Sunday, October 31, 2010

Perilous by Tamara Hart Heiner *Giveaway*

Food to eat while reading: Pickles in a Pinch

Perilous is the type of adventure book that I like to cozy up with when I want to escape from the world for a while. Fast-paced and intriguing, Perilous explores hard issues in a way that readers of all ages can enjoy.

Tamara Hart Heiner's book is brand new.  I am a part of her blog tour. Yesterday's blogger is Ann Best

and tomorrow you can go over to Christine Bryant's blog.

Tamara is holding a few great giveaways.  If you post in this or any other review on the tour, you can win a copy of the book.  Also, you can win a Kindle if you are helpful in spreading the word about Perilous.  Visit Tamara Hart Heiner's blog for more info.
Read the synopsis of Perilous here.

The main character and point of view in Perilous, by Tamara Hart Heiner, is Jacinta Rivera. Heiner successfully alternates the point of view between Jaci and Detective Carl Hamilton, the man who has been given the task of finding Jaci when she is kidnapped by thieves from the local mall. I appreciate knowing both points of view. Somehow it makes me fell smart-knowing information that the character I am reading about hasn’t found out yet.

Jaci is Hispanic and I got very interested when I entered her home and interacted with her family. I love that her heritage and background are portrayed here. By the end of the book I was disappointing that her heritage did not come up again or play a role in the story. It would have been neat to see Jaci use her knowledge of her ancestry or ethnicity to her advantage--pushing the story forward and helping her out of the situation.

Detective Carl is a nice contrast to the teen storyline and I love his choice of brain food-pickles. I enjoyed his internal dialogue and his relationship with his wife. The only thing lacking in Carl’s storyline is a dynamic change from beginning to end. I did not see how following Jaci’s case changed him as a person.

I enjoyed the banter between the girls at the mall before the kidnapping occurs. I could have read a few more chapters of Jaci’s life before the capture and felt surprised when the event happened so soon in the story.

There are quite a few teenage females to keep track of in the story and they all started to blend together for me. Because of what happens to Sara, I was able to separate her from the others in the middle of the book. Again, I am disappointed in the lack of change that I saw in the girls. I wanted to get into Jaci’s head and really see how the events affected and changed her by the end of the story.

The twin boys, Neal and Ricky, add another layer to the story and introduce a bit of romance. Because Neal is introduced first, I became quite attached to him and I saw Ricky as immature and irresponsible. Later in the story I found it confusing when Jaci began to vacillate in her interest between the two boys.

Some of the scenes felt contrived to me, such as Jaci’s rescue at the river. And yet other scenes that might have felt artificial (including their ultimate rescue in the end) made me want to believe in miracles.

The ending felt abrupt and I didn’t get a sense of completion. There is a sequel coming out to Perilous and I realize that there needs to be a few loose ends, but I still wanted that missing catharsis.

I am impressed with the way Heiner is able to write a story about harsh topics that face teens today, such as murder and rape, but in a way that any parent would want them presented to their teen. The events that happen in the book are dealt with, but not played out in detail or dwelt upon in a way that would make a reader uncomfortable.

Purchase: Perilous

Genre: YA, thriller

Publisher: Published October 31st 2010 by WiDo Publishing

Where I got the book: ebook from the author*

*I received only a copy of the ebook as compensation for my review.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tasty Tuesday-Steampunked Fish and Chips

My grandmother recently told me how my Nana (her mother) used to make fish and chips.  Nana lived in England in the late 1800's.  I decided to make this recipe while reading The Clockwork Three by Matthew Kirby.  Although the book is not set in England, the time period made me think of my European heritage and it gave me warm and fuzzies to make the recipe while reading the book.  Fish and chips go well with a steampunk setting.  Enjoy this authentic recipe.

