1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Hiya. So, I disappeared for a month, not because I stopped reading (heavens, no), but because 925 pages takes some time, even for me. Although it did take a little longer than I anticipated. And then, well, I just didn’t really feel like writing a review, so I jumped right in and started/finished my next book (more on that later). But now it’s nighttime, and I’m clean, and it would irresponsible for my sleeping patterns to start another book now (even though I have a really good one sitting next to me). And I have some ice coffee, so, awesome. It’s actually ice mocha. Mostly chocolate. With ice. It’s delicious in winter.

1Q84 marks a special first for me: first book ever read entirely on an e-reader. Specifically, a classic Kindle, which my father bought me for my birthday. I have to say, I found the experience strangely enjoyable. Strangely because I didn’t expect the Kindle to offer me anything besides a lighter, cheaper way to carry books, but there were actually several features I found very useful. For one thing, the progress bar at the bottom which shows what percentage of the book you’ve read. Since this book is so long, that bar moved really, really slowly.

One thing I found myself doing quite a lot was highlighting. I’ve never highlighted my books before- besides the fact that most of my books come from the library, I’ve never been tempted to highlight with ink. But highlighting on the Kindle if just pressing a few buttons. On top of that, since my Dad and I share an account (which means we share all of our books), he can see anything I highlight. Mostly I just highlighted sentences that looked really good to me.

Okay, about the book. One day, Aomame is riding in a taxi on the way to an appointment when they get caught in pretty serious traffic. Janáček’s Sinfonietta played on the radio. The taxi driver informed Aomame that if she was really in a hurry, there was an emergency stairway down from the highway that would take her down into the city, so she pays the man, exits the taxi, and locates the stairwell. As soon as she steps over the gate, though, she feels something shift. She can’t say what, so she ignores it and climbs down the (somewhat treacherous) stairs to pavement below and makes her way to her appointment, on time, and all is well.

Meanwhile, math teacher and part time writer Tengo Kawana sits down with his friend Komatsu, an editor, talking about a young writer’s contest which is hosted by Komatsu’s company and Tengo helps judge. This year an interesting piece of fiction has been submitted and caught their attention; the story is too good to ignore, but the writing is poor, so Komatsu devises an elaborate plan whereby Tengo rewrites the story, with the permission of the young author, Fuka-Eri. The story is called Air Chrysalis. It is set in a strange world with Little People, a world with two moons.

The perspective jumps between Tengo and Aomame (a third character is factored in later on) as they progress through their storylines. Soon, they each become aware of a change in their world. It is revealed that they have a past connection, and now they have to find each other again fix whatever is going wrong.

Yes, for about seven hundred pages, it really is that vague.

I loved it. I thought it was excellently written, and for not one minute did I find it slow or dull. Now I have to say that I did come across a very negative review that raised some valid points: the pace is leisurely (I won’t say it’s ‘slow’ because that sounds like a bad thing), and Murakami has a slight tendency to repeat himself and drag out seemingly insignificant details. For some reason, this never bothered me.

There were a few things that annoyed me, but they’re spoilery so I don’t want to mention them here. But for my first Murakami, I was really impressed. I’ve heard a lot of good things and had been meaning to read something of his for a while, so I was pleased when my Dad got this one for us on the Kindle (he’s reading it now).

I’ll leave you with this:

Oh, it’s also a love story. Though I didn’t actually think of it that way for most of the time I was reading it, it really is.

Published in: on December 28, 2011 at 11:23 pm  Comments (2)  
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Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Good Omens is the book that’s been on my mind since I first read Neil Gaiman and became hooked. It’s a novel about the end of the world and two supernatural entities who don’t want it to happen. Crowley is a demon and Aziraphale is an angel, but the two get along well enough because Crowley has “a spark of goodness in him,” and Aziraphale is “just enough of a bastard to be likable.” In 1655, a (probably) mortal woman named Agnes Nutter prophesied everything that would happen between her death and the end of the world, including exactly when and how that end would come about. She wrote it all down in a book called “The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch,” which has been passed down through her descendants for three-hundred years, each of them dedicating their existence to cracking the eccentric witch’s codes.

It’s a very difficult book to summarize.

Also, eleven years ago two babies were born. One of them was switched with the Antichrist. Now the Antichrist is supposed to set off Armageddon, only he doesn’t really want to, either. And also no one knows where he is. And he has no idea that he’s the Antichrist, because how would he know? (Fun fact: WordPress only recognizes the words ‘antichrist’ and ‘armageddon’ if you capitalize them.)

