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

The Maniacal Book Club Reviews….Lilliput!

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manical book club buttonToday you, the Book Club and I will follow along with Gulliver on a little side-track from his famous Travels and muscle in on an adventure and daring escape with Lily, a feisty Lilliputian with a no-holds-barred attitude to getting away from her giant captor and making it safely to her diminutive home.  We gratefully received a digital copy of Lilliput by Sam Gayton from the publisher via Netgalley.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Inspired by Gulliver’s Travels, Lilliput is an exhilarating adventure filled with cunning escape plans, evil clock makers, and very talkative parrots. Join Lily as she travels through 18th century London over rooftops, down chimneys, and into chocolate shops on a journey to find the one place in the world where she belongs…home.

lilliput

Now let’s turn it over to the Book Club!

Guru Dave

maniacal book club guru dave

When the world looks small, perhaps it is time to consider it from a new perspective. What Gulliver did, he did out of ignorance and wonder, never considering how his actions may affect young Lily. Can we really blame her for wanting to return to her home? We can learn a lot from Lily’s adventures but it is to Finn Safekeeping, Lily’s stalwart friend, that we must turn to find the real gentle hero of this tale. It is in him that we can claim the redemption of the big people. If we were all a little more like Finn Safekeeping, we might use our wasted minutes for the benefit of the little people in our world.

Toothless

maniacal book club toothless

No dragons in this book. There is a talking parrot but, who is pretty funny and says funny things in Spanish. There’s a scary clockmaker with a scary, nasty watch and it cuts up Finn’s arm. Finn was my favourite. He’s pretty brave. There’s a brave bird called Swift too. I would have carried Lily back to Lilliput but she didn’t ask. It would have been good to have a dragon in this book.

 

Mad Martha

maniacal book club marthaHome!

Not too big, not too small.

Just right for a feisty, angry girl,

Imprisoned by giants.

Nothing will stop her.

Not time. Not fear. Not pain.

Fly Swift, fly!

For home!

Bruce

maniacal book club bruce

Lilliput was an out-of-the-box, pleasant surprise for me to say the least. Not having a particularly in-depth prior knowledge of Jonathan Swift’s famous tale about Gulliver, or indeed any particular interest in finding out about the same, I requested Lilliput solely on the striking, atmospheric beauty of the cover art and the promise of a (slightly) familiar tale told from a new perspective. I found this book to be a deeply engaging and action-packed story about freedom, friendship and perseverance against all odds.

Lilliput is aimed at a middle-grade, or even slightly younger, audience but I think it will have a much wider appeal due to the strong, fairy-tale style of the narrative and the promise (for adult readers) of an adventure based on a familiar and much-loved story. The events of Lilliput occur after the events of Gulliver’s Travels and Gulliver has essentially kidnapped Lily and brought her back to London in an attempt to prove that his travels actually happened. The action moves apace throughout the book, beginning with Lily’s unsuccessful escape attempts from a birdcage in Gulliver’s study, to a dynamic and dangerous ending that requires the combined efforts of all of Lily’s new friends to pull off.

I appreciated the way that Gayton did not shy away from portraying the less attractive features of his characters. Gulliver is portrayed as a cruel kidnapper, Lily can be truculent, vituperous and hot-blooded, the clockmaker is violent and conniving and even a group of three little girls, to whom Lily falls victim, are by turns grubby, sly and unfeeling. Finn Safekeeping really is the hero of the story in my opinion and provided a foil for the baser aspects of humanity portrayed in the other characters. With Mr Ovinda and his jive-talking parrot providing the comic relief, this story really does have everything you could want in a neat little package.

The story has the feel of a traditional fairy-tale in some parts due to the realism with which Lily’s plight is portrayed. She is not simply a funny little fairy person in an uncomfortable new home – Gayton has deftly drawn out the real emotions behind Lily’s imprisonment and her desperation to return to her loved ones before time catches up with her. This aspect of the book would be a great conversation starter for young readers about perspectives and needs in our own world, particularly with regard to displaced peoples and indigenous populations.

The short chapters and eye-catching illustrations also add to the appeal of the book and overall I think this would be a wonderful choice for adult fans of Gulliver’s Travels to read with their offspring.

The Book Club gives this book:

image image image image

Four thumbs up!

Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang)