I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.
Tasks for Hogswatch Night: Make your favourite sausage dish (if you’re vegan or vegetarian, use your favorite sausage or meat substitute), post and share recipe.
I've just been chatting with friends on another post about someday embracing a vegetarian diet. Today is not that day.
Last week MT and I made sausage rolls - something that is threatening to become a tradition for us at this time of year. It's one of the few dishes in our combined repertoire that is a true team effort; MT makes the filling and I step in when it's time to deal with the pastry (which comes from the market and, I'm assuming, is made by the puff pastry fairies, since nobody admits to actually making puff pastry themselves).
MT started with an online recipe he thinks he found on taste.com.au, but by the time he got done with it (and me too), I doubt it resembled the actual recipe. I know it originally called for beef and pork 'sausage' mince, but we nixed the beef after last year's effort and I nix anything called 'sausage mince' on general principle.
So, lean pork mince, carrots, onions, a bit of breadcrumbs, a bit of tomato paste and likely an egg. I think he minced some chilli pepper in too, because if he's not watched carefully he'll mince chilli pepper into everything, which would be fine except he can't remember which one is a jalapeño and which one is a habanero...
You can tell MT made the filling ... in his words: "I cut the onion and carrot really fine this time.". Um hmm... This is why I have kitchen gadgets and am not afraid to use them...
Once we had them rolled up, we cut them into two sizes: dinner size and snack size. We scored the tops and covered in an egg wash and I made the obligatory cinnamon sugar pinwheels out of the extra puff pastry.
Also obligatory is Carlito photo bombing; taking a picture of anything in the kitchen virtually guarantees he's going to be in the photo too. He's hoping someone will lose their minds and feed him again.
About 25 minutes in the oven:
I might have forgotten to take the "fresh out of the oven" picture; I might have eaten several before remembering to take the picture at all...
They were delish... you couldn't even tell how chunky the onion bits were!
Someone is 7 today.
How he plans to celebrate:
Kids these days....
I *think* I finally figured out a way to track my progress on my card that I'm happy with. I say "I'm" but really, it's "we" because for someone who has no desire to play the game, MT is certainly invested in the mechanics of the game and the past few weeks have seen quite a bit of debate on card markers here in maison des poils de chat.
I'll add a light for each task I've done.
Links to completed tasks:
Square 1: November 1st: All Saints Day / Día de los Muertos / Calan Gaeaf
Square 2: November 5th: Guy Fawkes Night (Bonfire Night/Fireworks Night) / Bon Om Touk (Cambodian Water Festival)
Square 3: November 11th: St. Martin’s Day (11th) / Veterans’ Day / Armistice Day (11th)
Square 4: November 22nd and 23rd: Penance Day (22nd) / Thanksgiving (23rd)
Square 5: December 3rd and following 3 Sundays:
Square 6: December 5th-6th and 8th: Sinterklaas / Krampusnacht (5th) / St. Nicholas Day (6th) / Bodhi Day (8th)
Square 7: December 10th & 13th: International Human Rights Day (10th) / St. Lucia’s Day (13th)
Square 8: December 12th - 24th: Hanukkah (begins 12th, ends 20th) Las Posadas (begins 16th, ends 24th)
Square 9: December 21st:
Winter Solstice / Mōdraniht / Yuletide / Yaldā Night
Square 10: December 21st:
World Peace Day / Pancha Ganapati begins (ends 25th)
Square 11: December 21st-22nd:
Soyal (21st) / Dōngzhì Festival (22nd) (China)
Square 12: December 23rd
Festivus / Saturnalia ends (begins 17th)
Square 13: December 25th Christmas / Hogswatch
Square 14: December 25th
Dies Natalis Solis Invicti / Quaid-e-Azam’s Day
Square 15: December 25th-26th: Newtonmas (25th) / St. Stephen's Day/Boxing Day (26th)
Square 16: December 26th-31st: Kwanzaa (begins 26th, ends 31st) / New Year’s Eve / Hogmanay / St. Sylvester’s Day / Watch Night
Tasks for Penance Day: Penance Day is a holiday of the Protestant church, which dates its origins, in large parts, to Martin Luther, who published his “95 Theses” exactly 500 years ago this year. Compile a catalogue of theses (it needn’t be 95) about book blogging! What suggestions or ideas would you propose to improve the experience of book blogging?
