Friday, June 29, 2012

Quilting Eye Candy

I've been in a crafty mood lately, and I've finally decided to make a move toward something I've been meaning to try for a while: quilting. Sadly, quilting is not a cheap hobby, so right now I'm just planning and plotting.  A lot of that involves drooling over all the quilting eye candy available out there. (Seriously. I can spend hours just looking, looking, at fabric).  Since this has eaten up a lot of my reading time of late, I decided to compile a list of some of the fun and fabulous quilting books I've obtained via my local library.

The List (in no particular order)
I like my quilting books like I like my cookbooks: a good layout, nice and clear instructions, and pretty pictures. Here's a few books I've especially appreciated as I research (and fixate on) my future quilting practices.

Material Obsession by Kathy Doughty and Sarah Fielke

Obsession is definitely a good term for it (Don't say I didn't warn you). This is a fun book, but don't mistake it for a book for beginners. It has a nice "Quilting Basics" section toward the back, which is useful, especially if you already have a pretty good idea of what's involved in the process.  Mostly, this is a book of projects that range from easy to advanced; the author's do a great job rating the projects, but you have to know a bit about what you're doing to follow along. I really loved the colors and fabric the authors choose for the works they display, and the layout and organization of the projects are user friendly. Favorite patterns: Gypsy Squares (p 20), Ginger Snap (p 140), and Strawberry Fields (p 146).

Layer Cake, Jelly Roll, and Charm Quilts by Pam and Nicky Lintott

Okay, so when I first started looking into the quilting process terms like "Layer Cake" and "Jelly Roll" had me seriously confused. But I get it now, fabric is just as addictive as sweets (for me, anyway), so the cake-like names seem fitting.  I really like this book.  It's layout is nice, instructions are clear and relatively easy to follow, and the patterns and fabrics are lovely.  I like the premise of providing patterns based on the popular precut fabric packs, and the "recipes" make it exactly clear how much fabric you need (yes, quilting requires math. Le sigh.).  Favorite patterns: Charming Flowers (p 8), Hidden Stars (p 42), and Damask Rose (p 48).

The Practical Guide to Patchwork by Elizabeth Hartman

I found this book extremely beginner friendly; it's chock full of clear pictures, easy to follow diagrams, and instructions that are clear and highly detailed (great for beginners).  The first 44 pages are filled by information on the basics of quilting, plenty to start getting you acquainted. As with most of the books on this list, I love the choices in color and pattern and the way these choices interplay with the designs.  The book includes 12 projects in a modern aesthetic (I typically lean away from modern, but the book is great), each of which includes two alternate ideas and sorted by your level of beginnerhood (it's a word now).  Favorite patterns: Small plates (p 56), Planetarium (p 82), and Superstar (p 104 and includes picture of gato).

Scrap Republic by Emily Cier

This book really appeals to my thrifty sensibility because it's designed to use up the scraps of fabric that are the inevitable result of other quilting projects.  The author recommends sorting scraps by color, since the size of the piecing makes color the aspect of a fabric with the most impact.  I love the versatility of some of these designs; I can see how you could either follow along exactly or get creative and do you own version while following the basic pattern.  Favorite patterns: Slices (p 28), Volume (p 34), and Pivot (p 51).

And believe me, this is the tip of the iceburg.  There are so many great quilting books out there for both beginner and experienced quilters. Explore! Find the books that suit your learning style and aesthetics.

I have discovered that quilters are often bloggers, too.  This is great news for me, since the blog is one of my favorite formats. I've found lots of nifty things to help me get started on my quilting journey.  Here's a few blogs from the authors above and some that I just like:


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Back By Popular Demand - The Oatmeal Raisin Cookie

Okay, so I technically I've done this recipe before, last Christmas. But I've had several people inquire about my Oatmeal Raisin cookies of late, and I thought I'd do an updated version. So, it now features new and improved instructions and, of course, lots of deliciousness. This recipe started as a rather basic one I found in some old recipes of my grandmother's that I tweaked a bit until it was just right.

What You'll Need
Large mixing bowl                                                     Cookie sheets
Wooden mixing spoon                                                2 Table spoons
Measuring cups                                                          Spatula
Measuring spoons                                                      Wire Rack or paper towels
Cooking Spray
2 sticks butter                                                            1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar                                                            1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs                                                               1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp vanilla extract                                                  1 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups flour                                                         3 cups old-fashioned oats
1 tsp baking soda                                                      1 cup raisins

Now Let's Make Oatmeal Raisin Cookies!
Preheat your oven to 350F.

