Sunday, September 28, 2014

Dark Triumph

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers

I read the first book, Grave Mercy, HERE.

Disclaimer: At the ALA conference, I managed to snag an advance reading copy of Mortal Heart, the third one in this series. At the time I didn't know it was the third one. When I got home and started receiving/sorting through all my books. I was compelled to get the first two in the series. I have no regrets.

Disclaimer: This will undoubtedly contain spoilers for the first book, Grave Mercy. If you don't want anything spoiled and plan on reading this series, I strongly recommended skipping this review.

An amazon summary, "The convent views Sybella, naturally skilled in the arts of both death and seduction, as one of their most dangerous weapons. But those assassin's skills are little comfort when the convent returns her home to the life that nearly drove her mad. And while Sybella is a weapon of justice wrought by the god of death himself, he must give her a reason to live. When she discovers an unexpected ally imprisoned in the dungeons, will a daughter of Death find something other than vengeance to live for?" AMAZON LINK OF JUSTICE

Based on the first book, Grave Mercy,  I knew to expect a bit of a rocky start in the writing, but also a gruesome narrator as the this book is about Sybella. Sybella is the daughter of a cruel man; D' Albert. We were given glimpses of D' Albert in the first book, but he seemed to be the token angry noble who sought only his own gain in many interactions of power struggle.

Throughout the book, Sybella constantly hints at the horrors she faced as a child and how the convent was supposed to release her from misery and let her take vengeance on the world.

The convent trained Sybella just enough then sent her back to D' Albert's household so she could watch the evil lord and report what he was doing. Sybella was also granted the permission to kill D' Albert when she saw a marque on his person; something she searches for every moment she can.

So. Sybella continues to hint at how horrifying D' Albert and his men are for much of the book with some acute flash backs to gruesome events (that I was very desensitized too by the time I read them due to all the hinting).

Sybella has also been charged with freeing the Beast of Waroch from his prison at D' Albert's, which after a lot of sweet cunning, she manages. However, Beast knocks her out and she's taken along with him out of the household and away from her vengeance of killing D' Albert.

Sybella continues with her mission to get Beast safely back to the Duchess where he will be able to rally the people of Brittany to come to the Duchess' aide in her greatest time of need.

Yet, Sybella has to manage to keep Beast alive (he was SUPER beat up in the dungeon), get past D' Albert's men AND the french men, before finally delivering him to the Duchess. She's got her hands full.

There is a lot of Sybella's back story and based on her back story, her ruthless and blood thirsty nature makes more sense.

SPOILERS. The romance that bloomed between Sybella and Beast felt VERY forced at one point. As if Beast was whacked by the plot wizard into falling in love with Sybella because REASONS and suddenly he was a charming gentleman to her despite his ugly demeanor (COUGH BEAUTY AND THE BEAST COUGH).

I didn't care for this book nearly as much as I liked the first one, but it ended on a well enough note. Plus there was a lot of horrifying things that were hinted at that D' Albert had done, yet we didn't see too many of them actually play out. Just hints here and there and then a couple scenes where I really didn't want all the details because they were horrifying. So there's that.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Grave Mercy

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Disclaimer: At the ALA conference, I managed to snag an advance reading copy of Mortal Heart, the third one in this series. At the time I didn't know it was the third one. When I got home and started receiving/sorting through all my books. I was compelled to get the first two in the series. I have no regrets.

Grave Mercy got off to a bit of a rough start for me. There was about fifteen pages of back story before a leap over the intense training portion of becoming a handmaiden of death. There were a couple points where the timeline seemed to get a bit muddled in the beginning, but I powered through and was greatly rewarded.

