Butabuta’s Bookstore by Arimi Yazaki (Butabuta #19)

40647997While I was in the middle of Doctor Butabuta I bought this book, #19 in the long-running series.  Here our stuffed pig of a protagonist is the owner of a bookshop – huzzah for bookish stuff in novels!  He’s even surrounded by previous installments of his own series on the cover.

There is some publishing talk and handselling to customers but most of the action revolves around a community radio show.  Every week a listener writes in with their real life worries and Butabuta recommends a book to help them through their problems, a la The Novel Cure.

Overall I found the four short stories that make up this volume to be quite uneven.  While it has my favorite Butabuta story so far, about a student who is having difficulty transitioning to university life, it also has two stories I struggled to get through.  One follows an angsty teenager (ugh) and the other is an oversimplified look at the hikikomori phenomenon.  The ending makes light of what can be a symptom of a serious psychiatric disorder – not cool.

Getting back to the series as a whole, in each book Butabuta leads a different life so I expected massive changes, but I’m still surprised that he’s married in this installment.  Both his wife and daughter are human even though he’s a living stuffed pig… I don’t get it, either.  One character shared my confusion but frustratingly the question was left to lie.

Enough negatives – there are props to be given, too.  I love that the radio show recommends and reads excerpts from actual books.  One is even an English book in translation, much appreciated, and Yazaki touches on the reasons for her selections in the afterward.

With a bookish theme I had high hopes but Butabuta’s Bookstore fell a bit flat for me.  I’ll continue on with the series, but maybe not right away – an entire world of Japanese language literature awaits!

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Making Things Right: The Simple Philosophy of a Working Life by Ole Thorstensen

Translated by Sean Kinsella

35787524Making Things Right is the simple yet captivating story of a loft renovation, from the moment master carpenter and contractor Ole Thorstensen submits an estimate for the job to when the space is ready for occupation. As the project unfolds, we see the construction through Ole’s eyes: the meticulous detail, the pesky splinters, the problem solving, patience, and teamwork required for its completion. Yet Ole’s narrative encompasses more than just the fine mechanics of his craft. His labor and passion drive him toward deeper reflections on the nature of work, the academy versus the trades, identity, and life itself.

Review:

I am always here for non-fiction in translation so when I saw this title as an audiobook I scooped it up.  Using the framework (ha) of a loft renovation Thorstensen shows what it’s like to be an independent contractor in Norway.

Most of the book is process – how bids are calculated, how materials are ordered and brought into the loft via a crane, how you make sure the floor of a bathroom is water-tight.  It’s fine and good, but this electrician’s daughter was slightly bored by the details.

My favorite bits were the ones between – talking about how people from different places and backgrounds enter the trades, what gets played on the radio, how people in different parts of Norway opt for different kinds of construction.  I was cuted out when he gave to small kids, who were going to live in the loft once it was done, free rein to draw in pencil all over the drywall.  They marked out the rooms, still only plans, and drew airplanes as they saw fit.  Adorable and heartwarming.

27427788I ran into a few issues, though.  Unfortunately the translation and audiobook narration do not mesh well.  It sounds like a British English translation read by someone who knows Norwegian and speaks with an American accent.  On top of that it sounds like some terms were slapdash “translated” into American without much thought.

For example, at one point the text reads “6.25 feet”.  This strikes me as poor translation from metric – I’d call that “six feet three inches”.  But 6.25 feet stands, and it’s read aloud as “six point twenty five feet”, which sounds even worse.  Six and a quarter feet, six point two five feet… why “point twenty five”?

There are also some terms that seem common in European discourse that I’ve never heard before.  I found myself googling “social dumping” and “passive housing”, terms that make no sense unless you’re familiar.  I may just be ignorant but a gloss in the text would have been appreciated.

Likewise, at one point Thorstensen lists radio programs he listens to while working.  “[so-and-so] does a great radio show”, he says, with no further info.  I desperately wanted one more word in there – a great music show, a great interview show, a great comedy show… something.  I don’t think you have to explain every unfamiliar reference (there are many more) but some could use this minimal, additional info.

All in all Making Things Right is an okay book, but if you’re looking for great carpentry memoirs go for Nina MacLaughlin’s Hammer Head instead.

Glutton for Pleasure by Alisha Rai

22929829Devi Malik knows how to heat things up. She does it every night as head chef in her family’s Indian restaurant. Her love life, though, is stuck in the subzero freezer. Now, with a chance to fulfill a secret fantasy with her crush and his brother, it’s time to put her desire on the front two burners.

For Marcus Callahan, a love-’em-and-leave-’em attitude isn’t only a necessary evil of their kink. It’s a protective device. Jace’s dissatisfaction with their lifestyle grows with every glimpse of sweet little Devi.

Despite their reputation for vanishing with the dawn, they discover one night with Devi isn’t nearly enough. And Devi finds herself falling in love with two very different men.

Review:

I love Rai when she’s in erotica mode and that’s what we have here.  Glutton for Pleasure is her first novel and I’m happy to say it holds up quite well.

The good:

  • An Indian-American heroine written by an Indian-American author – huzzah own voices!
  • Rai doesn’t take herself too seriously, as you can tell from the opening lines:
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    Bwahaha.
  • Devi is bothered by her weight but grows more comfortable in her body over the course of the novel.
  • Marcus and Jace may be identical twins but you would never confuse them on the page.  Their physical differences are even explained with a real medical syndrome, which I appreciate.Glutton for Pleasure
  • After the train wreck of Colters’ Woman I’m wary of siblings that enter a poly relationship but Marcus and Jace have their reasons.  I may not fully be on board but it does work, especially with the suggestion that Devi throws out near the end.
  • Even in her first full-length work we can see that Rai loves complicated and fraught family relationships.  Devi is one of three sisters and ooo boy, they have some history.
  • I would be remiss if I did not mention the smoking hot sex scenes. ~fans herself~

The not-so-good:

  • It reads like a first novel, lacking Rai’s current level of polish and cohesiveness.  It needs a little something – a subplot, more chances to develop the relationship outside of the bedroom… something.

A solid read overall but not the ideal starting place for Rai’s work – if you like family angst in your romance pick up Hate to Want You, and if you want something steamy go for Play With Me.

Over Tumbled Graves by Jess Walter (Caroline Mabry #1)

18918083Spokane, Washington: a bustling city split by hurtling white-water falls. During a routine drug bust, Detective Caroline Mabry finds herself on a narrow bridge over the falls, face-to-face with a brutal murderer named Lenny Ryan. Within hours, the body of a young prostitute is found nearby, dumped along the riverbank. Then another. And another. Soon Caroline and her cynical mentor Alan Dupree are thrown headlong into the search for a serial murderer police have nicknamed the Southbank Strangler. But while Caroline hunts a killer, he may also be hunting her.

Review:

This is the perfect book for someone that has read a ton of police procedurals and gripes that they’re too “same-y”.  Walter starts down that road but by the halfway point he’s subverting some tropes and dissecting others, exposing them to the light.  I haven’t read enough murder mysteries to do it justice in this review, but I’ll try.

Caroline Mabry is a new-ish detective that finds herself in the middle of a serial murder case.  Along with her philosophical mentor and a technologically savvy greenhorn, they hunt down a killer who is offing prostitutes and hiding their bodies after rubber banding some money to their hand.

When the body count starts to rise Mabry is sent to consult with Blanton, an expert profiler of legend.  He reminded me in some ways of Robert Ressler in that he’s known for getting into the minds of men who commit these heinous acts over and over again.

Blanton is not too happy that a woman has been sent, as:

I’ve never met a woman who contributed much to these kinds of cases. Fortunately for them, they don’t have the capacity for understanding this type of killer, for understanding the fantasy.

In other words, something about raping and killing people is inherently male, a fantasy that every guy harbors in some part of his (hopefully subconscious) brain.

Disturbing, no?

Maybe there were no monsters. Maybe every man who looked at a Penthouse was essentially embarking on the same path that ended with some guy beating a woman to death and violating her with a lug wrench. No wonder Blanton was dubious of Caroline’s role in the investigation. If she couldn’t imagine the violent fantasy, what could she imagine? The victim. The fear. And what good were those?

Over Tumbled GravesBlanton continues in this vein, echoing stuff that I’ve read in nonfic about profilers and remaining very disturbing.  By framing the book from a female detective’s perspective the unease settles in our bones, and I may never look at serial killer cases the same way again.

It bothers Mabry that the victims are seen as a collection of clues and not people – the number dead matters more than who they were.  She concentrates on those killed in stead of blindly following the profilers on her way to solving the case.

Walter made me think about serial killer literature in a new way.  If you’re well read in the genre I’m sure you’ll find more flipped and subverted tropes than I did.  On top of that the writing is a cut above and Spokane, or more accurately its waterways, is a character itself.

Eventually, the water prevails, even in cities of the dead. Eventually, the water comes for us all, washes over the statues and through the crypts, topples the headstones and tumbles the graves.

Plotty with well-characterized protagonists and much to mull over, Over Tumbled Graves is a heckuva book and is perfect for my Serial Killer Summer.  I’m looking forward to returning to it once I have more murder mysteries under my literary belt.

Chi’s Sweet Home (#1) by Kanata Konami

Di18Y8mU4AEq278Chi is a michievous newborn kitten who, while on a leisurely stroll with her family, finds herself lost. Seperated from the warmth and protection of her mother, feels distraught. Overcome with loneliness she breaks into tears in a large urban park meadow., when she is suddenly rescued by a young boy named Yohei and his mother. The kitty is then quickly and quietly whisked away into the warm and inviting Yamada family apartment…where pets are strictly not permitted.

Review:

I love my neighborhood used book store.  It’s kinda dingy on the outside but climbing up to the second floor lifts you into paradise – shelves of books that reach ten feet high, with bins on the floor to hold the overflow.  Novels, non-fiction, manga – any book that’s had a tiny bit of popularity (and many that haven’t) are guaranteed to be here.

So when Meonicorn recommended Chi’s Sweet Home it was the perfect excuse… er, reason to make a trip.  It doesn’t hurt that the bookstore is close to my favorite breakfast place, either.

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I was good and didn’t get the fancy toast.

The manga is originally written in Japanese, which I read, and has been translated into English.  Chi is a kitten that becomes separated from her mother and is taken in by the Yamadas.  They’ve never had a cat before – and their apartment doesn’t allow pets – so they try to take care of Chi on the downlow.  If you’ve ever had a cat, especially a rescue, you’ll identify with what they go through.  Will Chi know how to use the litter box?  Will she try to run away?  And how can I buy back my kitty’s love after traumatizing her at the vet? 😉

The manga is in full color and is completely adorable.  Chi looks just like my cat when encountering a new toy:

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And I’m tickled by this depiction of a cat nightmare:

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It’s a quick read and not taxing in any way, but that’s kind of the point. If you like cats and need a pick-me-up Chi’s Sweet Home is just the thing.

Women in Translation Month 2018: Suggestions and Reading List

WiTmonth2018Huzzah for August, Women in Translation Month!  This is the month to read works in translation by women, trans, and non-binary folk.  Precious few books in English are translations, and only a quarter or so of those are by women.  Summer is the perfect time to highlight these amazing books and let the world know how awesome women authors (and translators!) are.

Looking for a place to start?  Here are some #womenintranslation books I’ve read over the past year:

30186905The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette

A dystopia set in modern day Egypt where a new centralized authority demands that all citizens line up at The Gate to ask permission for even everyday affairs.  The line grows longer and longer… but will The Gate ever open?

