- Bodies to Die For: Negotiating the Ideal Female Body in Cozy Mystery novels by Katharina Vester [Jump]
- Complex Age Volumes 1-6 by Yui Sakuma [Jump]
- Princess Jellyfish Omnibus 2 by Akiko Higashimura [Jump]
- Mushishi Volume 1 by Yuki Urushibara, translated by William Flanagan [Jump]
- In/Spectre Volume 1 by by Kyo Shirodaira and Chashiba Katase [Jump]
- Whyborne & Griffin 1-4 by Jordan L. Hawk (Widdershins, Threshold, Stormhaven, Eidolon (1.5), Necropolis, Carousel (3.4)) [Jump]
- Scales & Scoundrels Volume 2 by Sebastian Girner [Jump]
- Band Sinister by KJ Charles [Jump]
- SPECTR Series 1 by Jordan L. Hawk (Hunter of Demons, Master of Ghouls, Reaper of Souls, Destroyer of Worlds, Eater of Lives, Summoner of Storms) [Jump]
- Sweet Blue Flowers Volume 1 by Takako Shimura [Jump]
1. Bodies to Die For: Negotiating the Ideal Female Body in Cozy Mystery novels by Katharina Vester [Top]
I'm not gonna lie to you guys, I would draw love hearts all over this essay if I could. It's a look at cozy mysteries (MY JAM) through a feminist lens, particularly the way that they subvert the idea of “acceptable” body sizes! Especially in the context of how conservative these books are in their world view – the casts are almost exclusively white, straight, cis, middle-class, with the same assumed of their audience, and the narrative voice often brings a gender-essentialist perspective – they have found their hill to die on, and it’s fascinating to see the author lay out the ways that they do and don’t subscribe to it!
I had a look and it doesn't seem like this author has an entire book analysing cozy mysteries, which breaks my heart! But I'm pretty willing to check out the books she has written (on food and culture, appropriately enough) based entirely on this essay.
[Caution warning: discussion of weight-bias, fat-shaming and fat-phobia]
2. Complex Age Volumes 1-6 by Yui Sakuma [Top]
I really enjoyed Complex Age, to the point where the actual review I’m writing just hit a thousand words with no signs of actually stopping. The things you have to know are that it follows a twenty-six-year-old cosplayer as she tries to balance the demands of her hobby and the life she’s expected to have as an adult. It was really stressful for me to read as a fan who’s closer to thirty than twenty, and it does show both the good sides of fandom with the gross sides, but it was really good.
[Caution warnings: fatphobia, online harrassment, sexual harrassment, non-consensual photography, ageism]
3. Princess Jellyfish Omnibus 2 by Akiko Higashimura [Top]
SPOILERS FOR OMNIBUS ONE AHOY BECAUSE I AM NOT TRYING TO EXPLAIN THIS WITHOUT SPOILERS.
Well. This got wild. After discovering that the Amars are going to have their home sold from under them, [Kyanosuke?] sends them on a spiralling path of schemes to find the money to buy it themselves, without really thinking about the consequences; [protagonist] dedicates herself to making jellyfish dresses and bluescreens of death at the very suggestion that she might like a man; and [Kiyuhiko's brother] continues to be blackmailed by the woman who drugged him and staged a photo of them for exactly that purpose.
IT IS. SUPER WEIRD.
Like, I'm gonna go with the biggest elephant in the room: WHAT IS GOING ON WITH EVERYONE'S REACTIONS TO [BROTHER]?! I know that they don't know she drugged him, but the fact that some of the supporting cast are actively trying to set these two characters up is skeeving me a lot as an entire narrative. Especially because the entire thing is presented as a farce? It's ridiculous and kinda gross.
