Book Review: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

good omensTitle: Good Omens
Author: Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Publisher: HarperTorch
Paperback: 430 pages
Source: Purchased/Chicago OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (the world’s only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner.

So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon—both of whom have lived amongst Earth’s mortals since The Beginning and have grown rather fond of the lifestyle—are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture.

And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist . . .

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

When Andrew found out that I enjoyed Gaiman, yet hadn’t read Good Omens, we went out that week to buy a copy so that I could remedy the situation. It was, he said, a book that I had to read, no matter what. To his credit, I can’t think of a single thing that I disliked about this book. I honestly, thoroughly enjoyed it from the first page to the last. It’s insightful, thoughtful, and purely, simply funny.

One of my favorite parts (among many) was how Pratchett and Gaiman were able to capture the life and mind of an eleven-year-old boy. The scenes with Adam and his friends playing “Spanish Inquisition” or some similar silly thing were perfect. The kid’s comments about the whole situation and their thoughts about how they should “properly” perform an inquisition were on point for how children that age would think about it. I loved these moments.

Another one of my absolute favorite things is how good and evil are portrayed. I think that the authors really thought about their story, what they wanted to say, and how they wanted to portray it to their audience. The friendship between Aziraphale the angel and Crowley the demon is beautifully done. The fight between them, after all, isn’t personal, but purely an issue of circumstance — one happens to be from heaven and one from hell. They have similar opinions about Earth, use similar methods to get followers and have similar contacts within the mortal world.

Reading so many books, it’s hard for me to stay interested in all the same stereotypical plot and character development, so it’s rare that I find a book where there was something that just didn’t click with me. I have no complaints about this one. Not only is it entertaining all the way through, but it actually says something about the way we perceive good and evil and gives us another way to think about it. Andrew, of course, was right. This is a book worth reading. I highly recommend.

Favorite Quotes:

“Aziraphale. The Enemy, of course. But an enemy for six thousand years now, which made him a sort of friend.”

“Hell wasn’t a major reservoir of evil, any more than Heaven, in Crowley’s opinion, was a fountain of goodness; they were just sides in the great cosmic chess game. Where you found the real McCoy, the real grace and the real heart-stopping evil, was right inside the human mind.”

“Most books on witchcraft will tell you that witches work naked. This is because most books on witchcraft are written by men.”

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We Made: Almond Butter

This isn’t going to be a very long post, because, as it turns out, making your own nut butter is a fairly simple process. At least, it seemed like it to me. I can’t be completely sure about that, because Andrew did all the work on this one. He’s amazing.

I should preface this by saying that Andrew and I asked for a fancy blender from my parents for this Christmas — the two of us do actually like eating healthy, and it’s so much easier to stuff all your fruits and leafy greens in a yummy, drinkable smoothie than to actually remember to incorporate them with our dinner. We’re usually so excited to be eating whatever it is we’ve decided to make, that we forget about everything else entirely.

Anyway, when we opened the box for our Bullet blender, there were two blades. One looked like a normal smoothie blade, and one was way too flat to be good for any sort of blending. Reading the instructions we found that it was a “milling blade,” and Googling for what we could use it for, we saw that people were using it to make their own almond butter and what-not.

So, why not?

Andrew was super excited about trying it out, and I was pretty excited and interested to see if it worked. We bought 3 lbs of almonds from Costco, (Oh, Costco. How we love you.) and Sunday afternoon, Andrew went to work.

Apparently, all you need to do to make almond butter is mill it a bunch. He stuck the almonds in with the milling blade, pulsed it until all the almonds were in little pieces, and then just let it go for a few minutes.

Almond Butter

Voila! Organic, homemade, delicious almond butter. I have the sinking feeling that we’re very quickly going to turn into people who make a lot of homemade things now. Obviously, we love convenience, but making food is just too much fun not to do it every once in a while if we can. I’m excited. It’s a whole new life we’re living over here.

Book Review: The Naming by Alison Croggon

the namingTitle: The Naming
Author: Alison Croggon
Series: The Books of Pellinor, Book 1
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Paperback: 492 pages
Source: Purchased
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Maerad is a slave in a desperate and unforgiving settlement, taken there as a child after her family is destroyed in war. She is unaware that she possesses a powerful gift, one that marks her as a member of the School of Pellinor. It is only when she is discovered by Cadvan, one of the great Bards of Lirigon, that her true heritage and extraordinary destiny unfold. Now she and her new teacher must survive a journey through a time and place where the forces they battle stem from the deepest recesses of otherworldly terror.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

This book was way longer than it had to be. For all the pages that I had to go through, not much happened.