An amazon summary, ""Fiction and history coalesce in a rich, ripping tale of assassinations, political intrigue and religion. . . . LaFevers’ ambitious tapestry includes poison and treason and murder, valor and honor and slow love, suspense and sexuality and mercy. A page-turner—with grace." --Kirkus Reviews, starred review Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage to the respite of the convent of St. Mortain. Here she learns that the god of Death has blessed her with dangerous gifts and a violent destiny. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others. But how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who has stolen her heart?" AMAZON LINK OF JUSTICE

Ismae has been pledged to a brute by her abusive father. There are allusions to how much control her father had over her life, and how marrying the brute might save her from a worse fate of remaining with her father. As soon as the wedding is over, Ismae is escorted upstairs to consummate the marriage, but her brute of a husband sees the vicious scar trailing down her back. He casts her into the basement as she has been marked as one of Mortain's (who is the god of death). Ismae nurses her injuries and falls into a light sleep, waiting for whatever fresh horrors her husband may bring.

An herbwitch opens the door to her prison and gets Ismae out of there. She sets Ismae off on a long journey to reach the convent of Mortain where Ismae will be looked after. Ismae encounters a few key characters when she first arrives at the convent; among them are the abbess of the convent, Sybella, and Annith. Ismae is sat down by the abbess who explains what the convent is/does, Ismae pledges to Mortain (the convent), and starts training to be an assassin.

There is a hint that time has passed, Ismae has completed her training, but the duchy of Britany finds itself in need of an assassin, and Lord Duval must be watched. Ismae is sent out to watch over his actions while posing as a mistress under the orders to kill him if she discovers treason.

Ismae and Duval frequently fight, but it's Duval that starts to show Ismae that the world isn't all that the convent has led her to believe.

There's a lot of political intrigue at play here and the author notes that she based a lot of the writing on a historical event, but took creative liberties with it. I would dub this a 'historical romantic fiction' if I had to nude it into some category.

Anyways.

So I wish I could champion this book as a display of feminine power, but really it's more of a triumph of Ismae. There is so much that she learns and insecurities that she overcomes that's heart warming to watch. However, I've been having an argument with myself about this book for about a week. So here goes.

On the one hand, Ismae tends to act 'girly' and 'feminine' when she is trying to use her body or demeanor to get information.

On the other hand, this could be a way that Ismae is using her environment to benefit her greater actions. It's easier to work within societal norms and let the people think you're a simpleton if you're a trained assassin after information.

So I took a step back and looked at the Duchess; the woman with clearly a lot of power in the book.

On the one hand, the Duchess is treated like a child by most of her council. She is thirteen years old and a lot of her suitors try to overcome her by being boisterous, obnoxious, and 'throwing their weight around' if you will.

On the other hand, the Duchess acts for the benefit of her people in most of her decisions. She is the ideal ruler who was dealt an awful situation. The Duchess has a lot of personal strength that I don't think belongs to a gender, but is rather a true character trait.

So I took one step back again and looked at Duval; the brother of the Duchess.

On the one hand, Duval treats Ismae as if she constantly needs to be looked after and is always dragging her away from social situations that seem unwise.

On the other hand, Duval respects the Duchess and tries to shelter her and protect her almost at all costs. Ismae is a little unwise with her court dealings because she is so 'green' to the world of high court. Many times Duval escorts her away it has saved her from a misfortune or potentially being exposed as an assassin.

.....yeah, I think a lot.

SO.

Perhaps the better answer to the question, "Is this a feminist book?" is to ask a better question, "Does this book celebrate character individuality?" YES. YES IT DOES. I think it champions more of the strengths of each character rather than restrict itself to the notion of what a man/woman should do.

That being said, this book was littered with fantastic characters that were very memorable.

Yay!

Happy reading!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Crabby Onigiri

...I got a little excited.
Crabby Onigiri

Onigiri (aka rice balls) are something I've always been curious to know how to make.

Luckily for me, I have a friend with similar curiosity. We cobbled some together one evening, and now I can't stop (won't stop) making them.

They're insanely delicious.


For those of you that don't know, it's pretty easy to make Onigiri. The most challenging part (for me) is to decide what kind of filling you want to put inside. I'll detail the recipe with the filling I made.

Ingredients:

  • (1) Cup of Sushi Rice
  • (1) Packet of seaweed (whichever flavor you prefer)
  • (8) Ounces of imitation crab meat (for the filling)
  • (4) Ounces of cream cheese (for the filling)
  • (1) Teaspoon of garlic powder (for the filling)
Directions:
  1. Cook sushi rice per package directions. Let the rice cool, you're going to be handling it a lot, so it's better to have it cold.
  2. Cut seaweed into in 2" x 1" rectangles; you'll want about 8 of them.
  3. Find a way to keep your hands wet. The rice will stick to your hands if they're dry. I prefer to keep a large bowl nearby that I can just dunk my hands into. I can't stress how important it is to keep your hands wet so the rice doesn't stick to them.
  4. Mince the crab meat.
  5. Combine crab meat, cream cheese, and garlic powder in a bowl. Stir well.
  6. There are different methods that people have done to make the ball aspect of the rice ball. I take a scoop of rice in my hands (wet hands) and form a little cup. Then I add a scoop of filling, before putting more rice on top. I kind of push it around until it's a ball and then apply the seaweed.
  7. Repeat step 6 until you've used all your rice/filling. It should make about (8) rice balls.

That's it! My photo above is when I made a double batch as I was having some folks over. It's a pretty quick, filling, and tasty dish.

Happy cooking!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Pulled Pork & Miscellaneous

The return of potato phone.
Pulled Pork & Miscellaneous

A lot of times when I have a leftover food item, I come up with a new dish to use it before it goes bad. I think it's been pretty efficient so far.

This is one of those dishes. It turned out stupidly good though, so I think I'm just going to add it into my cookbook. Yes.

Ingredients:

  • (1) Pound of pulled pork (the pulled pork I used was coated in honey BBQ sauce)
  • (15) Ounces of steamed broccoli
  • (4) Servings of white rice (already prepared - for me this was 1 cup of uncooked rice that I prepared according to package directions)
  • (4) Cloves of garlic
  • (6) Fresh Mushrooms
  • (3) Tablespoons of olive oil

Directions:
  1. Prepare rice per package directions.
  2. Chop garlic cloves and add to a large sauce pan.
  3. Add olive oil to the sauce pan.
  4. Turn heat on medium low, saute garlic cloves.
  5. Chop fresh mushrooms and add to the sauce pan.
  6. Add steamed broccoli to the sauce pan.
  7. Simmer and occasionally stir for five minutes.
  8. Add pulled pork to the sauce pan.
  9. Simmer and occasionally stir for five minutes.
  10. Add rice to the sauce pan, mix all ingredients.
  11. Reduce heat to low and occasionally stir until all food is heated through. 
This was created just from ingredients on hand, but it turned out very well.

...nothing says creative like the dishes born in your kitchen? Eh?

Happy cooking!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Isla and the Happily Ever After

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

I've read Anna and the French Kiss, Lola and the Boy Next Door, and now this is the third book in that universe. I'm not entirely sure if it's the final book, but I'm pretty much in love with them.

I didn't write a blog post about Anna and the French Kiss, but I did write one about Lola and the Boy Next Door which you can find HERE.

I doubt you need to read Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door to understand Isla and the Happily Ever After. There are moments where Isla will think back about different things which are covered in the other books, but they're detailed enough thoughts that you don't need the two other books to get the meaning from those thoughts. Eh.

An amazon summary, "“Stephanie Perkins’s characters fall in love the way we all want to, in real time and for good.” —Rainbow Rowell, Award-winning, bestselling author of Eleanor & Park andFangirl

New York Times Bestseller 
Love ignites in the City That Never Sleeps, but can it last?

