Yuri fans, rejoice—it's time to clear some space on those shelves for a sweet, honest, and down-right adCheck out more reviews at Across the Litoverse
Yuri fans, rejoice—it's time to clear some space on those shelves for a sweet, honest, and down-right adorable depiction of two girls falling in love. For starters, I found the evolution of Mariko and Akiko's relationship had a natural pace to it, and the two girls played their doubts and insecurities off one another well. In the first collection, Mariko's narrative takes the lead, and we see how her admiration of Akiko becomes infatuation, which then matures into Mariko's first love. Throughout this section, readers follow the small, faltering steps Mariko takes before she's able to name her feelings for her best friend, and we're given a view of the unwitting attraction and initial self-denial that accompanies the first crush of an LGBTQ kid.
I also appreciated that Girl Friends doesn't follow a standard coming-out narrative. While the main audience of Girl Friends will likely be younger, queer-identified readers who might find themselves in the same situations as Mariko and Akiko, Morinaga doesn't turn the work into a Coming Out event. In the second collection, Mariko and Akiko do discuss their future, and the girls dream of a time when they'll share their relationship with family and friends—but for now, while the girls are still in high school, they choose to enjoy their time together.
Definitely a welcome addition to any yuri collection!
Ideal for: Yuri fans and queer-identified readers; Manga fans who like a well-crafted romance and the high school drama inherent to falling for a close friend; Folks who liked Sasameki Koto and Aoi Hana in particular....more
Desperate to win his lover's hand in marriage, a young man named Heinz appeals to the gods—of courCheck out more manga reviews on Across the Litoverse
Desperate to win his lover's hand in marriage, a young man named Heinz appeals to the gods—of course, he hadn't planned to be taken captive, mid-prayer, by a beautiful, fiery god…
Apollo, the god of the sun, spirits Heinz away to a miniature garden hidden in the realm of the Gods. Here, the constellations remain fixed, and an endless field of white flowers bloom underfoot. Time cannot be measured in this place, and eternal life will be given to all who enter. Apollo promises to grant Heinz his wish on one condition: Heinz must convince the garden's sole inhabitant that he can escape from this world. A simple premise, but the gods are a fickle lot…
From there, Heinz meets Ganymede, the youngest prince of Troy, who was imprisoned in Apollo's garden hundreds of years ago. After repeated attempts to find the cliff at the end of this realm, Ganymede succumbed to his own self-doubt and despair. Heinz is young by comparison, and he's still blinded by ambition, love, and, worst of all, hope. Can Ganymede free himself from the snares in his mind? Is escape even possible at this point? Or is this a new torment fine-tuned for Apollo's amusement?
Oh, the artwork of Olympos. The ethereal qualities of the ill-fated garden, and the detail behind the gods' character designs, made for a stunning reading experience. I don't often get lost in the art of a manga collection, but Aki creates such beautiful, hypnotic dreamscapes—how could a reader ever avoid the same traps Ganymede fell into?
While I did love the artwork, I found the narrative was rather circular at times. Olympos offers a "philosophical-lite" approach to Greek mythology, and tussles with issues ranging from truth and deception to self-imprisonment and the limits of freedom; however, I realized the manga fell into a pattern of talking heads (à la Socrates and co.) with little action taking place. Granted, our main setting is Ganymede's infinite prison, so there's only so much room to explore—but I often find idea-driven work hard to stick with, especially when the characters are gorgeous and, well, lounging for the most part.
Overall, I'd advise fans of Greek mythology and Western philosophers to proceed with caution, but art aficionados should definitely check out Olympos for a drool-worthy manga experience.
