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Thursday, December 30, 2010

When the Lion Feeds by Wilber Smith

In part one, Sean McCortney and his twin brother, Garrick, are the sons of a wealthy cattle rancher in Natal.  They grow up each a shadow of the other, come of age during the Zulu Wars, and learn what it is to love and to hate.  When Garret believes Sean dead, along with most of his friends and family at the massacre of Isandhlwana, he marries Sean's young love.  After returning from a very lengthy honeymoon, they discover Sean is not only alive, but back at Thanis Kraal ready to assume his role as family head.  Garrick's wife, Sean's former love, has other ideas and Sean rides off into the Veld. 
544 pgs, $7.99 pb

Part two we find Sean hooking up with Duff, a brilliant strategist, and together they amass a fortune in the mining industry, pitting them sovereign to sovereign against two brilliant Jews.  They find that love doesn't always come in pretty skirts, gold is a harsh mistress and sometimes being beholden to no man is more freedom than any money will buy. 

Part three, which in no way actually concludes the series, Sean has seen more heartbreak and misfortune than most men of his age.  With his trusted Zulu warriors, he has slaughtered enough elephants for their ivory to start a new ranch of his own with his Boer wife and child by his side.  But sometimes the universe, or the Veld, has other things in mind.

This was an engaging enough read, touching on those things South African - the Zulu wars, the Dutch influence, gold and diamond mining, cattle ranching, the wholesale slaughter of elephants for their tusks, and the heartache that comes with it all.  But after a while it was rather like reading about waves:  good things are going to happen, and then bad things are going to happen, but then good things happen, and more bad things happen...  it's all unfolding much like a map.  

The first two parts were stronger than part three.  It was as if the author just wanted to wrap things up to set the stage for book two.  And what did happen in part three really didn't fit with the rest of the book, again, a means to conclude book one? 

I did thoroughly enjoy the setting in Africa - the veld, the mountainous country, the dry season, the rainy season, the interaction with the natives, the wildlife.   Sean's relationship with Duff was humorous and engaging and Sean's Zulu friends added a nice touch of wit and counterpoint to the harsh backdrop. 

However, I'm not sure I'm interested enough to pick up Sound of Thunder, which takes Sean off to the Boer Wars and the conflict with his twin brother who's been nursing his hate for 15 years.   By the time I finished, I was at a point where, honestly, I almost didn't care any more - the waves are still going to come, and still going to go.

Recommended if you like long, page encompassing sagas. 

Monday, December 27, 2010

Knitting update: 2010 Christmas Gifts

I've been rather quiet on the knitting front, but that's not because my needles have been idle!  I didn't want to tip my hat (no pun intended!) too early. 

It started with the Bella mittens:
pattern by Subliminal Rabbit
#7 circulars
yarn is Swish Bulky by KnitPicks.  Awesome yarn by the way. 

I found myself with yarn leftover, and, thinking to be crafty, I decided mittens needed a hat.  The Button Tab hat was perfect.  I made four, with three different brims.  The seed-stitch brim was my least favorite because it made the hat rather large.  It was my intent to have the yarns match, but unfortunately, I ran out of the Heathered Green. KnitPicks discontinued that particular color and they didn't have anything to replace it.  So I bought some Swish bulky in a Garnet Heather (not sure if that is the actual color name, but that's what it looks like).   Buttons are made from white tail deer antlers. 

Pattern: Button Tab Hat
#7 circulars
Swish Bulky buy KnitPicks

The verdict?  I think they were happy: 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

I did this as an audio book and I'm glad I did.  The reader, whose name I don't recall at the moment, was absolutely delightful!  His voice really brought to life Fat Charlie, Spider, Mrs. Dunwitty, Rosie, Daisy, Grahm Coats,  and all the rest.  It was listening to liquid chocolate, his voice and intonation was that smooth. 

