August readings

I skipped both my 20th Century reading challenge and my MWJ Award project this month. I mainly read in Korean, but I ended up with two DNFs 😬 August is always a bad reading month to me it seems. Now that the weather has cooled down a bit, I feel excited for September and I am making an unreasonable long list of books to read.

Japanese books

『オレたち花のバブル組』by Jun Ikeido (池井戸潤)

This is the second book in the Naoki Hanzawa series, and it was as good as the first one. It was also more difficult to read, especially the first chapter. I really like how the books of the series jump straight into the story, but it was a lot to take in at the beginning of this one. Chapter 1 was a bit of a struggle to me, but things got much easier afterwards.

I am still listening to the Korean audiobook while reading in Japanese. I love doing this exercise, and I also always enjoy voice actor Sang-baek Kim’s (김상백) performance.

I watched the beginning of the drama adaptation, and I was very surprised by their depiction of Naoki Hanzawa. This is not the image I had of him at all, he seemed much more calm and composed in the book. I also disliked one of the opening scenes where he visits an small factory, tours the production process, and looks with admiration at the produced nails, to finally tell a desperate CEO that he will get his loan after all. This is absolutely not Naoki Hanzawa, this is Akira Yamazaki from 『アキラとあきら』! I wonder if drama adaptations tend to blend all the characters of Ikeido together to always give this uniform version of the perfect banker.

Akira Yamazaki would visit small family-run factories and look with an appreciative eye at the manufacturing process, then do everything he can to support these small businesses. We don’t see Naoki Hanzawa acting like this in the first two books, he has other problems to tackle.

『希望の糸』by Keigo Higashino (東野圭吾)

I finally read the latest book of the Kaga series!! I am very happy, because I love this series very much and Kyoichiro Kaga is one of my favourite fictional detectives. I knew that 希望の糸 was not centered on Kaga, but on his cousin, Shuhei Matsumiya, who is also a police detective, so maybe it was inevitable that I should love this book less than the rest of the series.

I found the first half to be excellent, but the second half felt a bit repetitive at times, with the story more focused on the different characters than on the mystery (which was solved anyway). I really love how the latest books of the series (the Nihonbashi ones) had a good mix of investigation, mystery and police procedures on the one hand, and people personal life, secrets and past on the other. Here it felt like at some point, the investigation entirely gave place to the exploration of the characters’ problems and past. This was really well done and interesting I found (in spite of some repetitive passages), but the Kaga series is a detective series, so I felt a bit let down by this book in the end.


I decided to ignore the prompt this month, but when I went to the bookshop to choose a something, I could not decide between two books, so I ended up buying both.

<밀지 마세요, 사람 탑니다> Short stories by Jeon Geonu 전건우, Jeong Myeongseop 정명섭, Jo Yeongju 조영주, Shin Wonseop 신원섭, Kim Seonmin 김선민 and Jeong Haeyeon 정해연.

I bought this book thinking it would be about little anecdotes that happen in the subway while you are commuting, focusing on daily life and daily struggles. However it was not about little anecdotes, but rather big adventures that could happen (but probably won’t) in the subway, like fighting traitors, chasing monsters, running away from zombies and travel to different times and dimensions. The result was a highly entertaining anthology with each story being more creative than the other.

The language level was fine for my level, but the stories were not all equal (which makes sense, since they are written by different authors and display different styles and genres). Some were very easy to read, some more difficult to me, especially all the ones that describe action scenes.

I feel like I tend to be disappointed by half of the Korean books I read, and I am generally happy when I ended up liking a book and being able to finish it. As a result, I am very excited to have found one that I truly loved and that will make the list of my favourite books read in 2022.

<안녕하세요, 자영업자입니다> by Lee Inae 이인애

This is one of the two books that I have DNFed this month (though I might pick it up again). It is about an employee who quits his job to open a study cafe. We follow him step by step as he plans and concretises his project, while social distancing measures seem to never end. Here is the book trailer:

The novel felt very dry, it almost felt like reading a manual to open a study cafe. I liked how realistic, precise and detailed it was, and I also like that it gives a lot of numbers, but this is all there was. It lacked emotions, feelings, and everything that would make the protagonist a real character. If a textbook to start your own business would use a fictional character as example, this would be our protagonist.

It was really frustrating, because the book makes you go through all the steps (including of course, a lot of difficulties and frustration) to open a study cafe, but scenes that I expected to find in the novel were not there. For example, the opening day and how the protagonist felt when he welcomed the first customers of the study cafe. After going through all the stress of the preparations with the protagonist, it felt frustrating to not share the joy and emotion of seeing the project take life. At some point, the study cafe had just opened, and the protagonist was tackling the next problems (social distancing measures).

The protagonist also interviews other people who, like him, run small businesses, and who, like him, suffer from the restrictions caused by the pandemic. These parts were more interesting, but it also gives a strange structure to the novel, as the interviews feel a bit cut from the main story. Maybe it would have been better to follow different characters in the same novel or have different short stories.

Overall, I think that this book tackles a very interesting and important topic, but for a work of fiction, it lacks a lot of essential things to me.

Other books

<철수 삼촌> by Kim Namyun (김남윤)

This is another DNF… It is an entertaining book and rather easy to read, but it is not what I was expecting and it is not the kind of books I enjoy. So nothing wrong with the story here, it is just a “not for me” situation.

This is not something that I always do, but I did read the summary before buying this book. Both the summary and the beginning of the book felt like it was exactly the kind of story that I would enjoy: a real crime story with police detectives, copy cat murder, and how to get away with murder. However, this is only the setting, and the story then shifts to something completely different: the cohabitation of a serial killer and a police detective with his wife and children in the middle. This makes for funny situations and misunderstandings, but the style, the tone and the plot are not what I enjoy reading when it comes to mystery fiction.

That’s it for the novels I read in August, but I also started the manga Spy x Family by Tatsuya Endo (遠藤達哉) in the Korean translation by Seo Hyeona (서현아), which is very addictive.

I also finally finished the first chapter of 《13.67》by Chan Ho-Kei (陳浩基), this is by far the biggest achievement for me this month! I think that this book (at least the first chapter) is relatively easy to read for Chinese learners. There were some difficult parts concerning technical details of the murder weapon, but overall, there was a lot of recurring vocabulary and the whole chapter is almost entirely based on dialogues which is easier to read. It took me a while to read, but now I feel warmed-up to tackle the rest of the book. The story of the first chapter was just excellent and the fact that each chapter tackles a different case makes the book less intimidating to me. I’ll try to read chapter 2 in September!

Finally, I finished listening to Rogues by Patrick Radden Keefe, and I still don’t know what will be my audiobook for September.

I will resume both the 20th Century and the Mystery Writers of Japan Award reading challenges in September 🙂

July readings

I am currently waiting for the Summer to end, and the good news is that July is over! I haven’t read as much as I wanted, and I did not finish my book for the #22tlreadingchallenge. I also only read one winner of the Mystery Writers of Japan Award.

Mystery Writers of Japan Award – Project

Read all the available winners of the MWJ award for fiction (in chronological order).

I only read one book this month:『華麗なる醜聞』by Yo Sano (佐野洋)

I started this book at the beginning of the month, and although it is under 300 pages, it took me the whole month to get through it.

We follow journalists who are obsessed with finding the meaning and origin of the word ”high hostess” and the police who is after a serial bomber. I found the story with the bomber to be interesting, but the high hostess thing did not trigger my interest. Overall, the story was not compelling enough and while the conclusion and some connections seem obvious very soon, it takes forever to eventually get there.

Overall this book left me disappointed, especially because I expected the prize winners to be, if not mind blowing, at least a little more special.

20th Century reading challenge

Read a book set in each decade of the 20th Century in chronological order (publication date does not matter).

July brought me to the 1960s, and I have decided to explore Maoism with two books by Yan Lianke (阎连科).

The Four Books (translated by Carlos Rojas) describes the lives of intellectuals sent to camps in the countryside, their epic battle to meet the quotas of agricultural production and steel smelting, and finally, their going through the devastating famine that followed. I loved everything in the book, from the unique structure to the sarcastic tone, while the absurdity of what is described gave me the chills all along. This is a fantastic book that I highly recommend.

In comparison, I found Serve the People! (translated by Julia Lovell) to be less powerful, although it looks like it is more popular than The Four Books. Serve the People! is more focused on the relationship between the two protagonists than the historical background, so it made it a little less interesting to me. There is a Korean film adaptation of the book, but watching the trailer did not make me want to watch it 🤔


Read one book per month in your target language (I chose Korean). Check out the prompts here.

I chose to read a book about Korean popular music and how it became the k-pop we know today: <가요, 케이팝 그리고 그너머> by 신현준 (Shin Hyeonjun). However, this book was a bit too specialised for me. I would have preferred an introductory book about the history of popular music in Korea, but this one also has long parts that theorise on popular music in general. A bit too complex for my purpose!

I haven’t finished it, but I did learn a lot of things. I don’t know much about k-pop, and this book allowed me to learn about key moments in the Korean pop history.

Other books

『オレたちバブル入行組』by Jun Ikeido (池井戸潤) is my favourite book of the month. I cannot recommend it enough, it was highly entertaining. I haven’t watched the drama adaptation, but I heard that it has been a huge hit in Japan.

I did something completely new with this book: I read it while listening to the Korean audiobook (한자와 나오키 1, translated by 이선희, read by 김상백). At first, this felt impossible, and I had to pause the audio to catch up. But soon, things became easier, to the point where I could read and listen for longer periods of time without having to pause to re-read something.

This exercise is actually much easier to do than it sounds. Korean and Japanese have a similar structure, and the Korean translation kept very close to the Japanese, meaning that most of the time, you had the exact same sentence, but in Korean. For example, the beginning is:

秘密스러운 指示에는 이유가 있게마련이다. 協定破棄다.

産業中央銀行에서 電話가 걸려온 것은,

8月 20日, 밤 9時가 조금 넘은 時間이었다.

相対는 就業希望者用 要請資料를 보내줘서 고맙다고 말한뒤,

아직 産業中央銀行에 関心이 있는지 물었다.

I wrote the Korean hanja words in characters so even if you don’t read Korean, you can see that the sentences look similar. There are some minor differences here and there, but most of the time, the Korean structure mirrors the Japanese one.

When it came to casual discussions and topics, my brain registered the Korean audio first, but for passages with a lot of specialised words that explained bank-related concepts or procedures, the Japanese would suddenly become much easier to me.

I must add that the voice actor 김상백 (Kim Sangbaek) is just incredible, that was a baffling performance.

『殺人現場は雲の上』by Keigo Higashino (東野圭吾)

This is the easiest book I read this month. Each of the stories is around 40 pages long, but they felt much shorter and read very quickly.

