Saturday, March 27, 2010

Book Post Mar 16-24

Delayed a bit by my week of illness, here is this week's reading post:

The Western Wizard by Mickey Zucker Reichert
Sequel to The Last of the Renshai.  The Western Wizard was a thrilling novel about war, loyalty, king-building, prophecy and the search for the Western Wizard's successor.  I found it to be a very enjoyable read in which I also found myself invested in the fate of the characters.  Some of the character interactions were a bit rough and there were places where the emotional narrative was given too much tell as opposed to show.  However it didn't really affect my enjoyment of the book.  There was one exchange between the Eastern Wizard and Colby that really made me laugh:

'Colby studied the Eastern Wizard. "I guess we'll find you useful after all."

Now Shadimar grinned broadly. "If you had just confessed that at the beginning of our discussion, we could have finished long ago.  What is it with warriors that makes them jabber endlessly without saying anything?"

"Warriors?"  Amused by the role reversal, Colbey laughed.  He indulged Shadimar's whimsy for the sake of the joke.  "Maybe.  Just maybe, I'm practicing to be a Wizard." (575).'

Soulless by Gail Carriger
This Victorian Steampunk alternate history with its supernatural elements is a delightfully fun and silly read.  The novel begins with the spinster protagonist taking on a vampire armed with a parasol and a hair stick.  Once the vampire is dead her largest regret is the destruction of the treacle tart.  From there Alexia Tarabotti is drawn into a series of events that rapidly gain in momentum.  I love the way that werewolves and vampires have been folded into the normal workings of society complete with their own government agency.  I absolutely loved the detail that went into creating the characters: the flamboyant Lord Akeldama, the commanding Lord Maccon and the terrible fashion sense of Miss Hisselpenny.  This was a lovely read the whole way through and I definitely spent most of the book giggling. I can't wait to read Changeless!

Seven Up by Janet Evanovich
This time around Stephanie Plum is out hunting 80-year-old man Eddie DeChooch who keeps managing to get away from her and Lula.  There's a pair of strange men hanging around demanding progress updates on DeChooch.  Highlights of this book: crazy wedding planning, the return of Stephanie's sister Valerie, the destruction of at least one more car, and Bounty hunting with Vinnie.  This book was not one of my favorites.  It didn't have the same energy as previous books and it just wasn't as fun.

Hard Eight by Janet Evanovich
This one definitely made up for my disappointment in book seven...Stephanie is recruited by a neighbor to look into a missing mother and child.  This leads to Stephanie being harassed by the missing woman's landlord, Abruzzi, who definitely beats book one villain Ramirez in the creepy department.  Abruzzi develops a fondness for sending men in masks to harass Stephanie.  Those scenes are hilarious especially when Grandma Mazur and Stephanie's mother get involved.  I loved how Joe showed up every time there was an incident involving Stephanie.  The plucky sidekick for this novel was overeager lawyer Albert Kloughn.  Highlights include: Another episode of bounty hunting with Vinnie, and Stephanie feeding the geese.  Car Count: 2 Stolen then recovered, 3 Blown-up.  This was another delightful addition to the series.

Visions of Sugar Plums by Janet Evanovich
This was the first of a between the numbers side series to the Stephanie Plum books.  In this book a minor supernatural element is introduced into the story- people with super powers.  Stephanie is introduced to Diesel who is the super-powered equivalent of a bounty hunter who offers his help in finding Stephanie's Failed-to Appear knowing that his own target won't be far away.  Set at Christmas time Stephanie's FTA is a toy-maker with a workshop filled with "little people" dressed as elves...very angry elves, prompting a return appearance by Randy Briggs.  At first, the introduction of the supernatural element was a bit off-putting since it was out of the initial parameters of very normal New Jersey.  However, the same hijinks and hilarity that make the main series fun are running wild and rampant through the side series as well.

Plum Lovin' by Janet Evanovich
Diesel returns and he has Stephanie's current FTA, Annie.  Diesel is protecting Annie from another super-powered man and has promised to take care of her clients that have come to her for relationship advice.  Stephanie agrees to help play relationship expert. The clients range from a lovesick vet to a busy mother of four to the shy butcher to the blushing virgin.  Highlight: Watching Porn with the Virgin, Grandma Mazur, and Lula.  The bounty hunting plot line was kind of lifeless but the matchmaking plot line definitely made up for it.  It made for a nice light afternoon read.

