Monday, November 11, 2019

Mini-Reviews: Japanese Crime Fiction--Confessions by Kanae Minato & The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

ConfessionsConfessions by Kanae Kinato
Mulholland Books
Publication: August 19th, 2014
Paperback. 235 pages.

About Confessions:
"After calling off her engagement in wake of a tragic revelation, Yuko Moriguchi had nothing to live for except her only child, four-year-old Manami. Now, following an accident on the grounds of the middle school where she teaches, Yuko has given up and tendered her resignation.

But first she has one last lecture to deliver. She tells a story that upends everything her students ever thought they knew about two of their peers, and sets in motion a maniacal plot for revenge.

Narrated in alternating voices, with twists you'll never see coming, Confessions explores the limits of punishment, despair, and tragic love, culminating in a harrowing confrontation between teacher and student that will place the occupants of an entire school in danger. You'll never look at a classroom the same way again."

I read Kanae Mintao's Penance a few years back and found it to be a compelling thriller that left me wanting to check out more from Minato. It's taken me a while to get around to it, but I've finally done it and it was just as twisty and unexpected as Penance (if not more!). This story thrives on plot twists, so I can't go into any details at all, but I will say that you really need to prepare yourselves for this one because it handles some extremely intense topics.

What I liked: Confessions was nearly unpredictable for me and I had some audible reactions to certain twists and moments that blew me away. This is a book about revenge--revenge that takes its form in so many different ways, and just when you think you have it figured out or think it's all over, there's something new to come and completely prove you wrong. I liked how Minato plays with her storytelling through different perspectives and manages to continuously bring in new ideas and possibilities.

What I didn't like: Since this story centers around a few main characters throughout the book, each each characters gets a certain part of the book to tell their version of the story. Although I like this part of the setup, what I didn't care for was how repetitive it made the book at times. It wasn't overly repetitive since each person tended to have their own unique story, perspective, and background, but it did result in more than a few scenes repeated a few too many times for my liking.

Overall, I've given Confessions four stars!

The Devotion of Suspect X (Detective Galileo, #1)The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
Minotaur Books
Publication Date: February 1st, 2011
Hardcover. 298 pages.

About The Devotion of Suspect X:
"Yasuko lives a quiet life, working in a Tokyo bento shop, a good mother to her only child. But when her ex-husband appears at her door without warning one day, her comfortable world is shattered.

When Detective Kusanagi of the Tokyo Police tries to piece together the events of that day, he finds himself confronted by the most puzzling, mysterious circumstances he has ever investigated. Nothing quite makes sense, and it will take a genius to understand the genius behind this particular crime..."

The Devotion of Suspect X is the sort of crime thriller that doesn't really follow a fast-placed plot or have all that much action going on, but it still manages to wrap you up in the story in such a compelling way with countless unpredictable twists.

What I liked: Higashino's careful plotting of the story and how he slowly unveils new information and twists is truly expert. There's a reason why people are always talking about this book! It's completely unexpected at almost every turn and has some incredibly clever ideas wrapped up in it. One of my favorite things that I've tended to notice about Japanese fiction in general is that it has a much 'quieter' feel to it than a lot of non-Japanese books I read. I'm not entirely sure how to describe it, but it's partially due to a focus on the smaller, day-to-day events and details rather than fast-paced, action-heavy, big scene books. It's much more about plotting and the details and important keys to pick up about characters.

What I didn't like: Honestly, there's not a lot that I didn't really like about this book. I would say the only thing holding me back from enjoy it more is that since it doesn't have a particularly fast pace and it delves so deeply into detail and conversations about different specific scenarios, it did feel as though it dragged slightly in some places. It still manages to feel like a fast-moving plot, but since it does have a slower pace and tone it can make it difficult to stay focused at times. I also can't say I ever felt particularly drawn to any of the characters, but I still enjoyed seeing their reactions and involvements within this book.

Overall, I've also given the Devotion of Suspect X four stars!

Friday, November 8, 2019

The Friday Face-Off: Explosions

Friday Face Off New
Welcome to The Friday Face-Off, a weekly meme at Books by Proxy. Join us every Friday as we pit cover against cover, and publisher against publisher, to find the best artwork in our literary universe. You can find a list of upcoming topics at Lynn's Books.

This week's topic is:
“big badda boom” – a cover that features an explosion

This was trickier than I expected! I couldn't seem to find any traditional 'explosions' on covers, so I just went with a variety of covers that have some sort of object or element in the midst of exploding. Or what seems to be exploding, at least. I really like a lot of these covers, there's a good mix of colors (especially Ody-C!) and a variety of what seems to be, er, exploding.

