Bruce’s Picture Book Round-Up: Caves, Adopted Dinosaurs and Grumpy Frogs…

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Today’s picture book round up is a collection of wild and wacky stories for those who look forward to the unexpected.  Lassos at the ready to rope in a fun new read!

I Will Love You Forever (Tatsuya Miyanishi)

*We received a copy of I Will Love You Forever from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  i will love you forever

While foraging in the prehistoric forest one day, a mother Maiasaura discovers an egg, which she takes back to her nest and protects alongside her own.  When the egg hatches and a tyrannosaurus rex emerges, the Maiasaura mama overlooks the danger and teaches the little T-Rex to be like a Maiasaura.

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you haven’t read any of Miyanishi’s picture books from the Tyrannosaurus series, you are missing out.  I’ve reviewed two of them on the blog previously and they are the most bizarre and beguiling picture books you could ever hope to come across.  I Will Love you Forever is no exception, presenting a heart-wrenching and tear-jerking story of adoptive maternal love, the nature vs nurture debate and the ways in which family influences identity.  The story begins with the heart-warming birth of two very different dinosaurs and their childhood raised as brothers.  When a passing ankylosaurus tips off one of the brothers that one of them might not be as harmless as everyone thinks, it sets off a chain of events that have the little adopted maiasuara-tyrannosaurus questioning his intrinsic nature.  Things come to a head late in the story and the tyrannosaurus is faced with a choice about his future and who he wants to become.  The illustrations are colourful and quirky (and Mad Martha still wants to make a plushie out of the tyrannosaurus!) and the text is set in blocks, allowing for good spacing between the pictures and words.  I highly recommend this series and I think this story is probably most accessible of the three I’ve read for those who aren’t looking for a totally out-there picture book reading experience.

Brand it with:

adoptive parents; nature vs nurture; it’s what’s inside that counts

Grumpy Frog (Ed Vere)

*We received a copy of Grumpy Frog from the publisher via Netgalley *

Two Sentence Synopsis:  grumpy frog

A frog will do anything to prove he’s not grumpy but has trouble tempering his temper when things don’t go his way.  When he meets a friend, he must decide whether his preferences are more important than having fun.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a chaotic, colourful jaunt into the world of likes, dislikes and how to behave when things aren’t as you would like them to be.  Ed Vere’s illustrative style can be loud and somewhat abrasive if you aren’t primed and ready for it but for those who enjoy expressive fonts, thick line drawings and characters with unmistakable facial expressions, there is a lot to enjoy in this book.  Frog is generally a happy guy, though he can sometimes lose it when things aren’t how he likes them.  Thankfully though, other people share this fault and with a bit of calm negotiation everyone can agree on an activity that will make everyone happy.  The arc of this story was a little disjointed for my liking.  I felt that the story switched from a fun “look! the frog says he’s happy but keeps getting angry!’ sort of light comedy, to a friendship/compromise tale which didn’t quite have the same giggle factor.  I think, overall, mini-fleshlings will enjoy this tale if only for the manic mood swings of frog from one page to the next.

Brand it with:

Pet peeves; losing it; win-win situations

The Cave (Rob Hodgson)

*We received a copy of The Cave from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

the cave

The Cave by Rob Hodgson.  Published by Allen & Unwin (Murdoch Books), 26th April, 2017. RRP:$24.99

A wolf is determined to coax a cave-dwelling mammal from its hiding spot…for perfectly innocent purposes, of course!  When the animal emerges, Wolf is in for a surprise and can suddenly appreciate the properties of a deep, dark cave for a hiding place.

Muster up the motivation because…

…there is a twist at the end of this story that turns the plot on its head and will have little ones considering the importance of perspective.  The Cave is a vibrantly illustrated tale of getting what you wish for and then wishing that you hadn’t.  The main protagonist is the stereotypically shifty Wolf, whose only goal is to eat the creature that dwells in the titular cave, and said wolf uses every trick he knows to make this happen.  Throughout the double page illustrations, young readers will have fun spotting the snail and the bowler-hatted worm appear in different, funny positions and the changing seasons, as well as the wonderfully expressive eyes of the cave-dweller, provide plenty of variety for the eye throughout.  I also love that this hardcover edition features a different image on the book cover to the dust jacket.  The twist at the end of the story didn’t quite eke out the laugh that I was expecting from the mini-fleshlings in the dwelling, but I suspect this is a book that will inspire repeat readings.

