The She Creature

In the Woods by Tana French

Aaaahhhhhh you guys the semester is over! I’m finally able to read some fun fiction again, and thus, write some reviews. I really missed being able to do this, and I’m so glad to be back :). But anyways…to the review:

photo credit Amazon, I think (please don't steamroller me!!!)

photo credit Amazon, I think (please don’t steamroller me!!!)

They are running into legend, into sleepover stories and nightmares parents never  hear. Down the faint lost paths you would never find alone, skidding round the tumbled stone walls, they stream calls and shoelaces behind them like comet-trails. And who is it waiting on the riverbank with his hands in the willow branches, whose laughter tumbles swaying from a branch high above, whose face is in the undergrowth in the corner of your eye, built of light and leaf-shadow, there and gone in a blink?

What to say about this book? That I read it breathlessly in approximately 48 hours without looking up? That I thought about it all day while at work, that I couldn’t wait to return to it in my free hours? Or maybe something about how ultimately frustrating I found it? It’s shortcomings and cliches? I just don’t know. For some background information, the author, Tana French, has lived all over the world, but calls Ireland her home. In the Woods is set in the area around Dublin, and is the first in a series of (I think) five mystery novels that are all loosely related to its characters. I’ll definitely be checking out some of her later books, despite my mixed feelings about the first.

Plotwise, of course I don’t want to give too much away, especially since this is a mystery, but for what it’s worth: In the 1980s, three children disappear from a wood in a small town outside Dublin. Hours later, one child is found with someone else’s blood in his shoes, clawing his nails into a tree. He is never able to remember what happened that day, and the other two children are never found. 20 years later, the wood is being demolished to accommodate a major highway, and a group of archaeologists have been granted access to the site before construction begins. A murdered girl is found on the site, and the surviving child from 20 years ago, now grown up and a murder detective (who goes by a different name to avoid connection with his past), takes the case in the hopes that he might be able to figure out what happened to his friends all those years ago.

It’s kind of an intense plot, so I’m sure I butchered the explanation of it, but one important thing to know about the story is that both the book jacket and the early chapters suggest that these two cases are in some way intertwined, and that both will be solved by the end of the novel. They aren’t and they won’t. Checking goodreads, it seems like a lot of people had a definite problem with this. I feel a little conflicted, myself. I was definitely expecting some closure for both cases, and I felt the loss of this closure. Still, I think it’s pretty ballsy that French didn’t tie up all the ends neatly.

On the other hand, the plot sometimes feels disjointed, as if all the pieces don’t really flow together, and I don’t think this was intentional. There are a lot of lyrical, beautiful sentences and passages (like the one quoted at the beginning of this post), but they sometimes run up against what I can only describe as hardboiled cliches in a way that doesn’t read very well. That’s one thing to note: for all its beauty and originality, this book is straight full of cliches and stock characters. It’s a little annoying.

So I’ve rambled on a really long time about this book, and I need to stop already. One final thing. There are eerie, glancing references here to Irish folklore and mythology, as well as pagans and druids. The She Creature approves. You should probably read this. I’m not your dad or anything, but it’s definitely a fun book for summer. Jury’s still out on whether or not it’s any good, but it’s definitely intriguing.

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What is truer than truth? Answer: the story.

Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship, and Video Tape (2010)

Rare Horror

video nasties poster

Canibal Holocaust

Death Trap

The Driller Killer

The Evil Dead

Frankenstein (Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein)

I Spit On Your Grave

Last House on the Left

The Toolbox Murders

Zombie (Lucio Fulci)/Zombi 2/Zombie Flesh Eaters

What do all of these films have in common?  If you said that they’ve all been recently remade by Hollywood, I would reply “nice guess, but no.”

The films listed above, along 63 others, appear on the notorious list of Video Nasties which spurred a moral outrage in the United Kingdom in the mid to late ‘80s.  Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship, and Video Tape (AKA Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide Documentary)  does an excellent job of examining this period.  While the documentary does include clips of a graphic nature from some of the movies on the list, the real frightening portion of the film is the series of interviews with the people who made it legal…

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Reeling for the Empire by Karen Russell

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Nobody has ever guessed her own color correctly-Hoshi predicted hers would be peach and it was blue; Nishi thought pink, got hazel. I would have bet my entire five-yen advance that mine would be light gray, like my cat’s fur. But then I woke and pushed the swollen webbing of my thumb and a sprig of green came out. On my day zero, in the middle of my terror, I was surprised into a laugh: here was a translucent green I swore I’d never seen before anywhere in nature, and yet I knew it as my own on sight.

I read a lot. I mean, I guess I read a lot in general, although the past six months I’ve been mostly just…grad schooling and having multiple identity crises. Whatever. My basic point is, I’m a voracious reader. Of everything. I particularly love short stories, the weirder and more horrific the better. I love so many, I never thought I’d be able to identify a favorite. But you guys. I think this is it. The One. The best short story I’ve ever read.

“Reeling for the Empire” appears in Russell’s 2014 short collection Vampires in the Lemon Grove, which I’ll admit I haven’t finished reading yet. “Reeling” is the second story in the collection, and it completely blew my mind. I love Karen Russell because her writing is whimsical and fabulist, but it’s also dark and chilling. Bonus, it almost never comes across as pretentious or navel gazing (and she’s speaking at Hunter College on April 14th!! Go to there!!!)

This story is a perfect example of Russell’s work. It has a deeply implausible, fantastical premise. The narrative is full of color and beautiful imagery, but it’s also grotesque and deeply disturbing. As usual, I don’t want to give anything away, so SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER (just a little one though):

photo credit: http://www.avianaquamiser.com/posts/How_to_raise_silkworms/  although honestly, I have no idea where the image originally came from..

photo credit: http://www.avianaquamiser.com/posts/How_to_raise_silkworms/
although honestly, I have no idea where the image originally came from..

Basically, the story is set in industrializing Japan, and is concerned with women living in rural poverty trying to make ends meet by spinning silk. With a disgusting, devilish twist. Sci fi fans especially will want to check this one out. I know this review is weird and vague, I seriously don’t want to ruin the story for anyone. I want everyone to experience the sinking feeling I got as I realized what was going on. Shiver. This is SO worth your time, I promise.

all I’ll say is that the story is set in industrializing Japan and involves people in rural poverty struggling to make ends meet.

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

NOS4A2_cover“Here, Iowa. That’s the name of the town. You’re right down the road from beautiful Cedar Rapids, at the Here Public Library. And I know all about why you came. You’re confused about your bridge, and you’re trying to figure things out. Boy, is this your lucky day!” She clapped her hands. “You found yourself a librarian! I can help with the figuring-out thing and point you toward some good poetry while I’m at it. It’s what I do.”

Ok, I know that wasn’t a very scary quote for me to start off with, but it’s just so damn…awesome. I couldn’t resist (this has absolutely nothing to do with my job as a library clerk, no way). But don’t let the quote throw you, this is an excellent book, written by a man who is clearly a member of a fandom or two himself. At times it feels like a love letter to nerds who love horror, fantasy, and even doing the Sunday crossword. It’s scary as hell, but it’s delivered with fondness and care.

I really don’t want to spoil much for you (because you’re gonna go get this one from the library immediately, I’m sure), so I’m struggling with how to describe the plot without giving you an entire condensed version. In the book’s universe, there are people called strong creatives who have the power to manifest the things they imagine into the physical world. It’s an incredible ability, but it always comes at a price. And not all of the strong creatives are good, either. Some of them, like the novel’s main villain Charlie Manx, use their powers for evil. Manx uses his talent to drive unwitting children to a place he’s made up and manifested called Christmasland in his Rolls-Royce Wraith, where they live forever in total innocence. It isn’t as good as it sounds.

The hero of the story, Victoria McQueen, is also a strong creative with an uncanny knack for finding things. She managed to escape Charlie Manx when she was younger, and that sticks in his craw so much that he comes back to settle the score. After he’s already been dead for some time. There’s a lot more to it than that, but honestly you should just read it. It’s reading for entertainment in its purest, most delightful form.

So about the title…yes. This is (sort of) a vampire novel. But there isn’t any blood drinking or swooning, nothing romantic or gothic about it. I love all that shit too, don’t get me wrong, but this story is in no way similar to the Anne Rice formula of vampire tales. Nobody even gets bitten! And yet still, this is a story about what we leach from the people around us in order to survive, and the question of how much is too much to take. An excellent new point of view for vampire fiction.

A few final notes. On the personal, sentimental side, Joe Hill was the author of the first book I ever reviewed on the blog! It’s fun to be reviewing more of his work just a little over a year later. You can read my (first ever) review of Heart Shaped Box here, if you’re curious.

Lastly, Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son, and it seems like something I probably need to acknowledge, since I’ve never read a review of Hill’s work that didn’t mention this fact. Ok. Here goes. There are similarities between the two writers, definitely. However, the differences between their styles is more interesting, especially for long-time fans of King’s. Speaking of you King fanpeople, Joe Hill throws in a couple of references to the King universe that I bet you’ll find exciting (I know that I loved them). So, yeah…Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son…and they both write horror fiction…and they’re both good at it. Elephant acknowledged?

See y’all next week for some more creepy fiction…

A Ghost

I met a ghost in an old bare house,

That looked with lustreless eyes at me,

And drove from my eyes sweet dreams & drowse,

Till the morning made it flee.

My house is builded of years decayed,

And in vain I fill it with new glad light,

For a love that is lost is a ghost unlaid

That troubles the silent night.

-Francis William Bourdillon

Happy Halloween everyone! from now until November first it’s gonna be all ghouls all the time.

Seriously, my last summer reading post…

So it’s gonna be October VERY soon, and I have this big plan to read all horror during that month, so I’m really trying to finish these recaps before it gets even less seasonally appropriate. I’m probably forgetting a few, and there are also a couple that I’m planning to review separately, but still. This final list is pretty thorough.

1. Willful Creatures by Aimee Bender

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I read a lot of weird short fiction this summer. People kept recommending it to me, and I felt sure that it would be right up my alley…but in a lot of ways I really didn’t enjoy it. I found a lot of just kind of…weird for the sake of being weird, if that makes sense, or even worse: boring. This collection by Aimee Bender falls right in the middle. I really enjoyed and was moved by a few of her stories. For example, I was captivated by  “End of the Line”, about a frustrated, lonely man who adopts a tiny man and abuses him for fun…until the unsatisfying ending. My absolute favorite story is “Fruit and Words”. You just need to read that shit, ok? I’m not giving any spoilers. However, with the exception of these two stories, I found the rest of the collection a little dull and pretentious. Looking through the Table of Contents just now, I couldn’t even remember what most of the stories were about. I guess read this one if it’s really important to you that everyone thinks you’re super weird and random? Ugh.

2. Amelia Gray’s Museum of the Weird

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I used to want to write fiction. Then I got discouraged and thought I could never come up with anything. But reading this collection made me feel like “Shit, if these people can get their outlines published, maybe I should give it another go.” Because seriously, Museum of the Weird is like a book full of story outlines that somehow got published before they were actually written. I thought some of these stories were terrible and a waste of time (“Trip Advisory: The Boyhood Home of Former President Ronald Reagan”), but for the most part I thought they were fascinating ideas that hadn’t been sketched out enough. I do think this collection is worth your time, but I can’t promise you won’t get frustrated and wish that the author had picked even one of these ideas and turned it into a more substantial short story, or even a novel.

3. Hauntings edited by Ellen Datlow

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Ok I admit it: I was hoping that if I made the cover image for this one tiny, you wouldn’t notice how cheesy it is. Did it work?? No? Oh well. Ellen Datlow is a cool lady, and her fantasy anthologies are always pretty tight. This, however, is pretty much exactly what you would think. It’s cheesy, kind of fun, definitely predictable, too long, and its obsessed with unhappy childhoods (pretty standard with ghost stories). Some of these are actually pretty scary. “Mr. Fiddlehead” by Jonathan Carroll was my favorite, I think, but there are A LOT of stories here, so you’ll probably find something to tickle your fancy. Bonus: one story has a ghost Elvis.

4. Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

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For whatever reason, I wasn’t a huge Neil Gaiman fan in high school. I didn’t even read American Gods until last year, and I feel like I would have liked it more as a teenager (it was still cool, don’t get me wrong!). Basically, I wasn’t super excited about reading this collection of short stories, but it turned out to be pretty incredible. The best part was that Neil included a short explanation/inside story for each of the pieces. Reading a story and then getting to know its history right after was fascinating. Also, the stories rule. Seriously, I loved almost all of them (“The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories” is the only exception). I read these at the beach, and they were absolutely perfect for a vacation. Fun, creepy, occasionally sexy. Just, ah. So amazing. My favorite was “Troll Bridge”, which I’ve thought about off and on every week since early August, but these are all excellent. READ THEM AND THEN LET’S DISCUSS THEM PLEASE.

5. Wild by Cheryl Strayed

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Finally done with the short fiction! Chances are you at least heard something about this memoir this summer, and you probably read it yourself, or are looking forward to the movie. Right?? Anyway…when she was 22, Cheryl Strayed hiked along the Pacific Crest Trail all by herself. This is a book of her recollections of the experience. It is beautiful and inspiring and raw. My sister read it and loved it and pressed me to read it, and I’m really glad she did. I had a hard time keeping it together on the subway while I was reading it, I’ll just say that. It’s an incredible book. Here’s one of my favorite quotes:

It was a deal I’d made with myself months before and the only thing that allowed me to hike alone. I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.

6. Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

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This may be my favorite book from this past summer. It’s about twins who both have psychic abilities. One twin embraces her gift proudly while the other longs to be normal. As they grow up, their lives take very different shapes. One sister receives a message that a devastating event is going to occur, and then the two have to deal with the ramifications of going public with their ability…and the consequences if their prediction turns out to be wrong. This is also a story about the challenges of marriage and having a family, and about being your most authentic self no matter what. There are touches of the fantastic, even the horrific, but the text stays grounded in reality. It is like nothing else I’ve ever read. I think it’s…perfect. If you don’t read it you’re really missing out. Curtis Sittenfeld is a genius. Here’s a quote, in case you need convincing:

Our windows were open, and the radio had been playing continuously-not one but two Billy Joel songs had come on during our drive-and the air was dense with the humidity of a midwestern summer, weather that even then made me homesick, though it was hard to say for what. Maybe my homesickness was a form of prescience because when I look back, it’s the circumstances of this very car ride that I recognize as irretrievable: the experience of driving nowhere in particular with my sister, both of us seventeen years old, the open windows causing our hair to blow wildly; that feeling of being unencumbered; that confidence that our futures would unfold the way we wanted them to and our real lives were just beginning.

7.

More Summer Reading

As much as I hate to admit it, summer is definitely over. The temperature is slowly creeping down, I don’t feel comfortable wearing my white jeans anymore (who am I kidding), and my fall class has begun. Still, I want to make sure I write about what I read during my time off, because there was a lot of great stuff! I’m not trying to put these in chronological order anymore, because honestly I can’t even remember what I read when at this point. Anyways…

1. The Divorce Papers by Susan Reiger

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Maybe you heard something about this one? It’s a modern day epistolary novel. A rich couple in Rhode Island are getting a divorce, and the reader gets to peruse all the memos and correspondences between the two and their legal teams during the proceedings. First, the pros: this is fun! It is vastly satisfying to play the voyeur here, and to know the inside scoop on a marriage that’s falling apart (don’t act like you’re above this kind of thing). Also, I have this theory about the difference between “serious literature” written by women and “chick lit”, and here it is: in order to have your work taken seriously as a woman, the female characters in the story can never be friends. Seriously. Most of the discourse about this book that I’ve seen describes it as a frothy beach read. It’s about a divorce for God’s sake! And it’s an epistolary novel which opens with a quote from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. And yet, “chick lit” it is. Oh well. Here’s the bad news: you might feel less than satisfied carting around a 460 page novel where there’s barely any writing on half of the pages (due to the nature of the book’s format). For whatever reason, this bugged me. But I still recommend this one!

2. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

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What can I say about this bad boy that hasn’t already been said? When it came out a few years ago, I saw literally everyone with a copy of it on the train, and I read about it in every magazine article and blog post. Although I was very curious about it, for whatever reason it never occurred to me that I could actually pick up a copy myself, because I’m a moron sometimes. I loved it. I’ve read a few of her other books and I loved them. I can’t wait for the movie. Also, I thought of my master’s thesis while reading it!!!!! EEEeeeeeee.

3. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

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So Colin’s mom leant me this one back in July. I’ve never read anything like this before. Brooks traces the (fictional) history of the Sarajevo Haggadah back through the centuries, introducing several different plots and casts of characters. At first I had a really hard time with this format. I got used to one setting and attached to its characters and then all of a sudden the scene would change. No closure! I can honestly say that I would have found a full length story about any of different plots completely fascinating. This book was a pleasure to read and I really felt like I was learning more about the world and its history, and I really don’t know what more you could ask of a book. Brooks has written a few other novels, which I checked out of the library in August and have been hoarding ever since. She will definitely be popping up in this blog again!

4. And The Heart Says Whatever by Emily Gould

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You’ve probably heard of Emily Gould. She had a novel come out pretty recently called Friendship which got great reviews, and before that she was (I gather) a pretty notorious author at Gawker. This is a collection of essays about spending your youth in New York City, and about her personal journey of becoming a professional author. A lot of times I found Gould’s narrative voice irritating, and I caught myself wondering why she felt she had the right to air her thoughts and feelings about a variety of mundane subjects as if they actually mattered. I also really connected with her writing, as another person who moved to New York City as a bumbling adolescent and still find myself here years later, trying to figure things out. I haven’t been a wildly successful author, of course, so in many ways I’m not similar to Gould at all. For all of my griping, I really do think that she gets at the heart of some things that a lot of young people have experienced these days, and her style is easy and entertaining to read. All the proof you need that Gould is a talented writer comes from the extreme reactions people have to her work, and I’m glad that I read these essays.

5. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

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This is another one where I’m definitely late to the party, but I did read it this summer, so I wanted to include it. I don’t read a lot of YA fiction, but I’m really happy that it’s having such a big moment. Without any snark at all, my feeling about this book is that I would have been absolutely in love with it if I had read it as a 13 year old. It’s great, and sad and entertaining and full of characters that you wish you knew in real life. That’s about all I have to say about it.

6. Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser

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Ok, so I actually read this one all the way back in late April or early May, if I remember correctly. I was originally going to write a full post about for the Genre March (biography, natch), but I just never had time to do it. This one deserves a full post, but I’ll try my best to do it justice in this tiny blurb. Antonia Fraser is a freaking bad ass. She’s come under fire for inserting too much of herself into the histories she writes, of not being objective enough. That’s what makes her work so much fun to read. She gets angry on behalf of her subjects, she obviously feels for them and cares about them. Do I think you should cite her if you’re doing your doctorate on Marie Antoinette? No. But you should definitely read her work if you ever get furious while you’re reading about what a raw deal women have had over the course of human history. I’ve always been interested in Marie Antoinette, and this biography does a great job of sorting through all the rumors about her to get at the real woman. I’m definitely not on the side of the Court during the French Revolution, but I do think that Marie Antoinette’s legacy is unfairly earned. You seriously have to check this shit out.

Coming soon, a third installment in the summer reading list. I READ A LOT OF THINGS.

Summer Reading Roundup Part 1


Hey Y’all!

In addition to taking a Latin class earlier this summer, I’ve also been doing a TON of reading whatever the eff I want to (non-genre edition) in preparation for the fall semester, which I have a feeling is going to be super intense. Basically, I was so busy summering it up that there was no way I could write reviews as fast as I was reading. So here’s a batch of mini reviews of what I’ve been into this summer, in sort of chronological order:

Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation edited by Barbara Findlen

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It was a while ago now that I read this one (late May?? early June???), so it isn’t as fresh in my mind as it could be, and as a result this review isn’t going to be super detailed. Here’s what you need to know: at this point, this volume is a bit dated (first published 1995, this newer edition published in 2001), but it is absolutely still worth your time. It’s a little bit like a time capsule, since this brand of feminism was a little bit more out and proud, a little more angry and grungy than the norm of the movement today. It also features a pretty diverse array of voices and perspectives. Full disclosure, it made me a lot angrier about the patriarchy than I’ve been since high school. That’s a good thing.

 

The Devil’s Children: Tales of Demons and Exorcists edited by Michel Parry

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I know, I know. For a person who claims to be a huge fan of horror, there’s been very little weird fiction to speak of on this blog. And now, to make matters worse, I’m going to have to give one of the few horror compilations I’ve read this year a bad review. This book sux, ok? There are a few good stories (Robert Bloch’s are worthwhile, and there’s a story by my boyfriend, John Collier), but this anthology is also jam packed with rampant racism and a ridiculous amount of typos and misspellings. It kind of seems like Michel Parry, proud compiler of such gems as Beware of the Cat and The Hounds of Hell (which, ok, seem really awesome) typed all of these stories up himself without proof reading them. Skip it. Here’s an interesting link to his body of work though, if you’re curious about short horror fiction from the 1970s.

 

Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa

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The world outside was bathed in summer sunlight. The curtains hung limp by the window. Half the lawn had turned brown from the heat, and the terrace was sharply divided, half in light and half in shadow. We were alone, and the world was silent; not the trill of a cicada or even the sound of the waves reached us here.

I got the idea to read this book from an amazing blog I stumbled across called Lipstick and Libraries. It’s a fascinating page and I’ve struggled not to just review all the same books that its owner does, and you should check it out ASAP. She also review indie perfume and make up ;).

This book is, I guess, about a D/s relationship between a teenage girl who works at her mother’s hotel and a middle aged Russian translator. They live in a tiny town in Japan by the sea. To be honest, I don’t find very much about these two’s relationship compelling or even all that believable. The book is entirely too short to set up anything like enough character development for this to make any sense. Whatever. I loved the book anyway. Two months later I still think about how beautifully Yoko Ogawa writes about nature (see the example above) and why she chooses to call the man the Translator, never giving him a real name. You should pick this one up, it’s a languid blue fever dream that’s perfect for late summer/early fall.

 

 

In which I try to bake a green velvet cake…

So it was my boyfriend’s birthday this past weekend (he and America share a birthday!). When asked what kind of cake he preferred, my gentleman caller requested…a green velvet cake. Now, I’ve never made one of these bad boys before, but I figured I could just switch out the red food coloring for green in a regular red velvet cake recipe and be good to go.

In this I was mistaken.

Things started out ok. For this undertaking I used the divascancook.com Best Red Velvet Cake Recipe, which is excellent and simple to use, and I highly recommend it!

frankencake

frankencake

 

However…tragedy struck when I added the fresh hot coffee their recipe calls for and a little extra cocoa powder for flavor.

the definition of appetizing

the definition of appetizing

While contributing a moist texture and delicious chocolately flavor to the mix, these two ingredients also darkened the batter to a disgusting olive green color. I tried adding a few drops of yellow food coloring to lighten things up (I don’t even know if that makes logical sense, it’s just something I did), but that only seemed to make things worse. In the end, the cake turned out looking like this inside:

spot the kitty!

spot the kitty!

In this picture it just kind of looks like a dark chocolate cake, which is truly a shame. From the bottom of my heart, I wish you could see how bizarre it looked in person.

I ran into another snag with the icing. The snag was my own stupidity. Again, I went with the cream cheese frosting recipe from divascancook.com, and again, it tasted delicious and was easy to follow. I even added a few drops of blue food coloring to give it a minty hue (I was hoping it would somehow contrast well with the olive green of the cake). All seemed well, and I even had what felt like a TON of extra frosting, which I promptly threw in the trash to try to stop myself from eating it (health, kale chips, blah blah blah). It wasn’t until later that I realized that I had completely neglected to frost the top of the first layer of the cake. That’s what all that extra icing was for. The middle of the cake. Whoops.

Whatever, it’s a great recipe, and it’s really quick and easy to do, if you can avoid all of these mishaps.

 

I am a terrible cake decorator

I am a terrible cake decorator

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