waiting on wednesday (59)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013 | | 4 comments
Today I’m participating in "Waiting On" Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine. Its purpose is to spotlight upcoming book releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

YOUNG ADULT SCI-FI, GET AT ME.  Wait, too much?  *grin*  I made it one of my goals for 2013 to read more YA sci-fi, and since science fiction is apparently 'the next big thing' I can see this trend stretching into the next few years.  That's great news because there's already some fantastic-looking YA sci-fi on the horizon in 2014, including this title by Mindee Arnett.  The gorgeous cover and fantastic summary remind me a bit of A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix and Dom Testa's Galahad series.  I'm all in.  Avalon will be released on January 21st, 2014 by Balzer + Bray (Harper Collins).

avalon by mindee arnett book cover
Of the various star systems that make up the Confederation, most lie thousands of light-years from First Earth-and out here, no one is free. The agencies that govern the Confederation are as corrupt as the crime bosses who patrol it, and power is held by anyone with enough greed and ruthlessness to claim it. That power is derived from one thing: metatech, the devices that allow people to travel great distances faster than the speed of light. 

Jeth Seagrave and his crew of teenage mercenaries have survived in this world by stealing unsecured metatech, and they're damn good at it. Jeth doesn't care about the politics or the law; all he cares about is earning enough money to buy back his parents' ship, Avalon, from his crime-boss employer and getting himself and his sister, Lizzie, the heck out of Dodge. But when Jeth finds himself in possession of information that both the crime bosses and the government are willing to kill for, he is going to have to ask himself how far he'll go to get the freedom he's wanted for so long.

What books are you waiting on?

top ten first lines in my favorite fantasy books

Tuesday, July 30, 2013 | | 21 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 list is basically a top ten of my favorite fantasy books and the first lines from those favorites.  I’m not a meticulous record-keeper or sentimental reader. What I mean is, I know the stories that I love beyond reason, but I’ve never kept a journal of awesome quotes or perfect first lines, and I don’t really swoon over prose except as part of a whole book.  It's not an original list, but here, have it anyway!

Top Ten First Lines in My Favorite Fantasy Books

1. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente – “Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her parents’ house, where she washed the same pink-and-yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow, and played with the same small and amiable dog.”

2. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones – “In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three.”

3. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley – “She scowled at her glass of orange juice.”

4. Sabriel by Garth Nix – “The man looked at the child again and sighed.”

5. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman – “She had been running for four days now, a harum-scarum tumbling flight through passages and tunnels.”

6. Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal – “The Ellsworths of Long Parkmead had the regard of their neighbours in every respect.”

7. Phoenix and Ashes by Mercedes Lackey – “Her eyes were so sore and swollen from weeping that she thought by right she should have no tears left at all.”

8. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater – “It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.”

9. The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis – “It was a dull autumn day and Jill Pole was crying behind the gym.”

10. Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton – “Bon Agornin writhed on his deathbed, his wings beating as if he would fly to his new life in his old body.”

What are some of your favorite first lines in books? 

tooth and claw

Monday, July 29, 2013 | | 9 comments
You know that fizzy feeling of happiness and completion when you finish a really good book, one that you know you’ll read again and again?  That.  I have it.  I’ve just read a smart, scathing comedy-of-manners, complete with status-obsessed mothers, impoverished young relatives, flighty males bent on spending their way through the family fortune… and DRAGONS.  Yes, this book and I were made for each other.  Jo Walton’s Tooth and Claw is freaking brilliant.

tooth and claw by jo walton book cover
A tale of love, money, and family conflict—among dragons. A family deals with the death of their father. A son goes to court for his inheritance. Another son agonizes over his father's deathbed confession. One daughter becomes involved in the abolition movement, while another sacrifices herself for her husband. And everyone in the tale is a dragon, red in tooth and claw. 

Here is a world of politics and train stations, of churchmen and family retainers, of courtship and country houses… in which, on the death of an elder, family members gather to eat the body of the deceased. In which the great and the good avail themselves of the privilege of killing and eating the weaker children, which they do with ceremony and relish, growing stronger thereby. You have never read a novel like Tooth and Claw. 

Family patriarch Bon Agornin is dying, and his surviving children are gathered at his deathbed.  There is the cleric Penn, the married and self-satisfied elder sister Berend, the younger brother Avan, making his way in the world, and two younger sisters (Selendra and Haner) still living at home.  Their father’s death and bequests will change their comfortable world completely, and each of these dragons will find the future a rather dangerous unknown.

Others have described this book as Jane Austen, but with dragons.  I agree to a point.  Walton meticulously describes the familial scene and conflicts, within a larger, hierarchical society influenced by politics, connections, and acting in accordance with propriety and tradition.  However, Walton is not winking at the reader with caricatures from her own time as Austen did.  She’s taken the tropes of the Victorian novel and changed the essential biology and beings in play, making for a complex, wryly funny mash-up of genre.  It’s all beautifully written, too – I couldn’t put the book down.  Oh, and it’s just fun!

