Today, as it happens, is apparently Great Poetry Reading Day. Who’d have thunk it? Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never been one much for what most consider ‘great’ poetry. By and large it’s always confounded me with its fancy language and structured prose. I remember in fourth grade having to write haikus and limericks and whatnot for a project and struggling every step of the way. Creative genius? Yeah, no.

However, later, when I was allowed to discover the art on my own and at my own pace, I found I enjoyed that freestyling poetry was more up my alley. I guess I have this thing against rules. I love the pacing of matched syllables and rhyming words, and with the English language being so extensive, it’s remarkable what all one can do.

Since then, I’ve composed a few humble pieces here and there when the inspiration struck me, and I’ve written some for special church services (namely Christmas and Easter), but certainly nothing to match the greats out there like Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickenson, William Shakespeare, and a whole bunch of others.

I enjoy the ditties and ballads replete in Brian Jaques’ Redwall series, the oracles in Emily Rodda’s Rowan of Rin series, and the bits throughout Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings (and other works). But since today is the day for reading great poetry, maybe it’s time to delve into something more ‘classic’, and who knows? Maybe, this time, it’ll strike me.

So what about you? Do you enjoy poetry, and if so, what sort? Who do you like to read? Or is writing in verse more your cup of tea? Do tell!

Pumpkin Season Isn’t Over Yet!!!

Hey, everyone! Can you believe April’s almost over already, and we’re still waiting for spring to . . . you know, spring? I hope this means we’ll have a nice, long autumn ─ but it is what it is, right? All we can do is make the best of each day we’re given, snow or shine.

Anywho, since the heat hasn’t kicked in yet, cold-time food is still in season. This isn’t so bad, I have an easier time figuring out warming foods than what to serve in the summer. Today I’m sharing one of my new favorite muffin recipes. It’s muffin-y (which is a plus, because let’s face it: muffins are amazing). It’s pumpkin-y (which is a double plus, because I love pumpkins and (so far) everything involving that wonderfully orange puree). It’s also spicy (the warm, cinnamon kind, not burn-your-mouthhouse-down kind), and nutty with a wonderfully sweet-nutty streusel topping.

Mouth watering yet? I know I could go for another one of these babies.

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup white sugar

1/3 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 cup pumpkin puree

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Streusel Topping:

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup finely chopped pecans

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup cold butter

Instructions:

  • Gather all your ingredients. I have a set of tiny ramekins that I like to use (once I remembered that I had them). Grease a jumbo muffin pan (one of the best inventions ever, really), and preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Combine all the dry ingredients except the pecans into a large bowl (what I did this time was replace both the white and brown sugar with a scant 2/3 cup maple sugar, because we have a lot of it after this past season).
  • Combine all the wet ingredients in a separate bowl and whisk until smooth, then add to the dry ingredients and mix only until everything’s all wet (lumpy batter makes tender muffins). Now you can fold in the chopped pecans. I didn’t have quite enough, so I made up the difference with walnuts (don’t tell my older brother, maybe he won’t notice). Pour into prepared muffin cups about three quarters full.
  • Now for the streusel topping, because who doesn’t love a nice streusel topping? I used maple sugar for this, too, and white whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose. Combine the sugar, pecans, and flour in a bowl, then cut in the butter until crumbly. I rubbed it in with my fingers because the pecans make cutting in with a fork (the only way I know how to cut in butter) too complicated. Sprinkle the topping onto the batter and pat in, to help make sure it sticks to the muffin during and after baking. It’s kind of pointless to put a topping on only to have it fall off at the first opportunity, right?
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for about 5 minutes before removing from the pan. Best served warm (but then, isn’t just about everything?)

* Don’t have buttermilk? Don’t worry, I don’t usually, either. A neat trick I learned is to put 2 tablespoons of vinegar (usually white distilled, but any kind will work, really) into a measuring cup and then add milk to the 1 cup line (that’s 1 tablespoon for every 1/2 cup, like in this recipe). Let it sit for a few minutes to let cool science happen, and you’ll end up with soured, thickened milk. I use this just about all the time. Another substitution I use is an equal measure of yogurt or sour cream. Those three ─ buttermilk, yogurt, and sour cream ─ are pretty interchangeable, so it’s easy to use whatever’s on hand, but since the yogurt and sour cream we have at home are both super thick, I’ll use the vinegar/milk mixture if I want it a little thinner.

