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Easy Homemade Egg Rolls, Sesame Chicken, and Fried Rice

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The finished meal!

Chris and I love cooking at night together. He makes amazing drinks to go along with whatever flavor profile we’re going for, and Asian is one of our favorites to make for friends and family. I always get asked for recipes, so I’ll add some here for all of you fellow foodies.

Here’s a simple egg roll, fried rice, and sesame chicken recipe that you can make at home. You can even buy your veggies pre-cut at the grocery store to save on more time.

For the egg rolls and fried rice, I don’t have exact measurements, but I’ll write out how I do it and you can modify according to your taste preference. This is how I prepare everything when I’m trying to cut down on cooking time and have everything come out at once:

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Cabbage for Egg Rolls

First I get a bag of precut cabbage in a skillet with two cloves of minced garlic and olive oil, and sauté over medium heat. Then I get the water on for the rice, start on the sesame sauce, and get the chicken batter ready.

**Helpful tip: I’ll double the sesame sauce recipe, minus the sesame oil, and add chives and dried mustard for a dipping sauce for egg rolls or dumplings. You can add a touch more vinegar and ginger for your dipping sauce for a nice, acidic balance to cut the richness of the egg rolls or dumplings.

Sesame Sauce:

2 Tbsp Soy Sauce

1 Tbsp water

1/2 Tbsp toasted sesame oil

1 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar

1 Tbsp white vinegar

1 Tbsp ginger powder

1 clove garlic, minced

1 1/2 Tbsp Honey

Squirt of Sriracha (doesn’t add heat as much as that authentic Asian flavor profile with those yummy chiles)

2 Tbsp sesame seeds

Chicken Batter:

1 large egg

2 Tbsp cornstarch

1 pinch each salt and pepper

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken cut into inch pieces

mix batter

IMG_3625***I hold off on cutting the chicken until after I prep the veggies for the fried rice as to not taint my cutting board. This is when I chop and dice the veggies for the rice and add it to a bowl to be used later.

By now the cabbage should be nice and sautéed, so I turn the heat down and add the following egg roll seasoning. Keep in mind for the egg rolls I usually over spice the cabbage so it doesn’t lose its flavor when it’s all rolled up.

Egg rolls:

1 bag precut cabbage

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

3-4 Tbsps ginger powder (or more, to taste)

2-3 Tbsps dried mustard or regular yellow mustard

3 Tbsps of soy sauce (or to taste)

1 egg

Since the cabbage and garlic are all ready to go, I usually scramble the egg and mix it well before adding the rest of the seasoning. Then I keep tasting and adjusting the same flavors until it gets where I’m looking for.

IMG_3550To roll the egg rolls, I spoon about a tablespoon or two directly into the left-center of the diamond shape, fold the top and bottom, then wet the edges and roll up. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m thinking of baking them in the oven at 375 to save on cooking time. You might want to roll them, add a bit of oil to the top and test it out. Other than that, I usually add a little olive oil (or veggie oil) to the skillet and turn them until cooked on all sides. Usually about 1-2 mins per side.

Your white rice should be finished by now, and it’s time to fry it up.

Fried Rice:

1 cup of white rice

2 cups of water or chicken broth

1.5 tsps salt

1 onion, diced (can be yellow, spanish, whatever you prefer.)

2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced

handful of carrots, diced

handful of frozen peas

1 or 2 eggs

The rice should be cooked in the salted water prior to the next step. (Quick rice recipe, bring 2 cups of water to a boil – add salt and rice, then cover and reduce heat. Cook covered for 20 mins.) I sauté the veggies with olive oil until they’re juuuust about caramelized, then I scramble an egg or two into the mixture. Once the egg is cooked I add the rice, soy sauce, and more olive oil and let it sauté until the desired texture.

995069_10202573687411045_5551373479409022594_nSince I’m now done with the veggies, I cut the chicken into 1 inch pieces and add to batter.

While the rice is getting fried, I add the chicken to a hot skillet and cook until nice and crispy on the outside. Once it’s finished I add the sauce and let it cook for a few extra minutes to really caramelize on there. And that’s it!

Sometimes I also chop fresh chives and garnish the chicken with it.

Now it’s time to curl up after dinner with a good book, and get that brain thinking about your own WIPs. Enjoy!

Ten Awesome Gothic First Sentences

5cfdb661cbd1595c8d0db55fefc5f60fThere’s nothing quite like setting the mood and atmosphere of your novel from the very first line. Here are my favorite ten gothic horror first sentences, from classics to contemporaries, that hooked me right away. It’s a great little exercise to use when reading over your own manuscript. Does your first sentence hook the reader? Does it give the reader a hint of what’s in store for them?

