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review 2018-11-03 13:32
In the Miso Soup (book) by Ryu Murakami, translated by Ralph McCarthy
In the Miso Soup - Ralph McCarthy,Ryū Murakami

Kenji is a "nightlife guide" for English-speaking tourists in Japan. Basically, he takes guys on tours of what the Japanese sex industry has to offer. Although Kenji gets quite a few customers via his little ad in Tokyo Pink Guide (a magazine about the sex industry in Tokyo), the work isn't as good as he expected it to be. He can never seem to save up enough for that trip to America he wants.

Kenji has seen a lot of foreigners, but his latest client, Frank, is different. On the surface, he's a loud and friendly New Yorker who wants to go everywhere and have some sex along the way. There are moments, however, when something dark and ugly peers out of Frank's eyes. Frank hired him for three nights, right up until New Year's Eve, and by the end of their first night together, Kenji becomes convinced that Frank is the serial killer who's been raping girls involved in compensated dating, killing them, and dismembering their bodies (not necessarily in this order).

This book could be divided into three parts. In the first part, Kenji is a guide and translator working with a strange and vaguely disturbing client. This section has a large amount of detail about how the various places Kenji and Frank visit work and takes place mostly during their first night together. I recall them going to a peep show, a lingerie bar (sounded a bit like a hostess club, only with the women dressed in nothing but lingerie), and some kind of club where they ended up going on a paid date that Frank had hoped would end with sex. They also spent some time at a batting cage, of all things. Considering what just the time with Kenji cost, it was a little surprising that Frank wanted to spend it just watching Kenji try to hit some baseballs. But Frank was weird, even at the very beginning.

The first part is surprisingly tame. No sex, on-page or otherwise. The closest Frank gets to having sex is a handjob at the peep show, which isn't on-page. Kenji asks the woman who did it for a few details, hoping for something that might tell him, one way or the other, whether Frank was the murderer. Some aspects of this part of the book could almost be viewed as darkly comedic. Even as Kenji worries that Frank might be a murderer, there are moments when Frank seems clownish and ridiculous.

In the second part, which occurs a little over halfway through, the violence and gore is cranked WAY up. It's basically just one scene, but it is not for the faint of heart. I didn't expect this level of nastiness and ended up skimming it for my own peace of mind. Even then, way more of this scene is burned into my brain than I'd like. There is

on-page torture, as well as a character who is almost forced into necrophilia.

(spoiler show)


The third part returns to the pacing and overall content of the first part. Kenji continues to act as Frank's guide, although Frank is no longer interested in finding someone to have sex with. However, whereas the first part was filled with Kenji's suspicions, more a fear of what his gut told him Frank might be capable of that anything, in the second part Kenji is

so far past fear that he's numb.

(spoiler show)


The last part also had a sharp increase in Frank's level of self-reflection, philosophizing, and societal analysis. Kenji, too, found himself thinking about what it is to be Japanese. And, to be honest, I really didn't care what sorts of insights Frank had or inspired in Kenji.

I don't know if his explanation of his childhood was supposed to awaken in readers some sort of empathy or understanding for him, but I, personally, just kept coming back to the utter horror of what happened at the book's midway point. Several of those people were annoying, or liars, or scammers, but none of them deserved what happened to them, and Frank made it pretty clear that he planned to continue on as he had been, after he and Kenji parted ways.

(spoiler show)


I didn't like this book. I suppose it was intense and focused look at the emotional impact of three nights with a guy like Frank, but I don't know that that time was worthwhile.

 

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

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review 2018-05-23 02:45
What's that joke about a gorilla and a typewriter?
The Murderer's Ape - Jakob Wegelius

I love a good Swedish to English translation (except for that one time I attempted Wallander) so I thought that The Murderer's Ape by Jakob Wegelius would be no exception. However, I cannot unequivocally state that I loved this book...or that I loathed it. The book is told from the standpoint of a gorilla who has been christened Sally Jones. She's been around humans her entire life and therefore not only understands what they are saying but can read as well. She's a gifted engineer who the reader discovers has the ability to figure out most mechanical devices be they accordions or airplanes. (This is integral to the storyline.) Her best friend is a (human) man she refers to as Chief and who took her on as a partner when he got his own ship. But all of this was before they ran into some trouble. Without giving too much away, the two are separated and Sally is forced to adapt in order to survive. At its heart, this is an adventure story with a lot of drama. What I enjoyed were the illustrations which were done by the author and accompanied the heading of each chapter as well as a gallery of character portraits at the very beginning. Some of the issues I had with this novel were in its dealings with race, religion, and ethnicity. It was hard for me to pinpoint if the problems I had could be explained by viewing it through the lens of the time in which the novel took place but I found them unsettling nonetheless. Overall, I wasn't totally blown away but I wouldn't throw it out of an airplane door either. 4/10

 

Source: American Library Association

 

Examples of the illustrations. [Source: Playing by the book]

 

 

What's Up Next: Golda Meir: A Strong, Determined Leader by David A. Adler

 

What I'm Currently Reading: The House With a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2017-12-30 02:01
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 16 - New Year’s Eve / St. Sylvester’s Day: A Miraculous "Sky Stone"
The Sacred Stone - Karen Maitland,Bernard Knight,Simon Beaufort,Ian Morson,The Medieval Murderers,Susanna Gregory,Philip Gooden
The Sacred Stone - The Medieval Murderers

Book themes for Hogmanay / New Year’s Eve / Watch Night / St. Sylvester’s Day: a book about starting over, rebuilding, new beginnings, etc. –OR– Read anything set in medieval times. –OR– A book about the papacy –OR– where miracles of any sort are performed (the unexplainable - but good - kind).

 

Well, go figure, this book took me by surprise.  I've read enough of the Medieval Murderers round robins at this point to be thoroughly familiar with both the format and the recurring characters -- and I've seen enough of the participating authors' writing styles to know exactly what to expect, and to have developed my preferences ... or so I thought.  So far, while I've liked the series well enough to go back to it again and again, my rating of the individual books has always been a solid 3 1/2 stars -- while there were individual sections in each book that I loved (or at least liked a great deal), there was always at least one that I didn't particularly care for; and more often than not, by the same author -- Bernard Knight.  Not so here: In fact, Knight's entry was one of my favorites. There had been one other Medieval Murderers book -- King Arthur's Bones --  where I'd already noticed that as soon as Knight ditches his very medieval-style macho main series characters I care decidedly more for his writing, particularly if and to the extent that he puts women at the center of his plots and writes from their perspective, as is very much the case here.  But up until now, I'd considered his chapter in King Arthur's Bones a one-off, because pretty much every other Medieval Murderers entry I've seen from him was centered around his main men, with plenty of gruff voices, growling, and repetitive vocabulary.  So Mr. Knight, might I suggest you continue to write about women ... or at least, allow that female touch to brush off on your writing about medieval men of the law, too?  It seems to be doing them (and you) a world of good!

 

The other thing I really liked about this book was the way in which it -- consistently throughout all the different authors' sections -- treated the superstitions associated with the meteorite or "sky stone" which it follows from its first appearance in 11th century Greenland to the present day.  Given the magical powers historically associated with meteorites in popular belief, there would have been occasion aplenty to either take the individual chapters down a route blurring and even trespassing beyond the edges of reality (looking at you in particular, Ms. Maitland), or to talk down to the charactes for their adherence to such beliefs; but (again, as in King Arthur's Bones) the authors thankfully show themselves both too solid historians and too emphatic writers to be tempted into doing either.  As with their entry centering on the Arthurian legend (where the principal question, of course, is whether you believe in Arthur's historical existence in the first place), in The Sacred Stone there is the repeated suggestion that the "sky stone" might have miraculous / unexplained healing powers and be a force for good -- but it is always counterbalanced by the whole series's central premise; namely, that a malign object's path is being traced throughout the centuries, from the Middle Ages to the present day -- an object that inspires and fosters violence, murder, treachery, and all-out evil; and here, in fact, it is precisely the belief in the stone's alleged benign powers that brings about the evil acts at the center of each of the book's individual sections.

 

I was sorry not to see Michael Jecks as a co-author of this particular installment of the Medieval Murderers series, but, as I said above, there was not a single chapter I would have wanted to do without; my favorites probably being the prologue and epilogue (there are, for once, no author attributions, but even without those I'm fairly confident that both of these were written by Susanna Gregory), as well as the chapter authored by Bernard Knight (easily enough identifiable because a very much aged version of one of his series characters does make an appearance, even though he's not the central character), and the sections written by two of my longstanding favorite Medieval Murderers participants, Ian Morson and Philip Gooden (in both their cases easily enough identifiable because their sections were written from the point of view of their main series characters). -- As an aside, I was also glad to have read an earlier entry in the series, House of Shadows, fairly recently, because it (inter alia) lays the groundwork for a plot line that I am happy to see Morson went on to incorporate into his main series (the Falconer mysteries, set in 13th century Oxford) and which he continues to spin in his entry for this particular book as well.

 

Final comment: I was tempted to use a different book for the New Year's Eve / St. Sylvester's Day square and attribute this one to the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti holiday book joker, as the Sol Invictus cult actually makes a recurring appearance in this book.  (And trust me, I almost fell off my chair when it was first mentioned and I realized it was going to be a theme in one of the sections -- and even more so, when it even showed up again in yet another section.) However, none of the book's sections are set even remotely on this particular deity's birthday or make reference to that particular day (and there is only the vaguest hint, if even that much, at the connection between Dies Natalis Solis Invicti and Christmas), so "Middle Ages", "miracles" and Square 16 it is, after all.  (The book would also work for the Hanukkah square, however: It features several main characters who are Jewish -- in fact, one entire section is set in the Jewish community of medieval Norwich -- and the miracle of light plays a role in more than one section as well.)

 

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review 2017-09-18 17:10
Women Murderers Of The 18th Century #Halloweenbingo2017
Women Murderers of the 18th Century - Sylvia Perrini

For a short novella I felt I learned about the subject of women serial killers that I didn't know about before.

I know it sounds silly but I don't remember ever reading about female killers before until these past 10 years.

Each set of women killed in their own way and of course was found out. Even back then they couldn't hide what they did no matter how much they tried.

We get a bit of detail on how each women took the lives of those around them, though we are not bored with full details. It is more sweet and to the point. 

If you are looking for just true crime light reading then this maybe the book for you. 

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text 2017-09-17 18:30
Abbey Weekend
House of Shadows - Bernard Knight,The Medieval Murderers,Susanna Gregory,Michael Jecks

I spent yesterday and this morning near Maria Laach abbey, a gorgeously-maintained, fairly important Romanic) Benedictine abbey (founded in 1093) on the shores of a volcanic lake a little less than an hour south of Bonn, celebrating my mom's birthday and reading my "haunted houses" bingo book -- which just happens to be set in medieval Bermondsey Abbey on the banks of the Thames opposite the Tower (founded in 1089 and erstwhile a rich, Cluniac house of major consequence as well, but dissolved under Henry VIII, variously built over, and now vanished under the major new Bermondsey shopping and office complex). Book review to follow as part of my next bingo update!

 

 

Bermondsey Abbey

 
Sketch of medieval Bermondsey Abbey
(Sources: Wikipedia (top) and South London Guide (bottom))

 


Bermondsey Abbey ground plan (source: British Library)

 


Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder (attr. -- formerly attr. John Hofnagel): A Fête at Bermondsey (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

 


Bermondsey Abbey excavations and memorial plaque
(sources: Wikipedia (left) and London Remembers (right))

 

The sacred taper's lights are gone,
Grey moss has clad the altar-stone,
The holy image is o'erthrown,
The bell has ceased to toll:
The long-ribb'd aisles are burst and shrunk,
The holy shrine to ruin sunk,
Departed is the pious monk;
God's blessing on his soul!"
Sir Walter Scott: Bermondsey

 

Bermondsey Abbey history and excavation (YouTube)

 

 
Bermondsey shoreline today (photo mine)

 

Maria Laach


Maria Laach Abbey (painting by Fr. Lukas Ruegenberg, OSB)

 

 
Maria Laach Abbey (photos: mine)
Bottom row: the tomb of the abbey's founder, Heinrich (Henry) II,
first Count Palatine of the Rhine

 


The lake and our hotel's garden, next to the abbey



Souvenirs!
(chiefly enlarging my bookmark, magnet, and Rosina Wachtmeister collections...)

Merken

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