by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer
Okay, this slender little book charmed my socks right off! That's a fact. And I write reviews of every book I read. Another fact. But for some reason I'm having a difficult time articulating exactly why I enjoyed this light-hearted gift so much. I think it's actually because there's quite a bit packed into this small package. What I can tell you is this: It brought a smile to my face when I was well and truly blue.
After a couple of very brief prefaces, the bulk of the book is made up of an alphabetical listing of fantastic creatures. There are 34 total, each with a two-page spread. Squeezed neatly into those two pages is a charming black and white illustration of a critter; a colorful description of its history, origin, habitat, etc.; and the "Evil Monkey Dialogues." Despite the bizarre name, this is simply a little light kibbitzing between husband and wife authors Jeff and Ann VanderMeer on the presumed kosherness of said creature. She's a member of the tribe, he's the Evil Monkey.
Of the 34 creatures covered, I was familiar with about a dozen of them. Some were as basic as a Dragon or Mermaid or Sea Monkey, but other creatures were exotic beasts from far away lands and cultures like the Jotai, the Encantado, and the Abumi-Guchi. I'm fairly positive at least one, the Borges, was made up entirely in the authors' imagination. As it happened, that was my favorite listing in the book.
After the creature listings, the final section of the book was discussion with chef/baker Duff Goldman about how one might prepare these creatures, kosher and treyf alike. Now I've never seen his TV show, Ace of Cakes, but he must be an entertaining guy because he's got a delightful sense of humor and a whimsical streak a mile wide. Not only does he discuss the creatures featured previously in the book, but he improvises with other imaginary animals. In fact, he may be a closet sci-fi fan, because he proposes recipes for a Chewbacca and a Tribble, which, let's face it, is pretty much a hairy Rocky Mountain oyster.
My copy of this book had a delightful bonus. Tucked inside were three postcards that the publisher had used for promotional purposes. They were recipe cards for the preparation of Mongolian Death Worm and other culinary delicacies.
I'll tell you what, this little tchotchke is the perfect gift for the person in your life who could use a little more whimsy, a little more magic, and a little more laughter--even if that person is you. I can only hope there's a second volume on the way!