happy halloween

Sunday, October 31, 2010 | | 12 comments
I’m not really a Halloween person. I don’t do scary, and I’m not a huge fan of dressing up, so it makes sense. Now Christmas – give me Christmas any day (yes, even in July). BUT! Over the last year and a half my tolerance for zombies has grown into something fairly substantial. And some of my friends have dubbed me the ‘zombie girl.’ What better night to actually try out my zombie face than Halloween? So, for your viewing pleasure, a step-by-step transformation…


The blank page. I usually don't wear my hear pulled back like this, but the YouTube 'how to' videos strongly suggested it. LOVE that there are tutorials on how to do zombie makeup. I mean, seriously awesome.


The tools (thank you, generic party store).


After applying the white base coat. I already look pretty crazy, but there's plenty of ground to cover. Err...brains to eat!


The finished product. I smudged black and grey around my eyes, and used the 'vampire blood' to create a realistic look on my shirt. Because I didn't really want blood on my face.

Pretty freaky, huh? It was FUN. And kind of perfect. Because when we went out, everyone thought it was cool, but no one got too close. Just the way I like it…

the iron duke

It was about a year ago that I first began to research the term ‘steampunk.’ If you’re new to it yourself, check out this definition. Ever since those early days, I’ve been hooked on this genre. And one of my best author discoveries this year has been Meljean Brook, an established urban fantasy/romance author now entering the world of steampunk with The Iron Seas series, the first novel-sized installment of which is called The Iron Duke.


After the Iron Duke freed England from Horde control, he instantly became a national hero. Now Rhys Trahaearn has built a merchant empire on the power — and fear — of his name. And when a dead body is dropped from an airship onto his doorstep, bringing Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth into his dangerous world, he intends to make her his next possession.

Even though Mina can’t afford his interest, the investigation prevents her from avoiding him…and the Iron Duke’s ruthless pursuit makes him difficult to resist.

But when Mina uncovers the victim’s identity, she stumbles upon a conspiracy that threatens the lives of everyone in England. To save them, Mina and Rhys must race across zombie-infested wastelands and treacherous oceans — and Mina discovers the danger is not only to her countrymen as she finds herself tempted to give up everything to the Iron Duke.


Now, you might have caught the fact that I mentioned that The Iron Duke is the first NOVEL in the series. I originally fell in love with Brook’s novella “Here There Be Dragons” in the anthology Burning Up. While the two stories are tied together by a shared world and general cast of characters, it is not necessary to read one to appreciate the other. But I think once you’ve read one, you’ll be craving the next installment. At least, I was. Still am, truth be told.


It’s hard to categorize this steampunk story (or any steampunk story, probably). Is it romance? Action-adventure? Mystery? Hard-core sci-fi/fantasy? I want an option that reads ‘All of the above.’ Mina’s investigation takes her too close to comfort to the Iron Duke, and she’ll need his help to solve the crime. But what will happen along the way? And most importantly, will they come out of it with their reputations and lives intact?


One of the things I love about steampunk as a genre is that authors often create a world that evokes the morals and sensibilities of the Victorian era – with a twist. So in the world of the Iron Seas, one’s reputation is everything, as it seemed to be in ‘our’ Victorian time period – but for different reasons. Wealth and gender are important, yes, but race and perceived ethnicity are two other concerns that are explored in depth and to interesting effect.


Not only are the social dynamics fascinating, but the ‘science’ of this steampunk setting is first-rate as well. The technical explanations were actually a bit vague, but I found myself curious about the exact epidemiology and activation of the ‘virus’ of nanos. I often find myself scratching my head a bit with the science portions of science fiction, but in this case, I can only look forward to more explanation as the mystery is further unveiled in the next couple of installments.


Seriously, I was that pleased with this book. I love the intelligence and profundity of it (in parts), and I loved the romance part of it and the humorous dialogue, too.The different types of desperation felt by each character create drama and connection, and the rest is pure, satisfying entertainment. Of course, it’s adult-level reading. Not for you young ones. But if you’ve been teetering on the edge of steampunk and wondering if you could like it, let me recommend Brook’sThe Iron Duke. Excellent reading!



Recommended for: fans of historical romance, sci-fi and fantasy, Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, and those curious about this thing called ‘steampunk.’