Steampunked Fish and Chips

1 pound fresh halibut(I purchased mine from a fish market.  It made six servings)
Batter for Halibut:
Flour, salt, a pinchh of baking powder, with enough water to make it the consistency of pancake mix.  Note: I came home in a rush and just substituted pancake batter and it worked great!
Pat the fish with paper towels until dry.  Dip in batter.  Deep fat fry until golden brown.

Cut desired amount of potatoes into french fry shapes(I used a Pampered Chef crinkle cutter).  Deep fat fry until golden brown.  Season with salt and malt vinegar.

The Clockwork Three by Matthew Kirby

Food to eat while reading: Steampunked Fish and Chips

I met Matthew Kirby at a Writing for Charity event in 2009 and have been eager to read his story ever since.

Read the synopsis here.

What I liked:

The first line: “When Giuseppe found the green violin, he did not think it would help him escape.” This line promises magic and tells me right away that the character is in a precarious situation.

I haven’t heard of a steampunk book for middle grade readers, and Kirby expertly fills the niche. Steamboats, a clockwork man, child labor and the impending Edison electricity all populate this fable-like tale.

Three children are in need of something that they can only get through dependence on another. The three storylines are woven together into a beautiful tapestry that could only be created by their collaboration.

Kirby’s descriptions dart in and out of the story, never distracting from the dialogue and flow. Here’s an example of Giuseppe biting an apple: “When he bit through its crisp skin, sour juice exploded in his mouth and twisted up his cheeks and his tongue.” Can you taste it?

Hannah, Frederick and Giuseppe are distinct from each other in personality, in emotions and the way that they react to situations. The characters recognize each other’s differences, and instead of letting it tear them apart, they use the differences to support each other.

There is a tiny hint of romance between Hannah and Frederick-just the perfect amount for middle grade. One tender scene in particular touched my heart at the end of the story.

What I would have changed:

Even though the three storylines were interesting, I started to get lost in the early middle of the book. I kept picking up other books because the pacing lagged a bit for me. I am glad that I didn’t put it down though, because the story delivers.

Not all of my questions were answered and I wanted more. I am hoping that we will see more of the three children, Madame Pomeroy and the clockwork man and the magic that made him come to life.

The verdict: A tale of the mystery and magic of time gone by, The Clockwork Three will enchant readers to the last page.

Purchase: The Clockwork Three

Genre: MG, steampunk, historical fiction

Publisher: Published October 1st 2010 by Scholastic Press, Hardcover, 400 pages

Where I got the book: ARC that I won in a giveaway (I’m trying to remember from whom).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Interview with Rachel Ann Nunes

"I love learning new things. I love dreaming. Combine the two and you have a novel." -Rachel Ann Nunes

Rachel Ann Nunes so kindly answered some of my questions regarding her book, Imprints and the sequel, Shades of Gray that will come out in 2011.  Thank you Rachel for allowing us to go "behind the scenes" and take a peek into the mind of an author.  

You can read my review of this wonderful book here.

Q: What inspired you to write your first book?

A: I simply knew from a very young age that I wanted to be an author. For as long as I can remember, writing novels is what I planned to do. I was an avid reader and always made up what I thought were wonderful stories in my mind. When I was in France for six months as an eleven-year-old, the seed for my first published novel, Ariana, began to grow, and two years in Portugal added to the European flavor of the novel.

Q: Does your family enjoy your books?

A: My daughters read them, and one particular daughter, Catia, is my biggest supporter. She pre-reads all my books for me.

Q:Is there a message in Imprints that you want readers to grasp?

A: If there's a message in Imprints, it's that you don't have to include a lot of raunchy sex scenes, child sacrifice, and swear words every page like all the national paranormal novels for adults out there. I believe the reason why young adult paranormal novels are so popular is that because they don't waste time with that sort of thing. There seems to be a real disconnect between publishers and readers these days in regards to what readers really want.

Q:Where did the idea for the ability to imprint come from?

