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review 2018-11-03 15:24
My Neighbor Totoro (book) art and story by Hayao Miyazaki, text by Tsugiko Kubo, translated by Jim Hubbert
My Neighbor Totoro: A Novel - Tsugiko Kubo,Hayao Miyazaki

Mei, Satsuki, and their father, Tatsuo, move into a crumbling old house in the country in order to be closer to the sanatorium where their mother, Yasuko, is recovering from tuberculosis. The girls adapt to their new rural life pretty quickly, although four-year-old Mei doesn't respond well to being left with their neighbor while Tatsuo is at work and Satsuki is at school.

Both girls realize there's something a little strange about their house when they first arrive. They briefly spot little beings called soot sprites, and Kanta, the boy who lives near them, tells them that their house is haunted. Then Mei starts talking about having met a being she calls Totoro and who Tatsuo believes is a forest spirit. Satsuki longs to see Totoro too.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I read this. Would it be a stiff and soulless adaptation of the movie, or would it be able to hold its own in the face of the movie's sweetness? I'm happy to say that it fell into the latter category. Although I still prefer the movie, the book was a breeze to read, added things to the overall story that the movie couldn't, and had much of the same charm as the original movie.

(I should briefly explain that I'm most familiar with the English dub of the movie. I'm not sure if I've even watched it in Japanese with English subtitles yet. Some of the information "missing" from the movie could possibly have been translation decisions when creating the dub, editing the script to better match mouth flaps. I won't know until I watch the movie with subtitles, and even then translator decisions are in play.)

The book was more direct about explaining exactly why Tatsuo, Satsuki, and Mei moved out into the country, explicitly naming Yasuko's illness. There were more mentions about what Satsuki and Mei's life used to be like, back in the city, and even one portion of the book where they briefly went back to the city. Yasuko was slightly more in the foreground - the book included letters she wrote to her children while at the sanatorium. I got a stronger picture of her personality here than I did in the movie. She seemed like a dreamer.

In general, I'd say that the bones of this book were about the same as the movie. A few scenes were added, and there were more details about the history of the house the family moved into, and Satsuki's efforts to learn how to cook different foods over an actual fire without burning them. I really enjoyed these additions.

One thing that disappointed me a little, however, was that the fantasy aspects were scaled back. In the movie, viewers' first exposure to Totoro happened when Mei chased after a little Totoro and ended up finding Totoro's napping spot. All of this happened on-screen. These same things happened in this book as well, but for some reason the author chose to focus on Satsuki instead of Mei. Mei told Satsuki and her father what she'd experienced, but there was no evidence that any of it was real, rather than the dreams or imaginings of a child. The first on-page appearance of Totoro didn't happen until the bus scene. The ending was also altered slightly - the scene where Mei and Satsuki watched their mother and father from a tree didn't happen. I was at least glad that all the Catbus scenes were included.

The focus of this book seemed to be slightly more on the relationship between the two sisters and their barely-spoken-of fear that their mother might die and never come home, as well as the girls' growing independence as they adapted to rural life. It was lovely, but, as I said, I did miss some of the Totoro stuff. All in all, this was an excellent novelization that I'd definitely recommend to fans of the movie.


Several illustrations (black and white sketches with maybe a watercolor wash?), including a color map of Matsugo, the place where the Kusakabe family moved. The map also gives the exact year this story took place, 1955, so I suppose this could be considered historical fiction.


(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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text 2017-11-15 17:13
Finding more books . . . .
The Impostor - Noel B. Gerson

I thought I had inventoried all the books that are stashed in the studio.  Apparently not.


In my never-ending quest to provide covers - even the wrong ones, if necessary -- for all the books on my BookLikes shelves, I got down on my hands and knees in search of The Impostor, which I knew was out there.  Sure enough, there it was on the bottom shelf in the middle of a stack of other mid-century book club editions.  Few of them have dust jackets, so they aren't worth scanning. However, I knew The Impostor not only still had its paper cover but that it was in reasonably good condition.


When I lifted the other books from on top of it, I checked their spines to see if there might be some surprises.


The first two titles were ones I recognized as being duly entered on my spreadsheet.


The third was the surprise.


No dust jacket, but a nice book club edition of Phyllis A. Whitney's Columbella!  I was certain I had inventoried all the Whitneys and none were in the studio.  Alas, this one somehow got skipped.  It has now been added!



