No fuss Bread!!

For the longest time, I have wanted to bake my own bread. Most bread recipes are pretty daunting, especially the bit about kneading the life out of the dough. I cannot even manage to knead my chapatti dough properly, so I knew I would not be able to do it (the nick is couchpapaya for a reason).

So, when I came across this no knead baguette recipe, I knew I was going to try it out. And, if you missed it, I'll say it again it's NO KNEAD people! The best part about this recipe is it's so so so easy to put together. It took literally 5 minutes for me to assemble the dough last night, a few minutes of prep work today and voila - two perfectly airy, crusty baguettes in time for dinner. I put olives on one as shown on the blog and sprinkled some dry oregano on the tomato one. Delicious!!! I've also frozen half the batch to see if I can make them as needed during the week.

I'm so excited about this bread I'm off to Amazon to buy the book this recipe came from My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method by Jim Lahey. I foresee a lot of pizzas, foccacias and sandwich bread being baked in the PapayaHousehold in the near future. I've never been happier :)

3 fantasy series reviews ...

This has been the year a lot of my reading misconceptions were shattered. I thought I didn't like reading about vampires, and you all know how that turned out. I thought I couldnt read YA (young adult) fiction, or shape shifter stories but have since found out that a talented writer can hook me onto anything. And so I've decided to never say Never.

And if anyone (all 6 of you who read this blog) was wondering what happened to all the series recommendations posts I promised to write and didnt follow through on, I realized how pointless compiling a list of favorites was. This was because just after I published that post, I started reading the aforementioned shape shifter series which has since muscled out every other to become my favorite romance series - ever! So, in order to prevent more goofs of the same sort I've decided to just do a round-up of current favorites whenever I have a few to discuss. This post lists fantasy series.

The Queen's Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner

Series Order
The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, A Conspiracy of Kings (to be published 2010)

The Thief is the book that convinced me into adding YA novels to my reading list. I used to think Harry Potter was a one-off, and that I would not be able to relate to YA fiction. I picked this one up because of the attractive covers and without knowing it was YA. It's turned out to be the best impulse buy I ever made.

It's very hard to review this series without giving away major spoilers so I wont try. All I'll say is that the series revolves around the title character of the thief, Eugenides. Eugenides is rash, arrogant, impulsive and cocky, but he's also fiercely loyal, cunning, extremely intelligent and just an awesome character.

The books take place in a fictional region in the Meditteranean with the three countries of Sounis, Eddis and Attolia and there is enough political intrigue to satisfy adult readers. And I loved the romance which develops over the course of the latter books.

Ms. Turner is also responsible for over-turning another of my cherished notions. It's no secret that I love big, fat, meaty books. Here book 3 is the fattest book with 400+ pages of largish font, but I thought that each book was very well told within it's word count

And we have new religions and plenty of divine intervention but I was able to read these just because the subject wasn't delved with in detail. In fact, Ms. Turner has come up with fascinating mythologies for her Gods. Highly recommended!

The Temeraire Series by Naomi Novik

Series Order
His Majesty's Dragon, Throne of Jade, Black Powder War, Empire of Ivory, Victory of Eagles.

Before I picked this one up, I was inclined to think of dragons in the stereotypical knight-slaying-dragon-and-rescuing-maiden way and didn't think I would ever want to read about them. I bit when I saw this series covered my favorite topic of a historical with fantasy.

This series with a projected 9 books, is set during the Napoleonic Wars. Ms. Novik has created an alternate history where the ground and naval troops are assisted by aerial troops in the form of dragons and their riders. We follow the dragon Temeraire a Chinese Celestial and his Captain, William Lawrence, on their adventures from the thick of war with the French, to China and Africa in the later books.

The writing is good, the relationship between Lawrence and Temeraire almost paternal and very endearing and Ms. Novik has included journal articles, pencil sketches of breeds of dragons, their treatment in society and a whole lot of other fun appendixes to the books.

And if you like to be on the ball wrt films, I just found out that Peter Jackson is going to be converting these to film. I've never been more excited!!!!

The Sharing Knife Series by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series Order
Beguilement, Legacy, Passage and Horizon

Sharing knife combines my two of my favorite themes - fantasy and forbidden romance. This four book series is about the adventures of a young 'farmer' (in the sharing knife world, people without any ability to manipulate nature around them ie. no magic) girl Fawn and Dag a 'Lakewalker' or the magical sort. Neither of the groups understands or communicates with the other.

Lakewalkers protect the farmers from malices, creatures that drain nature around them and convert the world to a barren landscape. The story starts after a great war between malices and Lakewalkers and the survivors who have slowly started rebuilding their world.

This series has some fascinating character studies about the nature of prejudice intertwined with intricate and well thought out world building. The first two books cover Fawn and Dag's new relationship and discovery of each other. The last two books deal with them becoming a cohesive family unit and influencing the people around them in an effort to get Farmers and Lakewalkers to cohabitate and cooperate. Huh, I've made it sound dry, but it's a truly enjoyable series!!

Do you have an OFF switch?

I like to read across many genres and many topics, even if I end up coming back to certain tried-and-true favorites. Over the course of my reading I have found that the one thing that is certain to pull me out of any book is when a religious theme is introduced.

I admit it's a personal bias, I'm agnostic and I cannot understand character's motivations when colored by religion. I am uncomfortable with extreme piety. The moment I come across any theological themes, it's like a switch flips in my brain and I cannot get interested in the book anymore.

It's happened to me way too many times recently. I just discovered Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy Series. The first book is one of those brilliant starts to any series - with dark fantasy elements, fascinating characters, political intrigue, intriguing world-building- I blazed through the Kushiel's Dart and couldnt wait to get my hands on the next one in the series.

The remaining books made for weary reading, the author is obviously fascinated with Christianity and the mythology and delves deep into ancient Jewish and Christian myths. The Kushiel series has so many sub-plots that I was able to complete reading it, but only because in my initial euphoria I got all 6 books in the two series and they kept taunting me on my bookshelf. I did like it, but if I have to remember what displeased me or bored me about the books then it would have to be the religious discussions.

The next book I read is Laura Kinsale's breathtaking Flowers from the Storm. In Flowers, the Duke of Jerveaulx is a womaniser and prominent mathematician, until a cerebral haemorrhage leaves him with damaged motor skills, unable to speak and with damaged long term memory. Maddy Timms, daughter of a prominent Quaker mathematician, has worked with Jervealux for some mathematical papers and been repulsed by Jerveaulx's lifestyle.

But, when she comes upon Jerveaulx in an insane asylum, she is the only person to recognise that Jerveaulx is not insane, he can recite mathematical formulae and proofs just fine, he's just forgotten how to communicate. And Maddie and Jerveaulx begin a long and arduous journey to recovery and love, lined with legal pitfalls, greedy family members, Jerveaulx's deviousness and Maddy's Quaker beliefs.

The word I used to describe Flowers From the Storm before was breathtaking and I really cannot think of a better one. I think Ms. Kinsale is the best romance novelist there is. Her prose is elegant, the characters are well realized and have Issues (and you guys know how much I love angst) and this book covered such a range of emotions for me that it was impossible to put down.

However, even as engrossed as I was in the story, my biggest problem was with the heroine who is rigidly religious and the choices she makes because of her beliefs. Basically, she puts herself and Jerveaulx through the double-wringer (yesyesyes I needed a box of tissues the whole time I was reading). Jerveaulx isn't a saint either, he manipulates Maddy through the entire book but because her choices are due to her religion I felt that I had less patience with them. If another heroine had made the same choices, just through common sense or even self-preservation, I think I would have understood and tolerated her better.

And I find it's not only established religion either. I think Ms. Carey reinterpreted a lot of the stuff in her books, they are fantasy after all but they are based on existing religions. In Lois McMaster Bujold's Chalion fantasy series, Ms. Bujold invented a new religion for her world of Chalion. And much as I love Ms. Bujold's books, I couldnt get through these. I loved the world-building, it was the issues which put me off.

I just discovered the pattern because I picked up so many similar themed books recently, but I find it troubling. That I should dismiss any topic or even any character because I cannot understand their beliefs or am not interested in the themes being discussed. I should be more tolerant I think. I will probably try and find some more books to read, just to rid myself of my bias ... after a little while. Suggestions would be welcome!

And how about you? Is there any subject which you just cannot bring yourself to read or when introduced kills your appreciation for a book you were enjoying before? Do you feel guilty, or are fine with it?

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