Showing posts with label mini review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mini review. Show all posts

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Horror Mini-Review Pt. IV: We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory

Welcome to part four of my mini horror review series, featuring We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory! Previous mini horror reviews can be found below: 

Part I: Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice
Part II: We Can Never Leave this Place by Eric LaRocca
Pt. III: Winterset Hollow by Jonathan Edward Durham

We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory
Tachyon Publications
Publication: July 21st, 2014
Paperback. 182 pages.

About We Are All Completely Fine:
"Harrison is the Monster Detective, a storybook hero. Now he’s in his mid-thirties and spends most of his time not sleeping. 

Stan became a minor celebrity after being partially eaten by cannibals. Barbara is haunted by the messages carved upon her bones. Greta may or may not be a mass-murdering arsonist. And for some reason, Martin never takes off his sunglasses. 

Unsurprisingly, no one believes their horrific tales until they are sought out by psychotherapist Dr. Jan Sayer. What happens when these likely-insane outcasts join a support group? Together they must discover which monsters they face are within and which are lurking in plain sight."

We Are All Completely Fine follows a group of people through their time in a therapy support group together. However, this is no ordinary group of people, but rather is composed of people who have survived their own horror story and have been living their life dealing with the aftereffects ever since. I’ve read a few books with this similar set up and have really enjoyed them, so I was pretty excited about this one.

What I liked: I really liked getting to know each character and their backstory since they all come from very different circumstances with some very unique, tragic history, and it was fascinating to see them come together and share these experiences with one another. It was particularly interesting to see how they all chose to deal with their experiences; for instance, some embrace it and are public with their experiences, whereas other try to hide from it and embrace as much invisibility as possible. Throughout the story, we visit each group member’s POV and get to see everything from their perspective, which I appreciated and I think allowed for a more well-rounded and compelling narrative to see how each perceived the rest of the group. I also liked Daryl Gregory’s writing style overall, and it definitely makes me want to read more books from him.

What I didn't like: There is a bigger overall plot that comes to light more near the end of the book, and although this plot was really interesting to explore, I did feel that things were just a little rushed and out of place at times for me. I liked seeing how individual characters ended up at the end, but I just didn’t necessarily love the pacing and I did find my focus wavering a bit in the latter portions of the book.

Overall, this is a very solid horror story following some intriguing characters straight from their own horror stories. It wasn’t as spooky as some horror novels are, but it will definitely still hit the spot for anything in the horror realm.


Monday, August 8, 2022

Mini Contemporary Reviews Pt. II: Birds of California by Katie Cotugno

Birds of California by Katie Cotugno
Harper Perennial
Publication: April 26th, 2022
Paperback. 288 pages.

About Birds of California:
"Former child actor Fiona St. James dropped out of the spotlight after a spectacularly public crash and burn. The tabloids called her crazy and self-destructive and said she'd lost her mind. Now in her late twenties, Fiona believes her humiliating past is firmly behind her. She's finally regained a modicum of privacy, and she won't let anything--or anyone--mess it up. 

Unlike Fiona, Sam Fox, who played her older brother on the popular television show Birds of California, loves the perks that come with being a successful Hollywood actor: fame, women, parties, money. When his current show gets cancelled and his agent starts to avoid his calls, the desperate actor enthusiastically signs on for a Birds of California revival. But to make it happen, he needs Fiona St. James. 

Against her better judgment, Fiona agrees to have lunch with Sam. What happens next takes them both by surprise. Sam is enthralled by Fiona's take-no-prisoners attitude, and Fiona discovers a lovable goofball behind Sam's close-up-ready face. Long drives to the beach, late nights at dive bars... theirs is the kind of kitschy romance Hollywood sells. But just like in the rom-coms Fiona despises, there's a twist that threatens her new love. Sam doesn't know the full story behind her breakdown. What happens when she reveals the truth?"

Birds of California is a vast departure from the types of books I usually read, and I found it to be a really compelling contemporary story with some romance, self-discovery, and all-around good times. This story follows Fiona St. James, former child star whose life went a bit off the rails near the end of her TV show's run, as she continues to navigate her post-stardom life as off the grid as possible (while still living in LA areas) and the sudden reintroduction of her former co-star and friend Sam Fox–who is still acting, though struggling to make it big–into her life. 

What I liked: Birds of California was a really endearing contemporary romance that hit a lot of heavier notes than I expected, and I actually really appreciated that this book explored some of these topics, such as feeling lost in your own life and where you're going, past traumas, and more. I actually didn't realize that this was going to have a romance when I picked it up (maybe I didn't read the blurb enough??), but I thought it was a really endearing and compelling one between two very passionate people with very different personalities. I had a lot of fun going on this ride with Fiona and Sam, including all of the ups and downs and discoveries that took place along the way. This was a really easy to read story that I sped through and found myself entertained the entire time. 

What I didn't like: This book's pacing was all over the place. It starts off pretty consistent and steady, but as you near the midway point and especially at the end, things just sort of take off and some really serious and complex topics are discussed in only a couple pages near the end. Maybe they weren't supposed to be the main focus of the story, but I think it did a bit of a disservice to the characters and their development. And speaking of development, I'd say I found the growth of Fiona in particular to be pretty lacking, and by the end of the book I didn't necessarily think she'd grown all that much. She definitely had some important realizations and discoveries about herself, but I would've liked to maybe see a bit more development. Lastly, I felt the relationship between Fiona and Sam was a bit abrupt at times and sort of threw me with its sort of whiplash changes. 