Of course, it’s not all ideas and power struggles – there’s a great story, too, with bits and pieces from different locations interweaving into a whole.  The action follows the siblings as they leave their father’s home, but there’s more focus on Selendra’s story arc than the others’, and her course is full of treasure, romance, close escapes and spirit.  I fell in love with most of the characters, but Selendra was my favorite (as she’s meant to be).   I don’t think I’m spoiling anything when I say that the reader is left satisfied at the end, as anyone reading a proper Austen novel would be, though there are moments when you can’t see how it’ll turn out right.

In all, Tooth and Claw is a clever, entertaining, and elegant little fantasy novel, and it fit this reader perfectly.  It’ll definitely be on my ‘best of 2013’ list at the end of the year.  Many thanks to The Book Smugglers for the recommendation!

Recommended for: fans of fantasy, those who like unusual and interesting plays on genre, and anyone who feels a spark of interest at the thought of a Seraphina/Pride and Prejudice mash-up.

rosé under fire

When you get a lot of people who are passionate about young adult books together socially, amazing things happen.  My DC Forever Young Adult book club (associated with the ever-hilarious FYA site) usually meets once a month, but this summer we’ve been getting together much more often as part of a YA authors vs. YA readers scavenger hunt.  Last weekend one of our activities was a cocktail mix-off/showdown between the two teams.  My team (the readers. and of the readers, mostly Catie.) came with one YA-related drink recipe in hand, which we called the Rosé Under Fire (after Elizabeth Wein’s Rose Under Fire, obvi).  Friends, it’s pretty AND delicious.  And it won that round!

Rosé Under Fire (adapted slightly from a Creative Culinary recipe)


1 1/2 ounces silver tequila
1 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce rich simple syrup (two parts sugar, one part water)
2 ounces rosé sparkling wine (we found a sparkling rosé moscato!)
Lemon twist for garnish
Strawberry for garnish (optional)


Fill a Collins glass with ice (we used Mason jars, because we’re classy like that). 

Put the tequila, lemon juice and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake vigorously.  Open the shaker, add the sparkling wine (do not shake!) and strain into the ice filled glass.

Flame a twist of lemon (hold peel between two fingers, light a match and bring close to the peel without touching it, let spark and then blow out the match), and then run it around the lip of the glass.  Drop into drink when done!

Note: Flaming the lemon may seem a little crazy, but it smells great and heats up the oils in the peel, so when you then rub it on the lip of the glass you get tiny taste of fiery lemon.

Making the simple syrup a day or two before will simplify this drink to the point of ‘too easy not to make it.’  I recommend going that route.  The end result is a fun little drink that has lovely notes of berry and citrus, and if you can’t imagine the tequila and wine together, don’t worry – it works!  It’s a tiny bit like sangria, but mostly just refreshing and lightly sweet.

Recommended for: a simple, summery cocktail to make for yourself or share with friends on a warm evening.

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

top ten things that will keep me from picking up a book

Tuesday, July 23, 2013 | | 12 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

Sometimes books don’t work for you as a reader.  Other people love them – I mean, genuinely fall in love with them – but you find yourself either going ‘Ehhhh…’ or wanting to throw the offending volume across the room.  I bet you can think of a couple of things that make you feel that way.  I thought I’d have a tough time coming up with ten absolute no-go words or topics that keep me from reading a book, but it was actually very, very easy.  Almost too easy.  I am a little worried that I am a hater.  But not enough to stop me from sharing my list!

Top Ten Things That Will Keep Me From Picking Up a Book

1. Popularity contests – This is a real thing in young adult books.  It’s also a thing in real life (which is why they put it in YA books. because, duh.).  I find it boring.  *le sigh*

2. Vampires – Vampire books feel trite and overdone at this point.  A few are really terrible, but most are victims of the surge in paranormal popularity.  I may eventually come to appreciate vampires, but it’ll probably be in another 20 years when the trend comes back around.

3. Love triangles – Oh. Dear. Goodness.  If we’re going to talk about a YA tropes, THIS is the one that will actually make me spit fire and/or rage.  I’m just done with them.

4. ‘Losing it’ plots – Hey, I get that sex is a big deal, especially that first time.  I just want to read a little more character development or see a really cool fantasy world in addition to this plot device.  All of the focus and emotion centered on that one act is making me feel like an old.  One who is over the angst.  Sorry/not sorry.

5. Cheating/disloyalty – Confession time: I am a Hufflepuff.  Officially Pottermore-sorted and everything.  Characters’ disloyalty or cheating on someone make me uncomfortable, even in fictional universes.  Like, cannot-continue-reading uncomfortable.  I get that it happens in real life, I just hate it.  So I don’t read it.  Because hate reading is not one of my things, either.  Remember, Hufflepuff.

