Friday, February 29, 2008

The Archer's Tale (Book #20)

The Archer's Tale (Bernard Cornwell, 2001) is the first of a trilogy set against the Hundred Years' War and featuring a quest for the Holy Grail. Having finished the Sharpe series, I'm working my way through Cornwell's other works. The 14th century isn't "my" era the way the early 19th is, but this series had an appealing narrator in the misfit, fish-out-of-water vein I expect (and always enjoy) from Cornwell, and he made me more interested in longbows and obscure medieval religious quarrels than I ever expected to be.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Identical Strangers (Book #19)

Identical Strangers (Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein, 2007) tells the story of identical twins separated, not at birth, but after six months together in foster care. They rediscovered each other in their mid-30's when Elyse went looking for more information on her background. The sisters got along well from the beginning, though with occasional rocky moments, and together they went sleuthing to find out more about who they were--only to discover the unpalatable truth that they were most likely separated deliberately as part of a study researching genetic vs. environmental components of mental illness among identical twins with a family history of instability. (Such a study would never be approved now, but was considered marginally acceptable when they were born in 1968.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

An Excerpt of Sorts

I haven't been blogging much lately because we STILL don't have our laptop back, the one my daughter broke a week and a half ago.

I don't usually post excerpts from my WIP (and, strictly speaking, what I'm about to post isn't an excerpt). But I'm part of an online community that has a weekly drabble challenge. Each Sunday the moderator posts a topic, usually a word or phrase but sometimes an image, and if you're inspired by it you write a 100-word story, poem, essay, etc. about it. (Opinions differ on whether it has to be exactly 100 words. I'm not a purist and will post anything from 90 to 110 or so, but the drabble below happens to come in right at 100.)

This week's topic is "transformation," and it got me thinking about key moments for each of my main characters--the moments where their world shifts, or they accept the challenge to change the world. So I'm trying to distill those change moments down to 100 words and write them so they make sense without the epic context of the story.

Anyway, without further ado, here's the first one. I haven't written the scene surrounding this yet--it's from somewhere near the climax of Book 2, and I'm only halfway through Book 1:

If This Be Treason

An island castle in a mountain-ringed lake. The land where her ancestors’ bones rest, the hearthside where she learned of Gordon courage and loyalty.

Now her loyalties divide her. Stay and be true to family and heritage, but betray the war-leader who trusts her, the queen to whom she pledged fealty, and the friend she loves more than a brother.

If she leaves this valley now she can never return.

He’s watching her—her friend the Sassenach soldier. She can see he’ll understand, and forgive her, if she stays.

“Hurry,” she says. “If we ride fast, we can warn them.”

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Vanishing Viscountess (Book #18)

The Vanishing Viscountess (Diane Gaston, 2008) is the kind of historical romance I'm always wanting to read but am rarely fortunate enough to find. It's tightly plotted, romantic, and well-researched. Best of all, nothing feels out-of-proportion. The stakes are high--the heroine is wanted for a murder she didn't commit--but the characters' reactions are appropriate to their situation, making the story dramatic rather than over-the-top and melodramatic.

It's an excellent book, but I feel compelled to rant a bit about its cover. I'm not at all ashamed of reading romance. I'll tell anyone I talk books with that romance is among my favorite genres. I also tell them that I wrote three romance manuscripts, and that I switched genres because I think historical adventure is a better fit for my voice, the kind of heroes I write, and the stories I want to tell, not because I think it's somehow superior. But as I read The Vanishing Viscountess in the cafeteria and at the bus stop today, I made sure to hide the cover, or at least to cover the bare-chested guy, because it's just so silly and cheesy. I did the same when I was reading this book and this one.

It's honestly not that I hide any and all obvious romance covers. I read this openly on a city bus, though I'm not wild about the pink. And Jo Beverley has had some gorgeous covers I'd read with pride anywhere.

