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review 2020-05-17 01:46
BL Metamorphosis (manga, vol. 1) by Kaori Tsurutani, translated by Jocelyne Allen
BL Metamorphosis, Vol. 1 - Kaori Tsurutani,Jocelyne Allen

Note: I've seen a few places online tag this as "boys' love." While it includes characters that read that genre, as well as a few panels and pages of the works they read, this is absolutely not a "boys' love" series, in case the cover doesn't make that clear.

Ichinoi is in her 70s and lives a quiet life. Her husband died a while ago and her daughter lives in another country, so most of the people she sees on a regular basis are the children and elderly people who come to her for calligraphy lessons. This changes when she goes to a bookstore for the first time in a while and buys a manga volume because it has beautiful artwork. She figures it will be like the manga she read when she was younger, but it turns out to be a romantic "boys' love" (BL, m/m) series. She ends up hooked and goes back to the bookstore for more volumes, attracting the attention of one of the store's employees, Urara, a high school student and huge BL fan.

Right Stuf has started including more reviews on their blog, and it was one of those reviews that prompted me to buy this. The artwork wasn't the style I'm normally attracted to, but the premise, a budding cross-generational friendship prompted by a shared love of BL manga, made me want to read it immediately.

This was a wonderful first volume. Urara desperately wanted friends with whom she could talk to about the things she loved, but she was too shy, and possibly too worried about how others would react to the things she wanted to gush about. Ichinoi was less shy, and she was the one to take the first steps in her and Urara's friendship, inviting Urara out for tea.

I loved how friendly, positive, and open-minded Ichinoi was. I also loved watching Urara try to navigate the potential hazards in this new friendship. When Ichinoi asked for manga recommendations, it was like the floodgates had opened up for Urara. She could think of lots of titles to recommend but was afraid of making a misstep and ruining things. Ichinoi had already defied Urara's expectations by enjoying a manga featuring a sweet gay romance, but would manga with on-page sex scandalize her?

This volume also touches a bit on Urara's school life - the one person her own age that she talks to is her childhood friend, a guy who's dating someone else and who I think she might have a bit of a crush on.

My biggest issue with this first volume was that it was very short. Also, it's setting off various alarm bells that make me wonder whether I should wait until a few more volumes have come out and I can hunt for spoilers before continuing on. Unlike A Man and His Cat, another series I recently started reading featuring an older protagonist, this one screams "will end with the death of the older character, after the younger character has learned to be more assertive." I like Ichinoi so far, and that would wreck me. I'm also not sure how I feel about the hints that Urara might have an unrequited crush on her childhood friend. It depends on how it gets handled, I suppose.

Extras:

A full-color illustration and a 2-page afterword manga featuring Ichinoi making and eating milk jelly.

 

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

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review 2020-05-07 12:25
A feel-good, heart-warming, and moving read
Season of Second Chances - Aimee Alexander

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

This is another great find by Rosie and although I wasn’t familiar with the author (who also publishes under her real name, Denise Deegan), I’m convinced this won’t be the last time I read one of her books.

The description of the book does a good job of highlighting the main aspects of the plot: we have Grace, a woman escaping a difficult and dangerous marriage, with her teenage children, Jack and Holly, hopeful that returning back to the village where she grew up will offer them all a second chance. There awaits her father, Des, who is going through a major change in his life (he’s a recently retired family doctor suffering from early stages of Parkinson’s disease) and doesn’t know the ins and outs of Grace’s decision. Moving from Dublin to a small and sleepy village comes as a shock to Grace’s children, and she finds it difficult to confront the gossip and the expectations of having to step into her father’s shoes. But, this novel about second chances builds up slowly and we see that although not everything is ideal and there are misunderstandings and difficulties to be ironed out, Killrowan, the place and its community, is a place worth sticking with.

The novel touches on a variety of themes: abusive marriages and family relationships (and how difficult it is to walk out); starting over in a different place, picking up friendships and relationships, and rebuilding one’s life; the struggles of dealing with a chronic and debilitating illness; how much one’s self-identity can be enmeshed with our profession and our job; the differences between a big city and a small village; being a family doctor in a rural/village location; how teenagers feel when they have to move and be uprooted from school, friends…; the role animals play in helping us fit in a place and feel rooted; small community life, with hits highs and lows; and even a hint of possible romance(s). There are funny moments, plenty of heart-warming episodes, some scary and nasty shocks as well, some sad and touching stories, and even medical emergencies and action scenes thrown in. In her acknowledgements, the author highlights the process of her creation and her research and having read the novel, I can confirm that it has paid off. She manages to weave all the topics into a novel that brings the characters and the village to life, and I was delighted to read that she is thinking about a sequel. I’d love to go back to Killrowan and revisit the places and the characters that have also become my friends.

