Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Thanks to an idea from Steph Pellegrin and PJ Hoover, today is all about sweet bites and decadent reads. So without further ado, I give you my #DESSERTEDREADS matchup:

WICKED AS THEY COME by Delilah S. Dawson

Flap copy:

When Tish Everett forces open the ruby locket she finds at an estate sale, she has no idea that a deliciously rakish Bludman has cast a spell just for her. She wakes up in a surreal world, where Criminy Stain, the dashing proprietor of a magical traveling circus, curiously awaits. At Criminy’s electric touch, Tish glimpses a tantalizing future, but she also foresees her ultimate doom. Before she can decide whether to risk her fate with the charming daredevil, the locket disappears, and with it, her only chance to return home. Tish and Criminy battle roaring sea monsters and thundering bludmares, vengeful ghosts and crooked Copers in a treacherous race to recover the necklace from the evil Blud-hating Magistrate. But if they succeed, will Tish forsake her fanged suitor and return to her normal life, or will she take a chance on an unpredictable but dangerous destiny with the Bludman she’s coming to love?

Okay guys, I’m such a picky reader. Nine times out of ten, I pick up a book and toss it aside within the first fifty pages. No high concept premise, no hunky stranger keeps me reading if the writing somehow isn’t there. I’m also a bit idiosyncratic–an author has to push particular emotional buttons to keep me turning pages.

And boy, oh boy, WICKED AS THEY COME  pushed all those buttons and never let up. To say WICKED AS THEY COME resonated with me is an understatement. I read the book in one sitting, grinning all the way.  The moment Tish met Criminy Stain, I was hooked. I didn’t care what happened, as long those kept circling one another.

Tish is everything I want a heroine to be, a gal who inherited a winsome mix of ‘manners and moxie’ from her high-spirited grandmother. No wonder the locket pulled her to Criminy’s world. He cast a spell to summon his soulmate and equal, and she certainly fits the bill.

And ohhhhh, Criminy. Bludman. Gypsy King. Magician. Seductive, Sinful Smart-Aleck Savant. He’s irresistible, yet never forces his suit. For me, that makes Crim the perfect alpha male–the charmer who doesn’t make demands, but lets his best qualities command the moment. Yes, pulls out all the stops to allure Tish, but he leaves the choice to her. As he watches her and waits for her to discover her heart’s true match, the tension builds and builds. I loved every minute of it.

And I love sharing this recipe with you–BLACK MAGIC CAKE is every bit as sweet and sinful.

There are EIGHT MILKY WAY BARS in the batter of this cake. What else do you need to know?????!!!!

1 cup butter or margarine, cut up

3/4 cup chocolate syrup

8 (2.05 ounce) Milky Way bars, cut up

2 cups sugar

1 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

21/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease 12-cup Bundt pan.

In 4-quart microwave-safe bowl, combine butter, syrup, and nougat bars. Heat 5 minutes, whisking once. Whisk until smooth. Whisk in sugar, then buttermilk, vanilla extract and eggs. Stir in the flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda.

Pour batter into pan. Bake 1 hour 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out almost clean. Cool in pan on wire rack 10 minutes. Loosen cake; invert onto rack to cool.


Melt in microwave: 1 stick butter with 3 tablespoons milk and 3 additional Milky way bars. Whisk in 1 teaspoon vanilla. Pour over cake.

Binge! And thanks for sharing in the #DESSERTEDREADS FUN! If you write up your own matchup, don’t forget to post it to the hashtag. And let us know if you’d like to see this type of blog-a-thon in the future! What ideas do YOU have???

I blame Stephanie Pellegrin.