Overall, this is a really fulfilling contemporary romance that I think would be a perfect book to relax poolside with this summer. 

*I received a copy of Birds of California courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Mini Contemporary Reviews Pt. I: Vacationland by Meg Mitchell Moore

I had two contemporary reads show up at my house some months ago, and although I don't tend to read a lot of contemporary, I decided to give them a go and had a lot of fun with them! The first of my mini reviews will be for Vacationland, below, and I'll be sharing the second one sometime in the next couple weeks. These are perfect summer reads!


Vacationland by Meg Mitchell Moore
William Morrow & Company
Publication: June 14th, 2022
Hardcover. 384 pages.

About Vacationland:
"Louisa has come to her parents' house in Maine this summer with all three of her kids, a barely written book, and a trunkful of resentment. Left behind in Brooklyn is her husband, who has promised that after this final round of fundraising at his startup he will once again pick up his share of the household responsibilities. Louisa is hoping that the crisp breeze off Penobscot Bay will blow away the irritation she is feeling with her life choices and replace it with enthusiasm for both her family and her work. 

But all isn't well in Maine. Louisa's father, a retired judge and pillar of the community, is suffering from Alzheimer's. Louisa's mother is alternately pretending everything is fine and not pretending at all. And one of Louisa's children happens upon a very confusing and heartfelt letter referring to something Louisa doesn't think her father could possibly have done. 

Louisa's not the only one searching for something in Maine this summer. Kristie took the Greyhound bus from Pennsylvania with one small suitcase, $761, and a lot of baggage. She's got a past she's trying to outrun, a secret she's trying to unpack, and a new boyfriend who's so impossibly kind she can't figure out what she did to deserve him. But she can't keep her various lives from colliding forever. 

As June turns to July turns to August, secrets will be unearthed, betrayals will come to light, and both Louisa and Kristie will ask themselves what they are owed and what they owe others."

Vacationland is a great summer read full of family dramas, secrets, and people who are just trying to live their lives as best as they can. In Vacationland, we follow Louisa, a stressed mother of three and Professor currently on sabbatical, and Kristie, a young woman trying to leave her past behind while also uncovering some secrets of her own, as they both arrive in Maine for the summer. The two woman have vastly different lives and reasons for being in Maine, but both will find their lives intersect in surprising ways. 

What I liked: This book splits POVs between Louisa and Kristie, and I really appreciated getting a glimpse into two vastly different lives and two people who are as similar as they are dissimilar. Moore really dives deep into her characters thoughts, emotions, motivation, hopes, grief, ands o much more, to the extent that by the end of the story I felt as though I could really connect with them. Additionally, Moore's descriptions of Maine were so vivid and through Louisa's familiar memories and Kristie's new discoveries of the area I was instantly transported to this relaxed summer setting and enjoyed myself quite a lot. Everything felt so peaceful as a backdrop to the private struggles of each of our main characters, and I appreciated how Moore balanced all of this into a compelling family drama that was full of surprises, but also full of heart and made for a thoughtful and engaging story. 

What I didn't like: As with a lot of these family drama stories, I found quite a few of the major plot points a bit predictable overall, but in all honestly this didn't make too much of a negative impact since I was still engaged with the characters. I also found some aspects of Louisa's relationships with her husband and family (particularly her parents) a bit disjointed at times and didn't feel as resolved as I might've expected at the end of the book. Outside of these things, I really didn't have any major dislikes. This was a great relaxing read to wind down from the day with. (Also, this affects the plot in no way at all, but where was the dog for most of this book that we were introduced to in the beginning? I always want offhand comments about what the dog is doing.)

Overall, this was a very satisfying and thoughtful, well-written family drama that kept me hooked and would be a great choice to lounge around with this summer. 

*I received a copy of Vacationland courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Mini-Review: The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid

The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid
Riverhead Books
Publication: August 2nd, 2022
Hardcover. 192 pages.

About The Last White Man:
"One morning, Anders wakes to find that his skin has turned dark, his reflection a stranger to him. At first he tells only Oona, an old friend, newly a lover. Soon, reports of similar occurrences surface across the land. Some see in the transformations the long-dreaded overturning of an established order, to be resisted to a bitter end. In many, like Anders's father and Oona's mother, a sense of profound loss wars with profound love. As the bond between Anders and Oona deepens, change takes on a different shading: a chance to see one another, face to face, anew. 

Hamid's The Last White Man invites us to envision a future - our future - that dares to reimagine who we think we are, and how we might yet be together."

I've read and enjoying both The Reluctant Fundamentalist and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid and I was so excited to receive an ARC of his latest upcoming release about a world in which people with light skin are suddenly–and randomly–waking up to find that their skin has turned dark. I was really excited to see what this concept would do in the hands of a talented writer like Mohsin Hamid, and I'm a bit mixed on the result. 

What I liked: This was such a fascinating concept to explore and I appreciated the Hamid took a more unique and unexpected approach to it. It had a very literary style that very much focused on the characters more prominently than the big event going on, and this did let us get to know the main characters Anders quite well. Hamid really allowed both Anders and Oona to dive deeply into exploring their own identities, both in relation to their sudden onset of dark skin and with the world around them. I really liked what Hamid was trying to do, and his literary style always grabs me. His excessive use of commas and long sentences should be annoying, but for some reason works really well for me. 

What I didn't like: A lot of the things I liked are also things I didn't care for, which is a little conflicting. Because of Hamid's more unique and character-focused approach, I don't feel like I really got to explore what this new world looked like with people having their skin randomly transformed from light to dark. We get a lot of general and vague ideas of the chaos that erupts as a result of this, but nothing very concrete and it doesn't seem to take center stage at any point. It was very much about Anders and Oona, their relationship with one another, their relationship with their parents, and their own personal understanding of themselves and what's going on around them. While this worked well, it left me wishing I had gotten more of the actually skin changing plot and how that affected society in a manner that explored it a bit more deeply. 

Overall, I've given The Last White Man three stars. This was a really fascinating concept to explore and I appreciated Hamid's deep character study of our two main characters and their identity, but I do wish we had gotten to explore the main concept and how it affected the rest of the world a bit more. 

*I received a copy of The Last White Man courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Mini-Review: A Mirror Mended (Fractured Fables #2) by Alix E. Harrow

*This was meant to be a mini review, so it's set up in my usual mini review format, but it went a bit longer than I anticipated. Whoops!

A Mirror Mended (Fractured Fables #2) by Alix E. Harrow
Publication: June 14th, 2022
Hardcover. 144 pages.

About A Mirror Mended:
"Zinnia Gray, professional fairy-tale fixer and lapsed Sleeping Beauty, is over rescuing snoring princesses. Once you’ve rescued a dozen damsels and burned fifty spindles, once you’ve gotten drunk with twenty good fairies and made out with one too many members of the royal family, you start to wish some of these girls would just get a grip and try solving their own narrative issues. 

Just when Zinnia’s beginning to think she can't handle one more princess, she glances into a mirror and sees another face looking back at her: the shockingly gorgeous face of evil, asking for her help. Because there’s more than one person trapped in a story they didn’t choose. Snow White's Evil Queen has found out how her story ends, and she's desperate for a better ending. She wants Zinnia to help her before it’s too late for everyone. Will Zinnia accept the Queen's poisonous request and save them both from the hot-iron shoes that wait for them, or will she try another path?"

A Mirror Mended is the second book in Alix E. Harrow's Fractured Fables that follows Zinnia Gray as she travels throughout fairy tale worlds saving princesses (only when they need saving, of course) and making sure everyone gets a safe and fair story. This time, however, things go a bit haywire when Zinnia is sucked into a mirror after seeing a face staring back at her–and falls right into the lair of an actual Evil Queen. 

What I liked: Zinnia's narrative tone has easily been and remained one of the highlights of these novellas. She has a very dry, witty, and biting humor that could not work better for the story, and I consistently find her voice impossible to ignore. I found Zinnia a surprisingly endearing character and someone whose adventures and struggles I empathize with and really enjoy following. All of Harrow's characters are fully fleshed out and manage to both embody stereotypes while subverting them at the same time. You really never know what you're going to get! I have also loved Harrow's exploration of agency in this series and the pre-ordained roles characters are often typecast into without hope for change. 

What I didn't like: There really weren't too many things I didn't like about A Mirror Mended, which is always a great thing to be able to say. My biggest "complaints" (if you can even call them that) were that there were a few elements here and there that felt a bit too rehashed from the plot of the first book, or that just didn't fully feel as though they offered much in the way of new ideas. There were also times when moments of the plot felt a little too convenient or "easy," as if the author had a very specific story and message to tell and wanted to make sure to get that done without too much trouble. I wouldn't say there's anything really wrong with this, especially in a shorter book, but it just gave the story a bit of a different vibe with slightly lower stakes. Neither of these issues took that much away from me being able to enjoy my reading experience, but they are things I wanted to point out anyway. 

Overall, I've given A Mirror Mended four stars! I've really liked this duology of novellas and think anyone who enjoyed restructured fairy tales and an exploration of their foundational components would enjoy this as well!

*I received a copy of A Mirror Mended courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

Thursday, May 26, 2022

(Not-So)-Mini-Review: We Had to Remove this Post by Hanna Bervoets, trans. Emma Rault

*This was meant to be a mini review, so it's set up in my usual mini review format, but it went a bit longer than I anticipated. Whoops!

We Had to Remove this Post by Hanna Bervoets, trans. Emma Rault
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication: May 24th, 2022
Hardcover. 160 pages.

About We Had to Remove this Post:
"Kayleigh needs money. That’s why she takes a job as a content moderator for a social media platform whose name she isn’t allowed to mention. Her job: reviewing offensive videos and pictures, rants and conspiracy theories, and deciding which need to be removed. It’s grueling work. Kayleigh and her colleagues spend all day watching horrors and hate on their screens, evaluating them with the platform’s ever-changing terms of service while a supervisor sits behind them, timing and scoring their assessments. Yet Kayleigh finds a group of friends, even a new love—and, somehow, the job starts to feel okay. 

But when her colleagues begin to break down; when Sigrid, her new girlfriend, grows increasingly distant and fragile; when her friends start espousing the very conspiracy theories they’re meant to be evaluating; Kayleigh begins to wonder if the job may be too much for them. She’s still totally fine, though—or is she?"

