Thursday, November 25, 2021

To Kill A Kingdom - Alexandra Christo

Princess Lira, siren daughter of the Sea Queen, has a heart for every year she's been alive. Like all sirens, Lira ventures forth from their hidden realm in the Diávolos Sea every year on her birthday to lure an unsuspecting human to the water, then rips out their heart to add to her collection. Unlike the other sirens, though, Lira's collection is comprised solely of royalty. Seventeen princes' hearts lay buried in the sand of her room, enough to earn the respect of her people as their future ruler and the fear of the humans. Known as the Princes' Bane, Lira relishes the reputation she's created for herself even though it makes her just tolerable in the eyes of her cruel and uncaring mother. All of that changes the day she breaks the sirens' most sacred tradition and takes a heart before her birthday. When Lira returns with the evidence of her wrongdoing, her livid mother declares that she will take an ordinary human's heart for her next birthday, ruining the last 17 years of careful collecting and humiliating her just years before she's to inherit her mother's crown. Unwilling to accept the shame, Lira hatches a scheme to claim the heart of Prince Elian, a notorious siren hunter, and present it to her mother as a gift to appease her anger. But when it comes time to carry out her mission, a lowly mermaid interferes and snatches victory right out from under her nose. The ensuing fight ends with the death of the mermaid and the Sea Witch, attuned to all the happenings in her ocean, appears. Furious at her daughter's insolence, her mother imposes the ultimate punishment and transforms Lira into a human, stranding her in the middle of the ocean with a command to not return until she's taken the prince's heart.

Prince Elian is heir to the Midasan throne, but the gilt city has never felt like home to him. In fact, he spends as little time there as he can get away with, choosing instead to sail the seas and hunt sirens with his loyal crew. Although he takes little pleasure in killing the disturbingly human-like creatures, Elian can see no other way to protect humanity from them. More than anything, he seeks the Princes' Bane, who's already claimed the lives of several of his own friends. As he searches for a weapon he can use to end their reign of terror once and for all, he uncovers rumors of an ancient crystal capable of overthrowing the Sea Queen herself. Further digging reveals that what was long regarded as a fairy tale really exists, but in an inhospitable corner of the world ruled by warriors that don't cater to outsiders, even royal ones. Elian's only chance to get at the crystal is to use his royal position to negotiate a deal with an insider at the court and negotiate he does. With a chance to lose the things he holds most dear, he secures an arrangement for a shot at obtaining the crystal. He and the crew set sail, but the plan quickly veers off course when they discover a girl floating in the middle of the ocean.

When Lira wakes up on the ship of the man she's been sent to destroy, it seems like fate is finally on her side. But despite her human form, the crew is suspicious of her from the beginning. How did she come to be in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight? Where did she come from? And how does she speak Psáriin, language of the sirens, when no one has been able to communicate with a siren long enough to learn it? They keep her at arms' length, but it doesn't stop her from piecing together their plan to find the crystal and defeat the Sea Witch. Suddenly, bringing back Elian's heart just to return to the status quo doesn't seem as tempting as claiming the crystal for herself, then taking her place as the rightful Sea Queen (albeit a less cruel one). With her new plan in mind, she decides to bide her time with Elian and his crew to get to the crystal's hiding place. As the journey goes on and Lira becomes more and more comfortable with the ship and its inhabitants, and they with her, she discovers that there's more to humans than she ever suspected as a siren. The crew's loyalty to their captain, the easy camaraderie they enjoy, and, eventually, their acceptance of her as one of their own make her feel more content than she's ever been before. Even Prince Elian, fearsome siren slayer, turns out to be more than meets the eye: witty, courageous, and, like Lira, tied to a legacy of which he has no desire to be a part. And yet she knows that the illusion would be shattered if they ever discovered the truth of her origin or her plan to betray them. The closer she gets to the destination and the more she becomes a part of the crew, the harder the decision becomes; steal the crystal and sacrifice the only time she's known peace in her life or surrender her kingdom to the reign of a tyrannical ruler?

