teaser tuesday (72)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011 | | 5 comments

It's Teaser Tuesday, a bookish blog meme hosted every week by MizB of Should Be Reading. Here's how it works:

Grab your current read and let it fall open to a random page (or if you're reading on an electronic device, pick a random number and scroll to that section). Post two or more sentences from that page, along with the book title and author. Share your find with others in the comments at Should Be Reading, and don't give anything vital away!

“I closed my eyes tight. Someday I would be ready to open my Survival Kit, but not yet. It was too soon.

‘Rose? Where are you?’ Dad’s voice rang through the now empty house, causing me to jump, startled. I’d forgotten I wasn’t alone, that my father and brother – what was left of my family – were just down the hall.”

p. 7 of Donna Freitas’s The Survival Kit


Thursday, December 15, 2011 | | 7 comments

Cinder: it’s the book you didn’t know you needed. Given half a chance, it’ll charm you with a mixture of science fiction and fairy tale, the blending of an old story with new elements and a quirky cyperpunk sensibility. Cinder is a clever tale, and promises intrigue, adventure, depth, and romance. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and can’t wait for the next in the Lunar Chronicles series.

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl…

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

Let’s get this out of the way to start: Cinder is not just the traditional Cinderella fairy tale dressed up and placed in the future – it is more. The author deftly balanced the epic and immediate storylines, elevating the complexity level near to that of a fine high fantasy. Add to that engaging characters and a worthy villain, and you’ve got it made.

Our immediate heroine, Cinder, is plucky, determined, and loyal. She’s also been modified – she’s part machine. She’s a mechanic with a bit of an attitude, and she has the luck (?) to fall right into adventure. What ensues is an entertaining, exciting, and slightly mad.

In Cinder, author Marissa Meyer pulls from many places: fascination with the far future, our present, and her characters confront the ‘big’ themes humanity faces: disease, loss, the sacrifice of few for the many, and the fate of empire. At the same time, it’s about the forbidden hope of one girl and boy.

The setting is lush, both strange and familiar, in a rebuilt Beijing of mystery, science, control, cyborgs, androids and more. One of the story’s strengths is its complexity – the play of interplanetary politics, a man made ruler too young, anti-cyborg discrimination, all mixed with the threat of imminent danger.

Of course, it’s not all deep AND immediate. There are a couple of story props to hurdle over – the knowing scientist, the trusted advisor who devises plots within plots, the ‘personality’ imbued in one special android (Star Wars, anyone?). And yet, with Cinder, these bits seem like tribute to the great science fiction of the past, and not tired replays. All in all, Cinder is a charming meld of sci-fi and fairy tale, as well as a satisfyingly complex young adult novel with aspirations to political intrigue and stardom (no pun intended). I shall eagerly recommend it to… everyone.

Recommended for: I said it already, didn’t I? Everyone. Cinder releases on January 3, 2012 from Feiwel & Friends (Macmillan).

Fine Print: I read an e-ARC of Cinder courtesy of NetGalley and Macmillan, and received no compensation for this review.

guest post on neil gaiman and a giveaway

Wednesday, December 14, 2011 | | 8 comments

One of my most faithful blog followers is Alyce of At Home with Books. She seems to read in all genres, and her reading choices (and reviews) always make me reconsider my old standbys. So it was an honor to be asked to contribute to her one of her current weekly events, ‘Best and Worst.’ I chose to write about Neil Gaiman. I know what you’re thinking – does the man really do worst? Find out for yourself and read my thoughts over at Alyce’s blog!

And to make life a bit sweeter this holiday season, also enter to win any Neil Gaiman book (up to a $25 US value), shipped from the Book Depository. Entering this giveaway is simple – just fill out the FORM! Open internationally, will end December 31st at 11:59pm EST. Winner will be selected randomly and notified via email.

Feel free to tell me in the comments which Neil Gaiman book you’d choose!

the bards of bone plain giveaway

Wednesday, December 7, 2011 | | 3 comments

Patricia McKillip’s books are go-to reads for me. She writes elaborate fantasies that stretch the imagination and the boundaries of the heart. Her prose can be painfully lovely and evocative. In my eyes, her writing is on par with that of Robin McKinley and Neil Gaiman (high praise indeed!). Granted, there are some of her books I love more than others – favorite children, if you will.

