Saturday, December 31, 2011

Tasty Tuesday Invaluable Rainbow Jello

Invaluable Rainbow Jello
Invaluable by Holly J Wood

Invaluable Rainbow Jello

Eliza dreams of her grandmother and learns about each of the young women's values in Invaluable.  Each time she learns a valuable lesson, Eliza finds a trinket to remind her of eight values, each in a color that reminds her of it's worth. This jello salad is a rainbow of values. Each layer is developed individually and combine to create a work of art, just like the beautiful woman a girl who obtains each value can become.

1 cup and 2 T. (divided) water for each color of jello
3 oz. package of each desired color of jello
2 T vanilla flavored yogurt per each color (a pint should suffice for any variation)

To make all 8 colors of the young women's values, use the following flavors of jello:
Faith/white-pina colada or the kind that is clear that you add juice to
Divine Nature/blue-blue raspberry
Individual Worth/red-cherry
Choice and Accountability/orange-orange
Good Works/yellow-lemon
Virtue/gold-apricot or peach

Empty one package of jello into a medium sized bowl. Boil one cup water in the microwave (about 2 minutes) and add it to the jello. Stir with a fork until dissolved. Divide jello mixture equally into two paper cups. To one cup add 2 T of cold water, to the other add 2 T of vanilla yogurt.

Repeat with each color, allowing them all to sit out at room temperature (if any of the jello begins to set up before you want it to, simply microwave it for 10 seconds). This took me about an hour to do.

Begin molding the jello by pouring a clear color into a deep pan or a large bundt pan. Allow to set in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes until the jello is set and sticky but not solid. Ladle the clouded jello on top of the clear. As the bowl and jellos cool, the setting time will decrease. Keep in mind that the color you use first will end up on the top of the finished product and the color you use last will be on the bottom.

Repeat with each color until all of the layers are set.  Chill the final dish for 3 hours or overnight.

To remove from the mold, fill a sink with warm water and carefully lower the bottom of the mold into the water (don't get water on the jello). Turn the jello over onto a platter.  Serve with whipped cream and sprinkles if desired.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Invaluable by Holly J. Wood

Invaluable by Holly J. Wood
Food to Eat While Reading: Invaluable Rainbow Jello

Help Wanted.  Sixteen-year-old girl seeks advice on how to reach out to a sister who has become distant; how to make up with my best friend, who spends every moment with her new boyfriend; how to avoid losing my job over working on Sundays; and how to figure out who has been putting love notes in my locker. 

Applicants are also required to provide advice on how to handle being head-over-heels for my prom date's best friend--who happens to be the hottest guy in school.

Math tutoring a plus. 

Interested persons may contact Eliza Moore

Sound like a tall order? Well that is what Eliza Morre is up against during her sophomore year of high school.  But when her great-grandmother begins visiting Eliza in her dreams, everything starts to change. These dreams take Eliza back in time to see extraordinary women who help teach her about eight important values. As ELiza learns more about these women and the values they lived by, she discovers the courage and confidence she needs to faceher challenges-and her secret admirer.

Invaluable has a more limited readership than some of the books I recommend, due to its target audience of Latter-Day Saint young women. The reason why I am recommending it to all readers is because I feel strongly about the values that are taught in the book, namely, faith, divine nature, individual worth, knowledge, choice and accountability, good work, integrity, and virtue. Wouldn't you love for every young woman in your life to understand and value those attributes?

I have to let you in on a surprising coincidence. One of my dear friends told me her sister-in-law was writing a book and asked if I would be willing to review it when it was published. Of course I agreed and when Holly mailed the book to me, I was thrilled to find out that she lives not only in the same town that I'll be moving to in a few months, but she will be just down the street from me. I'm excited to be neighbors with another bookie!

Having said that, I want to assure you that my reviews are impartial. I will always tell you what I liked/disliked about the books that I read. I hope that Holly will be thick skinned and understand why I lump the bad with the good, especially since I hope that we will be great friends. 

My favorite books have a moral or teach a lesson and Invaluable does just that.  t takes the young women values and teaches them through examples of women in the scriptures and also through the eyes of a teen.  At times the teaching was a bit "preachy" for my tastes--especially when Eliza began spouting speeches that sounded like they were right out of a teacher's manual.  But once I accepted the style, I found myself learning so much about the values. I'm not sure I've ever really understood exactly what virtue or integrity are. I've always used them interchangeably. Now I can understand the difference. 

I love Eliza's voice. The best parts of the book are the high school scenes when she is struggling with who she should be with or what is nagging her best friend. I have to admit that during the night dreaming lessons I couldn't wait to get back to the "real" story. I was glad to see that later lessons were condensed in a way that I was spared too many details about each of the eight visitations, but still experienced the wonder and value of what was being taught. 

For each value learned, Eliza finds a token to match--for instance, a white mustard seed for the value of faith.  This is a nice touch and I loved hunting through each day with Eliza for the token.

