Saturday, January 28, 2012

In My Mailbox (60)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren.

I did another vlog this week, in which I talk about zombies, sugar lips, not judging books by their covers, and why I might be a little OCD. Oh, and my pug Frank makes an appearance.

Books mentioned:
Scary School by Derek the Ghost, illustrated by Scott M. Fischer
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Bad Taste in Boys by Carrie Harris
Beach Ball by Peter Sis
Earth to Clunk by Pam Smallcomb, illustrated by Joe Berger
Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet
Peaceful Pieces: Poems and Quilts About Peace by Anna Grossnickle Hines
The Gargoyle on the Roof and Monday's Troll by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Peter Sis
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (audio)
Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi (audio)
Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink (audio)
The G-Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide by Elisabeth Hasselbeck

Also don't forget to enter my PANDEMONIUM giveaway (ends 1/31)

Friday, January 27, 2012

ARC review: Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

When Lena left her life behind in Portland, she left the old Lena behind too. Now that she resides in the wilds, she is no longer the girl we knew from Delirium. She must fight and push to survive and imagine a life without Alex - which for her to cope, she must pretend he never existed.

As she creates a new life for herself in the wilds, something sinister is afoot on the other side of the fence, which results in the need for the resistance to rise up and make themselves known rather than simply acting in passive defiance within the confines of the oppressive government as they have done in the past. Now is the time for action.

In the process of being part of such resistance, Lena finds herself in new dangers that she had not experienced before, and meets new obstacles in the form of a new love interest that attempts to help her forget about Alex. Is it possible to forget the great love of her life? Can she be reborn again? Or will the ghosts of her past continue to haunt her?

I have said it before, but I can't help but continue to say it over and over again: Lauren Oliver's prose is so beautiful in its simplicity it's almost painful. You read her sentences and think: how can something so simple be so enchanting? This woman can write about surviving in the wilds and make it so descriptive, I can almost taste the food Lena is eating:

I sip from this bowl of broth more slowly, savoring its strange, earthy quality: as though it has been stewed with stones.

I mean, it's not like this broth sounds like a five star meal, but as a foodie, I am so intrigued by the idea of this strange, earthy broth that  I really do want to see what it tastes like. Yes. That just happened. Lauren Oliver actually made me want to eat survival provisions.

Something else I adored about this book and her other books is the fact that Oliver does not dumb down her stories for her teenage audience. She uses the same literary devices of the great classics taught in schools today, but she clearly makes them more accessible to her readers. The motif of rebirth runs rampant throughout the entire novel and even the most literal of thinkers could pick up on this.  As someone who really struggled through abstract and archaic texts in high school, this book is just another example of why teachers and schoolboards today need to realize that you can learn the same literary concepts through contemporary texts, not just classics. Lauren Oliver is a YA author who should be taught with regularity in high schools.

Pandemonium is a very different book from Delirium. Oliver even said this herself. She worried that people would be upset and disappointed. For me it was just the opposite. This book was definitely more tense and filled with anxiety than the previous book, but it was just as well-written and engrossing as the first. The only bad thing about getting to read the book early is now I have to wait that much longer for the third book and oh boy is it going to be a doozy. Despite the fact that I knew how this book was going to end midway through, it was still quite dramatic and chill inducing. I would say more but I don't want to spoil anything by saying too much. Just know that Requiem is going to be one heck of a closer to the series.

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
Series: Delirium #2
Publication Date: February 28, 2012
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 384
Genre: Dystopian
Audience: Young Adult

Check out my current ARC giveaway of Pandemonium

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Young Adult Giveaway Hop

This blog hop is being hosted by I Am a Reader, Not a Writer and Down the Rabbit Hole.

What I am giving away for my portion of the hop is one of the most coveted ARCs of 2012:

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
Series: Delirium #2
Expected Publication: February 28, 2012
Publisher: HarperTeen
Genre: Dystopian
Audience: Young Adult

From Goodreads:

I’m pushing aside the memory of my nightmare,
pushing aside thoughts of Alex,
pushing aside thoughts of Hana and my old school,
like Raven taught me to do.
The old life is dead.
But the old Lena is dead too.
I buried her.
I left her beyond a fence,
behind a wall of smoke and flame.

