Friday, December 19, 2014

Book Review: Saga Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Saga Volume 1 written by Brian K. Vaughan and art by Fiona Staples

A couple having a baby on their own is a bit traumatic, more so if they are from different sides of an on-going war. Alana and Marko are on the run from the authorities on both sides of the Landfall/Wreath war. Landfall is the largest planet in the galaxy, Wreath its moon. The war has spread across the galaxy and our star-crossed lovers met on Cleave, one of the many battlegrounds of the war. The story opens with the delivery of their daughter. They argue over her name when the Landfall forces break in and try to capture them. Luckily, the Wreath forces show up and the new family are the only survivors of the firefight. They go on the run with no particular destination in mind other than away from the war. Meanwhile, both sides hire Freelancers (basically bounty hunters) to hunt the couple and their "unnatural" offspring.

The plot is engaging enough but it's not clear to me where the story is going. The story is partially narrated by the child, who talks about these past events and drops vague hints about the future--not enough to predict where the story is going (other than the child survives).

The science fiction world is quite elaborate. The moon people have horns (mostly curved like goats or branched like deer) and long ears. The Landfall people are more diverse. Some have wings and normal heads (Alana is one of these), others have no wings and TV monitors for heads. The later are often referred to as "robots" but they definitely engaging in biological activities like sex and dying. Maybe they are cyborgs but definitely they are the ruling class on the planet. As a first issue, I suppose a lot of world-building has to be done before the story gets too deep.

I found the story intriguing enough to keep going.

Parental Advisory: there's a lot of full-on bad language; a couple of sex scenes; a lot of naked people (both in sex scenes and out); peril to the child (naturally); some violence with gore (people getting chopped in half or their heads in half or their entrails hanging out, etc.). Teens and up is my recommendation, though you know your child the best.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Random Bits of York Walls

The medieval walls of York are a favorite of mine. I walked them every chance I had, especially the north route from Bootham Bar to Monk Bar. On one trip, I traveled past Monk Bar and saw some of the more dramatic bits of the wall, including the toilet they used to use!
Walls beyond Monk Bar

Toilet not available for visitors

The walls angle back and forth in part to provide protection for the towers and also to force invaders into a crossfire position (as if attacking a wall wasn't bad enough).

Tower with walls coming out of it at a most inconvenient angle for attackers
View from the other side

Defenses in the tower

The walls give interesting views into town. Back in the Victorian times (when the walls were rebuilt) people walked the walls as much to see as to be seen. For me, it's mostly to see the fascinating stuff of the city.

Odd architectural mixture inside the walls

Looking into a garden

Pretty flowers

Okay, I can't resist throwing in a picture with the Minster in it!

For a change of pace, on another day I walked the walls south of the River Ouse on my way to Micklegate Bar. A few items of note are on the way.

First is a massive hotel, the Cedar Court Grand Hotel and Spa. Sounds like a pretty nice place to stay.

Cedar Court Grand Hotel and Spa

Further down the street from the hotel is the Railway War Memorial.

Railway War Memorial

The walls after the memorial look over some uninteresting buildings and follow the general European pattern of being not entirely safe. A long stretch had no railing on the inside, with a grassy slope leading down to a drop into parking lots!

Wall walking without a safety rail

Just outside the walls is the Railway Station, which I blogged about here.

Railway station seen from the walls

After turning a corner on the wall I found some new rails to keep me safe on my way to Micklegate Bar.

A safer stretch

The path to the bar

The view back into town was nice. The yellow bikes over the shop door were decorations for the Tour de France.

Inside town seen from the bar

I walked outside town one block to see Bar Convent and had a nice view from there back to the medieval gate.

Just outside town looking at Micklegate Bar

Just inside the medieval gate is Holy Trinity, Micklegate. The church was part of a priory, so naturally a nearby pub is named The Priory. Around the corner from the church is a medieval building that they use as a parish hall, which wasn't open when I visited.

