Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Book Review: Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe #2) by Neal Shusterman

Book Review of Thunderhead, the second in the Arc of a Sythe series by Neal Shusterman.
Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

Published: January 9, 2018

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Hardcover Pages: 504

Synopsis: Rowan and Citra take opposite stances on the morality of the Scythedom, putting them at odds, in the second novel of the chilling New York Times bestselling series from Neal Shusterman, author of the Unwind dystology.

Rowan has gone rogue, and has taken it upon himself to put the Scythedom through a trial by fire. Literally. In the year since Winter Conclave, he has gone off-grid, and has been striking out against corrupt scythes—not only in MidMerica, but across the entire continent. He is a dark folk hero now—“Scythe Lucifer”—a vigilante taking down corrupt scythes in flames.

Citra, now a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, sees the corruption and wants to help change it from the inside out, but is thwarted at every turn, and threatened by the “new order” scythes. Realizing she cannot do this alone—or even with the help of Scythe Curie and Faraday, she does the unthinkable, and risks being “deadish” so she can communicate with the Thunderhead—the only being on earth wise enough to solve the dire problems of a perfect world. But will it help solve those problems, or simply watch as perfection goes into decline?

Thoughts:

It's not often that a second book in a series enraptures me more than a first, but that's what has happened with Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman. I liked Scythe well enough, it was well-written with a really interesting concept, and some great twists and turns. But this sequel takes it to another level. Just a quick anecdote... I frequently read in my car on my lunch breaks, and more often than not, I'll end up falling asleep for a little mid-day nap. But this book got me in such a grip, that I stopped falling asleep!

Thunderhead moves at a much quicker pace than Scythe, which is a good thing. I mean have you ever complained about a book moving at a quick pace? Yeah yeah, sometimes people can talk about how they enjoyed a book's slow pace with its flowery words and all that, but that type of book makes me fall asleep. Here, I wanted to know what was going to happen next. Shusterman does a great job of setting up a lot of different, seemingly unconnected plots, only to have them all come back and snap together like the pieces of a puzzle.

What's most interesting, and perhaps most disturbing as well, about this sequel is in the between chapter interludes. In the first book, these interludes were excerpts from Scythe journals, but here they are all what the Thunderhead itself is thinking. And feeling? Good question, that, because one of the main things this book is dealing with is what it means to have an artificial intelligence run the world while also contemplating its own existence, which is very much something that feels on the horizon in the real world.

It was also nice to see a book not so focused on romance. Don't get me wrong, I love me a romance just like the next person, but it wasn't needed here. There's enough other drama going on that really focusing on a romance between Citra and Rowan wouldn't have felt right for the tone. Some readers may miss their interactions, because they are fewer even than in Scythe, but for me it just made the moments when they are near each other that much more meaningful.

This book also does something that can be super annoying, but really worked here - it introduced a new main character that wasn't even mentioned nor hinted at in the first book. I was ready to really dislike this new character, but he grew on me quickly, and because he is connected to what's going on with the Thunderhead, it was also super intriguing. I also was really worried that too much focus was going to be on him at a certain point in his story, but instead the author knew to pull back on his story at that point.

The ending is such a cliffhanger, and I can't wait to read the next one. Not sure if it's purely a trilogy or what, but I'm here for it either way.

Rating: 5/5

What I'm Reading Next: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Supernatural 13x13 "Devil's Bargain"

Lucifer’s on the loose, which can only mean trouble for nearly everyone, right? Right! Ha, normally you might say wrong there, but in this case... basically Cas stabbed Luci with an angel blade, but apparently it didn’t do any permanent damage, because Lucifer is still up and about, despite feeling all cold and hungry and human-ish. He fuels up on a Cupid angel’s grace, then meets a homeless guy who tells him about a supposed faith healer named Sister Jo, who is almost certainly an angel based on the fact that she has glowy hands when she heals people, duh.

