An Obedient Father, by Akhil Sharma (2017) K

Reviewer: Kakaner

Date read: 12.31.2017

Book from: Bookstore browse session

An Obedient Father is a harrowing story of a rather run-of-the-mill moneyman Ram, a middle rung manager within a governmental structure, corrupt and unambitious, who repeatedly molested and raped his daughter when she was pre-pubescent, and now finds circumstances forcing her and his granddaughter to live with him again.

Generally, I thought this was a rather successful first novel– the premise and backstory felt kind of contrived and heavy-handed but the emotional exploration was well done. However, I hesitate to ever label any story of sexual wrongdoing as heavy-handed or unrealistic because I only have reason to believe that fiction has happened many times over, and reality is worse than fiction. I feel it is my duty to consider these kinds of stories seriously.

I was immediately overcome with the horror of seeing the emotional journey of a family ripped apart by this kind of tragedy from the perpetrator’s perspective. Ram is very much simply a product of his culture and context, and I think one takeaway from the novel is that it’s very hard to engineer and live by your own moral compass when there is no external impetus for doing so. Of course, a lot of this lack of impetus is entrenched in the darker aspects of Indian culture and the patriarchy. I was struck by the helplessness of both sides of the act– the daughter Anita and the father Ram, but especially how weak Ram was, fixating on his inability to control himself despite hating himself for what he was doing. Sharma manages to immediately elicit sympathy for Ram without ever being apologetic for him, a tricky act to pull off. The whole journey was just this incredibly strange crumbling and dismantling of the health of a family while the distributions of love, privilege, progressiveness, greed, and justice shifted within the family. Finally, it’s a painful, cautionary highlighting of the belief that no one is going to look out for you, that stigma and society can be thicker than blood.

Booklish #7: Through the Woods Tart

View Recipe: Through the Woods Tart

Emera first shared Emily Carroll’s horror webcomic “His Face All Red” with me several years ago. It’s an unsettling, inconclusive tale of two brothers who set out to kill a wolf that has been terrorizing their village, but nothing is what it seems. The story is a swirl of fearful trips to the forest, sloshing cheers in taverns, village gossip, paranoid insomnia, feral intentions, and inexplicably spilt blood. I wanted to create a confection that would evoke the comic’s vivid color palette and capture the flavors of bravado, fear, and death.

Continue reading Booklish #7: Through the Woods Tart

Beauty is a Wound, by Eka Kurniawan (2017) K

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.

Booklish #6: Cimorene’s Enchanted Earth Shortbread Cookies

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!

Continue reading Booklish #6: Cimorene’s Enchanted Earth Shortbread Cookies

Bookstores of Wellington, New Zealand: Arty Bees Books

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

Continue reading Bookstores of Wellington, New Zealand: Arty Bees Books

Booklish #5: Matilda 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?


Continue reading Booklish #5: Matilda Honey Oatmeal Scones

Thirteenth Child, by Patricia Wrede (2009) K

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.

Continue reading Thirteenth Child, by Patricia Wrede (2009) K

Booklish #4: Gone With the Wind Tara Cake


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.

Continue reading Booklish #4: Gone With the Wind Tara Cake

Rendezvous with Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke (1972) K

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


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…


…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.

Go To:

Arthur C. Clarke: bio and works reviewed

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (2006) K

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.

Go To:

Cormac McCarthy: bio and works reviewed