Category Archives: Feature

Holiday Baking: Lisa Schroeder’s Favorite Cookies

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Today, we wrap-up our week-long feature on holiday baking and middle grade fiction about baking. But first, author Lisa Schroeder stops by with a guest post about why she loves baking, and shares one of her favorite recipes.

Be sure to check out Lisa’s three great middle grade books about baking:

  • It’s Raining Cupcakes
  • Sprinkles & Secrets
  • Frosting & Friendship

*          *          *

  lisa baking1          It is a fact: I love to bake. And I’ve loved to bake ever since I was a child. I have really happy memories of baking cookies with my best friend, Laurie, when I was eight and nine years old. Before Christmas, we’d spend an entire day making all kinds of cookies.

Now, as an author, when I spend months writing and editing a book, there is something so very calming and also satisfying about baking up a batch of cookies or cupcakes. I feel so accomplished after I’ve baked up some delicious treats. There are times when I’m frustrated at the computer and the kitchen will call to me. It’s like my brain knows that sometimes the best thing is to step away from the computer and go make something where you can see real results quickly. Suddenly, I don’t feel like such a failure anymore.

lisa baking2Having written an entire book about cupcakes and a cupcake shop, you might think my favorite dessert is cupcakes. But that’s not really the case. I do love them, of course, but I think my favorite desserts are actually fruit tarts and sugar cookies.

I searched long and hard for a great sugar cookie recipe, one that wasn’t plain and boring, but had some real flavor to it, and I finally found it a number of years ago, in “The Oregonian” of all places. Now that I have a great recipe, I also look for cute cookie cutters that aren’t just for Christmas, because I want to be able to eat them all year long! I got some adorable flower cookie cutters at Target, and the cool thing is I can turn the tulip upside down and make ghosts at Halloween.

You want the recipe? I hope so, because I’m going to share it with you!

Best Sugar Cookies

  • 1 ½ cup sifted powdered sugar
  • 1 cup butter (room temp)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ½ tsp almond extract
  • 2 ½ cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar

Mix sugar and butter together. Add egg, vanilla, almond extract and mix well. Measure flour by dipping method. Sift flour, baking soda and cream of tartar together, then blend ingredients. Refrigerate 2-3 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll dough to ¼ inch (note: the dough will be hard! Use lots of flour and just keep working it, and it will get soft). Cut with cookie cutter. Sprinkle with sugar if you don’t want to frost them. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes, or until barely brown. Don’t overbake! I like them frosted, and just use the butter cream recipe on the powdered sugar box.

Happy Holidays!

Holiday Baking: Frosting & Friendship by Lisa Schroeder

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We’ve got one more book in Lisa Schroeder’s middle grade series to feature this week in our literary holiday baking tie-in, and that book is Frosting and Friendship – the delicious third tale in this series, which was released just a couple months ago!

frosting and friendshipHas Lily bitten off more than she can bake? A sweet treat from the author of It’s Raining Cupcakes and Sprinkles and Secrets.

On a scale of one to ten, twelve-year-old Lily Hubbard is a zero when it comes to baking. Her cookies turn out salty, her cakes tend to lean, and things are always overcooked.

When Lily is invited to be a part of a mother-daughter book club called The Baking Bookworms, she is excited—and terrified. It seems like she’s the only one who didn’t inherit the baking gene.

But she does have the music gene, which is why she’s forming a band that will audition for their school’s annual Spring Fling. If, that is, Lily can balance her priorities. Because Isabel, one of the Baking Bookworms, has asked Lily to help plan a surprise party for their mutual friend Sophie. And the task is…creating a showstopping, mouthwatering, thirteenth-birthday-party-worthy dessert. Uh. Oh.

Soon, Lily finds herself knee-deep in sugar and sheet music as she tries to juggle her responsibility to her bandmates AND give her friend the best party ever.

For the comments: What dessert would YOU make for your best friend?

Holiday Baking: Sprinkles & Secrets by Lisa Schroeder

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Holiday Baking Week continues today, with a look at the second book in Lisa Schroeder’s It’s Raining Cupcakes middle grade series: Sprinkles & Secrets

SprinklesandSecrets_cvrIn this companion novel to It’s Raining Cupcakes, twelve-year-old Sophie has a dream come true when she’s offered a TV commercial spot. She’s not just happy about the opportunity, she’s over the moon happy!

But then she finds out what exactly she’ll be advertising: the delectable, ever-popular brownies from Beatrice’s Brownies, which just so happens to be the number one competitor to It’s Raining Cupcakes, a cupcake shop owned by her best friend, Isabel’s, family.

Sophie has a tough choice to make: Follow her dreams or crush her best friend. What’s a girl to do?

When Sprinkles & Secrets was being released last year, we invited some of our favorite middle grade authors to share their delicious baking recipes. See them all HERE!

For the comments: What is your favorite thing to bake?

Holiday Baking: It’s Raining Cupcakes by Lisa Schroeder

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All this week, we’re featuring Lisa Schroeder’s It’s Raining Cupcakes book series for middle grade readers — to tie in with all that holiday baking you’re likely to be doing this month. (Or if you’re not baking, you’ll at least be sampling some baked goods, right?)

it's raining cupcakesToday, we turn the spotlight onto the first book in the series, It’s Raining Cupcakes:

Twelve-year-old Isabel is dying to get out of her small town of Willow, Oregon, and travel like her best friend, Sophie. But when Isabel’s mother decides to open up a cupcake shop across town, Isabel is once again stuck in Willow for the summer…until she learns of a baking contest where the finalists get an all-expenses paid trip to New York City to compete in the final bake-off. But Sophie is also entering the contest, and Isabel’s mother has reservations. Can Isabel finally realize her dreams of leaving Willow without hurting two of the most important people in her life?

And don’t miss this interview our former middle grade contributor Elena (an ACTUAL middle grader) conducted with Lisa … inside a local cupcake shop!

For the comments: What’s your favorite flavor of cupcake?

Holiday Baking Week … with a Literary Twist!

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The holiday season is most definitely here — and besides pretty trees and gifts and twinkle lights, there are delicious baked goods ahead! But there’s no reason delicious baked treats can’t go hand-in-hand with some of our favorite books.

its-raining-cupcakesThat’s where Lisa Schroeder’s It’s Raining Cupcakes series comes in. There are now THREE books in this fantastic middle grade series, with each book featuring different delicious treats — as well as great stories.

So all this week, to help you kick off your holiday baking in literary style, we’re featuring Lisa’s books. We’ll start today off with tips for your baking, then each day we’ll feature a different book in Lisa’s series, and then wrap things up on Friday with a guest post from Lisa featuring one of her favorite recipes!

Baking Resources

* In search of recipes galore? Food Network Online has a bounty of baking recipes to browse, or check out another great online resource for recipes, Epicurious.

* Need tips for baking? Betty Crocker has tons of great resources and tips available online.

* For Gluten-Free Recipes, check out Sweet Cravings by Kyra Bussanich, the owner of Kyra’s Bake Shop and the three-time winner of Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars.” (I’ve eaten Kyra’s cupcakes, and they are AMAZING!)

For the comments: Share your baking tips or favorite baking resources!

Middle Grade Monday: Thanksgiving on Thursday

middle grade mondays bannerLooking for a fun (albeit, stereotyped) Thanksgiving middle grade read? Check out Jack and Annie’s next fantasy adventure in the best selling series, the Magic Tree House!

Official synopsis: Thanksgiving on Thursday

“It’s a time for giving thanks . . .

when the Magic Tree House whisks Jack and Annie back to 1621 on the first Thanksgiving Day. The Pilgrims ask them to help get things ready. But whether it’s cooking or clamming, Jack and Annie don’t know how to do anything the Pilgrim way. Will they ruin the holiday forever? Or will the feast go on?”

To learn more about this fantastic series, check out the Magic Tree House website, where parents and teachers alike will find plenty of interactive activities, lesson plans, and more to go along with these adventure-filled books!

