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review 2017-05-18 08:33
Baccano!, Vol. 1: The Rolling Bootlegs (book) by Ryohgo Narita, illustrated by Katsumi Enami, translated by Taylor Engel
Baccano!, Vol. 1: The Rolling Bootlegs - Ryohgo Narita

In the year 2002, a Japanese man has won a trip to New York, and he’s having a terrible time. A bunch of teens mugged him and took his most prized possession, his camera. If he wants to get it back, he’ll have to talk to a member of the Camorra (an Italian crime syndicate). Luckily, the man he speaks to is in a good and talkative mood, and boy does he have a story to tell. It starts in 1711, when an alchemist and his comrades summoned a demon who gifted the alchemist with the knowledge of how to make the elixir of immortality, and continues to New York in 1930.

In 1930, a young man named Firo has just been promoted to executive in the Martillo Family, a Camorra group. At that very same time, two cheerful and energetic thieves named Isaac and Miria have just arrived in the city, determined to right their past wrongs by doing only good deeds. Of course, they have a rather odd notion of what constitutes a “good deed.” And at the same time as all of that, an immortal old man named Szilard is being driven to a meeting by Ennis, his artificially created human servant. Szilard has spent the centuries since he became immortal trying to determine the recipe for the elixir of immortality, and it looks like he might have finally achieved his goal. Unfortunately, a fire makes things more complicated, and the two surviving bottles of the perfected elixir go missing.

Ennis has to track the bottles down or risk getting killed by Szilard. Of course, they just happen to look like regular wine, it’s the Prohibition era, and there are two different Camorra groups, a couple idiot thieves, some thugs, and several FBI agents in the area, so her job isn’t going to be easy.


My first exposure to this series was via the anime, which was confusing, violent, high-energy, and lots of fun. One of the reasons it was so confusing was because it didn’t entirely follow a linear timeline. Viewers would be shown events from 1930, 1931, 1932, and 1711, all mixed together. I have since learned that this is because the anime adapted events from the first three novels. Although this first volume in the series jumped around between the various prominent characters and their storylines, it at least stayed rooted in 1930 (with a few brief glimpses of 2002 and 1711).

Although the more linear storytelling was nice, I’d still advise most English-language Baccano! newbies to start with the anime. The only reason I might tell someone to start with the books instead is if 1) they absolutely needed more linear storytelling and/or 2) they couldn’t stand Baccano’s on-screen gore and violence. While this novel was a lot of fun and contained several bits of information that fans of the anime will love, the writing/translation was...not very good.

The book was very heavy on dialogue, which was probably a good thing, since the issues with the writing/translation were most noticeable in the narrative parts. The phrasing often seemed stilted, and there were times when I wondered how accurate the translation was, because certain statements contradicted each other. For example:

“They couldn’t die from injuries or illness. As long as they didn’t age, they could rely on regenerating even if they fell into boiling lava.

However… The exception was that they could be killed with ease.” (50)

I think that this is referring to the way the immortals could “eat” each other - the only way an immortal (the true immortals, anyway) could die was by being absorbed by another immortal. However, the phrasing is strange. Another contradiction:

“Why? Why did this have to happen now? Why a conflagration now of all times?!

There was nothing here that was flammable!

The liquor… I must haul out the liquor…” (57)

Umm… Liquor is actually quite flammable. And then there was just plain awkward writing, like this:

“In the instant he stood, frozen, the muzzle of a gun appeared from behind the falling Seina’s.” (163)

Seina’s what? I’m pretty sure it’s referring to Seina’s falling body, but the sentence structure made it seem like it was referring to something like “the falling Seina’s gun.”

In addition to awkward writing, the book committed the crime of being a historical novel with, at best, vague and handwavy descriptions. One of the things I had been hoping the Baccano! novels would include was interesting period details. There were a few, here and there, but not nearly as many as I had expected. Instead, more of the focus was on the action and dialogue. On the plus side, that probably contributed to this being a very quick read.

As awkward as the writing/translation was, it somehow never leached the fun out of the overall story. I still enjoyed this combination of Prohibition era setting, goofballs and deadly criminals, and immortality-granting wine. I could remember the end result of the two missing bottles of wine, but I couldn’t remember how they got to where they needed to be, so it was fun trying to keep track of them. Also, it was surprisingly nice to see these characters again. I haven’t seen Baccano! in a few years, and this book made me think that a rewatch might be a good idea.

If I had to pick favorite characters from the anime, I’d probably go with Isaac, Miria, and Claire/Vino. I still found Isaac and Miria to be delightful in this book, but one thing that surprised me was how much I liked and felt sympathy for Ennis. I couldn’t recall her making much of an impression on me when I saw the anime. I think the book might have included details about her history that weren’t included in the anime, but it’s been so long I can’t be sure.

