Tag Archives: Haruki Murakami

May 2017 Wrapup: Part II

13 Jun

May ended up being a very solid reading month, and the best one in terms of meeting goals. I was very behind on my TBR challenge (read 75 TBR books before the end of the year) and decided that May was going to be focused on that. I aimed for 15 read and ended up with 16! Plus I finished my first long series of the year. All in all a really great month.

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The Wanderers, by Meg Howrey. Finished May 17th. This is a book that I think is going to suffer from terrible marketing. I have seen multiple blurbs that state it is The Martian x Station Eleven. I guess that’s true if by that you mean that they have vaguely connected elements (astronauts and uh… being alone?). But then you might as well say that The Wanderers is Brokeback Mountain x Halo, because it has gay characters and video games.

Even though I knew it probably wouldn’t be what the blurb promised, I still felt let down by The Wanderers. The premise is fantastic, but it feels bogged down by multiple, pointless side stories. We get the perspective of three astronauts who are doing a “test run” of a Mars mission in a desert in Utah. But we also get the perspectives of their family members (one for each astronaut, so 3 in total) and the perspective of one of the men assigned to watch the test run. Which gives us a whopping total of 7 perspectives in what is honestly a pretty short novel. It’s too many! I honestly only liked 3 of them in total (2 of the astronauts and 1 of the family members), and basically every family member added nothing to the plot besides “it’s hard to have a parent/husband who is often in space.” Like wow, I actually could have guessed that one all on my own! Some of the stories, like Dmitri’s, were actually kind of cute but they didn’t connect at ALL to the main plot so reading them felt odd and disjointed.

The writing here is lovely, but the plot is a hot mess. You’d think a story revolving around 3 people spent in fake isolation for a year and a half would get very strange and psychological. Well, about 70% of the way in some very cool elements of paranoia are introduced, but like every other story thread they are quickly wrapped up or dropped entirely. This did have the core of a very strong book. If it was just Helen, Yoshi, and Sergei in “fake space” as they slowly started to lose their grip on reality, it could have been spectacular. Easily a 5-star book. Instead it’s an odd sort of family drama that touches lightly on a lot of really cool elements but never gives the reader a good look at any of them.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Men Without Women, by Haruki Murakami. Finished May 20th. I love Murakami. He is one of my favorite authors. But for some reason, I haven’t been wowed by his previous short story collections. I find them okay, but not very memorable. In (almost) all of his novels, there are moments where you get stories from very fringe side-characters that end up being very bizarre and nonsensical. His short stories tend to read like just those moments, without the context of a whole novel. And while the “short story in the actual story” tends to be my favorite moments of his books, I never like them that much on their own. I think the whimsy fades when we get 8 or 10 “what the hell, this is so weird” stories all in a row.

Men Without Women is the exact opposite of his previous collections. The stories are grounded in reality, and while there are a few almost-magical-realism elements in a few of them, the focus is on the characters. As you might guess from the title, this is a collection about love and heartbreak. All of them have a male protagonist who either loses a woman over the course of the story or is reminiscing about his loss. These encounters range from marriage to one-night-stands, but they show the massive impact a person can have on our life.

The writing is, of course, beautiful (and by extension beautifully translated). Of course all of his usual tropes are here (middle-age man with ennui, jazz, cats, strange ladies, beer, bars, etc) so if Murakami doesn’t do it for you I don’t think this collection will change your mind. But it is a massive treat for long-time fans and I also think would be an excellent starting point for Murakami newbies. There is such a deep, emotional humanity in every one of these tales. This is the rare collection where I would not leave out a single story. And I will think about them all for a long time to come.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Dear Friend, From My Life I Write To You In Your Life, by Yiyun Li. Finished May 20th. This is a difficult book to review, because it’s hard to explain. It bills itself as a memoir and I suppose that’s the most accurate label, but it rarely feels like a true memoir. Yiyun Li spends very little time thinking about her own life and the events that are at the core of this story remain shrouded in mystery.

It is, above all else, a book about mental health. Li suffers from depression and has been hospitalized several times for it. These hospitalizations are really all the center of the story, though we get very few scenes actually in the hospital. It’s talked about in vague terms (for example, she refers to her ever-changing “roommates” and it’s not until a few chapters later that I realized she meant people sharing a room with her in the hospital, not literal roommates) and Li skirts around her own issues. This may seem like a negative trait, but it works quite well. She’s very open about how depression makes you feel, and there are some hauntingly beautiful passages I related to a little too much.

My main issue was her heavy reliance on other literature throughout. A lot of this book is her in conversation with other authors or famous works of literature. Which could be interesting but I’m going to be honest, I didn’t know most of what she was referencing. This can certainly be done well (Compass, Do Not Say We Have Nothing), but she didn’t really provide a lot of context clues to help the reader out. She’ll mention a book and spend 2 paragraphs talking about why it was important to her life, but never go into what the damn book is even about. It is at times frustrating, but I think that is almost the point. This is not really a memoir, and it is also not really a book for the reader. It’s Li exploring her mental illness and life on her own terms, which is certainly an interesting concept. I’m not sure it’s pulled off as well as it could be, but the parts of this that worked for me really worked.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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The Devil’s Larder, by Jim Crace. Finished May 22nd. This is, strangely enough, the first collection of flash fiction I have ever read. I do love short stories, but I always found the idea of 1-5 pages stories a little odd. How can you fit anything in that? Well, Jim Crace is here to school me on the art of micro-stories because this book was amazing.

It’s a collection of over 60 pieces of flash fiction, which might seem intimidating but it’s also a ridiculously short book for so much content. There are stories that range from about 6 pages to one that is only 2 words. How could that be effective, you wonder? Well, the unifying theme of food really helps tie everything together. There is a strong magical realism bend here, but each story stands on its own as a unique little oddity. While they all involve food in one way or another, they vary wildly in tone and content. Some are about the mundane lives of average people, others veer right into bizarro. The variety keeps it fresh and interesting the whole way through.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Dark Tower, by Stephen King. Finished May 25th. I have finally climbed to the top of the dark tower, and my heart will forever hurt over what I found there. There is nothing I can say about the plot of this book that would not be a spoiler for the previous ones (given that it’s book 8 in a series), but suffice to say The Dark Tower ripped my heart out, stomped on it, and made me love every second of this torture.

This is a series unlike any other. It’s a mashup of so many genres: science fiction, epic fantasy, Western, even elements of magical realism and straight-up surrealism. While the plot and mood vary wildly from book to book, it’s really the characters that hold the whole thing together. I will never forget Roland, Eddie, Susannah, and Oy. If, like me, you were hesitating on picking up this series because it’s described as being “really weird” and “so strange,” don’t! Any fan of King will feel right at home in the world of the dark tower.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Hotels of North America, by Rick Moody. Finished May 25th. I read a lot of odd, off-the-wall books in May, and this was probably the strangest. It’s about the life of a middle-age man (Reginald) who gives inspirational lectures, but it is told entirely through online hotel reviews. Yes, you read that right. The entire book is a series of hotel reviews on a travel site.

