Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness IndustryThe Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't read a lot of non-fiction - just a preference, not a comment. This book caught my eye because my undergraduate education is in Psychology. The book is an incredibly interesting account of Jon Ronson's investigation of the madness industry and how we perceive and interpret mental illness. I really like Ronson's storytelling style because it reads like fiction. He also seems like the type of guy that I would be friends with if I met him one day at a party or on the street and struck up a conversation. Despite the comfortable tone of the book, it is very well researched. You can tell he did his homework and the questions he poses are very poignant. The label of psychopath is incredibly damaging to a person but you can see how certain character traits could spun into something more sinister than they are.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Chocolate-Covered Almond Toffee

Chocolate-Covered Almond Toffee
I love the Christmas season -  mostly for the food. Each year I try a new holiday treat and this year was toffee.  I found several recipes and combined and changed parts for the recipe listed below.  My wife and both children devoured several pieces while we wrapped up packages for the neighbors.  I think we have a new favorite holiday treat.






Ingredients:
4 cups slivered almonds
2/3 cup milk chocolate chips
2/3 cup dark chocolate chips
1 lb (4 sticks) butter
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons water

Special Equipment: 2 large baking sheets (12 inch by 17 inch), a candy or deep-fat thermometer, heatproof spatula, offset metal spatula

Directions:

Coarsely chop sliced almonds in a food processor or by hand and then separate into 1 cup and 3 cup increments. Mix 1/3 cup  each of the milk and dark chocolate chips into two bowls.  Set aside.

Butter a large baking sheet or use a non-stick Silpat to line the pan. Bring butter, sugar, and water to a boil over moderately high heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is a golden caramel color and thermometer registers 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup chopped almonds. The mixture may still have separated portions of the butter, but don't worry.  Pour the mixture into the center fo the greased or lined baking sheet and spread with a heatproof spatula to the edges of the baking sheet.  Place the second baking sheet on top of the mixture and press down for an even thickness and flat finished surface.

Sprinkle one bowl of the mixed chocolate chips onto the hot toffee and let stand until the chocolate is melted (4-5 minutes).  Spread the chocolate using the offset metal spatula and then sprinkle with half of the remaining chopped almonds. Cover with a sheet of wax paper or another Silpat and then place the second baking sheet on top of the toffee and carefully invert the toffee and the sheet or Silpat. You may need to loosen the toffee with a spatula if not using a Silpat liner.

Once turned over, sprinkle the other side of the toffee with the remaining bowl of mixed chocolate chips and sprinkle with the remaining chopped almonds in the same manner described above. Put the completed pan of toffee in the freezer for approximately 30 minutes to cool it completely before breaking into pieces. Pieces can be broken with a butter knife and then transferred into an airtight container to be kept at room temperature.




Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an enjoyable read. I enjoyed the characters a lot and the narration by death was perfect. So much pain and suffering takes place during the book that death relating those deaths in a taking care of business way made them more tolerable.

The one thing I didn't like was setting the book in Nazi Germany. I thought the story could be told in any environment of poverty. I'm getting tired of Nazis as villains. The atrocities of Hitler should not be forgotten, but they are so overwritten that they are almost like canned evil. The obligatory references to the evils of Hitler and the Nazis and equally obligatory nobleness of those recognizing right from wrong was tiresome to me because I've read them so many times. This was a distraction I didn't enjoy in an otherwise very well written and engaging story.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

NaNoWriMo - I Won!!!

One computer, two fast typing hands, three hours a night of dedicated writing time, 29 days, 200 pages of material, and 50,441 words.  That sums up my November this year.

This was my first National Novel Writing Month as a participant.  Winning just means that you finished - that you completed 50,000 words of fiction in one month.  I did it, so I won. 

Now I will take a break to read the novels I put to the side to write, spend a little time with the wife and kids I neglected, and relax a little.  When I've recovered I'll debrief myself on the experience and what I've learned. 

December will be spent sorting out what is usable from this experience in the many months of revision in my future.  

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryCharlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book many years ago as a child. I remember the story line and liking it. Fast forward many years later when I have my own son and he is six-years-old and looking for something to read for bedtime. I found an old copy of the book on our bookshelf and we started reading together.

This book was even more enjoyable as an adult parent. I knew what was coming, but he didn't. I would read the descriptions of Wonka's incredible confections and he would look at me with his "did you read that right?" face, and then check it himself. He speculated about what amazing thing waited for him in the next chapter. When we went to the store for some last minute items, he spotted a Wonka bar with a golden ticket sweepstakes and begged to get it.

As an adult I could appreciate some of the technical aspects of the book as well. The pacing is fantastic. Each chapter ends with an event that makes you want to read on - and I was talked into many extra chapters despite it being past bedtime. The dialogue is also fantastic. These sound like real conversations, despite the fantastic plot-line. Willy Wonka is fantastic as an eccentric candy maker who loves his factory and the wonders it holds.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Writing with Abandon and Apologies

My last post was on November 3rd.  That was three days into National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  I am participating this year and it has taken every free minute of my time to get anywhere near the 50,000 words in one month requirement. I'm currently at 33,765 words.  That means I have 16,235 words to go and eight days left. A little more than 2000 words a day and I win.  NaNoWriMo doesn't really give you big prizes.  Just the satisfaction of fulfilling a seemingly impossible goal.

December will be the month of reviewing what I wrote during November.  It should be hilarious, hopefully not frightening. Then normal life, and normal blog posting can continue.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

How to Talk to a Widower

How to Talk to a WidowerHow to Talk to a Widower by Jonathan Tropper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was an excellent book. The premise is simple. A young man, Doug, falls in love with an older single mother, Haley, who dies in a plane crash. Doug must learn to deal with his grief and live life without Haley. Tropper casts some of the most memorable and authentic characters I've read in a long time. The conversations between Doug and his sister, mother, father, buddies, women he dates, and his former step-son are fantastic. Tropper has a gift for dialogue because the conversations felt as though I was listening to actual people talk even though what was being said was sometimes unbelievable. I already have another book - This is Where I Leave You - on my Kindle and can't wait to start it.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NaNoWriMo


 
I am participating in National Novel Writing Month this year and so my November is spoken for.  Less blogging, less evening checking email, less free weekends, an absentee Thanksgiving, and use of my federal holiday (Veterans Day) sitting in front of my laptop.  

