Romeo and Juliet With Monsters? YESPLS || This Savage Song Review

savagesong-review

Initial Thoughts: 

I blame my friend MEGHAN for making me read this, especially when I want the next book NOW. Which, unsurprisingly, is always the case with the Schwab books I’ve picked up. I think Schwab has it described accurately enough: Sin City and Romeo and Juliet minus the romance and plus the monsters. And it was effing fabulous.

THIS SAVAGE SONG

by Victoria Schwab
Greenwillow Books, July 2016
Rated: 4.5 / 5 cookies
YA urban fantasy, paranormal

savagesongKate Harker wants to be as ruthless as her father. After five years and six boarding schools, she’s finally going home to prove that she can be.

August Flynn wants to be human. But he isn’t. He’s a monster, one that can steal souls with a song. He’s one of the three most powerful monsters in a city overrun with them. His own father’s secret weapon.

Their city is divided.

Their city is crumbling.

Kate and August are the only two who see both sides, the only two who could do something.

But how do you decide to be a hero or a villain when it’s hard to tell which is which?

Okay, at this point, I’ve become a die-hard Schwab fan in the span of four books. Frankly, had This Savage Song been described to me as a Romeo and Juliet plus other things, I wouldn’t have been as gung-ho in reading and even buying it to add to my collection. But SCHWAB WROTE IT so it must be gold.

Bias, people. That’s what it is. But it’s a bias I am willing to admit I have, and I do not regret it.

The book is not the most magnificent Shwab I’ve read, and some of the themes are reminiscent of her adult novels (I mean, she practically quotes Victor Vale from Vicious at the beginning of TSS), which I loved. To a critical reader, this similar study of characters could have been repetitive and dull. But honestly, this is Schwab’s forte. She’s excelled in making villains look like heroes, and vice versa. She’s a study in character, and she studies character archetypes extensively.

So yeah, I love her books.

TSS is no different.

Here Is Why

Kate Harker practically burns down a chapel on the first effing page. I was done by that point. DONE. But I do think I need to keep going with this, don’t I?

Corsai, Corsai, tooth and claw,
Shadow and bone will eat you raw.

Malchai, Malchai, sharp and sly,
Smile and bite and drink you dry.

Sunai, Sunai, eyes like coal,
Sing you a song and steal your soul.

Monsters, monsters, big and small,
They’re gonna come and eat you all.

The entire rhyme is haunting and rhythmic and absolutely lovely. It helps you remember what the types of monsters are, and in the simplest–and IMO the most effective–mnemonic ever! That said, every time I read this poem in the book, I just hear it being creepily recited the way Hespith does the Broodmother poem in Dragon Age: Origins.

Kate had no pretentions–she knew her father was a bad man–but this city didn’t need a good one.

Good and bad were weak words. Monsters didn’t care about intentions or details. The facts were simple. The South was chaos. The North was order. It was an order bought and paid for with blood and fear, but order all the same.

The writing, man. THE WRITING. The quote pretty much summarizes the problem in Verity, and how it defines the world around Kate as she sees it.

“Leo makes it look so simple, I thought we all burned the same way, but our brother burns like a torch, and…”

And Ilsa burned like a wildfire.

That said, August has just as much perspective in this book, and I LOVE THE FLYNNS OMGAH. Yes, even super-righteous, crazy-ass Leo.

There was no August in its face, only shadow.

No August in its eyes, only ember and ash.

I mean…COME ON. That description alone is just…sigh. Not in a romantic sense, but omgah sigh.

The lack of romance is not entirely surprising. I went into this YA book thinking there may be a romance, but Schwab took the non-YA route of not adding a romance into the mix. I mean, this could change in the next book, and it could very well be written in as part of the overall story. I would have no complaints, mind, but like A Darker Shade of Magic, I was super glad about the lack of romantic love in the story. There was already so much happening!

And can I talk about the fact that violence breeding monsters is an AMAZING CONCEPT? Yes? Because it is. It so is, I cannot even explain to you why I think this without ranting about the current state of our world as far as violence goes, but I mean…the bit where August explains how his Sunai brethren came to be? I may have teared. It was SO SAD. I love and hate Schwab for this. I really do.

