Sunday, May 30, 2021

Book Review: King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

Book Review: Recursion by Blake CrouchKing of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

Published: January 29, 2019

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Pages: 528

SynopsisFace your demons... or feed them.

The dashing young king, Nikolai Lantsov, has always had a gift for the impossible. No one knows what he endured in his country's bloody civil war--and he intends to keep it that way. Now, as enemies gather at his weakened borders, Nikolai must find a way to refill Ravka's coffers, forge new alliances, and stop a rising threat to the once-great Grisha Army.

Yet with every day a dark magic within him grows stronger, threatening to destroy all he has built. With the help of a young monk and a legendary Grisha general, Nikolai will journey to the places in Ravka where the deepest magic survives to vanquish the terrible legacy inside him. He will risk everything to save his country and himself. But some secrets aren't meant to stay buried--and some wounds aren't meant to heal.

Thoughts: I was a big fan of both the Shadow and Bone and the Six of Crows series (though I think I would give Six of Crows a higher ranking), so I was going into this new duology with high hopes. Like some of the previous books, King of Scars is told from multiple different third-person perspectives, with each chapter coming from a different character, namely Nikolai, Zoya, Nina, who we've all met in previous books, and a new character, Isaak. 

Books from multiple points of view usually always leave me wanting to hear more from a particular person rather than swapping around, and this was again the case here. I really just wanted to hear the whole thing from Nikolai's perspective, but things happen in such separate places, it wasn't really possible. You'd think I would have a greater affection for Nina given her involvement in past books, but I just didn't find her story quite as interesting. 

It took me quite a while to get into this book, I even stopped reading it for a time and considered stopping completely, to be honest. But, after reading some other opinions online about how it gets better as it goes, I decided to stick it out. And, yes, it does get better, but I still wouldn't say it lives up to the other books in the Grishaverse world. That said, I've heard the second book is more gripping, so let's hope that's true. 

Rating: 3.5/5

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What I'm Reading Next: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by VE Schwab

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Monday, April 12, 2021

Book Review: Recursion by Blake Crouch

Book Review: Recursion by Blake CrouchRecursion by Blake Crouch

Published: June 11, 2019

Genre: Science Fiction

Pages: 336

Synopsis: Memory makes reality.

That's what NYC cop Barry Sutton is learning, as he investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.

That's what neuroscientist Helena Smith believes. It's why she's dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious memories. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent.

As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face to face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds, but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it.

But how can they make a stand when reality itself is shifting and crumbling all around them?

At once a relentless pageturner and an intricate science-fiction puzzlebox about time, identity, and memory, Recursion is a thriller as only Blake Crouch could imagine it—and his most ambitious, mind-boggling, irresistible work to date.

Thoughts: One thing you can always say about Blake Crouch's books (well, the two I have read anyway) -- they don't sit around and move at a languid pace. The plot kicks into gear quickly, in this case drawing you into a mystery of memory and time. The action jumps between two main characters  -- Barry and Helena -- who are involved in the story in different ways at first, but eventually come together. 

Like many science fiction novels, someone creates something they shouldn't have, it ends up wrecking havoc upon the world, and our heroes must work to try to stop it. It's actually kind of hard to write a review of this book because I don't want to give anything away about the plot. I knew very little about it going into reading it, and I think that really let me become engrossed in the story in a different way. I didn't have preconceived ideas about where it might be going, but, as with any good story, was able to anticipate where it might be heading while still being surprised by some twists and turns along the way.

When I was a kid, I was really into Michael Crichton's novels, and in some ways Crouch's books remind me of Crichton's -- thrillers set around a scifi core. So, if you like Crichton or Crouch, but haven't read the other, I'd certainly recommend giving it a try. And if you are a fan of the scifi thriller in general, Crouch is certainly a modern author to pay attention to. His books will keep you turning the pages while also making you think. 

Rating: 4/5

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What I'm Reading Next: Skyhunter by Marie Lu

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Monday, March 29, 2021

Alabama Orange Rolls

Alabama Orange Rolls by freshfromthe.com
When you want a delicious, ooey gooey sweet roll for breakfast, the first type of roll you probably think of is the classic cinnamon roll. And while cinnamon rolls are definitely amazing, might I suggest you try something a little different and go with these orange rolls instead? They're still ooey and gooey and sweet, but also offer a little extra tang and don't veer into the too sweet territory.
Alabama Orange Rolls by freshfromthe.comNow, like any yeasted dough, you're gonna have to plan ahead for when you want to eat these. These aren't a roll you can just bust out in a half hour, there are multiple rises and waiting for them to cool before glazing... all of that good stuff. If you want to start making them in the morning, they're more of a brunch situation than breakfast, if we're being honest with ourselves.
Alabama Orange Rolls by freshfromthe.comThe original recipe for these rolls calls for using a dark 9-inch cake pan, and you can see I most certainly did not do that here. A dark pan will cook them faster than a light pan, and will also give you crisper edges. Now, personally, I prefer the roll to be soft all around rather than hard on the outside and gooey on the middle, so I was perfectly happy with the light pan results. But if you enjoy the hard outside and soft middle type of thing, you might want to try a dark pan. Either way, they'll turn out delicious, though. So if you love rolls and you love orange, get to it!
Alabama Orange Rolls by freshfromthe.com

Write recipe photo description here

Amazing brunch rolls that have just the right amount of sweet and tangy orange flavor.

Ingredients:
    Dough:
  • 3 cups (15 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (1.75 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup orange juice, warm (110 degrees F)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces and softened
  • 1 large egg plus 1 large yolk
  • Filling:
  • 1/2 cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • Glaze:
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup (1.75 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
Instructions:
  1. For the Dough: In a stand mixer bowl, whisk flour, sugar, yeast, and salt together. Add orange juice, cream, butter, and egg and yolk. Using the dough hook, knead on medium speed until dough comes together, about 2 minutes. Increase speed to medium-high and continue to knead dough until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes longer. Dough will be nice and soft.
  2. Transfer dough to lightly floured counter and knead until smooth ball forms, about 30 seconds. Place dough in a greased large bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
  3. For the Filling: Combine sugar and zest in a small bowl. Transfer dough to lightly floured counter. Roll dough into 16 by 8-inch rectangle with long side parallel to counter’s edge. Spread butter over surface of dough using small offset spatula, then sprinkle evenly with sugar mixture. Roll dough away from you into tight, even log and pinch seam to seal.
  4. Grease 9-inch cake pan, line bottom with parchment paper, then grease parchment. Roll log seam side down and cut into eight 2-inch-thick slices using a serrated knife. Place 1 roll in center of prepared pan and others around perimeter of pan, seam sides facing center. Cover with plastic and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees.
  5. Discard plastic and bake rolls until golden brown on top and interior of center roll registers 195 degrees, 40 to 50 minutes. Let rolls cool in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes.
  6. For the Glaze: Once rolls have cooled for 30 minutes, combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until large, slow bubbles appear and mixture is syrupy, about 4 minutes.
  7. Using spatula, loosen rolls from sides of pan and slide onto platter; discard parchment. Brush glaze over tops of rolls and serve warm.
Recipe from Cook's Country
Alabama Orange Rolls by freshfromthe.com

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Book Review: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

Book Review: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini
To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

Published: September 15, 2020

Genre: Science Fiction

Pages: 878

Synopsis: Kira Navárez dreamed of life on new worlds. Now she's awakened a nightmare. During a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, Kira finds an alien relic. At first she's delighted, but elation turns to terror when the ancient dust around her begins to move.

As war erupts among the stars, Kira is launched into a galaxy-spanning odyssey of discovery and transformation. First contact isn't at all what she imagined, and events push her to the very limits of what it means to be human.

While Kira faces her own horrors, Earth and its colonies stand upon the brink of annihilation. Now, Kira might be humanity's greatest and final hope...

Thoughts: Wow. So, it's been some time since I've read such an epically long book. Many years, in fact. It's a commitment to read such a long book, you know? And this book took me awhile to read -- almost two and a half months. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy it, because I did, just that my reading has mostly been limited to before bed, which inherently leads me to fall asleep.

Anyway, enough of that. Let's get on to the book! Paolini is known for having previously written the Eragon book series, which I thought was good for a time, and then kind of ended not as great as I had been hoping. His writing, to me, just wasn't that amazing and was amateurish at times. But that is definitely not the case here! It's very clear that Paolini has matured as a writer. If you asked me whether I thought this book was written by the same person, I'd probably say no. I went into it wondering if his writing style would have changed, and I was pleasantly surprised. 

Now, as I said, this book is long. But it's a complete story! This isn't the first book in a planned series (at least not for now), so you're not committing yourself to multiple huge tomes. In reading the afterword, he wrote it with the intention that each part of the book (three) were meant to sort of represent a trilogy, which totally makes sense. 

So I've been pretty effusive so far, so why does this book get a 4/5 and not a 5/5? I think for me, personally, I just have a hard time caring about a lot of straight action. While I understand that battles are often necessary to stories, that's where I get super bored and just wish those battles would be over. There are a few different battle-type sequences in this book, and those just lost my interest a bit. It also felt like a very technical book at times. It was very much embedded in the science part of science fiction. It definitely showed that he did a lot of homework to make this book feel realistic. But, at the same time, I felt like it could've used a little more emotion. While I liked Kira as a character, I also felt a little removed from her at times, if that makes sense. 

In any event, if you're a science fiction fan, you'll likely enjoy this. If you aren't, you might not, as again it is very much science fiction and not fantasy.

Rating: 4/5

Buy on Amazon 

What I'm Reading Next: Recursion by Blake Crouch

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases from Amazon links in my posts.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Toffee Oat Cookie Dough Ice Cream

Recipe for Toffee Oat Cookie Dough Ice Cream by freshfromthe.com.
I don't know about you, but my favorite ice cream since childhood has been cookie dough. While normally a cookie dough ice cream will be your basic sweet cream or vanilla ice cream with chocolate chip cookie dough as the dough, who says that chocolate chip cookie dough has to be the cookie dough of choice? No one! That's just what's expected. So, after making some delicious Oat and Pecan Brittle Cookies recently, I was like wait a minute. This dough is awesome, why not use it as the cookie dough in a homemade ice cream?!
Recipe for Toffee Oat Cookie Dough Ice Cream by freshfromthe.com.
So, here's the truth about this particular cookie dough -- it's very time consuming to make. You've got to make a pecan brittle, and then blitz part of it in with some of the flour, and then also brown some butter. But the result is so good! If you're ever planning on making the cookies, definitely save some of the dough to mix in to a homemade ice cream. You won't regret it. That being said, you can totally swap in any cookie dough here. The ice cream is just a sweet cream base without any special specific flavorings, so it's extremely versatile.
Recipe for Toffee Oat Cookie Dough Ice Cream by freshfromthe.com.
I just used Salt and Straw's Ice Cream Base in this particular combination, mostly because I didn't want to use up a bunch of egg yolks, and their recipe uses xanthan gum to thicken the ice cream and hold it all together instead of said egg yolks. But say you have some cookie dough and you'd rather use a custard-based ice cream as the base. That's totally fine! As I said, this recipe is very versatile, you can swap the ice cream or the dough and you'll probably still end up with a result that you love. 

What's nice about this ice cream is that it is a bit lighter, almost like what you'd find in an ice cream sandwich, and it works quite well with the toffee oat cookie dough. Honestly, I could probably eat the whole container in one go, but let's not get crazy here.

Write recipe photo description here

A take on homemade cookie dough ice cream, highly customizable to your own cookie dough preferences.

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons dry milk powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 1/3 cups whole milk
  • 1 1/3 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup Oat and Pecan Brittle cookie dough
Instructions:
  1. Combine the sugar, dry milk, and xanthan gum in a small bowl and stir well.
  2. Pour the corn syrup into a medium pot and stir in the whole milk. Add the sugar mixture and immediately whisk vigorously until smooth. Set the pot over medium heat and cook, stirring often and adjusting the heat if necessary to prevent a simmer, until the sugar has fully dissolved, about 3 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat.
  3. Add the cream and whisk until fully combined. Transfer the mixture to an airtight container and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 6 hours, or for even better texture and flavor, 24 hours. Stir the base back together if it separates during the resting time. The base can be further stored in the fridge for up to 1 week or in the freeze for up to 3 months. (Just be sure to fully thaw the frozen base before using it.)
  4. Once chilled, churn according to your ice cream maker's specifications. Place your storage container in the freezer while the base churns. Break up your cup of cookie dough into pieces about 1/2 inch big. Once the ice cream is ready, transfer the it to your storage container, and gently fold in your prepared cookie dough with a rubber spatula.
Ice Cream recipe from Salt and Straw Ice Cream Cookbook by Tyler Malek and JJ Goode
Cookie Dough recipe from Dessert Person by Claire Saffitz
Recipe for Toffee Oat Cookie Dough Ice Cream by freshfromthe.com.