A: It's one of those things that just happened. In fact, before the idea came to me, I didn't even realize there was a scientific name for the ability. I think on some level I sort of imagined those old handheld credit card imprint devices and how you'd slide the card and the number would appear magically on the paper. I figured an emotion would be a similar thing, only invisible to the eye.

Q: I love the covers for this series, did you have any input on them?

A: On the first mocked up of this cover, they had a girl in coat and boots who looked like she was walking around in a forest. There were fingerprints and sort of an old mystery look to the whole thing. In fact, you can still see that cover on Amazon. Not a bad cover, but the character doesn't look or feel like mine (who never wears shoes). When I suggested a change, my product manager thought we ought to use the Portland skyline as well, and this is what we ended up with It fits the book a lot better. So, yes, my publisher is good to listen to my input about covers. I think they do a fabulous job.

Q:What kind of research did you do for this series?

A: I researched pychometry, which is the scientific name for the paranormal ability my character has, but most of my research involved cults, antiques, and the two cities in Oregon where my novel takes place. As the child of an herb store owner, I've always been interested in herbs and how people feel about them, so that's always fun to play into.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I've just finished Shades of Gray, An Autumn Rain Imprints Novel, which as you can tell from the title, is the sequel to Imprints. My pre-readers were very positive about the book, and I'm excited for people to read it. The release date is likely in May 2011, give or take a month, and if you check on my website in April, I should have a sample chapter and the week of the release. In fact, I have sample chapters of most of my novels there: Currently, I'm working on a novel called Before I Say Goodbye, which is still in the early stages so I'm not ready to share much about yet. I do have to give my publisher a summary soon, and I'll put a bit of that up on my website in a few weeks. I plan to have it finished by the end of January for an August 2011 release.

Q: Do you have any advice for other writers?

My best advice is to read, read, read, and read some more. And then write, write, write, and pass your work around to other aspiring authors, and then rewrite again and send it out to editors or agents. Keep writing new novels or revising older ones and continue sending them out. Keep reading all the time (novels, grammar books, books about writing). If you don't give up, you will eventually make it.

Q: Are there any new books that have grabbed your interest?

A: I'm reading all the time, and right now I'm reading extensively in the urban fantasy market, which I'm writing on the side when I'm caught up on my current publisher deadlines. It's a fascinating genre, but I really only enjoy a few of those authors because of what I mentioned above about content. For my own writing in that genre, I may have to end up using younger characters just to avoid this. I'm not at all into the high school teen angst scene, but there is a newer genre of novels with twenty-something characters that are a mix of young adult and adult that I've found interesting.

Q: What inspires you to write and why?

A: I simply feel that I must write. When I do, I'm happier and my life and my relationships are smoother. It's like eating. If I'm away from it too long, I'm cranky and easily irritated. I believe we are all given gifts for a reason, and if we're not using them and stretching ourselves, we don't grow and progress, which makes the core of who we are unhappy. Also, writing is a unique profession in that you learn a little about many subjects. I love learning new things. I love dreaming. Combine the two and you have a novel.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tasty Tuesday-Scorched Creme Brulee

The charm of a creme brulee is the the contrast between the sweet, creamy custard and the transformation of its crusty, scorched exterior.  The Scorch Trials by James Dashner has a similar charm.  His characters must undergo trial after trial that threaten to take away the sweet innocence of youth.  And yet, the reader gets the feeling that if the trials are successful, the result will be as delectable as the scorched crust on this creamy dessert.

Scorched Creme Brulee

1 quart heavy creme
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped (in a pinch you can use 1 tsp of vanilla, but it won't be the same)
1 cup vanilla sugar, divided (can also use white sugar, but again, not as tasty)
6-8 large egg yolks (more if you like a more gelatin consistency, less if you like it creamier)
2 quarts hot water

Preheat the oven to 325'

Place the cream, vanilla bean and its pulp into a saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Remove from heat, cover and sit for 15 minutes.  Remove the vanilla bean.

