Last doing-things post of the year (mostly movies)

Hard to believe, but I’ve kept up this semi-regular documentation of media consumption for over a year now. Consistency may be the hobgoblin of small minds, but in this case, I’m happy to be small. Any day I get to say, “I have done the thing,” is a good day.

So what have I been doodly-doing? Mostly socializing, baking, and eating holiday food. But also the usual reading & watching. This is a long post since it’s been a LONG time since the last one.

Books: Lots of fantasy fluff–errrm, that is to say historical romance fluff. Many reprints, which meant plenty of squirmy “wow, that’s not a good behavior to promote,” moments. Elizabeth Boyle (good stories, but a lot of recurring phrase tics and sketchy themes) Sarah Maclean (great dialogue, fun alterations to history, good job with consent) Julianne Maclean ( similar to Sarah Maclean ) I plan to read/re-read all of N. K. Jemison’s ouvre in January as my hibernation treat.

Television: I’m watching less and less TV. NCIS will definitely be off the schedule after this season. Ditto Lucifer. They’re both okay, but okay isn’t enough to justify my time these days. Supernatural is ending, and that’s cool. Mostly I’m watching Netflix originals & DVD sets from the ‘brar

Punisher: A punishing experience, pun intended. (Bwahahahahahaha…ahem…sorry.) I’m not a fan of gore, and this spilled over my tolerance threshold, but it avoided the origin story trap, and it didn’t stretch for a redemption arc. I have Major Issues with people giving heroes a pass on murder just because they’re killing bad guys, but this mostly dodged that trap too.

Defenders: Origin story could have been forgivable if they hadn’t taken so MANY episodes setting up the team. Also I could do with a LOT less Iron Fist. And even less “throw every supporting character from every series into this because why not?” plotting. It wasn’t bad. It should’ve been better.

Movies:  This has been a bad year for catching movies in the theater. So I’m grabbing them from the library as they hit DVD. (Have I mentioned lately how much of a library fan I am? PUBLIC LIBRARIES RULE!)  Ahem. Anyway. I watch a lot of movies in midwinter. So, grab a cuppa. This gets long.

The Great Wall. I almost liked it. Loved that a white guy was the Exotic Dispenser of Magical MacGuffins (contrary to many viewers, I didn’t see Damon as White Savior nearly so much as “barbarian dude barely tolerated the whole time.” The smart dude who engineered the victory was Chinese, as was the heroine who delivered the final blow. Never was Damon’s arc the focus of the plot.) I say “almost liked it” because OMG it was stupid. Fantasy siege battles are all fun and games except the engineering is JUST AWFUL AND COMPLICATED FOR NO REASON and war doesn’t work that way. I felt like Sigourney Weaver in GalaxyQuest for over half the movie.

Transformers Last Knight. Watching this made me wonder if the writers and producers  got lost in a props department and came up with lame excuses to use everything they ran across. Possibly they were also intoxicated at the time? King Arthur. Aliens. Transformers in all shapes and varieties. Add in massive amounts of voice-over and awkward failed attempts at “snappy” dialogue, stir with a huge cast of cardboard cutout characters and pretensions everywhere. It’s a painful, boring, overblown, disjointed mess. Not as bad as Battleship, but close. It made fine background viewing for three batches of cookie dough, but I would have been royally ticked off if I’d spent money on it.

Thor: Ragnarok.  Did I mention this one already? No, my November posts were all about food. So here’s my Thor report.  I prepped for the new movie by watching the first two back-to-back on Thor Eve, and was once again annoyed by all the oportunities missed in both films.  Thor 1 was not an origin story.  That’s the best I can say about it. Well, that and a shirtless Hemsworth. Ragnarok was worth the theater prices and made up for all the prior missed opportunities.

