the shadow society

Thursday, January 31, 2013 | | 3 comments
In my experience, beautiful cover art can cause a type of ‘love at first sight’ influence that may even supersede a book’s description or reviews.  It’s one of the reasons I don’t let myself visit bookstores that often – I might be swayed by the cover and end up with a book I don’t want or need (well, except as suitable décor).  When I was home over Christmas I picked up the gorgeous thing that is Marie Rutkoski’s The Shadow Society for its cover alone, but I asked my brother for advice before leaving the bookstore.  He suggested that I borrow The Shadow Society from the library instead.  So I did.  And once I had the book in hand, I read it in one night.

the shadow society by marie rutkoski book cover
Darcy Jones doesn’t remember anything before the day she was abandoned as a child outside a Chicago firehouse. She has never really belonged anywhere—but she couldn’t have guessed that she comes from an alternate world where the Great Chicago Fire didn’t happen and deadly creatures called Shades terrorize the human population. 

Memories begin to haunt Darcy when a new boy arrives at her high school, and he makes her feel both desire and desired in a way she hadn’t thought possible. But Conn’s interest in her is confusing. It doesn’t line up with the way he first looked at her. 

As if she were his enemy. 

When Conn betrays Darcy, she realizes that she can’t rely on anything—not herself, not the laws of nature, and certainly not him. Darcy decides to infiltrate the Shadow Society and uncover the Shades’ latest terrorist plot. What she finds out will change her world forever… 

In this smart, compulsively readable novel, master storyteller Marie Rutkoski has crafted an utterly original world, characters you won’t soon forget, and a tale full of intrigue and suspense.

Darcy Jones is an orphan.  She has been moved around a lot, but this time she’s finally in the same place two years in a row, with friends and classes she loves, and a foster mother she doesn’t mind.  It’s safe to say that things are looking up for Darcy, until she meets menacing newcomer Conn and ends up as his partner for a school project.  Eventually Darcy begins to trust Conn – and that’s when things really go south.  Because Darcy isn’t who she seems, and neither is her world.  Betrayals, danger and self-discovery are the hallmarks of this story of alternate worlds, alternate histories and the people who inhabit both.

Rutkoski writes addictive prose with flashes of brilliance, and The Shadow Society is peopled with smart characters, literary allusion and history.  It’s an ordinary world to start, with a slow build of dangerous romance.  Darcy’s thoughts of art, self-discovery and friendship are particularly well done.  The real revelation is the second part of the book, with its parallel universe, betrayal and deception.  The staggered lead-up to explosive action worked well in this case, and some of the mixed love/hate/distrust was very genuine as well.

What didn’t work?  The villains. The portrayals of Orion and Meridien seemed tailor-made for series set-up. I have no doubt that they’ll be back in the next book, but I also have no real idea why they want to perpetrate evil acts.  Their motivations weren’t fully explored.  The end result was that instead of leaving things open for interpretation, the reader left those scenes empty-handed.  Two other jarring plot points were friends showing up late in the story and the scene with Kellford.  Tying things up in a bow quickly was convenient, but not the best choice for a complex story.

The story is honest about what it is: and it is NOT an easy ride off into the sunset.  There were characters I knew I was supposed to love (I did).  There were others I knew I was supposed to hate (eh).  I ended up wishing that I didn’t feel so manipulated into those emotions, but I liked the gray area that was Conn, and I never questioned the intelligence of Darcy’s friends.  Marie Rutkoski has a gift for painting personal conflict, and I look forward to reading more of her work.

Recommended for: fans of Michelle Sagara’s Silence, those who like equally deadly heroes and heroines, and anyone with a taste for young adult thrillers and fantasy with a hint of sci-fi sensibility.

waiting on wednesday (46)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013 | | 4 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.

I have Narnia in my blood, and any book that hints at the magic of hidden worlds and strange curses holds fascination.  When I was going through catalogs of Summer 2013 releases, the cover art for this young adult fantasy caught my eye, and then the description fired my imagination.  Elizabeth Knox’s Mortal Fire sounds like an interesting mystery by a proven wordsmith, and it will be out on June 11, 2013 from Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Macmillan).

mortal fire by elizabeth knox book cover
A magic-filled fantasy from the Printz Honor winning author of Dreamhunter and Dreamquake

Sixteen-year-old Canny Mochrie's vacation takes a turn when she stumbles upon a mysterious and enchanting valley, occupied almost entirely by children who can perform a special type of magic that tells things how to be stronger and better than they already are. As Canny studies the magic more carefully, she realizes that she not only understands it—she can perform the magic, too, so well that it feels like it has always been a part of her. With the help of an alluring seventeen-year-old boy who is held hostage by a spell that is now more powerful than the people who first placed it, Canny figures out the secrets of this valley and of her own past.

