Doctor Butabuta by Arimi Yazaki (Butabuta #23)

39681913Time for another review courtesy of my neighborhood used book store!  Inhae at Inside That Japanese Book got me interested in the Butabuta series (her review here) so when I saw this volume I just had to pick it up.

The main character in all the books is Butabuta Yamazaki, whose first name literally translates as “Pigpig”.  That’s him on the cover – a stuffed animal that is, well, alive.  He’s about the size of a volleyball and has the voice of a middle aged man, and almost everyone he meets is first overcome with shock.  How does he move?  Is he really drinking that coffee?  Am I the only one that sees he’s a stuffed animal?

Yazaki started writing about Butabuta in 1998 and has continued at a steady clip, with 27 books in the series as I write this.  Others include Butabuta Cafe, Butabuta Library, and Butabuta on a Summer’s Day.  The Japanese level is less taxing than more literary novels, making them easy reads.  (For those more interested in the Japanese side of things check out Inhae’s review above.)

So, what kind of doctor can a stuffed pig be, anyway?  It turns out he’s an endoscopic and laparoscopic surgeon specialized in gastroenterology. Basically he uses remote controls to move robots and cameras to operate on stomach cancer or diagnose ulcers.  Yazaki put a lot of thought into the limitations of a small (if strong) doctor and forged an interesting path for him.

The book is four linked short stories as well as a “short-short”.  Each shows us a different facet of Butabuta’s practice as we watch him interact with operative patients in the hospital, coworkers, and elderly home-bound patients in the countryside.

I like Butabuta as a character.  He has a sense of mystery about him – why is he alive?  Why don’t we meet anyone else like him?  He’s pretty much perfect personality and work-wise but it doesn’t get grating or weird, as it’s balanced out with the whole, “but he’s a stuffed pig” thing.

The scenes can be touching and charming.  He knows the right thing to say to reassure patients, and when he pats their hand the softness of the fabric on his hoof comforts them.  He goes to a batting cage with a coworker, holding a bat twice his size and jumping high in the air to swing at the ball.  He volunteers in a rural area on the weekend where he makes balloon animals for children and adults alike.

Each story can be read on its own which is good in a way, but leads to more repetition than I would like.  Every person is shocked when they first meet Butabuta and wonder the same things.  He’s described as being the size of a volleyball without fail.  Maybe as I read more books these will be endearing details but it annoyed me a little bit here.

It doesn’t look like any of these books have been translated into English but if you’re JLPT N2 level or better or in Japanese I think you’ll enjoy the adventures of a certain Butabuta-san.  I’ll be continuing the series for sure, with Butabuta’s Bookstore already in  my possession and ready to go. Huzzah for finding a new series to love!

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Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession by Alice Bolin

35180951In her debut collection, Alice Bolin turns a critical eye to literature and pop culture, the way media consumption reflects American society, and her own place within it. From essays on Joan Didion and James Baldwin to Twin Peaks, Britney Spears, and Serial, Bolin illuminates our widespread obsession with women who are abused, killed, and disenfranchised, and whose bodies (dead and alive) are used as props to bolster a man’s story.

From chronicling life in Los Angeles to dissecting the “Dead Girl Show” to analyzing literary witches and werewolves, this collection challenges the narratives we create and tell ourselves, delving into the hazards of toxic masculinity and those of white womanhood. Beginning with the problem of dead women in fiction, it expands to the larger problems of living women—both the persistent injustices they suffer and the oppression that white women help perpetrate.

Review:

I have mixed feelings about Dead Girls – it starts amazing but sadly I had trouble getting all the way to the end.

I do want to be clear – the first part, about the titular women American culture obsesses over, is incredible.  Bolin talks about “Dead Girl Shows” that use the memory of women-who-were to tell stories about the men who killed them or seek to revenge their deaths.  Instead of looking at the impulse some men have to prey on young women the narrative of these shows concentrates on the killer’s psychology and methods, making the practice seem inevitable and beyond the man’s control.  I highlighted many, many passages from this section and will be revisiting the essays so I can chew over them more.

That’s only part one of four, though.  The second section takes a step away and examines women who are living but have been used to sell a story in a related way.  I like Lonely Heart, about the contradictions and tragedy in Britney Spears’ fame, but otherwise my interest started to wane.

If the book were a tire that’s where the slow leak started, with a more steady whooosh becoming apparent over the last two parts.  Bolin gets deep into her experience of being lonely after moving to the West coast and I couldn’t get on board.  It’s an amalgamation of things I have a hard time caring about or connecting with (LA, Joan Didion, accounts of roommates and boyfriends) with books that we are assumed to know but oftentimes I did not.  If you love so-called “Hello to All That/Goodbye to All That” essays, worship Didion, and don’t mind a jumble of thought, you’ll do better here than I.

