Confessions by Kanae Minato

Posted On 30 July 2014

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Confessions is a compelling and shocking story narrated by individual characters whose individual chapters will eventually reveal a full picture of the events that occurred leading up to the death of a young girl.

The story starts in a highschool classroom where a home tutor (Yuko) informs her students of her decision to leave her job.  She relates a story about how she came to be a teacher and goes on to more personal issues including why she raises her child (Manami) as a lone parent – sometimes necessitating bringing her to school.  (Unfortunately during one such occasion Manami goes missing and her body is eventually found floating in the school swimming pool.)  Yuko believes that two of her students are responsible for the death of Manami.  And so the story begins.

I wondered if I would enjoy Confessions for two reason (1) it sometimes feel that translations quite literally do lose something in translation – slight nuances and descriptions for example – and this can sometimes give the text a quite blunt feeling.  (2) I’ve already seen the film for this and so wondered if it would lose some of the suspense.

Neither fear turned out to be well founded.  This book gripped me in a way that meant I was virtually unable to put it down.

As I said above the story is related by different individuals. through which we eventually build up a picture of three of the students and three of the mothers involved. Starting with the teacher we move on to other key players including the two accused students.  Each chapter builds upon the last as you uncover a different side to the story.  Each provides an intense and sometimes scary insight into the motivations of each character and more than that displays how small misunderstandings have the ability, Chinese whisper style, to turn into a much bigger issue.  I loved the complexities of this story and the way that all the strands from each character eventually paint a much bigger picture.

The writing style is very straight forward and uncluttered, you could accuse it of being a little stark and yet I enjoyed if for this particular story.  It doesn’t need flourishes and embellishments but works on a much more psychological basis and the sparseness of the writing helps to reinforce that somehow – like there are no distractions just very straight forward accounts from each narrator that are sometimes sad, sometimes shocking and sometimes will turn your feelings on their head.

Nothing here is quite as it first seems and I sometimes felt myself having sympathy in the least expected place!

It’s a story that takes a look at motherhood.  It looks at the way that the pressures of society work differently on people.  It delves into the effects of peer pressure.  It shows the impact that a simple misunderstanding can have and the ripples that can cause.  A book of murder and revenge – where strangely enough the murder is almost downplayed and the revenge comes across very quietly and creepily.

I definitely recommend this book.

 

This is my second book towards the Japanese Literature Challenge (8) being hosted over at Dolce Bellezza details here.

 

I received a copy of this courtesy of the publishers through Netgalley.  The above is my own opinion.

I’m your No.1 fan!!!!

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This week’s topic for Top Ten Tuesday over at the Broke and the Bookish is ’10 authors that I own the most books of’.

This is a surprising one and doesn’t necessarily reflect my favourite authors – more it reflects that sometimes you get caught up in a series that becomes much longer than you anticipated.  Or, being a bit of a book geek – sometimes you just collect things!  That being said there are some very entertaining series below and some seriously good authors.

So:

  1. Charles Dickens – I have a set of books that contain his complete collection (with one book missing unfortunately).  And, ashamedly I’ve so far only read Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol!  How very bad am I.
  2. Rachel Caine – Morganville Vampires – 15 books in all and once I’d started I had to finish.  This was an entertaining series although I can’t deny I never expected it to be this many books!
  3. Charlaine Harris – Sookie Stackhouse series 13 books in total  (plus two other books that I haven’t read by the same author from the Cemetery Girl series – so 15 books and a tie with Rachel Caine.
  4. Jim Butcher – Dresden Files – I’ve read up to and including No.7 but own up to No.11 – so clearly expecting to continue liking this one!  So far so good.
  5. Patricia Briggs Mercy Thompson series – own and read the first 8 books and still enjoying the series so set to continue with this one and increase the collection.
  6. Joanne Harris – I think I have 8 or 9 books by this author.  I enjoy her works and always keep an eye out for what she’s up to next.  Most recent novel – the Gospel of Loki, probably the most famous book Chocolat.
  7. Alice Hoffman – own and have read at least 8 of her books.  An author I very much enjoy.
  8. Jane Austen – six novels.  Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion – no further description needed.
  9. Daphne Du Maurier – six books – Rebecca being one of my absolute favourites of all time.
  10. Kevin Hearne – The Iron Druid Chronicles.  A very enjoyable series which I will definitely continue reading – currently own six books.

 

 

 

The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory

House of the Four Winds was a holiday read for me whilst I was recently away in Amsterdam and as such it worked well.  A lighthearted nautical adventure with piracy, sea monsters and a pirate ship graveyard thrown in for good measure.  I can’t say this brings anything new to fantasy and I’m not going to go overboard looking at all the elements – for me, this was fun more than anything else and I think that’s the way the book should be approached.

