2020 Monthly Wrap-Up: January

January 2020 hasn’t been especially kind to me in terms of my personal life (or professional if I’m being entirely honest) but what I will say is that I’ve read some damn good books.

While my first read of the year – Infinity Son by Adam Silvera – was a bit of a bust, the majority of the other books I read were more wonderful than not. I’ve also been feeling rather proud of my resolution to stop reading books I’m not into and it’s such a weight off of my shoulders to not be so stressed out about trying to finish books I’m bored by.

The complete list of books I’ve reviewed this year is a nice one, with nine books finished in total!

  1. Jujutsu Kaisen #1 by Akutami Gege
  2. Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman
  3. No Longer Human by Dazai Osamu
  4. No Longer Human by Dazai Osamu and Ito Junji
  5. Saint Young Men #1 by Nakamura Hikaru
  6. Docile by K.M. Szpara
  7. The Test by Sylvain Neuvel

The other two books I read I didn’t end up writing full reviews for (and I had started them before the new year) but they were also fun.

  • Psychopathia Sexualis: 238 Case Histories by Richard von Krafft-Ebing

This book isn’t really the kind of book you end up “reviewing”. It is a very dated collection of case studies from 1886 that focused on mental illness and how it’s related to sexual urges, delinquency, and crimes. Given how dated it is, the part I found the most interesting was looking at how mental illness terms have changed over time and the strange excuses people came up to “explain” those suffering from mental health problems. Not all of the cases were explicit and some of them were even kind of funny. It was definitely an interesting read.

  • Arsene Lupin, Gentleman-Thief by Maurice LeBlanc

A good friend of mine got me into the Lupin the Third anime series and was telling me all about the original novels. I honestly went in with low expectations, thinking it would be like the dryer of the Sherlock Holmes books, but I was definitely wrong. I had a blast reading the shorts and they were all hilarious in one way or another. Lupin is such a dick and the way he just saunters around was so entertaining. It was a lot of fun.

All in all, I think it’s been a successful January and I’m looking forward to all the other books I’ll get to in February! Stay tuned for my reading list which I’ll be finalizing tomorrow!

 

REVIEW: The Test

There are very few companies that I have complete and utter faith in, but one of the companies lucky enough to have my trust is Tor Books. The novellas this publisher puts out are always so original, so out there, and so entirely amazing. I’ve honestly yet to read one that I haven’t liked.

Wanting something quick to read this week, I picked up my copy of The Test by Sylvain Neuvel. It is an understatement to say I was not prepared for it. The novella tackles a citizenship test in the not-so-distant future of England. Idir is the one taking the test on behalf of his whole family, saving his wife and his children the pressures of it, and keeping their chances high (only one in three people actually pass this test). But Idir may have signing on for more than he expected when the test goes from questions about football to a choice of life and death.

Not only is this novella very timely given the world’s political climate being more and more radicalized in terms of xenophobic propaganda and hate breeding propaganda, but it is so wild of a ride, it puts you right there in the room with Idir as he is forced to choose who lives and who dies. Reading it gave me the same emotional confusion as the film adaptation of the Stanford Prison Experiment did. It is raw and intense, pulling biases and aggressions towards anyone who is “other” to society that one might not even think of right away. It’s more than a story about racism and the way it unfolds so quickly makes for some serious edge-of-your-seat reading.

This is my first time reading Sylvain Neuvel’s work and damn do I look forward to reading more of his work. As uncomfortable as I felt at times while whipping through this novella, it was so strong and powerful that I hope to hear more of Neuvel’s voice in his other works.

MANGA MONDAY: Naruto 1-4

For today’s #MangaMonday, I wanted to do a highlight of an old classic. Of the Big Three manga titles, Naruto is my favourite and I figured it deserved to be talked about.

Volumes 1-4 of Naruto cover the first arc of the series in which we meet Naruto, his teammates, and follow them on their first serious mission as ninja.

For those not familiar with the series, it follows titular character, Uzumaki Naruto, on his dreams to become the best ninja in his village despite how much despise there is for him from the other villagers. Unbeknownst to Naruto (until the information is betrayed by a rogue ninja out for himself), he is actually the vessel for the world-killing demon, the nine-tailed fox.

Naruto doesn’t let this information drag him down as he proves himself enough to become a genin (a junior-ranking ninja) and becomes a member of Team 7, made up of himself, Uchiha Sasuke, and Haruno Sakura, and lead by Hatake Kakashi. Together, the four of them train together and are eventually given a mission escorting a builder back to his home country in the waves. But it would seem that the mission may be more than they bargained for when it comes out that their client lies about the seriousness of his request for protection.

The first arc is so much fun as we learn little bits about each of the members of Team 7. Naruto wants to be the best. Sasuke wants revenge on the person who slaughtered his family. Sakura…well she wants to date Sasuke but I promise she gets better. The bad guys of the arc, Zabuto and Haku, are incredible and I still wish we had gotten more of their stories or even a one-shot filler chapter with more of them. Cruel, deadly, and skilled, the both of them push Team 7 to their limits to show them the real uses of ninja skills and the meaning of survival.

I’ve read Naruto so many times is not even funny, but it never fails to steal my heart. I grew up with Naruto the same way I grew up with Harry Potter, being able to watch both characters grow in age and abilities as I did. The heart that is in this manga is something that I honestly don’t see much any more in any manga. There’s a reason that even at over 20-years-old, Kishimoto Masashi’s Naruto is still well renowned as one of the best manga series of all times. I will always love this series and look forward to re-reading the second arc (and gross crying over it as always).

(EARLY) REVIEW: Docile

Thank you to Tor Books and my friend, Ash, for a copy of this gorgeous ARC.

Please note that this book does contain trigger warnings for the following: dubious consent, sexual assault, mental and physical abuse, and also contains some BDSM content.


Docile is a story about voluntary slavery as the debt crisis of the world has reached a tipping point. Everyone inherits their entire family’s line of debt, putting some people multiple millions of dollars behind in the world. Their choices are to risk being thrown in prison for avoiding payments or sell their debt to the highest bidder in exchange for a few years of their lives. As a Docile, people have the choice to inject a memory-wiping formula or to be entirely aware of what is happening to them, and the work is not always something pleasant.

Four years ago, Elisha’s mother sold a million dollars of her debt in exchange for 10 years of her life, and she has never been the same. With three million in cumulative debt from his parents, Elisha makes the decision to sell himself in his sister’s place to make her future a better one. He also makes the decision to refuse Dociline, the “medicine” that took his mother away from him.

And this is how Elisha become a private, off-med Docile for the heir to the Dociline empire, Dr. Alexander Bishop the Third.

Set to be released in March of this year, K.M. Szpara’s Docile is a lot. When I first heard about it, heard that it was being referred to as a “gay Handmaid’s Tale“, I knew I just needed to get my hands on it. What I got was more than that. If Handmaid’s Tale was mashed into the forefront of My Fair Lady, then the comparison would be a little more accurate and it gave me life. It has been a long time since a new book has hitched my breath, pained my heart, and brought me to tears. It has been even longer since a book has overwhelmed me to the point of a mild panic attack, but that’s a more personal side of things.

I loved this book from start to finish and revelled in the characters of both Elisha and Alex. Seeing both of their POVs throughout the story gave both of them so much depth and really expressed their growth over the course of the narrative. The world-building is perfection for a low-sci-fi novel set in the real world and Szpara’s writing really sets in the feeling of dread that stuff like this is entirely capable of happening within the next few years.

Given we’re still a little over a full month away from the release of this book, I don’t want to say too much about it just yet, but I will say this:

Please pre-order this book from your local bookstore. Whether that means Indigo, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones, or even Amazon, please pre-order this book.

MANGA MONDAY: Saint Young Men

For today’s #MangaMonday I chose a re-released old classic that is so full of joy, you can’t help but smile while reading it.

Saint Young Men by Nakamura Hikaru is the story of Jesus and Buddha as roommates in Tokyo while they take a vacation from their godly duties to explore Earth. Each chapter is a snippet of the adventures they go on together and the hilarious mishaps two gods find themselves getting into while trying to function as regular humans.

I remember loving this series in high school because I thought the concept alone was hilarious. I saw snippets of the anime and laughed when I heard about the trailer for a live action film just a year or two ago. For anyone concerned about the religious content, I am not a religious person in the least but I can respect those who are and I feel Nakamura was sure to be respectful when putting out this series. The jokes are hilarious but never distasteful, even when addressing the Crucifixion or Buddha’s death.

This manga is definitely a feel-good, slice-of-life comedy that makes the perfect read for this time of year when keeping upbeat can be difficult. If you’re looking for a bit of fun with wonderful artwork and a loveable character duo, I highly recommend picking up the newest edition of Saint Young Men.

(LATE) MANGA MONDAY: No Longer Human

On Monday, I mentioned I was swapping things around and doing a regular book review so that I could share my review of the manga adaptation today.

The book in question is Dazai Osamu’s novel, No Longer Human, but adapted to the manga format by Japanese body horror king, Junji Ito.

Before I continue, this review contains trigger warnings for suicide, infanticide, violent imagery, and sexual assault.

So similarly to the novel (the review of which you can read here), this was a difficult one to get through. While I am very familiar with the content and the story of No Longer Human, Ito took this one to a whole other dimension. The story, itself, is heavily inspired by Dazai’s own life and there were certainly more elements of truth in the manga as well as far more fantastical horrors.

Unlike Ito’s other major works, his adaptation of No Longer Human was less focused on body horror and far more tuned into the psychological trauma that comes with the tortures Yozo faces. What was merely implied in the source material, was presented without apologies in the manga, and I’m not entirely sure if that’s a good thing or not. The sexual assault in the beginning and even throughout the story was intense and felt like it was too much given the format of the storytelling, however the ways Yozo is consistently taken advantage of is still so important to his story arc and the way his relationships (or lack thereof) are formed.

On top of that, there was far more death, far more suicide, and a lot heavier darkness. Dazai was not a happy man, and it can be seen throughout his short life by reading his novels and his stories. But the way that Ito really needles out the underlying sadness and turns it into something so solid and real it’s impossible to ignore as he beats you to death with it. Again, I’m conflicted by the emotions this manga drew from me because on the one hand it was a lot to process and manage, but on the other hand, it felt so real when it comes to how dangerous unchecked mental illness can be. It shows how important it is to really care for those who are suffering.

I loved the inclusions of Dazai himself as a character. I loved Ito’s artwork as I always do. But this was a rough one. Junji Ito is one of those mangakas who I rarely recommend because of how tricky it can be to navigate horror tolerance thresholds, but if you’re already familiar (and unbothered) with his work this is one to check out for sure.

 

REVIEW: No Longer Human

#MangaMonday has been shifted to Wednesday, because the title for this week is actually an adaptation of the amazing, semi-autobiographical novel No Longer Human by Dazai Osamu.

I also would like to mention trigger warnings for this novel include suicide and sexual assault (both implied and actual).


No Longer Human is the story of the narrator finding lost journals from a man named Oda Yozo, and following him through his struggles at simply existing around human beings. Yozo has never felt he fit in with the world, let alone just the space he occupied. He was easily taken advantage of and quickly found himself in barely escapable failures.

The novel is a complicated one, at first reading like little more than a depressing tragedy of a time where mental health care didn’t exist at all, resulting in the sad existence of Yozo. I actually had to read this a few times for the words to sink in, and upon re-reading, feel that the true meaning of the story is to be more aware of the people around us. It’s a story about loneliness and how that feeling is exacerbated when you can’t understand the social cues that berate you every waking moment. The lines about depression, about what it means to long for non-existence as opposed to outright death (which is the way I personally read it – suicidal ideation over suicidal intention). Yet our protagonist is so overwhelmed and sad that his ideations actually become failed truths again and again and again.

In a weird way, I find this novel surprisingly comforting in that it gives voice to some very real feelings that I’ve had to deal with myself. While I was reading a translation, I feel that Donald Keene did an incredible job of capturing Dazai’s essence and his emotion in the words and one day I really do hope that my Japanese reaches the point where I can read the original.

While I wouldn’t recommend this book to a single person I know, it is just so touching and important to me.