We Had to Remove this Post initially grabbed my eye because the main character, Kayleigh, works as a content moderator for a major social media, a job that I have also (unfortunately?) had. Kayleigh's job as a content moderator is to review content that has been flagged as potentially offensive or inappropriate and determine whether or not that is the case. At Kayleigh's job, she is inundated with constant hate, violence, and other terrible content, and it always seems to take its toll on the people working there. We Had to Remove this Post follows a snapshot of Kayleigh's life and relationships with her colleagues and how things seem to slowly devolve.

What I liked: We Had to Remove this Post was written in a very compelling way and I appreciated how the author explored this work experience via the format of Kayleigh writing to someone who wants her to join a class action lawsuit about the company. I also appreciated that although she discussed what the content moderation consisted of and mentioned a few examples, she never went into unnecessary detail or shared anything horrifying just for the shock value–there was always a purpose. This book provides a really fascinating and important look at the psychological pressures that are placed on the moderations from consistently viewing the horrible content that can be found online, and how those working to "protect" the rest of the world from it as moderators take on the burden of ingesting this content every day. As a previous content moderator, I think Bervoets captured this experience extremely well and the way the horror on the screen becomes its own sort of traumatic monotony. Bervoets depictions of the characters coping with what they see also felt very authentic and I think captured the relationships between each friend really well, and I think this really helped make this novella feel cohesive and compelling. 

What I didn't like: There's nothing that I truly disliked about this book. It has a rather low rating on Goodreads, which I noticed after finishing it, and while I would expect this not to be a book for everyone, I'm a bit perplexed as to why it's quite so low. I think the book leaves a little to be desired in the vein of closure and exploration of some characters, but I don't think it suffered from that, either. The only thing I probably would have appreciated is if this book was longer. I would've really liked to see more of Kayleigh's character arc and interactions with friends. That being said, I'm not really mad about the 160-page size of this novella because I think everything worked perfectly. You get just enough information and content that you need, and any more might just mess up that balance. 

Overall, I've given We Had to Remove this Post four stars! As you might have guessed, there is some difficult and disturbing content, so please do be aware of that going into. This was a really interesting and thoughtful look into social media, what we ingest daily, and how people are affected by the things they see–particular those who have to see the worst of it. 

Buy the book: Amazon |

Monday, April 11, 2022

Mini-Review: Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication: November 12th, 2022
Hardcover. 256 pages.

About Leave the World Behind:
"A magnetic novel about two families, strangers to each other, who are forced together on a long weekend gone terribly wrong 

Amanda and Clay head out to a remote corner of Long Island expecting a vacation: a quiet reprieve from life in New York City, quality time with their teenage son and daughter, and a taste of the good life in the luxurious home they’ve rented for the week. But a late-night knock on the door breaks the spell. Ruth and G. H. are an older black couple—it’s their house, and they’ve arrived in a panic. They bring the news that a sudden blackout has swept the city. But in this rural area—with the TV and internet now down, and no cell phone service—it’s hard to know what to believe. 

Should Amanda and Clay trust this couple—and vice versa? What happened back in New York? Is the vacation home, isolated from civilization, a truly safe place for their families? And are they safe from one another?"

When Amanda, Clay, and their two children embark on a short family getaway, they hope to have a nice time to reconnect and relax. Unfortunately, as tends to happen to plans with the best intentions, things do not go according to plan and the owners of the house they are renting for the trip show up unannounced–and the reason why only creates more problems. Leave the World Behind is a slow-paced, creeping sort of thriller that builds up much of its dread-induced atmosphere through the writing and small actions of the characters that leave you feeling uneasy. This is not an overt horror or fast-paced thriller, but rather one of those leaves you feeling unsettled without really knowing exactly why, and also relies on poking at your imagination to make things more ominous. 

What I liked: This is not an overt horror or fast-paced thriller, but rather one of those that leaves you feeling unsettled without really knowing exactly why and also relies on poking at your imagination to make things more ominous. This narrative style worked perfectly for this book and had me absolutely captivated. I think a lot of the criticisms of this book are a result of misleading marketing where readers may have expected something a bit more “page-turning” and exciting, when in reality it’s only page-turning if you find yourself invested in this manner of storytelling. Nothing major really happens for a lot of this book, but the implications and actions and thoughts of the characters are what made it so compelling and ominous for me and I just loved it. I don't think this will be for everyone (and based on reviews, it's clearly not!), but if you click with it I think you'll really love it as well. 
What I didn't like: As much as I enjoyed how the writing built up the tension in the plot and between characters, I can easily admit that this book is a tad overwritten at times. The prose borders on being too 'purple' at times and inputs some odd, heavy-handed word choices that sort of stick out as the author trying to sound a bit too deep or dramatic. Perhaps this is meant to reflect the characters, but I'm not sure it worked. Similarly, there's a weird oversexualization of characters and actions at times, and some questionable sex-related things in general, such as a grown woman having weirdly sexual thoughts about a grocery bag boy who may be a teenager. There were definitely some weird writing choices in this book that threw me out of it every once in a while. 
Overall, I ended up giving Leave the World Behind 4.5 stars! Despite my quibbles with the writing, I actually enjoyed this book way too much to give it something lower. It's not a book for everyone, but if it sounds interesting to you, I'd recommend you give it shot–but maybe get it from your library first, just in case. 

Buy the book: Amazon |

Monday, July 19, 2021

Double Mini-Reviews, Murakami Edition: Ft. After Dark & What I Talk About When I Talk About Running


After Dark by Haruki Murakami
Publication: April 29th, 2008
Paperback. 244 pages.

