Monday, March 5, 2018

Book Review » The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

I've just finished Laurie Forest's The Black Witch and I am frustrated. This book should have been a hit. It has the all the goods — high stakes adventure, touching friendships, vivid fantasy, burgeoning romance — and it's all tied together with a powerful, thematic message. AND it's set in a boarding school. So what the hell went wrong?

The 'Black Witch Controversy'

What happened to The Black Witch is fairly stunning. A book blogger read the novel, developed a firm opinion, and published a review on her website. Her unflinching criticism tapped into issues that young people feel strongly about — racism, xenophobia, and civil injustice. 

Word of the strongly worded review spread like wildfire through social media. Then, hundreds of readers (who hadn't read the book) gave The Black Witch one star on Goodreads and, furthermore, attacked those who expressed a desire to read the novel to form their own opinions. 

But after the dust settled, it became clear that The Black Witch, far from supporting anti-progressive ideas, actually argued passionately against them. The damage had been dealt, however. To this day, The Black Witch is a tainted book. I can't look at its cover without thinking, that is the book that everyone said was YA Mein Kampf.

Everything about this controversy makes me frustrated for two reasons. One, Laurie Forest doesn't deserve to be called a racist. She wrote an awesome fantasy novel that is all about fighting our own ingrained, racist beliefs. 

Second, the way we argue and discuss controversial matters is broken. We need more civility in our discourse, more thoughtfulness, more evidence, and more open ears. We do need space in our arguments for emotion, but we can't let it run around unchecked. 

For instance, one thing that absolutely has to stop is the vitriolic shutting up of dissenting voices. Look, I get it. When I feel passionate about something, it boils my blood to hear a person argue the opposite. But unless that person is being abusive, don't send them slap memes. Don't say "STFU." Don't tell them to "stay in their lane." Don't belittle them. That is NOT how you change minds. 

In the case of the Black Witch Controversy, we have a clear-cut example of how people fighting for good can make stupid mistakes. It's natural to put on our blinders, make snap judgements, and listen only to the echoes of our own arguments.

But we are people who read books. We can and must do better.

Elloren Starts Out Prejudiced, Becomes Racist, Then Learns Tolerance

At certain times, The Black Witch doesn't give us the perfect heroine. Elloren, our main character, goes through a big character arc. Raised in a remote area by her protective uncle, Elloren was exposed to prejudicial beliefs, but she never learned hatred.

But, when she arrives at the University, located in a sort of peace-zone called Verpacia, Elloren finally meets people of the ethnicities she's been taught to think less of, even fear. Since she belongs to a race that A) believes itself to be superior over all other races, and B) tries at every opportunity to subjugate and oppress other races,  Elloren is not given a great reception.

Quickly, the hostility and aggression dished out by those of subjugated races turns Elloren's heart. She becomes afraid, angry, and hateful towards races other than her own. She lashes out, and does very unlikable things.

However, in living side by side with the people she hates, she gradually gets to know them. And with exposure, her fear leaves her. Eventually, she comes to love people she once called enemies for who they are as individuals, and appreciates them, too, as members of their own cultures.

While Elloren isn't the perfect role model by far, she is a highly relatable figure. And I grew to admire her.

An Ensemble Cast Reminiscent of Harry Potter

The Black Witch is similar to Harry Potter in two chief ways. One — magical boarding school. Two — an awesome ensemble cast. 

I absolutely fell in love with the peripheral characters in this book. Sure, some barely make an appearance, but they left the impression that they could lead their own spin-off books. Others appear more often as part of Elloren's oddball collection of friends and allies. 

The standout of these characters, hands down, is Diana, the daughter of a werewolf chief. A scene-stealer, her chief characteristic is 'confidence.' I mean, imagine a teenage girl with maxed out confidence levels and you'll get Diana. She provided constant spit-takes.

"Is This a Kissing Book?"

Elloren has two love interests — the powerful military graduate, Lukas Grey, who is of Elloren's own race, and the mysterious, surly Yvan Guriel, who decidedly is not. It's not a traditional love triangle, though, and by 'traditional' I mean 'trope-y.' Neither guy is slavishly devoted to Elloren, and she isn't tasked with the offensive chore of choosing one of them. Instead, each guy represents an opposing force that is pulling for Elloren's sympathy and allegiance.

Elloren's own romance takes a bit of a backseat compared to the peripheral love stories, though. Diana has a love-arc, as does her brother, Jarod. Several other romances are set up for book two, as well. Love was in the air. I liked it!

If You Enjoy YA Fantasy, You Should Read The Black Witch

The Black Witch was solid YA fantasy, and I loved reading it. I give it five stars. It accomplished exactly what I want out of a book — it gave me adventure, human drama, and a strong message. I do not hesitate to recommend this book.

Friday, February 2, 2018

17 Products That Make Veganism Easy

You'll take a bite and say, "What in the world?!" Beyond Meat's vegan hamburger dupes are astonishingly convincing. They even "bleed" savory, pink juice. My favorite product of theirs that I've tried so far is their Beast Burger. Each box comes with two frozen patties. You just spray some oil in a non-stick pan, cook both sides of your patty, and slap it on a dressed bun. 

It has all the flavor of smoky, grilled animal protein, but it is 100% plant-derived. The texture is unreal — like super tenderized meat. When you are attending a cook-out, bring this product along with you and you won't feel like you are missing out at all.

Does Maybelline Approve? Yes! She thinks this is the real thing and when she smells this fake meat she comes galloping, her round little eyes bulging. I feed her teensy tiny pieces and she thinks I'm the best mommy — and the best hunter.

