And the twain shall meet in my kitchen, apparently. Or at least they have been since last fall, and I'm thoroughly enjoying it.

I am making another wholegrain loaf from the recipe in James Morton's Brilliant Bread, since my first one turned out so splendidly. For those of you who aren't already weary of hearing me (t)witter on about this book, here's my review from Amazon:

I read this book cover to cover like a novel, and enjoyed every second of it. My few attempts to make yeasted doughs had nearly always failed, and I'd given up even trying anymore, until I started watching Great British Bake-Off this past summer. James Morton made breadmaking look so simple and enjoyable, and seemed so confident that anyone could do it, that I was inspired to try again with the help of his book -- and I am SO glad I did. He clearly and helpfully explains how yeast works, what various kinds of flour are best for, and all the basics I'd been unaware of that had been sabotaging my efforts (if I'd only known that yeast will rise just fine, if more slowly, in a cool environment! I'd been killing my yeast by making it far too warm!).

If you don't have a bread-making granny or other helpful relative/friend to show you the ropes, or even if you do (because I've met veteran bread-makers who didn't know some of the practical tips James shares in this book), it's absolutely worth the investment. Also, there are beautiful full-colour pictures with every recipe, and also to show you the steps of kneading, shaping and other important techniques. I couldn't ask for a more practical or useful cookbook for a beginning bread-maker than this one.

P.S. I particularly recommend the wholegrain loaf recipe. Best brown bread I've ever eaten, and practically no kneading!

* * *

The down side to homemade bread, though, is that it doesn't stay fresh very long, even in my bread box (which my husband bought me several years ago to keep my cat from chewing through the bag, as she invariably does if I leave it out on the counter). So I'm going to slice this loaf and freeze the slices with some wax paper between, so they can be thawed and used for sandwiches and dinner accompaniments as needed -- hopefully that will solve the problem!

How many of you bake bread as a hobby? What are your favorite recipes?
On the comment thread for "A Scandal in Belgravia" at Mark Watches, I just found this comment written by Indigo Sto Helit, and it is so well written and so exactly what I think myself that I'm going to repost it here:

Oops, better cut for SPOILERS )

(That being said, I'm really looking forward to HOUND, as I think it will be much less nerve-wracking.)
I was going to write a review of the movie I saw last night (in 3D, which was rather irritating as I had to fit the 3D glasses over my regular glasses and the distance between the lenses and my eyes was a bit too far, thus rendering me slightly seasick throughout) but then I found that [personal profile] teenybuffalo had already written a thoughtful and lovely review with which I entirely agree, and which you can find here.

[personal profile] teenybuffalo also makes some smart points about Tintin's character, which is really not the blank slate that some claim -- he's just unrelentingly heroic and unflaggingly loyal, which is frequently mistaken for lack of personality by those who prefer morally ambiguous and/or tortured characters. However, I happen to quite like characters who are doggedly committed to doing the right thing if it kills them, so it never occurred to me to see Tintin as bland. Especially since he is, at times, quite wickedly clever and flat-out hilarious. ("...since I've just been bitten by this mad dog!")

One thing I also want to mention since I haven't seen it in any other reviews: I did not at any time feel that these characters fell into the Uncanny Valley, which was a pleasant surprise after the trailer (which did give me such worries). I was particularly watching the characters' eyes to decide if they looked "dead" or not, and I was thoroughly impressed by the light and expression in everyone's eyes. Also, the level of detail is phenomenal. You can see the fine hairs on Tintin's forearms and the texture of Haddock's skin. And Sakharine's hair is fab. :)

Upshot: I want more movies, please.
I was going to write a review of the movie I saw last night (in 3D, which was rather irritating as I had to fit the 3D glasses over my regular glasses and the distance between the lenses and my eyes was a bit too far, thus rendering me slightly seasick throughout) but then I found that [livejournal.com profile] teenybuffalo had already written a thoughtful and lovely review with which I entirely agree, and which you can find here.

[info]teenybuffalo also makes some smart points about Tintin's character, which is really not the blank slate that some claim -- he's just unrelentingly heroic and unflaggingly loyal, which is frequently mistaken for lack of personality by those who prefer morally ambiguous and/or tortured characters. However, I happen to quite like characters who are doggedly committed to doing the right thing if it kills them, so it never occurred to me to see Tintin as bland. Especially since he is, at times, quite wickedly clever and flat-out hilarious. ("...since I've just been bitten by this mad dog!")

