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review 2018-06-17 11:07
An ultra-noir novel for lovers of beautiful writing and dark subjects that probe the human psyche
Return to Hiroshima - Bob van Laerhoven

Thanks to the author for providing me a paperback copy of the book that I freely chose to review.

I read and reviewed Baudelaire’s Revenge some time ago and I was fascinated and intrigued by it, so I did not think twice when the author told me he had published a new novel. Van Laerhoven’s work has won awards, been translated into several languages, and he has a unique voice that stays with the reader long after finishing the book. I don’t mean the stories and the plots of his books are not interesting (they are fascinating), but the way he writes about the historical period his stories are set in, and the characters he follows and analyses are distinct and unforgettable. His words are, at once, poetic and harsh, and they perfectly convey both, the utmost beauty and the extremes of cruelty and dejection that can be found in human beings.

When I reread my previous review, while I was preparing to write this one, I realised that much of what I had written there (apart from the specifics about the plot and the characters) applied also to this book. The author once more writes historical fiction, although this time it is closer to our era. The main action takes place in Japan in 1995, although, as the title might make us suspect, the story also goes back to 1945 (and even before) and towards the end of the book we have scenes set in that period, with all that involves.

The story is mostly narrated in the third person from the points of view of a variety of characters, a police inspector (who has to investigate the murder of a baby, a strange attack at a bank with a large number of casualties, and a bizarre assault on a tourist), a female photographer, a young man and a young woman members of a strange sect, a strange man/God/demon (who is more talked about than actually talking, although we get access to his memories at some point). There are also fragments narrated by a woman, who is in hiding when we first meet her, and whose identity and mental state will keep readers on tenterhooks.

Apart from the mystery elements and from the bizarre events, which at first seem disconnected but eventually end up by linking all the characters, I noticed some common themes. Families, family relationships, and in particular relationships between fathers and sons and daughters, take centre stage. The inspector’s search for his father and how that affects his life, the young woman’s relationship with her father, at the heart of the whole plot, the photographer’s relationship with her father, another famous photographer, and her attempts at finding her own identity as an artist… While some characters seem totally amoral (perhaps because they believe they are beyond usual morality), others are trying to deal with their guilt for things that they did or did not do. Some of the characters might feel too alien for readers to empathise with, but others experience emotions and feelings fully recognisable, and we feel sad for some of them at the end, but relieved for others. The claustrophobic and pressured atmosphere running against the background of the atomic bomb and its aftermath are perfectly rendered and help give the story an added layer of tension and depth.

This is a book of extremes and not an easy read. Although the language used is lyrical and breath-taking at times, there are harsh scenes and cruel behaviours described in detail (rape, drug use, torture, violence), so I would not recommend it to people who prefer to avoid such kinds of reading. I’ve seen it described as horror, and although it does not easily fit in that genre, in some ways it is far more unsettling and scarier than run-of-the-mill horror. This novel probes the depths of the human psyche and its darkest recesses, and you’ll follow the author there at your own peril.

I wanted to share some samples I highlighted that should not provide any spoilers for those thinking about reading it:

Books protected me from reality. I remember them as a choir of pale shapes, sometimes hysterical, other times comforting, vividly prophetic, or disquieting, like a piano being played in the dark. I’ve always been convinced that stories influence the mind: they haunt regions of the brain where reason has lost its way.

This one I find particularly relevant to this book (and I think most writers would know perfectly well what it’s getting at):

“Writers are like God. They love their characters, but take pleasure in the suffering they put them through. They torment themselves through the puppets they create and in the midst of the torment they discover a sort of rage, the rage you need to create. There’s a lot of sadomasochism in the universe and literature has its own fair share.”

Here, one of the characters talks about how she feels when she is depressed:

Her malady gave her the impression that the buildings and the people she saw were nothing more than pixels of energy bundled together by an insane artist who could shift around the worlds inside him like pieces of chess.

This ‘ultra-noir’ novel, as the blurb aptly describes it, is an extraordinary read, but is not a book for somebody looking for a typical genre thriller with slightly twisted characters. This is far darker than most of the thrillers I’ve read. But don’t let that put you off. As I said in my previous review of another one of the author’s novels, ‘if you’re looking for a complex and challenging historical novel and don´t shrink from dark subjects, this is a pretty unique book.’

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review 2017-09-01 07:16
I didn't need it pointed out to see it
Caín - José Saramago

So, Saramago goes trolling through the old testament.

I really liked "The Gospel according to Jesus Christ", and have read some very interesting takes on the Cain and Abel story (like Unamuno's Abel Sanchez), but I didn't much care for this one. After the first quarter, I had trouble staying engaged, and had to power through to finish.

It was choke full of dry or ironic humor, and of particular stylistic prose, and it made some pointed observations. And yet...

The Old T has some hugely objectionable, harsh, or down-right insane acts from god and it's devotees. I remember lifting my eyebrows at several points during my read as a teen. This book tours us through and addresses the problems with most (but not all) of them, in an attempt to... what? Discredit god? Because I can't even call this atheism, it is SO bitterly anti-god.

*shrug* It didn't live up to my expectations for the author.

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review 2017-07-31 00:00
COOL SCIENCE EXPERIMENTS FOR KIDS: Making and Building Activities on Science/Technology/Engineering/Art/Math for 6-10 year old kids
COOL SCIENCE EXPERIMENTS FOR KIDS: Makin... COOL SCIENCE EXPERIMENTS FOR KIDS: Making and Building Activities on Science/Technology/Engineering/Art/Math for 6-10 year old kids - Sumita Mukherjee *I received an ecopy from the author through RABT Book tours for review. This is my honest review*

A great resource for parents and teachers alike. Filled with fun, and safe experiments for kids. From pulleys, to bracelets, Lego's to dolls, this book has something for everyone. Educational and hands on, this book is a great way to get kids excited about inventing and experimenting.
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review 2017-07-05 23:04
Five for one
Las Armas Secretas - Julio Cortázar

I understand now why this one is classified as European lit all the time. I haven't researched it, but I'm pretty sure this one was written after Cortázar left Argentina, because the five stories in this volume are all set in Paris.

I was not that dazzled by this too much at first but then, my bar with Cortázar is "Bestiario", and that's a hard one to upstage in the wow (weird, awesome, uncomfortable, puzzling) factor.

Cartas de Mamá, leaving aside the historical parallelism that some scholar or other wants to saddle on it, was an excellent exercise on revealing the past through the present. Many authors could learn a thing or two about how to do back-story. Of course, back-story is the whole issue here: sins and regrets that turn into silences, and that end that is half fantasy, half delayed acknowledgement. And the great opening line:

 

"Muy bien hubiera podido llamarse libertad condicional."

 

Los Buenos Servicios was a very scathing look at how moneyed people use "the help", many times frivolously, and often callously, and how hollow the "throw money at it" approach is, which is more jarring  (and ridiculous) from the poised view of Francinet. She had more class than any of the cast.

Las Babas del Diablo is a POV nightmare. As it tends to happen when I read magical-realism, I enter a weird state where I'm paying close attention, but at the same time relax my mind and just go with it. Like suspension of disbelief, but I just suspend logic and sometimes even grammar. I find it pays off with many complex or weird plots, or speculative fiction too. Triggers galore in this one, and one VERY uncomfortable suspicion.

"El Perseguidor", now here is the jewel of the book, and the point where I started to love this collection. It was absolutely engrossing. I understand why it has been known to be edited as "El Perseguidor y otras historias". This one got to me, emotionally-wise, and I'm not even quite sure why. I guess it's that desperate search.

"Las Armas Secretas" you know how it's going to go almost from go. Or maybe it's that I've read enough Cortázar to understand the clues he leaves. Or, maybe more, this sense of having read one of his before, about a big house in San Isidro, that has similar elements, but I can't remember to which collection it belonged to contrast.

You know, the more I write, the higher I want to star this. I realize it made my brain jog, and my thoughts come back to it whenever I wasn't reading.

Not his best, but for "El Perseguidor" alone, so worth owning it. I predict re-reads.

 

And there it goes my 4th of July extra. I devoured it, lol

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review 2016-07-24 14:17
0 - 9 The Experiments Book 2 by James DeSantis
0-9 (The Experiments Book 2) - James DeSantis

0 - 9 The Experiments Book 2 by James DeSantis is linked to the story Those Devils. The story line is interesting but it needs editing for grammar and tense. I gave it three stars.

 

The unnamed protagonist works for Sunshine Bank. "Being presentable all the time is hard enough but add on the fact that you have to pretend to be cheerful to half the people who hate your guts isn't the easiest task in the world."

 

I received a complimentary copy from Amazon. That did not change my opinion for this review.

 

Link to purchase: https://www.amazon.com/0-9-Experiments-Book-James-DeSantis-ebook/dp/B00M10F818

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