Title: Battle Royale
Author: Takami Koushun
Number of Pages: 624 pages
Book Number/Goal: 7/10 for 2012
My Rating: 3.5/5

Amazon Summary: As part of a ruthless program by the totalitarian government, ninth-grade students are taken to a small isolated island with a map, food, and various weapons. Forced to wear special collars that explode when they break a rule, they must fight each other for three days until only one "winner" remains.

Review: While I had heard of Battle Royale for quite some time, I only found out what the plot was when I started hearing people compare The Hunger Games to it. For some reason, I had always thought it was a yakuza movie, possibly because I was confusing it with Battles Without Honor or Humanity. Anyway, when I saw people saying The Hunger Games was a ripoff of this, I was curious.

As it turns out, it's totally not. They both feature teenagers being forced to fight to the death by the government in a dystopian world, but they are very different. (And I do find it totally believable that Suzanne Collins was unaware of Battle Royale before writing The Hunger Games, since as I said, even being into Japanese media, I had no idea what it was about myself. It's not like someone saying they've never heard of Pokemon or something.)

Battle Royale takes place in a not-very-well-fleshed-out dystopian AU where Japan is the Republic of Greater East Asia, a totalitarian nation semi-closed off from the west. Every year fifty classes of junior high students are chosen to compete in "The Program", which involves them all fighting to the death. Unlike in The Hunger Games, where the fights are televised and it's a form of entertainment, The Program is all very hush-hush, though the winner is shown on TV at the end. Instead the purpose is simply to terrorise the citizens and keep them in place.

I found the world-building to be rather lacking, the overwhelming cast of characters (most of which had little to no characterisation) hard to keep track of, and the writing extremely clunky (I read what I think is the first translation, so I linked to the revised version in this post because perhaps that's better; however, I could tell from the way it read in English that the problem was not entirely with the translator and the original was bound to be just as bad), but it was still a good read and I did enjoy it.
Title: The Intuitionist
Author: Colson Whitehead
Number of Pages: 255 pages
Book Number/Goal: 20/50 for 2011
My Rating: 3.5/5

Jacket Summary: It is a time of calamity in a major metrolpolitan city's Department of Elevator Inspectors, and Lila Mae Watson, the first black female evelator inspector in the history of the department, is at the center of it. Lila Mae is an Intuitionist and, it just so happens, has the highest accuracy rate in the entire department. But when an elevator in a new city building goes into total freefall on Lila Mae's watch, chaos ensues. When Lila Mae goes underground to investigate the crash, she becomes involved in the search for the lost notebooks of Intuitionism's founder, James Fulton, and uncovers a secret that will change her life forever.

Review: So, on the jacket, it's called "sidesplittingly funny", and I don't know if I totally missed the humor or the person writing the cover copy just read it completely differently to me (or didn't read it at all), because I don't know what they're talking about. Anyway, it was definitely interesting, even if I couldn't totally get into the whole "in this universe elevators are the biggest thing ever" premise. I liked the intrigue, though was a little disappointed with the ending. I see a lot of people in reviews raving over Whitehead's prose, but I found his style really off-putting. It seems like it might be one of those love it or hate it things. Still, I'm interested in reading more by him.
Title: My Year of Meats
Author: Ruth L. Ozeki
Number of Pages: 366 pages
Book Number/Goal: 19/50 for 2011
My Rating: 2/5

Jacket Summary: Jane Takagi-Little, by trade a documentary filmmaker, by nature a truth seeker, is "racially half", Japanese and American, and, as she tells us, "neither here nor there..." Jane is sharp-edged, desperate for a job, and determined not to fall in love again.

Akiko Ueno, a young Japanese housewife, lives with her husband in a bleack high-rise apartment complext in a suburb of Tokyo. At night she lies awake, silently turning the pages of The Pillow Book, marveling at Sei Shounagon's deft, sure prose. Akiko is so thin her bones hurt, and her husband, an ad agency salaryman who wants her to get pregnant, is insisting that she put some meat on them--literally.

