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Thursday, July 27, 2017

War Factory by Neal Asher (Transformation Series #2)

War Factory (Transformation #2)War Factory by Neal Asher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  Thorvald Spear, resurrected from his death over a hundred years earlier, continues to hunt Penny Royal, the rogue AI and dangerous war criminal on the run from Polity forces. Beyond the Graveyard, a lawless and deadly area in deep space, Spear follows the trail of several enemy Prador, the crab-like alien species with a violent history of conflict with humanity.

Sverl, a Prador genetically modified by Penny Royal and slowly becoming human, pursues Cvorn, a Prador harboring deep hatred for the Polity looking to use him and other hybrids to reignite the dormant war with mankind.

Blite, captain of a bounty hunting ship, hands over two prisoners and valuable memplants from Penny Royal to the Brockle, a dangerous forensics entity under strict confinement on a Polity spaceship that quickly takes a keen interest in the corrupted AI and its unclear motives.

Penny Royal meanwhile continues to pull all the strings in the background, keeping the Polity at bay and seizing control of an attack ship. It seeks Factory Station Room 101, a wartime manufacturing space station believed to be destroyed. What does it want with the factory? And will Spear find the rogue AI before it gets there?

War Factory, the second book in the Transformation trilogy, is signature space opera from Neal Asher: breakneck pacing, high-tech science, bizarre alien creatures, and gritty, dangerous far-future worlds.


July 2017 book group selection.

I just love Asher's books - big grandiose space opera, great aliens that kinda beg the question - exactly who is the alien here - Artificial Intelligence's that are just as alien as any thing else floating around the universe, and awesome character development (or redevelopment?)

In Dark Intelligence, the reader watched the transformation of Isobel Santomi from human to hooder. In War Factory, the reader watches as Sverl turns from Prador into a triumvirate of Prador, AI, and human. Penny Royal had a hand in both instances, and the humans, AI's and aliens he touches are changed in ways only the AI understands while leaving his - victims - with more questions than answers.

War Factory is, basically, a transition book - characters from book one are moved along per Penny Royal's plans, and set up for the next book. And, as I've found in transition books, this became a tich long in the tooth. For myself, I could have used a bit less of the moving characters into place like chess pieces. I admit, I got very fidgety about the last 100 pages.

Oh heaven's, I really have no idea how to summarize this...Asher's books are like that. Penny Royal is driving everything as he manipulates the players to congregate on the Factory Station Room 101. But as I noted above, this is Sverl's story - Sverl and the War Drone Riss, Sverl and Cvorn, Trent Sobel and the Shell People. On the periphery, is Blite and his crew, and Thorvold Spear.

There is a tremendous amount of stuff going on in a relatively shore span of time. Even when taken in the context of book two of a three book series, this IS Space Opera at it's finest. Recommended if you've read Dark Intelligence, and maybe Prador Moon, Shadow of the Scorpion and The Technician.



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Monday, July 24, 2017

Recipe Review from 7/9/2017 and 7/16/2017

I know I've been  busy when a week goes by and I realize that none of my posts were actually posted.  Oops!  So, doing a double post here for the last two weeks. 

First - Kepler update!  The Lil' Monster had his final exam and shots a week ago.  He's doubled in size since we brought him home and is now a very solid 25.5 lbs.  I'm also happy to report, he's lost his first tooth!  I can't WAIT for the rest of the little needle teeth to go away.

Puppy eyes!  (or, "can I have a treat?')

Lots of "leftovers" over the last couple of weeks!  A bit of freezer and pantry reduction...mostly freezer.   This years blueberry crop is going to be another bumper crop and I'm still trying to use up LAST years bumper crop.  I might have to make freezer jam this year. 

The Meal Plan from 7/9/2017
Sun (L) polish and baked beans         (S)  shredded pork
Mon (yoga)  shredded pork
Tues - Moroccan stew and basmati rice
Wed - polish
Thurs (yoga)  Moroccan stew and basmati rice
Fri - Pizza

The Meal Plan from 7/16/2017
Sat (L) leftover pizza    (S) Quinoa Bowls
Sun (L) leftover quinoa bowls   (S) Leftover shredded duck
Mon (Owatonna) 
Tues (Owatonna)
Wed (Owatonna)  Caesar bagels
Thurs (yoga) Caesar bagels
Fri - brats and grilled potatoes


Quinoa Bowls with Avocado and Egg  (Ckng Lght, Aug 2017)  vegetarian, gluten free
 Easy! Fast! Tasty! Filling! Make it!