She just had to to tweet pics of her Coca-Cola cake. The cake looked so gooey and delish, it got P.J. Hoover and I talking about cake-offs, which led to tweets about blog recipes, which led to tweets about books and recipes which led to THIS:

#DESSERTEDREADS = Cake Recipe + Book Review +

Friday June 22 = EPIC BLOGNESS

Who’s in? Who’s up for a whole day dedication to decadent reads paired with sugary, iced perfection? If you are, join us by blogging a fave cake recipe with a fave book review. Bonus street cred for blogging about a stellar ‘deserted/desserted’ book that’s been out for awhile, but hasn’t quite gotten the love and attention it deserves. Any cake. Any book. Tweet it up at #DESSERTEDREADS before and all day Friday, June 22. Steph, P.J., and I would love to post a link to your luscious post, so keep those tweets and linked comments going.

Help us make this celebration ridiculous fun and SUPER SWEET!

Sometimes, I love a book so much I have to shout it from the rooftops. Leigh Bardugo’s debut, Shadow and Bone, is that kind of read–seriously one of my absolute top picks for 2012! Of course I had to beg Leigh for an interview and put together the ultimate Ravka themed prize-pack. I couldn’t help myself, guys!

Shadow and Bone ARC, Handmade Russian Winter soap from Mountain Girl Soap, and a $10 Barnes and Noble gift card!

Suzi Says Da, Kreme de la Kremlin, St. Petersburgundy, and RapiDry Top Coat

So..if you want to win an ARC of Shadow and Bone along with a mailbox full of indulgent goodies, keep reading.

Book Description:

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.


1. Leigh, can you tell us about that moment when things clicked, when the fragments of SHADOW AND BONE became the story you wanted to tell?

Honestly, it came pretty late in the process. People may be surprised to learn that in the first draft, Alina and Mal had parents. (I wanted to dodge the high fantasy cliche of the orphan.) But as I got into my research, I learned about some of the Russian noblemen who came back from the Napoleonic Wars with a much changed view of the serfs that had fought beside them. Their stories became the inspiration for Keramzin, a country estate converted into an orphanage and home for war widows by a Duke returning from military service. Once I understood where Mal and Alina came from, I understood the bond between them so much better, and that really became the heart of the story.
2. Ravka, Ravka, Ravka…You built such an amazing place, setting each scene so well! (Exhibit A: Page 40–‘The Duke’s estate had been beautiful, but it was a melancholy beauty of dusty rooms and peeling paint, the echo of something that had once been grand.’ WORD SWOON.) What’s your favorite detail or element of Alina’s world?

I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I have to admit, I really liked writing about the food– sweet pea porridge, roasted lynx, burnt swan with saffron, the list goes on. I went even crazier with it in Book 2, and food and sweets are a big part of the narrative in my short story “The Witch of Duva.” I also had a lot of fun describing the winter fete. I love to plan parties for my friends and I basically got to throw the most over-the-top, disgustingly decadent shindig ever at the Grand Palace.

3. Alina is a wonderfully believable heroine. She’s tough and vulnerable, all at once, and her experiences are downright thrilling. What drives her? In her heart of hearts, what does Alina yearn for, more than anything? 

At the beginning of the story, Alina is desperate to belong to someone or something. She isn’t just an orphan, but also a refugee and she has no real place in the world. She’s not quite a peasant, but she certainly isn’t aristocracy. She’s supposed to be a mapmaker, but she isn’t a very good one. Her hunger to find a home, to feel valued is a powerful thing and it leads her to make some questionable decisions. By story’s end, she has a much clearer sense of herself, but what she wants has gotten far more complicated.
4. It would be criminal not to mention my stalker-like crush on the Darkling. Are you surprised to hear that so many readers connect with him as a character? What was the key to writing this enigmatic charmer?
I would not recommend stalking the Darkling. I suspect it would end… badly. That said, it’s been interesting to see the positive and negative reactions to him. In a way, I think they mirror Ravka’s ambivalence toward the Darkling. His charm and his beauty don’t change the fact that he’s a very dangerous sort. Power seduces and it isolates. I think that dichotomy is the key to his character.