Lauren Oliver delivers an electrifying follow-up to her acclaimed New York Times bestseller, Delirium. This riveting, brilliant novel crackles with the fire of fierce defiance, forbidden romance, and the sparks of a revolution about to ignite.

I have to be honest, this ARC is a tad beat up, but if you're dying to read this before the publication date, I'm sure you won't mind, right? :)

Check out my review of Pandemonium

To enter, read the terms and conditions and use the Rafflecopter widget and don't forget to visit the other blogs in the hop here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Matched by Ally Condie

Cassia lives in a Society where all life decisions are not yours to make: your job, what you eat, and even who you marry are all carefully constructed for the Greater Good.

When her best friend Xander is chosen as the person she will marry, she is initially thrilled. But when her other friend Ky's face shows up momentarily on the video screen after her Matching ceremony, Officials tell her it was a mistake and that she should plan for a happy life with Xander.

At first she follows the Officials' advice and begins planning for her life with Xander. But slowly and naggingly, Cassia finds herself falling for Ky and questioning all she's ever believed about her Society. Do they really know what's best for her life and the life of its people? 

Matched is a vivid and luscious work of dystopian fiction. Ally Condie's writing stands out as some of the most beautiful and captivating I've ever read. Some have criticized that the plot lags in the middle, but I felt like Condie was giving proper time for world building and for the relationship to develop. So many authors thrust the main character onto a love interest, disguise their lustful interactions as love, and rush the characters through a superficial relationship. I found the leisurely pace of the novel perfect for getting to know characters and feeling their love develop.

Fans of the classic dystopian novel The Giver will undoubtedly notice many similarities in the plot and theme of this book, which was really my only annoyance and that was mild. Despite the similarities, Condie's vivid and pleasant writing style gives this book a different tone than Lois Lowry's seminal novel which is stark and dreary. Which is to say, this is the most pleasant dystopian novel I've ever read or listened to. Even though the world is clearly not something one would ever want to live in, I never felt threatened or uncomfortable by the world Condie created. Yes, Cassia's desire to question everything her Society stands for is necessary and only natural. But this novel had a much more quiet power to it than the typical grand, sweeping dystopian plots of today.

So if you're like me and you're a fan of quieter books that focus more on character development than fast-paced plots, you are in for a treat with Matched. I will happily and eagerly read the next book in the series.

Matched by Ally Condie
Published: November 30, 2010 by Dutton
Series: Matched #1
Pages: 366
Genre: Dystopian
Audience: Young Adult

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

Trailblazing author and illustrator Brian Selznick stunned the literary world upon the publication of his first novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Ping-ponging back and forth between words and pictures, Hugo's story came alive, not just in words, but also in his stunning pencil sketches that narrated the story just as much as the words did, if not more so.

In Wonderstruck, Selznick repeats that same word/picture dynamic but this time with a twist: Selznick tells the story of the two main characters in different ways. Ben's story is told through words and Rose's story through pictures.

Told fifty years apart, Ben and Rose's stories appear to be completely disconnected, their only relation to each other being juxtaposed scenes that are similar in tone and symbolism (e.g., both Ben and Rose experiencing a storm raging outside and also within themselves).

Ben's story is that of a boy who just lost his mother. Now living with his aunt and uncle, he longs to learn more about his family history, namely the father he never knew. When disaster strikes yet again for Ben, rather than allowing himself to wallow in pity, he sets out to learn about the father he never knew.

When we first meet Rose, her story is much more ambiguous since the reader only has pictures to help guide them through the narrative. We immediately surmise that she greatly admires a famous film star and also see that she is trying to run away from something at her house that she does not want to deal with. Saying any more than that would give too much away and affect the reader's enjoyment of the story as their eyes light up in realization as to what is going on.