One thing that Princess Jellyfish is doing that I don't often see is that the Amars have a really wild goal, and they don't have a plan. I read a lot of manga where someone has a dream that's OBVIOUSLY beyond their reach (Skip Beat, Library Wars, Complex Age, No. 6, Walkin' Butterfly – basically that entire SWATHE of manga about women trying to achieve their dream careers despite the odds), but the whole story is them achieving them anyway because of guts or determination or friendship or whatever, and this is... The opposite of that! It's a bunch of kids with a dream and access to both a sewing machine and car boot sales! It's kids daydreaming that of their inevitable success where they take the world by storm and yada-yadaing over the bit of that where they have to do the work. It's fascinating, especially as I read this after reading Complex Age, so going from someone who is a goddess of sewing who also has A Plan, to the Amars, who are just bodging together whatever they can was such a shift. It's definitely feels more realistic, even as it's played for laughs. (See also: [Protagonist] hyperfocusing on making jellyfish dresses to the point of excluding everything else! I'm not saying #relatable, but.)
But yes, I found this book to be A Lot. It was very pretty! The emotional beats when it was being sincere and allowing the Amars to protect each other were really good! But a lot of the humour fell flat to me, and I honestly couldn't tell you whether I liked it or not, because there's so much going on. If you want a slice of life drama, it's probably not a bad thing to go for, it's just not quite my cup of tea.
[Caution warnings: virgin-shaming]
4. Mushishi Volume 1 by Yuki Urushibara, translated by William Flanagan [Top]
A thing I feel like everyone needs to know is that one of my weaknesses in fiction is anthology horror stories with a connecting character who investigates the weirdness going on. Pet Shop of Horrors, Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Carnacki the Ghost Finder, Mail, xxxholic – I am weak and you can sucker me into pretty much anything with that premise. And that's what I thought I was getting here! It is an anthology series; the connecting character is a mushishi, someone who researches mushi (sort of... Spiritual bugs?), as he travels around the country to investigate incidents. He doesn’t appear to be the protagonist or the point of view character for these stories (much like in Mail), but he is the thread that links the stories together as he tries to resolve various problems.
The only thing that stops it being the perfect storm of my interests is that it’s not quite a horror story! Some of the events are horrifying, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s horror. The stories feel almost peaceful, despite the things that happen in them, and they’re more melancholy in feel than anything else. It all feels like a slow progression of loss, and it’s fascinating but not quite what I was expecting. The art style wasn't what I expected either – I think from the cover, I kinda assumed it would be like Hiromu Arakawa's work, lots of strong lines and clear artwork, and it's almost the opposite of that. It's effective, especially for the mushi themselves (The scene with the mushi on the ceiling fills me with a visceral sense of NOPE even now!), just not what I expected.
When I initially read Mushishi, it left me a little cold, but I think that was just that my expectations weren’t right. It’s good and recommended if you want a low-key creepy episodic manga.
5. In/Spectre Volume 1 by by Kyo Shirodaira and Chashiba Katase [Top]
I really wanted to like In/Spectre, because the premise sounds interesting; a teenage girl made a trade with yokai for power and the ability to help them, and recruits a young man she meets to help her solve disputes between yokai. This first volume has some interesting uses of yokai, unreliable narrators, and the dude's mysterious backstory! It has a cool fight scene and set up for a somewhat weird mystery! (And more importantly: his ex-girlfriend, who is very cool and deserves better.) But, the pacing is extremely weird, because it has two timeskips in one volume, and it also features a seventeen-year-old girl throwing herself at a man in his twenties, which is A Bit Weird. I’m okay with a one-sided crush, and I was even more okay with it when she started emotionlessly dissecting his life to prove that Something Weird Was Going On, but she suggests (after another timeskip, because What Is Pacing) that it’s reciprocated and I’m a bit skeeved. The mystery is intriguing, because sure! Ghost with a steel beam causing havoc! Not what I expected from a premise where the protagonist is supposed to be looking after yokai, but it sounds fun, especially when the police get involved! But... Somewhat skeeved.
