ARC REVIEW: Do Not Disturb

Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for providing me with an ARC. I send my apologies for not getting to it sooner.

Do Not Disturb by Claire Douglas is a domestic thriller set in a small, remote village in Wales. After her husband suffers a mental health crisis, Kirsty thinks it would be best to start over somewhere fresh. Uprooting her family from their life in London, Kirsty, Adrian, and their two young daughters move into a Gothic old guesthouse with Kirsty’s mother in hopes of beginning over again as the owners of a cute B&B. When estranged family brings drama with them, things take a dark turn and results in a murder that any one of them could have committed.

What I was hoping for out of this novel was a Clue-like murder mystery filled with tension and false leads. Unfortunately for more, this was actually a domestic thriller – a sub-genre that I always think I like more than I actually do. That’s not to say this book isn’t good – I mean, I read the whole thing in less than three days – but domestic thrillers just aren’t my thing.

What I liked was the pacing, the way the drama unfolds is fast paced and makes you itch for what is going on. The first-person perspective from Kirsty really adds an extra layer of suspicion regarding who can actually be trusted, making the pace seem even faster as it makes you want to keep reading. The twists were wild and for a moment, actually tricked me into thinking this was a different kind of book all together. I applaud Douglas on writing so many different red herrings and interweaving so many individual story threads. If domestic thrillers are your thing, I 100% recommend this one.

Trigger warnings: attempted suicide, mentions of completed suicide, child abuse, mentions of sexual assault, alcoholism

REVIEW: Territory of Light

I’m going to start this review right off the bat by saying that I picked this book up for the sole reason that Tsushima Yuuko is the daughter of Dazai Osamu, my favourite Japanese author in history. Had it not been for that connection I honestly doubt I would have picked it up at all.

Territory of Light is a short novella made up of serialized vignettes that look into the life of the nameless narrator as she does her best to raise her two-year-old daughter in the midsts of a separation. Dreamlike in the way these peaks into a life on the edge of losing it all, this novella drifts in and out of time as it deals with loss, longing, depression, and the hardships a young single mother faces.

From the beginning, my own childhood definitely resulted in this book inflicting a few gut punches, but then it began to shift in a way I’m not sure I can explain and instead of seeing myself in the place of the narrator’s daughter, I imagined the author and her mother overlapping within the characters. Tsushima was only a year old when Dazai was discovered dead, having drowned in a canal with his lover, Yamazaki Tomie. I can’t begin to imagine the trauma that caused for Tsushima, let alone her mother who had clearly been abandoned due to Dazai’s self destructive whims and ever changing moods. When the narrator discusses the death of her father within the story, and the way it affected the character of her mother, it read to me as an accusation – but not necessarily a negative one – directed at Dazai for not being there, for leaving them not only for another woman, but in death as well.

Knowing what I know about Dazai absolutely coloured my reading this book and I found something cathartic in reading it as well as greatly appreciating the different perspective – even if it’s a fictionalized one – regarding a man I greatly admire. I definitely plan on seeing out more of Tsushima’s work available in English and hope to one day be able to read her stories in the original Japanese. It would be curious to see if her style is similar to that of her father’s. Especially considering both were cursed with only placing second for the Akutagawa prize.

REVIEW: Pretty Boy Detective Club #1

Long time anime fans will be more than aware of the talents of NISIOISIN, author of not only the Death Note novels, Another Note: Tales of the BB Murder Case and L: Change the World, but also his own famously popular Monogatari series. When I first heard of this series through the trailer for the brand new anime, I grew even more excited to know it was based on a new series from NISIOISIN.

Book one of the Pretty Boy Detective Club is titled The Dark Star That Shines For You Alone and follows narrator, Dojima Mayumi, as she takes to her middle school’s mysterious Pretty Boy Detective Club to help find a star she has not been able to locate for 10-years. The stakes for this aspiring astronaut are high as she has promised her parents that she would give up her space travelling dreams by her 14th birthday. The boys determine her case is a beautiful one and agree to take it on… only to be caught up in a much bigger plot than any of them expected with far more danger than anyone signed on for.

Right off the bat I fell in love with every single one of the characters. The boys themselves are entirely original combinations of shojo boy tropes and a female lead that is equal parts ditzy and observant. From the get-go, the way the cast interacted with each other reminded me of Ouran High School Host Club and as things got going, it was absolutely The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya levels of chaotic. It made me laugh so much while also making me relate wholeheartedly to the dejected, self-depreciating Mayumi.

I wanted something light to read, I wanted someone fun. And that’s exactly what I got. I wish nothing but the best for the anime adaptation (which has a theme song by the incredibly sumika and has given us all a goofy new dance to learn that seriously only intensifies the comparison to Haruhi Suzumiya since the dance makes me think of the Hare Hare Yukai) as it continues on.

If you’re new to light novels and want some slice-of-life shenanigans, I highly recommend picking up this one. If you’ve been around for a while and want some nostalgia, I highly recommend picking up this one. The Pretty Boy Detective Club is absolutely a read for everyone.

Three cheers for NISIOISIN’s continued success.

REVIEW: You are Eating an Orange. You are Naked.

In his debut novel, Sheung-King weaves a story of a dying relationship through a combination of first and second person POV. The layers created by folktales and references to classic literature make for a bubble of reality that feels like being stuck in a dream. 

As “you” and the narrator twist their way through the world, the style of the writing was reminiscent of the surrealness Murakami Haruki is most known for while reminding me specifically of the odd “real but slightly-to-the-left” unease of Murakami Ryu’s work – but without the violence, of course. This is a very arty story and I don’t know who I would ever really recommend it to while also being a book I would absolutely recommend simply for the beauty in Sheung-King’s metaphors. Similarly to the complicated comparrisons Lars von Trier makes in his film Nymph( )maniac (such as fly-fishing to nymphomania or cake forks to femininity in wealthy men), Sheung-King manages to grasp a similar method using a man who walks pigs as an antonym of corporation and national pride as a lie made by dictators and white colonizers. Even cucumber sandwiches. I live for this kind of poetry in writing, and it doesn’t hurt to mention Yozo’s antonym game from No Longer Human in order to win me over.

(If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll be more than aware of my deep-seated adoration for Dazai Osamu)

But what’s ended up leaving a true mark on me after devouring this novel in a few hours, was the section discussing anti-Asian racism. Sheung-King draws specifically at one moment on the Hollywood example of Lost in Translation. As a white person, my problems with that film have always been the age gap between Scarlet Johansson and Bill Murray, not truly looking at the racism issues within the film until far more recently. The gist of the film is two lonely white people are lonely and white in Japan until they meet and bond over their mutual isolation in a country they are unfamiliar with. It reinforced that “others” are always meant to conform to white people needs – even in their own countries. In North America, immigrants and tourists alike are expected to adapt and conform to white society or else risk facing harassment and/or violence. Meanwhile, white tourists are constantly expecting to be catered to no matter where they go. It made me wonder if Lost in Translation would still be critically acclaimed and “profound” if it was about people of colour attempting to navigate the US or even Canada.

This section also made me sad as the narrator “apologizes” for growing angry and upset about the strange kind of racism he specifically faces. I cannot know this pain, I will never truly understand it, but it hurts to think of anyone feeling they need to apologize for being angry in regards to the racism they face. No one should be made to feel like that.

You are Eating an Orange. You are Naked. is a book to think about in regards to have to simply live, to simply love. I absolutely adored how it unfolded like a collection of stories from Akutagawa Ryunosuke I read recently, layered as it was in varying formats. I loved reading the descriptions of Toronto as it really feels instead of how it’s more often discussed as if it’s the only big city in Ontario.

I may have gotten a little ramble-y with this review so I’ll end it here by saying that I will certainly be keeping an eye out for what Sheung-King comes out with next.

ARC REVIEW: Yokohama Station SF

Thank you to YenPress and NetGalley for an eARC of this light novel.

When it comes to finding new light novels to read I go for two things: title and cover. I find that much like starting a new anime, it’s fun to dive in blind and be taken along for the ride and light novels are much the same way for me. I picked up Yokohama Station SF on the basis that it had “Yokohama” in the title – one of the main places I have a deep-seated desire to visit when I eventually make it to Japan – and the stand-alone science fiction aspect.

