Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

31203000Keiko Furukura had always been considered a strange child, and her parents always worried how she would get on in the real world, so when she takes on a job in a convenience store while at university, they are delighted for her. For her part, in the convenience store she finds a predictable world mandated by the store manual, which dictates how the workers should act and what they should say, and she copies her coworkers’ style of dress and speech patterns so that she can play the part of a normal person. However, eighteen years later, at age 36, she is still in the same job, has never had a boyfriend, and has only few friends. She feels comfortable in her life, but is aware that she is not living up to society’s expectations and causing her family to worry about her. When a similarly alienated but cynical and bitter young man comes to work in the store, he will upset Keiko’s contented stasis—but will it be for the better?

Review:

I didn’t do the best job reading this book, and it’s my own fault.  Knowing how popular and lauded it is – they don’t give the Akutagawa Prize to just anything! – I decided to tackle it in the original Japanese.  Luckily the text is pretty straight forward, and while I had to look up rare kanji or readings it wasn’t too difficult.  That being said I read more slowly in my second language than my first, meaning I was marinating in the text for quite a while.

And the middle of this novel is not something you want to marinate in.

36605525Furukawa has to deal with all kinds of crap from her family, friends, and society in general.  It set my teeth on edge because this is stuff I’ve seen or experienced here in Japan, verbatim.  Coworkers are gossipy and while it may look like they’re concerned about your well being, often they’re more interested in a juicy story to pass around.  Those who jump the expected track of college, full-time job, marriage, and kids have a lot to explain to friends and family, especially if they’re a woman. And even when you follow the plan you can be punished. My friend didn’t tell her employer about her marriage because she knew it would ruin her chances for a promotion.  Why would you give more responsibility to someone who’s going to have a baby and quit soon, anyway?

So yeah, lots of anger on my part.  If I were reading this in English, as probably should have, I would have been able to get through it quickly enough.  My slower Japanese reading, though, made the middle part almost unbearable.  The crap that one guy spews towards Furukawa made me particularly rage-y, and now and then I had to stop to look up a word, dragging out the ickyness.  “Shady character.” “To be bored to death.” “Rail at.” Sigh.

That’s all on me, though.  It’s a great book and deserving of all its praise, including in Ginny Tapley Takemori’s English translation. Just do yourself a favor and gulp it down in one or two sittings instead of dragging it out like I did.

Nonfiction November – Your Year in Nonfiction

Nonfiction-November-2018And we’re off!  The prompt this first week concentrates on our last year of nonfiction reading.  In 2018 23% of the books I’ve finished are nonfiction. I have an unofficial goal of one third nonfiction so I’m a bit behind, but that’s what this readathon is for!  Without any further ado let’s jump into the questions:

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?

6452798It’s a hard choice, but I’ll have to go with Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety by Eric Schlosser. The history of nuclear weapons, already harrowing, is interleaved with a narrative retelling of a Titan II missile accident.  The storytelling and pacing are right on and I was riveted throughout the 20 hour audiobook.  With all the nuclear accidents and near misses the world should be blown up several times over by now!

Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year?

I did a bit of a Serial Killer Summer™ so I read a bunch of nonfiction in that vein, including Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for the FBI by Robert K. Ressler and Tom Shachtman, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara, and Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession by Alice Bolin.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

33931697That has to be Invisible: How Young Women with Serious Health Issues Navigate Work, Relationships, and the Pressure to Seem Just Fine by Michele Lent Hirsch. It’s intersectional as all get out and touches on many topical issues but boils down to navigating the world as a person of color, lgbtqia+ folx, someone with a chronic or invisible illness, and combinations thereof.  The book is own voices for lgbtqia+ and chronic/invisible illness and all the more impactful for it.

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

This is my second year so I know how much fun is waiting for me this time!  I’m looking forward to talking and becoming friends with all sorts of people while reading all.the.nonfiction!  I’m also thrilled to be participating via my channel on YouTube for the first time.

Here’s to an amazing November!

Acting on Impulse by Mia Sosa (Love on Cue #1)

33783458After a very public breakup with a media-hungry politician, fitness trainer Tori Alvarez escapes to Aruba for rest and relaxation. She vows to keep her vacation a man-free zone but when a cute guy is seated next to her on the plane, Tori can’t resist a little harmless flirting.

