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Review – Her Sweetest Downfall August 3, 2012

Posted by thehypermonkey in 3 stars, Paranormal Romance.
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Title: Her Sweetest Downfall

Series: The Forever Girl Journals

Author: Rebecca Hamilton

Publisher: Immortal Ink Publishing

Publication Date: July 19,  2012

ASIN: B008NAFU9A

Available at: Amazon

Summary:

Ophelia is on a quest to find out what led to the disappearance of her mother. But what does the fairy tales her mother told her as a child have to do with it? And do they have any truth to them? Could there really be vampiric Cruor and fairylike Ankou? Could her mother still be alive?  Ultimately Ophelia will have to decide how much she is willing to sacrifice not only for herself and the man she loves, but for the fate of mankind.

Review: (Some spoilers.)

I love the cover of this short 94 page novella. It’s gorgeous! So yes, I do judge a book by its cover and I did like this book. It was exciting and romantic.

It begins with Ophelia in the service of the Lady Karina as a maid. She’s sent on an errand and ends up in the hands of Ethan. He helps her understand that the mark her bears is the sign that she is a member of an elite race. This race is meant to save the world from a cruel faction who is hellbent on genocide.

Ophelia was very likable despite being so guarded. In fact, I liked her because she was so guarded. She was tough and, except for one glaring moment, she had all her wits about her. The one glaring moment came towards the end. She decided to lead Queen Callista away from Ethan and Lenore despite the fact that the Cruor have heightened senses? How could she forget that? I can only suppose it’s because she was a newborn.

Ethan wasn’t my favorite male lead. He was likable enough. I just couldn’t swoon over him. Mostly because he had this big secret over Ophelia that was never revealed. Maybe that’s a lead for another story or that was something from another book, but it irritated me.

The book had plenty of action. From the moment Ophelia was sent on her errand into the woods until the very last few pages, things were constantly in motion.

There was a strange point in the book where Robert was promised something big by Ethan. This promise led to Robert’s help in Ophelia’s introduction to the Maltorim’s asylum where Queen Callista resides. The promise was very mysterious and seemed to dangle in front of the reader like a carrot to a donkey but nothing ever came of it.

The magical races in this book are inventive and creative. Among them are the Ankou that shepherd Mort’s (dead souls) and are a little like fairies. Then there are the Cruor which are like vampires. There are also the  dual-breeds which the Maltorim’s are determined to annihilate.

On the whole this book was a good if not great read. I’ll definitely look for the other books in this series.

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Review – The Devotion of Suspect X March 22, 2012

Posted by thehypermonkey in 5 stars, Foreign, Mystery/Thriller.
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The Devotion of Suspect X

by Keigo Higashino

Yasuko Hanaoka kills her ex-husband. Her next door neighbor and a brilliant mathematician, Ishigami helps her cover up the crime and allude the police. Next comes a cat and mouse game as they try to escape the suspicion of not only Detective Kusanagi but Dr. Manabu Yusawa, a physicist and college friend of Ishigami.

This book was original and it had flair. The characters were real and had flavor. They were all very 3-D.

The plot kept me guessing every which way. I never knew what was going to happen next. Ishigawa was the most brilliant by far. I’ve never come across a character like him in all my reading days.

The climax was by far the most surprising and it tied everything in nicely. It certainly didn’t disappoint me and it left me gasping! If you decide to read a thriller this book will definitely give you thrills!

Review – Woman in the Dunes March 20, 2012

Posted by thehypermonkey in 5 stars, Foreign, Literature.
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Woman in the Dunes

by Kobo Abe

 In a remote seaside village, Niki Jumpei, a teacher and amateur entomologist, is held captive with a young woman at the bottom of a vast sand pit where, Sisyphus-like, they are pressed into shoveling off the ever-advancing sand dunes that threaten the village.

** warning this review contains some spoilers**

A Goodreads review said it best it’s a “novel of erosion – erosion of resolve, erosion of morality, erosion of sanity”.

While Jumpei is held captive with the woman at the bottom of the sand pit, he devises every means of escape he can. None of them come to fruition. Ultimately he is trapped with her and slowly admits defeat in an ever winding loop of despair.

He also ends up in a sexual relationship with the woman. This, despite the fact that he has every intention of leaving her the first chance he gets. It’s quite out of character for him which leads to the “erosion of morality.” He also ends up in even worse situations which lends itself even more to the theme of “erosion of morality theme.