Eh, I should probably wrap this up. Overall, I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected I would, although I’d hesitate to recommend it to Baccano! newbies - try the anime first. If you’ve seen and enjoyed the anime, it’s definitely worth giving this book a shot, if only for the extra character information.

Extras:

There's a 3-page afterword written by the author. Also, these aren't exactly extras, but the book includes several black-and-white illustrations and 8 pages of color illustrations (or 6, depending on how you're counting). Unfortunately, the color illustrations have text on them that needs to be read, and it's a bit hard on the eyes.

The illustrations were nice enough - often a better way to get an idea of what a particular character was supposed to look like than any of the descriptions in the text, if there were any. However, I did note one possible historical inaccuracy. One of the illustrations showed a 1930 New York cop. I googled their uniforms, and I think Enami might have gone with a more modern uniform design than was appropriate.

 

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

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review 2017-03-20 23:21
Fabulous Quick Read
Light Up the Night: A Cottonbloom Novel ... Light Up the Night: A Cottonbloom Novel - Laura Trentham

Light Up The Night by Laura Trentham is a fairly short read, a perfect choice for those with limited time for reading.  Ms Trentham has delivered a well-written book.  Thad and Sadie's story is a fast-paced book, full of suspense, drama, humor and sexy bits.  The characters in this book are terrific and my favorite part of the story.  I enjoyed reading Light Up The Night and look forward to reading more from Laura Trentham in the future.  Light Up The Night is book 3.75 in the Cottonbloom Series but can be read as a standalone.  This is a complete book, not a cliff-hanger.

 

I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book that I received from BookFunnel.

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review 2017-03-10 06:40
Losing The Light by Andrea Dunlop
Losing the Light: A Novel - Andrea Dunlop

When thirty-year-old Brooke Thompson unexpectedly runs into a man from her past, she’s plunged headlong into memories she’s long tried to forget about the year she spent in France following a disastrous affair with a professor. As a newly arrived exchange student in the picturesque city of Nantes, young Brooke develops a deep and complicated friendship with Sophie, a fellow American and stunning blonde, whose golden girl façade hides a precarious emotional fragility. Sophie and Brooke soon become inseparable and find themselves intoxicated by their new surroundings—and each other. But their lives are forever changed when they meet a sly, stylish French student, Veronique, and her impossibly sexy older cousin, Alex. The cousins draw Sophie and Brooke into an irresistible world of art, money, decadence, and ultimately, a disastrous love triangle that consumes them both. And of the two of them, only one will make it home.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Brooke Thompson is a copy editor living in NYC when a friend invites her to attend an event which brings Brooke's past rushing back to her in an instant. It turns out another attendee at this party is none other than Alex, a Frenchman with whom Brooke once had a heady but fleeting romance. A romance it's taken her years to let go of.

 

While the novel starts out in present day, the bulk of Losing The Light lays out what happens that fateful year when college-aged Brooke was encouraged to take a study-abroad course in Nantes, France. The final chapters bring us back to present day as Brooke tries to bring closure to the most painful story of her life. 

 

In her debut novel, author Andrea Dunlop gives readers a complex story of friendship, lust and luxury that ultimately runs off the rails. While Brooke is in college, she, along with one of her professors, gets caught up in a school scandal. While the professor chooses to resign his position, the college dean encourages Brooke to take a study abroad course in France temporarily, while everyone waits for the heat of the situation to die down. Brooke agrees and soon even has schoolmate Sophie tagging along on her trip. Shortly after starting up classes in Nantes, Sophie and Brooke meet local Veronique, who invites them to a gathering at her apartment to meet the other local 20-somethings. It's at this party that Sophie and Brooke first meet Veronique's gorgeous cousin, Alex -- the man who will prove to be their ruination. Having fallen under the spell of Veronique and Alex (and the whole de Persaud family for that matter, what with their proverbial closets seemingly chock full of mysteries and skeletons!), Brooke and Sophie get caught up in a whirlwind of culture, money, love and decadence. Only too late do they realize they are in a tailspin towards a painful reality! 

 

Brooke is written as the more shy one, while Sophie is your fun-loving, social butterfly... at least on the outside. Little hints here and there suggest that Sophie is struggling with some sort of mental disorder or hardship -- manic depression, perhaps? -- which she has had to be temporarily committed for, as well as being on medications which she is reluctant to take / stay on. The scenes where Brooke and Sophie first arrive in Nantes reminded me a bit of the scenes in the first Taken movie, where the girls first arrive in Paris (I think it was Paris, been a minute since I watched those films...). This novel, once you know the synopsis, gives you that same sort of unease as that film. You know things are going to start out nice and lovely but you're just waiting for the fake backdrop to fall to expose what's really in store for the girls. 