And, most importantly, does it make you want to read on?

1. “You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.” -Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

2. “The basement hallways in King’s College of Medical Research were dark, even in the daytime.” – The Madman’s Daughter, by Megan Shepard

3. “During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country, and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.”- The Fall of the House of Usher, by Edgar Allan Poe

4. “I stepped inside the railroad car, and three dozen pairs of eyes peered my way.”- In the Shadow of Blackbirds, by Cat Winters

5. “Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow lovable.”- The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson

6. “The charcoal sky spits cold rain as we rumble to a stop at a crossroad.”- Masque of the Red Death, by Bethany Griffin

7. “The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.”- The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

8. “The boy was late.” – The Beautiful and the Cursed, by Page Morgan

9. “Jonathan Harker’s Journal

3 May. Bistritz.—Left Munich at 8:35 P.M., on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6:46, but train was an hour late.”- Dracula, by Bram Stoker

10. “Dead!” a woman screamed. “It’s the dead!”- Something Strange and Deadly, by Susan Dennard

Wanna compare our favorite books? Find me on Goodreads by clicking H E R E

Top 10 Creepy YA Books i’m dying to read

Favim.com-27160i love all things Fall. i love the crispness in the air, the crunch of leaves beneath my feet, the way the soil smells, and how it all culminates into one of my very favorite holidays: Halloween.

i also love being creeped out, no matter what time of year it is – dating back to hiding under my covers and reading Stephen King novels as a middle-schooler. so without further adieu, here are some new titles that i cannot WAIT to get my hands on.

what creepy/horror-rich book are you looking forward to (or have read) this year???

1. THE CURE FOR DREAMING – by Cat Winters

Olivia Mead is a headstrong, independent girl—a suffragist—in an age that prefers its girls to be docile. It’s 1900 in Oregon, and Olivia’s father, concerned that she’s headed for trouble, convinces a stage mesmerist to try to hypnotize the rebellion out of her. But the hypnotist, an intriguing young man named Henri Reverie, gives her a terrible gift instead: she’s able to see people’s true natures, manifesting as visions of darkness and goodness, while also unable to speak her true thoughts out loud. These supernatural challenges only make Olivia more determined to speak her mind, and so she’s drawn into a dangerous relationship with the hypnotist and his mysterious motives, all while secretly fighting for the rights of women. Winters breathes new life into history once again with an atmospheric, vividly real story, including archival photos and art from the period throughout.

2. OF MONSTERS AND MADNESS – by Jessica Verday

A romantic, historical retelling of classic Gothic horror featuring Edgar Allan Poe and his character Annabel Lee, from a New York Times best-selling author.

Summoned to her father’s home in 1820’s Philadelphia, a girl finds herself in the midst of a rash of gruesome murders in which he might be implicated. She is torn romantically between her father’s assistants-one kind and proper, one mysterious and brooding-who share a dark secret and may have more to do with the violent events than they’re letting on.

3.  A MURDER OF MAGPIES – by Sarah Bromley

Winter in Black Orchard, Wisconsin, is long and dark, and sixteen-year-old Vayda Silver prays the snow will keep the truth and secrecy of the last two years buried. Hiding from the past with her father and twin brother, Vayda knows the rules: never return to the town of her mother’s murder, and never work a Mind Game where someone might see.

No one can know the toll emotions take on Vayda, how emotion becomes energy in her hands, or how she can’t control the destruction she causes. But it’s not long before her powers can no longer be contained. The truth is dangerously close to being exposed, placing Vayda and her family at risk.

Until someone quiets the chaos inside her.

Unwanted. That’s all Ward Ravenscroft has ever been. To cope, he numbs the pain of rejection by denying himself emotions of any kind. Yet Vayda stirs something in him. He can’t explain the hold she has on him–inspiring him with both hope and fear. He claims not to scare easily, except he doesn’t know what her powers can do. Yet.

Just as Vayda and Ward draw closer, she finds the past isn’t so easily buried. And when it follows the Silvers to Black Orchard, it has murder in mind.

4. MARY: THE SUMMONING – by Hillary Monahan

There is a right way and a wrong way to summon her.

Jess had done the research. Success requires precision: a dark room, a mirror, a candle, salt, and four teenage girls. Each of them–Jess, Shauna, Kitty, and Anna–must link hands, follow the rules . . . and never let go.

A thrilling fear spins around the room the first time Jess calls her name: “Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary. BLOODY MARY.” A ripple of terror follows when a shadowy silhouette emerges through the fog, a specter trapped behind the mirror.