4.5 out of 5 cookies! Is the book everything I expected from Schwab? Yes. Yes, it is. Did I love it as much as her adult novels? Mmm…maybe nearer a Vicious rating.


savagesong-ilsaflynn

Did you read this book? What did you think?

Of Hogwarts and Harry Potter Stories

hogwartstag

I found this tag at Lauren @ Always Me and I couldn’t resist! I mean, who hasn’t made up his or her own Hogwarts story at some point or other? After having my own Hogwarts persona for over ten years (probably closer to fifteen now, haha), this tag is a walk in the park and a fun one to do!

1. Are you a Pure-Blood, Half-Blood, or a Muggle-Born?

As Muggle-born as Hermione, thank you very much!

2. Which wand chose you?

wand

According to Pottermore, my wand is 11 3/4 inches, sycamore and phoenix feather, with surprisingly swishy flexibility. A curious and adventurous wand, apparently.

3. Did you take an owl, cat, rat, or toad with you?

I suppose I would’ve taken a cat. Preferably one with purple eyes. Preferably one named Faithful. Uh, I mean, you know what, I’d take a cat.

4. Where did the Sorting Hat put you?

Always Ravenclaw😀

5. What House did you want to be in?

I don’t think any of the sortings have sent me anywhere but Ravenclaw, though I sometimes do get close to being thrown into Slytherin. I’ve got an inner Draco Malfoy inside of me.😀

6. What lessons are your favorite and least favorite?

My favorite would be Potions, because I’ve always liked chemistry in school. Though I suppose Arithmancy would have been great, too. Least favorite, hmm. Probably Divination.

7. The form your patronus takes is a…

A dragon. Because why the hell not.

8. When confronted with a Boggart what does it look like for you?

A horribly awful “Your writing is really bad” rejection letter. I could Riddikulus it to the point where the letter is filled with grammatical errors. Hah, take that, rejection!

9. Do you partake in any school sports or magical hobbies?

*swings beater bat* Quidditch. Well, the online version of Quidditch where Harry Potter trivia is involved.

10. If you have free time where would you find yourself hanging out?

Take me to the library!

11. You are most likely to get a detention for what?

Hexing people for dog-earing library books. The nerve of these witches and wizards!

12. What career do you want after leaving Hogwarts?

Hogwarts professor. I’d probably come back to teach Muggle Studies or, hell, Potions.

I tag EVERYONE for this, because I want to see your answers! Yes.😀

TTT: Audiobooks

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For more information on Top Ten Tuesday, click here.

For the past year or two, I’ve actually increased the amount of audiobooks I’ve been reading lately. I’ve been finding that my library has been extremely accommodating of the Overdrive program, and it’s almost as good as borrowing hard copy books from the library itself! The best part? The audiobooks I’ve been listening to tend to take me out of my comfort zone and throw me into books I normally wouldn’t have picked up otherwise.

Ten Most Recent Audiobooks I’ve Read Lately

(Take note, I’ve not necessarily enjoyed all of them, but a bunch were pretty darn good.)

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel (4/5 cookies)
Various interviews voiced by different characters, accounts describing giant alien robots, a seemingly motley team led by a brilliant physicist, and the upcoming showdown of alien neighbors against the human race. Fun stuff!

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (3.5/5 cookies)
After receiving a severed leg in the mail, the race to solve the crime of vengeance falls on Cormoran and Robin, even amidst various personal struggles and blasts from the past. Wasn’t as riveting as its predecessor, The Silkworm, but it’s certainly more gruesome.

William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back and William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return by Ian Doescher (4/5 cookies)
If Star Wars was an epic Shakespearean space opera, these books are clearly what it’s going to look like. Having the books dramatized as audiobooks is even better. You get a full-blown cast to re-enact Star Wars in full Shakespearean glory!

The Cake Therapist by Judith Fertig (2/5 cookies)
A baker moves out of the city and back into her hometown to start a bakery. If it weren’t for a sliver of fantasy elements in the narration, I’d have just pegged this as some contemporary adult novel. The food descriptions were fabulous, everything else, not so much.

You’re Never Weird on the Internet by Felicia Day (3/5 cookies)
Felicia Day is such a nerd, and I love her for it. The book was funny in parts, a little sad and scary in others, and occasionally it did get disinteresting in a couple of portions, but I’d recommend it.

Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris (4/5 cookies)
Fun and full of maaaaaagic. It might actually have been a better idea to read this as opposed to listening to it in audiobook form, but NPH narrating his own autobiography is pretty awesome.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (2/5 cookies)
A boy discovers a book at a local bookstore and seeks to uncover the mysteries of why this book is being systematically burned across the country. The narration and description are beautifully written, though I do admit not taking to the book because I was bored with the premise and didn’t care for the characters.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (4/5 cookies)
Virtual reality fuuuun! I cannot wait to watch the movie, though I will admit that I don’t think I’d be able to remove Wil Wheaton as my go-to image of the book’s main character. I blame his narration of this book. Anyway, really enjoyable, especially because it does pay homage to a lot of ’80s pop culture.

Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins (3/5 cookies)
A southern belle gains super-strength and combat skills in order to protect her most hated high school rival. That’s going to go down in so many ways, but it was definitely a fun romp in the modern, but still traditional South. It helped that the narrator had a lovely Southern accent.

The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh (4/5 cookies)
I probably rated this a little lower than I should have. I haven’t read the first book on hard copy, but this audiobook compelled me to read its sequel because Ahdieh writes so prettily! Definitely recommend The Wrath & the Dawn and The Rose & the Dagger to read in both paper and audiobook form.

Have you read or listened to any of these? What did you think? What are your most recent audiobook reads?

A Case of Salted Caramel

cupcakes-saltedcaramel

So I’d recently invested in a mini cupcake pan the other day, and while I had tried using it the first time with brownies (which was a mistake…because they ended up being cookie-brownies), I opted this time to go the proper cupcake route.

But first, there was the salted caramel.

I’ve never actually understood the love for salted caramel, but then again, I don’t often use caramel in much of my baking. A sad and unfortunate shortcoming, considering I have decided that I like salted caramel. It is accessible in grocery stores, for one, but if you’re stubborn about baking most things from scratch like I am, then the recipe for it is simple enough.

Salted Caramel

(recipe from Live Well, Bake Often)

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into three pieces
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp salt

img_20160911_124042Heat water and sugar in saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved.

Bring water to boil on high heat, stop stirring. Let mixture boil until mixture comes up amber, around 4-12 minutes.

Remove from heat, whisk in heavy cream. Add butter and stir until mixed completely. Add in vanilla extract and salt.

Pour caramel into dish and let cool completely (or not, if you’re a hot caramel sort of person xD).

Changes: I didn’t use granulated sugar and opted for brown, because I like the caramelization (is that even a word?) of brown sugar better. That did pose a challenge because it was harder to tell what “amber color” meant, so I just allowed the mixture to boil around 10 minutes. I also added a little less salt, because I didn’t want to over-salt the caramel mixture.

Verdict: The amount of times I’ve taste-tested this mixture “for research purposes” was uncountable. I swear I kept going back every few minutes after it had cooled. I was only sad I didn’t have ice cream handy at the time!

But I did decide on cupcakes. Eventually.

Coffee Cupcake with Salted Caramel Frosting

I figured a coffee cupcake base would meld really well with the salted caramel flavor, so I found just the recipe from Homemade Food Junkie, which is a coffee cupcake with salted caramel frosting. It looked absolutely sublime, and with homemade caramel sauce handy, it was way too good to pass up! I won’t go into too much detail on it, since I pretty much followed the recipe, minus the espresso bean garnish.

Well, there was me adding an almond garnish instead. Oh, and the baking time. With my mini-cupcake pan, the baking time changed to 12-13 minutes as opposed to the suggested 18-20. I’d baked the larger ones at 17 minutes and found that was fine, too. (Random note: clearly using any of my cups to pour cupcakes into mini-pans was a bad idea, so instead I ended up piping the batter into each cupcake mold. Good times, good times.)

Verdict: It was pretty much a hit with my co-workers and friends, so the recipes are totally things to keep. I am also now a salted caramel convert, and cannot wait to drizzle it on my waffles as well!

 

Giant. Alien. Robots. || Sleeping Giants Review

sleepinggiants-review

Initial Thoughts: 

The Reapers are coming! The Reapers are coming! Honestly, I spent most of the audiobook wanting to play Mass Effect, wondering if this is the type of situation humanity underwent after finding the first ME station. Because if so, then I have a pretty good idea what comes next. AND I WANT IT NOW.