Place your 2 sticks of butter in the large mixing bowl.  If the butter is not already soft, microwave for a few seconds until it has softened but not melted.  It's very important that you don't allow the butter to melt, as this will ruin the consistency of the cookies. Add 1/2 cup of sugar to the softened butter. Only add the white sugar, not the brown; this is important for the texture of the cookie. (Stop looking at me like that; it is!). Beat the sugar and butter together until butter is creamed.

Mmmmm..... Buttah!

Add the 2 large eggs and 2 tsp of vanilla extract to the mixture.  Use real vanilla extract; the fake stuff just isn't right (yes, I know it cost more; stop whining and add! *cracks whip*). Stir the eggs and vanilla in until the mixture is fairly even.  Try to use room temperature eggs.  The colder the eggs are the more likely it is that your butter will start to clump up, creating a slightly lumpy mixture.  If this happens, stir the mixture until the clumps are as small as possible (you may have to break out the whisk).  It's not a really big deal, but it will help you mix the other ingredients in more thoroughly later.

Don't those eggs really make you want to click and pull up the slideshow?

Measure out 1 1/2 cups of flour and add it to the mixing bowl.  Add 1 tsp of baking soda, 1 tsp of cinnamon, 1/2 tsp of salt, and 1/2 tsp of nutmeg to the mixing bowl. Then, measure out 1 cup of light brown sugar, tightly packing the sugar into the measuring cup as much as possible.  When you have a full cup of tightly packed brown sugar, add it to the mixing bowl. (You're welcome to use dark brown sugar, but it changes the consistency and flavor a bit, so you might have to play with it to get it right).  Mix all the ingredients together, making sure everything is evenly distributed and there are no dry patches or liquidy spots. It a fairly dry dough, so it'll take a bit of stirring (and muscle) before you get it all mixed.

Now, add 3 cups of old-fashioned oats to the mixing bowl. It's important that you use old-fashioned only, as the quick oats or instant oatmeal varieties are just not the same and will mess the recipe up. (You whippersnappers and all this new-fangled nonsense *shakes cane*). Measure out 1 cup of raisins, packing as many into the measuring cup as possible and add them to the mixing bowl.  The fresher the raisins are, the more their flavor will pervade the cookies, and the tastier the cookies will be.  Mix in the oatmeal and raisins until they are evenly spread throughout the batter.

Spray your cookie sheet lightly with cooking spray to ensure the cookies won't stick (unless you're using a no-stick pan, in which case leave it alone).  Take your two regular table spoons; use one to get a heaping spoonful of dough and use the back of the other spoon to scrape the dough onto your cookie sheet. I prefer these cookies to be pretty big, which allows them to remain soft and chewy.  These cookies will definitely spread, so I typically do about 12 per sheet.

Spaced 3 x4 along the pan, with at least an inch between

Bake at 350F for 12-13 minutes.  I always bake one sheet at a time to ensure even cooking and prevent burning. Allow the cookies to sit for a minute or two before removing them from the cookie sheet; this will prevent them from crumbling since they're very soft. Use your spatula to remove the cookies and set them on a cooling rack (paper towels on the counter will do) to cool completely.

Voila! I now have a belated plate of Father's Day Oatmeal cookies for my Da (who's been away on his honeymoon for the actual day). The recipe makes around 3 dozen cookies, depending on size. Store in an airtight container to ensure freshness and preserve the cookies' chewy goodness.  Or, serve with a big glass of milk and nom!


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Classy Classics: The Witch of Blackbird Pond

That's right, it's time for another classic literature post.  Tonight's topic? The Witch of Blackbird Pond, a classic children's book.  I've loved this book since I first read it age 10. A chronic re-reader, I surpassed even my norm as a child by picking this book up 3-4 times a year until I was about 14. And, here's why you need to pick it up, too.

The Basics
Speare, Elizabeth George. The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1958. eBook.

Elizabeth George Speare was born 1908 and passed away in 1994.  She well known for her children's historical fiction and has won two Newbery Medals, on of which was awarded to The Witch of Blackbird Pond.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond follows the heroine, Kit Tyler, as she arrives in America from Barbados.  Following the death of her grandfather, she goes to live with her mother's sister in the Puritan colony of Wethersfield.  Her new life is a far cry from the freedom and luxury she enjoyed in Barbados. As Kit struggles to adapt, she also grows from an impulsive and rebellious girl into a confident and poised young woman.

