Friday, 5 June 2015

May Reads

I had a pretty OK reading month, considering I had so many other things to do, mostly school related... but now I've officially started my summer holidays (and my summer job but it's actually enjoyable: I get to play with kids! For the fourth summer in a row! Yay!)

Anyway, I managed to read six books in May, which is less than usual, yes, but this month was definitely better in quality than in quantity. I didn't rate any of the books under three stars and I rated two of them five stars! That's definitely rare...

Let's have a word or two about all of the books. I'll try to keep it spoiler free.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya   ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Nagaru Tanigawa

I watched the anime adaptation of this book a long time ago and remembered liking it, so I had to pick the book up when I saw it in a store in english. Surprise, the book was better than the anime.

First of all, I'm very much in love with the whole idea and in my opinion it's carried out extremely well. For me it works perfectly: Even though Kyon is the narrator it feels like Haruhi's viewpoint is present throughout the book. I don't know if I can explain this well, but I'm trying.

Kyon and Haruhi together create a really captivating duality. In a sense, Kyon is the one the reader is supposed to relate to. He's the ordinary high school student who's stopped expecting anything supernatural to happen. Haruhi is the most extraordinary being in the story, the world literally revolves around her. Yet Kyon is the one everything extraordinary happens to, making him not so relatable. But Haruhi is unaware of everything happening around her. In this sense, Haruhi is the relatable one. Though she wishes for the supernatural to happen, from her point of view it doesn't.

Even if Haruhi is all that's being said of her, she's still also the most ordinary person in the story, because she's unaware of everything supernatural: From her viewpoint it doesn't exist. Even if Kyon is the only one without supernatural powers, he's still the most extraordinary of the characters, because he's constantly facing things he never thought possible, he's the only one of the characters who's facing things outside of their perception of normal.

And this is felt in the book really strongly, Kyon and Haruhi have been written perfectly, through each other. Because of this you're always balancing on their percpectives while reading and these dimensions make the story feel both very real and relatable while at the same time keeping it fantastical. This is also why the book gives off this interesting feeling that anyone could be like Haruhi. There's nothing extraordinary about her from her eyes. But if you switch to another perspective, everything about her is miraculous.

This is the greatest strength of this book in my opinion but it's also a fun and easy read in other ways. Kyon and Haruhi are also just fun to watch, their communication and relationship keeps it interesting even when the greater ideas aren't the focus of attention.

The plot is pretty minimalistic and straight-forward but I don't remember finding it predictable when I watched the anime. It's a little bit harder to analyze it now, since I remembered everything that was going to happen while reading the book.

There are some cons about this book as well though.

I find the amount of fan-service a bit distracting and unnecessary. It doesn't feel very believable that Haruhi's quirks at some point always end up with Asahina being used as a total sex object. It really feels just an excuse, which it probably is. It doesn't bother me enough to take away from the great parts of the book though, so I just roll my eyes at it and move on.

Also, the other characters apart from Kyon and Haruhi don't appear very well fleshed-out. Asahina, Koizumi and Nagato all come off as card-board characters. This can be somewhat excused though, because Kyon is clearly the most invested in Haruhi and too confused about the other three to explore their depths. He can barely comprehend what they say.

Apart from those things I really love the book. Can't wait to get my hands on the other ones.

The Quantum Thief   ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Hannu Rajaniemi

This book left me in awe. It's insanely good.

At first I was a little bit confused... It wasn't easy to get into this completely unfamiliar environment and technology because the beginning lacked visual description. However it got clearer quite fast and then there was no going back. I was completely immersed in this facinating world, everything about it was so nuanced and so well structured it didn't seem like structured at all. Like the writer was really just describing a real place he knows at least as well as our world.

Way too often a writer isn't able to convince me with the world building, and I just shrugh my shoulders and leave the details be, because the story and the characters are still really good an interesting (and I have to admit that world building isn't exactly my favourite part of writing either, so I can sympathize...). Yet it still bugs me a little, that the author took an easy route. With this book such a thing didn't even cross my mind once. I was just staring at the pages wide-eyed with nothing in my mind except "Tell me more!".

The different communication systems are probably the most facinating of all the great creative solutions regarding the societies and technology. I was amazed how well the author was able to write it believable. It often happens with stuff like this that the writer is trying too hard to show the reader how ordinary this kind of communication is to the characters or trying too hard to impress the reader with its complexity, ultimately leaving it feeling pretentious. But with this book I honestly wasn't even thinking that someone had made these things up. My gosh, everything about this book and the world is just so organic and so easily relatable.