Once is not enough, though–at least not for Jess. Mary is called again. And again. But when their summoning circle is broken, Bloody Mary slips through the glass with a taste for revenge on her lips. As the girls struggle to escape Mary’s wrath, loyalties are questioned, friendships are torn apart, and lives are forever altered.

A haunting trail of clues leads Shauna on a desperate search to uncover the legacy of Mary Worth. What she finds will change everything, but will it be enough to stop Mary–and Jess–before it’s too late?

5. WINTERKILL – by Kate A. Boorman

Emmeline knows she’s not supposed to explore the woods outside her settlement. The enemy that wiped out half her people lurks there, attacking at night and keeping them isolated in an unfamiliar land with merciless winters. Living with the shame of her grandmother’s insubordination, Emmeline has learned to keep her head down and her quick tongue silent.

When the settlement leader asks for her hand in marriage, it’s an opportunity for Emmeline to wash the family slate clean—even if she has eyes for another. But before she’s forced into an impossible decision, her dreams urge her into the woods, where she uncovers a path she can’t help but follow. The trail leads to a secret that someone in the village will kill to protect. Her grandmother followed the same path and paid the price. If Emmeline isn’t careful, she will be next.

6. THE FALL - by Bethany Griffin

Madeline Usher is doomed.

She has spent her life fighting fate, and she thought she was succeeding. Until she woke up in a coffin.

Ushers die young. Ushers are cursed. Ushers can never leave their house, a house that haunts and is haunted, a house that almost seems to have a mind of its own. Madeline’s life—revealed through short bursts of memory—has hinged around her desperate plan to escape, to save herself and her brother. Her only chance lies in destroying the house.

In the end, can Madeline keep her own sanity and bring the house down? The Fall is a literary psychological thriller, reimagining Edgar Allan Poe’s classic The Fall of the House of Usher

7. GATES OF THREAD AND STONE – by Lori M. Lee

In the Labyrinth, we had a saying: keep silent, keep still, keep safe.

In a city of walls and secrets, where only one man is supposed to possess magic, seventeen-year-old Kai struggles to keep hidden her own secret—she can manipulate the threads of time. When Kai was eight, she was found by Reev on the riverbank, and her “brother” has taken care of her ever since. Kai doesn’t know where her ability comes from—or where she came from. All that matters is that she and Reev stay together, and maybe one day move out of the freight container they call home, away from the metal walls of the Labyrinth. Kai’s only friend is Avan, the shopkeeper’s son with the scandalous reputation that both frightens and intrigues her.

Then Reev disappears. When keeping silent and safe means losing him forever, Kai vows to do whatever it takes to find him. She will leave the only home she’s ever known and risk getting caught up in a revolution centuries in the making. But to save Reev, Kai must unravel the threads of her past and face shocking truths about her brother, her friendship with Avan, and her unique power

8. SUSPICION – by Alexandra Monir

Mysterious. Magnificent. Creepy. Welcome to Rockford Manor.

“There’s something hidden in the Maze.” Seventeen-year-old Imogen has never forgotten the last words her father said to her seven years ago, before the blazing fire that consumed him, her mother, and the gardens of her family’s English country manor.

Haunted by her parents’ deaths, Imogen moves to New York City with her new guardians. But when a letter arrives with the news of her cousin’s untimely death, revealing that Imogen is now the only heir left to run the estate, she returns to England and warily accepts her role as duchess.

All is not as it seems at Rockford, and Imogen quickly learns that dark secrets lurk behind the mansion’s aristocratic exterior, hinting that the spate of deaths in her family were no accident. And at the center of the mystery is Imogen herself–and Sebastian, the childhood friend she has secretly loved for years. Just what has Imogen walked into?

Combining a fresh twist on the classic REBECCA with a spine-tingling mystery and powerful romance, SUSPICION is an action-packed thrill ride.

9. FERAL – by Holly Schindler

The Lovely Bones meets Black Swan in this haunting psychological thriller with twists and turns that will make you question everything you think you know.

It’s too late for you. You’re dead. Those words continue to haunt Claire Cain months after she barely survived a brutal beating in Chicago. So when her father is offered a job in another state, Claire is hopeful that getting out will offer her a way to start anew.

But when she arrives in Peculiar, Missouri, Claire feels an overwhelming sense of danger, and her fears are confirmed when she discovers the body of a popular high school student in the icy woods behind the school, surrounded by the town’s feral cats. While everyone is quick to say it was an accident, Claire knows there’s more to it, and vows to learn the truth about what happened.

