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review 2019-01-06 04:20
Gakuen Prince (manga, vol. 1) by Jun Yuzuki, translated by Harumi Ueno
Gakuen Prince 1 - Jun Yuzuki

I bought this and the next two volumes while bargain bin shopping a while back. The cover made me think it might be some kind of "bad boy + nerdy wallflower" romance. It's not.

Jyoushioka High School used to be an all-girls' school until a few years ago. Although it's now co-ed, the school's girls still vastly outnumber the boys. All the boys are placed in S-class, which only the richest and brightest girls are assigned to.

Azusa Mizutani is the school's newest male transfer student. He has no idea how the school works, and he soon realizes that he'll have to learn fast. Since boys are few and far between, nearly all of the girls are sex crazed. S-class gets first dibs on raping the boys, after which they're fair game for anyone who can get at them. Munechika, the school's most powerful guy, has learned how to make the system work for him, and his advice to Azusa is simple: just accept it and don't get anyone pregnant.

Azusa doesn't have many options. He can take control and actively seduce girls the way Munechika does, keep running until he's finally cornered and raped, or find a girl who's willing to date him and thereby stake her claim on him. When he accidentally comes across Rise Okitsu, a girl who just wants to make it through high school without getting involved in any trouble, he decides to declare her his girlfriend.

I always liked Del Rey's manga releases because they all had pages of useful translator's notes. Those notes are probably the best thing about this pile of garbage.

This series is basically just an excuse for lots of on-page abuse and near-rape. Within the first few pages, Azusa spots a guy in tears because a gang of girls ripped all his clothes off. During his first class, he reads a note being passed around in which all the girls are talking about how hot he is and what it'll be like when they tie him up, take embarrassing pictures of him, and rape him. (I don't recall the word "rape" ever being used in the volume, but it's pretty clear that's what the girls intend to do.) After Azusa forces Rise to help him,

she's bullied and set up to be raped by a lesbian who she initially mistakes for a man.

(spoiler show)

There are a couple instances where girls try to drug Azusa -

in fact, they actually do manage to give him something near the end of the volume, which leads to Azusa almost forcing himself on Rise (she punches him).

(spoiler show)


The brief quiet period after Azusa initially announced that he belonged to Rise bothered me on multiple levels. Both Azusa and Rise started to relax, thinking their fellow students' sudden friendliness was genuine, and all I could think was how gross it would be to smile and laugh with students who were only behaving like decent human beings because of a necktie (students who are dating each other exchange neckties).

There are a few gender-flipped instances of the sorts of things women often encounter. For example, when Azusa first finds out how the girls treat the boys, he tells himself that the boy he saw on his way to his first class must have had a problem (had done something that led to the girls attacking him). That kind of thing wouldn't happen to him because he's different. So we have victim-blaming as a form of self-comfort (which doesn't last long in this case). Then there's the whole "ownership" aspect of dating - guys gaining some measure of protection by declaring that they "belong" to one particular girl. The gender-flipping didn't make any of it less gross, and I have a feeling that, in the end, Yuzuki was aiming more for "titillating rape fantasy" than some sort of commentary on rape culture.

There was also some "not like other girls" crap. Rise was the only girl who wasn't involved in the boy-hunting and the only one who seemed to be even slightly bothered by any of it. There were also multiple instances of her fuming about the "heifers" and "sluts" at her school.

If I continue on, it's because I already own the next couple volumes and it's always hard for me to force myself to offload stuff I haven't read. I can't get the "what if it gets better?" voice to shut up, even in cases like this, where odds are really good that it won't get better and might even get worse.

Extras:

Four pages of translators notes, a couple pages of honorifics explanations, a few author freetalk sections (including the postscript, in which the author writes "Well, to tell you the truth, I've been drawing manga just by my instincts, so I don't know the basics of building up a story." (175)), and at least one humorous four-panel comic featuring characters from the series.

 

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

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review 2019-01-04 22:37
Brutal but stunning dark fantasy, this chilling debut goblin-king novel has roots in Norse mythology
White Stag - Kara Barbieri

In this dark fantasy, Janneke is the last child in a family of daughters and has been groomed to be the ‘male heir’, having been taught to hunt, track, and fight. When her village was burned to the ground she was the only survivor and was taken captive by the malicious goblin Lydian, who scars her for life, and who then sends her to work for his nephew Soren.

She then has to serve this monster who she is bonded to in the Permafrost. A brutal hunt begins for the beautiful white stag as Lydian and Soren compete for the throne of the next Goblin King. Janneke's humanity comes at the cost of becoming more attached and loyal to the goblin Soren, and as she has to learn to survive in the world she has been made to live in, learning truths about the past and about who she really is.

 

This is the first novel from a talented new author, Kara Barbieri, who brought it to life on WattPad; she has imagined a world called the Permafrost, heavily influenced by Nordic mythology, laden with dangerous monsters alongside the goblins, living in an unforgiving frozen landscape. Set to be the start of a series, ‘White Stag’ is both frightening and captivating.

*Frightening because of the amount of sheer brutality in the novel: there are plenty of references to rape, torture, mutilation, and abuse, as well as all the combat/fighting leading to bloodshed and descriptions of injuries and more. Janneke has been victim to unspeakable acts at the hands of Lydian, and we gradually learn about his true capabilities as the story goes on, making him just about the vilest character you can possibly ever read about. Soren, who she is bound to, is the unlikely antidote to this goblin villain, and ironically becomes the one to bring romance and emotion to her world, despite the ‘humanity’ leaving her life.

*That's your trigger warning, folks!

 

 

What I found most appealing about the book, is the journey that Janneke goes on, both physically and emotionally, which kept me captivated throughout; the hunt and the battles are relentless and test her constantly, and the relationship with Soren gradually changes. I've read some criticism of the relationship between her and Soren (I made the mistake of reading others' reviews, which I don't normally do), and I disagree that it would be unlikely that she would become attached to him, given that she is his charge and bound to him. I wasn't sure whether to attribute her feelings towards Soren to a sort of Stockholm syndrome or because she genuinely developed feelings for him because he seemed to care for her (he became more human as she lost her humanity). The dichotomy here is fascinating. They've been attached for some hundred years or so, and the intensity would undoubtedly bring some connection; why now though is more the question, but it makes for great reading.

 

Barbieri has set the stage for a series in a world that may trigger many readers but evokes images, not unlike the Game of Thrones and is for anyone who loves Viking or Nordic-inspired tales and mythology. I appreciated her sense of humor throughout the novel, and I know there is so much more to come from this bright light that is Kara Barbieri.

Source: www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863517-white-stag
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review 2018-12-08 09:01
A great courtroom drama/psychological thriller that will keep you thinking
Anatomy of a Scandal: The brilliant, must-read novel of 2018 - Sarah Vaughan

Thanks to NetGalley and to Simon & Schuster UK for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I got a copy of this book a while back, but I must confess it got buried under tonnes of other books at a time when there were many things on my mind. I kept seeing the book here and there but wasn’t even sure I had a copy any longer. Eventually, as it always happens at the end of the year, I saw a list with recommended reads for the year that ends, with this novel featured prominently, and it was the push I needed to start reading it. I apologise for the delay because it was well worth a read.

The book opens up the 2nd of December 2016, is set in the UK, and is mostly narrated chronologically by a collection of characters. Kate, a QC (the prosecution lawyer in other countries) working in London tells of her experience in court, prosecuting sexual crimes, in the first person. The rest of the characters’ perspectives we get are narrated on the third person, and include those of Ali, a friend Kate met while she was a college student; Sophie, the wife of a junior conservative minister, James, and now stay at home Mum; James himself, the only male account, an upper-class man who always knew his future was golden, and Holly, whose narration starts in 1992, in Oxford. She is a fish out of the water, a young girl from the North, from a modest family, who has managed to get into an Oxford College to study English with a grant, and she suffers a cultural shock at first, although later things seem to look up until… (No spoilers here). It takes a while for all the strands of the story to fit together, although we soon realise there are some coincidences, and some of the people whose narrations appeared disconnected at first, had crossed paths years back.

The author, who as a political journalist has more insight than most people into what goes on in political office and in the government, provides a detailed and totally immersing account of the life of privilege of those who seem destined for “better things” from the very start, and creates very credible and nuanced characters. Vaughan is skilled at describing the atmosphere of the government corridors and of the Old Bailey, and as skilled at shining a light on the characters and their motivations. We have those who feel entitled to everything; characters who keep lying to themselves because they feel they got what they wanted and should now be happy with it, even if it has turned out to be far less ideal than they had always thought; the survivors who reinvented themselves and paid the price of never being completely at ease in their skins, and we have big areas of grey. (I think this book would be ideal for a book club, as there is much to discuss and plenty of controversial topics to keep the conversation going). What is a relationship and what is not? What is love and what is only lust? And central to the whole book, a big question, what is consent? Is it a matter of opinion? Although the definition of the crime seems very clear, when it comes to what people think or “know” in their heads at the time, is anything but.

