Mini-Review: “Last Woman On Earth,” C.V. Hunt (2013)

October 25th, 2014 12:57 pm by Kelly Garbato

Perfectly Grim & Melancholic

four out of five stars

(Trigger warning for suicide and allusions to rape.)

“Last Woman On Earth” opens in a most unusual way: that is, with a brief primer on hanging techniques. The narrator is, as far as she can tell, the last woman on earth, and it’s a burden she’s long since tired of shouldering. She aims to kill herself, but not after enjoying one last sunrise and sunset from high atop the Seattle Space Needle.

In this distant future, the apocalypse arrives on the back of science: after generations of “pump[ing] their bodies full of contraceptives,” women’s reproductive systems have evolved into a state of persistent infertility. The declining birth rate affords men yet another excuse to exploit women – women’s bodies being the means of production, the very stuff of life – and women once again become the hunted. Kidnapping, rape, and human trafficking are at best overlooked in the name of saving the latest endangered species – us. So it’s no surprise when, during her final suicide trek to the West Coast, the narrator turns away from the only human she spots on the road – a man. It’s perilous to be a dwindling natural resource, after all.

For such a short story, “Last Woman On Earth” packs quite a punch. My only complaint? The author’s use of “rape” to denote something that is not rape (environmental degradation) – an especially egregious affront considering the theme of the story.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

tweets for 2014-10-24

October 25th, 2014 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Book Review: Ice Massacre, Tiana Warner (2014)

October 24th, 2014 12:41 pm by Kelly Garbato

Killer Mermaids and Warrior Women of Color!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Member Giveaway program. Also, there are clearly marked spoilers towards the end of this review.)

Meela can’t remember a time when her people – the inhabitants of Eriana Kwai, a small island situated off the coast of Alaska – weren’t at war. For all of her eighteen years, The Massacre has been a yearly ritual: every May, twenty young men set sail for the Aleutian Islands, where their adversaries’ nest is believed to be located. Their objective? To slaughter as many “sea rats” as possible, in hopes of decimating their population and returning peace and prosperity to Eriana Kwai.

For the past several decades, an influx of mermaids has dominated the Pacific Ocean, consuming its sea life, attacking ships bound to and from Eriana Kwai, and occasionally even invading the island’s beaches. As a result, this formerly prosperous island has become increasingly dependent on handouts from the mainland. Its four thousand inhabitants are poor, starving, and desperate. With each year’s Massacre less successful than the last, Anyo the training master makes a bold suggestion: send young women to battle the mermaids. Unlike men, they aren’t susceptible to their supernatural charms.

(More below the fold…)

tweets for 2014-10-23

October 24th, 2014 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Beer-Bathed Seitan Stew and Oven Pommes Frites

October 23rd, 2014 12:42 pm by Kelly Garbato

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Continuing with our “enough onions to cry a small army to sleep” theme is this Beer-Bathed Seitan Stew from Vegan Eats World. This one’s got 3 yellow onions – a full pound and a half! My eyes were aching for hours after dinner, no lie. Even though I cheated and just used two onions. I KNOW I AM THE WORST.

Also present: carrots, homemade seitan, dark beer (vegan, of course!), mushrooms, and various spices and seasonings including but not limited to thyme (a ten on the savory spectrum), brown sugar, and tomato paste.

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The broth is quite gravy-like, making this stew the perfect topping (or dip!) for oven-baked fries. I don’t know why I don’t make my own fries more often, y’all; do it right, and they are tastier than the frozen stuff by far.

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Shane was nice enough to make the Seitan Coriander Cutlets ahead of time, along with a batch of 5-Spice Seitan for his own snacking needs. (He likes to put them in burritos, along with some rice and beans.) The former are oven-baked while the latter recipe uses a steamer. He was happy with the results, but wasn’t so crazy about the amount of aluminum foil he burned through. Experiments with boiling the cutlets are forthcoming. Stay tuned!

tweets for 2014-10-22

October 23rd, 2014 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Book Review: Camp Utopia and The Forgiveness Diet, Jenny Ruden (2014)

October 22nd, 2014 12:41 pm by Kelly Garbato

“Beauty settles in the flaws.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through the Goodreads First Reads program.)

Fifteen-year-old Bethany Stern’s life is a mess. She’s not-so-secretly in love with her next-door neighbor and best friend, Toby Jacobson (TJ for short), who doesn’t feel the same. An aspiring magician two years her senior, TJ is on the cusp of graduation – after which time he’ll gladly blow town (which is Baltimore, Maryland) to audition for the talent show American Envy. Her older sister Jackie is stuck in unhappy relationship with a pothead named Doug, and their mom Ellen was forced to relocate the family to a poorer area of town after her husband Richard (or “Dick,” as they derisively refer to him) walked out on them twelve years ago. Now he’s got a new wife and twin boys, and he only contacts his daughters on birthdays and holidays…if that. Bethany’s even convinced that Richard Goodman spotted her at Chuck E. Cheese – at her half-brothers’ birthday party, to which she was not invited – and purposefully ignored her because he was ashamed of her weight.