This is a tough one for me - if the task had been a theses improvements for BookLIkes I'd probably have been able to actually list 95 ::cheeky grin:: but we're talking about book bloggers, not their platform, and y'all have already come up with so many great suggestions.
Here goes, and please forgive me if I am repeating others:
Be honest: If you've received an ARC or a freebie, please don't sugar coat your thoughts in order to keep getting more free books. If you're always 5 starring every free book, it's going to become obvious to readers that you're not really expressing your thoughts so much as pandering to the publishers. Speaking for myself, I stop following the blogs that are always sunshine and rainbows.
Be tactful: There is such a thing as being too honest. Well, ok, no, there actually isn't. But honesty can be used as both a tool and a weapon. It's one thing to pull someone aside to let them know they have spinach in their teeth; it's another to point it out loudly in the middle of a dinner party. If possible, avoid weaponising your truths. I love reading a good 'bad' review when it's warranted, but when the blogger crosses the invisible line and starts getting vicious just for the sake of viciousness, I'm not sticking around. An author should be embarrassed by bad writing, but humiliation serves nobody.
Generate your own content: Cover reveals, author blog tours, author or publisher sponsored giveaways, and interviews can all be fun to participate in (so I'm told), but if those types of content make up the majority of your blog, it's not really your blog so much as it is a marketing mouthpiece for the industry. And that's ok, if that's what you're looking for, but I look to follow bloggers that post their own content most of the time, be it reviews, their thoughts on books in general, or pictures of their pets.
Participate: This might just be me, but I'd rather follow someone that rarely posts but regularly participates in, and contributes to, discussions more than I'd like to follow someone who posts a lot but is never heard from. Blogging should be a form of conversation and interaction, not a newsletter.
If you're an author, own it: By which I mean: if you're an author and your blog exists to market your work, while maybe discussing what you're reading once in awhile, then just be upfront about it. For every person (like me) who might choose not to follow you, there will be at least 2 others that will, because they want to know what you're working on, when your next book is coming out, or where your next book signing will be. Pretending to be a reader first and a writer second is going to backfire.
Tasks for Bodhi Day: ... Feed the birds, adopt a pet, hold the door open for someone with a smile, or stop to pet a dog (that you know to be friendly).
My task for this one falls firmly under the feed the birds category. We have two weeping mulberry bushes in our garden; one in the front and one in the back. The tree in the front always makes thousands of smaller mulberries and is the first to go ripe in the spring. I collect at least a gallon of mulberries from it each season, before the one in the back, which has larger fruit, starts to ripen. When this happens I generally let the blackbirds have the remaining fruit off the front tree.
But this year we have a new guest; a rather bold boy I've named Charlie. He's a Pied Currawong and he felt that the front tree ought to be his from the start. MT and I both noticed him 'guarding' the tree right before the fruit started to pink up, and he'd sit there and eye us, even as we walked within a foot or two of him. He's a big bird, about the size of a Raven, so I suppose he felt he could take us if he had to.
Once I started picking the fruit, he was... nonplussed. He'd sit on the fence a few feet away, head tilted as he eyed me, croaking at me the entire time. He'd pace up and down the fence and once I went under the tree's canopy (it's a small tree, about 8 ft or so), he'd land on top of the tree and shake it up a bit, causing the mulberries to rain down all over my head. Not aggressively, but more as a prank.
After a stern talking-to, Charlie agreed to take turns, although in the last few days my back garden Mulberry has started giving me more fruit than I can harvest, so Charlie is blissed out, with the tree all to himself.
(The pictures aren't great, sorry - I grabbed these with my iPhone this morning. Great camera, terrible zoom.)
I seem to have inadvertently found myself on a theological reading streak. Like The Alchemist, this book was recommended to me by a friend (although more enthusiastically), and also like The Alchemist, I picked it up for reasons that ended up having nothing to do with the book. I thought The Chosen was about baseball.
It's not about baseball.
