Review: The Devotion of Suspect X, by Keigo Higashino


The Devotion of Suspect X, by Keigo Higashino

Genres: Adult, Japanese Literature, Mystery-Thriller

Rating: ✮✮✮ +½

Sometimes, all you had to do was exist in order to be someone’s saviour.

This is the third of Higashino’s books that I’ve read. I was impressed with Malice but not so much with Under the Midnight Sun, whereas The Devotion of Suspect X falls somewhere in-between.

I’ve begun to notice that his books follow a pattern. For one, Higashino writes really unorthodox mysteries. He doesn’t focus on whodunit so much as why or how. He has a knack for inserting twists at just the right moment, ones that turn the entire book on its head, and the ending is usually cataclysmic. Overall, his books are addictive page-turners that won’t let you rest until you have reached the very end.

I never reviewed Malice, but it as well as The Devotion of Suspect X are perfect examples of Higashino as the Master of the Plot Twist. He has this way of leaving you literally speechless. He never lets you suspect anything, and instead lies in wait, preparing for his chance to strike. My favorite part about reading his books is that I never finish them without being completely mind-blown.

My disappointment only arises from the fact that I don’t think The Devotion of Suspect X is quite what the hype made it out to be. Clever it was, but not the best mystery that I’ve ever read. I really liked Yukawa’s character, though I don’t think Higashino has convinced me quite yet of his mental prowess. That could be because, even though he played a central role in the story and the series is named after him, he felt a little absent and so I didn’t get to see as much of him as I would’ve liked. (Kusanagi is all right, but I couldn’t shake the sense that he was kind of a dumbass.)

I love Higashino’s work, but The Devotion of Suspect X is definitely not my favorite thus far. I’m still going to have to recommend Malice as my top vote.


Project Bungou Stray Dogs: Stories of Osaka Life, by Sakunosuke Oda

1703287Original Title: N/A

Author: Sakunosuke Oda (織田 作之助, Oda Sakunosuke)

Translator: Burton Watson

Genres: Literature, Japanese Literature

Rating: ✮✮✮ +½



“We bumbled through the period of our youth in an attitude of ambiguity, understanding things and yet not understanding them, not knowing whether we were young or old.”

Project BSD

Stories in this book:

  • Hurray for Marriage, or Sweet Beans for Two!
  • Six White Venus
  • City of Trees
  • The State of the Times

Note: all mentions of ‘Odasaku’ refer to Sakunosuke Oda.

In Bungou Stray Dogs, Odasaku only appears for four episodes, but the effect he has is buried deep. His influence is evident in many different moments throughout the show, particularly in Dazai’s behavior. This relates so well to the authors behind the characters in Bungou Stray Dogs: many of them died tragically while they were very young, whether through disease (particularly tuberculosis) or suicide, but they still left a lasting impression on Japanese society.

Stories of Osaka Life is true to its name and is made up of four stories all taking place in Osaka, Odasaku’s place of birth. Contradicting the ideals made by higher-class citizens – bureaucrats, intellectuals, and social leaders – who were conscious of Japan’s moral state, Odasaku chose to write stories about the merchant class and the sordid aspects of Osaka life, simply because he wanted to. This resulted in a lot of his work being censored, both due to regulations at the time and because of World War II. After those regulations were lifted and Odasaku started to gain in popularity, he was put in the burai-ha, or “hooligan” school of writers, along with Osamu Dazai and Ango Sakaguchi. (Coincidence? I think not. Definitely not.)

I wouldn’t consider these stories obscene, though I am speaking for myself. I can understand why a lot of officials would wrinkle their noses.

What followed was all a dream: the distinctive odor of bodies, the moist sensations, breathless warmth, squirmings, the arms and legs going every which way, the rhythm that drove me senseless…how could I have been so stupid as to think that a woman merely lies there grudgingly and lets herself be manipulated!

