February 29, 2020

Review: Anna K.

Anna K. by Jenny Lee
Grade: C-
Release date: March 3, 2020
An e-galley was provided by Macmillan via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
Summary: Every happy teenage girl is the same, while every unhappy teenage girl is miserable in her own special way.

Meet Anna K. At seventeen, she is at the top of Manhattan and Greenwich society (even if she prefers the company of her horses and Newfoundland dogs); she has the perfect (if perfectly boring) boyfriend, Alexander W.; and she has always made her Korean-American father proud (even if he can be a little controlling). Meanwhile, Anna's brother, Steven, and his girlfriend, Lolly, are trying to weather an sexting scandal; Lolly’s little sister, Kimmie, is struggling to recalibrate to normal life after an injury derails her ice dancing career; and Steven’s best friend, Dustin, is madly (and one-sidedly) in love with Kimmie.

As her friends struggle with the pitfalls of ordinary teenage life, Anna always seems to be able to sail gracefully above it all. That is…until the night she meets Alexia “Count” Vronsky at Grand Central. A notorious playboy who has bounced around boarding schools and who lives for his own pleasure, Alexia is everything Anna is not. But he has never been in love until he meets Anna, and maybe she hasn’t, either. As Alexia and Anna are pulled irresistibly together, she has to decide how much of her life she is willing to let go for the chance to be with him. And when a shocking revelation threatens to shatter their relationship, she is forced to question if she has ever known herself at all.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: I'm a sucker for YA retellings of classic literature, especially when they venture away from the usual Austen and Shakespeare fodder (though I love those equally as much). Anna K. should have been right up my alley, but unfortunately, it wasn't.
The book felt like chapter after chapter of sex, drinking, drugs, and cheating. Obviously cheating is a significant part of Anna Karenina, but the rest was just too much. None of the narrative voices sounded distinct, and the characters lived such vapid, ridiculous lives. I don't think a single scene was actually set in a classroom. The author really should've just written this as an adult retelling, if she was going to write such unrealistic teenage characters. Kimmie (the Kitty character) was perhaps the most teenager-y, but even her plot felt forced and like she was just going through the motions of being a character in a book.
I just felt so tired by the end of the book. I wondered the whole time, if Lee would stick to the original ending or not. I won't spoil that in this review (in the comments, maybe if someone asks), but I will say I just felt so flippant about the ending. It happened, and I was the epitome of the shrug emoji.

Content warnings: on-page sex, underage drinking, drug usage, depression, references to self-harm, microaggressions, classism, plenty of swearing

The Verdict: Should not have been YA.

February 27, 2020

So You Like... #92

It's time for another recommendation post based on a specific author's books. Her titles are a bit whimsical and weird and incorporate magic into our world. So you might like these recommendations if you like...


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What's your favorite of Maggie's books? Is there something else you'd recommend her fans read?

February 25, 2020

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters I'd Follow on Social Media

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

I'm picky about what/who I follow on social media, but there are definitely some book characters whose Instagrams I'd follow so fast.

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1. Any of Emma Mills's characters
I'm thinking the main characters primarily, but Gideon Prewitt would be an A+ choice too.

2. Cameron from If I'm Being Honest
I just know she'd have a good feed.

3. Verity from Rebel Mechanics
Realistically, she wouldn't have social media, but I'd love to see hijinks from alternate history 1880s New York.

4. Dee Montgomery from Open Road Summer
I already follow Taylor Swift; might as well follow another music artist.

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5. Kira from The Lovely and the Lost
It would be all pictures of dogs, right?

6. Aubree from Wanderlost
All the pictures from Europe, please.

7. Emily and Sloane from Since You've Been Gone
Everything about their book and the Polaroids screams good Instagram feeds.

8. Emoni from With the Fire on High
Surely she'd post lots of food pictures and some cute baby ones, too.

9. Estrella from Wild Beauty
For the garden pictures.

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10. Anna Oliphant from Anna and the French Kiss
It's agreed that she'd post tons about France, right?

Which characters would you follow on social media in a heartbeat?

February 24, 2020

DNF Review: Salty, Bitter, Sweet

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Salty, Bitter, Sweet by Mayra Cuevas
Grade: DNF
Release date: March 3, 2020
An e-galley was provided by HarperCollins via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
Summary: Seventeen-year-old aspiring chef Isabella Fields’ family life has fallen apart after the death of her Cuban abuela and the divorce of her parents. She moves in with her dad and his new wife in France, where Isabella feels like an outsider in her father’s new life, studiously avoiding the awkward, “Why did you cheat on Mom?” conversation.

The upside of Isabella’s world being turned upside down? Her father’s house is located only 30 minutes away from the restaurant of world-famous Chef Pascal Grattard, who runs a prestigious and competitive international kitchen apprenticeship. The prize job at Chef Grattard’s renowned restaurant also represents a transformative opportunity for Isabella, who is desperate to get her life back in order.

But how can Isabella expect to hold it together when she’s at the bottom of her class at the apprenticeship, her new stepmom is pregnant, she misses her abuela dearly, and a mysterious new guy and his albino dog fall into her life?

When did I stop reading?: 24% into my e-galley
Why did I stop reading?: I was already tired of the characters and narrative voice. Salty, Bitter, Sweet was already turning into a typical cooking YA where the main character is a major klutz and messes up everything she does in the kitchen. I'd rather see ebbs and flows of the character succeeding and failing, even early in the story, because it would be more realistic. It's not like Isabella has never cooked before, and she managed to get this apprenticeship so she should be better at cooking. I'd accept her being a bit slower at some tasks, but like...messing up every assignment/recipe so far? Just feels too cliche. Also I was not into Diego's presence at all from the moment he appeared on the page. So I decided it was better if I DNFed.

The Verdict: Could've been so much better than it was.

February 23, 2020

Rewind & Review #154

~We saw the Richmond Ballet put on Swan Lake.

Books I Received for Review
Chasing Lucky by Jenn Bennett (from S&S via NetGalley)

Books I Bought
Break the Fall by Jennifer Iacopelli
Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen

Books I Read
Don't Read the Comments by Eric Smith (4 stars)
You Asked for Perfect by Laura Silverman (reread)
Anna K. by Jenny Lee
17 First Kisses by Rachael Allen (reread)
This Light Between Us by Andrew Fukada (3 stars)
The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski
A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn (reread)
Layoverland by Gabby Noone (4 stars)
Prose and Cons by Amanda Flower (3 stars)
Break the Fall by Jennifer Iacopelli (5 stars)
A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn (reread)
A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn (reread)
A Murderous Relation by Deanna Raybourn (3 stars)

Blog Posts You Might've Missed in the Last Few Weeks
   (from 2/10-2/15)
   (from 2/16-2/22)

February 21, 2020

Random Friday: Books with Long Titles

Want to participate in Random Fridays? Just do the following:
  • Include the above image in your post and link back to my blog.
  • Blog about this week's topic (or a variant of it).
  • Add the link to your Random Friday post at the bottom of this one.

You know the ones - the books that stand out because their titles are a mouthful, much like some of Taylor Swift's songs. ("We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" and "This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things," anyone?)

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Jen is the queen of long book titles, but this one takes the cake.

2. Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson



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5. The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo

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7. For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

8. The Last Summer of the Garrett Girls by Jessica Spotswood

9. My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

I saved the best for last.

What long titles come to your mind?

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Click here to enter

February 19, 2020

Review: The Queen Bee and Me

The Queen Bee and Me by Gillian McDunn
Grade: B
Release date: March 3, 2020
An ARC was provided by Bloomsbury Children's in exchange for an honest review.
Summary: Meg has been friends with confident, self-assured Beatrix since kindergarten. She's always found comfort in Beatrix's shadow—even their families call them Beatrix-and-Meg. But middle school has brought some changes in Beatrix, especially when Meg tries to step outside her role as sidekick. Upsetting Beatrix means risking The Freeze—or worse.

Meg gets into a special science elective and wants to take the class, no matter what Beatrix thinks. But when quirky new girl Hazel becomes Meg's science partner, Beatrix sets her sights on Hazel. At first, Meg is taken aback at how mean Beatrix can be—and how difficult it is to stand up to her friend. But as Meg gets to know Hazel while working on their backyard beehive project, she starts to wonder: What's it really like to be the Queen Bee? And more importantly: Is being Beatrix's friend worth turning down the possibility of finding her own voice?

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: One of the biggest challenge areas for middle schoolers is how friendships change and evolve. Gillian McDunn portrays this perfectly in her sophomore novel, The Queen Bee and Me
Beatrix, Meg's best friend, has been changing the last few years - and not for the better. But in the girls' small town, making new friends is hard. And there's still some good to Beatrix! She's young, and she's clearly shaped by how her mother treats her and others. She's also super kind to Meg's little sister. But when new girl, Hazel, appears on the scene, she becomes the perfect target for Beatrix. If you're looking for a middle grade book about standing up for others and what's right, this would fit the bill. It's also a science-focused story, which is always great to find. Overall, I just really liked the nuances of how friendships change. It's a theme that even high schoolers, college students, and young adults can relate to.

