Friday, April 27, 2012

Weekend Cooking: FOODTRIENTS--Age-Defying Recipes for a Sustainable Life by Grace O

foodtrients cover

My first thought on seeing this cover was: why is there a woman drinking water from a leaf? Are these recipes for our dystopian future where there's no running water? Because I don't live in a place with that many trees.

Turns out they ARE for our dystopian future. It's the first post-apocalyptic cookbook. Kidding! Or am I? Guess you'll just have to read the book to find out. Or read the other reviews where no one else mentions it.

Anywhosie, FoodTrients is a cookbook that claims to provide recipes that "promote longevity, prevent the diseases of aging, and increase energy and vitality." Basically, if we were living in The Hunger Games, this is the kind of food the people in the Capitol would be eating. And naturally many of the ingredients are exotic or unusual, because let's face it, if the book told you the ingredients in Doritos were preserving your skin, there wouldn't be much reason to buy the book. Or much of anything besides Doritos.

What are some these ingredients? I'm happy you asked. There's a table of them in the back of the book that's honestly the best part of this entire cookbook. But Grace O highlights some more unfamiliar (to me, anyway) foods: bitter melon, moringa, hemp milk, soursop, and chia seeds. I have never heard of most of these ingredients or seen them in my grocery store. I'm just happy when they have kale.

Honestly, this cookbook falls into a category I like to call "food porn." The pictures are nice to look at, but the chances that I'm ever going to make any of these recipes is pretty minimal. Not only do you have the unfamiliar ingredients with no suggestions as to substitutions (though I usually just Google that myself, it's nice when a cookbook author acknowledges not every food in the world is readily available to every person in America), there's also not much info on how to pick them out, clean them, handle them, etc.

Just as the instructions are sparse, so is the science. I'm not sure I trust any of Grace O's claims as to the benefits of these ingredients or meals--she offers nothing in the way of supporting evidence or citation, and the lack of specificity makes the whole thing feel more like wishful thinking or guestimating. Does Grace O have a degree in any health sciences-related field? It's not mentioned in her bio that she does. She has cooked for royalty, though (see what I mean? Capitol food). I'm not entirely sure where she's getting her information about the healthfulness of these ingredients or exactly how much one has to eat of them to make an appreciable impact. Yeah, red wine's healthy (note: red wine is not listed as one of the "FoodTrients"), but only in certain quantities.

I will say the best part of the book was the "Starter" section. Actually, this was the only section where there were recipes I wanted to try. I made the Quinoa Tabbouleh on Pita:

  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  • 1/2 tbs kosher salt dissolved in 1 cup water
  • 2 cups finely chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup diced tomatoes
  • 3 tbs chopped scallions
  • 4 tbs olive oil
  • 2 tbs lemon juice
  • sea salt and pepper to taste
  • pinch of sumac
  • 3 whole-wheat pitas
  • Combine the quinoa and water in saucepan and cook, covered, at medium-high heat for 20 minutes [I followed the package directions]. Allow to cool.
  • Toss quinoa with parsley, tomatoes, scallions, 3 tbs olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and sumac [I didn't have any sumac so I used some herbs de Provence].
  • To make pita rounds, heat oven to 400 degs Fahrenheit, brush with olive oil, and bake for 10 minutes in foil.
I'd never cooked with quinoa before, so this was a bit of an adventure (one thing I learned: buy the pre-rinsed quinoa next time). The recipe itself was okay. I liked how the quinoa was a little crunchy, but the lemon juice was overwhelming. You definitely need something in there to give it flavor, though, or it would be horribly bland. For the most part I thought it was a lot of work for a snack, but if you have some quinoa leftover from another meal this would be a good way to use it up. The recipe is VERY basic, and I noticed that's pretty typical of the dishes in FoodTrients (whole wheat garlic noodles, for example). As one might expect, the recipes focus on ingredients and for the most part have simple cooking techniques.