It’s an interesting idea, but tricky to pull off. Thankfully Moody really put a lot of effort into the format. Each review contains a kernel of Reginald’s life while also being depressingly funny. Reginald is not a happy man: his life is kind of in shambles, and he stays in some truly horrible hotels for his job. His reviews are rambling messes that only occasionally touch on the amenities of the hotel. Most of them are more about the mood and atmosphere of the place, and what happened to him there. Of course, realistically, these wouldn’t fly as popular reviews, but if you can suspend your disbelief it’s a really wonderful little gem.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Gwendy’s Button Box, by Stephen King & Richard Chizmar. Finished May 26th. Finally, King has returned to Castle Rock! It has been many years for him, but I read Needful Things only a year or so ago so it doesn’t really feel like that long. It’s definitely one of his richest settings and with the upcoming TV show I was very pleased to see new written content for the town.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Gwendy’s Button Box is its Dark Tower connections. Sure, it takes place in Castle Rock, but it opens with the Man in Black giving a girl an item that can fulfill her heart’s desires (very Leland Gaunt, no? more ammo for my ‘Gaunt is Flagg’ headcanon). So it really has connections to a ton of King’s other works.

This was a pleasant but not spectacular read. It definitely went in a direction I wasn’t expecting and the scenes right before the end were a real punch in the gut, but I feel it was a little more bright and happy than what we usually get from King (perhaps because he had a co-writer?). A great novella for Constant Readers but if you’re not familiar with his other books I don’t know how effective this would be.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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How to Be Human, by Paula Cocozza. Finished May 27th. He was an escape artist, she thought admiringly. Maybe he could free her too.

This is, oddly enough, the third book I have read about humans having strange relationships with foxes. There’s Lady into Fox, The Fox Woman, and now How to Be Human. But unlike the other books in the same vein that I have read, there is no aspect of humanity to the fox in Human. It’s literally about a woman who becomes utterly obsessed with an animal.

Mary has recently gotten out of a horrible relationship, and her life seems very small and sad. She goes to work, comes home, eats, sleeps, repeat. She is often late and is constantly berated by her boss. She lusts after the seemingly happy life of her next-door neighbors and their two small children. Basically, Mary is a crazy cat lady without the cats. One day she finds a fox in her backyard and quickly becomes… enamored with it.

This is a very uncomfortable book. There is nothing overtly illicit between Mary’s feelings about “her fox” but the book is always pushing you right to the edge of your comfort level. Mary refers to the fox as her boyfriend in public. She gets flustered every time he leaves her a “present.” She thinks, longingly, about what life would be if she could just run away and live with her fox. It’s not a “I wish he was my pet” type of affection, so if you are easily squicked out this is probably not the book for you.

Somehow it manages to be both fascinating and boring. As many other reviews have noted, How to be Human is a strange combination of factors and you’re probably not going to love all of them. It is deathly slow and really drags towards the middle. But the writing is lovely and the plot so fascinating that you can’t look away. It feels very much like a first novel: there are moments of brilliance and it has the bones of something utterly amazing. I rated it 4 stars so obviously I enjoyed it, but it always felt like it could have been better. Like it needed another layer of polish to really deliver on everything it promises.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Hold the Dark, by William Giraldi. Finished May 29th. He knew what haunted meant. The dead don’t haunt the living. The living haunt themselves.

This book was such a pleasant surprise. Let’s be honest, I picked it up because there is a wolf on a cover. That’s literally enough to sell a book for me. Plus it’s shelved as a thriller/mystery, which is also right up my alley. Thankfully I did not read the whole blurb (which has some early-book spoilers, so if you’re interested in Hold the Dark I would recommend NOT looking at the Goodreads summary) and went into this totally blind.

It is indeed a thriller… of sorts. This is a bloody, bleak revenge tale. The premise is simple: in a small village in Alaska, wolves have taken (and eaten) 3 children in a very short span of time. One of the grieving mothers (Medora Slone) contacts a man who is something of a wolf expert to come and help them. This man, Russel Core, loves wolves and is very reluctant about killing one but goes to the village anyway. Both Medora and Core have ulterior motives here, and nothing is what it first seems like.

This is a very bleak book. It is set in utter desolation: we are in Alaska right before the winter solstice, which means about 6 hours of light a day. It’s freezing cold, the village barely has enough people to be called that, and everyone who lives there is far below the poverty line. It’s the kind of book that makes you feel lonely and cold right down to your bones. There are a few scenes of Medora’s huband, Vernon, at war in an unnamed Middle Eastern country, and while the scenery is certainly different the tone is the same. Instead of cold we have oppressive heat, and the horrors of war are not exactly pleasant reading. This is an uncomfortable novel in almost every aspect.

It is also brutal. There is a lot of violence here, and most of it is senseless. Remember when I said this was a revenge story? Well, it’s not a justice sort of revenge. It’s revenge blinded by bloodlust and anger. There is little logic to how the characters act: for the most part, they are actually insane or teetering right on the border. It’s like the Alaskan wilderness has burrowed into their hearts and turned them into something other than human. Which is a main theme of the book: what does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be an animal? And where do we draw the line between the two?

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Scratch, by Steve Himmer. Finished May 31st. Even when other animals lose their ability to plant fear in your hearts, when the howl of coyotes or the rumbling of bears makes your heart flutter with the nostalgia of ignorance, and you feel yourself drawn back to nature-as if you have ever been able to leave-the call-and-response of a pack in the hills sends you scampering back to your cars, onto the roads, out of the mountains toward home where you lock double-paned windows and pull down heavy shades and turn up the lights as bright as you can. Is there anything else left in the forest as frightening as wolves?

There’s me, I suppose. There’s still me.

This book was such a pleasant surprise. I am easily sucked in by a good book cover and that is about 80% of the reason I picked up Scratch. That and the title. I barely even skimmed over the summary before I added it to my TBR. Usually this ends badly for me, but Scratch is a very happy exception.

It’s a hard book to describe. On the surface it is about a construction planner named Martin who starts a project in a small town. It’s a very isolated community, but he falls in love with it and wants to live in one of the houses he is building. But something about the town is… off. Martin begins having very strange dreams, the animals start acting bizarrely, and people are slowly disappearing.

It’s a good setup, but the charm of this book lies in the narrator. Because it’s told to us by the devil. Or rather, a devil. Scratch is a disembodied entity who lives in the forest Martin is building in, and he has complete control over the environment. Most of the book follows Martin directly but we get increasingly eerie asides as Scratch talks directly to the reader. It’s used sparingly and very effectively. It’s clear that Scratch has a plan for Martin (and the reader!), and watching it play out is an increasingly stressful experience.

This is a tense, psychologically-driven book. It’s not a thriller per say because the pacing is slow and there is only a faint air of mystery, but if you like spooky woods and devils and mayhem I really can’t recommend this enough.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

It’s odd that I rounded off the month with 3 books that had very similar themes (human vs animal, nature vs humans) even though I really didn’t intend to. I also read 4 in a row with wolves/foxes (the last 3 I read, plus one I am in the middle of). Is it a sign?! Probably not, but I always love odd coincidences like that.

