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Hotel Africa vol 1 by Hee Jung Park | Blabber

Hotel Africa, Volume 1Hotel Africa vol 1 by Hee Jung Park
Manhwa – Slice of Life/Drama
215 pages
Published 5/2006
Read 9/2019
Spoiler-free blabber

Hotel Africa is a hidden gem.

I picked this manhwa up because one of my best friends has a tendency of buying a bunch of obscure stuff, and then throwing 20 or so volumes of it at me at a time to read when she’s finished with it. This was among them – I had never heard of it before, and she didn’t tell me her opinion of it before lending it to me. I didn’t even read the back before I began, so I was going in totally blind.

Man, did I end up falling in love with this.

This volume follows two timelines, both focused around the main character: Elvis. Elvis in one timeline is a young man, just trying to live his life like the rest of us. He lives with two room mates, both of which also have their struggles. In the other timeline, Elvis is four years old, living with his mother at Hotel Africa, a hotel his mother and grandmother started up in the middle of the desert in Utah. Each chapter of the manwha switches back and forth between the two timelines, and each time, it goes into a new character’s story.

This series is definitely character-driven. If you go into this looking for a rip-roaring plot, you will be disappointed, but if you go in with the desire to learn about the human condition, you might find yourself in the right place.

Hotel Africa explores a lot of topics – it delves into the characters that show up at the hotel, why they chose that hotel out in the middle of nowhere, and the circumstances that brought them there. Each hotel guest’s story is different. Some are just passing through, on their way to start a new life, some are stuck in their pasts and have gone traveling to find their present, and some show up out of nowhere and never leave.

Elvis himself interacts with these guests, and you see their human struggles through the eyes of a toddler, who at the time may or may not actually grasp what is going on with his new friends. As an adult in the other timeline, you can see Elvis has grown up to be a very empathetic person as a result of being raised around people in all sorts of situations.

I really liked how real the situations felt. Not going into detail for spoilers sake, more than one of the people who showed up at the hotel were going through things that were very close to my heart, others were going through things that I’ve never experienced, but the author was able to convey their feelings in a way so sharp and clear that I felt like I had.

As said, this is a character-driven story, so it moves at a sedated pace. Each hotel guest’s story is self-contained for the most part, allowing us multiple glimpses into situations and struggles across a spectrum of life stages. It was very poignant, and very well written.

Overall, I adored this. On the first read through, I’ve rated it very high, but I feel upon a reread, upon letting these stories really sink in, that this could end up being a 5 star favorite. I plan on getting myself a copy of this and rereading it, along with volume 2, which I believe is the only other volume in the series(?).

But this one, man. If you want something that’ll pull at your heart and make you feel slightly sad without being able to put your finger on why, this is the one.

4.5 stars

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Posted by on 10/06/2019 in blabbers, Books, Review

 

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O Maidens in Your Savage Season vol 1 by Mari Okada | Blabber

O Maidens in Your Savage Season 1

O Maidens in Your Savage Season vol 1 by Mari Okada
Nao Emoto, Illustrator
Sawa Matsueda Savage, Translator

Manga
Slice-of-Life/Comedy
208 pages
Rating: OT (16+)
Read Sept 1, 2019
Spoiler-free blabber

Of the 76 books I’ve read this year, this is the third one to get a solid five stars from me. I absolutely adored this manga. It was funny, it was cringe-levels of relatable, it was cute. It was great.

This manga follows a group of high school girls in a literature club. Part of the activities of this club include reading passages from books out loud to each other. The manga opens on them doing just that… but they’re reading a sex scene. Immediately the awkward tone hits as you see these girls’ inner thoughts circulate, taking in exactly what they’re hearing. It. Is. Hilarious.

Now as the synopsis states, this manga follows this group of girls as they start to become aware of and think about sex in that way that we all did when we had no idea what all it entailed, how to go about it, or how to even look at someone of the opposite (or same, or any) gender and think of them in that way. Keeping the subject matter in mind, in this manga you’ll see mild nudity and some awkward scenes surrounding it, but nothing explicit. This is rated OT after all, not M.

Reading this just really hit home. They’re all struggling in their own way to take this whole new thought process and incorporate it into their own established world construct – the idea that these thoughts exist, the idea that they have them, the idea that others have them – childhood friends, parents, strangers. Seeing how each girl goes about this process is absolutely adorable and cringey and hilarious, but most of all, it’s completely relatable. I think the author did a fantastic job of capturing how a bunch of naive teenage girls with minimal information might react to this huge change in mindset. Some take it in stride, others have a much harder time doing so.

