Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Book Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Review: Caraval
Goodreads Synopsis: Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic.

My Review: Considering this was a debut novel, it was not at all bad, but there were definitely parts the author could have written better. For example, in the beginning the writing is not descriptive enough; while I was reading it felt like I was skimming the book simply because there weren't enough details to understand Scarlett and the world she was living in. Also, Scarlett's problems are solved very soon; for example, she dreams a certain person might be Legend, and instead of waiting and acting suspicious around them, she just confronts him right away. Scenes like so could have been written with more detail to add more depth to the characters and enhance the plot.
     I also wasn't a fan of Scarlett or Julian; both seemed very one-dimensional and hypocritical at times. Tella was more of an interesting character, but as she was kidnapped, I didn't see too much of her.
      The mystery was alright, but I don't see how other characters would have found the answers to clues like Scarlett did (since she found most clues pretty randomly and half of the time she just guessed that found a a clue even if she wasn't sure she had). Although, after reading the ending, I suppose the clues were designed for Scarlett anyway. Still, they were too random to be realistic (ex she asks a man to read her fortune and he gives her a clue, but what if she had never gone to see him?).
     I was also confused on how the magic worked; sometimes Julian explained that performers were behind everything, and then he'd say the island had its own magic. 

Wow, the story really was true to the fact that everything is a performance. I didn't really understand the point of what Tella did (I think she mentions that she never meant for their dad to find out, which doesn't make much sense because I thought she wanted Scarlett to leave their dad and never go back?), but perhaps I need to reread the ending. 

Overall, I give the story 3 stars. Though the magic and carnival were interesting, the story didn't blow me away.

Have you read Caraval or any fantasy-slash-mystery novels recently? What are your thoughts? Tell me below!

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Pie Book Tag

Hello, everyone! After last week's post about my baking disasters, I'm going to stick with just talking about my favorite desserts. And what's more fun than comparing desserts with books?

So today I'll be participating in the Pie Book Tag created by Awkwordly Emma, which I think is perfectly timed because I crave pie this time of year + there's time to read during the holidays. Which of these books have you read or on your TBR?

1. Caramel apple - A book that reminds you of fall.
(As a side note, I've never tried caramel apple pie before! If it's anything like apple pie, though, it's my mission to try it! :D).
So many books applicable here (in fact, I'll be posting about these more next week for Top Ten Tuesday), but for now, I'll go with...

The story has adventure in the Wild West + sunsets = perfect fall read.
2. Pumpkin - A book with a great family.
There are so many YA books that don't involve family/where the protagonist leaves the family/where an important member passes away and everyone falls apart; I scrolled through about half of my Goodreads lists before finding a book with to fit this category! Ultimately, Wonder fits very well, because all of Auggie's family members are fiercely supportive and proud of everything he does, and there's so much positivity between them.

3. French silk - A book that's easy to read or rich with descriptions.
The Wrath and the Dawn  was very detailed, and I still remember one of the descriptions of the meals because it was just that well written.

4. Key Lime - A summery sweet book.
Anything by Morgan Matson probably works; Since You've Been Gone is especially nice.
My Review
5. Blueberry Peach - A book with the perfect pairing.
I feel like blueberry peach is really light and fluffy, but the pair I was thinking of, Audrey Rose and Thomas Cresswell, is more like a dark chocolate cherry pie - bittersweet (especially after EFH) and intense.
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6. Oreo - A book that reminds you of your childhood.
I'm going with the entire The Winnie Years series <3. This was my absolute favorite because Lauren Myracle knows how to write about childhood worries/ups-and-downs perfectly.

I remember in one of the later books, for a moment the author describes Winnie using her tongue to get ritz cracker pieces off some teeth on the inside of her mouth - kind of gross, but these honest and raw moments make the series relatable.
7. Lemon Chess - A book with a very Southern setting.
This book is even about food :).

8. Dark Chocolate Orange - A book with a bitersweet ending.
I definitely want to mention Escaping from Houdini, but that would be cheating since I used SJTR above...so I think I'll go with Walk Two Moons. I remember crying after I read this years ago because it was such an emotional read and written so well! I can't say much else without spoiling it, but just know the ending is very atypical.

What flavors of pie are you craving? Any flavors of pie I missed? How many of the above books have you read or plan to read this holiday season? Tell me below!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

My Baking Disasters

I originally planned to post some aesthetic photos of me baking and whipping up yummy treats, but I realized that 1) I have 0 skill and 2) I have 0 ingredients. So instead, this holiday season y'all will be getting horror stories about my baking :). Enjoy!

Horror Story 1:
As mentioned above, I planned to share a nice dessert recipe with y'all for today's post. Then I realized I only had a couple of ingredients, and no flour, so I had to use our Betty Crocker chocolate chip cookie mix. Still, I was persistent and wanted to find something creative to do.

Unfortunately, I ended up being too creative. I baked the cookie in one giant cake pan, and decided to put some cream cheese frosting, a raspberry, and a mint leaf on top. Except we didn't have any cream cheese frosting, and honestly, cream cheese frosting looks pretty similar to cream cheese. So (you guessed it), I just put some cream cheese on the cookie cake. We also didn't have mint (but we did have about 10 other herbs), so I substituted basil for it.

The end result...looks good but tastes horrible!
I have to admit, this was not all a waste! I did learn some interesting mathematical relationships, namely:

cream cheese ≠ cream cheese frosting
basil ≠ mint
my mouth = disgusted

Horror Story 2:
As mentioned above, we rarely have baking ingredients at home, so I'm usually improvising. This was also really useful when I decided to make mug cakes, because you only need a couple of teaspoons of flour to make a delicious dessert. Or so I thought.

The first mug cake turned out great! In fact, I posted about it (and the recipe) here years ago. But the rest were a disaster. My substitutions (apple sauce for egg, cocoa powder for Nesquik, and other more crazy ones) just didn't work. Also I always overmicrowaved them, but nothing even ended up cooked! In fact, in history class we learned about the crusades, and how the first one was a success and the next ones failed...and it was pretty much like that with my mug cakes. 

What are your baking plans for the holiday season? Are you a skilled baker or a disaster in the kitchen? Let me know in the comments below!

*Please follow as well! Also, because I have received questions about this, the way to do so is to click a blue button in the sidebar on the PC version (you can also click "View Web Version" at the bottom of the mobile version to be directed to the PC version) 😉.*

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Capturing the Devil + Talk Shop Live Review

Goodreads Synopsis: In the shocking finale to the bestselling series that began with Stalking Jack the Ripper, Audrey Rose and Thomas are on the hunt for the depraved, elusive killer known as the White City Devil. A deadly game of cat-and-mouse has them fighting to stay one step ahead of the brilliant serial killer---or see their fateful romance cut short by unspeakable tragedy.
Audrey Rose Wadsworth and Thomas Cresswell have landed in America, a bold, brash land unlike the genteel streets of London they knew. But like London, the city of Chicago hides its dark secrets well. When the two attend the spectacular World's Fair, they find the once-in-a-lifetime event tainted with reports of missing people and unsolved murders.

Determined to help, Audrey Rose and Thomas begin their investigations, only to find themselves facing a serial killer unlike any they've heard of before. Identifying him is one thing, but capturing him---and getting dangerously lost in the infamous Murder Hotel he constructed as a terrifying torture device---is another.

Will Audrey Rose and Thomas see their last mystery to the end---together and in love---or will their fortunes finally run out when their most depraved adversary makes one final, devastating kill?

Before I review this book, I wanted to give a review on the company I acquired it from. I ordered this book from Talk Shop Live after viewing Kerri Maniscalco's live signing (super fun by the way!). Because I enjoyed the event so much, I decided to preorder the book right then and there, and placed my order with a note to personalize the copy. Unfortunately, the book did not come personalized (though it did come with the author's autograph), and it arrived late on September 26th, when the release date was September 10th (even the preorder campaign goodies came about a week or two earlier!). 

TLDR: TSL's service was disappointing, and next time, I'll just purchase the book on Amazon. 

But I have to say, the preorder goodies (not linked to Talk Shop Live, these were provided by the publisher) were really nice. The artwork was decently sized and the dust jacket was stunning! 10/10 for those.

Now for the actual review! Capturing the Devil was well-written, with plenty of details and descriptions. This is probably the best part of Kerri Maniscalco's writing; her attention to detail is on point and she immerses the reader into the story. This is especially important in historical fiction, so I'm glad she went above and beyond!

Audrey Rose continues to be a rocking protagonist, and it's awesome to see her and embracing her disability and fulfilling her dreams. Thomas is also funny as usual, but I did get tired of him telling Audrey that she still had a choice to marry someone else. I understand that this was probably emphasized to show how liberal Thomas was in that time period, but this constant self-doubt doesn't match the rest of his character, and quite frankly, gets annoying, since we already know Audrey Rose isn't going to walk away. 

The plot twist was infuriating (in a good way :)). I didn't see how they were going to out of the mess with Whitehall, but luckily Audrey Rose's grandmother has connections! I will say this wrapped up very quickly, however. Thomas and Audrey struggled for 95% of the book and on the last few pages the solution was magically presented. (For those of you who read the book, I think it'd be better if the author had written the scene with the queen instead of just Thomas describing it.)

***Minor spoilers below***
The mystery was not very well done; the murderer was obvious because there weren't many new male characters present. I also didn't really like how Nathaniel was revealed to be partially "innocent"; I feel like this just left Audrey confused and didn't drive the plot that much. 

I also can't believe Audrey was about to lure the murderer...that's extremely dangerous and very unlike her.

There was also one part where "Henry" is called "Harry" by his wife by accident. I'm curious to why that line was written, so if anyone knows why, let me know in the comments/on IG!

***end spoilers***

The ending of the novel was very satisfying, and I'm glad there were so many scenes after the end of the mystery. Overall, CTD was a solid conclusion to the series, and I give it 4/5 stars.

What do you guys think? Was Capturing the Devil a good conclusion? Were you able to solve the mystery? Let me know below!

Also, follow me on Instagram @not_a_prima_donna_girl !

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Life Updates!

Hello, everyone! I thought I'd use this post as a catch-up on what's been going on in the bookish/writing/life worlds.


  • My preordered copy of Capturing the Devil finally came...but 27 days late. Sigh. It was really sad when the fanart and extra book cover came earlier than the book itself. And even worse, it wasn't personalized :( ! I'm planning on posting a review of Capturing the Devil + TalkShopLive, so stay tuned for that.
    • CTD was pretty good, although my friend said there was going to be a plot twist but I already read some scenes online (can you blame me? 27 days late!) with the twist, so I was waiting the whole time for something else to happen but nothing did 😂.
    • Also the mystery was pretty obvious. I just realized that the villain in murder mystery novels has to be an actual character, and we've already known most of these characters from previous books, so that left only a couple of people.
  • NaNoWriMo started! I don't think I'll be participating this year, but we'll see (especially since Thanksgiving break is in a couple of weeks). Also, I had this crazy dream last night that I really want to write about :).
  • We checked out a lot of books from the library, but didn't return any of them yet. I think it's been almost a month. The problem is, our library has a no-fine policy, so we'll probably never go back 😢. We might make a tripe over Thanksgiving break (maybe I'll just dump all my responsibilities to that week and just watch Netflix when the time actually comes...).
  • Physics is really, really hard.
  • I watched Happy Death Day 2 U on Halloween with some of my friends. It's an annual tradition to celebrate at my friend's house, whose mom, by the way, cooks really yummy food :).
  • I dressed up as Amazon Prime on Halloween (see here). Last year I was a cation (cat ears with a plus sign drawn on my shirt), so I was glad I was able to continue the tradition of punny costumes.
Planned posts:
  • Capturing the Devil review + TalkShopLive review
  • Something Physics-related 😏.
Other notes:
  • In case you haven't heard, I got a bookstagram/blogstagram :). Follow me @not_a_prima_donna_girl
What have you guys been up to this past month? What did you guys do on Halloween? Have you read Capturing the Devil? Let me know below!

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Let's Talk About...American Panda!

Credit: Pixabay
Do you want to participate in this week's Let's Talk About... topic? Basically, I'll post questions about a book/series and my answers to them (so readers get a hint of what to expect when reading), then I'll invite you to answer them in the comments below or leave a link below to your own blog. Just please link back to this post when you do, and feel free to change up the questions :)

This time, I'm featuring American Panda by Gloria Chao.
This adorable GIF can be found on the author's website under "Press Kit".
Synopsis: At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents' master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.

With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can't bring herself to tell them the truth--that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.

But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

The questions:
1. Mei is an avid dancer. Do you have any dance experience?
I did Bollywood when I was really little for a year or two, but I didn't really enjoy it that much. I suspect it has to do with the fact that it was at 9:00 on Saturday mornings...

2. Do you own any fan-related memorabilia?
Sadly, no. But I do own the book!

3. Would you try stinky tofu?
I'm going to go with...no #sorrynotsorry. I don't even like tofu tbh.

4. Favorite part, no spoilers please!
There's a sweet scene where Mei and her mother eat strawberry liquid nitrogen ice cream and walk around campus together. It was fun to get to eat ice cream and tour MIT from the comfort of my own home :).

That's a wrap for American Panda. Interested? Check it out on Goodreads!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Book Review: Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Cover Courtesy of Goodreads

Book Review: Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Goodreads Synopsis: It was Sloane who yanked Emily out of her shell and made life 100% interesting. But right before what should have been the most epic summer, Sloane just…disappears. All she leaves behind is a to-do list.

On it, thirteen Sloane-inspired tasks that Emily would normally never try. But what if they could bring her best friend back? Apple picking at night? Okay, easy enough. Dance until dawn? Sure. Why not? Kiss a stranger? Um... 

Emily now has this unexpected summer, and the help of Frank Porter (
totally unexpected), to check things off Sloane's list. Who knows what she’ll find?
Go skinny-dipping? Wait...what?

My Review: Yes, I finally got to read a contemporary by Morgan Matson and see what the hype was about! And I think the book is a solid contemporary read, and pretty much lived up to my expectations.
All the characters were really great people. They were written realistically, and were supportive, loyal, and friendly. Emily was very relatable and down-to-earth. Frank was also a really fun and kind character. Character development was also not lacking; in fact, I think every main character had their own arc. Emily's family is also pretty wacky (in a good way!), and it was nice to see a strong family dynamic, as this is pretty uncommon in YA.
I liked the mystery of the book, plot-wise, and how all of the items on the list were pretty important for Emily's personal growth. It was fun to see how Emily completed all the tasks, but I will say that she got through a lot of the tougher tasks pretty quickly. 
The setting was also really fun because I kept getting summer vibes; this is probably the first book I'd recommend if you want to feel summery.
My only complaints would be that Emily probably didn't even need to complete the list to find Sloane, and that the ending was a bit too perfect (although I really wanted a nice ending, so I guess I shouldn't complain!). The story also seemed to lack a greater significance, which sometimes winds up happening in contemporary novels, but maybe this time it was because of the perfect ending? 
Overall, Since You've Been Gone was a great light, summery contemporary read. I rate it 4 stars, and am excited to read more of Matson's work!
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