Book Review: The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

It has been a few weeks since I’ve posted and this is not due to a dearth of reading material, let me tell you. I just started my summer job and it’s been a little exhausting trying to find a moment for myself while juggling my job and other responsibilities and still trying to have some summer fun. I feel a little more at ease now and am happy to return to my blog! My other issue was that I had been weirdly locked out of my WordPress Account for a week or two so I’m glad to be back with full access! I’ve also been racing to get my visa paperwork through for my impending move to France which has been a slog but I can finally see the light! I actually finished this book in the same week as the other two in the trilogy but was unable to take time for put down my thoughts. After having finished all three books, I can still say that I loved the trilogy and enjoyed the ride. Each book had a different flavor and overarching themes but I really enjoyed them all. I will say that Pullman seems to have shifted direction a little bit in the last book but I still loved the story. So without further ado, The Amber Spyglass!

At the end of the Subtle Knife, Will gained possession of the Subtle Knife and Lyra was stolen away by her own mother, ostensibly for her own protection. The Magisterium is hot on Mrs. Coulter’s trail and decides to destroy Lyra for her role in the upcoming battle between Lord Asriel and the Magisterium. However, Lyra and Will find themselves pursuing a parallel adventure in search of Roger, Lyra’s old friend from her days at Oxford College. At the end of the book, the Magisterium and the Authority battle with Lord Asriel for cosmic control of the universe while Lyra discovers just how painful the sacrifices can be. Honestly, I was about halfway through this book while getting my car serviced and I legitimately began to cry in the middle of a car dealership because of how invested I had gotten and how painful things were in the book. Pullman did a wonderful job of animating each character and you can feel their joy and happiness and pain and sorrow just as if it was your own. This book really did destroy me a little bit and I do not regret that experience. I would recommend reading the whole series, I would absolutely not read this as a stand alone book as it is too intertwined with the broader narrative within the trilogy. I also didn’t think that it was as blasphemous as was claimed before I read the book. I’ll leave it there because to give much more detail would spoil the book. I hope I haven’t been too vague about the book, I just don’t want to give away precious details that the reader should discover on their own. I loved the trilogy and I hope that all young adults get the chance to read it. Happy Reading!

Book Review: The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman

I’m glad that I was able to grab this book right away after finishing The Golden Compass because I don’t know what I would have done otherwise. I raced through this book, absolutely devouring each page. I think I finished it in a day or two and I read it so quickly after The Golden Compass that I was debating putting the two together in a book review. However, the plots differ quite a bit and I felt that it was unfair to the author to lump them together even if they were a delight to devour one after the other. This book was just as magical to me as The Golden Compass. Pullman creates new main characters that he is able to masterfully tie into the main storyline as if they were meant to be there all along. It makes me wonder if he had mapped out the wider story before writing The Golden Compass or if it was the product of workshopping various ideas together to fill out Lyra’s universe. Either way, what a book! It did get a little confusing at points because Pullman introduces SO much new material in this book and just expects the reader to absorb it as quickly as he’s writing it. In order to clarify things, let me explain the plot briefly to help you get your bearings a little better.

By the end of the first book, Lord Asriel has jumped into another world and Lyra decides to pursue. However, she ends up in an entirely different world, our own. She meets a young boy, Will, and they begin to search for Will’s father, John Parry. Still in Lyra’s world, the witches and Lee Scoresby seek out Lyra by any means possible. Lee Scoresby searches for Stanislaus Grumman in an effort to locate an entrance into the world where Lyra is. At the end, all are reunited, Grumman, Lyra, Will, and the witches but all is not what it seems. Meanwhile, Lyra is still being pursued by the dreadful Mrs. Coulter and has to evade her minions throughout the book. The hallmark of this new book is the world hopping, which Will and Lyra do multiple times in an effort to evade their enemies. This world hopping can be disorienting to the reader but Pullman describes each new world with a few specific clues that readers can use to distinguish where Lyra and Will have ended up. Pullman does a great job of giving each of these worlds their own characteristics and paints a rich picture of a multiverse where Lyra and Will can traverse across many unique worlds. I loved this book just as much as The Golden Compass and hope that my readers get the chance to read this book as well as The Golden Compass. I would recommend against reading the books out of order as you may lack crucial information from the previous book. Happy Reading!

