Friday, September 11, 2015

Humor, gamer culture, sex, violence, exploding bluebirds...more, please!

Forging Day by Noelle Alladania Meade

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

'Forging Day' doesn't lend itself to to easy categorization. It's not a romance, lesbian or otherwise. It's not pure erotica. Ti's not post-apocalyptic. That said, it does include elements of all three genres. When we meet Olivia, the narrator, she is unemployed, living off the kindness of her friends and the generosity of her sister, and scraping the bottom of the barrel for boyfriends. She's not a bad person, but she is broken. Over the course of the book, she, like the Shards of Narsil, is reforged into strength and purpose.

There's a bit of dialog that captures the flavor of Olivia's transformation:

“Oh my god, Berto. We’re noobs. We’re not even first level adventurers. We’re those idiots trying to figure out the tutorial— and I always skip the tutorial. . . . when I dreamed about becoming a fantasy adventurer, I was always a max-level character with epic gear. Look at me. I’m wearing vendor trash.”

Thankfully, Olivia, like countless other low-level adventurers, has a party backing her up. Her friends have abilities of their own and are learning to use them as well. As with any ensemble cast, most get only the screen time and storyline they need to have, not what they ideally should have. Developing the secondary characters would have added a lot to the story, but I think it would have lessened the urgency and tension the plot needs.
Less of a flying rat and more of a flying hand grenade.

Olivia's romantic relationships are a significant part of the story, especially in the first chapter. In online gaming terms, Chapter One is a gear check for the reader. Make it through to the end (and I mean the entirety of the chapter) and you're in good shape for the rest of the story. The author handles a rough scene with great skill, and the reader becomes invested in Olivia almost at once. The other sex scenes in the book are nicely fun and sweaty. Olivia doesn't get magic items as she levels up but she does get magic moments.

Obviously this is the first book of a planned series, and I can't wait to pick up the next one.

View all my reviews

Monday, June 22, 2015

If the idea works, it isn't dumb..

I didn't feel up to posting anything yesterday for Father's Day, and I still rather don't. That said, we did have one issue this weekend that brought to mind Noelle's father, Carl, and his approach to problem-solving.

We bought Alissa a Mylar balloon for her birthday last month. Against all odds, it still had plenty of helium in it Saturday night, and it proved this by floating out of Alissa's room, bopping across thirty feet of ceiling, and fetching up against the intake slats for the attic fan. Thankfully, the string had come off the balloon, so there was no danger of that being sucked into the fan and getting tangled up with the blades.

The intake is twenty feet above our front door, right next to a 6'x6' window. The intake slats are weighted to stay closed and only open when there's enough air moving to force them open. They're too narrow for the balloon to fit through, but it got pulled in far enough to get pinned when the fan shut off.

That's what we woke up to Sunday morning.

One option was moving Alissa's bed so we could climb up into the attic and scoot gracefully through the rafters to the fan. Carl was up there when we first moved in, and he talked about what a pain it was, even as skinny and agile as he was at the time. I was fairly sure if I tried, I'd either get stuck like Winnie-the-Pooh and have to be rescued with a crane and a Saws-All. or the rafters would give way and I'd fall through the ceiling, the first floor, the basement floor, and be buried in the crawlspace under a pile of rubble. Then naked mole rats would go through my pockets for loose change.

A ladder might have worked, if not for the window. We'd have to put it at an angle that would leave us with a good ten feet between the ladder and the balloon. We could maybe reach it with a rake, but there's the window again.

We ruled out putting a line on a broadhead-tipped arrow and shooting it through the balloon. Ditto for breaking out the desktop-scale Civil War cannon my dad made and pounding a volley of BBs through it. No good backstop. That aside, we didn't have any black powder, BBs, wadding, or cannon fuse.

Tying a cord to a small object and wrapping it in tape sounded promising. Except that, if we missed, said object was usually falling straight down on us. We missed a lot. The dog was not helpful; every time she looked at us, the "WTF people???" was writ plain on her furry little face.

Then we remembered Alissa's little western fort play tent.

The poles for the tent are plastic, about five feet long. We lashed three of them together with packing tape and wrapped one end in more tape, sticky side out.

Noelle was now standing on a stepladder, playing 'hit the pinata' with a fifteen-foot fishing pole that had all the rigidity of a warm Twizzlers stick. She finally managed to swing the tape-wrapped end enough to hit the balloon - and the slats were too tight for her to pull it loose. I hit the fan on 'low', and the balloon was free to float again.

Right up to the point where it fell down on the the scissors. Several times.

I can't say that was how Carl would have solved this issue; I suspect he would have gone to his tool chest and built a 20' robotic claw made of wire coat hangers and used shock absorbers. However, I can say I'm very tempted to look to my father when it comes to keeping future Mylar balloons safely grounded.

I just need to find someone who sells cannon fuse.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Review: 'Silver Shackles' by Fiona Skye
I came in to Silver Shackles not having read the first book, but it is a good stand-alone and I had no issues understanding the world or getting into the story. The story does tend to follow the general, common conventions of the paranormal genre, but it avoids 'cookie cutter' characters and themes, for which I was thankful. I just do not see why every city in the paranormal genre has a court ruled by vampires. Why can't we have a were-Tyrannosaus Rex with adamantite claws running things once in a while? Anyway....

Riley and her boyfriend David were both easy to relate to, and all the major characters were developed enough to move out of the "generic background extra" category. I'd kvetch about Riley and David not communicating (one of my big pet peeves), but in this case the major communication failures are due to professional and ethical constraints rather than literary convenience.

For me, one of the strongest points of enjoyment was the sheer malevolence of the dark Fae. It was nice to see villains who didn't remind me of Snidely Whiplash.

