Favourite books of 2020

I have read more than 50 books in 2020, twice as many as last year! Staying at home more than usual certainly helped, but I also think that my reading pace has increased.

First, I will quickly go over my reading challenge for 2020, and then I will talk about my favourite books of the year!

2020 Reading challenge completed!

I have completed all my 2020 reading challenges.

Read more non-fiction

I have read 10+ nonfiction books this year, which is a lot for me. I am particularly glad that I learned more about criminal law in Japan. I read a book about death penalty and one about a wrongful conviction. I plan on reading more about these topics next year.

Catch up with the Kaga series

I have read the whole Kaga series (10 books so far)! I really want to believe that the series is not over yet, and that there will be a 11th book, but I don’t know if this will happen. There is still a spin-off that I need to read, but it has not been released in bunko yet, so I will have to wait.

Read literary fiction

My challenge was to read two literary award winners, but I have actually read more than two books. Sadly, I have to admit that reading literary fiction is still very difficult to me. I had to read in parallel with the translation to be able to appreciate the writing style of authors like Teru Miyamoto (especially his earlier works) and Miri Yu. I can understand what happens by reading the Japanese alone, but my level is still too low to truly appreciate the quality of most works of literary fiction.

Open up to new genres!

This was the most fun and rewarding challenge of the year. I have read SF for the first time in Japanese, medical fiction, contemporary romance, and other genres. I still prefer books that are filled with dead bodies, but reading different genres was very nice, and I have discovered a lot of new authors as well.

Read Haruki Murakami in Japanese

Finally, I have read Haruki Murakami in Japanese for the first time. I chose Norwegian Wood, and I was not a fan of this novel overall. I have seen reviews of people saying that, although they love Murakami, they did not like Norwegian Wood. I will try another book one of these days! 

Favourite books of 2020

Top 5 favourite books

I was very surprised to see that most of my favourite books are not crime fiction!

『錦繡』by Teru Miyamoto (宮本輝)

Looking back at all the books I read this year, 『錦繡』 is, I think, my favourite. I was so emotionally involved in the story that I had to take breaks from reading. It is the first epistolary novel that I read in Japanese, and overall this is a format that I love but don’t get to read very often.

I highly recommend it.

I also read another novel and two novellas by Miyamoto this year, but none had the impact this one had on me.

『泣くな研修医』 by Yujiro Nakayama (中山祐次郎)

I found this book extremely addictive. The author is a surgeon and while he wrote several medical nonfiction books, this one is his first novel. If you like medical fiction, this novel is a short, but engrossing one, I just could not put it down.

I am interested in reading more medical fiction and non fiction, so this was a very good start! There is a second volume called 『逃げるな新人外科医』, and it is obviously on my reading list!

『祈りの幕が下りる時』 by Keigo Higashino (東野圭吾)

I love all the books of the Kaga series, but the last one was really excellent.

The story is rather complex and the investigation is not just about finding the murderer, but to understand the motivations behind people’s actions. We also learn a lot about Kaga’s mother, so this is definitely an essential episode in the series.

I would say that with 『新参者』 and 『悪意』, this novel is one of the best of the series.

『あのころ』by Momoko Sakura (さくらももこ)

This book is a collection of super heart-warming and nostalgic episodes of the author’s childhood. The stories are extremely relatable and told with humour.

I love Momoko Sakura, and while I didn’t know ちびまる子ちゃん before learning Japanese, I did watch several episodes of the anime as listening practice. I found it easier to picture all the events described in the book with the anime in mind.

『そして父になる』by Akira Sano (佐野晶)

I must say that I read this novelisation while watching the film (I had never watched it before). It is hard to tell whether I would have loved this book so much if I hadn’t watched the film. Obviously, the film added a lot to my reading experience, and I don’t know how I would feel about the novelisation if I had read it alone.

In any case, this is by far the best novelisation I have read, and I found that the author added a lot of little details that made it easier to sympathise with the characters (while I found somehow hard to connect with them in the film).

Note: I guess that 『極主婦道』 should make the list too, but I still haven’t finished the series yet.

