Deep in the forest, you might hear playful music and tinkling laughter. If you follow it, you might stumble on a place crafted from intricately twisted branches, glossy emerald leaves, and soft petals donated by majestic blossoms. Boughs heavy with Spring gracefully arch far overhead, permitting golden sunshine to dapple the patrons below. Mothers smile as children laugh and play. Bards tell their tales of love and woe. Nymphs and dwarves and humans curl up on soft moss, buried in enchanting tales. Here, the spring water is always cold and the sweets are, well, sweet.

Welcome to The Lily Cafe.

 

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Adventures in Ratio Baking: Basic Ingredients for Cakes, Cookies, and Bread

When I first started ratio baking at the beginning of the year, I worried about the ingredients I would need. Without a recipe with a handy list, it was hard to know exactly what to use. And, as I later found out, to remember to add it.

Fortunately, ratio baking has some basics. Since it’s based on ratios, it has to say what ratio to what is necessary. The cake ratio has a 1:1:1:1 ratio of fat to sugar to eggs to flour. The cookie ratio is a 3:2:1 ratio of flour to fat to sugar. Bread has a ratio of 5:3 of flour to water. Just from this, it’s clear flour, sugar, fat, eggs, and water to necessary to make any one of these.

Beyond that there’s little guidance. Though if you’ve spent some time following recipes, you’ll have a good idea of what else you need, like vanilla extract and baking powder. My first chocolate cake was a bit of a disaster. I added too much cocoa powder and completely forgot vanilla extract and baking powder.

Over time, it’s gotten easier to remember everything, and it helps to keep things simple. I haven’t experimented too much yet, which makes it easy to pull together a simple list of ingredients. Even better, they’re commonly stocked so, chances are, you could whip something up right now!

Basic Ingredients for Cake

There are a lot of different kinds of cake, from pound cakes to sponge cakes and red velvet cake. But, as far as I can tell, they all use the same basic ingredients.

  1. Flour. I’ve only used all-purpose and gluten-free flour, but haven’t had a problem, so I imagine most, if not all, flours should work fine.
  2. Sugar. I haven’t tried liquid sugars like honey, but, considering the amount high ratio cakes use, I’m going to stick with granulated sugar.
  3. Fat. This is your butter, margarine, shortening, oil, etc. I always have butter on hand, but, since the ratio just calls for fat, any kind should work. It’ll just influence how it tastes and the texture.
  4. Eggs. Eggs are binding ingredients. They help keep the batter together. I know there are substitutes like bananas, but, personally, I feel safer sticking to eggs. More yolks will yield a richer cake.
  5. Vanilla extract. For flavoring. Though if you’re going for a flavored cake like lemon, you could swap it out for the corresponding extract.
  6. Baking powder. This will help it rise and look fluffy. A teaspoon or two is usually all I need when I use three eggs.

Of course, that’s just to make a basic pound cake. High ratio cakes, which have twice as much sugar and flour as eggs (in weight), also require a liquid, like milk or water. Chocolate cakes replace some of the flour with cocoa powder. Funfetti cakes need sprinkles. But this is a basic list of ingredients for cakes.

Basic Ingredients for Cookies

I’ll be honest. I haven’t experimented with cookies as much. I’m finding them to be a little more complicated. Though, if you love shortbread cookies, stick to the 3:2:1 ratio and you’ll be happy. I keep trying for those gooey bakery style cookies and it’s just not working. But the basic list of ingredients doesn’t seem to change.

  1. Flour. I use all purpose flour, but most other kinds of flour should work.
  2. Fat. Fat is important when it comes to spread. Using different kinds will yield cookies that either spread more or less. I’ve read those made with shortening spread well, but haven’t tried it yet.
  3. Sugar. I’m sticking to granulated and brown sugar, especially when it comes to chocolate chip cookies. I don’t know how any other kind of sugar will impact the cookie. Granulated sugar will give you crisper cookies while cookies made with brown sugar will be softer.
  4. Eggs. Again, these are the binding agent. I haven’t found any clear guidelines on how many to use, but using more whites will yield a crisper cookie and more yolks will give a softer cookie. I usually add two eggs, but, again, haven’t found anything that says how many eggs works best.
  5. Baking powder/baking soda. From what I’ve read, baking powder will make cookies puff and baking soda will help with the spread, but it needs to react with an acid. One way to use baking soda is to also had a bit of baking powder.
  6. Salt. Cookies can be quite sweet, so salt helps cut through the sweetness.
  7. Vanilla extract. For flavoring. It doesn’t have to be vanilla, though.

Like cakes, cookies are relatively easy to add to. My kids love chocolate chip cookies, so I’ve been adding a lot of chocolate chips. I’m still playing with ratios and ingredients, but this is a basic list.

Basic Ingredients for Bread

I’ve just recently started making bread. Surprisingly, this has gone the smoothest for me. My family won’t stop eating my bread. Unfortunately, the weather hasn’t been cooperating lately, so it’s been difficult to get my dough to rise properly. I’m (gasp) not a fan of sourdough. Fortunately, bread is insanely easy to make with the easiest list of ingredients.