It’s hard for me to rate Dead Girls because it went from a compulsively readable, fascinating ride to a flat tire I had trouble rolling over the finish line.  I thought it would be a great fit for my Serial Killer Summer but sadly only the first quarter or so fit the bill.

Thanks to William Morrow and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for the FBI by Robert K. Ressler and Tom Shachtman

25561483FBI veteran and ex-Army CID colonel Robert Ressler learned how to identify the unknown monsters who walk among us–and put them behind bars. Now the man who coined the phrase “serial killer” shows how he is able to track down some of today’s most brutal murderers.

From the victims they choose, to the way they kill, to the often grotesque souvenirs they take with them–Ressler unlocks the identities of these vicious killers. With his discovery that serial killers share certain violent behaviors, Ressler’s gone behind prison walls to hear the bizarre first-hand stories countless convicted murderers. Join Ressler as he takes you on the hunt for toady’s most dangerous psychopaths. It is a terrifying journey you will not forget.

Review:

Here’s what I wanted when I read Incendiary – a look into the mind of a repeat criminal. Ressler is a pioneer in the field of profiling and uses cases, both famous and not, to explore the minds of serial killers.  I learned a lot – organized vs. disorganized killers, what may push someone to their first murder, and what drives them to repeat the crime again and again.

While informative and interesting several things put me off, though.  First, the victims are minimized, often reduced to clues to analyze the mind of the killer.  The criminals’ thought process, and the men who work to understand it, are prioritized above all else.  The upcoming book Dead Girls address this point really well – watch this space for a review on release day.

Also, Ressler is full of himself and it grates.  What’s the line… ‘may the lord grant me the confidence of a straight white man’?  That’s Ressler.  He quotes letters of commendation while he humble brags about every little thing.  He tells stories about bending the rules for the sake of the investigation and always comes out squeaky clean.  It’s goddamn annoying but also maybe expected from a G-man of his era. (Note: expected does not equal excused.)

I listened on audio and have no complaints about the narrator or production. While nowhere near perfect, Whoever Fights Monsters provides a foundation to build my Serial Killer Summer on.

…yeah, I’m making it a thing. Heaven help me.

When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri

31684565Katie Daniels is a perfection-seeking 28-year-old lawyer living the New York dream. She’s engaged to charming art curator Paul Michael, has successfully made her way up the ladder at a multinational law firm, and has a hold on apartments in Soho and the West Village. Suffice it to say, she has come a long way from her Kentucky upbringing.

But the rug is swept from under Katie when she is suddenly dumped by her fiance, Paul Michael, leaving her devastated and completely lost. On a whim, she agrees to have a drink with Cassidy Price-a self-assured, sexually promiscuous woman she meets at work. The two form a newfound friendship, which soon brings into question everything Katie thought she knew about sex—and love.

Review:

While reading I kept thinking, “this is the perfect category romance, filled with LGBTQIA+ folks that make it even more awesome.”  So much to love.

Cassidy is in the mold of a Harlequin Presents hero, a high-powered New York lawyer that works hard and plays harder.  She wears exquisitely tailored suits by day and plows through a large swath through the NY lesbian scene by night. Katie, on the other hand, has become unmoored from her social network after her engagement is broken off by her cheating fiancee Paul.  She pulls herself together to do the lawyer thing and ends up in a boardroom negotiating with Cassidy, another firm’s counsel.  Their immediate connection makes Katie wonder if she’s ever truly known herself, while Cassidy wonders why she can’t toss Katie aside like her other lovers.

So we have an alpha heroine, another heroine that wants more from life, glamorous work in a stunning city, topped off with a meet-cute.  Straight-talking best friend? Check. Romantic weekend getaway? Check. Two people falling in love, both because and in spite of their best efforts? Check and check.

It reads fast, is perfectly plotted, and kept me invested in the love story throughout.  The characters are well-rounded and have fully-realized motivations, and there’s no Big Misunderstanding that makes me want to smack a heroine on the upside of the head.  Katie and Cassidy’s love is earned, and it is delicious.

The writing is good, too:

Katie had never been a fantasizer of any kind.  She was more of a planner, a doer. She was a pleaser of others – not one for exploring self-pleasure or whatever….

But Cassidy was hot. And the only other women Katie ever thought of as hot were the ones she wanted to be. Not do. Be.

