Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakawa

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Haruki Murakami
pp 607

Exhausting!  Interesting, alleghorical, well-written and a good translation from the original Japanese, but reading this book was exhausting.  I read and read and read and felt like the bookmark never moved very far.  It's the story of a young married man, Toru, who is a pretty passive guy.  He has a law degree but doesn't work; all these crazy characters keep coming in and out of his life and he experiences them in a very passive way through most of the book, yet it is Toru that leads the action in the last 1/8 of the book and finally finds some personal power. The book begins with a missing cat, progresses to a missing wife, finds our main character hanging out in a dry well with nothing but a baseball bat for company and ends with a fairly ambiguous resolution. I can't say I liked this book but I'm glad I read it.  If you like puzzling over symbolism and trying to understand another culture through it's popular writers, then give this one a try.
Kim F                              

Blade of the Immortal: Volume 18: The Sparrow Net

by Hiroaki Samura, 270 pages

Rin's houseguests get themselves--and her--into trouble. And Manji's getting pretty tired of having bits of himself chopped off and sewn back on in the name of "science."

Uh oh. The doctor's gone off the deep end and left his humanity behind on the shore. And Isaku's next up on the "otter" list. You don't want to know what that means. I just hope, for his sake, that he passes the test.

Locke & Key: Volume 3: Crown of Shadows

by Joe Hill (story) and Gabriel Rodriguez (art), 144 pages

Villain Dodge finds one key only to lose another. But he /she still doesn't have the one he / she really wants. Now-fearless Kinsey makes friends (real ones) and talks back to her disintegrating mother, sweet little Bode stumbles on more keys and needs a bandage, and big brother Tyler fails once more to impress the girl he likes and gets fed up with forces trying to hurt his family.

Ooh! Sneaky, twisty goodness! It's fun trying to piece together all the little clues from the panels and dialogue, from the past and the present. Observant rereading is highly recommended! How many keys are there? What locks do they fit? What do they do? Where'd Dodge come from originally? How long has he / she been around? Who or what is pulling his / her strings? Questions, questions, questions.

Locke & Key: Volume 2: Head Games

by Joe Hill (story) and Gabriel Rodriguez (art), 151 pages

What if you could just reach into your (or somebody else's) head and suddenly know things (like how to make fettuccine alfredo) or forget things (like fear, or how to cry)? Keyhouse is full of power, just waiting to be unlocked. But if they don't want it used against them and the ones they love, the Locke children will have to make sure they don't let the keys fall into the wrong hands. This is when not knowing your enemy when he / she's standing right in front of you becomes a bit of a problem....

Eek! Dodge is scary! But he /she's not infallible, which is the most comfort the reader's going to get at this point. The giggles help, too. It's surprising how funny this series is, considering the dark themes and violent doings. But the humor just makes the characters that much more endearing and the villain that much scarier.

"Twenty Boy Summer" by Sarah Ockler

290 pages

Anna is about to leave her home in New York for a twenty-day vacation on the coast of California with her best friend Frankie's family. Frankie thinks it's time Anna had a summer romance, so she convinces Anna to make a pledge: meet a boy for each day they'll be in Zanzibar Bay, and thus almost guarantee a fling. What Frankie doesn't know, however, is that Anna has already had a fling--with Frankie's older brother, Matt, a year earlier. In fact, it was more than a fling; Anna and Matt were in love, but his sudden, tragic death tore him away from her as well as the rest of his family. Matt and Anna hadn't told Frankie about their relationship--they'd been waiting for the right time--and Anna has kept their secret to herself even after his death. She feels like it would hurt Frankie to know that they kept something so important from her, and Frankie is struggling enough as it is. Anna doesn't know how to tell Frankie that she doesn't want to meet a boy because that would mean forgetting about Matt. And how can she help her best friend move on if she can't do it herself?

I hadn't heard of this book before it got all kinds of press because the Republic School District banned it. After that, I was interested and had to read it (me and a lot of other people--take that, book banners!). The cover makes it look like a typical teen romance, but it is much much more than that. It's actually more about friendship than romantic love, and most of all about grieving. It examines how losing someone can change a person forever and how people learn to move on while keeping the memory of their loved one alive. A blurb on the cover claims that it will "break your heart and put it back together again," and I completely agree with that. Ockler is wonderful at developing characters; I really cared about them. We only spend a few chapters with Matt, but after seeing him through Anna's eyes I was devastated when he died. Sad as it is, it ultimately left me feeling inspired. I recommend it for everyone--if for nothing else, to spite the book banners :).

Friday, January 6, 2012

"My Name Is Marry Sutter" by Robin Oliveira

364 pages

Mary Sutter isn't exactly your average young woman in the mid-19th century. She's well-known in her hometown of Albany, New York, as the best midwife in the area, and she wants to become a doctor but she can't get a medical school to accept her. Headstrong as she is, she finds herself falling for the boy next door...problem is, he marries her twin sister. Then the Civil War breaks out, and nurses are needed in Washington DC. Mary answers the call, despite the fact that she falls short of the required age of 30 years. Nothing could have prepared Mary for the horrors she sees at the capitol, but she is finally able to begin training under the instruction of two surgeons. Family drama, however, threatens to stand in her way.

I found this book very interesting, as I'd heard a little about nurses during the Civil War but I didn't really know much about them. Still, I was a bit disappointed. I thought there was too much focus on the romantic drama (not one but TWO love triangles...yikes) and the writing seemed choppy at parts. Still, I thought it was entertaining and I might have even learned a thing or two. I'm always happy when I can do both at once.

"Awaken" by Katie Kacvinsky

309 pages

Maddie lives in a world where everything is done online. School, socializing, and shopping are all done virtually, so there's really no need to go out of the house. It's safer that way. Deep down, Maddie has often wondered if this is the best way to live. Questioning the status quo, however, caused her life to be nearly ruined a few years ago, so now she pushes those thoughts aside. Until she meets Justin, that is. He is fighting to bring people out of their isolation, and he wants Maddie to help him. Doing so would mean not only rebelling against the government and her family but also forcing herself to get over her fear of being exposed to the real world.

I really enjoyed "Awaken." It's one of the most convincing speculative fiction novels I've read. I could totally picture Western society eventually heading this way. Obviously, the warnings to our current digital-zombie culture are pretty heavy-handed, but it's a good setup nonetheless. It definitely got me thinking about how much time I spend "plugged in," and how great I always feel after spending time outside or just hanging out with friends. Maddie is an interesting character, as she has such a hard time distinguishing between what she really thinks and what has been indoctrinated to her by her family and the society she lives in. I think we can all relate to that a little bit. I wish there was more development of some of the secondary characters, though. Overall, I recommend it for the engaging story as well as food for thought about where our society is headed and what really matters in life.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Puppy Diaries

by Jill Abramson, 242 pages

As an obsessed dog lover, I read most of the new dog-centric memoirs when they come out. A story about a beautiful blonde golden retriever puppy named Scout sucked me in right away. The author is an editor at the New York Times, so she has access to all sorts of dog training experiences and advice from professionals. Scout gets into hilarious situations and familiar puppy problems arise but the author and her husband manage to raise a beautiful, well-mannered golden. Abramson justifies their purchase of a puppy from a breeder (rather than adopting a shelter or rescued dog) by claiming her husband was obsessed with the light blonde variant of British Goldens. I'm not sure that defense holds water, but as someone who is also a sucker for darling puppies, I can understand that weakness. (Five of the seven dogs we've had were rescued sight hounds.) I found one of the most interesting parts of the book were her comments about the current controversy about the different training methods of Cesar Millan (The Dog Whisperer on NatGeo) who primarily uses dominance and positive reinforcement or clicker training as shown by trainer Victoria Stilwell (It's Me or the Dog on Animal Planet). I lean toward the positive/reward training since it seems to work best for my dogs. So, all in all, if you like reading dog books by Jon Katz or Marley and Me, you will probably enjoy The Puppy Diaries.

