Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Off The Shelf 2013: April

April was a great month because I finally finished off The Dresden Files so can move on to other, more varied reads! Since the March update, I've read books 13-14 of The Dresden Files, plus Side Jobs, the short story collection. I'm currently about halfway through The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling. I'm not really sure what I think about it yet. There were a lot of characters introduced really quickly and I'm still finding it hard to keep track of who's who and on what side of the main conflict they fall. Like many others, I picked up this book because I'm a Harry Potter fan and I was excited to see what Rowling could do in a different genre and with a different target audience, but to be honest I'm not impressed so far. Once I finish reading I'll do a review.

I'm currently sitting at 18 books read for the year which is back ahead of my reading goal. I'm really loving how much I've gotten back in to reading because of these twin challenges and thanks to Goodreads. Finally I've got my reading mojo back and I'm loving it!

One thing I am struggling with though is that because of the large number of books in my Off The Shelf challenge, I don't really have the wriggle room to read other things that I might want. I'm a notorious re-reader, which is partly why I took on the challenge in the first place, but sometimes I just want to read something familiar. I'm meeting that need currently by listening to the audiobooks of the A Song of Ice and Fire series...but I have less than an hour's listening time each work day, and these books are looooooong - A Game of Thrones is nearly 34 hours, and that's the shortest. In fact, I just did a quick calculation: at this rate it's going to take me the rest of the year to listen to the series. Longer than this year even. Eeep.

I also don't have much room to squeeze in other books that I want to read if they come up. For example, there will almost certainly be another book in The Dresden Files out later this year that I'll have to fit in. My plan right now is to blast through as many of my Off The Shelf books as quickly as I can, so I have spare time towards the end of the year to read other stuff. So far that's working well, but I haven't really started reading the non-fiction on my list, and that tends to take me longer to read.

Still, I'm meeting my goals for now, which is great, and really enjoying using Goodreads to see what others are reading and enjoying. If you love reading, you should join Goodreads too!

If you want to see my rating and/or review of each book, check out my Goodreads page.

This post is part of my Off The Shelf 2013 Reading Challenge

Sunday, April 28, 2013

BA's Posting Challenge 3: Disgruntled Blogging

This week's topic: What are some of the cons you've discovered when it comes to blogging?

The two main problems I have with blogging are essentially two sides of the same coin.

Side one: sometimes I just don't feel like blogging. There's more than one failed (sorry, "on hiatus") blogging challenge in my blog history. There's stretches of weeks at a time where I post nothing. I think I'm learning to not do daily blogging challenges because that's what I struggle the most with. This weekly one is going well so far though.

Side two: sometimes when I blog I have verbal diarrhea and spit out long, rambling posts that are quite possibly only of interest to me (see yesterday's post for an example, 1800 words after excluding the block quotes). Sometimes I just really, really want to write, and write, and write. So my blog swings from nothing at all to overloaded and back again with alarming rapidity.

Luckily, because my blog is pretty small and personal and not 100% focused on a particular theme, I get very little spam or hate mail. But I know other bloggers (especially Fat Acceptance bloggers) who get daily hate mail and even death threats. So I know I'm lucky in that regard.

Otherwise, no real disgruntlement here!

This post is part of the above Posting Challenge

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Dresden Files: Book Series Review

Yesterday I finished reading Side Jobs, the collection of short stories and novellas/novelettes set in the Dresden Files universe, and with it the series to-date. Fourteen novels and the short story collection, and I'm finally done. For now. Unfortunately, the series is far from over - Jim Butcher is apparently planning around 23 books total, which means I'll be reading The Dresden Files books for many years yet. At least I got in to the series halfway through - the first book, Storm Front, was first published way back in 2000. This review is also a general introduction to the series and its concepts. I'll try to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, but I'm sure there will be minor spoilers. You have been warned!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

ANZAC Biscuits

Today is ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand, a national day of remembrance to commemorate all the soldiers from both countries that have served in our armed forces. 25 April is the anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli of the ANZAC forces, the first major military action of our countries in the First World War. It's kind of the equivalent of Veterans Day in the US.