I used regular quinoa and made two cups cooked.   I used the full can of black beans.  And this made enough for two meals for two. 

Serves 2
photo from cookinglight.com
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 cup hot cooked tricolor quinoa
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup canned unsalted black beans, rinsed, drained, and warmed
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
2 large omega-3 eggs
1/2 ripe avocado, sliced

  1. Whisk together 1 1/2 teaspoons oil, vinegar, and dash of salt.

  2. Combine quinoa, tomatoes, beans, cilantro, and 1/8 teaspoon salt; toss gently to combine. Divide mixture evenly between 2 bowls.

  3. Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium. Add remaining 1/2 teaspoon oil; swirl to coat. Crack eggs, 1 at a time, into pan. Cover; cook until whites are set and yolk is still runny, 2 to 3 minutes. Drizzle dressing evenly over quinoa mixture; top with eggs and avocado. Sprinkle with remaining dash of salt. Garnish with additional cilantro, if desired.

Caesar Bagels (Ckng Lght, Aug 2017)  vegetarian option** 
These are ridiculously easy and super tasty.  You can adjust the lemon juice and anchovy paste to suit your taste buds (I cut back on each).  I toasted my bagels because I'm absolutely in LOVE with a warm bagel smeared with cream cheese.  Perfect for a light supper or hot summer evening's meal.  I served with a basic side salad.   Recommended!

3 ounces 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
photo from Cookinglight.com
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons anchovy paste**
1 garlic clove, grated
3/4 ounce grated Parmesan cheese
2 2/3 cups torn romaine lettuce
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
4 (3.4-oz.) whole-wheat bagels

Combine softened cream cheese, lemon juice, anchovy paste, grated garlic, and Parmesan cheese in a bowl, stirring well. Combine lettuce, olive oil, and lemon juice, tossing gently. Divide cream cheese and lettuce mixtures among bagels.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Tell No One by Harlan Coben

Tell No OneTell No One by Harlan Coben

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  For Dr. David Beck, the loss was shattering. And every day for the past eight years, he has relived the horror of what happened. The gleaming lake. The pale moonlight. The piercing screams. The night his wife was taken. The last night he saw her alive.

Everyone tells him it's time to move on, to forget the past once and for all. But for David Beck, there can be no closure. A message has appeared on his computer, a phrase only he and his dead wife know. Suddenly Beck is taunted with the impossible- that somewhere, somehow, Elizabeth is alive.

Beck has been warned to tell no one. And he doesn't. Instead, he runs from the people he trusts the most, plunging headlong into a search for the shadowy figure whose messages hold out a desperate hope.

But already Beck is being hunted down. He's headed straight into the heart of a dark and deadly secret- and someone intends to stop him before he gets there.




Read as an audio book.

Intense. Holey smokes was this intense.

I managed to listen through Disk 4 when I became so thoroughly uncomfortable and irritated with the whole aspect of the widowed Dr. Beck being pursued by homicidal maniacs and FBI agents intent in their convictions that HE killed his wife, that I had to stop, put in the last disk and find out what happened.

Well. Totally didn't see THAT ending coming!

Not having my next audio book in hand, I went back and picked back up with Disk 5. MUCH more enjoyable now knowing the ending and I could just sit back and watch everything unfold. From this perspective, I could now see all the little hints being dropped along the way, that a very astute reader might pick up on. And I do mean they were little and subtle. So WELL done!

Premise of the book is 8 years previously, Dr. David Beck and his wife Elizabeth were visiting the Kissing Tree at his family's lake, when Elizabeth is kidnapped and Dr. Beck brutally attacked and left to drown. Fast forward 8 years, Dr. Beck didn't drown by some miracle but he's lived on with the still tender memories of the since deceased Elizabeth. While checking email, David receives an video email from Elizabeth and his world as he knew it ends. Now on the run from the FBI, the local police, and some unknown entities hit man, Dr. Beck must prove to everyone not only did he NOT kill his wife, but that she is very much alive.

This is the third stand-alone by Coben that I've read: Fool Me Once and Six Years being the other two. I've noticed a trend in the three books, and I don't know if this is the case for all his stand-alone's, but with these three Coben explores the Missing Spouse theme. Of these three, I would have to say Tell No One was the most...intense.

My biggest peeve - the repeated use of the phrase "I don't understand...".

Second biggest peeve - the character's Rebecca's death. While her demise pointed the FBI and police soundly in Beck's direction, and thus the impetus for Beck going on the run, I don't like pointless brutality and this fell under pointless brutality. My quirk.

If you enjoy an intense, engaging mystery thriller, read Tell No One.



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Monday, July 10, 2017

Recipe Review from 7/2/2017

The weekend had us in Ely, MN, for a Fire Ecology Seminar the Husband attended for work.  We brought the dogs to give us some extra time to hang out, so while he was at the seminar, I took them for a walk on the Trezona Trail, which encompasses a historic mining pit and old mine shaft headframe. There are at least two other mines discussed on Historical Markers along the four mile trail as well.   

This was also a "training" outing for Kepler.  He's done a three mile walk, and now we bumped it up to four miles.  He did fantastic with some new experiences like cars going by, cyclists, and walking on a leash in an unfamiliar area.  He had more pep than Andy did by the time we were done!  Tho not by much: 

Resting after his big hike!


General cuteness

The Meal Plan from week of July 2:
Sat (L) Leftovers    (S) Eggs in a Nest
Sun  (L) Eggs in a Nest  (S)
Mon (yoga)  leftover sandwiches
4th of July!  (L) Farro Bowls  (S)  Grilled Duck, Bourbon Baked Beans, Salad
Wed - leftovers Farro Bowls
Thurs (yoga) polish with leftover beans
Fri -chef salad with various leftovers
Sat - Ely for lunch   (S) chef salads with remainder of leftovers 



Eggs in a Nest (Ckng Lght, July 2017)
An interesting riff on a BLT with Avocado and Egg - the egg is fried in a little "nest" or hole made in the bread.

My most notable observation - fun, yes; messy to eat, definitely.  There's no place to "grab" the sandwich on top! 

Otherwise, pure comfort food. YUM! 
photo from cookinglight.com

8 (1-oz.) whole-wheat sourdough bread slices, lightly toasted
2 center-cut bacon slices, diced
1 medium ripe avocado
1 tablespoon canola mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
8 Bibb lettuce leaves (about 2 oz.)
8 tomato slices
  1. Using a 2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter, cut a hole from the center of 4 bread slices. Discard bread rounds or reserve for another use.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium. Add bacon; cook 6 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high; cook 2 minutes or until crisp. Place bacon on a paper towel-lined plate. Pour bacon drippings into a bowl and reserve.
  3. Combine avocado, mayonnaise, and salt in a small bowl; mash to combine. Stir in bacon.
  4. Add half of reserved bacon drippings to pan over medium-high. Place 2 cut bread slices in skillet; break 1 egg into each hole. Sprinkle 1/8 teaspoon pepper on each egg. Cook 2 minutes or until eggs begin to set. Carefully turn bread; cook 2 minutes or until eggs are set. Remove from pan. Repeat procedure with remaining half of bacon drippings, cut bread slices, eggs, and pepper.
  5. Spread avocado mixture evenly over 4 uncut bread slices. Top each with 2 lettuce leaves, 2 tomato slices, and 1 egg-in-a-nest bread slice.


Part of Grill 1x - Eat 3x!  Menu
Grilled Caponata Sandwiches (Ckng Lght, July 2017)  vegetarian
I only made two of the three meals as part of the Grill 1x Eat 3x menu.  I will say, grilling that many veggies almost challenged my grill, and later, how to store everything in the fridge.  Still it all worked out and it was admittedly nice knowing all I had to do was assemble and eat.

These were darn tasty when all was said and done (which took about an hour - start this on a Sunday night).  I loved the fresh veggies, briny olive tapenade, creamy mozzarella combination.  I could see doing this on a smaller scale during hot weather.  Recommended! 

2 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise into 1/2-in.-thick slices
2 medium yellow squash, cut lengthwise into 1/2-in.-thick slices
1 medium eggplant, cut lengthwise into 1/2-in.-thick slices
photo from cookinglight.com
1 medium red onion, cut into 3/4-in. wedges
4 ounces mini bell peppers (about 8)
3 green onions
Cooking spray
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
Panini:
1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives
1 1/2 teaspoons capers, drained
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
4 (3 1/2-oz.) ciabatta rolls, halved lengthwise
3 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

  1. To prepare vegetables, preheat grill to medium-high (about 450°F). Coat first 6 ingredients with cooking spray; arrange on grill grate. Grill green onions 2 minutes; remove from grill and chop. Grill remaining vegetables 5 more minutes, turning occasionally. Remove stems and seeds from bell peppers; discard. Reserve 4 bell peppers and 4 red onion wedges; cut remaining vegetables into 2-inch pieces.
     
  2. Place chopped green onions, oil, juice, 1 tablespoon water, salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and garlic in a food processor; process until smooth. Combine grilled vegetables and green onion mixture in a bowl. Reserve 4 cups vegetable mixture for Farro Burrito Bowls and Grilled Vegetable Frittata.
  3. To prepare panini, place reserved 4 bell peppers and 4 red onion wedges in food processor with olives, capers, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, and ground red pepper; process until smooth. Hollow out top and bottom halves of rolls, leaving a 1/2-inch-thick shell. Spread bell pepper mixture over bottom halves of rolls; top with remaining grilled vegetables, mozzarella, basil, and top halves of rolls.
  4. Coat grill grate with cooking spray. Place 2 sandwiches on grill; top with a cast-iron skillet. Grill 2 minutes on each side or until cheese melts. Repeat procedure with remaining 2 sandwiches.

Farro Burrito Bowls  (Ckng Light, July  2017)  vegetarian
First time I made this, I didn't do the "dressing".  I was tired and neglected to check the recipe.  Ya know, it was still tasty.  I did the dressing for the leftovers, and it definitely added a delightful flavor boost to the dish.  So...you could go either way and it would be good.

Farro was also a "new to me" grain.  I did do my research - you want to look for pearled farro for ease in cooking.   If you're not sure - ask!  Regular farro requires and overnight soak or it won't soften when you cook it.  The flavor is slightly nutty, almost like barley, but not.  I can see using farro in other dishes as a substitute for barley or wheat berries.

Recommended!

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
photo from cookinglight.com
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons honey
3/4 teaspoon ancho chile powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups cooked farro
2 cups grilled vegetable mixture from (grilled caponata panini), coarsely chopped

1 (15-oz.) can unsalted black beans, rinsed and drained
3 ounces queso fresco, crumbled (about 3/4 cup)
1 medium avocado, sliced
Lime wedges

Combine first 7 ingredients in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Reserve 1 1/2 tablespoons cilantro mixture. Add farro to remaining cilantro mixture; toss to coat.

Divide farro mixture, chopped grilled vegetables, beans, cheese, and avocado among 4 shallow bowls. Drizzle with reserved 1 1/2 tablespoons cilantro mixture. Serve with lime wedges.


Slow Cooked Bourbon Baked Beans (Ckng Lght July 2017)  gluten free, vegetarian option**
I made these to go with the grilled duck.  This is super easy to assemble, then walk away till it's time to eat.

Of course, I had to make it a tich more complicated.  I had some dried cannelli beans in the pantry so I bought a cup of pinto, then soaked and pre-cooked my own beans and proceeded with recipe from there (I did the pre-cook several days ahead).   I didn't have enough ketchup on hand so I used 1 cup tomato sauce and 1 tbsp tomato paste and it worked perfectly.  Brandy for the bourbon, plus a splash of vanilla extract.  I space the chili powder - quite frankly, the dish really didn't need it.

Group consensus was positive.  Slightly smoky, tich of zing, a bit saucy.   I would make these again. 


photo from cookinglight.com
3 center-cut bacon slices, chopped**  skip to make vegetarian
Cooking spray
2 (15-oz.) cans unsalted cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 (15-oz.) cans unsalted pinto beans, drained and rinsed
I used 1 cup dried (each) pinto and cannelli beans, and precooked them.
2 ripe peaches (about 1 lb.), peeled and finely diced (about 2 cups)
2 garlic cloves, minced 1/2 cup organic ketchup
1 cup tomato sauce
1 tbsp tomato paste 
1/2 cup bourbon  (I used brandy + 1 tsp vanilla extract). 
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons chopped canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high. Add bacon, and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove bacon from skillet.

Coat inside of a 4-quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Add bacon, beans, and remaining ingredients. Stir well.

Cover, and cook on LOW 4 to 6 hours  (I cooked for 6+) Keep covered until beans are ready to serve.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The City of Rocks by Don Travis

The City of Rocks (A BJ Vinson Mystery, #3)The City of Rocks by Don Travis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Jacket Blurb: Confidential Investigator B.J. Vinson thinks it’s a bad joke when Del asks him to look into the theft of a duck… a duck insured for $250,000. It ceases to be a funny when the young thief dies in a suspicious truck wreck. The search leads BJ and his lover, Paul Barton, to the sprawling Lazy M Ranch in the Boot Heel country of southwestern New Mexico bordering the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

A deadly game unfolds when BJ and Paul are trapped in a weird rock formation known as The City of Rocks—an eerie array of frozen magma that is somehow at the center of the entire scheme. But does the theft of Quacky involve a quarter million dollar duck-racing bet between the ranch’s owner and a Miami real estate developer, or someone attempting to force the sale of the Lazy M because of its proximity to an unfenced portion of the Mexican border? BJ and Paul go from the City of Rocks to the neon lights of Miami and back again in pursuit of the answer… death and danger tracking their every step.


This could be read as a standalone, but I recommend reading the first two in the series to establish the character’s backgrounds.

This is not a m/m romance – there are romantic elements - but the theme of the book is a missing duck and an insurance claim that quickly slides over into a murder mystery.

My comments from my reviews of the Bisti Business are just as applicable here:

I thought this was well executed by the author and a very welcome change of pace from most of the gay romance books in publication AND a VERY refreshing change of pace from the run of the mill mystery books where the guy sleeps with the female protagonist in nine time out of ten.

As a reader who reads a lot of mysteries, I again like to commend Mr. Travis with his portrayal of the inter-agency cooperation. Far too many mysteries have agencies butting heads or being obtuse and difficult with the private investigator or detective, refusing to cooperate, not wanting to share information, threatening the investigator – you know the books. So it was incredibly refreshing to read a story where local police are working with the Border Patrol and including the private investigator. Bravo!

Lots of little red herrings to keep me engaged and interested in the murder mystery as it slowly unfolds.

However, I’m still not entirely certain about the impetus for the whole plot – the duck napping of Quacky Quack the Second. I just can’t decide if I find it humorous because it is so unlike anything I’ve read, or a bit too “out there”. If anyone is concerned, nothing foul happens to our fine feathered friend. Even after cogitating on the matter, I’m still not certain where I sit on the issue of the duck.

I did have one quirk with an aspect of the ending that involved a massive construction project – not saying more than that. I question how a construction project as large as was discussed could be done without anyone noticing. I’m struggling a bit with that.

The rest of the book – well done! I greatly enjoy the bits of southwest and New Mexico trivia and geography. Each time I read these books I find myself Googling the area and region. Check it out – City of Rocks! But the author doesn’t stop with terrestrial things; he drops mentions of dry seasons, how cold it is, the monsoons and the electrically charged storms that sweep across the landscape. The whole narrative makes for a splendid overview of a very interesting area.

I’m looking forward to the next installment!


Review is cross-posted at Gay Book Reviews
A copy of the book was provided by the author/publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!



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Monday, July 3, 2017

Recipe Review from 6/26/2017

Well, that's a wrap for June!  The pup is now 14 weeks and starting to push his boundaries a little...no, a lot.  Hormones and teething - gotta love it!  We did our first offical non-yard walk with him on Saturday - three miles on the Lakewalk including a dip in The Big Pond (of course I left my camera in the car...).   Water didn't phase him much, the three miles pooped him out.  YAY! 


The Meal Plan from week of 6/26/2017
Super simple this week: a combination of leftovers from week previous, sloppy joes and brats.  Lunches were sandwiches (the Husband) and hummus sandwiches (Me).


Super Sloppy Joes  (Ckng Lght, Nov 2004)
These sloppy joes were really good - I wasn't certain about all the veggies (and there are a lot), but bottom line was, I liked the mix!  It was a nice change of pace from the "traditional" meat and onion variety. 

A couple of modifications - I used ground pork instead of beef.  I used 1 cup tomato sauce and cut back the water by 1/2 cup (I was out of ketchup).  I added one tablespoon of tomato paste for a flavor boost.   I'm waffling if I liked adding the 'shrooms at the end, or if I would have preferred to have sauted with the rest of the veggies and thus, steaming off some additional liquid.  A small thing.  I skipped the fennel seeds because I didn't have any. 

This made quite a bit.  I think we had three suppers for two and one lunch for one out of it.  One "joe" each. 


photo from cookinglight.com
1 pound ground round  pork
1 1/4 cups chopped green bell pepper
1 1/4 cups chopped celery 1 cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup water   1/2 cup water
1 cup ketchup  1 cup tomato sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1 (8-ounce) package presliced mushrooms, chopped
6 (2-ounce) Kaiser rolls or hamburger buns, toasted


 
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef; cook 3 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble. Add bell pepper, celery, onion, and garlic; cook 7 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in water and next 10 ingredients (through mushrooms); bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 25 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken, stirring occasionally. Spoon 2/3 cup meat mixture onto bottom half of each roll; cover with top half of roll.


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