Thursday, December 29, 2011

Teen Book Review - The Death Cure

Let’s get this over with.

James Dashner’s characters said that about 500 times in The Death Cure.
I read the first two books of the series, The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials, very quickly, but The Death Cure took me much longer. I had to stop and think if things were really possible pretty often. It was also sad and emotional, which made made me put the book down.
The Death Cure was good because there was a lot of continuous action, not like some books where there is one action scene every few chapters and the rest is talking. It was disturbing and gory though. Battle scenes didn’t leave very much to imagination because they were described so clearly. The story continuously got worse and left me wondering how things could possibly get worse, and then they got worse, and worse. Creepy cranks (people infected with the flare virus) chase and trap characters to give the reader a clear view of the crank infested world and what is at stake.
The hero has to make very difficult choices about people close to him. The people in WICKED (World In Catastrophe Kill Zone Experiment Department), which was created to cure the flare, acted like they were giving the kids a choice. In reality, they forced characters to do things they didn’t want to do. Finally, on the last page, we learn about the source of the flare and the reason for it, and the reason is shocking.

I was reminded of Lord of the Flies when I read this book because of the isolation from the adults and the sacrifices that were made. Books like this remind people of emotional consequences of war, unlike the virtual battle fields of video games.

Thanks for reading!
This review was written by my son, Adam. He is a freshman in high school.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Chocolate Covered Chestnuts

Lezzetin Izinde
Tis the season to roast some chestnuts on an open fire. Have you ever done it though? I had to go clear across the world to try some. It might have something to do with the fact that American chestnut trees were devastated by chestnut blight, or maybe chestnuts are just a European thing. The ones I usually find at the grocery store are from Italy.

Perhaps you've tried marron glacé? I adore them, whenever I can find some. It's probably a good thing they're hard to come by, though. The calorie count for chestnuts soaked in sugar syrup is insane. Some shops make them in Turkey, but as you can tell from the name, it's the French who really get credit for the idea - sorry Italy.

As far as Istanbul is concerned, there are other interesting ways to prepare a chestnut or kestane. Example: Chocolate coated chestnuts. From what I understand, the chestnuts are:

1) roasted to remove the shells
2) boiled in milk, vanilla and sugar
3) coated in (dark?) chocolate, and
4) dusted with pistachios

According to Hurriyet newspaper's 100 Tastes of Istanbul - Istanbul'un 100 Lezzeti#49 is the chocolate covered chestnut from Bahar Pastanesi in Teşvikiye.

Best4 Pastry Shops in Istanbul
Bursa retaining sweet chestnut taste, tradition

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Dose of Dickens

It's the holidays and Dickens is on my mind, especially since I went to see a comedy/musical version of A Christmas Carol a couple of weeks ago.
It was OK. The writer threw in some political jokes, modern social commentary, broadway bits, and a few guys walked on impersonating the "Occupy" movement for good measure.

Then I read USA Weekend's  Scrooge vs Aliens: A Christmas Carol Mashup

 Let's just say I prefer the old version.

I was in ninth grade when my teacher passed out a photocopy of Great Expactations. (Imagine! I still don't own a bound copy of this. What is WRONG with me?) I muddled through the first half, and then the teacher told us we didn't need to read further. (What was wrong with HER? The story was just getting good, at that point.) I didn't stop, and I remember Great Expectations as even more interesting than alllll the Austen I was reading at the time.

I loved Miss Havisham. The whole wedding feast gone wrong, the details, the decay. Then I picked up paperback version of A Tale of Two Cities, and then ohh, I was into Dickens, big time then.

I guess reading his work has shaped my writing style, if I think about it. Lots of details, some of them messy, a little bit raw. I would love to use some more dry wit and social commentary like his, but apparently that's a no-no in my genre. So I was thinking, I really want to read some Dickens this winter.

How about you?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Hande Yener

Thought I'd share some music today. (Read: Quick post because I still have shopping, wrapping, decorating to do.)

This is Hande Yener, one of Turkey's top female pop artists. Like Madonna and Lady Gaga, she likes to change up her look often and shares a similar energy on stage. Jet black, blonde, raucous red, pink, orange...I don't think there's a hair color she hasn't tried. She's back to natural brown at the moment.

These are a few that were huge hits for her. I had a hard time choosing my favs, but these show her versatility the best.

Romeo: This song has solid, staying power. I shuffle back to it every once in a while.

Bana Anlat, 2011: This is her latest single, and most days it's playing in my car.

Hipnoz: She tried her hand at electropop with this album. She didn't do it again.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hollywood Djinn
Uncharted 3 started me thinking about Hollywood and the way djinn are portrayed in film. I've seen them ghostly, fiery, and without a specific corporeal shape most often. Must be tough to act when your character is a cloud though. Only Robin Williams does well with the blue puffy look.

Then Clash of the Titans, v2010, came up with some story of djinn who gave up their bodies for what looks like charcoal briquettes. Glowing blues eyes complete the cheesy effect. But this is Clash of the Titans - so cheesy is what it's all about. ;)

Actually, as characters, they are pretty decent. They help Perseus out and are instrumental in defeating Medusa. Most other movies give the djinn a nasty reputation for death and destruction. Maybe spelling it "djinn" versus "genie" has something to do with the creepy coefficient?

Then there's Wishmaster,1997. This guy just looks like Satan in a red cloak. What's up with the horns and claws? I suppose being evil entitles a djinn to whatever he wants, but... I'm not buying the look, even if it makes me wonder if my djinn need an image consulation. If I was an evil mastermind, I'd want to look pretty darn ordinary and let people think I was just like them, until I trapped them between a rock and a hard place. What do you think? What other djinn have you seen in the movies?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

I was soooo happy when I got Uncharted 3 for $30 on Black Friday. I saved myself $30 on a new game which had just come out, you see. Plus, this game promised me an adventure in the Arabian desert to boot.

