Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Irish Dresser series by Cynthia G. Neale

Norah by Cynthia G. Neale

Norah: The Making of an Irish-American Woman in 19th Century New York by Cynthia G. Neale, tells of a young woman's struggle to understand how she fits into the new world in America, and what her home country of Ireland means to her.

Norah McCabe arrives in New York from Ireland at a tumultuous time. After enduring the potato famine of 1845-1850, Norah is determined to make a new life for herself, and begins a business of selling used dresses. Norah sees that life in America is not all that she wishes it to be. The Irish emigrants are treated with little respect, and soon hunger finds her family in the promised land.

When she is offered a job writing for a local newspaper, Norah is certain that she will be able to make a better life for her family. Her involvement with revolutionists plunges her deep within the underground of New York City with all of its cruelty. Out of this desperation rises hope for a better life, and a love for Ireland, the country she cannot forsake.

Neale weaves a historical fiction that is both beautiful, and haunting. The words float off the page and play out like images on a movie screen. Norah's deep longing, and richly felt heritage flow through the prose.

"She picked up the worn old instrument and held it near to her face and imagined the lilts of wild moon-lit music nights in Ireland as a child. The musical strains had made patterns on her soul that she had sought to cover up and smooth over with her new life in America, but now they were surfacing. She pressed the fiddle to her cheek and felt the wood's armor, warrior armor that had endured famines, storms and an ocean that had demanded sacrifice for survival" (p.134).

Readers should be cautioned that Norah is an adult novel, and the adult content, though appropriate to the subject matter, is not intended for young adults or children.
The Irish Dresser
by Cynthia G. Neale
Neale wrote two prequels to Norah that are aimed at the young adult market. The Irish Dresser and Hope in New York City are as full of emotion and hope as the more recent Norah.

In The Irish Dresser, we meet Norah in her hometown, surrounded by friends and family who struggle to survive as The Great Hunger ravages through their potato fields, and their livelihood. Her fiery will and indomitable spirit carry her across the ocean as she stows away in the Irish dresser that allows her passage to a new world.

Hope in New York City
by Cynthia G. Neale
Hope in New York City continues the story as Norah finds that, although America may be a land of opportunity, there is much that the Irish emigrants can teach about poverty, racism and injustice.

Cynthia Neale's books about Norah McCabe will appeal to those readers who enjoy experiencing history through fiction. Her books weave a captivating story and give historical information.

You can visit Cynthia on her website, and purchase her books on Amazon:

Norah: The Making of an Irish-American Woman in 19th Century New York
The Irish Dresser: A Story of Hope During the Great Hunger
Hope in New York City: The Continuing Story of The Irish Dresser

Norah by Cynthia Neale (book trailer)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Tasty Tuesday - Deceptively Devilish Pops

Deceptively Devilish Pops
for Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

Deceptively Devilish Pops

When Tessa finds herself in London's Downworld, in Cassandra Clare's The Clockwork Angel, she soon finds out that all is not as it appears.  The Pandemonium Club is full of characters who appear tame but have devilish intents.  Tessa's friend Jem helps her to see that it's not what's on the outside that counts, but the flame within. Don't be deceived by the innocent exterior of these cake pops. Inside is a decadent and downright sinful chocolate surprise.

1 box of devil's food cake and the ingredients that the recipe on the box calls for
1 container of frosting
12 ounces dipping chocolate or chocolate chips
Sucker sticks
Cake pop stand or foam mold (to prop the sticks up while drying)
Decorations or sprinkles as desired

These cake pops can be made and served in one day, but I prefer to split it up over two days. It's simple and doesn't feel as time consuming.

Day One: Bake the cake according to decorations and cool completely. With your hands, crumble the entire cake into a large bowl. Add the entire container of frosting to the cake crumbs and mix with hands until fully combined. Form the cake into balls and put them on cookie sheets in the freezer overnight. I like to use an ice cream scoop and then roll each ball with my hands. It's really sticky—just wash your hands after every 4 or 5 balls.

