Monday, December 31, 2012

Best reads of 2012

When I looked over the 109 books I read in 2012, I couldn't come up with a tidy top ten. Instead, here are some books I especially enjoyed and would recommend to anyone who likes the genre in question. Note that few of them are 2012 releases. Except in a few cases, e.g. a new book by a favorite author in a series I love, I don't make it a priority to read books immediately after release.

Favorite Historical Romance (New)
My Fair Concubine, by Jeannie Lin (2012). My Fair Lady in Tang Dynasty China, and my favorite of Lin's books to date.

Favorite Historical Romance (Old But Now Available as an Ebook)
The Wives of Bowie Stone, by Maggie Osborne (1994). The hero is the most heroic and admirable bigamist you'll ever meet.

Favorite Contemporary Romance 
Doukakis's Apprentice, by Sarah Morgan (2011). I'm not usually a Harlequin Presents reader--I'm just not into wildly rich, wildly alpha heroes outside of SF or history, and even then I want them to be extra-awesome, brave, honorable, and brainy--we're talking Aral Vorkosigan or the Duke of Wellington here. But I've enjoyed Morgan's medical romances, and this book came so highly recommended that I tried it anyway. And I'm glad I did, hence its placement on this list.

Favorite YA Romance/Debut Book
Catching Jordan, by Miranda Kenneally (2011). Just a well-written book all around, and one of the few sports-themed romances I've read where I came away convinced the author thoroughly knows and loves the sport in question.

Wildly Popular Book That Actually Didn't Disappoint Me
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins (2008). No need to say more, since I figure y'all have already heard of this one...

Favorite Mystery Discovered Randomly When I Heard Its Author Interviewed on NPR
Bruno, Chief of Police, by Martin Walker (2009). Lovely, leisurely-paced mystery that will make you wish yourself in France.

Favorite New Entries in Long-Running Series
Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, by Lois McMaster Bujold (2012). A lovely science fiction romance, albeit one that I doubt would have the same impact for readers lacking a long history with the characters and their world. Those readers should go grab Shards of Honor or The Warrior's Apprentice and start building that history!

The Scottish Prisoner, by Diana Gabaldon (2012). I really appreciate how Gabaldon writes soldiers. Jamie Fraser and John Grey remind me of the officers in my family and the ones I meet in my historical research in a way military heroes in historical romances often do not.

Most Useful Psychology/Self-Help Book
The Willpower Instinct, by Kelly McGonigal (2011). Explains why it's so hard to change and ways you can make it easier.

Best Food for My Inner History Geek
Moscow 1812, by Adam Zamoyski (2004). Gripping tale of Napoleon's invasion and retreat.

Guest of Honor, by Deborah Davis (2012). Race relations 100 years ago viewed through the lens of Teddy Roosevelt and Booker T Washington.

1493, by Charles C. Mann (2011). A history of the Columbian exchange and how it altered the course of the world in the past 500 years.

The Worst Hard Time, by Timothy Egan (2006). If you watched Ken Burns' The Dust Bowl and want to learn more, go here.

Final reading update of 2012

Favorite reads of 2012 to follow in a separate post...

106) Black Diamond, by Martin Walker. Third in the Bruno Courreges mystery series, which like its predecessors makes me want to hop on a plane for France asap. This one involves rival Chinese and Vietnamese gangs, buried state secrets, truffle market tampering, and some particularly sordid goings-on that appear late enough in the book that mentioning them here would be a spoiler. But for all that, it's still a fairly cozy and leisurely mystery, and the biggest surprise for me was that it introduced yet a third potential love interest for Bruno.

107) Dream More, by Dolly Parton. I admire Dolly Parton for her guts, sense of humor, and the fact she's used her brains, talents, and all-around gumption to build a successful life from an unpromising background (and one not unlike my own family's, though I think compared to the Partons we were a relatively rich and educated bunch of hillbillies. This book, based on a commencement address she gave at the University of Tennessee a few years ago, made a nice read for reflecting on the year that's ending and the new one about to begin.

108) The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin. This fantasy novel was recommended to me by any number of readers whose taste I trust, and I have to say I found the worldbuilding original and compelling, and I was intrigued enough by the plot to finish the book in a day. Yet for all that, the characters didn't quite come to life for me, so I never developed that undefinable connection that makes me want to revisit fictional places ranging from Terre d'Ange to Barrayar to Anne Shirley's Avonlea.

109) Julie, by Jean Craighead George. These are just delightful books, though I get depressed thinking how the Arctic environment they're set in is being wrecked by global warming.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Random Cookbook of the Week is back-Best One-Dish Meals

Now that Christmas is over and Mr. Fraser and I are reasonably well-established in our Weight Watchers routine, I figured it's time to get back to Random Cookbook of the Week. This week I drew McCall's Best One-Dish Meals, a 1997 cookbook that I believe may have been a wedding present. Each recipe has basic nutritional info, making calculating its Weight Watchers PointsPlus value nice and simple. (See, Weight Watchers powers that be? I said "PointsPlus" and not just "Points." Aren't you proud of me?)

I chose...

Pork, Pepper, and Onion Sandwiches

- 1/4 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 4 (1/4 to 1/3-inch-thick) boneless pork loin chops (about 12 ounces total weight)
- 1 T olive oil
- 1 sweet green or yellow pepper, cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips
- 1 medium onion, halved lengthwise and cut lengthwise again into 1/4-inch-wide strips
- 2 plum tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch-wide wedges
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 2 T red wine vinegar
- 4 thick slices peasant-style bread, toasted

In a cup, combine the thyme, salt, and ground pepper. Stir until the ingredients are blended. Sprinkle 1/4 tsp of the mixture over the pork chops; reserve remaining mixture.

