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Lately: Literature Edition

Lately: Literature Edition | The True Sea thetruesea.comThe Snow Kimono by Mark Henshaw
After a retired police inspector based in Paris receives a letter from a woman claiming to be his daughter, he forms an unlikely friendship with a Japanese stranger who knocks on his door. They start meeting up regularly to tell each other stories about their lives. Slowly, their lies unravel and the puzzle pieces fall into place. A poetic, non-linear psychological thriller reflecting on memory, truth, love and loss. If you appreciate an intellectual challenge, this one’s for you.

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
It’s easy to sympathise with the disturbed, lonely Eileen. She works as a secretary at a prison for boys and looks after her alcoholic father in her spare time. Her resentment drives her to stalk a prison guard and compulsively shoplift, but what she really wants to do is to escape to the big city. Then Rebecca starts working at the prison and Eileen’s obsessiveness suddenly shifts focus. Eileen is such a beautifully written, human character that you can’t help but cheer her on. A deliciously bleak, darkly funny and perverse psychological thriller set in the sixties.

People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry
A true crime book about Lucie Blackman, a British young woman who was murdered in 2000 while working as a bar hostess in Tokyo. Richard Lloyd Parry spent a decade travelling between continents interviewing people involved in the case. It’s a harrowing and exceptionally detailed read. The contrast between Britain and Japan – two vastly different cultures and legal systems – is fascinating no end. If you’re into psychology and/or true crime, I highly recommend you read this book.

The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham
All the inhabitants in Midwich fall unconscious when a mysterious object appears in the sky. When they wake up a day later, all the fertile women are pregnant. No one has any idea what happened during the “Dayout”, but when the children are born, they look remarkably similar with their blonde hair and golden eyes. They grow quicker than normal children and it turns out that they have the uncanny ability to control others with their minds. Like the narrator, we are outsiders looking in and we too, can sense the growing unease and paranoia. This is my kind of science fiction. Filmed as Village of the Damned (1960).

Deep Water by Patricia Highsmith
Vic and Melinda Van Allen are trapped in a loveless marriage. Their young daughter receives no love or attention from her mother, who rather spends her time drinking and cheating on her husband. Vic reluctantly accepts Melinda’s behaviour to keep the family together, but how long can he suppress his violent jealousy? A cleverly written and utterly gripping psychological thriller that shows the reader how deceptive a psychosis can be.

The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver
The dollar is in meltdown and America’s national debt has reached such proportions that it can never be repaid. The patriarch of the Mandibles dies and the substantial fortune that the rest of the family were expecting to inherit, has become worthless. They are left to fight for their survival while America implodes around them. A deeply unsettling, sometimes funny and worryingly probable dystopian novel. Lionel Shriver is acutely perceptive and her take on the human condition is impeccable. I also highly recommend Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin, if you haven’t read it yet.

China Dolls by Lisa See
In 1938 San Francisco, three women from very different backgrounds strike up a friendship. Grace Lee is an American-born Chinese woman who has escaped her abusive father and has come to the big city to become a star. Ruby Tom is a feisty Japanese woman pretending to be from China. Helen Fong is from a respectable, traditional family based in Chinatown. While the war is going on overseas, they start working at the glamorous Forbidden City nightclub. The reader follows them through heartache and triumph for a few years – until Pearl Harbor changes everything. A stunning portrayal of the complex relationships of women.

Dark Water by Koji Suzuki
An atmospheric collection of creepy short stories linked together by the presence of water. The first story about a recently divorced mother and her 5-year-old daughter who move into a damp flat, is the basis for the film Dark Water (2002). Suzuki builds tension expertly and doesn’t rely on cheap scares. There’s a wonderful subtlety in his stories. Also read Suzuki’s The Ring series, which is very different from the films.

Please Look After Mother by Kyung-Sook Shin
So-nyo disappears in the commotion of a train station while travelling from the countryside with her husband to visit their adult children in Seoul. She has sacrificed her dreams and compromised her life to be a full-time mother. After a stroke, she has become confused and vulnerable. As the story of So-nyo’s life is unveiled, it becomes evident that this heartbreaking novel isn’t really about the search for So-nyo. It’s about compassion, unconditional love, motherhood and family.

Now what about you? What have you been reading lately?

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Washed Away: From Darkness to Light by Nikki DuBose

Washed Away: From Darkness to Light by Nikki DuBoseDisclosure: I received a complimentary copy of Washed Away from Book Publicity Services. All words are my own.

Nikki DuBose is a mental health advocate, ambassador, public speaker and writer. She is also a former model who has experienced the dark side of the fashion industry. Her harrowing journey includes childhood abuse, addiction, self harm, rape, eating disorders, psychosis and various other mental health issues. It’s undoubtable a frightening read, but an important one.

We follow Nikki from childhood, through her years as a teenager and as an adult. Divided into chapters with focus on different themes, she provides us with an honest account of what was going through her head at the time and how she experienced it. It’s refreshing to read something so raw and sincere.

After more than 17 years of battling with her demons, she quits modelling and focuses on getting help, and most importantly, learning how to help herself. In her book, she has included positive coping techniques, as well as the critical steps she took to heal herself and create a healthy, happy life. The aim of Washed Away is to help people who are going through similar things, but it will also help their relatives, partners, friends, colleagues and even neighbours to understand.

Writing about memoirs is tricky. It’s not my place to judge or criticise someone else’s journey. At times, I had to put the book down as something triggered a negative memory from my own past. I can’t help but admire Nikki and her determination to keep going no matter what awful situation she finds herself in. She has a will to live that shines through even at the darkest of times. Her story is inspiring, and you should read her book.

You can read more about Nikki and her work at nikkidubose.com.


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Lately: Literature Edition

Lately: Literature Edition | Chiaki Creates chiakicreates.comI’ve been getting back into reading lately and it’s awesome. It’s the only thing capable of completely quieting my mind and taking me out of my head. Fiction works particularly well, but I have to admit that I’m very difficult to please. Here are the fiction books that I’ve enjoyed lately.

A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil Hogan
Mr Heming is a respected estate agent who has made a copy of the key to every house he has ever sold. He’s a voyeurist (he calls himself an observer) and he has the creepy habit of cataloguing the contents of the houses when the owners are out. This is his story. I wanted more suspense and I was disappointed that Mr Heming was sloppy and unsympathetic for all the wrong reasons. There was also a character who I wanted to get to know better. Despite this, it was an enjoyable read.

Shadow Family by Miyuki Miyabe
The body of a middle-aged office worker is found on a construction site. A murder investigation ensues and it’s quickly discovered that, unbeknownst to his family, he had a shadow family online – a pretend family created in chat rooms. The man’s real life teenage daughter tells the police that she’s being stalked. Most of the plot takes place in a police interrogation room and the dialogue is superb. Things get stranger and stranger in this clever, quick read full of pleasing twists.

She Who Was No More by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac
Travelling salesman Ferdinand Ravinel and his lover plot to murder his wife. They carry out their plans and all seems to go perfectly until the body disappears before it’s discovered. Very strange things start happening. Is Ferdinand losing his grip on reality? The French psychological thriller Les Diaboliques (1955) is based on this book. The original story is significantly different from the film but I highly recommend both. This is French Noir at its best.

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima
A group of nihilistic thirteen-year-old boys secretly reject the adult world and spend their time talking about how they are superior to adults on various, stupid grounds. (I hate them for reasons that become obvious when you read the book.) The mother of one of the boys meets a sailor and they fall madly in love. At first, the boys idealise the sailor but they soon decide that he’s soft, and therefore deserves to be punished. A beautifully written, vicious tale about loss, grief and finding your place in the world. I picked this little book up because it was one of David Bowie’s favourites and I don’t regret it for a second. It stays with you long after you finish it.

Confessions by Kanae Minato
Yuko’s four-year-old daughter was murdered by two of her students, although officially, it was labelled an accident. Consumed with grief, she has decided to resign but before she leaves, she has one final lesson to teach her pupils. A gripping novel about the dark corners of the mind, vengeance and the struggle of coming of age. I loved the alternate narration and all the brilliant twists. The film from 2010 is great too.

Now what about you? What have you been reading lately?


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What I’m currently reading

What I'm Currently Reading | Chiaki Creates chiakicreates.comThe Vegetarian: A Novel by Han Kang
When Yeong-hye suddenly decides to become a vegetarian (technically, vegan) and stop sleeping because of recurring nightmares, her husband doesn’t know what to think. Being vegetarian in South Korea is still uncommon, and her increasingly unsound behaviour drives her husband to acts of sexual sadism. An indelible South Korean novel about shame and desire, written in three acts. I read the first two acts in one go.

Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime by Val McDermid
Crime writer Val McDermid combines research, interviews with professionals and her own experience in this non-fiction book about the fascinating science of forensics. I went to the fantastic exhibition with the same name at the Wellcome Collection last year, but I didn’t get round to buying the book until now.

Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
During a trip to her hometown, painter Elaine reflects on her teenage years and an abusive friendship which has haunted her for 40 years. A stream of conciousness novel exploring the unreliable nature of memory and the ever-changing nature of identity. My colleague surprise lent me this one. I’ve never read Atwood before so I’m really excited to read it.

The Idiot Brain: What Your Head Is Really Up To by Dean Burnett
Neuroscientist Dean Burnett explores the human brain and its imperfections. In this non-fiction book, he explains why our brains are seemingly sabotaging our lives in the most bizarre ways. I’ve got a ticket for a talk with Dean Burnett and Robin Ince about this book in May, so I figured I’d read it before then.

A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup
Poison was Agatha Christie’s preferred murder method to kill off her characters, and the deadly substances were carefully chosen. This non-fiction book, written by research chemist Kathryn Harkup, celebrates Christie’s extensive chemical knowledge and use of science in her work. I’m deliberately taking my time reading this one.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Growing up in 70s Michigan, the narrator Calliope Stephanides has a unique family secret; having been born with both male and female genitalia. An inter-sex, family saga covering three generations of a Greek immigrant family in America. This novel has been in my to-read pile for ages so it’s about time I finally read it.

How about you? What are you currently reading?


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Book courtship

Book Courtship | Chiaki Creates chiakicreates.comI’m devastated about the tremendous loss of David Bowie; my hero, mentor, muse and inexhaustible source of inspiration. It’s so hard to accept that I’m now living in a world that doesn’t have Bowie in it. I’m not ready to share it yet but I’ve started writing about how we can carry on his legacy. So, today I’m sharing something else entirely. I came across this lovely post over on Beached Librarian. It’s such a wonderful take on book love that I simply had to give it a go.

Phase 1 – Initial Attraction: A book that you bought because of the cover?
Crime by Irvine Welsh. A Scottish Detective Inspector suffers a stress and cocaine fuelled mental breakdown after a child sex murder case, and flees to America with his fiancée who’s completely absorbed in planning their wedding. There, he meets a ten-year-old girl who is a child abuse victim and he becomes obsessed with saving her. Welsh interviewed victims of child abuse as research for this book, and he almost abandoned the first draft after Madeleine McCann’s disappearance. If you want to lose your faith in humanity, read this book.

Phase 2 – First Impressions: A book that you got because of the summary?
Molecules of Murder: Criminal Molecules and Classic Murders by John Emsley. Chemistry and true crime meet in this fascinating book. It’s become one of the books that I can’t bear parting with. Emsley’s other books sound really interesting too.
“Molecules of Murder is about infamous murderers and famous victims; about people like Harold Shipman, Alexander Litvinenko, Adelaide Bartlett, and Georgi Markov. Few books on poisons analyse these crimes from the viewpoint of the poison itself, doing so throws a new light on how the murders or attempted murders were carried out and ultimately how the perpetrators were uncovered and brought to justice.”

Phase 3 – Sweet Talk: A book with great writing?
Anything by P.G. Wodehouse. He had such a witty way with words. Also, anything by Lewis Carroll. I love that he as a mathematician had a penchant for playing with logic in his books.

Phase 4 – First Date: A first book of a series that made you want to pick up the rest of the series?
The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino. A single mother lives a quiet life with her teenage daughter. One day, her abusive ex husband shows up and starts threatening them. Things escalate quickly and he ends up dead on the floor. Their neighbour, a mathematical genius, who has heard the commotion offers to help them cover the murder up using his logical thinking. His devotion to them and what he’s prepared to do for them is what drives the plot. When Inspector Kusanagi is assigned to the case, he instinctively knows that things aren’t adding up despite the mother’s seemingly perfect alibi. With the help of his friend Yukawa, a brilliant physics professor, will he be able to crack the case?
If I’ve understood this correctly, this is the third book in Higashino’s Detective Galileo series but the first to be translated. It’s a shame that it has been badly translated because it’s such a wonderful, clever mystery novel full of twists. Only two books of the series have been translated so far, but another one will be published this year.Book Courtship | Chiaki Creates chiakicreates.comPhase 5 – Late Night Phone Calls: A book that kept you up all night?
The Summer of the Ubume by Natsuhiko Kyogoku. According to Japanese folklore, an ubume is the ghost that arises from the burial of a pregnant woman. Kyogokudo is an exorcist who doesn’t believe in ghosts. To help people get rid of their problems that they believe are caused by ghosts, he stages fake exorcisms. We follow Kyogokudo as he tries to find a pregnant woman’s husband who disappeared 18 months ago. The bizarre thing is that she has been pregnant for 20 months. It’s compelling reading!

Phase 6 – Always On My Mind: A book you could not stop thinking about?
We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. An incredibly well-written novel in which a mother tries to process her son’s mass murder through letters to her ex husband. It’s a disturbing and believable story. I still find myself thinking about it. I can relate to her conflicting feelings towards motherhood, having myself gone from firmly not wanting to have children ever, to completely changing my mind about a year and a half ago. I highly recommend that you read this one, but don’t bother with the film.

Phase 7 – Getting Physical: A book which you love the way it feels?
Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin. It’s been one of my favourite books since I was little. The atmosphere in the book (and in the film) is deliciously eerie. I have to admit that I’m biased because I’ve always identified with Rosemary, even as a little girl. Psycho by Robert Bloch is another book that I love the creepy feel of. Using a false narrative which turns into a “split” narrative is a very unusual technique, and one that I greatly admire. I’ve never read anything quite like it. I also love the feel of Agatha Christie’s books because she’s the queen of cosy murder mysteries. I grew up reading my mum’s old Christie books so they take me back to my childhood, and make me feel safe.

Phase 8 – Meeting the Parents: A book that you would recommend to your family and friends?
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. It’s a masterpiece that has everything. Satire. Good versus evil. A book within a book. A huge, fast-talking, mischievous black cat who walks on his hind legs. The devil in the disguise of a foreign professor. A red headed succubus. Everything!

Phase 9 – Thinking About the Future: A book or series you know that you will re-read many times in the future?
Wilderness and The American Night, both by Jim Morrison. I immerse myself in his poetry. Lament for the Death of My Cock is one of my favourites of his poems.

Phase 10 – Share the Love: Who do you tag?
Anyone who wants to play!


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What I’m currently reading

What I'm Currently Reading | Chiaki Creates chiakicreates.comI’m really looking forward to catching up on my reading during the holidays. To snuggle up on the sofa under a blanket with a cup of tea and a good book may very well be the best simple pleasure in the world. I’m more often than not in the middle of at least three books because I need different books for different moods. Here are the books that I’m reading at the moment.

How To Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran
14-year-old Johanna Morgan decides to reinvent herself after embarrassing herself on local tv. She becomes Dolly Wilde, a music journalist and writer, who will save her family from poverty through her work. Halfway through, I remain undecided on this one for now. I thought I would be able to relate to Johanna because I reinvented myself when I was 13, but she’s just annoying and cringey. I have no empathy for her whatsoever. I’m hoping I’ll like How To Be a Woman more.

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide
In Tokyo, a couple in their thirties work from home. One is a writer and the other is a proofreader. They don’t have much to say to each other anymore. One day, a cat starts paying them regular visits and their love for the cat, whose adorable name is Chibi, rekindles their love for each other. The poet Takashi Hiraide’s beautifully written words have been lovingly translated. A deeply moving novella that explores the transient nature of life.

They F*** You Up: How to Survive Family Life by Oliver James
Clinical psychologist Oliver James shows us that how we are cared for during the first six years of our lives determines who we become and how we behave. He asks provocative questions and encourages us to be the script writers of our own lives. I’m really taking my time reading this enlightening book, because it occasionally hits a raw nerve and I have to put it away for a while. It’s essentially research for the autofiction book that I’m writing.

Journey Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo Higashino
Over the course of 20 years, we follow Detective Sasagaki as he obsessively tries to solve the seemingly unsolveable riddle of the murder of a man who was found in an abandoned building in Osaka in 1973. We also follow other people connected to the case, such as the son of the murdered man. Higashino is a bestselling mystery and crime fiction writer, and the master of clever mystery puzzles. I absolutely love his previously translated books, particularly Malice and Salvation of a Saint, but I hate to say that I’m not sure about this one yet.

The Changeling by Kenzaburō Ōe
Kogito Chiko is a writer in his early sixties. His brother-in-law and childhood friend Goro sends him a box of tapes that he’s recorded with reflections on life and their friendship. One night as Kogito is listening to the tapes, he hears something odd. Goro says that he’s going to pass over to the other side and a loud thud can be heard. Next, Goro says that he’s not going to stop communicating with Kogito. There are more tapes to listen to. I’m savouring every word of this beautiful novel exploring the limits of human memory. The cover art is stunning with the leaves and text printed on the frosted see-through jacket.What I'm Currently Reading | Chiaki Creates chiakicreates.comHow about you? What are you currently reading?


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These are some of my favourite books

Chiaki Creates - These Are Some of My Favourite Books chiakicreates.comStiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
If you’re interested in the history of body snatching or want to know about how cadavers are being used as crash test dummies, this is the book for you. It covers everything you need to know about what happens to our bodies after death. This informative and hilarious book made a boring cruise on The Baltic Sea infinitely better. If you enjoy this book, read Cemetery Stories: Haunted Graveyards, Embalming Secrets, and the Life of a Corpse by Katherine Ramsland.

Now You’re One of Us by Asa Nonami
A woman marries into a family with dark secrets and rather peculiar rituals. That’s all I’m going to say about the plot. This novel has the same feel as Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, which is also on this list, and one of my all-time favourite books, Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin. I maintain that this novel will haunt me forever.

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
Joanna Eberhart is a free spirited photographer and mother who is convinced by her husband to move to Stepford. The housewives of Stepford are strangely submissive and Joanna soon starts to realise that something is very, very wrong. This is as good as satirical thrillers get. I adore Ira Levin and I also highly recommend his thrillers Sliver, A Kiss Before Dying and of course, Rosemary’s Baby.

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Through letters to her estranged husband, Eva tries to understand what drove her son to commit a school massacre. She wonders how much her ambivalence towards motherhood complicated Kevin’s development. The book also focuses on environmental effects on character and behaviour. I was blown away by this powerful portrayal of psychopathy in children, although Kevin of course doesn’t get an actual diagnosis of psychopathy in the book. As someone who once dated a psychopath and don’t use the term lightly, I found this book well researched, realistic and very emotional. Don’t bother with the film adaptation though.

The Atrocity Exhibition by J.G. Ballard
An experimental collection of “condensed novels”. The fragmentation style the book is written in echoes the cut-up technique popularised by William S. Burroughs who Ballard greatly admired. Burroughs also inspired David Bowie who since the early 70s has used this technique to create some of his lyrics, as well as Genesis P-Orridge who was taught how to use it to alter reality by Burroughs. Ballard is an acquired taste and this book is certainly not for everyone. Ballard’s novel Crash is fantastic too. It’s an easier read so you might want to start there if you’re new to Ballard.

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
This tragic novel follows the lives of three women over the course of 20 years as they rise to fame and subsequently fall into self destruction. Dolls is a euphemism for pills, as the women are clinging to pills for comfort like a child would to a doll. It also refers to the women in the novel being treated like toys by the patriarchal world. The film adaptation from 1967 starring Sharon Tate, is well worth a watch.

Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino
The story of three Japanese women unfolds through a first-person confessional, diary entries, letters and documentation in perfect composition. It’s a psychological investigation that takes the reader into the darkest places of the human psyche. It deals with disturbing subjects such as prostitution, murder, cruelty, violence, hatred and jealousy. My obsession with the darker side of contemporary Japanese society compelled me to read this stunning work of noir fiction. I’m so glad I did because Natsuo Kirino has such a unique voice.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
A naive young woman marries a wealthy widower that she meets while on holiday and swiftly moves into his Cornwall mansion Manderley. It soon becomes clear that the first wife, who died in a boating accident one year prior, is still very much in the picture. Read this classic novel, then watch Alfred Hitchcock’s beautiful adaptation of Rebecca from 1943. Daphne du Maurier was a fantastic writer who knew how to instantly create an atmosphere. Hitchcock’s The Birds is very loosely based on a short story by Maurier. Other notable stories include Don’t Look Now, The Apple Tree and Kiss Me Again, Stranger.

Piercing by Ryū Murakami
A raw intense psychosexual thriller. Murakami has a way of sucking you in with his voices of the deranged in Tokyo’s seedy nightlife. His graphic depictions of violence are always suitably shocking. He refuses to look away from emotional pain. This brutal commentary on Japanese society and study in the consequences of child abuse is very difficult to put down. Murakami’s In the Miso Soup reads like American Psycho set in Japan. Cute fact: Ryū Murakami once gave his friend Haruki Murakami a cat called Kirin.

How about you? What are some of your favourite books?