Overall, however, not many of the recipes in this book sparked a desire in me to make them. Some of the mains looked downright unappetizing, and there were a lot of dishes that I personally wouldn't be able to eat because of my own health issues. I also find the idea of spending the time, money, and energy to import ingredients from far-flung continents for the sole purpose of making me healthier very death-of-the-Roman-Empire, but that's probably just me. If you're interested in working with ingredients such as the ones I mentioned, however, then you'll probably want to check this book out.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me this cookbook to review!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Backstory Boycott

In the past week, I read two romances that really frustrated me: About That Night by Julie James and The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne. Both of the these books have received very good reviews from others, and if you want to read positive things about them, I suggest you go to those sites. I, on the other hand, had some major issues with the storytelling in both of these novels, which failed because of issues with the characters' backstory.

about that night cover

Kyle Rhodes shut down twitter after his girlfriend broke up with him via a photo tweet of her making out with another guy (harsh), and as a result spent several months in prison. Once he gets out, he runs into US prosecuting attorney Rylann, whom he asked out on a date in college. They're attracted to one another, blah blah blahhhhhhggg.

Julie James always has problems with the beginnings of her novels, even in Just the Sexiest Man Alive (review here), which I adored. But About That Night is probably the worst of all her beginnings so far. There is a TON and TON and TON of backstory that is delivered in the most unimaginative way possible (i.e., exposition and infodump). Even if I wasn't already familiar with most of it from reading A Lot Like Love (review here), I would still want to skim the 80+ pages where we get to see the episodic and brief moment when Rylann and Kyle meet in college; Rylann breaking up with her boyfriend and moving to Chicago, reflecting on life, etc.; Kyle under house arrest, reflecting on how he got into prison, getting out of prison, thinking about life, etc.; AND THEN FINALLY the story starts with Kyle reluctantly testifying about something he witnessed in prison. Except that lasts for about fifty pages and there's still more than half of the book left to goooooooo.

Basically About That Night has no plot whatsoever. The book was so caught up in telling me a backstory that it forgot to deliver an ACTUAL STORY. By the time Rylann and Kyle had gotten together, I'd lost total interest in this not-a-story. Not mention Kyle is the most unbelievable hero I have run across in a loooooong time.

black hawk cover

Joanna Bourne is another writer whom I'm generally a big fan of. She has a great, unique style of writing, backs up her novels with solid historical research, sets many of her books in France, and wrote one of my very rare 5-star reads, My Lord and Spymaster (review here).

The Black Hawk started off with a bang. In my head I was thinking, "At last, a story I can finally sink my teeth into!" In the opening scenes a French spy named Justine is stabbed on the streets of London and seeks help from Adrian Hawkhurst, an English spy we met in The Forbidden Rose (review here). Hawker was the best part of The Forbidden Rose for me, so I was thrilled to see he was getting his own book. It turns out he and Justine have been in love for years, but are always spying on opposite sides of a conflict. Now Hawker has to find out who tried to kill Justine and convince her that they can finally be together.

Hey look, it's a plot! Yay for plots! And it's a different plot from the one Bourne used her last two novels, so double yay! I was settling in for an awesome read... and then the flashbacks started. Not my personal flashbacks, mind (that would be bad enough), but flashbacks of everything Adrian and Justine had ever done in their entire lives.

Perhaps it wasn't everything they'd ever done, but it certainly felt like it. In a 304 page book, 184 pages consist of flashbacks. And in case you're under the delusion I needed to know any of the stuff in these gratuitous flashbacks, let me assure you that I did not. The first flashback, which is sixty effing pages long, basically recounts info I'm already familiar with from The Forbidden Rose. Getting people up to speed is fine; boring people to death with endless backstory that has no purpose and zip to do with the plot is NOT.

And because there was so much time spent on the backstory, just as in About That Night there was no development of the characters and their relationship in THE ACTUAL STORY. Who stabbed Justine becomes obvious as soon as the person shows up on the page, and after that the story becomes très boring. I'm very happy these characters have a long history, but JK Rowling had a lot of backstory she needed to fill her readers in on, too, and she didn't do it by taking her readers out of the story with flashbacks every twenty pages. For which we thank her.

It's common knowledge that I have major issues with prologues, and now I have major issues with flashback scenes, too, thanks to these two books. Aren't flashbacks really just a prologue put into the middle of the book instead of the beginning, anyway?

After reading The Black Hawk and About That Night, I came to a depressing conclusion: as much as Fifty Shades of Grey (review here) made me roll eyes and want to throw myself out a window, it was actually better than either of these two novels (from the perspective of storytelling; neither Black Hawk nor About That Night left a terrible taste in my mouth like I'd just licked garbage, so that's a point in their favor). At least in Fifty Shades there was a plot--one blatantly stolen from Stephenie Meyer, but still, a plot--the characters, for what they were, were believable, and there was some chemistry between them; and EL James didn't bore me to death with backstory delivered in lame-o infodumps and flashbacks. She just told the freaking story and let the characters' history emerge as she made it up it went on. So yes, if I was going to compare these three books (and clearly I am) I would say if this is an example of what James is going up against, I am no longer surprised she's selling so many books. There's a lot to be said for not having one's patience tried.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Readathon Wrap-Up Post

bunny reads

It's time wrap-up the Readathon that was. Did I manage to read for 24 hours? No. Do I ever? No.

What I read:
  • 3 short stories on audiobook, "The Moabite Cipher" by R. Austin Freeman; "A Scandal in Bohemia" by SIR Arthur Conan Doyle; and "The Eye of Apollo" by GK Chesterton.
  • I finished The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne, yay!
End of event meme:
  1. Which hour was most daunting for you? Probably the one where I woke up. :P
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? That I personally read this time around? No.
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Actually, yes. Maybe have a mid-event meme? I admit I was looking for this. Also, the way winners were announced seemed a little haphazard to me. And I know this is probably just a personal quirk, but animated gifs at the beginning of posts make my eyes bleed. Sorry--one is okay, but being confronted with a whole page of them is just too much.
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? The mini-challenges seemed to go pretty smoothly.
  5. How many books did you read? 1, and 3 short stories.
  6. What were the names of the books you read? See above.
  7. Which book did you enjoy most? Probably "A Scandal in Bohemia".
  8. Which did you enjoy least? The Black Hawk
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? I wasn't a cheerleader.
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? I'll participate next time if at all possible.

How did your Readathon go?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Readathon Mid-Event Update

The Black Hawk book setting

We're halfway through the Dewey's 24-hour Readathon! And by "we," I mean "you," because I spent most of the day working. But accomplishments! I haz them:
  • I listened to two short stories on audiobook, "A Scandal in Bohemia," which was pretty decent for a Holmes mystery; and "The Moabite Cipher" by R. Austin Freeman. That was a little boring.
  • I finished a few challenges, including the eBook survey, book appetite, turn to a page (romance novels are great fodder for this), and book staging. I staged The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne (pic above). The story is about two spies in 19th-century France, so I have my French kitty postcard; and one of the spies is nicknamed Owl, so there's an owl drawing and fuzzy owl ornament. Knives also feature prominently in the story, and in one scene the spies are at a masqued ball and one them wears a Venetian moretta mask, which I just happen to have.
I'm going to enjoy the great weather for a bit by reading outside now. How has your Readathon been going so far?

Readathon Start Post!

readathon button

Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon is once again upon us. What is the Readathon, you ask? Well, it's kind of like the Superbowl for bibliophiles. Basically we all try to read until our eyes bleed, blog about it, cheer one another along, and spend a lot of time thinking about snacks. I am dead cert (sorry, been reading a little too much PG Wodehouse) that you can still sign up if you want to join in, so do it! It's fun.

Sadly, I have to work during the day, but I will try to get in as much reading as possible. Here are my *very* loose plans:
  • Try to wake up at 6 a.m. Obviously I didn't accomplish this.
  • Finish The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne.
  • I was thinking of starting on A Discovery of Witches next, which I won from The Picky Girl. Yay! We'll see what mood I'm in.
  • Plug away at Great Expectations.
  • Listen to an audiobook or two. I have no idea which one--I have a bunch of short stories to listen to, plus some longer novels, all from Librivox.
  • Watch The Philadelphia Story for #fauxhitchfest.
Those are my plans! In reality I'll be lucky to finish Black Hawk and will probably spend all my time doing mini-challenges, but that's the way things roll.

What are your Readathon plans?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Manga Review: BRIDE OF THE WATER GOD by Mi-Kyung Yun, vols. 1-7

bride of the water god cover collage

Soah is a young woman whose destiny is to be the bride of water god, Habaek. But when she finally travels to the land of the gods on her wedding day, she discovers that Habaek is a grumpy little boy who doesn't expect her to fulfill her wifely duties. What she doesn't know--even though someone mentions it in every single freaking volume--is that Habaek is cursed to be a boy during the day and turns into a man at night. A handsome man, no less, who tells Soah his name is Mui and whom Soah really likes. Now she's torn between her husband and... her husband. If only we all had such problems.

habaek in day mode
Habaek as a kid in day mode.