ANZAC Day can be pretty politically charged and almost never passes without some kind of "incident" in either Australia or New Zealand. I've talked a bit before about celebrating ANZAC Day as an Atheist. Today I did the same thing I do every year on ANZAC Day - I baked ANZAC Biscuits.

Tradition has it that ANZAC Biscuits include the slow-perishing ingredients they do so that they could be baked by "wives at home" and sent to the soldiers serving overseas. Or perhaps they don't include eggs because of shortages during the war. Because "ANZAC" is protected under Australian and New Zealand law, the recipe for ANZAC biscuits must be kept generally the same, with the basic ingredients unchanged. Technically, all those ANZAC Biscuits recipe variations with macadamias, or craisins, or whatever aren't really ANZAC Biscuits. Also they must be called "biscuits" and not "cookies".

My recipe is based on the Edmonds Cookery Book recipe. Edmonds is the New Zealand cooking bible and I wouldn't be without mine, although it's starting to look a little worse for wear. I double the recipe and substitute rapadura* for regular sugar and wholemeal for plain flour. So it's still true to the "correct" recipe! ANZAC Biscuits are really easy to make too.

ANZAC Biscuits
1      cup wholemeal flour
2/3    cup rapadura sugar
1 1/3  cups desiccated coconut
1 1/2  cups rolled oats
100g   butter
2 tbsp golden syrup
1 tsp  baking soda
2 tbsp boiling water

Preheat oven to 180C. Stir together the flour, sugar, coconut, and rolled oats. Melt butter and golden syrup together (I just do this in a jug in the microwave). Dissolve baking soda in boiling water and add to butter and golden syrup. Stir butter mixture into dry ingredients. Place tablespoonsful of mixture onto cold greased trays. Flatten with a fork (mine never spread like they are supposed to so I have to flatten them). Bake for about 15 minutes until golden. If you bake for shorter time they will be chewy; longer time they will be crunchy. Cool on trays for extra crunch, or wire racks if you like them chewy (mine are chewy). Makes about 20. (The original recipe is supposed to make 20 but I have no idea how, my doubled recipe makes 20 and they're not huge).

* Rapadura sugar is evaporated sugar cane juice that is not refined or crystalised, is organic, and still includes all the molasses. It's similar to brown sugar but even less refined. It's grainier than regular sugar, but you don't notice it in crunchy-oaty-coconutty ANZAC Biscuits.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

BA's Posting Challenge 2: Book Lies

This week's topic: Have you ever lied about reading a book (if so, what was it)? Would you?

I suppose this lie goes either way - lying about something you have read and don't want to admit, or lying about something you haven't read because you want to impress someone (or some other reason). I don't really understand why you'd do either, really, although I guess I can imagine scenarios...

I suppose you might be embarrassed to admit you've read something (like Twilight or Fifty Shades) but if you enjoyed it, then good for you. If you're reading, I'm happy. Even if Twilight is...okay, I'm going to stop there, because the point of this is that I shouldn't be judging people for their reading choices, and that's something I have to work on. So yes, I suppose I can see a situation in which someone might want to hide the fact that they read (and enjoyed) something that's been put down by others (like me, yes, I am trying to learn to not be Miss Judgypants about Twilight lovers).

When I was an English Literature student, there certainly were pretentious people around who would judge you if you hadn't read their favourite classic. I can't remember ever lying about reading something I hadn't, but it's not outside the realm of possibility that I did while I was a student so I didn't look uncool to the hip Lit Student crowd (seriously). But these days I take it as a reading recommendation. If someone asks me if I've read something, and I haven't, they're probably asking because it's good and they think I should - so why lie about it? I can take their recommendation, read the book, and happily discuss it with them later. There's several books in my Off The Shelf 2013 list that I'm embarrassed to admit I haven't read yet, like To Kill a Mockingbird, but it seems pointless to lie about reading it.

So I can see how you might want to lie either way, and I can imagine scenarios in which I might have done so, but can't remember a specific instance where I lied about what I have (or haven't) read. And if you ever catch me mocking Twilight lovers, remind me that at least they're reading, and that's a Good Thing!