Danneel Ackles as Sister Jo and Mark Pellegrino as Lucifer in Supernatural 13x13 "Devil's Bargain"Meanwhile, Cas makes his way back to the Winchesters and fills them in on where he’s been, blah blah blah. They bring the prophet Donatello over to help translate the demon tablet, hoping it will have similar instructions as the angel tablet in the apocalypse world about how to open a rift. Of course, they’re all idiots and leave him to himself, so he gets mind f’d by Asmodeus; basically he’s supposed to tell him what he figures out about rift opening and such.

So the doofus trio head out in search of Lucifer, and are able to track him down pretty easily. But too bad for them because he’s actually found an ally in Sister Jo, or whatever her angel name is, who makes a deal with him to take little bits of her grace at a time to power up. A help each other sort of deal. Yet, even though she even protects Lucifer when the guys show up, she still used her regular credit card, which they were able to trace to find them in the first place. Ummmm ok, everyone just a bunch of dummies now or what?

Ketch also is around this episode, having been tasked by Asmodeus to find and kill Lucifer, of course he runs into the Winchesters instead, who first knock him out and leave him in the trunk, only to have him show up just as Lucifer is squeezing them rather terribly and force him and his angel dealer friend to bop away. He wants to work together to kill Lucifer, which the boys reluctantly have to sort of agree with since they currently all want the same thing.

Jensen Ackles as Dean Winchester, Danneel Ackles as Sister Jo, and Jared Padalecki as Sam Winchester in Supernatural 13x13 "Devil's Bargain"Jo takes Lucifer to meet with the angels in charge of heaven, and he wants to make a deal. Basically, he claims he will create more angels if they let him rule heaven, and that he can also give them their wings back, because apparently he saw how GAHHG did it? Sure. They agree, because they’re also dummies.

And, finally, the big reveal of the evening. Ketch is reporting back to Asmodeus and mentions he won’t be able to kill Lucifer if he’s at full strength, but apparently there is this secret blade no one’s ever mentioned before in the history of the show, that I can recall anyway, that can kill archangels. You know, the archangel blade. But Ketch, who apparently has heard of such a thing, says only an archangel can wield it, which Asmodeus is not. But you know who is? The angel he has locked up. None other than the old trickster himself, Gabriel. Dun dun dun.

Random Thoughts:

- I mean, my GAHHG, no one EVER stays dead on this show. I honestly thought they might bring back Adam/Michael because there’s been all this talk about the other Michael, and really I would’ve been down with that because he’s just been forgotten down in Hell for no good reason, but no. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike Gabriel, but he’ll always be the trickster in my eyes and this turning of other characters into angel related beings just annoys me in the first place.

- What did you all think of Danneel Ackles making her debut on the show? It's a bit odd that they'd give her the name Jo when they already had a prominent character named Jo in the past, one Jo Harvelle.

- On another note about Sister Jo, does she have some secret plan? Seems like she probably does, or else she was just a real idiot in using her real credit card.

- Anyone else noticing some gray in Jared’s hair lately? Aw.

Quotes:

Lucifer: What, what’re you gawking at, never seen the Prince of Darkness before?

Dean: Donny, how you doing?
Donny: Oh, the usual, bewildered.

Lucifer: No quaking fear?
Sister Jo: Should I quake?
Lucifer: Most people do.

Sister Jo: That was all over angel radio.
Lucifer: Yeah, star power, can’t fight it.

Lucifer: Your hair, Sam. It’s magnificent. What is it, a leave in conditioner?

Sam: How’d you get out of the trunk?
Ketch: I’m Ketch.

Previous Episode

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Book Review: Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Published: January 9, 2018

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Hardcover Pages: 384

Synopsis:  When Earth intercepts a message from a long-extinct alien race, it seems like the solution the planet has been waiting for. The Undying's advanced technology has the potential to undo environmental damage and turn lives around, and Gaia, their former home planet, is a treasure trove waiting to be uncovered.

For Jules Addison and his fellow scholars, the discovery of an alien culture offers unprecedented opportunity for study... as long as scavengers like Amelia Radcliffe don't loot everything first. Mia and Jules' different reasons for smuggling themselves onto Gaia put them immediately at odds, but after escaping a dangerous confrontation with other scavvers, they form a fragile alliance.

