the galahad legacy

Saturday, April 28, 2012 | | 1 comments
Although I read a fair amount of sci-fi/fantasy, I’ve always given the fantasy component a bigger share of my reading life.  This holds true for both young adult and adult fiction.  In an attempt to rectify this imbalance, I picked up The Galahad Legacy, the sixth and final book in the Galahad series by Dom Testa.
the galahad legacy by dom testa book coverThe electrifying conclusion to the epic young adult science fiction series that began with The Comet’s Curse.

Council leader Triana Martell has returned from her journey through the mysterious wormhole, but she isn’t alone. She is accompanied by the ambassador of an alien race—the Dollovit. While the Council and crew of Galahad struggle to come to terms with the existence of the Dollovit, the ship begins to flounder. The radiation shields threaten to fail, damaged by the appearance of multiple wormholes. The Dollovit have a proposal for the crew: an offer of assistance that could be their only hope for survival. But their offer comes with an astronomical price. Beset with doubts and surrounded by danger, can Triana and her crew find a way to reach their destination—a new home for the human race?

I want to preface my review The Galahad Legacy by clarifying that I did not read the previous five books in the series.  Although that would be preferable, it is not strictly necessary in order to understand the plot.  Of course, reading the rest of the series would obviously make the cast of characters more familiar (and in some cases, relevant). 

Let’s talk about The Galahad Legacy: it’s science fiction, YA, and follows a group of young space explorers as they journey through the stars to another habitable planet in order to further the continuation of the human race.  At their head is a council, made up of the ‘captain,’ the heads of specific departments (such as medical, agriculture and engineering), and it is this group that the story follows, in all of their personal triumphs and leadership towards reaching group goals.

The Galahad Legacy is nominally narrated by the voice of the main computer, Roc.  While this would be an interesting overall tack, it is kept to a bare minimum, and the majority of the book is told as it happens in bits and pieces by the voices of the Council members.  The style is primarily expository, but thankfully it doesn’t stray into data dump territory often.  There’s enough character development (especially in Bon’s case) that though the plot twists are often presented as ‘information’ and through ship’s warnings, they do not seem overly clunky.

To my mind, the most interesting parts of the book were the major questions addressed by various crew members either in thought or through dialogue.  Testa incorporated themes of existence after death, the stages of grief, alien contact, ethics, and artificial life, along with musings on fate and faith.  This philosophical musing might have seemed out of place in another book, but it fits seamlessly in the overall tale of the Galahad, and should provoke thoughtful consideration of these topics in a majority of its readers.

With that said, I did find a few authorial tics (and obsess over them) – 1) continuous mention of getting drinks of water, 2) overall lack of sleep for all of the Council members (which would fell ANYONE), and 3) constant avoidance of the cafeteria, as being too busy/noisy/what-have-you.

In all, I found that The Galahad Legacy was not what I expected, but what it IS worked just fine.  It is not hard, technical sci-fi, it is not character-driven, it is not a personal story of teens traversing the stars.  What it IS: a tale of a group effort to reach new destination through space, a story about the dynamics of a leadership team as it faces unimaginable challenges, and a narrative that ponders the important questions of human existence – “Why are we here?” and so on.

Recommended for: fans of middle grade and young adult sci-fi, those who have imagined traveling through space and time, and anyone with a big imagination and the perennial desire to ask ‘what if?’

Fine print: I read a finished copy of The Galahad Legacy courtesy of Tor Teen (Macmillan).  Earlier this month I posted an excerpt; if you'd like to learn more about the Galahad series, please visit Dom Testa's website.


