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Check out my science fiction series - The Fall of the Altairan Empire

Monday, March 27, 2017

Basket of Book Reviews

I feel like I keep stalling out on my writing, but at least I'm reading again. I've got a pile of books waiting on my nightstand and a whole lot more on my Kindle, if I can ever pry it away from my daughter. Here are the ones I've read recently:

Hammer of Thor
S. Evan Townsend

I admit I know the author and that's why I bought his books. They also intrigued me. This is the first in an alternate history/reality series. The world is pretty much the way it is now, except some people are adepts who use magical talismans to cast spells. They have their own government and hidden histories that intersect with the normal world and shadow a lot of happenings. Some of history's heroes were actually adepts. Other figures, like Thor, are actual demigods. Overall, the adepts keep pretty much to themselves, fighting each other and trying to stay under the radar of the normal world.

This book takes place from the 1930s through the 1950s. It reads in many ways more like a memoir than a work of fiction. The plot meanders, takes unexpected detours, and doesn't mesh together tightly. Some plot threads are introduced, become very important for a chapter or two, then just disappear and never get resolved. Just like real life. But I liked the main character, Kader, enough to care what happened to him. It kept me reading.

Don't let the cover fool you, Hammer of Thor was a fun read even if the memoir style plotting and storytelling bothered me somewhat. The historical details were a fun touch. Having Hitler hunting for talismans and powerful artifacts smacked of Indiana Jones, but in a good way.

I give it a solid three and a half stars and a PG for mild violence.


Agent of Artifice
S. Evan Townsend

The sequel to Thor's Hammer was a lot of fun to read. Same universe, different characters, years later, 1950s through 1970s. This time, it's an adept who's been burned by his Guild and turned into a pariah. Everyone wants a piece of him. He just wants to get back to his gambling playboy lifestyle in Cuba. And find the girl of his dreams. The government wants to enlist him in the CIA, to get an adept in their ranks so they can figure out how to control the Guilds.

I liked this one better than Thor's Hammer, although I didn't like the main character as much. He was a little too self-centered for my taste. But he gets what he deserves and grows into a much more likable man by the end. Plus the story has giant fire-breathing pterodactyls attacking the Space Needle in Seattle.

This one gets four stars and a PG for violence.


Shrouded
Frances Pauli

If you read this blog much, you know I love Frances Pauli's stories. She's done it again with a science fiction setting that still manages to be about magic and finding true love. She creates a very believable universe with alien cultures and races that feel real enough that I almost expect to run into them at the grocery store.

Dolfan is one of the Shrouded (from a world named Shroud for the thick atmosphere it has, a world which I found very intriguing to the point I want to write fanfic about it now). They are isolationist to the extreme, except every child born on the planet is male. So they import brides. A ceremony at their Heartstone, a giant crystal, helps them find their heartmate. It's like a giant matchmaker and speed dating all rolled together, except that description made it seem tawdry and stupid and it's anything but that in the story. I'm not doing it justice here. Anyway, Dolfan wants his bride, but he's also a Prince along with eleven other Shrouded men. The first to find his bride will also become King, so it gets complicated.

Vashia wants to escape her father's plans for her future. He's the ruling despot of a planet that deals in slaves, brothels, drugs, and every other vice and nasty thing ever invented. Vashia's dad wants to marry her off to his second in command, Jarn, to cement his loyalty. Jarn is a slime ball. Vashia jumps at the only escape she can find—becoming a bride on Shroud. It's a one-way ticket and she's not sure she's made the right choice.

And then things get complicated.

I give Shrouded a full five-stars with a PG for mild swearing and a few fistfights.


Seen
Frances Pauli

The sequel to Shrouded picks up pretty much where Shrouded left off with more of the Princes and their stories. And adds in even more wonderful aliens and sigh-worthy romances and forbidden loves.

Another full five-stars and PG for less swearing but more fistfights.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Snickerdoodles

I posted a version of this recipe a while back, but it's good enough to post again.

I love snickerdoodles. I don't make them very often mostly because they require all white flour and I just can't do that anymore. You need the white flour to keep them the right flavor and consistency. Whole wheat would make them too moist and chewy. A good snickerdoodle has a crisp outside with plenty of cinnamon sugar and a soft inside. So bake them on high heat for less time than you think they need.

The cream of tartar in the recipe does several things. First, it adds that tang to the flavor that is unique to these cookies. Second, it helps the dough stay white. Third, it's a leavening agent. It helps them rise. You can find cream of tartar in the baking section of your local grocery store.

This recipe is based off an old Betty Crocker one.

Snickerdoodles

1/3 c. butter, softened but not melted
1/3 c. shortening or coconut oil
1 1/2 c. white sugar
2 eggs
2 t. cream of tartar
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
2 3/4 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
2 t. cinnamon

Cream butter, shortening, and sugar until very light and fluffy. Add eggs, cream of tartar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Beat again until very light colored and creamy. Stir in flour by hand.

In a separate bowl, mix together sugar and cinnamon. Scoop cookie dough by tablespoonfuls into the cinnamon sugar mixture. Roll gently to coat. Place on a greased baking sheet.

Bake at 400°F for 8-10 minutes, until just set and very lightly browned on the edges. Remove to a rack to cool.

Optional spiced sugar mix:
Instead of just using cinnamon, I like to mix in a few more fun ingredients. Try adding a dash of nutmeg, ginger, allspice, ground cloves, or cardamom. If you're feeling really adventurous, try this recipe with Chinese 5-Spice instead of cinnamon.

Monday, March 20, 2017

British Baking Shows vs. American Baking Shows




We've been watching The Great British Baking Show. I start an episode and before I know it, the whole family is in watching it with me. It's enjoyable and fun.

