The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

22698568

Hardcover, 515 pages
Published June 9th 2015 by Harper
Source: Library

My decision to pick up the sequel to last year’s The Queen of the Tearling was, in part, due to my interest in the Red Queen, the villain of the first book. I hoped to see a lot more of her in the sequel and I was not disappointed. I was not fond of Kelsea, the protagonist, for many reasons–her name being one of them. So I went into the sequel with low expectations and came out very impressed. I felt that the novel showed exponential improvements where writing, prose, and character/world building are concerned.

The world feels more fleshed out; the reader gets to experience multiple perspectives which helps in creating an omniscient view (of sorts) of the world in which the story is set. Kelsea also shares a connection with the mysterious Lily, a person with whom she has many connections and one who existed in the time before the crossing–before Tearling was established as a country. I must say that the origin of the world the Tearling is in still makes no sense despite there being some progress made in explaining its genesis. I cannot speak about it without giving things away so if you’ve read the book and want to discuss, I’d love to indulge you.

The action sequences are impressive; I enjoyed the excitement accompanying the political maneuvers. Johansen also expounds upon the Red Queen, delving into her motivations and goals, and creating a far more sympathetic character than one would have thought considering her utter lack of conscience where human slavery is concerned. The Red Queen’s reactions to and unwilling fascination with Kelsea further humanizes her.

Kelsea herself goes through a dramatic metamorphosis in this novel. While she wasn’t the most sympathetic character in the first one, she becomes even less so in The Invasion of the Tearling. Kelsea’s relationships with her guards, her maids, and her own self continues changing as Kelsea changes or rather is changed. I liked how the book doesn’t ask you to like Kelsea but to accept her as a person which wasn’t that difficult to do. Because the narrative is seen from multiple perspectives, Kelsea does become part of the cast rather than the protagonist at times.

The romance was…weird. I have a feeling the Fetch is going to become more complicated in the next book and his relationship with Kelsea will not be the romantic one she is hoping for. Beyond that, I do like that Kelsea is self-aware of her own desires and acts on them without expressing the Victorian feelings most common to princesses and their ilk.

All in all, this was a solid follow up to the first novel. I look forward to reading the next one in this series.

The Reading Forecast

It’s Monday again and it’s time for me to stun you all with my reading prowess. I read an insane amount this past week and I don’t even know why. Well, okay, I was feeling a bit down and my answer to sadness is reading. It always has been. Let me tell you all the books I read last week:

  1. Volumes 1-10 of Dreamin’ Sun by Ichigo Takano
  2. Bug in a Vacuum – Melanie Watt
  3. Circus Mirandus – Cassie Beasley
  4. Adventures in Smell Places – Lonely Planet Kids
  5. The Invasion of the Tearling – Erika Johansen
  6. The Onion Magazine Covers – The Onion
  7. The Courageous Princess – Rod Espinosa
  8. Fatima and the Dream Thief – Rafik Schami
  9. Dream On, Amber – Emma Shevah
  10. Of Dreams and Rust – Sarah Fine

I’m currently reading:

  1. The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton
    I managed to read a measly 10 pages of this one. I think I’m going to have to carve out time specifically for this. Maybe in September.
  2. The New Adventures of Sinbad the Sailor by Salim Bachi
    I’m 103 pages into this one and it’s not very long. About 80 pages more. It’s well written but I don’t agree with some of the stuff the narrator says. More in my review when I finish it.

To read in the coming week:

  1. The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones – Will Mabbit
  2. The Sign of the Cat – Lynne Jonell
  3. Diary of a Mad Brownie – Bruce Coville

Review: Life of a Counterfeiter by Yasushi Inoue, Michael Emmerich (Translator)

20763171

Paperback, 140 pages
Published August 14th 2014 by Pushkin Press
Source: Publisher

This was my first Yasushi Inoue title but it will definitely not be my last. Life of a Counterfeiter is a collection of three short stories including the titular story, “Reeds,” and “Mr. Goodall’s Gloves.” All three stories are excellent and go a long way in establishing the kind of storyteller Mr. Inoue is. There is a certain stream of consciousness-esque element to these stories that I really liked. In Life of a Counterfeiter the main character is supposed to be a biographer of a famous painter Onuki Keigaku but while researching Keigaku, the narrator comes across Keigaku’s former friend Hara Hosen who he discovers is a counterfeiter of Keigaku’s works. The narrator is unwillingly fascinated by this counterfeiter and exerts considerable effort to find out more about him, driven perhaps by more than just curiousity about this counterfeiter. He feels an empathy for Hosen, the counterfeiter, inferring that Hosen’s brush with Keigaku’s genius may be what propelled the man down such a dark lane and then to his tragic end. The story is told in anecdotal bursts and the narrator relays his findings while he goes around living his life and surviving the war that Japan is in the middle of losing at the time. I could well imagine myself seated in a cafe or some such place listening to the story. The tone is welcoming, a bit self-deprecatory, and entirely wonderful. The other two stories continue much in the same vein.

