Review: Horizon by Lois McMaster Bujold.

“Barr smiled sunnily. Most young men did, when first exposed to Sumac. Most all men did, actually. The tears came later.”


The Sharing Knife Volume Four: Horizon” by Lois McMaster Bujold.

I have a love-hate relationship with the review text on the back of a book more often than not. Either I feel that it’s lead me completely astray (I’m looking at you, Breed) or it manages to say what I want to say about a book in one concise little line that makes it difficult to review a book, but also works well to start the review of a book. Such is the case with Anniston Star‘s neat little back-cover text on my copy of Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Sharing Knife Volume Four: Horizon: “An engrossing, satisfying read and a fitting conclusion to the series.” I mean, really, you can’t say it much better than that.

The Sharing Knife series entered my world about a year ago, when my boyfriend got me the whole set as a gift because of how much I had been praising Bujold’s fantasy work (seriously, this woman’s Chalion books are the fantasy books I want to write!), and, while this series is a bit different from what I have read so far, I still really greatly enjoyed it. I liked to think of it as “domestic fantasy.” While some fantasy deals with great sweeping epics and wars and prophesies, The Sharing Knife seems a little milder, following star-crossed lovers Dag and Fawn as they try to take their two vastly different world and merge them together for the better of the whole world. In Horizon, we start to see the work that they’ve accomplished so far showing results, with a strong glimmer of hope for the future. It’s a mild, muted sort of fantasy, one that embraces the fact that change can’t happen in a day, while wrapping you up in a rich, vibrant world, spending time with characters that make you feel comfortable and at home.

With the exception of one little plot point at the end that I felt seemed fairly absurd and wishing that the epilogue took place a little bit further into the future for a better glimpse at the world Dag and Fawn helped to shape, this was an incredibly satisfying conclusion to a really lovely series. I’m going to miss being in this world, that’s for sure, but, at the same time, everything I wanted to happen did, and I’m content with knowing that life will go on well for them. The action of the big final battle with a challenge none of them would have ever expected was intense and well-written, and I like how we got to see Dag and Fawn separated and standing on their own feet after having leaned on each other for so long. There were a few parts that seemed to drag a little too long, but there were some fantastic new characters brought in without feeling like too much was being thrown in with the inability to conclude in a satisfactory way.

Overall, I’d really recommend this series, especially to readers who like a cozy, rich world to escape to for a little while. It’s a great example of world-building without hitting the reader on the head with it, but rather surrounding them and transporting them completely. It’s a little romance with a fantasy leaning, with a slightly meandering pace. If you’re looking for something edge-of-your-seat, you won’t get a lot of that there, but if you just want to unwind for a bit into something mellow and sweet, I think you could do very well with this series.

Books read: 007/100.

Wakey Wakey!

Why, hello there, lovelies. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Remember that whole grand plan to make three posts a week no matter what and really buckle this blog thin down? Yes, well, I’m kicking it out the window. It worked for a spat of time, but, really, I should know better by now than to think that I can wrangle some sense of order to my life. So I took a break to consider my next reinvention of the bloggerly wheel. After all, today is my 31st birthday; what better time for a renewal and a refocus and a blah blah blah?

Ultimately, I was still writing at least a page a day, and that is what matters in the long run. Not how many posts I make, or how many blogs I read, or even how many Facebook likes or retweets I distribute, but the writing itself. That will once again be my main focus, because how could it not? Even when I try to let other things be important, too, the writing always takes over. So things may be quiet here, but I assure you, there's the sound of a pen scratching on paper filling that silence elsewhere.

It's back to just posting when I feel inspired and when I have time; I'm hoping to continue with reviews and recipes and the occasional promotional post as well, but it'll just be a little more spontaneous. Most of my energy has been channeled into my writing. Lots of new stories floating around in my head right now that I've got to wrangle onto paper, not to mention finishing up with Heartless, the draft of which is nearly finished. (HOORAY!!)

