Friday, August 30, 2013

Cupid's Arrow: A Cake by any Other Name...

What's up, peeps? Paula here to profess her undying lurve, Arrow-style. Like someone else a few weeks back, I went rogue and picked one (okay two, really) of my own favorite things to pay tribute to. Why? Because I can >:)

Without further rambling on my part, I am professing my love to:

Yes, zebra cakes. Revision food of the gods. No time to cook, or even get up from your desk? No worries. One package of Z-cakes has enough fat and unrefined sugar to keep you cranking out words for several hours. And just look at that mascot. Is he not having fun? Imagine a party with him and Chester Cheetah. Only the cool kids would get invited to that soiree. You know you wanna go.

I was kind of traumatized to find out not everyone knew about zebra cakes when I was blathering on about them on twitter. It seems most of the non-initiated tweeps were either uber-classy or foreign. Classy people--what did your mom put in your grade school brown bag lunches? Creme brulee? Foreign people--I pity you and your non-artery-clogging healthy snack foods. Clearly, Z-cakes are the shizz. Why else would they have their own fan webpage and their own facebook page, neither of which are run by me. No, really.

I decided to pay tribute to the Z-cakes by classing them up, Masterchef style, because if you know me at all you know I also love me some Masterchef. [Side note: Is it me or did James totally get robbed this week? Hey James you're in the final four. PSYCH. No you're not. Wrong, just wrong. Come on, Luca or Jessie. I don't want either of the mean girls to win.]

So while classing up the cakes, like with any art, there were a couple major fails, including one called Boat and one called Torte. What this means is that I have consumed more than the manufacturer's recommended daily allowance of zebra cakes. Please send insulin.

Okay, here's what they look like out of the box:

Not bad, not bad. They have enough hexagonal charm to make you the envy of the fifth grade when you dump them out of your lunch bag, even if they're a little smashed because your mom packed them at the bottom under that apple you always throw away.

My goal was to plate them up so that even the classiest of the classy people above might be tempted to indulge in their sugary and saturated goodness. Let's see how I did:

I call this first one, Classic:

Here we have zebra cake served over a mixed-berry syrup, alongside whipped cream and fresh fruit. If you ever worked in a fancy-but-not-too-fancy restaurant, like I did, then you have probably plated up some desserts in the classic style.

I call this one Fan. Check out my knife-skills, yo. Here we have sliced zebra cake served over a mixed-berry compote, garnished with whipped cream and a raspberry. Okay, whatever, it's really grape jelly but that doesn't sound nearly as fancy, and sometimes it's all about the wording, am I right?

And finally, I call this one Here Comes the Cake. Because yes, with a little finesse, zebra cakes can put a dazzling finish on even the most glamorous of occasions. Okay, probably not really. But maybe, if you got mad style :)

So how'd I do? Are you convinced? Are you hungry? Are you ready to trade in your frou-frou desserts for some real American deliciousness? What's your go-to reading or revision snack?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Book Rave! Middlemarch

You guys.

I’m about to go all English major on you with this book rave, and actually I hadn’t planned to choose this book to rave about but then last weekend someone asked me what my favorite book was. I reflexively responded Middlemarch by George Eliot.

Mary Anne Evans
George Eliot was actually Mary Anne Evans, and I don’t know why we continue to use her pen name but whatever. I don’t make the rules, but perhaps it’s time for a petition to stop all this nonsense and give the woman her due.

And, yes, I know. I’m raving about some 19th-century tome considered to be a masterwork of English literature but there it is. I LOVE THIS BOOK.

More than that, this book is, quite frankly, the reason I write. And even though, yes, I was a freaking English Lit major, I didn’t read Middlemarch until after I graduated from college. So if you haven’t read it, you shouldn’t feel bad. The person who asked me what my favorite book was hadn’t read it or even heard of it so she asked me to tell her what it was about. Which I did. I explained the basics of the plot and when I got to the end, I completely choked up and almost couldn’t speak.

Mock me if you will, but the last page of this book is probably the most beautiful prose and sentiment in the English language, and don’t you dare just go and open up to the last page and read it. No. You’ve got to earn it by reading the whole thing.


Because I will look deep into your soul and it will shrink back in shame, and I will gaze into your heart like the all-seeing eye of Sauron.

Yes, the book is long. And, yes, the main character Dorothea can be a little much with all her lofty ideals but, dudes, I’m telling you the investment of your time will be well worth it. And to be honest, I want more people to read books like this because my inner English major worries a lot. So many book reviews I read these days mention that books are too slooooow, and maybe it’s true. But this is the price we pay for character development, and I dearly hope humanity is not getting to the point where it can no longer tolerate long-ass books.

So, please, read this utterly beautiful long-ass book. You will not regret it.

How about this? If you read Middlemarch, then I will send you cookies. For real. Read it and then email me, and say, “I read Middlemarch because you recommended it,” I will send you some of my homemade chocolate chip cookies that will knock the socks off your feet like you got hit by a cross-town bus. 


(Also -- and this may be the real reason I choked up a bit talking about this book -- I want to dedicate this post to my dear mentor, friend, and very first editor Sherry Levy-Reiner, who passed away in May. She's the one who told me to give this book a try, and I did, and it changed my life forever. Just like a great book should.)

Friday, August 23, 2013

CUPID'S ARROW: Monoculars

This week's Cupid Arrow comes from Desiree Thompson, and she requests that I profess my love to monoculars via poem. So to be honest, I had to look up what this was. Of course I've seen a monocular; I've just never knew they had a name. What? You never called them half-binocular or that mini-telescope-looking thingamajig?

For those of you still wondering...or maybe you're thinking of this...


So Desiree, here is my haiku for monoculars:

My eye to the world
Used by lots: pirates, marines,
And peeping Toms.

Where would mankind be
Without your lenses, prisms,
And refracted light?

For those who must spy
And take notes at the same time
Try monoculars!

Thank you, Desiree! If there's something you want one of us Valentines to profess our looooove to, then click on the 'Shoot us an Arrow' link above. We can write poems, make videos, sing, dance, hula hoop, you name it. Enjoy this last burst of summer, and see you in the fall :)

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Valentine Files: 14 Fast Facts about the Vals' First Day of School

Here at The YA Valentines, we're all about the number 14. Because, yanno, all of our books come out in 2014! (Our debuts, anyway.:D)

So as 2014 gets closer, occasionally we're going to share facts from The Valentine Files. Sekrit facts. Crazy facts. Freaky facts. 14 of them,  about our books, about our characters, or, well, about us!

So here were go. Episode One of The Valentine Files. Subject: the first day of school.

For me, the first day of school always felt a little like this:

*cue awkward hand wave*

and always held the possibility of this:

"That did NOT just happen..." *dies*

And looking back, my choice to wear crop purple-pinstriped jeans (I know--so wrong, on EVERY level! WHY did they make them?! WHY did I buy them?!) with my purple jelly shoes and a white sailor-collar shirt to start sixth grade was not a great look.* (Although, if you read on, Kristen and I would've rocked the shipwrecked look together...)

Since summer is almost over *sniff*, this week I asked my fellow Valentines to tell me their most hilarious/cringe-worthy/favorite/embarrassing moment they can remember from the first day of school.

So here you go! 14 Valentines, 14 facts. The Valentine files are OPEN.:)

FILE: The Dreaded Fall


"I fell down the stairs with my backpack open. Books and paper everywhere. Ugh."

FILE: The About Face


"I went to an elementary school with 200 students in K-5, the smallest school in our district. My middle school had nearly 1,000 students. The first day I walked in, I was so overwhelmed that I turned around and walked right back out. I called my mother on the payphone and told her to come pick me up because I wanted to be homeschooled."

FILE: Cutest First Day Convo EVER


"At the end of the first day of sixth grade, one of the boys I'd grown up with pointed at me and glared. 'Why do you have dents in your face?'

Before I could answer, another boy angrily retorted, 'They're called dimples, you idiot!'

This was the first time I'd been sort of complimented by a boy. Yes, to a sixth grader, the interchange sounded complimentary. :)"

FILE: August Birthday Blunders

Sara R.

"The first week of school coincides with my birthday, so I always, always, ALWAYS got missed in the classroom birthday celebrations. Every year teachers would say "Don't worry, Sara, we'll celebrate yours when school picks up next year!" Then the next year, teachers would be too busy to remember. The June-July kids would get a special celebration before school let out, but the August kids? Nope. It's a good thing Virgos are generally good-natured."

FILE: Fashion Gone Wrong


"On the first day of sixth grade, my mother was so smitten with the sight of me in my (horrible) back-to-school outfit (that she had picked out) that she had me pose on the front porch like I was a catalog model. In the photo I'm looking off into the distance, one hand on the porch railing, the other hand pointing at something far away. I look like an ill-dressed sea captain with sausage curls indicating there might be an iceberg off the starboard bow."

*I'm right there with you Kristen!
#NoItDidNotLookGood :)

Bethany H.:

"In 1999, I was determined to reinvent myself with a more mature sense of style. So I did the thing where I twisted all my hair into tiny twists and secured them all with tiny butterfly clips and wore glitter eyeshadow and glitter lip gloss...and then since I went to a Catholic school, got in trouble for wearing makeup. Sigh... "

Sara L.:

"5th grade... I had just moved and was new to school. I thought it was an awesome chance to "reinvent" myself, so my sweet Far-Mor (Swedish for Father's Mother) made me an outfit (she was an excellent seamstress)--it was a scoop-necked shirt and matching skirt. I wore my hair up in this super high ponytail and went off to school thinking I was hot stuff. Well, apparently, when you're really tall and don't want to emphasize it, you shouldn't wear scoop-neck shirts with high ponytails. My neck looked about a mile long, and I was a head taller than everyone else. I got named the 'Jolly Green Giant.' Epic backfire."

FILE: Wait--this ISN'T my class?!

"The first day of high school--it was a half-day so each period was about 15 minutes long. My fifth period was lunch, so I hung out in the cafeteria with a bunch of seniors on the crew team, feeling too cool for words since I was a lowly freshman and novice rower.After about ten minutes, though, I realized it wasn't fifth period but fourth...which meant I had to dash through the halls and arrive in photography class just as it was ending. *shudder* "

"Here's a picture of me at one of my first crew races in high school--we'd just won a silver medal in the Empire State Games. What, you thought I was going to show you an embarrassing photo instead? Those are safely hidden in my parents' attic. I hope."

FILE: You Can't Handle The Truth

Bethany C.:

"I'm a preacher’s kid, and until 6th grade attended a private Christian school. Every teacher wanted to land one of the “coveted” preachers’ kids in their class because they were, apparently, better behaved. Well, Mrs. Colesman must have won the 3rd grade lottery that year, because all three preachers’ kids (me, Aaron and Cherka) were in her class! She was so happy, she practically floated while taking roll the first day of school. That is until I very rudely pointed out that there was a tremendous amount of dirt on the ceiling near the air vent. Then poor Mrs. Colesman came crashing back to reality. All preachers’ kids are not created the same."

FILE: Bad Hair Day


"'This body wave will make your hair look really cute,' says my mom's friend, who also happens to be a hairstylist. Worst. Perm. Ever. I'm sorry I don't have a visual for you guys. #SorryNotSorry"


"I'd used Sun-In on my hair all summer so my hair was about 5 different shades of orange and yellow. Then I decided that for back to school, my hair would look "extra special" with more curls. My mom gave me a "body wave" but my hair is wavy anyway, so I ended up with crazy frizzed curls. I looked like Sheila E. had stuck her hand in an electric socket. The whole look was awesome (not even close to awesome) with my Catholic school uniform. :)"


I'm like a mix of everyone else's: Like Sara R, my birthday also coincides with the start of school. My first day of high school fell ON my birthday, which I attended with bleached-out hair, courtesy of Sun-In. My hair color blended into my skin. File this under "what was I thinking?"

Farrah & her glorious 'do
 Jaye Robin Brown:

"I blame Farrah Fawcett. I wanted her hair.

So, tra la la, off to the hair stylist I went and faced a repeat of the Dorothy Hamill pert bob response. 'Your hair won't do that.' But this time, I was older, wiser. I was going to be a junior! By god, I would have that hair cut despite my stylist's repeated warnings.

JRo's "Farrah wings"
You already know the story doesn't end well. But I thought I'd show you my school photo from that year to illustrate the point (and fyi, I wore uniforms, I wouldn't have chosen that shirt). And here's the lesson: Curly hair won't layer. Cases of Aqua Net help, but only make you look like a weapon of your own mass destruction. Hair-sprayed-till-it-picks-up-in-one-piece-off-the side-of-your-head hair doesn't shimmer. It might self combust, but It. Does. Not. Shimmer.

But there's always next fall, right? 'Did you hear lemon juice can turn your hair blonde?'"

LOVE JRo's bold wings...I had some myself.:) But those pictures are still sealed in the Valentines' vault. And now, until the next episode . . . the Valentine Files are officially CLOSED.:)

How about you, sweet reader? What is your favorite/most awkward/cringe-worthy first day of school moment? We can't wait to hear!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Cupid's Arrow: Favorite Books to Grow Up With

Happy Friday, everyone!  Jen here, answering the Cupid's Arrow submitted by Rachel.  You asked for a rhyming poem about my favorite YA book growing up, but you should have known it would be impossible to pick just one.  Here are THREE of my favorite books from childhood, for the price of one rather bad poem! :)

When I was ten
I fell in love with
The Secret Garden.
A spot of earth
to tend like Mary
seemed totally worth
the dirty hours
(if it meant Dicken
might hand me flowers).

At twelve, I swooned
for Just as Long as We’re Together
by the great Judy Blume.
I had two best friends,
and this book guided us
to middle school’s end.

Another Blume book
caught my eye around sixteen;
Forever didn’t look
filled with sex and scandal,
but my dog eared copy
helped many of us girls get a handle
on losing it, before my
mom hid the book somewhere—
I let it go with a sigh.

Too many books? No such thing.
I’ll read them all whenever I can
and let my heart take wing.
So now, dear friend, the time has come before we part
for you to share your tales;
which books live inside your heart?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Book Rave: The Summer I Became a Nerd

First thing's first, congratulations to Emily Rachelle! who won the "Ask Me About My Novel" t-shirt prize! 


On the outside, seventeen-year-old Madelyne Summers looks like your typical blond cheerleader—perky, popular, and dating the star quarterback. But inside, Maddie spends more time agonizing over what will happen in the next issue of her favorite comic book than planning pep rallies with her squad. That she’s a nerd hiding in a popular girl's body isn’t just unknown, it's anti-known. And she needs to keep it that way.

Summer is the only time Maddie lets her real self out to play, but when she slips up and the adorkable guy behind the local comic shop’s counter uncovers her secret, she’s busted. Before she can shake a pom-pom, Maddie’s whisked into Logan’s world of comic conventions, live-action role-playing, and first-person-shooter video games. And she loves it. But the more she denies who she really is, the deeper her lies become…and the more she risks losing Logan forever.

So The Summer I Became A Nerd by Leah Rae Miller is adorable, adorkable, fun, funny, well-crafted, well-written, with an endearingly earnest male lead and a smart, strong female protagonist.  I LOVE this book, for its quick, delightful writing and for its fully realized characters and setting.

But another reason I love this book?  It's important.  It's important that Maddie discovers just how okay (and how normal) it is to love comic books and sci-fi tv shows and LARPing.  I wish I had read this book when I was seventeen so that I wouldn't have wasted so much time feeling like a weirdo because I liked Batman and Star Trek reruns.   And I hope that lots of other girls find this book, and like Maddie, fully embrace their inner nerd!

And if I haven't convinced you why the central issue of The Summer I Became a Nerd  is important, let me introduce you to The Doubleclicks.  This song maybe made me a little teary-eyed...

The Summer I Became a Nerd is one of the those rare books that's enjoyable and objectively awesome for society, so if you're looking for a book to round off your summer, this is it!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Cupid's Arrow: Dream Cast!

Happy Friday, everyone! Sara Raasch here. For today's Cupid's Arrow, I'm professing my LOVE for all of the YA book-to-movie buzz constantly spinning around the blogosphere by doing a...

...SNOW LIKE ASHES fancast!!

While I don't usually picture actors/actresses while writing, there have been a few I've stumbled across that make me squeal and go "YOU. IT'S YOU." So today, for your viewing pleasure, I present my totally illogical and fantasized casting for my main character, Meira; her father-figure/general, Sir; and the future King of Winter, Mather.

Firstly: Meira! Now, no actors have the white Winterian hair that all three of these characters possess (well, with the exception of pics of Emilia Clarke as Daenerys, but something feels wrong about using another story's character), so you'll have to squint a little and imagine them with ivory hair, bright blue eyes, and pale skin, the signature traits of all Winterians.

My fancasting for Meira is twofold -- I adore two actresses equally, and could easily see either of them being the feisty, stubborn, chakram-wielding soldier who dreams of seeing Winter whole again.

The first, Sarah Bolger.

The second, Brittany Snow (and no, her last name had no influence on my selection of her. Okay, fine, it had a WEE BIT of influence).

Nextly: Sir! The man who keeps the Winterian refugees alive and organized and also infuriates Meira on a near-daily basis. There is one actor who is utterly perfect for this quietly strong, brooding general, and every time I see him I make incoherent noises -- both because he IS Sir and also because I have a tiny crush on him. Well, not exactly a tiny crush...I call him my Celebrity Husband: Mads Mikkelsen!

(PS: My inner hipster forces me to note that I loved him BEFORE he got all famous with Hannibal.)

And lastly but certainly not least: Mather, a soft-spoken warrior who is also the future King of Winter and Meira's childhood friend. I've yet to find the PERFECT actor for Mather, but a few are really close, such as Gregory Smith.

And Sterling Knight.

Fancasting is one of those time-sucks that every author hopes maybe, someday, will come in useful. But regardless of how much of a time-suck it is, it is quite fun! Tell me what you think of my choices in the comments below!