(it’s almost) spring giveaway

Monday, February 28, 2011 | | 10 comments
I was reminded today that the vernal equinox (try saying that in a snooty accent! yes, I am easily amused), also known as the first day of spring, is less than a month away now. I think I’m justified in saying it’s almost spring. Or I’ll be justified until we get a late-in-the-season snowstorm, and everyone scoffs at my premature declaration. But until snow DOES ruin it, I am declaring it ‘almost spring.’


[chair art found at apartmenttherapy]


And you know what almost spring deserves? A giveaway. Specifically, a giveaway to help prepare for a new season, for growth and exciting projects, and for any entertaining that goes with it. Have you started planning your spring cleaning? Perhaps a revamp of your dining room or the addition of some modern office furniture? How about new bakeware for that kitchen project you’ve been waiting to tackle, or maybe just an indulgent gift for yourself?


I’m partnering with CSN stores to offer a $75 gift code that you can spend at any of the 200+ CSN stores. Think of it as a jumpstart for all of your almost spring plans. *grin*


To enter:


Fill out the FORM. Giveaway is open to those with a US mailing address, and ends on March 7 at 11:59pm EST. I will notify the randomly-selected winner via email. Gift code will not cover shipping.


Fine print: I will not and have not received any monetary or other compensation for hosting this contest.

exhibit a: kitchen experiment

Saturday, February 26, 2011 | | 5 comments

It’s been a while since I posted a cooking or baking post. I’ve been sticking to the tried and true and not branching out as much. Well, no more! This is one of those whatever-was-at-hand-is-what-I-used sort of experiences. I based it roughly off of this recipe, but I put my own spin on it (by using ingredients left over in my fridge/around the kitchen).


Bacon, Pear and Red Onion Galette


INGREDIENTS



Tart:

½ red onion, thinly sliced

2 peeled Bosc pears, thinly sliced

½ cup bacon bits

1 frozen puff pastry sheet, thawed

1 teaspoon honey

½ teaspoon hot sauce

1 teaspoon olive oil


Topping:

½ cup pretzels, crumbled (breadcrumbs or cornflakes would substitute)

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese (any mild white cheese will work)

½ teaspoon hot sauce

2 teaspoons honey



DIRECTIONS


For the tart:

Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Grease or spray a non-stick baking tray and place the pastry sheet on it to thaw. Peel and cut up pears, set aside.


In large saucepan, sauté sliced red onion in oil on medium high heat for 3 minutes. Add bacon, honey and hot sauce to mixture, and continue to heat, stirring for another 3-4 minutes or until onions are caramelized and golden brown.


After unfolding thawed pastry sheet, place sliced pears in a single layer, leaving at least one inch on all sides. Spread onion bacon mixture over the pears. Cover with topping (see below), and then fold up edges to create a crust, pinching dough together to make it hold. Bake 25-30 minutes, or until topping browns. Let cool at least 5 minutes before serving.



For the topping:

Mix crumbled pretzels (or substitute), cheese, hot sauce and honey in a small bowl until combined. Season to taste.


[after all the ingredients were layered on, but before crimping the edges]


I searched the internet and found a recipe that used the ingredient combination that I wanted. What I forgot it that sometimes my little ‘improvements’ don’t always make for the most delicious food possible. While this turned out to be pretty and ultimately palatable, if I were to make the recipe again, I’d switch out Parmesan (too pungent) and I’d exchange pretzels for breadcrumbs. I think with Gruyere and without all the extra salt from the pretzels, this could well become a favorite recipe.



My roommate liked it; she told me that she kept thinking the pears were chicken pieces. The Bosc type was a great choice – the flesh stays firm and is flavorful at the same time. I think if the topping were a bit more cohesive (read: the cheese were different), this would have a lot of the same texture as pizza.


Recommended for: kitchen tinkering, and those with adventurous taste buds. You might want to play with it yourself before you pronounce it 'good.' *grin*

winners! (books are the best)

Friday, February 25, 2011 | | 5 comments
It's time (past time, really) to announce the winners of my best of 2010 contest. And when I say 'best of 2010,' I am of course referring to books. Though I might think about doing best of art next year. Love this print!

[from the etsy shop of beyondthrilled]

Please join me in congratulating:


Both of these lovelies will receive a book of their choice from my 2010: best of blog post. If you're curious about which books I liked best in 2010, head over and check it out. Many thanks to all who participated. I love holding giveaways, and I'll be hosting another one soon.

fever crumb

Tuesday, February 22, 2011 | | 4 comments

It may not be socially acceptable to admit this, but I’m competitive. Super competitive. And my roommate enrolled in a children’s literature class for grad school last semester. I liked being the accepted expert on children’s and YA lit in our apartment. Not that anyone challenged my position up to that point, you understand. THEN: my roommate usurped the title! And read a lot of the books I’d been hearing good things about through the blogosphere, but didn’t have the time to get to myself. Talk about demoralizing.


