Friday, July 29, 2011

Your Grandmother’s Chicken Soup Recipe

For many years I was afraid to make chicken soup. It wasn’t something we had a lot when I was a child (and when we did, I think it came in a can and it always involved noodles), and as I began cooking for myself soup-making itself was slightly intimidating. I mean, homemade soup? It’s an entire meal, not just one dish of a whole. What if I screwed it up? That’s a whole meal destroyed (or multiple meals when you take into account a whole pot of soup).

For years I avoided chicken soup, instead using my soup pot for boiling artichokes and upping my multivitamin dosage to deal with the evil that is the cold. When a sore throat had me down, I just microwave some chicken broth – a little protein without the work. Bland as hell, but it did the job.

Then a couple of years ago a friend scheduled a tonsillectomy, and in preparation had a bunch of us over to make soup she could freeze for her post surgery meals. By this point I’d mastered tomato soup (just add wine…and then more wine…that’s right, get in touch with your inner Julia Child) and a cream of asparagus. My soup paralysis was over, but my repertoire was still small. Besides she was going to be on pain killers, how much could she actually taste? I dutifully copied down my recipes with exact measurements and hauled my soup pot and produce over to her house.

When I arrived another friend was already there with her own hodgepodge of veggies and a package of chicken. We began to chop. For ever cup I carefully measured, she would drop in a handful of this or that into her pot. Potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots: in they went. And when I asked what she was making?

Chicken soup.

It was the first time I’d ever actually seen someone make it from start to finish. Soup making is rarely a short process – you want to let is thicken or cook down – so we spent the day watching movies and drinking wine while we chopped, sautéed, stirred and packaged. I learned that day that the key ingredient to chicken soup – good chicken soup – was time. Oh, and chicken. Everything else is up to you.

She wrote down the recipe for me, but it was more a list of possible ingredients and suggestions than instructions. Still, this was enough. Chicken Soup had been demystified and made accessible.

And with these ingredients, made very tasty.

About year, and many batches of soup later, I had a friend come over to deal with a laptop emergency. As he was trying to de-worm my computer I was cooking, and it’s only right to feed your computer tech, I dished up a bowl of soup and sliced up some crusty bread.

“How did you get my grandmother’s chicken soup recipe?” he asked.*

Your Grandmother’s (Or Your Mother’s, Or Your Aunt Minnie’s, Or Your Next Door Neighbor’s) Chicken Soup Recipe

(Remember: these are all more like guidelines anyway.)

The Ingredients:
  • 1 onion - diced
  • 1-2 Leeks - halved and sliced
  • 3-4 carrots – halved and hopped
  • 3-4 celery (ribs) stalks – thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic – diced
  • 1 package (3-4) chicken thighs (or breasts)
  • 1-2 containers chicken or vegetable broth (containers should be 28 to 32 ounces)
  • 3-4 small potatoes of your choice – cut into 1 in. chunks (I leave the peel on)
  • 1 handful parsley – chopped
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

The Suggestions:

To the soup pot add the onion, leek, garlic, celery and carrots and drizzle with olive oil. Sauté over medium heat until the onions begin to turn clear. Add in the chicken, salt and pepper, and one container of the broth of your choice. Bring the mixture to an almost boil and then reduce down to a simmer.

Cover and walk away for 20 to 30 minutes.

Remove cover and check the chicken. If you can break it up with your spatula/wooden spoon/switchit then it’s time to add the potatoes and the parsley. Increase heat to a medium low and leave the lid off the pot.

Go do something else for another 10 to 15 minutes.

At this point you can add more broth (or water), if a lot of your liquid has been absorbed by your ingredients and let it cook a little longer to blend the flavors, or you can turn off the heat. Using two forks, shred the chicken into manageable pieces. Ladle into your favorite soup bowls and serve.

I suggest pairing it with crusty French bread and butter. Oh and wine.

Because everything is made better by wine. In this case a white would be appropriate.

Because you’re not adding noodles to this recipe** you can freeze it in individual sized containers and pull it out in the future when you don’t have time to prep the recipe from scratch.

For spice, serve with Aardvark hot sauce or Rooster Sauce.