Hopeless romantic Isla has had a crush on introspective cartoonist Josh since their first year at the School of America in Paris. And after a chance encounter in Manhattan over the summer, romance might be closer than Isla imagined. But as they begin their senior year back in France, Isla and Josh are forced to confront the challenges every young couple must face, including family drama, uncertainty about their college futures, and the very real possibility of being apart.

Featuring cameos from fan-favorites Anna, √Čtienne, Lola, and Cricket, this sweet and sexy story of true love—set against the stunning backdrops of New York City, Paris, and Barcelona—is a swoonworthy conclusion to Stephanie Perkins’s beloved series." AMAZON LINK OF JUSTICE

I disagree with the amazon summary - Isla really isn't a hopeless romantic. She might be a concerned person, but I wouldn't say she's hopeless in the romantic notion or in general. Also, Anna, St. Clair, Lola, and Cricket really don't come into play until the end of the story (except for references to Anna & St. Clair's relationship in regards to Josh's friendship with them). If you're reading for the sake of seeing those characters and don't care about Isla/Josh, you might just want to skip to the end of the book.

Isla has had a crush on Josh since their freshman year. The book begins with Isla dealing with the effects of the pain medication from having her wisdom teeth removed. She's made it to a local cafe to get some soft foods when she stumbles into Josh. With the aid of pain medications, Isla manages to have a conversation with Josh for a while before he ends up walking her home.

For the rest of the summer Isla attempts to catch Josh again at the same cafe, but has no such luck. Isla's best friend Kurt, who has autism (this is pointed out very quickly in the book), manages to put up with Isla's antics for the most part. Isla and Kurt have a cute relationship where they both deal with each other's strangeness quite well. They've been best friends since they were very young but Kurt happens to be a year below Isla in school. Anyways.

As they return to school, Isla and Kurt bump into Josh and the romance begins to flourish through the awkward first steps and bloom into something beautiful. It's has a lot of good cheesiness to it while maintaining realistic elements of family strife, school life, and really trying to understand someone.

The thing I appreciate about Stephanie Perkins' books, is that the narrators have distinctly different lifestyle situations based on their families that make them unique from each other. Perkins doesn't seem to hesitate to articulate a different slice of life. I just appreciate that.

I thought it was interesting how they tied in Anna, St. Clair, Lola, and Cricket, but they had such a short time in the story that I kind of question if it was worth it to bring them in the first place. It didn't do anything to hinder the story, but it didn't quite help the story along any either. I'm very 'eh' about that bit.

Happy reading!

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Strange Maid

The Strange Maid by Tessa Gratton

I read the first book in this series, THE LOST SUN. If you don't want any spoilers about The Lost Sun, I recommend not reading this blog post.

The weird thing about The Lost Sun, is that as time went on, I found myself thinking about it, wanting to reread it, and even recommending it to other people. The more I thought about the book, the more intrigued I became about the second book.

It's not very often that books have that affect on me.

An amazon summary, "Fans of Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, and Maggie Stiefvater will embrace the richly drawn, Norse-influenced alternate world of the United States of Asgard, where cell phones, rock bands, and evangelical preachers coexist with dragon slaying, rune casting, and sword training in schools. Where the president runs the country alongside a council of Valkyries, gods walk the red carpet with Hollywood starlets, and the U.S. military has a special battalion dedicated to eradicating Rocky Mountain trolls. 

Signy Valborn was seven years old when she climbed the New World Tree and met Odin Alfather, who declared that if she could solve a single riddle, he would make her one of his Valkyrie. For ten years Signy has trained in the arts of war, politics, and leadership, never dreaming that a Greater Mountain Troll might hold the answer to the riddle, but that’s exactly what Ned the Spiritless promises her. A mysterious troll hunter who talks in riddles and ancient poetry, Ned is a hard man to trust. Unfortunately, Signy is running out of time. Accompanied by an outcast berserker named Soren Bearstar, she and Ned take off across the ice sheets of Canadia to hunt the mother of trolls and claim Signy’s destiny." AMAZON LINK OF JUSTICE


Signy is a very fierce character. When she was young, she was courageous in all of her actions and was even bold enough to climb the New World Tree (which is fenced off/off limits). She found Odin who branded her as a Valkyrie who could assume her title if she proved herself to her fellow Valkyries.

