wildefire

Thursday, July 28, 2011 | | 5 comments

What to do when a seriously funny author (check out his vlogs!) debuts a book with a lovely cover and a fantastic YA-meets-mythology mash-up premise? Read it and see if it lives up to the hype, of course. After all, I danced around the room in honor of Jennifer Estep’s Touch of Frost, another recent mythology-in-young-adult-land release. Unfortunately? Wildefire was not my cup of tea.


Every flame begins with a spark.

Ashline Wilde is having a rough sophomore year. She’s struggling to find her place as the only Polynesian girl in school, her boyfriend just cheated on her, and now her runaway sister, Eve, has decided to barge back into her life. When Eve’s violent behavior escalates and she does the unthinkable, Ash transfers to a remote private school nestled in California’s redwoods, hoping to put the tragedy behind her. But her fresh start at Blackwood Academy doesn’t go as planned. Just as Ash is beginning to enjoy the perks of her new school – being captain of the tennis team, a steamy romance with a hot, local park ranger – Ash discovers that a group of gods and goddesses have mysteriously enrolled at Blackwood…and she’s one of them. To make matters worse, Eve has resurfaced to haunt Ash, and she’s got some strange abilities of her own. With a war between the gods looming over campus, Ash must master the new fire smoldering within before she clashes with her sister one more time… And when warm and cold fronts collide, there’s guaranteed to be a storm.


There are people who really liked this book. I’ll be honest with you: I am not one of them. Another thing I’ll be honest about? The ‘whys’ and ‘wherefores.’ After all, my wonderful reader, you deserve only the best. The best being one of these cookies. Wait, I’m distracting you from the review?!


Things I didn’t like: 1) romance novel metaphors and vocabulary – descriptions were all about the girth of a guy’s biceps, the pregnant clouds, etc.; 2) dearth of character development; 3) clich├ę central; 4) unbelievable elements (one of which was the serving of alcohol to 17 year-olds. in a bar. never seen anyone who wanted to lose their liquor license that badly.).


Things I did like: 1) combo of mythologies; 2) flashback sequences (which were very well done); 3) cover art; 4) concept; 5) sometimes snappy dialogue a.k.a. moments of humor and/or lightheartedness.


To be continue with the honesty policy: Wildefire lost me almost immediately. The here-there-and-everywhere action, combined with Ashline’s inner voice and spoken dialogue, which were very different at times, created a jarring whole that failed to live up to the promise of the concept. A separate annoyance (which I cannot lay at the author’s feet) became clearer as I read farther. The blurb? Gives away a major plot point (!) from late in the book – something I would term a spoiler. Not cool, not cool at all.


Recommended for: only the most die-hard YA and mythology fans, or a romance reader with spare time and a highlighter (I dare you to go on a ‘romance novel adjective hunt!’ Report back if you do!).


Fine print: I received an e-galley for review from Simon & Schuster Galley Grab. You can check out the first 5 chapters online here.

buttermilk chicken tenders

Tuesday, July 26, 2011 | | 7 comments
My sister is awesome. Like fried chicken awesome. In fact, while I was staying with her this last week, she fried chicken. Seeing as I have never deep-fried anything in my life (and neither has my mother, that I know of), I was impressed. You could even say ‘deep-fried’ impressed. Too much?



In any case, she got her recipe from the Pioneer Woman (here), and with a few little adjustments, we enjoyed a fantastic meal and I have possibly conceded that I will follow the Pioneer Woman’s blog in the future. Only for the recipes, mind you. I am also planning further adventures in deep-frying. Aren’t beignets and donuts fried? YUM.


Buttermilk Chicken Tenders


INGREDIENTS


½ tsp. black pepper

½ tsp. salt

1 tsp. garlic salt

1 tsp. oregano

1 tsp. chili powder

1 tsp. paprika

1 tsp. cumin

5 boneless chicken breasts flattened and sliced, or a package of pre-cut meat (if you don’t want to pound the chicken breasts flat with a rolling pin and then slice them thin like my sister did)

1 cup buttermilk

2 egg whites

2 cups flour

Vegetable oil (enough to be one inch deep in the pan)



DIRECTIONS


Place chicken meat in a bowl with buttermilk and let soak for at least 15 minutes.



Combine spices and flour in a separate bowl, and drizzle in the egg whites. I think you could probably use the whole egg, but we were experimenting (after I’d separated one egg, my sister handed me the shell with the yolk still in it and told me to ‘go raise a baby chicken.’ hilarious, that one.). The flour mixture is the right consistency when it’s clumpy, but not damp.


Heat one inch of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-low to medium heat. While oil is heating, place buttermilk-soaked chicken in flour mixture and turn to coat thoroughly. When covered, place on plate to await its turn in the frying pan.



After all strips are covered and oil is heated, drop one or two chicken strips in at a time. HELPFUL WARNING: Wear an apron. Oil jumps out of the pan like nobody’s business! Cook for one to two minutes on each side. You’ll know when to turn them because they’ll fry up crispy and brown.



When strips are fully cooked, remove from oil and place on a paper towel-lined plate to dry. Serve with barbeque sauce, ranch, bleu cheese dressing…whatever flavor you prefer.


If you have any doubts about the recipe or frying, just go over to the Pioneer Woman’s blog post. She has even more details and hints and step-by-step photos, and she makes it look easy. Le sigh.


Recommended for: a special night at home with an all-American menu, the perfect meal to dig into while you watch the game, or classic summer picnic fare. Also taste-tested for cold breakfast the next morning. Verdict? Addictive!

down the mysterly river giveaway

Bill Willingham is a storytelling genius. No, really, it’s true. I fell head-over-heels in love with his writing when I picked up Peter & Max, and since then I’ve been through eight of his FABLES graphic novel compilations. I was very excited to read that he was releasing a middle grade novel – Down the Mysterly River. I’d like to pass on my ARC to one of you lovely blog readers. Of course, it’s been lightly read (once), but is in otherwise sparkling condition!


Down the Mysterly River is the children’s book debut of Bill Willingham, the creator of the #1 New York Times bestselling graphic novel series Fables. Complete with illustrations by Fables artist Mark Buckingham, it is a spirited, highly original tale of adventure, suspense, and everlasting friendship.

Max “the Wolf” is a top notch Boy Scout, an expert at orienteering and a master of being prepared. So it is a little odd that he suddenly finds himself, with no recollection of his immediate past, lost in an unfamiliar wood. Even odder still, he encounters a badger named Banderbrock, a black bear named Walden, and McTavish the Monster (who might also be an old barn cat)—all of whom talk—and who are as clueless as Max.

Before long, Max and his friends are on the run from a relentless group of hunters and their deadly hounds. Armed with powerful blue swords and known as the Blue Cutters, these hunters capture and change the very essence of their prey. For what purpose, Max can’t guess. But unless he can solve the mystery of the strange forested world he’s landed in, Max may find himself and his friends changed beyond recognition, lost in a lost world…


Giveaway: one ARC of Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham’s Down the Mysterly River. Open internationally, will end July 31st at 11:59pm EST. To enter, simply fill out the FORM. Winner will be selected randomly and notified via email.


Good luck!

don’t stop now

Tuesday, July 19, 2011 | | 3 comments

You know how sometimes a song or a particular book reminds you of a day, or a place, or a season? I’ll forever associate Julie Halpern’s latest novel Don’t Stop Now with summertime, roadtrips without air conditioning, and intense heat. It’ll be a reminder of those shimmering waves of hot air that seem to billow out of the asphalt along the horizon line, of the windows down and the music too loud (so you can hear it over the rush of the wind), and of the inevitable orange snacks you pick up at an anonymous corner store.


On the first day of Lillian’s summer-before-college, she gets a message on her cell from her sort-of friend, Penny. Not only has Penny faked her own kidnapping, but Lil is the only one who figures it out. She knows that Penny’s home life has been rough, and that her boyfriend may be abusive. Soon, Penny’s family, the local police, and even the FBI are grilling Lil, and she decides to head out to Oregon, where Penny has mentioned an acquaintance. And who better to road-trip across the country with than Lil’s BFF, Josh. But here’s the thing: Lil loves Josh. And Josh doesn’t want to “ruin” their amazing friendship.

