Saturday, August 19, 2017

Mini College Review: The Whipping Man by Samuel French

Title: The Whipping Man
Author: Samuel French
Format: Paperback, 84 pages
Pub. Date: November 3rd 2009
Source: SIU Bookstore

Book Description:

Drama / Characters: 3 male It is April, 1865. The Civil War is over and throughout the south, slaves are being freed, soldiers are returning home and in Jewish homes, the annual celebration of Passover is being celebrated. Into the chaos of war-torn Richmond comes Caleb DeLeon, a young Confederate officer who has been severely wounded. He finds his family's home in ruins and abandoned, save for two former slaves, Simon and John, who wait in the empty house for the family's return. As the three men wait for signs of life to return to the city, they wrestle with their shared past, the bitter irony of Jewish slave-owning and the reality of the new world in which they find themselves. The sun sets on the last night of Passover and Simon - having adopted the religion of his masters - prepares a humble Seder to observe the ancient celebration of the freeing of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt, noting with particular satisfaction the parallels to their current situation. But the pain of their enslavement will not be soothed by this tradition, and deep-buried secrets from the past refuse to be hidden forever as the play comes to its shocking climax. The Whipping Man is a play about redemption and forgiveness, about the lasting scars of slavery, and the responsibility that comes with freedom. "A mesmerizing drama." - Peter Filichia, Newark Star-Ledger "A cause for celebration. Mathew Lopez has come as close as any author could to producing a microcosm of the genesis of a wide range of today's Black American males." - Bob Rendell, Talkin' Broadway "I can see why director Lou Bellamy chose this play for Penumbra, whose most famous alumnus is playwright August Wilson. In its complex welter of issues, in its interior explorations...The Whipping Man is Wilsonian." - Rohan Preston, Minneapolis Star-Ledger "Succeeds with an uncanny maturity in using sharply drawn characters and rich metaphor to wrestle Wilson-like with epic American issues of race, religion, and responsibility. Someone must succeed Wilson; it might as well be Lopez" - Tim Gihring, Minnesota Monthly



I had to read "The Whipping Man" in my American literature course in college. It is the best piece of fiction that I got to read the whole semester.

This play is absolutely fantastic. I can honestly say that I've never read a story like this one.

The characters are a mix of Jewish home owners and slaves during the Civil War era. I can honestly say in all my years of education (and reading for fun) I've never read a story that weaves these two points of view together. But the incredible way that French has written this story, it seems like a common sense pairing. It works so well.

The characters are well developed. They're distinct, and they feel real. I had feelings toward them all. Not all of those feelings were positive, but I was emotionally invested in the way these characters developed and grew, the way their backgrounds are teased to the surface, the way each of them struggle and have faith in their own way.

It's rugged. It's gritty. It's real. It feels almost like you could be watching this unfold from through the window. There's a particularly gnarly leg amputation that is very well detailed, that sets the tone of dirt and blood and alcohol and grit that gives this play a distinct tone. That said, it's not all drama and heartbreak. It's rather comedic, which I did not anticipate even a little. I was pleasantly surprised, and it keeps you reading and connects you to particular characters.

It's a short play, but there's so much packed into these 90 pages.

I sincerely hope I get the chance to see this on stage. It's fantastic, and I can't recommend it enough.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Review: Little Fish by Ramsey Beyer

Title: Little Fish: A Memoir from a Different Kind of Year
Author: Ramsey Beyer
Format: Paperback, 236 pages
Pub. Date: September 3rd 2013
Source: Zest Books

Book Description:

Told through real-life journals, collages, lists, and drawings, this coming-of-age story illustrates the transformation of an 18-year-old girl from a small-town teenager into an independent city-dwelling college student. Written in an autobiographical style with beautiful artwork, Little Fish shows the challenges of being a young person facing the world on her own for the very first time and the unease—as well as excitement—that comes along with that challenge.



I wasn't sure what to expect going into Little Fish. It's a coming of age type memoir told in a graphic novel format. It's not something that I regret reading, but it's also not something that I'd read again either.