Day two: Melt the chocolate in a microwave safe container, stirring every 30 seconds until melted. I like to keep the chocolate in a tall plastic cup so that the chocolate is easier to dip. Keep the balls in the freezer, pulling out only 3 or 4 at a time for dipping. Dip one end of a sucker stick in the chocolate and then push it into a ball. Immerse the ball in the chocolate and gently tap excess chocolate for a few seconds. This is the hardest part because you have to make certain that the ball doesn't start sliding on the stick and fall off. It will probably take you a few tries before you get it right—darn it, you'll just have to eat the mess-ups.

Place the cake pops in a cake pop stand or a piece of styrofoam to allow them to set without touching the chocolate to any surface. Let the pops set for at least 3 hours. This recipe makes a bunch, like three dozen. If you don't want to make them all at once, just store the balls in the fridge for another day.

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother, her destination is England, the time is the reign of Queen Victoria, and something terrifying is waiting for her in London's Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Only the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons, keep order amidst the chaos. 

Kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, members of a secret organization called The Pandemonium Club, Tessa soon learns that she herself is a Downworlder with a rare ability: the power to transform, at will, into another person. What's more, the Magister, the shadowy figure who runs the Club, will stop at nothing to claim Tessa's power for his own. 

Friendless and hunted, Tessa takes refuge with the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, who swear to find her brother if she will use her power to help them. She soon finds herself fascinated by--and torn between--two best friends: James, whose fragile beauty hides a deadly secret, and blue-eyed Will, whose caustic wit and volatile moods keep everyone in his life at arm's length...everyone, that is, but Tessa. As their search draws them deep into the heart of an arcane plot that threatens to destroy the Shadowhunters, Tessa realizes that she may need to choose between saving her brother and helping her new friends save the world...and that love may be the most dangerous magic of all. 

-Published August 31st 2010 by Margaret K. McElderry

Food to Eat While Reading: Deceptively Devilish Pops 
Deceptively Devilish Pops
from The 2012 Book Blogger's Cookbook
This prequel trilogy to Cassandra Clare's other books can be read by itself without any prior knowledge of the world.  Those who have read the other novels will delight in the allusions and revelations of how things came to be.

This book is a bit dark and there are a few scenes I'd rather skip over, but all in all, the book is a clean adventure romance. 

Set in London, this steampunk fantasy pulls you into the inner workings of secret societies. 

Tessa's relationships with Will and Jem are exciting to follow.  Will is secretive and conflicted, while Jem is sweet and understanding. 

The story played out in my mind like a movie.  I could see the clockwork army and the vampire claves with vivid intensity.  Cassandra Clare has a way of making me feel like I'm really there. 

Tessa's character arch is fascinating.  As she finds out more about herself she changes and grows.  I am interested to see how she progresses in the rest of the trilogy.  

Dark shadows and secret societies inhabit this stunning beginning of a brand new adventure, romance from bestselling author Cassandra Clare.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

I Believe in Jesus Too by Mark S. Nielsen

I Believe in Jesus Too by Mark S. Nielsen
All around the world, Latter-day Saint children go to church, sing songs, pray, read scriptures, participate in family home evening, and get baptized. We may meet in different types of buildings or speak different languages, but we have a lot in common. Why? Because no matter where we live, we all love and believe in Jesus, and He loves each one of us just the same. Are you like Pablo, Dimitri, Bayani, Junpei, and Shamara? Do you believe in Jesus too?

~Published by Deseret Book February 2012

Four of my children snuggled on the couch with me to read I Believe in Jesus Too by Mark S. Nielsen. We love the beautiful illustrations and the simply, yet powerful message.

The book focuses on the fact that children all over the world believe in Jesus.  The pages go on to tell how children the world over go to church, read scriptures, say prayers and get baptized.

It was fun to see what my kids said as we looked through the book.  For instance, my five year old daughter asked, "Where is Jesus in the book?"  Then she flipped to the front cover and said, "Oh, they are all looking at Him!".