The relationship between Eliza and her sister is strained and she is able to help her.  I love this idea of sisterhood and the way the girls become friends again.  I do wish it had been a bit more subtle--it felt like somehow Eliza's sister was magically cured of rebellion and therefore it didn't quite seem real.

The story flows naturally and is an effortless read. I found myself wanting to find out what would happen with both the love triangle and the dreamed lessons.

Invaluable has the best of both worlds--the fun of romance with the values a girl needs to survive the dating years. 

Published December 10, 2011 by Deseret Book Company
*I received only a copy of the book as compensation for my review.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Shatter Me byTahereh Mafi 

Food to eat while reading: Caramel Crack
Caramel Crack for Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Juliette hasn't touched anyone in exactly 264 days.

The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette's touch is fatal. As long as she doesn't hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don't fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.

The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war-- and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she's exactly what they need right now.

Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.

In this electrifying debut, Tahereh Mafi presents a world as riveting as The Hunger Games and a superhero story as thrilling as The X-Men. Full of pulse-pounding romance, intoxicating villainy, and high-stakes choices, Shatter Me is a fresh and original dystopian novel—with a paranormal twist—that will leave readers anxiously awaiting its sequel.

From the beginning I found myself dying to know why Juliette is so broken and what will happen to her.  The premise of a girl whom know one can touch works out perfectly for a forbidden romance.  The fact that Adam is the only person who can touch Juliette is a mystery that propels a reader throughout the book.

I felt Juliette's emotional pain and when Adam came on the scene I was routing for the inevitability of them falling in love. Adam would do anything for Juliette and as the story unfolds I see more of his character.  The more I see the more I like Adam.

The world they live in feels a bit uncreative to me--a world where birds can't fly because of pollution and vegetation is weakened.  It's not a huge deal, because the premise was original enough to carry the entire book.

Warner is a chilling villain--relatable and yet evil.  I love villains that are humanized and make me wonder if I would be the same way in an extreme situation. Warner is a mirror of Juliette and what she could be if she gives into selfishness and revenge. Warner's vulnerabilities are exactly what draw him to Juliette and I am hoping that she will be his undoing.

At first I enjoyed the romance scenes because of her need for human touch.  I have to admit that after awhile I got sick of hearing how effected Juliette was by Adam's touch. The romance didn't go to far for my tastes, but the fact that the characters obviously wanted things to go to far and were always interrupted are grounds for me to recommend this only to older teens.

The last few chapters were disappointing for me. I don't like spoilers so I'll let you decide. But it felt too much like other stories I've seen or read and I was hoping for so much more. You bet I'll be reading the sequel (slated for print in 2012) though. There are a few inexplicable things that Juliette can do that make me excited to find out why she can.

Shatter Me is a tale of fragmented emotions and hope--that the world can always become a better place.

Hardcover, 338 pages
Published November 15th 2011 by Harper/HarperCollins

Tasty Tuesday-Caramel Crack

Caramel Crack for Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Caramel Crack 

Juliette is emotionally broken and knows that because of her lethal touch she can never live like those around her. She can't see that the future holds sweetness for her, just like this toffe and chocolate candy.  Caramel Crack is brittle like Juliette's life but so sweet and addicting. The crunchy texture and the broken way the treat is served complements the many references in Shatter Me to breaking and shattering.

1 1/2 sleeves salty soda crackers (like Saltines)
1 1/4 cups butter
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
pinch kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 400'. Line a jelly roll size pan with parchment paper (foil will do in a pinch but it will stick). Layer the crackers on the bottom of the pan.
In a saucepan over medium heat(no hotter!) bring the butter and sugar to a rolling boil. Let boil for 7 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the salt and vanilla.

Drizzle the sugar mixture over the crackers (no need to spread it out). Cook in the oven for 5 minutes.  Cool the candy for a few minutes and then sprinkle the chocolate chips over top.  Wait until the chocolate melts and then spread it over the caramel with a spatula. Refrigerate the candy for a few hours. Crack into pieces. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The 2011 Book Blogger's Cookbook for free--two days only!

The 2011 Book Blogger's Cookbook by Christy Dorrity 

Special Christmas price!

For the next two days The 2011 Book Blogger's Cookbook will be free. Purchase the cookbook, regularly priced at a low $2.99 between now and Saturday and receive it for free.

Please spread the word to those whom you know would enjoy this unique cookbook filled with tasty reads and adventurous eats! With reviews and recipes for books by Aprilynne Pike, Maggie Steifvater, Lauren Oliver, and more, you'll love this fun and helpful resource.

The 2011 Book Blogger's Cookbook is also available in the lending library at Amazon for those who are Amazon Prime members (I recommend joining-it's $80 per year and you get free 2 day shipping and access to movies and tv shows as well)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Read The 2011 Book Blogger's Cookbook for free!

The 2011 Book Blogger's Cookbook

Now you can read The 2011 Book Blogger's Cookbook for free! If you have been thinking about purchasing this fun and unique cookbook, now's your chance to take a peek and see if you like it.

