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Review: Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui

Brief synopsis (back cover): When prototype models for a dream-invading device go missing at the Institute for Psychiatric Research, employees soon learn that someone is using these new machines to drive them all insane. Brilliant psychotherapist Atsuko Chiba—whose alter ego is a dream detective named Paprika—realizes she is in danger. She must venture into the dream world in order to fight her mysterious opponents. Soon nightmares begin to leak into daily life and the borderline between dream and reality grows unclear. The future of the waking world is at stake.

Rating: ✈ Travel companion

Long story short: Science fiction and mystery are two of my favorite genres, and I really enjoyed the way they intersect in this book. Other things this book does well:

  • It is convincing. The new technology that allows people to enter each other’s dreams is legitimized in the book in the form of buy-in from the scientific community. Even without their endorsement, the concept is weird and “out there” enough to be believable. Also, considering the book was first published in 1993, it has aged well.
  • The plot moves along. Though a little slow at first, it picks up about a quarter of the way in and is a thrilling ride till the end.
  • It offers some social commentary. While it focuses on the challenges of scientific research, asking questions like Who is research for? and Can you have research for research’s sake?, it also explores the way in which we treat mental illness and therapy.

Some minor critiques:

  • There is some sexual exploitation and violence. However, it is not necessarily gratuitous; that is, it speaks to characters’ mindsets and serves as an explanation for their motivations.
  • There are a lot of characters. Not quite Game of Thrones style, but at times still distracting.

My next step is to watch the anime movie based on this book that came out in 2006. Have you read the book or watched the movie? What did you think?

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Review: Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Brief synopsis (Goodreads)Maisie Dobbs isn’t just any young housemaid. Through her own natural intelligence—and the patronage of her benevolent employers—she works her way into college at Cambridge. When World War I breaks out, Maisie goes to the front as a nurse. It is there that she learns that coincidences are meaningful and the truth elusive. After the War, Maisie sets up on her own as a private investigator. But her very first assignment, seemingly an ordinary infidelity case, soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force Maisie to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind.

Rating✈  Travel companion

Long story short (no spoilers): I first read this book when I was in high school. I remember really enjoying it, so it was a little bit of a surprise that I didn’t feel the same way this time around.

What I liked:
1. The protagonist, Maisie, is a complex character that grows throughout the course of the book.

2. The story/plot is original and interesting: it features a female lead in a non-traditional profession during a time when that was very uncommon, and it has a good amount of intrigue and the mystery is set up fairly well.

What I didn’t like:
1. The pacing is bad. The story starts off in the present, then spends a good chunk of time in the past via flashback, then it’s back to the present, then the past again, and finally the present. The back-and-forth didn’t let me fully immerse myself in the story.

2. Dialogues between characters seem awkward, forced, and sometimes superficial. Even those between Maisie and the 2-3 people she’s closest to lack depth.

3. Aside from Maisie, none of the other characters were fleshed out completely. It felt like their descriptions and actions barely scratched the surface.

I think that the first time I picked up Maisie Dobbs I hadn’t found many books I liked that featured strong female leads, so I was especially drawn to this one. After having read other similar books, this doesn’t seem like the best representation of that category. I do own at least the next two books in this series though, so will be continuing my way through unless they turn out to be really bad.

Have you read Maisie Dobbs or other books by Winspear? What did you think?

Review: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

Brief synopsis (from Goodreads): Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun.

As Warden of the north, Lord Eddard Stark counts it a curse when King Robert bestows on him the office of the Hand. His honour weighs him down at court where a true man does what he will, not what he must … and a dead enemy is a thing of beauty.

The old gods have no power in the south, Stark’s family is split and there is treachery at court. Worse, the vengeance-mad heir of the deposed Dragon King has grown to maturity in exile in the Free Cities. He claims the Iron Throne.

Rating🌴 Island collection

Long story short: It took a very long time for me to read A Game of Thrones because I’m not accustomed to jumping on the popular culture bandwagon for media that have been around for ages. I don’t care if others do that, or if the media becomes popular after I’ve read/seen it, but I personally take comfort in being part of a smaller fan community (it’s like being a member of a super secret club and I love it).

I feel like kicking myself in the pants for not picking up A Game of Thrones sooner. It’s everything I enjoy in books (well, minus the misogyny): action, adventure, mystery, and drama. Many characters, even those without their own narratives, had incredible depth. The writing was straightforward and I was easily immersed. There were several places in the novel where the suspense was wonderfully set up, and I loved the way Martin worked with dramatic tension.