What books are you waiting on?

code name verity

Monday, January 28, 2013 | | 10 comments
My favorite film is an obscure one, and it is based on a novel by Sebastian Faulks (I’ve never read the book, actually).  Charlotte Gray features actress Cate Blanchett in the titular role as a Scottish woman who parachutes into France as a WWII intelligence operative, only to see her mission crumble around her.  It’s not a light or happy story, but it makes for a beautiful film, and is both visually and emotionally vivid.  Given that my favorite movie is about a woman sent to France as a spy, Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity was either going to succeed or fail in spectacular fashion.  My heart will never be the same, because Code Name Verity is PERFECT.

code name verity by elizabeth wein book cover
Oct. 11th, 1943—A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it's barely begun. 

When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she's sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution. 

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage and failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?

Harrowing and beautifully written, Elizabeth Wein creates a visceral read of danger, resolve, and survival that shows just how far true friends will go to save each other. Code Name Verity is an outstanding novel that will stick with you long after the last page.

When a young Scottish woman is arrested by the Nazis for spying in France, her interrogation and confession become not only a desperate revelation of secrets that might keep her alive for a few days longer, but also an unspooling of her memories and friendship with Maddie, a female pilot and mechanic who should not have been flying to France.  In tense moments and amid various reprisals, her testimony shines as brightly as her spirit, and the reader cannot help but hope that somehow, someway she’ll make it home.

What can I say about this book without ruining it for another reader?  It is one of the most convincing, beautiful stories of female friendship that I have ever seen put to paper – it is straight magic in that regard.  Maddie and ‘Verity’ come alive in each other’s eyes; they are real, beautiful young women with hearts and heads, idiosyncrasies and weaknesses.  They are possessed of such courage, determination and ferocity that it is impossible at the end of it all to remember that they are only fictional characters. 

Let me try again to make this sound professional and impartial: Code Name Verity is a taut, moving novel of friendship forged in the midst of World War II, when girls were being called upon to pilot planes, take on intelligence missions and serve their country in ways they never had been before.  This is a story of the line between truth and lies, of the intensity of human existence, of the importance of the family you make for yourself, and a patchwork of those indelible moments that scar, mold, and change a person forever.  It is beautiful and dangerous and heart-rending.

Ah, I don’t think I succeeded.  Here are a few other things I’ll say: I’ve owned this book since May (thanks to @Ginger_Clark’s badgering and many, many retweeted rave reviews), but I held off on reading it until yesterday.  I missed my book club meeting in the afternoon to finish it without spoilers.  Charlotte Gray happened to be on television as I finished the book (so. many. coincidences!), and then this morning it was awarded a Printz Honor.  All those rave reviews, the awards?  Deserved.  Code Name Verity left me a sobbing wreck of a human being, in the best way.

Recommended for: everyone (well, everyone age twelve and over), but especially those partial to historical fiction, WWII accounts and aviatrixes, and anyone who appreciates a haunting and wonderful story.

i turned my favorite picture book into wall art

I am not a book destroyer.  No, really.  I’ve never torn a page out of a book before this week.  I’ve never even knowingly bent the edges down.  I try not to break the spines of books (i have failed in some cases, but usually only with titles i’ve reread 10+ times).  I see those (admittedly lovely) book sculptures and my soul shrivels a little because someone has DEFACED a book.  And yet.  I killed a book this week.  I killed a book I love.  And I’m not sorry.

Obren Bokich’s A Christmas Card for Mr. McFizz was published in 1987, just before I turned four years old, and I received it that year as a gift from my grandmother.  I don’t remember the actual gifting.  What I do remember is being fascinated by Dan Lane’s illustrations, entranced  by the story (it’s odd, endearing, and rather grown-up), and demanding rereads from my parents until I could read the words myself.  It’s the one picture book I told my mother not to donate when she went on a bookshelf cleansing rampage while I was in my teens.

