above the dreamless dead

I’ve had an interest in fictional accounts of the Great War (or Word War I, as we call it now) for many years.  I don’t remember where it started, but books like Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series and Suzanne Weyn’s Water Song only stoked the fire.  Shana Abé’s The Sweetest Dark would have been another favorite, if only it hadn’t had a love triangle.  All that to say, when I heard that First Second was publishing a graphic novel anthology of WWI trench poetry to mark the centennial of the beginning of the conflict, I perked up.  I hadn’t read poetry from the period, but it’s something I’ve always meant to do.  Editor Chris Duffy’s Above the Dreamless Dead is a powerful little volume, and one I can’t seem to stop talking about.

above the dreamless dead edited by chris duffy book cover
As the Great War dragged on and its catastrophic death toll mounted, a new artistic movement found its feet in the United Kingdom. The Trench Poets, as they came to be called, were soldier-poets dispatching their verse from the front lines. Known for its rejection of war as a romantic or noble enterprise, and its plainspoken condemnation of the senseless bloodshed of war, Trench Poetry soon became one of the most significant literary moments of its decade. 

The marriage of poetry and comics is a deeply fruitful combination, as evidenced by this collection. In stark black and white, the words of the Trench Poets find dramatic expression and reinterpretation through the minds and pens of some of the greatest cartoonists working today.

With New York Times bestselling editor Chris Duffy (Nursery Rhyme Comics, Fairy Tale Comics) at the helm, Above the Dreamless Dead is a moving and illuminating tribute to those who fought and died in World War I. Twenty poems are interpreted in comics form by twenty of today's leading cartoonists, including Eddie Campbell, Kevin Huizenga, George Pratt, and many others. 

Here’s a strange idea: take a selection of trench poetry (so-called because the poets themselves often lived and wrote from the Front, which was basically a patchwork of trenches for the duration of the war), and put it in the hands of talented comics artists.  See what sorts of collaborations (is that even the right word, if the writers are dead?) ensue.  Watch readers cry.

That last isn’t a foregone conclusion – the poetry itself isn’t maudlin.  However, if you have a feeling bone in your body, and you read and view the art, and then go to the end of the volume and look through the biographies of the authors and realize that quite a few of them died TOO YOUNG (I expected it, but I was still shocked by the numbers… and when I thought about those great minds, silenced)… I dare you not to get a tiny bit teary.  This book isn’t all mournful remembrance, of course.  It’s got moments of humor, and there are a few instances of gently whimsical art paired with serious subject matter.  And of course it’s all quite beautiful.

I had two personal favorites among the twenty-eight entries.  The first was Siegfried Sassoon’s “The General” (adapted by Garth Ennis, Phil Winslade and Rob Steen), a straightforward reading and representation of the poem (which was quite damning on its own), and one of the longer pieces in the book.  Second was Wilfred Owen’s “Soldier’s Dream” (adapted by George Pratt), a really magnificent, haunting piece that I know I’ll turn to again and again.

Duffy has done a great job of uniting disparate comics styles within one volume.  There are what I would call ‘traditional’ panels familiar from years of newspaper reading, full-page abstract paintings, images that evoke movement and violence, and detailed pages that require close study.  Add to this a variety of source material: poetry (obviously!), selections from soldiers’ songs, and a portion of a book.  It could have been a muddle.  Instead, it’s a lovely, poignant, intense read. 

Was this meant as a tribute to the fallen?  A reminder to all that war is costly?  No matter what its provenance, Above the Dreamless Dead succeeds as an anthology of art, and it is both poetic and visually stunning.

Recommended for: everyone (ages 10+), but especially fans of graphic novels and those interested in WWI.

Fine print: I received a finished copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.  I did not receive any compensation for this post.

top ten authors who occupy the most space on my shelves

Tuesday, July 29, 2014 | | 13 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

This week’s topic was really fascinating to me.  You might say to yourself, “But isn’t that just a list of favorite authors?”  Well, in very simple terms, yes.  But this list also marks out those favorite authors whose books I’ve wanted to reread so much over the years that I’ve collected them on my shelves.  See, early on I didn’t have the resources to collect many books (my mother is laughing to herself across the country – I always found money for books!), and I made a rule: only buy a book if you’re confident you’ll reread it at least twice more, thereby making it more worthwhile to own than getting it out from the library (and possibly running up fines).  In later years it hasn’t been so much about the cost of books as the space for them.  So, looking over my shelves and seeing the books that have survived weeding, have become collectibles, as it were, was fascinating.  And… not very surprising.  *grin*

Top Ten Authors Who Occupy the Most Space on My Shelves

1. Garth Nix – I have one and a half shelves devoted to Nix.  I’ve really liked (or loved!) all of his novels, and I’ve read nearly his entire backlist.  The only Nix stories that don’t make my heart go pitter-pat are his Sir Hereward & Mr. Fitz shorts/novellas, which feature a puppet and a knight.  But hey, that’s doing really well, considering!