This post is part of the above Posting Challenge

Sunday, April 14, 2013

BA's Posting Challenge 1: Loving Blogging

As mentioned previously, I'm participating in Bookish Ardour's Posting Challenge for book bloggers. While I don't consider myself a dedicated book blogger, I have been writing about books more often recently thanks to my Off The Shelf 2013 challenge. Also, a lot of the topics are generic enough for a general blog like this one. Because books are obviously at the forefront of my mind right now, this is as good a time as any to do a bit more book blogging.

So. Today's prompt asks, "What do you love about book blogging and book blogs?" The truth is, I don't usually read a lot of book blogs. I read all sorts of other blogs - Fat Acceptance and Feminism and Personal ones, work-related ones, random ones that I read a post or two of and then never see again - but there's very few book blogs in my Google Reader (yes, I'm still using it, I haven't had the heart to find a replacement yet - why do you do this to me Google? WHY???). Ahem. Goodreads has started recommending books to me now, but it's still a bit hit-and-miss it seems. I'm also very much a "judge a book by its cover" person - I pick up books with interesting covers, and I always read the blurb on the back cover (to the horror of a friend of mine). I'll also pick up new books based on friend recommendations...But I suppose if you find a good blog, with similar tastes in books, then that would be like a friend recommendation, wouldn't it? So, if you want to recommend me a good book blogger who blogs about fantasy fiction, I'm all ears.

What I love about writing my own blog is the way it lets me get thoughts out of my head. I like sharing and connecting with other people, although I'm honestly still surprised when people comment on my posts or share them with other people on social media and stuff - I tend to treat my blog a bit like a semi-public diary and never really consider that other people might find it interesting. Mostly I blog because I like to write. I have a general personal blog without any particular direction because I like being able to write about whatever comes into my head. I go through bursts of high activity and then weeks with no activity at all. What I'm saying is, if you're new here and expecting regular posts about books, you'll be disappointed...But if you stick around you might find the occasional diamond in the rough.

This post is part of the above Posting Challenge

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Off The Shelf 2013: March

Nearly TWO weeks behind this time! That's at least partly because I've read nothing but The Dresden Files and also because, while I'm still meeting my reading goals, I'm not ahead of them any more. I had a couple of weeks of pretty intense gaming - I go through phases where I watch a lot of TV, or game, or read, and this was definitely a gaming phase (Mass Effect 3, for those interested). But I realised I need to catch up on my reading again so this week I've been spending my evenings reading.

Since the February update I've finished off books 10-12 of The Dresden Files and have nearly finished (hopefully will finish tonight) book 13. That leaves 1 more plus the short story collection. Then, finally, I'm caught up and can read something else! I'm not complaining really, I have really enjoyed the series, and once I'm caught up I'll probably do a more thorough review of the series to-date.

In March I also signed up to Audible. I'd picked up the audiobook of The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross, primarily because it was read by Gideon Emery (who has just the most fabulous voice, swoon), and I'd been listening to it in the car on my drive to and from work. After I finished that, I decided I wanted to do it more often, so I signed up to Audible and picked up A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, read by Roy Dotrice. I've read the books before, repeatedly, and I wanted to do another re-read but was prevented from doing so by my Off the Shelf goals, so I figured this was a great way to fit in MOAR BOOKS. Roy Dotrice's reading sounds like a grandfather and I'm really enjoying it. The best thing is Goodreads includes audiobook formats too, so the audiobooks also count towards my overall reading goals without infringing on actual reading time!

Bookish Ardour, whence came the Off the Shelf challenge, has also posted a blogging challenge which I think I will do. It's understandably book-themed, and while this blog is a bit more general than that, I still liked the sound of the challenge. It's only once a week posting which should be manageable. At least it will get me posting more than once a month. In the mean time, I'll keep ploughing through my reading goals!

If you want to see my review of each book, check out my Goodreads page.

This post is part of my Off The Shelf 2013 Reading Challenge