I won this book in a giveaway on Meljean Brook’s blog. This counts for the Iron Seas Reading Challenge hosted by vvb32reads.

it’s kind of a funny story giveaway winner

Monday, October 25, 2010 | | 4 comments

As is the way of the world, I’m forever late in posting giveaway winners. And this was a shiny contest with brand new Google Forms, too. It may have helped with efficiency overall, but it didn’t make me any more prompt. *sigh* That’s a problem for another day. Please join me in congratulating the winner of a paperback of Ned Vizzini's It’s Kind of a Funny Story and a CD of the film soundtrack…


Eva SB of Eva's Black Spot!


If you’ll remember, I asked entrants respond to this prompt: “What is one thing that helps you ‘cope’ when life gets stressful? If your life doesn’t get stressful (lucky you!), mention something that is calming or relaxing.” Eva SB answered with, “Nowadays it is my husband. If life is just getting [to be] too much I phone him.” I think that’s a lovely answer. I hope you’ve shared it with him!


Many thanks for all of your responses – I had a great evening cooking and looking them over. You’re a creative lot! And if you didn’t win this time around, be on the lookout for another contest very soon.

how to make your life at least 12 times more awesome

Sunday, October 24, 2010 | | 12 comments

In the grand scheme of things, a week and a half is nothing. But a week and a half without blogging has made me feel crazy, guilty, and pent-up by turns. I started a new job, integrated a couple of new friends into my ‘tribe,’ and doubled my commute each day. Several little things added up equal a lot less time, as it turns out. It’s a good thing I have a lazy Sunday afternoon to finally catch up and put everything back to rights. Hopefully I didn’t lose too many of you in the process!


I went back to baking hardcore when I was unemployed (for a thankfully short time!), and the results were mostly in the muffin category, although I did make a freaking delicious white chicken chili (more about that to come!). Today I am bringing you a recipe that will indeed ‘make your life at least 12 times more awesome.’ And if you lick the bowl, you can move that right up to 13 times more awesome.



Nectarine and Banana Muffins


INGREDIENTS


1/3 cup vegetable oil

generous 1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

pinch each of ground cinnamon, ground cloves and ground ginger

½ cup sugar

½ slivered almonds (or chopped)

½ to ¾ ripe nectarine, peeled and chopped

1 ripe banana, slices

2 eggs

1/3 cup thick strained plain yogurt (a flavored version will do in a pinch)

1 teaspoon vanilla



DIRECTIONS


Preheat the oven to 400˚F/200˚C. Line a twelve-cup muffin pan with paper liners. Sift the flour, baking soda, salt and spices into a mixing bowl. Then add the sugar and almonds and stir together.



In a separate bowl, mash the nectarine and banana together, then stir in the eggs, oil, yogurt, and almond extract. Add the mashed fruit mixture to the flour mixture and then gently stir together until just combined. Do not overstir the batter – it is fine for it to be a little lumpy. NOTE: this recipe makes the most delicious batter I’ve tasted in a LONG time.


Divide the muffin batter evenly between the muffin cups. Transfer to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until risen and golden. Remove the muffins from the oven and serve warm.


yum! (i really enjoyed these. if you couldn't already tell.)


Recommended for: a delicious morning snack, people who like to lick the mixing bowl clean, and a tasty departure from the usual banana muffin standby.

teaser tuesday (57)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010 | | 10 comments
It's Teaser Tuesday, a bookish blog meme hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Here's how it works:


Grab your current read and let it fall open to a random page. Post two (or more) sentences from that page, along with the title and author. Don’t give anything vital away!


“White’s made it up to fourth gear, which makes her coupe the faster beast. Given enough of a straightaway, she would catch me now for sure. There’s only a short distance left to the tracks, though. I still might make it.”


-p. 105 of Robert Paul Weston’s Dust City

wonderful news!

Monday, October 11, 2010 | | 28 comments
And on a MONDAY, no less. That hardly ever happens. Okay, NEWS: I got a job! I start Wednesday! I can continue to buy books and pay for the interwebs for blogging purposes and have a roof over my head and other awesome things. So happy today! And I don't even care that I used a super run-on sentence back there. DON'T CARE. I'm grinning.

[graphic found in dazeychic etsy shop]

east

Alyce at At Home with Books is doing a weekly feature where she highlights one of her favorite reads from the past and encourages others to do so as well.


