Friday, July 30, 2010

Blog Hop and Yin-Yang Almond Cookies

Jennifer at Crazy For Books has a great thing going on. Her Book Blogger Hop is a great way to network with other book bloggers. Sign up on her McLinky list and don't forget to check out at least a few of the blogs that are listed there. Please let me know if you found me through the Blog Hop or Follow Friday!

Don't forget to check out this weeks Tasty Tuesday recipe "Ying-Yang Almond Cookies" inspired by Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Yink, who incidently is one of the favorite new authors I have found this year. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Yin-Yang Almond Cookies

Yin-Yang is described as "polar or seemingly contrary forces (that) are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other in turn"(  Lia and Alice definately have some Yin-Yang going on in Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink.  Though on opposites sides of a war, they cannot live without each other.  I think you'll like these cookies.  They are easier to make than you might think, and so yum!

Yin-Yang Almond Cookies


2-1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 to 1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1-1/2 teaspoons almond extract
35 blanched almond halves
12 blanched almonds, ground to a powder
1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 teaspoon water

8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 teaspoon solid shortening

8 ounces white chocolate chips
1/2 teaspoon solid shortening

Combine butter and sugar until smooth.  Add the egg, extract and ground almonds.  Combine flour, backing powder and salt.  Add flour mixture to the sugar mixture and process.  Cover dough and refrigerate for one hour. 
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Roll dough into 11/2 inch balls and place on a greased cookie sheet.  Flatten the balls into 2 inch rounds.  Place a whole almond in the center of each cookie. 

Brush each cookie with the egg yolk and water mixture. Bake 12 to 14 minutes, or until the cookies are golden. Allow the cookies to cool completely.
Microwave chocolate chips and shortening, stirring every 30 seconds until melted.   Dip each cookie into the chocolate, stopping just below half way. Scrape off the excess chocolate from the bottom of the cookie, then set the cookies on a waxed paper covered cookie sheet.  Put the cookies in the freezer to set.  Repeat the process with the white chocolate, rotating the cookies 45 degrees before dipping.  Put the cookies back in the freezer for half an hour before eating.

Recipe inspired by Katherine Heyhoe and

Monday, July 19, 2010

Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink

Food to eat while reading: Yin-Yang Almond Cookies (come back tomorrow for the Tasty Tuesday recipe).

“Our mother somehow knew that there was no escaping fate, no matter how chaotic and random it sometimes seems.” (p. 251)

Legends mix with reality in this dark, Edwardian tale of two sisters whose fates are intertwined. Lia understands that she can choose for herself the path she wants to take, while her twin sister Alice is determined to follow what fate has demanded of her.

Read the synopsis here.

What I liked:

Lia and Alice are like yin-yang, flip sides of a coin, black and white, north and south; while they cannot bear to live with each other, they cannot exist without the other. In the heart of this book lies the question, “Can balance come about in the face of chaos?”.

A reader will naturally look forward to seeing how Ms. Zink answers this question of balance amid the many other deliciously asked questions that string the reader along like a trail of bread crumbs. The sprinkling of bits and pieces of a puzzle are expertly crafted in a way that is enticing, and not frustrating to wonder about.

The gothic setting is intriguing and sets a lovely, mysterious background for the otherworldly tale. I was surprised at how easily I slid into the time period, relating to the sisters who lived hundreds of years before my own time.

Both Alice and Lia are intensely complex. Alice’s character especially fascinated me. At any moment she is aware of her love for family and her sister, yet the next she shows her cruelty. The tiny hairs on the back of my neck were raised when Lia caught Alice torturing the family cat.

Sonia and Luisa act as complementary companions to Lia, moving the story forward with momentum.

As the first book in a series, I found that the story arch and plotting were well done. Each high and low, each climactic scene and cathartic release were crafted with a precision that pulled emotion from each scene.

What I would have changed:

The story is written is first person, present tense and I had a hard time focusing on the story as a result. The uncommon tense distracted me a bit and I had to go back and read sections of the book again because of it. I do have to say that I got used to the tense after a bit.

Lia’s boyfriend James held no fascination for me. I simply placed a stiff Edwardian blank face in his place and his character did nothing to change my impressions of him. I felt no love for James, and as a result, I couldn’t believe that Lia loved him either.

The balance between the paranormal and the normal in her life felt lopsided towards the fantastic and I wondered if she had any sort of life before the opening of the book. I would like to have seen more scenes between her and James and also her past with her parents.

The verdict:

Prophecy of the Sisters is a fast-paced ride through mythology and spirit realms that will leave you chomping for the sequel. Prophecy of the Sisters #2: Guardian of the Gate comes out August 1, 2010.