Why You Should Read This Book!
I think the part of the book that first gripped me was the historic setting Speare uses. She places her story in Puritan American around the time of the Salem witch trials.  I loved history as a child, seeing it as one big story, so books that pulled from a historic background were always fascinating.  Speare does an excellent job capturing the feel of the period.  Readers can see the Puritan setting taking shape not just in front of them but around them, that's how immersive Speare's tale is.  The people Kit finds herself living with are as alien to modern readers as they are for Kit herself, which makes it incredibly easy to empathize and connect with Kit as a character.  This in turn further immerses the reader in the story, which is told in third person and focuses on Kit.

Speaking of Kit, the characters in the book are fantastically written. By the end of the novel, you'll feel as if you know them.  Kit, especially, feels like an old friend, since she is so easy to identify with.  Anyone who's every felt the least bit like an outcast will love her all the more.  She's bright, spunky, and incredibly out of place. But even the side characters are fascinating.  I was always partial to Kit's cousins, Judith and Mercy.  I'm not sure why I liked Judith so much a child, since she's clearly set up as a counterpoint to Kit. But, even when she's being snotty, you still have to like Judith who isn't ever really bad.  Mercy is sweet, and you'll find yourself quietly rooting for her as you read. Even the difficult characters are multi-faceted enough to find a likable trait. The only character who's truly detestable is the villainous Goodwife Cruff, as it should be.

Then we have Speare's fantastic story telling in general. From the start you'll find yourself invested in Kit's life and its outcomes.  You'll root for her as she defies prejudice and befriends the lonely old Quaker woman forced to live on the outskirts of town, bite your fingernails as she faces down accusations of witchcraft, and rejoice as she chooses a suitor and settles into a life of her own making. But ultimately, the story is not about any of those exciting events: it's about Kit, her daily life in Puritan New England and her journey toward womanhood.  It's warm and engaging and will keep you turning pages as quickly as you can.


  • There's not really much to share, but you find a picture of the author on the right.
  • And below you'll find a collection of various book covers.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Recipe Round-up

So, I've not really been in much of a cooking mood this weekend. It's been hot and I've been tired, which has made me a bit uninspired to get in the kitchen.  One thing I have been doing a lot of is surfing around for fun recipes. Sometimes it's great to just get out there and see what other cooks are up to. Below you'll find some recipes that I find truly ogle-worthy. Enjoy!

The Recipes

So, there's a blog called Not Your Momma's Cookie that's super fun. She makes gorgeous cookies (that I would never have the patience to decorate) and often does themes based on popular books/movies/games. My favorite?  The Nyan Cat cookies (I mean, seriously, holy cow!) and the Heart Thumbprint cookies (because they look delicious, I've never watched Mad Men).

And of course, I have to give a shout out to my fellow Huntsville blogger over at Southern Plate, who provides tasty Southern recipes.  I'm a fan of the Harvest Stuffed Cinnamon Rolls post (someday I, too, will break down and make cinnamon rolls from scratch. Just not today) and her post on Mama's Creamy Macaroni & Cheese (ever notice how each Mac'n'cheese recipe is a tad different. As a fan of the dish I love the variety).

Then there's the blog, Tracey's Culinary Adventures, which always has tasty looking recipes with great photography.  I really enjoyed her recent post on Bourbon and Brown Sugar Marinated Flank Steak (which I'm really going to have to try, Yum!) and Lemon-Rosemary Chicken Kebabs (my mom has a fire pit, so I really hope she's paying attention to this one. Hint, hint).

Katydid Country is another super-interesting blog. I like it largely because it doesn't solely focus on food; she posts on crafts, country-living, gardening, and family, too.  But, since we're talking about recipes today, let me direct you to her post on Sour Dough Orange Rolls (I'll admit to being a little obsessed with breakfast breads) and her Fish Tacos recipe (secret: I loathe fish. My boyfriend loves it and these look tasty even to me, so maybe I'll make the attempt).

I'm also a fan of Elizabeth's Edible Experience, who makes some very pretty food and provides great pictures for all her steps. Recipes of interest? Nutty Gnocchi (I've never made or had gnocchi, but I confess, I'm intrigued) and her Crawfish and Eggplant Beignets (I love, love, love crawfish, and these look soooo tasty. Fortunately for my waistline, I don't own a deep fryer).

