Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Review: The 100 by Kass Morgan


Review: The 100 by Kass Morgan
Goodreads
Release date: September 3rd, 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Series: #1 in the The Hundred series
Source: Borrowed from Lili by way of Montana
Rating: Whelmed.

The 100 (The Hundred, #1)

In the future, humans live in city-like spaceships orbiting far above Earth's toxic atmosphere. No one knows when, or even if, the long-abandoned planet will be habitable again. But faced with dwindling resources and a growing populace, government leaders know they must reclaim their homeland... before it's too late.

Now, one hundred juvenile delinquents are being sent on a high-stakes mission to recolonize Earth. After a brutal crash landing, the teens arrive on a savagely beautiful planet they've only seen from space. Confronting the dangers of this rugged new world, they struggle to form a tentative community. But they're haunted by their past and uncertain about the future. To survive, they must learn to trust - and even love - again.


The cover: I find this cover really visually appealing, and it definitely captures the romantic-sci-fi vibe that the book has going on.

The story: I will watch almost any TV show on the CW, whether it has vampires or love triangles or super heroes or really hot, shirtless people (they all have really hot, shirtless people).

You're welcome.

 So when I heard that one of their new fall shows was based off a new fall book, I knew I had to get in on this business. Especially because the book is sci-fi, and I love sci-fi, and the trailer looks awesome.

Warning: trailer may spoil some aspects of the novel.



Space stations! Delinquents! Earth as a wild, unihabited wilderness! Romance! Shenanigans! Corruption! The fate of humanity! Yessssss.

I was sold by the premise (Earth is toxic and has been uninhabited for a couple centuries. All the humans live in a web of space stations that are highly stratified by class). And while I blazed through this book in basically one sitting (it's only 277 pages and the pacing is zippy), I was ultimately disappointed in the fact that this book had no impact. It should have been awesome and intense. Big dramatic THINGS were happening. But the author didn't take it to the places it should have gone (and to the places the show seems like it may go). Honestly? I couldn't care less about any of the characters. They had interesting back stories, and they did interesting things, but they just didn't grab me. This book utterly failed to make me connect.

This book is written in a close-ish third person. We start off in the POV of Clarke, a girl who's been Confined for a crime and whose parents have been executed. Underage kids who commit crimes get put in these cells at the bottom of the space station until they turn eighteen and are then re-tried. Almost all are found guilty and executed. Clarke thinks they're coming to kill her early, but--surprise!--she and one hundred other delinquents are being sent back to the abandoned, radioactive wasteland known as Earth to see if it's ready to be lived in again. Clarke, while a decent viewpoint character, is grave, earnest, intelligent, and ever so dull.

We then hop over into the third person POV of Wells, the boy who lurrrrrves Clarke EVER SO MUCH. He's the son of the Chancellor, so he's able to find out about the secret Earth landing and the fact that his former lady love is one of the hundred. So he commits a heinous crime to ensure that he goes to Earth with her. I can't tell you what it is he does to ensure his going to Earth, but let me just say that ONE GIRL IS NOT WORTH THAT. NOBODY IS WORTH THAT. YOU... YOU... UGH. Say it with me, kids. When faced with the option to a) be there emotionally and physically for an ex-girlfriend who hates your guts, or b) save all of humanity, PLEASE SAVE HUMANITY. PLEEEEEASE.

 

 So yeah, Wells super loves Clarke and it's super boring. Luckily for us, there's a third POV character, Bellamy, who's by far the most interesting of the bunch. He's not technically one of the hundred, but his sister is, so, like Wells, he does what he can to ensure he's on that drop ship. His personality was the most vivid, and while he unfortunately decided to fall in love with Clarke (who has red hair and a reluctant-but-magical smile, naturally), I most enjoyed being in his head, learning about his troubled, underprivileged background and his (often blind) devotion to his sister. He's also the only one who decides learning how to hunt might be a good idea.