The story starts with Clarice – one of twelve Princesses from Swansgaarde.  The Princesses are each expected to go out and make their own way in life – basically, the duchy can’t sustain such a large family and more importantly the dowries they will require.  I must admit I liked that the Princesses were expected to do something useful and not be reliant on others.  For Clarice the choice is easy – the one thing she excels at is swordfighting and she wants to set up in that area tutoring would-be students.  However, she needs to get a few adventures under her belt before anyone will take her seriously so she sets off to find excitement with her tricornered hat placed firmly!  Having decided to go adventuring Clarice dresses as a boy – I can understand the necessity of this as she would have been unable to book passage on most ships otherwise.  So, off Clarence sets for the new world.  Of course, she ends up having a larger dose of fantasy than she ever anticipated (but let’s face it – there wouldn’t be much of a book otherwise!)

The main characters of the story are Clarice – henceforth known as Clarence, who spins her tale (keeping it as dangerously close to the truth as possible).  Dominick – the rather good looking navigator of Ship Asesino, Captained by Samuel Sprunt.  There are of course other supporting characters such as the ship’s doctor and minor roles for some of the other crew members and we are introduced to Shamal – is she a pirate, a ruler, a sorceress??

The story is primarily sea based so get ready for a lot of nautical comings and goings as the crew become more and more infuriated by the treatment and conditions meted out by Captain Spruce leading up to eventual mutiny and from there the course of the story changes.  I won’t go into more plot details.

I guess what I enjoyed about this book was it’s easy reading quality.  The plot is decently paced – it starts off with a story tale feel, almost, ‘once upon a time there was a land called Swansgaarde where 12 princesses …..etc, etc’  in fact I wondered at the outset if this was going to be based on the fairytale of the 12 dancing princesses.  It isn’t of course (I don’t think) but that was the general feeling that it impressed me with at the beginning.  We then move onto the adventure which is quite fast paced and holds your attention due to two things – one, you’re constantly wondering if Clarence will have her true identity uncovered – possibly in the most embarrassing way and two, there is a little bit of intrigue about what is really going on aboard the ship and why the men are all being stirred up.

Of course I had a couple of criticisms.  You could be forgiven for rolling your eyes and wondering about how Clarence managed to keep her identify concealed so well.  I think, given her natural talent in swordfighting I expected a bit more of that to be on display whereas it was contained to one fairly brief encounter and I thought the eventual reveal and whole romantic encounter with Dominick was a bit convenient, a bit neatly wrapped up and a little bit rushed.  But, in spite of those criticisms I did find this was good fun.  It’s really not intended to be a deeply serious and thought provoking read and in that respect it works.  Well, that’s my take on it anyway!  Plus, it’s not always easy to find a light hearted summer read in the world of fantasy so this fits the bill.  Although, I wouldn’t have minded (for once) a bit more of a saucy romp!!!

I received a copy of this from the publishers through Netgalley for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

 

 

Books and beer!

Posted On 27 July 2014

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photo 2-5So, we’ve just been to Amsterdam to chill out for a few days.  The weather was lovely – although there was one day of rain which could put Manchester’s rainy days to shame – literally it must have downpoured none stop for about four hours!  We were forced to find shelter in a cafe with a few drinks until the rain called quits (it’s a dirty job but someone has to do it!)

Amsterdam is a very attractive city with a fantastic network of canals and tree lined streets.  We had a great time strolling round and lazily checking out all the different styles of buildings.  We visited a few museums and took an obligatory barge ride.  Given my book geekery I’m sharing with you a couple of literature related pics.

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A library – in the middle of the Rijksmuseum – of course you can’t actually get around this – it’s all protected but you can just stand and stare at all the books longingly!  and check out the spiral staircase.

The picture on the right was also from the Rijksmuseum and I just liked it – plus it was kind of fitting to the book I was reading which was The House of the Four Winds.

Also, and unbelievable as it may sound – we checked out this cafe bar simply because of the name which in spite of the slightly different spelling has LoTR overtures – meaning we simply had to go inside.  We had to – REALLY!  You never know – Aragorn could have been nestled away in a dark corner.  And, anyway it would be rude to just walk on by.  Colour me happy.  This place has so many beers to choose from – if you like beer then prepare to be deliriously happy.  The wall is covered with boards and boards and boards of possibilities to choose from.  I rather latched onto a delicious sour cherry beer.  Then to top it off we were surprised by an impromptu performance by a Jamaican artist known as Brushy One String – which was absolutely fantastic.

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A good time all round.  I won’t turn this into a massive tourist post – just wanted to share a few pics.

Hope you’ve all had a fab weekend.

 

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

I finished reading Queen of the Tearling a few days ago but had mixed feelings so thought I’d give myself a bit of space to let my feelings simmer.  It’s not entirely worked out as I still have mixed feelings which overall make me feel that I didn’t like this book as much as I wanted or expected to.  It’s a good premise.  It sort of feels like it’s based on a fairy tale.  We have a young female secreted away to live under the guardianship of an elderly couple.  Kept hidden until her nineteenth birthday when she will be returned to the Kingdom that will now be hers.  It had a bit of a sleeping beauty feel – Aurora, hidden away in a cottage in the woods with her fairy god mothers away from the cruel Maleficent.  Anyway, that’s about as far as the comparison goes at the moment.