Plum Lucky by Janet Evanovich
Another adventure with the mysterious Diesel.  This book takes the cast on the road to Atlantic city when Grandma Mazur finds a bag of cash and makes a break for it.  Stephanie is close behind with Lula and Connie.  It turns out that Grandma Mazur acquired the bag from a Super-powered man that is Diesel's current target.  Highlights: Lula's distraction in the casino, the Midget sized RV, rescuing the racehorse, and crashing an Armored Truck into Ranger's gate. This installment of the series definitely made me giggle.  Highly entertaining!

Dead to Rights by J.A. Jance
The next installment of the Joanna Brady mysteries.  The book opens with a powerful opening scene of a deliriously happy couple torn apart on their wedding anniversary when a drunk driver kills the wife.  Fast forward a year and the husband is out in front of the Vet Clinic owned by the driver protesting and handing out MADD flyers.  The driver is later murdered and the suspect on hand is the husband.  Despite much pressure to the contrary, Sheriff Joanna Brady insists on hunting for answers in an ever tangled web of lies and deception.  I really enjoyed this book.  I like the way things don't magically become easy for Joanna once she is Sheriff and that there are the very real little office power struggles going on.  The interactions between Joanna and her daughter, Jenny, are absolutely fantastic. I think they are perfect for a young girl who lost her father violently and now her mother has gone into law enforcement as well.  Not only does Jance capture their shifting family dynamic as they adjust to being two instead of three but she also captures how Jenny is adjusting to the change in career for her mother, shifting between pride and fear and anger.  I'm definitely looking forward to reading the next book!

Currently Reading:
I Loved Jesus in the Night: Teresa of Calcutta- A Secret Revealed by Paul Murray
A biography of sort about Mother Teresa dealing especially with her struggles with faith and doubt and feelings of abandonment.  Some interesting insights but a dry read.

Spellwright by Blake Charlton
I'm a few chapters in and I'm definitely fascinated by the unique magic system.  I can't wait to have time to read more.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Dancing Through Life: A Multimedia Experience

Last weekend was a whirlwind of activity that started Thursday evening.

The Solomon Douglas trio performed live at the PPAA on Thursday night. I took my sister dancing with me and we met up with a bunch of my swing dance friends. The band was pretty good, a bit lounge-y and low energy at times but still, live music still beats DJed music. After the dance we went to Rimsky's for dessert. I was the only one who had never been so of course I checked out their famous bathroom.

Friday night was Elaine's celebration of her new apartment. We were treated to wonderful homemade Mexican food. We played some games: Splash, which is basically Spoons with plastic dolphins that squeak and Taboo.

Saturday, I went to the first half of the local Big Apple Workshop with Gillian and Coyle. The Big Apple is a Jazz Steps Routine choreographed by Frankie Manning and originally performed by Whitey's Lindy Hoppers.

If you've never seen it here's a clip (Just the first half of the clip though there is some wicked lindy hop in the second half):
Then I went to my regular Saturday night dance afterwards.

Sunday was really crazy. I had to be in Church to play with the Handbell Choir for Bach's 325th Birthday. There was some seriously awesome music on Sunday. Our organist is fantastic and we had special music from two members of our congregation who normally play with the Oregon Symphony. The music from this Sunday:

All Glory Be To God On High (BWV 711)- Helen Hollenbeck, Organ
Hymn Blessed Jesus, At Your Word with Chorale Prelude Liebster Jesus, Wir sind hier (BWV 731)- Helen Hollenbeck, Organ; Lynn Finch, Violin; Ken Finch, Cello
Aria from St. John Passion Mein teuer Heiland (BMV 245)- Bennett Bailey, Baritone; Ken Finch, Cello; Helen Hollenbeck, Continuo
Siciliano from Sonata No. IV in C Minor for Violin (BWV 1017)- Lynn Finch, Violin; Ken Finch, Cello; Helen Hollenbeck, Continuo

I went straight from Church to a Dance Workshop on Dancing in Tight Spaces with Syncopated Rhythms followed by a short practicum with the band Kung Pao Chickens. There were some very fun moves for both Balboa and Charleston. From there I went to the second day of the Big Apple Workshop where we learned the second half and the hardest part of the choreography.

After that I was home long enough to eat and shower before heading out for the regularly scheduled Sunday dance (though at a different venue, the Paradise). Even though I was pretty tired by then I still had a good time and went out to Old Chicago afterwards with everyone like we usually do.

I was feeling pretty good, if tired after my busy weekend until about Tuesday when it caught up to me with a vengeance. I got sick with an awful sore throat and swollen tonsils and was generally feeling awful and listless. I'm finally getting back into the swing of things, though I'll definitely be taking it much easier this weekend.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Book Post Mar 9-15

This week from my bookshelf:

by Orson Scott Card

It's been a while since I've read anything by him and I'd definitely forgotten how beautiful how world building is. His prose is so lovely and he'll contrast it by writing in an event or something so horrible or ugly that it sometimes takes another read or two of the passage to comprehend what exactly happened. Songmaster follows one man from events that make his existence significant to his death. The young man transforms from a gifted young singer in an isolated school to the companion of an emperor to a man of great consequence in his own right and finally his return to the home of his youth. There is love, both familial and romantic, cut-throat political maneuvering, bold kidnappings, and whirlwind fight scenes. I really enjoying reading this novel.

Hot Six by Janet Evanovich

Book Six in the Stephanie Plum series. I still very amused by this series. This time her bond apprehension target is her coworker/mentor, Ranger, who quite honestly is more dangerous tied up and blindfolded than Stephanie is fully armed. She ends up feeding information to both Ranger and her on and off boyfriend, Joe Morelli. For added fun and games, Grandma Mazur gets fed up living with Stephanie's parents and decides to move into Stephanie's apartment. To make matters even more amusing as a favor, she gets stuck with a police officer friend's very large dog. At least the dog is helpful on stake-out...and destroying other people's cars. The car count for this book: four. Favorite moments: flaming dog poop takes out a car and Joyce Barnhardt tied to a tree.

All the Wrong Moves by Merline Lovelace

A mystery novel written by one of my old favorite romance authors. The book was set in a military funded research station with a mixed team of military and civilian. The military head of the team Lt. Samantha Spade finds a pair of bodies on a jog out testing some equipment and gets drawn into a giant jurisdictional battle which she seems to think she needs to be in the middle of. After an arsonist targets her lab, she makes finding the murderer a personal goal despite having no jurisdiction herself. All in all, I think that I'll stick to reading her romance novels which generally contain a suspense element but seem to be better developed and make more sense logically.

Fire in the Mist by Holly Lisle

After the death and destruction of her country village, Faia is taken to city for learning to control her powerful and wild magical talent. The city is split into separate centers of learning for men and women, a division that an ancient evil returns and takes advantage of. Faia is a character that is very likable and easy to identify with. Her outsider and disenchanted viewpoint makes an interesting viewpoint on the magical city. I found the plot line for the ancient evil to be a bit confusing at the major revealing point so it took a bit to catch up from there. But that didn't really detract from my enjoyment of the book. The book stands alone quick nicely though I liked the characters enough to hope for a sequel and was pleasantly surprised to see at the used book store that there are two more books (though only book 3 was available).

Currently Reading: The Western Wizard by Mickey Zucker Reichert

Book Two of the Last of the Rensai Trilogy and so far definitely worth reading.

Today I visited my favorite used Bookstore and Barnes and Noble (both very happy places). I have bunches of new books to read including several more Stephanie Plum books, Soulless by Gail Carrier (One of my New Favorite Bloggers) and the next book in the Renshai Trilogy. I also got on Amazon and ordered Spellwright by Blake Charleton (Another New Favorite Blogger). Hurrah for lots of reading to do!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Recipe: Asparagus and Ham Casserole

Tasty and filling. It has the benefits of being easy to prepare and have a short prep and bake time.

Asparagus and Ham Casserole

1 pound fresh asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups cubed fully cooked ham
3 cups cooked rice
1 cup diced celery
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon pepper
1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed cream of chicken soup, undiluted
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup bread crumbs


Place asparagus in a large saucepan with enough water to cover; cook until crisp-tender. Drain well. In a greased 2-1/2-qt. casserole, mix asparagus, ham, rice, celery and lemon pepper. In a saucepan, mix soup and broth. Add cheese and cook until melted. Pour into casserole. Melt butter in a small saucepan; add crumbs and cook and stir until browned. Sprinkle on top of casserole. Bake at 350 degrees F for 35 minutes

I do make one modification to the recipe. I use a full bag of shredded cheddar cheese- half goes into the soup mixture and half goes on top of the crumbs.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Recipe: Slow Cooker Cranberry Roast

This is a personal favorite roast recipe! It makes for a wonderfully tender roast and the gravy turns out delicious and thick. It also doesn't taste tremendously like cranberry after it is done cooking for those who might have an issue. Very easy and quick to prepare!

Slow Cooker Cranberry Roast


1 (1 ounce) envelope dry onion soup mix
1 (3 pound) beef chuck roast
1 (16 ounce) can jellied cranberry sauce
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour


Place onion soup mix in the bottom of a slow cooker. Place roast in the slow cooker, and top with cranberry sauce.

Cover, and cook 8 hours on Low.

Remove roast, and set aside. Set slow cooker to High. Whisk together butter and flour, and slowly mix into the liquid remaining in the slow cooker to create a thick gravy. Serve with the roast.

Book Post Mar 2-8

This Week's Reading:

Wolf Hunting by Jane Lindskold

She has really hit her stride with this series! We get to see more of her incredible world-building and learn more about the magic system of her world as well as follow most of our favorite characters from past books into a new adventure! And at the end it is set-up for long story arc of new adventures with plenty of directions for the series to take.

Tombstone Courage
by JA Jance

The second book in this series follows newly elected Sheriff Joanna Brady on her first days on the job with a fresh murder and a major mystery. The book was well written, though I had guessed the major plot point early on, it was still enjoyable to find out how it would be revealed and what else was going on with the major players in the mystery.

Shoot Don't Shoot by JA Jance

The third book in the series follows Joanna Brady to a Law Enforcement Training Class outside her jurisdiction with a local case to look into as a favor to a friend. This book was fun to read and kept me guessing. The characters were easy to connect with and make me want to read more. It was disappointing to me that the next book wasn't on my shelf, especially since the one after was.

Mind Snare by Gayle Greeno

This one was a re-read of a book that I had read several years ago. Glenn and his mother, Jerelynn, are the star actors in a traveling Acting troupe on the Satellites on Earth. Glenn is the secret child of Jerelynn's affair with a well-respected religious ma. Because of the affair, the man's wife tries to murder Jerelynn and only fails because Glenn and a friend preserve Jerelynn's mind in an illegal "brain box" when it is clear that her body is dying. During my first read of the story, I didn't really notice the presence and the implications of the Brain Box but this time I could really appreciate the horror of it. They took an active woman known for her grace and physical abilities and cut her existence down to life as just a brain. Trapped, utterly reliant on other people... Aside from scientific horrors, this story is full of action, intrigue, and betrayal. It was definitely worth a second read to really get the nuances.

Currently Reading:
Songmaster by Orson Scott Card
I had forgotten how beautiful his writing and worldbuilding is. That is all.

Other Current Distractions
Story Lottery on LJ is currently posting! I wasn't doing enough writing to justify signing up but I've been lurking and commenting. There have been some great stories in fandoms that I don't watch carefully.

Big Damn Rewatch on LJ - because everyone should watch Firefly over and over like I do! First episode was this past weekend.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Thought of the Day: The Bible as a Modern Golden Calf

As a Christian and a Scientist, the idea that the bible isn't a document to be taken literally like a textbook isn't exactly a new concept for me. I value the bible strongly for its historical, cultural and literary significance and I do believe that you can learn right ways of living from the stories and teachings within. However, I also acknowledge that the bible was written down, compiled, editted, translated and even interpreted by human men with their own very human experiences, views and motivations. For that matter, the majority of the Old Testament is letters from Paul to various communities of early Christians and Paul's own words and prejudices are often given the same weight as the words of Jesus. (Oh hello, Soap Box...I missed you!) Anyway...not the post of this post, though if someone wants to discuss it...I'm game!

So...I was reading one of the web comics that I follow, Least I Could Do, and at the bottom of the page was the most recent news/forum post from one of the artists about a current news event featuring a public battle between a lesbian couple and the catholic school that won't let their daughter re-enroll. Religion, Education, Sexuality, Morality and Equal Rights are all topics that interest me in discussions so I checked out the discussion thread even though I need another forum like I need a hole in my head. One of the posts (Top of Page 4) brought up an interesting concept, that even though the post was poorly written and a bit incoherent, stuck with me: The idea that the Bible has become a Golden Calf. Not necessarily as something to believe but certainly something to give a bit of thought to. Especially since the whole blind unquestioning faith thing? Not exactly my gig. I like questions like "why" and "how" and the phrase "but that doesn't make sense".

Things to think about:

  • What made the Golden Calf so appealing to the people of the bible?
  • Do some or all of those same conditions exist in the modern world?
  • Does modern society lend itself more to a preference for instant concrete answers from the bible over delayed and uncertain gratification via prayer and conversation with God?
  • Where does the trend towards legalistic Christianity come from?
  • Why is it easier as Christians to focus on following (and enforcing in others) the morality of the Old Testament than it is to follow Jesus' simple command to Love?

Would love to discuss this since I'm still turning over thoughts in my head. Let me know what you think on any part of this.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Stop the World I Want to Get Off

Now that I'm a tad bit calmer, I think I can say a few words about the crazy that has infected my life.

I met a friend at the Dollar Tree at Eastport Plaza on 82nd. We wandered the store for a bit and then left and drove around in her car for awhile. Leaving my car parked in the lot there. When we got back, I got directly into my car and drove off. I knew that I took the turn out of the dark lot a bit sharply and rolled over the curb.  As I was driving home I noticed that I could hear air through the passenger side but just thought that it wasn't closed properly.

So when I walked around to open and reclose the passenger door, I saw a giant gouge from the rear fender to the front passenger door.  I drive a Jeep Grand Cherokee so I'm basically hyperventilating: the curb was not that tall...  I walk inside and babble incoherently at my Mom until she comes out and confirms that it is indeed not a curb that my car hit.  She comes up with the working theory that someone hit it in the parking lot trying to pull into the next spot over. (Dad's contribution was: You get to call the insurance company. and This is a great start with a new insurance company.)  So I got to put in the claim with the insurance company which was relatively painless. 

I was still pretty unsettled and I posted something on Facebook and within like 30 seconds my best friend had called and was on her way over to walk around the neighborhood and talk and settle my nerves.  She also helped me not look at my car as I returned home!

So this morning, I went over to the store to see if any of the employees from last night were there and had seen anything and at the corner of the entrance to the lot was a large decorative boulder that had been rotated out of place and was surrounded by orange cones and construction tape.  I pretty much felt my stomach drop.  I parked and walked over to investigate.  It was pretty clear that the boulder had been what "hit" my car.  So now I feel really exceptionally stupid. 

The insurance agent called back this afternoon and was very nice and very helpful.  So far the process has been relatively painless.  But is it cynical to believe that it isn't going to last?  I expect things to get very interesting once they see the damage.

My emotions have been absolutely everywhere today and last night.  Currently, I'm back to numb but it's the emotionally exhausted kind of numb instead of the borderline shocky kind of numb that I was last night...which was probably more closely related to hysteric...

And here's my mini rant:
Who decorates the corner of a parking lot with boulders?  When did nice small out-of-the-way trees go out of fashion? 

Oregon Dixieland Jazz Festival

Tonight was so awful that I think I'll write about last weekend instead. I'll wait until the morning and hopeful things will look better or at least be easier to photograph.

So...Saturday was the Oregon Dixieland Jazz Festival in Seaside. Mindy from Stumptown Dance organized a group of Swing Dancers to attend together. Several of us met around 8am at the PPAA to carpool. I rode with Rosey, Mindy and Neil (an out of towner from Ohio). We passed the ride pretty easily talking the whole way. A minor disappointment since I had planned to read but it was probably more fun. We got there in time to hear the first band start to play, however it takes forever to get twenty or so dancers who drove in various arrangements gathered and organized.