The characters were just great from the start. It was obvious in the best way possible how much more there was to them and how wholly they had lived before the first page of the book. Even though we probably barely got to scratch their surface in this book they still felt completely real all the way through. All the suspence was extremely well build up between them, even when I saw something coming before it happened it was definitely not an "Oh, how predictable." but rather "Wow, I've got it!" kind of moment.

And oh how well the subtle similarity between two particular characters was written. It just blows my mind. Because it's extremely hard to write something like that so perfectly. It never made me feel like it was due to lack of creativity or for the reason that these... opposing character tropes traditionally share similar interests and personality. It was obvious from the start that it was done deliberately and that the author knew exactly what he was doing... yet still it wasn't obvious why. It just made me turn the pages even more hooked.

I slightly regret buying these books in Finnish though... I asumed they were the original ones of course, since the writer is Finnish. Turned out he writes in English. Oh well.

The Fractal Prince   ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Hannu Rajaniemi

Obviously, I loved this book as well. It was as hard to put down as the first one. However, something was missing and I'm finding it hard to point out exactly what. Maybe it's partially that this book didn't really have any surprises before the end? And half of it, though it was exciting all the time, felt like nothing really happened, because it felt a bit too straightforward? Also maybe I was looking for some answers that this book didn't quite answer yet so maybe it's mostly just me getting ahead of things.

It was still one of the best reads of the year! I'm not sure what to say because the greatness is so similar to the first book so I feel like I'd just be repeating myself. This book continues the greatness of the first book but doesn't exactly add much new greatness, in my view, I was expecting it to grow more, so that's why it's "just" four stars, more like 4,5 actually. And possibly left me craving for the next book even more than the first one did! Too bad I don't have it yet...

Wildwood Dancing   ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Juliet Marillier

Wildwood Dancing was such a page turner for me. And I was really hooked for about 250+ pages but then, things started to get a little weird and by the end of the book I was quite dissapointed with some of it. I still liked it, but... The end felt like: "Huh, so everything is just the way it seemed? Nothing had deeper layers? Every question of mystery was only answered by ”Yeah, actually there was no mystery”.” It left me feeling really conflicted about the book.

I like the writing, that's what hooked me in the first place. All the characters and the atmosphere, the magic of the world were written very well and made me think this was exactly the kind of book I wanted to read. I really enjoyed how the book felt kind of like a blend of Little Women, classic fairytales and fantasy.

Anyway, I had quite a few issues with this book but that stuff is in no way spoiler free, and though I ranted about it on Goodreads in a pretty ridiculous length, I won't put that stuff here. ^^'

I'll just try to summarize it in general:

      ☹ Very promising character developement stopped half way through the book
      ☹ All characters' relationships were more believable in the beginning than in the end
      ☹ It was explicitly stated that certain characters had to go through certain events to learn
           something but the learning actually never happened/was never shown
      ☹ The main character was strong in the beginning and completely helpless in the end/didn't have
           any part in solving her own problems
      ☹ The end kind of proves the ”villain” right in questioning the main character and she doesn't
           even notice...
      ☹ In the end priviledge always weights more in this book than ability...
      ☹ Magic was unrealistic (I mean, many things were just left unexplained in a way were the
           reader is apparently just supposed to think ”duh, it was magic.”)
      ☹ Unbelievably unrealistic and unhealthy romance
      ☹ In the end the love-interests turned out more card board than minor characters

If you still happen to be interested in the full rant it's here xD:

I know I'm currently making this book sound really bad! And I gave it three stars!

But that's exactly why I'm quite pissed at the book. Because I did like it. Because I can't overlook the issues I have with it nor can I stop liking it... There's something really captivating about the writing style, the magical atmosphere, the hint of medieval village -thriller, the ”sisterhood” and many other things. Untill half way through it I honestly thought I might give it five stars. And BAM was my reading experience crashed.

This book left me very confused.

As Red As Blood   ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Salla Simukka

Finally a great Finnish YA book. To be honest, I wasn't expecting much from it because I'm so used to being dissapointed time after time. Boy, was I wrong.

This book is just... so amazing it makes me tear up. Not because it's particularly sad or anything, but really because it's just so amazing. It's exactly what both Finnish YA and thrillers in general lack so much: The thrill, the horror, the mystery, or the exitement of the book is NOT in scandalous events, celebrating gross violence, doing everything to decieve the reader, or in any cheap tricks to 'bribe' the reader into thinking the story in clever, unexpected or original. This book does none of that. It is ACTUALLY a thriller being carried all the way by superb description, perfectly written characters, and just so detailed and natural and artistically portraited understanding. Do you realize how rare that is? A character driven thriller that doesn't have to rely on gore to make it look serious? I seriously don't know when I read one.

The plot isn't very complex but it's not like it's meant to be like that in the first place. In fact, it's pretty straightforward but it's perfect that way. It feels realistic, and the thrill in every scene is very real exactly because the author is not going out of her way to play some cheesy hide-and-seek or who-is-smarter with the reader, which is often so badly done and really alienating the reader from the characters.

The mystery is not who killed whom and whose fault's what. That's only the surface of the book, it's not the story's primary interest. The mystery is psychological, it's Lumikki herself, it's subjective, it's everything she is, what she experiences, what she remembers, what was, what is, what's to come in the world that she is.

The thriller is not whether she'll escape the men in black, what'll happen if she's caught, or if she'll survive in the physical realm of the surface story. That is not the book's primary interest either. The thriller is whether and when she'll escape, get caught, run, or face danger in her internal world. It's in every corner of her mind, it's in reminiscenes, in every detail she ever pays attention to. It's in the way she talks, walks, thinks, eats, sleeps and fears. It's in figuring out the subjective meaning of everything that's happened to her. It's about the devastating internalized experiences that her every choice reflects.

The writing itself is best I've read all year. The pictures it paints in my mind are the most vivid and exact I can think of, I'm iching to draw Lumikki already. It describes all the right details, it shows who the people are in the best way I can imagine. It tells so much about the characters with such small choices of words and details and the tiniest events. There is quite literally not one unneccesary word in this book. It's quite a short book too, yet it manages to tell, not just one chain of events, but instead show the whole world throught the main character's eyes. Exactly how the greatest of books are supposed to.

I was completely immersed in Lumikki's character from the first page. I'll probably dream of her for a week now. Gosh, FINALLY a heroine in a Finnish YA book who actually is a person, not a convenient collection of some architypal characteristics of a shy, bookish, gentle, misunderstood girl, which make no other internal sense than being covenient. Lumikki may be good at being invisible but her precense is solid as rock, she has so much essence. She's a whole, every detail ever written about her in the book makes perfect sense, because she's not a collection of traits: She's actually a living person in the writer's mind and it shows, because everything written about her clearly comes from intuitive knowledge, not calculation.

I don't know if I can name a single flaw about this book. It ended? (yeah I know haa haa)

I don't think this book could get any better by making it longer. A long complex storyline is not the point of this book so I wouldn't go breaking the perfect balance it has.

I'm just thoroughly mesmerized by it.

As White As Snow   ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Salla Simukka

Great continuation for Lumikki's story! I read this one in English actually, because there weren't any Finnish copies available at the library at the moment. So that was quite interesting. All in all the story seemed to translate pretty smoothly. I remember a couple of slightly confusing sentences (but maybe that was just me) and the amazing, unique writing style of Salla Simukka wasn't adapted perfectly, which is to be expected, after all, translating something like that is such a difficult job. Most of the time, however, I wasn't even conscious that I was reading the story in a different language, so that's definitely something.

For me, this book was slightly off balance, because it was... MORE balanced in a... more common way. xD Maybe that sounds confusing but in the first book I was completely drawn in to the story exactly because the "traditionally thriller-y" part of it was clearly just the surface story and the primary interest was the story of Lumikki's person. In the second book it wasn't as clearly so. The surface story took more space and Lumikki's internal story felt a little like it was dropped here and there. It was still really good, and I definitely appreaciate the surface story being more intriguing and able to stand more on it's own. And Lumikki was still Lumikki, she was written as well as before but... I guess the focus on her depths wasn't as intense, so it didn't leave me heart pounding or tearing up.

Plotwise this book wasn't as obvious from the start as the first book, which is a plus I guess, but actually unnecessary to me. Even if this book did have as obvious plot as the first book BUT focused in Lumikki's internal story as deeply as the first book I totally would've given it five stars.

Ok, so that was May!

As for June, I aim to read a lot of fun books, because that feels like a good way to start summer. Let's see how that goes.

No comments:

Post a Comment