Sing for Your Supper is an adorable blog. I love that she owns up to both successes and failures; everyone needs a good kitchen tantrum now and then.  I really liked her recent post on Crockpot Pulled Pork (so tasty looking; now if only I had a crockpot...) and her Chocolate Coffee Mix (because, yes, even though it's only June, I'm already thinking about Christmas).

That should be enough to keep you occupied for a while.  Check out these great blogs and poke around, cause they all have some spiffy recipes!

Go, hooman, I will not stop you. Just don't forget to come back...


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Orphans, Princes, and Plots, Oh My!

Writing my last post on teen summer reading really got in the mood for a nice Young Adult fantasy novel.  Sadly my initial pick was something of a downer, especially since the author shares my hometown (Boo on poorly written teen romance).  Then, my coworker (and Young Adult librarian, go figure), who I had hooked on The Thief series, handed me The False Prince and told me to give it a try.  It was awesome.

The Basics
Nielsen, Jennifer. The False Prince. New York: Scholastic, P., 2012. Print.

Born and raised in Utah, Jennifer Nielsen began writing as early as elementary school. She started out writing adult romantic suspense (I'm sure not in elementary school), before mobing on to fantasy novels for juvenile and young adult readers. She lives with her husband, three children, a dog, and a love of chocolate.

The False Prince is the first novel in Nielsen's new Ascendence Trilogy. Sage, an orphan and thief, is one of four boys selected by a nobleman to participate in a plot to install a false prince on the throne of medieval Carthya.  Sage must compete w/ the other orphans, and he's clearly competing for more than a crown, since the losing boys likely won't survive not being selected.  Sage stands a pretty good chance since he's clever, crafty, and a whole lot more than he seems.

The Book
One of the best aspects of The False Prince is that the book is incredibly well written. Nielsen offers up some high quality prose that is sure to please a wide audience.  It's not to advanced for her target teen readership, but it's sophisticated enough to engage and delight adult readers as well.  Along with the polished writing, we find a fast-paced and captivating plot that, while not entirely unpredictable, is highly interesting and extremely well done.  I can't say too much more without giving away all the good parts. Suffice it to say that I loved every second of the 342 pages that I breezed through in one evening (okay and very early morning).

Nielsen also provides readers with some great characters.  Until you get close to the end, you really won't be sure who to dislike and who not to worry about, which is nicely representative of the situation the protagonist finds himself in.  We have the conniving nobleman Conner, who is despicable but also frighteningly convincing in his manipulations.  Then we have the orphans themselves, who cover a range of personality traits: sickly, sniveling, brown-nosing, plotting, jerky, arrogant, in need of protection, sympathetic, clever, crafty, etc.  Given the short time period of the book (about 2 weeks) and the close quarters setting in which most of it takes place, the characters have to vivid to hold reader's attention. Nielsen more than succeeds at this.

The best part of the novel for me hands down was the level of suspense that Nielsen creates and maintains.  I could not stop turning the pages.  The novel is full of politics and twists, and it doesn't shy away from the occasional truly gritty scene.  A real, almost tangible sense of danger, importance, and urgency pervades the book, keeping both the characters and the readers on their toes.  Nielsen offers just enough hints and plotting to keep you guessing without allowing you to be absolutely sure of the resolution until its right up on you.  Perfect.

I'm dreadfully sick of the YA trilogy format that seems to pervade the age group regardless of whether the story deserves to be that lengthy. But this book made me love it again. I cannot wait for the second and third novels.

  • Visit the author's website for some nifty information and to check out her other series geared toward middle graders.  While you're there, also visit her section offering tips for writers
  • Nielsen also has a blog!
  • Check out The False Prince page over at the publisher's website, which offers a description and an excerpt. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Super-easy Sunday: Fruit Dip!

You may hate the heat, but you've got to love all the fresh produce available during summer, especially the abundance of fruits.  The heat also doesn't always inspire me to jump in the kitchen near the stove and oven, so this super-easy, no cook recipe for Fruit Dip can be just the thing. I first had it at a potluck dinner party several years ago, and when I asked, it turned out to have a ridiculously easy recipe.

What You'll Need
Smallish mixing bowl                                                      Cutting board
2 spoons                                                                           Knife for slicing
1 package cream cheese                                                   13 oz jar marshmallow creme

Now Let's Make Fruit Dip!
Yeah, you read that right: three ingredients. Try to leave your cream cheese out ahead of time to soften.  It's best if you can avoid microwaving, but if you must, watch it closely. You want the cream cheese soft but not warm and melty.  I use reduced fat cream cheese for this recipe, since it doesn't affect the flavor at all. If you're buying cream cheese in the tub, make sure not to accidently wind up with "cooking cream." It's not the same (no, really). Place your cream cheese in your smallish mixing bowl.