I adored seeing Thor as an earnest straight man constantly stumbling into comic situations. I always liked him better in the graphic novels when he was played for comic relief.  I am evidently in the minority when it comes to not missing the formal forsoothian Asgardian language and grammar.  The “main” villain didn’t impress me, as well-acted as she was, and the plot felt like they trid hard to cram two movie’s worth of plot into one, but hey. Loki & Thor banter. Dr. Strange banter. Hulk banter. ALL THE BANTER AND GIGGLES.  I like it. Another!

Star Wars Episode 8. For this one, too, I made the effort to hit a theater, and I’m glad I did.

Kong: Skull Island. Hooyah, I’m glad I didn’t spend popcorn money on this putrid mess. Not even Hiddleston & some other great actors could save it from its “Heart of Darkness meets Jules Verne plus Jurassic Park with a 70’s retro feel” premise. Too many flavors went into the smoothie blender. The result was horrible: gritty, lumpy and with a bad aftertaste. The only redeeming quality: seamless integration of the CGI. Never once did Kong or the other critters remind me they were merely imaginary.

Alien:Covenant. Um. The crew were not as fundamentally, hatefully stupid as the crew of the Prometheus, and the dual dose of Skaarsgard was scenery-chewing, over the top fabulous, but…it was still a problematic mess of people behaving so ridiculously I was rooting for them all to die much faster than they did. And the demonstrably incompetent captain’s faith being played as a beneficial trait misunderstood as a flaw by the foolish secularists bugged the shit out of me almost as much as the “superior intelligence equals emotionless also equals evil” theme.

Get Out. This one would have been too intense for me in the theater. Right at the painful edge of scary. So good. So creepy.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Does adding a subtitle subtract quality from a movie? Just asking. This might have been a decent, albeit anachronistic fantasy movie a la Knight’s Tale, (which I hated on first viewing because I was told it was historical, hah, lols NO) but the producers just had to slap King Arthur’s name on this, and it so very much is not true to the King Arthur legend, not even tangentially or as a “re-imagining of the themes.” Also WTF with putting in magical war mommoths. EPIC EYE ROLLS.

Baby Driver. I can see why it’s so well-reviewed. Fantastic cast of fine actors giving it their all, razor-sharp direction, solid writing. More happened in 20 min of this movie than in the first hour of King Arthur. I didn’t like it, I generally don’t seek out the “I’m only bad to protect other people” not-really-a-redemption-arc tropes. It just didn’t wow me. But I can see why other people adore it. (shrugs) It’s quite a brilliant film.

The Last Jedi. I enjoyed it from opening credits to final fade to black. There is much I loved. Don’t get me started on the flaws. Just don’t. My objections are all storycraft fails and/or internal consistency issues, nothing to do with changes to the mythology, vioating tropes or departures from canon. I’m on board with all those things. Also, to my surprise, porgs.  I love most the way the story is treating its own history like a spiral that keeps coming around to the same touchpoints but with changes & development each time.

The Christmas movie tally: both the Christmas Die Hards, Meet John Doe, (instead of It’s A Wonderful Life) Bell, Book & Candle, Lethal Weapon, and A Christmas Carol.

…and that’s a wrap.

Upcoming plans include getting my hair buzzed off because it’s past time, and buckling down on the new book (which I have shamefully neglected in favor of Doing All The Other Things this month) plus beginning revisions on Heartwood.  I’m try to aim at weekly or bi-weekly updates here. Shorter reports are happier reports.

Happy writing update

The sun will return, the Christian savior’s birthday is imminent, the harvest is in, and the new year is right around the corner.  I’m going to celebrate all that goodness with a post full of happy authoring news.

The biggest happy is a month old now, but it keeps getting better: Heartwood is no longer a draft in progress, it is finished. The ending passed Beloved Alpha Reader’s stringent quality assurance testing with two thumbs up and multiple sniffles. Huzzah!

How can it get better than that? Well. I’ve sent manuscripts to beta readers and already have some copies back, all beautifully marked up with suggestions for revisions, clarifications, and expansion. No one has spotted any huge gaffes or a need for major rewrites, so I’m still on schedule to start revisions come the new year.