Roommate presented me with her reading list at the beginning and asked if I could lend her any of the books so that she wouldn’t have to live at the library. Lucky her, I already had Fever Crumb on my shelves, and was looking forward to reading it. After she finished and liked it, I got into gear and read it for myself. So…what is this book and why was I so set on reading it and why did I feel jealous that she’d finished it first?


A stunning, new novel by master storyteller Philip Reeve.

Fever Crumb is a girl who has been adopted and raised by Dr. Crumb, a member of the order of Engineers, where she serves as apprentice. In a time and place where women are not seen as reasonable creatures, Fever is an anomaly, the only female to serve in the order. Soon though, she must say goodbye to Dr. Crumb – nearly the only person she's ever known – to assist archeologist Kit Solent on a top-secret project. As her work begins, Fever is plagued by memories that are not her own and Kit seems to have a particular interest in finding out what they are.

Fever has also been singled out by city-dwellers who declare her part Scriven. The Scriveners, not human, ruled the city some years ago but were hunted down and killed in a victorious uprising by the people. If there are any remaining Scriven, they are to be eliminated. All Fever knows is what she's been told: that she is an orphan. Is Fever a Scriven? Whose memories does she hold? Is the mystery of Fever, adopted daughter of Dr. Crumb, the key to the secret that lies at the heart of London?


I originally came across (and bought) Fever Crumb because of my interest in all things steampunk. And when I finally got down to reading it, I discovered an unexpected gem of a novel, full of science fiction, set in a fantastical alternate universe, and possessed of a tight plot and engaging characters. I loved it.


Fever, the title character, is thrust into city life and must up the task of unraveling exactly why science and logic can’t explain her personal history – or the history of her civilization. In doing so, she starts a quest of sorts, and avoiding peril on all sides, she bravely puts together the pieces to understand a great mystery (or several, really).


I thought Fever’s journey was interesting, suspenseful in parts, and ultimately fun. Why? First: Fever herself. Second: the central mystery, which I will NOT ruin for you. And third? The great, mad world the whole thing is set in. I felt as if I could climb inside the city Reeve built. Even more awesome? I’d want to. I mean, you can totally imagine Dante’s Inferno in spots, but you’d never want to go there. Reeve has created a dangerous, complex place that I’d actually buy a ticket to visit. And that, my dears, is a great reason to read ANY book (but especially this one).


Now we come down to the hard questions. Is this steampunk? I don’t know. It has elements that will be familiar to steampunk devotees. Is it only for YA or fantasy fans? Certainly not. My roommate, who reads almost strictly chick lit and pop psychology books (though I may be judging too harshly there...), loved it and talked about it for days. Will you like it? I darn well hope so. That’s enough of that!


Recommended for: anyone in the mood for a mystery, steampunk devotees, YA and fantasy fans, and those who can’t resist a good puzzle, no matter what the genre or medium. Also: everyone else. Yes, even you!

waiting on wednesday (7)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011 | | 26 comments

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


I have been a fan of Patricia C. Wrede since sometime in my early teens, when I first picked up Dealing with Dragons at my local library. My admiration for her writing has never waned. Other favorites by Wrede include Snow White and Rose Red, The Magician’s Ward and her most recent, Thirteenth Child. The second installment in her Frontier Magic series, Across the Great Barrier, comes out on August 1, 2011 from Scholastic.


From New York Times #1 bestselling author Patricia C. Wrede, the second in the series of magic on the western frontier.

Eff is an unlucky thirteenth child - her twin brother, Lan, is a powerful seventh son of a seventh son. And yet, Eff is the one who saved the day for the settlements west of the Great Barrier. Her unique ways of doing magic and seeing the world, and her fascination with the magical creatures and land in the Great Plains push Eff to work toward joining an expedition heading west. But things are changing on the frontier.

There are new professors of magic for Eff and Lan to learn to work with. There's tension between William and his father. And there are new threats on the frontier and at home. To help, Eff must travel beyond the Barrier, and come to terms with her magical abilities—and those of her brother, to stop the newest threat encroaching on the settlers.

With wit, magic, and a touch of good pioneer sense, Patricia C. Wrede weaves a fantastic tale of the very wild west.


