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!

top ten books for a gifted seven-year-old boy

Tuesday, November 6, 2012 | | 25 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

My boss’ boss asked me to come into her office the other day.  My heart started beating fast.  I wondered if I was being fired, how I’d make rent, reviewing my week for anything that could have gone wrong… when she asked ‘Do you know of any books I could give Cole?’  Cole is her seven-year-old, a second grader, and he’s testing gifted in reading and math.  I’ve given her book ideas before, but now his reading volume is going beyond the usual bounds… and he’s already been through the Wimpy Kid books and started the Boxcar Children series in earnest.  So she asked me for recommendations (and scared me to death in the process). 

Top Ten Books for a Gifted Seven-Year-Old Boy

1. Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard – Jim Kjelgaard’s dog books were staples in my mother’s read-aloud repertoire.  Each morning we begged for just one more chapter of these stories.  As someone else said, Jack London-lite.

2. Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard & Florence Atwater – Hilarious, all-ages hijinks with penguins, ill-advised decisions, and many, many blocks of ice.

3. The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket  – Another funny, sarcastic book featuring three children with astonishingly bad luck.

4. Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones – The first in Jones’ Chrestomanci series, this book features a pair of siblings with power to throw worlds out of whack.

5. Redwall by Brian Jacques – I’ve never read this one, but judging by how quickly my brother Joey devoured the entire series, it was a complete hit.

6. Hatching Magic by Ann Downer-Hazell – I have a weakness for books about dragons. This one reads younger than most of my favorites, and features time travel, chocolate, and (of course) magic.

7. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin – Another I’ve never read, but my sister sings the praises of this for all readers, all ages.  And yes, I will read it soon.

8. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo – The only book on the list that I’m a little hesitant about, because I haven’t read it and have only the internet (and the Newbery!) to tell me how awesome it is. Oh okay, I’ll stop.

9. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien – Talk about a film that scared the living daylights out of my siblings and me!  The book is not quite as terrifying, but just as gripping.

10. Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins – Did you know that the author of The Hunger Games wrote a middle grade series? I remember liking this book quite a lot and passing it along to my brother, who also gave it a vote of confidence.

Tell me: what books would you recommend for an avid boy reader, aged 7?


Monday, November 5, 2012 | | 1 comments
Two things today.  First: When someone refers to a fantasy book’s heroine as grumpy and hilarious, I automatically put it on my ‘must buy’ list.  Second: When books are priced under three dollars in Kindle format, I can’t keep my grabby little hands off them.  This is the tale of how I ended up in possession of an ebook copy of Croak by Gina Damico.  It was listed for $1.99 in August, and leila of bookshelves of doom convinced me to read it.  I’m not sorry, because it was fun.

croak by gina damico book cover
Fed up with her wild behavior, sixteen-year-old Lex's parents ship her off to upstate New York to live with her Uncle Mort for the summer, hoping that a few months of dirty farm work will whip her back into shape. 

But Uncle Mort's true occupation is much dirtier than shoveling manure. He's a Grim Reaper. And he's going to teach Lex the family business. 

She quickly assimilates into the peculiar world of Croak, a town populated by reapers who deliver souls from this life to the next. But Lex can't stop her desire for justice – or is it vengeance? – whenever she encounters a murder victim, craving to stop the attackers before they can strike again. 

Will she ditch Croak and go rogue with her reaper skills?

Lex is a sarcastic girl with anger issues and a violent streak in her recent past.  She can’t seem to stop hurting people, even the people she loves – and she doesn’t know why.  Just when it seems like she might self-destruct, her parents make the decision to send her off to visit her Uncle Mort in a remote town upstate.  Little does Lex know that a summer in Croak will change her life…if she can get anyone to explain exactly what is going on (and not sound criminally insane as they do).  The story of her summer in Croak is one of hard work, fun, hilarious shenanigans, a little awkward romance, and MURDER.  Wait, what? Lex and her fellow Reapers are in danger, and it’s up to Lex to figure it out.  With help.  And zany friends.  And maybe Edgar Allen Poe.

As a character, Lex is intelligent, thoughtful, snarky and inexplicably angry and violent.  It’s the violence that starts getting to her and wearing her down – and makes her question her own sanity.  When she ends up in Croak, though, she starts questioning everyone else’s sanity, because this place is full of the crazy… and only sometimes in a good way.  Uncle Mort’s life mission seems to be to explain as little as possible to his niece, and at first it seems like the rest of the town is following suit. 

This was actually my biggest complaint about the book – the reveal is so slow and the main character is kept ignorant for so long that this reader was tempted to give up and/or throw the book across the room (which would have meant dead phone, so i refrained. barely.).  About midway through the story speeds up, things start getting interesting, and the snappy dialogue matches the pacing, and from there on it’s clear sailing.  In the end, it’s a funny, bizarre mystery (with a sweet/awkward romance) that is worth the read if you can deal with a sluggish start.

Recommended for: fans of Geoff Herbach’s Stupid Fast, those who like their YA protagonists quirky, funny and endearing (bonus points if you find grumpy people hilarious), and anyone in the mood for an unusual paranormal fantasy featuring Grim Reapers and a bizarre town packed full with ‘character.’

cranberry duff

Saturday, November 3, 2012 | | 23 comments
When I held a Canadian Thanksgiving party in October, I stocked up on all the fall food essentials at Costco, where you can’t help but buy in bulk.  That’s how I ended up with a five-pound bag of cranberries.   I made cranberry sauce and Cape Cod October Pie, but still had many cranberries left over.  I stuck them in the freezer, and now I have the impetus to try all those cranberry recipes I’ve stockpiled.  This Cranberry Duff seemed like a good place to start (and for your information, the dictionary defines duff as a ‘stiff pudding’ – but this is more like an upside down cake).

Cranberry Duff (modified from this Martha Stewart recipe)


1/2 cup unsalted butter, (1 stick), softened
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
1/3 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt


Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Butter bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking dish using 2 tablespoons butter (reserve rest for recipe). Spread cranberries evenly over bottom of dish, then sprinkle walnuts on top.  Cover with 1/3 cup sugar; set aside.

Melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a microwave-safe bowl or in saucepan over the stove; set aside. Place egg and the remaining 1/2 cup sugar in medium-size bowl. Beat with electric mixer on medium-high speed until pale and thick, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to medium-low and gradually beat in flour, then salt. Pour in melted butter in a steady stream, beating until smooth.

Pour (or in my case, ladle) batter into pan to cover cranberries. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour. Let cool 10 minutes. Run a knife around edge to loosen, and invert to unmold onto a serving platter. Serve warm or at room temperature.  Yields 6 servings.

The first thing I should tell you is that this smells divine while baking, and you’ll be tempted to take it out of the oven and eat it early.  Resist!  Golden brown and thoroughly baked is the way to go. The second thing is that if the finished dessert is resisting your attempts to get it out of the baking dish, give up and serve like brownies.  Or, you know... end up with a mess (I may have learned this the hard way).  No matter what it will be delicious, though, so don't worry: happiness guaranteed.

Recommended for: when you’re inspired to bake on a fall day, an unusual take on the upside down cake, and a sweet and tart treat that goes beautifully with an afternoon cup of coffee or tea.

Interested in other food-related posts?  Check out Beth Fish Reads’ Weekend Cooking.
Newer Posts Older Posts Home