*I think that all Chicken Soup recipes have the same point of origin…and no, it’s not the broth and the chicken. Although to be fair, there were two degrees of separation between the friend who taught me how to make chicken soup and the friend who was fixing my computer. Regardless, the recipe I was following that night was based on what I had in my fridge, so maybe his grandma’s chicken soup recipe really was in the all that and the kitchen sink style.

**If you are going to add noodles you will want that to be in the very last step and serve the dish after the noodles have cooked as long as their package instructs. You can also cook the noodles separately and add them right before serving. Personally I find that noodles get slimy too quickly in leftovers and I love the way that potatoes thicken the broth.

Please note: this will make for some mushy soup as the ingredients all cook for so long. This is the way I like my chicken soup because it feels so damn nice when you are under the weather. If you want your veggies to keep some form, let the chicken simmer in the broth and sauté your veggies on the side. Add them all together and allow to cook for 15 minutes or so to mingle the flavors.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Saving You 15% or More on Links for the Past, Present and Future

Courtney Milan talks the future of agents in a self-publishing world in “An open letter to agents,” the first of (what sounds like) two columns. Milan, whose self-published novella Unlocked is currently sitting at spot # 102 in the Kindle store, has an amazing mind, and her dissection of agents and their role in a world where author’s don’t need them to publish raises some very important points. She writes:

Agents, I don’t think you have any idea how much your writers are talking about you right now. Seriously. I don’t think you have any idea. I am getting multiple e-mails every day from writers who are worried about what their agents are doing, and who are worried about how to handle agents, and who want to be fair to their agents but also don’t want to pay them a percentage when there’s little to no work involved, and/or the agent handles little of the risk.

If you haven’t already, I would suggest adding her to your feedreader of choice. (Link via Kalen O’Donnell)

For you SciFi fans looking for out of print lost loves there is good news – “Gollancz, the SF and Fantasy imprint of the Orion Publishing Group, announces the launch of the world's largest digital SFF library, the SF Gateway, which will make thousands of out-of-print titles by classic genre authors available as eBooks.” Check out the Book Trade Announcement pressrelease for more information. (Link via io9’s Charlie Jane Anders)

The Apple store has started to enforce it’s in app buying policies and this just adds to the hard couple of weeks the publishing world has experienced. Mike Shatzkin suggests that “Publishing is living in a worldnot of its own making.

“…the happy symbiosis between the ebook retailers and Apple, by which the retailers got access to customers they would not otherwise have had and Apple was able to readily deliver their customers content they hadn’t otherwise aggregated, appears to have come to an end.”

(link via TeleRead.)


Flavorwire highlights Christian Jackson’s “MinimalistPosters for Your Favorite Children’s Stories.” I’ll take the one of Little Red Riding Hood.

As if the Borders news wasn’t sad enough, GalleyCat says that BAM has dropped its bidfor the 30 stores in the NE. That said, the “Help Ex-Borders Employees” continues to add new job postings every day.

I've been getting hits daily for people searching "When will close down?" or some variation there of. While I don’t know when the Borders website will be closing, I assume that it will be posted to the Borders Group, Inc  Case Administration website soon. For those of you looking for information on the bankruptcy or how it will affect your ability to buy books, this is the site to check. Currently it states:

On July 21, Borders Group received Court approval of a previously announced proposal from Hilco and Gordon Brothers to purchase the store assets of the business and administer the liquidation process under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. Liquidation of 399 stores nationwide commenced July 22 and stores are expected to close by the end of September.
During the liquidation period:
  • Borders gift cards will be honored in stores throughout the sale.

  • In addition to store liquidation discounts, Borders Rewards PLUS members will continue to receive additional discounts on qualifying purchases through Aug. 5. In addition, all existing Borders Bucks can be redeemed until they expire on July 31.

  • and the Kobo eBook store, which can be accessed through, are operating. In addition, Borders gift cards are being honored on

And finally, this sign my roommate sent me this sandwich board for the Between theCovers Bookstore in Bend:

This does raise the question though, if I go to bed with a new book every night does that make me a slut?

Monday, July 25, 2011

In the Vespers I see...

