Review: Under the Midnight Sun, by Keigo Higashino

28220706Under the Midnight Sun, by Keigo Higashino

Genres: Adult, Mystery-Thriller, Japanese Literature

Rating: ✮✮

“Sometimes I feel like I spend my life under a midnight sun.”

TRIGGER WARNING: This book contains depictions of rape. Please be advised.

I was enjoying this book up until the very end – and I mean the last few pages. Perhaps two stars is too bitter, but to tell you the truth, I’m pissed off.

For the past week, my life has been work, K-Pop, and Under the Midnight Sun. I would squeeze as many pages as I could into my break and before I went to bed, sometimes staying up until 3:00 a.m. because I couldn’t put it down. Keigo Higashino has an engrossing and yet somewhat straightforward way of telling his stories, as I saw when I read Malice not too long ago. Under the Midnight Sun is broader and more character-driven, which meant dedicating not just more time, but more energy into reading it.

The plot is like a target: one giant bulls-eye surrounded by other, smaller points that span over the length of twenty years. It branches off to explore both Yukiho and Ryo’s lives after the murder, sometimes telling the story from the most obscure characters to get the picture of how it affected them. Toward the end when Sasagaki, the detective who was first assigned to the case, gets back into the picture, things began to move toward the center as everything that has happened points back to twenty years ago.

But not everything gets answered.

A lot of things are assumed, but not everything is answered directly, especially the finer points concerning the connection between Yukiho and Ryo. This is critical because it would define the terms of their relationship, their individual personalities, and motive. Questions are asked and never clarified – for instance, was Yukiho in love with Kazunari? Did she set up the attack on Eriko, her best friend, because she was dating him? Or was Kazunari’s ex-girlfriend to blame?

These are all things that are brought up, and a reader can imagine it however they like, but what’s more fun than figuring the mystery out for yourself is getting the answers to find out if you’re right. The biggest one – who the murderer is, obviously – is easy in comparison. What’s more interesting is everything that is tied to it.

Also, this is is just a personal opinion, because I can see how they relate to the story in the end, but the sex scenes made me uncomfortable. They’re abrupt and fly a bit out of nowhere, and I was relieved to get through them.

Reading this book is a commitment, but I don’t think it is a very gratifying one.

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Review: The Devil’s Whisper, by Miyuki Miyabe

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The Devil’s Whisper, by Miyuki Miyabe

Genres: Japanese Literature, Mystery-Thriller

Rating: ✮✮

“Living beings have a natural instinct to protect themselves.”

Warning: I get a bit weeb-ish. Gifs are used.

This wasn’t a bad book, but for a mystery, it was terrible.

I’ve had an interest in Japanese mystery and detective novels lately, and The Devil’s Whisper was one of the first that I came across. It has an intriguing synopsis that draws you in: three women die in quick succession, and all of their deaths appear to be accidents or suicide, but they share a link that raises questions on whether or not they were murdered. That link is uncovered by Mamoru, the nephew of the taxi driver who is arrested after hitting and killing the third victim, Yoko Sugano.

It walks a fine line – mysteries solved by teenage detectives are always a bad idea unless they’re children’s books – but Mamoru isn’t that presumptuous. He begins the investigation to try and prove his uncle’s innocence, comes across some dirty laundry by happenstance and wound up getting involved. He is completely likable – however, he is also very dull. All of the characters are. Miyabe doesn’t take the time to explore their personalities or interests, and so they feel like stick figures. I had to be imaginative and come up with some ideas in my head, just to get an idea of what they looked like. Quite a few of them had familiar names, and so they often appeared as different celebrities. Mamoru, for instance, looked like Mamoru Miyano.

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Not that I mind, of course.