This book is my current read-aloud with my sixth graders and I'm using my document camera to share Rose's story. It is so fun to see their own eyes light up and hear "Oooooh!" throughout the room as important realizations and revelations hit them. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I'm enjoying sharing it with my class even more. 

As kids and adults alike experience this story for themselves, it would be easy to overlook Selznick's writing ability given his mesmerizing illustrations. But not only is Brian Selznick an amazingly gifted artist, we should not ignore his talent as a writer.

What makes Wonderstruck such a work of genius is that both the text and the illustrations add to the emotion of the story. There were certain pictures I viewed that caused me to audibly gasp they were just so breathtaking, but then there was also the perfect pacing of the text that brought the story to a flawless emotional climax.

My one criticism of the book would be that there were too many instances where things were just a little too neatly woven together and foreshadowing was a little too obvious, but given the unusual nature of the way the story is being told, being obvious and overly neat is necessary to guide the reader through the story without an excessive amount of confusion. One must remember that this is a book written for kids after all.

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
Published: September 13, 2011 by Scholastic
Pages: 640
Genre: Historical Fiction
Audience: Middle Grade

In My Mailbox (59)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren designed to showcase all the books you got during the week, be it in the mail, from the bookstore, or at the library.

Y'all, I have been so busy with work lately that I have been neglecting my blog.  I've barely posted in since the New Year and I am so far behind on my reviews it's not even funny.

My only books this week were multiple copies of this gem:
I loved this book so much that halfway through it, I went on Amazon and ordered 5 more copies to give to friends and family. This is by far the best book I've ever read.

Most people who've reviewed this book were of the same opinion as me: it was a brilliant work of fiction. But I've read some reviews where people have said that John Green intellectualizes in his books too much and that teens really don't act the way he writes them to be, but I can think of far more Classics taught in classrooms across America that teens would relate to less than this literary masterpiece. John Green is an intellectual guy and the fact that he doesn't pander to pop culture trends and wrote a book full of heart and soul makes me love him even more. If you haven't read this book yet, all I have to say is, what are you waiting for?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Audiobook Review: This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel

Living at Chateau Frankenstein in Geneva, Switzerland, Victor and his twin brother Konrad never want for anything. They have doting yet pragmatic parents, a cousin Elizabeth whom they love like a sister, and servants who are treated as part of the family.

Victor, Konrad, Elizabeth, and their best friend Henry love to explore the secret nooks and labyrinthine passageways of the chateau and think they have seen all there is to see... until one day they stumble upon a hidden library full of books containing dark potions and untranslated alchemical formulas. When their father discovers that the boys and Elizabeth explored the Dark Library, he expressly forbids them to ever enter the room again, declaring that he has kept the room secret for a reason.

However, when Konrad falls ill with a mysterious malady that cannot be cured with conventional medicine, Victor, in desperation, turns to the Dark Library to find a recipe for The Elixir of Life. As if caught in a contagion of his own, Victor's desperation ends up unleashing some very dark forces, not just through his attempts at alchemy, but also within himself.

The tag line of This Dark Endeavor is: The purest intentions can stir up the darkest obsessions. I can't think of a better way to describe this book. The entire exposition as we get to know Victor and his family is almost idyllic in its delivery. Their happiness as a family and contentment in their household is strikingly juxtaposed with Victor's obsession at curing what appears to be his brother's terminal illness. Victor begins the novel as quite a likeable character. He and his brother banter back and forth with mirth and deference. Their relationship with Elizabeth appears to be one of mutual respect and felicity. Their parents are so agreeable that they treat their servants with respect and provide for them fair wages and benefits.

Which is why Victor's change of character becomes so jarring. What begins as a loving desire to help his brother, quickly turns into something macabre and nefarious. The reader just wants to take Victor by the shoulders and shake him out of his perverse obsession. This would be a fantastic novel to use when discussing the concept of the tragic hero because, while Victor's narrative is not tragic in death, he certainly comes to an obvious and tragic downfall.