The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell:

It’s the summer of 1889, and Amelia van den Broek is new to Baltimore and eager to take in all the pleasures the city has to offer. But her gaiety is interrupted by disturbing, dreamlike visions she has only at sunset—visions that offer glimpses of the future. Soon, friends and strangers alike call on Amelia to hear her prophecies. However, a forbidden romance with Nathaniel, an artist, threatens the new life Amelia is building in Baltimore. This enigmatic young man is keeping secrets of his own—still, Amelia finds herself irrepressibly drawn to him.

When one of her darkest visions comes to pass, Amelia’s world is thrown into chaos. And those around her begin to wonder if she’s not the seer of dark portents, but the cause.

Summary from GoodReads.

Baltimore, 1889. Amelia van den Broek has been sent down from her small town in Maine to find a husband. In this city she’ll experience many things for the first time: balls, archery, and mysterious visions that come on at sunset. These visions – some innocent, some sinister – open doors into a high society fascinated by spiritualists and the supernatural. Equally mysterious is Nathaniel, Amelia’s unacceptable suitor, who appears and disappears from her life at will.

As the visions become more horrifyingly true and her obsession with Nathaniel grows, Amelia must take control of her future and her heart.

Saundra Mitchell has an amazing ability to set a scene. In her first book, Shadowed Summer, I sweated along with the main character as she braved the humidity and sun in a search for ghostly answers. In The Verspertine she transports her readers back in time to 1889 Baltimore capturing the feelings of change and the supernatural that captivated the upper and middle classes.

Amelia’s cousin Zora and her parents are lodged somewhere on the upper scale of the emerging middle class – able to provide for dresses and dinner parties – but pinching pennies by doing most of the housework and food prep themselves. It is through this class window that Amelia experiences what Baltimore has to offer. The balls they attend are public, and Zora’s father hires young men to round out their dinner parties. This is how Amelia meets Nathaniel – a poor portrait artist from a bad neighborhood – beginning one of the most intense relationships I have read in young adult fiction.

Amelia and Nathaniel burn for each other and it comes across in every illicit touch and clandestine meeting. Their actual physical contact is very limited – a touch of bare hands through lace gloves should not smolder this much – but with each connection their bond grows stronger and hotter.

I used the word obsession in my summary and the more I look back on the novel, the more I feel it’s an accurate descriptor of their relationship. They are equally in thrall with each other, caught up in a first love that threatens to be all consuming. It is a testament to Mitchell’s writing ability that I was able to accept this level of feeling from both of them as real and not destructive. It helps that this is not the only example of love in the book (for example, Mitchell allows Zora and Thomas’s relationship to build on their mutual respect).  In fact, it is the myriad of relationships – romantic and familial – that make the story so strong and the results of Amelia’s visions so devastating.*

When you see the future, you take the good with the bad.

After reading The Vespertine, I found myself wondering not how it would do as a YA novel (although I hope it does well…very, very well), but how it would do as a book club selection for a more adult audience. As keeping with the YA genre, Amelia is clearly a teenager attempting to find herself and understand her place in life, but the aspects of Amelia’s visions and her relationships with family, friends and Nathaniel, as well as the time period itself, would make for great discussion topics for mature readers of any age.

Very much recommended for teens looking for a historical novel with romance, drama and a touch of something more, and to all readers looking for something a little different. Fans of Franny Billingsley’s Chime should also check this out. I’m looking forward to the next book and what she plans for the companion novel.

You can purchase The Vespertine from these fine retailers: Powells, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Your Local Indie, or you can pick it up at your local library.

Book Source: The library, but I will be purchasing my own copy soon.

*Read the whole book and then read the acknowledgements. I’m with Jackson Pearce.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Borders Closing Round Up: News, Memories and More...