But the closer she gets to uncovering the mystery, the closer she also gets to realizing a frightening reality about herself and the damage she truly sustained in that Chicago alley….

10. OF BREAKABLE THINGS – by A. Lynden Rolland

A captivating debut about the fragility of life, love, and perspective.

When Chase dies tragically, Alex embraces her own mortality. What she didn’t expect was that she’d have to make a choice: forget the years of pain and suffering once and for all, or linger as a spirit and get another chance at life and love.

Alex doesn’t hesitate to choose; she’d follow Chase anywhere. But the spirit world is nothing like she expected, and Alex finds she’s forced to fight for her life once more. For even in a world where secrets are buried much deeper than six feet under, a legacy can continue to haunt you—and in a place this dangerous, no one is resting in peace.

2K Twitter Follower Giveaway!!

Kerri Maniscalco:

there are so many wonderful book giveaways going on, and i HAD to share this one with you, lovely blog friends. happy October!!!

Originally posted on Precy Larkins, YA Author:

I’ve reached 2,000 followers on Twitter, and as promised, I’m doing a giveaway to celebrate this milestone. What’s up for grabs?

(Click on title for book description. It’ll take you to the Goodreads site.)

HOUSE OF IVY AND SORROW by Natalie Whipple

HIGH AND DRY by Sarah Skilton

THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT by Jennifer E. Smith

NOBODY by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

photo 1 (10)  photo 1 (12) photo 2 (10) photo 2 (11)

 And also swag!!

Signed postcards of WILL THE REAL PRINCE CHARMING PLEASE STAND UP? by Ella Martin

Bookmarks of NOT A DROP TO DRINK & IN A HANDFUL OF DUST by Mindy McGinnis

Signed bookmarks of Sarah Fine’s OF METAL AND WISHES

R.C. Lewis’ STITCHING SNOW bookmark

photo 1 (11) photo 2 (9) photo 3 (4) photo 3 (5)

Book prizes come with WILL THE REAL PRINCE CHARMING PLEASE STAND UP? postcards, and are US only (because shipping is costly, and I’m not JK Rowling with money to spare)

However…

View original 35 more words

Post Revisions Pizza – Homemade Recipe

Hello my lovely blog friends! I know it’s been a few months since I’ve stopped in and said hello, but it’s been quite a year. I was balls deep with my new writing project, trying to keep myself occupied while on submission, and doing a BUNCH of research. I’m finally putting the final touches on my manuscript and it’s one of my favorite projects EVER. Hopefully you’ll be hearing more about it when it goes on submission this fall.

To make up for my silence, I’m going to share a fun recipe with you that’s been in our family for years and years. After writing all day it’s nice to take a break and cook up something quick and tasty.

Since I have an Italian background, I’m going to share a fast pizza recipe with you. Now don’t be scared…it’s MUCH easier to make dough than you might think.

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First you’ll need the following ingredients to make the dough:

2 cups warm water

1 pkg dry yeast (active dry)

2 tablespoons sugar

3 teaspoons salt

4 tablespoons olive oil

4 cups unbleached flour

In a small bowl mix the dry yeast with the warm water, then let it sit aside.

In a large bowl add the rest of the ingredients and mix together. (You want all of your salt and sugar to be mixed evenly before you add the water/yeast).

Once you’ve done that, slowly add the water/yeast into the large bowl. I usually lightly move the mixture around with my hands to spread the water as far as possible without kneading it too much at first. After the water is mixed with the flour (as best as you can) start kneading the dough on a counter (make sure you sprinkle some flour on the surface to avoid the dough getting stuck prior to kneading it). It’s important to not over knead it, you basically just want your dough to be smooth at this point.

Divide the dough in half, making two round mounds (pictured below).

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Cover with a towel and let sit for about 30-40 minutes.

While your dough is rising, you can make some easy marinara sauce. (If you’re really fancy, you can make the sauce the night before and let it cook down longer.)

For the sauce you’ll need:

1 can of whole peeled tomatoes

1 medium can of Hunts sauce

2-3 cloves of garlic (based on taste preference)

1 pinch of salt

1 pinch of oregano

3 tablespoons of dried basil (or enough to cover the top of your sauce)

In a food processor, chop the garlic and tomatoes until smooth. Add the tomatoes and garlic to a sauce pan, then combine the rest of the ingredients and cook over a medium heat for as long as possible. (The longer you let it cook, the more it’ll cook down and become nice and thick for your pizza.)

While your sauce is finishing up you can prep your toppings to save some time. We like making mozzarella, goat cheese, and prosciutto pizza, but nothing beats a classic margherita pie. For that you’ll just need to slice some fresh mozzarella, or buy some that’s already pre-sliced.

When you’re happy with your sauce’s consistency, you can begin rolling your dough out. I normally just hand roll it by pulling and stretching it until it’s roughly the size of our pizza pan or stone. After you’ve rolled your dough out, sprinkle some more flour on your pizza stone or pan then place your dough on top of it.

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Add sauce to your dough. The trick is to not add too much, just a few spoonfuls – you still want to be able to see the dough in spots. This will help ensure your dough doesn’t get soggy in the middle.

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Then top with cheese and whatever else you like. For mine I sprinkled a little bit of Pecorino Romano over the top then added sliced mozzarella. Pictured below:

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Stick it in a preheated oven (I set mine for 425) and let it cook for about 15 minutes. You may want to check yours around the 10 minute mark, depending on how hot your oven gets. The pizza is done when the crust is a nice golden brown.

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Slice and enjoy!

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Quick Dinner Tip: If you make your sauce the night before (or even defrost frozen sauce you’ve saved from previous meals), then this dinner is extra easy and fast. You can also pre-make your dough and keep it wrapped in plastic wrap in the fridge the night before. Then you’ll just have to set the dough out for a few minutes to get room temperature and roll it out. Total time for that would only be about 30 minutes for cooking and prep.

SUMMER ON THE SHORT BUS

Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 1.28.55 PMWhy, hello there lovely blog friends. It’s been…well…it’s been a SHAMEFULLY long time. Between moving a thousand miles, unpacking, decorating, writing books, revising books, going through the submission process, reading/critting/and beta’ing friends books, researching the ever loving heck out of my new book, and…excuses, excuses. I know. Hope you’re all doing exquisitely on this lovely spring day. Did you do something different with your hair? It looks GOOD. How the heck have you been, huh?

So, one of my very best pals has something awesome going on, and it’s big enough to yank me out of my blog silence. Bethany Crandell’s debut SUMMER ON THE SHORT BUS is hitting shelves on April 1st, and I’m not foolin’, it’s hands down one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Even if Bethany wasn’t so near and dear to my 90s music-loving heart, I’d be shouting from the proverbial rooftops for you to all add it to your TBR piles and buy it at your local bookstore immediately. Bethany is an amazing talent. She creates these characters that are SO believable, it’s crazy. If you’re in the market to laugh until you cry, or if you’re a writer and want to see how a master creates characters and emotions, do yourself a favor and grab a copy. Her cover is awesome, the prose is awesome, and Bethany is even more awesome than that.

Oh! But you know what’s even MOAR awesome??? There this BIG FANCY GIVEAWAY going on at the swoony boys podcast. You can win lots of great summertime swag including a copy of SUMMER ON THE SHORT BUS! HUZZAH! Go enter. It takes two seconds and you could get free stuff. Pretty. Darn. Awesome.

Here’s the blurb for SUMMER ON THE SHORT BUS:

Spoiled, Versace-clad Cricket Montgomery has seventeen years of pampering under her belt. So when her father decides to ship her off to a summer camp for disabled teens to help her learn some accountability, Cricket resigns herself to three weeks of handicapped hell.

Her sentence takes a bearable turn as she discovers the humor and likeability of the campers and grows close to fellow counselors. Now, if she can just convince a certain Zac Efron look-alike with amazing blue eyes that she finally realizes there’s life after Gucci, this summer could turn out to be the best she’s ever had.

Summer on the Short Bus is a very non-P.C., contemporary YA with a lot of attitude, tons of laughs, and a little life lesson along the way.

 

IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS

Blackbirds CoverBook Review: IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS

Author: Cat Winters

Genre: YA Historical/Mystery with a Paranormal twist

Rating: Five out of Five stars

Back of book blurb:

In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?

Featuring haunting archival early-twentieth-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time.

Review:

This is one of those books that is so beautifully written you want to go back and immediately reread it. Cat Winters did a spectacular job bringing the haunted feeling of walking around during the Spanish influenza to life. I could actually smell the onions people used to keep the flu away, and feel the gauze suffocating me. The details and historical accuracy really elevated this novel into something otherworldly. I don’t want to give too much away for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, but hands down this is one of the most breathtaking reads of the year. If you are in the market for something unlike anything else on the shelves this is the book for you.

Mary Shelley Black is a delightful character full of quirks and spunk. She is such a remarkable young woman who deals with everything that’s thrown at her with courage and bravery, and the mystery surrounding the death of her first love kept me turning the pages well into the early morning hours. I’m not a cryer when it comes to novels, I RARELY tear up, but there were two parts in this book that brought on full-blown ugly crying.

