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review 2018-01-11 05:20
Natsume's Book of Friends (manga, vol. 13) by Yuki Midorikawa, translated by Lillian Olsen
Natsume's Book of Friends, Volume 13 - Yuki Midorikawa

In the first part of the volume, Matoba offers Natsume a job. Natsume doesn't want to accept, but he does agree to help with Matoba's little problem, a mask yokai hiding somewhere in his gathering of exorcists. Natori helps Natsume out by getting rid of Matoba's letter. The next part of the volume is a bit from Nishimura's POV - how he and Natsume met and became friends. He never realizes it, but

Natsume took care of a yokai that had been plaguing his family.

(spoiler show)

The volume ends with a story from Kitamoto's POV - how he met and befriended Natsume, and also Tanuma. He connects with Natsume over their shared anxiety about what to do once high school is over.

The stuff with Matoba was interesting and more suspenseful and action-filled than the rest of the volume. Still, I didn't like that part quite as much as the chapters that came after it. The Matoba clan feels so dark and cold compared to most of the people and beings Natsume interacts with. It was nice to see Natori again, though.

The two chapters from Kitamoto and Nishimura's POVs were great examples of why I love this series. Nishimura was such a nice guy, trying to befriend awkward Natsume. Tanuma and Taki are great, but it's also good to see people who have absolutely no clue about Natsume's abilities liking him and enjoying being with him, even though he probably comes across as a little strange from time to time. Kitamoto's chapter was nice too. I liked how he and Natsume had the same sort of seriousness and sense of responsibility - they both want to avoid being a burden on their family, although for different reasons.

I feel like every time I try to describe how good this series is, I make it sound boring...

 

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

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review 2018-01-11 05:12
Natsume's Book of Friends (manga, vol. 12) by Yuki Midorikawa, translated by Lillian Olsen
Natsume's Book of Friends, Volume 12 - Yuki Midorikawa

In the first part of the volume, a yokai tricks Natsume into letting him in - he wants Natsume to use the Book of Friends to summon a yokai named Karikami in order to restore a fragile old note. Natsume gradually learns that

the yokai had once loved a human woman. The man she loved left without telling her and married someone else. To keep her from being hurt, the yokai pretended to be the man for a while.

(spoiler show)

In the next part of the volume, Natsume meets an elderly former god who wants to return a mirror to a dangerous yokai

who, it turns out, was actually Reiko, Natsume's grandmother.

(spoiler show)

The volume ends with a story in which Natsume gets trapped in a jar by a yokai. Tanuma tries to save him and ends up in trouble, at risk of being eaten by yokai. He and Natori finally cross paths.

The first story was very bittersweet and part of an established pattern in this series, in which yokai have fond memories of humans they loved who have long since moved elsewhere or died. I couldn't help but wonder about the woman's part in this story, and what she thought about this strange event in her life.

The second story felt a little scattered - it was intertwined with a cup yokai and a dangerous yokai that could cause trouble for the Fujiwara household. Still, it was nice to see

Reiko again, even though it was yet another bittersweet moment in her life. The poor girl thought she'd finally found a human friend, and it turned out it was yet another yokai. I wonder if the series will ever touch on how she died, and who the father of her child was? I hope he was one of the rare humans she could trust, but I worry that he wasn't.

(spoiler show)


The third story hurt my heart. There was Tanuma, trying to help Natsume but worried that he was just making things worse. And Natsume, worried about Tanuma getting caught up in his messes - he still can't help his knee-jerk desire to keep his supernatural troubles from his friends. Natori is what Natsume might have been, if things had gone a little differently, and he knows it. He's jaded, but hopeful that Natsume can have the kind of life and relationships that he felt he had to cut himself off from.

Not as good as the previous volume, but still quite good.

 

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

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review 2018-01-11 05:04
Natsume's Book of Friends (manga, vol. 11) by Yuki Midorikawa, translated by Lillian Olsen
Natsume's Book of Friends, Volume 11 - Yuki Midorikawa

In the first part of the volume, Natsume and Tanuma help Taki clean up the creepy storage places at her home (her grandpa's old home? my notes are unclear). In the process, they awaken a dangerous doll yokai that Taki's grandfather accidentally sealed. In the next part of the volume, Natsume realizes that he's finally emotionally capable of looking at his parents' photo again. He also decides that he wants to visit his parents' old home one last time before it's sold. In order to visit the house, though, he first has to go to the family he used to live with to get the key. This requires dealing with an increasingly dangerous insect-eating yokai and the family's daughter, who was always jealous of the attention Natsume was given when he lived with them.

I always forget how warm and gentle this series is. Even when it breaks my heart, it does so softly. The art style doesn't really appeal to me - too light and scratchy (or wispy?) - but it works fine for this series and I love the characters and stories enough that it doesn't matter.