And then we get the FOURTH POV character, Glass, Wells' female best friend. Yes. There are four main characters, which isn't a problem for me, but in a book this short, there just wasn't time for me to connect to all four, and so I connected to none of them. Their mental voices were bascially interchangeable, except for Bellamy. Glass is a perfectly fine character with a perfectly ridiculous name. She's supposed to be one of the hundred, but she escapes and stays on the space station so she can make amends with her boring, wrong-side-of-the-tracks boyfriend, Luke, who she also super loves. I'm tired of characters starting books off already super in love.

The problem with the two central love stories (Wells-Clarke and Luke-Glass) is that we never got to see them fall in love, so I literally did not give a flaming fruitcake if they made it or not. Wells and Glass love their counterparts more than life itself, and that is just not that interesting. At least Clarke knows the two boys who like her are the very least of her problems, and at least Bellamy knows that his own sister is way more important this his crush on Clarke. I was marginally more invested in Luke-Glass, since they did have some really tragic back story, but too much of this book was romantical angsting, and not enough of it was awesome Earth exploration and space station shenanigans.

This is how I feel about unnecessary romantical angsting.

Which brings me to the part of this book that works like gangbusters: the plot. Well, the basic plot's premise, anyway. It's aces. There are secret revelations, evil chancellors, unauthorized shenanigans--all the science fiction elements I wanted. Almost every chapter features a lengthy flashback, which I ended up loving, since the gradual unveiling of the characters' skeleton-jammed closets. THe world-building is pretty darn solid, though I still have a million questions. This book should have been a hundred pages longer so that we could know more. More about the space station, more about the other delinquents on the ground (we literally know only seven or eight of them by name), just... more.

The stuff on Earth with the delinquents really didn't go where it should have, though. There were hints of some Lord of the Flies stuff, but that kind of fizzled out. Sometimes I got the feeling this book was written just so there could be a TV show, since the visuals and character setups were dynamite and the execution was blah. The focus was on romance and angst, though sometimes the plot ended up creating terrific character moments. There are certain set pieces and ideas here that blew me away. If this has all been happening to characters I loved, this easily could have been a five star review. Alas and alack, I am, as they are in Europe, whelmed.

It's almost, almost, almost a great book and then... not.


Top Ten Favorite Opening Lines In Books


http://www.perpetualpageturner.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/toptentuesss1.jpg
Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

This was yet another impossible Top Ten challenge. The prompt was officially "Favorite openings/beginnings or endings", but if you leave something that open-ended for me I'll just end up writing a thesis paper on all fifty-seven of my favorite books. So. I had to limit myself. I chose opening lines because nothing is quite so important as a first impression. There's a real art to starting off a novel. You want to write something that captures the reader's interest and generates a lot of questions, and all of these managed to do that with me.


1. I remember being born.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman


2. "You stop fearing the Devil when you're holding his hand."
 
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke


3. I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith


4. After a year of slavery in the Salt Mines of Endovier, Celaena Sardothien was accustomed to being escorted everywhere in shackles and at sword-point.

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas


5. They always screamed.

Reboot by Amy Tintera


6. There was a boy in her room.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell


7. Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling.


8. There was once a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis


9. Froggy Welsh the Fourth is trying to get up my shirt.

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler


10. When Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien


11. This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman


12. As the iron war club scythed toward her head, Yukiko couldn’t help wishing she’d listened to her father.

Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff


And my very favorite ever, of course:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen 


Bonus: Classics Edition!

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

1984 by George Orwell 


Marley was dead, to begin with.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens 


 It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, ti was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Friday, July 26, 2013

Review: The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson


Review: The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
Goodreads 
Release date: August 27th, 2013
Publisher: Greenwillow (Harper)
Series: #3 in the Girl of Fire and Thorns series
Source: Borrowed from Lili
Rating: I really, really don't want this series to be over. HECTOR. Elisa is my hero. 99% awesome, 1% quibble. YA fantasy at its finest.

The Bitter Kingdom (Fire and Thorns, #3)

 The epic conclusion to Rae Carson's Fire and Thorns trilogy. 

The seventeen-year-old sorcerer-queen will travel into the unknown realm of the enemy to win back her true love, save her country, and uncover the final secrets of her destiny.