Reading Challenge Goals

Books Read: 90/200

Goal Books: 84

Impulse Reads: 6

Top 5 Wednesday: Future Classics

29 Mar

You may have noticed that recently I have tried to expand my posting from just reviews & wrapups. Or rather, “I used to do more types of posts but stopped for a long time and now I’m back on the horse.” For some reason, I’ve just been a lot more excited to blog recently, and my reading thoughts go far beyond wrapups. I’ve always liked the Top 5 Wednesday videos & posts, so I thought that was as good a place as any to start!

Especially because I found this week’s topic particularly interesting. How do you know what books will retain their fame and acclaim down the line? Is it the ones with the most awards, the most-read books, or is there some other nebulous quality that makes something a classic? I tried to balance my list with books that I think will be classics and also books that I love. For example, I’m absolutely sure American Gods will be regarded down the line as a classic, but I found it almost unbearably boring so there’s no way it is going on my list. Unsurprisingly, this also serves as a ‘favorite authors’ list of sorts.

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5. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro. My favorite Ishiguro novel, The Unconsoled, has about zero chance of becoming a classic. My second favorite, The Buried Giant, also seems to be pretty hated (for reasons I do not fully understand). So I’m just going to play it safe and go with the hauntingly beautiful The Remains of the Day. Is this cheating because it’s a ~modern classic~? Sometimes I am a bit fuzzy on the distinction between the two. I feel like 27 years is not old enough to be a “classic.” Classic implies an enduring work of fiction that is important many decades after it is published. And while I certainly think Remains will reach that status, it hasn’t yet.

(PS, can we all take a moment to appreciate the fact that the cover for The Remains of the Day states ‘by the author of The Remains of the Day‘ at the bottom? Thanks, I never would have guessed)

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4. Perdido Street Station, China Mieville. Mieville is my favorite author, so of course I had to include him on here! The Scar is my favorite of his books (and indeed, my all-time favorite novel) but I think it is Perdido Street Station that will be a classic. Yes, a “genre” classic (which sadly has a less prestigious connotation) but it’s no secret that this book revolutionized fantasy as a genre. New Weird really took off with PSS, and it’s clear to see Mieville’s massive influence on fantasy as a whole. I greatly prefer this weird, gritty, dirty, phantasmagorical take on the genre to traditional sword & sorcery & dragons, so this is a book with a lot of meaning for me. It’s also probably the best place to start with his work!

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3. Haruki Murakami and David Mitchell. This seems like kind of a vague answer, right? “Something from each of these two authors with similar styles!” But let’s be real, we know that each of them has already produced several classics (and who knows how many more they will write?) and I feel ill-equipped to pick which of their works will be the most remembered. I mean, Cloud Atlas and The Wind Up Bird Chronicle seem like safe choices, but who knows what will happen down the road? Maybe it will be Thousand Autumns and Norwegian Wood that future students will read in class. Or maybe the books of theirs that people will hold up as the best haven’t been written yet!

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2. House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski. Another book that is considered a ‘modern classic,’ though this one is certainly more controversial among readers. Then again, controversy is part of what makes a book endure. Lolita is a beautiful book, perhaps the most beautiful book ever written, but we all know that part of the reason it is so famous is because of how absurdly controversial the subject matter is. Everyone wants to read that weird book about a pedophile. And everyone wants to read that weird book about a house.

Not that HoL can be reduced to any simple plot summary: it’s a book in a book about a documentary that doesn’t exist. Bizarre, experimental, and incredibly scary, HoL is basically the holy grail of weird postmodern fiction. When a book leaves this much of a mark on the literary community, there’s no way it won’t be remembered down the line.

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1. A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara. At only two years old, this is the newest book on my list, but also one of the ones I am most confident about. There was quite the stir in the literary community when A Little Life came out, and opinions range from “this is the best book released in a decade” to “this is exploitative torture porn trash.” It’s a love it or hate it book for sure. I tend to like dark books, the more depressing the better: I enjoy nothing more than a book that really makes me sob. Do you know how many times I cried during ALL? A lot. I stopped keeping track, actually. And at one point (the same point as everyone else, I’m pretty sure) I actually had to put this down and walk away because it was just too much.

I think a book that merits this much discussion definitely has a place in the literary cannon. Love it or hate it, it’s impossible to deny how explosively popular A Little Life got. And given its massive page count and dark subject matter, that’s pretty impressive.

Reading Wrapup: February 2017 Part I

1 Mar

Every month I insist to myself that I am totally going to be on top of getting my wrapup up in a timely fashion. And every month that somehow doesn’t happen. Obviously, I have only myself to blame… I was much more timely last year, when my reading was on track and I didn’t feel pangs of guilt when looking at my challenge. Yes, after my end-of-January revelation I am doing much better at hitting goals, but I am still 3 books behind! Nothing a spur of the moment 24 hour self-imposed readathon can’t fix, right? Because that might be in the stars for March.

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 A Short Stay in Hell, by Steven L. Peck. Finished February 1st. What a way to start out this month. A Short Stay in Hell is my favorite book that I’ve read so far this year, and definitely has the potential to be an all-time favorite. It’s about a Mormon man who dies and wakes up in the afterlife, only it’s not the one he was promised. Turns out a different religion got it right, so all the non-believers are doomed to hell. Oh, but it’s not an eternal hell! No, everyone has a way to escape.

Our protagonist is thrown into the Library of Babel (yes, the famous one from the story). A place where anything that could ever be written has been written. And not just actual books that make sense: any combination of words that is possible is contained here. All our protagonist has to do is find the book that tells his life story and he’s free to leave hell.

That’s just the setup, and this is a short novel so I am not going to discuss the events of the plot at all because I don’t want to ruin anything. It’s bizarre and existential, filled with dread and horror but also moments of pure hope and human intimacy. There’s something so compelling and horrifying about the setting and mood that I can’t quite put into words. If you enjoy weird fiction, postmodern literature, existential dread, or just excellent writing and storytelling I really can’t recommend this enough!

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Elephant Vanishes, by Haruki Murakami. Finished February 2nd. Murakami is one of my favorite authors, but I have mixed opinions on his short fiction. I loved most of the stories in Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman but The Elephant Vanishes just didn’t do it for me.

There were, of course, some stories here that I found very effective… but the two I liked the most were also later included in his books, so I’d already read them. The title story is also a good one, and really perfectly captures that sense of unreal that’s never quite explained in his works. I think every story in here has an open end, so if you want closure… Murakami is not your guy. I can’t say I hated or even disliked any of the stories here, but I find that only a few of them have stuck with me after reading, and I’d struggle to recall what some of them are about based on the title. I did really enjoy the few stories that I can remember in detail, so I can’t bring myself to rate it lower than 3.5.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Shogun, by James Clavell. Finished February 3rd. When I was in AP Literature in high school, we were assigned Dracula. However, I’d already read Dracula–3 times! I talked to my (amazing) teacher about it, and he said he’d give me a different book to read for the paper. The next day he handed me a copy of Shogun, and said it was one of his favorite books of all time. Looking back, I realize that’s a lot of trust to place in a high school student: not only did he give me a massive book twice as long as the required reading, but he trusted me with one of his favorite pieces of literature. I don’t know if I’d be willing to do that with a teenager!

