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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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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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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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Date Read: 09.01.2010
Book From: Dearest Emera
Reviewer: Kakaner

Summary

(Shamelessly stolen from Emera’s review— if it ain’t broke, why rewrite it?)
Princess Lissla Lissar lives quietly and invisibly in the shadows of her father and mother, who are worshiped by the people, and whose love for each other is all-consuming. When Lissar’s mother mysteriously wastes away, she forces her husband to swear that he will not remarry unless he finds a woman as beautiful as she was. This promise comes back to haunt the kingdom when Lissar, becoming a woman herself, attracts her father’s attention for the first time. Driven from the kingdom by an unendurable ordeal, Lissar escapes with her only friend, her dog Ash, and struggles to survive and reclaim her sense of self.

Review

The beginning of Deerskin was eye opening. As I started reading McKinley, who I haven’t picked up since Sunshine several years ago, I realized there was so much to her writing and storybuilding that I had not been able to fully appreciate before. Deerskin began with a delicate yet urgent account of Lissar’s childhood leading up to her escape from the kingdom. In my opinion, the gem of the novel was here– the elegant and insightful conveyance of the uncrossable distance that can form between a child and her parents, and the stunningly eerie account of the relationship between Lissar and her father. It has certainly been done before– stories in which royal children are neglected emotionally by the majesties– but none have devoted the same care as McKinley did here. The brilliance was the realization that something so little as lack of acknowledgment combined with an initial reverence for one’s parents can slowly ferment for years until it is replaced by fear. Here, I thought the execution was splendid and something that served to set this retelling apart from others.

Next, I apprehensively followed Lissar as she fled her kingdom and sought a bitter refuge in the wilderness, waiting to be impressed by Lissar’s independence, resourcefulness, and elegance in the face of hardships (as is to be expected of fairy-tale-retelling-heroines). This was the case, more or less, but as the story progressed, I was assaulted with pages of visions, repetitive daily monotony, more suffering than one reader can handle, ellipsis abuse e10, and a blind race to the resolution.

And may I interject here, did the climax really happen?  [not-really-spoiler-alert] Did she really honestly just pour forth a fountain of blood from her vagina, leaving a stain in the wood that was to be studied and used as an oracle for generations thereafter? I entirely understand what McKinley was striving for, and yes even though Deerskin is regarded as the Moonwoman, there are other ways to tie together “moon” and “woman” and “dark” and “fantasy”. I would expect a male author to commit such a transgression.

To be fair, I could chalk up my dissatisfaction with the second half to the fact that I simply have much more in common with a shy, black-haired, independent, voracious reader of a child than a lady who traipses through winterlands with a large dog in tow. Despite everything, Deerskin was still one of the most exciting fantasy novels I’ve read in a long time, and it is a dark fantasy novel that places great care in maintaining and exploring the different forms of love in all relationships.

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Robin McKinley: bio and works reviewed
Deerskin (1993)  [E]

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Date Read: 8.13.10 (reread)
Book From: Personal Collection
Reviewer: Kakaner

Review

I recently made the perilous trek through Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentleman: The Black Dossier, which was a constant reminder that I should reread some Jules Verne. There have also just been a smattering of references here and there so I thought I’d pick up my middle school favorite, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

My experience reading it the second time around was so appallingly different from my middle school read that I couldn’t believe it was the same book. Right before I cracked the cover, I excitedly recalled the dashing, dark, mysterious, yet loveable Captain Nemo, a brave man-gang shaking their fists (harpoons and electric wands too) at giant sea squid, the hulking science-defying metal warmachine of the Nautilus,  a whirlwind of action, climax and resolution under the sea, and what I found were… dry characters and lots and lots of taxonomy. So much that I’m pretty sure there was more science in that one itsy book than in my high school biology textbook. On the one hand, I greatly appreciated the, um, education, but on the other, it was frustrating to move along in the story only to screech to a halt and have to plod through terribly strained dialogue for setting up long monologues of classification. I felt like my brain was being taxed to its limit having to conjure up all these detailed mental images of fish.

This is not to say that I think 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea lacks imagination. I still fully understand why I loved it so much, proceeded to read all of Verne‘s books I could find, and cited him as a favorite author whenever prompted. The concept, story, and scarily accurate scientific predictions were still impressive the second time around, but it would have taken a miracle for the book to have held up to the expectations I built for it.

But no, Monsieur Arronax was not quite the adventurous and fresh man of science I had always envisioned him to be, Conseil was basically a non-character, and Ned was indeed a rather infuriating spoil sport. I’m afraid I must admit that I defeatedly returned my little used copy back to its place on the shelf and called Jules Verne up to end our little affair. However, The Mysterious Island remains on my reread list because I still vividly remember it being a league above the rest of the books and I owe it to Captain Nemo to give him a second chance.

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Jules Verne

Aronnax

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