Which brings us to the titular “Camp Utopia” and “The Forgiveness Diet.” Bethany’s tried all manner of diets, with varying success; while sucking on food (but not eating it!) helped her to lose a few lbs, her new look didn’t change TJ’s feelings towards her – so she gained it all back, and then some. When her mother books her a slot (to the tune of $5000) at a “fat camp” hosted on the campus of California University of the Pacific, she makes one last-ditch effort to slim down with the newest fad diet, The Forgiveness Diet. Just write down who you forgive and what for, slip it into the forgiveness jar (or, in Bethany’s case, a discarded fast food bucket), and watch the pounds melt away. Of course, this isn’t what happens; instead, Jackie and Doug accidentally find the notes, thus creating a meltdown of epic proportions on the road trip there.

(More below the fold…)

tweets for 2014-10-21

October 22nd, 2014 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

“Like an Egyptian” Lentil Soup

October 21st, 2014 12:29 pm by Kelly Garbato

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The Season of Soups continues with the “Like an Egyptian” Lentil Soup from Vegan Eats World. Super-yummy and easy to make, with lentils (green, brown, black – take your pick!), carrots, fennel (love!), cumin, coriander, and onions.

Lots and lots of onions: one yellow onion, added directly to the soup, and three red onions, caramelized first. My eyes are still recovering from all the onion-induced crying, y’all.

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Looks like BRAAAAAAAINS!
——————————

I kind of cheated, though; my skillet could only easily fit two onions at a time, so I got a little lazy and just went with two red onions. I think it was just about perfect; any more and it might have skewed the onion-to-lentil ratio in favor of the former. Then I’d have to rename this “Like an Egyptian” Onion Soup. So much paperwork.

An interesting side note re: the onions – you cut them in half and then slice them into half-moon shapes. These totes look like noodles once they’re added to the soup. It’s a little disconcerting. But also not a little tasty.

tweets for 2014-10-20

October 21st, 2014 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Book Review: Zenia, J. Gallagher (2014)

October 20th, 2014 12:35 pm by Kelly Garbato

One Weird Ride

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through the Goodreads First Reads program.)

570 light years from Earth, there lies a planet called Shula – “a distant star in Scorpio’s poisonous tail” – ruled by a race of fierce warrior women. Or there did, anyway, until the men (“pricks”) revolted and then in turn were conquered by their own machines. As their world teetered on the brink of collapse, the Queen of Shula and her sisters transmitted their consciousnesses (“live steam”) into space; many years later, the Queen’s essence is downloaded by a computer on Earth, one of many involved with SETI. It belongs to Atticus – henceforth known as “BitBoy” – one of many geeks employed by the robotics company DigiCorp (though BitBoy is the only one related to its founder and owner, “ScrumMaster.”)

In short order, the Queen convinces BitBoy to upgrade her RAM and outfit her computer with a state-of-the-art 3D printer; overnight, she makes the jump into a DigiCorp robot, and then “scarfs” BitBoy’s girlfriend Zenia, taking over her physical body and subjugating her consciousness. As she learns more about her new home, she realizes that DigiCorp must be stopped before it creates self-replicating, intelligent robots – the same thing that resulted in the destruction of Shula. With the help of her recently-downloaded sisters, Melpomene and Thalia, as well as a few carefully-selected “meat puppets,” Zenia goes to war with the corporation – which, in this distant future, is a co-owner of democracy and enjoys the same civil rights as people.

(More below the fold…)

tweets for 2014-10-19

October 20th, 2014 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Tenacious Tart Tatin

October 19th, 2014 12:49 pm by Kelly Garbato

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Now that I’m knee-deep in apples, so begins my annual autumnal tradition: trying each and every apple recipe I can get my hands on. In the case of this Tenacious Tart Tatin (also known as a French Caramelized Apple Tart), it also means knocking another dish off my to-do for reviews list. It’s from Terry Hope Romero’s Vegan Eats World, and is not nearly as fussy as its sounds.

While the recipe does require a few rounds of waiting for stuffs to freeze (the olive oil and then the crust), I was able to spend that time peeling and chopping apples for storage over the winter. You need fresh, firm apples for this recipe, and I worried that my scrappy, home-grown fruit wouldn’t make the cut. Soft apples are prone to devolving into applesauce, you see. (Applesauce: also on the schedule for this month!) But I offset that by slicing my apples on the large side, which seemed to do the trick.

For all its wonderful flakiness, the crust is pretty easygoing. You’re supposed to bake it in a springform pan, which I don’t have, so I just used a regular pie pan. (But not glass, on accounta the rapid change in temps.) I had some trouble slicing and serving the first few pieces of the finished tart, but otherwise it worked just fine.

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This is a seriously sweet tart, even by my standards. You cook the apples along with the caramel on the stovetop (they taste almost poached when done – so good!), transfer them onto the tart, and then drizzle the caramel on top of the whole shebang. And there was so much caramel, y’all! I wonder if maybe I should have held some back.

