12 December 2014

All You Want for Christmas: A Jo Walton Kind of Year

Toronto's official start to the Season is marked by the Santa Claus parade.  I happen to live at parade ground zero with hundreds gathered around my neighbourhood organizing, volunteering and observing this annual holiday parade. As a result. the Christmas fever starts as early as mid-November here. While I have tried to restrain myself these past weeks leading up to our little family tradition of tree dressing and house decorating this, the second week in December, I am relieved to finally get this Christmas started.  I take holiday baking a tad too seriously. Christmas is nothing without a cheese ball, some rum and 45 different types of home-made baked goods to nibble on.  As a token of the Christmas spirit let me share the magic that is my Mom's Cheese Ball.

Mom's Cheese Ball 
Using a food processor whip together ingredients into a gelatinous mass of cheesy goodness. Form into ball if desired, covering with shaved almonds or paprika. Food processor may overheat and die from the strain.
2 1/2 cups extra old cheese 
1 16oz cream cheese
1 cup parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon Cheese Whiz
1 tablespoon mayonaise
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Dash of salt
1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice (2 is better)
1/2 cup white onion

And with the sharing of the cheese ball let us commence with the annual Thank the Maker's  recommendations for gift buying. In 2014, no author captured my attention more so than Jo Walton. From her hauntingly beautiful Amongst Others, to her dragon oddity, Tooth and Claw, Walton's catalog is the perfect example of SF for the non-SF reader. Walton has the ability to turn the perception of reality on it's head with a quiet assuredness marking her as a talented story-teller. Not every writer can tell a story, many are master weavers of dialogue, or the perfect plot twisters and some are pedantic science nerds who write abstracts in the guise of novels.  Walton is able to make speculative fiction, reality. Every single book I have read by her has lost me into it's world the first paragraph in, every single one. That, my friends is the markings of a master story-teller.

For the mystery lover:  Small Change Trilogy - I nursed myself back to sci-fi health on this series after ending my salacious affair with the mystery novel this past summer. A historically speculative series that places the reader into a world with Britain having signed a peace treaty with Nazi Germany. The key to its genius are the successful mash-up of old school "Agatha-esque" detective novel with tried and true SF.

For the person you love more than anyone:  Among Others - I died and went to fairy heaven reading Walton's awarding winning novel Among Others. Seemingly simple, a diary of a teenage girl at boarding school, the novel takes us on a journey of heart-ache, magic and above-all else, healing. Not the easiest book to read if you are not into SF because the protagonist is a SF geek referencing countless old school sci-fi but trust me, the fairies make it all worth-while. 

For the weeper:  My Real Children - Having just finished My Real Children I am still a little unclear on how to best proceed with my review.  A novel documenting the life/lives of one woman, showcasing possibly two realities in post-war Britain. It emphasizing providence or free-will depending solely on the reader's personal perspective of the universe and faith. This book has left many in the SF world pondering whether it is sci-fi enough. And while I too have some misgivings regarding that very question, the book captured me, breaking my heart numerous times, perplexing me on the dynamics of reality. The book opens to the protagonist, an elderly senile woman befuddled and vulnerable living in a senior's care centre, not quite able to determine which of her memories are real and who in fact are her real children.  

For the weirdo:  Tooth and Claw - Okay, maybe weirdo is strong but this particular book is straight up awesome odd. If you know hands-down that the person you are buying for is against dragons than you might want to forgo this little book because this book is about dragons; dragons who eat each other. Actually it is decidedly more, a Victorian romp mashing dragon lore with Trollope, putting both on it's head.

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