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.

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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.

Amanda’s Top Ten Tuesday – Autumn Vibes

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 – Books that give off Autumn Vibes. (Colors on the cover, atmosphere, etc.)

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House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig
This one is perfect for fall or winter. It’s full of spooky atmosphere. Suspense and mystery, perfect for the fall season.

Broken Things by Lauren Oliver
Another spooky mystery/thriller. This one filled with suspense and questions totally meant to be read in the fall.

Let’s Call It a Doomsday by Katie Henry
This takes place from fall going into winter. The cover has all the best fall colors, yellows, and reds.

We Speak in Storms by Natalie Lund
I don’t know that this actually takes place in the fall, maybe at the start of Autumn. But it has a perfect atmosphere, ghosts, and mystery and kids finding themselves.

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand
A touch of yellow on the cover, but it’s the inside that makes it the perfect fall story.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
The pop of orange on the cover is the perfect shade for fall and inside there’s a bit of a mystery too.

The Rogue Hunter by Lynsay Sands
The cover has all the right colors, reds and yellow, plus the fall is the perfect time to read some vampire romance.

Fallout by Ellen Hopkins
This cover is the perfect color of the leaves as they’re right about to fall off the trees.

Lean, Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanovich
Hilarious mystery, plus all the right colors on the cover.

The Sorcerer Heir by Cinda Williams Chima
Beautiful fall colors, plus an incredible fantasy story.

What books give you all the autumn vibes? Leave a comment and let me know!

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

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Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead (Series Review)

GoodReads Summary:
Lissa Dragomir is a Moroi princess: a mortal vampire with a rare gift for harnessing the earth’s magic. She must be protected at all times from Strigoi; the fiercest vampires – the ones who never die. The powerful blend of human and vampire blood that flows through Rose Hathaway, Lissa’s best friend, makes her a dhampir. Rose is dedicated to a dangerous life of protecting Lissa from the Strigoi, who are hell-bent on making Lissa one of them.
After two years of freedom, Rose and Lissa are caught and dragged back to St. Vladimir’s Academy, a school for vampire royalty and their guardians-to-be, hidden in the deep forests of Montana. But inside the iron gates, life is even more fraught with danger . . . and the Strigoi are always close by.
Rose and Lissa must navigate their dangerous world, confront the temptations of forbidden love, and never once let their guard down, lest the evil undead make Lissa one of them forever . . .
Vampire Academy (Vampire Academy, #1)Review:
I loved Vampire Academy just as much as I did the first time I read it. I love everything about it. I love the vampire lore, the characters, literally everything. I know this isn’t a perfect book. But it’s nostalgic and it’s perfect.
I love Rose. She’s kickass, loyal as hell, and doesn’t take anyone’s shit. I love how much she loves Lissa. I also really enjoyed the fact that she learned she was wrong, accepted it, and tried to make amends for it. Rose is just one of my favorite fierce females.
Lissa was more complex. She’s got some serious issues, and Rose is the only reason she gets through them. I don’t know why I’d completely forgotten about the self-harming aspect of this story, but it’s there and it really showed the severity of Lissa’s issues.
Then there’s my favorite, Dimitri. My favorite book boyfriend. I love him. He’s strong and powerful, plus really hot. I love that he looked out for and mentors Rose.
Overall, this is still one of my favorite books. I’m interested to see how well the rest of the series holds up. I loved this first book, and I’m excited to continue on with the next.

But wait! There’s more! — So, I managed to finish the rest of the series on audiobook while I was on vacation and didn’t really have time to give a review for each book. So, I’m going to do a series review for the rest of the book. There are potential spoilers for all the books after the first one. So, if you’ve only read the first and don’t want to be spoiled, STOP HERE.

I love everything about this series. The second and third books, Frostbite and Shadowkiss, are my favorite and I honestly believe they could have ended Rose and Lissa’s story right there. Rose had so much incredible character development. She really grew into herself. But then book four comes around and her life goes to shit and she regresses. I understand that parts of that were Rose taking spirit’s effect from Lissa, but it just made me mad. I also absolutely HATED the fact that they made Dimitri a Strigoi. I understand the reasoning behind everything in books four, five, and six. But I just don’t know that it was needed. I think Richelle Mead could have made VA a trilogy and then had another trilogy with other characters. That’s complicated and probably over convoluted though. If that was the case, I’d probably be complaining that I hadn’t gotten enough of Rose and Lissa and the gang.
The gang was definitely my favorite part of this series. I loved Mason and he deserved better. I loved Eddie (and I’m still loving him in Bloodlines). I even adored Christian. I hated it when he and Lissa weren’t together. I adored Adrian as well. I love the bond they all form and how they become their own little family.
I really really didn’t like Rose and Adrian together. I felt like this was added just to have a love triangle. It wasn’t fair to Adrian for Rose to do him dirty the way she did. I really feel for the guy because everyone in the world (not really, like at all) knew that Rose and Dimitri were endgame. I just feel bad for him.
Overall, this is still an all-time favorite series of mine and I’m really glad it’s held up so well over the years.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Twice in a Blue Moon by Christina Lauren

GoodReads Summary:
Sam Brandis was Tate Jones’s first: Her first love. Her first everything. Including her first heartbreak.
During a whirlwind two-week vacation abroad, Sam and Tate fell for each other in only the way that first loves do: sharing all of their hopes, dreams, and deepest secrets along the way. Sam was the first, and only, person that Tate—the long-lost daughter of one of the world’s biggest film stars—ever revealed her identity to. So when it became clear her trust was misplaced, her world shattered for good.
Fourteen years later, Tate, now an up-and-coming actress, only thinks about her first love every once in a blue moon. When she steps onto the set of her first big break, he’s the last person she expects to see. Yet here Sam is, the same charming, confident man she knew, but even more alluring than she remembered. Forced to confront the man who betrayed her, Tate must ask herself if it’s possible to do the wrong thing for the right reason… and whether “once in a lifetime” can come around twice.
Twice in a Blue MoonReview:
Twice in a Blue Moon is a novel that I was generously provided via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I always expect that I’m going to like Christina Lauren’s books more than I do. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy this one, because did. I just didn’t love it.
I really enjoyed the first half of Tate’s story when she was young. I felt like this was a good way for the reader to get to know her. I liked that we saw her younger and then flashing forward to her present. I think we got to know less about Tate in the second half, aside from her issues with her father.
I also really liked Sam. But he felt kind of generic. I feel this way about most of the characters. They have like one or two personal details, unless they’re Tate or her family.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was quick and fun to read, but didn’t blow me away.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogtober Day Twenty-Seven: Books That Haunt

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Hiii, lovelies! For one of the final days in Blogtober, I want to talk about some books that are haunting me. These books are not necessarily ghostly but the messages or characters or something in them has really resonated with me. And so, they haunt me. They have stuck with me, lodged in my brain, for all of time.

Dry by Neil & Jarrod Shusterman
Date Read: 2018
An all too real portrayal of the potential near future. I want to read it again.

Air Awakens by Elise Kova
Date Read: 2018
This series did some serious damage to my little hormonal pregnant heart. I can’t get the story or the characters out of my head.

A Shade of Vampire by Bella Forrest
Date Read: 2017
This series is never-ending and gets weirder and more creative with every installment. I’ve taken a break from the newest books recently, but I still think about them all the time.

Looking for Alaska by John Green
Date Read: 2010
My favorite book of all time. This story will be with me forever. It saved my life at a time when I didn’t really see the point. I’m always grateful for this story.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Date Read: 2014
This one haunts me like a ghost. It whispers, “Reread meeee.” and “Finish meee” because I never finished the series and it’s been so long I would need to reread all the ones I’ve read already.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Date Read: 2013
My first dip into YA dystopian and I was (and still am) obsessed.

Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
Date Read: 2019
A haunting story that I cried through probably 60% of the pages. This is a must-read.

People Kill People by Ellen Hopkins
Date Read: 2018
An all too real conversation about guns.

Beartown by Fredrik Backman
Date Read: 2019
Another book that I mostly just sobbed through.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
Date Read: 2018
Aliens, a conversation on social media and internet fame, plus that ending!

These are just a few books that really have stuck with me after reading. This list of books is a lot for me because I have a terrible memory. So, when a book really sticks in my mind, you know it’s a good one (in my opinion). Let me know if you’ve read any of these and what books would make your ‘haunting books’ list in the comments!

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

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Blogtober Day Twenty-Five: Bookish Monsters

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Hi, lovelies! Today I want to talk about the things that go bump in between pages. Bookish monsters are all too fitting for Blogtober. I have a few off the top of my head, but the rest will come through scouring my shelves. Let’s see what I can come up with.

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
The monsters that are in this book are horrifying. They’re sentient and vicious. I certainly wouldn’t want to meet any of them on a dark street.

A Curse so Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer
The beast in this story is way more beastly than any other I’ve read before. He’s actually pretty scary.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Name pretty much any character and they qualify for this list.

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
Same as above. Pretty much any and all of the freaky creatures in Area X belong on this list. They’re all horrifying.

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
This series has so many different mythological monsters, but it all starts with the Minotaur. Some are more frightening than others, but I certainly wouldn’t want to meet any of them.

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
The Emim (or Buzzers) were hard to picture but no less terrifying because of that. As much as I enjoyed this world, I don’t want to visit is solely because of these creatures.

Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence
This second book is full of monsters. Specifically, Keot and Holothour. They are both creatures created from ‘The Missing’ which I’m hoping to learn more about in his next series. Keot feeds on violence, but he provides a bit of humor. Holothour, on the other hand, is horrifically terrifying.

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
I’m using the first book, but I’m really talking about the whole series. The demons are frightening and I’d like to stay as far away from them as possible.

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi
Ek and Do, the hell hounds. No thanks. Hell hounds of any culture sound terrifying.

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo
Though the dark, big bad, first appears in another book I’m going with this one because it’s in it the most. Imagine having your body taken over to murder people? Horrifying.

To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo
The sirens are cool as shit in this story, but the mermaids are quite alarming. Vicious and cruel, a creature I never want to meet.

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco
The daeva in this series are supposed to be scary. But the way that Tea handles them makes me equally awed and afraid of them.

These are just some of the monsters that stand out in my mind. I’m sure I forgot some. Who are your favorite monsters? Comment and let me know!

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

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