Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Red Rising
By Pierce Brown
Hardcover, 400 pages

Wow. I have just finished reading this book and I am ready to conquer the world. Possibly a couple of them. 

I have to admit it is not my typical genre, but I was intrigued to get in on the ground floor of what is likely to be an epic series and, I would imagine, a film or three. 

The sci-fi, dystopian, rise to power, epic saga of betrayal, loyalty, strength, class struggles and adventure did admittedly take me a night to get into. Did I mention this is not my usual genre? 

The book has been compared to The Hunger Games and The Game of Thrones (both of which I haven't read or really planned on - though I will likely get to at some point now) but all I know is that it is masterfully paced and plotted with so much realistic detail and emotional pull that I found myself unable to put it down once I got going. By the end I was gripping the book in hand breathless til the end. I may or may not have been shadow boxing and stomping out warrior songs when I put it down - only my puppies know for sure. 

I have no idea how one young (and cute) author managed this work - but it is definitely worth your time.

From the back flap:
“I live for the dream that my children will be born free,” she says. “That they will be what they like. That they will own the land their father gave them.”

“I live for you,” I say sadly.

Eo kisses my cheek. “Then you must live for more.”

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations. Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power.  He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies . . . even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

Photo credit: Joan Allen
Pierce Brown

Pierce Brown spent his childhood building forts and setting traps for cousins in the woods of six states and the deserts of two. Graduating from college in 2010, he fancied the idea of continuing his studies at Hogwarts. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a magical bone in his body. So while trying to make it as a writer, he worked as a manager of social media at a startup tech company, toiled as a peon on the Disney lot at ABC Studios, did his time as an NBC page, and gave sleep deprivation a new meaning during his stint as an aide on a U.S. Senate campaign. Now he lives Los Angeles, where he scribbles tales of spaceships, wizards, ghouls, and most things old or bizarre.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Night Harvest: A Novel by Michael Alexiades

Night Harvest
A Novel
by Michael Alexiades
Paperback, 360 pages

Night Harvest is a complex and twisted ride. Part medical mystery, part whodunnit, part supernatural joyride all through the dank underground labyrinth of Manhattan.

Alternating perspectives gives us an intimate look into each of the characters and first hand dread at the horrors that ensue.

A fabulous first book by a highly regarded physician, Night Harvest will have you up till the wee hours... with all the lights on.

Michael Alexiades
From the back flap:
A riveting debut thriller from one of New York’s most eminent surgeons, Night Harvest follows the bizarre disappearance of patients from a Manhattan hospital into the murky underground of the city.

Fourth-year medical student Demetri Makropolis has been assigned to cover orthopedics at Eastside Medical Center, one of New York City’s finest hospitals. Just as his surgery team begins to operate on New York’s leading drama critic, F. J. Pervis III, the patient suddenly goes into cardiac arrest. The team fails to resuscitate him, so the corpse is moved to the hospital’s morgue. But before the autopsy is even performed, the body vanishes from the morgue and mysteriously reappears a day later—with the brain surgically removed. Even more disturbing is the medical examiner’s discovery: Pervis was still alive when the ghostly craniotomy was performed.

With their reputation at stake, the hospital assigns NYPD’s Detective Patrick McManus to the case; meanwhile, Demetri learns of an eerily similar century-old unsolved mystery that leads him to an enigmatic figure lurking in the bowels of the medical center. With Pervis as his experiment, the perpetrator initiates a chain reaction of chaos and murder in Manhattan.

A gripping tale filled with ambition, romance, jealousies, and black humor, Night Harvest is a thrilling ride that culminates in the long-abandoned elaborate network of subterranean rooms and corridors that still lie beneath present-day Manhattan.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches
By Alan Bradley

Hardcover, 320 pages

Picture an ancient country house in England. The year is 1950. 

Picture a girl who lives there with her most eccentric family. Her name is Flavia de Luce- and she is almost eleven. 

Picture a long abandoned Victorian chemistry laboratory; no one ever goes there but Flavia

Put them all together and you'll have a deliciously original approach to detective fiction.

The Flavia de Luce series is a bright, intelligent, quirky and often funny mystery series featuring a precocious young girl with a flair for chemistry an a nose for intrigue.

This sixth book in the series is the most personal to date. We learn more about the inner workings of our intrepid young detective and the effect her mother's disappearance has had on her life.

Now we see Harriet coming home on the very same train her and Flavia's father first met.

A strange man approaches Flavia with a cryptic message for her father and is found dead moments later.

All this is almost too much to bear for dear Flavia but her keen instincts and passion for truth keep her digging until she solve the mystery of the murder, and who her mother really was.

The best so far in the series, and it does seem to be opening up a door for Flavia to grow and learn more in the future. A must read for all Flavia de

Bishop's Lacey is never short of two things: mysteries to solve and pre-adolescent detectives to solve them. In this New York Times bestselling series of cozy mysteries, young chemist and aspiring detective Flavia de Luce once again brings her knowledge of poisons and her indefatigable spirit to solve the most dastardly crimes the English countryside has to offer, and in the process, she comes closer than ever to solving her life's greatest mystery--her mother's disappearance. . .

Alan Bradley was born in Toronto and grew up in Cobourg, Ontario. With an education in electronic engineering, Alan worked at numerous radio and television stations in Ontario, and at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (now Ryerson University) in Toronto, before becoming Director of Television Engineering in the media centre at the University of Saskatchewan, where he worked for twenty-five years before taking early retirement in 1994.
Bradley was the first President of the Saskatoon Writers, and a founding member of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild. His children’s stories were published in The Canadian Children’s Annual and his short story “Meet Miss Mullen” was the first recipient of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild Award for Children’s Literature.
For a number of years, Alan regularly taught scriptwriting and television production courses at the University of Saskatchewan. His fiction has been published in literary journals and he has given many public readings in schools and galleries. His short stories have been broadcast by CBC Radio, and his lifestyle and humour pieces have appeared in The Globe and Mail and The National Post.
Alan Bradley was also a founding member of The Casebook of Saskatoon, a society devoted to the study of Sherlock Holmes and Sherlockian writings. There, he met the late Dr. William A.S. Sarjeant, with whom he collaborated on the classic book Ms. Holmes of Baker Street (1989). This work put forth the startling theory that the Great Detective was a woman, and was greeted upon publication with what has been described as “a firestorm of controversy.” As he’s explained in interviews, Bradley was always an avid reader of mysteries, even as a child: “My grandmother used to press them upon us when we were very young. One of the first books she gave me was Dorothy L. Sayers’ Busman’s Holiday. I was profoundly influenced by it.”
Upon retirement, Bradley began writing full time. His next book, The Shoebox Bible (2006), has been compared with Tuesdays With Morrie and Mister God, This is Anna. In this beautiful memoir, Bradley tells the story of his early life in southern Ontario, and paints a vivid portrait of his mother, a strong and inspirational woman who struggled to raise three children on her own during tough times.
In July of 2007, Bradley won the Debut Dagger Award from the British Crime Writers’ Association for The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (2009), based on a sample that would become the first novel in a series featuring eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce. As Bradley has explained, it was the character of Flavia that inspired him to embark upon the project: “I started to write The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie in the spring of 2006. Flavia walked into another novel I was writing as an incidental character, and she hijacked the book. Although I didn’t finish that book, Flavia stuck with me.” The Dagger award brought international attention to Bradley’s fiction debut, and Sweetness and the additional novels planned for the series will be published in twenty-eight languages and in more than thirty countries.
Alan Bradley lives in Malta with his wife Shirley and two calculating cats.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

The Bread Baking Babes bake up Chocolate Prune Bread.

Yes, you read correctly. Chocolate prune bread. A yeasted loaf of bread that has the deep, delicious flavour of chocolate with the soft sweetness of prunes. (A much maligned fruit that is now enjoying a resurgence in popularity and for good reason- they are delicious!)

You can mix up the dough and let it have its first rise one day, put the dough into the fridge and bring it out in a day or two to make your loaves. A technique developed by Jeff Hertzberg, M.D., and Zoë François  and published in their Artisan Breads in 5 Minutes a Day series of cookbooks.

I found the recipe well laid out and easy to follow. My dough didn't rise much but had decent oven spring. The crumb is tender and bready and chocolatey.

I suggest eating it with a smear of butter or cream cheese and having it with your morning coffee or tea with a piece of fruit. Damned good breakie. Of course I guess you could always reach for the Nutella if you are feeling in serious need of extreme chocolate.

This is a simple and fun bread that has delicious results, and it is also a great introduction to the 5 minute a day approach to baking.

Thank you Bread Baking Babe Jamie for organizing  this challenge. If you would like to participate in this month's challenge, check out Jamie's post and participation instructions.

Ready, set, bake! 