It is not a realistic depiction of police procedures or how a murder would actually be solved, but it is entertaining and the mysteries are good. If you are looking for light mysteries that are easy to read, this book is perfect. As someone who prefers more serious and realistic murder or mysteries cases, I was a little disappointed. But it was still entertaining enough, and it was refreshing to have a book that I could read quickly and that felt very easy to read.

I haven’t progressed much on《13・67》by Chan Ho-Kei, but I will try to finish the first story in August.

I still have two stories from Rogues by Patrick Radden Keefe, which was my audiobook for July.

June readings

I more or less managed to finish all the books I wanted to finish this month:

Mystery Writers of Japan Award – Project

Read all the available winners of the MWJ award for fiction (in chronological order).

Similarly to last month, I only read one book in July. Maybe I should just admit that I am not a big fan of the mysteries from the 60s 🤔

『殺意という名の家畜』by Tensei Kono (河野典生) – winner of 1964

When it comes to crime fiction, I love all sub-genres and will be happy with anything, from whodunnits to legal thrillers, from locked-room mysteries to police procedurals. But there is a big exception: hardboiled fiction. It just does not work for me most of the time.

So it is no surprise that I did not really like 『殺意という名の家畜』even though I think that the novel is good. I could not stand Okada, our protagonist and a writer who leads the investigation. It looks like he despises women, but he decides to do all he can to investigate the disappearance of a woman he hardly knows. He does not seem to even care about her (he only met her once), so why should I care as a reader?

In 《13・67》, a novel by HK author Chan Ho-kei (陳浩基) which I am using to study Chinese, the police detective says:


A literal translation would be something like: The police has to stand by the victim’s side, and give voice to them who are silenced. (Or maybe just “take the side of the victim”? 🤔)

That’s what I want to hear my detective say! I like this kind of ideal, the desire to bring justice that drives most detectives in fiction. But in 『殺意という名の家畜』, there is no emotions, no sense of justice, no passion for truth. So… good book but not for me!


Read one book per month in your target language (I chose Korean). Check out the prompts here.

I decided to ignore the prompt this month (most beautiful book on TBR) and just picked a mystery (but the cover is awesome, so I guess it is not that far away from the prompt. I also want to add that the cover has a gummy feel to it, I don’t know how to describe it, but it is very pleasant to the touch).

Since the tremendous success of books like 불편한 편의점 (김호연) and 달러구트 꿈 백화점 (이미예), there is a Korean trend of feel-good books that take place in a store. But 기억 서점 by 정명섭 (Jeong Myeongseop) is not such a heart-warming story. It is a a story of vengeance. We have got a serial killer, a bunch of suspects, and a vengeance carefully prepared over 15 years.

The book is easy to read, not the best mystery I have ever read, but still very entertaining. I am looking for more Korean mysteries that would have this level of language difficulty. There are so many such books in Japanese, but there are not many Korean authors of mystery fiction, and a lot of the mysteries I have read were much more difficult.

20th Century reading challenge

Read a book set in each decade of the 20th Century in chronological order (publication date does not matter).

For the 1950s, I chose to read about Vietnam at the end of the First Indochina War, as French colonialism is starting to break down and make room for what Pyle, in The Quiet American by Graham Greene, calls a Third Force.

I did not like this novel at all at first, and it is only when I reached the middle of it that I started to find the characters and the story interesting, and I ended up loving the second half of the novel.

The first half talked about Pyle, but I did not find him an interesting character at all at first. The dispute between Pyle and our narrator Fowler over the young Vietnamese woman Phuong were just interesting in that it showed some racial prejudice of the time (for example, that Vietnamese women cannot feel love and passion like Westerners), otherwise, I found these parts rather boring and repetitive.

The turning point has been the night where the two protagonists are trapped in the guard tower and talk about their views for the country. I understood Pyle better at this point, and his opinions, his idealism and naivety, as well as his actions which we learn about later, started to take shape and foretell the danger to come.

From this moment, I found both the story fascinating and could not put the book down whereas it took me forever to read the first half.

Other books

I also read two contemporary mysteries this month, and though they are from different authors, they also felt very similar.

In both books, a murder happens at the beginning, and the story, while still providing an interesting mystery as to who the culprit is, also offers an intense journey into people’s relationship with each other, people’s past, how colleagues, friends and family members see each other, and what everyone secretly think about the ones they see on a daily basis.

『白ゆき姫殺人事件』by Kanae Minato (湊かなえ) has the most interesting structure were a journalist interviews several people, but in the accounts of the interviews, we only get to hear the interviewee’s voice. I found this extremely well done and well written. We have directly access to each person’s testimony without the interference of a narrator.

『白光』by Mikihiko Renjo (連城三紀彦) has a more classic structure, but we get to hear different versions of the same events. I admire how the author managed to give several plausible explanations for what happened, but similarly to Kanae Minato’s book, we have to understand the characters’ psychology to understand the murder.

Both books were really relaxing to read in terms of language level. Sometimes, books that won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award can be more difficult to read, and I need to be very focused and occasionally look up words. 白ゆき姫殺人事件 and 白光 were really easy to read to me.

Finally, I have no interest whatsoever in the copper mines of Montana, and I had never heard of the Butte disaster of 1917, but somehow, Fire and Brimstone by Michael Punke, appeared in my Audible recommendations and I gave it a try. This book is not just about the accident that cost the life of 164 men, but also the whole story of the copper mines, how some made a fortune through them, political scheme and growing tension during WWI, the life of the miners and of course, their battle to survive during the disaster.

