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review 2017-09-11 13:29
The Drops of God (manga, vol. 2) story by Tadashi Agi, art by Shu Okimoto, translation by Kate Robinson
The Drops of God 2 - Shu Okimoto,Tadashi Agi

Most of the volume is devoted to Shizuku selecting French wines for the “Italy vs. France” competition sponsored by his company’s new Wine Division, although it isn’t immediately apparent that the first part of the volume has anything at all to do with the competition.

In the first part of the volume, Shizuku helps a struggling French restaurant. Their business was nearly killed off by a bad review from Issei Tomine, and now he’s scheduled to come reevaluate the restaurant. The restaurant’s owner is confident about his food but has no idea what to do about the wine menu - his wife used to handle that, but she died some time ago. In order to figure out where the restaurant owner went wrong, Shizuku must discover how to properly pair wine and food.

Shizuku’s efforts help him select one of the wines for the “Italy vs. France” competition, but he still needs two others. He finds the second one after visiting a bizarre wine shop staffed by twin brothers with very different opinions about wine and the third one after being approached by Maki Saionji, a wine importer and Issei Tomine’s occasional lover. The volume wraps up with both the competition and Shizuku and Issei finally reading the first part of Shizuku’s father’s will, which gives them the clues necessary to find the first of Shizuku’s father’s “Twelve Apostles.”

Hm. Still an enjoyable series overall. The first part of the volume was nice, but a little too removed from the main storyline and a little too serious to be fun despite that. There were some good educational aspects, though - the volume touched on the difference between how Japanese people view drinking tea with a meal (for example, tea can be used to cancel out the flavor of heavy and rich food) and the way wines are traditionally paired with French cuisine (the wine and food should enhance each other rather than cancel each other out). I also liked the father-daughter relationship aspect. The daughter was more responsible and dedicated than she initially appeared to be.

The next part of the volume, the weird wine shop, brought the story back to the restrained wackiness I enjoyed in the first volume. The brothers were amusing, complete opposites. One preferred to focus on wines from wineries with good reputations and would consider nothing else - he didn’t even bother to try all his wines to figure out if they were good, he just assumed they were because of their reputations. The other brother focused entirely on cheap wines and refused to stock anything else. His part of the shop looked like a cheesy dollar store, or maybe a giant “going out of business” sale.

The one thing I absolutely didn’t like about that part of the volume was the brothers’ father. I think readers were supposed to view him as being at least as amusing as his sons, but I just thought he was a horrible human being. In order to get his sons to cooperate and improve the family business, he

lied to them and told them he had cancer.

(spoiler show)

I mean, what kind of person does that? Thankfully, there was no sign that Shizuku and Miyabi would be returning there anytime soon.

For me, the weakest part of the volume was the wine competition. It went very quickly, and I felt like I had a much better grasp on the appeals of the French wines than I did on the Italian ones, since so much of the volume had been devoted to those. The final verdict was interesting, though. I was left with the impression that, if you’re unfamiliar with wine and looking to select a decent cheap one, it’s probably best to go with an Italian wine, but if you’re a bit more experienced and looking for more variety, French might be the way to go.

One ongoing bit of mystery: the identity of the woman who declared the competition’s final verdict and who gave Shizuku advice that helped him with his wine selections. She looked like a random cranky old woman when she was first introduced, but it soon became clear that she was quite wealthy and had probably known Shizuku’s father very well.

This volume left me feeling a little less excited overall than the first one, but the educational aspects were still pretty good and I’m still looking forward to seeing what else the series has in store for readers. It looks like Shizuku will be spending at least part of the next volume working with an amnesiac artist in an effort to find out what she knows about the First Apostle.

A couple things that struck me: even with help from all of his wine-possessing friends, Shizuku is going to end up spending a small fortune trying to get up to speed on wines; and, if they weren’t rivals, Shizuku and Issei would probably make for decent wine-tasting friends since they keep selecting/appreciating the same things.

Additional Comments:

My feelings about the artwork are still largely the same: it’s lovely, although noticeably focused on characters over backgrounds. However, there were a couple parts in this volume where I felt Okimoto slipped up a bit: a three-page section showing Shizuku back at the Wine Division, helping the chief with a wine cellar and receiving a dessert wine from him, and a panel in which Sara cutely encouraged people to taste the “Italy vs. France” wines. The bit with the chief looked unfinished, as though some of the screentone had been forgotten, and some of the linework was unusually thick. The panel with Sara was mostly fine, but her lips were odd, like she’d only put makeup on the right half of them.

