The Book of Memory Gaps: A review of an illustrative experiment

Let’s start with the facts.

Cecilia Ruiz is the author and illustrator of The Book of Memory Gaps. She has an MFA from the SVA in NYC (the School of Visual Arts is the crème de la crème of 2D art education). She has illustrated for magazines like Accent, La Peste, and Life & Style. She’s also done the art for a couple books. As far as I can tell, The Book of Memory Gaps is the first book that she’s illustrated and written.

If you check out her portfolio on Cargo Collective, you can see her other work. I would like to draw your attention to the illustrations under the category: Personal Project. ‘Welcome Misfortune’ and ‘Box of Extraordinary Deaths’. Both are an illustrated series, pay attention to the latter. The format of ‘Box of Extraordinary Deaths’ is a quiet illustration accompanied by a pithy text which adds a small narrative and more importantly, a context.

Isadora Duncan is the most successful illustration of the set. It anticipates the disaster with a humorous and innocent voice, as if the dancer is skipping out the door to meet her friends, and pulls the scarf with her as an afterthought.

I mention this set of illustrations because The Book of Memory Gaps follows the exact same pattern. There are 14 vignettes that give a brief synopsis about each character accompanied by a “locket” sized cameo illustration of the character and a larger illustration of the character in his or her current context. The characters are tied together by the uniqueness of their memories and the small details that sets the collective story in a somber town that is reminiscent of a former USSR country (the Republic of Zubrowka, perhaps).

What is important to note is that each character is completely separate and isolated. Not only from the other characters, from any other character, but also from reality. The result is a haunting, quiet, and depressing look at flat characters who are stuck on repeat. You know how creepy it is to hear a record play the same two seconds of recording over and over again because somewhere along the way it got stuck? It’s like a book about that.

Compared to her other works, the ones in The Book of Memory Gaps are much more stagnant, less funny, and bleaker. I suppose this is intentional, considering the subject matter and setting. I picked two of my favorites to show you.

The Book of Memory Gaps by Cecilia Ruiz

The Book of Memory Gaps by Cecilia Ruiz

As you can see, her style leans more towards magazine editorial rather than a stand-alone book that relies heavily on illustration for three-fourths of its content. It really surprised me when I reached the end of the book in less than seven minutes (really). Like, that’s it?

So where does this book fit? As a senior thesis project, in a bookshelf of illustration books for inspiration to artists, as an extended visual essay in an eclectic magazine that specializes in such things. It’s an interesting experiment, and I’m happy for this artist’s career advancement, but does it deliver the purposed $16.95 worth of content? Debatable.

note: I received an advanced e-copy for review purposes but that did not affect my honest opinion of the book.

Dating Advice from Hush

Super-short synopsis of Hush by Stacey R. Campbell: The Princess Diaries + more romance between hot co-eds.

At first pass, I was irritated with some large leaps in logic that I was asked to take. Example: one character finds the Prime Minister’s phone number after a quick search online. As in, Oh gimme a minute and I’ll google David Cameron’s phone number. This sort of thing happened frequently. But then I realized that this story would be perfect as a Disney Channel Feature Film starring the latest Blondie McStarlet — you know, the kind where the unfeasibility of the story is passed over like last year’s homecoming dress in favor of the idea of a hot British guy falling in love with a laid-back all-American girl-next-door.

I am a logical person. Even fantasy books still need to follow the properties of physics. But say I laid that aside, there was still an important problem that bothered me.

Even though the main character Blakely has a lot of positive qualities, she can’t help that she was written in such a way that she passes on bad advice from the author when it comes to romantic relationships.

1. The cure for a broken heart is to get in a new romantic relationship.

“She needed to get over Stewart. The only way he could see Blakely accomplishing that was for her to get together with someone else, and Max was the perfect candidate for the job.”

I understand that sometimes you need to tell your friend: “Look, you are dwelling too much on the past. Let’s find a way to get your mind off it.” But the way to recover from a hole in your heart is not by filling it with another person. It’s by becoming a WHOLE person. Maybe this means finding a new hobby, setting a goal of some kind, learning a skill, journaling, or understanding more about yourself through personality discovery tools.

2. Ignoring someone will make them want you more.

“...the more he tried to charm her, the more she ignored him. She was driving him mad.”