These aren't the first (and the certainly won't be the last) stories on the Borders Liquidation, but they are worth checking out for their unique take:

  • Edward Nawotka of Publishing Perspectives has a run down of the damage done under CEO Greg Josefowicz: "Can you treat books like orange juice and shampoo? Josefowicz seemed to think so and soon implemented the controversial strategy of “category management,” a program that limited the number of titles that would be on sale in a particular genre, say cookbooks or biographies. It wasn’t as draconian as pay-to-stay “slotting” — the norm in the grocery business – but was nevertheless widely criticized as favoring large publishers over small presses and for catering exclusively to mass market tastes." 
  • Dennis Johnson of MobyLives rounds up the new articles out there and points out that most miss the boat on the real estate aspect: "The story of Borders failure is, first and foremost, a real estate story."
  • This Week gives us "Why Borders failed and Barnes and Noble hasn't: 4 theories.
  • The Brand Channel gives a good timeline of Borders online and ebook activities (and how they compared to the competition.
  • TeleRead rounds up some Elegies for Borders and points out the nostalgia for what the company once represented wasn't enough to get people to go there and buy books. Of all the links within the story, check out "On Endings and Sugar Free Raspberry Lattes."
  • Romance author Sarah MacLean gives thanks to Borders for the memories and the job she once held in a Borders cafe.
  • The Nappy Bookseller, who has done this story closing thing before, gives advice on "How to Work/How to Shop at a Liquidated Borders."
  • And finally in a move that is so very corporate, the Borders website and the Borders Twitter account still do not reflect any news regarding the liquidation.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A World Without Borders

When I was young, our local bookstore was a Waldenbooks that took up one corner of our Fred Meyer shopping complex. There a bookseller suggested I try LJ Smith’s Night World series while I wiled away the hours browsing the shelves as my mother shopped for groceries. It was at this store that I met the woman who would one day lead me from the reading world into the bookselling one, giving me my first job.

Waldenbooks became part of the Borders empire in the mid 90s when Borders left K-mart. The stores were re-branded as Borders Express, but even rehabbed they were the first closed when Borders began to experience financial problems several years ago. My store, my final store in my bookselling history, was one of the first closed. Now the rest of Borders will be shutting down as well. On Monday the company announced that they will seek approval for liquidation. Soon 399 stores will close and 10,700 people will lose their jobs.

When our Borders Express closed back in 2007, it was clear that the company was having trouble.

“Why are you closing?” customers would ask as we filled their bags with 50% off books. “You always look so busy.”

We were profitable. We were out performing our plan, but it wasn’t enough to save us. “Over-expansion overseas,” we’d reply. “We don’t have the online presence.”

Funny how those were clear even then.

Despite what some claim e-books were not the cause of Borders' downfall. E-books weren’t even on the horizon. The first Kindle would not be released until November of that year.

Closing a store is heartbreaking. Not only do you have the lead up, where the feeling of something bad shadows ever move, but then you have the after. You have the weight of the questions asked - “Why? Where will you go? What will happen next? Will you discount even more?” - along with the boxes you will have to fill and the books you will have to strip.

Those Borders stores will be stripping a lot of books - romance, mystery, any genre where paperbacks are the size of choice to drop in your purse or tuck in your computer bag. As the New York Times points out “Borders was known as a retailer that took special care in selling paperbacks, and its promotion of certain titles could propel them to best-seller status.”

With Borders gone the print runs will be smaller and the market for new paperback titles will be reduced. The loss will be far-reaching.

But right now, it’s about the employees who have held on for months hoping for a continuance even while they knew the end was coming. It’s about the relief that they can finally cry openly about they changes they will need to make in their lives. It’s about the realization that some of these customers they have grown to care about will no longer be part of their daily routine.

When you close your store you want to believe you’ll stay in touch, that the heartache and sweat that went into those last few days will find you together. Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t.

But you’ll always have books.

I would like to believe that everyone remembers their first bookstore, and for the generation that has enjoyed Borders it will live on forever. For me a Borders always meant an escape from life’s pressures thanks to well stocked shelves and friendly people. A Borders in whatever city I was visiting meant a familiar place to go.

Thank you, Borders, for seeing me through the hard times, for giving me a job, and for being a place I could always find something to read. Thank you to those many thousands of booksellers who will continue to do their job until the end.

I’m sorry we had to part like this. Even as my store closed I had hope for the rest of you.

You can read more about the Borders closing at GalleyCat, or follow the topic on Twitter (#Borders and #ThankUBorders).