Hollywood heartthrob Carter Stone underwent a dramatic physical transformation for his latest role and it’s clear his stunning seat mate doesn’t recognize the man beneath the shaggy beard and extra lean frame. Now Carter needs help rebuilding his buff physique and Tori is perfect for the job.

Sparks are flying, until a pesky paparazzo reveals Carter’s identity. Tori is hurt and pissed. Can Carter convince Tori he’s worth the threat to her privacy that comes with dating a famous actor, or will Tori chisel him down to nothing before he even gets the chance?

Review:

I picked this book up for a readathon and I am so, so glad I did.  It’s a perfect “me” contemporary romance – low-stress, great plot, all kinds of rep, and so much fun.

The good:

  • The heroine is Puerto Rican and the author is an Afro-Latinx woman from Puerto Rico – huzzah own voices!
  • The entire cast is diverse racially and in terms of physical ability, and as far as I can tell the only white character of note is the hero.
  • The competence porn is on point.  Tori is a wonderful trainer, Carter is a good actor, the family restaurant is doing well, the gym is well-managed, and more.  People may have varying degrees of confidence and there are setbacks, but everyone rocks at what they do and supports each other.
  • Tori’s roommate and best friend Eva is a joy.  Their relationship reminds me of one of my best friends and they always put each other first, before the men in their lives.
  • Other supporting characters are fully developed and I can’t wait to read their happily ever afters, too.
  • Stereotypes are casually subverted and I am so here for it.

    A flight attendant taking drink orders hovers in the vicinity.  I pull down my tray table and ask him for a cup of coffee.

    “Him”!  Yes!

  • Spanish is used throughout and while it’s italicized it isn’t translated every time, a huge plus in my book.
  • Difficult or potentially problematic situations are dealt with in beautiful ways.  Tori calls Carter out immediately when he says something shitty and he apologizes genuinely and on the spot.  He never forces her to do anything and asks for consent every step of the way.  Even throw away lines are recast.  For example, there’s a scene where a typical alpha-hole hero would tell the heroine that he doesn’t ‘take no for an answer’.  Here’s what Carter says instead:

    “Yeah, I understand. You should know this, though – I will always take no for an answer, but the minute you say otherwise, you’re mine, and I won’t hold anything back.”

    All of the alpha, none of the hole.  I love to see this on the page and it warmed my heart.

  • While there are stressful moments they’re resolved quickly.  ‘Oh no, a paparazzo took a picture!’ is on one page and is handled deftly on the next.  This kept the romance low-stress for me, and while there is angst it was well within what I can handle.  It was much appreciated in a week where the real world news was beyond the pale.
  • The plot is intricately crafted and well-paced, with the pieces fitting together perfectly.  It’s a slow burn but when they do get to the sex?  ~fans herself~

The not-so-good:

  • There are shades of instalust in the beginning but it’s non-creepy and didn’t bother me. That’s it!

I can’t wait to read more of Sosa’s books, and am so grateful that Latinx-a-thon introduced me to her work.  Yea finding a new author to love!

Always Doing is now on Booktube!

Those who follow me on Twitter or Instagram you may have noticed that I recently started a channel on Youtube.  Yup, I’m an honest to goodness Booktuber! Who woulda thunk it?

That’s me! 😊

If you’re not familiar with Booktube it’s a lot like blogs in that people talk about what they’re reading, what they’re loving (or not), and the bookish life in general.  In addition to reviews and monthly wrap ups you’ll find book hauls, tags where people answer a set list of themed questions (like the New to Booktube Tag above), readathons, discussions, and more.

I started the channel because I love watching Booktube and wanted to join the fun.  But don’t worry, this blog isn’t going anywhere! I find that written reviews are still the best way to organize my thoughts and nothing beats the satisfaction of writing one. The videos are an addition, and I hope you’ll enjoy watching me talk about books on top of what you can find here.

So go ahead, pop over to my channel and subscribe if you like what you see!  I’m looking forward to continuing our conversation, whatever medium it may be in. 🙂

The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States by Jeffrey Lewis

38640728“The skies over the Korean Peninsula on March 21, 2020, were clear and blue.” So begins this sobering report on the findings of the Commission on the Nuclear Attacks against the United States, established by law by Congress and President Donald J. Trump to investigate the horrific events of the next three days. An independent, bipartisan panel led by nuclear expert Jeffrey Lewis, the commission was charged with finding and reporting the relevant facts, investigating how the nuclear war began, and determining whether our government was adequately prepared for combating a nuclear adversary and safeguarding U.S. citizens. Did President Trump and his advisers understand North Korean views about nuclear weapons? Did they appreciate the dangers of provoking the country’s ruler with social media posts and military exercises? Or did America’s leaders have the opportunity to avert the greatest calamity in the history of our nation?