This recipe is from The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (revised & updated edition) by Jeff Hertzberg, M.D., and Zoë François  http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/ 

According to Zoë and Jeff, this bread goes really well with either a glass of milk or… a glass of Armagnac (of course… prunes and Armagnac!). If you make the full recipe for the Chocolate Bread dough, what can you do with the other half that you don’t add prunes to? How about some imagination!

CHOCOLATE BREAD DOUGH RECIPE (Chocolate Chocolate Chip Bread)

Makes two 2-pound loaves. This recipe is easily doubled or halved.

2 ½ cups (565 ml) lukewarm water (100°F or below)
¾ cup (170 ml) vegetable oil
1 Tbs (0.35 oz / 10 g) granulated yeast
1 to 1 ½ Tbs (17 to 25 g) kosher salt – * use less if using fine table salt, more if using coarse salt
1 cup (7 ounces / 200 g) sugar
5 ½ cups (1 pound, 11 ½ ounces / 780 g) all-purpose flour
¾ cup (3 ounces / 85 g) dark, unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ cups (6 ounces / 170 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips - * can omit (for the chocolate prune bread you will be adding chocolate, the amount changes depending upon whether or not you added chocolate chips to the dough at this point)

Mixing and storing the dough:

Mix the oil, yeast, salt and sugar with the water in a 6-quart bowl or a lidded (not airtight) food container.

Mix in the flour, cocoa powder and the chocolate chips without kneading, using a spoon or heavy-duty stand mixer (with paddle). If you are not using the machine, you may need to use wet hands to incorporate the last bit of flour.

Cover (not airtight) and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (or flattens on top), approximately 2 hours.

The dough can be used immediately after the initial rise, though it is easier to handle with cold. Refrigerate the container of dough and use over the next 5 days. Beyond the 5 days, freeze the dough in 1-pound (about 450 g) portions in airtight containers for up to 4 weeks. When using frozen dough, thaw in the refrigerator for 24 hours before using, then allow the usual rest and rise time.

Chocolate Prune Bread:

Makes one 1 ½ pound loaf

1 ½ pounds (about 680 g – the size of a small cantaloupe) of the Chocolate Chocolate Chip Bread dough Softened unsalted butter for greasing the pan
2 ounces (55 g) high-quality bittersweet chocolate - * use 6 ounces (170 g) if you did not add chocolate chips to the original Chocolate Bread Dough
¾ cup chopped pitted prunes
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 Tbs water)
¼ cup (50 g) sugar for sprinkling over the top of the bread and preparing the pan

On baking day, generously grease an 8 ½ x 4 ½ - inch (22 x 11 ½ cm approx) nonstick loaf pan with butter, sprinkle some sugar evenly over the butter and shake the pan to distribute.

Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1 ½ pound piece. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all sides, rotating the ball a quarter turn as you go. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough into a ½ - inch-thick (scant 1 ½ cm) rectangle. As you roll out the dough, use enough flour to prevent it from sticking to the work surface but not so much as to make the dough dry.

Sprinkle the chocolate and chopped prunes over the dough and roll up the dough jelly-roll style to enclose them. Fold the dough over itself several times, turning and pressing it down with the heel of your hand after each turn. This will work the chocolate and prunes into the dough; some may poke through.

With very wet hands, form the dough into a loaf shape and place it into the prepared pan. Allow to rest and rise for 90 minutes, loosely covered with plastic wrap.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). A baking stone is not required and omitting it shortens the preheat.

Using a pastry brush, paint the top of the loaf with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake the loaf in the center of the oven for 50 to 60 minutes until firm. Smaller or larger loaves with require adjustments to baking time.

Remove the bread from the pan and allow to cool on a rack before slicing and eating.

The Bread Baking Babes

Friday, 10 January 2014

The Mixer Bible

The Mixer Bible
300 Recipes For Your Stand Mixer 
Plus Over 175 Step-by-step Photos
by Meredith Deeds and Carla Snyder
Paperback, 484 pages

Get a stand mixer for Christmas? Or already have one and want to know how to use it to its fullest potential? Or maybe you are gearing up to invest in one of these workhorses of the kitchen. It's all good - because I have the perfect book for you.

The Mixer Bible is not only a full cookbook but also a total stand mixer education. You will learn how to expand your cooking and baking repertoire, get to know your mixer and attachments thoroughly and very likely open up whole new worlds in your kitchen. Bon Appetit!