About After Dark:
"The midnight hour approaches in an almost empty all-night diner. Mari sips her coffee and glances up from a book as a young man, a musician, intrudes on her solitude. Both have missed the last train home. 

Later, Mari is interrupted again by a girl from the Alphaville Hotel; a Chinese prostitute has been hurt by a client, and she needs Mari's help. 

Meanwhile Mari's beautiful sister Eri sleeps a deep, heavy sleep that is 'to perfect, too pure' to be normal; she has lain asleep for two months. But tonight a the digital clock displays 00:00, a hint of life flickers across the TV screen, though the television's plug has been pulled out. Strange nocturnal happenings, or a trick of the night?"

After Dark is one of the few full length novels from Murakami that I still hadn't read, and I'm sorry I didn't get to it sooner because it's definitely become one of my favorites. This novel takes place over the course of a single night in Tokyo and follows a few rather charmingly eccentric characters, as one might expect from any Murakami novel. 

The story's overarching narrative follows two sisters, Eri and Mari, though we spend most of time exploring from Mari's perspective as she encounters a variety of interesting people and takes part in some different activities over the course of the night. Each and every person mentioned in this book has some sort of connection to one or more characters, some expected and some entirely unexpected, and it is these connections that really allow the narrative to flow and tell of this night in Tokyo. We encounter a variety of stories and experiences shared by individual characters, tidbits from unique lives, pleasant (and unpleasant) conversations, musings on life, and some occasional chapters focusing on Eri's life that take things to a much more abstract and difficult to explain level. I wouldn't necessarily call it magical realism in this book, but there are certainly some odd observations in those chapters that added some incredibly complexity and depth to the overarching narrative. 

After Dark is not a fast-paced story by any means, but it reads incredibly quickly and I found it as engaging to read as many of Murakami's other novels. There is something beautifully simplistic about the translation and writing while also maintaining the ability to convey some incredible philosophical insights and insightful comments. The ending was perfect to me in the sense that it was exactly what I would've expected and wanted from Murakami. It's very much a more open-ended conclusion, so I can see why some people may not like it, but I think it worked and matched the tone perfectly for this story. 

Overall, it was an easy five stars from me for After Dark

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
Publication Date: August 11th, 2009
Paperback. 190 pages.

About What I Talk About When I Talk About Running:
"An intimate look at writing, running, and the incredible way they intersect, from the incomparable, bestselling author Haruki Murakami. While simply training for New York City Marathon would be enough for most people, Haruki Murakami's decided to write about it as well. The result is a beautiful memoir about his intertwined obsessions with running and writing, full of vivid memories and insights, including the eureka moment when he decided to become a writer. By turns funny and sobering, playful and philosophical, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is rich and revelatory, both for fans of this masterful yet guardedly private writer and for the exploding population of athletes who find similar satisfaction in athletic pursuit."

I'd been meaning to pick up this book for a number of years, but for some reason only recently got around to it. This is different from Murakami's other work that I've read largely in the fact that it is a nonfiction piece with some heavy autobiographical notes. This book was written on the premise of Murakami keeping a journal of his thoughts and musings while training for a marathon (which, in case you didn't know–Murakami has completed numerous marathons and other competitions over the course of his life!). However, I would say that this book is so much more than that and truly stood out to me as a piece of writing that I will come back to over and over again in the future. 

You don't have to be a runner or a writer to read this book or take away some truly thoughtful ideas and insightful musings on life from it. For Murakami, running is a part of his writing process, and the idea of training for marathons and working on his running was vital to his ability to stay focused on his writing and meet regular deadlines. Because of this, we get a glimpse into his writing process and what it is that he thinks makes him a successful, steady writer. Murakami is one of the most honest voices I've read, and in doing so he is both humble and confident in his abilities. Everything he says is very much matter-of-fact, neither bragging nor denying accomplishments, and it is this voice that makes him such a compelling and admirable figure. It was affirming in a sense to read about his own struggle and how he has overcome the obstacles that pop into his life with dedication and determination. He has an incredibly frank view of life, and one that is full of wonder and respect, all of which really stood out to me. 

One theme that I didn't expect from this book was that of aging and Murakami's gradual acceptance of growing older and learning how his body and mind change. Many of the things he discusses are topics that I myself have worried about in regards to getting older, despite the fact that I am still in my twenties, and it was reassuring to see that I'm not nearly alone in dealing with these thoughts. His meditations on growing older, and on life in general, were very eye-opening and meaningful from me, and I really can't emphasize enough how much I appreciated and loved every page of this book. Although it is a translation, his writing is smooth, easy to read, and draws in readers easily with plain language and a voice that is friendly and approachable. 

It's another five stars from me for this book--what can I say, Murakami remains one of my favorite writers! What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a book that I still think about since finishing and that I think I will continue to think back on and revisit whenever I need a bit of a palate cleanser for my brain. Murakami is always the perfect reset for my mind!

Monday, November 11, 2019

Mini-Reviews: Japanese Crime Fiction--Confessions by Kanae Minato & The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

ConfessionsConfessions by Kanae Kinato
Mulholland Books
Publication: August 19th, 2014
Paperback. 235 pages.

About Confessions:
"After calling off her engagement in wake of a tragic revelation, Yuko Moriguchi had nothing to live for except her only child, four-year-old Manami. Now, following an accident on the grounds of the middle school where she teaches, Yuko has given up and tendered her resignation.