Shogun dazzled me. I devoured it in only a few days, and was totally swept away in Clavell’s vision of Japan. And it also sparked something inside of me: a desire to read more about Japan, both fiction and nonfiction. As you probably realize if you read my blog frequently, I read a lot of Japanese literature, and Shogun is the reason why. It changed me so significantly as a reader that I really can’t imagine what my reading life would look like today if I’d never picked it up.

It’s been years since I last re-read this book, and 2017 seemed as good a time as any to both dive back into it and continue on with the rest of the series (which, shock, I’ve never even thought of reading!). And, thankfully, Shogun holds up over the years. It’s a tale of adventure, honor, love, tragedy, and human triumph that feels so epic in scope it might as well be fantasy.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty. Finished February 5th. I really wanted to like this more than I did. The concept is so interesting: Six Wakes is basically an Agatha Christie novel in space. Six people wake up on a spaceship freshly cloned. Their previous incarnations have been murdered, and they are the only people awake on the ship. So they have to solve their own murders… knowing that it’s more than likely that one of them is a killer. Oh, and they all have criminal backgrounds, but none of them know what crimes the others have committed in the past. Plus they’re missing memories of the last 20 years of their lives.

The cast is diverse and entertaining. We get chapters from each of their perspectives, as well as their backstories. In Christie-fashion it seems like they all have means, motive, and opportunity. It’s a traditional whodunnit with a scifi twist. And the science fiction elements aren’t just set dressing: cloning in particular is vital to the plot, and there’s a lot of political drama as well. I found the discussions about the ethics of cloning and clones’ rights to be the best part of the books, and I wish there had been a little more focus on that.

I was really enjoying this until about the 60% mark, when things started to fall apart. Then again, this has mostly very positive reviews, so I think most people will not have my issues. In short: everything is too neat. It comes together so cleanly, and the reader is never given the opportunity to put the pieces together themselves. Every reveal is handed to us on a silver platter. There will be a backstory scene that hints as to motive, and then we get a character discussing what it means in length. I like a bit of a challenge in my mystery novels, and this flips from a moody mystery to a fast-paced scifi thriller about halfway through. I think it just tried to do too many things: murder mystery, character study, political and ethical discussions, intense action scenes… you need at least another 100 pages to execute all those things successfully.

If I went into this expecting a bit of a fluffy fast ride, I think I would have enjoyed it more. I was expecting more of a horror/mystery vibe (which admittedly is what the first few chapters serve up). If you don’t want deep, meaningful reveals and are okay with everything wrapped up in a big neat bow, this would probably be very enjoyable. It’s not a bad book… just a flawed one that left me feeling cold.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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The Drawing of The Three, by Stephen King. Finished February 7th. This is the second book in the Dark Tower series, and if the character names weren’t the same I don’t know if I would ever guess they were in the same world. The Drawing of The Three is so drastically different in every way: mood, tone, writing style, plot, world… obviously there’s nothing specific I can talk about without spoilers, but it just goes off in a totally different direction.

Thankfully, that change works like a charm! While The Gunslinger is a desolate feeling novel with more stories than action, TDoTT is action-packed and rapid-fire paced. We bounce around a lot in the narrative, and King really keeps you on your toes. While reading this I still had no idea what was going on in the overarching plot (and lemme tell you, you don’t get a good hint until book 4) but I loved every second of it. I’m just here for whatever crazy rollercoaster ride King has planned for his Constant Reader.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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A Perfect Crime, by A Yi. Finished February 7th. This is the story of a teenage boy who hates his life and decides to kill somebody. That’s… that’s pretty much it. He plans a murder, commits a murder, goes on the run, etc. It’s exactly what it says on the box. And, like much Asian crime fiction, this is whydunnit rather than a whodunnit–because obviously we know who did it and how it was done because our protagonist is the criminal. The core “mystery” of the novel is why he committed the crime, because he’s very vague about his intentions. We’re in his head, but it’s clear that his narration is intentionally misleading (so there is an element of the unreliable narrator).

I found something in this book severely lacking. I think there was just no soul to it. Sure, we’re in the head of a sociopath, but the narration is as bland as his personality. There’s no connection between reader and protagonist. It’s definitely possible to make a murderer relateable (or at least entertaining), but I think the goal here was to create an almost alien protagonist that was impossible to identify with. In which case… success, I guess? But it doesn’t make for a very engaging read.

The writing was decent and it was paced well, so I don’t want to knock it down below 3 stars. And I didn’t hate reading it… but I didn’t enjoy it either. It was an entirely neutral reading experience. I do think the final “why I did it” reveal was well done, but it also lacked any element of surprise. While our narrator is trying to hide his motives for the “big reveal” any intuitive reader will guess why long before he decides to tell us. So there’s no wow moment, just another “that was well written but I don’t care at all” type of scene.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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The Kingdom, by Fuminori Nakamura. Finished February 8th. I really love Asian crime fiction, so I was very disappointed to read 2 bland books in a row from the genre. I didn’t love A Perfect Crime, and I actually had very similar issues with this novel. Which is funny, since I read them back-to-back.

The plot here is definitely very engaging. Our main character Yurika works as a fake prostitute: she picks specific Johns, then drugs them and takes incriminating photos/video for blackmail. Her boss never gives her any details, so she is completely in the dark about why these people are targeted… or what her employer is doing with the photos she produces. It’s a pretty interesting twist on the traditional mystery genre: there’s definitely a mystery, but the criminal activity itself is part of the mystery rather than the reason for it.

But like with A Perfect Crime, I found our narrator totally bland. Yurika is a criminal so she should be pretty interesting, but her personality is so very blah. I felt like I knew nothing about her after reading the entire book. Even when you find out about her past, she never seems like a fleshed-out character. She’s just the vehicle for the story. And we don’t even get any real answers! So basically it’s an unsatisfying mystery with a boring main character. At one point, our villain says, “this was all meaningless” and I was like yeah dude, it totally was.

Why 3.5 stars then? Because the writing was very good. Especially the weird, almost nonsensical speeches our villain gives: they often revolve around obscure religious details, and they’re kind of fascinating. I really wish we had been in his head the whole time! I think a book of him hunting & manipulating our heroine would have been way more interesting. While I found this book to be disappointing, I would definitely read another book by Nakamura (and indeed, I have another queued up on my Kindle!).

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Universal Harvester, by John Darnielle. Finished February 10th. It kind of kills me to give this book less than 5 stars. I was anticipating it so much, I loved Wolf in White Van, and for like 75% this was hands-down the best book I’ve read this year. But alas, it didn’t follow through until the end.

