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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Julian Comstock by Robert Charles Wilson

This is the third of six novels nominated for a Hugo Award this year.

I've already read:
Emissaries from the Dead by Adam Troy Castro
The City and The City by China Mieville

I haven't read:
Palimpsest Catharynne M.Valente
Boneshaker Cherie Priest
WWW:Wake Robert J. Sawyer

I can say with confidence that I probably won't be reading Sawyer's book. I've read three others of his and disliked all of them. He's an engaging speaker at conventions, but I just can't get into his books.

And, I'm sad to report, that I just couldn't get into Julian Comstock. I really enjoy Robert Charles Wilson's writing and books but this one disappointed.

Premise of the book (from After the disasters of the 21st century that resulted in the deaths of millions of its citizens, the United States retreats from technology and urban life. Social classes are sharply distinguished, and a centralized Protestant Church plays a powerful role in both politics and everyday life. President Deklan Comstock is periodically reelected without opposition. Despite his apparent stranglehold on power, he views his nephew, a child named Julian, as a potential future rival. In an effort to protect her son, Julian's mother sends him to be raised in a remote village in the Western states, where he becomes fast friends with a local lad, the narrator of this tale. Forced to flee their village to avoid the military draft, they make their way eastward where, after many adventures, Julian at last faces his uncle. On one level, this is a straightforward adventure story in the tradition of G.A. Henty or Oliver Optic. Throughout the narrative, however, there runs an engaging philosophical examination of the nature of society, the individual, truth, power, idealism, and change, which adds to the drama while foreshadowing Julian's eventual fate. Teens looking for a meaty adventure will enjoy this book, as will those looking for provocative science fiction, while readers aspiring to careers in politics will find much to contemplate.

Perhaps it was the philosophical outlook of the book, or perhaps it was because the books background is based on the war for oil and given the recent BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico it was just unpalatable. Whatever, I found the book to be a slow steady slog through northern Canada while the characters fought a relatively uninteresting war. I couldn't even empathize with any of them - they all seemed so very two dimensional.

Granted, I'm writing this and I'm only halfway through the book, but I don't know that I'm inclined to finish. At 250 pages out of 500 (e-book), nothing is pulling at me, nothing is crying out "Finish me! Finish me!".  Luckily, since it is an e-book, I can just set it aside and my Nook will just save the page I left off on. Maybe I'll finish it down the road, but probably not right now.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Tall Ships 2010!

The ships are here!  The ships are here!  

HMS Bounty (R)

Okay, so I wasn't going to go down and watch them come in...but who was I kidding?!  As the time grew closer to the grand procession, I found myself bidding ado to the office and heading down to The Lake with camera and lunch in hand.

The last Tall Ship festival was 2008 with 4 ships.  It was pretty cool and a bit of a fiasco as the event planners didn't realize when they sold 25,000 tickets that all those people would be descending upon a very small area with almost no parking.  They wised up this go around and are now charging an arm and a leg for everything from parking to viewing to events. 

But I digress.   The ships participated in a grand procession that stretched away onto the lake - there were the Tall Ships, a salty at anchor, and more sail boats, motor boats, refurbished tug boats, the retired Coast Guard ship The Sundew (now privately owned), jet ski's and kayaks.  It was a veritable flotsam of white boats bobbing around on the calm waters of Lake Superior. 

Nine boats are in harbor for the next several days:
S/V Sullivan
HMS Bounty
Roald Amundsen
Barque Europa
Pride of Baltimore
Coaster II

For details on the specifics of each, check out his link:  Tall Ships Duluth 2010

Meanwhile, I leave you with thoughts of days gone by (or Johnny Depp...)


Barque Europa

Brig Niagra

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mid-summer Garden Update

For those of us living in the Midwest, or more specifically the "Northland", our growing season is about half way through right now. Seriously. Garden goes in Memorial Day weekend - if we're lucky a week earlier - and one can pretty much count on first frost on or around September 15 in Duluth and farther north. We have to select seeds that will grow in cooler temps (no eggplant up here!) and will produce within 90 days.

This has really been an excellent summer for the garden. May was beautiful and most of the garden was in before Memorial Day. June did cause some angst with 18 days in a row with out sun and cool, wet, weather; but July...July has been fantastic! Warm, humid, a bit of rain, the garden is loving it!