SLEEPING GIANTS

by Sylvain Neuvel
Del Rey, April 2016
Science fiction
Rated: 4 / 5 cookies

sleepinggiantsA girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.

But some can never stop searching for answers.

Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?

First Contact

I’m pretty sure I’ve had this book on my mental TBR ever since it came out, actually, though I didn’t think it had been published only this year. For some reason I thought I’d heard about this book even before 2016, though I suppose it could also have been because I saw it in NetGalley or something.

In any case, I found this on my library’s Overdrive database and decided to listen to it in audiobook format. I think it may have been a better choice to do so, because the voice actors gave the interviews and journal entries a bit more personality than had I just been reading transcripts. Not that the writing in Sleeping Giants was colorless otherwise, but I can see it get potentially boring when most of the narration is conveyed through dialogue (honestly, it was all “telling” and not “showing”), some of which were pretty clunky when it got to the science-y parts. Personally, I wasn’t too bored, but I love science and math and a great deal of speculative fiction, so this book was certainly a lovely marriage of all three (I guess this makes it a love triangle, haha).

A girl falls into a giant glowing blue hand. Years later, she becomes a physicist who researches said giant glowing blue hand. Eventually, she declares that perhaps the hand isn’t man-made after all, and that it came from SPACE. And did I mention the giant glowing blue hand is only part of a giant glowing blue alien robot?!

CHYEAHBOI.

CHYEAHBOI.

For those who are not familiar with the form of Sleeping Giants, the story is largely told in epistolary format. It follows the accounts of a group of people working on a project as devised by some unnamed interviewer (who I’m just going to call Mr. Robot Man because why the hell not). Their mission: to gather, study, put together, and work the mysterious alien pieces found all over the world. Through news article clippings, Mr. Robot Man interviews, and personal logs, the reader gets a piecemeal view of the overall story. The files take several jumps in between, but combined they’re enough to tell the story Neuvel wanted to convey.

Which brings me to the character list and how very few of them there are.

It was hard to like some of them, even harder to dislike others. Mr. Robot Man himself retains enough of a mystery that one never really knows who he is other than how strongly he feels about “The Project” at hand. He also has a dry sense of humor, which kind of gets kudos from me. His soliloquys did get annoying, though, so I’m often on the fence with him. That said, he was probably my favorite male character in the books. Well, I suppose Mr. Kung Pao Chicken was a hoot and a half as well (do you see what happens when I have to assign unnamed characters nicknames?!).

As for the females…well. The book certainly took full use of certain archetypes. Dr. Rose Franklin is your female Oppenheimer, with a mind that certainly runs away to crevices even some brilliant minds of her ilk are not capable of seeing. She is sympathetic and down-to-earth despite the fact that her theories of the giant robot pieces point her space-ward. Then you have Kara Resnik, the hot shot jock girl pilot who’s got a mean mouth and quite the attitude problem. (And honestly, every time I get to her interviews/accounts, I just see and hear Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica…and oh, lookie here, her name in the show is Kara, too!).

I mean, COME ON. How could you not think otherwise?!

I mean, COME ON. How could you not think otherwise?!

Characters aside, some of the story did go into a standstill in the latter half of the book. I’m all for the interview format and thensome, but at some point a love triangle took over the middle part of the book, and it drove me absolutely nuts. I was almost compelled to skip the interviews because I felt like the triangle was added there to make more complications that really weren’t necessary.  I mean, honestly, there’s a whole portion of the plot where two guys pretty much go out of their way to make stupid mistakes to impress one girl who’s–let’s be honest here–probably only using them for sex anyway. I just…ugh, that was pretty  much my only complaint. Bring in more science and less love triangles, I say!

Overall, though, I did enjoy Sleeping Giants. The ending was pretty cliffhangery, so I will definitely have to pick up the next book to see what happens next. It made me think about Mass Effect, which is practically my favorite game EVER. To be honest, I started imagining Sleeping Giants as a sort of prologue type of story for when humans eventually make first contact with its alien neighbors. (Hah, again, ME thoughts went wild there. “First Contact”, tee hee!).

4 out of 5 cookies!


sleepinggiants-alyssa

Have YOU read this book? What did you think?