My foremost reason for wanting to read this book was merely due to my admiration of Oppel's previous books. Half Brother, which was published in 2010, is one of my favorite books of all time and Silverwing, which I initially did not want to read, became one of the few animal fantasies that I can actually stomach. But had it not been for the name on the front cover, I probably would have passed this book by. As someone who has never read Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, I really had no interest in reading a prequel to the famous tome. But Kenneth Oppel's writing style has always sucked me in and I had a feeling that despite my trepidation at the subject-matter, I would not be disappointed with the writing, and sure enough I was not.

Kenneth Oppel's writing is so vivid in its delivery it is almost cinematic. I am holding out hope that one day movie producers will see the potential in his books and make them into movies. This Dark Endeavor probably has the likeliest chance of becoming a movie due to the popularity of the subject matter and the fact that producers seem to like making period movies.

The audience for this book is marketed as young adult, but I would say it has a foot planted in both YA and middle grade (just like his Airborn series). It would be especially enticing for middle grade kids who like dark fantasy a la Neil Gaiman or even J.K. Rowling in the later years of Harry Potter. In my opinion, this book is tagged as YA for the simple fact that the major characters are teenagers, but there is nothing wildly inappropriate in this book, only a few strange/uncomfortable kissing scenes.

Audibook notes: Luke Daniels is the narrator of the audiobook and he was the perfect choice for the role of Victor. His voice is youthful enough to pass as a teenage Frankenstein, yet gritty enough to enhance the treachery and depravity of the narrative. I judge an audiobook's success on how much I look forward to my long work commute everyday and this was one of those audiobooks that helped me forget I spend two hours a day in the car.

Check out my interview with Kenneth back in 2010

This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein by Kenneth Oppel
Published: August 23, 2011
Series: The Dark Endeavor Chronicles #1
Print Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Audiobook Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Audiobook Narrator: Luke Daniels
Pages: 304
Audiobook Length: 8 hours, 7 minutes
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult (bordering on middle grade)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Letter to John Green Re: The Fault in Our Stars

Dear John Green:

This is not a book review. This is a letter to thank you for writing one of the most brilliant books to ever grace the literary world.

I spent the entire day reading The Fault in Our Stars yesterday. I never do that. I don't have time anymore. I read upwards of 100 books a year, but it is done so in little pockets of time: listening to audiobooks while I cook dinner, reading as a passenger in the car while my husband drives us to Home Depot, finding a miniscule moment of time in my hectic day as a teacher to sit down at my desk and read a few pages while my students are taking a test.

So when I started to read the first pages of Hazel and Augustus's story on Friday evening, I wanted to stay up all night: I was that sucked into their world. But alas, my body does not allow me to stay up all night anymore, so upon awakening Saturday morning, I continued with their story. I did not move from my chair until I finished.

I don't even know how to express my feelings in words. Hazel and Augustus were real people to me. They were two of the most wonderful teenagers ever to have graced this planet, even if only in the pages of a book. So as their tragic story unfolded, I grieved for them, as I'm sure you did as you wrote their story. As I sat there reading, a pile of sodden tissues in my lap, my thoughts ping-ponged between sadness and joy. Conversations that were supposed to be tragic ended up making me laugh out loud at their light-heartedness and humor. Scenes that would have been cliche and caused me to roll my eyes in any other book made me weep at their tenderness and romanticism.

I planned to write a review for this book. I marked pages. I wrote notes. But the closer to end I crept, the more I realized that this book can't be reviewed. It can't be intellectualized. It must merely be felt. Don't get me wrong, there are so many great moments worthy of discussion in any book club or literature class, but to sit here, only 24 hours after turning the final page? All I can do is marvel.