I requested and received The Bards of Bone Plain for Christmas last year, and enjoyed the reading of it in the days just after the holiday. I’m honestly puzzled that I didn’t write a review for it right away. I’m going to rectify that soon. In the meantime, I’m giving away two copies of the book to celebrate its paperback release this week, and in hopes that one of you will soon fall as much in love with McKillip’s writing as I have.

To enter: fill out the FORM. Giveaway open internationally, will end December 17th, 2011 at 11:59pm EST.

Scholar Phelan Cle is researching Bone Plain - which has been studied for the last 500 years, though no one has been able to locate it as a real place. Archaeologist Jonah Cle, Phelan's father, is also hunting through time, piecing history together from forgotten trinkets. His most eager disciple is Princess Beatrice, the king's youngest daughter. When they unearth a disk marked with ancient runes, Beatrice pursues the secrets of a lost language that she suddenly notices all around her, hidden in plain sight.

Fine print: one paperback copy of The Bards of Bone Plain was sent to me (and from thence donated to this contest) by Ace Books, and the other I’m donating personally.

what happened to goodbye

Monday, December 5, 2011 | | 4 comments

There’s something wonderfully reassuring about a familiar author and a familiar genre. Even though you don’t know the story, you have an idea of what you’ll get. If what you expect is comfort, reading can be very rewarding (i.e. comforting). On the other hand, if it disappoints, you may feel cheated.

With Sarah Dessen and contemporary YA drama, what you see is what you’ll get – and Dessen’s latest release What Happened to Goodbye was what I wanted on my bus trip home from Thanksgiving. Download to my crackberry? Done in an instant. I had a book in my hands, and all was right with the world.

Who is the real McLean?

Since her parents' bitter divorce, McLean and her dad, a restaurant consultant, have been on the move-four towns in two years. Estranged from her mother and her mother's new family, McLean has followed her dad in leaving the unhappy past behind. And each new place gives her a chance to try out a new persona: from cheerleader to drama diva. But now, for the first time, McLean discovers a desire to stay in one place and just be herself, whoever that is. Perhaps Dave, the guy next door, can help her find out.

Combining Sarah Dessen's trademark graceful writing, great characters, and compelling storytelling, What Happened to Goodbye is irresistible reading.

Oh, McLean. You are one heck of a piece of work. Your parents are, too (three pieces of work? oh, nevermind, i’ll stop). Sarah Dessen has put together a book that delivers heaps of angst and realistic conflict, and a story about a girl finding her way, finding friends, and perhaps finding love. Amidst all that finding, though, you get a string of bad life choices, and Dessen puts McLean through so much drama that it’s a wonder she doesn’t end up crazy-face.*

McLean has been moving around the country with her dad since her parents’ messy divorce, and in each new town she tries on a different role and personality. All of this life change is starting to wear on her, and avoiding her mother isn’t getting any easier. When McLean lands in her dad’s newest town, she finally starts to find a place… but will it last, and will she let it?

Real life is hard, even (and sometimes especially) for teenagers. Dessen has a knack of showing how pressure and trouble can weigh on anyone, and how getting through tough times (i.e. suffering) often prompts growth and change. When she strikes the right vein, Dessen is gold. She writes stories that grab the reader’s emotions and sympathies and teach them something new about life, love, and empathy. Or, in the case of What Happened to Goodbye and McLean Sweet, a story that gets most of the way there and then stalls out hardcore.

In the end, this book didn’t deliver for me. It had the trademark emotional ‘oomph’ that can and will cause you to leak tears mid-paragraph, but it lacked a cohesive conclusion and emotional finality. Rough translation? It put me through a lot of crap and didn’t seem worth it after all was said and done. Kind of like a bad relationship. Ah well. Dessen will rebound with a great story next time, and I’ll be waiting.

Recommended for: die-hard fans of contemporary YA lit, especially romance and family-drama oriented stories. Also a great bet for readers who feel the pull of the beach even in the midst of winter and look forward to a book with characters that feel the same way. Do you like intense conflict in a realistic setting? Then this book may also be for you. Good luck.