 

As far as the setting of the novel, I was all set to settle into a story with heavy doses of -- what would you call it... "French-ness"? -- I didn't want things to go full-bore Pepe LePew obviously, but with any novel set in a place you know to be steeped in culture, you want to have that armchair traveling vibe firmly established. I can't say I completely felt that in the Nantes portions of the story (though there is a little bit with moments of shopping, cafe lunches and meeting with Alex / Veronique's grandmother at her grand estate... otherwise, it often seemed like the Nantes portions of the story really could have been set anywhere) but the feel I was hoping for does kick in when the ladies go on excursions to Paris and the French Rivera. 

 

Paris didn't feel like a place you could just go to the way you could move to any American city. Its money and glamour were ancient and inherited, as inaccessible as the stars. 

 

This novel had a bit of a slow burn for me. It didn't seem like too much was going on for the first 100 pages or so. But I was curious to stick with it. The author herself contacted me after having read my review for Abroad by Katie Crouch, which has a somewhat similar storyline to this book (Crouch even provides a blurb on the cover of Losing the Light). I had read enough into the novel to find I had developed solid interest in the characters and was definitely invested enough to see how everyone's story panned out. 

 

Alex gave me mixed feelings. Sometimes he comes off as the stereotypical, overly suave Frenchman. He'll push boundaries, sometimes get a little too handsy without permission from the ladies, sometimes say a truly cringe-worthy line (that you would probably fall for, at least once, if it was directed at you, let's be honest)... other times you gotta give it to the guy, he can be damn smooth with his technique. But then when you're almost ready to like him, he'll go and say / do something to perfectly ruin every good impression you almost had. I know this guy. I ashamedly admit I dated this guy -- more than once! -- during my early college years, so I felt for Brooke. Just a part of life ladies have to do the walk of shame through and ride out so they know what the deal breakers are on their way to the true Mr. Right. ;-)

 

I'd say my favorite character was Sophie. I liked her complicated blend of "social butterfly with the perfect life" exterior + dumpster fire of emotions on the inside. Yes, she could be selfish and bratty at times, but other moments you see her vulnerable, her insights on the world around her offering important social commentary on the struggle so many have with the "us vs them" mentality that bounces between "the beautiful people" who seem to have it all and the blue collar folk who feel like they have to endlessly struggle to hold on to even a few crumbs of good fortune. Sophie ponders on the lengths people go to aspire to BE the beautiful people while never understanding that problems -- serious, dark problems --  exist on that side too, problems that are never taken seriously because of the shiny glow around all that reside in that world. The only trouble I had with Sophie was that I didn't feel that her character was developed quite enough to have the full, high-intensity impact needed to really make that ending knock the wind out of the reader. While I wanted to gasp, I was left more with a quiet "well, that's a shame..." followed by a "wait, what now?!" (but again, not in a jaw-dropping shock kind of way, but more like a hazy confusion).

 

Note to sensitive readers: This novel does use some crude language at times within the dialogue of the characters, and some characters do have some sexy-times scenes that do include descriptions of fellacio / cunnilingus. Just a heads up if you prefer to avoid such subject matter in your reading. 

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: Author Andrea Dunlop kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book & requested that I check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.

 

 

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review 2017-03-08 16:44
All the Light We Cannot See Book Review
All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel - Anthony Doerr, Zach Appelman,Simon & Schuster Audio

I really did enjoy this. But I have read and listened to a lot of world war II books and I think this is one of those that will not be as memorable. I enjoyed Code Name Verity and The Nightingale much more. I do see why people really enjoy All the Light We Cannot See, its a great book to discuss and is very brutal in some scenes. 3.5/5 stars for me, I feel that in a a year I'll remember it was a World War II story but that's about it. 

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review 2017-02-17 15:59
"The Light Between Oceans", by M. L. Stedman
The Light Between Oceans: A Novel - M.L. Stedman

This is at once an elegantly rendered and emotionally manipulative novel. What a tearjerker this turned out to be and I loved it from the get-go. I am not surprised the novel received positive reviews upon publication and a film adaptation was released later on.

Set in Australia’s west coast during the 1920’s this evocative tale unfolds on a fictitious island of Janus Rock, situated at the confluence of two oceans. The books is written in three parts and narrated in the third person through the eyes of the main characters.

When a dinghy washes up on its shore delivering a dead man and a crying baby the lighthouse keeper and his wife who had miscarried several times pondered the question whether alerting the authorities or passing the girl off as their own…..and the plot slowly unspools….The pace quickens and the drama takes a few engrossing twists and turns when the scene shifts to Port Partageuse and the repercussions are known…...

At the heart of this novel is a compelling human story and a complex moral dilemma. It is written with compassion and expressed in beautiful language. The characters are good people placed in impossible situation. The tactile details and their vulnerable hopefulness have left my stomach in knots. The author’s paints with tack the inner turmoil of her main characters and has captured the depth of a mother’s grief and the lengths to which they will go for their children.

It has been a long time since I felt so completely engaged and torn at the same time. After the emotional anguish the author has put me through I was happy to see Tom vindicated….

This is one harrowing read

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