Monday, February 24, 2014

Gold Star Review: These Broken Stars

These Broken Stars
by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
Starbound, book one

It's a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone.

Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they're worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help.
(Description from

This book is beautifully written.

I found myself savoring the actual words and phrases used to describe characters' emotions and motivations. I would find myself repeating the final sentence in a chapter, or rolling a story that either character revealed to the other around in my brain, just enjoying the way that the words evoked certain emotions.  Each chapter brought new insight into the characters and their world. 

Lilac and Tarver were both multifaceted, intriguing characters that behaved in remarkable and yet realistically imagined ways. Reading their interactions, the way that each struggled to be independent, and yet, eventually they had no choice but to rely upon one another helped to enhance the sense tension within the story.  I felt like I was on the knife's edge from almost the first page! 

I also truly loved the science fiction aspect of this book.  Though the original premise reads as Titanic in space, each scene reveals new info about the science and technology of this world.  The space exploration reads as a wholly possible near future for our culture and each bit about the tech they used seemed viable and well researched.  I am thoroughly looking forward to seeing where the next book in this series goes.  I'd love to explore some of the other terraformed planets in their universe!

I loved this book enough that I decided to give it a GOLD STAR review.

Full disclosure: eARC received from Netgalley 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


by Melissa De La Cruz and Michael Johnston
Heart of Dread, book one

Welcome to New Vegas, a city once covered in bling, now blanketed in ice. Like much of the destroyed planet, the place knows only one temperature—freezing. But some things never change. The diamond in the ice desert is still a 24-hour hedonistic playground and nothing keeps the crowds away from the casino floors, never mind the rumors about sinister sorcery in its shadows.

At the heart of this city is Natasha Kestal, a young blackjack dealer looking for a way out. Like many, she's heard of a mythical land simply called “the Blue.” They say it’s a paradise, where the sun still shines and the waters are turquoise. More importantly, it’s a place where Nat won’t be persecuted, even if her darkest secret comes to light.

But passage to the Blue is treacherous, if not impossible, and her only shot is to bet on a ragtag crew of mercenaries led by a cocky runner named Ryan Wesson there. Danger and deceit await on every corner, even as Nat and Wes find themselves inexorably drawn to each other. But can true love survive the lies?
(description from

The world-building in this book is so interesting! This is a real genre-blender, with strong fantasy elements and a dystopian setting.  I loved imagining the city of New Vegas functioning in such a seedy way amongst such a barren, unlivable landscape.  I thought that De La Cruz and Johnston did a great job revealing tidbits about the world and its past little by little, keeping me on the edge of my toes (so to speak) chapter by chapter.  

As a fantasy reader, I really loved discovering the variety of supernatural creatures in this newly imagined world and seeing how they acclimated to living among, or at least near, the humans.  I'm very intrigued to see if the second book follows Nat again in her home, or if it goes back to New Vegas with Wes... maybe both! Either way, I'm definitely curious to see things further develop. 

For me, this was a real page-turner.  There was danger lurking at every turn and characters that I really enjoyed.  I think most fantasy fans will enjoy this one! 

Full Disclosure: eARC received from Netgalley

Friday, February 14, 2014

Anxiously Awaiting...Empire of Shadows!

Empire of Shadows
by Miriam Forster
Bhinian Empire, book two 

Publication date: November 4, 2014

Description: Cast out of her family three years ago, Mara turned to the only place that would take her—a school where students train to protect others. But Mara is stunned when guarding a noble girl in the Empire’s capital turns out to be more dangerous than she could’ve imagined. More shocking still, she finds the boy she thought she had lost forever outside the gates of her new home.
Mara knew her life in the dizzying Imperial city would hold dangers. How could she have known that her heart, as well as her life, would be at stake?

Empire of Shadows will take readers on a spellbinding journey into the world Miriam Forster first introduced in City of a Thousand Dolls—a world with a divided society, deadly courtiers, heroic traitors, and deeply laid conspiracies.

I loved the first book in the Bhinian Empire series, City of a Thousand Dolls, (see my review here) and I have big hopes that diving back into this unique fantasy world will once again captivate. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Porcelain Keys Blog Tour - A Review and an Interview!

All right everyone. Today I want to tell you about a fabulous book that will induce all the feels by a great new contemporary YA author, Sarah Beard.

First let me tell you about the book:
Porcelain Keys
By Sarah Beard

Aria's life is full of secrets--secrets about her mother's death, her father's cruelty, and her dream to go to Juilliard. When Aria meets Thomas, he draws out her secrets, captures her heart, and gives her the courage to defy her father. But when tragedy strikes and Thomas disappears, Aria is left alone to transform her broken heart's melody into something beautiful. Porcelain Keys is a captivating love story that will resonate long after the last page is turned. (description from author website)

Wow. This book was great. Lyrical, haunting, and like I said...all the feels.  Poor Aria has no way to escape the father that scares her. No way to embrace the music that brings her joy.  No true hope for the future...until Thomas.  Then when another tragic accident happens, Thomas suddenly disappears from her life and Aria finds herself broken again.  Even the music that's come back into her life may not be able to help her find solace.

So, without spoiling things for you, I will say that when I finished reading this book, all I could think was how I'd had a very similar experience when I read both Jennifer Donnelly's Revolution and John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. The emotionally-laden mix of happy moments and tragic scenes that left me with tears trailing down my face as I just kept turning pages because I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN. 

Touching on child abuse, abandonment, alcoholism, depression, and grief, you would think that this book would just be one sad, tortured moment after the next, and yet the music that infused the story, coupled with some heady romance brought such a sense of hope that I knew Aria would somehow make it through it all. Taking the journey with her was a heady thing. 

I can't wait to read Sarah Beard's next book to see what she does next! 

And now, here's a quick interview with Sarah Beard herself!

1. How long did it take from first spark of idea to final proofs to write Porcelain Keys?

Too long! I wrote the first scene in summer 2007 and finished my final round of revisions in November 2012. I loved the story and characters so much that I wanted to tell it right. So I took the time to learn and develop my writing craft, and by the time the book was finished I think I’d rewritten it at least three times. I also took a year off while going through cancer treatment, and another six months while renovating a house. Plus, with three little kids and a part-time job, I usually only got in one or two hours of writing per day. So I like to say that technically, it took two years. It makes me feel better when I look at it that way.
*Life. Always gets in the way, doesn't it? I have massive respect for anyone that can handle it all and still produce great things.  And congrats again on beating the cancer!*

2. If you could write a book under a pseudonym that no one would ever connect to you, are there any genres you would love to secretly explore?

I have a lot of bizarre science fiction ideas, premises that my current audience might not be receptive to. But they are definitely concepts I’d like to explore someday. Of course they all involve a little bit of romance too. I don’t think I could write a story without someone falling in love. Whenever I read a book without romance, I think, “This would have been so much better if Sally and David had fallen in love.”

3. If you could cross one thing off your bucket list tomorrow, what would it be?

Hitting the NYT bestseller list, then celebrating by taking my family to Scotland. 
*Oooh! That's on my bucket list, too, LOL.*

4. Quick picks list:
Favorite vacation destination?

Isle of Skye, Scotland.
I went there with some friends before I met my husband, and it is the most beautiful, magical place I’ve ever been. It’s also where my ancestors are from, which is probably why it felt so magical to me.

Favorite childhood book?

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell.

Favorite writing snackfood?

Anything chocolate will do, but chocolate-covered almonds seem to give me extra brain power.

Favorite clothing item?

Sweaters. I’m always cold for some reason.

*Ugh, me too. This winter's been hard!*

5. What's next on your writing horizons?
I’m working on another young adult romance right now. I don’t want to say too much about it, but it’s set on a California beach and involves chocolate, surfing, and supernatural elements. I also have detailed outlines for two more after that, both young adult romances.
I'm so excited to hear about more books in the works! I know that I'll be checking them out.  Thank you SO much Sarah, for taking the time to stop by my blog today.  It was great having you and I truly loved Porcelain Keys!

For more information about Sarah Beard, you can check out the following places:
Her website

Monday, February 3, 2014

As Life Speeds Up...So the Blogging Slows Down...

So, if you follow this blog, you know that in the past few years, I've been a pretty regular blogger.  I posted reviews or some kind of fun, mostly bookish related post at least four times a week...and that didn't use to seem hard.