Ideal for: Josei fans feeling underrepresented in the manga marketplace; North American readers who need a lesson on the artistry inherent to manga; Folks with a weaker background in Greek mythology and philosophy, and a strong interest in gorgeous character designs. ...more
Ru traces the life of one woman swept from her home in the wake of Vietnam's war and taken to Quebec to rebuFull review posted on Across the Litoverse
Ru traces the life of one woman swept from her home in the wake of Vietnam's war and taken to Quebec to rebuild her life without wealth and without a common language. As a young girl, our unnamed narrator lived in a peaceful, luxurious world until the Communists invaded Saigon and overturned the Vietnamese government. In the aftermath, her parents and two brothers escape to an overcrowded, muddied refugee camp in Malaysia and later make the dangerous sea voyage to Quebec, where our narrator becomes a deaf-mute girl in a country dominated by French- and English-speakers. As an adult, she returns to Vietnam for a three-year period and finds she's an outcast once again. Then, as a mother, she takes on greater challenges after her two sons are born, and she must learn to shape her love around her youngest son's autism.
Kim Thúy's narrative flows effortlessly between past and present, threading Vietnam's history with a young girl's stolen memories, while honouring the many people who helped the girl and her family reach a newer, safer future in foreign lands.
Ru caught me off-guard with its devastating details and its non-linear, poetic approach to capturing one woman's tumultuous life. I gravitate toward episodic narratives, and I appreciate well-crafted literary fiction—in Ru, Kim Thúy uses the ideas and memories of her protagonist to dictate the structure of the narrative itself, and connects brief moments throughout this woman's life in a thematic, stream-of-consciousness framework.
In the French-speaking world, Ru has won a bevy of Grand Prix across the board, and now, thanks to Sheila Fischman and the folks at Random House Canada, English-languauge readers can share in this remarkable work for the first time—and trust me, you'll want to do just that as soon as possible.
Ideal for: Fans of Canadian literary fiction and memorable immigration narratives; Readers who love non-linear, poetic writing or vignette-structured narratives; Readers fascinated by representations of the Vietnam war in fiction; Folks keen on exploring Quebec's tremendous (and contemporary) literary scene....more
K-ON! follows the lives of four high school students who band together to save their schoFull review posted on Across the Litoverse
Note: Series Review
K-ON! follows the lives of four high school students who band together to save their school's pop music club from the chopping block. At Sakuragaoka Girl's High School, the once-popular music club's membership has dropped to absolute zero when the girls enter their first year. Ritsu Tainaka, the official drummer and the self-proclaimed president of the club, recruits her best friend Mio Akiyama as the band's bass player. The duo catch the interest of Tsumugi Kotobuki, a skilled keyboard player and a rich girl who brings a collection of expensive teas and cakes to their daily rehearsals. But the group needs four members to survive and the clock is ticking…
Enter: Yui Hirasawa. In the pain and panic to find a club to join, Yui makes the snap decision to join the pop music club despite her inexperience. I mean, a girl can play the castanets in the music club, right? Lucky for the girls, Yui's got a natural talent for the guitar and proves to be a quick study—you know, if she'd just take a moment to sit down and practice. But, sadly, standing in front of the mirror and practicing her posing is a lot easier than concentrating on her actual guitar playing skills. And don't even get the girl started on her exam scores…
K-ON! proves to be an excellent pick for spring reading lists. Each book in the four-volume series offers light-hearted and humorous four-panel comics with the added bonus of over ten pages of full-colour work. Volume One boasts some special bonus features, including an intro to music theory and nine basic chords for beginner guitarists. While I do prefer the anime to the manga—largely because the anime benefits from an awesome soundtrack—readers will find a great deal of fun with the girls of Ho-kago Tea Time.
Ideal for: Manga fans who came of age during the 90s Girl Power movement; High school girls who dream of starting their own band, or girls who were in a high school band; Fans of the anime series who'd like to understand its origins; Kids who like four-panel, punchline-driven manga....more
Under the Hawthorn Tree opens with Jingqiu, a senior high school student, who's travelling to the countrysidFull review posted on Across the Litoverse
Under the Hawthorn Tree opens with Jingqiu, a senior high school student, who's travelling to the countryside with her Educational Reform Association to write a new textbook based on the testimonies of the lower and middling peasants of West Village. Jingqiu comes from an impoverished and politically questionable urban family, and her impressive writing skills coupled with her endurance allow Jingqiu to redeem what she views as her political shortcomings. She aims to fit in with her hosts and the rural way of life until she meets Sun Jianxin (a.k.a. Old Third), a man who had once lived with her host family as she is now. From the moment the two meet, an instant and impossible love blooms—Old Third comes from a powerful military family while Jingqiu's father was sent to a labour reform camp as a reviled landowner.
