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review 2017-09-13 18:22
Parasite Eve by Hideaki Sena, translated by Tyran Grillo
Parasite Eve - Hideaki Sena

Parasite Eve begins with the death of Kiyomi Nagashima. While driving, she suddenly blacks out and has the same dream she had previously only had on her birthday, a dream in which she is a worm-like being swimming through fluid. She recovers from her dream just in time to hit a telephone pole.

Toshiaki Nagashima, Kiyomi’s husband, is a researcher specializing in mitochondria. When he hears about Kiyomi’s accident, he drops everything and rushes to the hospital. Unfortunately, Kiyomi is brain dead. Toshiaki and Kiyomi’s parents agree to honor Kiyomi’s desire to be a kidney donor, but Toshiaki has one secret request of his own: he would like a sample of Kiyomi’s liver.

Kiyomi’s kidneys go to an unnamed man and a 14-year-old girl named Mariko Anzai, and Toshiaki gets the liver cells he so badly wanted. While Mariko struggles with guilt and fear over her latest transplant, Toshiaki is happily convinced that since Kiyomi’s liver cells are still alive and thriving, she isn’t actually dead. What no one realizes is that there is a monster hiding inside Kiyomi’s cells, and it’s slowly becoming strong enough to take the next step in its evolution.

I’m going to start by saying that I’ve never played the game of the same title and I have no idea how its events compare to those in this book. According to Wikipedia it’s a sequel, so my only hope is that it left Mariko and Asakura alone.

I don’t know what I was expecting from Parasite Eve, but it left me feeling so underwhelmed and disgusted that I’m glad it was a library checkout rather than a purchase. I’m a horror wimp, and even I wasn’t scared by this book. It was more gross and ridiculous than anything.

It started off okay. I was intrigued by the mystery of Kiyomi’s cells. I wanted to see how things would play out with Toshiaki’s creepy liver cell project and Mariko’s transplant. It was clear that Mariko had a lot of issues where transplants, her transplant surgeon, and her father were concerned, so I also wanted to know what had happened with her first transplant - the kidney she received from Kiyomi was actually her second kidney transplant. The author’s medical- and science-related descriptions were sometimes more detailed than I would have preferred, but I did learn a few interesting things about transplants, particularly how they were viewed in Japan at the time the book was written. I hope attitudes have improved since then.

I became more and more impatient as the story progressed and nothing much happened. Kiyomi’s cells continued to grow, the being in Kiyomi’s cells wriggled happily whenever she thought about Toshiaki (the being was female), and Mariko became increasingly closed off. I was wishing for Kiyomi’s cells to do something long before they actually did.

For a book in which femaleness played such an important role, the female characters were incredibly disappointing. Asakura, Toshiaki’s assistant, was simply a way for readers to see how odd Toshiaki was acting. Mariko became little more than a host and incubator for Kiyomi’s monster. I enjoyed the scenes of Kiyomi’s childhood, but it wasn’t long before the flashbacks revealed that her life had been taken from her long before she slammed into that telephone pole. It was depressing.

Even the being in Kiyomi’s cells was disappointing. Even though she was millions of years old, Toshiaki, a man whose life should have been barely a blip in her existence, was suddenly her sole focus. When she

finally began to create a body of her own, she designed it primarily to please Toshiaki, starting with lips, and then a breast with a perfectly formed nipple, then a vagina and womb, and finally a finger, which she promptly used to masturbate and make sure all her parts were ready for Toshiaki.

(spoiler show)

The being’s hyper-focus on Toshiaki did turn out to have a point beyond “Toshiaki understands me best,” but it was off-putting all the same.

I was glad when the action finally began to pick up in the last third of the book, but I came to regret my decision to continue reading when the monster rape scenes happened. There were two,

one involving Toshiaki that was presented more as sperm theft than as the horrifying rape it actually was, and one involving 14-year-old Mariko. While I was thankful that Mariko was unconscious throughout both her rape and her monstrous pregnancy, I sincerely wish that the author had written her rape with less detail. I did not need to know how much pleasure the being derived from that act. Also, it upset me that the things that happened to Mariko were presented as more horrifying for her father, who witnessed some of it, than for Mariko herself. Even though she was unconscious, it was her body that was invaded and her body that was horrifically used.