Not only that, but between December 15th and December 17th you can download the cookbook for free for your viewing pleasure forever!
Click here to download it to your Kindle now!

A few more bookish items for your consideration:

Nightingale by David Farland is now out as an app for the iPad.  I've had a chance to preview this enhanced ebook and it is fabulous!  The comic style art, soundtrack and internal links combine to make an experience like none I've yet to see.  You can also purchase it through Amazon here.

There is a new essay contest for aspiring writers of YA/middle grade fiction. Below is the information from

Win a literary agent or acclaimed author's feedback on your unpublished manuscript for young adult or middle grade readers. This rare opportunity is being offered to the six winners of an essay contest recently announced by the literacy charity Book Wish Foundation. See for full details.

You could win a manuscript critique from:

Laura Langlie, literary agent for Meg Cabot
Nancy Gallt, literary agent for Jeanne DuPrau
Brenda Bowen, literary agent and editor of Karen Hesse's Newbery Medal winner Out of the Dust
Ann M. Martin, winner of the Newbery Honor for A Corner of the Universe
Francisco X. Stork, winner of the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award for The Last Summer of the Death Warriors
Cynthia Voigt, winner of the Newbery Medal for Dicey's Song and the Newbery Honor for A Solitary Blue

All that separates you from this prize is a 500-word essay about a short story in Book Wish Foundation's new anthology, What You Wish For. Essays are due Feb. 1, 2012 and winners will be announced around Mar. 1, 2012. If you win, you will have six months to submit the first 50 pages of your manuscript for critique (which means you can enter the contest even if you haven't finished, or started, your manuscript). You can even enter multiple times, with essays about more than one of the contest stories, for a chance to win up to six critiques.

If you dream of being a published author, this is an opportunity you should not miss. To enter, follow the instructions at

In the Forests of the Night by Kersten Hamilton

In the Forests of the Night by Kersten Hamilton
The battle against goblinkind continues . . . but which side will Teagan be on?

Teagan, Finn, and Aiden have made it out of Mag Mell alive, but the Dark Man’s forces are hot on their heels. Back in Chicago, Tea’s goblin cousins show up at her school, sure she will come back to Mag Mell, as goblin blood is never passive once awoken. Soon she will belong to Fear Doirich and join them. In the meantime, they are happy to entertain themselves by trying to seduce, kidnap, or kill Tea’s family and friends. Tea knows she doesn’t have much time left, and she refuses to leave Finn or her family to be tortured and killed. A wild Stormrider, born to rule and reign, is growing stronger inside her. But as long as she can hold on, she’s still Teagan Wylltson, who plans to be a veterinarian and who heals the sick and hurting. The disease that’s destroying her—that’s destroying them all—has a name: Fear Doirich. And Teagan Wylltson is not going to let him win.

In the Forests of the Night is the second book in the Goblin Wars series.  I am very much enjoying this series by Kersten Hamilton, the first of which is Tyger Tyger. Based on Celtic folklore, with characters that jump off the page, this book will keep you interested to the last word. And tiger eyes? Wicked (I wonder if I can get some tiger eye contacts?)!

I love the ties to Celtic mythology and how Hamilton weaves established myths with her own imaginings.  Goblins and fairies and sidhe are recreated in a new light. 

Teagan's progression is the series is interesting to follow.  I'm not certain I understand what her character arc is for the entire story, but I'm glad to see her growing and changing. Her struggle to be herself despite her genetics and other's expectations is relatable.

Abby is such a fun and spunky character--I never know what she is going to say or do and she adds a chaotic flair to the story. 

The relationship between Teagan and Finn continues in this sequel.  The romance feels a tiny bit flat, as most second books tend show, but the interest is still there.  I love to think of Finn's dialogue in an Irish brogue.:)

I feel at home with Tea's family.  They merge the strange with reality and I think everyone's family is that way to a certain extent--normal but a bit off.  We wonder what people would think if they really knew us and our own quirky family. 

I'm thinking there are going to be some big conflicts and emotional trials for Teagan and Finn to face in the last book--I hope so. I highly recommend this romantic adventure.

Hardcover, 288 pages
Published November 22nd 2011 by Clarion Books

Monday, December 5, 2011

Dael and the Painted People by Allan Richard Shickman

Dael and the Painted People by Allan Richard Shickman

A prehistoric adventure, this is the third of the Zan-Gah young adult books. When Dael, guilty and tormented, came to live with the tribe of the painted people, he longed for peace and restoration; but without knowing it, he made a powerful enemy. Luckily, Dael had friends-including a troop of crows-and his own mystical powers. The disturbed and violent hero learns from the Children of the Earth, and from his submissive wife, a new way of life that is peaceful and generous. Dael and the Painted People is a story of conflict, healing, hate, and love by the winner of the Eric Hoffer Award, a finalist for the ForeWord magazine Book of the Year Award, and the Mom's Choice Gold Seal for Excellence in a family-friendly book series.