I first heard about Bride of the Water God on Stella Matutina, and wanted to read it because it's pretty clearly based on the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast: Soah's father sells her to the town as a sacrifice, and she winds up going to a magical castle filled with quirky characters and a mysterious hubby who's not what he appears. Habaek may not be a monster looks-wise, but personality-wise the kid's a terror.

color insert from bride of the water god
Habaek and his friends life among the stars.

The first few volumes of Bride of the Water God are really funny and entertaining. But they get harder and harder to follow as the series goes on. The stories are told in a very non-linear way, with multiple flashbacks and viewpoints. I approve of non-linear storytelling, but there's nothing to differentiate when you're reading a flashback scene, so that made it extremely confusing. Plus, I started to get very frustrated with the characters, particularly Habaek. It seems as though in every volume, Nakbin, Habeak's evil bitch of a first wife, comes back from the dead; except she's never the real Nakbin, even though Habaek thinks she is. I don't know if all of these impersonations are by the same person or not, but it doesn't really make a difference. The important point is it happens at the cost of further character development and moving the story forward.

As for the art, it's gorgeous--very ornate and detailed. One of my favorite parts of reading this series is Habaek's palace, because the architecture is fantastic and you feel like you can just walk right into it. That being said, there are times when the art is TOO ornate and it's hard to figure out what the heck you are looking at. Even if the story didn't have its own problems, the manga wouldn't flow well due to the occasionally incomprehensible art. Oh, and the characters speak with a lot of dots and exclamation marks (!). They gave me a headache.

mui and soah kissing
Habaek in night mode with Soah.

Technically, Bride of the Water God is a manwha, which is the Korean version of manga. Maybe my ignorance of the Korean style of art contributed to my confusion and frustration with this series, but it does require some patience. Either way, I think it's worth checking out for the art alone, or if you enjoy beauty and the beast-type stories. And who knows, maybe everything starts to make sense at some point.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Tempted by the Words of Another

lolcat marriage

Do you cheat on the books you're reading?

You know what I mean, but just to make SURE you know what I know that you know what I mean, let me explain: there are two types of readers. One reads a single book at a time, finishes it, then moves on to the next one. The other type reads multiple books at the same time and is constantly switching them out.

Me, I'm the former. I read one book at a time. And if I decide to put that book down in favor of another book, well... it's pretty much over.

Basically, books are like mini-marriages. If I'm in, I am fully committed to reading this sucker and making the relationship work. But sometimes you just have to break it off for you own sanity. Also, if I'm reading two books at once, it's hard not to compare one to the other and be impatient with the not-as-good one, which is why I try to avoid the situation altogether. This happens to me even when I'm listening to audiobooks and reading another book. Sometimes I'm like, "Why aren't you that other book??"

For example, I'm trying to read two (well, three, but I don't usually count audiobooks) novels at the same right now, and it's not going well at all. I'm reading Great Expectations by Charles Dickens; and while it's good and even really funny, whenever I pick the book up I feel like I'm taking my medicine. Also, finishing it is taking FOREVER. But I don't want to stop reading GE because 1. it is really good; and 2. I want to write a review about it. So I decided to just read a little every day and also read a romance novel at night. But whenever I pick up the romance novel I'm just like, "Uhg, what," and can't concentrate on it because I don't feel fully committed to reading it. Clearly one of these books has got to go. But which one?

What about you--do you view books like a marriage or like an open relationship?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Review: SCANDAL OF THE YEAR by Laura Lee Guhrke

scandal of the year cover

Aidan is an upstanding duke who usually avoids temptation, unless it comes in the form of Julia, or That Woman as he thinks of her. When Julia's hubby catches them in bed together, it leads to a messy scandal that involves Julia getting a divorce and Aidan's fiancee breaking off their engagement. But it's only the beginning of Julia and Aidan's relationship.

Laura Lee Guhrke has written some of my most favorite romance novels of all time, but I've had a difficult time working up interest in her latest releases for some reason. Scandal of the Year is an okay read--certainly better than Silk is for Seduction by Loretta Chase (review here)--but it has some serious pacing issues and there are a lot of anachronisms a copy editor should have caught.