Brand it with:

If wishes were cave-dwelling mammals; powers of persuasion; every trick in the book

Do any of these take your fancy?  Let me know which books you’ve been rounding up to read lately!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

TBR Friday: The Filth Licker

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TBR Friday

Aaaaand next up in my climb up the Mount TBR Reading Challenge for 2017 is book two in Cristy Burne’s Takeshita Demons series, The Filth Licker.  I finished the first book of the series back in February and since I’m being crushed under the weight of my review pile at the moment, I really needed a quick read to keep up the momentum for this challenge.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Miku is going to School Camp in the forest, with her friend Cait and the rest of her class. It should be fun. But Miku has premonitions of danger, and when Oscar goes down with a festering rash, and a rushing wind blows out the bonfire she’s sure something bad is going on. Then Alex finds the frog-like Filth-Licker in the boys’ toilets, and all at once Miku, Cait and Alex are on a secret mission to overcome the vengeful Shape-Shifters or Super Demons before it’s too late…

Later that night, with Alex kidnapped by a pyromaniac fox, and Cait possessed by some angry sickle weasels, it’s up to Miku and the Filth-Licker to save them all from disaster.

filth licker

Ten Second Synopsis:
Miku, Clair and their class are going on school camp – but Clair seems absentminded, to say the least, and before the class even gets to the camp one of Miku’s classmates has been preyed upon by a Yokai. When the camp leader suggests telling ghost stories around the fire, Miku knows that they are risking the Hyaku Monogatari – an ancient ritual that creates a super-demon.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

A year, roughly

Acquired:

I picked up the first three in this series from the Library Cast-offs bookshop at Nundah, because they featured Yokai and I hadn’t heard of them before.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

A misguided belief that I would have to read all three in the series one after the other.

Best Bits:

  • The Filth Licker featured far more yokai than the first book in the series, with everything from the titular Licker, to weasels with sickles for hands, an invisible set of footsteps that just wants you to get out of his road and a devious, tofu-wielding monk. This one was so packed with yokai that it was a little hard to keep track of who was working with or for whom, and who had or hadn’t taken over which character’s body/thoughts/memory.
  • There is a lot of action in the second half of the book as the three protagonists head into the forest and are chased, kidnapped, set on fire, frozen and generally given the run around by various nefarious spirits.
  • I really like the idea of a Filth Licker demon (I’ve come across it before in other books – particularly Kathryn Tanquary’s The Night Parade – and the one in this story is just adorable.
  • I’m still enjoying coming across inexplicable spirits, like the tofu monk.  These little insights into yokai culture make me want to bust out my Yokai encyclopedia and dive on in.  It’s sitting on my TBR shelf waiting, in case you’re wondering.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • This story was lacking the creepy atmosphere of the first book, and seemed to focus on the action scenes rather than developing any sense of suspense.
  • Much was made early on of Cait’s loss of memory and mood swings and I thought this was going to be more of a focus than it actually became.
  • We still don’t really know much about Miku’s inheritance of her powers.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

I’m still glad I bought all three at once, because otherwise I would be umming and ahhing about whether to get the third one since I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the first.

Where to now for this tome?

To the permanent shelf.  One more to go in the series!

I feel like I’ve lost a bit of momentum this month with my TBR challenge.  I have a massive stack of books that I have to get through for April and the stack seems to be getting higher rather than lower unfortunately.  I’m going to aim to knock over Greenglass House next month.  Even though it’s quite a thick book I’ve been waiting literally years to read it, so I’ve made the decision that it is time to get to it.

Check out my progress toward the Mount TBR Reading Challenge for 2017 here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Remembering the Great East Japan Tsunami and Earthquake of 2011: Hotaka (Through My Eyes)

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Hotaka: Through My Eyes Natural Disaster Zones by John Heffernan and Lyn White.  Published by Allen & Unwin, March 2017.  RRP: $16.99

It would be remiss of me not to review this particular book on this particular date: At 2.46pm on March 11th, 2011 a massive earthquake triggered a deadly tsunami that inundated 560 square kilometres of Japan’s eastern coastline.  The wave also caused major damage at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.  By the time the final effects of the multiple disasters were tallied, more than 24 000 people are confirmed dead or missing and six years on, hundreds of thousands are still displaced.

The Through My Eyes young adult novel series began with the stories of fictional children living in conflict zones throughout the world and has moved on to include the stories of fictional children affected by natural disasters. We received a copy of Hotaka by John Heffernan from Allen & Unwin for review and here is the blurb from Goodreads:

A powerful and moving story about one boy caught up in the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011.

When the tsunami strikes the Japanese seaside town of Omori-wan, the effects are utterly devastating. Three years later, much of what happened on that day is still a mystery. As Hotaka sets about convincing local performers to appear at the town’s upcoming Memorial Concert, he finds himself increasingly haunted by memories of best friend, Takeshi, who perished without trace in the tsunami. Then his friend Sakura becomes involved in an anti-seawall movement, and all too quickly the protest gets serious. As the town and its people struggle to rebuild their lives, can Hotaka piece together what happened that day – and let go of the past?

The book begins the morning of March 11th, 2011 with Hotaka and his friend Takeshi on a school trip to the local puppet show.  As the day unfolds and the earthquake hits, the reader is given an idea of how it might have felt to have experienced first the shock of the extraordinarily strong earthquake, the scramble to higher ground and then the chaos and confusion following in the wake of the giant wave.  Rather than dwell on the actual disaster itself, the story soon moves on to three years later, as the residents of Omori-wan try to continue with their lives despite a lack of housing, the mental affects of trauma and an underlying sense of resentment from those who lost much toward those who lost little.

Hotaka and his friends Osamu and Sakura are charged with preparing a memorial concert for the fifth anniversary of the wave that will involve aspects of local culture, with the aim of helping the residents of Omori-wan to let go and move on.  Hotaka discovers that he, of all people, has something that he must let go of if he is to move forward in life, while Sakura – who generally keeps her cards (and her past) close to her chest – is infuriated by government plans to build an enormous sea wall around the town to protect it from future tsunamis.

Events come to a head when Sakura takes matters into her own hands and begins a protest that snowballs to national attention.  As threats from developers and local government start to hit close to home for the three friends, they must decide whether it is worth continuing to speak out for the sake of their town, or instead fall in line with the wishes of the government, as is the usual course of action.

Heffernan has done a good job here of highlighting the difficulties of the townspeople whose lives were irrevocably altered after the wave.  The stress of inadequate temporary housing, the trauma of lost loved ones and the feeling of abandonment are made obvious through Hotaka’s interactions with some of his less fortunate classmates.  The story never veers from the perspective of a young person however, and the kernel of hope that Hotaka and others continue to show lifts the book from becoming depressing at any stage.  The three young protagonists have diverse personalities and characteristics and while their differences do lead to conflict at times, the strength of their friendship pulls them through.

The book includes a timeline of the actual disaster at the end, as well as a glossary of Japanese terms, and overall I think this book would be a great starting point for any young person wanting to read more about this particular disaster in a fictional format.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

TBR Friday: Takeshita Demons

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TBR Friday

I know, I’m killing it!  It’s only February and I’ve already knocked over four out of my goal of twelve books from my TBR shelf for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017!  Today’s book is also going to count toward my progress in the PopSugar Reading Challenge in category #17, a book involving a mythical creature.  You can check out my progress toward all of my reading challenges here.

Today’s book is the titular book in Cristy Burne’s middle grade Takeshita Demons series, and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Miku Takeshita and her family have moved from Japan to live in the UK, but unfortunately the family’s enemy demons have followed them! Miku knows she’s in trouble when her new supply teacher turns out to be a Nukekubi – a bloodthirsty demon who can turn into a flying head and whose favourite snack is children. That night, in a raging snowstorm, Miku’s little brother Kazu is kidnapped by the demons, and then it’s up to Miku and her friend Cait to get him back. The girls break into their snow-locked school, confronting the dragon-like Woman of the Wet, and outwitting the faceless Nopera-bo. At last they come face to face with the Nukekubi itself – but will they be in time to save Kazu?

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Ten Second Synopsis:
Miku, who loved hearing stories of Yokai from her Baba, has moved to England with her family. When a disappearing visitor knocks on the door, Miku is thrust into a dangerous situation, as Yokai of all types begin troubling the Takeshita family.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

Close to a year

Acquired:

I picked up the first three in this series from the Library Cast-offs bookshop at Nundah, because they featured Yokai and I hadn’t heard of them before.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

A misguided belief that I would have to read all three in the series one after the other.

Best Bits:

  • These are by an Australian author – yippee!
  • If you are a fan of fantasy and mild horror for middle grade readers, then this should be a delightfully dangerous change of pace, featuring, as it does, monsters from the rich and complex mythology of Japan.  This opening book alone includes a nukekubi (a demon that can detach its head at night and send it out hunting), an amazake-baba (a demon that takes the shape of an old woman but brings sickness and disease if you let her in) and even some murderous curtains.  And that’s not the half of it.
  • If you are on the lookout for books featuring characters from diverse backgrounds, Miku and her family are Japanese, living in England.  There are plenty of Japanese words and descriptions of various customs scattered throughout, as well as a glossary of the demons that appear in the story at the end of the book.
  • The plot is deliciously creepy without being outright scary and so is perfectly suitable for younger readers.  As an adult reader I found it a fast and fun romp with a few spine-shiver-inducing elements.  Even though the protagonists are female, the action and monsters should appeal to young male readers also, making this a book that should be a winner for everyone!
  • It’s illustrated!  Throughout the book there are single page illustrations that help to bring the monstrous demons to life.
  • It’s only reasonably short.  I read it over about three days in short bursts, so it’s not an overwhelming read for independent young readers.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • I had a few cringes at the plotting at some points.  The heroines do overcome the demons at the end, but have a bit of help that comes along in quite a handy fashion.  There are obviously parts of this book, such as the references to the Takeshita’s house-spirit back in Japan, and the allusions to the powers inherited by the female line of the family, that will be expanded on further in later books in the series.  This didn’t bother me too much, because I already have the next two stories in my possession, but may be an sticking point for someone reading this as a standalone story.
  • The author has a tendency to throw in apparently random occurences here and there, such as the noppera-bo (faceless ghost) and the yuki-onna (woman of the snow).  These characters don’t end up having much to do with the story, so either they’ve been introduced to give the reader an idea of the variety of Japanese spirits getting around the place, or they might play a part in later books.  Either way, their inclusion did amount to a number of red-herrings that ended up being a bit annoying because I wanted to know what their role in the story was going to be.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Yes.  In fact I’m glad I’ve got the first three because I can continue the story at my leisure.  I’ll probably end up buying the fourth book before the year’s out too.  Reading them will also give me a good chance to use my brand new Yokai encyclopedia – yipee!