*crazy-face: A term my roommate uses to describe anyone under too much stress. May be accompanied by ‘crazy eyes’ and poor coping skills.

white bean chicken chili

Saturday, November 26, 2011 | | 2 comments
This is my go-to large group dinner party recipe. I’ve now made it four times (doubling the recipe each time), and it never fails. It may taste slightly different in each incarnation, but it is always delicious, and I’m usually getting ‘thank you’ messages from friends for several days afterward. It’s also absolutely perfect for fall weather, with its heat, stew-like consistency, and (you may not believe this) fairly healthy ingredients. As all chilis do, it tastes even better the day after, so be sure to make extra!

finished product - photo courtesy of greta (thanks, greta!)

White Bean Chicken Chili (from Paula Deen’s Food Network recipe)


1 pound dried navy beans

5 cups chicken stock – I usually add an extra cup just ‘cause

4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter

1 Tablespoon minced garlic – I double this

3/4 cup diced onion – Also doubled…why skimp on flavor?

1 1/2 cups chopped green chiles (fresh or canned. but go with canned. way easier!)

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, finely chopped

1 Tablespoon ground cumin – double!

1 Tablespoon dried oregano

1 to 2 teaspoons ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

Pinch red pepper flakes

1/2 bunch cilantro leaves, chopped

the green chiles, onions and garlic in a saute pan on the cooktop


Rinse beans well, cover with cool water, and soak for 2 hours. Feel free to soak for longer – just make you soak for at least 2 hours. Drain. Put the beans in large pot with the chicken stock and bring to a boil over high heat.

In a saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion, and chiles and saute for 5-10 minutes. Add chile mixture to pot with beans. Add the chicken, cumin, oregano, pepper, white pepper, red pepper flakes, and cilantro. Lower the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for approximately 1 1/2 hours. Serve with cornbread, if desired.

everything just after i've added it to the pot for the final step

As you can see, apart from the time commitment, this is a very simple recipe. It takes little effort for maximum flavor, and that’s part of why I love it so much. As I said – always a hit. Go ahead and check it out (and marvel at the fact that Ms. Deen has restrained herself – only half a stick of butter!). NOTE: you could substitute turkey for chicken in this recipe and get rid of your Thanksgiving leftovers in a hot minute!

Recommended for: impressing your friends with a truly delicious meal, stocking up for future lazy winter days, and a hearty main course for your holiday celebration.

the scorpio races

Autumn, the sea, loss, and the twining of myth and harsh reality – these are some of the elements that make up Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races. It is perfect November reading, complete with descriptions of storm, sea, a forbidding landscape, and a repressed island life. In this beautiful and haunting story told from two perspectives, an island race will change lives and define destinies.

It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

Don’t mind the summary – I never do. While Puck is the narrator we hear most from (and a more loveable and vinegar-y girl you’ll never meet), the main character of The Scorpio Races must be Thisby, the stark island that serves as the setting. It was Thisby, with its cliffs and narrow beaches, mysterious local rituals and stoic populace, that captured my interest and wooed me into the story.

Before you ask it, yes, the water horses place the book in ‘fantasy’ territory. However, it has much more of the feel of historical fiction than anything else, and as the author herself said, it could be labeled ‘alternate historical fiction.’ Let me not deceive you – the water horses are fierce, bloodthirsty, fey creatures, and their natures and Puck and Sean’s interactions with them provide much of the tension in the book.

The Scorpio Races is much more than a horse book (I admit to loving them as much as the next girl). It examines the relationships between siblings, the inevitability of change, the ties in small town life, the savagery of nature, and the forms that grief and friendship take. Combined with these, Stiefvater has created vibrant and separate personalities that now feel like people I have known. It is an immediate, exquisite, and satisfying tale – and I think I shall dream of it for quite some time.

Now don’t take my praise without a grain or two of salt. I think The Scorpio Races rates an amazing, but I did come away with a question or two about its world. First and foremost being: are there schools on Thisby? It seems as though there must be, because the populace uses proper grammar. I vaguely remember a reference to something ‘learned in school’ – and the existence of schools would make it much harder to accept Puck Connolly’s isolation and ignorance of her neighbors. Also: there is one character’s death (OMG, spoiler! shoot me now!) that is dealt with in rather a hurried fashion comparative to the rest of the text. And there are, no doubt, other faults I overlooked. But in the end, I found The Scorpio Races to be just lovely.

