Book Review – Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publication Date: January 30th, 1988
Publisher: Grove Press

“Inching one’s way along a steep cliff in the dark: on reaching the highway, one breathes a sigh of relief. Just when one can’t take any more, one sees the moonlight. Beauty that seems to infuse itself into the heart: I know about that.”

You could say that the kitchen makes us kindred. Food is the needle that crochets humanity into a single but colourful web. Good or bad, pure or processed, all food is blossomed from something in the earth, as are the living beings that consume it. So is it any wonder that a room full of food is a comfort? It’s a thing that doesn’t tend to change unexpectedly.

It is said that we choose our cravings for certain foods based more on a memory that they were present in, over the taste alone. A delicious food might even trigger a bad memory, say if you were stranded somewhere desolate and happened upon a lone candy bar. Dubious and unlikely maybe, but definitely tasty. You’d have been content for a minute but then you’d think “Well, I won’t be having one of those again for some time.” and it’d be just another depressing occurrence formed out of seemingly good fortune.

Kitchen and its companion, Moonlight Shadow, revolve around the mourning of memories. Opportunities not taken, lives not spared, are the ghosts behind Kitchen. This is not a simplistic book, however short it is. It examines the tendencies of the human heart with poetic science, and the double face of innocent things that serve as constant reminders.

I’m at odds with this book. It’s difficult to say if I actually enjoyed reading it, but I admire what it has to say and the elegant way it goes about it. I don’t agree with the funereal philosophy, but I’m familiar with the way hatred of fate seeps in like a weed after a bad strain of luck, and during those times you really want ghosts to exist, or even a little fluorescent kitchen nook that can heal all wounds. Anything phenomenal, even boring pseudo-phenomenal, would be better than what depression whispers into the mind.

Yoshimoto’s take on the course of human relationships is both bleak and enticing, for a tiny book that begins with a cozy obsession with a kitchen, but it’s not a book I’ll want to read again.

“Everyone we love is dying. Still, to cease living would be unacceptable.”

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Book Review – Better the Devil You Know by Bey Deckard

★★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Horror / Paranormal
Publication Date: October 1st, 2015
Publisher: Independent

Wherever the soul lies, I feel mine has been vivisected to shrivel in shame just for being familiar with this novel. I don’t even feel good about writing a review, and I write gruesome stuff for a living.
It’s pretty controversial, being banned from a handful of book outlets, notably Smashwords. Quite ironic, considering Smashwords is known for not rejecting much in any genre.

Better the Devil You Know is a straight-up Alighierian horror dressed up as an erotic romance. A knife-wielding demon in the skin of an unusually flirtatious angel, if you will.
I admire Deckard’s bravery in publishing this book, but am tortured in giving it a good rating. To say it is “disturbed” is an understatement. Calculated and extreme violence abounds.
The reason I think I liked it in spite of its gut-churning details, is because I find novels on the facets of human cruelty to be poignant and more potent than other novels.
A heartwarming book will be kind and remembered fondly now and then, but a heart-crushing book will survive time and not allow you to forget it. This one definitely won’t.

Bey Deckard is a talented writer, especially with characterization. This makes the extreme violence that much more unpleasant because the author builds a sense of sympathy for even the characters you know will die.
Well, except for the protagonist. There is no sympathy for him. I hesitate to call Byron Danielsen a “pro“tagonist, as ending up in an enclosed space with this man is a fate worse than death, but that’s what he is.

Byron is the source of the book’s controversy and discomfort, a serial killer and torturer with no emotional scale in particular. Karma won’t even touch the man with such a hostile, almost alien set of mannerisms and even when he dies and goes to Hell, the devil himself is like:
“Is this even a human being?”

The religious themes when Byron goes to Hell bothered me some. It’s very Inferno-esque, but it’s not that the themes are offensive (though they easily could be, fair warning) but that they’re not handled that well. I think in trying to steer more towards realistic fiction than paranormal, a lot of the underworld-building was handwaved away. Hell is basically like a bunch of office buildings that are perpetually on fire or otherwise buried in stone.

Better the Devil You Know is outrageous and revolting, but also a little tragic. It’s egregiously mislabeled, so much that it seems trolling – I found that it was categorized under “romance” – and is definitely more cut out for someone who like disturbing thrillers. Sure, this is emotionally strong and painful, but it is NOT a love story. Unless you consider demons posing as a man’s victims to torment him romantic.

If Better the Devil looks like something that’s up your alley, go for it. It is in all fairness a well-written and original book, but don’t say I never warned you. Graphic content abounds and I’ll note a trigger warning for torture and dark sexuality.

Book Review – Come to the Rocks by Christin Haws

★★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Romance / Fantasy
Publication Date: April 16th, 2018
Publisher: NineStar Press

A poignant, short and bittersweet novella about a woman, Linnea, who by fate or chance, has always been drawn to a ragged, dangerous outcrop of rocks by the sea, though she has no fear for she knows the ocean will never drag her in. On the contrary, it brings to her a mermaid, Mren, of such a glistening and preternatural beauty that every day away from her is another thorn in Linnea’s heart.

A daydreamer of the waters myself, I really love the vivid character of Come to the Rocks. However, it is incredibly short – even for a novella, it can be churned through in about two hours. I think it definitely has potential for elaboration and development into a full-fledged heartbreaker, but I enjoyed it as it is. There is also a powerfully executed point and pathos surrounding the antagonist, Linnea’s ex-boyfriend Mikey, about authority’s neglect towards or inability of resources needed to punish harassment and mental abuse.

Charming and evocative, with an ending reminiscent of the barbed fortunes of fairytale characters, Come to the Rocks is a novella I would recommend.

[I received a copy of this from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Book Review – Divorce by Maria Morisot

★★★★★ 5 Stars

An elegy of romance, separation and liberation in their many different colours – this Divorce is an act of a heart breaking and being resewn together. Divorce is violent love and gentle agony coexisting. Divorce is a heart splitting into heaven and hell, a tranquil darkness lying in-between. Divorce is above all, final.

I’m not even sure that gets it across. Just utterly, almost painfully beautiful, sensual and spiritual – almost dreamlike. I have nothing bad to say, nor would I want to scavenge for faults. I wouldn’t find any. I would go so far as to say it is perfect, and I am quickly becoming a big fan of this author’s work.

Surprisingly long for a poetry compilation, you can find it on Smashwords or in paperback if you don’t prefer eBooks, and I highly, highly recommend.

Book Review – Psychiatric Ward by Maria Morisot

“we coalesce, from time to time we sting each other.
and in the furnace of our wrath, racking ourselves:
our bodies, our minds, our very souls; to be set free
given deliverance. but what is it we are free of?”

Psych. Ward is a surreal, cerebral romance of words, so entrancing for those of us who love language. Part stream-of-consciousness, part traditional poetry, it’s a short read that passes too quickly.
Describing this poet’s work is much like describing a dream or an artwork – there is not anything that conveys it with justice except for itself. To me it seems incredibly dreamlike, with much powerful and sensual imagery, but with the tragedies of reality hovering just out of sight along the edges. In its own words, “madness and beauty”.

If we have to have a negative, I suppose it could’ve been more organized. It’s somewhat difficult to tell where the poems begin and end. Not that you really need such base things as endings and beginnings in poetry, but that’s just a personal preference.

You can find this author’s entire gallery of work on Smashwords.com for free read or download. I definitely recommend.

General – 4.5/5