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review 2017-10-07 17:37
Review: London Calling (Mirabelle Bevan Mystery #2) by Sara Sheridan
London Calling - Sara Sheridan


I really enjoyed book one in the series, so I settled into the world of 1952 Brighton and Mirabelle's social circle pretty quickly, like I was rejoining a group of friends. This installment deals with more people from Mirabelle's time in the British Secret Service and with Vesta's childhood pals.  I actually liked this book better than the last, which was also good. The friendship between Mirabelle and Vesta has deepened since their first investigation (about a year in the timeline of the series). The plot was revealed as a jigsaw puzzle, with all the pieces there and the ladies having to just put them in order. Forewarning: Brits in 1952 were not as PC as we are today and so a few racial and religious slurs are said by characters (not the main characters) in rather a casual way in the dialogue. For each time, Mirabelle acknowledges the slur then verbally reads said characters the riot act. Still those slurs are there.

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review 2017-06-23 18:32
Go Set a Watchman: A Novel - Lee Harper

The book was handed to me as a follow up from a quick discussion with a colleague. I decided to read it straightaway as I don’t like borrowing books from someone and keeping them for a long time. I honestly didn’t know what to expect: the title is ambiguous and the hype around the time of its release was quite substantial. All I knew is that it was by Harper Lee, the author of the famous To Kill A Mockingbird. I didn’t even read the blurb for the book. So, for some reason I was expecting another court room drama based on racial tensions of the American South. My advice: read the blurb.


Despite not reading the blurb, I was able to immerse into the book quickly enough. If you haven’t read To Kill A Mockingbird it won’t play to your disadvantage as this novel can stand alone on its own feet. The writing is not complex, but intelligent enough to engage the reader. The theme of the book is politically charged – I can understand why it would not be printed back in the 1950s. It is set in the 1950s and feels more autobiographical, personal rather just another novel about the history of segregation in the South. The novel is threaded with Jean Louise’s reminiscence about her childhood. These memories where everything for her as a child was black and white, right and wrong serve as juxtaposition to the her adult world where nothing is black and white and some things may seem wrong, but motives might be right. 


A quick overview: Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch is now twenty six years old and live in New York City. She returns home to Maycomb, Alabama on her usual annual visit, but this time something is off. She secretly follows her father and her friend to a Citizens’ Council where one of the guests is permitted to give a racist speech. Shaken up that her father did not do anything to stop this man, Jean Louise is devastated. As she looks around her, she begins to notice increased sympathy with these kind of sentiments. She finds herself on the road of self-discovery and making a hard decision: to either stick to what she believes and leave her family or stay with her family and submit to the growing feeling of the place.


The novel does not answer any questions, but presents the day-to-day tensions and decisions that many American citizens had to live with in the 1950s. I would say that it is even relevant now. I found that the author’s call in this book is to reason. That reason will prevail above all. For me the book was summarised on page 270, “But the white supremacists fear reason, because they know cold reason beats them. Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.”

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text SPOILER ALERT! 2017-05-27 01:23
Lord Johnnie -- part 4 -- Finale!

As always, be warned that here be spoilers!


Although I started last night's home stretch on page 247, the main issue that this section covers has to reference a quote from page 200 that I intentionally did not mention in part 3.


Lord Johnnie was published in 1949.  I read it for the first time in 1961 or 1962.  Kathleen E. Woodwiss's The Flame and the Flower that sparked the boom in paperback original historical romances was published in 1972.  Janice Radway's study of romance novel readers, Reading the Romance, was published in 1984.  The collection of essays by romance novelists titled Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women edited by Jayne Ann Krentz was published in 1992.  A Natural History of the Romance Novel by Pamela Regis was published in 2003.


The assumption is taken for granted -- and yes, it is -- that the sexy historical romance novels of the 1970s themselves evolved from a tradition of Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice through the domestic novels of the late nineteenth century to the early Mills & Boon/Harlequin romances and the paperback gothic romances of the 1960s.  


Because, after all, the books read each other themselves and then went on to write themselves; the women writers -- and the writers of romance novels since 1972 have been predominantly women -- were, like, not really there.


But we were!  And we wrote the books, pulled the stories and the characters from our own experiences, including our experiences as readers and watchers of movies.


In her book Becoming a Heroine: Reading about Women in Novels, Rachel Brownstein acknowledges a truth that too many of the analysts either consciously ignored or never bothered to learn: The Flame and the Flower was less a direct descendant of Pride and Prejudice and Little Women than it was the child of a woman who had probably watched Errol Flynn in Captain Blood and read Samuel Shellabarger's Lord Vanity.  Brownstein writes:


My brother is two years younger than I, and at the time I was doing the complete works of Frank Yerby he was reading everything about Napoleon.  You can interpret that in one of several ways: (1) he was marching on Moscow while I was being raped; or (2) he was the scruffy little Corsican while I was a half-breed beauty; or (3) he was the emperor while I was victim and vanquisher in succession, or even both at once.


