October and November have been pretty slumpy months for me. Between Life being an unpredictable rat bastard, dealing with its influences on my mental and physical health, and struggling with a bushel of other things, I didn’t have much energy to put towards reading. It wasn’t until the last week of November that I finally started to find my way back to my hobbies again. Even with these ho-hums, I did discover some impressive pleasures, mostly through re-reads, and I’m excited to share them and recommend them here today!
I have a decent mixture of fantasy, Asian literature, cosy mysteries, and shōnen manga in the wrap-up basket, one of which was an unexpected treat that I didn’t think I’d enjoy at all. But the comedy and the foodie elements won me over quickly.
You can check out everything down below. I’ve included brief synopses, quick reasons for recommending it plus links to any reviews that are currently live, and all relative content warnings.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng: A Chinese-American fiction novel about a family that has their world turned upside down when their daughter turns up dead. As they unravel the mysteries behind her demise, they realise that their carefully manicured dysfunction starts to fall apart. Reading this book was an experience for many reasons, but mostly with respect to the inherent cultural strife and ingrained racism that can fester in a multiracial family dynamic. It’s also so damn well written. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. CW: Sexual content. Infidelity. Child abandonment and neglect. Some mild language. Racism. Underage smoking. Consumption of alcohol. Preparation and consumption of food. Discussions of suicide. Death of loved ones. Drowning. Bullying. My full spoiler-review is here.
The Leavers by Lisa Ko: A Chinese-American fiction book about a Chinese adoptee that lives in the suburbs with his white parents amid forced assimilation into a world of racist white privilege, and how it impacts his sense of identity and belonging growing up. This novel is a must-read book, especially for any diasporic individual that’s made to feel like a complete stranger or outlander in their own skin with their own tongues where white privilege, racism, and the uncomfortable pressure to assimilate is involved. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. CW: Child abandonment. Child abuse. Strong instances of racism and sexism including bullying and gaslighting. Some classism. Some sexual content. Some strong language. Some descriptions of wartime atrocities. Alcohol consumption. Smoking. Prep and consumption of food. Spoiler-free review.
We Should Never Meet by Aimee Phan: A Vietnamese-American collection of eight interconnected tales that explore and examine the various perspectives and experiences of people impacted by Operation Babylift, which was an evacuation event of thousands of orphans from Vietnam to America in the weeks before Saigon’s fall. Through the lens of eight different individuals the reader gets to experience the diverse and often-times horrific long-term consequences of the Vietnam War, particularly where America’s involvement and then prompt abandonment are concerned. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for readers of Asian-American cultural literature and readers of short stories. CW: War-time violence, loss, illnesses, and displacement. Child abandonment. Examination of infidelity, sexual violence (including against children), racism, xenophobia, and sexism. Larceny and burglarising. Some strong language. Mention of deaths including death of women and children. Spoiler-free review.
When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka: A Japanese-American story that shares the experiences of a family uprooted from their home and put into an Internment Camp during the Second World War. Each chapter is from the perspective of a different family member. A very straightforward and matter-of-fact telling of one of the worst acts of inhumanity in history that I HIGHLY RECOMMEND for people that wish to learn more about the Japanese Internment Camp era, as well as the long-term psychological damage caused from this horrible, terrible act of humiliation. CW: Graphic animal deaths. Strong descriptions of inhumane imprisonment including imprisonment of children. Descriptions of starving children. Mildly strong language. Strong depictions of discrimination and racism against Japanese and Japanese-Americans. Spoiler-free review.
The Old Capital by Yasunari Kawabata: A Japanese literature story that follows a young girl named Chieko during the post-war modernisation taking place in Japan’s most historically prominent city, Kyōto. While this won’t be a book for every reader, specifically ones who struggle with or aren’t fond of slow-burn, precisely detailed stories, it’s still definitely a pleasure for those that enjoy methodical historical analyses, classic Japanese culture and literature, and character allegories for developing modern societies. RECOMMENDED. CW: Child abandonment. Descriptions of dealing with racism and classism. Preparation and consumption of food. Spoiler-free review.
The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami: A Japanese surrealist novel about a young boy, a girl, and a strange fucking sheep man that are trying to escape a creepy library. This is such a strange little book, but it made me think about certain aspects of library patronage that never occurred to me before and it does so in an imaginative manner. RECOMMENDED for readers who want a quick, curious read and for folx that want to get a small taste of Haruki Murakami’s writing style turned down a tiny bit. CW: Some strange disturbing imagery. Spoiler-free review.
