Jennifer Bosier – We Write Things http://wewritethings.co Levity Not Brevity Thu, 22 Jun 2017 17:49:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://i2.wp.com/wewritethings.co/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/cropped-We_Write_things_Regular.png?fit=32%2C32 Jennifer Bosier – We Write Things http://wewritethings.co 32 32 Review: Little Heaven, by Nick Cutter http://wewritethings.co/2017/01/09/review-little-heaven-by-nick-cutter/ Mon, 09 Jan 2017 12:00:34 +0000 http://wewritethings.co/?p=323 Every now and then, books appear in my mailbox, unbidden. Sometimes they’re good. Sometimes they’re very bad. Sometimes, I read them and review them.  It seems as though, in recent years, horror novels have divided into a few camps: those that want to be the next The Shining, those that want to be artsy, and those that want to emulate the torture-porn genre. I deeply detest the latter; excessive gore and violence are not scary, they’re gross. Vomit is also gross, and also not scary. Can we just be done with this subgenre, please? Ugh, I digress. I mention that because throughout the past year, I have read a lot of really bad horror novels. They either try way too hard to recapture the lighting in the bottle of great horror works past – oftentimes “paying homage” way too close to the source material – or they’re just trying too hard. I feel as though I’ve read at least five or six books where the true horror is the main character’s inability to face his or her past/present/future or some other vague concept (can you see me rolling my eyes?). When Nick Cutter’s Little Heaven appeared at my doorway, I […]

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Every now and then, books appear in my mailbox, unbidden. Sometimes they’re good. Sometimes they’re very bad. Sometimes, I read them and review them. 

It seems as though, in recent years, horror novels have divided into a few camps: those that want to be the next The Shining, those that want to be artsy, and those that want to emulate the torture-porn genre. I deeply detest the latter; excessive gore and violence are not scary, they’re gross. Vomit is also gross, and also not scary. Can we just be done with this subgenre, please? Ugh, I digress.

I mention that because throughout the past year, I have read a lot of really bad horror novels. They either try way too hard to recapture the lighting in the bottle of great horror works past – oftentimes “paying homage” way too close to the source material – or they’re just trying too hard. I feel as though I’ve read at least five or six books where the true horror is the main character’s inability to face his or her past/present/future or some other vague concept (can you see me rolling my eyes?). When Nick Cutter’s Little Heaven appeared at my doorway, I was highly skeptical. Oh, look, another normal-people-versus-ancient-evil. Yay.

Little Heaven follows the misadventures of three thrown-together mercenaries, in a stretch of time between the late ’60s, and the ’80s. The ragtag group is hired by a woman with a simple task: to hunt down her nephew at a religious compound in New Mexico, and ensure his well-being. Along the way, they discover an ancient evil lurking in the dark, which lurks with them far longer than they could have anticipated.

The story itself rises and falls with familiar beats, traveling down the well-worn path of classic horror novels. Certain elements, such as the cult, are easily recognizable in their nature. There was never any hope for the religious cult to not be tied up in this evil, because of course. On the other hand, the nature of the Black Rock, and its mysterious piper remain more difficult to decipher, until the end.

Fans of the genre will recognize several tropes and archetypes throughout. Minerva, the main female mercenary of the group, plays both the eager rookie, early on, and the wounded, dark female later, but she never veers too far into stereotype land; she never feels like a cheap copy.

Most importantly, all of the mercenaries manage to miss the pitfall of the anti-hero. They manage to resist the urge to be reluctant heroes; they are first driven by their want of money, then morbid curiosity, then a sense of personal duty. They’re never content to do this “just because.” It’s an important distinction, especially when authors seem so eager to shove anti-heroes down our throats.

The funny thing about Little Heaven is that it definitely falls in the camp of emulation. I’ve heard Cutter described as an “old-school horror writer,” and that is very apt. While he’s not afraid of gore, he never goes over the top with it. He knows the value of a good monster-closet scare, without ever being overly dramatic. Most importantly, he is clearly a fan of the genre, and manages to avoid most of the moments that both defy logic and infuriate fans. Never once did I roll my eyes and think, “Why would the character do this?”

Little Heaven, much like Nick Cutter’s earlier work, The Troop, clearly draws inspiration from the horror giants of the ’80s, and there are worse things to say about a person other than “He’s on par with late-’80s Stephen King.” The religious cult leader, for example, feels like an amalgam of so many King characters over the years, but never obnoxiously so. This feels like one of the few examples of homage done right.

Little Heaven even attempts to delve into deeper, darker concepts, very much reminiscent of Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, but Nick Cutter seems to know his limits. Just when he starts to teeter toward heavy-handedness, he pulls back. He even borrows that sense of loneliness that only appears in McCarthy westerns, but again, he knows his limits and shows restraint before it topples over.

The best part about Little Heaven, though, is that it ends exactly when it needs it. Once the heroes discern the situation, they take action and face the problem head on. Cutter never wastes our time with waffling and “should we or shouldn’t we” malarkey that seems to weasel its way into other books for the sake of page count. The characters are always people of action, no matter how reckless that action maybe, and Little Heaven is true to those characters to the end.

Without spoiling the ending, Cutter also manages to pull a fake out, and I’m not sure I’d say it ends wrapped up with a bow. In fact, whether or not it ends is entirely up the reader, which is perhaps the best way to end this story. It’s not the most original, or daring thing I’ve read all year, but it’s remarkably competent in a genre that is struggling so hard to find its footing. I liked it enough to continue to delve into Cutter’s catalog, and that might be the best thing you can say about a book.

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Gift Guide: Best Board Games for Every Gamer http://wewritethings.co/2016/12/09/gift-guide-best-board-games-every-gamer/ Fri, 09 Dec 2016 18:03:54 +0000 http://wewritethings.co/?p=3296 Board games are experiencing a modern Renaissance, thanks in no small part to Kickstarter, and it’s about damn time. It’s a great way to spend time with friends and family, especially around the holidays. Board games are the gift that keeps on giving, dammit, though finding the best board games in the sea of many can be challenging. I have a bit of a “board game problem,” as I can’t seem to stop purchasing and playing them. Over the past few years I’ve discovered some gems and less than stellar options. Below I’ve compiled what I consider to be the best board games for every gamer, from beginner to advanced. A word of note: all ages and times are, naturally, approximate. Sometimes games are quicker or longer than anticipated, and sometimes kids are more advanced and able to play higher level games. Best Board Games for the Beginner Gamer To me, “beginner” and “family” are interchangable terms, in terms of board gaming. These are games that are easy to learn, fun to play and most importantly, fast to play. Because this isn’t the demographic willing to devote 4+ hours to a game. Elder Sign Fantasy Flight Games’s iconic Elder Sign is […]

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Board games are experiencing a modern Renaissance, thanks in no small part to Kickstarter, and it’s about damn time. It’s a great way to spend time with friends and family, especially around the holidays. Board games are the gift that keeps on giving, dammit, though finding the best board games in the sea of many can be challenging.

I have a bit of a “board game problem,” as I can’t seem to stop purchasing and playing them. Over the past few years I’ve discovered some gems and less than stellar options. Below I’ve compiled what I consider to be the best board games for every gamer, from beginner to advanced.

A word of note: all ages and times are, naturally, approximate. Sometimes games are quicker or longer than anticipated, and sometimes kids are more advanced and able to play higher level games.

Best Board Games for the Beginner Gamer

To me, “beginner” and “family” are interchangable terms, in terms of board gaming. These are games that are easy to learn, fun to play and most importantly, fast to play. Because this isn’t the demographic willing to devote 4+ hours to a game.

Elder Signelder-sign

Fantasy Flight Games’s iconic Elder Sign is one of the best newbie board games on the market. It plays like a slightly more complicated version of Yahtzee, with players as paranormal investigators out to stop a cult from releasing an Elder God within the Cthulhu universe. It’s cooperative, meaning you can offer helpful hints and suggestions, and just challenging enough to keep everyone engaged. This is the game that, every time we play with newcomers, they rush out and purchase it.

Recommended ages: 7+
Time commitment: 30-60 minutes
Price: $$

Author’s Note: There are a handful of expansions to ES, but for starters, just buy the vanilla game.

Sheriff of Nottingham 

Oh what fun it is to bluff! Dice Tower Essentials’s Sheriff of Nottingham is a great way to introduce newcomers to the joys of bluffing and deception. Three-five players take turns acting as the titular Sheriff, inspecting other players’ merchant goods as they come to market. Merchants may legally bring in goods for points at the end of the game, and illegally attempt to smuggle contraband. The Sheriff must catch the contraband, or risk paying damages for wrongful accusations.

Recommended ages: 7+
Time commitment: 60-ish minutes
Price:$$

Gloom 

Gloom is a quirky, fun little card game that, depending on your sense of humor, is good for all ages. Players control a family of misanthropes — think the Addams Family — who are in a competition to die more miserably than everyone else. Players play cards to lower happiness, before ultimately killing each family member, one at a time. At the same time, players attempt to make their opponent’s family members happy. The best part is, you have to create a story around each card played, utilizing both imagination and your own sick sense of humor.

Recommended ages: 8+ (As you might imagine, we have a sick sense of humor, here. My 8 year old loves this game)
Time commitment: 15-30 minutes
Price: $

Tiny Epic Western tiny-epic-western

Tiny, epic, and a great introductory strategy game, Tiny Epic Western is a fast game with great flavor. Essentially a worker-placement game meets Texas Hold’em, players take on the role of a Western archetype as they attempt to build their own slice of a Western town. As you gain influence, occasionally you and your opponents will face off in a quick-draw showdown at high noon, and achieve notariety in the old west. Did I mention the dice are bullet-shaped? Yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds.

Recommended ages: Time commitment: 30-60 minutes
Price: $

Best Board Games for the Intermediate Gamer

Here, “intermediate” is used to describe anyone who has a fairly firm grasp on board game rules and stylings, and won’t balk at spending up to two hours playing a board game.

Pandemic 

No game list worth its salt doesn’t include Z-Man Games’s Pandemic. This cooperative game is an icon within the industry and a great “next step” for anyone wanting to branch into a more strategic title. Players take the role of a number of World Health Organization workers as they fight to combat and contain a global viral outbreak. Each role brings their own unique flavor and boon to the fight, and teamwork is vital. But be careful: a misstep or cockiness can quickly mean global extinction.

Recommended ages: 10+
Time commitment: 60 minutes
Price: $

Paperback 

Tim Fowers can, in my mind, do no wrong, but his Paperback remains a crowning glory of his gaming prowess. In this deck-building game meets Scrabble, players play as a struggling author, being paid by the word. You collect letters to form increasingly long, complex words to increase your end points. It’s a game that can be played with any level of speller and/or vocabulary, and has a nice, casual feel to it. It’s potentially the longest time commitment in the beginner list, but always a fun one.

Recommended ages: 7+
Time commitment: 60-90 minutes
Price: $

Mysterium 

This is, without question, our family’s favorite game. Mysterium plays like Dixit meets Clue, with one player taking on the role of a ghost, and the others playing as paranormal investigators, attempting to solve a murder. There’s one catch, though: the ghost cannot speak directly to the investigators. S/he must speak via visions, presented as imagery cards, while each investigator attempts to decipher the visions. The ghost can confirm the choice, but that is all. It’s a cooperative game in which it behooves you to help your fellow players.

Recommended ages: 8+
Time commitment: 60+ minutes
Price: $$

Tokaido

 

Every now and then, even seasoned board gamers need a break from zombies, plague outbreaks and the grim dark future. Enter Tokaido, Fun Forge’s relaxing trip across the old Edo road. Players take on the role of ancient Japanese tourists, taking a vacation through the Japanese countryside. While not cooperative, the game is only passively competitive, as the end goal is to have the best vacation out of your group. This is accomplished by collecting souvenirs, painting pictures, relaxing in spas and eating delicious food. It’s a challenge, but not too challenging, either.

Recommended ages:8+
Time commitment: 60-ish minutes
Price: $$

Betrayal at House on the Hill 

My personal favorite board game. Betrayal at House on the Hill plays like a super macabre version of a Scooby Doo episode. You play as various archetypes (the priest, the little kid, the meathead, etc.) invited to a haunted mansion for unknown reasons. The map of the house is formed organically, as you explore from one room to another, encountering objects, haunts, and ill omens. Eventually, one of you is revealed to be a traitor, and the game turns from an eerie exploration to an all vs. one mechanic. The traitor’s stories are included in a special book and range from creepy to outright disturbing. I love this game.

Recommended ages: Because of the mature themes and the traitor mechanic, the ages of this are really dependent upon with whom you are playing. But, as a rule of thumb, I’d say 15-50+.
Time commitment: 90-120 minutes.
Price: $$

Smallworld 

Smallworld is an oldie but goodie. Players take on the role of various fantasy races with special bonuses, to conquer the world. You fight, you go into decline, you expand, and you do it all over again. It’s fairly breezy game, but a really fun one. It’s generally the perfect “next step” game for those who want something that is strategic without being too intense.

Recommended ages: 10+
Time commitment: 90+ minutes
Price: $

Best Board Games for the Advanced Gamer

Here be dragons. These are games which have more detailed, intense instructions and can really eat up a night. It’s not to say that only advanced gamers can play them, but you should definitely warn any beginners what they’re getting into.

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game 

Plaid Hat Games’s Dead of Winter is a crowning achievement in both zombie games and survival games. It plays like a grim, dark episode of The Walking Dead. Players play survivors of a zombie apocalypse, based out of a safe(ish) spot in the middle of winter. Survivors must brave zombie hordes to forage for supplies to avoid colony-wide crises, and face their own personal crossroads. This game forces tough choices upon you, and deals with dark, heavy subject matter often skipped over by most zombie games and movies. The best/worst part? Failure is not only possible, it’s highly likely. The initial rules reading makes it sound somewhat convoluted, but once you dive in, it’s one of the best games you’ll ever play or own.

Recommended ages: 15+
Time commitment: 60-120 minutes
Price: $$$

Author’s note: Plaid Hat Games just released a stand-alone expansion called Dead of Winter: The Long Night. It offers additional, challenging mechanics such as bandits and mutants. If you’ve never played DoW, I recommend vanilla DoW first. We’ve only played The Long Night a few times, and while it’s good, I’m not convinced it’s worth essentially purchasing a second copy of DoW.

Blood Rage 

One of the best Kickstarters we ever backed, Blood Rage is an epic game of Viking conquest. Players play as various Viking armies, in the quest for glory. Move your troops through the land, vie for favor of the gods, and outwit your opponents through brute strength or cunning. This game is both a time and monetary investment, but well worth it.

Recommended ages: 15+
Time commitment: 120+ minutes
Price: $$$

Citadels 

Don’t let Citadels’s small box fool you, this is a high-brow strategy game posing as a micro-game. Players select from a variety of medieval archetypes as they attempt to erect a city comprised of various buildings. Character and building type provides bonuses, but the trick is that at the beginning of each round, players choose a new character. This game relies on you paying attention to what your enemies are doing, while trying to out-maneuver, and out-think them. It requires patience, cunning, and the desire to foil the hopes and dreams of your friends and family.

Recommended ages:: 15+
Time commitment: 60-ish minutes
Price: $-$$ (depending where you find it)

Burgle Bros. 

Another Tim Fowers game, this one packs decidedly more punch. Players are various members of a heist team — think Ocean’s Eleven — as they attempt to pull off an epic heist. Each role has their own bonuses which can help the team, as they make their way through a three-story building. Security guards are on the prowl, too, however, and move every time a character moves. Avoiding them, as well as security measures within the building is tricky business. The game is challenging and cinematic and one of our family favorites.

Recommended ages: 15+
Time commitment: 60-90 minutes
Price: $

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Review: Wind River Wrangler, Lindsay McKenna http://wewritethings.co/2016/10/25/review-wind-river-wrangler-lindsay-mckenna/ Tue, 25 Oct 2016 16:00:06 +0000 http://wewritethings.co/?p=1410 Reviewer’s note: I have, in my 20+ years of reading romance novels, suffered through some bad books. Sometimes books are bad because of problematic gender/racial stereotyping. Sometimes books are bad because of a lack of understanding or research. Sometimes books are bad because they have little by way of plot. I have experienced so many types and levels of bad, it takes a lot for me to be unable to finish a book. Wind River Wrangler is officially one of the handful I have been unable to finish. Let’s dive into the “why,” shall we? Wind River Wrangler is about Shiloh, a romance author who is being terrorized by a stalker in her New York City apartment. To escape the horrors of both a stalker and police who don’t believe her, she escapes to a family friend’s ranch in Wyoming, where she meets Roan. Roan is ye standard cowboy: He used to be Black Ops, but now he works as a loner, stoic cowboy on the ranch. He and Shiloh are immediately attracted to one another as they slog their way through this plot. If we’re being totally honest here, most romance novels involve a bit of navel gazing. Most authors do some […]

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Reviewer’s note: I have, in my 20+ years of reading romance novels, suffered through some bad books. Sometimes books are bad because of problematic gender/racial stereotyping. Sometimes books are bad because of a lack of understanding or research. Sometimes books are bad because they have little by way of plot. I have experienced so many types and levels of bad, it takes a lot for me to be unable to finish a book. Wind River Wrangler is officially one of the handful I have been unable to finish. Let’s dive into the “why,” shall we?

Wind River Wrangler is about Shiloh, a romance author who is being terrorized by a stalker in her New York City apartment. To escape the horrors of both a stalker and police who don’t believe her, she escapes to a family friend’s ranch in Wyoming, where she meets Roan. Roan is ye standard cowboy: He used to be Black Ops, but now he works as a loner, stoic cowboy on the ranch. He and Shiloh are immediately attracted to one another as they slog their way through this plot.

If we’re being totally honest here, most romance novels involve a bit of navel gazing. Most authors do some degree of research for any number of books, and they generally cannot wait to impress you with said knowledge. They learned Czech surnames and their meanings; they learned construction terminology; they learned how the internet works; they learned about prescription drug statistics; they have a plethora of random knowledge they are just dying to cram into awkward conversation and exposition. This is a thing that I’ve seen far too often.

Lindsay McKenna might be the worst offender of this I have ever seen. She is just dying to impart her wisdom upon you. When Shiloh isn’t wowing Roan with her knowledge of German names, she’s dropping name-brand building materials — I sincerely hope she at least got money from Trex — and explaining how to check for a hammer’s construction (really? really.). But it goes beyond that, because Shiloh is a New York Times Best-Selling romance novelist. So we’re treated to pages upon pages of dialog and exposition explaining why she’s so incredibly awesome and observant. By the fourth chapter, all I could picture was the Vegan explanation from Scott Pilgrim.

Being a writer just makes you better than most people.

Though, on that note, if I found the constant humblebragging about how awesome authors are annoying, the ad nauseum description of Roan being in Black Ops was downright grating. In fact, it was why I quit the novel. He puts away dishes because of his Black Ops training. He is careful when he cooks because of his training as an operative in the Army. He doesn’t talk much because of his special forces training in Afghanistan. Every. Single. Thing. is a result of this man being in the Army. This is not hyperbole. This is the real life.

Add to this the constant dropping of key phrases that the author clearly finds clever — “play(s) for keeps” was the worst offender, with every person describing Roan as such, even to him, which is as awkward as it sounds — and the book feels like a Donald Trump speech; all repetition with little substance. “It’s going to be a great story. The male character plays for keeps. The girl character, she’s scared, OK? She’s scared. She’s scared and he plays for keeps. Playing for keeps is how he’s gotten by, and I think being scared is how she’s gotten by. OK? They have issues: he plays for keeps, she’s scared. But I think if he plays for keeps and she’s scared, eventually they’ll come together.” (I bet you read that in his voice, too.)

The repetitive writing aside, the romance between them doesn’t work particularly well, either. At first, I thought it was because McKenna’s combining a Tortured Good Woman with an Alpha — a pairing that seldom works well because of the Alpha’s commanding nature — but that’s not it. Shiloh’s tortured history was that she was molested by her step-father, which is pretty dark as far as the tortured backstory goes. But beyond that, she doesn’t have much by way of personality. When not being a perfect fit for Roan, because she shares all of his interests, she’s a sounding board for the author’s experiences with writing and research. This extends to Roan, as he’s a constant reminder of being a dark, mysterious soldier, but that’s all he is: a series of repetitive labels who merely admires Shiloh’s qualities and nature.

That might sound like what most romance novels boil down to, and that’s not an unfair criticism. But generally authors are able to dance around this framework by at least wallpapering the dry wall* and hanging some tasteful paintings and light fixtures. That is to say, they can make the generic feel more flavorful. Roan and Shiloh are out-of-the-box cookie cutters who never evolve beyond that.

The central mystery of the book is easy to put together before the author reveals it, and it feels terribly cliched once it is revealed. On one hand, I feel guilty for not reading the last 70 pages of this book, but on the other, I slogged through the rest, and frankly, that was more than I could bear.

*You see, this is a funny reference because there are several mentions of Shiloh hanging dry wall for Habitat for Humanity. She hangs dry wall which makes her a team player, and Roan likes team players because he was an operative for the army, and when you’re on the special forces you need people who are team players. Being in Black Ops, if you aren’t part of the team, you’ll cost lives, so it’s important that Shiloh is a team player by knowing how to hang drywall.

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Review: Dead Souls, by J. Lincoln Fenn http://wewritethings.co/2016/09/29/review-dead-souls-j-lincoln-fenn/ Thu, 29 Sep 2016 16:00:44 +0000 http://wewritethings.co/?p=1710 There’s an odd banality to most stories involving deals with the devil. For such a irreverent concept, it’s become rather ho-hum, probably since Dudley Moore met Peter Cook. So, it goes without saying I was skeptical of J. Lincoln Fenn’s Dead Souls. “Oh, look, another modern denizen deals with the devil. Oh boy,” I said, as I opened my review copy. But while Fenn’s concept — selling one’s soul to the devil for a gift/power — may be a well-trod path, her treatment and telling of the tale is anything but. Dead Souls follows Fiona Dunn, a marketing director with trust issues born from a rough childhood. Convinced her boyfriend is cheating on her, Fiona finds herself drinking in a bar, with the literal devil at her shoulder, wheeling and dealing. Naturally, she assumes the man isn’t really the devil, and she wishes for the ability to turn invisible and switch between being corporeal and noncorporeal, at will. While she is able to exploit this power to her benefit in the pages that follow, she is cursed with the standard buyer’s remorse. Her wish is not even the most frivolous or trite. Fiona soon encounters other “dead souls,” and learns that she was not […]

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There’s an odd banality to most stories involving deals with the devil. For such a irreverent concept, it’s become rather ho-hum, probably since Dudley Moore met Peter Cook. So, it goes without saying I was skeptical of J. Lincoln Fenn’s Dead Souls. “Oh, look, another modern denizen deals with the devil. Oh boy,” I said, as I opened my review copy. But while Fenn’s concept — selling one’s soul to the devil for a gift/power — may be a well-trod path, her treatment and telling of the tale is anything but.

Dead Souls follows Fiona Dunn, a marketing director with trust issues born from a rough childhood. Convinced her boyfriend is cheating on her, Fiona finds herself drinking in a bar, with the literal devil at her shoulder, wheeling and dealing. Naturally, she assumes the man isn’t really the devil, and she wishes for the ability to turn invisible and switch between being corporeal and noncorporeal, at will. While she is able to exploit this power to her benefit in the pages that follow, she is cursed with the standard buyer’s remorse.

Her wish is not even the most frivolous or trite. Fiona soon encounters other “dead souls,” and learns that she was not the only skeptic to have struck a deal. Perhaps the most heart breaking is a lesbian who dares the devil to prove himself by making her straight. She is now damned to hell and cursed with a wish she never truly wanted. That’s powerful stuff.

The best part of Fiona is how natural and relatable she feels. Fenn’s characterization of her is delightfully muted and despite all that has happened and is happening in her life, she feels so normal. She’s downtrodden, but never given to self pity or moping. Just as she starts to totter too far into either, she reigns herself back in. She’s clever and smart, but in a recognizable way. Fenn doesn’t go out of her way to make her the smartest woman in the room; at the end of the day, she is agonizingly human.

Fenn’s devil appears in the form of a mod/hipster, with the unfortunate moniker of “Scratch” — unfortunate because I could only envision him as Mr. Scratch, which is an association I’m not sure if the author intended or not — and a taste for more refined things. Unlike many devils that have appeared in so many stories, Fenn’s is not so easily outsmarted. He’s exactly what you’d expect the devil to be: callous, cunning and undeniably cruel. He’s also savvy to modern times and modern pitfalls, making him every bit the adversary you would hope to find in the embodiment of pure evil and malice.

This is especially important as Fiona embarks upon ye standard attempt to “outsmart” the devil. Most soul-selling stories eventually teeter down one of two paths: an act of redemption that saves their soul, or the character well and truly outsmarts the devil. Ms. Fenn is blessedly above this, and her prose takes us down paths unexpected.

Most unexpected, though, is Fenn’s command over horrific descriptions. For nearly half the book, I was unsure the book deserved the “horror” category, but when the devil’s plans begin to unfurl, Fenn gleefully displays some of the most gruesome settings and acts I’ve read in awhile. Such is her talent, though, that it never ventures over into grossness for grossness sake. That is, she knows how much is necessary to convey the gravity of the situation, without diving down into the vomit bucket that so many horror authors rely on. In fact, she may have coined a new style which I’m going to call “tasteful macabre.”

Dead Souls is a rare gem which manages to take a well-established trope, the selling of one’s soul, and freshens it up with a modern, smart feel. Fiona’s story is, from start to finish, page-turning and heartbreaking. With this book, J. Lincoln Fenn has created in me a permanent fan, which is oddly ironic, given the subject matter.

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We Bake Things Bake Off: Quick Bread http://wewritethings.co/2016/09/27/bake-things-bake-off-quick-bread/ Tue, 27 Sep 2016 18:00:27 +0000 http://wewritethings.co/?p=1885 Bread is a classic baker’s staple. Anyone who calls themselves a “true baker” should have at least one good homemade bread recipe so that when someone in their house requires a quick grilled cheese, the bread is at the ready. And then there’s reality, where most of us buy bread if we eat it at all. Between Atkin’s diets and gluten-free trends (and true celiac disease), poor bread has gotten the short end of the stick. Plus, it’s hard, right? Well, in week three of our Great British Bake-Off Challenge, we attempt an easier sort of bread: quick bread. That’s any bread that doesn’t contain yeast and therefore doesn’t require a rise. Fewer steps to carby goodness, right? We shall see. The bake: Any non-yeast bread, sweet or savory The results: Jen I love quick breads. When they’re done correctly — *cough, ease up on the baking soda, cough* — they are a dense dream come true. When watching the last season of The Great British Bake Off, I was instantly intrigued by Alvin’s Prosciutto, Manchego and Balsamic Onion Soda Bread. I mean, sweet, tangy, balsamic caramelized onions, salty prosciutto, and salty yet creamy manchego cheese? How had I not […]

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Bread is a classic baker’s staple. Anyone who calls themselves a “true baker” should have at least one good homemade bread recipe so that when someone in their house requires a quick grilled cheese, the bread is at the ready.

And then there’s reality, where most of us buy bread if we eat it at all. Between Atkin’s diets and gluten-free trends (and true celiac disease), poor bread has gotten the short end of the stick. Plus, it’s hard, right? Well, in week three of our Great British Bake-Off Challenge, we attempt an easier sort of bread: quick bread. That’s any bread that doesn’t contain yeast and therefore doesn’t require a rise. Fewer steps to carby goodness, right? We shall see.

The bake: Any non-yeast bread, sweet or savory

The results:

Jen

I love quick breads. When they’re done correctly — *cough, ease up on the baking soda, cough* — they are a dense dream come true. When watching the last season of The Great British Bake Off, I was instantly intrigued by Alvin’s Prosciutto, Manchego and Balsamic Onion Soda Bread. I mean, sweet, tangy, balsamic caramelized onions, salty prosciutto, and salty yet creamy manchego cheese? How had I not had this bread in my life before?

The loaf was a little intimidating, because I do happen to reside in the Mile-High City. Given the amount of flour, I was sure to reduce the soda and salt by 1/4 tsp each, and I had to use the entire 10oz of buttermilk to form a sticky, but not too sticky, dough. But aside from adjusting my leavening agents, this bread was stupid easy to assemble. The “hardest” part is caramelizing the onions, and that is merely a time-consuming process; it’s not particularly difficult.

Jen Quick Bread

Once they cooled, I diced up my ingredients, mixed them into the loaf, opted to make one large loaf as opposed to two small loaves, and topped it off with the leftover fillers. Once the bread came out of the oven, I brushed it generously with melted butter and holy mother of God I’ve never tasted a quick bread this delicious. It’s like a complete meal in a slice of bread. Every slice has the perfect ratio of prosciutto to cheese to onion, and this might be my new go-to breakfast bread recipe. The only thing that would make it better would be a bowl of spaghetti marinara. In fact, I think I just figured out dinner for tonight.

AM

I was torn between making this bread and this other “quick” bread, but then I watched the episode. NO YEAST ALLOWED. So in conversation with my fellow We Write Things bakers, I determined that a beer bread was the way to go, and I wanted add-ins. I decided to go with She Makes and Bakes’ Cheddar Jalapeño Beer Bread. Bonus! It’s already adjusted for high altitude!

The dough could NOT be easier. Just like the biscotti, it was a quick mix of the dry ingredients and adding the wet. But in this case, the only wet ingredient was a can of Odell Brewing Co.’s Drumroll American Pale Ale. Look, they have a video about it! My jalepeño pepper must have been pretty mild, because I didn’t cough while dicing it, and I was happy to see that a full cup and a half of sharp cheddar cheese was required. I do like cheese. Unlike the biscotti, this came together pretty perfectly and in record time. And, there’s a full 1/2 cup of melted butter poured under and over the dough. Drooling now.

The one snafu I ran into was the bake time. I let it go 50 minutes, checked on it and determined that it had indeed reached “golden brown” on the top. I took it out of the oven, out of the baking dish and took a picture. Then I cut it. And it was still raw in the middle. Oops! Back in the dish, back in the oven, and I covered with foil for another 15 minutes to get the middle to bake fully. It was still on the slightly underdone side, but was cooked through enough for my tastes.

Beer Cheddar Bread_AM

What’s the scientific term for eating fresh bread, warm from the oven, oozing with cheddar cheese, a bit of tang from the beer, a crusty buttery crust, and a bit of spice from the pepper? Bliss? Whatever it is, I believe we have it here. It’s a pretty dense bread, so a little goes a long way, but I’m certainly looking forward to making homemade roasted tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches with this bread to go along with it later this week. (It was 90 this weekend, so I can hold off for cooler temps before going full Fall Soup Mode.) Success, and will definitely make again!

Brooke & Kelsey

Quick bread week is the best week. Biscotti may have been a confidence builder, but our cheddar jalapeño buttermilk loaf was easy like Sunday morning, smelled absolutely delicious while baking and was quite a lot of fun to assemble. It’s not super often that you get to go savory when baking and spicy, cheesy goodness was a welcome departure after two weeks in the land of sweet.

And because we learn from our mistakes we started from an Americanized recipe and left math well out of it. The hardest element of this bake was making buttermilk and that is accomplished merely by mixing milk and lemon juice. So yeah. We crushed it. The most dangerous element was the chopping of the peppers, which set us both to coughing on powerful whiffs, but this was a small sacrifice for peppers that made themselves known in the final bake.

jalepeno cheddar bread

Also, we are heathens and fully ate a number of pieces of this bread before we snapped a pic. Whoops.

Nicole

This week’s goal was baking redemption after the slightly disastrous go with the biscotti.
After watching this week’s episode, I became obsessed with the idea of pesto bread from Ian’s recipe and the couple of bakers who made it during the 3D structure challenge. I can across a recipe that was basically deconstructed pesto bread: all the ingredients of pesto, but not together as a sauce.

Thankfully this week’s recipe was all in American terms so there was less chance of screwing it up. I, of course, chose the hottest day of the weekend to fire up the oven and literally broke a sweat grating parmesan cheese. I heeded the voice-over caution against over handling the dough and tried to create a nice, round freeform shape. It was good to know that adding cuts to the top of the bread has a real baking purpose, and I was curious to see if they would work out.

My oven contains no window so it added to the suspense. I didn’t want to open the door too soon and ruin the heat metrics and rising action as I recall the voice-over also cautioning against in other episodes. Apparently the voice-over is slowly teaching me things. I peeked in around 30 minutes and was excited to see that it had doubled in size. I ended up baking it for about 50 minutes, until it was lightly brown and the toothpick came out clean of the center. An added bonus was the scent of basil permeating the apartment. Side note, can we discuss how the Brits pronounce basil?

image1-3
I took the bread to a gathering so my moment of truth came with some witnesses. I cut the bread in half, just like Paul might, and was relieved to find that it had cooked all the way through. It was pretty tasty and the pine nuts added a nice texture to the bread. We ate most of the loaf in one sitting, so I’d call it a success in my book.


Half of our bakers are off to the Motherland of The Great British Bake-Off next week, so Jen and Annemarie will go about the “Dessert” episode by themselves. On the docket: cheeescake. Want more We Bake Things? Read last week’s foray into biscotti.

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Review: The Ferryman Institute, by Colin Gigl http://wewritethings.co/2016/09/27/review-ferryman-institute-colin-gigl/ Tue, 27 Sep 2016 16:00:34 +0000 http://wewritethings.co/?p=1674 On occasion, a book takes an age-old concept and manages to put a fascinating, original spin on it. The Ferryman Institute is such a book, dealing with the concept of what happens after we die and “cross over.” Colin Gigl has created a world of Ferrymen, whose sole job it is to ensure that the souls of the recently departed cross over into whatever their particular afterlife looks like. In a few pages, Gigl manages to create a robust, fascinating world, complete with its own mythology and rules. Which is why it’s disappointing that it serves as background to a predictable plot. The story focuses on Charlie Dawson, one of the titular Ferrymen from the Ferryman Institute. For the past 200 years, he has has been ferrying souls of the recently departed to their afterlives, and he is renowned as being one of the only Ferrymen to have never lost a soul. In Gigl’s world, when souls refuse to cross over, they become wandering spirits, slowly losing all form of self and memory and instead degenerating into a wisp of angry energy. It’s a fascinating concept which is woefully unexplored through the narrative, but more on that, later. Charlie is not […]

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On occasion, a book takes an age-old concept and manages to put a fascinating, original spin on it. The Ferryman Institute is such a book, dealing with the concept of what happens after we die and “cross over.” Colin Gigl has created a world of Ferrymen, whose sole job it is to ensure that the souls of the recently departed cross over into whatever their particular afterlife looks like. In a few pages, Gigl manages to create a robust, fascinating world, complete with its own mythology and rules. Which is why it’s disappointing that it serves as background to a predictable plot.

The story focuses on Charlie Dawson, one of the titular Ferrymen from the Ferryman Institute. For the past 200 years, he has has been ferrying souls of the recently departed to their afterlives, and he is renowned as being one of the only Ferrymen to have never lost a soul. In Gigl’s world, when souls refuse to cross over, they become wandering spirits, slowly losing all form of self and memory and instead degenerating into a wisp of angry energy. It’s a fascinating concept which is woefully unexplored through the narrative, but more on that, later.

Charlie is not only tired of his job, he has been for quite some time. In fact, it’s implied early on that Charlie has never enjoyed his immortality or his duty. He quickly turns from being an interesting character to being a well-trod version of the smart aleck rebel, always testing the rules and limitations of his position. This could, potentially, be intriguing if he didn’t feel like such a stereotype. Everything he says is an attempt at a “witty” one-liner, and while some of them work, most fall flat.

After 200 years, Charlie is finally offered a choice to save a person: the depressed, down-on-her-luck Alice Spiegel, who serves as a strange manic-pixie dream girl stereotype. Strange because she never really leaves the depressed side of the manic character, yet she is constantly bandying about one-liners with Charlie. So very much of their dialog seems an attempt to out-clever one another, and if that sounds tiresome, it totally is. But not nearly as tiresome as Alice’s constant moping and self-loathing. Her character throws herself around the room more than Wolverine (yes, from X-men), meaning she quickly crosses over from sympathetic to whiny.

Once Charlie and Alice pair up, the story changes from something unique and interesting, and descends into a weird combination of a supernatural romance and a buddy action story. The problem here is that Gigl never seems to commit to one genre or the other. The story might have been better had it leaned into either one, but instead we’re left with a romance that is never fully romantic, and an action story that never reaches a true peak, nor does it ever feel like the stakes are truly high or dangerous.

Charlie himself cannot be killed. As the mustache-twirling antagonist, Javrouche, ever dogs Charlie, the greatest thing he can punish him with is a form of torturous purgatory. While that doesn’t sound like much fun, it’s also not much of a dire strait for him, either. Unfortunately, while Alice can be killed, considering she starts the story attempting to commit suicide, this never feels like much of a consequence, either. In fact, rather early on, it might be a welcome gift from the author.

As an antagonist, Javrouche is a comical caricature. His evilness oozes off him from his initial reveal, and when his tragic backstory unfolds, it’s not only predictable, it’s groan-worthy. He’s one step removed from Snidely Whiplash, which does him no favors. His most egregious sin, though, is that he reveals plot twists and turns — unknowingly — far too early. The central “mystery” (I’m not sure it’s fair to call it a mystery, but that’s the closest, applicable terminology) is easily unraveled, at the midway point in the novel, entirely through Javrouche’s dialog. It plays on our knowledge of established tropes and pitfalls, making him both Charlie’s and the reader’s worst enemy. He achieves spoiler, boss level.

Having said all of that, you might be surprised when I say the book isn’t all bad. Despite one character’s true identity being woefully predictable early on, that character remains a charming bright spot throughout the narrative. Some of the dialog is, on occasion, rather clever and funny, and the premise does carry the weaker spots through very nicely. The action scenes, while somewhat trite, are also capably executed. A chase might not have any real sense of consequence, but the chase itself is quite competent.

On one hand, I want to admonish Gigl for never fully fleshing out or exploring some of his world’s mythos — namely the ghost mechanic — but on the other, it’s clear he knows his limitations. I’ve read so many books that are ultimately weighed down by, and unnecessarily burdened by, over-explanation. A concept is only as good as its explanation, and Gigl allows the reader to infer a lot of the explanation on their own, which is both good and bad. In some respects, it’s akin to Looper’s time travel explanation, in which Bruce Willis essentially tells the audience, “Don’t worry about it, just go with it.” Much of Gigl’s world seems to carry this and while it’s a little disappointing, it also kind of works.

The Ferryman Institute isn’t a bad book, it’s just very mediocre, which is a shame given its outstanding premise. What could have been an enjoyable trip through post-death life devolves into a supernatural action/romance, plagued by poor dialog and uninteresting characters.

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Resident Evil 4 (PS4) Review http://wewritethings.co/2016/09/26/resident-evil-4-ps4-review/ Mon, 26 Sep 2016 16:00:00 +0000 http://wewritethings.co/?p=2014 Back in 2005, when the Resident Evil franchise had officially worn itself thin with the aging Umbrella Corporation, and and the “terror” (huge emphasis on the air quotes) of a tiring zombie villain, they took the franchise in a different direction. Resident Evil 4 remains one of Capcom’s best releases, featuring the utterly amazing and unflappable Leon S. Kennedy. Known as both the man with perfect hair and easily the best character within Resident Evil’s canon, it’s always a welcome treat when Capcom dusts him off, and the Playstation 4 re-re-release is no exception. If you somehow managed to miss this title in the 11 years since its initial release, I’ll sum it up for you: Leon S. Kennedy, formerly of the infamous Raccoon City S.T.A.R.S. is now in charge of rescuing the President’s daughter. She was captured by a mysterious cult calling themselves Los Illuminados (the enlightened ones, en Español), centered in a rural town in Spain. Leon discovers the evil, mind-controlling parasite Las Plagas ((the plagues, en Español), and it’s up to him to save both the world and Ashley. It’s both amazing and testament to game design that more than a decade later, Resident Evil 4 remains not only one of the best Resident […]

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Back in 2005, when the Resident Evil franchise had officially worn itself thin with the aging Umbrella Corporation, and and the “terror” (huge emphasis on the air quotes) of a tiring zombie villain, they took the franchise in a different direction. Resident Evil 4 remains one of Capcom’s best releases, featuring the utterly amazing and unflappable Leon S. Kennedy. Known as both the man with perfect hair and easily the best character within Resident Evil’s canon, it’s always a welcome treat when Capcom dusts him off, and the Playstation 4 re-re-release is no exception.

If you somehow managed to miss this title in the 11 years since its initial release, I’ll sum it up for you: Leon S. Kennedy, formerly of the infamous Raccoon City S.T.A.R.S. is now in charge of rescuing the President’s daughter. She was captured by a mysterious cult calling themselves Los Illuminados (the enlightened ones, en Español), centered in a rural town in Spain. Leon discovers the evil, mind-controlling parasite Las Plagas ((the plagues, en Español), and it’s up to him to save both the world and Ashley.

It’s both amazing and testament to game design that more than a decade later, Resident Evil 4 remains not only one of the best Resident Evil games, but a damn fine action-horror game. It was, at the time of its release, one of the first successful action-horror titles, and seeing as I had not played the game since its GameCube debut, I’ll admit I had forgotten how influential it was on the genre.

The best part of Resident Evil 4 is still in tact — the swarming of Leon by parasite-controlled peasants  — and as such, the gunplay and combat remains both satisfying and delightful. If not careful, it’s still remarkably easy to be overwhelmed by the bastards, and the chainsaw wielders still pose a very real and serious danger to Leon’s perfect-haired person.

Having said that, this game is 11 years old, and boy do you feel it in places. When it released, I remember thinking that Leon felt downright spry on his feet compared to previous Resident Evil games, but after a decade, he feels every bit as sluggish and tanky as his Resident Evil 2 days. Also, the inability to move and aim is still alive and well, which is a design mechanic that we, as a gaming populace, agreed was a bad idea several years ago. It doesn’t ruin the experience for gamers who played the original, but new comers might find it baffling.

The real reason for the release was, of course, the graphical upgrade and the game does look good. Granted, I admittedly never played it when it came to the Xbox 360 and PS3, so I can’t speak to how much of a graphical upgrade it is compared to last gen. For me, when compared to the GameCube’s fantastic-at-the-time graphics, I spent an easy 15 minutes of the game just marveling at how nice it looked. Though it’s important to note that this isn’t a full-blown HD release, it’s just some better textures.

Overall, the game has aged much better than any of its counterparts, and remains a marvel of the genre. It looks nice, plays nice, and it does include the original PS2-exclusive Ada Wong content, if you’re into that kind of thing. It’s a great trip down memory lane, if you haven’t played since the GameCube days, but if you played it on 360 and PS3, I’m not sure if the improved textures are enough to warrant another purchase.

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We Bake Things Bake Off: Biscotti http://wewritethings.co/2016/09/19/bake-things-bake-off-biscotti/ Mon, 19 Sep 2016 19:32:42 +0000 http://wewritethings.co/?p=1730 Episode two and our second week of the We Bake Things Bake Off concerns biscuits. We learn through a proper food historian that biscuits in England used to be a dreary, utilitarian affair, until one enterprising biscuit maker started making them fun, fluffy and more delicious. This started a ground war of biscuits that continues today. We chose biscotti, literally a twice-baked Italian cookie. Any type of biscotti, but we had to make 36 and they had to be as perfectly identical as possible. The bake: Biscotti, any variety with any add-ins, toppings or frostings. The results: Jen When Annemarie suggested biscotti, I was thrilled. Biscotti are one of my favorite sweet treats in the world. You take a cookie and dip it in either coffee or tea. I mean, what’s not to like? Since I make biscotti on a regular basis, I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and make Queen Nadiya’s Coconut, fennel and pistachio biscotti. Despite her struggling in the technical on this episode, I remember Paul and Mary being wowed by her biscotti. I love coconut, I love pistachios and I love fennel so, let’s do this. First, I’ll admit that this recipe seems very […]

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Episode two and our second week of the We Bake Things Bake Off concerns biscuits. We learn through a proper food historian that biscuits in England used to be a dreary, utilitarian affair, until one enterprising biscuit maker started making them fun, fluffy and more delicious. This started a ground war of biscuits that continues today. We chose biscotti, literally a twice-baked Italian cookie. Any type of biscotti, but we had to make 36 and they had to be as perfectly identical as possible.

The bake: Biscotti, any variety with any add-ins, toppings or frostings.

The results:

Jen

When Annemarie suggested biscotti, I was thrilled. Biscotti are one of my favorite sweet treats in the world. You take a cookie and dip it in either coffee or tea. I mean, what’s not to like? Since I make biscotti on a regular basis, I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and make Queen Nadiya’s Coconut, fennel and pistachio biscotti. Despite her struggling in the technical on this episode, I remember Paul and Mary being wowed by her biscotti. I love coconut, I love pistachios and I love fennel so, let’s do this. 0912161934a

First, I’ll admit that this recipe seems very “fiddly” (to borrow a word from Nadiya). You have to make coconut brittle, melt chocolate to dip your biscotti in, and toast all of your add-ins. But believe it or not, it goes together quicker than you’d think. I used a dry, non-stick pan and toasted my fennel. Then I dumped that into my food processor, and toasted my pistachios. Then I dumped those into the processor and blitzed until they were powdery but with some good nut chunks left in. Then I toasted all of the coconut (both for the biscotti and the brittle) and called it a damn day. The dough comes together very nice, but I did have to add a couple of tablespoons of milk because dry climate and altitude is no joke. Once I had the biscotti in the oven, for the first time, I threw the brittle on the stove. The butter, sugar and water mixture took about 30 minutes to come to 320F for me.

The results are holy crap. It’s not hyperbole when I say this is the best damn biscotti I’ve ever eaten. It’s sweet but not too sweet, and the fennel delivers a nice licorice flavor without being in-your-face. It has a nice crunch, the chocolate adds a nice richness to it, and while I worried that the brittle would taste like gilding the lily, it rounds it out nicely. I dirtied a lot of bowls, pans, and utensils making this, but it was 100% worth it. Not only will I make this again, it might be the only biscotti I make for awhile.

Annemarie

I’ll admit it. I was the one who chose biscotti. I had no desire to make the pastry arlettes nor a biscuit box of all things. Sheesh. Biscotti, with their endless array of flavor combinations, was the better and easier route to take. And I’d never attempted making them. I went with the delightfully named blog’s Fresh April Flours’ White Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti. She cautions against buying already shelled pistachios because they’re more than twice the cost of shelling them yourself. I was going to be fancy and go shelled, but when standing in the grocery store faced with spending $20 on pistachios, I couldn’t do it. To get 36 cookies, I’d need to triple the recipe and I could not justify the nut cost on this one. So my husband and I spent the first quarter of the Broncos season opener shelling pistachios and making a hell of a dusty mess on the couch.

Once the ingredients were assembled, my recipe took very little effort. Mix the wet ingredients, mix the dry ingredients (including nuts and chocolate), and pour wet into dry. Easy peasy. However, I had trouble getting the dough to come together. I ended up adding more butter (not mad) and almost a cup of water, but the mix finally transformed into dough. Even with triple the amount of dough, I opted to only divide the bake into two phases, which led to slightly thicker cookies that took longer to bake. It shouldn’t have surprised me that this entire process took approximately 3 hours, but it did. I believe my exact text to Brooke was “BISCOTTI TAKE A THOUSAND YEARS TO BAKE.”

Biscotti AM

But the results. Oh, the results. Vanilla scented and flavored, rich with chopped pistachios and white chocolate chunks, with a good, tender crunch. They were an unequivocal hit at the BBQ the next day, and we’ve been snacking on them every chance we get at home. I don’t want them to end, but they soon will and I will be sad. I will definitely make these again. Justin said they made the house smell like Christmas, and who doesn’t love that?

Brooke & Kelsey

If the walnut cake was enough to make us question our skills and our sanity, the biscotti was enough to assure us of both, even with some on the spot improvisations. Incapable of deciding on one recipe, we elected to make two. A whimsical funfetti number and a sophisticated dark chocolate orange take.

Funfetti was up first. This recipe took an inordinate amount of sprinkles. We used the whole of two mostly full bottles and the better part of a third in similar condition. The recipe warned us against using non-pareils, but by bottle number three that was all we had. The sky did not fall, nor did our biscotti. Our dough was a bit dry, which is to say as crumby as a streusel. But, a bit of milk and tenacity got that sorted. The end result was some lovely, simply flavored but sultry biscotti that stood up well to dunking.

biscotti

The dark chocolate orange batch went similarly. Instead of sprinkle volume, we failed to anticipate the chill time associated with this dough, so our bakes were completed a day apart. This dough came together as expected. However, we were given very, very low bake temperatures by the recipe — 150 F. We gave this the old college try. It didn’t go well. Mostly things got melty. We cranked the heat up to 350 and actual baking happened. One side ended up a touch more toasted than desirable, but the end result is still quite pleasant. In baked form the orange is much more subtle than in dough form, but the almonds add a nice texture to break up the intense dark chocolate.

Nicole

Biscotti is just one of those things I never would’ve considered baking before. I figured I should keep it basic and try one of Paul Hollywood’s recipes, Hazelnut and Orange Biscotti. My first omen should have been the Ralph’s employee who told me hazelnuts are a seasonal item, but thankfully, Trader Joe’s had their nut aisle together.

The recipe was simple itself; zesting an orange and pulverizing the nuts in a processor are about as complex as it gets. But the calculations are British in nature. I relied on Google to tell me how many cups 9oz of flour is since I don’t own scales. I had just enough flour for the dough and a pinch left over for the kneading process. What I produced, however, was the stickiest dough I have ever encountered in my life. There was no kneading or rolling that mess. It had to be scraped off the counter. And like any good baker who is confronted with an item that is not behaving properly, I just plowed on to the next steps. It was around that time that I started laughing at the creation I had begot.

image1

The end product, if you can call it biscotti, lacked the distinctive crunch. They were pretty undercooked even though I baked them 3 times as directed (150C means 300F, right?). I had an irrational fear of making them totally inedible and losing a tooth, so I called it done deal. The pleasant surprise was that they weren’t too bad taste-wise. The orange and hazelnut create a light, refreshing flavor. I can only imagine how pleasant they might be dipped in tea without the fear of disintegration.

Next week we try our hands at quick bread, because no one has time to wait for carbs to rise. Read Week 1’s Walnut Cake results here.

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Review: The Black Monday Murders 2 http://wewritethings.co/2016/09/14/review-black-monday-murders-2/ Wed, 14 Sep 2016 17:30:32 +0000 http://wewritethings.co/?p=1791 Jonathan Hickman’s The Black Monday Murders is still within its set-up stage, as the second issue’s current events picks up shortly after the first issue ended. In typical Hickman fashion, the dense (55 pages!) issue attempts to present a lot of information, but unlike so many others, The Black Monday Murders #2 never feels bogged down or slow. In fact, it reads very much like a meticulous puzzle whose rules and pieces are being presented to us. The issue bounces between current events and events in 1985, as the scene is further set out for us. Just when you thought the mythos at play couldn’t get any deeper or more bizarre, we see a familiar group (and a few unknowns) traversing to what appears to be a hall of Mammon, located within the Berlin Wall. As the Eastern and Western economists meet, of course they would do so in the ultimate symbol of division. Hickman’s use of real history and objects lend an unnerving air of truth to his tale, which makes the story even more intriguing. In the current time, Grigoria Rothschild has ascended and taken the rightful Rothschild seat, though it’s unclear what, exactly she requested in her […]

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Jonathan Hickman’s The Black Monday Murders is still within its set-up stage, as the second issue’s current events picks up shortly after the first issue ended. In typical Hickman fashion, the dense (55 pages!) issue attempts to present a lot of information, but unlike so many others, The Black Monday Murders #2 never feels bogged down or slow. In fact, it reads very much like a meticulous puzzle whose rules and pieces are being presented to us.

The issue bounces between current events and events in 1985, as the scene is further set out for us. Just when you thought the mythos at play couldn’t get any deeper or more bizarre, we see a familiar group (and a few unknowns) traversing to what appears to be a hall of Mammon, located within the Berlin Wall. As the Eastern and Western economists meet, of course they would do so in the ultimate symbol of division. Hickman’s use of real history and objects lend an unnerving air of truth to his tale, which makes the story even more intriguing.

In the current time, Grigoria Rothschild has ascended and taken the rightful Rothschild seat, though it’s unclear what, exactly she requested in her demands. Hickman brilliantly knows just how much information to feed the reader, through a series of blacked-out documents that promise the full story. Several of her demands were approved, but one mysteriously remains hidden from us.

No more mysterious than her meeting with Detective Dumas, however. It’s tempting to write it off as a simple cat-and-mouse, “know your enemy” moment, but it feels a little deeper than that. Rothschild appears to be goading Dumas into further investigating, thus luring him further into the world. It’s interesting, too, that she recognizes within him the power that was so heavily hinted at in the first issue. I do so enjoy stories when people instantly recognize one another as adversaries, rather than the author forming an elaborate pretense of cluelessness. In fact, one thing I’m enjoying about the denizens of Caina Investment Bank is how casually they hide in plain sight. The exchange with the security officer might be my favorite exchange of the series thus far.

The most intriguing moment, however, comes in the form of a letter from the deceased Rothschild (the twin brother whose seat Grigoria has taken) to his son. Just when I felt I was starting to understand Hickman’s rules for his world, this letter shows me that I have not yet begun to understand. Up until that point, I thought there was an uneasy but necessary truce/peace between the families on the Wheel, but this makes me think there is anything but. The only thing I’m certain of, now, is that the coming issues are going to get much bloodier than the first.

There is so much going on in The Black Monday Murders, it could potentially be difficult to keep track of it all. Thus far, the formatting and style has made that somewhat easy, but as with most conspiracy stories, it could be easy for this story to teeter too far into the conspiratorial abyss. Hickman’s prowess and previous stories are the only thing giving me confidence that this won’t happen. The Black Monday Murders is, so far, one of my favorite comics of 2016, but only if manages to maintain the grounded feel of this supernatural tale.

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Review: Lady Killer 2 #2 http://wewritethings.co/2016/09/14/review-lady-killer-2-2/ Wed, 14 Sep 2016 17:00:57 +0000 http://wewritethings.co/?p=1724 For the first time in the series’ entire run, Lady Killer 2 #2 has given me pause. After tendering her resignation in Lady Killer 1, Lady Killer 2 started with Josie embarking upon self-employment. The murderous hausfrau was embracing the women’s lib of her ’60s time period and setting out on her own, but the second issue of the second arc may have Josie right back where she started: under the thumb of unscrupulous men. Last issue, as Josie attempted to dispose of a body — a service which was, in her former job, handled for her — she was surprised by someone. The someone is revealed to be the equally murderous and dangerous Irving, who has a simple offer for Josie: despite the events of Lady Killer 1, he claims his age is catching up to him. Since he can no longer keep up with killing, he offers his services to Josie as clean-up crew. While initially skeptical, Josie accepts Irving’s help a little too easily. Too easily given that Irving almost immediately oversteps his bounds, and threatens to blow Josie’s cover wide open. He appears at a family barbecue, which unnerves Josie, who is forced to claim him as her uncle. I have […]

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For the first time in the series’ entire run, Lady Killer 2 #2 has given me pause. After tendering her resignation in Lady Killer 1Lady Killer 2 started with Josie embarking upon self-employment. The murderous hausfrau was embracing the women’s lib of her ’60s time period and setting out on her own, but the second issue of the second arc may have Josie right back where she started: under the thumb of unscrupulous men.

Last issue, as Josie attempted to dispose of a body — a service which was, in her former job, handled for her — she was surprised by someone. The someone is revealed to be the equally murderous and dangerous Irving, who has a simple offer for Josie: despite the events of Lady Killer 1, he claims his age is catching up to him. Since he can no longer keep up with killing, he offers his services to Josie as clean-up crew. While initially skeptical, Josie accepts Irving’s help a little too easily.

Too easily given that Irving almost immediately oversteps his bounds, and threatens to blow Josie’s cover wide open. He appears at a family barbecue, which unnerves Josie, who is forced to claim him as her uncle. I have no doubt this will later prove to be a dangerous lie as readers may recall that the elder Mrs. Schuller, who has never liked Josie, recognized and seemed to know Iriving from before her life in America. I have no doubt that this will rear its head in a nasty fashion for our heroine.

Irving’s arrival also heralds an invitation and job offer from a mysterious, questionable man who already seems to know too much about Josie. She apparently accepts his offer for stable employment, and the issue ends with her gleefully and causally accepting Irving’s help in disposing of another body. Add this to the list of things I’m sure will bite her in the ass later.

It seems an odd turn for a character who has been, up to this point, exceptionally shrewd and untrusting. Will the ultimate lesson here be that no matter how emboldened a woman is, she will ultimately end up having to answer to The Man? Or will the lesson be that our friendships and familiarity — she seems well-acquainted with both Irving as a person and his reputation — can be a deadly blind spot?

Or, is it entirely possible that Irving has his own endgame and this is just a means to that end? Or, is it possible that Irving simply wants to help a promising young assassin, and longs for some sense of legacy?

The art, of course, remains one of the strongest points of this series. Everything about Josie and her world exudes 1960s modern glamour and kitsch. The Christmas beach party, with everyone drinking tiki drinks and wearing large, pointy bikinis feels ripped from the pages of LIFE magazine. The bingo parlor scene juxtaposes a wholesome simplicity with a dangerous and macabre discussion for our heroine.

Lady Killer 2 continues to be a visual treat, and a kitschy commentary. Josie remains a highly compelling and dynamic character, however this issue feels like a slight step backward from last. Josie quickly traded her new found independence for shocking dependence upon a character whom we have no reason to trust. I have faith all will work out and make sense in the end, but this is the first issue to leave me uneasy.

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