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Reviewer: Kakaner

Date read: 1.26.2017

Book from: Personal collection, recommended by Marbiru (thanks!)

Weaving back in forth in time, moving from character to character, the author tells the story of Indonesia from its Dutch colonial days, through the Japanese occupation during World War II, and into independence as a modern state. Kurniawan’s characters are broadly drawn, but they aren’t one-dimensional. Dewi Ayu, the most sought-after prostitute in the seaside city of Halimunda, is a shrewd, fearless, and resourceful woman but an ambivalent mother. Her lover, Maman Gendeng, is a romantic thug. The soldier Sodancho is both an illustrious revolutionary and a self-serving racketeer; he’s also a rapist. 

Reading this novel was like eating ice cream, or cake, or your favorite food, and just shoveling every bite in before you finished chewing (much less swallowing) your last bite. Every sentence, every paragraph, every story swelled and crescendoed and flowered and blossomed it seemed until impossible infinity. Just a rich luscious reading experience overall.

Maybe it’s obvious from the title and blurb, but the motifs are women drawing power from their physical beauty and wiles and men drawing power from brute force and violence. The novel is composed of intertwining stories featuring a constant interplay of beauty vs strength, one force always trying to subdue the other and the actors being driven mad trying to achieve dominance. It’s a cautionary and desperate tale of the futility of drawing upon beauty for true strength, especially if for ill-intentioned ends, and that the lust for and reliance on beauty ultimately devastates. At the same time, so many of the characters are unable to comprehend why anyone would love an ugly being, and that confusion and cognitive dissonance becomes a fixation towards the end. Even though this sounds heavy handedly black and white, it works because it is commentary that is delivered in this unabashedly absurd and dreamlike way.

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Patricia Wrede Enchanted Forest Chronicles Cimorene Enchanted Earth Shortbread Cookies

View Recipe: Cimorene’s Enchanted Earth Shortbread Cookies

I’ve been mulling the flavor profile of one of my most beloved fantasy heroines– Cimorene, the princess from Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles— for quite some time. I wanted to capture the essence of Cimorene traipsing through forests, starting and stumbling upon gritty and fantastical adventures, and all with plenty of spunk and temper to spare!

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Hello! It’s been quite the year-long hiatus… well I’m finally returning after having most recently traveled some countries, including bunkering down in several bookstores in NZ during my stay. Honestly, I planned only two bookstore visits in Wellington according to some recommendations, and was so impressed by the selection and presentation that I proceeded to bookstore hop for an entire day. So even more bookstore reports to come!

Arty Bees Books is located right off Cuba Street in the heart of Wellington, and offers sprawling selections of just about anything– fiction, references, instructional pamphlets, children’s literature, music, histories, rare/old tomes, and most importantly, bizarre bibliophilia curiosities. The best (and strangest) part was that I kept laughing while browsing Arty Bees whether from interesting shelving formations, weird collections displayed proudly, or the endless number of interesting genre placards. That does not happen at chain bookstores!

arty bees front
Sheet music AND imported SFF

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roald-dahl-quentin-blake-with-book-dessert-breakfast-food-recipe-review-honey-oatmeal-scones

View Recipe: Matilda Honey Oatmeal Scones

In case you can’t tell from the title, giant slice of honeydew, or honeycomb in the picture, this Booklish is for a humble little children’s book, Matilda by Roald Dahl (1988). Specifically, Miss Honey and Matilda are at the center of this feature today and this Booklish is an imagined meal for the two.

The heart of Matilda lies in the scene in which Miss Honey invites Matilda to her cottage for some tea and bread. For the first time, Matilda experiences the security, comfort, and love that comes from having an adult care for her and treat her as a unique and intelligent human being. It is here in the cottage that Miss Honey and Matilda’s trust and relationship begins, and it begins simply and inquisitively.

The room was as small and square and bare as a prison cell. The pale daylight that entered came from a single tiny window in the front wall, but there were no curtains. The only objects in the entire room were two upturned wooden boxes to serve as chairs and a third box between them for a table.That was all. There were no pictures on the walls, no carpet on the floor, only rough unpolished wooden planks, and there were gaps between the planks were dust and bits of grime had gathered…

…Matilda was appalled. Was this really where her neat and trimly-dressed school teacher lived?

book

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Date Read: 3.31.11
Book From: Personal Collection
Reviewer: Kakaner

Thirteenth Child is set against the backdrop of an alternate universe that reads like turn of the 18th century America with magic– a relatively developed and civilized East Coast and people applying for settlements and moving out West to pioneer the land. Magic is the center of life in this world, with universities and courses of study primarily focused on magical history and practice, and each settlement’s survival depends on a trained magician to protect it from the mysterious magical wilderness. Francine, known as Eff, is born into a large family of magicians as the thirteenth daughter, which according to Avrupan magic is highly unlucky and those around her believe that she has only potential for great evil. A combination of the escalating bullying and hatred directed toward Eff and the lure of a fresh beginning at a new teaching post for her father prompts the Rothmer family to move out West, away from some of the more established institutions of thought and ingrained prejudices, to a frontier that introduces Eff to new magics and the dangers of fringe settlements.