While I am a fan of (almost) ALL fairy tales, I do hold a chosen few close to my heart. One of those is the East of the Sun, West of the Moon myth. My grandmother donated a beautifully illustrated book from her personal library to my family sometime in my pre-teen years. East of the Sun and West of the Moon, illustrated by Kay Nielson in Art Nouveau style, had me enthralled from page one. The illustrations were finely rendered and almost mystical, and the pages were so fragile that the reading experience itself was quite tenuous.

That early exposure taught me to love the story, and reading different retellings since hasn’t shaken my affection for it. My preferred retelling in more recent times is Edith Pattou’s East.


Rose has always felt out of place in her family. So when an enormous white bear mysteriously shows up and asks her to come away with him, she readily agrees. The bear takes Rose to a distant castle, where each night she is confronted with a mystery. In solving that mystery, she finds love, discovers her purpose, and realizes her travels have only just begun.
As fresh and original as only the best fantasy can be, East is a novel retelling of the classic tale "East of the Sun and West of the Moon," told in the tradition of Robin McKinley and Gail Carson Levine.

Main character Rose feels stifled and misunderstood. Family pressures and misfortunes are exacerbated by her mother’s superstitions and her father’s job, which takes him away on map-making expeditions. But when adventure comes for her, she finds that the world and love are strange and that survival will be harder than she ever imagined.

While Pattou’s story follows the general outline of the original fairy tale, it is told from alternating viewpoints of five or six of the main characters. Each voice adds something to Rose’s story, even as they add to the overall picture. This movement and cycling through different voices could be confusing, but the author pulls it off. The technique lends itself to a sense of passage and travel that is not only unique, but also particularly suited to a tale that is essentially a journey.

Another distinctive (and perfectly wonderful!) ingredient in this story is the pervading superstition attached to the compass rose. Obviously, a sense of direction is central to the story. I mean, look at the title – East! But Pattou has created or borrowed superstition about birth order and personality type to attach to peculiarities of each point of the compass, and combined it with detailed descriptions of maps and the Far North. Added up, it is both beautiful and strange.

These elements, in conjunction with an honest and tender love story, equal not only a sterling fantasy tale, but also one that has earned its rightful place on my ‘re-reads’ shelf.

Recommended for: fans of fantasy, fairy tales, delightful young adult literature, unique world cultures, and journeys that end in love, sadness, and other essentials of growing older (and wiser). Enjoy!

This book counts for the Once Upon a Time challenge.

i just want to cuddle up

Wednesday, October 6, 2010 | | 10 comments
It’s fall again, and I LOVE it. We’ve had rain and cool weather, and it makes me want to find a fleece-lined nest, cuddle up with hot apple cider and watch the leaves turn different colors. What’s your favorite autumn activity?


[image found at dogbatcat etsy shop]

cure for stress: banana pecan muffins

Tuesday, October 5, 2010 | | 21 comments
Baking is my self-imposed therapy. I discovered the calming properties of this activity almost two years ago when I was figuring out whether or not to quit grad school. Rough time. But then I discovered that kneading a loaf of bread or mixing up a batch of cookies was a guaranteed way to calm myself down. Fast forward to this year: I was having a pretty strong summer and didn’t do too much baking (also, it was WICKED hot outside), but life has gone a bit haywire again (jobless), and I need it. Lucky for you, I share my recipes. *grin*


Banana Pecan Muffins (recipe adapted from Muffins)


INGREDIENTS

1 generous cup all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

1/3 cup golden or white sugar

1 cup chopped pecans (you can also try walnuts or hazelnuts)

2 ripe bananas

5 tablespoons milk

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract



DIRECTIONS


Preheat the oven to 375˚F/190˚C. Place 8 or 9 muffin paper liners in a muffin pan. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl, add the sugar and pecans, and stir to combine.


Place the mashed bananas, milk, butter, egg and vanilla extract in a separate bowl and mix together. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and gently stir until just combined.



Divide the batter evenly between the paper liners and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden. Remove from oven and pan and let cool.


Recommended for: a special treat on weekend mornings, using up those ‘just too ripe’ bananas, and for a healthy fix if you’re craving carbohydrates.

teaser tuesday (56)

It's Teaser Tuesday, a bookish blog meme hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Here's how it works:


Grab your current read and let it fall open to a random page. Post two (or more) sentences from that page, along with the title and author. Don’t give anything vital away!


