waiting on wednesday (43)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012 | | 6 comments
Today I’m participating in "Waiting On" Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine. Its purpose is to spotlight upcoming book releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

Two things that I really enjoy are coming together.  The first is author Holly Black.  Her Curse Workers trilogy is absolutely genius (oh hey, feel free to check out my reviews of White Cat and Red Glove).  The second thing is creepy middle grade along the lines of The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls.  Black’s forthcoming book (illustrated by Eliza Wheeler) sounds amazing, and I can’t wait to read it.  Doll Bones will be released on May 7, 2013 by Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster).

doll bones by holly black book cover
A doll that may be haunted leads three friends on a thrilling adventure in this delightfully creepy novel from the New York Times bestselling cocreator of the Spiderwick Chronicles

Zach, Poppy, and Alice have been friends forever. And for almost as long, they’ve been playing one continuous, ever-changing game of pirates and thieves, mermaids and warriors. Ruling over all is the Great Queen, a bone-china doll cursing those who displease her. 

But they are in middle school now. Zach’s father pushes him to give up make-believe, and Zach quits the game. Their friendship might be over, until Poppy declares she’s been having dreams about the Queen—and the ghost of a girl who will not rest until the bone-china doll is buried in her empty grave. 

Zach and Alice and Poppy set off on one last adventure to lay the Queen’s ghost to rest. But nothing goes according to plan, and as their adventure turns into an epic journey, creepy things begin to happen. Is the doll just a doll or something more sinister? And if there really is a ghost, will it let them go now that it has them in its clutches?

What books are you waiting on?

the shape of desire

Tuesday, December 18, 2012 | | 4 comments
Most of my favorite reads claimed that status long before I began blogging, but there are some wonderful exceptions to that trend, including Sharon Shinn’s angel series. A couple of years ago I participated in the Horns & Halos Reading Challenge, and I tried Archangel and then all the rest – as fast as I could get them.  The mix of subtle sci-fi elements, angel mythology, symbolism and romance made me a Shinn fan.

Last year I saw notes here and there about her latest release, The Shape of Desire, but it wasn’t until the sequel (Still Life with Shapeshifter) started showing up on my Amazon ‘Recommended for Cecelia’ list that I got serious about reading the first entry in this new series.  I borrowed the book from the library and read it in one night.  The Shape of Desire wasn’t what I expected, but I don’t think I’ll ever be impervious to a Sharon Shinn romance.

the shape of desire by sharon shinn book cover
For fifteen years Maria Devane has been desperately, passionately in love with Dante Romano. But despite loving him with all of her heart and soul, Maria knows that Dante can never give all of himself back-at least not all the time. 

Every month, Dante shifts shape, becoming a wild animal. During those times, he wanders far and wide, leaving Maria alone. He can't choose when he shifts, the transition is often abrupt and, as he gets older, the time he spends in human form is gradually decreasing. But Maria, who loves him without hesitation, wouldn't trade their unusual relationship for anything. 

Since the beginning, she has kept his secret, knowing that their love is worth the danger. But when a string of brutal attacks occur in local parks during the times when Dante is in animal form, Maria is forced to consider whether the lies she's been telling about her life have turned into lies she's telling herself...

Maria has been in love with Dante for almost half of her life.  She keeps him secret and she keeps him safe.  This is because Dante is a shapeshifter, and his anonymity is synonymous with his safety. However, when a series of murders shake her area, Maria isn’t sure what to do, where the boundaries lie in her relationship (is she in danger? are others?), or how deep the secrets go.  

While the presence of a shapeshifting character marks this book as a fantasy (and a paranormal fantasy at that), it reads much more like realistic contemporary fiction.  As Maria herself points out several times, Dante could simply have a very mysterious job – as a CIA operative, perhaps.  The same book could exist with a spy at its core rather than a shapeshifter.  With that said, I think Shinn’s treatment of the shapeshifting element is a highlight – there is no glorification of it, and very little beauty to be found.  Instead, the life of a shapeshifter is one of danger, of brevity, and of uncertainty.

At its heart, The Shape of Desire is a romance.  It’s a story of individuals making insane choices in order to live with each other, and the inherent peril in those decisions.  The romance is fleshed out with office gossip, family relationships, and the very mundane details of life. The gripping parts, the bits that keep you reading, are the threads of secrets, the theme of protecting family and protecting self, and a mature understanding of love and romance.

On the downside, there’s not a lot of ‘action’ on the surface.  This is about humanity, about emotional survival, about the toll of living with secrets.  The book will appeal to those with patience to unravel a character-driven story, but probably not those used to rip-roaring plots.  It’s a quiet, adult book (despite what the cover would lead you to believe).  I wasn’t expecting it, and it won’t be an all-time favorite, but I admired the furious-movement-beneath-still-water feel of Shinn’s writing and the unique take on a common paranormal creature.

Recommended for: those who appreciate character-driven stories with a slow build towards conflict, and anyone curious to see how a seasoned fantasy and sci-fi author will approach a well-worn paranormal trope.

fudge crackle cookies

Saturday, December 15, 2012 | | 16 comments
I originally posted this recipe in August 2009.  This time around I’ve substituted unsweetened cocoa powder (times two!) for chocolate squares, and managed some nicer photos.

When I was quite little I remember my mother making sugar cookies by the dozen, and sharing them with friends and family.  After a while, she had too many energetic children underfoot to do a big holiday baking spree, and that tradition lapsed.  When I got old enough to start helping with the fudge and Christmas breakfasts, we reinstated some holiday-esque cookie baking, and this recipe has always been a huge hit.  It’s chocolate to the max, and a bit like a brownie in cookie form.  I end up making it almost every year for cookie exchanges or a holiday dessert contribution.

Fudge Crackle Cookies


1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter
heaping 1/2 cup unsweetened powdered cocoa
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup plus 3 Tablespoons sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup chopped nuts (I typically use walnuts, but pecans or almonds would work well, too)


Mix flour, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Set aside.

In saucepan, stir butter, oil and chocolate over low heat until melted and smooth. When cool, stir in 1 cup sugar, eggs, vanilla and nuts; mix until blended. Add chocolate mixture to flour mixture, stir until blended. Cover and chill 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until firm (or flash cool in freezer for 30 minutes). 

Preheat oven to 300˚F. Roll into 1-inch balls; then roll in extra sugar. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet, and bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until tops are crackled and slightly firm to touch. Serve immediately, store in an airtight container for up to a week, or freeze.  Yields approximately 24 cookies.

Recommended for: a rich, chocolate-y addition to any holiday cookie exchange, the perfect baked good for the cocoa addict in your life, and for anyone who claims they love brownies above all else (it might just change their minds!).

Interested in other food-related posts?  Check out Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking!

home front girl (+ giveaway!)

As a kid I loved historical fiction, and especially WWII fiction.  I also read (for myself first and then for school) The Diary of Anne Frank and Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place.  These nonfiction first-hand accounts showed not only the immediacy of war, but also the personalities of those who survived it and found ways to thrive amidst terrible events.  You had to be inspired by the intelligence and humanity of these women, writing and telling stories and falling in love or doing what was right, no matter how hard.  I’ve recently found another inspiring and entertaining first-hand account from the WWII era in Joan Wehlen Morrison’s Home Front Girl: A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing Up in Wartime America.

home front girl by joan wehlen morrison book cover
Wednesday, December 10, 1941 

“Hitler speaks to Reichstag tomorrow. We just heard the first casualty lists over the radio. … Lots of boys from Michigan and Illinois. Oh my God! … Life goes on though. We read our books in the library and eat lunch, bridge, etc. Phy. Sci. and Calculus. Darn Descartes. Reading Walt Whitman now.” 

This diary of a smart, astute, and funny teenager provides a fascinating record of what an everyday American girl felt and thought during the Depression and the lead-up to World War II. Young Chicagoan Joan Wehlen describes her daily life growing up in the city and ruminates about the impending war, daily headlines, and major touchstones of the era—FDR’s radio addresses, the Lindbergh kidnapping, Goodbye Mr. Chips and Citizen Kane, Churchill and Hitler, war work and Red Cross meetings. Included are Joan’s charming doodles of her latest dress or haircut reflective of the era. Home Front Girl is not only an entertaining and delightful read but an important primary source—a vivid account of a real American girl’s lived experiences.

Joan Wehlen Morrison was a girl of 14 in 1937 when this selection of her diary starts, and it continues through her adolescence until 1943, the year she married.  She writes of school assignments, reading, friends, family, boys, world events and the lead up to war and then the reality of it.  From her home in Chicago, the reader sees through Joan a vision of America during wartime as it was ‘at home.’  Her intellectual curiosity, humor and facility with language mark this diary not only as an important historical record, but a superb read as well.

Home Front Girl exists because Joan’s daughter, Susan Signe Morrison, found Joan’s diary amidst her papers after her death in 2010.  The book contains a portion of the entries she wrote in the years mentioned, only edited in punctuation and spelling (with a footnote here and there for the reader who doesn’t pick up on allusions or historical events).  There are snippets of Joan’s little illustrations, along with photos of her and examples of her writing.  Of course, not all diary entries are equal.  Joan wrote not only observations, but poetry, philosophical meanderings, calls to her generation – and about lipstick, bridge, and dates.  She was a very intelligent girl and then woman, and her mind was an active and beautiful thing, no matter her topic.