Josh has a car and his dad’s credit card. Lil has her cellphone and a hunch about where Penny is hiding. There’s something else she needs to find: Are she and Josh meant to be together?


Julie Halpern has a way with characters (and, of course, a way with words) that puts her up at the top of my list when I’m recommending contemporary YA lit. Her stories feature realistic teens, situations, and friendships – the things that broke your heart, changed your life, and formed the foundation of who you decided to grow up to be. It’s no surprise, then, that her latest novel is a winner.


With her mother’s benediction, Lillian, or ‘Lil’, has given herself the summer before college (where Sarah Dessen heroines live forever) to savor being free of responsibilities, adulthood and the real world. But on the first day of that freedom, her pity-friend (yes, I think that’s a thing) Penny calls and leaves a message that changes everything. Lil and her best friend Josh set out on a cross-country roadtrip to find out what’s really going on. What ensues is not only a fact-finding mission, but an adventure that will change them all – perhaps forever.


Ah Penny, and her fateful phone call. Penny has been a ‘quest’ for Lil – her good deed of the year is an ongoing effort to get Penny to hang out. Problem? Lil sees Penny more as an object than as a person. In fact, the reader sees her this way too, in 2D, an object to be pitied rather than a real character. The ‘mystery’ of where Penny is and what she’s doing is fairly transparent and predictable.


But the real meat of the novel is Lil and Josh’s relationship, and how it develops over the roadtrip. Speaking of roadtrip: I have LIVED THIS STORY. Really. I mean, not with a platonic best friend of the opposite sex, but I have driven cross-country in a car without air conditioning and visited these attractions (okay, most of them) in August. Multiple times, actually. I’m not going to lie, Halpern is spot on. It’s the next best thing to actually experiencing it yourself (and very possibly better than experiencing it yourself, to be quite honest).


Josh and Lil come across as real, authentic characters who have reached a point of comfort in both their skins and with each other. Lil wants to take their friendship to the next level, Josh doesn’t want to change anything – about, well, anything. Over the course of the trip they discover that much more about what they want, who they are, and where it all goes from here.


What to say? This novel felt honest. I liked it. I didn’t necessarily get what I wanted, but I did read something true, and that’s probably better. Don’t Stop Now had its flaws (ahem, Penny!), but it will go down for me as one of the most summery books I have ever read. Can’t wait to pick it up on a frigid winter day and relive the heat and memories!


Recommended for: fans of Sarah Dessen and Jenny Han, those looking for a stellar poolside YA read on a hot day, and anyone who has experienced (or dreamed of) a summer road trip with no rules and no responsibilities.


Fine print: I received an ARC for review from the publisher (and then promptly bought my own hardcover copy!).

headed west

Monday, July 18, 2011 | | 4 comments

[art from poppyandpinecone's etsy shop]

I'm going home to the Seattle area today. One week of awesome with the family, coming right up!

touch of frost

I had no idea Jennifer Estep wrote young adult novels. You probably didn’t either. Actually, you may not even know who I’m talking about. Let me backtrack. About a year ago, I won a contest over at The Book Smugglers (pretty awesome, right?). The prize: two adult urban fantasy/paranormal novels by Ms. Estep. I was happy, but wary – I’ve been burned by that genre in the past, and I had no experience with the author. BUT! The Elemental Assassin series is awesome. The main character, Gin, is an assassin/restaurant owner with magical powers, and she lives in a fictional southern metropolis. Her adventures are dangerous and exciting. As I said: AWESOME.


Fast forward to last week or maybe the week before, when I was cruising through ‘Waiting on Wednesday’ selections. There it was: a YA by Jennifer Estep, called Touch of Frost. After I got over my shock, I was very pleased. And then Tirzah at The Compulsive Reader sent me a copy, and I went from pleased straight to dance-around-my-room-happy.