Elisa is a fugitive in her own country. Her enemies have stolen the man she loves in order to lure her to the gate of darkness. As she and her daring companions take one last quest into unknown enemy territory to save Hector, Elisa will face hardships she's never imagined. And she will discover secrets about herself and her world that could change the course of history. She must rise up as champion-a champion to those who have hated her most.


Warning: GIGANTIC spoilers for books one and two in the series, The Girl of Fire and Thorns and Crown of Embers

The cover: I will always wish that these covers showed Elisa in her full-figured glory, but of the three, this is probably my favorite. No, wait, The Crown of Embers is my favorite, but I love how wintry cold this cover is. That face is rather awkward, though.

The story: I was more than a little excited when Lili told me she had traded for a copy of The Bitter Kingdom.



I mean, this series has it all. Strong characters. Hector. A well-defined heroine who's easy to root for. Hector. Tremendous world building, tremendous Hector, a full cast of Hectors characters, spellbinding romance.



And while it's a wrench to say goodbye to a world and a heroine I've loved so well, with the way the second book ended (HECTOR!!!!1!!!), I couldn't stop myself from devouring The Bitter Kingdom.

Elisa: Elisa is my hero and I want to be her when I grow up. There are some characters in high fantasy that are rulers, and you just can't see them being good at it. Elisa is a queen. She is the queenliest queen to ever queen. She was born to rule and is so darn good at it that she just left me slack-jawed. Comparing iron-willed, fearless Queen Elisa to the insecure, frightened, sedentary girl she was at the start of the series is just incredible. She truly has a heroic arc.

My fear with this series has always been the reliance on magic and God, and how those elements are what make Elisa a hero (particularly in Book One). But TBK REALLY underlined the fact that Elisa's true heroism comes from her quick mind, brilliant plans, and determination. That is ultimately what makes her triumph. When stripped of all the things she thought made her strong, Elisa finds her true strength in herself.

Girlfriend should run for president. Like, she is a savant for diplomacy. I'd vote for her.

Hector: So, Hector is really hot.



I'm pleased to inform you that Hector continues to be hot, and I love him, and everything about him is perfection and also a gigantic spoiler. So sadly, I can say NOTHING, except that there are chapters from his point of view and it will make you die with happiness. The romance in this series is not angst-driven or drama-filled. These two levelheaded characters are equals who truly respect and admire each other. There is no love triangle, no moaning, no weeping over needlessly broken hearts. It is loyal, steady, and strong. It's passionate and sure and so beautiful. UGH. HECTOR.

The other characters: There are a few characters in this series who are so vivid that I giggle every time they're on the page. The two standouts were, for me, Storm and Mula. Somehow Storm came to be my favorite character in the whole book, save for the two leads. His loyalty, arrogance, and complete inability to perceive sarcasm are just incredibly endearing. And just wait until you meet hilarious, precocious little Mula. She's heartbreaking and hysterical all at the same time. This characters also provide so much worldbuilding that it's just astounding. I mean. WORLDBUILDING. Carson's world is ao deep and full of detail that I feel like she could write ten more series set here. You discover so much about Invierne and the zafira and Godstones.

Plot: So The Crown of Embers left off at quite a low point for Elisa. Hector was captured and dragged to Invierne, her nurse Ximena has been dismissed for causing the aforementioned to happen, and a political coup has all but wrested political control away from Elisa. But as is trypical with out brilliant, practical girl, she gets to business pretty quickly. The Bitter Kingdom opens soon after the last events of TCoE, with Elisa and her friends in pursuit of Hector's captors.

I'M HERE TO RECLAIM MY BOYFRIEND AND MY KINGDOM BITCHES

Obviously, all kinds of crazy things occur, including (but not limited to) hideous monsters in the deep, creepy SECRETS in secret creepy cellars, battles, avalanches, blizzards, death, and the freaking Mines of Moria. Elisa must outwit and outmaneuver absolutely everyone: the Inviernos (and MORE Inviernos with OTHER political goals), the general and the Conde who stole her kingdom, her own friends, and her own family. Nobody can concoct an epic scheme like Elisa.