In “Reeds” the same narrator talks about fragments of memories a person has that is usually matched with the fragment of memory someone else has and illustrates his point by elaborating in some detail his memories about his grandmother, and a couple he remembers from when he was very young but whom he can’t identify. “Mr. Goodall’s Gloves” concerns the same narrator’s grandmother, who was a mistress of his grandfather and not his true wife, and her interaction with a foreigner, Mr. Goodall, who gave her his gloves when she was left outside in the cold to wait for his grandfather. The stories concern the human condition and are characterized by the gentleness that I have come to associate with Japanese literature. Michael Emmerich’s translation is superlative and there is never an instance where I felt that anything was lost in translation.

If you enjoy Murakami, you will enjoy Yasushi Inoue. Though Inoue’s work does not have elements of magical realism that Murakami’s is famous for, it has the same vibrancy and earnestness that make Murakami’s work so fantastic. Strongly recommended.

The Reading Forecast

It’s another Monday and another weigh-in of my reading for the past week. I did read a little bit, not as much as I wanted to but that can be excused given the constraints on my time. These are the titles I read last week:

  1. milk and honey by rupi kaur
    This was okay. I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would but I still liked it a fair bit.
  2. Monstrous – MarcyKate Connolly
    This was really good until 70% and then it just became really bad.
  3. Life of a Counterfeiter – Yasushi Inoue
    This was really good. Expect a review this week.
  4. Land Shark by Beth Ferry and Ben Mantle
    A picturebook. I enjoyed it.

I’m currently reading:

  1. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
    I only read 15 pages of this one last week. I hope I do better this coming week.
  2. The New Adventures of Sinbad the Sailor by Salim Bachi
    I’m about 18 pages in at the moment and it’s still too early to say what I think but I hope I will enjoy this one.
  3. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
    I’m 122 pages in and not enjoying it nearly as much as I thought I would. Hopefully things will pick up soon.

To read in the coming week:

I need to finish A Court of Thorns and Roses and then The Invasion of Tearling because the library will demand them back. If I am able to finish these two, I will read Dreams of Rust by Sarah Fine followed by Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley.

The Reading Forecast

So due to me being crazily sick last week, I didn’t read much. Honestly, I didn’t want to read. I have this case of protracted blahs. I blame the insomnia. Still, I did manage to put 4 books so that’s something.

  1. Arsenic for Tea by Robin Stevens
    I enjoyed this quite a bit. I thought I wouldn’t but ended up being pleasantly surprised.
  2. The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman
    A bizarre walk inside Kalman’s head.
  3. Prince Puggly of Spud and the Kingdom of Spiff by Robert Paul Weston
    I did not like this one at all. The pacing is off, the female characters not really well done. Just, bleh.
  4. Amsterdam Stories by Nescio
    Loved it.

I’m currently reading interesting stuff. I generally read interesting stuff. If it’s not interesting, I stop reading it.

  1. Monstrous by MarcyKate Connolly
    I’ve only read 8 pages of this but I have really liked what I have read.
  2. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
    I’m 80 or so pages in (out of almost 900). I’m in no particular hurry to finish this so I’ll be reading this alongside other books.
  3. Life of a Counterfeiter – Yasushi Inoue
    I’m about 22 pages in and it has just started getting interesting. I’m intrigued. It’s a collection of stories, the titular one being the longest.
  4. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
    I’m liking this though I’m not as blown away by it as I had hoped.

What I Will Read in the Coming Week

Everything I am currently reading. I don’t think I will finish a book this week. Eid’s coming up and I have lots to do. So. Yeah.

Amsterdam Stories by Nescio

12035807

Paperback, NYRB Classics, 176 pages
Published March 20th 2012 by NYRB Classics

Amsterdam Stories is a collection of stories which mainly focus on the same group of young men who think and grow in Amsterdam. The official summary is:

No one has written more feelingly and more beautifully than Nescio about the madness and sadness, courage and vulnerability of youth: its big plans and vague longings, not to mention the binges, crashes, and marathon walks and talks. No one, for that matter, has written with such pristine clarity about the radiating canals of Amsterdam and the cloud-swept landscape of the Netherlands.

Who was Nescio? Nescio—Latin for “I don’t know”—was the pen name of J.H.F. Grönloh, the highly successful director of the Holland–Bombay Trading Company and a father of four—someone who knew more than enough about respectable maturity. Only in his spare time and under the cover of a pseudonym, as if commemorating a lost self, did he let himself go, producing over the course of his lifetime a handful of utterly original stories that contain some of the most luminous pages in modern literature.

The collection has a timelessness to it that appealed to me. The writing is beautiful and Damion Searls’s translation is superlative. I cannot really review it in the normal way. The primary reason I speak about it is to bring the book to your attention. It should be enjoyed slowly, a couple of pages every day to soak in the brilliance of the writing. Here are some excerpts.

“…Can you stay out of it?”

“Out of What?”

“Out of the ocean?”

I nodded yes, I certainly could.

“I can’t, or just barely,” Bavink said. “It’s so strange, having that melancholy sound behind you. It’s like the ocean wants from from me, that’s what it’s like. God is in there too. God is calling. It’s really not a walk in the park, he is everywhere, and everywhere he is he’s calling Bavink. You get sick of your name when it’s called so much. And then Bavink has to paint. Has to get God on canvas, with paint. Then it’s Bavink who is calling ‘God.’ So there they are, calling each other. It’s just a game to God, he is everywhere without end. He just calls. But Bavink has only one stupid head and one stupid right hand and can work at one stupid painting at a time. And when he thinks he has God, all he has is paint and canvas. It turns out God is everywhere except where Bavink wants him to be.

(Young Titans, 48)

The next one is from a story called “Insula Dei” which was both heartbreaking and hopeful.

A hostile world, a world in tatters. A world of cold and poverty. Poverty in the many think wrinkled faces, in the closed shutters of many shops, in frosted-over shop windows, poverty in the streetcar rails where no streetcars were driving even though the snow had been cleared off somewhat, poverty in the little line of people by the corner of the old Jamin candy store, next to a pile of snow six feet high, poverty in the stands selling frozen fish that no one is buying, in the snatches of conversation you overhear.

(Insula Dei, 131)

A Ramble

I’m feeling slightly human right now and this feeling moves me to blog, a personal somewhat incoherent ramble, about life, reading, and that’s it. I’m not even going to talk about writing right now because I’m not feeling that human. I’m also eating extra-strong Cepacol which numbs my tongue which in turn angers me. I have learned that I do not like numb tongues.

I ate a sleeping pill the other day because insomnia is an unfortunate fact of my life now, and I remember being utterly terrified that I would not be able able to wake up. I needn’t have worried; the pill put me to sleep for exactly one hour. I have extra-strength insomnia it seems.

This Ramadan has been a test. It is difficult and there are many moments that I’m convinced I cannot go on. And my body failed me by getting ill. I still have a learn and miles to go before I can call myself a good Muslim but this Ramadan I learned the landscape of hunger and thirst very well. I became intimately acquainted with the desperation that accompanies hunger; the depths a person will go to to absolve herself from this feeling of emptiness that pervades the very essence of a person. I am fortunate for I know that at the end of the day I will open my fast there will be, Subhan Allah, rizq, food, for me. But what of the person who doesn’t have the sweetness of that thought? Who doesn’t have the slightest idea when her next morsel of food will arrive and where it will come from? What does she do? How does she endure?

It is infinitely easy to look at the pictures of starving children and think of them in the abstract. Think of them as “others” and not you. This month showed me a bare glimpse of their lives and left me beyond humbled, beyond thankful for what I have. And what I can do. When you strip away a person’s ego, the person becomes an animal ruled by instincts, chief among them hunger. When hunger is in the driving seat, the masses will do anything to sate it. Are hungry people easier to control? No. And yes. Promise them food and they’ll do anything. I know I would. It’s tempting to think of yourself as beyond such actions but honestly, sincerely, no one is immune to hunger.

Okay, I didn’t intend to write that but I did. Let’s move on to lighter fare.

Like reading.

This past week due to the aforementioned illness (a cold), I didn’t read much. I didn’t even feel like reading. I have been sipping bits of Nescio and he sustained me. I have read 288 books in all forms and genres over the course of the year and given that it is still July, albeit almost mid-July, I’m feeling fairy comfortable at the pace I’m reading. The next few weeks are going to be full of middle grade books because August is younger readers month at the book wars and I’m feeling middle grade a lot at this moment. I’m also going to go back to The Luminaries and give it another try. Someone did say it picks up at page 300 so I’ll slog on. I should be done in about 2 years. Hee. (Cepacol isn’t working at all. *hacks out a lung*)

I was going to continue but I abruptly ran out of steam so must end it here. Till later.