  1. Flour. Since I’ve only just started baking bread, I’ve only used all-purpose, but I’m anxious to try using gluten-free flour one day.
  2. Water. The other main ingredient in bread. If you’re using yeast, it can be added to warm water with a bit of sugar.
  3. Sugar. This one isn’t necessary unless you want a bit of a sweeter bread, though packets of yeast will say to mix some sugar into the warm water and then add the yeast.
  4. Salt. From what I’ve read, 2% of the weight of the flour is needed, though I’ve found it too be a bit too salty for me. Or maybe I’m just doing my math wrong.
  5. Leavener. Yeast or baking powder. I’ve only used yeast so far, and done it on cold days, so my dough hasn’t risen much. But I don’t think it’s the yeast’s fault. I’ve found this article on lifehacker to be the most useful.

Easy, right? It’s even easier with a stand mixer and dough hook. I’ve heard that, with bread, the sky’s the limit with what you can do and add. My family isn’t adventurous, so I’ve just been working on brioche (which adds butter, eggs, and milk), but keep picking the coldest days to get it to rise. Seriously, it’s Southern California and should have hit the 80s in May, but it was chilly most of the month.

IMG_20190513_154401

Apparently my bread was good enough for my daughter to abandon her beloved pacifier for a slice.

 

So there you have it. A basic list of ingredients for cakes, cookies, and bread. The best thing is, even if you have just a small amount of one thing, it’s relatively easy to tweak the amounts to fit the ratios since ratios are based on weight.

Happy baking!

The Weekly Question #8

What is your favorite breakfast?

I need breakfast like most people need coffee. I refuse to give it up. After all, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I simply refuse to function if I don’t have breakfast.

It’s been as simple as some crackers while on my way to high school at 6:15 am to the Christmas breakfast my mom used to make of scrambled eggs, ham, sausage, breakfast potatoes, pancakes, and cinnamon rolls.

But my favorite is something my mom would make for my dad. A ham and egg sandwich. Black forest ham and a fried egg between two toasted pieces of bread.

My husband is a cancer researcher and every time some food is linked to cancer, well, we stop eating it. Like deli meats. So, so long black forest ham. Of course, he compromises and says severe moderation might be okay, but we try not to risk it unless we’re severely craving it.

Like now.

Book Review: Fireborn by Katie MacAlister

 

Title: Fireborn (Book 1 in the Born Prophecy series)

Author: Katie MacAlister

Publisher: Rebel Base Books/Kensignton Books

Publication Date: June 11, 2019

Genre: Fantasy

 

Summary: Twin goddesses Kiriah and Bellias created the Fireborn and Starborn, respectively, but the two have been at war with each other. A child has been fated to bring the Fireborn and Starborn together, but, before that can happen, the Harborym invade the home of the Starborn and the child, Deo, is sent to be raised by his Fireborn father. As the Fireborn fail to drive out the Harborym, Deo grows up and learns to wield the invaders’ chaos magic against his father’s wishes and sets out to free his Starborn mother. Allegria, a priestess Deo once met as an adolescent, carries a special magic that could be key to driving out the Harborym and believes in Deo’s mission so much that she falls in with him and becomes one of his Banesmen. Hallow was the apprentice to an archanist, one who can wield the power of the stars, and finds himself in Deo’s father’s company, likewise seeking to drive out the Harborym at the same time Deo and his men are trying to. A chance encounter between Allegria and Hallow brings him into Deo’s company. Together, the three are destined to fail or succeed.

Overall, this was an interesting fantasy book. It had all the standard characteristics including magic, a prophesied child, and a battle essentially between good and evil, or chaos magic and forms of light magic. I also loved the magic that was introduced, being able to shape animals from light and drawing power from the stars. But I also felt that this book added little to the genre as a whole. It was a fairly standard fantasy leaning towards epic fantasy, but, overall, doesn’t stand out.

The setting was interesting, but I felt it wasn’t fully developed. The book description mentioned the Fireborn and Starborn were at war with each other, so I pictured a world where half of it was bathed in sunlight and half bathed in moonlight. Of course, the rational part of me knows that’s absurd, but I was disappointed that there didn’t seem to be any difference between the two and their lands other than where they draw their magic from and what they look like. The worldbuilding was lacking and I have no clear idea of what much of it looks like and how it functions.

The story also felt a little disjointed. It flowed extremely well for the first two-thirds of the book. There was conflict and action and an exciting, if bloody, battle that really introduced the invading Harborym and put on display what Deo, Allegria, and Hallow were capable of. I fully enjoyed it, but, as the battle came to a close and I realized there was still a good third of the book left, I was a little dismayed. Turns out the last third felt more like a extended epilogue and simultaneous setup for a second book. It was far flatter than the first two-thirds and was not as interesting.

For the most part, I enjoyed the characters, especially Hallow. He was the most level-headed and offered some levity. In the last third, Deo also provided some amusing comic relief, but was otherwise more of an angry young man during the first two-thirds. That isn’t to say he wasn’t interesting, but I don’t enjoy overly angry and arrogant characters. The most problematic character for me was Allegria. Even though Deo and Hallow also served as narrators, she was the main one. I liked how fiery and stubborn she was, but, when Deo or Hallow were narrating, she somehow felt meeker with less fire in her. It seemed like her inner life was much richer than her outer life.