Purchase: Prophecy of the Sisters (Prophecy of the Sisters Trilogy, Book I)

Genre: YA, paranormal

Publisher: August 1st 2009 by Little, Brown Young Readers

Where I got the book: Library

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bittersweet Blueberry-Lime Tiramisu

I love books that are emotional--sweet one moment and tear-jerking the next.  Linger by Maggie Stiefvater is a roller-coaster ride of bitter and sweet.  So here you have a lovely lime and blueberry dessert.  It's all summery too and Linger is played out as spring is giving way to the warmer season.  Yum, you will love this one!

Bittersweet Blueberry-Lime Tiramisu

2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
8 oz. Marscarpone cheese, at room temperature(I just used 16 oz. of cream cheese instead of adding Marscarpone).
1 1/2 pkgs.  Loaf-style angel food cake
1 6 oz. can frozen limeade concentrate, thawed
1 21 oz can blueberry pie filling(I made my own)

Beat cream  until it starts to thicken.  Gradually add powdered sugar until soft peaks form.  Gently stir in cheeses until combined.  Slice angel food cake into 1/2 inch slices.  LIne a 9x13x2 in pan with one half of the cake slices.  Brush with one half of the limeade concentrate.  Spoon half of cheese mix on top and smooth evenly.  Top with half of blueberry pie filling.  Reapeat the layers.  Cover and chill 8 hours(it's yummy immediately, but it sets up nicely when chilled).  Cut into squares and serve to 12 lucky people. 

Source: Afton 1st Ward's Recipes Cookbook

Monday, July 12, 2010

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

Food to eat while reading: Bittersweet Blueberry-Lime Tiramisu (come back tomorrow for the Tasty Tuesday recipe).

“We are not permitted to linger, even with what is most intimate.” –Ranier Maria Rilke

The second book in the paranormal series(after Shiver), Linger continues the bittersweet, emotional story of Grace and Sam. “This is the story of a boy who used to be a wolf and a girl who was becoming one” ( Linger, prologue).

Read the synopsis here.

Book Trailer:

What I liked:

Once again, Stiefvater (pronounced “steve-otter”) carves intensely real fantasy characters into sharp relief against a backdrop of teen issues that any reader can relate to. Each person in the novel is unique, from the brooding, musically talented Sam, to the edgy, and mouthy Isabel. Introduced as a new character to the story is Cole, a famous teen singer who wants nothing more than to escape the life he’s ruined for himself.

The sexual tension between the characters is palpable and, in some cases, unexpected.

I love the emotions that are evoked throughout the book. There’s nothing I love more than forbidden love and there’s plenty of that going on.

Stiefvater writes with a certain poetic cadence; not only the prose is poetic, but the story circles around on itself in a way that is satisfying.

The plot weaves and twists in and out so that you will wonder what is going to happen next.

My favorite scene in the book is between Isabel and Sam near the end. No spoilers here. I will just say that I totally agree with Isabel’s assessment of Sam’s lack of action. Go Isabel!

The point of view is taken almost equally by the four lead characters, Grace, Sam, Isabel and Cole. Though you might at first think the POV shifts would be distracting, I think you will find that the technique offers a unique perspective into the emotion worlds of each character.

What I would have changed:

The romance in this second book was much edgier than in Shiver. I have a hard time with the fact that Grace and Sam were sleeping together, and in her parent’s home under their noses. Yes, this is a personal bias, but I think YA authors have a fine line to walk when they deal with issues of sex, drugs and parental involvement. Not all YA books are about happy joy-joy subjects, but IMHO, they should set a good example for teens that are looking for role models. Grace has little respect for parental and societal rules and that is a bit of a problem for me.

I continued to dislike Grace’s parents. They don’t feel developed as characters and perhaps that is because when I see them through her eyes, we get the sense that she doesn’t see them as real people in her life. My dislike of the parent’s is not a flaw in the book so much as it evokes anger at their neglect. I won’t even go into it with Sam’s parents…

The verdict:

Once again, the Wolves of Mercy Falls series delivers a heart-wrenching journey that is both delicious and bittersweet.

I gave this book 4/5 stars.

Purchase: Linger

Genre: YA, paranormal

Publisher: July 13th 2010 by Scholastic Press

Where I got the book:  ARC from Scholastic Press*

*The only compensation I received for this review was an ARC of the book.

Interview with Prehistoric Adventure Author Allan Shickman

I am thrilled to share with you an interview with Mr. Allan Shickman, author of the books Zan-Gan: A Prehistoric Adventure and Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country.  These refreshing books are a great summer read and an excellent pick for reading aloud as a family.

1. Congratulations on receiving the Eric Hoffer Award. What was your reaction to this and other honors you have received for the Zan-Gah books?