I’m not sure what happened to that original book, but in college realized I didn’t know exactly where Mr. McFizz was and I ordered myself a replacement copy on the interwebs.  The title has been out of print for years, but luckily there wasn’t a problem finding a reasonably priced copy.

Fast forward to one month ago.  I was trying to figure out what to do with an enormous white wall in the living room.  I had IKEA frames and saved posters from several years of the National Book Festival, but I needed something else.  Enter Mr. McFizz.  I went back to the worldwide web and ordered the cheapest used copy I could find (a reject from the San Diego County Library, it turns out).  Then I did it – I cut up my favorite picture book. 

And put it in cute frames and hung it on my wall. And I smile every single time I look in that direction.

It was a good decision.  Tell me: would you cut up a picture book for wall art? Which one? 

ginger spice cookies

Sunday, January 20, 2013 | | 9 comments
I originally posted this recipe in August 2009.  That recipe was called Ginger Cookies. The only change I’ve made this time around (aside from prettier photos) is to elaborate on the instructions.

My best friend’s parents (who i count as extended family – they’ve been so very wonderful to me for so many years) moved into a bigger house in the DC area this year, and I was invited to their housewarming party tonight.  They’ve got a great set-up and had the entire place full of friends, neighbors and family.  I brought a platter of cookies to help feed the guests.  I went with my faithful standby chocolate chip cookies and also some ginger spice cookies, which are a larger, chewier version of those tasty gingersnaps from childhood.

Ginger Spice Cookies (from an old church cookbook recipe)


¾ cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar; plus half cup for rolling dough in
¼ cup molasses
1 egg
2 cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger


Preheat oven to 350˚ F. Combine flour, salt, baking soda and spices in medium-large bowl.   In a separate bowl, mix together the rest of the ingredients until thoroughly combined.   Add molasses mix to flour in two parts, and blend until incorporated.  

Shape dough into walnut-sized balls; roll in the half cup of extra sugar until coated. Place lined baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes before moving to a serving/storage container.  Makes two and a half dozen cookies.

Recommended for: that time when you want a flavorful and non-chocolate dessert, a great holiday cookie, and a simple recipe that will remind you of a childhood favorite.

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

retro friday – shards of honor

Friday, January 18, 2013 | | 7 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!

retro friday

When I read science fiction, I feel as though I am a step behind.  Although I’ve always (or for as long as I can remember) read fantasy, I don’t have that legacy with science fiction.  I don’t know when a plot twist or technology has been done to death, because I haven’t read that widely in the genre.  So how do I know which books to pick up?  I trust my fellow readers.  Elitist Book Reviews usually steers me well, and of course there are others, including Alyce of At Home With Books and The Book Smugglers.  Very recently (last week!) Anastasia at Birdbrained Book Blog pointed me in the direction of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Shards of Honor (published in 1986), the first in the Vorkosigan saga, and I downloaded it on the spot.

shards of honor by lois mcmaster bujold book cover
It was the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons. And Commander Cordelia Naismith of the Betan Expeditionary Force would be forced into a separate peace with her enemy, Lord Vorkosigan ...

Commander Naismith is on a biological survey of an uninhabited planet when her expedition is attacked by the dreaded Barrayarans.  This warrior empire is famous for its atrocities, and it appears that there’s little Cordelia will be able to do to help her Betan crew, or herself, when she is taken prisoner by one of Barrayar’s most lethal fighters, Lord Vorkosigan.  What follows is a story of wartime adventure, heroics, honor and politics, with a thread of romance running throughout.

Cordelia is the heroine of this story, without a doubt.  Her fierce determination to do her duty is the thing that propels her through the story and into the reader’s good graces.  She is intelligent and clear-headed, and she’s been placed in an impossible situation where she must make something out of an array of bad choices.  Instead of putting anyone else in danger, she puts herself in that position – not without flinching – with due consideration and courage.  It’s this streak of honor that makes her such a good leader, and it’s also what draws Lord Vorkosigan (who is not as terrible as his reputation suggests) to her.

Of course, there is more to Lord Vorkosigan meets the eye – he’s a very complicated man, and he has a lot of enemies.  After the initial ‘survival’ bit at the start of the book, Vorkosigan and Naismith spend a lot of time avoiding politics, playing with politics, and (of course) avoiding death.  This is all going on while each is independently struggling with command, responsibilities, loyalties and a growing romantic relationship.  It’s impressive that the plot coexists with great characterization and the trappings of sci-fi – that it works is a testament to Bujold’s skill.  I’m excited to read the next in the series.

Oh, and this quote made my sappy little heart happy. I wrote it down on a scrap of paper to remember later:

“You’re asking me to judge you?”
“Someone must.”
“I’m sorry.  I can love you.  I can grieve for you, or with you.  I can share your pain.  But I cannot judge you.

Recommended for: fans of sci-fi romance, those who enjoyed Garth Nix’s A Confusion of Princes or Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, and anyone ready for a space adventure featuring two stubborn, honorable characters caught in a no-win situation.

waiting on wednesday (45)

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.

I came to young adult literature late (as an adult, in fact), and so I didn’t discover Weetzie Bat.  Still haven’t.  The truth is that although I’ve heard marvelous things about Francesca Lia Block’s writing, I’ve never read one of her books.  However, her upcoming release Love in the Time of Global Warming is going to change that, because I’m all about science fiction and post-apocalyptic retellings of classics.  Add in a title that gives a nod to magical realism, and I can't see a downside. Love in the Time of Global Warming will be released by Henry Holt and Co. (Macmillan) on August 27, 2013.

love in the time of global warming by francesca lia block book cover
A stunning reimagining of Homer's Odyssey set in post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, written by a master storyteller. 

Seventeen-year-old Penelope (Pen) has lost everything—her home, her parents, and her ten-year-old brother. Like a female Odysseus in search of home, she navigates a dark world full of strange creatures, gathers companions and loses them, finds love and loses it, and faces her mortal enemy. 

In her signature style, Francesca Lia Block has created a world that is beautiful in its destruction and as frightening as it is lovely. At the helm is Pen, a strong heroine who holds hope and love in her hands and refuses to be defeated.

What books are you waiting on?

under my hat

I’ve undergone a transformation.  For most of my life I thought of short stories as the second-class citizens of the reading world.  Why read a short story anthology when you could pick a thick book that would keep you reading the same story for hours?  I wanted epic stories, the longer the better.

Things have changed since those days.  I don’t have hours-long blocks of time to spend immersed in a book (unless I want to stay awake all night and then deal with a reading hangover at work the next day).  Instead, I have a twenty-five minute bus commute, a fifteen minute lunch, one hour before bed. In those moments, a brief, vivid story is sometimes all that I can digest. And an anthology, created to collect related short stories or novellas, is the perfect solution.  It is this change in thinking and change in reading habits that led me to list ‘read more short stories’ as one of my goals for 2013.  And I did just that by picking up Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron, edited by Jonathan Strahan.

under my hat: tales from the cauldron edited by jonathan strahan book cover
Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, Diana Peterfreund, Margo Lanagan, Peter S. Beagle, and Garth Nix are just a few of the authors who have toiled over their cauldrons and conjured up bewitching new creations inspired by and celebrating the might and mystery of the witch. Assembled by one of the most well-regarded anthologists in the science fiction/fantasy world, this rich, intelligent collection will enchant readers of all ages.

Under My Hat is one of the strongest anthologies I’ve ever read.  Usually there are a couple of excellent entries, a few that register as fair, and one or two that are simply mediocre.  The quality of this anthology was ‘good and/or great’ across the board.  The theme, of course, is magic.  Specifically, magic that requires a hat: witchy magic.  Strahan gave the authors some flexibility within that theme, but all of the stories have a connection to the central motif.  Even within a strong anthology I had my favorites, and the mini-reviews for those stories follow below.

Payment Due by Frances Hardinge – When an unwelcome intruder takes the things that matter to a girl and her grandmother, something must be done – and it may be a bit… unnatural.  I have never, to my knowledge, read Frances Hardinge before.  I will remedy my ignorance posthaste, because this little story was not only about revenge and magic, it also managed funny, tragic, menacing, and heartwarming all in one go. 

A Handful of Ashes by Garth Nix – A school bully awakens old magic that should have remained buried, and it’s up to a few intrepid student witches to protect their lives and outwit the other side.  It doesn’t surprise me that a Garth Nix story should be one of my favorites of the collection.  Nix’s entry highlights the advantages of working hard, overcoming obstacles and paying attention to history – which are life skills too (not just magic).

Which Witch by Patricia A. McKillip – Bandmates may be facing a menace blind if a crow familiar can’t communicate to and protect his chosen witch.  Faceoff at show time.  Though short, this story is packed with detail.  Multiple character perspectives widen the scope, and while the threat is deadly, the focus is light and fun overall.

Great-Grandmother in the Cellar by Peter S. Beagle – When a witch curses his sister and threatens to keep her asleep forever, a young man makes the fateful decision to dig up his great-grandmother’s bones. This story is gruesome, hilarious, (again) revenge-filled awesome.  Just dark and unpredictable enough to make one shiver, while surprising the reader into laughs and an acknowledgement of the author’s skill.

Crow and Caper, Caper and Crow by Margo Lanagan – Even across many miles, Pen knows it’s time for her granddaughter’s birth.  The journey changes her, and her granddaughter will alter her even more.  When I first read Lanagan last year I predicted that I would be coming back to her writing.  Here’s the proof that I was right.  The tale of this woman’s journey and choices is beautiful, haunting, and human.

In all, Under My Hat is a delicious anthology: it combines wonderful work by some of the best fantasists in the business, and brings those stories to the reader in one delightful package. It’s early yet, but I predict that it’ll be in the running for best of the year.

Recommended for: fans of fantasy and the short story form, anyone who imagines magic in the everyday (or would like to), and the uninitiated reader who would like to sample the wares of some of the greatest (living) writers of fantasy.

best of 2012 (+ giveaway)

Monday, January 14, 2013 | | 15 comments
When I look back at a year in reading, there are always surprises.  There are books I liked very much at the time but which now, after a couple of months of reflection, haven’t made the grade.  There are obvious changes in reading habits from year to year.  There are memories of bright and beautiful characters and precious reading moments.  This is my alphabetized-by-title ‘Best of 2012’ list, featuring books I read in 2012 (they weren’t necessarily published in 2012).  Oh, and remember to check out the end of the post for a giveaway!

a monster calls by patrick ness book cover
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness – Ness writes spellbinding books that absolutely destroy your feelings. And then you want (or need) to read more.  A Monster Calls is part fable, part real-life falling apart, and after twelve months, I am still impressed by its imprint on my reading consciousness.

Above by Leah Bobet – I picked this one up for the cover art, and while I was surprised that the contents didn’t seem to match, I was impressed at how much the story exceeded any expectations I had.  A fascinating and intricate mix of fantasy and mental illness, played out in a world underneath Toronto.

the cavendish home for boys and girls by claire legrand book cover
The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand – Creepy, old-fashioned middle grade horror, complete with charm, surprises and one of my favorite heroines of the year.

Cosmic by Frank Cottrell BoyceCosmic isn’t just engaging middle grade science fiction – it’s also a nerdy/clever/heartwarming take on the relationships between kids and their fathers, and a meditation on what growing up looks like.

Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones – Diana Wynne Jones is synonymous with story magic.  This all-ages fantasy features a boy, a dog, and a lot of things that aren’t-quite-right.  It made me glow with happiness for days.

for darkness shows the stars by diana peterfreund book cover
For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana PeterfreundPersuasion is my favorite Austen title.  This is a young adult post-apocalyptic sci-fi retelling of Persuasion.  You can believe I was in heaven reading Peterfreund’s latest, because that’s pretty accurate.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente – This second installment in the Fairyland series lives up to the first book’s perfection.  Valente’s middle grade fantasies are my favorite ongoing series of the moment.  No lie.

Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley – In a year when I read several young adult contemporaries, this and Stupid Fast were the best of the lot.  Thoughtful, deep, and art-filled (though without images), Graffiti Moon is an unexpected treasure of a romance.

the humming room by ellen potter book cover
The Humming Room by Ellen Potter – If you enjoyed The Secret Garden, here’s a book for you:  a lovely little retelling of that story, featuring a heroine just as feisty as the original Mary.  Set in upstate New York, this reinvention keeps the focus on nature and relationships, and its quiet splendor wins the day.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai – I read this award-winning book in verse for National Poetry month, and was moved by its beautiful, spare story of war and immigrant life. 

Plain Kate by Erin Bow – This Eastern European-based fantasy pulls heartstrings and comments on the nature of community, friendship and trust in the face of hardship.  Its courageous heroine and her cat will find a place in your soul.

stupid fast by geoff herbach book cover
Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach – Oh, what a character!  Felton’s internal dialogue is hilarious, delightfully weird, and absurdly genuine.  Herbach has created an original, and I’m pretty sure that makes him a genius.

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan – Ms. Brennan has a lot to answer for.  Her book set my heart on fire, and I’m (still, all these months later…) having a hard time thinking of anything else.  I gave copies of Unspoken to three of my loved ones at Christmas. The second installment in her Lynburn Legacy series can’t come soon enough to please me.

Were any of these on your list (official or not) for the best of the year?

And now the fun part: a giveaway!  Two winners will receive their choice of any book from my Best of 2012 list (audiobook and/or ebook editions included, as available).  To enter, simply fill out the FORM.  Giveaway is open internationally, will end on January 27th at 11:59pm EST.  Books will be shipped from Amazon or The Book Depository.  Winners will be selected randomly and notified via email.  Good luck!

buffalo chicken loaded baked potato casserole

I had my girlfriends over last night for dinner and a movie (Pitch Perfect – i can’t get enough of that film!).  It was a great opportunity to laugh and relax and eat too much.  When I entertain, I always start by planning around food.  I found a recipe for Buffalo Chicken Loaded Baked Potato Casserole via bookchickdi’s Weekend Cooking post this fall, and I’ve made it twice now to great success.  Last night was no exception. 

Buffalo Chicken Loaded Baked Potato Casserole (modified slightly from Cook Lisa Cook’s recipe)


2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts or tenders, chopped in 1/2-inch cubes
8-10 medium potatoes, chopped in 1/2-inch cubes
1/3 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon paprika
1 Tablespoon garlic powder
4 Tablespoons hot sauce (Cholula or similar)
2 cups grated cheese (I use a Mexican Four Cheese Blend)
1 cup cooked bacon, crumbled
1 1/2 cup green onion, diced


Preheat oven to 500˚ F.  In large bowl, mix the olive oil, salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder and hot sauce.  Add the potatoes and toss to coat.  With a slotted wooden spoon, scoop the potatoes into a large rectangular baking dish, leaving as much of the sauce in the bowl as possible.

Bake the potatoes for 45-50 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes until cooked and crispy on the outside.  While potatoes are roasting, add chicken to the bowl with sauce and stir to coat, let marinate while potatoes bake. 

In a medium bowl, mix together the cheese, bacon and green onion and set aside.

When potatoes are done, remove from oven and lower temperature to 400˚ F.  Place the chicken over the cooked potatoes, then sprinkle the cheese/bacon/onion mix on top.  Return casserole to oven and bake for 15 minutes, until the cheese topping bubbles and browns at edges.  Serve hot.

Note: I turned down some of the heat of the original recipe, but this is plenty spicy.  We didn’t need ranch or sour cream, but if you have picky eaters you may want to cut back on some of the ingredients.

Recommended for: a hearty game day entrée, a dish to feed the men in your life, and for when you’re craving comfort food with a kick.

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

the silvered

Thursday, January 10, 2013 | | 5 comments
I may be over vampires and growing weary of other paranormal creatures in fiction, but a werewolf/magic-wielding society under attack by an empire devoted to the pursuit of science?  Sounds like something I want to read (like, yesterday).  Pair that synopsis with blurbs by Kate Elliott (Cold Magic) and Michelle West (Silence), and I put Tanya Huff’s The Silvered on my wishlist, despite not having read any of her prior work.  My brother gave me a bookstore gift card for Christmas, and this was the first title I picked.  The rest is history.

the silvered by tanya huff book cover
The Empire has declared war on the small, were-ruled kingdom of Aydori, capturing five women of the Mage-Pack, including the wife of the were Pack-leader. With the Pack off defending the border, it falls to Mirian Maylin and Tomas Hagen—she a low-level mage, he younger brother to the Pack-leader—to save them. Together the two set out on the kidnappers’ trail, racing into the heart of enemy territory. With every step the odds against them surviving and succeeding soar…

Mirian is a mage college dropout, only she hasn’t told her parents about her failure yet.  They’re social-climbers, and they’re sure that an advantageous marriage for Mirian is the family’s ticket to a place at the top of Aydori society.  However, war with the empire is brewing, and soon her mother won’t care about the opera or making a perfect match – she, along with the rest of the country, will be running for her life.  Only Mirian decides to take destiny into her own hands and runs toward danger.  With the help of shape-shifting Tomas, she may survive war long enough to do something good.

The cover art suggests a steampunk aesthetic, but this isn’t really steampunk – it’s high fantasy.  WHAT?!  Yes, high fantasy with deft characterization, which actually makes it unusual as well as unexpected.  The Silvered is peopled with flawed characters who change, learn and whose motivations do not fit in black and/or white boxes.  It’s not that it’s completely character-driven, it is that there are no flat, clichéd personalities or relationships.  The story’s scope is EPIC, but it is made accessible by the paranormal element (werewolves) and small, everyday interactions.  It is an utterly appealing, unputdownable adventure – with teeth. 

The one and only caveat to my enjoyment of The Silvered was a certain plot point that was eerily similar to a development in Kristin Cashore’s Graceling.  If you’ve read one of these books and then pick up the other you’ll know exactly what I mean.  To be clear: it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the chase, of Mirian’s attempts at harnessing mage power (and finding herself in the process), or of the political machinations within the capital city.  It simply took me out of the story and became a ‘thing to note in the review.’  While Huff completes a story arc, there’s room for more in this world of weres and mages and science-crazed humans, and I hope to see more fantastic world-building and power to come.

Recommended for: fans of adult and young adult fantasy (it’s probably a good crossover title, as the protagonist is nineteen years old), those who love paranormal fiction and have wondered if they dare try epic storytelling, and anyone with a taste for adventure, risk-taking, menace and destiny in their pleasure reading.

top ten bookish goals for 2013

Tuesday, January 8, 2013 | | 19 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.

I’m not one for goals or challenges or 5-year plans.  They tend to make me feel anxious and guilty, whether I meet the imagined standard or not.  I also read recently that people who don’t set goals are happier in general than those who do.  Interesting, eh?  So: this isn’t a list of ‘goals’ so much as a list of bookish things I’d do anyway (hopefully. if i get around to them).

Top Ten Bookish Goals for 2013

1. Read happily – I often feel an enormous amount of guilt if I’m not reading that thing I promised to read or got in the mail. I’d like to let go of some of that and remember to simply enjoy the book and the story.

2. Cull my bookshelves – I think I’ll be able to fulfill item number one if I decrease my physical to-be-read pile.  This means giving away books I haven’t touched and won’t get to in this lifetime, and being realistic about that.

3. Focus on middle grade books in March – Last year I participated in Jill of the O.W.L.’s Middle Grade in March, and found that I had fallen in love again with books for younger readers.  I plan to make this March all about MG for a second time.

4. Catch up on recent young adult science fiction releases – I like YA sci-fi, so I’m going to read more of it, especially the new stuff.  Maybe I’ll find another Ender’s Game, maybe I won’t – but it should be fun.

5. Read more adult fantasy and more anthologies of short stories – In the years that I’ve been blogging I’ve neglected adult fantasy for its YA counterpart.  Not a bad thing, but I’ve read a few books lately that made me long for more.  And short stories are undemanding and guilt-free, so why not?

6. Mail myself the fourteen boxes of books that live under the stairs at my parents’ house – This isn’t a ‘must do soon’ task, but I’ve been thinking I should ensure the survival of my library before my mom decides to donate it on a whim or it's damaged by flooding or some such.

7. Attend book events – I attended Book Expo America for the first time last year, and I enjoyed it enough that I think I’ll go again (speaking of, anyone need a roommate?).  Also on the agenda: book signings, the National Book Festival in September, and bookstore tourism while I’m on vacation.

8. Be a regular at book club – I’ve been participating sporadically in the DC Forever Young Adult book club, and I’d like to attend more often in the coming year.  Friends who like reading young adult books are made of awesome.

9. Match my non-blogging friends with books – What sort of friend would I be if I didn’t try to make all of my acquaintances fall in love with great books?  The wrong sort of friend, for sure.

10. Begin volunteering at my local library – Because you save the world a little at a time through personal responsibility. Or something.  Okay, close proximity to books wouldn’t hurt.