Once Jingqiu returns to the city, Old Third continues to pursue her at all costs. But Jingqiu cannot ignore her mother's warning: one slip leads down a road of hardship. One simple mistake—whether it be a misinterpreted letter, an overheard comment, or a neighbour who witnesses a her walking with an unknown man—can ruin a girl's reputation and damage her family's social standing. Even with those fears running through her head, Jingqiu falls further in love with Old Third, and approaches what will no doubt cause her a lifetime of heartache…
Ai Mi captures Jingqiu's suffocating anxiety with grace—she's a quick and clever girl, but sadly, she must redirect her energies into constant self-policing to avoid bringing greater hardship onto her family. Also, love during the Cultural Revolution speaks loudest through the small, secretive details (e.g. Old Third buying new boots for Jingqiu after she ruins her feet at work; Jingqiu sews Old Third's letters into her jacket to protect them from outsiders). I did find Jingqiu's fierce pride could get frustrating at times, though I understand why she would refuse to accept money and other gifts from her friends and from Old Third. Overall, a great addition to the reading list and an excellent representative of modern Chinese literature.
Ideal for: Readers who like their romances tragic, impossible, and a touch melodramatic; Folks with an interest in Chinese literature and personal stories from the Cultural Revolution; Readers who notice the small details in life and value the guarded gestures of two lovers living in bad times....more
Meiko Inoue is a small town girl and recent college graduate who works as an average drone in the heart ofOriginally published on Across the Litoverse
Meiko Inoue is a small town girl and recent college graduate who works as an average drone in the heart of Tokyo. She fetches tea, photocopies reports, and resists the urge to fall asleep at an office that manufactures office equipment. She lives with her boyfriend of six years, Naruo Taneda, who works nights as a part-time freelance illustrator for another nameless design company. With his pittance of a paycheque, Naruo relies on Meiko for shelter and sustenance. But, after two years of working in the same stifling office space, Meiko decides to quit her job without warning—and with nothing more than one year's worth of savings to support her.
With no plan and no guidance, Meiko drifts through her days in search of what will make her feel happy and fulfilled. Meanwhile, Naruo senses the new pressure—in the absence of a regular, substantial income, he is forced to choose between longer hours at a frustrating dead-end job or a last shot at pursuing his music with the band. He must weigh his own confidence against his need to measure up to the world around him; however, the cost of both options turn out to be far too much to bear…
Inio Asano strikes a scene that's at once believable, palpable, and relatable—he captures the unfocused angst of the young adult and renders it both beautiful and tragic. Asano explains in his afterword that he wrote this manga as a twenty-four year old recent graduate who found himself debating whether he could make a decent go as a professional mangaka. His doubts about his artistic talent, his fears over risking his uneventful and good life for the sake of change, and his questions over what constitutes true happiness overwhelm the pages of Solanin, and I think these are universal issues among the twenty-something crowd out there. He handles his characters with great care and humanity, to the point where I could see reflections of myself and my friends within this group's dynamic. Excellent work overall, and a compelling read for folks in their late teens/early twenties.
Ideal for: Manga disbelievers who ought to be converted; Listless, fearful, or dissatisfied twenty-somethings in need of the reassurance that they're not alone in this; Readers who like stories about bands or that special band-induced camaraderie; Artists (in any medium) who need a shot o' inspiration....more
Bureaucratic magic meets stifling political deadlock in the Cold War–inflected novel, The Night Watch. UnbeknOriginally posted on Across the Litoverse
Bureaucratic magic meets stifling political deadlock in the Cold War–inflected novel, The Night Watch. Unbeknownst to the human citizens of Moscow, a war between agents of the Light and the Dark has marred their streets for generations. Supernatural beings known as the Others maintain the fine balance of Good and Evil among the human population, and among the Others themselves, under the guidelines of The Great Treaty—a tense "ceasefire" signed by the leaders of the Night Watch and the Day Watch.