5. Every author has a unique journey. So far, what has surprised you the most about the road to publication?
Well, I’m going to be honest here. The biggest surprise has been learning just how thin my skin is. I like to think of myself as fairly ferocious, but I like being liked. Sometimes it’s hard for me not to take things personally. I assume I’ll get better at this. Or I’ll go live in a cave without wifi.

6. What, if anything, can you tell us about your next book?
I’m so eager to talk about Book 2 of the Grisha Trilogy. So many things change and no one comes through the story the same way he or she started. We’ll be traveling a bit more beyond Ravka’s borders and I’m introducing some new characters– one of whom is easily my favorite of the whole series. That’s about as specific as I can get.  
7. If you could go back and give your pre-debut writer self some advice, what would it be?
I’d like to give her the confidence of knowing that she does finish the book, that she has it in her. So often, this ugly voice would crop up in my head, “Who do you think you’re kidding? You don’t know how to do this!” It would be nice to give myself a little more ammunition to shut that voice up.

A big thanks to Leigh for doing this interview. And a big thanks to YOU for reading! Again, do you wanna win this:

Shadow and Bone ARC, Handmade Russian Winter soap from Mountain Girl Soap, and a $10 Barnes and Noble gift card!


Suzi Says Da, Kreme de la Kremlin, St. Petersburgundy, and RapiDry Top Coat

To win, all you have to do is leave a comment below. BUT…if you ALSO tweet this blog post link with the hashtag #SHADOWANDBONE, I’ll put FIVE EXTRA ENTRIES into the drawing for you! And if you sign up as a blog follower, I’ll put in FIVE MORE!

Contest ends in one week, guys, at Midnight on June 4th. Sorry, no international entries–US only. Happy Memorial Day and good luck! 🙂

I just finished reading four books, back to back, and each one was STELLAR. That never happens, so you better believe I’m excited to praise these reads, all of which have a common thread–each features a flawed, unconventional protagonist.


Six Second Summary: (From flap) John Wayne Cleaver is dangerous, and he knows it. To keep his obsession with serial killer under wraps and under control, he lives by rigid rules he’s written for himself, practicing normal high school life as if it were a private religion that could save him from damnation. After a string of brutal murders terrorizes his town, John has to confront a danger outside himself, a threat he can’t control, a menace to everything and everyone he would love, if only he could.

I loved it because: Wells’ voice is electric–he keeps the action moving at a fast clip, but all the while, we feel the misunderstood, melancholy wounds that John Wayne Cleaver tries to conceal. There are twists and unexpected turns of fate that make I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER nothing less than stone cold amazing–don’t miss it.

Shelve it between: DARKLY DREAMING DEXTER by Jeff Lindsay and your copy of SUPERNATURAL: Season One, two other chilling, thrilling diversions.

BLACK HEART by Holly Black

Six Second Summary: (Adapted from flap) Cassel Sharpe comes from a long line of con artists and curse workers. Everyone wants him–the crime families and feds, but he’s just trying to stay out of trouble and protect the headstrong girl who’s always held his heart. Cassel will need every ounce of wit and will to make one last score, a final play to win his freedom once and for all.

I loved it because: It’s no secret I adored WHITE CAT and RED GLOVE, but Holly Black outdid herself this time–BLACK HEART is a David Mamet meets Mario Puzo masterpiece, one of the very best trilogy conclusions I’ve ever finished. Get thee to a bookstore right now and pick it up.

Shelve it between: David Mamet’s sleeper con-artist flick, THE SPANISH PRISONER and Mario Puzo’s THE GODFATHER. Yeah, it’s that good. A top shelf trilogy.


Six Second Summary: Jenna Lord hides a lot of scars–her psycho dad and drunk mother haven’t protected her in life, and when Jenna meets Mitch Anderson, her chemistry teacher and coach, she’s drawn to him. He’s the one person she can trust, the one honest adult who makes her feel safe. In Drowning Instinct, lines are crossed and we’re left to wonder: Who’s the monster, who’s the victim, and who should live happily ever after?