6. Mermaids – When I was writing up this list, I put down mermaids, and then I thought to myself, ‘What?! Who even hates mermaids? You are crazy, self.’  But it stayed on the list, so I think it’s real.  The only mermaid-ish book I can remember enjoying even a little was Sirena by Donna Jo Napoli.  All that said, I’m totally fine with selkies.

7. First-person point of view – Now, this isn’t proven in all cases, and I’m sure I’ve liked a book with a first person POV.  Just can’t recall one at the moment.  I know that sometimes it’s a major pet peeve.  Okay, make that a lot of times.

8. Drama class/theater setting – This is where (if you didn’t see it coming) I admit that I am a person without the requisite amount of art in her soul.  I didn’t enjoy drama class in high school, and reading about it = the wrong side of dull.  So I don’t.

9. Bad boys – Oh, I get it.  He’s tortured, he needs help, he’s a misunderstood a$$hole who will break your heart into little pieces.  I just don’t want to read about him, because he sounds selfish and probably disloyal (see above).

10. Exclusive boarding schools – My mother has real-life stories from boarding school, and they’re mostly tame and boy-free.  Also, she received a quarterly alumni newsletter, and I skimmed it for years.  Not a single secret society or real scandal to be found.  The glamour ran out before it ever put a shine on this idea (for me at least).

Are any of these your kryptonite, too?  Please do tell what turns you off books (I am honestly curious)!

the whole fromage (+ giveaway!)

Saturday, July 20, 2013 | | 15 comments
We all have to eat to live.  Eating well is an art form and, for the French, a necessity.  After all, France is the birthplace of some of the most recognizable foods and food traditions in the world.  One of those time-honored gustatory categories is cheese.  Kathe Lison’s The Whole Fromage: Adventures in the Delectable World of French Cheese is an American’s take on French cheese – from basic history of the major French varieties to cheesemaking techniques to tastings to serendipitous encounters with cheese producers.

the whole fromage by kathe lison book cover
The French, sans doute, love their fromages. And there’s much to love: hundreds of gloriously pungent varieties—crumbly, creamy, buttery, even shot through with bottle-green mold. So many varieties, in fact, that the aspiring gourmand may wonder: How does one make sense of it all?

In The Whole Fromage, Kathe Lison sets out to learn what makes French cheese so remarkable—why France is the “Cheese Mother Ship,” in the words of one American expert. Her journey takes her to cheese caves tucked within the craggy volcanic rock of Auvergne, to a centuries-old monastery in the French Alps, and to the farmlands that keep cheesemaking traditions aliveShe meets the dairy scientists, shepherds, and affineurs who make up the world of modern French cheese, and whose lifestyles and philosophies are as varied and flavorful as the delicacies they produce. Most delicious of all, she meets the cheeses themselves—from spruce-wrapped Mont d’Or, so gooey it’s best eaten with a spoon; to luminous Beaufort, redolent of Alpine grasses and wildflowers, a single round of which can weigh as much as a Saint Bernard; to Camembert, invented in Normandy but beloved and imitated across the world.

With writing as piquant and rich as a well-aged Roquefort, as charming as a tender springtime chèvre, and yet as unsentimental as a stinky Maroilles, The Whole Fromage is a tasty exploration of one of the great culinary treasures of France.

Lison introduces herself as a native of Wisconsin with dairy running in her family line.  That doesn’t exclude her from having early, beloved memories of Kraft macaroni and cheese, but it does provide a starting point for her adventures in French cheese knowledge: ground zero. Lison’s subsequent lessons in cheesemaking and eating are varied, but her main aim is to discover the history and methods behind some of the most well-known of French cheeses, and break down the processes, locales and people involved in making this delicious dairy product.

Each chapter is arranged roughly around a type of cheese, and anecdotes and history related to its development and modern (or not-so-modern) methods of making it.  Lison focuses on Salers, Maroilles, goat cheese, Camembert, Beaufort, Comté, Roquefort and Brebis and Langres, though she does wander at times into disquisitions on other cheeses (including my own all-time favorite, Brie).  The strongest chapter was that on Camembert, called ‘Cheese Is a Battlefield.’  Lison described the struggles of modern methods (science) versus tradition in the cheese landscape and the affect this has on production, community and the consumer. 

Unfortunately, not all of the chapters were as robust.  Lison succeeds in describing intricate cheesemaking methods, the historical provenance of these processes, and her own brief adventure in cheese making.  Her writing falters somewhat in portrayals of individuals and depictions of the countryside, with odd word choice breaking the narrative into pieces rather than bringing it together as a whole.  She also relies fairly heavily on quotes from Patrick Rance, eponymous author of the French Cheese Book (understandable, but sometimes more tedious than helpful).

Nevertheless, The Whole Fromage would be a perfect starting point for American Francophiles who savor food on their trips abroad (or plan to do so in the future), and who want a bit of irreverent back story on the special rituals and effort that go into making that delicious cheese at the end of a chic Parisian meal.

Recommended for: new cheese-lovers, aspiring gourmands, food magazine subscribers, and as a solid selection for food and travel book clubs.