As I write this the Borders website has not reflected the liquidation on their main page. The About Us page only mentions the filing on February 16th. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Feel that Heavenly fire...

Angel Burn by L.A. Weatherly:

Willow knows she’s different from other girls, and not just because she loves tinkering with cars. Willow has a gift. She can look into the future and know people’s dreams and hopes, their sorrows and regrets, just by touching them. She has no idea where this power comes from. But the assassin, Alex, does. Gorgeous, mysterious Alex knows more about Willow than Willow herself does. He knows that her powers link to dark and dangerous forces and that he’s one of the few humans left who can fight them. When Alex finds himself falling in love with his sworn enemy, he discovers that nothing is as it seems, least of all good and evil.

In the first book in an action-packed romantic trilogy, L. A. Weatherly sends readers on a thrill ride of a road trip — and depicts the human race at the brink of a future as catastrophic as it is deceptively beautiful.

Summary from GoodReads.

While reading Angel Burn by L.A. Weatherly, I was struck by how easily this could have transitioned to the adult Urban Fantasy market. Despite being teens, both main characters act older due to the situations they’ve experienced. It would be easy to just age the main characters up a few years and let them follow through on certain actions, and voila! This book could go live in a second section at the bookstore.  Really, I mean it. The characters – one of whom is a trained killer – experience end of the world making events and make decisions in accordance with these situations. While Willow certainly reads younger than Alex, one could argue that it’s due to her lack of life outside her small town, not age. The resulting story manages to overcome a few faltering steps to tell a compelling adventure.

Here’s the deal: Willow is one of those girls. You know, the ones that wear funky retro clothes and work on cars. She’s an outsider, who makes herself even more of one by acting as the living, breathing Oracle of Pawtucket , NY. Sure, her classmates value her ability to divine what college will accept their middling grade point average, but they are just not that excited to invite her to the next beer bash. The exception to this is her one and only friend Nina who accepts Willow for who she is because she doesn’t believe in all that fortune telling nonsense.

Obviously this makes it a little hard for Willow to share the burden of the darker futures she foresees. With her Mom mostly off in la la land (see: semi functional coma), and her aunt resentful of her presence, Willow has pretty much been making her own decisions for years, which is why she barely hesitates to give a reading to her popular classmate Beth. Instead of seeing SATs and college admissions, her vision shows the impossible: Beth has seen and interacted with an Angel – one who is sucking the energy from her with every meeting.

You see, in Willow’s world Angels exist. Only instead of passing on heavenly enlightenment and being guardians to all things great and small, they harvest our energy and leave their human victims with Angel Burn. The burn manifests during the feeding as euphoria, but this brain suck results in a whole spectrum of physical and mental illnesses. The drainee doesn’t realize this, of course, and its this compelling desire to once again be an Angel’s fruit smoothie that has driven the masses to build places of worship to these heavenly beings.

The Church of Angels is nationwide, mega-sized, and coming to a city near year.

Working to combat these parasitic faux saviors are the Angel Killers (the AKs for short*) - a cobbled together band of hunters started by Alex’s father after his wife became an Angel victim. The AKs recently became the jurisdiction of the CIA – despite the fact that the CIA does not operate on US soil – who now texts solo hunters the address of disguised Angels so that they can go blow some halo.

Still with me?

Good, because that was just the back story. You see, Beth – the originator of Willow’s not so heavenly visions – tips off her Angel to our psychic friend, and he realizes that Willow is an even bigger threat to Angel-kind than Miss Cleo.

Seeing as how she is actually half angel. That’s right, if biblical history has taught us nothing else, it’s that nephilim will not be tolerated.**

Next thing you know, Alex gets a text and makes his way to Pawtucket, to go hunting.

Props to Weatherly for giving Angels the soylent green spin, and creating a couple of characters who have a habit of making the right decisions. Once Willow and Alex head for the road, Willow does not give in to the need to call home, and Alex is willing to see beyond the Angelic obvious. Combine this with the author’s use of the hysterical religiosity of the Church of Angel followers with a splash of current social networking, and suddenly there’s a creepy sense of halo-ed Big Brother hunting our protagonists.

