Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut: a Review

Book #8 in the 2016 Reading Challenge is a book that was banned at some point. For this, I chose to read Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut. I wondered why this book had been banned, so I tried to find out. Among the reasons, I found it was due to profanity, explicit sexual references and violent imagery. It has been banned and challenged many times in the years since it’s publication in 1969.

To be honest, I can’t say that I particularly enjoyed this book. I had a difficult time getting started on it, and even by the time I was halfway through, I still felt like I was reading an assignment.

Written during the Vietnam war, this is very much an anti-war statement. It is intentionally vulgar and offensive. Vonnegut’s dark humor is put to full effect. He uses some shocking and sometimes poignant imagery in order to convey his message. And I might say, quite effectively.

There was one image in particular I found rather stunning. The book’s protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, has become “unstuck in time” and in this scene, he is watching a war movie, but in reverse. American bombers take off backwards from England and return over Germany while German fighters suck bullets and shrapnel from the bombers. Over the bombed German city, the flames are sucked in and tucked neatly back into the bombs which then return to the planes. It concludes…

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so that they would never hurt anybody again.

The American fliers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids. And Hitler turned into a baby, Billy Pilgrim supposed. That wasn’t in the movie. Billy was extrapolating. Everybody turned into a baby, and all humanity, without exception, conspired biologically to produce two perfect people named Adam and Eve, he supposed.

It’s a beautiful image, one that will likely stay with me a long time. If only it were that easy to pack up war and put it away for good.

Would I recommend this book? Though I didn’t particularly enjoy it, this book includes some striking images. If you are not put off by the vulgarity and explicit language, it has its moments. So, yes, go ahead and read it. Be offended even. But dare to look beyond the offensive language and see what was so offensive to Vonnegut in the first place that he had to write this book: war.

A Cheesecake for Every Season

Several years ago I discovered a love for cheesecake. This rich, delectable dessert with a reputation for being difficult is extremely versatile and delicious.

I began my cheesecake baking adventures with a simple boxed no-bake mix. Though tasty enough, it wasn’t quite satisfying and I quickly moved on to the Philadelphia 3-step Cheesecake recipe. I had to actually bake this one, but it uses a pre-made graham cracker crust.

When I wanted to liven this recipe up a bit, I started looking up recipes online and found so many yummy sounding options. One problem. I didn’t have a spring-form pan. Still, I dressed up the basic 3-step recipe by adding different things, like pumpkin or hazelnut coffee.

Still, it was a few years later when I received a spring-form pan as a gift one Christmas, that I really went nuts with the cheesecake baking. I’ve tried more recipes in the last several years than I can remember. My co-workers have become my favorite guinea pigs, always willing to try out a new cheesecake. And I now am the proud owner of three spring-form pans. Which means, in theory, I could make up to three at a time.

There are literally hundreds of cheesecake recipes online, in as many different flavors. There is a cheesecake suitable for every season, for any occasion. Here is a list of some of the favorites I’ve made before. A cheesecake for every month!

January
What better way to ring in the new year than with a cheesecake straight from the city where the biggest party takes place every New Year’s? Serve it as it is, or dress it up. A simple Blueberry Compote is nice. Here is my favorite version of this popular New York Style cheesecake.

February
This one is a beautiful upgrade to the box of chocolates. The White Chocolate & Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake is the perfect finish for any romantic dinner.

March
A cheesecake doesn’t have to be a dessert. Try this Savory Cheesecake for a bit of a change. With or without the bacon crumbles, it makes for a tasty dish that will liven up any brunch gathering.

April
This Espresso Cheesecake is a truly decadent dessert, and one of my personal favorites. If you plan to serve it with dinner, however, you might want to consider making it in a decaf version.

May
Another savory version, the Fiesta Cheesecake will make a colorful and tasty addition to any celebration. This unique cheesecake is a lot of fun to make.

June
This one is my favorite that I’ve every made. The Strawberry Lemonade Cheesecake is light, creamy, and just plain delicious! Plus it’s gorgeous. And it’s a good thing too, it’s a little bit more involved that many other recipes.

July
What treat defines summer better than the classic s’more? Put into a cheesecake, it brings this campfire treat to the table. I’ve never made this one with the berries, but the cake alone is fantastic.

August
Cap off summer with this fun and unique Carrot Cake Cheesecake. The carrot cake serves as the base with a decadent cheesecake top. This also works well as cupcakes. Delicious!

September
It’s time for going back to school. Celebrate with this downright sinful Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake.

October
There’s no better fall dessert than this Pumpkin Marble Cheesecake. It’s beautiful and delicious with a wonderfully spicy gingersnap crust.

November
Another perfectly seasonal dessert is an Apple Nut Cheesecake. This one is my go-to when I need something quick. (My apologies, I can’t seem to locate this recipe online anymore. There’s some good looking ones, but none are the one I’m familiar with.)

December
Finish off a year of cheesecakes with this amazing Layered Turtle Cheesecake. Layers of chocolate and white cheesecake and topped with a chocolate ganache, pecans and caramel drizzle.

There you have it, some of my favorite cheesecake recipes. Enjoy one, or enjoy them all! Go on your own internet search for something in your favorite flavor. In my experience, cheesecake doesn’t have to be as touchy and difficult as it’s reputation makes out. It might be time consuming, but the reward is well worth it.

Novel No. 4 in B Minor

Something happened today as I pondered the WordPress daily prompt, melody. I love music. It’s always been a part of my existence. I wondered what I might write about this word.

