Started a New Long Series!


So after years of touting the merits of this series (which is impossible to find on our Coast), Erin W finally got her collection of Tad Williams‘ Otherland series back and lent it to me.  I am about 40 pages in to the first book “Otherland Volume 1: City of Golden Shadow” and so far I love it.

I also find it terrifyingly close to the bone in terms of what the future will (note I did not say may) hold.  Like Neal Stephenson and William Gibson (2 of my all-time favorite writers), this book promises a futuristic world that is just around the corner.  The prose is also poetic, a sentence I just read “He walked on beneath the unmoving sun, wisps of cloud rising from his heels like smoke.”

The best thing about this is that the book is almost 800 pages long, and part of a four book series.  Yeah!

Book Club Tip: Bring Yummy Food!

Our book club spends equal time eating and discussing, and ever since our first meeting about five years ago, the food has been as diverse as our personalities. The person who hosts usually provides several dishes, but other members often bring something too…a former member was known for her big trays of homemade humous, roasted nuts, good dark  chocolate and fresh fruit. (We miss you, Suzanne. Come back!)

Some other highlights are the delectable baked goods made by our two French-food-loving members, local prawns with melted garlic butter, curries,  latkes, homemade truffles, dips and salsas of all kinds, every possible combination of cheese and crackers, homemade pizza…I could go on.

We have never been firm about sticking with themes but we always end up with at least one dish or drink that represents the country the book takes place in or a running theme. A few examples are:

Groaning cake, a special cake made for women in labour or right after the birth of a child, was brought to our meeting for Ami McKay’s The Birth House.

Licorice babies on skewers, courtesy of Dana W (still funny…you will be hearing a lot about these). Nobody else could really think of a theme for The Road. What do you bring to a post-apocalyptic, the-world-has-turned-to-ash-and-there-is-no-more-food kind of potluck? Maybe a few dented rusty cans of beans?

Slivovitz, a plum brandy common in Bosnia, was served when we did Steven Galloway’s The Cellist of Sarajevo. (It was kind of gross. Perhaps it is an acquired taste)

Jack Daniels (what else?) for Mötley Crüe’s The Dirt, which Dana O fashioned into some lovely martinis.

I’m sure I’m forgetting some good ones…guys? What were your favourites?

Anyway, it doesn’t have to be complicated, and it doesn’t have to cause stress. We don’t delegate food responsibilities or worry about who should bring what yet we have never, without fail, had a meeting that didn’t have a fantastic selection of amazing food.

Book Club Recipe: Fancy Mint Chocolate Cookies

I LOVE perusing recipes.  And if I am on a flight so much the better.  I am a captive audience.  Plus given the dearth of food on the airlines these days, it is another form of sustenance.

Several years ago, I was on an American Airlines flight and found this recipe in their inflight magazine.  I made the cookies at the time and thought how amazing they were.  But I am not a big sweets kind of gal, so I sort of filed the recipe away in the back of my brain. Then, just the other day, I happened upon some Andes mints that were on sale (a key component to this recipe) and it triggered the saliva response that reminded me of this recipe.

I just made the cookies again today and it has become a battle to keep my kids from ingesting the entire batch.  I just threw half of the batch into the freezer to safeguard them from further attack.

Anyway, these are really good cookies and much easier to make than the result would belie:

  • ¾ cup butter (salted or unsalted, use what you have)
  • 1½ cups of packed brown sugar
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (I only had 1 1/2 cups and substituted the rest with 2 squares (2 ozs) of unsweetened baking chocolate
  • 2 eggs
  • 2½ cups white flour
  • 1¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • approx 20 pcs of Andes mints cut in half to make 40 squares or so

Melt butter, brown sugar and chocolate (chips) in a saucepan over low heat and stir until everything is melted together.  Put it into your mixing bowl and let cool (about 20 to 30 minutes)

Add flour, baking soda and finally the eggs.  Mix it in on your lowest mixer setting until blended.

Put bowl in the refrigerator and chill for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Your dough might be a bit crumbly but should hold together once you start forming the balls with your fingers.  Mine were about 3/4″ in diameter and yielded about 45 cookies.  Grease your cookie sheets and put the balls on them.  I recommend flattening them slightly with your finger at this point.

Bake for 9 to 10 minutes.  During this time it is a good idea to make sure that you unwrap the Andes mints and cut them in half as you will have to hustle once you pull the cookies from the  oven.

Remove cookies from oven and place a half of the Andes mint on each one. As the candy melts, spread it across the top of the cookie with a butter knife.  I found that my cookies did not emit enough heat so I put them back in the oven (with the heat turned off) for a few minutes.

The cookies break easily when they are warm, so let them cool a bit before transferring to a rack.

8 Great Books for 12-13 Year Old Boys

great books for 12 13-year-old boysA friend recently asked me to suggest some books for her 12-year-old son. Since far more books are marketed to girls that age than boys, my friend complained that it’s hard to find stories her son would like.

Here are the suggestions I gave her, as well as some more I got from my librarian husband… if you know any boys in this age group who are interested in reading, you might consider recommending or buying some of these books to them as well:

  1. Gone by Michael Grant. One reviewer describes this story as “Lord of the Flies, if it were written by Stephen King” and I think the description is pretty apt.

    In the book, everyone 15 years old and up disappears in an eye blink from a small California town and the children who are left have to figure out how to deal with it. And some of those kids are developing strange mutant powers…

    It’s an exciting, fast-moving read. My one complaint is the characters are pretty one-dimensional. The bad guys are bad — really sociopathically evil — for no other reason than they were born that way. The male protagonist is a little more interesting in that he’s an extremely reluctant hero. But the story did deal with some of the issues I thought might get glossed over, such as “what about the friggin’ babies?!”

    There are at least two more books in this series – Hunger and Lies. Haven’t read them yet but plan to.

  2. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. The story of Nobody Owens, a boy who’s raised from a baby by a bunch of ghosts in a graveyard and a vampire. If he leaves the protection of the graveyard then he risks being murdered by the nefarious “Jack,” the assassin who killed his family and is eagerly waiting to finish the job.

    I love this book so much. Neil Gaiman is a wonderful writer and creates worlds that are original, creepy, beautiful, and unforgettable.

  3. I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore. Haven’t read this one yet but am dying to. It’s being promoted as a book that fans of the Hunger Games trilogy will love and is scheduled to be released as a major motion picture in 2011.

    “John Smith” is one of nine aliens who were brought to Earth as an infant to flee the invading species that attacked their home world, Lorien. The only problem is, the invading species has now found them on Earth. Three of Loriens have already been found and murdered. John is number four on the list.

  4. The Dangerous Days of Daniel X by James Patterson. Daniel X is an alien who looks just like a regular teenager who’s tasked with the onerous duty of protecting the Earth from all the really NASTY aliens out there… It’s got kind of a “Men in Black” thing going on.

    The writing is short, snappy, and fun. Plus, the bad guys are monstrously gruesome.

  5. The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod by Heather Brewer. Rob recommended this series about a high school guy whose father was a vampire and mom was human. His parents died in a mysterious accident and he has to discover the truth of what happened to them, in addition to dealing with regular high school drama and avoid getting spiked by the vampire hunters who are on to him.

    Yeah, I know, vampires, bleah… I’m sick of them, too. But at least this story has a male protagonist who presumably doesn’t sparkle.

  6. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. This is a more literary read which has garnered great reviews. It’s about two very different boys who happen to share the same name and whose paths intersect in a way that changes their lives forever. Critics call it “humourous and insightful.”

  7. Bonechiller by Graham MacNamee. This is a great horror story for kids—but be warned: it is SCARY. Not gruesome or gory… just “scared to turn out the lights” freaky. Danny and his father move to a small, remote town in Ontario where every generation, during the coldest winters, children mysteriously start disappearing. People think they’ve run away, but Danny discovers the truth on one particularly frigid evening when a horrifying creature taps him to be its next victim.

    The monster in this story is original and downright disturbing… but the writing is top-notch and the characters are interesting and well rendered. If scary stories are the only thing that pique your 12- or 13-year-old’s reading interest then I suggest you get him to give this one a try.

  8. RIP, M.D. by Mitch Schauer. This graphic novel is perfect for boys who aren’t quite sure if they really like reading yet, but are into funny, dark stories involving monsters.

    Ripley Plimpt’s life is turned upside down when he saves the life of a tiny bat — only discover the bat was really a vampire. Suddenly he acquires the reputation as a “monster doctor” and has all sorts of monsters big and small coming to him for help in solving their problems.

So those are some ideas to get you started… Do you have any more suggestions? If you know of any books that your boys have enjoyed reading, please tell us about them in the comments.

Searching for Our Inner Mötley

Last spring, book club took a refreshing break from what had been a run of fairly heavy, serious books. It was Dana O’s pick and she kindly offered up Mötley Crüe’s The Dirt.

A few members weren’t so keen on reading about the squalid pasts of drunken, coked-out, aging rock stars. But, oh well. We have a policy that we’re expected to read whatever choice we’re given. That’s one of the joys of book club…if you hate the book you get to curse the person who chose it while you’re reading it and then curse her in person at the meeting.

As we started the book there was a small flurry of Mötley mentions on some of our Facebook statuses. The first one I saw was by Dana O herself. It just said “Boys are gross.” Sure, I thought. Everyone knows that. And then I started reading.

Gross doesn’t even begin to cover it. The narcissistic, sex-obsessed, drunken boys at the beginning of the story morphed into four men who were so driven to excess they had to actually work at thinking up new levels of debauchery. What do you do when you’ve had sex with countless women in every possible way? You…wait, no, I can’t say that on here. Let’s just say they got creative.

So rock and roll, drugs, alcohol, women who would do ANYTHING the band wanted (and they wanted weird stuff) and crazy clashing egos…what on earth would the theme be for our book club appetizers?