One thing I also want to mention since I haven't seen it in any other reviews: I did not at any time feel that these characters fell into the Uncanny Valley, which was a pleasant surprise after the trailer (which did give me such worries). I was particularly watching the characters' eyes to decide if they looked "dead" or not, and I was thoroughly impressed by the light and expression in everyone's eyes. Also, the level of detail is phenomenal. You can see the fine hairs on Tintin's forearms and the texture of Haddock's skin. And Sakharine's hair is fab. :)

Upshot: I want more movies, please.
I was interested to see Betsy Bird's comments on her Fuse #8 blog today about a new graphic novel called Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword (warning: autoplay video at source). Among other things, the novel includes lots of information about Orthodox Judaism, which caused Betsy to comment:
Think about children’s fantasy novels and religion for a moment. Religion in fantasies for kids tends to skew one of three ways. You can incorporate it and make it the entire point of the novel (Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, the Narnia books of C.S. Lewis, or Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time series which is technically science fiction anyway). You can make up an entirely new religion of your own (as in the novels of Frances Hardinge, Tamora Pierce, Megan Whalen Turner, etc.). Or you just sorta forget about it...
And then she goes on to talk about Hereville as something different, where the religion is very much an integral part of the book's atmosphere and sensibility but it's not the whole focus of the plot, which is more of a hero's quest story.

Which had the desired effect of really making me want to read Hereville, but also made me wonder: for those of you who've read Wayfarer, do you think it falls into the first category (religion is the entire point), or the fourth (it's part of the worldbuilding, but not the main story)? Either one is fine, I'm just curious. Since it's definitely not the second or the third...

And can you think of any other books you've read where religion is handled in a way similar to Hereville, as an integral part of the MC's background and culture but not necessarily the obvious point of the story?

***

That being said, it may take me a while to respond to your (doubtless very interesting) comments on the subject of how religion does or can fit into children's books. After my two appearances in Guelph and Waterloo this weekend, I'm heading off to the Fortress of Solitude to overcome my SHERLOCK obsession work on Arrow revisions, and won't be back online until Friday.

Don't burn down the Internet while I'm away, kids!
My husband's comment about THE PANDORICA OPENS, followed by some more Serious Thoughts, all Most Spoilery )

There is more, but I have to stop or I'd go on forever. Brilliant, shattering episode. I only hope Part Two lives up to it.
A deceptively simple, character-driven episode that at times strains credulity to the limit -- but there's a very good reason for that, as we find out at the end.

And I loved it LIKE PIE.

Details, spoilers and Peruvian folk bands under the cut )

Okay, I think I'm done now. Thoughts, people! I know you have them! Tell them to me!


--
* No, this is not an invitation for you to tell me why you dislike Amy in comments. If you don't like her, or Eleven, or Rory, or Steven Moffat, or this season in general, you have every right to feel that way, but please go and talk about it somewhere else. Thank you.
BOOKISH SHINY

If you like your secondary-world fantasy with a healthy dollop of intrigue, wit, danger, and understated but powerful romance, you should all go read Leah Cypess's Mistwood (HarperTeen, April 2010), which I just finished and enjoyed enormously. Steph Su has a very good review of the book here, though I'd disagree with Steph's comment about the secondary characters -- I had no trouble telling them apart, myself.

And Leah tells me she is working on revisions to the companion novel as we speak! Yay, companion novel!

***

TV SHINY

In the DO WANT category: J.J. Abrams' new show Undercover, about a married couple who are spies. From the guy who wrote Jack and Irina? This HAS to be good. Seriously, look at this picture. I am gleeful and optimistic.

Also, check out this lovely, exuberant, heart-warming Doctor Who S5 vid from [livejournal.com profile] humansrsuperior: Brand New Day. Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] infiniteviking for the tip.

***

WRITING SHINY

I'm mostly preaching to the choir here, I'm sure, but still -- [livejournal.com profile] taraljc has reposted a terrific essay about the effort that goes into writing quality fan fiction, and how it isn't always easy -- or even desirable -- to just file off the serial numbers.

***

And that will be all, because I'm feeling curiously dizzy all of a sudden. *blinks*
I have spent the last fourteen weeks with my nose in my laptop, writing furiously -- but now Arrow is all drafted and even a bit polished and ready to send to my editor for her comments, huzzah!

So now it is time to fulfill my promise of telling you all what I think of the new season of Doctor Who. Because I know you have all been waiting for my Very Important Opinion on this subject, and that nobody else on the entire Interwebs has had anything sensible or interesting to say about it in the meantime.