Does The Whole Fromage sound like your kind of read?  Enter the giveaway - simply fill out the FORM for a chance to win one trade paperback copy.  Giveaway open to US addresses only, will end on August 4, 2013 at 11:59pm EST.  Winner will be selected randomly and notified via email.  Giveaway book will be provided and mailed directly by publisher.  Good luck!

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

Fine print: I received a copy of The Whole Fromage for review from Broadway (Penguin Random House).  Giveaway prize provided by Broadway.  I received no compensation for this post.

waiting on wednesday (58)

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 of 2013 so far is Anne Bishop’s Written In Red, an adult fantasy that pits humans against supernatural terra indigene in an alternate United States.  I thought that the world-building was top-notch and as for an enjoyable read, can I just tell you that I’ve read it twice already (it came out March 5th), and may read it again before the second in the series comes out?  Speaking of the second in the series, Murder of Crows will be released by Roc (Penguin Random House) on March 4, 2014.  Can’t hardly wait.

murder of crows by anne bishop book cover
After winning the trust of the terra indigene residing in the Lakeside Courtyard, Meg Corbyn has had trouble figuring out what it means to live among them. As a human, Meg should be barely tolerated prey, but her abilities as a cassandra sangue make her something more.

The appearance of two addictive drugs has sparked violence between the humans and the Others, resulting in the murders of both species in nearby cities. So when Meg has a dream about blood and black feathers in the snow, Simon Wolfgard—Lakeside's shape-shifting leader—wonders whether their blood prophet dreamed of a past attack or of a future threat.

As the urge to speak prophecies strikes Meg more frequently, trouble finds its way inside the Courtyard. Now the Others and the handful of humans residing there must work together to stop the man bent on reclaiming their blood prophet—and stop the danger that threatens to destroy them all.

What books are you waiting on?

top ten authors who deserve more recognition

Tuesday, July 16, 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

This week’s topic is ‘authors who deserve more recognition.’  I could just make a favorites list and call it good, but I want to shine a light on some authors who might have published before the book blogging super-engine really started, or who have somehow escaped the spotlight (at least in the corner of the internet that I inhabit).  So!  Check out these authors.  Their books are amazing.

Top Ten Authors Who Deserve More Recognition

1. Philip Reeve – As the author of Fever Crumb and the Mortal Engines series, Reeve’s backlist is an absolute must-read if you want to get into the origins of the YA steampunk trend.

2. Patricia McKillip – While McKillip is a multiple award-winner (The Forgotten Beasts of Eld won the World Fantasy Award!), her recent books haven’t made a splash outside of the realm of sci-fi and fantasy.  Almost all of her books could be listed as YA or YA/adult crossovers, so she’s an author to investigate if you like lyrical fantasy.

3. Elizabeth Aston – Aston wrote Pride & Prejudice follow-ups before that trend hit it really big (think 2003!).  I haven’t seen anything about her books recently, but they used to be auto-buys for me in the airport bookstore.

4. Geoff Herbach – Geoff created one of the most memorable teenage characters I’ve ever read in Felton Reinstein.  Stupid Fast, the first of three books that feature Felton, was an absolute pleasure to read and one of the best books I read in 2012.

5. Patricia Wrede – Wrede was the YA writer I read in my teens, even while I was turning my nose up at anything except the classics.  Her popularity may be a generational thing, but she deserves a renewed place under the spotlight, and she continues to write absolutely lovely fantasy.

6. Cindy PonThe Silver Phoenix was lovely, lovely, lovely, from its cover art to the story inside (a fantastic culturally-diverse fantasy).  You should probably read it and the sequel.  *hint, hint*

7. Lisa Mantchev – Mantchev’s Shakespeare-inspired Théâtre Illuminata series began with Eyes Like Stars, a sparkly, hilarious read with lots of promise.  If you like theater, dress-up, fairies and smart YA, it’s for you.

8. Donna Jo Napoli – Napoli is another author who began her career in YA before the age of the internet.  She has written many fantasies based on fairy tales, all of them interesting/disturbing and beautifully written. Perfect for fans of Margo Lanagan (perhaps a bit gentler), I think.

9. Julie Halpern – This list hasn’t had much contemporary YA on it (except for Herbach), but Halpern writes books in that genre that are heartfelt and true.  My favorite of hers is Into the Wild Nerd Yonder.

10. Anne Osterlund – Osterlund has written YA fantasy AND YA sci-fi, and succeeded at both.  I loved her sci-fi boarding school story Academy 7, and recommend it for those who aren’t sure they want to try science fiction at all.

Which authors would make your list?

top ten lamest superpowers - guest post by john david anderson, author of sidekicked

Author John David Anderson is here today at Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia with a guest post on the top ten lamest superpowers.  His middle grade superhero book Sidekicked was released in hardcover by Walden Pond Press on June 25, 2013.  Check out the end of the post to win a *signed* copy!

