[BOOK] The Devil in the White City.

My first read of 2019 (which really is just a spill-over from 2018) is “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson. I must admit this is the first non-fiction book I’ve read in years, that too, a Fact Crime that won an Edgar Award for that category.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

I loved this book by Erik Larson. Initially, I picked it up because I was interested to know more about H. H. Holmes but I stayed because the Chicago Fair was also interesting. If you expect the whole book to be purely about H. H. Holmes, then let me tell you now, it is not. In fact, it’s mostly about the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago where H. H. Holmes built his horror hotel.

Here’s the synopsis from Goodreads:

Erik Larson’s gifts as a storyteller are magnificently displayed in this rich narrative of the master builder, the killer, and the great fair that obsessed them both.

Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America’s rush toward the twentieth century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair’s brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country’s most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his “World’s Fair Hotel” just west of the fairgrounds—a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium. Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organized the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths. What makes the story all the more chilling is that Holmes really lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake.

The Devil in the White City draws the reader into a time of magic and majesty, made all the more appealing by a supporting cast of real-life characters, including Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and others. In this book the smoke, romance, and mystery of the Gilded Age come alive as never before.

The great thing about this book is that it reads like a fiction novel. It’s informative yet still engaging and interesting. At times, it even manages to be suspenseful. I really enjoyed reading this that it made me realize how much I’ve been missing out on other great non-fiction books which is why I decided to do the whole alternating of fiction and non-fiction reads this year.

So if you’re looking for a non-fiction read, look no further. I am interested to know though if there are books you recommend that is solely about H. H. Holmes. Let me know!

NinthMelody rating: 8.5/10

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2019

Oh wow, it’s February 2019. Where did time go? As always, I have been procrastinating and neglecting this blog for a couple of months now.

Sorry, blog.

I’ve been keeping up with my reading challenge this year which is going really well but I have not found the motivation to put up a review about any of them. Last year, I finished reading 23 books out of my target of 20. It’s by no means “A LOT” in terms of quantity especially for someone who keeps a book blog but hey, I’m a slow to average reader, give me a break.

These are the ones I read last year:

  1. A Study in Scarlet – Arthur Conan Doyle
  2. The Sign of Four – Arthur Conan Doyle
  3. Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
  4. The Vegetarian – Han Kang
  5. Naoko – Keigo Higashino
  6. The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman
  7. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle
  8. The Hypnotist’s Love Story – Liane Moriarty
  9. House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski
  10. The Whalestoe Letters – Mark Z. Danielewski
  11. The Devotion of Suspect X – Keigo Higashino
  12. Human Acts – Han Kang
  13. The Brothers Grimm Illuminated Fairy Tales – Grimm Brothers
  14. The Mysterious Affair at Styles – Agatha Christie
  15. Animal Farm – George Orwell
  16. A Tale For The Time Being – Ruth Ozeki
  17. Emma – Jane Austen
  18. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki – Haruki Murakami
  19. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  20. The Eye – Vladimir Nabokov
  21. Monstress – Lysley Tenorio
  22. The Nakano Thrift Shop – Hiromi Kawakami
  23. S. – Doug Dorst & JJ Abrams

I realize I have not read any books released in 2018. I guess I’m not the type to read newly released ones since I feel like there are so many books I’ve been putting off that I feel like I owe those books more of my attention than newcomers.

This year, I am targetting to read at least 24. I’m being realistic but of course, I would love it if I can read more. So far, I’ve read 8 books which is quite surprising to me. These are the ones I’ve read:

  1. The Devil in the White City – Erik Larson
  2. The Virgin Suicides – Jeffrey Eugenides
  3. Citizen Capitalism – Lynn Stout,  Sergio Gramitto, Tamara Belinfanti
  4. Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
  5. Superfreakonomics – Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner
  6. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
  7. An American Princess: The Many Lives of Allene Tew – Annejet van der Zijl
  8. Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but I decided that I would read non-fiction and fiction alternately to bring more diversity in my reading list. The non-fiction books I’ve read so far are very interesting and are truly eye-opening.

Have you read any of these?

[BOOK] S.