Surprise, I'm back with yet another fairy tale retelling for you! Honestly at this point, you should just consider it a good day if I post any that *aren't* Beauty and the Beast, but this one is a Little Mermaid retelling... sort of. It's sirens instead of mermaids, but let's be real; you still get the sparkly fin and clam bra of Ye Olde Traditionale Mermaide, but now you're also crazy gorgeous and can sing to make men fall in love with you?? Count me in. I really liked this book for the most part. It's got a lot of the elements you would expect in a retelling, but with some twists. We've got sirens (that rip the still-beating hearts from their victims), pirates (that hunt said sirens), an evil Sea Witch with a trident (who is the main character's mother), the siren-human transformation... the only thing we're missing is a singing crab. There's a teensy bit of magic worked in that was pretty cool; Elian has a compass that can tell if someone is lying and a knife that feeds off blood. 99.8% of Elian and Lira's interactions are also extremely amusing. As with all retellings, I highly doubt you're going to be shocked by the ending, but it was different and fast-paced enough to easily keep my attention.

My biggest issue is that I'm having a really hard time identifying what my biggest issue with the book is. After the first couple of chapters, I had this feeling that something about it was off and it never went away, but I can't figure out for the life of me what it is. The author uses a lot of those flowery metaphors that some people love and some people hate, but I didn't hate most of them. There's plenty of descriptions so you can get a mental image as you read, maybe even too much description in some cases, but again, nothing I hated. The ending was a little abrupt, but it worked out well. Maybe it's that their journey took them from a golden paradise to an icy wasteland with not much in between and my brain is telling me it's not scientifically possible? Maybe because Elian managed to smell like black licorice the entire book, even when they'd been at sea for who knows how long? I don't know. I really can't figure out why I couldn't get obsessed with this book. It just lacks that je ne sais quoi that makes a good book great, but that's not to say that I didn't enjoy it.

Also can we talk about fan art for a second? I can't draw anything that doesn't involve a ruler, so it blows my mind that people can read something and just go off and draw it like it's the easiest thing in the world. This popped up when I was searching for an image of the cover and it's so perfect, I felt duty-bound to include it here. You're welcome. And artist, whoever you are? You rock.


  •  The Little Mermaid, but with bloodthirsty sirens
  • Witty dialogue
  • Cool magic toys


  • Overly flowery phrases that detract from the narrative
  • Predictable
  • Lacks a certain something that would take it from good to great

Final rating:

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Nutella Chocolate Cake

Once upon a time, I was born. Once upon a different time, many moons later, I spent a not insignificant amount of time watching cooking shows, baking shows, cooking competitions, baking competitions... don't even get me started on the documentaries. Suffice it to say I like to fiddle around in the kitchen. The union of these two events has resulted in the tradition of baking my own birthday cake every year. The rules are: no box mixes, no repeats, and it has to be level 110 fabulous. This year came down to Nutella or Oreo cake, but I finally landed on the Nutella. It didn't *quite* go off without a hitch, but man... it's good. Really good. It's also rich. Really rich. Even eating it solo, no one could stomach more than half a slice. But unanimously, that half was deemed to be delicious. It also looks very fancy. One must confess to feeling a bit like a Great British Baking Show contestant when adding the final touches. The frosting turned out a little patchy because I left it too thick, but overall, I'm going to call this year a success!



2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup vegetable oil 
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup water

Nutella frosting

2 cups salted butter
1 cup shortening
2 cups Nutella
10 cups powdered sugar
5-6 TBSP milk or water