The Night Watch opens as Anton Gorodetsky, a young Other from the aforementioned watch, patrols Moscow's streets as an active agent for the first time. As he tracks down a renegade vampire and his newly made mistress, Anton stumbles across a young woman on the metro with trouble brewing around her. A powerful curse swirls over Svetlana's head and threatens to unleash great terror over Moscow, but Anton has his hands full after saving Egor (a young, uninitiated Other) from the clutches of the Dark Ones. At the command of his boss, Anton teams up with a powerful Other named Olga, a woman locked into the form of an owl as punishment for a past error in judgement. Together, and with the rest of the Night Watch, they struggle to remove Svetlana's curse and to protect Egor from the vampires after his blood.
I had a mixed response to this book: on one hand, I loved its paranoid atmosphere and its densely bureaucratic treatment of magic (e.g. licenses to hunt as a vampire and werewolf; licenses to use magic as a healer or a seer, etc.), but there was a definite energy lag toward the second half of the book (where cold vodka and repetitious Anton-angst rule the narrative). However, fans of the fantasy/horror blend will discover great action and heady philosophical debates in this first book of The Night Watch tetralogy.
Ideal for: Readers with a penchant for Cold War politics and fantasy/horror mash-ups; Nerds who like a shot of the philosophical in their genre fiction; Folks who like their morals in a fine murky grey inside of a solid black or white; Readers who like to feel paranoid while diving into a new work. ...more
How can one feel alive without knowing the pain of living? Does disease and suffering create our consciousness and our sense of humanity? Harmony creaHow can one feel alive without knowing the pain of living? Does disease and suffering create our consciousness and our sense of humanity? Harmony creates a world in which human ingenuity has eradicated illness through the use of medicules, a clever injection of molecules that police our bodies and report our health to world authorities. With tailored diets, expert fitness routines, and regular psychological assessments, all of humankind have traded an individual-driven existence in order to live healthy, well-balanced lives. Declining population rates in the aftermath of nuclear fallout have made the human body the world's most precious commodity. The health and continuation of our species outweighs the selfishness of the individual—and yet, suicide rates among those born into this system are on the rise each year. Three girls come of age in this world, and each girl must decide whether to abide by the self-sacrifice of harmony or to rebel against the insulated lives the world expects them to live.
Hard science fans will find ample content to rejoice in—biological tyranny and terrorism combine for a thrilling chemistry of cutting-edge literature. In fact, tech nerds might even find the book's message can be enhanced through e-reader technology—HTML codes are embedded within the text for good reason, folks. Project Itoh delivers an astounding science fiction work that walks a fine line between utopian ideals and dystopian disillusionment, and provides ample brain candy for readers of all backgrounds.
Ideal for: Hard science aficionados and disease thriller diehards; Readers who like a female lead (or three!) in their science fiction; Dystopia worshippers who'd like a taste of the end of the world from a Japanese standpoint....more
If on a Winter's Night a Traveller offers itself as a meta-textual love letter addressed to readers throughout the world. Italo Calvino directs his atIf on a Winter's Night a Traveller offers itself as a meta-textual love letter addressed to readers throughout the world. Italo Calvino directs his attention to the universal experience of the Reader, an individual who carries his own perspectives and experiences throughout a text and helps to build a narrative space in which a reader and a writer can interact. The Reader negotiates ten incomplete novels throughout his journey, and his frustrated efforts to find one uninterrupted narrative compels him to pursue the dangerous path of the ideal, romantic Other Reader as she explores what is unattainable within the written word.
Gosh—who knew textual criticism could be so damn sexy?