Thursday, April 26, 2012 | | 6 comments
Leah Bobet’s Above has amazing cover art, and I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t influence my decision to add it to my wish list.  But adding a book to my list doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll buy it.  What tipped the scale was a positive mention by one of the book bloggers I trust for quality young adult and middle grade sci-fi and fantasy recommendations – Charlotte’s Library.  I know I say it over and over, but one of the best things about blogging is finding fellow readers with similar taste, and following their lead into the great unknown.

above by leah bobet book cover
Matthew has loved Ariel from the moment he found her in the tunnels, her bee’s wings falling away. They live in Safe, an underground refuge for those fleeing the city Above—like Whisper, who speaks to ghosts, and Jack Flash, who can shoot lightning from his fingers.

But one terrifying night, an old enemy invades Safe with an army of shadows, and only Matthew, Ariel, and a few friends escape Above. As Matthew unravels the mystery of Safe’s history and the shadows’ attack, he realizes he must find a way to remake his home—not just for himself, but for Ariel, who needs him more than ever before.

The cover might convince you that the protagonist of Above is a girl with wings.  But while she (Ariel) is quite beautiful, the book is instead the story of a boy named Matthew, or ‘Teller.’  His attempt to remake his own ‘safe’ place after its invasion is the central adventure – that and his need to protect Ariel, the damaged girl from the cover, and his duty to remember and ‘tell’ the true stories of the inhabitants of his underground home.

But what is Above?  It is more than a book about a boy and a girl.  It is the story of a rag-tag community and its broken, hurting members.  It is the story of danger, abuse, of healing, of trying to find a place to be safe.  It is a sharp, biting, and exquisitely written story that deserves the adjective “haunting.”  It is all hard angles and uncomfortable truths and dark, secret things. 

The prose, though – the prose!  It’s exceptional.  Feeling bled through words and heightened every sense, every reaction.  Above was tense, mad, sorrowing, and altogether lovely.  It will be one of my favorite books of 2012, I am quite sure.

There were several unusual elements present in the story: the connection of fantasy and mental illness, a discussion of psychiatry and its fringe elements of society, a bi-racial protagonist (and how I wish I didn’t have to write that that was unusual!), and a trained storyteller of a protagonist letting bits of the tale go free piecemeal.  The glory of the reading experience was in the discovery of truths that hurt and pulled and tore – forming you, and the characters, into new people.

Recommended for: fans of China Mieville, Neil Gaiman, Kate Griffin’s A Madness of Angels, those who prefer a dark bite to their fiction, and anyone who has wondered if perhaps the shadows are stalking them – and why this should be so.

teaser tuesday (80)

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!

“Now unarmed, the prince stood face-to-face with the troll. The monster was nearly three feet taller than him, but Gustav showed no hint of fear. Gustav didn’t really do ‘fear.’”

p. 42 of Christopher Healy’s The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom (ARC version)

the incorrigible children of ashton place: the mysterious howling

At this juncture, I do not think it is possible to overstate my love of middle grade books. I have read so many marvelous stories in the past few months that I am convinced that I a) have been missing out for a long time, and b) am going to find something wonderful just around the next corner.

Of course, I know a couple of things about myself. I like clever books, clever people, clever in general. And I like an omniscient narrator for children’s books (when done well – see Narnia for example), as well as a historical setting. AND… I like a mystery with spunky characters, slightly improbable events, and a sense of humor. I probably don’t need to say it at this point, but The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood is an impeccable example of all of these. And so I loved it.

Found running wild in the forest of Ashton Place, the Incorrigibles are no ordinary children: Alexander, age ten or thereabouts, keeps his siblings in line with gentle nips; Cassiopeia, perhaps four or five, has a bark that is (usually) worse than her bite; and Beowulf, age somewhere-in-the-middle, is alarmingly adept at chasing squirrels.

Luckily, Miss Penelope Lumley is no ordinary governess. Only fifteen years old and a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, Penelope embraces the challenge of her new position. Though she is eager to instruct the children in Latin verbs and the proper use of globes, first she must help them overcome their canine tendencies.

But mysteries abound at Ashton Place: Who are these three wild creatures, and how did they come to live in the vast forests of the estate? Why does Old Timothy, the coachman, lurk around every corner? Will Penelope be able to teach the Incorrigibles table manners and socially useful phrases in time for Lady Constance's holiday ball? And what on earth is a schottische?

The Mysterious Howling starts as many good adventures do: with a journey to a place and people unknown, but with hope that it will all turn out right. Penelope Lumley is a very young graduate of a school for governesses, sent to make her way in the world for the first time. What she doesn’t know is that she is walking into mystery and will be handed an impossible task.

And then there are the children – the Incorrigibles. They are funny, wild, and kind at heart, as well as too clever by a half. As you can imagine, they get into all manner of trouble, and only Ms. Lumley’s resourcefulness keeps them from utter destruction. Well, mostly. Introduce a squirrel, and all is lost.

This book resides somewhere in a land beyond endearing (is there a word for that place? maybe… idyllic?). It’s humorous, ridiculous, sweet, mysterious and altogether FUN. I couldn’t keep from smiling while reading, and I dare you to keep from smiling yourself. OH, and the illustrations! Jon Klassen, author of award-winning picture book I Want My Hat Back, did them. They (and the cover art) are utterly charming, and that is that.

Recommended for: ages 8-12, plus all of their attendant adults (and especially those who are fond of reading aloud), fans of Lemony Snicket, The Mysterious Benedict Society and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, and anyone who likes books with a generous helping of humor and adventure on the side.

mocha walnut brownies

Sunday, April 22, 2012 | | 8 comments
Last time Cecelia Bedelia’s adventures in the kitchen were of the brownie variety. You may recall that I found the perfect recipe. WELL. Since that time I have been sent MANY recipes for brownies by friends hoping to convert me to their chocolate-y ways. And I must say, this one is deeeee-licious (and VERY rich). I give you:

Mocha Walnut Brownies (from Susan Sugarman's Real Simple recipe)


nonstick vegetable oil spray

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon instant espresso powder (I used two single-serving packets of Starbucks Via instant coffee – and it was just the right amount of coffee flavor)

2 large eggs

1 cup sugar

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips


Heat oven to 350° F. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with the nonstick spray. Line the pan with a piece of parchment, leaving an overhang on two sides; spray the parchment with the nonstick spray.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and chopped chocolate with the espresso powder, stirring occasionally; remove from heat.

With an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar on medium-high until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low and mix in the melted chocolate mixture, then the flour and salt just until incorporated. Fold in the walnuts and chocolate chips.

Spread the batter in the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30 minutes (in my oven, it took about 45 minutes). Cool completely in the pan. Holding both sides of the paper overhang, lift the cake out of the pan, transfer to a cutting board, and cut into 16 squares.

This recipe is fairly simple, though you do have lots of dirty pans/bowls/implements and so on at the finish. That said, it does live up to billing and produce a very smooth, rich chocolate dessert. And the trick with the parchment paper made the brownies simple to cut and divide – I’ll have to use that with other recipes!

Recommended for: a decadent twist on the fudge walnut brownie, the perfect accompaniment to a steak dinner, and anyone who scoffs at the idea of a chocolate overload.

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

retro friday – mansfield park

Friday, April 20, 2012 | | 4 comments
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!

Whenever I need some therapeutic television time and hockey isn’t on, my best bet is to put in a lineup of period film DVDs. Those that regularly make the cut? The Young Victoria, Pride & Prejudice, Persuasion, Mansfield Park and Gosford Park. Feel free to suggest others – I haven’t added to my collection in quite a while.

The other day I needed some Austen-induced calm and went on a movie binge. And then I decided that a re-read of Mansfield Park was in order. A week of Austen immersion commenced!

Taken from the poverty of her parents' home, Fanny Price is brought up with her rich cousins at Mansfield Park, acutely aware of her humble rank and with only her cousin Edmund as an ally. When Fanny's uncle is absent in Antigua, Mary Crawford and her brother Henry arrive in the neighbourhood, bringing with them London glamour and a reckless taste for flirtation. As her female cousins vie for Henry's attention, and even Edmund falls for Mary's dazzling charms, only Fanny remains doubtful about the Crawfords' influence and finds herself more isolated than ever. A subtle examination of social position and moral integrity, Mansfield Park is one of Jane Austen's most profound works.

Mansfield Park: home of the Jane Austen characters with the highest morals and highest likelihood of producing genetically unstable children (cousins…kissing cousins). Too soon? Okay. But really. This book features one of Austen’s youngest protagonists. Also one of her most devout and timid and principled.

Fanny Price is hard to love at times. It’s not necessarily because she’s a prig – it’s that she is judgmental and passive and more self-effacing than a regular, self-respecting member of the human race has any right to be. I’m being a little bit ridiculous, yes, and not taking into account the roles of women in the pre-Victorian era. Even so, it is hard for this modern woman to find her anything but watery.

While not as emotionally satisfying as other Austen works, Mansfield Park IS a classic, and I always come away from re-reads enriched in some way. This time, I can say that I examined the structures of society as shown in the novel and was impressed by the sibling devotion between Fanny and her brother William. This is poignant on a personal level to me because I am quite close to my siblings, though I too communicate with them from long distance. I had forgotten the very existence of Fanny’s brother (horror!) – and their friendship is rather delightful.

Recommended for: anyone already acquainted with (and a fan of) Austen’s other works, the curious classics reader, and those who, having seen the film version, wonder how the book stacks up in comparison.


Thursday, April 19, 2012 | | 3 comments

Michelle Sagara reminds me of high school, of not having enough money to buy an entire series at once, of saving up my less-than-minimum-wage paychecks to purchase one book at a time. My local library and bookstore didn’t stock Sagara’s Sun Sword series in its entirety, so I bought a book online for the very first time. I was pretty sure that I was going to have my identity stolen, and I was okay with that for the chance to read the next book.

Fast forward to a couple of months ago, when I saw a YA novel with an interesting cover (I say interesting because I don’t entirely like it, though I know many do!) and that author name – Michelle Sagara. Cue nostalgia, curiosity, and a definite desire to see if this author could still hold my attention and draw me into a strange, fantastical world. After reading Silence, I can answer: Yes. Of course.

It began in the graveyard. Ever since her boyfriend Nathan died in a tragic accident Emma had been coming to the graveyard at night. During the day she went through the motions at her prep school, in class, with her friends, but that’s all it was. But tonight was different. Tonight Emma and her dog were not alone in the cemetery. There were two others there—Eric, who had just started at her school, and an ancient woman who looked as though she were made of rags. And when they saw Emma there, the old woman reached out to her with a grip as chilling as death…

Silence is Emma’s story. Sort of. It definitely follows her. But what is this book really? It’s an ensemble, featuring Emma, her fractured little family, friends, random acquaintances, enemies, ghosts, and, of course…her Rottweiler Petal. Yes, you read that right. It’s a different kind of ‘paranormal’ – one that focuses on strange happenings and friendships rather than romance. And I liked it, faults and all.

Pluses: 1) An AWESOME hook that kept me reading past my usual ‘stopping point.’ 2) An intriguing protagonist and kicking side characters – including high-functioning autistic Michael, battering ram rich girl Amy, loyal best friend Allison, loving (dead) father, and the brothers from a different mother. Oh, and 3) An interesting future for the story to keep you wondering long after you’ve finished the book.

Minuses: 1) With so many people ‘on the stage’ in some scenes, the dialogue got muddled in places. 2) Talking for pages during a supposedly short amount of time (i.e. chapter-long conversation in the midst of an emergency). 3) Important characters are introduced rather late in the book.

So, Silence wasn’t perfect. What it was? Written in some beautiful language, compulsively readable, with a hook to reel you in in spite of yourself. I enjoyed it even as I recognized its weak points. And… I can’t wait for more! Want to read it? Enter the giveaway, or purchase it when it releases on May 1st.

Recommended for: fans of well-written paranormal fantasy, those who are interested in ghosts, urban settings, above average young adult lit, and anyone who liked Jennifer Estep’s Touch of Frost or Meg Cabot's Jinx.

Fine print: I received a finished copy of Silence for review from DAW (Penguin) – but no compensation.

teaser tuesday (79)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012 | | 14 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!

“He worked in a shabby bookstore that was crammed every crack with old things, and his job was to straighten the books that people brought to get rid of or trade or sell. He liked to read the ones that nobody came for; he didn’t understand all of what they said, but he read them just in case. He liked the way they made the world tilt different ways in his vision.”

location 638 of 4455 (Kindle) of Leah Bobet’s Above

inside out and back again

Saturday, April 14, 2012 | | 5 comments
April is National Poetry Month. I am celebrating by hosting a guest stop on Serena’s 2012 National Poetry Month Blog Tour. Serena has been and will be posting poems, interviews with poets, guest posts from readers and other discussion topics throughout the month at Savvy Verse & Wit. The tour, meanwhile, is hosted at a different blog each day, with something poetry-related at each stop (schedule).

My contribution is a review of Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again. It won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature (2011), and was a Newbery Honor book (2012), so I knew it would be very, very good. What I didn’t know at the outset was that it was written in free verse.

No one would believe me but at times I

would choose wartime in Saigon over

peacetime in Alabama.

For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by…and the beauty of her very own papaya tree.

But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape…and the strength of her very own family.

This is the moving story of one girl's year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next.

Inside Out and Back Again is the story of one girl’s journey from war-torn Vietnam to Alabama. It is also a thoughtful, beautiful look at the impossible choices people make in wartime, and a testament to the human spirit. And, lest you think it all noble and perfect, Hà’s ‘voice,’ as written in free verse, is always genuine, and sprinkled with her slightly vengeful humor. For example:

I can’t make my brothers

go live elsewhere,

but I can

hide their sandals.

It comes down to truth. Hà is a fictional girl, yes, but her experience, her petty (and not so petty) cares, her worries and struggles are those of any person – not some hero with abilities far above our own. Her very human responses to the terrible circumstances of life, and then the hidden blessings, combine to make her relatable and dear. This is a book to make you weep with injustice, and then marvel at what may be overcome.

Strictly on the poetry side of things, Inside Out and Back Again is a simple and quick read. The most complex part (for me) was puzzling out how things would sound in Vietnamese. I eventually resorted to an online translator for a couple of the names – words I was reading over and over. It is beautiful in its simplicity – never doubt that. Lai’s spare writing suits the story, as does the occasional wry and biting humor.

Recommended for: those who enjoy outstanding middle grade fiction, and especially historical fiction, fans of free verse, and anyone who may appreciate a beautiful tale of strength in the midst of sorrow and change.

teaser tuesday (78)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012 | | 26 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!

“Everything happens at night.

The world changes, the shadows grow, there’s secrecy and privacy in dark places. First kiss, at night, by the monkey bars and the old swings that the children and their parents have vacated; second, longer kiss, by the bike stands, swirl of dust around feet in the dry summer air.”

p. 1 of Michelle Sagara’s Silence

scary school

Monday, April 9, 2012 | | 2 comments

In these days of vampires, werewolves and zombies, it is natural to wonder what life would be like if those creatures inhabited the real world (yes, I’m assuming they don’t already. feel free to prove me wrong). Even more exciting, what if there were a special school for all of the monstrous children? In fact, I don’t know if that’s exciting after all, or just plain scary. This is the premise of Derek the Ghost’s middle grade fantasy, Scary School.

You think your school's scary?

Get a load of these teachers:

Ms. Fang, an 850-year-old vampire

Dr. Dragonbreath, who just might eat you before recess

Mr. Snakeskin—science class is so much more fun when it's taught by someone who's half zombie

Mrs. T—break the rules and spend your detention with a hungry Tyrannosaurus rex!


Gargoyles, goblins, and Frankenstein's monster on the loose

The world's most frighteningly delicious school lunch


The narrator's an eleven-year-old ghost!

Join Charles "New Kid" Nukid as he makes some very Scary friends—including Petunia, Johnny, and Peter the Wolf—and figures out that Scary School can be just as funny as it is spooky!

Derek the Ghost is not only the author of Scary School, he’s the narrator, as well. If it wasn’t obvious, he’s also a ghost. Why is he a ghost? Because he was once a student at Scary School, and… well… he met a fate that many students of that place do. Scary School is a stream-of-consciousness tale of life during one year at Scary School. It follows the many eccentric teachers and students, and chronicles their adventures, unique challenges, and brushes with death.

That’s not to say that Scary School is serious – no! It is a light-hearted (and sometimes farcical) adventure. Scary School is a place filled with endless stories, strange rules, unimaginable creatures, and trials that take a special sort of thinking to conquer. What is required? A sense of humor, an appreciation for the ridiculous, and a strong streak of curiosity, mixed liberally with self-preservation.

Two things helped Derek the Ghost’s Scary School stand out in a good way: 1) Inspired imagination and 2) Fantastic illustrations by Scott M. Fischer. Scary School is home to creatures of all sizes and many different origins. From dinosaurs to vampires to patchwork monsters, the horizon is full of interesting and freaky creatures. These are brought to life in the pages not only with words, but with masterful, whimsical artwork as well. These will keep any reader turning the pages!

Two things that took away from the overall enjoyment of an inventive book? 1) Repetition of certain phrases (‘But more about that later’ being an egregious example) and 2) Lack of a clear central protagonist to cheer for. In all, Scary School is a silly, funny book with touches of the ridiculous, and should appeal to many, despite these faults. Want to learn more? Check out Derek the Ghost’s author guest post.

Recommended for: readers at the younger end of the middle grade spectrum, those who enjoy a harebrained tale of monsters and beasties, and younglings with overactive imaginations.

Fine print: I received an ebook of Scary School for honest review from the author. Thanks!

fudge walnut brownies

Saturday, April 7, 2012 | | 14 comments
Confession time: I’m not a brownie person. I know, I know. Now would be a good time to mention that I’m actually an alien, right? Ha. Anyway, my roommate IS a brownie person. As are most human beings. So when my good friend Liz sent over a Cooking Light brownie recipe, I thought to myself “Cecelia, you should really try to make the roommate happy. Yes. Brownies. That will do it!” Internal voice, were you ever right, or what?! I am a hero. A hero with a good brownie recipe. This one will stand the test of time.

Fudge Walnut Brownies (from Maureen Callahan’s Cooking Light recipe)


3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks, divided (I used Ghiradelli 60% Cacao bars, chopped up)

1/3 cup fat-free milk

6 tablespoons butter, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup chopped walnuts, divided (I doubled this, because: nuts!)

Cooking spray


Preheat oven to 350° F.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (through salt) in a large bowl. Combine 1/2 cup chocolate and milk in a microwave-safe bowl; microwave at HIGH 1 minute, stirring after 30 seconds. Stir in butter, vanilla, and eggs. Add milk mixture, 1/2 cup chocolate, and 1/4 cup nuts to flour mixture; stir to combine.

Pour the batter into an 8- or 9-inch square metal baking pan coated with cooking spray; sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup nuts. Bake at 350° for 35 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs clinging. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Cut into 20 pieces.

Recommended for: the brownie-lover in your life, a simple dessert with maximum flavor, something to pair with your vanilla ice cream, and a rich treat for anytime.

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

above world

Monday, April 2, 2012 | | 10 comments

Middle grade sci-fi? Recommended by Sarah Prineas (author of the lovely Winterling)? I’m there. I happened to do a quick search of my local library catalog, and found an ebook copy. Done? Done. From reading the synopsis alone, I thought Jenn Reese’s Above World had the potential to be unique, thrilling, and fresh. I wasn’t far off the mark.