Where to now for this tome?

To the permanent shelf, to await its brethren.

Can I just say how much I’m enjoying the TBR challenge this year?  I feel really motivated to get those books that I bought with such excitement off the TBR shelf and into my brain, via my optic nerves.

Until next time,

Bruce

Title Fight Reading Challenge: I Want That Love…

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Title Fight Button 2016

Today I bring to you my final contribution for the Title Fight Reading Challenge 2016 with a book for category six (a book with an emotion in the title).  I Want That Love is another truly original mashup of dinosaurs and deep-seated human emotion by Japanese master of quirkiness Tatsuya Miyanishi.  If you are struggling to place Miyanishi’s other work, you can check out our review of You Look Yummy here.  We received a copy of this one from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Although Tyrannosaurus storms around saying that power is everything in the world, he realizes he is getting weaker with age. After his tail gets bitten in a run-in with Masiakasaurus, some young Triceratops nurse him back to health.

Touched by their innocent hearts, Tyrannosaurus begins to feel love for these new friends–even though he might have eaten them under different circumstances!

So when two Giganotosaurus attack the group, Tyrannosaurus fights them off, holding the children tightly to his body, and sacrificing himself in order to protect them from the Giganotosaurus. The third title in this acclaimed series, I Want That Love explains that love is far more important than power. 

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Let me begin by saying that Miyanishi’s style of writing will not be for everyone.  Some parents will no doubt pick up this book, have a flick through and decide they would rather drink paint than pass such a weird book on to their kids.  I, having no stony offspring, am able to enjoy the utter bizarre joy of watching a violent, baby-dinosaur-chomping T-Rex realise the power of love through a close encounter with advanced age.  In a nutshell, the story follows a T-Rex, who has a penchant for killing and eating weaker and smaller dinos, until he finds himself in a deathly dire situation.  When he himself is attacked by some stronger dinos, the T-Rex is nursed back to health by some utterly adorable little Triceratops kids.  Later, when the baby Triceratops are threatened, T-Rex provides the ultimate sacrifice to save the kids, thus proving that he has learned his lesson about the power of love trumping (yes, I use that word deliberately) the fallacy that strength and power are the things that matter most in life.

I don’t know if the T-Rex and Triceratops are the same ones as appear in You Look Yummy – they look the same, but there are some continuity difficulties if they are – but this book has that same heart-warming punch at the end that will knock your world-weary heart for six.  Even though these books are utterly weird and unlike any other picture books that you will read – seriously, I still can’t decide whether the author intends these to be dark humour or serious moral tale, or indeed whether the translation has anything to do with how they read – there is an incredibly authentic underlying message in each story.  I have a sneaking suspicion that these are actually meant for adults, but I really can’t be sure.

Odd as these books undoubtedly are, we on the Shelf have definitely fallen under their Prehistoric spell and will keep our eyes peeled for any more in the series.  Mad Martha did intend on hooking up a cuddly T-Rex for you, but she couldn’t fit it in, given the time we had to spend this week looking at each other sideways and whispering “What the actual F***?” over the result of the US election.

Happily though, with this title I have COMPLETED THE TITLE FIGHT READING CHALLENGE FOR 2016!!  Hooray!

For any of you who enjoy my reading challenges, I have been working hard on a new challenge for 2017 and will hopefully have information posted here within the next week or two.

Until next time,

Bruce

Maido: A Gaijin’s Guide to Japanese Gestures…

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In my ongoing quest to learn more about Japan and its quirky idiosyncracies, I stumbled across this delightful and visually appealing (not to mention useful), tome.  We received a copy of Maido: A Gaijin’s Guide to Japanese Gestures and Culture by Christy Colon Hasegawa from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Maido (my-dough, not to be confused with that childhood favorite, Play-Doh) describes the most common Japanese gestures and defines their meanings and the cultural contexts that surround them. Japanese gestures are a world of their own, much the way the language and country are. In the Kansai region of Japan, people often use the term Maido as a greeting in business and sales, and as a send-off to a business’s best customers as if to say, come again or thank you.

