Please, Judge that Book by the Cover {+ Year Review}

Y’ALL. WHERE DID THIS FREAKING YEAR GO?

Let’s just talk about some of the things that have happened: I ordered the PERFECT gift for my family (they’re two pillows with maps of our home cities!), the election, I got some articles published to Her Campus (HELL YEAH!). Y’all broke my stats counter with all the visits to the Sex in YA post. That made me way more excited than it should have. I surpassed 1000 followers on Twitter.

The book blogosphere went super passionate over social issues like sexism, rape culture, and sex positivity. The election brought out the fire in people, and I hope we keep it burning these next four years at least. Crossing my fingers for forever.

I made some amazing new friends. I started college. Switched majors. Absorbed a minor. (officially, it’s now a Communications, concentration in journalism, with a minor in women’s and gender studies)

Oh yeah, and I did that one AMAZING internship at the beginning of the year.

This post is going to be a summation of all those things. I think that frequently, books are as they are presented. In that I mean, judge away. If a book has a cover that’s got me like “come hither” that bodes well for it’s contents. This has been a fantastic year for books. It’s been a lovely year for book covers. While I just did a once over of me, let’s get down and dirty with some of my favorite book covers of the year.

Leave a comment telling me the BEST thing that happened to you this year + your FAVORITE cover of 2016. 

xo,
Jackie 

One. 
Two. 
Three. 
Four. 
Five. 
Six. 
Seven. 
The Thousandth Floor by Katherine McGee
Eight. 
Nine. 
Ten. 
Eleven. 
Twelve. 
Thirteen. 
Fourteen. 
Fifteen. 
Sixteen.
Seventeen. 
Eighteen. 
Nineteen. 
Twenty. 

#ARC Review || The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles || Searching for a Friend When Everything Goes to Hell

The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles
ARC via Publisher
Published: January 31, 2017
Goodreads || Amazon

It’s been a shattering year for seventeen-year-old Zoe, who’s still reeling from her father’s shockingly sudden death in a caving accident and her neighbors’ mysterious disappearance from their own home. Then on a terrifying sub-zero, blizzardy night in Montana, she and her brother are brutally attacked in a cabin in the woods–only to be rescued by a mysterious bounty hunter they call X.

X is no ordinary bounty hunter. He is from a hell called the Lowlands, sent to claim the soul of Zoe’s evil attacker and others like him. Forbidden to reveal himself to anyone other than his victims, X casts aside the Lowlands’ rules for Zoe. As X and Zoe learn more about their different worlds, they begin to question the past, their fate, and their future. But escaping the Lowlands and the ties that bind X might mean the ultimate sacrifice for both of them.

Gripping and full of heart, this epic journey will bring readers right to the edge of everything.

It all begins with Zoe’s dad falling down the depths of a cave and never coming back out. Fast-forward and we encounter X. As in unknown variable. As in one of the most adorable, naïve guys that I’ve ever had the pleasure of encountering. All X has ever known is the Lowlands, someplace that basically equates to hell. Our lovely main dude is tasked with killing the humans whose souls are basically evil and dragging them into the ever-neath before the Lords, who do who the hell (haha) knows what with them. When he meets Zoe, something in the air just changes. And he makes a choice that could very well change his fate, along with her’s, and that of everyone they care about.

With that brief summary out of the way, let’s talk a bit more about Zoe. She’s seriously cool. Not as cool as Ripper, but cool enough to make a zombie of a human look twice. After he dad dies she is sort of stuck in this give-and-give relationship with the world. And she’s just so dang tired of it. However, she’s positive. She tries to keep her annoyed but adorable younger brother happy and safe. She maintains a healthy relationship with her best friend, and a decent relationship with her ex, who she broke up with after it all went down.

She’s a bit of a fixer. I think that’s why her and X work so well together, and develop the romance that they do. With everything that’s thrown at them they’re still just young adult in a strange, magical world having to make hugely impactful decisions. Decisions that no other being ever really has to make.