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The apples made the house smell heavenly, and the scent even coaxed the dogs out of their rainy-day stupor – as evidence by a shamelessly begging Rennie in the above photo.

Yes, I let her lick my plate. ALWAYS.

tweets for 2014-10-18

October 19th, 2014 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Potato-Zucchini Salad

October 18th, 2014 12:40 pm by Kelly Garbato

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Okay, so maybe potato salad is SO LAST SEASON – but if you’re anything like me, then you probably still have a few stray zucchinis languishing at the bottom of your produce drawer. And as awesome as Baked Zucchini Sticks may be, a girl can only batter so many slices of zucchini. Enter: the Potato-Zucchini Salad from Simple Recipes for Joy!

I never would have thought to dress zucchinis up with Vegenaise a la potato salad, but it totally works! The mix is approximately half potatoes and half zucchinis, with a few stray green beans thrown in to liven things up. Once you add the mayo and spices, the potatoes and zucchinis are (almost) indistinguishable.

The seasonings are pretty basic – just mayo to taste, plus lemon juice, parsley, salt, and pepper – so I embellished with some of my own potato salad favorites:

6 tablespoons Vegenaise
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon dill
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 red onion, finely diced
a dash of black pepper
a dash of lemon peel

Served with dill pickles on the side, natch.

In addition to the combination of potatoes and zucchini, I also love that all the veggies are steamed, which is way easier than my usual method of boiling potatoes for salad. You just need two baskets and 25 minutes and voilà! – soft, tender potatoes. And the beans – steamed for just a few minutes – add a satisfying crunch to the dish.

tweets for 2014-10-17

October 18th, 2014 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Mini-Review: Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn (2012)

October 17th, 2014 12:51 pm by Kelly Garbato

Couldn’t put it down!

five out of five stars

(Caution: minor spoilers in the second paragraph.)

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

This is a story about two shitty people, trapped in a shitty marriage, and their mostly shitty parents and occasionally shitty friends. In spite of (or perhaps because of) the dearth of likable characters and the absence of a clear hero to root for, Gone Girl is a remarkably enjoyable read: witty, darkly humorous, wickedly fun. Even though I knew that there would be a major plot twist – and had a good guess as to its nature – Flynn still managed to surprise me, with multiple smaller twists beyond the first biggie. The overall structure of the book (Boy Loses Girl; Boy Meets Girl; Boy Gets Girl Back) serves the story well, and Flynn’s writing style is both entertaining and trenchant, and keeps the plot moving forward at a steady pace. GONE GIRL is a longish novel that feels lengthy – but in the best way possible. There’s so much action and observation crammed into these 400+ pages that I never got bored with it.

Gone Girl is ripe for deeper analysis: of the dynamics of interpersonal violence; rape culture; media sensationalism; the recession and erosion of the American middle class; sexism and misogyny; and gender roles and shifting expectations (Amy’s infamous “Cool Girl” rant comes to mind). For example, Amy’s false rape accusations are deeply troubling and play into rape apologist talking points (women lie about rape for their own benefit). Then again, she’s a sociopath! She hides jars of her own vomit inside frozen Brussels sprouts bags, and steals her pregnant neighbor’s urine. None of her actions really translate to an IRL setting. Which is why I (mostly) powered my thinking cap down for this one, and enjoyed it for what it was: crazy, crazy fun.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

tweets for 2014-10-16

October 17th, 2014 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Mini-Review: “Wakulla Springs,” Andy Duncan & Ellen Klages (2013)

October 16th, 2014 12:36 pm by Kelly Garbato

Not What I Expected!

four out of five stars

It’s said that the Wakulla Springs wilderness – including the fifteen miles of caves which cuts through the water’s depths – is home to a menagerie of creatures, both real and mythical: black panthers, rhesus macaques, the Clearwater Monster, the Skunk Ape, and a thousand-pound hammerhead known as Old Hitler. Yet “Wakulla Springs” is less a tale about monsters than it is the journey of one family (and, by extension, the evolution of social mores and attitudes). Beginning with matriarch Mayola, the story of the Williamses is inexorably linked to the Springs: by culture, tradition, and superstition – and a series of cheesy Tarzan movies shot on location in Wakulla County, Florida.

The plot’s surprisingly sparse, especially given the story’s length and description. (“Wakulla Springs” reads more like a novella than a short story.) Each of the four parts or chapters focuses on a different member of the Williams clan, and his or her experiences with Wakulla Springs and the exclusive, “whites only” resort situated on its banks. Cultural signposts indicate each segment’s particular timeline; while African-American Mayola tries to pursue her education in the Jim Crow south, by story’s end we meet her granddaughter, Dr. Anna Williams – a multiracial woman of African-American, white, and Cuban descent – visiting Wakulla Springs during sabbatical to study the encroachment of invasive species into the area.

It makes for an enjoyable and engaging read, even if most of the “monsters” we meet are of the human and institutional variety.

P.S.: Free Cheetah!

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

tweets for 2014-10-15

October 16th, 2014 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato