Thursday, August 9, 2018

Book Review: This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

Published: July 5th, 2016

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Paranormal

Hardcover Pages: 464

Synopsis: There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.

Thoughts: Here we have another book that I wanted to like more than I actually did. It features two interesting main characters on opposite sides of a conflict in Kate and August, and doesn't resort to romance to bring the two of them together, even though it does seem like perhaps there could be the possibility of something there in the future. The world is one you have to kind of think about to entirely understand, which isn't necessarily a bad thing (it takes a bit to understand what the monsters are, though it is left unclear as to just how the whole thing is happening in the first place, which is perhaps a larger gripe of mine than I originally thought since I'm still going on about it).

But I think what I found missing were some real twists and turns. It seems like the last twist at the end was supposed to be something of a surprise, but honestly I saw it coming from a mile away. I get that you want the audience to figure some things out because that makes them feel smart, but I guess I just wanted something a little... I don't know... different. The story basically starts out as a boarding school drama, then turns into a road trip that eventually leads back to home. Heck, I've written that story myself.

Okay, let's get back to what's turning out to be my biggest problem, apparently. The world, the creatures, how it works, why it's happening, why certain creatures have to use music to do their deeds... I mean, are these questions answered in the follow up? If not, I don't know that I'd care to read it. Here's the thing - if the story itself was engaging enough, I wouldn't care as much about those questions. But because I'm expecting everything that happens, I just want to know more about the world itself and why the monsters are there in the first place. From a brief glance at the reviews, it seems like maybe the second book is more satisfying, so maybe I'll give it a shot since it's a duology and that will be a guaranteed end.

That said, the writing itself is good. I did some more reading up on the author and found that she wrote another more adult series (Shades of Magic) that is generally reviewed better than this one, so more likely I'll check that out before I take a chance on the sequel to this one.

Rating: 3/5

What I'm Reading Next: The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Book Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Book Review of The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, by freshfromthe.com.The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Published: January 30, 2018

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Hardcover Pages: 368

Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

Thoughts: In many ways, my feelings about this book mirror my feelings about The Magicians, only I liked this book a bit more than that one. They both feature people from our world going into this other land that ends up being much more cruel and strange than they perhaps expected. It always sounds like a concept that I would adore, but for some reason I haven't been very enamored of either one.

Now, I will say that I enjoyed this book more in the beginning. It was an interesting mystery, and because Alice, the main character, didn't know much about her grandmother's stories, she learns along with the readers just what is going on and how it all relates to the Hinterland stories. But then everything takes a turn once she actually ventures into the Hazel Wood, and consequently the Hinterland itself.

When trying to pin down exactly what I didn't enjoy as much about what happens after the turn, I wasn't quite sure. But, I think it might be two things - one, things get a little too strange, and two, Alice isn't necessarily a character I connect to very much. Characters don't always need to be likable, but I didn't really feel all that sympathetic toward her, which was something of an obstacle for enjoyment. Back to my other point - yeah, things get weird. I get that it's in this other fairyland world, but because things start so much based in reality, it was sometimes hard to get around the sheer strangeness of the Hinterland and the Hazel Wood.

That said, if you were a big fan of The Magicians, this might be right up your alley. Again, I really enjoyed the first, say, 40% or so, before a particularly big thing happens that I won't spoil, but after that it went a bit downhill for me. It looks like it's now going to be continued as a series, and personally I don't think I'll be reading more. But, if the stories themselves are done, I might read those. The snippets of the actual Hinterland tales were great.

Rating: 3/5

What I'm Reading Next: This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Book Review: Frozen Tides (Falling Kingdoms #4) by Morghan Rhodes

Book Review: Frozen Tides (Falling Kingdoms #4) by Morghan Rhodes by freshfromthe.com
Frozen Tides by Morgan Rhodes

Published: December 15, 2015

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Hardcover Pages: 413

Synopsis: Rebels, royals, and monsters wage war over the Mytican throne in the shocking fourth book of the Falling Kingdoms series, from New York Times bestselling author Morgan Rhodes.

CLEO: Reeling after a bloody showdown in Limeros ending with Amara’s abduction of the water crystal, and a vacancy in the Mytican throne, Princess Cleo must cast aside her feelings and look toward her kingdom with the eyes of a Queen.

MAGNUS: With the kingdom in chaos, Princess Lucia still missing and quite possibly in danger, and a shocking realization about Cleo, the steely prince is once again torn between love and duty, leaving him wondering whether he’s strong enough to rule his people.

LUCIA: The young sorcercess has had her vengeance after the cruel death of her first and only love. Heartbroken and unable to trust anyone, she allies with the awoken Fire god, who also seeks revenge.

JONAS: After escaping death by the skin of his teeth, the defeated rebel—along with a mysterious stranger–leader reunites with Princess Cleo, only to find himself a mere pawn in a dangerous hunt for the elusive Kindred.

KING GAIUS: Abandoned by Melenia and betrayed by his own children, Gaius flees Mytica and sails to Kraeshia, where he attempts to ally with the famously brutal emperor across the Silver Sea.

Thoughts: It's funny, I was saying how not a lot of story really happened in the previous books as I started reading this one, and then boom, bang, all kinds of stuff started happening. That's not to say nothing happened in the previous books, but there was a lot more of what you'd call "palace intrigue" or something similar. Basically, a lot of stuff in a palace and speaking to people in dreams.

But yes, now things are moving! People are finally getting over themselves and admitting their true feelings! I was starting to get a little annoyed at a certain two characters for constantly doubting each other, but here, finally, they are moving on. This book spent more time with Magnus and Cleo than it felt like the past two books did, and I was here for it.

I do find it interesting how I seem to forget about certain characters after reading books sometimes. For example, I did not really remember this Felix character at all from the past books, yet here he came into much closer focus. I also seemed to forget about Theon, which isn't as surprising, because he was only in the first book, but his death did cause the biggest rift between Magnus and Cleo.

I'm kind of babbling on, but basically this has been my favorite book in the series so far. However, I will say that a twist at the end to me was a bit stupid and just there to make things harder on certain relationships rather than for any real story reason. But we'll see if that pans out in the next two books, which are supposed to be the last two.

Rating: 4/5

What I'm Reading Next: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Book Review: Nemesis by Brendan Reichs

Nemesis by Brendan Reichs

Published: March 21, 2017

Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult

Hardcover Pages: 443

Synopsis:  He killed me. He killed me not. He killed me.

It’s been happening since Min was eight. Every two years, on her birthday, a strange man finds her and murders her in cold blood. But hours later, she wakes up in a clearing just outside her tiny Idaho hometown—alone, unhurt, and with all evidence of the horrifying crime erased.

Across the valley, Noah just wants to be like everyone else. But he’s not. Nightmares of murder and death plague him, though he does his best to hide the signs. But when the world around him begins to spiral toward panic and destruction, Noah discovers that people have been lying to him his whole life. Everything changes in an eye blink.

For the planet has a bigger problem. The Anvil, an enormous asteroid threatening all life on Earth, leaves little room for two troubled teens. Yet on her sixteenth birthday, as she cowers in her bedroom, hoping not to die for the fifth time, Min has had enough. She vows to discover what is happening in Fire Lake and uncovers a lifetime of lies: a vast conspiracy involving the sixty-four students of her sophomore class, one that may be even more sinister than the murders.

Thoughts: Nemesis starts off at a breakneck pace, with mysteries abounding about why Min has been killed every other year since she was eight, why she always comes back, and just who the strange man in the suit is that does the killing. The story makes you wonder just who is involved and what it all means, which is a great way to keep a reader engrossed. On top of all that, there is the threat of a life-ending asteroid on its way to hit the Earth, heightening tensions throughout the small town where Min lives.