I don't know what it is about the Zan-Gah novels that captivate me.  I mean, a middle-grade prehistoric novel?  It doesn't sound like something I would enjoy.  And yet, I find the characters real, the settings and survival lifestyle fascinating and the themes timeless.

I first read Zan-Gah in July of 2010. The prehistoric characters in the series have deep feelings and although the time period is far removed from the present, readers will find themselves empathizing with Dael and his family.

The painted people are peaceful and are so connected to the red earth that they cover themselves with the crimson dust.  Angry and regretful, Dael happens onto this new race of people with his subservient wife, Sparrow.  The acceptance and love of the painted people is like a healing balm to Dael's scarred soul.  Even Sparrow flourishes among their new people, finding that she can speak for the first time.  When Sparrow gives birth to a child, Dael feels as if he has a new start in life.

What Dael doesn't know is that because of his affinity with wolves and crows, he has made an enemy of Shur, the local medicine man.

Dael is a conflicting character who dynamically changes for the better as he goes through internal and external struggles.  Readers will be happy to see the changes that transform Dael.

Shickman has a smooth writing style and balances description and action with finesse.  I find myself wanting to adventure with Dael to a land of striking beauty and dangerous survival.

Paperback168 pages
Published August 30th 2011 by Earthshaker Books

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pumpkin Roll by Josi Kilpack and enter to win an iPad!

Pumpkin Roll by Josi Kilpack
Pumpkin Roll is the perfect fall read!  Yummy comfort food recipes like Whitty Baked Beans, Cinnamon Twists, and Yorkshire Pudding (something I've never tried), ghostly happenings and scary situations make it a great choice as the weather gets cooler.  


In conjunction with the release of Pumpkin Roll the author, Josi S. Kilpack,and the publisher, Shadow Mountain, are sponsoring a contest for a new iPad.

To enter, leave a comment in the comment section of this blog before
November 1, 2011.  
Winners will be announced and notified November 3rd 2011.
More information can be found on Josi Kilpack's website

Sadie Hoffmiller is looking forward to spending her favorite baking season of the year making delicious New England recipes in Boston, Massachusetts, with her favorite leading man, Pete Cunningham, as they babysit his three young grandsons. But when the boys insist that Mrs. Wapple, the woman who lives across the street, is a witch, Sadie and Pete are anxious to distract the boys from such Halloween-induced ideas. However, it gets harder and harder to explain the strange things that keep happening, particularly after Sadie learns the eccentric Mrs. Wapple has been attacked in her home. As the unexplained occurrences escalate, Sadie finds herself embroiled in yet another mystery with life-or-death consequences. Can Sadie discover whoever—or whatever—is behind the mystery before anyone else gets hurt? Or will this be Sadie's last case?
I just love Sadie Hoffmiller.  She is a combination of Murder She Wrote and Anne of Green Gables.  A sort of busy body Nancy Drew grandma.  
The recipes and food preparation never feel forced--in fact they make me feel right at home in a cozy murder mystery.  I know, it's weird.  Food is such a part of our lives and I love how Josi incorporates the cooking and the recipes into each adventure. 
The cover of Pumpkin Roll is so mouth-watering that my dog tried to eat it.  I am not kidding!  He got sent to his kennel for chewing on the signed copy that the author so generously sent me in the mail (Bad boy, Nestle!).
What I find attractive about the culinary mysteries that Josi writes is the versatility--anyone can read them and enjoy them (I plan to give a copy to my grandmother for Christmas).
I have to admit that it took me awhile to get into Pumpkin Roll.  I just didn't know what to expect in the beginning.  I am so glad that I kept reading--I was rewarded with some serious suspense and entertainment for hanging in there.  
Pumpkin Roll is yet another masterful blend of suspense, romance and good home cooking.  Enjoy!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Nightingale by David Farland

Nightingale by David Farland

Nightingale by David Farland is the first book being published by the author's own forward-thinking publishing company. What do you think of the cover?  I don't know about you, but I'd pick it up just to get a closer look. :)

East India Press takes e-books in a whole new direction with enhanced multimedia--soundtracks, movie clips, author interviews and more. From the site: "East India embraces emerging technologies and new distribution methods, producing every novel in three forms:  as an enhanced multimedia experience, as a standard e-book, and as a limited edition hardcover."

Manuscript submissions will soon be accepted on the website and in the meantime you can enter your short story in a contest with fabulous prizes!

Read my interview with David here.
Food to eat while reading: Memory Merchant's Sour Cream Blueberry Pie
David Farland, Nightingale
Memory Merchant's Sour Cream Blueberry Pie

Watch for Nightingale to go on sale through Apple's App store for the iPad in the last part of 2011.

