Southern Vampire Mystery Series by Charlaine Harris

29 04 2009

Last summer, Alan Ball had a new show premiere on HBO, True Blood.  He’s a genius, I have a weakness for vampire stories, and HBO did a bang-up job promoting the series – so, of course, I started watching and was quickly sucked in to the lives of Sookie, Bill, Sam, Jason and the rest of the Bon Temps residents.  Since the show was based on a series of books, I decided to go ahead and do some original source research.  And now I’m absolutely obsessed.

The books revolve around Sookie Stackhouse, a waitress in a small northern Louisiana town who just happens to be telepathic.  The series starts two years after vampires have “come out of the coffin” – thanks to a synthetic blood developed by some Japanese scientists, they no longer have to hunt humans.  One night, Vampire Bill walks into Sookie’s bar/restaurant, she discovers she can’t hear his thoughts and they quickly start a relationship.  While all of this is going on, someone is killing women in Bon Temps, and Sookie ends up using her telepathy to try and find the murderer.  This sets up the basic stories for the rest of the books – Sookie solves a mystery while trying to navigate the crazy world of supernatural beings.

The first book, Dead Until Dark, was a bit of a chore to read – the story line is very similar to the first season of True Blood, although the show takes quite a few liberties with the characters – so it was little disorienting.  Plus, the books are written from Sookie’s perspective – and I couldn’t get Anna Paquin’s absolutely dreadful accent out of my head.  (I swear, she sounds like she learned her “southern” accent from watching Varsity Blues.  I kept expecting her to shout “AHH DOOON’T WAAAAHNT YUUR LAAAAAHF” at someone.)  As I’ve progressed in the series, “book Sookie” has very much separated from “speech impediment Sookie” and I’ve found that I really like her.  She starts out seeming pretty weak, but really comes into her own over time.

Charlaine Harris, the author, also improves as the series goes on.   It takes awhile for some serious character development to happen, and there are a lot of characters, but Ms. Harris maintains them pretty well.  As the secondary characters get more depth the books really gain some momentum. The plots pick up steam – growing from fairly simple whodunnits into books with a bit more meat on their bones, focusing on Sookie’s relationships with the various humans and “supes” in her life.  And, if you watched the TV series, there is a lot less sexytime in the books.  It still has a “romance” element, but, especially in the later books, physical stuff gets put on the back burner.

So, yeah, I definitely recommend these if you tend to enjoy fun, easy reads.  The books aren’t very long, don’t take too much time to read and once they take off, they’re near impossible to put down.  I know that this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re looking for some decent beach books, you could definitely do worse.  But – as Maria taught the Von Trapp children, you must start at the very beginning, this is not a series you can jump into halfway through even if it starts out rough.  And luckily for me, book 9, Dead and Gone, comes out in a couple of weeks and I’ll be able to get my Sookie-fix.



Excuses, Excuses

28 04 2009

I swear, I have a book post that will go up soon.  It has been really hot and I’ve been really busy and super distracted.  But, for serious, new book post by the end of the week…probably.  In the meantime, here is a comic from the ridiculously talented and always amusing David Malki.  Wondermark is one of my favorite internet comics and has provided me with hours of time wasting at work.  Today’s strip almost made me lizz (if you don’t know what that means, quit failing at life and watch 30Rock).


Red Velvet and Rock of Love Reunion Rabid Raccoons Rigatoni. SHUT UP. I LIKE ALLITERATION.

24 04 2009
Sorry it's so dark. Apparently Bret Michaels' weave may light up my life, but it doesn't light up my living room.

Sorry it's so dark. Apparently Bret Michaels' weave may light up my life, but it doesn't light up my living room.

So, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m baking 15 dozen cupcakes for a friend’s wedding coming up in June because I am an idiot. We’re working out the details, but so far I know she wants one of the three sets of cupcakes to be Red Velvet with Cream Cheese Frosting. Lucky for her, this is one of my favorite things EVER. My PMS craving could not be quelled last night because it would have taken too long to make Red Velvet Cheesecake, which led to my genius idea of making these little gems under the guise of  “experimenting” with “different” frosting “techniques.” Ahem. It worked out well, I baked during My Name is Earl and Parks and Recreation, they cooled during the Office and 30 Rock. And then I realized the RoLB reunion was on, so I brought the bowl of frosting and my fancy Wilton icing-dealie in the living room for a silicone and tequila extravaganza. Anyway, I got this recipe from Natalie at Bake & Destroy (check out her rad new site – it’s niiiiiice), and she got it from Paula Deen. I DID have to upgrade the amount of cocoa – one teaspoon was not enough! But these are delicious, and they’re easy. So get to bakin’, you dummies! (Find my cream cheese frosting recipe here.)


Red Velvet Cupcakes (makes 12)

  • 1 1/4 cup AP flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 heaping Tbl. unsweetened cocoa
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (I used powdered)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp. white vinegar (I used cider because I’m a rebel. And out of white vinegar.)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (I probably used more than this)
  • 1 Tbl. red food coloring
  1. Preheat oven to 350 & line a cupcake pan with liners. Preferably with robots on them.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift (or whisk because you’re me and you don’t have a sifter) all the dry ingredients. Even the sugar. No, I’m not fucking with you.
  3. With an electric mixer, mix together all the wet ingredients.
  4. Slowly pour the dry ingredients into the wet and mixmixmix – you can’t really overmix this recipe because of the glorious vegetable oil. Make sure it’s niiiiiiice and smooth.
  5. Pour evenly into prepared liners and bake for 20 – 22 minutes. Don’t forget to rotate because your oven is a jerk!
  6. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then pop them suckers out and let them cool on a wire rack. Slap some cream cheese frosting on there and EAT THEM SUCKERS.

Dirty Martini by J.A. Konrath

15 04 2009
Another reason these books rock my socks?  Each one opens with a drink recipe for the titular cocktail.

Another reason these books rock my socks? Each one opens with a drink recipe for the titular cocktail.

OMG y’all – sorry for the crazy long hiatus.  I’ve been reading several books at once which really hinders the whole completing a book process.  But the first one I finished is THE MOST TERRIFYING BOOK I HAVE EVER READ IN MY LIFE.  Luckily, it was also really good…so I’m going to recommend it – although if you naturally run a bit paranoid, you may want to take some Xanax while reading. (You may want to take some even if you don’t run paranoid; Xanax puts life in perspective.)

Dirty Martini is the fourth book in J.A. Konrath’s super awesome Jack Daniels series.  Lt. Jacqueline Daniels is a Homicide detective in Chicago and tough as hay-ell.  When I picked up the first book (Whiskey Sour), I was expecting a cute little mystery series…something along the lines of Sue Grafton or Janet Evanovich.  Yeah, no.  I don’t really have any fear of crime – I don’t pay attention to locking doors, I’ll wander around bad neighborhoods at 3 am while intoxicated, I never zip my purse – basically I have a sign on my forehead that says “Please steal all of my stuff and then maim me.”  And all of the cop procedurals in the world won’t cure me of my terminal carelessness.  But every time I read a new Konrath book, I spend half of my time checking my locks and jumping at every noise and staring suspiciously at every one I see, positive they’re plotting my gruesome death.  It’s kinda rad.

There’s still a lot of humor, though most of it is of the gallows variety.  Jack and her associates basically have horrible pun-offs at all of the crime scenes (Oh, Lenny Briscoe, you are missed), which delights me to no end.  The supporting characters relieve a lot of the tension – her mother is kinda promiscuous and her cat is quite possibly a minion of Satan, the FBI profilers that are brought on to the cases are always the butt of some good natured exasperation with government bureaucrat jokes, her partner, Herb, is fantastically overweight and spends most of his time thinking about food and her ex-partner Harry is a self-centered womanizer.  What’s nice about these books is that all of the characters and their various quirks could end up two dimensional, but Konrath does a great job of elevating them past their eccentricities and gives them great depth and development and also isn’t afraid to place them in actual danger where they are actually effed up.

All of the books have pretty great plots.  The crimes are interesting and a good balance is struck between showing the banality that constitutes most police work (I’m assuming) and the flashy action that is necessary for a novel.   The action is well written, the villains are appropriately villain-y, the conclusions dazzling and satisfying.  All of which brings me to the ABSOLUTE TERROR of Dirty Martini.  Someone in Chicago is poisoning food – like walking into a supermarket and randomly injecting Botulism into apples and canned peas and sausage and whatnot.  And then moves on from Botulism to a whole host of awful poisons – complete with super-detailed descriptions of the agony they cause.  Trust me, after the first 20 pages I decided I was never going to eat again.   And, when I did eat, I definitely sniffed all of my food before putting it in my mouth. (I have a ridiculous amount of unjustified confidence in my sense of smell like I’m a freaking bloodhound and know what I’m doing.  I am an ass.  I don’t know how I’m still alive sometimes.)  After all of the E. Coli and salmonella scares of the past couple of years, our sense of food security has already been shaken – the idea of someone easily killing hundreds or thousand of people using basic biology and a bit of ingenuity?  Well, it makes living in a walled compound eating only what I can raise or grow A LOT more attractive.

This Just In: Chocolate + Coconut, Chocolate + Cinnamon Both Equal Delicious!

7 04 2009
As I was taking this picture, my boss walked by and looked at me funny. I told him to quit judging me. And he did.

As I was taking this picture, my boss walked by and looked at me funny. I told him to quit judging me. And he did.

I get bored with my normal baking routines, but I am also terrified of failure. Mainly because in the kitchen that means I’ve wasted food. Since I am apparently a Depression-era child, I hate wasting food. So I tend to keep my food experiments on the tame side. For 2 different baking experiments, I used a good ol’ fashioned chocolate cupcake recipe (use your favorite. Shit, use a box mix for all I care. JUST DON’T WASTE ANYTHING EVER.) and throw something delicious in there. For my first experiment, I used some coconut extract along with the vanilla, and then topped it with a coconut buttercream-ish type frosting. I made THAT by making a boring old frosting with butter and powdered sugar, throwing in some more coconut extract along with the vanilla (srsly, vanilla + coconut gives me a food boner), and tossing in some sweetened shredded coconut for good , delicious measure.


For my next boring experiment, I made the same chocolate cupcake recipe, but tossed in a bunch of cinnamon and a dash of cloves to make half-assed Mexican chocolate. Oh, I also threw in some almond extract, but I think for next time I’ll use 1/4 tsp coconut flavor. The almond and chocolate didn’t jive with me so well.  What really made these food-boneriffic was the chocolate glaze. (I used Elinor Klivans’ recipe, but any decent cookbook should have a recipe). There, I just threw in some more cinnamon and, again, just a dash of cloves for a kick. They looked adorable and tasted some sort of yummy. So the next time you have the wild hair up your ass to bake, why not break out of your mold? Try some peppermint extract (divine in brownies) or coconut extract in VANILLA cupcakes. So long as they all get eaten and NOTHING GOES TO WASTE, you have been a major success. Instead of the giant failure you usually are. Wait, what? HAHA, just kidding!