Here's what we've been harvesting already:
cherries (done)
peas (done)
Swiss chard
kale (my new favorite!)
cherry tomatoes - just starting

Waiting on:
winter squash

The flowers are doing well too.  Though I must confess, I have an iris bed and a daylily bed where the grass has just gotten out of control.  (And I'm not going to show pictures of these embarrassments!)  I have initiated a weed eradication program, but I'm expecting once I pull most up, that both beds will need to be dug up and re-done.  I am hoping I can enlist the Husband  to help with the digging.  In the mean time I will leave you with these pictures:   

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Recipe Review 7/26/10

A streak of very warm weather has us emphasizing salads from the garden, cold pasta salads, and grain-based salads.  Quinoa has been my go-to grain this summer, having finally taking the leap and fallen in love with this versatile nutty delight.   And anything we can do on the grill: lots of fish (salmon, herring, whitefish, halibut), kebabs, steaks, chicken and pizza!  Lot's of fun doing pizza on the grill.
So for new recipes for the week, I have just one:

Quinoa with Tomatoes and Spinach (Ckng Lght, Aug 2010) 3.5
The recipe as I've cut and pasted below is titled Quinoa with Roasted Garlic, Tomatoes and Spinach.  The problem - roasting the garlic.  I wasn't about to run my oven for 45 minutes to roast a single bulb of garlic.  Not in 85* temps. No way. No how.  I skipped it.  On the other hand, this means I can make the recipe again as written when the opportunity comes round. 

This also didn't quite make four servings as noted - two large ones is more accurate.  I used vegetable broth, but found it made the dish almost too salty so I would recommend omitting it and just use water.  I also added some baby zucchini and feta cheese at the end (love love love feta cheese).  

This does come together very quickly - especially when skipping the roasted garlic - and would make a good week night meal, a light lunch or a picnic side.

Quinoa with Roasted Garlic, Tomatoes and Spinach
"Quinoa contains more protein than any other grain. The tiny, beige-colored seeds have a nice crunch. It's cooked and eaten like rice and other grains. Be sure to give it a good rinse before cooking, or it may have a bitter taste." —Mary Ellen Smith, Doylestown, Pa.

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1/2 cup)
1 whole garlic head
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon dry white wine
1 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup baby spinach leaves
1/3 cup chopped seeded tomato (1 small)
1 tablespoon shaved fresh Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Remove papery skin from garlic head. Cut garlic head in half crosswise, breaking apart to separate whole cloves. Wrap half of head in foil; reserve remaining garlic for another use. Bake at 350° for 1 hour; cool 10 minutes. Separate cloves; squeeze to extract garlic pulp. Discard skins.

3. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and red pepper to pan; cook 1 minute. Add quinoa to pan; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add wine; cook until liquid is absorbed, stirring constantly. Add broth; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat; stir in garlic pulp, spinach, tomato, cheese, and salt. Serve immediately.

And, I just had to gush about this - grilled chicken!  It's been a while since I've grilled my own bird, but I was in the mood for chicken salad for lunches and didn't want to buy a rotisserie chicken.  Taking a tip from Mickael Rhulman on How to Truss a Chicken (you are the boss of the bird!), I layered some fresh herbs in the bottom of a disposable pan, tossed some chopped onions in the cavity, and liberally sprinkled olive oil and Penzey's BBQ 3000 seasoning over the top.  Grill pre-heated to 350*, she went on for a hour and a half.   Perfect amount of time to fit in a bike ride. 

The result - mmm, mmm, good! See for yourself:

Monday, July 26, 2010

Recipe Review from 7/19/10

Pizza Margherita (Ckng Lght, May 2010) 4.0
We've been emulating Joe at Culinary in the Country and trying to do a new pizza each week. While not as punctual as Joe (travel and family obligations superceed some weeks), we do manage to fit in a new pizza every couple of weeks or so. I also highly recommend Joe's Whole Wheat pizza dough. Very tasty.

The crust we've been migrating to this summer has been from Michael Rhulman's Ratio cookbook. He takes a basic ratio of flour, water, salt, yeast and changes the percentages to make certain breads. The recipe below will also work just fine.

For this one we decided to use Rhulman's ratio, but to make it ahead of time so dinner would be more relaxed. I think it actually worked out better as the dough wasn't quite so springy to work with.

For this pizza crust, I also recommend spritzing the edges with olive oil and sprinkling at bit of sea salt on it while it bakes. I found myself dipping the crusts in olive oil and pepper it was so tasty!

I also linked to the Basic Pizza Sauce here and below. In my opinion, this is a super simple, extremely tasty pizza sauce. You can make it as saucy or as chunky as you like, it's just a bit on the sweet side which is a nice counter point to any meat you may end up using.

So while making pizza seems really complicated - if you make the sauce and crust ahead of time (the sauce does freeze very nicely) pulling together a pizza night is a snap. Don't want to heat up the house in the summer? Fire up the grill! Grilled pizza is excellent.

(Photo from

Pizza Margherita
Because this classic Neapolitan-style pizza is so simple, it depends on quality ingredients: Use the best fresh mozzarella and basil you can find.

Yield: 5 servings (serving size: 2 wedges)

1 cup warm water (100° to 110°), divided
10 ounce bread flour (about 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons)
1 package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
4 teaspoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

Cooking spray
1 tablespoon yellow cornmeal
3/4 cup Basic Pizza Sauce
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) thinly sliced fresh mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup small fresh basil leaves

1. SEE NOTE ABOVE Pour 3/4 cup warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer with dough hook attached. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups and spoons; level with a knife. Add flour to 3/4 cup water; mix until combined. Cover and let stand 20 minutes. Combine remaining 1/4 cup water and yeast in a small bowl; let stand 5 minutes or until bubbly. Add yeast mixture, oil, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to flour mixture; mix 5 minutes or until a soft dough forms. Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray; cover surface of dough with plastic wrap lightly coated with cooking spray. Refrigerate 24 hours.

2. Remove dough from refrigerator. Let stand, covered, 1 hour or until dough comes to room temperature. Punch dough down. Press dough out to a 12-inch circle on a lightly floured baking sheet, without raised sides, sprinkled with cornmeal. Crimp edges to form a 1/2-inch border. Cover dough loosely with plastic wrap.

3. Position an oven rack in the lowest setting. Place a pizza stone on lowest rack. Preheat oven to 550°. Preheat the pizza stone for 30 minutes before baking dough.

4. Remove plastic wrap from dough. Sprinkle dough with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Spread Basic Pizza Sauce evenly over dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Arrange cheese slices evenly over pizza. Slide pizza onto preheated pizza stone, using a spatula as a guide. Bake at 550° for 11 minutes or until the crust is golden. Cut pizza into 10 wedges, and sprinkle evenly with basil.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Recipe Review from 7/12/10

It's the height of summer and the Husband's garden endeavors are starting to pay off. We've been eating lots of Swiss chard, kale, lettuce, radishes, peas, and zucchini. He's been picking the zucchini while they are nice and small, no bigger than the length of my palm, so they are not so overwhelming.

What this also means is lots and lots of salads and green smoothies. I've done basic 'house' salads, a blueberry/walnut/blue cheese salad with maple-mustard vinaigrette (my favorite!), salad with lightly seared venison steak on top (seriously good) get the idea.

Our dressings are also pretty basic, olive oil or EVOO with the following vinegars: balsamic, white balsamic, white wine, red wine, and raspberry. I do have one more specialty white wine vinegar but with five open bottles in the fridge I'm holding off on opening another.

So for a change of pace we recently made these:

Watermelon Margaritas (Ckng Lght, July 2010) 5.0
Buy a big watermelon for these because they are delish delish delish! Refreshing and simple, these go down way to easy. Recipe originally said serves 6...HA! Four tops. I also recommend uping the watermelon to four cups instead of three. We skipped the sugar on the glasses, naturally sweet on their own.

(Photo by

Watermelon Margaritas
Yield: 4 servings

2 teaspoons sugar
1 lime wedge
3 1/2 cups cubed seeded watermelon
1/2 cup tequila
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon Triple Sec (orange-flavored liqueur)
Lime wedges or watermelon balls (optional)

1. Place 2 teaspoons sugar in a saucer. Rub the rims of 6 glasses with 1 lime wedge; spin rim of each glass in sugar to coat. Set prepared glasses aside.

2. Combine watermelon and next 4 ingredients (through Triple Sec) in a blender; process until smooth. Fill each prepared glass with 1/2 cup crushed ice. Add 1/2 cup margarita to each glass. Garnish with lime wedges or melon balls, if desired.

Couscous Salad with Chickpeas (Ckng Lght July 2010) 4.0
This is a nice refreshing salad for lunches or a light dinner. This would also be good for a summer picnic luncheon as it is easy to pull together and can be made ahead of time.

The only significant changes I made to this dish was to use Israeli couscous and add zucchini. If using Israeli couscous, cook according to pkg directions and not those listed below. Vegetables can be whatever you have handy, and I think goat cheese would be just as tasty (if not better than) feta.