My name is Gwen Frost, and I go to Mythos Academy — a school of myths, magic and warrior whiz kids, where even the lowliest geek knows how to chop off somebody's head with a sword and Logan Quinn, the hottest Spartan guy in school, also happens to be the deadliest.

But lately, things have been weird, even for Mythos. First, mean girl Jasmine Ashton was murdered in the Library of Antiquities. Then, someone stole the Bowl of Tears, a magical artifact that can be used to bring about the second Chaos War. You know, death, destruction and lots of other bad, bad things. Freaky stuff like this goes on all the time at Mythos, but I'm determined to find out who killed Jasmine and why—especially since I should have been the one who died…


I think one of the things Estep does best is create a likeable heroine. Gwen has insecurities and knows she’s different (and maybe not in a good way), but part of her charm is that she’s so very self-aware. She’s constantly analyzing and connecting information; pairing her curiosity with knowledge. She has a self-effacing, funny voice, and it makes for spot-on inner dialogue.


Now, this isn’t to say that a cool heroine is all that Touch of Frost has to offer. Estep has also created a believable place in the school Gwen attends, the Mythos Academy. Sure, not all of the T’s are crossed nor the I’s dotted, but I know I spent the book immersed more in its world than in figuring out what was wrong with it. That isn’t to say that I don’t have questions. First one: who does all the dirty work at this extra-fancy prep school? But those things can be answered in future books, or may just be unanswerable forever.


Other fun factors: the smart teenage banter, different ‘types’ of students, boy with mystery (and delayed gratification, what?), unexpected friends and a very, very cool library.


What I didn’t like: Good Lord above, what is it with repeating descriptors? First Kady Cross couldn’t keep Finley from blushing in The Girl in the Steel Corset, and now Estep transgresses again and again with Gwen’s ‘violet eyes.’ I get it already! There were a couple of other bits that I thought should have been caught in editing (the same revelation twice, and an inaccuracy about how swimming times work) as well. Added to that, we’ve got typical boarding school clich├ęs and bad boy crush. BUT. I am here to tell you that in spite of that, this book was fun, I liked it, and I can’t wait for Gwen’s next adventure.


Touch of Frost wasn’t perfect, but it was quick reading, and a great pick for summertime fun. I’m definitely in LIKE. Kiss of Frost, the next in the series, comes out in November, and in the meantime there’s a prequel out called First Frost (but read this book first, do).


Recommended for: anyone with a penchant for mythology, fans of the Percy Jackson series or the X-Men comics/films, and those who like their teen lit set in boarding schools. Also perfect if you’re in the mood for a fast-paced tale featuring a curious and courageous heroine with a bit of an outsider-complex. And, you know, general awesomeness.


Touch of Frost will be released by Kensington Teen on July 26, 2011.

blackberry-mint julep

Thursday, July 14, 2011 | | 10 comments
On Monday morning, I arrived at work to find a large sprig of mint at my workstation. Explanation: my coworkers have caught onto my baking and cooking habit, and now leave offerings at my desk. Strange, wonderful and best of all, true. Of course, I immediately started looking up minty recipes. I remembered I had blackberries in the fridge – and then this little recipe from Martha Stewart popped up on my screen. Perfect.


Blackberry-Mint Julep


INGREDIENTS


1/2 cup packed fresh mint leaves

1 pint blackberries

6 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup bourbon

4 cups small ice cubes

4 sprigs mint, for garnishing


DIRECTIONS


Roughly chop mint leaves.


Puree the mint, blackberries, and sugar in a blender. Press through a fine sieve into a bowl; discard seeds.


Rinse blender, then return puree to blender, and add bourbon and small ice cubes; blend until smooth. Divide mixture among 4 glasses. Garnish each with a mint sprig. Yields 4 servings.


This recipe isn’t super-sweet, but it’s refreshing and has a great slushy texture. The bourbon keeps it from feeling fruity or girly, but there’s little enough that it goes down smoothly.


