Archive for March, 2012

March 22, 2012

The Benefits of Binge Reading

In the last 12 hours I’ve finished 3 novels. One of which I reread for my own pleasure, and the other two simply because I was in a ready mood. There’s really no other way to explain that. I lazed around my house with all the windows open, sun streaming in, and just felt like it was the perfect day to read things I wanted to read, and not homework that had been assigned by professors.

The first new book I read was Across the Universe by Beth Revis. It’s one of those books that’s been sitting on my shelf for a while. I was drawn in by the cover, so I bought it. Then I was put off by the corniness of the quote on the cover: “What does it take to survive aboard a spaceship fueled by lies?”. Then the second book in the series came out, a year later. Ladies and Gentlemen, this book  has been sitting there unread, for over a year. Now it wasn’t my fault! I was travelling after I bought it (in January 2011) and then I just, forgot. Nonetheless, I picked it up today, a full year and two months later, and actually loved it.

Let me give you a quick rundown of this book. Amy is a 17 year old girl who is given the choice by her parents (and I suppose the government) to be cryogenically frozen and travel with them to Alpha Centauri to inhabit a planet that is reportedly fit for human life. The novel opens with Amy watching first her mother, then her father, go through the freezing process before she inevitably decides to give up her life on Earth and stick with her parents. Once she gets frozen, the POV switches to Elder, the future leader of Godspeed, the ship that is taxed with the 350 year journey to Centauri-Earth. The population of the ship has been ravaged by a recent Plague that required a new system of leadership to be put into place, and he is the next in line. Elder is only 16, and like any young leader to be, he is reluctant to conform to his teachings, and prefers the company of his friend. He gets pointed in the direction of the cyro chamber, where he finds Amy frozen in her tube. A series of events takes place that involves Amy being reanimated incorrectly (and most importantly before her time). There’s some mystery, and some romance (dur) and the best part is the dictatorship that thinks that individual thought is the root of all fighting.

I loved how honest it was. The two main characters, Elder and Amy, have absolutely no problems about being honest with themselves. That’s rare, especially for a YA novel. Amy quickly comes to terms with the fact that she will never see her parents again after she is reanimated, and immediately throws herself into a project. Elder fights the hold that the Eldest has on him in order to keep Amy safe, and in doing so reveals to himself the truth’s of his little society.

It was a pretty quick read, and definitely one you want to do in one go, mainly because the narrative is a little stilted. The POV switches for every “chapter” and often the sections are quite short. The second book is called A Million Sunsand apparently the spaceship is no longer fueled by lies, but chaos.

The second book I read was Legend, by Marie Lu. I’ve followed her for a while over on Pub(lishing) Crawl which is by far one of my favorite writing/publishing blogs since it’s run by a group of ex-fictionpress authors (including the wonderfully talented S.J. Mass, whose book Throne of Glass is FINALLY being released later this year) but there are so many super talented ladies that have come out of both fictionpress, and Pub(lishing) Crawl that their work is always worth checking out.

Legend is about two people (look at me with my POV switching books) Day and June.

June a 15 year old prodigy who got a perfect score on the Trials, a government test that judges the line of work a child is worthy for. Now the trials sound truly horrible. At the age of 10 you are judged on your agility, reflexes, and intelligence. If you fail you’re sent to the labor camps. If you pass you get to go to school. June, the only one to get a perfect score of 1500, (SAT’s anyone??) is in her final year of university, and causing trouble. Her section of the novel opens with her being scolded for traveling off campus to scale a building. Day’s section opens with him looking over his family. Immediately setting the tone for his personality, he’s watching out for them as the soldiers go door to door checking for plague victims. He’s essentially Robin Hood, except he mainly only cares about his family, and his friends, and messing with the oppressive government. Of course, they have to be enemies. June is a military girl at heart, and Day is a rebel because of what his government has made him.

Legend was fab, because it wasn’t just the usual dystopian lone girl defies government and blah happens book. It was a political thriller, with twists and turns (even though a few of them were predictable). It was fun to actually go along with the characters and figure out what was happening, and there are hints dropped throughout the novel, and most importantly, it fun to read. There were plenty of sections that got my adrenaline up, and it was totally not a book you should read before going to bed… because then you won’t. You’ll actually be too hyped up to do anything but dance and wonder when the second book is coming out (Fall 2012).

There’s also a game of this on facebook (I’m totally a member of the Capitol ya’ll).

There ya go! two books in one review.

March 13, 2012

Demi-Monde: Spring

Just to clarify for new readers, this is a review of the SECOND book in the Demi-Monde Series. The first book (Demi-Monde: Winter) was released in the USA on January 3rd I believe, and this one released a few days later in the UK, but it has not yet been released in the States.

