Monday, December 20, 2021

Book Review: Steelstriker (Skyhunter #2) by Marie Lu

Book Review: Steelstriker by Marie LuSteelstriker by Marie Lu

Published: September 28, 2021

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction

Pages: 384

Synopsis: As a Striker, Talin was taught loyalty is life. Loyalty to the Shield who watches your back, to the Strikers who risk their lives on the battlefield, and most of all, to Mara, which was once the last nation free from the Karensa Federation’s tyranny.

But Mara has fallen. And its destruction has unleashed Talin’s worst nightmare.

With her friends scattered by combat and her mother held captive by the Premier, Talin is forced to betray her fellow Strikers and her adopted homeland. She has no choice but to become the Federation’s most deadly war machine as their newest Skyhunter.

Red is no stranger to the cruelty of the Federation or the torture within its Skyhunter labs, but he knows this isn’t the end for Mara – or Talin. The link between them may be weak, but it could be Talin and Red's only hope to salvage their past and safeguard their future.

While the fate of a broken world hangs in the balance, Talin and Red must reunite the Strikers and find their way back to each other in this smoldering sequel to Marie Lu’s Skyhunter.

Thoughts: While I may have forgotten to write an official review for Skyhunter here back when I read it earlier this year, I quite enjoyed it, and was looking forward to this sequel to wrap up the duology. If you've followed my blog for long, you'll have noticed that I've been a fan of author Marie Lu for awhile, and though I haven't loooooved every one of her books, I have liked all of them. 

So, how does Steelstriker rank? I'd say it's middle of the pack for me. Though I appreciate the reasons why the story had to play out the way it did, it felt like it took a really long time for it to to start going places. I just wanted things to start coming together faster, particularly since it seemed pretty clear where everything was eventually headed. 

What I always find a little tough about these types of series, where the focus is on a group of oppressed people who want to rise up against their oppressors, is that you always know where things are headed. And it always seems to end in some sort of battle. And I just... find battles boring. Like oh here we go, more fighting, woo hoo. That's not to say this book is full of fighting, because it really isn't, I just wished it had a few more unexpected twists. 

Nonetheless, it was a satisfying conclusion to Talin and Red's stories, so if you read the first one and enjoyed it, you probably won't be disappointed, you just might wish it all went a bit quicker, like me.

Rating: 3/5

Buy on Amazon 

What I'm Reading Next: Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith

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Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Favorite New Shows of 2021

It's becoming harder and harder to stay up to date on the new TV shows that exist in the world, what with alllll of the different streaming services available. Top that off with feeling exhausted half the time and often I find I'd like to watch an old favorite rather than dive into something completely new. But, that doesn't mean I haven't watched some of the new shows that debuted this year.

So let's get on with it, my list of my favorite new TV shows watched this year...

Loki

You're going to notice quite a few different Disney+ Marvel TV shows on this list. Yes, I'm a Marvel fan. However, you will also notice one show missing, and it's true that I did not really like that one compared to the rest. The one I enjoyed the most was definitely Loki, with its twisty turny narrative and great cast. The fact that these shows also have implications for the larger MCU is also cool as that's never really been done before, at least that I'm aware of. Can't wait for the next season, whenever that may be.

Hawkeye

Apparently some people aren't big fans of Hailee Steinfeld, which was news to me as I have always enjoyed her. Here, she joins the MCU as Kate Bishop, who it looks like will be taking over the mantel as the new Hawkeye. I was never a big fan of Hawkeye in the Avengers movies, but this show has made me like him, so there you go. While it's not over yet, the show is only six episodes long, and I think it's safe to assume it won't suddenly lose my interest.

WandaVision

WandaVision is very creative, and while it was slow going at first to actually get to the story, it was definitely going somewhere and not just meandering for no reason. Though I'm not sure it really stuck the landing as well as it could have, I was nonetheless enthralled throughout and couldn't wait for each new episode. It was nice to see these characters explored more fully than in the films, and now I am looking forward to see where they go next.