What really bothered me, though, was the romance. I don’t mind romance in fantasy as a rule. What I do often mind is the pacing. One of the primary reasons why I don’t read YA is because of the insta-love everyone who does read it talks about. Sure, it makes the romance clear-cut, but this book took insta-love and took it above and beyond straight into insta-fall-into-bed. It was a very sudden, very intense romance that didn’t seem to add much to the story. I could have done without, or to a much lesser degree.

What I did enjoy was that the story moved along at a good pace, even the last third of it. Something was almost always happening and the interactions between the characters kept the story moving. Nothing was superfluous and the writing was relatively tight. Conflicts peppered the book and forced the characters to evolve and learn new information.

While there were several things I didn’t enjoy, I still appreciate that this is a well-written book with a good pace, an interesting premise, a clear idea of what the second book will bring, and some interesting characters. Honestly, the bird character is my favorite, but Hallow was definitely worth reading about. For a standard fantasy, this wasn’t bad, but wasn’t exactly spectacular, either.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley and the publisher for a free copy of this book. All opinions are my own.

Raven, Chapter 20

In those early days, we all lost followers. It was painful, but they knew what they had gotten themselves into. There was fierce loyalty on all sides, in all followings. It took nearly a year, and many deaths and rampant fear in the slums, but the other Thief Lords finally reluctantly acknowledged me as a Thief Lord. But it was still an uphill battle.

-writing on the cell wall

Raven had never been in the holding cells of the Court House before. She had never been in the Court House before. She had never been anywhere near the Court House before. This was a new experience for her.

She had expected to be led into a courtroom, one of those cozy, echoing chambers with a platform where the magistrate sat and  a length of benches along one wall where the panel of barristers sat and helped judge.

She hadn’t expected a holding cell. She had thought she’d be judged at first light and thrown into prison. Then her people would have her out by the night. But she had ended up spending most of her time in the holding cell.

It was strange. The cell itself was large enough to hold half a dozen people and had a wooden bench running around the perimeter expect where the narrow door was closed and locked. There had been three other people waiting when the City Guards had put her in and placed her on one of the benches before chaining her to it. She could move one foot in every direction, and that was it. She didn’t like being confined so, and above ground.

But the weirdest part to her was being placed right in the middle of the Court House’s atrium. It was a large area with a white marble floor and a high, rounded ceiling that was at least three stories above her head. The people who came in and out barely spared them a glance. She figured this cell had been such a fixture, and no one really wanted to look on a criminal, that they were used to it and it was all part of the furnishings.

It was well past midday when someone finally came for her. The cell had emptied out throughout the day and now she was alone and lonely. She had never been so alone and bored before.

“Up,” the guard said as he entered the cell.

Raven wondered what would happen if she conked him on the head after he released the chains holding her, but there were too many people milling around. It wouldn’t be hard for someone to recapture her. No, her people knew what to do and she would be out of the Court House in no time. She just had to see this trial through.

Her wrists were chained together and a longer one was attached to where the wrists were joined. The guard took hold of the end of that long chain and she groused at being led like an animal. Didn’t these guards know she could have them killed at the snap of her fingers?

“Hurry up,” the guard grumbled as he led her along a hallway.

It was brightly lit and the carpet was plush under her feet. There were light fixtures every few feet and one wall was pierced every now and then with round windows. The other wall was punctured with gleaming wooden doors. Raven assumed this was where the courtrooms were, but, at the spacing between the doors, she surmised they must be small courtroom.

Finally, towards the end of the hallway, the guard stopped and knocked on the door. A moment passed before a muffled voice answered and the guard swung the door open. He tugged at the chain and Raven glared at his back as she was forced to follow him in.

Whatever Raven’s expectations for a courtroom, this was not it at all. It was small and carpeted with a large desk, larger than her own, dominating most of the chamber. The walls were plain, but there was a small potted tree in one corner to help cheer up the room. But Raven didn’t think courtrooms were supposed to be cheerful. Against the wall on the other side of the desk were dark bookcases filled with more books than Raven had seen in her entire life.

Behind the desk sat a man with a great mass of neatly combed white hair. He was bent over the desk’s surface, hastily scrawling something out on an off white piece of parchment. He was dressed in a black robe with tiny golden angels affixed to the ends of the sleeves, near his wrists.

“I’ll be with you in just a moment,” the man murmured as he finished scribbling.

“At your convenience, magistrate,” the guard replied, moving his feet so they were wide apart.

Raven silently grumbled to herself as she was forced to wait. Even when she saw people they never had to wait in her presence. That’s what the entrance chamber was for. And she kept fresh water and malted beer and a few other refreshments for her clients.

Finally, the man put his pen down and looked up at Raven with startling blue eyes. They seemed to see straight through to her soul and it would have taken Raven aback if she hadn’t steeled herself for it. He folded his hands on top of the desk and looked her up and down, his eyes finally coming to rest on her face.

He didn’t recognize her, but Raven knew who he was. The eyes confirmed it for her. She remembered those hands. She remembered watching them scrawl out her death sentence. He was the one who had made her a ward of the city, had sent her to the orphanage. Here before her sat the man who had started her journey to the underground. And he didn’t recognize her.