In all honesty, this novel moves reallllllyyy sloooowwwwlly. It put me to sleep a few times, no joke. Usually that's a deal breaker, but what kept me reading were Julia and Aidan. They're both atypical characters for a romance, especially in the beginning of the book. Aidan is a straight-arrow who wants to get married, have children, and settle down. He doesn't really expect romantic love, but he is looking for a woman whom he can respect and share his life with. His plan would probably go well if he wasn't always being bothered by That Woman, aka Julia, who's shamelessly provocative, flighty, and who smokes, drinks, and drives like a maniac. I loved her! She's independent, but not in an emotionless or bitchy way; she just self-identifies as a rebel. I really enjoyed seeing her and Aidan interact and wanted to know how these two crazy kids would get together.

That being said, Scandal of the Year needed a lot more focus. The plot meanders all over the place, which is one of the major reasons why the book feels so slow until the last few chapters, when it suddenly ends. The flashback scenes didn't seem consistent with what we see of the characters in the story, and as I mentioned there are several obvious anachronisms. In one scene Julia describes a woman as "all right" (The Kids Are All Right?) and Aidan tells her, "That is lamest thing I've ever heard." Really, the LAMEST? n00b, u been pwn3d. Check out my awesome LOLcat, rotflmao.

costume drama historical inaccuracy

ANYWAY. I read through the entire thing, despite these problems, so that should tell you about how much I enjoy Guhrke's writing. I would have appreciated more social consequences for Aidan and Julia's actions--especially Julia; how can I believe she's a rebel when no one snubs her for defying social conventions?--but it's impossible not to like this book. And at the same time, weirdly difficult to like it that much. I wish Guhrke had followed just one train of thought with Scandal of the Year and focused her energies on heightening the sense of historical place and emotional drama, instead of trying to fit the great characters she created into a more conventional fluffy romance novel format. But there's always next time, right?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Check and Mate

Edward and Bella playing chess in Breaking Dawn

Chess. It's not the sexiest thing in the world. OR IS IT? Lately I've been noticing chess is used as a metaphor for sex in a lot of books. In Arnold Haultain's Hints for Lovers (link), he writes,
In the chess-like game of love-making, no woman plays for check-mate: the game interests her too much to bring it to a finish. What pleases her most is stale-mate, where, though the King cannot be captured, the captress can maneuver without end.
Coincidentally, after randomly coming across this quote, I started noticing chess really is a metaphor for sex in a lot of books. Take Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson (review here), for instance--the hero and heroine spend a good portion of the book playing chess in the library, and when the heroine finally accepts Phillip's proposal he's like, "Hey girl, let's go to the library to play chess." There are also chess scenes in Scandal of the Year by Laura Lee Guhrke, Breaking Dawn (the movie--I'm not sure that was in the book), and Harry Potter.

Makes you wonder what they were playing for with giant game of wizard's chess, doesn't it?

Do you think chess is the Game of Love, or is it more like Parcheesi?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Olde Timey Spy Gadgets: Guest Post and Giveaway by STEFANIE SLOANE

the saint who stole my heart cover

Today, historical romance author Stefanie Sloane is here to talk about the fascinating vintage spy gadgets she's come across doing research for her books about Regency spies, the Regency Rogues series. Welcome, Stefanie!

I write historical romance. Not historical fiction, but historical romance. There are plenty of differences between the two, obviously. But upon one point both can agree: research is important. The tricky bit for me is that I write about Regency-era spies. The heroes in my books are almost all members of the Young Corinthians, a covert spy organization that exists within the English government. In reality, such a group was formed during the reign of Elizabeth I:

1558 – 1603 marks the reign of Elizabeth I. Known as the Golden Age, it was a highly creative period in England’s history, as well as a time of prosperity and peace–or so it looked on the surface. Her father’s reign had proven to be one of the bloodiest England had ever seen. As for the Virgin Queen? She intended to end the Tudor dynasty on a high note and ruled with a more moderate hand and forgiving heart.

But beneath the Virgin Queen’s perfect empire? Plots, intrigue, and conspiracies brewed.

Queen Elizabeth was the target of many assassination attempts and conspiracies against her rule—a fact that did not please her particular friend and spy master, Francis Walsingham.

Walsingham formed one of the first organized spy efforts known to man in order to safeguard the Queen and her crown. The year was 1570. Though Walsingham had successfully defended the Queen countless times before, the infamous Ridolfi plot shook the spy master to his core. An early supporter of the Northern rebellion, Florentine banker and ardent Catholic Roberto Ridolfi conceived of a plan that included support from abroad in a bid to bring Mary, Queen of Scots, to the throne.

The plot was foiled, the Queen saved. And espionage was born.