“I wasn’t imagining him. There was a real, flesh-and-blood boy drowning in the lake.”


-p. 1 of Steph Bowe’s Girl Saves Boy

demon’s fall

It has been ages, but you might remember that I’m taking part in the Horns and Halos Reading Challenge hosted by Aimee of my fluttering heart. I went fairly angel-happy at the start of the year. Then my interest tapered off, and I went the route of straight fantasy, zombies, and all that other stuff (fairy tales, anyone?). I am determined to finish strong, so when I had the chance to request a copy of Karalynn Lee’s Demon’s Fall from the NetGalley catalog, I took it.


When Kenan, an incubus, finds a caged angel for sale in the Hellsgate marketplace, he sees her as a challenge. Certain that his skills in seduction will work as well on a heavenly creature as they do on mortal women, he buys Jahel, intent on having her soul as a novelty in his collection.

Knowing he must gain Jahel's trust, Kenan treats her more as his guest than as his slave. When she reveals what brought her to the mouth of Hell in the first place – retrieving the soul of a young girl she was guarding – he even offers to help her complete her mission.

Though he has promised Jahel freedom, Kenan soon realizes she has captured his heart. And as their passion for one another grows, they find themselves caught in a struggle between Heaven and Hell, one that will lead them to the very edge of the apocalypse...


Just in case you didn’t catch it in the summary, this is a ROMANCE NOVEL. Adult-level reading. Very scandalous. Well, a story about an angel and a demon falling in love was going to be scandalous anyway…but let’s times that factor by about a hundred for the ess-eee-ex, okay? Okay. If you’re not into it, no worries. But the story’s good. Serious.


Kenan is a demon with a lot of allure. Jahel is a caged angel. They meet in a marketplace in Hellsgate, which is just what it sounds like – a city on the edge of the gate of Hell. Kenan has his own reasons for buying Jahel, but the main plot follows their adventures trying to fulfill Jahel’s quest. And that quest…is surprisingly familiar. Throw in a little bit of the fairy tale of Snow White, some of the Biblical apocalypse, and you have our story. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s a mash-up that works.


Of course, the focus of the novella is the romantic relationship between the two protagonists. Four words: steamy, and too quick. I’m all for the reforming bad boys cliché, but Demon’s Fall moved at a pretty fast clip in that department. I would have appreciated a little more development, a couple more pages in that section. I wasn’t disappointed, but it was a little thought in the back of my head while I read.


Bonus: the secondary characters and setting. This story worked for me mostly because of the wonderful description of Hellsgate, the funny and endearing secondary characters, and how the protagonists interacted with both. Some of the supporting characters provided crucial moments of hilarity in conversation, or made me randomly smile. So that was a huge plus. I can also tell that I love a fantasy setting when I find myself hoping that there will be more books set in that ‘world.’ I’ll say it: I want more!


Recommended for: fans of steamy romance, angels, demons, unconventional fantasy mash-ups, and original world-building. Again, an advisory: adult-level reading.


I read an e-galley of this book courtesy of Carina Press and NetGalley. Demon’s Fall releases on October 25, 2010.

bringing things to an end

As usual, I’m a few days late in announcing the winners of my Married with Zombies giveaway. The upside? I get to announce the winners of the Dangerous Neighbors contest at the same time! Three cheers for consolidation!!! Wait…that’s lame? Right. Umm...let’s switch that for a lackluster “yay.” Seems more appropriate now, doesn’t it? In any case, the winners of a copy of Jesse Petersen’s Married with Zombies:


Nely of All About {n}


and Raelena of Throuthehaze


Nely answered the question “Of the people you see everyday, who would be the first to succumb to the zombie plague?” with “I'd say that the first one to succumb to a zombie plague would be ME. I am a klutz! I'm constantly banging into things and tripping all over the place. So I know for a fact that if I were to be running from a zombie I'd probably fall and start crying and well... aaaaaahhh ahhhhhhh ahhhhhhhhh {that's me, moaning as a zombie}. You catch my drift. ;)”


Raelena wrote, “Probably me. I would end up having an anxiety attack, and while I am out of breath and disoriented a zombie would come up and chomp on my brains.” Well, it’s unanimous. We’re all going to be the first person we know to turn. Lovely. *grin*


[i recently bought a copy of this print from the

holli etsy shop]


And the lucky new owner of an ARC of Beth Kephart’s Dangerous Neighbors:


Jasmine1485 of Nothing Too Fancy


For this one, I requested that readers respond to a prompt: “I asked Beth about ‘sisters in fiction.’ When you hear that phrase, what comes to your mind immediately?” Jasmine said, “My very first thought was of Little Women, which I read as a teenager but haven't reread for years. Even at that age I thought it was touching, I have a couple of sequels too, I'm not sure how many there were.