In my 32 years on this earth, I have yet to declare one favorite book. When people ask, my students especially, what my favorite book is, I always tell them, "I have lots of favorites. I can't choose just one." Today and from here on out, whenever anyone asks me what my favorite book is, I can tell them, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it is The Fault in Our Stars. So thank you John Green. Thank you for Hazel and Augustus and Isaac and for all of the other amazing characters to grace this brilliant story. When I turned the last page yesterday, I grieved. Not just for the characters and for the end of the book, but also for the fact that I don't know if any book I read from here on out will ever live up to this one. You have made my reading life from this day forward a much more challenging endeavor. So thank you for that.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Skype Visit with Audrey Vernick

Today was another exciting day for the sixth graders at my school. Yesterday we had lots of pie, and today we Skyped with the mega-talented author, Audrey Vernick, who wrote my very favorite picture books: Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? and Teach Your Buffalo to Play Drums.

Audrey was so amiable with the kids and has such a beautiful spirit about her. She answered a lot of great questions that the kids came up with - even I was impressed with some of the questions they asked. Given how engaging she was, I can definitely tell she has done school visits before, though I believe this was her first Skype visit. So thanks Audrey, the kids and I are so grateful for you spending time with us today!

Check out my interview with Audrey back in August
Check out Audrey's other books:
Bark and Tim: A True Story of Friendship
She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story
Water Balloon

Coming in Feburary:
So You Want to Be a Rock Star
Coming in April:
Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team

Monday, January 9, 2012

Pie Day is January 9th (in my classroom anyway), not to be confused with Pi Day on March 14th

Before Christmas, my 6th grade class and I finished reading the book Pie by Sarah Weeks as our read aloud. Not one to pass up an opportunity to celebrate the end of a food-related book with food, I told them that if they made a pie from the book that they could earn some extra credit.

Little did I know how popular of an extra credit project this would be. Thinking that maybe ten kids out of my sixty sixth graders would bring in a pie, I vastly underestimated the power of food as extra credit. We had over half the sixth grade class bring in a pie today. Needless to say there were lots of leftover pies in the teacher's lounge at lunch and the wonderful person who runs the cafeteria was just a tad annoyed with me and all the sixth graders who came down and asked to use her walk-in refrigerator. Oh well. It was a fun project for one day - that I may never do again - or at least amend next year so that I don't have so many leftover pies to deal with.

I thought this one was so pretty it deserved its own picture

Saturday, January 7, 2012

In My Mailbox (58)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren designed to showcase all the books you got during the week, be it in the mail, from the bookstore, or at the library.

I decided to do another vlog this week. I don't know how long I'll keep at this vlog thing, but it's fun for the time being.

One thing I forgot to mention in the video was that I did not show all the picture books I got this week. I picked up so many picture books at the library this week that I would probably have to make a 20-minute video to show you all of them. So I just showed you my favorite ones.

Books mentioned:
Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin
Dogs Don't Do Ballet by Anna Kemp, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie
The Boy Who Wanted to Cook by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Steve Adams
Never Take a Shark to the Dentist by Judi Barrett, illustrated by John Nickle
You Will Be My Friend by Peter Brown
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On: Things About Me by Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer-Camp
(If you're like me and have never heard of Marcel the Shell, check out this adorable YouTube video)

What did you get in your mailbox this week?

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn

At the end of 2010 I listened to the audiobook of The Sharper Your Knife the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn. It is the story of her experience upending her entire life, moving to Paris, and attending the world's most famous culinary school: Le Cordon Bleu. I was so enamored with Flinn's story, not just because I admire anyone who can take a huge risk like that, but Flinn's voice and style of writing were so engaging and her words were so perfectly placed that she managed to make my mouth water in each and every chapter.

So when I was approached by someone at Viking about reviewing Flinn's new book, I jumped at the chance. Given my enchanting experience with her first book, I knew I would not be disappointed with her latest food memoir, and I was not wrong.

After returning to the U.S. from her experience in Paris, Kathleen Flinn found herself unsure of what she wanted to do with her culinary education. Then one day as she was cruising the grocery store, she came across a haggard mom perusing the aisles with her cart full of ultra-processed food. Not one to generally stalk people in the grocery store, something compelled Flinn to approach this particular woman and walk her through the store, replacing her processed food with real food.

