Coming This Week: Nov. 30

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I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving. I actually had two, Thursday and Friday. I think I did pretty well at not overdoing it though, well at least with things besides wine.

For this weeks book reviews look for:

The last two books of The Lunar Chronicles series!

Wednesday I will talk about Camp NaNo, what I did and did not achieve, and how I am going to alter my writing habits from what I learned during this months event.

Review: Scarlet

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Scarlet

Goodreads Summary:

Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison–even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

Unless Winter just knocks my socks off, this is still my favorite of the series. I love Scarlet and Wolf’s dynamic, I love Scarlet, I love Wolf, I love the play on the Red Riding Hood tale, and I love the development of the overarching story of this series. There is just a whole lot of love here.

I will say though, it took me a little longer to fall under Scarlet’s spell this read than the first time. She is so solitarily focused and quick to let her emotions lead her down a path without thinking it through. However, she knows all of this about herself and that acknowledgement had me on board again pretty quickly. Wolf is such a dynamic and interesting character and I think you will be hard pressed to find anyone in this fandom who does not love him. I really like how he is portrayed both as the evil wolf and the savior woodsman – we see him fight himself as he changes paths and develops so much, one of the best character arcs of the series in my opinion.

I really appreciate Wolf and Scarlet’s relationship as well, though it is one of the hastiest of the series – and boarders on instalove – they have one of the most difficult as well. They have to actively work on their relationship in order to make it work after everything they have been through together, which I think makes this one feel the most real out of all the others.

As opposed to the first time I read this, I liked the segments that focused on Cinder. After getting to know her better with my reread of Cinder I understand her better, and so I didn’t hate these segues like I did the first time through this installment. I thought the way she and Scarlet’s paths came together, the developing relationship between she and Thorne, and the additional knowledge she picks up really illustrates the effortless weaving of so many elements Meyer has been able to achieve with this series.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

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Admittedly, that is not a picture of a cheesecake I made, but I’m not going to stress myself out about taking pretty pictures of my cheesecake while I am cooking other things and getting ready to drive to my in-laws.

I am going to go ahead a say that my cheesecake is prettier than that one too, but I liked the fake gourds and foliage.

I can’t remember exactly where I got the base for this recipe, but I think I have made enough of my own additions to make it mine. I like to pair this with a little whipped cream infused with Amaretto, but you can do whatever you like.

Ingredients:

Crust:

1 C. amaretti cookies

3 Tbs. brown sugar

3 Tbs. melted butter

Filling:

3 pkg. softened cream cheese (and none of that less fat stuff – you need the additional fat to get the right texture)

1 C.  packed brown sugar

3 eggs

15 oz. purred pumpkin

3 Tbs. sour cream

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. salt

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 F

Combine crushed cookies, sugar, and melted butter; press into a spring form pan – that has been wrapped in foil – evenly and bake until browned (Sorry I don’t use time when I bake most of the time – when it starts to perfume the kitchen though it’s probably done). Remove from oven and let cool completely.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment beat cream cheese on medium speed for about 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl and beat for about another 30 seconds (you are adding air in this stage, makes for a light and fluffy cake). Add brown sugar and mix for about 1 minute. Add eggs – one at a time – mixing until incorporated and scraping down the sides after each one. Add pumpkin, sour cream, salt, and spices and mix until incorporated.

Pour the filling into the crust. Set the pan in a shallow dish and fill with hot water about half way up the cheesecake pan (you should set the pans on the oven rack before pouring the water). Turn the oven down to 325 F and bake just until set in the middle (about an hour). Let cool completely* and refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving.

* Let cool with the oven if you have the time, it will reduce the risk of your cake cracking.

Review: Cinder

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Goodreads Summary:

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl.

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

I’m re-reading this series in preparation for its finale, Winter.

Going back into this I remembered that Cinder was my least favorite of the series, resulting in me getting distracted when a foreshadowing moment happened and I started thinking about that instead. The second book is my favorite, so really I just wanted to read this one again so I could get to Scarlet. However, I was being unfair to this book, as it has some great aspects.

Admittedly, this book is a huge set-up installment. There is so much world building and foreshadowing that it can get tedious at times. But, that makes the following books so much easier to get into and enjoy. Also, I missed the great mannerisms and how much of a tom-boy Cinder is the first time I read this. I don’t think I really got her personality the first time I experienced her and I thought she was kind of dull and flat, turns out she just has a really dry sense of humor and you have to be paying attention to pick it up. I also liked the subtle references to the original fairy tale.

Ultimately, it’s still probably going to remain my least favorite of the series, but I have a new appreciation for it.

Coming This Week: Nov. 23

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It’s Thanksgiving week! Which means it’s time for me to make my fantastically delicious pumpkin cheesecake, which is basically the center of whatever celebration I take it to. So to be nice, I’ll give you all the recipe on Wednesday.

Because of the holiday I am going to move the usual Thursday book review to Friday. The two that will be up this week are:

In honor of the release of Winter, and my re-reading the series in preparation.

