Friday, September 29, 2017

Caught My Fancy Friday: Oatmeal Cookies

Image result for soft oatmeal cookies

Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies are my specialty. I can whip up a batch in 5 minutes. You can use any recipe you like--really, they're all quite similar. The secret to a perfect cookie is to cook it at 350 degrees for 8 minutes. THAT'S ALL. They will look raw. They will look doughy. But take them out, and they will cool to PERFECTION.

Oh, and don't use milk "chocolate" chips. Semi-sweet. SEMI-SWEET.
You're welcome.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Mondays Need a Good Book: A STUDY IN SILKS

A Study in Silks (The Baskerville Affair, #1) 

THE BLURB: London, April 4, 1888 ~ Evelina Cooper, niece of Sherlock Holmes, is ready for her first London Season - except for a murderer, missing automatons, a sorcerer, and a talking mouse. In a Victorian era ruled by a ruthless steam baron council, mechanical power is the real monarch, and sorcery the demon enemy of the empire. Evelina has secretly mastered a coveted weapon - magic that can run machines. Should she trust the handsome, clever rake who speeds her breath, or the dashing trick rider who would dare anything she would ask?

THE SCOOP: I don't generally care for books that drag Sherlock Holmes (or Jane Austen or Lizzie Bennett) in as a character. I like those characters to stay in their own worlds and for authors to delight me with something new. I'm glad I overlooked that here! Also, Sherlock is a minor character in this first book in the trilogy.

This is steampunk at its best--sprawling, convoluted, Victorian, charming. There were many different plots (and points of view), and the characters had depth. I've read so much YA lately, and although I love it, sometimes I just want a 500-page book full of characters acting like people, with all the surprises and fun that entails. This was wildly creative.

I will add that I didn't love the other two in the trilogy quite so much, but that's usually the case, for me. 

THE VERDICT: Try it!  

Friday, September 22, 2017

Monday, September 18, 2017

Mondays Need a Good Book: THE MYSTERY OF THE CLOCKWORK SPARROW

The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow (The Sinclair’s Mysteries #1) 

THE BLURB: You are cordially invited to attend the Grand Opening of Sinclair’s department store!

Enter a world of bonbons, hats, perfumes and MYSTERIES around every corner. WONDER at the daring theft of the priceless CLOCKWORK SPARROW! TREMBLE as the most DASTARDLY criminals in London enact their wicked plans! GASP as our bold heroines, Miss Sophie Taylor and Miss Lilian Rose, CRACK CODES, DEVOUR ICED BUNS and vow to bring the villians to justice…

THE SCOOP: The was shelved as YA in my library, and the main character is 14, but it read like middle grade to me. Awesome middle grade.

This is like throwing Nancy Drew in the BBC's show Selfridges. I want to move into Sinclair's department store myself after reading it. I did feel like the mystery was a bit obvious and unsurprising, but then, I've read a darn lot of mysteries in my day, and I imagine it would feel totally fresh to a middle-grade reader.

The characters are endearing, the world rich and layered, and THE HATS OH I LOVE THE HATS.

THE VERDICT: I picked it up because I thought it was steampunk, not straight historical, thanks to 'clockwork' in the title. But I have no problem quitting books, and I didn't want to put this one down. Darling!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Caught My Fancy Friday: Writing Groups

My writing group met this morning. I have online critique pals I love, but there's something so therapeutic about meeting in person with other writers.

I love watching members of my writing group grow in skill to tell better stories.

I love being wowed by the mind-blowing awesome plots and characters they come up with.

I love having friends who get the writing business.

I love getting feedback from readers who have known about my story since it was a mess of unrelated threads.

I love cheering on writers on this same (sometimes rotten) path.

I love learning about genres I don't write.

Some people I know are pretty exclusive about their writing circles--new members have to submit their work and be evaluated by current members. That's not my speed. I've worked with brand-new writers who are on their first chapter and writers who churn out amazing manuscript after amazing manuscript, and guess what? Every kind gives me valuable feedback on my writing. And the writers who get better are the ones who keep trying. Who keep plugging along. I've had talented writing friends who quit, who never finish a manuscript, as well as novice writers who improve by leaps and bounds because they keep trying, keep getting feedback, and keep improving.

