Archive for February, 2011

As a librarian, I read hundreds of titles every year, and a good percentage of them get tossed aside before the final chapters. Maybe I’m jaded, maybe my standards are too high, but if I’m not enchanted in the opening pages, I’m out.

I’m always looking for the next un-put-down-able novel.

Sigh.

WITHER is that book.

DeStefano plunges the reader into an alternate reality—a terrifying, near future. In the quest to eradicate disease and imperfection, mankind loses life span. Genetic engineering gives a first generation a healthy, unnaturally long life, but their children and grandchildren pay an unforeseen price. Now, a fatal, mysterious virus claims all girls at age twenty, and all boys at twenty five.

While the rest of world lies charred and broken, North America survives—a wealthy upper class feebly hangs on by forcing young women into polygamous marriages in order to sustain the population.

In WITHER, sixteen year old Rhine Ellery endures this fate. Against her will, she’s torn from her twin brother and spirited away to marry Linden, the son of a wealthy, controlling man. Linden’s father is a doctor searching for an antidote to the virus.

And he’ll do anything for a cure, no matter who has to die.

As Rhine discovers the secrets behind the good doctor’s work, the noose tightens. Imprisoned in Linden’s beautiful, illusory mansion, she has to find an escape or face living out her remaining days trapped a doll’s house.

Complicated relationships develop between Rhine, her captors, and her sister wives. Rhine’s emotions shift realistically, she matures into an intelligent, resourceful young woman determined to fight fate and keep hope alive for herself and for Gabriel, the brave and loyal servant who becomes her truest ally and soul-mate. Their fates are entwined–it’s their freedom which hangs in the balance.

DeStefano’s details are so vividly spun, her characters so fully formed, I found myself completely drawn in by page five. This is not a run of the mill high gloss, high concept novel. Yes, the plot zings, but the quality of DeStefano’s writing eclipses the premise.

Rhine’s voice—all at once, heartbreakingly real and elegantly melancholy—is WITHER’S pulsing lifeblood, its driving force. At turns, I devoured pages. At other moments, I lingered over passages, rereading sentences to savor their emotional heft and clarity.

I can’t overstate how much I enjoyed the book. I experienced the same thrill–the same rush of anxiety and sadness and hope–I felt when I first read THE HANDMAID’S TALE, THE HUNGER GAMES, and MATCHED. My favorite elements of all of these came to life in DeStefano’s debut.

WITHER is lush and literary and compelling.

It is worthy.

Hungry for more? Try this recipe for Better than Anything Cake. It’s *almost* as rich as WITHER.

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All this talk about Valentine’s Day has me thinking of my favorite romances. Sure, I enjoy a good love story with a fairytale ending, but lately, I’ve had more bittersweet novels on my mind.

Basically, I’m a sucker for star crossed lovers who fight incredible odds along a rocky, uncertain road. If an author can spin that kind of story, I’m hooked.

TAKE ME THERE certainly cast its spell on me. In the span of ten pages, Carolee Dean managed to grab me by the throat and fully invest me in her protagonist’s plight.  Sweet, slightly damaged Dylan Dawson is on the run–it’s not just the cops on his tail, there are vengeful gang members after him, too. Dylan never asked for trouble, he never wanted to be a juvie misfit. With a heart full of poetry and dreams, he longs for another life. But dyslexia and poverty keep him on the road to nowhere.

And then boy meets girl.
When Dylan encounters an extraordinary girl from the right side of the tracks, he fights to abandon old habits and bad company, but one split second decision threatens to destroy everything. When forced to run, he flees from California to Texas, his absent father’s old stomping grounds. Dylan has to face up to the fact that his dad is a convicted killer, a condemned man on death row. Dylan slowly reconciles what he’s always believed about his dad with the truth buried inside a heartbreaking, complicated knot of secrets. Dylan discovers that love is redemption, and that it’s never too late to choose a different path.

I absolutely loved this book. There are strong elements of romance and mystery layered over the brisk action. Carolee Dean weaves several compelling plot threads together, bringing Dylan’s story to a stunning, yet totally realistic conclusion. The end of the road isn’t a hollywood fade to black, but a truthful, somewhat hopeful conclusion. It just feels…right. I highly recommend TAKE ME THERE.

It’s my kind of love story.

Hungry for more? Try my oh-so-forbidden-they-can’t-be-good-for-me Rocky Road Brownies.


Rocky Road Brownies

Ingredients:

2 cups flour

1 and 3/4 cups flour

1/2 cup cocoa (I prefer Hershey’s Dark Cocoa)

1 tsp. salt

1 cup oil

1 tsp. vanilla

5 eggs

2 cups chocolate chips (pick your fave, dark or milk)

1/2 bag of marshmallows, more or less (I prefer the jumbo kind as opposed to miniature marshmallows, but either works.)

2 cups chopped pecans (optional)

Combine all ingredients except for the choc. chips, the marshmallows, and the pecans. Stir until mixed well. Add the chips, marshmallows and pecans. Pour into greased 9 by 13 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for forty minutes. Let cool at least thirty minutes before serving.

Binge!