Besides the gorgeous writing, there’s a bit of a moral story to this tale that is just the freaking cherry on top of the awesome sundae.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.

You’re thinking, Jackie, why did you not even give the book four stars when all you’re doing is going on (and on and on and on) about everything awesome in THE EDGE OF EVERYTHING? Well, dear reader, I’m getting there. Because I really do have some complaints.

I didn’t really buy the romance. It felt a bit forced on both sides, and also a little bit like clinging to the last bit on sunlight before the glowing ball of cosmic gas sinks beneath the horizon. X never really knew anyone to have a romance with besides her, and Zoe….I mean I just though the girl was making a few not so fantastic choices. Granted, she’s actually been through more horrid stuff than I’m able to comprehend. So, there’s that.

I also had a bit of a problem with the layout of the story itself. I can’t give much away without spoilers, so I’ll just say this: it felt a bit disjointed.

Overall, I liked it. I liked the write and Ripper the best. For a seeking a friend when everything goes to hell kind of book, I’d say this one is pretty good.

#ARC Review || Hit Man by Michele Mannon || I May have a Thing for Mercenaries? Maybe?

Hit Man by Michele Mannon
eARC via NetGalley + Publisher
Goodreads || Amazon
Published || December 6, 2016

He always gets what he wants.

The seasoned seducer, who probably charms the panties off of every woman he meets. Diego is handsome. Arrogant. Dangerous. Far more dangerous than anyone I’ve ever met. And with one look from across a crowded room he has me; hook line and sinker, I’m his for the night.

Diego is not a man to mess with, I know that. I just can’t seem to resist his kiss, his touch. But can I trust him with my heart, with my body?

I’m being hunted for something I may or may not have seen, and Diego is my only way out of a world of death and destruction. If only I can believe his dark promises.

Happy Christmas Eve to all who celebrate!

Verdict: I’m in love; somebody hold me

Lord have mercy, but do I ever love mercenaries and romance and accents and YES talk dirty in different languages. And then maybe translate so I know what you said. And then switch back to the foreign language please, because it sounded a hell of a lot hotter that way. SWOON. In Michele Mannon’s newest novel HIT MAN there is all of this and soooo much more. Like things being blown up. A woman with novel aspirations so do amazing things. Incredibly amazing things. Of course, then there’s the hit man who-much to his dismay-is falling head over heels for her. Things don’t go as planned, and people get caught in the crosshairs of unimaginable horrors…

Let’s begin this review journey with some character analysis: Aubrey and Diego. As you may have figured out via pronoun usage, Aubrey is out resident do-gooder and Diego is out hired exterminator of human beings. Obviously his job has left him a little rough around the edges—and he claims he’s loved only three people in his entire life: his mother, father, and sister. When Aubrey comes crashing into his mission in a suspicious way, he takes it upon himself to figure out what this American is doing. I’m sure you know what follows: things are shot into the sky, cartels are run by powerhouses, and government conspiracies. It’s all rather dramatic in the best way possible.

And then we’ve got Aubrey, who, despite all of her amazing intentions, is fantastic at getting herself into situations that most people wouldn’t walk away alive from. Of course, they don’t have a hit man following them around like a protective puppy dog.

So cute. 

As you can probably tell, I love both of these characters so much. I think it’s kind of hard to craft a human with real flaws that don’t seem overdone, or oversimplified. You’ve got to make them 3-D. Diego and Aubrey are. Full color. Living. Breathing. Freaking hot as hell. Make incredibly poor decisions. Are actually really rude.

BUT. Despite being rude is all about consent when it comes to sex. So, you know, ALL THE STARS. This right here is a HUGE thing for me. It’s a button pusher, as well it should be for everyone. Something shouldn’t be done to/with your body without your permission. The fact that Diego made sure that the active consenting of sex was clear was my favorite. Like, yes. Please pass this valuable skill on to every human being ever. PLEASE.

All that being said, I did grow annoyed with these two folks on occasion. This is the reason for the deduction of the half star. I think four and a half though is a quite nice rating.

I wasn’t expecting to love this book as much as I did. It did take me a bit to get to it, and then a bit more to commit to actually reading it. Then, still, I had finals in college. However, now that I’ve finished, I kind of want to read it all over again. YES. It was that good.

#ARC Review || Blood Red, Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick

Blood Red, Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick
ARC via Andye @ readingteen.net
Goodreads || Amazon
October 25, 2016

There never was a story that was happy through and through.

When writer Arthur Ransome leaves his home in England and moves to Russia to work as a journalist, it is with little idea of the violent revolution about to erupt. Unwittingly, he finds himself at its center, tapped by the British to report back on the Bolsheviks even as he becomes dangerously romantically entangled with revolutionary leader Trotsky’s personal secretary. Both sides seek to use Arthur for their own purposes…and, as he struggles to find autonomy, both sides grow to suspect him of being a double agent. Arthur wants only to elope far from the conflict with his beloved. But when he attempts to extract himself and Evgenia from the complicated politics and politicians that he fears will lead them both to their deaths, the decisions he faces are the most dangerous and difficult of his life.

Oh how the mighty fall. Blood Red, Snow White seemed like something that I could fall head over heels in love with. I mean HISTORY. Russian Revolution. Like, the use of real history. All of this fantastically intertwined with allusions and metaphors out into the next world. Like, what is there NOT to love? Right? RIGHT?

This is where I went wrong, because, although it seems to check all of the boxes…I just really struggled. I couldn’t get into it. I just really could not get into the writing, the style. It felt over-descriptive without really saying anything at all. This was my issue, and this is why I couldn’t finish the book.

Overall, I don’t really have much to say because I really didn’t read through much of the book. Blood Red, Snow White was not my cup of tea. Not even close.

DNF


#BookLook || Just a Girl by Carrie Mesrobian

just a girl

just a girl by nobentspines featuring 14 karat gold earrings

My Two Cents
This skirt is currently ruling my life. Stars and stars and stars and STARS. 
About the Book 
By her senior year of high school, Rianne has exhausted all the fun there is to have in small town Wereford, Minnesota. Volleyball season is winding down, the parties all feel tired, and now that she’s in a serious relationship with reformed player Luke Pinsky, her wild streak has ended. Not that she ever did anything more than the guys her age did…but she knows what everyone thinks of her.
Including her parents. Divorced but now inexplicably living together again, Rianne wonders why they’re so quick to point out every bad choice she’s making when they can’t even act like adults. With an uncomfortable home life and her once-solid group of friends now dissolving, the reasons for sticking around after high school are few. So why is Rianne in lockstep when it comes to figuring out her future? 
That’s not the only question Rianne can’t answer. Lately she’s been wondering why, when she has a perfect-on-paper boyfriend, she wants anything but. Or how it is that Sergei, a broken-English-speaking Russian, understands her better than anyone who’s known her all her life? And why has Rianne gotten stuck with an “easy girl” reputation for doing the same exact things guys do without any judgment? Carrie Mesrobian, acclaimed author of Sex & Violence and Cut Both Ways, sets fire to the unfair stereotypes and contradictions that persist even in the twenty-first century.

#ARC Review || A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom || Tragic + Wonderful

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom
ARC via Publisher
Published || February 7, 2017 by Poppy
Goodreads || Amazon

In the vein of It’s Kind of a Funny Story and All the Bright Places, comes a captivating, immersive exploration of life with mental illness.

For sixteen-year-old Mel Hannigan, bipolar disorder makes life unpredictable. Her latest struggle is balancing her growing feelings in a new relationship with her instinct to keep everyone at arm’s length. And when a former friend confronts Mel with the truth about the way their relationship ended, deeply buried secrets threaten to come out and upend her shaky equilibrium.

As the walls of Mel’s compartmentalized world crumble, she fears the worst–that her friends will abandon her if they learn the truth about what she’s been hiding. Can Mel bring herself to risk everything to find out?

In A Tragic Kind of Wonderful, Eric Lindstrom, author of the critically acclaimed Not If I See You First, examines the fear that keeps us from exposing our true selves, and the courage it takes to be loved for who we really are.

You know what I wish we all talked about more? I wish we talked about mental disorders. There’s this stigma around those who’s minds spark up differently that someone else’s, and it seems to me that this maybe because of lack of understanding. The main character of A TRAGIC KIND OF WONDERFUL mentioned this more than one.

She said she is not like her Aunt, or like her brother– even if her mood wanes and waxes more similarly resembling her brother’s than her Aunts. It’s important to recognize that no one person’s symptoms are exactly like the other. This books does a slow reveal on just about everything, and for this, well, it was glorious. 

What do I mean by the slow reveal? Everything—relationships and lives and heartbreak—in this book is riddled in secrets, may that be conscious or otherwise. Everything—those relationships and lives and heartbreaks—were something to behold. It is messy, and scary, and wrenched at the strings of my still-beating heart. It broke it. A thousand times over. That is another thing this books does well. I saw it in NOT IF I SEE YOU FIRST too. Obstacles. Facing life with them. People in your life facing them with you, but not sure how to broach them.

This book is about bipolar disorder, and it is about Mel Hannigan. It’s how bipolar disorder, or any mental illness for that matter, is not a One Size Fits All Deal. I mean, no one has the same brain as another person, so why would how that brain work be any different?

A TRAGIC KIND OF WONDERFUL is also about friendship. I think Lindstrom approached friendship is a really cool way. We sort of have the Before friends and then we have the After friends. Before and After the bipolar disorder made itself known, I mean. The reader gets to see how the Before friendships worked, how they contributed to making Mel the darling, self-conscious human she is today. The After friendships are the protective sort.

After the fall-out. After the deception, and the lies, and the low-key betrayal. After the mistakes, and the fear. 

One other part of the book that I loved besides the way mental illness was approached along side different kinds of friendship was (I know; I know) the romance. It wasn’t hot and heavy; this guy is going to save me. He isn’t. I personally believe that people are an important aspect in allowing one to come to the realization that they are worth saving. People help to bring to light the irrationality of some rationalizations. This is what David is, to a certain extent. He’s also someone who did not see the Before or the After. He’s a fresh set of eyes who sees Mel as nothing more than she is in the moment.

So what do we have? Variations of friendship. An approach to mental illness that shows that, like friendship, these things vary. And, finally, we have Mel trudging through her own set of rough waters. All these different things make this book what it is. What is it? Well, it’s fantastic, and tragic, and wonderful.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo || A Playlist by Yours Truely

Y’all. I finally got my greedy paws on Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo like a week ago, and GAH. Was I ever missing out. Obviously I need Crooked Kingdom faster than you can say Kaz is a dream boat and Nina is a goddess on earth and we just need to bow down.

My darling little murderous petunia. And then, of course there is Inej who is just too good for this world. I think I’m loving the totally raw and completely brutal Grisha universe as much this time around as I did with Shadow and Bone (The Darkling, my babe. I’m still swooning over the make me your villain and until you have no other shelter but me. I know. I have issues.).

You’re probably wondering why I’m still rambling on about hot guys and gorgeous girls and world building/destroying. FINE. I’ll get to the music.

Let me know what you think on Twitter (or comment!) and suggest some mad beats of your own.

The Music

Beautiful Lies: Birdy || I feel like this song is equally Inej and Jesper in reference to why they say with Kaz after all this time, as well as Kaz to Inej. Running from yourself much? Or are we just embracing the mess that is this world?