Angel Burn is a road trip story, an Urban Fantasy and a new creationist tale all rolled into one. As the only two people out to save the world, Willow and Alex have to set aside their differences and grow to love and understand one another while trying to stop a massive Angelic influx.

It is the building of this relationship where the story experiences the occasional hiccups. Due to her isolation with Alex, Willow’s feeling read a little Stockholmish, while Alex overcomes his prejudices and goes a bit flowery pretty quickly. Truthfully, I was willing to completely accept both of these things until the couple has some Garden of Eden time up in the mountains. They choose to acknowledge the physical, but not go all the way. Not because they don’t have any birth control or that it wouldn’t be the best time for Willow to get knocked up before they save the world, but because Willow isn’t ready. Sentiment appreciated? Yes. Is the behavior all sorts of gentlemanly? Of course. But truthful to the situation? Eh, I fully believe that given a chance those two would have been getting it on like the Rapture was tomorrow.

Alternating between first person (Willow) and third (Alex, the villian, and others), L.A. Weatherly creates a story of action and adventure that reads like a movie. Readers will be compelled along as Willow and Alex fight to bring down the Church of Angels, and save us all from unknowing from their touch.

Angel Burn is the first of a planned trilogy that has even this paranormal burnout interested in what will happen next.

Recommended for paranormal fiends looking for something new, YA-oholics who don’t want an Edward/Bella/Jacob love triangle and any reader who wants something to burn with over the summer break.

You can purchase Angel Burn from these fine retailers: Powells, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Your Local Indie, or you can pick it up at your local library.

Book Source: My church of choice – the library. 

*Yep, and just like the 47s, you just aim them and fire.
**and that it’s okay to get it on with a sibling in ye olden times.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Make me a bird so I can fly far, far away from here...

Lark by Tracey Porter:

When sixteen-year-old Lark Austin is kidnapped from her Virginia hometown and left to die in a snowy forest, she leaves behind two friends who are stunned by the loss. As Lark's former best friend, Eve can't shake the guilt that this tragedy was somehow her fault. Meanwhile, Nyetta is haunted each night by Lark's ghost, who comes through the bedroom window and begs Nyetta to set her soul free. Eve and Nyetta realize that Lark is trapped in limbo, and only by coming together to heal themselves will they discover why.

Tracey Porter's stunning narrative about love and loss demonstrates that forgiveness can never come too late.

Summary from Goodreads.

Lark is a slim volume that tells the story of After. After Lark Austin is kidnapped from gymnastics practice and found in the woods of her Virginian town two days later – tied to a tree and dead from exposure. It’s the story of the two people who knew her best – her former best friend Eve and Nyetta, the little girl Lark used to babysit. It’s the story of Lark, trapped in the forest and doomed to become one more lost girl unless someone will acknowledge and remember what happened to her. Alternating between point of views, Lark (the book) chronicles the livings’ attempt to move on and Lark’s attempt to escape from the in between in which she is trapped.

While never overly graphic, Lark is a disturbing tale that layers the stages of grief with Lark’s immediate afterlife. In trying to save Lark from the horror of becoming a lost girl, the story explores the often contradictory messages young women receive when one of their own is lost to violence.

I don’t remember why I added this book to my reading list – it might be that it reminded me of the Miranda Gaddis/Ashley Pond murders (which it obliquely references), or the beauty of the spare cover. Porter’s lyrical writing style is compelling, lending itself to Lark’s transformation and Nyetta’s dreamy experiences with her ghost. Occasionally the prose made it harder to differentiate between Eve, Nyetta and Lark’s first person narration. It wasn’t until Nyetta and Eve finally interact that Nyetta’s much younger age became apparent despite being referenced several times before in the text. That said, the story and the message are incredibly important and handled with a great deal of care.

A lot has been said about teen reads with dark themes* and their importance in YA literature. As many, many people (see #YASaves) have already provided eloquent and cogent defenses, I can only add this:

If you want to know what your child is reading, you have to read those books as well. Don’t forbid it, instead talk about it. Use it to be engaged in their life and discuss your feelings on the subject matter. Lark has some very strong passages in which Eve deals with her anger towards Lark’s death and her guilt over the disintegration of their friendship. It allows the reader to look at the mixed messages and abuse that girls receive from authority figures within the context of a greater story.