I loved it because: I can’t resist stalker-ific stories or tales of obsessive love. DROWNING INSTINCT is both, and it’s just the right kind of unsettling story. One that’s filled with desperation and doomed affection–the kind that makes you weep and that won’t let you look away.

Shelve it between: Emily Bronte’s WUTHERING HEIGHTS and TEACH ME by R.A. Nelson, two more breathtaking, catastrophically heartbreaking tales.



CAN I SEE YOUR ID? by Chris Barton

Six Second Summary: (From flap) True crime, desperation, fraud, and adventure: From the impoverished young woman who enchanted nineteenth-century British society as a faux Asian princess, to the lonely but clever Frank Abagnale of Catch Me if You Can fame, Barton’s ten vignettes offer riveting insight into mind-blowing masquerades. Each scene is presented in the second person, a unique point of view that literally places you inside the faker’s mind. The psychology of deception has never been so fascinating or so close at hand.

I loved it because: Who can say no to the ultimate choose-your-own adventure experience? I loved slipping into the minds of these sometime ne’er-do-wells, people who pulled off the ultimate deceptions. Second person POV is risky, but Barton pulls off a gutsy move to great success. CAN I SEE YOUR ID? is a rare non-fiction treat, a book that unspools like a series of suspenseful capers.

Shelve it between: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN by Frank W. Abagnale and FLAWLESS: INSIDE THE LARGEST DIAMOND HEIST IN HISTORY by Scott Andrew Selby, two more ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ thrillers.


Hungry for more? Try this recipe for ultra-dark, super sinful BLACK MAGIC CAKE.


My library is hosting a book fair this week, so Middle Grade books are on my brain in a big way! Here are some newly discovered titles paired with old favorites.

Historical Gems:

Jennifer Arena at Random House (psst…she’s such a lovely fellow bookworm.) introduced me to CROW by Barbara Wright. The narrator, 11-year-old Moses, brings us into his turn of the century world. In 1898 Wilmington, North Carolina, the legacy of Jim Crow is alive and well. One generation from slavery, a thriving black community struggles to maintain hard-won liberty, and Moses’ family is caught up in a firestorm of prejudice and hate. You’ll fall in love with the authentic voice and realistic characters.

CROW is an excellent companion to ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY by Mildred B. Taylor. Set in the 1930’s, the novel chronicles the Logan family’s fight to hold onto inherited land and personal dignity. This Newbery winner is a storm of its own, a thunderclap of fierce, emotional storytelling.

Books with Heart:

WONDER, by RJ Palacio, is a tremendous debut, a novel that coaxes out grins even as it wrings out tears. Auggie, the fifth grade protagonist is different–his face is so badly deformed, he spends much of his preschool years hiding under a toy astronaut helmet. When he starts attending school for the first time, he makes enemies and friends, enduring the worst kind of taunts and enjoying the best kinds of friendships.

WONDER is Auggie’s story, but it’s also ours. The novel captures the dual nature of childhood, both how cruel and how tender we can be with one another. It’s about the wounds we inflict and the scars we carry, all the things that teach us to do things differently the next time.

WONDER pairs *wonderfully* with FREAK THE MIGHTY by Rodman Philbrick. Philbrick’s singular voice breathes life into an unforgettable story. Max and Kevin are two different types of young outcasts, a hulking loner and disabled genius, who forge an incredible, life-altering bond–a friendship that carries them through adventure and heartbreak.

Magical Reads:

Happenstance brings this last pair-up. I had the good fortune to meet Meaghan Finnerty, a Sterling rep, at ALA Midwinter. When I asked her to recommend a book, she pressed HORTEN’S MIRACULOUS MECHANISMS (by Lissa Evans) into my hands. And I’m so glad she did!

When Stuart Horten (S. Horten) moves with his family to his father’s old stomping ground, the gears of an old family legacy spin and click, sending Stuart on a quest to puzzle out clues left by his ancestor, a mysterious magician.Combine apathetic parents, curious neighbor kids, enchanted coins and a little hocus pocus…and you’ve got a winsome, all ages read.

