top ten books (& related items) i'd like to receive for christmas or birthday

Tuesday, December 31, 2013 | | 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

I know this is last week's topic, and technically Christmas is past (and my birthday too - that was yesterday!).  BUT.  I am flying to Seattle tonight for a week-long vacation with my family, so all celebrations have been delayed.  It's quite possible that my siblings and parents still need gift ideas.  I also figure that many of you have gift cards and cash from the holiday that you haven't spent yet, so these may work as fun gift-for-yourself ideas.  In any case, I'm not yet ready to share my best reads of 2013.  This is it for today!

Top Ten Books or Book-Related Items I'd Like to Receive for Christmas or Birthday

1. Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh – I love Brosh’s blog of the same name, and I actually gave this book as a gift to two friends (but not to myself!).  I’d love to receive a copy.  It seems like the perfect gift book, honestly. *hint*

2. Elementary (All-New Tales of the Elemental Masters) edited by Mercedes Lackey – I love Lackey’s Elemental Masters series.  I reviewed Serpent’s Shadow, and have featured several of the following books in Waiting on Wednesday posts…  This latest collection is set in the Elemental Masters world, but written by other authors and collected/edited by Lackey.  Is it author-approved fan fiction?  I don’t know, but I do love this world and magic enough to read ANYTHING related.

3. 1984 necklace by Out of Print clothing – I remember diligently going down the required and suggested reading lists in high school.  1984 was one of the books that stunned me.  I couldn’t believe how relevant and chilling it was.  This little necklace caught my eye just as those words caught my imagination years ago.

4. Jack of Kinrowan by Charles de Lint – My two favorite de Lint titles are wrapped up in this one package.  I’ve never owned it, though I checked out the title many times from the King County Library System.  I’d love to have my own copy on the bookshelf to reread again and again.

5. Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton – I read this book for the first time this summer, and loved it to pieces.  The copy I bought is an old library paperback, and I already know I’ll want something in better shape to keep forever and ever, amen.

6. Letters to Children by C.S. Lewis, edited by Lyle W. Dorsett and Marjorie Lamp Mead – Because I love C.S. Lewis’ writing (fiction and non-fiction!), and I am weirdly interested in how people write letters.  I’ll put the latter down to the fact that I had pen pals from all around the world as a kid.  I shudder to think of the postage now!

7. Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson – Angie at Angieville has been praising Anderson’s prose to the skies, and I figure it’s about time I finally found out what all the fuss is about.  PLUS, a Peter Pan retelling!  I mean, what could go wrong?  I’d love a copy to keep.

8. Bookends (any kind) – I’m asking for IKEA gift cards for my birthday because this is the year I’m sending myself all of the books that currently live under my parents’ stairs.  Once those bookshelves are purchased and assembled and the books are mailed, I’ll need bookends to keep everything tidy!

9. Madeline sweatshirt by Out of Print clothing – This is like the cutest thing ever, plus I love that color blue.  MUST HAVE.

10. The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book: Uncommon Recipes from a Celebrated Brooklyn Pie Shop by Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen – From time to time I wonder if I’m becoming a crazy baker… or if I really just like baking cookbooks.  Can’t tell yet.  In any case, the pies in this book look scrumptious, and it would be awesome to have my own copy on hand so as to recreate them.  Friends, get on it!

What books or gifts do you plan to get with gift cards/holiday cash?

across a star-swept sea

It’s my birthday today.  I’ve been doing the usual holiday things this past week (seeing family, shopping, baking!), working, and also reading middle grade sci-fi and fantasy rather madly in order to finish the CYBILS list.  But yesterday to ‘reward’ myself for good behavior and for entering a new decade (okay, and because I need to return it!), I finished up Diana Peterfreund's Across A Star-Swept Sea.  I’ve been waiting for this book ever since I finished For Darkness Shows the Stars, and I have to say it was very, very fun.  Filled to the brim with lovely frocks and spying and genetic engineering, and therefore perfect birthday reading.

across a star-swept sea by diana peterfreund book coverCenturies after wars nearly destroyed civilization, the two islands of New Pacifica stand alone, a terraformed paradise where even the Reduction—the devastating brain disorder that sparked the wars—is a distant memory. Yet on the isle of Galatea, an uprising against the ruling aristocrats has turned deadly. The revolutionaries’ weapon is a drug that damages their enemies’ brains, and the only hope is rescue by a mysterious spy known as the Wild Poppy. 

On the neighboring island of Albion, no one suspects that the Wild Poppy is actually famously frivolous aristocrat Persis Blake. The teenager uses her shallow, socialite trappings to hide her true purpose: her gossipy flutternotes are encrypted plans, her pampered sea mink is genetically engineered for spying, and her well-publicized new romance with handsome Galatean medic Justen Helo… is her most dangerous mission ever. 

Though Persis is falling for Justen, she can’t risk showing him her true self, especially once she learns he’s hiding far more than simply his disenchantment with his country’s revolution and his undeniable attraction to the silly socialite he’s pretending to love. His darkest secret could plunge both islands into a new dark age, and Persis realizes that when it comes to Justen Helo, she’s not only risking her heart, she’s risking the world she’s sworn to protect. 

