I haven’t been exactly sure what’s going on here lately. I’ve been through some reading slumps and revivals and slumps again, and I think the same is true of my blogging. But in the past couple months, a lot of really great books have come through for me.
This book is beautiful and very unsettling, so much that I didn’t even know what outcome I was hoping for. It’s written in three sections, each in a different style and from the perspective of a different character in Yeong-hye’s life. Each section increases in intimacy; in the last one, In-hye’s realizations about her sister’s condition, and her own, were incredibly poignant to me. I am sure I will read it again, and I’m looking forward to reading more of Kang’s work, which I hope will continue to be translated into English.
Hotel Iris, by Yoko Ogawa
This is not an easy book to rate, and part of me would prefer not to try. I was incredibly creeped out for a while, at times so much that I found it hard to make eye contact with the words—but somehow Ogawa’s evocative writing won me over in spite of that. I’m actually pretty satisfied with how it ended. Given how much I loved The Diving Pool and Revenge, I’d say she has been cemented into my top three Japanese authors (thus far) (the other two are Haruki Murakami and Kenzaburo Oe), who are also three of my top five authors, period.
The Return of the Native, by Thomas Hardy
As I have come to expect from Hardy, this book is full of near misses, those exasperating moments when everything would have been fine but for one stupid mistake or absurd coincidence. Clym Yeobright is a slightly less awful Angel Clare; Eustacia Vye is much stronger and more flawed than Tess Durbeyfield, but I like her just as much. In fact, she’s my favorite character in the book, and the one who was always right in her arguments with Clym. Her position between him and his mother was painfully unfair, and made me really dislike Mrs. Yeobright toward the end.
I read this book in massive stops and starts—frequently mired in descriptions of the heath which, though lovely when I could focus on them, were like chloroform to my brain—then sailing easily through fifty or a hundred pages in what felt like minutes. I’m confirmed in my plan to read all of Hardy’s books at some point, though I don’t expect any of them to supplant Tess as one of my all-time favorites.
I can’t tell how I feel about Yoshimoto’s books anymore. They all seem to be so nice. The language is a little too beautiful, the scenes are a little too sweet, in this one even more than the others I’ve read. Just as I was thinking that this book was way too nice, some things happened to shake it up, and now that I’ve finished . . . I can’t decide. Three stars? Four? I enjoyed it, but in the opposite way from Hotel Iris, I feel like this book clarified for me that Yoshimoto is not quite among my favorites.
High School Debut, Volumes 14-15, by Kazune Kawahara
Four stars for the series overall, three for this omnibus.
This past weekend I discovered a “previously unpublished” on the shelf at my library! Two more volumes of High School Debut, continuing the story as Haruna tries to get accepted to Tokyo University so she can be with Yoh. I loved it, but I’m also ready to be past the feverish, heart-pounding stage and into the comfortable one. There’s only so much fluttering and sexual tension I can take, even from a series I really like; I’m more interested in seeing a stable adult relationship. (Which is strange enough as it is, considering how I usually detest romance in general. Maybe it’s because manga is still a new genre to me?)
This was an ultimately disappointing roller coaster. I adored the first book, again, possibly just because it was the first of this kind I’ve ever read (there’s an obvious style here, yes?). I liked the second book, but less; liked the third book still less; got annoyed with the fourth book; barely skimmed the fifth book; finished the sixth and said “What the hell, where’s the ending?” Because yeah, there’s no ending.
I was so intrigued by the setup in the first volume, but what followed was 1500+ pages of everyone fawning over the main character and their own partners (they’re basically immortal demon-fighters who work in pairs), with almost no plot beyond showing how each set of partners fawns over each other. Very unsatisfying.
The Amazing Spider-Girl, Vol. 1: Whatever Happened to the Daughter of Spider-Man?, by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz
Three stars, maybe two and a half.
I enjoyed this in spite of itself. Ron Frenz gives us plastic-looking characters and at least a few of those spine-snapping (or just really stupid-looking) poses female superheroes often suffer. Tom DeFalco does exactly the kind of comic book writing that used to make me not want to read comic books (May’s mom who reminds me of Amy Poehler’s character in Mean Girls, her boyfriend who isn’t a terrible B-movie villain but sounds just like one). I’d still like to read more, but I think volume two will be where I can tell whether or not this run is worth it.
This, on the other hand, is a solid win. I have nothing to say about volume one except YES. Now I’m just kicking myself that I didn’t bring home volume two at the same time.