50,000 words in the month of November or you are a sorry excuse for a creative writer.  The material doesn't need to be good - but we all hope it is - it just needs to be 50,000 words.  

Wish me Luck. 


The Fictelicious Trifecta and the Chocolate Mouse

This blog is entitled Fictelicious and has the tag line "Fiction, Food, and the Fanatic."  Sometimes all three come together.

My last book review was for The Night Circus.  During my reading of the book, there was a description of some of the concessions sold at the mysterious circus. One of the treats described were chocolate mice with licorice tails.  This intrigued me and I decided to make my own.

The center is marzipan wrapped around a strand of licorice and then hand-dipped in dark chocolate and topped with sliced almonds.









Marzipan (Almond Paste)

2 Cups Blanched Almonds
2 Cups Powdered Sugar
1/3 Cup Honey

Chop almonds in a food processor on medium speed until the almonds are a coarse powder resembling cornmeal. Add powdered sugar to the almond powder and mix well in a large bowl.  Add honey and mix together (hands work best) until well combined and the mixture can be formed into a ball. 


Wrap Marzipan ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. 

Assembly

Take four strands of black licorice (Twizzlers black licorice is shown) and cut them in half and then cut each half lengthwise to form 4 tails per strand.  This will make 16 tails. 




Cut marzipan ball into 16 equal pieces.  Form each piece into a cone and place the licorice tail just over half-way up the base of the cone.  Form the cone over the licorice tail with wet hands and flatten the bottom until it resembles the body of the mouse. Repeat 16 times. 


Place the formed mice on parchment paper, wax paper, or other non-stick liner (such as a Silpat). Put the finished tray of mice in the freezer while preparing the chocolate for dipping. The semi-frozen mice are easier to dip. 





Tempering Chocolate

The secret of chocolate dipping is tempering the chocolate.  This is what gives the chocolate the professional finish without the pitted look and unattractive white specks. If you use commercial dipping chocolate pieces tempering isn't unnecessary.  However, if you want a better tasting chocolate - this recipe uses Ghirardelli dark chocolate - then tempering is necessary for a professional looking end result. 

1 Bag (11.5 oz) Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chips

Place 2/3 of the bag in a double boiler and melt chips completely. Monitor temperature with a candy thermometer so that chocolate reaches 115 degrees Fahrenheit (for milk chocolate the temperature should be 110 degrees) but does not exceed that temperature.  Once the temperature is reached , remove melted chocolate from heat and stir in the remaining 1/3 of the bag of chocolate chips until completely melted. The chocolate is now ready for dipping. 

Set up the frozen mice on the left side, dipping chocolate in the middle, and another pan with non-stick liner on the right side. Keep a bowl of sliced almonds ready to add to the chocolate before it sets. 



Holding the mouse by the tail, dip the top of the body and then the flat bottom of the body until mouse is completely covered.  Gently scrape the flat bottom on the side of the bowl to remove excess chocolate.  Place the dipped mouse body, flat-side-down, on the non-stick liner and repeat until all mice are dipped. 


Break sliced almond in half and place each half on either side of the head to form the ears of the mouse.  Let cool at room temperature until the chocolate hardens.  Remove from the non-stick sheet and keep in a cool dry container or in the refrigerator.  




This was so much fun I'm now reading my current novels for other food descriptions.  Do you have a food you remember reading about and wondering if fiction could become reality? If so, please share!


Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Night Circus

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. The story is about two magicians put into a contest against each other that they do not fully understand. They both can use real magic but pass off their skills as mere illusions to the rest of the world. The playing field is a mysterious circus that appears without warning and is open only at night. Within the walls of this circus the magicians create amazing things for the circus patrons as part of the competition.

The imagery in this book is wonderful. The characters are interesting and well developed and the mysterious magic and ever evolving circus is very creative. The story does drag a little at certain points and some of the relationships are not as layered and interesting as I thought they could be and so I gave it 4 instead of 5 stars. However, this is one of several great books I've read this year.

My only hope is that Morgenstern doesn't allow herself to be talked into a series for this book. I felt that this story was completely told in this book and don't feel the meager loose ends lend themselves to another book. I know that there is pressure to find the next money-making series now that Hunger Games is over and Twilight is ending but this isn't it. I would rather see her put her creativity to work is an entirely different set of characters. She is talented and should move herself beyond this one book.

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

The Family FangThe Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I took a creative writing course on plot from a local University. During that class the professor said that "character is plot." She did not discount the need for a good structural plot that moves the story forward, but the point was that compelling characters almost do the job for you. I think that The Family Fang is a good example of this theory.

Annie and Buster are the children of Caleb and Camille Fang - known to their parents and the outside world as child A and B. Their parents do "performance art" where they create chaos events and film the reactions of the unsuspecting crowds. They also force their children to participate. Annie and Buster, now grown and gone, resent this upbringing and the emotional scarring it left. They also recognize that it has shaped who they are and, in some bizarre way, allowed them to do the traditional creative jobs they have - Annie is an actress and Buster is a writer. Events early in the book force them back home to remember and re-live the painful upbringing.

My undergraduate degree is in Psychology and a professor once told me that "every parent screws up their kids, it's just a matter of degree." Caleb and Camille have screwed up Annie and Buster a lot. They are committed to their art to the point of complete disregard of the effect it has on anyone else. The descriptions of the performance art are entertaining and disturbing at the same time when you consider children are being asked to participate.

The characters of Annie and Buster are fantastic. They make a great brother and sister team that care for each other and are trying to help each other survive the continuing ordeal of their parents art. Caleb and Camille are also very well developed as the backdrop and explanation for the problems you see with Annie and Buster. I enjoy being jarred by strange situations in books and this book definitely delivers. Strange stuff happens throughout the book and I found myself laughing throughout the craziness. More importantly, it manages to present a thoughtful commentary on family and the sacrifice of being a father, mother, sister, brother. A person can pick their friends, but we are all stuck with our families.