Let’s be numb together

The Good, The Bad and The Dirty: Panic! At The Disco || AKA, How to Survive in the Dregs

If you wanna start a fight
You better throw the first punch
Make it a good one

Catch Us If You Can: Elle King || Gonna be real honest here and just say that this lyric reminds me of Wylan and Jesper. “Maybe I like you’re stupid face.” Or something like that. I feel like this relationship, should it happen, could be explosive. Fireworks, y’all. Fireworks.

If you’re a wildflower
I’m a grenade

Neon Lights: Dancing Years || This song summons of the aura of the inner workings of either Wylan or Kaz.

I pour my make-up on my face and go,
I’ll know that I’ll be alright.

Thank God for Girls: Weezer || All those stupid faces should just be grateful that they’ve got such sensible females looking out for their asses. Inej. Nina. I love y’all. (also maybe she’ll be the one giving the stab wounds. just saying.)

And tender loving kisses on your stab wounds and when you come home
She will be there waiting for you with a fire in her eyes

Lost in You: Three Days Grace || First off, I adore this song. Actually, I just adore Three Days Grace in general. Those voices. I can’t. Gorgeous. Back to this particle song inference to Six of Crows. There’s a scene in the book where I just want to scream out Kaz’s name and throw this song at him. Kind of like how I’m pretty sure Nina wants to shove these two together like PB+J. Or maybe she’s too focused on her own love life.

I told myself that it wouldn’t be so bad
But pulling away it took everything I had

Before I Die: Papa Roach || Inej praying to her Saints. Enough said. Gah, this girl. Like I said: too good for this world. I think the way she maintains her faith is stunning.

I’m begging on my knees
Is there a God to save me

Okay babes:

That’s all I’ve got. Listen to these songs on Spotify. Tell me some that you would add. Fan over all things Leigh Bardugo. Live your best life.

#ARC Review || Pack Enforcer by Lauren Dane

Pack Enforcer by Lauren Dane
Published || December 1, 2016
Goodreads || Amazon || Website
ARC via Publisher + Netgalley

This wolf mates for life…

Nina Reyes knows trouble when she sees it, and Lex Warden, Enforcer for the local werewolf pack, is nothing but. When her brother gets in too deep with some dangerous wolves and comes to Nina for help—dragging super alpha protector Lex into her life—she can handle it. She might have put her grifter past behind her, but she’s still got what it takes. If only she didn’t find Lex—his body, his scent, even his domineering nature—so intoxicating.

As Enforcer, it’s Lex’s job to protect his people. Nina might be more capable of handling herself than he initially thought, but that doesn’t mean she’s safe from their enemies. His need to protect her is more than just pack business—Nina, a human, is his mate. Bedding her once is not even close to enough; to satisfy his wolf, he needs a true bond.

The heat between them scares Nina, but sometimes the reward is worth the risk, and the thought of living without Lex terrifies her more than any threat the werewolf mafia can pose. Lex will do anything to keep her safe. And when the Rogues catch up to them, he’ll get a chance to prove it…

Y’all, I’m in Houston writing this review right now, and I’m freezing my toes off. And I have socks one. While reading this, I strongly recommend brewing yourself a cup of coffee, and, if you’re feeling as adventurous as I am, add yourself a nice hot chocolate package. I guarantee you won’t de disappointed. The ending of this book though? That might disappoint you a little. At least if you’re like me and like a side of drama with your morning pancakes.

After all hell breaks loose from Nina’s already unraveling life, she encounters the bold, the testosterone-ridden, and the wolfy Lex Warden. He’s the pack enforcer, and he’s all over Nina like Catholic on the Pope. Nina’s more than the cute as a button, nerdy to the core florist that she projects to the world: she’s actually a hardcore hacker. When these two collide: sparks folks. Of the acutest kind.

