Book Review: ‘Kafka on the Shore’

3 different covers for the book. One has an illustration of a cat blended with a person's head. Another has an abstract blue background with a small silhouette of a cat. The last cover has a head in the shape of a golf ball resting on a tee.
Various covers of the book

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

A power of stories is their ability to transport readers to other places and times. Murakami does this very well for me — his stories are mesmerizing. And Kafka on the Shore is his latest book to have that effect on me.

An overview of the book …

At 15 years old, one of the main characters disguises his first name (to be called Kafka Tamura) and runs away from home. He wants to get away from his father and tries to escape the Oedipus Rex prophecy that his father put on him. Talk about a heavy burden to carry. Kafka wants to find his mother and sister, who left the family when Kafka was four.

Kafka’s chapters alternate with those of Satoru Nakata, who is quite an interesting character. During World War II, Nakata was in school when strange event happened. He and his schoolmates were hunting for mushrooms in the woods. All the kids lost consciousness and fell to the ground. However, the teacher was not affected. After the teacher ran to get help and returned to the kids, they started waking up. But not Nakata. He remained in a comatose state for a while. And when he eventually woke up, he could neither read nor write. 

From that background, leap to the time of the book’s main action. Nakata is in his sixties and still can’t read or write. But he can talk to cats. Which helps him find lost cats for people in his neighborhood.

Back to Kafka Tamura: he journeys to the island of Shikoku, to the city of Takmatsu, where he finds a private library. He enjoys reading in the peaceful place and befriends the librarian Oshima. Miss Saeki runs the library and spends much of her time in her office. Miss Saeki also has an interesting background, which Oshima tells to Kafka.  

Murakami’s stories typically contain oddities. In this book: fish and leeches fall from the sky … spirits appear in the form of Johnnie Walker and Colonel Sanders … soldiers from World War II haven’t aged … another world/alternate reality opens up.

Also, this book contains portions that may cause some to not pick up this book: incest by the main character, and another character eats still-beating hearts of cats. As for the second action, that character has a reason for doing it. Still, it’s a rough chapter. Murakami doesn’t gloss over gruesome parts.

(In The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, a character skins another man while he’s alive.)

Kafka on the Shore has many portions that are food for thought. The quote below is from Kafka’s alter ego (“the boy named Crow”), who gives advice to Kafka in the beginning of the book. I thought the message was moving. To me, the message is about growth after enduring a struggle — it’s when you are either forced out of a comfortable place or you choose to venture out of that comfort. 

“Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.

And you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.

And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” 

Quote from: Murakami, Haruki. Kafka on the Shore. Alfred A. Knopf. 2005. pp. 5-6.

Book Review: ‘Parable of the Sower’

Front cover of Parable of the Sower. There is an illustration of a Black woman wearing a pink and orange dress. Around her are small shapes, like seeds.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

If you like dystopian fiction, I highly recommend this novel. 

The state of the union of America is chaos. Like Cormac McCarthy in The Road, Ms. Butler doesn’t dwell long on reasons why American society collapsed. Although, climate change and expanding wealth gap are mentioned here and there in this powerful novel. Unlike McCarthy’s novel, Parable of the Sower includes much information about the effects of that collapse.

Life is dangerous in unprotected places. People are apt to rob, kidnap, rape, and/or kill those who are seen as easy targets. When called, police might not show up. If they do, it could be the next day. You’ll need to pay a fee to the police for them to look into a crime. And there’s no guarantee they will follow through with an investigation.

The book’s main character, Lauren Olamina, lives in a walled community with her family—along with several neighbors—in a suburb of Los Angeles. Their life is safer than outside the wall, yet danger can arrive. Sometimes, thieves scale the wall and steal items the houses. And they steal vegetables from gardens and fruits from trees. In this future, food is scarce—unless you grow your own. Drinkable water is scarce, too.

Lauren’s father is a Baptist minister who who gives sermons in their house. And he teaches his children about guns and takes them for regular target practice. I mention this because of Lauren’s actions. She fires a gun several times in the hostile world to survive and protect people around her.

Also, Lauren develops her own religion: Earthseed. The overall book is comprised of Lauren’s journal entries. Before each chapter is an excerpt of the book within the book—Eathseed: The Books of the Living. One of those excerpts:

All that you touch
You Change.

All that you Change
Changes you.

The only lasting truth
Is Change.

God
Is Change.

— Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower

Another of Lauren’s inheritances: “hyper-empathy” because her mother used a drug during pregnancy. With this condition, Lauren acutely feels pain and pleasure of other people.

Lauren Olamina makes for an intriguing main character. The book’s beginning has Lauren as a teenager and drama with her neighbors inside the walled community. Then Lauren takes a journey, and she navigates the lawless landscape of California. 

This is a gripping book, for the wildness of its near-future world. The story begins in July 2024, a mere three years from when I’m writing this review. The world in the story is very different than now. Much of society has regressed: slavery, purchase of people, company towns. There’s a new drug called pyro, which makes people stare at fires in fascination, and addicts go on killing rampages.