Here’s my confession: I tried Shiver. I didn’t like it. Stiefvater’s faerie series didn't pull me in. I was startled to find myself interested in The Scorpio Races. You know what did the trick? The lovely book trailer. As someone who hates (no, really, HATES) book trailers, I was barely convinced to click the PLAY button. Thankfully, I did, and as a result I found a haunting and beautiful story.

Recommended for: fans of beautiful writing, those who found bits of their souls in Katherine Patterson’s Jacob Have I Loved and Jean Craighead George’s Julie of the Wolves, and those who gobbled up Marguerite Henry books in childhood. Have you been wondering where your next great adventure lies? It is between the covers of this book.

pumpkin pasties. or pumpkin mini-pies. whatever. delicious!

Friday, November 18, 2011 | | 5 comments
CUE: Fall cliché. I went to a pumpkin patch. You may remember this from my apple crisp experiment. On that trip I bought apples, picked fresh greens and selected a lovely deep orange pumpkin. And after sitting in my apartment for three weeks, that pumpkin begged to be used.Really. It was like, “Cecelia, PLEASE bake me into something delicious!” Okay, not really. But it would have if it had thought about it for five seconds.

ENTER, stage right: super cute photos of pumpkin pasties. Uh… how could you NOT want those? So I decided to try the recipe myself. But first, I cut up my pumpkin patch pumpkin and roasted it to make my own puree (instead of that canned stuff). It tastes great, but it took FOR-EV-ERR, so I think in the future I’ll stick to the ready-made stuff. Pumpkin pastry marathon, ahoy!

Pumpkin Pasties (or Pumpkin Mini-Pies) based on this recipe from Allison Eats


Pie Dough (Martha Stewart’s Pate Brisee)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter chilled and cut into small pieces

1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

Pumpkin Pie Filling

2 cups pumpkin puree

3 large eggs + 1 large yolk

2 Tablespoons bourbon (I didn’t have any on hand, so I substituted vanilla extract)

1 cup heavy cream

1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ginger

1/8 teaspoon cloves

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup dark brown sugar


Dough – Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a medium bowl. Add butter and work into mixture with a pastry cutter until it resembles course meal.
Gradually add ice water and fluff with a fork until mixture begins to come together (but isn’t sticky). To test, squeeze a small amount together: if it crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Divide dough into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour. Dough may be stored, frozen, up to 1 month.

Filling – Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and grease a pie dish.

Whisk together all ingredients until smooth. Pour into pie dish and bake for 1 hour. Let cool completely.

Assembly – Whisk together 2 Egg Yolks + 2 TBSP Heavy Cream, for egg wash. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Roll out dough onto floured surface, about 1/8-inch thick. Using a drinking glass or round cookie cutter, cut out circles of dough. Scoop about one and a half Tablespoons of pie filling into the center of half the dough rounds. Using your finger, wipe the edges of the filled rounds with egg wash. Top your pies using the remaining dough rounds, and press around the edges with a fork to seal well. Use a sharp knife to cut 4 slits in the top of each pie. Brush egg wash over the pies and transfer to parchment lined baking sheets. Sprinkle with sanding sugar if desired. Bake for 20 minutes, until edges are golden brown.

VERDICT – The mini-pies were delicious and popular among my coworkers, as promised. However. This recipe is a marathon. A do-it-once-for-kicks thing. Recipe says you can make 17 of these things? I made 8 and gave up. Too much work, time, and effort for teeny, tiny pies. That said, they were DELISH, and everyone who had one thought they were amazing. So there’s that. Also, do not underestimate the cute factor!

Recommended for: a delicious take on the traditional pumpkin pie, those looking for a novel way to use up extra jars of pumpkin puree, true pie enthusiasts, and anyone interested in a day of precise baking and über-cute results.

happy haul-idays giveaway with chronicle books

Sunday, November 13, 2011 | | 22 comments
It’s hard to believe that the holidays are upon us – but they’re almost here! As I did my grocery shopping yesterday I saw store aisles wholly devoted to decorations in red and green. Luckily they haven’t put the Christmas trees out for sale yet (the fresh cut ones, anyway), so I don’t feel utterly behind.

To get you (and me) in the holiday spirit, and to help out with your shopping list, Chronicle Books is hosting its second annual Happy Haul-idays giveaway. It’s a pretty sweet deal. They’ll give one blog-posting winner $500 in books, one commenter $500 in books, and one charity $500 in books. That’s a lot of lovely printed matter to go around… so how can you win a piece of the prize?

