Book Reviews

The Weight of a Piano by Chris Cander

The Weight of a Piano by Chris CanderRating: 🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Weight of a Piano is carefully tuned literary fiction. It finds the perfect moment to tug at all the right emotions, leaving you in a reverent, contemplative silence by the end. 

Each chapter switches back and forth between the POVs of Carla, the current owner of the piano, and Katya, the former owner. 

Carla is a young mechanic who lost her parents in a tragic fire; the piano being the only physical object that remains of the fond times with her family. 

Katya is a Russian immigrant who was obligated to leave her beloved piano in Europe when she left to seek refuge in the United States. 

The piano is a metaphor for both of their lives, a placeholder for both of their souls and essences.  

Eventually, and for reasons that she can’t quite articulate, Carla finds herself on a road trip across the desert, trailing behind the moving truck that carries her piano for the photographer she lent it to.

This book is absolutely lovely, gripping and poetic. I highly recommend it, especially if you’re the kind of person who enjoys self-reflective indie movies about cathartic road trips.  

I would recommend this to (see above), as a beach/travel read, or to people who enjoy a little romance in novels but don’t want to read from the romance section. 

The Weight of a Piano comes out on January 22nd 2019!

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Book Reviews

Jughead, Vol. 2 by Chip Zdarsky & Ryan North, art by Derek Charm

Jughead, Vol. 2 (Jughead (2015) #2) by Chip Zdarsky, Ryan North (Goodreads Author), Derek Charm (Illustrations)Rating: 🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁

Jughead Volume 2 is even more absurd and funny than Volume 1!

This one adds Sabrina the Teenage Witch! She’s VERY different from the one in the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina though. Super lighthearted and no sacrificing goats in the woods. Salem’s here too!

The first chapter sets up Jughead’s disinterest in girlfriends (he’s not girl-crazy like Archie), and in the following chapters, we see just how quickly this makes his friendship with Sabrina turn south.

Most pages also had meta, fourth-wall-breaking jokes in the margins. They are a huge part of why this volume was even more fun than the first one. (p.s. If you’re reading this on Comixology it’s a bit annoying because the Guided View skips them over.)

If you liked Jughead Volume 1, you’ll love this too!

I would recommend this to: people who want to read funny lighthearted comics with absurd humor.

Book Reviews

Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas ContrerasRating: 🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁

Before you read any further, you need to understand three things about this book: 1) It has been compared to Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende, probably because it’s easy marketing and they’re all South American, but 2) That does NOT mean this book falls under magical realism, and 3) Just because a Latin American author wrote a Thing, it doesn’t automatically make that Thing magical realism (as many English-language readers on Goodreads mistakenly believe).

The author herself explains it thoroughly: 

“There is a magical understanding of reality that is very specific to South American culture. This cultural perspective does not come from Magical Realism—rather it is the other way around: Magical Realism was inspired by this cultural perspective. In Fruit of the Drunken Tree I wanted to write a South American experience faithful to this cultural perspective without the fabulism of Magical Realism. To give you an example, in Isabel Allende’s excellent memoir, My Invented Country, when Allende is exploring Chile’s religious make-up, she mentions in passing that in addition to the country being largely fundamentalist, born-again, catholic, and atheist, there is also a profound cultural engagement with the idea that devils and evil spirits are real parts of reality. She explains, simply by saying, “My grandfather swore that he saw the devil on a bus, and that he recognized him because he had green cloven hooves like a billygoat.” Any South American can counter this anecdote with hundreds of her own. In Fruit of the Drunken Tree my characters live in this reality—they are beholden to that cultural tradition where the real is perceived within the shadows of the magical.”

Anyway.

Fruit of the Drunken Tree is told from the perspective of two young women: Chula, a girl from a rich family, and Petrona, the family’s maid. 

Their stories are set during the era of Pablo Escobar in Colombia, and we experience most of the anxiety of the times through Chula’s eyes. 

While most of what Chula talks about happens in her mind (things she overhears around the neighborhood or sees on TV), Petrona is the one who actually experiences the violence at a personal level, eventually having it follow her into Chula’s own home. 

By the sounds of it, I thought this would be a harder book to read, in terms of emotional distress, but it really wasn’t. Ingrid Rojas Contreras is one of those authors that can write prose like poetry; and even when she’s discussing awfully violent events, you don’t feel traumatized, but you don’t feel detached either. She’s just excellent at writing complex feelings with tact and candor, yet without aggressively shoving your face into them and leaving you reeling for days.   

This book is one of the best I’ve read in 2018 and it is has so much meaning and thought put into it that it’d be great to discuss at a literature class or at a book club. 

Highly recommended! 

Book Reviews

Hold Strong: A World War II Novel about Freedom, Forgiveness, and the True Story of the Deadliest Accident in U.S. Military History by Jeff Langholz and Chris Crabtree

Hold Strong- A World War II Novel about Freedom, Forgiveness, and the True Story of the Deadliest Accident in U.S. Military History by Jeff Langholz, Chris CrabtreeRating: 🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁

I received an ARC from one of the authors in exchange for an honest review.

Hold Strong is the first published novel of debut authors Jeff Langholz and Chris Crabtree. 

This book is a fictionalized account of historical events that were exhaustively researched by the authors. And by exhaustively I mean: in the Notes section they have listed their references by chapter, page, and down to the SENTENCE they were used in. Anytime you have a question about historical accuracy, rest assured there will eventually be an answer. 

Hold Strong is the story of the hellish set of tragedies and mass torture suffered by U.S. POWs aboard the Arisan Maru, a WWII Japanese hell ship. This eventually became the site of the “worst naval disaster in U.S. history”, but the authors take the full picture into account and also consider it THE deadliest accident/tragedy of ALL U.S. military history. 

For those reasons, Hold Strong is not an easy book to read. It is downright GRISLY. Few books I’ve read have delivered such psychologically harrowing scenes, displaying every awful violation that can possibly be inflicted upon the human body, including vampirism. It is not for the faint of heart, or something you want to read before bedtime. It is a Hieronymus Bosch painting come to life. 

Thankfully, most of that happens during Part I and the first half of Part II. (And to be honest I wasn’t sure if I could handle it and only pushed through because I promised to write this review.)

But I don’t regret it, especially after that literally jaw-dropping ending! (I audibly gasped!) Few times during the hundreds of books I’ve read have I been so surprised by an ending. It is the main reason why I knocked this up from 4 stars to 5. 

The authors took the history of the Arisan Maru and inserted fiction into it to fill in the blanks where not only accounts don’t exist, but also where a more dramatic and profound story could be developed. 

Sam, the main character, is used a vessel to represent the spiritual journey of surviving such an ordeal, experiencing and representing every facet of the human condition. It is because of Sam, and his dear friend Father Thomas Scecina, that you want to read this book. 

Also if you are teaching a literature course, there is so much here to unpack and discuss. It would also work really well in a book club setting. (The book includes discussion questions at the end.) 

I would recommend this to: people who are into grisly endurance stories a la The Road by Cormac McCarthy, people who have tons of WWII books and always casually have a WWII documentary playing in the background in their living room, and Catholic or Christian adherents who would like to read a shining example of a truly good Christian.* 

*p.s. If the mention of religion repels you, don’t let that dissuade you from reading this book. There’s no avoiding it since one of the main characters IS a priest, after all; but religion here is presented more in a spiritual sense that all humans can relate to, rather than as indoctrination. Also, if you know where to look, whiffs of Eastern philosophies are also clearly present in the book.  

Pick up a copy on Amazon!

Book Reviews

Pilu of the Woods by Mai K. Nguyen

Pilu of the Woods by Mai K. Nguyen

Rating: 🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Pilu of the Woods is a tender pick-me-up suitable for children and adults alike.

The main character on the cover is Willow, a child who has lost her mother and is struggling with all the (very visible) demons that come with that. (Another book that does this very well is Brave Chef Brianna by Sam Sykes.)

Willow runs to the forest and finds Pilu, a girl of the woods who is crying because she also has troubles with her family.

Together, Pilu and Willow find metaphors in the woods to illustrate  their current feelings and the consequences attached to ignoring those feelings. Comparing their intangible emotions to physical objects helps open up many layers of meaning in the readers’ mind.

Overall, this is a very sweet and heartwarming comic. I highly recommend it, but especially to: children of all ages, adults looking for something cute to read, and people who enjoy a tenderly illustrated, woodsy comic.

(p.s. I listened to Kishi Bashi while reading this and it paired beautifully.)

This book comes out on April 17th 2019!

Book Reviews

King Lear by William Shakespeare

King Lear by William ShakespeareRating: 🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁

King Lear is one of his most notable tragedies, and it has one big similarity with The Winter’s Tale: the kings in each play just randomly go mad at the start and they inexplicably spurn someone that they love most dearly, and that is why everything goes to hell during the play. Had they randomly decided not to casually hate against someone, the play might not have had a plot. 

But even if Lear hadn’t effed everything up by himself, there’s quite a lot of evil characters that probably would have found another way to further their selfish plots.

King Lear also has some of the saltiest insults I’ve ever read in Shakespeare. I remember reading a few in other plays, but not this many and not this often. Here’s a couple I highlighted: 

“You are not worth the dust which the rude wind/Blows in your face.” (4.2.30-31)

“(…) I had rather be any / kind o’ thing than a Fool, and yet I would not be thee, Nuncle: thou hast pared thy wit o’ both sides / and left nothing i’ th’ middle. (…)” (1.4.189-192)

oooof.

If you liked Julius Caesar and Hamlet, chances are you’ll like King Lear too. 

Book Reviews

Watersnakes by Antonio Sandoval

Watersnakes by Antonio Sandoval

Rating: 🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This is my first introduction to Antonio Sandoval and I need MORE. 

Watersnakes could very well fall into the Weird Fiction genre. It’s hard to say much more about it without spoiling anything, but everything in this story is intentionally calibrated to make it as dreamlike, surreal, and mildly unsettling as possible.  

As summer is ending, Mila, the main character, meets Agatha, a zany pale-haired girl with unbearably attractive teeth. Her teeth are important objects in the story, which makes the whole package all the more oneiric. As summer ominously shifts into autumn, Mila falls into a number of nightmareish supernatural events. 

Just let yourself fall into this story like you would into a nap. Take the unusual things the characters say at face value, and feel free to glean your own meanings from there. (I haven’t checked if the author picked specific dream dictionary symbols but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.) 

The art keeps it gothy with a limited color palette of stark blacks and whites and highly desaturated neutrals accented with turquoise skies and shadows, plus the occasional spatter of bright red or dark orange blood. (On that note, there are a handful of gory scenes at the end but I found them easy to stomach and I usually can’t handle that sort of thing.)

Agatha reminded me of the many paled-haired girls in dark gothicy settings such as: The Girl from the Other Side, Moorchild, Kigeki, and The Water Mirror. If you enjoyed any of those, chances are you’ll enjoy this too. 

I would recommend this to: fans of the gothic genre, someone looking for a trippy comic, and people who like dark artwork. 

This book comes out on November 20th!