A reader cannot help but connect with Joan after only a few pages.  She is likeable, remarkably aware and observant, and no more self-obsessed than any other human being.  She chronicles her small triumphs and doings with style.  Her writing is elegant in stretches, naïve or quirky or snappy in others.  Joan’s reactions become the reader’s – her wonder at fresh-fallen snow or beautiful music, pondering the significance of a world event, seeing a film, recording her dreams.

While I think Joan’s diary is an important primary source (a first-person historical account), I think it is more interesting as literature.  I hope it will be read as a coming-of-age account during a historically significant moment.  And as a side note, my favorite entries were the ones written around Christmas each year (perhaps that’s inevitable as we are ourselves in the holiday time now).

Recommended for: anyone who has wanted to get inside the head of an American young person during WWII, and those who enjoyed The Diary of Anne Frank.


Would you like to win a copy of Home Front Girl?  The publisher has kindly offered one hardcover copy to a reader with a US mailing address.  If you'd like to enter, simply fill out the FORM.  Giveaway will end on December 27th at 11:59pm EST.  Winner will be selected randomly and notified via email, book will be mailed by publisher.  Good luck!

Fine print: I received a copy of Home Front Girl for review from IPG and Chicago Review Press.  Giveaway book provided by the same.  I received no compensation for this post.

waiting on wednesday (42)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 | | 7 comments
Today I’m participating in "Waiting On" Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine. Its purpose is to spotlight upcoming book releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

Every time I check one of the ‘Upcoming Trends in 2013’ articles, I am excited to see YA sci-fi experiencing a surge of popularity.  While dystopian has been hot for a few years now, sci-fi set in space is a great little sub-genre, and I think it deserves the attention (and an update!).  When I saw the cover and synopsis for one of the hot releases of 2013, I knew I had another addition to the to-be-read pile.  Phoebe North’s Starglass will be released on July 23, 2013 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

starglass by phoebe north book cover
In this futuristic, outer space thriller, Terra has to decide between supporting the rebellion she believes in—and saving the life of the boy she loves. 

For generations, those aboard the Asherah have lived within strict rules meant to help them survive the journey from a doomed Earth to their promised land, the planet Zehava–which may or may not be habitable, a question whose imperative grows now, in the dwindling months before touchdown. 

Sixteen-year-old Terra’s situation is tough. A dead mom. A grieving dad. A bitchy boss, and a betrothed who won’t kiss her no matter how bad she wants it. She’s doing her best to stay afloat, even when she gets assigned a vocation she has no interest in: botany.
 But after Terra witnesses the Captain’s guard murder an innocent man, she’s drawn into a secret rebellion bent on restoring power to the people. The stakes are higher than anything she could have imagined. When the rebellion gives Terra an all-important mission, she has to decide where her loyalties lie for once and for all. Because she has started to fall for the boy she’s been sent to assassinate…

What books are you waiting on?

top ten favorite new-to-me authors i read in 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012 | | 13 comments
Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, where we all get to exercise our OCD tendencies and come up with bookish lists.  If you’d like to play along, check out this post.

One of the serious benefits of book blogging is that it prompts me to venture outside of my reading comfort zone.  I could be very happy simply rereading my current book collection again and again.  Instead, I read about my fellow bloggers’ new favorites.  Blogging introduces me to the latest releases, new favorite genres, and allows me to connect with fresh genius.  Listed below are the best of the crop of the authors I read for the first time in 2012.

Top Ten Favorite New-To-Me Authors I Read in 2012

1. Sarah Prineas (Winterling) – Prineas’ winter fairy tale reminded me of the fantasy adventures that prompted my first interest in genre.

2. Margo Lanagan (The Brides of Rollrock Island) – I expected too much going into the reading experience, so my first Lanagan book didn’t shine as much as promised.  I was impressed by the writing, though, and I’ll be back for more.

3. Cath Crowley (Graffiti Moon) – Crowley is a master at writing relationships, and delineating hopes, dreams and the awkward/sweet/angry that is teenage life.

4. Ellen Potter (The Humming Room) – Potter’s retelling of The Secret Garden was, simply put, enchanting.

5. Maryrose Wood (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling) – Oh, how I love funny, clever middle grade!

6. Claire Legrand (The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls) – Again on-trend with my middle grade obsession, this one sent chills down my spine and delighted the child inside.

7. Leah Bobet (Above) – Bobet wrote a complicated, twisty story that combined fantasy and mental illness, and the fact that the concept actually worked in practice was a feat!

8. Geoff Herbach (Stupid Fast) – Felton is, hands down, my favorite character of the year.  Herbach is genius.

9. Erin Bow (Plain Kate) – The sorrow and beauty and loneliness of Bow’s first novel snared my heart and  then squeezed it dry.  I shall read everything she writes.

