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.


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)

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.


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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