Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

After my last review book from Blogging For Books, I told myself that I was going to take a break and not request another one. I have so many other books left unread and those don’t have the “pressure” of reading and reviewing it within a certain amount of time. I was starting to feel boxed in and frankly, some of the titles available just wasn’t interesting me.

Until I saw Dark Matter by Blake Crouch in paperback on the list. I got this baby in the mail a couple of days before its release and I couldn’t be more thankful. I finished what I was reading as fast as I could. I knew that I was going to like this.

And I did. Oh boy, this was great. But not without flaws.

That book was intense. For a while. A total mindfck. At the beginning. Then it became something that I’m sure I’ve encountered before. Parts of this seemed so familiar but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Not that it’s a bad thing. It did not take away from my overall enjoyment of this book. In fact, it made it easier to follow. It’s best to go into this book knowing very little or nothing at all. Just be ready for anything. A quote in the book says is the best, “The most beautiful think we can experience is the mysterious.” Blake Crouch, sir. Thank you for taking us to this journey, pushing the limits of my own mind, and opening up so many possibilities.

But I am getting ahead of myself. We begin with Jason Dessen, a scientist in his late 30s living in Chicago with his wife and son. He’s a physics professor at a local college. The Dessens live a normal life, nothing special at all. But there was a time when it could have been special. Jason was well on his way to becoming a famous scientist. Daniela, his wife, was going to take the art world by storm. However, they instead started a family. They were content. Life was good.

Until Jason was abducted. “Are you happy with your life?” Those were the last words he hears before everything goes black. He then wakes up in a world that looks similar to his but is totally different. It had the same people but it’s a different life. He wasn’t the run of the mill physics professor anymore; he had awards in the field of science. Dani was there but their son was not. He had achieved all that he wanted. But did he really want this life over the one he had before he was kidnapped?

I’m struggling to describe the events of this book without giving out spoilers. You just have to go in blind. The premise alone is intriguing enough to have you picking up this book. But even with the obvious sci-fi thriller feel of this book, it was easy to follow. We follow in Jason’s POV and it’s an adventure from the first page to the last. I was rooting for Jason all the way and man, what a ride. Like I said above, the first half will mess with your brain. A certain suspension of disbelief is required of the reader but it’s not that hard to consider its possibility in reality. Everything was so intense. And then it kind of slows down in the second half once you get used to the circumstances. But it’s not any less powerful. The ending gives way to an unknown and to me, that is a scariest part of all.

This book explores the “what could have been” and “what else is out there”. I love this quote from the book:

We all live day to day completely oblivious to the fact that we’re a part of a much larger and stranger reality than we can possibly imagine.

It is so scary yet so human at the same time. We go by with our lives day to day, just minding our own business. But do you ever stop and think… what if I took the right turn instead of straight ahead? How would my life be right now if I did?

Rating: 4/5 stars. This can possibly be a great TV mini-series. Maybe by SyFy or FX.

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: Rad Women Worldwide, Written by Kate Schatz, Illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl

Beyonce has said that “girls run the world”. And I believe we do. We can be anything we want to be. If this list of women doesn’t inspire you, I don’t know what will.

I mentioned the great Beyonce. She is not in this book. But the great women who inspired her are featured here. I imagine future volumes would eventually include her and the rest of Destiny’s Child, maybe Hillary Clinton (regardless of what you think of her politically), Oprah, and Emma Watson too. Hey, maybe we can see 2ne1 too. A fangirl could dream.

This list has 40 great women from 30 different countries. Some of them are household names, some not really. But all of them impacted the world, empowered men and women, raised their voices and took action. They used their knowledge and talents to fight for change not just for women. We all know Malala Yousafzai who fought for education. A bullet to the head didn’t stop her from speaking out. Fe del Mundo, the first female who was accepted to the Harvard Medical School. A Filipina. She then devoted her entire life to children healthcare. Marta, a Brazilian futebol player who didn’t let poverty and her short stature from achieving greatness in the sport. And of course, my favorites Venus & Serena Williams who at 35 and 36, dominated this year’s Australian Open as runner-up and winner respectively. It boggles my mind why up to this day, they still have to fight to get the recognition they so truly deserve. There is absolutely no question that these sisters are already two of the best in history of sport.

The artwork in this book is intense. There ink drawings, black and white; some of them are just silhouettes. Their simplicity reflects somewhat of a subdued power, sort of a tribute to this amazing women and letting their actions speak for them. The descriptions in a form of essays are short but very well researched. They’re capsules of information but they are enough for the reader to realize how extremely amazing these women are.

I recommend this book to everyone, male or female, young or old. Maybe you’ll see yourself in these women and it’ll inspire you to do more. Who knows, maybe it’ll be you up there someday.

Rating: 5/5. I’ve never read something so empowering. Thank you, Blogging for Books, for the opportunity to read this and share it with others.

REVIEW: Ring by Koji Suzuki

Ring / Koji Suzuki

Ring / Koji Suzuki

Okay, we all know the drill. You watch a creepy video tape of a woman with long hair coming out of a well, walking closer and closer until she comes out of the TV itself. Throw in some static for effect, blinking lights if you must. And then you have seven days to live before you suffer a seemingly horrific death. Whether you watched the original Japanese or the Hollywood adaptation, you know how it goes, right?

Or do you.

This is one of the cases where I watched the movie (multiple times in two languages) before reading the book. Heck, I didn’t even know it was a book back when I first watched it. We all know Sadako, or Samara for you Hollywood types. The image of a long-haired girl dressed in white haunted our nightmares since this movie blew up. The static broadcast on the TV became a joke of sorts, “Oh, be careful. Sadako might come out of the TV.” But you can’t deny that it has scared you once or twice.