Take one of your spoons and beat the cream cheese until it's smooth and has lost its form. Move the cream cheese around the bowl so that it forms a little well (or bowl of its own) with most of the cream cheese to the sides of the bowl and only a little in the center.  This will help us when it comes time to mix in the marshmallow fluff a little later.

Now, open your jar of marshmallow creme.  Using your other (clean) spoon, scoop out marshmallow creme and add it to the center of the cream cheese.  This part really varies by taste.  If you like your dip cheesier, only add half the jar of marshmallow fluff. If, however, you like the dip a little sweeter add about 3/4 of the jar (like me).  If you're not sure, start with half the jar, mix it in, taste, and add more until you've reached a mixture that pleases you. 

Using your cream cheese spoon (to avoid cross contamination in case you need to add more marshmallow later), you're going to fold the marshmallow fluff into the cream cheese. This avoid having the marshmallow cling to the spoon and resist mixing.  Start at the side of the bowl and dig your spoon under the cream cheese with the back of the spoon facing the middle of the bowl. Lift the cream cheese toward the center and press it down into the marshmallow creme.  Turn the bowl and repeat with another side.

Use the folding motion until the marshmallow creme become easier to mix in. Then you can transition to a more normal stirring method. Whip the fruit dip until it's well blended and smooth in texture. Make sure that there are no lumps.  If you're having trouble getting a clump to mix in, squish it with the back of your spoon and stir.  

Set your fruit dip aside or allow it to chill in the refrigerator.  Using your cutting board and knife, slice up any fruits that you want to go with the dip.  I used apples this time, but I like it best with berries, especially strawberries.  The dip goes well with just about any fruit you can think of.

Spoon the dip into a pretty serving dip, arrange the fruit on a nice plate and voila! Instant party dish.  (Or, you can do what I did and dig in).


Thursday, June 7, 2012

What?! You Want Me to Read this Summer?

What with an A/C unit being down and the sudden abundance of teens skulking about the Library, I can really tell that summer has descended upon us yet again.  And I really mean descended, cause here in the South the heat and humidity kind of hit you with a whomp.  So what do you do with that youngster driving you nuts for the next 3 months?  Well, I've put together a slightly different blog post today and created a Summer Reading Recommendation List for teens (and maybe a few pre-teens/ advanced readers).  Now, these aren't your summer reading school books (blegh); these are books that I loved or would have loved as a teen.  Maybe you'll find a few on here that you or the teen in your life will enjoy.

And... List!

The Black Swan by Mercedes Lackey - This is a pretty good step-up book for teens into the realm of adult level material. This is one of my all time favorite fantasy books. It takes the tale of Swan Lake and transforms it into a complex story of torn loyalties.  Filled with strong characters and lush descriptions, it's got drama, romance, magic, and action, lending it wide appeal.

Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas - This makes for a great read for teens.  It's got drama, suspense, betrayal and a hero you can really root for.  The story is fascinating, which makes it easier for teens to adapt to the prose and get into the book. Simple summary? The hero is falsely accused of treason, escapes from prison and seeks revenge against those who wronged him. Great classic read.

Croak by Gina Damico - I really loved this book. It's a recent release, so it's nice and fresh and likely something you haven't encounter just yet.  The heroine is nice and spunky with just the right amount of rebellion.  Oh, and she's a grim reaper, so yeah. Check out my full review or pick it up and get going! The sequel, Scorch, is due out this September.

Emma by Jane Austen -  Another classic that's great for teens. The prose is a little more difficult than Dumas, but its a great book for that a dip into classic literature. Emma is a great heroine, who, even through the divide of a couple centuries, teen girls can identify with.  You'll root for her and you'll want to smack her silly.

Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede - The books are, in order, Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons, and Talking to Dragons. These feature a strong heroine who's not exactly your typical princess, dragons that aren't exactly fire breathing monsters, and  a good dose of humor in case you were worried about dragons and princesses getting too serious.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card - Originally written for an adult sci-fi audience, I think this books is great for teens. It's hero, Ender, is a young boy who lives in a futuristic world where the government breeds and relies on child geniuses to help combat a alien race set to destroy humans.  Ender excels at the school but also suffers from isolation as a result, making him easily identifiable.