Ruth L. Ozeki's exuberant, shocking, mesmerizing novel opens with two women on opposite sides of the globe, whose lives cannot be further apart. But when Jane get a job, coordinating a television series whose mission is to bring the American heartland, and American meat, into the homes of Japan, she makes some wrenching discoveries--about love, meat, honor, and a hormone called DES. When Jane and Akiko's lives converge, what is revealed taps the deepest concerns of our time--how the past informs the present and how we live and love in this "blessed, ever-shrinking world".

Review: That summary sounds pretty horrible, and let me tell you, the book is not any better. If I had read that summary, I would not have read the book. But I read a review somewhere (I poked around at places I thought it might be and can't find anything anywhere, so I really don't know) that made it sound interesting, so I picked it up based on the review (and jacked summaries often sound horrid compared to the actual book). But really, the summary accurately reflects what the book is like.

There were plenty of things that bugged me (the angelic girl in a wheelchair who makes everyone a better person just by existing, and the multiple times hormones in meat cause men to get higher voices (estrogen: it doesn't work that way!) are two that come to mind), but the two biggest problems I had were the way Japan and Japanese people were consistently exotified and stereotyped and the way the book actually turned out to be about how every women just really wants a baby and needs children to be happy. Blargh.
Title: The Calcutta Chromosome
Author: Amitav Ghosh
Number of Pages: 306 pages
Book Number/Goal: 18/50 for 2011
My Rating: 2/5

Jacket Summary: It begins in a near-future New York City, witha low-level data analyst's investigation into the disappearance of L. Murugan--a driven eccentric who vanished from the steamy, overcrowded streets of 1995 Calcutta. From here, the story leaps backward and forward across one hundred years--from a teeming contemporary city of clashing cultures and hidden facs back to the laboratory of Ronald Ross, the British scientist who was led by weird, fortuitous coincidences to the groundbreaking discovery of how malaria is transmitted to humans. Alternately following the analyst Antar's search for Murugan--and Murugan's own obsessive pursuit of the truth behind Dr. Ross's remarkable findings--Ghosh brilliantly unveils an impossible experiment in controlled destiny protected by a powerful unseen society that moves the world in secret and in silence.

Review: I wish I had read this review of the book before picking it up myself, because it would have made it clear that this book is not for me. I found the story very slow going at first, and then eventually it picked up and was getting quite interesting, all the threads coming together, and then...it ends. With nothing resolved. Because apparently he's writing the book to give the reader the same experience as the people in the book, of not being able to get it all. But I do not want that. At all. I am not one to throw books across the room, but if I were, I would have thrown this. I do not read mysteries to get to the end and not have any resolution.
Title: Sea, Swallow Me
Author: Craig Laurance Gidney
Number of Pages: 199 pages
Book Number/Goal: 16/50 for 2011
My Rating: 2.5/5

Jacket Summary: Ancient folklore and modern myth come together in these stories by author Craig Laurance Gidney. Here are found the struggles of a medieval Japanese monk, seduced by a mischievous fairy, and a young slave who finds mystery deep within the briar patch of an antebellum plantation. Gidney offers readers a gay teen obsessed with his patron saint, Lena Horne, and, in the title story, an ailing tourist seeking to escape his troubles at a distant shore, but who never anticipates encountering an African seagod. Rich, poetic, dark and disturbing, these are tales not soon forgotten.

Review: Honestly I wasn't really impressed with this book. There were a few stories I really liked and the rest were just okay. Also, the copy I have is an ARC, so it's got a lot of mistakes, which hopefully were corrected in the final proof (the most annoying one was in the Japanese story, where Amaterasu was misspelled as Amaratsu throughout the story).

Note: My last post here was book 8/50 for 2011. Books 9-15 for me were a reread of the Harry Potter series, so I didn't bother writing reviews. I'm just skipping ahead here.
I'm way behind on the articles-- 2/20, both for the EpiDoc guidelines push I'm helping with-- but finished my fifth novel yesterday, which feels pretty great.