The Theory of Everything: Mix Tape Week – “Love” (And a contest for you!)

All this week, we are featuring guest posts from Kari Luna, author of The Theory of Everything – spotlighting playlists/mixtapes featured in the book, and giving you a chance to win an amazing prize pack! (Contest details are at the bottom of this post, so be sure to read all the way to the end.)

“Music was memory. I think that’s why Dad liked making tapes and I liked listening to them. Without leaving my seat or traveling to another universe, I could go somewhere else as often as I wanted, a little world that existed for Dad and me alone.”

Love by Angelino Sophia


When my sister went away to college, I made her mixtapes. Music was everything to me – and I loved sharing it with her. She was the one who went away to London for a semester, came back, and introduced me to the good stuff, anyway: The Smiths, New Order, The Housemartins… the list goes on. Her love of new wave became my love of new wave and forever changed the way I listened to music. She let me borrow her Talking Heads albums. She played me Blondie. And she didn’t officially let me borrow her cool smoking jacket from London but I did, anyway. And somehow, lived to tell about it.

You can tell what was going on in my life by what I put on the tapes – Robyn Hitchcock and Lloyd Cole and songs of love meant it was 1991 and things were changing. In the mix from 1994, though, I seemed happier – more sure of life – and in love with The Breeders, Pavement and PJ Harvey. It makes sense. And it also makes for a perfect snapshot of my life in a certain time and place. A life I shared with my sister, through music.


When it comes to making mixtapes, Sophie’s dad is the master – and he passed the legacy down to her. Some of the rules? Always have a theme. Work diligently on the order of the songs. Name the tape creatively. And most importantly, put a lot of thought into choosing the last song. Like Sophie says in the book, her dad taught her that the last song should always leave a mark.

Love isn’t one of the tapes Dad left behind or made for himself, it’s a tape he made specifically for her. Each song has a message, including the last one. Especially the last one. At its heart, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING is about belonging, no matter who you are – or how many shaman pandas you see.

“I am human and I need to be loved, just like everybody else does.”
            – The Smiths, “How Soon Is Now?”

So go ahead – make more mixtapes.  Make more playlists! Put yourself out there and reconnect with an old friend. Tell someone you like them. Or let your sister feel like a part of your life through music. Mixtapes are like little love bombs traveling from one pair of ears to the next. Connecting, delighting, inspiring. Couldn’t we all use a little more of that?

Thanks so much for listening and reading this week!

Love by Angelino Sophia
Message of Love – The Pretenders
Close To Me – The Cure
Have Love Will Travel – Thee Headcoatees
Love Will Tear Us Apart – Joy Division
The Passenger – Iggy Pop
Two Hearts Beat As One – U2
The Village – New Order
How Soon Is Now? – The Smiths

Listen to this playlist on Spotify!

The Theory of Everything Playlist Contest

NoviceGiveawayNow it’s your chance to win the “Love” mix tape – and more! We’re giving away an amazing prize pack, put together by Kari, which features a copy of The Theory of Everything, a TTOE poster, a set of TTOE buttons, a copy of the actual “LOVE” mix tape AND a Walkman!

To enter, submit your ultimate playlist – including title – for your chance to win. Playlists should include between 5-10 songs.

Submit your ultimate playlist using the Novel Novice + TTOE Playlist Contest Entry Form.

Please note the following rules:

  • One entry per person
  • U.S. only
  • Use the entry form
  • Playlist should be 5-10 songs in length (include song title & artist)
  • Playlist should also include an original title

Entries are due by midnight (PT) on Friday, November 8th!

The Theory of Everything: Mix Tape Week – “Delirious Dusk”

All this week, we are featuring guest posts from Kari Luna, author of The Theory of Everything – spotlighting playlists/mixtapes featured in the book, and giving you a chance to win an amazing prize pack!

