Rambling Recommendations: Brightly Burning

Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne was the 5th book I finished this year (because OF COURSE I’m counting) and it was such a delight.

It takes my favorite classic: Jane Eyre, teases out all the modern-day young-adult themes I know and love, and plops the storyline on a futuristic space ship orbiting Earth.

Stella, our main character, is a delightful young woman who is both bold and understands her “place” in terms of social structure. I could relate whole-heartedly to her, preferring to keep to her quarters and read or draw rather than socialize with her peers, getting brazen only under the influence of a few strong drinks, or once she’s comfortable. Hugo, the love interest (yes, that’s the role I’m designating for him–I suppose he could be a quasi-antagonist much like the Mr. Rochester he’s based upon), is mysterious and broody, maybe more handsome than the original but I let that slide. Personally, I liked the mysterious Mr. Rochester being so much older (maybe it’s my thing for Bruce Willis making age gaps feel so irrelevant), and so was a touch disappointed Hugo was around Stella’s age–but then I figured it’s way less ok for a 17-year-old to start a love affair with her older employer in this day and age than it might have been in Charlotte Brontë’s time.

I loved that this story had that comforting familiarity of a well-loved story, yet enough new twists/plot points to keep things fresh. More than once I found myself thinking “well Jane Eyre went this direction, but there’s no way for that to happen here” or “how will she handle X if Y is so different in this version?” so nothing felt stale.

If you like SciFi YA (that’s science fiction young adult, mom), hundo p–this book is for you. If you’re a fan of Jane Eyre, I’d also highly recommend this novel.

Rambling Recommendations: The Adventure Zone–Here There Be Gerblins

First and foremost: I wanted to change the name of these posts because let’s be honest, I don’t write very good, balanced “reviews.” I’m only telling you about books I recommend, so let’s call a spade a spade, shall we? It does make for an obnoxiously long title, which I’m beginning to think will be a theme this year. 2019: Because Sometimes You Don’t Need to Make the Long Story Short.

Yup, that feels right.

Anyhoo… on to the recommendation!

Okay, second confession: this is more a recommendation of a podcast than the actual book. Partially because I’ve always felt “meh” about graphic novels and “The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins” did not really shove me headfirst into a love of them. Don’t get me wrong, the book was thoroughly enjoyable. I just love the podcast adventures of Magnus, Merle, and Taako so much more.

If you’re looking for a relatively quick, fun, humorous read, definitely check out this book! IF you’re interested in hearing more about this podcast, you’re in luck, because as we’ve established, this year is all about rambling on and on…

The Adventure Zone podcast began as three brothers (Justin, Travis, and Griffin) introduced their father to the wonderful world of Dungeons and Dragons. Considering the nerd-level of my beloved Wildcards, I’m a little shocked this was *my* introduction to D&D as well. Side note about that link: I’m not trying to tell you how to live your life, but you’re gonna want to scroll to the bottom of the page and click “last” to start this bad boy from the very beginning. Partially because that’s how stories work–not starting in the middle or skipping to the end like some monster (Mom)–and partially because they’ve long since moved on to other role-playing games, so you won’t get a taste of that good, good D&D magic if you start with Amnesty. Go all the way back to the very beginning, “Here There Be Gerblins,” and you’ll meet Magnus Burnsides (the folksy human fighter), Merle Highchurch (the ornery dwarf cleric) and Taako from TV (the sassy elf wizard–and quite possibly one of the best characters ever created).  These three characters embark on a series of adventures, following an engrossing storyline that veered almost immediately from the D&D playbooks and was written by Dungeon Master Griffin McElroy, that delighted and enthralled. I seriously wept at some parts, laughed hysterically at most of their antics, and fell completely in love with these characters.

One little “Mom” note: there is a good amount of swearing, some dirty jokes, and a lot of creature-slaying.

Rambling Review: A Study in Charlotte

If you love Sherlock Holmes, you will love this book. A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro is the first in an amazing, 4-book series. I am 100% obsessed.

This story begins when Jamie Watson, the however-many-greats-grandson of Dr. John Watson, ends up at a boarding school with Charlotte Holmes (the however-many-greats-granddaughter of Sherlock Holmes, keep up). The way Cavallaro has entwined the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (famed biographer in this world) into the plot and explained the generations of Holmeses and Watsons since is captivating. Jamie is such a lovable character, and (his) Holmes is intoxicating in her mysteriousness as well as her prickly vulnerability.

There are some more “adult” themes that (if memory serves) are only slightly touched on in the original Sherlock Holmes series (i.e. drug abuse), so just a brief note of caution, a “trigger warning,” if you will: this story does deal with such things as the trauma after a sexual assault and teen drug use (it also has some swearing, Mom). On the whole, I think the subject matter is very well-managed and real without being coarse or insensitive.

If you have an Amazon Prime account, right now A Study in Charlotte is free on Prime Reading, so you can dip your toes into this series without the commitment of purchasing the book — but I am confident you will end up devouring it and immediately stocking your library shelf with the next two books (book 4 comes out in March 2019). This is honestly such a well-written and enjoyable series — I would go so far as to say it is one of my favorites.

Some Pretty Awesome Lipstick

Everyone’s always asking me about my lipstick.

Ok, that’s not true at all, but I’m going to tell you about it anyway because people SHOULD be asking me about it. If you like matte lips, listen up!

On a whim, I gave this Maybelline SuperStay Matte Ink Lip Color a try (currently buy one get one 1/2 off on Ulta!) and GUYS! It’s pretty freaking awesome.

Maybe I should have said up front, but this is not a sponsored ad. I did not get payment or free products or anything of the kind to write this post (although, hey, Maybelline, I will gladly try any products you throw my way. Just sayin’). That is how much I love this product.

I purchased the shades Dreamer and Loyalist. Loyalist is a little *too* nude for my taste, but it looks great under an otherwise too-pink shade of lipstick I have.

Here are a few photos of me in my SuperStay lip color.

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Please disregard the SuperShine on my nose

 

(This is after I brushed my teeth!):

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(and this is me in real time — as of typing this — after a lunch of tacos and pizza [it was a great lunch day, okay]):

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It literally lasts all day. Full disclosure, I usually need to scrub it off with a muslin cloth and some make up remover after my normal makeup-removing-routine. But personally, I’d take that to having half-filled-in lips after my morning cup of tea.

 

Rambling Review: Love, Lies and Spies

From the opening page, Love, Lies and Spies by Cindy Anstey is such a delight. The prose is fast-paced, the banter witty, the characters immediately enjoyable. I haven’t figured out why, but I’ve already mentioned how much I love chapter titles that tell me what will happen in a clever way that follows “In which…”

This book is chock full of just such chapters.

As for plot, I’d say it’s somewhere along the lines of Pride and Prejudice meets any spy thriller ever. Juliana is a scientist on her way to London for the Season when she is saved from a mishap by a mysterious, handsome gentleman. Neither of them is interested in marriage, but both have their reasons for attending the various outings and events of the Season.

Despite the fact that there are enemy spies and sinister dealings, the book remains lighthearted. I devoured it in about two days. The story is engaging enough to keep the reader turning page after page to see what happens next, yet easy to set aside when life demands it. Still, it’s easy to dive right back in the next chance you get.

This is the perfect vacation read. Whether you’ve got a late-season beach trip, family reunions, or maybe a honeymoon (*eyebrow raise/wink-wink* Erin), I’d highly recommend such a delightful, easy read!

The Best St. Louis Burger – Guest Post

My husband is something of a burger fanatic. He has given me so many unsolicited burger reviews since moving to St. Louis, I convinced him to sit down, order his thoughts, and let me share them with the world (or at least, this blog). So sorry there are no photos of the winning burger (devoured too quickly) or the Chase Club burger…you will just have to Yelp them I suppose!

I’m calling it: gotta give Mac his props, but my favorite St. Louis burger is Brasserie’s. It’s so good, I’m happy just to eat the meat. But the accoutrements are great, too.
~Mr. Burger-Lover

Which burgers are in consideration?
Mac’s Local Eats (Double Pimento Burger)
Brasserie
Dressel’s
Chase Club (Chase Club Burger)
Hi-Pointe (Single with White Cheddar Cheese)

Dressel’s burger

Tell me about Dressel’s; I thought that was the best burger you’d had in at least five years?
Dressel’s burger is very unique. It has an oniony-spice and almost meatloaf consistency — but in a good way. It’s a burger I could have three days a week, because I forget how good it is. It’s light and not greasy, but on the smaller side. The patty itself is pretty thick, so it’s typically very juicy.

(My) Mac’s burger

What about Mac’s; you’ve been going on and on about that one?
That’s my number one quick bite burger. It’s amazing times two. Because it’s a smash burger, it has crisp burnt edges, and you can taste the quality of the meat. You taste the extra time and care that you don’t get at Hi-Pointe (Careful, buddy; I will fight you!). There’s constant turnover there, so they’re already cooking the burgers!. At Mac’s that burger was designed for you from start to finish.

(My) Hi-Pointe’s burger

BUT Hi-Pointe is still the bomb dot com. Go on…
Hi-Pointe has a mean veggie burger. You can see the veggies in it and it comes on that delicious, buttery bun. The regular burger is an extra juicy smash burger, which most people would enjoy but it weirds me out. But most people like that so you don’t need to include that.

TOO LATE! What happened to the Chase Club Burger?
The bacon jam and boursin accoutrement are so good, but I’m over it at this point. I loved the Chase, but now that they’ve raised the price, Brasserie all day erryday

So, Brasserie is the winner?
Brasserie’s key to success is the burger is so thin. It’s almost a French take on Diner food. It’s a super buttery burger, juicy, flavorful, with amazing, melty American cheese. The meat is such good quality, I could enjoy it without everything that comes with it — I don’t even need ketchup.

~

So there you have it: according to my loving husband (his name choice), Brasserie has the best burger in St. Louis. Personally, I freaking love Hi-Pointe (but Mac’s is a really close second place for me).

Do you have a favorite burger? What makes (or breaks) it for you?

Rambling Review: The Selection Series

I know I said An Ember in the Ashes is my all-time favorite YA book. I stand by that. BUT. The Selection Series by Kierra Cass is one of my all-time favorite of the YA series (okay, so I have a lot of favorites…there’s a reason my husband promised in his wedding vows to move all my books wherever we go).

The Heir, which is the fourth book in the series, is what I read almost cover to cover the morning of my wedding day. As much as I loved America, I adore Eadlyn. And like a boy-crazy teenager, I really liked how different all the boys were.

The Selection through The One is basically The Bachelor meets Cinderella. Girls are selected from around the kingdom to compete for the affection of the crown prince. They represent different caste levels and each bring something appealing to the table, be it alliance potential, charisma for the paparazzi, or a desire to make life better for the lower castes. The camaraderie (and sometimes, the fighting) between the girls is beautifully written and wholly believable. It’s a trilogy about friendship as much as it is about love and politics.

The Heir and The Crown follow the next generation: a princess determined to prove she is the strongest person in the kingdom. She don’t need no man, and she tells her parents constantly. But the kingdom is still showing signs of unrest, and the king and queen hope a return to the traditional Selection will boost morale. Eadlyn is determined to torment the boys into leaving of their own volition, but as time passes, she grows to enjoy their company. Love blossoms in the least likely of places, and she has to decide if accepting a husband — even one she truly loves — will hold her back from being the queen she’s always dreamt of.

The writing is fast-paced and engaging, and the characters come to life with each page. I shared their heartbreaks and rejoiced over their triumphs, and actually believed the possibility of a less-than-happy ending. I’ve also read through this series at least twice. It’s a keeper on my shelves for sure!

Lou Brew Reviews: Heavy Riff and 4 Hands

Since these two are tied for 2nd place in my book, I decided to do a post about both of them together.


We just sort of stumbled upon Heavy Riff the other day, after the most delicious burgers at Hi-Pointe Drive-In. Their Squeeze Box Lemon Wheat is pretty good, and I was surprised how much I liked the Eat a Peach IPA and their American Pale Ale Left Coast Envy, since I’m not a huge fan of hops (I know, how reliable can my craft brews reviews be if I don’t like IPAs?).

The space is a good size, with a few booths, some pub tables as well as actual dining tables. They have a shelf full of board games — so lingering over drinks is encouraged.


The theme of the name carries throughout, from guitar draft handles to posters of rock legends and concerts along the walls.

~

Four Hands is a bit more “commercial” than most of the other breweries, which my husband didn’t like as much. They have a nice lounge area with couches and low tables, as well as the main bar area with the long tables and plenty of seats at the bar. Then there’s an upstairs, with it’s own bar, booths and tables, and old-school arcade games like skee-ball.

We tried a handful of samples, and my husband really liked the (seasonal) Snake Oil Red IPA, and my favorite was the (also seasonal) Tangerine Slam/City Museum (for some reason, it had different names depending on the drinks menu you looked at). The Single Speed is year-round and pretty good, blonde ale.

We met up with a few friends here before the Army-Navy game, so it was a fairly brief visit. I’d love to go back now that the seasonal beers have changed over (and maybe this time snap a few pics!).

Lou Brew Reviews: Urban Chestnut

As I posted recently, we’ve visited quite a few of the local breweries, and Urban Chestnut takes the number one spot in my personal favorites list.


Urban Chestnut (in the Grove — haven’t been to the Midtown location…yet) wins because the Schnickelfritz is one of my favorite beers, and I like the beer hall atmosphere of the brewery. There are long, family-style tables (we got to share ours with a wedding party once), a decent-sized outdoor patio for nicer weather, and a great space for private parties, too.

The bartenders are knowledgeable and helpful if you aren’t sure what to try. They’ll let you taste a few before finding your new favorite. They’ll also tell you all about their sister brewery in Germany (which is why their beers all have German names).


While we haven’t tried food at every brewery, so this isn’t exactly a fair comparison, I do like the pretzel offered at Urban Chestnut. It’s browned nicely on the outside, warm and soft inside — even if the accoutrements are a little unexpected (still not sure what the orange glob is).

I will say, we went here a little too often over the span of a few weeks, so I had to take a break and explore what other brew options are out there. Now that some time has passed, and I’ve visited plenty of other breweries, I can say with some confidence this place holds the number one spot for me.

Rambling Review: The Chemical Garden Trilogy

Because of my current lack of work, I’ve had a lot more time to read. I’ve devoted a lot of this time to the Outlander series per a good friend’s insistence, but now that I’ve made it through to the fourth book, I’ve taken a break to return to the world of young adult, which I love so much.

Since the move, I’ve been staring at our beautiful bookshelf full of my beloved YA series.

And so, I thought, why search for a new book or series to get involved in, when I have so many I know are great just waiting to be re-experienced?

I know a lot of people might not re-read books. I am not one of those people. Granted, I like to let enough time pass by that I forget the minute details and get to rediscover the little things that make a story great.

This past week, I read the Chemical Garden trilogy by Lauren DeStefano. The first in the series is available on Kindle for $4.99, and you can buy the whole series for $20-23, depending on print/digital.

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The trilogy centers around Rhine, a lovely sixteen year old who’s been kidnapped and forced into marriage. Usually, marriage is the best a girl can hope for in her short life — females die at age 20, males at age 25. Rhine, however, just wants to live out her days with her twin brother, and she’s desperate to escape and return to him. The series follows her through escape attempts, adventure, budding romance, and learning all different ways to define the term “love”.

I read DeStefano’s Internment Chronicles series first — also highly recommend — before returning to her debut series. The writing in the first novel is a bit stilted at times, but I can’t say if it’s simply because she was a new author, or if it was because of the character. Sometimes the prose felt a bit distant, but that actually works for the story, since Rhine is clearly trying to distance herself from her current situation. As the story progresses and she falls deeper into the messes she and others have made, the narration is tighter, more internalized, and feels more true to who she may actually be.

As I’m sure I’ve made clear through my previous reviews, I love a good love interest. This series is particularly great at giving little snippet-views of a possible romance, without the love story overtaking the action and adventure of the actual plot. Unlike a lot of YA that has a love triangle, there isn’t an exact shape drawn between two obvious choices. Rather, much like real life, my feelings towards her “options” were fluid, rising and falling with each good and bad experience, inevitability wrapped in “what-if”s and “if only”s.

There are some great twists, and anything that might seem too coincidental I think is explained very well with enough plausibility. The ending is bittersweet, life balanced with death, joy measured through pain, and I think that might be what I like best.