Eoin Colfer – Plugged (2011, The Overlook Press, New York)
This over-the-top, darkly comedic and (at times) savagely raunchy novel from Eoin Colfer (yes, that’s the same guy that wrote the famous YA series, Artemis Fowl) is not for everyone. If you can stomach it, however, it’s pretty fun and entertaining, even while you’re shaking your head in disbelief. After his girlfriend is murdered, Daniel McEvoy, an Irish ex-military officer turned bouncer in a rundown New Jersey nightclub finds himself embroiled in a deadly plot involving plenty of drugs, dead bodies, weird sexual exploits…and hair transplants. It’s as bizarre and unhinged as it sounds. The voice of McEvoy is the best part of the book – first person narratives don’t always work, but this is a character who can be as self-deprecating, witty, and hilarious as he is tortured and complex. I enjoyed that. There is a sequel, Screwed, but I’m in no hurry to read it…too much of this kind of crazy could prove hard on the brain (and the digestive tract).
James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge – Zoo (2012, Little, Brown and Company, New York)
All of the animals on the planet Earth have suddenly and inexplicably turned into bloodthirsty monsters out for human flesh in this fast, furrious (see what I did there?), and frequently gratuitously gory read from James Patterson. This is actually the first Patterson book I’ve read (he has about a trillion titles so I don’t know how I managed to miss him so far) and I admit, I chose it because the plotline reminded me of something Michael Crichton would have come up with. The story is largely formulaic, which I anticipated: we have our wisecracking, slightly irritating (first person) narrator-hero, Jackson Oz, a young biologist possessing a simultaneous lack of credibility and insight no one else seems to possess…that is, until he rescues beautiful ecologist Chloe Tousignant in Africa and the two band together to try to warn mankind. When things go very, very sideways, it’s up to Oz to try to save the world. The conclusion might be disappointing to some, but offers an interesting commentary on our high-tech society. Zoo is an easy, quick read and reasonably entertaining, as long as your expectations are not too high.
There is, of course, a television show based on this book, and no, I haven’t had a chance to watch any episodes yet. (If you have and you enjoy it – or if you can’t stand it! – let me know in the comments).
Homer Hickam – The Dinosaur Hunter (Thomas Dunne Books, New York, 2010)
What looks like just another busy summer wrangling cattle at the Square C Ranch for former-homicide-cop-turned-cowboy Mike Wire becomes decidedly more bloody and interesting when a paleontologist and his team discover that the ranch is the site of a cache of dinosaur bones – and someone is willing to kill to get at the extremely valuable fossils. Sounds like a fascinating read, right? – I was totally sold on the promising combination of murder mystery and dinosaur bones. And, indeed, the paleontology was the best – and strongest – part of the book. Unfortunately, Mike’s character grated on me; old enough to have participated in the decimation of two marriages, he spends most of the book alternately chasing after every woman who enters his periphery and pouting when they don’t return his advances (or expansively congratulating himself when they do). His shenanigans seriously cut into the time where he could be solving the case, which you’d expect an ex-police officer to tackle with a bit more aplomb. Furthermore, his cheeky wink-wink first person narrative only solidifies his immaturity and damages his credibility with the reader – at some (very early) point, it’s easy just to stop caring about Mike and his sassy thoughts. (And how many times do we have to be reminded that he’s a vegetarian living on a cattle ranch?). Most of the other characters are poorly-drawn caricatures and stereotypes (especially the poor women!), and don’t get me started with the whole Russian mob angle. There is, however, some interesting stuff here with the discussion of land rights and the struggles faced by ranchers in Montana, and the controversy of the recovery and preservation of dinosaur fossils for historical value or to sell for big bucks. Although this book proved a disappointment (for me), I’ll give Hickam another chance and try some of his YA SF novels when I have a spot for them in the TBR pile.