Ten Lame Superpowers and Why You May Just Be Better Off with a Good Utility Belt

Drew Bean, the earnest and often out-of-his-league protagonist of Sidekicked is both burdened and blessed by his extraordinary senses. While an excellent supplementary power, this is pretty much Drew's only power, and he spends no small amount of time lamenting on the lameness of being able to smell, see, and hear evil coming and being incapable of stopping it. In honor of Drew, I've made a list of superpowers which, in certain contexts, could be even lamer than his.

Disclaimer: These aren't the ten worst super powers or necessarily even powers held by actual heroes.  Naturally there are powers that are entirely undesirable (the ability to turn oneself into a diaper) or ludicrous (the power to vanish into thin air...once), so the following is simply a list of powers, imagined or real (which is to say, imagined by someone else), that wouldn't necessarily make a superman super and might leave you in worse shape than if you'd had them to begin with.

10. External combustion (i.e., flaming on): A staple of superpowers, the ability to surround oneself in an aura of flame makes for outstanding cover art and dramatic action sequences replete with smoke-filled skies. One must consider the drawbacks, however, namely the flammability of objects around you (just imagine battling in a paper mill...or a gas station) and the need for specially tailored fire-retardant underwear, which can't be cheap.

9. Talking to animals: First we should make a distinction. The ability to simply talk to animals does not grant you dominion over them. I can talk to my children, but I am often powerless to get them to obey even the most simple of commands (i.e. please stop sucking Jell-O through your straw). Therefore, while the ability to control animals would be awesome, simply being able to talk to them would probably be boring as conversations would run from "Can I eat you?" to "Please don't step on me!" to "Where did I put my nuts?"

8. X-ray vision: Granted superspies the world over would relish in such a gift, and it might bring down the astronomical costs of an ER visit for your kid's baseball injury, but there is a reason we have fences, walls, clothes, and skin. There are lots of things you just don't want to see. Like what's going on inside my stomach right now, and what most people really look like in the morning.

7. Rock form: While there are certainly stalwart heroes that are either primarily made of some rocklike substance or are capable of creating an exoskeleton of them, the ability to transform oneself completely into a rock leaves a little to be desired. While useful when battling hordes at the top of a hill, the lack of appendages, not to mention the lack of eyes, ears, mouth, nose, muscle, bone, weapons, and unassisted movement means you are probably just going to get stuck at the bottom of that hill after rolling down it.

6. Atomic farts: Literally the ability to create near nuclear explosions by means of one's flatulence. Naturally the hero with this power would concurrently be blessed with an invulnerable digestive tract as an added bonus. However the costs associated with the power, both in terms of ancillary property damage and potential loss of life (can you control your flatulence's reach and direction?), plus the heroes constant need for extra tights, far outweighs this power's utility. Plus it makes for awkward dates.

5. Self-replication: Imagine if there were only two of you. Or twelve. Fantastic. Except I personally have a hard enough time keeping track of me. Ever seen the movie Multiplicity with Michael Keaton? Me neither. But I'm guessing having multiple copies of yourself out there only leads to trouble or they wouldn't have made a movie out of it.

4. Magnetism: This is different from the ability to manipulate magnetic fields (ala Magneto). This is simply the ability to turn oneself into a giant magnet. Awesome when you can't quite reach your spoon at the dinner table, less so when the steak knife comes flying at you too. Really awkward when the family minivan comes crashing through the garage wall towards you giving a wide opening for all your power tools to head your way as well. Definitely a power you will want to learn to control quickly.

3. Sonic scream: Yes, I know it has its uses, but as a father I've come to realize the true agonizing power that high-pitched wailing can have on a person, and it is not something I would inflict on my worst enemy.

2. Liquefication: Yes, the ability to liquefy oneself is incredibly useful when a supervillain is about to blast you with an anti-matter ray and you happen to be standing over a sewer drain; however, turning oneself into a puddle has numerous drawbacks, including the "ewww!" factor, the potential for bystander accidents (slippery when wet), and the fact that janitors everywhere are suddenly your mortal enemies. "Mop-Hands Hannigan! I should have known it was you!"

1. Anatomical Liberation: I'm not making this up (see Arm-Fall-Off Boy, an honest-to-goodness hero in the D.C. pantheon): This is the ability to sever a part of your own body and use it independently of the rest of you (like having just your hand scuttle through a tiny opening to retrieve a secret document). However, this power does not automatically come with regeneration, so you have to find said limb in order to get it back, and it's possible that said body part may decide to split permanently, taking on a life of its own. Not to mention there are actually few body parts I would trust to just go off and fight crime without me.

Thanks for sharing your top ten list, John!  If you'd like to share your own lame superpower ideas or just want to find out more about Sidekicked, you can visit the author at www.johndavidanderson.org or on Facebook at JohnDavidAndersonAuthor.

You're interested in checking out the rest of the Sidekicked Superhero blog tour stops (they have giveaways!), right? Good!