Although the book is told from different perspectives, it is not confusing to read. Each chapter is headed by the name of the character and the date, and we soon get to know who is who, because their narration and their personalities are very different. That does not mean there aren’t plenty of surprises in the book, and although some we might suspect or expect, the story is well paced, the revelations are drip-fed and make the tension increase, and with the exception of one of the characters (hopefully!), it is not difficult to empathise and share in the thoughts and the moral and ethical doubts of most of the characters. We might think we know better and we would do the right thing but determining what the right thing is can be tough in some cases. And we all compromise sometimes, although there are limits.

I have read some reviews complaining about the amount of detail in the book and they also say that it is slow and nothing much happens. The book is beautifully observed, and the way it explains the ins-and-outs of the trial feels realistic. Perhaps the problem is that we are used to books and movies where everything takes place at lightning speed, and there isn’t a moment to contemplate or observe what is truly happening, beyond the action. This is a thinking book, and there are not big action pieces; that much is true. I have mentioned there are surprises. Secrets are revealed as well, but they surface through digging into people’s memories, or getting them to recognise the truth, not with a gun or a punch. The way we connect with the characters and the layers upon layers of stories and emotions make for a gripping reading experience but not a light one. I have sometimes read books or watched movies that have such a frenzied pace that I always come out at the other end with the feeling that I’ve missed something, some gap or hole in the plot that I would be able to discover if only I were given some time to breathe and think, but that is not the case here. Even the turns of events you might not have expected are fully grounded and make perfect sense, both action-wise and according to the personality of the protagonists. No big flights of fancy here.

This is a book for those who love psychological thrillers, and courtroom dramas that go beyond the standard formula. Although it is a book with strong roots in England, the British Criminal Justice System and the country’s politics, it is so well-written that it will make readers from everywhere think and will inevitably bring to mind cases and well-known characters at a national and international level. Now that I live in Spain, I could not help but keep thinking about the infamous case of “La manada”, where definitions of sexual crimes have become a hot political potato, for very good reason. The debate that the #MeToo has generated should be kept alive, and anything that contributes to that is useful, and if it is a great book, all the better.

I know it is silly, but I was happy to discover that I had finished reading the book on exactly the same date when the book comes to an end, 7th of December 2018. I take that as a sign and look forward to reading many more books by the author.

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review 2018-09-12 23:21
Superbly written novel based on the tragic true story of young Italian painter Artemesia Gentileschi
Blood Water Paint - Joy McCullough

My newly-formed little book club said they wanted a book possibly with poetry or essays, so this was one of my selections. I knew Joy McCullough’s book came with glowing reviews and it had been on my TBR for a while, but I wasn’t quite prepared for what I was about to read.

‘Blood Water Paint’, based on the true but heartbreaking story of the iconic young Italian painter Artemesia Gentileschi, literally took my breath away. 

 

Reading a novel based in verse (with some portions written in regular prose) with historical facts at its core, was quite new to me, and thank goodness for those mental (natural) breaks that came with the way it’s written, because it was one of the most astounding accounts of rape and incest I have ever read. This may well be based in Rome in 1610 and written in a way that doesn’t reveal certain details of such events as a reader may be used to reading, but I would still put up a big, red flag for a trigger warning. I had to put down the book for a breather about halfway through because of the tragic events unfolding within the pages. It is brutal, heart-breaking, and so emotional.

 

Artemesia was such a talented artist, but she and other women - within the book, we also learn the stories of both Susanna and Judith - basically had no rights or the right to an opinion in those days; women were stoned to death, and other brutal punishments were served at the hands of men who saw women as property. Artemesia’s father sees his own daughter as such, having her do the paintings and call them his own, and turns a blind eye to the events in this own home while he drinks after his wife/her mother dies. It’s hard to read such things, but throughout, Artemesia stays adamant that she will persevere and not let these men steal her ability to show her truth on the canvas. 

 

It’s uncanny that the ‘me too’ movement resonates so strongly when reading a book like this, but four centuries later we shouldn’t be having to make the comparisons, perhaps. I was so moved by this book, and by my own experience, and I hope many young women reach for this book and get a discussion going. I’m looking forward to our book club meeting; this isn’t ‘light poetry fare’ by any means, and this book SHOULD spark a lot of conversation. Artemesia’s life (and many others) shouldn’t be in vain, for these experiences are too common place. 

 

A note on the writing: Joy McCullough, as a debut author, has written a masterpiece. She wrote this as a play and then adapted it to be read as a book in this form. It’s masterful, and so beautiful to read. Since she’s local to Seattle, I’m happy to say she will be at the book club that will be meeting today; I’m glad we connected. I can’t wait for our group discussion. Absolutely superbly written. 

 

**Update: Congratulations go out to Joy for the announcement that Blood Water Paint is on the long list for the 2018 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

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review 2018-08-31 18:55
Quirky, funny, and smart, ‘Unclaimed Baggage’ takes on some big issues in small town Alabama
Unclaimed Baggage - Jen Doll

It’s probably humanly impossible to not like a book with fluffy clouds and a little squirrel holding nuts on the cover. So far, I believe this to be 100% true.

 

‘Unclaimed Baggage’, while having nothing to do with now-endangered and very cute red squirrels, is just as adorable a book on the inside as it is on the outside, and if it’s that cover that draws you in (like it did me), so be it). It’s the goods inside though that will make you stay a while.

 

The title of the book is the name of the store that brings three new and unlikely friends together in small town Alabama. Doris has been working at Unclaimed Baggage for a while, and takes great pride in her work, unpacking suitcases that have lost their owners somewhere along the way on their journeys around the world, left at airports, unclaimed, unnamed. The contents of the bags are then sold in this unique store, which gets customers from all over the place, and even has an Instagram feed.
Nell is the newcomer, who has been made to move from the Chicago suburbs to this tiny Southern town, away from her boyfriend and BFFs, and at the start of the summer too. Forced to get a summer job by her rocket scientist mom, she fortunately meets Doris at the store.


And to round out the unlikely trio, we have Grant Collins, the hometown (but recently disgraced) football star, struggling with a drinking problem, having recently lost his girlfriend, as well as his way. His mom calls in a favor and gets him a job at the store, which is probably the best thing to ever happen.
Over the course of their summer (but barely a couple of my days) this trio is taken through a bonding experience like no other, and not only do they have infinitely a more exciting summer than I had, these unlikeliest of friends learn some big eye-opening things about the world.

 

Author Jen Doll is a smart writer, and beneath all the adorable quirkiness, she presents a whole host of issues that teens (and a lot of us, in fact), have dealt and might deal with: sexual assault, alcohol abuse (particularly how it’s accepted in certain groups in high school), grief and loss, racism, a particular brand of which is still especially pervasive in the South, as well as an expectation for everyone to subscribe to the same Christian dogma.
Doll also gives us these wonderful teen characters that challenge these issues in a way that I found, for a change, to be brave instead of obnoxious, to be thoughtful instead of preoccupied, and actually give us cause to be sympathetic to their faults (especially dear Grant).

 

One key element of this novel, underneath all that quirkiness which I just loved, is relationships, and since this is a contemporary YA novel, it’s worth noting that it isn’t filled with text conversations, and there are also positive family relationships in this book, with the parents actually feeling like real people. I’m finding this is becoming a rarity in my reading lately (is it really so bad to put that out there?). Additionally, the close relationship Doris had with her aunt Stella, who’s passed away, plays a big part in the book; the exploration of Doris’ grief and the influence she had on her, adds depth to this story and her character.

 

All of this though, is served up with heaps and heaps of Southern fried syrupy goodness and charm, or at least, a furry manatee, and suitcases with their own names. The ‘scenes’ at the store were so wonderful, I wanted more, with all these amazing artifacts and personal belongings from people all over the world ending up on their shelves with the teens wondering their backstories.


I also didn’t even mind the fact that Jen Doll uses the alternating ‘voices’ of Doris, Nell, and Grant, to tell the story, which is a writing device I was becoming tired of lately but in the case of ‘Unclaimed Baggage’, I found it worked well. The book is also divided up into the three months of the summer vacation, to give you a sense of time flow.

 

However ‘slow’ their (or anyone’s) summer went, I raced through this book. It is funny, quirky, thoughtful, and full of so much heart that I can’t help but love it to pieces.

 

*I gratefully received this ARC as part of Miss Print's ARC Adoption Program."). 
This squirrel is being released into the wild on September 18th, ‘18.

Source: www.goodreads.com/book/show/36949992-unclaimed-baggage
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