April was a busy month, reading-wise!
I delved into my first ever Dostoyevsky text, revisited a J.K. Rowling classic, and reviewed an intriguing Kindle Unlimited thriller.
ICO: Castle in the Mist
ICO: Castle in the Mist is based on a niche videogame called ICO, released in the early 2000s.
It’s also one of my favourite videogames of all time. But you can absolutely read ICO: Castle in the Mist as a standalone book.Every generation, a boy with horns is born and offered as a sacrifice to the witch who presides over the castle in the mist.
The boy in question, ICO, meets a pale, ghost-like girl called Yorda and they both endeavour to escape from the castle and end the cycle of sacrifice. It’s a classic fairytale of good versus evil, with a surprising amount of depth considering how minimalist the videogame is.
I was cautiously excited about picking this one up – especially because ICO (the videogame) doesn’t actually feature any dialogue. Due to a language barrier between the two protagonists – Ico and Yorda – they instead communicate through gesture.
Would reading a novelisation spoil the minimalist aspect of the original media?
Apparently not. ICO: Castle in the Mist not only stands apart from its videogame influence but adds a fascinating layer of lore. It’s an interesting story of bridging language and culture, and working together for the greater good.I would recommend it – if you can look past the clumsy translation.
The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice
Disclaimer: I’m a huge fan of Christopher Hitchens’ writing.
So, when I saw that The Missionary Position was available on Kindle Unlimited, I downloaded it immediately.
He’s remarkably witty – reducing the brutal Haitian dictator, Robert Duvalier, to ‘a portly dauphine’ within the first couple of sentences. I laughed… a lot.
But Hitchens is also very intelligent, persuasive, and well-informed. You know when you pick up one of his books that you’ll be both informed and entertained.
The Missionary Position is a revisionist essay on Mother Teresa – the famous and much-loved Catholic saint. It’s an examination of her public reputation that goes into a solid amount of detail for such a short piece.
It’s well-researched, including sources from medical professionals and journalists who worked with Mother Teresa, and drives home a fairly serious point.
Unquestioning adoration is not healthy.
You can read my full review of The Missionary Position here.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s StoneWho doesn’t love Harry Potter?
With us all being under lockdown, and my subsequent furloughing, I decided to return to where J.K. Rowling’s wonderful series began.
From the moment Harry discovers he’s a wizard, to his first trip to Diagon Alley… from boarding the Hogwarts Express to Harry’s first quidditch match… The Philosopher’s Stone still as fresh and innovative as it was over 20 years ago.
In fact, I’m convinced that, much like The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter will be remembered for a long, long time. It’s an English literature classic.
The narration is charming, Rowling’s characters well-realised, and moments such as the Forbidden Forest and the Mirror of Erised still prove to be both haunting and nostalgic.Also…Peeves!
It’s such as shame that we never witnessed Peeves the ghost in the movies (fun piece of trivia… Rik Mayall was originally cast to play the role!)
Suffice to say, I loved it and I cannot wait to get around to reading The Chamber of Secrets.
Notes from Underground
This is the first line in my own notes on Notes from Underground!
As my first experience of Dostoyevsky, I found Notes from Underground to be a fascinating piece of philosophical fiction.
Notes from Underground is an existentialist novella. Therefore, the central theme running through the book is the Underground Man’s agency and free will to make his own decisions.
He rants against people in Russian society who embrace rationalism and social utopianism. The Underground Man detests the idea of natural law and objective truths (2×2 = 4).
He seeks to validate his life’s meaning by making intentionally bad decisions and ruining his own life to prove a point – and to spite those who believe that all humans are programmed to act in their own self-interest.
All this time, craving their approval and acknowledging that the only person suffering it himself.
Notes from Underground is a complicated book; certainly on the first read. However, if you’re interested in exploring existentialism, I would thoroughly recommend it.
A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North KoreaEver wondered what it’s like to live in North Korea?
Masaji Ishikawa’s account of his escape from the secretive regime is bleak and oppressive. It’s highly upsetting to read at times.However, A River in Darkness a unique book. It offers a first-hand insight into the author’s migration from a capitalist country (Japan) to North Korea’s so-called socialist paradise.
The escape only makes up about 10% of the book. Much of it is a Chronicle of Ishikawa’s 36-year stay in North Korea. The death, poverty, racism, and gross injustice.
Not selling it for you? Well…it isn’t a happy read, but if you have an interest in the region, you’ll really appreciate the detail that Ishikawa has gone to.
I’d also recommend it for people who use the word ‘Orwellian’ on a semi-regular basis. The pedestrianisation of Norwich city centre is not Orwellian – Kim Il-Sung’s North Korea was.
In fact, if someone told me that Nineteen Eighty-Four was the model for the North Korean state, I’d probably believe them.You can read my full review of A River in Darkness here.
Atomic Number Sixty
‘What would you do if you only had sixty minutes to live?’ the reader is asked.
The first of Dave Johnston’s ‘Sixty Minute Reads’ series, Atomic Number Sixty introduces us to Holly Holloway – a receptionist who happens to find herself involved in a live terrorist situation.
I really enjoyed the format of this novella. In brief, the story takes place over a period of 60 minutes, with the book itself containing 60 chapters, each of which take roughly one minute to read.It wasn’t perfect, but I had good fun with short story. For more details, read my full review of Atomic Number Sixty.
Massacre of the Sixty
The sequel to Atomic Number Sixty sees Holly Holloway take part in a Hunger Games-esque fight to the death with, you guessed it, 59 other combatants.Following a lead on the underground organisation ‘The Hollow Falx’, Holly is entered into a grand battle royale, organised by the billionaire Mengistu.
As ever, the sixty-minute-read format thrills, and despite the subject matter, Johnston’s novella retains the humour of its predecessor. I particularly enjoyed the names of the combatants – Black Saturday, General Socket, Taz Baah – it’s all quite Mad Max-like!
More violent and less thoughtful than Atomic Number Sixty, but good fun all the same. I’ll likely read the next book in the series.
What have you read this year? Let me know below!