newt's emerald

Wednesday, April 30, 2014 | | 7 comments
Garth Nix is one of my all-time favorite authors.  I have an entire shelf of his books in my living room (including one duplicate copy of Lirael, but who’s counting?).  I await each of his books with a sort of glee, because I *know* I’ll love them.  It was funny/shocking to realize that I’d somehow missed news of Nix’s Regency romance Newt’s Emerald.  It contains: a girl posing as a boy, adventures magical and mundane, and FUN.  It's also exactly what I asked for on my reading wishlist in January.

newt's emerald by garth nix book cover
After the Newington Emerald is stolen at the height of a conjured storm, eighteen year-old Lady Truthful Newington goes to London to search for the magical heirloom of her house. But as no well-bred young lady can hunt the metropolis for a stolen jewel, she has to disguise herself as a man, and is soon caught up in a dangerous adventure where she must risk her life, her reputation... and her heart. 

Balancing twin roles as a young lady coming out in her first season and as an intrepid young man up against an evil sorceress isn’t easy, but Truthful has to manage it. Her father’s life and even the fate of England may depend upon her recovering the Newington Emerald!

Truthful Newington is a young lady of eighteen, and she is about to make her debut in Society.  You might think she lives in the Regency England so often co-opted as a setting by romance novelists like Georgette Heyer, but in fact her England is different: it contains magic.  When a famous family jewel (the Newington Emerald, don’t you know!) is stolen in the midst of a storm, Truthful sets out to recover the heirloom.  To do so, she’ll have to pose as her own (male) cousin.  Shenanigans ensue, mistaken identities abound, and all the adventure leads to the requisite happy ending.

Whether you’ve read romances for years or are new to the genre, you likely know that a happy (and romantic) ending is the norm.  Garth Nix doesn’t take any chances in that regard with this tale, but he does include rather more adventures than the traditional romance novelist.  The best fun, of course, is in playing with a cross-dressing female.  There’s more freedom of choice, movement, and even thought for the heroine when she can go about life as a man.  And Truthful, while not exactly meek or docile, worries about making a good impression and finding her feet.  Nix surrounds her with interesting people, and in (and out of!) her alternate identity as Hénri de Chevalier adventure soon breaks out. 

While I enjoyed the book as a frothy, fun read, my favorite bits tended to be about side characters like Lady Badgery (Truthful’s great aunt, who has hidden depths), Lord Otterbrook (a chance encounter), and the three Newington-Lacy cousins (young scoundrels all, in different ways).  I appreciated the book at novella length, but I wished for a bit more time with Truthful’s merry band of friends and family.  Though he describes Truthful’s stubbornness and the struggle keeping her double life alive very well, Nix’s writing is strongest in the action scenes, which mostly cluster toward the end of the book. 

On the whole, Newt’s Emerald is an amusing adventure wrapped in a mystery.  Its strengths are the setting, active writing, and secondary characters, though the central romance has its own delightful moments, too.  It’s the perfect introduction to Regency romance for aficionados of young adult fiction who may be unfamiliar with the genre.

Recommended for: fans of Georgette Heyer, Patricia C. Wrede, and Mary Robinette Kowal (and Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series!), and anyone looking for a few hours of pure reading fun.

top ten books to read if you liked shakespeare's the tempest

Tuesday, April 29, 2014 | | 7 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

Many of my fellow bloggers will have lists today that feature top ten books to read if you like a certain TV show or film.  I don’t watch much television, and my movie-going has tapered off as well.  What does that leave me?  I decided to put together a list of (mostly YA) books to read if you liked William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  I haven’t seen a theatrical production of this play in quite a while, but I remember loving the set, the actors, and the inexplicable magic of it.  So, here’s a list of books that evoked a bit of that enchantment, though they’re quite different from anything the Bard would have dreamed up.

Top Ten Books to Read if You Liked Shakespeare's The Tempest

1. Lisa Mantchev’s Théâtre Illuminata series – Mantchev uses all of Shakespeare plays to inspire a magical new story series focused on the adventures of heroine Bertie Shakespeare Smith, who may (or may not!) fall in love with Ariel from the original Tempest.

2. Sirena by Donna Jo Napoli – A mermaid tale based on a story in Homer’s Odyssey, featuring a shipwrecked sailor and his new island home.  The beautiful prose and heart-rending choices that the titular character must make have ensured that it’s one of my favorite retellings of all time.

3. Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley – The cover and summary of this one may suggest a simple retelling of Sleeping Beauty, but McKinley embroiders the tale and the characters find and create their own way.  It’s beautifully written magic.

4. Lesley Livingston’s Wondrous Strange series – Livingston has played with Shakespeare’s characters and the land of fairies to create a modern, NYC-set tale full of immortals and supernatural creatures, with a healthy side of playacting.

5. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente – In this modern classic September discovers Fairyland for the first time.  She quickly makes new friends, runs afoul of the powers that be, and discovers several different kinds of enchantment.

6. Jack of Kinrowan by Charles de Lint – A dark, urban fairy tale retelling that is notable for its bite and its beauty.  I ADORED it as a teen.

7. The Game by Diana Wynne Jones – Could any list of read-alikes for The Tempest be complete without one of Diana Wynne Jones’ magical, puck-ish characters?  I felt that this novella was the most… literary(?) of her works that I’ve read so far, and so it made the list. 

8. The Moorchild by Eloise Jarvis McGraw – A story that plays on themes of isolation, music, and magic, written by one of the original greats of children’s and YA literature.  Also, it received a Newbery Honor (so, it’s good!).

9. The Bell at Sealey Head by Patricia McKillip – A small, isolated town on the sea is host to a grand old house which is not all that it seems.  The adventures that ensue are by turns fantastical and romantic.

10. Stardust by Neil Gaiman – Well.  If you haven’t read this one yet, just know that it’s about a journey from our land to another, it contains a Captain Shakespeare and his merry crew, and there’s quite a lot of murder (or at least murderous plans).

What books would you add to this list?  Or perhaps suggest a read-alike for another of Shakespeare’s plays!

death sworn

Thursday, April 24, 2014 | | 2 comments
I own Leah Cypess’ two previous novels, but I never made a concerted effort to start reading them – they sit on my Kindle shelf for ‘someday’ off in the future.  ‘Someday’ wouldn’t work for her third book, Death Sworn.  No, I was bursting with excitement to read it the minute I heard about it.  I included it on a list of anticipated spring reads, for heaven’s sake!   Why?  A mage losing her magic + assassins.  *happy sigh*

death sworn by leah cypess book cover
When Ileni lost her magic, she lost everything: her place in society, her purpose in life, and the man she had expected to spend her life with. So when the Elders sent her to be magic tutor to a secret sect of assassins, she went willingly, even though the last two tutors had died under mysterious circumstances.

But beneath the assassins’ caves, Ileni will discover a new place and a new purpose… and a new and dangerous love. She will struggle to keep her lost magic a secret while teaching it to her deadly students, and to find out what happened to the two tutors who preceded her. But what she discovers will change not only her future, but the future of her people, the assassins… and possibly the entire world.

Ileni was once hailed as the most powerful young sorceress in generations.  Now, she is losing her power day by day, minute by minute.  Since she is useless as a magical trainee, the Elders have sent her off on one last mission, to the caves of the assassins.  There she will try to hoard the last of her magic, fulfill an ancient bargain, and investigate the deaths of her two predecessors, who died under mysterious circumstances.  The fate of her world may rest on what she finds in those caves – if she doesn’t die first.

Among Ileni’s people, the Renegai, some magical power fades before adulthood and some stays forever.  Everyone is Tested early, and those who have lifelong power are trained to use their magic.  Ileni’s magic was supposed to be the lasting kind, but it is leaching away from her with every spell.  This set-up (where someone loses their power instead of discovering it) is very interesting.  The coping mechanisms that Ileni employs and the morass of her dark thoughts are extremely convincing.  Ileni is entering the realm of death (what else would you call a school for assassins?), but she also mourns her power so much that she lives as if she has a death wish.  Ileni's not a light or funny character, and she says and does some things that are less than likeable, but she’s real. Cypess hits her notes of despair, desperation and fearlessness perfectly.

Sorin is Ileni's match.  He's the young assassin assigned to guard and guide Ileni through her transition.  He’s been chosen for that role (and survived the caves at all!) because he's intensely loyal to the Master, and lives for his missions and to fulfill his training, even if it means his death.  When he and Ileni interact, there are sparks – but the kind that come from rock striking rock.  Little by little the two come to understand more about each other, but trust is in short supply in the caves, and it is not fed by the intrigue and death all around.

Of course, a story like this wouldn’t be complete without a twisty plot.  It revolves around the Master of assassins and the world outside the cave, which is split between the Empire (evil) and the non-Empire (ambiguous).  Although I enjoyed the story, I only experienced one true surprise.  That said, Death Sworn is an effortless read, and it was fun to see some ‘usual’ fantasy tropes turned on their heads.  Although there was a Sorin/Ileni dynamic I wouldn’t call it a romance (because it’s quite dark).  All in all, Death Sworn was a quick and enjoyable read.

Recommended for: fans of Kristen Cashore’s Graceling, and anyone intrigued (as I was) by the concept of a sorceress exiled to certain death in a school for assassins.  

cynthia’s banana bread

My grandmother is a reader, and I remember raiding her shelves during long summer afternoons at the lake house.  I also remember (and still experience!) her generosity with her reading: there were/are book-shaped packages at every birthday, Christmas, and sometimes in between.  But I think my greatest discovery was a book my Nana brought as her plane read on one visit sometime in the mid 1990s.  It was the first in Jan Karon’s Mitford series, At Home in Mitford.  I gobbled it up in a day or two and begged for more.  I adored that series (through book 5, at least)!  Looking back I must have been quite the picture: gawky teenager with terrible haircut reads voraciously about an overweight, 60-something priest in small town Carolina.  Those stories made me happy, though.

I hadn’t thought about Father Tim in years, but when I mailed myself all of the books that were under my parents’ stairs, I found a paperback set of the Mitford novels.  They’re on my shelf now, and up for discussion.  I wondered aloud at a recent party if a Mitford cookbook existed, because all I really remember at this remove are fantastic descriptions of food.  And upon checking the interwebs, my book club friends assured me that there was one.  I put it on hold, and dutifully picked it up at the library.  To be honest, I didn’t like the cookbook itself – it was badly organized.  HOWEVER.  This delicious banana bread recipe made the whole exercise worth it.  Oh my word, it’s good!  And in the land of funny coincidences, my Nana’s name is Cynthia.  So!  It’s Cynthia’s recipe, two times over.

Cynthia’s Banana Bread (modified slightly from Jan Karon’s Mitford Cookbook & Kitchen Reader)


3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt (2%)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3 large, ripe bananas, mashed with a fork
2 tablespoons lemon zest (see note)
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup walnuts, chopped


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Coat a 9” loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Place the sugar and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer and cream until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the yogurt, lemon juice, bananas and lemon zest and beat well.  Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl.  Add the dry ingredients to the banana mixture in two batches, and stir until just blended.  Add the walnuts and mix again until just incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and bake for 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the bread comes out fairly clean.  Don’t over bake!  Cool in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes, then invert onto the rack to cool completely.

Note: The Mitford Cookbook introduced instructions for zesting a lemon unlike any that I have ever tried.  Using a vegetable peeler, peel the colored part of the peel and leave the bitter white pith alone.  Once you have a small pile of lemon peels, mince and measure.  There’s your zest! Two tablespoons ended up being the zest of one large lemon when done in this manner.

This. Banana bread.  Happy Easter to ME!  I don’t ever recall wanting to eat banana bread batter by the spoonful before… but this recipe did it.  I won’t ever switch back to anything else, because, YEAH.  Holy yum.

Recommended for: everyone.  It’s delicious.

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

ask me

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 | | 0 comments
I’m on a bit of a reading streak when it comes to young adult fantasy that incorporates elements of Greek mythology (Promise of Shadows, Antigoddess, Cruel Beauty).  And that’s awesome, because mythology has always been a particular favorite of mine, along with fairy tale retellings.  I feel the need to interject here: DON’T STOP READING IF MYTHOLOGY ISN’T YOUR JAM! Kimberly Pauley’s latest release Ask Me is much more than that.  It’s a contemporary fantasy that is part thriller, part mystery, part first brush with romance, and wholly absorbing.

ask me by kimberly pauley book cover
Ask Aria Morse anything, and she must answer with the truth. Yet she rarely understands the cryptic words she‘s compelled to utter. Blessed—or cursed—with the power of an Oracle who cannot decipher her own predictions, she does her best to avoid anyone and everyone.

But Aria can no longer hide when Jade, one of the few girls at school who ever showed her any kindness, disappears. Any time Aria overhears a question about Jade, she inadvertently reveals something new, a clue or hint as to why Jade vanished. But like stray pieces from different puzzles, her words never present a clear picture.

Then there’s Alex, damaged and dangerous, but the first person other than Jade to stand up for her. And Will, who offers a bond that seems impossible for a girl who’s always been alone. Both were involved with Jade. Aria may be the only one who can find out what happened, but the closer she gets to solving the crime, the more she becomes a target. Not everyone wants the truth to come out.

Aria Morse can’t help but answer every question she hears with the truth, even if it is sometimes obscured or deeply offensive.  She doesn’t have control over what she says, and the deep truths physically drain her.  Her ‘condition’ has marked her life ever since age twelve: Aria has lost friends and family, and her prophecies have driven her from Michigan to small-town Florida, where she lives in a small shack with her grandparents.  When tragedy strikes her high school, Aria can’t avoid questions, or her truths.  Someone is capable of murder, and Aria may be the only one who can tell who, where, and why.

Two word reaction to this book?  So good!  It’s compulsive reading about a strange girl in a tiny Florida community (that is described to a T, by the way).  Aria has come up with coping mechanisms so that her everyday life isn’t constant torture, or at least she’s tried to.  The arrival of real danger means Aria must decide who to trust: the town’s golden boy Will, an outsider-turned-popular-jock named Alex, or one of the girls who has always kept her on the outside, Delilah.  One question might mean the difference between death and life, and that’s a heavy burden to bear, especially for a teen who can’t interact on any social level, forget normal.

