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 are 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.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Book Review: The Fates Divide (Carve the Mark #2) by Veronica Roth

Book Review: The Fates Divide (Carve the Mark #2) by Veronica Roth by freshfromthe.com.
The Fates Divide by Veronica Roth

Published: April 10, 2018

Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult, Fantasy

Hardcover Pages: 450

Synopsis:  Fate brought them together. Now it will divide them.

The lives of Cyra Noavek and Akos Kereseth are ruled by their fates, spoken by the oracles at their births. The fates, once determined, are inescapable.

Akos is in love with Cyra, in spite of his fate: He will die in service to Cyra’s family. And when Cyra’s father, Lazmet Noavek—a soulless tyrant, thought to be dead—reclaims the Shotet throne, Akos believes his end is closer than ever.

As Lazmet ignites a barbaric war, Cyra and Akos are desperate to stop him at any cost. For Cyra, that could mean taking the life of the man who may—or may not—be her father. For Akos, it could mean giving his own. In a stunning twist, the two will discover how fate defines their lives in ways most unexpected.

With the addition of two powerful new voices, Veronica Roth's sequel to Carve the Mark is a chorus of hope, humor, faith, and resilience.

Thoughts: In doing a quick glance at some of the reviews on Goodreads to see if others were liking this sequel to Carve the Mark, I discovered that a lot of people really didn't like the first book in this duology. I was actually pretty surprised, as I quite liked the first one, so much so that I put it on my favorite books of 2017 list. Even more surprising: the people who didn't like the first one very much were also saying they enjoyed the second one more, whereas I, again, think the opposite.

That's not to say that I didn't like this book, because I did (indeed, I read it quicker than I have any other of my recent books!), just not quite as much as the first one. It does what a lot of stories do that I am quickly seeing that I find kind of annoying - it splits the characters up. In the first book, it was all about how Akos and Cyra were forced together and eventually came to care for each other, so I guess it makes sense that now they are "forced" back apart again, though the forced thing is really not true since they ultimately have the same goals.

The story also goes for a heavy twist a little over halfway through that certainly works for the story, but does also border on the rather implausible. I'm not going to say it because most of the story kind of hinges on this twist, but I will say I didn't really see it coming, so I guess that's good? What I did like, though, was that the story didn't go into too much war fighting. So many of these types of books end up heading into war stories, which I just... blah. Seen it a million times, and yes it may make sense, but I'm glad that here she found a way to have bits of it, but still keep it about the main characters' stories.

Speaking on the main characters, Roth also introduces some new first person perspectives into the mix. One is more limited, while the other plays a much larger role, and I'll be honest, I was just wanting to get back to Akos and Cyra whenever it was one of these new chapters. It was done, I'm sure, mostly to give a larger view of what was happening across the galaxy rather than solely focusing on Akos and Cyra, but I guess I just didn't like one of the characters very much. I won't say who as to not influence other opinions!

In saying all that, though, I did still enjoy the book. It was a satisfying conclusion in many ways, got to the action quickly, and was never boring.

Rating: 4/5

What I'm Reading Next: Nemesis by Brendan Reichs

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Published: January 10, 2017

Genre: Fantasy

Hardcover Pages: 323

Synopsis:  A magical debut novel for readers of Naomi Novik's Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, and Neil Gaiman's myth-rich fantasies, The Bear and the Nightingale spins an irresistible spell as it announces the arrival of a singular talent with a gorgeous voice.

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn't mind--she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse's fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa's mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa's new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa's stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed--this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse's most frightening tales.

Thoughts: Where to begin with this review. I'm a bit torn on this book. I feel like I should have liked it more than I actually did. It has almost everything that I normally really enjoy in a book - fantasy, a strong main character, and rich descriptions without being all about said descriptions. But here's the thing - this book is extremely slow.

Truly, you could say that nothing really happens for about 75% of the book. The story is mostly a lot of buildup to that final quarter when things finally start moving somewhere. I suppose for a lot of readers, that's probably fine. But for me, I began to wonder if anything even was going to happen at all, as there is a lot of promise of magical beings and some evil trying to awaken, but most of the story is spent on Vasya dealing with family issues.

Moving on from that, what was really interesting about the development of this story was how it delved into the clash between more "modern" religion (I suppose it would have been more modern at the time the book is supposed to be set) of worshipping one God figure versus the older religion of the area, mainly these little creatures that people are supposed to pay homage to in order for them to keep protecting their hearth and home. This clash is emphasized in the character of Father Konstantin, whose goal is to bring Vasya to heel, basically, and make her live in fear of God and cease her belief in the old ways. One of the main themes of this clash was the idea that fear was worse than anything else, in truth the real enemy of all, as it fed the evil and weakened the protectors.

Ultimately, I think the book has a good message and for those that like a fairy-tale like story, surely you would not be disappointed. For me personally, I craved a bit more action and intrigue. The question now becomes whether I will continue to read this trilogy. In reading the description of the second book, The Girl in the Tower, I might, just because it sounds like there is more actually happening.

Rating: 3.5/5

What I'm Reading Next: The Fates Divide by Veronica Roth