I absolutely love volumes like this one, that deal with Natsume's friendships. He's gradually learning to trust his human friends and ask them for help, and to accept help when it's offered. The bit where Tanuma had all his and Natsume's friends stop what they were doing and look for Natsume's missing photo was wonderful.

I also enjoyed the flashbacks to Natsume's past, and the brief glimpses of the Fujiwaras just being all domestic and kind. This is a "fuzzy blanket" sort of series, the kind of thing I want to wrap myself up in.

 

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

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review 2018-01-02 04:44
The Hot One
The Hot One: A Memoir of Friendship, Sex, and Murder - Carolyn Murnick

First book of 2018! Woo! And what an interesting read it is. The Hot One is Carolyn Murnick's exploration of her own life and maturation framed by the murder of her childhood best friend, Ashely. We follow Murnick from childhood to early adulthood to navigating the legal system as a spectator of the trial. Throughout her journey she tries to answer the question of why her life turned out so differently from her friends. 

 

Overall I enjoyed this book. Murnick is really a spectacular writer, the kind where you have to go back and reread the lines because it's just so incredible. And the flow of one memory to another worked really well. From a purely technical perspective, this is an incredible book. 

 

The Hot One also presents a perspective I don't think we see a lot of in the true crime genre. Usually these stories are told by a completely separate third party or by someone who knew the killer. As far as I know, there are only a handful of true crime books that are from the perspective of the friends and family of the victims. I appreciated that perspective, particularly during the sections of the preliminary hearing. You don't think about how little details, like the wording of the defense attorney's questions or a photo presented by the prosecution, affect those sitting in the gallery. I really appreciate Murnick for being so vulnerable about her thoughts and reactions to these details in order to present this side. 

 

The biggest critique I have of this book is it really is more about Murnick than it is Ashley or the crime. I suppose that's more of a marketing problem and a personal issue, but I was expecting to learn more about a crime through the eyes of the victim's childhood friend, rather than learn about the friend through the crime, if that makes sense. And honestly, for the first third or half of the book, I didn't really care for Murnick. I found her whiny and pretentious, which only made me want to learn more about Ashely all the more. Overall, I came out of reading the book feeling as if I really didn't learn that much about Ashley, and in that way I feel Murnick failed in her mission - determining how she and her friend ended up on such different paths. I understood how Murnick got to where she was, but for someone who talked so much on the shame that people were judging her friend without really knowing her, she didn't really help us know Ashley much better. So I definitely had an issue with that and wish Murnick had taken more time to focus on what she implied she'd actually be focusing on. 

 

Final rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars. A very fresh perspective for the true crime drama, though you'll have to get through a lot of teenage/young adult angst for the good stuff. 

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review 2017-12-30 18:21
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories - Alice Munro

The title story in this volume is fantastic. The slow unfolding and peeling back the layers of the story, the host of well-realized and believable characters bumping up against one another, the historical Canadian setting, and the surprise ending: I loved it all, and am not at all surprised that a movie was based on this 50-page story. It’s better than many a novel.

And there are a couple other stories here that I liked. “Comfort” is about the death of a husband, a severe biology teacher who fought the incursion of religion into the curriculum. I enjoyed this mostly for the husband’s story, and was less interested in the wife’s grieving and found the end to peter out. The last story, “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” follows a philandering but loving husband whose wife develops dementia and embarks on a nursing home romance. This one is poignant and its situations interesting, though I didn’t ever feel I knew enough about the wife and their relationship to completely engage.

The remaining six stories seemed to me to be variations on a theme, and it’s a theme Munro fully developed in The Beggar Maid, which I previously read and enjoyed. The protagonist is a woman who is searching for herself, who has an unsatisfying marriage; some of the stories focus more on the marriage, others on her life before or after. Sometimes she leaves, although this was an uncommon choice at the time these stories are set, while other times she contents herself with a fling. Her family background includes a dead mother and remarried father, living in some small town she has left behind. Her story involves learning about herself or about life and how to live in it.

These aren’t bad stories, but they didn’t particularly speak to me. In some cases I felt like perhaps I was a generation too young to appreciate the societal influences on these women and how those influences shaped them. The way the women fail to assert themselves in their relationships and make their needs known, the way their marriages often seemed to be strange and independent creatures rather than partnerships negotiated by the people involved, even in a world not too far removed from the modern one, left something of a blank for me. And because these are quiet, character-driven tales, it’s hard to appreciate them if they don’t speak to you.

All that said, of course these are very well-written stories, as one would expect from a Nobel Prize winner. I didn’t enjoy them all as much as I’d hoped; I wish Munro had included more along the lines of the first story. But it’s good literature, and I’m happy to have read it.

--

A question for those who have read more Munro than I: is this collection specifically thematically focused, perhaps to fit its title, or does all her work focus on these same preoccupations? What Munro collection should I read next if my goal is finding one that doesn’t feel repetitive after The Beggar Maid and this book?

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