Slight negatives: I felt things needed to be MORE BRUTAL. Yes, Elisa and her friends go through a lot of horrible things and a lot of setbacks (see above list), but generally things work out too well too often. Realistically, more people would die, and more of their plans would fail. I ADORE all these characters, so I didn't exactly wish them harm, or anything, but things shouldn't happen easily in fiction ever. Especially not in the epic conclusion or an epic fantasy, which was still, in my opinion, quite epic.

I always felt that Mara was a bit of a flat character, and I don't know why. She has a backstory and some personality, but she doesn't pop the way the leads, Storm, and Mula do. I like her and her friendship and conflicts with Elisa, though. 

I found one or two pacing issues: scenes that needed fleshing out, sequences that needed tightening, but no book is perfect. TBK succeeded for me in all the places it should.

Also, it legitimately made me laugh out loud at times. Lili can attest to that.

 But now it's... over. It's over now. It's... over.

 

Didn't you hear me, James Marsden? IT'S OVER. No more Elisa. No more Hector. NO MORE REASON TO LIVE.*


 *slight exaggeration.

 Thanks, Rae Carson, for this gorgeous series and fantastic characters. I cannot WAIT to read what you write next! *obsessively goes back to read all the kissing scenes in all the books*

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Baking the Books: Cinder Fortune Cookies


Welcome to Baking the Books, where I bake things inspired by my favorite novels! Since I do a lot of reading and a lot of baking, it was only a matter of time before the two things overlapped. It's just part of my evil plot to get books involved in every single aspect of my life.

Previously on Baking the Books: Butterbeer Cupcakes, Anna and the French Crepes.


While putting together all my ideas for this feature, I realized I really  wanted to do something for Cinder and or Scarlet by Marissa Meyer, two books in a series I totally love (my reviews here and here). I tried to rack my brain for Chinese desserts, since Cinder lives in New Beijing, capital of the Eastern Commonwealth, when Lili from Lili's Reflections, who's staying with me this week, just said, "DUH. Do fortune cookies."

 And while fortune cookies are not exactly authentically Chinese, they are authentically fun and delicious, so fortune cookies it is!

Step one: Write out your fortunes.

Cut out strips of paper about 1 1/2 to 2 inches long. Then write WHATEVER YOU WANT on them.

Here is Lili writing a fortune.
Here are the ones I took the time to make all preeeetty
Here are the ones where we did not.

 Step two: Make the batter!

Now, I ended up making this batter twice, essentially doubling it, to get more cookies. But here's the original recipe:

1 egg white
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1 pinch salt
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a non-stick cover. Spray with non-stick spray. Whip the egg white and the two extracts together until foamy and fluffy, but not stiff.






Add the flour, salt, sugar, and butter and mix until smooth, scraping down the sides with a spatula as needed. I thinned out my batter with about 1 tablespoon of water to get it the right consistency, which should be somewhat like crepe batter.



Pour out a small bit of batter and smooth it out into a circle with an offset spatula or regular spatula. Make sure the batter is very thin.



Bake for about five minutes. Keep an eye on these. Once it starts turning golden brown around the edges, take it out.



Transfer with a spatula to a cutting board.



Now, you have to start assembling the fortune cookies immediately, because they harden really fast as they cool. Put one of your fortunes in the center of the cookie, like this:



Fold the cookie around it, like this:



It will be very hot to touch, but you're kind of just going to have to suffer through that. Baking is a serious business y'all. If Lili and I can do it, you can do it.

Crease the folded cookie around the rim of a measuring cup or mug, like this:




You will have something that looks suspiciously like a fortune cookie. Let cookies cool in a muffin tin or egg carton so they hold their shape:



Let cool completely. If the cookies aren't totally crunchy (which mine weren't), stick them in a 250 degree oven for about ten minutes. You should do this in the muffin tin so the cookies don't unravel, which they'll try to do. Pesky cookies.


