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Ramblings by Category

Ramblings by Year

The Lunatic’s Curse

The Lunatic’s Curse
by F. E. Higgins

The town of Opum Oppidulum is home to the freezing Lake Beluarum and its rumored monster. On an island at the center of the lake is an asylum; no one has ever escaped it. So how will Rex, whose father, Ambrose Grammaticus, has been imprisoned there under false pretenses, prove that Ambrose is not insane? And if Rex can free his father, will his evil stepmother drive them both to madness? (goodreads.com)

I’m going to start off by saying that this is the perfect example of why I hate when publishers change the look of a book mid-series (not that this is really a series, but also, it is a series…). Part of my enjoyment of the books by F. E. Higgins was the binding and look of the book. If you click the links below you’ll see them. Especially The Black Book of Secrets, where I specifically wrote about how awesome the binding of the book was. All the books have now been repackaged to look like the one above. Yes, they do look more middle-grade now, but I thought the old bindings were beautiful. This just looks generic to me.

And now on to the story itself. It was creepy. Freaking creepy. There was something about this story that made my skin crawl.I sort of wish I had read it in October, if you’re doing the RIP Challenge, this is one you might want to add to your list. (Heck, any of these Sinister City books you could add!)

It did take me a little while to get into the story, however. As much as I liked Rex, I found the creepy tale to be a little unoriginal at the start. Things turned around as I kept reading though and I began to like it much better once Rex had arrived at the asylum. This is one of those stories where you can’t trust anyone. I even suspected Rex’s new friend Hildred for most of the book.

Just like the other books from Higgins, there is loss and sadness mixed in with the creepy and mystery. This time I really felt the loss of one of the characters and I had hoped that their story wouldn’t end that way. Alas, there are very few happy endings throughout these tales. Even if sometimes it might seem like there are. The towns – Urbs Umeda, Pagus Parvus and Opum Oppidulum are not places I would ever, ever, want to visit if they were real. These are not happy places.

As with the other books, there are cross-over characters as well and I love this aspect of the series. Apparently one of the characters at the asylum was in The Eyeball Collector, but I can’t recall the character from the other book right now. I’m going to have to go back and reread it at some point. I want to reread all of them, actually, to see what I recognize from other books as I now know more about the towns and people they discuss.

Every so often I see the “Why aren’t there enough books for boys out there?” question come up. If someone was looking for books for a middle grade boy who loved to read, I’d totally throw these books at them and laugh maniacally (because you sort of feel like you have to introduce them that way because they are the types of books that feel like they’d laugh maniacally if they could). There is no romance, there is creepy, there is mystery and these books are smart (very well-written). They are dark books though. These are not happily ever after tales. These are quite truthfully, sinister tales. And I love them.

One last thing – I love all the names in these books, from the characters to the towns and lakes. Nothing is common and it gives the reader a real escape into a whole new world where things seem similar to ours, but something’s just not quite right. Brilliant imagination flows from the pages of the novels and cocoons you while you read.

(Thanks for the gift, sneaky book friend!)

Tales From the Sinister City

  1. The Black Book of Secrets
  2. The Bone Magician
  3. The Eyeball Collector
  4. The Lunatic’s Curse

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southwestern meatballs the gluten-free version

I seem to have developed an obsession with photographing the food I have been making (when I make something other than, you know, KD or spaghetti). This probably annoys some people and interests others. Either way, it’s my blog (and my facebook and my twitter) and I will post what I want to. =P Since I haven’t yet posted about the meals I made last month, I thought I would try and keep on top of the ones I will make going forward. I don’t know how extravagant I will be, due to my pain (sometimes I can’t even hold a bottle, let alone open it), but if I have a decent enough day, I might try something out.

Yesterday the store called me to let me know the October edition of Clean Eating had come in. Today, since I had to go out to the bank and cash my strike check (so I can pay my mortgage tomorrow), I thought I’d take the longer way home and pick it up.

Southwestern Meatballs – Clean Eating, October 2011 – p. 52

Since last month’s issue caught my eye because of the meal on the cover, I thought it was funny that my first trial recipe from the newest issue was also the cover photo. That was just a coincidence, I had a couple of ideas for tonight and this one won out because the ground turkey was on sale and the chicken breasts weren’t.