Going into this book, I thought I knew what was going to happen. After all, I watched the movie – the whole series – many times. But nope, this book still managed to surprise me. There are quite a few differences between book and film and I actually find the book more terrifying than the movie. With the movie, you have visuals to help you out, mood music (or lack thereof) to set the tone. In reading this book, you only had your imagination working for you. Even the almost deadpan delivery I’ve come to love from Japanese fiction helped with the overall horror of the book. A sense of gloom can be (almost) physically felt throughout this reading experience and if anything, that feeling gets worse and worse up to the end.

The book opens up with the mysterious death of a motorcycist on a random curb. With similar deaths across the city, authorities have chalked it up to heart failure. These people die with no apparent injury but with a terrorized facial expression. We follow a male protagonist in the book, Asakawa, Kazuyuki. He finds himself connected to these strange deaths because his niece is one of the victims. His investigation leads him to this seemingly innocent tape. After watching it, he is told he has seven days to save himself. But how?

Needless to say, it was a race against time. The author and translator did a great job conveying that sense of urgency Asakawa was feeling. I mean, the idea of knowing exactly when you’re going to die is terrifying. Knowing that there exists a way to prevent that adds on to the pressure. From the very beginning, you get this dark, unsettling, almost evil mood that doesn’t get any better. Truly, there was no way this book would lead to a happy ending. Asakawa shows the tape to his friend Ryuji so now, on top of everything he was going through, Asakawa had the burden of being responsible for his friend, if he were to die also.

The backstory of Sadako is still one of the best ones I’ve ever encountered. This is the reason why the origin story’s movie, Ring-0: Birthday, is one of my all-time favorite horror movies. Sadako is such a wounded soul. She experienced no happiness in her life when all she wanted was a mother’s love. If she can’t be happy, then no one will. There was more explanation about Sadako’s powers and it was delivered in a patient and precise way. Pair that with the trauma she experienced in life, it made for such a bone-chilling scare.

If you’re a fan of the movies and you’re waiting for Sadako to come out of the TV set, well… the book was pretty vague about that. Like I said, you can see what’s going on if you’re watching a movie but you read this only from one POV. Again, awesome writing from the author and translators, setting up that feeling that someone might be watching you. I legit got creeped out. It’s a shocker at every turn so even if you think you know the movie, the book is yet another beast.

I do have the rest of the series and I am looking forward to read all of them this year.

Rating: 5/5. I ended up enjoying both book and movie.

Review: You’re Saying it Wrong by Ross and Kathryn Petras

“You’re saying it wrong. It’s LeviOsa. Not LevioSAR.”

Yup. That was the first thing that came into mind when I read the title. Blogging for Books has this in their lineup so I didn’t hesitate to snatch it up. Thanks for sending it my way!

So… English. It is not my mother tongue. My English grammar, spelling, and pronunciation are far from perfect although I’ve seen and heard worse. Much, MUCH worse. I learned English outside the United States, in a classroom environment ever since nursery school. We had language classes for both English and Filipino, everyday, sometimes one after the other. It’s so embarrassing for me to commit English language errors and strive to better myself when I can. But I have to say, I knew how to correctly say about 90% of the words in this book.

I appreciated what this book was trying to do. The three-star rating that I gave is not because the books was “not good”. No, it was. Good, I mean. I found the authors’ humor and knowledge very enjoyable. A few times, they admit to making the same mistakes as everyone else. I liked that they included a short etymology per word. The most useful part of this book was the blue-paged inserts of mispronounced brand names and proper names. Surely, Youtube beauty gurus and booktubers could use that. (Seriously, take the time to look up how brands, shade names, and author names are pronounced. “I will completely butcher this,” is not an excuse.)

However, there are some words that I just don’t get why “most Americans” or “most English-speakers” mispronounce. Really. “Badminton”, “utmost”, “sherbet”? I mean, it’s spelled right there. WYSIWYG. Several entries explain the mispronunciation as “Americanization” where people add a letter or switch the spelling to make it sound or look “more” right. What? And it becomes so widely used that the dictionaries eventually take it for an acceptable, then, proper pronunciation. Well, why do we have dictionaries then?

And what’s with all the fancy French borrowed words? Not all people have the very basic knowledge of the French language, I get it. But I feel like that subtopic could be a book on its own. I actually understood the errors with the Italian words. They’re pretty much WYSIWYG also but we’re all just stubborn. Hah, as my foodie friend said, “Mascarpone sounds better with a Godfather accent that I will never have.” El-Oh-El.

Hyperforeignism is the term they used to describe the effort that English-speakers give to make borrowed words sound closer to their original pronunciation. And more often than not, they end up being so very wrong. I call it “trying to sound smart but you’re going to fail”. Well, not really but that was the thought running through my head as I was reading this book.

And the idioms. Oh goodness. “Nip it in the butt” — what the hell? I’m sorry but who makes that mistake? HOW can you make that mistake? I could only put down this book and shake my head at the reality that this is really a thing. I’ve never been more thankful for my English classes growing up.

I’m not saying that it’s American English being simple and lazy, that the speakers are lackadaisical. Language evolves. You have no idea how much grief I get with every Filipino/Tagalog vernacular that just doesn’t make sense or sounds so incredibly dumb. I just don’t get how a “what you see is what you get” gets to be said so differently. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Also, dictionaries are there as a guide for definition, usage, spelling, and pronunciation. If we go on and just make up our own spelling and pronunciation then why even bother with dictionaries?

Over all, I liked the beginning but it got tiresome as it went on. Call me a snob but it boggles my mind how people make these mistakes. If you are one of them, do yourself a favor and pick up this book. Refer to it from time to time.

Rating: 3/5. I still want that brand/name guide for Youtube people.

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.