Inspired by this chance encounter at the grocery store, Flinn came up with the idea to find a group of people who felt cooking was out of their realm of abilities and start teaching a cooking class. It didn't take long for her to find nine willing participants and The Kitchen Counter Cooking School was born.

Part memoir, part testament to the ease and importance of cooking real food for yourself and your family, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School was one of the most engaging nonfiction works I read in 2011.

Seeing as how I love food so much and have learned a great deal about the subject on my own, I now judge the success of any food book based on two criteria: 1) Did it make me hungry? 2) Did I learn anything new?

I can say this book succeeded on both counts. I have become extremely discriminating in recent years when it comes to cookbooks because I am someone who doesn't follow recipes to the letter. I often find myself looking in the fridge and coming up with ways to use the ingredients I have rather than being slave to a recipe. So cookbooks, in a way, have lost their luster for me. Which is why it is always the mark of a successful cookbook or food tome when I can genuinely say that I learned something new from the author. As you can see by the number of post-it flags strewn throughout the book, I think it's safe to say I learned a great deal.

 Since I would consider myself a fairly successful home cook, one might assume that this book would be over the heads of people wanting to make a change and learn to cook for themselves. I'm here to tell you that it's not. The Kitchen Counter Cooking School will inspire neophytes and aficianados alike. How likely will someone who doesn't like to cook pick up this book? Not very. Nonetheless, if someone who doesn't like to cook or doesn't cook well manages to find this book thrust into their hands, I think they will be inspired to pick up a chef's knife and start chopping.

Which I think is what makes this book so successful - Flinn writes in such a way that will make you feel inspired. Whether it's to get up off the couch and start making a delicious no-knead bread, or to take a look inside your own cupboards and start purging anything that was made in a factory, I can't imagine this book not compelling anyone to act and move in a positive direction toward a healthier eating mindset.

Even though I have largely rid my house of processed foods for many years now, Flinn inspired me to go back to making my own salad dressings. This is something I used to do all the time and for whatever reason, I stopped doing it because I thought that buying my salad dressings at Whole Foods somehow made them healthier than buying them at the regular grocery store. After reading
My impromptu vinaigrette
this book, I realized that no, the healthier option will always be to make them yourself. So that's what I did, I got up off the couch and made a batch of balsamic vinaigrette with honey, whole grain mustard and hazelnut oil. The mustard helped emulsify the oil and vinegar so it has stayed together in the fridge without separating. I keep it in a mason jar and use it as I need it rather than making a new vinaigrette every time I make a salad. Do I still use the
Bottle your own dressing!
bottled dressing every once in a while? Sure, but this book reminded me to have confidence in my own ability and make what I can, especially if it doesn't take much time.

In addition to inspiration, Flinn also gives readers some background about processed food, how they became popular, and why they are so bad for you.

For example, I was rapt to discover that the reason we have so much processed food in the first place is because after World War II, food manufacturers needed to figure out how to sell and market their products so as not to lose out on all the technology and discoveries they made from creating army rations. Food manufacturers had to find a way to convince women in the kitchen that cooking was beneath them, that they didn't need to spend time slaving away in the kitchen. Their products could do it for them. Basically, they marketed laziness.

A perfect example of this is the boxed cake mix. Food science has come far enough to create a mix where you only need to add water. But not only do they taste inferior, food companies discovered that by allowing people to add their own eggs, oil, water, etc, it made them feel more involved in the baking process - like they were making the cake from scratch. But making a cake from scratch does not take that much longer than making one from a box, and when you make your own, you have the benefit of only using seven ingredients as opposed to twenty-five ingredients, most of them unpronounceable. I mean, have you ever actually stopped to look at the ingredients on the back of a box of cake mix? It might compel you to make a cake from scratch next time.