*coughs in an embarrassed fashion*

Anyway. My opinions, which are mine and also contain Great Walloping Wads of SPOILERS, are as follows:

The Eleventh Hour )

The Beast Below )

Victory of the Daleks )

The Time of Angels )

Flesh and Stone )

Now for some general, non-spoilery thoughts on Eleven hisownself:

Others have said that David Tennant was Ten (and to that I would add that Christopher Eccleston was Nine, as well) but Matt Smith is the Doctor, and I agree. He's got that wonderful old-man-in-a-young-man's-body thing going that Davison occasionally managed but didn't quite hit consistently. I almost feel, so help me, that Eleven is what Five should have been if the showrunners hadn't been so uptight at that point about making him Different From Four and also keeping him physically distant from his companions so that nobody would think anything was Going On There. What has also surprised me is how much Matt Smith even looks like Davison at times, even though in still photos they could scarcely be more different. It seems like at least once a week there's a moment where Eleven turns or looks up and I catch my breath at how much he reminds me of Five.

But he's also so much like Two, with the dithery hands and the bow-legged stance and that distracted air that can turn laser-sharp in an instant, and I'm loving that as well. Really a fantastic performance that doesn't feel like a performance... just a fine actor inhabiting the Doctor and bringing him to life, instead of Eccleston-as-Doctor or Tennant-as-Doctor like we've had before. So yes, I am sold, and I look very much forward to seeing Matt Smith's portrayal continue to refine and develop over the course of the season.

Also, FISH CUSTARD IS LOVE.
Woke up to find this review of Rebel (a.k.a. Wayfarer) from the Times of London:
"...an exciting tale, told with verve and skill... The warmth and humour between Timothy and Linden makes the book outstanding."

Huzzah! I am delighted and relieved. There's always a certain anxiety that goes with publishing your second book, as people invariably compare it to the first one; and since Rebel is a very different story from Knife in some ways, I feared it might not be well received by those who were expecting and hoping for More of the Same. Obviously, though, the Times reviewer didn't have that problem, and I'm very glad of it.

ETA: What do you know, Julia Eccleshare (children's books reviewer for the Guardian) likes it too! "A thrilling sequel to best-selling Knife, this is a fairytale with a difference..." Double huzzah!
Oh, show. You give me John Lynch being... John Lynch, and Colin Morgan turning in one of his most brilliant and heartbreaking performances (the fact that he can hold his own with John Lynch, and that Bradley also does it to a less obvious extent with ASH in this episode, is really impressive) and more Arthur/Gwen goodness and CGI that isn't dodgy at all, and then you tell me I have to wait another year for S3. WHY. WHY MUST I WAIT.

Spoilery comments )

...Do I really not have a MERLIN tag? Is this actually the first time I've posted about this show I've been watching (first skeptically, then indulgently, and finally with delight and deep affection) for the last two years? Wow. Okay then.

And why do I have no icons of Colin Morgan?
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Today has been a brilliant day, I have to tell you. Being Canadian, I had my Thanksgiving over a month ago, but it might as well have been a holiday around here considering how much goodness has come my way in the last twelve hours.

First, I spent a lovely few hours at the house of a dear RL friend. Then I came home to find that my mother had been baking Saffron Cake in preparation for Christmas, and had left a warm golden loaf of it sitting on my counter. *inhales sentimentally* Ahh.

I was just making tea and preparing to sit down with a slice of saffrony goodness when the doorbell rang and there was the DHL lady with a package from HarperCollins, containing -- oh glory -- the ARC of A Conspiracy of Kings, the latest book by one of my very favorite authors, Megan Whalen Turner.

What can I say about Ms. Turner's Thief series that has not been said already, and better, by more seasoned reviewers than myself? Check out the glowing endorsements from Bookshelves of Doom, A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy, and Angieville, among others (but ware spoilers on those last two links). These books are, quite simply, superb.

I am happy to say that A Conspiracy of Kings, the latest in the series, absolutely lives up to the promise of the earlier books. I felt confident that it would be a good story, but it even exceeded my wildest expectations of just how good it would be.

No worries, I am not going to spoil this book in my review. I would sooner cut off my hand* than spoil it for anyone. I will tell you no more about its basic premise than you can find in the HarperCollins catalog:
Sophos, heir to Sounis, doesn’t look like much of a prince. At least, according to those in power. At least, to those who do not know him or the size of his heart and the depth of his courage, loyalty, and love. But Helen, Queen of Eddis, knows him, and so does Gen, the queen’s Thief, who is now King of Attolia. Gen and the queen believe that Sophos is dead. But they also believe in hope, especially since a body was never found. So when Sophos is discovered in Attolia, the obvious question becomes: where has he been all this time?
I will say, however, that this summary is slightly misleading. There's so much more to the book than just the question of What Has Sophos Been Up To, gloriously so. There's the usual rich background, diverse cast of characters, byzantine political machinations (but they never get boring, and from someone as infamously apolitical as myself, that's saying something), flashes of wry humor, and unexpected wrenches at the heart. It's subtle and clever and outrageous and surprising and touching and thought-provoking, and all the things I've come to expect from Ms. Turner's writing -- plus some.

And it made me love Sophos -- who never really made it onto my radar in The Thief, being so eclipsed in that book by the irrepressible Gen -- more than I ever imagined possible.

I can't wait until April when everybody else can read this book, so I can discuss it with people like the good folk on [livejournal.com profile] sounis, whom I can confidently say are going to love A Conspiracy of Kings as much as I do -- or more. I don't want to overhype it (oh yeah, like I haven't already) to people who haven't read the series, because I am sure there will be readers out there (as with any book however brilliant) who don't connect to the story and the characters the way that I do. But I do feel confident in saying that if you have read the earlier books and are already a fan, A Conspiracy of Kings will definitely not let you down.

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner will be released on March 23, 2010.**

--
* Sorry. That was bad, I know.
** ON MY BIRTHDAY EVEN. HOW AWESOME IS THAT.
First, the good stuff:

Find Out What's In The Bag And Win It Today


And now for a long-overdue heads-up on what I've been doing. Namely, working on my paranormal YA Touching Indigo every spare moment I get. I was delighted with my 12K progress for the first week -- especially since about a third of that was new material -- but this week it's slowed down considerably due to a houseful of bored kids and my participation in London Book Camp (that's London ONTARIO, FYI -- nobody has offered to fly me to the UK yet!). Still, I have hopes of catching up to my target of 20K by Monday.

To help me stay motivated without an Official Editorial Deadline, I've told myself that if I get the first draft of this book finished by the second week of October at the LATEST, I can buy myself a new laptop. Which, considering that my current laptop is an eleven-year-old refurbished Toshiba with zero Internet capability and a busted hinge, is a pretty good incentive. Now I just have to think of an extra treat I can give myself if I get it all done by the end of September...

In the meantime, I've been delighted to find three Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter reviews in the past month from major US publications. First Booklist came through with some very nice words in their July issue, and then just this past week I got the nod from School Library Journal and VOYA, both of which you can check out on the Barnes & Noble page for Spell Hunter if you're curious.

I'll be offline for the next week, doing family stuff and focusing on getting caught up with Touching Indigo, but I look forward to catching up with everyone when I get back!
I was beginning to fear that the major US review journals were going to overlook Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter entirely, but then Booklist came through in a big way. The full review is subscription-only, but most of it is summary anyway, so I'll just share the Good Stuff:

... First-time novelist Anderson has created a vivid, dysfunctional world ... this is a highly readable, sophisticated tale of romance and self-sacrifice, and readers will hope for more from this talented new author.


Not a starred review, but it might as well be! I am much relieved. Thank you, Booklist!

*dances*
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Check out these delightful comments from EJ, aged 9.5:

Faery Rebels is a great book. It is about a faery named Knife. She does most of the stuff, well, wrong. Instead of a wooden knife she uses a metal knife. She is very cool. My favorite character is Campion because she is a librarian, she loves books.

I recommend this book for people who like fantasy, fighting, and love.

Yay, Campion can has fans! But really it's "She does most of the stuff, well, wrong" that tickled me.

You can read the whole review including his/her mom's comments here.
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I just finished Adam Rex's novel The True Meaning of Smekday and I loved it SO MUCH I can hardly find words to tell you.

Well, okay, maybe I can )

You can find out more about the book at the Smekday site, which includes an excerpt from the text, among many other entertaining things... like Gratuity and J.Lo in comic form giving you 10 reasons you should read the book. (If you pay attention to no other part of this review, at least check out that last link!)

***

Another book I have been meaning to talk about for days now is Sarah Rees Brennan's The Demon's Lexicon. Now, this is a book I would normally have bypassed due to its having the word "demon" in the title, because I am really not keen on fantasy that involves the occult. However, since I have come to know and appreciate the delightfully witty and talented Ms. Sarah through chatting with her on the [livejournal.com profile] debut2009 community, and had read a few excerpts from the book that made me positively salivate with eagerness to find out more, I resolved to give the story a chance and find out how the titular demons were handled.

As it turns out, I needn't have worried, because I loved it )

Check out the first chapter on Sarah's site for a taste of her lyrical, witty writing, or visit her Livejournal at [livejournal.com profile] sarahtales to enjoy her hilarious posts about her life as an author.

