The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami – Book Review

I am a Haruki Murakami fan.

I love his more ordinary works like “Norwegian Wood” and “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage,” but I also enjoy his more out of this world novels, like “1Q84” and “Kafka on the Shore.”

“The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,” with its abundance of surreal and supernatural elements, belongs firmly in this second category.

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The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle Book Cover

Toru Okada, the story’s protagonist, is recognizable as one of Murakami’s everyman leads—an unremarkable, ordinary man who is totally lost in life. When Okada’s wife leaves and refuses to speak with him, he is jolted out of his once uneventful existence.

Okada’s attempts at understanding why his wife left him and his eventual attempt at getting her back lead to his meeting a bizarre bunch of people, each of them too enigmatic to summarize in this review. He also ends up going on bizarre adventures, from the bottom of his neighbor’s well to the netherworld that lies beyond ordinary Tokyo.

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Another book cover design

Much of this novel does not make sense, but that’s part of the Murakami reading experience. Veteran Murakami readers know to expect a story where the journey is more important than the destination, where there are more loose ends at the end than the beginning.

That’s what I love the most about “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” and Murakami’s other works. Reading them transports me to a dream world of observation and introspection, and this transfer from reality to a fictional world is crucial to me, as a fiction reader.

Murakami once again explores the familiar themes of loneliness, alienation, and search for identity. It’s nice to read about characters to whose experiences and feelings I can relate to. Life, more often than not, is nonsensical and unexpected. Murakami captures this bizarre nature beautifully in “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.”

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss – Book Review

Who is Kvothe and how did he become the most notorious wizard of all time? Is he a hero or a villain? Dead or alive? Everyone knows the stories, but nobody knows the truth. Nobody but Kvothe, now hiding in the small town of Newarre, while trying to live inconspicuously as a bed and breakfast owner named Kote.

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Kvothe: Master Swordsman, Wizard, Musician (Art from Pinterest)

He seems content with his new peaceful life, but trouble is brewing all around him. Demon attacks are growing rampant. The war—which he may have directly caused—continues to ravage the land. How long can this exceptional swordsman, wizard, and musician remain anonymous? Not much longer if his companion Bast has his way.

Bast is Kvothe’s assistant. He is also a demon, a prince of the Fae who is hell bent on restoring his master to his former heroic self.

Fortunately,  Kvothe stumbles upon and saves Chronicler, a famous traveling scribe, from a couple of demon spiderlings. Chronicler has traveled far and wide in search of Kvothe, so he could record and publish the wizard’s life story.

“The best lies about me are the ones I told.” – Kvothe

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Kvothe fights the Scrael (Art from Pinterest)

As the scribe records Kvothe’s story, Bast works behind the scenes to rekindle the fire that once made Kvothe so great.

The Name of the Wind is the first book in The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss. It follows a twofold narrative structure, featuring a third-person narrator narrating the present, and Kvothe talking about his past.

This fantasy novel is many things. It’s a school story set in The University where Kvothe and his companions study magic. It’s a love story between Kvothe and Denna, an irresistibly attractive woman with wealthy suitors lining up to court her.

The Name of the Wind is a story and poem entwined. Kvothe, exceptionally skilled in music and theater, is a former member of the traveling troupe Edema Ruh. Music plays a major role throughout the story. It also helps Kvothe, mired in poverty, earn some badly needed money.

“Music is a proud, temperamental mistress. Give her the time and attention she deserves, and she is yours. Slight her and there will come a day when you call and she will not answer. So I began sleeping less to give her the time she needed.” – Kvothe

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Kvothe and Auri (Art by Manweri)

The entire troupe—including his parents—were killed by The Chandrian, a group of seven being commonly regarded as mythical characters steeped in folklore and superstition. Kvothe has been struggling to survive on his own ever since. He’s also been seeking revenge against the Chandrian.

Learning more about his parent’s killers and a means to destroy them is the main reason he enrolls in the University.

“Someone’s parents have been singing entirely the wrong sort of songs.” – Haliax, leader of the Chandrian

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Kvothe meets the Chandrian (Art from Pinterest)

I loved reading The Name of the Wind. I find the novel well written. It’s a pleasure to read Patrick Rothfuss’s lyrical prose. Sections of poetry and music that I would normally find distracting, even boring, were beautifully interwoven with the main narrative.

The tension between Kvothe’s being skilled in music and wizardry versus his being poor and unlucky, keeps the story constantly fresh. The way he is forced to face the realities of life is visceral and down to earth.