When we opened the cover, the inside shows a map of the world with photos of children from all over who believe in Jesus.  My ten-year old noticed that Hawaii is not shown on the map.  When I looked closer, I could see a faint outline of what I think is Hawaii, but I was amazed at how observant children can be.

With it's sweet message and lovable illustrations, I Believe in Jesus Too will be a lovely addition to your family's library.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Back When You Were Easier to Love

Back When You Were Easier to Love
by Emily Wing Smith

What's worse than getting dumped? Not even knowing if you've been dumped. Joy got no goodbye, and certainly no explanation when Zan - the love of her life and the only good thing about stifling, backward Haven, Utah - unceremoniously and unexpectedly left for college a year early. Joy needs closure almost as much as she needs Zan, so she heads for California, and Zan, riding shotgun beside Zan's former-best-friend Noah. Original and insightful, quirky and crushing, Joy's story is told in surprising and artfully shifting flashbacks between her life then and now. Exquisite craft and wry, relatable humor signal the arrival of Emily Wing Smith as a breakout talent. 

-Hardcover, 304 pages Published April 28th 2011 by Dutton Childrens Books

Food to Eat While Reading: Lost in Love Chicken Alfredo Pizza
Lost in Love Chicken Alfredo Pizza
from The 2012 Book Blogger's Cookbook

This book has a different style to it.  I like how it bounces around from past to present--just like a teenager who has lost her boyfriend and doesn't know why.

Joy is in love with the idea of being in love, aren't we all?  Her voice is natural and easy.  She makes lists and gives asides that provide insight.  The short, entertaining chapters of the book make it a quick read. 

The progression from Joy's obsession with a boyfriend she things she knows to discovering what has beer there all along is handled expertly.  When the romance plays out in the end it is all the more sweet and fulfilling.  

The setting is a small Mormon community where certain things are expected.  The author used the backdrop as a parallel to the main theme of non-conformity.

On the journey, I learned with Joy that not everything is how it appears and I can do something because I believe in it, not because someone thinks I can believe in it.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Tasty Tuesday - Chicken Alfredo Pizza

Lost in Love Chicken Alfredo Pizza

Joy is in love with the idea of love in Back When You Were Easier to Love, by Emily Wing Smith. She is so busy chasing after the boy that she thinks she needs that she almost misses the loyal friend that is right in front of her. Pizza is the ultimate meal for a road trip, and Joy and Noah share a pizza together on theirs. Just like Joy’s journey, this chicken alfredo pizza is full of surprising tastes and flavors.

Pizza dough:
1 tablespoon yeast
1 cup warm water
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup pesto
1 ounce jar alfredo sauce
1 cup chicken, grilled and cubed
2 cups mozzarella cheese
Parmesan cheese

Brew the yeast in the warm water until foamy. Add flour and salt and mix until the dough is smooth.  Let the dough raise for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out the pizza dough. Let it sit for ten minutes and roll the dough out again. Apply the olive oil to the top of the pizza with a pastry brush and sprinkle the garlic on top. Cook the crust for 5-8 minutes, being careful not to brown it.
Allow the crust to sit for a few minutes. Spread the pesto over the surface of the pizza, leaving 1/2 space from the edges. Evenly distribute the chicken cubes on the pizza, followed by the mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese as desired.
Put the pizza back in the oven and cook for 10-12 minutes or until the cheeses are melted. Serves 4-6.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tasty Tuesday - Modern Day Root Beer Cookies

Modern Day Root Beer Cookies

When Jane, in Shannon Hale's Austenland, is immersed by the regency era romantic setting that she always dreamed of, she is pulled between her fantasy and reality. A quick root beer drinking fling with the "gardener" is just what she needs to ground her and help her see what she really wants. Root beer stars in this cookie recipe that will remind you of summertime root beer floats.

