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Everneath

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Author: Brodi Ashton
Series: Everneath #1
Release Date: January 24, 2012
Dates Read: February 15-18, 2012

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Everneath was simply fantastic. I love a good modern take on fairy tales and mythology, and Everneath hit a home run. The juxtaposition of Nikki’s dwindling time left on Earth and the events leading up to her decision to go to the Everneath keeps you constantly guessing what went wrong, and hooked to the story. We didn’t get to know a whole lot about most of the characters, but what we did learn about them was enough to feel for them, Jules in particular. I hope we see more of her later, I have a feeling she’s one to watch. I didn’t even have the problem of being annoyed with and/or bored of the love triangle that I frequently get in YA novels. It seemed clear who had Nikki’s heart, but the draw to the other character was undeniable as well. Both main male characters were very interesting in their own right, and not just because they both want Nikki. Cole in particular was intriguing, every time I thought he had legitimate feelings of love for Nikki, he’d do something to push her away or we’d learn something about him in the past that pushed us away from him. The twist at the end was somewhat predictable, but I didn’t mind it so much. The twist with Mary was very well done, I didn’t see that one coming at all. The whole “Daughters of Persephone” thing was a little confusing to me, how Nikki was able to stay herself, but I expect we’ll learn more about that later. Overall, Everneath was awesome, and I’d recommend it to anyone who reads YA in general, and anyone who loves retellings of fairy tales and myths, it won’t disappoint.
Happy reading, and good eating!

Divergent

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Author: Veronica Roth
Series: Divergent #1
Release Date: March 1, 2011
Dates Read: February 1-14, 2012

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

I’d been wanting to read this book for a while, but for some reason it kept getting pushed back on my list of books to read. I started reading it while working out one day, but then got accepted to read Larkspur, and since I only had 2 weeks to read and review it, and at the time I was notoriously behind on reviews, I pushed Divergent back again, even though what little I had read while on the stationary bike was very good. So after my reading and reviewing was done, I kind of blazed through the book. It was really good, and despite the fact that everyone seems keen on comparing it side-by-side to the widely popular and successful Hunger Games, I feel like it has plenty of intrigue on its own. As I said in the Book of the Month discussion in a group on Goodreads, they are both dystopian novels where people are divided into groups. They also both have a test/survival element, then we see how corrupt the world actually is, and there are plans to overthrow it. However, they are both good enough to stand on their own and not constantly say one is better than the other. I liked them both a lot, I think I am discovering that dystopian books are something I really enjoy. My gut instinct was to say I liked The Hunger Games better, but then I thought about it and I think the reason is that there are three Hunger Games books and only one Divergent one out so far, so we’ve had the whole story about Katniss, but only the beginning of Tris’ story. I felt like Tris’ inner struggle between the faction of her birth and the faction of her choice was very believable. She had moments where she still acted like someone from Abnegation, and she had moments where she acted like pure Dauntless. And then, for the most of the book she acted like a mix between the two, which is to be expected from someone who is Divergent. The only negative things I would say about this book is that the romance seemed a little rushed once they actually started talking to each other, and that in the final battle, Tris seemed very detached from what was going on around her. She didn’t seem to completely register the deaths around her, but I can put that aside some because perhaps she was in survival mode. Overall, this was an amazing book that I would recommend to anyone who likes dystopian books, or really just anyone. And now I can’t wait until May for book #2!

Happy reading, and good eating!

Cupcakes!

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I’ve always liked making cupcakes. I rarely make them from scratch (something I should probably start doing), but they’re always fun to make and decorate. I’m usually awful at decorating. My mother and my sister got all of the art creativity in my immediate family. I’m boring, rather clumsy, and I have a very shaky, unsteady hand. Works fine for violin vibrato. ;) However, I’ve been lusting after all the beautifully decorated cupcakes I see on Pinterest, and decided to go for it.

On Super Bowl Sunday, I was at my second family/family friends/former neighbors’ house, as I spend nearly every Sunday now. Us kids (me-22, their oldest-18, and their youngest-14) decided we wanted to make sweets, as their mom was making other snack-y goodies for the game. So we just got a plain yellow box cake and chocolate frosting, plus one of those cookie decorating tubes of frosting in white. I’d brought some disposable decorating bags, and frosting tips to go in them. I was rather proud of my frosting skills, I did the chocolate frosting. They turned out rather nicely!

The white frosting didn’t cooperate as well as the chocolate did, it was a bit thicker and you could feel the sugary texture to it, so it didn’t come out as easily.

Fast forward a little more than a week, and it was Valentine’s Day! I live with my 2 best friends, and two of us are single, while the other one’s boyfriend had to work. So we decided to make V-Day cupcakes! Well, me and 7hir7een (of Thirteen Days Later) ended up making them, as our roommate’s mom, stepdad and grandmother came to visit her.