I think this idea feeds into rape culture. Whenever I see this scenario in movies, it makes me so angry that I usually stop watching. The girl says “No”, the guy says, “She doesn’t mean it,” in the end the girl says “Yes” and the guy says “I knew she didn’t mean what she said. She didn’t know what was good for her.” I don’t just mean about sex. It could be about eating two cookies instead of one. There is a difference between saying “I changed my mind” and caving in to the nagging of someone else. Can I get a book with some examples of relational maturity and respect, please?

3. Making your crush jealous will speed up your relationship status.

“Was that jealousy he saw in her delicious chocolate eyes? Oh, this was rich. … If Blakely felt threatened by Marley, maybe she would finally act on her feelings for him.”

Love/friendship does not try to make the other person feel bad. Love/friendship does not manipulate. Love is honest. Love is patient.

4. Saying that you belong together is pretty much proof that you do belong together.

“The way they laughed, the ease in the way they talked, it was like they belonged together.”

The characters think a lot about how perfect they are together, how perfect their friends are together, etc etc. But as a reader, we don’t actually see them working well together. And we don’t see them having a real conversation about their thoughts, speculations, likes and dislikes… things that people who are dating usually try to find out. Instead, they flirtatiously put each other down, make sexually suggestive comments to each other, and sometimes they talk about homework assignments. Yup, that’s gonna last in the long run.

Note: I got a free copy of this for review, but that didn't change my honest opinion of the book.

Poking past The Hedgehog hype

Sometimes I am a little late to the conversation. I know everyone was talking about The Elegance of the Hedgehog back when it hit the English-speaking shelves in 2008. Six years later, I decided to dive in. (Speaking of being late to the game, Starbucks in Dubai just got seasonal pumpkin spice lattes for the first time…)

The story alternates between the confessional-style musings and conversational-style writings of a rich, super-intelligent Parisian tweenage apartment resident and an astute, menopausal concierge of the said apartment. On the surface level I enjoyed this book immensely—two people on opposite ends of the societal spectrum confront some of their assumptions about the other side and come out better because of it.

I read others’ reviews of it after I finished, and I must say that I have to hand it to the critics. These characters spend the whole book moaning about how other people just assume things about them based on appearances but they don’t really get to know them. But the same two people who are doing the complaining don’t put in the effort to push past the pokey defenses of their cold neighbors, either. I’ve seen this conversation happen before:

“I feel so left out because no one invites me to do anything.”
“Do you invite anyone to do anything either?”
“No, but I’m new here / not good at it / boring so I shouldn’t be the one to do it.”

Except in the book it sounded more like:

“No one wants to get to know who I really am.”
“Did you try to get to know who they really are?”
“No, but I’ve spent enough time with them to know that they don’t care about me / aren’t worth my time / aren’t intelligent enough / won’t provide me with effortless, meaningful conversation.”

Once I realized that, it soiled my impression of the book. But I will hold on to the parts that I liked and made the book worth the read. A truly beautiful aspect of the story was the timid friendship between Kakuro Ozu and the main character Renée Michel. Both middle-aged, both introverted and kind-hearted, both epicurean. Their friendship is one that was in its beginning stages of development, yet already so familiar and trusting. I wanted to become a part of that intimacy. It is a modified Cinderella and Prince Charming story, but with realistic people who are in the afternoon of their lives rather than their mornings, who come with some baggage and history, who are looking more for someone they can talk to than someone they can keep up appearances with.

And, call me out for being a girl who likes to read about romantic relationships (then go right on dissing Jane Austen while you’re at it), but I wish the book was more about that. I don’t wish the story had cut straight to the part where Prince Charming/Kakuro Ozu is introduced. I wanted the story to be longer, and I wanted them to enjoy each others’ lives more. And I wanted that precocious, pretentious 12-year-old to take her know-it-all self elsewhere.

Ciudad: A fast review of a fast read

The basic premise: a Brazilian drug lord’s daughter gets held for ransom, and a bounty hunter is hired to bring her back alive.

(Read without fear… no spoilers be here)

Ciudad, by Ande Parks, Joe Russo, and Anthony Russo, reads like an action flick, which is probably why it was picked up for a silver screen adaptation by Sierra Pictures. It is fast paced, violent, gritty, and features all the twisted corruption that we love about South American politics. In spite of its predictability, and the characters being more like caricatures than real people, I found myself liking it for the same reason people like action movies. It’s racy and entertaining and not from my world.

Totally in love with Maddy Kettle: The Adventure of the Thimblewitch

Beautiful, whimsical, enchanting, playful. I tore through Maddy Kettle: The Adventure of the Thimblewitch and needed to see more; there simply isn’t enough of author-illustrator Eric Orchard’s work. Unfortunately, a scrounge around the web revealed little more than some old interviews and that he graduated from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (does he earns points just for being Canadian?). Online, he is frequently referred to as “an up-and-coming illustrator.” I think it’s safe to say that he has arrived.


Maddy is an Arizona girl (holla!) who needs to turn her parents, currently an adorable pair of kangaroo rats, back into humans. Her adventures lead her to fantastical creatures, magical machinery, and delightful surprises. Some scenes are reminiscent of Dorothy visiting Oz.

Others, of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells—a steampunk aesthetic quietly seeps into many frames.

Besides the talent and skill with the individual illustrations, the momentum between frames is what takes this book to another level. Look at this page: a chain reaction from the first frame causes the banjo string to snap in the second, a zoom out in the third frame flavours the entire page with humour and drama, and now we know why Maddy is looking down in frames four and five.

Yes, this is a children’s graphic novel. But it is more than that. It is a work of art. I want it for my (future) children. But I also want it for me.

(note: I received this as an ARC ebook for free, but that didn’t affect my opinions stated here)


Twelve sexy #bookspo pics to get you in the mood for reading.

Five First Lines from Japanese Lit

Here are the rules:
  1. Pick a section of a bookstore. I chose the Japanese lit section.
  2. Choose five interesting looking books, based on their covers.
  3. Tell us the first lines.

The Face of Another by Kobo Abe
At last you have come, threading your way through the endless passages of the maze.

No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai
I have seen three pictures of the man.

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami (Apparently this book has also been published under the title “The Briefcase”.)
His full name was Mr. Harutsuna Matumoto, but I called him ‘Sensei’.

Gone to the Forest by Katie Kitamura
Tom hears the noise from across the hall.

Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui
Kosaku Tokita lumbered into the Senior Staff Room.

Fate, Futility, and The Witch of Salt and Storm

There are two things that I dislike. If you are an author, and you put these in your story, you will have to work very hard to convince me to forgive you for such sins. The two things are:
1. first person narration
2. dream sequences.

The Witch of Salt and Storm is narrated by a girl who can interpret dreams.

Top Ten Book Characters That Would Be Sitting At My Lunch Table

If I wake up early enough, I can smell fall in the air even with the thermostat sitting above 40 degrees. I’ve been reminiscing about university days and bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils, the smells of roasted corn and chiles common in southern Arizona, farmers markets and crisp bike rides. In honour of going back to school, this Top Ten Tuesday by The Broke and the Bookish is themed: Book Characters That Would Be Sitting At My Lunch Table.

Image Source: The Harry Potter Lexicon

Hermione Granger from Harry Potter 

I can’t say exactly which character is my favourite in the Harry Potter universe, but I know for a fact that Hermione and I are the most similar (proof). I like her because she is like me, and we would get along great (unless that is, we were feeling threatened by scholastic rivalry).

Illustration credit: The Republic of Pemberly 

Elizabeth Bennet & Colonel Fitzwilliam from Pride and Prejudice 

These two are witty on their own, but play off each other so well when they are put in the same room. Their banter and tongue-in-cheek comments would keep the whole table entertained.

Illustration source

Lincoln O’Neill from Attachments 

Lincoln and I have a lot of the same interests, and he is the type of person I hung out with in high school: nerdy, unassuming, has abnormal quirks but isn’t embarrassed by himself. Plus, I want his apartment. He could be my book boyfriend.

Joachim from The Christmas Mystery

He is young, but full of wonder, creativity, and ideas. If he got a little older, we would have a fun time making art and stories together. I know he would always be uncovering more mysteries and noticing little things that normal people just can’t see.

Illustration credit: Ryan Jimenez 

Cinna from The Hunger Games 

He is the most selfless character in the Hunger Games, has the best sense of style, is down-to-earth and straight-talking…but what I like most about Cinna is that he uses his talents, career, and knowledge to do very, very important things. Think of all those hours spent on seemingly meaningless work making costumes, when actually it was training and preparation for something infinitely meaningful.

Illustration credit: Wokjow

Hans Hubermann & Liesel Meminger from The Book Thief 

I just finished reading The Book Thief and I haven’t gotten over my love for these characters yet. I didn’t put Rudy and Max on the official list but I love them too!

Illustration credit: Pauline Baynes, source

Lucy from The Chronicles of Narnia

I’m noticing a trend—I like honest characters. Out of the Pevensie children, Lucy is the most honest with herself and others, and doesn’t doubt what she knows. Her faith is steadfast. She is quick to help, keeps a positive attitude, and is generous. I know she would share her pudding cups with me.

John Ames from Gilead

This man is far removed from the school lunch table, but he is so calming and amiable. When things get stressful, he would be able to point me to the things in life which really matter, and give me some practical advice along the way.

Seven Books for People Who Like the Color Yellow

Organizing a bookshelf according to color makes perfect sense to me — I am more likely to remember a book by its cover than its title or author. I went to a bookstore and did some color arranging of my own the other day. Though I wasn't interested in reading any of these books, I did have fun on this scavenger hunt through the YA section.

OMG! I'm in Love With a Geek! by Rae Earl
Tape by Steven Camden
Exile by Kevin Emerson
Innocent by Anne Cassidy
Burned by P.C. & Kristin Cast
Struck by Lightning: The Carson Phillips Journal by Chris Colfer

I found this book on my way out:

When Mr. Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan

What color should I hunt for next?

An Arabian Nights Remix: Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn

If you were to guess that this book is a retooled tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, you would be correct. Like any good fairy tale, it is not incredibly original. We seek out fairy tales because of their familiarity. Consider why most western fairy tales have events in sets of three (e.g. Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the Twelve Dancing Princesses and the three night challenge…) – to let us get comfortable but not too comfortable, to add suspense as we search for the change in the pattern, to give us a skeleton for retelling and embellishing the tale for the next generation.

Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn

The authors, Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed, rely heavily on the structure of a couple of the more famous Arabian folk tales: there are forty thieves, a vast treasure that once belonged to the caliphate, an enchanted cavern that reveals itself to the words “open sesame”, and a djinni (anglicised: genie) that is trapped in a bottle and a ring, among other elements that readers familiar with the traditional tales will recognize. But they go beyond the familiar to weave a tapestry infused with strands of Arabic, Persian, and Egyptian culture and vocabulary, create scenes that transport the readers to the early twentieth century Arabia (if it had magic and steampunk additions), and teach us about the nature of the Islamic faith through the patient piety of Baba Ali.

Ali is a 18-year-old Arab boy, doing an engineering apprenticeship in England. The book begins by following him as he seeks to complete a simple errand, but shows his exhaustion as he is discriminated against and antagonized by the homogenous, unwelcoming streets of London.

Top Ten Books I Really Want To Read But Don't Own Yet

Between the library, ARCs for review, friends, and books I am trying to read to sell back, I have put a moratorium on book buying. My self-imposed bookstore exile has increased my to-read lists because it encourages me to read more. Thanks to the ladies at The Broke and the Bookish for inspiring this list!

Book covers of the following list

x. The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

When I asked a couple teen girls at my church what they read, they lit up and told me about this series. Naturally, I have to read it.

Self-Published Spotlight: Alora by Tamie Dearen

I have a prejudice. I will watch cell phone videos of a person in a dirty bedroom playing a guitar with interest. I supported Radiohead when they released In Rainbows sans record label. I love the forefathers of contemporary art because they thumbed their noses at the institutionalized rules. Recently, Youtube serial dramas have filled the void in my life created when I stopped watching TV seven years ago.

But books? No. There are just too many reckless users of the English language out there and I am not going to bother wasting my time unless it has the official stamp of approval. And a professional editing job.

After reading an article about how the book industry is the last snobbish holdout against the internet-fueled creative revolution, I decided to confront my prejudice. How could I say I disapproved of self-published books if I had never read one?

Sisters: the small stuff may annoy you, but they do have benefits

Here’s the gist: Little Miss Sunshine style road trip complete with the rickety VW bus, parents on the verge of a divorce, and family members that are too wrapped up in their own worlds to see the problems of the others. You can guess how it resolves.

National Book Lovers Day: a list of my current reads

Happy National Book Lovers Day!

I am celebrating National Book Lovers Day by consuming an entire box of After Eights and a large chunk of my current reads. Let it be known: I support book polygamy.

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Romans by R.C. Sproul
The Poem and the Journey: 60 Poems for the Journey of Life by Ruth Padel
Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi
Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands by Paul David Tripp

Enjoy your book binging today!

One Hundred Years of Solitude: Does anyone else have trouble remembering what it is about?

If you ask me: Hey, what is that book about that you said you really liked? I will probably give a vague response that will leave you thinking that the summary I just gave could have been about any number of books. I have had multiple embarrassing conversations at the reference desk of a bookstore that all went something like this...