The Shadows grow ever darker across the Demi-Monde. And as the soldiers of Heydrich’sForthRight goose-step into Paris and the long-forgotten evil that is Lilith is awoken, it falls to Norma Williams to lead the resistance. Lost in the virtual nightmare that is the Demi-Monde, she must come to terms with these terrible responsibilities and with the knowledge that those she thought were her friends are now her enemies. To triumph in this surreal cyber-world she must be more than she ever believed she could be…or perish.

When I finished DM: Spring I decided that I needed some time to mull over it instead of immediately writing a gushing post about how the book made the think and feel, etc. This book was very different f

rom it’s predecessor, but that doesn’t mean I disliked it, nor was it bad. Through the course of the book Rees showed the same attention to historical detail that first attracted me to his first novel, but this time instead of having a pseudo-supernatural twist there was a distinct change in the trend of the novel. The first was filled with both personal and political struggle, and in that the second book fell a bit short. However this book featured a masterful blending of science-fiction and fantasy by incorporating tales of Lilith and the Grigori as central plot-points.
Thinking back, I really did enjoy the book, and look forward to the next one in the series, if not just to find out a few key details about some lingering questions I had during this one. Sadly characters like Vanka Maykov, whose russian accent I spent trying to imitate (much to the amusement of my friends and roommates) was not as present in this book. That was highly disappointing for me, since I fangirled all over the place while Ella got to know him during the first novel. In addition, as you can see from the amazon blurb above, Ella Thomas is not a focus of the novel. Norma is. Yes, whiny little no-backbone Norma. Who I hate(d). It’s really not as bad as at seems, especially since theres a lovely french broad named Odette who also garners a lot of focus.

March 8, 2012

More food!

I posted a picture last night on twitter of the absolutely delicious Birthday Cake Oreo cupcake I made yesterday  in “Honor” of the Oreo’s 100th birthday. In real life I made those because I was craving cupcakes, and I had  Birthday Cake Oreo’s, and the birthday of the Oreo happened to be yesterday. I used this recipe from Southern Lace to make a half-batch of vanilla cupcakes, so I wouldn’t use up the last of my baking supplies. I told all my friends it was because I wanted the cupcakes to be limited edition too (I just didn’t really want to share).

I’m not a fancy photographer, so this is pretty much the best shot you’re going to get.

Small Batch Vanilla Cupcakes
Makes 4 – 6 cupcakes
  • 1/3 cup + 1 Tablespoon plain all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons room temp butter
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk (makes the cupcakes super moist but you can use normal milk too if you don’t have buttermilk)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line your cupcake pan with 4-6 cupcake cups.
  2. In a bowl blend the butter with a hand whisk then add the sugar and whisk together until mixed well.
  3. Add in the egg yolk and whisk until blended.
  4. Add in the buttermilk and vanilla and mix well.
  5. Add in flour, baking soda and salt and mix well.
    Morgan’s Edit: Place the frosting half of the oreo into the cupcake tin, frosting side up. save the other half of the oreo for garnish. Also mix colored sprinkles into the batter for birthday cake-like fun!
  6. Spoon into cupcake cups and bake for about 15 minutes. Bake for an additional 5 minutes if necessary.
  7. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

    I made 4, and they came out with a nice conical top, which was fun to layer frosting on top of (I probably used the amount of frosting I would use for 12 cupcakes for these four. It was a litte ridiculous. 

I’m partial to a nice standard butter frosting made in a small enough batch to be mixed by hand. (Literally use a whisk to mix it together it takes five minutes, and it’s fun)

  • 2-4 tablespoons of room temperature butter
  • powered sugar (use as much or as little as you like, whisk it in gently  and taste often!)
  • 2tbsp of Heavy Whipping Cream
  • Vanilla Extract (again as much or as little as you like)
  • Salt (a dash, just enough to set the taste)
  • For this you can toss in more colored sprinkles after you’ve gotten your desired taste and consistency down.

Once you’ve frosted your delicious friends, and tossed in half an Oreo top as a garnish, eat them. Then lust after this awesome recipe for Butterbeer and read Harry Potter while you sip at it. Only if you’re not under the age of like 18. Or in legal standards, 21.

March 7, 2012

Five Reasons to Love Historical Fiction. *Spoiler Alert* The Reasons Are Books.

So I’m a bit obsessed with a few genres, steampunk, historical fiction, and fantasy being among them. The other day I tweeted a bit about how I wanted to see more new historical fiction, because I think it’s a fabulous genre that gives a personality to time periods that most people don’t really bother to learn about. Literary historical fiction (i’m giving it that name) is one of my favorite subgenres of it because it gives a new twist to old writing, and as a fan of old and new writing alike I love when an author takes time to recreate a favorite tale.