Contents include:
Understanding the Equipment
Tips on Ingerdients
Tips on Techniques
Sausage Basics
Pasta Basics
Bread and Baking Basics
How to Use Your Attachments

Main Dishes
Side Dishes
Cookies, Bars and Squares
Condiments, Sauces and Extras

Focaccia with Caramelized Onions, page 254

•    13- by 9-inch (3 L) baking pan, generously greased
•    Baking stone (optional)
•    Flat beater
•    Dough hook

1    package (1⁄4 oz/7 g) active     dry yeast 1
11⁄3 cup    warm water (see Tip)    325 mL
1 tsp    granulated sugar    5 mL
31⁄4 cups    unbleached all-purpose flour (approx)     800 mL
3 tbsp    extra-virgin olive oil    45 mL
11⁄2 tsp    salt    7 mL
2 tbsp    extra-virgin olive oil, divided     30 mL
2    large onions, sliced into 1⁄4-inch (0.5 cm) slices  2
    Coarse sea salt

Make ahead
Prepare dough through Step 2 in the evening and let rise overnight in the refrigerator. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before shaping.
Wrap baked bread in plastic wrap and then foil and store in the freezer for up to 
2 weeks.

1.    Prepare the dough: In the mixer bowl, stir together yeast, water and sugar. Let stand until yeast begins to foam, about 5 minutes. Add flour, oil and salt. Attach the flat beater and mixer bowl to the mixer. Set to Speed 2 and mix until a dough forms.

2.    Remove the flat beater and attach the dough hook. Set to Speed 4 and knead until dough is soft, smooth and slightly sticky, about 3 to 4 minutes. If dough is sticking 
to the bottom of the bowl, add flour 1 tbsp (15 mL) at a time. Using your hands, form dough into a ball. Place back in the mixer bowl, brush with olive oil and cover with a towel. Let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1 to 11⁄2 hours, or until doubled in bulk.

3.    Press dough evenly into prepared baking pan and cover with a towel. Let rise until again doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

4.    Meanwhile, prepare the topping: In a large skillet, heat 1 tbsp (15 mL) of the olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Meanwhile, place oven rack in the middle position, add a baking stone if you have one and preheat oven to 425°F (220°C).

5.    Using your fingertips, make shallow indentations all over dough. Brush with the remaining 1 tbsp (15 mL) oil, letting it pool in the indentations. Arrange caramelized onions on top and gently press into dough. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Place pan on baking stone, if using, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until focaccia is golden and reaches an internal temperature of 200°F (100°C). Using a large spatula, slip focaccia off pan and onto a rack to cool. Cut into large squares and serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 8 to 10

The water should be around 100°F (38°C). Yeast can be killed at temperatures above 115°F (45°C). Water at 100°F (38°C) will feel just warm.

Excerpted from The Mixer Bible, Third Edition by Meredith Deeds and Carla Snyder © 2013 www.robertrose.ca Reprinted with publisher permission.

Thai Beef Meatballs with Peanut Dipping Sauce, page 51

•    Food grinder
•    Flat beater
•    Large baking sheet, lined with 
parchment paper

1 lb    boneless beef chuck     500 g
    or cross rib, cut into 
    1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes
2    cloves garlic, chopped    2
1⁄4 cup    chopped fresh mint    60 mL
1⁄4 cup    chopped fresh cilantro    60 mL
2 tbsp    fish sauce    30 mL
2 tsp    Thai red curry paste    10 mL
1    egg, lightly beaten    1
1 cup    fresh bread crumbs    250 mL

Peanut Dipping Sauce
1 cup    coconut milk    250 mL
1 tbsp    lightly packed light     15 mL
    brown sugar
1 tbsp    Thai red curry paste    15 mL
1 tbsp    fish sauce    15 mL
1⁄2 cup    crunchy peanut butter    125 mL

Make ahead
Prepare through Step 2 and refrigerate, loosely covered, for up to 1 day.

1.    Prepare the meatballs: Place beef in a shallow container in the freezer for 30 minutes to facilitate grinding. Attach the food grinder, with the coarse plate, to the mixer. Set to Speed 4 and run beef through the grinder into a large bowl. Stir in garlic, mint, cilantro, fish sauce and red curry paste. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Run through the food grinder again, this time into the mixer bowl. Add egg and bread crumbs. Remove the food grinder and attach the flat beater and mixer bowl. Set to Stir and mix just until ingredients are well combined.

2.    Preheat oven to 450°F (230°C). Form level tablespoonfuls (15 mL) of the meat mixture into 11⁄4-inch (3 cm) meatballs and arrange on prepared baking sheet, at least 1⁄2 inch (1 cm) apart.

