THE CRUEL PRINCE by Holly Black: The Start of a New YA Series

January 27, 2018

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, Book 1 of The Folk of the Air Series

Another new year, another great new YA series by Holly Black.  It’s a pleasure to recommend a newly published Young Adult novel, and especially sweet to be able to let our readers know that it is an on-going pleasure, with two more books in the series to come. If you’ve read Holly Black before, you’ve likely appreciated her world of faeries and mortals, and the difficulties between the two realms.  These tensions play out in The Cruel Prince as well, where a young human girl becomes caught up in a fairy intrigue, a royal one at that.  Jude is our fascinating and courageous heroine, a mortal whose parents were murdered and she and her sisters are stolen away to the realms of the faeries and raised there in the intrigue of the High Court of the Faeries. Our story takes place ten years after her arrival; Jude wants to find a way to belong in this world, but mortals are definitely second-class citizens. She is both drawn to and repelled by the cruel prince himself, Cardan.  The book is riveting, with action and deception, love and loyalty, suspenseful spy plotting, and terrifying human/faeries interactions. The plot is intricate, but draws readers in and has surprises I never expected. I never lost interest, and now I am aching for the next in the series. Book 2, The Wicked King is coming soon! Can’t wait!


One for You and One for Me: Audrey Hepburn

January 19, 2018

One for You and One for Me: Audrey Hepburn

We’ve been spending some time deliciously, tasting older movie classics this winter.  One of our favorite actors from yesteryear is the brilliant and beautiful Audrey Hepburn.  And she holds a place in children’s literature as well as the adult fare (which includes books, photographs, and of course her wonderful screen presence).

If you want to share a delightful winter afternoon or evening with the younger readers in your life, you can’t go wrong with Audrey Hepburn.

One for You:

Just Being Audrey by Margaret Cardillo, illustrated by Julia Denos

I have always been a big fan of Audrey Hepburn, and this small, delightful picture book really captures why she has come to be an inspiration to so many.  She’s charming, playful, elegant, down-to-earth, courageous, and above all, kind.  Her important lesson from her mother was framed around compassion for others:  “Always be kind.” It was a message she took to heart and brought to her humanitarian role later in life.  It’s intriguing to read how she was an object of bullies as a child, made fun of for being too tall, having big feet, a neck that was too long, and eyes that were deemed too large for her face. Of course, these traits were what made her iconic as an adult.  Though this book is written for a young audience (probably k-grade 3), I recommend it for tweens as well.  The pictures are charming, and connoisseur can debate which movie roles the clothes she is wearing are chosen from.

One for Me: 

Audrey Hepburn:  A Photographic Celebration by Suzanne Lander

A great (and inexpensive!) coffee table book to peruse and share with friends.  I really enjoy the range of aspects of her career that are captured in these photos, as well as the numerous quotes.  Her own words are inspiring, but it is also fun to read the quotes form her colleagues (including Hollywood directors and movie stars).  “Classic elegance” is the term you’ll hear over and over agin in regards to Audrey Hepburn. This photographic celebration demonstrates why.


RENEGADES by Marissa Meyer: Terrific New YA Series Begins

January 13, 2018

Renegades by Marissa Meyer

Fresh on the heels of her great success with The Lunar Chronicles, and her recent stand-alone best seller Heartless, Marissa Meyer is moving away from fairytale retellings and into brand new territory. This new universe is a bit darker, but not so dark as to be in the same category as other dystopian fare. In the world in which this story takes place, there is deadly rivalry between the Anarchists and the Renegades.  Both groups have superpowers of a kind (they are named Prodigies) and each believes they are fighting the good fight.  When these Prodigies first arrived, they were feared and hunted until Ace Anarchy led the Prodigies, and began the Age of Anarchy.  Unfortunately normals as well as Prodigies sunk into a life of crime and living without laws; well, anarchy prevailed. Rival gangs murdered and stole from each other.  Then the Renegades banded together:  prodigies who fought crime and protected those who needed protecting. Renegades started putting the world back together.

So, that’s the premise, but doesn’t tell you anything about the characters, conflict, action, and thrills.  Nova and Adrian (one an Anarchist, the other a Renegade) tell the story as it unfolds.  Both are compelling and fleshed-out characters–and of course, their paths cross.  There are capes and masks, star-crossed lovers (maybe), recognition of good and evil and the fine line between, deception and fast-paced action.  Told with Meyer’s ear for dialogue, and skill for creating believable twists and turns of plot, Renegades is the beginning of a terrific new YA series.  Highly recommended!

FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY by Ntozake Shange, illustrated by Edel Rodriguez

January 5, 2018

Float Like a Butterfly by Ntozake Shange, illustrated by Edel Rodriguez

We often hear about Mohammed Ali as either an activist or an athlete.  In this compelling and accessible picture book, Ntozake Shange creates a more complete picture of one of the heroes of the twentieth century.  I appreciate the chance to learn  about his courage, the controversy of his convictions, as well as his quite amazing boxing abilities within one storyline. His background in the South of segregated mid-century America is told with honesty, as well as his rise from poverty to becoming heavy-weight champion of the world. I also loved the recreation of his dialogue with his parents when he was known by his birth name of Cassius Clay.  While there are more complete picture book bios of Ali, I like this one to introduce young readers to a great man.  The illustrations are bright and appealing and will draw in graphic novel fans.  This picture book is great way to start the New Year by introducing young readers to contemporary heroes.

Recipes from The Bliss Family Cookbook

December 29, 2017

Did you and your tweens enjoy Bliss by Kathryn Littlewood? We loved the magic, adventure, baking, humor, and fun, as we wrote in our review of the Bliss Trilogy. 

So, for the holidays, besides gifting Molly with Bliss, we also created a few recipes based on The Bliss Family Cookbook.  For us, the fun was to find small blue mason jars, just like the magical ones in the book, and recreate the ingredients to go with the recipes we made based on the ideas in the book.  For the Elector-Correcto Cake, for example, we put green and yellow decorating sugar into the mason jars and labeled it Lightning Bolt Sugar–and concocted a recipe based on a favorite chocolate cake, with the addition of the sugar.  Lots of fun!  We also created magical ingredients and recipes for Cookies of Truth and Singing Gingersnaps. Give it a try–it’s a blast.

To give you an idea of the recipes, take a look at the Electro-Correcto Cake recipe below.  Enjoy!

Electro-Correcto Lightning Chocolate Cake

This recipe is very useful to cure people who have been electrocuted by lightning—or any other electro-magnetic surges (like the kind Mom and Grandma have that stops watches!). To gather your own lightning bolts to put on the cake, you need to go out in a lightning storm, pull the lid off your mason jar and raise the jar high over your head. The lightning bolt should light up the sky and then funnel into your jar. Close the lid quickly! (We captured some for you for your first few cakes.)

 We adapted the recipe to make it chocolate instead of vanilla, but we tried it out and it really works! We also decided to add the Lightning Bolt Sugar on the frosting since it is so pretty.


  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoapowder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • Lightning Bolt Sugar


  • 1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.
  • 2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin).


  • For a final stirring, turn the batter with a spoon 10 times while saying “Electro-Correcto.”


  • Pour batter into prepared pans.


  • 3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost with “PERFECTLY shocking” CHOCOLATE FROSTING. Before the frosting sets, take out the Lightning Bolt Sugar. We used 2 Tablespoons for the one-pan cake. Sprinkle on top of the frosting. Makes 12 servings.


  • ONE-PAN CAKE: Grease and flour 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Heat oven to 350° F. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 35 to 40 minutes. Cool completely. Frost.
  • THREE LAYER CAKE: Grease and flour three 8-inch round baking pans. Heat oven to 350°F. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake 30 to 35 minutes. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost.
  • BUNDT CAKE: Grease and flour 12-cup fluted tube pan. Heat oven to 350°F. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 50 to 55 minutes. Cool 15 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack. Cool completely. Frost.


  • CUPCAKES: Line muffin cups (2-1/2 inches in diameter) with paper bake cups. Heat oven to 350°F. Fill cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake 22 to 25 minutes. Cool completely. Frost. About 30 cupcakes.


  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract



  • Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency.
  • Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups frosting.



Winter is Coming!

December 22, 2017

And in your neck of the woods, it may already be here. I’ve been rereading a few picture books that are perfect for this time of year.  In case you’ve forgotten them, now is a good time to enjoy them anew. So here is a trio of books to bring light and coziness to your winter reading pleasure.  I suggest a mug of cocoa on the side!

Winter-is-comingWinter is Coming by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Jim La Marche

Through the eyes of a young girl, readers see and experience the changes in nature.  From her treehouse perch, she listens and watches and describes how the chipmunks, the doe, the rabbits prepare for the winter.  Time slows down as we sit by her side and see the details of the animals adjusting to changes:  “The mother bear snuffles for food among the flaming leaves.  The cub snuffles too. . .but no luck.  Winter is coming.”   I love that the narator brings along her tools–binoculars, pencils and her trusty sketchpad.  The illustrations are rich with detail and simply gorgeous, using a combination of acrylic and colored pencil.  Definitely a book to return to over and over.


Winter-walkWinter Walk by Virginia Brimhall Snow

As a Grandma, I identify with the family in this sweet tale by Virginia Snow, author of another one of our favorite seasonal  books:  Fall Walk, which we reviewed last autumn. Once again, Virginia and her grandchildren tromp through the woods (and sometimes slide or carefully step through snow), learning about the natural world as they explore the wonders of winter in the woods. From glimpses of brilliant cardinals, to wonderings about why some trees lose their leaves and others are green all year, their winter fun is informative and entertaining.  At the end, we even learn how to build a pinecone bird feeder.


OutsideOutside by Deidre Gill

A delightful addition to your winter –and ode to imagination–picture book collection.  Within its pages, a young boy creates whole worlds of adventure in a winter wonderland. His imaginary snow friend, a castle, and even a dragon takes flight across the wintery pages.  Though the text is brief, it has a lyrical poetic quality that works well to complement the really inspiring pictures.  Expect to have young readers demanding you reread Outside.

SNOW AND ROSE by Emily Whitfield Martin: A Fairy Tale Reimagined

December 16, 2017

Snow and Rose by Emily Whitfield Martin

Fairy tale retellings are quite the rage these days, and some are more successful than others.  But you can feel confident putting Snow and Rose on your wish list.  The fairy tale of Snow White and Rose Red is a lesser known one, but always beloved to me since my parents would read it to my sister and me from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and we even renamed dolls by those names.  I have such vivid images in my mind, I was surprised to be so delighted with author/illustrator Martin’s vision of the girls. These beautiful illustrations will be a hit with all ages. Like all Grimm tales, Snow White and Rose Red has a bit of a sinister edge. Rather than tell you the plot line and take away surprises for readers new to this tale, I’ll simply tell you that it is a tale of two sisters, and explores themes of kindness, taking risks, and unraveling mysteries.  I love the way Martin imagines the forest with its own voice.  And her writing is lyrical and moving. I can heartily recommend it to its intended audience of 8-12 year olds–and to fairy tale lovers of all ages.