But first she has one last lecture to deliver. She tells a story that upends everything her students ever thought they knew about two of their peers, and sets in motion a maniacal plot for revenge.

Narrated in alternating voices, with twists you'll never see coming, Confessions explores the limits of punishment, despair, and tragic love, culminating in a harrowing confrontation between teacher and student that will place the occupants of an entire school in danger. You'll never look at a classroom the same way again."

I read Kanae Mintao's Penance a few years back and found it to be a compelling thriller that left me wanting to check out more from Minato. It's taken me a while to get around to it, but I've finally done it and it was just as twisty and unexpected as Penance (if not more!). This story thrives on plot twists, so I can't go into any details at all, but I will say that you really need to prepare yourselves for this one because it handles some extremely intense topics.

What I liked: Confessions was nearly unpredictable for me and I had some audible reactions to certain twists and moments that blew me away. This is a book about revenge--revenge that takes its form in so many different ways, and just when you think you have it figured out or think it's all over, there's something new to come and completely prove you wrong. I liked how Minato plays with her storytelling through different perspectives and manages to continuously bring in new ideas and possibilities.

What I didn't like: Since this story centers around a few main characters throughout the book, each each characters gets a certain part of the book to tell their version of the story. Although I like this part of the setup, what I didn't care for was how repetitive it made the book at times. It wasn't overly repetitive since each person tended to have their own unique story, perspective, and background, but it did result in more than a few scenes repeated a few too many times for my liking.

Overall, I've given Confessions four stars!

The Devotion of Suspect X (Detective Galileo, #1)The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
Minotaur Books
Publication Date: February 1st, 2011
Hardcover. 298 pages.

About The Devotion of Suspect X:
"Yasuko lives a quiet life, working in a Tokyo bento shop, a good mother to her only child. But when her ex-husband appears at her door without warning one day, her comfortable world is shattered.

When Detective Kusanagi of the Tokyo Police tries to piece together the events of that day, he finds himself confronted by the most puzzling, mysterious circumstances he has ever investigated. Nothing quite makes sense, and it will take a genius to understand the genius behind this particular crime..."

The Devotion of Suspect X is the sort of crime thriller that doesn't really follow a fast-placed plot or have all that much action going on, but it still manages to wrap you up in the story in such a compelling way with countless unpredictable twists.

What I liked: Higashino's careful plotting of the story and how he slowly unveils new information and twists is truly expert. There's a reason why people are always talking about this book! It's completely unexpected at almost every turn and has some incredibly clever ideas wrapped up in it. One of my favorite things that I've tended to notice about Japanese fiction in general is that it has a much 'quieter' feel to it than a lot of non-Japanese books I read. I'm not entirely sure how to describe it, but it's partially due to a focus on the smaller, day-to-day events and details rather than fast-paced, action-heavy, big scene books. It's much more about plotting and the details and important keys to pick up about characters.

What I didn't like: Honestly, there's not a lot that I didn't really like about this book. I would say the only thing holding me back from enjoy it more is that since it doesn't have a particularly fast pace and it delves so deeply into detail and conversations about different specific scenarios, it did feel as though it dragged slightly in some places. It still manages to feel like a fast-moving plot, but since it does have a slower pace and tone it can make it difficult to stay focused at times. I also can't say I ever felt particularly drawn to any of the characters, but I still enjoyed seeing their reactions and involvements within this book.

Overall, I've also given the Devotion of Suspect X four stars!

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Novella Mini-Reviews: Final Girls by Mira Grant & Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

Final GirlsFinal Girls by Mira Grant
Subterranean Press
Publication: April 30th, 2017
Hardcover. 112 pages.

About Final Girls:
"What if you could fix the worst parts of yourself by confronting your worst fears? 

Dr. Jennifer Webb has invented proprietary virtual reality technology that purports to heal psychological wounds by running clients through scenarios straight out of horror movies and nightmares. In a carefully controlled environment, with a medical cocktail running through their veins, sisters might develop a bond they’ve been missing their whole lives—while running from the bogeyman through a simulated forest. But…can real change come so easily? 

Esther Hoffman doubts it. Esther has spent her entire journalism career debunking pseudoscience, after phony regression therapy ruined her father’s life. She’s determined to unearth the truth about Dr. Webb’s budding company. Dr. Webb’s willing to let her, of course, for reasons of her own. What better advertisement could she get than that of a convinced skeptic? But Esther’s not the only one curious about how this technology works. Enter real-world threats just as frightening as those created in the lab. Dr. Webb and Esther are at odds, but they may also be each other’s only hope of survival."

As you may or may not know, Mira Grant and Seanan McGuire are the same author using different pseudonyms. From my experience, it seems as though Mira Grant leans more towards the sci-fi and medical sci-fi routes, whereas Seanan McGuire has more books featuring fantasy and the like. Final Girls falls in the realm of what I would describe as science fiction with a mental health medicine focus. This was a really interesting thought experiment about an experimental new method to help estranged family members and friends develop a strong relationship using virtual reality simulations.

What I liked: I loved how Grant took the idea of how fear affects the mind and body and explored that in a new way. I was fascinated by how Esther, who tested out the experiment herself, was able to be sucked into this simulation idea despite her occasional awareness that the situation wasn't real. Grant's prose also continues to be one that easo;y drags the reader in, as she knows how to combine a simple style with strong descriptions and explanation in a way that makes this an enjoyable read.