Yokohama Station SF is a futuristic dystopian novel akin to something like Space Odyssey 2001 (which is funnily enough referenced several times throughout the novel) as it involves a self-functioning station that has taken over the majority of Japan after starting out as a system meant to be used to assist with the efficiency of subways stations constantly under construction for upgrades and the likes. The station has gotten out of control and people unable to afford the special chip implants needed in order to stay within the station are dying of starvation or otherwise forced out of their homes by the ever-expanding station. A young boy from one of these settlements end up entering the station with a special limited pass, on a mission of someone else’s to see to stopping the expansion once and for all.

Right away, I loved the concept of this station going haywire, and appreciated the author’s note in the back of the book that mentioned it was inspired by constant construction in large cities, referencing Yokohama subway station specifically. Being from Southern Ontario, it reminded me of the horrors that are the construction closures constantly effecting the Gardener Expressway as well as Union Station in Toronto. As much as I loved the concept, I felt something was lacking at times. It is a slow burn of a story that follows a few different characters but I felt each of them lacked the depth needed to create a sense of caring for them. I was more interested in the rest of the world building rather than the mission at hand for the cast or the stakes they were facing. 

Once the climax of the book was done with, it was a bit of a dull ending. Again, though, I still enjoyed reading this book and loved the concept overall. What I will suggest though to North American readers, if you are unfamiliar with the geography of Japan, the map in the cover of the finished copies or having Google Maps open on another device will make understanding the layout of the Station a lot easier to follow.

Yokohama Station SF by Isukari Yuba is available now!

REVIEW: Notes of a Crocodile

『There was no one I wanted to share my thoughts with. There was nothing I could do to lessen the pain, no source that I could pinpoint. Secrectly, though, I did sort of enjoy being a fucked-up mess. Apart from that, I didn’t have a whole lot going on.』

I don’t recall how I stumbled upon Notes of a Crocodile, but I have to say that this reality bending book out of Taiwan that was written in 1994, somehow found every single one of my vulnerabilities and laid them out before me.

Qui Miaojin (as translated beautifully by Bonnie Huie) complies a novel in fragments collection from a journal-like format of a story. These fragments follow our queer narrator, nameless but for the nickname Lazi in certain fragments, as she struggles with friendships, relationships, and meaning in a life of romantic suffering and existential dread. It is a story of messy people who just want to be loved but not knowing how to reciprocate or even to love themselves due to each of their respective intimate holdups. But more than that, it is a general story of identity and longing for acceptance. The metaphor of the crocodiles in human suits is one that could be applied to many different identities, sexual orientation, gender or gender expression, anything that separates one from the “norm” of society. At first a tricky metaphor to navigate, it ads a truly beautiful and all encompassing layer to the thesis of the book.

(Although I would like to point out that the crocodile metaphor is intentionally directed as a media fascination in Taiwan in the 90s that resulted in lots of shameful “undercover” reporting that is reportedly the cause of the suicides of several girls and women who were outted as a result of the coverage.)

Now, everyone has had a messy relationship. Romantic or platonic, we all know what it feels like to be dumped, left behind, forgotten, replaced, or otherwise rejected. Sometimes it is a mutual parting but in my own experiences, it has almost always been messy or at the very least complicated. I know that it is a loss that is unique because you are mourning something that is technically still there. It is also easy to leave something you are afraid of losing through self-sabotage, forcing the other person to walk away first. It is a habit that is hard to break and the regret of such actions often weighs heavily – Qui does an amazing job of really getting across just how heavy that weight really is.

It is difficult to “review” a book like this, especially when it hits your buttons. All that’s really left to say is that if you have ever felt left behind without closure, read this book. If you feel lost and alone, read this book. If you struggled with a sense of self in the current reality, read this book. 

I am incredibly thankful to have been able to experience this writing in English.

REVIEW: The Boys From Brazil

This is probably the most random book discovery I’ve ever made. I’m a big fan of the adult cartoonArcher and when first watching the show back when it started, I was always curious about the jokes being made towards the scientist character, Kreiger, about his being “a boy from Brazil” and the other strange Nazi-related digs directed at him. Back then when I googled what they meant, I learned that while most of the jokes are related to the monstrosities committed by Dr. Josef Mengele – the Nazi known as The Angel of Death – the “boy from Brazil” references are from this book written in the 70s by author Ira Levin (best known to the world as the author being Rosemary’s Baby that was later adapted into an incredibly success horror film directed by Roman Polanski and starring Mia Farrow).

It’s been years since I’ve thought of the existence of this book but while re-watchingArcher on Netflix, I figured maybe it was time to change it up a little and give The Boys from Brazil a read.

Levin’s book is set in the 70s as the trials of Nazi war criminals are mostly coming to a close in Germany and Austria. Meanwhile in Brazil, Mengele and several of his SS collegues have formed an Organization to carry out a secret plan that will re-introduce the Reich: kill 94 seemingly random men across the globe that are in civil servant professions and are approximately 65-years-old. When “Nazi hunter” Yakov Liebermann gets wind of what is happening, he is determined to learn what Mengele is up to, no matter what.

Despite the content, this is a fairly easy book to get through and I enjoyed the sci-fi twist in the events that explain who “the boys from Brazil” are. I was invested in the story from the start and the way Levin combines fiction with reality was very well done. The only thing that got to me was his depiction of Mengele. The man was made of cruelty and evil, one of the most terrifying and dangerous people to come out of WWII, and yet there were moments of him talking to portraits or photos of Hitler (and at one point, the sky) in a way that honestly felt like a child confessing their undying love to a poster of their favourite celebrity. It made me laugh and roll my eyes every time it happened because it just felt like such a caricature. That aside though, I did appreciate that the content wasn’t too heavy in regards to the things Mengele actually did, as even in 2021, his “research” gives me the chills. 

If you’re a fan of spy-like thrillers and are looking for a WWII twist, I definitely recommend this book. I’ve yet to see the film adaptation, but I have also heard that is worth watching.

The only other thing I will say – as it is hard not to spoil what happens – is that I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I wish this book was how Mengele actually died. His real-life drowning was too good for him and he should have been taken out like he was in this book.

MANGA MARATHON REVIEW: One Piece [ part three]

So in February, I fell behind on my One Piece marathon, so I did my damnedest to get all caught up in March. Thankfully, I succeeded with getting back on track and oh boy do I have so many thoughts!

Volumes 21 through 23 brought us to the end of the Baroque Works/Alabasta arc and, believe me when I say I cried at the Straw Hats raising their X-marked wrists up for Vivi when she decided to stay with her people in Alabasta. The fight with Crocodile was so intense and it really set Luffy up to look absolutely incredible. But from there we have Nico Robin joining the crew just because she “has nowhere else to go” but something about her at this point just rubs me the wrong way and I’ve gotta say that I side with Zolo when I say I’ve got a bad feeling about her. Of course, Luffy doesn’t mind and thinks of Robin’s devil fruit powers as entertaining (the panel where she makes hands sprout from the top of Luffy’s head and he turns around like “HEY USOPP, I’M CHOPPER!” had me dying of laughter). 

Back on the seas again, it’s time to head to the next adventure.

The Merry-Go lands on the next island, a place full of ruthless pirates who care only about money and power and the hierarchy of power is determined by whoever has the highest bounty on their head. With Robin on board, the Straw Hats have a total of over $200,000,000 berries on their heads but – of course – with Luffy’s demeanor no one is about to take that seriously. It was a fun mini-arc for sure about not giving up on dreams and holding true to your beliefs. It was awe-inspiring to see Luffy seriously acting like a captain. When he tells Nami to stop carrying on about fighting because she’s being shameful to them and when Luffy and Zolo both stand their ground, refusing to fight without cause, are now two of my favourite moments to have happened.

From there, we get to learn more about the mythical island in the sky and Luffy meets Cricket, the descendant of a great liar who was executed for blathering on about a city made of gold. Cricket is determined to prove that his ancestor was not a liar or a disgrace and helps Luffy make the perilous journey into the sky.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Skypiea arc if I’m being honest. I found the world building of it to be really unique but the miscommunication plot of the rivaling peoples was just really frustrating considering the Alabasta arc was all about misdirection and miscommunication as well. The sky people vs. the accidentally abducted people of Shandians who were blasted into the sky was just so frustrating because if they only listened to each other, they could figure things out. Even with the god figure Kami Eneru getting closure to completing his plan of mass destruction of Skypiea as a whole, if only everyone would listen to each other, maybe things could have been prevented before they started. Now despite my desperate urge to just skip through the rest of this arc, the literally explosive ending of volume 30, I knew things were going to get better as we get close to the conclusion.

Volume 31 was primarily backstory of how things reached this point in Skypiea. Lots of legends of the people in the sky as well as what Cricket’s ancestor, Montblanc Noland, actual went through before he was branded a liar and executed but the very kingdom he served. This entire volume hit really different given how the Shandians are suffering from a plague they refuse to see the truth of. Noland instantly vows to help them but he is brushed off by several warrior leaders of the tribe who believe a blood sacrifice is what will cure them. His words hit especially hard in chapter 289 when he yells, “No matter how great your gods are, people’s lives are more precious!” So many people are dead or dying because of the current pandemic state we’re living through and yet there are far more people refusing to see the facts right in front of them than there really should be. It’s heartbreaking and I wish I could slap them with Noland’s words that are just so true I could scream. 

Once Luffy finds out that the bell of Shandia needs to be rung to let Cricket know that his ancestor was speaking truthfully, that the current Shandians fight to protect it so they can ring it and let Noland know they’re okay, he makes that the end game goal. If anyone knows the weight of a promise to a friend, it’s Luffy. In the next volume, when Luffy is successful, I was once again crying because he did it and Cricket will know he did it. The ending of this arc that I didn’t care for in the beginning was a weird melancholic punch in the gut as Cricket knew what Luffy did for him but wasn’t able to see him again. It was beautiful but sad and yet the adventure continues once again.

Our next mini arc was a volume long fight for crew mates as Luffy and the crew get sucked into a game of Davy Back where two rival pirate crews fight it out in a series of three different games. The wager on each game is a member of the crew who can be stolen by the winner or the very heart of the ship: the Jolly Roger. The games themselves were a lot of fun – I’m a sucker for Sanji and Zolo bickering at all times – but the “announcer” aspect of it made the chapters feel cluttered and made it drag out to the point where I just really wanted to get to the next real arc.

Even though I’m still reeling from what I’ve read from the next real arc.

The Merry-Go has been through hell and is in desperate needs of repairs so the gang make their way to Water Seven where they get into it with the Franky Family, a bunch of hooligans who dismantle pirate ships that make their way to the city famous for shipbuilding. Luffy, Usopp, and Nami are hit with a double whammy of bad news when they’re told that the Merry-Go has no chance of being repaired and then $200,000,000 of their $300,000,000 berries treasure is stolen by the Franky Family. The gut punch of distress the news of the Merry-Go hit me with was like when I saw the guild building destroyed for the first time in Fairy Tail

I love the rollercoaster of this arc so far as we see Luffy start to make some very real decisions for the sake of his crew and we have Usopp not only stick up for himself and man-up a bit, but we also see him truly fight for what he believes in. Usopp not only wants to prove his worth to a crew made up a basically superhumans as well as doesn’t want to give up on Merry. His fight with Luffy broke my heart into more pieces than I can count.

Obviously this arc is nearing the climax by the end of volume 40, but I’ll talk more about it when I’ve completed it.

But what I will say is that this arc really proves the point of why One Piece is not only still going, but why it is Big Three. Oda Eiichiro is the gold standard shonen manga needs to look towards. Volume 40 ends on Chapter 388 and it feels like I’ve buzzed through it. The pacing of not only the plot but the points where character development is introduced is so natural it’s perfection. Not only that, but the layering of the plot is what I find lacks in so many new series who attempt “Big Three energy”. Water Seven is three different arc combined into one large one that will further the main plot of Luffy becoming King of the Pirates. We have Usopp’s character development leading into the sub-plot of the Merry-Go’s death which further leads into Franky vs. Galley-La shiphands which furthermore continues into the grander plot against the CP9 and rescuing Robin. There are just so many layers all meticulously wrapped together and intricately intertwined, it’s like magic.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: I take back anything negative I’ve ever said about One Piece. Sure there have been moments in the near 400 chapters I’ve read so far that weren’t my favourite, but that doesn’t take away from the absolute perfection that it is.

If you’re hesitating on trying the manga because of the chapter count, stop it. Just jump in and fall in love with these goofballs. Naruto was 710 chapters. Bleach was 686. The Dragon Ball franchise totals at a little over 550. 1008 current chapters is nothing. Believe me when I say you won’t regret it.

乾杯、尾田ーせんぱい。長生き、モンキー・D・ルフィ。

REVIEW: Vampire Hunter D #1

The last few days I had a reader’s craving for vampires but no love story. I was also hoping for something with a darker aesthetic while still being light. Despite how overly specific that want is, I was able to check all of the boxes with the Japanese classic, Vampire Hunter D by Kikuchi Hideyuki with illustrations by Final Fantasy‘s own, Amano Yoshitaka.

Originally published in the 80s, Vampire Hunter D is a sci-fi western featuring the ever classic story of humanity against the creatures of the night. Ten thousand years have passed since the human race destroyed itself in a nuclear arms race and regressed to Frontier times. But vampires and artificially created other monsters are trying to regain control so it is up to the various classifications of Hunters to wipe them out by the request of their employeers.

This first book follows the plight of Doris Lang and her brother, Dan, who hire the mysterious D to act as protector after Doris is attacked by the local Count Lee. But there’s more to the job than a simple vampire slaying as Doris is also plagued by the ruffians of her town and D has unknowingly attracted some negative attention from a gang of especially skills bandits. With a lot of strangeness on the line, both D and Doris may be in over their heads. Or are they?

I loved the ol’ fashion Western vibe of this first book and the way it combines the classic aesthetic of the traditional vampire story just made me so happy. The story is action packed but still light enough to get through without having to think too hard about what’s going on. Doris was a sweetheart and the mystery surrounding D is too intriguing to stop here. The translation was so incredibly smooth, I would have thought it was originally written in English so a major shout out to translator Kevin Leahy. I loved the combination of traditional vampire lore with new additions due to the crazy world building. The idea that the vampires are scientific geniuses who can create their own servants through genetic engineering as well as robotics, was super cool to me and I look forward to hearing more about that side of the story as the series continues.

Needless to say, it was just what I wanted right now and I’m so happy to have found something that fit my incredibly niche reading wants.

ARC REVIEW: Solo Leveling #1

Thank you to YenPress and NetGalley for a copy of the eARC

For the last few months, I have been following closely along with YenPress and their marketing for the official translation for the incredibly popular manhwa for South Korean series Solo Leveling. Based on the best selling webnovel by Chugong, I’ve been very excited for both.

Solo Leveling follows Sung Jin Woo in an alternate reality where “gates” full of monsters are opening up around the world and people have awakened as hunters to clear and close them. The ranking system goes from E (the bottom rung where hunters are little more than regular citizens) to S class and Jin Woo is at the bottom, known around his city as “the worst hunter ever” for his habit of constantly getting himself into trouble. When a raid goes wrong, Jin Woo awakens with unmatched abilities right out of a video game – leveling system included.

Japanese light novels have been my jam lately, so the chance to review a Korean light novel was definitely something I was excited to do. It took me a brief second to adjust to the name format (it always throws me off when I try to figure out if translations put the names in traditional order or adjust for English readers) but I was sucked into the story right away.

I love the characters and the way Jin Woo stumbles his way through figuring out the new leveling system is so original. I do find it interesting how light novel fantasy (whether isekai or otherwise) seem to be very focused on video game like levels and the way those levels are incorporated into a story is always neat to compare. Having never read the manhwa I had visions of this being similar to Sword Art Online, but believe me when I say this is entirely a brilliant original story. I love Jin Woo, a protagonist who is equal parts sweet and cocky, and Jin Ho is so adorable I just want to give him a hug for trying his best.

With an ending that is the calm before the coming storm, I can’t wait for volume 2 of the novel. At least in the meantime, I have YenPress’s edition of the translation for the manhwa to look forward to reading.

Volume 1 of both the light novel and the manhwa are available now!