Parade by Shūichi Yoshida: A Japanese psychological mystery story about four distinct individuals who all reside in a small two-bedroom Tokyo apartment, and one of them harbours a disturbing secret. Another one that won’t fly for those that avoid slow, sluggish narrative progression and details of inconsequential things, but that is what makes this novel so bloody brilliant and contemplative. RECOMMENDED for fans of character studies and the psychological thought processes of city living for some individuals. CW: Strong language. Sexual content including infidelity. Unwanted sexual advances. Mention of murder, muggings, and disappearances in local city. Passive aggressiveness and brief gaslighting. Some fatphobia, queerphobia, sexism, and misogyny. Drinking, smoking, and mild drug use. Spoiler-free review.
Death Masks by Jim Butcher: The fifth volume in the author’s adult urban fantasy series, The Dresden Files, it’s about Harry Dresden’s initiated war between the Red Court and the White Council, which finally has a chance to resolve when Harry becomes challenged to a death duel by one of the most powerful members of the Red Court. A lot of the issues that I had with the series in the first few volumes seems to have ironed themselves out quite a bit, leaving behind a whole lot of actiony fun and some plot twists that keep me curiously coming back for more. I’d RECOMMEND this for folx that enjoy Seanan McGuire’s October Daye and other similarly structured urban fantasy serials. CW: Fantasy violence and action. Strong blood and gore including body mutilation. Strong scene of imprisonment and torture. Some strong sexual content and mild sexual innuendo. Mild language. Spoiler-free review.
Blood Rites by Jim Butcher: The sixth volume in the adult urban fantasy series, The Dresden Files, this time we follow Harry as he decided to help out Thomas and his chums with some dangerous and deadly curses as payback for all that Thomas has done for Sir Harry in the previous instalments. It all leads to one shocker of a revelation. This is my favourite volume, mostly because I fucking love Thomas’ character and I also appreciated getting a nice chunk of information on Harry’s parents, something that has been slowly dragging since the series began. A full review is forthcoming, in the meantime, RECOMMENDED. CW: Moderately strong sexual content. Some strong language. Strong fantasy action and violence. Graphic blood, body mutilation, and torture. Discussions of rape. Suggestive rape themes. Misogyny. Consumption of food. Alcohol and brief drug use.
Home Before Dark by Riley Sager: A supernatural suspense thriller about a woman who returns to a house that she has no memory of residing in. All she knows about the house is the nonfiction book her dad had written about it, flinging her family into an incredibly stressful limelight that’s followed her since childhood. When her dad dies and she inherits the place, she decides to fix it up to sell and use the task as an excuse to finally learn what is true and what was false in her dad’s book. This was such an excellently Gothic horror mystery. It’s perfectly paced with how it balances between the book her dad wrote and reality, the spoopy aspects were enough to make me very uncomfortable and even slightly frightened without overwhelming me into severe bouts of anxiety, and the supernatural elements were brilliantly creeptastic, especially if you have a strong dislike of snakes (like me, OMFG). Full review is forthcoming, but HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for fans of spooky, haunted house stories and Gothic fiction. CW: Disturbing supernatural elements. Murder including familicide. Moderate use of crude and strong language. Poisoning. Graphic descriptions of snakes and snake behaviours. Preparation and consumption of food. Alcohol drinking. Brief descriptions of felony convictions.
Stowaway by James S. Murray & Darren Wearmouth: A crime suspense thriller about a woman who was on a jury panel that couldn’t agree on a verdict, which led to the release of an infamous child killer. As the case takes a psychological toll on this juror, she takes a sabbatical and goes on a cruise vacation with her family, where murders following the suspect’s MO begin occurring. It’s up to her to solve the mystery and find the culprit before anymore kids can become victims. I had mixed feelings about this going into it due to the authors’ previous series (liked the first book, hated the other two), but I’ve been craving a good, unconventional crime thriller. Since I’ve rarely (if ever) read about murders on a cruise ship, it seemed like a good pick. It’s very fast-paced and easy to get to swept away in, which is a major plus for thrillers, and the story kept me guessing until the very end, which doesn’t happen often. One of the better thrillers I’ve read this year, RECOMMENDED. Full review is forthcoming. CW: News media and social media gaslighting. Some strong language. Graphic descriptions of dead bodies, including bodies of children, which centre on child abuse, dismemberment, and exsanguination. Some strong action and bodily harm descriptives. Preparation and consumption of food and alcohol. Brief chapter of severe domestic violence. Strong depictions of post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and paranoia.