That’s huge relief, since the last novel I finished (Prodigals) needed a major strip-and-rebuild. It still needs one, technically speaking, since I am not ready to tackle that project. I have identified the root problem and have some potential solutions simmering int eh back of my mind. I will do the re-write someday. Possibly after my current post-Heartwood project is done and in edits.

What current project is that? So glad you asked.  It’s a “cozy mystery meets family ghost story” novel, and it makes me very happy.

Deena Davis, newly-appointed police chief of a tiny Southern Illinois river town, solves crimes with the spectral assistance of her great-great-greatish grandfather, who was the mayor there while he was alive.

Deena is an ex-Army MP, an ex-Chicago police detective and current owner of a retired military dog named Bazel who hates phones and loves bacon.  Fletcher Davis is everything a mid-nineteenth century river town mayor should be. They are all tremendous fun to write.

So. Color me happy. I’m diving deep into this project while Heartwood rests before revision. It’s fully outlined (a new thing for me, very strange) and I’m well into writing the first chapter now.  My goal is to have build enough momentum to keep it moving forward while I start revising Heartwood too. So far, so good.

Heartwood will be ready to go into edits in February and slide onto a production schedule at the end of April.  I’m committed to that.  Stretch goal: have this new manuscript done by the end of April too.

I have writing-adjacent happy news too. Last year I agreed to help a friend prep her many amazing children’s books for print publication. A long, frustrating saga of false starts and dead ends ensued. I am most happy to announce that one book is nearly ready to proof, and more are in the hands of talented designers.  It’s getting exciting in a happy way.

Bottom line: yes, Virginia, there will be a new book in 2018. Maybe lots of them.

 

Holiday ginger cookie fun

Here be the latest installment in my ongoing Quest For the Perfect Ginger Cookie. I posted a picture of the experiment on All The Social Media, and the next thing I knew, people were asking for a recipe. I don’t really use recipes so much as demolish them, but I have recorded the process here and include a link to the original at the end.  Read on!

It requires chilling, so you don’t need to start the oven until you’re ready to bake. It also calls for diced-up crystallized ginger. I diced up a whole package a while ago while watching TV because I hate doing the work right before I bake. 

1. Whisk/sift together & set aside in a bowl:

  • 2-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2+ teaspoons ground ginger. I always go heavy on the ginger.
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda (NOT baking powder, do NOT substitute)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • a little nutmeg. How much? A pinch.  10 passes on my big spice grater. Yes, I have a whole nutmeg. Don’t judge.

2.  In your mixing bowl, cream together:

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar,
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar. (Light? Dark? Your choice. I went with light because I had it. Dark will add a stronger molasses-y flavor to the cookies)
  • 1 cup butter and/or vegetable shortening.  I used 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)  & 1/2 cup Crisco. More butter=crispier cookies, more shortening=softer.

3. When the sugar & fat are creamed together all light & fluffy, add  & mix together well:

  • 1 large egg

3.5 then blend in:

  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • as much very finely diced crystallized ginger as your heart desires. I used about  1/3 cup. A handful.

4. Finally, add in the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.  Dough will be stickier than sticky. (If you over-mix, the cookies will come out tough)

5. Chill at least 1 hour. I chilled it overnight because that’s how I roll.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees (F). Line your baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon…or be prepared to end up with a horrible, baked-on mess. Non-stick baking sheets might work, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. 

6. Put some white granulated sugar in a bowl. How much? Depends on how many cookies you’re baking. 1/2 cup for the whole batch should do.  I suppose you could use coarse decorating sugar or raw sugar if you wanted. I never have any.

For random fun, here’s a link to sugar descriptions & uses: All Different Kinds Of Sugar.

7. Scoop out  dough in 1/2″ blobs (about the diameter of a nickel)  roll into balls and coat with sugar before setting on the baking sheet.