 

 

We’ve all heard about (or maybe even know!) writers with bad additudes–scribblers who are bitter, self-important, unrealistic, or just plain old hard-headed.

I worry about that quite a bit–I don’t want that to be me.  I’m no expert, but here’s what my interactions with writers, agents, and editors have taught me about cultivating a healthy writing attitude:

1.) Realistic expectations should balance optimism.

Some of my friends in our writers’ group tease me about being a bit of an Eeyore when it comes to writing. No, I’m not oozing with false modesty or self-deprecation. No, I’m not a naysayer.

I’m…cautiously confident.

For example, when I started querying my novel, I told myself I probably wouldn’t get requests. When I did, I smiled. When I got requests, I told myself I probably wouldn’t get offers. When I did, I danced. I always let myself dream and entertain thoughts of success, but here’s the key: I never expect them. I never feel entitled when it comes to getting published.

If and when it happens, I will shout and jump into the air and fly to the moon. Until then, I will keep my feet on the ground. I will keep putting one foot in front of the other.

2.) Live in the moment.

Once a manuscript is queried or goes on submission to editors, there’s not much more writers can do to influence the outcome. We have to let our work stand on its own. We have to let our wonderful, capable agents do their jobs. To wax Beatle-esque, we have to LET IT BE.

Here’s what we can do–we can read in our genre or field. We can work on another projects. We can take the time to support fellow writers. Day by day, we can enjoy the blessings we already have in our work, friends and family.  After all, a writing project should be fulfilling, but it shouldn’t be the only thing keeping a suicide watch at bay. (If  you feel it is, PLEASE GET HELP NOW.)

3.) Be circumspect.

At every point in my journey, I’ve been faced with the temptation to blab, blab, blab about the minutiae of my writing life. I’ve fretted. I’ve obsessed. I’ve contemplated word vomiting my ups and downs into cyberspace. But one thought stops me (almost) every time–I can’t regret what I didn’t say, blog, or tweet. My rule is simple: If I can’t say something constructive or share good news, it’s crickets for me.

4.) Embrace opportunities for real growth.

Setbacks and rejections are tough schoolmasters, but they are instructive, all the same. Every time I sit down to write, I process and exploit whatever feedback I’ve received.  I try to get better. I always want to always look back and see development and change. I always want to stretch for words just beyond my reach.

Stasis is my enemy, not rejection.

What about you? I’m so grateful for all my writing friends. What have you learned so far?

Hungry for more? Try this recipe for my cinnamon rolls. They’re from scratch, but they’re worth the wait!


Cinnamon Rolls

Ingredients:

4 packages rapid rise yeast

1 cup hot water (not boiling, not lukewarm, just hot tap water)

2 tablespoons sugar

2 sticks real butter

1 1/2 cups warm (not hot!) milk (heat on stovetop or in microwave)

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp. salt

8-9 cups of flour

Filling:

More butter

Dark brown sugar

Good Quality Cinnamon (don’t cheap out on this one, ok?)

Frosting:

Even more butter

Powdered Sugar

Vanilla

Milk

Dissolve yeast in a medium bowl with 1 cup of hot water and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. You will not the yeast mixture is active if the yeast bubbles up (mixture should get very foamy, if not, you goofed with bad yeast or too hot or too cold water).

Melt one cup butter and combine with 1 1/2 cups of milk. Mix the milk/butter mixture with the yeast mixture. Add 1 cup sugar and then the eggs. Mix in salt and four cups of the flour. Mix until smooth. Add in the remaining cups of flour, a little at a time, just until the mixture is cohesive enough to handle. Save some of the flour to knead with. I usually save the last cup or so for this purpose.

Slap dough onto the counter and knead it a bit. Knead it just enough so it no longer so gooey and sticky in your hands.

Spray a large bowl with cooking spray. Put the dough into the bowl. Cover the dough with a thin cloth and let it sit. Let dough rise for an hour to an hour and a half. Dough should double in size.

Spray a counter top surface with cooking spray. Spray your rolling pin, too. Divide the dough into two lumps. Roll one out one lump into a large rectangle. Soften a stick and a half of butter and smear on the dough. Sprinkle a lot of cinnamon (to taste, I like a LOT) over the dough. Smear a bunch (a heaping cup) of dark brown sugar. Roll up the dough from the widest side to make a log. Use a length of dental floss (unused, please!) to cut and section individual cinnamon rolls (1 1/2 inch width sections).

After placing the rolls in a greased 9 by 13 pan (you should have approximately a dozen), roll out the second lump and do the same. You’ll end up with two pans of cinnamon rolls. Cover pans with a thin cloth and let rise for another hour to an hour and a half. I put my rolls on my stove top and turn on the oven to preheat. The warm airflow near the oven helps the rolls rise.

When the rolls are nice and puffy, bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. I have a large oven, so I can bake both pans at the same time on the same rack. If your oven is not big enough, bake one pan at a time. Don’t use different racks.

After rolls have cooled a bit, ice with homemade frosting. For frosting, I use one stick of melted butter, one tablespoon of vanilla, some powdered sugar (just add until the mixture is the right thickness), and a tiny bit of milk. Add powdered sugar and whisk until icing is the right consistency.

Binge!