All very dark, dangerous, and delicious, yes? Well, to an extent. When I conceived of the Corinthians, I had in mind James Bond in breeches; men who were inordinately skilled in subterfuge and seduction. Of course, this is the Regency, a point in history spanning roughly 1811 – 1830. No fast cars nor poison ballpoint pens, bomb-filled briefcases or even one Miss Moneypenny. Transportation? Carriage, horse, boat, or by foot. Weapons? Knives, fists, and guns that shot one bullet before needing to be reloaded. Communication? Slow. This is where the fiction piece comes into play. I embellished. I finessed. And in some cases, I flat out lied. My heroes need to be heroic, after all. And while I aim for complete accuracy when it comes to setting, dress, political goings-on, and much, much more, there are times when artistic license is necessary.

And yet, during my research I stumbled upon several fascinating spy gadgets that I desperately tried to work into my books—to no avail, unfortunately. Some were crazy. Some incredibly inventive. And some just plain genius. Below are a few of my favorites. Are they more interesting than those featured in my novels? Lord, I hope not. But still, it just goes to show that historical research is much more than dusty books, tired eyes, and hours spent in front of a computer screen. It’s an adventure just waiting to happen.

Napoleonic semaphore
A Chappe Tower near Saverne, France. With French people? (image c/o Wikipedia Commons)

Napoleonic semaphore. According to Wikipedia,
...the Napoleonic semaphore is a system of conveying information by means of visual signals using towers with pivoting shutters, also known as blades or paddles. Information is encoded by the position of the mechanical elements; it is read when the shutter is in a fixed position. These systems were popular in the late 18th to early 19th century. In modern usage, "semaphore line" and "optical telegraph" may refer to a relay system using flag semaphore, and "optical telegraph" may refer to a heliograph (optical telegraphy using mirror-directed sunlight reflections).

Semaphore lines were a precursor of the electrical telegraph. They were far faster than post riders for bringing a message over long distances, but far more expensive and less private than the electrical telegraph lines which would replace them. The distance that an optical telegraph could bridge is limited by geography and weather; thus, in practical use, most optical telegraphs used lines of relay stations to bridge longer distances.
Thomas Jefferson's disk cipher
The disk cipher made by Jefferson himself (image in the public domain)

Wheel cipher. According to,
During the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson had relied primarily on messengers to hand-carry sensitive letters, but codes became an essential part of his correspondence when he was America's minister to France since European postmasters opened and read all letters passing through their command.

Jefferson's wheel cipher consisted of twenty-six cylindrical wooden pieces, each threaded onto an iron spindle. The letters of the alphabet were inscribed on the edge of each wheel in a random order. Turning these wheels, words could be scrambled and unscrambled.
Victorian pocket watch camera
A pocket watch camera from 1886. (image courtesy of Watchismo)

Pocket watch camera. Ok, so this particular gadget was produced in the Victorian period, but still, it’s very cool. According to  J Lancaster & Son,
...the Lancaster Watch Camera was patented in October 1886 and made until 1890. Such tiny cameras were the forerunners for the ‘spy’ camera--a mechanism disguised as a different object. However, it would have been very inconvenient to use as four very small catches had to be released in order to remove the glass screen and to fit a separate metal material holder for each exposure.


Stefanie Sloane and her publisher are offering a very generous giveaway of all four books in the Regency Rogues series for one lucky reader of this blog! The giveaway is open internationally. To enter, please fill out the form below or click on this link:

Friday, April 6, 2012

Weekend Cooking: DROPPING ACID by Jamie Koufman and Jordan Stern

dropping acid cover

I know this will probably shock y'all, but sometimes my life isn't that glamorous. Like a few years ago, I started to feel this pain in my chest as if I was being stabbed through the heart. I thought I might be having a heart attack and I was only twenty-eight! Fortunately, it wasn't a heart attack--it was acid reflux (I found this out after two visits to my regular doctor, a trip to the ER, and seeing a GI specialist).

Acid reflux is the type of disease that sounds silly, until you actually get it and can't sleep, can't breathe, can barely move, and can't eat. I took Prilosec for about three months straight and that seemed to get it under control. Aside from occasional flare-ups, I didn't have any problems until a few weeks ago when I started to feel that stabby sensation again. Back to the Prilosec, even though it's not that good for your stomach.