  The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy, #3)Vita NostraIlluminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)
2019 US Hardcover | 2018 US Hardcover | 2015 US Hardcover

The City of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy, #1)ODY-C #1Daughter from the Dark
2017 US Hardcover | 2014 US Paperback | 2020 US Hardcover

A Shadow Bright and Burning (Kingdom on Fire, #1)Given to the Sea (Given Duet, #1)This Mortal Coil
2016 US Hardcover | 2017 US Hardcover | 2018 US Hardcover

My choice(s):
The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy, #3)Vita Nostra
The cover for Vita Nostra is one of my favorites by far, but I also just love the style and drama of The Winter of the Witch, so I'm choosing both!

What cover(s) do you like the most!?

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Light of All That Falls by James Islington & Labyrinth of Ice by Buddy Levy

Can't-Wait is a weekly meme hosted by Wishful Endings that spotlights exciting upcoming releases that we can't wait to be released! This meme is based off of Jill @ Breaking the Spine's Waiting on Wednesday meme.

This week's upcoming book spotlights are: 

The Light of All That Falls (The Licanius Trilogy, #3)
The Light of All That Falls (The Licanius Trilogy #3) by James Islington
Publication: December 10th, 2019
Hardcover. 608 pages.

"The Light of All That Falls concludes the epic adventure that began in The Shadow of What Was Lost, the acclaimed fantasy blockbuster from James Islington. 

The Boundary is whole once again, but it may be too late. 

Banes now stalk Andarra, while in Ilin Illan, the political machinations of a generation come to a head as Wirr's newfound ability forces his family's old enemies into action. 

Imprisoned and alone in a strange land, Davian is pitted against the remaining Venerate as they work tirelessly to undo Asha's sacrifice - even as he struggles with what he has learned about the friend he chose to set free. 

And Caeden, now facing the consequences of his centuries-old plan, must finally confront its reality - heartbroken at how it began, and devastated by how it must end."
The Licanius Trilogy has easily become one of my favorite fantasy series and I am truly beyond words with my excitement for this final book. I have no idea what's going to happen and I can't wait to see how Islington handles everything.

Labyrinth of Ice: The Triumphant and Tragic Greely Polar Expedition
Labyrinth of Ice: The Triumphant and Tragic Greely Polar Expedition by Buddy Levy
Publication: December 3rd, 2019
St. Martin's Press
Hardcover. 400 pages.

"In July 1881, Lt. A.W. Greely and his crew of 24 scientists and explorers were bound for the last region unmarked on global maps. Their goal: Farthest North. What would follow was one of the most extraordinary and terrible voyages ever made. 

Greely and his men confronted every possible challenge—vicious wolves, sub-zero temperatures, and months of total darkness—as they set about exploring one of the most remote, unrelenting environments on the planet. In May 1882, they broke the 300-year-old record, and returned to camp to eagerly await the resupply ship scheduled to return at the end of the year. Only nothing came. 

250 miles south, a wall of ice prevented any rescue from reaching them. Provisions thinned and a second winter descended. Back home, Greely’s wife worked tirelessly against government resistance to rally a rescue mission. 

Months passed, and Greely made a drastic choice: he and his men loaded the remaining provisions and tools onto their five small boats, and pushed off into the treacherous waters. After just two weeks, dangerous floes surrounded them. Now new dangers awaited: insanity, threats of mutiny, and cannibalism. As food dwindled and the men weakened, Greely's expedition clung desperately to life.

Labyrinth of Ice tells the true story of the heroic lives and deaths of these voyagers hell-bent on fame and fortune—at any cost—and how their journey changed the world"
I love anything related to survival in polar/arctic/etc. climates, so this was sort of a no-question 'must-have' when I saw it. This sounds intense and fascinating and I hope to be able to check it out in December!

What do you think about these upcoming releases? What are your anticipated upcoming releases?

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Autumn Vibes

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly book blog meme now hosted by Jana over at The Artsy Reader Girl!

This week's topic is: Autumn Vibes

I actually had a bit of a difficult time with autumn vibes this week. It was hard to narrow down exactly what I consider 'autumn vibes' because it actually varies quite a bit. Sometimes I think of scarier things as being great or autumn, sometimes more of the whimsical and magical, and sometimes just straight up 'cozy' reads. In the end, I've decided to feature a mixture of books that are either on the cozy side or just have a great atmosphere that makes me think of fall--I hope they make you think of fall, too (or else it's just a random mix of books?)! 