2. Robin McKinley – McKinley’s books are just… gorgeous.  I credit McKinley for my love of fantasy and fairy tale retellings.  I am also, always (not-so-patiently) waiting for her next novel. 

3. Neil Gaiman – If I can credit McKinley for starting me on fantasy and fairy tale fare, I can credit Neil Gaiman for my love of dark fantasy, right?  Neverwhere was (for a short while) in danger of toppling Jane Austen’s Persuasion as my favorite book.  I keep it on hand for reading emergencies.

4. Mercedes Lackey – Lackey is a startlingly prolific fantasy writer, and her Edwardian fairy tale retellings (the Elemental Masters series) are basically like book crack for me.  I buy them hardcover the day they release and then they go live on my shelf forever. In series order, of course!

5. J.K. Rowling – I mean… obvious.

6. Sharon Shinn – Dear Angie of Angieville, I blame this one on you.  You turned me on to Shinn, and when I realized that her books were made of swoon, I (naturally) had to start collecting them.  So, THANKS FOR THAT.  For real, though.  Love, Me.

7. C.S. Lewis – Lewis is one of the few writers I loved as a child, and now respect even more as an adult reader.  I enjoy his nonfiction as much as his fiction.  Weird/awesome.

8. Nalini Singh – If I could only suggest one shape-shifting romance series to try, it would be Singh’s.  Her books… yep. They are for me.

9. Patricia C. Wrede – Wrede has written many different types of fantasy: from funny dragon-and-princess escapades to Regency pickpockets-made-over-into-ladies, to an alternate version of America’s Old West. I’ve loved them all.  Wrede is one of my guaranteed, go-to authors, and I’ve been collecting her books since high school.

10. Meljean Brook – Brook’s Iron Seas series is steampunk + romance + diversity + ADVENTURE, and that all adds up to amazing. I find myself counting down the days to the release of her next book (and owning multiple copies of the ones that are already out!).

Honorable Mention: Patricia A. McKillip – Another fantasy love of long-standing.  I can count on McKillip for really beautiful books that are creative, art-filled and intellectual.  I can’t think of anyone else who does that combination quite so well.

Are any of these authors on your collectible list?

cookbooks for days

Saturday, July 26, 2014 | | 7 comments
Last weekend I visited the family lake house (and family with it, of course) in upstate New York.  To spare everyone (my uncles) the hassle of kitchen drudgery, we ate out for lunch and dinner, and the meals were lovely.  Add in a LAKE, boat rides and swimming, and it was a slice of heaven.  I would stay all summer if I could get away with it.  *grin*

Weekend Cooking posts spring from unlikely places.  Even though we didn’t cook (with one exception), I decided to photograph my Uncle Michael’s cookbook collection.  He’s a gourmet at heart, and his meals are truly better-than-restaurant-quality.  I learned how to make roux at his stove one Thanksgiving, and I felt like I’d ‘made it’ when he told me my piecrust was perfect.  Suffice it to say, his influence is one of the reasons I care about food.  As you can imagine, his cookbook collection is extensive.  I didn’t get all of the titles – that’s a job for another day… but the photos give you an idea of the quantity if nothing else.

Do you see any titles you recognize?  Let me know in the comments!

Interested in other food-related post?  Check out Beth Fish Reads’ Weekend Cooking!

the house of the four winds

The first time I had a look at the cover of Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory’s The House of the Four Winds, I thought it wasn’t my sort of book.  I mean, I read seafaring and swashbuckling tales with relish in my younger years, but it’s not my usual cup of tea these days.  Then the kind folks at Tor sent over a note about its release, and I always try to give my email an honest read before answering it, so I did more than skim the description.  Lo and behold, this was a fantasy (I should have known – Lackey and all!), with a cross-dressing princess of a heroine, and the blurb promised ROMANCE.  Well, who was I to say no to that?!  It sounded like good fun.

the house of the four winds by mercedes lackey and james mallory book cover
Mercedes Lackey is the New York Times bestselling author of the Valdemar series and romantic fantasies like Beauty and the Werewolf and The Fairy Godmother. James Mallory and Lackey have collaborated on six novels. Nowthese New York Times and USA Today bestselling collaborators bring romance to the fore with The House of Four Winds.

The rulers of tiny, impoverished Swansgaard have twelve daughters and one son. While the prince’s future is assured, his twelve sisters must find their own fortunes.

Disguising herself as Clarence, a sailor, Princess Clarice intends to work her way to the New World. When the crew rebels, Clarice/Clarence, an expert with rapier and dagger, sides with the handsome navigator, Dominick, and kills the cruel captain.

Dominick leads the now-outlawed crew in search of treasure in the secret pirate haven known as The House of Four Winds. They encounter the sorceress Shamal, who claims Dominick for her own—but Clarice has fallen hard for Dominick and won’t give him up without a fight.  

Full of swashbuckling adventure, buoyant magic, and irrepressible charm, The House of the Four Winds is a lighthearted fantasy romp by a pair of bestselling writers.

Clarice is the oldest of an enormous brood of daughters (and one son) born to the ruler of a tiny principality in the mountains.  Her parents can’t afford dowries for their daughters without beggaring their kingdom, so each daughter is expected to go off and seek her fortune.  Clarice is determined to ply her trade as a swordsmaster, but she must earn a reputation first, and that requires travel.  Disguising herself as “Clarence Swann,” she takes passage on a merchant vessel bound for the New World, and quickly becomes fast friends with the ship’s navigator, Dominick.  When sinister events and adventures threaten her life, Clarice/Clarence must use all of her resources (and rely on her heart) to come through the storm.

The first thing you should know about The House of the Four Winds is that my first judgment after a 5-second perusal of the cover art did not fail me.  It’s 90% about life on a boat filled with men, plus some violence.  The other 10% of the book is split between Clarice’s (somewhat boring) backstory and a magical mystery at the very end of the book.  The second thing you should know is that this book didn’t do anything for me.  I generally like Mercedes Lackey’s books (see: Elemental Masters series), but I didn’t like another co-written book of hers, so perhaps that is to blame.  The third thing?  The official summary contains ALL OF THE SPOILERS.  *le sigh*

Shall I catalog my disappointments?  The sooner I do, the sooner I can dwell on this book’s good points (and ideal readers).  Number one: lack of female characters. Clarice’s female-heavy family not-withstanding (and they really are off-stage, as she leaves them immediately), the female characters present in the story are: Clarice, a virtuous white woman who is determined to look, think and act like a man at all times, and Shamal, a non-white seductive evil sorceress.  Commentary: depressingly obvious.  Number two: believability.  Clarice’s sex is NEVER discovered on a ship, over weeks worth of time.  She is also an incredibly wise (but naïve in all the ways that count!) eighteen year old with no faults to speak of.  Excuse me while I laugh my head off over here in the corner.

Number three (and this may well be my biggest disappointment): what love story?!  I was promised a magical romp heavy on romance!  It’s all very much ship life, and officer/crew heierarchy, what-are-we-going-to-do-about-the-pirates?! until the last second.  And then the "romance" is lightly sprinkled on at the very end.  UNSATISFACTORY.  Also, only one swordfight worth mentioning.  Travesty, I tell you! 

Finally, the worldbuilding was spotty. The magical system isn’t given any depth or character, the main characters (except the villain) don’t do any magic themselves, and the whole thing feels like a big cliché.  It would be one thing if there was a bit of humor to lighten the tone of the story and turn it into a romp (I suppose I wouldn’t mind weak worldbuilding so much then), but there’s not.  Instead, there’s death, tragedy, uncertainty, and a lot of loose ends.

So, who WOULD enjoy this book, and/or what were its good points?  I’d say anyone who picked it up for the cover won’t be disappointed.  There’s a lot of sailing and pirating involved.  Clarice’s introduction to the nuances of shipboard life brought Avi’s The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and Jean Lee Latham’s Carry On, Mr. Bowditch to mind. I also think fans of The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise will find much of the familiar in this tale.  What I mean is, it’s clichéd, and it wasn’t for me, but I can see how it would be fun reading if you want a sea adventure and don’t mind a fantasy without much magic.  It is also a good candidate for a YA crossover title, as the romance is quite clean and the heroine has just turned eighteen.

All in all?  The book’s cross-dressing heroine and promise of romance did not fulfill my expectations, but the story will likely please others.

Recommended for: anyone who has been searching for The Pirates of the Caribbean in book form.

The House of the Four Winds will be released by Tor (Macmillan) on August 5, 2014.

Fine print: I received a finished copy of this book for free for review from the publisher.  I did not receive any compensation for this post.

waiting on wednesday (78)

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.