What it is about, at its core, is exactly the same thing The Alchemist is about (which almost defies coincidence): the power of silence, listening to your heart/soul, and following your own true path. But while The Alchemist uses parable, allegory and fantastic storytelling to get its message across, The Chosen tells the same message using an opposite style, set in WWII New York, and using first person-past tense POV. This is the story of two boys brought together by a softball game; one is a Hasidic Jew and one is Conservative (I think–it's never explicitly stated whether he's Conservative or Reform). Although they live only 5 blocks apart, they inhabit completely different worlds within the same religious faith, and have very different relationships with their respective fathers.
I can't do justice to this book in my review, but it works for me so much better than The Alchemist did; while I could appreciate the beauty of the writing and the story Coelho created, Potok's creation had the profound effect on me that I think the author was aiming for. The Chosen is going to be one of those that stay with me permanently.
Book themes for Hanukkah: Any book whose main character is Jewish, any story about the Jewish people
Task for Las Posadas: Which was your favorite / worst / most memorable hotel / inn / vacation home stay ever? Tell us all about it!
Before I moved the Australia, my job required near constant travel, about 300 days a year. You'd think I'd have tons of travel related best/worst stories, but generally I was pretty lucky and really only have 2 best and 2 - okay, 3, worst that are worth sharing - and one of them isn't even work related.
There are three hotel stays that tie for the worst ever, including a night in Indianapolis - the only time I've ever had a flight cancelled. The hotel's fire alarm kept going off in the middle of the night and we were evacuated 3 times, reaffirming my belief that demure pyjamas are always the safe travel choice.
The second incident happened less than 2 weeks into my job - I was on-site in New Hampshire in January, staying at a very average hotel, when I and my co-worker both came down with the worst flu I've ever experienced. I couldn't leave my room the entire week; the co-worker 'soldiered on' only to be taken out of the airport by ambulance on our way back home. At the time in the US, healthcare benefits didn't kick in until you'd been at your job 30 days, so when I was stopped at security and asked if I needed medical assistance (I looked that bad), I said no, I was just very tired. I stayed away from everybody and tried not to breathe on anything.
I don't actually remember the flight, or god forgive me, the drive home from the airport. I had movers coming the next day to move me to my new apartment, so I begged my mom and my sister for help, and then crumpled into a corner until it was over.
The third incident was in Northampton Massachusetts and falls into the spooky-coincidences-that-saved-me-massive-suffering category. Another co-worker and I were on our way to a notoriously ... thrifty client, one that insisted we stay at a run-down Days Inn just outside town. Chatting mid-flight, he mentioned a recent article he'd read about bed-bugs; I confessed I had no idea bed-bugs existed outside the "sleep tight, don't let the bed-bugs bite" adage, and he proceeded to tell me all about them.
Fast forward to our arrival and check in at the hotel. I go to my room and begin my hotel ritual of removing the bedspread (because Ewww), and plopping my laptop down on the mattress to check emails, when I spy something crawling across the sheet. I didn't think anything of it at first - figured it was probably a moth or something. Then I looked closer and realised it wasn't anything I'd seen before and thought... no way. I whipped open my laptop and googled bed-bug images and UGH! I was ... nonplussed. I caught it in a tissue, went to the front desk, handed it to the lady and just said "my room has bedbugs".
Luckily they'd just finished building a new building that was ready but hadn't been occupied, so they moved me there. And I got on the phone with my boss and just said "Bed bugs Jeff! BED BUGS!". After that my company put us in the nice bug-free hotel in town for the duration of the project.
The first of my best travel experiences won't sound like one but stick with me. It's particularly relevant to Las Posadas too. My parents and I were on a trip through Columbia and Ecuador and we had a short stop-over in Bogota on our way to Ecuador. We'd been careful to spread everything out between us during the trip, but my dad was checking in for all of us and was robbed soon after he left the line: passports, tickets, credit cards, cash; they got it all.
We were completely stranded; a businessman who saw what happened handed us 100 USD, which enabled us to bribe the police for a report and get a taxi to the US Embassy. They were great, but there was no way we'd be able to leave Bogota until they could issue us new passports, and we had no place to stay the night. An embassy employee took us to a nearby bed and breakfast - a first for me as we always stayed at hotels - and the proprietor took me to the top of the house, into the most amazing attic room I'd ever seen, with the cosiest bed under the eaves, covered in gorgeous, hand made quilts. I remember feeling guilty the next morning because I was NOT supposed to be enjoying this tragic hiccup in our vacation, but it really was the most amazing ... oasis. I've never again stayed anywhere quite like it.