^And the thing is, this story (The State of the Times) is supposed to be autobiographical, as one of the characters refers to the narrator as “Oda Saku”. Poverty, infidelity, and crime are also things that are threaded through these stories (though not necessarily all of them). Considering that Japan is a country that holds honor and pride in the highest respect, it makes sense why they would be reluctant to publish subject of this matter.

There are no particular points to any of them; they are, as the title says, stories of people in Osaka. I think this could be a breaking point for a lot of people, and the translation snags on a couple of points. Additionally, the right reader may interpret them in different ways. For instance, in Hurray for Marriage, or Sweet Beans for Two!, a man named Ryūkichi elopes with a geisha named Chōko. Ryūkichi is lazy and doesn’t work, while Chōko is supporting him with her earnings and trying to encourage him into different businesses. There are instances where Chōko is scorned for being unfeminine by other characters (meaning that she is doing work that women at the time weren’t considered capable of doing), and to one person, this may seem sexist – but as the translator mentions in the introduction, Odasaku intended to make fun of the Japanese concept of marriage and the roles of husband and wife. The reader obviously sees how hard Chōko works to keep the two of them on their feet, how she keeps a budget and saves every penny she makes, and that Ryūkichi is the one who should be ridiculed for spending so much of their money. Additionally, in Six White Venus, the main character, Narao, tries to assault a young girl before he realizes what he’s doing and then later attempts suicide because of it.

When he had threaded his way through the pine grove and come out on the sandy shore, it suddenly occurred to him that when a woman became someone’s mistress, that was the kind of vile treatment she would have to endure.

Like I mentioned, how the reader chooses to view the situation determines the outlook, like deciding whether a shade is one color or another.

I like Stories of Osaka Life overall, and I want to read more of Odasaku’s work in the future. Hopefully more translations will appear in the future.

Project Bungou Stray Dogs: Crackling Mountain and Other Stories, by Osamu Dazai


Original Title: かちかち山 (Kachi-kachi yama)

Author: Osamu Dazai (太宰 治, Dazai Osamu)

Translator: James O’Brien

Genres: Literature, Japanese Literature

Rating: ✮✮✮ +½

Image result for Dazai gif

I was a petal quivering in the slightest breeze, about to fall any moment. Even the slightest insult made me think of dying.

Project BSD

Stories in this book:

  • Memories
  • Undine
  • Monkey Island
  • Heed My Plea
  • Melos, Run!
  • On the Question of Apparel
  • A Poor Man’s Got His Pride
  • The Monkey’s Mound
  • The Sound of Hammering
  • Taking the Wen Away
  • Crackling Mountain

This is my third round with Dazai, and I’m extremely happy to say that Dazai won this time.

Crackling Mountain and Other Stories is a very eclectic collection. Dazai is more well-known for his novels, including No Longer Human and The Setting Sun, but these stories are nothing like those works at all. Half of them are are retellings, and they show something of Dazai that was absent in his novels: a sense of humor.

The stories have very little in common with each other, which means that it’s going to be harder to sell to people as a whole. However, I think they are universally enjoyable and easy to read. The longest one, Memories, was actually my favorite, though it is a piece of autobiographical fiction like No Longer Human, so that could be the reason. Then again, Melos, Run! is a retelling of a German legend, entitled The Hostage, and it’s considered to be the most widespread work of Dazai’s in Japan. It’s a very simple tale with high morals, which contrasts considerably with the pessimistic style that I had come to know.

Reading Crackling Mountain taught me that I still haven’t seen every side of Dazai’s intellectual spectrum. There is still so much that I have yet to learn about him through his work. For instance, Heed My Plea is Biblical, which is something I know absolutely nothing about, as I am an atheist raised in a non-conforming household. It’s mentioned in the note preceeding the story that Dazai studied the Bible through the mid-1930s, especially in 1936 when he was admitted to a hospital for psychiatric observation. This, along with the themes in the stories, is what surprised me the most.

The more I read of Dazai’s work, the more peculiar he becomes to me – although for a man that committed as many suicide attempts as he did, I guess it’s only natural for him to be strange. I’ve read thirteen of his works, but I still feel like I’ve barely cracked the surface of the man that was Osamu Dazai.

Review: Please Look After Mom, by Kyung-Sook Shin


Please Look After Mom, by Kyung-Sook Shin

Genres: Korean Literature, Contemporary

Rating: ✮✮✮ +½

Life is sometimes amazingly fragile, but some lives are frighteningly strong.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It was one of those spur-of-the-moment things where I picked it off of the shelves on a whim; to be perfectly honest, I hadn’t expected that I would actually read it – but I did, and I really enjoyed it.

Please Look After Mom is the story of a woman who goes missing at a subway station in Seoul, and her family’s desperate search to find her. As the story progresses and is told from the perspectives of a daughter, a son, a husband, and then finally the woman herself, secrets are revealed that unveil the truth behind the woman’s disappearance, what caused it and how it could’ve been prevented. The characters are consumed with regret as they reflect on the past and all of the things that she did for them, and in turn, all of the things that they didn’t do for her.

It’s also a great window into Korean history, lifestyle, and culture. I must confess that I know practically nothing about Korea. I have always had more interest in Japan, and it is because of this that I haven’t studied other cultures in as much depth. Luckily, Please Look After Mom is not so ambiguous as to make it difficult to understand. It’s a great introduction and exploration of life in South Korea, but it is also not overwhelming.

The only negative thing I would say is that sometimes it’s repetitive, and I think to the right reader it would come across as boring. This is a book that focuses primarily on the life of a single woman, and to some people that is not enough. As the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and literary fiction is the type of genre that works with some people and doesn’t work with others.

It’s a beautiful and tragic story about familial love, guilt, and selflessness. It definitely took me by surprise.

Project Bungou Stray Dogs: Tangled Hair: Selected Tanka from Midaregami, by Akiko Yosano

1142106Original Title: みだれ髪 (Midaregami)

Author: Akiko Yosano (與謝野 晶子, Yosano Akiko)

Translator: Sanford Goldstein and Seishi Shinoda

Genres: Literature, Poetry, Tanka

Rating: ✮✮✮ +½

Image result for akiko yosano gif


Without returning…

O my feelings

In this gathering darkness of spring

And against my koto

My tangled, tangled hair.

Project BSD

I cannot verify how good I am at reviewing poetry. I can’t critique poetry the same way that I can books; I can only generate my personal opinion, not the quality of it. There were some that I didn’t like or understand, but Tangled Hair was a beautiful collection over all.

Tanka is syllabic, and it follows a structure of 5-7-5-7-7. Similar to the haiku, it also contains themes of nature. There’s a lengthy introduction that delves into the history of the tanka and also its evolution, leading up to where Akiko Yosano plays a roll in it. It rambles on and quite a bit of it is unnecessary – there’s a lot about Tekkan, Akiko’s husband, and all of his past lovers that was pretty boring – and in the end, it entails what can be easily understood by reading the poetry itself: it’s feminine, it’s erotic, and it’s sensual, just like Akiko herself.

Morning wisteria,

Soft murmurs of love,

His hand on the back of my neck,

O powerless to detain him,

My lover of one night!

What makes Akiko’s poetry so shocking is not just the eroticism, but what it symbolized. The traditional tanka relates strictly to nature’s beauty; Akiko crushed the “Old School” style and turned the tanka, which had been dying across the nation as an art form, into something completely her own. There’s a lot of themes in her poetry that become repetitive – the color red, pink blossoms, a koto, priests and temples – but sometimes she still twisted it and wrote something new. This one is my personal favorite:

The clear spring inside me


Became muddy –

A child of sin you are

And so am I.

The best part about Tangled Hair is that it’s bilingual. Because it’s so difficult to translate Japanese exactly into English, trying to replicate it to the letter is an impossible job, especially since tanka is based on syllables. To give you an idea, hanashimasu means “speaks/will speak” in Japanese – four syllables versus one or two, depending on the context. It’s unbalanced. Instead of trying to cram the English translation into the same structure, the translators let the poems run free, and included the poems in the original Japanese – both in kanji and romaji – to keep its authenticity. There’s also notes that explain the poems’ meanings, though personally, I think trying to dissect poetry ruins its beauty.

Tangled Hair is feminist poetry. Though there were some that I didn’t get, I love the themes that are depicted in this collection: sexuality, beauty, desire, and throughout, that undertone of naturalness that the original tanka prescribes.

Reviw: Wax, by Gina Damico

23454794Wax, by Gina Damico

Genres: Young Adult, Paranormal, Mystery-Thriller

Rating: ✮✮✮ +½

Yes, the town of Paraffin was a happy place. The grass was green; the streets were clean. The residents were good, wholesome cheese-loving people. They worked hard, they loved their kids, and they greeted every day with a smile. They said hello to one another in passing, and they watered their neighbors’ plants while they were away. They had no reason to distrust their fellow citizens or suspect that they were up to anything heinous, no reason at all.

Until, one day, they did.

Whenever I see that Gina Damico has a new book coming out, I get ridiculously excited. She carved her way into my heart with Croak and has been living in there ever since. I love her sense of humor and her cunning, and how she isn’t afraid to step outside of the box – way, way out of the box.

Seriously, I can name off a dozen books about a fantasy kingdom or a dystopian government, but I can think of only one book about living wax figures, and only one mind that could possibly hold the audacity to create it. Her books are peculiar in a way that almost reaches, “What fresh hell did this spring from,” and to top it off, she makes me laugh almost without trying.

Poppy tried to ignore the costumed musical atrocity that was befalling the food court, but it was not designed to be ignored. A dancing pig dressed in overalls swung his bucket oh so merrily across a raised stage while a trio of cows sang and wiggled their udders. There was also a terrifying anthropomorphic representation of the state of Vermont ambling and cavorting about, his ceaseless, dead stare no doubt sucking the souls from the slack-jawed children who had the misfortune to fall under his tyranny.


I was a bit disappointed with her previous book, Hellhole. It still cracked me up, but there were a lot of loose ends that weren’t tied properly, which left it feeling unfinished. Wax feels complete, with the plot flowing smoothly and all of its ducks in a row. Its structure is different than her previous books, though: not so many highs and lows, twists and turns. Despite the obvious panic that clouds Poppy’s narration throughout, the book as a whole feels mellow in comparison…something that I’m not used to from Gina Damico. It’s almost like she traded in some of her signature spark for a more balanced book.

Overall, I enjoyed Wax more than I did Hellhole – marginally. I’m still waiting for that feeling I had in Croak to come back, when I was bursting with so much emotion – both joy and sheer terror – that trying to stay composed while reading in public was impossible. I hope that her next book – which is about a reality show in space – will bring that back to me, because it’s a force to be reckoned with.

Review: Crooked Kingdom, by Leigh Bardugo


Crooked Kingdom, by Leigh Bardugo

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy

Rating: ✮✮✮ +½

“We can endure all kinds of pain. It’s shame that eats men whole.”

I found out only after I had started reading Crooked Kingdom that this series was only a duology. This makes me unbelievably sad. Honestly, I would find it hard to stretch the epic world of Six of Crows into three books, but this series was such a rare of a gem that I have a hard time accepting that it’s over already.

You hear me, Leigh Bardugo? Write another spin-off. Now.

I enjoyed Crooked Kingdom as much as Six of Crows—with one exception, but I’m getting to that. The scheme wasn’t as insane as breaking into the Ice Court, but it’s just as daring, and as it all unfolded before me, I loved the rush. I loved watching the chaos unfold just like a true member of the Dregs. These two books held such a delicate complexity that I feel like tampering with one thing would blow everything over.