In this thrilling adventure inspired by The Scarlet Pimpernel, Diana Peterfreund creates an exquisitely rendered world where nothing is as it seems and two teens with very different pasts fight for a future only they dare to imagine.

Persis Blake is living a complicated double life.  On one side, she’s a fluttery socialite without a care in the world except to lead the fashions of Albion and advise the Princess Regent on her wardrobe.  On another, she is the Wild Poppy, a daring spy who has made quite a name for himself rescuing aristocrats from neighboring Galatea, where horrible atrocities are changing the face of a civil war.  Balancing both existences demand that she lie to everyone – especially to the handsome young Galatean medic Justen Helo, whose motives are unknown and who Persis must pretend to love.  It’s dangerous, fashionable, and deadly serious business.

Diana Peterfreund penned a winner with her first YA sci-fi, a retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, set on an island in a post-apocalyptic world.  In this companion novel she moves to a new location, a new society, (mostly) new characters, and a retelling of Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel.  Of course, she gender-switched the spy, so Persis Blake is the brilliant, secretive mastermind of the tale.  Peterfreund portrays Persis as the consummate actress, playing out her dual roles with aplomb, but not without growing strain and conflict.  Describing someone that lonely, brilliant and resourceful and making her relatable at the same time is no mean feat.  It is a testament to Peterfreund’s ability that the tale seems fun, when it could easily be frenetic, given the main character’s activities and intelligence.

That said, the faked (or not-so-faked?) romantic plot did not seem convincing until the final pages.  Perhaps it was the continuual lack of trust between Justen and Persis?  In any case, it was a weak point in an otherwise strong novel.  On the other hand, the fraught relationship between Persis and Isla was very well done, and Justen and his sister Remy’s gradual disillusionment with their homeland’s revolution was skillfully woven into the narrative as well.

As for setting, Peterfreund describes two islands (which their inhabitants assume are the only surviving habitable places on earth) that have been extensively terraformed, located somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  Albions and Galateans are of Polynesian (or similar) descent, and their highly stratified societies have developed in tandem.  Genetic engineering and science rule the day, and the unintended consequences of advanced experimentation are threatening to rip one country apart.  It is this very real danger that adds necessary tension and gravity to the plot, and while the science isn’t explained in great detail, it does hold together within the confines of the story.

Overall, Across A Star-Swept Sea is a layered and delicious YA sci-fi.  On one hand it is beautiful dresses and high society and faked love affairs.  On the other it is deadly serious consequences and important questions about how societies are run and who deserves to hold power.  The combination is heady fun.

Recommended for: those who like pretty dresses, deceptively intelligent female leads, and spying (also: kissing!), fans of The Scarlet Pimpernel, and anyone interested in science fiction for the young adult crowd.

lockwood & co: the screaming staircase

There are times when you need to sit with a book for a while after finishing it to process your feelings and reactions.  Maybe the reading experience was emotionally exhausting.  Maybe the subject matter was disturbing (or nightmare-inducing!).  Maybe… a lot of things.  After I finished Jonathan Stroud's Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase, I struggled to evaluate my reaction.  My roommate walked in and saw me sitting on the couch, book closed on my lap, staring into space.  I told her, “It was a good book, but creepy as hell.”  She said, “Put that in the review.” Great advice.

lockwood & co.: the screaming staircase by jonathan stroud book cover
When the dead come back to haunt the living, Lockwood & Co. step in…

For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions.

Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest, most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.

Set in a city stalked by specters, The Screaming Staircase is the first in a chilling new series full of suspense, humor and truly terrifying ghosts. Your nights will never be the same again…

Lucy is a girl with: an exceptional ability to listen to ghosts, bad mistakes in her past, and a tendency toward obsessive preparedness.  She’s also an agent at London-based Lockwood & Co., a small outfit whose job it is to banish spirits.  To do her work Lucy abides by three rules: 1) Get in quick, 2) Don’t use electricity, and 3) Wear a watch with a luminous dial.  The other (unspoken) rule is that things never go quite as expected.  Increased hauntings are plaguing Britain, and only the young can detect and eliminate them.  Which is how/why three teenagers came to run a business of a sinister nature. 

In this first in a new paranormal series, Stroud introduces three young ghost hunters: the narrator Lucy, Anthony Lockwood and George.  Lucy is new and trying to prove her competence.  George is abrasive and fanatical about jelly doughnuts and research.  Lockwood brings them together as a clever and charismatic leader.  And Stroud unites their disparate talents and abilities to tell a dark and disturbing tale for middle grade readers.  Oh, it’s also funny, smart and can’t-put-it-down-addictive reading.  If you like mystery,danger, and stories that involve escaping by the skin of your teeth, this is the book for you.