Option number one: Enter directly by posting about the giveaway on your blog. Option number two: Comment on the post of the winner's entry. Also gain extra chances by tweeting daily with the #happyhaulidays hashtag. It’s that easy. Check out the instructions in more detail here.

One of the best bits about this giveaway is that the winner will pick a charity to receive $500 worth of books. In the unlikely event that I win, I'd like the prize to go to First Book, a DC-based charity that provides new books to underprivileged kids. My roommate Emily introduced me to First Book and its work, and it has been on my mind ever since. First Book connects with a network of educators and organizations to provide new books to low-income children. A worthy cause for any book-lover.

And now for the fun and frivolous part… what would I choose with my winnings?

For Christmas reading:

The Story of Christmas text based on the King James Version, illustrations by Pamela Dalton

Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner, illustrations by Christopher Silas Neal

Very Merry Cookie Party by Barbara Grunes and Virginia Van Vynckt, photographs by France Ruffenach

For pastry and sweets recipes:

Miette by Meg Ray with Lesley Jonath, photographs by Frankie Frankeny

Flour by Joanne Chang with Christie Matheson, photographs by Keller + Keller

Tartine by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson, foreward by Alice Waters, photographs by France Ruffenach

Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson, photographs by Eric Wolfinger

Milk & Cookies by Tina Casaceli, foreward by Jacques Torres, photographs by Antonis Achilleos

For my savory cooking library:

Rustica by Frank Camorra and Richard Cornish, photographs by Alan Benson

The Country Cooking of Italy by Coleman Andrews, foreward by Mario Batali, photographs by Christopher Hirsheimer

Poulet by Cree LeFavour, photographs by France Ruffenach

For my sister (the writer and educator extraordinnaire):

Ready, Set, Novel! by Chris Baty, Lindsey Grant and Tavia Stewart-Streit

Prisoners in the Palace by Michaela MacColl

For fun and just-because:

How to Speak Zombie by Steve Mockus, illustrations by Travis Millard

Lincoln in 3-D by Bob Zeller and John J. Richter, prologue by Harold Holzer

Paper Blossoms by Ray Marshall (times TWO - one for me, and one for a friend!)

See's Famous Old Time Candies by Margaret Moos Pick

Total? $498.72. Just under the bar. Remember, you can enter here, or simply by commenting on my post.

Which of the books on my list would you be most eager to own?

waiting on wednesday (18)

I’m participating today in "Waiting On" Wednesday. It is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, and its purpose is to spotlight eagerly anticipated upcoming releases.

Remember that one time when my heart melted all over a book? No? Well, it did – last year, when I read Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey. It is everything I love best – including Austen-esque and fantastical in nature (and the cover art! gorgeous.). I bought it for my best friend and my sister. I hosted a giveaway out-of-pocket. Basically, I wanted everyone to read it because I ADORE IT. And I feel like the luckiest girl in readingdom, because Kowal has written a sequel, and it comes out next year. Glamour in Glass will be released by Tom Doherty Associates on April 10, 2012.

Mary Robinette Kowal stunned readers with her charming first novel Shades of Milk and Honey, a loving tribute to the works of Jane Austen, set in a world where magic is an everyday occurrence. This magic comes in the form of glamour, which allows talented users to form practically any illusion they can imagine. Shades went on to earn great acclaim, became a finalist for the prestigious Nebula and Locus Awards, and left readers eagerly awaiting its sequel, Glamour in Glass, which continues to follow the lives of beloved main characters Jane and Vincent, with a deeper vein of drama and intrigue.

In the tumultuous months after Napoleon abdicates his throne, Jane and Vincent go to France for their honeymoon. While there, the deposed emperor escapes his exile in Elba, throwing the continent into turmoil. With no easy way back to England, they struggle to escape. But when Vincent is captured as a British spy, Jane realizes that their honeymoon has been a ruse to give them a reason to be in Europe.

Left with no outward salvation, Jane is left to overcome her own delicate circumstances and use her glamour to rescue her husband from prison... and hopefully prevent her newly built marriage from getting stranded on the shoals of another country's war.