Content warnings: bullying, frenemies, bee stings, anxiety, melissophobia

The Verdict: Another sweet middle grade story.

Will I be adding this book to my library?: Most likely.

February 18, 2020

Top Ten Tuesday: Last Books to Give Me a Hangover

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

I feel like I always used to get book hangovers, but now they seem to be rarer. So this list is a bit short, but I hope it emphasizes just how good these books were.

1. Slay by Brittney Morris

2. A Match Made in Mehendi by Nandini Bajpai

3. Lucky Caller by Emma Mills

4. The Measure of My Powers by Jackie Kai Ellis

5. Throw Like a Girl by Sarah Henning

6. The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski

Which books have recently given you a hangover?

February 17, 2020

From the Bookshelf to the Kitchen: Monster Cake

From the Bookshelf to the Kitchen posts are very much an Awkwordly Emma thing, but when a dear blogger friend, Jessica from Just Another Teen Reading Books, mentioned she was making a book-inspired recipe, I asked if she'd be up for a guest post!

Hi, everyone! When Emma asked if I would like to write a guest post about making monster cake for her From the Bookshelf to the Kitchen series, I immediately said yes! It was so fun to bake, and I hope you all enjoy this post! 

Monster Cake is a recipe that the main character, Pepper, from Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, makes during the book. It sounded so delicious, that the moment I read about it, I knew I wanted to make it. And then the author posted the recipe for it online! Here’s the link to her recipe. It’s the one I used to make this cake, with a few minor changes, for reasons I list below.

Monster Cake

Here we go! :)

First, as the the recipe instructed, I turned on the Taylor Swift era of my choice. For those wondering, it was the Lover album. :)

I chopped all the candy up. This is one of the things I changed from the original recipe. I used mini Reese’s instead of regular sized, because for some reason, every store I went to was sold out of big packs of full sized Reese’s cups. I have no idea why, perhaps there has been a shortage of Reese’s? Or did everyone decide to make Monster Cake this weekend? :)

While that was baking, I made my cookie dough. This is the other change I made to the recipe. It said to use premade edible cookie dough, but I bought this bag mix, and just left out the egg. *Note* To get the texture of cookie dough, I had to melt the butter a little bit, instead of letting it be a little soft, like the bag said.

After the pan had baked for awhile, I pulled it out and added balls of cookie dough across the top of it. Then I put it back in the oven. When that finished baking, I pulled it out. It took great self control to not begin eating it immediately, because it smelled so good!

After it cooled for about an hour, I added the monster face! Then immediately after taking this photo, I proceeded to cut a slice out of it, and eat it. It was delicious! Also, if you haven’t read Tweet Cute, I highly recommend it!

One box of Funfetti cake mix (plus the ingredients needed on the box)
One box of chocolate brownie mix (plus the ingredients needed on the box)
Edible cookie dough (or cookie dough you make without eggs)
A tub of vanilla frosting
A bag of Rolos
A bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
A box of Oreos
Googly eyes  

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the brownie batter, and set aside. Mix the cake batter, and set aside.
Chop the candies and Oreos. (Emma Lord set aside 16 Rolos, and chopped 12 Oreos into fourths, and eight Reese’s Cups into fourths.) (I had to substitute mini Reese's Cups here, but it worked well. I just cut them in half, instead of fourths. And I used 16, since they were smaller.) Divide the candy and cookies in half. Put half in the brownie mix, and the second half in the cake mix, and mix them together.
Grease the baking dish you’re going to use. (I used a 8x12-inch pan for it, and I ended up with enough that I was able to bake another pan of it, too.) Put piles of the cake mix and the brownie mix into the pan. Then lightly swirl. (I used a butter knife to swirl, but you can use a fork or spoon or whatever works best for you.) Put the cake in the oven for 20 minutes. (I had to bake for a little longer, but it depends on your oven.) Pull the cake out of the oven, and stick balls of cookie dough on top of it. Put the cake back in the oven for ten minutes. (Again, I had to bake for slightly longer. It depends on your oven.)
Pull the cake out of the oven, and let it cool. (I waited about an hour.)  Decorate! I used a decorating bag, and made a mouth, then attached the eyes with icing. Make whatever monster face you want!  Eat the Monster Cake! I really loved it, and it was a hit with everyone I gave it to, as well!

Thank you to Emma for letting me write this guest post! I had a lot of fun! :)

If you have a book/recipe suggestion for From the Bookshelf to the Kitchen, please leave it in the comments below!