This is the face of a guilty dog who sneaked and ate a fortune cookie.
Bonus: Here's a video of Lili and me opening up our not-yet-crunchy fortune cookies and seeing what our future holds. Ginger the dog tries to eat them all.

video

If you have any ideas or suggestions about what I should make next, let me know in the comments!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Top Ten Words/Topics That Will Make Me NOT Pick Up a Book


http://www.perpetualpageturner.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/toptentuesss1.jpg
Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

This is based entirely on cover and has nothing do with my feelings for what's inside the paged. And
This is a LOT harder than the opposite of this topic, Things That Instantly Make Me Pick Up a Book, because I've got a lot of buzzwords and not a lot of buzzkill words.Or at least, it seemed hard at first. Then I got to thinking and realized there are a lot of things I don't like (surprise!). A lot of these topics I DO actually like, but they're not what I actively look for in my books.

1. "Grief"

I think grief can be a very powerful subject, and I adore it when books deal with it well. But i prefer not to real books that are ENTIRELY about grief. I'm a delicate marshmallow. I bawl in those commercials with the sad puppies in need of rescue and Sarah MacLachlan singing plaintively in the background. Some books are honestly too heavy for me. "Cancer" is also not a word that gets me excited to read.

2. "God"

Again, nothing wrong with God or religion being a subject that's discussed in my books (one of my favorite classics, The End of the Affair, is like ninety percent about one woman's relationship with God). But generally, religious fiction just isn't my thing.

3. "Suicide"

Again again, I've read some amazing books that deal with this subject or have suicide as an element, and its pretty powerful stuff. But... marshmallow.

4. "Addiction"

Definitely not my favorite topic to read about. It's just too much for me (and yet I love reading books about wars and murderers and assassins, go figure). I find these stories too brutal and too un-fun. I think it might bebecause I watched Less Than Zero when I was WAY too young and I've never recovered.

5. "Love at first sight"

Insta-love is the BANE OF MY EXISTENCE. If the synopsis so much as hints at these words, I just know the book will make me stabby.

6. "Steamy"

I am not opposed to steaminess. Quite the opposite, really. While I was reading Faking It, a certain scene made me have to put the book down and walk across the room a few times because whoa. But usually the books that go OUT of their way to be steamy don't have anything else going for them. Or they're basically just porn in book form. Or they are soul-crushingly misogynistic.

7. "Faeries"

Not that I'm OPPOSED to fae/faeries/fairies/fayriis/phareeys, just that that's not usually a topic I gravitate towards. I like the little pixie people type fairies, but I'm not as interested in the realms of fae as most people are.

8. "Starcrossed lovers"

This ties back a bit to insta-love. It makes me think of shallow, love-sick idiots who are determined to be in love even if it leads to the destruction of the universe. Life tip: if it's a choice between saving all of humankind or saving your fledgling relationship, please choose humanity.

9. "Soon to be a major motion picture"

It's not so much that these words turn me off, so much that they give me pause. It's like, "Ooh. Hype. I'm intimidated."

10. "Verse"

I have read approximately one verse novel that I ever liked (Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, and I was about nine). I don't understand why the authors don't just put it all in one paragraph. Like for instance
I could go on
writing
just as I am
but press "enter" whenever I
felt like it
just
to
seem
deep.

Okay, that's a bit cruel. Sometimes verse novels are gorgeous and atmospheric, but I honestly feel a bit disconnected from the characters when the book is in this form. It's just not my cup of tea.

Dishonorable mentions: Animal violence, "the next Harry Potter/Twilight/Hunger Games", "light on romance", erotica, badly behaving authors, "was once fanfiction", pregnancy (most of the time), military.

What words/ topics turn you off? Do you agree or disagree with any of mine? Leave me your links if you have them, please!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Review: The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider


Review: The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider
Goodreads 
Release date: August 27th, 2013
Publisher: Katherine Tegen
Series: No
Source: BEA
Rating: Funny, punny, and full of heart (and pop culture references galore!). Good for fans of hyper-intelligent teens (very John Green-esque) and perfect boy POVs.