The plot itself was pretty good. I’m not a fan of the really-this-is-real fake sort of thing that a lot of people are so fond of, but Andrew would disagree with me on that, so it’s more a matter of preference than actual problems with the story. With that said, since it was supposed to mimic a true history, I wish it could have tied more into the mythologies and ancient worlds that we currently know about. References to already-known things would have made it feel much more like a true story instead of a disjointed mythology/epic that doesn’t fit in with the world as we know it now.

I think what prevented it from being something that’s a must-read is all the backstory and explaining that happened in this first book. It’s necessary that we have those elements, but more showing instead of telling would have been appreciated, or at least maybe more of it could have been added into an appendix so that we could have gotten more story. I wanted actual plot and character development, but things are almost the same in the end as they are in the beginning. Conflicts that could have been interesting were resolved too quickly, probably to make room for more backstory.

Though it might seem like it with all this criticism, I didn’t hate this book. I think it provides a nice set-up to a story that could potentially be interesting if the storytelling itself is kicked up a notch in the subsequent books. The main character has enough of a personality to make her somewhat interesting, but again, I want that to develop more strongly in the next books. It’s good enough that I’m giving this series one more book to hook me in before I give up, but if the second turns out to be similar to the first, then I don’t think this is a series I need to spend my time reading.

Food We Like: Chilaquiles

We always joke about how we only ever make two kinds of food: Italian and Mexican. Andrew learned how to cook from his Italian grandma, and I may be as white as they come, but I grew up in Southern California and my family has a serious love for tacos, enchiladas, burritos, etc. So of course, one of my favorite breakfast foods is chilaquiles.

Chilaquiles
It doesn’t look the most appetizing, but I swear it’s delicious

I don’t know what it is about having tortilla chips smothered in enchilada sauce in the morning, but it just starts my day off right. Andrew’s been intrigued by my love for this food (I order it whenever we go to brunch and it’s an option), so we tried our hand at making our own and it’s become a weekend breakfast staple.

Ingredients:

  • Stale tortilla chips OR stale corn tortillas that have been fried in some vegetable oil* (see tips for details)
  • Green chili enchilada sauce (it can also be made with red, but we prefer green)
  • Black beans
  • Fried eggs
  • Cheese — most recipes call for white, but we use colby jack more often than not
  • Sour cream
  • Whatever else you feel like adding, this isn’t a fancy frou-frou dish

Directions:

  • Depending on what you use for tortillas, step 1 is either cutting up your tortillas into manageable pieces and frying them in oil OR putting your tortilla chips in a pan, pouring in green chili sauce and cooking them over medium heat while mixing them around the sauce. Add the beans shortly after and continue mixing them around. Do this until it’s warmed through and everything is fully coated.
  • Step 2: While you’re doing this, crack a couple of eggs into a pan and fry them.

Fried Eggs

  • Step 3: Turn off the heat and add the eggs, once they’re done cooking.
  • Step 4: Put the grated cheese on the mixture. Let it melt just a little bit, and then dish it out however you wish. (Since it’s just me and Andrew, we put it in a big bowl and go family style.)
Cheese on Chilaquiles
This one’s for Andrew.
  • Step 5: Add spices or whatever you want. We just add in some sour cream.

Sour Cream Chilaquiles

*TIPS FOR TORTILLAS/TORTILLA CHIPS*

This thing is pretty heavy and coated in lots of sauce, so you’ll want tortilla chips that won’t disintegrate easily. That means no thin Tostitos or anything like that. Get some nice, thick chips with some weight.

Book Review: A Slip of the Keyboard – Collected Nonfiction by Terry Pratchett

slip of the keyboardTitle: A Slip of the Keyboard – Collected Nonfiction
Author: Terry Pratchett
Publisher: Doubleday
Hardcover: 323 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Terry Pratchett has earned a place in the hearts of readers the world over with his bestselling Discworld series — but in recent years he has become equally well-known and respected as an outspoken campaigner for causes including Alzheimer’s research and animal rights. A Slip of the Keyboard brings together for the first time the finest examples of Pratchett’s non fiction writing, both serious and surreal: from musings on mushrooms to what it means to be a writer (and why banana daiquiris are so important); from memories of Granny Pratchett to speculation about Gandalf’s love life, and passionate defences of the causes dear to him.

With all the humour and humanity that have made his novels so enduringly popular, this collection brings Pratchett out from behind the scenes of the Discworld to speak for himself — man and boy, bibliophile and computer geek, champion of hats, orangutans and Dignity in Dying.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I’ve unfortunately read too little of Terry Pratchett in the past years, and the only excuse for it is that I’ve been reading so much of everything else, which isn’t much of an excuse, I’ll admit. Luckily, my fiancé, Andrew, is a fan of his, so I’ve been delving a bit more into his work. (I’m currently reading Good Omens, which is turning out to be fantastic.)

I started this book for a few reasons:

  1. I have a bad habit of reading at work during the dead time in between appointments, and it’s better if I’m reading a collection of short stories or essays, because once I finish a short story, I’ve gotten my fix and I’m back to being productive and doing what I’m getting paid to do.
  2. It was available on OverDrive at my library.
  3. Andrew loves non-fiction, so I thought I’d read this to see if I thought he’d be interested in adding this to his to-read list, though I know that being with me has probably added a few too many books to that list. (Even though they are really just so good.)
  4. I think it’s interesting to know the person behind the writing, either before or after I’ve met that person through their stories. It’s a bit backwards from what traditionally happens in this case, but I think that I’ll be able to better appreciate his work now knowing some of his thoughts behind life, living, and stories.

I truly enjoyed this book. I agree with Pratchett on many things and reading the words of someone who loves words and stories so much is deeply gratifying. Some of these stories were sad, as he talks about his struggle with Alzheimer’s and his thoughts about assisted death, but I think he offers useful insights from his experiences. For those of us who have studied writing or write in some way, he puts a humorous viewpoint on how we get our work done and how we feel about it before, during, and afterwards, which I truly enjoy. I think that writing is at once a unique and universal thing — we all, after all, tell stories. Getting someone else’s viewpoint on the process is at once relieving and fascinating, as there are often so many similarities to my own experience with it.

Besides the similarities, though, I loved learning fun new facts about Pratchett and his life. Reading about his hat collection, adventures (or non-adventures) on book tours, and getting to know him a little bit better was a wonderful experience that I greatly appreciated.

The only complaint I had is that because of the way the book is set up, some of his thoughts and arguments become repetitive. In real life, nobody would have noticed, because he wrote these essays years, even decades apart, but having them collected together, sorted by theme, I felt like some of the essays were almost the same as the others. Not his fault, of course, and I didn’t enjoy the book any less, but if you’re going to read this, I do recommend taking your time through it so that you don’t feel frustrated with the repetition.

I recommend this to all writers, readers, and fans of Terry Pratchett. It’s a solid collection, and I can’t imagine there being anyone who wouldn’t enjoy at least two works from this book.

Favorite Quotes:

“Keep an eye on the trade press. When an editor moves on, immediately send your precious MS to his or her office, with a covering letter addressed to said departed editor. Say, in the tones of one engaged in a cooperative effort, something like this: ‘Dear X, I was very pleased to receive your encouraging letter indicating your interest in my book, and I have made all the changes you asked for.…’ Of course they won’t find the letter. Publishers can never find anything. But at least someone might panic enough to read the MS.”

“The first thing I do when I finish writing a book is start a new one. This was a course of action suggested, I believe, by the late Douglas Adams, although regrettably he famously failed to follow his own advice.

“People are magnificent research, almost the best there is. An old copper will tell you more about policing than a textbook ever will. An old lady is happy to talk about life as a midwife in the 1930s, a long way from any doctor, while your blood runs cold.”

Happy Birthday to Me!

It’s really hard to keep up with everything going on in life, especially since I now have an actual life. I used to think that college and school were hard, but they didn’t really take up as much time as I thought they did. Now that I’m living with my fiancé, working a real-life full-time job that has responsibilities and occasional overtime, I realize how cushy school was. I don’t miss it by any means. I’m not that crazy (yet). Grad school cured me of missing school for a long while, I think. But it’s amazing to me how much I was able to be involved with while in school, whereas now, I’m lucky if I manage to make dinner and get all my chores done on a weekly basis.

With that said, I’ve been missing being involved with something that’s just for me. I always have reading, but I miss my book blogging days, where I was able to have actual conversations with people online about things I was interested about. It was fun. And while I don’t have as much time as I did back then, I’m going to start making time for it. It is, however, going to be a bit different.

I now have someone I can share pretty much anything and everything with, so while I did often have other people make posts on my blog, Andrew is very much going to be a part of this blogging activity, even if most of it is behind-the-scenes giving me advice about whether or not he likes my new background color or if that title makes sense. He’ll probably write a post or two. He also likes being involved in online communities.

This is very much a for-me activity. Last time, I was so worried about making my blog relevant and helping out publishers and authors getting the word out there. If I like whatever they’re trying to get press done about, I’ll happily do that, but I’m less concerned about doing that now. I just want to share my opinions. Which also means that this isn’t just going to be books, but everything else I love, like my cooking adventures with Andrew and my thoughts on the TV shows we watch, and stories from our travels and average life occurrences.

So, Happy Birthday to me! A new blog, and a new activity to squish into my already full schedule. It should be a lot of fun, though, and I’m excited.