In this case, Maido is welcoming you to a world in which you don t offend every Japanese person you meet. By learning a few simple gestures you can avoid making intercultural slip-ups and win the respect of locals. And who knows maybe the next time you walk into the local izakaya (watering hole), you may be lucky enough to hear someone saying, Maido! Maido! to you.”

So this book is essentially a humour-filled pictorial guide to reading the body language of Japanese people and as such is an incredibly useful book to read if you are planning on visiting or moving to Japan.  The book is set out in an easy-to-follow format: each page features a picture of a Japanese person demonstrating a gesture, accompanied by the Japanese term for the gesture, an English translation of what the gesture might be called and a brief explanation of how and where one might use such a gesture.  Gestures include everything from noting sexual preference to asking for a hot towel at a restaurant, from calling someone a moron to beckoning someone toward you – really, for the individual interested in social interactions, this book provides a wealth of information in a super-accessible way.

Apart from feeling that I was learning some useful information, I had two favourite elements of the book.  The first is that the gestures are being demonstrated by a majorly diverse cross-section of Japanese people, from the bemused looking elderly, to the styled-up cosplayer, to the neatly turned out professional type, to the cheeky little kid.  Visually, the photography itself provides a fascinating insight into Japanese culture and social interactions.

As well as the visual appeal of the book, I also loved the author’s conversational and humorous style.  The author was born and raised in Japan by a Japanese mother and Puerto Rican American father and as such is perfectly placed to deftly explain the social implications of certain gestures in a way that non-natives can appreciate.  She is also possessed of a witty turn of phrase, which makes reading each of the explanations a lot of fun in itself.

If you have any interest in Japanese culture at all, be it manga, cosplay or a strong desire to visit the country, you could do a lot worse than to have a flick through this handy explanatory tome.  I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in Japan, as well as anyone who loves an accessible, visually-appealing nonfiction read about society and culture.

Until next time,

Bruce

The Monster on the Road is Me: A “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review…

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I have PanMacmillan Australia to thank for today’s awesome read of awesomosity.  The Monster on the Road is Me by J. P. Romney is by turns a funny, strange and creepy exploration of Japanese folklore in a YA contemporary setting and we absolutely loved it from start to finish. In fact, we enjoyed it so much we have branded it a “Top Book of 2016” pick!

Bruce's Pick

But more of that in a minute.

Let’s start with the blurb from Goodreads:

 It starts with the crows. When you see them, you know he s found you.

Koda Okita is a high school student in modern-day Japan who isn’t very popular. He suffers from narcolepsy and has to wear a watermelon-sized helmet to protect his head in case he falls. But Koda couldn’t care less about his low social standing. He is content with taking long bike rides and hanging out in the convenience store parking lot with his school-dropout friend, Haru.

But when a rash of puzzling deaths sweeps his school, Koda discovers that his narcoleptic naps allow him to steal the thoughts of nearby supernatural beings. He learns that his small town is under threat from a ruthless mountain demon that is hell-bent on vengeance. With the help of a mysterious – and not to mention very cute classmate – Koda must find a way to take down this demon. But his unstable and overwhelming new abilities seem to have a mind of their own.

monster-on-the-road-is-me

And here are Five Things I’ve Learned From The Monster on the Road is Me by J. P. Romney:

1. It is highly unlikely that attacks of narcolepsy could ever be considered a superpower.  But then again…

2. When chatting with a mysterious new girl in order to size up whether she would be good girlfriend material, always be sure to check whether or not said mysterious girl is in fact human.

3.  Shiitake farming is a perfectly honorable occupation.

4. When the weight of the world gets too much, there is always cosplay.

5. If you ever lay eyes on a three-legged crow, it’s already too late.

Given that this is a Japanese story written by an American author, it would be reasonable to think that there may be some cultural aspects to the characterisation or plot that don’t quite sit right.  Happily, Romney has managed to avoid any major pitfalls of blending a Western brain with an Eastern narrative and has combined the best of both worlds.  While the story is narrated by Koda, a Japanese boy, it’s clear that Romney has slipped in some of his own curiosities about Japanese life and culture into Koda’s narration.  The brand tag line of a popular form of lolly, for example, or the events included in the school’s athletics day are two things that are highlighted as being more than a little …unexpected, perhaps…and I think this is a nod from the author to his not-Japanese readers and an affectionate tip of the hat to the idiosyncrasies of contemporary Japanese culture. I found them suitably amusing, I must say.

In fact, the humour throughout the story is one of the book’s most appealing features. Koda, as a narrator is hilariously self-deprecating and he is supported by a cast of similarly amusing, and bizarre, characters.  My two favourites of this supporting cast were Yori, the cosplaying ex-school-bus-driver-turned-accountant who fights crime by night on Youtube and Ikeda-sensei, the ex-sumo wrestling high school gym teacher with an ill-concealed dislike of high schools, gym and teaching.  I will admit to getting the giggles (yes, giggles, not guffaws, chuckles or belly laughs) during a scene in which a kappa (a Japanese river spirit) possesses some of Koda’s friends.  All in all, Romney’s style of comedy matched mine perfectly, which no doubt contributed to my enjoyment of the story.  If you aren’t a fan of dry banter mixed with ridiculous antics, you may not find it as funny, but at least now you’ve been warned.