Meal delivery services are exploding right now, with Blue Apron and Hello Fresh leading the charge. 

I was curious to see if there was a vegan meal service out there... and there is. I received three weeks of Purple Carrot for Christmas, and it basically tossed me out of my vegan rut. I had been eating the same things over and over again, struggling to find real creativity with my food. But Purple Carrot exposed me to new ingredients and recipes (that I never could have dreamed up) and made me realize that to get the most out of the vegan diet, you really need to bust out of your box.

Before I went vegan, I loved sour cream so much I could eat it with a spoon, plain. Vegan sour cream isn't quite the same, but it is damn close. Tofutti "Better Than Sour Cream" Sour Cream leads the market. I put their sour cream in my mashed potatoes, over my vegan Mexican food, and plopped on top of soups.

I used to think mayonnaise was just for sandwiches. But, no. Purple Carrot helped me understand that it was made to become an aioli. You mix it with minced garlic and olive oil. You mix it with hot sauce. You even mix it with chopped capers — seriously! Drizzle it on top of your food to add another kick of flavor to your meal. Just Mayo is my favorite brand of vegan mayonnaise, beating out Vegenaise. It is slightly more creamy.

I have always wanted to love tofu and now I do, thanks to Bob's Red Mill Potato Starch. Before frying up your tofu, coat the pieces in potato starch. The starch will make a crisp and chewy coating and the tofu inside will become molten. So good. Thank you to Purple Carrot for teaching me this hack.

Sometimes a vegan can really suffer from nostalgia. But mac n' cheese doesn't have to be a part of that disease. There are tons of recipes out there for creamy, decadent vegan mac n' cheese (I can't wait to try out the coconut cream ones), but if you want to whip up something fast, Daiya Cheezy Mac is there for you.

Another food that is nostalgic for many is chicken nuggets. But I'm willing to bet you that no person feels nostalgic over the actual flesh of an animal. They miss the crispy, salty coating of those nuggets and the savory, meaty mash inside. They miss the warm, sepia-tinted memories. Gardein Seven Grain Crispy Tenders isn't an exact replica, but is certainly does the trick. 

Almond Breeze, Milkadamia, Califia Farms... Whoever is making it, nut milks are indispensable. You can use them to cream-ify your coffee, make sauces, pour over your cereal... And they don't come from the poor, ulcerated teat of a miserable, abused cow. Win!!!

They are honestly, totally boring, but rice cakes definitely help cut down on bread consumption. Instead of an open faced sandwich for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you can put your ingredients on a rice cake. Luckily Quaker Oats makes some tastier rice cakes, like their Tomato and Basil ones.

Bakery on Main's Almond Cranberry Maple Granola is the perfect breakfast treat. It is much more complex and flavorful than plain old cereal, but it still has an element of junk food. Their bean crisps are shaped like little cups and collect the smaller crisps, dried berries, and nuts inside them, along with your nut milk that you can pour on top. Only downside is that it's expensive, but the flavor and crunch of this product is one of a kind.

For vegan baking, Bob's Red Mill Flaxseed Meal is indispensable. The gooeyness of eggs help bind ingredients together, but that property can be replicated with wet flax meal. The slime is real! It really is like the albumen of an egg. 

Okay, let's get real. Nothing... NOTHING... can replace nutty, buttery Parmigiano-Reggiano. And that is sad. But what is sadder, perhaps, is animal exploitation. Go Veggie! Grated Parmesan Style Topping can't hold a candle to the real thing, but it can do the trick when added to homemade pesto. Guys, pesto is EASY to make. Get a Ninja food processor and throw in fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, and Go Veggie! Fake Parm. Presto — perfect pesto!

Yeah, butter is nice, but we have a thing called margarine. And it is butter-flavored. Earth Balance Vegan Butter even has a line that is made without soy, for those who are sensitive to that allergen.

This product isn't a dupe, but it is something that makes veganism easy because it is so tasty and and easy and helps to get those vitamins in! That's Tasty Microgreens can be added to so many things. I put them on top of my guac on toast, in my tacos, in my sandwiches, on top of soups, in my spring rolls... they go everywhere! Eating them is like eating salad, but 1,000 times more fun.

Does Maybelline Approve? Nah. Maybelline think microgreens are nasty — firm proof that they are green and smell like cabbage.

My sister-in-law got me the America's Test Kitchen: Vegan For Everybody cookbook for Christmas and it is so great. They really go into the fundamentals of vegan ingredients along with sharing some spectacular recipes.

What do you put on a sandwich besides deli meat and cheese? Lots of things, but my favorite is Wholly Guacamole 100 Calorie Packs. These little pods of flavorful, thick guacamole are so handy to spread on two open faced sandwiches as the main attraction! And toppings stick to the guacamole spread so easily!

Lesser Evil's Buddha Bowl Foods: Himalayan Gold Butter Flavored Coconut Oil Popcorn is my go-to for delicious popcorn that I sneak into the movies. Who needs movie theater butter when you have delectable coconut oil and pink salt?

What are your favorite vegan products?

Saturday, December 23, 2017

A Recap of "A Christmas Prince"

I grew up loving made-for-TV movies. What millennial kid didn't? Disney Channel Originals were our lifeblood. And when I got a little older, I binged those zany, ABC Family movies like nobody's business. Look. They're supposed to be a little shitty. It's part of their charm. 

