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! 

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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!

Book Reviews

Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and How Desire Shapes the World by Aja Raden

stoned.jpgRating: 🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁

This is one of the bestest books I’ve read this year!!! And I can think of tons of people who would love it!

Stoned isn’t really about the history of jewelry, as I first assumed. It really hinges on that “How Desire Shapes the World” and delves into this odd and embarrassing psychology of what makes something desirable, what we’ll do to obtain it, and how what we want says quite a lot about us as humans.

Some memorable examples: Queen Elizabeth I’s desire for a famed pearl (and what it represented) motivated her to move entire armies against Spain. A necklace that didn’t even have anything to do with Marie Antoinette was more fuel for the fire that eventually became the French Revolution. And lastly, before World War I, men would have “rather worn skirts” than wristwatches (which were seen as strictly feminine). After experiencing how useful they were for synchronized attacks during the war, they became the most desirable way to advertise one’s masculinity. (So dumb.)

There’s so so many interesting bits of world history in here that I never knew were so intertwined with gems, jewelry and ornamentation. It’s like the little hidden histories behind the summarized version you received in school.

Also, non-ficiton books with a sense of humor are just so much more engaging than those without. Aja Raden is hilarious and often makes ironic and cheeky connections that often made me chuckle. She also uses colloquial language to state universal truths, such as “Spain was up to its intolerant eyeballs in debt (…)” or when Louis XVI became king and said “Protect us, Lord, for we are too young to reign.” Aja says “No shit.” HAAAAAA!!! (Another funny non-fiction author is Mary Roach. If you’ve read and enjoyed her books, you’ll probably love this too, and vice versa.)

I’d recommend this book to ANYONE because it is very enlightening, quite fun, and it’s about world history (mostly western if I’m being honest, it includes: Spain, England, France, the Americas, Japan, Russia, The Netherlands, and South Africa). It’s also very straightforward about the ugly historical truths that were sugarcoated for us in school, like with Columbus.

Book Reviews

Welcome to Night Vale (Welcome to Night Vale #1) by Joseph Fink, Jeffrey Cranor

nightvale 1

Rating: 🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁

This book took me a long time to read because I didn’t want it to end!

Welcome to Night Vale is based on a podcast of the same name, which tells surrealistic stories about this lonely desert town known as Night Vale. The beauty of this world is the narration is fully self-aware and makes eyebrow-raising existential jokes constantly.

If you haven’t heard the podcast yet, it’s not a problem, you can definitely jump in and read this without knowing anything in advance. But if you’re iffy about reading this, listening to just 5-10 minutes of the podcast should be enough to win you over.

The book is just as crazy as the podcast, and it is highly likely that you’ve never read anything like it before. (The only book I’ve read that even remotely resembles this is John Dies at the End by David Wong, and I didn’t enjoy that one as much as this.)

The only thing I missed while reading was Cecil Palmer’s narration, which is a huge part of the charm of the podcast, but that could be remedied by getting the audiobook instead.

Highly recommended if you like weird shit and mysteries.