Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Reading Update - Memoir, Mystery, and Romance

Still inching toward 100 books read on the year...

86) Evolving in Monkey Town, by Rachel Held Evans. Memoir about how a girl who grew up in the airtight certainty of conservative Christianity discovered she didn't have all the answers after all and learned to live with a faith that has questions and uncertainties. At the risk of talking about religion more than I normally do on this blog...I can relate.

87) The Book of Mormon Girl, by Joanna Brooks. An interesting book to read right after Evolving in Monkey Town, since it's also the story of a woman raised in a conservative religious background who struggles with her faith while deciding to stay within it. I think what struck me most, surprised me, really, was her sense of connection to the history of the Mormon faith. To my eyes, it's an awfully short history--I mean, my native state (Alabama) wasn't even one of the original thirteen, and it's still older than the Mormon church. But I can see how if you're actually descended from people who made the trek to Utah with Brigham Young, it wouldn't be the kind of thing one could lightly walk away from.

88) Bruno, Chief of Police, by Martin Walker. A delightful mystery set in a village in the South of France. It has an unfashionably leisurely pace--the dead body doesn't show up till the end of Chapter 4--which IMHO worked well by mirroring the peaceful, timeless lifestyle Bruno values and strives to protect. I was also impressed with the way Walker balanced the overall loveliness and humor of his story with the darkness of the murder plot (the corpse is found with a swastika carved on his body). I look forward to reading the rest of Walker's fiction and quite possibly some of his nonfiction, too.

89) An Illicit Temptation, by Jeannie Lin. A short novella (or long short story--I'm never sure where these lines are drawn) featuring a secondary character from My Fair Concubine. Like Lin's other books, it's set during the Tang Dynasty, though it takes place among the nomadic Khitan people. (The heroine is a Chinese woman, purportedly royal, on the way to the Khitan ruler as a treaty bride.) A quick read that nonetheless feels satisfying and wholly fleshed out.

Any book I post about on this blog is one I liked enough to finish and therefore enough to recommend...but books #88 and and #89 were especially good reads, contenders for my top ten on the year. If you like mysteries or historical romance, give them a try.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday 10-28-12 - An Infamous Marriage

Just one more week now till release day! In this week's excerpt, Jack has just tried to convince insecure Elizabeth that he really does want her, because certain indications of male desire are difficult to fake. She almost accepts this, then points out that plenty of marriages that are far from love matches manage to produce heirs. He replies that those men probably bed their wives in the dark, the better to imagine themselves with someone else, but that's not what he wants with her:

“Oh.” She wished her face didn’t feel so hot, or that at least she could get her breathing to slow down to its normal rhythm. 
“With you,” he continued, “I want daylight, or at least candles burning. So I can see you, and know you see me.” 
“Oh,” she said again, and turned her head to look outside the window. She couldn’t seem to summon any better eloquence than that, just then.

I'm at the Emerald City Writers Conference this weekend, so I'll be late responding to any comments. But please do let me know what you think, and stop by the Six Sentence Sunday website to view other writers' excerpts.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday 10-21-12 - An Infamous Marriage

Just two weeks now till An Infamous Marriage releases, so this week things get a bit hot and heavy when Jack gets distracted during a perfectly innocent conversation:

His ready imagination clothed her in green silk, with nothing under it, and then laid her on the bed with the luxurious wrapping untied to reveal her creamy, pale skin bared for him to feast upon. How the silk would slide and rustle beneath them as he came into her, and how soft the skin of her inner thighs would be against his hips… 
“That would be fine,” he heard her say. 
“Yes, very,” he agreed fervently. 
She blinked at him, and he wondered what she’d say if she knew what he was thinking. Best not to test it, not yet.

As always, visit the Six Sentence Sunday site to check out other writers' excerpts.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Random Cookbook of the Week - Great Food Fast

This week's cookbook was Great Food Fast, from the editors of Everyday Food magazine. I've found its recipes to be just fast enough to qualify as weeknight recipes, especially if for the rest of the week I'm planning ultra-simple meals like baked potatoes, quesadillas, or spaghetti and non-homemade meatballs. This recipe was no exception. I made it on a Wednesday night and spent a little over an hour in the kitchen. Now that I'm familiar with it, I could probably pare it closer to 45 minutes for future attempts.

Braised Chicken With Mushrooms

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper
2 T olive oil
1 lb white mushrooms, sliced
4 garlic cloves, halved
1/2 c. dry white wine
1 3/4 c. chicken broth
2 T chopped fresh parsley

Sprinkle the chicken breasts with 1/4 t each salt and pepper. Heat 1 T of the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the chicken; cook until lightly browned, 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

Add the remaining T oil to the hot skillet. Add the mushrooms, garlic, and 1/4 t salt. Cover; cook over medium heat until the mushrooms release their juices, 2-3 minutes. Remove the lid. Cook over high heat, tossing occasionally, until the mushrooms are golden, 4-5 minutes.