And if it were a top 6, I would include:

『密室の鍵貸します』 by Tokuya Higashigawa (東川篤哉)

This book is the first one the Ikagawa series. It is a light-hearted and funny detective novel that is also extremely well done and engrossing. If you like locked-room mysteries, you will love this book.

Overall, I had a lot of fun reading this book, it is one of the most entertaining books I have read this year. I will read the whole series for sure.

Top 5 easiest books

Overall, these are the books that I believe are the easiest ones among the book I read this year.

『おれがあいつであいつがおれで』 by Hisashi Yamanaka (山中恒)

This book is an easy one for Japanese learners. It can be a good first novel, if you have never read books in Japanese before. The story is very good too, the book is engrossing and funny, but it also shows in a clever way how difficult it is to live as oneself in a society that forces you to behave and talk in a certain way. This might look like a book for children, but as an adult, I was completely engrossed in the story and cared a lot for the two protagonists.

『アンフィニシュトの書』 by Shinya Asashiro (浅白深也)

This book is overall easy to read and it has a repetitive structure that also helps a lot. You might find the beginning a little challenging if you are not used to reading novels in Japanese, but when the story kicks off, it really gets easier. Once you know the characters and the setting, the repetitive pattern of the story will make for a smooth read. It is a murder mystery, so if you are into that, you will certainly find this one addictive.

『11文字の殺人』 by Keigo Higashino (東野圭吾)

This novel was surprisingly easy to read, it is mainly composed of dialogues, narrative parts are reduced to a minimum, there are almost no descriptions… it reads very quickly and easily, I guess that native readers can finish it in just one day.

It might not be the best Higashino, but it is one of the easiest I have read and it is a real page-turner.

『あのころ』by Momoko Sakura (さくらももこ)

This is not a novel, but a collection of short episodes from the author’s childhood. The length of each of them makes them perfect to short reading/studying sessions. The stories are extremely relatable, the vocabulary used is related to everyday life situation like school, family and friends.

I also found that there were more furigana than in other books.

『霧のむこうのふしぎな町』 by Sachiko Kashiwaba (柏葉幸子)

This book was also on the easy side. I personally found that it was not as easy as expected, mainly because the whole book was mostly written in hiragana and the story has fantastic elements that makes it more difficult to read than realistic, everyday life settings. But if you struggle with kanji and enjoy Spirited Away-like stories, 『霧のむこうのふしぎな町』 is a perfect book.

I also want to mention that『ノルウェイの森』 by Haruki Murakami was much easier to read than I thought.

Top 3 nonfiction

Since I have read more nonfiction this year than ever, here is a separate category for my favourite books.

『誰も知らない死刑の舞台裏』 by Shoji Kondo (近藤昭二)

I have learned a lot about capital punishment in Japan in this book. It is exactly what I was looking for, the writing was agreeable and the book was well structured. Not only have I learned a lot through this book, but it also made me want to read more about this topic. If you are interested in anything related to death penalty in Japan, this book is a perfect introductory one.

『ハングルへの旅』 by Noriko Ibaragi (茨木のり子)

I cannot believe that I read this book this year, it feels like an eternity… When I read this book, South Korea and Japan had been through months of trade dispute, and this Noriko Ibaragi’s account of her journey to learn Korean was the most heart-warming thing ever. As a language learner, you will find a lot of precious anecdotes and relatable episodes in this book, and if you are interested in Korean and Korea as well, this is a must read!

『ぼくはイエローでホワイトで、ちょっとブルー』by Mikako Brady (ブレイディみかこ)

This book was not really what I expected (I thought it would be centred more on racism), and I was a little disappointed in it at first, but Brady’s depiction of her daily life adventures with her son soon seduced me. Secondary school is a difficult time, and seeing how Mikako sided with her son to tackle all sort of social issues is really heart-warming.


That’s it!

Let’s hope that 2021 will bring enough positive things to make up for the disaster of 2020.

I wish you all a good start in the new year!