The Illumination of Ursula FlightThe Sisters of the Winter WoodUnnatural MagicThe Problim Children

The Illumination of Ursula of Flight by Anne-Marie Crowhurst:
This is more on the 'cozy' autumn vibe because it's just such a delightful story and made me feel completely cozy and happy the entire time I read it. It's not without its drama and harder moments, but it's has so much character that I think it'd be perfect for an autumn day.

The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner
Something about this book just screams 'fall' to me--I think it's a mix of the covers, the close sister relationship, and the overall atmosphere.

Unnatural Magic by C.M. Waggoner 
Another one that fits more with the 'cozy' autumn aspect!

The Problim Children by Nataile Lloyd
This is a charming middle grade that just screams at me with autumn vibes.

The Glass Town GameCirceIn the Night Garden (The Orphan's Tales, #1)Witchborn

The Glass Town Game by Catherynne M. Valente
Another middle grade that feels so whimsical and inventive, but also maintains a sort of familiar fall atmosphere that works so well for this season!

Circe by Madeline Miller
What better time to dive into a story of mythology and witches than in the fall?

In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente
These interconnected short stories are perfect for fall. Something about them just makes me want to curl up on a nice fall day and dive into them.

Witchborn by Nicholas Bowling
Another middle grade (though I'd say the older end of middle grade) featuring an incredibly 'autumn' atmosphere and plenty of witchy things.

Tess of the Road (Tess of the Road, #1)The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman
Tess of the Road is a long, somewhat meandering journey of discovery and it feels perfectly relaxing and fall-like.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
And lastly, what does scream fall like some fairy tale retellings of the, uh, darker nature?

Have you read any of these? What books make you think of fall?

Monday, November 4, 2019

Review: Unnatural Magic by C.M. Waggoner

Unnatural Magic
Unnatural Magic by C.M. Waggoner
Publication Date: November 5th, 2019
Paperback. 400 pages

About Unnatural Magic:

"Onna can write the parameters of a spell faster than any of the young men in her village school. But despite her incredible abilities, she’s denied a place at the nation’s premier arcane academy. Undaunted, she sails to the bustling city-state of Hexos, hoping to find a place at a university where they don’t think there’s anything untoward about providing a woman with a magical education. But as soon as Onna arrives, she’s drawn into the mysterious murder of four trolls. 

Tsira is a troll who never quite fit into her clan, despite being the leader’s daughter. She decides to strike out on her own and look for work in a human city, but on her way she stumbles upon the body of a half-dead human soldier in the snow. As she slowly nurses him back to health, an unlikely bond forms between them, one that is tested when an unknown mage makes an attempt on Tsira’s life. Soon, unbeknownst to each other, Onna and Tsira both begin devoting their considerable talents to finding out who is targeting trolls, before their homeland is torn apart…"

This book was such a delight! Unnatural Magic is a true breath of fresh air in the fantasy genre. I had no idea what to expect going into this, but it ended being even more charming and exciting than I could have hoped for. The characters are vibrant, engaging, and full of personality, the world is fascinating, and the magic system is one that I truly love.

Unnatural Magic follows three main characters: Onna, Jeckran, and Tsira. The story is sort of split into two predominate POVs, one of which features Onna as she embarks on her own educational-oriented journey to Hexos, and the second follows Tsira and Jeckran, an unlikely pair who cross paths and continue to journey on together throughout the story. Onna was easily my favorite POV simply because I was most interested in her usage of magic, exploring the city-state of Hexos, and the people we meet there, but that's not to say that I didn't enjoy Tsira and Jeckran's journey as well because I absolutely did. In the beginning of the book, however, I'll admit that I was slightly frustrated because switching POVs felt as though as I was reading two completely different books when I really only wanted to read one. Fortunately, the connections in the stories eventually make themselves known and both POVs started to become more interesting and make more sense to me.

Onna is a delightful character to follow and I liked seeing how she interacted with people in Hexos and especially within the new position she takes once in the city. She was raised on the slightly more proper and respectful side (though I wouldn't call her pretentious by any means!), so seeing her deal with those who aren't as trained in etiquette and/or appropriate conversations was highly enjoyable. Onna is one of those characters that you can't help but love because of her thirst for adventure while remaining a bit of an academic book-oriented girl at the same time.