I appreciate the unique structure of this graphic novel. Ramsey uses a collection of old lists and blog posts in her comics to show some growth of where she's come from in life. I liked the lists aspect, because I'm a big list maker myself.

Overall though, this story was just kind of vanilla. It doesn't stand out to me as particularly interesting or eventful. I was expecting some intense drama maybe, or some huge change of life decisions but, it's a pretty tame recollection. Honestly, it seemed like I was reliving my own blog posts or my personal college experience. For some people, that's probably a good thing. It brings up fond memories, or is seen as relatable. For me, my college story is just me eating Arby's and hoping for snow days for four years. Not ultimately exciting, and I certainly don't think anyone else would care about my life at that point.

That's not to say that this book is bad, because it isn't. It tells a cohesive story, and the artwork is cute. But it's a pretty vaguely written story- there's not a lot of details or specifics about her classes, or her life, that made me connect with her.

Maybe teenagers or those ready to go to college would appreciate this book more than I did. It's not a bad book, but it's not something I'll keep to reread later.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Mini Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2 by John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

Title: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2
Series: Harry Potter #8
Authors: John Tiffany & Jack Thorne & JK Rowling
Format: Hardcover, Special Rehearsal Edition Script, 309 pages
Pub. Date: July 31st 2016
Source: Gift from my dad

Book Description:

The Eighth Story. Nineteen Years Later.

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.



This review is going to be short and sweet and spoiler free. People seem to either think this is the best thing ever or something to be set on fire, and quite frankly, I'm just not that passionate about it either way.

I enjoyed reading this addition to the series. I went in with low expectations because there's so many reviews- both fan and media- that ripped it apart. It put me off from reading it until after the hype died down, but eventually I gave into it.

Maybe it's because I went into it expecting a big change in tone or writing style, but it didn't bother me. I felt particularly victorious when a plot twist I called when the original series came out ends up happening in this story. I liked some of the new characters, and some of the original characters who are now all grown up.

I got a little tired up doing the time warp after awhile, and admittedly that did take me out of the story a bit.

Regardless, I'm glad I read it and I intend to see it on stage when it comes to the US.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Review: American MaleWhore in Tokyo by Rowen Boozewell

Title: American MaleWhore in Tokyo
Author: Rowen Boozewell
Format: Paperback, Fun Fact Edition, 372 pages
Pub. Date: February 14th 2014
Source: Author

Book Description:

American MaleWhore in Tokyo tells the tale of a loveable (alright, likeable (alright, tolerable)) douchebag who moves to Tokyo to become a host and live out the modern day male American dream. It’s an explicit and groin-grabbingly entertaining story that sheds light on a little known world where fun-loving, good-hearted people can often inflict heart-wrenching, irreparable damage. A ribald study in relationships, relations, and laughter.

This is the Fun Fact edition, and as such it contains a mind-blowing and/or crassy fun fact by the main character, John Box, at the end of each chapter. The addition of fun facts is the only difference between the versions.

WARNING: This book is intended for mature audiences. Well, maybe not “mature” audiences, it’s more for immature audiences. People who laugh at the word poop, but who have somehow managed to learn to read, and are admitted into R-rated movies. But I guess it’s also for mature audiences looking for a break from books that deal mainly in descriptions of the smell of colors, the sound of light, and the feel of words, and other such poppycock.

For Fake Praise and other info, please visit:



This book is well outside my normal wheelhouse of books. I do love Japan, and I like to laugh, so I decided to give this one a go. That said, I am so glad that I got a chance to read this, because it's fucking funny.

It follows the saga of Piston Honda, a douchebag who works at a Japanese host club. It's full of clubs and sex and debauchery and Japan and it's one beautiful disaster of hilarity.

I don't understand why "Piston Honda" aka John Box is so likable, but he is. Picture that one rock star that you're a little bit in love with. Even though he bangs everything, and has a coke problem, and is always in the tabloids. The one who you'd still chill with and who cracks that smile and you overlook all the manwhoring tomfoolery (how old AM I that I use that word?). That's similar to how I feel about this guy. He's a douchebag, but in the lovable kind of way. The guy who tells you the best stories at the bar that you wonder how he's still alive.

