retro friday - so you want to be a wizard

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted at Angieville that focuses on reviewing books from the past. These can be old favorites, under-the-radar treasures that deserve more attention, woefully out-of-print books, and so on. Everyone is welcome to participate!

When I go out in public with friends I try to avoid book displays (notice key word: TRY). If I’m by myself with time to burn, I can be completely happy in a bookstore for hours on end. But when I’m with friends I try to stay away from the books because I really can’t resist their lure. Take this Monday, for instance. I went to the Goodwill thrift store with my roommate. There were books. I… wandered away.

And promptly found the remains of a sci-fi and fantasy collection from someone who was a teenager in 2002. I know this because I recognized some of my favorites and found some new-to-me reads. One dollar per book – you know how that ended. One of the ‘new’ books I found was Diana Duane’s So You Want to Be a Wizard.

Something stopped Nita's hand as it ran along the bookshelf. She looked and found that one of the books had a loose thread at the top of its spine. It was one of those So You Want to Be a…books, a series on careers. So You Want to Be a Pilot, and a Scientist…a Writer. But this one said, So You Want to Be a Wizard. I don't believe this, Nina thought. She shut the book and stood there holding it in her hand, confused, amazed, suspicious—and delighted. If it was a joke, it was a great one. If it wasn't…?

Nita, short for Juanita, is a smart, friendless thirteen year old who is just trying to escape daily bullying. One day, though, she encounters a book that may be an elaborate prank, but may also be her key to escaping abuse. Using the book will introduce her to a world she never could have imagined, unexpected friends and a seemingly impossible task to save the city she loves, New York.

This book was first published in 1983. The year I was born. A long, long time ago. Naturally, there are technological (and cultural) references that are no longer relevant. In that respect, the book reads like classic sci-fi – something akin to Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I can compare it to L’Engle without guilt because it’s also high-quality fantasy with an engaging protagonist and an interesting magical universe. I can't say much more without giving away things that should be kept unspoiled - so I'll stop.

Please don’t be dissuaded by the dated references – So You Want to Be a Wizard is a charming middle grade fantasy with an epic adventure, a brave heroine, and loyal friends. It’s about a girl beating adversity and finding her calling – oh, and saving the world. First-class fun.

Recommended for: fans of Diana Wynne Jones and Madeline L’Engle, those who enjoy magic-in-our-own-world fantasies, and devotees of enduring vintage middle grade literature.

waiting on wednesday (22)

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.

Last week I watched the 1995 film version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. And then, caught up in the story and the language and the romance of it, I reread the book. For...what, the tenth time? It’s my favorite of Austen’s works, and I’ll admit to reading spin-offs, retellings and (gasp!) fanfiction in the past. Diana Peterfreund, a very cool local author (she writes about killer unicorns, kids) has written a sci-fi reimagining of Persuasion, and it will be published this summer. I’ve already pre-ordered it. And I might have to start a countdown soon. It’s going to be SO GOOD! And you don't even know how tempted I am to use multiple exclamation points there. It would be entirely pertinent. For Darkness Shows the Stars releases on June 12, 2012 from Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins).

Generations ago, a genetic experiment gone wrong—the Reduction—decimated humanity, giving rise to a Luddite nobility who outlawed most technology.

Eighteen-year-old Luddite Elliot North has always known her place in this caste system. Four years ago Elliot refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart, the servant Kai, choosing duty to her family’s estate over love. But now the world has changed: a new class of Post-Reductionists is jumpstarting the wheel of progress and threatening Luddite control; Elliot’s estate is floundering; and she’s forced to rent land to the mysterious Cloud Fleet, a group of shipbuilders that includes renowned explorer Captain Malakai Wentforth—an almost unrecognizable Kai. And while Elliott wonders if this could be their second chance, Kai seems determined to show Elliot exactly what she gave up when she abandoned him.

But Elliot soon discovers her childhood friend carries a secret—-one that could change the society in which they live…or bring it to its knees. And again, she’s faced with a choice: cling to what she’s been raised to believe, or cast her lot with the only boy she’s ever loved, even if she has lost him forever.

Inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion, For Darkness Shows the Stars is a breathtaking romance about opening your mind to the future and your heart to the one person you know can break it.

What books are you waiting on?


Monday, February 20, 2012 | | 7 comments

Real life and blog life intersect in strange places. I was back home in Seattle for Christmas, at lunch with a second cousin, when she mentioned that she had a friend who had a young adult novel coming out. I wasn’t expecting anything (except the worst-case scenario: to hate the book on sight), but I looked up the cover on my phone anyway and HELLO! How to say this? Exceeded expectations.

I don’t need to tell you that the cover is gorgeous, right? The book was Chopsticks (claro que sí), which I had already heard advance praise for in the blog world. I added it to my wishlist then and there, and the rest is history.

After her mother died, Glory retreated into herself and her music. Her single father raised her as a piano prodigy, with a rigid schedule and the goal of playing sold-out shows across the globe. Now, as a teenager, Glory has disappeared. As we flash back to the events leading up to her disappearance, we see a girl on the precipice of disaster. Brilliant and lonely, Glory is drawn to an artistic new boy, Frank, who moves in next door. The farther she falls, the deeper she spirals into madness. Before long, Glory is unable to play anything but the song "Chopsticks."

But nothing is what it seems, and Glory's reality is not reality at all. In this stunningly moving novel told in photographs, pictures, and words, it's up to the reader to decide what is real, what is imagined, and what has been madness all along…

Glory is a musical prodigy, and has been escaping the world at her piano bench ever since her mother died when she was eight years old. Chopsticks is a look at her life over 18 months, and it follows her romance with neighbor boy Frank. The interplay of chat messages, art, photographs and music tell several stories, and it is left up to the reader to discern how things end, and what has been happening all the while.

While not strictly defined as such, Chopsticks reminded me of a graphic novel. It took just over an hour to finish, but I found myself going back to particular images several times just to ‘check,’ and I’m still putting together Spotify playlists of Glory and Frank’s mixed CDs. I could have lengthened my reading experience by watching every YouTube video and listening to every piece of music as it came up, but as a primarily visual person I was impatient to move on.

When it comes to giving a verdict on Chopsticks, I have a few words: out of the ordinary, eclectic, intriguing. I think it is an excellent exercise in art and story, and creates believable mystery and tension. However. I am a print girl, and I did not connect as strongly with the characters as I would have with a book that had more, well, words. On the other hand, I am left with much brighter and clearer visual memories. Chopsticks is well worth the read if only for that. It is also the sort of story I want to discuss with someone else, so I'll be lending it to (read: forcing it on) my friends.

Still wavering? Check out this article/interview with Largehearted Boy. The book is also available in app form (a slightly different experience, and one I didn't check out personally). The trailer for the app can be found here.

Recommended for: appreciators of music and photography (and how when combined they can tell an entire story), fans of contemporary YA fiction, graphic novel enthusiasts, and anyone willing to try a new type of storytelling.

smoked sausage and white bean soup

Sunday, February 19, 2012 | | 4 comments
Tomorrow (Monday) is President’s Day, a U.S. federal holiday. Here in the Washington, D.C. area it means we have the day off work. To celebrate the long weekend, I’ll be hosting a dinner party tonight. I invited 36 people, thinking that the majority would have other plans. So much for thinking – 17 have said ‘yes’ thus far. [insert panicked face]

I needed a recipe big enough to feed all of us. The interwebs yielded this gem, which I tripled (TRIPLED), using my biggest stockpot. And, as expected, it is delicious.

Smoked Sausage and White Bean Soup (slightly modified from this recipe)


1 pound dried navy beans, rinsed

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pound smoked pork sausage, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces

2 cups chopped onions

1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 bay leaves

2 sprigs fresh thyme

10 chicken bouillon cubes

10 cups hot water

2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper


Soak beans in cold water and cover overnight (8 to 10 hours). Drain beans and rinse well, reserve.

In a large stockpot, heat water until just below boiling and add bouillon cubes. Remove from heat and stir until cubes are completely dissolved into stock.

In a saucepan or skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and sauté for 5 to 6 minutes, or until browned. Remove the sausage from the skillet and reserve. Add the onions and cook 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, an additional minute.

Add the browned sausage and beans to the stockpot. Stir in bay leaves and thyme. Add the salt, pepper, and cayenne. Bring soup to a boil; reduce heat to a simmer and cook partially covered for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally. The cook time may vary depending on the beans, but they should be tender and falling apart when finished.

Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper, if needed. Continue to simmer the soup for 30 minutes, uncovered, or until desired consistency.

The finished soup has a bit of a kick, which is great for a wintry day. I think I’ll add more thyme when I make it again, just because I like an herby flavor. Great with a salad and crusty bread to accompany (and I made fudgy brownies for dessert!). NOTE: this is a two-day recipe at the minimum. I think you could bend that if you used canned beans, though.

Recommended for: a robust option to nourish the hordes (err… I mean, friends?), a delicious soup for your winter feast, and the perfect solution when you find sausage on sale at the grocery. Enjoy!

retro friday – dealing with dragons

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted at Angieville that focuses on reviewing books from the past. These can be old favorites, under-the-radar treasures that deserve more attention, woefully out-of-print books, and so on. Everyone is welcome to participate!

In my early teenage years I was [in]famous for a) reading classics, and b) for trying to find the biggest, fattest books possible. Goal? To find reads that would keep me occupied for more than one afternoon. I read several hefty James Michener sagas that way (Hawaii, anyone?). I also snuck in some fantasy from the local library’s Teen section (now I’d call it a combo of YA & MG).

One of the books I checked out over and over was Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons. Eventually I bought myself a personal copy – my usual practice when I loved a library book enough. Re-reading: my impetus and/or excuse for book hoarding. What’s yours?

Cimorene is everything a princess is not supposed to be: headstrong, tomboyish, smart…and bored. So bored that she runs away to live with a dragon…and finds the family and excitement she's been looking for.

Princess Cimorene is unsatisfied with her life, and she’ll take matters into her own hands to change that. Being a princess doesn’t require being smart, curious and adventurous – all of her best traits. So, she takes some strange advice and finds a world of magic, dragons, wizards and treasure, and guarantees herself freedom from a lifetime of nothing-much.

In retrospect, what was most attractive to me about Dealing with Dragons and its sequels was the combination of humor and top-notch fantasy that Wrede employed. There was a hint of absurdity mixed in with some seriously cool magical hijinks that made these stories compulsively readable.

Well, and of course Cimorene and Kazul (and Morwen!) are fantastic characters. Cimorene is plucky, brave, and a hard-working problem-solver. Kazul is wise and has wonderful taste in princesses and friends. Morwen is witchy, strange, and all around cool. In college I used one of Morwen’s ‘sayings’ outside my dorm room, and made a couple of fantasy-loving friends. Getting to know the rest of the cast of characters never failed to take me out of my own world and on an uncommon adventure.

Recommended for: those who enjoy fantasy full-stop, but especially clever young adult and middle grade fantasy, and fans of Robin McKinley, Diana Wynne Jones and Jessica Day George.

**NOTE: If you're interested in quality middle grade fantasy, check back in March. I'm taking part in Jill at The O.W.L.'s Middle Grade March Madness event, and I'll feature some fabulous recent middle grade releases.

stupid fast

Monday, February 13, 2012 | | 9 comments

Dear Geoff Herbach,

Two words: Thank you. Okay, more than two words (i'm greedy). You are a genius. You write hilarious inner monologue. I don’t know when I have laughed as loud or loved a character so much. I hope you will keep writing amazing, funny, honest characters with as much heart as you did in Stupid Fast. Again – thank you!

Your Newest Fan,




My name is Felton Reinstein, which is not a fast name. But last November, my voice finally dropped and I grew all this hair and then I got stupid fast. Fast like a donkey. Zing!

Now they want me, the guy they used to call Squirrel Nut, to try out for the football team. With the jocks. But will that fix my mom? Make my brother stop dressing like a pirate? Most important, will it get me girls—especially Aleah?

So I train. And I run. And I sneak off to Aleah's house in the night. But deep down I know I can't run forever. And I wonder what will happen when I finally have to stop.

Felton Reinstein has been growing height and hair, his younger brother is driving him nuts, and his mother may have gone right off the deep end. Add in a new paper route, a best friend banished to Venezuela for the summer, and he might just decide to spend a couple of months on the couch. Luckily, a little bit of life and a world-class pianist show up to break him out of his rut – and he might be a jock?! This summer everything will change, whether Felton is ready or not.

Felton is the narrator. Despite his protestations, he’s insanely funny. He’s also weird. And normal. You know? Okay, that didn’t make sense. But I felt like I knew Felton, because his internal monologue was by turns neurotic, sweet, off-beat and annoying (and thus, as anyone who has experienced the teenage years knows, scarily accurate). His journey from average/weird to athletically talented/weird over the course of one summer is only one of his challenges – because through it all he has to deal with his family AND his hormones.

Stupid Fast is liquid laughter, teenage sweat, tears and angst, and the sweet innocence of summertime, all mixed up into something I’ll call pure genius. Geoff Herbach writes smart, sarcastic, and punchy prose. He writes quirky people who seem freakily real. And he does so with grace and style and… I’ve run out of words. Just, please, READ THIS BOOK.

Recommended for: teenage guys, anyone who has been searching for an extraordinary and distinctive ‘voice’ with generous helpings of humor, fans of young adult literature—in the best sense of the word, and those who admired Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin’s Notes from the Blender.

waiting on wednesday (21)

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 go through reading phases. Or it may be more accurate to call them ‘periods,’ because they can last several years at a time. High school was my classics period, college & grad school were my fantasy and sci-fi years. For the past several it’s been young adult plus fantasy, but recently I’ve found some really great contemporary YA to throw in with that. Not to mention middle grade, which I count as my best decision in the past months. In any case, this week’s WoW pick is my attempt to keep the streak of great contemporary YA going. Meredith Zeitlin’s debut novel looks like fun, awkward, and cute all rolled into one awesome package, and I can’t wait to read it. Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters releases from G.P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin) on March 1, 2012.