“S.” or “Ship of Theseus”

Yep, that’s the title of the “book.” And yes, that’s quotation marks on book. It’s quite difficult to explain what an experience this was because it is more than just “a book.” Doug Dorst & J. J. Abrams made such an interesting concept which sort of reminds me of House of Leaves (which was how I found this book in the first place). The amount of work that was put into this “experience” must have been tremendous and I gotta give them props for that. Great job, guys!

Right off the bat, what you get is more of a box that contains the book called “Ship of Theseus.” That’s not a mistake. The physical book you get really is called that and the author of ‘Ship of Theseus’ is ‘V. M. Straka.’ It is supposedly a library book closely studied by a graduate student named Erik for his literary paper and he has written a number of annotations throughout the book. This said copy of the book was picked up by an undergraduate student, Jen, who works part-time at the university library and through this book, Erik and Jen communicate with each other by writing down notes on the book’s margins. 

When you see the book, it looks overwhelming with all the annotations and inserts (letters, maps, photos, etc.) but to be honest, those things are what make this experience worthwhile, in my opinion. The beauty of ‘S.’ is that it is more than just the “Ship of Theseus” but rather it is ‘Ship of Theseus’ plus the story of Jen & Erik in real life.

As far as the story goes, ‘S.’ is certainly engaging. It has mystery, suspense and romance all in one. What’s not to like?

With all the back and forth between Jen & Erik, as the reader, I felt like I was eavesdropping on their conversations by reading their annotations on the book. Way to be an outsider, huh. The two search for answers regarding the true identity of V. M. Straka, who is truly a mysterious character. No one has seen/met/known VMS personally, not even the translator and editor of the book. Due to the mystery behind the identity of the author, Jen & Erik have their own ideas as to who VMS might be. Throughout the margins, they would be name-dropping various names which get confusing I gotta say. Other than that, I would say that I loved this book and I wouldn’t mind reading it again and I am sure I would understand it even more the second time around.

NinthMelody rating: 8/10

[BOOK] The Devotion of Suspect X.

b9605b8edc950642d2fe09115744d709“The Devotion of Suspect X” is my second Keigo Higashino novel and I’m starting to really like this author. The first book of his that I’ve read is “Naoko” which is a mystery book but not at all like this one. The Devotion of Suspect X is the 3rd book from the Detective Galileo series but merely the first one translated to English which is truly unfortunate.

Here’s the synopsis from the back of the book:

Yasuko lives a quiet life, a good mother to her only child. But when her ex-husband appears at her door without warning one evening, her comfortable world is shattered.

When Detective Kusanagi of the Tokyo Police tries to piece together the events of that night, he finds himself confronted by the most puzzling, mysterious circumstances he has ever investigated. Nothing quite makes sense…

The book starts with the introduction of various characters who eventually get involved in the “murder case.” It’s not a typical story of “who is the killer?” rather “how will they get away with it?” From the first few chapters, the readers are made accomplices to the murder. We get to know who did it and exactly how it happened. Once the investigation about the murder starts, we see how they come up with alibis and if it manages to convince the detectives of their innocence. It’s a really interesting spin to the whole murder mystery genre which sort of reminds me of the TV series “How To Get Away With Murder.”

Aside from the “suspects” and the assigned detective of the case, the brilliant Detective Galileo/Yukawa is only introduced towards the middle of the book. He’s not in any way involved with the case professionally but is merely friends with the principal detective assigned to the investigation. Because of his relationship with the detective, Yukawa occasionally gets bits of information from his friend and he eventually develops an interest in the case especially since one of the main suspects turns out to be a former rival/friend from school.

I am not comfortable with giving out too much information about the story since I’m afraid to spoil the experience. As expected in this kind of genre, a twist in the story is inevitable. The twist in this one towards the end is pretty mind-blowing that even if you find the rest of the book mundane, the ending is worth it in my opinion. It just shows how creative the author is and to be honest, it’s quite scary how he could possibly come up with such scenarios. I’m definitely going to be reading more of Higashino’s books, you can bet on that.

NinthMelody rating: 9/10

[BOOK] Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.