And, yes, I do mean cute. (hehehe)

Okay, y’all, I’m just going to come right out and say it: as much as I like a whole bunch of the concepts in PACK ENFORCER, some things just rubbed me the wrong way. The pet name that Nina insists on using—some of them were a bit much. In the beginning it was an endearing part of her quirky personality, but eventually I was all like gag me with a spoon. Y’all couples do you, but that was just so not my cup of tea.

The other thing that I just wasn’t happy with was the fall following the climax of the novel. I mean, when we’ve been building up, getting invested into this Thing, shouldn’t more be expected? Instead of this total flat falling-ness. I wasn’t happy. Literally I just looked at my Kindle for a bit thinking “Is that it? Really?”

Both of those things being said, there were plenty of things about this book that I loved: Nina’s independence, Lex’s protectiveness but inability to keep Nina from doing what she wants, our resident Alpha whose both amused/ longing in reference to Nina. The characters were awesome. I’ll take one of each, please. There was also this really cool addition to the pack dynamic which, when you read about it, will just add a whole new level to the family structure that we’ve all come to know and love with werewolf books.

Gah, I love werewolf books. Shape-shifting in general, really. This one is no exception. That being said, I had some issues with said book. These issues won’t stop me from saying that reading it is a pretty great idea, but I personally won’t be reading it again.

Forever’s Holiday Celebration || All the Holiday Food You Could Want


‘Tis the season to celebrate! Five of Forever’s authors with brand new Christmas romances are sharing their favorite holiday recipes and memories. 

I know I am actually in love with food–hopefully you are too! All of these darling, delicious recipes will soon make their way into my oven. Let the eating begin. Be sure to leave the authors some holiday well wishes. Checking out their books would also be appreciated.  
CAROLYN BROWN’S PUMPKIN BREAD
Kids, grand children, great-grands, all coming home for the holidays—the aroma of pumpkin bread baking in the oven—everyone waiting for it to get done so they can slice it up while it’s still hot, slather butter or whipped cream cheese on it, and tell the age old stories about the holidays we’ve had in the house. That’s the stuff memories are made off and every time I smell pumpkin bread it puts a smile on my face for the whole day.
PUMPKIN BREAD
This makes 2 loaves and 8 muffins; Or it makes one Bundt cake
½ cup butter
½ cup shortening
2 2/3 cups of sugar
4 eggs
2 cups canned pumpkin (one 15-16 ounce can)
3 ½ cups flour
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons soda
1 cup pecans (optional)
2/3 cup of cold strong black coffee
(NOTE: I use all butter if I’m out of shortening or even oil)
1.     Cream first four ingredients.
2.     Add canned pumpkin.
3.     Add dry ingredients alternately with coffee
4.     Bake at 375 degrees for 1 hour for loaves or bundt cake, 25 minutes for muffins, or until they test done in the center.
5.     Cool 10 minutes before removing from pan.
6.     Cool completely before frosting with Harvest Moon Frosting (below).
HARVEST MOON FROSTING
3 egg whites
1½ cups brown sugar
6 tablespoons water
Pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine all ingredients except vanilla in a double boiler. Cook 7 minutes, beating the whole time with an electric mixer, over the boiling water.  The frosting will stand in peaks when done. Add vanilla.  Beat until thick enough to spread.
Find out more about Carolyn Brown at her website.
PAULA QUINN’S CHRISTAS COOKIES
My dad used to live across the street from us. Every year, when my
kids were little, he would dress up like Santa, climb out his window
on the second floor, and hang Christmas lights on his fire escape. My
kids would watch from our window with wonder in their eyes, unaware
that it was grandpa. He would turn and wave to them, sending them into
little fits of breathlessness. Later, we would visit grandma and
grandpa’s for homemade cookies (left there for them by Santa). The
house was always fully decked out with every Christmas decoration
imaginable with Alvin and the Chipmunks on repeat while the kids
hunted down little “pre-Christmas” gifts he’d hide for them. I loved
witnessing the magic of Christmas and love through their eyes. Now
grown, my kids will sometimes still look out the window at his fire
escape and smile, remembering a grandpa who loved them beyond measure.

GRANDPA’S CHRISTMAS COOKIES (A favored Italian recipe)

4 eggs

1 cup sugar

½ cup butter

2 teaspoons vanilla

3½ cups flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

1.     Sift dry ingredients.
2.     Cream butter and sugar, beat in eggs; add
vanilla and dry ingredients.
3.     Knead and add flour as needed to keep dough from sticking to hands.

4.     Pinch off dough, roll in your hands to form a log and then twirl into
shape.
5.     Place on greased cookie sheets. Bake at 375 for 10 minutes.

ICING
2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 teaspoons water
Combine all ingredients in a medium sized bowl.  Stir until creamy. Dip cookies into icing and sprinkle with trim. Place on wire rack with wax paper on counter to collect the dripping icing and sprinkles.

Find out more about Paula Quinn at her website.
DEBBIE MASON TREE TRIMMING PARTY
One of my family’s favorite holiday traditions is our tree trimming party. We’ve held one every year for the past thirty years. Though I don’t know if it qualifies as a party seeing as it’s just the immediate family. But we do make a thing of it with our favorite carols playing in the background, fire on (mostly for ambience), hot chocolate served in festive mugs, lots of holiday treats, and a special ornament for each of the kids and grandkids to open before the tree decorating gets under way.
But I think the most fun for all of us isn’t decorating the tree, it’s unpacking the ornaments. I’ve always tried to buy an ornament that’s uniquely suited to each of the kids, whether it was a sport they were into that year or a movie, book, or hobby they loved, so unwrapping each one brings back a lot of special memories. Here’s a peek at just some of the collection. I don’t think it will be long before we have to break from tradition and let the kids take some of the ornaments home to decorate their own trees. Either that or we’ll have to put up another tree.

And this one in my office doesn’t count. Every year, my family gifts me with an ornament too. This year they gave me these three adorable ornaments to celebrate the release of the first book in the new Harmony Harbor series, MISTLETOE COTTAGE, and the short story, CHRISTMAS WITH AN ANGEL.

  
Find out more about Debbie Mason at her website.
HOPE RAMSAY’S GINGERBREAD COOKIES
Every year for the last quarter-century, or possibly longer, I have set aside the Saturday closest to Christmas to bake gingerbread cookies with my children, and now, with my grandchildren.   These are the only cookies I make at Christmas time, and the activity is more about family fun than turning out a perfect cookie.  Usually I do most of the rolling, cutting, and baking.  And the rest of the family does the decorating.
The magic is in the royal icing.  The white icing is a snap to make, and it can be divided up into small bowls and colored with food dye, creating pots of colored cookie paint.  I give each child (or adult) a watercolor paint brush and let them paint the icing onto the cookies.  The kids have a blast, and the cookies always come out looking wonderfully homemade. 
To me, cookie baking embodies everything I love about Christmas: kids, family, baking, and yummy desserts.

GINGERBREAD COOKIE DOUGH
Makes about 6 Dozen
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon Dutch cocoa powder
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter
1 cup superfine sugar
1 egg at room temperature
½ cup unsulphured molasses
1.     Whisk together the dry ingredients – flour cocoa, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, backing soda, and salt.
2.     Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and molasses and beat thoroughly.
3.     On low speed, add the dry ingredients until thoroughly combined.
4.     Cut the dough into thirds, pat into disks, wrap in plastic and chill until firm – 2 hours or overnight.
5.     Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough about 1/16 inch thick and cut cookies with cookie cutters.  Transfer the cookies to an ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake for about 10 minutes, until the edges of the cookie turn brown.
6.     Let cool on sheets and then transfer to a wire rack.  Decorate with royal icing.
ROYAL ICING
2 egg whites, at room temperature
1 pound confectioners sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ cup water
Using a mixer, place all ingredients in a mixing bowl and beat at high speed until fluffy, thick & shiny (about 10 minutes.)  Divide the icing into smaller bowls and color it using food coloring. 