Kelsey Finkelstein is fourteen and FRUSTRATED. Every time she tries to live up to her awesome potential, her plans are foiled – by her impossible parents, her annoying little sister, and life in general. But with her first day of high school coming up, Kelsey is positive that things are going to change. Enlisting the help of her three best friends — sweet and quiet Em, theatrical Cass, and wild JoJo — Kelsey gets ready to rebrand herself and make the kind of mark she knows is her destiny.

Things start out great - her arch-nemesis has moved across the country, giving Kelsey the perfect opportunity to stand out on the soccer team and finally catch the eye of her long-time crush. But soon enough, an evil junior’s thirst for revenge, a mysterious photographer, and a series of other catastrophes make it clear that just because KELSEY has a plan for greatness… it doesn’t mean the rest of the world is in on it.

Kelsey’s hilarious commentary throughout her disastrous freshman year will have you laughing out loud—while being thankful that you’re not in her shoes, of course…

What books are you waiting on?

teaser tuesday (75)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012 | | 9 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!

“She wrinkled her nose. It didn’t smell right. Didn’t smell like spring coming, as it had the day before. She rubbed at the goose bumps on her arms. ‘Grand-Jane – ’ she started to ask, all of her questions piling up in the back of her throat.”

p. 25 of Sarah Prineas’ Winterling

jenna & jonah’s fauxmance

Last summer Brendan Halpin and Trish Cook's funny, self-aware characters made me fall in love with Notes from the Blender. I've been on the lookout for more of the same ever since. Enter a 99 cent Kindle ebook sale, Halpin teamed with Emily Franklin, and I found myself reading a book with a very PINK cover (something I wouldn't be caught dead with in real life) on my iPhone. Result? I spent a contented evening curled up on the couch with Jenna & Jonah's Fauxmance. Totally worth my one dollar investment.

Fans of romance don't need to look any further than the fauxmance brewing between teen idols Charlie Tracker and Fielding Withers-known on their hit TV show as Jenna and Jonah, next-door neighbors flush with the excitement of first love. But it's their off-screen relationship that has helped cement their fame, as passionate fans follow their every PDA. They grace the covers of magazines week after week. Their fan club has chapters all over the country.

The only problem is their off-screen romance is one big publicity stunt, and Charlie and Fielding can't stand to be in the same room. Still, it's a great gig, so even when the cameras stop rolling, the show must go on, and on, and on…Until the pesky paparazzi blow their cover, and Charlie and Fielding must disappear to weather the media storm. It's not until they're far off the grid of the Hollywood circuit that they realize that there's more to each of them than shiny hair and a winning smile.

Jenna & Jonah's Fauxmance takes a cliché and makes something fun and funny out of it. Character development and relationship tension are the order of the day, though it is fairly obvious where the characters will end up. The book's plot is, in part, homage to Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, and the titular protagonists are meant to be Benedick & Beatrice. This injection of the Bard seemed to come out of left field, but in the end that part of it worked – and it should get the curious to at least look up the film version with a young Denzel, which would be a VERY GOOD LIFE CHOICE (in case you were wondering).

The dialogue and banter between Charlie and Fielding was strong throughout, but the plot seemed to lack substance, especially when it came to explaining Fielding's past, Charlie's anxiety, and the whole 'set-up' involved in creating a fauxmance. While this didn't detract from the book's compulsive readability, it did make for awkward segues in the text, and after finishing the novel I still had some questions unanswered (and not of the cliffhanger variety, mind you).

In all, Jenna & Jonah's Fauxmance is a light-hearted read with enough charm to carry it safely past the shoals of mediocre YA contemporary.

Recommended for: those who enjoy YA contemporary with a generous helping of romance, fans of Claire LaZebnik's Epic Fail, Halpin and Cook's Notes from the Blender, and anyone in the mood for a romp set in Hollywood (genuine fun included).

NOTE: If you'd like to win a copy of Jenna & Jonah's Fauxmance, enter the giveaway!

waiting on wednesday (20)

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.

My love of Mercedes Lackey (and especially her Elemental Masters series) is well documented here on the blog. I adore fantasy (of course), but this series, with its historical Edwardian/WWI setting, is the best sort of comfort reading. Think of it like this: Downton Abbey, but in book form. Add in magic, and a loose framework of fairytales retold. Dead ringer for MYFAVORITEEVER. Glory of glories, Lackey is still writing in the series. Her next one comes out this summer! Home From the Sea will be released by DAW Hardcover on June 5, 2012.

This story combines East of the Sun and West of the Moon, as well as Tam Lin, with the Selkie of Sul Skerry. We'll see Nan and Sarah (from Wizard of London) as adults, coming into their own--and Grey and Neville, of course!

[excerpt from Mercedes Lackey’s website]

What books are you waiting on?

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