What are your bookish goals for 2013?

fairest: wide awake

As a fan of fairy tales, retellings and fantasy, I couldn’t pass on Bill Willingham’s Fables comics once I knew about them.  As of today I’ve read through compilation volume 8 in that series – far enough to resolve Snow White’s romantic plot.  I liked the stories, the threads of myth and familiar tale-telling, and I liked Willingham’s novels even more (Peter & Max, for instance). When I found myself in a comic book store the other day, the Fables series was the first thing I looked for.  That’s how I discovered the author’s newest release, Fairest: Wide Awake, a spinoff featuring the women of the Fables universe.

fairest: wide awake by bill willingham book coverNew York Times bestselling, award-winning creator Bill Willingham presents a new series starring the beautiful, deadly ladies from his hit series Fables. Balancing horror, humor and adventure in the Fables tradition, Fairest explores the secret histories of Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Cinderella, The Snow Queen, Thumbelina, Snow White, Rose Red and others. 

The first 6-issue tale follows the misadventures of Briar Rose immediately after the events of Fables #107 (collected in Fables: Super Team), in which she was stolen away by the goblin army. Following this first collection, Willingham will serve as a consultant on all story arcs and introduce new writers from other mediums to the Fables mythos. 

Fan-favorite artist Phil Jimenez (Wonder Woman, The Invisibles) returns to Vertigo to pencil the opening storyline. Award-winning cover artist Adam Hughes (Wonder Woman, Batgirl) provides covers, starting with a wraparound cover on issue #1 that spotlights the lovely ladies who will star in the series.

Wide Awake is a compilation of the first 6 single issues in the Fairest series, and it contains a story arc that brings together familiar characters Sleeping Beauty, the Snow Queen (who was on the wrong side in the original Fables series), and Ali Baba of thieving fame.  The other main character is Jonah, a diminutive bottle imp, and it is through his meddling (and ceaseless exposition) that the story comes together.

All series start somewhere, and fleshed-out character motivation and back story is something that a successful tale doesn’t skimp on.  Unfortunately, Fairest: Wide Awake doesn’t have much in that department.  The story is interesting on its own, but it lacks cohesion unless you’ve read the majority of the Fables series, and that recently.  Although there is ample time spent on Sleeping Beauty/Briar Rose’s past, Ali Baba and the Snow Queen are on their own, and imp Jonah’s past isn’t fully explained either, though that doesn’t keep him from talkingandtalkingandtalking.

Don’t let me drive you away from this comic series, though – there is much to recommend it.  First, if you have read Fables recently, this will flow nicely, and it’s refreshing to see a familiar cast of characters get more air time.  Another thing I appreciated was the focus on the female characters of fairy tale – if this is anything to go by, a continuation of the series will be entertaining.  Add in gorgeous art throughout, and this is not only a fun story, but a visual feast. 

A note: in addition to issues 1-6, there’s another story featured in Wide Awake.  It’s a detective noir retelling of an interlude between Beauty and Beast in 1940s Hollywood.  While its placement is curious, the history of Beauty is done to a T, and mimics the success of black and white cinema noir.  All in all, a delightful addition to an already entertaining volume.

Recommended for: fans of Willingham’s Fables, those interested in fairy tale and myth, and anyone interested in kick-ass women in the world of comics and graphic novels.

waiting on wednesday (44)

It’s been two weeks since I posted here, and several things have happened.  Christmas! (requisite trip to Seattle included), my birthday, the New Year… And I finally caught up on Downton Abbey, saw Pitch Perfect (I recommend both!), and I’m still blogging, though you wouldn’t know it from my silence.  Hope all of you had a happy holiday season.  I should be around more now that December is past.

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.

As I’ve said before, I’m devoted to Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters series.  I pre-order each book, read immediately upon arrival, and if it’s up to snuff, add it to the honored ‘re-read’ shelf.  There’s something about Edwardian England mixed with magic and fairy tales that is very me, and I can’t imagine not liking one these books.  Steadfast, the ninth title in the Elemental Masters series, will be released on June 4, 2013 by DAW Hardcover (Penguin).

steadfast by mercedes lackey book cover
The new novel in Mercedes Lackey’s bestselling series of an alternative Edwardian Britain, where magic is real—and Elemental Masters are in control. 

Lionel Hawkins is a magician whose act is only partially sleight of hand. The rest is real magic. He’s an Elemental Magician with the power to persuade the Elementals of Air to help him create amazing illusions. It doesn’t take long before his assistant, acrobat Katie Langford, notices that he’s no ordinary magician—and for Lionel to discover that she’s no ordinary acrobat, but rather an untrained and unawakened Fire Magician. She’s also on the run from her murderous and vengeful brute of a husband. But can she harness her magic in time to stop her husband from achieving his deadly goal?

What books are you waiting on?
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