Thanks. The writing field is a bit over-awarded, but it seems that we need whatever validation we can get. One author I know of named an award after himself and stuck it on the cover of his book. It’s a big, gold seal, and his opus looks like a prize-winner. Real awards can be very competiitive, and I am proud of those I have received. The Mom’s Choice Gold Medal for Series is one. Despite the furious intensity of the Zan-Gah books, Mom’s Choice saw the social value of my work. Their award is for “excellence,” and says “family friendly.” I’m very pleased to have it.

2. I noticed that you wrote an article based on Shakespeare’s King Lear. Have Shakespeare and other authors influenced you in your writing?

Shakespeare and Milton taught me to thunder. It comes in handy in my writing, but my wife....Anyway, I sometimes borrow a word or two from Shakespeare, Milton, and others. I like expressive language and imagery. Dostoyevsky taught me that good characters are ones that readers care about. “I swear by God and the dreadful Day of Judgement I am not guilty of my father’s blood!” Can you beat that? Don’t read Zan-Gah. Read The Brothers Karamazov..

3. What prompted you to write a prehistoric fiction?

Travelling for hours over the arid regions of the American West, and not seeing a soul made me wonder how the pioneers managed to cross it. I was inspired to write a tale of survival, and I decided that the prehistoric period would present even greater difficulties for a traveller. I liked the period for its elemental character—earth, water, sun, rocks, shelter, bare feet.

4. Do you plan on writing any more about Zan-Gah or the prehistoric time period?

Yup. I’m working on the third Zan-Gah book right now.

5. What does your family think of your writing?

I’m pleased to say that they love it, adore it, and think the Zan-Gah books should be made into movies. Unfortunately, my family doesn’t own Disney or Pixar. I get siblings and inlaws to proofread, chapter by chapter, and eagerly await their reactions of awe and astonishment.

6. Are the books based on any of your own life experiences?

Yes, and sometimes they are quite ordinary ones. For example, about twenty drummers get together at a local plaza around my house on Sundays and drum their hearts out on bongos, sticks and bells. It really sounds great as it progresses from tip TAH tip TAH to the richest and most complex rhythms. I used that for the lion hunters in the first Zan-Gah book. Literary experience is important too, and sometimes pops up in unlikely places. Of course I do research as well. I found out that some tribal societies are in terror of twins, killing them and their mother at birth (not the father). That sure came in handy for Zan-Gah. I already mentioned my travels in the West. I really did see a great chasm, stone arches, and red water and rocks.

7. Why do you write for young adults?

Because I like the little buggers. I have a bunch of nephews and nieces, and those wild young savages are dear to me. Theirs is a receptive age, soon to be lost to the hormones.

8. How long does it take you to write a book?

With some variation, I would say that the dreaming and note-compiling takes a year or so; the writing about three months, and the editing and rewriting requires about six months. Darned if I know why I do it.

9. Are you working on any books/projects that you would like to share with us?

I have already mentioned my main project, the writing of a new Zan-Gah book. I am a little afraid to talk too much about it, for fear that I will talk instead of writing. I’ll say this much: The story continues with Dael’s self-imposed exile, as he seeks some sort of redemption or resolution of his shattered life. He will go to live with the crimson people (introduced already in Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country). I think I’ll call it Dael and the Painted People, but I have to write it first. Also, I am deeply immersed in my tomato garden and my war against the squirrels. Sounds like another book coming on? The War of the Squirrels.

10. Do you have any advice for unpublished writers like me?

Find another line of work. The writing is fun, but selling and promotion are the very devil. However, if you are one of those people that can’t stop writing (or painting or sculpting), it is your fate to be an artist, and you may as well accept it. I know a really excellent writer who has never published any of her books, and has pretty much given up trying, but she continues to write wonderfully well. Maybe if you persist you will have better luck.

OK, here is some advice for beginners: (1) Keep notes of your ideas, large and small—always, everywhere. I like 3 x 5 cards because they can be sorted and put in order. (2) Edit, edit, edit, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite! Only Mozart could get it right the first time. The rest of us can’t. (3) Read good stuff, not garbage. Remember, you are what you eat.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Primeval Berries and Cream

Primeval Berries and Cream

Zan-Gah (the main character in Zan-Gah: A Prehistoric Adventure) collects some walnut-sized berries that grow by the river.  How fun is it that those same berries grew right outside my front door while I read the novel?  The berries are pivitol to Zan-Gah's survival and lead him to a crucial discovery.  The simplicity of berries and cream are a fitting recipe to go with the down-to-earth style in which Zan-Gah's story is written.

Place fresh picked berries in a bowl.  Sprinkle with sugar and smother with cream (or milk) to your liking.  Enjoy the simplicity.

Zan-Gah: A Prehistoric Adventure by Allan Richard Shickman

Food to eat while reading: Primeval Berries and Cream

Because I read the two Zan-Gah books (Zan-Gah: A Prehistoric Adventure, and Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country) back to back, I am going to review them together as companion books. I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting to be that interested in a novel that is set in prehistoric times and intended for a MG or YA boy audience. I am pleased to say that I enjoyed the novels. A tale of survival and self-discovery, the books reminded me of one of my own childhood favorites, Island of the Blue Dolphins.