In a nonstick skillet, heat 1 tsp of the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the pork chops and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on each side; transfer the pork chops to a platter. Add the remaining 2 tsp of olive oil, the pepper, and the onion to the skillet; saute until the vegetables are coated with oil. Cover the skillet and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring once. Add the tomatoes, garlic, and remaining thyme mixture; saute for 2 minutes.

Return the pork chops and any juices on the platter to the skillet. Gently reheat the chops, stirring, until all the ingredients are blended. Sprinkle with the vinegar. Cook, stirring, until the juices boil.

Place each bread slice on a plate. Top with 1 pork chop, some of the vegetable mixture, and some of the pan juices.

For anyone keeping score for Weight Watchers purposes, this comes to 8 PointsPlus.

Mr. Fraser liked the resulting dish fine and ate two servings. (Being male and ~80 lbs heavier than me, he often gets to eat twice as much dinner as I do and stay within Weight Watchers' bounds, sigh.) I took two bites, found it disgusting, with a strange, off, moldy sort of taste, and heated up a frozen mini-pizza instead. All I can think is that the bell pepper was a bit overcooked and overpowering, since I tend to like my peppers on the raw side.

For next week I drew Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Gulp....

Sunday, December 23, 2012

I have a title! (And also a reading update)

My 2013 interracial historical romance novella now has a title--A Dream Defiant. I just finished my first round of edits, and I'll have much more to say about the story as its July 29 release date draws closer.

I've been busy with edits and Christmas prep, but I've managed to squeeze in a little reading time, and now that I'm off work till Jan. 2, I plan to fit in a lot more before the new year. Tune in 12/31 for my last reading update of the year, plus my top ten reads of 2012.

101) The Nine Tailors, by Dorothy Sayers. I read this once before, years ago, but I didn't remember the details. Not the best Lord Peter book by a long shot, and I kinda skimmed most of the bell-ringing arcana, but an enjoyable read. Right now it's available as a Kindle book for $2.99, so a good deal if you're looking to fill out your digital Wimsey collection.

102) Tim Gunn's Fashion Bible, by Tim Gunn with Ada Calhoun. A combination brief history of most commonly worn articles of clothing and guidelines on choosing appropriate and flattering modern versions of said articles.

103) The Worst Hard Time, by Timothy Egan. I recently watched Ken Burns' Dust Bowl documentary and wanted to learn more, and this book was highly recommended. It's a gripping, horrifying read, and it's stunning to think such a disaster, both ecological and economic, happened in my country less than a century ago, within my parents' lifetimes, albeit barely (Dad was born in 1929, Mom in 1932). And while my parents grew up in rural poverty, at least they had the blessing to grow up in a place (central Alabama), that's actually endowed by nature with a climate suitable for farming and rich, quick-growing forests. It also gave me a better appreciation, not that I ever truly doubted it, that FDR and the New Deal saved this country and that we ought to be using the current downturn to reinforce and strengthen the safety net, not tear it down in pursuit of debt-cutting and austerity that any sensible reading of our own history, not to mention the current state of much of Europe, shows would only make things worse.

Sorry. Got a little political there...

104) The Betrayal of the Blood Lily, by Lauren Willig. Book 6 in the Pink Carnation historical spy-romance series, which are always great fun, though I often find myself skimming past the modern framing story. I particularly enjoyed this entry, since I'm fascinated by late 18th/early 19th-century India.

105) Ichiro, by Ryan Inzana. A graphic novel about a boy with an American father and Japanese mother learning about the Japanese side of his heritage, considering questions of war, peace, and atrocities committed by both nations, and, oh, getting pulled into the spirit world. Not my usual reading, but thoughtful and beautifully illustrated.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Book 100 at last, Random Cookbook update

I was beginning to think I wouldn't make it, but I finally reached Book 100 on the year:

100) Frozen Heat, by "Richard Castle": I enjoy this series as part of my Castle fandom--it's fun to pull out all the meta references to the show and so on, and little gems like the pair of detectives who help out on this case named Malcolm and Reynolds. How well they'd work for anyone not a fan of the show I couldn't begin to tell you, since I haven't read enough contemporary police procedural-type mysteries to judge.

I haven't abandoned my Random Cookbook series, but it's on a temporary hiatus, at least through the month of December. Mr. Fraser and I have gone on Weight Watchers together, in large part because he's been diagnosed as pre-diabetic and quite likely also has gall bladder issues. (Tests to confirm that and determine whether or not surgery is necessary are on his schedule.) So for now we're focusing on getting on the diet and sticking to it. Once we're in a good groove and immediate health issues are under control, I'll feel steady enough to go back to cooking randomly again.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Blog tour grand prize winner!

With my blog tour for An Infamous Marriage behind me, it's time to draw my grand prize winner from all the commenters who took part. I kept a list as I went along, with each entrant getting one entry per blog post they commented on.

And the winner of a $50 gift certificate to her choice of Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Powell's Books, chosen via, is...

Cathy P!

Cathy, I'll be emailing you about claiming your prize. To everyone else, thank you for taking part in my tour, and if it inspired you to pick up a copy of my book, I hope it brings you hours of reading pleasure.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Drive-by post

I'm insanely busy, as is always the case in December, this year with the added challenge of finishing the first round of edits on my 2013 novella and putting together a proposal for its sequel. However, when I have a spare moment between racing from holiday event to holiday event, I've been cleaning out my Gmail inbox. Which feels like verrrrry slowwwlllly traveling back in time.

Anyway, I found the following link in an email I sent my critique partner back in 2009.

I'm not sure which made me laugh harder, the reason for the heroes' terrible reputation or their titles.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Blog Swap! JL Hilton takes the helm

Today I'm over at fellow Carina author J.L. Hilton's blog, talking about being a historical romance author who loves science fiction and fantasy. So she's here, talking about being a science fiction author who loves historical stories.

