steampink commences (+ giveaway)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011 | | 13 comments

If you haven’t already done so, you should really head over and check out vvb’s steampink celebration. The event goes June 1-4 and will feature awesome steampunk lit (and more) with a female focus. For my part, I’ll be highlighting young adult steampunk novels with a strong heroine. Some of the ones I think fit the bill are highlighted below:

The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross

Corsets & Clockwork edited by Trisha Telep

Leviathan and Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve

A Web of Air by Philip Reeve (sequel to Fever Crumb, UK edition)

The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

The Boneshaker by Kate Milford

The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey

The Native Star by M. K. Hobson

And just to share the steampink love, I’ll be giving away one book from that list to two separate winners. All you need to do to qualify is fill out the FORM. Giveaway is open internationally and ends June 4, 2011 [EXTENDED to 6/10] at 11:59pm EST. Winners will be picked randomly and notified via email. Books will ship from the Book Depository. Good luck!

teaser tuesday (60)

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 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!

"Darri didn't see the ghost until he was upon her, a solid weight that dropped from the branches above and threw her sideways off the saddle. Because he was solid, she didn't realize at first that he was dead."

p. 1 of Leah Cypess' Nightspell (out today from Harper Teen, with the first four chapters available for free here)

banana buttermilk cake with cream cheese frosting

One of the recurring dilemmas in my kitchen is what to do with overripe bananas. Sure, there’s banana bread. I’ve even played around with different kinds of banana muffins. But until today, I’ve never thought of making a banana CAKE. Genius, kids, absolutely genius. Since I had buttermilk in the fridge, I just searched ‘banana’ + ‘buttermilk’ + ‘recipe,’ and found this dandy. Oh. MY. GOSH. Delicious doesn’t even start to describe this.

Banana Buttermilk Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (from this recipe)


1 1/2 cups bananas, mashed, ripe
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup salted butter, softened
2 1/8 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

a floured pan and a filled one. that batter was so tasty i was tempted to sip it with a straw!

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/2 cups icing (powdered, confectioner’s) sugar

chopped walnuts (or pecans)


Preheat oven to 275°. Grease and flour a 9” x 13” pan (I used two 9” round cake pans). In a small bowl, mix mashed banana with the lemon juice; set aside. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.

my unglamorous counter space. and some cake and frosting.

In a large bowl, cream 3/4 cup butter and 2 1/8 cups sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then stir in vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk. Stir in banana mixture until completely blended.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven for one hour (I kept my cakes in the oven for about an hour and a half because they were taking for-EV-er) or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Remove pan from oven and place directly into the freezer for 45 minutes. This will make the cake very moist (it was already QUITE moist, but, you know).

For the frosting, cream the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Beat in 1 teaspoon vanilla. Add powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high speed until frosting is smooth. Spread on cooled cake, and sprinkle chopped walnuts over top of the frosting, if desired.

double layer delicious!

Notes: I made one and a half times the frosting recipe so that I could do a double-layer cake, and it was the perfect amount. Also, I thought the frosting was too sweet, but all of my friends assured me that it was perfect. One roommate even declared that this was the best cake she had ever had. Ever, folks, is a long time. I am proud. And another thing: this cake took a long time. Prep time is about 15 minutes, but with baking and frosting, we’re talking 2 hours.

Recommended for: whenever you have overripe bananas in your fruit bowl, and basically any special occasion that deserves a ‘wow’ factor. I think this is my most universally appreciated baking experiment in recent history. Yay (or should I say, YUM)!

what is life without love?

One of the best quotes I jotted down while reading The Psychopath Test was this bit, from page 113 of the ARC version:

“Sociopaths love power. They love winning. If you take loving kindness out of the human brain, there’s no much left except the will to win.”

Reading is weird. The mind makes connections and keeps things stored away until they merge and create a new network of knowledge. That passage jumped out at me in part because of my criticism last year of Lauren Oliver’s Delirium – something that I’ve been contemplating on and off ever since. In the dystopian world Oliver created, love is taken out of the equation by a medical procedure performed on all citizens at age 18.

My biggest problem with that scenario was that I could not imagine how a society would function successfully (or even semi-successfully) without love. Perhaps this is due to a lack of imagination on my part. But ever since, I’ve been validating that thought with observations and quotes from other places. And in this case, from a journalist working on unraveling the world and identifying psychopaths.

My take? If you remove love and empathy from the human experience, no one can function. You fundamentally break society, and the world won’t go ‘round, even in a limping, dystopian, empty sort of way. What do you think?

steampink and giveaway winners

Monday, May 9, 2011 | | 3 comments

Twice I have had the opportunity to participate in steampink, an event hosted annually by Velvet at vvb32reads. We’re coming up on the third anniversary, and steampink is still going strong. What’s steampink? It’s steampunk with a feminine twist – steampunk books, activities, and all sorts of other goodness featuring a female protagonist or theme. Thus the PINK instead of punk.

This year steampink will run from June 1-4, and I’ll be participating with a book review or two (and a giveaway). If you’d like to get in on the themed fun, head over to V’s blog and sign up! If you’re not sure about the whole steampunk thing, you can still stay tuned for a chance to win a book.

In the meantime, congratulations are in order for:

Bee of Dreamcatcher’s Lair

and Orchid of The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

These two lovelies have each won a copy of Corsets & Clockwork in my blog giveaway! Happy reading!

the psychopath test (or, the book i’m getting my mom for mother’s day)

Quick: what is rare and wonderful? The standard answer is probably something like ‘true love’ or 'flowers blooming in a desert,' but for me, the obvious reply to that question is an engaging non-fiction book. This isn’t to say I spurn non-fiction. On the contrary, I read it every day in the form of articles, features, news stories, and even facebook updates (if you can classify those as non-fiction).

However, the odds are stacked against non-fiction in book form – I’d rather pick up a novel. I like history, travel, cookbooks…and that’s about it unless something superb catches my eye or imagination. Such was the case with Jon Ronson’s latest book, The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry. In fact, I liked it so much that I’m buying my mother (a very practical and no-nonsense reader, when she DOES read) a copy for Mother’s Day.

In this madcap journey, a bestselling journalist investigates psychopaths and the industry of doctors, scientists, and everyone else who studies them.

The Psychopath Test is a fascinating journey through the minds of madness. Jon Ronson's exploration of a potential hoax being played on the world's top neurologists takes him, unexpectedly, into the heart of the madness industry. An influential psychologist who is convinced that many important CEOs and politicians are, in fact, psychopaths teaches Ronson how to spot these high-flying individuals by looking out for little telltale verbal and nonverbal clues. And so Ronson, armed with his new psychopath-spotting abilities, enters the corridors of power. He spends time with a death-squad leader institutionalized for mortgage fraud in Coxsackie, New York; a legendary CEO whose psychopathy has been speculated about in the press; and a patient in an asylum for the criminally insane who insists he's sane and certainly not a psychopath.

Ronson not only solves the mystery of the hoax but also discovers, disturbingly, that sometimes the personalities at the helm of the madness industry are, with their drives and obsessions, as mad in their own way as those they study. And that relatively ordinary people are, more and more, defined by their maddest edges.

Character mapping and brilliant writing, punctuated by anxious self-evaluations of the author’s own mental state and personality issues, combine to make this book both stimulating and entertaining reading. Ronson dives headfirst into the world of psychotherapy, sociopathy, and sometimes, quite frankly, conjecture. He goes on an adventure spanning continents to find just where and how psychopaths, mental illness and normality intersect, and in the process uncovers myths, marvels and machinations within the madness trade.

One of the most interesting points of the book occurs when Ronson researches the reactions of most humans to admitted psychopaths. It seems that humans do know when they are looking at something ‘wrong’ or ‘off,’ though it may not always be apparent at first glance. Ronson’s recounting of his own experiences with this were of the ‘can’t look away!’ variety. On the flip side, I thought that one of the weakest points of the book was its short foray into childhood mental illness and diagnoses. That bit did not seem to connect into the whole, though it too was interesting.

In the end, The Psychopath Test reads like an adventure story, and almost a fantasy at that. Ronson weaves a mystery or three in with anecdotes, medical evaluations and biographical details on a disturbing topic. He does so with flair and finesse, and what results is an eclectic and unputdownable study of humanity (and how that very nature can go wrong). Final reaction: best non-fiction I have read in two years.

Recommended for: those curious about human nature and its darkest side, anyone normally allergic to psychology and self-help (that’s me!), fans of fantastic journalism and non-fiction, and anyone with a taste for the non-gory bits of CSI and Law & Order.

[disclaimer: I received an ARC of The Psychopath Test from Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin]

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