6. Whyborne & Griffin 1-4 by Jordan L. Hawk (Widdershins, Threshold, Stormhaven, Eidolon (1.5), Necropolis, Carousel (3.4)) [Top]
I started reading the Whyborne & Griffin series last year but bounced off it quite hard in the middle of book five. And I was really hopeful and determined that THIS TIME, THIS TIME I could finish book five and get to the plot stuff after it -- and I got to the exact same paragraph I reached last time and noped out AGAIN. Damn.
I noticed different things on this reread, like the way that both Whyborne and Griffin thinks the other party has all of the power in the relationship, and the way that Whyborne appears to be unwittingly manipulating Griffin (and in book five deliberately lying to him, which is probably why I bounced off the book again!), which I somehow managed to either not notice or not remember, even though the text is fairy clear that that's what he's doing even if neither of the characters seem to notice.
I stand by my earlier review -- it's fun and pulpy and historical-fantasy-mysteries are where I live -- but I'm a little sad that apparently there's just one point in book five where my patience ends.
7. Scales & Scoundrels Volume 2 by Sebastian Girner [Top]
This was somewhat disappointing after reading the first volume of Scales & Scoundrels. In this volume, [Luvender] parts ways from her travelling companions and stumbles around the countryside falling into tiny little adventures, instead of one large connected one. Normally, this would be exactly my thing! I love episodic stories! But something about this one – perhaps that Luvender is best as a character in a group than one in isolation – just didn't quite gel with me. There were some parts of what it was doing that were really interesting to me, like the issue that was almost entirely textless – that was really cool! I liked how they did that! And the explanation of how [Luvender] became quite so herself, along with the look at for-profit wars, was kinda nice to have. It just suffered from not having as much of the character interplay as volume one, and some of the subversions it tried (such as people's reactions to their daring rescue) not working for me.
8. Band Sinister by KJ Charles [Top]
I reviewed this one right here on Lady Business! Efficiency! It's a very sweet and gentle Regency romance, full of kindness and people doing their best. If that's what you need in this hellscape timeline, this is a good place to start!
9. SPECTR Series 1 by Jordan L. Hawk (Hunter of Demons, Master of Ghouls, Reaper of Souls, Destroyer of Worlds, Eater of Lives, Summoner of Storms) [Top]
I have... Some issues with Spectr, that start with a casual off-hand mention that 9/11 was a demonic attack and roll right on through this being like X-Men levels of "having magical powers is a METAPHOR." It follows Caleb, a painter whose brother was killed by a werewolf, as he gets possessed by a demon-eating vampire and moves in with the agent of Spectr who's supposed to be exorcising the vampire from his body. (... OF COURSE THEY BONE.)
I'm not a hundred percent sure whether my problem is with the worldbuilding or the characterisation, although my problem with the characterisation is easiest to talk about! I don't feel I had a grasp on any of the three main characters except Gray (the vampire), whose explicit characterisation was "eat demons, protect these two humans in particular, I guess these are my humans now." Caleb I just could get NOTHING consistent from, and once he became the goth-nerd stereotype (tall gangly guy with elbow length hair, huge leather boots, and a big leather-and-kevlar trench coat, NO REALLY) I just stopped being able to take him seriously. I have met too many of those guys, okay, I just – I couldn't anymore. Spectr Season One is six novellas, and the fact that I came out of it going "I'm still not sure what the characters' personalities are" is maybe not a good sign! Especially when I felt like I had a better grasp of the secondary characters and their issues – and can I just say, I can guess at a couple of reasons why the book was not about the female characters, but Tiffany and Kaniyar were the most interesting characters, understood what was going on, and – in Tiffany's case – weren't quite as blank slates to me, so I'm a little sad that they weren't the leads. Maybe in the next books? (Which I am absolutely going to read, what do you take me for.)
It didn't help that some of the emotional turns in the stories are that fast that I don't have time to take them in? Not just the "I know we were just fighting/committing murder/having an emotionally exhausting conversation, but now we must have sex!" jump that a lot of romance novels have, but also characters having massive emotional swings on their faith in organisations or people and then immediately having an emotional swing to something else. This doesn't make sense to me!
