Book Reviews

And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness, Rovina Cai (Illustrator)

And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness,  Rovina Cai (Illustrator).jpgRating: 🍁🍁🍁🍁

And The Ocean Was Our Sky is one of those rare genre-bending books that sits in a niche all on its own. (It was shelved under “Teen”, probably because of Patrick Ness’s previous works, but it definitely doesn’t belong there.)

I would describe it as existential fantasy. 

It is the story of a small team of whales who hunt the humans who hunt them.  Their hardened captain, Alexandra, is in a vicious search for a mythical foe known as “Toby Wick”. 

Their story is told by Bathsheba, a young apprentice, and the only one who is asking the important existential questions that nobody else is. “Are we hunting a devil? Does that not make devils of us also?”

Besides the obvious phonetic similarity between Moby Dick and “Toby Wick”, the epigraph also quotes that book. I haven’t read Moby Dick yet but if you have, I’d be interested to hear about any parallels with Bathsheba’s story. 

Lastly, apart from loving Patrick Ness’s previous work, Rovina Cai is half the reason I got this book. Her illustrations skillfully set the dark, contemplative mood of the story. They are mostly monochromatic, using dark greys with the smallest tinge of dark blue, plus the occasional bright scarlet stream of blood. 

I would recommend this to: readers looking for something different and reflective, someone who wants a deep read that isn’t necessarily long and dense, and people who appreciate dark wispy illustrations. 

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

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!

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.