The Beginning of Everything

Golden boy Ezra Faulkner believes everyone has a tragedy waiting for them—a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen. His particular tragedy waited until he was primed to lose it all: in one spectacular night, a reckless driver shatters Ezra’s knee, his athletic career, and his social life.

No longer a front-runner for Homecoming King, Ezra finds himself at the table of misfits, where he encounters new girl Cassidy Thorpe. Cassidy is unlike anyone Ezra’s ever met, achingly effortless, fiercely intelligent, and determined to bring Ezra along on her endless adventures.

But as Ezra dives into his new studies, new friendships, and new love, he learns that some people, like books, are easy to misread. And now he must consider: if one’s singular tragedy has already hit and everything after it has mattered quite a bit, what happens when more misfortune strikes?

Robyn Schneider’s The Beginning of Everything is a lyrical, witty, and heart-wrenching novel about how difficult it is to play the part that people expect, and how new beginnings can stem from abrupt and tragic endings.
 


The cover: What gorgeous colors! I love the contrast of the blue font against the yellow and orange roller coaster. Also, I chuckle every time I see the coaster, because poor Toby.

The story: The Beginning of Everything has been on my radar ever since I heard the original title, Severed Heads, Broken Hearts. And while I feel that title better captures the irreverence and dark humor of the novel, nearly every other aspect of this book just made my soul happy. The writing, the characters, the dialogue, the plot-- I just couldn't get enough of Ezra and his friends.

The novel is told in first person from the point of view of Ezra, who has now got to be one of my favorite teenage boy narrators ever. His voice is so authentic and powerful. Ezra used to be the golden boy in high school, tennis star, boyfriend of the prettiest cheerleader. But everything changes after a tragic car accident takes out his knee. Now he walks with a cane, can never play tennis again, and has no idea what the future holds. But luckily for Ezra (and for us), he quickly falls in with his old best friend, Toby, and his troupe of friends from the debate team. Who are completely HILARIOUS. Seriously, I want to be best friends with these people. They are sharp and witty. They quip, they reference things, they tease. They are fictional characters after my own referencing heart. I laughed through so much of this book.

I love when authors are able to be humorous and heartfelt all at once.Mixing levity with poignancy only makes the more moving aspects more moving, in my opinion. I felt Ezra's pain and isolation. I SOBBED at the end when a thing I can't tell you about happened. And I felt him fall in love with mystery new girl Cassidy Thorpe, even though she's the only aspect of the novel I had even the slightest quibble with.

Like Christina pointed out in her review, Cassidy is a bit of a manic pixie dream girl. She's just transferred to Ezra's SoCal high school from a private school in San Francisco. Nobody knows why she quit the world of debate (in which she was supposedly a superstar); in fact, no one knows anything about her. She and Ezra soon bond, and he comes to see that she's the quippiest of the bunch and has a lot of interests and philosophies. She's dynamic and brilliant. She really brings out the best in Ezra, which was wonderful to read about. But my feelings towards her really soured at one point. She's needlessly cruel to Ezra, and I don't think the final revelation of her secret really excuses her. But in a way, that's the point. This book takes a very realistic look at love and dreams and relationships. Cassidy is totally worth falling in love with, but she's not perfect, and I liked that.

Toby, on the other hand, is aces. He used to be best friends with Ezra, until a fateful day at Disneyland that makes the Severed Heads part of the original title make sense. Toby is fiercely intelligent, a confident nerd, and a good guy. He holds no grudge against Ezra for drifting to the popular table, and is totally willing to become friends with him again in Ezra's hour of need. I kind of want to be Toby when I grow up. Also, he is hilarious when he is drunk.

The book centers on Ezra's belief that life is born from tragedy; that until your own personal tragedy happens, you haven't really become yourself yet. That thread is carried through the novel so beautifully, and at the end, so many different personal tragedies get tangled up, particularly between Cassidy and Ezra. Ezra's old life is killed the night of his accident, and while it is tragic for him to lose every hope and dream and friend he had, it's also a new beginning. He's able to find better friends and new interests. He can finally admit that he's smart. He can have witty, nerdy conversations with people, to my everlasting delight (seriously, Ezra, marry me and make Doctor Who and The Great Gatsby references and puns with me all the livelong days. PUN AWAY WITH ME, EZRA).