What books are you waiting on?

z: zombie stories

Back in September, when I discovered that Night Shade Books was releasing a young adult zombie anthology, I wondered what that would look like (and I told myself to hope for the best). After checking out the author lineup, I knew I’d find stories equally interesting, weird and well-written in this volume. And I did. I just didn’t quite bargain for the crazy, gross and not-right that came along with. But, after all, it’s zombies. You’ll say I shouldn’t have been surprised.

When the zombie apocalypse comes, it's not just those crusty old folks who will struggle against the undead, it's the young people. What happens when you come of age during the zombie apocalypse? Z: Zombie Stories has the answer to that question. Z: Zombie Stories gathers together some of the hottest zombie fiction of the last two decades, from authors including Kelly Link, Jonathan Maberry, and Catherynne M. Valente. These stories focus on those who will inherit a world overrun with the living dead: a young man who takes up the family business of dealing with the undead, a girl struggling with her abusive father...who has become a zombie, a poet who digs up the wrong grave, and a Viking maiden imprisoned with the living dead...

All of the entries in this anthology (except for the final story) have been published previously in other volumes, and some of them were already familiar to me. Of course, that doesn’t diminish their charm. I’ll say a little something brief about each one, shall I? Great.

“Family Business” by Jonathan Maberry

“Family Business” appears to be the first several chapters of Maberry’s young adult zombie novel, verbatim. I reviewed Rot & Ruin here on the blog. This excerpt should draw you in and make you want to learn more about the Imura brothers and their quest to survive.

“The Wrong Grave” by Kelly Link

A disturbing and funny tale about a boy who digs up the wrong grave – and finds something entirely unexpected (and persistent). There’s a good dose of magic and side of uncanny in this tale. Fans should next look to Link’s Pretty Monsters.

“The Days of Flaming Motorcycles” by Catherynne M. Valente

If I’m honest with myself, this is the story I was most excited to read. Valente has a way with words, and it doesn’t desert her here. “Flaming Motorcycles” is about a girl living in the remains of Augusta, Maine, but it’s also a meditation on the nature of zombies, acceptance, and what could possibly be important after death. True and truly weird.

“The Barrow Maid” by Christine Morgan

I never thought I’d write this, but Viking zombies are the freakiest and best idea ever. “The Barrow Maid” combined epic storytelling in the style of Beowulf with the undead – a startling, unnerving, genius mixture of creepy and outstanding.

“You’ll Never Walk Alone” by Scott Nicholson

Would you like a chilling, atmospheric story that will drift into your mind like mist and never let go? This story’s spiritual overtones somehow made the apocalypse seem more eerie and terrible than ever. Beautifully written, and the sort of thing that might inspire nightmares, in a The Knife of Never Letting Go sort of way.

“The Dead Kid” by Darrel Schweitzer

Not what I would call a teen-friendly story, this one veers into horror territory. It is unsettling and all-around freaky.

“Seven Brains, Ten Minutes” by Marie Atkins

If you like your zombie stories gory, this one’s for you. Somehow until now I’ve managed to read a lot of zombie lit without reaching a level of gross-out. Well, I’m there now. Scott’s ‘evolution’ certainly made me queasy. Not for weak stomachs.

“The Third Dead Body” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Hoffman does deeply disturbing very, very well. There’s no beating around the bush – this entry is HORROR, and it’s also full of revenge, twisted longing, and extreme violence. Adults only.

“The Skull-Faced Boy” by David Barr Kirtley

In this tale, it’s about die-and-live or die-and-kill, and the result is a battle not between the living and the dead, but between those with consciences and those without. It doesn’t end well, and in the end is a sickening portrait of the worst in humanity.

“The Human Race” by Scott Edelman

Terrorism, dark despair, and a zombie outbreak combine to create a perfect storm of hopelessness for one girl. “The Human Race” explores what people can withstand – and what will probably destroy us all.

“Deepwater Miracle” by Thomas Roche

To end the collection, a story with a bit of light-hearted survival. Okay, it’s not so light-hearted, but SURVIVAL. After the darkness in the middle of the anthology, this one brings you back out into the light. How? Two brothers stuck on a boat in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico figure out how to go on while the world on land ends around them. Gripping reading.