Caught Dead Handed by Carol J. Perry: A supernatural cosy mystery about Lee Barret, who returns to her home-town, Salem, Massachusetts, to interview for a job as a reporter for WICH-TV. But the only opening they have available is for a call-in psychic hotline to host the late night horror films after the previous host ends up dead. While I had some issues with this book, which I go into in my review, overall I would RECOMMEND this to cosy mystery fans that also like witchy, supernatural elements. The cat is super adorable, the relationship the main character has with her aunt is so sweet and precious, and the mystery was vastly different than typical cosies. But it’s not perfect and can be problematic for some readers, particularly trans readers (I say this as a trans reader myself). CW: Death. Mild blood. Discussion of alcoholism. Attempted murder of an animal. Anime abuse. Some mild sexual innuendo. Misogyny and sexism. Sexual abuse of a child (past event). Depiction of severe mental illness and associated trauma. Questionable material pertaining to trans identities. Full detailed review.
Naruto Volumes 50-55 by Masashi Kishimoto: These volumes of the shōnen, martial arts manga series follows the search and protection of a character named Killer Bee as well as the revelation of what happened to Naruto’s parents. This has gotten increasingly addicting! The more that I learn about Madara Uchiha, the more in love with him I become, but by that same token, the more obstacles that Naruto faces, the more respect and admiration I have for him, which I never ever expected (I don’t typically like the heroes). But with Naruto… It’s difficult not to respect the person. He’s got fortitude and a powerful sense of will I wish I currently had. It’s quite inspiring. If you’ve never picked this up because of the hype, I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but it’s 1000% worth it, my chums. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. CW: Action-adventure violence. Blood. Mild language. Some sexual innuendo. Wartime atrocities and violence. Deaths including mass death and death of loved ones. Preparation and consumption of food.
Food Wars! Volume 1 by Yūto Tsukuda & Shun Saeki: A shōnen, comedy manga series about a kid who sets out to become the best chef around, specifically by surpassing his father in that respect. The first step is getting admittance into the most elite, pretentious cooking school in all of Japan. I wasn’t expecting to like this because I’m not typically a huge fan of stupid fanservice elements, but it’s so fucking hilarious in this manga that I’m not as bothered by it as normal. I’m sure the foodie elements really helps because I absolutely love serials about making food and using food as a positive social tool. I’m not sure how long I’ll last before I get tired of the ecchiness, but in the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the funny ride. First impressions are forthcoming. RECOMMENDED for manga readers that like humour akin to Toriko and Dr Stone. CW: Strong, detailed depictions of the preparation and consumption of food and food culture. Sexual innuendo including moderate nudity (naked bodies shown, but no actual private parts shown). Some strong language.
The Apothecary Diaries Volume 1 & 2 by Natsu Hyūga, Itsuki Nanao & Nekokurage: A seinen, mystery manga adaptation of the original novel series authored by Natsu Hyūga, the story follows a young woman named Maomao who’s trained in herbal medicine and forced to be a lowly employee in the inner palace. When she uses her talents to break a “curse” afflicting the royal heirs, she draws the attention of the palace eunuch, Jinshi, and becomes promoted to food taster. This is so adorable. Maomao is charming and smart with a wicked sense of sarcasm and dry humour that I positively adore. Plus, watching her interactions with Jinshi makes me fanhuman giggle like a wee girl and I’m proud of that. Hell, that makes me recommend it alone. A full first impressions is forthcoming, but HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for fans of dainty art styles, cute manga about healers, or readers that liked Snow White with the Red Hair and Gosick. CW: Some sexual innuendo and content. Nudity. Preparation and consumption of food and alcohol. Poisoning. Some mild action. Sexism. Misogyny. Brief gaslighting.
Saga Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples: A Western-style space opera that follows two individuals on opposite sides of a big ass fucking war. Hell in a handbasket starts brewing when they become romantically affiliated, forcing them to go on the run for treason from their respective worlds (and moons). I’ve been working on a review for this for over a month because I cannot seem to find the words to convey how fucking muchI love this series and why. Every time I start to write about it, I end up writing pages and pages of gushing goodness. Why is it that your favourite things are the hardest to talk about sometimes? But I’ll finagle one together and share it this month. In the meantime, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for fans of awesomely illustrated comics and fabulously epic love stories. CW: Strong language, violence, nudity, sexual content, blood, and gore. Scene of childbirth. Depictions of mutilated, animated corpses. Dead animals. Preparation and consumption of food and alcohol. Classism. Racism and xenophobia. Sexism. Smoking and drug use. Child exploitation. Strange, disturbing fucking imagery.
December is mostly going to consist of creating a list of books I wanted before the year’s end, and then narrow it down to five of them. There’s a couple I’ve been eyeing for the last couple weeks and I’m quite eager to get to them prior to sleep-celebrating 2022. Beyond that, Naruto, Food Wars, and another new manga series shall be my non-novel focus.
I wish you all a fantabulous December and holiday season, whether you celebrate the gigs or not. Stay cosy and comfy, and don’t stop trying. Until next time, happy reading and happy otakuing.