 

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

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review 2017-08-03 12:54
The Drops of God (manga, vol. 1) story by Tadashi Agi, art by Shu Okimoto, translation by Kate Robinson
The Drops of God 1 - Shu Okimoto,Tadashi Agi

Shizuku Kanzaki is the son of Yutaka Kanzaki, a world-famous wine critic. Ever since he was a child, Shizuku was exposed to a variety of sights, smells, sounds, and tastes, all the things he’d need in order to properly appreciate wine. Unfortunately for Yutaka Kanzaki, it backfired. The relationship between father and son became strained, and Shizuku eventually went to work for a beer company without ever once tasting a drop of wine.

Shizuku has been estranged from his father for two years when he learns of his father’s death from pancreatic cancer. His father left a will describing 12 great wines and one legendary wine called “The Drops of God.” Shizuku can only inherit his father’s property if he is able to correctly identify the wines and their vintages before the end of a one-year time limit. Not only that, but he has a rival: Issei Tomine, “the prince of the wine world,” a famous young wine critic. Issei convinced Yutaka to adopt him a week before his death, so Issei is legally Yutaka’s son and also gets a chance at inheriting everything.

Issei and Shizuku’s first task is to identify and describe a particular wine set aside by Yutaka. The person who comes up with the most appropriate description will get to live in Yutaka Kanzaki’s mansion. Although Shizuku drops his glass before trying the wine, something about its appearance and smell brings to mind a wisp of memory. He seeks out the one friendly face in the wine world that he knows of, apprentice sommelier Miyabi Shinohara, to help him figure out what that wine is and why it affects him so strongly.

I’ll start off by saying that I rarely drink, even socially. I’ve drunk wine a grand total of maybe twice in my life, and both times I thought it tasted a lot like medicine. I went into The Drops of God knowing very little about wine, and it only took a few pages for me to realize that I knew even less about it than I thought.

Shizuku spent his childhood being given an intensive wine tasting education but never took the last step, actually tasting wine. That’s where Miyabi and her friendly and supportive mentor, Shiro Fujieda, came in. As Shizuku learned more about wine, readers got an education as well. This volume covered things like decanting and terroir as Shizuku attempted to identify the first wine in his father’s will, helped Miyabi find a similar tasting replacement for a bottle of major-league wine that she broke, and tried to get Taiyo Beer’s new wine division going.

I enjoyed the volume’s educational aspects, even though there was only so far I could go in my level of understanding without actually taking part in a wine tasting. Which, by the way, I’m not planning on doing. This manga has succeeded in convincing me that those two wines I drank might just have been terrible, or perhaps improperly served, but I’m not so convinced that I want to go out and see what I’ve been missing.

Overall, this reminded me a little (a very little) of Yakitate!! Japan (a bread baking manga), if that series hadn’t been so ridiculous. Both series made frequent use of over-the-top reaction shots, although in The Drops of God’s case they weren’t intended to be goofy - they were literal depictions of what characters were feeling, tasting, and smelling when they tasted wine. One wine, for example, reminded Issei of a particular painting (which he then spent several panels discussing), while another wine mentally transported Shizuku into a Queen concert.

Shizuku got past the chip on his shoulder regarding his father so quickly that I found myself thinking it was a shame the two men couldn’t have sat down at some point and talked things over. At any rate, I enjoyed seeing Shizuku and other characters try to understand the sensations and emotions various wines evoked in them. My favorite part of the volume was Shizuku and Miyabi’s quest to find a replacement for the broken bottle of major-league wine. The end result of that story was a reunion between Miyabi’s boss and a past acquaintance. It was surprisingly sweet and romantic, even though I, personally, thought it was stupid and risky as heck to make everything ride on one person interpreting a wine just so. Years wasted, because the characters couldn’t bring themselves to use words like normal people.

All in all, this volume interested me enough that I’ve already put in a request for the second one. The story and characters were a little thin, but I enjoyed seeing wine through the eyes of people who appreciated it more than I ever will. I also enjoyed the artwork. Although something about it struck me as just a tad boring (maybe because Okimoto tended to skip drawing backgrounds unless it was absolutely necessary?), it was precise and attractive.

I want to see if Shizuku can manage to identify all the wines in his father’s will and thereby come to a better understanding of his father and what I imagine was his father’s final message to him. With these people, wine is never just wine - it’s a given that there’s a larger message in the thirteen wines Yutaka chose to include in his will. I’m also interested to see whether there’s a message for Issei as well. There has to be more to the adoption than just setting Issei up to be Yutaka’s rival, right?