In a medium bowl, whisk togeher 1/2 cup sugar and the egg yolks until well blended and it just started to lighten in color. Add the cream a little at a time, stirring continually.  Pour the liquid into 6 (7-8 oz) remekins.  Place the ramekins into a large cake or roasting pan.  Pour enough hot water into the pan to come  halway up the sides of the ramekins. 

Bake just until the creme brulee is set, but still trembling in the center, approximately 40-45 minutes.  Remove from the roasting pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.

Remove the creme brulee from the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes prior to browning the tops.  Divide the remaining 1/2 cup sugar equally among the dishes and spread evenly on top.  Using a torch, melt the sugar and form a crispy top.  Alternatively, you can broil the creme brulee in the oven until the sugar crisps.  Be careful not to burn.  Allow the creme brulee to sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.


Scorch Trials by James Dashner

Food to eat while reading: Scorched Crème Brulee

I am not usually a fan of middle books in a series, but this middle book in The Maze Runner series reads like a great beginning--all over again.

Read the synopsis here.
Read my review of The Maze Runner

What I liked:

The setting kept changing and with each new place came dangers, creatures and people that kept me on the edge of my seat.

The main characters remained consistent and believable, yet they changed and grew from their experiences, like good little characters should. In fact, I almost cheered at the end for Thomas on the last page when he makes a difficult decision. Hooray for characters that change and show us that we can too.

Brenda, and Jorge are a great addition to the cast. They throw more variables into the equation and complicate the trials. And I love that Dashner introduced a second love interest for Thomas. Let the cat fights begin!

The balance of intrigue in this story is perfect. The questions and answers are braided together so that I am always wondering what will happen, but satisfied by the questions I have already received. Dashner has gained my trust, and though I still have unanswered questions, I am willing to read through quite a bit before I get the answers because I know that he will deliver.

I am eager to see why all of these horrible things are happening to these kids and how Thomas had a hand in creating the trials that he now is subjected to. I have an idea of why the variables are there and what the patterns are for, but I am content to wait until 2011 for The Death Cure.

I can’t wait to see this on the movie screen-it will lend itself easily to media.

What I would have changed:

The Scorch Trials is quite a bit more violent than The Maze Runner. My son is currently reading the first book and I am unsure about giving him the second one just yet.

It bothered me that Aris’ character is so underdeveloped. He mozies along with the Gladers, only showing spunk when he is required to act out a role for WICKED. Perhaps the author has hidden Aris from us for a reason and we will see his character unfurl in The Death Cure.

Much of the jeopardy was killed for me by a scene in the middle of the book. I just didn’t worry so much for Thomas’ safety and that led to a loss of intensity.

The verdict:

The Scorch Trials is an excellent addition to the very popular dystopian genre. It will leave you scratching your head and chomping at the bit to read on.

Purchase: The Scorch Trials (Maze Runner Trilogy, Book 2)
Genre: YA, dystopian
Publisher: October 12th 2010 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers, Hardcover, 360 pages
Where I got the book: Amazon

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tasty Tuesday-Harmony Hominy Soup

The varying flavors of this soup combine to make a surprisingly fresh soup.  James Dashner's characters in The Maze Runner come together in a similar manner-some of them appear to clash, but in the end it is their differences that make them a team. 

Harmony Hominy Soup

2 chicken breasts, cubed and cooked(I like to grill mine)
2 cans of hominy, white or yellow or both
3 cups of chicken broth(can substitute water and bouillon)
Various fresh vegetables, diced.  I like avocado, olives, tomatoes, broccolli, cauliflower, carrots, and green onions.  It doesn't matter which veggies you use, but avocado and olives are a must!

Cook chicken, hominy and broth to a boil, reduce and simmer for 15 minutes.  To serve, put chicken mixture in bowls and allow guests to add fresh vegetables of their choosing.  Squeeze fresh lime over all.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Food to eat while reading: Harmony Hominy Soup

It’s about time that I wrote a review for this excellent book. When my Amazon account notified me that my pre-order of The Scorch Trials had shipped yesterday, I decided I had better write it.