I loved the humor and quirk of Evan’s voice. Her fabulous book reminded of me of another whimsical favorite, THE WILLOUGHBYS by Lois Lowry. When an unconventional nanny comes to scold/nurture/rescue the abandoned Willoughby kids, a rollicking journey begins. Tim, Jane, Barnaby A and Barnaby B find their own happy endings, making fantastic discoveries all along the way. THE WILLOUGHBYS rates high on my all-time favorites list, right up there with CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY by Roald Dahl.

Hungry for More?

If you enjoyed these unconventional reads, you might also devour these one-of-a-kind treats, Compost Cookies based on the Momofuku Milk Bar recipe.


My friend, the inimitable, awesome A. Lee Martinez, has a book coming out March 5th! In honor of Emperor Mollusk Vs. The Sinister Brain, I’m hosting an interview (you gotta check out what he has to say about humor and universal themes, guys.) and an EPIC FOUR BOOK PRIZE PACK GIVEAWAY!

Um, did I mention that each of the books is autographed and each one has a different, original sketch with the signature?! So cool.

All you gotta do to enter is read and leave a comment/additional question. Enter by midnight,  Thursday, March 1st.  Coolest comment/question wins. 


1. I’m always glad to get a sneak peek of your pages at DFW Writers’ Workshop. For everyone else, can you share a little bit about your latest, Emperor Mollusk Versus the Sinister Brain?

 It’s a story of a great supervillain (who happens to be a squid from Neptune) and what happens after he decides he’s not so happy being a bad guy anymore.  He’s not exactly seeking redemption, but he’s not interested in doing the villain thing either.  The only problem is that he’s basically too amazing to not be in the center of some sort of grand adventure, and since he lives in a universe where adventure is found in every corner, that means retirement isn’t easy.

Ultimately, it’s a novel in the tradition of pulp sci fi / fantasy.  Emperor lives in a reality where every planet in our solar system is inhabited, where lost civilizations are a dime a dozen, and where everything he does is important.  He’s Doc Savage, John Carter, or any number of larger-than-life protagonists who rule their stories through virtue of being incredible and absurd ideals.  In Mollusk’s case, he’s smarter than you, and he knows it.  If Lex Luthor came from Neptune and had no Superman to stand in his way, he’d be Emperor Mollusk.

So on one level, the story is about mutant dinosaurs and giant robot fights.  And on the other, it’s about the struggle that we all have to deal with, about figuring out our place in this universe, learning to live with our mistakes, and hopefully, not repeating them.  Except Emperor’s mistakes can blow up planets, so there’s extra pressure right from the get go.

2. It’s no secret that I’ve nicknamed you ‘Existential Loki’ because you write books with heft, heart and wit. You’ve mentioned before that humor is underrated in storytelling. Care to elaborate?

Maybe not humor specifically, but just fun in general.  There’s this tendency, probably as old as time, to assume that if a story isn’t Serious Business, then it’s just silly and slight.  We have always seen humor as an escape mechanism, something it often is, but we also tend to think of it as unimportant or easy.  It’s absurd.  I think drama is great, but it doesn’t have to equal melodrama.  A story can make you smile, have weird elements, and still have some emotional heft.

To put it one way:  If a story is about a protagonist’s personal growth as he becomes a better person, that’s generally considered light.  If a story is about a protagonist’s personal growth, but then he gets run over by a car, that’s generally considered deep.  And I’ve just never gotten that.  I don’t need characters to die or tragedy to be invested in something.  It’s an artificial paradigm that I reject.  Of course, I write books about robot detectives and space squids, so my opinion probably doesn’t count.

3. In your books, you explore universal themes in new, thought provoking ways. What core ideas spark your imagination, time and again?

First of all, thanks for that.