39737311Banthology: Stories from Unwanted Nations ed. by Sarah Cleave, translated by various

Short stories, some by women, commissioned after Trump’s discriminatory ban of immigration from Muslim-majority nations.  The pieces range from realistic to fantastical and explore themes of exile, travel, and restrictions on movement.

35049393The Farm in the Green Mountains by Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer, translated by Ida H. Washington

Translated non-fiction, huzzah!  Alice and her family came to the US as refugees, fleeing the Nazis during World War II.  By chance they end up in Vermont and fall in love with the place despite the hard winters, relative isolation, and less-than-smart livestock.  It’s everything I wanted The Egg and I to be – funny and heartwarming, you’ll fall in love with the Green Mountains just as much as Alice does.

6845839Chi’s Sweet Home by Kanata Konami (I can’t find the translator, gah)

This one is a cheat – it’s my first review for #WITmonth, posting Friday!  Chi is a lost kitten that finds a home and is everything cute and adorable.  A perfect pick-me-up for cat lovers, which, judging from twitter, is everyone.

And here’s my reading list for this month.  It tends heavily Japanese because… I’m me. 🙂  I doubt I’ll finish off everything but I’m looking forward to getting to as many as I can.

36481157The Master Key by Masako Togawa, translated by Simon Grove

A puzzle mystery by an LGBTQIA+ author who has been called the Japanese P.D. James.  I know many people like curling up with mysteries in the fall but I like tackling them during the summer – I’ll take any shiver I can get, even if it’s from fear!

31203000Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

A very buzzy book at the moment!  I’m using the Japanese cover because holy cow, lookit that.

Keiko is anything but normal, working at a convenience store for 18 years where most people leave after one or two.  But what is normal, anyway?  I’ve already started reading this one in Japanese and I’m loving it so far.

20484692Ten Women by Marcela Serrano, translated by Beth Fowler

Nine women who share a therapist, but little else, meet and tell their stories.  In the process they form bonds and transform their lives, and we get insight into many corners of Chilean society.

38643164The Lonesome Bodybuilder by Yukiko Motoya, translated by Asa Yoneda

Forthcoming from Soft Skull Press.  Motoya has won all kinds of awards here in Japan, including the Akutagawa Prize for a piece featured in this collection of stories.  It’s billed as inventive, with reality slipping into the fantastic, which is just my kind of thing.

40932752False Calm: A Journey Through the Ghost Towns of Patagonia by María Sonia Cristoff, translated by Katherine Silver

Another upcoming release, this one from Transit Books.  The jacket copy says it’s part reportage, part personal essay, and part travelogue… which is all non-fiction, yea!  A look at the towns lost after the oil boom in Patagonia.

It’s going to be a great month!  Do you have any books lined up for Women in Translation Month?  How about some recommendations? Let’s have a chat in the comments 🙂

All Systems Red by Martha Wells (The Murderbot Diaries #1)

32758901On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

Review:

Almost every Tor.com novella I’ve read has been wonderful (see Passing Strange and Every Heart a Doorway), and All Systems Red is no exception.

Before I started I was confused by reviews, which often boil down to, “SQUEEE I love Murderbot!”  Kind of a scary name for a lovable character, no?

All Systems RedAfter reading I get it – Murderbot is one of the most relatable narrators I’ve read in a while.  Part machine and part organic components and referred to with the pronoun “it”, Murderbot is like many of us.  Socially anxious, it would like nothing more than to be left alone with 35,000 hours of video programming, thank you. The people it’s protecting are being targeted by someone who would rather them dead, though, so there’s a job to do.

The story is short at 144 pages but it fits its length perfectly.  Wells manages some great characterization despite the page count, and the plot pulls you all the way through.  This would have been a one sitting read for me if I didn’t have to make dinner. 😛

All in all I’m glad I jumped on the Murderbot train – great for any fan of science fiction.

Syncopation by Anna Zabo (Twisted Wishes #1)

37648566Twisted Wishes front man Ray Van Zeller is in one hell of a tight spot. After a heated confrontation with his bandmate goes viral, Ray is hit with a PR nightmare the fledgling band so doesn’t need. But his problems only multiply when they snag a talented new drummer—insufferably sexy Zavier Demos, the high school crush Ray barely survived.

Zavier’s kept a casual eye on Twisted Wishes for years, and lately, he likes what he sees. What he doesn’t like is how out of control Ray seems—something Zavier’s aching to correct after their first pulse-pounding encounter.

Despite the prospect of a glorious sexual encore, Ray is reluctant to trust Zavier with his band—or his heart. But touring together has opened their eyes to new passions and new possibilities, making them rethink their commitments, both to the band and to each other.

Review:

I absolutely loved Syncopation and gobbled it up.  There’s so much good here. Speaking of…

The good:

  • A nonbinary author writing about a queer rock band is all.the.yes. Loads of rep including aromantic, gay, and pansexual.
  • This is the first time I’ve read a romance with an aromantic character and I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure how it was going to work.  The dynamic that develops between Zavier and Ray is wonderful and let me grok what one version of an aro relationship may look like.  It’s one of those cases where fiction gets something into your brain better than non-fiction ever could.Syncopation copy3
  • Ray doesn’t know that he’s into BDSM kink and Zavier guides him there with support and consent all the way.

    “I don’t want to be manhandling you and pressing you against a wall if that is not your thing.  Consent is sexy.”

  • I love not just the main relationship but the entire band.  Zabo fleshes the characters out and, at the same time, leaves you wanting more.  HEAs for everyone, I say!
  • This book has the best anaphylactic shock scene/rep I’ve seen in fiction.  If you suspect allergic shock Epipen first (while someone else calls an ambulance), ask questions later!  This is how you save lives, people.  All of the hospital stuff was thoughtfully done and this medical interpreter appreciates it.

The not-so-good:

  • The manager had so much more coming to him.  I needed more catharsis after all his crap.

I’ve never read Zabo before and I’m excited to check out more of their writing!  The next book in this series, Counterpoint, is an instant add to my TBR, and they have some backlist, too.  Oo.

The Language of Kindness: A Nurse’s Story by Christie Watson

36750090Christie Watson spent twenty years as a nurse, and in this intimate, poignant, and remarkably powerful book, she opens the doors of the hospital and shares its secrets. She takes us by her side down hospital corridors to visit the wards and meet her most unforgettable patients.

In the neonatal unit, premature babies fight for their lives, hovering at the very edge of survival, like tiny Emmanuel, wrapped up in a sandwich bag. On the cancer wards, the nurses administer chemotherapy and, long after the medicine stops working, something more important–which Watson learns to recognize when her own father is dying of cancer. In the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, the nurses wash the hair of a little girl to remove the smell of smoke from the house fire. And the stories of the geriatric ward–Gladys and older patients like her–show the plight of the most vulnerable members of our society.

Review:

I’m not sure I can be completely fair reviewing this book – a section early on made me mad and ended up tainting it for me.  I’ll get to that in a minute.

But first, let me say that this is a well-written account of being a nurse in England.  Watson is drawn to some of the most emotional parts of the hospital – mental care, emergency, palliative care, neonatal intensive care – so expect heart-wrenching, as well as heart-warming, stories.  We watch Watson grow from a nursing student that’s duped by psych patients to a knowledgeable practitioner of one of the most noble arts.

I learn then that nursing is not so much about tasks, but about how in every detail a nurse can provide comfort to a patient and a family. It is a privilege to witness people at the frailest, most significant and most extreme moments of life, and to have the capacity to love complete strangers.

She talks how hard the work is – not only long hours and lifting heavy patients, but also the emotional toll.  I think most understand nursing isn’t easy, but I’m not sure we all appreciate how punishing it can be.

Compassion fatigue is common when caring for people who have suffered trauma. The nurse repeatedly swallows a fragment of the trauma—like a nurse who is looking after an infectious patient, putting herself at risk of infection. Caring for negative emotions puts her at risk of feeling them, too. And taking in even a small part of tragedy and grief, and loneliness and sadness, on a daily basis over a career is dangerous and it is exhausting.

As you can see the writing is good, and Watson’s stories are interesting and affecting… but I’m having a hard time getting over the fact that she throws my profession under the bus.

Many of you probably know that I’m a medical interpreter who helps non-Japanese speakers communicate with doctors and staff at a Japanese hospital.  It’s an important job because without correct and complete information about symptoms, family history, and so many other things it’s difficult to arrive at a correct diagnosis and provide adequate care.

Strike one – Watson calls interpreters “translators”.  It’s a distinction many don’t know (translators = written word, interpreters = spoken), so I can let that slide.  But then there’s strike two – she continues and says that in the emergency department they forgo calling qualified interpreters because using family members is faster and easier.

There are arguments against [interpretation] from non-experts; a suspicion, on the part of the nurses and doctors, that the words are being softened and not translated precisely, but it’s quicker than finding a[n interpreter].

There aren’t just arguments – it comes down to professional ethics and morals.  It is a health provider’s duty to provide the best care, and asking a daughter or brother to relay important, detailed, technical information under stress can go wrong in so many ways.  Interpreter codes of ethics state that even professionals shouldn’t interpret for friends and family, the conflict is so great.  Watson blithely dismissing the right of limited English speakers to have a qualified interpreter, to have access to critical information about their health in a language they understand, makes me see red. Looking at the importance she places on ethics in other parts of the book it becomes galling. Gah.

I admit it, I pretty much glowered at the chapters after that.  The writing and stories brought me around again so I can still recommend the book to fans of medical non-fiction, but not as wholeheartedly as I would like.

An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim

36622743America is in the grip of a deadly flu. When Frank gets sick, his girlfriend Polly will do whatever it takes to save him. She agrees to a radical plan—time travel has been invented in the future to thwart the virus. If she signs up for a one-way-trip into the future to work as a bonded labourer, the company will pay for the life-saving treatment Frank needs. Polly promises to meet Frank again in Galveston, Texas, where she will arrive in twelve years.

But when Polly is re-routed an extra five years into the future, Frank is nowhere to be found. Alone in a changed and divided America, with no status and no money, Polly must navigate a new life and find a way to locate Frank, to discover if he is alive, and if their love has endured.

Review:

An epidemic dystopia with time travel?  I’m there!  Like much good sci-fi Lim uses the fantastical premise to examine the world we live in and let me tell you, it hits ya right in the chest.

The story is harrowing – Polly goes into the future as an indentured servant to pay for the medicine that will save her boyfriend’s life.  They agree to meet when she pops out 12 years later… but she ends up jumping 17 years instead. Oops.  Is Frank waiting for her?  And what has become of the world?

I don’t want to give away plot, but I will say that this book speaks viscerally about the refugee experience.  Instead of escaping an awful place, as many people are trying to do today, Polly escapes an awful time.  Due to the one-way nature of time travel the can’t be “deported” to where she came from, and this lowest of statuses means she’s treated as horribly as you would expect.

an-ocean-of-minutes.jpgEach injustice can be traced to something happening in the world right now, breaking my heart on the regular.  I would put the book down for a while but I always came back to see how Polly gets through, and what’s waiting on the other side.

There are moments of hope but it’s not a feel good read, so know that things get worse – a lot worse – before they get better. That plot drives the book.  Lim writes some beautiful passages, making language the second biggest slice of the “doorway” chart, and the setting has stuck in my mind.  We rarely follow a character for long, though, and while they feel real in a moment I can’t say they develop, quite.  They’re more likely to turn in an unexpected direction instead.

In sum, An Ocean of Minutes is a heckuva story that examines current issues through the lens of speculative fiction. I’m curious to see if it grows in my memory in the months ahead.

Thanks to Touchstone and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.