In order to penetrate the Undying temple and reach the tech and information hidden within, the two must decode the ancient race's secrets and survive their traps. But the more they learn about the Undying, the more their presence in the temple seems to be part of a grand design that could spell the end of the human race...

Thoughts:

I wanted to like this book much more than I actually liked it. It's space and mystery with some Indiana Jones type adventure thrown in. Humans get this signal from an ancient alien race that takes them to the far reaches of another galaxy, where secret advanced technology is hidden in these temples where you have to solve puzzles to get to the end. Interesting enough concept, right? That's why I added it to my to-read list almost instantly upon hearing about it.

But the execution is just not quite as great as I had hoped. What's the problem? It mainly has to do with the two main characters, Jules and Mia. For a good portion of the book, they are constantly lying to each other, and both just super upset about it, to the point where they go on and on about it in their chapters a little bit ad nauseum. You wish you weren't lying, I get it, buddy. Also the fact that they are both there for very specific purposes, yet get easily distracted by how pretty and interesting the other person is, you know, immediately.

I mean, look, I'm not against romance. I love me a good romance, it just happens so quickly here. I guess it's what you'd call the instalove thing, yes? They're into each other immediately and that colors most of their actions throughout the book. If that had developed more organically, and perhaps they had been a little more contentious of each other or something, I might have been more into it.

Now, the only thing that really keeps this from getting a lower rating is that the book takes a twist about halfway through, and the mystery about the ancient aliens gets a little bit more interesting. The ending twist is also kind of intriguing, but I kind of had it figured out, so it wasn't that big of a surprise. However, it does make me curious what's going to happen, but not sure it makes me curious enough to read the next one.

This book also feels a little bit like they were writing it while envisioning it as a movie. It's action-oriented, and just had a very movie-y feel to me moreso than an intriguing novel. Maybe that was the intention, but I find books that are like that are just missing a little something to really make me love them. And that's coming from someone who went to film school and loves movies!

Overall, I'm just kind of...meh. It's fine, but it could've been better.

Rating: 3/5

What I'm Reading Next: Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Supernatural 13x12 "Various and Sundry Villains"

Here's a question - if fans hadn't been upset about the way Rowena had died (ie off screen and as if she wasn't an important recurring character), would they still have brought her back? I guess I shouldn't question that, because they bring pretty much every dang person back to life on this show, but here we are with yet another resurrection on our hands. And in the form of a character I know a lot of people aren't really big fans of.

Jordon Claire Robbins as Jamie Plum, Jensen Ackles as Dean Winchester, and Elise Gatien as Jennie Plum in Supernatural 13x12 "Various and Sundry Villains"But I'm getting slightly ahead of myself. As you might have guessed, this episode is all about witches. Besides Rowena, we've got two young sister witches who go around putting men in love spells to get them to do stuff for them before, you know, bludgeoning them to death. And their next target is none other than Dean Winchester. But he's a more specific target, as they task him with bringing them back the black grimoire thingy that I barely remember from a past season. Sam clearly sees that Dean is under some kind of spell, but Dean clocks him a good one before he can stop him taking the book.

In the end, the girls make off with the book even though Sam shows up in time to stop them from killing Dean. And wouldn't you know it, that's when Rowena comes back from the dead as well. Blah blah, she had some kind of resurrection spell, who really cares. She felt the grimoire moving and came to check on it, and now wants to help find it. Only, she really wants it for herself, because she always wants something for herself. While Dean goes off to investigate where the sisters might have gone, Sam and Rowena have a heart-to-heart in the Impala, the patented heart-to-heart vehicle of choice. Basically, they've both seen Lucifer's true face, and it makes them feel helpless. Rowena wants a spell from the grimoire in order to feel less helpless, but Sam is all like it won't help you girl, you'll still feel terrible. Sam Winchester for the winning pep talk!

Jared Padalecki as Sam Winchester in Supernatural 13x12 "Various and Sundry Villains"Dean gets the address of where the witch sisters likely are, but before they can go check it out, Rowena makes it so they can't move and goes after it herself. Now, not that you care, but the girls were after the book for a spell to bring their mother back to life. Rowena shows up, and they've managed to sort of bring her back to life, as a zombie. It also turns out that Rowena had a deal with them to bring her the grimoire and she would help them resurrect their mother, because duh.