I would say Thirteenth Child was a pleasant read in that it was not very challenging or engaging but had enough shiny objects scattered throughout to keep me mildly interested for the duration. I’d chalk part of it up to the Enchanted Forest Chronicles in that it set the bar very, very high, and unfortunately, Thirteenth Child fell short in every way. Cimorene and co were simply more interesting, being a rambunctious crew with simmering love plots and a great deal of magical talent and flourish, and they traipsed around a world full of dragons, magic carpets, towers, princesses– you name it. Granted, Thirteenth Child was simply not aiming for the same effect because it had a very calm setting and a story centered on family and childhood, but the characters and plot felt muted and dampened, as if striving for that same level of excitement and exploration but being unexpectedly held back by an ill-chosen pairing of heroine and setting.

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gone-with-the-wind-tara-cake-book-margaret-mitchell-partial

View Recipe: Gone With the Wind Tara Cake

I envisioned nothing less than a grand, massive tiered cake for Margaret Mitchell‘s sweeping 1936 romantic epic, Gone With the Wind.  This famous and controversial novel has all the good bits– war, betrayal, unrequited love, mis-timed requited love– and a spoiled southern belle forced to experience the worst of humanity who then seizes her life back though hard work, womanly charms, and sheer force of will. This recipe is meant to capture the full range of history, time and emotion in the novel, as well as convey an atmosphere of grandness throughout.

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Date Read: 08.28.10
Book From: Personal Collection
Reviewer: Kakaner

Summary

A massive 50 km-long metal cylinder (later named Rama) is hurtling towards earth at an awesome speed. The discovery stirs the world into motion, culminating in the launch of a select few for an exploration mission. The chosen members immediately leave Earth to begin their assignment, finding their way into the cylinder with relative ease and explore the object, trying to understand it’s function and characteristics…

Review

…and as far as the summary is concerned, that’s about it! It’s Clarke, and although I’m no expert– having only read Childhood’s End before– I get the sense that he dives into telling a story by making a beeline for a particular concept or vision but really doesn’t take the time to look elsewhere. There was a solid, but rather pat, exposition (granted it was the 22nd century, but is it *really* that easy to pull together a space exploration team with so little international bickering??) followed by the introduction of a few uninteresting members of the team, and then it was onward with the science! This was pretty hard sci-fi, especially for 1972– if you’re looking for intergalactic cross-species love affairs and all the politics of a space epic, this is not the book for you. It read like a very self-indulgent exploration of a fantasy world/sci-fi concept that Clarke was just dying to bring to life.

So yes, the novel’s sole focus was the exploration, description, and documentation of Rama. And Rama was beautiful. I’d first compare my reading experience to that of watching 2001: A Space Odyssey— serene, epic, silent, intensely futuristic, a sense of overwhelming vastness, and very reminiscent of Journey to the Center of the Earth with respect to the concept of an enclosed yet self-sufficient world. What strikes you as you wander through Rama is the almost sinister quiet of the place, and how it instills within you this fear that each new discovery is going to be the unveiling of some awesome Truth, or at least some mighty power that would set you at ease with simply knowing. Every part of the world was full of implication (Why were there houses with no doors, and objects frozen inside? Why were there fearsomely fast and lethal robots that roamed like animals? Why was there a synthetically generated electric thunderstorm? Why was there a world in this cylinder in the first place?) and scientific content that I was so mentally tired every couple of pages… I literally had to stop and take breaks to gather my thoughts and to work on visualizing a new part of Rama. The foreignness of it all was terribly uncomfortable yet incredibly exciting.

I could go into more detail about Rama, such as giving dimensions, painting a map, or describing each location, but Rendezvous with Rama was more of a powerful visionary experience for me (and that’s what Wikipedia is for!) This book was an immediate winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards upon it’s publication, and rightly so.

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Arthur C. Clarke: bio and works reviewed

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Date Read: 11.11.10

Book From: Personal Collection

Reviewer: Kakaner

Ugh. Father and son try to survive in a post-apocalyptic world that is apparently strewn with limbs, covered with ash, and– just in case we didn’t catch it the first 50 times on the first page– one that is repeatedly described as “bleak” and “gray”. The Road was highly unimaginative, riddled with stilted dialogue, contained no real character development, and lacked true substantive merit. Having never read Cormac McCarthy before (my only exposure being a viewing of No Country for Old Men), I was expecting an epic survival story in the ranks of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead or something along the lines of Y: The Last Man. Nothing happens. The writing is wholly unspectacular, and the greatest annoyance was McCarthy’s inability to come up with new phrases to describe (in all fairness) a neverchanging landscape. Particular pet peeves were “smoothed his dirty/filthy hair”, “the landscape was dark/bleak/gray”, “there was ash everywhere”, and ending every. single. conversation with “Okay”. This next bit is mildly spoilerish, but for a novel all about the depravity of mankind once the restraints of society have been lifted, the ending is frustratingly inappropriate– almost a “deus ex machina” resolution. I will, however, grant that The Road was extremely cathartic in that I felt personally choked with raw suffering and despair after only 15 pages. But that alone was definitely not enough to save the book, and it was simply more of the same overbearing emotion for the next 150 pages. In conclusion, hype is a cruel thing and The Road was a waste of time.

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Cormac McCarthy: bio and works reviewed

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Date read: 9.8.10
Read from: Clarkesworld Magazine
Reviewer: Kakaner

Every station must have its doctor.

The first doctor was a collection of wetware and delicate machinery designed to serve deep-space astronauts. He was built because human doctors were too expensive, doing little most of the time while demanding space and oxygen and food. The modern doctor was essential because three Martian missions had failed, proving that no amount of training and pills could keep the best astronaut sane, much less happy. My ancestor knew all of tricks expected of an honorable physician: He could sew up a knife wound, prescribe an antipsychotic, and pluck the radiation-induced cancer out of pilot’s brain. But his most vital skill came from smart fingers implanted in every heroic brain—little slivers armed with sensors and electricity. A doctor can synthesize medicines, but more important is the cultivation of happiness and positive attitudes essential to every astronaut’s day.

I am the same machine, tweaked and improved a thousand ways but deeply tied to the men and women who first walked on Mars.

This is the narrator, half-human half-robot. More of which? We never really know. “The Cull” blends a slice-of-life snapshot aboard a space station with a dark insight into the methodology and sustenance of this future humanity incubated from, but at the same time reeling towards destruction. Reed paints the combination of human emotions and bleak reality in firm, knowing strokes yet never steps out of his narrator’s character. I wouldn’t necessarily say there are many hidden levels to this story, but I love that there’s at least one that examines the human psyche in a desperate society as well as a machine’s inability to refuse its programming. I’d go as far as to say this is one of my favorite sci-fi short stories I’ve read in a while, largely because its simple and elegant deliverance leaves enough room for the tragic beauty of the world’s circumstance to shine through.

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Robert Reed
Read “The Cull” at Clarkesworld Magazine

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Date Read: 9.07.10
Book From: Personal Collection
Reviewer: Kakaner

Summary

Beautiful Children brings together several perspectives of Las Vegas life– a lower middle class suburban family, a couple involved in the sex industry, a barely-capable artist, and a pack teenage runaways — unified by the themes of depravity, exploitation, and failure. One day, 12-year-old Newell, a comic-obsessed loser of a kid, disappears after going out with a friend. What ensues is an exploration of the grief of those affected by Newell’s disappearance, and a string of other interactions leading up to (but not necessarily connected to) the event.

Review

Uggggh. Where do I begin?

Beautiful Children was an impulse buy, something I almost never let myself get into. But once in a while, say, at a Harvard Independent Bookstore Warehouse Sale, I’ll pick up random remainders, convinced by the price and New York Times Bestseller stamps, and then never read them. This is because reading them has worked for me Very Few Times, and unfortunately, Beautiful Children was yet another reminder of why I should never let myself waste money like this.

You know a novel is going to be bad when it’s a bestseller you haven’t heard of it in any personal literary circles, and by page 150, there is more talk of sex than there is storytelling. At one point, there were literally 10 straight pages detailing the minutia of a father’s obsession with porn and all its accompanying activities, and while it was clearly there to illustrate the state of a broken marriage, it was entirely ungraceful and unwarranted. I think what frustrated me the most was how utterly uninspired the whole novel seemed– it was wholly inorganic and Bock simply didn’t bring anything new or fresh to a hackneyed setting. The characters were bland, predictable, and stagnant, which served to augment the faults of an awkwardly moving plot. And then there was the uncomfortable feeling that Bock had pulled out all the stops with this debut novel, pouring forth all that he had been waiting to tell the world about everything, whether it be rock music or TV commercials or pornographic preferences, and had pretty much drained his next novel’s potential to zero– a pity because Bock clearly demonstrated a great command of the English vocabulary, but not language. With some more polishing and a real story, he could probably produce something decent. A couple more descriptors: disjointed, clumsy, pretentious, contrived, and distasteful.

Although I have much more I could and want to say… it’s simply not worth the effort. I’m definitely going to play it safe and keep to pre-researched books for a while so I can save myself some brain cells and support better authors. Off to scrub my brain out and retreat into a corner to rejuvenate with a comforting childhood favorite. I’m thinking… A Wrinkle In Time.

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Charles Bock: bio and works reviewed

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