Green Rider by Kristen Britain - I think I first picked this up at age 14. Again, it's not really written for a teen audience, but it translates really well.  The heroine starts out a 16 year old girl who runs away from her private school. Along the way home, she encounters a dying member of the king's messenger service who makes her promise to see to it that his life or death message gets delivered. Karrigan starts a school girl but grows up over the course of the book and the series. The other books are First Rider's Call, The High King's Tomb, and Blackveil.

Inda by Sherwood Smith - Smith has written for the young adult audience, but this book targets adults. It is significantly more adult in some of its themes, but for an advanced teen reader, I think it could work.  The story follows Inda, the second son of a nobleman, who is sent to the Royal Academy to be trained in battle and leadership.  This also tosses Inda into a world of intrigue and advanced politics, which he only begins to understand by the end of the novel.  Continue with The Fox, King's Shield, and Treason's Shore.

Maus I and II by Art Speigelman - Don't knock the graphic novel. This one is a true literary work of art.  It tells the story of the author's father's experience during World War II on the run in Hitler's Europe.  In the novel Nazis are portrayed as cats and Jews as mice with a variety of symbolic animals mixed in for other groups and ethnicities. A moving true story that will absorb any reader, with a richness added by the illustrations.

Quest for a Maid by Frances Mary Hendry - I'm pretty sure this was in my stocking one year, and, like the perverse teen that I was, I refused to read it for a while before a fit of boredom took hold. It soon became a favorite.  This is more middle school age level, but worth a read all the same. Hiding under a table, Meg hears her older sister Inge murder the King of Scotland with witchcraft. Meg is sent to accompany the rightful heir, The Maid of Norway, back to Scotland. Adventure ensues.  A great historical novel set in medieval Scotland.

Ranger's Apprentice by John Flanagan - I've posted on this in the past, but I must reiterate how excellent these books are. Great for boys and girls alike, this series can also be a gateway into reading for a reluctant reader.  They follow Will as he journeys from apprentice to full Ranger. Rangers are part of a peace keeping force that protects the nation from both inside and outside threats and are known for their skills at archery and sneakiness.  Start with The Ruins of Gorlan and move on to The Burning Bridge, The Icebound Land, Battle for Skandia, The Sorcerer in the North, The Siege of Macindaw, Erak's Ransom, The King's of Clonmel, Halt's Peril, The Emperor of Nihon-ja, and The Lost Stories. That should keep you occupied for awhile.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline - Video gamer? Get old school with this great historical gaming read. And by historical, I mean the 80s.  This novel is set in a dystopic modernity that has retreated to a virtual world. Players the world over seek out clues that will eventually lead them to "win" an inheritance, and Wade Watts aka Parzival finds the first clue. See my previous review for more details.

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy - I love, love, loved this book as a teen.  It's set during the French Revolution and features a historical caped crusader who rescues french nobility from Madame Guillotine.  It's a classic, but the story is so riveting it's easy to get into.  It's filled with suspense, drama, intrigue and action, with just the right dash of romance.

Tailchaser's Song by Tad Williams - another foray into adult level material. It tells the story of Fritti Tailchaser, a tom cat on a mission. It's a fantasy told from a cats perspective.  Guaranteed to be a hit with animal and adventure lovers alike. And don't make the mistake of comparing it to Erin Hunter's Warriors series. It's so much better.

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner - This is a great series starter that focuses on Gen, a mischievous thief who gets somewhat unwillingly drafted by the King's Scholar into a mission for an ancient artifact. Still, it's better than prison; the magus might have a plan, but Gen is tricky and has some ideas of his own. This book is a lot more complex than it initially appears to be with all politics, mythology, and some really great complex characters.  Once you're done with this one, move on to the rest of the series: The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, and A Conspiracy of Kings. The twist in the second book will get you.

Books I haven't read but will cause I'm pretty sure they're awesome

Cinder by Marissa Meyer -  a retelling of Cinderella with a futuristic cyborg twist.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor - a young girl lives half in a world of monster, runs mysterious errands and searches for the truth about herself.
Graceling by Kristin Cashore - Gracelings are gifted with extreme skills, and Katsa's grace is killer, literally. Made to act as the king's bullyboy, she befriends Prince Po, learns a pretty important secret, and embarks on an adventure.
Terrier by Tamora Pierce - Beka Cooper is a rookie police officer, known as Terriers, who wants to be at the top of her profession.