If you're a fan of John Green and intelligent narrators, you HAVE to pick up this book when it comes out at the end of August. It's for your own good. Really.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Baking the Books: Anna and the French Crêpes


Welcome to Baking the Books, where I bake things inspired by my favorite novels! Since I do a lot of reading and a lot of baking, it was only a matter of time before the two things overlapped. It's just part of my evil plot to get books involved in every single aspect of my life.

Last time on Baking the Books: Butterbeer Cupcakes
Review and Giveaway: Lola and the Boy Next Door

This week, I'm going French! I love, love, love Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins (my review), a heartfelt and funny novel about an American girl going to boarding school in Gay Paree. One of the wonderful things she discovers there is that the French are rather good at this "dessert" thing. Just a little bit. She encounters pastries and macarons and... crêpes!



Now, part of me wanted to make macarons (which are NOT the things we Americans call "macaroons", all coconutty, clumpy goodness, but rather feather light meringue cookies with filling and mmmm), but those are a bit hard to pull off. So CREPES! In the book, there's a particularly important scene that takes place at a crêperie. Etienne St. Clair, aka perfect specimen of man, is down in the dumps, and Anna cheers him up by being a bit silly with her Nutella and banana crêpe.

The cool thing about crêpes is that they're actually totally simple to make. All you need is five ingredients, a blender, and a saucepan. Easy as pie crêpes.

Ingredients:

Crêpe batter:
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1 cup flour
3 tablespoons melted butter

Crêpe assemblage:
Butter or Pam (non-stick spray) for coating the pan
WHATEVER FILLING YOU LIKE! I always go for Nutella and bananas or cinnamon-sugar, but you can put any kind of jam or curd or sauce you like!



Put all the ingredients in a blender and pulse for ten seconds, or until totally smooth. We don't want floury lumps in our cpes. Stick the batter in the fridge for about an hour (if you're REALLY in a rush, you can skip this/cut down the time, but this makes your crêpes stronger and less likely to tear, so be patient, grasshoppers). The batter will keep for a day or two.

Heat a non-stick pan, preferably a small one. Add butter to coat, or use butter- or regular-flavored Pam, like I do. Now, the only part of crêping (ew, that's a gross verb, sorry) that's at all difficult is this: the swirl. You pour a small amount into the pan...

 

...and immediately swirl it, like so, so that the batter spreads out on the pan and forms a thin, flat pancake:

 
MORE GIF WIZARDRY

It's not as difficult as it looks, I swear. Cook for about thirty seconds...

See how the edges are starting to come up? That's a good sign of done-ness

...and flip (I use my fingers, but not everyone needs to be that hardcore. A spatula does fine).

 

Cook for another twenty-ish seconds, or until that side is done too. Remove crêpe from pan and place either on a cutting board or a plate to cool (cutting board keeps them flat). Continue making crêpes until all the batter is gone.



Now's the fun part: FILLINGS! I like to slather mine in Nutella and sliced bananas, or sprinkle it with a cinnamon-sugar mix (I never measure mine, but I think it works out to about 1 teaspoon cinnamon for each cup of sugar?). But you can also use marmalade, jam, lemon curd, rasperry sauce, melted chocolate, nuts, ANYTHING YOU WANT. You can even turn the crêpes savory by adding some herbs or spinach or substituting buckwheat flower, then filling it with ham and cheese or eggs or smoked salmon. Crêpes are magique. They can be anything and everything.

And now I shall show you how to fold a crêpe.





It is, admittedly, not the most complex skill I have. But voila! Dust it with powdered sugar if you're feeling totally sinful, or even a dollop of whipped cream, or butterscotch sauce, like I did, that was left over from last week's Butterbeer cupcakes. The best part about making crêpes? Easy clean up! Well, no. Obviously the best part is eating them. So go ahead and eat them. Bon appetit!



 

If you have any ideas or suggestions about what I should make next, let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell


Release date: September 10, 2013
Goodreads
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Series: No
Source: BEA
Rating: This is the first Rainbow Rowell book I've read, but you can bet your bottom it won't be my last. EMERGENCY KANYE PARTY! *dances madly*

Fangirl

A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love.

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .

But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?



The cover: I adore this cover. I'd love to see more with this cartoony sort of style. It's cute and perfectly captures the style and voice of the novel inside.

The story: I'm going to keep all things personal out of this review. Just know that I related to Cath SO MUCH that at times it was a little painful. Sometimes it was almost creepy (I went to college in the Midwest at first, I have a twin, I am a Fangirl-with-a-capital-F). Basically, Cath and I are soul mates. We're both entirely baffled by this socializing thing and our idea of a great night in is staying in with our laptops and churning out a couple thousand words (though I don't write filthy gay slash-fic, but if I could BY GOD I WOULD). When life gets overwhelming, we both decide to shut down and retreat into our shells like hermit crabs. So while I know a lot of people didn't get Cath, I TOTALLY did.

Cath doesn't think she's ready for college. She doesn't know how to do the things that seem so easy for other kids her age. I've read some reviews where people find her behavior and internal logic bizarre, but I related to it one hundred percent. I also related to Cath's obsession with Simon Snow (an obvious and rather hilarious stand-in for Harry Potter). Cath is a big deal in the Simon Snow fan fiction world. Cath has real all the books multiple times, seen the movie, bought the posters. It used to be something she did with her identical twin, Wren, but now that college has started, there's distance between the sisters, something Cath hates and Wren doesn't.

It makes Cath feel incredibly lonely. So what does she do? She writes more fan fiction about Simon (obviously Harry) and Baz (obviously Draco) falling madly in love.


 She tries to figure out what these strange boy-shaped people are (I don't know either, Cath). Rowell has this almost-deadpan style of humor that's so strange and hilarious that it would constantly catch me off guard. Multiple lines had me snorting out loud. But most of all, I got Cath. I understood how lonely and horrible it is to be the one that cares and the one that cries when nobody else seems to be. To be so entirely devoted to something that other people completely dismiss. Cath's story can break your heart sometimes, particularly the part with her family (I almost lost in in a certain waiting room scene with a certain parent). Not everything is roses and rainbows (Rowells). There are messy ends and jagged pieces, because that's life.

Even when I hated the other characters, I loved them. Reagan the surly roommate, Levi, her charming, sunny boyfriend, Wren, Cath's father, Nick, Cath's creative writing professor--they're all really well-drawn characters who all serve a purpose and have their own agendas. And the ROMANCE is swoon-tastic. Like, can I marry you, love-interest-I-will-not-name? Even though you deserve a good strong smack for that THING you did? But seriously, folks, Rowell totally knows how to write a believable, slow burn romance. I actually found myself whispering, "Kiss. Kiss, you fools. Why are they not kissing yet? Now, see, that would have been the PERFECT PLACE TO KISS. Fools." No, seriously, I was sitting next to my friend and she told me to shut up. Apparently talking to books is creepy? Cath would understand.

Besides He Who Must Be Kissed, Reagan is probably my favorite character. She's rough and pushy and kind of secretly loves Cath and her weirdness. She's really the first character that forces Cath to start functioning. This particular friendship is what really gets the ball rolling for Cath.  

Also, as a writer myself, I completely loved Cath's creative journey, too. She struggled to find her own stories and voice and suffered from all the paralyzing insecurity real writers do. It was a joy watching her finally figure out what those weird wing things on her back were for and stretch them out.

But most of all, this book seems like a love letter to fandom and introverts. It's acknowledging a part of culture that doesn't get acknowledged very often. It's about how books and movies are not JUST BOOKS AND MOVIES, MOM, and how they can literally change your life, and how it's okay to want to live in those worlds and reblog gifsets and read or write torrid slash-fic. The life of a Fangirl is pretty enriching, once you understand it. And there's nothing wrong with that.