Unfortunately, I’m going to be doomed to disappointment. Only five volumes of The Drops of God were published in English. The last one was released several years ago, and it looks like the series might be out of print. If I assume that each volume is an omnibus containing two to three volumes (this first volume was originally published as two volumes in Japan), that’s at most 14 volumes and probably more like 10. Wikipedia tells me that the series ran for 44 volumes and then continued with the currently ongoing final arc. I can’t imagine how the author managed to get the identification of 13 wines to take that many volumes, but the end result is that I’m not going to get to see how everything turns out. Well, it won’t be the first time. I’ve requested the next volume anyway.

 

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

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review 2014-04-30 00:00
The Awakening and Selected Short Stories
The Awakening and Selected Short Stories - Kate Chopin,Marilynne Robinson It just didn't WORK for me. Don't get me wrong, they're beautiful stories, they just didn't work.
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review 2012-03-16 00:00
Lords of Passion
Lords of Passion - Virginia Henley,Kate Pearce,Maggie Robinson How to Seduce a Wife was steamy and a page turner. I'm going to read more of her stories.
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review 2012-01-03 00:00
Lords of Passion - Virginia Henley,Kate Pearce,Maggie Robinson 3.5 stars for the whole anthology

Beauty and the Brute by Virginia Henley - 3 stars

I know that in 1719 it probably wasn't unusual for 13 year old girls to be married off to 18 year old boys by their parents but I'm not a big fan of reading about such young heroines in adult romance novels. Our main characters see each other for the first time at their wedding and don't exactly hit it off, Charles is horrified to be marrying such a plain young girl and Sarah is upset by his mean attitude and the nasty comments he makes to her. Immediately after the wedding Sarah is sent off to a finishing school while her husband Charles goes off on a grand tour of the continent so thankfully the marriage doesn't have to be consummated straight away. By the time Charles returns from his travels 3 years later Sarah has completely transformed into a beautiful young woman who is popular amongst the ton. Charles has changed his ways and it is love at first sight when he sees his wife but Sarah hasn't forgotten the way he treated her and she is determined to get her revenge.

I actually enjoyed the majority of the story when I put aside my doubts about the age of the characters but this was my least favourite story in the anthology. I was pleased that Charles came back like a completely different person though because I didn't like him at all when we first met him. Things were fairly predictable but it was an entertaining read until you came to the part about Sarah seeking her revenge. I guess I should forgive her because in reality she was still only 16 at the time but I thought she was very childish and it irritated me, especially when she acted so much older most of the time.

How to Seduce a Wife by Kate Pearce - 3.5 stars

In How to Seduce a Wife Louisa and Nicholas have been married for nearly a year but things haven't been quite what Louisa expected in the bedroom department. Nicholas was a notorious rake and his passion filled kisses before their wedding gave her high expectations for a satisfying love life. However, Nicholas is determined to change his rakish ways and be a respectable husband, he doesn't think a real lady would be interested in a normal sexual relationship and he makes appointments to visit her once a week for a rather boring and very unsatisfying encounter. When he arrives one night to find Louisa more interested in reading her naughty novel than receiving him in her bed he decides it is time to spice things up a bit.

I have to say I didn't think it was very realistic that a rake with as much experience as Nicholas had wouldn't even attempt to arouse his wife before climbing on board and doing his thing. I mean come on he knows it is painful for her and he is the one with the skills to make it a pleasurable experience for her so why has he spent a year letting her suffer? Stupid, stupid man! Anyway, once he actually decides she won't be horrified if he shows her a good time things get a lot better and I really enjoyed the story from there onwards. It was just the beginning of the story that put me off a bit.

Not Quite a Courtesan by Maggie Robinson - 4 stars

Widow Pru doesn't have the best track record with men. Her husband was a fortune hunter who died within weeks of their wedding after being caught in bed with his mistress so when her young cousin Sophy elopes and marries a fortune hunter of her own Pru expects the worst. When Sophy begs Pru to help her save her marriage to Cyrus she unwittingly captures the attention of his brother Darius. A treasure hunter who has recently returned to London with an array of valuable but naughty treasures to sell Darius can't resist the urge to teach buttoned up spinster Pru the art of pleasure.

Not Quite a Courtesan was my favourite story in the anthology and is set in the same time frame as Maggie Robinson's Courtesan Court series. There is no cross over with characters from the series so it can be read completely separately to the other books but it is set on Jane Street where the other courtesans live and is a good way of testing out the series if you haven't started it yet (it is a series I can highly recommend if you like erotic historical romance stories). This was the funniest story in the anthology by far, I loved the banter between Pru and Darius and the treasures he had were hilarious - particularly the ring that he gives Pru at the beginning of the story. Their relationship was sexy and fun and I would love to see more of this couple in the future.
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