It also has the blandest mystery I’ve ever read. There are very few clues for Mamoru to follow; everything falls into his lap. When he tracks down a writer that has a connection to the girls, the guy literally tells him everything that he needs to know. The killer continuously makes contact with him and supplements the rest. The only twists this book has aren’t related to the mystery at all, and they’re minor. People getting attacked, collapsing, trying to commit suicide – those kinds of things. On top of that, there’s Mamoru’s relationship with his father, who abandoned the family when Mamoru was four years old after getting busted for a money-laundering scheme. That is held more important than the murders, and I don’t understand why. It doesn’t have any relevance to the crimes, nor any connections, yet it’s still what Miyabe uses to tie up her story, leaving a very unsatisfactory ending.

On top of being boring, it’s predictable. How is this person killing these women? Spoiler: I literally said about halfway through, “Please don’t let it be hypnotism.” It’s cheap and lazy, and it makes the title sound like a joke. There could’ve been a devious mastermind who manipulated those girls into killing themselves, but instead, they took the easy way out. I know it can be done. I’ve seen Durarara!!, you know.

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^Exhibit A.

The bottom line is, this is a poor excuse for a mystery. It’s lifeless, with watered-down characters and a very mediocre storyline.

Review: The Curiosities: A Collection of Stories, by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff

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The Curiosities: A Collection of Stories, by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff

Genres: Young Adult, Short Stories, Fantasy, Paranormal

Rating: ✮✮

She has been lonely all her life, but never so fully or so truly as she is tonight.

Critiquing a book of short stories is hard – especially when the stories are by three different authors. Rating them all individually would be too cumbersome, so I’ll settle with this: there were not a lot of stories in The Curiosities that I liked.

There was always some fissure, something so obviously wrong in each one. It was too short, too underdeveloped, too boring, too outlandish, or I just didn’t like it. I would finish one and start the next, and even if it was only a few pages long, it sometimes felt like I was beginning another marathon, simply because I was starting a new story with new characters and a new setting that kept disappointing me, time and time again.

The only author of the three whose work I’ve read is, of course, Maggie Stiefvater and her wonderful The Raven Cycle series. Because I loved those books so much, I expected to love her short stories just the same – but her stories are far from what I expected. The Raven Cycle is a loaded gun full of magic, intrigue, wonder, and sarcasm, and I only saw a little bit of that in her work this time.

“Put that out before you burn off your dick,” I said.

“I didn’t know you cared what happened to it,” he replied.

Given, these stories were all written quickly and left completely unedited. That’s extremely brave. However, it doesn’t change the fact that they’re published in a book, and as a consumer, I didn’t like the product.

The three stories that I enjoyed were The Bone-Tender, Neighbors, and The Lazarus Girl – all written by Brenna Yovanoff. Hers were undoubtedly my favorite, and I think her and I have a similar mindset. The kind of short stories that I love are creepy and full of sharp objects and monsters. There’s usually a twist, too, like in Neighbors. Reading her stories has me very curious about her novels, even if I didn’t like all of them.

I also enjoyed their commentary and their bantering, and I think it definitely opened up a door to how writing really works and their thought processes. I’d love to see them write a novel together; something cleaner than these stories. All of them left me feeling that they needed something more.

Review: Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell

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Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, LGBTQIA

Rating: ✮✮

He’s still looking in my eyes. Staring me down like he did that dragon, chin tilted and locked. “I’m not the Chosen One,” he says.

I meet his gaze and sneer. My arm is a steel band around his waist. “I choose you,” I say. “Simon Snow, I choose you.”

I am pretty disappointed, yes.

My feelings for Fangirl are jumbled and unexplainable. Rainbow Rowell has the same ability as Sarah Dessen: both of them can spin conversations out of seemingly meaningless things and still make them wildly entertaining. That’s something I greatly admire. The dialogue flows naturally and the writing is overall very elegant.

I don’t think Fangirl is bad – just as I don’t think Carry On is bad, either. The former just doesn’t properly depict fangirl culture, in my opinion, just as the latter doesn’t for a magical boarding school. Do you know why, in Harry Potter, wizards were considered to be more advanced, yet they didn’t use computers, cell phones, or other modern technology? It’s because it would’ve completely ruined the atmosphere.

