Review: As Red as Blood by Salla Simukka

I think the sure fire way of making me post a book review is if I got the book from Blogging For Books. I’ve been lucky that I like majority of my choices. Thank you for sending this my way and I hope to find more new-to-me reads through this platform.

There is something about thriller novels from Sweden, Finland, Norway, thereabouts that I absolutely love. They translate well into English. They keep the fear, tension, and suspense. Not that I can read Swedish or whatnot. It’s the setting that helps keep the integrity; it’s always cold, rough, snowy, almost desolate at times. I definitely felt that in the Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson, which I devoured back-to-back. Sure the names and places were confusing but I just remembered how they were spelled and I was good to go. They do thrillers so well that I am looking forward to reading more of them in the future.

Speaking of Lisbeth and her cast of characters, this book is marketed as The Girl… for YA. Here, we have Lumikki Andersson, an independent high school girl who tries to keep her nose out of trouble but her curiosity gets the better of her. As she tries to get away from dramas of high school, she stumbles upon a pile of bloody cash hidden in her school’s darkroom. From there, she traces the source of the money and the forces working behind it.

It is very reminiscent of the Millennium trilogy in that it deals with gangs, corrupt government officials, sneaking into places in disguise, kidnapping, mistaken identities, and of course, killing. Yes, this is YA but it doesn’t shy away from the idea of killing innocents and graphically describing how it was done.

I loved Lumikki. She’s a bit one-dimensional and flat. Think Daria. (I can name more anime characters that better describe her but let’s stick with Daria.) But she’s bad ass. And she is a good person. Yes, her curious nature propels her to find answers but she agrees to help an acquaintance that she doesn’t really know and frankly, thinks low of. But she was game to dress up, sneak into a private mafia party, get chased in the snow and shot at… all in the name of solving the mystery and saving this female acquaintance. And don’t confuse this to be a fairy tale retelling. “Lumikki” is Snow White. The trilogy is unofficially called the Snow White trilogy. References of blood on snow are repeatedly mentioned throughout the book. But there are no fairy godmothers or dwarves in this book. But those references provided a perfect set-up for tension.

However, there’s this one point in the book where I’m not sure if they were queer-baiting or I just missed something. There is technically no romance in this book but there were mentions of a love interest for Lumikki. For almost a whole chapter, there were no pronouns used to describe this love interest and the descriptions of Lumikki at the beginning of the book make her seem rather androgynous. But then she begins to pine for this person who ends up being a guy after all. And yet until they mention his name, I was convinced that it was a girl. Eh.

Overall, it was a quick read. Less than 300 pages of all action. Lumikki is a great character and you just can’t help to root for her.

Rating: 3.5 stars. I am interested to acquire the rest of the trilogy.

Review: A Study on Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

I enjoyed it. At the end of the day, that’s all you really need to know.

This book, at its core, is just like every modernized Sherlock Holmes story. Every situation fits conveniently perfectly to a story in the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes collection. Too conveniently. I’ve watched my share of those to recognize that trope. You don’t have to have read the original story to figure out which story the case was based on but I could imagine it would’ve been a better reading experience. I’ve only read A Study in Scarlet, ironically, and The Hound of the Baskervilles – and of course, watched the BBC adaptation. It would’ve been awesome to have those lightbulb moments as more and more clues come to light. Like, “Aha! They’re talking about so-and-so story!” I certainly had that while watching Sherlock. I love how this follows family relations of the three main characters – Holmes, Watson, and Moriarty. It’s a bit cheap to have their names sound like their ancestors but hey, you got me. (“James” Watson though. Hm.)

Trust me. I enjoyed this book. And I would gladly read the next one as soon as it comes out on paperback (so it’ll match my signed copy). However.

I was ready to rate this more than I did but while this is a rather fast read, some parts left me confused. It IS extremely readable though. However, there were parts that didn’t flow very well, as if the previous paragraph didn’t connect well with the next. There were times when I thought I actually skipped a page. It was THAT disjointed. And the characters were rather one dimensional. While there were character description and some backstory, I didn’t really know these characters. Jamie Watson, the narrator, was aloof and it was as if he was just… there. Charlotte Holmes tried to be as cold and unattached as Sherlock.