We read, and then we wrote.  And it wasn't as if there weren't other women writers between Bronte and Woodiwiss.  Why is it that writers like Margaret Mitchell, Kathleen Winsor, Catherine Gaskin, Daphne du Maurier are just kind of ignored as potential influences?  Romance, adventure, excitement, action, and even history were all part and parcel of fiction written by women throughout the years preceding those early paperback blockbusters that followed The Flame and the Flower.


But we also read the books written by, for, and about men.  Men like Leslie Turner White and Lord Johnnie.


In the early 1990s I belonged to an informal group of romance writers who congregated on America Online via an email group.  The members included a few major names and a lot of unknowns (like me).  Among others were Brenda Hiatt, Alexis Harrington, Constance Walker, Rebecca Brandewyne, Kasey Michaels.  Brandewyne had exchanged letters with Frank Yerby before his death in 1991; Kasey Michaels and I laughed about the book club editions we had read clandestinely as teenagers, books that we remembered and that had shaped our writing style even from that young age.


Could we have been the only ones?  I sincerely doubt it.


But here's the thing that seems most important as a take-away from that reading history:


The romance part was as important to the guys as it was to the girls.


Oh, sure, when we got a little older and we started reading the James Bond books -- and we did read them -- there wasn't as much romance.  We read Peyton Place, too, and Candy and all the other juicy forbidden books of the 1960s.  But the foundational thread that ran through the book club books like Lord Johnnie was that love and romance mattered for everyone, without embarrassment, without shame, without giggles and snickers and blushes.  And if it mattered for the fictional characters, could it matter any less for their real-life writers and readers?


Which brings me back to page 200 of Lord Johnnie.


. . . "And heed this -- I'm not going to give you up!"


"But dear God -- why?"


"Because I love you!"  The words astonished him quite as much as they did her, for when she looked up in amazement, he grinned ruefully.


"'Pon my honor, that slipped out, my lady!" he confessed. "Though I've never spoken it before, it's true enough."


She wrung her hands.  "Love?  What does a knave like you know of love?"


"Very little, Leanna.  I had always imagined it to be a pleasing headiness, like rare champagne, rather than the gnawing emptiness that has ruined sleep and haunted my waking hours.  Yet unlike normal hunger, no substitute seems to appease it.  Rather than starve longer, I risked my neck to follow you to New York.  I'm not leaving it without you."


Pretty powerful stuff for a young teenager with dreams of being a writer.  Pretty powerful stuff coming from the hero rather than the heroine!


And now, back to the action, keeping in mind that Johnnie has made this confession; Leanna has not.


So Johnnie ends up kidnapping Leanna and taking her aboard the Able Lady.  Leanna is not happy, and she lets Johnnie know she's not.  Therefore, of course, neither is he.  But the arc of Johnnie's transformation from independent, reckless, and careless rogue to whatever he turns out to be is showing how his innate decency now has an opportunity -- before, he was merely trying to survive in a shockingly cruel world -- to develop and even flourish.  He has confessed his love, and acted shamefully upon it, but by page 251, he has his regrets.


He spread his hands in resignation.  "I regret it now," he confessed.  "Yet though the act itself was vicious, the impulse was sincere.  Aye.  Ridiculous as it may sound now -- I had hoped to win you."


"God in Heaven!" she cried.  "Your overweening temerity is insufferable!  A filthy felon and a pirate --"


Johnnie stiffened in anger.  "My crimes were no obstacle to our marriage, I might remind you -- wife!"


"Must you continually bring that up?"


"I must, since they are so closely allied."  He chuckled bitterly.  "In the romances I have read, the wooing precedes the wedding.  I can understand the advantages now.  But look -- let us not bicker.  'Tis agreed we both erred sadly.  Do you accept my offer?"


His offer is to give her some cash and ship her, one way or another, back to New York, once again rid of him . . . forever.  The course of true love being what it is, such a neat resolution proves impossible.  The Able Lady encounters a French warship, the Beausejour, and in the ensuing battle, though Johnnie's crew is victorious, his ship is damaged beyond salvage.  He takes possession of the enemy vessel, unaware that amongst its passengers is a royal courier with secret dispatches.


Once again, Johnnie is faced with a dilemma.  He can save himself and his crew or he can take risks to deliver the dispatches to the authorities back in New York, thus warning the British forces of an impending attack by the French.  The risks are great, and without guarantees of success.  The authorities in New York are the very officials he scammed and outwitted in his escape when he kidnapped Leanna.  Her fiancee has leveled charges of abduction against him.  He's sailing under forged letters of marque.  He has lost the Able Lady, which belonged to the Duchess of Tallentyre; the only thing he has with which to repay her is the captured French brigantine.  And of course there's Leanna, who is more friendly with his crew members than with him.