I don’t know if it’s intentional or not, but most of my stories revolve around an outsider who is trying to live his or her life the best way they can.  I think that is something we can all relate to.  We all feel like outsiders now and then, strangers in a strange world.  My characters vary, but with rare exception, they are usually good people who end up in odd situations where the rules as they know them no longer apply.  And then they swim upstream, hoping to make sense of it.  If they’re lucky, they sometimes even find a place in the world.  But regardless, it’s all about living our lives without screwing up too badly and hopefully, helping each other along the way.

It’s not a new theme, but I’d like to think I can bring something new to the table now and then.

 4. What inspired you to become a writer and how did you get started?

 I was inspired by my lack of desire to do anything else.  I wasn’t “driven” to write stories like most people who start writing seem to claim.  I wasn’t certain what else to do with my life, and it seemed like a cool job to pursue.  I did consider art, and as technology has made being an artist easier, I might have even gone into that instead.  But at the time, I felt I was a better writer than artist.  I still think that’s true, but then again, who knows how I might have progressed as an artist if I’d put my energy into it?

 I started by writing novels and sending them out.  In the beginning, I had a very specific schedule.  I’d write for two to three hours a day, finish a novel in six to eight months, and submit with wild abandon.  I was fortunate enough to have Mom as a beta reader (and great source of moral and financial support to boot), and it helped me to figure a lot of things out.  And then I found the DFW Writer’s Workshop (completely by accident since the internet was mostly a rumor at that point) and got even more guidance.  It took a long time, but with a lot of help, I managed to get my break.  The rest, as they say, is history.

 5. I know you read a lot of non-fiction. Can you recommend something you’ve read lately?

Reality is Broken by Jane McGonical is a great book about video games versus reality and how reality could learn a few things from video games.  I love games of all sorts, so it has a great appeal to me.

I’m also enjoying That is All by John Hodgman, though I’m not sure that qualifies as non-fiction.  Still, a very funny book.

6. Who is your favorite fictional hero? Why? 

If I have to pick one, I’d probably go with Tarzan.  There is something about him.  He’s an outsider who is always viewing the world from a different perspective, and he’s also intelligent and formidable.  He fights lions and dinosaurs and LOVES to read, which is something that gets overlooked a lot in most media.

 7. Last Question. Finish this sentence: “I wish more people…”

…would buy my books.

 (Ha, I knew you would lead off with that, A. Lee.)

Just kidding.  Actually, no I’m not.  I do wish that.

But if I have to create a non-selfish wish, I’d have to say I wish more people would try harder to accept each other.  I don’t mean “understand” each other.  I mean just relax and stop hassling the other guy.  We don’t need to understand each other.  We just need to accept that people are going to be different, and that’s cool.  I don’t know why anyone wears dresses or watches reality TV.  But I don’t have to get it to respect their rights to do so.  We waste a lot of energy trying to convince people who don’t like us that we are worth liking, and for the most part, it falls on deaf ears.  It’s also exhausting.

 We do love to fight over our weird choices and strange habits, even while wondering why no one gets our own choices and habits.  Just imagine how much we could accomplish if we dropped all that busy work.

We’d have more time to read books about evil geniuses from Neptune, for one.

Shoot me a comment or question to win this AUTOGRAPHED PILE OF GREATNESS! You’ll get a whole library of A. Lee’s books!


Last year, I had the chance to read and review The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander, and boy it took me by surprise. I expected a few laughs, but it ended up having pretty much everything I like in a good book–a good storyline, great characters, plus a surprising plot with action. Let’s not mention, the bad guys I loved to hate.

So you can imagine how excited I was to get my hands on an early copy of The Fourth Stall Part II. For newbies, the series is about a boy in middle school named Mack who solves the kind of problems you can’t go running to your momma about. Dealing with bullies? Need test answers, favors, or advice on playground espionage? Mack’s the fixer, and he rules the school from his clandestine office in the fourth bathroom stall.