MY GOD YOU NEED TO READ THIS. There are so many things I want to chat about so please go buy a copy and make some tea.

Here’s a taste of the first page to whet your appetite:

Portland, Oregon–October 16, 1918

I stepped inside the railroad car, and three dozen pairs of eyes peered my way. Gauze masks concealed the passengers’ mouths and noses. The train smelled of my own mask’s cotton, boiling onions, and a whiff of something clammy and sour I took to be fear.

Keep moving, I told myself.

My legs shook and threatened to buckle, but I managed to clomp down the aisle in the brown Boy Scout boots I wore in case I ever needed to run at a moment’s notice. The heavy tread drew unwanted glances and at least one raised eyebrow, but nobody uttered a word.

Praise for IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS:

“Winters’s masterful debut novel is an impressively researched marriage of the tragedies of wartime, the 1918 flu epidemic, the contemporaneous Spiritualism craze, and a chilling love story and mystery…Deliciously creepy.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Unconventional and unflinching… More than anything, this is a story of the breaking point between sanity and madness, delivered in a straightforward and welcoming teen voice.”—Booklist, starred review

“Winters deftly combines mystery, ghost story, historical fiction, and romance…the story and setting are atmospheric and eerie.”—School Library Journal, starred review

“Winters strikes just the right balance between history and ghost story, neatly capturing the tenor of the times, as growing scientific inquiry collided with heightened spiritualist curiosity.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Cat Winters’s debut novel is creepy good… Mary Shelley, with her Boy Scout boots and penchant for aviatrix goggles, is just plain awesomely odd.” —The Boston Globe

“Words like ‘unputdownable’ and ‘irresistible’ are simply not enough for Cat Winters’s In the Shadow of Blackbirds. Days after finishing this story, it remains the first thought I have in the morning, and the thing that haunts me until I sleep.”—Lauren DeStefano New York Times bestselling author of The Chemical Garden trilogy

Keep up with Cat Winters on the interwebs:

Twitter

Official Website

Facebook

Goodreads

She’s also hosting an international giveaway on her blog RIGHT NOW through July 2nd, so you miiiiiiiight want to check it out.

Two New Year’s Releases I Adore

Two amazing things are happening on January 1st that I cannot WAIT to share with you guys. First, Justin Levinson is releasing an EP that’s crazy good. His previous album (with The Valcours) was in constant rotation while I was writing and revising my last book so you know it’s good good good. Justin is definitely a wordsmith worth checking out.

Secondly, A.G. Howard’s debut, SPLINTERED, is hitting shelves everywhere. I swear my heart is growing wings and flapping against my ribcage because it’s THAT excited about this novel.

Justin and Anita are so darn awesome both creatively (and personally) that I wanted to do a little review of each of their projects. That way when you’re looking at those holiday gift cards wondering what you should get, these items are already at the top of your list. If this is how the year is going to start, 2013 is going to be AMAZING. Just you wait.

Justin Levinson Take My Time EP CoverArtist: Justin Levinson

EP: Take My Time

Genre: Folk / Folk Rock

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

There are few things I love more than reading and writing. One of those things is baseball, the other is music. I especially have a soft spot in my heart for folk/folk rock, and Vermont based singer/songwriter Justin Levinson’s latest EP, Take My Time is an exceptionally delicious snack to sink your teeth into.

The three song EP consists of ‘Take My Time,’ ‘Give It One More Try,’ and ‘Bid The Rest Goodbye.’ The overall feeling is moody and atmospheric in the very best of ways. It’s full of lyrics with richly imagined themes of coping with life after love and picking up the pieces of a shattered heart and coming out stronger in the end. Exhibit A:

“Cos’ I will just take my time, go round and round on this ferris wheel ride with my stomach in knots like a mime in a box, I keep singing alone through the gloom.”

Justin writes in a universal language that allows listeners to really connect with the songs because at one point in time, we’ve all had our hearts broken. We’ve all dealt with the aftermath of a love gone wrong, we’ve all been confused about whether or not a relationship can be saved, and most importantly, we’ve all found the inner strength to move on and try again.

“It takes everything within, not to go back to where I’ve been. It’s takes everything within cause I get so lonesome, forget what’s right and the facts they get distorted and I think to myself we could give it one more try.”

The song that best shows this graduation from heartbreak to finding your way through the darkness is the title track, ‘Take My Time’. The lyrics are evocative of someone who is determined to make their dreams come true. Whether it’s love, career, or a personal journey, the person in the song is willing to push themselves — even if they’re afraid. That’s something everyone can aspire towards…being brave even when we don’t feel so sure anymore. It’s a pretty great message.