Review:

Be rest assured going into this book, Lewis knows what he’s talking about. He’s a nonproliferation expert specializing in North Korea, has previously worked for the Department of Defense, and hosts the Arms Control Wonk podcast.  He puts all that knowledge, from big picture to minute detail, to use here.

The good:

  • It reads like what it is – a government report. It felt slightly dry in the beginning but as things picked up the understated tone was an excellent contrast to the big and often scary things happening. There are small bits of transcripts and maps, but not enough to call it epistolary by any stretch.
  • Everything that occurs before August 2018 is real, and that’s something to keep in mind as you read.  I’d see something off the wall and think, “No. Really?” but a quick google search or look at the extensive end notes will assure you yes, it’s real.
  • Because of that it’s astounding how much of this speculative novel is straight up fact. It makes you realize how many pieces are in play that could contribute to a real life nuclear war.
  • A not small part of this is the current US president and his staff.  Lewis uses many people you know and is artful when adding his own characters. For example, when relations with North Korea start to sour the president fires an entire department of his staff by tweet. Not only is it (sadly) believable, but it lets Lewis bring in fictional characters in key roles.  That way there’s no second guessing (‘Bolton would never do that!’) and no predicting how someone will act.
  • The actions and psychology ring true and show how the way the president is ‘handled’ could back fire.

    “It was weird,” one aide explained. “Normally we just didn’t correct him, especially not when it was an excuse not to do something crazy. But now, all of a sudden, all this stuff was working against us. And we didn’t know how to push back.”

  • Much thought and effort was put into sections dealing with South Korea and Japan and it shows. I usually have a nitpick about the representation of Japanese life in novels but not here – well done.
  • Lewis’ specialty is policy so the plot is almost completely about the lead up to and strategies of the war. It’s through and well-paced once you get over a small lump of set up at the beginning.
  • The acknowledgements slayed me with the care and respect Lewis shows. You’ll see it when you get there.

The not-so-good:

  • Details of the aftermath are thin and not particularly well thought out, especially when compared to Warday. There is zero mention of fallout, which I thought odd, and lots of stuff is glossed over.
  • There is no mention of how those from bombed cities are treated, or how such massive damage could threaten to fracture the country along regional lines as well as political ones.
  • I had a couple of issues with medical content, but I doubt many people will be tempted to shout ‘perimortem c-section!’ at the page like I was.
  • While perfect for this exact moment I’m not sure it will hold up over time as real events eclipse the time span covered.

All in all it’s a quick read full of fascinating what-ifs that have a non-zero chance of happening. If it sounds interesting you may want to pick it up sooner rather than later to enjoy the full effect.

Nonfiction November – A Pile of Possibilities

Nonfiction-November-2018So many books, so little time!  I’ve amassed quite a list of nonfiction I want to read over the past year and this is the perfect time to get to it.  The term “TBR” stresses me out (obligation! gah!) so let’s call this a Pile of Possiblities (PoP?) instead:

Recent Medical Nonfiction

Somebody I Used to Know: A Memoir by Wendy Mitchell
You Can Stop Humming Now: A Doctor’s Stories of Life, Death and in Between by Damiela Lamas
The Fears of the Rich, the Needs of the Poor: My Years at the CDC by William H. Foege
Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them by Jennifer Wright

Diverse Nonfiction

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson
The Beekeeper: Rescuing the Stolen Women of Iraq by Dunya Mikhail, trans. Max Weiss
To My Trans Sisters by Charlie Craggs
Letters to a Young Muslim by Omar Saif Ghobash

Backlist Nonfiction

Paper Lion: Confessions of a Last-String Quarterback by George Plimpton
Oranges by John McPhee
Hiroshima Diary: The Journal of a Japanese Physician by Michihiko Hachiya, trans. Warner Wells
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Have you read any of these?  Let me know if there’s something I should prioritize!

Lair of the Lion by Christine Feehan

9666290Rumor said the powerful Nicolai DeMarco could command the heavens, that the beasts below did his bidding . . . and that he was doomed to destroy the woman he took as wife.