Book Review: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

This book review has been a long time coming! It’s been over a month since my last post and I appreciate the patience as I tackle a few old challenges and some new adventures! Finals were tough and I’m happy to be back at home and up to my old tricks once again! I’ve tried a few times to read The Golden Compass and almost finished it last time but didn’t quite get there. This time, I borrowed the whole series and set out to read them all. And WOW was I shocked at how good these books were. At the moment, I’m already halfway through the third book and the review for the second book should be out sometime soon. Pullman does an incredible job of creating entire new worlds that seemed pulled from nowhere and investing the reader into the little life of Lyra. I would like to address the biggest controversy around the books, which is that they are heretical or anti-God. I didn’t really understand why these claims were being made until I reached the end of the first book, then the lightbulb went off. They do have a distinctly anti-organized religion bent and one could even say they are anti-God. However, these are fantasy novels and are not being presented as factual by Pullman. I feel that they might not be appropriate reading for a very religiously focused household but I think that with the use of deeper literary analysis, these books can be understood just fine. I also have a strict policy of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. These books contain some fantastic writing and I feel transported every time I open them. Some people may take offense at the longer plot points but I don’t think that is any reason to deprive yourself of some truly fantastic fiction. With the elephant in the room addressed, let’s move on to the actual book!

The Golden Compass follows Lyra Belacqua, a precocious eleven year old and her beloved daemon, Pantalaimon. Lyra has grown up running feral through the halls of Jordan College in Oxford and becomes swept away from her beloved home and friends in a tide of destiny. She travels with gypsies, explores the Arctic, befriends an armored bear, and confronts the horrors sponsored by her own mother. By the end she is reunited with Lord Asriel, her guardian but that is certainly not the end of her story. Lyra uses her wits and innocence to bend others to her will and complete her destiny. Lyra is a wonderful character and following her journey in the book was a joy. Not only is Lyra a marvel of literary creation, all of the lands that she travels through are described so vividly that they feel as real as the chair that I’m sitting on while I read. If you couldn’t already tell, I loved this book. I know that it’s classified as young adult fiction but I really felt that it was a book that was more meant for adults? I enjoyed it much more as a young woman than I would have in my younger years.

Book Review: The Nine Realms by Sarah Kozloff

The reason that I’ve decided to do a mega book review rather than individual reviews for each book is for the simple reason that I finished all these books on the same day. They were that good. Oh man, I almost wished that I had spend more time savoring them but these books truly told small sections of the larger saga and the continuity between them is absolutely seamless. I previously reviewed “The Hidden Queen”, the first in this series a few weeks ago. In the interim, my lovely boyfriend took the time to track down the rest of the series through the local library and let me borrow them all! I was pleased to have them all in hand, especially because Sarah Kozloff released them all at the same time, rather than waiting to drop them a year or two apart. I believe that was a FANTASTIC decision because it enabled me to really dive into the story of Cerulia and the Nine Realms in a way that is hard to do without an entire finished series in hand. But enough about my voracious reading addiction, I have to tell you about the amazing read that this series has been!

At the end of the first novel, Cerulia, our fearless protagonist, has been forced to flee her home for lands unknown without any sort of plan. All she knows is that she is being pursued by the same men who orchestrated her mother’s demise and that she must find some way to regain her throne to restore order to her realm. However, the entire balance of the Nine Realms has been thrown off kilter due to the desperation of the people of Oromondo, the Oros, to feed themselves after poisoning their own lands. Throughout the novel, we hear from perspectives across the Nine Realms, from Cerulia herself, from Thalen, a fearless Free Stater student who must rise to the occasion and from the head general of the Oros, Sumroth and his quest to feed his people through conquest. It’s an enthralling series and I must recommend reading the whole series. It’s such a wild ride and I cannot emphasize enough just how enjoyable it was to devour the entire thing. I hope you treat yourself to this series in the near future and happy reading!

Lavender Shortbread Cookies

I’ve wanted to make lavender shortbread cookies since the beginning of the school year. Ever since my friend Hannah mentioned that she had made some, I hankered to make my own cookies. However, I was held back by my inability to find dried lavender at a store near me. Living in the middle of Baltimore doesn’t make it super easy to find niche ingredients so I put my desire for lavender cookies on the back burner because I knew it would be hard to find what I needed. However, on a recent weekend trip into Virginia, I found a great spice shop that had a huge selection of niche spices! It was a great find and they ship nationwide so I may come back for more! However, now I am left with more dried lavender buds than I think I’ll ever be able to use because I bought an 8 ounce bag…I guess I’ll just have to be creative and find other ways to incorporate them into my cooking! After finding the lavender at last, I told myself that it was time to make my lavender shortbread dreams come true!

As with most floral flavors like rose or elderflower, lavender can pack a punch and if too much is used, the food or beverage item with the flavor may end up tasting soapy. Thankfully, that was not the case with these cookies! I’m also extremely fond of lavender lattes which may make me more disposed to enjoy other food items with lavender in them. This recipe is a straightforward shortbread recipe and includes steps for chilling and rolling out the dough. I was a little overly enthusiastic when microwaving my butter so I ended up chilling for longer than the original recipe. The first step in the recipe has you blend the lavender buds with sugar in a food processor. If you don’t have a food processor, a mortar and pestle could do the trick to blend the two. What you’re really trying to avoid is biting a chunk of lavender by itself. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, rubbing the lavender with the sugar in between your fingers will do the trick to imbue the sugar with a mild lavender flavor. If you opt for the rubbing, you may want to try to chop up the buds just to avoid eating one whole. Otherwise, I think this recipe turned out great for me and if you have any suggestions on recipes to use up the rest of my lavender, add a comment below! Happy baking!

Lavender Shortbread Cookie Recipe

  • 8 ounces (1 cup or 2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons dried culinary lavender bulbs
  • 1/2 cup sugar + extra for dusting before baking
  • 2 cups All Purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  1. Blend together the sugar and lavender in a food processor or blender for about 30 seconds.
  2. Cream the butter in a separate bowl by itself then add the lavender/sugar mix. Mix until well-combined. Add in the flour and mix until smooth and there are no lumps.
  3. Remove the dough from the bowl and place on to plastic wrap. Cover with an additional sheet of plastic wrap and shape into a disk. Let chill for 30 minutes or more in the refrigerator before the next step.
  4. Remove the dough from the fridge. Sprinkle some flour onto a hard surface and place the dough disk on top, removing the plastic wrapping. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness. Use a cookie cutter or your hands to cut out shapes and transfer cut out cookies to parchment paper. Let chill on cookie sheet in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or more. (I used a random plastic bit in my kitchen to cut out my cookies and it turned out well so be creative!)
  5. Preheat the oven to 300F. When ready to bake, remove the cookies from the fridge. Setting down the sheet, take some sugar and sprinkle it in an even layer on top of each cookie. After the sugar coat, bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until lightly golden on the edges and aromatic. (You should smell butter more than lavender if you’re relying on your nose)
  6. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and let cool. Enjoy your cookies!

Makes about 24-30 cookies depending on thickness and shape.

Book Review: Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik

Oh my gosh folks, it’s yet another memoir about living in Paris! So this book continues my recent track record of reading as many memoirs about living in Paris as humanly possible. As my move gets closer and closer, I’m getting more excited and nervous to be leaving the East Coast behind and launching on my next adventure. I was really excited to read this memoir because it is much more recent than most of the ones I’ve read so far. Gopnik lived in Paris in the 1990s and into the early 2000s and chronicled his experiences in the Paris Journals for the New Yorker as well as within this memoir. Gopnik explores the difficulties of being an American in Paris as well as becoming a new father shortly before his move across continents.

I really loved this book. Gopnik is pensive and truthful and uproariously funny even under difficult circumstances. Gopnik details the minutiae of living in Paris and the daily battles of an American trying to adapt to a new home, specifically in a home so disdainful of the brand of American globalism that Mr. Gopnik represents. I found the reflections on his life to be touching and made me unafraid to move to Paris today. I think my favorite part of the book was the series of Christmas Journals, a reflection from the holiday season in Paris. Gopnik wrote a Christmas Journal for each year he was in Paris and it’s thought-provoking to read through his year end tabulation of the joys and disappointments of the outgoing year. I would absolutely recommend this book and I’m going to give this one to my mom when I return home for the summer. I hope you are able to find a copy, mine was courtesy of Thriftbooks so I suggest you start there! Happy Reading!

Book Review: A Queen in Hiding by Sarah Kozloff

What are you supposed to do after finishing an epic fantasy novel like The Priory of the Orange Tree? Obviously, jump into another fantasy series of which you only happen to have the first book! Yes, this was my big brain move to try and avoid the reader’s crash after finishing The Priory of the Orange Tree. This novel first came on my radar after reading a book review of the final novel in the series, Cerulean Queen, in the Wall Street Journal over the past year. After that review, I put the first in the series on my booklist and the rest is history! This is yet another birthday book so shout out to my brother for the birthday present! Thank you!!! Books are one of my favorite presents and they make up the majority of any gift list I am ever asked to provide. But without further ado, my take on A Queen in Hiding.

A Queen in Hiding tells the tale of Cerulia, the princella of Weirendale and follows her plight from a comfortable existence surrounded by nobles in the castle to becoming the foster child of a farming family. Her mother, Queen Cressa, flees the capital of Weirendale after discovering a nefarious plot against herself and her daughter, placing Cerulia in the hands of a peasant family and leaving to try and recapture her throne. The novel spans about a decade and explores the unrest occurring throughout the Nine Realms, foreshadowing the foes that Cerulia will have to defend herself against once she tries to reclaim her throne. The novel is a lovely read, not quite as entrancing as some, but with a good story and a plucky heroine. I would recommend this to lovers of young adult novels and fantasy in general. It’s a very female focused novel which I adore and found to be really refreshing. I hope that you get a chance to try reading this novel and happy reading with whatever is on your night stand these days!

Book Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

I loved this book so much! It’s so rare these days to find an entire fantasy series encompassed by one novel, however large that novel may be. This book was gigantic but I read it pretty quickly because I was so entranced by the story! Samantha Shannon does an excellent job of building an entirely new world full of mythical creatures and strong women who don’t take no for an answer! I first saw this book at a bookstore while I was in Spain last January and immediately put it on my booklist. I knew I couldn’t buy it then because it would’ve added at least five pounds to my bags but my brother kindly purchased it for me for my recent birthday. I’m so glad he did because this is a gem of a novel.

The Priory of the Orange Tree begins with the story of Ead Duryan, a highly trained warrior priestess who has been assigned to protect Queen Sabran of House Berethnet, ruler of Inys and leader of Virtudom. The House of Berethnet has kept “the Nameless One” at bay for a thousand years and has benevolently ruled Inys but no longer. The minions of the Nameless One are on the rise and Ead must find a way to protect Sabran and all of Virtudom before the Nameless One conquers all. The Priory of the Orange Tree tells Ead’s tale through her eyes and all those around her which I found enchanting for filling out the world that Shannon created. The novel is also very inclusive with a diverse set of characters. I really enjoyed that aspect of the novel because it didn’t seem forced but a natural extension of the world that Shannon built. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and would recommend it to anyone who is willing to trudge through all 800 pages. I appreciated its length because I felt that the story was able to truly develop each character. However I did feel that the ending was a little rushed but it did the job. It was a wonderful escape to another world and I hope you get a chance to enjoy Shannon’s writing sometime soon. She is also the author of a pretty popular series, The Bone Season, so that may be next up on my reading list! Happy reading!

Almond Lemon Macaroons

I made these little delights a few weeks ago and wanted to post the recipe just in time for Easter or Passover. These macaroons are delicious little mouthfuls that are perfect for any occasion as spring creeps into our lives. I’ve been so desperate for some sunshine or even blooming flowers so I’ve been baking a lot of really light summery things lately. With their strong lemon flavor, these fit the bill! The original recipe was from the New York Times but I modified it quite a bit. These are a take on the traditional almendrado cookie of Spain which is a cookie made from blanched almonds and heavily whipped egg whites. While made of the same ingredients as macarons, the Spanish cookie is nothing like its French cousin but is still a treat! Almendrados are traditionally flavored with cinnamon and I was delighted to come across this lemon flavored variation.

In reality, these cookies are much simpler to make than the typical almendrados. It’s made of five ingredients and comes together in less than fifteen minutes. The longest part of this recipe is the chilling period between preparing the dough and baking. The chilling period is meant to help dry the cookies out but chilling your cookies also gives the ingredients time to combine into deeper flavors. The original recipe called for chilling for twelve hours or overnight but I’m impatient and I shortened it to six hours. You can do it for the whole twelve hours if you’d like but I thought it wasn’t necessary to wait! The recipe also calls for the zest of one lemon. I used the equivalent of four tablespoons. I love lemons and I will often zest my lemons as soon as I get them and freeze the zest in the little sauce containers you get from eating takeout. This has worked really well for me because I adore strong lemon flavoring and I’ll often just take a container out from the freezer and use the whole thing. I would recommend trying it because it can help to preserve the delicious flavor from summer lemons well into the winter. Let me know if you try this recipe, I really hope that you do! It’s delicious and a nice mouthful of sweetness for the lingering chilly wintery nights that we’re having these days! Happy baking!

Almond Lemon Macaroon Recipe

  • 160 grams (1 2/3 cup) almond flour (Original recipe calls for grinding your own blanched almonds but that is time consuming and a LOT of work)
  • 150 grams (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • Zest of 1 lemon or 4 tablespoons of lemon zest
  • Additional 50 grams (1/4 cup) granulated sugar for topping
  • About 30 almonds for decoration
  1. In a bowl, combine the almond flour, granulated sugar, and lemon zest. Add the egg and mix well. Alternatively, use a food processor to combine ingredients.
  2. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.
  3. Preheat oven to 350F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Put the additional 50 grams of sugar into a bowl.
  4. Tear off pieces of dough (about the size of a walnut) and roll into a ball. Roll in the sugar and press an almond into the top until it is half buried in the dough. Aim the pointy part of the almond into the dough.
  5. Bake cookies 8-10 minutes until the barest hint of color shows on them. Cookies should still be a little soft when removed from the oven so they don’t harden too much. Cool completely and store in an airtight container. Enjoy!