If you want to write, get a writing group!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Mondays Need a Good Book: METALTOWN


THE BLURB:  The rules of Metaltown are simple: Work hard, keep your head down, and watch your back. You look out for number one, and no one knows that better than Ty. She’s been surviving on the factory line as long as she can remember. But now Ty has Colin. She’s no longer alone; it’s the two of them against the world. That’s something even a town this brutal can’t take away from her. Until it does.

Lena’s future depends on her family’s factory, a beast that demands a ruthless master, and Lena is prepared to be as ruthless as it takes if it means finally proving herself to her father. But when a chance encounter with Colin, a dreamer despite his circumstances, exposes Lena to the consequences of her actions, she’ll risk everything to do what’s right.

In Lena, Ty sees an heiress with a chip on her shoulder. Colin sees something more. In a world of disease and war, tragedy and betrayal, allies and enemies, all three of them must learn that challenging what they thought was true can change all the rules.

An enthralling story of friendship and rebellion, Metaltown will have you believing in the power of hope.

THE SCOOP: I'd describe this book as an apocalyptic Newsies. Then, once Lena was introduced, I realized it had a big dose of Eponine, Cosette, and Marius. 

The world is wildly creative, we get three diverse and interesting points of view, and I'm a sucker for social justice stories. I really appreciated having Lena's character, since it gave us insight into the bad guys and prevented them from looking like caricatures.

THE VERDICT: It's grittier than my usual reads, but it's a great book. I already gave a copy to a girl who will eat it up. Give it a try!


Monday, September 4, 2017

Mondays Need a Good Book: EVICTED

 Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City


THE BLURB:
In this brilliant, heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge.

Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced  into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality—and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship.

Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.


THE SCOOP:
This was the best-written, most thought-provoking, and beautifully annotated nonfiction book I've read in a long time (seriously, his footnotes are interesting). The narrative reads smoothly, and the author intersplices policy decisions and statistics in the chapters. I appreciated how he includes the land(slum)lord's point of view, as well.

A few things that shocked me--

1. I always thought people lived in inner city neighborhoods because they were cheap. No.
2. I had no idea what disincentives women have to report domestic abuse, as police showing up at rental units can tag them as nuisances and lead to evictions. What?
3. Having children makes renters four times as likely to be evicted?!
 

Mostly, I couldn't believe that I was reading about conditions in the United States of America in the twenty-first century. Shocking. Well-researched. Motivating. I hope this work has an impact on our policies--I thought the author made very sensible suggestions in his epilogue.

THE VERDICT:
Read it.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Caught My Fancy Friday: The Cardross Necklace

The Cardross Necklace is fake. Georgette Heyer (the one and only romance writer, as far as I'm concerned) made it up for her novel April Lady. She describes it as a (hideous to her main character) gold and emerald necklace, with flowers set on little coils of gold so it quivers.

{I looked all over the internet and didn't find anything that reminded me of it, surprisingly, and I maybe have a new business idea of manufacturing jewelry and clothing described in my favorite books. Yep, pretty sure there's a BOOMING market for that.}




Image result for emerald gold flowers necklace nineteenth century
Image result for emerald gold flowers necklace nineteenth century

These are the best hideous emerald concoctions I found from the early nineteenth century. That's a stomacher brooch on the bottom.

And here's an emerald, ruby, diamond, and gold giardinetti neckace, circa 1760. Now, THIS one I'd wear in a heartbeat!


Image result for emerald gold flowers necklace
I remember reading an interview with Stephenie Meyer where she talked about looking for designer formals online for her fancy vampires to wear to prom. I was so shocked--I'd always assumed authors made everything up! Describing a picture you see online? Cheating!

Of course, now I know writers cheat all the time. But there's still something enchanting about imagining something gorgeously spectacular and bringing it to life on the page with nothing but words. Sometimes if I can't figure out what something would look like--like 1920s spats, for example, which confused me for YEARS--I look at pictures, but I usually find my imagination is better than anything google spits up.

Except for that 1760 necklace. Maybe it will make a cameo appearance in my next manuscript.