What books are you waiting on?

horns and halos finale

Tuesday, February 15, 2011 | | 1 comments
In 2010 Aimee of (now defunct) my fluttering heart hosted the Horns and Halos reading challenge. There were several levels, and participants pledged to read a certain number of novels featuring angels, demons, or both. I said I’d read seven (it being a perfect number and all), and I got pretty close to that goal over the course of the year. One thing I always find quite interesting: the ‘before’ and ‘after’ lists – and by that I mean the list of books I thought I’d read, and the books I actually did read. Have a gander yourself…


Books on the original list:


Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey

Archangel's Kiss by Nalini Singh

Coffeehouse Angel by Suzanne Selfors

The Ninth Circle by Alex Bell

The Angel Experiment (Maximum Ride, Book 1) by James Patterson

The Demon's Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima


Books I did read:


Archangel by Sharon Shinn

Archangel’s Kiss by Nalini Singh

Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds

Demon’s Fall by Karalynn Lee

A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin

Mirrorscape by Mike Wilks


Lucky me, one of these challenge books ended up on my best of 2010 list! And I read quite a bit out of my comfort zone with a couple of these picks, so I’d count the whole experience a success. That said, of the books on that original list, I now only plan to check out The Demon’s Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan. Which isn’t to say I won’t ever pick the others up, but I’m on a bit of a break from angels (sorry, dears). I enjoyed our time together!


Do you have any favorite angel and/or demon books that I should pick up?

what has the aging process done to my literary loves?

Monday, February 14, 2011 | | 3 comments
I wander the blog universe less than I used to, but every now and then I still come across an idea that I think is genius. And in this case, one that I want to do on my own blog. Mette Ivie Harrison, author of The Princess and the Hound and The Princess and the Bear (love! both of those), wrote a blog post in which she compared her favorite literary couples from when she was 16 years old and her favorites now.


Her choices made me consider how my own preferences have changed over the past eleven years. Which books did I love at age sixteen? Which of those had romantic couples (for I was passionate about many, but I’ve realized that a lot of them didn’t have a speck of romance)? And which books do I currently treasure, at age twenty-seven, for the relationships in their pages?


Behold, my lists!


Favorite literary couples at age 16 (circa 2000):


Vicinius and Ligia from Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz

Kit and Nat from The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

Elnora and Philip from A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter

Jane and Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Mara and Sheftu from Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

Rose and Mac from Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott


I don’t know what that list tells you, but I do know what it tells me. None of the authors are alive. I was into classic lit at age sixteen, and devotedly worked my way through the recommended reading list. It also reminds me that I love(d) historical fiction with a passion. No real surprise that I went on to study history in graduate school, eh? And it also tells me that I was a normal teenager – most of the couples in these stories are young, experiencing first love, and a lot of it is idealized (though not all). One final thing: I wasn’t into my Jane Austen phase yet.


Favorite literary couples now (from books I currently read at least once a year):


Anne and Captain Wentworth from Persuasion by Jane Austen

Harry and Corlath from The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

Eleanor and Reggie from Phoenix and Ashes by Mercedes Lackey

Sabriel and Touchstone from Sabriel by Garth Nix

Rilla and Kenneth from Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery

Sophie and Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones


My current favorites are a different crop, certainly. For one thing, I’ve gone from historical fiction almost straight into fantasy. Some of the books are decidedly darker in tone. Most of the authors on this list are still alive. But I did notice continuity – I still favor books about strong female characters doing things. I also (apparently) like some hardship thrown in with my love story. It must add to the flavor? Come to think of it, bittersweet chocolate IS the most delicious.


What were your favorite literary couples at 16 and now?


[graphic from art at holli's etsy shop]

a grand welcome to one more page books

Sunday, February 13, 2011 | | 3 comments
Yesterday afternoon I convinced a couple of my friends to check out one of several Grand Opening weekend events at One More Page Books, a new independent bookstore in Arlington, Virginia. I’m a Virginia resident myself, and though I’ve been to a couple of the independent bookstores in DC, I haven’t ventured out into the suburbs until now.


The event featured a wine and champagne tasting (that champagne was delicious!), chocolate bites and frosted Valentine’s Day cookies. Also, books. I had a lovely time and found two books to bring home and add to my collection. They were: Matt Phelan’s The Storm in the Barn (new to me) and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit (for a reread). I’m now snuggled down in a quilt, alternately reading The Hobbit and checking blog updates.


[all of these folks were unsuspecting innocent bystanders. i was practicing stealth photography.]


If you’re ever in Northern Virginia, I’d suggest One More Page for a leisurely browse, a gift, or that special occasion bottle of wine and bar of chocolate (and no, they did not pay me to say that). And if you're too far away, you can always wander by the bookstore's blog or twitter account. Which I just found while pursuing links through the interwebs. What did we ever do with our time before the 'net? Read, I suppose!

best of 2010 giveaway

Tuesday, February 8, 2011 | | 20 comments
I find that I try to sell my real-life friends on books I really love. It’s like this: “Well, I love it! And you’re my friend (therefore you love me)…so you should love it too!” I do that even more here on the blog, where I assume my readers like books at least as much as I do. How’s that for a Valentine’s Day theme? Love + books = perfect. And with that…welcome to my latest giveaway!