Amidst the humour are some decidedly creepy elements.  The swarm of crows and the multiple suicides certainly bring the mood down a little and it’s obvious that there is some higher power that has set its will against the good folk of Kusaka town.  I can’t say much more here because it relates to the major mystery elements of the story, but I loved the way things moved between ordinary, teen problems and major supernatural sh*tstorm problems without missing a beat.

I’m not sure if this book is going to be part of a series or not – the ending here is a definite ending, yet there is scope, given what has been revealed about the characters, to expand on the story – but either way, I would highly recommend getting lost in the world that Romney has created here.  As some of the characters in the book can no doubt attest (Shimizu-sensei, I’m looking at you here), The Monster on the Road is Me is the very essence of escapist storytelling.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Funny “Ha-Ha” and Funny “Peculiar”: A Double Dip Review That May Contain Oddity…

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Today’s double dip requires a whimsical, unexpected sort of a snack.  A snack that makes you giggle and might cause others to look at you askance while you snack upon your unlikely choice of foodstuff.  The books I have for you today are a delightful blend of the funny and the peculiar, the delightful and the unexpected…so I shan’t burden you with my ramblings any longer. Let’s dip in!

First we have Sad Animal Facts by Brooke Barker, which we received with glee from PanMacmillan Australia.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A delightful and quirky compendium of the Animal Kingdom’s more unfortunate truths, with over 150 hand-drawn illustrations.

Ever wonder what a mayfly thinks of its one-day lifespan? (They’re curious what a sunset is.) Or how a jellyfish feels about not having a heart? (Sorry, but they’re not sorry.)

This melancholy menagerie pairs the more unsavory facts of animal life with their hilarious thoughts and reactions. Sneakily informative, and wildly witty, SAD ANIMAL FACTS will have you crying with laughter.

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Sad Animal Facts by Brooke Barker. Published by PanMacmillan Australia, 30th August, 2016. RRP: $19.99

Dip into it for…  

…a not-to-be-missed opportunity to revel in an atmosphere of schadenfreude directed squarely at our animal friends.  Most times, when a blurb promises that I will laugh out loud or that the contents of said book is hysterically funny, I become immediately wary that the actual level of humorous content is sadly lacking.  Sad Animal Facts did, however, have me laughing aloud within the first three pages, and by the end I’m pretty sure a little laughter-tear had leaked out.  I’m pretty sure that no matter how much you love animals and deplore your suffering, it will be hard not to have a little mean-spirited giggle at the predicaments of some of the animals contained within.  There’s the poor old long-tailed skink who embodies the shame of every hungry and impulsive human that ever lived, the gorilla who is as disgusted by your poor hygiene practices as the rest of us are (wash your damn hands, dammit!), and the downcast gnu who know exactly how multiple-birth kids feel about sharing birthdays.  The illustrations are sparse, simple and perfectly capture the various glumnesses of a menagerie of cute and crestfallen animals.

Don’t dip if…

…you can’t bring yourself to have a giggle at the woes of animals large and small.  And if that is the case, allow me to note what a sad little animal you are.

Overall Dip Factor
If this chunky little tome isn’t made into a desk-sized, tear-off calendar in time for this year’s office Kris Kringle season, then someone has dropped a huge marketing ball.  Sad Animal Facts is exactly that kind of read – one to flick through at leisure and enjoy piecemeal, savouring a few animal adversities at a time.  I would love to see a few copies of this one dropped into the waiting rooms of hospitals and, perhaps, funeral homes, to see how long it takes for someone to laugh inappropriately loudly in such a space while flicking through this book. I would definitely recommend this one to lovers of humour and illustration, and as the perfect gift for that acquaintance who likes to complain a lot about their situation in life.

Next up we have The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami and translated from the original Japanese by Allison Markin Powell, which we excitedly received from Allen & Unwin for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Hitomi takes a job on the cash register of a neighbourhood thrift store, she finds herself drawn into a very idiosyncratic community. There is Mr Nakano, an enigmatic ladies’ man with several ex-wives; Masayo, Mr Nakano’s sister, an artist who has never married; and her fellow employee Takeo, a shy but charming young man. And every day, customers from the neighbourhood pass in and out as curios are bought and sold, each one containing its own surprising story. When Hitomi and Takeo begin to fall for one another, they find themselves in the centre of their own drama – and on the edges of many others.

A tender and affecting exploration of the mystery that lurks in the ordinary, this novel traces the seemingly imperceptible threads that weave together a community, and the knots that bind us to one another.