I hope all of you enjoy the holiday, and you know, remembering the history of the day is always nice too – no offense to those who just want to stuff themselves and watch football.

Review: The Devil You Know

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Goodreads Summary:

Eighteen-year-old Arcadia wants adventure. Living in a tiny Florida town with her dad and four-year-old brother, Cadie spends most of her time working, going to school, and taking care of her family. So when she meets two handsome cousins at a campfire party, she finally has a chance for fun. They invite her and friend to join them on a road trip, and it’s just the risk she’s been craving-the opportunity to escape. But what starts out as a fun, sexy journey quickly becomes dangerous when she discovers that one of them is not at all who he claims to be. One of them has deadly intentions.

A road trip fling turns terrifying in this contemporary story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.

This isn’t something I would usually pick up, so the 365DaysofYA Challenge gets another feather in its hat for making me step outside of my box. This book wasn’t anything fantastic or profound, but I was entertained while college football games droned on in the background, because that’s about as long as it took to read this – a football game.

The synopsis was intriguing but the thrills were suspended until the last 40 pages or so. I felt like the central theme of this book was more a journey of self-discovery through a stint of possibly earned rebellion. Cadie forced herself to shirk what was expected of her and to listen to her intuition – to see what she was capable of without the weight of her normal responsibilities, and I can respect that.

What she does is so beyond stupid though. Even though we all know this, and she knows this, Doller is still able to play execute this adventure without the normal clichés, making it a fast and entertaining read. The romantic element I think was well balanced; there was an obvious connection between the two characters, but it was never chalked up to love or fate or any of the YA tropes we see relationships take on in this genre most of the time. And overall I felt it was pretty responsible between the characters, they understood the levity of their decisions when it came to their involvement and in the end it was a bit more established.

Beyond the self-discovery of this novel though, I felt a bit let down. The thrills promised with this malevolent character were pretty non-existent the whole time. While hints at the terror were obvious to everyone but Cadie, emphasizing a naivety on her part. Also, for anyone who has watched a serial killer/profiling show (Dexter, Criminal Minds, etc.) it was glaringly clear who the killer was from the start. That was the biggest let down of this book, the utter obviousness of it all.

It was an enjoyable enough afternoon read, but by no means the dark, twisty, exciting story that was promised.

WWI Heroism

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For the last couple weeks I was taking a class about how WWI changed the face of heroism. It was really interesting, and since it’s been a while since I’ve posted something historyish I figured I would give you all a watered down version of what was discussed.

First, this was a British class, so it focused on the UK, France, and Germany.

We started the class talking about what a hero was. How it was defined and how that definition changed. Before WWI, the image of a hero was strongly based on Classical heroes, so Greek and Roman warriors like Achillies, Hector, and all the Demigods; as well as Knights with their pure and chivalric images. Usually this translated into individuals of high social standing, who were officers, becoming the staple “heroes” of whatever war or battle was being celebrated.

With WWI that image slowly changed. This was war like nothing that had been seen. Technological advancements as well as the social repercussions of Total War made sure that every citizen was somehow affected. The image of a hero slowly changed to represent the everyday soldier, who out of a sense of patriotic duty went to war, of the women who sent off their husbands and sons, and of the nurses and medics that risked their lives to save others.

The change of the “hero image” was also very clear in memorials and monuments post war. And this brought in another element of discussion that was very interesting – how Germany, the defeated nation, honored it’s fallen soldiers. Ultimately, it did so from a point of collective mourning. The UK, France, and US saw a surge of the unknown soldier memorials – holding the average soldier as the ultimate sacrifice for their cause.

The last element we looked at was how WWI heroism is seen today. Most interesting are the alternate perspectives that have gained ground. In the 1920s and 30s the war was still living memory, people brought their experiences of the war to life with the new advancements of film. The 60s, 70s, and 80s provided recognition to unconventional heroes, like deserters and contentious objectors. In the 1990s and 2000s we see nurses and animals getting new attention as heroes, as well as a look at the psychological repercussions.

One of the elements that I found fascinating was the issue of how German remembrance continues to suffer. With the rise of Nazism came the use of WWI heroes to support their parties message. Therefore WWI heroes became tainted by the atrocities of the Nazi regime in WWII, most notably the “Red Baron.” German heroism shifted to acknowledging heroes as those who resisted war and those who stood against the Nazis, as military heroism had become too synonymous with Nazi terrors. Today they are still struggling with this, especially after reunification in the 1990s – how can they remember the lives of those who were killed in battle without celebrating the horrors of WWII?

I found it interesting to look at these remembrances and shifting views of heroism in relation to the US. Really, we as a nation don’t focus too much on WWI history. When I did look into our propaganda I found a very different message than what Europe used. However, I noticed that our memorials, going back to the Civil War and arguably the Revolution, have always focused on the average soldier. So maybe we had a leg up on this shifting of heroism?