It’s not a cheerful book, but it’s a very good book. You are left wondering if there are certain things in life you have no choice but to accept. You are left wondering at the futility of things you cannot change.

So while I can’t recommend this book if you’re feeling down, I do recommend this book as an excellent read if you’re in a mood for a good think. It’s something I think everyone can relate to. I believe we’ve all felt the defeat of static of things things that seem unchanging despite all that we might do. Abe does an excellent job of portraying this.

Review – Timeless March 18, 2012

Posted by thehypermonkey in 5 stars, Paranormal, Steampunk.
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Timeless 

by Gail Carriger

Alexia Tarabotti, Lady Maccon, has settled into domestic bliss. Of course, being Alexia, such bliss involves integrating werewolves into London High society, living in a vampire’s second best closet, and coping with a precocious toddler who is prone to turning supernatural willy-nilly. Even Ivy Tunstell’s acting troupe’s latest play, disastrous to say the least, cannot put a damper on Alexia’s enjoyment of her new London lifestyle.

Until, that is, she receives a summons from Alexandria that cannot be ignored. With husband, child, and Tunstells in tow, Alexia boards a steamer to cross the Mediterranean. But Egypt may hold more mysteries than even the indomitable Lady Maccon can handle. What does the vampire Queen of the Alexandria Hive really want from her? Why is the God-Breaker Plague suddenly expanding? And how has Ivy Tunstell suddenly become the most popular actress in all the British Empire?

I was sad to learn that this is the last book of the series, but if ever was there a series to go out with a bang then this one was it! There are surprises in store in the end! I won’t go into them for fear of spoiling the story, but I had a really fun time.

Prudence, Alexia’s child, was adorable and I’m not generally a fan of little people. She was precocious without being bratty. She also had intriguing powers and idiosyncrasies.  It was quite enjoyable just to read about her. I think that Carriger is doing a series about Prudence sometime in the future and that should be fun.

Alexia was her indubitable self, strutting out her irrefutable logic in the face of each crisis at every turn. Even if it was done before I didn’t get tired of reading about it.

Biffy was further developed in this story and how I loved that he was. He was always one of my favorite characters. I won’t go into those developments. I think it’s best I leave those surprises to those who will read the book unsaid.

This was a great read. It had me wondering what on earth was going on and where the story was going. It kept me reading until the late hours of the night, anxious to know what would happen next. It had me laughing. It had my heart in my throat. All in all, a really wonderful book.

Review – Life in the Cul-de-Sac March 13, 2012

Posted by thehypermonkey in 4.5 stars, Foreign, Literature.
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Life in the Cul-de-Sac

by Senji Kuroi

Life in the Cul-de-Sac is considered “one of the most important Japanese novels of the last two decades” and is the winner of the Tanizaki Prize. It’s a series of interlacing stories about families who live in a cul-de-sac. At first the stories don’t seem to be connected but then the connection becomes more obvious even if it’s a bit tenuous at times. It still makes for a strong story as it proves that this is a modern kind of “Japanese floating world” versus the traditional group-ethic.

The families are insulated in their own worlds yet they touch upon each other in meaningful ways. They’re interleaved together in a mesh of humanity that aches for understanding. The women are the strongest voices in the stories. Ultimately they’re the strongest characters in the book.

In “The Door Across The Street”, Shizuko Takigawa needs to keep things unchanged and to stand up for what she wants. In “Night Guest”, Masayo Yasunaga aches to be free of the traditional role her life’s put her in.

Even though the women resonated within me the loudest the men did have a say. In “Toy Room”, you find Fusao Oda aching for days gone by for example.

Each character went through the aches and pains of every day life. Yet many had a nobility and/or a poignancy I found admirable and touching. They were real people going through very real problems and I could relate to them on a very human level.

You can see why this book won the Tanizaki Prize. I hope to read more books by Senji Kuroi. He’s a masterful storyteller.

Review – Some Prefer Nettles March 11, 2012

Posted by thehypermonkey in 3 stars, Foreign, Literature.
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Some Prefer Nettles

by Junichrio Tanizaki

The conflict between traditional and modern Japanese culture is at the heart of this novel. Kaname is a smug, modern man living in a modern marriage. He gamely allows his wife to become the lover of another man, an act that does not cure the profound sadness at the heart of their relationship. So Kaname gradually retreats into the protection of traditional rituals, attitudes and tastes, eventually making love to Ohisa, his father-in-law’s old-fashioned mistress, as he abandons the modern world entirely. The novel’s other characters, including Kaname’s wife, his lover, his father-in-law, and even the cities in which they live, all symbolize the modern and ancient ways of life in Japan. Tanizaki’s characteristic irony, eroticism, and psychological undertones make Some Prefer Nettles an exceptional and compelling read.

The synopsis is somewhat misleading. Kaname doesn’t, in fact, “make love to Ohisa”. He simply spends more time with his father-in-law and his mistress.

What it is, is a fascinating insight into the psychology of the mindset of the Japanese mentality of that era as Kaname and his wife, Misako deliberate over the act of divorce. Kaname is of the “Tokyo” style and wishes to cause the least amount of inconvenience to all parties. So they choose to wait until the moment is most “opportune”.

In reality, it seems as though his heart is not made up about the parting of ways with Misako. It doesn’t seem as though Misako is entirely sure either.

I waffled between being intrigued over their dilemma and being frustrated over their indecision. What could be construed as deliberation over a very monumental decision, seemed to also be a weakness and a profound shortcoming in Kaname. So I was at once mesmerized by their dilemma and then in another moment frustrated by it.

On the whole, even though it was well written, I found it a very unsatisfying and unsettling read. I didn’t enjoy it and I wouldn’t truly recommend it for anyone looking for a breezy Sunday afternoon read. If you’re looking for insight into how a Japanese man tries to transition from traditional Japan to modern Japan then this is the book for you. Otherwise I’d be cautious about reading it.

Review – Hotel Iris March 9, 2012

Posted by thehypermonkey in 4 stars, Foreign.
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Hotel Iris

by Yoko Ogawa

(also available in paperback and NOOK)

Hotel Iris is a small hotel on an resort island in Japan owned by a Mother and a 17-year-old daughter named Mari. Mari strikes up an affair with “the translator”, a middle-aged man. This novella is about their forbidden and sometimes violent love.

Mari’s mother is very controlling and I thought that this affair was also about Mari’s way of rebelling. Mari’s father also died at a very young age, so you can’t help but feel that maybe she has “daddy issues”.

Either way, the tale is a good one. It’s sultry and tantalizing, as well as poignant and sweet.

I liked the way Mari never refers to her lover by name. She constantly refers to him as “the translator”. In this way she’s constantly distancing herself from him, despite the love affair they’re engaged in and the feelings she professes she has for him.

Despite the fact this story was about a love affair, it didn’t completely center on their sex life. In fact it played a somewhat minor role. It’s there but only in context as the basis of their relationship.

The book surprised me in that I enjoyed it a lot more then I thought I would. I’m not a fan of romance of any genre but Ogawa did a masteful job of relaying her message in as tasteful a manner as possible.

Review – In the Miso Soup March 8, 2012

Posted by thehypermonkey in 5 stars, Mystery/Thriller.
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In the Miso Soup

by Ryu Murakami

Kenji is a tour guide of the steamy Tokyo nightlife. His latest customer is Frank who he suspects to be the killer of a prostitute.

This book is a wild ride into the seamy side of Tokyo’s sex industry. The book takes on a surreal edge once Frank gets a hold of Kenji as a client. Between the nightlife and Frank’s stories of his childhood, things get a little strange. Still, I was enthralled.

Frank is a fascinating antagonist who is at once scary as he is mesmerizing. You want to despise him. You’re terrified of him. Yet at the same time you felt for him and his dark past.

Kenji is sympathetic and is totally realistic as a protagonist. His girlfriend, Jun, helped him regain ground in an increasingly dark world.

Even though you know that Frank is the killer, it doesn’t make this one bit less thrilling. There’s still the element of the unknown as to what Frank’s actions will be, how the story will end.

The story was also masterfully done. The characters were well fleshed out. The plot was well developed. The climax was well done. It wasn’t an American ending by any means, but it was well told nonetheless. You still got the sense of what would happen from what you knew of the characters.

If you’re looking for a good thriller, you don’t have to look far.