Let’s start with the good: the writing. WiWV is a well-written book, but this manages to amp that up to 11. There’s a lot more finesse here. Which is good, because it’s a very rambling book. We flit from character to character, shifting through time and sometimes taking very random-seeming detours. But because of the wonderful writing, I was totally along for the ride. 4-paragraph description of a farmhouse that ends with philosophical musings about what it means to be a farmhouse? Yes please. Description of a cornfield that ends with all the things said cornfield has heard inside of it (this one gets dark)? Why not! Random details about recording on VCR tape? Sign me up! Really, this book could have been almost entirely strange descriptions and I would have been happy.

I think the flaw here is that it’s both too plot driven but at the same time not plot-heavy enough. The core concept, of videos at a late-90′s movie store showing up with weird, creepy home movies cut into them, is great. And for the first half or so we’re really centered around Jeremy the cashier as he tries to unravel the mystery. It’s compelling, and all of the asides the narration wanders into fit well. That long, rambling description of a farmhouse I mentioned before? Turns out the actual building is on one of the tapes! It all seems to come together neatly. But about 70% of the way in we go in a totally different direction. And it’s not one I was very happy about. I was so invested in the plot that this felt like a betrayal. The plot is totally lost, and it really only feels loosely connected. Plus I found the ending lackluster. There was a definite answer, but it didn’t live up to the promise of the premise. Honestly, I would rather have had it be more open-ended. It felt like I was eating an amazing cake, and when I got to the center it was suddenly a steak & potatoes dinner. Steak is great… if you’re in the mood for it and don’t think you are eating cake when you take a bite.

Of course I still gave this 4 stars, even if the ending was incredibly disappointing. This is because of the writing, of course, and also the fantastic atmosphere. This book is so creepy, so unsettling and spine-tingling. Even when nothing much was happening I found myself very nervous. If you liked Wolf in White Van I would still definitely recommend giving this a shot. I hope that Darnielle’s next book combines the tight plot of WiWV with the next-level writing of UH: they might just combine to make a perfect novel.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Miranda and Caliban, by Jacqueline Carey*. Finished February 13th. It was almost Valentine’s Day, the day of love, when I read this! And what better way to celebrate that than by reading a Shakespearean tragedy? It’s a perfect fit. Especially if you are a fan of The Tempest. It’s my favorite Shakespeare play, and man is it a good time to be a fan of it. First Hag-Seed and now this? What a time to be alive.

This is kind of a prequel to The Tempest. The majority of it takes place before the events of the play, and we follow both Miranda and Caliban from their first meeting as children to their last moments on the island. And it is, in many ways, a doomed love story. We know that Miranda is beautiful and pure and her father wants her wed to royalty, and we know that Caliban is bent and misshapen and painted as a villain. It can’t have a happy ending. And yet you root for them so hard!

As you’d expect from Jacqueline Carey, the writing is lush and descriptive. The fantasy elements of TT are really brought to the forefront, so this reads like historical fantasy/romance more than a straight retelling of the original work. She’s really brought the unnamed island to life, along with its small group of inhabitants. It is, to be trite, quite magical.

I’ve noticed some comments about the liberties she took with the characters, but let’s be real: Prospero is totally an asshole in the play. Sure, he got dethroned and abandoned on an island, but he literally takes a human (and a fairy!) as prisoner just so they can do shit for him, and he treats his daughter like a piece on a chessboard. Does Miranda WANT to marry Ferdinand? Prospero doesn’t care. He’s just looking out for himself. So while the version of him portrayed here is perhaps more maniacal and evil than in the play, it’s not far off the beaten track. Caliban, too, is not as bad as Prospero would have you think in the play: I mean, he grew up as a wild boy and then was forced into slavery. Poor kid. So I feel like while this is a romanticized view of him, it’s certainly one I can get behind.

I was so transported by Miranda & Caliban’s friendship-turning-to-love that I really wanted more from this book. It was beautiful and bittersweet, don’t get me wrong, but I think their adult section is rushed… as is the last 80%, which is when we finally get to the events of The Tempest. I think Carey does best in epically long books, and this certainly could have been 500+ pages. The rushed nature of the last half is really the only “flaw” (and I did dock a full star for it) but I totally adored this. Not quite as good a retelling as Hag-Seed, but given the different genres they were aiming for it feels almost unfair to compare them.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Goals

Books Read: 21/200

Goal Books: 18

Impulse Reads: 3

[Books marked with a * were provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own]

February 2016 Wrapup: Part I

16 Feb

Ah, February, the month of love! And reading a lot of books. I don’t know why this year has gotten off to such a good start, but I’ve been a reading fiend! And I haven’t just been reading a lot of books, I’ve been reading a lot of good books. My goals this year (focusing on my TBR, series, and authors from many countries) have me tackling things that I almost always love. I mean, if a book has been on my TBR for 1 year+ and survived all my purges, I’m probably going to like it. And that’s definitely been the case so far!

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The Bands of Mourning, by Brandon Sanderson. Finished Feb 1st. After finishing Shadows of Self last month, I absolutely had to read the next Wax & Wayne book. At first I was kind of skeptical about this series. I am sorry for doubting you, Lord of Fantasy Brandon Sanderson. This book is just… amazing. The plot goes in really weird places I was never expecting. The character development is ridiculously good. I can’t say anything about the plot without spoiling 5 other books but it’s safe to say that I am going to die waiting another year for the final installment.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Mistborn: Secret History, by Brandon Sanderson. Finished Feb 2nd. A surprise Mistborn book! This one takes place during the first trilogy, and gives us a peek at what was going on behind all the big events. I have mixed feelings about it: on one hand, I loved all the Cosmere mythos we got and I loved the characters. On the second, it kind of spoiled some of the mystery and I almost liked it better before I knew what happened “behind the curtain.” But I still liked reading it? Very confusing!

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Shadows For Silence In The Forest Of Hell, by Brandon Sanderson. Finished Feb 3rd. I was really on a Cosmere kick at the beginning of February. This is one of Sanderson’s novellas that doesn’t directly tie into any of his book series, but it does contain bits and pieces of Cosmere info. I feel like Sanderson is not at his best in short format: there’s not enough time for character development or his signature twists (though we do get some of both). I liked this, but didn’t love it. The world was amazing though and I’d love to see a full-length novel set in the Forest.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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The Suicide of Claire Bishop, by Carmiel Banasky. Finished Feb 4th. This book is hard to describe. It has two plotlines. One is about a woman named Claire in the 1950′s (and onward) who has a portrait painted of her but the artist paints Claire committing suicide. The second plot is about a schizophrenic man named West in the present time who becomes obsessed with Claire’s portrait and is convinced that the artist who painted it is also a (young) woman he knows. Claire’s story takes place over decades and just gets more and more bleak. West’s takes place over a week or so and his madness becomes more and more pronounced, coinciding with Claire’s downward spiral. It’s a strange, beautiful novel with the lightest touch of magical realism and a heavy focus on personality, identity, and madness.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Our Endless Numbered Days, by Claire Fuller. Finished Feb 5th. A girl is kidnapped by her father who takes her out to a cabin in the middle of nowhere and tells her the world has ended. It’s a horror/survival novel which is right up my alley. I love bleak, depressing stories! I love horror! I love the woods! The writing here was gorgeous and lush, and while I had a few issues (mainly I felt like it was way too short) I was just in love with it. Though I will admit that I only picked this up because the title is an Iron & Wine lyric (and also because of the hype).

