Amanda’s Top Ten Tuesday – Bookmarks

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together. Each week we talk about our top ten with a different topic provided by Jana. This week’s topic is top ten – Favorite Bookmarks

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Pictures with sentimental value. I often use pictures as bookmarks because they make me smile.

Bookmarks by Books in the Skye I love the bookmarks I’ve bought from her!

Fandom bookmarks. Some of my favorite bookmarks are ones that match the book I’m reading. I have some from my favorite books that I use the most often.

Dust jackets. I’m sure I’m not the only one that uses the flaps of the dust jacket to mark my page when I don’t have anything better with me.

Sticky tabs. I often use my sticky tabs as bookmarks because they’re always close by my current read anyway.

This is all I have for you all this week. Let me know what you’re favorite bookmarks are in the comments!

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

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Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep

GoodReads Summary:
The stunning story of an Alabama serial killer and the true-crime book that Harper Lee worked on obsessively in the years after To Kill a Mockingbird.
Reverend Willie Maxwell was a rural preacher accused of murdering five of his family members for insurance money in the 1970s. With the help of a savvy lawyer, he escaped justice for years until a relative shot him dead at the funeral of his last victim. Despite hundreds of witnesses, Maxwell’s murderer was acquitted–thanks to the same attorney who had previously defended the Reverend.
Sitting in the audience during the vigilante’s trial was Harper Lee, who had traveled from New York City to her native Alabama with the idea of writing her own In Cold Blood, the true-crime classic she had helped her friend Truman Capote research seventeen years earlier. Lee spent a year in town reporting, and many more working on her own version of the case.
Now Casey Cep brings this story to life, from the shocking murders to the courtroom drama to the racial politics of the Deep South.
Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper LeeReview:
Furious Hours was the book club pick for the few local ladies I’ve made friends with and read with each month. It’s not something I would normally pick up of my own volition. If I read non-fiction its usually memoirs. The true-crime I read has been all because of book club. I actually read To Kill a Mockingbird last month for one of my college classes. I don’t think I would have liked this book at all if I hadn’t already read it.
This book is told in three parts. Part one follows the Reverend who is thought to have killed six people in order to collect their life insurance. But no one was ever able to prove it or take any legal action. His life ends at the funeral of his stepdaughter when one of her relatives shoots him three times and kills him. This man is arrested, then hires the lawyer that the Reverend had used to fight the insurance companies to get his money.
Part two of the book follows the lawyer. This was the part that I had the most trouble with. It goes over the lawyer’s whole history. His political goals and attempts to be elected in several elections. I found myself wondering what the point of his part was and why he was given a whole section of this book. His life history was not needed. I understand his role in the story but it was not deserving of an entire third of this book. When we finally get to the part where the lawyer is defending the man that killed the Reverend, the story picks up again. I really enjoyed the process that the lawyer takes to make sure to win the court trial. It was really interesting to see his process and the things he did to win.
The third and final part is where we finally got to the details about Harper Lee. I only enjoyed learning more about her life because I’d actually read her book. From a writer’s point of view, it was really interesting to read about her publication journey and then absolutely terrifying to see her completely fail to write another book.
Overall, I liked parts of this book and didn’t understand the inclusion of other parts. It was a mostly interesting book that was written well enough like a story for me to enjoy. If you like true crime and/or Harper Lee, you might like this book.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

The Case for Jamie by Brittany Cavallaro

GoodReads Review:
It’s been a year since the shocking death of August Moriarty, and Jamie and Charlotte haven’t spoken.
Jamie is going through the motions at Sherringford, trying to finish his senior year without incident, with a nice girlfriend he can’t seem to fall for.
Charlotte is on the run, from Lucien Moriarty and from her own mistakes. No one has seen her since that fateful night on the lawn in Sussex—and Charlotte wants it that way. She knows she isn’t safe to be around. She knows her Watson can’t forgive her.
Holmes and Watson may not be looking to reconcile, but when strange things start happening, it’s clear that someone wants the team back together. Someone who has been quietly observing them both. Making plans. Biding their time.
Someone who wants to see one of them suffer and the other one dead.
The Case for Jamie (Charlotte Holmes, #3)Review:
The Case for Jamie is the third book in the Charlotte Holmes series. It’s also the first book where we get dual perspectives through the whole book. In this latest mystery, things are…worse than they were in the other books. Things kind of went out of control in the final pages of the last book, and we are seeing the aftermath of that in this book. Charlotte and Jamie are no longer partners in anything and have gone their separate ways.
Jamie is just trying to get back to school. Trying to get his grades up and play rugby and try to get into a good college. But his dad and Leander keep dragging him back into the mysteries. Jamie was a little annoying in parts of this book. He clearly needs some sort of help, but just doesn’t get it. He doesn’t communicate, with anyone. And his relationships suffer because of this.
The same sort of goes for Charlotte. I wanted more from her perspective in the previous two books, but once I got it, it kind of makes me dislike her. She, like Jamie, clearly has issues. But we also learn her backstory, which ended up making me not dislike her. I really liked getting to see her back story.
Leander was my favorite of all the characters. He’s funny and wise, and mostly always does the right thing. I wish Jamie and Charlotte had gone to him for help sooner.
The ending of this book, like the last one, was pretty wild. I seem to have the same issue as the last one though. We don’t get anything from Jamie’s point of view after all the drama goes down and I don’t like that. So much of what happens involves him and people he cares about, but we don’t get to see any of what he’s thinking about it all in the aftermath, which bugs me.
Overall, this was another mystery that I really enjoyed. I like that Charlotte and Jamie are so flawed. They’re realistic characters with hard, real-life issues. I liked all of their friends and family. This series is complex and dark. One that I definitely recommend.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Tome Topple Readathon TBR List

Hello everyone! This month both Antonia and I (Amanda) will be participating in the latest round of Tome Topple. The point of Tome Topple, if you’re new here, is to tackle those intimidating big boys on your bookshelf. From November 9th until the 22nd we will only be reading books that are 500 pages or more. There are a few optional prompts that will be listed below along with what Antonia and I have as options for them.

Read more than one tome

We will try to complete this one by reading at least two books!

Read the tome that’s been on your tbr the longest

Amanda- Renegades by Marissa Meyer

Antonia- Inheritance by Christopher Paolini

Read a tome that is part of a series

Amanda- The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

Antonia- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

Read a tome from a genre you don’t usually read

Amanda- The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (Fantasy, I know this whole TBR is fantasy, but I’ve been having trouble really enjoying any fantasy lately, so I’ve been taking a break. ie, a genre I haven’t been reading. I’m hoping Tome Topple can get me out of my fantasy funk.)

Antonia- Cress by Marissa Meyer

Read a tome that’s an adult novel

Amanda- The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

Antonia- Liar by Nora Roberts

Will you be participating in this round of Tome Topple? If yes, share in the comments what you’ll be reading! If not, feel free to share your current read.

The Disasters by M.K. England

GoodReads Summary:
Hotshot pilot Nax Hall has a history of making poor life choices. So it’s not exactly a surprise when he’s kicked out of the elite Ellis Station Academy in less than twenty-four hours.
But Nax’s one-way trip back to Earth is cut short when a terrorist group attacks the Academy. Nax and three other washouts escape—barely—but they’re also the sole witnesses to the biggest crime in the history of space colonization. And the perfect scapegoats.
On the run and framed for atrocities they didn’t commit, Nax and his fellow failures execute a dangerous heist to spread the truth about what happened at the Academy.
They may not be “Academy material,” and they may not get along, but they’re the only ones left to step up and fight.
The DisastersReview:
The Disasters is absolutely everything I want from a science fiction novel. An entertaining and loveable squad of friends, wild and sometimes dangerous adventures, and fast-paced action with high stakes. It reminded me of the tag line from Aurora Rising, “They’re not the heroes we want, but they’re the ones we’ve got” because it’s so accurate to this story.
We follow Nax as he learns he’s just failed out of the Academy and is heading to travel back home to his family on Earth. He meets three others that have also not made the cut when the witness the beginning of a terrorist attack. Barely escaping, the four find themselves on another planet being saved by the fifth member of their makeshift crew.
I adored the group dynamic of these five. They were funny and complicated and really worked well together. They were basically functional chaos and I loved it. Nax was our narrator who told the story in almost a stream of consciousness way. It had a really interesting effect on the story. I loved the diversity of the characters as well. Nax is bisexual and comes from a Muslim family. He’s made mistakes and has a lot of self-doubts, but it was really great to see him overcome it. Then there’s Rion who is black, queer, and British. He’s the son of a diplomat, so he always knows exactly what to say. I loved the flirtations and hints of a potential romance between Rion and Nax. It was just enough that it didn’t take center stage over the rest of the story. Case is the third point of the sort of, but not really, love triangle. She’s super smart and struggles with anxiety. Next up is Zee, who is trans, and a kick-ass doctor who will literally kick your ass. Finally, there’s Asra, who is Muslim and we see her wearing a hijab and taking time to pray. She’s also the stepkid of a crime boss that she wants to take down.
These five join up meeting up with friendlies here and there for help, all in order to take down a plot to destroy every planet that isn’t Earth, and return Earth to its former glory.
The relationships were great. I enjoyed them so much. I wanted to get to know them more. I think this was because we only get Nax’s perspective so we get to know him the best and we get to know the characters as he knows them.
Overall, this story was everything I wanted it to be and more. A diverse cast, a hilarious crew, and saving the universe. I definitely recommend this to any science fiction lover.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Books & Baking – The Night Circus

Hellllllo, lovelies! I’m back today for another round of Books & Baking. For this edition, I’ve chosen the book The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. It was one of the first recipes I found when searching for ideas for this new blog feature, but it’s a relatively complicated recipe. So, I tried a few other ideas first. Check out the first two installments of Books & Baking here: House of Salt and Sorrows Heartless

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Book: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Read my full review here!

This story takes place over many, many years which was something I really enjoyed. Our two main characters, Celia and Marco,  were ones that I completely fell in love with. Celia grew so much throughout the book. She was caring and clever and I adored her. Marco had me going back and forth with my feelings. I didn’t always like the choices he made. But ended up really liking him once he and Celia finally met. I also really liked how developed some of the supporting characters was. This book is atmospheric and mysterious. Morgenstern is an incredible writer and this is a must-read.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong being a dreamer.”

“Life takes us to unexpected places sometimes. The future is never set in stone, remember that.”

“Good and evil are a great deal more complex than a princess and a dragon . . . is not the dragon the hero of his own story?”

“You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.”

“Secrets have power. And that power diminishes when they are shared, so they are best kept and kept well. Sharing secrets, real secrets, important ones, with even one other person, will change them. Writing them down is worse, because who can tell how many eyes might see them inscribed on paper, no matter how careful you might be with it. So it’s really best to keep your secrets when you have them, for their own good, as well as yours.”

Baking: Darkness to Light Cake  

Find the recipe here!

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For this installment,  I went with a cake that had Night Circus vibes as a whole rather than something that was actually mentioned in the book.

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.”

As I said above, this was a pretty complicated recipe. There are three different kinds of cake, frosting, and chocolate ganache. So, stick with me for the instructions!

White Cake Ingredients

Cake flour
Baking powder
Salt
Unsalted, softened butter
Sugar
Vanilla extract
Whole milk
Eggs whites

Caramel Cake Ingredients

Sugar
Water
All-purpose flour
Baking powder
Salt
Unsalted, softened butter
Egg
Whole Milk

Chocolate Cake Ingredients

All-purpose flour
Unsweetened cocoa powder
Baking soda
Baking powder
Salt
Unsalted, softened butter
Light brown sugar
Sugar
Eggs
Vanilla extract
61% Semisweet chocolate, melted
72% Bittersweet chocolate, melted
Whole milk
Water

Caramel Buttercream Ingredients

Unsalted, softened butter
Confectioners sugar, sifted
Vanilla extract
Caramel syrup (from cake recipe)

Chocolate Ganache Ingredients

61% Semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
72% Bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
Heavy cream
Corn syrup

White Cake Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease cake pan. Mix cake flour, baking powder, and salt, then set aside. Combine butter and sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Mix milk and vanilla extract. Add flour mix and milk mix to the butter mix, alternating each time, starting and ending with the flour mix. Mix fully before adding the next addition. Whip egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold egg whites into the batter. Pour mixture into the greased baking dish and bake 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Caramel Cake Instructions

Start by making caramel syrup. Mix 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of water into a pan on the stove. Cook on medium heat until sugar melts and the mixture comes to boil. Let syrup boil until it turns dark golden, then remove from heat and add another 1/2 cup boiling water. Let syrup cool before using.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease baking dish. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt then set aside. Combine remaining sugar and butter, beat until light and fluffy. Slowly pour in about 3 tablespoons of caramel syrup, letting each incorporate fully before adding the next. Add in the egg and beat until combined. Add flour mix and milk mix to the butter mix, alternating each time, starting and ending with the flour mix. Pour batter into the baking dish. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Chocolate Cake Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the baking dish. Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and set aside. Combine sugars and butter and beat until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs and beat until combined. Add in the vanilla and beat until combined. Pour in both melted chocolates and beat until combined. Add flour mix and milk mix to the butter mix, alternating each time, starting and ending with the flour mix. Add in a 1/4 cup boiling water and beat until combined. Pour batter into the baking dish. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Caramel Buttercream Instructions

Start with the butter, beat until soft and creamy. Add 1/2 cup of confectioners sugar at a time, fully incorporating before adding the next half cup. Add in vanilla extract and caramel syrup, mix until fully combined.

Chocolate Ganache Instructions

Do this after assembling the cake.
Place finely chopped chocolates in a bowl. Combine corn syrup and heavy cream in a pan on the stove and bring to a boil. Then, pour over chocolates, let sit for a moment, then stir to combine into a glaze. Let cool slightly.

Assembly Instructions

Level each cake layer so they are all flat and even sized. Place chocolate layer on the bottom. Spread a layer of caramel buttercream on top. Add caramel cake on top of the buttercream, then spread another layer of caramel buttercream on top. Add the final layer of white cake. If enough caramel buttercream is left, you may frost the rest of the cake with it. Or continue with the chocolate ganache. Pour the ganache on top of the cake. Use a spatula to guide the chocolate, but don’t spread with it or it may ruin the shiny the finish. Let sit to set at room temperature before serving the cake.

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I went a step further and added some white, vanilla icing around the sides to add a bit of black/white element to the outside of the cake. The original recipe suggested white chocolate plaques, but that was a bit out of my skillset so I went with some easier icing.

The verdict on this cake was decided to be absolutely delicious by myself and my husband. My daughter even tried some and liked it too. I would suggest making this for more than two adults and a one-year-old though, it was hard to finish it in a timely fashion. Regardless, the cake was super good and fun to make.

Is this a recipe you would attempt? Let me know in the comments if you try to make it!

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

The Accidental Vampire by Lynsay Sands

Goodreads Summary:
FATE GAVE HER FANGS…
Ever since an accident turned her into a knockout vamp, Elvi Black’s been catching her z’s in a coffin, staying out of the sun, and giving up garlic. She knows there’s more to being undead than what she saw in Dracula, but she can’t very well ask her mortal friends about proper biting etiquette. But when her neighbors placed a personal ad for her in the local paper, she never imagined she’d meet Victor Argeneau, a vampire who could have his pick of any woman – dead or alive.
HE’LL SHOW HER HOW TO USE THEM…
Rich, powerful, and drop—dead gorgeous, Victor’s the perfect man for a novice neck—biter like Elvi. He’s willing to teach her everything he knows, but he’ll have to do it fast. Someone’s out to put a stake through her new vamp life, and only Victor can keep her safe – and satisfied – for all eternity.
The Accidental Vampire (Argeneau #7)Review:
The Accidental Vampire is now my favorite of the series. It’s so hard for me to decide which is my favorite because I have so much fun each time I read the next book in the series. But this one, man, this one had me laughing so hard that I actually woke my sleeping baby. I just couldn’t stop laughing.
We follow Victor who is related to a different character from a previous book which is something I didn’t realize until over halfway through the book but warmed my little heart when I did learn it. I really liked Victor. He wanted to give Elvi the benefit of the doubt, even though that wasn’t quite his job. Then he learns he can’t read her, and things take a turn for the romantic.
Elvi is the ‘town vampire.’ She was accidentally turned while on vacation in Mexico. The town gets behind her and supports her by donating blood for her. But the funny thing is…everything Elvi knows about being a vampire she’s learned from movies and mythology. It was the perfect set up for absolute hilarity.
Her best friend, Mabel, sets things up so six men (vampires) come to stay at their bed and breakfast, just setting up for more hilarity. It ends up being four suitors and a friend. They all know each other and it was just absolutely great.
I love the twist on the vampire mythology. It’s science-based and I just adore this aspect of the series. I also really loved the dynamic between all of the characters. They were from all different backgrounds and time periods and their personalities were all so different. I just think this one was done so well. With Elvi learning that everything she thought she knew was wrong, these men teaching her the truth was just absolute gold.
I loved this book. I love this series. I love everything about it.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.