Right now, though, my life has gotten quite a bit busier!  My posts have slowed WAY down and honestly, I'm trying to make myself okay with that for a while.

A few months ago, I let you all know that I got a promotion at work. I'm the Adult Services Supervisor which means that I'm on the management team at my Library and what you may not know is that we're getting a new Library building.  YAY, right?

There's always a but, LOL.

Anyway, in order to get our new building, we have to move to a temporary location so that they can tear down the majority of our building to build a brand-new one on the same spot.  (We are keeping our historic wing, but that's it.)

So...we're moving in about a month and the process to get out of our current building and into the temporary one is well, a little insane! My life has turned into a series of meetings, question and answer sessions with staff and patrons, press releases, and the endless self-doubt routine of knowing that I've forgotton SOMETHING.

By the time I get home at night, I'm exhausted.  Can't even process some nights. No conversation, no reading...just bad television and hoping the dinner I fed my husband was fully cooked.

So, my reading has slowed down, my ability to form coherent sentences has disappeared, and any possible remaining energy has gone towards something mindless. (Or pie, LOL, which apparently my stomach has lied to my brain about, convincing the gray matter that it's a mindless activity in the interest of deliciousness...) In case you all care, my house is also a little...less clean...than usual, owing to my general exhaustion. Fun, right?

I'm hoping that once we've moved into our temporary location and have settled into a new routine by mid-March that I'll get back to life as usual.  Until then, my blogging may continue to be a little sporadic and less intellectual sounding due to general brain mush.

I hope you can all forgive me!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Pie Adventures (4)

So, since I've decided to have a year of Pie Adventures, I've only grown more excited about the prospect and I want to share as much as I can with all of, recipes, funny pie stories, etc. So... here's what I've made since last time:

I realized it's been a few weeks since I posted some pies for you all.  Following up the key lime pie and savory meat pie, I decided to try some very different things.  I actually have FOUR new pies to share! The first, was a nice, easy and interesting pie...CINNAMON APPLESAUCE PIE from Ken Haedrich's Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie. (All of today's recipes are from this book) 

1 (9-inch) premade crust
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 cups sweetened applesauce
1/4 cup unsalted butter (melted)
1 Tblsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. grated lemon zest 
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt

1. Place pie crust into greased pie pan and place in freezer for 15 mins. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. 
2. Combine the eggs, egg yolk, and sugars in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, blend the ingredients until well mixed. Add all the remaining ingredients and beat again until evenly blended. Carefully pour the filling into the chilled pie shell. 
4. Place the pie on center oven rack and bake for 15 mins. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees F and continue to bake for another 30 mins. Rotate the pie 180 degrees (so that the back is now in front) when there's about 15 mins. left. 
5. Let pie cool completely before serving. 

This pie was pretty good!  You could eat it warmed up or cold...either way it was deliciously cinnamon apple-y, which is one of my favorite flavors.  

In fact, I liked this one enough that it inspired me to go for a more difficult apple pie next, the CARAMEL APPLE PECAN pie. (Plus, I'd gotten requests from both the hubs and my boss for a pecan pie 

1 (9-inch) premade pie crust
10 caramels, cut into 4 pieces each
[filling] 7 cups peeled, cored, and sliced apples (I chose granny smith)
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 Tblsp. fresh lemon juice
2 Tblsp. granulated sugar
1 Tblsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
[topping] 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup pecan halves
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
6 Tblsp. cold unsalted butter cut into 1/4 in. pieces
[caramel garnish] 3 Tblsp. unsalted butter cut into pieces
1 Tblsp. water
30 caramels
large handful of pecan halves
1/2 cup chopped pecans

1. Place pie crust in greased pie pan. Scatter the caramel pieces into the pie shell and place in freezer while preparing the filling. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. 
2. Combine the apples, brown sugar, and lemon juice in a large bowl. Mix well, then set aside for 10 mins. Mix the granulated sugar and cornstarch together in a small bowl. Stir the mixture into the fruit along with the cinnamon and vanilla. Scrape the filling into the pie shell and flatten. 
3. Put the pie on the center oven rack and bake for 30 minutes. 
4. Make the crumb topping. Combine the flour, pecan halves, granulated sugar, and salt in a food processor. Pulse several times, chopping the nuts coarsely. Scatter the butter over the dry mixture and pulse the machine again until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Transfer the crumbs to a medium-sized bowl and rub the mixture between fingers to make damp, gravelly crumbs. 
5. Remove pie from oven and reduce temperature to 375 degrees F. Carefully dumb crumbs in the center of the pie, spreading evenly over the surface with hands. Return pie to oven, on a pie sheet, placing the part that had been in back in the front.
6. Bake another 30 minutes.
7. Take pie out and let cool for about an hour. 
8. While pie is still warm, (at almost the end of the cooling hour) prepare the caramel
garnish. Combine the butter, water, and caramels in the top of a double boiler (I used a large metal bowl on top of a pot). Melt the caramels over, NOT in, barely simmering water. When melted, whisk the mixture until it is smooth, then drizzle the caramel over the entire surface of the pie. 
9. Immediately press the pecan halves into the caramel then sprinkle chopped pecans over top, as well.  Let cool for another hour before serving. 

This pie came out AMAZING.  I won't lie.  Good cold. Amazing once warmed so the caramels melt again.  Ridiculously good...and pretty aggravating to make.  Not that it wasn't worth it, but this is NOT a pie to make on a whim.  This pie took about 3 hours from start to finish and had so many steps! Thank goodness the end result was fantastic.  I plan to make it again, but only for a special occasion. 

On the heels of this challenging bake, I decided to try something simple again. My husband loves peanut butter, so I decided to try a PEANUT BUTTER PIE. 

1 (9-inch) premade pie crust
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups dark corn syrup 
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups chopped salted dry-roasted peanuts

1. Place pie crust in greased pie pan and place in freezer for 15 mins. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 
2. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar together until frothy. Whisk in the corn syrup, butter, salt, and vanilla until well blended. Stir in the peanuts. Slowly pour the filling into the pie shell and rake the peanuts with a fork to distribute evenly. 
3. Place pie on center oven rack and bake for 30 mins. Then rotate pie so back is in front and bake for 20 additional mins. 
4. Let pie cool completely, then refridgerate overnight. Serve chilled. 

This pie should most definitely be served cold.  We tried pieces before it had cooled completely and were both disappointed.  Then we tried pieces the second day and LOVED it.  It really does need to be ice cold. It tastes like crunchy peanut butter and was a huge hit at both home and work. 

Easy and tasty, I'll definitely make that one again.  Two tips - dark corn syrup NOT light for sure.  It makes the pie more appealing visually, though I think the taste would be about the same.  Second, make sure you get roasted peanuts, but not the sweetened kind. You really want this pie to taste like pure peanuts. 

All right, last pie for tonight!  After two nut based pies, I decided I wanted a fruity one. So, tonight for the Superbowl, we had STRAWBERRY PIE. Nice and light and just right after so many "heavy" pies.  It almost felt like summer...

2 (9-inch) premade pie crusts
[filling] 4 cups hulled and thickly sliced fresh strawberries
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tblsp. cornstarch
1 Tblsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 Tblsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
[glaze] sugar

1. Place the pie crust in a greased pie pan. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  
2. Put strawberries in a large bowl. Mix the sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl, then add the mixture to the fruit and toss well. Add the lemon juice and nutmeg and toss again.  Set aside for 10 mins. 
3. Turn the filling into the pie shell and smooth fruit with a spoon. Dot the top with butter. Lightly moisten the rim of the pie shell and press the top and bottom pastries together along the dampened edge.  Trim the overhang. Cut a few vents in the top of the pie crust. 
4. Sprinkle the top crust evenly with sugar, then with milk. 
5. Place pie on center oven rack and bake for 30 mins. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees F and rotate the pie so the back is now in front (may want to place on a cookie sheet). 
6. Bake for another 35 mins. If top of pie begins to get too brown, cover with tented aluminum foil for last 10 mins. 
7. Let cool for at least 2 hours before serving.

As I said this pie was light and berry-licious.  I topped it with some whipped cream, but if warmed, this pie could also be served with vanilla ice cream.  YUM!

Hope you're not pied out yet, because I'll be getting you more pictures and recipes soon.  I'm averaging a pie a week so far... LOL!