(Photo by

Couscous Salad with Chickpeas
Total: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 1/3 cups salad and 3 tablespoons cheese)

1 cup uncooked whole-wheat couscous
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup boiling water
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
Dash of sugar
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
1 large ripe tomato, chopped
3/4 cup (3 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
1. Place couscous, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and cinnamon in a bowl. Stir in boiling water; cover and let stand 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

2. Combine oil, juice, garlic, and sugar.

3. Add oil mixture, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, mint, and next 4 ingredients (through tomato). Sprinkle with cheese.

Monday, July 19, 2010

2010 Split Rock Tour

This weekend I participated in my first organized ride in, oh, 15 years or more: The Split Rock Tour. This ride was sponsored by Twin Ports Cycle and the VeloDuluth club. The tour offers four options -

Starting from downtown Duluth (round trip miles):
to Brighton Beach - 15 miles
to Knife River - 44 miles
to Two Harbors - 60 miles
to Split Rock - 100 miles

"The Guys" (S. and J.) I bike with decided a Century was in order this year. Easy for them to say, they are retired...I'm not, alas... I'm just not able to get long distance training rides in as they are, so I figured I could comfortably do the 60 mile option, parting ways with them at Two Harbors.

(The Guys, J and S)

Much to my GREAT surprise, I found myself at Two Harbors feeling really good. The temperature was decent, very little wind, I had been eating and drinking along the way as advised and...I decided to GO FOR IT! Yes! I did my first Century!

100 miles; avg speed 14.5; about 8.5 hours or so. We were stopping to rest and refresh every 20 miles, except between the Gooseberry rest stop and Split Rock turnaround which was only 8 miles apart.

Since we had started at 7am, traffic and weather was beautiful. On the way back though, traffic outside of Two Harbors was horrendous. They were replacing a culvert and putting in turnout lanes on a Saturday, in the peak of tourist season and traffic was down to one lane, backed up for a mile as they alternated who could go.

We only had two little mishaps - I had trouble coming into Split Rock with low tire pressure on my back wheel (which would explain why things felt sluggish) so I had a mechanic look at it back at Gooseberry. Poor J had a flat just outside of the Silver Creek Tunnel (also just north of Two Harbors) which S and I didn't realize so we pulled into Two Harbors and belatedly realized NO J behind us! Luckily he arrived about 10 minutes later. The mechanic truck had seen him and offered assistance but he had things under control and was almost ready to roll.

The hardest part of the ride for me came between Two Harbors and Brighton Beach (about 20 miles). One of my deltoids was cramping up and my sitbones were lodging very adamant complaints about their bruised state of existence. I was ready to get off the bike and be done with this silliness. However, we took a break at Brighton, a final stretch of limbs and legs, and that was all I needed for the final push back into Duluth.

Simply an awesome ride - the support stations were very much appreciated, the weather was beautiful (it threatened rain on the way back but it went to the South), the lake views splendid and the company was inspiring.

We're already planning our next organized ride - Great River Energy Mesabi Trail ride (50 miles) August 7.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

This is July's book group selection. We must have been in an odd mood when we picked this one as it is very different from our usual choices.

Anyanwu is a healer with the ability to metamorphose herself into any creature that she has tasted or
eaten. She can ingest plants and ascertain if they will heal or poison. She can alter her form to be male or female, but in the end, she is always Anyanwu, a healer. Anyanwu knows she cannot easily die and estimates she is over 300 years old.

Doro is neither a ghost or a spirit, but lives off of other bodies. He kills for pleasure, for necessity, to keep on living. Over the eons, he has built up colonies of peoples for his purposes, to try and breed another Doro, to supply himself with strong bodies, to create a super race of peoples. In his selfish quest for unique individuals he finds Anyanwu, a wild seed not of his making, but who he will make part of his plans.

This is both a fascinating and disturbing story. The dance between Anyanwu and Doro can be perplexing. Anyanwu is by no means stupid or dim witted, she has lived a long time and seen a lot, but yet she remains very passive/submissive in the presence of Doro.

Doro's actions and plans are disturbing as he is using people for breeding purposes. Here we see cultural conventions being challenged as he mates who he wants, when he wants, and, in some cases, how he wants.

I enjoyed this book because it made me think and squirm a bit. It's good to read something non-conventional every once and a while. Recommended.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Recipe Review 6/28/10

Veggie Grilled Pizza (Ckng Lght May 2010) 4.0
I debated about posting the whole recipe, then decided, what the heck. I'll talk through my modifications and let the reader decide what they want to do to simplify.

Modification #1 - I used a pizza crust from Ratio's by Michael Rhulman. I didn't stick it in the fridge overnight, though that may have helped speed up dinner.

Modification #2 - I had some basic pizza sauce in the freezer from the last time we made pizza.

This was simply excellent. There are so many variations a person could do but we actually stuck with the veggies and cheese suggested. I loved the flavors - especially the eggplant and zucchini highlighed by a turn on the grill and punctuated by the sweetness of the pepper. This is a time consuming pizza so best left for the weekend. I would make this again.

Grilled Vegetable Pizza
Yield: 5 servings (serving size: 2 pieces)

1 cup warm water (100° to 110°), divided
10 ounce bread flour (about 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons)
1 package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
10 teaspoon olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
Cooking spray
2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
12 ounces baby eggplant, cut crosswise into 1-inch-thick slices
1 medium zucchini, cut crosswise into 1-inch-thick slices
1 large red bell pepper, quartered and seeded
3 garlic cloves, minced
2/3 cup Basic Pizza Sauce
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded fontina cheese
1/4 cup small mint leaves
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

1. Pour 3/4 cup warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer with dough hook attached. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups and spoons; level with a knife. Add flour to 3/4 cup water; mix until combined. Cover and let stand 20 minutes. Combine remaining 1/4 cup water and yeast in a small bowl; let stand 5 minutes or until bubbly. Add yeast mixture, 4 teaspoons oil, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to flour mixture; mix 5 minutes or until a soft dough forms. Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray; cover surface of dough with plastic wrap lightly coated with cooking spray. Refrigerate 24 hours.

2. Prepare grill to high.

3. Remove dough from refrigerator. Let stand, covered, 1 hour or until dough comes to room temperature. Punch dough down. Press dough out to a 12-inch oval on a lightly floured baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Crimp edges to form a 1/2-inch border. Cover dough loosely with plastic wrap.

4. Brush eggplant, zucchini, and bell pepper with remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Grill eggplant 4 minutes on each side or until tender; place in a bowl. Grill zucchini 3 minutes on each side or until tender; add to eggplant. Place pepper quarters, skin side down, on grill rack; grill 6 minutes or until blistered. Place peppers in a zip-top plastic bag; seal. Let stand 10 minutes. Peel peppers; add to vegetable mixture. Coarsely chop vegetables. Add garlic to vegetables; toss to combine.

5. Place pizza dough, cornmeal side up, on grill rack coated with cooking spray, and grill for 4 minutes or until blistered. Turn dough over; grill 3 minutes. Remove from grill. Spread Basic Pizza Sauce evenly over top side of crust, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Arrange vegetable mixture evenly over sauce; sprinkle evenly with remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and black pepper. Top with cheese. Return pizza to grill rack, and grill for 4 minutes or until thoroughly cooked. Cut pizza into 10 pieces; sprinkle with mint and thyme.

Fish Tacos with Mango Salsa (Ckng Lght July 2010) 4.0
This was pretty quick and refreshingly light on a hot summer evening. I just realized though, that I missed most of the seasonings in the salsa! Still, it was very tasty with mango, onion, cilantro and red tomatoes. We also used cod instead of tilapia as I had some in the freezer and I seasoned one filet with Penzey's BBQ 3000 and the other with Penzey's Northwoods Seasoning (I wanted to use up the jar). Both were tasty. This does only feed two.


Fish Tacos with Mango Salsa
Yield: 2 servings (serving size: 2 filled tacos)

1/2 cup chopped peeled mango
1/2 cup chopped green tomato
2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
4 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon chili powder

2 (6-ounce) tilapia fillets
Cooking spray
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
4 (8-inch) whole-wheat flour tortillas
1 cup mixed salad greens
1. To prepare salsa, combine the first 7 ingredients in a small bowl; toss well.

2. To prepare tacos, preheat broiler.

3. Place fish on a broiler pan coated with cooking spray; sprinkle fish evenly with seasoning. Broil 6 minutes or until desired degree of doneness.

4. Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly coat tortillas with cooking spray. Add the tortillas to pan, 1 at a time; cook 1 minute on each side or until lightly toasted. Divide fish evenly among tortillas; top each taco with 1/4 cup greens and 1/4 cup salsa. Serve immediately.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The City and The City by China Mieville

This is the second of 6 Hugo Nominees for 2010 that I’m reading and I enjoyed this book more for being a mystery-thriller than a sci-fi book. The concept of having two Cities that "unsee" the other was fascinating.

From When a murdered woman is found in the city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks to be a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he investigates, the evidence points to conspiracies far stranger and more deadly than anything he could have imagined.