Sometimes, sequels are a letdown, and Mack’s first book ended so well. I was worried this one wouldn’t measure up. Turns out I had nothing to fear–part two is terrific. The bad guy is even bigger, and the stakes get even higher for Mack. An evil, standardized test loving vice principal wants to put Mack out of business. Permanently. Good thing Mack has a few tricks up his sleeves, and also the help of his right hand man Vince and his minions Joe and Fred. It takes the whole crew to stop the testing madness and uncover all sorts of sinister secrets in the school. (Like that line? My mom calls that alliteration.)

Trust me, you wanna read it. It’s too funny and fast-paced to miss. A solid read for wise guys like me.

And lucky for you, Walden Pond Press wants to give one blog reader a copy of The Fourth Stall part one AND Part Two! All you gotta do is give this eleven year old reviewer a comment below. I’ll pick a random winner–the contest is open until midnight, Monday, February 13th!

The One and Only Ivan by Katharine Applegate is one of the best books I’ve read in quite some time. And believe me, I may only be an eleven year old, but I’ve read a LOT of them

The One and Only Ivan had pretty much everything a good story needs—emotion and hopefulness and heartbreak. The author had me humming HOME (by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes) halfway through the book.

Ivan is based on a true story about a gorilla that really lived in an abusive shopping center slash zoo. He made many friends there, including a stray dog and an old elephant named Stella. The janitor and his daughter were Ivan’s buddies/comrades/amigos as well.  In spite of terrible conditions and cramped quarter, Ivan and his friends managed to have an interesting life.

Did I mention Ivan was an artistic gorilla? From birth, in the jungle, Ivan painted with dirt and mud. In the shopping center, he learned to use art supplies to paint and draw amazing, expressive pictures.

Eventually, a new baby elephant comes into Ivan’s life. Just like Ivan, Ruby had been kidnapped and torn from her family. Hunters killed both their parents. Ivan had also lost his own sister. Before Stella to elephant died, Ivan made a promise to take care of Ruby. He is determined to give Ruby a better future. He must find a way to get her (and the rest of his animal friends) out of the mall and into a real zoo, the kind of place where humans make amends for their cruel treatment of animals.

Ivan decides to use his artistic abilities to reach his goal…but you’ll have to read the rest to find out if he succeeds.

All in all, I think this was an absolutely extraordinary verse novel. I highly recommend you pick it up. I’m thankful the nice people at HarperCollins gave my mom and I a review copy!

Hungry for more?

Try my mom’s recipe for Banana Pudding. Yummo.


3 reg. sized boxes instant vanilla pudding mix

5 cups milk

8 ounces sour cream (yeah, you read that right)

12 ounces Cool Whip

2 boxes vanilla wafers

10 bananas

In a large bowl, blend pudding mix with milk (use a wire whisk). Add sour cream and half the cool whip. Mix well. Set aside. In a large bowl or dish, layer in the following order: cookies, bananas and pudding mixture. Top with remaining cool whip.


To celebrate finishing my YA/Sci Fi project (and turning it over to my wonderful agent!), I treated myself to a reading binge over Thanksgiving break. That delicious read-a-thon inspired me to compile a list of great books, just in time for the holidays.

I give you my list!

Hourglass by Myra McEntire

Six Second Summary: Emerson’s visions aren’t hallucinations. She isn’t seeing ghosts, either.  Does the mysterious Hourglass organization have all the answers? Michael and Kaleb need her help to untangle the past, present, and future.

I loved it because: McEntire gives Em a voice full of humor, heartbreak and longing. Hourglass is a bittersweet, twisty tale that’s sure to enchant Young Adult readers and anyone craving swoon-worthy(!) romance.

Shelve it between: Falling Under by Gwen Hayes and Paranormalcy by Kiersten White, two equally engaging YA paranormals.

All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Six Second Summary: Anya Balanchine, the daughter of a dead mafia boss, is out of options. In a bleak future where resources are running out and chocolate and coffee are banned, she’s torn between loyalty to her family and her heart, which just happens to belong to the assistant DA’s son.