Now I’ve mentioned a few times that I thought this was funny. But I’m not kidding – I laughed out loud (like actually laughed out loud) multiple times during this single volume. The author takes this subject and makes it both lighthearted and endearing, but is also able to convey how entirely awkward these girls feel when thinking about how their childhood friend might think of boobs, or how their classmates might be or are sexually active already.

Each of the characters, while trying to confide in each other through all of this, also find that awkward, so you see them struggle internally with what they feel they can share and what they don’t want to. It’s a very real situation that I’m sure most of us have been through at one point or another. It explores the vulnerability ones feels during this stage in a way that makes the reader just really relate to what they’re going through. And these attempted half-confessions to each other result in some very funny situations. It was definitely entertaining.

So overall – I highly recommend this manga. As I’ve said, it’s funny, it’s relatable, it’s endearing, and my gosh did it send me back to fifteen year old me’s poor little brain when it had no idea what was going on.

Absolutely fantastic manga – volume 1 has become an all-time favorite, and I plan on getting volumes 2 and 3 here quickly, as they’re out as this post goes up. 4 and 5 aren’t far behind either. This has also been adapted to an anime that’s currently debuting right now, and while I haven’t seen it yet, I’ve heard it’s just as fantastic as the manga, and I plan on watching it, too.

5 stars

 
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Posted by on 09/08/2019 in blabbers, Books, Review

 

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The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang | Blabber

The Poppy War (The Poppy War, #1)The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang
The Poppy War – Book 1
Fantasy
530 pages
Read May 2 – June 1, 2019
Spoiler-free blabber

The Poppy War had a reputation that preceded it.

I had heard more than once before going into this book that it was going to be brutal, graphic, and full of triggering themes. And it was. But honestly, I feel like it wasn’t nearly as intense as I had been expecting. There were definitely difficult situations in the book, and there were descriptions that kinda curdled my stomach, but I feel like I was lead to believe that there would be more than there was, considering the events the book is based off of.

Alternatively, I could just be so desensitized to today’s society and world events that I read all the awful stuff and went, ‘huh’. Either way, I’m not saying this as a good thing or a bad thing about the book, but to me at least, the warnings of graphic content were a bit overblown. It’s definitely there, but it’s more sprinkled than I expected. So take that as you will.

Okay so, this book.

This book follows Rin, a war orphan who takes an exam to enter a prestigious military academy in a country at the brink of war. The book itself is inspired by the events of The Rape of Nanjing, which happened during the second Sino-Japanese War that occurred 1937-1945, where Japanese troops invaded the Chinese capital of Nanjing and mass murdered and raped the citizens there. The plot of this book follows those events closely – you can see how each culture was mirrored into the fictional cultures making up the different nations in the story.

The book itself is well written – the descriptions of military tactics and troop movements and strategy are well thought out and easy to imagine as you read. The main character Rin is multi-faceted, which I was really happy to see. Her morals are all over the place, and there was no clear ‘good’ or ‘bad’. There was just war and necessity. It felt realistic, her actions, her thoughts, and her reactions, considering her age, how she was raised, trained, and how she interprets the world.

The side characters also have multiple layers to them. The brave commander that has no concept of how to lose and cannot process it, the cocky classmate that mentally adjusts when faced with actual warfare, the oddball teacher with eccentric tendencies and whose bravery or lack thereof could be interpreted many ways. It was really cool, seeing all these characters introduced and developed within the first book alone.

The magic system itself is also pretty awesome, and it was really cool that depending on the person’s perspective, that it could be used in different ways. Some characters used the magic by force, and others let it flow through them. The differences caused an interesting conflict in points of the story, and it was really fascinating to read, almost like two different flavors of the same religion battling with each other.

I think the only thing that kept me from loving it was that I couldn’t read it for long periods of time. And that might be an unfair judgement, but I did find myself only being able to pick it up for a chapter or a few pages at a time. I don’t know what it was about it that caused it, but there you go.

Overall though, I really enjoyed this book, and I’m excitedly awaiting book two, which should be out this summer.

4/5 stars

 
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Posted by on 06/08/2019 in blabbers, Books, Review

 

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The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden | Blabber

The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy, #1)The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Fantasy
333 pages
Released Jan 10, 2017
Read April 6-17th, 2019
Spoiler-free blabber

This book felt cold.