What I didn't like: There's nothing that I explicitly disliked in this novella, but it also wasn't something that stood out to me in any strong way. I will certainly remember this novella and the premise that it explores, but there's still something about it that prevented me from enjoying it further. I think the main thing that might've have contributed to this was my lack of interest in most of the characters. Novellas don't provide much time to really connect with a character usually, but it's still possible to care about them and I'm not sure that's something that I ever really felt about the characters--even though the two main characters were developed well--which in turn caused me to feel as if I was being held at arm's length. I felt that many areas were not explored as much as they could have been.

Overall, Final Girls is a fascinating futuristic sci-fi novella with some interesting ideas to explore. I've given it 3.75 stars!

Beneath the Sugar Sky (Wayward Children, #3)Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire
Publication Date: January 9th, 2018
Hardcover. 174 pages.

About Beneath the Sugar Sky:
"When Rini lands with a literal splash in the pond behind Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children, the last thing she expects to find is that her mother, Sumi, died years before Rini was even conceived. But Rini can’t let Reality get in the way of her quest – not when she has an entire world to save! (Much more common than one would suppose.)

If she can't find a way to restore her mother, Rini will have more than a world to save: she will never have been born in the first place. And in a world without magic, she doesn’t have long before Reality notices her existence and washes her away. Good thing the student body is well-acquainted with quests... 

A tale of friendship, baking, and derring-do. 

Warning: May contain nuts."

Beneath the Sugar Sky is the third installment in the ever-popular Wayward Children's series. In this book, we follow yet another member of Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children on their own journey as we get to explore even more new worlds. We visit a few worlds in this book, but the main one is a sugar-sweet Nonsense world, and as someone with a huge sweet tooth, this world spoke to me.

What I liked: McGuire has an incredibly inventive imagination and she continues to build these magnificent settings that stand apart from everything else and that come vividly to life in my own mind. Her descriptions are stunning and overflowing with beautiful prose. I loved that this book combined some new characters with old characters--all from different worlds--and readers are able to continue to learn new things about them and their character. I also really appreciated how seamlessly McGuire incorporates so much diversity among her cast of characters--it's effortless and flows perfectly, yet is also prominent enough to make a statement.

What I didn't like: Much like with Final Girls, there's nothing that I can really pinpoint that I disliked, but this installment just didn't call out to me quite as much as some of the others. Parts of it felt very formulaic and a bit lacking in some way, while other parts were beautiful and immediately grabbed my attention. I think the inconsistency really translated to my own uncertain feelings about this book. The plot was just a bit odd in this one and I couldn't find myself feeling fully invested in the stakes at play.

Overall, I've given Beneath the Sugar Sky 3.75 stars!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Mini-Review: The Dreaming and The Girls at Kingfisher Club

The Dreaming (2018-) Vol. 1: Pathways and EmanationsThe Dreaming, Vol. 1: Pathways and Emanations by Simon Spurrier, Bilquis Evely, Mat Lopes
Publication: June 11th, 2019
Paperback. 200 pages.

About The Dreaming:
"One of four books expanding Neil Gaiman's acclaimed Sandman Universe. There is a place where gods are born and stories are spun. Today its walls lie slashed and bleeding. Twenty-three years after he was anointed as its master, the lord of dreams has inexplicably abandoned his domain. 

Lord Daniel's absence triggers a series of crimes and calamities that consume the lives of those already tangled in his fate. Until he is found, his realm's residents must protect its broken borders alone. But the most senior storytellers are tormented by invasive secrets, the warden Lucien is doubting his own mind, and beyond the gates, something horrific awaits with tooth and talon. Only Dora, the monstrous, finds opportunity in madness, stealing dreams for the highest bidder. But she has no idea how deep the danger lies. Meanwhile, in Daniel's gallery, something new is growing..."

I'm a huge fan of the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman, so anything Sandman-related is naturally going to call out to me. I was excited to hear about the world of Sandman expanding with some new content written by new authors and illustrators, though I did have some reservations since these projects would be in new hands. Although I didn't love this new addition as much as I hoped, I still found it to be a solid expansion of the world and the start of what seems to be a promising new storyline.

One of my favorite things about this volume was easily the illustrations. The colors and vibrancy, the way the characters are depicted and have such distinct styles and personalities, and the layout of the panels all really grabbed me and made this a high quality and highly enjoyable story. It's clear that these new stories still hold plenty of the same magic as the original series and still seems to have a solid goal in mind.

The main areas that I had issues had to do more with the plot and how it was executed. The overarching storyline is one that initially intrigues me--Lord Daniel has disappeared and the realm is struggling and literally cracking apart--but the other details and side plots were slightly distracting and not quite as engaging. I found some of the elements, for lack of a better word, rather tedious and I found myself sort of just plowing through until I reached the next more engaging part. However, I enjoyed meeting Dora, an unpredictable and rather gifted individual, and am excited to see what the creators decide to do with her character. I also loved seeing old friends, such as Merv and Lucien, though I was disappointed in much of the latter's role in this story.

Overall, I've given The Dreaming 3.75 stars! This volume had a lot of potential and despite its rocky start, I think these new additions to the Sandman universe could be a lot of fun. 

The Girls at the Kingfisher ClubThe Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine
Atria Books
Publication Date: June 3rd, 2014
Hardcover. 277 pages.