[my friend leigh volunteered her time and palette to this experiment]


Recommended for: that hot summer night when you just need to cool down and unwind, impressing the heck out of your friends, even if you don’t know a thing about adult beverage construction, and a tasty and gender-neutral aperitif for any spring and summer gathering.

waiting on wednesday (13)

I’m participating today in "Waiting On" Wednesday. It is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, and its purpose is to spotlight eagerly anticipated upcoming releases.


I seem to remember that really good middle grade (MG) books were as rare as unicorns when I was a kid. The thing is, when I look back at a list of ‘favorite’ children’s and YA books from my own past, they almost always fit as middle grade as it is defined today. Botheration! Good news: out in the great, wild world they’re publishing more middle grade fantasy, and that really floats my boat. This one, by Sarah Prineas, looks fantabulous. Winterling will be released by HarperCollins on January 3, 2012.


With her boundless curiosity and wild spirit, Fer has always felt that she doesn’t belong. Not when the forest is calling to her, when the rush of wind through branches feels more real than school or the quiet farms near her house. Then she saves an injured creature—he looks like a boy, but he’s really something else. He knows who Fer truly is, and invites her through the Way, a passage to a strange, dangerous land.

Fer feels an instant attachment to this realm, where magic is real and oaths forge bonds stronger than iron. But a powerful huntress named the Mor rules here, and Fer can sense that the land is perilously out of balance. Fer must unlock the secrets about the parents she never knew and claim her true place before the worlds on both sides of the Way descend into endless winter.

Sarah Prineas captivates in this fantasy-adventure about a girl who must find within herself the power to set right a terrible evil.


What books are you waiting on?

sean griswold’s head

Sunday, July 10, 2011 | | 1 comments

Are you ever tempted to sum up an entire book with one word? I rarely am – I usually need at least ten (and probably more) to describe how a book felt, what it was about, and so on. But for Lindsey Leavitt’s latest novel, I needed just one: CUTE. Seriously. Sean Griswold’s Head caught my interest because someone mentioned its very cuteness, too. I need to get better at remembering who inspires me to read a particular book, because I want to high five that person like, rightNOW.


According to her guidance counselor, fifteen-year-old Payton Gritas needs a focus object – an item to concentrate her emotions on. It's supposed to be something inanimate, but Payton decides to use the thing she stares at during class: Sean Griswold's head. They've been linked since third grade (Griswold-Gritas-it's an alphabetical order thing), but she's never really known him.

The focus object is intended to help Payton deal with her father's newly diagnosed multiple sclerosis. And it's working. With the help of her boy-crazy best friend Jac, Payton starts stalking-er, focusing on-Sean Griswold…all of him! He's cute, he shares her Seinfeld obsession (nobody else gets it!) and he may have a secret or two of his own.

In this sweet story of first love, Lindsey Leavitt seamlessly balances heartfelt family moments, spot-on sarcastic humor, and a budding young romance.


Payton Gritas is dealing with some heavy stuff at home, and everything in her life seems to be tilting sideways. But when she’s given an assignment to find and write about a focus object, it all clicks into place – for a while. Being a teenager isn’t easy though, and soon everything is falling apart again. It’s up to Payton to find a way to cope, and to navigate the tricky waters of high school, relationships and family while somehow maintaining a sense of humor and her sense of self.


This book is incredibly sweet and (yes, I said it earlier) cute, but it’s not fluffy. It’s also funny and sarcastic. Payton herself has OCD tendencies and a mild obsession with Seinfeld and sports (bonus factor!). Quirks are minor and the focus is on self-discovery, but the family and friend drama is quite real and Payton’s response to it by turns annoying, endearing, and courageous.


Payton’s best friend Jac and Sean’s sidekick Grady deserve their own stories, and I’m even curious about Payton’s parents. In this story, no one seems intentionally slighted in the character development section, and that’s both refreshing and unexpected. While there were a few times I wanted to kick Payton into shape, being in her head and experiencing her growth was entertaining. What can I say? I totally would have been her friend back in the day. Also? Sean = ADORBS.


Things I didn’t like: despite the title, this book stays in girl-only territory. Although it’s got sports aplenty and a male main character, the voice and audience are definitely female. Nothing wrong with that, but I like to see books that will appeal to both sexes. As far as objections go, that’s all I have – and that’s pretty awesome, if you ask me.


Recommended for: tweens and teens (nothing in this one will set off warning bells), fans of sports in YA novels, anyone who is dealing with or who has dealt with family illness, and those who enjoy an innocent coming-of-age story that fits nicely in the category of ‘cute.’ Harmless and perfect summer reading!

teaser tuesday (63)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011 | | 27 comments
It's Teaser Tuesday, a bookish blog meme hosted every week by MizB of Should Be Reading. Here's how it works:


Grab your current read and let it fall open to a random page (or if you're reading on an electronic device, pick a random number and scroll to that section). Post two or more sentences from that page, along with the book title and author. Share your find with others in the comments at Should Be Reading, and don't give anything vital away!


‘“Tell me. What is surfer-speak for ‘the next pitcher is on you’?”

“What’s Creole for ‘Bite me’?”

Ash cleared her throat. “Do you two need to be alone? I’m suffocating on testosterone.”’


p. 58 of Karsten Knight’s Wildefire (ARC version, subject to change)

mini raspberry blueberry cheesecakes

I get a baking bug every now and again (or every 2.75 weeks on the dot, whichever you prefer), often when I’m between grocery trips. This means I rely on the power of the internet to find a recipe that will fit the ingredients I have on hand. Yesterday I faced a different dilemma – an equipment-related one. I found a peach buttermilk pie recipe that looked delectable, but I didn’t have a pie pan on hand. Sad times! So instead, I decided to try mini cheesecakes. Delicious!


Mini Raspberry Blueberry Cheesecakes (adapted from this recipe)


INGREDIENTS


Cheesecakes

1 1/2 cups crushed gingersnaps

2 tablespoons butter (melted)

16 ounces cream cheese

3/4 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Fruit Topping

1/3 cup raspberry preserves or jam

1/2 pint blueberries

2 tablespoons white sugar

1/3 cup apple juice



DIRECTIONS


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line muffin tins with aluminum liners (or paper in a pinch).


Crush the gingersnaps and mix with melted butter. Scoop one tablespoon of the gingersnap mixture into each liner.


Blend the cream cheese, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Pour cream cheese mixture over the gingersnap crust, almost to the top of each muffin cup.


Place cheesecakes in preheated oven, and bake 20-22 minutes (I wasn’t sure how long to bake them, so I set the timer to 15 minutes and then checked on them every 2 minutes).


Mix and cook all topping ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, or until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and cool thoroughly before serving with cheesecakes. For those days when you don’t feel up to making the topping yourself, you can also open a can of pie filling (any type).


If not eating immediately, refrigerate. Makes 12 mini cheesecakes, and takes less than an hour! Wonders never cease.


Recommended for: an easy, scrumptious dessert that will impress everyone, a deliciously rich treat to go with a glass of wine at the end of the day, or a sinful snack to keep you going during the afternoon doldrums.

long overdue giveaway

Saturday, July 2, 2011 | | 34 comments
I've been at this blogging thing for over three years now. I know, right?! I can't believe it myself. What I can believe: I totally forgot my blog anniversary this year. I also didn't do a single thing to celebrate passing the 500 follower mark. While neither of those events NEEDS to be acknowleged, I'd like to use them. Use them to offer you, my lovely, loyal readers, a bookish 'something' to take away and enjoy for yourselves. SO, belatedly, welcome to the party!

[art from tammyolson's etsy shop]


Of course, a party isn't perfection unless there are prizes. Thus, a giveaway: two entrants will receive $25 US for Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or the Book Depository (Amazon and B&N via gift certificate, Book Depository I'll order for you). Giveaway open internationally, will end 7/22 at 11:59pm EST. To enter: simply fill out the FORM.


Thanks for coming by once, once a month, or every day. You are appreciated, and if I could bake you all cupcakes to show you how much, I totally would.

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