I’m super busy with publication of my first novel, so here’s a quickie: my latest episode of Bones in my mission to finally watch this awesome series!
Obviously, this could be spoilerrific, so if you’re behind like me…. well, GO WATCH BONES.
And as usual, I am stomping my feet in frustration and driven to keep watching. Netflix is how a girl watches 50 episodes in a week. Addiction, folks. This is my new X-Files.
My mister loves chicken in black bean sauce. LOVES. It’s one of his favourite dishes and frankly, it’s one of mine now too. Why, you ask?
I’ve found an amazing and authentic recipe, that’s why!
Click on through and behold a from-scratch recipe for shrimp with black bean sauce that can easily be adapted to other meats. I’ve done shrimp and chicken together, just shrimp, just chicken… It always comes out tasty as hell. Warning: your pan will likely need a serious scrub afterwards, but whatever.
My personal tips and hints: if you like more sauce to toss onto your rice, and a thicker sauce to boot, do this: triple the called-for amounts of black beans, oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar and corn starch; double the amount of chicken stock. If minimal sauce is your thing, reduce the called-for stock by 1/4 to yield a thicker sauce. Cooking-wise, definitely cook the veggies solo first and toss in a few spoonfuls of sauce to really infuse the flavour into the entire final dish. Last, I don’t simply mash the beans, but instead toss them into my mini food processor and hit chop a few times.
In this weekly feature, I share recipes and household tips & tricks that I probably should have learned in my youth, but didn’t bother to pay attention…. Or, alternately, just useful domestic information for the domestically disturbed.
So, in recent years, I finally learned to make a bad-ass beef stew. I’ll share that recipe some time, but for now, let’s focus on the problem I have almost every single time afterwards: a scorched pan due to the braising process. Don’t ask me why it goes poorly; all I know is that the final stew tastes fabulous.
You’ve got a steel pot and the oil’s left a layer of blackness that is so thin it seems a permanent new colour for the thing. Scrub all you like with basic soap and water – it laughs maniacally at your efforts and your aching wrists.
Voila! A solution that works!
I find the vinegar alone is usually enough, but the baking soda is good for the uber disasters. Household items, easily accessible, life made simpler. Ta-da!
Also note: any vinegar will do in a pinch. I’ve used both apple cider vinegar and malt vinegar when plain old white vinegar wasn’t available. Acid is acid, my dears. Half and half it, boil and let sit. All better!
I’ve been intrigued by this film for some time now, ever since seeing the trailer for it online. I walk into it with a dual hesitation: 1) will it appropriately handle the topic of teen suicide?; and 2) how Christian will this Christian film be?
Despite being a staunch Pagan, I do not mind Christianity per se. I do mind feeling preached to, being told I am evil for differing beliefs or being beaten about the head with a proverbial Bible. I have devout friends that I love dearly. I enjoy the music of Jars Of Clay, a Christian band. Can To Save A Life straddle that fine line and remain appealing to all audiences? Can it treat teen mental health and problems realistically and accurately? Preliminary reviews suggest it does, but let’s find out, shall we?
Obviously, expect major spoilers… scroll to the end if you just want my final opinion.
To Save A Life: Live Blog-entary
Final Verdict: It’s a little too heavy on the Christianity to be fully accessible, which is a shame, since the topics of teen suicide, self-harm and pregnancy are handled realistically. The message is powerful and needed, and while in the end, it’s not God preventing the suicide, but human decency and compassion, the fact remains that the middle half of the film is beating you over the head with being Christian. A shame. Worth a watch, but not a movie I’d ever watch again or purchase. Hooray, Netflix!
Warning: spoilers for all three books ahead. It might also help you appreciate this critique to know my thoughts on the rest of the trilogy:
And so we come to an end on this, my journey into the much hyped and loved trilogy set to replace Twilight and Harry Potter as the youth franchise. I am glad to have finally read the books, if only because I hate being spoilered for things and the internet was becoming a mine field in that regard. That said, I don’t anticipate ever reading these books again, nor would I recommend them. This will set me apart from the vast majority, but then again, there are millions of Twilight fans, so make of that what you will.
I had high hopes for Mockingjay after the improvement in Collins’ work in Catching Fire. I wasn’t expecting to be blown away, but I did expect something enjoyable to pass the time while battling a cold. Instead, I was delivered an increasingly implausible trainwreck that lost any semblance of its humanity and message, opting instead for shock value until the final twenty pages or so, at which point Collins seems to have went, “Oops! Better wrap this up!” and jammed a conclusion in.
Mockingjay clarifies the ending events of Catching Fire for us: namely, there was a vast allyship hidden from Peeta and Katniss, the goal of which was to yank a core group of Victors free from the Quell and begin the all-out rebellion against the Capitol. Peeta is left behind, and has become the puppet of President Snow, urging for a ceasefire in official televised interviews, earning him the label of traitor.
Katniss, who is now “mentally disorganized”, lives with the survivors of the Quell and her decimated District in the “Surprise! Still here!” District 13, the key movers and shakers behind the rebellion. To them, Katniss is a Propaganda Barbie for their video spots beaming throughout the Districts, a means of motivating the masses. Katniss is much more fond of wallowing in self-pity and pining for Peeta (who she now gives a shit about), while toying further with Gale, who is gung-ho for the rebellion. However, she spies a means of preventing Peeta from being executed for treason by District 13’s President Coin (Really, Collins? Coin?) and agrees to be their little Mockingjay to spare him.
The next half of the book is literally blah blah blah: let’s film Katniss visiting people in hospitals and…. oh wait, an attack where she can shoot down hovercrafts! Let’s take her to District 2 to chill while the Capitol stronghold there is seized and, oh wait, Katniss steps out into battle to be a star again. Gale loves her, but she doesn’t seem to love anyone. Instead, she loves being cared for and babied. Some heroine.
Things get more ridiculous when Peeta is rescued and of course, he’s been brainwashed to want to murder Katniss. This is Collins’ heavy-handed attempt to make the reader feel for Katniss, perhaps because she’s realized her heroine is indecisive, naive and has the personality of paste. All it made me do was feel for Peeta, who is luckily brought around to his old self.
The one bright shining development for Katniss is her finally understanding what a cold, manipulative person she is, via overhearing an exchange between Peeta and Gale as to who she’ll choose to be with. Between their agreeing that her choice will be based on who can keep her alive – not who has her love – and Peeta calling her out for being a cold bitch for her actions post-Games, it’s satisfying for her to feel bad for her behaviour.
Plot-wise, Collins is as predictable as ever, and just spends her time slaughtering as many characters as possible in order to wring sympathy for Katniss from us. I’m wagering she believes she’s depicting the travesties and agonies of war, but it all comes off as overkill, particularly when she constantly “fades to black” mid-action and then quickly recaps the rest in the next chapter. Things conveniently work out to ensure maximum bloodshed and as, usual, everyone just loves Katniss and wants to protect her. Leading 8 people to certain death by lying about a mission? These honey badgers don’t care, and it’s a good thing, since most of them die before Katniss ultimately fails anyway. Absolutely nothing surprised me, plot-wise: it was the pessimism show, with non-stop dreary events and unhappy endings, couched in more blind devotion to protecting precious Katniss-Sue.
In fact, Katniss never has to make a decision on its own merits; she is always driven to one choice by default. She can’t allow Peeta to die after saving her ass several times and breaking his heart, so she must choose to be the Mockingjay. She really should know better than to help Coin seize power; that’s okay, she finds out Coin has royally betrayed her and killed her loved ones, the only thing that seems to trigger a human response from her – a move that requires massive suspension of disbelief when the key casualty is revealed. Pick between the two evil Presidents? Don’t bother; both will magically die. Murderer? No matter; some doctor will lie for you and get you off the hook. As for her love life? Gale turns cold, betrays her along with Coin, and Peeta is the only one who sticks around, anyway.
Speaking of her ending, it is the most rushed affair ever. Collins literally ran out of pages and rammed everything in quickly. The so-called epilogue is the coldest thing ever, as children are merely referred to as “the boy and girl”. Did you run out of cute names? How about Moughin and Kupkayke?
In the end, my gut instinct? Collins blew her wad in Catching Fire and frankly, aside from the death of the Capitol, didn’t have the faintest clue of what she was doing with Mockingjay. Weak, choppy plot, poor character development and deus ex machina out the wazoo sums up this final installment.
Rating: 2/5 stars
Warning: heavy spoilers ahead, although I haven’t spoiled the final ending details.
Despite my lukewarm feelings about the first book of the trilogy, I’ve pushed ahead and am mostly glad for it. Catching Fire is somewhat better paced than The Hunger Games in the front end, for starters. The front half is a lot of talking and Katniss wavering in her feelings for her two suitors, but it is peppered with actual suspense and moments of dread, helping to buoy the tale along. The Quell sequence is somehow not as action-packed as I’d expected, which is a bit of a downside, but is still more enjoyable than the Games for reasons I’ll elaborate on. Overall, it serves as a good transition book, although it is still plagued by problems.
The book opens post-Games, with Katniss bemoaning her dreadful life. Sure, she survived the Games with little actual blood on her hands. Sure, she and her family now live in the Victors’ Village, wealthier than they’ve ever been. She still hunts for the enjoyment of it, has Cinna covering her ass for the talent she should be developing in her plentiful spare time, and is generous to the people of her district. But woe is Katniss, because she and Peeta barely talk (after she rejected him) and Gale’s busy being worked to death per customary Capitol oppression 6 days per week and is bitter about her macking on Peeta on TV. Katniss is a foolish, oblivious young girl when it comes to matters of the heart, and it still detracts from and demolishes the “strong heroine” label people wish to thrust upon her. Collins still doesn’t sell it well, and I’m still not buying it.
The Victory Tour – wherein the winner of the Games is paraded around like a show pony – begins with an ominous visit from the Capitol’s President, who basically calls Katniss out on her bullshit, tells her she was rebellious in her berry-actions that spared both her and Peeta, and says, “Convince me you love him or I kill you and all your loved ones. Ta-ta!” In true good and perfect Katniss form, she has been oblivious to how her manipulation at the end of the Games was a great big FU to the Capitol, sighing about only wanting to spare Peeta.
Katniss soon wakes up on tour as she begins to understand the rebellion that is beginning, of which she is a symbol, and it is here that we finally begin to see signs of the heroine she’s been trumpeted to be. In celebrating boldly in the face of President Snow despite the message that she has failed to convince him and stop the rebellion, she demonstrates a comfort – a sense that being the enemy of Snow is far preferable than being the puppet that pleases him. As rules become stricter within the Districts, Katniss starts fighting back in her own ways. She is finally a girl on fire.
As for her love life…. Ugh. Frankly, I agree wholeheartedly with Haymitch when he says she could never deserve Peeta. She doesn’t, nor does she deserve Gale. Let’s look at it thus: Gale has spent years as her companion, so blatantly in love with her it hurts, yet Katniss has been so blind, she cannot see it, nor does she truly grasp why Gale might be annoyed with her PG-13 TV relationship until he points out that hello, he loves her…. to which she says, “I know.” Wow, Katniss! Peeta, having bared his heart on TV and bought into the Katniss act during the Games, is understandably pissed when he realizes she feels very different. And yet, when Katniss is under duress on the tour, who’s sleeping beside her to soothe her? Peeta, the ever faithful and loyal. Once again, his genuine feelings and desires are manipulated into an act for the Capitol – and Katniss’ selfish benefit.
But it grows worse: Gale is badly injured, and so she spends the night kissing him and realizing that gosh, I love this guy! I do! But mere days later, she begs Peeta to hold her until she sleeps, because she misses the contact. She vows to die to save him in the Quell. Katniss cannot make up her damn mind. She has no idea what true love is, even at the end of this book. It’s tiresome and grating, and she’s such a selfish prat that I can’t empathize with her. Instead, I want to crawl into Peeta’s head.
Once again, everything works out perfectly for Katniss, without her lifting a real finger, because she is special and good and needed alive. Blech. Everyone risks everything for her, and she is incapable of the proper loving thanks, so why does anyone bother? I call Mary Sue again on this character. She’s tiresome, and were the plot and supporting characters not so fun and the books not so short, I couldn’t be arsed to finish the trilogy.
Speaking of the Quell… I only half-bought that plot device. It seemed far too convenient. Far too dramatic and truly a “must top myself” moment. I went with it, but spent the entire time rolling my eyes at the device. It seemed counter-intuitive to the Capitol’s goals to suppress and silence all rumblings of rebellion in the Districts, and I think that is what bothered me most: it handed the Districts a reason to fight, ever so conveniently. On the flip-side, the sequence didn’t drone on and on about Katniss kissing Peeta and BS’ing a relationship, and focused more on actual action and strategy, so that was a huge plus this time around. I also liked the other contestants far more, given my ability to get to know most of them via the narrative.
Oh, and the pregnancy BS? Really? I simultaneously loved Peeta for it, and hate Collins, because it was so easily disproven. The Capitol easily could have done a blood test on her but oh ho, they don’t, just so they can get away with it… for now…
In spite of all these issues, I still rank this book pretty highly. It’s snappy, breezy and does bring great action and drama. The key is to take it as it is: YA fiction meant to set-up a final book while appealing to teenagers. Embrace it as a fun vacation/transit read, and it’s worth the time.
Rating: 4/5 stars