Octavia Butler has crafted a scary world here. Yet there’s light. That’s a lot of weight on Lauren’s shoulders. Thankfully, she has strong shoulders.

Book Review: ‘Horrorshow’

Cover of Horrorshow. An old-fashioned typewriter is drawn to look like a creature, with the letter keys as teeth, spools as eyes, and a knife at the top.

Horrorshow by Nathan Allen

This book works on different levels. Entertainingly so. First, what’s the origin of the book? In a statement from Langdon Pryce, he claims to have written the book. Then, in a statement from Nathan Allen, he acknowledges that Langdon Pryce created the manuscript — then exchanged it to settle a debt. Later, the (unnamed) person who had possession of the manuscript sold it to Nathan Allen, who cleaned up the story — which he says was a mess.

And that’s before you get to Chapter One.

The narrative starts there, as Riley Haig is strong-armed by his sister Shelley to go to the wedding of his other sister Izzy. Why strong-armed? Because Riley really doesn’t want to return to Krumbleton, the small town where he and those sisters grew up.

Many years have passed since Riley left Krumbleton, and his schoolmates from back then are amazed to see him back in town. Lots of catching up to do.

However, the day goes off the rails. This is a horror novel, after all — not a heartwarming Hallmark movie. Also, this is no “standard” horror novel. It walks into Scream territory by bringing up cliches of horror flicks. As the body count increases around Krumbleton, Riley tries to evade the killer — and he tries to puzzle out the identity of that killer.

A twist arrives that complicates the story. I’m not going to explain it, as I’d rather it be left as a surprise for potential readers. And there’s a fun (and funny) interlude in an elevator. Again, I won’t offer an explanation.

This book is an entertaining ride. There’s a story within it, but the book gives more. Different levels for greater complexity. I recommend this book if you’re open to reading something that’s left of center. Or is it right of center or above? Not sure. Anyway, I enjoyed it.

This ebook is available for free at Amazon.

Book Stack

Illustration of girl sitting on a large stack of books, and she's reading a book.

Sylvie’s parents said,
“You should make a list
of all the books you read this summer,
so when school starts,
you can see how many books you’ve read.”
Sylvie thought that was a nice idea,
but instead of writing a list of books
(which sounded boring to her),
she decided to stack the books she read.

While reading,
Sylvie had adventures in fantasy lands,
fought evil dragons,
helped good dragons,
soared in a hot air balloon to a tropical island,
solved the mystery of a missing key,
flew to a space station near Jupiter,
went up secret stairs to a laboratory.
She stacked book upon book upon book,
making a tower in her bedroom.
Books she had received as presents,
books bought at bookstores and yard sales.

She climbed the stack,
worried as it wobbled,
and sat at the top to read each new book.
She liked looking down
at her bed and toys and chest of drawers,
seeing them from a giant’s point of view.

At summer’s end,
she didn’t bother counting the books in the stack,
as she just liked looking at the tall tower
and remembering the many adventures.


DON’T TRY SITTING ON A TALL BOOK TOWER AT HOME!
The illustration is available on T-shirts and other products on my Redbubble store.
copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

Free Ebook: ‘Red Tree’

Cover of The Red Tree. The background is white. An image of a leaf-less tree is in black, with red tips of the branches.

The next ebook that can be scooped up for free is much shorter than the previous novellas. The Red Tree is free today through Friday (July 23). If you’d like to scoop up the book, click here.

A description of this story…

While rain falls for weeks, the Engler family invites friends over for an evening of dealing with cabin fever together. And when the spring sun arrives, the Englers celebrate by walking in a wooded park, where they encounter a red tree away from the trail. Guesses abound as to why the tree is red when none of the other trees are.

Life returns to normal for most of the Englers. The father, Calvin, decides the red tree was a sign for him to make changes in his life and property. Changes the family and neighbors don’t quite understand. But some family members can be eccentric, and others learn to roll with it. 

A short story about family, experiencing the mysterious, and letting your imagination loose.

Even shorter than the story is its excerpt, which can be found here.

Free Ebook: ‘Don’t Lose Your Head’

Cover of Don't Lose Your Head. The background is dark gray, with black drips. In the foreground is a photo showing a business suit and tie -- but there is no head above the suit.

A ghost story is my next ebook to be free — starting today and lasting through Tuesday (July 20). This novella, Don’t Lose Your Head, can be found on Amazon.

A little more about this spooky book…

When you leave for a trip, who knows you’re gone from your house? Family and friends, sure. Neighbors, perhaps.

So does the chauffeur who drove you to the airport. Alan Burris takes advantage of working for a car service to know when clients will be away from their houses for several nights. Some houses are easier, since they don’t have a security system — and these houses are on his list for a night visit to steal valuables.

The Resnick house has been on Alan’s list for a while, and now it will be empty for a few nights, since Mr. and Mrs. Resnick are spending a long weekend in Chicago.

But is the house really empty? Alan’s about to find out what it’s like to not be alone in the house, his  car, his apartment, and his head. And with another person hanging around, to what length will Alan go to get rid of them?

You can discover how this story starts by reading an excerpt of the first chapter here.

Free Ebook: ‘Minotaur at the Door’

Cover of The Minotaur at the Door. The background is medium blue, and before it is a silhouette of the minotaur.

Next in my staggered schedule of free ebooks during July involves myth and the fantastical, since it includes a minotaur in the modern day. You can snag an ebook of The Minotaur at the Door at Amazon.

This ebook will be free through Saturday (July 17).

Okay, so the book has a minotaur — no duh, the word’s in the title — but can you tell us more?

Sure!

Is that an actual minotaur knocking at the front door, or is it somebody pranking Pablo, Miles, and Harry?

The three men renting rooms in the house have their doubts about the reality of the creature, but only Pablo seeks to learn more. He wants to meet the minotaur. And find out why he is visiting their neighborhood.

Pablo’s journey alternates chapters with the events of Daedalus and his son Icarus, centuries before Pablo. These chapters breathe life and detail into the myth of Asterion, the first minotaur, and Daedalus and Icarus’s imprisonment in the labyrinth. How father and son deal with being stuck in the maze and how they craft a plan to escape.

To dip your toes in the story with an excerpt, click here.

Free Ebook: ‘Other Lives of the Boothbys’

Cover of Other Lives of the Boothbys. The background is light blue. The title is embedded in other lines of text that are softened by being gray, while the title is in black

Another of my ebooks is available for free: Other Lives of the Boothbys. The promotion starts today and will last through Wednesday (July 14). Download the ebook from here on Amazon.

What is this book about?

Bradley Boothby has no idea why he feels déjà vu when walking by the office building for Rayburn-Turley Publishing. 

Is he included in one of the publishing company’s books? If so, why? Did an author spy on Bradley to steal his life story, which isn’t all that dramatic? The thoughts are far-fetched, so he dismisses them.

But the strange sensation persists, and Bradley finally acts, needing to find if the déjà vu has a foundation. His search touches off consequences for an editor and writer, as they have an impact on each other’s lives. 

Still undecided whether to get a free ebook? Read an excerpt here.

Free Ebook: ‘Jumble’

Front cover of Jumble book. The background is orange, and little drawings are in the JUMBLE title. Drawings such as an elephant, pipe, sock, and bagpipes

Starting today and lasting through Sunday (July 11), you can get the ebook version FREE of Jumble: Stories and Drawings! If you’re interested, head over to Amazon to pick it up.

More of my ebooks will be given away during July, on a staggered schedule.

I hope to get more readers checking out my stories. And if you’d like to add to your summer reading, here’s a way to do it without spending a dime. (Of course, you can also borrow books from the library, but these books are indie grown.) So keep watching this space for upcoming posts of more ebooks enjoying free days.

What is Jumble about?

In this quirky collection, you’ll find 18 short stories and 68 drawings, which are independent of the stories, although a few drawings echo something in the stories, a fine example being an elephant.

Examples of the stories include a man finding joy in a pancake house, a girl interrogated because she picked up the king’s rolling crown, elderly Claude Monet visiting his long-time friend Renoir, a science fiction writer donning a cap of electrodes hooked up to a computer so his dreams could be transcribed, and a group of private detectives hired to research the possibility of reincarnation.

The drawings lean toward the cartoonish and simply illustrated, which could be criticized if you’re of the mindset that drawings need to be highly detailed for them to even begin to be considered of decent quality. Actually, one “drawing” is a kind of flowchart and another is a kind of list, so their categorization as drawings is debatable. Yet the nonexistent marketing team for this book argued that saying it contains 66 drawings, 1 flowchart, and 1 list is too clunky to include in the book’s description.

Want a sample before you make the leap to grab the book? An excerpt from the story “Pancake House” is here.

The 18 short stories are:

  • Pancake House
  • Elephant Curve Road
  • Sock and Glove
  • Bagpipes on the Wind
  • Claude
  • Hidden Spaceship
  • What Dreams May Be Written
  • Uneasy Lies the Head
  • Arrivals, Departures
  • You to the Nth Power
  • Up and Down Stairs
  • Away from the Orchard
  • Auto-reply
  • Farthingstone Manor
  • Streets of the New City
  • That Time You Were a Princess
  • Time Stood Still
  • The Loving Type

Free Creepy Reads — Stevie Turner

Another book giveaway that I wanted to share, in case you’re looking for some summer reading…

I’m still away on the IOW at the moment, and so this is a scheduled post featuring a BookFunnel promotion ‘Creepy Reads’, which at the time of writing has 36 FREE books and samples to choose from in the Mystery & Suspense / Thriller genres. https://books.bookfunnel.com/creepyreads/2on971tdgp I have added a free sample of my suspense […]

Free Creepy Reads — Stevie Turner