Raven smiled to herself. After all these years she had finally found the man who had changed her life. She didn’t know whether to kiss him or kill him. Her life after that decision had been hard, but she had met Aven, had become the most powerful Thief Lord. Still, she had promised that the man would pay for the pain she had suffered, and the greater pain she would have suffered at the orphanage had she gone to live there.

“Thief Lord Raven,” the magistrate said, his voice mild and his eyes unwavering. His hands were spread out on top of the papers he had been writing on, proudly displaying the ruby ring he wore as a magistrate. The setting was elaborate; this man had risen quite high since he had sentenced Tala to the orphanage. “I had hoped we would meet one day. You’ve certainly kept us on our toes.”

Raven didn’t say anything. She fixated on his face. This time she was intent on memorizing his face rather than just his hands. She would remember his mild manner at this point in time, and would later delight in the look of horror in his eyes as she slipped her favorite dagger into his gut.

The magistrate frowned and the lines around his eyes creased slightly as she remained silent. “What have you to say for yourself?” he asked, his voice gone cold.

“What are the charges against me?” she replied, her voice similarly steely.

The magistrate leaned back, a look of surprise flittering across his face. “You are a Thief Lord. Surely you know as well as I do that the list of charges is miles long. Your followers, as you people choose to call those petty criminals, have likely committed any number or horrendous crimes from simple theft to murder. As Thief Lord, surely you know you must take the fall for all the crimes your followers have and will commit.”

Raven only repeated,” What are the charges against me?”

The man sighed and plopped a pair of golden rimmed spectacles on his nose. He shifted through his papers and pulled one up.

“Thief Lord Raven, you are being charged with the murder of one Lord Daisun Sarlik.” He put down the paper and looked at her over the top of the spectacles. “Young lady, murder is a very serious crime. For that, you will be sent to the cells and sentencing will be in just a few days.”

The guard reached out to grab hold of her arm, but she quickly jerked away from him. She made it a couple of steps towards him before the guard caught her and held on to both of her arms. She struggled against the man’s strong arms, wishing she had spent more time on strength exercises as well as her usual limbering ones, but the man’s hands were like iron. The magistrate only watched her with wary eyes, but didn’t look afraid at all.

Eyes blazing, Raven stilled and ground out, “What kind of a trial is this?”

Surprise flared in the magistrate’s eyes. “Trial? What makes you think you deserve a trial? You are a Thief Lord. Trials are reserved for the people, the tax payers, the household owners, the lords and ladies, the merchants, the people who make their living honestly.” By the time he finished his recitation, his face had turned red and his hands were once again pressed to the desk top. “You are a common thief and thereby do not deserve a trial. It is clear that are you at fault for all your crimes. You do not get a trial. Guard, take her straight to the cells!”

 

Note: And that’s it! That’s all that’s been written of Raven. I had hoped to have written an ending by now, and I do know most of the ending, but that obviously hasn’t happened. While I had this story perfectly outlined, it started spiraling out of control halfway through and I’m still trying to figure it out. I know what happens to Raven, but no clue what will happen to Caidy and Tyala. One day, though, I hope this will be finished and posted here. Thank you so much for reading, and I’m sorry I couldn’t give you a better ending.

The Thing About Dragons

I love dragons. I think they’re my favorite mythical creature. There was a point in time where I would not read a book if it didn’t have a dragon.

When I think of dragons, I think of majestic, noble creatures. They’re wise and maybe a bit frosty. But their elegance when they take to the skies is unrivaled. I bet they’re even more beautiful than Pegasus.

As a child, I thought all dragons looked the same. I didn’t know there was a difference between Western dragons and Chinese Dragons. When I found out, it boggled my mind a bit and made me reflect on all the dragons I had read about, who, it turned out, looked very different from the dragons I had imagined.

I grew up in a solidly Chinese American household. I was raised with a Chinese American mom, who had a very traditionally Chinese mother, and a Chinese born and raised father. Dragons and phoenixes ruled my life. They were in the golden designs decorating the walls and pillows. Golden figures of them were entwined on restaurant walls in LA’s Chinatown. They were painted everywhere there. I was surrounded by graceful birds with elegant heads and brilliant plumage and serpentine dragons whose bodies twisted this way and that in the air with stubby, yet elegant limbs ending in claws.

gray dragon statue

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

They were the beautiful creatures of my childhood. Their images have been seared into my head. The noble dragons symbolizing masculinity and the fierce, elegant phoenixes symbolizing femininity.

Those are the dragons I always pictured when I read them in book.

One day, I looked up the word “dragon” in the dictionary. There was a picture. But I was confused. It didn’t look like the dragons I knew. It wasn’t long, serpentine, and noble. It looked like a terrifying dinosaur preparing to stomp on me. Western cultures pictured dragons as fire breathing dinosaurs who struck terror in people’s hearts? I was a little heartbroken and sad. I grew up with such beautiful dragons that it was hard to reconcile them with the hideous beasts I had been reading about. No wonder many of them lacked the nobility I knew.

Needless to say, I stopped reading books with dragons for awhile. My dragon phase was officially over, but my love for my Chinese dragons was growing.

Today, as a writer, I almost always include dragons when I write about mythical creatures. But I’m clear in describing them as long and serpentine who don’t always breathe fire. My Eastern dragons are my inspiration. I love them so much, and I want so much to share my love of them.