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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Double Chocolate Scones

Every so often the family has breakfast for dinner.  We love breakfast. My wife was at a church meeting and the kids were playing quietly so I got out the cookbook and found this great recipe for chocolate scones.


Nothing makes a family happier than omelets and chocolate scones for dinner. The only changes I made were removal of the 2 teaspoons of baking powder and increasing the baking soda by a 1/4 teaspoon.  Too much baking powder in scones, from past experience, makes them taste dry and more like biscuits than I like.  As you can see from the picture, the baking soda gives them plenty of rise without the baking powder flavor.

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter

1 beaten egg yolk
8 ounces of plain yogurt

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate pieces

Powdered Sugar Glaze:

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

powdered sugar (optional to dust the tops of the scones)

Directions:
Mix the flour, cocoa powder, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.  Cut in the butter with a pastry blender till the mixture resembled coarse crumbs.

Combine egg yolk and yogurt and add to the dry ingredients.  Stir mixture until moistened and then fold in the chocolate pieces.  On a lightly floured surface knead dough until smooth and well combined, but no more than 10 or 12 strokes to avoid activating too much of the gluten and ruining the finished consistency.

Pat the dough into and 8-9 inch circle and cut into 12 wedges. Place wedges an inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet.  Bake at 375 degrees about 18 minutes or until the bottoms are lightly browned.

Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes before drizzling with the powdered sugar glaze and dusting with powdered sugar.

They are best served warm, but none of us had any trouble eating another one after they had cooled completely.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

My Crutch - Reading

Let me explain.  All my recent posts have been reviews of books.  This blog is suppose to be food, fiction, and some information on the fanatic that is me.  Lately it has just been fiction reviews.  There are two reasons for this.

First, I'm on a diet because we have a vacation coming up and I need to lose a little weight.  I'm eating for survival, not fun, and that gives me almost nothing to write about on that topic. 

Second, when I struggle with writing I read instead. Reading is my crutch.  When I'm feeling less than creative I read the creativity of others hoping that some of it will rub off on me. I have struggled with my writing lately and so I've turned to books time and time again. There are a lot of great books on my to-read pile and they call to me when I'm discouraged.  

Tonight I'm trying a new method - forcing creativity.  In theory this shouldn't work.  Everything tells me that creativity cannot be forced but desperate times call for desperate measures.  With that thought, I'm finishing this blog post and opening up my manuscript for forced writing for the next two hours.  Wish me luck. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me GoNever Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an incredibly well written story. The story is told in first-person through the eyes of Kathy - a girl in a small school in rural England. From the very beginning of the story you know something is odd about this school and the children who reside there. The abnormality of the setting combined with the normalcy of the interactions between the children, adolescents, and then young adults keeps you questioning what is really going on.

Any specifics feels like a spoiler so I am holding back. Know that the story keeps you interested with every page. The entire time I kept saying "no, that can't be happening." At the end I could only say the the book was incredible and I was glad I read it.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman

Domestic VioletsDomestic Violets by Matthew Norman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a wonderful debut novel for Matthew Norman. The inner monologue of the main character, Tom Violet, makes this story wonderful. Tom has several common problems. His marriage is in a slump, he has a crush on a young female co-worker he shouldn't have, he lives in the shadow of his father's accomplishments (a famous novelist who just won the Pulitzer prize), and he hates his day-job and has dreams of being something better.

Each character, especially Tom Violet, is so well developed that you start hearing their voices and seeing their faces immediately. I spent several years of my life in the Washington, D.C. setting of the novel. Like many cities, Washington D.C. has its own personality. The dynamic of the city and it's unique inhabitants were well portrayed.

Tom Violet reminded me of my favorite friends who always have a funny quip and aren't afraid to laugh at themselves. He knows he has problems and hasn't quite figured out how to deal with them. The reader spends the novel watching him analyze what he should do and the good and bad results of those decisions along the way.

All the characters are flawed in different ways and the flaws feel genuine and necessary to the story. Often the quirks of characters don't serve a purpose, but here each one is necessary to understand Tom's perspective of the world around him. As a reader I found myself feeling bad for each mistake made because everyone in the novel seemed like good, but sometimes misguided, people. Aren't we all.

This was a terrific read and I can't wait for the next novel from Matthew Norman.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Abstinence Teacher

The Abstinence TeacherThe Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed Perrotta's recent novel - The Leftovers - so much that I started reading some of his previous novels. This was also masterfully done and I will probably keep going through his backlist. A liberally minded sex education teacher, Ruth, makes a comment about some people enjoying oral sex in response to a comment from a student. This comment gets her in very hot water with parents and a local church (the Tabernacle) resulting in a new abstinence curriculum being instituted. Ruth must teach what she doesn't believe to keep her job.

The other main character is the soccer coach, Tim, who leads a team that includes Ruth's daughter. After one game he, on impulse, leads the team in prayer. He is a member of the infamous Tabernacle after recovering from drug addiction. The prayer makes Ruth furious and starts a series of events questioning what is too much when professing and practicing your beliefs in the face of people who don't believe.

Religious belief is always a sticky subject and many relationships and friendships are destroyed during the discussion. I was very impressed with Perrotta's ability to show the reader that each character has a legitimate reason for believing and acting the way that they do. Just like life, having a good reason doesn't avoid the backlash, hurt feelings, and other negative results of your actions. Ruth had a good reason for her comment and Tim had a good reason for his prayer. Both of them are paying for the decisions they made.

Perrotta also does a good job of portraying the difficulty of someone who believes certain parts of a religion and the difficulty in trying to accept the parts they don't believe yet. Faith is a struggle and I appreciated this honest portrayal of Tim experiencing that struggle.

As with The Leftovers, the characters and situations portrayed in a traditional suburban neighborhood are spot-on. I, like many people, live in a suburban neighborhood and the genuineness of these suburban characters makes them feel real and helps me sympathize and empathize with them as the story unfolds. Great read - now on to the next Perrotta novel.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

The LeftoversThe Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Remember all those jokes about the Rapture? Well what if it actually happened? That is the premise of Tom Perrotta's novel The Leftovers. The "Sudden Departure," as the characters refer to it, takes people at random. Good people, bad people, people from all religions - but not all of them - just vanish. Nobody knows why it happened, how anyone was chosen, or where they went. The people left behind are left with varying degrees of emotional baggage that they need to work through.