Pour the wine into the skillet; cook, stirring, until evaporated, 1 minute. Add the stock and parsley; cook over medium-high heat until the mushrooms are tender and the liquid has reduced, 8-10 minutes.

Return the chicken to the skillet. Cover; simmer over low heat until the chicken is cooked through, 10-12 minutes. Serve the cutlets with polenta topped with the mushrooms and a drizzle of the cooking liquid. Garnish with additional fresh parsley.

The recipe was accompanied by one for oven-baked polenta, but I just made a regular stovetop batch, which turned out a little dry, probably because I was overcompensating for a recent batch that turned out too soupy. It's quite a tasty recipe, though I think next time I'll increase the wine relative to the broth to give the sauce a richer taste.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Reading update - religion and romance

The next two steps toward my goal of reading at least 100 books this year:

84) The Bible and the Believer: How to Read the Bible Critically and Religiously, by Marc Zvi Brettler, Peter Enns, and Daniel Harrington. A series of essays on how to balance a scholarly, historical approach to the Bible with a religious/devotional one, from Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant perspectives. It's as dry as you'd expect, but interesting for someone like me who's trying to find such a balance after coming from but stepping away from a very conservative Protestant background.

85) Unclaimed, by Courtney Milan. Second in the Turner brothers series, and I liked it even more than the first book, Unveiled. Milan writes such intense, intelligent, emotional, and character-focused romances, and this story of a celebrity virgin hero and the courtesan who'll get a payment big enough to leave her set for life if only she can ruin and discredit him is no exception.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday 10-14-12 - An Infamous Marriage

With my release date just three weeks a way, I'm continuing with another excerpt from An Infamous Marriage.  This week Elizabeth has just shocked Jack by bursting into laughter in the middle of a serious conversation, the most cordial they've had since their reunion, in which she assures him she's glad he didn't die of the wounds he received at the Battle of Queenston Heights:

“What,” he ground out, dropping her hand, “is so amusing?” 
With difficulty she calmed herself enough to speak. “We’ve established we don’t wish each other dead. I suppose it’s a beginning.”
He stared at her, blinked, then laughed along with her. “An excellent beginning.” 
Leave a comment, if you'd like, and stop by the Six Sentence Sunday website to check out other authors' excerpts.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Random Cookbook of the Week: A Feast of Ice and Fire

This week I drew A Feast of Ice and Fire, the Game of Thrones companion cookbook that arose from the Inn at the Crossroads blog. Authors Chelsea and Sariann typically take a dish mentioned in a George R.R. Martin tome, then find or develop a pair of recipes for it: one medieval (or Roman or Elizabethan) and presumably closer to what Martin's characters would eat, and one modern and therefore easier on the modern cook/palate.

One of these days I want to try the Elizabethan Lemon Cakes or the Roman Honeyfingers, but this week I selected...

Modern Bean-and-Bacon Soup

3 strips of bacon
1 tsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 15-oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 tsp dried thyme, plus extra for garnish (I used a T. fresh instead)
2 c. chicken stock
1/4 c. feta cheese, plus extra for garnish
1/4 c. orzo
1 c. water (I left the water out, since once I got to that step I decided it would make the soup too thin)
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

In a small skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until it is well browned but not burned. Remove to a plate covered with paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 1 tsp of bacon fat from the pan. Add the olive oil to the remaining fat.

Add the diced onion to the skillet and saute for 3-5 minutes, or until it is just starting to brown. Add the beans, thyme, and stock, then raise the heat to high. Bring the soup to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer. Half cover with a lid, and cook for 10 minutes.

Puree the soup either with an immersion blender, or in batches with an upright blender. Return to medium heat, then add the feta, orzo, 2 strips of crumbled bacon, and water. Cook for 5 minutes or until pasta is tender. Season with salt and pepper.

Ladle the soup into serving bowls, crumble a bit of the remaining bacon on top, garnish with thyme and feta, and serve.

This turned out SO WELL. The basic flavors are subtle, but the feta, bacon, and thyme keep it from being dull. I'll definitely make it again, maybe even double the recipe and make it my contribution (along with pies) to the family Christmas dinner. It's a perfect light meal with a salad, but I think it'd be equally good as a first course for a winter feast.

Because winter is coming. (Sorry, I had to go there.)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Susanna's week of reading, graphic novels edition

What can I say? I've been busy, and sometimes nothing hits the spot quite like a book with lots and lots of pictures.

82) Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Promise, Part Three. The final book in what it's now clear will be the first of at least two trilogies set between The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. I knew where this story had to be going for The Legend of Korra world to make sense, but it was still fun to see how it plays out. In this story in particular, Aang and Zuko both come across as the extremely powerful, extremely well-intentioned teenagers that they are, with all the emotional volatility that means for them and their world. This is my favorite Avatar comic to date, and I look forward to the next trilogy about the search for Zuko's mother.

83) A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel. Normally I find graphic novel versions of books I've already read in prose form distracting and a bit off-putting, so I doubt I would've read this book if my husband hadn't bought it for himself and left it lying around. But in this case the format actually worked for me, and left me with a clearer picture of the story and themes than I had when I first read the book, 20 years ago or so. Very well done. I've now left it lying around in my 8-year-old's room, hoping it will become an almost unique case of a book our whole family can enjoy. The only others I can think of so far are Harry Potter and Narnia.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday 10-7-12: An Infamous Marriage

As I continue to count down the weeks until my new historical romance, An Infamous Marriage, releases, today we visit with our heroine, Elizabeth, a few hours after her husband, Jack, has returned home from military service in Canada. As revenge for his adultery and the embarrassment it's caused her, she's announced her intent of barring him from her bed* until he finds a way to earn her forgiveness. (Their marriage wasn't consummated during the few days they had before he left for Canada five years ago because both of them were so deeply grieved over the lost of her first husband and his best friend.) However, she can't help but waver a little bit.

She’d had one week with Giles before he fell ill, just enough to whet her appetite for the pleasures of the flesh. Before she’d learned of Jack’s adultery, she’d begun to imagine what it would feel like to lie with him, but she hadn’t allowed herself such a fantasy in three years. Instead, night after night she’d raged against fate for being so cruel, so unfair, as to give her only one week of bliss when other women had years and years of happiness. And now already some traitorous part of her called out, See how handsome Jack is! And he wants you.
He wants an heir, her wiser self told her foolish body. 

*Yes, Elizabeth and I both know that according to the legalities of the day, her husband has rights to her body. However, she judges, correctly, that he'd be unwilling to force himself upon a woman who was actively resisting him even if didn't legally count as rape.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Random Cookbook of the Week - Food Matters

This week's random draw turned up another Bittman cookbook, Food Matters. Unlike my other Bittman books, this one focuses as much on health and sustainability as the food itself, and some of the recipes are a little too earnestly Good For You for my taste. So I chose one with both "sweet potato" and "bacon" in the name, figuring you can't go wrong with those in the mix:

Spinach and Sweet Potato Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
1/4 c. olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 thick slices of bacon
1 red bell pepper, cored and chopped
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 T peeled, minced fresh ginger
1 t ground cumin
Juice from 1 orange (I used 1/3 c orange juice)
1 pound fresh spinach leaves (the package I bought from the store only had six ounces, but it was the perfect amount--more than that wouldn't have fit in the salad bowl, and the dressing wouldn't have been enough to flavor it)

1. Heat the oven to 400 F. Put the sweet potatoes on a baking sheet, drizzle with 2 T of the oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Roast, turning occasionally, until crisp and brown outside and just tender inside, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and keep on pan until ready to use.

2. While potatoes cook, put the bacon in a skillet and turn the heat to medium. Cook, turning once or twice, until crisp. Drain on paper towels and pour off the fat, leaving any darkened bits behind in the pan. Put back on medium heat, and add the remaining oil to the pan. When it's hot, add the bell pepper, onion, and ginter. Cook, stirring once or twice, until no longer raw, then stir in the cumin and the reserved bacon. (Though the recipe didn't say to do so, I crumbled the bacon.) Stir in the orange juice and turn off the heat. 

3. Put the spinach in a bowl large enough to comfortably toss the salad quickly. Add the sweet potatoes and toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning, and serve.

It was pretty good. I don't think it'll be a new favorite, but the flavor combinations worked and it made for a pleasant dinner.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

I'm a novella-ist!

My editor at Carina just told me that they'd like to acquire my latest work--and my first successful attempt at a novella! Every other manuscript I've ever completed came in somewhere between 85,000 and 100,000 words, and it took me multiple attempts to figure out what kind of story worked at a quarter that length and how to convey a complete emotional arc in a compressed word count.

The title remains TBD, as does the release date, though it'll almost certainly be in the second half of 2013. For now, I'll just say that it's an interracial romance set in the aftermath of the Battle of Vittoria in 1813. The hero, Elijah Cameron, is the son of slaves who escaped a Virginia plantation during the American Revolution to take the British Army's offer of freedom to runaway slaves who helped the war effort. The heroine, Rose Merrifield, is an ordinary English village girl with an extraordinary gift for cooking. Watch this space for more information...