Food and Fiction: Mercy’s Trouble Chocolate

Alright, it’s chocolate-centric week, because I’m most likely in Belgium right now, gallivanting about and visiting chocolate shops. However, that is something I’ll probably be blogging about much later in the week when I get back from vacation, and instead, this is more along the lines of “Oh, hey, I finally finished Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs and I want to talk about chocolate chip cookies!”

Or chocolate in general.

So just a quick summary of the book and the Mercy Thompson universe: Silence Fallen is the tenth installation of the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs, and revolves around Mercedes Athena Thompson Hauptman, now the mate of the Columbia Basin’s Alpha werewolf. For those who are a fan of–or who have read–the series, you’ll know at this point that Mercy is living a rather eclectic life as a mechanic and non-werewolf wife. She’s also a shape-shifting coyote, is friends with a powerful fae, is bonded to an equally powerful vampire, and has adopted a fire-generating fae spirit. Mercy can also see and command ghosts. So. Yeah. Not a normal life by any means, and things just escalate from there.

One of my favorite things about Mercy is the fact that she bakes cookies. You laugh at this minute detail, but seriously, she does a lot of baking in the books. I admire her for that, because honestly, how does she find the time between being kidnapped by vampires and having to fend for herself against the Gray Lords and coyote-hating pack members? But she does, and in the beginning of Silence Fallen legit starts with her trying to bake cookies.

Of course, everything goes horribly wrong afterwards, but that’s besides the point.

The point is, I ended up with a craving for chocolate chip cookies. So I made them.

Thankfully, I wasn’t making cookies for a pack of werewolves, so I didn’t have to worry about lack of ingredients! So no vampire-induced car accidents here!

I was, however, baking these cookies for a get-together, so I decided to add a bit of extra into it. Mmm…coffee chocolate chip cookies here we come!

I used the recipe from Cathy at Lemon Tree Dwelling. And they came out delicious, by the way!

The coffee flavor came out, and the cookies themselves were seriously disappearing pretty quickly! I’d definitely make them again.

Anyway, I’ll end it there. Gotta run and frolic!

This post counts as #3 of my Food and Fiction Challenge.

Anoshe || A Conjuring of Light Review

Initial Thoughts:

Anoshe.

Oh god. Stop. STAHP. These are not tears. I am not crying, you are.


A CONJURING OF LIGHT

by V.E. Schwab
Tor Books, February 2017
Adult fantasy, adventure, romance
Rated: 5 / 5 cookies

THE BALANCE OF POWER HAS FINALLY TIPPED…
The precarious equilibrium among four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity of magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empire, leaving a space for another London to rise.

WHO WILL CRUMBLE?
Kell – once assumed to be the last surviving Antari – begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties. And in the wake of tragedy, can Arnes survive?

WHO WILL RISE?
Lila Bard, once a commonplace – but never common – thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her dry. Meanwhile, the disgraced Captain Alucard Emery of the Night Spire collects his crew, attempting a race against time to acquire the impossible.

WHO WILL TAKE CONTROL?
And an ancient enemy returns to claim a crown while a fallen hero tries to save a world in decay.

Honestly, it’s still pretty difficult for me to be writing this review without tearing up from time to time. And it didn’t help when the last few chapters practically begged for me to let go of the story.

INTERESTING LANGUAGE FACT: The word anoshe really resonated with me because of many things, but none stronger than the thought that, funnily enough, I’d been recently thinking about foreign words and how people said goodbye to each other. According to Schwab, Arnesians didn’t have one word to say goodbye, and that anoshe isn’t truly saying goodbye, but rather it was a way of saying that those parting from each other would see each other again. Which is GREAT, because I’ve always liked the idea of a “next time we meet” kind of ending. Anoshe became a special word for me, much like when I had Japanese students last year, and when a few left the school for good, it wasn’t sayonara or sarabada or any other form of definitive farewell that the parents uttered to me and to the fellow children, but mata ne, which roughly translates to see you soon.

Anyway, enough of the obsession with the word and onto the story itself.

I have to hand it to Schwab. She pulled all the punches in A Conjuring of Light, because it was damn near perfect as a conclusion to an already brilliant trilogy. ACOL picked up the shredded cliffhanger pieces that A Gathering of Shadows left me in by continuing directly after. It then proceeded to take my emotions and drown it in a large body of water, only to bring it up again, dry it up, and continue the process. I quite literally bawled my eyes out several times throughout the book, and the last 100 pages sent me to tears every. effing. chapter. I was a mess, and Schwab is to blame.

But hell, by the end of it, I was crying not because my heart had broken. I was crying because the story ended and, as Schwab mentioned in the final bits, it’s just really hard to let go, and as a reader, I was fighting against my commitment issues and being asked to let the world and characters of Red London go by getting to the end of the book. And that was pretty much the main reason why I am still having a hard time writing up this review, because having reviewed it once pretty much confirms the fact that I’ve read the book, and the magic of reading A Conjuring of Light for the first time has trickled out of the pages.

That isn’t to say I won’t re-read this trilogy again. And it certainly isn’t to say that I am ready to face the emotional turmoil that I found in the books. I’m pretty sure if I read it multiple times, I’d still cry the same amount, and I’d still squee the same amount. The only difference is I know when to expect them.

Feelings out of the way, just some character developments I absolutely adored in ACOL (and this is where my SPOILER ALERT comes in):

Rhylucard, Kellila – The chemistry between the pairings and the chemistry between each other were always some of my favorite bits in A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows. The fact that there was more going into ACOL, and the fact that there is resolution in the ships (one way or another) made me so happy.

Maxim and Emira – Just, hold your fort, we get the entire Maresh line POV? Hell yes. I simply loved these brief breaks out of the four main characters, and the only thing I would have loved to see was more of the Steel Prince at work! I know a prologue may not be in the picture, but holy shit, can there be a novella plsthx? I’d have loved to know more about Maxim Maresh before he became the king! And Emira! Gosh, I’d give my left kidney for a story in the past, in any shape or form.

Holland – Seriously, ever since I started seeing the Avatar: The Last Airbender vibe in the trilogy (which started at the end of ADSOM for me), I saw Holland as the Zuko of the series. Which meant I had high hopes that he would also undertake his own suffered journey towards redemption. And, while Schwab hoped that she could change her readers’ mind about Holland (I suppose to a more positive light), she really didn’t have to do much on my part. I already loved Holland in my own way. I mean, he isn’t Kell, but who is? All the same, I was absolutely loving that Holland’s story comes full circle.

I mean…this is how I pictured all the fighting to have been happening with Holland…WHICH IS TOTALLY SPOT ON.

Rhy and Lila – I throw these two in together because I thought their character development followed a similar route. For Rhy, we see him grow from a prince that did not like confrontation to one who stood for his people as a shining beacon of hope and comfort. It made me tear up whenever he walked his darkened city, often alone, and often with sadness. As for Lila, well…she, too, changed for the better. Like Rhy, when the going got rough, often her first instincts were to run. However, by the end of AGOS, she’s running towards danger, and the fact that she stayed to fight for a London that wasn’t her own made me ultimately love her. I was admittedly on the fence with Lila for a long time, but ACOL cemented my love for her, and it’s really no wonder Kell gravitates toward her. She’s effing badass.

Alucard – You know what, I would have loved to have seen Luc’s story fleshed out even more. Which is weird, considering we see enough of his past to fully develop him as a character. And boy, that shit was depressing. Still, I wanted more, and he was pretty much the only one of the characters in the main four that still had some secrets to unravel at the very end.

Kell – I don’t really need to point out I’m still in love with this guy. I’ve said it often enough in my previous reviews of ADSOM and AGOS that I’ll leave it at that.

A few other tidbits that made this book fabulous:

Three Antari and a pirate traipse into a boat… You’d see this as a running joke, too, but egads, the boat scenes made me oh so happy. Particularly the image of irritated and drenched Alucard. And Kell teaching another Antari a few blood spells (can Kell teach me, too?! *cough*).

Death comes to Red London. It was difficult to read about so many characters dying, and I had expected some casualties, but not in the scale that I’d care for almost all of the ones who did die. You’d think someone who’s read G.R.R. Martin and gotten desensitized to main character deaths would have expected this from someone writing a high fantasy. But egads. The deaths in Schwab’s books hit me much harder than any of the A Song of Ice and Fire deaths to date. And that’s saying something.

A darker shade of character study. Once again, Schwab shows mastery in her character-driven story. Everything was alive and personified. Even the big, bad villain–a magical entity that technically didn’t even have a corporeal form for the most part–had become personified as a creature with a particularly singular motive: to devour and recreate the world in his image. Yes, the four Londons still feature prominently as the backdrop, and description has always been vivid with Schwab, but she’s always shined where her characters are concerned, and this book is no different.

So yes. This is me gushing over this book. Because honestly, it was practically perfect in every way.

5 out of 5 cookies! Now excuse me while I find the tissues.

This counts as #7 for the Flights of Fantasy Challenge.


Have you read this book? What did you think?

Russian Folklore Galore || The Bear and the Nightingale Review

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Initial Thoughts:

This was the type of book you needed to read in a slow pace beside the crackling of a fireplace. No, seriously, it’s very reminiscent of old-world storytelling, and it was just so damn lovely. And lyrical. And filled with Russian fae-folk. And a badass girl who is not afraid to stare Death in the face. Literally.


THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE

by Katherine Arden
Del Rey, January 2017
Fairy tale fantasy, historical
Rated: 4.5 / 5 cookies
e-ARC provided by NetGalley (thank you!)

bearnightingaleAt the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

Okay, I’m a little late in reviewing this ARC, but I found myself wanting to savor the story, so I took a bit longer in the reading.

A Case of Russian Fairy Tales

I was recommended this book by NetGalley upon the insistence that if I had liked Uprooted by Naomi Novik, I would easily love this book, too. Well, I loved Uprooted, and The Bear and the Nightingale has a similar feel. Both books are drenched in Slavic fairy tales, they are both set in villages too close to a dangerous forest, and in some sense, they feature females who come into their power through sheer necessity. While Novik takes Uprooted to a fantasy world sandbox, Arden brings hers straight to Old World Russia, where villagers still give their thanks to household spirits.

“Let’s go to Sarai, Sashka!” She turned to look at him. “Or Tsargrad, or Buyan, where the sea-king lives with his daughter the swan-maiden. It is not too far. East of the sun, west of the moon.”

I loved that this book was filled with Russian folklore. And it was filled to the brim, I must say. Right from the beginning, Dunya launches into the story of Morozko, the Frost-Demon, and the maiden he was supposed to marry. Then, as though that wasn’t enough, a few other mini-stories litter the pages, producing a fabulously rendered backdrop of old Russia.

Pyotr’s house was alive with devils. A creature with eyes like coals hid in the oven. A little man in the bathhouse winked at her through the steam. A demon like a heap of sticks slouched around the dooryard.

Okay, I do have an obsession with fae folk. This stems from years of reading and writing about them. And it so happens that some of my favorite fae are Russian fae. The rusalka, the domovoi, the bannik…all of them feature in TBatN, and it made my giddy little heart squee with delight when these creatures were brought forth to become important figures within the story.

“Then she must have a husband,” said Dunya simply. “The sooner the better. Frost-demons have no interest in mortal girls wed to mortal men. In the stories, the bird-prince and the wicked sorcerer–they only come for the wild maiden.”

Not to mention the fact that the book reads very much like a fairy tale. It’s what you would expect from someone telling you a story by the fireside. It just has that kind of feel and poetry. Even the words and descriptions lend well to the type of narration Arden uses (limited, multiple POV), which, if found in a different type of story, might not work as beautifully as it did in this particular case.

Dread settled over the village: a clinging, muttering dread, tenacious as cobwebs.

Seriously, I can so imagine the dread, you guys.

“I’m not sure you’d like to live in the woods,” said Olga. “Baba Yaga might eat us.”

“No,” said Vasya, with perfect assurance. “There is only the one-eyed man. If we stay away from the oak-tree he will never find us.”

I love Vasya. She’s that type of female character who breaks societal norms, especially during the general time period (considering Russia is largely controlled by the Golden Horde, I’d say late 13th century at the earliest) where females are really only faced with two things: matrimony or the convent. Vasya is neither the marrying kind nor a convent girl, and she defies even her father for the type of freedom she wants. Also, she’s nice to horses. That’s always a plus. And while she’s not the type of girl to get tied down by any means, I wouldn’t object to her falling in love with a certain demon…um. Just saying.

“Because I am not Kaschei the Deathless,” said Olga with some asperity. “And I have no horse to outrun the wind.”

I will admit that The Bear and the Nightingale was a little slow to start, and most of it was really just an introduction to characters who disappeared a third into the book. I felt like there wasn’t much discussed regarding Olga at all after her marriage, which was a shame, because there could have been a lot done in Moscow in her perspective. Same with Sasha, who gets talked up so much that I was a little disappointed that we don’t get to see more of him after the halfway point.

You could even say that much of the introductory plot points are just a lead-up to later sequels (which is pretty much happening according to the author, who said that book #2 is already in the editing stages). This is great, because there are a ton of unanswered questions. Well, not so much questions as me going: “THAT CAN’T BE IT. I WANT MOOOORE.”

“Nothing changes, Vasya. Things are, or they are not. Magic is forgetting that something ever was other than as you willed it.”

“I still do not understand.”

“That does not mean you cannot learn.”

Seriously, though, if this isn’t a build-up to the sequel kind of quote, I don’t know what is.

But yes, other than that slow start, and perhaps the lack of action until the third part of the book, I thought the book captured old-school fairy telling perfectly. Arden had the mood and setting just right, and even the dark and scary bits were sufficiently dark and scary.

“The Bear is awake.”

“What bear?”

“The shadow on the wall,” said the rusalka, breathing quickly. “The voice in the dark.”

For an evil spirit that inspires fear in the hearts of many, this description of him is spot on.

One by one, her family fell silent. Someone outside was crying. It was little more than a choked whimper, barely audible. But at length there could be no doubt–they heard the muffled sound of a woman weeping.

And NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE. I would be noping out of there so fast if I heard a woman crying outside my house in the dead of night.

4.5 out of 5 cookies! I kind of wished this was a standalone, but at the same time I really want to next book, if only to continue my ride along with Vasya.

This book counts as #3 of the Flights of Fantasy Reading Challenge.


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Have you read this book? What did you think?

 

A Fabletown Mystery || The Wolf Among Us Review

wolfamongus-review

Initial Thoughts:

Reading this volume really made me want to play the game again, if only to redo some of my crazy decisions (like trying NOT to get certain people killed, hem hem). That said, this was highly entertaining to read, and I adored the addition of random fairy tale summaries as told by various Fables characters (honestly. Gren’s retelling of Little Red Riding Hood was THE best.)


FABLES: THE WOLF AMONG US, VOL. 1

by Matthew Sturges, Dave Justus (writers)
Vertigo, November 2015
Graphic novel, fairy tale fantasy
Rated: 4 / 5 cookies

wolfamongusEven before the first issue of Fables , there were stories to be told, shadowy avenues to explore, and lives hanging in the balance! Bigby Wolf has seen plenty in his time as Sheriff of Fabletown…but nothing can prepare him for this…

It all starts with a simple domestic disturbance. But when Bigby learns that his old nemesis, the Woodsman who has an axe to grind, is part of the scene, things go downhill fast. And how will Bigby and Snow White keep their heads long enough to crack the case when they get caught up in a grisly murder mystery?

So there’s this series I’ve enjoyed the past couple of years called Fables. I had heard of it a while back because of course I had, being a fairy tale enthusiast and an admirer of comic books. I mean, come on. Fairy tale characters living in secret in the Bronx because some crazy Adversary took over each of their worlds. That’s the kind of shit I’d read in a heartbeat. Admittedly, the Fables series didn’t really pick up for me until I’d read the text story of how Bigby met Snow White in Volume 2, and from there, I was hooked.

When I’d first heard that Telltale was actually doing a game based off of it, I was pretty damn excited. Heck, it was one of my first posts on this blog.

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Needless to say I have since played The Wolf Among Us game and loved it. And then I realized that they made a graphic novel of TWAU, which was based on the works of Bill Willingham. Funny how that happens, but I went ahead and decided to read it just to see which route the writers went and decided was “canon.”

That can sometimes go either way, to be honest. Either you’re the type of person who likes having a canon story to fall upon, or you like paving the path of your character with your decision. In any case, it’s not really feasible, making the graphic novel a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure kind of thing, and in this case, I’m not the type of person who minded so much that it didn’t. So generally, I enjoyed it.

What I Loved

First off, the illustrations. The artwork in TWAU is stellar, and I absolutely loved the issue covers as well. I’ve always adored Bigby, but his rendering in the TWAU graphic novel is definitely my favorite of the lot (that said, Bigby in the actual Fables comic will always win out for me).

Character retellings of fairy tales. The major difference in the game and the graphic novel is definitely the addition of visual retelling in the novel. Where the game focused on a showing-not-telling format and an action-packed pacing, the graphic novel took a few breaths in the pages by getting characters to color the retelling of a story in their own words. Gren’s retelling of Little Red Riding Hood and Bigby Wolf’s past has got to be my favorite. Bigby’s own retelling of Gren’s past was just as good.

Bigby’s sardonic humor is still there. Honestly, I always play scumbag!Bigby, but his sarcasm in the graphic novel is even better. Especially where Colin is concerned. Colin’s a lovely pig.

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The tie-in with Ichabod Crane and Bigby, as well as some interesting backstory. I really loved that Bigby’s backstory is a bit fleshed out here. We don’t really see much of what has happened prior to present-day Fabletown, so seeing a glimpse of how Bigby and a few other of his fellow Fables dealt with living in New York throughout the centuries is an eye-opener. I liked that they put Bigby in Salem during the witch trials. Gives you an idea of how the whole thing might have gotten instigated by Fables living among the mundies, haha.

My ONLY caveat of having a graphic novel (and a story) take place way before Fables: Legends in Exile, is that Snow and Bigby are going to be dealing with so much sexual tension and absolutely NOTHING WILL HAPPEN. I can tell you that much. Unless they completely change the canon. I’m hoping to see more Snow/Bigby moments anyway, even if Bigby doesn’t get the girl until Volume 5 of the actual series. And OH. No Cinderella. Bummer. She was definitely my favorite of the Fable women, hands down.

4 out of 5 cookies! I’ll have to hunt down a copy of the second volume, just to see how Bigby canonically deals with a few baddies that have yet to show up in Volume 1.

This counts as #1 of the Graphic Novel Challenge Reading Challenge and #2 of the Flights of Fantasy Reading Challenge.


wolfamongus-holly

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Food and Fandom: Rephaim Chestnuts

I had planned to include this in my book review of Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season but Winter had other plans. I mean, I couldn’t exactly get myself groceries when the snowstorm pretty much last weekend. And okay, I may be exaggerating the degree of the weather, but no way was I driving in it on a darn Saturday morning.

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Anyway, that really isn’t the point. The point is, this is officially my first entry into my Food and Fiction Reading Challenge. I’ve already said what I had to say about the book itself, which I highly recommend, so I just wanted to focus a little bit on some of the foodie-things in the pages.

Chestnuts Roasting on a Rephaim Fire

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Firstly, Rephaim don’t really eat. Not in the human sense. What they feed on is more menacing, and relates to voyant aura (actually, it pretty much IS voyant aura). However, because the Rephaim do keep amaurotic (“non-clairvoyant”) and voyant (“clairvoyant”) humans on Sheol I with them, it makes sense that food is still a viable product of the society. Not only that, Paige is getting a pretty good deal out of it, considering how much Warden tends to like feeding her. I suppose his reasoning runs along the lines of keeping her fit enough to mind-fight some Emim, but I’m pretty sure he just likes watching humans eat. Some people are like that.

The boy returned with a pot of coffee. He placed the tray on the table with a generous plate of baked chestnuts, dusted with cinnamon. Their sweet smell made my mouth water. There was a vendor near the Blackfriars Bridge that sold them in the winter months. These ones looked even better than his, with cracked brown shells and velvety white insides. There was fruit, too: segments of pear, glossy cherries, soft smiles of red apple…

I plucked a chestnut from the plate, still hot from the oven. It tasted like warmth and winter.

(The Bone Season, p. 252)

Considering it’s snowing AGAIN as I look up from my computer, I find this passage highly appropriate. It also reminded me somewhat of those roasted nut carts scattered around New York City, where they often sell a pack of nuts that are either lightly salted or sweetened, depending on the vendor (and omg, the smell of roasted almonds and pecans are AMAZING). But in all my wanderings around the city, I don’t think I ever encountered chestnut vendors. Then again, I’ve never really had much experience with chestnuts to begin with.

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I don’t remember much of the taste of chestnuts, though after opening up the pack of peeled chestnuts, I was reminded that I actually DID try chestnuts before. That said, I wasn’t sure which ones were better, so I ended up purchasing two different types: peeled and unpeeled.

They were both ready to eat, but I wanted them “still hot from the oven” as described, so I dusted a bit of cinnamon on top and popped them into the oven for a few minutes. Then I proceeded to make tea. (Yes, not coffee, but only because I already had my coffee earlier in the day, and I prefer the comforts of tea to go with my snacks. Also, Paige mentioned having tea at some point in the book as well, so there’s that, because, you know, she’s in the friggin’ UK, lol!) On top of that, once the chestnuts were finally baked a bit, I added some dried fruit to the side. I didn’t want to get too literal, mostly because I don’t like pear and I figured an assortment of dried fruits would help me figure out which ones tasted really well with the chestnuts.

Verdict: Oh yum. They seriously did taste like warmth and winter in your mouth! That said, The cinnamon wasn’t utterly necessary, because the chestnuts themselves have a nice sweet potato-ey taste. The unpeeled chestnuts were my favorite of the two, because you got that extra smoky baked flavor after biting into the chestnut. Probably because the heat gets trapped inside, what with the shell covering most of the insides to begin with.