What I Read: Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy

My family has always had a very good relationship with the owner of our local book store. He always had a reading suggestion for my sister and me when we were kids, and the last time I was in the shop was no exception. Knowing that I’ve always had a thing for YA fantasy (I was 12 when Twilight came out, sue me), he recently suggested that I check out the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor. He warned me that it would start out sounding like a vampire book but that it’s not a vampire book and that it would be worth it if I could make it through the first chapter or two, and he was right.

Without giving away too much, the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy is about a centuries long war between angels (though not quite as we know them) and chimera (half human/half animals) in a universe parallel to our own. The protagonist, Karou, is a 17 year old girl living in Prague who finds herself caught up in the war in ways that she never expected. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is an engaging read, full of enough romance and adventure that I was Googling for the sequel as soon as I finished reading. Days of Blood and Starlight, book 2 of the trilogy, fell slightly flat, but it honestly wasn’t the plot’s fault – I’ve found this happens often in sequels (it took me three tries to get through The Two Towers). While it’s full of action and character & plot development, it drags without much actual movement as most of the characters are stuck in one place for almost the whole book. Remember the camping chapters from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? It’s kind of like that. Days of Blood and Starlight was also a lot darker than Daughter of Smoke and Bone – I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a trigger warning for attempted rape in my review. Things get a little bit lighter and the momentum picks back up in book 3, Dreams of Gods and Monsters. The trilogy actually ends in such a way that could have left the possibility for at least a book 4, but instead Taylor wraps things up in an epilogue, leaving the reader to assume future successes rather than dragging the plot out past where anyone could even want to follow (hem hem Supernatural, Pretty Little Liars, I could go on). 

The Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy was very well thought out, with specific language and terminology invented for the plot’s mythology. The tone felt very reminiscent of fan fiction – there were a lot of tropes and cliches that I’ve seen before (teenage girl somehow allowed to live completely on her own even in high school, her spunky best friend who is of course only 5 feet tall but who comes with twice the personality to make up for it, romance with little present development based on a past life, etc.), and some of the dialogue definitely seemed stylistically familiar. As I’ve said before, you can wait and try to pry fan fiction from my cold dead hands, so the stylistic choices and tropes didn’t bother me at all, but they were noticeable and I can see where another reader could be turned off by the tone before getting far enough to be engaged by the actual plot (see: my sister).

Despite how much I did enjoy the trilogy, I was frustrated and disappointed by a romance that seemed very shoehorned in at the end of the last book. SPOILERISH: A character who definitely seemed coded as aromantic ends up surprising even herself by falling for someone at the end of the war. Is it really too much to ask to have some queer representation in a YA series? I mean especially in fantasy, out of everything that we read in the whole trilogy, having a character who isn’t romantically attracted to other people doesn’t seem like the most far-fetched thing in the world.

Overall, despite my disappointment with some of the romantic subplots, the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy was a super entertaining read that I devoured in about three days, and I would definitely recommend it to other lovers of YA fantasy.

Comment below if you’ve read it – what did you think?

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Labor Day 2016: Ocean City

This year, two of my friends and my boyfriend and I were lucky enough to be able to take a mini vacation for Labor Day, driving east across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to Ocean City, MD. Ocean City is definitely a Maryland landmark, with 9 miles of beach and boardwalk stretching up the Atlantic coast all the way to Delaware. Thousands of high school graduates flock to Ocean City for Senior Week every June, and OC hosts an average of 8 million tourists each summer.

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We stayed at the Sea Breeze Inn, one block behind the Ocean Gallery on 2nd Street. The motel definitely wasn’t the nicest place I’ve ever stayed but it wasn’t the worst either, and it was a nice, inexpensive option for our 3-night stay in OC. There weren’t many electrical outlets available in each room, the pillows were kind of crappy, and the bathroom windows wouldn’t close, but the rooms were clean and the bed that I slept in was comfortable. They do charge a security deposit for people under age 25, but you get it back at the end of your stay if you haven’t damaged your room.

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We happened to make landfall on the same night as Hurricane Hermine, so we spent Friday night through about noon on Saturday locked in our rooms away from the wind and rain, then made it out Saturday afternoon to get lunch and hang out on the boardwalk. Many of the restaurants and shops on the boardwalk were closed due to the storm, so we hung out at the arcade and then put up with driving wind and stinging sand to walk down to the shoreline. The waves that day were about the biggest I’ve ever seen – the pictures really don’t do them justice – and we didn’t go in the water at all for the whole weekend. We went to Harpoon Hanna’s for dinner, then played the weekend’s first round of mini golf (I lost).

Sunday was much nicer, and we spent hours on the boardwalk and were able to hang out on the beach and get some Ocean City staples for lunch – Thrasher’s fries and milkshakes from Dumser’s. We also found a yarn shop called the Salty Yarns and definitely spent too much time there (worth it), and then we spent more cash than time at the arcade (maybe not so worth it). On the beach, we warned Jim about not messing with seagulls, but he insisted on walking away to feed them the remains of his fries. This resulted in our being stalked by a flock of birds, but Jim denied any fault, of course.

Sunday night we had our second round of golf at Nick’s Mini Golf, which was definitely not as fun as the first (I lost, again). We were conned by a coupon with no fine print for “a free round of golf per group of four” which really meant “buy 3 rounds, get 1 free”, but when the man working the desk realized that we were about to leave after the explanation, he gave us 4 rounds for the price of 2, so we stayed. After, we visited a hometown favorite for dinner – The Crabby Pig, a restaurant from the town where I grew up, recently opened a new location in Ocean City! We got there around 9pm and the dining room was almost empty, but the food and drinks were really good.

Monday morning we checked out from the motel and spent a few hours on the beach before heading for home. We cashed in all of the arcade tickets that we’d earned all weekend, hit up the Candy Kitchen, and got one last milkshake before we hit the road. Overall I had a really good weekend, though the weather could’ve definitely been nicer. Hopefully it’ll be better next year!

What I Ate: 4-Cheese Tortellini & Spinach Tomato Soup

You know what’s the perfect meal when you love pasta, cheese, spinach, and tomatoes? It’s 4-cheese tortellini & spinach tomato soup. I found Gal on a Mission’s recipe on Pinterest the other day and immediately decided that it needed to be inside my body, ASAP. Her recipe is actually for 3-cheese tortellini (but really whatever tortellini you want to use is your choice) and uses carrots instead of spinach, so I tweaked the recipe a bit to my own liking.

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Ingredients
1/2 onion
2 cloves garlic (minced)
1/4 cup basil (shredded)
5.5 cups chicken stock (can replace with veggie broth for a vegetarian meal!)
1 1/4 cup half & half
1 jar Ragu pasta sauce (I think I used a 7oz jar)
14.5 oz diced tomatoes (don’t drain!)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
20 oz 4 cheese refrigerated tortellini
2.5-3 cups raw spinach

Gal on a Mission’s recipe actually calls for 5 cups of chicken stock and 16 oz of tortellini, but the best value package at my grocery store was 20 oz so I just added an extra half cup of chicken stock to the recipe to make up the difference.

Instructions
1. Simmer onion over medium heat until translucent (or close).
2. Add garlic, simmer like  1-2 more mins.
3. Add basil, chicken stock, half & half, ragu, diced tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Stir, simmer 20 mins.
4. Add tortellini & spinach, simmer another 15-20 mins.
5. Serve with shredded mozzarella or parmesan cheese and basil!

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This soup was seriously delicious, and made enough that I’ll definitely be able to get another 3-4 meals out of it. I might make garlic bread too if I’m ever making it for a group. I’m really looking forward to having this as a cozy go-to this winter, especially on snow days!

Let me know how it turns out if you try it!