***

And now, since I seem to be recommending books in reverse order from when I actually read them -- [livejournal.com profile] lisamantchev's Eyes Like Stars is finally out and I can't wait to buy my own hardcover copy!

Here's why )

Check out an excerpt from the book if you want to know more, or find it at a bookseller near you.
There's been a lot of talk lately about authors behaving badly in response to negative reviews -- in some cases really, really badly. And having had some past experience with less-than-stellar reviews of my work, I can understand the disappointment and frustration that the authors involved were feeling when they allowed their emotions to get the better of their judgment. Nobody likes to be told that the book of their heart, the one they put months or years of effort into creating, has fallen short of excellence -- even if it's only in one critic's opinion.

On the other hand, I've often heard it said by wise and experienced folk that book reviews are written for readers, not for writers -- so in a sense people like Ms. Hoffman and Mr. de Botton are eavesdropping on a conversation that was never intended to include them, and shouldn't be surprised when they don't like everything they hear. I know many authors who deliberately avoid reading any reviews of their work whatsoever (meaning reviews written after the book is published, when it's too late to change it anyway), for this very reason.

Mind you, I am still a publishing n00b myself, and therefore unable to resist reading every review of my book that crosses my path. So if I get a bad review, it's my business to deal with it -- privately that is, without swearing vengeance on the reviewer and their descendants unto the third and fourth generation. (Though it can be tempting.)

Fortunately, I've noticed something about the reviews I've received so far that makes me a lot more relaxed and philosophical about getting the occasional bad one.

"There are too few faeries introduced to us in the book -- it would have been nice to meet some more of them," said one of my early reviewers, and I felt a little sad about all the incidental characters who vanished in revisions. But then, a few days later, I came across another reader lamenting, "There are too many faeries mentioned in the book and I couldn't keep track of them all."

"This book has far much romance for its intended audience!" complained another reviewer on GoodReads. And then, a couple of months down the line, a young reader complained "This book is not a romance AT ALL."

"The antagonist needs more villainy," mused one respectable critic, but then a commenter elsewhere said, "The antagonist's villainy made me so furious I could hardly get through the book."

A review which stated, "The story was muddled and confusing, I couldn't follow it" was followed almost immediately by another saying, "The plot was too plainly spelled out, I would have liked to figure some things out for myself."

Oh, well, okay then.

Of course, there are times when multiple reviewers (or worse, nearly all the reviewers) agree that a particular aspect of the book or story is weak. In which case I think it's the author's duty to swallow their pride, make a note of this particular fault in their writing, and try to do better in future... but in my experience of reading and writing book reviews, this happens a lot less often than one might think.

Anyway, all this has made one thing very clear to me: there is no point in getting upset over one bad review, or even a whole bunch of bad reviews, because every reader brings different tastes and expectations to a book, and it's impossible to please everyone. The best thing I can do when I'm disappointed by a particular review is to remember that I don't love every book I read either, and that some of the books I love best have been heavily criticized by others, and try to move on.
I'm all about the videos lately, aren't I? But this one is really relevant! Because it's all about ME. Or, well, my book anyway:



Thanks so much to [livejournal.com profile] watchmebe for the hilarious and original review!
house

Image by monkeyc.net via Flickr

Wow, has it been that long since I did an episode review for this show? I have still been watching House, you know -- long after virtually everybody I knew had given up on it, or nearly so. Right now it is actually the only network show I still watch on a weekly basis (since Doctor Who has gone to specials for the year, and the UK TV season is so short that stuff like Merlin hardly counts).

I also seem to have forgotten to mention at any point in the last two years that I never had a problem with the whole fire-the-old-ducklings-and-replace-them motif. I thought it actually did a lot to keep the show from becoming stale, and although I'm not a big fan of Thirteen by any means I could never work myself up to actively hating her or blaming her and the other Mark II Ducklings for replacing Chase and Cameron.

I even liked the Chase/Cameron thing once it became a proper romance, and don't find myself sorry that House/Cameron didn't work out after all. (Actually I still think House/Cate from Antarctica would have been the best match ever, but you know these long distance relationships...)

But anyway, let's talk about the episode in question )

Amazing how a show so formulaic can keep me interested after five years. It really is the characters -- or I should say one particular character: House, in all his dysfunctional, infinitely strange glory.
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Previously posted on Twitter, but reproduced and edited here because I'm lazy that way:

Somewhat more than 140 characters, with some spoilers )

Final Rating for "Planet of the Dead": 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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