Review: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata & Ginny Tapley Takemori (Translator)

Published by: Grove Press
ISBN: 0802128254
ISBN 13: 9780802128256
Published: June 2018
Pages: 176
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Publisher Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata is set in Japan, and follows the life of Keiko Furukura who is 36 years old and has worked at the same convenience store for eighteen years so far, and feels no impulse to change. She’s comfortable there and it’s a safe space – she knows how it operates, what is expected of her, and she’s been there so long that she has a store of responses that sit various situations so she can avoid awkward interactions.

If you’ve been to Japan you’ll know their convenience stores are quite integral. We have 7-11s and similar in other parts of the world but in a konbini (コンビニ) we have a different level of quality all together. Aside from the seasonal items and limited edition specials, you also get very cheap yet high quality fresh-ground coffee, snacks such as sandwiches, gyoza, onigiri and then evena black label premium range, and then there’s also free wifi, free and clean restrooms, and a clean seating area for you to rest or work. It may be menial work but their level of quality and convenience vastly outweighs any other I’ve come across.

This book explores the general view of society in Japan, and how there are only the few main ways one is expected to act and seek to accomplish in life. And how it feels to be on the outside of these norms, feeling that pressure to conform but remaining outside of the scope of normal. As someone who has been diagnosed as having Asperger’s, I was really able to identify with Furukura. Others may see the relentless analysing as exhausting however it’s simply how some environments or situations read. And safe is good. In Japan there may be the expectation to live for your job and while, yes, take pride in your work, somehow this doesn’t stretch to convenience store work.

Really, we should be congratulating those who do any job well. If Furukura feels safe in that job, is happy getting up each day, and earns enough to live the life she wants… that should be enough for her parents and those around her.

Reading Challenge: Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb

In 2016 I joined the lovely Ju and Steph in reading all the of Twelve Planets, a project they called A Journey Through Twelve Planets.

Then, from Feb 2017 through mid 2018 Tsana and I read The Vorkosigan Saga both reviewing and then discussing each of them, which can be found here: Reading Challenge: The Vorkosigan Saga

And now Bethwyn and I will read each book in the five series that makes up the Realm of the Elderlings. All of which I’ve previously read, except for the last novel which I just can’t bring myself to just yet. Bethwyn is yet to read any of them.

Chronological Reading Order

Prequel Shorts – my review / our discussion (of all the below)
“Homecoming” (short story)
The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince (novella)
“Cat’s Meat” (short story)

The Farseer Trilogy
Assassin’s Apprentice – my review / our discussion

Shorts – my review / our discussion (of all the below)
“Words Like Coins” (short story)
“Blue Boots” (short story)

The Farseer Trilogy
Royal Assassin – my review / our discussion
Assassin’s Quest – my review / our discussion

Shorts
“The Inheritance” (short story)

Liveship Traders Trilogy
Ship of Magic – my review / our discussion
The Mad Ship – my review / our discussion
Ship of Destiny – my review / our discussion

The Tawny Man Trilogy
Fool’s Errand – my review / our discussion
The Golden Fool – my review / our discussion
Fool’s Fate – my review / our discussion

The Rain Wild Chronicles
Dragon Keeper – my review / our discussion
Dragon Haven – my review / our discussion
City of Dragons – my review / our discussion
Blood of Dragons – my review / our discussion

The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy
Fool’s Assassin – my review / our discussion
Fool’s Quest – my review / our discussion
Assassin’s Fate – my review / our discussion

Review: City of Lies by Sam Hawke

Series: Poison Wars #1
Published by: Tor Books
ISBN: 0765396890
ISBN 13: 9780765396891
Published: July 2018
Pages: 560
Format reviewed: eVersion from Publisher
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended

I’m having trouble reading, lately. I love a book and yet I’m constantly distracted from it. This has been quite a month, too, with my dog being attacked by two others and almost losing a leg – a project at work finally finishing but making me such a zombie all I can do is play Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp and watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine on repeat. And I had a holiday to Tasmania and then Canberra, and though I always think I’ll read on the plane trips (six, this time), it never happens.

Regardless, City of Lies was a source of great comfort to me throughout the above. It’s not exactly a nice tale – it doesn’t comfort you through fluffy scenes and cozy scenes – it comforts you through being so damn well written and engaging that it warms your soul and revitalises you. If you’re a fan of V. E. Schwab or Robin Hobb’s work go get this book right this second.

I’m always a sucker for character-driven books, and that’s what we have right here. The characters are all varied and interesting, but the plot, too, drives you from scene to scene, and it’s pretty much a murder mystery set in a fantasy world, with the characters trying desperately to find out why their uncles died, and why everyone is trying to kill them. Specially who and why.

The world building is exquisite. There is a sense of history and the turning of religion to science and the heartache this can bring to people. A city is literally torn apart and you get such a sense of the life the city once had. And really, what drives this narrative is the women. The ones who were brave enough to risk their lives to come to the Chancellor and explain. The ignored sister who leaves the safety to take a dangerous trek that has already claimed many lives. And my favourite – the scornful, intelligent, spiritual young woman who loves her mother and brother, and really isn’t afraid to talk bluntly to the chancellor and his advisors.

The other main characters are Tain (the chancellor) and his proofer, Jovan, who has been raised to know all poisons by taste, touch, smell. It’s the job his uncle had before him, and it’s what has taken both the previous chancellor and Jovan’s uncle right at the start of the book, and their murders that they’re hurrying to solve. Jovan’s job should have actually been that of his older sister – Kalina – however thanks to her chronic condition she simply wasn’t strong enough for the job. She makes herself useful in other ways, but the fact Jovan spends every waking moment trying to keep Tain alive, and having it distracted for thinking he also has to be the carer of his sister – who is stronger than he realises – is another driving factor of the book. And as someone with chronic illnesses I couldn’t adore Kalina more, and what she achieves.

I’m writing this review at 75% because I hear that the ending is going to ruin me and want to grab Hawke’s leg, and refuse to let go, allowing myself to be dragged around as I wail and beg to know what happens next. I figured I should write this now while I can still feign coherently.

This book is excellent in its representation of other cultures, same sex relationships, living with chronic disease, living with compulsions, and throughout we see the characters learning from their mistakes and prejudices, accepting same sex couples as literally nothing to remark upon, and supporting and working with people with chronic illnesses or compulsions as if they’re something to work alongside of. One has the compulsion to do everything evenly, and when they’re in a state their closest friends simply ensure they rub both shoulders evenly, as to help calm them rather than set them off even more. It’s really, really lovely to see.

City of Lies is the debut start to what promises to be an excellent series, by Australian Sam Hawke. I also met her briefly at Worldcon Helsinki and she seems incredibly lovely. Go buy this book! I’m going to go and read the final 25% and cry.

Discussion Post: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold

vorkosigan

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is the latest and very last novel in our Vorkosigan Saga Project! This novel follows Cordelia and Oliver Jole — who has previously only been a minor side character — and takes place after Cryoburn, currently serving as the chronological end of the series.

You can read Katharine’s review of Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen here, and Tsana’s review here.

 

Tsana: To me this book is a bittersweet ending to the series. The characters all get happy endings, but it’s not one of my favourites. There’s not enough action or comedy (either would do) for my liking.

 

Katharine: It certainly is a slightly odd addition as one of the more recent books. But it also such a nice balance to have Cordelia’s story at both the start and the end of the series.

 

Tsana:  I agree. It’s nice that Cordelia gets a happy ending and I certainly understand why Cordelia likes her new life, etc but it didn’t make for as exciting reading as most of the other Vorkosigan books. I remember the first time I read it I kept waiting for something “exciting” to happen — by the standards of the series — and so many disasters just utterly failed to come to pass.

 

Katharine: Especially with how much the party was built up, and then described scene by scene… and then while something did happen he was literally able to sit up and watch the fireworks later… but this is jumping ahead by quite a bit… Basically, I agree. But it was still interesting.

 

Tsana: I’m going to list all the things that didn’t happen as soon as the spoiler shield is up. But before we get to that, let’s talk a little bit about Jole. He’s mentioned in passing in some of the other books, but this is the first one in which he’s a main character. Not that there’s anything wrong with introducing a new character in the last book. And his presence does shine a light on events that happened in parallel with a lot of Miles’s stories but which Miles was entirely unaware of.

 

Katharine: Which means now I want to read back in the previous books to see if there were any hints to his importance in Aral and Cordelia’s life.

 

Tsana: He was definitely mentioned a few times as being in places and saying a few words to Miles or whatever. But I barely remember him from The Vor Game, even though that’s the most exciting event from his early career that gets brought up a lot on Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen. Of course, this is partly because we saw events The Vor Game from Miles’s point of view and Jole was hanging out with Aral at the time…

 

Katharine: Ah yes, I’ve just re-read that bit. Miles ‘sighed in hopeless jealousy every time he ran across him’. I really like Jole – there’s something about people who are ridiculously capable.

 

Tsana:  Wait, which bit is that from? Why is Miles sighing and jealous of Jole?

 

Katharine: The bit about Jole in The Vor Game. I looked it up to see if there were any hints, and Miles’ sighing is amusing.

 

So Oliver Jole is Admiral, Sergyar Fleet and the other person almost in charge on Sergyar along with Cordelia, who is currently Vicereine. Aral passed away three years ago now and their jobs have kept them both incredibly busy.

 

Tsana: Compared with before Aral’s death, when they weren’t busy at all /sarcasm. But yes, they’ve been busy and sad enough that they haven’t hung out much except for work. Which is a bit of a departure from their lives before Aral’s death.

 

Katharine: Time for spoiler shield?

 

Tsana: Before we get into details, yes. But I think it’s relevant to mention that Cordelia, Aral and Jole were in a polyamorous relationship before Aral went and died on them.

 

<spoiler shield up!>

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Review: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Baen Books
ISBN 13: 9781625794802
Published: February 2016
Pages: 352
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

This was the first book I got to see released in the series, and how everyone reacted to the surprise there would be another to read – at this point I’d been meaning to read the series for at least a few years. I still regret I wasn’t there for the ride, but also slightly glad I didn’t have to pay for an eARC copy.

Spoilers lie ahead.

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