It's also pretty educational about Japan, from a perspective that you don't normally hear about, which was pretty cool. Life over there isn't all Hello Kitty and hentai like the internet suggests, yanno? Still want to visit, but with all sorts of new information in mind.

This book is definitely a "guy" book. Not that women can't enjoy it, blah blah blah. But if you don't find dick jokes, poop, or sex entertaining or funny.... This is gonna be your personal hell, buddy. If that's right up your alley, or if you like Japan, or if you love a good asshole rogue as a main character, or if you are just looking to laugh, this is a great book to fill the void.

The author was awesome enough to send me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review with no shenanigans.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Review: The Beauty and the Beast by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve

Title: The Beauty and the Beast
Author: Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve
Illustrator: Mina Lima
Translator: James Robinson Planché
Format: Hardcover, Illustrated with interactive elements, 208 pages
Pub. Date: January 31st 2017
Source: Mother in Law, Valentine's Day Gift

Book Description:

MinaLima, the award-winning design studio behind the graphics for the Harry Potter film franchise and the creators of the illustrated Jungle Book and Peter Pan, reimagine the beloved French fairy tale The Beauty and the Beast in this deluxe unabridged edition illustrated with stunning full-color artwork and nine 3-D interactive features—published to coincide with the release of the blockbuster Disney live-action musical film starring Emma Watson, Ian McKellen, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, and Emma Thompson.
Generations of readers have been bewitched by the epic love story of a beautiful young girl imprisoned in the magical castle of a monstrous beast. Now, the classic fairy tale is brought to life in this spectacular illustrated edition as originally envisioned by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740.



Honestly, I wasn't familiar with the original story of Beauty and the Beast. Like most other people, I'm familiar with the animated Disney version, and now the 2017 live-action rendition of it also by Disney. I was really excited to read this when I got it as a Valentine's Day gift from my mother-in-law. I appreciate her thinking of me, because she knows it's my favorite of the princess films.

The physical book itself is stunning. The cover is very striking and classically designed. It comes in sealed clear plastic, so that the hidden elements in it stay in tact. The illustrations are beautiful, and go along with the text perfectly. I love that there are interactive components to this. Almost like a pop-up book, but for an older demographic. You can open the wardrobe, look at maps, and other neat little additions to the story. It's a beautiful look that I intend to keep on my shelves.

The actual story, however, is less of a victory to me. I understand that it was written centuries ago, and that it's been translated into English. But with that being said it was just kind of... Well, boring. It's long. It's tediously written. It's dry. I imagine this is how most high schoolers feel when they get assigned Shakespeare for summer reading. You know, the trope on sitcoms where "when will I ever use Shakespeare?!" comes up? Similar feel.

The story itself isn't bad, though it's very different from the version that most people know. Beauty has sisters, for example. And there's no Gaston character. But she's also just kind of there. Not particularly interesting, and it was a struggle to work up enough "care" to get through the story.

I think it's worth reading once, for comparative reasons. But I don't anticipate reading it again, unless maybe in French to brush up on my language skills.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Mini School Review: Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris

Title: Clybourne Park
Author: Bruce Norris
Format: Paperback, 210 pages
Pub. Date: Published 2011
Source: SIU Bookstore

Book Description:

CLYBOURNE PARK spans two generations fifty years apart. In 1959, Russ and Bev are selling their desirable two-bedroom at a bargain price, unknowingly bringing the first black family into the neighborhood (borrowing a plotline from Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun) and creating ripples of discontent among the cozy white residents of Clybourne Park. In 2009, the same property is being bought by a young white couple, whose plan to raze the house and start again is met with equal disapproval by the black residents of the soon-to-be-gentrified area. Are the issues festering beneath the floorboards actually the same, fifty years on? Bruce Norris's excruciatingly funny and squirm-inducing satire explores the fault line between race and property.



I had to read this play in one of my American literature classes in college. It was my least favorite piece of literature of the semester.

The book is a sequel of sorts to Lorraine Hansberry's play "A Raisin in the Sun". For the record, that's not one of my favorite plays either. I know it's a classic, but I went into reading "Claybourne Park" without the expectations that other people who loved Raisin in the Sun did.

It's boring. I know that's the least helpful word to describe a book, but it's what it was. It was loud, full of people talking over each other but not really going anywhere. While this made it easy to read in class, it's really easy to struggle with set, the bigger plot, and even character descriptions because that's not really what the constant talking is about. The jokes (yes, there are some) aren't funny. The drama seems anticlimactic. The characters seem no different from characters I've seen before, which makes this book/play pretty forgettable. Like a show on TLC I don't want to watch: generic people yelling at each other

I understand the message and the point the play is trying to make, and I appreciate it. But when it comes to the actual piece, not for me. Maybe if you enjoyed "A Raisin in the Sun", or actually get to see this played out on stage, you'll have a better time with it than I did.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Review: Donabe by Naoko Takei Moore & Kyle Connaughton

Title: Donabe: Classic and Modern Japanese Clay Pot Cooking
Author: Naoko Takei Moore & Kyle Connaughton
Format: egalley
Pub. Date: October 27th 2015
Source: Netgalley/Ten Speed Press

Book Description:

A beautiful and lavishly photographed cookbook focused on authentic Japanese clay-pot cooking, showcasing beloved recipes and updates on classics, with background on the origins and history of donabe.

Japanese clay pot (donabe) cooking has been refined over centuries into a versatile and simple method for preparing both dramatic and comforting one-pot meals. In Donabe, Tokyo native and cooking school instructor Naoko Takei Moore and chef Kyle Connaughton offer inspiring Japanese home-style recipes such as Sizzling Tofu and Mushrooms in Miso Sauce and Dashi-Rich Shabu-Shabu, as well as California-inspired dishes including Steam-Fried Black Cod with Crisp Potatoes, Leeks, and Walnut-Nori Pesto or Smoked Duck Breast with Creamy Wasabi–Green Onion Dipping Sauce. All are rich in flavor, simple to prepare, and perfect for a communal dining experience with family and friends. Donabe also features recipes from luminary chefs such as David Kinch, Namae Shinobu, and Cortney Burns and Nick Balla, all of whom use donabe in their own kitchens. Collectible, beautiful, and functional, donabe can easily be an essential part of your cooking repetory.



So real talk, this the best cookbook that I've read in a long time. I got this book because I love Japanese food, but I've never cooked it myself. This book made me want to, immediately.

The recipes are divided by technique/type of pot. There's an intro, a section of how to use the pots, how it's made, there's a section for planning menus, one for sauces and stocks. And at the end, there's a glossary and resources.

The photography is absolutely stunning. It's like an art book. Everything looks professional and delicious and like I want it. And I think that's what the photos of a cookbook should do.

It seems to be middle of the road, difficulty-wise. It's not super easy, 101 level stuff, but there's nothing here that looks like only an Iron Chef can prepare it. It seems both approachable and elegant at once.

The recipes are well written, with plenty of tips on cooking and technique catered to each dish. Each recipe includes how many people it'll serve, the courses, and what equipment you'll need to make it. There's also personal stories that make this seem like a book from the heart, as well as history about the dishes.

I like that they tell you "if you don't like it, change it". It encourages personal twists and substitutions, which sets a relaxed tone that follows throughout the book. A lot of the recipes, because of this, are vegetarian friendly or easily adaptable.

The things that jumped off the page by being super delicious sounding include Smoked Duck Breast with Creamy Wasabi-Green Onion Dipping Sauce, Fried Scales-On Tilefish with Winter Melon Tagliatelle, and Green Tea Rice Balls.

I highly recommend this if you love to cook, love Japanese food, or even if you just like to flip through cookbooks for the pictures. It's worth it.