 Chocolate ganache

 6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
Ferrero Rocher candies


  1.  Prepare four 8-inch cake pans with parchment paper circles in the bottom and grease the sides.
  2. Add all dry ingredients to a large bowl and whisk together. Add eggs, buttermilk, and vegetable oil to the dry ingredients and mix well. Add vanilla to boiling water and add to mixture. Mix well. 
  3. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake at 300 F for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with a few crumbs. I only had 2 pans, so I baked them in 2 batches with about 1 1/2 cups of batter per pan. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, then remove to cooling racks to cool completely. 
  4. Make icing while the cakes cool. Beat together butter and shortening until smooth. Add Nutella and mix until incorporated, then slowly add half of the powdered sugar. Add 2-3 TBSP of milk or water and mix until smooth, then add remaining powdered sugar and continue beating. Add more water or milk until the frosting is the right consistency. 
  5. Once cakes are cool, remove cake domes with a large serrated knife. Place first layer of cake on a plate or cardboard cake circle. Add about 3/4 cup of frosting and spread into an even layer. Repeat for the next two layers. Top with final layer of cake, then frost the top and outside. 
  6. To make the chocolate ganache, place the chocolate chips in a medium sized bowl. Microwave the heavy whipping cream just until it starts to boil. Pour over the chocolate chips and let sit for 2-3 minutes, then whisk until smooth. 
  7. Drizzle the chocolate ganache around the edge of the cake, then pour the remainder on top and spread evenly. It's easiest to do this with a squeeze bottle. Allow the ganache to solidify a bit, then pipe the remainder of the frosting around the top edge of the cake and top each swirl with a Ferrero Rocher candy.

Source: Life, Love and Sugar

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Truly Devious - Maureen Johnson

Stevie Bell isn't your average teenager. For one thing, she's a lot smarter than your run-of-the-mill high school student. For another, she's into true-crime to an extent that her parents find extremely worrisome. Stevie doesn't want to commit crimes, though; more than anything, she wants to solve them. A serious study in the methods of classic detectives like Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, Stevie dreams of using her vast stores of knowledge to unravel mysteries for a living. During her research, one mystery in particular becomes her focus: the Truly Devious case. 

Albert Ellingham was a fabulously wealthy industrialist in the early 1900s, but he was most well-known for the school he established for exceptionally bright students in a remote area of Vermont. Believing learning should be treated like a game and accessible to all regardless of their class, Ellingham built a sprawling campus and handpicked students from around the country to attend for free and develop their skills at their own pace. No expense was spared and only the best were brought in to attend to the young minds. The heart of the campus was the mansion where Ellingham lived with his wife and young daughter, throwing lavish parties for the uppermost sect of society... until the letter came. In 1936, Ellingham received a sinister letter signed only "Truly, Devious". Although no stranger to threats due to his line of work, this one, written like a murderous nursery rhyme, was creepier than most. Days later, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. In spite of his desperate attempts to get them back, his wife's body washed up on shore weeks later and his daughter was never found, dead or alive. Decades later, the mystery has never been solved. 

Stevie has read every article, interview, and book on the Truly Devious case and knows she could crack it if given the opportunity. So when Ellingham Academy, still in operation, starts accepting applications for the next school year, Stevie decides to apply on the off-chance that she'll be granted such an opportunity. Much to her surprise, her application is accepted. Soon, she's on her way to woody Vermont, home of the wayward moose and one of the most famous cold cases of the century. Stevie is flooded with excitement when she arrives at the school and grounds she's studied for years. Although unsure what to expect, she finds that her housemates are mostly amiable, some enough to be counted as friends. Specialties in the house vary from YouTube star to engineering whiz and, for the first time, Stevie starts to feel like she's finally found a place where she can belong. The curriculum even sets her up to use the Truly Devious case as a project, with the warning that she not allow the victims to be dehumanized in the quest for answers. As the year progresses, Stevie teams up with some of her classmates to cover different aspects of their projects together with the Truly Devious case as the guide. But the closer they get to the heart of the mystery, the more it becomes apparent that the case isn't as cold as everyone thought. Strange occurrences, a suspicious accident, and a letter written in the style of the original Truly Devious note all convince Stevie that someone wants to make sure the case stays buried, and they'll do anything to keep it from coming to light. 

Full disclosure, this is not a "read at a leisurely pace" book. This is a "cram every possible second reading until it's over" type of book. I have read 52 books so far this year and this is definitely one of my favorites. It's got unsolved mysteries mixed with ongoing ones! It's got an old school with secret passages! It's got highly sarcastic main characters and eccentric quadrillionaires! I ask of you, what more could you possibly want from a YA novel? If YA lit isn't usually your cup of tea, I'd encourage you to give this one a go. Yes, it has characters in a younger age group and yes, it does have some of your typical high school drama, but the plot is intriguing and, truthfully, better written than some of the "adult" books I've read this year. It skips between the present day and the events of the Truly Devious case, but smoothly enough that you don't get whiplash from the constant back and forth. Also I know we're not supposed to judge books by their covers and all that jazz, but wow I love the covers in this series.

If I have one complaint (and really I wouldn't even use that strong of a word for it), it's where the book ends. This is the first book in a trilogy so I can understand having to cut it off somewhere, but the point at which the book ended felt a little off to me. To be fair, I haven't started the second one yet so maybe it makes total sense with where that picks up, but I definitely did think it was sort of abrupt with everything that was still going on. Actually, I have one other sort-of-but-not-actually complaint. Stevie *h a t e s* her parents' employer, some local politician dude, and often takes it out on her parents, who *l o v e* said local politician dude. I get where she's coming from, but also... people gotta eat, man. Maybe they only started working for the guy because they were desperate for a job and then they drank the proverbial Kool-aid after the fact, but I do think there's a line between disagreement and disrespect and Stevie joyously cavorts down this very thin line more than once.

  • Page turner from start to finish
  • Speakeasies, tunnels, and games - oh, my!
  • Often funny


  • The point at which the book stops
  • The fact that the book stops
  •  Stevie + politicians = 😡

Final rating:

Friday, October 8, 2021

Edwina - Patricia Strefling

Edwina Blair is a small-town librarian whose greatest aspiration is to write the perfect romance novel. Painfully practical, plain, and a little overweight, Edwina's life is as routine as her father's yearly sock purchase during the January whites sale. Contrarily, Edwina's half-sister, Cecelia, is beautiful and business-minded, believing that her success has nothing to do with her good looks and movie-star mother. Despite their differences, the two get along well aside from the occasional spat. When Cecilia books a relaxing vacation to Scotland, she naturally tries to get Edwina to go with her. Sneakily anticipating a negative response, Cecilia took the liberty of including Edwina in her plans before letting her know about the trip. Once she finds out, it's too late for her to cancel without significant cost to Cecilia and Edwina, never one to throw away money, resigns herself to a tour through Scotland. The two are preparing to board the plane out of the states when Cecilia is called away by an emergency. Alone and inexperienced, Edwina flies to Scotland without her worldly sister's help. Once there, she realizes just how far in over her head she is: the ritzy hotel, booked by and held for Cecilia, refuses to accept Edwina in her place. The overwhelmed and exhausted Edwina faints dead away at the desk and comes to a few moments later in the arms of a very handsome Scot who was in line behind her. Aware of the ordeal facing the American and anxious to get home to his fiancee, he insists that Edwina come to stay at his home until she has recovered enough to get back on her feet. Edwina, too overwrought to protest, finds herself the guest of one Alex Dunnegin, a Scottish laird and owner of the beautiful castle to which she is taken.

Once situated in the Scot's home, Edwina realizes she's been given the opportunity of a lifetime; the romantic Scottish hills, handsome laird, and rich surroundings are the perfect fodder for her romance novel. Soon, however, she realizes that there's something more going on at the castle than what's on the surface. Laird Dunnegin is constantly being called away on mysterious legal matters and there are murmurs of a tragedy not long past. Edwina tries to take everything in during her short stay, but she feels oddly remorseful when she leaves for the rest of her trip. After some vigorous touring, Edwina is surprised to find Laird Dunnegin calling on her at the hotel. A dinner meeting reveals a job proposition, one made relevant by the departure of the now ex-fiancee, but it's cloaked in secrecy. True to her nature, Edwina ultimately declines, citing her job, family, and obligations at home as the reasons she can't possibly accept. Believing the matter to be closed, she returns to her tiny apartment and routine life in Michigan.