Did I love it?  I had a hard time knowing for the first few days.  It scared the freaking daylights out of me in parts, but I couldn't stop reading.  I loved Lucy and George and Lockwood, and I will be counting down the days until the next book releases and I can find out what happens next.  I thought the mystery was extremely well-executed, with twists you could see coming, and others you couldn't.  In some ways, I was intrigued in spite of myself, because I say I don't like scary books.  And yet.  I couldn't stop thinking about The Screaming Staircase.  I think this is what being in love with a complex book looks like, folks.  Yes, I think it must be love.  Because while the story offers all the thrills and chills expected of a good ghost story, it's also about three characters who have the odds stacked against them and still rely on their ingenuity (and luck!), and let their stubborn will and intuition guide them through.  That sort of pluck will win me over any day.

Let me be clear: The Screaming Staircase is close to perfect.  It has a well-realized fantasy world with an insidious paranormal problem, engaging characters and real danger.  The story has enough twists, surprises and scares for everyone.  It's also great all-ages (10 and up?) reading - I'm giving a copy to my 23 year-old brother for the holiday.  Yeah, that's a pretty whole-hearted recommendation.  It IS love!

Recommended for: readers ages ten and up (especially those who like mysteries), fans of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, and anyone who likes a good ghost story.


Sunday, December 22, 2013 | | 4 comments
I studied abroad in Chile in 2004 (good lord, it’s been almost 10 years!).  While I was in Chile I fell in love with the people, the country and, of course, the food.  I had a wonderful host family and an ideal experience, and I went on to make Chile the focus of my Master’s thesis (never finished that, but hey, life!).  One of my language professors from that summer gave us packets of recipes to take home, in case we ever wanted to recreate Chilean delicacies.  I recently rediscovered my copy, and made alfajores (pronounced all-fa-HOR-ace), a sandwich cookie with dulce de leche, or manjar as it’s called in Chile, as filling.



1 1/4 cups flour
6 egg yolks
1 tablespoon of brandy or pisco (I substituted bourbon, as I had neither on hand)
1 cup of dulce de leche
splash of milk if needed
powdered sugar for decoration


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter a baking sheet and set aside.

Beat the egg yolks until frothy. Add the liqueur and continue beating. Sift in the flour, mix until combined, and then knead the dough until smooth.  If dough won’t come together, add a splash of milk (or two) until it’s moist enough to work with.

Roll the dough out very thin on a floured surface. Cut circles with the mouth of a glass. Puncture each one in the middle with a fork, and place on the buttered baking sheet.

Bake for 7 minutes.  Make sure to remove the cookies from the oven before they brown.  Let cool completely.  When cookies are room temperature, gently add a tablespoon of dulce de leche to one half.  Cover with another cookie to form a sandwich.  Sift powdered sugar over each cookie to taste.  Makes about 14 cookies.

This was my first attempt… and although the alfajores look a little ragged, they taste almost exactly like the ones I tried in Chile.  Success!  The cookie part is light and flaky, but the star of this delicious confection is the caramel-y dulce de leche.  Add in powdered sugar that masks imperfections, and you have a pretty, simple and delightful cookie for special occasions.  Note: these are best on the day they're made.

Recommended for: a tasty addition to any tea cookie repertoire, the perfect dessert to end a winter meal, and as a rich, multi-textured treat to go with a fancy coffee drink.

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

top ten new-to-me authors i read in 2013

Tuesday, December 17, 2013 | | 10 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

2013 has been full of wonderful reading discoveries.  It didn’t occur to me during the year (no, that’d be too easy!) – I realized it when I was making up this list and going through all of the books I’ve reviewed and loved.  Many of them are by authors I’d never read before, even if I respected them by association.  I think it’s a really joyful thing that I’ve found so many new ‘favorite’ authors.  I’m eagerly awaiting their new releases and scheming to read their backlists.  Happy holidays to me!

Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read in 2013

1. Jo Walton, Tooth and Claw – Cross a Jane Austen-style novel of manners with fantasy, and you have the key to my heart.  Walton’s book is ten years old at this point, but I only discovered it (and her) this year.  I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of Walton’s backlist!

2. Elizabeth Wein, Code Name Verity – Wein’s novel about female pilots during WWII made me feel all the feels.  Hardcore. After I’d mopped up my tears with a box of tissues, I proceeded to push it into the hands everyone I know.  Oh dear, it was GOOD!

3. Rachel Hartman, Seraphina – If 2013 was a year for delightful surprises, it was equally a year for beautifully written dragon fantasies.  Seraphina was one of those, and I was impressed by author Hartman’s talent.

4. Jonathan Stroud, Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase – Stroud is famous for his bestselling Bartimaeus series, but I never picked up those books (silly me!).  Luckily he’s just released the first, ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC book in a new middle grade series full of ghosts, swordplay, tea at midnight, and a lot of very close shaves with death.  I can’t wait to pick up book #2!

5. Lucy Knisley, RelishRelish is part food memoir, part cookbook, and all graphic novel.  It’s a charming rendition of Knisley’s coming-of-age, a tale of how her memories relate to food, and manages heartwarming without treading into sappy territory.  Knisley’s on my radar now, and I know I’ll be reading/viewing her work for years to come.

6. Kate DiCamillo, Flora & Ulysses – I know, I know!  How could I have lived this long without reading DiCamillo?!  But somehow I did.  I’ve fixed it now, and given how much I loved Flora and Ulysses’ adventures, you can be sure I’ll be reading many a book more in the future.

7. Elizabeth Knox, Mortal Fire – Cerebral, literary, beautifully written, peopled with diverse characters: these are all descriptors of my first Knox book.  It was really, really lovely, and I can’t wait to read her backlist.  I know I’ll be impressed.

8. Roddy Doyle, A Greyhound of a Girl – Doyle is another award-winning author with many books at his back, but I hadn’t read him until this year.  His dialogue is some of the most poignant and unforgettable I’ve ever read, and the slice of Ireland in A Greyhound of a Girl was a perfect introduction to modern Irish children’s lit.

9. Marian Keyes, Saved by Cake – Marian Keyes usually writes novels.  However, when faced with debilitating depression, she baked.  And baked.  And baked.  So much so that she published a cookbook.  It’s hilarious, dark and utterly fabulous, full of a mix of traditional and unique recipes that are perfect for the home cook, and you know, actually taste delicious, too.

10. John David Anderson, Sidekicked – Some might argue that we’ve almost reached society’s threshold for superhero/villain tales.  I do not.  Anderson’s tale of the gray areas in life and crime-fighting does a great job of balancing realism and redemption, and sidekick Drew’s slyly funny voice is a welcome addition.

Honorable Mention: Tanya Huff, The Silvered – Combine these elements: a steampunk-esque setting, a war-torn landscape, a believable werewolf-dominated society, and an epic journey.  They add up to an excellent fantasy.  I’ll be on the lookout for Huff’s next release.

Did you discover any amazing new-to-you authors in 2013?

gingerbread layer cake with candied kumquats

Management has ordered a weekly fruit box delivered to my office, and so on Tuesdays around 10am the office kitchen is usually filled with a happy buzz of conversation as my coworkers pick out a piece of fruit to snack on.  This week the usual box arrived, but half of the office was out sick, on vacation, or traveling for an event, plus Tuesday was an official snow day (no work!).  When I checked on Wednesday, the fruit box was still 3/4 full, and there were two pints of kumquats looking for a new home.  I took one of the pints and started searching the interwebs for likely recipes.  Anything gingerbread appeals to my Christmas sensibilities, so this one was bookmarked straight away.  It was a little involved (holiday recipes almost always are, as a rule), but so worth it!

Gingerbread Layer Cake with Candied Kumquats (cake modified from The Smitten Kitchen blog, candied fruit from Bon Appétit recipe)


1 cup strong coffee
1 cup dark molasses (not blackstrap)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

2 tablespoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 large eggs

1 cup dark brown sugar

1 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup vegetable oil

Candied Kumquats
1 cup water
3/4 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar
15 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 dry pint (~18 ounces) kumquats, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds, seeded

2 jars pre-prepared cream cheese frosting from the store, or your favorite recipe


Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter two 9” cake pans and dust with flour, knocking out excess.

Bring coffee and molasses to a boil in a large saucepan and remove from heat. Whisk in baking soda, then cool to room temperature.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and spices in a large bowl. Whisk together eggs and sugars. Whisk in oil, then molasses mixture. Add to flour mixture and whisk until just combined.

Pour batter into pans (splitting amount 50/50 between the pans).  Bake in middle of oven until a toothpick comes out with just a few moist crumbs adhering, about 30 minutes. Cool cake in pans on racks for 5 minutes. Turn out onto racks and cool completely.

Candied Kumquats
Bring first 5 ingredients to boil in heavy large skillet, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add vanilla extract. Add kumquats; reduce heat to medium and simmer until almost tender, stirring often, about 6 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer kumquats to plate. Boil syrup until reduced to 2/3 cup, stirring often, about 8 minutes. Cool syrup.

Chop enough candied kumquats to measure 1/3 cup; mix in small bowl with 1 tablespoon kumquat syrup. Place 1 cake layer on platter. Spread 3/4 cup frosting over. Dot with chopped-kumquat mixture. Top with second cake layer. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Arrange enough sliced kumquats in single layer atop cake just to cover. Chill 1 hour. Drizzle some kumquat syrup over kumquats atop cake. Serve cake cold or at room temperature.

This cake is unbelievably good at first bite.  It looks impressive, so expectations are high... and it blows those out of the water.  Like, dang.  If I made it again I might cut down on the cream cheese frosting a little bit, but then again I'm not a frosting person.  It's very rich, nicely spicy, and perfect with a cup of coffee.  Or by itself.  Straight from the fridge at midnight.  And any other time.  YUM.

Recommended for: anyone looking for a cake with a kick of spice and citrus, a perfect holiday treat that will make the whole house smell like Christmas, and a deliciously addictive dessert to end a special meal.

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

the cats of tanglewood forest

Charles de Lint is a name that I’ve associated with fantasy since before I knew that genres were separate, distinct things.  His books were shelved in the Teen section at my local library right alongside historical fiction and the classics.  I’ve been perusing the YA shelves since… oh, age ten?  So that’s quite a while ago now.  I haven’t gotten anywhere near finishing his backlist, but I know that de Lint can always be counted on for a twisty, magical stories, heavy on mythology.  The Cats of Tanglewood Forest is his latest – an illustrated (by the marvelous Charles Vess) chapter book for younger readers.

the cats of tanglewood forest by charles de lint and charles vess book cover
The magic is all around you, if only you open your eyes....

Lillian Kindred spends her days exploring the Tanglewood Forest, a magical, rolling wilderness that she imagines to be full of fairies. The trouble is, Lillian has never seen a wisp of magic in her hills--until the day the cats of the forest save her life by transforming her into a kitten. Now Lillian must set out on a perilous adventure that will lead her through untamed lands of fabled creatures--from Old Mother Possum to the fearsome Bear People--to find a way to make things right.

n this whimsical, original folktale written and illustrated throughout in vibrant full color by two celebrated masters of modern fantasy, a young girl's journey becomes an enchanting coming-of-age story about magic, friendship, and the courage to shape one's own destiny.

The Cats of Tanglewood Forest is Lillian’s story more than it is any group of cats’, although the title may suggest otherwise.  Lillian is a half-wild girl who lives on a hillside farm with her Aunt Fran.  They have neighbors, but are far enough from town that Lillian is more familiar with the Creek families from the reservation than the townspeople.  One day while exploring the wild forest, Lillian is bitten by a snake.  To save her life, the cats of the forest transform her into a kitten.  Lillian’s mission thereafter is to return to herself, as she should be – and her journey will take her in many different directions before the threads of fate and story set her free.

Lillian has always been the sort of girl who believes in (and hunts for!) fairies.  She leaves food out at the base of the old apple tree and pours cream for the feral forest cats.  It is that cultivated kindness that prompts the mysterious cats to save her when danger strikes, but it is her own wit and determination to turn back into a girl that drives her on.  Lillian’s journey takes her to parts unknown and introduces her to characters straight from fable-land.

While I appreciated the variety of animals and the centrality of Native American legend to this tale, I found that the narrative split into too many directions to be truly cohesive.  To put it in hunting terms, the trail doubles back on itself too many times.  The poignant bits are smoothed down into the whole (thus losing some of their emotional weight), and mounting tension dissipates before the reader feels anxious that all will end as it should.  That said, the character interactions are magical on their own, and those fond of wise, talking animals will find much to love.

The Cats of Tanglewood Forest is a story that brings myth to life, and the beautiful illustrations accompanying the text and focus on folklore make it an excellent choice for reading aloud with a loved one.

Recommended for: fans of Bill Willingham’s Down the Mysterly River, those who have enjoyed Charles de Lint’s or Charles Vess’ work in the past, readers who like talking animal fantasies, and anyone with an interest in non-Western myths and legends.

waiting on wednesday (70)

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.

One of my favorite books from 2012 was Claire Legrand's debut, a middle grade horror novel entitled The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls.  I ended up following Legrand on twitter, and that is how I originally heard about The Cabinet of Curiosities website.  Several authors who write middle grade speculative fiction were posting short stories as a collaborative project.  They were GOOD short stories.  Creepy and fantastical and haunting... all at once.  I'd read them whenever I saw a link on twitter (often on my lunch break at work!).  When I heard that the stories were being gathered up and published in one volume, I was delighted.  And here it is, with a shiny cover and everything!  The Cabinet of Curiosities: 40 Tales Brief & Sinister by Stefan Bachmann, Katherine Catmull, Claire Legrand and Emma Trevayne will by released by Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins) on May 27, 2014.

the cabinet of curiosities: 40 tales brief & sinister book cover
A collection of forty eerie, mysterious, intriguing, and very short short stories presented by the cabinet’s esteemed curators, otherwise known as acclaimed authors Stefan Bachmann, Katherine Catmull, Claire LeGrand, and Emma Trevayne. Perfect for fans of Alvin Schwartz and anyone who relishes a good creepy read-alone or read-aloud story. Features an introduction and commentary by the curators, and illustrations and decorations throughout.

What books are you waiting on?

top ten books on my winter to-be-read list

Tuesday, December 10, 2013 | | 11 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

Now and again I'll participate in a book blogging survey that aims to pinpoint changes in reading habits and blogger behavior.  One change I've noticed in my own reading is that I choose to read newer books now than I did before I began blogging.  It makes sense - they're the ones being hyped all over the place, getting a marketing push from publishers, and showing up on my doorstep in ARC form.  All that said, I miss the backlist reading.  Where did the wonder of an old discovery on a used bookstore shelf go?  What about recommendations?  I hardly heed them anymore in my haste to read the newest thing out there.  It's past time I picked up those books I've had on the shelf forever.  
I'm excited to be taking part in Long Awaited Reads month in January, hosted by Ana at things mean a lot and Iris at Iris on Books.  I've picked out ten books that have been on my shelf for a while, that I keep meaning to get to... but never do.  These backlist titles comprise my winter TBR pile.  It's going to be a wonderful January!