These muffins are so yummy with warm spices and crunchy nuts on the inside and a sweet, nutty topping. They go well with dinner (had these with a roast) or breakfast! This recipe is also easy enough to switch up, too. Don’t have or don’t like pumpkin? Try it with squash puree instead! (Or, you could try replacing it with applesauce, although I haven’t tried that and I’m not entirely sure what the texture will be like. You could also just switch it out with sour cream or yogurt, too). Change the pumpkin pie spice to just cinnamon, or any of your favorite mix of spices. I’m thinking of trying chai spice next time, a combination of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and ground black pepper. I bet coriander would taste good, too. If you don’t have or don’t like pecans, you can nix the nuts altogether or switch them out for your favorite nut as well (like walnuts).

Try them out and tell me what you think, or what flavors you played with ─ I’d love to hear about it!

Falconsbane Insider: Kedashian Warriors

Hey, everyone! Today’s post is kind of exciting (at least I’m stoked). Firstly, the first draft of Falconsbane is finally finished! It took 5 1/2 months and over 200,000 words, but it’s done. The next step is beginning to wrangle that mess into something resembling an organized story. And then doing it again, tuning it finer and finer. But this firs milestone is huge, people, so thanks for all your support!

Secondly, a few weeks ago I shared a bit about the region of Nyan (and if you missed it, check it out here). In a later post I promised that I would be back with more about the other regions, and today’s that day!

Excited yet?

Today we’re talking about Kedash (cue the awesome colors . . .)

Kedash is the second-smallest region and Nyan’s neighbor to the west, on the other side of the Adrian Sea and River Geron. Its borders are with the nation of Bordag, divided by a fairly large range of mountains that spans Phen’s entire western border and beyond (admittedly, I’m still trying to figure out an official name for those mountains). The western nations are not particularly hostile toward Phen, and so there are several trade routes that pass through and provide commerce. The landscape is pretty rocky along this stretch of the mountains, and it’s within these cliffs and ravines that the Kedashian branch of the Phennish Army trains. They like to call themselves the Warriors of the Sable Moon, and here’s their crest and motto:

This one seems a little more abstract than Nyan’s, doesn’t it? The motto speaks to the idea of being the ‘shadow’ or ‘left hand’, meaning that they are basically a corps of assassins. Although they don’t always work in the dark, their most prized skills are those surrounding stealth and sneakery, and often their personalities tend toward mischief and pranking ─ after all, if no one catches you, you must be pretty good. In that regard, life on base can get hazardous.

Because of their motto, their crest depicts a sable moon and shadow, along with a set of throwing stars, which are just one of the many differing weapons used by them. Of all the branches, theirs makes use of the widest range of weapons, and are rather indiscriminate so long as it isn’t heavy or cumbersome. If it can be carried lightly on the body, it’s fair game, because while their Nyan brothers rely much on their horses in battle on open terrain, Kedashians work best on foot and in crowded places like towns and cities. Have you ever heard of parkour? Add flash bombs and martial arts and you’ve got yourself a Kedashian warrior.

Did I say flash bombs? Yes. Yes I did. Small explosives are a fairly recent development, and adding these little darlings to the arsenal of short blades, blowguns, and weighted ropes gives you a recipe for disaster.

Another (and perhaps the more utilized) purpose of these warriors is espionage, which lets them use their sneaking abilities to their hearts content, and during wartime they often spend the greater portion of the conflict behind enemy lines. With a Kedashian around nothing you say is a secret, but the scary part is that you never can tell if you’re being watched or not. If you’re protected by one, you can hardly be safer. If you’re the enemy of one, well . . . I’m sorry. The best you can hope for is mud in your cupboards and bees in your closet.

Reynwood’s Reviews: Across the Nightingale Floor

Across the Nightingale Floor (Tales of the Otori, Book 1)Title: Across the Nightingale Floor

Series: Tales of the Otori, Book One

Author: Lian Hearn

My rating: 2 of 5


In the black-walled fortress at Inuyama, the warlord Iida Sadamu surveys his famous nightingale floor. Constructed with exquisite skill, it sings at the tread of each human foot. No assassin can cross it unheard.

The youth Takeo has been brought up in a remote mountain village among the Hidden, a reclusive and spiritual people who have taught him only the ways of peace. But unbeknownst to hi him, his father was a celebrated assassin and a member of the Tribe, an ancient network of families with extraordinary, preternatural sills. When Takeo’s village is pillaged, he is rescued and adopted by the mysterious Lord Otori Shigeru. Under the tutelage of Shigeru, he learns that he, too, possesses the skills of the Tribe, and with this knowledge he embarks on a journey that will lead him across the nightingale floor and to his destiny within the walls of Inuyama.

Overcome the intensity of his love and conflicted by split loyalties and his own divided nature, Takeo realized that he must make his own way on this journey of revenge and treachery. honor and loyalty, betrayal and love.


