Monday, October 29, 2012

The Great Book Backlog, Part 2

The book glut continues, as I desperately try to catch up not only on my reading, but on my ratings. J I’ve been pretty happy recently—all of my favourite authors are publishing and my biggest nitpick is “Um, could we spread these out a bit?” Seriously, why must we go in packs?  I can only read so many books so fast guys, and my budget isn’t endless either.  How ‘bout the justice department investigates that, eh?  ANYway, oh with the show!

By Mark Wellingham et al


Fables is pretty much unanimously considered the best thing out there in graphic novel land (currently in publication, that is) and it deserves every accolade it gets.  However, the damn thing is so massive that it can be daunting to actually get started.  The first book in the series is good, and required reading, but honestly, if you’re looking to dip your toe in these deep waters, I recommend you start with this one.  This is a part of the Fables cycle, but not at all tied into the mainline, so its super accessible, and requires that you know all of NOTHING about the characters and/or plot to dive in, though if you do it’s that much sweeter.  It’s basically a hijacking of the 1001 Arabian Nights structure to tell vignettes and shorts stories about the Fables we’ve come to know & love/loathe.  Since they’re set prior to the start of the series, you can do a meet and greet without worrying about spoilers.  And as a bonus, the art work is just gorgeous throughout.  Some of the stories are fun, and some are a little heart breaking, but it’s like the story itself in that it’s an excellent mix of tart, sweet, and bitter.  A great place to give it a try!  And, swoon, those James Jean covers; hubba hubba.

By Diana Rowland


Frankly, just, hats off to this series.  With each book, I see the author getting better and better at her craft.  And in this case, she seems to not only have weathered a change of publishers, but come out all the better for it.  I’d initially discounted these because of the slutty covers (I know, I know, but hey, I’ve got to narrow the field somehow, right?) now we have covers that are a far more accurate reflection of the inside bits, and those inside bits are tastier than ever.  For this installment, the writing is crisp, the plot mostly makes sense and carries its own weight-yay!-and the characters try to interact with each other like grownups rather than Shonda Rhimes cutouts. But.  WARNING: Cliffhangers ahead.  Just when things looked good, interesting, and going to fun places, an absolute game changer pops up from left field.   Which isn’t a deal breaker, but it is a bit of a bitch to wait so long for a resolution.  But hey, I’m waiting eagerly, so it can’t be all bad, right?  All and all, proof that the series is headed in a good direction and I’m willing to stick with it and see if it keeps taking me to better and better places.

By Diana Rowland


While still fairly predictable, the plot actually makes sense this time, and our characters no longer waste time and garner irritation by angsting about sexual activity as much.  The whole Ryan thing, frankly, is a side show I could do without, but it’s not into GO AWAY territory by any means.  The book picks up sharply by mid pt and carries through to the end at a pace almost brisk enough to mask some really bizarre police procedure/plot tricks.  Almost.  But getting much better

Bennedict Jacka


So, I found this book in a Hastings (yes, they still exist; no don’t ask what I was doing in one) and read the 1st two chapters before I was called away for dinner.  I was in such a hurry to go eat crappy Mexican that I didn’t buy it then and there, but I was interested enough to rectify that as soon as I got back home.  It’s about a diviner in London who gets forced back into the game (of magic-k-k-k) he abandoned years ago when it screwed him over.  The back story is uber similar to that of our unreliable narrator in Kate Griffen’s Matthew Swift books, but this narrator is totally different and the plot less dense, more straight forward.  It’s basically a quest to see who can retrieve a magical doohickey first, but the good guys and bad guys rapidly turn into murky assholes and there are no guarantees that even allies have our lead’s best interests at heart.  This reads quickly, the plot gels nicely, and the side characters are solidly crafted and entertaining enough for me to want to see more of them.  I felt that the author handled the tricksey plot point of how a guy who can see the future might get into trouble nicely, and I will make a point of grabbing the next in the series. 

By Marissa Meyer


This book is so . . . almost cool.  It’s a re-telling(ish) of Cinderella set in far future China and stars a human who’s been cybernetically enhanced, which is a stigma.  She’s also the best robotic mechanic in the city, and she ends up meeting the prince through her work.  There is also a plague that is decimating the populace, a possibly evil and certainly Dr. Meingela-esq doctor trying to find a cure, a foreign dignitary on the prowl, and a step-mother from hell.  The plot is brisk, and the descriptions of new Beijing are great, but something just feels a little lacking.  Maybe it’s because we know some elements of the story too well? Not sure, but I will say that I figured the ‘big secret’ from the word go.  And that made a lot of the buildup irritating.  Also, I’m a wee bit pissy that this is a trilogy.  It just felt like it could have been streamlined, but wasn’t because, hey, trilogies are the way to go.  On the whole, I would say pick it up in paperback when the next one comes out.  Because what have we learned today?  That sometimes things get better as they go along. 

A note on Grading: on my Scale A=I might buy the hardback; B=pay trade cover price; C=get it used or from the bargain bin; D=used if you’re in to self flagellation; F=what, are you stupid?

Lemon Cupcakes with Salted Chocolate Ganache

The most randomly good thing, maybe ever?
The best, and my-everyone’s- personal favourite boss’ last day was today.  I told him I would make him cupcakes and he requested chocolate and lemon.
But, it turns out, he’s not as crazy as I thought he was.  These damn things are actually delicious and in no way have I been eating the leftover frosting like it was . . . frosting.  Om nom nom. 
BONUS: spent the whole prep time making up a song to Lemon ScentedSticky Bats.  As you do.

Lemon Cupcakes
¾ cup sugar
2 small, very ripe lemons
1 cup plus 2 tsp unbleached flour
2 tsp cornstarch
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 ¼ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 tsp unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup vegetable oil
½ cup milk, room temperature

Zest the lemons into the sugar, mixing until sugar becomes moist and starts to clump.  Allow to sit for at least 10 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 12-cup muffin tin.
Whisk the flour with the cornstarch, baking powder and salt.  Mix the sugar with the eggs and vanilla extract at medium-high speed until smooth and thickened, about 3 minutes. Add the butter and oil, then beat until incorporated, scraping the bottom and side of the bowl if needed. Add the dry flour and milk in alternating batches, beating well between additions. Carefully pour the batter into the lined muffin tins, filling them about two-thirds.
Bake the cupcakes in the center of the oven for 25 minutes or until springy and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Chocolate Ganache

½ cup Heavy Cream
4 oz Bittersweet Chocolate
4 tbs unsalted butter
½ tbs Pink Sea Salt
Plus 2 tablespoons more salt to sprinkle as garnish

In heavy, heat proof saucepan on low heat, melt the butter and cream with the ½ tablespoon of salt, stirring as needed.  Crumble the dark chocolate into the hot cream and swirl until mixed. Remove from heat.  Allow to cool until slightly thickened.  Dunk cupcakes into ganache.   Allow to dry, 20-30 minutes.  Dunk again.  Sprinkle the sea salt over the tops.  Serve and accept accolades with grace.