1. Jenna Starborn by Sharon Shinn – Sharon Shinn writes really beautiful, deep romances that get under your skin.  This is her retelling of Jane Eyre.  I get shivery just thinking about that combination!

2. Beauty by Sheri S. Tepper – A sci-fi fairy tale retelling (MY KIND OF BOOK!) and a fellow blogger recommended it.  Well, yes.

3. Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones – My favorite Diana Wynne Jones book for a very long time was The Merlin Conspiracy, and I didn't even realize it was the second in the Magids duology.  This is the first, and it's about time I got around to reading it, don't you think?!

4. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – It's practically a miracle that I haven't been spoiled for this book already - it got lots of attention a couple of years ago!  All I know is that there's a circus, a character named Celia, and that my brother got me a hardcover for Christmas.  I really do want to read it, and 2014 is going to be the year I do!

5. Sorcery & Cecelia: or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer – Speaking of book characters with my first name... I've tried picking this book up more than once, and was never quite in the right mood.  I think a quiet January Saturday would be perfect.  Hopefully one cold enough to need a cup of hot chocolate.

6. Dragonhaven by Robin McKinley – Is this the only McKinley novel I haven't read?  Why yes, it is.  I have it in hardcover and everything.  Silly me.

7. A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones – It's not cheating to put down two DWJ books.  It's NOT!  I'm just behind.  And this is on my shelf, all ready for a read.

8. Eon by Allison Goodman – Erm, another fellow blogger recommendation that I dragged my feet on.  I'm such a slowpoke! 

9. Enna Burning by Shannon Hale – Loved The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale, and can't imagine why I haven't read this one yet.  Oh wait, I know.  I'm crazy.

10. Across the Universe by Beth Revis – I go on and on about young adult sci-fi, and I still haven't read this one, even though I've owned it since its release date.   Okay, good.  January 2014 is going to be a great month!

What books are on your reading list this winter?

tomato and goat cheese stuffed spaghetti squash

I like squash, but before this year I’d rarely made it at home.  The thing is that it takes a while to prepare, and when we’re talking putting dinner on the table, I’m a quicker-is-better kind of chef.  But I’m trying to remain open to new things, and I was inspired by a couple of pretty Pinterest pins and my best friend’s example (she made spaghetti squash lasagna).  So, this is my first go at spaghetti squash.  I’ll be back for more, because it was delicious.

Tomato and Goat Cheese Stuffed Spaghetti Squash (modified from this BS’ in the Kitchen recipe)


1 spaghetti squash
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1 plum tomato, diced
6 leaves of basil, chopped
3/4 cup grated or crumbled goat cheese
salt, pepper, paprika to taste
4 tablespoons olive oil


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut squash in half and remove seeds. Place squash halves open side up in a roasting dish or on a cookie sheet.  Brush each side with one tablespoon olive oil, then sprinkle salt and pepper.  Roast in oven for 45 minutes.

Prep the onion, tomato, basil and goat cheese, and mix together in a small bowl.  When squash has finished roasting, take out of the oven and fluff the squash ‘meat’ until spaghetti-like strands appear.  Fill each side with half of the goat cheese mixture, drizzle with remaining olive oil, and sprinkle generously with salt, pepper and paprika.

Return squash to oven for 15 minutes.  After that, turn oven on Broil setting and roast for another 5 minutes.  When finished broiling, take out, let cool for a couple of minutes, and serve!  Makes 2 generous portions.

The basil, tomato and cheese combo gives this dish a little summery flare, but it is definitely a filling comfort food when all assembled.  Half of the squash felt like a large portion – you won’t need anything else on the plate.

Recommended for: anyone craving a late fall dish that has a nice bite of fresh flavor, and fans of simple vegetarian comfort food.

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

ms. larsen's classroom library: progress report

Friday, December 6, 2013 | | 2 comments
Back in September during the first week of classes, the school that my sister Ginny (or Ms. Larsen to her students) teaches at experienced flooding.  Everyone is/was safe, but classes were canceled for several days, and then held off-site for a couple more at a local high school.  They had to gut classrooms, and replace ceiling tiles and drywall in others. My sister's room was one of the ones affected.  The displacement, construction and confusion were a lot to deal with, but on top of that, much of her classroom library was destroyed.  I wrote a post about the whole thing at that time, and solicited titles of books I should send to replace what she lost.

The rest of this post is happy, I promise!  As you can see from the photos, Ginny has recreated the entire thing exactly as it was before the flooding.  She repainted the classroom and has done beautiful new chalkboard designs for each season.  AND, books!  I have been ordering and sending the titles you suggested in small batches directly to her school.  Some of you even sent your own copies!  THANK YOU!  As you can see, Ginny's library is back in business, and her students are reading a great new selection of titles recommended/donated by book bloggers.