At first we stuck to the convention center which had two rooms set-up for bands including dance floors. It was really easy to hop back and forth between the two rooms based on what the bands were playing. We had at a cafe that offered seafood options after walking down to the beach and back up. Since Saturday was the day of the Earthquake in Chile, there were not one but two News Vans in Seaside to cover the potential tsunami. So we were able to poke fun at them a bit amongst ourselves.

After Lunch we hopped between the convention center and the Elks. The floor wasn't as good at the Elks but they were better prepared with a box of dance wax. We heard some really great bands in the afternoon and the evening. Some of my favorites were: Titan Hot Seven, Blue Street Jazz, and High Sierra, in no particular order. We had pizza for dinner on our way back to the convention center for the last set of the night with Titan Hot Seven. During the last set there was some shuffling of the driving arrangements to make sure that none of the dancers had to drive home alone. On the way back, Kyle joined Rosey and I, while Mindy and Neil rode with other dancers. We had a fun time driving back too...

It was a long day with about 12 hours of dancing. It was completely exhausting but it was so much fun and I hope that i am able to go next year!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Book Post Feb 23- Mar 1

 This week I was able to get some quality reading time in:

Emerald Sea by John Ringo

This is the sequel to There Will Be Dragons which I absolutely loved.  I posted a bit about this book along the way. I still felt the loss of the character development but in the end it didn't really detract too much from my enjoyment of the book.  I was a bit more miffed by his treatment of formerly strong female characters, especially Daneh and Rachel, who were given tasks that took place far from the action in a side plot line that kind of trickled into oblivion.  Also a thorn in my side was the several chapter dragon training montage that didn't really bring anything new to the theme of dragon training.  I suppose that it was set-up as an echo of the focus on the military training that Herzer received in the first novel, which would make it more interesting as a literary device. But it did just sort of halt the momentum of the novel which was set as a journey compared to the previous novel's stationary setting in a city.  However, the novel was almost entirely redeemed by the numerous and exquisite combat sequences.  How could you pass up a great naval battle with mermaids, krakens, and swimming dragons?  Emerald Sea didn't capture my heart like it's predecessor but it was still overall a good read and I look forward to picking up the next book in the series.

Also included in my paperback edition was a short story in the same world about a young woman, Megan captured by the other side and forced to join the opposite leader, Paul's personal harem.  The general topic was an old clique but the writing and character development was superb.  Ringo was successful in portraying a strong young woman forced to make difficult choices and her changing options and motivations.  I hope to see this new protagonist play a role in future books in the main series!

High Five by Janet Evanovich

Stephanie Plum's wild adventures continue!  This time with odd jobs for Ranger thrown in.  This book's guest oddling was a midget whose door was destroyed when she apprehended him, so he lives with her while she tries to find a missing relative and find a job that fits her skills in Ranger's wide range of opportunities.  Number of Cars Lost, Stolen or Destroyed: Three.  But the Buick is still fine.  Favorite minor character: the Teenage Sheik.  This book made me laugh very hard.  

Shadow's Edge by Brent Weeks

Sequel to Way of the Shadows.  I really enjoyed reading this book!  Each of the main characters was given strong motivations that made their actions make sense in the scope of the character development and movement.  I love that even though Kylar was trying to give up the life of a wet boy he just couldn't because he kept seeing people that the city would be better without.  And that for the sake of his friendship with Jarl and Logan he is willing to give up his dream to return to his former home and use his skills.  The scenes of Logan in prison, being stripped down to his most elemental self were also amazing in their realism.  I can also appreciate the set-up of the conflicts that will need to be resolved even though it was cruel to be left there!  I'm definitely looking forward to acquiring the next book.  Brent Weeks also gets bonus points for being a fellow Oregonian (Not that I knew until after I finished this book)!

Currently Reading: 
Wolf Hunting by Jane Linskold
Fifth in her series, Wolf.  Firekeeper, Blind Seer, and Derian are off on another adventure.  So far another fabulous book from Linskold.  The third book of the series was so-so but everything else has been amazing.