Review: The Devotion of Suspect X, by Keigo Higashino

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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.

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Review: Half a King, by Joe Abercrombie

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Half a King, by Joe Abercrombie

Genres: Young Adult, High Fantasy

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

“The fool strikes. The wise man smiles, and watches, and learns. Then strikes.”

This book is marketed as YA, but to tell you the truth, that is not how it feels when you go into it. Maybe it’s because I didn’t know, but it could also be because there is something about this book that is very mature, and its brutality is something different from what I’ve experienced in YA before.

Half a King really hit it out of the park. It had me hooked the moment it introduced Yarvi, the second son of King Uthrik of Gettland, who has a crippled hand and is thus perceived as a weakling by his family and his kingdom. When his father and older brother are murdered, Yarvi is forced to take the throne in his father’s place, a task that he is completely unprepared for. However, circumstances arise that throw Yarvi in a desperate fight for his life out on the high seas, and he must find a way to return to Gettland and reclaim his stolen throne.

High fantasy is a genre that has been so recycled, it’s hard to find anything original as one story bleeds into the next. It’s a genre that I’m drawn to but wary of due to its tendency to become very condensed. Half a King doesn’t have a strong, detailed world, nor a complex religion or political structure – but that’s actually its strongest point. It’s not dense, but it’s not light, either. It’s the kind of fantasy that is developed enough to be enjoyable but not so much as to weigh it down.

Plus, the characters are fantastic. Yarvi may have been stripped of his birthright, but he is not exactly a tragic hero. He shows on various occasions his ability to manipulate and deceive. He is vengeful; his malevolence is controlled and calculative. He may not know how to wield a blade, but that doesn’t make him any less terrifying. The others – Jaud, Rulf, Ankran, Sumael, and Nothing – were well-developed, intricately-written characters that I came to adore and fear for as they faced turmoil after turmoil.

I think the best part about Half a King is that there aren’t any clichés. Abercrombie doesn’t put his characters in a box, nor does he insert any plot devices to coax the story along. In a sense, he doesn’t use any cheat codes. There’s no deus ex machina. He tells the story honestly. (Though that doesn’t stop him from throwing in a couple screwdriver plot twists, which you will NEVER SEE COMING.)

Joe Abercrombie? This guy? He knows how to tell a story. I will definitely be picking up the sequel and more of his books in the future.

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.

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: Please Look After Mom, by Kyung-Sook Shin

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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.

Review: The Retribution of Mara Dyer, by Michelle Hodkin

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The Retribution of Mara Dyer, by Michelle Hodkin

Genres: Young Adult, Paranormal, Romance

Rating: ✮

The villain is the hero of her own story.

I finally have an excuse to use this image:

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Warning: Spoilers. Spoilers everywhere.

The road that I have traveled while reading the Mara Dyer trilogy has not been an easy one. Unbecoming was sexist as hell, with slut-shaming and an egotistical douche of a love interest to match, but it was so creepy and mysterious, and overall, addicting. Instead of a book that I loved to hate, it was a book that I hated to love. Evolution started out strong but eventually grew tiring, with too many questions and not enough answers to satisfy. Then came the ending, which was terrible and made me really hesitant to finish the series.

Now that I have, I’m wondering what I ever saw in it in the first place.

For starters, it’s dull as fuck. The story sequence goes like this:

  1. Mara escapes Horizons with Jamie and Stella.
  2. Mara, Jamie and Stella go on a darling little road trip that takes up about half of the book.
  3. Mara starts screaming that they need to find Noah.
  4. Mara finds Noah, who starts fighting with his dad while Jude drools in the corner.
  5. Kaboom.
  6. Mara and Noah have sex in the worst sex scene I have ever read.
  7. The end.

So, in the book’s defense, the reason why I may not be able to recollect all of the details is because I was too bored to care.

Retribution is a gigantic mess. I mean that. Michelle Hodkin opened up too many doors, and now it feels like a race to close all of them before the book ends. There are theories being thrown around everywhere to try and connect things, to tie loose ends, and it is a headache to read. In the end, it’s all just garbled, scientific bullshit that sounds ridiculous and makes absolutely no sense. The root of Mara and Noah’s powers – the biggest question in the series, the one that I’d been dying to know – is absolutely pathetic. Supposedly there is a gene that all of these kids have that give them supernatural powers. That’s it. That’s the giant secret. This gene is also what leads to self-harm, depression, anorexia, bipolar disorder, etc. and etc., and I think that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. It’s never really explained. Hodkin tries, just a tiny bit, but because everything is coming so fast, it’s jumbled and confusing.