These movies communicate in a language that every person (at least partly raised by a television) speaks. So Netflix's decision to introduce a stream of crappy-yet-charming original features into their library? Genius. 

Their first "TV-Movie" that they released was a film called A Christmas Prince. And, as part of a whip-smart marketing campaign, Netflix has been celebrating subscribers who have watched the movie every damn day, since it was put online.

I confess. I wasn't planning on watching A Christmas Prince until the hype became too much for me not to. I'm busy AF and my time is precious. But I quickly understood that my time-out to watch this film was a great life decision. A Christmas Prince is bad in a way that makes it a lot of fun to watch, but at the same time, it's genuinely enjoyable.

But look, I'm not watching A Christmas Prince so you don't have to. No. I fully expect you to tune in, too. I'm hoping that my recap will only help to enhance your experience. Let's do this together.

A Christmas Prince... A Recap

The film begins with a series of establishing shots, setting up that we are in New York City... and maybe Chicago... during the height of the holiday season. A jolly Christmas tune plays in the background.

But our blonde, pretty heroine's day isn't so merry. Amber is a lowly, junior editor at a magazine, where its clique of hip writers like to walk all over her. Her two buddies in the junior editing trenches try to cheer her up, but Amber is defeated. She keeps submitting her own pieces to various publications, but she only ever gets rejections. 

But then, the editor-in-chief of the magazine calls Amber into her office... what could it possibly be for???

"What do you know of the royal family of Aldovia?" asks the boss-lady (who was clearly inspired by Lana in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days).

Amber struggles for a moment, but then recalls that Aldovia's king died the previous year. However, their flaky prince has yet to take the throne.

The boss-lady concurs, adding that Aldovia's kingship will be up for grabs if the prince isn't made a king by Christmas. Soon, the palace will be holding a press conference about the issue, and the magazine will be sending Amber there to cover it!

"Why me?" asks Amber, stunned.

The boss-lady confesses that everyone else was busy. Oof.

Back at the junior editor cubicles, Amber scans some tabloid articles about the Aldovian prince, who appears to be a bit of a playboy. Her friends exclaim that the prince is a total 12/10, but Amber is all, "meh." 

This triggers both her friends to roll their eyes, because Amber keeps blowing off eligible men. She's still tender, apparently, from her last relationship, which ended a year ago.

But now, Amber's friends are excited for her. This assignment for the magazine could jump-start her writing career!

It's nighttime when Amber makes her way to "Rudy's Diner," her father's business. He has her regular supper waiting for her... a hot dog and a doctored coffee. *Shudder*

Amber's dad is excited to switch up their Christmas cuisine and have five-alarm chili instead of corndogs, but Amber apologizes, confessing that she got an assignment that will take her out of the country for Christmas. Amber's father is delighted for her, but Amber is still discouraged. She lifts her chin, however, when he tells her to take a chance on her dreams.

Amber hops on a plane and arrives at the Aldovia International Airport. She walks outside, passing a squad of press waiting for the prince. She waits in line for a taxi, and is about to get in one when a bearded man in a hat and sunglasses hops into her cab! 

"Sorry," he tells her. "I really have to go." 

The cab speeds off, but not before Amber insults him, loudly. Oh, honey. Don't you know anything about rom-coms? You're gonna be so embarrassed later.

We get some establishing shots of Aldovia next, and it looks like an adorable, sprawling ski lodge. Thick snow carpets every surface — the pointy pine groves, the steep little rooftops... ugh. So cute.

A fleet of vans carry the press up to the palace, and Amber looks like a kid on her first day of school. She confesses to the reporter next to her that it's her first time covering anything. She asks for words of wisdom, but the surly veteran only says, "pick a new career." 

He may be onto something, because the press conference is useless — the palace freaking cancels it. The beleaguered reporters file back into their vans, empty-handed, but the determined Amber decides to sneak back into the castle for a snoop.

Finding herself in a large hallway, Amber immediately starts snapping pictures on her phone. She's getting a closeup of a suit of armor when an imposing palace official finds her. Amber freaks out, but luckily she stammers long enough that the official draws his own conclusion — that she is Princess Emily's new tutor from America.

"Yes!" agrees Amber, hastily.

He leads her to the palace housekeeper, Mrs. Averill, who wears black, sheer hose with seams. It's a nice detail, and we can naturally conclude that Mrs. Averill works nights as a dominatrix. 

Mrs. Averill greets "Martha Anderson," but mentions that the agency said Martha wouldn't be available until January. 

Amber improvises, blathering that her schedule cleared up, so she came early. Mrs. Averill sneers, but the tall official who found Amber seems pleased. The queen, he says, wanted someone to occupy Princess Emily through the holidays, seeing how her last tutor fled the palace already.

Mrs. Averill gives in and takes Amber up to meet the queen, instructing her to curtsy. When they arrive at the royal office upstairs, however, they overhear her royal highness scolding 'Richard,' who is none other than... the missing prince! And Amber has met him before...

Richard apologizes for his earlier rudeness, and Mrs. Averill introduces "Martha" to the room. 

Amber curtsies to the Queen, with moves torn straight from Swan Lake. It's genuinely hilarious. But before anyone can do anything more than gape, Princess Emily arrives to greet her brother.

The Princess is a young girl with an aristocratic face and curly red hair, and she walks with the aid of forearm-crutches. Richard greets her with a cry of, "my little imp!"

Emily protests that she's not imp, but is delighted when Richard lifts her up and spins her around in wild circles, making her legs (and crutches) fly out. The queen gets upset, assuming Emily will get hurt, but the princess squeals that being flung around feels good

 When Richard sets Emily down, they introduce the princess to "Martha," her new tutor. Amber greets Emily warmly, but the princess is hostile. Richard tells everyone to place their bets on how long Martha will last. 

After Amber is dismissed, she backs up, curtsying, but she accidentally knocks over an enormous vase and it shatters all over the floor. Cringing, Amber asks the queen if it was... expensive? 

"Only 15th century Ming porcelain," the queen replies coldly. The royal siblings have the grace to wait until Amber flees the room to start their tittering.

That night, Amber sneaks a phone call to her editor-in-chief, confessing that she's in the palace, undercover. The boss-lady tells Amber to get as many audio and video recordings as possible. 

"Play this out," she commands, and Amber agrees, determined.

The following morning, Mrs. Averill leads Amber to Princess Emily's schoolroom. 

"Go away," says the princess when she catches sight of her new tutor. 

Amber ignores her rudeness and pulls out the chair next to the princess... but gasps when she catches sight of a mouse on the seat! Emily smiles demonically before plopping the pet rodent back in its enclosure.

Mrs. Averill, with practiced politeness, tells her royal highness to begin her lessons. Emily says she already began — with Modern Art. She holds up a crayon portrait of Mrs. Averill, disfigured by large facial warts.

Through gritted teeth, the housekeeper tells Emily the portrait is, "delightful."

Mrs. Averill leaves and Emily passes her geometry homework to Amber, who looks at the sheet of triangles with confusion. "Looks good!" she tells Emily, totally out of her ass. 

Emily, pleased, concedes that she got a 92 on the state exam.

Amber tries to steer their studies away from math and towards writing, but Emily barrages her with questions. Amber, trying to keep her cover intact, gets flustered, but Emily interprets her discomfort incorrectly.

"It's called spina bifida," says the princess coldly, "and there is no cure." She's in a wheelchair today, and she pushes herself across the room to a window. "Poor little rich girl," Emily continues, looking morose. "That's what you're thinking."

Amber, concerned, goes to the princess and tells her, "brave little girl. That's what I was thinking,"  making the princess smile cautiously. 

They hear a ruckus outside and look out the window to see Prince Richard practicing archery in the garden. Amber's eyes pop. 

"How does some fresh air sound, your royal highness?" she asks Emily, who looks very pleased with her new tutor.

Amber, once she arrives in the garden, is gobsmacked because the prince has shaved. And goodness, he is pretty. 

Emily mocks her brother's rusty archery skills, and asserts that she could do much better. He won't let her take a try with the bow, however, until Amber goads him into it. They arrange Emily's wheelchair perpendicular to the target. Richard hands her the bow and an arrow, muttering that if the queen saw this, she'd lop off his head.

"Better than lopping off something else," quips the Princess, shocking the socks off of Amber.

Emily aims and... shoots a bullseye. Triumphant, Amber demands a high five, and Emily acquiesces. It's clearly the first high five of her life.

"Miss Martha next," commands Emily, to Amber's horror. The siblings rib her about the lack of Ming vases in the vicinity, until Amber reluctantly takes up the bow.

The prince stands slightly behind her to show her how to nock the arrow and draw the bow, and Amber is so distracted that she sends the arrow off into the stratosphere. It crashes through a palace window (good draw, Amber!) and lodges in an oil painting.

Emily, Richard, and Amber quickly flee the scene, but not before Mrs. Averill catches sight of them.

Later, Amber is in her room, skyping with her friends at the magazine and trying to make sense of scatterplots (Oh, Amber). She hastily closes the laptop, however, when there's a knock at the door.

It's Mrs. Averill and Princess Emily, who is wearing a party dress. Mrs. Averill loftily explains that the royal family is hosting a cocktail hour for members of the nobility. Emily wishes for Amber to attend, as her personal guest. Amber accepts and by Emily's shy smile, it's obvious that she's really fond of her clumsy, new tutor.

At the shindig, a string quartet plays stately Christmas hymns, and well-dressed people mingle. Amber slurps her champagne nervously, and looks green when she's offered some aspic.

Across the room, the Prime Minister is asking the queen about Prince Richard's questionable aspirations to the throne. Smelling blood, a smarmy young man, Cousin Simon, swoops in and asks where on earth the heir could be.

Thankfully, Richard shows up at that moment, citing a case of missing cufflinks. 

The two men spar verbally, and it's instantly clear that they loathe each other. 

Across the room, Amber lies to Emily and tells her she's enjoying the party. She confesses, however, that jellied meat isn't her thing. Luckily, Princess Emily has already scouted out the Christmas cookies.

Tutor and pupil are feasting when Cousin Simon comes up to them and starts making snipes at Amber. He's cut off, however, when Prince Richard arrives and claims Simon is "compensating." 

While the two men are distracted, Emily tells Amber that Simon is the heir after Richard. Amber smells a scoop.

 Later, she's skyping with her pals at an escritoire. They are stoked at Amber's discovery of the "greedy cousin" angle. But Amber wants more one-on-one time with the prince — there's something she needs to suss out. Her friends immediately gather than Amber is smitten, though she protests.

But the next day, she stumbles upon Richard playing a "The First Noel" on the piano, and you can almost see the hearts in her eyes. After he catches her watching him, he explains that his late father made him take lessons. Amber confides that she lost her mom early, too. 

"Holidays are the worst," she says.

"I'm glad [Emily] has someone to talk to," he agrees.

Then, Amber ruins the mood by pressing him for details about his possible abdication. 

"It's difficult to know what to do," he says with discomfort, and makes an excuse to leave the room, to Amber's chagrin.

Later, at an intimate tree trimming ceremony, the royal family and their friends reminisce over the late King Richard's craftiness. He loved to carve, and made everyone handmade ornaments. 

The queen presents a large acorn ornament, and shares that she found it hidden away after the king's passing. The family is all a bit weepy, especially after Amber shares how she and her dad always light a candle for her mom on Christmas.

Then, Richard's ex, Lady Sophia, arrives. It's clear that Cousin Simon would like to move in on her, but Sophia has some clear sights set on getting Richard back. She presents the royal family with a gaudy, silver heart ornament and commands Richard to hang it on the tree — "gently."

The next day, Amber discovers that her cover is blown. Princess Emily has snooped on her laptop and figured it all out. Horribly embarrassed, Amber is about to leave to pack her things, but Emily stops her. In exchange for keeping Amber's secret, she wants Amber to write a truthful story about Richard... also, no more lessons. 

Elsewhere in the castle, Lady Sophia hunts down Richard. She squeezes onto his piano bench and offers to help him make a good impression at tomorrow's benefit. Richard protests that the event isn't about publicity — it's about helping orphans. Sophia tells Richard to get his head out of the clouds.

Richard isn't having it, though. He suggests that Sophia is attracted to his royalty, not to him. Sophia calls that unfair, but also confesses that her past self was "young and stupid."

"I made a mistake," she tells Richard.

The next day, Emily and Amber are enjoying themselves at the outdoor benefit, but Amber is horrified when a reporter recognizes her. 

"How did you get cozy with the princess?!" he gapes.

Amber is about to dig a hole to hide in, but Princess Emily has it under control. She tells the reporter that if he doesn't stop bothering her guest, she'll have him thrown in the dungeon.

Up on a stage, some orphans sing a carol, and they are applauded by the queen, who introduces the keynote speaker, her son and their future king — Richard!

...but Richard is nowhere to be found.

Reporters immediately start yelling tough questions about the vacant throne to the queen, who looks like she might start crying.

Emily has a clue where he might be, though, and she and Amber run off to find him.

It turns out that Richard is building a snowman with the kids in the orphanage courtyard. It turns into a massive snowball fight, and Amber films it all on her phone. She's charmed. I'm charmed. You're charmed. We're all charmed, okay?

Later, though, Richard has to explain himself to the queen.

She's tough on him at first, berating him with the fact that during the hardest year of her and Emily's lives, he ran off. She gentles her tone, however, to confide that she believes her son is ready to be king.

The next day, in the schoolroom, Amber is trying to teach Emily about literary devices. The princess, however, is totally bored, and jumpy, since it's only three days until Christmas.

Amber takes pity on her and tells her they will go on an adventure.

They sneak out of the palace and head off into the hills with a toboggan. Amber picks a summit that looks truly terrifying, and Emily is justly freaked out. She doesn't want to wind up even more disabled!

"You're not a china doll," Amber reminds her.

The two sled down the giant hill, screaming the whole way down, and totally spill out at the bottom. 

"Amber..." groans the princess, to Amber's horror, but it turns out the princess was faking. She wants to go again!

Richard, who is out horseback riding, stumbles across them, however, which begins a big snowball fight. It's girls versus boys, but the horse refuses to be part of their narrative.

Cousin Simon and Lady Sophia, out on a chauffeured sleigh ride, witness it all. Sophia notes the coziness between Amber and Richard with displeasure.

When the royal siblings and Amber arrive home, there is a reckoning. The queen knows about the rule-breaking. She puts the fear of God into the young people before remarking that its the happiest she's seen the princess in over a year.

As her parting shot, she scolds them for not inviting her.

That night, Amber types up her notes. She's getting closer to the prince, but she still believes there's something about him that she doesn't know. She resolves to find out more.

The next day, Amber lifts a horse from the royal stables in order to tail the prince, who is out on his own ride. He gets ahead of her in a pine forest, however, and Amber gets lost. She tries to direct her horse back to the palace, but her mount rears and Amber falls out of the saddle!

Amber is trying to find her way out of the snowy forest when night falls, and an honest to God wolf attacks her. Luckily the prince is there with a pistol to frighten off the beast. He takes her to a hunting cabin in the woods.

Inside, there is a roaring fire and an actual chandelier made of antlers. The prince gives Amber a steaming mug of an alcoholic Aldovian cure-all. Once Amber is comfortable, he asks why she was following him.

Amber admits that she is curious about him. Richard, for his part, explains that he comes to the hunting cabin (his father's) to reflect. The last time he was here with the king, they had a terrible fight.

The king was furious when Prince Richard said he would renounce the throne. Richard fled to Spain, and the king died shortly after.

Amber prods Richard to talk about his hesitation in accepting the kingship, but Richard shies away from the subject. Amber presses on, however, listing all of Richard's good qualities, which makes Richard laugh, remembering when he stole her cab.

He shows her one of his father's journals then, where he's discovered a pretty awesome poem that the king wrote for the queen. It kind of seems like a riddle, and it mentions a secret. Amber says it's mysterious.

"Yes," whispers the prince.

"It's beautiful," she adds.

"Yes," says the prince, leaning in.

The two are totally about to smooch, but they're interrupted by the sounds of disgruntled horses outside. The prince leaves to go check on the livestock. 

While he's gone, Amber starts snooping at the late king's desk and discovers a lever that pops out a hidden tray. On it is a file... 