“My parents danced together, her head on his chest. Both had their eyes closed. They seemed so perfectly content. If you can find someone like that, someone who you can hold and close your eyes to the world with, then you’re lucky. Even if it only lasts for a minute or a day. The image of them gently swaying to the music is how I picture love in my mind even after all these years.” – Kvothe

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Kvothe’s parents dancing (art by Kurogane-Sensei)

The first novel is essentially a very long prologue. It leaves many questions unanswered: How did Kvothe get expelled from the University? Did he get his revenge on the Chandrian? How did he end up a fake small town bed and breakfast owner? Who is Bast, really?

Still, The Name of the Wind is an exceptional story on its own. I want to read more!

Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating:

5 out of 5

5 Beans

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – Book Review

I bought a copy of Paula Hawkins’s psychological  thriller “The Girl on the Train” after I watched this movie trailer on YouTube. It’s an exciting trailer for a movie starring Emily Blunt, one of my favorite actresses. It definitely has a “Gone Girl” feel to it.

I had very high expectations, which the source material did not meet. The movie trailer, the book’s being called the next “Gone Girl”over hyped the book for me.

Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) is a 32-year-old alcoholic who rides the commuter train at the same time every morning and night. On most mornings, the commuter train temporarily stops at a suburban neighborhood. Rachel has made a habit of observing a particular couple breakfasting on their deck during these routine train stops. She’s given them names: Jess and Jason. She fantasizes about their life as the perfect suburban couple.

This suburban neighborhood Rachel obsesses over is the same neighborhood she used to live in with her ex-husband Tom Watson (Justin Theroux).

Jess and Jason live in a flat along the same row as and identical to the flat Rachel used to live in.

Tom still lives in this flat with his new wife Anna Watson (Rebecca Ferguson).

Jess, real name: Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett), is nanny to Tom and Anna’s child.

One day, Rachel sees something odd during her usual morning commute. Megan is with a man who isn’t her husband. She kisses the man who isn’t her husband. That’s when everything changes.

Soon after, Megan Hipwell disappears.

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“The Girl on a Train” is a fascinating read. The story is told from the point of view of three women: Rachel, Anna, and Megan.

Primarily, the story is viewed through the eyes of Rachel, an alcoholic who suffers from blackouts when drunk. Her unreliability as a narrator adds to the story’s mystery and tension.

It isn’t just Rachel who is messed up though. Every character in this novel is terrible and unreliable in different ways. They are a reflection of how flawed humans are in real life.

The novel begins slow, but by the middle of it my mind was abuzz trying to solve the mystery of Megan’s disappearance.

It’s comparison to “Gone Girl” got me thinking that maybe Megan was alive and plotting revenge on her husband Scott Hipwell (Luke Evans). Perhaps Rachel, envious of Megan’s seemingly perfect marriage and angry that she cheated on Scott, murdered Megan during one of her drunken blackouts. Or maybe it’s as simple as Scott killing Megan because of her infidelity.

But what about Anna and Tom, surely they were involved with the disappearance in some way?

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All aboard the hype train for “the thriller that shocked the world”!

Unfortunately, I figured out who the killer was three-quarters through the novel. This wasn’t a deal breaker for me. I solved the mystery and felt proud of my accomplishment.

But this novel’s big reveal had no where near as strong an impact as “Gone Girl” did, and that was a huge letdown.

There were also too much men being violent towards helpless women in this novel. I really wanted Amy Dunne to come and intervene on the women’s behalf!

“The Girl on the Train” is a smart and well-written psychological thriller, unfortunately tame when compared to Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl.” I’d go as far as saying that Paula Hawkin’s debut novel pales in comparison to Flynn’s other works, particularly “Dark Places” and “Sharp Objects.”

It suffers from over hype, though I expect the movie will be as good as advertised.

Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating:

4 Beans
4 beans out of 5

Joss Whedon: The Biography by Amy Pascale – Book Review

 

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Source: Relatably

Ever since I found a copy of Felicia Day’s autobiography “You’re (Almost) Never Weird on the Internet” in Fully Booked, Ayala Center Cebu, I’ve been searching for similar geeky biographical goodness to read.

“Joss Whedon: The Biography” by Amy Pascale was one of the books I was able to special order through Fully Booked. I’ve been a casual fan of the Whedonverse for many years now mostly because I am a huge fan of “Serenity” and “Firefly.”