She could almost see the other photos in a family album somewhere, of the two of them bullet-belted, toting rifles, flashing huge grins over some enormous dead animal. They were the kind of guys Cassidy would cross the street to avoid because her intolerance of them was palpable, yes, but also in fear they’d attack her for sport, too, if she came too close.

I love When Katie Met Cassidy and hope Perri keeps writing books in this vein – brava.

Thanks to G.P. Putnam’s Sons and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

Translated by Srinath Perur

30267604A young man’s close-knit family is nearly destitute when his uncle founds a successful spice company, changing their fortunes overnight. As they move from a cramped, ant-infested shack to a larger house on the other side of Bangalore, and try to adjust to a new way of life, the family dynamic begins to shift. Allegiances realign; marriages are arranged and begin to falter; and conflict brews ominously in the background.

Elegantly written and punctuated by moments of unexpected warmth and humor, Ghachar Ghochar is a quietly enthralling, deeply unsettling novel about the shifting meanings—and consequences—of financial gain in contemporary India.

Review:

This book has been on my radar for a while so when it was longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award I was happy to pick it up on audio.

Ghachar Ghochar may be short, clocking in at 128 pages, but it packs a punch. The history and current circumstance of a rags-to-riches family is built in layers.  Mosaic, non-linear chapters give the sense that something is going on here, and Shanbhag leaves spaces for your mind to fill with the most diabolical possibilities. I blew through the book and thought about it for days.

On one hand I’m glad I listened to the audio, as the male narrator has the accents and pronunciation firmly in hand.  The male voices are especially varied and fun to listen to. On the other hand there are times I feel the prose would pop even more on a page than in my ears, and the narrator only had one female voice that he pitched up and down for different characters.

Overall a very good read, one I may find myself returning to in print form.

To Have and to Hold by Tamryn Eradani (Enchanting Encounters #2)

 

40236108Following the success of Project: Notice Me, Kyle and Aidan are now in a three-month extension of their play. If three months wasn’t so short, then it would be everything Kyle wants.

They’ve been together long enough to meet each other’s friends and to try new things. Kyle only hopes that at the end of the three months, he isn’t the only one who wants more.

Review:

I love the first book of this series, To Seek and to Find, because it’s BDSM erotica that is grounded in reality.  Members of the club Enchanting Encounters form a loving community of kinksters and I was so happy to rejoin them.

Just as in book one we follow Kyle and Aidan, who have decided that their two week-old relationship deserves a three month extension.  They’re still figuring out what they like, visiting each other’s apartments for the first time, and passing muster with best friends and neighbors.

I really like the BDSM itself.  The meaning Kyle’s cuffs take on, conversations in the club, a rope bondage scene with Kyle’s neighbor – I’m here for all of it.  Some are carryovers from and callbacks to the first book and I like how the narrative thread isn’t being dropped.  People at the club, in particular, are being fleshed out and I hope they’ll get their own stories going forward.

The sex is sweet and scenes varied, but there’s precious little plot holding them together.  I’m glad there’s no Big Misunderstanding, but I wanted a bit more there there.  New chapters often start with a jump in time and change of place that left me at sea. And some things just didn’t make sense – Aidan lives in a duplex supplied by his employer but the neighbors have free run of his kitchen for reasons I can’t discern.

If you don’t like the third person present you may be put off but it doesn’t bother me.  Despite the more objective standpoint, though, we never get deep into Aidan’s head.  I didn’t mind it for the first book – a touch of mystery! room to grow! – but I’m having a hard time connecting to our Dom hero without it.

All in all a decent if slightly slumpy second book in the series.  That being said there’s a teaser for book three and I like the direction Eradani is headed.

Thanks to NineStar Press and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

How the Light Gets In by Clare Fisher

htlgiHow The Light Gets In is the first collection from award winning short story writer and novelist, Clare Fisher. A book of very short stories that explores the spaces between light and dark and how we find our way from one to the other.

From buffering Skype chats and the truth about beards, to fried chicken shops and the things smartphones make you less likely to do when alone in a public place, Fisher paints a complex, funny and moving portrait of contemporary British life.

Review:

I love fiction that does interesting things and this collection of super short stories does just that.  Often finishing up in a page or two, the pieces explore our modern life through the eyes of 20 and 30-somethings.  Realistic with flights of fancy, at her best Fisher gets at truths we may have felt but haven’t said aloud.

Despite having spent a greater proportion of her life in a relationship than not in a relationship, she feels that a greater proportion of her ‘self’ is unknown than known.

Some of my favorites spill an entire tale in three sentences.

The length makes the stories perfect for reading on the train or in stolen moments. In fact, I found myself saving them for my commute because they fit so well.  Light and dark are covered at length as themes, as you would expect, as well as finding yourself and belonging.  I get the feeling Fisher is around my age because some stories can only told by someone who has straddled the digital divide, who has both lived the “before” and is fully immersed in the “after”.  Someone who has been told since they were small that they can do anything, and who is just realizing that anything does not equal everything.

Yes, you will die without doing or being many things; you will die as you are – and perhaps that is alright.

As with any collection there’s some range – when the stories are good they take your breath away, but when they’re off they’re just meh.  There are so many short pieces, though, that the mehs (or the ones that don’t get through my head) fall away, leaving gorgeous prose behind.

Great if you’re looking for something a little different and beautifully written that embraces the now.

Thanks to Influx Press for providing a review copy.

The Chateau by Tiffany Reisz (Original Sinners #9)

35497678Reisz is one of my favorite authors, so much so that I ration out her books, saving them for 14-hour flights and other such “emergencies”.  After a particularly difficult day at work I started The Chateau and it was just what I needed.

If you like erotic romance get thee to The Siren, the first book in the Original Sinners series, of which The Chateau is book nine.  The story is a flashback so you don’t need to read the previous eight books but the more you know about the characters the more you’ll enjoy it.  For reference I’ve only read through book five (I know!  Rationing!) and only a line or two at the end left me with a ‘huh’.

Anywho, The Chateau!  Here we follow Kingsley in 1989 when he’s doing secret missions for France’s special forces.  He’s asked to extract someone from a sex cult and… things happen.  From an author Q&A included with the advance copy:

Q: Inside the cult’s chateau, women reign and men are their willing slaves.  How did the idea for such a community come about?

A: Wishful thinking?

It’s a gender-flipped and toned down take on The Story of O.  Everything I love about Reisz’s writing is here – amazing characterization, hot and kinky sex, and beautiful writing that packs a gut punch.  Her favorite devices also take a turn including stories within stories and an exquisite mind fuck.  As with all the books in this series there’s own voices bisexual rep.

An idea that runs through all of Reisz’s work is that sex should be fun and enjoyable for everyone involved.  You should be able to crack jokes in bed and delight in your partner’s pleasure as well as your own.  It shouldn’t feel revolutionary but, sadly, it kinda is.  Here we see many people having sex, both as part of the main plot and side stories, and everyone is having the time of their life.  The only shame is for causing someone (unwanted) pain and anguish, and let’s just say that guy is dealt with justly.

Props all around for another kinky, sex-positive novel-length addition to an amazing series.  Reisz has two more books coming down the pipe – western contemporary and fantasy-esque erotic romances – and I cannot wait.

Thanks to 8th Circle Press and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

Incendiary: The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber and the Invention of Criminal Profiling by Michael Cannell

31451258Grand Central, Penn Station, Radio City Music Hall―for almost two decades, no place was safe from the man who signed his anonymous letters “FP” and left his lethal devices in phone booths, storage lockers, even tucked into the plush seats of movie theaters. His victims were left cruelly maimed. Tabloids called him “the greatest individual menace New York City ever faced.”

In desperation, Police Captain Howard Finney sought the help of a little known psychiatrist, Dr. James Brussel, whose expertise was the criminal mind. Examining crime scene evidence and the strange wording in the bomber’s letters, he compiled a portrait of the suspect down to the cut of his jacket. But how to put a name to the description? Seymour Berkson―publisher of the tabloid The Journal-American―joined in pursuit of the Mad Bomber. The three men hatched a brilliant scheme to catch him at his own game. Together, they would capture a monster and change the face of American law enforcement.

Review:

I feel a true crime binge coming on and I started with this book because hey, “the invention of criminal profiling”.  It makes you think the how of profiling would be discussed.

But no.

Don’t get me wrong – this is a good account about the “Mad Bomber of New York” who set off pipe bombs in the city for the better part of two decades.  He started small, putting bombs in out of the way places, and got more adventurous as time went on.  The NYPD was getting criticized for allowing him to continue unfettered for years.  Desperate, they asked a psychiatrist for help.

This is the part I was waiting for – how did Dr. Brussel come up with a profile?  What medical knowledge did he draw on to arrive at the picture of a killer?

Sadly we don’t know.  Cannell sticks close to the police so we see Brussel make a prophecy (a Slavic guy in a double breasted suit, probably living with female relatives) and that’s about it.

I desperately wanted more info on the invention and process of profiling (see title) so I was disappointed.  If you’re a fan of true crime there’s a good story here, just expect more ‘whats’ and ‘whys’ than ‘hows’.