Speed Reviews (Catching Up)

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.

The Vegetarian, by Han Kang
Five stars.

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
Four stars.

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
Three stars.

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.

Goodbye, Tsugumi, by Banana Yoshimoto
Three stars.

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?)

The Betrayal Knows My Name, by Hotaru Odagiri
Five stars for the first volume, one and a half for the series as a whole.

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.

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Jessica Jones, Alias: Vol. 1, by Brian Michael Bendis and David W. Mack
Four stars.

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.

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8 thoughts on “Speed Reviews (Catching Up)

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed Hotel Iris, if enjoyed is the right word. I found it excruciating at times, but compelling. What a tale. Sorry you weren’t completely taken by The Return of the Native, I thought it was one of Hardy’s best. I’ve only read The Lake by Yoshimoto and didn’t get a niceness vibe from it. I keep meaning to read Kitchen, is that one of the ones you’ve read? I borrowed The Ballad of Halo Jones from the library this week – I’m looking forward to that one.

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    1. I think I did enjoy it, even though it was agonizing at times. And I did like The Return of the Native, just not as much as Tess—which has been one of my all-time favorites since I was a teenager, so it will be hard to surpass. This coincided with a major reading slump for me, so part of it probably wasn’t even about the book, more about my mental state in reading it. The Lake is my favorite of Yoshimoto’s books so far (maybe it’s because it’s the least “nice”? I don’t know). I have read Kitchen and liked it, a solid three stars. It seems like for me, most of her books are three-star, with the occasional four.

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      1. Okay, and I’ve just realized this is only the third is her books that I’ve read, so maybe it’s not fair to say “most” yet.

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    2. I haven’t heard of The Ballad of Halo Jones, but I see that it’s by Alan Moore, which is intriguing. I’m interested in reading more of his comics now that I know how outstanding The Killing Joke was.

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      1. I found Tess a real grind. It made me so angry, the way she was treated by the hypocritical, entitled men in her life, and the limited choices she had. Interesting about Yoshimoto. I think the fact I haven’t hoovered up more of her books since that first one is an indicator that I’m not convinced by her! I haven’t read any Moore before. My husband loves The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and friends speak highly of V for Vendetta and Watchmen. I’m intrigued by Halo Jones, because Moore and Gibson put so much into creating a believable future world where the heroine is a woman and then the series ended up unfinished because the publisher wouldn’t let Moore do what he wanted with the characters. That must have been so frustrating!

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      2. I swear I’ve typed out a response to this line three times, and I don’t know what is happening that I keep not actually posting it. I think now I’ve forgotten some of what I meant to say.

        That does sound frustrating, and like it would be frustrating for me as a reader, too. I do get angry reading Tess, and I did with The Return of the Native for the same reasons, but the fact that Hardy is clearly sympathetic to that unfairness is what makes the books so poignant. Have you read any of his others? I haven’t yet, and I’m wondering if they all share that theme.

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      3. Hardy’s themes are the clash between traditional rural life and encroaching modernity, and that necessarily encompasses the lot of women in a changing world geared up for men, so yes others of his books are similar to Tess and Native. My favourite of his is Far From the Madding Crowd. Bathsheba Everdene is a perfect character, the person I wished Tess had been. The Trumpet Major is one of his slighter books and easier to read. Under the Greenwood Tree is lovely, very bucolic and sweet. Jude is a hard read but worth the effort – some of the awful things that happen are so melodramatic, though, that I wasn’t sure whether Hardy was satirising Dickens or whether he was genuinely being melodramatic! Those are all the ones I’ve read. I think you’ll like Far From the Madding Crowd.

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