Short reviews of Cather's My Antonia, Byatt's The Children's Book, Grossman's The Magicians, Donoghue's Room, and Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle below the cut. )

Coming soon: academic article reviews (yes, really). Also: I ordered a Kindle, which I'm pretty excited about. Any thoughts on it from comm members?

crossposted to my journal
Title: Lost City Radio
Author: Daniel Alarcón
Number of Pages: 257 pages
Book Number/Goal: 3/50 for 2011
My Rating: 3.5/5

Jacket Summary: For ten years, Norma has been the on-air voice of consolation and hope for the Indians in the mountains and the poor from the barrios--a people broken by war's violence. As the host of Lost City Radio, she reads the names of those who have disappeared--those whom the furiously expanding city has swallowed. Through their efforts lovers are reunited and the lost are found. But in the aftermath of the decadelong bloody civil conflict, her own life is about to forever change--thanks to teh arrival of a young boy from the jungle who provides a cryptic clue to the fate of Norma's vanished husband.

Review: I just didn't find this all that interesting. It seemed like he was always building things up like there would be some great reveal or intrigue and there just never was. It's not that I don't like books where everyone is ordinary and nothing surprising happens, but this made me feel like there was supposed to be something surprising and it was all just predictable and ordinary instead.
Title: The History of White People
Author: Nell Irvin Painter
Number of Pages: 496 pages
Book Number/Goal: 2/50 for 2011
My Rating: 4.5/5

Amazon Summary: Who are white people and where did they come from? Elementary questions with elusive, contradictory, and complicated answers set historian Painter's inquiry into motion. From notions of whiteness in Greek literature to the changing nature of white identity in direct response to Malcolm X and his black power successors, Painter's wide-ranging response is a who's who of racial thinkers and a synoptic guide to their work. Her commodious history of an idea accommodates Caesar; Saint Patrick, history's most famous British slave of the early medieval period; Madame de Staël; and Emerson, the philosopher king of American white race theory. Painter reviews the diverse cast in their intellectual milieus, linking them to one another across time and language barriers. Conceptions of beauty (ideals of white beauty firmly embedded in the science of race), social science research, and persistent North/South stereotypes prove relevant to defining whiteness. What we can see, the author observes, depends heavily on what our culture has trained us to look for. For the variable, changing, and often capricious definition of whiteness, Painter offers a kaleidoscopic lens.

Review: This was an interesting book, but I often felt like I was slogging through a textbook trying to read it (especially the early chapters), so I kept setting it down and it actually took me several months to finally finish. I just didn't find the writing style engaging at all, otherwise I would probably have given if five stars.

But it was interesting, and I learned a lot of things about famous people of the past (none of them good) that I didn't know before. It was also interesting to see how little anti-immigrant rhetoric has changed. A lot of things people were saying about Irish, Italian, Eastern European, Jewish, etc. immigrants is pretty much word for word what people say about Latin@ immigrants today. A lot of "oh noes, the right people aren't having enough babies and the wrong people are having too many!" and that sort of thing. Except it wasn't Those Brown People who were going to destroy the White Race, is was Those Other Inferior White People.

Also, while this book is called The History of White People, it's very US-centric. She traces things from Europe to the US, but once she gets to the US, she really never talks about whiteness elsewhere for the rest of the book.
Title: Shizuko's Daughter
Author: Kyoko Mori
Number of Pages: 214 pages
Book Number/Goal: 49/50 for 2010
My Rating: 5/5

Jacket Summary: "Your mother would be very proud..." Yuki Okuda heard these words when she was achieving in school, excelling in sports, even when she became president of the student council. And she could always imagine the unexpressed thought that followed: "...if your mother hadn't killed herself." But Shizuko Okuda did commit suicide, and Yuki had to learn how to live with a father who didn't seem to love her and a stepmother who treated her badly. Most important, she had to learn how to live with herself: a twelve-year-old girl growing up alone, trying to make sense of a tragedy that made no sense at all...

Review: I liked this a lot. I kept feeling surprised at it for some reason and finally I realised why. It felt very normal in a way I am not sure I've ever seen in a book about Japan written in English (as in, not translated from Japanese). Even when the author isn't white, if they're writing for an English-speaking audience, there's often a tinge of exoticism (sometimes more than a tinge), but there wasn't any of that here at all. Sadly, the cover illustration tries to make up for that by showing a girl in kimono, despite the fact that the book is set in the '70s and the only people ever mentioned wearing kimono are Yuki's grandparents, and her father and stepmother at their wedding ceremony.