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Into The Forest, by Mark Z Danielewski. Finished Feb 5th. THESE GODDAMN BOOKS. I am so wrapped up in this strange little world, even though I have basically no idea what is going on. I love all of it, even the incomprehensible bits. If you like weird, experimental, postmodern fiction this is a must. Also if you like cats. Potentially very creepy and evil but cute cats.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Meursault Investigation, by Kamel Daoud. Finished Feb 5th. I hate The Stranger. “Oh, woe is me, I’m so ~tortured~ and filled with ennui that I have to kill a guy to feel anything!” Lol no thank you. So this book, which is about the unnamed man who was murdered (and set in a universe where The Stranger was published as nonfiction, so clever) was everything I ever wanted. It’s philosophical, clever, witty, deep, moving, and at times shocking. I’d recommend this to anyone who has read The Stranger, whether you love it or hate it. It’s an excellent companion novel/counterpoint.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Thing Itself, by Adam Roberts. Finished Feb 7th. Have you ever felt like a book was written just for you? The Thing Itself starts out with a The Thing/At The Mountains Of Madness sequence with scientists in Antarctica when ~strange things~ start to happen. After that it skips back and forward in time, giving us many different perspectives though the main storyline centers on one of the scientists. And it involves philosophy and sentient computers and so many references you could get lost chasing them all down. It’s hilarious and sad, with a very strong focus on the “what ifs” that science fiction is such a good platform for. Plus it tackles the Fermi Paradox. What’s not to love?

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Fifty Year Sword, by Mark Z Danielewski. Finished Feb 8th. I have this weird quirk when it comes to authors I love. I have trouble reading all their books, and tend to pick one to “set aside” and read “later.” Later usually = never, because I have this strange fear of running out of their books. I actually got this book in the original pressing of only 1,000, not the re-release. I have had it for AGES. But I read House of Leaves and Only Revolutions and Danielewski used to publish so slowly that I was terrified there would be no more, and I would have already read this–my last book of his. But with The Familiar, which is going to have 25 (!!) more volumes, enough to last me many years, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I have to read this. So I finally did! If you like Danielewski, you will like this. It seems like most people don’t, and that’s understandable, but I love weird, experimental, and creepy books. So of course I adore him. I actually think this is his most accessible text: sure, the format is a little strange, but you don’t need to dissect it to understand what is happening and the core story is really straightforward. Plus, pretty pictures. It might be a good introduction if you’re put off by the density of HoL, the strangeness of The Familiar, or the downright bizarre journey of OR.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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The Way Inn, by Will Wiles. Finished Feb 8th. This has been on my TBR for ages, and I never paid much attention to it. But there is a reference to it in The Thing Itself, so of course I bumped it right up to the top! It’s the kind of book I love (for the most part). A quirky book where there’s a ~spooky hotel~ that’s bigger on the inside. It also has some nice discussions about the same-ness of modern life. It gets very strange, but for some reason the ending fell a little flat for me. It was weird but not as weird as I wanted? If that makes sense. I loved the first 2/3rds but I do wish the author had pushed the envelope a little bit more towards the end section.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Demon Theory, by Stephen Graham Jones. Finished Feb 10th. If you like House of Leaves and The Raw Shark Texts, this book is always the next one recommended. And those are two of my favorite books (top 10 favorite, serious business) yet I never read Demon Theory? What is wrong with me, seriously. This book is about a trilogy of horror films: or rather, it’s a scene for scene description of a trilogy of horror films. It’s super meta and I freaking love horror movies. And books centered on fake media. And footnotes. And did I mention horror movies? This book was just… perfection. Everything I want.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Strange Library, by Haruki Murakami. Finished Feb 11th. There are only a few Murakami books that I haven’t read, and I am trying to get over my “leave one book unread per author” thing and tackle the remaining ones. This is a short story, really a children’s tale, with some gorgeous illustrations. Like many of his shorts it’s… really weird. And it has the Sheep Man! It was a little too short with not enough explanation for me to really love it, but it was an enjoyable read.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Assassin’s Apprentice, by Robin Hobb. Finished Feb 13th. My first series book of the year! Unlike last year, I’m not set on reading each series straight through so I took a short break from Culture to read the first Realm of the Enderlings book. So how do I describe this? It’s a fantasy, but it’s majorly focused on the characters. There’s worldbuilding, but it’s not “hey here is how things work!” It’s subtle and you learn so much just from character interactions. The plot is very much in the background. The magic is fresh but also feels very classic. I see already why people are so crazy about this series. If you like character-driven fantasy and slow burn plot, you absolutely have to pick these up.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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American Housewife, by Helen Ellis. Finished Feb 13th. This was a real impulse read for me. The description kind of sounds like Desperate Housewives but with more murder, so I was all about it. And it was! Kind of. This is a collection of clever little short stories that very much work as satire on modern life in America. It’s absolutely hilarious in a grimdark sort of way. You know, if you think people possibly getting eaten by mutant housecats and a reality show about dumpster diving are hilarious. Highly recommended for people who like comic darkness and short stories.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Dare Me, by Stella Rhys. Finished Feb 14th. I have been really sick for the past few days and reading got really difficult. I picked up the next Culture book and read the same page 5 times (!!) before I accepted that I needed to read something stupid if I was going to read. So, for Valentine’s Day, a romance! The blurb sells this as the story of two kids who played twisted truth or dare. That’s, like, 3 scenes in the book. It’s really your stereotypical romance/erotica with a ~so rich so handsome so perfect~ dude and a ~mysterious past gorgeous SO TORTURED~ girl who the universe just keeps trying to keep apart. It’s dull and predictable and the girl’s “mystery past” was so freaking stupid I wanted to die. But, um, it could have been even worse? And hey, this is only the fourth below-3-stars book I’ve read this year, so it’s hard to be mad about that!

Lipstick Rating 2 Full

 

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Progress

41/175 Books

5/36 Series Books

11/50 TBR Books

11/15 Different Countries

 

October 2015 Wrapup: Weeks 1 & 2

20 Oct

It’s October, and you know what that means! Spooky book month. I’ve shifted my reading focus to horror and new weird, though of course some other genres are going to sneak their way in there depending on my mood. I think I might skip doing a series this month and instead focus on the 2spoopy4me books, because I’ll be honest–it’s kind of draining at this point. I haven’t even gotten to any of the big books I swore I was going to read, because I’ve been putting so much focus into picking & reading series! (Am I going to be able to read Infinite Jest, Gravity’s Rainbow, and Ulysses before the year is up?… probably not). I miiiigh finish the last 3 Kate Daniels books, though I have to be honest–I really don’t want to.

On a more positive note, I hit my 150 book challenge! My reading seems to be increasing slowly every year. In 2013 it was 137 books, in 2014 it was 160, and I’m at 157 right now so I’ll clearly break that unless I like fall into a coma or something. Maybe I’ll set next year’s challenge for 175!