Also, I had to constantly remind myself that this is categorized under Young Adult. As you know, as long as the protagonist is 16-19, the book is considered YA. But I honestly think that this book would’ve benefited more from an older setting. College-age, maybe. This boarding school thing got so confusing. Everybody seemed so much older than high school age. I don’t think the story would be any different if it were set in an Ivy League. In fact, I would’ve been more convinced if it were. That would take care of so many things. And so many triggers, be warned.

(I also have to throw this out there: is it just me or was there insta-love? I mean, it could be just that the writing was so unconnected that I missed the part where Charlotte became Jamie’s “best friend”. I mean, I got zero from Charlotte so it could all be in Jamie’s head. But then right before the ending… ah, whatever.)

I admit that this is the first “descendants of Sherlock Holmes” novel that I’ve read and it follows that sort of formula. If your parents are doctors, people will assume you’ll take the same route. I get that. But it was like Charlotte was a reincarnation of Sherlock – from the violin to the drug use to the way she would unknowingly push people away. Jamie said it somewhere in the book, “I’m not John Watson,” or something to that effect. You don’t have to be. I just hate the idea of being defined by a famous relative. (This paragraph didn’t make much sense. Sorry, it’s 11PM.)

Overall, it was a quick and easy read. I definitely needed that after Battle Royale. While I did have a lot of not so good things to say, I liked this book. Confusing but enjoyable.

 Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

REVIEW: Zoo by Otsuichi

Zoo / Otsuichi

Zoo / Otsuichi

Holy shit.

I don’t often start off reviews with words like that but… holy shit.

I think it’s about time I write out my thoughts on this book. I was so affected by it, especially the final story in this collection. The other’s other book, Goth, was super high on my wish and TBR lists. Why I decided to read this first, I have no idea. I guess it looked shorter? I thought short stories would be an easier read? Nope.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah… holy shit. Eleven short stories are in this collection. Some of them are less than three pages long. It is translated from the original Japanes by Terry Gallagher and I would like to applaud his efforts. Nothing was lost in translation. It was as gut-wrenching and terrifying as if I were watching a Japanese movie (dubbed, of course). In fact, a few stories were made into a movie in 2005. I will definitely watch that!

As with a lot of Japanese thrillers, there’s always a twist in the end. Some better than others. Some predictable, some will terrify. And some, I found confusing. The title story, Zoo, is about a man who receives a picture of his dead girlfriend’s decomposing body in his mailbox everyday. This is what sold this book to me; I didn’t even bother reading the rest of the blurb. I kind of knew where the story was going but I still like how creepy it was. It was literally just one character. Imagine an episode of Criminal Minds in the point of view of the unsub. The second story was a bit confusing to me. In A Falling Airplane reads like a short play. Two passengers of a hijacked plane were making final deals with each other. It becomes this crazy conversation that includes the hijacker and honestly, I can’t tell you its message or purpose. I was left confused by this story. It was neither scary nor thrilling.

The White House in a Cold Forest is about a man who grew up abused. He then builds this house made of corpses. One day, a little girl comes by and she then replaces one of the corpses in the house. For whatever reason, this kid is not fazed by a house made of dead bodies but hey, that’s magical realism (I think) for you. I thought it was just some creepy and disgusting short story but the ending made me incredibly sad. Find the Blood! is, I guess you can say, the comic relief of this collection. I wish it was located somewhere near the end for I really needed some cheering up. This is about an old rich man who was slowly bleeding out in front of his good-for-nothing gold-digging relatives. It is a funny murder mystery that I found clever. The shortest story in the bunch is In A Park at Twilight, A Long Time Ago and believe me, this review has more words than that story.

The stories in the second half the book are rather dark and more violent than the previous ones. Wardrobe is a straight up murder mystery with the most unreliable narrator ever. I actually read it twice and I was still confused by the ending. Song of the Sunny Spot reminded me of those mobile visual novels where there’s only you and another character in the story. Here we have the last human on earth and a robot companion that he created to help bury him when he dies. It’s very Haruki Murakami-esque. One of my favorites is Kazari and Yoko. They’re twins where one is treasured and the other is abused. The neglect and cruelty is so over-the-top, it makes the ending the most satisfying. SO-Far is another one that screams Haruki Murakami to me. It’s about a young boy whose parents are stuck in parallel universes. He then has to choose which parent to accompany. Words of God talks about the power of voice and how we should be careful with what we wish for.