One thing that bugged me was that there was this chapter where she seems to totally have a crush on this girl and I thought that's where the story was going, especially since later she still has no interest in guys and this is pointed out several times. But then later it turns out that she was just ~damaged~ from her father's betrayal and didn't want to fall in love, and then she does and is happily heterosexual.
Title: Skeleton Man
Author: Joseph Bruchac
Number of Pages: 114 pages
Book Number/Goal: 47/40 for 2010
My Rating: 5/5

Summary: When Molly's parents don't return after a trip, she is placed in the care of a mysterious "great uncle" who's appeared out of nowhere. Everyone else believes his story, but Molly knows something isn't right. Soon she becomes convinced that he is the Skeleton Man, a monster from one of the old Mohawk stories her dad used to tell her. With the help of a rabbit who guides her in her dreams, she begins to make plans to escape and rescue her parents.

Review: This is a super short book, but I really enjoyed it. The story is pretty creepy (both the retold tale of the Skeleton Man that Molly relates as well as what happens to her in the present) and I really liked Molly. I also liked how matter-of-factly Mohawk culture was treated.
Title: The Dollhouse Murders
Author: Betty Ren Wright
Number of Pages: 149 pages
Book Number/Goal: 44/40 for 2010
My Rating: 3.5/5

Jacket Summary: It was just an old dollhouse. Hidden away in the attic--collecting dust. Amy didn't know that the dollhouse held a secret. A deadly secret that hadn't been talked about in years. And now, the dolls have decided that Amy should be the one to know the truth. The truth about the night of the murder...

Review: First off, the writing in the actual book is way better than the crappy summary on the back cover. XD I grabbed this off of BookMooch because when I asked on a bookfinder community about another book about creepy dolls that I remembered liking as a kid (Behind the Attic Wall), someone mentioned this one as well. The Dollhouse Murders was written in the early '80s, same as Behind the Attic Wall, but I never came across it as a kid. I wish I had, as I would have enjoyed it a lot. I enjoyed it as an adult, too.

There is a subplot about Amy's sister Louann, who has some sort of mental disability (only specified as "brain damage"), and at first I was extremely hesitant about it, but I think overall it was handled pretty well. Over the course of the book, Amy realises that her sister can do more than Amy and her mom have assumed and starts to realise that it's a good thing for Louann to have her own interests and friends and to eventually have her own life. While it is Amy's POV and obviously framed as an abled person learning a lesson about disability, Louann herself was as well-rounded as any of the other supporting characters and felt like a person, not just an object to teach Amy a lesson. Definitely better than I might have expected for a thirty-year-old children's book.

I was less happy about the murder plot. In general the mystery was badly done. This is better as just a ghost story than a mystery, because the real killer turns out to be the groundskeeper, who they had "always been generous to" until he randomly decided to kill them because that's just what the help does, I guess. Yay, classism!

Title: Ties That Bind, Ties That Break
Author: Lensey Namioka
Number of Pages: 154 pages
Book Number/Goal: 45/40 for 2010
My Rating: 4/5

Jacket Summary: Third Sister in the Tao family, Ailin has watched her two older sisters having their feet bound. In China in 1911, all girls of good families follow this ancient practice, which is also an extremely painful one. Ailin loves to run away from her governess and play games with her male cousins. Knowing she will never run again once her feet are bound, she refuses to follow this torturous tradition. As a result, the family of her intended husband breaks their marriage agreement. As she enters adolescence, Ailin finds that her family, shamed by her decision, will no longer support her. Chinese society leaves few options for a single woman of good family, but with bold conviction and an indomitable spirit, Ailin is determined to forge her own destiny.