Book review: 『あのころ』by Momoko Sakura


Title: 『あのころ』
Author: Momoko Sakura (さくらももこ)
Published by 集英社文庫
213 pages

『あのころ』is the first title in a series of three books about Momoko Sakura’s childhood. The other two books are 『まる子だった』and 『ももこの話』. The book contains 15 short episodes, all accompanied by an illustration.


I love reading Momoko Sakura’s recollection of her childhood. The way she talks about it makes her stories extremely heart-warming, relatable and funny.

I think that I already wrote this in my review of 『まる子だった』, but I am surprised by how similar children’s everyday life can be across the world. I can relate to so many episodes described by Momoko Sakura, even though I grew up in France. Waiting until the last days of the holidays before starting your homework, struggling to learn how to ride a bike when everyone else is doing fine, pestering your parents to get some money and buy useless things you immediately regret… there are so many relatable episodes in there! I remember that I hated gymnastics at school, and the marathon episode reminded me of the dreaded gymnastics competition we had in primary school.

Overall, the tone is mostly light and funny, but there are some moments that I found a little sad. Adults (parents and teachers) can sometimes say harsh things or have an attitude that will wound children, even if they didn’t mean to. But even these unhappy moments become cherished memories. The whole book feels very nostalgic.

I only have positive things to say about 『あのころ』, and I heartily recommend it. With its short chapters and everyday life vocabulary, it is also a perfect reading material for Japanese learners.

Book review: 『罪の声』 by Takeshi Shiota


Title: 『罪の声』 (つみのこえ)
Author: Takeshi SHIOTA (塩田武士)
Published by 講談社文庫
535 pages

This novel is inspired by the Glico Morinaga case, an extortion case that targeted several confectionery industries in 1984-1985 and remains unsolved today. I don’t know the details of the real case, but I believe that the novel follows the Glico Morinaga case very closely, changing only the names of the targeted firms.

A film adaptation came out on October 30th.


Eiji Akutsu, journalist for the Dainichi Shimbun, is asked to work on the old Gin-Man case, a 30-year-old extortion case that targeted the firms Ginga and Mando among others. At the same time, tailor Toshiya Sone makes an unsettling discovery in his late father’s belongings, showing that his family might be implicated in the case…

I loved this book, and it is one of my favourite reads this year!

I was very anxious when I started it, because I knew nothing of the Glico-Morinaga case, and I feared that the story would be hard to follow as a result. It was not the easiest read for sure, but the book does not require the reader to have a previous knowledge of the real case as the author goes through each step of the case in sometimes quite lengthy descriptions!

Nevertheless, I guess that this book is even more exciting for those who knew about the case or are old enough to have followed it in the news when it happened. But even without reading the whole Wikipedia page in Japanese about the Glico-Morinaga case, you can at least watch some footage of the time or find pictures online (like the famous fox-eyed man), which makes the whole story feel more real.

In the story, we follow both the journalist and the tailor, and I found the double investigation fascinating. I kept feeling disappointed every time I remembered that this book is actually a work of fiction! It is so realistic that you cannot help but wanting it to be true.

The book is very long, but if it were shorter, it would also be less realistic. Our protagonists are investigating a 30-year-old case with very complex ramifications, so if the book were shorter, it would certainly feel less credible. I saw several reviews in Japanese saying that the book was boring. It sure does not have the quick pace or suspense of a random mystery novel, but I personally found it very engrossing and not boring at all.

I must admit however, that the structure of the book and the way the investigation progresses are very repetitive. Find a lead, talk to someone, which leads to another name, find this person, find new leads, etc. It is very linear without much action, suspense or turnarounds. If the book was not inspired by and closely following a real case, I might not have loved it so much.

Finally, the case is very complex with a lot of names. You have to remember how people are linked to each other and what their role in the story is. Making a simple list of characters might not be enough here. If you are planning on reading this book, I highly recommend that you write down all the names (persons related to the case and persons who provided information) in some sort of diagram showing how the characters are connected with each other and what role they played in the events.

I personally enjoyed this book very much, and I recommend it if you don’t mind a long and rather slow paced investigation work.