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Books of Blood VII, by Clive Barker: Finished October 1st. Starting off with horror! I always find Barker’s work to be a mixed bag: he’s written my all time favorite short story (“In The Hills, The Cities”) but others just don’t do it for me. Probably because he dabbles in a lot of types of horror and I’m not a fan of all of them. This, like his other collections, follows that same pattern: I LOVED some of them (“Dread,” “The Skins of the Fathers”), liked others (“Jacqueline Ess,” “New Murders in the Rue Morgue”), and disliked one of them (“Hell’s Event”).

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson: Finished October 3rd. A historical fiction book with a dose of fantasy. It covers the life of Ursula… or rather, the lives of Ursula. She lives, she dies, she comes back and does it all over again. This was a great way for Atkinson to explore the different paths lives can lead us down, all those unexplored avenues of choice. There was an overarching plot, that she was destined to do one specific thing, but I’ll admit that didn’t interest me much. What did was all the subtle ways her lives changed, and how her environment affected her personality and mood. This is a really lush and beautiful book, and actually made me like WWII historical fiction which is kind of a miracle.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

 

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Harvest Home, by Thomas Tryon: Finished October 5th. This is one of those books that I read compulsively in my early teens (along with Valley of the Dolls, The Thornbirds, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle). I wanted to revisit it and see if it held up now, and it does! I love gothic horror that focuses on a small town–it always feels very Stephen King to me, even though this was published a year before King’s first book. I did forget how long it takes to really build up to the horror: there are a few creepy incidents, but the tension builds and doesn’t break until the very end. It kind of lulls you into a false sense of security, only to slam you in the chest when you get to the climax. I’d forgotten the very end, which is so deliciously disturbing. A perfect October read!

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Magic Rises, by Illona Andrews: Finished October 6th. Guys, I am so done with this series. I loved the premise, loved a lot of the characters, but it’s literally turned into the Kate & Curran soap opera. The tension in this book comes from the fact that Curran is being a total psychopath idiot and treating Kate like shit. Wow, just what I want from urban fantasy! Also, Curran is the worst. Why does anyone like him. This book was basically “let’s talk about pack dynamics and watch Kate moon over Curran!” which… is everything I didn’t want. So frustrating, made no sense, huge deus ex machina ending. I don’t know if I can finish the next books at this point, but I’m already 6 in and I really don’t want to be a quitter.

Lipstick Rating 2 Full

 

 

 

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Cthulhurotica, curated by Carrie Cuinn. I will admit that I read this because I thought it would be stupid and fun, but it’s actually really good. Like no joke. It’s not exactly Lovecraft erotica, more like a feminist slant on the mythos (with some sex thrown in). The stories have a nice amount of variety, and I really didn’t feel like there were any weak points in the collection. Some were kind of mediocre, but I didn’t skim through any or find any of them downright bad. This also sent me down the slippery slope of Lovecraft Mythos–I will admit that I’m kind of snobby about Lovecraft, and so far have only read the original stuff, none of the expanded works. But after reading this I just wanted more. Oh, and this was my 150th book of the year!

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Rose Madder, by Stephen King: Finished October 11th. Rose Madder is part of a loose trio of books with Gerald’s Game and Dolores Claiborne, connected not by plot but by theme (the lives of women). Gerald’s Game is one of my top 3 favorite King novels and I really enjoyed Dolores, so of course I had to read this one eventually. The beginning of this is so strong, a brutal peek into the life of a woman living in an abusive relationship. It was really stomach-churning and you just felt so, so bad for Rose. But I think after the first section, it kind of slides downhill. Her husband was an absolutely amazing villain, but all her day-to-day life stuff felt kind of dull after 500 pages. And while there is a supernatural element, I really feel like it would have been stronger without it.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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The Year of the Runaways, by Sunjeev Sahota. Finished October 13th. This was the last book on my Man Booker list (and, hilariously, the only one I didn’t read/didn’t want to won! my life, sigh). Oh, by the way, I’m really bitter about A Little Life not winning. But that’s a discussion for another time.

Anyway, this sounds like a book I should love–it’s about immigrants from India, both legal and illegal, trying to start a life in the UK. The cultural background is rich, and the layers of detail really make you feel like the setting & story is alive. But that’s kind of all I liked about it. Two of the main characters, Tochi and Narinder, I adored–but more of the focus is on Randeep and Avtar, who I really didn’t like. Also I kept confusing them, because their stories are kind of similar. The plot just dragged on and on and really had no direction. The focus was never on the important stuff (for instance, towards the end one character is living on the streets with no job–yet there were like 2 scenes of that), instead we ended up dealing with a seemingly endless amount of minute details about their everyday lives while big plot moments were skimmed over. I really wanted so much more from this.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Hear the Wind Sing, by Haruki Murakami: Finished October 14th. This and its sister novel finally got re-translated! I can’t believe I didn’t hunt down a copy before, but here we are. In this short work you can see so many of the classic Murakami traits: jazz, cooking spaghetti, a male protagonist filled with ennui, a girl with a strange but alluring trait, weird obsessions, and seemingly unconnected side tales. There was none of the magic realism that is in most of his books, but you can see the scaffolding of his style taking form, which is really amazing if you’ve read a lot of his later stuff. The writing is a bit more… stiff? I guess, than his other stuff, and the plot is a little looser than what I normally like from him, but it was really fun going back to the beginning.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Pinball, 1973, by Haruki Murakami. Finished October 15th. These books were written very close together, but you can see the progress. This book is more cohesive, and a bit more bizarre, than Hear The Wind Sing. There’s still no outright magical realism elements, though the strangeness of some of the occurrences hints at it. Plus, finally cats make an appearance! I found this more compelling than HTWS, though it’s so short it was hard to really sink your teeth into. But the twins might be some of my favorite characters of his, I wish we got more of their backstory! Though, really, I think the mystery is what makes them so great.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Pretty Ones, by Ania Ahlborn. Finished October 15th. Oh Ania. What are you doing. I usually don’t do spoilers, but this mini-review is going to contain full spoilers for The Pretty Ones. It’s not worth reading, so don’t worry. It’s about a downtrodden, dumpy office worker who feels like the world is out to get her. Her brother, mute from a terrible childhood accident, lives with her and pushes her limits constantly. She’s full of just-contained rage and fantasizes about killing her co-workers. Then one day, one of them is actually murdered! And she thinks her brother did it, dun dun duuun.

The twist is so obvious, just from that little writeup. Her brother died as a kid, she’s batshit crazy and hallucinates him/thinks she is him while killing people. This is a twist that has been done SO MANY TIMES. I can think of 7 books that do exactly this, or some variation of it (one sibling dead, person thinking they’re someone else while killing, etc) and it’s just painfully, stupidly obvious. Reading this made me feel dumber because why, Ania, why! I really adore two of her books (The Seed, The Bird Eater), and one of them is just okay (The Neighbors), but everything else is trash. How is she so painfully inconsistent.