Here's J.L.:

Where cyberpunk meets costume drama
That I love science fiction is something I've written about in many interviews and blogs. But I rarely get to talk about the fact that cameos, brass bezels, watch parts and wire surround my laptop. I design Neo-Victorian jewelry and my work has been featured in Steampunk Style Jewelry, 1000 Steampunk Creations, and Make Jewellery magazine. My favorite books are Vanity Fair, Les Miserables and Jane Eyre. Some of my favorite authors are Poe, Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I am currently reading my way through the complete works of Elizabeth Gaskell, and I love the miniseries North & South, based on her 1855 novel.

I haven't met a costume drama or period piece I didn't like. Whether it's Fingersmith, Downton Abbey, The Way We Live Now, the Sharpe series, Nicolas Nickleby, Little Dorrit, Poirot, The Devil's Whore (renamed a tamer The Devil's Mistress in North America), Emma, the Forsyte Saga or many, many more. I'm in the U.S., but I watch more BBC than American telly, thanks to Netflix. Btw my favorite adaptation of Jane Eyre is the 1996 directed by Franco Zeffirelli – who also directed my favorite versions of Taming of the Shrew and Romeo and Juliet.

Not only have I read Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, I've watched two movie versions (1945 and 2009), as well as a movie of Wilde's Canterbury Ghost, and his own life story in Wilde starring Stephan Frye and Jude Law. My favorite portrayal of Wilde, however, is by Peter Egan in Lillie, about the life of Lillie Langtry.

I'd rather read a Scottish historical or Regency romance than Neal Stephenson or William Gibson. So why am I writing a cyberpunk science fiction series? Cyberpunk is described as “high tech and low life.” The genre is about advanced science, things like digital technology and genetic modification – the “cyber” – coupled with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order – the “punk.” The Stellarnet Series takes place in 2062 and features an interstellar news blogger, a freedom fighter and a video game loving outcast. The first book, Stellarnet Rebel, is a finalist in the EPIC Awards for sci-fi ebook of 2012. The sequel, Stellarnet Prince, just came out earlier this month. Daniela Denby-Ashe as Margaret Hale in North & South was one of my inspirations for my Stellarnet Series heroine, Genevieve O'Riordan.

My favorite Victorian authors did not just write about pretty gowns and balls, they wrote about social change, women's rights, the desire for freedom and independence, the power of kindness over cruelty, compassion and reason over superstition and fear. They delved into the human heart, not only its loves but its frustrations, faults, hopes and dreams. They created characters who are still icons one hundred years later – characters like Dorian Gray, Ebeneezer Scrooge, Sherlock Holmes, Edward Rochester. In its way, the Industrial Era was also about “high tech and low life.” Think of factories and mines, orphanages, smoke, sickness, poverty, and Oliver Twist. I wanted to take those themes and move them into our immediate future. Even in a world with digital technology, Internet and social media, some things don't change. 

You may read more about my new book Stellarnet Prince, including interviews and excerpts, here:

I've had a long month of interviews, guest posts and other shenanigans, but there's still time to enter the Rafflecopter giveaways for a r'naw eye pendant and digital copies of both books in the Stellarnet Series on my giveaways page:

What about you, do you enjoy science fiction or historical romance? What are your favorite genres?

J.L. Hilton is the author of the Stellarnet Series published by Carina Press, including Stellarnet Rebel (January 2012) and Stellarnet Prince (November 2012), and a regular contributor to the Contact-Infinite Futures SF/SFR blog. Her artwork is featured in the books Steampunk Style Jewelry and 1000 Steampunk Creations. Visit her at or follow her on Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and deviantART.

Author website:
Stellarnet website:
Publisher website:

Monday, November 26, 2012

Guest blogging and reading update

My blog tour is starting to wind down, but there are still a few more stops where you can comment for a chance to win a copy of An Infamous Marriage or the tour grand prize of a $50 gift certificate to your choice of Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Powell's.

Today, 11/26, I'm at The Maiden's Court.
Tuesday, 11/27 - Everybody Needs A Little Romance
Wednesday, 11/28 - I'll be at fellow Carina author JL Hilton's blog, and she'll be here.
Thursday, 11/29 - Rose Lerner's tumblr
Friday, 11/30 - Romance Writer's Revenge
Next Monday, 12/3 - Novel Reflections

And on the evening of 12/6, I'll announce the winner of the grand prize here on my blog.

In my life as a reader, I'm almost to 100 books for 2012! Here are the latest two:

98) The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, by Dan Ariely. Behavioral economist Ariely explores the degree to which people are willing to cheat and why, and what kind of conditions make them more or less honest. Basically, people have competing urges to seek their own advantage and to portray themselves as honest, honorable people--whether as part of their self-image or to the world. A couple of the anecdotes that struck my interest:

1. College students were more likely to cheat on a test as part of a study if someone in the room neutrally dressed or wearing their school's colors and logo visibly cheated or pointed out how easy it was to do so, but less likely than a control group if the cheating person wore a rival school's logo.

2. In a study where a blind and a sighted researcher each asked growers at a farmers market to give them a pound of their best produce, which was then taken off-site to an independent evaluator, the blind researcher was consistently given better produce.

99) Redshirts, by John Scalzi. A hilarious, delightfully meta piece of SF where a bunch of ensigns on a starship realize they're characters in a TV show--and a poorly written one, at that.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Random Cookbook of the Week: Joy of Cooking, 1951 edition

When my parents married in 1952, one of the wedding gifts my mother received was a 1951 edition of The Joy of Cooking. It's one of the books I brought home after she passed away from lung cancer in early 2010, along with my father's and grandfather's Bibles and a speller my grandmother and great-aunts and uncles learned from in the early decades of the last century.