Jeckran, a former soldier, is more on the relaxed side, though he has quite a few anxieties that come out during his journeys that allowed me to better get to know him. His interactions with Tsira were some of my favorite and I loved watching the bond develop between these two characters. And speaking of Tsira, she was easily one of the most interesting parts of this book. As the synopsis notes, Tsira is a troll, which made for a truly fascinating journey to learn more about her and the troll culture. I loved the explorations of how they deal with gender and roles and how relationships work among trolls--Waggoner really excelled in this area.

One of my favorite aspects of this book was the magical system itself, though I do wish we had been able to learn a bit more about it in detail. The way the magic works is fascinating to me. Mages and those who use magic use what are called "parameters" to essentially create the spells and develop their functions. There seems to typically be those who create parameters (who don't have to have any magical skill) and mages who actually use those parameters in order to use spells and magic. The parameters sort of reminded me a proofs from math, which to me added a really unique and sort of solidified magic system that felt grounded and real.

Lastly, I'd like to make a quick additional note on the subtle yet important themes explored in this book related to gender, status, race, and other important political topics. Waggoner weaved discussions around all of these areas in such elegant ways that fit perfectly into this fantasy world while also allowing me to see relevance in our own world.

Overall, I've given Unnatural Magic 4.25 stars! If you're looking for a delightful magical read with exceptional characters and character interactions, as well as some smart discussion on relevant themes, then absolutely pick this one up!

Friday, November 1, 2019

Month in Review: October 2019

It really feels as though October has come and gone with me hardly noticing it and that bums me out a little, but it was still an (overall) pretty good month. It was another weird reading month, but I enjoyed trying to pick out more thrillers and spooky types of books. I finally got to finish the Thickety series with The Last Spell and it was absolutely perfect! I was also really excited to have a chance to read Travis M. Riddle's new upcoming book Spit and Song (which I highly recommend, by the way!). 

In personal news... I am also officially an aunt! My sister had a lovely little girl on the 27th and everyone is happy and healthy! Other than that, nothing too exciting has been happening in my life. School and work continue to attempt to suck out every last piece of my sanity, but I'm doing my best to stay sane and not overwhelmed with stress (though frankly, I'm not sure it's working). Has anyone else been exceptionally stressed this fall or is it just me?

 And for reading related news...How was your reading month? Did you read any great books? Have you read any of the books I read? Let me know!

# books read: 13

Night FilmThe Missing YearsThe DeepNinth House (Alex Stern, #1)
Night Film by Marisha Pessl 
Source: Owned  | Format: Hardcover

The Missing Years by Lexie Elliot 
Source: ARC

The Deep by Alma Katsu 
Source: NetGalley (ebook)

 Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo 
Source: Owned | Format: Hardcover

QualitylandThe Girl BeforeThe InstituteThe Last Spell (The Thickety, #4)
Qualityland by Marc-Uwe Kling 
Source: ARC (publisher)

The Girl Before by JP Delaney 
Source: Owned (Library sale!) | Format: Hardcover

The Institute by Stephen King 
Source: Library | Format: Hardcover

The Thickety: The Last Spell by J.A White 
Source: Owned: | Format: Paperback

Dreams of Lake Drukka & Exhumation (Short Sharp Shocks! #31)Spit and Song (Ustlian Tales #2)ConfessionsGirls with Sharp Sticks (Girls with Sharp Sticks, #1)
Dreams of Lake Drukka & Exhumation by Mike Thorn 
Source: Author Review Request

Spit and Song by Travis M. Riddle 
Source: Author Review Request

Confessions by Kanae Minato 
Source: Library | Format: Paperback

Girls with Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young 
Source: Library | Format: Hardcover

Tomie by Junji Ito 
Source: Library | Format: Hardcover

The Illumination of Ursula FlightThe Grace YearOnslaught of Madness (The Madness Wars, #1)The FuriesSalvagedDreams of Lake Drukka & Exhumation (Short Sharp Shocks! #31)Night FilmGuild of TokensNinth House (Alex Stern, #1)

The Illumination of Ursula Flight by Anna-Marie Crowhurst 
The Grace Year by Kim Liggett 
Onslaught of Madness by Jesse Teller 
Salvaged by Madeleine Roux 
Dreams of Lake Drukka & Exhumation by Mike Thorn 
Night Film by Marisha Pessl 
Guild of Tokens by Jon Auerbach 
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo 

(other than reviews)

The Friday Face-Off:
An Inn

Have you read any of these? What books did you read this month? I hope you all had a great month-- comment below and let me know!