My biggest criticism is that the story moves very fast. Some folks have said the same thing about my own books, so I can't complain too much about that. :-)

Rating 4 of 5

Friday, April 17, 2015

Steampunk + India = Tasty

While I was doing the background research for 'Hearts Before Diamonds', I wanted to find a Victorian-era breakfast dish that would have been popular with Westerners visiting India. A British friend told me about kedgeree, but the flavor profile (and the flaked haddock) were too British. A little looking turned up more recipes than I can count for khichuri, the root dish kedgeree is derived from.

So, presented here is the recipe I used for Edward Wallace's breakfast. It's appropriate for any Steampunk adventure, and if you see something you don't like, by all means replace it. Khichuri is as malleable as the cheeseburger or the omelet. Case in point: this recipe calls for red lentils, but I think yellow ones are more tender. Also, I hate cauliflower. 

Recipe originally posted on Zesterdaily and shamelessly copied here.  You don't want to know how much time I've wasted browsing recipes there...

Allez cuisine!

Bengali Red Lentil Risotto (Khichuri)
(Recipe adapted from “The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles”)

1 cup dried red split lentils (masoor dal)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 cup short-grained rice (such as Arborio or kala jeera)
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 medium-sized tomato, finely chopped
1 medium-sized potato, peeled and cubed
1/2 small cauliflower head, cut into small florets
3 to 4 green chilies, slit halfway lengthwise
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup frozen peas
2 tablespoons oil
1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 1/2 teaspoons ghee (clarified butter)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 to 2 bay leaves

1. In a large, heavy-bottomed pan put the red lentils and about 4 cups water and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
2. Add the turmeric and simmer for about 10 minutes. The lentils should be partially cooked but not mushy at this point.
3. Add the rice, 3 more cups water, ginger, ground cumin and coriander, tomato, potato, cauliflower, green chilies, sugar and salt. Simmer for about 25 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally. The rice and lentil mixture should be a porridge-like consistency (add more water if too thick). The texture is important. You do not want the rice to completely lose its integrity, however it should be softer than a regular well-made bowl of rice. Add in the greens peas and stir well.
4. While this is cooking, heat the oil in a wok or skillet and add the onion and cook on medium heat until soft and pale golden. It is important to cook the onions low and slow to let them caramelize.
5. Stir the onions into the rice and lentil mixture and cook for about 2 minutes.
6. Turn off the heat and stir in the cilantro.
7. Heat the ghee in a small skillet and add the cumin seeds and the bay leaves. Cook for about 40 seconds until the cumin seeds darken and turn fragrant.
8. Pour the spice mixture over the rice and lentils.
9. Stir lightly and serve the mixture hot.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Every picture tells a story...

A friend of mine, Rowan Moonstone, took this picture up near Estes Park a few years back.  She posted it in one of the Charles de Lint groups on Facebook a few days ago, commenting that she thought there was a story there, but she couldn't find it. She threw the gates open for folks to give it a shot, so here's my submission.

The Business of Winter
by Bryan Fields

Fall in the Rockies is a time of great industry for the creatures living there.  They look around themselves, seeing this sign and that, and watch the days grow shorter, and each sign they see stirs them to be about the business of winter.

As happens sometimes, a bluebird gave heed to an excess of distractions, and, for a time, forgot to give account to the doing of needful things.  It was not until the first flecks of snow intruded on her that she realized she was unprepared for winter.  The thought terrified her, and she gave a great wail of despair.

Her cries startled a young bull elk, who was full of dry grasses and thoughts of lady elk, and of things done with lady elk in large meadows of soft, dry grass…  He sounded a challenge and turned to face his attacker—but it was only a foolish bluebird weeping over….well, something.

He snorted at her, and assumed his proudest stance.  “What did you say to me?  I warn you, I’m not to be trifled with.”

“My troubles are my own,” said the bluebird.  “I have been foolish, and winter is here, and I am not ready.  I must spend my time well, and be fierce, but I will endure.”

“HMMPH,” snorted the elk.  “Well, your fate is not my concern, but winter is unkind, and I am noble and true of heart, not to mention virile and powerful.  I will aid you.”  So saying, he lifted his hoof, and struck it on the ground, again and again. His blows tore the grasses and the earth asunder, exposing grubs, and seeds, and berries dried and forgotten, and the crunchy things burrowing for their life. 

The bluebird ate, and ate well, listening to the elk, who had quite forgotten her.  When she could eat no more, she took to wing.  All the land was before her, and so also its secrets.  Soon, she returned to the young elk.

The bluebird spoke to the elk, asking, “Is this what you seek, my friend?”, and she cast a tuft of fur on the ground before him.   

The elk sniffed and cried, “Yes!  Tell me, what…er, how, I mean, where?” 

The bluebird spoke of where, and of things seen from the sky that may be touched on the ground, and of how a trail had been left into the thick forest, guiding one who knew how to look to the resting place of the lady elk who had given her fur to the bluebird.

“But, what of the herd bull?” the elk asked.  “He sees all, he knows all-“

“Go,” said the bluebird.  “I will fight the herd bull for you.  Go!”

This, the elk did, and found his way to the lady elk, and they did what elk do in thick forests.

The bluebird flew to the meadow where the herd bull held his court, and watched his rivals with wary eyes.  The bluebird flew past him, and alighted on the rump of the strongest rival bull.  She took a twig in her beak, and gave the rival a good poke in the place where a small twig must seem a cruel branch.

The rival broke onto the meadow, snorting and bellowing.  The herd bull was upon him at once, for a challenge must be answered. 

Another rival charged forth, and another, and soon a great tumult engulfed the bulls, and no calm returned until all the bulls were exhausted.

The bluebird found her friend, who was well accounted of himself, and the two went forth, one aiding the other, and so they attended to the business of winter.