It is the best feeling ever when someone gets a book recommendation just right.  My friend Alexis told me about Sarah Cross' Kill Me Softly early last year, and although there were little things about it that I didn't love, the concept was simply fabulous.  I kept thinking: "This is such a cool idea!"  Ever since, I've been wondering if we'd see more of Beau Rivage and the twisted fairy tale lives of the teens who live there.  GOOD NEWS, everyone, I got my wish!  Cross’ Snow White/Twelve Dancing Princesses mash-up Tear You Apart will be released by EgmontUSA on January 27, 2015.  A word on that cover art: I lurvvvvve it.  So pretty/ominous at the same time...

tear you apart by sarah cross book cover
Viv knows there's no escaping her fairy tale curse. One day her beautiful stepmother will feed her a poisoned apple or shove a poisoned comb into her scalp or hire her on-again-off-again boyfriend, Henley, to hunt her down and rip out her heart before she breaks his. In the city of Beau Rivage, no matter how much you fight it, your marchen mark is your destiny. 

Yet, when Viv receives an invitation to the swank underground club where the Twelve Princesses escape to dance each night, she thinks she might have found a loophole to her date with death. There she meets Jasper, the thirteenth prince. "Her" prince. The prince that is destined to save her when her curse comes to call.

But constant nights of partying get old fast. The royal family is ruled with an iron fist by their patriarch, who gloats over the fact that no one can challenge him without his name. And Viv doesn't love Jasper (in fact, she kind of loathes him) and she doesn't want to be an underworld queen--it's a living death.

So when Henley finds his entry into the underworld as a champion set to solve the secret of the Twelve Dancing Princesses in order to save her, Viv takes the rules of fairy tales into her own hands. No matter her curse, no matter her fate, she can't lose the only boy who's ever had her heart.

Sarah Cross rewrites the fate of Snow White in her smart, edgy follow-up to her acclaimed Kill Me Softly.

What are you waiting on?

top ten cookbooks i want to read

Tuesday, July 15, 2014 | | 8 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

Today's 'official' prompt for Top Ten Tuesday called for favorite television shows or films.  While I can think of several favorite films off the top of my head, I didn't feel inspired to write about them.  And I'm not much of a television viewer.  If you listened in at my monthly book club accounting of what I'm reading and watching, I always say, "I'm reading [insert YA fairy tale retelling], and I'm watching [insert sporting event]."  So.  I had no interest in this week's topic, but I still wanted to participate.  What did I do?  The reasonable thing: I cheated and texted a friend for suggestions.  And cookbooks I want to read is actually a genius idea, because I've been saying I want to review more cookbooks!  So now I have a starting list, and life is good.

Top Ten Cookbooks I Want to Read

1. Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes by Maya Angelou – Angelou's recent passing reminded me that I've (still!) never read one of her books. One of the many eulogies that appeared in bookish publications noted that Angelou was a celebrated cook.  I wondered to myself if she could have possibly written a cookbook.  My library's website returned an answer: she had.  There were actually two different cookbooks to choose from!  I picked this one for the title.

2. The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book: Uncommon Recipes from the Celebrated Brooklyn Pie Shop by Emily and Melissa Elsen – PIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.  I am the de facto pie baker at family Thanksgiving (and I always remind myself that I can indeed manage crust in the weeks beforehand), but I don't stray much from the typical apple.  I can't wait to look at all of the flavor combinations and mouth-watering photos in this cookbook.  Dang.

3. The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation by Mollie Katzen – I'm not a vegetarian, but during the summer it feels like a waste not to eat as much fresh produce as humanly possible.  I heard about this cookbook from some of my fellow Weekend Cooking friends, and I am excited to learn about new ways to prepare fruits and veggies.

4. My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz – I've never read a Lebovitz cookbook, and I feel the lack.  I see his recipes and his writing touted all over the place.  I just need to dive in, and this latest release seems like the perfect opportunity.  I've already requested it from Blogging for Books, so it's happening, folks.

5. Falling Cloudberries: A World of Family Recipes by Tessa Kiros – I spend my Thanksgivings as a pie baker and minor kitchen minion.  It's delightful (first off, you're right in the thick of the action. second, everyone loves you/does the dishes to show their appreciation).  One Thanksgiving my Uncle Michael got out this cookbook and decided we were going to try a fish soup.  I was sent to the store to fetch some salmon, and we proceeded to make the entire thing (including fish broth!) from scratch.  Ever since then I've wanted to read a copy for myself, to see what other interesting recipes may be inside...

6. How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman – I particularly want to read this one because my Uncle Fouad gasped with (mock) horror when I said I hadn't read it.  Another one to add to the growing list!

7. The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook by Michael Anthony, introduction by Danny Meyer – My sister and I had a marvelous time together in New York City for Book Expo America this year, and one of the best parts was a Saturday evening dinner at The Gramercy Tavern.  I'd heard so many good things about it that I wondered how it could live up to its billing.  Well, it just did.  And now I must know how to make things like they do (I doubt that I can replicate them, but trying counts!).

8. Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle – Another classic that I've never touched.  Also one of the most intimidating books out there.  I shall get to it, one day...

9. The Flavor Thesaurus: A Compendium of Pairings, Recipes and Ideas for the Creative Cook by Niki Segnit – A couple of friends invited me over for dinner the other night, and pressed this on me as I left.  I mean, I'm always happy to take a cookbook home.  I have been reliably informed that it will expand my knowledge of complementary flavors (and that there are little stories tucked away in various entries - so it won't be dry-as-dust!).

10. A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell – Another book I am aware of because of the lovely Weekend Cooking crowd.  This one appeals me not so much as a cookbook, but as a history. Quite simply: I love food histories. I love them even more when they have a recipe or two inside.  Like this one.  #winning

Are there any cookbooks on your to-read list?  Which ones?

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

the b.t.c. old-fashioned grocery cookbook: recipes and stories from a southern revival

The other night my friend Leigh (displaced Texan and a total sweetheart) texted to see what I was up to.  She had just flown back to DC from visiting her sister and nephews in Alabama, and she wanted to hang out.  I told her I wasn’t doing anything but reading a cookbook.  When she arrived at my house, she wanted to know all about this cookbook.  She’d never ‘read’ one as a book herself.  I handed over Alexe van Beuren and Dixie Grimes' The B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from a Southern Revival, and Leigh just about crowed with delight.  She gasped over the Tex-Mex Pimento Cheese, and she laughed over the recipe introductions, just as I had.  I promised to lend it to her as soon as I was finished with it myself.  I’m glad we’re friends, and now I’m glad we’ve bonded over Southern cooking, too.

the b.t.c. old-fashioned grocery cookbook by alexe van beuren and dixie grimes book cover
In a small town twenty-five minutes outside of beautiful Oxford, Mississippi, there’s been a revival of food and community. Bucolic small-town Water Valley wasn’t the most logical place to start a grocery and cafe, but that’s just what Alexe van Beuren did, in a historic building that her husband had saved from demolition. The B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery opened in 2010 amidst a cloud of hope and dreams, full of glass-bottled milk, local produce, and Cora’s fried pies. Trouble loomed when hope and dreams proved insufficient for the daily realities of running a small business when lo and behold, Dixie Grimes, a five-star chef, walked through the door in need of a job. Within a few months, Dixie’s food had folks lining up at the window, and the two women discovered that after all, this small town in rural Mississippi was exactly where they needed to be.

The B.T.C. quickly cemented its place as the center of town life, serving hearty breakfasts and comforting lunchtime meals, as well as selling prepared foods like casseroles, salads, and spreads to take home. With vibrant storytelling, 120 recipes, and 60 evocative full-color photographs, The B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery Cookbook shares the inspiring story of how dreams can pay off in a small-town tale of food, friendship, and tradition.

Alexe van Beuren is one of a group of women who are making over the town of Water Valley, Mississippi.  Alexe started a gourmet grocery store there in 2010, and in 2011 celebrated chef Dixie Grimes joined the B.T.C. family, whipping up breakfast, lunch and deli fare for the local crowd.  Though the first years were tough, and Alexe admits that it’s much harder work than she ever imagined, the grocery has brought her community new life.  The story is chronicled in this cookbook, and it’s obvious it’s not just wishful thinking – the grocery and the people running it have become part of the heart of the town.

This cookbook is full of Southern basics (from spreads to the broccoli salad I recognize from potlucks), and that’s kind of great since I did NOT grow up with them.  Now I know how to make Southern staples I’ve heard of (and even some I haven’t).  Soups seem to be the B.T.C.’s ‘specialty,’ though recipes cover all types of food served in a deli (breakfast, spreads, sides, salads, casseroles and mains get top billing).  Overall, it’s simple, unfussy fare presented with a story and a history.

Aside from the food itself, the introductions prior to each recipe add personality and a sense of what the B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery (and the town of Water Valley) is really like.  I found this cookbook to be an entertaining, useful, and well-written story of food, family, and community rejuvenation.  And what food!  Dixie Grimes’ recipes have appeared in famous magazines and newspapers.  It’s evident why: they all sound amazing.  Personally, I can’t wait to try the Roasted Pear and Zucchini Soup (page 48), Green Apple Casserole (page 137), and Peach Ice Box Pie (page 210).

Of course, no cookbook has been properly ‘reviewed’ until you try a recipe or two for yourself.  I picked this recipe from the Salads section on page 103…because strawberries and asparagus are both on sale at the moment (aka in season):

Asparagus and Strawberry Salad


2 pounds fresh asparagus, cut on the bias (4 cups)
4 cups fresh strawberries, sliced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


In an 8-quart stockpot, bring 1 cup of water to boil.  Set a steaming basket on top and add the asparagus.  Steam the asparagus until it is bright green and al dente, 4 to 6 minutes.  Immediately transfer it to a bowl of ice water and let cool.  Remove the asparagus from the bowl and pat dry with paper towels.

Put the asparagus in a bowl and add the strawberries.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, honey, salt and pepper.  Pour the dressing over the asparagus strawberry mixture.  Transfer to the refrigerator and chill 1 hour before serving.  Yields 4-6 servings. 

Note: This salad is at its best (and brightest) if you eat it the day you make it.  Also, I’m not going to lie, I watched a YouTube video on how to cut asparagus on the bias.  Yep, that basic.  p.s. The salad? Turned out beautiful & DELICIOUS.  Spot on flavor and easy-as-pie.  Making it again soon.

All in all, this cookbook is mouth-watering, funny, sweet, quirky as only small-town life can be, and a treat for both the belly and the soul.  If you don’t believe me yet, by all means check out a selection of pages here (including the recipes for Pimento Cheese and Chicken, Asparagus, and Mushroom Casserole, along with that scrumptious-looking Peach Ice Box Pie).  

asparagus and strawberry salad

Recommended for: anyone interested in small-town revivals, Southern cooking and incorporating fresh local produce into scrumptious recipes (healthiness not guaranteed).

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

Fine print: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

pills and starships

Wednesday, July 9, 2014 | | 6 comments
There are moments of serendipity in any given reading life, when you take on a book by faith and/or chance, and you end up with something better and more beautiful than you ever expected.  The cover and title of Lydia Millet's Pills and Starships intrigued me enough that I read the back cover copy – twice.  I’ve been drowning a bit under the weight of books I promised to read, so it seemed foolhardy to take on another.  I am glad I didn’t listen to my practical side, because Millet’s YA debut is a gem: unnerving and luminous in equal measures.

pills and starships by lydia millet book cover
In this richly imagined dystopic future brought by global warming, seventeen-year-old Nat and her hacker brother Sam have come by ship to the Big Island of Hawaii for their parents' Final Week. The few Americans who still live well also live long—so long that older adults bow out not by natural means but by buying death contracts from the corporates who now run the disintegrating society by keeping the people happy through a constant diet of "pharma." Nat's family is spending their pharma-guided last week at a luxury resort complex called the Twilight Island Acropolis.

Deeply conflicted about her parents' decision, Nat spends her time keeping a record of everything her family does in the company-supplied diary that came in the hotel's care package. While Nat attempts to come to terms with her impending parentless future, Sam begins to discover cracks in the corporates' agenda and eventually rebels against the company his parents have hired to handle their last days. Nat has to choose a side. Does she let her parents go gently into that good night, or does she turn against the system and try to break them out?

But the deck is stacked against Nat and Sam: in this oppressive environment, water and food are scarce, mass human migrations are constant, and new babies are illegal. As the week nears its end, Nat rushes to protect herself and her younger brother from the corporates while also forging a path toward a future that offers the hope of redemption for humanity. This page-turning first YA novel by critically acclaimed author Lydia Millet is stylish and dark and yet deeply hopeful, bringing Millet's characteristic humor and style to a new generation of young readers.

Natalie (Nat for short) and Sam’s parents have elected to do what many of their generation have done: sign a contract to manage their death experience.  The world has irretrievably altered in their parents’ lifetime: oceans have risen, much of the world’s wildlife has gone extinct, and massive storms and bugs now take out huge numbers of the surviving human populations.  This change has gone hand in hand with the rise of corporations, who offer to take over the entire death experience once life gets too harsh or depressing.  When Nat and Sam discover some of the ugly truths beneath the veneer of their parents’ death resort experience, they must make a decision to cooperate, or (possibly) work for something bigger and better – Earth’s future.

I’ll admit it first thing: I did not know how Millet would pull off this concept.  Widespread mood-enhancing pharmaceutical use, climate disaster, all-seeing corps that hark back to Big Brother – it seemed like an unlikely combination.  All credit to the author, because she made that mish-mash come together, in a believable, fascinating fashion.  There’s the dystopian element, of course, but if I had to put this in a sci-fi subcategory, I’d probably label it as an apocalyptic novel, of the environment-crashing variety.  After two chapters, I had no doubts that what I was reading was not only well-executed and smart, but lovely as well.

The story is told from Nat’s point of view – she’s writing in a journal that the corp provides to all ‘survivors,’ to help them cope during their relatives’ last week.  It’s first-person narration, with Nat recounting events as they occur each day, along with flashback scenes and memories.  The writing itself is vivid, immediate, and poignant.  As the days go by, much of Earth’s recent history is laid out, along with Nat’s personal feelings and processing of what death means.  At the same time, she’s in a pharmaceutical-induced fog, and anxious about her (and Sam’s) future.  It could be cluttered and sappy, but it’s not.  Millet writes this far-future teen’s feelings and experience in a way that made my (rather jaded) heart light up.

Of course, Nat’s preoccupations inform the novel, so this is a book that deals with themes of beauty, perception of and interaction with the natural world, a reluctant questioning of the status quo, death, and environmental apocalypse.  These issues were treated with care, even in the short space of the novel (and within the constraints of Nat’s narrow point of view) – something that counts as an impressive mark in the book’s favor.  The dystopia/sci-fi elements, while decidedly soft, were well-executed. 

Millet evokes feeling by writing directly about emotion, yes, but this is no sloppy, adjective-filled wonderland.  It’s pitch-perfect, dark and lonely at times, but filled with loveliness for all that, and at its core it takes a deep and abiding interest in the natural world.  An added bonus, in case you aren’t already running to the bookstore?  Pills and Starships features a diverse heroine, and indeed, entire supporting cast.  This is a smart, soulful book that deals with heavy issues.  On top of that, it’s entertaining, can't-put-it-down reading.  I call that a straight #win.  And I kind of want to hand it to everyone I know who has ever expressed interest in young adult fiction.

Recommended for: those who appreciate inspired writing, fans of young adult sci-fi and dystopian fiction, and especially anyone who enjoyed Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series or Ann Brashares’ The Here and Now.

Fine print: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher for review consideration.  I did not receive any compensation for this post.

top ten blogging confessions

Tuesday, July 8, 2014 | | 17 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

Two years ago I did a post on bookish confessions, where I shared secrets such as: I have run up $100+ library fines (it was just the once, I swear!), I skip ahead in a lot (most?!) books, and that I semi-permanently stowed 14 boxes of books at my parents’ house.  Today’s list, however, focuses on blogging confessions.  Some may surprise you, others may not… but this is about the writing itself, the so-called behind-the-scenes, rather than books directly.  Well, except in the case of #10.  I had to sneak that in there.  Even if I’ve already ‘confessed’ it multiple times!

Top Ten Blogging Confessions

1.  Of the top 10 all-time most popular posts on my blog, 4 are recipes, and NONE are book reviews.  Welp.

2. I wait until a “good” week before updating my blogging stats for sites like NetGalley and Edelweiss.  Vanity is a killer, folks.

3. Currently around 50% of my reading = romance novels, and I very rarely blog or review them. 

4. Reading and reviewing graphic novels feels like cheating.  It’s so easy!

5. I signed up for the much-discussed, er… much-maligned (?!) Blogging for Books program because I want to review more cookbooks.  And no one is exactly throwing them at me right now.

6. I take any/all photos on my blog with my iPhone 4s.  I don’t own a camera, and haven’t since ~2007.

7. My best blog traffic day in any given week is Tuesday.  Thanks, Top Ten Tuesday meme friends!

8. I got my current real-life job because of skills I learned from blogging, but most days I feel like a rank amateur.  Have you seen my fellow bloggers?!

9. I hate vlogs and/or booktube videos.  I have never been able to force myself to watch one all of the way through.

10. I really do judge books by their covers.  All. The. Freaking. Time. I know I should know better by now!

What are your blogging confessions?  Or if you don’t blog, what’s your favorite from my list?

coconut brown butter bread

Saturday, July 5, 2014 | | 6 comments
My brother is getting married.  Or I should say, ONE of my three brothers is getting married.  Lincoln lives north of Pittsburgh, while the rest of our immediate family is back home in Seattle, so we’ve remained close as adults (read: I nag him into visiting on a regular basis, because I’m an awesome sister like that).  It’s been great to get to know my future sister-in-law, too, and I’m totally jazzed that they plan to continue living ‘close by.’  They may even move to Philly!  Closer and closer… *evil grin*

coconut brown butter bread recipe

I went up to the bridal shower last weekend.  As a member of the wedding party, I was asked to provide items for the bridal tea.  I signed up for breads – they travel well, and I was taking the train.  I decided to bring my new standby, Cynthia’s Banana Bread, but I wanted to diversify a bit, too.  I searched the interwebs for chocolate breads, but I wasn’t inspired by anything… until I stopped by The Smitten Kitchen blog.  It’s not chocolate, but this recipe looked like just the right amount of unusual, perfect for a summery tea.

My brother and future sister-in-law

Coconut Brown Butter Bread (modified slightly from a Smitten Kitchen recipe)


2 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/4 cups 2% milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and browned
Nonstick cooking spray for baking pan


Heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9×5-inch loaf pan with nonstick baking spray, set aside.  Brown the butter in an omelette-sized pan, and then pour into a dish and let cool.

In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, milk and vanilla.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Add sugar and coconut, and stir to mix. Make a well in the center, and pour in egg mixture, then stir wet and dry ingredients together until just combined. Add butter, and stir until just smooth — be careful not to overmix.

Spread batter in the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, anywhere from 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Cool in pan five minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack.

Deb over at The Smitten Kitchen suggested that there’d be enough batter to make a couple of extra muffins, so the first time I tried this recipe, I split it between my regular loaf pan and a tiny disposable one.  Just my luck, the regular loaf was undersized.  I say you can put it all in one loaf pan, and if it rises high, so be it.  As for the flavor, it’s GREAT.  A real crowd-pleaser, and subtle enough for any palette.  It doesn’t taste very coconutty, so if that’s what you’re going for, maybe add a quarter teaspoon of coconut extract. 

Recommended for: a breakfast or midday snack when you want to try something a little out of the ordinary, and as a lovely tea bread (without chocolate or nuts).

Interested in other food-related items?  Check out Beth Fish Reads’ Weekend Cooking!

waiting on wednesday (77)

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 believe that Catherynne M. Valente's Fairyland books are a big part of the reason I've fallen back in love with middle grade (books aimed at readers ages 8-12... what I would have called 'Juvenile' growing up) fiction. I adore the whimsy inherent in Valente's descriptions, the inventiveness of her settings, and the overall magic of her stories.  I think these books are new classics, and I can't wait to have a set of them all lined up on my shelf together, to read over and over, whenever I need a bit of the fantastical to inspire my day-to-day life.  While I haven't read the third book in the series yet, I read, reviewed and loved The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland, and the short story The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland (all titles shortened for convenience, you understand).  Thus it should come as no surprise that I can't freaking wait for the latest in the Fairyland saga, The Boy Who Lost Fairyland. It will be released by Feiwel & Friends (Macmillan) on March 3, 2015.

the boy who lost fairyland by catherynne m. valente book cover
When a young troll named Hawthorn is stolen from Fairyland by the Golden Wind, he becomes a changeling – a human boy -- in the strange city of Chicago, a place no less bizarre and magical than Fairyland when seen through trollish eyes. Left with a human family, Hawthorn struggles with his troll nature and his changeling fate. But when he turns twelve, he stumbles upon a way back home, to a Fairyland much changed from the one he remembers. Hawthorn finds himself at the center of a changeling revolution--until he comes face to face with a beautiful young Scientiste with very big, very red assistant.

Time magazine has praised Catherynne M. Valente's Fairyland books as "one of the most extraordinary works of fantasy, for adults or children, published so far this century." In this fourth installment of her saga, Valente 's wisdom and wit will charm readers of all ages.

What books are you waiting on?

top ten classics i want to read

Tuesday, July 1, 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

It was difficult for me to be honest with this week’s top ten list.  There’s an urge (I don’t know if it’s societal, familial, or a leftover from the snobbery of academia) to make myself seem smarter, better informed, more ‘intellectual’ than I actually am.  For instance, my first version of this list included Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote.  But as I was revising, I kept thinking, “There’s a reason I’ve never read that book, despite being a Spanish major in college.  I never wanted to read it.”  And I suppose I still don’t.  Lest you be completely scandalized, I did read some of de Cervantes’ short stories (aka I’m not completely ignorant).  Still, it took a few tries to make this an honest list, one that contains books I really am excited to read… at some point in the future.

Top Ten Classics I Want to Read

1. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
2. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
3. Beloved by Toni Morrison
4. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
5. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

6. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
8. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
9. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
10. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

What books would make your list of classics to read in adulthood?
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