(spoiler show)


The final showdown was just ridiculous. In my mind I pictured it with cheap special effects and bad acting, like something out of a B-movie. All in all, I don't recommend this book.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-09-03 18:32
The Discreet Hero, Mario Vargas Llosa, trans. Edith Grossman
The Discreet Hero: A Novel - Mario Vargas Llosa,Edith Grossman

This book put me in a bind: while I found the story and characters engaging, fun, even, there are aspects that offended me. As I read, I would wonder: "Is this attitude or behavior endorsed by the author, or just described by him in depicting this place and these personalities?" By the end, I decided that there are definite ideologies at work here, including the beliefs that when it comes to family, blood is all; that the younger generation is responsible for squandering the hard work of their parents'; and the conservative viewpoint that if one only works hard enough, one can be successful. Other troubling attitudes that are questioned by characters but nevertheless feel condoned by the narrative: blaming victims of rape or sexual coercion; treating women as objects; racism; masculine pride as more important than the lives of loved ones.

 

After I finished the book, I read several reviews as I tried to work out my opinion of it. These mention that Vargas Llosa won the Nobel Prize for Literature but that this may not be his best work; that he used to be a social progressive but became a conservative who ran for president of Peru; that some characters appear in other books of his; that some elements are based on real events and his own life.

 

The book is divided between two alternating and converging narratives with separate protagonists, both fitting the "discreet hero" label of the title. The stories take place in two different areas of Peru, one Lima, one provincial, and their plots appear to have no connection. When they link up, it's very satisfying, even though the connection is quite minor. Each plot has elements of a mystery-thriller that propel the story; I found it hard to put down. The characters are often charming and easy to root for (until they're not). In story one, a man who worked his way up from nothing and owns a transport company is anonymously threatened unless he pays for protection; he refuses. In story two, a man on the verge of retirement and a long-awaited trip with his wife and son finds his life upheaved when his wealthy boss decides to marry his servant to punish his errant sons; at the same time, the protagonist's teenaged son is being approached by a mysterious stranger who may or may not be real, the devil, an angel, or just the kid fucking with his parents (this last mystery is left ambiguous).

 

Other elements I enjoyed included the relationship between the second protagonist and his wife, his feelings about art's role in life, the police sergeant from the first story, and learning about Peruvian life across two settings.

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review 2017-08-21 06:15
Ring by Koji Suzuki, translated by Robert B. Rohmer and Glynne Walley
Ring - Robert B. Rohmer,Glynne Walley,Koji Suzuki

Warning: This book includes multiple mentions of rapes and a main character who is likely a rapist. Also, one of the main characters deliberately misgenders another character.

Kazuyuki Asakawa is a reporter who got into a bit of trouble in the past. From what I could gather (it was a little confusing), he wrote an article that exacerbated oddly widespread public reports of supernatural sightings. That’s why his boss is reluctant to okay his most recent project: an investigation into several disturbing simultaneous deaths. One of the victims was his niece, who tore out her hair as she died. Her death, like the others, was ruled “sudden heart failure,” but would that really cause a teenage girl to rip out her hair like that?

Asakawa’s investigation leads him to a difficult-to-get-to cabin, where he watches a mysterious videotape that warns him that all who watch the tape are fated to die exactly one week later. Those who do not wish to die must follow the tape’s instructions...except that the instructions were taped over. Asakawa would laugh it off it weren’t for those four simultaneous deaths.

In an effort to save himself, Asakawa enlists the help of the one man he knows who'd actually enjoy this strange task: Ryuji Takayama, a creepy and gross philosophy professor with a grating personality.

This was a reread, but all I could remember about it, at first, was that it was pretty different from the American movie (I’ve never seen the Japanese one). A few chapters in, I regained a few more memories about the story, enough that certain lines and phrases stood out to me that I’m pretty sure I overlooked during my first reading. However, I had forgotten a lot more than I expected: although I remembered what Asakawa had to do in order to survive, I completely forgot several details about Ryuji and Sadako.

For me, the first third of the book, before Ryuji’s introduction, was the strongest. Sure, it took a long time for Asakawa to get far enough into his investigation to track down the tape, but the spooky atmosphere was excellent, and I enjoyed seeing his investigative process and anticipating the events to come. I didn’t really like Asakawa, who so rarely took care of his own child that his wife found his insistence on putting her down for a nap himself suspicious, but I was okay with that. When it comes to horror novels, I don’t necessarily need to like the main characters, and sometimes it’s even better when I don’t (less to mourn when/if they die).

Then Ryuji entered the scene. I know I just said that I don’t always need to like characters in horror novels, but Ryuji was really pushing things. Near the end of the book,

one character said that much of his behavior was a lie and that he was actually a very good man, but I happen to think that character was just deluding herself. I snorted when Asakawa decided to believe her on the basis of her woman’s intuition - if woman’s intuition was all that it took to convince him, what about his wife’s deep hatred of Ryuji, which he had never asked her to explain?

(spoiler show)


I personally think Ryuji was the man Asakawa saw, the one who’d admitted to raping multiple women and who once said that this was his wish for the future: “While viewing the extinction of the human race from the top of a hill, I would dig a hole in the earth and ejaculate into it over and over.” (117) I believe that Asakawa was so quick to change his mind about Ryuji because part of him knew he should have told someone when, back in high school, Ryuji admitted to him that he’d raped someone. The thought that Ryuji might have

lied about all of that

(spoiler show)

made him feel less guilty about having done absolutely nothing.

Okay, now that I’ve vented some of my anger about slimeball Ryuji and enabler Asakawa, on to the rest. The investigation continued to be pretty interesting, although the spooky atmosphere all but disappeared, overshadowed by Asakawa’s increasing panic over his approaching deadline. Unfortunately, the more he panicked the less he used his brain, giving Ryuji more opportunities to talk and be smug about his own intelligence.

I had forgotten most of the details of the later part of the investigation and was completely hooked, wanting to see how things would turn out. One particular revelation about Sadako took me completely by surprise, and not in a good way. So many things about that one scene bugged me. As much as I enjoyed this book in general, it was absolute crap when it came to

gender issues. Also, I did not appreciate the use of rape as a plot device.

(spoiler show)


When I first read this book, I wasn’t aware that it was the first in a series. I own the second book, Spiral, and plan to read it soon.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-08-21 02:57
The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milan
The Dinosaur Lords: A Novel - Victor Milán

Warning: this book includes on-page rape and detailed descriptions of violence. Many characters die.

In the world of Paradise, humans exist alongside dinosaurs. The tame (or, in some cases, relatively tame) dinosaurs are treated much like our pets and livestock. People breed and train dinosaurs for hunting, riding, and fighting.

When I first heard of this book, it was described as Game of Thrones meets Jurassic Park. There are the dinosaurs plus medieval-ish fantasy politics - as far as tone and overall feel goes, it's more like Game of Thrones than Jurassic Park. The four main players are: Karyl Bogomirskiy, a famed dinosaur knight who is one of the few to ride a Tyrannosaurus rex; Rob Korrigan, a minstrel and dinosaur master (trains and cares for fighting dinosaurs and dinosaur mounts); Jaume, famed dinosaur knight and poet, the Imperial Champion of Emperor Felipe, and the fiance of Princess Melodia; and Melodia, who is eager to do important things but seems doomed to waste away in the palace.

This was mostly focused on politics, and unfortunately that politics bored me. I also had a tendency to lose track of what people were doing and why. For example, for a while there I thought Jaume and his soldiers were marching towards the location where Karyl and Rob were training peasants to fight. But no, they were riding towards a completely different area. They didn’t start going towards Karyl and Rob’s location until late in the book (I’m guessing they’ll meet in Book 2?).

It felt like I was supposed to at least be rooting for Jaume, Karyl, Rob, and Melodia, but for the most part I had trouble caring about them. Jaume’s romantic entanglements were exhausting. He was in a relationship with both one of his fellow knights (or not a knight, but at least part of his group? I can’t remember) and Melodia. The problem was that both Melodia and Pere seemed to want Jaume to love them best. Melodia was happy to share Jaume as long as she was more important to him than Pere, and Pere would likely have preferred his relationship with Jaume to be monogamous. Jaume, for his part, seemed to think everything was fine. It bothered me that Milan never really dealt with or resolved these issues, just...made them go away.

Karyl was cardboard, a fallen legendary character who was clearly destined to become legendary again. Rob thought he was awesome, so readers were supposed to think so too. Oh, and Rob. I seriously disliked him. I think he was supposed to be the “loveable rogue” of the bunch, but the more I read about him the more I wanted the author to ditch him. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why one minor female character slept with him. I thought for sure she was a secret spy or enemy, because I couldn’t understand what could possibly be appealing about him. I disliked just about everything about him except his dinosaur mount. One specific thing about him that bothered me was his habit of mentally trying to guess the gender of androgynous urchins. He mentally described one as “it,” before eventually deciding upon “he.” Hello! “They” exists and can be used as a gender neutral pronoun in English. Also, if a character was female and reasonably pretty, he probably leered at her at least once.

Now for Melodia. For most of the book, she had potential. After a while, “potential” seemed to be all she’d ever have. As the story went on and she continued to do nothing much, her horniness and childishness began to bother me more and more. She was so very horny. But only for Jaume! Except when she was mad at him, then she started to consider other options. And when she was mad at him, she was childish enough to not even read his letters. Never mind that she’d have regretted it for the rest of her life if he had died in battle. But as much as I disliked Meloda, she did not deserve what Milan had happen to her near the end of the book. That particular scene killed any desire I had to try the next book in the series. It felt like it happened more for shock value than anything - incredibly lazy writing on Milan’s part.

The world building was intriguing but vague. At first I thought this was an alternate history, but it turned out to actually be a completely different planet/dimension. Dinosaurs either existed there from the start or were transported there from our world and thrived. Humans and several other animals were transported to the world at a later date. Humans live longer and, if injuries don’t immediately kill them, can heal faster, and disease is almost unheard of. How humans and other beings made it to Paradise is never mentioned.

The best thing about this book was its cover and the black-and-white artwork at the start of each chapter. The story itself had far fewer dinosaurs and cool dinosaur moments than I was expecting - there was one battle I enjoyed and a fascinating bit involving an enormous dragonfly used like a hunting falcon, but that was basically it. Shiraa, Karyl’s mount, had potential but disappeared early on in the book. It’s likely she’ll show up in the next book but, as I said, the horrible and unnecessary scene with Melodia killed my desire to continue on with this series.

All in all, I really wanted to love this and I’m sad to say I didn’t. Even if that scene with Melodia hadn’t existed, this would never have been more than a so-so read. It was surprisingly boring for something that should have been completely awesome.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-08-05 02:03
Not Feeling good After This One
Beartown: A Novel - Fredrik Backman

Wow. I don't feel good after finishing this. I feel depressed, blue. The writing was excellent the emotional depth completely overwhelming. I don't read books with rape. I don't like to see it used as entertainment. There was nothing here but brutal honesty about all the views. Each person had a different reaction, different reasoning, it was painful to read at times. I finished this book and didn't feel good. I'm glad I read it now, but if I had known what it was about before I picked it up I wouldn't have read it. I read for release, escape, the dream, not a nasty dose of reality like this book went into. I am rating this on my feelings on the book not the writing.
Humans can be so cruel. Humans can be such selfish jerks. Humans can reason anything no matter how horrible if it make sit easier on them. Humans justifying rape is WRONG. The mentality of this town is so wrong. Humans will fight dirty to stay in the crowd. Humans can also be kind, unwavering and wonderful but these standouts can be rare in tough times.
This book, arguh, emotional roller coaster. I've known all these people at one time in my life. The realistic feel of them makes the punch in the gut more painful. It's all begins to decline with the rape of a 15 year old girl. You know the story, you've herd in on the news on TV shows, the blame game. Mr. Backman takes us to a deeper level and to the outer levels of this traumatic event. How Hockey rules over empathy, over friends, over family in this town and how it goes down, down.

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