the dressing separately and drizzled it on after making up my small tupperware dish for that day’s lunch. I also boiled up some eggs, and sliced one to have on top as a little extra protein. This made a nicely filling and easily transportable dish for the week.

The Folks were staying with me last week, and I was in the mood for Mexican, and the following meal just sort of came together: Fiesta Rice, Cedar Planked Copper River Salmon, Black Bean
and Avocado Salsa, homemade corn chips, and a slushy sangria. Yum! Yum!

Fiesta Rice (Ckng Lght, May 07, pg 194) 8
Very easy to make: brown rice, canned diced tomatoes, onions, black beans, corn and seasonings. Most of the work in this one was the chopping. The corn, onions and seasonings (cumin) are toasted until just starting to turn brown. Then I added chicken broth, tomatoes and the rice and bring every thing to a boil, then simmer for 45 minutes. Add beans and cilantro and let stand. It was a great dish that I could walk away from. This was even better a few days later as leftovers.

Black Bean Salsa with Avocado (Ckng Lght, May 07, pg 198) 8
Combine 2 chopped seeded tomatoes, 1 chopped avocado, 1 can rinsed and drained black beans with lime juice, red onion and cilantro. Serve with chips. Loved the simplicity and the flavors.

Homemade Corn Chips
I’ve done these once before and they turned out really good. I had a bit more difficulty this time and accidentally overcooked them. Still, most satisfactory.

Sangria Slush (Ckng Lght Complete, pg 55) 9
Oh my oh my! A bit lengthy in the prep (you have to be planning a good hour out) but well worth all the chopping. Pineapple and some other tasty fruit (for the life of me I can’t remember what the other fruit was!) are chopped and frozen for an hour. Then combine with red wine in the blender till nicely slushy-chunky. Add club soda and ice and serve. No leftovers.

Cedar Planked Salmon (my own devising) 7
My intent was to grill shrimp for this meal, but the meat market was out and claiming they wouldn’t be getting another shipment until the next day...maybe...they weren’t completely could be two never know...

So, I decided instead of waiting I would just buy some Copper River Salmon and plank it. Do you realize how difficult it is to soak a 1 ½ foot board? Anyway, board got soaked albeit not as good as should have been. I then used fresh oregano sprigs (from the garden) and topped the salmon with olive oil, salt, pepper and a Mexican seasoning I had in the cupboard. The fragrance of the Cedar was just lovely as it cooked and the fish turned out almost perfect. The Folks claim it was perfect, but I felt it was a tich on the dry side - but that could have been because I had the tail part.

Anyway, one perfect Mexican feast!

Ingredients used up:
Israeli couscous
brown rice
bottle of red wine

Friday, June 22, 2007

When Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger

Every now and then again at book group, a book manages to make it through our convoluted voting process against all odds. Which is what I love about our voting process. It is rare that we can say with 100% certainty that X book will win. This selection was a bit of a sleeper. Rob's brought it to the table numerous times and numerous times it's gotten voted out. But in May it made it through. And I'm glad it did.

Marid Audran is an independent fellow living in the Budayeen, a rough ghetto in an Arab world. He walks the line between the whores and hustlers and those who are trying to make a more legitimate life for themselves. It's a world of plug in personalities, black market "daddies" (cheap software to run on the plug-ins"), where anything you want can be had for a price. Including your morals.

Two savage killers are stalking people and killing them in absolutely horrific ways, and unfortunately, Marid knows the recently deceased. In fact, the killer has written Marid a note saying he's next on his list. But the police aren't willing to help solve the problem and the Budayeen is getting nervous. "Papa", a two century old citizen of the ghetto, hires a reluctant Marid to solve the crimes, but as Marid will find out, it will come at a very, very steep price.

I really enjoyed this book. It was reminiscent of the 1980's cyberpunk but it didn't linger there. It also had the nuances of a private detective novel but with a futuristic twist. I loved the Middle East setting. This is a dark book, with a realistic ending - another positive in my opinion.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Olympos by Dan Simmons

I've got a bit of a backlog on my posts, so over the next couple of weeks I'll be doing some catching up. I'm going to start with this one:

Olympos is the sequel to Ilium which I reviewed here prior to one of our book group meetings. Ilium was fast paced, full of concepts and a compelling read. I felt Olympos was about the same with some caveats. To summarize simply:

We pick up with all of our favorite (and not so favorite) characters - Harmon, Ada, Hannah, Daemon, and Noman ( formerly named Odysseus) from Earth. The people on Earth are suddenly being attacked by the voinyx, who once served humanity in all tasks, with a ferocity that is downright scary. Daemon finds that Paris Crater where his mother lived, is now under a blue dome of ice and in the center Setebos has taken up residence and is laying eggs. Meanwhile, the voinyx attack Ardis Hall and the humans there and Noman is mortally wounded. Harmon, Hannah, and Petyr make a desperate gamble and take Noman back to the Golden Gate Bridge at Machu Pichu to Noman's regenerating coffin.

Here Harmon is kidnapped by Ariel and meets up with Prospero who tells him he has a mission to save earth. Harmon is frantic to get back to Ada, now his pregnant wife, but in order to do so he must complete this task.

And we meet up with my favorite little dues, the morvacs. Orhpu of Io and Mahnmut leave the battle of Troy on Mars and are heading toward Earth. From the sensors the morvacs have, there is a large probability the Brane holes and all the quantum stuff happening over Earth is going to destroy the near universe.

And lastly we still have the much altered battle of Troy in progress. The Ageans are getting their butts kicked, and Prof. Hockenberry, Ph.D., is quite distressed that it was because of him. In addition, the Gods have begun to war amongst themselves, and once Zeus is found and brought back to Troy, all Hades breaks loose. Literally.

That is to summarize very briefly. Overall, I enjoyed the story. I did get bogged down about halfway through, but that could have been in part because I became distracted by three busy weekends in a row (Minicon and two yoga workshops) and a knitting project. Plus this really isn't a book to read if you're tired.

I also found that Simmons seemed to pontificate more in this one. More than several times a character would go on at great length about some activity they were participating in or observing or whatever. And 'at length' would constitute pages of description. Now I normally enjoy description, but not when it drags on so much. (I'm thinking here particularly of Harmon finding the sub with the black holes in it.)

And it seemed to me the ending was almost to...pat. I shan't describe the ending because I know some of by bookish friends are waiting to read this, but it was almost as if Simmons just didn't know how he wanted to wrap this up or he just wanted to be done with the book.

But even despite my dislikes and it taking me forever to finish it (again, I got busy for about 3 weeks), I don't regret reading Olympus.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Viva Las Vegas!

Last week I went on vacation to a place I didn't think I would ever go: Las Vegas! What a great time I had hanging out with sister K4. I think with Vegas it is what you make of it - you can spend as much or as little as you like, you can gamble as much or as little as you want, you can do pretty much what ever you want. After my initial shock of being deposited in this city of lights and machines and people, I settled down and had a delightful time. I have gone through my pics and tried to pull out one picture that represents each day.

Saturday. We're here and ready to explore!

Paris in the summer time.

Saturday night we went to Spamalot! Funny, funny production. Warning though, you need to be a Holy Grail aficionado to really, truly, understand the humor.

Sunday was a hang out at the pool day. While waiting for K4 to wake up, I watched Planet of the Apes for the first time. Pretty good movie!

Monday. Look! I found Star Wars penny slots!

Tuesday took us to Red Rock Canyon, 30 minutes outside of Vegas. We could have easily spent several days exploring the trails. I had to content myself with posting this one picture.

Wednesday we went to a Cique de Soliel show (Mystere) at the Wynn and then caught some of the free evening shows along the strip. I caught this while waiting for the Sirens of TI battle.

Thurday was warm, warm, warm. 106* warm. We partook in a margarita over lunch while overlooking the strip. Then went back to the pool at the resort.

Thursday night we caught a shuttle down to Fremont Street, which is known as the old strip. We were there for 4 hours. 2 would have been plenty.

This is an image from the "jumbotron" that covers all of Fremont Street. The first light show of the evening was an alien invasion. This was an image I caught before my camera informed me that I had used up the entire memory card. Darn it!

My thanks to K4 for being a great travel companion and guide to this Vegas newbie! Looking forward to '08!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Pantry Reduction Week 3 & 4

Where did my May go?!? Away, that's all I know.

Well, my pantry reduction project continues. This is going a lot slower than I anticipated. I suppose I should have expected that, given it is just me working my way through the freezers and cupboards. But still, it is frustrating to think I am making progress and then open up the chest freezer and think, "Aw, crap. It's not empty yet."