Oh, and that giveaway I mentioned!  The kind folks at Walden Pond Press are providing one signed copy of Sidekicked for a lucky blog reader.  To enter, simply fill out the FORM.  Giveaway open to US addresses only, will end on July 27 at 11:59pm EST.  Winner will be selected randomly and notified via email.  And I'll just tell you now, you can earn an extra entry by commenting on this post with a lame superpower.  Pick one of Mr. Anderson's or make up one of your own!

sidekicked by john david anderson book cover
With not nearly enough power comes way too much responsibility.

Andrew Bean might be a part of H.E.R.O., a secret organization for the training of superhero sidekicks, but that doesn’t mean that life is all leaping tall buildings in single bounds. First, there’s Drew’s power: Possessed of super senses – his hearing, sight, taste, touch, and smell are the most powerful on the planet – he’s literally the most sensitive kid in school. There’s his superhero mentor, a former legend who now spends more time straddling barstools than he does fighting crime. And then there’s his best friend, Jenna – their friendship would be complicated enough if she weren’t able to throw a Volkswagen the length of a city block. Add in trying to keep his sidekick life a secret from everyone, including his parents, and the truth is clear: Middle school is a drag even with superpowers.

But this was all before a supervillain long thought dead returned to Justicia, superheroes began disappearing at an alarming rate, and Drew’s two identities threatened to crash head-on into each other. Drew has always found it pretty easy to separate right from wrong, good from evil. It’s what a superhero does. But what happens when that line starts to break down?
Fine print: Blog tour and giveaway organized by Walden Pond Press.  I did not receive any compensation for this post.

waiting on wednesday (57)

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 love steampunk.  I read and post about new YA (and adult!) releases in the genre as much as I can.  Those books may be of varying quality, but from the fully-realized scientific alternate world of Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan to the rip-roaring action of Kady Cross' The Girl with the Steel Corset to the smoldering romance of Meljean Brook's The Iron Seas series, they all capture my fancy.  Every now and then I'll hear of an upcoming book that sounds, well, fantastic.  This is one of those.  Andrea Cremer's The Inventor's Secret will be released on April 22, 2014 by Philomel (Penguin Random House).  Next spring can't get here fast enough to suit me!

the inventor's secret by andrea cremer book cover
Sixteen-year-old Charlotte and her fellow refugees have scraped out an existence on the edge of Britain’s industrial empire. Though they live by the skin of their teeth they have their health (at least when they can find enough food and avoid the Imperial Labor Gatherers) and each other. When a new exile with no memory of his escape from the coastal cities or even his own name seeks shelter in their camp he brings new dangers with him and secrets about the terrible future that awaits all those who have struggled to live free of the bonds of the empire’s Machineworks.

The Inventor’s Secret is the first book of a YA steampunk series set in an alternate nineteenth-century North America where the Revolutionary War never took place and the British Empire has expanded into a global juggernaut propelled by marvelous and horrible machinery.

What books are you waiting on?

the spiderwick chronicles: the field guide

Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi began publishing The Spiderwick Chronicles series TEN YEARS AGO.  Color me surprised!  And old.  I didn’t read the books when they came out – I was just starting college and hadn’t yet reached my rediscovery phase for young adult and middle grade books.  I do remember seeing the film, though – on the plane, I think (and many times since on TV).  When Simon & Schuster sent me a copy of the 10-year anniversary edition of the first in the series, The Field Guide, I knew I’d need to read it and form my own impressions of this now-classic children's book.

the spiderwick chronicles: the field guide by holly black and tony diterlizzi book cover
After finding a mysterious, handmade field guide in the attic of the ramshackle old mansion they’ve just moved into, Jared, his twin brother Simon, and their older sister, Mallory, discover that there’s a magical and maybe dangerous world existing parallel to our own—the world of Faerie.

The Grace children want to share their story, but the faeries will do everything possible to stop them…

The Spiderwick Chronicles series stars the three Grace siblings, who have moved from the city to a rickety old house in the country after their parents’ divorce.  Older sister Mallory is obsessed with fencing and is very pragmatic (and suspicious!).  Simon is one of the twins, and his main goal in life seems to be to collect as many types of animals as possible.  Jared Grace is the curious one, the troublemaker, and the main character.  When the children discover that all is not as it seems in their new (old) house, adventures ensue.  Because something doesn’t want them knowing the secrets of the Spiderwick estate.

The Field Guide is very much an introduction to the characters and their surroundings, but it also contains a concise mystery and sets the stage for continuing adventures.  The writing is perfect for lower-end middle grade readers (and those who read aloud to children ages 6-8), and there are accompanying illustrations of fantastical creatures and other, more mundane objects on almost every page.  DiTerlizzi’s artwork fires the imagination and adds layers of story to the text.  The result is beautiful as well as entertaining.  The Spiderwick Chronicles should serve as a perfect stepping stone into chapter book fantasy, even for those who believe they don’t like make believe. 

Jared Grace’s story (and frustration) is universal, and his dawning curiosity about the natural (and supernatural) world will light up the imaginations of readers who have long since abandoned belief in the wondrous and unseen.  I found the book a charming and brief interlude in a place where fairies are real and clever children might be able to learn about them.