10. Frank Cottrell Boyce (Cosmic) – A witty, self-aware and nerdy take on sci-fi will get me every time.

Who were your favorite new-to-you authors this year?

decked with holly

Monday, December 10, 2012 | | 4 comments
I love the holidays.  The gifting, decorating, music (some of it, anyway), the baking, the parties and the sparkles – I love all of it.  I read holiday-themed stories, too, both in-season and out.  Some of them are good, some are terrible, and a few fall into mediocre territory.  While Marni Bates’ Decked with Holly had a stellar recommendation and a happily-ever-after at Christmastime, it did not deliver that other important element I look for in contemporary YA – a plausible, enjoyable story.

decked with holly by marni bates book cover
Smartly blending of-the-moment pop culture references and timeless themes, Bates follows her YA debut, Awkward, with a hilarious, over-the-top adventure about a teen girl who becomes the fake girlfriend of a cute rock star. 

Taking a Christmas cruise with her two cousins from hell isn't Holly's idea of a good time. And when seasickness forces her into an open suite, she's pepper-sprayed by a gorgeous guy called Nick. But when Holly makes her exit, she's greeted by a horde of screaming teenage fans. Because Nick happens to be Dominic Wyatt, drummer for one of the hottest bands in America. Suddenly rumours are swirling and Holly's face is plastered all over the Internet. The band can't risk a scandal destroying their family-friendly image, so Dominic convinces Holly to be his fake girlfriend - just for two weeks. How bad could it be to be "fauxmantically" involved with a cute rock star? She's about to find out...

Heroine Holly is that non-endangered species, the YA cliché (she’s *ahem* an orphan).  She also has evil stepsisters, a doting but largely absent grandfather, low self-esteem, naïveté, and she is pulled into crazy situations by her best friend Jen.  Did I mention that she’s poor?  And her cousins call her Orphan Annie.  I could go on, really.  Dominic Wyatt, her supposed foil, is a rock star a la Justin Bieber or One Direction, and he just wants a break.  What is absolutely amazing (read: sarcasm) is that he has no entourage and a pretty non-existent family as well, which makes convenient and possible his availability on the same cruise as poor girl Holly.  Throw in some seasickness, some rabid fans and a large contingent of paparazzi (again, how?!), and you’ve got the makings of YA as wish fulfillment, sans charm or cohesion.

As I alluded to above, what bothered me most about the story was its deadly combo of cliché and implausibility.  I can appreciate a light, cute story with famous characters (see: Epic Fail, Jenna & Jonah’s Fauxmance).  However, when the plot has gaping holes, the characters seem to be made of cardboard, and there are no real surprises or obstacles to overcome or character development to be had, it’s time to reevaluate.

What did I like, then? Well, I like Christmas.  I’ve never considered going on a ‘real’ vacation over a holiday (except for that one time when I was in Spain for a semester… does that count?), but the setting of Christmas on a cruise ship was interesting.  I also thought that the characters had decent chemistry, even if their dialogue and interactions wouldn’t win any awards.  And that is pretty much it.

Recommended for: those with an incurable desire for fluffy Christmas romances, and fans of Rachel Hawthorne’s Snowed In or Love on the Lifts.

roasted winter and root vegetables

Christmas used to be my favorite holiday, hands down.  Along the way, though, Thanksgiving started to creep higher in my affections, and now it’s hard for me to say which one I prefer.  This is because everyone in my extended family is cuckoo for food prep, setting the table, dressing to the nines, and generally making a BIG DEAL out of it.  I love that.  I love making my two pies the day before and then putting an apron on over my sparkly dress and becoming a sous chef and dishwasher.  It’s amazing to see the passion for food, the love poured into a meal and a tradition so that we can all sit down to a dazzling spread on Thanksgiving. 

With that said, we’re not complete traditionalists.  Dishes come and go as guests rotate, and this year for the first time we did a roasted root vegetable side dish.  It was so delicious and beautiful that I had to document it for its own sake, and I’ll be replicating it for the Christmas dinner I plan yearly with my girlfriends.

Roasted Winter and Root Vegetables (inspired by this Ina Garten recipe)


3 carrots, peeled
3 parsnips, peeled
3 golden beets
3 turnips
5 brussels sprouts
5 radishes
2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 Tablespoons fresh dill, finely chopped, stems removed
2 teaspoons dried oregano


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. 

Rub beets with olive oil and envelop in aluminum foil.  As soon as oven is hot, place inside to roast separately.  You’ll know they’re done with a fork slides into beet easily.

Cut the remaining vegetables into 1-inch cubes – don’t cut too small, as they’ll shrink while roasting.  Place all cut vegetables in a single layer on 2 baking sheets, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Toss well to coat.

Bake for 45 minutes, turning once midway through with a spatula.  Remove from oven, cut up beets and add to mixture, and sprinkle with dill and oregano.  Toss to mix in herbs, and serve hot.

One note: the radishes may bake faster than the rest of the vegetables – be sure to test their readiness at the halfway point.  If done early, pick them off the baking sheet and let the rest finish roasting.

Recommended for: a colorful and delicious accompaniment to any winter meal, a side of vegetables that you’ll want to eat for tomorrow’s lunch, and a dish that will tempt the veggie-averse.

Interested in other food-related posts?  Check out Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking.

giveaway! for a book of your choice

Friday, December 7, 2012 | | 7 comments
It’s holiday time, there are lights up everywhere, we’ve had a day or three of cold weather here in DC, and I have procured and decorated a Christmas tree. No matter what holidays you celebrate (or do not celebrate) this month, books are the answer. That’s why I’m hosting a giveaway.

cecelia bedelia's christmas tree

Yes, a lovely, choose-your-own-gift sort of giveaway!  Three winners will each receive a book of their choice (up to US$30 – that should cover any hardcovers or audiobooks you may want to get your hands on) from Amazon or The Book Depository.  To enter, simply fill out this FORM.  Giveaway open internationally, will end December 20, 2012 at 11:59pm EST.  Winners will be selected randomly and notified via email.  Good luck!

waiting on wednesday (41)

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.

If you’ve ever taken a look at my ‘Recipes’ tab, you’ll know that I have a bit of a food obsession.  I like making it, eating it, and especially feeding it to my friends.  I follow food blogs, subscribe to food magazines, and regularly participate in Beth Fish Reads’ Weekend Cooking feature.   A book that focuses on food is one of the best things ever, for it combines my loves of food and reading.  Cartoonist Lucy Knisley’s graphic novel memoir, Relish: My Life in the Kitchen will be right up my alley.  Relish will be released on April 2, 2013 by First Second (Macmillan).

relish: my life in the kitchen by lucy knisley book cover
A vibrant, food-themed memoir from beloved indie cartoonist Lucy Knisley. 

Lucy Knisley loves food. The daughter of a chef and a gourmet, this talented young cartoonist comes by her obsession honestly. In her forthright, thoughtful, and funny memoir, Lucy traces key episodes in her life thus far, framed by what she was eating at the time and lessons learned about food, cooking, and life. Each chapter is bookended with an illustrated recipe—many of them treasured family dishes, and a few of them Lucy's original inventions.

A welcome read for anyone who ever felt more passion for a sandwich than is strictly speaking proper, Relish is a book for our time: it invites the reader to celebrate food as a connection to our bodies and a connection to the earth, rather than an enemy, a compulsion, or a consumer product.

What books are you waiting on?

the brides of rollrock island

I have a heart made out of stone.  I know this for various reasons (a long-standing lack of empathy being one of them. you probably think i’m joking…), but it is clear as glass in the case of Margo Lanagan’s The Brides of Rollrock Island.  I liked the book, but it did not melt me down and make me into something new.  I couldn’t put it down, but when I was done I didn’t feel as if my heart had been engaged.  I recognize its excellence, but I am not buying it by the case for Christmas presents.  One thing this book did do?  It made me a fan of Lanagan’s writing.  I’ll be back for more.

the brides of rollrock island by margo lanagan book cover
On remote Rollrock Island, men go to sea to make their livings—and to catch their wives.

The witch Misskaella knows the way of drawing a girl from the heart of a seal, of luring the beauty out of the beast. And for a price a man may buy himself a lovely sea-wife. He may have and hold and keep her. And he will tell himself that he is her master. But from his first look into those wide, questioning, liquid eyes, he will be just as transformed as she. He will be equally ensnared. And the witch will have her true payment.

Margo Lanagan weaves an extraordinary tale of desire, despair, and transformation. With devastatingly beautiful prose, she reveals characters capable of unspeakable cruelty, but also unspoken love.

Selkie myth has always fascinated me, and I think it has to do with water.  I spent my childhood and early adulthood in water (pools mostly, with the occasional lake thrown in), swimming competitively.  I am familiar with gradations of water clarity, the taste of waves, the feeling of weightlessness, and the joy in cutting through calm with honest exertion.  Water is in my blood, and it will always be.  Because it is, books set on water, or on islands, or about sea creatures, will always hold a special interest.

To bring it back to the book at hand (which is called Sea Hearts in Australia, by the way) – Lanagan does an amazing job of writing about the mystery of the sea and a close, isolated island life.  Her narrative is a mixture of magic, sadness, bitterness and humanity. It is told from several character perspectives, and over several generations.  This structure no doubt contributed to my difficulty in latching onto one character or another as a favorite or most effective storyteller.  However, the central figure in the book is Misskaella Prout, a proud, miserable girl (and later, woman) who changes her island in unnatural ways.

Lanagan’s skill is evident in her portrayals of Misskaella and the other inhabitants of Rollrock – the reader understands and hates them equally, for different reasons.  There is no black and white here: Rollrock is all gray and there's a feeling that it has always been so.  This signals (at least to me) remarkable writing and storytelling.  However, the ambiguity and selfishness and humanity of each character also kept me from gathering them into my heart.  Rollrock, with all its complexity, felt like an adult novel (and by that I mean that the morally ambiguous characters overtook all other aspects of the story).  The Brides of Rollrock Island is an outstanding book, but I did not appreciate it as I had hoped to.

Recommended for: fans of selkie myth, those who enjoyed Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races, and anyone who likes their mysteries deep, their fairy tales dark, and their reading ambiguous and beautifully written.

Fine print: I received an ARC of this book for review via NetGalley but didn't read it in time... so I ended up getting it in ebook form from my library.

top ten most anticipated books for 2013

Tuesday, November 27, 2012 | | 20 comments
Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, where we all get to exercise our OCD tendencies and come up with bookish lists.  If you’d like to play along, check out this post.

top ten tuesday

It feels a little bit crazy to put together a list of 2013 must-reads this far in advance.  I admit to looking at publishing catalogs now and again to find upcoming reads, but I don’t do that with any regularity.  What I’m trying to say: this list is incomplete and will probably be obsolete by next week.  But I am looking forward to all of these books.  Cool?

Top Ten Most Anticipated Books for 2013

1. Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund – Diana’s retelling of Persuasion, For Darkness Shows the Stars, made me feel ALL THE THINGS. And now she is doing a retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel?! Be still my heart.

2. Saved by Cake by Marian Keyes – This memoir is out in the UK, but I’m waiting for its US release to get a copy. A funny take on baking obsession as therapy… I know I’ll see myself in this, and bonus factor: food!

3. Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell – I like what Haskell does with fairy tales and myth, and I can’t wait to see how she twists the traditional this time around.

4. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – Neil. Gaiman.  DONE.

5. The Year of Shadows by Claire Legrand – I was very impressed by how easily Legrand creeped me out in her middle grade debut The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, and I’m on definitely board for her next story.

6. Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger – The author of the Parasol Protectorate steampunk series is moving into YA territory and I just know this first book will delight and entertain.

7. Untold (The Lynburn Legacy #2) by Sarah Rees Brennan – After Unspoken unhinged me I couldn’t think of anything else for days.  I am a little afraid to let Ms. Brennan into my head again, but I’m also unbearably excited.

8. The Red Plague Affair (Bannon and Clare #2) by Lilith Saintcrow – I thought Saintcrow’s first in the series, The Iron Wyrm Affair, was FUN through and through.  I am looking forward to the further Sherlockian adventures of her magical/mental duo.

9. More Than This by Patrick Ness – Ness writes emotion that wrings your heart out… and he writes things that are important, asks big questions, and he tells story in such a way… I don’t have words.  This is the title of his next YA project, out in September.  I’m excited.

10. Shadows by Robin McKinley – I have no idea what this book is about, but it’s the latest McKinley.  That is enough – I’m sure to fall in love.

What are the 2013 releases you’re most excited about?

the templeton twins have an idea

It happens every year: the holidays approach and I think to myself, “Oh, I’ll be able to keep blogging at a normal pace – I’m organized!” Then weeks of digital silence go by, reality sets in and my inner voice says, “You’ve been at it again, haven’t you? This overly positive mindset needs to stop.”  Well, my inner voice(s) aside, it HAS been difficult to keep up the blogging pace over Thanksgiving, and it’ll only get more difficult as Christmas approaches.  However, I’ve read a couple of marvelous books in the meantime, and The Templeton Twins Have an Idea is one I have no trouble recommending for a reading slump (or any old time you need a laugh).

the templeton twins have an idea by ellis weiner book cover
Suppose there were 12-year-old twins, a boy and girl named John and Abigail Templeton. Let's say John was pragmatic and played the drums, and Abigail was theoretical and solved cryptic crosswords. Now suppose their father was a brilliant, if sometimes confused, inventor. And suppose that another set of twins-adults-named Dean D. Dean and Dan D. Dean, kidnapped the Templeton twins and their ridiculous dog in order to get their father to turn over one of his genius (sort of) inventions. Yes, I said kidnapped. Wouldn't it be fun to read about that? Oh please. It would so. 

Luckily for you, this is just the first in a series perfect for boys and girls who are smart, clever, and funny (just like the twins), and enjoy reading adventurous stories (who doesn't?!).

As I’ve mentioned many times before, I adore clever middle grade books.  The precocious, smart, trick-all-the-adults-and-half-the-kids-too approach is one that consistently works for me.  I’ve been known to crow with delight at sly rejoinders and particularly cunning bits of plot.  It is my thing.  In Ellis Weiner's The Templeton Twins Have an Idea, the narrator is the one who has an overweening attitude and is smugly certain of his/her own superiority.  There’s enough sarcasm to sink the Titanic, and bonus: it’s hilarious!

John and Abigail are twins.  They’re twelve years old.  They each have different strengths and hobbies, and a father who is an inventor (a vital ingredient for interesting adventures!).  Through ingenuity and expert planning, they acquire a ridiculous dog.  Then the real fun begins, as strange happenings start cropping up, and the action is interlarded with commentary from an arrogant narrator.  What begins as a somewhat normal life turns quickly to crime fighting, kidnapping, and twin plotting.  But don’t let me spoil the book for you…

The story’s adventure aspect is rather simple, and while the twins’ quick thinking is interesting, it won’t amaze a seasoned reader.  What’s special about this book then?  It’s the tone.  The narrator is hilarious, ironic, talks back, and (I am convinced) will never let a reader become bored.  There are tactics and then there are tactics, but the structure and smart-aleck sensibility of this book works.  To begin with, there are the chapter headings, which run from literal descriptions to hilarious asides about what the narrator would like you to believe.  There are the ‘questions for review’ at the end of each chapter that mimic school reading assignments but instead are full of funny clues and the narrator’s self-aggrandizing.  There are lovely illustrations by Jeremy Holmes that add charm and actually illustrate what is going on and when (important when there are things of a mechanical nature happening right and left). 

Though the sarcasm and silliness may not be for everyone, it made me laugh aloud.  If you enjoy the following snippet (from pages 8 & 9), you will love The Templeton Twins Have an Idea:

“Would I like you if I met you? I’m not so sure I would.

Of course, you can say, “Well, maybe I wouldn’t like you if I met you, Narrator.” While that isn’t likely, it is indeed a possibility.  And yet when I contemplate such an occasion, I cannot help but ask myself, Do I want the Reader to like me? Do I care?

I think we can all agree that I don’t care.”

Recommended for: boys and girls ages 8-12 of all reading levels, fans of creative middle grade books, those who like Lemony Snicket and The Incorrigibles series, and anyone who appreciates snark, sarcasm, and narrators who have a mind of their own.

Fine print: I picked up an ARC of The Templeton Twins Have an Idea at the Chronicle booth at BEA, and I received no compensation for posting this review.

savory rice

Sunday, November 18, 2012 | | 10 comments
Last weekend was beach weekend (though to be honest, we spent about twenty minutes at the actual beach – it IS November, after all), and the girls and I read, watched bad television, played Bananagrams and ate a lot of food.  In other words, it was heaven.  On the first night we put together tacos, rice and beans for dinner, and then we ate the leftovers for lunch the next day.  Except there weren’t any leftovers of the rice because it was absolutely delicious and possibly addictive. Thank goodness for photos and friends who don’t mind sharing their secret recipes.

Savory Rice (recipe courtesy of Gretchen’s mom)


1 cup white rice
1/4 cup oil
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
1 Tablespoon dried parsley (optional)
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt


Heat chicken broth, parsley and salt together in a saucepan, stirring occasionally.  Bring to a boil.  In a large frying pan (one with a lid!), sauté onion and garlic in oil over medium heat.  After approximately five minutes, add the rice, stir and fry until the rice is toasted brown.  Slowly add boiling broth mixture to frying pan.  Cover and turn heat to lowest setting.  Simmer for 25 minutes, and do not remove the lid until the time is up!  Yields 4-5 servings.

The recipe is straightforward, the ingredients are simple… and there are times when all it takes is something uncomplicated like a savory rice dish to make everyone happy.  This is some of the best rice I’ve ever tasted, and I am very happy to have the recipe in my possession.  YUM.

Recommended for: a side dish to go with a Tex-Mex meal, a flavorful and aromatic addition to any cuisine, and a deceptively simple answer to your savory food cravings.

Interested in other food-related posts?  Check out Beth Fish Reads’ Weekend Cooking!

clementine spice muffins

Sunday, November 11, 2012 | | 14 comments
I am in the middle of a beach trip with my girlfriends.  It is glorious.  We’re in this gorgeous house with a to-die-for kitchen… but when you’re vacationing you don’t really use a kitchen, right?   Wrong.  This house happens to have a lot of staples, and given what we brought with us, I searched the internet and found a recipe for which we only had to buy two spices.  I feel extra impressive right now. *grin*

Clementine Spice Muffins (adapted from this recipe)



1 1/2 cups flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
6-8 clementine oranges, peeled and separated into segments


1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine all muffin ingredients except clementine segments.  Once mixture is blended well, fold in clementines.  

Spoon carefully into foil muffin liners or greased muffin tin. Fill each muffin liner about 3/4 full. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until muffins are golden brown and set.

