diversiversebanner-colGetting my #Diversiverse post in under the wire, I just finished Dawn by science fiction author Octavia Butler this afternoon, the first book in the Lilith’s Brood trilogy.

A More Diverse Universe (#diversiverse for short) is the brainchild of Aarti at BookLust to get everyone reading books by authors of color. Originally it was books of speculative fiction by authors of color, but this year books in all genres count towards the challenge. After reading Kindred by Octavia Butler last year, I had planned on reading Parable of the Sower this year, but decided to buy Lilith’s Brood instead, and only ended up having time to read the first book, Dawn, which leaves Adulthood Rites and Imago left to go.

Here’s how the author herself describes the novel, Dawn, in an NPR essay:

Several years ago I wrote a novel called Dawn in which extra-solar aliens arrive, look us over, and inform us that we have a pair of characteristics that together constitute a fatal flaw. We are, they admit, intelligent, and that’s fine. But we are also hierarchical, and our hierarchical tendencies are older and all too often, they drive our intelligence-that is, they drive us to use our intelligence to try to dominate one another.

As she does in Kindred, published in 1979, in Dawn, published in 1987, the author explores humanity’s characteristics and behavior, especially in captivity and with beings who are different — different in sex, color, language, or even species.

Sadly, Octavia Butler died in 2006 at the age of 58. She was an African-American, female writer of science fiction, which made her unusual. Her books landed on reading lists for Gender Studies and African-American Studies programs, as well as winning the prestigious Hugo (twice). Her obituary in the New York Times mentions that she was something of a loner, and always felt herself to be different from others. This is a quote from the obituary:

“When I began writing science fiction, when I began reading, heck, I wasn’t in any of this stuff I read,” Ms. Butler told The New York Times in 2000. “The only black people you found were occasional characters or characters who were so feeble-witted that they couldn’t manage anything, anyway. I wrote myself in, since I’m me and I’m here and I’m writing.”

There is a spaceship, extraterrestrials, and some really weird stuff in Dawn, but I would compare it more to The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell than to space opera science fiction. Dawn is really about human beings, and speculates about how different human beings might respond to highly unusual circumstances and the loss of their earthly home.

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cover imageIf you’ve read The Magicians and The Magician King by Lev Grossman you’ve probably already read The Magician’s Land – the third in the trilogy – because it came out over a month ago. (And if you haven’t read the first two already, why not?)

 “The strength of the trilogy lies . . . in the characters, whose inner lives and frailties Grossman renders with care and empathy. . . . Quentin[’s] . . . magical journey is deeply human.” —The New Yorker 

This is a spoiler-free post.

The Magician’s Land is the conclusion to a trilogy, so if you haven’t read the first two, you will miss something, but it does give readers enough to go on, and refreshes the memory for those who read the first two when they came out, back in 2009 and 2011.

Instead of writing a regular review, here is my attempt at an infographic to help you decide whether you will love the Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman as much as I did:

infographic (Venn diagram)

I probably should have included something about liking academic or boarding school settings, but it’s too late now.

The Magician’s Land
Grossman, Lev
Viking, Aug. 8, 2014
9780670015672
416 pp.
$27.95

Disclosure: I received an electronic ARC of The Magician’s Land from the publisher through NetGalley.

Other opinions:
Bibliophile’s Reverie (long discussion post)
Book Him Danno (synopsis)

Weekend Cooking buttonWeekend Cooking is a weekly feature hosted by Beth Fish Reads, linking up food-related posts. Click here for links to other bloggers’ Weekend Cooking posts at Beth Fish Reads.

I don’t care what Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Whole Foods, or anyone else says, it’s apple season in New England right now, and pumpkin season doesn’t start until October. Around here, apple season means taking a naturally sweet, fairly healthful fruit…

five apples

Gala apples from the state of New York. Husband fails to earn locavore credentials once again.

and turning it into this:

close-up of apple crisp

This had to be a close-up picture, because I ate a third of it still warm straight from the dish it was baked in.

Or this…

bottle of apple wine

We bought this Putney Winery apple maple wine from Vermont when we were in New Hampshire. (Everyone knows Vermont maple syrup is better than New Hampshire’s.)  I was the only one who liked this wine.

I hope it’s not cheating, but I want to count the apple crisp my husband made yesterday (pictured above) towards Trish’s Cook It Up! challenge. She has challenged book bloggers to either use or lose older cookbooks that gather dust while we try shiny new recipes from the Internet or hanker after just-released cookbooks.

The apple crisp recipe was from Made in Vermont: Recipes from Vermont’s Favorite Inns, edited by Coleen O’Shea, which has recipes for Apple Crisp, Apple Crisp with Maple Syrup and Sarah’s Apple Crisp. (Also Apple-Nut Bread, Baked Apple Dandy and nine others with apples as the main ingredient. We were given this cookbook as a gift many years ago (I think when we still lived in Vermont.) so it has sentimental value even though we don’t use it that often, but when we’re looking for New England-y apple or pumpkin recipes, it’s a good place to start.cover image

It’s not great for gluten-free and/or low-carb dieters, but Made in Vermont has enough regional flavor to make it a keeper. The recipes are divided by season, which I like. There are no photos of the food – just little black and white photos of the inns the recipes came from on each page. There is plenty of white space if you like to pencil in notes about the recipes.

Since we don’t run an inn here, many of the entree recipes are too fussy or fancy for me to ever try (e.g. Escargots with Wild Mushrooms and Herbed Butter, p. 124, or Steamed Scallops with Saffron Beurre Blanc and American Sturgeon Caviar, p. 42) but the dessert, side dishes, and soup recipes are more enticing to a home cook. I think I’ll try the Corn, Red Pepper and Tomato Bisque from the Four Columns Inn in Newfane, Vermont soon, and then there’s all the pumpkin and squash recipes to try: Pumpkin Bisque, Maple Pumpkin Bisque, Butternut Squash and Pear Gratin, etc. The recipe for Maple Pumpkin Bisque from the West Mountain Inn in Arlington, Vermont is online here.

Happy Weekend Cooking!

Cook-it-up-Challenge

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cover imageWith its many references to the Boston area, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart by Peter Swanson has been on my TBR* list since it came out last February, but once I finally opened it and read the beginning, I was hooked. I whipped through almost all of it in a single sitting on Saturday.

The Girl with a Clock for a Heart is a true literary thriller with references to novels and other literature here and there, and a main character, George Foss, who works in the accounting department of a struggling Boston literary magazine. The book is about the consequences of George’s running into the girl he fell head over heels in love with twenty years earlier during their first semester as freshmen at Mather College, whom he hadn’t seen or heard from since.

Author Peter Swanson is a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock movies. This comes through especially in the twisty pacing of the book and in several scenes during which I may have literally held my breath while reading. Boston-area readers will enjoy mentions of well-known local spots, including the Kowloon on Route 1 in Saugus, and trying to guess what actual locations the fictional locations might be (New Essex – That would probably be Essex, a seaside town north of Boston? And Mather, the New England liberal arts college George Foss attended – the author’s own alma mater, Trinity College in Connecticut?), but the characters and their motives are more interesting than the setting, so readers unfamiliar with the area won’t miss out on anything important to the story.

Although the meaning of the hard-to-remember title gets explained eventually, I assume The Girl with a Clock for a Heart is also a reference to the literary thriller The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo – another book billed as a stylish literary thriller. (The Girl with a Clock for a Heart has been optioned for film; I’ll be curious to see if a movie is given a different, easier-to-remember title.) As everyone knows, The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo was the first in a trilogy. I thought the same might be true here, but Peter Swanson denies that a sequel is in the works in this interview at Coot’s Reviews.

Even with a murder, police detectives, and a private investigator, also a blurb from Dennis Lehane on the cover and elements of noir, I wouldn’t suggest this to a reader looking for realistic crime fiction, but to a literary fiction reader who maybe also likes Patricia Highsmith or Dennis Lehane. You do have to be willing to suspend disbelief a few times and go along for the “sexy, electric thrill ride,” as Dennis Lehane describes the book.

Watch out for spoilers if you read other reviews. Better just get the book yourself, and read it quick!

The Girl with a Clock for a Heart
Swanson, Peter
William Morrow
Feb. 2, 2014
9780062267498
304 pp.
$25.99

*To Be Read

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