Recommended for: fans of Hayao Miyazaki’s film My Neighbor Totoro, readers who enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s Odd and the Frost Giants, and anyone who might be a little young yet to independently read C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.

Fine print: I received a copy of The Field Guide for honest review from Simon & Schuster.  I did not receive any compensation for posting this review.

cherry and plum crumble

One of the best things about summer is the abundance and availability of fresh local fruit.  I went a little overboard at the grocery store last week, and as a result I had a large handful of cherries and several plums just about to turn from ripe to… done.  I did my usual internet recipe search/magic trick and turned up a recipe for individual cherry and plum crumbles.  They looked too cute to believe, and the result was pretty scrumptious (especially accompanied by vanilla ice cream!).

cherry and plum crumble recipe

Cherry and Plum Crumble (adapted from this Tartelette recipe)

5 plums, pitted and diced
1 cup fresh cherries, halved and pitted
1/4 cup honey
zest of one lime
juice of one lime (use the same one for both)
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Crumble topping
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup almond flour/almond meal
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
6 tablespoons butter, cold


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the fruits with the honey, lime zest and juice and cornstarch. Toss with your hands to coat the fruits evenly. Divide between 5 or 6 ramekins and place those on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil (the fruits may cause a small spill while baking). Set the ramekins aside while your prepare the topping.

In a medium bowl, toss together the sugar, almond meal and spices. Cut the cold butter into small pieces and add to the sugar and flour mixture.  Work together with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Divide the topping evenly on top of the fruit, and place in the preheated oven.

Bake for 20-30 minutes or until the topping is looks done.  Let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

Note: While I enjoyed this iteration of the recipe, if I made it again I’d add half again as much almond meal and leave out some of the brown sugar.  The fruit is plenty sweet on its own.  I also might use only one spice (cinnamon) – the nutmeg/lime combo wasn’t unpleasant, but not my favorite.

I served these little desserts to a couple of friends who came over to hang out at the pool, and they raved about the taste.  Other combinations and experimentation to follow, I’m sure!

Recommended for: a summery dessert, a great way to use up that fruit that is on the edge of going bad, and a delicious treat after a day out in the sun.

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

the lost sun

2013 may go down as the year of fantastic world-building.  Of course a lot of that is due to what I’ve chosen to read, but I can tell you that Tessa Gratton’s new release The Lost Sun, the first in The United States of Asgard series, will join the parade of really wonderful and exciting new worlds that I’ve discovered this year.  I was lured in by the promise of Norse mythology and a Holly Black-like read, and that’s an accurate description.  The Lost Sun is the best young adult fantasy I’ve read this year.

the lost sun by tessa gratton book cover
Fans of Neil Gaiman's American Gods and Holly Black's The Curse Workers will embrace this richly drawn, Norse-mythology-infused alternate world: the United States of Asgard. 

Seventeen-year-old Soren Bearskin is trying to escape the past. His father, a famed warrior, lost himself to the battle-frenzy and killed thirteen innocent people. Soren cannot deny that berserking is in his blood--the fevers, insomnia, and occasional feelings of uncontrollable rage haunt him. So he tries to remain calm and detached from everyone at Sanctus Sigurd's Academy. But that's hard to do when a popular, beautiful girl like Astrid Glyn tells Soren she dreams of him. That's not all Astrid dreams of--the daughter of a renowned prophetess, Astrid is coming into her own inherited abilities. 

When Baldur, son of Odin and one of the most popular gods in the country, goes missing, Astrid sees where he is and convinces Soren to join her on a road trip that will take them to find not only a lost god, but also who they are beyond the legacy of their parents and everything they've been told they have to be.

The United States of Asgard is familiar and yet not at the same time.  It’s America if the Norse gods were real, living beings who traveled with European settlers to the New World.  It’s a world where magic and soothsaying are commonplace, where trolls live on the edges of civilization, and where the gods are featured in televised rituals at every major holiday.  In this world, Soren Bearskin is the teenage son of a disgraced, deceased beserker, and all he wants is to escape his fate.  That desperate dream will be challenged by the arrival of Astrid, a girl who lives out her destiny with joy, and the disappearance of Baldur, everyone’s favorite god of light.

Soren is a warrior in training, and he spends almost every waking moment controlling his inner beserker rage.  He hopes against hope that if he holds the madness at bay long enough, it will leave him – leave him free to pursue a life beyond that assigned to him at birth.  This struggle, this wrangling with who he is and why, leaves him a serious, stoic young man, constantly fighting the ripple of battle rage in his blood. 

That bottling up of what should be a natural part of his nature makes him attractive to Astrid, but it serves Soren as a barrier between himself and anyone he might hurt, leaving him lonely.  Soren’s growth throughout the book hinges mainly on the bit-by-bit breakdown of these walls, of learning that holding back may not be the only way forward, and making decisions and sacrifices that demonstrate to him (and others) that he can find an honorable destiny that does not necessarily deny fate.