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon root beer extract
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup walnuts, chopped


4 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 teaspoons root beer extract

Cream butter and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl.  Add the eggs, buttermilk and 1/2 teaspoon root beer extract. Add the flour, baking soda and salt.  Mix well.  Stir in walnuts.

Drop by tablespoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes until lightly browned. Place on a wire rack to cool. 

Combine the frosting ingredients and beat until smooth. Frost the cooled cookies and watch them disappear! Yields about 5 dozen cookies. 

Austenland by Shannon Hale

Austenland by Shannon Hale
Jane Hayes is a seemingly normal young New Yorker, but she has a secret. Her obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, is ruining her love life: no real man can compare. But when a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-crazed women, Jane's fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become realer than she ever could have imagined. Decked out in empire-waist gowns, Jane struggles to master Regency etiquette and flirts with gardeners and gentlemen;or maybe even, she suspects, with the actors who are playing them. It's all a game, Jane knows. And yet the longer she stays, the more her insecurities seem to fall away, and the more she wonders: Is she about to kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own? 

-Published May 29th 2007 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

Food to Eat While Reading:  Modern Day Root Beer Cookies
Modern Day Root Beer Cookies
from the 2012 Book Blogger's Cookbook
I'm in awe of how Hale can make me love Mr. Nobley from the beginning, even though Jane doesn't figure it out until almost the very end. Another character love interest kept getting in the way but I kept wanting her to be with Mr. Nobley. How does the author accomplish this?  With a lot of expertise and the right words.

I had a hard time picturing the other characters in my mind. Perhaps it was the oddity of placing the characgters in a modern time period and then having them act the part of the 19th century England. 

The story was fun and Jane's voice is spunky and modern as she longs for simpler times. 

I love the quote, "Figure out what is good for you.  No use leaning on someone else's story all of your life" (p. 8).

It is interesting to note that "erstwhile" (which is also Jane's last name) means formally or previously.  This illustrates the fact that Jane finds herself on her trip to Austenland and is able to put her past away throughout the story. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Tasty Tuesday - Octavian Ribs

Octavian Ribs
for Bound by C.K. Bryant

Octavian Ribs

Kira discovers that her friend Lydia has been keeping secrets from her, secrets that will affect who she is, who she becomes and who she loves. When she meets Octavian, in Bound by C.K. Bryant, Kira is drawn to, and repulsed by his explosive personality. Octavian shares his own secret with Kira, and her life is forever changed. These pork ribs are a dish that Octavian would approve of. Thanks to my brother-in-law for sharing his secret ingredients. Roll up your sleeves and get ready to dig in.

3 racks pork baby back ribs
1 pound brown sugar
4 Tablespoons paprika
4 teaspoons black and red pepper blend
4 teaspoons garlic powder
4 teaspoons onion salt
2 teaspoons chili powder
4 oz. bottle liquid smoke
2 cups water
1 bottle of barbecue sauce

Preheat oven to 350'.

Combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Cut the ribs into manageable sections and apply the dry rub liberally.

Pour liquid smoke and and water into the bottom of the broiler.  Place ribs on top of the broiler. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 3 hours. Check it a few times to add more water to the bottom of the broiler as needed.  

Allow to cool and then wrap in aluminum foil and refrigerate until ready to grill. 

Grill with meat side face up until heated through and then flip.  Baste with barbecue sauce and grill until the sauce forms a glaze.  Repeat on the other side.  Serve immediately.  

Bound by Christine Bryant

Bound by C.K. Bryant
When a photo shoot ends in tragedy, Kira discovers her best friend, Lydia, has been keeping a secret. Knowing the truth, and accepting it, will change Kira’s life forever and thrust her into a world of ancient curses, magical objects, and savage enemies. What happens next will challenge everything Kira knows about her world, herself and the shape-shifting warrior she’s falling in love with. No longer the timid mouse her mother accused her of being, but a woman who finds the mental and physical strength to endure and survive. BOUND is a heroic tale of true friendship, infinite sacrifice and untamed love. 

-Published November 11th 2011 by Dragonfly Press

Food to Eat While Reading:  Octavian Ribs 
Octavian Ribs
from The 2012 Book Blogger's Cookbook
I loved all of the folklore that describes how the cat men came to be.  There were cool magical items, a fascinating magical world and a girl who learns that she has her own magic inside. The idea of an ancient race of people who are part man/part wild cat is exotic and mysterious and there is plenty of material there for the author to play with.

I am fascinated by Lydia and her second spirit, Altaria, and how they inhabit the same body and both fight for dominance and peace with each other.  What Bryant does later on with Altaria is surprising and I'm intrigued by what will happen in book two.

Octavian's aversion to Lydia's scent reminds me too much of Twilight and I just couldn't bring myself to ever fear for her safety.

I like the dynamics of Kira and Octavian toward the end of the book.  In the beginning the conflicts between them made me dislike Octavian.  he was thoughtless, violent and selfish--opposite of the loyal, and careful companion he is later.

As a self-pubbed ebook, Bound is very clean and there were only a few minor copy write errors.

Bound is a fresh paranormal thriller grounded in fantastic folklore.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tasty Tuesday - Polite Pumpkin Custard

Polite Pumpkin Custard

Polite Pumpkin Custard

Scary School, by Derek the Ghost, is a downright frightening place to be. Children who lag behind or are unruly in library class are likely to get eaten. You may survive if you step lightly around Principal Headcrusher and steer clear of Mr. Dragonbreath. At least Sue the Amazing Octo-Chef can whip you up a delicious, if dubious dessert. Charlie Newkid is the first to figure out that Sue’s amazing pumpkin custards will stop to let you eat them, if you ask them politely. You, too, can enjoy this creamy, crust-less custard, if you say pretty please.

1 (15 ounce) canned pumpkin
2 eggs
1 cup half and half cream
2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup brown sugar, packed
¼ cup pecans, chopped
1 tablespoon butter, melted
Whipped cream and ground cinnamon for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl combine all of the filling ingredients.  Beat until smooth and pour into four greased custard cups (or small hollowed out pumpkins, if available).

Place in a 13x9 inch baking pan.  Pour hot water around the cups until the bottoms are in an inch of standing water. Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

For the topping, combine the brown sugar, pecans and butter.  Sprinkle it over the custard. Put the custards back in the oven for 30-35 minutes.  Serve warm or chilled.  Top with whipped cream and cinnamon, if desired. Store in the refrigerator. Serves 4. 

Scary School by Derek Taylor Kent

Scary School by Derek Taylor Kent

You think your school's scary? 

 Get a load of these teachers: "Ms. Fang," an 850-year-old vampire "Dr. Dragonbreath," who just might eat you before recess "Mr. Snakeskin"--science class is so much more fun when it's taught by someone who's half zombie "Mrs. T"--break the rules and spend your detention with a hungry "Tyrannosaurus rex" 

 Plus Gargoyles, goblins, and Frankenstein's monster on the loose The world's most frighteningly delicious school lunch 


The narrator's an eleven-year-old ghost Join Charles "New Kid" Nukid as he makes some very Scary friends--including Petunia, Johnny, and Peter the Wolf--and figures out that Scary School can be just as funny as it is spooky. 

-Published June 21st 2011 by HarperCollins

Food to Eat While Reading: Polite Pumpkin Custard

Scary School is such a fun ride.  You have to just let your hair down and hold on when you read it because it is wacky and zany.  

It fits right in with the middle school set with odd ball characters, crazy happenings and the threat of death is eminent. 

One of my middle schoolers will not pick up this book because he thinks it will be too scary. LOL! My other middle schooler gets it.  He thinks it is hilarious.  The humor is off beat and fun.  The danger in the book teeters on the edge of strangeness, but that's why I think middle schoolers are going to love it!  

The second book, Monsters on the March will be released June 26th--mark your calendars!