All these were was a box of Funfetti cake mix, plain white frosting, Wilton Sparkle Gel in black & red, and V-Day sprinkles. I made the cupcakes, and once they were cool, frosted them just like I did with the Super Bowl ones. Then, the decorating commenced!

We had a lot of fun with these. At first, we were just doing “safe” things like one color of sugar, or sugar and some heart sprinkles…then we got a little hyper and started doing other things, like ALL THE SUGARS and attempting to draw hearts (I failed. She succeeded.*) and then ALL THE SPRINKLES!

It was fun. And they were yummmmmmmy. ;)

Happy reading, and good eating!

P.S. In case you were wondering how hard I failed at making a heart…

Bloodrose

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Author: Andrea Cremer
Series: Nightshade #3
Release Date: January 3, 2012
Dates Read: January 26, 2012

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

This review also took me forever to write. I was just so frustrated by the way some things were “resolved”. Yes, if I were speaking this, I would use air quotes on that word. If you’ve read the book, you know why. I tried to keep my review of Wolfsbane simple, but that didn’t work well. I’m trying it again.

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS BEYOND. IF YOU PLAN TO READ THIS SERIES AND DO NOT WANT THE ENDING SPOILED FOR YOU, DO NOT READ THIS!!!

Things I loved: 1)End of chapter 2. My notes say “HELL YEAH CALLA!!!” I absolutely loved how she handled the feuding boys here, her declaration of “I don’t need a mate, I need soldiers” was the best thing that could have happened to this love triangle. If only it’d stayed that way longer. Also, LOVED that Ren was the first one to follow her orders! Calla needed to pay attention to details like that. 2) I loved the relationship between Adne and Ren. It was an adorable sibling relationship, and after all those two had been through individually it was nice to see them bond and have someone after all the tragedy. 3) The general plot. The idea of the Scion and having to go find the pieces of the elemental sword was very interesting, and it was the reason I couldn’t put the book down. Having Shay’s uncle be this crazy bad guy was a good move, too. We pretty much knew he was a creeper and general bad guy, but having him be über bad was something I didn’t expect. 4) Sabine and Ethan. Both characters were introduced as hot-headed and somewhat abrasive. Having them fall in love and counteract each other was a cute move, although the way in which it played out was extraordinarily cliché, very “love at first sight” and all that crap. I also liked how Sabine gave up her wolf for Ansel in the end, she became a much nicer person over the course of the trilogy and not having the reminder of her horrendous past constantly was a good ending for her. 5) Honestly, I kind of liked the ending. I liked how the Guardians were able to take a step back and say “you know what, it kinda sucks that we won’t be able to be humans again, but we really need to LOCK the Rift, not just close it.” It emphasized the way that these characters were shown to LOVE being wolves, how their wolf characteristics bled over into their human lives. Which was something I really appreciated about Cremer’s storytelling.

Things I hated:
1) Chapter 5. Calla says “I’m not choosing”, and then proceeds to do the deed. Really, Calla?! Sleeping with one of the guys you’re “not choosing” yet isn’t choosing? She chose long before she admitted it to herself and she knows it. Yes, I am aware she is a fictional character. I don’t care. She chose. She did. 2) Pretty much any Calla/Shay interaction. She was constantly “not choosing”, yet acting like she’d chosen Shay. 3) Adne has had all of her family taken from her. Her mother, her father… Ren has had all of his family taken from him. His mother was murdered when he was an infant, his “father” has always been a crap excuse for a father…he finally learns who his real father is, and then he dies as well. He gets a sister out of this revelation though. Sounds perfect, right? Two orphans lose their parents only to find each other. Happy ending, right? NO! As if these two (awesome) characters haven’t lost enough, one of them is now sentenced to have ZERO family, as the other is killed off. REALLY?! REALLY?! Poor Adne… 4) Ren. Poor Ren. I cannot believe all of the crap that happened to him in this book. It’s really ridiculous. He has his Alpha position challenged, loses Calla to Shay, confronts the man who raised him to hate his real father and sister, and then has his life taken as well. Ignoring the fact that it is completely a BOGUS way to “resolve” a love triangle, Ren’s death was completely insensitive. It took away all the family Adne had left, and they barely mourned him! Calla agonized over her feelings for the two boys and her sense of duty and leaving her pack behind more than she mourned Ren’s death. Sure, it was probably overshadowed by the fact that they eventually won the battle, but seriously? Seriously? 5) IT IS COMPLETELY SPINELESS TO “RESOLVE” A LOVE TRIANGLE BY KILLING OFF ONE OF THE MEMBERS SO THAT THE MAIN CHARACTER DOESN’T HAVE TO MAKE A CHOICE. PERIOD. THE END. 6) What happened to the whole mother-decides-the-child thing? Shay’s mother was not a Guardian. I don’t give a flying F if he was changed by an Alpha. His mother was human, he should have stayed human. On that note, I felt really bad for Shay’s parents. They barely got to even see him before he was taken from them again, with even less time than Adne and Ren had. Another reason he should have stayed human.