There are other characters, important ones (Astrid! Baldur! etc., etc.), but as Soren’s is the only point of view, the thing I really want to talk about is Gratton’s world-building and writing.  Both are, in a word, SUPERB.  Regardless of whether you like the story or not (and who, I ask, would turn down a road trip epic with mythology, battles and the fate of the world in the balance? exactly.) the United States of Asgard will pull you in and take you for a ride.  The extensive holiday traditions, the just-twisted place names, the characters and stories of the gods and their interplay with human history – these are all part of a richly-imagined landscape that seems entirely real.  I expected to turn on the television and see Freya in a cape of feathers, or Odin and his missing eye.  I can’t wait to read the next books in the series and discover what Gratton has done next.  The Lost Sun was absolutely brilliant.

Recommended for: fans of Holly Black, anyone who enjoys twists on mythology and contemporary fantasy, readers who revel in alternate histories and excellent world-building, and those looking for smart, beautifully-written young adult fiction (or any type of fiction, really!).

waiting on wednesday (56)

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.

If you have browsed some of the more worthwhile corners of the internet, you may have (at one time or another) come across the blog Hyperbole and a Half.  If you haven’t, get thee hither!  It is full of hilarity and truthiness and more hilarity.  If I ever need to laugh at myself and my internet addiction or the crazy randomness of life, that’s where I head.  Alli Brosh, the creative genius behind that little site, has written a BOOK.  And since books are my favorite thing since, like, ever (you wouldn’t know it from this blog…), this is wondrous news.  Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened will be released by Touchstone (Simon & Schuster) on October 29, 2013.

hyperbole and a half by allie brosh book cover
Named one of the Funniest Sites on the Web by PC World and winner of the 2011 Bloggies Awards for Most Humorous Weblog and Best Writing, the creator of the immensely popular “Hyperbole and a Half” blog presents an illustrated collection of her hilarious stories with fifty percent new content. 

In a four-color, illustrated collection of stories and essays, Allie Brosh's debut Hyperbole and a Half chronicles the many "learning experiences" Brosh has endured as a result of her own character flaws, and the horrible experiences that other people have had to endure because she was such a terrible child. Possibly the worst child. For example, one time she ate an entire cake just to spite her mother.

Brosh's website receives millions of unique visitors a month and hundreds of thousands of visitors a day. This amalgamation of new material and reader favorites from Brosh's blog includes stories about her rambunctious childhood; the highs and mostly lows of owning a smart, neurotic dog and a mentally challenged one; and moving, honest, and darkly comic essays tackling her struggles with depression and anxiety, among other anecdotes from Brosh's life. Artful, poignant, and uproarious, Brosh's self-reflections have already captured the hearts of countless readers and her book is one that fans and newcomers alike will treasure.

What books are you waiting on?

top ten most intimidating books

Tuesday, July 2, 2013 | | 16 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 top ten list is all about intimidating books.  Intimidating can mean so many things – maybe a book that looks over-long, or seems to be the subject of a lot of attention.  What if I read it and fall on the ‘wrong’ side of popular opinion?  What if I can’t ever finish it?!  Each of us has our own fear/reading mountain to climb, and I’m sure you’ll tell me if one (or more) of the books I’ve listed is really the best thing ever.  I mean, please do!

Top Ten Most Intimidating Books

1. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace – This is THE book.  You’re not in until you’ve read it.  I’m not in.  And I’m not sure I ever will be.

2. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell – It’s been made into a film, so I feel extra pressure to read the book.  But what if I don’t like the book?  Or the film?  Dangit.

3. Ulysses by James Joyce – Definition of an intimidating book = Ulysses.  I mean, it’s on every list.  This one and Moby Dick. 

4. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke – I’m actually halfway through this story.  I even liked it while I was reading it.  Only problem?  I put it down 2 years ago and don’t remember a single thing, so I’d have to start at the beginning.  At over a thousand pages long, this one is just… a lot.

5. Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle – I don’t own this cookbook and have no plans to buy it, but as a home cook I feel the weight of Julie and Julia expectations (mostly self-inflicted, of course). 

6. Dune by Frank Herbert – I am light years behind in classic sci-fi reading, and this is just one book that symbolizes that black hole in my life.  Heheh.

7. Sandman comics by Neil Gaiman – I call myself a Neil Gaiman fan, but I haven’t picked up his graphic novels.  Any of them.  I wouldn’t know where to start, and I’m a bit afraid to try.

8. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss – It’s been called one of *the* traditional fantasies, but the sheer size of this book (and its follow-ups) is daunting when my TBR pile is already several bookcases high/wide/deep.

9. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – With this one, it’s the weight of generations of readers’ love and influence.  How could it ever live up to the hype?  Or worse yet, what if it does?!  Then I’ll feel stupid for holding off for so long

10. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – See my comments about the previous book.  Times one thousand.

What books would make your list?
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