We headed to a medieval castle in France, which pointed to a Crusader castle in Syria reminiscent of one of my bucket list destinations -  Krak des Chevaliers, the stronghold of the Knights Hospitaller. A couple of ordinary puzzles later and we're off to the Rub' Al Khali - literally the 'empty quarter' of the Saudi Arabian peninsula. (NOT on my bucket list. I saw the edge of that desert when I lived in the UAE. Close enough for me, thank you very much.)

Sand, sand, more shifting sand, and, oh yeah, the forgotten city of Ubar/Iram of the Pillars/Lawrence of Arabia's Atlantis of the Sands. (Lots of names for this place, apparently.) Since interesting mythologies and creature creations usually come with every Uncharted, I was excited to see what they would do with the djinn.

The big reveal?

It was a brass jar, supposedly with a djinn in it, sealed away centuries before by King Solomon himself. A brass jar? Aren't we going to OPEN it? Nope. Not this time. No curse of somebody or other to mutate the Spaniards (Uncharted One), or blue dudes that inhaled too much resin (Uncharted Two).

This time, Drake merely hallucinates an attack by a few enemies who have been turned into fiery guys - and then Sully wakes him up. I was especially disappointed because, as you know, anything to do with djinn is of interest to me.

So I'm off to play the new Assassin's Creed. It's set in Istanbul, remember? I hope it's not as disappointing.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Anatolian Ground Squirrel

Link to ARKive photo
My little tale:

The bird feeder in my backyard is full of safflower seeds this winter.

The squirrels do not approve.

Sunflower seeds, on the other hand, bring them out in droves. You probably already know this, and no doubt have a squirrel-proof plan of your own. It's not that I don't like squirrels. (My husband believes I am a descendant of Scrat. *ahem*) I just want the birds to get some food too.

Out on the Anatolian plain, the highway (highway being a two lane road at the time) between Ankara and Mersin is covered in sunflowers. Squirrel heaven. Except there are no trees.

So where are the squirrels? Hiding out underground. You don't even know they're there. Unless you're the farmer, twisting your ankle in a burrow hole, swearing at them for eating your precious crops. Farmers took to poisoning the poor critters. The Anatolian Ground Squirrel population dropped somewhere around 25% before they were declared "near threatened" and offered some protection.

My first sight of them was at the side of the road, as I was going xxx kilometers per hour. The farmers had just cut down the sunflower crop and flushed the squirrels out. They were up on their hind legs, all in a row (the squirrels, not the farmers). I imagine they were a group of boy squirrels, daring each other to cross the road. (Why else were they there?)

Anyhow, they were very cute, so I hope they listened to their mommies and did not cross the road. (There's a TUNNEL, silly!) After that, I wondered if the underground cities were the brainchild of some ingenious, squirrel-minded individuals. As for myself, I was looking for a way to use these critters in my writing for a couple years now. I finally found a good spot in my WIP - Mist of Kavala. (Check out my brand-spanking-new query.)

You know what - it's a good thing I was sharing this with you today, because according to my research, ground squirrels don't drink standing water. So my squirrel at the watering hole - needs to find some other reason to be there. (Oops!) I guess it can nibble on some tasty seed plants growing there instead.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Hürrem's Ring

Who is Hürrem?

We in the west know her as Roxelana. Remember my post a while back about her? She's the Sultan's wife with an amazing story - a real life Scheherezade.

Kidnapped by the Tatars and sold into the Ottoman harem, Aleksandra Lisowska fell in love with the Sultan, changed her religion, and changed her name to Hürrem.  (Roxelana means 'the Ruthenian/Russian'.) Suleiman the Magnificent legally married her, deposing his first son in favor of Hürrem's child. The scenario caused quite a stir.

With the rise of Otto-mania and the TV series Muhteşem Yüzyıl (Magnificent Century), Hürrem has found a new following. The storyline about the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent is the equivalent of the The Tudors for Turkey.

Even if some think portraying Ottoman court rivalry is unbecoming, there's great stuff coming out of this show, especially the jewelry. Example: Hürrem's ring. Lots and lots of girls are wishing for that one. (I'm one of them.) Don't like green? They have a purple one too. You can probably find one in every color, if you try hard. Wow rings are in this year. ;)

The series story behind the ring is interesting, even if I'm not sure how much of it is historically accurate. Hürrem's ring is symbolic of her status.

Suleiman was in the process of making the ring himself before he was decreed as the Sultan. His first Haseki Sultan ('commonlaw wife') assumed he was making it for her. Then Suleiman is called to Topkapi Palace to fulfill his birthright. Aleksandra is brought to the harem, and she hatches a plan to become the favorite. (Not hard, since she was beautiful and smart.) The first wife, Mahidevran, arrives with the Sultan's first born son. She thinks she's the favorite, but it's already clear Aleksandra is taking the lead. Guess who gets the ring.

Mahidevran is furious and manipulates some girls into stealing the ring from Aleksandra - now officially named "Hürrem" (my joy) by the Sultan. In the power struggle, Hürrem gets tossed in a dungeon and beaten to a pulp, but Mahidevran is banished in the end.

 Meryem Uzerli plays Hürrem. Uzerli is half Turkish, half German. Her hair is not naturally red, but it looks good on her, don't you think?

She co-stars with Halit Ergenç, a popular star from the other TV series Binbir Gece. I should write something about him one of these days. He really deserves his own post.

Here's a trailer clip for you.:


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