Borlú must travel from the decaying Beszel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own. This is a border crossing like no other, a journey as psychic as it is physical, a shift in perception, a seeing of the unseen. His destination is Beszel’s equal, rival, and intimate neighbor, the rich and vibrant city of Ul Qoma. With Ul Qoman detective Qussim Dhatt, and struggling with his own transition, Borlú is enmeshed in a sordid underworld of rabid nationalists intent on destroying their neighboring city, and unificationists who dream of dissolving the two into one. As the detectives uncover the dead woman’s secrets, they begin to suspect a truth that could cost them and those they care about more than their lives.

I thought the mystery itself was a bit weak in substance and never really did feel that the antagonists were “rabid nationalists”. They came across more as disenchanted citizens who only knew how to aggravate the wasps nest. The first 100 pages or so are also a bit slow – world building so to speak, but then the storyline does a pretty good job of subtly shifting from the world to the complexity of the problem Borlu faces. The story was perfect in length at 330 (+/-) pages and didn’t get mired down in complex description and imagery as some of his other books do.

Recommended if you like mysteries or thriller’s, may be disappointed if you are expecting more science fiction.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Restaurant Review: Louie's Bucket of Bones, Ironton, MN

The Husband recently brought home the latest issue of Minnesota Monthly with the Top 10 BBQ places splashed across it's cover. We thought they were going to focus mostly on the restaurants in the Twin Cities, but much to our surprise, it was mostly out-state restaurants. Also, much to our dismay, our favorite BBQ joint, Market BBQ, didn't even get a notable mention. Alas! Alas!

As we were happily googling the location of said top 10, one in our neck of the woods appeared. Louie's Bucket of Bones. It just so happened that we would be driving by Ironton over the Forth of July Weekend. About lunch time.

This restaurant, according to the article in MN Monthly, established in 2002. Not a large establishment by any stretch of the imagination (I think the building used to be a gas station in days gone by) it holds about four tables inside and four outside during nice weather.

Louie's has a small menu featuring pork, chicken, beef, jo-jo's, and homemade Texas toast. The Husband and I split a plate of St. Louis Ribs and fried chicken, with jo-jo's and the toast. The ribs were outstanding - succulent, tender and just enough sauce to make them sing. The husband prefers to add his own sauce, but I think even he agreed they were still pretty darn good. The Texas toast was outstanding - thick, soft and delicious. Perfect to mop up the bits of rib sauce. The fried chicken - eh. It was dry and slightly overcooked.

Our only complaint was with the owner's obsession with telling people how to eat their food. Upon arriving, we received a tutorial on her spice rub and a complete walk through of her menu. Umm, every indie restaurant has their own special spice rub, I don't need to sniff a tub of it and I'm perfectly capable of reading the menu and picking out my ribs. That in and of itself would have been fine, but after we were served (well after we were served), she came bustling over and assaulted our jo-jo's for Jo-Jo 101. Which was basically: cut the large wedge french fry down the middle, slather it with sour cream then pour her special sauce over that. Neither the Husband or I particularly cared for the 'special sauce' and I like it even less to have my food handled by someone else after it's been sitting in front of me.

Still, the ribs were indeed outstanding. We'd go back just for ribs and the Texas toast (and the jo-jo's if we're left alone).

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Emissaries from the Dead by Adam-Castro Troy

This is the first of this years 2010 Hugo Award Nominee selections that I am reading. I'm not voting this year as I'm not a member of Aussiecon, but I still like to see how my voting matches that of the Convention members.

The premise of this book is Andrea Cort, Counslor to the Diplomacy Corp Judge Advocate, is sent to the planetary habitat One One One to investigate the murder of one of the Dip Corp bondswoman en residence. It is her mission to find the murder, as long as it isn't - in any way, shape, or form - the AIsource for the habitat. What Andrea finds is a stirred up hornets nest of anger, resentments, and hidden agendas. What she also finds goes way beyond the borders of the habitat and into a past she has kept tight within herself.

I found I enjoyed this selection immensely. I was drawn to the wry humor of the heroine, could understand the governmental idiocy she had to deal with as part of her investigations, and applauded the author for mixing in clues that were obvious and then surprising the reader at the end with hidden agendas. I also enjoyed this because it was under 400 pages. A plus in a world where 1000 page doorjambs have become way too prevalent, in my humble opinion.

If you enjoy a mixture of sci-fi and mystery with a bit of James Bond thrown in, this is a book you may enjoy. Recommended.

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