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 Tărie, 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). 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Blog tour for Witchsong by Amber Argyle

Witchsong by Amber Argyle

Today I am participating in the blog tour of Amber Argyle's debut novel, Witchsong.  Information about the book tour can be found on Amber's blog.

Read my review of this lovely book and check out the yummy recipes for Golden Curry Soup and Honeycakes. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Tasty Tuesday-Wind-whirled Ice Cream Cake

Wind-whirled Ice Cream Cake
Wind-whirled Ice Cream Cake

Megan is amazed to realize that she is the one controlling the wind--not Adam, the handsome boy whose family seems to control the elements. In The Carrier of the Mark by Leigh Fallon, Megan learns to control and use the wind for protection and love.  If she used her power in the kitchen, Megan would mix up this recipe for Wind-whirled Ice Cream Cake with little effort. The secret to this airy, flour-less cake is whipping--lots and lots of whipping.

1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons white sugar, divided
6 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla
5 ounces dark chocolate chips or pieces 
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3 cups ice cream of your choice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a jelly roll pan (or cookie sheet with deep sides) with cooking spray and then flour the pan.

Melt the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl, stirring every 30 seconds to prevent burning. 

In a medium sized bowl, beat just the egg yolks and 1/4 cup of sugar until it is light and fluffy (about 5 minutes). Beat in the vanilla.  Add the melted chocolate and beat only until combined.  Set aside. 

Beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat at medium-high speed until soft peaks form.  Sprinkle the 2 tablespoons of sugar over the egg whites and continue to beat until stiff peaks form.

Gently fold a small amount of the egg whites into the chocolate yolk mixture using a whisk or rubber spatula.  Fold in the remaining whites until just mixed.  Do not over mix or the batter will deflate.  Pour the batter into the prepared jelly roll pan. Bake until the cake springs back when touched, about 12 minutes.  Remove from oven and place it on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.  

Carefully loosen the sides and bottom of the cake but do not remove it from the pan. Cover the cake with a large towel.  Quickly flip the cake upside down so that it is sitting on the towel.  If you have a second jelly roll pan, you can place it on top of the towel before flipping.  

Roll the towel and cake like you would a cinnamon roll.  Let cool.

While cake is cooling, remove the ice cream from the freezer and allow to thaw for about 15 minutes.  

Gently unroll the cake and spread the softened ice cream evenly over the entire cake, leaving a 1/4 inch space on all sides.  Roll the cake and ice cream together in a spiral as before, leaving the towel on the table.  Don't worry if the cake cracks in places, it will still be yummy. 

Place the cake in the freezer for a few hours before serving.  

*I highly suggest that you serve this with the versatile chocolate sauce on the I Hate Chocolate Cake

The Carrier of the Mark by Leigh Fallon

The Carrier of the Mark by Leigh Fallon

Their love was meant to be.
When Megan Rosenberg moves to Ireland, everything in her life seems to fall into place. After growing up in America, she's surprised to find herself feeling at home in her new school. She connects with a group of friends, and she is instantly drawn to darkly handsome Adam DeRís.
But Megan is about to discover that her feelings for Adam are tied to a fate that was sealed long ago—and that the passion and power that brought them together could be their ultimate destruction.

Wind-whirled Ice Cream Cake

Food to eat while reading: Wind-whirled Ice Cream Cake

The Ireland setting and the promise of Celtic folklore in The Carrier of the Mark by Leigh Fallon pulled me into the story right away.

 I love paranormal romance and I dove in as soon as I received the book. I have mixed feelings about this one. Overall it is well written and I think it will be very well received.

 The book fell short for me in a few places, but I am still recommending this one, as I think it is only a matter of personal taste and I think many people will enjoy The Carrier of the Mark. The Carrier of the Mark is well written and flows nicely.

 The characters are a bit teeny-bopper for my tastes, but stay consistent throughout. There were many questions that I wanted answers to that kept me reading, and that is always a good thing. In the beginning of the book I saw glimpses of Ireland and the culture and language were fun to visit in my head, but I wanted much more than the book provided and I think the author could have easily incorporated the emerald isle throughout the story.

 There are some original ideas and fun scenes in the book that intrigued me, but much of the plot felt like something I'd already read--Twilight and even a bit of Avatar: the Last Airbender. I did struggle past that though, and found that the story is worth reading.

The romance between Megan and Adam is eye-rollingly perfect and I found myself skimming some of the love scenes. There is a good reason why the two lovers can't be together (a situation which is always alluring) but neither of the lovers are taking the threat seriously and so neither do I.

 I love what happens to the couple's powers when they are together and I hope the second book in the series explores that more. There is quite a bit of profanity throughout the book and that lowered my ability to recommend the book to others.

 I think the cover is pretty well done, but what I really love are the water markings on each of the chapter headings.

Verdict: The Carrier of the Mark blew me off my feet and placed me in the middle of a modern Irish fairy tale.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Interview with Jana Richman, author of The Last Cowgirl

Author Jana Richman
Welcome to Jana Richman, author of The Last Cowgirl and Riding in the Shadow of the Saints.  I was able to interview Jana for an article for The Syracuse Islander and I'm pleased to share our conversation with you.

What inspires you to write?

That’s a difficult question to answer. Life, in general, I suppose is what inspires me to write—my persistent state of bewilderment in regard to the actions of humans both individually and collectively. Through my writing, I’m trying to understand why we do what we do, how we interact with one another and with our geography, how our past influences our present, how our wounds heal or don’t heal, what makes good people act in bad ways, how do people live with devastating choices they’ve made in the past, etc. It all fascinates me and keeps me writing

It's been said that your book reads like a memoir.  What inspired you to write a novel this way?

I didn’t intend to write a novel that reads like a memoir, but I’m flattered by the comment. It means that I’ve succeeded in making the first-person narrator “real” to readers. My first book, Riding in the Shadows of Saints, was a memoir, and I was excited to turn to fiction in the second book, to be freed-up to follow my characters wherever they led me—and they led me to some surprising places. I don’t write from an outline; I begin with a general idea of where the story will end up and a few of the scenes that will take me there. But the story never ends up where I think it will, and the characters never conform to the imagined scenes in my head. Once the characters are fully formed, they decide on the story they will tell, and if I try to manipulate them too much, the story doesn’t feel right—I guess you could say that the character is acting “out of character” when I try to force a preconceived scene.
The Last Cowgirl  by Jana Richman

Is any of the book autobiographical in nature?

Yes, some of it is, but readers are usually surprised to find out that much of it is not. The family in the story is based upon my family, and my experience of my father’s desire to be a rancher when I was a child. But as I wrote, the characters morphed away from the people they were originally based upon, and the scenes did the same. I’ve been asked by many readers who the character of Bev was based upon. She’s a strong, good character—the kind of woman everyone wants as a friend—but she came entirely from my imagination. And maybe that’s why she’s such a strong character—she’s a combination of a woman I would love to have as a friend and the woman I would like to be. But in my life, I know no women like her.

The book is also based on an historical event—the 1968 nerve gas incident in Tooele County that killed more than 6,000 sheep. I grew up in Tooele, and I was 12 at the time it happened. Mostly what stuck with me was the lid of silence that fell upon the town as the federal government lied about their part in it, tried to cover their actions, and tried to blame the deaths on a “poisonous plant” in Skull Valley. It was a time of cognitive dissonance. The federal government employed most everyone in Tooele at the time, we were in the middle of a war, patriotism ran high in town, so it was difficult for residents to come to terms with the idea that their government would lie to them and betray them in this way. And those are the times that are fascinating to write about—lots of ambiguity, lots of complexity, nothing can be explained away easily. I wanted to plop characters into that incongruity and see what they would do with it, and The Last Cowgirl is the book that came out of it.

What do you hope readers will take away with them when they read your book?

I don’t write with a “take away” in mind. There’s no moral to the story, there’s no message I’m trying to convey. What I hope readers take away is simply a good reading experience. I hope every reader finds something that resonates with him/her. I write about the west because it is what I know, but I’ve heard from readers in Florida, readers in the mid-west, even one reader in Peru who found resonance with the book. That’s my job as a writer—to write specifically about universal ideas, to set the collective human consciousness into a particular story.

Are you working on another book?  Can you share with us what it is?

I just finished another novel and sent it to my agent. It’s set in Nevada, and the backdrop for it is the proposed Las Vegas pipeline and the impact the pipeline will have on the people in the valleys that Las Vegas proposes to drain.

Please list any awards The Last Cowgirl has received.

The Last Cowgirl won the 2009 Willa Award for Contemporary Fiction, the Salt Lake Weekly Arty Award, and was a finalist for the Utah Book Award.

How did you get your start as a writer and how did you end up with an agent and a publisher? 

I wrote from a young age, but never took it seriously until I was in my 40s. I went about getting an agent and publisher the old-fashioned way. I went back to school at the University of Arizona and studied my butt off—got an M.A. in journalism, and then freelanced as a journalist to pay my way through the creative writing program where I got an M.F.A in creative non-fiction. Then I just wrote and wrote and wrote until I really understood the craft of writing and developed the instincts to know when my own work was good and when it was not. I worked to publish short pieces in literary magazines, worked on a book proposal for more than a year for my first book, Riding in the Shadows of Saints, attended writers’ conferences, and eventually got the attention of an agent. He sold both books—the first to Crown, an imprint of Random House, and the second to William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins. 

What do you like to eat while reading/writing?

Excellent question. In any state other than Utah, I think the question would be “what do you like to drink while you write,” because writers are notoriously good drinkers. The answer is anything I can get my hands on. It’s an interesting question—there does seems to be a relationship between writing/reading and oral gratification—but I’ve never considered the question before. My husband, who is a transpersonal therapist, loves to bake, and he’s perfected crusty breads, so that’s usually what’s sitting next to me as I write.