January 2016 – Book Review

The first month of the year is over, and I thought it would be fun to review the books I’ve read in January. Here it goes:

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A thin volume with reimagined, modernized fairy tales, along with some original stories by Cunningham. Some of these reimaginings work rather well, and some of them fall a bit flat, unable to conjure up any magic. While Cunningham’s writing is superb–and his ability to humanize previously simple and two-dimensional characters is quite impressive–some of these new tellings feel somewhat short and incomplete. I did, however, enjoy a few of them, including the stories “Little Man,” “Steadfast; Tin,” and “Ever/After.” Additionally, the illustrations by Yuko Shimizu are beautiful. A Wild Swan is good but not great. 3/5

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I saw the film version ofThe Perks of Being a Wallflower when it first came around in 2012, but I hadn’t ever read the novel before. However, I decided, on a whim, to pick up a signed hardcover copy at Barnes & Noble (to treat myself; I do love signed editions) and made plans to read it. Stephen Chbosky’s novel is just as grand as everyone says. I tend to find epistolary novels, though told through letters, to be awkward, but I didn’t find that here. It was very easy to relate to Charlie and travel with him on his journey. I now know why everyone loves this book. 4/5

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I’m sure some people will truly love this book. They’ll find it captivating, interesting, fun. I am not one of those people. First of all, I’m not the intended demographic; I am not a teen, no matter how youthful my appearance may be. (Not that you need to be a teenager to enjoy teen books.) I also don’t read fantasy/adventure novels. I just don’t. I think the last ones I read were The Hunger Games trilogy when they first were published, and then The Hobbit, which was about nine years ago.

So, why did I choose this book to read? Plain and simple, it was the cover. I think it looks pretty cool, and the pages are black, which I’m a sucker for. Once I started reading Six of Crows, though, I got a little flustered. Tons of information and lingo were thrown at me at the beginning, making it rather difficult for me to actually get into the book, the story, and the characters. Once I did pick up the lingo and figure out what was going on–around page 70 or 75–things started to pick up. Now, I do think the characters were generally well-written and fleshed out; each had their own personality and humor, so I do appreciate that. But then it felt like the story just went into a standard/recognizable rhythm, which made the heist seem less exciting/dangerous and more predictable. I also felt a disconnect between the ages of the characters and the occupations of those characters. Sixteen and Seventeen year olds aren’t spies and business owners. Though, I’m guessing these types of occupations are more common for teenagers to possess in this genre (I still don’t like it).

Just because I didn’t necessary care for Six of Crows doesn’t mean that others won’t. (And, in looking at the other Goodreads reviews for it, I’m clearly not in the majority.) For me, it was simply fine, and doesn’t necessarily make me want to read any other (popular) books in the teen fantasy/adventure genre. 2/5

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Last year, I decided to collect all of Haruki Murakami’s fiction writing, including all of his novels and collections of short stories (and now I own all but one, The Strange Library). I decided to do a Murakami Marathon, which is somewhat punny as the author runs marathons (I had a laugh), and this collection of his first two short novels, newly released here after 30 years of being out of print, was where I’d start my marathon. To preface: I’ve read Norwegian Wood before, which is probably his most famous and well-known novel, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was hoping for the same reaction to these novels. Alas, these really weren’t the same.

Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 were Murakami’s first attempts, and they seem like it. I can only compare these short novels to the magnificent Norwegian Wood, and so I have to say that I wasn’t overly impressed with them (and, apparently, Murakami wasn’t either, which is why they’ve been out of print for thirty-odd years). Nevertheless, I feel as if there are inklings and certain feelings that will emerge in his later works, and I’m excited to see how he builds upon those; and, surely, his work will become more impressive.

Hear the Wind Sing is short and sweet, and did remind me a bit of Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen, which I read at the end of last year. It’s more of a straightforward story, without too many surprises popping up. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, but just a little uninspired. Pinball, 1973 is a bit more creative and unusual. I’d classify some spots as “deliciously weird” (though, I think there will be even weirder stuff to come). The whole conversation with Spaceship the pinball machine is probably my favorite bit. Both are good, and I enjoyed them, but not as much as I’d hoped I would. This collection is a good start to Murakami’s much-beloved body of literary work, though. 3/5

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Right after Wind/Pinball, I decided to read A Wild Sheep Chase. It was as if something finally clicked with Murakami. The third novel in the Rat trilogy, A Wild Sheep Chase continues the story of the nameless narrator and his weird adventure that leads him on a wild sheep chase. The novel is a drastic improvement over Murakami’s first works. His writing style is definitive and a complete change from that found in his previous novels. Style, complexity, characterization, and overall storytelling are just leaps and bounds more impressive. There’s just this mystical and inexplicable quality here that’s refreshing; the oddness of it all is so captivating and special. No wonder Murakami took the world by storm with this book. 4/5

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I’m not one for memoirs, unless they’re by comedians (for some inexplicable reason). I bought When Breath Becomes Air for my mom, and I decided to give it a go because I’m currently stuck on reading another book (Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City). I actually connected with Kalanithi’s book more than I thought I would. Perhaps it’s because I also went into college thinking about majoring in English or biology (I chose English, just like Kalanithi, though I have no plans to go into medicine). He is a rather gifted writer; his words are easy to read but they have a weight to them. It’s probably not as “inspiring” as was intended–or maybe I’m just not one who’s easily inspired–but enjoyable nonetheless. 4/5

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