The Priory

Parish hall

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Random Bits of York on the River Ouse

Right on the River Ouse is the Spurriergate Centre, formerly known as St. Michael's Spurriergate. The unusual name refers back to the tradesmen who worked on that street, the spur makers. Parts of the building date back to the 12th century, though the most recent remodeling has turned it into a large, family friendly cafe and gift shop with a pastoral team who can provide counseling to visitors.

The Spurriergate Centre

The River Ouse as seen from the bridge by Spurriergate Centre

Further west on the Ouse is the Lendal Bridge, which has two towers on either bank of the river. Back in the day, the locals would tax river traffic that went through York. When people tried to sneak through, they put a chain across the river from one tower to the other! The bridge itself was clearly redone in Victorian times, thus the V and A motifs.

Lendal Tower

The other tower

Decoration on the bridge


Decor on the span of the bridge (golden V and A on the right)

View out of town from Lendal Bridge

Ousebridge down the river from Lendal Bridge

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Random Bits of York

Mansion House is on St. Helen's Square. It is the official residence of the Lord Mayor of York. The house also has tours showing off the art collection. Nearby is the old Guild Hall (built in the 1400s and rebuilt after WWII bombing in the 1940s) which is now a civic building.

Mansion House

Guild Hall

The streets of the town are narrow and twisty, some with great names and graphic representations of those names. Remember the Viking word for road was "gate" so many different streets are just called gates.

Typical narrow street

Swinegate Gate

In the middle of town is a pedestrian area called Newgate Market where York's outdoor market is held. Plenty of restaurants line the square providing a variety of food to go with the shopping experience.

Newgate Market

More of the market on a sunny June day

Bikes are a popular form of transportation

More of the market

On one visit we went to lunch at the Blue Boar, a pub dating back to 1733. Supposedly the basement is haunted by the ghost of Dick Turpin whose body was put on display in the cellar after his execution in 1739. Lucy and Jacob were brave enough to go downstairs, though the scariest thing we saw was a pinball machine.

One pint but three beers, an image of the Trinity!

Basement of The Blue Boar

Another pub I liked (at least from the outside) is the Black Swan, a fine example of Tudor styling.

Black Swan Pub

The War Memorial Gardens by the train station has a simple memorial to those who defended Britain.

War Memorial Gardens

Just outside the Gardens is a statue of George Leeman. The statue was originally of someone else but when it was put on the spot the head was recarved to commemorate the lawyer, railwayman, and MP from York in the 1800s.

George Leeman statue

Some of the street corners have very fancy decorations.

Near St. Helen's Square

17th century shiphead

Another view of the shiphead

Minerva on High Petergate

Monday, December 15, 2014

St. Lucy Saffron Buns

In celebration of St. Lucy's feast day, we made St. Lucy Saffron Buns last Saturday (December 13, the actual day). We used this recipe but modified it for the ingredients we had in the house and for the bread machine.

Ingredients for dough
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • pinch saffron threads
  • 1/4 cup of vanilla yogurt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup white, granulated sugar
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick, 4 Tbsp) unsalted butter, cubed
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
Ingredients for glaze
  •  Raisins
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Demerara or other large crystal sugar for sprinkling

Warm the milk, then add the saffron directly to the milk.

Saffron milk

Let it steep for 10-15 minutes. Add all the dough ingredients to the bread machine. When the dough cycle finishes, put the dough in the fridge until the morning.

The dough

In the morning, divide the dough into 14 pieces and roll each piece into a 10 inch rope.  Shape and allow to rise for 30 min to an hour.

14 pieces

Swirly is a good shape

Happy in her work!

Almost finished

When risen, brush with egg, insert raisins, and sprinkle with sugar.

Finishing touch and another swirling idea

Bake at 400 F for 10 minutes.

Cooling on the rack

Closeup of the other style of swirling

Lucy didn't like this recipe - not sweet enough and the saffron flavor was too pronounced for her.

Not a happy customer

The rest of the family liked it more but we will probably not make it outside of St. Lucy's day.

A satisfied customer