Ideal for: Readers craving self-consciousness and due acknowledgment within a text; writers intrigued by the construction of a novel and how potential readers might interact with a work; readers in need of a rigorous mental stretch. ...more
Pascale Quiviger creates a breathless, borderless world of narratives containing a host of women who fumble with the concept of creation. Whether theiPascale Quiviger creates a breathless, borderless world of narratives containing a host of women who fumble with the concept of creation. Whether their focus lights upon new life or buzzes around the act of writing, these characters must learn to accept the balance between creation and its inevitable destruction.
Each narrative thread in The Breakwater House lures readers down another dark corridor in the lives of Quiviger's characters, and the fine line between truth and fiction wavers in the half-light. Different women are drawn to the act of storytelling to both protect themselves and to shield the truth from delicate ears. Aurore spins elaborate tales to reconcile the violence in her past, and to protect her daughter from the truth. Suzanne makes time each Thursday for impromptu therapy sessions with her friend Gisèle where the women dance around their problems with light, gossip-drenched conversations. Both women pass this desire for stories on to their daughters, Lucie and Claire, with disastrous results.
The single through-line in this novels is a haunting one: "You will lose only what you can't let go of." The sentiment touches each character and takes on new meaning as it passes. Quiviger offers some complex ideas to mull over even as her writing scrapes out a magical illusion for readers to hide in.
Ideal for: Readers with a penchant for the supernatural and the introspective; fans of French-Canadian prose; literary snobs who like their ladies edgy and eloquent....more
The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories offers a varied overview of Japan's finest literary talents ranging from the late nineteenth-century to theThe Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories offers a varied overview of Japan's finest literary talents ranging from the late nineteenth-century to the present-day. Be prepared to expand that reading list of yours upon completion of this collection -- one taste guarantees the need for another hit.
Stand-out pieces include:
Okamoto Kanoko's "Portrait of an Old Geisha": An older woman offers to 'keep' a young man, allowing him to pursue his dream of inventing; however, the gift of easy gold does not always equate to success.
Hayashi Motojiro's "The Accordion and the Fish Town": A complex vignette about one girl and the implications of settling in a small town after a life on the road with her hustler parents.
Hirabayashi Taiko's "Blind Chinese Soldiers": A startling piece blending the horrific consequences of war with the quiet, unconscious life of plain-clothes citizens.
Mishima Yukio's "Onnagata": A beautiful piece about kabuki theatre and one man's breathless experience with a powerful onnagata, a man who portrays female characters on stage.
Each writer dedicates ample space to creating exceptional atmospheric description, one that rivals the Canadian fascination with dense geographic (read: snow) passages. Also, readers be warned that narrative techniques differ quite a bit between Japan and the Western world -- endings are never concrete throughout these stories. We are offered a brief window into another world, but the opening is never sealed tight. Brilliant and beautiful, all in one.
Ideal for: Short story nerds; readers seeking some international cred; commuters aiming to lure that cute, intellectual type sitting in the seat across from them... ...more
High-Wire Summer offers twenty-six brief, shimmering glimpses into the lives of women faced with the overwhelming potential of choice. Whether the ageHigh-Wire Summer offers twenty-six brief, shimmering glimpses into the lives of women faced with the overwhelming potential of choice. Whether the agent of change arrives as a former lover, as writer's block, or as the death of a loved one, each woman must draw upon her inner reserves to reassess her regrets (whether real or imagined) in order to re-imagine her future self.
Overall, Louise Dupré tended to dwell on a handful of common themes throughout her stories—she combated the threat of repetition through subtle shifts in perspective, and her poetic style offered startling turns of phrase perfectly tuned to each new character. In stories revolving around death, leading characters spoke to readers from various positions—as the dying, as the daughter of the dying, as the student of the dying, and as the sister of a long-dead brother. Personal connection colours our experience of universal themes, and Dupré's careful shading of each event proves her talent with the complex inner-wrangling dredged up in overwhelming circumstances.
Ideal for: Readers who like a bit of poetic prose on the morning, train-based commute; folks seeking a literary journey through Québec; readers with a predisposition to the work of contemporary Japanese short fiction writers (whoo, specific)....more