These are things you need to talk about, not bury your head in the sand. Bad things happen to good people, bad people and the random who are in between and it is left up to the living to deal with this.

Lark is not a perfect book, but it’s a book that deserves to be read, shared and discussed. Read it with your daughter.


Talk about grief and guilt and the fear of letting go. Talk about what right and wrong and what truly is acceptable.

Talk, damn it.  

Yes, there are wonderful books out there that let us escape to a better place, but there are those out there that help us realize how to cope with the bad place we may already be in. Books impart knowledge, make us question, engage and look beyond ourselves to the great what if.

Why would you want to take something so wonderful away?

You can purchase Lark from these fine retailers: Powells, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Your Local Indie, or you can pick it up at your local library.

Book Source: One of those places where people go to learn – the library. 

*Ironically, the most popular “dark issues” book that I sold to teen girls? A Child Called It. That’s right, an autobiography shelved in the self help section…no where near where our YA books lived.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hand in Glove...

Warning: This review contains spoilers for the book in the Curse Worker’s Trilogy: White Cat.

Red Glove (Curse Workers Book # 2) by Holly Black:

Curses and cons. Magic and the mob. In Cassel Sharpe's world, they go together. Cassel always thought he was an ordinary guy, until he realized his memories were being manipulated by his brothers. Now he knows the truth—he’s the most powerful curse worker around. A touch of his hand can transform anything—or anyone—into something else.

That was how Lila, the girl he loved, became a white cat. Cassel was tricked into thinking he killed her, when actually he tried to save her. Now that she's human again, he should be overjoyed. Trouble is, Lila's been cursed to love him, a little gift from his emotion worker mom. And if Lila's love is as phony as Cassel's made-up memories, then he can't believe anything she says or does.

When Cassel's oldest brother is murdered, the Feds recruit Cassel to help make sense of the only clue—crime-scene images of a woman in red gloves. But the mob is after Cassel too—they know how valuable he could be to them. Cassel is going to have to stay one step ahead of both sides just to survive. But where can he turn when he can't trust anyone—least of all, himself?

Love is a curse and the con is the only answer in a game too dangerous to lose.

Summary from GoodReads.

After the events in White Cat, Cassel Sharpe spends the summer in Atlantic City reluctantly pulling cons with his mother and actively trying to avoid his feelings for Lila. The start of school is a chance to once again escape from everyone except his friends and embrace the normal, or at least for Cassel to con himself into believing that normal is what he wants.

But with just two shots a blurry figure with red gloves rips his fabricated existence apart – bringing the FBI in to investigate the loss of an informant and upping the pressure from Zacharov to join the ranks of the family. Cassel will have to con the government, the Mob and those he loves if he’s going to survive.

Only the ultimate con just might include telling the truth.

I cannot stress how much I enjoy this series. Black has created a gritty world where the magic of the curse workers is so easily and deeply entwined with our own, and provided us with an engaging, sarcastic character to guide us through.

I can’t tell who Cassel is working harder to con: the characters around him, the mob, or both the reader and himself into believing he doesn’t care. As with the first book, we are treated to his rapid, noir narration, but Black continues to grow his struggle with his dark side and the maneuvers he is willing to make for family, friends and love. Cassel is growing*and that growth extends to his moral ambiguity. He’s no longer the only Sharpe without the touch and every move he makes forces him to deal with the death he’s dealt in the past.

Not surprising, since the lack of bodies isn’t keeping anyone from asking questions.

Black’s tight narration once again impresses by the ease at which it comes across, and builds upon the revelations of the first book’s revelations. While he may currently be the smartest guy in the room, it’s clear that Cassel won’t be able to keep conning everyone forever.

Highly recommended for adult fans of mystery and paranormal (the Dresden Files specifically) and anyone who enjoys a good con.

You can purchase Red Glove from these fine retailers: Powells, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Your Local Indie, or you can pick it up at your local library.

Book Source: I borrowed my copy from the library as soon as I finished White Cat. I’ll buy the whole series once they are out in paperback.  