About The Girls at the Kingfisher Club:
"From award-winning author Genevieve Valentine, a "gorgeous and bewitching" (Scott Westerfeld) reimagining of the fairytale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses as flappers during the Roaring Twenties in Manhattan. 

Jo, the firstborn, "The General" to her eleven sisters, is the only thing the Hamilton girls have in place of a mother. She is the one who taught them how to dance, the one who gives the signal each night, as they slip out of the confines of their father's townhouse to await the cabs that will take them to the speakeasy. Together they elude their distant and controlling father, until the day he decides to marry them all off. 

The girls, meanwhile, continue to dance, from Salon Renaud to the Swan and, finally, the Kingfisher, the club they come to call home. They dance until one night when they are caught in a raid, separated, and Jo is thrust face-to-face with someone from her past: a bootlegger named Tom whom she hasn't seen in almost ten years. Suddenly Jo must weigh in the balance not only the demands of her father and eleven sisters, but those she must make of herself."

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club is a book that I've had sitting on my shelf for a few years, always with the intention of picking it up, but somehow I never did. I finally decided to change that and read it and now I'm kicking myself for not having read it earlier!  This is a beautiful reimagining of the "Twelve Dancing Princesses", and though I've only read the original fairytale once many years ago, I still found this to be an imaginative and highly compelling take on the story.

The prose of this book is of a rather literary nature and has a lovely rhythm attached to it that makes the narrative feel as light and ethereal as the twelve dancing daughters in the story. This isn't a story that feels particularly happy or hopeful on the surface--or even under the surface--but there is a strange layer of optimism somewhere in the middle that follows each girl as she learns how to travel with her sisters to club to dance the night away and forget about the monotonous, trapped life they lead at home.

It was difficult at first to remember all of the daughters and form a connection with any of them, but somehow over the course of the story each and every one became dear to me and I felt emotionally connected to their lives and experiences growing up in such a stilted and solitary manner. I also absolutely loved the setting of this story and how well Valentine captured the 1920s Prohibition era, which was full of underground clubs, clubs being regularly raided, and the changes that followed women as they gradually became freer and more liberated in society--a slow process, but one that was still very much present. This book was all about atmosphere and I easily fell headfirst into this world.

I loved how Valentine told this story and am now anxious to check out more of her work, as I'm sure I will fall in with them if they hold any similarities in style to this one. Overall, I've given The Girls at the Kingfisher Club 4.25 stars and highly recommend this to anyone that enjoys retellings and/or beautifully atmospheric stories!

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Novella Mini-Reviews: The Test by Sylvain Neuvel & Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

The TestThe Test by Sylvain Neuvel
St. Martin's Press
Publication: March 1st, 2019
Paperback. 112 pages.

About The Test:
"Britain, the not-too-distant future. Idir is sitting the British Citizenship Test. He wants his family to belong. Twenty-five questions to determine their fate. 

Twenty-five chances to impress. 

When the test takes an unexpected and tragic turn, Idir is handed the power of life and death. How do you value a life when all you have is multiple choice?"

I was never able to get into Sylvain Neuvel's first trilogy, the Themis Files, but the concept of this novella was too good to pass up and I ended up enjoying it much more than his other books. The concept of The Test is very simple: an immigrant who traveled with his family to a future Britain must pass a citizenship test. The execution of that test, however, is much deeper and more compelling than that. As far as plot goes, I really can't tell you any more than that without spoiling anything, but rest assured that this book takes off at a thrilling pace only a couple pages in and doesn't stop until you hit the last page. Since it's only about an ~100 page story, it reads extremely quickly, but it packs a lot into those pages.

The exploration of morals, prejudice, and decision-making were contemplated in a striking--and rather shocking--manner that is certain to leave you thinking about it long after you put it down. The story takes an initial unpredictable twist that will put you on edge, then just when you think you know how this whole story is going to go, it still manages to shake things around and leave you constantly unprepared for the results. This story works perfectly as a novella and every page was utilized in a precise and exacting manner; Neuvel truly knows how to write about about powerful topics in a short but fulfilling manner.

Overall, I've given The Test 4.5 stars!

Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children, #2)Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
Publication Date: June 13th, 2017
Hardcover. 187 pages.

About Down Among the Sticks and Bones:
"Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. 

This is the story of what happened first… 

Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline. 

Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you've got. 

They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted. 

They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices."

I've been holding onto a copy of this novella pretty much since it came out and I don't have a good explanation for as to why I hadn't read it yet. I loved Every Heart a Doorway and consistently heard nothing but raves for the additional novellas that have been published, yet something prevented me from picking it up. And wow do I regret not picking it up sooner!

I loved Down Among the Sticks and Bones even more than the first novella in this series and it's probably going on my favorites of the year list. This novella somehow managed to pack everything I love into its short 187-page journey and I still have a genuine book hangover for this one. It follows Jack and Jill as they embark upon a journey that will act as the precursor to them being sent off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. This novella was filled to the brim with a stunning dark fairy tale atmosphere that truly permeated the entire plot and setting and made it impossible for me to stop reading (or even thinking!) about it.

The themes explored in this book also felt so relatable and hard-hitting, full of tough decisions and heartbreaking consequences. Jack and Jill were nothing like I expected--in the best way possible--and the characters that inhabit the world they enter were equally engaging and constantly begged for my attention. At this point, I really can't think of anything that I didn't like about this novella and I couldn't ask for anything more, so of course overall I'm giving it five stars!