So, I just wanted to break the silence, inform everyone that I’m still alive and kicking, and that the recharge has done me a lot of good and I’m ready to pursue another year, hopefully filled with a lot of great writing and some great reading and whatever great things might be out there.

Recipe: Sweet Potato Brussels Sprout Bake.

Happy Monday, everyone! I hope you had a good weekend; mine was a little odd, but we had some beautiful weather that I managed to enjoy with a nearly five mile walk on Saturday before work, so that was pretty cool. Meanwhile, I’ve been working on this recipe that I’m pretty stoked about. The boyfriend and I cannot get enough Brussels sprouts lately, and when I came across a recipe for a Brussels sprouts and sweet potato “hash,” naturally I had to take it on and do my own twist on it. It’s fairly easy to prepare and has fewer than 200 calories in a serving (if you break it down into 4 servings).

No pictures again. I keep forgetting to take them. SIIIIGH..

Sweet Potato Brussels Sprouts Bake

Ingredients
1 medium-large sweet potato (~300 grams), cubed
2 cups Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halves
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 cup baby spinach
5 mushrooms, chopped
3 oz broccoli florets, chopped
1/4 cup onion, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
1/4 cup vegetable broth
1 tsp salt
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp parsley
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
Ketchup to taste

Method

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prep an 8×8 casserole dish by lining it with cooking spray.
2. In a small pot, boil potato cubes about 2 minutes to soften.
3. Heat olive oil in a large skillet, saute onions and garlic for about a minute.
4. Add in sprouts, mushrooms, and broccoli, letting each cook a little before adding them. Drain potatoes and add them, too.
5. Season the mixture with herbs and spices, mix well.
6. Add spinach to allow it to wilt slightly, cooking for about one more minute.
7. Transfer mixture into 8×8 dish, spreading evenly. Pour vegetable broth over mixture evenly.
8. Bake 12-15 minutes.
9. Broil an extra 2 minutes.
10. Garnish with ketchup to amount of your choosing.

Now, the ketchup bit is completely optional, and the bake tastes good without it, but, let me tell you, that ketchup with these flavors is my favorite part. So gourmet, I know, but at least I use fancy organic ketchup more often than not? Anyway, this is going to be my lunch today at work, and, if last week was any indication, this makes an even better meal on the second day.

Happy eating!

Promotion Friday…ACTUALLY on Friday!

Though my sort-of boss has warned me that the week after next might get a little crazy for me again, things at the part-time job have actually stabilized slightly (I still picked up an extra shift yesterday, putting me pretty well past the 25 hours minimum they want for part-timers, but oh well, the extra money is really needed right now!), which means I’ve got my shit kind of together this week. So that means Promotion Friday is actually going up on Friday! Whoo! All my posts have been pretty on-target this week, and I really think that shows how an opening (5;30am) shift is way different from the late morning (10am) shifts I’ve been getting instead. Even 8am shifts give me that little slice of time to get the blog stuff prepared before heading into work.

Anyway, who cares about that boring old stuff? Let’s get to promoting stuff! Last week, Lauralynn Elliott shared her book Hearts of Evil, adding to my ever-increasing Lauralynn Elliot-specific TBR piles (because I needed more TBR piles), and I shared Pocket Princesses, a Disney Princess inspired weekly comic on my list of things that make Fridays awesome

Also on that list of why Fridays are awesome is this week’s promotion, Horror Tree. If you write in the area of “speculative fiction,” meaning fantasy, science fiction, paranormal…not just horror…and you aren’t already on their mailing list, do yourself a favor and get on that shit! Every Friday, they send out a newsletter that contains the occasional interview or article, but what I find invaluable are the wonderful calls for submissions included. I’ve had nothing but good experiences with the journals and contests promoted in their emails, as well as quite a few that have inspired some work despite me missing the deadline. They’ve helped me fill my notebook with potential markets, and I really look forward to seeing what comes in every Friday. One day, one of these places might even accept my work, too.