Bron Jones was abandoned as a newborn. Thrown into foster care,he is rejected by one family after another, until he meets Olivia, a gifted and devoted high-school teacher who recognizes him for what he really is--what her people call a "nightingale".
But Bron isn't ready to learn the truth. There are secrets that have been hidden from mankind for hundreds of thousands of years, secrets that should remain hidden. Some things are too dangerous to know.
Bron's secret may be the most dangerous of all. 

My review:

*note, I reviewed a non-enhanced copy of this e-book, print only.

I instantly felt empathy for Bron, a teen who had been handed from foster home to foster home and who hasn't allowed himself to love or be loved.

The prologue drew me in and let me know that Nightingale is no ordinary book. In its digital pages I sensed the promise of adventure, sacrifice and an unexplored world. I wasn't disappointed.

What teen boy wouldn't want to be Bron? Handsome, wicked talented on the guitar, able to control opponents just by willing it to be so, and looking forward to the time when he will emit a scent that will draw every female for miles around. With its focus on action and adventure, Nightingale will certainly appeal to both the male and female teen readership.

The world of masaaks is interesting and unique. The memory keeping and leech aspects of the race (the ability to take will and even life from a victim and add vitality and years to the masaak) reminds me of the dedicates in Farland's earlier fantasy series, Runelords. I like the idea and it feels natural in a YA urban fantasy novel.

The settings in Nightingale are masterfully painted and Farland transports his readers away from their daily grind. From small Alpine, Utah, to St. George, Utah with its red rocks and Tuacahn theatre, to the swamps of New Orleans, a palpable sense of place grounds the novel in reality. Readers are then free to make the fantastic jump into Bron's world.

I prefer to read books that have a female point of view and Nightingale is aimed at the YA male market, but I settled right into Bron's point of view. The violence and at times crudeness that come with a male protagonist are not on par with what I usually enjoy reading. They weren't overpowering though and I am certain, that Nightingale will appeal to the young ladies as well as the young men.

I enjoyed the first half of the book the most--the part that deals with high school and love interests and emotional stakes. The last third of the book bogged me down with violence and backstory about the malevolent half of the masaak population. I'll be anxious to see more of Tuacahn High School for the Performing Arts and Bron's emotional struggles in the next book in the series.

An exciting new urban fantasy with vivid settings and a unique twist on the paranormal, Nightingale is unlike anything I've ever read--you won't want to miss it.

I can't wait to see what the multimedia enhancements have to offer.

Farland has plans for three more books in the series: Dream Assassin, Draghoul, and Shadow Lord.

For more information about Nightingale and East India Press click here.

Tasty Tuesday-Memory Merchant's Sour Cream Blueberry Pie

David Farland's Nightingale
Memory Merchant's Sour Cream Blueberry Pie

Memory Merchant's Sour Cream Blueberry Pie

Bron's life in Nightingale by David Farland is bittersweet. He doesn't dare enjoy the glimpses of happiness he has in his new life with Olivia in St. George. Instead, he holds on to the walls he has built for himself through years of foster care. Olivia breaks through some of those barriers as she uses her skills as a memory merchant to plant in Bron's mind her own memories of learning to play the guitar.

This recipe is unique because the author suggested it. I tweaked the original recipe (given to me by Farland's lovely wife Mary) to make the sour cream and blueberry fillings separate and swirling around each other like the competing factions in Bron's life.  While visiting family in St. George, Utah (the setting of the book) I was able to make the recipe and photograph the pie on the red rocks of the area.

3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup blueberries, frozen or fresh
1 cup water
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon almond extract or lemon juice
unbaked pie crust (if you ask me nicely I will email you my mother's prizewinning pie recipe)

pecan topping (optional)
5 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons butter, softened
3 tablespoons pecans, chopped

In a small saucepan over medium heat, stir together the sugar and cornstarch. Add blueberries and water and cook until boiling, stirring occasionally. Let boil for one minute and then remove from heat.  Allow to cool completely.

In a medium sized bowl, beat the eggs with a fork. Stir in the sour cream, and almond extract or lemon juice. Keep in the fridge or freezer until the blueberries are cooled.

Pour the cream mixture into the unbaked pie crust. Add the blueberry mixture on top of the cream. Swirl the two together with a spoon, giving it a marbled look.

Prepare pecan topping by combining the flour, butter and chopped pecans.

Cook at 400' for 30 minutes. Remove the pie and sprinkle the pecan mixture on top, if desired. Cover the edges of the pie crust with tin foil to prevent over browning. Cook for an additional 15 minutes. Let cool in the fridge. Best served the day you make it.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Interview with David Farland

David Farland author of Nightingale
Today I am pleased to welcome David Farland, a friend and mentor of mine and many others in the writing world.  Thank you, David, for stopping by.

Read my review of David's new release Nightingale

Nightingale focuses on a different audience than most of the stories  you write.  What made you decide to focus on young adult?

I've actually dabbled with a number of young adult and middle-grade novels.  I did one Star Wars young adult novel, four more tied to the Mummy series, another dozen middle-grad pieces for Star Wars, and of course my own middle-grade fantasy series.  Most of those were written back when I was writing science fiction under the name Dave Wolverton.