“Dad loved walking around New York City at night… That was why he made a soundtrack to go with it, full of brooding music that was dark, like the fading night, but inspiring – Tones on Tail, Bauhaus, The Jesus and Mary Chain. It featured driving guitars to match the driving thoughts in my brain.”

Delirious Dusk


There’s definitely a dark side to having a dark side. That’s what this tape is all about. Sure, Sophie’s Dad made it to listen to while walking around at night. But I think it’s a perfect mix for anytime. Especially Halloween! This is the music I listened to the most in high school, the music that made me feel the most understood. Bauhaus. Love and Rockets. The Cure. I’d run in my room, slam the door, put on a record and listen to it – loudly – until the world seemed right again. These are also some of my all-time favorite songs. Sophie likes them, too! So whether you’ve had a fight with your sweetheart/Mom/the world or not, take a walk. Or hole up in your car or room and press play. If you’re not feeling good by Haunted When the Minutes Drag, we need to talk.

Delirious Dusk
Cities In Dust – Siouxsie and the Banshees
Atmosphere – Joy Division
The Hanging Garden – The Cure
Socrates The Python – Peter Murphy
She’s In Parties – Bauhaus
Happiness – Tones on Tail
My Little Underground – The Jesus and Mary Chain
Haunted When The Minutes Drag – Love and Rockets

Listen to this playlist on Spotify!

The Theory of Everything: Mix Tape Week – “Gravitons & Gravy”

All this week, we are featuring guest posts from Kari Luna, author of The Theory of Everything – spotlighting playlists/mixtapes featured in the book, and giving you a chance to win an amazing prize pack!

Gravitons and Gravy

The first time I learned about gravitons, I squealed. The name made me a little giggly on the inside. Plus, gravitons are hypothetical particles like the Sasquatch. Or unicorns! (Don’t worry – I totally believe in both of those things.) I can imagine Sophie’s Dad saying: “Have fun. Don’t worry! It’s all gravitons and gravy!”

I love a ton of songs on this mix. The Cure song slays me – “Oh, I want to change it all…” but it’s the last one that really drives things home. All Sophie’s Dad ever wanted was everything. He wanted her. He wanted his scientific theories to work out. But he also wanted to travel to parallel universes. It’s a fun mix (Siouxie and the Banshees! The B-52′s!) but it’s also poignant.  Sometimes, what you get isn’t what you wanted. But a lot times, what you get is even better.

Gravitons and Gravy
Never Let Me Down Again – Depeche Mode
Private Idaho – The B-52′s
Personality Crisis – New York Dolls
The Killing Jar – Siouxsie and the Banshees
Atomic – Blondie
A Night Like This – The Cure
Love Is Stronger Than Death – The The
All We Ever Wanted Was Everything – Bauhaus

Listen to this playlist on Spotify!

The Theory of Everything: Mix Tape Week – “Questions & Quantum”

All this week, we are featuring guest posts from Kari Luna, author of The Theory of Everything – spotlighting playlists/mixtapes featured in the book, and giving you a chance to win an amazing prize pack!

Questions and Quantum


Theoretical physics wouldn’t be theoretical without questions, right? Sophie’s Dad had them. Sophie has them, too – scientific and other wise. This mix isn’t just about  the possibilities of time and space, it’s about the possibilities of the mind. Does having a shaman panda that no one else can see make you crazy? If the cafeteria ladies cover the Ramones and no one else witnesses it, did it actually happen?

Mental – and scientific – landscapes are open to interpretation. In this mix, there are two ways to get to the bottom of things. One? Ask questions. And two? Dance it all away. There’s pretty much nothing a good dose of Blondie and Gang of Four won’t fix. (Bonus: Roxy Music! Bryan Ferry. Swoon.)

Questions and Quantum
Ask – The Smiths
One Way or Another – Blondie
Rock ‘N’ Roll High School – The Ramones
Natural’s Not In It – Gang of Four
Dancing With Myself – Generation X
Six Different Ways – The Cure
All In My Mind – Love and Rockets
Love Is The Drug – Roxy Music

Listen to this playlist on Spotify!