Even if you aren’t actively submitting work, it still serves as a good glimpse into what’s going on in the publishing world, filled with ideas and interesting concepts that you might have otherwise missed. I’m a huge fan of Horror Tree so far, so, naturally, I had to share.

How about you? What have you been working on lately? What would you like to bring to the table today?

Review: “The Middle Stories” by Sheila Heti.

“They all ordered the same thing, except for the ugly boy who was a vegan, and he ordered nothing but black coffee and orange juice, and the girl thought drearily in her head, ‘Oh God, I slept with a vegan.'”


The Middle Stories by Shelia Heti

For some reason, probably because its slim volume and quick readability, The Middle Stories by Sheila Heti always makes it on to my reading list every year, and, as with every read, I have mixed feelings about it. I was introduced to this collection of short stories in college; not only does Heti’s sparse and prosaic style reflect the style of my professor at the time, but she was also going to be doing a reading on campus. Some of the stories have stuck with me, especially with multiple rereadings, while others sort of fade into the background, the languid tone of her words failing to leave much of a mark.

The Middle Stories is a highly emotional collection, I think, and that it works a bit like a mood ring. How you’re feeling at the moment will effect how you perceive the stories. When things are a bit difficult, they sing to you, shooting straight to your soul like a shot of heroin. When things aren’t so bad, though, they seem limp and insubstantial and pointless. My life has changed quite a bit since my last reading, changes for the better, and so the magic of The Middle Stories has disappeared substantially. Or perhaps I’m just older and more mature, so the half-formed thoughts and pretty lines put together with disjointed vagueness just don’t seem as impressive to me as they once were.

I still LIKE The Middle Stories; there are still some incredible lines and stories within Heti’s quirkily drab drabbles. “Mermaid in a Jar” and “Eleanor” still strike me as incredible, and “The Girl who Painted Flowers” still resonates and enchants me as much as it did when I first heard it being read by the quiet and demure Heti in the reception room at the Park Library, but there’s a certain depressive, cynical tone to everything that put me off this time around. Am I right in thinking the end of “The Giant” is a hopeful one? Considering the other side of the coin makes it far less enjoyable, and that’s the thing with most of the stories. The vagueness makes me question my interpretations, and they start to feel less like “just stories” and more like art for art’s sake, lines chosen just because they sound good, characters that remain nameless not to make a statement but to be faceless people in the crowd that could be anyone.

But “My Favorite Monkey” is beautiful and gets me every time, and sometimes I love the meter of how a line is put together, and then I remember how much these stories inspired some of my own work, especially “Lilacs,” which remains one of my favorite things I’ve ever written, and I can’t help but love it for all those bright little gems in the mire of sometimes painfully literary fiction. I know I’ll read it again, feel the same, set it back on the shelf, and wait for it to surface again, asking to be devoured once more.

Books read: 006/100.

Recipe: Ultimate Veggie Chili.

I’ve been a little reluctant to post this particular recipe, though it’s probably one I make once every week. The flavor is fantastic, it’s filling, and there’s usually a lot of leftovers. But some people have very particular…views about chili. I’ve had some people claim that vegetarian chili is an impossibility, because a chili “has to have meat.” Some people insist a chili should be tomato-y, others thing that’s blasphemy. There’s so many different ways of making what various people call chili, and this…this is mine. And it’s awesome. It’s also my go-to for holiday functions where I know there’s not going to be a lot of vegan options, what with us being a midwestern dairy farming kind of family, but everyone loves it so far, except that one cousin who refuses to eat it based solely on the fact that it’s vegan-friendly.

Sigh.

Ingredients
(Note: you can really use any kinds of beans you like, but these are just my favorites. Black beans and a can of jalepeno peppers is a good substitute for Cuban beans, too!)
1 can of chili beans
1 can of Cuban-style black beans, drained
1 can of pinto beans, drained
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 an onion, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
2 carrots, chopped
6 small to medium baby bella mushrooms, chopped
2 cups broccoli florets, chopped
1 cup cauliflower, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 large radish, choppped
1/4 cup frozen sweet corn
1/2 teaspoon salsa
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
(If you like a tomato-y chili, add 1/2 a small can of tomato paste. Anything more will make it really, really, really tomato-y, though!)
Seasonings to taste: salt, pepper, cumin, tumeric, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, cayenne, and chili powder. Lots and lots of chili powder.

Method:

1. Heat olive oil in large sauce or soup pot. Slowly add vegetables, about a minute in between, building flavor much like in the Veggie Soup recipe. Start with garlic and onions together, then add carrots, cauliflower, mushrooms, radish, broccoli, celery, and corn, stirring often.
2. Stir in seasonings. This can be altered to taste, but the above list is what I use, and I’m not kidding when I say I like a lot of chili powder! That stuff is delicious and really brings the chili flavors to the table.
3. Hit the vegetables with a shot of apple cider vinegar to “deglaze” the pot, stir and simmer for about a minute or two.
4. Add Cuban black beans (or black beans and jalepenos), stir well.
5. Add chili beans, stir well
6. Add pinto beans, stir well.
7. Add salsa. I should note that I add a very small amount, because I use homemade salsa from my boyfriend’s mother, and she does not mess around with the heat! I like it hot, but one touch of this stuff makes your mouth spontaneous combust. If I’m using a milder salsa (I really like Herdez Salsa Casera), I’ll use a whole can.
8. Stir well. Season to taste. Enjoy right away or set to low heat and allow to simmer (covered, but stirring often!) to develop more complex flavors.

My stomach was definitely grumbling as I typed this up. It’s a good thing I have some in the fridge right now! It’s also great with a little bit of Daiya cheddar mixed in, and we like to crumble saltine crackers as well. I also like to use it as a dip for Frito-style corn chips. So it’s delicious, easy, and pretty versatile.

Happy eating!

March Madness!

Well, would you look at that? We’ve moved on from February and find ourselves at the bright beginning of a brand new month! I’ve always like March, mostly because my birthday’s toward the end of it, and my anniversary with my wonderful boyfriend is at the beginning of it. And, because I’m sure she’ll mention it, it’s also the month of my mom‘s birthday. It’s also the month where minds turn toward spring, even if there’s still snow falling out my window as I type this. With each month, I want to do a post where I sort of sit down with my goals and decide what needs to be accomplished for the next thirty-one days.

Of course, a new month also means a new Featured Story from World Unknown Review. This month, it’s the psychological and atmospheric “A Splash of Red” from Shan Jeniah Burton. Check it out, and consider checking out Shan or the rest of the stories in the review if you like what you see.

Speaking of which, another goal I have in mind is to at least sell one book each month. Ambitious, I know! But sales have been pretty abysmal all around, so I figure if one new book goes out at least once a month, that’s still not too bad. Of course, I’ll be happy with more, but expect a bit of promotion from me until I reach that one-book benchmark. Or some kind soul could kick the month off right by finally adding one of these fine books to their TBR pile. Or share a review. Or spread the love on social media. Or make me slog through my own promotion and not rely on luck to help me out, ha.

March is also going to be the month where I finally get the first draft for the next installment of The Slayer Saga finished. Keep an eye out for the end of the month, when I’ll likely be looking for beta readers for Heartless. Having read Soulless is not a requirement; in fact, I’d love to have some perspective from someone who hasn’t read the first book as well, as I’m a big believer in books that don’t have to be read in sequential order to be enjoyed, even if a sequential order is established. But of course, more on that later. I’ve got some more writing and transcribing and my own first edits to take care of first!

I’ve been focusing a lot of getting my short work out lately, sending out a story practically every day (though I’m running short on material again as I wait to hear back). I’m also waiting on my copy of The Maine Review to arrive, since apparently I’ll be in that one, the one shiny acceptance through the constant churning river of rejection. Still, I figure, by the time 2017 comes around, when I won’t have a Slayer Saga book to release, I’ll have more than enough for another anthology to publish myself.