I must say that this book managed to get me involved and interested in a topic that I knew nothing about prior to reading it.

There are also several books that I started in June and still haven’t finished, and I am still studying Chinese with《13・67》. I am halfway through chapter one, and I am enjoying this book more than I can tell.

Mid-month update

Once again, I am reading too many books at the same time 🤯 I’ve decided to write a mid-month update because I need to try and focus on finishing my current books before starting new ones. I also need to finish some of them before the end of this month.

Books I’d like to finish this month

First of all, I am not really liking The Quiet American by Graham Greene, which is surprising because the books I choose for my 20th Century Reading challenge are all great works of literature, and I have loved every one of them so far. Another problem is that I don’t feel like I am learning much about Vietnam through it, but the story is also not compelling enough that it makes me want to do my own research. (For example, I read every single Wikipedia article related to the Boxer Revolution and the main actors of the time when I was reading Sandalwood Death). The novel is very short though, so I really want to finish it.

I am only at page 43 of 175 pages. I still have 132 pages to read, so roughly 9 pages per day. Given that it is in English, it should not be a problem.

I am loving the book I read for the #22tlreadingchallenge, which is 기억 서점 by 정명섭 (Jeong Myeongseop). I first picked another book for this challenge, but it was not for me, and I gave it up and chose another one. I am glad I did, but it also means that I started it a little bit later in the month. It is easy to read and the story is engrossing (a story of vengeance that takes place in bookshop? sure!), so I have no doubt that I will be able to finish it on time. I just need to prioritise it a little over other books.

I am at page 116 of 281, so I still have 165 pages to go. It’s only 11 pages a day, but it’s in Korean so… focus focus.

Finally, I really want to read at least one winner of the Mystery Writers of Japan award per month, but I still haven’t started one yet… The next winner on my list is 殺意という名の家畜 by Tensei Kono (河野典生). It is described as hardboiled fiction which is really not my favourite genre when it comes to crime fiction, so I have not been very motivated to start it. It is short (259 pages), so if I started it today, I would have to read 17 pages a day to finish it in June, which is going to be tough, especially given that I have the other two books to finish too. It really depends on the book I think, both the level and the story.

These are the books I would love to finish this month. Obviously, nothing bad will happen if I don’t, but I would feel better if I do, so I’ll try!

Other books

One of my favourite books from my current reads is 白光 by Mikihiko Renjo (連城三紀彦). I am really loving it though I also wonder if it will be able to stay engaging until the end. I am about halfway through, and I feel like we are going over the same things again and again. We’ll see!

I am also reading two books in Korean that are translated from Japanese. This is part of my project to read Japanese fiction in Korean translation to improve my Korean through novels that both correspond to my level and trigger my interest. I really have a hard time finding good and easy crime fiction written by Korean authors, whereas there are tons of entertaining detective/mystery novels in Japanese that are easy to read.

오 해피 데이 by Hideo Okuda (奥田英朗) (translated by 김난주, original title 家日和) is not a mystery though, but I absolutely loved another book I read by Hideo Okuda in Japanese, so that’s why I picked this author. I must say that I don’t love 家日和 as much as the other one, but it is still fine… and easy to read. Good thing is that the book is a collection of short stories so I can put it aside for longer periods of time, come back to it, just read one story and move on to other books. I read 3 out of the 6 short stories, so I am exactly halfway through it.

At the beginning of the month I also started 밀실살인 게임 by Shogo Utano (歌野晶午) (translated by 김은모, original title 密室殺人ゲーム). I have never read Shogo Utano in Japanese yet, but I will for sure, given that one of his novels have won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 2004. As for 密室殺人ゲーム, it is okay but not as exciting as I thought it would be. It is also very long (475 pages) so starting it when I have so many other books to read was certainly a mistake. I am only at page 82, so what I should do is to read a little bit regularly to not forget the story.

And finally, I decided to learn Chinese because… why not? I studied it at school, but I haven’t touched the language for years now, and I have forgotten a lot. I still remember most of the grammar though, and I have kept in touch with characters through Japanese, so I figured I could just pick a novel and use it to study the language and learn new words. I chose 13•67 by Chan Ho-kei (陳浩基). The first chapter was really difficult and I had to look up tons of words, but the second one was much easier. It is a slow progress though, I guess that it will take me several months to read the whole novel…

My favourite books so far are 13•67, 白光 and 기억 서점.

I will try to finish the “June” books, but I doubt that it is realistic to start and finish the winner of the MWJ award 😬

In any case, I won’t start another book unless I finish at least 3 or 4 books from this list!

May readings

A good part of my readings of May have been about WW2, mainly because my 20th Century Reading Challenge has brought me to the 1940s this month. I only read one winner of the Mystery Writers of Japan Award, so that is a bit of a disappointment, but I am keeping up with all the challenges!

20th Century reading challenge

Read a book set in each decade of the 20th Century in chronological order (publication date does not matter).

I chose to read about the Pacific War, mainly because this is an area that I am less familiar with than the war in Europe. When I read about WW1 in February, I chose to read a German and a French book together, and I loved the experience, so I decided to do the same for the Pacific War, choosing a Japanese and an American book.

“They died gloriously on the field of honor for the emperor”, is what their families would be told. In reality, their lives were wasted on a muddy, stinking slope for no good reason.

