teaser tuesday (87)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012 | | 11 comments
It's Teaser Tuesday, a bookish blog meme hosted every week by MizB of Should Be Reading. Here's how it works:

Grab your current read and let it fall open to a random page (or if you're reading on an electronic device, pick a random number and scroll to that section). Post two or more sentences from that page, along with the book title and author. Share your find with others in the comments at Should Be Reading, and don't give anything vital away!

“‘I’ve got a lot of skills,’ I said.  ‘Of course, some of them aren’t that useful in real life—like dragon taming.  Some of them are illegal—like knife throwing.  I think that’s illegal.’

‘I think it probably is.’”

p. 22 of Frank Cottrell Boyce’s Cosmic

snickerdoodle cookies

Sunday, July 22, 2012 | | 17 comments
One of my roommates is getting married on August 4th (happiness and rainbows and confetti!).  The only downside? She's the one who owns the KitchenAid mixer I’ve been using for the past year.  And since she’s been moving out bit by bit for a couple of weeks, I knew that eventually that lovely appliance would take up residence on her new countertop, and I’d have to go back to my stand mixer-less existence.  This snickerdoodle cookie recipe is the LAST thing I made with the help of the KitchenAid – it has left the building.


Snickerdoodle Cookies (from this Gale Gand Food Network recipe)

INGREDIENTS

3 1/2 cups flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup butter (I used unsalted)
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 Tablespoon light corn syrup
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For cinnamon sugar coating:

3 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon


DIRECTIONS

In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and cinnamon for the topping and set aside.

For cookie dough, stir together dry ingredients in a medium bowl. 

Cream the butter in a stand mixer with paddle attachment, or in a medium bowl with electric mixer (of course, you can do it by hand, too – but the work!).  Add sugar and continue to mix, then add eggs, corn syrup, and vanilla, mixing thoroughly.  Add the dry ingredients in two parts, and mix until blended.  Cover and chill dough for one hour.


When you’re ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Roll walnut-sized balls of dough with hands, then dip and roll in the cinnamon sugar to coat.  Place on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet about 2 1/2 inches apart (these cookies will flatten and join together if you’re not careful).  Bake for 11-12 minutes until the surface is slightly cracked.  Let cool on the pan for 5 minutes, then remove to countertop or wire rack to continue cooling.  Makes 35-40 cookies.

Quantity-wise, this recipe is on the large side – so I shared with my ball hockey team and my coworkers (they were properly appreciative).  It’s important to keep the cookies in the oven until you see that the dough is cooked – you don’t want that underdone taste in the finished product.  On the whole, I liked the recipe quite a lot, though I’d also like to experiment with versions that require cream of tartar.  Snickerdoodles for the win!


Recommended for: a cookie staple for the holidays or anytime, that picky cookie-eater in your life who doesn’t want oatmeal or chocolate chips, and a delicious snack that will make your house smell divine.

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

waiting on wednesday (33)

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.

It’s been years now, and I’m not anywhere close to being ‘over’ steampunk.  The aesthetic lends itself to adventure, to invention, and apparently to the hands of some of the best writers around.  One of the most popular steampunk authors is Gail Carriger, whose novel Soulless I lovedLOVEDloved.  Well, now she’s doing all of her fans the enormous favor of writing a YA series.  I don’t know when I’ve heard such wonderful news – this is great for the genre, great for books, and I can tell, just from the cover and description (despite a lack of obvious steampunk), that it’ll be rollicking good fun.  Plus, the name Sophronia?  It can only bode well.  Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger will be published by Little Brown (Hachette), and releases on February 5th, 2013.

etiquette & espionage by gail carriger book coverIt's one thing to learn to curtsy properly. It's quite another to learn to curtsy and throw a knife at the same time. Welcome to finishing school.

Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is the bane of her mother's existence. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper etiquette at tea—and god forbid anyone see her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. She enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.

But little do Sophronia or her mother know that this is a school where ingenious young girls learn to finish, all right—but it's a different kind of finishing. Mademoiselle Geraldine's certainly trains young ladies in the finer arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but also in the other kinds of finishing: the fine arts of death, diversion, deceit, espionage, and the modern weaponries. Sophronia and her friends are going to have a rousing first year at school.

What books are you waiting on?

eat the city (+ giveaway)

Sunday, July 15, 2012 | | 11 comments
When I left my graduate school program in history three years ago, my reading choices swung wildly from a steady diet of non-fiction to almost exclusively fiction (and YA fiction at that).  One exception to that general rule is food writing.  I follow food blogs, I read cookbooks, and I have been known to search out obscure magazines and read the latest volume of Best Food Writing on a whim.  Robin Shulman’s Eat the City: A Tale of the Fishers, Foragers, Butchers, Farmers, Poultry Minders, Sugar Refiners, Cane Cutters, Beekeepers, Winemakers, and Brewers Who Built New York pays homage to food and history and a great, metropolitan city.  It was therefore irresistible to me.

eat the city by robin shulman book cover
New York is not a city for growing and manufacturing food. It’s a money and real estate city, with less naked earth and industry than high-rise glass and concrete.  Yet in this intimate, visceral, and beautifully written book, Robin Shulman introduces the people of New York City  - both past and present - who do grow vegetables, butcher meat, fish local waters, cut and refine sugar, keep bees for honey, brew beer, and make wine. In the most heavily built urban environment in the country, she shows an organic city full of intrepid and eccentric people who want to make things grow.  What’s more, Shulman artfully places today’s urban food production in the context of hundreds of years of history, and traces how we got to where we are.

 In these pages meet Willie Morgan, a Harlem man who first grew his own vegetables in a vacant lot as a front for his gambling racket. And David Selig, a beekeeper in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn who found his bees making a mysteriously red honey. Get to know Yolene Joseph, who fishes crabs out of the waters off Coney Island to make curried stews for her family. Meet the creators of the sickly sweet Manischewitz wine, whose brand grew out of Prohibition; and Jacob Ruppert, who owned a beer empire on the Upper East Side, as well as the New York Yankees.

Eat the City is about how the ability of cities to feed people has changed over time. Yet it is also, in a sense, the story of the things we long for in cities today: closer human connections, a tangible link to more basic processes, a way to shape more rounded lives, a sense of something pure. With wit and insight, Eat the City shows how in places like New York, people have always found ways to use their collective hunger to build their own kind of city.

In Eat the City, Robin Shulman breaks down what would be an insurmountable task (chronicling the history of food production in New York and connecting it to the present) into personal stories, tidbits of history, and deep local research.  She takes the tone of a journalist and dives not only into the lives of current New Yorkers, but into the radio, magazines, newspapers and records of the past.  Of course, in a city the size of New York, there is no ‘one’ history of food.  But Shulman takes the reader on a far-reaching tour that seems as though it must touch every corner, and the result is a new appreciation for food and its varied history, and for what human beings can do in an urban environment.

Shulman creates a personal connection between the reader and food history, and allows a look into past lives through creative description and research.  That descriptiveness, while at times overdone, often put the reader IN the scene – in the butcher shop or on the rooftop.  That is no mean feat.  

Eat the City should appeal to all readers, because food is universal.  That said, it will appeal most to foodies, hipsters, and anyone with a connection to the food chain in New York, even if it is just a delicious meal in one of the neighborhoods that Shulman mentions.  The ‘chapters’ on honey, meat, vegetables, fish, sugar, beer, and wine make for accessible reading.  The narrative as it is, typically focused on one person in the present combined with many lives in the past, connects present reality and a world stretching hundreds of years into the past.

Though I enjoyed the book and found its many stories delicious, uplifting and astonishing by turns, I found that some sections were stronger than others.  Honey and vegetables were two robust chapters, while the one on fish came off a bit as preachy, and parts of wine sounded to this ear like an old man’s tall tale, undiluted.  In addition, I was a little bit dismayed to see that this history of New York’s food production is, overall, a man’s story.  I can’t help thinking that there must be more women’s stories in the city, and I was dismayed to see the central lives and focus given solely to men.

Whatever I found to criticize is balanced by the fact that not only can I give this book to half of my relatives for the holidays, I also enjoyed it, and the writing made me very, very hungry.  Shulman has a way with words, with description, with personal history and (unsurprisingly) with food.  A bit of the essence of Eat the City, from page 64:

“Every human being is a museum piece.  Along with DNA, we inherit the language, knowledge, and values of the people who raised us, and those who raised them.  Among the most profound and unshakable parts of our inheritance is food.  Recipes from the Old Country often last generations, longer than language, sometimes longer even than ritual and religion.”

Eat the City is an introduction and invitation for those living in an urban area to ask, “Where did this meal come from, and what is my city’s history?”

Recommended for: foodies, food historians (amateur or otherwise), urbanites, devoted New York City residents or those who merely curious, and anyone with an eye and ear for description and a taste for food.  So, basically, everyone.

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

The lovely team at Crown is letting me host a giveaway for Eat the City.  If you’d like to win a hardcover copy, simply fill out the FORM.  Giveaway open to the US only, and will end on July 22nd at 11:59pm EST.  Winner will be selected randomly and notified via email.  Good luck!

Fine print: I received a copy of Eat the City for review, and the giveaway book is provided by the publisher.

dragons, fairy tales and a short story

Young adult author Cecil Castellucci has written a short story based on the Prince Lindwurm fairy tale (which I hadn’t heard of before, actually), and it is featured today on Tor.com.  The Tor website publishes novel excerpts, original pieces of prose, comics and poetry every week.  This bountiful content is probably the reason I think of Tor first when I am searching my brain for the name of a ‘publisher of fantasy and sci-fi.’

illustration by Sam Burley

In the past, I’ve also found lovely fairy tale contributions by favorite authors Catherynne M. Valente ("The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland - For a Little While," an addition to the Fairyland story) and Marissa Meyer ("Glitches," featuring characters from Cinder).  Oh!  And if you’re curious about Cecil Castellucci’s novel-length works, she recently published The Year of the Beasts with Nate Powell, a half-novel, half-graphic novel. 

But!  The point: go read “Brother. Prince. Snake.  You can thank me later.

waiting on wednesday (32)

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.

If there’s any story that is truly classic English children’s literature, it is Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  That beguiling, mad, strange story of a girl who inadvertently visits  another world has been retold in film and book form over and over again.  And it is very evident, if one looks at my reading history, that I am fond of adaptations and retellings.  For heaven’s sake, fairy tales are very nearly my favorite fantasy subgenre! 

Oh, and I like zombies.  Enough so that I have friends who draw me original zombie artwork for my birthday and send me zombie bonbons on Valentine’s Day.  Ahem.  So it would seem that a new young adult novel meshing Alice in Wonderland with zombies would… appeal.  AND BOY DOES IT EVER.  Pardon the volume.  I’m just so excited (really!).  I mean, tell me YOU can resist a book with the tag line 'Off with their heads.'  I can't.  Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter will be published by Harlequin Teen, and releases on September 25th, 2012.

alice in zombieland by gena showalter book coverShe won't rest until she's sent every walking corpse back to its grave.  

Forever. 

Had anyone told Alice Bell that her entire life would change course between one heartbeat and the next, she would have laughed. From blissful to tragic, innocent to ruined? Please. But that's all it took. One heartbeat. A blink, a breath, a second, and everything she knew and loved was gone.  

Her father was right. The monsters are real. 

To avenge her family, Ali must learn to fight the undead. To survive, she must learn to trust the baddest of the bad boys, Cole Holland. But Cole has secrets of his own, and if Ali isn't careful, those secrets might just prove to be more dangerous than the zombies.

What books are you waiting on?

capture the flag

Wednesday, July 4, 2012 | | 3 comments
When I picked up Kate Messner’s middle grade adventure Capture the Flag at the Scholastic booth at Book Expo America last month, I knew it would be the perfect book to review on July 4th, the United States’ Independence Day.  I mean, a book about the famous flag that inspired the national anthem is… as patriotic as it gets.

capture the flag by kate messner book coverThree kids get caught up in an adventure of historic proportions!

Anna, José, and Henry are complete strangers with more in common than they realize. Snowed in together at a chaotic Washington D.C. airport, they encounter a mysterious tattooed man, a flamboyant politician, and a rambunctious poodle named for an ancient king. Even stranger, news stations everywhere have announced that the famous flag that inspired "The Star-Spangled Banner" has been stolen! Anna, certain that the culprits must be snowed in too, recruits Henry and José to help catch the thieves and bring them to justice.

But when accusations start flying, they soon realize there's more than justice at stake. As the snow starts clearing, Anna, José, and Henry find themselves in a race against time (and the weather!) to prevent the loss of an American treasure.

Anna, José and Henry are three of the hundreds of people stuck at a Washington, DC airport during a snowstorm when the world finds out that an extremely old and historic flag has been stolen from the Smithsonian Museum of American History.  Anna, an aspiring news reporter, is determined to get the real story, and she marshals José, Henry, and their 8-year-old friend Sinan into an investigative force.  They must work together, find their way out of dangerous situations, and corral one overactive dog (Hammurabi) to have any chance of saving the day.

The story is mostly told from Anna’s point of view, and Anna, a devotee of Harriet the Spy and longing to be grown up and in the thick of things, is a force to be reckoned with.  Her determination to do the right thing is admirable, and though the reader might find her a little bossy, it’s an understandable ‘let’s save the world!’ sort of bossiness.  José is a reader and a quotation gatherer, and his clear thinking and timely advice often help the rest of the group sort out what they should do.  Henry is addicted to video games, and this (surprisingly) is one of his great assets – because he knows how the spies and thieves in his game act. 

While the characters are drawn with care and the action is non-stop, the mystery itself is fairly easy to solve.  The plot twists may work with younger readers, but preteens to adults should figure out the puzzle quickly.  That doesn’t take away from what the book does well – it is an entertaining adventure/mystery featuring protagonists from different ethnic backgrounds with a historical artifact as a subject and themes of international cooperation.  I imagine it will do very well in upper elementary classrooms as additional reading for American history curricula.

While I didn’t fall in love with the book like I did with The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, I can see where this book fits, and I think it will find a home with lower level readers and perhaps spark a love of reading, history and mysteries in the hearts of those kids. 

Recommended for: fans of The Boxcar Children series, those who enjoy middle grade mysteries, and any child who enjoys museums, history, and a simple caper.

Fine print: I picked up this book for review at the Scholastic booth at BEA.

teaser tuesday (86)

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

Grab your current read and let it fall open to a random page (or if you're reading on an electronic device, pick a random number and scroll to that section). Post two or more sentences from that page, along with the book title and author. Share your find with others in the comments at Should Be Reading, and don't give anything vital away!

the long earth by terry pratchett and stephen baxter book cover“At last Sarah stumbled towards him and clamped herself on him. ‘Where are we?’

‘Somewhere else, I guess.  You know.  Like Narnia.’

The moonlight showed him the tears pouring down her face and the snot under her nose, and he could smell the vomit on her nightdress. ‘I never stepped into no wardrobe.’

p. 25 of Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s The Long Earth (ARC version, subject to change)

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