Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Book Review: Before the Devil Breaks You (The Diviners #3) by Libba Bray

Book Review: Before the Devil Breaks You (The Diviners #3) by Libba Bray, by freshfromthe.com
Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray

Published: October 3, 2017

Genre: Young Adult, Historical, Fantasy

Pages: 552

New York City.
Lights are bright.
Jazz is king.
Parties are wild.
And the dead are coming...

After battling a supernatural sleeping sickness that claimed two of their own, the Diviners have had enough lies. They're more determined than ever to uncover the mystery behind their extraordinary powers, even as they face off against an all-new terror. Out on Ward's Island, far from the city's bustle, sits a mental hospital haunted by the lost souls of people long forgotten--ghosts who have unusual and dangerous ties to the man in the stovepipe hat, also known as the King of Crows.

With terrible accounts of murder and possession flooding in from all over and New York City on the verge of panic, the Diviners must band together and brave the sinister ghosts invading the asylum, a fight that will bring them face-to-face with the King of Crows. But as the explosive secrets of the past come to light, loyalties and friendships will be tested, love will hang in the balance, and the Diviners will question all that they've ever known. All the while, malevolent forces gather from every corner in a battle for the very soul of a nation--a fight that could claim the Diviners themselves.

Thoughts: It's been about four years since I read the previous book in this series, which basically meant that it took me some time to reacquaint myself with all of the characters and get back into the story. I only have a partial memory of how things ended in the last book, but what I mostly remember is that I didn't like it nearly as much as I enjoyed the first book in the series. What about this one, you wonder? 

Though it did take me a little bit of time to get back into it, it felt like the story picked up pace a bit more in comparison to the previous book. I feel like the last one had some character introductions it had to focus on more than this one, which made this one flow a bit better for me. But nonetheless this book does have a lot of characters to keep up with - Evie, Sam, Jericho, Mabel, Memphis, Theta, Henry, Ling... Yeah. However I felt like Bray did a good job of focusing on the characters that needed focusing and had a nice balancing act between everyone. The story kept moving forward and it didn't feel like any person's individual story was doing anything but advancing it as well. 

This book also does a good job of making all of its characters very diverse. You have a whole range of different ethnicities, sexual orientations, religions, and more represented among our core group of Diviners. The story is also, sadly, still very relevant to what's happening in society today. It's set back in the '20s in New York, and delves a lot into racism, sexism, and the rise of eugenics and just the general idea that some people are better than others. You'd never guess all of that from the synopsis, but it all plays a pretty large role in how things connect and who the real "bad guys" are. But yeah, you can see how this is all still relevant, and sometimes that made me kind of angry to think how little has changed in some ways.

Some of the book can be quite spooky when dealing with angry ghosts and creepy men running experiments on people. I've decided to jump right into the last book in the series so I don't have to remember everything from this one down the line. I'm not sure what to think of the actual enemy of the series, this King of Crows dude/creature, but the next book is probably going to focus more on that. Hopefully it all comes to a satisfying end! 

Would I recommend this series to others? If you're into this sort of story, sure. There are some books I recommend regardless of taste preference, but this series I would say only if you're into this sort of thing to begin with.

Rating: 3.5/5

What I'm Reading Next: The King of Crows by Libba Bray

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Triple Citrus Bars

Recipe for Triple Citrus Bars by freshfromthe.com.

If you're a fan of Key Lime Pie, or even the lesser-known Sour Orange Pie, this is another dessert to add to your repertoire. This time around, we're mixing up all three of the most famous citrus fruits - oranges, lemons, and limes - into a very easy and delectable bar form. Sour and sweet, without being overly so for either category. Honestly, I don't think you can go wrong.

The crust is made from animal crackers, which have a slightly different tang than the typical graham crackers that are used most often in pie-crusts. You could probably do it with graham crackers, too, but give it a whirl with the animal crackers. I used the organic Kirkland brand ones from Costco as they seem to have less preservatives than the typical Barnum's ones.

Recipe for Triple Citrus Bars by freshfromthe.com.

What's the hardest thing about this recipe? I guess all the zesting and juicing just because it takes some time. You can easily double this recipe to be made in a 13x9 inch pan rather than an 8x8 pan, but that IS twice as much zesting and juicing. I don't ever tend to double a recipe on my first try just to make sure I like it first. Also, can we just talk about how perfect those pieces of fruit look on the inside? Beautiful.

Now here's the real question - if I were to make these or the sour orange pie, which would I pick? They are admittedly very similar in their ingredients, these bars just have a bit more of a floral note to them thanks to the lime. I think personally I prefer the orange pie better, but I wouldn't say no to either one if set out in front of me, that's for sure.

Recipe for Triple Citrus Bars by freshfromthe.com.

Triple Citrus Bars

Tart and sweet, a perfect and floral citrus flavor explosion in a simple, easy-to-make bar.

  • 5 ounces animal crackers
  • 3 tablespoons packed brown sugar (light or dark)
  • Pinch table salt
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • Filling
  • 2 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lime zest, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest, minced
  • Pinch table salt
  • 1 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 6 Tablespoons fresh lime juice, either Key lime or regular
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh orange juice

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are going to want to take all of the bars out at once, cut about 12-inch length extra-wide heavy-duty foil; fold cut edges back to form 7 1/2-inch width. With folded sides facing down, fit foil securely into bottom and up sides of 8-inch-square baking pan, allowing excess to overhang pan sides. Spray foil with nonstick cooking spray. If you're not going to take them all out at once, you don't need to use the foil, instead you can just spray your 8x8 pan with some cooking spray.
  2. TO MAKE THE CRUST: In workbowl of food processor, pulse animal crackers until broken down, about ten 1-second pulses; process crumbs until evenly fine, about 10 seconds (you should have about 1 1/4 cups crumbs). Add brown sugar and salt; process to combine, ten to twelve 1-second pulses (if large sugar lumps remain, break them apart with fingers). Drizzle butter over crumbs and pulse until crumbs are evenly moistened with butter, about ten 1-second pulses. Press crumbs evenly and firmly into bottom of prepared pan. Bake until deep golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Cool on wire rack while making filling. Do not turn off oven.
  3. TO MAKE THE FILLING: While crust cools, in medium bowl, stir cream cheese, zests, and salt with rubber spatula until softened, creamy, and thoroughly combined. Add sweetened condensed milk and whisk vigorously until incorporated and no lumps of cream cheese remain; whisk in egg yolk. Add juices and whisk gently until incorporated (mixture will thicken slightly).
  4. TO ASSEMBLE AND BAKE: Pour filling into crust; spread to corners and smooth surface with rubber spatula. Bake until set and edges begin to pull away slightly from sides, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on wire rack to room temperature, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Cover with foil and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 2 hours.
  5. If you used foil, then loosen the edges with a paring knife and lift bars from baking pan using foil extensions; cut bars into 16 squares and serve. If you did not, you can just store the pan in the fridge covered with foil or saran wrap, and cut out pieces as you like.
Recipe from Cook's Country

Recipe for Triple Citrus Bars by freshfromthe.com.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookies

Friends, please go make these cookies. Unless you can't eat peanut butter, and honestly? That just makes me super sad. You're missing out, and I'm sorry. Because these cookies are SO. GOOD. Especially if you liked eating the classic PB&J sandwiches as a kid. Or as an adult, I don't judge.

These cookies are big, bakery-style cookies. You're really probably eating like 2-3 regular-sized cookies when you eat just one of these. But they are so worth it. I adjusted the original recipe slightly to add in more jam. It felt like there was just a slight hint of jam in the original -- it was more of a peanut butter cookie. And still a delicious one at that, but to get a real PB&J vibe, I added a bit more jam per cookie and yes, I'd recommend the extra jam. You'll get more ooey gooey oozing, but do we have a problem with that? No. 

It's just so nice to eat this cookie and get to the peanut buttery, jelly filled center. And? It's not hard to make. You can be eating these cookies in about an hour from start to finish. Honestly, enough with the talk. Get on it!

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookies

Your favorite childhood sandwich turned into your new favorite cookie.

  • Abt 10 Tablespoons (162 grams) crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 1/2 cups (253 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup (265 grams) creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup (140 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (120 grams) light brown sugar
  • 8 Tablespoons (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 10 heaping teaspoons strawberry jam or preserves
  1. Dollop the crunchy peanut butter into 10 equal-sized pieces (a little less than 1 tablespoon each) on a sheet tray or plate and freeze until ready to use.
  2. Heat the oven to 375°F. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.
  3. Either using a large bowl and hand mixer, or your stand mixer fitted with the blade attachment, beat the creamy peanut butter, sugars, and butter until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and make sure the first is fully incorporated before adding the next, then add the vanilla and beat until smooth. Add the dry ingredients and mix until fully incorporated, then roll the dough into 10 equal-sized balls and place on a parchment paper-lined (or you canuse a silicon liner) baking sheet.
  4. Working with one ball of dough at a time, flatten the ball into a 3-inch circle in the palm of your hand. Add in about 1 heaping teaspoonful of the jam, then a dollop of the frozen peanut butter. Carefully seal the dough around the peanut butter and jam and roll it back into a ball. Some of the jelly may ooze out slightly, and that's ok! Repeat with the remaining cookie dough.
  5. Divide the dough among 2 parchment paper-lined baking sheets and bake, turning once halfway through, until golden on top, 15 to 17 minutes. Cool slightly, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely before serving.
  6. *I don't like using two cookie sheets in the oven at a time, so instead I put all 10 balls in step three onto a cutting board, then did five for the first batch on one cookie sheet, baked those, and then the last five for the second batch on that same sheet. I'm leaving the original instructions in case you have two and prefer to do that, but just know you don't have to do it that way!
Adapted slightly from a recipe by Farideh Sadeghin

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Book Review: One of Us Is Next (One of Us Is Lying #2) by Karen M. McManus

ook Review: One of Us Is Next by Karen M. McManus
One of Us Is Next by Karen M. McManus

Published: January 7, 2020

Genre: Young Adult, Mystery, Thriller

Pages: 377

SynopsisCome on, Bayview, you know you've missed this.

A ton of copycat gossip apps have popped up since Simon died, but in the year since the Bayview four were cleared of his shocking death, no one's been able to fill the gossip void quite like he could. The problem is no one has the facts.

Until now.

This time it's not an app, though—it's a game.

Truth or Dare.

Phoebe's the first target. If you choose not to play, it's a truth. And hers is dark.

Then comes Maeve and she should know better—always choose the dare.

But by the time Knox is about to be tagged, things have gotten dangerous. The dares have become deadly, and if Maeve learned anything from Bronwyn last year, it's that they can't count on the police for help. Or protection.

Simon's gone, but someone's determined to keep his legacy at Bayview High alive. And this time, there's a whole new set of rules.

Thoughts: I remember being very enthralled with One of Us is Lying; it kept me at the edge of my seat with the mystery, and drew me in further with the characters. I also highly enjoyed McManus' other book, Two Can Keep a Secret, which is not related to this series at all, despite it making it seem like it with the name and the cover design. This actual sequel to One of Us is Lying, however, didn't hold my interest quite as much as those other two did.

I think the difference for me is that those others seemed to focus a lot more on the mystery than this one, which was more heavily about the relationships and romance. I wasn't quite as engaged with those relationships as I was in the other books either. I don't know why, exactly, because the characters are all likable and interesting on their own merits, there was just something that didn't quite hook me as much. 

Also, while there was certainly a mystery element from the beginning, it didn't really get moving until halfway through the book, which was maybe throwing me off in terms of pacing. It could be that I was going into it with some preconceived notions about what to expect, and was thrown off when it was taking awhile to get to those points. But it felt like it took awhile to get the mystery going, and then it got solved pretty quickly after that.

Nonetheless, I'll still look forward to McManus' other books since I enjoyed the other two so much.

Rating: 3.5/5

What I'm Reading Next: Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Book Review: Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater

Book Review: Call Down the Hawk by freshfromthe.com
Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater

Published: November 5, 2019

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Pages: 472

SynopsisThe dreamers walk among us . . . and so do the dreamed. Those who dream cannot stop dreaming – they can only try to control it. Those who are dreamed cannot have their own lives – they will sleep forever if their dreamers die.

And then there are those who are drawn to the dreamers. To use them. To trap them. To kill them before their dreams destroy us all.

Ronan Lynch is a dreamer. He can pull both curiosities and catastrophes out of his dreams and into his compromised reality.

Jordan Hennessy is a thief. The closer she comes to the dream object she is after, the more inextricably she becomes tied to it.

Carmen Farooq-Lane is a hunter. Her brother was a dreamer . . . and a killer. She has seen what dreaming can do to a person. And she has seen the damage that dreamers can do. But that is nothing compared to the destruction that is about to be unleashed. . . .

Thoughts: This is sort of a follow up to the previous Raven Cycle series by author Maggie Stiefvater. Mostly in the way that you have more background about the characters than if you hadn't read the other series. But you don't really have to have read it to start this one. With that series, I enjoyed the books more and more as they went on, and I have a feeling it will be the same with this one. Mostly because this book has a lot of introducing to do with new characters as well as characters that were recurring in the other books but not necessarily main characters. 

That's always a tough balancing act in follow up series like this one, because inherently readers are always on the lookout for the characters that they know and already love and have less patience for the new ones and their new situations to get to know. I certainly fall into that very easily. What is also interesting about the way she has written this book, is that it's very clearly continuing. It felt like I just stopped the story partway rather than finished anything. 

Somehow the book was just as long as some other books I've read recently, but felt much shorter, and perhaps that is partly because it really felt like things were only just starting to get going once it ended. So, I am looking forward to the next book, as it seems like things will really start moving. I'm being pretty vague here as to not give anything about the plot away, ha. 

Rating: 3.5/5

What I'm Reading Next:  One of us is Next by Karen M. McManus