In Z: Zombie Stories, editor J.M. Lassen brings together well-written stories of mayhem and apocalypse. However, the level of scary and disquieting varies from story to story, and it is not for everyone. While each tale may feature a teenager, the entries are not necessarily young adult. For those seeking a gentler initiation into the world of zombies, check out Justine Lavaworm and Holly Black’s Zombies vs. Unicorns instead.

Recommended for: mature teens and adults accustomed to horror, and those who can’t resist the unsettling power of a good zombie tale.

Fine Print: I read an e-ARC of Z: Zombie Stories courtesy of Night Shade Books and NetGalley.

apple pie

I watched my mother and aunt make apple pies every holiday season, but I never was allowed to help. Unless you count peeling and coring fruit as helping – because I did a LOT of that in my younger years (my indentured servitude period, as I like to call it). Thus, I made it to the ripe old age of twenty-seven (*gasp*) without having made a pie. Yup, it’s true. Go to my little recipes tab, and you won’t see any ‘Pie.’ Tart, yes. But pie, where you have to roll out the crust just so? No.

[this is actually Liz's pie. she flutes those edges like a pro.]

Enter Kate Payne of The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking. She wrote a fantastic post about holding ‘parties’ to learn and share specific skills, such as preserving and jam-making. I wrote in the comments section that I thought a great twist on that would be to learn how to make piecrust. And then I mentioned it to one of my best friends, Liz. Liz has family in the area, and she was kind enough to volunteer her Aunt Laura (and Aunt Laura donated her time, kitchen space, and materials!). Yesterday, I learned how to make Aunt Laura’s perfect pie. And it was WONDERFUL.

Apple Pie



6 cups peeled and cored tart apples, sliced about 1/4 inch thick (this turned out to be about 7 Granny Smith apples)
2 Tablespoons flour
1/2 cup – 1 cup white sugar (I used the full cup, because the apples were quite tart)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 - 1 teaspoon cinnamon (use the max, I always say!)
1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1-2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

Crust (for a two-crust pie)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter
1/2 cup Crisco shortening
1/4 cup ice water (add more as needed)


Prepare the piecrust first and refrigerate while making the filling.

Crust – Mix flour, salt, butter and Crisco with a pastry cutter or two forks until butter and Crisco lumps are pea-sized. Add cold water, fluffing lightly with fork (do NOT overmix). Continue to add water, until the mixture holds together just enough to form the dough into a ball when shaped with your hands.  Make sure any extra flour is worked into the pastry. Divide dough in half and form into two separate discs. Cover each disc with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator until needed. It will be easier to roll dough if cold, and the crust should be cold when placed in oven.

To create piecrust, cover flat, clean surface in flour, and place a disc atop flour. Turn over to coat other side. Roll out with rolling pin (not pressing down, but ‘out’), making sure to check periodically that dough is not breaking up, sticking to surface, and that it maintains a circular shape. When approximately 10 1/2 to 11 inches in diameter, wrap around rolling pin and transfer pastry to the bottom of the pie plate. Cut away excess dough.

[action shot! yes, i look good even while intensely focused on pie. ha.]

Filling - Place the prepared apples in a large mixing bowl. In a separate small bowl, combine flour, salt, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg, and stir to combine. Add this mixture to the apples and mix lightly until coated. Heap apples in pastry-lined 9-inch pie plate, then adjust slices so that the whole pie plate is covered. Keep a higher mound in the center so that the crust doesn’t sink after baking. Dot apples with small pieces of butter.

Place top crust over apples and flute the edges, crimping top and bottom crust together with fingers and tucking top crust just under edge of bottom crust. Cut a couple of vent slits in the center of the pie with a sharp knife.

Bake 40-45 minutes at 425 degrees F, or until crust is lightly browned. Protect the crimped edge of the crust from burning by placing a thin piece of tin foil over the pastry edge for first half of the baking time, then remove for remainder.

Note: this pie was the best of show for baked goods at the Anne Arundel County Fair in 1988. And Aunt Laura is a generous and patient teacher. AND, all photos courtesy of Liz and Liz's sweet iPhone. By the way, Liz and another friend have a new blog. You could, you know, check it out.

Recommended for: nostalgic baking fun, an experience to share with multiple generations (ask – I bet someone you know can teach you!), and, of course, a delicious slice of Americana – served alone, with cheddar cheese, or my personal favorite, hot out of the oven with vanilla ice cream.
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