Perrotta is truly a master of capturing suburban life in America even in this most unusual of circumstances. One woman lost her entire family and is now left alone to wonder why and go on living. One family didn't lose anyone but the experience has left them all questioning their own existence and where they fit in the world. The son joins one cult, the mother joins another cult, and the daughter shaves her head and starts doing everything a parent fears their kids will get into. The father, the mayor of the town, is just trying to hold onto whatever part of a normal life and his family that he can. There is a preacher who is angry about what he feels is a rejection from God and uses his time airing the dirty laundry of everyone who was taken. He wants to world to know that they weren't worthy.

Everything is tragically humorous and you can sympathize and empathize with the characters as they struggle. I am always so grateful for the creative minds that keep asking themselves "what if ___________ happened?" and spinning it into an incredibly entertaining story. Thank you Tom Perrotta for asking this question and writing about these wonderful characters.

Thankfully, HBO has decided to let these characters live on in a series Perrotta is writing based on the book.  This seems like a wonderful opportunity for talented actors to bring some wonderful characters to life.  It may just convince me to get cable.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

First Campaigner Challenge

I posted a little while ago about a blog platform building campaign I was joining.  The first challenge was made on Labor Day.  Here is the challenge:

Write a short story/flash fiction story in 200 words or less, excluding the title. It can be in any format, including a poem. Begin the story with the words, “The door swung open” These four words will be included in the word count.

If you want to give yourself an added challenge (optional), use the same beginning words and end with the words: "the door swung shut." (also included in the word count)

For those who want an even greater challenge, make your story 200 words EXACTLY!



I opted to do the full challenge with a 200 word entry (word count determined by Microsoft Word - which counts ellipsis) with the beginning and ending phrase.  This is a little darker than my usual stuff, but I like how it turned out.  Enjoy.


VOWS


            The door swung open and I smelled Clorox. The television blared the words murder, killer on the loose, suspect escaped, mental hospital as I entered. Susan’s mental illness manifested itself in obsessive cleaning and trying to kill me for unknown reasons. 

Suddenly there were footsteps on the stairs behind me.  I should run, I thought, but didn’t move.  As soon as I gained the courage to turn around, I heard her voice. 

            “Do you remember our wedding vows?” 

            “Susan…Please.” I pleaded. 

            “I asked you a question…I think you owe me an answer.”

            “Yes. I remember our vows.”

            “Will you love, honor…Blah. Blah. Blah. in sickness and in health….be true in good times and in bad” Susan growled. “Do you remember your answer?”

            “I do.” 

            Susan screamed “RIGHT! BUT YOU DIDN’T!” and ran directly at me.    

            I braced myself for impact but only felt a painful pinch, and then heat emanating outward from the injury. Susan backed away and I saw a syringe protruding from my thigh. The effects were immediate and I fell to the floor.  Before I lost consciousness I felt her warm breath on my ear.  

            “Until death do us part. Remember?  Goodbye.” Then the door swung shut.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Red Herring Without Mustard

A Red Herring Without Mustard (Flavia de Luce, #3)A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I found this book as one of the audio eBook downloads at my local library. Normally, I would not start with the third book in the series. The main character is Flavia, and eleven-year-old girl who loves chemistry and the mystery of her town. Her childhood curiosity gets her immediately involved in the investigation of an attack on a gypsy woman and subsequent murders.

I never really got into this book. I found my mind wandering while I listened, even though the only other thing competing for attention was the morning and evening commute. As I reflected on the book I felt that the characters, especially Flavia, were well developed and had unique voices. The story was well written and the descriptions through the eyes of a young child were priceless.

So why didn't it hold my attention? I've decided that the main problem was the stakes. Other than curiosity, there are no real stakes for Flavia in solving the mystery. The people who are attacked or die are people she doesn't really know or care about. The "oh my, that's interesting" gambit just doesn't play well for an entire novel. At least not for me.

The other problem, less major than the stakes, was that the plot was prone to tangents making it difficult to know what was truly important. There were characters introduced that only played minor parts in the story but had names and backgrounds I needed to hear about. There was a lot of discussion of things Flavia found interesting that I never really understood why I should find them interesting. It was distracting and took away from the overall plot and intrigue of the story.

After the book ended I still felt like it was an enjoyable read. Flavia was a wonderful character. However, I'm not impressed enough to go back and read the other two books.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Before I Go to Sleep

Before I Go to SleepBefore I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book chronicles the life of Christine, who loses her memory each morning. Christine spends each day putting her life back together using the items and people she doesn't remember. The problem is that the memories and other information she learns doesn't always match or make sense. This puts the reader on edge as you try and determine who she can trust, what is really going on, and whether her memories are real or figments of her imagination.

I really enjoyed this book. Christine is fragile, because of her condition, but determined to rebuild her life and figure out as much she can about her memory loss and how to continue her life. Everyone, including Christine, has secrets that keep you wondering what really happened. The people Christine depends on all act in ways that make you wonder if they can be trusted.  There is an innocent explanation described by the characters, and sometimes Christine, that is believable but questionable.

The author did a good job of dealing with the repeated loss of her memory through the use of a journal that Christine is keeping. She is hiding the journal from her husband and even she isn't sure why, but it reminds her of what she has already learned each day so she, and the reader, don't need to repeat it. This kept the pace of the book at a speed necessary for a suspenseful mystery.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

When left alone I hit the sauce ...

My wife planned a simple dinner of grilled pork chops and green salad.  Then she left the house on an errand and I got bored.  I thought about a brine marinade, but didn't have the ingredients.  I went to the fridge and saw that we still had plenty of plums.  I guess we didn't make enough cobbler.  The result was a wonderful new pork chop with plum sauce recipe.  I used my wife's homemade oat bread to get to the leftover sauce.  As always, the recipe follows the picture.