I’ve also been pondering the Twitter #hashtag event #WIPjoy that is going on throughout the month of September. It’s hosted by @simmeringmind, and she’s put together a prompt for every day. I’m already two days behind because September sort of snuck up on me. I’ll get caught up though!

WIPjoy_Sept2016

As I pondered these two seemingly separate things on my drive to work this morning they merged into one. I suddenly realized that the novel I’m working on involves a great deal of music. My main character, after all, is a bard. Music is his life.

It occurred to me that this character’s story line is the primary melody of my novel. It is his conflict with the main antagonist that provides the basis for the entire story. At the same time, there are several other supporting characters on both sides of the “good vs. evil” line. These, I decided are the harmonies. They support and compliment the melody line.

I am suddenly excited again about this new revelation I’ve discovered about this novel in progress. This one has been a long time in coming and it deserves to be completed. Let’s make some music!

September, Tent Forts & Pumpkin Cheesecake: New Season, New Goals

I can’t believe it’s September already. Just two weeks ago, we had triple digit temperatures, but now, we have gray skies, rain showers and a bit of a chill in the air. It was downright shivery at work today as the air conditioning must still be in summer mode.

Yes, September has arrived. The leaves are turning and falling. The first day of school is only a week away. My children are sleeping in a make-shift tent on the floor in the living room tonight. And I am staying up late baking a pumpkin cheesecake. Indeed, summer is on her way out.

It’s a new season, it must be time for some new goals. I started this blog back in January without any real clue as to what I hoped to accomplish with it. I intended that it would be a place where I could share my words with others and push myself to do more with my writing. I think I’ve made a good start, but I still don’t really know what this blog should be about.

Writing…

I’ve been sharing my experiences as I work through my writing projects. This has been a bit of a wild ride for me. Exciting, but a little intimidating. In April, I shared some background and research bits on my middle grade novel in progress, The Curse of the Anne Venture. Introducing my three main characters, Mike, Tommy and Elijah was particularly fun.

Then, in July, I began working on fantasy short stories from the world of another novel in progress. I decided I would publish one here on my blog, and asked you to help me decide which one that would be. The process of writing, rewriting, revising and polishing a story for publication has proven to be different than I anticipated. Thus, I am behind on this project. I had hoped to publish the completed story, “Shattered”, on September 3. While I’ve had to rethink this schedule, I still intend to publish this story on the blog. But first, I want to make it the best story possible.

My writing goals this month then are first, to finish the story “Shattered” and have it ready for publication by the end of September. Second, I intend to continue with the book reviews, ideally, one per week. And last, I will continue with the personal essays in response to the WordPress daily prompt as well as any others that might come up.

Reading…

When started this blog I intended to also write book reviews. This is something I’ve never really done before, so it’s been a learning experience. I’m enjoying it more with each book. Participating in the 2016 Reading Challenge has pushed me to expand my reading experiences.

I’ve fallen a little bit behind with this challenge, however so one goal of mine is to catch up on my reading during the month of September. With November (National Novel Writing Month) coming quickly, I’d prefer to get ahead even. But two of the biggest books on the list are still to be read.

Ideally, I will be able to finish at least three books from this list. Currently I’m working on Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, and next up will be Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott, followed by Stop That Girl, by Elizabeth McKenzie.

…and Life in General

As I work on expanding the reach of my blog, I decided to try responding to the WordPress daily prompt. A one-word prompt meant only to stimulate ideas, wherever that might take you. I wrote about more random subjects this past month than I would have thought possible.

While I’m enjoying this activity, and my posts seem to be well received, I’m not convinced this is the direction I want to go with my blog. I’ll keep at it for now. I’d like to see how things take shape over the course of the next few months.

My goal then, is to continue to respond to the daily prompts as I’m inspired. When I started this, I didn’t think I could ever find time to write something every day. I’m not there yet, and I don’t intend to push myself that hard. At least for now. I’d like to see at least one post a week, however, and I think that’s very doable!

 

These are my goals for September. It will be a stretch to accomplish all that I want to do, but they are not unreasonable. And there can be no growth without a bit of stretching. It’s a new season, a new start.

What are your goals this fall? Thanks for reading!

Fiction Writer’s Workshop, by Josip Novakovich: a Review

You don’t need to wait for inspiration to write. It’s easier to be inspired while writing than while not writing. – Josip Novakovich

The Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich provides an excellent resource for writers at any level of experience. With chapters on every element of fiction from plot and character to description and voice, Novakovich has written a solid overview of the writing process.

It’s great for the novice writer, building a solid foundation of the basics. Novakovich includes dozens of specific examples from numerous well-known authors such as Mark Twain, J. D. Salinger and Charles Dickens to illustrate the point of each chapter.

This book could serve the more experienced writer as a resource to refer to as needed. Each of the ten chapters are short, and center on a specific element of fiction. This enables the reader to go to a specific target area.

At the end of each chapter, Novakovich has included a dozen or more exercises to help the writer put each lesson into practice. This allows the novice to learn the craft and practice immediately. The exercises work equally well as writing prompts, helping any writer out of a stuck place, or to spark new ideas.

Josip Novakovich has published a novel, April Fool’s Day, two collections of short stories and several collections of essays. Besides Fiction Writer’s Workshop, he has also published another writing instruction book. Novakovich has received a number of awards, including the Whiting Award. He was a finalist for The Man Booker International Prize in 2013 and has been included in the Pushcart Prize and O. Henry Prize anthologies, among others. Novakovich has taught creative writing at various universities, most currently at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec.

Overall, I consider this a useful book whatever level you’re at as a writer. I will likely keep it on my shelf and use it as a resource to refer to as needed. And the exercises will make great prompts when I need something to get me started.