Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Adjust your joysticks, fanboys: Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

Fanboys of the world, I’d say this one is for you, but chances are you’re rolling your eyes at that belated statement, given that the United States movie rights for this one were obtained for the low price of 7 million dollars and it’s got some newb of a director called Spielberg attached.  That’s right - JUST the rights for the US.  For the rest of us less...say, fervent nerds, behold a book we can read and enjoy instead of fighting crowds at Comicon (#neverwilliever), or reading a Bill Gates/Steve Jobs romance fan fiction (if this exists and you find it for me, I will buy you a pizza.  Seriously.  That will be your Easter Egg).  That is also to say, I, an avowed video game h8r enjoyed it, and suspect many of you nerds/geeks on all ends of the spectrum (like to fervent to obsessive) who enjoy fun adventure books will too (but I didn’t think there were enough BSG or Goonies references, so WHAT UP, Mr. Cline?  Sloth love Chunk.).  

It is 2044, and the world is a dystopia meets technerd utopia. The climate and world, physically and politically, are a big ole mess; people live in urban squalor, and more or less everyone spends all day plugged into a virtual world called the Oasis in some capacity: schools, business, government, entertainment, banking and commerce (I’m assuming Bitcoins finally took off), etc. - it all happens 24/7 in the Oasis,  an immersive virtual reality accessed via some recognizable yet futuristic technology: visors, consoles, gaming systems, sensor suits, etc.  When Oasis cofounder and owner, the eccentric 80’s enthusiast, recluse, and billionaire James Halliday dies, he leaves behind a will in video form stipulating that he has created a treasure hunt and hidden virtual three keys inside the Oasis that unlock an Easter Egg: ownership of his entire fortune and his owning stake in the Oasis. Wade Watts, a (virtual) high school senior, and millions of others around the virtual and physical world become obsessed with finding it.  Wade, or Parzival, as his avatar is known online, however, is the first person to find a key.  The virtual world begins to bleed even more into the physical world, and danger becomes more than a virtual reality. Wade soon finds himself in deeper than he ever could have imagined.  

There are too many ways to count the 80’s pop culture references, and there is enough adventure, fun, nerd romance, nostalgia, and moments of distorted looking glass recognition in this bizzarely plausible future; it’s much more Wall-E than Gattica, if you will.  It’s super fun, period, but I admit to suspecting you’ll find it more fun if you’re over 28ish and have a functional memory of the 80’s.  It’s enjoyable too if you like dystopias, techy sci-fi, Xbox, World of Warcraft (give these little Minecrafters 10 years and they’ll be on board, Mr. Cline), want an Ender’s Game readalike but aren’t a homophobe, and are roughly 13 and up (there’s some naughty words, I think, if you care about that).  

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Are you not entertained by Court of Fives?: Court of Fives, by Kate Elliot

Court of Fives

Jessamy dreams of the Court of Fives, an American Gladiator-esque competition in her Roman-esque world.  The masked game offers her a chance to shed the dual identity she bears in anonymity and receive accolades based on skill alone.  Jess is the daughter of an aristocratic general and a commoner; her dark skin marks her as different, and few in the aristocratic Patron class accept her family.  When Jes lets Kalliarkos, the Patron nephew of a scheming lord, beat her on the Court to avoid being unmasked, he finds her and they strike up an unlikely and societally unappreciated friendship.  However, Jes’ world is upended and her family torn apart when Kal’s powerful uncle turns her father into a pawn in his game. Jess must choose whether or not to risk her own dreams to save her family as the game becomes her reality.

I was handed this book last fall by the lovely Jenny Choy at Little Brown, who game me a tour of their beautiful (then) new space and handed me this book with a knowing “I think you’ll like this one.”  Well guess what, Jenny?  You were right.  I didn’t get the chance to pick it up for a while (and even longer to write this), but when the snows finally rolled in I had at, and yep - totally dug this book!  

The world Kate Elliot created feels historical, perhaps Greek or Roman, with the gladiator fightclubdeathmatch part replaced with the American Gladiatoresque challenge/race in an arena/coliseum.  The racial and class issues are as historic as they are timely. Moreover, they are given due diligence without becoming righteously preachy or superseding the other aspects of character development and allow for good parallels to be drawn.  Teachers, this could be an easy way to crack open a conversation about diversity in this world and our own with 7-9th graders.  Jes isn’t just biracial, she’s stuck between two social classes, a young woman discovering herself, a sister, a daughter, a friend, an athlete, and she is capable of love and struggles with forgiveness and hard decisions.   She’s a multifaceted character in a complex world. She’s wholly human and one I think many young people of many colors and social classes might find appealing. Maybe they’ll have themselves an adventure and a think while reading Court of Fives (until you trick them into #hardtalks and ruin it you teachers, gawd)!

I recommend this for fans of the Hunger Games, Percy Jackson, or like...Lindsey Davis books (I haven’t read any, but they’re classical, right?!).  This is probably best for ages 12 and up.  

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Green Beans ala Carter

You be aware that President Jimmy Carter, he of the peanut farming and Iran hostage crisis, and a heck of a lot of good deeds done around the world (there's that small honor of a Nobel Peace prize or something), announced just a few days ago that he has cancer.  
Source: ushistory.org
I'm saddened to hear that and hope he has good people around him and that recovery is in the cards so he can keep doing said good deed around the world. Who can't get behind a guy who belongs to a gang of geriatrics called the Elders? Those punks push world peace, you guys!  

I made this green bean dish a few weeks ago for my Presidential themed potluck, where I also made Michelle Obama's Minty Spring Pea Salad. Green beans, it turns out, were noted in a few places as one of Carter's favorite foods. Factoring in the peanut farming was easy enough, and voila! Green beans ala Carter.

Green Beans ala Carter

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Iced Coconut Latte

Do you enjoy fancy coffee beverages?  Do you sometimes feel as though a pirate may jump around the corner, cackling maniacally when you go to pay for it at the coffee shop or when you decide to buy a pre-made one at the store because the price is usually around eight dollars, one kidney, and the naming rights to your children?  As much fun as it would be to name a kid after a coffee beverage (“This is my baby, Non-fat Flat White Smith”), it’s also kind of ridonkulous to me that sometimes I pay like three to five bucks for a drink I could in some cases make on my own dayum time if I weren’t say...lazy.  I started to wonder if I could sort of make a coffee drink like one I’ve always really liked, Vita Coco’s Original Cafe Latte.  It’s available at that link but also available in most grocery stores in MA, and usually costs around $2.50-$3.00.  If you do that once, fine, but it’s not the most generous of pours, and that it can add up fast if say, you want two to fifteen of them a month.  Was there a way to make this at home, using say, the coffee and coconut and milk I already had?  I do enjoy a nice cold-brew made in a French press overnight in the summer, and it struck me that the easiest thing in the world would be to cold-brew my coffee using coconut juice instead of water.
Iced Coconut Latte

SCIENCE. Or something.   I’m clearly writing about this because it worked. Be cool, guys -- this discovery is about as important as when Ben Franklin, my favorite nudist, decided to take his tenders and also key on a kite out into a lightning storm to see what would happen.  I’ve never been accused of being a mathlete, but I think if you make a big batch of this, it’ll wind up saving you a bit over time (guesstimating that coffee is $9-12/lb, a 12 oz can of coconut juice can be purchased for $1 and up, and milk is...probably in your fridge already).  Also, there is no price for feeling smug, and you can get that too if you make this instead of buying it.  

Sidebar: Please note that I did not call this Thai.  Because seriously, why do we call everything with coconut Thai?  Do they even grow coffee in Thailand?  Coconuts grow like...anywhere near the equator.  Wouldn’t something like a coconut coffee drink be better served by calling it Mexican (just behind Thailand on the list of top coconut production in the world), or Brazilian (top producer of coffee in the world, also on the coconut list?) or even like...Indian. Get some Indian-Brazilian-Mexican Iced Coconut Coffee drink here right now! Not everything Mexican includes chile, dudes.  MIKE DROP.

Iced Coconut Latte
(Single serving)
Iced Coconut Latte
2 Tbsp ground coffee (heaping Tbsp for richer coffee flavor)
1 12 oz can coconut juice
¼ cup milk
ice, ice, baby
French Press

  1. Pour coffee and coconut juice into a French press, but don’t press yet. Place in fridge and let chill 6-8 hours.
  2. Press.  
  3. Pour into a large cup and add milk and ice.  
  4. If you feel fancy, add a straw.  
  5. Enjoy.  

You can make cold-press coffee even if you don’t have a French press!  Just let the mixture sit in a jar overnight, and then pour it through a coffee cone filter.
I wound up adding just a touch more milk to mine, because I prefer non-fat milk.  I suspect with a higher fat percentage the creaminess will work with the ¼ cup pour, but you get your calcium on any which way you want it!  
You could probably also use almond, soy or other milk substitute, but I’d warn you to be careful that the coconut already has a lot of sugar; you should probably use an unsweetened milk substitute unless you like feeling your teeth actively rotting.  
You may have a bit too much coconut juice for the size of the French press.  Just freeze any extra and make a coconut ice cube to use when you serve this!  

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Once upon an island: A Brief History of Montmaray, by Michelle Cooper

Once upon a time in a land far away, but not too far way if you’re English or coastally European, there was an independent kingdom named Montmaray.  Once a tiny island principality, the population has dropped to roughly a dozen, including the ruling family, the FitzOsbournes, comprised of our narrator, orphaned sixteen-year-old Sophie, her slightly ferral little sister, her cousin who records the history of the island, and her uncle, the king, who would have been declared legally insane long ago had they wanted to let that cat out of the bag.  The rest of the island’s shrinking population is a scattershot of loyal villagers.  Island life is rough - subsistence based and supplemented by a few ships that pass in a year - and hardly what you would picture for royalty, yet the FitzOsbournes make due.  They love their island dearly, crumbling castle and all, and often rely upon their rich aunt who provides for Sophie’s brother (the crown prince), who lives off-island to attend Eton.  The year, however, is 1936, and nations considerably larger than their own are beginning to test the waters; international politics becomes a hot topic amongst the Montmaravians and their loyal servants, one of whom may or may not be the apple of Sophie’s eye.  When a group of German “archaeologists” lands on shore, the FitzOsbournes are suddenly thrown into the deep end.  

This book has a slow start and potentially misleading cover (what is this, Wuthering Heights? Dracula? Lord Byron, are you there?) but an exceptionally strong finish!  I believe enchanted would be a word I would use to describe what this book did to me.  I read it in the spring solely because it’s on my (official) summer reading list, and I had contemplated recommending we cut it.  I’m so, so glad I gave it a chance, because I really loved it!  It has it all: castles, accents (I imagine, but whatever), intrigue, history, romance, danger, and yes...sequels that I’m dying to pick up!  We don’t have to walk away from these lovable, quirky characters! I give this two finger and two toe thumbs up, and recommend it for all school/YA library collections, along with those of the female persuasion aged 12 and up (there’s some medical violence that could be upsetting to younger readers but it’s otherwise cool), but dudes who maybe watch Downton, you should check this out too!  
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