In summary, while the plot was good for the most part, I couldn’t get past the absurdity of the love triangle, and it has (probably unfairly) irreversibly tainted my view of this book. If this is what I can expect from this author, it would be a total shame, because I love her writing style and the prequel to this trilogy sounds great.(Also, she’s a fellow “Canadian Shield-er” Yay Minnesota! And Wisconsin!) Also, BOO for not having a pretty cover to match the style of the original Nightshade and Wolfsbane covers. I abhor it when publishing companies do crap like that.I am very OCD about my books. I want a series to all be in either paperback/hardcover, and have the covers match.

Happy reading, and good eating!

Wolfsbane

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Author: Andrea Cremer
Series: Nightshade #2
Release Date: January 1, 2011
Dates Read: January 26, 2012

Rating: ★★★¾☆ 

This review took me forever to start writing, so I’ll try to keep it rather simple. I enjoyed the plot of the book. The fallout after Calla’s choice at the end of Nightshade weighs heavily on her, which in turn affects her growing relationship with Shay. More on that later. I enjoyed the introduction into the Searchers’ world, but found that Calla switched teams awfully fast. I understand that she has had her whole world turned upside down, but just because your former life turned out to be a big lie, doesn’t mean you immediately accept another explanation—especially from the people you were told were your enemies all your life. I did appreciate her continuing loyalty to her pack though, how she wanted to rescue them. The Searchers were interesting new characters, and I liked how they each had something individual about them. Actually, all of Cremer’s characters are that wonderfully crafted, each one has something special about them that you can remember easily, whether it be a fighting nature, a sarcastic sense of humor, fierce loyalty, etc. Now onto what I didn’t like. I can sum it up pretty easily: Shay. In Nightshade, I liked Ren better, but also didn’t mind Shay so much. I understood why Calla fell for him, why she went against everything she was taught for him. But in this book, Shay became unnecessarily protective and possessive, and I found him to grate on ALL my nerves. In chapter 9, right after Shay reveled thathe KNEW they wouldn’t find Calla’s pack but let them go after them anyways, and then PEOPLE DIED, he tries to comfort her by bringing her close to him, holding her. Calla tells him to knock it off, and then he gets mad! He tells her that “your union, all the alpha stuff, all of that—it’s over.” Which is hilarious, it shows how DUMB he is. Really, if you’d spent all of your life betrothed to someone, and with the responsibility of leading a group, I don’t think you could just forget about it and move on that quickly. Duh. The next thing he (angrily) says (after she declines to respond) is he doesn’t get it, she’s “free” now. Well obviously not, stupid. Then he has the audacity to tell her what she wants; namely, him. Excuse me, I missed the part where Shay had the power to read her mind. Jerk. I don’t care if she admits to herself that he’s right, it just seems really jerk-ish of him to tell her she wants him, she should just forget about her old life. Ugh. Onto chapter sixteen, where Shay again insinuates that he knows what Calla really wants. “’Tell me that isn’t what you want and I’ll walk away,’ he said, leaning in so his lips brushed my cheek.” Thank God Adne interrupts this, because that phrase really annoys the living daylights out of me. Something about a guy telling a girl to make him stop really rubs me the wrong way. Sure, he’s not trying to rape her, but she is so confused right now it’s not fair to make her choose. He does a LOT of forcing her to choose between him and Ren way before she’s ready to, way before she even understands how she feels about both boys. I don’t even want to talk about the way he treats her when he finds her after she’s angrily cut her hair. He can’t even let her grieve for her lost friends? Really? I can’t talk about this, I’ll go all F7U12, RAEG!!!111!!11!!111! Also, Calla annoyed me then too. I get that maybe it was a good distraction from her pain, but sheesh. Stick up for yourself, woman! You’re an alpha! No guy should be able to persuade you into doing anything.
Overall, I liked the plot of the book, minus the freaking “romance” between Calla and Shay. This book put me FIRMLY onto Team Ren. Shay disgusted me. After reading this book, I hoped that in Bloodrose, we’d get to see Ren fight for Calla too, and maybe, just maybe, give Shay the butt-kicking he’s had coming for a long while.
Also, why the cover change? The original covers for Nightshade and Wolfsbane were gorgeous. I don’t like the new ones. :(

Happy reading, and good eating!

Larkspur

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Author: H. H. Laura
Series: Sensate #1
Release Date: November 12, 2011
Dates Read: February 9-11, 2012

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

This book was obtained through Read it and Reap program of the Shut Up & Read book group on Goodreads, in exchange for a timely review.
I’m rather new to the group on Goodreads that I got this eBook from. I found their “Read it and Reap” forum and browsed it and the rules, deciding that I’d probably just sit back and watch for a while. A bit later, I read the description posted for this book, and changed my mind. The plot sounded so original, so new and interesting that I knew I HAD to read it.

(P.S., spoilers later on in the review)

First, what I did like. There were several little things at the beginning of the book that I really appreciated, things that might get overlooked sometimes but really helped me get a feel for Alexandra’s world. Despite the (awesome) cold opening, in the first chapter we learn when this takes place (more on this later), where it takes place, why she’s there, a bit of family history, the fact that her parents have passed away, as well as her discovery of the mysteriously warm stone.
In the second chapter, we learn some personality quirks about the main character that really helped warm me to her, like her hatred of cell phones, and talking to inanimate objects (you and me both, sister). I do have one question, though. Before the first sentence of the first chapter, we are told this takes place in Spring 2011. On page 67 (ePub version) when talking about Alexandra’s Jeep, it reads “She bought it new in 2002, six years ago”, which unless my math is THAT bad, would make it 2008. I’m confused. As a user of an eReader (I <3 my nook Simple Touch!), I appreciated that Alexandra used one as well. It's not all too common for authors to support digital reading to that extent.
I really enjoyed the first part of the book when there's the mystery about Teater, settling in Waynesburg and learning about her Sensate abilities, but for me the book took a distinct turn when Alexandra was kidnapped. I found that section awkward to read, partly because of content and partly because I didn't understand why they were going after Ryeth when they had another suspect.
Once she gets back to Waynesburg, things just went on as normal, which seemed odd. Alexandra's relationship with Jediah was interesting as well. I like them together, they bring out a playfulness in each other that is refreshingly realistic, but there were still areas that read a little clichéd. I understand that there was likely some sort of supernatural attraction or something going on, but still, they fell in love too fast. Even if you're majorly crushing on someone and discover they reciprocate your feelings, most people don't move that fast. Especially after the kidnapping, things just moved ridiculously fast. I understand their desire to get married before Nancy Jane died, but it was really just too fast, especially for a girl who hadn’t shown much interest in boys before. Also, it was incredibly convenient for Alexandra and Cassie both met guys they want to spend the rest of their lives with at the same time. I am the same age as them, and I have never seen 2 best friends at the same stage in their relationship with their boyfriends. Also age-related is the fact that Alexandra (and really any of the younger characters) speaks much too formally for a 22 year old. I very much get the point of speaking politely, but there should still be a difference in the way a 22 year old talks to business partners, elders and such than to their friends and boyfriends.
Overall I thought it was a great start to a series with a very interesting and original storyline. It got a little boring for me at times, like when we would get every little detail described for us, or when things were redundant, but the story was unique enough to hold my interest. I’ll be waiting for the next installation, and I’m excited to learn more about Ryeth. He seems like a very interesting character.

Happy reading, and good eating!

Peanut Butter Pan Cookie

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So one weekend I really wanted to make peanut butter cookies. I’d discovered a jar of peanut butter while re-arranging my shelf of the food pantry, and was in a baking kind of mood. I also remembered that right after Christmas of 2010 I’d gotten a snowman shaped cookie sheet on sale, and it had come with frosting mix and some candies. And while I’d used the snowman before, I’d never used the decorations.

Combined with my PB-craving mood, I decided to make peanut butter cookies. The only problem was that I didn’t have any eggs, and very little butter. So after finding a recipe online that didn’t require butter and only two eggs, I looked up what I could use instead of an egg. I found a substitute using vegetable oil, water and baking soda. Well, when I actually went to bake the big cookie, I must not have been paying much attention because I totally over-filled the pan.

It was a disaster. The pan was overflowing and burnt peanut butter cookie crumbs were all over the bottom of the oven. I had to take the pan out (carefully) and set it aside, even though it wasn’t fully baked yet. After letting the oven cool off, I got all of the cookie out and then finished baking it. When it wasn’t gooey in the middle anymore, I took it out to assess the damage. It wasn’t totally ruined, but it obviously wasn’t ideal. The surface was all cracked but I was pretty sure that the frosting would cover all of that.

So I spread it on and decorated it with the gummies that came in the kit, as well as some sparkle gel I had lying around. When I went to taste it, it was really hard to get out of the pan neatly. It didn’t stay together very well, it crumbled a LOT. But it tasted amazing. It had the texture of cookie crumbs, which wasn’t extremely appealing, but it tasted just like the cookie part of a Nutter Butter.

Yummmmmmmm!

So, the lesson is that if you totally screw something up and make a big mess, sometimes it’s not all over. Sometimes it’s messy, but still tastes really good. :)

Happy reading, and good eating!

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