2021 Reading challenge!

In 2020, I set myself the challenge to read more widely and include literary fiction, nonfiction and non-crime genre fiction in my readings. It worked very well, and I have greatly extended the range of books that I am reading in Japanese.

In 2021, I want to refocus more on detective fiction, which is, after all, my favourite genre.

So I am very excited to announce my 2021 reading challenge:

It dawned on me that for a fan of detective fiction who loves reading in Japanese, I had never read the adventures of Japan’s first recurring fictional detective, Edogawa Rampo’s private detective Kogoro Akechi (Publications spanned 30 years, from 1925 to 1955.)

I was browsing titles on Amazon but there were so many books (and different editions too) that I didn’t know where to start. I just knew that I wanted to read the books in order if possible. Then I saw this box by publisher 集英社 (shueisha) containing the complete Kogoro Akechi files! The cases are classified in order of occurrence I believe, so this is exactly what I was looking for. I set my heart on reading the whole collection and ordered the box!

The price for 12 books and the box (8900 yen) is somewhat similar to what you would pay if you were to buy all the 12 books separately (assuming a book costs around 700 yen).

I cannot recall ever having such a beautiful set of pocket books 🙂 I was so happy when I opened the box and saw the books so neatly arranged! I like having all my books look the same if they belong to the same series. The publisher made a really good job here, and I love the cover art so much!

It certainly was an ambitious buy, but I see it as an end-of-the-year present to myself and a reward for completing my 2020 reading challenge.

So my reading challenge for 2021 is to read the whole Kogoro Akechi’s cases, or, in other words, to read this whole set.

There are 12 books in total, so it is perfect for a yearly challenge! I believe in quantifiable goals, so to be sure I complete this challenge, I will be reading one book per month. I am not allowed to fall behind or to start a book in advance. For example, if I have finished the first book around January 15th, I will not start the second book before February 1st.

I am so excited about this challenge, and I cannot wait to start!! It is really hard to have this set on my desk and not being able to touch it before January 1st.

I have never read Edogawa Rampo in Japanese (I did read some of his most famous short stories in translation), so I have no clue concerning the Japanese level of his books. I brace myself for some real challenge, but I’m ready for it!

I will update my monthly progress on Twitter, so feel free to follow me there if you are curious to know how I’m doing!

Do you have language/reading goals for 2021? I hope that next year will be better for everyone!


Challenge completed!!!

Book review: 『リバース』by Kanae Minato


Title: 『リバース』
Author: Kanae MINATO (湊かなえ)
Published by 講談社文庫
338 pages

リバース has been adapted into a drama series featuring Tatsuya Fujiwara (藤原竜也).


Overall, I enjoyed reading 『リバース』, but I somehow had a hard time to connect with the protagonist and to feel involved in his mission.

It took me two attempts to read this book as the beginning is very slow, and I gave up after 50 pages the first time I tried to read it. The main thing that discouraged me from reading this book the first time might be the way the story was told. The narration uses a lot of flash-backs, with a flash-back sometimes leading to another one, and I felt that the main story was not progressing, and that it was hard to connect with the characters.

I also personally dislike when novels talk about coffee, and this was a main theme in 『リバース』. I love coffee, I love novels, I love drinking coffee while reading books, but somehow I don’t like coffee in books. I feel like authors who talk about coffee in their books always end up saying the same things, and I feel like I have read similar descriptions of coffee a thousand times already.

However, when the story does kick off, the book becomes much more engrossing. I found the story very well done. There is a mystery to be solved, but solving it will lead our protagonist to make unsettling little discoveries, showing that things you took for granted are not always what they seem. This book says a lot about human relationships, friendship and how we perceive ourselves and others.

If the beginning is slow, the end is excellent. When you think that the story is over, the novel reveals a final unsettling truth…

I am glad that I picked up this book again and read it until the end. It is not my favourite Minato, but it was an enjoyable read.

