25 Reads: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

I want to go to Prague. I want to meet a fiery-eyed angel there and be raised by strangely loving but shady teeth-collecting demons. I want to be friends with a marionette maker’s daughter and roam the fairy-tale streets whilst vampires and ghouls try to pull a scare on back alleys and hidden corners. I want wishes, even small ones that could change my hair a bright blue (except mine would probably be a mixture of gold and purple, just ’cause). I want the feel of astral butterflies fluttering excitedly in my stomach (though that can’t be too comfortable on a regular basis). I want wings so I can fly. Particularly wings that emit a self-contained fire.

God, if Daughter of Smoke and Bone could be any more poetic, I probably would have cried over how beautifully written it was.


DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE

by Laini Taylor
Little, Brown Books, September 2011
YA paranormal fantasy

smokeandboneGoodreads: Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”, she speaks many languages – not all of them human – and her bright blue hair actuallygrows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

A Bucketful of Squees

Laini Taylor writes such pretty things.  This isn’t the first time I’ve been introduced to her writing, so I had expected writing that took me back to what I had seen in Lips Touch: Three Times and somewhat in Blackbringer. What I got was a love child between urban fantasy and faerie, with the short story “Spicy Little Curses” as the doting world-traveling aunt. For me, that made for some enjoyable writing, and even holding a physical copy of the book itself was much more preferable, since the layout usually tends to be just as aesthetically pleasing as the text (Lips Touch still remains my favorite of the hardcovers I own).

smokeandbone1The star-crossed lovers trope gets a new set of wings. Admittedly, I could do without having to read another Romeo and Juliet complex. Warring families, lovers belonging on opposite sides, blah blah blah. Karou and Akiva are no different, true. Well, save for the fact that Akiva belongs to a race of elitist warrior angels and Karou’s an art student whose hair grows blue at the roots and who works for the chimaera abominations that are supposedly no better than slaves. But, you know, same old story, right? Maybe. Kinda not really.

I guess there’s the magic system and the mythologies to blame for that. There’s also the fact that “good” and “evil” aren’t exactly classified as such, and even the monsters can be construed as more beautiful than the regal seraphim in Astrae. I also love that each side has a story about origins, and that this is shown in the book.

And those characters, yo. Zuzana was easily my favorite character, and often she made me laugh out loud on the train as I read (which is slightly embarrassing, but oh well). I loved Karou’s personality, and even as she fell into insta-love (can it be classified as insta-love when technically it’s been seventeen or so years?), she didn’t completely forget who she was (sorry, Akiva!). I loved Brimstone and the chimaera and really hope the ending was ambiguous enough to leave a bit of Hope at the door–I mean, that’s the whole point, right? Hope is more powerful than wishes after all.

That heartbreaking ending. I would have considered the Madrigal addition as the slowest point of the book, but I actually loved that the story was shown that way, and not through explanatory dialogue. That said, I did realize, with increasing anxiety, that the book was ending and a conclusion was not happening any time soon. Yeah, I totally felt like I was broken up with twice in that second to last chapter. But I won’t elaborate…

So yes, easily a 5 out of 5 Goodreads stars.


A Little Taste of Prague

The beginning chapters of the book opened up to a lot of description about the places Karou frequented in the mortal realm. Which is a good thing, because I loved envisioning Taylor’s Prague, and loved reading about the quaint little Poison Kitchen cafe and the food Karou and Zuzana tended to get there. At some point, there was a scene in the book where Karou offers to get breakfast, and Zuzana says something similar to: “If it doesn’t have chocolate, it’s not breakfast.” (I can’t remember exactly, so the wording might be off). Karou walks back to the bakery and buys kolaches.

So immediately, I had a craving to make myself some of these baked morsels.

kolaches

Unsurprisingly, there was a kolache recipe out there waiting for me to make. And so I took some time to bake some!

Granted, “some time” kind of encompassed a day and a half, considering I initially thought I’d killed my yeast (which was remedied by me putting the dough inside my oven over a tray of boiling water). There was a lot of waiting for the dough to rise–at least three times. But other than that, since I skipped out on making the fillings from scratch, once the bread was actually ready, it took a mere 20 or so minutes to flatten it, fill it, and bake it.

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Note: Since Thanksgiving is around the corner, I found a lot of fruit pie fillings at the supermarket for sale, so I went and got a raspberry filling as well as an apricot one. I didn’t use the apricot filling, though, since I wanted to put chocolate in at least half of the kolaches. As Zuzana said, no chocolate, not breakfast!

Verdict: Personally, I loved the baked Nutella texture more than when I put it on top after the bread baked. My sister is the opposite, and liked the Nutella nice and creamy. My mother decided the raspberry filling was nice, but not as nice as speculoos spread, and my father liked just the bread itself without any of the sweet toppings. Honestly. I think as long as the bread is baked, you can put whatever toppings you want on top and it’ll come out brilliantly.

 

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Cheesecakey Goodness

I bring to you a break in the book-related programming to showcase what could have potentially been a disaster of a dessert (also known as white chocolate raspberry cheesecake).

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I may or may not have had a birthday yesterday, but in any case, since when did I really need an excuse to bake cake? After seeing this crazily raved-over recipe on AllRecipes, I’d bookmarked it in the hopes of trying it out for July 4th. Then when that didn’t pan out, I decided, why the heck not this week?

I say potentially disastrous because this was the first time I’d tried making cheesecake from scratch. After speaking with a baker friend of mine, I’d realized there were several ways to go about with cheesecake recipes. Apparently a number of them had sour cream, though I’m not exactly sure why that is needed (plus, my friend seems to have problems with people using sour cream in recipes). In any case, since the recipe I found had nothing to do with sour cream and mostly to do with cream cheese, I thought it was legit enough to try out.

Because I did make some major changes, what I ended up with recipe-wise:

WHITE CHOCOLATE RASPBERRY CHEESECAKE

Crust

  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 3 tbsp white sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted

Raspberry sauce

  • 10 oz raspberry preserves

White chocolate mixture

  • 2 cups white chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half cream

Cheesecake

  • 3 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions:

  • For crust: Mix crumbs, 3 tbsp sugar, melted butter for graham cracker crust. Press into bottom of pan.
  • For white chocolate mixture: Melt white chocolate chips with half-and-half cream (preferably over a double-boiler-type setup).
  • For raspberry sauce: Heat raspberry preserves (I microwaved mine for 30 seconds and then 10-second intervals up until it was a liquid consistency).
  • For cheesecake: Mix together cream cheese and sugar, beat in eggs one at a time. Blend vanilla and white chocolate mixture. Pour half of the batter into pan with crumbs, then pour 3 tbsp raspberry sauce in mixture (doesn’t look like it matters how this is done), pour remaining batter, and then pour 3 tbsp raspberry sauce on top. To create a marbled look on the cheesecake surface, swirl the raspberry with the tip of a knife.
  • Baking: Preheat oven 325 degrees F. Bake cake for 55-60 minutes. Cool, cover with plastic wrap, refrigerate for at least 8 hours (or overnight) before removing from pan.

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The recipe actually used a chocolate cookie crumb crust, which I suppose is fine, too. Some of them use Oreo crumbs, which sounds amazing. But I opted for the graham cracker base because I wasn’t in the mood for chocolate cookie crumbs. I suggest actually checking 10-15 minutes beforehand to see if the filling has set. I was silly and didn’t check until 55 minutes in, and my cheesecake ended up a little overdone. The top surface was all cracked, the surrounding border looked weird, and I was one unhappy baker for a good portion of the day. That said, I decided to refrigerate the cheesecake in the hopes that it would still be easily covered up with raspberry sauce and white chocolate.

Which, thankfully, it was. I just reheated what was left of the preserves and lathered the top of the cheesecake with all the leftover sauce. Then I tempered some white chocolate chips (30 seconds in a microwave for 1 cup if you got lazy like I did). My sister helped with the drizzling, and her boyfriend suggested a white chocolate chip border, which I thought was a pretty nifty idea.

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And voila! I swear the cover-up had taken a good 5-10 minutes to do, and the result looked awesome. The taste of the cheesecake was also excellent as far as cheesecakes go (and this is coming from someone who doesn’t really like cheesecake all that much). Raspberry and white chocolate tastes just as delectable as it sounds.

Phew! Next week I do have another cake highlight to make, but for now I’ll leave this Friday on a raspberry and white chocolate high.