Here's the thing about acid reflux: you cannot. eat. ANYTHING. Coffee, tea, chocolate, alcohol, bacon, cheese (you all know how much I love cheese)... Just imagine every food you enjoy or consider a comfort food, and then cross it off your list of things you can eat. Welcome to rice and boiled chicken for the rest of your life, bitches. I'd almost rather die, except acid reflux doesn't kill you--it just makes you FEEL like you're dying, then the cure makes you feel like there's no reason left to live anyway.

It's such a bummer.

I found out about Dropping Acid: The Reflux Diet Cookbook and Cure after googling "food to fight acid reflux." This is the only diet book I've ever read--but instead of cutting fat from your diet, you're trying to cut PH levels. I've read cookbooks for people with acid reflux before, like Eating for Acid Reflux by Jill Sklar and Annabel Cohen; but those books were incredibly disappointing. Not only did they not tell me anything I didn't already know, the recipes sounded terrible and weren't anything I'd ever want to eat.

Dropping Acid claims to be different, and for the most part it is. For one, I learned a lot about reflux, and realized I'd been suffering from it for a lot longer than I'd thought. According to Koufman and Stern, heartburn is only one of the less common symptoms of acid reflux--the majority of symptoms are things like coughing, hoarseness, feeling like you're choking or you can't swallow, and lots of mucus in your throat. If that's true, my reflux is definitely triggered by stress--I basically lived off frappacinos during finals week while in grad school, because I couldn't manage to swallow anything solid. Symptoms of "silent reflux," as Koufman and Stern call it, are often misdiagnosed as allergies, halitosis, dental disease, or asthma.

The diet part of the cookbook is two-fold: first, you spend 2-4 weeks on a strict diet eating nothing with a PH above 4. In part two, you can relax the diet and eat things with a higher PH, as long as you do so in small doses.

Here's what I really like about Dropping Acid: it's totally reasonable. When I first visited the GI specialist after realizing I had acid reflux, he was like, "No more coffee, tea, alcohol, or chocolate." Seriously? You need to let people down gently when you give them news like that. Koufman and Stern are more realistic: one cup of coffee a day is fine, a cocktail is fine as long as it's not right before bed, etc. They give you a list of really good foods you should try to incorporate into your diet, and generally bad foods you should avoid, and basically give you the building blocks to make smarter decisions about what you eat. They also say that everyone has their own hard limits on what foods they should definitely avoid at all times.

As for the cookbook section, that's a mixed bag. At first I was really exited because the recipes sounded like something I might actually want to eat! There were delicious-sounding smoothies, pancakes, quiches and omelets; salads that didn't sound half bad (I'm not a big fan of salads), entrées like mad mushroom stew, one-pot chicken blanquette, and scallops with penne verde; and even snacks and desserts like ginger cheesecake. A lot of the credit for these awesome-sounding recipes probably goes to Marc Bauer, a chef at the French Culinary Institute.

vegetable frittata with quinoa

Then I tried to actually make a few of the recipes and realized the directions could use some work. For example, in the vegetable frittata with quinoa, there are no times given as to how long to actually cook the frittata or any of the vegetables. You can't assume people know how long it takes to cook to anything "thoroughly," or even that people know what a thoroughly cooked vegetable is. This is a culture that doesn't know fries are made from potatoes, for heaven's sake (The New York Times republished this recipe with cooking times--thank you, NYT). I also tried a few of the salads and they were okay, but a little weird-tasting.

Despite my problems with some of the recipes, overall I'm happy with this book, because it makes me feel like I can eat well and still be relatively healthy. Just knowing basic foods that are good to eat (rather than only the bad stuff) and warning signs other than heartburn is really helpful. I definitely recommend Dropping Acid if you or someone you cook for suffers from acid reflux.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up over the weekend.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


get off my cloud

Remember #RRTheater? It was a thing Jane Litte from Dear Author used to do every Friday, where she'd read a free eBook and tweet about it, then everyone participating in the hashtag would make fun of it. Naturally someone got offended at some point and she had to stop (I'm surprised it took people as long as it did, honestly), but before that happened, it was really fun and we actually enjoyed a lot of the books!

I've noticed people tend to get huffy when others (me) make fun of books. Huffy like a big man with a walrus moustache. But just because I make fun of a book doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it! I make fun of Twilight all the time and I quite enjoy those novels.

Here's the thing, at least ninety per cent of anything anyone reads is utter crap. But, as Steven Lloyd Wilson says in his epic rant against twisty-panted snobs who hate genre fiction, "Pick Your Poison: Sturgeon's Law and Why We Love Bad Fiction," it's the utter crap you enjoy that really defines your reading tastes. Anyone can like Pride & Prejudice; that doesn't make you a hopeless romantic. Going through hundreds of romances a year in search of the most sigh-worthy story, on other hand... now that's connoisseurship.

But just because you enjoy it doesn't mean you also, objectively, are not aware of its flaws. So yes, if a book asks to be mocked, I will oblige. Am I also making fun of myself a little for enjoying such ridiculous books? Perhaps. But that's my prerogative. I have never and will never claim that the books I like are actually good, just that I had fun reading them, and sometimes that involves making fun OF them.

Have you read a book recently you enjoyed making fun of?

Monday, April 2, 2012


twilight graphic novel cover

TWILIGHT: The Graphic Novel, Volume 2, by Young Kim and Stephenie Meyer

I remember kind of liking volume one of Twilight: The Graphic Novel (review here), mainly because of the gorgeous art, so I was excited to read volume two. However, I had a really hard time getting into this one. Maybe it had do with being dropped into the middle of the story after a two year-ish break from volume one, but there were also a lot of stylistic things that bothered me.

For one, the pacing was really draggy. And for another, the dialog. Uhg. For some reason... the characters kept... talking with a lot of... dots in their sentences. Why? Are they breathing heavily? Cursing? (Actually, it might be fun to insert curse words into all the dot-dot-dot parts--too bad my copy comes from the library.) There was also a lot of shouting and exclamation marks! It seriously got on my nerves.

If I had to do it again, I'd probably reread volume one and then start volume two immediately after.

sleight of heart cover

THE SLEIGHT OF HEART by Benjamin Parsons

I got this novella for free on Smashwords. It's a folk tale-esque story about how a rock formation shaped like a woman wound up on a cliff, and involves love and murder. I really liked the writing style, but the way the story was told didn't flow well at all. The paranormal elements felt tacked on, and there wasn't a single character to root for in the entire book. Plus, it's incorrectly categorized--this is NOT a romance, Gothic or otherwise, and I'm a little offended any person would think it was. Still, it wasn't too bad. If I wasn't expecting a love story out of it I probably would have been more satisfied with it.

in a dark wood cover

In a Dark Wood by Josh Lanyon

This is an unusual story from Lanyon--usually his mysteries are quirky and fun, but this one was downright creepy. Tim is a NYC travel writer who meets Luke, a detective, at a party. At the urging of a friend, Tim tells a story from when he was thirteen and stumbled upon a ramshackle house in the woods with human bones buried in the yard. At the urging of Luke, he and Tim return to the house to investigate.

Not only is the house freaking scary in this story, but there are other dark themes as well. Tim has spent his entire adulthood blaming himself for not telling anyone about what he found, and as a result he's a moody bastard and a serious alcoholic. Overall I found In a Dark Wood to be well-paced, atmospheric, and worth the read, especially if you like spooky stories.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Bloggiesta Final Update

bloggiesta finish

I won't really be done with Bloggiesta until tonight, but I thought I'd post my final update this morning afternoon.

Yesterday I didn't do much other than compile some list pages. Right now I have Art & Art History, Harry Potter, Jane Austen, and Vampires. I was thinking of adding Foodie posts, and possibly something else. Any ideas? Obviously I can't just do genres like a normal person, haha.

Today, though, I mainly want to focus on writing up some reviews and taking it easy. I am definitely blogged out right now, yo. If I never see another HTML code, it will be too soon.

Updated to-do list:
  • Link to my blog reviews on GoodReads. The real challenge will be remembering to keep this up.
  • Tackle Technorati. I'm STILL ignoring this one.
  • Find out why the FaceBook 'like' button on PGP isn't working. Tried it out last night and it works!
  • Get rid of the TBFB at the start of every post and "This work by..." in the summary. The meta description for the blog is showing up, yay! But the description for individual pages isn't showing up at all and I have no idea why. =/ Tried Blogger help and naturally that was a dead end.
  • Make page listings. I'm nearly done with this.
  • Social media buttons. They look a little boring to me, design-wise, but oh well. They work at least!
  • Get rid of gadgets in my sidebar. I got rid of a lot of gadgets after adding the social media buttons. Once I'm finished setting up the lists, I plan on deleting the tag clouds, too.
What do you think of the new social media buttons and pages? Any feedback is appreciated!


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