But what's with the shirtlessness, or men ripping open their shirts looking like Superman on a day he forgot his tights? It's not sexy, at least not to me. You want sexy, show me fully clad Regency men, especially if they're in uniform like the ones on the second Beverley cover. Men just don't dress a quarter so well anymore! Or if you're going to show the undershirts, at least get them right. They were pullovers, with an open throat and a button or two at the top, but they didn't button all the way down. It really annoys me that romance covers UNIVERSALLY get this wrong, because it's not like it's an obscure detail, or that it would cost more to paint a period-correct shirt. And it's not like accurate shirts aren't sexy, either. Exhibit A. And though Colin Firth does nothing for me, obviously a lot of women thought he looked perfectly fine climbing out of that pond by Pemberley. So I can't come up with any explanation for why romance publishers always get this wrong except that they think women who read romance just aren't as smart and aren't as worth taking trouble over as the audience for the Sharpe series (probably at least half male, even with the Sean Bean factor bringing in the ladies) or Pride and Prejudice viewers (people who care about Great Literature).

But really. All I need are covers I don't feel the need to go into contortions to hide when I'm reading on the bus. Is that too much to ask?

Service Included (Book #17)

If and when I finally sell my first book, my husband has promised to take me to Canlis or the Herb Farm. If I ever make the NYT bestseller list (extended counts!), I've promised to take him to the French Laundry. So naturally I was intrigued by Service Included (Phoebe Damrosch, 2007), the memoir of a waitress at the French Laundry's NYC sister restaurant, Per Se.

Damrosch's story is of interest to foodies, but not as much so as it could be--the focus was more on the author's personal life and less on the food at Per Se and/or dishing the dirt on its wealthy, famous, and powerful clientele than I expected or wanted. And as for her personal life, girlfriend, if he cheats with you, he'll cheat on you. And even if there are some exceptions to that rule, if he cheats with you, and then cheats on you in the early stages of your relationship before making promises of exclusivity and fidelity...let's just say there's a pattern developing.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Eldest Brother (Book #16)

One of the lesser-known real people who shows up in my alternative history is Richard Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington's oldest brother. In the bibliography of one of my Wellington sources, I found The Eldest Brother: The Marquess Wellesley, 1760-1842 (Iris Butler, 1973). I asked for it from ILL, because I decided I'd be more confident about using him as a character if I read a book or two focused on him rather than just seeing him as a bit player in his famous brother's story.

Reading it forced me to alter my mental image of Richard and to change my fictional plans for him. I'd been predisposed to dislike him, because he tends to come across in Wellington biographies as a bit of a soulless autocrat. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised to discover the truth is a bit more complicated than that, because Wellington himself comes across the exact same way unless you're willing to look beneath the surface.

I ended up feeling sorry for Richard. He was forced to become paterfamilias at the age of 21, when his father died and left him with a mountain of debts and five younger siblings. He worked hard for decades at his political and diplomatic career, in particular during a long term as governor-general of India, only to never quite get the fortune and acclaim he longed for. And then he had to watch one of his own younger brothers, the one who was arguably the most trouble for him to get established in life, get all the fame, wealth, and honor anyone could dream of. That had to rankle, even though AFAICT Wellington was reasonably gracious about the situation. (Reasonable graciousness being the most one could expect from a Wellesley--they were a proud, prickly family with hot tempers they controlled with a varying degree of success, and the brothers had their fair share of quarrels.) Richard and Arthur (i.e. Wellington) were the stars of a gifted family, and were close in terms of ability. I think Arthur was so much more successful because he was far more practical and emotionally stable--though I can't help wondering how much of that was because he had time to grow up and assume responsibility on his own terms, while Richard had it thrust upon him before he was old enough to be ready for it.

Anyway, I had trouble wading through all the political alliances and quarrels in the book, though I'm glad I did, because now I can make my own version of Richard Wellesley richer and more respectful of the real thing.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

VeggieTales: Convenience Food

Tonight the husband is at a Meetup with blogging friends, so the daughter and I were on our own. There are leftovers in the fridge, but I'd already had two meals of kugel in a row and didn't want a third. I really, REALLY wanted to cheat. A chicken club from Kidd Valley sounded like the perfect meal. But I had to go by the grocery store anyway to get bread for tomorrow night's dinner, so I decided to at least look at the vegetarian options.

I didn't want a cheese pizza after my previous experience with cheese overkill, but I found a vegan pizza from Amy's that was basically just a vegetable tart. Sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, onions, peppers, etc. And it was surprisingly good, very rich and sweet-tart.

I fed my daughter a kid's meal with chicken nuggets, kinda hoping that, as she often does, she'd leave some of the nuggets uneaten. Then I wouldn't be so much cheating as just not wasting food.

She ate them all.

One somewhat surprising note: I'm up four pounds since Lent began. I realized that I've been using "no meat" as an excuse for every other caloric indulgence. I need that ice cream for protein! Oops.