Book review: 『麒麟の翼』 by Keigo Higashino


Title: 『麒麟の翼』 (きりんのつばさ)
Author: Keigo Higashino (東野圭吾)
Published by 講談社文庫
372 pages.

This is the 9th book in the detective Kaga series (加賀恭一郎シリーズ).


When it comes to Japanese crime fiction, Keigo Higashino is my favourite author, and when it comes to Keigo Higashino, the books of the Kaga series are my favourite ones. No surprise then, that I loved 『麒麟の翼』.

The investigative parts of the novel were excellent and engrossing, exactly what a reader of detective fiction is looking for. However, the novel is not a simple investigation, it also goes deep into how a murder case affects everyone involved, the relatives of the victims of course, but also the relatives of the person accused. As it is said in the novel, finding the culprit is not enough to close the case. As long as we don’t understand why it happened, the families and relatives will continue to suffer.

『麒麟の翼』 is the perfect balance between a well-paced and engrossing investigation and an in-depth work on the characters and how they feel.

Watching Kyoichiro Kaga working is also a pure joy. I find that Higashino really managed to make Kaga an iconic detective by giving him a distinctive way of investigating. Leaving no stone unturned, paying attention to details and constantly checking everything are Kaga’s distinctive features.

If you want to read 『麒麟の翼』 I really recommend that you read 『赤い指』 and 『新参者』 first. You can read all the books of the series independently, but I find that there is a shift starting with 『赤い指』 where the books start having an underlying chronological thread whereas the previous books were more independent from one another. For example, in 『新参者』, Kaga had just been assigned to Nihonbashi and was solving his first case there while familiarising himself with 日本橋人形町. In 『麒麟の翼』, Kaga seems to know every street and shop of the area, which is a nod to 『新参者』.

『麒麟の翼』 also contains elements that are the direct continuation of 『赤い指』. It also reveals things relative to Kaga’s relation with his father that you only learn at the end of 『赤い指』, so it is best to read this one first. In both novels, Kaga is working together with his cousin Shuhei Matsumiya, so again, if you have read 『赤い指』, you might enjoy 『麒麟の翼』 even more.

Recommended reading order: 赤い指 👉 新参者 👉 麒麟の翼

Lastly, I also recommend that you don’t read the summary on the back cover because it reveals things we only learn late in the novel. I had already noticed that summaries tend to reveal much too much, so I took the habit of reading them only after I finish the book.

November wrap up: Nonfiction! (and 2 novels)

Hello! It’s time to review the books I read in November 🙂

This year, for the first time, I participated in Nonfiction November, and I managed to hit my goal! I read 4 books of nonfiction in Japanese during the course of November, and I even managed to read two novels and a manga as well.

Nonfiction November

『裁判官失格』 by Ryuichi Takahashi (高橋隆一)

This is the only book of the month that has been a disappointment. The title and the obi are very catchy, but the content of the book is very superficial. I also did not like the structure (or rather, the absence of structure of the book). The chapters are very short, the author talks about a lot of things but does not go deeper on the topic he mentions.

As for the language level, this book was certainly the most difficult to read as a language learner. I would have been willing to look up more words if the content had been more exciting, but as it was, I was just looking forward to finishing the book and move on to the next one.

『あのころ』by Momoko Sakura (さくらももこ)

No only are episodes of Momoko Sakura’s childhood charming and engrossing, but they are also quite easy to read in Japanese.

First of all, all these stories deal with everyday life, school, family, home, friends… everything that composes a child’s universe. As a result, the book is not too challenging in terms of vocabulary, and there are more furigana than in other books.

The stories are also very short (12-15 pages each), so it makes for a perfect study tool for those practising reading in Japanese.


『嫌われる勇気』 by Ichiro Kishimi (岸見一郎) and Fumitake Koga (古賀史健)

I was pleasantly surprised by this book! I bought it because it is a huge bestseller and it aroused my curiosity, but it is not the kind of book that I usually enjoy.

I ended up buying the audiobook too, because reading a book and listening to its audio version is an exercise that I like to do from time to time.

It turned out that this book is perfect for an audio version. The whole book is a conversation between a philosopher and a sceptic young interlocutor who is not convinced by what the philosopher says, so it somehow feels even more natural to listen to the audiobook rather than to read the book. The voice actors are very good too.

Even though the topic of the book (Adler psychology) is complex, the language level is not too high and overall, the book was not difficult to read. The efforts made by the authors to convey their message in the easiest and most accessible way possible made for an overall easy book to me.

『岩田さん』, edited by Hobo Nikkan Itoi Shinbun (ほぼ日刊イトイ新聞)

I have heard so many good things about this book, that I was sure I would like it, but still, I was surprised to find it so engrossing, even passages about topics that don’t usually interest me (like leadership and management).

This book is a collection of interviews made by Shigesato Itoi with Satoru Iwata, and extracts from 社長が訊く. As a result, the book reads very easily, it feels like listening to an interview rather than reading a book.

As for the language level, it was easier than I thought it would be. You can read samples here if you are interested in the book and want to check the language level. (By the way, the anecdote at the beginning about the HP calculator that does not have a [=] button was very enlightening to me. I had one of this calculators in the hand once and thought it was the weirdest thing ever. Interesting to see that it is similar to the Japanese way of counting!)

Novels and manga

『密室の鍵貸します』by Tokuya Higashigawa (東川篤哉)

I have read the first book in the Ikagawa series (this one) and the most recent one as well, and both are equally good. The style of the author has not changed much either. The last one is certainly more humoristic than the first one, but I loved both and I am sure that I will love all the other ones as well.

In terms of language level, in the range of mystery/detective fiction that I have read, this one is on the easy side. This series is one of my best discoveries of the year, and I heartily recommend it if you like light-hearted, humoristic but still engrossing crime mysteries.

『自分を好きになりたい』by Pon Watanabe (わたなべぽん)

I am a fan of Pon Watanabe’s work, and this autobiographical manga is her most famous one. She talks about her efforts to overcome traumatic episodes from her childhood and accept herself.

She shows that there are ways to overcome years of habits and negative thoughts about oneself. Like Pon Watanabe, if you grew up believing that you are not good enough, that good things are not for you, or that you will inevitably fail where others succeeds, this manga can be a good inspiration. It is also easy to read in Japanese, even though the parts that are handwritten are quite a challenge to me.

『泣くな研修医』 by Yujiro Nakayama (中山祐次郎)

I kept my favourite book of the month for the end. 『泣くな研修医』 was extremely engrossing, I just could not put it down.

I never read medical fiction in Japanese before, so I was concerned by the vocabulary, but it turned out that studying the medical words of the novel was extremely entertaining. I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun learning new words and studying vocabulary!

I was able to guess the meaning of a majority of unknown words thanks to the kanji, and this exercise was surprisingly funny and extremely rewarding. 肝硬変症? so… a disease of the liver… the only one I know of is cirrhosis. 腎不全… kidneys not intact… the first thing that comes to my mind is renal failure. 尿管結石? urine tract stone? It has to be ureteral calculus.

A lot of words were also pronounced with their English counterpart. For example, 集中治療室 had the furigana ICU, 手術 had the furigana オペ, 酸素飽和度 was pronounced サチュレーション, and 超音波 was エコー. It was interesting to learn that English words seem to be commonly used in a medical environment.

Finally, there were some medical jargon that even the protagonist, who is an intern, didn’t know, so we learn these words with him. Some other specialised words are explained for the readers, so overall, vocabulary was not an issue.

Not only was diving into medical vocabulary a lot of fun, but the novel was also very engrossing. Obviously, I cannot judge whether the depiction of the hospital life is realistic or not, but the author is a surgeon, so I guess that it must be close to reality.


That’s it for November, I am very glad with my readings this month! It also went well with my 2020 goal to read more widely as I have read books about law, medicine and psychology as well as the game industry.

My goal for December is to complete my 2020 reading challenge. I only need to read two books to finish it:

  • A winner of literary prize (it will be 蛍川 by Teru Miyamoto)
  • The last book of the Kaga series