Impoverished aristocrat Isabella Vernaducci would defy death itself to rescue her imprisoned brother. She’d even brave the haunted, accursed lair of the lion—the menacing palace of legendary, lethal Don Nicolai DeMarco.

Then Isabella met a man whose growl was velvet, purring heat, whose eyes held dark, all-consuming desire. And when the don commanded her to become his bride, she went willingly into his muscled arms, praying she’d save his tortured soul . . . not sacrifice her life.

Review:

I love Beauty and the Beast retellings so while I wasn’t an instant fan of Feehan’s Dark series I picked this up with few qualms.

To start, anyway.

The good:

  • The “beast” conceit hangs on a bit of magic I like – most people see Nicolai as a literal lion so they’re understandably scared of him.
  • The first half didn’t turn me off completely.  I wasn’t expecting mastery and just wanted a quick read, so things were on an okay track.  However.

The not-so-good:

  • Isabella is just this side of Too Stupid To Live.  There’s evil lurking about and Nicolai tells her not to leave the castle… upon which she runs outside every chance she gets.  And it gets her into damsel-in-distress trouble every. single. time. GRAH.
  • There’s a fixation with Christianity that made me feel like I was being preached to.  When Isabella first arrives at the castle she’s relieved that some of the servants cross themselves, as this is a sign that they’re ‘good Christians’.  The curse is set up as a good/Christian vs. bad/old/unenlightened/witchcraft divide.  I did not need or want it.
  • In that vein, an older, kindly character warns the hero and heroine not to have sex until after they’re married.  When they do the deed anyway Isabella is almost instantly punished for her indiscretion.  Not Nicolai – he’s the one doing the backhanded punishing.  As a result the heroine doesn’t get a chance to associate sex with happiness and love, only as a forbidden fruit.  Me not happy.
  • Isabella’s characterization is troubling.  We are never given a concrete number but she’s portrayed as being at a tender age.  She’s the “young charge” of an elderly maid, and there’s an undercurrent of, ‘go away, little girl’ to some interactions.  I had trouble imagining her any older than sixteen, which squares with her idiotic decisions but not sex with a guy who seems like he’s in his thirties.  (Again, no age given for him, but still.  He has his shit together, at least.)  She’s also referred to as pure, as never even having thought about sex, and so on.
  • Female friendships are thrown under the bus.  Isabella is introduced to a couple of women who live in? near? the castle so that she can make some friends.  They’re never allowed to be friends, though – there’s jealousy and all of the petty stereotypes of how women supposedly back stab each other at any opportunity.  It even helps fuel the big bad battle.
  • We never learn what the big bad actually is.  It’s an evil force… that is defeated. Yea?
  • Furthermore, it attacks people completely at random, taking away suspense from a who-dun-it Feehan tries to build.

There are quite a few four and five star reviews for this book on Goodreads but oh boy, not for me at all.  One star.

Nonfiction November is back!

I’ve been anticipating fall for many reasons, not least of which is Nonfiction November! It may just be my favorite event of the book blogging year.

Nonfiction-November-2018

This year it’s being hosted by Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness), Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves), Julie (JulzReads), Katie (Doing Dewey), and Rennie (What’s Nonfiction).  One thing I love about Nonfiction November is that there are no strict challenges outside of celebrating the awesomeness of nonfiction.

Some devote the entire month to the genre, but I know I’ll be sneaking some romance in there somewhere! I’m going to aim to read as much nonfic as possible while doing the weekly prompts and chatting it up with friends new and old.

Look out for a TBR next week leading up to the first prompt on October 29th.  Who’s going to be joining me? 🙂

Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn (Lady Julia Grey #1)

6933131“Let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave.”

These ominous words are the last threat that Sir Edward Grey receives from his killer. Before he can show them to Nicholas Brisbane, the private inquiry agent he has retained for his protection, he collapses and dies at his London home, in the presence of his wife, Julia, and a roomful of dinner guests.

Prepared to accept that Edward’s death was due to a long-standing physical infirmity, Julia is outraged when Brisbane visits and suggests that her husband was murdered. It is a reaction she comes to regret when she discovers damning evidence for herself, and realizes the truth. Julia presses forward, following a trail of clues that lead her to even more unpleasant truths, and ever closer to a killer who waits expectantly for her arrival.

Review:

My part of Japan has been buffeted by tons of typhoons this season.  In anticipation of yet another worrying night I started Silent in the Grave and it was just the escapism I needed.