So the Winchesters manage to break free of the spell, and arrive at the house just as zombie mom is trying to eat Rowena. They tussle with the witch sisters for a bit before Rowena manages to kill zombie mom and turn the sisters into her slaves who then proceed to kill each other pretty brutally. Rowena wants to abscond with the book, but the Winchesters aren't going to allow that. However, since she and Sam had that understanding, he lets her take the page she needed for her spell.

Sam confesses to Dean that he feels aimless and helpless at the moment, but Dean assures him they'll get through it, while Rowena does the spell and gets, like, shiny blue eyes? Oh good.

Meanwhile, we also had a few scenes with Castiel and Lucifer, who I didn't even remember were locked up back in our world, so there's that. Honestly, not much happened other than they broke out because Lucifer managed to get enough power thanks to rage from Castiel telling him he sucks. Cas also stabs him with an angel blade when Luci tries to steal some of his grace. Okay then!

Random Thoughts:

- Looks like we're going to get some more Rowena. What does everyone think about that? I'm sure some people will be quite unhappy.

- I feel like Dean is always the one getting under goofy spells and things. I know it didn't make sense for where Sam is at right now being depressed, but even if he wasn't it seems like it still would've happened to Dean.

- I wonder how long it's going to take before we get an episode explaining what is happening to Mary and Jack all this time.

Quotes:

Dean: You said it yourself, we keep our heads down and do the work.
Sam: You said that.
Dean: I did. And I was right.

Castiel: You're saying you're too weak to overcome even your weakest creation.
Lucifer: Shut up.

Sam: Do you remember Becky in Vegas, the love spell...?
Dean: No.

Lucifer: And that's saying a lot, pal.
Castiel: You always say a lot.

Rowena: Did they get to fifth base?
Dean: There's no such thing as fifth base.
Rowena: Oh you poor, sheltered boy.

Sam: Girls beat us up all the time.
Dean: True.

Previous Episode -- Next Episode

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Huge Chocolate Chip Cookies

What is it about chocolate chip cookies that make them so irresistible? I don't know about you, but they are by far my favorite cookie out there...as you can tell from the many times I have made different variations on the blog! So, when I got a new cookbook for my birthday, I decided I had to give the ones in it a try!

Huge Chocolate Chip Cookies by freshfromthe.com.

Typically, I don't make huge cookies, bakery-style cookies at home very often. It's just easier to eat a cookie in a few bites rather than eating one the size of my entire hand. Granted, I do have small hands, but still. But, I wanted to stick straight to the recipe to see how they turned out the way the author intended them, so huge they are, though it's very hard to judge the size of things without a reference, so you probably can't even tell how big they are from my photos. Trust, they are big.

There's an interesting step in the instructions for these cookies, where you take the baking sheet and lift the side up while it's in the oven, then kind of gently bang it as you set it down. This apparently gives you those crispy edges with kind of multiple striations, or whatever you might call them. It was something I'd never heard of before, but heck, the cookies turned out just as she said they should!

Huge Chocolate Chip Cookies by freshfromthe.com.

Now, confession time. My first batch in the oven turned out perfect, just like they were supposed to. The second batch turned out like the below photo. Yes, my friends, I am not perfect when it comes to baking either! Four cookies turned into 1 giant one and two semi-attached ones all in one huge mass in the middle of the baking sheet. The baking sheet is to blame here, I'm afraid. I was using an older one for this batch that has kind of bowed in the center, and apparently the cookies all sort of rolled into each other when they started baking in the oven. Whoops! Oh well, they still taste good, and that's really all that matters, right?

Honestly, I share this because I feel like so much of the time everyone tries to present themselves in the most perfect light online, when perfection is just not the case in daily life. Sometimes you have warped baking sheets and get almost one giant cookie instead of four individual ones, and that's okay.

Huge Chocolate Chip Cookies by freshfromthe.com.