Upon her return to her hometown, Edwina is struck by how average and purposeless her life now seems. Her apartment is cheap, but tiny and unfulfilling. She follows the same routine day in and day out and gets no real joy out of life. Even the career she was so proud of turns sour when a vindictive coworker gets her fired on false charges and steals her position. Faced with the harsh reality of her new situation, Edwina goes to Chicago to spend time with Cecelia and help her out with her successful new line of bed and breakfasts, especially as she's preparing for guests Edwina invited from Scotland. The guests arrive as planned, but the accompaniment of Laird Dunnegin comes as a shock. Once again, he has a job proposition for her, but now he reveals some of the details that were kept in the dark at their last encounter. Should she choose to accept the position, Edwina would act as a teacher for Laird Dunnegin's daughter, who is currently the focus of a legal dispute meant to take her away from him. His wife, who died when the child was very young, was the daughter of a rich American, groomed to take up the family business. With her dead, Paige is next in line for the business, and her grandfather intends to get her however he can. Once again, Edwina's instinct is to turn him down, but further thought leads to the realization that she no longer has any commitments tying her down in Michigan and this could be the adventure of a lifetime. With that in mind, she accepts. Uprooting her whole life to move to Scotland, Edwina can't help but feel that she might be making the biggest mistake of her life. As she becomes more familiar with both her new charge and new life, she finds herself stepping up to the challenge of handling the young girl and keeping her away from prying eyes as the legal storm rages on. But will she be able to meet Laird Dunnegin's high expectations, both in the classroom and out?

Logic dictates that I should hate this book. 1) It's definitely a romance novel, the genre at which I scoff, deride, and pointedly avoid at bookstores. 2) The cover is... well, to be brutally honest, it's one of the most blah covers I've ever seen. 3) I have a strong aversion to the name Edwina. What are we, Victorian spinsters? 4) The editing is also some of the worst I've ever seen. Misplaced or completely missing punctuation, poorly assembled paragraphs, even the wrong name used at one point. Objectively, I can recognize that this book has a LOT of issues... but I adore it. I adore it to the extent that I'm literally looking at taking a tour over to Scotland at some point in the next year or so. I adore it so much that I screeched like a pterodactyl when it slipped out of my hand and hit the unforgiving pavement on the way into my apartment the other day. I adore it so completely that I'm forced to conclude my brain is intentionally filtering out all of those things and I cannot, for the love of pickled herring, figure out why. It's definitely not because I identify with Edwina, who lets her belief that she is plain and chubby dictate her course in life and, quite truthfully, thinks about it more frequently than she should. Nor is it because I have a thing for handsome men with Scottish accents who own fabulously beautiful castles and have large libraries. Most assuredly, it is not - nay, COULD not - be because the main character (who is possibly named after a Victorian spinster) manages to break out of her box, go on an adventure, and maybe have the "happily ever after" we all secretly crave, in spite of being a Plain Jane in possession of a few extra pounds. Since it's not any of those things, why do I continually give this book 5 stars? Why???

  • Ye Olde Scotland
  • Ye Olde Romance Storye
  • Edwina likes Goodwill. I also like Goodwill.

Cons (in case your brain lacks the filter mine seems to have put in place specifically for this book):

  • Truly hideous editing (or lack thereof)
  • Occasionally whiny characters
  • The extreme guilt I feel over giving this 5 stars in spite of all its clearly stated flaws. I'm beginning to truly understand the meaning of the phrase "guilty pleasure".

 Final rating:

On a semi-related note, I feel the world deserves to know that there's such a thing as a Scottish subscription box and it is life itself. I mean look at this veritable treasure trove of goodies! Specifically, please direct your attention to Douglas, the incredibly handsome Highland cow. Honestly, I mainly got the box for him, but it also came with a box of tea, a Scottish puzzle book, and the tartan shawl that's being used as a background, plus some handy little pamphlets. What a time to be alive!

Sunday, October 3, 2021

The Haunting of Brynn Wilder - Wendy Webb

Brynn Wilder has had a rough couple of years. When her mother was diagnosed with cancer, she put everything on hold - relationships, career, aspirations - to take care of her in the stead of her grief-stricken father. Now that the battle is over, Brynn is left desperately trying to put the pieces of her old life together without the support of her mother. When her friend Kate suggests a getaway to beautiful tourist-town Wharton on Lake Superior, Brynn decides it's just what the doctor ordered. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, she packs up and heads off for the summer to recharge and rediscover her direction in life. Upon arrival, Brynn is struck by the majesty and contentment of life in Wharton; cozy lodgings in a boarding house with a fun-loving, eccentric owner, stunning scenery, friendly neighbors, and enough time to do whatever she wants whenever she wants. Throw in a handsome fellow lodger with a seemingly endless array of mysterious tattoos and things seem like they could finally be looking up... until the voices start.