Lipstick Rating Half

 

 

 

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Year’s Best Weird Fiction, curated by Laird Barron. Finished October 18th. I am such a Laird Barron fangirl that I will read anything he even remotely worked on. Plus, after Cthulhurotica, I really wanted more weird fiction and Cthulhu mythos. This anthology has a LOT of stories in it, so of course there will be hits and misses–I really adored a good chunk of them though, especially “Furnace,” “Success,” and “The Year of the Rat,” and it introduced me to a ton of authors I’m really excited about. The misses were also few and far between (and were more about my reading taste than actual quality), and this was a really well-crafted collection that I couldn’t put down.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Jagannath, by Karin Tidbeck. Finished October 19th. Oh. My. Goodness. This slim little collection of tales from a Swedish author is absolutely amazing. It’s hard to classify: weird fiction would be the best category, I guess. Though there are only a few stories in here they hit a bunch of different genres: folktale, steampunk, new weird, and even bizarro. They are beautifully crafted with lush language and amazing imagery, and while each story is technically unconnected to the ones around it there are trails that link many of them together–and not just thematically. Though there is a running theme (family dynamics–especially parent/child and sibling) which makes this weird little collection feel entirely cohesive. If you like lyrical weird fiction please read this–it won’t disappoint!

Lipstick Rating5 Full

150 Book Challenge: Part I

15 Jan

One of my goals this year is to actually discuss all the books I read on Lipstick & Libraries! Doing books one-by-one was not working for me in 2014, so this year I’ll be doing posts 1) when I finish a series 2) for the books I have individually named on the reading list, and 3) bigger overviews for chunks of books I’ve read. Well, we’ll see: who knows how I might break it up. BUT for this first book roundup, it’s the books I’ve read that don’t fall into categories 1 or 2! Plus we’ve got a thematic link–I’m on another Japan kick, which happens at least once a year.

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An Artist of the Floating World, by Kazuo Ishiguro (Book 4)

Shockingly, this is the only Kazuo Ishiguro book I haven’t read. I know! I’ll be honest, I was saving it so I’d still have something of his to read… but he has a book coming out this year (!!!), so I decided to dive into this one. I feel like you can group Ishiguro’s books into staunchly British (Remains of the Day, Nocturnes, Never Let Me Go) and staunchly Japanese (A Pale View of the Hills, An Artist of the Floating World) with my favorite (The Unconsoled) very much in between (not location-wise, but thematically).

While reading this book, I was enchanted by the fact that it’s essentially a companion novel to The Remains of the Day. Both are set in post-WWII, both feature an older male protagonist whose time has past, the main narrative is structured out of memories, and both tie into the darker sides of the war. They feature regret and introspection: neither is very plot-based, but rather paced slowly and featuring a highly conversational tone. Many people seem annoyed that these books are so similar–like it’s somehow less valid to write two books that have mirrored plots. But I feel like these two are Ishiguro’s way of reflecting on both sides of his history: British and Japanese. They are certainly companion books, but I don’t think that devalues either one of them.

Rating

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

 

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South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami (Book 5)

I love Murakami. Like, top 5 favorite authors love him. This year I want to read the handful of his works that I haven’t touched before (all the short story collections, After Dark, the first two in the Rat series, IQ84). It may not seem like a small amount, but I’ve adored everything else of his that I’ve read… except for Sputnik Sweetheart. And sadly, this was kind of like SS for me. I wasn’t as absorbed in the story as I usually am.

It’s a simple plot: a married man meets a girl from his childhood and ends up torn between two women. I think this is the first Murakami protagonist I’ve come across who is decidedly bad—he’s not morally grey, he’s a bad person, and admits this several times. And I don’t need to feel sympathy for a character to like them, so I was intrigued by this. But something… is missing. It’s got all the Murakami ingredients: middle-age male protagonist drifting through life, cats, jazz, a girl with a strange past or feature, that odd focus on earlobes, that perfectly melancholy portrait of Japan he paints. And the language is, as always, stunning. It’s even got the classic “not all the strings are tied up” open ending! But somehow… I wasn’t as enchanted as I usually am.

I can’t even name what it is that I didn’t love. I mean, I enjoyed it, and it certainly left me thinking. But like Sputnik, I found it not very memorable. I know a few months from now I’ll be struggling to remember certain details. It’s an ephemeral book, without the emotional weight of his others. But the writing is so gorgeous I can’t dislike it.

Rating

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami (Book 6)

While I have read many of his novels, I’ve never touched Murakami’s short fiction. Probably because people usually say that you like one or the other, so I went in assuming it wouldn’t be as good as his other works. I was, however, pleasantly surprised! It did take me a few stories to get the hang of this abbreviated writing style, but there are 24 in total and I enjoyed the vast majority of them.

One of Murakami’s most distinctive writing quirks is how he nests stories in stories like Russian dolls. Almost all of his novels have stories in them: some work with the plot, others are injected solely for mood or thematic purposes. But many of his notable “scenes” are merely one character telling another a particularly bizarre tale (the Ferris Wheel scene from Sputnik Sweetheart comes to mind).

His short stories are really more of the same: quick, brief, utterly odd, without meaning until you really think about them. And some even evolved into books–”Man-Eating Cats” has a nearly word-for-word story from Sputnik, and a character and scene identical to parts of South of the Border. It’s hard to choose one favorite, but I adored the irreverent humor in “Dabchick” and the almost hallucinatory feel of “Hanalei Bay.”

Rating

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Quicksand, by Junichiro Tanizaki (Book 7)

Can you believe this is my first Tanizaki book? Shameful, I know, given my love of Japanese literature. But I’ve finally picked up a few of his works and am (surprise!) in love. Quicksand is the story of an unhappy marriage: Sonoko does not love her husband, and ends up falling in love with another woman in her art class named Mitsuko. Sounds like a tragic love story, right? Wrong. Very wrong.

The genre of this is hard to pin down, but I’d go with psychological thriller. There are twists upon twists and the characters at the heart of the game are completely insane. The plot eventually becomes absurd, but this is clearly not meant to be a story of reality. Like quicksand, it pulls you in slowly and then all of a sudden there’s sand up your nose and you have no idea what is going on.

There is one quibble I have with both the book description and the reviews: this is not a lesbian love story. Both female characters appear to be bisexual: Mitsuko definitely is.

Rating

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Some Prefer Nettles, Junichiro Tanizaki (Book 8)

After Quicksand I was dying to read another of his works. Some Prefer Nettles is in many ways a similar book: the themes of marriage, infidelity, and the modernization of Japan are all there. But while Quicksand is a tense thriller, Some Prefer Nettles is more traditionally literary. Kaname and Misako are in an unhappy marriage, but in 1920′s Japan divorce is not a simple option.

Though this is a slim novel, there are two overlapping stories: the first is the marriage of Kaname and Misako, disintegrating to the point of no return. The second involves Kaname’s relationship with his father-in-law, who is staunchly traditional. Kaname is a modern man, but Misako’s father slowly sucks him into an increasingly traditional world that focuses on amazingly descriptive Bunrako puppet plays.

It is a hard book to describe. It’s slowly paced, and honestly not much happens in the way of plot. But it’s an engaging and striking glimpse at Japan’s struggle to combine modern and traditional influences without losing its soul and heart.

Rating

Lipstick Rating 4 Full