This book is about a 36-year-old man named Tsukuru Tazaki who is an engineer who builds railroad stations. It’s been his dream since he was young and it is amazing how he has worked tirelessly towards this goal. Tsukuru has been plagued by an event from his past where he was ostracized by his close friends without giving an explanation as to why. This has affected him so much that he even contemplated taking his own life. Now, at 36, he was coaxed by his girlfriend to find out exactly the reason why he was kicked out from the group and that she feels it would make him feel more at ease if he finally talked to his former friends.

After all this time, Tsukuru never tried to contact or seek answers from his group of friends as to why he was given that kind of treatment in the past. He just assumed that his personality; his colorless personality was the cause of all of it. His friends, Ao, Aka, Shiro and Eri, all had “colors” associated with their names. Tsukuru didn’t. This made him believe that he was the one with the least likable personality and thus the term “Colorless Tsukuru Tazuki.”

Tsukuru Tazaki is an embodiment of basically every human being who doubts himself; who sells himself short because he thinks he’s so ordinary that nothing about him is remarkable so everyone would probably be better off without him. Tsukuru Tazaki is me, maybe even you. There have been so many times when I’ve thought the same thoughts as he had (except the suicide part), I’ve imagined what it would be like if I had just ceased to exist. Would the people around me have a better life? Would it matter if I were gone? I see so much of myself in Tsukuru Tazaki’s self-doubting and lack of confidence. And you know what I realized? It’s quite annoying.

Despite being able to relate to what Tsukuru Tazaki was going through, I couldn’t help but be the person from the outside looking in. That self-doubt and lack in confidence is truly something that eats you up from the inside and no one can help you but yourself since no one around you is aware of its existence.

I was quite surprised to find out that this book was fairly normal. No out-of-this-world, supernatural occurrences which I’ve come to associate with Murakami’s work since the ones I’ve read before were fairly eccentric. The ending was not as definitive as I would’ve liked but apparently that’s also one of the things people associate with Haruki Murakami’s books.

If you’re looking for a satisfying ending, look elsewhere. There are quite a number of unanswered questions, inconclusive events, etc. But if you want to enjoy the ride and just go with the flow, this book is quite a journey. Just like real life, there are always things that JUST ARE. No explanations, no satisfying conclusions – just tucked away inside a drawer in one’s mind with the label, “PENDING.”

NinthMelody rating: 7/10

[BOOK] Human Acts.

Human Acts by Han Kang is a fictional account from 6 different people of their heartbreaking experiences during the Gwangju Uprising in South Korea in 1980. Being told from these different perspectives, show how the violent event affected people from various walks of life, no matter the gender nor age. This was a difficult read in terms of how the brutality and inhumane actions of the soldiers – the human acts – make you lose hope in humanity.

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

In the midst of a violent student uprising in South Korea, a young boy named Dong-ho is shockingly killed.

The story of this tragic episode unfolds in a sequence of interconnected chapters as the victims and the bereaved encounter suppression, denial, and the echoing agony of the massacre. From Dong-ho’s best friend who meets his own fateful end; to an editor struggling against censorship; to a prisoner and a factory worker, each suffering from traumatic memories; and to Dong-ho’s own grief-stricken mother; and through their collective heartbreak and acts of hope is the tale of a brutalized people in search of a voice.

An award-winning, controversial bestseller, Human Acts is a timeless, pointillist portrait of an historic event with reverberations still being felt today, by turns tracing the harsh reality of oppression and the resounding, extraordinary poetry of humanity.

 

It might be odd to say, but the descriptions, despite being morbid in its meaning, was beautifully put into words – as if the words were made to alleviate the horrors of the horrendous events.

Gusts of wind grazed the leaves of dark trees. The pale sun trembled over the lip of the horizon, moving up to the sky’s center in a violent, majestic advance. Piled up behind the thicket, our bodies now began to soften in the sun, with putrefaction setting in. Clouds of gadflies and mayflies alighted on those places that were clotted with dried black blood, rubbed their front legs, crawled about, flew up, then settled again.

The excerpt above was from the second chapter – “The Boy’s Friend, 1980.” It is from the perspective of “the boy’s friend” – the boy, referring to Dong-Ho, the character introduced in Chapter 1 – “The Boy, 1980.” What’s interesting in this chapter is that “The Boy’s Friend,” Jeong Dae, is dead. He’s one of the victims of the onslaught and the chapter is purely from his perspective, despite being already dead. It is thus, more descriptive of the decaying bodies and piles of rotting flesh, all in first person narrative.