From the night she arrived, strange dreams and eerie voices plague Brynn in the otherwise idyllic setting. Believing it to be stress, she brushes off the whispers outside her door and nightmares of a strange woman in one of the other rooms. After all, it could just be other lodgers in the hallway and she can't really be dreaming of a room that's been locked and unopened since she arrived, especially not when the dream also comes with a woman she's never seen before. As time goes on, Brynn discovers there might be more to her experience than meets the eye. The boarding house has a reputation for being haunted, even more so after an unknown woman was found dead in the now-locked room when the lodgings reopened for the tourist season. Although perturbed, Brynn finds herself spending more and more time with the magnetically handsome Dominic and soon starts to feel he's the cure to one of the wounds she came to heal, in spite of the rumors circulating that he's not what he seems. She also finds herself frequently in company with Alice, a woman with Alzheimer's who is being cared for by one of the other lodgers. Despite her confusion, Alice seems to be almost clairvoyant and it quickly becomes apparent that her statements are more than just the ramblings of someone living with the disease. As Brynn's nightmares begin to blur the line between waking and sleeping, she starts to suspect that one of the house's more otherworldly inhabitants is trying to tell her something about her past, something that both Alice and Dominic seem to be involved in. Together, they must reveal the secrets the visions hold and uncover Brynn's true past.

Okay, so imagine you have a craving for chocolate chip cookies, except you can't bake so you have to run to the store to get them. You grab a package off the shelf, get home, open those bad boys up, bite into one.... and discover it's oatmeal raisin. You HATE oatmeal raisin (because you are a decent human being). That's about how this book was for me. In fact, this was my actual face when I finished it:

I loved Webb's Daughters of the Lake, so I naturally assumed that something by the same author with an equally lovely cover would be just as fabulous. This has taught me a valuable lesson about assumptions. It started out really strong and I was doing whatever the bookish equivalent of chugging is to find out what happened, but I started to get this sinking feeling in my stomach the closer I got to the end. When there were, I kid you not, 10 PAGES LEFT and literally nothing had been resolved, I knew this whole thing was about to go down the drain like last month's expired milk. And it did, in an extremely bizarre fashion. Although there admittedly was a hint or two that something of this nature was going to occur, the ending was so rushed that it felt like when TV shows find out they're not getting another season so they have to make up some quick resolution and it ends up feeling like the whole show went to the Twilight Zone. In addition to that, the cover and summary lead you to believe it's going to be spooky and it is to a small degree, but definitely not what I was expecting on the spook factor.

The ending on its own would've been hard for me to get over, but I also found the characters to be a little cheesy. They all seem like copy and paste versions of the same character, even Dominic, who's supposed to stand out from the rest of them. They were all "la la everything is so happy all the time and we laugh about everything and life is so wonderful here in this paradise". I almost feel bad saying this but Brynn was one of the worst to me. Not quite the same, she was more "la la I wish I could be happy and laugh all the time and have a wonderful life like everyone else". I was really rooting for her at the start because she does have a tragic backstory, but if I had a dollar for every time "her eyes filled with tears" over EVERY. SINGLE. THING, I could retire and move to Scotland to spend the rest of my days eating haggis and wearing outfits composed of nothing but tartan patterns. Everyone seemed almost cartoon-like; there in a basic outline, but lacking the detail needed to really flesh them out. And I just realized Daughters of the Lake was also set at Lake Superior?? Overall, it was a pretty good read up until the end and I didn't hate it, but I'm iffy on whether or not I'd want to read it again.

  •  A real page-turner... until the last 10 pages
  • Pretty cover
  • Ummmm did I mention the pretty cover?
  • The last 10 pages 😒
  • No well-fleshed out characters
  • A lot of loose ends

Final rating:

Monday, August 2, 2021

Loaded M&M Oreo Bars

Yikes, where did May, June, and July go?? I told myself I was going to post at *least* once a month and now here I am. 3 months later. No posts. As compensation for this truly heinous crime, I've decided it's time to share one of my top secret recipes with you. One of those "so good, people think you're a baking goddess when it's really like 5 ingredients mixed up and slopped in a pan". AKA the best kind of recipe. Thank me later.