Alexander creates multi-dimensional characters easy to relate with. Grace doubts herself and is forever questioning her actions and doubting other people’s motive. Her self-confidence has suffered after years of being undermined and abused by her husband, and she feels guilty for uprooting her family, while at the same time experiencing the thrill of freedom. The novel is written in deep third person and allows us to see the action from different points of view. Grace’s point of view dominates the book, although we also see what her father, Des —another fantastic character who treads carefully and whose life suddenly regains a meaning when his daughter and grandchildren come to live with him— thinks and does, how both of Grace’s children, Jack and Holly, feel, faced with a completely different environment (Jack was the popular sporty type, while Holly had a hard time fitting in and had no friends other than her dog). We meet some fantastic characters in the community, like the scary (at least at first) receptionist at the doctor’s surgery; the butcher’s wife (a gossip with a big heart); Grace’s old pals, Alan (with some secrets of his own) and Ivonne; Benji, a wonderful dog that adopts the family; a handsome American writer; the wife of a local magnate (who reminds Grace of herself); Des’s old love; the local policeman; Grace’s partner at the doctor’s surgery and some of her patients, although not everybody is nice, don’t worry. We also get brief snippets of the events from some of the other character’s perspectives, not only the Sullivans, and that gives us access to privileged information at times. Although the different characters’ points of view aren’t separated by chapters, they are clearly differentiated, and I experienced no confusion while reading, quite the opposite. I enjoyed the opportunity to share in the bigger picture.  

The writing style is fluid and flows well, without rushing us through the events, allowing us time to reflect upon events, enjoy the wonderful settings (the sea, the beach, the island, the pub…) and become acquainted with the location, the emotions, and the characters. The author knows well the area, and although Killrowan doesn’t exist (or, at least I couldn’t find it), it feels real (and some of the comments and attitudes Grace and her family experience reminded me of similar events I had witnessed in a small village I used to visit when I was younger) and it leaps from the pages. I confess to enjoying the style of the writing and feeling emotionally engaged with the story (I’d recommend having tissues handy). I’ve selected a couple of quotes to share, but as usual, readers might want to check a sample of the book to see if it suits their taste before purchasing it.

Here Grace is thinking about the family dog and how his death gave her the strength to finally leave her husband.

Benji was more than a dog. He was family. And her defender. Tiny little ball of fur rushing to the rescue. Or trying. Tiny little ball of fur that brought so much comfort to all three of them, Holly especially. Benji knew when they needed love and he gave it in spades.

Here Des is thinking about retirement.

What fool started the tradition of watches as retirement presents? Any thinking person would know that the last thing a man would want is to count all the time he now has on his hands.

Holly had just told her brother that their mother wanted to start over, and Grace realises her daughter is right.

Minutes ago, it had been to escape Simon, shake him off. But escaping Simon is still all about Simon. Grace sees that now. What she must do is start over. Because that is about Grace.

The ending is more than satisfying as well. Yes, not everything is settled and sorted in the end, but this is a book about new beginnings, and we leave the Sullivans and Killrowan to carry on merrily, getting to know each other and discovering what new changes and challenges life will bring. As I mentioned above, the author hints at a possible sequel, and I hope it comes to be.

This is a novel full of heart, friendship, a strong sense of community, and also heartache and personal growth. It is inspiring and comforting in these times when we have been obliged to live pretty enclosed lives. I agree with the TV series mentioned in the description (Call the Midwife one of my favourites), and I’m sure fans of any of those will enjoy this novel, which fits perfectly in the feel-good category, although that does not mean it hides from the most unsavoury aspects of life. There are menacing and dark moments, none too explicit, and I’d recommend it to anybody who enjoys stories with a heart, fond of Ireland and stories with an Irish background, and those who want a gentle read full of wonderful characters and a memorable community we’d all be happy to join.

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review 2020-01-14 11:09
I liked the main character but not enough attention to detail for me
Nine Elms - Robert Bryndza

I thank NetGalley and Little, Brown Book Group UK for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review. This has in no way influenced my review.