Foodies of the 18th century

I'm in the midst of a slog through a biography of Richard Wellesley (the Duke of Wellington's oldest brother). It's a slow read because so much of it is to do with politics, the elder Wellesley being primarily a politician and a diplomat, and it's hard keeping it all straight when the only VIPs I'm really familiar with are the Wellesley brothers themselves, Castlereagh, and Pitt.

But I was charmed and amused when Wellesley, on a tour of Italy in the waning years of the 18th century, sent a bunch of his friends boxes of pasta from Naples, assuring them it was much better than anything they could get in England.

Monday, February 18, 2008

VeggieTales: The Moosewood Redemption

The Moosewood's Noodle Kugel recipe is a huge improvement over its Tart & Tangy Baked Beans. So the Moosewood Cookbook is no longer Dead to Me, but it's still On Notice. I'm trying its Welsh Rarebit recipe on Wednesday, so I think I'll go two out of three.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

In Defense of Food (Book #15)

Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (2008) has created a moderate stir online and around my husband's workplace (the UW School of Public Health). Pollan spends a lot of time blasting the nutrition industry and industrial agriculture, mostly for good reasons. We are as a culture, and increasingly as a world, eating ourselves sick.

On the whole, I agree with what he has to say. Sure, the bit about "don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food" would probably work better as "don't eat anything that wouldn't be recognized as food by at least one of a committee of great-grandmothers from the world's great cuisines." Because my great-grandmothers would probably have been wary of a garlic clove or an artichoke heart, and something like sushi would've sent them running for their Appalachian hills. (I'm actually with them on the sushi. Admitting it makes me feel positively backwards and uncivilized...but it's raw FISH. And it TASTES like exactly what it is, and has this raw and slippery texture.)

Anyway, I agree that we need to step away from the processed convenience foods, cook more, and eat locally when we can. It's just that I can't, personally, at this point in my life, do so to anything like the degree that Pollan recommends. My budgets for both money and time have their limitations. Pollan would probably think my priorities are out of order in that I'm putting my novels ahead of my diet, but what's the point of eating to live longer if I'm not doing the very activity I want to live longer so I can do more of, you know? (Though that last sentence makes me wonder if I'm really so good at the whole writing thing, but you know what I mean. I hope.) I'm trying to eat better, but that's the best I can do--better, not perfect.

VeggieTales: We Miss Meat

The husband and I have agreed that this vegetarian experiment would've been better performed in the summer, perhaps in July, with the Seattle farmers market runneth over and you can get local strawberries that are deeply crimson or even garnet or claret-colored on the outside and scarlet at the heart, none of that grocery store spring strawberry white at the center.

Dayum. Now I want a strawberry that does not exist in February in this hemisphere, much less this state.

Anyway, tonight my husband made vegetarian cassoulet for dinner. It was quite good, but you know what would've made it really yummy? Ham, or maybe smoked sausage.

We miss meat, but we're going to stick with it. It's just starting to feel less culinary adventure and more limitation. Which I guess is appropriate for a Lenten fast, after all.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

VeggieTales Continued

I probably won't be blogging as much over the next week or so, because my daughter broke our laptop today. Fortunately my husband bought a full two-year service agreement that still has a few months left on it. Unfortunately the laptop is on its way back to its mothership, so we're down to one computer for the next week or so. That's one computer for a web developer and an aspiring novelist, both of whom are internet addicts. Sigh.

At least I can do rough drafts in longhand.

Anyway, I'll keep my vegetarian comments of the day brief, and just say that I recommend baked potatoes as a tasty and dead simple meal when salted, peppered, buttered, and cheesed, and served with a salad on the side.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

More VeggieTales

So. I'm still on the meat-free wagon; I've just been too busy to post the past few evenings. And I'm still too busy. So I'll just say that the white bean & cornmeal croquettes I made last night were pretty good, though they needed more salt. And that the downside of this whole experiment is getting reminded that when I eat a lot of dairy (we've been cheese-dependent this week), I break out like a teenager. Ugh. Zits.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The War of Art (Book #14)

I have yet to sell a book, but I've finished three manuscripts and am almost 50,000 words into a fourth. When I'm in the zone and in drafting mode, I can turn out 80 pages or more a month despite working full time, having a 3-year-old child, and only being able to squeeze an hour or so per day out of the calendar to write.

If it sounds like I'm bragging, I kind of am. This is what I want to do, more than anything. (Well, more than anything I want to start SELLING those manuscripts, but you know what I mean.) So I've fought pitched battles with my own laziness, procrastination, and fear of both success and failure and trained myself to sit down, day in and day out, whether I'm feeling all creative and inspired or not, and put words on the page. And there are few tougher adversaries than laziness, procrastination, and fear. Steven Pressfield labels them Resistance, and his book, The War of Art (2003), is about defeating it.

For the most part, I found the book an inspiring reminder of lessons already learned. I like his focus on professionalism, i.e. doing the work whether you're in the mood or not. Wait for the Muse, and she'll ignore you. Start writing without the Muse, and she'll eventually come to bless you. Pressfield quotes Somerset Maugham: "I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp." I heard the same basic idea from Bernard Cornwell at a writers' conference, and it's stayed with me. He says there's no such thing as writer's block, and the day a nurse can call her hospital and say she can't come in to work because she has nurse's block and have that accepted as a valid excuse is the day we have a right to put on diva airs and not write simply because we're stuck or aren't in the mood.

Anyway, I'm with Pressfield when he talks about overcoming Resistance and writing like a pro even when you're not getting paid for your work yet. But he loses me when he starts getting all visionary and mystic about the Source of creativity, and how the ideas are Out There and we're just the channels. Um, no. Way too New Age and woo-woo for me. I get my share of blinding epiphanies and "aha!" moments, but it's my own brain that's doing it. I can get plenty of joy and even sense of the numinous out of being a storyteller, another link in a long chain going back to the bards of old and even to grandmothers and grandfathers around the fires in Paleolithic caves, without believing I'm nothing more than a channel for the muse.

VeggieTales, Day 5: Bruschetta Caprese

For tonight's dinner, I toasted French bread with olive oil and garlic powder (normally I would've used chopped garlic, but we ran out last night), then topped it with sweet onion, basil leaves, tomato slices, and fresh mozzarella and stuck it back in the oven to melt the cheese. And it was pretty good. Certainly infinitely better than last night's World's Blandest Beans. Next time I'll have a better garlic product. What would REALLY taste good would be roasted garlic cloves smeared on the bread, but chopped garlic would do. Also, if I have just a few minutes more to work with, I'll slice or tear the basil--with whole leaves, you get one basilly bite and that's it. Even with those changes, I think it could use just a tad more bite. Maybe some healthy grinds of black pepper, or a few crushed red pepper flakes. Or even that great, ubiquitous condiment of our time, balsamic vinegar.

I had leftover beans for lunch. They weren't much better the second time around. I think tomorrow I'll just take Easy Mac. At least it's appealingly bland.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

VeggieTales, Day 4: Full of Beans and Brown Bread

In my husband's family, you don't just say a fidgety, feisty kid is full of beans: they're full of beans and brown bread. And that's what I made for dinner tonight. Tart & Tangy Baked Beans from the Moosewood Cookbook and Boston Brown Bread from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.

This is the kind of cooking I had in mind when I decided to go meatless for Lent--trying new recipes, breaking out of a rut. But I can only do this type of meal on a weekend because it's both labor-intensive, with lots of chopping and measuring, and time-consuming, with pots bubbling on the stove and pans baking in the oven for hours. Oh, and it fills the sink with dirty dishes.

None of which would be a problem if the result made my mouth happy. (That's a Japanese Iron Chef reference, for the uninitiated.) But it did not. My mouth was bored.

The brown bread was OK. At least, it tasted like I think it's supposed to. I can't be sure, because I've never had it before. But it was a little too strong, somehow. I think I'll give it one more chance, but I'll try maple syrup instead of molasses for the sweetener. The recipe listed both as options, and I had both on hand, but I went with molasses because the beans also had it, and I thought that would make the flavors complement each other.

The beans, though...let's just say I could've gotten a tastier result by taking two cans of beans, giving them a good rinse, and heating them up with a bottle of barbecue sauce, not even the good stuff but any old brand, plus maybe a sauteed onion and some molasses for more flavor. And it would've taken maybe a quarter the time and effort. This recipe had an ingredient list a mile long. I soaked the beans overnight, then simmered them on the stovetop for an hour and a half. I chopped onions and sauteed them with chili powder, cumin, dry mustard, garlic, salt, red pepper flakes, and freshly ground black pepper in what seemed liberal quantities. I stirred in chopped apples and tomatoes, plus cider vinegar, cheddar cheese, and molasses, again in what looked like ample amounts to make for an interesting dish full of complex flavors. The recipe, after all, advertised itself as tart and tangy. And the house smelled nice while it baked.

