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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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:
    20180725_210500.jpg
    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.

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 Love Song of Sawyer Bell by Avon Gale (Tour Dates #1)

34824809Victoria “Vix” Vincent has only two weeks to find a replacement fiddle player for her band’s summer tour. When classically trained violinist Sawyer Bell shows up for an audition, Vix is thrilled. Their friendship soon blossoms into romance, even though Vix tries to remember that Sawyer’s presence is only temporary.

Sawyer’s parents think she’s spending the summer months touring Europe with a chamber ensemble. But Sawyer is in dire need of a break from the competitiveness of Juilliard, and desperately wants to rediscover her love of music. Going on tour with her secret high school crush is just an added bonus. Especially when Vix kisses her one night after a show, and they discover that the stage isn’t the only place they have chemistry.

But the tour won’t last forever, and as the summer winds down, Sawyer has to make a tough decision about her future—and what it means to follow her heart.

Review:

If you like romance be sure to check out Cats and Paperbacks, where Natasha writes reviews highlighting lgbtqia+ books.  She posted a list of her favorite books with lesbian main characters and I jumped on this one – rock band! Touring! Queer romance meets stardom!

In my ‘must read NAO’ haste, however, I missed that while the book covers a diverse rock band, they are not rock stars.  The group crams into a van, drives all night between gigs, and at times plays to half-empty houses.  There is nothing wrong with this – in fact, it makes for lovely romance – but it pushes the book out of Kazen catnip territory.

Moving on, the book!  Sawyer is a Julliard violinist but she loathes going back to school.  Instead of touring with a prestigious chamber orchestra she tries out with a rock band and gets the part.  Over the course of touring she sparks fly between her and the lead singer Victoria, they fall in love, and things happen.

The Love Song of Sawyer Bell is one of those books that’s very good at what it does while simultaneously not being quite my thing.  If you’re looking for a realistic contemporary f/f romance you won’t go wrong.

Friday Night Bites by Chloe Neill (Chicagoland Vampires #2)

6319978Joe Public isn’t exactly thrilled to be living side-by-side with the undead, but at least they haven’t stormed the castle yet.

But all that will change once they learn about the Raves—mass feeding parties where vampires round up humans like cattle and drink themselves silly. Most civilized vampires frown on this behavior, putting mere mortals at ease with their policy of asking a person’s consent before taking a big gulp of the red stuff.

So now my “master,” the centuries old, yet gorgeously well-preserved Ethan Sullivan, wants me to reconnect with my own upper class family and act as liaison between humans and vampires—and keep the more unsavory aspects of our existence out of the media. But someone doesn’t want people and vamps to play nicey-nice—someone with an ancient grudge.

Review:

A strong followup to Some Girls Bite. For every bit I like, though, something else bothers me.  Shall we?

Yea – the villain is developing over several books, making for a more nuanced Big Bad.
Meh – as a result there’s no huge Big Bad fight.

Yea – good guy relationships are becoming more nuanced and minor characters are getting fleshed out.
Meh – every guy is still hot and drooling over Merit.

Yea – some hanging but forgotten threads are pulled back in and put to use.
Meh – the book ends on a cliffhanger.

All in all I’m glad I’m started the Chicagoland Vampire series and look forward to Merit’s further adventures.

The Seduction Hypothesis by Delphine Dryden (Science of Temptation #2)

17825418Wildlife biologist Lindsey thought attending a fan convention with her new boyfriend Ben was a great idea—until their relationship fizzled. Lindsey still lusts after her ex—but if he wants her, he’s going to have to prove it.

Ben will do anything to win Lindsey back, and when he sees her in her skimpy black vinyl convention get-up, he realizes what she’s been craving all along. And he is inspired to finally give in to his own dark desire to take complete sexual control…

Lindsey is surprised by her reaction to Ben’s kinky new seduction techniques, and suddenly sees him in a different light. After several erotic encounters she’s falling for Ben all over again. And wondering if the intimate connection will last once they head home…

Review:

I didn’t like this one anywhere near as much as the previous but I’m a little conflicted.  First, this tweet was rolling around in my head:

Ben is a baby Dom and has no clue what he’s doing.  He’s super possessive and an alpha-hole to any guy that enters Lindsey’s orbit.  Ivan, the hero from the previous book, is more in line with the tweet – respectful and a normal, nice guy outside of the bedroom.  Another Dom side character sticks up for Lindsey in a gentlemanly way.  I liked these guys better than the hero.

Both characters know very little about the practical side of BDSM and jump in after a dollop of research and a trip to the sex toy store.  This bothered me, not in a ‘you’re doing it wrong’ way but in a ‘eeep someone may get hurt’ way.  After finishing I checked out the reviews on Goodreads and someone* made a good point – a lot of couples get into the lifestyle this way.  They see something they like and jump in with both feet, whether they’re ready for it or not.  By the end of the book Lindsey and Ben are planning to go to a club and get their learning on but it was too late for me.  During the sex scenes I was more worried than anything else. (‘Why are you using rough rope? Do you know what you’re doing?!’)

Not bad, necessarily, but definitely not my thing.  Here’s hoping the third book is better.


*I’m not sure if her reviews are private so I’m going to avoid linking without permission

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!

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.