Thirteen-year-old Aluna has lived her entire life under the ocean with the Coral Kampii in the City of Shifting Tides. But after centuries spent hidden from the Above World, her colony’s survival is in doubt. The Kampii’s breathing necklaces are failing, but the elders are unwilling to venture above water to seek answers. Only headstrong Aluna and her friend Hoku are stubborn and bold enough to face the terrors of land to search for way to save their people.

But can Aluna’s warrior spirit and Hoku’s tech-savvy keep them safe? Set in a world where overcrowding has led humans to adapt—growing tails to live under the ocean or wings to live on mountains—here is a ride through a future where greed and cruelty have gone unchecked, but the loyalty of friends remains true.

A fairly constant theme in dystopian fiction (and most adventure lit, as well) is that of the young person who knows ‘best.’ What I mean is, the protagonists see the injustice in a system and are willing to put everything at stake to make it right – or at least, different. With dystopian lit, this is necessary because the government or society IS corrupt (and harmful).

In Jenn Reese’s Above World, members of Aluna’s colony are dying, and no one seems to be doing anything concrete to solve the lethal problem. Aluna, incensed and horrified, is willing to risk her safety to find the answers, and her best friend Hoku comes along because, well, he’s her friend. What follows is a non-stop adventure through a world unimaginably altered by technology and human imagination.

The narration in Above World was split between Aluna and Hoku, and sounded most accurate in Aluna’s ‘voice,’ partially because she possessed a forceful, assured point-of-view. However, at the end of the book Hoku’s perspective emerged more often. One of the weaknesses of an otherwise engaging story was his recurring fixation on kissing – it did not ring true in the midst of life-or-death situations. Also: Hoku is twelve. But in the grand scheme of things, that’s a minor quibble.

One of the best things about the story was its focus on the friendships made and sustained in the course of crazy adventures. I had to include the bit of text (from page 56) below, because it made me laugh aloud, and it was just so typical!

“Aluna said nothing. For a minute, she just stared at him. He recognized that look: the furrow of her brow, the slight closing of her right eye, and the almost imperceptible twitching of her lips. Aluna was thinking, and there wasn’t a more dangerous activity in all the world.”

Above World is the first in a series, and I'm sure the adventures of Aluna and company will only get more interesting as the story progresses. It promises to be an exciting (and somewhat perilous) journey.

Recommended for: fans of science fiction and fantasy (whatever their age), and those who know that friends are the best companions on an adventure – especially one to save the world.

bloggiesta – well, what did i do?

Sunday, April 1, 2012 | | 7 comments

I rather impetuously decided to ‘do’ Bloggiesta this weekend. I put up an ambitious (for me!) To Do List. Unsurprisingly, I did not complete everything I set out to do. But! I am happy with the changes, challenges and tasks I was able to complete. And in the time I wasn’t ensnared in the world of blog beautification, I managed to go to a Capitals practice, brunch afterwards, and to have three girlfriends over for pizza, game and movie last night. And tonight I’ll go off to my weekly ball hockey game. In all? A very satisfying weekend.

Yes, but what did I DO for Bloggiesta?

Added a Privacy Policy – many thanks to Jacinda for the tip!

Re-organized my review Archive after being inspired by Emily

Read several cool blog posts about SEO and how to improve and navigate it

Updated 1 post for SEO according to April’s SEO guidelines

Attended 2 of the #bloggiesta Twitter chats, on Friday night and Sunday morning

Wrote and scheduled 1 book review post

Wrote and scheduled 1 food recipe post

Made my email ‘clickable’ using the HTML tips from Pam at Bookalicious

Commented on 10 fellow Bloggiesta participants’ posts

This was fun! It was definitely made better by the social interaction. I’ll participate again in the future, for sure. If you took part in Bloggiesta, what was your biggest take away?

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