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(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Goodreads’ First Reads program.)
Tasked by her boss, the Master of the Thieves Guild, with stealing a priceless artifact from the palace trophy room, Rascal unwittingly witnesses the murder of King Petor and Queen Innaline during the robbery. Worse still, her co-conspirator is none other than Prince Arthir, who soon joins his parents in the grave. Only, the rest of the world doesn’t yet know that the royal family is dead – because their killers, creatures from a hell dimension known collectively as the Umbral, are shape-shifters who have assumed the visages of the King, Queen, and Prince, as well as other key players in Strakhelm. Their goal? World domination. It’s up to young Rascal to keep the Occulus safe and out of Umbral hands.
Based on the book’s tag line – “Orphaned at birth. Raised by smugglers. Taken in by thieves. Running for her life.” – I had some crazy high hopes for Umbral, Book One: Out of the Shadows. A spunky young heroine! Doing crimes and taking names! In a multiverse! And pirates!
Alas, it was not to be. While the story idea is promising, Umbral never quite lives up to its potential. Between the shape shifting and the constant travel between dimensions (Rascal is somehow able to slip in and out of the Umbral), the story can sometimes get confusing – a problem not helped by the artwork, which is oftentimes sloppy and fails to clearly illustrate the many plot twists. For example, a few of the characters (e.g. Dalone and Master Gearge) look so much alike that at first glance they’re often hard to tell apart. And the hell and regular dimensions? So similar that they’re nearly indistinguishable. One just seems to be a different version of the present reality; the only way you can tell one from the other is through the narration, which isn’t always helpful, either.
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I fucking love almonds. If you fucking love almonds too, this just might be the recipe for you.
Creamy, almond-flavored ice cream laced with delicious chunks of chocolate-covered toasted almonds; is there anything else to say? I didn’t think so.
Chocolate Almond Crunch Ice Cream
(for the ice cream batter)
2 cups soy creamer, plain or vanilla
1 cup almond or soy milk, plain or vanilla, divided
2 tablespoons arrowroot powder
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
(for the chocolate almonds)
3/4 cup almonds, toasted
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1 teaspoon coconut oil
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Things that make you go “EWWWWWWWWWW!”
Fact One: a boat had arrived.
Fact Two: he and the boys were on an isolated island over an hour from home. No weapons other than their knives – blades no longer than three and a half inches, as outlined in the Scout Handbook – and a flare gun. It was night. They were alone.
It was supposed to be a last hurrah for the boys of Troop Fifty-Two.
At fourteen years old, the guys – Kent, Ephraim, Max, Shelley, and Newton – had come up together through Beavers, Cubs, Scouts, and Venturers, but most (save for the ever-nerdy Newt) now felt that they were too old to be running around in the wilderness, earning merit badges for activities as dorky as bird watching and first aid. And so the late-autumn camping trip to Falstaff Island was to be their final adventure together, much to Scoutmaster Tim’s disappointment.
Their peace and quiet is interrupted on the very first night, with the unexpected arrival of an emaciated and ravenous stranger in a speed boat. While Tim attempts to treat the obviously ill man (in his other life, the Scoutmaster is a GP), there’s no cure for what ills him. “Typhoid Tom,” as he’d later come to be known in the papers, is Patient Zero in an experiment gone horribly wrong…or horribly right, depending on which project backer you’re talking to.
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Thirteen years ago tonight, we saw Ralphie for the first time.
He was from Indiana, and we were living in Rochester at the time, so we didn’t even have a chance to meet him before the adoption was finalized. I just knew he was the dog for us. I can’t explain how, really; we went through one or two other possibilities before we settled on him. We just knew. I fell in love with him instantly, across five hundred or so miles.
There was a wiener dog parade happening in Ohio that weekend, so one DRNA volunteer drove him from Indiana to Ohio, where she was met by Lela and her husband, who brought him to New York. We met them that night at their home in Jamestown. I remember that one of the other dogs in the car nipped the husband on the face en route. I tried not to stare; the injury kind of looked like a cleft palate. Lela seemed wistful to be giving up the most well-behaved dog only hours after having acquired him. Well behaved, for a wiener dog.
I wasn’t long out of my parents’ house when we adopted Ralphie – I remember thinking that the rescue was crazy to give this shiny new young couple a dog, just like that – but I found myself longing for a dog pretty much from the moment the last box was moved in and unpacked. There was Shadow, of course, and she’d always be my girl (well, my mom’s girl mostly, but she had more than enough love to go around, in spite of the hell that certain members of my species had put her through). I just wanted a dog of my very own so very badly. The first of many, I hoped. And already we’ve loved more dogs than many people manage in their entire adulthoods: Peedee, O-Ren, Kaylee, Jayne, Mags and Finnick. We’ve been lucky in that sense. All the lost and pain of the last fourteen months…I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Ralphie was the beginning. Special. My little boyfriend.
I wish I had more pictures of our first days and months together. I went hunting around on my hard drive this morning, and the earliest photos I could find are really atrocious scans, lacking even a firm date. Just: summer, 2001. This makes me sad. Wistful.
The top one I named Mighty Dog.
He looks so proud and formidable, don’t you think?
Apparently I got my first digital camera some time in November, because that’s when the pictures really start to pick up. Still, they’re pretty sparse compared to present day.
Fast-forwarding a few years, I’m shocked to see that I didn’t take a single picture of Peedee’s homecoming. The earliest ones are a few days post-adoption. I guess we were too busy making sure the guys got on well? Even with O-Ren, we only have a few photos taken that first day. To be fair, she was recovering from kennel cough and looked all kinds of pathetic. Still.