Hacks

I almost didn't include this show in here because while I think it's well done, I'm not sure I really loved it, if that makes sense. I found one of the main characters a bit hard to like, and though that was part of the character's supposed "charm," it was difficult to get past sometimes. Still, Jean Smart is awesome, and if you watch it just for her alone, you will probably be mostly satisfied.

Any new shows you loved that I should check out? Let me know in the comments!

Past Years:
202020192018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011

Monday, December 13, 2021

Favorite Books of 2021

Wow, if I thought 2020 was pitiful when it comes to how many books I read, then 2021 is even worse! It's been a trying year, to say the very least, which has made it hard to keep up with reading consistently. And though I have enjoyed many of the books that I have read, very few of them have really knocked my socks off and pulled me in to the point where I just have to keep reading. Has anyone else struggled to keep up with reading this past year, or is it just me?

Nonetheless, I do have some favorites of the year, so let's go ahead and get to them...
A Good Girl's Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson
Synopsis:  For readers of Kara Thomas and Karen McManus, an addictive, twisty crime thriller with shades of Serial and Making a Murderer about a closed local murder case that doesn't add up, and a girl who's determined to find the real killer--but not everyone wants her meddling in the past. Everyone in Fairview knows the story. Pretty and popular high school senior Andie Bell was murdered by her boyfriend, Sal Singh, who then killed himself. It was all anyone could talk about. And five years later, Pip sees how the tragedy still haunts her town. But she can't shake the feeling that there was more to what happened that day. She knew Sal when she was a child, and he was always so kind to her. How could he possibly have been a killer? Now a senior herself, Pip decides to reexamine the closed case for her final project, at first just to cast doubt on the original investigation. But soon she discovers a trail of dark secrets that might actually prove Sal innocent . . . and the line between past and present begins to blur. Someone in Fairview doesn't want Pip digging around for answers, and now her own life might be in danger. This is the story of an investigation turned obsession, full of twists and turns and with an ending you'll never expect. 

Why it made the list: I've been very into mysteries of late, probably because they actually keep me invested and tend to be page-turners compared to other genres. This year, this mystery in particular was my favorite. It's definitely very pertinent to today in how people are so interested in true crime, in particular women, for some reason. And if you've ever considered yourself an amateur sleuth, then you will certainly relate to the main character, Pip, in this story.

Skyhunter by Marie Lu
Synopsis: In a world broken by war, a team of young warriors is willing to sacrifice everything to save what they love. The Karensa Federation has conquered a dozen countries, leaving Mara as one of the last free nations in the world. Refugees flee to its borders to escape a fate worse than death—transformation into mutant war beasts known as Ghosts, creatures the Federation then sends to attack Mara. The legendary Strikers, Mara's elite fighting force, are trained to stop them. But as the number of Ghosts grows and Karensa closes in, defeat seems inevitable. Still, one Striker refuses to give up hope. Robbed of her voice and home, Talin Kanami knows firsthand the brutality of the Federation. Their cruelty forced her and her mother to seek asylum in a country that considers their people repugnant. She finds comfort only with a handful of fellow Strikers who have pledged their lives to one another and who are determined to push Karensa back at all costs. When a mysterious prisoner is brought from the front, Talin senses there’s more to him than meets the eye. Is he a spy from the Federation? Or could he be the weapon that will save them all? 

Why it made the list: I have read nearly all of Marie Lu's books, and while I have enjoyed some more than others, they are all almost always interesting stories about different worlds where marginalized people must overcome some sort of oppressor. Interestingly, at this moment I am reading the sequel to Skyhunter, Steelstriker, and it's not grabbing me nearly as much as this first book did, which is a shame as I really enjoyed Skyhunter and was looking forward to the sequel. Action, mystery, hints of romance, and of course, lots of personal trauma and drama, if you love a good scifi fantasy, then I would give Skyhunter a try.