Today unicorns are all the rage. But I’ll forever be a dragon lady.

Looking Forward to Having Both Kids Home All Summer

Many parents, my own included, look forward to sending their kids back to school as soon as summer vacation starts. Actually, I liked sending myself back to school, too. But I know my mom, and many other parents, look forward to having some child-free time again, look forward to some degree of freedom knowing their kids are being taught and watched for a number of hours five days a week.

I don’t doubt that that will be me one day, especially when both kids are in school.

But, right now, this summer, I look forward to having both of my babies home with me.

It’s my son’s last summer before he really starts school. He’ll be turning 5 and heading for Kindergarten. He’s recently finished preschool, so I’m kind of used to having him away for a few hours. But the Kindergarten days are longer than the preschool days, and I just don’t know what my daughter and I will do without him for that long. Eventually, we’ll figure it out, but I’ll still countdown to pick up time. As it is, I was usually the first one to pick up my son from preschool. I don’t like not having him at home.

Life is louder, busier, and more chaotic with both kids home. I step on more toys. I have more kids whining at me and making demands. I have more disciplining that needs to get done. I have to split my attention between two kids who cling to me and pull in different directions half the day. It’s not always easy having both kids home and sometimes I wish my son had school that day.

But I really do love having them both with me. I like knowing they’re safe and happy and I’m right here to take care of their needs. They only have to wait for each other, but they love playing together most of the time, so sometimes they don’t mind having to take turns.

I look forward to having them both home all summer. I don’t look forward to having to send my son away for most of the day five days a week starting in August. I know I’m going to long to have him home just as much as I like having him and his non-stop word flow at school. For now, I’m just going to enjoy it.

Keeping Busy

When I was very young, my mom read somewhere that, over the summer, kids lose most of what they learned over the past year. My dad’s solution: have us do workbooks all summer. There quickly came a time where I didn’t remember not doing workbooks in the summer. I looked forward to taking a trip to the local teacher resources store as soon as school let out.

My kids will have their grandparents to blame.

As my son is about to start Kindergarten, this will be his very first summer spent the same way I remember spending my summers.

My mom drew up reward charts for us and taped them, one below the next, to a wall. Every weekday we were to do our assigned number of workbook pages, do a half hour of reading, practice piano, clean out rooms, and whatever other tasks she chose for us. My brother and I would compete to see who finished first, and often did the next day’s pages the night before so we had less to do the next morning.

We were raised to work first, then play, so, even though our mom didn’t demand it, we still spent each morning doing everything we had to do we could spend the rest of the day playing.

Almost as soon as our son graduated from preschool, we headed for the local learning store. My husband and I were like kids in a candy store while our actual kids loved the toys that were out for them to play with.

Laden with workbooks, phonics teaching tools, construction paper, stickers, paints, crayons, and a cute robot set, we exited, simultaneously wondering if we had over done it or were still unprepared for the long summer days.

Coloring is our son’s nemesis. It’s been that way since I say him down with paper and crayons when he was a little more than a year old. He flipped out when he had to touch paint shortly before he turned two. He made faces when he had to touch chalk. Teaching him to take his time with coloring is going to be fun this summer.

But, when it comes to STEM, this kid lights up. Science experiments, robots, magnets… His favorite activity is sink or float, where he explores weight, mass, and gravity. He’s also been doing simple addition and subtraction for almost a year. His dad couldn’t be more excited about what he gets to teach our son this summer.

The summer will fly by. We’ll keep busy. There’s learning to do and learning to maintain. There will be exciting trips to the city, the beach, the library, and parks. There will be painting and building and hopefully no permanent stains (right, husband?).

But I hope it doesn’t move to fast. I hope to have time to just breathe in my babies, to enjoy having them in my clutches. Ahem. I mean, at home with me. I’m terrified of sending him to school, but am also eager for him to learn and, hopefully, love learning as much as I do.

I’m going to love having both my babies at home with me all summer. Just 13 short weeks.

Life Between the Pages: What is Up With All the Cursing?

I feel like I can no longer open up a book and experience clean reading. Profanity litters the pages like “the” and “a.”

I’m a little uptight. Okay, maybe more than a little. But I was raised by parents who didn’t let us curse ( I’m the only one in my family who still doesn’t curse) and took that to heart. I can actually count on one hand how many times I’ve actually said one. I didn’t feel very good about myself when I used it, but no one around me seemed to have an opinion about it.

I find cursing to be crude and unsophisticated. I also appreciate the power of words and words like enraged, furious, and incensed carry more power than pissed off. Total honesty. I cringed just writing that. And that’s probably being mild.

I appreciate elegance, sophistication, and a mastery of words (and the ownership of or access to a thesaurus). I don’t think cursing is a necessity as a rule.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not wholly against cursing. I don’t think books should always be squeaky clean. Indeed, I think profanity can be effective and pack quite a punch when used sparingly and for effect. I also recognize that some books, because of the setting or characterization, depend on cursing to keep it real.

But I still don’t believe every book needs pages filled with curse words. It’s actually insanely off-putting to me. And, seriously, every character has to curse? I don’t know about you, but I can have all kinds of conversations with different people without a single curse from either of us.