And finally, the best place I've ever stayed for just sheer kick-ass awesomeness was once again a work trip; a long-term project in Montreal. The client put us up in an amazing boutique hotel called Hôtel Place d'Armes. Gorgeous rooms (and omg, the bathrooms!!), an amazing staff and a full blown spa on the top floor. We were there so often and for so long, we were on a first name basis with the staff, and I'd arrive (once coming through the doors saying "honey, I'm home!") to find fresh baked chocolate chip cookies in my room. The staff spoiled us absolutely rotten and towards the end were comp'ing my spa visits - something I didn't know about until I tried to check out and pay for them. It's the only project I was sad to see the end of. :)
Tasks for Las Posadas: Which was your favorite / worst / most memorable hotel / inn / vacation home stay ever? Tell us all about it!
I bought this book while in Amsterdam for a couple of reasons: The title first caught my attention, and the friend I was with said he'd read it and thought it was... ok. But mostly because of the title.
Since buying it I've read a lot of reviews that say it's... ok. Which is why it sat on my TBR for so long.
Now that I've read it, I understand why a lot of people might think it's just ok. Reading it, I'm left with comparisons that include fairy tales and Pilgrim's Progress; allegory plays a big part in this tale, although the message isn't all that hidden. And the author doesn't even try to hide his, or his characters', faiths or spirituality; it's not preachy, but God and Allah are at the root of the plot.
Still, it's beautifully written, and well translated. The allegorical nature of the story and the third person POV kept me from really being invested in what happened to anyone, but I did appreciate the truly omnipotent and omnipresent role the author gave to God. He never tried to restrict the deity's role to just a traditional Christian or a traditional Islamic one; when he claims God is everywhere, he doesn't go about contradicting himself. My appreciation for this refreshing lack of hypocrisy went a long way to overcoming my ambivalence about the fate of the characters, and elevated my appreciation of the book to a notch above 'ok'.
If you prefer your spiritualism to be deity free, you're not going to like this book. If that's less important to you and you're intrigued by the question of "why are we here?", this might be worth a look.
Book themes for International Human Rights Day: Read a book originally written in another language (i.e., not in English and not in your mother tongue),
I always enjoy Julie Hyzy's mysteries; as a writer, she doesn't burn a series out with a spectacular book or two, with mediocrity dragging the remaining books down. Her writing, character development and plotting are even and steady and her series' arcs are a slow burn, rather than a flash in the pan.
Grace to the Finish was actually slightly less about the murder mystery (although that was good too), than it was the resolution to a series long arc concerning her sister. Hyzy's solution was clever, if a little bit convenient. The actual mystery was ok, but less a puzzle for the reader to solve than the narrative of the mystery's solution.
With cozy series one can never be sure if the titles aren't a indication of the series' status, so Grace to the Finish could very well be the last book; if so, it ends in a pretty good place without a lot of loose threads left dangling. But if there's a ninth book, I look forward to it with pleasure.
Book themes for Las Posadas: Read a book dealing with visits by family or friends, or set in Mexico - Grace has to deal with her sister's return and a visit from her long absent Aunt. These two are major players in the plot.
If you're at all interested in those phrases every language has that don't translate exactly, like "the buck stops here" or one of my personal favourites: "as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs" this might be a book you'd enjoy. It's a glossary, of sorts, categorising different idioms of the world - subjectively chosen by the authors - by varying subjects: food, national identity, animals, etc. Each entry is translated to English, explained and a brief history of its origins discussed, if the origins are known.
A great book to pick up periodically, or used as a reference.
I had a hard time rating this until I reminded myself I was rating the book not the Pope. The Pope's part in the book is brilliant and I genuinely loved reading his words. The author's part was more problematic for me. Spadaro took on the roles of both interviewer and interpreter of the Pope's message, and I found his explanations to be denser and wordier than the Pope's original words. His desire to expound and explain the Pope's message came from a sincere and heartfelt place, and I often got the impression it was his way of re-experiencing these interviews, but I also could not get the word 'mansplaining' out of my head, which is probably unfair, but there it is. Eventually, I just skipped his sections of analysis and just focused on Pope Francis' words. Ultimately, this made a huge difference for me, and I was unable to put the book down.
