notes from the blender

Tuesday, August 30, 2011 | | 5 comments
I seem to be on a contemporary YA kick. Maybe because it’s summertime. Or maybe I’ve gotten sick of fantasy (not likely)? Whatever the case, I’ve been lucky and enjoyed some top-notch reading in the genre this year, including Don't Stop Now, Sean Griswold’s Head, Epic Fail, and today’s pick, Notes from the Blender.

Two things drew me to this book: the contrast presented in the cover art, and the summary. Okay, so mostly it was the summary. But a cute cover that ‘matches’ the tone of the book never hurts, either, and this one certainly captures the quirky/fun/hilarious vibe of the novel. Aside from both of those things, Princess Bookie’s review caught my eye last week. Sometimes that is all it takes.

Declan loves death metal – particularly from Finland. And video games – violent ones. And internet porn – any kind, really. He goes to school with Neilly Foster and spends most of his classroom time wondering what it might be like to know her, to talk to her, maybe even to graze against her sweater in the hallway.

Neilly is an accomplished gymnast, naturally beautiful, and a constant presence at all the best parties (to which Declan is never invited). She's the queen of cool, the princess of poker face, and her rule is uncontested – or it was until today, when she's dumped by her boyfriend, betrayed by her former BFF Lulu, and then informed she's getting a new brother – of the freaky fellow classmate variety. Declan's dad is marrying Neilly's mom. Soon. Which means they'll be moving in together.
Notes from the Blender is a funny, crazy, angsty, REAL book. It’s the kind of thing I read now as an adult and appreciate, but wish with all my heart I’d picked up in high school, when I was so busy judging everyone and everything. It’s heartfelt and sweet, and it made me laugh out loud multiple times. It’s the kind of book that I’d read aloud to my roommate in bits just so I could see her eyebrows fly up. It’s special.

The book is narrated in two voices – Neilly and Declan take turns telling their story. Both of these kids are going through rough spots, and they’re dealing with adjustment to a blended family at the same time. Just like in real life, there are poor decisions, combustible situations, and a lot of odd and hilarious moments.  Neilly is insecure and guarded, Declan is a little pervy.  In other words, they're *gasp* normal.

There are several strong side characters in addition to Declan and Neilly, and one that I identified with was Declan’s Aunt Sarah, a lesbian Unitarian minister. Her part in the plot is small, but she’s still a fun, loving woman dedicated to helping others heal. She’s the sort of character you want to meet in real life. Not perfect, but kind and helpful (the person you'd be if you put more effort into it, maybe). Notes made me reflect on multiple paths of personal development when it wasn’t making me snort with laughter. And that combo is a very good thing.

Recommended for: older teens, guys AND girls, readers who have experienced blended families (and who hasn’t these days?), those looking for a strong dose of humor in their contemporary YA lit, and anyone who has caught themselves wondering what an authentic male teen voice sounds like (horny and all).

teaser tuesday (66)

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’ll totally beat you if you tell anyone this, but sometimes I actually think that part might be a tiny bit fun. You know, moving into a bizarro new house, having a bizarro new baby brother to torture – ’”

40% on kindle of Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin’s Notes from the Blender

600 followers strong (+ giveaway)

If there’s anything that will make me smile after a tumultuous day, it’s finding out that new people are finding and following my blog. This isn’t a pride thing (okay, it IS, a little bit) so much as a “AHHHH!!! look how many people I get to share awesome books with!” thing. It’s silly, but I used to think I was the only book nerd alive (aside from our local librarians. they were rad. but i was still scared of them.). Affirming that there are more bibliophiles in the world each day? Beyond great.

I get a thrill out of recommending a special title and finding out later that a friend connected with a book. I love finding that out about internet acquaintances, too! And there’s a place in my heart for those who share my taste in books. THIS is why I like holding giveaways. I want all of you to love the books I love, and the first step towards that is getting them in your hands.

[art from FauxKiss' etsy shop]

THUS, the 600 follower (and thank you for being freaking wonderful) giveaway. One winner will receive $30 US to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or the Book Depository. Giveaway open internationally, will close on September 5, 2011 at 11:59pm EST. Winner will be selected randomly and notified via email. To enter, simply fill out the FORM.

If I didn’t say it clearly enough before, THANK YOU for reading along and letting me know when I’ve got it right/wrong/upside down. You’re all lovely.

favorite fictional character (and happy friday!)

If you haven't yet, you should go check out my guest post at Wordsmithonia on my favorite fictional character. I chose to talk about Suzy Turquoise Blue, heroine and auxiliary character extraordinaire from Garth Nix's Keys to the Kingdom series. The first of seven books (and an introduction to Suzy) was Mister Monday, which I reviewed here. Oh, and happy Friday!

epic fail

Thursday, August 18, 2011 | | 5 comments

If my Waiting on Wednesday post and participation in past ‘Everything Austen’ events didn’t warn you, I’m an Austen-ite. I am more likely to pick up an adaptation or re-telling of one of Jane Austen’s books than I am to eat milk chocolate. True fact. Dark chocolate, now, that I eat more often than I’d like to admit. When I read a summary of Claire LaZebnik's Epic Fail (after I got over the hilarious title, that is), I knew I had to check it out.

Will Elise’s love life be an epic win or an epic fail?

At Coral Tree Prep in Los Angeles, who your parents are can make or break you. Case in point:

As the son of Hollywood royalty, Derek Edwards is pretty much prince of the school—not that he deigns to acknowledge many of his loyal subjects.

As the daughter of the new principal, Elise Benton isn’t exactly on everyone’s must-sit-next-to-at-lunch list.

When Elise’s beautiful sister catches the eye of the prince’s best friend, Elise gets to spend a lot of time with Derek, making her the envy of every girl on campus. Except she refuses to fall for any of his rare smiles and instead warms up to his enemy, the surprisingly charming social outcast Webster Grant. But in this hilarious tale of fitting in and flirting, not all snubs are undeserved, not all celebrity brats are bratty, and pride and prejudice can get in the way of true love for only so long.

Epic Fail is Elise’s story, but in terms of narrative, it’s Pride and Prejudice in a Hollywood high school. Other things it is: cute, sweet, predictable, and a good bit of quick fun. If you know the original, you know how this plays out. What saves it from sappy and overdone is Elise’s smart inner dialogue. She’s perceptive and at the same time her worries and concerns ring true for a real kid (albeit an intelligent one).

Outside of Elise, the other well-defined characters were her sister Juliana, and to a lesser extent, Derek. If you’re looking for true learning and honest change in your next read, this isn’t your novel. And if we’re going to talk weaknesses, a glaring one for me was the inclusion of characters from the original P&P who didn’t fit in the space of Epic Fail. Elise’s cousin (who takes the place of Charlotte) definitely had the feel of an add-on, and could have been left out with no problem at all. Despite a slight excess of shallowness, this read resonated as ‘fun’ rather than ‘contrived.’

Recommended for: fans of Austen retellings and spin-offs, those who are into young adult lit with a dash of celebrity and the Hollywood trappings, and anyone looking for some quick and light summer reading with a classic theme and a happy ending.

If you are interested in other YA takes on Jane Austen’s classics, check out this article!

waiting on wednesday (14)

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.

I was introduced to Jane Austen and her wonderful books in high school. My English and Journalism teachers teamed up to invite the senior girls to their houses to watch the BBC five-hour version of Pride and Prejudice (yes, that sort of thing happened at my teeny-tiny private school). This started a long love affair with Austen, but also with Austen re-tellings and riffs. A couple of years ago I read Austenland by Shannon Hale (who also writes Grade A YA fantasy), and I enjoyed it quite a lot. I was thrilled to hear that it was being made into a film, and ecstatic to find that a sequel/companion novel is on its way! Midnight in Austenland will be published by Bloomsbury USA, and releases on January 31, 2012.

When Charlotte Kinder treats herself to a two-week vacation at Austenland, she happily leaves behind her ex-husband and his delightful new wife, her ever-grateful children, and all the rest of her real life in America. She dons a bonnet and stays at a country manor house that provides an immersive Austen experience, complete with gentleman actors who cater to the guests' Austen fantasies.

Everyone at Pembrook Park is playing a role, but increasingly, Charlotte isn't sure where roles end and reality begins. And as the parlor games turn a little bit menacing, she finds she needs more than a good corset to keep herself safe. Is the brooding Mr. Mallery as sinister as he seems? What is Miss Gardenside's mysterious ailment? Was that an actual dead body in the secret attic room? And-perhaps of the most lasting importance-could the stirrings in Charlotte's heart be a sign of real-life love?

The follow-up to reader favorite
Austenland provides the same perfectly plotted pleasures, with a feisty new heroine, plenty of fresh and frightening twists, and the possibility of a romance that might just go beyond the proper bounds of Austen's world. How could it not turn out right in the end?

What books are you waiting on?

down the mysterly river

Hi, my name is Cecelia, and I just fell in love with a book for 10 year-old boys. Hi, Cecelia. Wait, WHAT?! Yes, that's right. Bill Willingham's Down the Mysterly River has crazy powers of amazing. This book? Would have been my brothers' favorite thing on the planet when they were younger. I'm not even joking. It would have gone in the camouflage backpack right alongside the machete, walkie-talkies, and beef jerky. But it was published NOW, so I, city-dweller, older person and girl that I am, have unwittingly become its latest conquest. How did THAT happen?

Down the Mysterly River is the children’s book debut of Bill Willingham, the creator of the #1 New York Times bestselling graphic novel series Fables. Complete with illustrations by Fables artist Mark Buckingham, it is a spirited, highly original tale of adventure, suspense, and everlasting friendship.

Max “the Wolf” is a top notch Boy Scout, an expert at orienteering and a master of being prepared. So it is a little odd that he suddenly finds himself, with no recollection of his immediate past, lost in an unfamiliar wood. Even odder still, he encounters a badger named Banderbrock, a black bear named Walden, and McTavish the Monster (who might also be an old barn cat)—all of whom talk—and who are as clueless as Max.

Before long, Max and his friends are on the run from a relentless group of hunters and their deadly hounds. Armed with powerful blue swords and known as the Blue Cutters, these hunters capture and change the very essence of their prey. For what purpose, Max can’t guess. But unless he can solve the mystery of the strange forested world he’s landed in, Max may find himself and his friends changed beyond recognition, lost in a lost world.

Talking animals. A Boy Scout. An unfamiliar forest. I know what you're thinking, but NO, this is not some Narnian mash-up. Oh, that wasn't what you were thinking? Good. Because this story is all its own, and what that is, is wonderful. It's about a boy named Max the Wolf. He may be lost in unknown terrain, but he's resourceful, and he's an expert at woodcraft and solving mysteries. There's just one problem: Max isn't the only one in this forest. He finds that he and some newly-made friends are being hunted by a bunch of unsavory characters called the Blue Cutters, and their fight and flight towards safety make up the majority of the story.

What shall I say about the characters? Max is resourceful and strong and generally very good, but he's also just a boy, and so he has his minor shortcomings. One of his strengths is his cleverness. I do love clever middle grade characters (a la Max, and the crew from The Mysterious Benedict Society). They're just so wonderful! Max doesn't change over-much in during the course of the story, but he does come to several realizations that change his outlook on life. Of the other characters, I think McTavish was my favorite. He learns no shortage of lessons (most of them subconsciously), and in so doing influences his fellow travelers in ways they wouldn't have imagined possible.

Down the Mysterly River was witty, exciting, adventurous and even frightening in parts. Willingham's writing had a bit of the flavor of Mark Twain, and it felt like an perfect mix of a boy's outdoors guide and a rip-roaring adventure serial, crossed with your favorite childhood talking-animals story. I laughed while reading and loved it whole-heartedly. If it has a failing, it is that it will not appeal to girls as much as one would hope. There aren't any female main characters, and I think that's unfortunate. That lack didn't change my enjoyment of the book, but I can't know for sure if my childhood self would feel the same. In the end, I think it will be one of my best books of 2011.

Recommended for: brave explorers (and those who would be, if they had the chance), boys and tomboys of any age, lovers of fantasy, and anyone who compulsively read adventure-mysteries in their childhood and day-dreamed of starring in their own story and saving the world.

Fine print: I received an ARC of Down the Mysterly River as a contest prize from Tor. It will be released on September 13, 2011.

glow ARC giveaway

Wednesday, August 10, 2011 | | 11 comments
Every now and again a book I’ve never heard of pops up on my radar (or in Shelf Awareness) and looks like something I could get into. And by ‘every now and again’ I mean each time I see a sci-fi book. I don’t go searching for them, but they usually find a way to get inside my head anyway, and start whispering things like, “you really, REALLY want to read me!” Le sigh. And I DO, you know. I do.

Amy Kathleen Ryan’s newest book Glow showed up on my doorstep courtesy of St. Martin’s Griffin, and I am determined to read it and then let someone else enjoy it as well. I think you know what that means – it’s time for a GIVEAWAY [insert unholy glee here]!

What if you were bound for a new world, about to pledge your life to someone you'd been promised to since birth, and one unexpected violent attack made survival—not love—the issue?
Out in the murky nebula lurks an unseen enemy: the New Horizon. On its way to populate a distant planet in the wake of Earth's collapse, the ship's crew has been unable to conceive a generation to continue its mission. They need young girls desperately, or their zealous leader's efforts will fail. Onboard their sister ship, the Empyrean, the unsuspecting families don't know an attack is being mounted that could claim the most important among them...

Fifteen-year-old Waverly is part of the first generation to be successfully conceived in deep space; she was born on the Empyrean, and the large farming vessel is all she knows. Her concerns are those of any teenager—until Kieran Alden proposes to her. The handsome captain-to-be has everything Waverly could ever want in a husband, and with the pressure to start having children, everyone is sure he's the best choice. Except for Waverly, who wants more from life than marriage—and is secretly intrigued by the shy, darkly brilliant Seth.

But when the Empyrean faces sudden attack by their assumed allies, they quickly find out that the enemies aren't all from the outside.

Giveaway details: one entrant will receive an Advanced Reading Copy of Glow (due out September 13, 2011). Giveaway open internationally; will end August 24, 2011 at 11:59pm EST. Winner will be selected randomly and notified via email. To enter, simply fill out the FORM.

Good luck!

teaser tuesday (65)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011 | | 29 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!

“It had the size and claws of a predator, but its shape was unlike any Alek had seen before.

It was headed straight for the ship.”

p. 19 of Scott Westerfeld’s Goliath (ARC version, subject to change)

churro cupcakes with cream cheese icing and caramel sauce

Having friends who love food AND who love making food has revolutionized my life. At least once a month I share a recipe or have one sent my way. Then we go out, create little masterpieces and enjoy the fruits of our labors together. It sounds really corny, but I love it!

Greta (check out her Pinterest account for more inspiration) showed me a churro cupcake recipe that made my mouth water just looking at the photos. And she happened to send it in time for my roommate’s birthday. SOLD! This one was an absolute winner – all 18 cupcakes were gone in the first hours of the birthday party. Cha-ching!

Churro Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing and Caramel Sauce (recipe from The Novice Chef)



1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 (1 stick) cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup milk


4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon cinnamon


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners; set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a large bowl, or the bowl of a standing mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, until just combined then stir in the vanilla and oil. Sprinkle 1/3 of the flour mixture over the butter mixture and gently stir in until barely combined. Add half of the milk, mixing until just combined. Repeat these steps with the remaining flour mixture and milk, ending with the flour. Do not over-mix.

Fill each cupcake tin with 2 tablespoons of batter, or until the cupcake tin is filled half way (do NOT be generous). Bake the cupcakes for 14 to 16 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with one or two crumbs clinging to it. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting: Cream the butter and cream cheese together in a large bowl. Add the sugar, one cup at a time, beating well between each addition. Stir in the cinnamon until thoroughly combined. Then stir in the vanilla. Beat the mixture well, until light and fluffy.

Pipe onto cupcakes, sprinkle with a little cinnamon sugar and top with a drizzle of Dulce De Leche if desired.

NOW, here is where it gets interesting. I went to the store to get dulce de leche. I’ve bought it before, and actually fell in love with it when I lived in Chile (it tastes AMAZING over plain yogurt and cut-up fruit!). But my local grocery store was charging $5 per can for the stuff, and I COULDN’T DO IT. Side note: sometimes I am thrifty-to-the-point-of-cheap.

So instead, I made caramel sauce for the first time. It took two tries, and I might have ruined a pot in the process. Or part of a pot. In any case, if you want to try it, the recipe is right here, and it was pretty easy (as long as you don't let the sugar burn). It was also incredibly satisfying to tell everyone that I made the cupcakes, icing AND caramel sauce from scratch. Go on and dust your shoulders off, ladies!

Recommended for: a fancy-schmancy treat on a budget, any Latin-themed party, or that time you really want all the credit (and a delicious dessert to boot). Goes especially well with Mexican hot chocolate and coffee!

june and july contest winners

It’s been a busy summer, and I’ve been a remiss about posting contest winners. Please join me in congratulating:

BrittLit of A Reading Nook

who won my Don’t Stop Now giveaway

Renee G.

who won my The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making giveaway (made possible by Zeitghost media – thanks!)

Tandra S. of Awesomesauce Books and Skye H. of In the Good Books

who won the Long Overdue giveaway to celebrate my belated blog anniversary and reaching 500 followers

Ryan of Wordsmithonia

who won my Down the Mysterly River ARC giveaway (many thanks to Starscape/Tor!).

All winners have been notified via email. More giveaway opportunities will be available shortly – stay tuned! And if you haven’t already signed up for Shelf Awareness (a daily publishing industry email newsletter), check out the giveaway and signup on my sidebar.

teaser tuesday (64)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011 | | 20 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!

“In addition to the usual strong smell of curry, I can make out the smoky smell of boiling banana leaves. That means Deema is making either pastelles or paymee, a cake made out of grated cassava, coconut, and sugar, wrapped in a banana leaf.”

p. 30 of Ramin Ganeshram’s Stir It Up!

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