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Friday, April 29, 2011

Scones and Bones by Laura Childs (Tea Shop #12)

Book 12 in the Tea Shop Mysteries.

Personally, I can't believe Child's is up to book twelve in this series!  I had no idea this book had been released until the Mother said she had picked it up.  However, if you have just found this series, Scones and Bones is strong as a stand alone - you need not have read the previous books in the series to follow what is going on.  This is also not a real involved mystery series, rather just pure brain fluff.  Each book is more like being reacquainted with a quirky set of friends. 

Theodosia, owner of the Indigo Tea Shop, has been invited to Charleston's Historical Society's gala Pirate exhibit.  The evening is cut short when a young volunteer and a staff member are attacked when they inadvertently walk in on the theft of Blackbeard's mug - the skull of Blackbeard made into a drinking vessel, prized for the large diamond that adorns it. 

Timothy, the Historical Society's director pleads with Theo and Drayton, Theo's master tea blender, to investigate the tragic events.  Theodoisia reluctantly agrees, putting herself on the wrong side of Detective Tidwells graces yet again, and soon finds herself drawn into the mystery of Blackbeards Treasure. 

I enjoyed book twelve.  I still have my usual set of complaints - for example, if a detective says, 'stay put, I need to call for back up', the heroine shouldn't be running off after a suspect.  If I were Tidwell, I would charge her for gross negligence or interference or something.  At some point, let the law do it's thing.  I'm also a bit disappointed that Tidwell is supposed to be a very good detective, yet he's almost played for a fool.  And of course, there is no way one girl is going to be putting out the dishes from a "tiny kitchen" to feed the masses of people coming through the door of the tea store.  I know, I know, I need to just suspend my disbelief and go with the flow, no pun intended....

Like I mentioned at the start of the post, these are brain candy books, filled with tidbits about tea, recipes, an eclectic cast of characters all set in the beautiful city of Charleston.  I finished this in a day. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Minicon 46, April 2011

This past Easter weekend found me at what has become my traditional Easter haunt - Minicon, a long standing scifi convention in Minneapolis.   Much to my great surprise, this was Number 17 for me!  Holy Vesuvian Bat Guano, Mr. Spock!

John Scalzi was the guest of honor in place of Charles Stross, who had to bow out due to a family emergency.  I was just as excited to see Scalzi and was thrilled the convention could book him.  I've read some of his blog (Whatever) and I've read his Old Man War Series (Old Man War won a Hugo), and it's always a treat to see an author live and hear what they have to say.

But let me start at the beginning, or at least once I got down to the Cities and my partner in crime picked me up.  

Friday always begins with lunch, usually at some ethnic restaurant. This year we went to Rice Paper on 50th and France in Edina.  Outstanding - highly recommend it!  From there we checked in at the Sheraton, Bloomington (to be the Doubletree next year) and hung out for a while catching up while waiting for the panels to start. 

Friday panels I attended: 
The Future isn't what it Used to Be
Depictions of the world following a lack of cheap energy seem to be replacing the glitzy hi-tech future and post-nuclear holocaust in SF. Will the trends continue? Is this future more plausible than the earlier versions? How much do fictional futures have to say about the times in which they are written?

Panelists: John Scalzi, Laura Krentz, Neil Rest, Greg Johnson, Magenta Griffith 

Opening Ceremony
Welcome to Minicon 46! Meet Guests of Honor John Scalzi and Chas Somdahl. Revel in announcements from the Minicon Committee. See and be seen. Maybe a bit of Shockwave Radio Theater humor, you never know.
Panelists: David E Romm, John Scalzi, Chas Somdahl, Kevin Austin, Joel Phillips

Successful Writing in the Digital Age
Our author Guest of Honor John Scalzi has been writing or editing for the online world for more than fifteen years. How does one survive as a writer in the digital age? How does an internet persona mesh with the introverted lifestyle of an author? What's the best way to deal with the trolls and haters?

Panelists: Aaron Vander Giessen(M), John Scalzi, Ctein

Saturday Panels I attended:
Non Western Cultures In Fantasy

Writing in cultures beyond North America or Western Europe. Working in new geographies offers readers and writers chance to step out of their comfort zones or reclaim their heritage. What are some of the challenges and which writers do this well?
Panelists: Eric M. Heideman (M), Michael Merriam, Adam Stemple, Ricky Foos, Marissa Lingen

Don’t Read What You’re An Expert In

"How can this character be an expert on Chinese calligraphy when he doesn't even know how to pronounce 'Qing'?" Fiction on topics we know a lot about can be cringeworthy. In the extreme, glaring errors can ruin an otherwise good work. What topics set off our expertise alarms, when do we just suck it up and what (beyond infinite research) can authors do to avoid these problems?
Panelists: Rachel Kronick (M), Marissa Lingen, Magenta Griffith