Pork Chops with Plum Sauce

Ingredients

2 Tablespoons olive oil
6 boneless pork chops 
salt and pepper (to taste)
1 large garlic clove (crushed or minced)
1 medium yellow onion
1/4 Cup soy sauce
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons dark molasses 
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger (full teaspoon if fresh)
3 whole cloves (1/8 teaspoon if using crushed)
5 fresh plums (pitted and coarsely chopped) 

Directions

Season pork chops with salt and pepper to taste.  Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and cook the pork chops until browned (approximately 5 minutes per side).  Remove the pork chops and set aside.  

Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions and cook until translucent.  Add garlic and saute until the onions begin to caramelize.  Pour in the soy sauce, red wine vinegar, molasses, ginger, and cloves.  bring sauce to a boil and add plums.  Reduce heat to a simmer and cover until the plums are very soft (approximately 45 minutes).  Stir the mixture occasionally to avoid burning.  If necessary, mash the plums with a potato masher (I didn't need this but my plums were very ripe).  Place pork chops back into the pan and cook until no longer pink in the middle (approximately 10 minutes longer).  The pork chop should read 160 degrees Fahrenheit/70 degrees Celsius with a meat thermometer.   


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Don't Know if I'll Make it, but Watch How Good I Fake It

I participated in a 24-Hour Writing Contest at the beginning of July.  The rules were simple.  Pay $5, wait for emailed writing prompt and maximum word count, write a short story on topic within 24 hours.  This was my first writing contest and I chose it because of its limited commitment and low entry fee.  The results of the contest were posted this week and, although I didn't win one of the three cash prizes, my piece received an honorable mention.


The small acknowledgement that my writing was worth mentioning gave me a much needed confidence boost.  I'm my worst critic and often allow a small voice in my head to convince me that my writing has no value. The only people who read my work are friends and family. They are unlikely to tell me I'm a talentless hack.  The mention gave me hope that someone outside my friendly group of readers might enjoy my writing.  Even if I hadn't won anything, the experience was fun and I would recommend participating in the next contest on September 10th


The prompt for the summer contest was:


Strong waves pounded the dark sand just a few yards away. Hidden by beach grass, they embraced, relieved to finally escape their wedding guests. His poetic whispers suddenly ceased as he leaned back, and said, "There's something I need to tell you..." (Maximum Word Count - 875)


Here was my submission


PENMANSHIP


Mark sat just beyond the tall grass, hidden from view of the beach house windows that faced the ocean. He hoped his absence would go unnoticed at the crowded reception. Eventually someone would find him - he was the groom.

The wind blew in bursts and Mark tightened his grip on the stack of letters, fearing the gale would scatter them forever. They couldn't be lost; they meant everything to him and Karen. These pages had started the journey that ended with vows to love, honor, and cherish her for
the rest of his life.

Each letter was carefully written on high-quality stationary, folded into thirds, and contained a dark blue cursive script on a single page. They were deliberately beautiful to show Karen the effort spent on each letter.

The wind exploded again and the papers crackled against each other like embers in a fire. A year ago Karen had received the letters, one each Friday night for six weeks. Mark stared at the last letter, remembering the night he delivered it. The evening was dark and raining, which seemed like perfect conditions for avoiding detection. He watched the house for any sign of movement and, seeing none, jogged the short distance from his car to the mailbox. As soon as the letter was out of his pocket the headlights of the car parked out front flooded the street with light.

He was caught.

"Are you a stalker?" Karen shouted, shielded behind her now open car door.

"No." Mark said, shielding his eyes.

"Why are you leaving me letters?"

"Don't worry, this is the last letter - I promise. I'm sorry if it scared you. It wasn't. . ." He trailed off and then tried to retreat to his car.

"Wait." She shouted. "Can I talk to you, just for a minute...not here...there is a coffee shop out on the main road, Javana, do you know it?"

"I passed it on my way here."

"Can you meet me there in five minutes?"

"Sure."

They talked for hours that evening.  She was beautiful, even drenched with rain. Mark was usually introverted, but she made him feel comfortable and he shared more with her than any other woman he had dated.  When it got late she thanked him for a wonderful evening and
the letters. She apologized for calling him a stalker saying that she couldn't believe anyone would legitimately write love letters anymore.

"It's like a fairytale." she said, and then wrote her phone number on a napkin, gave it to him, and walked out of the coffee shop.

Mark knew that evening that he could not live his life without her. After six months of dating, meeting her parents, and discovering a thousand other things he adored about her - he proposed. This morning he married her and it should have been the happiest day of his life,
if he didn't feel so guilty.

Mark heard footfalls in the sand behind him and turned to see who had finally noticed his absence.  It was Karen.

"So this is where you're hiding." She said, and sat down next to him, pulling her knees into her chest and resting her head on his shoulder.

"I just needed a little fresh air."

"Me too. Rereading the letters, huh?"

"You should keep these."

"I told you, I don't need them anymore - I have you."

"Please. They were meant for you, and you should keep them."

"But I want you to write me new letters, as my husband."

"I need to tell you something."

"What?"

"I didn't write these letters."

"What do you mean? I don't understand."

Of course she didn't understand. His memory returned to the last night in the hospital with his brother. Peter's advanced leukemia would claim him that night and he asked for one favor - he wanted Mark to deliver a letter.

Mark hadn't understood the request until Peter explained, "I'm never going to fall in love with anybody.  I wanted the chance to tell someone the things I would say if I could live long enough to fall in love. So . . . I started delivering these letters, secretly, to a girl who works at a coffee shop near school. Now I'm in the hospital and can't deliver this last one."

Karen listened as Mark explained about Peter and the letters. Mark had tried to tell her the truth many times over the past year, but each time, his fear of losing her made him swallow his words. When he finished his explanation, Karen returned to the beach house without a word.

He watched her labored march through the sand but didn't follow. Was it over? Married and divorced on the same day?

When she finally returned, she took the letters, walked to the shoreline, and tossed them into the water.  She turned back toward him and handed him the notebook and pen she was carrying.

"I don't . . ." Mark started but she cut him off.

"Like I said.  I want you to write me new letters, as my husband."




Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Winding Road of Blog Campaigning

My friend Robin blogs about how writing is like a political campaign.  She refers to another blog that is running a Writer's Platform-Building Campaign.  I visit the blog, decide it's for me, and now link back to to Robin and the new blog announcing that I'm on the campaign trail.