But it was bland. Boring. Tasted like something out of a can. I sacrificed half my afternoon to those damn beans, and they were BLAND. Grr. That's one recipe I know not to try again.

Tomorrow I'll have approximately 45 minutes to get dinner on the table and eat before my writers group, so I'm throwing together a sort of bruschetta/french bread pizza/melt thingy based on my own instincts and experience for what flavors work together. It'll have like five ingredients, and two of them are bread and olive oil. It might be bland or even taste like crap, but at least it won't be maximum effort for minimum reward.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

VeggieTales, Day 3

As planned, I took Friday off from my meatless Lent. Mmm...bacon. Mmm...potstickers. NOM NOM NOM...

Anyway, today I was back on the wagon, and for the first time it was a bit of a challenge, mostly because it was such a hectic day and we didn't have a lot of options. Frankly, I was tempted to bag it and go by Jack in the Box for a chicken sandwich, but I stuck it out and am glad I did.

Today our afternoon was eaten up by the Democratic caucus and a birthday party for one of my daughter's preschool classmates. We hadn't had time to plan our meals for the next week and do our big grocery run yet, so last night I'd bought a frozen cheese pizza so we'd have something for lunch.

No more cheese pizzas for me. The cheese was just too heavy and strong, overwhelming the sauce, and it needed some onions, garlic, peppers, SOMETHING, to balance it out. Also, apparently all that cheese was too much for my Lactaid to manage, because I ended up with stomach cramps just before the caucus started.

After we finally got home, I did our grocery shopping, not saving as much money as I'd hoped by not buying meat. My husband made breakfast for dinner--scrambled eggs and waffles with strawberries and whipped cream. Yummy. And I need to put the beans for tomorrow's dinner on to soak before I go to sleep...

Escape (Book #13)

Carolyn Jessop, the author of Escape (2007) is just a few years older than me. Reading her memoir of life in the FLDS (Warren Jeffs' fundamentalist Mormon cult), I would occasionally note the year an event occurred and try to remember what I was doing when it happened--e.g. when she was married off at 18, becoming the fourth wife of a man in his 50's, I'm pretty sure I was at band camp with my friends. And she finally fled the community, taking all 8 of her children with her, a few months before I got pregnant with my first and thus far only child. If I didn't anchor her life to mine that way, I'd forget that I was reading the story of one of my contemporaries, because it seemed so unreal that this kind of abuse was going on in my country, in my lifetime.

It's a harrowing book, but it has a happy ending because of Carolyn Jessop's strength and courage. That she managed to get out, win custody of her children, and find a way to live in mainstream society is a testimony to her resilience.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Princess Mia (Book #12)

I never like to call a book a guilty pleasure. I save that for my unholy love of fried potato products of all kinds and for my habit of reading celebrity gossip magazines while in line at the grocery store. But the Princess Diaries series comes close to being a guilty pleasure. Not because they're bad (she says hastily). They're very good, IMHO. But they're very good light reading, designed for girls half my age or younger, with a title character who'd be celebrity gossip magazine fodder if she was real (and one of the trials she endures in the series is seeing her life misrepresented in the tabloids). They're pure fun, and that's all.

Princess Mia (Meg Cabot, 2008) is the ninth outing in a projected ten-book series, and the 16-year-old heroine has to stand on her own feet and display greater maturity than in previous volumes after breaking up with her boyfriend and having a major falling-out with her best friend.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

VeggieTales, Day 2 (now with added fish)

Breakfast: A muffin. Not the most nutritious meal in the world, but decent quick fuel before heading into a long meeting on my first day at work since Monday.

Lunch: Leftover pasta from last night, eaten at my desk. My big food realization of the day is that I'll only eat the fruit I pack with my lunch when I take my food to the cafeteria (where it's perfectly acceptable to bring in your own food--they even have microwaves set up). At my desk, there's no space that doesn't have papers stacked on it, so any fruit that's capable of squirting juice unpredictably just seems too messy. I also read more when I leave my desk, since there's no internet to surf in the cafeteria. So, I think I've got to stop eating at my desk. Not as good nutritionally or as a use of my time.