This cookbook is more a piece of family and cultural history than a source for planning my meals, of course. Occasionally I'll page through it just to explore what's changed and what hasn't in six decades of American home cooking.

You see the 1950's enthusiasm for canned goods in pages of suggestions for how to augment canned soup and how to reheat canned french fried potatoes. (Canned POTATOES?! What were you thinking, 1950's America?)

You glimpse another aspect of the past in the sheer number of jellied recipes, and in the detailed instructions for skinning and dressing a squirrel--making me joke that I'm hanging onto this cookbook in case of apocalypse. But I'm also reminded of my father, born in 1929 as one of nine children of a poor farm family in rural Alabama. A strawberry blond with the attendant redhead's complexion, he remembers getting blistering sunburns through his shirt from long days plowing behind a mule. My husband and I recently found Dad's family in the 1940 census--where my grandfather's total reported income for 1939 was $400 (that's about $6600 in 2012 dollars, though it wouldn't have included the food the family grew or hunted for their own consumption). I remember Dad telling me--the last-born, surprise baby of the family growing up in the 70's and 80's during my parents' hard-won middle-aged, middle-class prosperity--that there's good eatin' on a squirrel.

But there are many sections of the 1951 Joy that seem right at home in 2012. The pasta section contains a variety of sauces I recognize from the rest of my cookbook collection, and things like cookies, pies, and and cakes are classics for a reason.

When I drew this cookbook for my random challenge, I wanted to choose a recipe unlike my usual 21st century style, so all those totally normal pasta sauces and cookies were right out. But I also didn't want to go with something unappetizingly of its era, like, say, Jiffy Souffle with Canned Soup. So I settled on something different, but tasty-sounding.

Sauteed Apples and Bacon

Pare tart winter:
- Apples
Cut them into cubes. There should be about 4 cupfuls. Sautee in a heavy skillet:
- 8 slices bacon
Remove the bacon when crisp. Keep it hot. Leave about 2 T grease in the skillet. Add the apples. Sprinkle them with:
- 2 T white or brown sugar

Cover and cook slowly until they are tender. Remove the cover. Turn the apples carefully. Let them brown lightly. Place them on a hot platter. Surround them with the bacon.

I didn't take a picture because, trust me, this dish wasn't much to look at. It tasted OK, but even though I used good bacon and in general am a bacon lover, the hint of bacon in the apples just tasted odd, somehow.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Blog tour, reading, and no more NaNo

Just a few stops on the blog tour this week, since I'm taking the four-day Thanksgiving weekend off from promo:

In other writing news, my 2013 novella now has a release date--July 29.  That's a bit earlier than my editor and I had been anticipating, which is entirely a Good Thing. Between my shoulder and hand issues and my full-time day job, I'm just not going to be the world's fastest writer, but I'm trying to put myself in a position where my new releases are no more than 8-9 months apart.

However, it also means editing the novella is now my highest writing priority, with completing a proposal for its sequel a close second, so I'm abandoning my goal of 25,000 new words this month. One of the hardest lessons I've had to learn as a writer is the importance of flexibility, of being able to change plans when your circumstances change. In this case it makes no sense to pursue an arbitrary goal at the expense of focusing my energy on what my publisher needs next from me.

One personal goal I am continuing to pursue is that of reading 100 books this year. Here's what I completed this week:

94) The Dark Vineyard, by Martin Walker. Second in Walker's mystery series, and while I didn't like it quite as much as the first book, Bruno, Chief of Police, I expect I'll keep reading these, if for nothing else to see what happens to Bruno and his assorted friends and lovers and to take more mental vacations to the Perigord.

95) The Wrong Hill to Die On, by Donis Casey. Sixth in a series of mysteries featuring early 20th century Oklahoma farmwife and mother of many, Alafair Tucker. While this isn't my favorite of the series--that would be either Hornswoggled or Crying Blood--I still enjoyed visiting the familiar characters again.

96) A Case for Solomon: Bobby Dunbar and the Kidnapping that Haunted a Nation, by Tal McThenia and Margaret Dunbar Cutright. 100 years ago, 4-year-old Bobby Dunbar disappeared on a family camping trip in Louisiana swamp country. Though the most logical explanation was that the child drowned or fell prey to an alligator, no body or sign of a struggle was ever found, so the grieving parents clung to the possibility that he'd been kidnapped instead. Then, many months later, a little boy who looked a bit like their son turned up in the company of a wandering piano tuner and repairman, so the Dunbars claimed him as their own.

I'd heard a version of this story on This American Life, so I already knew the outline and what a DNA test on the boy's descendants would bring to light. But I enjoyed reading the more fleshed-out version, though it's for the most part just a detailed history that leaves it to the reader to draw conclusions about the motivations of all involved and the role politics and class divisions played.

97) Marathon, by Boaz Yakin and Joe Infurnari. A graphic novel account of the Battle of Marathon and the legendary messenger whose feats gave rise to the race that bears that battle's name. I enjoyed it, and was glad to see a story of the Greco-Persian Wars where Athens gets her due--I'm sick of it being all about Sparta and Thermopylae, when Athens managed to be pretty dang badass without having to be a completely militaristic state to do so.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Random Cookbook of the Week - Ad Hoc At Home

Mr. Fraser and I are foodies (though I'm not in love with that term). When I got an announcement via email that Maria Hines is opening a Southern Italian place to go with her fabulous New American Tilth and her intriguing Mediterranean Golden Beetle, we spent the next 15 minutes chatting about the relative claims of Northern and Southern Italian cuisine, their history in this country, and how much we looked forward to Hines' take. I'd rather have pizza from Serious Pie than anywhere else, we love to celebrate over the bread pudding at Boat Street, and after my first sale Mr. Fraser took me to Seattle landmark Canlis.

I've promised him that if I ever make the New York Times bestseller list, I'm flying him down to California so we can dine at Thomas Keller's French Laundry. We have two Keller cookbooks-- the daunting French Laundry Cookbook and Ad Hoc At Home, which is comfort food, Keller style. That is to say, comfort food to daunt your average home cook.

I like to think this cookbook challenge is making me a touch harder to daunt, so I plunged in and attempted...

Potato Hash with Bacon and Melted Onions

- 12 oz applewood smoked slab bacon (I used thick-sliced uncured bacon from Skagit River Ranch, which you MUST try if you're in the Seattle area. It is the bacon of the gods, I swear.)
- Canola oil
- 3 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes
- Kosher salt
- 1 thyme sprig, leaves only
- 1 c. Melted Onions (recipe below)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 T. minced chives (I forgot these but it still tasted delicious)

Preheat the oven to 200 F.

Cut the bacon into lardons about 1 inch long and 1/2 inch thick. Set aside.

Pour about 1 1/2 inches of oil into a large saucepan and heat to 300 F. set a cooling rack over a baking sheet and line the rack with paper towels.

Meanwhile, square off the sides of the potatoes to give them a rectangular shape and cut into 1/2-inch dice. They may not all be perfectly square, and a bit of skin left on the cubes is also fine.

Add half the potatoes to the hot oil and cook for about 8 minutes, until tender and a rich golden brown; they will not be crisp. Remove from the oil with a wire skimmer or slotted spoon and drain onto the paper towels. Repeat with the remaining potatoes.

Pour 2 T water into a medium saucepan and set over medium heat (the water will keep the bacon from crisping as the fat begins to render). Add the bacon, reduce the heat to medium-low, and let the bacon render its fat for 30 minutes. The bacon will color but not become completely crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain. Drain the excess fat from the pan, leaving just a film of fat to cook the potatoes; reserve the extra fat.

Add half the potatoes to the pan, sprinkle with salt, and add half the thyme. Cook for 3-4 minutes to crisp the potatoes and heat through. Add half the onions and fold in one-quarter of the bacon. Transfer to a large bowl and keep warm while you cook the remaining potatoes, adding some of the reserved fat to the pan if necessary, with the remaining ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Transfer the potatoes to a serving bowl, add the minced chives, and garnish with the remaining bacon.

I know, I know, it just looks like potato hash. But, trust me, it tastes like what all the other hash you've ever eaten only aspires to be.

I paired it with sauteed rainbow chard and medium boiled eggs, the latter mushed in with the hash as we ate it. And it was the perfect Sunday night dinner.

Here's how to make the melted onions. Keller tells you to put the herbs into a sachet, but my local grocery doesn't carry cheesecloth, so I just pulled the bay leaf, thyme, and garlic clove out when I was done and used freshly ground pepper instead of whole peppercorns. I also halved the recipe, since it was all I needed.

Melted Onions

- 8 c. sliced onions
- Kosher salt
- 8 T (1 stick, 4 oz) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
- 1 Sachet (1 bay leaf, 3 thyme sprigs, 10 black peppercorns, 1 garlic clove, smashed and peeled)

Put the onions in a large saute pan, set over medium-low heat, sprinkle with 2 generous pinches of salt, and cook, stirring from time to time, for about 20 minutes, until the onions have released much of their liquid.

Stir in the butter, add the sachet, cover partially, and cook slowly over low to medium-low heat for another 30-35 minutes. The onions should look creamy at all times; if the butter separates, or the pan looks dry before the onions are done, add a bit of cold water and stir well to re-emulsify the butter. The onions should be meltingly tender but not falling apart or mushy. Season to taste with salt.

Once cooled, the onions can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

These are almost, but not quite, like caramelized onions, and they have a sort of sweet pungency reminiscent of roasted garlic--quite a transformation for butter and plain yellow onions, believe me.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Updates--reading, half NaNo, and blog tour

Wow, last week was quite a ride. Having a book release on Monday and a presidential election on Tuesday is...kind stressful, actually. I didn't get as much writing done as I'd hoped, though I've plenty of time to catch up and meet my November goal of 25,000 new words.

I did, however, get quite a bit of reading time in. Here are the latest on my trek to 100 books read in 2012:

90) Off Balance: A Memoir by Dominique Moceanu. Back when I was watching the 1996 Olympics, I remember disliking Dominique Moceanu because she came across in the media coverage somehow as a cutesy little spoiled brat. I feel like I should apologize for how severely I misjudged her, when actually she was stuck in an abusive coaching and home situation. I'm happy that she's developed a remarkable amount of resilience and seems to have a happy, stable life with her husband and two young children. I'm impressed, too, that she still loves gymnastics in spite of how its luminaries treated her and is trying to make it a better, healthier sport for the next generation.

91) New Orleans 1815: Andrew Jackson Crushes the British, by Tim Pickles. Research, as my current WIP features a British officer wounded at the Battle of New Orleans. A basic overview, heavily focused on the British experience and POV, which happens to be useful for my purposes.

92) Stealing Parker, by Miranda Kenneally. Earlier this year I read, and raved about, Kenneally's debut novel, Catching Jordan, about a girl quarterback good enough to realistically strive for a football scholarship. This book worked for me in a big way, too. I don't think I loved it quite as much--the whole "elite girl QB" plot of Catching Jordan gave me the same "somebody wrote a book just for ME?!" happiness I got when I first heard about His Majesty's Dragon. But Stealing Parker moved me. We meet the heroine in full crisis mode. Her mother left her father for a woman, and in their small, Southern, deeply religious town, the resulting scandal has thrown Parker's life into a tailspin. In some ways this is a painful read--17-year-old Parker gets involved with a 23-year-old teacher, and it's very much a slow motion train wreck on the page--but there's a certain saving grace and humor that kept it from ever getting unbearably dark.

93) Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George. A Newberry Award winner that I somehow missed reading in my own childhood--I read it yesterday to try to judge if it would be appropriate for my wolf-loving 8-year-old daughter. I think she's still a bit too young to understand and appreciate it, but in another year or two I bet she'll love such a tale of survival and finding your identity. I'm intrigued enough myself that I think I'll seek out the sequels.

As for writing...well, let's just say I didn't get any done Monday-Thursday, between An Infamous Marriage finally being out and the election. And when I went back to it this weekend, I realized the second scene had wandered off into the weeds, so I went back and rewrote.

Doesn't look too impressive, I know, but there's still plenty of time to get to 25K, especially with the 4-day holiday weekend coming up. We don't have any big plans--we live so far from our extended families that it's become a tradition to do a restaurant Thanksgiving dinner as our little family of three and travel at Christmas--so then I can write, write, write.

And, last but not least, the blog tour continues this week.

Monday 11/12 - Manga Maniac Cafe

Tuesday 11/13 - History Hoydens

Wednesday 11/14 - The Season for Romance

Thursday 11/15 - Book Lovers, Inc.

Friday 11/16 - The Romance Dish

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Random Cookbook of the Week - The Gourmet Cookbook

When I drew The Gourmet Cookbook for this week's challenge, I had every intention of making something, well, gourmet. I figured on spending hours in the kitchen on Sunday night putting together a complex masterpiece.

But instead I saw this in the sandwiches section and thought, "YUM."

Mozzarella in Carrozza ("Mozzarella in a Carriage")

- 1/4 c. drained capers, chopped
- 12 slices firm white sandwich bread
- 6 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices, at room temperature
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
- 2 large eggs
- 2 T. whole milk
- Salt
- 1 T unsalted butter
- 2 T olive oil

Divide capers among bread slices, spreading them evenly. Divide mozzarella among six of the slices and season with pepper. Make into sandwiches, then trim off crusts and discard.

Put flour on a plate and coat sandwiches with flour, knocking off excess. Beat together eggs, milk, and a pinch each of salt and pepper in a small shallow bowl.

Heat 1/2 T butter w/ 1 T oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides. Coat 3 sandwiches, one at a time, with egg mixture, letting excess drip off, and to skillet. Fry, turning once, till golden brown, about 5 minutes total, then drain on paper towels. Coat remaining sandwiches and fry in remaining oil and butter in the same manner.

The recipe goes on to suggest cutting the sandwiches into quarters, which I didn't do. I also halved the recipe, since we're a family of two adults and one finicky 8-year-old. Here's the result:

NOM NOM NOM. Will make again. Comfort food with a posh twist.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Blog tour update

My guest post on the RR@H Novel Thoughts blog has been rescheduled for this Friday, November 9.

No new progress on my Half NaNoWriMo to report, unfortunately. The election kinda ate my writing time the past couple days, but I mean to get back on the horse, tonight if I can stay awake, and tomorrow for sure.

Monday, November 5, 2012

An Infamous Marriage release day!

Just a quick post to announce that An Infamous Marriage is now available on the virtual bookstore shelves! Also, reviews are starting to come in:

The Romanceaholic says, "With just the right amount of steam and plenty of emotion, I would definitely recommend this one to any fan of historical romance with arranged marriages, and I urge readers to take a chance on this one even if infidelity is a trope they tend to avoid."

From Willaful: "Fraser’s third novel confirms my opinion of her as a go-to writer for Regency romance that is actually set in the Regency rather than in that Never-Neverland mash-up that’s been dubbed “The Recency” or “Almackistan.” It’s a gracefully written, authentic feeling story."

Here are some of the places you can buy it:
And, last but not least, as an audiobook from

Oh, and my half NaNoWriMo continues:

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday 11-4-12 - Release Day Eve for An Infamous Marriage!

An Infamous Marriage releases tomorrow, so this is the last excerpt I'll be posting on Six Sentence Sunday. I've enjoyed sharing some teasers from this story with you, and I hope to see some of you on my blog tour, which started Friday and continues through December 3. (Today I'm at Risky Regencies.) At most of the stops I'll be giving away a copy of the book, and at the end of the tour I'll be giving out a grand prize of a $50 bookstore gift certificate.

Without further ado, here's this week's six. Jack and Elizabeth are finally spending the night together...bundled up in their warmest clothing in a barn in northern England in February, waiting for a mare to foal. But one thing has led to another, and...

He broke the kiss but stayed close, nose to nose, breathing hard. “Oh, God, Elizabeth. Is it really that cold?” 
Some distant part of her murmured she might regret this in the morning, but she ignored it. “I’ve never been warmer,” she gasped. 
She kissed him again and he began to work at the buttons on her pelisse. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Half NaNoWriMo

I'm not doing NaNoWriMo this year (for any non-writers reading this, that's where you try to write a first draft of a novel, minimum 50,000 words, entirely within the month of November). Really, I doubt I'll ever attempt it again, since the beginning of my pinched nerve debacle was when I ignored pain and refused to rest my hand and arm during my 2010 NaNo attempt.

Still, I do need a good goal to motivate me to start getting words on the page again, after having spent the last six weeks or so focused on editing and promo to the exclusion of producing anything new. And while I can't do 50,000 words in a month without putting my body at risk, I can do half that, or even a little more. 1000 words/day, on top of the keyboard time I put in for work, promo, and leisure, is a viable pace for both my hands and my creativity.

