Jen talks about... Yotsuba&!

I wouldn't really call myself a huge manga fan. I have certain series that I like (Mushishi, Liar Game, Nana (um, until it started being stupid), Bakuman), but it makes up a really small percentage of my overall reading. So I’m probably not going to post much about manga on here.

But I’m going to make an exception for Yotsuba&!

I’m sure that I am not alone in having a stash of comfort books. Books that I can read when everything just seems to be going wrong, which either make me smile, or make me sad about other things which put my life in perspective (Or make me so sad that I end up laughing at how stupidly sad I’m getting, and then cheering up). Most of these books are ones which I read when I was growing up, and they’re all sitting on a bookcase in my childhood room.

Which is about 6000 miles or so away. Haha.

I brought almost all of the DVDs  that I own with me when I moved here, so I’m never short on comforting things to watch, but I had to find something to replace the books.

So in comes Yotsuba&! (Which is also available in English!)

Yotsuba&! is the story of a little girl called Yotsuba, who lives with her dad. She becomes friends with her next door neighbours, a family with 3 daughters, and… well, goes on adventures sounds a bit twee, but that’s pretty much it.
Most of the chapters cover one event in a day, whether it’s going to the park to catch cicadas, or just Yotsuba and her dad going shopping. So far so… boring? Maybe.

But Yotsuba&! is great for the following reasons:

  • Yotsuba is adorable. And insane. But in a really good way.
  • Yotsuba's dad is awesome. And a bit insane.
  • It’s funny.
  • Danbo!!!!
  • The panels are all nicely drawn. This is probably because it’s not a weekly manga, so there is more time to actually do a really nice job with the backgrounds.
  • Did I mention that it’s funny?
  • Given that it’s not the kind of manga that many people would find interesting from its description, it’s really surprisingly popular. I have been lending out my copies to several of my co-workers and they have all really liked it, and some of my other colleagues have seen me holding volumes of it at work, and come to talk to me about how much they love it.
  • Seriously, it’s really funny!

Although I do still miss my stack of English comfort books, knowing that I have Yotsuba&! there when I need a pick me up makes me happy.

So read it! DO ITTT!!!

(And if you can read Japanese you can read all 12 volumes! The Japanese isn't that difficult at all, so I would recommend it even if your Japanese isn't that good yet.)


Jen reads... Drop Dead Healthy

I was originally going to write about this together with The Know-It-All, but found myself talking about The Know-It-All so much that I thought it would be better as a single book post.

Drop Dead Healthy follows A. J. Jacobs as he sets about trying a lot of different health crazes and experiments in order to find the healthiest way to live. 

The thing about this book is that much as I enjoyed it, I don’t really have anything to say about it! The only thing that I took away from it really that I’m actually implementing is washing my hands more thoroughly, and spending time dreaming of a workplace that would allow me to have a treadmill desk (I HATE sitting down all day. I just end up feeling really uncomfortable after a few hours, and I could walk for hours without feeling uncomfortable).

Yup. I don’t have anything to say really apart from that. It was enjoyable, and I found myself tearing up at it at times (one of the side stories is about his Granddad’s deteriorating health, and as my Granddad died last year I found myself way more affected than this than I normally would have done). So it’s not that I didn’t enjoy it! Not at all!

If you’ve read any of his other things and enjoyed them, I’m sure you’d like this. I actually got The Know-It-All within about 10 minutes of finishing this (damn you kindle! Why must you make it so easy for me to buy stuff?), so that goes to show how much I liked it.

But yeah. Nothing else to say. So I won’t.

This was a bit pointless really wasn’t it? Oh well! It’ll help me keep track of books that I’ve read which is one of the reasons why I’m writing this blog in the first place.


Jen reads… The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

I tend to try not to know as little about books as possible before I read them. This is because I really dislike spoilers, as I figure that I’m only ever going to get a chance to read something and potentially be shocked by it once, and I want to preserve that, just in case whatever I’m reading turns out to be amazing. Because of this though, I often end up knowing really vague things about a book, and then building it up in my brain to be something completely different to what it actually is, and being disappointed with it, confused by it, or approaching it in completely the wrong way.
This book was definitely a case of the latter. The things that I knew about it before I read it were things that I got from the title, the fact that lots of people said it was very good, and that the illustrations were nice. So, in my mind that led me to believe that it would read like a fairytale aimed at children, so it would be a really easy, relaxing, don’t have to think about it too much read.

I was wrong.

What this book turned out to be was more along the lines of the Alice books. The way that it is written, while not overly complicated, requires close reading as it has so many bizarre details in it. The things that happen in the story are very nonsensical, and I do not mean that in an insulting way at all. However, I only figured this out after reading a few chapters in the same way that I would approach a typical YA novel – reading quickly, and not pausing to absorb much of the language. This was a HUGE mistake, as once I realised and slowed down my pace, I enjoyed the book so much more. If you are someone who tends to read quickly and in the process miss some things, I really recommend slowing down for this book. If you don’t, the already bizarre situation which September, the heroine of the book, finds herself in will make even less sense. It will be worth it.

The story follows September, who is taken into Fairyland by the Green Wind and the bizarre things that happen to her there. I’m sure that to summarise the plot further would just confuse everybody (most of all me), so I’ll leave it at that!

The book in itself is like a more modern version of the Alice books, but September is a much more compelling protagonist. Although the world around her may not make that much sense, the way that she acts definitely does. I’m sure that as revered as the Alice books are, there must be a LOT of people who have tried to write something similar over the years (although I’ve never come across it). I’m sure that most people would end up being a pale imitation, but the writing here is REALLY GOOD. The story itself is bizarre (as I’ve said about 10 times now, haha), but it doesn’t feel like the characters are being strange just for the sake of it, it feels like they are acting normally. I think this is a testament for how well written the whole thing is, as a lesser author would almost definitely make everything feel forced.

In case you haven’t guessed yet, I really liked it. I am looking forward to reading the other installments in the series (which also have amazing titles: The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, and The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two).

Before I do that though, I want to go back to the start of this book and read it again, this time giving it the time and attention that it deserves.


Jen reads… Pandemonium

Pandemonium is the second book in the Delirium trilogy by Lauren Oliver. You can read my thoughts on the first book, Delirium, here.

As this is the second book in the trilogy, the post will almost definitely contain spoilers for the first book, so if you have any plans to read it and hate spoilers the way I do, stop reading now!

Like I said in my post about the first book, I liked it so much that I bought the second book as soon as I finished the first… and then I didn't touch it for a month or so. The more time passed between reading the first book and starting the second, the more I felt myself losing affection for the first book, and losing enthusiasm towards the second book. Which was weird, as that almost never happens to me. Sometimes it happens the other way round, in that I can find something not so great, but then realise later (or trick myself into thinking later) that it was much better than I initially thought.

So I was a bit… wary when I started reading it. I think one of the main things that I found put me off the series was not having ANY idea where it would go from the end of the first book, where Lena is basically left on her own, without any of the characters who you've grown to like/dislike in the first book. Which would be fine if you found Lena really compelling… but I’m not sure that I do. I think I’m more interested in what she does than who she is, if that makes sense.

Luckily, I remember while I was reading it that this series is written really nicely, and it’s very easy to read. In this book, the story is split between two different time periods – the time after Lena has escaped to the wilds, and a time six months in the future. This mostly worked well, although I wanted a bit more information to fill in the gap, as there are some things in there which I think would have been interesting which aren't really touched upon.

Much as I enjoyed reading the book though, the ending was stupidly obvious, and it seems like the next book is going to go down a road which I don’t really like in general in fiction of any kind. So I’m not rushing out to buy it. But I’m sure I will read it at some point in the near future.

So, not a glowing review, but if you liked the first one in the series, I think you would like this as well. 


Jen reads… 1Q84 (book 3) in Japanese!

So 1Q84 is a bit… slow isn't it? Not in a bad way, at all, but there is a LOT of character building etc. to get through before it starts getting I can’t put it down!!-good. It may just be that I’m more sensitive to this because I read it in Japanese. I definitely read slower in Japanese than I do in English, and as a result I take in EVERYTHING in the book. Which is not a bad thing at all, but it means that I read every single word of the book (and sometimes have to take the time to puzzle out what a sentence actually means, or look stuff up in the dictionary). I don’t know how everybody else reads in English, but I definitely do not stare at every word and try to understand its meaning before going to the next one.

What am I trying to say? Well, it is definitely worth sticking around to the end, because… book 3 is awesome. I think, to be honest, that this might be my favourite Murakami so far. As soon as I finished reading it, I wanted to start again from the beginning. Good thing I have the new Murakami to read! Hehe.
If you haven’t read any Murakami yet… maybe don’t start with this one. It’s huge, and potentially intimidating. But, it is also great.

Bullet points! For the whole thing, not just book 3. If you haven’t read it yet and want to know nothing before going in (which I would recommend) don’t read this!

  • Aomame and Tengo are both awesome. Especially Aomame. I love that it seems that Murakami seems to be able to write convincing female characters now, some of them in previous books have seemed a bit.. lacking. Or a bit too manic pixie dream girly. Which I guess in some ways Aomame could have been (and that Fukaeri is, to be fair), but her character is so filled out, and complex and lovely.   
  • I’m glad I read it in Japanese, somehow the awkward sex scenes aren’t as awkward when they’re not in English! (The line about the cocoa? Not as awkward in Japanese as it is in English. I think the difference is that Japanese doesn't have to be explicit in the way that English does. It comes off as more metaphorical than the English does.)
  • I still can’t get over Aomame's name. Hehe.
  • The whole 空気さなぎ (Air Chrysalis) story is weird. I like it!

And on a Japanese related note… Murakami really stands out to me as a marker of how much my Japanese has improved, as the first book that I ever read in Japanese was Norwegian Wood. I get SO much more out of his books now than I did then, and I can go for whole stretches without coming across any words that I don’t know, which makes me happy. It makes me want to go back and reread everything by him that I read in Japanese up until... about 3 years ago, because I think that I would enjoy them in a completely different way.

I've read Murakami in both English and Japanese, but I definitely think that his stuff is better in the original. Not that the translations aren't good, because they really REALLY are, but there's so much stuff which just can't be put across in English that you get from Japanese. (Obviously it works the other way round too. Harry Potter in Japanese really bored me, but in English it's full of yay!)

Alas, my shelf of unread Japanese books is telling me that I really shouldn't do that.

Writing this has made me realise that I should really try to read more Japanese at the weekends and at night, because I am getting through his new book ridiculously slowly. But then once I've finished it, I won’t have any Murakami lined up to read! And that will make me very sad. 


Jen reads… The Know-It-All

One of the things that I've realised as I get older is how little of all of the knowledge in the world I will ever know. Once I left university there was very little pressure to learn anything new. In fact, I would say that I was probably in the minority as I kept on actively studying after leaving (Yay Japanese I love you), but I feel like I’ve slowly become more ignorant about a lot of things which I probably should know about. My mind is full of useless knowledge about, for example, Buffy though. Buffy <3

Ahem, anyway, I’ve made a few attempts to sort of patch over holes in my knowledge by reading stuff, asking my husband who knows a LOT about lots of things I know nothing about – how the stock market works, for example, and generally being interested in stuff that I actively ignored when I was younger.. but to be honest, without anybody to push me into learning about things, or an interesting book about the subject, there are a lot of things that I will probably never know about. I think that a lot of people who are my age probably feel like that.

The author of these books, A. J. Jacobs felt that way too. It is one of the reasons that he gives for starting the project that the book is about: reading the whole of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Obviously this whole premise means that the book is a little bit dated now, as I don’t think that they even make print copies of it anymore. But, it’s an interesting idea! The book is full of interesting little facts, and the sort of self-deprecating humour that I prefer in my books. It also deals with the authors struggles to start a family with his wife, which as a married woman who is approaching her late 20s (late 20s is from 28 ish right?? I still have at least half a year to go, right??), is an area that seems much more relevant to me than it would have done a few years ago.

It also speaks to the side of me that used to spend hours on Encarta when I was little reading about... elephants and stuff. Because elephants are awesome.

The Know-It-All is ideal for pre-sleep reading, mainly because of the layout. Each letter of the alphabet is a chapter, and the chapters are split up into little segments – sometimes just a few lines long, sometimes a few pages – for words starting with that letter. This means that you can read for just a few minutes and be at a good place to stop. That is exactly what I want before I sleep, as I hate stopping in the middle of something. It also meant that I stretched this book out over a few weeks, which also made it more enjoyable!

I would recommend it for anybody who is looking for a light but interesting read. 


I'm baaack!! (Um, if you noticed that I was gone)

It has definitely been too long since I posted anything on here…

What happened?! I hear you cry…

Well… my parents came to visit me for two weeks, and then I got busy at work, and to be honest coming home and staring at the computer screen writing more stuff just didn't seem that appealing.

I have been reading in that time though! Obviously! Although not quite as much as I would have liked.

So, coming up...

1Q84 – Murakami Haruki (Yup, I finished it! Yay! Also boo because now it’s over) (Also, I definitely did not originally have it down as 1Q83. Nope!)
Pandemonium – Lauren Oliver
Drop Dead Healthy – A. J. Jacobs
The Know-It-All – A. J. Jacobs (So you can maybe guess how much I liked Drop Dead Healthy, hehe)
The Last Girlfriend on Earth – Simon Rich
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making – Catherynne M. Valente
Kūchū Buranko (Flying Trapeze) -  Hideo Okuda

The excitement is almost too much, isn't it?!