Compare that to Kaylee and Jayne, or Mags and Finnick, of whose special days I have literally hundreds of photos. And not just from the first day: the first weeks and months. All day, every day. First meets, first eats, first baths. I’m a little camera-crazy, actually. Probably in no small part because I regret not having so many other memories locked down, immortalized in pixels and bytes.
But there’s no going back, just forward.
I miss you, little bear. I’m glad you didn’t let us change your name. You’ll forever be our Ralphie, through and through.
The Measure of a Woman
(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Member Giveaway program.)
By all outward appearances, high school junior Tabassum “Tabby” Deniz Karim has it all. Pretty, popular, and outspoken, Tabby isn’t lacking in friends – or boy toys. She has not one best friend, but three in “the BeBes” (Boss Tabby, Booty Connie, Bitch Marissa, and Beast Kiki). Her father and stepmother Song are both successful accountants, able to afford a home in the “good” part of Miami and send their daughter to private school. A student at Miami Beach Magnet School of the Arts, Tabby channels her outgoing personality into creative pursuits; she’s a talented and ambitious actress who’s already perfecting her autograph in anticipation of future stardom. And she has a head full of thick, curly, glossy, romantic, waist-length hair.
But under that glorious mane of keratin hides a dysfunctional home life and painfully low self-esteem. Caught in the middle of a hostile divorce, Tabby’s father is cold, inattentive, and emotionally available, while her mom is neglectful to the point of abuse. (And also possibly alcoholic.) Tabby’s half-sister, Caridad, seemingly subsists on a diet of bite-sized candy bars, and every time she stays with her mother and Cari, Tabby spends much of her visit cleaning the filthy condo and bathing her equally filthy sister. Meanwhile, her stepmother is expecting, and Tabby fears that the new baby will eclipse her into invisibility. Mortified by her home life and desperate to keep up appearances, Tabby doesn’t confide in her besties, which only fuels her feelings of alienation and loneliness.
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I’ve wanted to try fennel ice cream for what feels like forever now, but somehow it always got pushed to the bottom of the list. When I found myself with an overripe bunch of bananas, I decided to finally give it a try. I was a little nervous about how the fennel would taste when paired with bananas (the flavor of which can sometimes be overwhelming in banana-based ice cream recipes), but a quick Google search turned up dozens of fennel-seasoned banana desserts, so I figured it was a safe bet.
The result is tasty enough; the fennel lends the bananas a sweet, licorice-like flavor that’s really quite refreshing. Still, it does compete a bit with the bananas for top billing. I really have got to try it in a more traditional, soy milk-based ice cream.
The little orange chunks are dates, which I added for extra sweetness (and I’m not gonna lie, fiber!); these are optional, but make an already healthy frozen dessert even more nutritious!
Fennel Banana Ice Cream
(Makes just under one quart of ice cream.)
4-5 overripe bananas, peeled, sliced and frozen
1 teaspoon ground, dried fennel + extra to taste (I used 1 3/4 teaspoons, all told)
4 dates (optional)
sugar to taste (optional)
a splash of non-dairy milk or creamer, if needed
1. Put the bananas and dates in the food processor and pulse until smoothly blended. Most likely you’ll need to stir them by hand several times, as the frozen banana chunks tend to gather and become “stuck” on one side of the bowl. If necessary, add a splash of non-dairy milk or creamer to get things moving!
Alternately, you can allow the bananas to defrost on the counter top for 30 to 60 minutes beforehand, so that they’re easier to work with. Before putting them in the food processor, break them up into smaller chunks with a butter knife.
Note: Since introducing extra liquids (such as non-dairy milk) into the mix results in a slightly icier finished product, I prefer defrosting to non-dairy milk. If you’re in a hurry, pop the bananas in the microwave for 20 to 45 seconds instead.
2. If the bananas aren’t sweet enough for your taste (sometimes this happens if you freeze them before they’re sufficiently ripe), add a bit of sugar to taste. Any sugar works fine – white, brown, etc. – but I find that powdered sugar results in a smoother blend.
3. Add one teaspoon fennel and process. Same the batter and add additional fennel to taste.
4. Transfer the ice cream to an airtight container. Enjoy immediately as soft serve, or pop the ice cream in the freezer for an hour+ for a firmer dessert. Store any leftovers in the freezer in an airtight container. If the frozen banana ice cream proves too hard to scoop, microwave it for ten seconds to help loosen it up (or let the container sit on the counter for ten to thirty minutes prior to eating, depending on room temp).
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Ante up, potatoes!
The first rule of Purgatory: never underestimate (or upset) Elsie the sexbot. Unfortunately for chief tech Diarmuid “Mick” O’Malley, he’s about to do just this, by declining her illicit request to smuggle her off-world. (As Elsie morosely points out, Mick will eventually be granted leave, even if it’s in a body bag; while she, the immortal android, is stuck there for eternity.) Until he remembers the likely spy who, masquerading as a doctor, snuck in on a transport ship earlier that day. Surely the Siberian Syndicate equipped “Dr. Moretti” with an iron-clad escape plan; and as one of just five people who know the exact coordinates of the priceless Ambrosia planet, Mick can trade his intel for two seats on the getaway vehicle. But when Mick learns that Moretti’s mission was of the suicide variety, the trio is forced to improvise.
“Nevermind the Bollocks” is a fast-paced scifi thriller. Though it’s far from my favorite story by Annie Bellet, it’s a fun enough read, and at zero bucks you can’t go wrong. Some of the slang (British? Italian Mafia? Future speak? A combination of the three?) rubbed me the wrong way, but Elsie is charming in her own weird way.
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