So I'm attempting a half NaNoWriMo--25,000 new words this month. They don't have to all be the same project, since I'm currently juggling three:

1) My editor wants me to expand the novella Carina just bought. It's still going to be novella-length, i.e. less than 40K, but I think I'll need to add 5-10K to its current 23K to flesh it out per her suggestions.

2) I'm working on a proposal for a full-length sequel to the novella.

3) I'd like to write a Christmas novella while it's all wintry and festive now, hopefully to be published for next year's holiday season.

Today I wrote 1024 words on Project #2:

Random Cookbook of the Week: 30-Minute Meals

This is, I believe, Rachael Ray's first cookbook, and I've found her earlier cookbooks far more useful than her later ones. The early books focus on simple meals, mostly made with fresh ingredients, while her later ones run to the gimmicky.

No picture this week, as I made this on a weeknight and have a bad habit of forgetting I'm supposed to be recording my food for posterity when I'm tired and hungry and have an equally tired and hungry family to feed.

Pork Chops and Homemade Chunky Applesauce

6 boneless pork chops, 3/4 inch thick
Balsamic vinegar
Black pepper
1 T olive oil
6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped from stems

For the applesauce:
8 Macintosh apples, peeled, cored, and cut into cubes (I used a mix of Granny Smith and Gala, since my local QFC doesn't carry Macintoshes)
1 c apple juice or cider
A couple pinches ground cinnamon
A palmful brown sugar
A pinch ground ginger
A pinch ground nutmeg

Rub chops with a little balsamic vinegar. Heat oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. Cook 5-6 minutes. Turn and season with pepper and thyme. Reduce heat to medium and cook another 6 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand till ready to serve. (I cooked the chops in 2 batches and left them in a 200-degree oven until ready to serve.)

While chops cook, cook the apple chunks over medium-high heat with the apple juice. As the juice boils, stir and mush the apples a bit as they cook down. (I used a potato masher.) Sprinkle the sauce with cinnamon, sugar, ginger, and nutmeg. Reduce heat and simmer until sauce thickens, 7-10 minutes.

Note that unless you're much quicker at peeling and chopping apples than I am, this is not even remotely a true 30-minute recipe. With prep time, I was somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour. That said, it was pretty good, and since my family of three doesn't really need this much food, I could, say, half the applesauce recipe and use just four chops and save time accordingly.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

An Infamous Marriage blog tour!

My next novel, An Infamous Marriage, releases this coming Monday, 11/5, and is available for preorder from most of the usual suspects, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, All Romance eBooks, and, in a first for my books,

I'm celebrating this, my first new release in over a year, with a month-long blog tour. At most of the stops I'll be giving away a copy of the book to one commenter, and at the end of the tour, on December 6, I will do a drawing for a grand prize of a $50 gift card to the winner's choice of Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Powell's Books (just in time for holiday shopping or treating yourself to some good books to read when you need a break from family togetherness). You get one entry in the grand prize drawing for each blog you comment on, so comment away!

Here's a preview of coming attractions. It's a long tour, but I'm looking forward to getting out there in the virtual world and sharing a bit about myself and my inspirations for my latest book.

Friday, 11/2  - Q&A at Angela Campbell's blog, including my favorite memories from the year I lived in England.

Sunday, 11/4 - Q&A at Risky Regencies, with my priorities for using history in the writing process.

Monday, 11/5 - Q&A at Callie Hutton's blog, revealing how Jack Armstrong, the hero of An Infamous Marriage, got his name.

Tuesday, 11/6 - I'm at Romancing the Past, recommending books as the best choice for celebration or consolation regardless of how you feel about the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.

Wednesday, 11/7 - A two-post day! I'll be at the Carina blog comparing my 8-year-old daughter's ideas of a writer's needs to my own and at Novel Thoughts talking about why I write military heroes.

Thursday, 11/8 - Q&A at Romancing Rakes for the Love of Romance, wherein I reveal the romance novel I'd recommend to someone who's never read the genre before.

Friday, 11/9 - Q&A at Ramblings From This Chick, including the three authors I'd most like to have dinner with.

Monday, 11/12 - Q&A at Manga Maniac Cafe, with a list of my creative influences/inspirations.

Tuesday, 11/13  - I visit the History Hoydens and talk about inserting fictional characters into real historical events.

Wednesday, 11/14 - At The Season for Romance, I discuss writing my first rakish hero.

Thursday, 11/15 - I talk about what I learned by turning the maps upside down at Book Lovers Inc.

Friday, 11/16 - I discuss my fondness for marriage of convenience plots at The Romance Dish.

Sunday, 11/18 - At Reading Between the Wines, I do my best to explain why I don't so much write the Regency as the Napoleonic Era. (Hint: the uniforms play a part.)

Monday, 11/19 - Q&A at TBQ's Book Palace reveals, among other things, my favorite fictional crushes.

Tuesday, 11/20 - Cecilia Grant interviews me about writing an adulterous hero and the history in An Infamous Marriage. 

Monday, 11/26 - Q&A at The Maiden's Court, including how my story ideas start.

Tuesday, 11/27 - I talk about raising my daughter to be a reader at Everybody Needs a Little Romance.

Wednesday, 11/28 - J.L. Hilton and I swap blogs to talk about being a sci-fi/fantasy author who loves costume dramas and a historical romance author who's a sci-fi/fantasy geek.

Thursday, 11/29 - My critique partner Rose Lerner asks me, among other things, about how I used Waterloo in An Infamous Marriage.

Friday, 11/30 - My top ten rules for success on my favorite cooking show, Chopped, with implications for good writer behavior, at Romance Writer's Revenge.

Monday, 12/3 - I close the tour with a visit to Novel Reflections, where I talk about how my experience with chronic injury worked its way into Jack's experiences in my book.

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...