There are also a lot of holes in the plot of this book in particular. There is one scene that really pisses me off. It’s near the beginning, when Mara, Jamie, and Stella are on the run, and they hitch a ride with this psychopathic cowboy. They stop to use the bathroom and the guy attacks Stella, who finally decides to say, “He’s done this before. He’s going to kill us.” Do you know why this pisses me off? It’s because Stella can read minds. She can read minds, and yet she didn’t say anything when they were at the bar, didn’t say anything before they got into the truck, not even something moderately helpful like, “Run.” That means that the entire situation could’ve been avoided, but it wasn’t, and rape was used as a plot device in order to make Mara look like a tragic hero when she saved Stella and murdered the attacker.

I could go on – flimsy characters, bland writing, the absolute worst explanation for the connection between Mara’s grandmother and Noah’s mother, one that still makes absolutely no sense to me – but I won’t, because I’m boring myself to death.

Retribution doesn’t feel like a satisfying conclusion at all – although with a spin-off series in the works, it begs the question of whether it was purposeful, meant to drag the story out even further. I read this book for the sole purpose of the spin-off, but after this, I think I’ll pass.

The Mara Dyer trilogy is an absolute waste of time.

Review: A Conjuring of Light, by V.E. Schwab

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A Conjuring of Light, by V.E. Schwab

Genres: Adult, Fantasy

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

“Scars are not shameful, not unless you let them be. If you do not wear them, they will wear you.”

(^This song reminds me so much of this book.)

I have no idea how to review this book. I really, really don’t. I feel like I’ve said everything already in my reviews for A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows. The character development, the world-building, the writing – all of it is magnificent. The entire series is a masterpiece.

Was A Conjuring of Light a bit slow? Yes. It’s a 600+ page book, and there was a lot of traveling involved. Was the ending a bit underwhelming? Yes. Definitely yes. Do I think the previous books were better? Absolutely – but this book still had the thing that I love the most, the thing that really made me fall in love with it. When it comes to books, there is one quality that I admire the most. I love crafted writing and I love a lot of action, but there’s something that a book can have that a writer can’t really learn. It’s an attribute to the book that develops all on its own.

Potency. Semblance. Realism. When a book opens itself up and completely swallows you, when it doesn’t leave a trace of doubt that any part of it wasn’t meant to be. A writer can learn how to build a world and shape it to their will, but it takes an extra push to make it truly come to life, and that’s not something that is done easily. When a book is real enough to make me forget that I’m reading – when I forget that it’s a story, not something that actually happened – that is my favorite thing. That is what Shades of Magic has.

A Conjuring of Light is the last book in the series. It is over 600 pages, and it is still not enough. It left me aching for more. Finishing it is like coming out of warm water into the shivering cold. I am tempted to beg for a spin-off series, except that I know how those things usually go, and I am restraining myself (almost).

I could disect this book the way that I usually do, but the truth is that I just want to enjoy the pleasure that it brought me while reading it. Sometimes it’s impossible to express why we love something, and I’m having a hard time finding the words for the magic of this series.

Review: Rebel of the Sands, by Alwyn Hamilton

25776221Rebel of the Sands, by Alwyn Hamilton

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy

Rating: ✮

The world makes things for each place. Fish for the sea, Rocs for the mountain skies, and girls with sun in their skin and perfect aim for a desert that doesn’t let weakness live.

To say this book is dull is a bit of an understatement.

I love Arabian mythology. A while back, I did some research for a story I was working on. I only wanted some information about ghouls, but then I got caught up in the legends of the First Beings. I spent hours scrolling through websites, soaking up information. That’s why I was so excited by Rebel of the Sands – but its problems start at the very beginning. The author tries to mesh the Middle East with the Western genre, but it succeeds more in the later than the former. It doesn’t blend. The parts where the author delves into the myths are overshadowed by shootouts, politics, and a revolution that is shoved into the last part of the book.

See, that’s the other thing. I understand the importance of Ahmed’s revolution, but because it isn’t an important part of the book up until the end, I can’t be made to care about it. Most of the book is made up of Amani and Jin traveling around the country together (and staring lustfully at each other, of course), and by the time I got to the meat of the book, it was too late. I was bored out of my god damned mind.

The relationship between Amani and Jin is extremely unbalanced. They meet at a pistol pit, escape a burning building together, and the next morning they are fleeing for their lives, putting their necks out for a person they barely know. Amani throws all of her dreams of traveling to Izman, the capitol of Miraji, out the window, ones that she’s had for years, all for a boy that she’s known for two months. They start swooning over each other instantly, but the attraction between them isn’t there. They feel like two characters from different stories shoved together and forced to play a part.

Then there’s the writing. For one thing, it’s melodramatic. Everything is trying to be so intense and tragic, but it’s not working. It’s a little cheap, like those SyFy movies my dad likes to watch, just to laugh at the shitty graphics. Compared to An Ember In The Ashes – which has a lot of similar themes, if you look closely – it fails, miserably. And then there’s this:

The head that rose to look at me was the color of sun at high noon over a sand dune…I was on to the next stall already, to a Buraqi the color of cool dawn light over dusty mountains. The next one was the endless dark of the desert at night.

Those are all in the same paragraph, and those kinds of sentences are repeated over and over again all throughout the book. Like, I get that you need to be creative, but is there really anything wrong with saying that something is black? How about ebony? Stygian? On second thought, now that I think about it, does it really matter what color the Buraqi are at all? She’s only using them as a distraction; it’s not like they’re significant.

I’m rambling.

My point is that sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with being simplistic. Going overboard and trying to sound artistic and clever can backfire, and make the story difficult to read. It can also disrupt the moment. Particularly in fight scenes, it’s better to be sharp and to the point, because it amplifies the viewer’s perspective. Rebel of the Sands doesn’t do that, and so its punches aren’t thrown as hard as they could be.

Rebel of the Sands had a lot of promise and a cool concept, but a horrible execution. It picks up at the end, but by the time you get to the action, you’re practically dragging yourself through it. What it needed was less traveling, more buildup, and a lot more focus on Arabian mythology.

Review: The Upside of Unrequited, by Becky Albertalli

30653853The Upside of Unrequited, by Becky Albertalli

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBTQIA

Rating: ✮✮ +½

I don’t entirely understand how anyone gets a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend. It just seems like the most impossible odds. You have to have a crush on the exact right person at the exact right moment. And they have to like you back. A perfect alignment of feelings and circumstances.

This book was a little meh for me. There were pieces of it that I liked, but I didn’t enjoy it so much as a whole.

The Upside of Unrequited has a lot going for it. It’s hilarious, quirky, and cute, and it’s full of so many wonderful things that I like to see advocated in books: Molly and Cassie have two moms, they’re part of a biracial family, and they’re Jewish. Cassie is a lesbian and her girlfriend, Mina, is pansexual. Molly is overweight, which is something that does not happen enough in books, especially where YA is concerned. There are also some topics discussed concerning sex and body image, and although Molly’s thoughts are painful and discouraging and to be honest, pretty insulting, I can’t say I haven’t had the same ones. It’s not that they’re true, it’s just that they’re manifestations of insecurity. They speak to every person who has ever felt sensitive about how they look.

One of the problems is the story. Much of it is focused on Molly’s crush on Reid, as well as her relationship with Will, and the endgame of getting a boyfriend. It’s really uncompelling. Another problem is the underlying current of the relationship with her and her twin sister, Cassie. After Cassie gets a girlfriend, they start to grow apart and fight a lot, and Cassie says some extremely rude things to her sister that, if I were in Molly’s shoes, I would not take. Such as:

“Do you want to help us paint mason jars?” I ask, after a moment.

Cassie laughs harshly. “Um, no.”

“Wow,” I say.

“Jesus Christ. Molly, stop.”

“I’m not doing anything.”

“Ugh—you’re looking at me like…no. I mean, no offense, but do I want to paint fucking mason jars with you and Grandma? Or do I want to hang out with my girlfriend?”

And the thing is, she never apologizes for that – or for anything else she’s done, which includes getting drunk at a party and then assuming that Molly will drive herself home, even when she knows that she’s had a drink. When they start to talk toward the end, she spins it around, and Molly ends up apologizing instead. Then they move on to the wedding, and it feels like so many threads in their relationship are left untied.

Another thing that’s nagging me is that everything – the story and the characters – kind of run together. Nothing felt very distinct, and a lot of the characters felt the same as another character, or multiple characters. None of them connected very well, either. It felt two-dimensional. The writing started to get repetitive after a while, too; I lost count of how many times Molly mentioned something going on in her stomach or her heart. I liked Reid, but Molly around him was an annoying hamster wheel.

It was not a bad book, but it didn’t impress me as much as I was hoping it would. If I were to recommend it for anything, I would say for a good laugh.