I could go on and on about the things I learned from this book but I don't want to make this review so long that people won't read it. So I'll just leave you with one last thought:  if you often find yourself feeling that cooking is just too much work (and believe me, there are days that even I feel this way and cereal for dinner is the only thing I feel like "making"), Flinn will change your mind. Her writing is so engaging and her methods are so simple that even the most reluctant newcomer to the kitchen will find themselves wanting to try some of the recipes in this book. But this book goes beyond just recipes. Flinn teaches you techniques and methods that will help you to feel confident in your own abilities to put dinner on the table without the need for a recipe. She gives you flavor profiles to work with so that you can create meals at the drop of a hat. More importantly though, she will make you remember why cooking is so important because, in general, the more you cook real food, the healthier you are and the less you weigh, and in a nation that put obesity on the map, it's time we stop being slaves to food manufacturers and start buying real food.

Here is an example from the book of a recipe that many people think is too difficult (even I thought this), but actually can be put together in mere minutes. I wouldn't recommend making this dish frequently given how rich and full of fat it is, but it's certainly a luscious treat to make every now and again.

Basic Alfredo Sauce
Serves 3-4

8 ounces cooked pasta
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup reserved pasta water
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 garlic clove, minced
Freshly ground black pepper

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Reserve one cup pasta water to use in the sauce. Over medium-high heat, add all but 2 tablespoons of heavy cream to a saute pan. When it bubbles, add the salt. Small bubbles will erupt into larger bubbles. Stir. When the sauce thickens enough to cover the back of a spoon, or leaves a clean line in the bottom of the pan when you pull a spatula across it, add the pasta water. Cook over medium-high heat about three minutes, until it bubbles again and the sauce thickens. add reserved 2 tablespoons of cream, heat through and then add the cheese, garlic, and a few cranks of pepper. Add pasta and any additional ingredients and stir well to coat. Enjoy!

I added a bit of fresh parsley for color, and forgot to reserve the 2 tablespoons of cream for later, but the dish still came out delicious and took almost no time to make. In fact, it took longer to cook the pasta than the sauce.

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks by Kathleen Flinn
Published: September 29, 2011 by Viking
Pages: 283
Genre: Nonfiction/Food memoir
Audience: Adults
Disclosure: Book received for review

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2012 Debut Author Challenge

2011 was the first year I participated in The Story Siren's Debut Author Challenge. I vowed to read at least twelve debut authors, and I ended up with thirteen. Not as good of a showing as I was hoping, but hopefully I can double that in 2012.

These are the debut authors I read and reviewed in 2011:
Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan
Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver (not first book, but first middle grade)
Bad Taste in Boys by Carrie Harris
Die for Me by Amy Plum
Moonglass by Jessi Kirby
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez
The Time-Traveling Fashionista by Bianca Turetsky
Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer
Wither by Lauren Destefano
Here Lies Bridget by Paige Harbison
Across the Universe by Beth Revis

 This is the list of 2012 debuts I hope to read this year. It's only fourteen so far, but I know it will grow.
Tempest by Julie Cross
Fracture by Megan Miranda
Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood
Article 5 by Kristen Simmons
Slide by Jill Hathaway
The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg
Harbinger by Sara Wilson Etienne
Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans
Breaking Beautiful by Jennifer Shaw Wolf
May B by Caroline Starr Rose
Welcome Caller, This is Chloe by Shelley Coriell
Everything You Need to Survive the Apocalypse by Lucas Klauss
Insignia by S.J. Kincaid
Cross My Heart by Sasha Gould

Novels Read in 2011

 I actually read almost 350 books in 2011, but I only count novels as part of my goal-fulfillment (at least 100 books) which I made my goal this year. YAY!