John Scalzi Reading and Signing

In addition to reading from his own work, John Scalzi will also read from Charles Stross’ upcoming — and excellent – novel, Rule 34. This is a very special sneak peak at a work that will not be available until July of this year.
John Scalzi, Anton Peterson assisting

John Scalzi Interview

John Scalzi
John Scalzi, David E Romm interviewing

Creation Museum Slideshow
John Scalzi shares photos and stories from his visit to "the very best monument to an enormous load of horseshit that you could possibly ever hope to see." Hilarity ensues.
Presented by: John Scalzi, Rob Callahan moderating

Sunday Panels I attended:
The Year in SF

Our annual confab about what's good and (mostly) new in (mostly) science fiction and fantasy.
Panelists: Russel Letson, Greg Johnson

Common Misconceptions About Publishing

How is the publishing industry structured? What exactly does an author sell to a publisher, and what do publishers want to see? Why are books the length that they are? Published authors and editors talk about their experiences and share their "If I knew then what I know now..." stories.
Panelists: Michael Merriam (M), John Scalzi, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Teresa Nielsen Hayden

Full list of panels can be found here:  Minicon 46 Programming

My least favorite panels were Don't Read What you are an Expert In and The Year in SF.  What makes or breaks a panel are the folks behind the table and over the years one develops a feel for what is going to be a good conversation as opposed to a dull drone that puts you to sleep.  These two were droner's and I knew that going in.  However, of the choices offered during that time frame, they were my best choice. 

Anything Scalzi was on was interesting, engaging and often a absolute hoot. 

Next years convention (Minicon 47):  April 6-8, GoH Ted Chaing.    Same hotel, different name: Doubletree Hotel and Convention Center, Hwy 100 and 494, Bloomington. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

2011 Hugo Nominees Announced

I'm attending Worldcon in Reno this year, and as part of my membership I am able to participate in voting on the Hugo Awards.  I'm also eligible to vote on the Nominees (which generates this list) but I just don't have the time to devote to it.  Follow the link to the full Hugo Nominee listing.  This is only a partial list and what I am interested in.

Let the reading begin!

2011 Hugo Award Nominees

1006 valid nominating ballots were counted, 992 electronic and 14 paper.

Best Novel
Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis (Ballantine Spectra)

Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (Gollancz; Pyr)

Feed by Mira Grant (Orbit)

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)

Best Novella
“The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window” by Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean Magazine, Summer 2010)

The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang (Subterranean)

“The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon” by Elizabeth Hand (Stories: All New Tales, William Morrow)

“The Sultan of the Clouds” by Geoffrey A. Landis (Asimov’s, September 2010)

“Troika” by Alastair Reynolds (Godlike Machines, Science Fiction Book Club)

Best Novelette
“Eight Miles” by Sean McMullen (Analog, September 2010)

“The Emperor of Mars” by Allen M. Steele (Asimov’s, June 2010)

“The Jaguar House, in Shadow” by Aliette de Bodard (Asimov’s, July 2010)

“Plus or Minus” by James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s, December 2010)

“That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made” by Eric James Stone (Analog, September 2010)

Best Short Story
“Amaryllis” by Carrie Vaughn (Lightspeed, June 2010)

“For Want of a Nail” by Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s, September 2010)

“Ponies” by Kij Johnson (, November 17, 2010)

“The Things” by Peter Watts (Clarkesworld, January 2010)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman

Book #2 in the Leaphorn Series.

From Two Native-American boys have vanished into thin air, leaving a pool of blood behind them. Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn of the Navajo Tribal Police has no choice but to suspect the very worst, since the blood that stains the parched New Mexican ground once flowed through the veins of one of the missing, a young Zuñi. But his investigation into a terrible crime is being complicated by an important archaeological dig . . . and a steel hypodermic needle. And the unique laws and sacred religious rites of the Zuñi people are throwing impassable roadblocks in Leaphorn's already twisted path, enabling a craven murderer to elude justice or, worse still, to kill again.

Yes, another series I have started out of order, though not quite so much so as Davenport.  At least this was only #2. 

This was a refreshing break from Sandford, and even from William Kent Krueger (whom I'm still irritated with).  Lt. Joe Leaphorn is a methodical detective, not letting the intrusion of the FBI or Zuni police unduly ruffle his feathers .  He only wants to find the missing boy and sets about doggedly to do so.  We don't know ahead of time what the criminals actions are, we don't know the antagonists actions, we don't know any more than Leaphorn does.  In fact, Leaphorn figures out the mystery well before the reader (unless you are the kind to figure it out very quickly) and it's only at the very end you are clued in on the 'who done it'. 