Dinner was my adventure. My husband likes fish. I, generally, do not. I make exceptions for really fresh salmon grilled with a good marinade, and once when politeness obliged me to eat catfish I discovered it wasn't half bad, but that's about it. So I wasn't looking forward to tonight's dinner of oven-baked fish and chips. But...amazingly enough, I liked it. The fish, beer-battered pollock fillets, didn't have that overwhelming fishy reek I associate with frozen fish sticks from my elementary school cafeteria. Drizzled with malt vinegar and dipped in ketchup, it was good.

Allies for Armageddon (Book #11)

Allies for Armageddon: The Rise of Christian Zionism (Victoria Clark, 2007) explores the Religious Right's role in Middle Eastern politics. Half of the book studies the history of the movement from roughly 1600 to 1948, while the other half, IMHO the more interesting one, focuses on the belief common in conservative Christian circles that Israel has absolute, divinely ordained title to a big swath of the Middle East, including Israel, the Occupied Territories, and then some. You'll occasionally see bumper stickers in the Bible Belt that say "My country--right or wrong." You don't see "Israel--God's country, right or wrong," but that belief goes even deeper. Basically, the Palestinians don't matter, and conflict in the Middle East is a good thing, because it brings the apocalypse and Jesus' return that much closer.

It's crazy. And I used to believe it myself, 15 years or so ago. It appealed to me then because, if you accept the worldview behind it, it has a certain internal logic. Also, at that age, I loved the idea that I might be living at the CLIMAX OF HISTORY! Now? I've had enough interesting times. I'd like a few boring, uneventful decades to live my life and raise my kid and write some books. Anyway, Clark's book is a decent summary of the movement, which she seems to understand better than most outsiders.

(For the record, I'm still a Zionist in the sense that I support Israel's right to exist within safe and secure borders and to defend itself on the same terms that any other nation might. It's just that I now believe there should be a Palestinian state as well, that if something is wrong for America, the UK, Japan, etc. to do it's also wrong for Israel, and I no longer believe that 1948 triggered some kind of prophetic countdown to the Second Coming.)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Lenten Blogging (Veggie Tales, Day 1)

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. I'm still relatively new to observing the seasons of the church year, since I grew up in the very non-liturgical Southern Baptist Convention. We celebrated Christmas and Easter and had special offerings to support denominational mission work in the weeks running up to the holidays, but we never talked about Advent or Lent, much less Epiphany, Pentecost, and so on. So I never even thought of giving up anything for Lent until I found myself married to a former Catholic and attending an unusually liturgical Presbyterian church.

Most years I've picked tiny things to give up. I've given up buying books, which is no real hardship when your to-be-read pile is as big as mine and you're still going to the library every week. I've attempted to give up swearing, which lasts until someone cuts me off in traffic. But this year my husband had the idea of giving up meat. Which is serious. I'm from Alabama. He's from Oklahoma. We're cradle carnivores.

After brief reflection, I decided to go for it. It's difficult enough to feel like a real spiritual discipline in keeping with the season, and it's also a chance to cook and eat more mindfully after getting into a rut. And I decided to blog about it here, partly because it's such a slow reading year so far that I'm running low on things to talk about!

We're not going to be 100% vegetarian. We're taking Fridays off. (Sunday is the traditional day to break a Lenten fast, but my husband liked the idea of doing it kinda backwards, and I wanted our Sunday cooking to match what we're eating the rest of the week, since the weekend is a good time to make a big batch of slow-cooked food to have leftovers to take for lunch.) And, because my husband is using the Catholic definition of "no meat," we're allowing fish. But I've never been a big fish eater (horrible of me, living in Seattle, I know), so I'll attempt to eat it when he cooks it, but I won't cook it myself or seek it out in the cafeteria at work.

So. Anyway. Today was my first vegetarian day. I was home from work for the second day in a row with a sore throat, fatigue, and fever, so I went for comfort food that required little preparation. I skipped breakfast, not intentionally but because by the time I woke up for good it was almost noon. We had some Easy Mac around the house from our last Costco run, so I had it for lunch and enjoyed the soothing blandness.

