Sunday, October 27, 2013

Review--The Unlikely Journal of Architecture edited by Bernie Mojzes and AC Wise



I approached TheUnlikely Journal of Architecture edited by Bernie Mojzes & AC Wise with a certain amount of anticipation—my experience with their magazine, The Unlikely Journal of Entomology, and AC Wise's often excellent fiction, led me to believe this would at least be an interesting experiment. TUJOE is an eclectic mix of fiction, a journal with affection for the intriguing idea, and I expected the editors to choose with similar tendencies. In that I was not disappointed.

The Journal opens with Go Through by Alma Alexander—a piece which comes into the vicinity of taking itself too seriously, but redeems the effort by flirting with the profound. Following on its heels however, the mildly novel trappings of Three Adventures of Simon Says, The Elder prove mere decorations on an ultimately shallow, pointless story, falling flat on final examination. Empty characters bleed into the background of this post-apocalyptic adventure tale set in the graveyard remains of a playground. Next, The Painted Bones features a shrill MC who managed to at least interest me up until the last flippant, clich├ęd line, which took a topic and character with infinite opportunity for depth and meaning, and dashed them against the rocks of tired humor.

A standard and annoying main character, whose arc is fatally weakened by predictability and the inability to delve beyond the surface of the presentation, ultimately hides the interesting idea and structure of The Dross Record. The ending is an ending only in that the text stops, resolving nothing, nor inviting the reader to draw conclusions beyond those on the page. Similarly, The Tower is about a child MC coping with tragedy, an idea unaided by the weak prose which renders the voice childish instead of child-like. The uninspired idea and execution adds nothing of value to this predictable and tedious entry.

On the other end of the spectrum, Geddarien by Rose Lemberg is a surreal Holocaust story about music, the power to move past tragedy, and the ultimate deliverance of the dead into the future by those they leave to struggle on. MC Zelig's progression from student at his grandfather's knee to survivor is beautiful and elegantly offered within a poignant theme often mishandled. This story is by far my favorite, followed by The Latest Incarnation of Secondhand Johnny by Mark Rigney, the issue's closing piece about dreams,  empowerment and storytelling, then the lesser Go Through. Were the rest of the issue as well-laid as this, my overall impression would be incandescent.



In conclusion, the Unlikely Journal of Architecture shows promise for future installments, and offers a few pieces worth investigating, but falls short of being a completely masterful edition. Though an issue of erratic quality, the ideas presented prove sufficient enough I am interested to see what Unlikely does going forward. A journal supporting unusual ideas has considerable worth.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Vintage Review: The Great Lenore by JM Tohline 6/29/11

JM Tohline opens The Great Lenore with a dedication: “Dear Reader, Take this book and fly.

An auspicious opening, but one setting the bar high for the writer. So the question is, does Lenore have wings?

The characters of The Great Lenore are an ensemble thrown together largely by chance, and book surrounds the wave one young woman’s existence casts on the seemingly calm surface of their lives. All who meet Lenore love her. All who meet Lenore are changed by her.

From the point of view of Richard, a successful writer trying to start his second novel, Tohline leads down a trail populated by withered souls, copious amounts of alcohol, and the fickle depths of money, love and pain. We are presented with the conflicting truths of life, and watch as they crash against each other, indifferent to the bruises left behind.

This book drips with twists, littering the roadway with broken hearts and misplaced dreams. It is about how much influence luck has on our lives, the strange paths we find ourselves on, even when we never intended to leave the well-traveled one. Characters make tiny mistakes, with huge consequences. It is a study in frustration tinged with irony.

Tohline nods to his forebears in his prose and his themes, but his characters are his own. He knows them, and portrays them to the reader with grace. His characters struggle through their emotions, fighting to survive them when they are too far-gone to be concerned with what is right.

What I admire most about Tohline’s style, something I didn’t expect, was the sense of suspension. Not only does one become lost in the plot and characters, one becomes caught in the pause. The hesitation of a breath. The ticking of a clock. You linger in the silence between words, caught and held, savoring the moment. At one point, Richard says, “In general, I am a connoisseur of silence: I seek it out and enjoy it, and in social settings I use it to my advantage.” Like his narrator, Tohline uses silence and its fellows to great effect. It is a rare trait, and one I watch for in a writer.

Lenore lingers. Days after reading it, Lenore creeps into my thoughts. A mystery surrounds her, one that is never fully resolved. Lenore, for all her remarkable qualities, remains an undefined factor in the universe, her personal truths shrouded in the aura of her presence. Despite (or because of) her obscurity, she fascinates me.

So does The Great Lenore have wings?

Yes. And she flies.

This book is a wonderful introduction to JM Tohline. I will be watching for his next work.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Raven Girl by Audrey Niffenegger



In Raven Girl, Audrey Niffenegger (author of The Time Traveler's Wife) tells a story about the child of a raven and postman, a raven born in a girl's body who longs to fly. Written as a collaboration for a new ballet with Royal Ballet Resident Choreographer Wayne McGregor (Raven Girl ran May 24-June 8), gives us a fascinating new fairytale, deep, dark, and wonderful. Niffenegger's stunning and evocative illustrations support this beautiful narrative of longing and transformation. This modern and wholly new piece delivers a quiet heroin who seeks her own fulfillment, eschewing the savior white knight to subtly twist the trope. Our Raven Girl finds her peace through her own agency, with grace and determination.

We dwell within Niffenegger's world briefly in this short novelette, but the impact proves satisfying and her characters remain memorable, long after the cover is closed. A gorgeous book and story, with the depth to hold up to multiple readings, I highly recommend you add Raven Girl to your library.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Coconutty Goodness: Toasty Macaroon Meringues









These are so delightfully edible, I had to share the recipe.

I had egg whites leftover and extra coconut from the lemon curd filling I made for the coconut cake last week, so I went looking for coconut macaroon recipes. I found one from Alton Brown which was basically meringues with toasted coconut, and thought it sounded good, but the recipe didn't have enough coconut in it as far as I was concerned, so I used the idea as a jumping off point and made my own recipe:
Toasted chips

Coconut chips
Toasty Macaroon Meringues
Makes: approx. 7 dozen (depending on size)
Oven: 350˚ F
4 large egg whites (measures about half a cup)
Pinch of salt
2/3-3/4 cup sugar (to taste)
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 1/2 unsweetened coconut (half finely shredded, half coconut chips) toasted

Toast coconut in 350˚ F oven for 5-10 minutes, stirring at least once. Only toast one grate of coconut at a time so it browns evenly. Watch your pans closely as coconut goes from toasty to burnt in seconds. I used the fine shred and the bigger coconut chips because it's what I had. It would only change the texture slightly if you wanted to use all of one or the other.
                                                             
Beat egg whites and salt in stand mixer or with electric hand mixer until they begin to stiffen. I usually do almost everything by hand, but with egg whites it is considerably easier with electricity. Be careful not to over beat your whites—easy to do in the stand mixer, particularly





add half of the sugar

Add half the sugar, beat until combined, add remaining sugar and vanilla


Add vanilla

Beat until stiff and glossy










Beat until stiff and beautifully glossy. Few things are as gorgeous as the glossiness of a meringue, IMO. Keep in mind these are raw egg whites as you try to resist tasting the lovely fluffiness. (I failed in my resistance. Thus far, still alive.)

SO PRETTY










Fold in fine coconut, then coconut chips. Again, keep in mind these are still raw egg whites. (Failed once again. HOLY CRAP LIGHTLY SWEET COCONUT MARSHMALLOW YUM)






Drop teaspoons 1-2 inches apart
Drop batter by teaspoons onto parchment lined baking sheet 1-2 inches apart. Feel free to crowd these, within reason, as they don't rise or spread. You just want ample air flow. I prefer them small, with more brown edges to chewy center. You can make them larger, but keep in mind the baking time will increase and they will be slightly softer in the middle. Still scrumptious, though, I'm sure.



bake 15-20 minutes
Bake 15-20 minutes until brown and yummy (18 minutes was the sweet spot on my oven) Try not to burn your tongue. (They cool quickly.) You're an adult, you can wait.

Cool on wire rack for at least an hour before storing in air-tight container, making sure to put parchment between each layer of cookies. These stick together rather well after a few days

cool on rack for an hour
Fabulous warm or room temperature, these are best when still crispy from the oven, though they remain toothsome and wonderful for several days. Keep in mind these are basically meringues, so moisture is the enemy. They will soften up a little, but I made them on two wet days, and they still retained some of their crispness around the edges. It really doesn't matter, they are toasty chewy coconutty deliciousness, through and through. Don't expect them to last long though. I had to make a second batch because there were only six left from the day before. Everyone I've tested them on is enthusiastic, particularly the coconut lovers. Plus they are gluten-free, relatively low in sugar and fat, but taste quite decadent.


Also, if you were so inclined, I'd be willing to wager they'd be lovely with a 1 to 1 ½ cups of toasted sliced almonds folded in with the coconut. Or dipped in chocolate. Or both.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Having Your Cake

My mom fell drastically ill in April, as I've mentioned on Twitter, and I'm her day-to-day caregiver so blogging has had to take a backseat. She is well on the road to recovery and we're counting our blessings at this point. Life is still really stressful, busy and tiring, but we're beginning to find some stability, and I hope to return to reviewing soon. In the meantime have pics of the gluten-free Coconut Cake with Lemon Curd Filling I made for my mom and grandfather's birthdays. <3





Thursday, April 4, 2013

Vintage Review: Shock Totem #4 - September 4, 2011

The glossy cover of Shock Totem #4 is striking. More like a high-quality paperback or graphic novel than a magazine, it holds its place on the shelf with confidence. This publication will never be found in the recycle bin, nor filed away for later reference as market research, like some of my other fiction magazines. The art design and layout is to be applauded; inside, creepy black-and-white images accent the text.

But content is what counts in a publication, and thankfully Shock Totem #4 is brimming. With approximately one-hundred and thirty pages, there are nine short stories, two interviews and a number of non-fiction pieces. They are worth the time.

I was looking forward to Lee Thompson’s story Beneath the Weeping Willow, and wasn’t disappointed. Told in second-person POV, it is the experiences of a twelve-year-old autistic boy as his family tries to handle his condition. The piece is beautiful and moving, and I cannot recall a better use of second-person POV. I can't put it better than K. Allen Wood, Shock Totem's editor-in-chief did in the Editor's Note: "as you read it, you will realize it is the only way it could have been told." This is the first work of fiction in the issue, and sets the bar high.

Other stories which stood out were Rennie Sparks's Web of Gold, the tale of a sociopathic temp; Full Dental by Tom Bordonaro, a hilarious look at what happens to office workers and the Demons of Hell under the influence of today's PC-panicked HR departments; and, The Many Ghosts of Annie Orens by A. C Wise, about how chronic visitations by ghosts influence a woman through her life.

The interviews by Mercedes M. Yardley and Nick Contor, of Rennie Sparks and Kathe Koja respectively, are insightful and amusing. Shock Totem's crew also review a number of books, movies and albums in the section Strange Goods and Other Oddities. The writing is vibrant, and though reviews of Doom Metal and Power Metal albums are not usually my thing, the two by K. Allen Wood and Alex Mull were both of interest, and Mull actually raised a chuckle from my skeptical self. The book and film reviews were well-presented, enthusiastic and often amusing, irrespective of their subject--particularly Ryan Bridger's idiosyncratic look at the graphic novel Harbor Moon.

K. Allen Wood's essay Living Dead: A Personal Apocalypse reads like fiction. Good fiction. A gripping piece about his father, it is poignant, grim and redemptive. I've read it several times now, and it still holds my attention.

My favorite section is Howling through the Keyhole, in which the writers featured in the issue present "The stories behind the stories". As a writer, it is both fascinating and educational to read what writer thinks about their work, to hear the inspiration for an individual piece. The fact that several columns are lovely to read, or outright funny doesn't hurt.

Overall, I am well pleased with Shock Totem #4, and will be saving my pennies for the both the next issue and the three previous.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Spring!

 

Big Dog and Littler Dog say "Happy Spring-related Holiday-of-your-choosing!"