I also loved the imagry of the Southwest and the glimpse into native life.  Sandford and Krueger both write settings based in Minnesota, Kruger not infrequently touching upon the Objibwe.  To read a book set in the arid southwest and with two different tribes was really quite facinating. 

I cannot say more than that, because I would be giving something away.  If you are a handful of people like myself who has not yet read Hillerman, I suggest you do so.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Recipe Review - end Mar/beg April

I'm a few weeks behind here in my reviews - one little trip to the Cities rather derailed my new recipe endevors!  Funny how that happens.  And I've been cooking less with recipes lately, relying more on 'impromptu' type meals and simplicity. 

So, this is a "catch up review" as I try and sort through my notes on what I've been making - and we've had some good dishes!

Whole Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes (Ckng Lght, March 2010)
We've been doing Pancake Sundays for a while now, and subsequently, playing around with different types of flours.  This one grabbed my attention not only for the WW component, but also because it used buttermilk! Yum.


3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 large egg white

Cooking spray
3/4 cup maple syrup
3 tablespoons butter

Lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Combine buttermilk, oil, egg, and egg white, stirring with a whisk; add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist.

Heat a nonstick griddle or nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat. Spoon about 1/4 cup batter per pancake onto griddle. Turn pancakes over when tops are covered with bubbles and edges look cooked. Serve with syrup and butter.

Herbed Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts  (Ckng Light, March 2011)
I love anything that has goat cheese in it, and this one seemed quick and easy enough for a weeknight.  We weren't disappointed - the mint really brightened the flavors and was a nice counterpoint to the creamy cheese.  Made enough for two meals for us. 

I did deviate from the recipe by baking this rather than broiling.  I was baking some diced squash and it seemed to make more sense to just bake this as well. 

1/4 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 (4-ounce) package goat cheese
4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1. Preheat broiler to high.  (**See note above; bake @400* for about 20-30 minutes)

2. Combine first 4 ingredients in a small bowl. Cut a horizontal slit through thickest portion of each breast half to form a pocket. Stuff 2 tablespoons cheese mixture into each pocket; close opening with a wooden pick. Sprinkle chicken with 1/4 teaspoon salt.

3. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; add 1 tablespoon olive oil to pan. Add chicken to pan, and cook for 2 minutes on 1 side or until browned. Arrange chicken on a baking sheet (browned side up); broil for 8 minutes or until done.

Chicken Enchilada Casserole (Ckng Lght, March 2011)
This dish was a bit putzy and that was even with simplifying it by using pre-cooked chicken!  If you also go the rotisserie or leftover chicken route, I recommend starting the sauce while prepping the chicken.  It make more sence to have that reducing on the stove while mixing the chicken and cheese.  Overall, good flavor, a good way to use up leftover chicken, corn or tortillas.  I only wish I had made some cornbread to go with it.  This made more than four servings. 

Yeild: 4 servings (serving size: about 1 3/4 cups)

Prep/Cook Time: 1 hr +
4 bone-in chicken thighs, skinned
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided
1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
1/3 cup (3 ounces) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups chopped onion, divided
6 garlic cloves, minced and divided
1 cup fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
2/3 cup salsa verde
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons chopped pickled jalapeño pepper
9 (6-inch) corn tortillas
1/4 cup (1 ounce) shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 425°.

2. Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add chicken to pan; sauté 4 minutes on each side. Place skillet in oven; bake at 425° for 10 minutes or until done. Remove chicken from pan; let stand 15 minutes. Remove meat from bones; shred. Discard bones. Place chicken in a medium bowl. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons cilantro, corn, and next 5 ingredients (through black pepper) to chicken; toss to combine.

3. Return pan to medium-high heat. Add 1/2 cup onion; sauté 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 3 garlic cloves; sauté 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add onion mixture to chicken mixture; stir to combine.

4. Combine remaining 1 1/2 cups onion, remaining 3 garlic cloves, broth, salsa, 1/4 cup water, and jalapeño in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; let stand 10 minutes. Carefully pour mixture into a blender; add 2 tablespoons cilantro. Process until smooth.

5. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tortillas; cook 1 1/2 minutes on each side. Remove tortillas from pan; repeat procedure with remaining tortillas. Cut tortillas into quarters.

6. Spread 1/2 cup salsa mixture in the bottom of an 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange 12 tortilla quarters over salsa mixture. Spoon half of chicken mixture over tortillas. Repeat layers, ending with tortillas. Pour remaining salsa mixture over tortillas; sprinkle evenly with cheddar cheese. Bake at 425° for 15 minutes or until bubbly and lightly browned. Top with remaining cilantro

Root Veggie Stew (my own)
This is based on a recipe the Mom used to make but I changed it significantly enough that I felt it deserved it's own posting.  In the past I've used all Campbells soups; this time I did a vareity of organic soups (Amy's and Nature Valley).  Each offer their own unique set of  flavors.   This is kinda a "do what you want" recipe.  I was trying to use up a slew of root veggies and winter sqaush and was just kinda tossing things into the crockpot so my quantities are estimates.  