We decided that it would be fun to dress up like 80s groupies for the meeting, so we hauled out our old tight jeans and short skirts, scrunched up our hair and found the highest-heeled, pointiest shoes we could. Well, some of us did. A few (okay, one, but I’m not naming any names…Dana W ) opted to go for the classy, clean-cut 2010 version of a rock and roll groupie, in that she dressed pretty much exactly like she usually does.  But most of us went all out.

It was a great meeting, yet somehow we never really tapped into our own Mötley-ness. Maybe we should have trashed Dana O’s lovely house and danced in our stilettos on her coffee table. Instead we sat around in a fairly civilized manner, drank JD martinis, talked about the parts of the book we found particularly disgusting (mine was…never mind, I probably can’t say that on here. But for book clubbers, just think Nikki, morning, blood on face), tapped our feet to the Mötley Crüe soundtrack and discussed the merits of the book.

There were some, actually. It was a fast, interesting read, there were four distinct voices and the author—none of us bought that it was really written exclusively by the guys—managed to make us feel empathy for most of the band members despite their icky behaviour.

The wildest thing we did that night was go around and confess our own “Mötley” moments from the past…but sorry, I can’t tell you those either. Unfortunately, we’ve all been sworn to secrecy.

Book Club Tip: Set a Date and STICK TO IT

book club tip - stick with the dateIf you want to run an effective, vibrant book club, one of the most important pieces of advice we can give you is this:  pick a particular date or date each month — and then stick with it no matter what.

For example, choose the first Wednesday of every month, or the third Tuesday. Decide at your very first meeting which day works best for everyone, and then set that day in stone.

If one or two members can’t make it that day on a particular month, then that’s too bad, but that doesn’t mean you should try and reschedule. Not every member is going to be able to attend every book club meeting. That’s inevitable. And if you constantly change the date to accommodate everyone’s changing schedule, months could go by without any meetings taking place at all. And that’s no good.

So ladies… what day works best for you?

(Seriously, members of Book Club Unbound… What day DOES work best for you? Are we still going to be meeting the third Thursday of every month or did someone mention moving it forward during the last meeting?)

Book Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

book club choice the magiciansGenre: Modern Fantasy

Rating: A-

Who Will Like This Book: Anyone who’s interested in exploring the darker implications of beloved escapist fictional worlds such as Narnia or Hogwarts. Also, lovers of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Dickens, and Victorian Gothic.

Do you worship at the alter of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein? Are you a fan of Susana Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell? Then you will enjoy this book.

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Book club member Maria G recommended The Magicians to me. I loooved it. It’s not your typical escapist fantasy—in fact the entire story can be read as a deliberately planned attack against the escapist desire to retreat into a fantasy world.

Quentin is a seventeen-year-old genius who would love to escape his dreary excuse for a life and disappear forever into the magic lands of the fantasy novels he read as a child. Then, on one cold November day he stumbles upon an Brooklyn alley that leads him to warm, sunny  Brakebills College where he discovers that magic is actually real — and he has a particular aptitude for it.

Abandoning his Ivy League future, Quentin enrolls at Brakebills and dives into his magical studies. He works hard and acquires the kind of powers he’d always dreamed of but never imagined could be real, all while experiencing the typical joys and sorrows of university life—alcohol, sex, peer rivalry, angst, you name it. He ultimately discovers that magic powers aren’t the  cure-all he’d always imagined them to be, and that sometimes when you spend your life chasing after a dream, all you find is a nightmare.

The only reason why I didn’t give this one a full “A” is because Quentin is such an unrelenting weenie.

He has to be, in order for the story to have the impact it does. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t spend half the book wanting to knock him upside the head.

This review was written by Erin W. To learn more about Erin’s book preferences, click here.

Book Club Recipe: Sweet Potato Cornbread

This one is always the sleeper hit of the potluck table — a humble loaf that hides beneath its unassuming exterior a sweet, moist deliciousness that keeps people coming back for seconds and thirds and fourths. Pair it with jalapeno-cumin butter (see below) and you will never go wrong.

Original Source: How it All Vegan by Tanya Barnard and Sarah Kramer

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed
  • 4 tbsp oil
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs (or equivalent egg replacer for vegan version)
  • ½ cup milk or soy milk
  • ½ tbsp vinegar

Preheat your oven to 375. Sift the first 5 ingredients together in a large bowl. Stir in the cornmeal.

In a second bowl, combine all the wet ingredients. Then pour wet ingredients into the flour mixture and stir until just mixed.

Pour batter into a lightly oiled round or square loaf pan and bake for 25-30 minutes.

Serve with jalapeno-cumin butter for an extra kick.

JALAPENO-CUMIN BUTTER

¼ cup butter
½ tsp ground cumin, freshly toasted and ground is best.
1 seeded and minced jalapeno pepper.

*variation: replace the minced jalapeno with 1/4 tsp ground chipotle pepper. Mmm… smoky deliciousness.

Mix all ingredients together and serve at room temperature for easy spreadability.

OM NOM NOM NOM NOM…