*As a character in a series should, damn it. I’m looking at you, Plum.

Monday, July 04, 2011

The con it comes on little cat feet...

A little late in posting this thanks to the joy of Independence...and a day off. Hope you're having a lovely day!

White Cat (Curse Workers Book #1) by Holly Black:

Cassel comes from a family of curse workers — people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they're all mobsters, or con artists. Except for Cassel. He hasn't got the magic touch, so he's an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail — he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago.

Ever since, Cassel has carefully built up a façade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his façade starts crumbling when he starts sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He's noticing other disturbing things, too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him, caught up in a mysterious plot. As Cassel begins to suspect he's part of a huge con game, he also wonders what really happened to Lila. Could she still be alive? To find that out, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.

Summary from GoodReads.

Imagine a world where some had dab hands – some magic ability transferred through touch. Now imagine that these Curse Workers were feared, leading to the general population to wear gloves for protection and for the workers themselves to have no other recourse but the Mob to get by. Now imagine that’s happening here. Now. How would you get if you had the touch? How would you survive if you were the only person in your family who didn’t?

As the only non-curse worker, in a family celebrated for its generations of powers, cons, and mob connections, Cassel Sharpe is anything but a made man. However he did inherit some of his family’s more peculiar mental problems – surely that’s why he killed his best friend, Lila, in his basement in a rage he doesn’t remember – which makes it hard to stay in the family home. In desperation, he cons his way into a private school and some semblance of a normal life, only to be dragged back into the family. Of course, the sleepwalking incident that resulted in him clinging to the dorm roof in his boxers didn’t help matters.

Hey, at least he had some clothing on.

With a white cat haunting his dreams and his family in full scheming mode, Cassel will have to work to stay ahead everyone else to figure out if he’s really going crazy, and what really happened to Lila.

Normal never seemed so far away.

I have a deep love for con artists, and Cassel is definitely one for the books. Not only does have to deal with the typical high school identity problems along with trying to fit in, but he’s got the mob, a possible murder and his mother to cope with as well.* He deals with it all with a hard-boiled, but wry narrative. Cassel knows he’s being conned, but he’s also trying to con us into not noticing that underneath all that sarcasm is someone who just wants to love and trust. Unfortunately love and trust are not synonymous with con men and mobsters.

I enjoyed Cassel’s adventures in this book so much that I immediately went and checked out the second book in the series, Red Glove (review coming soon). Sure in the first book, the mystery wasn’t much as a who done it as a why is it being done, but the characters and their interactions made up for it. It’s killing me that the third novel, Black Heart, will not be out until April 2012. This is one paranormal YA series that I can see myself fan-girling. Cassel’s narrative never falters, and the cast of supporting characters (especially his mother) remain just as well defined long after you’ve finished. Additionally, Cassel’s story and the plight of his friends/family have threads that are easily discernable in our own world.

Recommended for lovers of the con, smart asses, wise guys, reluctant male readers, and anyone who enjoys a good story.

You can purchase White Cat from these fine retailers: Powells, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Your Local Indie, or you can pick it up at your local library.

Book Source: I borrowed my copy from the lovely Rosey of Rosey’s Reviews, but I will be buying my own.

*Paging Joan Crawford.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Random Recipes: Black Bean, Avocado and Pepper Salad

Black Bean, Avocado and Pepper Salad
Serves 4| Hands-On Time: 10m | Total Time: 10m

3 Avocados – cut into 1 in chunks
1 Can of Black Beans – drained and rinsed
1 Red Pepper – sliced and cut into 1 in pieces
1 Yellow Pepper – sliced and cut into 1 in pieces
1 to 2 Jalapeño Peppers – de-seeded, and diced
¼ to ½ cup of cilantro – chopped
1 lime – halved
½ tsp of Salt

 Combine the avocados, beans and peppers in a bowl along with the cilantro. Sprinkle with the salt and squeeze the juice from the lime across the top. Toss until the juice and salt is evenly distributed.

Serve as a side or make it part of a burrito or taco night filling. The avocado and lime cut the spice of the peppers and make this a great dish to serve to anyone – no matter how they rate on the heat scale.