Min herself is a strong female character who is pretty easy to get behind. She wants to figure out what's happening to her, and starts going to great lengths to do so. The other two main characters, Tack and Noah, are not quite as engaging as Min. Noah is like Min, in that he also is killed every two years, though he thinks he's just having dreams. Thinking he's crazy has made him pull away from life and hardly ever elicit his true opinion on anything, or take action when he knows something to be wrong. The third main character is Min's best friend Tack, who in many ways is the opposite of Noah, shooting his mouth off without thinking of the consequences at nearly every turn.

Bigger than not really liking Noah or Tack is that about halfway through the book, everything changes, and not for the better. You may want answers in the beginning, but once they start coming, they are, let's just say, not that satisfying. There's also this whole subplot with a bully, and I don't know, guys, bullies just get exhausting after awhile. Especially when they end up being as extreme as this one is. And on top of that, a bunch of random new characters start being introduced about halfway through, yet they do hardly anything at all, so it's just like... why? Why bother with all the descriptors for them.

Overall, the book starts off really well, but it ends in kind of a fizzle for me, to the point where it was a bit tough to get through. It's the first in what is supposed to be a trilogy, but I don't know that I'll continue. I just ended up feeling frustrated at what could have been.

Rating: 2.5/5

What I'm Reading Next: Frozen Tides (Falling Kingdoms #4) by Morgan Rhodes

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Easy Strawberry Sonker

Berry season is upon us, where you'll find cheap and delicious strawberries in abundance at your grocery and farmer's markets. Sometimes, you end up getting so many that you don't have time to eat them all by themselves. Enter - the sonker.

Recipe for Easy Strawberry Sonker by freshfromthe.com.

What the heck is a sonker, you ask? I had no idea either, but I was looking for something easy and delicious to make on a weeknight, and came across said sonker. It's basically very similar to a cobbler mixed with a pie, but there's no worrying about cutting together butter into a topping, or making a crust. That sounds just about right for a weeknight dessert, doesn't it?

Recipe for Easy Strawberry Sonker by freshfromthe.com.

What's also nice is that you can use frozen berries instead, and it will turn out just as delicious. My version here uses just fresh strawberries, but the first time I made this, I actually did a combination of fresh strawberries and frozen blueberries because I didn't have enough strawberries on their own, and it turned out great! The recipes I've seen all seem to use just one kind of berry, but I would think you could use any combination and it would turn out fine. Have a bunch of those mixed frozen berries from Costco? Try it!

Recipe for Easy Strawberry Sonker by freshfromthe.com.

The topping has a nice bit of sugary crunch to it when it's fresh, but it will become a little more soggy if you have this around for a few days. I didn't mind, though, it still tasted awesome. And yes, you really do want to have the baking dish set on top of a baking sheet when it's in the oven. The berries get to some mighty bubbling, and you'll have berry goop going on to the bottom of your oven if you don't have that to protect it. No one wants that.

Recipe for Easy Strawberry Sonker by freshfromthe.com.


Write recipe photo description here

When you want a cobbler but don't want to go to the trouble, a sonker is just the ticket.

Ingredients:
  • 2 pounds (6 1/2 cups) fresh strawberries, hulled, or 2 pounds (7 cups) frozen strawberries
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • Salt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and hot
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Instructions:

  1. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and preheat oven to 350F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside for the moment. Combine the strawberries, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Whisk water and cornstarch together in a small second bowl, then add to the strawberry mixture and toss until strawberries are evenly coated.
  2. Transfer the strawberry mixture to an 8-inch square baking dish and place the dish on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 35-40 minutes (1 hour for frozen strawberries) until the filling is bubbling around the sides of the dish, stirring and scraping the bottom with a rubber spatula halfway through.
  3. Remove sheet from the oven and stir the filling, scraping again with the spatula. Whisk flour, baking powder, remaining 3/4 cup sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt together in a bowl. Whisk in the milk, melted butter, and vanilla extract until smooth. Pour batter evenly over the filling.
  4. Bake until the surface is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, another 35-40 minutes, rotating the dish halfway through baking. Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.
Recipe thanks to Cook's Country


Recipe for Easy Strawberry Sonker by freshfromthe.com.
Recipe for Easy Strawberry Sonker by freshfromthe.com.