The Searcher by Tana French


Synopsis: Retired detective Cal Hooper moves to a remote village in rural Ireland. His plans are to fix up the dilapidated cottage he's bought, to walk the mountains, to put his old police instincts to bed forever. Then a local boy appeals to him for help. His brother is missing, and no one in the village, least of all the police, seems to care. And once again, Cal feels that restless itch. Something is wrong in this community, and he must find out what, even if it brings trouble to his door.

Why it made the list: Another mystery? Yes, this time by one of my favorite mystery writers, Tana French. Though this isn't in her Dublin Murder Squad series, it does still take place in Ireland and does still feature a mystery. If you've ever read any of her other books, this one will not disappoint. And if you haven't read any of her books, why not? They're all well-done, and The Searcher is no exception.

Other books I enjoyed this year, but wouldn't call my favorites: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini, The Cousins by Karen McManus, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by VE Schwab.

You can check out all of the books I’ve read on my Goodreads page, but let me know if you’ve had any favorites from this year that I should check out!

Past Years:
2020 | 20192018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012

Monday, October 18, 2021

Mud Pie

Mud Pie by freshfromthe.com
Looking to satisfy the chocolate lover in your life? Look no further than this decadant, super rich mud pie. We're talking a cookie crust, brownie layer, chocolate mousse layer, whipped cream, cookie topping situation. Is this pie quick to make? No sirree Bob. But is it worth the effort? If you're into chocolate, then definitely. Might we even suggest trying out a salted caramel drizzle on top? Would that be over the top? Never.

This pie isn't for those who want something done lickety split. There are quite a few steps, and a lot of chilling involved, which means it will probably take around six hours total from when you start to when you can actually eat it. Now if you really wanted to cut down the time, you could just buy one of those pre-made chocolate crusts at the grocery, and you could make this without the whipped cream layer as the original recipe does. But I definitely suggest you take the extra step to make that whipped cream layer as it cuts through the super rich chocolate. And honestly, whipped cream is always a good idea, right?
Mud Pie by freshfromthe.com
Now, you might be wondering, if you've glanced down at the recipe, what exactly are the chocolate wafer cookies that should be crushed. The recommended cookies are Nabisco's Famous Chocolate Wafers, which you can of course get online at that link, or I found them in person at a Gelson's. If worse came to worst, you could also probably use some Oreos and scrape off the cream layer (making sure to weigh the cookies as they probably differ a bit). But that's just another bit of work for you, isn't it, and who wants that?

Mud Pie by freshfromthe.com

Rich and chocolate-full mud pie that will satisfy any chocolate lover.