Read the synopsis here

What I liked:

The opening of this story is irresistible. A boy in a metal box who remembers nothing about his past and finds himself in a community of boys reminiscent of Lord of the Flies? Now who can resist reading on?

I love the voice of Thomas in this book. He is unique and consistent throughout the entire novel.

Dashner plays the suspense and intrigue perfectly. Just when I think I can’t stand to be in the dark anymore, he explains a bit more of what is going on. Every chapter pulled me along and forced me to keep reading.

Dystopian novels are trending right now and Maze Runner is a fresh story that leaves you wondering what happened to the world, instead of showing you the aftermath. I have mixed feelings about learning all there is to know about Thomas’ home; I want to figure it all out, but when I do the suspense will be gone. Even so, I can’t wait to read Scorch Trials.

What I would have changed:

Everyone seemed to know more than Thomas when he came into the Glade. It frustrated me that they wouldn’t tell him right away what they had learned about the place where they lived.

Dashner’s use of slang words were novel at first, but they pulled me out of the story and became a nuisance after awhile.

The verdict:

Make sure you have enough time for reading this fast-paced dystopian novel that will keep you up to all hours of the night until you are finished.

Purchase: The Maze Runner (Maze Runner Trilogy, Book 1)

Genre: YA, dystopian

Publisher: Hardcover, 374 pages

Published October 6th 2009 by Random House (Delacorte Press)

Where I got the book: Giveaway from Inspired Kathy at I am a Reader, not a Writer.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tasty Tuesday Ug-Rotten (Au-gratin) Potatoes

There is not much to eat in Nazi-controlled Copenhagen.  Annemarie and her family in Lois Lowry's Number the Stars have potatoes every night, and little else. This recipe is a fast and easy one, chances are you can make it tonight what is already in your pantry. 

Ug-Rotten Potatoes

8-10 potatoes
2 cans cream of chicken or mushroom soup
1 cup grated cheese
onion salt and pepper to taste

Peel the potatoes and par-boil them.  Combine the remaining ingredients.  Slice the potatoes into a 9x13 inch pan and cover with the soup mixture.  Cook at 350' for 45 minutes or until bubbly.

Source: unknown from my recipe box

Monday, October 4, 2010

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

I read this book in school and I find it enlightening to re-read old favorites as an adult.  If you haven't turned to Number the Stars in awhile, pick it up for a quick read.
Food to eat while reading: Ug-rotten (Au-gratin) potatoes
Read the synopsis here.

What I liked:

Even small children are affected by the goings-on of the adults in their lives. Annemarie is very young when the Nazi’s take over Denmark. How poignant the events of war are as told through the eyes of a child.

The story is told through Annemarie and Lois Lowry has a talent for putting us into the character’s head. The point of view is never breached-every detail is taken in from a ten-year old perspective. Even though Annemarie does not understand the politics of war, she can tell when something is wrong. And she can be brave and courageous, just like her mother and uncle.

I am interested in the way Lowry uses simple language, dotting the story here and there with lovely descriptions that don’t overpower or take away from the telling.

Fairy tales are woven throughout the book, usually as stories told to Annemarie’s younger sister, Kirsti. The tales reflect what is going on in key parts of the story and add a layer of symbolism that adult readers recognize and children readers feel.

What I would have changed:

I would have liked to read more about Ellen and Annemarie together-their cultural differences and similarities. Because I don’t know much about either the Danes or the Jews, knowing more about both cultures would help immerse me in the story.

The verdict:
Number the Stars is a classic story that brings to light the difficult topic of war to those who are often the most affected by it, the children.

Purchase: Number the Stars

Genre: MG, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Mass Market Paperback, 137 pages, February 9th 1998 by Laurel Leaf (first published 1989)

Where I got the book: Library for book club