Over the years, a number of my students have had a lot of success in young adult--people like Brandon Sanderson, Brandon Mull, James Dashner, and Stephenie Meyer.

I finally decided that it was time for me to get serious about it.

Setting plays a large role in Nightingale--what research did you do  in St. George to provide such a sense of place?

For years I used to go to Saint George on writing retreats, and in 2003 we moved there.  My daughter attended Tuacahn, the school I use in the story.  So I went with a teacher and took a tour of the school.  Then I had my daughter read through the book and make more suggestions.  I also traveled to other locations, like the small town where Bron lived, and took pictures of the houses that I use as locations.  Even the swamps in Louisiana and hills in North Carolina are all based on places I've been.  But I took it one step further.  When I wrote about scenes, I wrote about them on the days that the scene occurred, in many places, in order to get the details right.  For example, when Bron goes out to watch a meteor shower, it happens on a day when I went out and looked at one.  If I talk about a storm one night, and smoke from wildfires the next, it's because those were prevalent on that night.

You have a police officer in your book named Rick Walton.  Is there any connection to the children's book author?

I love Rick, so I thought that I'd immortalize him.  But then he turned out to be such a nasty cop.  Guess we all have our dark sides. Rick Walton is an old friend, and when I was writing the character of Sheriff Walton, I had just been reading an email from him.  I decided that Rick needed to be immortalized, and since he's one of the nicest guys I know, it only seemed appropriate to turn him into a scoundrel.  Seriously, as I began writing about Officer Walton, I didn't realize just how nasty he'd turn out to be!

What are you hoping that readers will take away from Nightingale?

This is a novel that deals with a lot of things--feelings of abandonment, the pain of being a teen, the anxiety of dating, the struggle to be human.  My hope is that as people read my stories, they see themselves in my characters, and that at the end of the novel, they feel like they're better, stronger, more enlightened individuals for having read my work.

At the same time, I don't write books that very sweet.  I like books that make you "live" through them, where you laugh one minutes, are shocked another, and find yourself crying the next.

Somewhere along the way, I try to "discover" the deeper meaning of the story.  I don't set out to preach, simply to ponder facets of life that I might not have otherwise considered.

Tell me about your new publishing company. What is unique about it?

At East India Press, we're trying something that I haven't seen anyone else do.
Most publishing companies in the past have made their money selling books in hardcover and paperback.  In the past twenty years, audiobooks have come to make up a significant portion of the market.  In the past four years, electronic books have grown to the point that, if the last figures that I heard were accurate, more than 50 percent of all book sales are now electronic.

But the exciting new thing that's coming is "enhanced novels," books with color illustrations, animations, video clips, soundtracks, and annotations, along with possible videogames.  These books are interactive to a degree, more like a movie than a novel.  Such novels can be "updated" instantly, so that we can correct typos or add new features to the book, such as the ads for an upcoming movie.  So the enhanced novel is a sort of living document.

A few companies have started up with the idea of doing these, but we thought, "Hey, why not publish the book in all of those formats?"  My partner, Miles Romney, has a background in illustration, acting, singing and writing.  I've worked as a screenwriter, videogame designer, and novelist.

So we're doing enhanced books, e-books, audiobooks, a hardcover book, and a soundtrack--all based upon this one novel.  We're pulling the entire line of companies under one roof.

It's fun.  In some ways, we're the stodgy old publishers trying to make sure that we've got the highest quality hardcover available for book collectors, and on the other hand we're creating cutting-edge content.

Are you accepting submissions?

In the very near future.  I'm thinking that by the first on November, East India Press will be ready to take on its next project.

I see that you are having a writing contest.  What is the purpose of  the contest?

The East India Press Short Story Contest will do a couple of things.  First, it will help promote writing.  It may very well bring to our attention some young new writers who are immensely talented.  And last of all, we're hoping that it will create some name recognition for the newest publishers on the block.

What do you eat while writing/reading?

I drink diet Mountain Dew or water.  I find that if I eat, it makes me tired.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Variant by Robison Wells

Benson Fisher thought that a scholarship to Maxfield Academy would be the ticket out of his dead-end life. He was wrong. Now he’s trapped in a school that’s surrounded by a razor-wire fence. A school where video cameras monitor his every move. Where there are no adults. Where the kids have split into groups in order to survive. Where breaking the rules equals death. But when Benson stumbles upon the school’s real secret, he realizes that playing by the rules could spell a fate worse than death, and that escape—his only real hope for survival—may be impossible. 
-October 4th 2011 by HarperTeen
  Food to eat while reading: Hidden Ham and Cheese
Hidden Ham and Cheese Roll
Variant by Robison Wells

Variant by Robison Wells is a new take on the questions reminiscent of Lord of the Flies by William Golding: what does man (or in this case teen) do when left to his own? The novel has breakneck twists and turns that deepen the plot and make it impossible to put down. 