With the Old Breed, Eugene Sledge

『野火』by Shohei Ooka (大岡昇平) | With the Old Breed by Eugene Sledge

As I feared, 『野火』was very difficult to read for me, and unfortunately, I was not able to finish it. I read it very slowly and made it to about half of the novel.

The novel is really a big surprise to me. I was expecting Shohei Ooka to describe the training, the combats, the harsh conditions of living, the comradeship between the soldiers… but our protagonist, Tamura, is completely and utterly alone. This makes for long description of the nature around him and thoughts about life and death which were hard to read in Japanese.

With the Old Breed was an incredible read, it is both very detailed and easy to follow for someone who is not familiar with military tactics and jargon. Eugene Sledge describes how the prolonged shelling, the stress and the conditions in which they were fighting (the rain, the mud, the stench of dead bodies…) affected the men and pushed them to the boundaries of sanity. But something remains unshaken until the end: the comradeship between them. Sledge talks of “loyalty”, ”devotion” and ”love” and ends his memoir saying ”That esprit de corps sustained us”.

It is that ”esprit de corps” that is lacking to Tamura. Rejected by his company because of his illness but not admitted to the hospital either, Tamura is alone. Harassed by the constant shelling, Eugene Sledge made a promise to himself: he might die, but he will not loose his sanity. Tamura is not under enemy fire, he is not fighting, but his mind starts to break. The two books are like a reversed image of each other.

I will try to find the English translation of 『野火』and read in parallel to finish it.

Facing the Mountain by Daniel James Brown

I did not read Facing the Mountain as part of my 20th Century Reading Challenge, but as it was also about WW2, I will include it here.

Facing the Mountain will certainly be the most important book I have read this year. Daniel James Brown gives a fantastic account of how the attack on Pearl Harbor affected Japanese-American families living in the US, mainland and Hawaii. I feel ashamed because I never really thought about it before, and even if I had, I would never have been able to imagine the extent of the discrimination and the injustice they suffered. I also didn’t know about the 442nd Battalion who fought in Europe.

The book is fantastic, so well written and based on so much research. I listened to the audiobook version read by Louis Ozawa, and it was so intense, I could not put it down.

Mystery Writers of Japan Award – Project

Read all the available winners of the MWJ award for fiction (in chronological order).

I only read just one book this month, but it was such a good one!

『夜の終る時』by Shoji Yuki (結城昌治)

This book is a 警察小説 or police procedural, and this might be one of my favourite sub-genre when it comes to detective fiction. Shoji Yuki describes in a very realistic manner the work of the police, the problems that arise internally, and the conditions in which the detectives work (long working hours, low pay). We learn about the hierarchy and how much easier it is to achieve a higher rank through education than through internal promotion, which leaves some veterans bitter. Another interesting fact, was the difference between the older generation of policemen who are entirely dedicated to their work but whose methods are not always ethical, and the younger generation who is not ready to give up their personal life and hobbies for their job.

The different short stories emphasise a lot the relation between police and yakuza, how they inevitably come to work together, and how it can also lead to corruption or difficult choices.

The first story, 夜の終る, which is more a novella than a short story, was by far the most impactful and engrossing. The other stories, much shorter, felt a bit repetitive after a while, but they were all equally good.


Read one book per month in your target language (I chose Korean). Check out the prompts here.

The prompt for May was ”a translated book” so I chose to read a Japanese book I had on my reading list for a while.

여섯명의 거짓말쟁이 대학생 (六人の嘘つきな大学生) by Akinari Asakura (浅倉秋成), translated by Sohyeon Nam (남소현)

I did not really like this book, but I think that it was not a book for me in the first place. I might have let myself be influenced by all the hype around it. The cover is awesome, the setting interesting, and after all, it is a mystery.

But in terms of mystery, this one was rather a light one. I did not find the premise on which the mystery is based to be very exciting, but the problem is that the whole novel revolves around it. Of course, there are numerous twists and we get to see things from different angles, but there are not really new elements or new events added to the first mystery.

I also found that the book tended to explain things that were obvious, which was a bit annoying. The first part, which might be the most interesting one, felt very frustrating to me, because, from my point of view, the characters’ actions and decisions were all wrong. The second part was a bit weaker in my opinion, again, certainly because the novel keeps on exhausting the same premise without adding enough new elements. Finally, I really did not like the end, not that it is bad, but it showed that this is not the kind of book that I enjoy reading.

There are numerous other little things that I did not like, but I don’t think that it is worth pointing them out. The book was simply not for me. If you like a lighter mystery (no murder, nothing really bad happening), you will certainly find this book great. It has numerous twists, characters that you are bound to grow attached to as the novel progresses, some good moments of deduction, interesting reflections on the absurd competitive marathon students must go through to find a job, and even a heart warming touch here and there.

April wrap up

I am happy with my readings of April, but I am awfully late on my book reviews 😱 I also did not finished my book for the #22tlreadingchallenge, but it’s okay!

Mystery Writers of Japan Award – Project

Read all the available winners of the MWJ award for fiction (in chronological order).

To be honest, I have been a bit disappointed with this project so far. After a strong start (Seishi Yokomizo in 1948 and Ango Sakaguchi in 1949), the award winners have not been as good as I expected. As a result, I have been a little bit demotivated in April, but thankfully the last book I read was excellent, so I’m looking forward to continue now.

『人喰い』by Saho Sasazawa (笹沢左保) was a nice mystery, easy to read and rather short. Nothing special though, just a good mystery, and I feel like I was expecting more for a prize winner. Still, the book was entertaining all along, so nothing to complain about here.

『細い赤い糸』by Takashi Asuka (飛鳥高) turned out to be a good mystery too, with an interesting idea and structure, but you don’t get to see where the book is getting to until roughly 40~45% into the story. As a result, the beginning felt frustrating and not very interesting to me. I even almost gave it up, which I am glad I did not because the second half gets better and the end is great. The first half can feel rushed through and a bit sloppy, so again, even though the idea that holds the whole story together was excellent and exciting, I also find that the book is weaker on other aspects, which makes it strange that it should have won the prize.

Finally, 『影の告発』by Takao Tsuchiya (土屋隆夫) was an excellent detective novel with an engrossing police investigation. Again, nothing too original or special, just a solid detective story that is super efficient in keeping the reader guessing and engrossed until the end. There is room for the reader to make their own deductions, and if you like cracking alibis, this book is for you.

20th Century reading challenge

Read a book set in each decade of the 20th Century in chronological order (publication date does not matter).

For the 1930s, I chose the tragedy of the Dust Bowl because this is something I knew almost nothing about before. The obvious book was The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, but I also wanted to read Whose Names are Unknown by Sanora Babb. Just like The Grapes of Wrath, it was written in the 1930s but not published at the time because of the success of Steinbeck’s novel and because the two books tell similar stories.

The Grapes of Wrath is obviously an excellent novel, all the more shocking to me as I didn’t know the extent of the human displacement and tragedy the Dust Bowl led to. The end though… so abrupt 😔 This made me want to immediately jump into Whose Names are Unknown, but it took me almost the whole month to read The Grapes of Wrath and we were already reaching the end of April. I’ll keep Babb’s novel for later and move on to keep track with my reading challenge.

This is my favourite book of the month.


Read one book per month in your target language (I chose Korean). Check out the prompts here.

하지마라 외과의사 by 엄윤 is the book that I did not finish.

One thing that surprised me is that it was much easier to read than I thought it would be for medical non fiction. I half expected to give up the book because of the language difficulty, but it turns out that non fiction is easier to read than fiction and the author also systematically gives the English equivalent to all the medical terms. You also don’t need to understand all the medical procedures in detail, and most of the book is based on dialogues with patients, which is rather easy to follow.

The reason why I did not finish the book is because the author really rubbed me the wrong way all along. It is very hard to continue reading a book when you dislike the author. Each chapter is devoted to a topic and then illustrated by confrontations with patients. The author is trying to make a point, showing that patients can be difficult, but most of them are in financial difficulties, some are clearly depressive, some are uneducated, most are worried for their health, and some are in a state of extreme poverty. I am not criticising the author as a doctor, but as a writer. I am not saying that the doctor should show more understanding and sympathy for these people, but the writer could have. I was shocked more than once while reading, and felt bad several times when the author displayed his thoughts during the dialogues with the patients. I also disliked the tone of the book generally speaking and the language…

Other books

Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe

Investigative journalism is a genre I discovered recently and that I enjoy listening to more than reading. So when I decided to read Empire of Pain, I chose to listen to the audiobook rather than to read the book. It was so engrossing. The opioid epidemic was not something I knew much about, so listening to Patrick Radden Keefe’s book was truly horrifying.

This is my second favourite book this month.

Empire of Pain is a runner for the Booktube Prize, which I like to follow every year and try to read along when there are titles that trigger my interest. Next I’ll pick Facing the Mountain by Daniel James Brown, the story of four Japanese-American families during WWII. That’s perfect, because I’ll be reading two books about WWII in May (one Japanese and one American) for my 20th Century reading challenge.

March wrap-up

March has not been a good reading month for me. I did read a lot of books, but I was not motivated, and most books felt difficult to read because I was not really interested in them and had a hard time staying focused while reading. All the books I read for my challenges have been disappointing to some extent.

Mystery Writers of Japan Award – Project

Read all the available winners of the MWJ award for fiction (in chronological order).

『四万人の目撃し』by Yorichika Arima (有馬頼義)

This is the first award winner that I did not really enjoy reading. I think that I would have DNFed it if it weren’t for my project. I found that the detective part of the story was very underwhelming, the novel always seemed to promise more than it delivered.

Baseball is the main topic of the book, and no matter how hard I try, I just cannot get interested in baseball. As a result, parts about career and games were annoying to read to me. At first, I really made an effort to try to understand everything, look at vocabulary and read baseball rules, but then the story was so unexciting as a whole, that I gave up. I ended up just reading some parts without really trying to understand them completely.

This is the second time that I read a book in Japanese that has baseball as a sub-theme, and each time I felt that I could not fully enjoy the book because of it. (The first one was 博士の愛した数式 – The Housekeeper and the Professor – by Yoko Ogawa.)

『黒い白鳥』by Tetsuya Ayukawa (鮎川哲也)

I still don’t know how I feel about this book. I think that it is a good social detective novel, but I did not really enjoy reading it.

The pace was slow and the investigation maybe a little bit too realistic to make for an exciting detective novel. The mystery also relies on train timetables, and I found it a little bit too complex for me, especially given that I am reading the book in Japanese and I am not familiar with all the station names (which somehow makes it more difficult to remember everything and understand where everything is).

In the end, I gave up trying to examine the timetables (we are provided with four different ones in the novels) and piecing the mystery together. I just read the explanations given by the detectives without trying to double-check everything myself with the timetables.

Overall, apart from all the train things, the book was a bit on the difficult side because it has a lot of descriptions in it. It was not bad at all, but somehow I was not really engrossed in it and it took me a lot of time to read.


Read one book per month in your target language (I chose Korean). Check out the prompts here.

행성어 서점 by 김초엽 (Kim Choyeop)

This was by far the most difficult book I read this month. Not difficult because of the language level, but because I did not like the book. This made the book much more difficult to read than it really is, because I found it boring and had a hard time concentrating.

I really had to make an extra effort to start each short story and stay concentrated enough to understand what is happening. Sure, the Korean level is a bit on the high side, but it was mostly my lack of interest that made it harder to read. I found that the author always tends to explain rather than to show, the stories have no real plot, no twist, no good ending, descriptions are lacking, SF elements feel random and the message behind each story rather superficial and naïve.

This book was a real challenge, I was tempted several times to DNF it, but then I was afraid that I would feel less motivated for the entire challenge if I did.

20th Century reading challenge

『何が私をこうさせたか』by Fumiko Kaneko (金子文子)

This is Fumiko Kaneko’s prison memoir. She was arrested in 1923 for high treason and sentenced to death, but her sentence was commuted to life emprisonment. She comitted suicide in prison in 1926.

I read her memoir as part of my 20th Century challenge and my goal was to learn more about Japan and Korea of the time. Fumiko Kaneko lived in Korea for seven years when she was a child and was later close to Korean socialists and activists in Tokyo. It was this part of her life that I was the most interested in, but unfortunately, she does not talk about this at all in her memoir. It looks like she was not allowed to, but anyway, I was very disappointed when I realised she would not talk about any activism or ideology.

It is still an interesting memoir of course, and I recommend it if you are interested in her life. But for my reading challenge, this was a miss, because I did not learn much about the period. I wish I had chosen another book for the 1920s, but I am still glad that I read Fumiko Kaneko’s memoir and learnt about her life.

Other books

Misjudged by James Chandler

I was so disappointed in my other books that I picked up a legal thriller to find a new motivation to read. Misjudged is the first book in the Sam Johnstone series. I loved it, it is an excellent legal thriller, court scene are perfect, the trial very exciting and I also learned a lot through the novel (for example, how a jury is selected). If you like legal thrillers, you will certainly love Misjudged.

I started the next in the series, One and Done, and all I can say for now is that you really need to read the series in order. All the plot and twists of Misjudged is revealed in One and Done. I don’t know why authors do this, because it does not seem necessary, and it could spoil the first book for readers who did not pay attention and started with the second one.

『ももこの話』by Momoko Sakura (さくらももこ)

Together with 『あのころ』and『まる子だった』, this book forms a trilogy of autobiographical essays about the author’s childhood. It is relaxing, funny and nostalgic. The essays are short and all illustrated by the author. I love Momoko Sakura, and this book is my favourite read of the month.

I found the three books of the series to be very easy to read, they all deal with daily life, don’t have difficult vocabulary and they tend to have more furigana than most novels. I really think that this series is perfect for Japanese learners.

복수를 합시다 by 배상민 (Bae Sangmin)

This was a very entertaining read and I loved the book. I listened to the audio version on welaaa, and it was easy enough that I could listen to it while doing other activities. It is a light, funny and engrossing story about revenge. I always tend to start several audiobooks and end up not finishing them (the subscription gives an unlimited access to the whole catalogue), but I finished this one in two days because it was so addictive.

The audio version was very easy to listen to, so I guess that the book is easy to read as well. I recommend it for Korean learners.

That’s it for March, I am glad that the month is over and that I was able to finish all the books I started.

Book review: 『四万人の目撃し』by Yorichika Arima

Quick facts

Title: 『四万人の目撃者』(よんまんにんのもくげきしゃ)
Author: Yorichika Arima (有馬頼義)
Published by Kobunsha

Yorichika Arima has written several detective novels, often described as social detective novels.

『四万人の目撃者』belongs to the prosecutor Takayama series. It won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1959.

Mystery Writers of Japan Award – PROJECT – I read this book as part of my project to read all the winners of the Mystery Writers of Japan Award (at least, the books that are available today). Follow my progress here!


This book started with a very strong and intriguing setting: a baseball player falls during a match and dies soon after. 40,000 people witnessed his death which looks like a sudden cardiac arrest. Yet, prosecutor Takayama is not convinced, and even though nothing indicates foul play, he starts investigating.

The story has several different, but equally exciting, starting elements. First, the difficulty to lead an investigation when there is no official case and therefore, no real police support or justification to talk to people and ask questions.

Then obviously, there was the mystery of the ”how”. If there is murder, how was it done, given that 40,000 persons had their eyes on the field the whole time.

And finally, we had to find out who did it. There were different leads (work, family, baseball team) and different motives possible.

Unfortunately, none of these interesting elements turned out to be satisfactory. The investigation led by Takayama was a bit frustrating in my opinion. There are obvious key characters in this case whom he never speaks to because the investigation is not official. I also found the pace very slow, the investigation makes little progress, with limited clues and elements to work with. There are elements to pick up the pace (like the sudden disappearance of a character), but these elements always turn out to be disappointing in the end. In contrast with the general slow pace of the investigation, Takayama sometimes jumps to conclusions or finds a new lead of investigation without real support for it. For example, there is this threat of an incoming second murder that preoccupies Takayama during some parts of the book, but I am not sure I understood on which basis he anticipated a second murder. Maybe I missed it, but the whole thing felt unconvincing to me.

As for the ”how” the murder was done, I found it extremely underwhelming. I thought that maybe, the particularities of the baseball field and where the players were placed at what moment would play a role, but it is not this kind of mystery at all.

And as for ”who” did it, the mystery is even more underwhelming if possible. There is no real mystery or twist or surprising development. The investigation tends towards one obvious character and follows a straight line.

Finally, we follow a baseball player who becomes some sort of main character (apart from the investigation team), and I found these parts quite boring. At first, this character was closely linked to the case, so following him was interesting, but after some time, he becomes more and more disconnected with the case and the parts where he appears became more and more annoying to me. I could not care at all for him and his problems, be it his baseball career or his love relationship.

To conclude, this book is not really a satisfactory detective novel if you judge it from the point of view of the mystery. It is a more social and realistic depiction of the time and environment (here mainly, the baseball team and career aspiration of the players). I liked for example the description of forensic methods of the time, and the limitations it had. Unfortunately, I am not at all interested in baseball. If it can help to solve a murder, I am more than willing to study the rules and particularities of a baseball game, but just talking baseball for the sake of it was not that appealing to me (and the book also did not triggered my interest nor did it make me want to find out more about baseball, on the contrary!).

So if you like baseball, maybe you will enjoy this book more than I did, but I still think that the mystery and detective parts were too underwhelming to really keep a reader engrossed in the novel until the end, even a baseball fan.

Book review: 『顔』by Seicho Matsumoto


Title: 『顔』(かお)
Author: Seicho Matsumoto (松本清張)
Published by Kadokawa
Available on Booklive

Seicho Matsumoto is known for popularising detective fiction, with several of his books translated into English and adapted into films. The short story 顔 won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1957. The collection I read contains 5 short stories: 顔、張込み、声、地方紙を買う女、白い闇. Some of these stories have been translated into English by Adam Kabat and compiled into the collection The Voice and Other Stories.

Mystery Writers of Japan Award – PROJECT – I read this book as part of my project to read all the winners of the Mystery Writers of Japan Award (at least, the books that are available today). Follow my progress here!


This collection of short stories is one of the most entertaining collection of mysteries I have read. The prize winner, 顔, was certainly the best story, but all are excellent and if you like one, you will probably like the others too.

Both 顔 and 地方紙を買う女 were similar in structure. We have a protagonist who is clearly hiding something, but we don’t know what it is at first. These two stories are my favourite, because it creates a tension between caring for the protagonist on the one hand and looking for the truth on the other hand. The reader does not know whether they should identify with the protagonist or keep a suspicious eye on them, and this makes for suspenseful and entertaining stories. 顔 in particular has a very good ending, and belongs now to my favourite short stories of crime fiction.

声 has a similar theme than 顔, where recognition (of a person’s voice or face) plays a role in the mystery. The two stories also have a similar structure with two different parts. While 声 did not have the same impact than 顔 it was still very good with an interesting police investigation in it as well.

白い闇 is a mystery about a husband who suddenly disappears. Even though the outcome is predictable, the story was enjoyable.

Finally, 張り込み is certainly my least favourite short story, but it was still very good, though quite depressive at the end.

Overall, the characters are all very complex for characters of short stories. Some are tormented by a dark past, some want to protect their secrets and some want to find out the truth. As for the Japanese level, this book is certainly the easiest I have read so far among the prize winners.

I will definitely check out Matsumoto’s other books!

Book review: 『狐の鶏』by Jokichi Hikage 

Quick facts

Title: 『狐の鶏』(きつねのとり)
Author: Jokichi Hikage (日影丈吉)
Published by Kodansha
216 pages

Jokichi Hikage has written a lot of short stories and novels, including a detective series called ハイカラ右京, but only a couple of titles have been translated into English.

The short story 狐の鶏 won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1956. The book I am reviewing contain five short stories: 狐の鶏、ねずみ、犬の生活、王とのつきあい、東天紅.

Mystery Writers of Japan Award – PROJECT – I read this book as part of my project to read all the winners of the Mystery Writers of Japan Award (at least, the books that are available today). Follow my progress here!


The first short story, the prize winner 狐の鶏, was certainly the most impactful to me, and the one that stands out from the collection. The story follows Shinji, the second son, who came back from the war only to take his elder brother’s place, who did not return. It took me a while to understand the characters’ relationship with each other because the story contains what is called levirate marriage (when a man, whose brother has died, is forced to marry his brother’s widow – and in the story, also to adopt his child). I was quite shocked to read this kind of arrangement practised in post-war Japan.

The story is a mystery and falls in the category of what we would call today a psychological thriller. I read it for the mystery, but it is the setting, the characters and the helplessness of Shinji’s situation that I found really interesting and gripping.

The second story is set during the war, in Taipei, and was also quite a heavy read with a very shocking and terrible end.

After reading these two stories, I felt like I needed a break from this book, and came back after reading lighter and more joyful things. However, the other short stories were less dark. 犬の生活 felt more like a classic police investigation, and 王とのつきあい was more a horror story. I really loved this one, it is suspenseful and delightedly horrific, with another impactful end.

I found the stories that are set in the countryside, 狐の鶏 and 東天紅 to be the most difficult to read in Japanese. I guess it comes from the vocabulary and the dialogues that are more challenging to me because of the dialect. The other ones were good for my level.

Overall, I was not expecting such a heavy read for a mystery book. My favourite stories are 狐の鶏 and 王とのつきあい, but I don’t thing that I will jump into another book by this author just yet.