I also love stories that are unpredictable, which is an understatement for A Game of Thrones; I was on my toes the entire time and it felt great (albeit a little exhausting…court drama is not for the fainthearted, as Ned found out…).

I’m not sure if/when I’ll watch the television series…maybe after I’ve read all the published books? What did you think of A Song of Ice and Fire? Comment below, let me know!

Review: Garnethill by Denise Mina

Garnethill

Brief synopsisGarnethill is the first book in the Garnethill trilogy. Maureen O’Donnell’s boyfriend is killed violently in her apartment. Despite her procuring an alibi and telling the police she didn’t commit the crime they don’t believe her because of her psychiatric history and tendency to lie. In order for Maureen to clear her name she sets out to find the actual murderer, which leads her to a decades-old scandal that took place at one of the facilities she was admitted to.

Rating✈  Travel companion

Long story shortA quick note before I begin: many of the novel’s themes center around sexual assault, mental illness, and domestic violence, which may be triggering to survivors. This review avoids specific details.

At 400 pages Garnethill seemed intimidating but it was a good read that I couldn’t put down. In fact, I had my nose buried in it while waiting backstage at a dance performance this past weekend (I finished about 10 minutes before my group went on stage).

Some readers found the pacing slow, but I thought it was done well. The novel is quick to start, something that I love (I’m not a fan of a long set-up), and the chapters after the murder are also fast and reflect Maureen’s agitation and frustration. There are several places in the book where the plot slows down and are good places for the reader to catch her breath. At the same time, Mina uses them for character development and you learn more about Maureen’s family and their troubled history. The ending is a little rushed, but satisfying, and gives the reader the option to stop there or continue with the trilogy Enough is resolved in Garnethill that you don’t have to keep reading.

Continue reading “Review: Garnethill by Denise Mina”

Review: Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Brief synopsisWatchmen is a graphic novel published by DC Comics as 12 issues from September 1986 to October 1987. It was a collaborative piece with Alan Moore as the writer, David Gibbons as the artist, and John Higgins as the colorist.

The novel takes place in 1985, but in an alternate universe where masked vigilantes affect the course of history. In this timeline the United States wins the Vietnam War, President Nixon is still in office, and the start of the Cold War is delayed.

Despite their help during the Vietnam War, vigilantism is outlawed and the masked heroes find themselves shunned. Some adjust and fall back on other careers, while others are less able to cope. The story begins when ex-superheroes turn up dead or go missing. Who is watching the Watchmen?

Rating✈  Travel companion

Long story shortWatchmen was the first graphic novel I’ve read cover-to-cover. I know, I know…took me long enough, right? It was a little difficult to get in to at first, mostly because the images were overwhelming. I’m used to novels being more text-heavy and so adjusting to the format took some time, but I was completely hooked after the first 20 or so pages and finished all of it in a couple of hours.

Continue reading “Review: Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons”

Review: The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

Brief synopsis: A wealthy English baronet by day, and a daring spy by night, the Scarlet Pimpernel is a wanted man in France. With the help of ingenious disguises and a wit as sharp as his sword, he rescues French aristocrats from the bloody clutches of Madame Guillotine and brings them to England, starting an international manhunt in the process. Yet nothing—not even Robespierre himself—fazes our hero, who enjoys thwarting French revolutionaries for sport. But when the Lady Marguerite Blakeney, a French socialite married to the wealthy English baron Sir Percy Blakeney, hears that her brother is condemned to death at the hands of a ruthless mob, will the Scarlet Pimpernel be able to outwit the French once again? How long can he keep it up before his secret identity is revealed?

Rating✈  Travel companion

Long story short: It’s a surprise more people don’t know about the Scarlet Pimpernel given that his character is considered by many to be the inspiration for Zorro, Batman, and other modern-day crime fighters with alter egos. He is intelligent, suave, handsome, and quite cheeky—an irresistible combination!

I had to work a bit to get through the first 30 pages (don’t worry, it’s a tiny book!), but from there the suspense kept me hooked until the end. There isn’t as much action as I had anticipated, and what there is is condensed in the final chapters of the novel, but I liked that the beginning read more like a thriller.

Here's a post-it for a size comparison.
Here’s a post-it for a size comparison.

This is a good book to read if you’re on vacation or at the beach. The prose may be a bit tedious, but I recommend soldiering on if you get stuck—it gets easier the more you keep at it.

Continue reading for a more in-depth review (note: spoilers below).

Continue reading “Review: The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy”

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