I also think it’s something fantasy books have a problem with. If it’s in a made-up world, some of the language is also often made up. Which means curse words tend to be made up. But I don’t think they are quite as emphatic as they could be either because they’re over used or they’re just too different that they become another word like “forest” and  “sword.” I can read them without feeling the emotion that’s supposed to be behind them. They’re like fun little words.

I hate opening up a book and seeing curse words on every other line. It doesn’t bode well for the rest of the book.

I appreciate their use, but can they be used less often?

Book Review: If Only by Melanie Murphy

 

Title: If Only

Author: Melanie Murphy

Publisher: Hatchette Books Ireland

Publication date: June 6, 2019

Genre: Fiction, Women’s fiction

 

Summary: Erin has just broken up with her fiance, has a job she hates, and is jealous of her new flatmate who is basically everything she isn’t. On the bright side, she has a fantastic friend in Reid, has just discovered her childhood friend Finn has moved to the same building, and is about to celebrate her thirtieth birthday with her beloved grandmother in Ireland. But her granny has a surprise for her: a special pendant that can give her the opportunity to briefly live a life she could have had that will change how she sees her reality.

I love the premise of this book. Who hasn’t wondered what their life would have been like if they’d made a different decision? I wouldn’t mind my own pendant, though I think it would drive me as nuts as it did Erin when she first received it. It is eye opening, though, what a glimpse into another life can give you. At the same time, it can also help one see how right reality can be for one. I loved that Erin explored a few possibilities, but kept coming back to how different her life in them was from what she loved about her reality. As a reader, I will always wonder about the if onlys, but reading this also makes me appreciate where my choices have led me and makes me think this is where I’m supposed to be.

The majority of this book takes place in London, and the characters feel like regular people out walking on the streets. Their speech was sometimes a little hard to follow and figure out since it just felt so very British, but I was charmed by the authenticity and how the author didn’t try to clean up their speech to make it more clear. It felt like I was listening in on someone’s life, and I loved it. One thing that bothered me a little, though, was when other characters would point out how Irish Erin was at times. As an American who doesn’t know the fine differences between being Irish and British, I had no clue what the character was talking about. There was no way I could tell what was British and what was Irish.

One interesting thought that kept striking me while I read, though, was how much it kept making me think of the movie Love, Actually. I don’t know if it was the setting or how the characters spoke or how, in it’s own way, the story revolved around love and friendship, but it made me smile and want to keep reading.

I really loved how the structure was very different from what I had expected. When Erin was presented with the pendant and told she would only have seven views, I expected the chapters to, more or less, alternate between views and reality. Instead, I got an Erin who was torn between being terrified of using the pendant and wanting desperately to glimpse what different decisions would have brought. Most of the book was spent with her debating whether to use it and her living her life and moving forward, creating her own unique family and place in the world. What I didn’t like were the time jumps immediately after the chapters detailing her pendant use. I would have liked a bit about her digesting and unpacking what she saw and how it might impact her reality.

Overall, this was a delightful novel, one I would probably read over and over. The characters felt familiar in that they could be anyone with the same problems and questions and regrets. I loved the way Erin used the pendant and how it impacted the way she saw her reality, and I commend her lack of impulse to use all seven tries. I loved how this book highlighted the fact that we all have wondered “what if” or “if only” and suggested that perhaps the life we are currently living is the one meant for us anyways and that we must continually move forward.

How many cups of tea will you need?

4 cups will be perfect.

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Thank you so much to Netgalley and Hatchette Books Ireland for a free copy. All opinions expressed here are my own.

The Weekly Question #7

If you had to (not got to) live on another planet (whether or not it’s actually habitable), which planet would it be?

My son loves space. We live not too far away from JPL and have had the good fortune to visit twice. The last time was for their open house. One of their exhibits was about exoplanets. It was lovely; they had it set up kind of like a travel agency, though what they had to say about some of the planets (which were quite cute and funny) made me thankful I live in Earth. But it got me thinking… if I had to live on another planet, which one would it be?

Saturn. Just for a daily view of the rings. My son loves Saturn for those rings. He’ll put rings around anything round and call it Saturn. Sometimes it’s Uranus, but, most of the time, it’s Saturn. It would be lovely to give him a view of those rings. And I wouldn’t mind, either.

What about you? What planet would you pick?

Raven, Chapter 19

The Thief Lords attacked in the middle of the day, when the underground is usually asleep. They almost made it to my bedchambers, but my followers stopped them. They threatened the Thief Lords’ lives, but I spared them. They should be thankful to me for that. I could have completely taken over the underground. But that only made them plot harder.

-writing on the cell wall

Deri was weaving in and out of carts and wandering people as he made his way through the Market District. It was just before dawn, but already the merchants and street vendors were coming out to prepare for the new day. He had streaked right towards The Nook, only to be stopped by the sight of the milling City Guard.

He had hidden in the shadows, getting as close as he dared, hoping to catch any news from the guards before he was caught. For the most part, the men were silent was they walked around the heart of The Nook. Deri learned that this was where they had found Lord Sarlik’s body and Deri realized Raven had indeed been successful.

One of the Guards shook his head and crossed his arms. “Poor man. Lord Sarlik was a good person. Any news of his daughter yet? Poor girl must be hysterical.”

One of the younger guards sidled up to the guard that had just spoken. “Do you know who did it? I just came on duty and learned about this now.”