Remove from pan while still hot.  To top, dip crown of each muffin in melted butter, then dip into cinnamon sugar mixture. Yields 13-16 muffins.

The original recipe called for canned mandarin oranges, and I think that recipe may result in muffins with a more uniform appearance.  That said, these are delicious right out of the oven, and because the clementine segments hold together, each bite is a surprise of texture and flavor.  If I make the recipe again, I’ll use more cinnamon and a tad more sugar, but as is it was declared an unqualified success.

Recommended for: a fruity breakfast morsel, delectable nibbles for afternoon tea, and a treat to share with friends for any time.

Interested in other food-related posts?  Check out Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking!

young adult sci-fi giveaway

Young adult science fiction is hot right now, and I’ve heard rumblings that the rise in interest (and number of books published) will continue for the next while.  Add in the fact that I keep saying that it’s a favorite genre of mine, and there’s the recipe for a giveaway and reading focus for the next few months.  Wait… did I say giveaway? Indeed!

Katya’s World by Jonathan L. Howard
katya's world by jonathan l. howard book cover
The distant and unloved colony world of Russalka has no land, only the raging sea. No clear skies, only the endless storm clouds. Beneath the waves, the people live in pressurised environments and take what they need from the boundless ocean. It is a hard life, but it is theirs and they fought a war against Earth to protect it. But wars leave wounds that never quite heal, and secrets that never quite lie silent. 

Katya Kuriakova doesn’t care much about ancient history like that, though. She is making her first submarine voyage as crew; the first nice, simple journey of what she expects to be a nice, simple career. 

There is nothing nice and simple about the deep black waters of Russalka, however; soon she will encounter pirates and war criminals, see death and tragedy at first hand, and realise that her world’s future lies on the narrowest of knife edges. For in the crushing depths lies a sleeping monster, an abomination of unknown origin, and when it wakes, it will seek out and kill every single person on the planet.

After: Nineteen Tales of Apocalypse and Dystopia edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
after edited by ellen datlow and terri windling book cover
If the melt-down, flood, plague, the third World War, new Ice Age, Rapture, alien invasion, clamp-down, meteor, or something else entirely hit today, what would tomorrow look like? Some of the biggest names in YA and adult literature answer that very question in this short story anthology, each story exploring the lives of teen protagonists raised in catastrophe’s wake—whether set in the days after the change, or decades far in the future. 

New York Times bestselling authors Gregory Maguire, Garth Nix, Susan Beth Pfeffer, Carrie Ryan, Beth Revis, and Jane Yolen are among the many popular and award-winning storytellers lending their talents to this original and spellbinding anthology.

Rootless by Chris Howard
rootless by chris howard book cover
17-year-old Banyan is a tree builder. Using scrap metal and salvaged junk, he creates forests for rich patrons who seek a reprieve from the desolate landscape. Although Banyan's never seen a real tree—they were destroyed more than a century ago—his father used to tell him stories about the Old World. But that was before his father was taken . . .

Everything changes when Banyan meets a woman with a strange tattoo—a clue to the whereabouts of the last living trees on earth, and he sets off across a wasteland from which few return. Those who make it past the pirates and poachers can't escape the locusts—the locusts that now feed on human flesh.

But Banyan isn't the only one looking for the trees, and he's running out of time. Unsure of whom to trust, he's forced to make an uneasy alliance with Alpha, an alluring, dangerous pirate with an agenda of her own. As they race towards a promised land that might only be a myth, Banyan makes shocking discoveries about his family, his past, and how far people will go to bring back the trees.

In this dazzling debut, Howard presents a disturbing world with uncanny similarities to our own. Like the forests Banyan seeks to rebuild, this visionary novel is both beautiful and haunting—full of images that will take permanent root in your mind...and forever change the way you think about nature.

Renegade by J.A. Souders
renegade by j.a. souders book cover
Since the age of three, sixteen-year-old Evelyn Winters has been trained to be Daughter of the People in the underwater utopia known as Elysium. Selected from hundreds of children for her ideal genes, all her life she’s thought that everything was perfect; her world. Her people. The Law.

But when Gavin Hunter, a Surface Dweller, accidentally stumbles into their secluded little world, she’s forced to come to a startling realization: everything she knows is a lie.

Her memories have been altered.

Her mind and body aren’t under her own control.

And the person she knows as Mother is a monster.

Together with Gavin she plans her escape, only to learn that her own mind is a ticking time bomb... and Mother has one last secret that will destroy them all.

All of the selections are newly-released YA sci-fi, and they each have their own attractions (underwater worlds! no trees! end of life as we know it!).  Two winners will each receive two of the books from the choices above.  To enter, simply fill out the FORM.  Giveaway open internationally, will end November 17, 2012 at 11:59pm EST.  Winners will be selected randomly and notified via email.  Good luck!
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