Remarkable Creatures, by Tracy Chevalier (2009) K

Date Read: 1.29.10
Book From: Personal Collection
Reviewer: Kakaner


When Elizabeth Philpot and her sisters move to Lyme Regis, resigned to a life of spinstershood tucked away in a modest English seaside village, she finds herself befriending a queer fossil hunter, Mary Anning. Through Elizabeth’s education and readings, and Mary’s instinctive knowledge of the shore, they grow together in their mutual love for paleantology and fossil hunting. But the lives of the Philpots, Annings, and the very town are turned upsidedown when Mary discovers a prehistoric extinct fossil, causing an uproar in the scientific community and the entrance of many distinguished gentlemen in the field. Behind the scenes, Elizabeth and Mary explore a friendship that is strained by their respective failures to find a suitor, and interwoven with the fervor and drama of scientific discovery in a male dominated intellectual society is the sorrow and resignation that comes with spinsterhood.


For me, Tracy Chevalier has never quite accomplished the same breathtaking, luminous achievement that was The Girl with a Pearl Earring  with her other books, but Remarkable Creatures is a complete turnaround. I ran away to BNN one day, picked it up for two hours, and simply could not put it down so I paid the $26.95 + tax to have the privilege of finishing it that very night in my bed. Overall, Remarkable Creatures is the historical novel I’ve been craving for a long while, whisking me off to 19th-century seaside England and embroiling me in the scandal, loneliness, and scientific discovery of the time.

Remarkable Creatures made me fear for my own life, made me examine my aspirations and accomplishments, and specifically the incredible brevity of a lifespan. Elizabeth and Mary have such purpose and drive, and are both gripped by an urgency to uncover more and more truths, working furiously to overcome social and cultural barriers. I, on the other hand, sit in my cubicle writing mundane scripts and am safe from the discrimination and prejudice of a century ago. And once Elizabeth and Mary reached a certain age in their lives, the despair seeped in, and both resigned themselves to many stagnant, loveless remaining years.

Continue reading Remarkable Creatures, by Tracy Chevalier (2009) K

Booklish #2: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell Black Forest Raven Cake


View Recipe: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell Black Forest Raven Cake

Today we celebrate Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (2004), a fantastical alternate history of gentlemen and magic, and an utmost obsession of Kakaner and Emera. We decided to honor this richly wrought tale of fairies, otherworlds, and scholarly magic with an appropriately dense and complex confection filled with all sorts of surprises.

Continue reading Booklish #2: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell Black Forest Raven Cake

In the Company of the Courtesan, by Sarah Dunant (2006) K

Date Read: 12.14.06
Book From: Boston Public Library
Reviewer: Kakaner


Bucino is a dwarf who serves one of the most beautiful and successful courtesans in Rome. However, the war forces them to flee to the courtesan’s birthplace, Venice, where she is forced to build her career and reputation again out of nothing.


In a much tighter and well-written second novel, Sarah Dunant takes us through the intriguing and dazzling world of the courtesan. The plot is basic yet appropriately ambitious, the simple voyage of a determined woman who manages to rebuild her life through hard work and large helpings of wit. The linearity of the story made room for a lot of other elements to shine through, particularly character development. It is apparent that this book was well-researched, and Dunant’s comfort with the subject matter allowed her to weave a fresh story with historically educational tidbits. Sometimes there were couple page long descriptions of courtesan techniques and how-to’s for wooing men, and they were terribly fun and interesting. Despite the very controlled approach to the novel overall, Dunant definitely took some liberties towards the end and added some flair and drama to the story. However, the novel as a whole was very effective and engaging, a relatively easy read for any historical fiction fan.

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Sarah Dunant

Booklish Inauguration- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Lemon Brick Cake


Introducing… Booklish! A new, biweekly feature showcasing culinary creations (with accompanying recipes) inspired by books or fictional characters. Read more about this feature here. This inaugural installment is devoted to L. Frank Baum’s 1900 classic, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

View Recipe: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Lemon Brick Cake


Today, we have brick-layered lemon yellow cake with lemon frosting “mortar”, an outside layer of whipped lime icing, sprinkled poppy seeds along the sides, and shards of lime emerald hard candy pieces scattered on top.

Continue reading Booklish Inauguration- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Lemon Brick Cake

Solar Storms, Energy Shortages, and an Overloaded Internet…

… are three reasons why Margaret Atwood believes we should keep the paper book.

There’s a little bit of a spat going on in the comments of Margaret Atwood’s blog concerning the digitalization of books. While many people do fervently agree with Atwood’s reasoning (well, if they’re reading the blog they probably enjoy reading good literature and therefore probably appreciate books), people are accusing those against ebooks for not realizing the vital advantages of the cyberbook.

No one is contesting the advantages, convenience, and necessity of digitalizing information. With online text we can use Ctrl + F and access all the information of the world using a 1-5 pound laptop.  When it comes to books, the appeal of being able to download another form of media for free is too tantalizing, even for those who would prefer to read a physical book.

Atwood uses the reasons cited above as the pragmatic basis for the argument in support of books. Although these occurrences are unlikely and probably far from anyone’s list of immediate concerns, let’s see what does hit home. How many times have you accidentally scratched a CD, or come home to find your harddrive corrupted? Blue screen of death anyone? It doesn’t work quite the same for books They’re pretty durable– they can withstand many scratches and beatings, and I doubt anyone has come home to find that their book suddenly won’t open or the words have turned into some Wingdings jargon straight on the page.

Continue reading Solar Storms, Energy Shortages, and an Overloaded Internet…

Antibodies, by David Skal (1988) K

Date Read: 6.27.09
Book From: Personal Collection
Reviewer: Kakaner

I have finally waded out of a merciless sea of deadlines, grad apps, visiting parents, and other such nonsense to bring you a review of scifi crack in book form. So I apologize for my contribution to any recent TBL droughts.

Antibodies is the story of a pale anorexic woman, Diandra, who nurtures an unhealthy desire to become a machine. She is true in every way to the Antibodies cult– starving and draining the blood from her body to entirely prepare herself for mechanical integration. However, circumstances prevent her from completing her transition smoothly. She is captured by the notorious hedonistic psychiatrist Julian Nagy who runs a therapy clinic to heal, and eventually exploit, those of the cult. At the same time, her only guides through this process are vague and ominous directions from the Antibodies authority while contending with the resentment of the public.

I discovered this book through a Coilhouse link Emera flinged my way over a year ago and behold, it bobbed up to the surface of my 100+ TBR pool and I have actually managed to read it. Well, I was pretty hooked after Coilhouse described it as a “deeply disturbing, brutally unsparing book” which sounded right up my twisted alley.

Don’t be fooled by the summary. Antibodies certainly sounds fascinating– a solid mix of cyberpunk and cult fantasy with a generous dollop of scifi fetish braincandy– but it is altogether entirely horrific. It takes many elements of our current society and exaggerates and stretches them into a possible future universe in which people worship and want to become the technology they have created. The depravity of humanity is evident as its constituents are each proponents of some broken part of our very system. Let’s see what Coilhouse has to say:

That’s what Antibodies is, at its heart: a horror novel. There are no heroes here, only the deluded and the ruthlessly predatory. But for all its Gran Guignol touches, Antibodies hits home. In a rush to the future, it’s easy to forget or ignore the wreckage that draws in the alienated and insane into any dream that offers them easy transcendence from their previous lives.

Continue reading Antibodies, by David Skal (1988) K

Stalking Tender Prey, by Storm Constantine (1995) K

Date Read: 9.24.07
Book From: Personal Collection
Reviewer: Kakaner


Stalking Tender Prey sets the stage for an epic trilogy by introducing the intertwining stories of the Grigori (fallen angels) family line which begin in a little countryside town, Lil Moor. Certain people in Lil Moor discover latent psychic abilities and the arrival of a traveling Grigori triggers a cascade of events that uncover the Grigori roots of Lil Moor. (First book of the Grigori Trilogy)


Unfortunately, this book, and subsequently trilogy, pales in comparison to Wraeththu and the Magravandias trilogy. I’m a little bit surprised because Constantine has plenty of material to work with and sets up a rich landscape and sophisticated characters, but fails to do much with them.

I’d say the best point of this book was the character development, what I believe is consistently one of Constantine‘s strengths. Constantine somehow (I wouldn’t say masterfully) uses dialogue, subtle nuances of action, and atmosphere to create enchanting characters, who whether by their own self-realizations or due to the fantastical circumstances of their current lives, develop in amazing ways. Also unlike Wraeththu and Magravandias characters, each of the ones in Stalking Tender Prey seem to be shrouded in this veil of impenetrable mystery, and unfortunately I haven’t been able to quite grasp or connect to any on a personal level.

However, there was just about… no plot. The only plot that moved was a recurring flashback that mainly consisted of character develop of the Grigori traveler. Well, maybe “no plot” is a bit harsh, but the novel was basically a stagnant story about this little town in which nothing happens. Nevertheless, there was a climax and sex with a cat. Judging from this book, there is plenty of potential for the second book with respect to characters and plot threads, so I am still excited.

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Storm Constantine

“26 Monkeys, Also The Abyss,” by Kij Johnson (2008) K

Date Read: 11.03.09
Read From: Asimov’s July 2008
Reviewer: Kakaner

Well, after reading “Spar”, I was mighty curious to see what all the fuss with Kij Johnson was about so I searched up her most famous story. “26 Monkeys, Also The Abyss” won the 2009 World Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction and is currently nominated for the 2009 Hugo and Nebula Short Story awards.

The story is about a girl with little-to-no prospects who buys a traveling monkey act from the current owner. The act makes her rich and famous, but she is never quite satisfied mainly because she isn’t able to figure out how the monkeys perform their disappearing act. I was drawn in by so many aspects of this tale– the circus, monkeys with personalities, magic, and the very bizarre human-human and human-monkey relationships.The implied imagery is actually eerily haunting, from 26 brilliant monkeys pursuing pastimes in their cages to the scene in which they disappear one by one into a suspended bathtub. However, I was very disappointed by the ending. I felt like Johnson did a fantastic job keeping me guessing throughout the entire story but failed to deliver an ending of the same caliber, and I didn’t come away with much food for thought. Once again, one of those “What was the point?” moments for me.

Go To:
Kij Johnson
Asimov’s Science Fiction

The Man in the Ceiling, by Jules Feiffer (1995) K

Date Read: 10.12.09
Book From: Personal Collection
Reviewer: Kakaner


Jimmy Jibbett is a boy who dreams of becoming a comic book artist and spends his days in the basement making his stories come to life on paper. His mother is also an artist, but his father is a humorless businessman and his two sisters are brats; overall, his family doesn’t really support his aspirations. But Jimmy finds hope through his friends, certain members of his family, and ultimately his imagination.


This is a pretty charming little story, complete with full illustrations  drawn by the author in the style of a 10 year old. I was lured to buy this book when my friend pointed it out to me on a shelf and said something along the lines of, “Dude! That’s one of my favorite children’s books! It’s about this kid that draws comics!”. I mean, who doesn’t love a kid who loves and draws comics? Case and point.

I had no trouble envisioning Jimmy as this scrawny kid with a constantly runny nose who simultaneously entertained wild dreams of inventing the world’s favorite superhero and nurtured a secret desire for that superhero to come to life and be his best friend. Jimmy is pretty much the quintessential dorky pre-pubescent boy, and subsequently, loser so if you were one of those, read this book.

My one gripe is that it seemed like the entire story was covered by a slight sheen of awkwardness. Although the story is touching and relatable, the writing doesn’t achieve that level of lighthearted elegance usually found in Newbery winners and Jimmy as a character doesn’t really stay with you after you finish reading. The plot was a little bit too simple and straightforward, and the few plot devices seem like they were devised and then inserted into the story. However, I do have to say The Main in the Ceiling has one of the absolutely cutest endings ever.

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Jules Feiffer

“Spar,” by Kij Johnson (2009) K

Date Read: 10.28.09
Read From: Clarkesworld Magazine
Reviewer: Kakaner

“Spar” is a grim, vulgar, unrelenting torrent of images and words that will leave you mouth agape and reeling. It is the horrifying tale of neverending rape and an examination of the human psyche under a most extreme duress. The storytelling definitely fits the actions and story– short, hard sentences and fragments contrasting wistful remembrances of a life before. Johnson has created somewhat of a short fiction monster here, and I personally still don’t know quite what to make of it.

Go to:
Kij Johnson
Clarkesworld Magazine