Author Robison Wells in a resident of Holladay, Utah.  He recently finished graduate school and says that he wrote Variant when he should have been studying finance.  Wells is the author of three LDS fiction novels and Variant is his debut to the national market.

What to expect:

It is hard for me to talk about Variant without giving away spoilers.  As I read it, I anticipated a twist that other reviewers mentioned changed the book for good or bad.  I have to say that I love the direction Wells took the book.

Though I did get a bit confused at first by the large cast of characters in Variant, the main character Benson felt real and I sympathized with him.  I truly felt trapped in the school with him and had no idea how he could escape.

Unlike many novels that fall into the young adult dystopian genre, Variant has very little swearing and violence and no sex.  Wells does a fabulous job maintaining the crisp suspense and emotional depth typical of dystopia while keeping it clean. Parents can feel comfortable recommending it to teens who will be so involved in the story that they won’t miss the edginess.

The plot of Variant worked well for me and I enjoyed watching the story unfold, but the last few pages are what sealed the deal for me.  Wells answered my questions neatly and then threw me for a loop that has me begging for the sequel. 

I am anxious to see what happens to the teens in when they are forced to live in their own society.  The complete lack of adults in Variant and the man vs society struggle reminds me of other dystopian-type novels such as Gone by Michael Grant and Maze Runner by James Dashner.

Wells is busy working on a second and final book in the series, tentatively titled Feedback.  

What did you think of the twists in the book--throw you for a loop or reel you in?

Tasty Tuesday-Hidden Ham and Cheese

Hidden Ham and Cheese
Variant by Robison Wells

Hidden Ham and Cheese

Maxfield Academy in Variant by Robison Wells is full of surprises, but when Benson tries to escape from the odd school where no adults are present and deviants simply disappear, he finds the biggest surprise of all.  The surprise inside of Hidden Ham and Cheese is much more pleasant than any at Maxfield Academy.  Fluffy bread surrounds a combination of ham and cheese with a touch of tangy mustard.

One prepared batch of your favorite roll dough (you can use mine if you want)
3 tablespoons yellow mustard
1/2 pound honey ham lunch meat, chopped
1/2 pound pastrami lunch meat, chopped
1 package pepperoni, chopped
2 cups Colby jack cheese, shredded

On a floured surface, roll the dough into a large rectangle as you would if you were making cinnamon rolls.  Spread the mustard over the entire surface of the dough.  Sprinkle the chopped meats and shredded cheese on top.  Beginning at one of the long ends of the rectangle of dough, roll the bread over the fillings, cinnamon roll style.  Place on a cookie sheet, curling into a wreath, if desired.  Allow to rise for 30 minutes.    Bake at 350' for 20 minutes or until the bread is golden brown.  Slice and serve to six or eight lucky people.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Tasty Tuesday-Beignet Chess Squares

Beignet Chess Squares

Beignet Chess Squares

In Gypsy Knights by Two Brothers Metz, Durriken and Dalia travel across America in a Chess-like adventure that brings them to Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans.  There they dine on late night beignets frosted with powder sugar and discuss their next move toward checkmate. These pastry pillows taste great with powdered sugar, but are divine when a bit of berry jam is spooned into their insides.

4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons shortening
1 cup warm water
canola oil for frying

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.  Cut the shortening in to the dry mixture.  Add warm water and mix well. Cover the dough and let it stand for at least 30 minutes. 

Heat oil to medium high. Roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thick.  Cut into squares.  Fry the squares until they are golden brown.  Sprinkle generously with powdered sugar. Makes 24 small beignets.

Gypsy Knights by Rhett and Lafe Metz

Fourteen-year-old Durriken Brishen has lost his parents, his grandfather, and though he doesn't know it, his Gypsy culture's dangerous gift.

Taken in and raised on the rails by the first woman to pilot a freight train, Durriken has one remaining connection to his Romani roots: a small wooden box that hangs from the hammer loop of his overalls.

The last gift he received from his grandfather, the box contains the world's first chess set. But a piece is missing: the Red Queen. According to Durriken’s family lore, the complete set awakens the power of T─ârie, a mercurial gift that confers unique abilities on each new Master.

When a suspicious fire erupts in the Chicago rail yard, Durriken's escape produces an uneasy alliance, though not without its silver lining. Dilia is a few inches taller, several degrees cleverer, and oh yes – very pretty. While Durriken is uneasy allying with a girl whose parents were convicted of sedition, there's no doubt she is a powerful partner. And while it's not immediately clear to either, her own Guatemalan culture and family history are deeply entwined with the ancient Romani mystery.

Jumping box cars, escaping riverboats, deciphering clues, crossing swords with the brilliant madman Radu Pinch – with great American cities as its backdrop – Gypsy Knights is the page-turning saga of Durriken Brishen and his quest to rediscover his past.

Food to eat while reading: Beignet Chess Squares 

Note: I receive many requests for reviews of independent authors with e-books.  I read few of them and review almost none of them.  Because I have my own e-book up on Amazon, I know that there are great authors who are self-publishing their work and I will share any gems that I find. 

Gypsy Knights is one of those indie author gems.  

Chess, railroad, and Romani culture all play roles in making Gypsy Knights a story rich with culture and interest. 

The writing in Gypsy Knights is very well written in a flowing narrative that keeps pace with the action. It is peopled with distinct characters who all add a splash of color to the story.

Gypsy Knights reminds me of a young adult Da Vinci Code told on 1960's American soil. 

It has the fun idea of them being part of a giant, real chess game with dangerous stakes.  I know only the basics of chess and I appreciated what was being done.  Others who are masters of the game will get even more out of it than I did.  

The book rushes across America at a frenzied pace--from the tunnels under temple square in Salt Lake City, Utah to a Southern plantation in New Orleans.  The characters even end up in Romania.  All of the settings were well painted and fun places to visit in my mind. America is a character in this book, lending a very rustic and old-time feel to the story.

The emotions felt a bit shallow and underdeveloped as the story is told in a cinematic style with very little insight into the character's heads. But as I got used to the style, the lack of internal dialogue bothered me less and less.  The ebook does have a small handful of typos that were easily forgivable, especially because the story is so entertaining.  I found myself wanting to return and see what happens to Durriken and Dilia. 

Radu Pinch is a scary bad guy.  When he chases Durriken and Dilia through tunnels near the beginning, I was beginning to think they weren't going to make it.  My only beef with his character is that the authors kept switching back and forth, calling him by different names.

The banter and romance between the two characters was very appropriate and mild and there was a moderate amount of cussing.

I loved the character of Durriken and the way he changes throughout the story.  His maturity at the end of the book when facing Radu Pinch is admirable.  

Gypsy Knight is an entertaining adventure, one to add to your e-book library. 

Purchase Gypsy Knights.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Interview with Amber Argyle, author of Witch Song

Amber Argyle, author of Witch Song

Amber Argyle is the author of Witch Song, released September 1, 2011.
Read my review here

The world in which you wrote Witch Song has many characters and races. Can you tell us what the inspiration was behind such people as Tartans and creatures like Pogg?

I wanted to take full advantage of the America’s resonance with witches—the most famous being the Salem Witch Trials. So Nefalie (my character’s home country) is very New England in setting with similar technology to what you might find in 17th century America (muskets/Spanish galleon sailing ships).
As far as the Tartens (the enemy nation), my brother-in-law works for the US embassy program. He’s been in a few South American countries where there is almost no middle class. Just a few very wealthy and many very poor. I also loved the idea of adding a tropical flavor to the novel, as most high fantasy is strictly castles and knights.
As for Pogg (my frog person), my main character grew up landlocked, so I needed a character that could help her make the connection to the sea creatures and also serve as a guide.

What makes Brusenna the perfect heroine for your novel?

I’ve read so many sarcastic, masculine heroines that I wanted to showcase a different kind of woman—one with a quiet strength. Brusenna is shy and unsure of herself. She’s slow to trust anyone, including herself. People and large groups terrify her. She has to learn to overcome all of her fears in order to save the people she loves.

How does it feel to have a debut novel in print?

It’s wonderful! There’s a strong sense of accomplishment ,and I’ve learned so much. Although I think I’ll need a solid year worth of sleep and a gallon of hot chocolate to return to normal. ;)

What do you want readers to take away from Witch Song?

Trust yourself. Love yourself. Honor yourself. Because if you don’t, no one else will.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?  What inspires you?

Yes. Whenever teachers would ask what we wanted to be when we grew up, I always answered a writer or a ballerina. Since I have the grace of a one-legged zombie, I think I chose well.

Are you working on any future books?  Can you share with us?

I have another novel, Daughter of Winter that will hopefully be released sometime next year. Here’s the cover blurb: 
"Mortally wounded during a raid, seventeen-year old Ilyenna is healed by Winter Faeries who present her with a seductive offer: become one of them and share their power over Winter. But that power comes with a price. If she accepts, she will become a force of nature, lose her humanity, and abandon her family.
Unwilling to forsake humanity or family, Ilyenna is enslaved by the raiders. While in captivity, she learns that the attack wasn’t just a simple raid but part of a larger plot to overthrow her entire nation. In order to save her people, Ilyenna risks her life to warn her people. Her captor, the traitor Darrien, proves his cunning by convincing their people she is lying.
Only Ilyenna knows the truth.
With the invaders stealing over the mountains and Darrien coming to take her to his bed, she’ll have to decide whether to resurrect the power the faeries left behind. Doing so will allow her to defeat Darrien and the invaders; but if she embraces Winter, she’ll lose herself to that destroying power—forever."

What do you eat while reading/writing?

A handful of chocolate or a cup of hot chocolate (sometimes with marshmallows).