Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

What happens when people open their hearts?”
They get better.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 269 pages.
Read from February 7, 2017 to February 14, 2017.

Norwegian Wood is the novel that brought Murakami international fame and has become one of the books that he is best known for.  It set a standard for his future novels in terms of themes, overall feel, and characters.

Toru is a young man about to enter college in Tokyo.  However, he has had trouble dealing with the sudden and accidental death of his close high school friend. As a result, he is drawn to the beautiful Naoko, who was his best friend’s girlfriend.  Toru becomes devoted to Naoko as the two of them try to deal with the death of someone they each cared deeply about. While a dedicated student, Toru becomes invariably lonely and lost during his university studies. He walks with Naoko, even if it means not speaking a word, to help deal with this emptiness.

However Naoko is struggling much more with the realities of adult life than Toru and eventually withdraws from society to an outlying facility to help her deal with her own sadness and emptiness. Continuing to stay devoted to Naoko, he visits and writes her as often she will allow. However, as Naoko continues to retreat into her own world with little signs of improvement, Toru finds himself drawn to a smart, feisty and rebellious student name Midori. Toru is still unrelenting with his devotion to Naoko, yet he has to make a choice. Stay in a dream world with Naoko with the hope that she will love him, or move forward with Midori?

This book is about loneliness and grief. Every one of the characters in the novel has dealt with or is dealing with some form of loss and the book is the outcome of how each of them deal with it.  In typical Murakami style, the book is evocative and dreamlike, as Murakami soothes his reader’s senses with his visceral and philosophical approach to storytelling.

I am adding this book to the top five favourites of my Murakami pile.  The plot is simple and easy to follow. The feelings of each of the characters practically seep out of the pages making for a very enjoyable read. The only part I struggled with was with Toru’s specific intimate moment with Naoko. He clearly took advantage of her and he knew it, resulting in Naoko’s own downward spiral inwards. Naoko is in such rough state for most of the book that it is hard to deal with her fragility and what feels like, Toru’s betrayal. Despite, the unfolding events Toru does eventually determine that Naoko will never love him, despite him wish it, and as a small resting punishment he is left with those memories and lingering regrets of what would never be.

As much as I enjoy Murakami, I am coming to see that the pretense to the majority of his books is very similar. Here is the formula I have come up with for making a Murakami novel:

Male main character – Always a man, somewhere between 20 and 30 and he will experience some sort of existential crisis loosely based in reality.

Female characters – There are female side characters but they are always sexualized and often love interests. They are also often portrayed as weak, indecisive, needy, or mentally unstable. Though not all of the time, as there are few exceptions to this rule. For example, Aomame from 1Q84; she is remarkably resilient and strong. However, the plot of that story is shared equally with Tengo, who is a stereotypical Murakami male character, with whom Aomame is the love interest.

However having said that, all of the characters, even the main character, sometimes give the feeling of being gender neutral. This is perhaps how female readers can still relate to the main character without hating the portrayal of the women in Murakami’s stories.

Sex – There is a ton of it. The main character will have sex with one of these said female side characters, or perhaps more than one of them, with at least one of the acts being morally questionable. The act is often meant to show some deeper philosophical meaning in relation to the plot or the main character’s journey.

Food – There will be many, many paragraphs about cooking food.  It is alway something that is really healthy but sounds down right delicious. It is often followed with beer.

Cats – a Murakami story would not be complete without mentioning cats. Either the cat is part of the main story or they are at least a part of an evocative scene when the main character is reflecting on his said existential crisis.

To be a Murakami fan, this formula has to be one that you’re comfortable with or at least willing to accept to some extent. I mean, besides the majority of his novels providing thought-provoking content, there is always the sex scenes. And cats.

Returning to Norwegian Wood, this book is the start of the style that Murakami fans love, so it is a must-read.  Whether you are interested in his writing style or not, this book is also iconic, so if you don’t have it on your to-read list you better add it!

The Pirate King by R.A. Salvatore

How did Drizzt get involved in this mess?

2/5 stars.
Hardcover, 347 pages.
Read from October 26 to November 13, 2016.

Well I am now 18 books into this now 30+ series. It is nice to be able to fall back on this series for a quick, easy and entertaining read that takes me away with its familiar characters. I have always been thankful the series has continued but with this book I was wondering if maybe Salvatore wasn’t sure where to take the story next. I believe Salvatore would have stopped the series long ago had he had his own say but as the story is owned by Forgotten Realms it sadly means that they can get anyone to write and continue the story if Salvatore doesn’t want to (even though he thought up the whole story and characters). I am glad Salvatore has stuck with it as it wouldn’t be the same without him.

Luskan has always been a city with a bad reputation. Pirates, gangs, thieves and more because it is a busy sea port of people coming and going with merchant goods. Currently the Arcane Brotherhood are in charge and have a death grip on the city. Drizzt and Regis are in search of Wulfgar after he had not been heard from since he left to rediscover himself and his homeland. However the become compelled to help Captain Deudermont  who is looking to over throw the nasty Arcane Brotherhood from their corrupt rule on the city. However, the leader of the Arcane Brotherhood is not who he appears to be and devastation could be awaiting the group. And what if Drizzr and Regis delay their search of Wulfgar too long and are too late to help their friend if he needs it?

My biggest problem with this book was that there were too many characters that were introduced too quickly. I found myself completely because I got confused in trying to keep up with everything that they were doing and how it related to the bigger plot.  I also find Captain Deudermont’s character just a bit too righteous for my liking. Having said all this, the big fight that takes place with the Arcane Brotherhood was pretty awesome. Not the devastation, but how it all went done, which I won’t spoil.  I did enjoy aspects of this novel, just not as much as others in this series.

Overall, I hope the next set of books in this series promises a bit more. I have faith that Salvatore will redeem himself.

Frostbitten by Charlotte Stein

A quick erotica read for those who like strong female leads and are partial to vampires and threesomes.

Vampire erotica; is it as terrible as it sounds? Yes and no.

2/5 stars.
ebook, 110 pages.
Read Oct 28, 2016.

A big thanks to Netgalley for allowing me an ARC edition of this book to review. I picked this book as I had previously read Control by the same author and I thought that was a pretty killer piece of erotica. For the record, what I define as a good piece of erotica is one that is decently written and contains more sex than romance. Because let’s be honest, if I wanted something romantic, I’d read romance. I read erotica because I want to read about some steamy sex.

Cora is a nurse who has the hots for her co-worker Zeke. He makes her uncomfortable. To the point where she isn’t sure she loves being around him or can’t stand it because she feels she is constantly embarrassing herself. However, things are taken to a whole other level when at the Christmas party the whole building explodes. Cora finds herself remarkably alive and captive by Zeke and his very cold and serious friend Merrick. She also seems to have an insatiable thirst for blood and desire for her two gorgeous captors.

I found this brief novel very disappointing. The writing felt rushed and poorly composed and did not compare to the previous book I had read by this author.On top of that I found the sex scenes rushed and lacking their desired effect, which is unfortunate as the context had the potential to be really steamy. I mean, come on, two guys and one woman? Heck yeah! Sadly, this book failed to deliver.

The one thing I was sure I would not like was the vampire theme but I actually feel that this is the one thing the author did well. The theme wasn’t too over the top and tastefully done. However, the romance at the end was icky. Just too cheesy for me. I do, however, appreciate how the author makes her female characters strong and independent which, is probably what I enjoyed so much about Control.

Overall I would recommend this book for those looking for a quick erotica read with a strong female read and are partial to vampires and threesomes.