A lot of things have changed since I read Six of Crows. The biggest thing is how I feel about the characters. I still love them all, but in the first book, I had this pull towards Kaz. How couldn’t I? How could you possibly resist a dark, ruthless anti-hero with the mind of a madman?

I did not love him as much in Crooked Kingdom. I don’t know if this was faltering in his characterization or if I’ve just changed. But do you know who I do love? Jesper.

“It’s a weevil?” Inej asked, examining it.

“A chemical weevil,” said Jesper. “But Wylan still hasn’t named it. My vote is for the Wyvil.”

“That’s terrible,” said Wylan.

“It’s brilliant.” Jesper winked. “Just like you.”

I just realized why it’s called canon. It’s because you ship it. SHIP. Oh my god, what have I been doing with my life.

Not only do I love Jesper, but I found a soft spot in my heart for Nina as well. In the first book I was more found of Inej, but in Crooked Kingdom I realized Nina and I are both kindred spirits.

They passed a cheese shop, and Nina sighed. “How can I walk by a window full of wheels of cheese and feel nothing? I don’t even know myself anymore.”

I am in love with this dark, intricate world, but there is one thing that I can’t get over—the thing that almost killed this book for me.

I am never going to forgive Leigh Bardugo for that ending. Never. I’m sorry, but that ending deducted a whole star, simply because it was anticlimatic, out of the blue, and totally unnecessary.

(Warning: THIS IS THE SPOILER) : Matthias’s death was not only unexpected, it wasn’t developed enough. I get it, a main character dying is horrible and tragic and adds a twist to the story, but without enough to keep it afloat, it feels like an awful attempt at drama. There was not enough time to mourn Matthias, and not only that, the characters—the rest of Kaz’s crew—did not properly mourn as well, not even Nina. And what was the point? Why did Matthias have to die? Is there going to be another spin-off focusing on Fjerda, with Matthias used as some sort of martyr? Why did Matthias have to die? Why was he expendable and no one else?

Crooked Kingdom was not as good as Six of Crows, and it could all be because of that terrible ending. (Though I am glad that all of my ships have sailed.) Still, if Leigh Bardugo keeps up this sort of style—rich, dark, and devilishly compelling—I will read every book she writes.

Manga Review: Black Butler, by Yana Toboso


Black Butler, by Yana Toboso

Genres: Shonen, Dark Fantasy, Horror, Black Comedy

Volumes: 23

Status: Ongoing

Favorite Characters: Elizabeth Midford, Prince Soma, Snake.

Rating: ✮ +½

            “Love is a magnificent thing but, incidentally, it can also give birth to dreadful tragedy.”

I love Black Butler. I really, really do. I love the elegant drawing style, the gags, the violence, the cynicism, the Gothic touches sprinkled everywhere….It’s a beautiful manga.

What’s so special about Black Butler is that it is both a comedy and a tragedy. Set in the late 1880’s during Queen Victoria’s reign, Lord Earl Ciel Phantomhive works as her ‘watchdog’, handling her dirty work along with his butler, Sebastian—who is literally a devil of a butler. Three years before, his parents were savagely murdered and his mansion set afire, and Ciel was kidnapped and placed as a sacrifice for devil worshippers. In desperation, he summoned a demon and made a covenant with him: stay loyally by his side until he has his revenge.


Many arcs arise, from Jack the Ripper to a murder mystery reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, then a zombie apocalypse followed by a witching village in the forests of Germany. Each case hides a shocking secret which explodes into thousands more.

Ciel is described as “the aristocrat of evil.” He is not an average 13-year-old boy. Blighted by the horrors of his past, he has become cold, meticulous, and cunning. The only time he ever shows any heart is towards his fiancé, Elizabeth—who looks extremely cute but is actually a badass with swords—which is probably why I love her so much. I love that inside of his dark, foreboding heart, he has that one ray of light.


Sebastian, the protagonist of sorts, is perfect to the point of absurdity. That has always been why I don’t like him very much. He’s a devil, so obviously he has superhuman capabilities, but it’s like there’s nothing he can’t do, and even though that’s the point, it annoys me a lot.


Instead, I’m attached to almost everyone else: Elizabeth, Prince Soma, the Phantomhive servants, even Grell Sutcliff, though at first I couldn’t stand him.

The other thing is there are some serious historical inaccuracies. Some are acknowledged, but some are not. For example, Prince Soma at one point is excited about a television, even though this story is set mostly in 1889 and the first fully functioning television wasn’t invented until 1927. Next, Baldroy calls Sebastian Superman—more than once, I believe—when the character of Superman wasn’t created until 1933, and first appeared in 1938.

Despite that, it’s very enjoyable—however, it is not a very happy story. Black Butler brings out humanity’s ugliness, our flaws, our weaknesses. From the vantage point of a demon, it is easy to see how trivial we really are.


This is the sort of story that shows how cruel humanity can be.

“Humans cannot reject temptation.

When they are plunged into the depths of despair, likened to hell, they will hold on to anything that may help them escape from the situation they are in, even if it’s merely a spider’s thread, no matter what sort of humans they are.”

Review: Forbidden, by Tabitha Suzuma


Forbidden, by Tabitha Suzuma

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary

Rating: ✮✮✮ + ½

I wipe my cheeks and turn my head to look up at him. “We haven’t done anything wrong! How can love like this be called terrible when we’re not hurting anyone?”

He gazes down at me, his eyes glistening in the weak light. “I don’t know,” he whispers. “How can something so wrong feel so right?”

3.5 stars.

This is a hard book to review. It’s definitely the dark, emotional book I expected, yet at the same time I feel a little…disappointed.

This is not a book that promotes incest. Lochan and Maya’s narrations are unreliable; trusting them would be like trusting that of a serial killer. What this is, is the story of two siblings who were neglected by their mother and forced to raise their younger siblings by themselves, or otherwise have their family broken apart, and because they are so detached from everyone outside of their home, they can really only rely on each other for support. This pushes them together, and their emotional relationship turns physical. Though their story is heartbreaking and you feel sympathetic towards them, that does not justify incest in the least.

I especially felt sympathetic towards Lochan, who is so socially crippled that he can’t even participate in class. He doesn’t have any friends besides his family. He’s juggling school, social anxiety, and is forced to become a father at the age of seventeen to three siblings that, though he loves, annoy him and put him at wits end. His struggles hit me hard.

Even though I’m surrounded by pupils, there is this invisible screen between us, and behind the glass wall I am screaming—screaming in my own silence, screaming to be noticed, to be befriended, to be liked.

I was also found of Kit, Lochan and Maya’s thirteen-year-old brother. He’s this nasty kid at the start, always picking fights, using coarse words in front of a five-year-old, smoking weed, and deliberately disobeying his older brother just to make him mad—but towards the end he becomes the brother that everyone had been missing, and his relationship with Lochan grows and starts to mend. It’s understandable where he’s coming from; he’s stuck between being a kid and an adult, trapped in a confusing world where he understands all of the shit that is in his life and yet can do nothing to change it.

What kind of disappointed me was that I had high expectations, and this book didn’t quite reach them. Basically, I expected to cry, and I didn’t. I was ready to burst into tears at any possible moment—at the library, at my favorite restaurant, on the bus—but it never happened. Oh, it’ll make you want to curl up and die at some points, and my heart definitely broke a couple of times, but I wanted it to make me cry. The ending is absolutely horrifying, but I didn’t shed a single tear. I don’t know whether to be disappointed in myself for being a heartless wrench, or just blame it on the book. I’ll say the former.