So much of Aria’s life is consumed with avoiding people and their questions that she doesn’t really know how to live – she lets life tow her along and waits for the day when she won’t have the compulsion to spew prophecy any longer.  This means that friends and boys are forbidden – until Aria begins to ask her own questions and question her responsibility for her community.  This change comes through beautifully in her thoughts, her knee-jerk reactions, the way she responds to crises (both her own and others’).  Pauley has written a believable, flawed heroine who can tell anyone else their future but not her own.  It’s quite an accomplishment.

My favorite bits in the book were Aria’s interactions with her grandparents (sweet and tart at the same time), her complicated relationship with her ‘gift,’ and the descriptions of Florida life.  Of course the prophecies were interesting too, along with the slow unraveling of what they meant, and the ratcheting up of danger and tension as a result.  This is no cotton-candy story – there’s violence hidden in Lake Mariah.  The only ‘con’ I can think of is that I figured out the mystery before Aria did, but it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book at all.

In other words, Ask Me is wonderful entertainment.  It’s also skillfully constructed, and there’s feeling, tension and mystery in the writing.  As I said, so good!

Recommended for: fans of contemporary fantasy and thrillers, those who appreciate a story well-told, and anyone who likes the work of Sarah Rees Brennan, Holly Black, or Rick Yancey.

Fine print: I received an ARC of Ask Me for honest review from the publisher.  I received no compensation for this post.

ask me blog tour - kimberly pauley guest post

Author Kimberly Pauley is here today at Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia with a guest post.  Her new YA fantasy Ask Me stars Aria Morse, a girl who must answer every question truthfully.  Ask Me was released by Soho Teen on April 8, 2014.  

ask me by kimberly pauley blog tour banner

kimberly pauley
Kimberly Pauley wanted to grow up to be Douglas Adams, Robert Heinlein, or Edgar Allen Poe, but has since settled for being herself and writing her own brand of quirky. Born in California, she has lived everywhere from Florida to Chicago and has now gone international to live in London with her husband (a numbers man) and the cutest little boy in the world (The Max).

Her first book was Sucks to Be Me and it made her very happy that it made the YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers list as she firmly believes reluctant readers are just people who haven’t found the right book yet. Her second book, Still Sucks to Be Me, was a VOYA best sci-fi/fantasy pick. She wrote Cat Girl’s Day Off because she wanted to share what cats really think with the world and also because she likes to read about kick-butt half-Asian girls with funky hair. In Ask Me, she goes to the dark side and questions the nature of truth.  You can learn more about Kimberly at her website, on Twitter, or at her Facebook page.

Welcome Kimberly! 

I have (of course) been reading the early reviews of ASK ME with interest (heh, show me an author who says they don’t read any reviews and I’ll show you someone in denial – though, that said, I do tend to stay away from Goodreads for mental health purposes). I’ve seen more than one person mention a love triangle in ASK ME. Some hate that. Some love that. Some demean it as a standard YA trope. Some are all, like, yay, hot guys!

And it’s okay that people are seeing a love triangle in the book.

But I didn’t actually write one.

Wait, you say, there’s these two guys in the book! And they both talk to Aria and stuff!

Yes, that’s totally true. And Aria is definitely interested in one of the boys in a romantic sort of way (I’m trying not to name names too much here or things like that because I’m trying very hard not to be spoil-ery). And one of the boys is definitely interested in her in a much more than friends type of way. But Aria never indicates any romantic interest in the one guy and he never indicates any romantic interest in her either.

I can see some of you who have read it going Waitasecondhere and reaching for the book to thumb through the pages. Go on, go ahead and take a look. I think you’ll see what I mean.

I can completely and totally see why some readers read it as a love triangle because it is a rather common thing in YA books (and yes, I’ve written one before…) and because, perhaps, it’s a human tendency to read between the lines and see things that may or may not be there. There’re these two hot dudes and a girl main character, yadda yadda, badda-boom, etc. but, when I wrote the book I wasn’t writing it as a love triangle. A triangle, sure (or a square, really), but definitely not a love triangle.

That said, once you’ve written something and released it into the world, people are going to read it through the filter of their own experiences and colored by all the other things they’ve read and watched. So it really is okay if you read the book and you see a love triangle. Even though I wrote it and know what I intended, that doesn’t make it necessarily the way the book has to be read.

And once you have read it, I’d love to hear what you think. Seriously.


Thank you for sharing, Kimberly!  I look forward to diving into Aria's world, and discovering this not-a-love-triangle business for myself. *grin*

ask me by kimberly pauley book cover
Ask Aria Morse anything, and she must answer with the truth. Yet she rarely understands the cryptic words she‘s compelled to utter. Blessed—or cursed—with the power of an Oracle who cannot decipher her own predictions, she does her best to avoid anyone and everyone.

But Aria can no longer hide when Jade, one of the few girls at school who ever showed her any kindness, disappears. Any time Aria overhears a question about Jade, she inadvertently reveals something new, a clue or hint as to why Jade vanished. But like stray pieces from different puzzles, her words never present a clear picture.

Then there’s Alex, damaged and dangerous, but the first person other than Jade to stand up for her. And Will, who offers a bond that seems impossible for a girl who’s always been alone. Both were involved with Jade. Aria may be the only one who can find out what happened, but the closer she gets to solving the crime, the more she becomes a target. Not everyone wants the truth to come out.

Fine print: I received no compensation for this post.

five discoveries in five years

Five years ago today I started blogging. The blog began as a promise to myself to begin 'something good' in the midst of one of the toughest years of my life. And for a while I didn't have a defined blogging identity. In those first few months I brought up books only rarely. Interests (like blood) will out! I found myself reading book blogs, and thinking, "I could do that. I could talk about books." By July 2009 most of my posts were book-related.

One of the wonderful side effects of jumping into this world has been new book and new-to-me author discovery. I feel incredibly lucky to have found new standby authors. I trust their stories: for entertainment, wisdom, emotion, and always, always beautiful writing. So on this fifth anniversary of my blog, I'm highlighting five authors blogging has introduced me to.  Many thanks to Charlotte and Liviania for the idea!

Patrick NessThe Knife of Never Letting Go was one of the first dystopian novels I read back when that trend was just beginning. I believe it was on a list at Rhiannon Hart's blog along with The Hunger Games (which I ugly-cried in public over). That was enough to get me to try it. And then a little later I read A Monster Calls and realized that making me cry and cringe and FEEL was going to be Ness' modus operandi. He writes powerful fiction and incredible voices. I think I will always look forward to his next project.

Meljean Brook – Velvet at vvb32reads was one of the early cheerleaders for steampunk, and I took part in several challenges and events that she put on, including the Iron Seas challenge, which featured Meljean Brook's books. ZOMG, these are *amazing* and worth a read even if you usually stay away from romance as a genre. Brook writes seriously wonderful characters, who are surrounded by amazing world-building, and you get a guaranteed happy ending. What could be better?! I count down the months to every single new release.

Sherman AlexieI was introduced to Sherman Alexie in my first year of blogging by Leila of bookshelves of doom and Steph Bowe.  And I’ll be forever grateful to those two, because Alexie is one of the greats of our time.  You can’t go wrong, whether you choose his YA classic The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian or a short story collection like War Dances.  Alexie’s insightful writing is commentary as much as entertainment, and important as well as beautiful.

Catherynne M. Valente – I discovered Catherynne M. Valente by following a link on Neil Gaiman’s blog (I'm pretty sure that's where I found it?!).  My love for Gaiman’s fiction preceded blogging, so I was already in the habit of reading his updates.  And then one day he mentioned Valente, who wrote The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making as a serial novel/desperate call for help.  Valente’s struggles spoke to me, but the book even more so.  The story is such a lovely, bizarre, fantastical tale of Fairyland that I made a place for it in my heart, for always.  I’ve since read several other Valente titles, and I always feel a sort of reverence or wonder for her way with words and her imagination at large. 

Sharon Shinn – I can’t remember who introduced me to Sharon Shinn.  I would say Angie of Angieville (she’s a huge Shinn fan), but according to my review of Archangel, my first taste of Shinn was Angelica, and I don’t believe Angie reviewed that one.  ANYWAY.  Blogging not only introduced me to Shinn’s sci-fi series featuring angels, but to her writing as a whole.  Which is always delightful and thoughtful, as well as wrought with feeling and romance.  I pick up Shinn novels like clockwork now whenever I feel the need for speculative fiction that will turn me inside out and make me swoon.

Those are my five author discoveries.  Do you have any go-to favorite authors that you discovered via blogging?

into the dark: the shadow prince blog tour - bree despain guest post (+ giveaway!)

Author Bree Despain is here today at Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia with a guest post.  Her new YA fantasy Into the Dark: The Shadow Prince combines mythology, destined love and music.  Into the Dark: The Shadow Prince was released by Egmont on March 11, 2014.  Stay tuned until the end of the post for a giveaway!

bree despain author photoBree Despain is the author of the Dark Divine trilogy and the Into The Dark trilogy. Bree rediscovered her childhood love for creating stories when she took a semester off college to write and direct plays for at-risk, inner-city teens from Philadelphia and New York. She currently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with her husband, two young sons, and her beloved TiVo.  You can learn more about Bree at her website or follow her on Twitter.

Welcome Bree!

Greek mythology is woven into the storyline in Into the Dark: The Shadow Prince.  How do you take stories that have been told so many times and make them new?  Is there a particular retelling (or even deviation from the traditional story) that is one of your favorites?

Every story is inspired by stories that have come before it. If a writer tells you that their story is completely 100% original, they’re either delusional or a liar.  There’s nothing wrong with this—in fact it’s a writing technique called resonance. (The act of drawing out power by repeating that which has come before.) Some stories aren’t as overt with their inspiration (like did you know that The Hunger Games was inspired by the story of Spartacus?) but others are more deliberate retellings or reimaginings of older stories, myths and fairytales. Books like The Goose Girl, Ella Enchanted, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and even my new book The Shadow Prince create resonance in their readers’ minds by drawing upon the tales that many of us have heard since we were very young. As readers, we connect with the familiar.

Except we don’t want something that’s too familiar.

No one wants a carbon copy of something they’ve read before. Even if an author could write a fairytale exactly the way the Brothers Grimm would, or create and epic Greek odyssey that sounds exactly like it was written by Homer, I don’t think many people would want to read it—because it would feel like it was something that had been done before. The trick to creating a good reimagining of a classic story is to find a way to make it feel new: give it a twist, find a way to turn it on its head, or maybe combine aspects of more than one story.

In The Shadow Prince, I combined elements from many of the Greek myths, but most notably combined aspects from the stories of Hades and Persephone and Orpheus and Eurydice. Both stories center around characters who venture into the unknown and attempt to rewrite their own destinies. Playing on those themes, I chose to create new characters and place them in a present day setting, giving my version of their stories a modern twist. For example: instead of a great musician who is the son of the god of music, there is a musically talented girl (who wants to be the next Taylor Swift) who is the daughter of a rock star, or, instead of god-like characters who live on Mount Olympus, my characters are the children of the rich and famous who go to an elite private school called Olympus Hills.

I also tried to do things to turn the stories on their heads, so to speak. In the most common version of the Persephone and Hades myth, Hades merely steals Persephone into the Underworld and makes her his bride. But at looking at this myth (and studying earlier interpretations) I wondered about how much more intriguing it would be to make it so my character Haden couldn’t just take Daphne into the underworld, but had to convince her to come of her own free will—and what if she was the kind of person who wouldn’t want anything to do with his plan? This change in the story opened up a wealth of conflict and tension between my characters. Another change I went for is that in many ancient Greek stories, the hero is greatly revered by his fellow men, he is courageous, beloved, and a hero in every sense of the word. In The Shadow Prince, I decided to go for the opposite of this expectation. Haden is hated by his peers, has been disowned by his father (the king of the Underworld) and he is desperate to win back his honor and status as the prince—giving his character a new depth that isn’t present in the original story.

A series that I think does a fantastic job of incorporating and combining old, familiar stories into something new and exciting is The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. Cinder, a futuristic, sci-fi take on Cinderella—in which the main character is cyborg mechanic—is one of my favorite books, and one of the stories I studied as an example of how to pull of a fantastic reimagining. There are just enough touches of the familiar mixed in with new twists to make resonate fabulously with readers.


Thanks so much for sharing, Bree!  I loved Cinder as well - it was one of my favorite books of 2011.

If this post has sparked your interest in Into the Dark: The Shadow Prince, please enter the giveaway! The kind folks at Egmont will send one lucky winner a copy of the book. To enter, simply fill out the FORM.  Giveaway open to US and Canadian addresses only, will end on Tuesday, April 22nd at 11:59pm EST.  Winner will be notified via email.  Good luck!

into the dark book one: the shadow prince by bree despain book cover
Haden Lord, the disgraced prince of the Underrealm, has been sent to the mortal world to entice a girl into returning with him to the land of the dead. Posing as a student at Olympus Hills High—a haven for children of the rich and famous—Haden must single out the one girl rumored to be able to restore immortality to his race.

Daphne Raines has dreams much bigger than her tiny southern Utah town, so when her rock star dad suddenly reappears, offering her full tuition to Olympus Hills High’s prestigious music program, she sees an opportunity to catch the break she needs to make it as a singer. But upon moving into her estranged father’s mansion in California, and attending her glamorous new school, Daphne soon realizes she isn’t the only student in Olympus who doesn’t quite belong.

Haden and Daphne—destined for each other—know nothing of the true stakes their fated courtship entails. As war between the gods brews, the teenagers’ lives collide. But Daphne won’t be wooed easily and when it seems their prophesied link could happen, Haden realizes something he never intended—he’s fallen in love. Now to save themselves, Haden and Daphne must rewrite their destinies. But as their destinies change, so do the fates of both their worlds.

Interested in learning more about Into the Dark: The Shadow Prince?  Bree will be over at Miss Page-Turner's City of Books tomorrow with a Q&A and giveaway, and Jump Into Books will have a review and another giveaway opportunity as well!

Fine print: The publisher (Egmont) is supplying the giveaway books. This post is not sponsored in any way.

top ten most unique books i've read

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

These top ten lists are always very interesting to me (NERD ALERT!).  Sometimes book titles spring to my attention and jostle for position on the list, and I have to regretfully leave a couple of good choices off entirely.  Sometimes I sit and stare blankly at my computer screen, and then scour my Goodreads shelves for ideas.  This week’s topic was about halfway between those two poles.  I knew as soon as I saw the word ‘unique’ that I wanted to concentrate on books that felt new and different, and maybe like they’d tweaked my brain so that I thought about/felt/saw the world differently.  They may not be unique to anyone but me, but they made MY list.  And that’s all that matters.

Top Ten Most Unique Books I've Read

1. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller – I read this book in high school because it was on a recommended pre-college reading list, and no one else I knew had read it.  I had to start it over 5 or 6 times because it was just… itself.  I think my brain might still be bent because of it.

2. The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson – The most interesting and unique magical system award goes to… this book!  Many thanks to the CYBILS award for forcing me to pick it up. *grin*

3. Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo – This one has a quirky factor to the max, and I’m not just talking about the half graphic novel, half novel (all heart!) format.  I couldn’t help but love it, and I left feeling like I’d never met a book like it before.

4. Saved by Cake by Marian Keyes – Seriously depressed novelist bakes cakes to keep herself alive.  Writes darkly funny memoir/cookbook as a result.  Astounds/delights this reader!

5. Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton – Oh yes, this is the Regency-esque novel of manners, but with dragons.  As in, dragons are the protagonists/antagonists/ONLY CHARACTERS.  Effing awesome.

6. A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan – A fictional memoir by an elderly scientist expounding on her younger days and first expedition to study dragons.  And yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds.

7. Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox – An impressive onion of a book.  Only rarely do I feel so intellectually challenged and impressed by a young adult fantasy.  And to top it off, this one’s based in an alternate New Zealand (unique settings FTW!).

8. Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger – Oh, this book!  It’s like an updated A Tree Grows in Brooklyn/The Catcher in the Rye mash-up, with baseball.  It makes me feel all the feels, every time.

9. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis – I’ve never read a serious book about a serious topic that was so easy-to-read and at the same time deep, important and timeless.  I am just in awe of Lewis’ writing in general, but this one is something special.

10. Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach – Geoff Herbach is a genius, and he created one of the best, strangest, REALest characters I’ve ever read in Felton Reinstein.  The awkward just oozes out of that kid, and his adventures make me laugh my head off.  What a book!

What are some of the most unique books you’ve read?

strawberry hamantaschen (filled cookies)

I’ve had Deb Perelman’s The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook out from the library for… oh, about 6 weeks now?  And due to new job-related busyness, (yes, I got a new job and I LURVVVVE it!) I hadn’t really sat down to read it until today. I promptly fell in love with Deb’s voice and recipes and OCD/obsessive-ness.  I wanted to try one of her recipes (I’ve made Smitten Kitchen recipes before, but pulled those from her blog) today, so I walked to the grocery store full of fervor to buy rhubarb for Rhubarb Hamantaschen cookies.  My grocery store didn’t have rhubarb!  I mean, I know it’s been cold this year, but rhubarb is one of the first things to appear in springtime.  So I bought strawberries instead, because they were on sale. 

Strawberry Hamantaschen (cookie recipe modified from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)


3 cups strawberries, about 1 1/4 lbs
2/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup almond meal
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into small pieces
1 egg + 1 egg white
1/8 teaspoon almond extract


To make filling

Remove strawberry stems, then chop into quarters.  You want about 1/2-inch segments.  Place in a medium saucepan with sugar, stir to combine, turn heat to medium low, cover, and cook for 15 minutes.  You will not need to keep stirring at this stage, but KEEP AN EYE on the saucepan – the strawberry sugar may want to bubble over (this happened to me…).  Increase heat to medium, uncover, and cook for another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Poor compote out onto a large plate to cool.

To make cookie dough

Mix almond meal, flour, sugar and salt together in a large bowl.  Using a pastry cutter or two forks, work butter into flour until it resembles cornmeal (I just want to confess that at this stage I ALWAYS give up and end up working the mixture with my fingers. I am an impatient mess).  Add egg, egg white and extract, and combine the dough with a wooden spoon (or your hands).  Knead dough until mixture is uniform (either in the bowl or out on your countertop).  Divide dough into quarters.

Form the cookies

Place one quarter of the dough on a well-floured surface, and flour the top generously as well.  Roll the dough to 1/8-inch thickness, and cut out circles with a round cookie cutter or wine glass.  Place 1 teaspoon of strawberry filling in the center of each dough circle.  Fold edges up in three places to form a triangular cookie and gently pinch seams together to form corners.  Transfer cookies to a parchment-lined baking sheet and place entire tray in the freezer for 30 minutes before baking.  Repeat with remaining dough.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Bake cookies for 15-17 minutes, until golden at edges.  Remove from oven and transfer to racks to cool.  Makes 3 dozen cookies.

Note: Be rigorous in creating those corners (almost fold over the edges) so that your cookies don’t ‘unstick’ themselves and lay out flat while baking.  Also, having tried both freezer & fridge due to storage issues, I command you to put your trays in the freezer, as per the recipe.

These cookies are great – very almond-y and fruity at the same time, with crisp shells and gooey filling.  I like them!  And now I’m curious about the rhubarb version…

Recommended for: a special occasion cookie with colorful flair, and a tasty treat for the baker who is looking to branch out from that old standard chocolate.

promise of shadows

Saturday, April 5, 2014 | | 0 comments
I tend to believe that the nicest thing I could say about any book is that it helped bring me out of a reading slump.  Those natural periods of stress or life that keep me from regular reading are distressing: they interrupt more than just the flow of my blog.  They interrupt the therapeutic sitting-down-with-my-computer-and-wrestling-with-my-thoughts thing that goes along with blogging. Well, they mess up my library holds system, too, but that’s a minor gripe. Justina Ireland’s Promise of Shadows was a WoW pick last August and one of two books that arrived via library hold and forced me out of a month’s long slump.  I am grateful.

promise of shadows by justina ireland book cover
Zephyr Mourning has never been very good at being a Harpy. She’d rather watch reality TV than learn forty-seven ways to kill a man, and she pretty much sucks at wielding magic. Zephyr was ready for a future pretending to be a normal human instead of a half-god assassin. But all that changed when her sister was murdered—and Zephyr used a forbidden dark power to save herself from the same fate. 

On the run from a punishment worse than death, an unexpected reunion with a childhood friend upends Zephyr’s world—and not only because her old friend has grown surprisingly, extremely hot. It seems that Zephyr might just be the Nyx, a dark goddess that is prophesied to shift the power balance: for hundreds of years the half-gods have lived in fear, and Zephyr is supposed to change that. 

But how is she supposed to save everyone else when she can barely take care of herself?

Zephyr Mourning (or Peep, as friends and family call her) is currently serving out a sentence in the Pits of Tartarus.  She killed the god who murdered her sister Whisper, and used a forbidden power to do so.  As punishment, she’s been stripped of her Harpy wings and sent to dig ditches for an eternity. But there are some gods who still aren’t happy that she got off with eternal servitude (instead of death).  After one-too-many attempts on her life, Zephyr and her friend Cass take a chance to escape and begin a dangerous journey to seek vengeance for Whisper’s death and to solve the mystery of Zephyr’s power.

I wanted to like this book wholeheartedly.  It had so many things going for it: a mythological fantasy mash-up, diverse characters, a great concept, a childhood friend-turned-love interest (nary a love triangle in sight!), and a Harpy main character with an engaging (snarky) personality, mommy issues and blue hair.  Not to mention gorgeous cover art and all-around book design.

But.  Yes, you knew there was a ‘but’ coming.  There were several things about this book that didn’t fulfill the promise of the concept and cover.  The first was the world-building, which was vague and patchy – in part because the scene changed too often for the reader to get a real handle on a sense of place.  Much of the tension of the plot should have revolved around the shifting landscape, but it never seemed to matter where any of the characters were at any given time.  And although Ireland set up a complex class system/struggle, that didn’t have any real pull, either.  Instead, when the differences between gods and vaettir (their half-human children) were mentioned, it devolved into a confusing tangle of half-explained grudges. 

Add to those issues an indistinct magical system (what was the real difference between light and dark magic, again?), some instances where ‘telling’ might have been swapped out for ‘doing,’ and a fair amount of secondary character development that fell by the wayside, and the result was disappointing on several levels.  That said, I had high hopes going in, and it’s possible that my reaction was biased by my expectations.

I wanted to like Promise of Shadows more than I did, but it may be just the thing to appeal to other readers.  I finished it because I liked Zephyr and the concept.  I don’t regret my excitement for this one – it was interesting!

Recommended for: fans of Karsten Knight’s Wildefire, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, and Gina D’Amico’s Croak, and anyone curious about a diverse young adult fantasy featuring a blue-haired Harpy heroine.
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