Does anyone out there grow paprika peppers? I’ve used sweet paprika in a few recipes but just recently discovered smoked paprika when I made a spice mix for use as a dry rub in grilling. Now I’ve been putting smoked paprika on everything: scrambled eggs, baked potatoes, slow cooked beans…and as everyone but me seems to have already known, it elevates deviled eggs to a seriously crazy pinnacle of excellence. I’m curious, what are your favourite ways to use this fantastic little spice in cooking? (Tell me how you use other types of paprika as well!). And if you’ve grown the peppers, please tell me about your successes (or failures) with them. I don’t think I can easily grow them here without the benefit of a greenhouse, but I am nevertheless very interested….
I came across a fascinating article about the history of embroidery – although it references 900 years of the craft, it’s a very brief overview so it won’t take you long to read. The photos are fantastic, too. Check it out here.
Whether you’re a reader or a writer, you may enjoy this little piece posted up at Tor.com – it’s a thought-provoking take on writing botany into fantasy fiction. How do you name and describe plants that exist in worlds that aren’t real? Stuff like this is why writing is so fun….
Oh yes, and let’s cycle back to food: I posted a recipe for zucchini and salmon loaf up at Grit.com last week. Use fresh salmon if you have it. If you’re vegetarian, I think you could make a variation with scrambled tofu. And throwing in a few diced mushrooms and red or yellow peppers would be pretty yummy, too. Don’t forget the smoked paprika! ♥
Time-lapse photography is awesome. It’s even more awesome when it features spring flowers. Don’t miss this!
Here are some great photos illustrating crown shyness in trees. Next time you’re in a heavily wooded area, look up – maybe you’ll spot a display. I keep thinking I’ve seen it in aspens, but I have no documentation of it…I’m now on a mission to photograph it if I come across it. I’m not sure if Populus is a genus that exhibits it – not all trees do.
My article, “Growing Green Flowers,” published in the Winter 2017-18 issue of Heirloom Gardener, is available to read online here.
I didn’t do a lot of holiday baking, but this ginger cookie recipe was so good, I made more than one batch. It’s gluten free but if you don’t have dietary restrictions, you should be easily able to substitute wheat flour for the GF blend. The almond flour may also be successfully swapped out with the GF blend (or wheat flour) as well. And it’s cool if you want to omit the candied ginger, too – just add a touch more ground ginger. ♥
Samantha Silva – Mr. Dickens and His Carol (2017 Flatiron Books, New York)
Just in time for Christmas comes this heartwarming, exquisitely-told story from Samantha Silva. A fictionalized account of Charles Dickens’ struggle to write A Christmas Carol under extreme pressure, Mr. Dickens and His Carol is just the sort of sweet holiday tale perfect for cuddling up with during an hour of two of quiet over the festive season. (Don’t forget the hot chocolate and Bailey’s, the warm cat nestled at your feet, and the crackling fire in the hearth). I think I smiled from the first sentence until I reluctantly closed the covers at its conclusion. Holiday cheer in book form – who could ask for more?
*Project Gutenberg has archived a digital copy of a first edition of A Christmas Carol from December 1843. It includes some fabulous illustrations and a marvelous scan of the front cover – click over to enjoy it here.
Laurie Graves – Maya and the Book of Everything (2016, Hinterlands Press)
A mysterious library, magical books, and unexpected journeys to new lands and times? A resourceful, intelligent, and thoughtful teenaged protagonist that we can relate to and love and root for? A clever, fresh (and extremely relevant) take on the classic battle between good and evil? Creative plotting, beautifully realized characterization, precisely detailed world building, and perfect pacing? I’m all in. Laurie’s book really is everything!
As it is the season of gift giving, if you’re having a difficult time buying for the young teenagers in your life, well, have I got a suggestion for you. And while you’re at it, click an extra copy into your cart for yourself. Because we could all use a Book of Everything in our lives. 🙂
(I’m sure glad she’s already working on the sequel because I’m not certain how long I can wait, given that juicy wallop set up at the end…).