Witch Child by Celia Rees was one of my first forays into historical fiction, and as a child I refused to acknowledge that I was learning something worthwhile about history while I read it. Now however, after learning quite a bit about the Salem Witch Trials, I see this as a relatively accurate portrayal the time, with a much more fantastic ending. Mary, the main character fled England for America after her grandmother was tried and convicted of witchcraft. Once in America, she finds herself living in a puritanical colony where the same frenzied witch hunt begins.
As Rees’ describes it, it becomes a story of a woman living in two worlds. In the puritanical society in which Mary finds herself, she is considered to be strange despite the fact that no one knows her past. Whereas in the Native American society she ensconces herself in towards the end of the novel, she is revered for her abilities and knowledge.
This story and the follow up novel Sorceress, are among my favorite historical fiction stories because they not only chronicle the  life of Mary, but show how the past and future connect, when her descendant, a Native American teenager named Agnes stumbles upon her diaries (the contents of Witch Child), and goes through a journey that allows her to find herself.

Ophelia by Lisa Klein is pretty much my favorite example of Literary Historical Fiction, because it puts Ophelias perspective into Hamlet. Aside from Macbeth, Hamlet is my favorite Shakespeare play of all time. So reading what Klein had to say about Ophelia, and how her relationship with Hamlet developed was probably one of my favorite parts of the story; Since Ophelia had little to no character development in the actual play. She was perceived to be a wishy-washy female who was governed by her love for Hamlet. In this story however she is strong, intelligent, clever, and she is definitely someone I would want as my new best friend.
I’m looking forward to reading more of Klein’s work now that I’ve rediscovered her (I bought this book several years ago, and forgot about it till recently). The books she writes all seem engaging and entertaining and most importantly, they’re all historical fiction. (Cue my happy dancing).

I think that most of the Historical Fiction novels I enjoy have female heroines because I like to see how the women interact with their time period, and this one is no different. Set in 1912, A Company of Swans by the much loved Eva Ibbotson, is a fantastic read. It’s centered around Harriet Morton whose only dream is to become a ballet dancer. However when she is offered a professional position, it conflicts with the desires of her strict father, her nanny, and her newly appointed fiance. In true storytelling tradition, she flees to join the ballet company who happens to be going on a tour of the Amazon, a new and wild land that’s mostly jungle. Over the course of the novel she finds love, passion, and most importantly she discovers what it is she wants out of life. Since it is set in a more contemporary time period, it’s actually a little more interesting to see the character development, and compare it to historical fiction novels set in earlier time periods. All of Eva Ibbotson’s books are wonderful, but this one and A Countess Below Stairs deserve honorable mentions for historical fiction.

Ann Rinaldi is famous for her Historical Fiction, and rightly so. Her Novels are well crafted, Interesting, and have always seem to be in the Civil War or American Revolution. At least the 5 I have read are. The Girl in Blue is among my favorites, the second; Finishing Becca, and the third being The Secret of Sarah Revere. Girl in Blue is the one I choose for this, because Sarah Louisa is a bold young girl who after finding out she is to be wed to her despicable neighbor (do you see a trend?) runs away from home. She then concocts a plan to join the army, and does so successfully, fighting alongside her male counterparts. Of course she can’t do that forever, because like Mulan, she gets injured and found out. As a result she becomes a spy for Allen Pinkerton. The book is really really good, and as a young girl I spent nights mulling over what it would be like to fight for the US. Then I realized that I don’t like sports, or fighting, and most of what she did actually just sounded like legal torture. Nonetheless, Ann Rinaldi’s a dynamo, check out her awesome website!

Lastly will be another Celia Rees’ book, because I can’t confine this one to an honorable mention at the end of a bit about Witch Child. Pirates! gets a whole quote.

“I stood with Minerva as our first fight came, pistols primed and slung about me, my cutlass honed and as sharp as a razor, my axe hanging heavy from my belt. I could not keep my legs from shaking, my knuckles were white from gripping the rail, but Minerva had a stillness about her, her features as calm and expressionless as if they had been carved from ironwood. I’d seen the look before, on the faces of Phillis and Thomas and the other slaves when confronted by Duke in his fury. It was not resignation, more a refusal to show any reaction to whatever fate was about to enfold her. I was green and sick with nervousness. She put her hand on mine to steady me, whispering through the cannon’s roar.” -Excerpt from Pirates taken from Celia Rees Website.

This story is a tale of slavery, piracy and adventure. It takes the reader on a journey with main characters who have to do things that they never imagined themselves doing. Whether it’s killing a man in cold blood or running for their lives. Rees’ takes a slave and her mistress who become unlikely friends and sends them off in a battle for some semblance of equality. This book was one that I read as a child because I thought the idea of pirates was cool, and I’d never heard of a woman pirate before. Rereading it as an adult it just sparks a desire for a simpler life where gold was currency, and you didn’t need to be on twitter to know about other peoples lives. Though, the pirate things sounds dangerous, but cool.

I think that Celia Rees and Ann Rinaldi sparked my long lasting love with historical fiction, and I genuinely hope that the market is ready for them, and writers like them again. After years of vampire romance and dystopias, It’ll be truly refreshing to see the past again.

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