107. Pie by Sarah Weeks
106. The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn
105. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi*
104. Zebrafish by Peter H. Reynolds
103. A Pug's Tale by Alison Pace
102. Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen*
101. Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan*
100. The Time-Traveling Fashionista by Bianca Turetsky
99. Divergent by Veronica Roth*
98. Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister*
97. Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock*
96. Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge
95. Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker
94. The Future of Us by Jay Asher of Carolyn Mackler
93. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney
92. Hound Dog True by Linda Urban
91. The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
90. Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson*
89. Nim's Island by Wendy Orr*
88. Fever by Lauren DeStefano
87. Knucklehead by Jon Scieszka
86. Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver
85. Sisters of Glass by Stephanie Hemphill
84. The Fox Inheritance by Mary E. Pearson*
83. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
82. Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu*
81. Dreamland by Alyson Noel*
80. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern*
79. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
78. All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin*
77. Bake Sale by Sara Varon
76. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray*
75. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness*
74. Dear Bully by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones
73. Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard
72. The Fast and the Furriest by Andy Behrens*
71. Princess Academy by Shannon Hale*
70. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver*
69. Trash by Andy Mulligan*
68. Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr*
67. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
66. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen*
65. After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson*
64. The Book of Awesome by Neil Pasricha
63. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt*
62. The Sweetest Thing by Christina Mandelski
61. Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard
60. Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier
59. Die for Me by Amy Plum*
58. Bad Taste in Boys by Carrie Harris
57. Absurdistan by Shteyngart*
56. Forever by Maggie Stiefvater
55. Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez
54. Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon
53. Linger by Maggie Stiefvater*
52. Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher
51. Moonglass by Jessi Kirby
50. Don't Stop Now by Julie Halpern
49. Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin*
48. Ready or Not by Meg Cabot*
47. The Revision Toolbox by Georgia Heard
46. Strings Attached by Judy Blundell
45. Olive's Ocean by Kevin Henkes*
44. Bloomability by Sharon Creech*
43. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
42. What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones*
41. Readicide by Kelly Gallagher
40. The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson*
39. You Had Me at Woof by Julie Klam*
38. Sahara Special by Esme Raji Codell*
37. Songs for a Teenage Nomad by Kim Culbertson
36. Wings by Aprilynne Pike
35. All-American Girl by Meg Cabot*
34. Shimmer by Alyson Noel
33. Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, and Style into Writer's Workshop by Jeff Anderson
32. Missing May by Cynthia Rylant*
31. Bumped by Megan McCafferty
30. Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly*
29. 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
28. The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci & Jim Rugg
27. Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
26. Decoded by Jay-Z
25. Pug Hill by Alison Pace
24. Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer
23. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater*
22. Shine by Lauren Myracle
21. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Hidden Gallery by Maryrose Wood*
20. Wither by Lauren DeStefano
19. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson*
18. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray*
17. Where She Went by Gayle Forman
16. Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going*
15. Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos*
14. Oogy: The Dog Only a Family Could Love by Larry Levin*
13. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell*
12. This Girl is Different by JJ Johnson
11. The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex*
10. The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander
9. Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
8. A Woman's Guide to a Healthy Stomach by Jacqueline Wolf
7. Here Lies Bridget by Paige Harbison
6. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin*
5. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury*
4. Across the Universe by Beth Revis
3. The Crepe Makers' Bond by Julie Crabtree
2. Delirium by Lauren Oliver
1. Airborn by Kenneth Oppel*

*indicates audibook

In My Mailbox (57)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren. The books you share do not have to be ones you actually received in the mail. They can be ones you bought at the book store, checked out at the library, or downloaded to your e-reader.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!  Here is my final In My Mailbox for 2011

Books mentioned:

The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Wonderstruck by Brain Selznick
Bake Sale by Sara Varon

From the Library:
This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel (audiobook)
If I Stay by Gayle Forman (audiobook)
No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman (audiobook)
Chicken and Cat and Chicken and Cat Clean Up by Sara Varon
Penguins by Liz Pichon
Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown
Half spoon of Rice: A Survival Story of the Cambodian Genocide by Icy Smith

Oh, and don't forget to check out the two giveaways I have going on right now:
Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness