A Japanese Double-Dip Review…and an Fi50 Reminder!

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Fiction in 50 NEW BUTTON

Before we get started on a double dip from the far East, allow me to inform you that our first Fiction in 50 writing challenge for 2016 kicks off on Monday, the 25th of January.  Our prompt for this month is…

dredging up the past

If you’d like to join in, simply create a piece of poetry or prose in fewer than 51 words and then post the link to your work in the comments of the Fiction in 50 post on Monday.  For more detailed information on the challenge and future prompts, click here.

Now onto our…

imageWell, I promised earlier in the month that I would be bringing you more books featuring Japan and today I deliver on that promise.  I have one middle grade classic revamped for a new generation and one adult contemporary fiction that is perfect for lovers of the quirky road-trip subgenre.    I received both of these from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Let’s start with the one I liked most, which was the middle grade classic revamp: The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui, first published in 1967 and translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

On the first floor of the big house of the Moriyama family, is a small library. There, on the shelves next to the old books, live the Little People, a tiny family who were once brought from England to Japan by a beloved nanny. Since then, each generation of Moriyama-family children has inherited the responsibility of filling the blue glass with milk to feed the Little People and it’s now Yuri’s turn. 


The little girl dutifully fulfils her task but the world around the Moriyama family is changing. Japan is caught in the whirl of what will soon become World War II, turning her beloved older brother into a fanatic nationalist and dividing the family for ever. Sheltered in the garden and the house, Yuri is able to keep the Little People safe, and they do their best to comfort Yuri in return, until one day owing to food restrictions milk is in shorter supply…

blue glassDip into it for…

…a bewitching and moving account of one family’s – and in particular, one young girl’s – attempt to care for others in a desperate situation.  I really loved discovering this story for the first time and I think other adult readers will enjoy it too, never mind the younger ones!  The text reads like a classic children’s story and, being historical fiction, the tale doesn’t have the action-packed pace that one might have come to expect from contemporary middle grade reads, but the story is a deeply engaging take on the theme of the Borrowers, with much to say to a new generation of children.  Yuri is a wonderfully relatable character and readers will be hoping for the best along with her as times get tougher, as well as cheering for her and the Little People as they develop some ingenious methods to overcome hardship.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re looking for fast-paced action and obvious magical themes.  This is a far more subtle offering, combining the hardship of war with the growth and changes of two families.

Overall Dip Factor

The Secret of the Blue Glass is an absolute winner, in my opinion, either as a read-alone for independent youngsters who aren’t afraid to take on some historical content, or as a pre-bedtime read-aloud serial for parents and their mini-fleshlings.  It was wonderfully refreshing to read a story that examined the goings-on of the second World War from a Japanese perspective, touching on patriotism, dissent and political propaganda  in wartime in a way that is accessible to young readers.  This is definitely worth getting your hands on, if you haven’t come across it before.

And now for the adult contemporary fiction, Yuki Chan in Bronte Country by Mick Jackson.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

“They both stop and stare for a moment. Yuki feels she’s spent about half her adult life thinking about snow, but when it starts, even now, it always arresting, bewildering. Each snowflake skating along some invisible plane. Always circuitous, as if looking for the best place to land . . .”

Yukiko tragically lost her mother ten years ago. After visiting her sister in London, she goes on the run, and heads for Haworth, West Yorkshire, the last place her mother visited before her death. Against a cold, winter, Yorkshire landscape, Yuki has to tackle the mystery of her mother’s death, her burgeoning friendship with a local girl, the allure of the Brontës and her own sister’s wrath. Both a pilgrimage and an investigation into family secrets, Yuki’s journey is the one she always knew she’d have to make, and one of the most charming and haunting in recent fiction.

yuki chanDip into it for…

…a chick-lit, road trip, finding one’s self novel with a difference.  “Charming and haunting” certainly sums up the atmosphere of this book, written in a strangely compelling present tense perspective.  Yuki is a likeable, if somewhat neurotic, heroine on a quest to find some peace with her mother’s untimely death in England, ten year’s previously and seems to collect experience that are by turns touching and awkward.  Readers of contemporary who are looking for a main character who is well-developed, but certainly not your average, should take to Yuki like a duck to water.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re looking for a no-brainer holiday read.  I felt like this one had me working quite hard –  whether from the unusual use of present tense, the oddity of Yuki herself of the injections of bizarre dry humour, or a combination of the above – and I suspect that this will take an active, on-form reader to appreciate it.

Overall Dip Factor

If you’d like a change of pace from whatever it is you’ve been reading lately, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that Yuki Chan in Bronte Country will scratch that itch.  It’s a strange mash-up of ye olde world charm with an idiosyncratic main character and a very mysterious back story that will engage readers who are looking for something out of the ordinary and don’t mind leaving a book scratching their heads a little and wondering, “What on earth was that?”

alphabet soup challenge 2016

With such a handy “Y”-based title, I just have to submit Yuki Chan in Bronte Country for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge.  You can check out my progress in this challenge (and maybe suggest some books for the trickier letters!) here.

Until next time,
Bruce

Mondays are for Murder: Miss Pym Disposes…

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It’s time for another murderous Monday and I’ve got a wonderful British mystery for you that is simultaneously classic and mould-breaking. Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey was originally penned in 1946 and the writing was so delightfully engaging that I almost forgot I was reading a murder mystery. You’ll understand more of why that might be so a bit later in this review. So let’s jog on.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A guest lecturer at a college for women, new author Miss Pym becomes involved in a question of cheating during final exams. Does her act of compassion precipitate a fatal accident – or murder?

miss pym

Plot Summary:

Miss Pym Disposes follows the fortunes of young Lucy Pym, who has suddenly found celebrity after penning a bestselling book on psychology. After receiving an invitation from an old friend, now the headmistress of a physical training college for young ladies, to give a guest lecture to the students, Miss Pym finds herself drawn into the busy, energetic world of the seniors and staff. But of course things can’t unfold in such a jolly, English fashion – the possibility of a cheater amongst the ranks of the students sitting final exams is followed by a nasty accident that sours the final weeks of the college year . To top it off, Miss Pym stumbles across some information that could bring the futures of the college girls to ruin.

The Usual Suspects:

Once it becomes apparent that a possible murderer is on the loose, the pool of suspects is reasonably shallow. For most readers, I suspect that the killer will be a close run choice between two or three obvious characters with clear motivations….but then again, there might be a twist waiting in store!

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

As this is not your typical murder mystery, the hunt is short and reasonably transparent as both Miss Pym and the reader zero in on the only possible person/people that could be involved.

Overall Rating:

poison clip art poison clip art poison clip art poison clip art

Four poison bottles for the health benefits of bracing, country air as panacea for gymnastic overexertions

Miss Pym Disposes is easily the most unusual murder mystery I have yet read. This is due, in great part, to the fact that the murder doesn’t actually take place until fully three quarters of the book has gone by. I know for a fact that it is fully three quarters, because my handy Kindle “percentage read” guide told me so. And when it does, it is not immediately apparent that a murder has occurred. And once this does become apparent, there are only a very small handful of people that could conceivably have the motive to commit the act.

So really, the murder bit did not turn out to be the best bit for me, although there is a cheeky little twist at the end that endeared me yet further to Miss Pym. Instead, I thoroughly enjoyed Tey’s tone and the intricate character development that went on as Miss Pym (and in turn, the reader) came to know the girls and the staff better. Tey has a light touch replete with dry humour and the ability to create imagery that is sure to raise a smile. Even though I knew that this was a murder mystery, I didn’t really notice that no murdering had taken place because I was simply enjoying Lucy’s engagements with Dakers and Beau and Miss Lux and Fru Froken and of course, the Nut Tart.

This book would be the perfect book if you are in the mood for a bit of mystery, but would mostly just like a tightly told, highly amusing, deeply engaging holiday in the midst of an English boarding school (for big girls). Having satisfied myself that I thoroughly enjoyed Tey’s work in this one, I will now be seeking out her other mystery titles, particularly those in the Inspector Alan Grant series.

Until next time,

Bruce