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The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami. Published by Allen & Unwin, 24th August, 2016. RRP: $27.99

Dip into it for…  

…a quirky, funny and dreamy story that drills down on the relationships between the employees of a Japanese thrift shop.  Our excitement upon receiving a copy of this book could have been considered unseemly; Mad Martha adores thrift shops, flea markets, suitcase rummages and any opportunity to rifle through strangers’ cast-offs, so the chance to read about a Japanese version of the same was enticing indeed.  What this ended up reminding me of the most, oddly, was the narrative style of Alexander McCall Smith, with its intense focus on relationships and conversations, and a plot that is clearly secondary to the characters.  I could not help but become enamoured of Hitomi, the narrator, self-deprecating as she was, and Mr Nakano is so well described that a distinct image of him (adorned with a bobble hat) sprung immediately into my mind.  Masayo seems to be a strange yet endearing version of comic relief, often bringing up indecorous topics to be reviewed in the cold light of conversation, and Takeo…well, he seems like an enigma, wrapped in a puzzle, wrapped in a shirt.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re hoping for a book with a solid plot.  As I mentioned, this story is about the characters and their interactions, and as such, nothing in particular “happens”.  The chapters work more like separate but consecutive snapshots into the lives of the characters, with a specific small event forming the focal point of each snapshot.

Overall Dip Factor

I interpreted the blurb to mean that the story would focus a fair bit on the customers of the shop, and the stories behind their items for sale or purchase, but the heart of the book really is Hitomi and her relationships with Takeo, Mr Nakano and Masayo.  There are a few other characters that influence the story – Sakiko, Mr Nakano’s mistress of the moment, is the most significant of these, but a few trading partners and customers have stories of their own highlighted throughout.  This style of narrative is certainly not going to appeal to everyone.  Some readers just need some kind of action to hold their interest.  I found that this one grew on my as I was reading and while I started off enjoying the dry and quirky humour, I remained reading because I really wanted to know what was going to happen for each of the four main characters.  This is a story that will no doubt stick in my head for a while yet.

Alas, it is now time for you to finish your peculiar snack and decide which of these books (or both!) you will be popping on your TBR list next!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Thank Goodness it’s TBR Friday!

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TBR Friday

I’ve got a gently odd little offering for today’s climb up Mount TBR.  It’s adult fiction (memoir?) The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide and translated by Eric Selland.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo. They work at home as freelance writers. They no longer have very much to say to one another.

One day a cat invites itself into their small kitchen. She is a beautiful creature. She leaves, but the next day comes again, and then again and again. New, small joys accompany the cat; the days have more light and colour. Life suddenly seems to have more promise for the husband and wife; they go walking together, talk and share stories of the cat and its little ways, play in the nearby Garden. But then something happens that will change everything again.

The Guest Cat is an exceptionally moving and beautiful novel about the nature of life and the way it feels to live it. Written by Japanese poet and novelist Takashi Hiraide, the book won Japan’s Kiyama Shohei Literary Award, and was a bestseller in France and America.

the guest cat

Time on the TBR Shelf:

Probably about a year?  I can’t say exactly as I didn’t buy this one myself.

Acquired:

Received as a birthday gift

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

It’s a very slim tome, so of course I put it off under the logic that as it’s so thin I could pick it up and knock it over anytime.  Also, the sensible, grown up, adultness of the subject matter had me a tiny bit intimidated, even though I asked someone to buy this for me because I wanted to read it.

Best Bits:

  • It’s rare to find such a gentle story in which the content is so limited, yet still engaging: this is literally a man reflecting on his life with his wife and the next-door neighbour’s cat.  I don’t think there’s any massive, deep analogy that I’m missing.  It’s a pretty straightforward reflection on life, relationships and loss. And the habits of cats.
  • The writing is … sublime seems too committed a word, but  maybe majestic could be a good way to describe it.  Majestic without being arrogant.  Rapturous but at the same time, quotidian.  There’s an elevation to the writing which makes the ordinary events being described feel like something important.
  • The book is slim and can be read quite quickly.  Alternatively, the content works well for just taking things a chapter at a time due to the lack of exciting action.
  • If you have a particularly deep love for felines, you will probably delight in the detailed descriptions of the cat’s cute idiosyncracies.
  • There is a section at the back with some notes that give context to some of the events that might be missed or misinterpreted by non-Japanese readers.  I found this quite helpful in re-examining a particular event toward the end.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • The print in this edition is teeny-weeny.
  • Without spoiling the events of the book for you, by the end of the book, the man and his wife seemed a little too attached to the cat to the point that it was interfering with their ability to move on.  Literally move on, since they move house.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Considering it wasn’t my money that paid for it, yes.  Particularly since it isn’t at all my usual type of read, and therefore it is unlikely that I would ever have bought it for myself.

Where to now for this tome?

I will probably pass it on to someone who will enjoy it. Or possibly sell it at a Suitcase Rummage.

This is another chink off the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted by My Reader’s Block.