(Geez, it’s hard to talk about these short stories without giving anything away.)

Seven Rooms needs its own paragraph. This is my personal favorite and it spoke to my own personal terror. It is about a brother and sister who are abducted and imprisoned in a room with water running through it. The water must come from and go somewhere so upon investigation, they figure out that there are six other rooms with people in them. Day by day, the water runs murky and disembodied  waste run through. Room by room, an unknown person is killing off the prisoners. The brother and sister count the days until it’s their turn. This one played to one of my worst fears. I have a younger brother and for some reason, I felt so fragile the day I was reading this. Sure, it sounds like some Saw-like torture porn but it affected me so much that it deserves its own star.

This book is full of twisted minds, twisted people. It is definitely not for the feint of heart. I’m usually a tough cookie when it comes to horror thrillers but I was deeply affected, especially by that last story, that I couldn’t focus for days after. I needed some serious cheering up. Would I continue reading my Japanese fiction in between reads? Of course. But I might go through my manga first. This one really messed me up.

Rating: 5/5. Some stories, I’d be open to reread… and some, I wish I could forget.

Psst… read In A Park at Twilight, A Long Time Ago here.

 

Review: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Broken Monsters / Lauren Beukes

Sigh.

Can I already declare this as the biggest disappointment of my 2016 reading year?

This is one of the handful of books that I picked up because of booktube. I don’t remember from who I heard it from but when I heard that this was supposedly about a crime where a boy’s body was found attached to a deer’s… I could not pick it up fast enough. That’s why when I saw it on Book Outlet, I bought it even without a coupon or some kind of promo. I could not stop thinking about it. I bumped it up my hypothetical TBR list because… half-boy/half-deer, come on. That’s some dark Criminal Minds shit.

It wasn’t “bad”, don’t get me wrong. It had an interesting story. There were many colorful characters to follow with their own interesting storylines. Of course, these different people and stories were somewhat vaguely connected and I was interested how it was all going to pan out. It had short chapters and I love that in a book. I feel like I read through it faster even if I don’t really. In the end, I almost DNF’d this.

Here. I’ll let GoodReads give you a rundown:

Detective Gabriella Versado has seen a lot of bodies, but this one is unique even by Detroit’s standards: half boy, half deer, somehow fused together. As stranger and more disturbing bodies are discovered, how can the city hold on to a reality that is already tearing at its seams? If you’re Detective Versado’s geeky teenage daughter, Layla, you commence a dangerous flirtation with a potential predator online. If you’re desperate freelance journalist Jonno, you do whatever it takes to get the exclusive on a horrific story. If you’re Thomas Keen, known on the street as TK, you’ll do what you can to keep your homeless family safe–and find the monster who is possessed by the dream of violently remaking the world.

Okay, let me break this down. That boy-deer was creepy, I admit. I can only imagine how that would look like and the shock upon seeing a scene like that. Criminal Minds, take notes. I like how Detective Versado kept her head together and how she worked the case. Layla, her daughter is your token teenager that somehow messes up everything she touches. Jonno is the stereotypical middle-life crisis journo man. He kept on mentioning a character named “Cate” and I got so excited. But we never saw her, yup spoiler. And TK… I don’t even know.

Everyone is a non-character. They’re just… there. You can take Layla’s whole bit out and you’d still have the same story. Same with TK’s storyline. They really serve no critical purpose. Although I did like Versado’s actions, she had zero emotions. Her co-workers were more interesting. Why? Because one is your token overly zealous rookie cop; you got to have that in every cop-related anything, right? And the rest are misogynistic pieces of shit. What’s funny is that this book has a dislike for “TV cops” but it has no shortage of the same cliche cops on TV.

I would have preferred fewer points of view. Maybe just with Det. Versado and the killer, who was by the way, super obvious from the get-go. That killed the intrigue. We really didn’t need all that BS with Layla and her more interesting, more mysterious best friend. It was so disconnected from the rest of the story that it could be another book itself. The short chapters worked against my enjoyment of this book. Some chapters were too short to build anything up. A lot of times, there was little to no coherence between chapters; they seem unrelated to the next. The flow is CHOPPY and has no momentum. I do recognize that different characters make cameos in chapters but the execution of that is so poor.

When it started to somewhat pick up in the end, I had hope. But it ended up being one huge WTF. I mean… whut? The whole thing came out of nowhere. It was as if someone spliced a magical realism draft in the end. I just did not get it. The events in the end made no sense. The build up was weak. The characters were extremely unlikable that I didn’t care if any of them died. The creep factor did its job of selling this book to me but the whole thing fell so damn flat. What a waste.

I’m hoping that this doesn’t send me into a reading slump. I have half the mind to unhaul this from my collection, and I already did that. Not sorry. This was such a chore to read.

Rating: A generous 2/5. By the way, Shutter is Thai, not Japanese. If you read this, you’d know what I’m talking about.

QUOTES:

“Everyone has three versions of themselves; a public life, a private life, and a secret life.” – Page 119 (hardcover)

“It’s not the world that’s the stage – it’s social media, where you’re trying to put on a show. The rest of your life is rehearsals, prepping in the wings to be fabulous online.” – Page 171 (hardcover)

REVIEW: In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami

イン ザ・ミソスープ / 村上 龍

This is one of those “wtf did I just read” kind of books. Because really… what the fuck did I just read?

This book had been on my wishlist for the longest time. Finally, I gave in and bought it full price at Kinokuniya Bookstore at Little Tokyo. It’s a small-ish book both in physical size and the number of pages. 224 pages. Easy-peasy, right? Oh boy, it packs a punch.

Kenji is a young Japanese man who works as a tour guide for English-speaking tourists who want a slice of Tokyo’s red light district. He meets an overweight American named Frank who hires him for three days of fun. Kenji, at first, found him “typically American” although a bit on the weird side. Frank kept on displaying strange behavior which led Kenji to believe that his client is hiding something. At the same time, a vicious serial killer has been terrorizing the very streets they were walking on.

You see where this is going, right? You’d think the blurb itself would give a spoiler. Well, it’s a short book so what else is there to blurb without giving key points away? Asnwer: A LOT. The blurb itself is an effective marketing device. If you like dark, sexy, and generally messed up things in your reading rotation, you need this on your shelves.

It goes straight to the point. We experience the story through Kenji’s eyes. He shares his opinions of Americans, Western people in general. He talks about how he came into this kind of job and why he does it. He has a 16-year-old girlfriend who was familiar with his trade. Then Frank enters the picture. Depends on when and how Kenji asks, Frank offers conflicting information about himself – about his background, his job, and just random stuff. He could be jolly one moment and terrifyingly quiet the next. Kenji begins to have doubts whether to continue on with the transaction but Frank insisted he’s okay and all he really wanted is to have sex. Each day starts out as business as usual but it leaves Kenji even more scared of his client than ever.

(If you don’t already notice, I’m having a hard time talking about this book without giving things away. You just have to trust me and the blurb on this LOL.)

The author (and translator) doesn’t shy away from the more sensitive and gory things. I found that these kinds of books always have “THAT. ONE. SCENE!” that is shocking and will make you pause and catch your breath. The one here was pretty huge and I can’t believe how the characters bounce back from it. On the surface, it’s your straightforward shocking horror. But the title itself, “in the miso soup,” begs a deeper meaning. It was like saying that people are just like the bits of seaweed and tofu in the broth of miso. If you can get over the shocking scenes, think deeper about the events, the characters… even their very detailed descriptions.

If this were adapted to a movie, I’d watch it in a heartbeat. Murakami’s other work, Audition, was made into a movie and it is one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever watched. And it’s also one of my favorites. I’ve yet to read it though.

Rating: 4/5. Movie, おねがいします. 🙂

REVIEW: Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

Jane Steele / Lyndsay Faye

Reader, I liked it. I didn’t love it but it was okay.

Judging by the way it was marketed, I expected more killings. I got the gore but when you tell me that a character is a “serial killer”, I expect an impressive body count.

Jane Steele is a very loose retelling of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. As you know, that is my favorite book of all time. I try to reread that once every year but when I saw this, I figured this could take its place this year. In that regard, I did enjoy this book. It doesn’t hide the fact that it’s based on Eyre because Miss Steele herself is a fan of the book and refers to it from time to time. The Mr. Rochester of this book is named Thornfield, the name of the hall where Mr. Rochester lived. Author Lyndsay Faye went even further; the Bronte sisters went to Cowan Bridge School while Jane Steele went to Lowan Bridge, mixing in Jane Eyre’s alma mater, Lowood School. With me so far? Jane Steele also had an antagonistic aunt and then later becomes a governess for a little girl. She later quits her job once she recognizes her true feelings towards her employer only to come back to him. Looking at it like that, it follows the events of the source material closely.

(I should know. My NaNoWriMo 2010 entry was a Generation Kill fan fiction slash based on Jane Eyre.)

But that is where the similarities end.

If you’ve read Jane Eyre, you might have an easier time reading this. The writing is quite similar to the tone of Charlotte Bronte’s work. Very flowery words, very verbose and poetic. The pace is much faster because it doesn’t dwell on the little details. I’m very, very familiar with Jane Eyre so I read some parts of this book so fast that it was almost skimming. It does slow down by the time Jane Steele finds herself at Thornfield. It was like the author was trying to make it interesting without taking much from the original work. My bias was looking for counterparts of the original characters but hey, I can’t have them all.

Like I said, I enjoyed it. The author did a good job setting and maintaining the tone of the book. The language was beautiful. I connected with the characters easily. Clarke is a great character and I wish there was more of her. The romance between Mr. Thornfield and Jane Steele I felt came out of nowhere but I was satisfied in the end. But I expected more. At first, I thought this was my Eyre bias talking but my main issue with this book is the lack of serial killing. When I read the premise, the image in my mind was of dark and psychopathic murders, leaving bodies left and right. I didn’t get that. Jane was actually a good person, all of her murders were justified. It was unclear whether she gains satisfaction in her kills but overall, she sort of didn’t want to do it. Eh? The hook, “Reader, I murdered him,” was so misleading. I thought she was going to kill an important character but most of her kills were almost in self-defense.

In that sense, I was kind of disappointed. This had potential to be something like Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. But alas, my dear readers, it was not.

Rating: 3/5. I might still have to reread Jane Eyre after all.

Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train / Paula Hawkins

I love taking the train. I used to take three trains when I worked in Downtown Los Angeles. Now, I walk. Literally. It’s good that I get exercise but it definitely cut down my reading time. If you’ve been around here long enough, you would know that my favorite time to read is on a commute. On a train. I was a girl on the train. After a week or so, people’s faces start to look familiar; you notice their habits, note their choice of reading material. Even the activities outside the window become to seem routine. I couldn’t help but wonder about their stories. How would their day turn out? Will I see them again tomorrow?

Like a lot of people, Rachel takes the same commuter train every day to go to and from work. She follows the same schedule and sees the same people. She makes up stories starring these people she sees outside the train window, giving them names and crafting their day-to-day lives. She makes them familiar to her and adding to their tale becomes part of Rachel’s routine. “Jess” and “Jason” becomes that story. Rachel sees them living the life she wanted for herself. Until one day, no longer saw Jess having breakfast with Jason. She had gotten so attached to these characters – people – that this disturbance in the pattern prompts her to go as far as calling the police. Something was wrong… she just has to successfully explain what that is and why she came to that conclusion.

Rachel is an unreliable narrator. Half the time, I wanted to strangle her because she was so self-destructive. And she never learns. She had so many slip ups. One time, she’s doing well. Then the next page, she’s back to her old ways. And then she feels so sorry about it and wants to change only to go through the same cycle all over again. Most of the time, she wasn’t sure of what’s going on, of what she remembers. But she goes to tell people and the police about it anyway. They don’t really take her seriously and the one time that someone did, she fucks it all up again. I admit, I put down this book many times because Rachel was so frustrating. But no matter how questionable her behavior is, I couldn’t help but feel so sorry for her. She’s had a sad life and what’s sadder is that she’s not doing anything to help herself.

The book jumps timelines between Rachel’s version of the events and that of what happened to the victim. It also has different POVs, from narrators more reliable yet similarly annoying than Rachel. The reader is left to piece together these events to create a bigger picture. An avid mystery reader might predict the ending. However, the author left a nice twist at the very end that I personally didn’t expect.

Rating: 4/5. Don’t expect Gone Girl. This is not as intricate or confusing as that. But it is a quality read. I can’t wait for the movie even though they changed huge things about it. But… LUKE EVANS!