In that, is a bombshell.

On an emergency skype sesh with her friends, Amber tells them her discovery — the prince is adopted. Amber is extremely hesitant to break this story, as she's certain the prince has no idea. Her friends, however, think she's nuts for choosing not to make her own career with this news. Amber is in agony, torn between her career and her empathy.

One person who does not have empathy is Lady Sophia. The following morning, she confronts Richard about his coziness with 'the peasant."

"Why don't you join us in the 21st century, Sophia," snaps Richard.

Sensing that she's losing her power, Sophia makes a Hail Mary pass, kissing him. Naturally, Amber chooses that moment to walk past and see it happen. She runs away before Richard pulls back and shuts Sophia down. 

Later, Amber is in her room, poring over her purloined documents. Someone knocks at her door. It's Richard. He invites her to take a walk outside. Amber, still bitter from seeing Richard kissing Sophia (the day after they almost kissed) coldly refuses. Nevertheless, Richard persists, and Amber gives in.

Outside, the weather isn't the only thing that's chilly. Amber is rude to Richard, until he eventually pries the truth out of her — she saw him kissing Sophia. Richard explains that she saw incorrectly. Slowly, Amber thaws, and Richard invites her to the Christmas Eve ball — the one where he'll be coronated...

"Richard, there's something I need to tell you —"

But he stops her mouth.

Meanwhile, in the palace, Cousin Simon and Lady Sophia pick the lock on Amber's door. They dive into her things and immediately find "Amber Moore's" passport and Richard's adoption papers. Oh, shit.

 The morning on the day of the ball, Richard rides to his father's grave in the snowy mountains. He kneels by the tomb and tells his father that he will accept the crown. 

Amber is preparing for the evening, too, looking over the nicest outfit she brought with her to Aldovia — a tea-length cocktail dress. Emily arrives then, and grimaces at the attire. 

"It's this or sweats," says Amber.

Emily gets real and tells Amber how much her company has meant to her the past few days. 

She gives Amber a jewelry box — inside is bracelet with a snowflake charm. 

"To remember our toboggan ride," she explains, and everybody on the screen and watching the screen is crying. Oh my God.

The girls hug, and that's it. I'm so won over to this movie.

 There's a knock at the door — it's the makeover team that Princess Emily arranged! Amber won't have to wear a cocktail dress or sweats because they've brought ballgowns.

That night, Prince Richard greets the Prime Minister, and tells him he looks forward to working with him. The Minister is obviously pleased to hear it. 

Then, Richard's attention is diverted, because Amber is coming down the stairs in a fabulous gown. It's blue, with an overlay of tarnished metallic lace and beads. Secretly underneath, however, she's wearing her red converse.

Richard gives her his arm at the landing and Amber asks him why everyone is staring at her.

"Because you look perfect," he says. "Shall we?"

He escorts her to the ballroom, where he invites her to waltz. 

As they dance, mesmerized by each other, Cousin Simon and Lady Sophia enter the room. They are looking especially villainous, decked out in crimson and black. 

On the dance-floor, Richard confesses that she is a large part of why he's at the ball tonight. Amber demurs, but he insists.

"You're more genuine than anyone I've ever met," he says, and Amber's face falls. Because, of course, she's been lying to him from the first.

The music stops, and it's time for Richard to be coronated. He asks for Amber to wish him luck.

"You don't need luck," she tells him, stoutly.

On the dais, the Prime Minister officiates the ceremony, asking Richard to promise to serve and protect Aldovia. He does so, solemnly. But before the crown can even touch his head, however, Lady Sophia interrupts, holding up Richard's adoption paperwork.

"This fraudulent Christmas prince is not the rightful king." 

Everyone is stunned, but none more so than Richard. Then he's betrayed when Sophia exposes Amber as an undercover reporter. 

Richard strides out of the ballroom, and Amber, horrified by what's she set into motion, follows him.

Cousin Simon takes the stage and announces he shall take the throne. He gestures to the simpering Lady Sophia, stating that she will be his queen.

On the staircase, Amber catches up to Prince Richard. He's distraught and furious. 

"I don't know who you are. I don't know who I am."

"I'm Amber Moore," she tells him. "Things just got so out of hand."

But it's no good. Richard takes off, leaving her behind. 

Amber flees the palace.

The next day, Richard confronts his father's portrait.

"Why didn't you tell me," he asks the late king, who, in an astonishing plot twist, turns out to be Ser Davos Seaworth.

The queen steps into the room and confesses everything to Richard. After she was married to Richard's father, they found out she was barren. When they adopted him, they did it secretly. Emily turned out to be a miracle baby.

Richard tells his mother that he fully embraces her and his late father as his true parents, and the queen weeps and says it's the best Christmas gift she's ever received. 

At the parliament chamber, Cousin Simon and Lady Sophia sign their marriage paperwork. Simon then demands to be coronated. The Prime Minister objects, saying a majority of parliament and the queen must be in attendance. 

At the airport, Amber calls her father, upset. She babbles about what happened, but her dad can make neither head nor tail of it. He nonetheless gives her some fatherly advice, which makes Amber recall the poem that the late king had written. She solves the riddle then and there — the king hid something inside the acorn ornament!

She races back to the palace, but has to contend with a stern Mrs. Averill. Luckily, Mrs. Averill wants Richard to be king badly enough that she takes a chance on Amber's hunch. They go to the Christmas tree and Amber pulls the cap off of the acorn. Inside, is a rolled up piece of paper...

Meanwhile, at parliament, the royal family and a quorum of the elected officials have arrived. There can be no further delay. It is Christmas, and Aldovia must have its king. Simon kneels on a satin cushion and recites his vows. He's almost crowned... but Amber and Mrs. Averill arrive!

They give the king's letter to the Prime Minister, and it turns out to be a decree that allows Richard to inherit the throne, though his bloodline isn't royal. 

The Prime Minister takes the scepter away from Cousin Simon and proceeds to crown Richard the King of Aldovia. 

As the parliament applauds him, King Richard scans the chamber, looking for Amber, but she's already gone...

Our next scene is in New York. Amber has written her article, but the editor at the magazine says it's worthless schmaltz. Amber had a chance to break a huge story — that the prince was adopted — but she blew it! Angrily, Amber quits.

As she packs her things, she promises her friends that she'll post her story somewhere else. It turns out to be on her own blog, titled... "Amber's Blog." Oh, Amber.

As she makes her own way, Amber helps her dad out at Rudy's Diner. On New Year's Eve, her friends stop by to eat some burgers and brag about Amber's pageviews. They invited an extra date with them should Amber want to tag along to the festivities, but Amber passes.

She's bussing the tables close to midnight, when someone throws a snowball at the diner window. She looks outside, and... Oh, my God. It's King Richard, standing outside on the snowy street!!!

Amber stumbles outside to get a closer look, but it's no apparition. Richard has flown to New York and tracked down Amber. 

He explains to her that both he and Emily miss Amber terribly. He tells her how much she means to him. Then he gets down on his knee and opens up a ring box!!!

Amber is shocked. We're all shocked. It's way too soon... isn't it?

Amber lists all the reasons why getting engaged is crazy, but Richard shoots down each excuse.

"How long will you keep a king on his knees?" he asks. Great line.

Amber says yes. Midnight strikes, and the two kiss without even looking at a clock. 

Now that's some good luck.

A Christmas Prince is a Christmas miracle. Thank you, Netflix.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

An Enchantment of Ravens » Book Review


An Enchantment of Ravens » Sierra's Thoughts

I must have been a faerie in my past life because this book made me feel nothing. It's a pity because it has such an interesting premise and I really thought I would enjoy it. Another reviewer compared the setting and atmosphere of the novel to Uprooted, which is one of my absolute favorite books of all time, so I was pumped.

While I do agree with that assessment, it wasn't enough to save the book for me.

WARNING: I may sound like a Love-Grinch, here...

In order to like this book, you have to be rooting for Isobel and Rook's love story. But... WHAT LOVE STORY?! How did it even happen?! Somehow, the process of them falling in love completely slipped by me.

When I started the book, I thought Isobel was a great character. She was not only an extremely talented artist but also a clever young woman...

Now, in the book, human crafts are traded for faerie enchantments. However, you have to be very careful about how you word these enchantments because the faeries enjoy tricking humans and finding ways to subvert those enchantments. Our heroine, Isobel, always thought these enchantments through and made sure that they benefited her whole family — her Aunt Emma and random goat-sisters. She was smart.

Alas, all good things come to an end because she meets a prince and feelings happen.

"This wasn't like me. So many years of being cautious, and in a matter of minutes I'd started slipping up."

DAMN YOU, ISOBEL. I refuse to believe that years of dedicated attention to detail can fall by the wayside as soon as she gets a crush. Shouldn't some kind of cognitive muscle-memory kick in?

Here's a quote where Isobel does some self-reflection on this matter:

"Now I have to tell you how foolish I am. Before that gray and lifeless time following Rook's departure, I'd always scoffed at stories in which maidens pine for their absent suitors, boys they've hardly known a week and have no business falling for. Didn't they realize their lives were worth more than the dubious affection of one silly young man? That there were things to do in a world that didn't revolve solely around their heartbreak? Then it happens to you and you understand you aren't any different from those girls after all. Oh, they still seem just as absurd - you've simply joined them, in quite a humbling way."

Here's the thing. I can actually buy into this. Ellen can tell you, I pine like no other. However, unlike the readers of this story, Ellen knows every searing detail behind the pining. (She may not want to, but she does.)

In An Enchantment of Ravens, we have no idea why the pining is happening. Isobel meets Rook; Rook saves Isobel; Isobel starts slipping up; Rook sits for portrait; Rook is vain, Rook pays Isobel in enchanted ravens; (*BAM*) Isobel is in love with Rook. And all this happens within the first four chapters...

As I read on, though, I realized that there is a redeeming quality in Isobel. She does eventually realize that infatuation is different from love and is able to discern that within herself.

But by that point, I had lost my investment in the characters. In the book, we never really figure out why or how Isobel and Rook fall in love. And because their love is the driving force behind the plot and action of the book, I wasn't very invested in those things, either.

Plot, Pacing, and the Rest

The plot of this book is predictable. If you are familiar with its genre, you will see the plot twists coming a mile away. Nothing surprised me. As for the pacing, it was a little all over the place, but it didn't detract from the overall story.

The main issue I had with this novel, is the way the author seemed to hide pieces of information from the reader for no apparent reason. Have you ever had a friend, in your childhood, who would start to give you something and then just snatch it away at the last second? That's what it felt like. (I'm not friends with that person anymore.)

For example, Isobel references the trauma of her parents' death a few times, even in a discussion with her aunt (who was also shaken up by what had happened), but nobody — not the author, not Isobel, not the aunt — ever goes into any details about what occurred. It was infuriating!

To Close...

Even though An Enchantment of Ravens is supposed to be a stand-alone novel, it could be expanded into a series. Maybe that's where we'll learn what happened to Isobel's parents. I don't think I will pick up a sequel. However, I do think I will give this author another try if she publishes an unrelated novel.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Quest Reviews' Year in Review

For progressives in the United States, 2017 has been a garbage fire. We've all been dealing with the crisis in our own ways, and many of us, when we're not busy protesting or calling our elected officials, have retreated to our books to escape reality.

Without further ado, I give you the Perpetual Page-Turner's 2017 End of Year Book Survey.

2017 Reading Stats

Number Of Books You Read: 126 (as of December 17)


Number of Re-Reads: I don't count my re-reads. They just happen.

Genre You Read The Most From: Romance

Best In Books

1. Best Book You Read In 2017? 


The Duchess Deal, by Tessa Dare



 2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t? The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue, by Mackenzi Lee 

I gave this book four stars, but I was really expecting it to be my favorite book of the year.

 3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?  

Ride With Me, by Ruthie Knox

 This book was so, so enjoyable, and it was written in a different style than Knox's other books. 

 4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did)? 

Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green

I told my mom to read this book, and she actually did. 

 5. Best series you started in 2017? The Duchess Deal (Girl Meets Duke #1) Best Sequel of 2017? Lord of Scoundrels (Scoundrels #3) Best Series Ender of 2017? Slightly Dangerous (Slightly #6)

All historical romances...


 6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2017? 
Lucy Parker (Pretty Face)This new author, writes SO well, and so intelligently. I can't believe she doesn't have more books under her belt, for being such an accompished writer! 

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone? Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer

Ironically, I was assigned this book in college, but never read it until this year.


8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year? 

The Promise of Jenny Jones, by Maggie Osborne

Do yourself a favor and read this romantic, Western adventure!


9. Book You Read In 2017 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year? 

The Duchess Deal, by Tessa Dare

Let's be honest, I've already re-read it this year about six times, MINIMUM 

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2017? 

The Afterlife of Holly Chase, by Cynthia Hand

11. Most memorable character of 2017? 

Jessica Trent (Lord of Scoundrels)


 12. Most beautifully written book read in 2017? 

Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor


13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2017? 

The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins

I became an atheist this year, and this book actually made me stop feeling guilty about that. 

 14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2017 to finally read? 

Lord of Scoundrels, by Loretta Chase


15. Favorite Quote From a Book Read in 2017? 

"I let go of the wheel halfway home and Jesus drove me the rest of the way." — Love Me Never (This book had too many fantastic one-liners to pick a solid winner, but this will do.)

16. Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2017? 

A Court of Wings and Ruin, by Sarah J. Maas and Silent Blade, by Illona Andrews


17. Book That Shocked You The Most: 

The Afterlife of Holly Chase, by Cynthia Hand

You just have to read it to see what I mean...


18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!): 

Jessica and Dain (Lord of Scoundrels)


19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year: 

Domino and Wilson (Violet Grenade)


20. Favorite Book You Read in 2017 From An Author You’ve Read Previously: 

The Duchess Deal, by Tessa Dare


21. Best Book You Read In 2017 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure: 

Lord of Scoundrels, by Loretta Chase 


22. Newest crush from a book you read in 2017? 

Mary Jane Wells, the audiobook narrator of The Duchess Deal


23. Best 2017 debut you read? 

Daughter of the Pirate King, by Tricia Levenseller


24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year? 

Harper's Bride, by Alexis Harrington


25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read? 

The Duchess Deal, by Tessa Dare 


26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2017? 

Forever Right Now, by Emma Scott

The big reveal in this book absolutely slayed my heart in the BEST way. (They were happy tears.)


27. Hidden Gem Of The Year? 

Violet Grenade, by Victoria Scott


28. Book That Crushed Your Soul? 

Forever Right Now, by Emma Scott


29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2017? 

Love Me Never, by Sara Wolf

The humor of this book was SO out there and perfectly imperfect. It wasn't studied or practiced. The author just lobbed joke after joke at us.


30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it):

Eliza and Her Monsters, by Francesca Zappia

I can't say why because of spoilers, but there was one character who I wanted to kick off the island.

Your Blogging Life

1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2017? Sierra?! Sierra?! Save me here!


2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2017? My Pride and Prejudice discussion post.


3. Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog? Discussion posts are kind of my thing, but I'd say... my Asexual's Guide to Romance Novels 


4. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)? Sierra went to BookCon and brought me back an entire BAG of gifts! It was almost like I was there, especially since we were on the phone a lot during her time in NYC.


5. Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2017? Coming out as asexual in a blog post.


6. Most challenging thing about blogging or your reading life this year? It has been SO HARD to stay motivated with writing posts and to keep in touch with other bloggers.


7. Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)? Same as last year! The infamous It Ends With Us post. 


8. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love? I LOVED writing my Pride and Prejudice post. Only Sierra and I have read it, I'm pretty sure.


9. Best bookish discover (book related sites, book stores, etc.)? I subscribed to three months of OwlCrate and LOVED it.


10.  Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year? Not yeeeeet. I'm aaaaaalmost at my Goodreads reading goal.

Looking Ahead

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2017 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2018? I have an entire Goodreads shelf devoted to this. 

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2018 (non-debut)? The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black


3. 2018 Debut You Are Most Anticipating? Not Even Bones, by Rebecca Schaeffer


4. Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2018? The Governess Game, by Tessa Dare


5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life In 2018? Get everything back on track. Everything.