My thoughts:

I have to say that I feel a little bad giving so few stars, as I can empathize with how hard the author worked to bring this story to everyone, but if you asked me how I liked it I could only tell you that ‘it was okay’, and at least on Goodreads, that’s what the two stars mean. However, don’t let my opinion shy you away if you think it sounds like something you’d like ─ you never know.

Anywho, this all began with a library booksale, where I found the second volume of this series. I’ve not come across many novels immersed in Japanese history, so I was excited to try it. As it turned out, though, this is not an actual historical fiction, which I’ll admit did bum me out a little. It’s heavily influenced by Japanese history, culture, custom, climate, and everything else, but in a fictional setting.

I loved the names, and Hearn does paint vivid pictures with her prose. The story, one of political intrigue, spite and revenge, secrets and differing loyalties, is actually a bit of a tragedy, which I think fits into the style of a lot of old legends and fairytales. Even though the two main characters in the story were given and vastly supported in the opportunity to have an ‘happily ever after’, extenuating circumstances did not allow for it. Sorry for the spoilers, no Cinderella ending here. At least in this volume, we’ll have to see about the series as a whole.

That part I didn’t mind too much (I’m one of those rather fond of romantic tragedies, remember Sergil and Lyla?). I suppose most of my trouble stems from the characters. None of them are especially moral, in the gallant knightly way we like to think of heroes being, these days. Shigeru wasn’t so bad, and he was truly the martyr in all of this. Lord Iida is a slippery snake of a villain in all the cruel and vile villainous ways of villains. His part was done pretty well, if you ask me.

So I suppose it’s actually Takeo that I had problems with. He’s our young protagonist, and as the summary states, he is a very conflicted and divided young man. For being raised in the ways of peace, he’s patroned brothels before the book even begins ─ so I have to say I can’t respect him a whole lot from that. He also succumbs to the desire for revenge fairly quickly, and it’s one of his driving forces throughout the story. Not keen on violence and murder, he yet hungers to learn the skills of his assassin heritage, imagines how to kill certain people, and seems okay with mercy killing. His desire for Kaede felt, to me, more sensual than anything else (but there’s very little such content and only brief, and in brief detail, which I can appreciate if it had to be in there at all).

What good I will say about our embroiled youth is that he is very good at what he does, even to surprising his teacher and fellow Tribe members. He is also unshakably loyal to Shigeru, his adoptive father, and is torn by the events manipulating everyone to such sorrow and trouble. I still can’t really figure out where he stands as a person.

In the end, I can’t say this has been one of my favorite stories, but did enjoy the novelty of it, and I am interested enough to see where the characters go from here to read book two.


Up Next:

Grass for His Pillow (Tales of the Otori, Book 2)

Grass for His Pillow, Tales of the Otori Book 2

Rumination on Books, Project Update, Excerpts, and More

I was reading one night, far later than I should have been (but what else is new, right?) but when I did finally pull myself away and closed the book, I paused a moment to consider it. It wasn’t a very large book, and without its dust cover it was very plain: black cardboard binding and a number of thin pages sandwiched between; and I thought to myself, ‘This is just about what every book is, in its most basic form’. A stack of paper between cardboard.

Humble. Yet mysterious.

We see these books everywhere, especially if you frequent garage sales, second hand stores, and library book sales. Piles upon piles of them like treasures hidden in plain sight, and I wonder at it. As a writer I can understand even more now than before that these books, these simple stacks of paper bound together, carry the heart and soul of the person who wrote them into being. Somebody somewhere had an idea. A dream. And they put the time and effort, the blood, sweat, and tears, the long hours and the late nights, into bringing that dream or that idea about. They battled doubt and struggled against fear, celebrated triumph and wept in frustration, maybe even teetering on the brink of despair at times, but never gave up. Never ran away. They pressed forward to emerge with a creation all their own, a piece of their very being in tangible form. A book is an amalgamation of all of that.

To hold a book is to hold a piece of someone’s heart and soul, and while you may look at the fancy art on the cover and read the title and summary, you never really do know just what this book is about until you crack it open.


Project Update

Hello, Readers! This is me, reporting in with an update on how things are coming along in regards to Falconsbane. Looking back, it’s been five months (just about to the day) since I took fingers to keyboard and began. At once I think ‘Wow! How time flies.’ and ‘This is taking forever!’

Jumping into a completely new world and working with a whole new cast of characters has been a challenge, after spending the last five years engrossed in the same place charting the journey of the same people. I feel it might take a couple of draft run-throughs to truly settle in, know my characters well, and tell their story to the best of my ability. So thank you for all of your support and patience!

As for the state of this first draft: we’re almost done! Finally! I’ve tried within these past two weeks to finish by the end of the month. I really wanted to write ‘The End’ tonight.

Unfortunately, that’s not exactly going to happen. There’s a quote that fits the situation perfectly:

Image result for i love deadlines quote

There was just too much that needed to happen and I couldn’t get it done in time. But don’t despair ─ we are close! If I can keep up this pace and restock the highest caffeine tea I can find, it’ll be finished within the next fortnight (Lord willing). And after that? Why, round two, of course! I’ll share more about that when the time comes.

But now? The best part!


Excerpts

I promised excerpts, and it’s finally time to let you at them. This is rough, unedited, first draft stuff, people. About as raw as you can get.

Roscha ducked under the first swing and brought his sword up to block the next, hands trembling for the shock of the blow. Eijun meant business this time.

“If you don’t surrender, I’m going to have to slay you,” Shyloh warned. “My conscience wouldn’t like it, but he’s not at my shoulder at the moment. What’s it going to be?”

Silence hung over the assembled troops like a blanket, a mixture of emotions riling for supremacy. For at once they were thrilled at the opportunity to finally be going on their first real mission and anxious at the reality and severity of the occasion. Border skirmishes weren’t anything to sneeze at.

The need for relief forces was even worse.

Judah scoffed. “Heroic. That I doubt. There is little heroic in what we’ve just accomplished. Nothing more than a necessary slaughter.” He didn’t look at any of them when he spoke, remaining by the battlement and staring down at the dead dragon with his arms folded across his chest.

They were a noble people, and proud; resolute in justice, firm in conviction, and unmoving in judgment. To be condemned by them, one was hard-pressed to prove his innocence.


In Other News:

Across the Nightingale Floor (Tales of the Otori, Book 1)Currently (still) reading Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn. I was hoping to have it finished by now, but such lofty aspirations fell short in the wake of trying to finish this first draft. I’m about three quarters of the way through, and so far I’m enjoying the novelty of it. Check back in next week for the whole story (and by that I mean book review)


Lastly, I want to share with you a little craft project I’ve recently finished. When I get into a writing project I always wind up investing my rudimentary crafty skills into it, but these silly little things give me a warm-fuzzy, so you can’t stop me! Mwa-ha-ha!

A-hem.

Anyway.

A couple of years ago a neighbor of mine got me into kumihimo braiding (a Japanese style of braiding with typically 8+ strands), and I’ve picked it up as a hobby ever since then. This bracelet is made of seven such braids, and each one features the tribal colors of each of Phen’s regions from Falconsbane. It pleases me to look at it.

You may recognize the dark gray, light gray, and yellow one of Nyan from a post a couple of weeks ago, and my intent is to write a feature post for each of the regions (namely their individual branches of the Phennish army, because it’s been a large factor in the development of the story). Within the next couple of weeks I’ll have another one ready, so be looking forward to that!


How about you? What kind of hobbies do you fiddle with in your spare time? I’d love to hear about it!

 

March in With Apples and Cinnamon

Happy Saturday, everyone! And guess what? Happy Spring, too! As of this past week, the calendar season of Spring has finally arrived! We’re so close . . .

A week ago today was St. Patrick’s Day (if you missed my post on Celtic reads, check it out here), and my family celebrated with an hearty meal of Irish dishes. Today I want to share one of them with you: apple cake. A little sweet and plenty delicious, this is great with a cup of tea or coffee, as dessert, breakfast, or afternoon snack. Really, it’s good whenever.

Ingredients:

  • 1lb baking apples
  • 1 3/4 cups self-rising flour*
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, plus more for greasing
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tbsp milk

Streusel Topping

  • 3/4 cup self-rising flour*
  • 6 Tbsp cold butter
  • scant 1/2 cup sugar

Instructions:

  • Gather all your ingredients. I’ve just recently learned that there’s a fancy French term for this: mise en place (mee-zhan-plahss (or something to that affect)) It basically means getting your stuff together. There’s a special word for everything it seems, these days.
  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9in round springform cake pan (but, I mean, if you have a square springform pan, go for it)
  • To make the streusel topping, sift the flour into a bowl and rub the butter in with your fingertips until it resembles coarse crumbs (or you could use a fork, if you don’t feel like touching lovely, soft flour). Stir in the sugar and then set aside. (I’m thinking about trying brown sugar next time for a deeper color and flavor).
  • Peel, core, and thinly slice the apples; you might want to dress them with a little lemon juice to keep them from browning, too, while you prepare the rest of the batter.
  • Sift the flour into a bowl with the cinnamon and salt (I’m thinking of increasing the cinnamon by at least 1/2 a teaspoon next time, because I love cinnamon bunches and tons). Place the butter and sugar in a separate bowl and beat together until light and fluffy. Then add the eggs one at a time, adding a wee bit of the flour/cinnamon mixture with the second egg. Fold in half of the remaining flour mixture (be gentle, don’t fold too hard or you’ll make it cry). With the second half of the flour add the milk and keep folding until combined.
  • Spoon the batter into the cake pan and smooth the surface, then cover with the apple slices, then sprinkle the streusel over the top. Bake in the preheated oven for about an hour (60mins) or until browned and firm to the touch. Let cool in the pan.

Serve this wonderfulness all by itself or with a dollop of vanilla ice cream ─ and don’t forget a hot cup of tea or coffee! The outer edge of this cake is crisp, like a crust, and the center is softer and apple-y.

*If you’re like me, and don’t have self-rising flour on hand, you can make some super easy! For every 1 cup of flour add 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Voila!


Try this recipe at home and tell me what you think! Did you switch it up with the sugar and spices? Pears instead of apples? How would you tweak it to your own taste? Recipes are amazing for their flexibility, very gracious to catering to the cook’s preferences ─ that’s one of the ways that makes cooking and baking so much fun!

Celtic (and Close Enough) Reads

Background image by Ikaika of Pixabay

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone! I don’t know about you, but around our house, for a certain person in particular, this holiday is more special than birthdays and I think maybe even Christmas. This is serious, people. We usually celebrate by cooking up some authentic Irish cuisine for supper (but no, not corned beef and cabbage. There’s a taboo about that around here). How do you make merry on this day, where everyone claims to be, just a little bit, Irish? (My siblings and I have an ─ an ─ Irish grandfather somewhere back there in the greats. It’s enough for us).

Of course, there’s so much more to the Irish culture than clovers and certain, dark beverages. The Celtic history is rich and ancient, sparking the imaginations of generations of lore of grand kings, battles, songs, and glory. And who doesn’t love that knotwork? I know I do!

There are an infinite number of books surrounding Celtic legend and history, but today I want to tell you about the few (woesomely few) that I have read. You’ll probably notice that a good number of them are from the same author, and no, that’s no typo. The man’s a genius and I have really enjoyed his work, but I am looking for more stories from a broader range of authors, so if you know any, please share!

And now, without further adieu:


 The King Raven Trilogy  

I’ve mentioned this series by Stephen R. Lawhead before, but it’s such a good story, wrapping the legend of Robin Hood into Welsh guise. Full of wile, wits, and archery, this is so far my top favorite retelling of the story.


  The Song of Albion Trilogy  

Here’s another one that I fell in love with. The culture in this story is rich, brimming with Celtic epicness, as college student Lewis finds himself transported to the Otherworld, in which the ancient Celts are very real! His destiny becomes intricately interwoven with them as he learns their ways, earns their trust, and, eventually, their loyalty.

After all, one can’t save the worlds all by himself.

What I really loved about this trilogy was how the beginning and the ending merged together to form a loop. Kind of like one of those Celtic knots. Hm.


   How to Train Your Dragon  

Let’s break it up a wee bit and add one from someone else. How to Train Your Dragon is a Viking story by Cressida Cowell. What first began as a children’s story, How to Train Your Dragon has come to span all age groups with its heart. It carried way more depth than I was used to with the age genre (something we’ve been missing and need more of, personally).

It’s a story about growing up. Of becoming a Hero the Hard Way, through struggles, loss, and betrayal. But it also bears throughout the importance of friendship, sacrifice, and doing what is right even when it’s hard.


   Patrick  

As the title implies, this book, a standalone novel, is about Patrick. You know, Saint Patrick. The English boy who was taken to Ireland as a slave and then, after getting his freedom, up and went back! It’s been a while since I’ve read this, but it shows us that there is a power out there bigger than ourselves, prompting us to bigger and better things than we could ever do on our own.


  The Pendragon Cycle 

Last one, and again, one of Lawhead’s (I really need to find more by other authors. Any suggestions?) This cycle is the grand legend of King Arthur and Merlin (ah, Merlin) and the quest for kingship. If you’re a fan of all things Arthurian, your experience is not complete without this dozy under your belt. It’s intense and epic and has this awesome sword called Excalibur. Have you heard of it?


There are others on my to-read list as well:

Have you read any of these? What did you think of them? Let us know! Word of mouth is the best way to share about awesome books, so let’s talk!