Definitely a work meant for a select demographic, but worth the time.
Book themes for Hogmanay / New year’s eve / Watch night / St. Sylvester’s Day: Read a book about the papacy.
I'm a huge fan of Mark Forsyth's books: The Etymologicon and The Elements of Eloquence being just two examples of his excellent writing on language. When he announced he'd be writing this small tome about the history of Christmas, I pre-ordered it, and I've been sitting on it all year, waiting for the Christmas season's approach to read it.
I needed something light after my last read, and this was perfect. It's written in Forsyth's usual dryly hilarious style and for such a small volume (171 pages including the index) it's chock full of Christmas facts. Spoiler alert: almost none of the Christmas traditions we know and love today are tied to paganism. If you want to know how this can be true, read the book. It won't be a waste of your time, and you'll probably laugh at least once along the way.
If you do read it, make sure you skim the index at the end. It might be the funniest index I've ever read (and I've been known to skim more than a few).
Pagan myths: see
This book was both everything I love and everything I loathe about historical fiction.
Everything I love includes characters pulled straight out of history: Chaucer, Gower, Richard the II, Hawkswood, and plots that involve books and codes and secret symbols.
Everything I loathe is, ironically, everything that makes this a more or less accurate work of historical fiction. Told from different points of view throughout the book, two of the perspectives are those of prostitutes and there's no sugar coating the language or the profession. It's raw and graphic and just not what I enjoy reading no matter the setting or the time period. There are also POVs from mercenaries and the acts they threaten to carry out and ultimately do carry out are disgustingly graphic and inhumane. Verisimilitude can go too far for my tastes and does so here.
But, by far, the things I loved kept me glued to this book, even when the things I loathed would have me DNF it. It was so well written, I wanted to know what was going to happen to John Gower, and Simon, and Millicent. And of course, I wanted to know more about the Burnable Book.
So, if your tastes are more tolerant than mine, I highly recommend this book. I'm not at all sorry I read it - it was a great story, I couldn't put down - even when it offended my delicate sensibilities.
As I mentioned in a previous post, the structure for choosing the Flat Book Society's reads has changed. (See below for a recap.)
The voting list has been cleared and is open to submissions for March's Flat Book Society read. The list will remain open a week or so, or until we have 10-15 books on it, and then the voting will be announced.
Note: There were three books on the list tied for highest number of votes. One of them is the January read, and I've left the other two titles in place on the list, with their votes intact. Any member who has voted on one of those books can remove their vote if they change their minds; members can also vote on multiple books.
New club structure:
1. Books are chosen via voting on the club page's "next read" tab. For each reading round, members can submit 1-2 suggestions each, directly to the voting list (max. 15 books total for each round). The submission window will last about 2 weeks, or until we hit 15 books.
Please only add books that clearly fall under the general topic of science; by science, think the hard sciences (not psychology or statistics or self-help, for example). All books that do not clearly fall under the science flag will be unceremoniously removed.
1a. Please vote for as all the books you're interested in. This will ensure that books are chosen that are both accessible and interesting to the largest number of members.
2. Voting takes place over 1 week period. The book with the highest number of votes will be the next scheduled group read.
3. After the book has been scheduled, the list will be cleared, and all the titles will be moved to the overflow list, which can be found here: The Flat Book Society: Nominated Books. Generously maintained by Portable Magic. Books on this list can be moved back to the voting list during any submission period.
4. New group reads will happen every other month and last approximately 2-4 weeks. (Jan / Mar / May / July / Sept / Nov).
5. Books will be chosen for group reads a minimum of 8 weeks in advance, to make sure that anyone interested in participating in the read (me) will have ample time to source the book.
I have so many thoughts about this book and they're scattered all over the joint.
It occurred to me as I finally finished reading it that we sometimes come at books in much the same way faulty investigators come at a crime scene: we take in the initial information (in our case, the title, cover and jacket flap) and make assumptions as to how the book is going to play out. If, as we start to read the book, it fails to fulfil our assumptions, we tend to then judge it on its failure to be what thought it would be, instead of judging it on what it is.
The differences between investigating crimes and reading books are ... obvious and profound, but in the case of books, the blame lies squarely on poor marketing. This book, for instance, has had two titles. It's original on release was Forensics: Anatomy of a Crime (the edition I have) and then upon reprinting, it was named Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA and More Tell Us About Crime. It's former title is problematic, but not misleading. Those that choose the book based on the latter I think are bound for disappointment, unless they know absolutely nothing about forensics, have only a general interest in it, and very little curiosity about the actual science involved.
I wanted the science. I expected the science. I wasn't expecting the very journalistic style of the narrative. That part is on me, because I've never before read McDermid and didn't know about her background in journalism. I really dislike the style of writing journalists do; in too many cases the narrative ends up with a sensationalist tone that feels manipulative and turns me off. This book started off that way and had it not been for reassurances by friends that it would get better, I doubt I'd have continued reading it.
Thankfully, I found the remaining chapters more palatable, and once I re-adjusted my expectations (i.e. this is not a science book) I was able to more or less find something interesting in each. I also was left wanting though, too; she mentions the science, but never how it's done. She doesn't explain why polymerase enzyme would make DNA 'replicate the hell out of itself', or how forensics scientists lift fingerprints from seemingly impossible places. And I really had a problem with some statistics she included in the chapter on blood spatter/DNA, concerning the number of African-descent males in the UK vs US databases. I'm not objecting to the veracity of it, but the writing in that section was so badly done that at first glance, it appears she's using her words to skew the reader's perception. It took my husband and I 5 minutes of reading it and re-reading it before we decided it was probably just very terrible editing.
But there were lots of interesting bits too; with the right expectations, this would not be a wasted or disappointing read. For those with an interest in true crime and history, this book might be a winner. It's easy reading, the crimes she chooses are interesting (when they aren't horrific) and the book rarely drags.
At the end of the day, Forensics and the author would have been better served had they stuck with Anatomy of a Crime as a subtitle and marketed it as General Interest / True Crime*. As such, I think it would have a found a very appreciative audience. As it is, marketing it as a Popular Science book is setting everyone up for disappointment.
*Oddly enough, the publisher did list the subject as "True Crime", but then proceeded to use the back cover / page flap to sell the book as using "ground-breaking research" to "lay bare the secrets of this fascinating science".
And finally, my husband asked that I include his complete annoyance with the flies printed on all the pages of the book; he didn't read it, but every time he saw me with it, he'd catch a glimpse of the flies and think I'd squashed one between the pages. If they insisted on persevering with that theme, at least vary the squashed insects...
I'm knocking off several things in this post, because I fell like I've exceeded my maximum daily post limit today, and they're all related, so it just makes sense.
First, for the Newtonmas square, I made myself a hot chocolate. Sadly, this version is alcohol free, unless you count the vanilla extract. And I totally do. It's also my own invention, and it's important to know that, since I can't normally function in a kitchen without exact instructions. If you're curious enough to try this yourself, you'll likely want to make adjustments (MT is not a fan of this, lol).
I use milk, Dutch cocoa (not Dutch-process, just... cocoa I bought in Holland), a wee bit of sugar and vanilla and a giant wallop of cinnamon honey.
I totally forgot to take a picture of the ingredients before I blended them but I use two dessert spoons of cocoa, a generous pinch of sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon-ish of vanilla and an overloaded teaspoon full of the cinnamon honey.
Someone gave me a milk frother/steamer years ago and it's the best. present. ever. Once the milk is steamed I add a couple of big spoonfuls to the stuff in the cup and blend it until the honey melts and the cocoa is smooth. Then I add the rest of the milk and froth. Obsidian Blue inspired me with her snowflake marshmallows, so I dug through the pantry and found some gold sugar to sprinkle on top (although I forgot to do it until after I took that pic - you can see it in the pics below).
This leads me to my task for the second square, St. Martin's Day and also to the fulfilment of a request from Themis-Athena regarding a picture of the old coal burning fireplace in my bedroom and the unusual tiles around it. This part of my house dates to 1900, so PLEASE keep that in mind when you see the tiles. :)
Take a picture of the book you’re currently reading, next to a glass of wine, or the drink of your choice, with or without a fire in the background. No fire, just the fireplace and an appropriately named book I'm currently reading.
And the fireplace:
The lighting is never great in our bedroom anyway, and the grate was removed long ago, but the fireplace itself is only about 6 inches deep; just enough to fit a small supply of coal.