“I keep myself steady though I fear what’s ahead. I’m set in the moment it’s the best way to live.” 

The composition of these songs is SO good my meager words won’t do them justice. There are violins and acoustic guitars and MORE wonderful backing instruments, and Justin’s vocals are the perfect lighthouse to guide you through the storm. If you’re looking for music that’s got smart lyrics, infectious melodies, and atmosphere for days, this EP is so for you. I know I’m going to be listening to it over and over again.

Check out this video of ‘I Was So Wrong’ off his last album, This Side of Me, This Side of You for a hint of what Justin Levinson offers:

I Was So Wrong Official Music Video – Justin Levinson & The Valcours

Here’s where you can keep up with Justin Levinson online: 

Website: JustinLevinson.com

Twitter: @jxlevinson

Facebook: Justin Levinson Music

9781419704284_p0_v1_s260x420Author: A.G. Howard

Book: SPLINTERED

Genre: YA Fantasy

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads Book Blurb:

This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.

When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.

Praise for Splintered:

“Attention to costume and setting render this a visually rich read…”–Kirkus Reviews

“SPLINTERED is simply a delicious, disturbing, mad, wonderful read. I can’t recommend it highly enough.” –Melissa Marr, New York Times Bestselling author of the Wicked Lovely series.

I will *try* to contain myself and not openly gush like the inner fangirl inside of me is dying to do. A.G. Howard is very dear to my little heart for multiple reasons. (One of them being she was in the query trenches with me when we were both looking for literary representation.)

Over the summer I had the privilege of reading SPLINTERED and even if I didn’t know Ms. Howard, I’d be obsessed with this book. It’s unlike any retelling I’ve read because it’s not really a retelling as much as a re-imagining. Howard has completely transformed the Alice In Wonderland story you remember into something much much much darker. If you think you’re getting anywhere CLOSE to the Wonderland you knew, oh my oh my oh my, you are WRONG. So very, very wrong. This book comes alive with new characters. I ADORED the setting, fast-paced plot, and Howard’s beautiful writing style. SPLINTERED has got voice for miles, with unexpected plot twists and turns that will keep you turning pages, and a slew of crazy/mad/wonderful characters that you’ll immediately fall in love with.

This unique take on the sinister side of Wonderland is delightful and I can’t encourage you enough to run to the bookstore on January 1st and buy a copy. TRUST me, you won’t regret it. It’s got action, adventure, mystery, fantasy, and two swoon-worthy guys that you’ll have a tough time choosing between. I don’t want to say too much and spoil it, so I’ll leave you with a taste of A.G. Howard’s sweet prose to whet your appetite.

Reading the opening is all you need to get sucked down the rabbit hole:

“I’ve been collecting bugs since I was ten; it’s the only way I can stop their whispers. Sticking a pin through the gut of an insect shuts it up pretty quick.

Some of my victims line the walls in shadow boxes, while others get sorted into mason jars and placed on a bookshelf for later use. Crickets, beetles, spiders…bees and butterflies…” Oh, you want to read more? Oopsie. You’re going to have to grab a copy on January 1st!

Keep up with A.G. Howard online by visiting the following places:

Website: Author A.G. Howard

Twitter: @aghowardwrites

Blog: A Still and Quiet Madness

Facebook: Author AG Howard

Goodreads: A.G. Howard

Query Letter Critique (YA Contemporary)

Original Query:

Almost fainting onstage should be a foolproof way to lose a battle of the bands. But seventeen-year-old singer Charlie’s sabotage backfires, and her all-girl band the Wretched Gretchens takes first place anyway. Cue the sappy “Hallelujah” music.

It’s not that Charlie wants her band to break up—she’s just sick of her stage persona being cooler than she is. With a mic in hand, Charlie’s a siren with Joan Jett’s pipes and Shakira’s hips. Offstage, she can’t even confess to Jonathan all her songs are about him.

When the Wretched Gretchens get a chance to play their first tour, Charlie sacrifices a summer with Jonathan to help her bandmates chase their dream of fame. Killer shows and rave reviews convince Charlie that dream could be hers, too—and, even scarier, it could come true.

Desperate to prove she can handle the rock star lifestyle, Charlie channels her inner Courtney Love offstage. Partying all night with hot musicians? Bring it. Fighting with her guitarist best friend as the band crumbles? Cake. Fast-forwarding her relationship with Jonathan beyond awkward smiling? Thrilling.

When a bad gig pushes Charlie away from the other Gretchens and back into her shell, she must decide if she can exist only as a Gretchen or be confident as just Charlie—without the backing of the band’s catchy hand-clap choruses.

RIP HER TO SHREDS is contemporary YA complete at 74,000 words and told from alternating perspectives of the four girls in the band. It will appeal to fans of Nina LaCour’s THE DISENCHANTMENTS and the film ALMOST FAMOUS.

Cheers,

Name Redacted

The Critique:

Dear Ms. Agent,

Almost fainting onstage should be a foolproof way to lose a battle of the bands. But seventeen-year-old singer Charlie’s sabotage backfires, and her all-girl band the Wretched Gretchens (the name isn’t necessary right here) takes first place anyway. Cue the sappy “Hallelujah” music. (This doesn’t really add anything or propel your query forward.)

It’s not that Charlie wants her band to break up—she’s just sick of her stage persona being cooler than she is. With a mic in hand, Charlie’s a siren with Joan Jett’s pipes and Shakira’s hips. Offstage, she can’t even confess to Jonathan all her songs are about him.

When the Wretched Gretchens get a chance to play their first tour (how?), Charlie sacrifices a summer with Jonathan to help her bandmates chase their dream of fame. Killer shows and rave reviews convince Charlie that dream could be hers, too—and, even scarier, it could come true. (How? Don’t be vague here, this will help the reader understand the stakes. Is there a potential record deal? A label coming to their show?)

Desperate to prove she can handle the rock star lifestyle, Charlie channels her inner Courtney Love offstage. Partying all night with hot musicians? Bring it. Fighting with her guitarist best friend as the band crumbles? Cake. Fast-forwarding her relationship with Jonathan beyond awkward smiling? Thrilling. (Wait…how is Jonathan here? In the previous paragraph you said she had to sacrifice a summer with him. I’m missing the connection to how she’d have to sacrifice, if he can tour with them.)

When a bad gig pushes Charlie away from the other Gretchens and back into her shell, she must decide if she can exist only as a Gretchen or be confident as just Charlie—without the backing of the band’s catchy hand-clap choruses. (But why would one bad show destroy her confidence, when technically, the battle of the bands was bad if she tried fainting? What is the catalyst that makes it SUCH a bad show that she’s retracing? I think strengthening that a teeny, tiny bit more will make a big difference.)

RIP HER TO SHREDS is contemporary YA complete at 74,000 words and told from alternating perspectives of the four girls in the band. It will appeal to fans of Nina LaCour’s THE DISENCHANTMENTS and the film ALMOST FAMOUS. (Perfect closing!)

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Cheers,

Name Redacted

The aftermath:

Let me start by saying I really like your voice…but…I’m not fully grasping what the actual stakes are here. Don’t get me wrong, it sounds like a good story and I totally get that she’s trying to find out who she is and become a confident, strong, girl..but what happens if she fails? What major choices does she have to make and how will that affect the people around her? I think beefing up some actual conflicts will help build the tension in the query. That’s really what’s missing.

In one way, there’s almost too much going on and the focus gets lost in the series of events that are listed. (Interesting as they are.) For example: We know there’s a battle of the bands and Charlie’s trying to sabotage it, and there’s something going on with Jonathan…then she’s on tour, and magically loving the rockstar lifestyle and partying and fighting and Jonathan is suddenly here and she’s making a move on him, then a bad gig happens and she falls apart. But those aren’t stakes, they’re kind of like a powerpoint presentation of mini conflicts.

What is the main focus of your story? What is the HUGE thing laying on the line? See if there’s a way for you to pick the BIG conflict and pull that out.

If there’s something at that bad gig that’s life-changing for everyone in the band – go into that! Tell us why that’s so important and why it’s so devastating when/if she screws it up. Is there an A&R person there, ready to sign them if the show goes well? Is there a music journalist that could write a review that’s a career changer/destroyer? 

What makes that the crucial turning point in your manuscript? I can already picture conflict for daysssssssss there. THAT is the conflict that needs to shine in your query. My god, my god, my god if Charlie messes ____ up it’s not only the dreams she’s come to desire, but all of her bandmates hopes that could be crushed FORVER. AND she could lose ________ as well. The tension and stakes are building simply by bringing your focus into a bull’s eye. 

Mini conflicts and subplots are great in books, we just need more core stuff in the blurb. Try leaving some of the smaller subplots (and list of events) out, get into the bad show part sooner, and show us what’s at stake.

Thank you so much for braving the query critique and for sharing your work on my blog! I really hope my notes are helpful and my goodness, this sounds like a fun read. Keep up the amazing work!!! :)