Plus, while the books are set up as a polyamorous relationship between three people, it's a little hard to buy two of them being specifically in love when even the book calls out the fact that they only interact when one of them is trying to exorcise the other or a murder is happening. I could have bought them being in lust! That I could have understood! But the fact that it's specifically brought up as love is really weird to me, even though that's the relationship with all of the angst and drama so it's the one that's most interesting to me.
As for the worldbuilding: I have mixed feelings. I did like the way that the author used imperialism and colonialism (specifically the spread of Christianity) as the influencing factor for why the world seems to think that all demons are inherently bad, and the fact that different cultures had different attitudes to where and how spirits and demons came about. That was interesting and I am intrigued! But it also has casual background details that I'm kinda baffled by! I was not joking about the 9/11 thing, and I don't think there was ever a clear explanation of WHY people had to be on a public register if they had superpowers and thus be subject to completely legal discrimination, unless it's to continue the kinda odd "Look, superpowers can be a metaphor for anything" thing going on where it is both a metaphor for being queer and... Anything else it needs to be for the narrative? There are conversion camps for people with powers, but also
(Have you ever read a fic that feels like someone started out writing an OT3, and then realised they had an OTP when it was too late to stop? It feels kinda like that!)
But for all that I'm complaining SPECTR, it's COMPELLING. I lost about three days just compulsively reading this entire series, because I couldn't put it down! The mysteries were usually fun (even if they did sometimes have Chekhov's Guns that never went off), the relationship drama with Gray was pretty good, and the visuals were kinda fun! I think I respect quite how much this reads like id-fic, to be honest, because it feels like someone just went "Nah, forget it, I'm just gonna go wild and put all the things I like in one story" and this was the result. I respect that as a tactic, and it was enjoyable enough that I kept reading it and want to get the next series when it comes out as an omnibus, so take all of these complaints with a pinch of salt.
[Caution warning: conversion camp analogues, cannibalism, mentioned suicide attempts, mentions of abuse, Reaper of Souls has a POV character with anorexia]
10. Sweet Blue Flowers Volume 1 by Takako Shimura [Top]
I reviewed Sweet Blue Flowers for The Lesbrary! It's a slice of life manga series about two childhood friends who meet again when they start high school, and have to wrangle the complicated mess of romantic feelings that comes with crushes and heartbreak in their social group. It's very sweet, and I like that it's definitely more on the believable side of messy relationships than on the tropey shoujo manga side (this is not a criticism of either of those; I'm sure I've mentioned how much I love tropey shoujo manga), as you might expect from the creator of Wandering Son. It's really good and I'm looking forward to the next volume.
- Witchmark by C. L. Polk — I can't lie to you; I did finish Witchmark today, and then did immediately start it over again because the sequel isn't out yet and there's only two fic for it on AO3. ... How is this my life.
- X Omnibus 1 by CLAMP — I have this suspicion that this is one of the CLAMP series where only about three people make it out alive, and none of them are allowed to ever have had a romantic interest in anyone. It's just a feeling.
- No. 6 Volume 2 by Atsuko Asano and Hinoki Kino — I somehow managed to forget that volume 2 is the volume where the plot actually starts to show up, instead of just the domestic fluff I'm actually reading it for. Whoops.
- Robots Vs Fairies edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe — I've been reading along with fangirlpod, and oh, oh the last story I read in this was bleak. Not even dark, just bleak. ... I think I need a break.
Reading goal: 141/180 (25 new this post(?!)) Prose: 85/90 (14 new this post, 52/85 short fiction) Nonfiction: 5/12 (1 new this post)
#getouttamydamnhouse: 24/50 (0 gone this post)
#unofficialqueerafbookclub: 58/50 (14 new this post; Whyborne & Griffin 1-4, Band Sinister, SPECTR Series 1, Sweet Blue Flowers Volume 1)