Here's what progress I did make in the last two weeks:

Spicy Honey Glazed Chicken (Every Day with Rachel Ray, June) 8
This used up a rather large chicken breast I had languishing in my upstairs freezer. I made two modifications: one was I did this on the grill rather than in a grill pan and I bought canned pineapple rings rather than a whole pineapple. The canned one's worked just fine and were thick enough to place on the grill as they were. However, I don't think my grill was hot enough to properly sear them. The honey redux that is made on the stove also didn't quite reduce enough for my tastes and remained rather runny. However, this was absolutely fantastic the next day. I re-heated everything on the stove and the flavors really popped. Perhaps this is more of a stove-top than an grill dish.

Skinny Chimichangas (From Sugar Rush from Weight Watchers) 8
I used up some extra shredded chicken from a very large chicken I grilled quite some time back and some frozen tortilla's. This dish was really good! The recipe did call for ground turkey and Erin (from Sugar Rush) recommended shredded. Awesome. Also upon her suggestion, I subbed pepper jack for cheddar, sprinking the cheddar over the top instead. Awesome. A delicious sauce is made on the stove, adding the chicken toward the end to let all the flavors meld together. Then the cheese and chicken is rolled up and placed on a baking sheet. Here I deviated again and after placing them on a baking sheet, I grilled them. These made 6 tortillas for me, but I suppose that was because I added extra shredded chicken. Delicious!

I served these with homemade corn chips: cut some corn tortilla's into wedges, spray with olive oi and lightly salt. Bake until nicely crisp (this was about 15 minutes on the grill at 350*). Yummy!

Pineapple Chicken Salad Pitas (Ckng Lght, May 2007) 6
Here I continued to use up the leftover shredded grilled chicken. I think next time I grill a chicken, I am going to make sure it is a small one and I am going to make sure the chunks are properly shredded before I put them in the freezer bags. I also skipped the pita's bit and just served this over lettuce with some crackers on the side. This salad intrigued me because there is no pasta in it - only chicken, mayo, seasonings, toasted almonds, carrots and pineapple.

Anyhow, I found this to be just okay. I over pureed my leftover pineapple rings (decided to save time and run them though the food processor) and I didn't shred the chicken finely enough so I had these awkward larger hunks of meat to contend with. So my low score is because I screwed up. Otherwise, the flavor is very bright and fresh and I thought it made a great lunch.

So these last couple of weeks I've used up:
1 chicken breast
3 (8oz) bags of grilled and shredded chicken
1 package flour tortillas
2 corn tortillas
carrots (still have nearly a whole bag left though)
2 sweet potato samosas

Next week I'm taking a little vacation - Viva Las Vegas! I have so many draft posts waiting to be posted that I may have to increase my posting to 3 times a week till I get caught up.

Here's what I have coming up:

Book reviews:
Olympus by Dan Simmons
Dreamsnake by Vonda Mycintre
His Majesty's Dragon by Naiomi Novik
Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

Knitting Projects:
Knitting Project #4 - Dishcloths!
Knitting Project #3 - Sister's hat and Scarf

and One Awesome Vacation!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Grand Marais, MN (part 3)

On Sunday of my Grand Marais weekend we had hoped to do some small hiking, but alas, the weather decided otherwise being quite overcast with a continual mist falling. Instead, I talked the Folks into driving up the Gunflint Trail to see the Ham Lake Fire. This was met with enthusiasm, more I think because the Father had never been to the end of the Gunflint and I wanted to touch charcoal. Geeky, I know.

We packed a lunch and at the Forest Service campground "Trails End". This adventure didn't take all day, and allowed time later in the evening when it began to rain harder, to dine at the Crooked Spoon.

This kind of restaurant seems to be a growing trend in Grand Marais, catering to the "City Folk" who have this hoity-toity view of driving up to the "Cabin" on such-and-such lake and dining on lamb in the evening. The Crooked Spoon, while very good, was definitely a hoity-toity greenie restaurant.

The Mother and I ordered the Whitefish, lightly panfried with spring vegetables of pattypan squash and asparagus. The Father ordered penne pasta with a tomato basil sauce and cheese and a bowl of french onion soup with Guyere cheese and a pastry crust. The meal was served with fresh baked bread, nicely sliced and still warm. (I'm a sucker for warm bread.). I honestly don't remember what I had to drink so it must have been water. While we dined, we had a small pampered child screaming at the table behind us while a very good acoustic guitar player sang in the entryway. I will note now, that a grandparent finally took the child away which improved the ambiance immensely. The menu here was not very child friendly. The price range of the menu was all the way from $10.00 for the pasta w/o meat up to $24.00 for kangaroo tenderloin.

The Grand Marais harbor.

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