8. Bake 8-10 minutes, until the cookies flatten out completely.  Cool on the sheet until they’re firm enough to transfer to a baking rack. Try not to eat them all while they’re still hot enough to burn your tongue.

I liked these enough that I immediately made notes and am putting it into my regular rotation of “cookie doughs to prep & keep in the freezer at all times.”

Maybe you’ll like them too.

*****************

Note: this recipe is heavily modified and reformatted from one I found on a wonderful website which is home to many delicious ideas. You can also find gorgeous, excellent how-it-should-look photographs for this recipe there:

Crispy Ginger Cookies recipe from Once Upon A Chef

The original recipe called for some spices I don’t put in my baking (allspice & black pepper) didn’t have any crystallized ginger (the horror!) and it described making 36 BIG  cookies while I prefer making 50-60 small nibbly cookies from the same amount of dough.

 

Obligatory Gift Idea Reminder Post

One week to Christmas. Remember the ease of giving readable gifts this season! (See visual below for two good examples)
They are great books, but don’t take my word for it. You can read 4 & 5-star verified-purchase reviews on Amazon: http://ift.tt/2nAqbm9 and on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36425571.
Ebooks. Paperbacks. Audios. Pick your format, there’s something for everyone. No, really.
(Sorry, no sweeping political intrigue sagas, no grimdark grit, no bloody horror. Just good, solid characters, thrills, and surprises.)

(Editing to add the review below because wow. As a lifelong X-Men fan, I’m torn. I feel I should somehow defend their iconic goodness but am too busy melting from the power of the complimentary comparison.)

 

Ask for a recipe, get a story: cider edition

Someone who knows my deep & abiding love for all things apple asked if I had a favorite recipe for mulled apple cider. Short answer: no.

Long answer: let me tell you why.

It starts with with flavors. I am a supertaster (what’s that? for more info, click here) which in brief means I can get overwhelmed by things other people don’t find powerful or even taste at all.  Many popular foods taste bitter, or over-sour, or simply strange on my tongue.  Genetics are involved. Yes, cilantro tastes like soap. Truffle oil is downright disgusting. I can identify different types of vanilla even after they’ve been cooked into foods. (Yes, there are many subtle variations on “vanilla,” but that’s a different post.)

The critical point is that my opinions on things tasting “good” or “bad” is heavily influenced by factors that don’t matter to others. Mulled cider typically involves a lot of strong spices: cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, clove, nutmeg, and star anise to name the most common. And I intensely dislike most of those spices.

I tried mulled cider many a time growing up, and I hated it. Always.

What spices you ask? (Of course you are curious.) Star anise makes the whole batch like black licorice and I hate black licorice, coriander makes me ill whether I taste it or not,  allspice & cardamom both leave a weird aftertaste I would rather avoid, and clove…too much clove has bad, BAD dental associations.

Since I always liked like hot plain cider,  I eventually decided I should TRY to mull some, to see if I could do it without making it taste yucky.

So I read a bunch of recipes and then followed none of them. As one does. My current system: pour as much cider as I plan to drink in a pot big enough to hold it, toss in a cinnamon stick & a clove or two, grate in a little nutmeg, heat over low until it’s steaming gently. If I have an orange around I might throw some peel and/or a few wedges. Or not.

I’ll also add a splash of whiskey  if I’m feeling boozy-adventurous. Not the good bourbon, that would be a waste, but Jack Daniels or Jim Beam. Whatever basic is hanging around. Even rum will do. Vodka in a pinch.

Do not add scotch. Or gin. Just don’t.

That isn’t really a recipe, but it’s what I do and the story of why.  Have some links to several good recipes I used as inspiration when I first decided to put spices in my hot cider:

Genius Kitchen has a sweet one.

Pioneer Woman‘s is a traditional one. (scroll down past all the fancy pics for recipe)

TastyKitchen for the slow-cooker edition

That’s it for this week’s edition of “Random Things I Do When I’m Not Writing Books”