I think if Dumbledore were to whip out a laptop, I would shit myself. I got that feeling when a character in Carry On used something modern, even a car. I know it’s a play on Harry Potter, and that it doesn’t have to follow a set of guidelines, but it was so incredibly odd that it broke apart the magic.

There really isn’t any atmosphere at all. It’s so flat. Rainbow Rowell is brilliant with characterization and dialogue, but there is something missing in the storyline that makes it feel disconnected – just as it was in Fangirl. Instead of one continuous arc, it feels like bits and pieces taped together in a string of events that becomes one flat line.

The magic is dull, but I have to admit, the romance wasn’t. Of course, I am a sucker for gay romance any time, any day.

Snow kissed me last night until my mouth was sore. He kissed me so much, I was worried I’d Turn him with all my saliva. He held himself up on all fours above me and made me reach up for his mouth – and I did. I would again. I’d cross every line for him.

I’m in love with him.

And he likes this better than fighting.

I did have one problem with it, though. I’ll confess something to you guys: there is nothing that I would love more than for Harry and Draco to stop their squabbling, rip off their clothes, and go at it. The tension between two rivals is intense and dramatic, and it’s easy – and so entertaining to watch – for it manifest into something else. Simon and Baz are supposed to have that kind of rivalry, but it isn’t like that, because Baz is immediately in love with Simon the moment we meet him. Of course, he still acts like a git, but it’s no fun to watch them fight when we already know how he feels. It’s like throwing water on a fire before it can start to burn. Plus, Simon’s feelings for Baz go from 0 to 100 in like, five seconds, which creates an unsettling feeling of insta-love.

Lastly, this entire world is a mess. It draws on the hope that every person who is going to read it has read Harry Potter and gets the gist of what is happening. There are a lot of flashbacks that feel like an attempt to cram eight books into one, even though it still leaves a lot of gaping holes. While I was reading, it never once escaped me that I was reading Cath’s fanfiction; not only that, but a fanfiction to a series that I had never read before, instead of it being a book of its own. (It’s kind of like listening to my friends talk about Supernatural. I know the names of the main characters and everything else is one stream of gibberish.)

Carry On‘s downfall could be placed on too much trust; it put too much dependency on another book instead of becoming its own. In the end, the thing that I loved the most about Fangirl did not hold up to my expectations.

Review: Rain, by Amanda Sun

Rain, by Amanda Sun18134013

Genres: Young Adult, Paranormal, Romance

Rating: ✮✮

Nothing was normal, and I’d known it, deep down. It wasn’t something I could run from. The ink hadn’t forgotten me.

My fate was raining down from the sky.

I am so heartbroken. I have been searching for Rain for almost a year and a half, and I finally find it and it disappoints me.

When I read Ink last year, I was surprised to find out that my opinion was unpopular. It has quite a few flaws, but I really enjoyed it, especially the second half. Its biggest strength is its atmosphere: it’s so strong that I felt like I was really in Japan. In fact, it was potent enough for me to close the book and forget where I was, because I was so lost inside of the story.

Rain doesn’t have that atmosphere at all. I could pass it off as second-book syndrome, because that’s what it feels like. Regardless, Ink felt so fresh and unique, but Rain doesn’t have that trait.

I blame this entirely on one, gigantic factor: the story is too watered down by relationship drama. Tomohiro and Katie are struggling to stay together against Tomohiro’s dangerous Kami abilities, while also finding a way to bridge the cultural gap between them. This is a big part of the story, but unfortunately, there is also the intersecting love triangles. In book one, Tomohiro has a childhood friend named Shiori, who wound up pregnant and has to deal with a lot of bullying at school. When Tomohiro finds himself in the sights of the Yakuza, it’s Shiori that calls Katie to warn her, and tells her to protect him.

In Rain, she is suddenly transformed into a jealous, possessive bitch who is trying to steal Tomohiro away from Katie.