Review – Sayonara, Gangsters March 6, 2012

Posted by thehypermonkey in 3.5 stars, Foreign, Literature.
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Sayonara, Gangsters

by Genichiro Takahashi

(not available on Kindle)

Sayonara, Gangsters is strangely enough, about a poet named Sayonara, Gangsters which is set in a futuristic and dsytopic society. It’s a bizarre and tragic journey into his life as a poetry teacher and his life with his lover Song Book.

They inevitably run into the Gangsters. The Gangsters are a group of homegrown terrorists that are more like heroes. They’ve been put on pedestals and legends surround them.

The book itself is unceasingly bizarre, vague, and unfocused. More often then not it’s nonsensical. Making you wonder what it’s really about. Perhaps if I were a better educated reader I’d see past its many layers and come away with a greater understanding of the book. Instead I came away with a rather confused countenance.

In the end, it was simply a disquieting book that left me unsatisfied. I will say that, for the most part, the ride was pleasant as the lyrical nature of Takahashi’s style of writing lent a rarefied air.  Still, I didn’t feel it was worth the money I spent on it.

Review – 1Q84 March 4, 2012

Posted by thehypermonkey in 5 stars, Foreign, Literature.
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1Q84

by Haruki Murakami

(also available in hardcover and on NOOK)

The year is 1984, but not for long. Aomame, on her way to meet a client–the gravid implications of which only come clear later–sits in a taxi, stuck in traffic. On a lark, she takes the driver’s advice, bolts from the cab, walks onto the elevated Tokyo expressway, descends an emergency ladder to the street below, and enters a strange new world.

In parallel, a math teacher and aspiring novelist named Tengo gets an interesting offer. His editor has come upon an entry for a young writer’s literary prize, a story that, despite its obvious stylistic drawbacks, strikes a deeply moving chord with those who’ve read it. Its author is a mysterious 17-year-old, and the editor proposes that Tengo quietly rewrite the story for the final round of the competition.

So begins Haruki Murakami’s magnus opus, an epic of staggering proportions. As the tale progresses, it folds in a deliciously intriguing cast of characters: a physically repulsive private investigator, a wealthy dowager with a morally ambiguous mission, her impeccably resourceful bodyguard, the leader of a somewhat obscure and possibly violent religious organization, a band of otherworldly “Little People,” a door-to-door fee collector seemingly immune to the limits of space and time, and the beautiful Fuka-Eri: dyslexic, unfathomable, and scarred.

Aomame names her new world “1Q84” in honor of its mystery: “Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.

This was truly a monumental book at over 990 pages and it took me awhile to digest it. Murakami did a magnificent job with this book. He gives so much detail you really get a feel for each character. Although they’re swept away by the plot and the events that surround it, the focus is mainly on the characters.

The book is divided into chapters focusing on the divergent perspectives of Tengo and Aomame. This is, in no way, disharmonious. In fact, the rhythm of the book is quite lyrical. There’s a gentle cadence to the book that lulls you and invites you to continue reading.

 As the book progresses you become more and more anxious for Tengo and Aomame to meet and cross paths. This also makes you even more anxious for the pages to turn. At the same time, I found myself savoring each word and letting the book take it’s time with me. I think I took the most time with this book then with any book I’ve ever read.

With the exception of Aomame, Murakamai manages to convey feeling without having his characters display overt signs of emotion. In this way he manages to display the perfect Japanese economy of demeanor without sacrificing any insight into the characters thought, feelings, and motivations. I thought this was particularly masterful of him as many authors are unable to do this.

Even though I was a teenager at the time, it was hard for me to grasp the technology gap between 1984 and the present. Computers weren’t so prevalent. Records weren’t all digitilized. You couldn’t just hack into the mainframe to get information and I’ve taken that kind of thing for granted.

The truly defined antagonist wasn’t introduced wasn’t introduced until the third “book”. Like an opera slowly building to a crescendo, that’s when the pace of the story really quickened. He was a sympathetic character that made me feel as much pity for him as loathing. Part of me didn’t want him to fail for his sake, but most of me didn’t want him to succeed for the sake of Tengo and Aomame.  It is this conflict of emotion that makes a perfect villain in my opinion.

This book has love. It has mystery. It has the light spinkling of surrealism/fantasy that I experienced in After Dark. It has a dystopic society. It’s about good versus evil and all the gray shades in between. It’s about so much more.

When I was done with this book, even though this was well over 900 pages, I still wanted to read on. I wanted to remain in Tengo and Aomame’s world. That’s the mark of a good book!