From"Fat Charlie" Nancy leads a life of comfortable workaholism in London, with a stressful agenting job he doesn't much like, and a pleasant fiancée, Rosie. When Charlie learns of the death of his estranged father in Florida, he attends the funeral and learns two facts that turn his well-ordered existence upside-down: that his father was a human form of Anansi, the African trickster god, and that he has a brother, Spider, who has inherited some of their father's godlike abilities. Spider comes to visit Charlie and gets him fired from his job, steals his fiancée, and is instrumental in having him arrested for embezzlement and suspected of murder. When Charlie resorts to magic to get rid of Spider, who's selfish and unthinking rather than evil, things begin to go very badly for just about everyone. Other characters—including Charlie's malevolent boss, Grahame Coats ("an albino ferret in an expensive suit"), witches, police and some of the folk from American Gods—are expertly woven into Gaiman's rich myth, which plays off the African folk tales in which Anansi stars. But it's Gaiman's focus on Charlie and Charlie's attempts to return to normalcy that make the story so winning—along with gleeful, hurtling prose.

"Gleeful, hurtling prose" pretty much sums it up.  More often than not I found myself chuckling at a delightful turn of phrase, at a witty description (downside of audio books, I listen to them in the car and can't write stuff down), or I found myself entranced at another "Anansi" story.   Most people dread the drive into work, but with iPod in hand, I was practically running to the car so I could start the next bit. 

If you've read American Gods, Stardust, The Graveyard Book, Neverwhere and Coraline, you will probably enjoy this one. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs

Book two in the Mercedes Thompson series.

From  The second installment of Patricia Briggs's paranormal fantasy saga...pits the butt-kicking mechanic/coyote shape-shifter against a foe that is as rare as he is ruthless -- a demon-possessed sorcerer who is also a vampire!

When Mercy agrees to help out friend Stefan (a bloodsucker from the local vampire clan in the Tri-Cities area of Washington State), she has no idea that she is about to inadvertently come face-to-face with an otherworldly creature that epitomizes pure evil. After barely surviving her encounter with sorcerer Cory Littleton, Mercy -- with the help of a small group of supernatural friends -- vows to track down the mysterious Littleton before he can butcher more innocent people. Her mission is twofold: Not only will she stop a mass murderer from killing again but she will also (hopefully) protect the invaluable secrecy of the vampires who live in the Tri-Cities area. But can a shape-shifting mechanic with a thing for Volkswagen cars defeat a monstrosity powered by spirits from the depths of Hell?

Friend Gail reviewed it here as well: Disorganized, As Usual.

Actually, Gail's summary is much, much better than Goodreads. 

Mercedes, aka "Mercy" finds herself caught between the Vampires and the Werewolves of Tri-Cities once again, this time pitting her against a vampire-sorcerer.  The Vampires, Werewolves and Fae are all deathly afraid of this creature, but it seems that everyone has pinned their hopes on Mercy being able to kill it.  Now, this does, at first reading, seem to be at the very best, corny, but oddly, Briggs makes it work and she does it well.  Book two was fast paced, a well thought out plot, and very interesting characters.  And, because this is book two, the characters start to flesh out a bit more (no pun intended). 

My complaint with this book was, because it was book two, that the author had to keep filling in background material covered in book one, for those poor souls who were by chance not fortunate enough to start with book one.  More than once I found myself going yeah,yeah yeah, story already! as the why fore and how were filled in. The downside to a series, I suppose, but I kept wondering if it couldn't have been done a bit more succinctly.

Nuff said. Off to find book three. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Recipe Review from 12/1/10

I fully admit, it's been a couple of very slow weeks in the new recipe department.  I often find, following a longer vacation, that I prefer simpler meals that I can just throw together.  The Husband also had a friend over for a belated Thanksgiving dinner after we returned.  Even though I picked out a 12lb turkey, it took us a solid week to eat through the leftovers! 

But I did find time to make two new dishes:

Carrot Soup (Ckng Lght Mar 2009)
This is such a simple and tasty soup!  Bonus factor - this uses two pounds of carrots so if you are trying to use up those garden veggies, this is the dish for you!  I made it pretty much as written, but I did wish I had taken the time to roast the carrots and onions in the oven to add a bit of extra flavor.  I also think some fresh ginger would have been better than the powdered.   Still, not complaining, it was great for lunches with some cheese and crackers.
Creamy Carrot Soup
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 3/4 cups chopped Vidalia or other sweet onion
2 pounds carrots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Dash of ground ginger
2 cups water
2 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons heavy cream, divided

1. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and carrots to pan; cook 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in salt, pepper, and ginger.

2. Add 2 cups water and broth to pan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 25 minutes or until carrots are tender. Remove from heat; cool.

3. Place half of carrot mixture and 1 tablespoon cream in a food processor or blender; process 20 seconds or until smooth. Pour pureed mixture into a large bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining carrot mixture and 1 tablespoon cream. Return mixture to pan; cook over medium heat until thoroughly heated.

Pumpkin Waffles (adapted from Ckng Lght by Culinary in the Country)
Sunday has become waffle or pancake day, and to try and prevent it from becoming the same boring pancake or waffle, we bounce around different recipes.  I believe a while back I reviewed the buckwheat pancakes?  Can't remember....  anyhoo, this week was pumpkin waffles!  Really, how can you go wrong with the soft essence of pumpkin and cinnamon, baked golden brown and then slathered in butter and pure maple syrup?  A bit of crunchy bacon on the side and it's almost heaven on a plate. 

Worried about making this and having extras left over?  No problem!  We love to freeze our extra waffles and pancakes and toast them midweek with a poached or fried egg.  Truly the original "Eggo". 

Pumpkin Waffles
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup vanilla soymilk  (or regular milk and add splash of vanilla)
1/2 cup mashed pumpkin
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large egg, lightly beaten

In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and cloves.

In a small bowl, whisk together milk, mashed pumpkin, sugar, oil and egg. Pour into dry ingredients and stir just until moist.

Preheat waffle iron. Using about 1/4 cup of the batter per waffle, pour mixture into waffle iron. Let cook until the steam begins to subside - about 4-7 minutes. Remove waffles and repeat until batter is used up.

Makes about 8 regular sized waffles.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

I was dubious about this series - it was being dubbed as a "must read!" and "national bestseller!" which I tend to avoid like the flu.  However, my friend Gail gave a surprisingly positive review here: Disorganized, As Usual 

From Werewolves can be dangerous if you get in their way, but they'll leave you alone if you are careful. They are very good at hiding their natures from the human population, but I'm not human. I know them when I meet them, and they know me, too.

Mercy Thompson's sexy next-door neighbor is a werewolf.

She's tinkering with a VW bus at her mechanic shop that happens to belong to a vampire.  She bought her shop from a fae.

But then, Mercy Thompson is not exactly normal herself ... and her connection to the world of things that go bump in the night is about to get her into a whole lot of trouble

This was a fast paced, well written, urban fantasy.  The Grey Lords have outed the Fae, who now live on reservations because the humans couldn't quite accept them.  Vampires still roam the night, and werewolves try and maintain their pack secrets.  Somehow, Mercedes - or Mercy as she is called - becomes mixed up with all three. 

What I appreciated was the strong heroine.  She kicks butt, knows when to back off, and doesn't spend any time whining (no pun intended) about all the terrible things happening. I can't stand whiny heroines.  The other characters were interesting and balanced enough to compliment Mercedes without detracting from her unique qualities. 

Nuff said.  I'll be reading the next one this weekend....

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Boundary Waters by William Kent Krueger

Boundary Waters, Book 2 in the Cork O’Conner series by William Kent Krueger

Premise of the book, from Krueger's second novel features ex-sheriff Cork O'Connor of Aurora, Minnesota, and plenty of harsh weather. Here, a top-of-the-charts but depressed, ex-druggy country-western girl singer, Shiloh, disappears into the two-million acres of the Quetico-Superior Wilderness on the Canadian border. Cork, an old buddy of Shiloh's mother, whose murder remains unsolved, heads a search party that includes include two FBI agents, an ex-con, a ten-year old kid, and Shiloh's father. Permeating the tale is the spirit of the Anishinaabe Indians, while the heavy pelts on the muskrats point to a huge, bitter winter ahead. Meantime, some bad guys have tortured to death Wendell Two Knives, the Anishinaabe guide, trying to get him to tell where Shiloh has gone, since they want her just as badly as Cork's search party. Shiloh witnessed her mother's murder, then had amnesia, and through regression therapy seems to have brought up the killer. Was he her mother's lover, a Vegas casino owner named Benedetti, who now wants Shiloh dead? Why was Shiloh's therapist murdered as well? Will Shiloh survive to rebuild Ozark Records into an outlet for indigenous music? Cork remains a spritely, intriguing hero in a world of wolves, portages, heavy weather, and worrisome humans, with a third entry on its way.