A couple of important notes on this one. 1) Rumor has it you can use just about any add-ins you can dream up, you'll just need to adjust the cooking time accordingly. I have never done this because you can't change perfection, but it's supposed to be one of those "clean out your pantry leftovers" type desserts, so feel free to go crazy. 2) This is probably the only time you will ever hear me say this, but when it says to let it cool in the pan for at least 30 minutes... let it cool in the pan for at least 30 minutes. I made these in a rush last night and didn't have time to wait for them to cool, so I made the foolhardy decision to just go ahead and cut and store them after a few minutes. Bad idea. As it turns out, baked goods consisting of primarily butter and sugar come fresh out of the oven as semi-molten globs worthy of consuming Anakin Skywalker's legs and his delusions of power. And then they smush when you try to put them in a container. You have been warned.


  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), melted
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 18 Oreos, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup M&M's


  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line an 8x8 baking pan with aluminum foil, spray with cooking spray, and set aside. 
  2. In a large, microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter, about 1 minute on high.
  3. Allow butter to cool for about a minute so the egg doesn't scramble, then add egg, brown sugar, and vanilla. Whisk until smooth.
  4. Add in flour and stir until just combined. Don't over-mix!
  5. Stir in the Oreos, then turn batter out into the prepared pan and carefully smooth with a spatula.
  6. Evenly sprinkle M&M's over the top, then lightly press them into the batter so they don't fall off when you cut the bars.
  7. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until top is set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow bars to cool in pan for at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving.

Source: Averie Cooks

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Clockwork Angel - Cassandra Clare

Tessa Gray and her brother, Nate, are orphans who live with their aunt in New York. An avid reader, Tessa is content with her life as long as she has books to which she can escape. Money is tight thanks to Nate's drinking and gambling habits, but she and her aunt always manage to make ends meet. When Nate secures a job in London at the same firm their father worked at, things start to look up. But then Aunt Harriet becomes deathly ill and Tessa is once again alone. Left with no other option, she sells everything to pay for the funeral and hops a steamer to England to live with her brother. Upon arrival, however, she's met not by her brother, but by the sinister Mrs. Black and Mrs. Dark. A note from Nate helps dispel her fear about the aptly named Dark Sisters and she hesitantly agrees to go with them.

The second she arrives at their home, Tessa discovers that (shockingly) the Dark Sisters aren't actually Nate's landladies at all; instead, they claim to be holding him prisoner and will only release him if she accedes to their every demand. Now their prisoner and desperate to see her brother again, she does what they ask, everything from drinking strange potions to concentrating on seemingly random items while the sisters scream at her to Change. Despite having no idea what they expect to happen but too scared to disobey, Tessa continues to follow their instructions until, one day, something does happen. While focusing on an item they've given her, she is shocked to find herself changing into the item's previous owner, even able to access their memories. Suddenly she is immersed in a world she never knew existed, one with warlocks and magic and a mysterious figure the Dark Sisters reverently refer to only as the Magister. Even the servants are more than they appear to be, automatons that are frighteningly lifelike and merciless in carrying out orders. Forced to change into different people to collect information, Tessa begins to despair of ever being free again, especially when she learns that she's a crucial part of the Magister's mysterious plan. Enter the Nephilim.

Half human and half angel, the Nephilim are peacekeepers, ensuring that the supernatural population, called Downworlders, follow the Accords that keep their existence a secret from ignorant mortals. Already endowed with enhanced attributes thanks to their angelic predecessors, Nephilim are further assisted by runes permanently tattooed on their bodies that give them increased abilities and iratzes, temporary runes used for all manner of purposes. While investigating a string of mortal murders, the London branch of Nephilim follows the clues to the Dark Sisters, who have a notoriously unsavory reputation in Downworld circles. Intent on justice for the murder victims, typically sarcastic and irreverent Will Herondale makes plans to infiltrate the house and see what he can find. Helped by his parabatai, or sworn blood-brother, Jem Carstairs, Will breaks into the house and is surprised to find Tessa locked in a room upstairs. After a harrowing escape in which one of the Sisters is killed, the Nephilim bring Tessa to the London Institute to stay while she recovers from injuries sustained in the escape.

Although she's now free from the clutches of the Dark Sisters, Tessa finds that she's traded one uncertain situation for another, albeit a more pleasant one. Despite promises from Charlotte, the head of the London Institute, that they have no desire to use her unique power against her wishes, Tessa is unwilling to trust anyone after the ordeal she's been through. Soon, though, it becomes apparent that she'll have to if she's ever going to see Nate again. As hard as it is at first, she finds herself more and more at ease the longer she spends with the Nephilim. Charlotte is a capable leader, but is also kind and compassionate. Her husband, Henry, is a brilliant inventor, if somewhat absentminded. The other Nephilim in the house are all trainees and Tessa begins to develop a tentative acquaintanceship with each of them. Jessamine, the high-maintenance social butterfly who dreams of a normal life; Jem, a Shanghai native with a devastating illness, the cure for which is slowly killing him; and Will. Frustrating, maddening Will, who has a book quote for every situation. Will, who intentionally keeps everyone at arms-length except Jem, the man to whom he's sworn a lifelong oath even though Jem's life is likely to be much shorter. He's the one she finds most interesting when she arrives, but he's also the one she has the most trouble getting to know. As her bond with the others steadily grows, some even past friendship, Tessa struggles to understand her feelings for Will while simultaneously being unable to interpret his attitude towards her. Meanwhile, the hunt to rescue her brother gets them into increasingly dangerous situations and a plot is uncovered that could spell disaster for her and the Nephilim. Will Tessa be able to overcome her fear of her newfound ability and save them all? 

Before I do reviewing of any sort, I feel obligated to put a disclaimer in here. When I picked up this book for the first time, I'd never heard of Cassandra Clare and I'd certainly never heard of the Mortal Instruments (the sequel series to the Infernal Devices, although it technically came first). My understanding now is that 1) Cassandra Clare is in some hot water over plagiarism accusations and 2) there are a lot of mixed feelings about the Mortal Instruments that cause people to have a premeditated, negative opinion about the Infernal Devices. I can't speak for any of that because a. I don't know enough about the scandal and b. I still haven't read the Mortal Instruments and, quite frankly, I'm leaning towards not doing so based on things I've heard about it and the fact that she's released roughly 187 spinoffs off of it. That being said, this review is 100% based on nothing but the actual book. Which is what I try to do anyway, but hey now you have confirmation.

Y'all already know that I have a soft spot for Victorian fantasy and, in my humble opinion, this series is Victorian fantasy at its finest. The first time I read this series, I was reading them so fast that I had to keep running to Walmart to get the next one because I couldn't wait for the next scheduled trip. Like you know it was a good book when you find yourself on Etsy 5 minutes after you finished the book looking for character themed candles. And soap. And t-shirts. It's got magic. It's got adventure. It's got romance. It's also got a unique world wrapped in the familiarity of Victorian London, the occasional beheading, and the kind of slapstick humor that'll have you randomly snorting like a pig in public. It's all of these fabulous things and then some, but it's also so much more. 

Each character is real in heartbreaking detail. There's literally not a single character that hasn't been shaped by some traumatic event in the past that's still affecting them in the present and, especially later in the series, it's enough to make you bawl your eyes out. For realsies. Even though I've read it before, my nails were so chewed up after re-reading all of them because they're just that good. There are very few things to which I'll say "that's one of my favorites", but this is absolutely very close to the top of my favorites list and if you ever asked, I'd recommend it before you even had the whole question out. The fact that I haven't read it for years and still love it this much should give you some idea of it's undying fabulousness. But just so we're clear, if you do decide to read it, prepare yourself for a LOT of the following because it's basically the entire series:


  • Heart-pounding, mile-a-minute action
  • Incredibly immersive
  •  Complex characters that aren't just *all* good or *all* evil


  •  If you've read the Mortal Instruments, I've seen a lot of critique that these are almost formulaic plot-wise and character-wise, which is one of the reasons I don't want to read the other series.
  •  Not this book specifically, but man the series ending will TEAR. YOUR. HEART. OUT. Just a heads up.
  •  There's not enough time in the day to read these fast enough once you get started. SO. GOOD. MUST. READ.

Final rating: