What I Read in October + Mini Reviews

Look at me, posting a monthly reads roundup (relatively) on time! I had thought I’d read much more than this, but turns out it was just two short books and one long one. Where does the time go!

Sweet Bean Paste – Durian Sukegawa, trans. Alison Watts

Synopsis: Sentaro has failed. He has a criminal record, drinks too much, and his dream of becoming a writer is just a distant memory. With only the blossoming of the cherry trees to mark the passing of time, he spends his days in a tiny confectionery shop selling dorayaki, a type of pancake filled with sweet bean paste. But everything is about to change.

This is a short and fulfilling story about a man who spends all his days making dorayaki (red bean pancakes, yes this book will make you hungry). It’s about the past and future, friendship and family, and by turns soft and sad. The man, Sentaro, spends his days making lifeless dorayaki until an old woman with evasive answers to her life history comes to teach him how to listen to the beans, and they form what’s probably referred to as an ‘unlikely bond’ but their friendship makes lots of sense to me, and I enjoyed it hugely.

ALSO the cover illustration here is just so cute.

The Poppy War – R. F. Kuang

Synopsis: When Rin aced the Keju – the test to find the most talented students in the Empire – it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who had hoped to get rich by marrying her off; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free from a life of servitude. That she got into Sinegard – the most elite military school in Nikan – was even more surprising. But surprises aren’t always good.

You know…this book was a lot more violent than I remember. Shocking, for that title, I know. But the reread really does bring out extras.

However, I enjoyed it just as much the first time around. The benefit of hindsight is watching the characters descents with what I’ll call fascinated horror – we know how things will turn out, at least at the end of this book, and yet the horror of the war the characters encounter here still changes them. Again, who knew. The writer’s skill is just as evident the second time around.

All Systems Red – Martha Wells

Synopsis:  In a corporate dominated s pa cef a ring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company supplied security androids, for their own safety. But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern. On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid – a self aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as ‘Murderbot

This is a very fun and heart-warming novella (that has won many awards) about a robot, made from a mix or organic and synthetic parts, that hacks it’s own brain so it can stop listening to human commands and start watching TV instead. Yes, it is very funny, and I’m only sad it took me so long to read it! Short and fun and readable in a couple days. (I’m resisting tearing through this whole series so I don’t feel bereft afterwards.)

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