It is also interesting to note that each chapter differs in its narrative style. Some are in first person, second person and even third person narratives. As an epilogue, we see the perspective of the writer, Han Kang, herself. Born and raised in Gwangju, this historical event was close to her heart which is why she wanted to write this book in the first place.

“After you died I could not hold a funeral, and so my life became a funeral.”

The quote above is probably the most memorable line for me from Human Acts. It succinctly depicts the sorrow and hopelessness felt by those who survived a loss. “Survived” may be a wrong term to use but a loss of a loved one is obviously something one tries to overcome and willfully tries to move past from so for a person to continuously live past such a heartache, he/she is ultimately a survivor, despite the fact that such loss can never be forgotten.

In case you want to read this, I suggest reading the introduction by the translator, Deborah Smith. It would greatly enlighten you about the Gwangju Uprising in case you know nothing about it, like me. Reading about the brief history of the uprising greatly helped me in understanding where the activists were coming from.

NinthMelody Rating: 8.5/10

[BOOK] The Hypnotist’s Love Story.

Redesign_9780425260937_HypnotistsLo_cover.inddLiane Moriarty has been one of my go-to authors ever since I read “Big Little Lies.” It became one of my favorite books so I’ve approached her other works with mild curiosity and excitement. “The Hypnotist’s Love Story” is the fifth book of Moriarty’s that I’ve read and although it’s not my favorite, it was still a story that appealed to me.

Here’s the synopsis from Goodreads:

Ellen O’Farrell is a professional hypnotherapist who works out of the eccentric beachfront home she inherited from her grandparents. It’s a nice life, except for her tumultuous relationship history. She’s stoic about it, but at this point, Ellen wouldn’t mind a lasting one. When she meets Patrick, she’s optimistic. He’s attractive, single, employed, and best of all, he seems to like her back. Then comes that dreaded moment: He thinks they should have a talk.

Braced for the worst, Ellen is pleasantly surprised. It turns out that Patrick’s ex-girlfriend is stalking him. Ellen thinks, Actually, that’s kind of interesting. She’s dating someone worth stalking. She’s intrigued by the woman’s motives. In fact, she’d even love to meet her.

Ellen doesn’t know it, but she already has.

Compared to her other books, I find this one to be very straightforward. Although it may sound rather plain, it wasn’t. This had the least mystery out of all the books of Moriarty that I’ve read. Don’t get me wrong, it had a mystery (the will-she or will-she not question) just not as big as the others.

What I like about this book is it was told from the perspective of Ellen and the stalker. I’ve always appreciated books told from multiple perspectives as it gives more dimension to the story. In fact, had it been told only from Ellen’s view, the stalker would have probably come out as a completely deranged lunatic, out to ruin Patrick’s and Ellen’s lives. Although that would be the typical response to a “stalker,” interestingly enough, Ellen was intrigued by the whole idea and doesn’t find it creepy at all. I don’t know if it’s because of her profession that she has a natural curiosity to get into the minds of those who have problems, or she’s just a brave, odd woman.

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My dog is not too keen on reading.. or posing for a photo.

Judging from people’s comments on Goodreads, I see a lot of skepticism about this book. I get that it’s not as great as her other works but it’s not that bad. One must read it as it is without judging it compared to her other books. I actually liked the idea that the antagonist has a redeeming quality and there is an opportunity and possibility for her to better herself. Also, Ellen may seem weird for being okay with the whole “stalker” thing and the fact that she was very accepting about Patrick taking her on a trip to the same place he went to with his “ex-girlfriend, now-stalker,” but hey, to each his own. Not everyone reacts the same way to weird instances.

In my opinion, this is still a sufficiently enjoyable read. It wouldn’t be the first book of Liane Moriarty’s that I would recommend to people but it’s not the worst thing in the world and it doesn’t deserve the hate it’s getting.

Other Liane Moriarty books I’ve read:

*Apparently I did not blog about “The Husband’s Secret” but it does not mean that I did not enjoy it. In fact, it’s one of her better works.

NinthMelody rating: 8/10