Before I Go to Sleep

by S.J. Watson, 360 pages

This novel has an interesting premise: the main character is amnesiac: she doesn't remember anything of her life after she sleeps. Each morning she has to re-learn who she is and who the man sleeping beside her is. Think 50 First Dates with a sinister twist. As Christine finds out she has a secret doctor and begins to piece together her life through a daily journal, a pervasive sense of unease permeates the book. Though some aspects of the plot are telegraphed early, Christine's tense situation is enough to keep you reading to find out what will happen next. I thought the novel was a bit long and the character of Christine too trusting at times, but overall the sense of growing menace kept me going to the end.

Killing Floor

by Lee Child, 536 pages

Since Lee Child has become so popular, I thought I'd see what all the fuss was about. Killing Floor is the first of the Jack Reacher novels, and his character is similar to Jason Bourne: a killing machine with few scruples. Still, Jack Reacher does have a sort of moral compass which leads him to care for the good people at risk yet lets him kill the bad guys without much soul searching. The body count was pretty high and the action brutal, so I am not inclined to read the rest of the series even though several people I know recommend it. I might decide to read one of the newer ones to see what it's like, but for now, one is enough.

The Dresden Files

by Jim Butcher, total pages 1,201

I started reading the Dresden Files with Changes, the 12th in the series, then went back to the beginning with Storm Front. Because I knew "spoilers" from the most recent titles, some of the suspense was missing. However, I still found the earlier books interesting because I was seeing the beginning of relationships that span the series. Butcher writes urban fantasy (or as I call it fantasy noir) and the streets of his Chicago are dark indeed. Still, Harry Dresden, wizard for hire, has a smart mouth and a penchant for doing "the right thing" even if he knows he's going to be in big trouble. So far the series has had bad sorcerers, werewolves and vampires, not to mention the titular creatures from Ghost Story. I enjoy the fantasy universe that Butcher has created since he's twisted dark legends into new menacing shapes that haunt you even in broad daylight. And any book that references Star Trek, the Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and The Princess Bride all in the same chapter is right up my geeky alley. I'd put Butcher and Laurell K Hamilton at the top of my list of dark fantasy writers.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

"I Know I Am, But What Are You?" by Samantha Bee

239 pages

Samantha Bee, the Most Senior Correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, presents this collection of personal essays on topics ranging from her hatred of ham to her childhood crush on Jesus. Whether she's talking about the fact that strangers seem compelled to show her their genitals or the bizarreness of her former job as a Japanese anime character on a traveling children's show, she totally cracks me up. She shares so many personal stories and experiences that it's almost impossible to not relate to her in some way. I was pleased to discover that the humor that I love from her work on The Daily Show translates well onto the page.

Monday, January 2, 2012

"Triangles" by Ellen Hopkins

529 pages

"Triangles," Hopkins' first adult novel, alternates between the perspectives of three friends who are all facing a different kind of midlife crisis. Holly is filled with regret about her life as a stay-at-home mom with a workaholic husband. After losing sixty pounds, she distracts herself from her problems by flaunting her new body and eventually indulging in extramarital sex. Meanwhile, her friend Marissa is dealing with a severely handicapped, terminally ill daughter and a rebellious gay teenage son. Marissa's sister, Andrea, is a single mom who has vowed celibacy after yet another failed relationship...that is, until she learns of Holly's affair and turns into a shoulder to cry on--and then more--to Holly's spurned husband, whom Andrea has had a crush on for quite a while.

I've been disappointed with some of Ellen Hopkins' books but really liked others, so I wasn't sure what to expect with this adult one. If I had to sum up my feelings about it with one word it would be: eh. I just didn't really like any of the characters, and it's really difficult for me to like a book if I don't care about any of the people in the story. The only characters that made me feel anything at all were Marissa and Shelby, her handicapped daughter, but they didn't make up for the indifference I felt toward the other characters. Since it's written in the verse that has made Ellen Hopkins so popular, it moves really quickly, but I found the style distracting (as I have with some of her other books). I thought most of it was a bit predictable as well. Definitely not Hopkins' best effort, in my opinion.