We begin the story as Kelsea is being collected by the Queen’s Guard who have come to return her to the Kingdom which she will now reign and provide her with protection from would-be assassins along the way.  Unfortunately Kelsea has enemies in the form of her uncle – current guardian to the throne until Kelsea came of age and none to eager to give it up, and The Red Queen, ruler of Mortmesme and an evil sorceress to boot who fears the return of this new, unknown heir believing that she may be the ‘true queen’ foretold in prophecies.  I like this idea, it holds quite a lot of promise.  It has a fairytale feel with evil queens and nefarious plots.  It just doesn’t quite live up to that for me personally and I think the main downfalls for me were:

Pacing – this is a lengthy book.  Personally I don’t find that a barrier if the story gets its hooks into me.  Let’s face it, reading fantasy isn’t usually a short affair after all so you’re hoping that the narration will be compelling, intriguing and most of all the pages will turn easily.  With QofT it felt a little bit of a slog in parts although, and this appears to be in direct contradiction to what I’ve just said I did feel the need to read on to discover what was going on.

World building – I just didn’t get a feel for this place.  Part of me wanted to be reading with a mindset relating to ‘land of the fairytale’ and to an extent that came across with a mediaeval type world – long dresses, crowns and courts, horses as the mode of transport, swords as the weapon of choice.  But, the people on this island or world have actually sailed here from our world!  I think that maybe I’ve just missed something here because I just didn’t really get it.  It’s a bit like everyone got together and sailed for better shores (could be there was an apocalypse of some other reason that prompted them to do so but there’s no real way of knowing at the moment).  No idea why or what these new, previously undiscovered shores, are – and, more to the point, why didn’t they bring any of their previous knowledge.  There are books mentioned such as Harry Potter for example.  I literally cannot get my head around it – have they sailed accidentally to a magical world not previously discovered where magic is possible and where all our previous knowledge and history has just disappeared into a black hole?  This brings me a little to my niggle with Kelsea’s guardians – who have been chosen to rear her fit to be a queen and yet in doing so have forbidden any knowledge of past events about the realm to which she will rule!  I also don’t really understand that.  I am just so puzzled as to why, for example, it would be necessary to keep Kelsea in the dark about her own mother – apart from causing intrigue and mystery for the reader in a not entirely satisfactory way?  Surely you are taught history for a reason – maybe to stop it repeating itself.  It might not always be successful but I think Kelsea should be set on her venture in full knowledge of what took place before her.

Characters – didn’t feel developed.  It was difficult to get a feeling of like, or even dislike, for Kelsea.  I just sort of felt a bit ‘meh’ about her.  Perhaps this is because she’s had a terribly protected upbringing and very little experience of being in the real world and yet once she’s actually in the real world she really is a contradiction herself.  One moment she’s checking out her guard and finding them all handsome – I kinda relate to that, if she’s been kept locked away a-la-Rapunzel style for the past 19 years she probably will find all the guys she meets a bit easy on the eye – it’s not like she’s really seen any other blokes after all – but, then in the next minute she’s thinking that she would never find any of them attractive because they’re all too old for her or some such.  Fine, okay, – just pick a lane please.  I found her demeanor and ability to command a little too easily found – personally I would have expected her to be a little more cautious and shy at the start, maybe finding her feet as she went along?  And, I wish to goodness that she would stop banging on about how plain and dumpy she is.  Just stop.  For once we have a story where the girl isn’t the most comely thing your eye ever landed on but all she can do is moan about it – welcome to a large percentage of the population’s world!  At least you’re the queen after all – you could be plain, dumpy and just one of the peasants – think about that for a moment!  As a reader I find it difficult to relate to someone if they’re constantly bitching about how imperfect they are.  Get over it.  Not to mention it comes across as very fickle – this constant worrying about your own, and other people’s looks!

The fantasy aspect to the story – a bit weak to be honest – there’s a little bit of magic but it’s undeveloped – as is the role of the Red Sorceress who eventually comes across as not really powerful at all – which makes you wonder how she managed to vanquish so many other lands.  Which leads me to the feel of the book – it comes over as YA but then there are certain scenes and turn of phrases that are definitely not YA!  Personally I think it might have been better placed aimed at older YA which would have meant removing a couple of scenes – but I don’t think that would have been a bad thing as at the moment they feel a bit like they’re just dressing – you certainly wouldn’t describe this as grimdark.

So, a few criticisms here which makes me feel very bad, however, it wasn’t all negative.  The book undoubtedly kept my attention – I never put it down and then hesitated to pick it back up – therefore it must have been compelling?  Right? I quite liked the writer’s style – just wanted something a bit more committed and less contradictory.  And, I am certainly curious to know what happens next. As to whether I’d pick up No.2, at the moment I’m not sure.  I would like to see if the points I raised above have just been left fairly brief at this stage as a hook to the reader and will be developed further in the next instalment.  If that’s the case it’s a risk for sure because you might have already alienated some of your audience.  I’ll wait and see what the next book in the series sounds like.  At the moment I would err on the side of not picking it up but I certainly wouldn’t discourage others from doing so.  This could develop very favourably but for me it feels a little underdone in places.  Generally, in a book this size I expect the detail to be a bit more forthcoming.

I would like to thank the publishers and Netgalley for the review copy.  The above is my own opinion.

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