Recipe | Christmas reindeer biscuits (and some Christmas trees too)

These cute reindeer biscuits are a great example of simple, yet effective decoration. An easy way to bring some festive cheer to your baking!

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Back to biscuits this week. I got the idea for the reindeer decoration from here, but the recipe is my easy vanilla biscuits recipe. While I was at it, I also decided to use my Christmas tree biscuit cutter to make a few trees.

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Ingredients (makes 30 – 40 biscuits depending on how big you cut them)

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Review | Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Somewhere in the multiverse, another me is giving this 5 stars. 4.5/5.

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The blurb: “Are you happy with your life?” Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious. Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits. Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable–something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

My take:

This review will be spoiler-free and therefore brief.

Dark Matter brought back strong memories of a TV show I loved: Quantum Leap. It’s very possible that readers under the age of 30 will have no idea what I’m talking about but trust me, that show was brilliant TV (particularly for the standards of the late 80s and early 90s). Obviously there are more differences between Dark Matter and Quantum Leap than similarities, but the idea of a man stranded outside his own life, desperately trying to get home, is a powerful one. It worked for Quantum Leap and it works just as well for Dark Matter.

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WWW Wednesday 7th November 2016

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This meme is hosted by Sam over at Taking on a World of Words. A similar meme, This Week in Books is hosted by Lipsyy Lost and Found.

Wait! There’s more. Click to find out what I’ve been reading!

Review | The Siege by Helen Dunmore

Beautiful and rightfully bleak. 4/5 stars.

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The blurb: Leningrad, September 1941. Hitler orders the German forces to surround the city at the start of the most dangerous, desperate winter in its history. For two pairs of lovers – Anna and Andrei, Anna’s novelist father and banned actress Marina – the siege becomes a battle for survival. They will soon discover what it is like to be so hungry you boil shoe leather to make soup, so cold you burn furniture and books. But this is not just a struggle to exist, it is also a fight to keep the spark of hope alive…

The Siege is a brilliantly imagined novel of war and the wounds it inflicts on ordinary people’s lives, and a profoundly moving celebration of love, life and survival.

My take:

I got a copy of this from the library. It sat on the table and stared at me for four weeks. I couldn’t bring myself to progress past the opening page on which there is a reproduction of the order from Nazi High Command for Leningrad (St Petersburg) to be wiped off the face of the earth. I had a feeling reading this one would take strength, and I was right.

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Recipe | Red velvet swirl brownies (with cheesecake layer!)

Red velvet cake, chocolate brownie and cheesecake in a single traybake. It must be Christmas!

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No, I haven’t messed with the colour in these photos. The red is just that red!

After the success of last week’s red velvet mini bundt cakes, I was keen to continue the red velvet theme. I came across this recipe for red velvet swirl brownies here on the Food Network website. I’ve made a few little tweaks to the recipe and converted all the amounts for UK readers and other bakers who don’t follow the US cup measuring system.

Ingredients

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Review | The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co. #1) by Jonathan Stroud

Excellent middle-grade fiction which delivers genuine chills. 4/5.

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The blurb: For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions.

Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.

Set in a city stalked by spectres, The Screaming Staircase is the first in a chilling new series full of suspense, humour and truly terrifying ghosts. Your nights will never be the same again…

My take:

Firstly, thank you to Lilyn at Sci-Fi & Scary for recommending this book. It was her review which convinced me to add it to my TBR and I’m delighted I did.

The Screaming Staircase is another book which backs up my belief that if a writer get their characters right then they can’t go far wrong elsewhere. Handled badly, the kids of Lockwood & Co. could have come across as foolhardy, smug and annoying. Thankfully, Stroud knows what he’s doing: the main characters are all adorable and you can’t help but warm to them quickly. This meant the parts of the story where the stakes were high were truly frightening because I cared whether the heroes lived or died. I worried even though I knew this was the first book in a series, making it highly likely they’d all survive!

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WWW Wednesday 30th November 2016

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This meme is hosted by Sam over at Taking on a World of Words. A similar meme, This Week in Books is hosted by Lipsyy Lost and Found.

Wait! There’s more. Click to find out what I’ve been reading!

Review | In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Still looking for twists which surprise me. 3.5/5 stars.

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The blurb: Nora hasn’t seen Clare for ten years. Not since Nora walked out of school one day and never went back.

Until, out of the blue, an invitation to Clare’s hen do arrives. Is this a chance for Nora to finally put her past behind her?

But something goes wrong. Very wrong. Some things can’t stay secret for ever.

My take:

This review is short to avoid spoilers. It’s also rather disjointed, but that’s just my fault for being incoherent!

My experience with this book has compounded a suspicion which has been growing for a while: I think thrillers are ruined for me. I can’t help but spot the tell-tale sentences thrown in “casually” in the first third of the book. I’m instantly suspicious and trying to figure out why certain objects/decisions are significant. The upshot: the twists aren’t suprises😦

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Recipe | Red velvet mini bundt cakes

Already looking for festive baking ideas? These red velvet cakes are bright, fun and delicious!

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I’ve made a circular, two-layer red velvet cake before. Unfortunately I used ordinary red gel food colouring from the supermarket and the result was a cake with a red tinge, rather than the deep red I was hoping for. So this time I’ve taken a tip from Jane over at Jane’s Patisserie and invested in some Sugarflair Extra Red colouring.

Ingredients (makes approx. 10 mini bundt cakes as long as you don’t over-fill your mould)

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Review | Blame by Simon Mayo

If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, this is the book for you. 4/5 stars.

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The blurb: What happens when society wants you banged up in prison for a crime your parents committed?

That’s the situation in which Ant finds herself – together with her little brother Mattie and their foster-parents, she’s locked up in a new kind of family prison. None of the inmates are themselves criminals, but wider society wants them to do time for the unpunished ‘heritage’ crimes of their parents.

Tensions are bubbling inside the London prison network Ant and Mattie call home – and when things finally erupt, they realize they’ve got one chance to break out. Everyone wants to see them punished for the sins of their mum and dad, but it’s time for Ant to show the world that they’re not to blame.

My take:

In the interests of full disclosure, I must start this post by declaring my positive bias towards the author of Blame. I imagine readers based in the UK will know who Simon Mayo is. For those of you who don’t, he’s a radio presenter who has broadcast on the BBC practically every day since the late 1980s. I’m a big fan to the film review show he hosts with the film critic Mark Kermode every Friday on 5 Live (HTJI). This meant that before starting Blame I was both predisposed to like the book, while at the same time worried I wouldn’t. The excellent news is that I had nothing to fear because Blame is excellent YA fiction and every bit as nail-biting as promised.

Continue reading my review…