Half-way through February, I also embarked on a mission to get healthier and finally lose all this extra weight I’ve been carrying around since college, so I’m likely to make a few posts regarding that. The first step has been to restrict calories and being mindful of exactly how much I am eating, and the second step has been to be more active, which has lead to really great three or four mile walks on the days that aren’t so bitter cold around here. Really, there are a lot of beautiful homes and places where I live, and I can’t wait for warmer weather because the Chicago suburbs has some pretty swank forest preserves. The next step, once my tax refund arrives (which should be ANY DAY NOW) is to get a scale and tape measure to actually get some hard data on my progress (we have a scale, but I want one that isn’t battery powered. One of my cats keeps falling asleep on the battery powered one and subsequently kills the battery) and a membership at a local gym. I really freaking miss ellipticals.

So, yes, lots of great things going into March for me, and I’m stoked to see where I’ll be in April. What are your own goals for March? Any particular things about the month that you enjoy? What do you really want to see happen come April?

Happy writing!

Promotion Friday on a Saturday (Again!)

Hey, everyone! Once again, my opening shift yesterday left me down for the count (in addition to recovering from a heck of a cold and a bizarre, bizarre encounter with a potential publisher that seemed a little off from the get-go and then suddenly got downright brash when I disagreed with one detail of his edits…may have dodged a bullet there, I suppose), so I didn’t get around to my Promotion Friday post. Besides that, I haven’t had much time to delve into the wonderful Intrawebz lately, either, so I was worried I wouldn’t have anything to promote this week. But then it was Friday, and a trip to Facebook reminded me of one of the other things I look forward to on Friday other than pay day…

Pocket Princesses!!

This definitely falls into the category of Totally Girly Guilty Pleasure, but Pocket Princesses is a wonderfully cute weekly comic by the talented Amy Mebberson that never fails to bring a smile to my face. Sometimes, the jokes aren’t really that funny…sometimes I don’t entirely get them, either…but there’s no denying the appeal of t the brief peeks into the lives of the Disney Princesses (and the occasional other Disney character) if they all lived together and were friends and had sleepovers and birthday parties and holidays together. Mebberson’s depictions of the princesses are A-FREAKING-DORABLE, with a really lovely art style that translates really well. Sometimes, I forget it’s Friday (it happens when you have a shift work job that requires most weekends), and the new one shows up on my Facebook feed and my day literally gets way better because of it. It’s a nice little slice of cute that I’m glad to have discovered.

Not for everyone, maybe, but I have absolutely no shame in my love for reinventing classic and timeless icons (and more obscure gems for the truly well-versed) like this.

Also, in case you missed it, last week, Lauralynn Elliott put in a great recommendation for Black Opal by Catie Rodes. I’m definitely going to check out the first book…eventually. My Kindle TBR list is waaaay too long.

What’ve you got to share this week? What have you been reading or working on or discovering this week? The floor is yours, dear readers, use it to your heart’s conent!

Review: “Fear Street Saga #1: The Betrayal” by R.L. Stine

Before we get to the review, I just want to throw in one little disclaimer about it being “a day late.” Shift work is really great as a secondary job for an author. Typically, it’s not too demanding on the psyche and leaves plenty of room for writing. Unfortunately, it makes it next to nearly impossible to keep a set schedule for things like a blog no matter how hard I try. As soon as I set something, my shift schedule changes on me, and things get all out of whack. So the three weekly posts I’ve set up (Recipe, Review, Promotion) are going to be a bit more…fluid. One of each every week, but it might be Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, or it might be Monday, Tuesday, Friday, or whatever. If I try to restructure it, my shift schedule will change again, so we’ll just keep it night and loose from here on in…

Anyway, I owe you a review:

“The odd sound repeated in a rhythm with the shadow.
Then she raised her eyes and saw what was casting the shadow – and started to scream.”


The Fear Street Saga #1: The Betrayal by R.L. Stine

You’d be pretty hard pressed to find someone from my generation who didn’t recognize the name R.L. Stine. His Goosebumps series was practically the Harry Potter of the 1990s, pulpy tales of cheesy terror eagerly gobbled up even by kids who didn’t read much, the stars of any Scholastic book fair, but for those of us a bit older or advance, there was also the Fear Street series, marketed toward teens with a great scary slasher movie tilt that sometimes bordered on the supernatural. While I definitely ate up a lot of the Fear Street books myself, I was really more into fantasy at that stage in my life, especially since I’d discovered DragonLance and Wheel of Time, which gave me more than enough material. But when the Fear Street Saga came out, a trilogy of books that told the dark history of the curse that lead to all the terrifying events around Fear Street, I fell utterly in love. This series, in conjunction with the video game Phantasmagoria, inspired in me an idea for my own cursed tragic horror story spanning generations, which has stuck with me even today in the form of my WIP Rosewood Manor.

So discovering all three books of the trilogy in a Half-Price Books not too long ago brought out the bookish teenage delight of reading them years ago, and I just had to have them, and set to the task of devouring the first of the series. Oh, man. What a blast from the past. It’s no surprise these were considered my “light” reading, as the prose is incredibly simple, and at time absolutely ridiculous, but isn’t that part of the fun? It has the same level of “shock value” as a B horror flick…and who doesn’t love a good B horror flick every once in a while?

The Fear Street Saga has the added bonus of a little history, which is why it appealed to me with particular strength. The first book, The Betrayal starts back in the 1600s, in a small Massachusetts colony where the Fier family has swindled everyone out of their money and left two innocent women to burn as witches. The husband and father of these women has sworn vengeance on the Fier family, sparking the centuries long feud that carries on all the way to present day, though the story is framed in the telling of Nora Goode, a descendant of the burned women and the “latest” victim of the curse in 1900. We get to witness the first effects of the curse through the next generation, with a hint of what terror is to come in the generation that follows.

Since the book is mostly establishing the curse, the reader doesn’t encounter any real gory terror until past the middle mark, but even my older self who vaguely remembered the book was still pleasantly pleased when we got to “the good stuff.” Still, it’s pretty tame considering it was written for younger teens, but surprisingly satisfying all the same. The book isn’t literary gold by any means, and I love it for the nostalgia factor more than anything else, but I still enjoyed it and cannot wait for the next books, because I remember liking them even more, and it’s also where I started my spark of love for New Orleans, which was then cemented in a little later when I discovered Anne Rice.

Books read: 005/100.

Recipe: Roasted Chickpeas.

This Meatless Monday’s recipe is going to be a short and sweet one, as well as muuuuch later than usual. I’ve been on a really weird, more-hours-than-I’d-like work schedule these past few weeks, so I haven’t had much time to play around with a lot of recipes. I have one in my pocket, but I want to work on it a little bit because I wasn’t completely satisfied with the results. So, today, I’m going to give you probably one of the easiest ones in my wheelhouse, one I really need to start doing more because it makes a wonderful, delicious, protein-packed and filling snack that doesn’t need refrigeration and is easy to transport. They’re also highly adaptable, so season them as you will! I think with my next batch, I might try a sugar-and-cinnamon combination rather than the spices I usually go for.

Roasted Chickpeas

Ingredients:
1 can chickpeas/garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Seasonings of your choice (I like salt, pepper, cayenne, red pepper flakes, tumeric, cumin, and parsley best)

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, coat chickpeas with olive oil and seasonings. Mix until well covered.
3. Spread over parchment paper on a baking sheet, leaving lots of room. Bake 30-40 minutes, until chickpeas are crispy and brown.
4. Enjoy!

And that’s seriously it, and they’re delicious, and I’m hoping to get in the habit of making a batch every week for delicious snaking. Even better, if you separate the batch into 4 servings, they’re only about 165 calories per serving, and a lot better for you than most of the snacks out there.

Happy eating!

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