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.

book blogger holiday swap returns for 2011

Saturday, November 5, 2011 | | 1 comments
Do you have a book blog? Do you like to send and receive holiday gifts? If you answered ‘Yes’ to both of those questions, you should probably get in on the Book Blogger Holiday Swap. I’ve taken part for the last two years, and it’s been fun and positive each time. I look at the swap as my chance to make another book blogger’s day. And that, my dears, is a VERY rewarding feeling.

Are you in? Go check out the sign-up post and get involved. After all, the holidays are coming soon!

waiting on wednesday (17)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011 | | 7 comments

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.

Even though I know it’s not entirely healthy, I wander over to NetGalley now and again and browse through the selection of soon-to-be-published books. Today’s pick caught my eye with its (appropriate) title and jaunty cover. After checking out the summary, it seems like the sort of book that would appeal to a Neil Gaiman or Garth Nix fan, and I am both of those things. I’ll definitely be checking this one out! Julie Bourbeau’s debut The Wednesdays will be released on August 14, 2012 by Random House Children’s Books.

Something wicked is lurking on Mt. Tibidabo, something that only comes out on Wednesdays…

Every Wednesday, strange things happen in Max's village. The townsfolk shutter their windows, lock their doors and hunker down to outwait this plague of peculiarities referred to simply as "the Wednesdays." But Max is too curious for that, and when he accidentally lets the Wednesdays inside, his furious parents cast him out for the rest of the day.

Soon he meets the Wednesdays themselves; strange silver-eyed boy-creatures bent on spreading mischief and mayhem. Initially he thinks they're quite fun, but they can also be cruel and dangerous. With the assistance of an unlikely cast of characters including a popular girl with questionable motives, a slightly crazed parapsychologist, and the world's ugliest dog, Max must put an end to the curse of the Wednesdays . . . or become one himself.

In this debut novel Julie Bourbeau strikes the perfect balance of creepiness and humor, with just a touch of old-fashioned charm. Readers of all ages-both boys and girls-will find themselves laughing out loud as they turn the pages.

What books are you waiting on?


Boarding schools. Myths and legend. Orphans. Wish fulfillment. Questionable authority figure behavior. Add in a little mystery, a dollop of angst and the faintest hint of teenage romance, and you’ve got Legacies, the first in a series by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill. The Shadow Grail books feature magical teen orphans who are sent to a Montana boarding school called Oakhurst – and the school is hiding secrets and peril. Wondering if Legacies ticks ALL of the cliché boxes? It does, without irony.

Spirit White has survived from a deadly car crash that has killed her mother and father and her sister. She has been discovered by a school with special talents, called magic. A couple of months after staying, people begin to disappear, some vanish to be never seen again, so Spirit and her new friends begin the investigation. But will they find out the truth of what is going on? Or will Spirit and her friends suffer a terrible fate from which they don't know about yet?

Spirit White survives a horrific accident that kills the rest of her family, and after extensive therapy is bundled off to a school in the middle of nowhere – one that provides for her every need and also tells her that she has latent magical abilities. While Spirit makes friends and gets to know her surroundings, everyone she knows is under threat. Will she survive?

First of all, to the rhetorical ‘question’ I ask (and the official summary asks) above – OF COURSE she survives. There’s a book two! Secondly, ohmydeargoodness, there were so many things that rubbed my skin the wrong way with this book. Stand back and let me get started with the evisceration. I mean… analysis.

There were two instances that stood out to me as clearly abusive adult behavior for no apparent reason (no plot or character development occur as a result): first in the hospital, when Spirit is berated by an orderly who is named but has no other back story. He’s clearly a placeholder, which could be okay, but he yells at our main character. Who is healing and mourning. In, you know, a hospital. The situation is just so weird and out of place that the warning bells went off immediately. And the second, with the headmaster… we have a clear instance of TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) syndrome, my dears. If you can’t see that that’s unhealthy, you have no survival skillz, and you might deserve my contempt. Moving on!

Wish fulfillment – this is one element of Legacies that brought me out of the story over and over again. I understand, the place is luxurious and they’re given everything. However, the time spent describing consumer items would be better spent on the actual setting (and would alleviate a lot of confusion in the story world).

Another thing that constantly grabbed attention away from the action was the mishandling of cultural references and teen communication. Technology use didn’t fit the age group, the IM speak was embarrassing, and there was an Anna Nicole Simpson reference. That’s almost too old for me, and I’m 27 (not the target market). Mess.

Put all of the mismatched elements together, and a story won’t hold well (for me), no matter how good the plot. And you know what? The plot in Legacies was the only thing that kept me reading. Total bright spot, even if you can tell from a mile away that this is a set-up book. If you’re into the whole orphan-with-magic-in-a-boarding-school thing, may I point you in the direction of Jennifer Estep’s Touch of Frost? Same clichés, but with more humor and sass. Or if you do try this series – remember that I warned you!

Recommended for: die-hard fans of magic in school settings, Mercedes Lackey enthusiasts wondering what she’s serving up to the younger set, and those with an incurable sense of optimism. Good luck!

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