Review: I enjoyed this. It reminded me a lot of many turn-of-the-century girls' stories I read as a kid, like Anne of Green Gables and stuff.
Title: How Tia Lola Came to Visit Stay
Author: Julia Alvarez
Number of Pages: 147 pages
Book Number/Goal: 43/40 for 2010
My Rating: 3/5

Jacket Summary: When Miguel's Tia Lola comes from the Dominican Republic to Vermont to help out his Mami, Miguel is worried that his unusual aunt will make it even more difficult to make new friends. It's been hard enough moving from New York City and Leaving Papi behind. Sometimes he wishes Tia Lola would go back to the island. But then he wouldn't have the treats she's putting in his lunch box, which he's sure helped him make the baseball team. And she really needs his help to learn English so she doesn't use all the words she knows at once: "One-way -caution-you're-welcome-thanks-for-asking." So Miguel changes his wish to a new one, and he finally even figures out a clever way to make it come true.

Review: This is a kids' book and while it's cute and I enjoyed it well enough, it's not really one of those kids' books that's terribly enjoyable for an adult. At least not to me.
Title: Joou No Hyakunen Misshitsu (God Save the Queen)
Author: Mori Hiroshi
Number of Pages: 429 pages
Book Number/Goal: 5/5 for 2010
Book jacket summary: In 2113, Michru and Roidy forcibly landed on a strange land and lost their way. One night, they followed the music Roidy heard and saw a mystical elderly man. The man told them of a city ahead and if they wanted to be admitted, they needed to tell the keeper they were guided by the god and wanted to see the queen. When they went to the isolated city in the forest, where people never died in a hundred years, a murder happened. The truth lay behind the history of the city, the origin of the queen and the residents and the past of Michru.
Review: I love secret, intrigue and slow reveal so I am deeply attracted by this book. The author successfully creates an unsettling and creepy atmosphere , and the narrator knew much more than the readers but not annoying. The crime itself is not complex, but the reveal still seems surprising. It encourages me to find his other books.
Title: Kuro To Cha No Gensou  (Black & Tan Fantasy)
Author: Onda Riku
Number of Pages: 591 pages
Book Number/Goal: 4/5 for 2010
Review: Four friends met again a dacade after geaduation and went for a trip. In the journey, their secret were revealed and the past mysteries came into light one by one. It was told in the point of view from each character one by one. I I really enjoy this book. The characters are engaging, their complicated relationship intriguing and the the slow reveal of mysteries surprising yet reasonable. My only complaint is that it seems to focus too much on a character.
Title: Eye Killers
Author: A. A. Carr
Number of Pages: (optional) 344
Book Number/Goal: 3 of 5 in this year
Summary on Amazon.com: Not only is young Melissa Roanhorse in constant conflict with her alcoholic mother, she's also been chosen as the new bride of Falke, one of the undead who is just awaking from a long sleep in the dry New Mexican climate-a selection that does not sit well with Falke's other two consorts, Elizabeth and Hanna. After her first bite with Falke, Melissa erupts at school and then disappears. With the help of the girl's grandfather, Michael Roanhorse, her teacher, Diana Logan, sets out to find her. But if the old man is to save his granddaughter, he must also save himself by remembering the songs and ways of his people that he has long forgotten.
Review: The book is a bit low at the beginning, and it only grabs me at the middle. I begine to feel for Michael. The reimagining of vampire in Navajo mythology is fascinating, with the hint of their complicated relationship. Michael is so determined to save his granddaughter, and I love his journey to get through the mystery. My only regret is that Diana is white. It will be better if she is a native American too.
Title: Things Fall Apart
Author: Chinua Achebe
Number of Pages: (optional) 148
Book Number/Goal: 2 of 5  to be read in this year

Review: I love the unsentimental overview of Nigerian life before colonalization. Okonkwo was a hard man, whose greatest fear is of perceived weakness. His tragedy is caused by this fault, yet compunded by the invasion of colonialism and drove him to his end. The writers manages to make Okonkwo sympathetic yet critical of him, and the story has a tone of folklore just before the white come, which fit. Achebe is a good writer and his talent already shows in his first book.
Title: Mokuyou Kumikyoku (Thursday Suite)
Author: Onda Riku
Number of Pages: 247 pages
Book Number/Goal: 41/40 for 2010
My Rating: 5/5

Jacket Summary: It's been four years since author Shigematsu Tokiko committed suicide. As they do every year, five women who were close to Tokiko gather at Nightingale House to remember her. Eriko writes non-fiction, Naomi writes popular fiction, Tsukasa writes literary fiction, Eiko is an editor, and Shizuko works for a publishing house. But a mysterious message turns their peaceful conversation into a storm of accusations and confessions. Did Tokiko really commit suicide, or was it murder...?