3.    Bake in upper third of preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden and no longer pink inside.

4.    Meanwhile, prepare the sauce: In a small saucepan, combine coconut milk, sugar, curry paste and fish sauce. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add peanut butter and cook, stirring, until peanut butter is well blended.

5.    Place meatballs on a serving platter and serve warm with sauce.

Makes about 25 meatballs

Excerpted from The Mixer Bible, Third Edition by Meredith Deeds and Carla Snyder © 2013 www.robertrose.ca Reprinted with publisher permission.

White Bean, Rosemary and Pancetta Bruschetta, page 59

•    Preheat broiler
•    Baking sheet
•    Flat beater

3 oz    pancetta, chopped    90 g
2    cans (each 14 to 19 oz/ 398 to 540 mL) cannellini beans or white kidney 
beans, drained 2
1⁄4 cup    olive oil    60 mL
11⁄2 tbsp    finely chopped fresh rosemary    22 mL
2 tsp    minced garlic    10 mL
    Salt and freshly ground 
    black pepper
1    baguette, cut on the 
    diagonal into 3⁄8-inch 
    (0.75 cm) thick slices  1
    Extra-virgin olive oil

1.    Heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta and sauté until crispy and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to drain on a paper towel.

2.    Place cooked pancetta, beans, olive oil, rosemary and garlic in the mixer bowl. Attach the flat beater and mixer bowl to the mixer. Set to Speed 2 and mix until beans begin to break up. Increase to Speed 4 and mix until beans are crushed and slightly creamy, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3.    Brush both sides of baguette slices with extra-virgin olive oil and place on baking sheet in a single layer. Place under broiler and lightly brown on one side.

4.    Spread white bean mixture on the toasted side of the baguette slices. Drizzle a little more extra-virgin olive oil on top of each slice. Serve immediately.
Makes 30 bruschetta

Pancetta is a salt-cured pork product from Italy. It’s made out of the same cut of meat as bacon, but it isn’t smoked. If you have trouble finding pancetta in your grocery store, you can substitute bacon, or leave it out altogether.

Excerpted from The Mixer Bible, Third Edition by Meredith Deeds and Carla Snyder © 2013 www.robertrose.ca Reprinted with publisher permission.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Tenth of December: Stories by George Saunders.

Tenth of December
By George Saunders

Paperback, 288 pages

I would say that the older I get, the more I appreciate a good collection of short stories. The short story is a genre all it its own; separate from novels and poetry, but with a bit of a foot in each category. You jump in quick, and with this book you are immediately transformed by the language and magical uniqueness of each tale.

I recommend you savour each story one at a time. Read one before bed each night and incorporate them into your dreams. There is a reason The New York Times declared Tenth of December one of the year's top ten books. It's just that good.

From the back flap:
One of the most important and blazingly original writers of his generation, George Saunders is an undisputed master of the short story, and Tenth of December is his most honest, accessible, and moving collection yet.

In the taut opener, “Victory Lap,” a boy witnesses the attempted abduction of the girl next door and is faced with a harrowing choice: Does he ignore what he sees, or override years of smothering advice from his parents and act? In “Home,” a combat-damaged soldier moves back in with his mother and struggles to reconcile the world he left with the one to which he has returned. And in the title story, a stunning meditation on imagination, memory, and loss, a middle-aged cancer patient walks into the woods to commit suicide, only to encounter a troubled young boy who, over the course of a fateful morning, gives the dying man a final chance to recall who he really is. A hapless, deluded owner of an antiques store; two mothers struggling to do the right thing; a teenage girl whose idealism is challenged by a brutal brush with reality; a man tormented by a series of pharmaceutical experiments that force him to lust, to love, to kill—the unforgettable characters that populate the pages of Tenth of December are vividly and lovingly infused with Saunders’s signature blend of exuberant prose, deep humanity, and stylistic innovation.

Writing brilliantly and profoundly about class, sex, love, loss, work, despair, and war, Saunders cuts to the core of the contemporary experience. These stories take on the big questions and explore the fault lines of our own morality, delving into the questions of what makes us good and what makes us human.

Unsettling, insightful, and hilarious, the stories in Tenth of December—through their manic energy, their focus on what is redeemable in human beings, and their generosity of spirit—not only entertain and delight; they fulfill Chekhov’s dictum that art should “prepare us for tenderness.”

George Saunders
MacArthur “Genius Grant” fellow George Saunders is the New York Times bestselling author of several collections of short stories, including Tenth of December, Pastoralia, and CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, as well as a collection of essays and a book for children. He teaches in the creative writing program at Syracuse University.