The first guard shook his head and spit off to the side. “You wouldn’t believe it if I told you.”

“Try me.”

“You’re familiar with the underground?” At the younger guard’s nod, he went on, “The female Thief Lord, Raven, and, you’re not going to believe this, Lady Almi.”

The younger guard was taken aback at that. “Lady Almi? A noblewoman? She had a part in this murder?”

The older guard nodded. “Sure did. She and the little criminal have been taken to the Court House. They should be charged later today when the magistrate and the President make it to the Town Square.”

Deri didn’t wait to hear any more. He dashed off towards the Town Square and crept through the shadows towards the Court House. He hadn’t been around in this area often, but everyone in the underground knew their way around the Court House. They all knew that those imprisoned were kept in the basement cells and that there were small windows lined with clustered iron bars. All he had to do was find the one Raven was in.

A half hour later, after having called into every window, he still hadn’t managed to find Raven. He knew Onna was waiting for him, but what could he tell her? That Raven was somewhere in the Court House and he couldn’t find her? Well, that would have to do. The sun was starting to rise.

Seeing all the light that was beginning to pour into the Town Square, Deri scurried off and slid into the shadows. He made his way back to the slums and was out of breath by the time he reached the hidden entrance leading into Raven’s network of caverns.

Onna was still seated in Raven’s seat. She looked tired and haggard. Several other followers were milling around. Deri could feel the anxiety and fear in the cavern. And they all perked up as soon as they saw him, Onna springing to her feet.

“Deri, what news?” she asked, a frantic look in her face and posture.

He shook his head. “Not good, Onna. Lord Sarlik is dead, but Raven and Lady Almi were caught and are now somewhere in the Court House.”

Instead of looking devastated, a resolute look crossed Onna’s face. She sat back down in Raven’s chair as Deri and the other followers in the room looked on. The older ones had some understanding in their faces, but the younger ones looked bewildered, wondering if Onna was asserting her right to be the next Thief Lord.

Slowly, Onna opened up a drawer and pulled out rolled pieces of paper. She spread them out and waved for everyone to come closer. They all crowded around the desk and saw that Raven’s adviser had spread maps of the Court House on the desk surface. There were thick black lines drawn to indicate various paths from various points in the building.

“What’s this?” Deri asked.

Onna didn’t look up as she answered. “When Aven selected me to be his successor, this was the first thing he showed me. There has always been the risk that Raven or one of us, the followers, would be captured. Raven made plans for that, plans for breaking out. Once Raven has been judged, we will find out which cell she is in and break her out.” She looked up, fire in her eyes. “Then we will bring down whoever gave her away.”

Deri frowned. “What do you mean? Do you think one of us told the City Guards what she was doing?”

Onna shook her head. “We wouldn’t do that to her, none of us. It has to have been Thief Lord Corinn. Once we break out Raven, we will go after him.”

One of the older, grizzled murderers stepped up and pulled a curved blade from its sheath. Jesyre had an odd light in his eyes. “Why wait?” he asked. “Let us go take care of him now. It’ll be our gift to Raven.”

Onna shook her head. “First, we must learn of what Raven would like to do with him. If she says to murder him, I will send word to you.”

Jesyre clenched his jaw, but nodded. He stepped away, sheathing his blade as he went. But he folded his arms and that odd light remained in his eyes. Deri wasn’t sure the man was going to keep to his word. After Aven, Jesyre had been Raven’s first follower, having come from Teryk’s following.

“Deri,” Onna said, “take a cloak and remain hidden around the Court House. Send word to us as soon as you know Raven has been judged.”

The boy nodded and hurried off in the first step to break Raven out of the prison.

 

Corinn had never felt so exuberant in his entire life. A goofy smile was on his face, both from the joy and the malted beer he was downing like it was water. Quin had joined in in their private merrymaking in Corinn’s chambers. Already the amber liquid had flowed across the hard ground, spotting the few pieces of furniture Corinn had.

“To us!” Corinn said, reaching out his pewter mug to clink against Quin’s.

For once, the usually somber and serious adviser was smiling and in good spirits. He was laughing and there were tears of joy in the corners of his eyes. He felt as jubilant as his Thief Lord did.

They had finally gotten the best of Raven. And it felt good.

Quin leaned back in the plush armchair, one of the more comfortable pieces in Corinn’s bedchamber. Corinn himself was sprawled out in his bed, the malted beer staining his covers. Quin sighed heavily and took a deep drink.

“I can’t believe how easy it was,” Quin said, for the umpteenth time. “Raven must have let her guard down. Aven’s death sure did hit her hard. She hasn’t been the same since.”

Corinn shook his head and took a big gulp. “Nope. That’s what made it so easy. It’s scandalous, really, how easy it was. But it worked and I don’t feel bad. She’s had it coming for a long time. That girl has thwarted us so many times. She’s gotten her just desserts.”

Quin lifted his mug. “That she has. I’ll drink to that.”

The two men had no sooner lifted their mugs to their lips when there was a commotion at the entrance to the cavern. Startled, they turned and sloshed amber liquid everywhere as the other two Thief Lords stormed into Corinn’s bedchamber, flanked by their advisers.

Drunkenly, Corinn lifted his half full mug to the four men, a goofy smile on his face. “Cheers, men! Raven is no longer a threat to us. She has been imprisoned and will be there for a long time.”

Deryk crossed his arms while Edvin shook his head. The two advisers stood by stoically. Quin paid them no mind; he just took two gulps of the remaining malted beer, finishing off the cup.

“You’re a fool, Corinn,” Edvin growled. “We cannot afford to lose another Thief Lord. Can you imagine who else might rise up and claim to be a Thief Lord? At least, with Raven, there was some semblance of order. We didn’t like her much, either, but we need her.”

“There are also rumblings from Raven’s following,” Deryk added in his melodic tenor voice. “They are furious and are calling for blood. They suspect it was one of us, and it won’t take much for Edvin and I to out you, but we need what few Thief Lords we have.”

Corinn just shrugged. He wasn’t concerned in the least. They were so keen on having four Thief Lords; they couldn’t afford to get rid of him. His hide was safe and sound. They wouldn’t dare touch him.

“What do we do?” he heard Deryk ask softly. He assumed the other Thief Lord was talking to Edvin, so didn’t even bother looking up from pouring more of the amber liquid into his mug. “What can we do?”

“We wait for Raven’s escape,” Edvin replied in his gruff voice. “Then we’ll take it up with her. The vengeance is hers.”

Corinn laughed and hiccuped at the same time, nearly falling off of his bed. “That’s assuming she will escape!”

Deryk shook his head. Corinn didn’t know Raven as well as he thought. Raven was careful and meticulous, just as Teryk had trained her. And, just as Teryk had trained her, she would have escape routes and plans from every room of the Court House.

“We will wait for Raven’s escape,” Edvin repeated.

Corinn only laughed and poured more of the malted beer for himself and Quin. Nothing was going to get him down. Raven was in prison and all was right in the underground for now.

 

Lord Almi returned home, furious with his lot in life. It had taken the better part of the day, but he had managed to bring his wife home. It had also cost him more than a pretty penny to bring her home, without any charges attached to her name.

Lady Almi had been caught with a sword dripping with Lord Sarlik’s blood by the City Guard. The magistrate hadn’t been willing to release her. But he had understood Lord Almi’s situation and knew a murder charge would forever damage the Almi name, which had historically been associated with peace. The also understood the Almis had three children, none yet of the age of majority. Their futures would be compromised if their name was thus besmirched.

The magistrate had charged a hefty sum, and Lord Almi had paid it. In Needle City, just about anything could be bought. At least, as long as you belonged to the nobility.

Lord Almi hadn’t looked at his wife or said a word to her on their ride home. She had plead for him to forgive her, implored him to speak to her, begged for him to look at her. But he refused. The woman had been so consumed with her family’s feud that she had very nearly damaged their family. Their children would have been forced to look elsewhere for spouses, something that the nobility in Needle City tended to look down on. The nobility’s children could marry common folk, as long as they came from Needle City. Everyone else was suspect. Sometimes it was a difficult place to live, but he liked it. And his wife had nearly destroyed everything.

“Father,” Tyala said with surprise as the front door burst open and her father stalked in, her mother following after. “Mother, where have you been?”

Lady Almi glanced uncertainly at her husband before taking a few tentative steps towards her daughter. Her husband’s suddenly booming voice cut her off and nearly made her lose her balance.

“No!” he shouted. “Upstairs, Nyana. We have words to exchange. You will leave the children alone.”

Bewildered, Tyala looked from her father to her mother and back again. “Father, what’s going on?”

Lord Almi cast a warning look at his wife and took a step closer to his daughter. Her face white and her lips pale and pressed tightly together, Lady Almi picked up her skirts and raced for the steps. Her husband and daughter listened as they faded before another word was said.

“Where are your brothers?” Lord Almi asked, his voice and face gentle now, looking exactly like a concerned father.

“Out in the gardens.”

“Tyala, you mother was caught up in something tragic last night,” he said, picking his words very carefully. “Your mother’s family’s feud has gotten out of hand. Last night, your mother and one of the Thief Lords went out and murdered someone.”

Tyala’s hands flew up to her mouth, her eyes wide and horrified. She knew the family’s feud with the Sarliks very well. The victim could only have been a Sarlik, and there were only two of them.

Lord Almi rushed over to his daughter before she fell over and stabilized her. He clutched her arms and forced her to look at him.

“It wasn’t Caidy,” he said in a whisper. “Dear angels, it wasn’t her, Tyala. But she needs you now. If she will see you, end this feud with her and stay with her.”

Eyes full of tears, unshed, Tyala nodded. Her father released her and she bolted out the door. She didn’t even bother to change her house slippers for shoes or to throw on a cloak. Lord Almi was only thankful she had been fully dressed.

Heaving a great sigh, he looked upwards, towards where his wife waited. The woman had endangered their entire family. He shook his head. If it had only been the work of Raven, he would be fine. But his wife had decided to take part, and now there was a price to pay.

Divorce was unheard of in Needle City. But he didn’t think the magistrate would put up too much of a fuss in this case. He would understand that Lord Almi needed to protect his children, away from the evil influences of Needle City and their mother’s obsession with her family’s feud.

His face and mindset set, he made his way to the stairs and slowly ascended them.