I have still more books I plan to give her from my own collection, but I'll sort that out when I'm back in Seattle over the holidays.  In the meantime, check out this partial list of titles donated to Ms. Larsen's 9th Grade English classroom:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach
Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Pena
Monster by Walter Dean Myers
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
White Cat by Holly Black
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
The Only Alien on the Planet by Kristen D. Randle

I'll be scouring my fellow bloggers' "Best of 2013" lists for more titles to add to her collection.  In the meantime, if you have any further suggestions of books that belong in a 9th grade classroom (for self-directed reading), please mention them in the comments.  Ms. Larsen and I thank you!


Thursday, December 5, 2013 | | 3 comments
I read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess and The Secret Garden when I was a child, and I’ve had an abiding interest in stories featuring plucky orphans ever since.  Luckily (?!), children’s lit is full of either absent or deceased parents, so I’ve been able to indulge.  The trouble is that many of these books use missing parents merely as a plot device – a way to set up unusual freedom for the children in the tale.  Holly Webb’s Rose does feature a spirited orphan, but she’s not your typical heroine, and that’s a very good thing.

rose by holly webb book cover
The grand residence of the famous alchemist, Mr. Fountain, is a world away from the dark orphanage Rose has left behind. For the house is positively overflowing with sparkling magic—she can feel it. And it’s not long before Rose realizes that maybe, just maybe, she has a little bit of magic in her, too…

The first book in an exciting, get-lost-in-the-world series about orphans, alchemy, magical powers and sinister child-catchers.

Rose is a ten year-old orphan, and she would love nothing better than to leave St. Bridget’s Home for Abandoned Girls and begin working as a maid in some great house.  When her wish is granted, Rose is scared stiff that she’ll do something to jeopardize her position.  After all, she never hoped to be claimed by a family, just to have a change to earn wages and make her own way in the world.  Mr. Fountain’s house is mysteriously magical, but Rose’s fellows below-stairs and her new work keep her occupied.  Or at least that’s what Rose tries to tell herself.  The truth is that Rose may be magical herself – and it may be her unwanted talent that saves the day.

Sensible, grounded, hardworking – these are all terms that describe our heroine, Rose.  She knows next to nothing about her past and the world beyond the orphanage’s walls, but she has plans for her future.  They may be modest plans, but that suits clever Rose.  There’s no doubt she’d achieved all her goals if interesting (and magical!) things didn’t keep happening around her.  As it is, Rose needs all her wits to hide her magical leanings, keep her place, make new friends, and never mind the talking cat!

As you can see, there is a lot for Rose to assimilate.  Webb describes Rose’s world in flowing prose and reveals interesting tidbits of plot and characterization through easy conversation, making the whole a seamless and enjoyable read.  Rose’s story is a funny, touching and clever one, and my only complaint was that I wanted more.  More about the magical house, Bill the footman, Isabella, the master’s bratty daughter, and more history for all of the girls at St. Bridget’s.  Luckily, Rose is the first in a series (four have already been published in the UK), and my wish will be fulfilled soon.

Recommended for: fans of Ellen Potter’s The Humming Room and Maryrose Wood’s The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, and anyone who likes plucky heroines, and funny, magical stories.

waiting on wednesday (69)

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.

Dragons have never gone away, per se, but I feel as though recently they've made a resurgence in YA fantasy.  In this past year I've read The Sweetest Dark, Seraphina, and (adult fantasy) A Natural History of Dragons. In 2014 I'm already looking forward to Joshua McCune's Talker 25, and I know there are other titles on my radar that I'm forgetting at this moment.  The truth is that you can never have too many dragon books.  And my latest find looks amazing.  Rebecca Hahn's debut A Creature of Moonlight will be released by HMH Books for Young Readers on May 6, 2014.

a creature of moonlight by rebecca hahn book cover
A stunning debut novel about a girl who is half dragon, half human, and wholly herself.

As the only heir to the throne, Marni should have been surrounded by wealth and privilege, not living in exile-but now the time has come when she must choose between claiming her birthright as princess of a realm whose king wants her dead, and life with the father she has never known: a wild dragon who is sending his magical woods to capture her.

Fans of Bitterblue and Seraphina will be captured by A Creature of Moonlight, with its richly layered storytelling and the powerful choices its strong heroine must make.

What books are you waiting on?

top ten 2014 releases i’m dying to read

Tuesday, December 3, 2013 | | 15 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

How do you put together a list of books that aren’t out yet but you know you can’t wait to read? I cross-referenced my Amazon wishlist and recent Waiting on Wednesday posts.  These are the books I am looking forward to most in 2014.  Why?  They’re by favorite authors, the cover art caught my eye, or some combination of the two.  Also, the only reason Robin McKinley’s Ebon didn’t make the list is that I can’t verify the release date.  Dangit!  That book needs to appear soon…

Top Ten 2014 Releases I’m Dying to Read

1. Clariel by Garth Nix – There's no cover art available yet, but Nix announced on Sunday that the current release date for this latest in The Old Kingdom series is October 2014.  I loved the original trilogy, and I know I will adore this addition to the series.  ZOMG, can't wait!

2. Murder of Crows by Anne BishopWritten in Red was a standout read for me last winter.  I really, really liked that book.  And so of course the sequel is making it onto every list.  Yep yep.