The good:

  • World building is here and in spades as Raybourn builds out a corner of Victorian London for us.  We don’t see a wide swath but we are shown is well crafted and interesting.
  • The writing grabbed me from the first line.

    To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband’s dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching on the floor.

  • This combination of world building and just-my-style writing made this the perfect escapist read.  What, is that a typhoon howling outside?  Sorry, I can’t hear it, we’re on the hunt for a killer!
    Silent in the Grave
  • As you can see in the chart by my estimation it’s a setting-heavy novel, and they are so rare!
  • It’s a very feminist tale at heart.  Some people have gripped about it being unrealistic or too much for the times, but in our year of 2018 I will take whatever feminist escapism I can get, thank you.
  • There are topics I’ve rarely seen broached in lighter historical fiction, like (happy!) lgbtqia+ folx and flattering depictions of the Romani.
  • I didn’t have a firm idea who the killer was… but then again, I never do.

The not-so-good:

  • The espousing of feminist values will be too much for some.  Likewise, historical sticklers will be shocked that a Lady had a conversation about xyz with her brother/servant/whomever.
  • If you know a lot about the Victorian era some parts may feel over-explained.
  • The plot has a bunch of moving parts and there are many characters to keep straight.  It didn’t bother me but it may irk some.
  • If you’re looking for a straight up mystery with lots of investigating you’ll be disappointed.  This is a bit more holistic.  As I keep saying, it was fine by me but others may not care for it.
  • Lady Grey doesn’t always make the most logical decisions.  In fact, she makes a bunch of poor ones, things you can see are wrong off the bat.  A couple of them made me sigh but it was never enough to keep me away from the page.

If you’re interested in this book the best advice I can give is to hunt down a sample of the first chapter.  If you’re smitten rock on, but if it leaves you wanting you may want to look elsewhere.  Personally I can see the flaws but the world and escapism mixed with mystery made this the right book at the right time.  I’ll definitely be reading the next one on a long flight or during a period of exceptionally bad existential angst.

Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole (Reluctant Royals #2)

35564582New York City socialite and perpetual hot mess Portia Hobbs is tired of disappointing her family, friends, and—most importantly—herself. An apprenticeship with a struggling swordmaker in Scotland is a chance to use her expertise and discover what she’s capable of. Turns out she excels at aggravating her gruff silver fox boss…when she’s not having inappropriate fantasies about his sexy Scottish burr.

Tavish McKenzie doesn’t need a rich, spoiled American telling him how to run his armory…even if she is infuriatingly good at it. Tav tries to rebuff his apprentice, and his attraction to her, but when Portia accidentally discovers that he’s the secret son of a duke, rough-around-the-edges Tav becomes her newest makeover project.

Forging metal into weapons and armor is one thing, but when desire burns out of control and the media spotlight gets too hot to bear, can a commoner turned duke and his posh apprentice find lasting love?

Review:

Disclaimer off the bat: I’m not the biggest contemporary romance person and I wasn’t able to finish the previous book in the series, A Princess in Theory.  The entitled prince buying people off wasn’t quite my thing.  I still picked up this book, though, because I wanted to see what #swordbae was all about.

The good:

  • All kinds of rep here, including a black woman and bi-racial guy in an interracial relationship, and ADHD.  There’s also representation for someone who is giving up alcohol because they want to, damn it, and someone who is not interested in marriage.  Own voice reviewers on Goodreads have given the ADHD rep particular praise, which makes me happy.
  • There’s careful, considered handling of issues all around.  For example, this is an off comment:

    “There are already stories circulating that Johan and I are sharing you, which would be fine if any of us were into that, but that’s not the healthy setup being spread around.”

  • I like that Cole uses totally believable but not real company names.  SuperLift (ride sharing) and InstaPhoto (social media) for the win.
  • Mini flipped trope – she buys him clothes. Yea!

Duke by DefaultThe not-so-good:

  • It took me a while to get into the story, and I didn’t feel fully connected until the halfway point or so.

I can’t think of any other big negatives, just that contemporaries are not my usual so while I liked this book well enough it didn’t immediately become a favorite.

All that being said I am on board with the next book, which will feature a playboy prince with a heart of gold.  He pops into this story for a bit and I got some Devil in Winter vibes – sold.  Also looking forward to the next historical Cole writes, as those are exactly my thing!