Shiori sighed. “It’s pathetic, you know, trying to steal Tomo from me.”

My mouth opened, but I had to force words out. “Steal him?”

“Tomo-kun and I have been inseparable since we were little. You think you’re going to change that?”

And to this, I have to ask, why? We already have to deal with Katie’s conflicting feelings for Jun, the leader of the Kami cult who tried to recruit Tomohiro in the last book. Why do we need this? It does absolutely nothing beneficial. All it does is fill in the gaps, ones that could’ve been filled with something else.

Secondly, this is supposed to be a book about the Kami, who can move the ink to their will and, in cases like Tomohiro, they are strong enough to make them come off the page and attack. But that’s the thing: it doesn’t feel like that at all. There is a lot of discussion about lineage, but we don’t get to see a lot of what they actually can do. The Kami kept this series original; they were what was preventing this story from becoming a Japanese Twilight. Without it, it seems painfully familiar.

“I don’t want to be happy, Shiori,” Tomo said. He pulled his hand from hers, his eyes burning into me. “I love Katie. And if that means I have to suffer to keep her safe, then that’s what I’ll do. If it means I have to stand aside so someone else can take care of her because I can’t…I will stand aside. That’s what love is.”

Edward? Is that you?

I remember thinking that in Ink, too. Think about it: teenage girl moves to a new place, meets a handsome, mysterious, dangerous boy and starts to pursue him. Turns out he’s hiding a terrible secret. They fall in love anyway, and of course, shit starts to happen because they’re not supposed to be together. Cue angst.

The Kami aspect brought something new to the table, but that aspect seems to be missing for the most part in Rain, making it dull and full of many cliche tropes from the paranormal romance genre.

Ink was so beautiful. It was so in-depth about everyday aspects of modern Japanese life, from language to customs, Shinto religion, mannerisms – hell, even food. And also, drawings coming to life? That’s awesome, I don’t care what anyone else says. Rain, however, is too much of a school-life drama – like something out of a shoujo manga.

Review: The Lucy Variations, by Sara Zarr

18295824The Lucy Variations, by Sara Zarr

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary

Rating: ✮✮

Music, her grandfather always told her, was language. A special language, a gift from the Muses, something all people are born understanding but few people could thoroughly translate.

Contemporaries are not known to be full of plot and action. As such, when I read them I usually look for humor, or something to make me smile. Even for a contemporary, though, The Lucy Variations is so…skimpy.

If I were to make a list of what happens in this book, it would go like this:

  1. Lucy’s grandmother dies and she stops playing the piano.
  2. Lucy’s brother gets a new piano teacher and Lucy gets the hots for him.
  3. Lucy decides she wants to go to music school and starts playing again.
  4. The end.

There’s some family and friendship drama in between, but for the most part, that’s it. Most of the story feels like it’s in fragments, cut-and-pasted together instead of one flowing, continuous line. I would say unless you’re really into classical music, you would find The Lucy Variations very, very boring. I like classical and instrumental music a lot, but I can’t rattle off composers off the top of my head. So, a lot of what Lucy talks about with Will sounds like…gibberish.

Though Lucy wasn’t an insufferable heroine, she kind of creeped me out. It’s not that she has a thing for older men—I get that, in a way, as long as statutory rape laws are not broken—it’s when she stole Will’s nail clippers that kind of made me pause.

            Voices in the hall again made her jump. Lucy grabbed the clippers and shoved them into her jeans pocket, then pretended to be looking for her coat on the bed.

She goes to his (and his wife’s) house for a party, searches their room, and then takes his nail clippers. Come on. That is majorly creepy. He clips his toenails with those things!

This is supposed to be a story about reclaiming what you love and finding joy in life, but honestly, I don’t think it’s deep enough for that. It’s about a girl who loves playing the piano and decides she wants to play again, and that’s nice, but not very poignant. If someone asked me for a deep, thoughtful book with classical music, I would choose Gayle Forman’s If I Stay a million times over this one.

Manga Review: Vampire Knight, by Matsuri Hino

 

263145Genres: Shojo, Paranormal, Drama

Volumes: 19

Status: Finished

Favorite Characters: Zero Kiryu, Rima Toya, Senri Shiki

Rating: ✮

By the time you open your eyes, the world might have already changed.

This was my first manga. I remember that I used to really like it, but then again, I also liked Twilight, so obviously my taste in entertainment was disfigured.

Here’s the thing about Vampire Knight: it has beautiful artwork and that’s about it. Matsuri Hino’s art is detailed and her characters are ridiculously beautiful, but the story is flat.

It’s set at a private boarding school called Cross Academy, with a Day Class and a Night Class. As you’ve probably guessed, the Night Class are vampires. Yuki Cross, adopted daughter of the Headmaster, and her childhood friend Zero Kiryu act as Guardians, who protect the Night Class’s secret and prevent them from hunting the Day Class.

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Actually, the first eight, maybe even ten, volumes aren’t so bad. It’s after that when things go to shit. I can’t detail them, of course, but there’s a lot of weird stuff that happens that makes little to no sense.

As a matter of fact, that’s a big thing that bothers me about this series: I feel like there’s very little explanation – about anything. It was sort of, “this is this because I say it is.” I remember being really confused, and was never able to fully grasp what was happening. To top it off, it’s also very forgettable, which must mean that I didn’t find it that interesting in the first place.

The text irritates me because of how many ellipses are used. Breaks in dialogue and monologue make the story flow better, I know, but in Vampire Knight I feel like they’re trying to be overly-dramatic – like that one pause for suspense before a character drops a bombshell, except everywhere.

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I listed Zero as my favorite character, but that’s only because I used to have a huge crush on him. I don’t even like him that much anymore. He’s the perfect jailbait for 13-year-old me: tall, handsome, and angsty, with that perfect touch of menace that I used to find enticing.

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Oh god. So much angst.

There’s also some pet peeves of mine regarding the art. Matsuri Hino is fantastic at drawing characters, but she doesn’t illicit movement as often – lines, suffixes – and so everything looks really stiff. And when there’s a fight, it looks confusing and not as drawn out, like she was rushing through the scene in order to get back to the angst. Plus, everything muddled together so I couldn’t tell who was doing what.

And that ending? REALLY? What the hell was that? It was terrible.

It’s pretty, visually, but it’s like a rose without a scent. Everything sort of fell apart towards the middle, to the point that I don’t know why I kept on reading it – but I did. And it’s done. So now I can move on.

Even though we both know that our loved one will never so much as look our way we can’t erase that small something within us that continues to hope in vain.

Review: Ice Like Fire, by Sara Raasch

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Ice Like Fire, by Sara Raasch

Genres: Young Adult, High Fantasy

Rating: ✮✮

Horrible things have happened to us, are still happening to us, will happen every day for the rest of our lives, probably. What defines us is not our ability to never let them break us—what defines us is not letting them own us.

Okay. About that ending.

I want to punch that ending. I want to kick it in the balls. I want to take it by the hair, and with every ounce of my strength, I want to smash that fucking ending into the floor.

It made me cry. Tears literally fell down my face, when I had just complained about not having a similar reaction to Forbidden. I threw the book across the room and punched my bed, because what the fuck Sara Raasch oh my god how could you do this to me. WHY.

Okay. Okay, I think I’m good.

Why only two stars? To be blunt, it’s because the rest of the book was a disappointment. Snow Like Ashes was full of twists and thrills, with plenty of bloodshed to keep me happy. Ice Like Fire had a fast pace, but without anything happening it only benefited in keeping the story from dragging to a crawl.

All that really happens in Ice Like Fire is Meira traipsing across the country in search of three keys, mixed with her inner struggle to be a queen and to not fail as a ruler. That’s it. That’s all that happens, until the last 70 pages where all of the action is crammed into one place.

So much was missing. For one, the Meira I loved in book one is gone. Queen Meira is fairly unlikable in comparison to Meira the soldier. While in Snow Like Ashes I loved her imperfections and that she made mistakes, now her choices are borderline idiotic. Even when I know she’s only trying to do what’s best for her kingdom, I still found her infuriating and longed for the girl I once knew. Then, the love triangle that wasn’t such a big deal in Snow Like Ashes comes in full throttle at the start of Ice Like Fire. In-between Meira totally fucking up at the ceremony and leaving for the Summer Kingdom, it felt like I was drowning in Theron vs. Mather.

Maybe if there had been as many fights as there had been physical descriptions—oh my god, so many—then this book would’ve surpassed Snow Like Ashes. But all of the action was shoved in at the end, which, though it ruined me emotionally, it also left me reeling. It felt like Raasch info-dumped everything at the end, which made the book feel unbalanced and didn’t give me enough time to process what was going on.

This was a disappointing sequel, but I think Frost Like Night will be much better. I think this series is going to walk away from traveling and politics and go back to what it once was. I hope so, anyway.

Review: Wolf by Wolf, by Ryan Graudin

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Wolf by Wolf, by Ryan Graudin

Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction

Rating: ✮✮

She was going to cross the world and change it.

Or die trying.

Okay, so obviously I’m the black sheep.

I think that, in the hands of the right reader, Wolf by Wolf would be an immediate favorite. It’s aimed towards people who have a deep love for historical fiction, but I am not one of those people; I prefer to read about history as it is.

At the start of this book, I was immersed – I’ll admit that. I immediately grew to like Yael and was caught up in the idea of the resistance, rooting for her to win the race and execute Hitler. This is the sort of the book that could take over your day if you let it, neglecting work and chores in order to sneak in one more chapter. In the beginning, it definitely fits the description of a “fast paced, innovative novel.”

Then things start to taper off. It probably has to do with the fact that I don’t find races very interesting. Slowly, the pace started to drag into a crawl. Then came the moment when Yael and the other racers get kidnapped by the Soviets. Something about that scene really sucked the energy out of the novel. I think it’s because it sent my mind in another direction; when they were kidnapped, I thought it was a big turning point in the novel, that Yael’s mission was going to get obstructed by terrorists, and things were about to get more interesting. It made me really excited – but then Yael and the others escape, and were sent back into the race again – which is just not interesting. I’m sorry.

Unless the kidnapping is brought back into the second book, I really don’t understand the point of inserting the Soviets. It felt like the author was just trying to move the book along and prevent an endless pattern of racing, stopping, racing, stopping. All it did, though, was give a red herring.

The next thing is, I can not stand this writing. I’ve been getting nit-picky about writing lately, mostly because I’ve been dabbling with a novel for the past couple of months myself (not that its getting anywhere). You could have a brilliant concept, a timeline that twists and turns and keeps your readers guessing, but have it flop because of poor writing.

Graudin’s writing isnt bad; it’s just specific.

The road clamped onto her, sliding its rocky teeth along the soft of skin. The tough of leather. Pain. That was all there was, for seconds. The road’s bite sank – deeper and deeper – into Yael’s body. She tried to cry out, but her lungs wouldn’t move. No sound. No air.

No air.

No air.

^See, here’s the thing that really bugs me about the writing, besides the repetitions and excessive metaphors. I don’t think its very convincing. Yael’s narration goes bland because it feels emotionless. At one point she’s seriously dehydrated and is stumbling towards a fellow racer for a drink of water. Supposedly, her throat is on fire. Supposedly, she’s about to pass out. But I just don’t feel it. I don’t feel anything from her.

I know some people feel otherwise, and that’s fine, but for me, I kept slugging through this book. It wasn’t even the subject matter, in the end; it was simply because Wolf by Wolf and I just couldn’t get along.