I loved it because: Zevin captivates with splashes of noir and honest, unforgettable characters. Anya is one of my favorite new heroines and All These Things I’ve Done is anything but your typical dystopian.

Shelve it between: Ship Breaker by  Paolo Bacigalupi and Black Cat by Holly Black, alternate worlds with dark, sparkling heroes and villains.

Stolen by Lucy Christopher

Six Second Summary: When Ty, a handsome yet troubled young man, kidnaps Gemma, the wildlands of Australia become her home and her prison. After stalking Gemma for years, Ty is determined to capture her heart, but his obsession threatens to destroy them both.

I loved it because: This book nearly destroyed me. I repeat, DESTROYED ME. The stellar writing, the terrifying arc, the devastating yet inexorable conclusion gripped me like a brain boiling fever. Stockholm Syndrome, thy name is Stolen. Bravo, Lucy Christopher.

Shelve it next to: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher and You by Charles Benoit, two more books that absolutely shattered me.

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George

Six Second Summary: More than anyone else, Princess Celie understands Castle Glower. Something mysterious and magic holds the key to its shifting rooms and disappearing passageways. When Celie’s parents vanish after an attack, she and her siblings must rely on the castle to help them put things to right.

I loved it because: Celie’s story pushed back the years and whisked me back to a place where wardrobes lead to other lands and knights become friends with reluctant dragons. Tuesdays at the Castle is destined to be a classic, not only for middle grader readers, but for magic bean buyers of all ages.

Shelve it between: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diane Wynne Jones and Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Five Second Summary: Strangers gasp at the creatures sketched in Karou’s notebook. They smile at her beautiful lies. Turns out there are secrets beyond even her own spellbinding reach. Brimstone never told her the truth about herself–about war torn Elsewhere, magic wishes or dangerous angels.

I loved it because: Smoke and Bone hooked me with an amazing premise, and kept me furiously turning pages with elegant prose and complex, expertly woven twists. And the romance! The star-crossed loves of Smoke and Bone are divinely wrought, as surely as Romeo and Juliet.

Shelve it between: Stardust by Neil Gaiman and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, two more of my all time favorite reads.

Hungry for more? Try this recipe for Creamy, Dreamy No Fail Fudge. Another sure bet for this season!


Dear  Ms. Mafi,

Did you know that SHATTER ME was one of my *most* anticipated YA books of the year? Did you know that your blog posts are so funny and wise that I simply couldn’t wait to cheer the release of your debut? Did you know you are exactly the humble/endearing/charming kind of author we readers/writers/librarians root for in earnest?

Really? You had no idea?

Then I’m positive you didn’t know how secretly worried I’ve been. I was one of the lucky mortals who scored an early ARC last spring at TLA, and let me tell you, once the book was in my hot little hands, I was terribly anxious. I feared I’d somehow be disappointed. How could the book possibly live up to my expectations? How could a book be THAT GOOD?

My anxiety melted away once I started reading. Yes, SHATTER *is* that good. Actually, it’s so lovely and heart-wrenching and adrenaline spiked and fearsome in all the right ways. Its hyperbolic spirit echoes the essence of adolescence. Its prose aptly crystallizes moments, making my heart flutter with excitement and yearning.

In short, SHATTER ME made me fall in love with Juliette’s story. May I beg a favor? Please make haste and write more books. (I just bought and downloaded the enhanced e-version and I’m not sure how long the extra content will tide me over! GASP!) I need to know much more about Warner, Juliette and Adam. Even more importantly, I simply must unlock the secret of the ‘white bird with streaks of gold like a crown atop its head.’

Most Sincerely,

Your Constant Reader and Applauding Mafi-keteer

 P.S. Hungry for more, blog readers? Try this version of my grandmother’s Caramel Pie, a decadent treat worth devouring SHATTER ME style.