Book Reviews

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Spinning Silver by Naomi NovikRating: 🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁

Every blurb mentions how Spinning Silver is inspired by Rumpelstiltskin but frankly that’s an awful comparison and not one I would use to entice you to read this book, so forget about it right away. This is NOT a fairytale retelling. 

Spinning Silver is told from the perspectives of a few characters, but the main ones are three young heroines who display an admirable level of bravery and wisdom, unmatched by anyone else in their surroundings. Naomi Novik is a great writer and it’s interesting how she switches perspectives without outright naming the character (like in Game of Thrones), but you still know exactly who is talking at the time. 

Miryem, the main (and most entertaining) character, is quite cunning and naturally (magically?) skilled in producing and multiplying her family’s wealth. Almost like she can SPIN. SILVER. out of thin air. She goes through the world making advantageous exchanges for the utmost profit, and is someone whose language you have to pay close attention to. She will find the loopholes in everything and her ability to solve problems through smart wordplay instead of through violence or intrigue is a refreshing skill to see in fantasy. 

Miryem’s home is surrounded by magical woods populated by cold oppressive creatures known as the Staryk, who terrorize and starve the humans through never-ending winters. Miryem’s money-multiplying ability quickly catches the Staryk’s attention, and that’s when this book becomes super interesting. 

While I absolutely loved this book and couldn’t put it down for about 4/5ths of it, somewhere near the end I lost interest because the perspectives of the characters switch too often, and as a result, the chronological order is briefly derailed. We lose track of Miryem for longer than I would’ve liked, but in the end it’s all worth it. 

I would recommend this to: people who want intelligent fantasy that isn’t awfully jargony, readers looking for a nice, thick standalone book to last them many nights, people who don’t mind stories told from the perspectives of multiple characters, and fans of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted. 

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Book Reviews

Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh, Gregory White Smith

Van Gogh- The Life by Steven Naifeh,  Gregory White Smith.jpgRating: 🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁

The title of this book is a bit misleading. More than just “The Life”, this book is more like “Literally Every Single Day in the Life of Vincent Van Gogh”. 

I am floored by how much information exists on this man, and it’s no wonder this endeavor took a whole decade for the authors to complete. 

One fact is clear though, if you are thinking about reading this to learn more about his artwork, STOP. RIGHT. THERE. The many members of the Van Gogh family were used to sending letters to each other on a regular basis, sometimes multiple times a week, and in Vincent’s case, even multiple times a day. Because of these letters, this book is often able to tell you exactly what happened on every single day of any given week in December 1882.

It is dense and tedious, but if you would like to know every minuscule biographical detail that shaped Van Gogh’s life, this is the book you want to read. But if you specifically want to learn more about his artworks from an aesthetic and technical standpoint, I would not recommend this.

However, this book does tell you <i>exactly</i> where he was and what was going through his head when creating certain artworks. It goes into great detail about The Potato Eaters, for example. Other artworks are glossed over or simply mentioned as being created during a particular time. So if you are doing some research for school, or would like to know about his headspace when creating a certain artwork, I would recommend skimming through until you find the relevant bit. 

These authors were also the first to introduce the theory that Van Gogh did not die by suicide, and the last chapter explains their deductive reasoning thoroughly and convincingly. I, for one, fully agree with them. 

It took me a year to read this and I couldn’t have done it without daily reading goals and mammoth motivation.

Would recommend to: highly motivated readers, researchers and students who just need to browse through it to write or present a biography for school. 

Would not recommend to: people wanting to learn more about Van Gogh’s art specifically. While there is some background information you can glean from here and maybe some hypotheses you could build through this information, this is about Vincent Van Gogh the man, and not just the artwork. 

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

Little by Edward Carey

Little by Edward Carey

Rating: 🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁

I won an ARC through Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Riverhead Books!

Little is one of the best books I’ve read not just in 2018, but ever.  (It also has one of the best first paragraphs I’ve ever read on anything.)

This is a fictionalized account of the life of Anna Maria Grosholtz, more commonly known as Madame Tussaud but also known as Marie. I’ve never been to the museums and never felt compelled or fascinated by wax figures, but even so,  this book will make you understand why people find them enthralling.

What is special about Little is that quirky gothicness that isn’t terribly dark or horrific. (Tim Burton-esque would be an okay comparison, for example.)

The story begins with Marie’s childhood in Berne, Switzerland, where she meets Dr. Curtis, a somber man who finds bones comforting and lives in a dreary house full of wax body parts. Marie is naturally attuned to this particular brand of wonder and eventually finds comfort in body parts and wax as well.

Her story is divided into the main chunks of her life: childhood, teenage years (some of which she lived in Versailles), young adulthood, etc.

The book contains tons of illustrations by Edward Carey. The drawings are understood to be drawn by Marie, who is an artist of more than only wax, and they mostly have an eerie, borderline unsettling quality that magnifies the gothic mood of the story.

This really is an excellent book. It’ll make you experience a lot of gloomy but delicate feelings, which is a very rare combination to find in any form of media.

I would recommend Little to: anyone looking for quirky gothicness that isn’t terribly dark, someone who hasn’t read something uniquely curious in a while, and fans of historical fiction.

Book Reviews

Loading Penguin Hugs: Heartwarming Comics from Chibird by Jacqueline Chen

Loading Penguin Hugs- Heartwarming Comics from Chibird by Jacqueline ChenRating: 🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁

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

I was a third of the way into Loading Penguin Hugs when I abruptly stopped reading and went to pre-order it for a friend. It is the perfect book for so many of us, and if I were loaded with penguins cash, I’d pre-order it for half a dozen more friends. 

You may already be familiar with this artist because of her ghost hug gif that’s been floating around the internet (“you can’t feel it but it’s there!”). This whole book is full of the same cute art and cozy sentiments!

GHOST HUG

While the art is sweet and childlike, I’d say the motivational messages in here are more relevant to teenagers and young adults. Those two age groups are have grown up under the influence of a social media that forces us to constantly compare ourselves to our peers and to only see our flaws as contrasted by their successes. This book is not just full of encouragement, but it also acknowledges negative feelings and accepts that they’re necessary sometimes. 

I would recommend this to stressed teenagers, panicking young adults, to anyone who wants a hug but can’t get one at the moment, and to someone who needs to be reminded that nice things exist in this world. 🙂 

Loading Penguins comes out on November 13th! 

Book Reviews

Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha #1) by Tomi Adeyemi

 Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha #1) by Tomi AdeyemiRating: 🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁

Children of Blood and Bone is a hard book to write a review about because there’s nothing I can add that the book didn’t already say, you really should just be reading it right now instead of reading this.

It is a Very Important book, and if you read only one thing this year, read this.

In short: It’s a fantasy set in a country known as Orïsha, which was influenced by West African culture and mythology (the author is Nigerian-American). Magicians known as maji used to exist in this world, but they were all murdered during a genocide mandated by the king. who was afraid of them and their power. As a result, the now magic-less children of these maji have become second-class citizens and are openly discriminated against, slurs included. They are distinguishable by their white hair but are unable to perform magic anymore.

The daughter of one of these maji goes on a mission to restore magic to the world, and they won’t have another chance to do this for another 100 years. (This gave me a strong Avatar: The Last Airbender feel, which was also one of the author’s influences.)

But the importance of Children of Blood and Bone lies in its explicit parallels to real world events. By presenting these issues in a fantasy format, this can (ironically) help a lot of people to see reality more clearly by stepping away from it.

The Epilogue explains a lot more on that and it nearly brought me to tears because Tomi Adeyemi is quite successful at communicating all of that pain throughout the book.

Highly recommended.

Book Reviews

The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa, translated by Philip Gabriel

travelling cat

Rating: 🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁

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

I’m no stranger to books making me cry or briefly tear up but this thing just straight up kept me SOBBING for THIRTY PAGES (at the very end).

And that’s not to say that The Travelling Cat Chronicles is a sad book.

It is a BEAUTIFUL, wonderfully tender journey, full of contemplative stillness, colorful imagery and mindful moments to nourish the soul. It is so sweet and fulfilling. (Think: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and/or The Secret Life of Walter Mitty).

The Travelling Cat Chronicles is the story of Nana (the cat) and Satoru (his owner). Through Nana, we learn many curious details about Satoru’s past, we meet old friends, and visit scenic destinations.

Nana is quite insightful and it is pleasant and cozy to be inside her head, since she has a very good grasp of the world and of human emotion.

As for the crying part, don’t let that dissuade you from reading this. It was a good cry, the kind that makes you feel lighter afterwards. And the whole point of the book is to not feel sad about it.

I would recommend this to cat lovers, yes, but not exclusively, since the story isn’t so much about the cat, but his owner. I’d also recommend this as a beach read and a bedtime read, because it’s very relaxing and episodic and you can put it down at any moment with the comforting knowledge that you can take your time to come back to this one. There’s a handful of books I’ve described as “a warm hug”, and this one’s going on that list.

Also it’s going on my top 5 books of 2018, no take-backsies.

Comes out on October 23rd!