So that all happened. And also it was quite funny. I didn’t spend all that much time laughing out loud, as certain friends of mine have, but there were parts that got me and the entire thing is undeniably brilliant. You know by now that I have a metaphorical literary ladyboner for Neil Gaiman, but I’ve never been able to finish a Terry Pratchett book. I don’t even really remember which ones I’ve tried to read. Wee Free Men, I think. I got about forty pages in and then I just sort of couldn’t go any further. I didn’t expect that to be a problem with this one, though, and it certainly wasn’t. Half of the time I’m reading, even if I’m not laughing or expressing it outwardly, I’m melting internally into a frenzy of fantastic writing.

The copy of the book I read (the cover of which resembles the white half of that picture there, with more acclamations) also included a short interview with the authors, and then two short essays; “Neil Gaiman on Terry Pratchett,” and “Terry Pratchett on Neil Gaiman.” These last goodies had me laughing harder than the book.

I just finished this a few minutes ago, and I’m stuck in this very giggly sort of mood. I’m not entirely sensible. It should also be said that this one came straight from Val’s rec list, so it’s another one I can cross off. There’s nothing quite so satisfying.

Published in: on October 9, 2011 at 12:41 pm  Comments (2)  
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Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

This weekend has been exciting, though from this point forward the week itself doesn’t look very promising. I have driver’s ed and work to worry about. I might have to make extra trips to the library just to keep my spirits up.

That doesn’t matter right now, though. This Friday, Much Ado About Nothing opened at the Theatre at Monmouth, and my sisters and father and I all went to the opening night performance, and it was wonderful. Though I must admit I’ve never been particularly fond of this play (at that point I had just seen Shakespeare repeat himself too often to be impressed, and quite frankly it annoys me to no end how this prank that their friends play on them somehow manifests itself into genuine love), being at the theatre again makes me happy. There was a wonderful reception and we left feeling good.

Tonight, they opened The Compleat Works of Shakespeare, Abridged. If you’re on of the unfortunate sort who haven’t seen this play, do so now. There’s a DVD of it being performed by the Reduced Shakespeare Company. It’s one of the most fantastically hilarious plays I’ve ever seen- it’s every play Shakespeare’s ever written, condensed into one three-man show. Half of it’s improv, and the other half is kinda-sorta the works of William Shakespeare. I love it endlessly. They’re putting it on three more times this summer, and I want to see every one!

Every time I dress up to go to the theatre, I feel like I’m going on a date or about to meet my prince or something. It hasn’t happened yet. For the record, in case anyone was thinking of asking me out anytime soon (just a thought), I think movie dates are lame, but I would totally accept a theatre date. Just so you know.

Moving on.

I’ve been hearing a lot about this novel since, I suppose, around September. The school librarian used to recommend it to me every other week or so, but for some reason I never listened.

Never Let Me Go is about a world in which science has found a way to clone humans, specifically for the purpose of harvesting their organs. For all that that sounds very 70’s B-movie sci-fi, I didn’t actually realize that this book was sci-fi until about halfway in. The inside cover description did not tell you any of that, even though it’s in every other description of the book anywhere. I actually found out on Wikipedia, and I felt like I’d been spoiled. Says the spoiler-phobe.

The book is told from the perspective of Kathy, a clone who is now around thirty years old and working as a ‘carer’ in a facility for recuperating ‘donors,’ clones who have already begun donating their organs. The story is told in flashback, for the most part, thought it’s not actually that simply linear. Every time you’re settled comfortably into one direction, she’ll bring introduce another line and explain this line and then how it relates to the first and then complete the first and really, if it wasn’t so good, it would be completely infuriating.

Now, the idea is, since clones can’t actually donate until they’re adults, and they think and act exactly like normal humans, they need to be raised from infancy, through childhood, until they can be on their own. Kathy did her growing up in a ‘school’ called Hailsham, with her friends Ruth and Tommy. Her flashback begins when Kathy remembers a day at Hailsham where she, with her group of friends, are watching the boys play football and Tommy throws a tantrum after the other boys play a trick on him. When they were young (around ten or eleven in this flashback, I think) Tommy was famous for his temper, a joke throughout all of Hailsham. On this day, it was Kathy who went up to him in the middle of the football field and talked him down.

Tommy grew out of his temper. What he didn’t grow out of was the inability to create art- something which was a very big deal at Hailsham. The students were heavily encouraged to be ‘creative,’ and were rewarded by being able to exchange their work for others’. Before ever Exchange, however, Hailsham would be visited by a mysterious woman known simply as Madame, who would select the best of their work and take it away. Thought the students theorized about what Madame could want with their work, they were never given any real answers.