Read the synopsis here.

What I liked:

The books are set in a prehistoric desert and Shickman describes the barren beauty so aptly that I could see in my mind the unusual rock structures jutting against the sunset, and taste the walnut-sized berries that grew along the river. With each new setting I eagerly anticipated the author’s portrayal. Here is an excerpt, taken from the book, describing the inner cave where men in the village were not allowed:

“Rocky substance hung in folds like the living flesh of great fungi, or seemed to spout into geysers. The hardened stone tumbled and flowed as if it once had been soft and spongy stuff bubbling from the ground. Then the color of these cursive forms changed abruptly from yellow to red, as if flowing with blood, and soon changed back again when the three went on” (Zan-Gah: A Prehistoric Adventure, pp 110, 111).

Zan-Gah and his twin brother Dael are vividly crafted characters who are both attracted and repelled from each other like magnets. Each one does battle with the forces in his own life, Zan with the physical world, and Dael with the inner demon. Not only are the two main characters real and believable, but each supporting character enters the book with a convincing past and reason to be there. Even the smallest characters, such as Hurnoa of the wasp people, are colorful and real.

The books introduce themes of courage, endurance and healing without preaching. These morals are ones that every mother wants to instill in her son, and they are introduced to the reader naturally through adventure and discovery.

Dael is so unpredictable that I found myself waiting to see what he would do next. The adventures of the boys were realistic and enjoyable-the scenes flowed naturally.

What I would have changed:

Both books felt rushed at the end. The catharsis felt a bit like a check-off list and distanced me from the characters. I struggled with the ending of the second book; in my mind, the resolutions didn’t satisfy the conflicts. After re-reading the last 20 pages, I decided that the conflicts are, in fact, resolved in ways I hadn’t expected.

The verdict:

Zan-Gah is a refreshing adventure of self-preservation and discovery. Especially suited for middle-grade boys, the series will be enjoyed by all people for generations to come.

I gave this book 3/5 stars.

Purchase: Zan-Gah: A Prehistoric Adventure
Genre: prehistoric, MG,
Publisher: July 15th 2007 by Earthshaker Books, September 26th 2009 by Earthshaker Books
Where I got the books: Earthshaker Books Publishing

*I received only the review copies of these books as compensation for my review

Monday, July 5, 2010

Blood Red Velvet Cupcakes

So the only food in The Second Short Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer is blood.  Hmmm.  Not the yummiest ingredient for those of us who are (still) human.  Would you settle for some chocolate? 

Note:  I know my cupcakes aren't very red!  You should use more red food coloring than I did when making yours! 

Blood Red Velvet Cupcakes

1/2 Cups of sifted sugar

2 Tablespoon sifted brown sugar
1/3 cups of sifted cake flour
2 table spoons of coca powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
teaspoon of cinnamon
1/3 teaspoon of salt

2 eggs, room temp.

1/2 cup of butter (1 stick). Room temp.
1 cup of buttermilk
1 2/3 tablespoon of red food coloring (add more!)
1 1/3 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon of distilled white vinegar

Step 1:Preheat ovent to 350 degrees

Step 2:Prep your pan with muffin papers

Step 3:Sift together the following in a large bowl, cake flour, brown sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, cinnamon, salt

Step 4: Whisk together the following in a large bowl: Buttermilk, red food coloring, vanilla extract, distilled white vinegar.

Step 5: In a separate bowl beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer for 4 minutes on medium speed until light and fluffy.

Step 6: Add 1 egg to the butter/sugar mixture and beat in. After the egg is fully mixed in add the other egg. Scrape down the sides and mix again.

Step 7: Add 1/4 of your dry mixture to your butter/sugar/egg mixture and mix in. Add 1/4 of your wet mixture and mix in. Continue this rotation until everything is completely mixed together.

Step 8: With an ice cream scoop fill your cupcake papers 2/3 of the way full. Bake for 18-22 minutes or until your test toothpick comes out clean. Rotate the pan after 15 minutes of baking to ensure even baking.

step 9: Allow to cool for 5 minutes and transfer to a wire rack.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

1/2 cup of butter (1 stick), room temp.

8 oz Philly Cream Cheese (1 package), room temp.
6 cups of sifted powdered sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Step 1:Place the butter in a bowl and beat for 3 minutes until cream. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Step 2: Add the Cream Cheese and mix until fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Step 3: Add the sour cram and mix until fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl.

Step 4: Add the Vanilla Extract and mix.

Step 5: Add 1/2 the powdered sugar, mix, scrape down. add the rest and mix.