From that moment, she was raised amongst the Valkyries. Signy embraces different aspects of Odin's madness and chaos that the other Valkyries seem to not embrace as much. Signy is often caught up in the chaos of life; her heart sings for justice, for poetry, and to strive in the ways that Odin has laid out for her.

One night, after an ugly argument with her fellow Valkyries over a sacrifice she was going to make to Odin (someone's life), she slumbered in the boughs of the New World Tree. When she awoke, a riddle was burned on the tree above her head for all to see.

For the last two years, Signy has left the other Valkyries and has been searching for the answer to her riddle. She's traveled across the United States of Asgard by herself. She does odd jobs to get by as she puzzles endlessly over the riddle she believes to be set forth by Odin.

One day she runs into Unferth who claims to know the answer to her riddle. She's curious and desperate for her answer, but Unferth reveals it to be a stone heart, more specifically, a troll heart.

Signy embarks to train with Unferth in the book's version of Canada. She trains with spears, plays word wars with him of sorts, and starts to learn the art of hunting trolls. She trains with him for an entire winter. During her training time, Soren's adventure from book 1 is taking place, so there are mentions of his activities throughout the story.

That's roughly a third of the book.

So, I really enjoyed how much more of the world we saw and how well the societal routines were explained. This book seemed to kick it up a notch and brought the depth I had been looking for in the first book.

They went into more about the trolls so it made the events of the first book seem more plausible in retrospect, plus there were some choice moments where the Gods seemed wickedly real in a modern setting. They also touched base on the other faiths within their world and explained it a bit better without delving annoyingly far into it which was nice.

There were parts of Signy's character that I grappled to understand (like her need to write and leave her mark (runes) wherever she went), but they were minor grapples and didn't deter me enough from the story.

All in all, it was a great read. I'm excited for the third book!

Happy reading!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Book Hunt: September 2014

This is a segment that I've always wanted to do on some level, but I usually get distracted by so many other books that I never quite make it to one of these before all the books are released.

But alas, I'm on a book hunt once more.

A book hunt is when I fall in LOVE with a series and there are still more books to be released in it, so as they come out, I HUNT FOR THEM.

In the coming months, there are a few books that are going to be released.

I will be on the hunt.

October 7, 2014-The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan AMAZON LINK OF JUSTICE. I previously reviewed ALL OF THIS SERIES. One moment.
The Heroes of Olympus:
Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series:

I reviewed The Blood of Olympus HERE.

October 28, 2014- In the Afterlight by Alexandra Bracken AMAZON LINK OF JUSTICE. I previously reviewed the first two books:
Book #1: THE DARKEST MINDS
Book #2: NEVER FADE

I reviewed In the Afterlight HERE.

November 4, 2014-Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger AMAZON LINK OF JUSTICE. I previously reviewed the first two books:
Book #1: ETIQUETTE & ESPIONAGE
Book #2: CURTSIES & CONSPIRACIES
I've also read her adult series, The Parasol Protectorate, which I kind of talked about (but not really) HERE.

Some graphic novels that I desperately want to read that I usually don't blog about (but will update The Comic Book Chronicles tab about):
Astro City: Through Open Doors - September 23, 2014
Fairest: Cinderella Vol 4 - October 7, 2014

There are always more books that are going to be released throughout the year, and I still have quite a stash from the ALA conference. I am just PUMPED for these books to be released. I don't know when I'll get my hands on them (as soon as I possibly can between everything else, LIFEEE), but I'll be updating this blog post when I post a review of them for sure.

So, a book forecast? Eh?

Happy book hunting!