3. Talker 25 by Joshua McCune – Dragon vs. human conflict, reservations, blackouts, a senior year prank, and an overbearing military make this one sound very, very interesting.  

4. Promise of Shadows by Justina Ireland – Mythology, young adult and the promise of funny, smart writing.  Well, yes!

5. Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci  – YA sci-fi!!!

6. Bite Me by Shelly Laurenston – I, uh... I read a lot of shifter romances.  And this series is one of my favorites.  It has hockey and big city shenanigans, along with humor and poignant happily-ever-afters.  And this upcoming title has a honey badger!  Don't judge.

7. The Kraken King by Meljean Brook – Brook's Iron Seas series began with novella 'Here There Be Monsters.'  I adored it.  All of the books have been strong, so I'm very excited for the fourth novel in the series.  Steampunk romance at its best!

8. The Inventor’s Secret by Andrea Cremer – You can never have enough steampunk in your life.  Especially YA steampunk.

9. The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell – Sleeping Beauty is one of my favorite fairy tales, and I'm always up for another retelling.  A good sign?  Haskell's middle grade standalone was blurbed by Robin McKinley, author of some of my favorite fairy tale retellings of all time.  Yeah, I'm in.

10. Sweet Disorder by Rose Lerner – Speaking of romances, I also read a lot of Regencies (though you wouldn't know it from what I review here on the blog...).  I loved Lerner's first two books, and I'm very much looking forward to her latest release.

What books are you looking forward to?

these broken stars

Monday, December 2, 2013 | | 2 comments
I feel a sort of unflagging enthusiasm for young adult sci-fi.  That's not to say that I have read or plan to read every book in the genre (clearly not! never enough time!), or that I like every book I read either (see: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey).  And yet.  I see gorgeous cover art or read a summary, and I am EXCITED, in all capital letters, for space and science and all of the splendid possibilities that go with that.  Now on to the specific book in question... I met the lovely Meg Spooner when she was promoting her debut, Skylark.  She mentioned that she was co-writing a YA sci-fi as well, and I KNOW my eyes got big, and my heartbeat went into overdrive.  Because it's just awesome, you know?  So that's how I found out about Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner’s These Broken Stars.  An opportunity came up to read an ARC for a book tour, and I took it. Obvi.

these broken stars by amie kaufman & meagan spooner book cover
It's a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone.

Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they’re worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help.

Then, against all odds, Lilac and Tarver find a strange blessing in the tragedy that has thrown them into each other’s arms. Without the hope of a future together in their own world, they begin to wonder—would they be better off staying here forever?

Everything changes when they uncover the truth behind the chilling whispers that haunt their every step. Lilac and Tarver may find a way off this planet. But they won’t be the same people who landed on it.

The first in a sweeping science fiction trilogy, These Broken Stars is a timeless love story about hope and survival in the face of unthinkable odds.

Lilac LaRoux is the daughter of a very rich, very powerful man.  He wants her safe, so safe Lilac will be safe.  From others, from herself, and (sometimes, but not always) from the truth.  She puts on the mask of a socialite to hide her depths, and carries on proud and untouchable.  That is, until she meets Tarver Merendsen, a young soldier from a different class and a different life.  Their paths shouldn't have crossed.  They can't have anything in common, until they do - they're both survivors of a spacewreck.  Fighting for their lives on an uninhabited planet brings Lilac and Tarver together - to face the darkest truths of all.

I've heard These Broken Stars described as Titanic in space, and I agree, to a point.  The catalyst of the story is, after all, an enormous shipwreck.  It just happens to be in space, rather than the Atlantic Ocean.  But beyond that, Kaufman and Spooner have started an adventure on an epic scale.  This is not just a wreck.  It's about the crash, about the journey, about devastating discoveries, about falling a little bit (or a lot!) in love with the only person left in your world, and about the aftermath of something terrible happening to one of the most important people in the universe.  And no, it's not over after one book.  I, of rampant series fatigue, can honestly say I can't wait to read the next book.

The story is emotional and pulse-pounding, and part of that is in the nature of the book itself - dual narration split between the two main characters.  Lilac's voice was strongest, but both narrators contributed to convincing pacing and tension.  The star-crossed/impossible future thing was intense, though it wasn't clear to me whether that was the result of forced proximity or true love.  I suppose only the future will tell.  Also left up to future books: a web of secrecy, power and politics that I believe will elevate this series into full space opera grandiosity.

Overall, These Broken Stars is a can't-put-it-down read, with a satisfying romantic element (no love triangles here!) and mystery.  It wasn't startlingly original, but the execution impressed me.  Will definitely appeal to both fans of young adult AND fans of sci-fi.

Recommended for: those who enjoy YA science fiction, fans of Lois McMaster Bujold's Shards of Honor, and those who appreciate a star-crossed lovers theme crossed with a dark mystery.

These Broken Stars will be released by Disney-Hyperion on December 10, 2013.

Fine print: I read an ARC of These Broken Stars courtesy of a Books and Sensibility ARC Tour. I did not receive any compensation for posting this review.
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