I’ll try to be brief and provide information that might help others decide if this is a book they’d like to read. On the whole, I had far too many issues with the book to enjoy it as others have, but I am a regular reader of thrillers and have fist-hand knowledge of many of the issues central to the plot (I have worked as a forensic psychiatrist in the UK, where the story is set, and I have experience of working in a high secure hospital, so I’m more familiar with their security procedures than most readers will be), so I understand that my reading experience is likely to be very different to that of others. (And I won’t mention what my issues were not to derail others’ reading experience).

I had never read any of this author’s books before, and it is evident that he is well attuned to what people expect. He keeps the rhythm of the narration fast; this books starts with quite a bang, and there are only brief moments when the reader can have a bit of a break from the tension and the flow of the story. The plot covers many favourite points of the genre. We have not one but two horrific serial killers (even if the second one is a copycat, he is quite twisted in his own right); their murders are discussed in detail (although I’ve read books where the violence is more extreme, this is not for the fainthearted); we get the story told from a variety of points of view (although for the most part each chapter follows only one point of view), including victims and killers; we do not get all the information about the motivations until the end; there are characters to root for as well, and a complex investigation where the police get the assistance of outsiders (although in this case, Kate Marshall used to be a police detective, so she’s not quite the true amateur of other stories).

I did like Kate Marshall and her assistant, Tristan. It’s true that we do not learn a lot about him, but this is the first book in a new series, so there’s plenty of time for that. Kate seems to combine the characteristics of the main characters in many thrillers, as she is both a victim who survived a terrible attack and has suffered trauma due to that, and she is also a disenchanted and retired member of the police force, who due to her experiences and her way of coping with them lost her career, her way, and her family and is now asked to take a look at a case related to her past. I thought that the peculiarities of her circumstances, her relationship with her son, and her attempts at forging a new life for herself make her an interesting character in her own right, even if some of her actions and decisions are not always consistent.

As I have already said, I found that the story stretched my suspension of disbelief too far, and as I am a bit of a stickler for details and love a well-constructed police procedural, it did not work for me. I am aware that I only had access to an ARC copy, and it might well be that some of the minor issues I detected are not present in the final version. If you are a reader who enjoys novels and TV series about serial killers, who prefers fast action, an easy read, don’t mind a good deal of explicit violence and some less than savoury characters and family relationships, focus more on the overall plot than on the details, and are looking for a satisfying ending, you’re likely to enjoy this novel. Do check a sample of it and see what you think.

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review 2019-12-24 17:22
An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good - Helene Tursten
An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good - Helene Tursten

This is exactly the kind of murder I'm in the mood for. More stories about women upwards of "a certain age" who can get away with murder. That's much more fun than solving one.

I've been a fan of the Christmas murder story nearly as long as I can remember: there was a tiny book of four short stories put out by Reader's Digest in the early 70s. It had a white cover and four images in black one of which was a bishop and another was a sprig of holly. One story was about a man who had planned the perfect crime to murder his wife before taking a sabbatical in the US for a year. One was a locked room mystery about a chess player. Well, that's what memory says and it is of course always so precisely accurate.

Only one of these stories is about Christmas, "An Elderly Lady Seeks Peace at Christmastime" as do we all. But they all share a calm, quiet, unhurried feel. Maud isn't a stereotypical granny. Now, having just learned that there is a book about Audrey Hepburn in wartime as a member of the resistance, I have a strong longing to read about Maud as a college student during the war.

 Library copy, but something I'd like to own and revisit annually.

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review 2019-12-16 01:48
Christmas at High Rising - Angela Thirkell
Christmas at High Rising - Angela Thirkell

I was mildly disappointed that it wasn't a book of Christmas stories, but only very mildly. Lots of Laura and Tony, which I find hilarious and poignant. The last story has Laura going to London to shop during wartime. I think I mentioned elsewhere that I didn't like Thirkell so much during wartime: she depresses the hell out of me. So Laura is going to London, and the train is cold and other people smoke in the non-smoking car, and there's this enormous list of things they need and the department store where she has long been a customer doesn't have any of those things...and it was depressing as hell, but I was nearly done with the book, so I finished it. And now I am charmed because most prosaic Christmas miracle ever (it's not specifically set at Christmas, but I am highly susceptible to titles apparently).
I may have to reconsider the earlier decision to avoid the wartime books.

We'll see.

 

And an aside, how beautiful is that cover?

Personal copy.

 

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