Highlights in the Charts
The Cat Who Saved Books by Sôsuke Natsukawa
Reviewed by Daisy Young
Spoiler Alert: The cat is but one of the heroes of this book!
Okay, now that's out of the way, let us dive into the small wonder that is Sôsuke Natsukawa’s The Cat Who Saved Books (translated by the amazing Louise Heal Kawai).
Set in a small second-hand book shop, the story follows secondary school student Rintaro Natsuki: a self-proclaimed hikikomori, when Rintaro’s world is shaken following the death of his beloved grandfather. He is preparing himself for a new life with his aunt, far away from the bookshop but something is holding him back from packing…
Enter Tiger: a fat tabby with a lot to say. (Think of him as The Lorax but for books.)
Upon Tiger's arrival, Rintaro’s world is turned upside down. Tiger demands the teenager’s help in rescuing books and won’t take no for an answer. Rintaro’s reluctant agreement sees him exposed to the secret world behind the walls of the Natsuki Bookshop and the tremendous power of books.
Each chapter is a journey into a new labyrinth where a new collection of books needs saving and with every new adventure, we see Rintaro grow as a person. I loved the symbolism of the labyrinths as they represent grief and how we process it physically and emotionally. In addition, this book clearly displays the depth of imagination and heart that goes into writing a book– and how we, in turn, might lose ourselves if we delve too far into them. Behind every rescue mission is a human soul in need of saving, a person who needs reminding to love books how they are supposed to be loved.
Rintaro and Tiger are joined on their adventures by Rintaro’s Class President, Sayo. She is a perceptive and caring individual, the perfect parody of our initially shy and withdrawn protagonist. Natsukawa has been clever in balancing their personalities, revealing the possibility of a future romance in this wonderful coming-of-age story. As the labyrinths become more dangerous, Rintaro becomes bolder and requires less support from his cat guardian, who, in return, comes to respect the person Rintaro is growing into.
The novel ends on an uplifting note, as all good novels exploring our relationships with death, love, life and creativity often do. Ultimately, it is a story about books for book lovers, as:
“Books are filled with human thoughts and feelings. People suffering, people who are sad or happy, laughing with joy. By reading their words and their stories, by experiencing them together, we learn about the hearts and minds of other people besides ourselves. Thanks to books, it’s possible to learn not only about the people around us every day but people living in totally different worlds.”
It is a beautifully heart-warming novel to read and the perfect palate cleanser between larger books. A perfect read for those looking to do #ShortStorySeptember.
Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Reviewed by Becky Connolly
Taylor Jenkins Reid is a familiar name to most book-lovers. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo has taken the book-blogging community by storm and Daisy Jones and the Six has been made into a hit TV show on Amazon Prime. Her latest book, Carrie Soto is Back, has recently been published in paperback. How does it measure up? Does it retain the addictiveness of Evelyn Hugo, or the mystery of Daisy Jones?
Carrie Soto is Back explores the eponymous tennis superstar Carrie Soto’s rise to fame. Threatened by the rise of English champion Nicki Chan, Carrie Soto sets out to reclaim her championship title. Daughter of tennis legend Javier Soto, her love of the sport was instilled in her in-utero but at what cost?
The structure of this book was something I adored. You really felt through the combination of chapters divided by years, transcripts from various media outlets and tennis matches, that you grew up with Carrie. There is a dichotomy between the media outlets and Carrie’s own narrative revealing the contradiction between the public perception and her true self, contributing to the complexity of Soto’s character and fundamentally, revealing the sacrifices she had to make to achieve both her success and her fame.
As for the novel’s addictive quality, Reid does not miss. Through the matches, she builds the environment, the suspension and the pressure so well that it feels as if you are watching one in real life. As someone who is not a fan of tennis, I had no idea so much anticipation could be built just from the opening serve.
Soto herself is, at first, an incredibly frustrating character – indeed, any readers of Malibu Rising may feel somewhat unsympathetic towards her. Labelled the ‘battle-axe’, she is known for her bitchy and cold exterior. I didn’t have a particular liking for Carrie at first – until Reid played with my heartstrings. Slowly but surely, we see her insecurities and her sensitivities to then see how the Battle Axe was built, from her unwavering ambition, her high expectations and essentially, how she measures her own self-worth. This infringes itself upon everything, from her attitude towards dating and her career to her attitude towards her competitors. Reid reveals what others may see as utterly cruel behaviour to be fear that is entirely human. Subtly, yet intrinsically, you see Carrie grow, from her experiences and her relationships, which culminates to the perfect ending. It’s poignant, tinted with pain, and the perfect summary to Carrie’s competitive life path.
Oozing with the glitz and glamour of the elite sporting life, this is a novel packed with loss, love and ambition. And with crossovers with Daisy Jones and Malibu Rising, what more could you ask for from a Taylor Jenkins Reid novel?