Review: Aaaages ago I was browsing tapes at the video store and this movie sounded interesting. I saw it was based on a book and thought I'd rather read the book than watch the movie, so I bought the book and then years and years passed and I never read it. Well, the other day I wanted a small book I could stick in my pocket while I was out running errands, and Japanese books are great for that, so I grabbed it off the shelf. I can't believe I took so long to get around to reading it, because it was really good! It was a bit of a slow starter, but I got really sucked in after a while and found it very hard to put down.

It's really not a traditional mystery at all, but there's a lot of intrigue and reveals, which I always like. Also, wow, this book passes the Bechdel Test like nobody's business. A lot of books about women still focus on them talking about guys all the time, but out of almost 250 pages I think there were maybe five pages tops that were about men. There was one convo about a male relative and one about a guy one of the women had been set up with (which was a hilarious convo, because she was talking about how she hates guys who think they're so feminist and awesome and say they split the housework with their wives when all they do is empty the trash occasionally and cook once in a while).

Anyway, I really enjoyed this and will definitely be looking for more books by her. She's written a ton and I'm sad to see that not a single one has been translated into English.
torachan: (Default)
([personal profile] torachan Nov. 6th, 2010 02:54 am)
S, so apparently I forgot to crosspost anything here since the beginning of May...? D: I haven't read a ton of books this year, but it says here my last post was books 6-8 and I just posted book 34 on my journal, so it's more than I want to crosspost in whole here. Instead, here's a list of links to the reviews in my journal (along with some basic info) for those interested, and I will try to be good about crossposting in future.

Books 9-34 behind the cut! )
Title: Tooth and Nail.
Author: Ian Rankin.
Number of Pages: 304.
Genre: Crime.
Book Number/Goal: 43 of 75 (minimum).
Review: Here.

Title: Strip Jack.
Author: Ian Rankin.
Number of Pages: 269.
Genre: Crime.
Book Number/Goal: 44 of 75 (minimum).
Review: Here.

Title: Silver Phoenix.
Author: Cindy Pon.
Number of Pages: 338.
Genre: Fantasy.
Book Number/Goal: 45 of 75 (minimum).
Review: Here.

Title: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
Author: N.K. Jemisin.
Number of Pages: 412.
Genre: Fantasy.
Book Number/Goal: 46 of 75 (minimum).
Review: Here.

Title: Oryx and Crake.
Author: Margaret Atwood.
Number of Pages: 374.
Genre: Speculative fiction.
Book Number/Goal: 47 of 75 (minimum).
Review: Here.

Title: Wild Seed.
Author: Octavia Butler.
Number of Pages: 320.
Genre: Speculative fiction.
Book Number/Goal: 48 of 75 (minimum).
Review: Here.

Title: The Haunting of Hill House.
Author: Shirley Jackson.
Number of Pages: 208.
Genre: Horror.
Book Number/Goal: 49 of 75 (minimum).
Review: Here.
Title: Rainbow Boys, Rainbow High, and Rainbow Road
Author: Alex Sanchez
Number of Pages: ~250 pages each
Book Number/Goal: 6-8/30 for 2010
My Rating: 3.5/5

This trilogy focuses on three boys, Nelson, Kyle, and Jason, following them through their last year of high school and the summer after. Alex Sanchez is really not a great writer. His prose is often clunky and cliched and the characters sound more like someone's idea of how Kids Today talk rather than real kids. But his stories are still engaging and I hope he keeps churning out books about queer kids for years to come because it's really a genre that needs to be bigger.

I wish there wasn't so much casual, unchallenged misogyny and I was uncomfortable with the repeated use of the word tranny when the boys met a trans girl (I think it's entirely plausible that they would use it, but I wish there had been someone to say it's not okay) and it would be nice if there were people other than whites and latinos in his books, overall they're enjoyable. And very quick reads.

In other news, I've lowered my goal for the year from 50 to 30. :( No way am I going to get 50 at this point, but hopefully 30 is still doable.


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