I saw the movie first then watched the series because I wanted to see River Tam (Summer Glau) beat the crap out of more reavers. Of course, the series never got to the part where she started kicking ass in that fashion, but that’s another story for another time.

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Source: She Knows

I also watched “Angel” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” the vampire more often than the slayer, on and off when it was showing on cable television. There is a kind of trend with me entering the Whedonverse a bit late then having to backtrack a little. It’s happened with other television shows too.

For example, I love watching “iZombie,” created by Rob Thomas. I was like ‘woah, the singer from Matchbox Twenty just created this amazing TV series.’ Reading “Joss Whedon: The Biography,” I learned that Rob Thomas the musician and Rob Thomas the TV show creator are actually different people. I also found out that Joss Whedon is a huge fan of Rob Thomas’s work on “Veronica Mars.”

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Source: 1

“Veronica Mars” is a television show that aired during the 90’s that two of my writer mentor friends who I look up to a lot (and who share strong music and television series interests with me) really love. They were so excited when the “Veronica Mars” feature film was successfully funded on Kickstarter. Yet another old TV series to watch.

But enough backtracking and swerving. Here are my thoughts on the Joss Whedon biography written by Amy Pascale.

This book contains 400 pages of content on Joss’s work and life. I found most of the facts and anecdotes Pascale wrote about very entertaining and surprising.

For example, I enjoyed watching the movie Speed (1994) as a kid. I didn’t know Joss had a huge role in revising the movie’s screenplay. I was also surprised to learn that Joss had a hand in writing the script of Toy Story (1996).

I like how two of the writers Joss hired for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” previously wrote “The Adventures of Pete & Pete,” a television show I used to love watching on Nickelodeon. Joss was a huge fan of the show too, and that really blew my mind. It’s just so amazing, how we share this in common.

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Source: European Paper

I loved reading stories about The Bronze, a web-based “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” forum where fans got together to talk about all things Buffy, and where Joss would often post personal reflections and insider information about the show. It’s amazing how a group of total strangers were able to organize a party so they could celebrate the show and meet in person. Plus, members of the Buffy cast and crew attended the event too.

“Dollhouse,” a short-lived TV series by Joss, seems to have a very interesting premise. I watched the pilot episode, and it seems interesting. Although I’m not sure audiences can relate to Echo (Eliza Dushku) well if her personality and memories keep changing every week.

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Source: Hypable

It’s amazing how Joss loves Shakespeare and his works so much that he organizes Shakespeare readings in his house. These readings feature actors and writers from Joss’s TV shows and films. A number of the even included Neil Patrick Harris. I haven’t watched the musical episode of Buffy nor “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” but now I’m very excited.

I love how Joss sees his “Firefly” cast as a family, and how sad he was about the show being cancelled after just one season. I just re-watched “Firefefly” and still feel that the show was left hanging. It was just horrible how it ended like that. Good thing Joss was able to film “Serenity,” so he could give the story a much better conclusion.

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Hopefully, Joss finds the time to support “Firefly” fans in launching a crowdfunding campaign. Who knows, maybe they can get funding for a whole season instead of just one feature film?

I admire Joss Whedon greatly for being a defender of the little people, those who are weak and cannot defend themselves. I love how his characters are seemingly weak and very flawed individuals who are able to succeed because of their determination, passion, and their friends.

Who would Buffy Summers be without her friends? Who would Malcolm Reynolds be without his crew? Buffy and Malcolm aren’t popular people who are friends with everyone.

They are people who are ostracized for being different, but they remain true to themselves and attract a small group of true friends—each of whom is an outcast in his or her on right, plays a unique and crucial role in the protagonist’s personality, the hero’s successes and failures.

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Source: Quote HD

These very real, very human characters are part of what makes Joss’s his stories in television, film, comics, musical theater, and other mediums so great.

And as reflections of Joss himself, his characters represent what an amazing person Joss is, despite the very public cancellations and other failures he continues to face even today. Despite the problems he faced directing “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” I’m very confident that he will come back better than ever.

“Joss Whedon: The Biography” is all sorts of amazing. If you’re a fan of Joss’s work. If you’re a fan of even one of Joss’s works—the old ones and the new ones—you’ll love reading  this lovingly, excellently researched and written homage to Joss Whedon and the Whedonverse.

Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating:

5 Beans out of 5
5 Beans out of 5

Matty’s Mixtape for Moving On by Roch Lazarte- Book Review

Matthew (nickname: Matt) is a 20-something independent bookshop owner badly coping with his recent breakup with long-time girlfriend Kate. Quiet and reserved, Matt is blessed to have a best friend in Jake, who is in many ways his complete opposite.

When Jake forces Matt to give Kate a breakup mix tape with letters narrating the inspiration behind each song, Matt reluctantly agrees.

“Matty’s Mixtape for Moving On” unravels through the songs Matt chooses and the letters he writes, each of them deeply personal, revealing, and nostalgic.

Read on to learn why Roch Lazarte’s debut novella is one of the most moving and magical stories I have read in years.

Roch is a friend and former co-worker of mine. We share a deep love for both reading and writing. Roch has always said that fiction is her Achilles heel, so I was overjoyed when she posted the book cover and synopsis of her soon-to-be-published novella on Facebook. I was about to request for a reviewer’s copy of her novella, but she beat me to the punch.

The first thing I noticed about “Matty’s Mixtape” was that it was how its chapters were divided by song. Few of the artists were familiar to me—Hall and Oates, Sarah Bareilles, Ed Sheeran, and Birdy—but aside from Birdy’s “Terrible Love,” I failed to recall any of the songs.

So I logged onto YouTube and listened to all the songs a several times, to get myself into the general mood of the story. These weren’t the songs I grew up with or regularly listened to, so I was a bit wary of how that would affect my reading experience. What I can say for sure is that I enjoyed the novella immensely despite being unfamiliar with the songs.

(I also downloaded Ingrid Michaelson’s albums on Spotify. I’ve been listening to them on shuffle for days. But now I’m getting off track!)

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Book cover design by Jethro Ian Alcala Lacson

Roch Lazarte’s “Matty’s Mixtape for Moving On” is a contemporary young adult novella. In the story, there is hardly any interaction between Matt and Kate other than through anecdotes and flashbacks.

For example, the time when he  fell in love with Kate at first sight. The story reads more along the lines of young adult novels by John Green, Stephen Chbosky, and Rainbow Rowell.

Roch’s story is filled with pockets of magic, in the shifting narratives of Matt’s internal monologues, his letters to Kate, and his dialogues with Jake.

Matt is introverted and lives a lot in his own mind. He tends to daydream and overthink things a lot. This translates beautifully in his letters, where he writes things like:

“The bookstore would still be there waiting for me, but essentially, I would still be behind in Life, everybody would still be ahead of me, and you would still be gone.”

and

“In any case, I’m getting tired from asking questions that don’t have answers, Kate. I’m hoping I’ll grow tired of you, too.” 

Matt and Jake’s friendship, perhaps even more than Matt’s trying to get over Kate, is the emotional core of this novella. The best friends grew up with and know everything about each other: the way speak, the way the move, their likes and dislikes.

(And they have weekly game nights where they play “Borderlands,” which is awesome!)

I love how the dialogue between them is so naturally funny. They are perfect breaks in between Matt’s serious musings on love lost.

Jake also has his own conflict in this story. He is a beloved veteran literature professor who has always dreamed of writing his own fiction. However, like Roch, he fears that fiction writing is his greatest weakness.

Now he is at the cusp of making a major life decision: whether or not to quit his respectable teaching job and focus full-time on writing fiction.

This seemed like an frivolous complication to me at first, since “Matty’s Mixtape” is a very short novella with a little less than 15,500 words. But Jake’s story is just as important as Matty’s and both stories complement each other well.

I read “Matty’s Mixtape for Moving On” in one go. That’s how I recommend you read it too, if you want to get the feels at its strongest. The pockets of literary magic in Roch’s fiction all converge into an epic swell of emotions at the end. It’s been days and I still haven’t recovered!

Roch Lazarte has cast her spell on me, and I can’t wait to read more of her stories. Fiction isn’t her Achilles heel, perhaps merely her great fear. I hope she gains more self-confidence as she continues writing fiction.

Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating:

5 Beans out of 5
5 Beans out of 5

 

Lirael by Garth Nix – Re-Read Challenge 2016 Post # 2

When I First Read Lirael (Spoiler Alert)

“Lirael” is a much longer novel compared to “Sabriel” and “Abhorsen,” the two other books in the Old Kingdom Trilogy by Garth Nix. I remember buying the second and third books of the trilogy immediately after reading “Sabriel.”

Thank goodness I did because I would have been incredibly pissed if I had to wait long in between reading “Lirael” and Abhorsen.” At the time, I remember feeling let down because the second book ended with such an unsatisfying cliffhanger.

In a sense the last two books could have been combined into one, with “Abhorsen” being the climax of the whole novel. However, the resulting novel would have been over 1,000 pages long. Perhaps a bit too long for Nix’s young adult readership.

What I Remember of Lirael

Other than the feeling of being let down after reading the novel, I remembered hardly anything else. I couldn’t even remember who Lirael was, other than her being the lady depicted on the book’s cover. I actually thought she was the daughter of Sabriel and Touchstone.

Why I Wanted to Re-Read Lirael

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My more than a decade old copy of Lirael, which I re-read while enjoying a cup of Starbucks Coffee Frappuccino.

I remember the Abhorsen trilogy being one of my favorite fantasy book series of all time. Even though I remember not liking “Lirael” as much as the other two novels, it is still part of the trilogy, and essential to appreciating the trilogy as a whole.

I was also curious to see if I would have a different reading of the novel since it has been a while since I last read it. Time and life experiences are great changers when it comes to my opinion of novels when I re-read them. I particularly enjoy re-reading my favorite novels from one year to the next because I always get something new from them with each reading.

How I Felt After Re-Reading Lirael

“Choosers will be beggars if the begging’s not their choosing.”
― Garth Nix, Lirael

I definitely felt the pang of anger at being let down by an unexpected cliffhanger after an incredibly long build-up. However, I have a much better appreciation for why the book ended in this manner. “Lirael” was never about good triumphing over evil in the end. It was really about Lirael (and also Sam’s) discovering who they really are.

“Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?” Lirael wanted to belong among her sisters of the Clayr so badly, that she almost committed suicide when she didn’t receive the gift of the vision. Sam was so afraid of facing the necromancer in death that he couldn’t even bare to look at the Book of the Dead, his birthright as the abhorsen-in-training.

It turns out that Lirael is the actual abhorsen-in-training, while Sam can settle for being the brave and powerful charter mage he already is. Sam ends up avoiding the path he was born to, but would have killed him had he been forced into it. Lirael is given the gift of a responsibility and purpose in life greater than the one she really wanted as a sister of the Clayr.

Lirael’s and Sam’s stories are already great in themselves. The confrontation between good and evil can wait.

Sabriel by Garth Nix – Re-Read Challenge 2016 Post # 1

When I First Read Sabriel

Here are some fun facts about Garth Nix from Epic Reads.

I don’t remember exactly when I first read “Sabriel” by Garth Nix, but I believe it was during my high school years, over a decade and a half ago. I only started reading books for fun during first my freshman year of high school, so I was pretty new to reading back them. I was still discovering the things I liked and didn’t like to read.

I was drawn to this book because it had a female protagonist. I was also curious about the heroine’s using bells in battle against her foes. I thought it was a unique concept, and still think it’s  novel a novel idea today.

What I Remember of Sabriel

“Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?” – Garth Nix, Sabriel

I remember the bells and how Sabriel used them to enter the realm of the dead. I recall how each bell had a different effect when rung. I also remember Mogget transforming into a white glowing creature I always imagined looking like an archon from the StarCraft video game series. Mogget is awesome.

Why I Wanted to Re-Read Sabriel

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Here is a photo collage of my very precious copy of Sabriel.

I really enjoyed reading “Sabriel” the first time, and then re-reading it several times after that. I’ve actually read the whole Old Kingdom trilogy a couple of times already. Garth Nix’s novel is simple and easy to read. The romance wasn’t very central to the story, and I enjoyed that a lot. The focus was actually on saving people.

I also liked the magic system in this book. The use of Charter Magic and the bells. The different gates one passes through on the way to death. It was all very interesting without ever being complicated.

How I Felt After Re-Reading Sabriel

If you can spare an hour, here is a more comprehensive podcast interview with Garth Nix by Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Re-reading “Sabriel” was like catching up with an old friend. I still have the original copy of the novel I bought around 15 years ago. The pages are all yellowish and crumbling in places. When I was a child, I always wondered how long it took for books to get that crumbly.

When I was a teenager, I was even more confused because I noticed my mother’s copies of “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and “The Notebook” getting all crumbly, but I didn’t think the books were that old. After all, weren’t the movies just coming out back then?

Anyway, the “Sabriel” didn’t lose any of its magic over the  years. It’s a timeless classic for me, and I hope that many more young adults get to read it like I did.

This post was written for Belle of the Literati’s Re-Read Challenge 2016. You can also read more about why I joined the 2016 Re-Read Challenge.