the house of the four winds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

waiting on wednesday (78)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you waiting on?

top ten cookbooks i want to read

Tuesday, July 15, 2014 | | 7 comments
Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, where we all get to exercise our OCD tendencies and come up with bookish lists.  If you’d like to play along, check out this post.

top ten tuesday

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

Top Ten Cookbooks I Want to Read

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asparagus and Strawberry Salad


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


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

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

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

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

asparagus and strawberry salad

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

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

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