Our family loves watching cooking competition shows. Iron Chef, Chopped, Cupcake Wars, and Cutthroat Kitchen, all are on our list to watch. But the competition in those is fierce and sometimes edges over into hostility. They aren't always nice; in fact, the shows encourage trash talk and similar behavior. The chefs are good sports about it, but it still sometimes rubs me the wrong way.

The GBBS, on the other hand, while still being very competitive, has a feeling of camaraderie and support. It's each baker pitted against their own recipes, not each other. In many episodes, when a baker is in trouble, other contestants jump in to lend a hand. No one gets punished for this. No points are deducted. When the judges, Paul and Mary (who are a hoot to watch), judge the dishes, they do expect it to be done correctly and will call the bakers out if the dish isn't up to snuff, but they also compliment those things that worked well. They give positive critiques of the food. And it is all about the food. When the bakers mess up, they own it. No excuses. No blaming someone else or circumstances, even when it really wasn't their fault. They take full blame for the dishes not being good enough. They don't play the victim and whine about it.

The GBBS is a much more positive experience than the American cooking competition shows. I don't know if it's because the bakers are amateurs, although very good ones, or if it's the overall friendly tone of the show. Either way, it's a fun romp through recipes that I probably would never try.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Hot Pepper Jelly

You know that red jelly stuff that goes great on cream cheese? It's hot pepper jelly and it's so easy to make. Our local WinCo had peppers on sale. The green bells were actually the most expensive, so I went hog wild and bought a whole pile of red ones, some orange and yellow ones, and a couple of green ones. Then I picked up some jalapeños, because they were on sale, too. Then I came home and made hot pepper jelly. The hardest part was chopping them up.

Now I have eight pints of it in my cupboard. That should last me about a month, maybe, if I hide half of them behind the pickles...

Serve this with crackers and cream cheese for a delicious snack.

Hot Pepper Jelly

6 bell peppers (red ones are traditional, but feel free to use whatever color you want)
6 jalapeño peppers
1 c. vinegar
1 box pectin
5 c. sugar

Place 4 pint canning jars in a sink full of really hot water.

Wash the peppers. Remove the top and seeds. Then pulse in the food processor, or finely chop, them. You should end up with about 5 c. of peppers.

Place the chopped peppers, vinegar and pectin in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Once it is at a good boil, dump in the sugar. Keep stirring until it comes to a full rolling boil. This is when it foams up and doesn't stop boiling when you stir it. Boil and stir for one full minute. Remove from heat.

Drain the water out of the jars and fill with the hot jelly. Wipe the rims and either seal them using a water bath or your favorite canning method, or put a lid on them and keep in the fridge.

Makes about 4 pints of jelly.

If you like it hotter, use more jalapeños and fewer bells. If you like it milder, use fewer jalapeños. This proportion gave me the heat I prefer - just a little on the spicy side.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Working on New Stuff

I'm signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo for April. The organizers of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) decided that doing it only once a year in November just wasn't enough, so they added Camps throughout the year.

My goal for April is to get at least 50,000 words written for The Winterqueen's War, the sequel to Dark Dancer. So lots more magical steampunk with elves, pixies, automatons, airships, gnomes, and a host of other magical creatures. There will be betrayals, anger, misunderstandings, evil plots, magic crystals, and lots of action.

I even made the cover already. It still needs some tweaking and polishing but I like it.


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Best Ever Peanut Butter Cookies

This is my interpretation of this recipe. I cut the fat and the sugar and did it my way. These are by far the tastiest peanut butter cookies I've ever made. Take them out of the oven a little before you think they're all the way done and let them cool on the pan. They will set up, but they will also stay nice and soft and moist.

I also used only white flour in this one. Whole wheat flour tends to give them a bitter taste.

Best Ever Peanut Butter Cookies

1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. creamy peanut butter
2/3 c. white sugar
2/3 c. brown sugar
1 t. vanilla
1 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
3 eggs
2-3 T milk
4 c. flour

Heat oven to 375°F. Grease two cookie sheets and set aside.

Cream softened butter, peanut butter, and sugars until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add vanilla, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Beat for another minute or two. Add eggs and 2 T. milk. Beat until very creamy, about 3 minutes.

Stir in flour by hand, just until mixed. If too dry, add additional milk. The dough should be like playdough - soft but not crumbly or sticky.

Scoop dough into balls about 1 inch in diameter, or about 1 rounded tablespoonful of dough per cookie. Space them out on the cookie sheets. Using a fork, flatten the dough in a criss-cross pattern. Don't worry about getting them too close, they don't spread.

Bake for 7-9 minutes, just until set but not browned. Let them cool on the cookie sheet.

I like these with jam or jelly on top.

Monday, March 6, 2017

New Story Release - The Genesis of Madame Yosefie

I'm excited to announce the release of a new story - The Genesis of Madame Yosefie. It's a novelette, so longer than a short story but not even close to a novel.

Madame Yosefie was one of my favorite minor characters from my Altairan Empire series. I just had to find out who she was and where she came from, so I wrote her back story. It's a fun romp with plenty of intrigue and plotting and fight scenes.

It's only 99cents so grab your copy today!



All she wanted was to share her fashion sense, but what Jojo got was involvement in political scandal and assassination attempts.

Jojo came to Linas-Drias with a dream—to share her sense of fashion and beauty. But the closest she can get to high society is as a janitor cleaning the floors of the VIP space lounge. Until one night, she overhears a plot to assassinate political rivals and finds herself entangled in a web of deceit and espionage with the mysterious Commander Lowell.

An Altairan Empire prequel story.