1 can cr of mushroom soup
1 can cr of chicken soup (or cr of celery if going vegetarian)
1 can tomato soup
1 lb butternut squash, cubed
1 cup parsnips, cubed OR
1 cup rutabega, cubed  (or both)
1 cup carrots, cut into coins
onion, chopped

Dump everything into a 4qt crockpot.  DO NOT ADD WATER.  Cook on low 6-8 hours OR cook on high for 4 hours.  Serve with some crusty bread to soak up all the great sauce.  Makes enough for about five lunches for two people.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Blood Prey by John Sandford (Lucas Davenport #20)

Waaiit a minute!  What's this #20 bit? What happened to #1-19?  Simply put, I have not read them yet.  I was in the mood for a good mystery, Sandford writes good mysteries, and this one was available as an audiobook right now.  So I grabbed it not realizing it was #20. 

And to assure you - speaking from experience now - if you pick up one of Sandford's books in the middle of the 'series', you won't have missed anything.  He writes books that are linked together, but still stand alone. Though I will also caution, that one previous book was 'spoilt' (not that that bothered me and I have no idea which of the previous 19 it was) since it was referenced in relation to the situation in Storm Prey.   I think.  I'm kinda making an assumption because I haven't actually read any others to know if this is true or not.  

From - It was an inside job, and it should have been easy. Rob the pharmacy at Minneapolis’ largest hospital: in, out, wait till things cool down, and then sell the drugs for a half million or so. But the old man had to be a hero. Who knew he’d be on blood thinners and die after he was kicked? A robbery turned murder means Lucas Davenport and his Bureau of Criminal Apprehension team are called in to assist the investigation. There’s another element to the case for Davenport: his wife, Weather, a surgeon at the hospital, may be able to identify one of the killers. The case starts to escalate. An attempt is made on Weather’s life. The bodies of two motorcycle gang members are found in a rural area. Davenport guesses the gang is imploding from the pressure and murdering its members. Weather, under 24-hour guard, is part of a surgical team working to separate conjoined twins in a procedure that’s captured the attention of the world’s media. Meanwhile, Davenport and his team keep finding bodies of likely robbers but can’t seem to isolate either the brains behind the theft or the hospital insider who pointed them at the pharmacy. The twenty-second Prey novel includes most of the elements readers expect: sharp plot, snappy dialogue, and believable action, but the background playfulness and gallows humor that usually fill in the gaps are in short supply. But hey, that’s nitpicking. On balance, this is another fine entry in a wildly popular series. --Wes Lukowsky

As the blurb notes, there are three storylines occurring at the same time.  One on tract, we are following the perpetrators as they spiral out of control.  On second tract, we watch the BIA and the Minneapolis police run around trying to figure out what the heck is happening.  On the third tract we watch Weather's surgical team deal with the cranial separation of the twins. 

If you are not a fan of knowing who the perps are and what they are trying to do to 'get away with it', then this is not the author for you.  If you don't mind watching the police try and figure out 'who done it' while you know, then you should enjoy this series.  All the favorite characters make an appearance - Shrake, Jenkins, Flowers and of course, Davenport. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Iron Kissed (Mercy #3) by Patrica Briggs

Blurb from The lighter moments of Mercedes Thompson's days are spent tinkering with VWs. When she's not workings, this attractive, shape-shifting auto mechanic is busy fighting wrongdoers and attempting to sort out her somewhat messy love life. In this, the third Mercy Thompson novel, Ms. Fix-It must work overtime to save her former boss and mentor from a homicide charge.

It's not often I say this, but Iron Kissed   Pissed. Me. Off.   Why must a female character always be dragged through the mud emotionally and physically just to advance the plot of the series?  This is exactly what turned me off of David Weber's Honor Harrington books.  Now, I am irritated with this series.    I knew Mercy was going to be brutally attacked (read the reviews on Goodreads and some people don't know to put "spoiler alert" in their blurbs), but still.  It seemed so, contrary to the character as previously set up.  Mercy has been portrayed as this strong, smart, independent woman who runs with wolves and can wield a wicked crecent wrench. She knows karate.  She's killed vampires.  Yet she manages to put herself in a situation to be brutally beaten leaving physical and emotional scars.  Overkill, in my humble opinion.

Oh, but wait.  She was magic'ed.  She couldn't help herself. 


PS - As an aside, I admire any book that is able to elicit a strong emotional response. 

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