Ingredients:
    Crust
  • 25 crushed chocolate wafer cookies (5 1/2 ounces), broken into coarse pieces
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • Brownie Layer
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 2/3 cup packed (4 2/3 ounces) dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Topping
  • 10 chocolate wafer cookies (2 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons confectioner's (powdered) sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • Mousse
  • 6 ounces milk chocolate, chopped fine
  • 1 cup heavy cream, chilled
  • 2 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners' (powdered) sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Whipped Cream
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners' (powdered) sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Instructions:
  1. FOR THE CRUST: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Process cookie pieces in food processor until finely ground, about 30 seconds. Add melted butter and pulse until combined, about 6 pulses. Using bottom of dry measuring cup, press crumbs firmly into bottom and up sides of 9-inch pie plate. Bake until fragrant and set, about 15 minutes. Transfer to wire rack.
  2. FOR THE BROWNIE LAYER: Combine chocolate, butter, oil, and cocoa in bowl and microwave at 50 percent power, stirring often, until melted, about 1½ minutes. In separate bowl, whisk sugar, eggs, vanilla, and salt until smooth. Whisk in chocolate mixture until incorporated. Whisk in flour until just combined.
  3. Pour brownie batter into crust (crust needn’t be cool at this point). Bake pie until edges begin to set and toothpick inserted in center comes out with thin coating of batter attached, about 15 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and let cool for 1 hour, then refrigerate until fully chilled, about 1 hour longer.
  4. FOR THE TOPPING: Meanwhile, line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Place cookies in zipper-lock bag, press out air, and seal bag. Using rolling pin, crush cookies into ½- to ¾-inch pieces. Combine sugar, cocoa, salt, and crushed cookies in bowl. Stir in melted butter until mixture is moistened and clumps begin to form. Spread crumbs in even layer on prepared sheet and bake until fragrant, about 10 minutes, shaking sheet to break up crumbs halfway through baking. Transfer sheet to wire rack and let cool completely.
  5. FOR THE MOUSSE: Once brownie layer has fully chilled, microwave chocolate in large bowl at 50 percent power, stirring often, until melted, 1½ to 2 minutes. Let cool until just barely warm and registers between 90 and 100 degrees, about 10 minutes.
  6. Microwave 3 tablespoons cream in small bowl until it registers 105 to 110 degrees, about 15 seconds. Whisk in cocoa until homogeneous. Combine cocoa-cream mixture, sugar, salt, and remaining cream in bowl of stand mixer. Fit mixer with whisk and whip cream mixture on medium speed until beginning to thicken, about 30 seconds, scraping down bowl as needed. Increase speed to high and whip until soft peaks form, 30 to 60 seconds.
  7. Using whisk, fold one-third of whipped cream mixture into melted chocolate to lighten. Using rubber spatula, fold in remaining whipped cream mixture until no dark streaks remain. Spoon mousse into chilled pie and spread evenly from edge to edge.
  8. FOR THE WHIPPED CREAM: Using stand mixer fitted with whisk, whip cream, confectioners’ sugar, and ½ teaspoon vanilla on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase speed to high and whip until stiff peaks form, 1 to 3 minutes. Spread whipped cream evenly over top of pie. Sprinkle with cooled topping and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight. Serve.

  9. Adapated from Cook's Country

Friday, September 24, 2021

Book Review: The Cousins by Karen M. McManus

Book Review: Recursion by Blake CrouchThe Cousins by Karen M. McManus

Published: December 1, 2020

Genre: Young Adult, Mystery

Pages: 337

Synopsis: Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah Story are cousins, but they barely know each other, and they've never even met their grandmother. Rich and reclusive, she disinherited their parents before they were born. So when they each receive a letter inviting them to work at her island resort for the summer, they're surprised... and curious.

Their parents are all clear on one point—not going is not an option. This could be the opportunity to get back into Grandmother's good graces. But when the cousins arrive on the island, it's immediately clear that she has different plans for them. And the longer they stay, the more they realize how mysterious—and dark—their family's past is.

The entire Story family has secrets. Whatever pulled them apart years ago isn't over—and this summer, the cousins will learn everything.

Thoughts: Mysteries have been my jam lately, and The Cousins was no exception. There are a couple different mysteries afoot in this book, including what happened to make the main characters' grandmother disinherit her children (the main characters' parents), and why she has suddenly decided to invite all of the grandkids to work at her island resort for the summer. It's mainly told from the three grandkids' POVs, with some chapters from one of the parents' POVs back when she was a teenager around when the disinheritance happened.

In general, the story has some good twists and turns, with some of the reveals actually being pretty surprising. However, one of the big reveals toward the end wasn't super satisfactory for me, and felt like it was too similar to some of the previous plot points in the book. I will say, though, that unlike other books where the different POV chapters always leave me wanting to get back to one particular POV versus the one I might be currently reading, in this book I enjoyed each different one equally -- and that's definitely saying something!

If you enjoy a mystery, particularly one with some family drama and some unexpected romance thrown in, then you'll probably enjoy this one. Would I say it's McManus' best book? Probably not, but I still enjoyed it and read it pretty quickly, which is always a good barometer for me to see if I'm enjoying what I'm reading.

Rating: 4/5

Buy on Amazon 

What I'm Reading Next: The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

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