Mount TBR 2016

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Japan for Younger Readers” Edition…

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image

We’re off to Japan today to explore some titles ostensibly for those younger than I, with three books for middle grade and young adult readers.  Let’s get amongst it!

First up we have a tome that I bought to satisfy my own curiosity about an emerging juggernaut of popular culture (emerging in the West, at least), the Studio Ghibli creation, Totoro.  Of course, being a Bookshelf Gargoyle, I turned first to see if I could experience the story in the printed word before I resorted to DVDs, and behold, there was a beautifully presented, illustrated novelised version of the film for young readers. Oh look, here it is!

My Neighbour Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki, novelised by Tsugiko Kubo)

Two Sentence Synopsis:

my neighbour totoro

Satsuki and Mei move to a “haunted house” in the country to be closer to their mother, who is residing in the hospital with an illness. After Mei discovers a forest guardian spirit named Totoro, in the nearby woods, Satsuki is desperate to meet him as well.

Muster up the motivation because…

…Not having seen the film, I can’t say whether or not this is a faithful retelling of the film, but on its own it is a delightful story about two sisters and their move to a new, rural village.  As I was reading I was reminded strongly of the innocence and gentle rhythm of an Enid Blyton story, but without the ginger beers.  I was somewhat disappointed that more of the characters from the fandom didn’t appear in the story – only Totoro himself and the Catbus – but the story focused more on Satsuki and Mei than on the magical creatures.  Similarly, many of the illustrations only featured the girls doing reasonably ordinary things.  Overall, I really loved reading the book but in case you are in a similar position as I, the story covers Satsuki and Mei’s growth in their new home, with only the wispiest wisps of foray into the magical forest world of Totoro.

Brand it with:

forest guardians, weeding and planting, bus stops, getting to know your neighbours

Next up is a darkly comic YA offering….

Summer, Fireworks and My Corpse (Otsuichi, translated by Nathan Collins)

summer fireworks and my corpse

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Satsuki is playing in a tree with her friend, when she is pushed off the branch, falls and dies.  She then narrates the tale of how her murderous friend and the friend’s brother attempt to hide her body so as not to get into trouble.

Muster up the motivation for…

…an absolutely ripper quirky little gem of a tale.  Given that this is a translation, I’m not entirely sure if the translation is a bit clunky or the original voice of the story is simply cold and detached.  I thoroughly enjoyed this short tale, in which Satsuki wryly narrates her experience as a corpse, being dragged (quite literally) from pillar to post by her young friends as they try to escape detection.  The older brother character, Ken, is quite nonchalant about the whole situation, and calmly solves problems as one well-meaning sticky-beak after another threatens to ruin the charade.  The events in the book occur in short enough a time so that things don’t become utterly ridiculous and unbelievable, yet there is still a subtle sense of “Weekend at Bernie’s” that underlies the whole ordeal.  The ending is an absolute cracker that I did not see coming at all and threw the rest of the story into a new light.
As an added bonus, the book includes a second, shorter story featuring dolls, ghosts and a young girl working as a housekeeper in the home of a rich widower.  This story actually had my mind working far more than the main one, with a much more ambiguous, but equally satisfying, ending.

Brand it with:

What’s a little murder between friends?, hide and seek, thanks for the memories

Finally, we have a YA historical fiction with a touch of the ole’ swordplay.

Risuko: A Kunoichi Tale (David Kudler)

risuko

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Risuko, “Squirrel”, wants nothing more than to climb, to escape her home life of poverty.  When she is sold to a travelling noblewoman, her life changes beyond anything she could have imagined, and her father’s legacy will place her in danger.

Muster up the motivation because…

…being a historical novel for young adults set in sixteenth century Japan, this is different enough from the typical YA offering to warrant some attention.  It didn’t turn out to be quite what I expected, and the writing felt too American in voice to be really authentic, but there was enough going on here to hold my interest.  Throughout the book there is the mystery to solve of why Risuko has been taken and what it is she is being trained for, and with most of the characters keeping their cards close to their respective chests, the reader is never exactly sure who is trustworthy.  The Korean chef character was my favourite as he is the only one who seems to be exactly who he seems, although his dialogue is burdened with a weirdly Scottish sounding brogue.  The ending, in an enormous departure from the rest of the novel,  is action-packed and laced with emotion.  Overall, this felt a bit unfinished to me, with pacing issues and an oddly detached narrative voice, but will certainly be of interested to those who are prepared to invest themselves in the character and setting from the get-go.

Brand it with:

living by the sword, onward and upward, born to climb

So there you have it.  I hope there’s something in there for you to get your teeth into.  I will hopefully continue the trend of reading more Japanese books this year – I’ve spotted some very enticing little tomes coming out in the next few months, and I have also ordered the picture book rendering of the My Neighbour Totoro films, so I will be able to report back on whether I have learned anything more of this intriguing pop culture phenomenon.

Until next time,

Bruce