This is the third book I’ve gotten on audio tape in this series. I read them a bit out of order – Purgatory Ridge (#3), then Iron Lake (#1) and Boundary Waters (#2). I’m actually glad I did, because if I had gotten to Boundary Waters without knowing something of what was coming, I would have stopped “reading”.  I thought this was about as well written as the "description" above. 

The audio pronunciations aside (not the authors fault but still distracting), there were small things that were just not quite right. Here we have a chase happening in the BWCAW (Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness) – everyone is carrying a firearm, nobody checked in with the FS, we probably have an illegal cabin, and then we have helicopters and planes flying overhead toward the end. I don’t mind fiction set in real places, but I DO mind when too many liberties are taken with the setting to make it fit the story.

My next complaint lies with the Italian “gangsters” followed by Vegas sheisters descending upon Aurora - one man each claiming to be the father of the missing Shilo. It was like no one thought to get a paternity test yet everyone was convinced they were the father, except her adopted father who knew he wasn't.

There were other issues – the whole spirit wolf and bear following the characters. The obvious clues being dropped to the reader but the characters couldn’t for the life of them, figure it out. Half the people paddling these canoe’s solo – unless you’ve got the right kind of canoe and the experience, then it’s not as easy as it sounds. Nobody thinking to do a police check on all these people making demands until after the fact or after it was too late.

So why did I keep reading? Because I know that Purgatory Ridge was much, much better, and after a while, even despite the inconsistencies and errors, one develops an almost vested interest in the main character and you find yourself hanging on grimly till the conclusion rolls around with something akin to relief. So, on one hand I want to say Not Recommended – just start with book three; But if you like Cork’s character and can tolerate some regional issues, then Reluctantly Recommended.

I need to read some science fiction now....

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Line of Polity by Neal Asher

This is book two in the Agent Ian Cormac series.

From Outlink station Miranda has been destroyed by a nanomycelium, and the very nature of this sabotage suggests that the alien bioconstruct Dragon - a creature as untrustworthy as it is gigantic - is somehow involved. Sent out on a titanic Polity dreadnought, the Occam Razor, agent Cormac must investigate the disaster.

Meanwhile, on the remote planet Masada, the long-term rebellion can never rise above-ground, as the slave population is subjugated by orbital laser arrays controlled by the Theocracy in their cylinder worlds, and by the fact that they cannot safely leave their labour compounds. For the wilderness of Masada lacks breathable air ... and out there roam monstrous predators called hooders and siluroynesgabbleducks.

Paperback, 672 pages

Published October 9th 2009 by Tor Books (first published 2003)
ISBN0330512560 (ISBN13: 9780330512565)
Original title: The Line of Polity. Agent Cormac #2, Polity Universe #4

I enjoyed this selection for several reasons: the story moved right along, with neither a huge amount of description, unnecessary background building, or grandiose space-physics explanations; the characters were predominantly interesting; the chapter beginnings, where a woman was reading to her child, were quite humorous; and the world Masada was a delight to read about. 

Items I didn't care for: even though this was the protagonists vengeance against Cormac, Cormac really wasn't the main story.  I would liked to have had him a bit more in the forefront.  There were at least three story lines happening at the same time - which is good because it keeps things moving - but often the number of people in each story line became a bit confusing.  More than once I found myself going, "Now who was so-and-so again?  Oh yeah...that person..."  By page 600, that becomes a bit annoying.  I also struggled a bit with recalling what happened in book one - it's been over a years since I read Gridlinked, and while I thoroughly enjoyed it, again the whole who was who and who did what to whom became a bit of a blur. 

I intent to make a point of reading Brass Man sooner rather than later. 

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