I lived in Washington, D.C. for almost seven years and am very familiar with politics based on that proximity.  Politics is a game of favors.  Blogging is not that different.  Someone does me a favor by posting a comment and/or following my posts and I reciprocate by doing the same. This forges a friendship or relationship that can be beneficial to both sides.

I'm excited to see where this "campaign" goes.  It already has a cool logo - let the campaigning begin.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Happiness is Plum Cobbler for Dinner

This weekend started with our first pick-up from Bountiful Baskets. This is a food co-op that seeks to find a purchase quality produce and distribute it to its members. We belonged to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is Washington, D.C. and haven't joined one in Texas. This is a new way to get seasonal produce.  This week's haul included lots of fresh vegetables for the week and a box of fresh plums.
  

We ate several plums for breakfast and dinner on Saturday and, after a large lunch, decided we only wanted dessert for Sunday dinner.  

 Given our bounty, we chose plum cobbler.  We love any stone-fruit cobbler, but plums are my favorite.

Serve it with ice-cream and everyone's your friend.  

The recipe is found at Epicurious.com and the only change is ours is made without almonds.  Enjoy!



Saturday, August 20, 2011

Review: A Long Way Down

A Long Way DownA Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a really fun read. The ending was a little anticlimactic and predictable but the ride getting there was so much fun that it was forgiven. I'm familiar with the movies based on Nick Hornby novels (e.g. About a Boy and High Fidelity) but this is the first novel I've read by him.

The story revolves around four very different people who decide to commit suicide on new years eve at the same location.  They interrupt each other in the process and become an unlikely "gang" of friends - sort of.  They don't really like each other much, but feel some attachment and responsibility for talking each other out of "offing" themselves.

The concept of a suicide jump being interrupted multiple times by different people trying to make the same suicide jump was a great concept. The different personalities thrown together by nothing more than their desire to kill themselves was really interesting and made for some great humor throughout the book.  I laughed out loud several times.  It isn't the best book I've read this year, but it was worth the read.

There is a lot of cursing, and I mean a lot.  That should bother me more than it does, but I give you other readers fair warning.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Review: One Day

One DayOne Day by David Nicholls
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was on my "to read" pile for a while and then I saw that the movie premiere was coming so I decided to set a goal to finish it before the movie opened. I made it just in time - it opens tomorrow.

This is a love story told over a twenty-year-span on July 15th of each year from the first time they really meet until the end of the story. The dialog in the book is fantastic. I felt like I was eavesdropping on a real conversation with each paragraph. The same day over twenty years concept was a brilliant way to encapsulate two sides of a relationship over a long time period. In our home we have a collage of pictures for each year highlighting the significant events. This book was the prose equivalent of those photo collages. It was immediately intimate and revealing.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

State of WonderState of Wonder by Ann Patchett
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Patchett wrote one of my favorite novels of all time - Bel Canto. That story was rich with plot and character development. I cared about everyone in that room, including the rebels holding everyone hostage. Perhaps my expectations were too high for this novel. The writing was beautiful, which is expected from a gifted writer like Patchett. The descriptions of the Amazon made me feel every invading insect and threatening snake, rainstorm, and cannibal native. The problem was I kept asking myself why I was there.

It hurt me to give her two stars, because I loved her previous work so much. In my opinion, every great story has wonderful characters, an engaging plot line, and a wonderful setting. The setting was great and well described, as stated above. The characters were flat and uninteresting and the plot line meandered back and forth without clear direction and never really making me care about what happened. The plot line was difficult to decipher.

There is a relationship between the heroine and her boss at the beginning and then she leaves for the Amazon and only checks back in with him periodically so nothing ever develops. They receive news that the last scientist who went to the Amazon died and she was his friend and the wife asks her to go find out what happened. However, that mysterious death only bubbles to the surface in afterthoughts to remind you that "oh yeah, we still don't know what happened to that guy." The heroine's other goal is to get information from the elusive doctor Swenson heading the drug project but refusing to report on results. Doctor Swenson seemed merely an irritating ideologue instead of a real threat to anything or anybody. In short, there was little reason to care or feel any real tension beyond the normal dangers of just being in the Amazon.

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Fault Line: A NovelFault Line: A Novel by Barry Eisler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This has one of the best first lines I've read in a long time - "The last thing Richard Hilzoy thought before the bullet entered his brain was, things are really looking up." That start is followed by a fast-paced story of espionage over a software program designed by the man who dies in the first sentence. The characters were well developed, believable, and I cared about each one of them. The dynamic between the two brothers and how they deal with the skeletons in the family closet was a wonderful backdrop to the main plot line. As they struggled to deal with old wounds I understood why each character was hurt and reacting they way they did. Not being able to pick sides kept the tension of their relationship fresh throughout the book. This is my first Eisler novel, but I'm definitely reading the sequel to this book "Inside Out" and will probably add one of his older books to the ever increasing "to read" pile.

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Monday, August 1, 2011

My Intro to the blOscars

I'm relatively new to blogging. When I decided, about a year ago, to try and make good on a lifetime goal of writing a novel, I thought a blog might be a good way to chronicle that journey. It really is nothing more than an online journal of my two favorite exploits - fiction and food. 


Each day I am more amazed at the size and diversity of the blogging community.  It has its own lingo, etiquette, and method of information gathering and distribution.  Today I was introduced to another aspect of blogging I was unaware of - awards.


A friend of mine from high school, Robin Weeks, gave me an award today.  The award is the Leibster Award, which spotlights up and coming bloggers who currently have less than 200 followers. 


 


I don't consider myself "up and coming" but I definitely have less than 200 followers - I have less than 10. 


The rules of the award are (who knew awards came with rules):

1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you. (DONE)


2. Reveal your top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog. (SEE BELOW)

3. Display the award on your blog. (DONE)

4. Have faith that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers. 
(The Few I have will hopefully do so) 

5. And most of all - have bloggity-blog fun! 
(Hallelujah - something I'm already doing) 

Choosing five bloggers with less than 200 followers was the largest challenge.  Since I'm relatively new to the blogosphere, I don't know a lot of new bloggers beyond myself.  Here are the five I chose, with some caveats (aren't there always caveats). 