Just in case you’re interested in this one (and it could even be Mummy-friendly if you leave out the jalapeños!) I thought I’d share it with you. ALSO, I did a gluten-free switch on the bread crumbs and I’m all proud of myself. Heh.

Ingredients – Part 1

  • 1 lb ground turkey breast (mine was extra lean)
  • 2 large egg whites (I dropped some yolk in there which I had to scoop out =/)
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 2 tsp olive oil (which I dumped into a tbsp so I could take photos)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin (I don’t think this would be too spicy for my Mum!)
  • 1 cup frozen corn (white or yellow)
  • 1 green jalapeño pepper (which isn’t in the original recipe, but I added for fun!) (it’s between the egg & salt)

Ingredients – Part 2

  • 1 15-oz can low sodium black beans, drained & rinsed well (I used the President’s Choice Blue Menu ones)
  • 2 cups diced tomatoes (used my last 3 tomatoes, plus one from the store)
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lime juice (we just squeezed the entire lime)
  • 1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 cup whole-wheat bread crumbs **

(Not pictured: 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth – which I forgot to pick up, so I used water instead. No difference to me, to be honest.)

** Ah, now, see? I didn’t use whole-wheat bread crumbs. I used this:

I am a clever little devil, I am. I can’t remember if I posted this on my blog, but I did on Facebook. I was thrilled when Shawn came home one day with a this box of cereal. I love Chex (I know, it’s so bland, but I do!) and this was GF! So I thougth – why not squish some of this up and make my own “bread” crumbs? We had one box with a tiny bit of cereal left in it and it was about 1/2 cup in the end after I spent a few seconds crunching away. (It was rather cathartic to be honest.) It worked just fine!

Instructions:

  • Combine turkey, egg whites, bread crumbs, salt and pepper. Mix well (duh). Shape into meatballs. Should make 16. (What do you know? I made 16! I just counted in the photo above. Ground turkey is a LOT stickier than ground beef is. It was messy!)
  • In a large skillet, heat oil on medium high. Add meatballs and cook for 3-5 minutes, turning frequently (or hacking at them to stop sticking to the pan) until brown on all sides.
  • Add corn, beans, tomatoes, broth (water), lime juice and cumin (and jalapeño!). Mix well.
  • Reduce heat to medium, partially cover and cook for an additional 3-5 minutes (until the meatballs are cooked all the way through).
  • Stir in cilantro and serve.

Verdict? It wasn’t bad. I think this is one of those meals that I would enjoy more the next day once all the flavours had a chance to absorb. It was tasty enough, but like with a couple of the other recipes I have made, it was missing something. I think I want to add a new spice next time. And there will be a next time.

There’s enough left over for another meal for ME. Not quite enough for Shawn. If I have an appetite tomorrow I might have it. (Stress doesn’t do wonders for my eating habits.)

And for fun, here are some photos of the meals I made from the last issue.

Eggplant & Sausage Linguini – Clean Eating August/September 2011 – p. 42
(used gluten-free pasta) 

Granola – Clean Eating August/September 2011 – p.23

3-Cheese Stuffed Shells (cover recipe) – Clean Eating August/September 2011 – p. 45
(Yeah… I didn’t go gluten-free on this one. It was hard enough to find the shells!) 

Chicken with Sweet ‘n’ Sour Fennel – Clean Eating August/September 2011 – p.76

(All of the above have been edited from the original recipe either dur to allergies or taste preferences, but each one was pretty good. I am super proud of my granola!)

I can’t believe I am blogging about food. I never thought I’d see the day. So I’ll stop now and go finish reading the October Clean Eating magazine to see what else I’ll be making (next up – some sort of spicy Jerk Chicken with spinach because we don’t have “turnip greens” here!)

spicy!

Mum, this has flavour, keep away!

In my family, salt is THE spice. Pepper used to show up now and then, but since most of my family thought it was too hot, it didn’t really do much other than season my mashed potatoes (mixed with peas) when we had big, family dinners. I grew up in a meat & potatoes family where everything was bland. Most of my life anything that might have had a hint of flavour would be too hot and make me sick. Then, everything made  me sick, no matter if bland or flavoured.

I struggled with food a lot. It just didn’t want to stay in my body. Tests and medicine and specialists, surrounded me. When I had to live with my in-laws for a year (after the fire) they would even make me my own spaghetti sauce in a tiny pot next to theirs. Mine didn’t have chili flakes in it. Or onions.

I grew up dreaming of ways I could remove my entire digestive tract and still keep living. This was my goal.

Then, waaaaay back in November 2007, my mum dragged me to some naturopath, mystery appointment that I was highly sceptical of. Just what was this BodyTalk thing? Why should I trust it? Well, I didn’t at first. I mean, that first appointment made me very curious and it was only while waiting for the next one that I realized that problems I should have been having were few and far between. When we had our next appointment in June 2008 I started seeing my practitioner every month. By November 2008 I realized that I hadn’t been sick, or in the hospital for a year with my normal ailments. Something was going on, I wasn’t sure what, but I wasn’t complaining. I have been seeing Mira on a monthly basis for three years now. Wow. Four years this November from that initial session.

I don’t know why it works. It just does. I have always been extra sensitive to things, so maybe that’s the reason it works on me. Plus, it’s just really calming and relaxing to see her for an hour or so each month. Mira is a fantastically, wonderful woman who loves what she does and cares about her patients.

Anyhow… with all the mojo that’s been going on through BodyTalk something has happened to me that I never thought would happen.

I can eat spicy food.

(Heck, just being able to eat FOOD is awesome.)

It’s a wonderful feeling. I have been slowly trying out new foods over the last year and a bit. I now get my Thai food medium spicy (the full-out one just hurts my mouth too much and that’s not fun at all), I can now eat jalapeño peppers in foods. I can ask for hot peppers on my Quiznos subs. My new favourite pizza is one from Boston Pizza called The Pepper. It’s like a taco on a pizza that comes with guacamole and sour cream to dip it in. It’s delicious! And it’s not spicy to me at all! It just has FLAVOUR.

Sure I have this mystery autoimmune pain thing that is very debilitating, but I have to remember how extra debilitating the stomach issues were. I’d be in so much pain I was certain some internal organ had exploded and I was bleeding internally and dying a horrible death.

And now? I can eat food that has flavour. Taste. Food is finally exciting! I still don’t like to cook, but I have been more interested in trying new things. Last month I bought my first issues of Clean Eating magazine, I had totally meant to write about it and tell you all about the new foods I was making, but then September got in the way of anything remotely happy (though I did get my driver’s license finally) and I didn’t write about it.

But that photo up there on the right? That’s chicken, cooked in chili powder and garlic, with JALAPEÑOS, people! The entire meal (save the avocado/sour cream thing) was full of delicious spice and flavour. Sure, we used the mildest form of hot pepper there was. I don’t like the feel of the hot, I just like the flavour (though this taught me I should just buy the pickled peppers, because they didn’t really taste much different than green pepper except they made my lip numb).

I have put cayenne pepper in the meals, chili flakes, pepper flakes, curry (though that’s not really spicy). I have tried hot sauce, I have started eating different foods that I normally would have be scared of.

The only time I have any digestive issues now is when I am super stressed and anxious. This is one of those times, but it’s nowhere near the intensity that it used to be before I started going to BodyTalk and now I know why I’m getting sick when I eat. I also know there are foods I just can’t eat because they don’t agree with me (onions, for example. I get violently ill when I eat them any time).

It’s nice to have food options now. It makes for easier meal decisions, healthier ones. I don’t only have to live off of white bread and mashed potatoes.

If you want to know more about BodyTalk (it’s unconventional but awesome), you can go here. (You’ll have to click the About when you get there, though, since it won’t link directly.)

Rambling Reader: Banned Books & To Kill a Mockingbird

Oh, Internet, I don’t normally do this sort of thing, but something felt right about doing it. So, in response to my Monkey’s question about banned books, To Kill a Mockingbird to be specific, I made a video. You see, I have very little patience lately. There have been many, many things in my life over the past couple of years that have eaten away at whatever patience I used to have, so when something stupid happens, I just can’t keep my mouth shut anymore. Having (finally) read Harper Lee’s classic novel last year and finding it a brilliant piece of literature (if not a little confusing at times), I hate the thought of anyone banning this book just because they don’t want to deal with the past and the mistakes that society made.

If you don’t already know (i.e. haven’t noticed that you’re being hit over the head with all things Banned Book on every blog) it’s Banned Books Week this week. It’s a good time to sit down, look at the lists of challenged and banned books and think “WTF?” (and also realize how poorly read you are of all the classic novels out there. Oops. *sheepish look*)

On that note… here’s my video. I tried to keep it short, but I just don’t have the ability to shut up. So it’s a little long (I even edited out a whole part! I didn’t talk about the fifth book on my list, as you’ll see.). I tried to edit it entertainingly, so maybe that will, er, entertain you enough to stick around for all 8 minutes and 41 seconds.

FYI… the fifth book was Call of the Wild and I said some pretty funny things. Oh, well.

The Apothecary

The Apothecary
by Maile Meloy

It’s 1952 and the Scott family has just moved from Los Angeles to London. Here, fourteen-year-old Janie meets a mysterious apothecary and his son, Benjamin Burrows – a fascinating boy who’s not afraid to stand up to authority and dreams of becoming a spy. When Benjamin’s father is kidnapped, Janie and Benjamin must uncover the secrets of the apothecary’s sacred book, the Pharmacopoeia, in order to find him, all while keeping it out of the hands of their enemies – Russian spies in possession of nuclear weapons. Discovering and testing potions they never believed could exist, Janie and Benjamin embark on a dangerous race to save the apothecary and prevent impending disaster. (goodreads.com)

Release date: October 4, 2011

I have a bad habit of thinking I have read the summaries of books only to realize that I didn’t really pay attention when I did because the book isn’t anything like I imagined it to be per my idea of the title and cover image. I think the title and cover image distract my brain from processing what the summary actually says, and just lets my imagination go wild.

The Apothecary is a perfect example of this miscommunication between my brain and my imagination. For example, I wasn’t expecting this book to be set in London during the Cold War. I don’t know why, I mean, the summary says where and when the story takes place. I think my brain read those words, looked at the photo and said “ooooo! Magical land! With wizards and potions and magic and MAGIC and fantasy and oooooOOOOOO!! MAGIC!!”

So of course I was generally surprised when the main character, Janie, starts talking about World War II and Germans and spies and Russians and atomic bombs. I thought “Oh, this is an original way to write fantasy!”

It’s a good thing I am adorable because I am not very bright.

Despite my imagination’s refusal to pay attention to details, I have yet to be disappointed in a story when I completely ignore (unintentionally) what the book is supposed to be about. I have been lucky enough to enjoy the surprising plot line and enjoy the ensuing story. I was caught up in the life of Janie and her friend Benjamin. I loved the inclusion of Pip (though was sad that he wasn’t a bigger role) and thought the idea of scientific magic to be almost as enchanting as sorcery and dragons.

The inclusion of after-war London gave this book a sort of “I should be reading this in school” feel for me. It was historical and had references to events I know I probably studied in school, but don’t remember anything about now. I wasn’t the most attentive student. I found a lot of school work dull as dust and figured none of that stuff mattered anyhow, because I was going to be a singer.

I still sort of feel that way, but know my chances of being a singing sensation in order to pay my bills are nil. Ah, well.

So I found myself saying relatively stupid things like, “I don’t think I ever realized that England was bombed during the war,” to my husband. I mean, I am sure I KNEW this happened. I had history classes and such, I just don’t think I actually GOT what we were learning. What it really meant. It was so far removed from my 10-17 year old self that I didn’t care and I didn’t grasp the full meaning. It’s like a small child trying to understand death. You just don’t get it until you sort of have to face it head on.

I promise you I am not as stupid as that makes me sound. It’s just that for some reason, as I get older, things I learned long ago and didn’t care about suddenly mean something to me.

Oh, look, I’m digressing yet again…

This book was an excellent read. It’s one of those intelligent type YA books. It makes you think. Whether you’re thinking about what happened in the past or thinking about what sort of consequences will happen in the future, you’re still thinking. It’s not the kind of thinking that makes your head hurt, either. It’s more… reflective.

Yes, I thought this book was a delight to read. It’s darker than I thought it would be, but that just gave it all the more depth as far as I was concerned. It’s a nice mix of spy, mystery and magic and I am super happy I got a chance to read it!

(I think this is a 2011 YA/MG debut, as well. It’s the author’s first YA, so I think that counts, right?

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