By dinnertime I was feeling better, so I made pasta--just a pound of penne with a quick homemade sauce: I sauteed a heaping teaspoon of minced garlic and some red pepper flakes in olive oil, then added a can each of tomato sauce and diced tomatoes, plus most of a package of fresh basil. That plus spinach salad from a bag made dinner. Simple and pretty tasty.

So far I haven't diverged much from how I normally cook and eat. I make that exact sauce all the time, only I usually toss in some pancetta or prosciutto with the garlic and pepper flakes. But I've been digging through my cookbooks, and I plan to start experimenting soon--I can't live on Easy Mac and pasta for 40 days!

Book Meme

Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews?

Hm. I've had a lot of friends and family try to sell me on reading Redeeming Love, by Francine Rivers. But I'm so down on inspirational fiction as a genre, as a reaction to the few years where I read it exclusively, because I thought I was protecting my mind from sinful influences or something, that I haven't been able to bring myself to attempt it yet.

If you could bring three characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be?

Lord Peter Wimsey, Richard Sharpe, and Joscelin from the Kushiel series. For dinner. But they probably wouldn't get along at all, what with Lord Peter being so suave and sophisticated and Sharpe so NOT and Joscelin would be stuck as the peacemaker which isn't really his strength, so maybe I'd have them each over separately. For dinner. Just dinner. Nothing beyond that. And that's my story and I'm sticking to it...

(Y'all don't believe me, do you?)

(Borrowing shamelessly from the "Thursday Next" series by Jasper Fforde): You are told you can't die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for awhile, eventually you realize it's past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave?

The Red Badge of Courage. Only I've already had to read it TWICE, in 7th grade and 11th grade, so I should already be in my early grave...

Come on, we've all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you've read, when in fact you've been nowhere near it?

I don't think I've done that. Really.

You're interviewing for the post of Official Book Advisor to some VIP (who's not a big reader). What's the first book you'd recommend and why? (If you feel like you'd have to know the person, go ahead and personalize the VIP).

If this VIP isn't much of a reader, I probably shouldn't start them on Shakespeare or even Austen because the language itself would be too daunting for them. OK, I'm going to assume this is a political VIP, and one who's reasonably intelligent despite not being a big reader. I'll give him John Keegan's The Mask of Command because it's all about the use and abuse of military power, and the mini-biographies of the four leaders (Alexander the Great, Wellington, Grant, and Hitler) give it a strong narrative thread.

A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with?

French. I need it for my research, and I think it would help me write better English dialogue for my French characters, but I don't know when I'm going to find the time to teach myself.

A mischievous fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread once a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick?

Pride and Prejudice. I already read it almost every year anyway.

I know that the book blogging community, and its various challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What's one bookish thing you 'discovered' from book blogging (maybe a new genre, or author, or new appreciation for cover art-anything)?

How good the current generation of YA is.

That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she's granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leather bound? Is it full of first edition hard covers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favorite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead-let your imagination run free.

It's a big, lofty room on the top floor of my dream home, wall-to-wall books, nothing special in terms of leather-bound or first editions, just books I love, with favorite authors given prominent placement. I have a comfortable couch to lounge on and a great big desk where I sit at a window looking out over mountains, ocean, or both. Above my desk hangs this sword. It's a plain blade, but it's the one the Big Damn Hero of my WIP is given by his general at the end of the book, that he carries throughout the series, and in this particular fantasy the good fairy has also made it so my WIP sells and the series makes my name as an author.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

At the risk of sounding like one of those feminists with no sense of humor...

...the author of the dual biography of Napoleon and Wellington I'm currently reading really needs to stop referring to Josephine Bonaparte, Kitty Pakenham Wellesley, Emma Hamilton, really any woman who happened to share a bed within or without wedlock with any of the military heroes of the day, as "petticoats." Once or twice would be mildly amusing, but every. single. time. he needs to reference someone with two X chromosomes, it gets annoying.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Ever-After Bird (Book #10)

The Ever-After Bird (Ann Rinaldi, 2007) is an older kids'/YA book about a Pennsylvania girl in 1851 who, when her neglectful abolitionist father dies, is taken in by her uncle, an abolitionist ornithologist who travels the South sketching birds and telling slaves about the Underground Railroad. Cecilia, the heroine, has her doubts about the cause at first, since she resented her father's neglect, and he was murdered while trying to protect runaway slaves. She comes around after seeing the horrors of slavery firsthand--and this is a Message book, designed to educate kids about the evils in our history. But it's well-executed and readable.