  
Find out more about Hope Ramsay at her website.
OLIVIA MILES SNOWFLAKE COOKIES

In my newest release, CHRISTMAS COMES TO MAIN STREET, my heroine owns a cookie bakery. As this story takes place over the holidays, I thought hard about a signature cookie she might make, and eventually I settled on charming snowflake cookies. Of course these are not just any old cut out cookie, though. No, Kara makes them by the dozen, sure to keep each one in the batch distinct in shape and decoration, because no two snowflakes are ever the same, after all! And it’s these snowflake cookies that she delivers every day to the inn in Briar Creek…where a Christmas visitor falls in love with more than just her cookies.

I hope you all enjoy these snowflake cookies as much as Nate does! J


KARA’S SNOWFLAKE COOKIES (sugar cookie cut-out and royal icing recipes courtesy of Martha Stewart)

4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1.     Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl.
2.     Put butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Gradually mix in flour mixture. Divide dough in half; flatten each half into a disk. Wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or overnight.
3.     Preheat oven to 325 degrees with racks in upper and lower thirds. Let one disk of dough stand at room temperature just until soft enough to roll, about 10 minutes. Roll out dough between two pieces of plastic wrap to 1/4 inch thick. Remove top layer of plastic wrap. Cut out cookies. Transfer cookie dough on plastic wrap to a baking sheet. Transfer baking sheet to freezer, freeze until very firm, about 15 minutes. Remove baking sheet from freezer and transfer shapes to baking sheets lined with nonstick baking mats. Roll out scraps, and repeat. Repeat with remaining disk of dough.
4.     Bake, switching positions of sheets and rotating halfway through, until edges turn golden, 15 to 18 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks.

ROYAL ICING
2 large egg whites, or more to thin icing
4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar, or more to thicken icing
Juice of 1 lemon
3 drops glycerin
Beat the whites until stiff but not dry. Add sugar, lemon juice and glycerin (if using); beat for 1 minute more. If icing is too thick, add more egg whites; if it is too thin, add more sugar. The icing may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Decorate each as you wish!
Find out more about Olivia Miles at her website.

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Holiday Gift Guide for Foodies

We all have that one friend who watches Master Chef and The Great British Baking Show religiously.  (this friend in my group may be me, tbh) Maybe it’s the fact that they can pair cheese with their countries of origin, or the way that—without fault—they always somehow end up at Whole Foods or some other food selling establishment on every outing. They’re a foodie to the bone. And you wouldn’t have them any other way.

Shopping for these folks isn’t a heard task, but if you are struggling a bit, that’s what I’m here for. I’m here to help you construct the best foodie gift basket ever. And, why YES, I do believe that books are some of the best thing to give. We’re going to throw in a few options for that as well.

*cue the maniacal laughter*

Books

…that I’ve read
Stir Me Up by Sabrina Elkins, Play Me by Katie McCoy, Feel the Heat by Kate Meader

….that I need to read
Too Hot to Touch by Louisa Edwards, Delicious by Susan Mallery, How to Make Out by Brianna Shrum

Subscription Boxes

Try the World, Batch, Bon Appetit, Graze

Hella Cute Cooking Stuff

Have you ever ventured into the realm of ModCloth cooking supplies? Sur La Table? Williams Sonoma? Here are a few things that you’ll be dying to put in your kitchen.

Mortar and Pestle (mushroom and all that cuteness)
or maybe this Foxy Cheese Grater
These floral Measuring Spoons are hella cute too
But, these Cat Measuring Cups are my personal favorites

Clothing that’ll Earn You Brownie Points

S’more shirts are the new black
Here are the donut PJs you never knew you needed
…and finally, some super inspiring coffee socks