Remember back on page 60 when Leanna confessed that wealth was her objective, for the security it could give a woman without other resources?  Johnnie had made his own confession to her earlier (p. 46-47).  He saw wealth as the means, not the end.


His bitterness overflowed.  "All right -- I'll be honest.  I'll tell you something I never spoke aloud before, because, until you walked into Newgate, it was nothing but a vain, silly, hopeless wish."  He talked rapidly, as if trying to keep ahead of the restraint of reason  "I have always wanted to be a gentleman!  I've hated sordidness and poverty, hated coarseness and vulgarity.  Then, miraculously, you came into that hell-hole and married me.  In that I saw the hand of Providence.  I would have been a fool to have thrown the opportunity away."


He saw her eyes widen, and then to his surprise she laughed.


"Merciful heaven!" she cried.  "Did you expect to move in here with me?"


"May I remind you I have moved in!"


She drew a hand across her eyes, as if to wipe away a vision.  She had difficulty keeping her voice steady.


"Johnnie, you are a man of some intelligence.  You should realize that marrying me does not of itself make you a gentleman.  Good Lord, gentlemen are born!"


His features darkened under a flood of color, as he recalled Moll Coppinger's denunciation:  Gent'men don't come out o' Whitefriars an' Newgate, as 'e'll soon fin' out!



"You asked me what I wanted," he said, scowling.

Are the French dispatches his last chance perhaps at achieving his goal?  Will turning them over to the military in New York, even if he ends up hanging for all his past crimes, grant him some respect at the end, give him the legacy of a gentleman's honor?


He has little choice.  His prize vessel is being tailed by two other French ships, their captains unaware that the Beausejour is no longer under the command of its French captain.  Johnnie's only hope is to lead them back into British territory and engage the English fleet.  If he survives that, and can turn over the dispatches before the English hang him, and convince them that the French directives are legitimate plans to attack New York, he might stand a chance.  Not necessarily to save his own neck, but at least to save Leanna, the stalwart Rodney Yew, and his crew.


Once again, he puts into motion a plan, carefully thought out and even more carefully executed.  The French are defeated, but a last second complication lands Johnnie and his crew in prison, destined all to hang for his crimes.


He had left England known only as Johnnie the Rogue, outlaw and thief, the nameless bastard who aped his betters and had impossible dreams.  As a mutineer, he adopted the name Bloodsmythe to match the commission of the man he had defeated.  In New York, he purchased forged documents under the name Captain John Scarlett.  Thinking that he has at least partially redeemed himself, he walks into the last noose under his father's honorable name of Ballantyne.  A gentleman's name.


Things couldn't look worse, but of course that's not the way the romances end.  And remember, Johnnie has read them, too!  Did he read Tom Jones, the tale of a bastard with roguish ways but a good and honest heart?  Perhaps he did, and like the foundling Tom, Johnnie wins out in the end.  His old misdeeds are forgiven, Sir Clarence drops the charges against him for kidnapping Leanna, the governor grants him a captain's commission, and even the highly respected Rodney Yew has agreed to serve under him.


And he has, at long last, won Leanna's heart.


She went down on her knees before him.  "You said some wonderful things in your delirium, Johnnie -- about loving me.  Can you say them again in your right mind?"


He touched her cheek tenderly.  "I'm not in my right mind now, sweetheart, but I'll try."


Somewhere in the distance the noon gun thundered, but John Ballantyne did not hear it.


Johnnie is redeemed through his own actions, is granted his wish, and they all live happily ever after.


Why wouldn't I love a book like that?


But again, looking specifically at the character of Leanna, through a feminist lens and comparing her to the heroines of those post-Flame and Flower historicals, she never gives up her agency.  Happy ending and all, she's not the main character but she's much more than a trophy.  She takes the initial action to marry a condemned felon to get out of the debts she admits she incurred.  She admits to prior sexual experience without shame.  She maintains her determination to marry for financial security rather than hold out for unattainable love and romance.  She also attempts to guarantee that Johnnie keep his promise to leave her alone forever, but her attempt backfires and nullifies his end of the bargain.  She heads off to New York.  After the kidnapping, she makes a life for herself on the ship, a life that leaves out any interaction with Johnnie.  And in the end she makes up her own mind about her future.  She has the choice to stick with her plan to marry Sir Clarence Laughton; she chooses to stay with Johnnie.


I didn't want to be disappointed by this book, and I wasn't.  In this reading, I found details I had forgotten or never took note of, and they only served to increase my respect for the construction of an almost perfect romance.


Only "almost"?  Well, since I can't make Lord Johnnie come to life. . . .





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