[graphic found at SepiaLepus’ etsy shop]


Eleven books were featured in my best of 2010 post. Two randomly selected winners will receive one book of their choice from that list.


To enter:


Fill out the FORM. Giveaway is open internationally, and will end on February 22 at 11:59pm EST. You may earn an extra entry by commenting on the original 'best of: 2010' post. I will notify the winners via email.

2010: best of

Saturday, February 5, 2011 | | 37 comments
Before you even voice that question – yes, I know we’re a month into 2011. I’m running late. Oh, you’re not? Funny, that. I thought everyone was. I also thought about ditching this post altogether given its tardiness, but I like the idea of summarizing my year’s reading too much to give it up.


In my Best of 2009 post I listed 19 books. This year’s list is more modest, in keeping with my reduced reading pace (thanks much, full-time job). Also, there are a couple of AWESOME books that I read in late 2010 and haven’t gotten around to reviewing. Those will have to go on the 2011 list, I suppose.


Disclaimer: not all of the books on my list were necessarily published in 2010. Not all are wonderful literature (gasp!), but all ARE: moving, or entertaining, or thought-provoking or simply un-put-downable. And I read and reviewed them in the calendar year.


Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal – This was a case of love at first sight. Shades was wonderful – an Austenish novel with magic (and therefore my ideal book). It was an absolute gem, and packaged beautifully as well. Best recommendation? I bought it for my sister the very next day.


Cold Magic by Kate Elliott – A guilty pleasure read to start (or so I thought), which turned into genuine love and a bit of old-fashioned awe at the world-building. For fun, and absolutely for fantasy fans.


White Cat by Holly Black – Most unexpected success of the year award goes to this novel. Engrossing, clever, and fast-paced mystery with con men pitted against school kids. Definitely the start of something amazing. I made my brother buy it, and fangirled at a Holly Black signing at ALA.


The Kid Table by Andrea Seigel – Start with emotionally honest writing, add in a quirky and self-aware heroine, and a dash of family zaniness for good measure. The recipe? A perfect reading choice before any family event and a great reminder that everyone really is as dysfunctional as they seem (or even more so).


The Beastly Bride edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling – All that an anthology should be.With stories inspired by myth and by turns humorous, weird, frightening and wondrous, this collection kept me glued to the page with tale after tale.


Princess Hyacinth by Florence Parry Heide, Illustrated by Lane Smith – Equal parts sweet, laugh-out-loud funny and poignant, this picture book is one to treasure for many years. Life lessons, uncommon artistic composition and unforgettable text combine to make for a wonderful reading experience.


I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak – Zusak starts us off with a protagonist unraveling a mystery, and along the way finding instincts and strength to survive. Readers along for the ride watch him discovering himself and unexpected bits of life and joy and pain. This novel is a raw journey. It tapped my emotions, and the entire trip surprised the heck out of me.


The Moorchild by Eloise Jarvis McGraw – I found this novel through a blog commenter, right here at Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia. McGraw has been a long-time favorite, and to find a new-to-me novel at the same standard of excellence I was always used to from her caused much rejoicing. This book in three words: haunting, lyrical, melancholic.


Fire by Kristin Cashore – A companion novel to Cashore’s outstanding debut novel, Graceling, and a brilliant, colorful, wise and difficult book in its own right. And I mean difficult in the way that emotionally challenging things are hard (character building, in other words). Fire is an unforgettable heroine, and the Dells she lives in are a richly imagined fantasy landscape.


Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern – One of the best contemporary young adult novels I’ve come across, and not least because I myself am a nerd (no, REALLY?). I could identify with the plucky girl starring in this story, and was unreasonably pleased that she also had a ‘normal’ nuclear family – something of a rarity in YA lit.



Archangel by Sharon Shinn – When I committed to the Horns and Halos challenge (wrap-up post coming shortly) I hadn’t read a single thing by Sharon Shinn. This novel is an introduction ot one of the best in the trade, and the atmospheric writing and descriptions of choral music spoke to my soul – and made me a fan for life.

What were some of your favorite books in 2010?

waiting on wednesday (6)

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


I fell in love with Julie Halpern’s Into the Wild Nerd Yonder last winter on a wild, snowy day, and that experience has led to anticipation for her next novel, Don’t Stop Now. This one looks like a strange and wonderful iteration of the classic roadtrip story, and I can’t wait to read it. Don’t Stop Now will be published by Feiwel & Friends (Macmillan), and releases on June 7, 2011.


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


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


What books are you waiting on?

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