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday 9-30-12: An Infamous Marriage

Here's excerpt #4 from my upcoming release, An Infamous Marriage. This week we're in February 1815, and our hero and heroine are seeing each other again for the first time in five years. (They've been married all that time, but Jack has been in Canada with the army.)

“Is Lady Armstrong at home?” Jack asked with careful carelessness. 
“I’m right here.” 
Jack spun on his heel and almost tumbled on his backside into the wintry muck. So much for the element of surprise. She’d got the advantage of him after all. 
The woman who stood ten feet away at the edge of the stable yard was nothing at all like he’d spent the last five years imagining.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Books read the past two weeks

78) A political book. And that's all I'm going to say, since I try to keep my politics out of my author world, though they've been known to creep out on Twitter from time to time.

79) Love Thy Rival: What Sports' Greatest Rivalries Teach Us About Loving Our Enemies, by Chad Gibbs. As in God and Football, Gibbs writes a humorous travelogue of sports fandom with a light touch of Christian inspiration. At the end of the book he talks about rivalry at its best--the Army-Navy football rivalry between two schools dedicated to the common cause of sacrificial service to their country--and at its worse--the Alabama fan who poisoned Auburn's Toomer Oaks. The latter incident still makes me shake with rage, even though I'm not truly part of the Auburn Family myself. (My oldest brother is an alum, so I guess I'm family of the family?) What kind of evil person murders TREES, beautiful, hundred-year-old liveoak TREES, over football?

As you see, I'm having trouble loving that particular enemy. And when you suggest I ought to love my political or ideological enemies, it gets even harder. Heck, it even raised my hackles a bit that Gibbs closed the book with a challenge for rival fans to compete by giving to a nonprofit I'd personally never donate to for political reasons. (You will note I didn't name the nonprofit here. I'm biting my tongue hard, because if I named names, I wouldn't be able to resist explaining WHY I'm against them, complete with links and sputtering outrage. I really don't want to go there in my writer space.)

80) 45 Master Characters, by Victoria Schmidt. A writer's guide to archetypes and the hero's journey. I like that she described a masculine and feminine version of the journey--and then stated that sometimes female characters follow the masculine journey pattern and vice versa. I tend to get frustrated with gender essentialist approaches to such things.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Random Cookbook of the Week - Good Eats: The Early Years

This week I drew Good Eats: The Early Years, the first of a trio of cookbooks, all of which we own, from Alton Brown's popular and long-running show. So far I've had universal good luck with every Good Eats recipe I've tried, though I've yet to attempt any of the truly complex, gadget-heavy, and time-consuming projects.

My recipe selection this time around was a no-brainer. I picked Southern Biscuits, because Alton's grandmother, Ma Mae, who taught him how to make them, reminds me of my own Mamaw, and because my mother used to make homemade buttermilk biscuits from scratch almost every day, without a recipe. I never learned, unfortunately, because by the time I'd outgrown trying to be as different from my mother as I possibly could, she'd gone to using a local brand of frozen biscuit she thought almost as good as homemade.

I followed the recipe (linked above) closely, including the book's advice to use three parts regular all-purpose flour to one part cake flour if you don't have access to a Southern flour brand like White Lily. The results looked like this:

They smelled like my mom's biscuits, to the point I was carried off on a wave of memories just from the scent of the dough. They tasted like them, too, pretty much. Unfortunately, they were also heavy. Bricklike, even, though Mr Fraser ate them happily enough and Miss Fraser the Finicky wants to know when I'm making them again.

I think my mistake was letting the butter and shortening get too warm and melty as I was working them into the dry ingredients. Next time I'm not pulling them from the fridge till the very last minute, and I might use a pastry cutter instead of my fingertips to cut them in.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Where I've been of late

I've been posting a bit less than usual of late, for three reasons:

1) I just finished a novella manuscript and sent it off to my editor. It isn't contracted, so I'm now in a limbo period awaiting response.

2) To reward myself for finishing said manuscript, I went in for a massage, with a new-to-me massage therapist, since my regular therapist had no openings last week. The new therapist gave me such a painful massage I was sure I'd feel wonderful the next day. I mean, if a massage doesn't hurt at all, it doesn't help. So I thought more pain = more gain, especially since it felt like she was really digging into the tightest muscles. Not so much, as it turns out. Somehow what she did made all my shoulder muscles that had been only slightly sore from the push to finish the manuscript seize up so much I missed two days of work last week. It hurt just to sit at my desk and type, despite all the ergonomic accommodations they've made for me, and I learned the hard way from my pinched nerve experience that it's not the kind of pain you want to ignore or try to push through.

Suffice it to say next time I'll wait till my regular therapist has space on her calendar.

3) Mr. Fraser turned 40 on Saturday, so we threw him a shindig.

Anyway, hand and shoulder willing, I should start getting back to a regular blog schedule this week.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday 9-23-12 - An Infamous Marriage

Here's Six Sentence Sunday excerpt #3 from my upcoming historical romance, An Infamous Marriage. This week our heroine, Elizabeth, having married the hero, Jack, to fulfill a deathbed promise to her first husband, is at home in Northumberland taking care of Jack's elderly mother and his lands while he serves with his regiment in Canada. His uncle and mentor, Sir Richard Armstrong, has arrived seeking an explanation for his favorite nephew's surprise marriage:

“Ah, now it all becomes clear. Jack has always been persuadable when it comes to his friends. So you gained a settled home, which I daresay you needed, for it isn’t as though a curate would’ve married a woman with a fortune or had one of his own to leave her. And Jack gained both a caretaker for his mother and a comfortable sense of his own heroism and generosity to his friend.” 
It was so accurate Elizabeth wanted to smash something. Possibly the jasperware vase on the mantel, and probably over Sir Richard’s head.