Unlove and Marriage… || Cruel Beauty Review

Initial Thoughts:

Honestly, this book was okay at best. There was so much talk about the Hermetic arts but it showed almost NOTHING useful about it. There was a lot of wishy washy magic which I had put aside and tolerated up until the solution at the end was to BLATANTLY REVERSE TIME to when EVERYTHING wasn’t effed up. That’s when I lost my shit.


CRUEL BEAUTY

by Rosamund Hodge
Balzer + Bray, January 2014
YA fantasy, fairy tale retelling
Rated: 2.5 / 5 cookies

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she’s ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle—a shifting maze of magical rooms—enthralls her.

As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex’s secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.

The Good Bits

For podcasting reasons, I’ve been in a Beauty and the Beast retelling splurge. After I read A Court of Thorns and Roses, I’d scoured reviews just to see what people were writing about regarding that particular fairy tale retelling compared to some others. Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge was a common comparison and mention in many of the reviews, so yes, I was very intrigued by the book itself.

Note, I did initially think that Cruel Beauty was also new adult, so my expectation on the romance was a bit…more.

Cruel Beauty started off well enough. You have a dystopian Greek-inspired world, where a Gentle Lord rules a separated and isolated nation of Arcadia. You have an angry girl who is destined to marry said despicable Gentle Lord. Who, by the way, she has been trained to kill from birth.

Pretty damned compelling stuff, if I do say so myself.

And for the most part? It was pretty cool, the premise. I expected things to go wrong the minute Nyx would be married to Ignifex, and it being a rather close retelling to its original source (and the fact that the book jacket summaries SPECIFICALLY FOCUS ON THIS), I knew general YA love hijinks was going to happen. What I overestimated was the amount of chemistry that these two lovebirds were going to have.

As a BatB retelling, though, it was pretty spot on, including the lovely library, a magical ring with a rose emblem on it, and a foreshadowing of the dream-prince/Beast who shows up as a shadow servant of the mysterious Ignifex.

Alright, so Ignifex isn’t a Beast in a purely physical sense (which seems to happen in a friggin’ YA novel)–since he’s supposed to be Rhysand-level kinds of sexy, with black feathery angel wings in the package–but he is a monster in the emotional sense. He keeps Arcadia trapped and rules through his shadow demons. He also is the Gentle Lord, a dealer of wishes and seemingly unfair bargains. That being said, obviously there’s a chink in his armor, and there is something that explains why he’s the Gentle Lord in the first place.

I will admit that’s the best bits of the story. Well, along with the fact that Ignifex is a pretty amusing villain, especially when he knows exactly why Nyx is there and lets her roam the castle anyway.

The Triggery Bits

Unfortunately, cat-and-dog conversation and dystopian fantasy backdrop were pretty much the only things I liked about the story. I wanted to like the rest, but there were several things that drove me nuts. Her family being one of them.

There was no redeeming quality in any of her family members, and I was deeply disappointed in Nyx’s twin sister, Astraea. What could have been a deeply interesting character turned out to be a bland, tropey, vengeance-filled sister with added naivety, which was quite possibly the worst combination of traits in a character EVER. I couldn’t even pick a limelight lady from the bunch of females in the group, because honestly, Nyx was the most interesting female, and she’s already got enough limelight.

On top of that, the magic in the book was frustrating. In the attempt to keep with the timeline and mythological background, the magic used for Nyx and the Resurgandi lies in the Hermetic arts. My problem with this is that there was a lot of talk about Hermetic arts, along with symbols and rules, but nothing ever came out of this type of magic. At the end of the day, the other magic that showed up in Cruel Beauty was something that didn’t have any rules and wasn’t explained all that much. By the end of it, it was all a Deus Ex kind of thing.

AND WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT TIME-FUCKERY AT THE END?

Let’s all just retcon the entire story because the characters are making more mistakes than the plot can handle, and soooo we’ll give them all a clean slate. This was quite possibly the worst copout ever. What was wrong with having characters live through the mistakes they made and try to make up for them? What was wrong with trying to break out of their dark, worldly prison as opposed to having all their experiences rewritten to a happier one? Ugh, this was the most upsetting bit.

But I won’t rant anymore. Otherwise I could go on and on.

2.5 out of 5 cookies! I wish I could have loved this book more…sigh.

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Food and Fandom: Beauty’s Spiced Treacle Cake

I could go on and on about why I chose to do another Beauty-related goodie, but this one is actually inspired by something that McKinley wrote in the pages. I couldn’t really find the passage again, but I’m telling you, the book mentioned spiced treacle cake, and I totally hopped up on the idea!

Beauty by Robin McKinley is a straightforward retelling of an iconic fairy tale. One of the things that I remembered from the book was a scene where Beauty wakes up in the morning thinking of hot chocolate and toast. And later on, she ruminates on the types of foods she’d been having while in Beast’s castle, and Beauty eventually decides that one of her favorites is a spiced treacle cake. Often she would ask for it, and there was an adorable scene where she even feeds the Beast a piece because she wanted him to try it!

So I went on a search for a spiced treacle cake.

Ginger Spiced Treacle Traybake

I actually gleaned this recipe from Fold in the Flour, though the original recipe is very much thanks to Mary Berry. I mention this because I had become addicted to The Great British Bake Off and after seeing that this was a recipe she had, I wanted to try it!

I will say that Mary Berry knows her shit, and honestly, even with the changes I made, it was still delicious and spiced and utterly gingery!

I’ve converted the ingredients into American measurements the best way I can. Also, these are the ingredients of changes I made as well, so if you want to follow the recipe to its totality, there’s plenty of places where this recipe can be found (including the Fold in the Flour link).

Ingredients

Cake

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) softened unsalted butter
  • 1 cup muscovado sugar (I used dark brown)
  • 2/3 cup molasses (I substituted with maple syrup, but you can use honey or some other syrup that has a thicker consistency)
  • 2 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 Tbsp milk
  • 3 bulbs stem ginger (I used 1 Tbsp ginger powder because I couldn’t find stem ginger in the groceries)

Glaze

  • 2/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 3 tsp ginger powder (optional)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • water (as needed)
  • chopped candy ginger (as needed)

Making the Cake

Mix the sugar and butter until smooth and creamy, add eggs one by one. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until smooth.

Bake cake in 9 x 13 inch tray for 35 minutes at 350 F. Set aside to cool and make the glaze.

Prepare glaze. Mix the dry ingredients and add water as needed, up until the consistency is what you want to pour onto the cake.

Sprinkle chopped ginger candy on top for decoration.

Verdict: Not everyone is a big fan of ginger or spiced cake, so this was not exactly the household favorite. The changes I made also made the cake not so treacly, but eh, I’m not a big fan of molasses, so that definitely cut down on the stickiness and the density. of the cake itself.

However, as a ginger-lover, I didn’t mind this so much, and it was like eating a super delicious sponge with candied ginger!

Season 1, Episode 2: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

Fableulous Retellings Podcast is up with its latest episode! This week, we tackle Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses, a popular new adult series in the fantasy circuit. Listen to us giggle about the new adulty-ness of the text and discuss the importance of food descriptions in the fairy world.

And, of course, follow Meg and me at Fableulous Retellings Podcast!

http://wp.me/p8GfxC-1Q

Food and Fandom: Beauty’s Rose Apple Tarts

Oh baking. How I’ve missed thee! The idea actually came to mind because in under two weeks, my friend Meg and I will be releasing our first ever episode of Fableulous Retellings Podcast. Our first theme, surprise surprise, is the tale of Beauty and the Beast!

I had a few options regarding this story, and likely I will do a couple more between podcast episodes. To start it off, though, I was a bit inspired by the whole rose concept. In the original story–and most of the retellings afterward–Beauty often asks for a rose for her father to bring back from his trip. For the most part, he does, and for some reason, the Beast is none too happy with this poor old man pilfering from his rosebushes. I guess beasts don’t suffer thieves, either!

In any case, the rose is important, as is the garden, and even Disney got up on that in their version of BatB.

SO. Onto my baked good.

I thought about trying a rose-flavored macaron but I would have been at a loss, because I haven’t actually learned to make macarons! (All in good time…). So I browsed and I realized, oooh, an apple tart sounds yum!

Rose Apple Tarts

The original recipe I got from Preppy Kitchen, though I will admit that other than the apple seasoning, I didn’t really follow the rest of the ingredients. I couldn’t remember where I got the pastry shell recipe, however, but I do recall using powdered/confectionery sugar instead of regular sugar, just for a sweeter taste. And with tarts, you want something on the sweet side to balance out the sour that’ll be coming from the baked fruit.

The other thing I would say about making and shaping this tart shell is that it would be a good idea to have kidney beans or beads to keep the tart’s shell in place. I had neither, so it was much harder to stuff the apples in and shape them as roses afterward. The other suggestion is not to blind bake the shell and put the apples in immediately. Blind baking wasn’t really necessary for me, especially since I wasn’t making a huge tart shell, but little itty bitty ones.

I used my mini cupcake pan for such an occasion.

I also don’t have a tart pan, so this was definitely me improvising by using one of my cookie cutters to cut out pieces of dough and placing it in my cupcake pan. They shaped up rather well!

Probably the hardest part, however, was slicing the apples in very, very thin layers. In retrospect, I should have used the potato peeler, because slicing things very thinly with a knife took way too long. And most of the slices were still not thin enough! Maybe I just need a bit more practice.

Not that anyone’s complaining. Most of these tarts disappeared the moment they came out of the oven.

Beauty, Beast, and Sexy Times || A Court of Thorns and Roses Review

Initial Thoughts:

I feel conflicted about this book. I so very wished that it was just a damn standalone because AS A STAND-ALONE I CONDONE THE SHENANIGANS A LITTLE BIT. What drove me nuts was the hint of a love triangle. OF COURSE that’s what would drive me nuts.


A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES

by Sarah J. Maas
Bloomsburry, May 2015
New adult fantasy, fairy tale
Rated: 3.5 / 5 cookies

Feyre’s survival rests upon her ability to hunt and kill – the forest where she lives is a cold, bleak place in the long winter months. So when she spots a deer in the forest being pursued by a wolf, she cannot resist fighting it for the flesh. But to do so, she must kill the predator and killing something so precious comes at a price …

Dragged to a magical kingdom for the murder of a faerie, Feyre discovers that her captor, his face obscured by a jewelled mask, is hiding far more than his piercing green eyes would suggest. Feyre’s presence at the court is closely guarded, and as she begins to learn why, her feelings for him turn from hostility to passion and the faerie lands become an even more dangerous place. Feyre must fight to break an ancient curse, or she will lose him forever.

Note: This review has spoilers. This review is also a mess. This review won’t discuss everything I made notes on because future podcast reasons.

So I have a love-hate relationship with Maas right now. Well, maybe. Okay, not so much her as a person but the direction she takes stories sometimes. Alright, all the time, judging from what I’ve been seeing on the Maas fandom.

I’m going to back track because honestly, I loved Throne of Glass and likely I’m going to love Crown of Midnight, but I haven’t read anything past ToG in ages. And then I ended up picking ACoTaR for “research” reasons. And judging from the pattern that’s said to have happened in the ToG series (where eventually the intended ship sinks and the story goes in an entirely different direction), I’m betting it’s going to be the same in the ACoTaR series. Correct me if I’m wrong, but considering I’m hearing more about how awesome Rhysand is and not enough about Tamlin, I’m willing to bet the story gets away in the later books and shifts into something horribly wrong.

(Like Rhysand the jerkwad being part of the romantic arc. Oh god, he so is.)

So…anyway, this book.

I was a little underwhelmed by it, and for the longest time I ping-ponged between liking the story and groaning because once again, the main character was doing something stupid. Feyre is very different from the massively confident and deadly Celaena (or whatever her name is nowadays), and she constantly reminds me of how different the two characters are by putting herself down several times within the same chapter. I get it, Feyre, you’re human, you’re not something super-powerful or assassin-like deadly, you’re not even a special snowflake (up until the end of the book where we discover OH LOOK. She’s quite phenomenally a snowflake now!). But for eff’s sake, you killed a damn snow-fairy-wolf-thing right in Chapter 1, so clearly you aren’t as useless as you make yourself out to be.

Oh STFU Feyre.

Rant over, I liked where the story was actually headed at a certain point. Things picked up once Feyre actually stopped trying to run away and started trying to live her life within Tamlin’s castle. I mean, it’s an effing easy life, Feyre, stop making excuses about family vows when clearly EVERYTHING IS BEING TAKEN CARED OF. What the hell, Feyre. Does nothing please you?!

Alright, sorry, I get heated when I think of the main character.

There is a rich history revolving the creation of the wall between humans and fae. There is a great war that happens which killed off many people on both sides of the war, and somewhere along the way, a Treaty is enacted in order to keep the peace between the fairy realm and the mortal realm. Now the problem with Treaties is that for one side to stick to it, the other side has to stick to it, too. But clearly in this story, there’s some rule-breaking ahead, and that’s what lands Feyre in the mess she’s in.

I wish there’d been more of a prologue to work with. It took two-thirds of the book to finally introduce the big baddy, who turns out to be someone whose past revolved around love and betrayal–typically something you’d expect humans to feel, not so much the fairies. The whole affair in the fairy court humanizes creatures like Tamlin and Rhysand and Amarantha, and also displays the kind of shit they get into when they’re super-powered creatures with very human problems. I liked that. I liked that a lot.

(There could have been a bit more work on the worldbuilding, which is a whole other discussion that would get really lengthy, so I won’t even try to talk about that right now.)

I was pretty tickled with the romance. It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing, and I don’t really know if I’d ship them, but I will admit that the sexy times were the right kind of steamy. Except for that one bit where Tamlin pretty much bites Feyre and then talks about the dirty things he’d do to her if he’d caught her during one of the fairy festival-rituals. Yes, I know, she didn’t seem so bothered by his advances, but um, dude, no means no. Totally creepy. Thankfully, Tamlin isn’t super-psychotic, and it turns out he’s kind of a nice guy, except when he’s being all fae-y. A nice, muscled, strong guy with a mask perpetually glued to his face, but Feyre totally knows he’s hot underneath that, just by how his strong jaw looks and everything. He doesn’t even keep slaves or anything! (This is me trying my best not to snort…seriously trying here!)

As for Rhysand…I still think he’s a jerk. The Darkling from Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone comes to mind for comparison, and honestly, I thought the Darkling was a more compelling and seductive force than Rhysand was. It’s clear both characters are assholes, but honestly, the Darkling was a special kind of lovable asshole (or…maybe it’s just me…).

Um. Lucien was awesome. So was Nesta, actually. I want more of these two characters. Yep.

3.5 out of 5 cookies! Again, there was a lot more I wanted to say, but I’ll save it for podcasting purposes.


Have you read this book? What did you think?