Overall I liked it, but it definitely took me some time to get into.

Because I’ve decided that giving synopses is not my strong point, here is the Goodreads Synopsis:

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind–she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed–this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

The Bear and the Nightingale feels cold. It takes place during winter, and reading it feels like you’re there, laying across the top of the oven with Vasilisa and her family while the snow blusters outside. Like you have found the one spot of warmness in a world of ice.

This book sets a very atmospheric tone, and I think that was my favorite part about it. The world was so rich and lush, and the creatures of Russian folklore were integrated in a way that felt natural. The writing was whimsical, and it felt like reading a fairy tale at times.

I also really liked the characters, whether I actually liked them or not. Each character was made the way they were for a reason, and even though some of them I grew to dislike, it made sense that they were there, and why they acted the way they did. Vasilisa, the main character, was my favorite. She was so headstrong and determined, and resisted the pulls of the local traditional values that would have limited her lot in life. At the same time, she acts this way, especially in the later part of the book, because she values her family. It’s a neat dynamic and I liked it.

The plot also is pretty neat – the slow introductions of organized religion into an area permeated by folklore and superstitious belief was interesting to read about, and seeing characters whose main belief systems on either side of the spectrum come to terms with those who believed the opposite was compelling. And while aspects of organized religion were shown in an unflattering way at times, the book never actually bashed the religion itself. I feel it was handled really well. Often when religion is essentially an antagonist in the story, the religion itself is portrayed as this thing that corrupts and those who believe it are silly. But not in this one. In this book, it’s shown that the people and their human error are the cause of misfortune. That their interpretations of what they believe to be right are the cause of strife, not the religious system itself. I found that really refreshing, and I really appreciated that it was portrayed that way.

So, the thing that kept me from loving this book was the pacing. For the first two hundred pages or so, the plot progression was really slow, and I had a hard time latching onto the story. Considering the book is just over 300 pages long, being lukewarm to it for the first two thirds isn’t great. After those 200 pages though, I finished it really quickly and really liked it.

Really other than the pacing, I had no complaints. This book was solidly good, and I’m glad I made the effort to get to a part where I could fall into the story more easily. The second book is out, and I feel like once my buying ban is over, it’ll be up there at the top of my list of books to get. Now that I know what to expect as far as pacing, I’m thinking I’ll like it even more.

3.75/5 stars

 
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Posted by on 04/21/2019 in blabbers, Books, Review

 

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Dark Matter by Blake Crouch | Mini-blabber

Dark MatterDark Matter by Blake Crouch
Science Fiction
342 pages
Released July 26, 2016
Read April 1-11th, 2019
Spoiler-free mini-blabber

What if your life was different?

Dark Matter follows a man named Jason, who is married to his wife Daniella and has a son. He works as a professor at the local college and is pretty satisfied with his life, but can’t help wondering, what if. What if he’d made different choices, what if he hadn’t quit his research to pursuit raising a family. Everyone has these kinds of thoughts now and again.

How do your choices lead you to where you are?

Then one day, Jason, when walking home at night, is attacked and the last thing he hears before he loses consciousness is ‘Are you happy with your life?‘. When he wakes up, he goes home to find his wife isn’t his wife, his house isn’t how he left it, and his son was never born.


And that’s all I’m going to tell you of the synopsis. Anything more I think would take away from your enjoyment of the book.

This book was really addictive. The writing was compelling enough to keep the plot moving at a rather fast pace, and the plot progression itself was pretty neat. The main character Jason, I came to feel for, as he navigated through the events that unfolded. I also really liked Daniella, and how intuitive she was when it came to her husband.

The thing that kept the book from being five stars is that it was a bit predictable. Sure I didn’t predict the exact ending, but I kind of had an inkling that something like it might happen mid-way through the book, and that inkling only grew stronger as the book continued. Even with guessing it though, it was played out really well, and the ending, well… I feel like writing a book like this, having the events happen that happened, and following the laws you set up within the story itself, it’s hard to write a perfect ending. But Blake Crouch I think picked one that suited the story well. Was it perfect? No, but like I said, I don’t know how you could make it perfect, considering.

I’m finding it really hard to talk more in-depth about what I liked. I feel like anything more I say about the plot will be a spoiler, and it’s best to go into it with as little information as possible.

Just know that I did really enjoy this, and I feel like it would make an excellent movie. A movie, mind you. Usually when I read a book I’m more of an advocate for a miniseries or something, but I think the thrilling pace and plot of this one would definitely be more suited for a movie. Do you hear me Hollywood? Get on it. I’ll be the first in line to buy a ticket.

Very good book.

4/5 stars

 

 
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Posted by on 04/20/2019 in blabbers, Books, Review

 

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Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell | Blabber

FangirlFangirl by Rainbow Rowell

YA Contemporary
459 pages
Paperback
Read April 2-4, 2019
Minorly spoilery blabber

Whether I end up liking or disliking a YA book, I tend to always fly through them. This one was no exception. I buzzed through this book in two and a half days. An adult fantasy of similar size would at least take a week, maybe more. So already, this book has that going for it.

I knew that this book is basically one of the most hyped in the online book community, and reading the synopsis, I can see why. The character is very relatable – young woman going to college, unsure of herself, writes fanfiction, is generally nerdy. I understand how this book could be the love of so many people. Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to the hype for me.

I didn’t hate it, I liked it, but I didn’t love it.

So, overview of the book: As mentioned, it follows a young woman, Cath, as she goes to college with her twin sister Wren. Cath is basically a homebody who wants nothing to change and Wren is dying for the opposite. As the book goes, Cath meets her roommate, a boy, has some family drama and writes fanfiction.

My opinions: The thing that kept me from rating this book higher was Cath herself. She has social anxiety and likes things to be just as they are. Now, I’m not knocking social anxiety by any means. It occasionally flares up for me, a lot of my friends have it to an extent, etc. It’s not the anxiety that makes me dislike Cath so much. It’s how she deals with it.

Basically any time a character would act in a way that made Cath anxious or unhappy, like her sister rooming with someone else instead of her, yada yada, Cath would become controlling. She would berate the other person for doing something that she was uncomfortable doing herself. She would basically give them a guilt trip of ‘How dare you not be anxious/upset/angry about this when I am’ and it really bugged me. I mean if she’s anxious, fine, but guilting other people for not being anxious is a no-no. My above example is just one of many times she did this, and by the end, I didn’t really like her at all because of it.

Also, she wrote this fanfiction throughout the book, which at first was great. I wrote fanfiction when I was a teen too, and it was neat to get back into the mindset of planning one, participating in a fandom, etc. But then it got a bit dull: the fanfiction was written in the book – like pages and pages were literally the fic she was writing, and it was for a book that was made up in the Fangirl universe. I didn’t understand the point of it, really. I know there is a book called ‘Carry On’ also by the author that is set in the world the made up book is about, but from reading the fanfiction in the first book, I really have no interest in it. It didn’t grip me at all, and I was skimming those sections by the end, because shocker, they had nothing to do with the plot. I mean sure, I could see inklings of themes matching the ‘real world’ situation but they weren’t strong enough to warrant so much filler.

Another thing I disliked in the book is the overall message of ‘therapy/medication is a joke’, which I didn’t appreciate. The main character as mentioned has social anxiety, and her dad I’m pretty sure is bipolar, though I don’t think they label him as such. But throughout the book, Cath in particular kept mentioning how ‘they were in therapy when they were little and it sucked’ and now the whole family is against the idea. The dad in particular, from some of his behaviors throughout the book, should have been in therapy. Cath mentioned in passing how he’d randomly stop taking his meds and everyone seemed to be fine with that. Like ‘oh, Dad’s being Dad again’, not ‘He’s probably on a restricted substance and going cold turkey is a bad idea’. Like, none of it was even mentioned in a way that could suggest it’s something you shouldn’t do without medical supervision, and it really, really bugged me.

I did mention above though that I did like this book overall. I did. The main things I liked where the side characters: Levi, Reagan and Wren. All three of them were really cool, and honestly a lot more patient with Cath’s habit of trying to guilt or control the actions of others than I would have been. Levi, the love interest in the book, is a sweet pea. He’s so soft and pleasant. Reagan seems like a person I could relate to a lot more than Cath was, and Wren just seemed like a teenage girl who wanted to break out of her shell. Mind you she ended up going a bit too far, but that was called out and dealt with, the one thing that the family did health-wise correctly in my opinion. Goodness.

I also liked the plot and premise, though I think the ending fell a bit flat and there were weird side-plots that resolved in unsatisfying ways. But the overall story was pretty good. I just wish the main character would have been a bit more uh… well, a bit less controlling about everything that was going on throughout it.

Now that I’ve written everything out, it’s definitely clear that all the things I liked about the book were counteracted by the things I disliked. It’s basically even. The fast pace I was able to read it in really helped bump it from ‘neutral’ to ‘I liked it’ territory though. So a three star review from me it is.

3/5 stars

 
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Posted by on 04/13/2019 in blabbers, Books, Review

 

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Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James |Blabber

Black Leopard, Red Wolf (The Dark Star Trilogy, #1)

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
Dark Star Trilogy, Book 1
Read Feb 18 – March 19
Released Feb 5th, 2019
Spoiler-free blabber
This is one of the most divisive books I’ve ever read.

Every review I’ve seen on it has either been 4/5 stars or 1/2 stars. I have seen maybe one or two 3 star, middle of the road kind of reviews.

Unfortunately I was in the 1/2 star camp. I didn’t like this book.

I buddy read this book with Katy @BookbinderWay and she ended up really enjoying it, I think she gave it 4 stars. Whatever she saw in it though, I obviously didn’t see, which is a shame. I wanted to like this book, I did. This was an anticipated release and I bought very quickly after it came out. And if you’ve been following my blog at all, I wrote a post recently about DNFing books, discussing time wasted versus money wasted. In the post I didn’t name what book I was talking about. Take a guess, though. Guess.

I didn’t end up DNFing this book, I finished it, but honestly I don’t know if it was worth it. In retrospect, the money I spent on the book was basically paying for the unpleasant time I had reading it, so there’s another point to my discussion in that post. Anyways, onto my thoughts:

The first thing I noticed about the book was the writing. It was written like you were sitting around a campfire, listening to someone tell you an ancient tale. And it worked for me… for a bit. But soon it became difficult to tell who was saying what, what was a side thought and what was spoken aloud, what was important and what wasn’t. There was no emphasis on things over other things. I couldn’t tell if a tangent a character went on would be important information for later, or if it was just, well, them going on a tangent.

The plot meandered and while I typically don’t mind a meandering plot, the whole synopsis of the book, the ‘find the boy, big mystery’ plot, took a backseat. The stakes were supposedly high but because the earlier mentioned lack of emphasis, I couldn’t gather why. It’s like the author was like ‘this is the big thing that’s gonna happen but we’ll just make it of equal focus to everything else that’s going on’. It made the reading experience difficult and muddled. I also didn’t end up caring about any of the characters. I hated Tracker, the main character. I didn’t like The Leopard, I didn’t like really anyone except Sadogo.

I think the thing I disliked the most about this book – what really kept me from getting invested, is how unnecessarily sexually violent everything was. Rapes here, rapes there, threatened rapes, actual rapes, people literally dying from rapes. Comments about penises doing penis things left and right, people assaulting each other sexually and nobody finding it abnormal. I mean… it was gross. I was uncomfortable, and it kept me from like.. enjoying the story because every other page someone would threaten to ravage someone else’s ass or something. None of it was even relevant to the plot – I felt like it was just in there to be shocking for its own sake.

So, about half way through the book, I wrote the post I mentioned earlier, and I decided to pick the book up on audio. That did help. Hearing this book that felt like an oral tale told, well, orally, helped. The narrator did a fantastic job – he actually put emphasis into things and spoke side-thoughts so they sounded like side thoughts. I could actually tell what was important and what wasn’t. So at that point, I could somewhat get passed all the problems I had been having and actually focus on the plot of the story. Unfortunately though, while everything was more clear, the plot still fell flat for me.

So – while I very much didn’t like this book over all, there were some good things about it. The world that James crafted is really neat. The creatures he mentions are fascinating, the cultures are really neat, the lore he based everything off of is fascinating, and I wanna read more things inspired by it. And just experiencing the world and its various magical elements was really, really cool.

But unfortunately, the setting wasn’t enough to save the book for me. The premise was good, the world was great… but the characters, violence, and meandering really ruined it for me.

If you’re in the mindset to read something containing all that, I can see how you’d love the book. It felt like I was reading an epic like Gilgamesh or something at points. But, for me, it did not click. I did not like it, which is such a bummer.

I haven’t decided if I’m gonna unhaul the book or if I’m gonna wait a few years and reread it. We’ll see.

1.5/5 stars

 
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Posted by on 03/24/2019 in blabbers, Books, Review

 

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