Much of the student’s lives are surrounded by this sort of crypticness, though Kathy and the students are much less bothered about it than the reader is. The thing is, they know what their purpose is. They’re told what they are, what they’re for. With this kind of background, you would be expect this to be a story about one student who decided to buck the system and live as a human being, but it’s not. At all. Not a single one of the students ever seems to mind that this is their future, to gradually allow themselves to be killed for a plague of people who don’t even want to think about their existence. Even to Kathy it never occurs that their might be something else.

So, this is basically a book that tells the story of three friends living out their lives exactly as they always knew they would, without any complications or rebellions at all. That explained, I don’t know how to tell you that this book is not boring in the slightest, not for a single sentence on a single page. It’s mostly about the relationship between the three main characters, and a study into humanity. As the friendship between Kathy and Ruth evolves, we see them grow around each other, sometimes clashing, in exactly the same way that real friends will do once they’ve known each other long enough. When Ishiguro writes it, it makes perfect sense, the way you can be completely self-righteous and ready to tear her a new one at one moment, then all of a sudden and without any help from her suddenly realizing exactly why she’s been doing this annoying thing and trying at least to be supportive. There are be-the-bigger-person moments, and I-really-don’t-want-to-deal-with-you-right-now moments, and they’re all very genuine and believable and everything we’ve experienced before.

Then, of course, the story is interesting because, though Kathy and her friends are growing up exactly as they knew they would, it’s still very different from the way a normal human child grows into adulthood. This is an entirely different world- though it’s never stated what era it takes place in, the tech they mention makes it feel like the eighties, perhaps nineties. Around when Kathy is thirteen, Walkmans (Walkmen?) for tapes come on to the scene (I make that distinction because when I was about ten, portable CD-players were called Walmans, and were the coolest thing I’d ever owned).

Anyway, the narration is told in three parts: the first part is Hailsham, the second part the Cottage, and the third part Kathy’s adulthood- being a carer, basically. The book ends before she becomes a donor. It’s interesting, but there are some questions about their lifestyle that Ishiguro never answers. For example, when Kathy is a carer, where does she live? It’s never suggested that clones live in the same sort of houses as regular people- there’s always been someplace set off for them. This is never explained. Also, Kathy has been a carer for twelve years (longer than usual), and clones are given ‘notices’ when they’re expected to make a donation. Once you’ve started donating, you’re no longer a carer. At the end of her twelve year, Kathy is going to be asked to step down as a carer, but she hasn’t gotten a notice asking her to begin donating yet. So where will she go now?

On the other hand, there’s a very powerful emotional scene at the end of the book where all of the big questions, the things that the students themselves wondered about their existence, those are answered. And that is very satisfying.

I must admit that after all the hype I’ve heard for this book- well, it deserved every word. It was wonderful and I’ll add it to my personal rec list. It made me think, it was never boring, and I felt very strongly for the characters. There’s not much more I can ask from a book I decided on a whim to finally read.

Now the truth is, though I know it may be frowned upon, I’m very fond of movie adaptations. I know, they’re never as good, but they can still be good, you know? If I liked a book, I will be interested in seeing the movie- unless strictly told not to, as is the case for such novels as The Time-Traveler’s Wife and Girl with the Pearl Earring. Both books I loved, that a good friend more-or-less forbade me to see as films. Anyway, Never Let Me Go has been made into a movie with a fantastic cast. For your pleasure, here’s the trailer to the film staring Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley, which was released last year and I am now quite eager to see:

Oh, and speaking of movies, I’ve officially got plans to attend the midnight showing of Deathly Hallows Part 2 on Thursday night? Did not see that one coming. The slight kink in this plan is that I’ve not yet seen Part 1, but my friend promises this will change between now and then. Righto. Also opening this Friday is Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, which I reviewed a while back. Now that’s a movie I’m excited to see!

Published in: on July 11, 2011 at 1:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Host by Stephenie Meyer

It’s a joke between my sister and I that she needs way more sleep than I do. I try to get by on seven hours- eight if I can, six if I have to. Very normal. She makes it to ten hours and is still asleep. On a regular school night, she’ll get nine. And she takes naps. Emma is a cat.

That said, there hasn’t been one morning this week that I could sleep in. I survived the entire week on six hours or under, per night. I know that I’ve got readers who are insomniacs and get much less than that, but as I said, I am normal, and I like normal hours of sleep. Since I’ve been so tired, this week has been very long. The weekend isn’t a break, either, because of the cakes. I am getting very tired of the cakes.

It’s also been very uneventful. Most of my classes are over now, so when I’m stuck at school waiting for things to happen, I just have hours and hours of free time. It’s kind of really phenomenally boring. But not too terrible, because that’s reading time. And that was kind of necessary if I wanted to finish this book in a reasonable space of time, since it’s twice as long as what I usually read.

When I started reading this book, and I would carry it around with me everywhere (as I do), everyone had an opinion. One friend said, with a twist of her lips, that the last hundred pages were really terrible. Another just announced that she really liked it. One person couldn’t make it further than eighty pages before the sap got to her. The general consensus, though, seems to be approval. Even the one who complained about the ending agreed that the book is really good, even though Twilight was not.

This one was recommended to me by Val, who is not a fan of Twilight. The Host is about an alien parasite, a “soul”, named Wanderer, who is inserted into a host named Melanie Stryder. Generally, when a soul is inserted into the host, the host is squashed and fades and the soul continues to live their life in their body. Melanie, however, came from a group of rebels who had been fighting against the soul invasion (though “fighting” is not a very accurate word, since the souls don’t believe in violence). As a host, she was very resistant. She refused to fade away. Wanderer could hear her like a voice in her head, and worse, she was using her memories to influence Wanderer’s behavior. Soon Wanderer was falling in love with Melanie’s love, and caring deeply for her younger brother.

The story is that the souls can exist only in a host body, and can’t survive for very long on their own. Their species is extensive, and has in fact “conquered” (for lack of a better word) several other planets already. Their coming to Earth is fairly recent, but they spread quickly. Wanderer has been to nine different planets, but none quite like Earth. She has never inhabited a species quite like humans. She says that she’s not used to their strong emotions or their resistance. So really this book is an exploration on being human.

Souls don’t have a very high opinion of humans. We are violent, crass, untrustworthy, dangerous, and passionate. When the souls take over Earth, all of this goes away- there’s no fighting, no swearing, no breaking of laws, no cheating. They don’t use money, because everyone is trustworthy. They’re a species of Mary Sues. Perfectly pleasant people. Even Wanderer is like this, but it’s harder than her- she still has a human influence in her head. Over the course of the book, her vision of humans changes (especially as she soon finds herself surrounded by them).

This was a good book. And to keep things straight- I did like Twilight when I first read it, but I didn’t like the sequels nearly as much, and I pretty much dropped out when the fans started going crazy. I saw the first movie and didn’t care for it. That was my last interaction with the Twilight fandom. Speaking as someone who doesn’t think very highly of Twilight, The Host was a very good book. This tome is proof that Stephenie Meyer is a talented writer- as Val says, she’s a gifted artist who made the unfortunate mistake of publishing Twilight first.

On the other hand- as I was reading this, I was looking for things that could be better, as I don’t think I’ve ever done with another book. I had already judged Stephenie Meyer, and I was waiting to see if she could impress me. The fact is there were places that I found annoying- for roughly the last quarter of the book, I thought Wanderer needed to tone it down a bit. It’s easy, when you see something like that, to roll your eyes and scoff at Stephenie Meyer’s formula writing (there is a formula, you can see it- she does it much better in this one, though), but I tried my best to suppress this reaction and give the book a chance. It was enjoyable. It was worth finishing. It wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read, but you should give it a chance.

I don’t know what comes next. This week looks long, but all weeks do. Graduation is in four weeks and then I won’t have any demands to meet. What am I going to do with that?

For interest- Val created a fan trailer for The Host, using her dream cast; Sophia Bush as Wanderer/Melanie, Jensen Ackles as Jared, and Ian Somerhalder as Ian. Not who I’d cast, but she has editing skills so we’ll forgive her.

Published in: on May 15, 2011 at 1:04 pm  Comments (1)  
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Exodus AND Zenith by Julie Bertagna

Alright, these were the two books that I was waiting for from the library last week when I read Magical Thinking. But first, my week in review.

I really don’t get any breathing space at all with these classes. Last night, Monday, I completed my final English Composition class. Now, to be clear, this wasn’t a normal highschool class; it was a college level course I took through the local Adult Ed. program, that I attended at night with a bunch of adults. It was a lot of work, and I was taking a psychology class at the same time, but I really enjoyed it! I don’t gel with my peers most of the time, so it was really nice and refreshing to take a class with people older than me, and I liked my teachers as well. It was a bittersweet moment when I had to say goodbye to everyone.

In comparison- today I attended my painting class, which is a normal highschool course with normal highschool students. And patience, I have to tell you this story. There are these two sophomores in my class who drive me completely up the wall. Every class is exactly the same- gossip and complaining about what they have to do. This week we were assigned the task of completing and performing an oral report on an artist of our choice, any artist at all. We have to create a slideshow of their work to accompany our speech, and it’s really quite easy. But these two girls just wouldn’t shut up about how much of a pain it is to make a slideshow, and how it would be so much better to do a poster instead. My art teacher couldn’t ACTUALLY tell them to shut up, so finally (and remember that I’ve been repressing the desire to ring their necks ALL SEMESTER) I told them off for her. I explained why doing posters was a bad idea (namely: highschoolers make shitty posters, and they would not be pleasing to look at) and that they were not representatives of the entire school. When they hate something, it doesn’t mean everyone does. Then one of the girls said that she could say whatever she want, she had “freedom of speech. It’s the first amendment, look it up.” And I said that I had listened to them exercise their freedom of speech all semester without speaking up because unlike them, I knew that voicing my frustration would not a) help the situation, or b) make anyone feel better. And just like I knew would happen, they turned right around and started attacking ME.

Later, I returned to the art room to get my things, and the teacher came right up to me and apologized for how the class went. I was shocked, because I had been about to apologize to HER for my outburst. She said that I voiced my opinion very respectfully and she was certainly going to talk to the girls about their behavior in her class. Victory.


Okay, I didn’t cheat. See that title? See what I did there? Exodus AND Zenith by Julie Bertagna. I had intended to read both books in the series, one right after the other. So rather than write two reviews of two related books, right in a row, I just decided to save it and create one review for both.

This one came strongly recommended by a friend. For this reason, I was truly hoping to like it a lot- she’s recommended to me some very good ones before. This novel was science fiction (which isn’t entirely my thing) with elements of fantasy. Set in 2100, the ice caps have completely melted and the Earth is almost entirely flooded. Surviving on the shrinking island of Wing is a young woman named Mara who would really like to not drown in the next few weeks. So, after talking to one of her village’s elders, she manages to convince her entire village that there are cities floating in the sky which would be ideal places for them to run to. Packed into fishing boats, they set out.

That’s really all I can tell you as far as summary. A lot happens, and to explain each different part you need to know the part prior, and I don’t want to spoil. Now, since this is set on Earth, 89 years into our future, there are remnants from the world as we know it today. The one which Mara finds is what she calls The Weave, which she accesses through a curious device called a cyberwizz, which I couldn’t exactly envision in my head. It creates a virtual experience for her to run around in and explore, and it’s all quite exciting.

I’m a little sorry to say that I didn’t really like this book that much. It was thought provoking and scary- the global flood was a consequence of human behavior- but it didn’t really capture me. I liked Mara, but I never really grew attached to her. Admittedly, the book became more interesting about halfway through, but it didn’t seem like it worked very hard to redeem itself.

One of the most difficult things about this book was that there wasn’t nearly enough detail. There was a bit of exposition and some dialogue, but Bertagna spent almost no time describing settings and locations, so I had a lot of difficulty visualizing the story. That made it much less interesting for me.

But, I got through that book and decided that I would at least give the sequel a shot.

I got one hundred pages into this one before deciding that it wasn’t worth it. Mostly, I was just bored. Usually when I don’t finish a book, I don’t mention it on here (to avoid the shame, mm) but I thought it deserved at least a mention, since it forced me to break my own rule.

This one picks up where the last left off, as well as introducing a new character- Tuck, a Gypsea boy who lives in a city floating on the ocean. I liked Tuck, but even he wasn’t that interesting. I wonder why? By all accounts, he should have been interesting- he was a young, fatherless thief with a drunken, nagging mother and a chip on his shoulder. Exactly my type of hero, you know?

So it’s hard to explain, and that might be the most frustrating part- neither of these books moved slowly, there was always something happening, and the characters were lovely and three dimensional. So why didn’t I like them? If any of you have any insight, I would appreciate it quite a lot. It’s a similar question as I pondered last week, when I asked why people are so fascinated by the dark things that truly captivate us? Unless it’s just me.

Really, I don’t even know.

Okay, I’ll admit that I feel like this one was a bust, but moving on. I’ve got four books in my pile right now; one from the library, two gifts, and one I bought myself with Christmas gift cards. Also, have any of you read The History of Love? I very strongly recommend it. It’s one of my favorite novels, and once I get a moment to reread it, I’ll review it right here.

Published in: on January 11, 2011 at 9:27 pm  Comments (7)  
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