Oddly enough, my second thought was of Buffy and her sister. I didn't even watch that when it was on TV, and I don't know her sister's name, so it's an odd choice for my brain.”


Congrats, winners! If you haven’t yet, check out the giveaway for a movie tie-in edition of Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story and a film soundtrack. You can enter here. Also? Have a lovely week!

it’s kind of a funny story (+ giveaway)

Sunday, October 3, 2010 | | 29 comments

I was at a job interview the other day in Alexandria, and the interviewer asked where I was from (Seattle, in case you’re wondering), and if I could live anywhere, which city I’d live in. I answered Washington, DC. I don’t think the interviewer knew what to do with that answer, especially on an over-warm day following the hottest summer on record.


Before you start listing the relative merits of your own town/city/village/hidey-hole, you must understand that there are a lot of things I hate about this area. I hate the super hot weather, the humidity, the unrelieved black (suits!), and the crazy cold days that seem to come straight out of the blue. But I love living in DC. I like being here because I have loads of friends all around me. An urban family, if you will. I love that they will all come to dinner at the drop of a hat. I love the tourists (yes, really). I love being within walking distance of all the major monuments, and not owning a car. I love the fact that I have the chance to see free films and art all the time. It’s glorious.


Moral of the story: for me it’s not so much the surroundings, but the people I’m with. If the majority of my friends up and moved to Texas, or Greenland, or somewhere even more remote, I’d think pretty hard about moving too. If the Book Depository shipped to wherever-in-the-back-of-beyond, that is! But let’s return to the free films bit – I went to a screening of It’s Kind of a Funny Story the other day (thanks, Filter Magazine!), and I want to share that experience with you.


Adapted from Ned Vizzini's 2006 novel, It's Kind of a Funny Story tells the story of burnt-out teenager Craig (Keir Gilchrist), who checks himself into a mental health clinic citing exhaustion, and finds himself placed in the adult ward due to the fact that the youth ward has been shut down. Taken under the wing of fellow patient Bobby (Zach Galifianakis), the stressed-out 16-year-old attempts to endure his mandatory five days' stay without completely losing his mind.


What I wondered as I walked out of the theater: how many people feel exactly like Craig? Because his peripatetic, jumbled mind seemed to be an exact copy of mine during my years in grad school. A cycle of stress, freaking out, avoiding important things, more stress…it was a road into depression. I think that a lot of kids, young adults, and even adults are going to see this film and identify immediately.


BUT. There’s always a ‘but.’ While I was entertained by Bobby and identified with the protagonist, and liked the music (by Broken Social Scene), I also felt manipulated. Craig goes to a psych ward for five days. Five days…I know it’s enough time to change your life. Still, my cynical side won’t let me believe that it’s enough time to change everyone’s life. So I felt a little cheated. My built-in Eeyore mentality wanted more realism, and not a miraculous ‘everything comes together’ conclusion. But that’s just me.


In the end, It’s Kind of a Funny Story is hopeful and enjoyable, and it aspires to the label of cute indie-flick. It gets three quarters of the way there.


Recommended for: fans of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, people who wish deep down that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest had a happy ending, the usual complement of smart teens, hipsters looking for a reason to smile (is that a paradox or what?), and those with discerning musical taste.


CUE: Giveaway! If you’d like to win a movie tie-in edition of Vizzini’s novel plus a copy of the film’s CD soundtrack, see the instructions below. One winner will receive both items.


------


To enter:


Fill out the FORM. Commenting here will get you an extra entry, but that will only work if you fill out the original form. Giveaway is open internationally, and will end on October 17 at 11:59pm EST. I will notify the randomly selected winner via email.


Good luck!

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