1.  Robin Weeks - Not sure if this is against the rules, since she gave me the award, but I'm doing it anyway.  She has been a great friend to chat about writing and my guide through this new blogging world.  I follow her blog regularly. 


2.  Brohammas - This is another friend from high school.  I couldn't tell how many followers he has on his blog so I'm assuming it is below the 200 mark.  He will forgive me if I'm wrong.  His views on life, politics, rugby, and beverages are a joy to read.  He also maintains another blog displaying his artistic talent.  if the other blog has more than 200 followers, this one is probably new enough to not have reached that level yet.  


3. House of Broken Crayons - This is actually the family blog maintained by my wife.  I know this is totally cheating, since I'm listed on this blog, and that is why I'm hiding it in the middle.  


4. Mundane Magic - Full Disclosure, this is my cousin's wife.  However, she maintains a great blog and I love the stories about their family life.  They are great people and some of the funniest storytellers I know. She has over 400 followers on twitter, so she probably has more than 200 followers of her blog. Wordpress doesn't list followers clearly, so I'm hereby deeming her up and coming even if she has more than 200 merely so anyone who reads this will visit her blog.  You'll be happy you did.  


5. Memories for Later -  This is another friend from high school.  She was a lot of fun back then and you will see that her life since then is even more fun.  She is also another great storyteller and it is a joy to read about family life through her comedic lens. 


So there it is, my first time hosting a blog award.  It feels a little like a chain letter email, without the threat of death or destruction if not passed on, rather than a true award ceremony.  However, it was still fun to list five of my favorite blogs to follow.  To avoid guilt about over burdening them, they may participate on a completely voluntary basis.  

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Weird SistersThe Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I found myself without an audio book for my commute to work and needed something quick. I found this at the library and, while I might have passed on it under normal circumstances, decided to give it a try. The novel centers around the lives of three sisters. Two have arrived back in the small town they grew up in after seeking greener pastures and getting themselves in trouble. One lived in New York and embezzled money from her employer to buy clothes and live the glamorous life. The other was a drifter by nature just going wherever the wind blew. The wind blew her into a one-night-stand and pregnancy. The third sister never left her small town, is a professor at the local college (where her dad also teaches), and has a finance who has left for Oxford and wants her to come with him but she doesn't want to leave. The sisters learn that their mother has cancer and are handling that while ignoring their own problems.

The characters were well developed and interesting. The family dynamic was interesting as well. Their father is a professor specializing in Shakespeare. The daughters are named after characters (i.e. Rosalind, Bianca, and Cordelia). He communicates with them using lines from various plays and sonnets and they use them as well. The most interesting thing about the book was that it is told in first-person-plural. This is the only book I've ever read from this point of view. It was told as if the sisters were all one collective narrator. It took some time to adjust to the narrator inhabiting the minds of three people. After I was adjusted, I realized it was perfect. They were so interconnected as siblings, it made sense to tell their story as if they were one multifaceted person.



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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Salmon, Cedar, Watermelon, and the Grill

Summertime is heating up around the country.  In Texas we are around 105 degrees each day.  When the temperatures rise we take our cooking outdoors.  Air conditioning is a luxury we do not wish to spoil with dinner cooking in a hot oven.  We purchased a grill earlier in the year and it is getting more use with each passing hot day.  This Sunday's fare was part necessity and part inspiration.

My son announced during the week that he had a project he would like to do.  I asked him what it was and he said, with pride, "I want to build a birdhouse."  On Saturday we went to Home Depot with an internet blueprint for a birdhouse made from one 6 inch wide cedar fence plank.  We built the birdhouse. The byproduct of this activity was a leftover cedar plank. Now it was time for Dad's project.

I went to my favorite local grocer and purchased a two pound wild Alaskan salmon fillet to grill on the leftover plank.  I love grilling salmon on cedar because the smokey flavor is fantastic and cleanup involves nothing more than throwing a charred board away.

Wild salmon has a wonderful flavor and requires little seasoning.  The smoke from the cedar plank does most of the flavor work. I mixed a couple tablespoons of olive oil with a tablespoon of lemon juice and two cloves of crushed garlic.  I rubbed this into the fillet before grilling.

To prepare the board I soaked it in water for about 10 hours, the longer the better.  I then placed the board on the grill on high heat and closed the lid for approximately five minutes so it can start smoking.

Once the board is smoking I placed the fillet on the board (skin side down) and closed the lid.  I reduced the heat to medium and allowed it to cook approximately 20 - 25 minutes, until the Salmon was flaky but still moist.

The cedar plank caught fire a few times while grilling so I kept a squeeze bottle of water close to douse the flames and re-moisten the board. At the end I smelled like a campfire, but the result was worth it.


More inspiration came from an Epicurious.com daily recipe for grilled watermelon salad. I'm linking to the website, because I love it, but not the recipe because I made significant adjustments. Here is my recipe:

For Dressing:
2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
1/2 teaspoon dried basil

Combine the above ingredients and then toss with one Bunch fresh Watercress (stems removed and loosely chopped).

Grilling Watermelon:
Cut the seedless watermelon into twelve 1 inch thick slices (3 per salad). Remove rinds and brush both sides lightly with olive oil. On high heat place the watermelon directly on the grill and grill for two minutes and then flip and grill for two minutes on the other side.

Assembly (4 salads):
Place three slices of grilled watermelon on each plate.  Top each stack of grilled watermelon with 1/4 of the dressed watercress. drizzle remaining dressing over each salad.  Top with sprinkle of crumbled Feta cheese.



We also made herbed red potatoes as another side dish.  As an added bonus the kids made fresh butter earlier in the day as part of a church activity.  We added the freshly churned butter to the potatoes for a wonderfully fresh creamy flavor.

The kids liked the salmon, tolerated the grilled watermelon, and mostly nourished themselves on the buttered potatoes and the organic lemonade mom bought while dad was buying fish.  Regardless, it was a wonderful summer meal without ever turning on the oven.



Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Brass Verdict (Mickey Haller, #2)The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I don't usually read legal thrillers - it is too much like extended hours at work. Friends and family love them and recommend them to me regularly. If the premise is interesting, or I trust the person recommending it, then I will relent. My father-in-law, who reads more than most, said he guaranteed I would like this book. That made it worth a try. He was right, I did like it a lot.

This is a classic redemption plot. We start out with a lawyer who has taken himself out of the practice of law because of personal problems. He is a criminal defense lawyer and has a famous lawyer father's shoes to fill. He hasn't had a case in a year. All of that changes when he inherits a successful practice from another recently murdered lawyer.

The lawyer, the police, and the villians (some known and others discovered along the way)are all well developed. The plot takes many twists and turns along the way as the mysteries of the former lawyer's murder, the high profile client with an upcoming murder trial, and his own personal demons are dealt with. Very enjoyable read - even if it still felt a little like being at the office.



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Monday, July 18, 2011

Words in the Wilderness

I had one goal at my week long writers retreat/class: words on paper.

My current project was languishing a little under the strain of other responsibilities.  I struggled with the concept, drafted an outline, and made profiles for my main characters. But I didn't have much of the actual writing done.  I started writing before I went so that I had something to share in class if the unspeakable (i.e. writer's block) occurred.  My worries were unfounded.

These were my living quarters during the week:



This was my view each morning:



It was inspiring to be in the wilderness, somewhat turned off from my daily grind.  I still had internet (because everyone knows I wouldn't survive without it) but I limited my use of it.  We were far enough off the beaten path that my phone wouldn't get data service - which means no apps.  This was a blessing in disguise because it freed me to clear my mind and truly think about my project.

I ate my meals in the fresh mountain air surrounded by fellow writers.  We discussed our projects, brainstormed ideas, and enjoyed each others' company.




Each afternoon I hiked a ten minute nature trail to the Old Fort (circa civil war era) to share chapters with my class and receive feedback.





I wrote 8,000 words during my stay and broke through significant logic barriers in my story with the help of my instructors and the other writers in my class.


When it was time to go, I made a stop in Santa Fe. I bought handmade jewelry and a drum from local Native American Artisans. These were gifts for my family.  They allowed me to spend some of my precious free time away from them and I really appreciate it.




I also enjoyed a fantastic lunch in Santa Fe of blue corn enchiladas (served on open tortillas and smothered.  I drank a traditional Mexican horchata drink (combines rice milk, sugar, and cinnamon all served iced).  Delicious!




Thank you to all my friends that taught at or attended the SMU-Taos Creative Writing trip.  It was fantastic.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The House of Tommorow

The House of TomorrowThe House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a great character driven story. The main character is a teenager, Sebastian, who lives with his grandmother in a geodesic dome (think Epcot, just house sized) in Iowa.

 Sebastian's parents died when he was young and his intelligent, but very quirky, grandmother became his guardian and raised him in the literal shelter of the dome and figuratively sheltered from outside influences. The outside world finds Sebastian when his grandmother suffers a stroke while a woman (Janice Whitcomb) and her angst filled punk rock teenage son (Jared) are visiting the dome as local tourists.

The Whitcombs' take Sebastian's grandmother to the hospital and he is introduced to soda (e.g. the description of his first taste of it is priceless) and punk rock music. During his grandmother's recovery Sebastian has freedom to explore the outside world, first by using the previously filtered internet and next as secret diversions from errands. Sebastian starts an email discussion with Jared to ask questions about punk rock and he is adopted as Jared's only friend.  Jared had a recent heart transplant and is fragile in every way but attitude. Sebastian's guide to the outside world during the book is primarily Jared as he extols his punk rock world view. This is juxtaposed against the sheltered futurist theories of his grandmother - which Sebastian uses throughout the book to compare to the new things he is experiencing. Sebastian also develops relationships with Jared's mother, who sees him as someone in need of guidance and help, and Jared's sister Meredith whom he finds "beguiling."

The book took me back to my own teenage years and the familiar feeling of trying to find my own place in the world. Teenagers get advice from their friends, parents, and the media they choose to consume. Sebastian's only worldview was his grandmother's until the stroke and the reader gets to watch him explore, accept, interpret and/or disregard the information he receives. It is an interesting way of presenting an outsider view on a typically troubled suburban family.  The parents are separated, Jared is very ill, Meredith is promiscuous and disrespectful to everyone. Despite the dysfunctionality it is clear they all do care for each other and are just struggling with how to show that and not have it ruin them. The characters, even the supporting ones, are very well developed and have their own struggles that, as a reader, were very interesting. I always appreciate it when an author spends as much time developing the supporting characters as the main character.

This week, while I was reading The House of Tomorrow, a friend of mine from high school posted about a debate regarding what is appropriate content for Young Adult novels. Her discussion resulted in a subsequent counterpoint about details raised in the comments section of her blog. The basic question was how much of the dark topics that exist in our world are appropriate for the reading material of the teenage audience of young adult novels.

As I read the discussion, and the comments in reaction to the discussion, I kept thinking about Sebastian. This book did not have the dark topics like suicide, rape, cutting, or other things that were used as the most serious offensive material.  It wasn't completely clean either (e.g. Sebastian steals a bass guitar to play in a punk band with Jared).  Sebastain's grandmother expressed the same justifications for her sheltering of him as some of the commenters in the blog discussion. Most of them claimed that "kids" can't understand the darker topics in their books so they shouldn't be exposed to it or their parents should screen their children's reading material for any inappropriate topics.

There are things I wouldn't want my kids to read or see, but I know that it is futile to try and keep them away from everything - probably anything.  The best option, in my opinion, is to let them have the freedom to read what interests them - even if I don't like it - and make sure I'm involved in the discussion while they read.  Commenters seemed universally in favor of parent involvement in some form, it was the degree of parental censorship that seemed to vary.

At the end of the story Sebastian is a better person for having lived in the Whitcomb's somewhat broken household, having experienced things that are less than wholesome, and having pushed the limits of acceptability to find where his own personal creed both begins and ends.  I think this is a necessary part of growing up and helps kids set their own limits.  Which are the only limits they actually follow when Mom and Dad aren't watching.