Tag Archives: Murder

The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine

Blue NotebookClearly, James A. Levine is a 21st-century Renaissance man. He’s an endocrinologist and professor at the renowned Mayo Clinic, he co-directs Obesity Solutions, a project of Mayo and Arizona State University (where he also professors), he’s credited with pioneering the treadmill desk, he NEATly Gruves … oh, and he also happens to write bestselling novels.

Perhaps he never sleeps – at least not well. He confesses to as much, about the “vivid nightmares” he endured for years after meeting a Mumbai child prostitute in his detailed “Afterword”; although narrator Meera Simhan provides a superb reading, you’ll need to turn to the actual pages for Levine’s not-to-be-missed additional insights, memories, afterthoughts, and more.

As part of investigating child labor in India, Levine found himself on the infamous “Street of Cages” in Mumbai, “one of the central areas for the estimated half-million child prostitutes in the country.” There he saw a 15-year-old girl in a pink sari, writing in her blue notebook. “I’ve found that the mantra ‘Education is the answer’ is invariably touted as pivotal to any solutions. That being so, I could not reconcile the image of a child prostitute who wrote.” Levine’s nightmares repeatedly ended with the specter of the girl standing over him in the middle of night. And so he “finally set out to write her story – it spilled onto the paper” in 58 days and became this, his debut novel.

Batuk, as Levine named her, was 9 when her father sold her to a brothel. Her virginity is auctioned off to the highest bidder and after she’s been heinously abused, she is eventually sent to “Common Street” where she lives in a “cell, with its steel bars … the size of a toilet.” Her best friend is beautiful Puneet, who “occupies the nest two down”: “Puneet is the most valuable of us all because he is a boy.”

“I have been blessed with beauty and a pencil,” Batuk introduces herself. “My beauty comes from within. The pencil came from the ear of Mamaki Briila, who is my boss.” That pencil records her shattering life, recalls the stories she was told as a village child, and enables her to create her own as the only means of escaping her unbearable reality. Summoned to a luxury hotel to be a spoiled heir’s temporary sex slave, Batuk takes what solace she can by writing of the horrors she endures on sheets of hotel stationery. Her literacy will preserve her sanity, even when her body can no longer endure.

As unflinchingly brutal as the novel is, Levine cautions that “[t]he pictures I paint onto Batuk’s canvas … are not fully accurate.” These children’s fates are even worse: “Were the burdens of sufferance to be detailed in their duration and intensity, the book would be agonizing to read. I can only open the door but then leave. I paint these images … and apologize that they are only glimpses. More than that I cannot sustain.” Neither, too, could most readers …

Batuk’s uncompromising testimony haunts with its inhumanity, even as it bears witness to a remarkable young girl’s strength, ingenuity, and somehow, hope. Her stories become her salvation – and will also inspire her audience to enable and ensure salvation for others like her, as well.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2009

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Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian

Secrets to EdenThe day after Alice Hayward is baptized, she’s found strangled in her own home; her husband George is on the couch with a bullet through his head. The apparent murder/suicide understandably has the couple’s tight-knit small Vermont town in shock, especially causing a crisis of faith for Reverend Stephen Drew.

Into Haverhill swoops an angel of sorts – at least a renowned celestial expert with two inspirational bestsellers to buoy her lofty (some might say loopy) status. Eerily enough, Heather Laurent is one of two surviving daughters who lost their parents to a gruesome murder/suicide decades back when they were teenagers. Which gives Heather much to talk about with the 15-year-old Hayward daughter, Katie. Meanwhile, deputy state attorney Catherine Benincasa is certain the Hayward tragedy needs further investigation, and at the top of her must-be-questioned list is the good Reverend Stephen.

The prolific Chris Bohjalian (my favorite hapa Armenian American writer, whose 17th title – Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands –hits shelves July 8) has become my latest go-to aural author, encouraged as I am with his repeat cast of dependable narrators, especially the versatile Mark Bramhall who is part of this title’s marvelously convincing quartet. Stephen, Catherine, Heather, and Katie, each get their unique say – although I can’t help wishing that Alice, too, might have had the chance to voice herself beyond snippets from her journal. Indeed, even after the whodunnit-reveal, only the two corpses will know the whole truth of that fateful evening … and their ‘secrets of Eden’ will remain forever buried in separate graves.

That sort of ponderous ambiguity is what keeps me going back for more books Bohjalian: what’s on the page (or stuck in the ears) is a many-layered story that always demands deeper engagement.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2010

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Ripper by Isabel Allende, translated by Ollie Brock and Frank Wynne

RipperJust as her latest book was hitting shelves, the near-deified Isabel Allende opened mouth, inserted foot during an interview on NPR and set off a firestorm of negative reaction. On mysteries, she intoned, “I will take the genre, write a mystery that is faithful to the formula and to what the readers expect, but it is a joke.” Uh-oh. Two-and-a-half weeks later (after at least one bookstore returned all copies to her publisher), she was out apologizing, insisting her own comments were the joke. They say no press is bad press, but …

Having already loaded Ripper on my iPod before her ‘joke’ grabbed headlines, curiosity made me hit that ‘play’-button. I would have loved a studio sneak peek to see what sort of faces narrator Edoardo Ballerini must have made while recording what became the final 14.5 hours; to his credit, except for briefly stumbling over a Scottish accent, Ballerini admirably slogs through the almost-500 pages.

“My sleuth will not be this handsome detective or journalist or policeman or whatever. It will be a young, 16-year-old nerd,” Allende revealed in that infamous interview. [Call me wrong, but Amanda seems to be 17 here, referenced thusly on pages 30, 146, and 190.] “My female protagonist will not be this promiscuous, beautiful, dark-haired, thin lady. It will be a plump, blond, healer, and so forth.”

What Allende should have also warned was that she was throwing in just about every stereotype: the ex-vet Asiaphile who can’t satisfy his dragon-lady S&M girlfriend (because he couldn’t finish that “manual” with “something beige in the title – or maybe it was gray”), the arrogant old rich man who falls for someone of the wrong net worth, the innocent good girl corrupted by the popular big-boy-on-campus, the Asian houseboy (although he has the glorified title of ‘butler’ – so that at least one person can say, ‘the butler did it’; he didn’t), and on and on! Oh, she even adds ghosts (magic realism made Allende mega-famous, after all) – including one named Sharbat, “like the girl with green eyes on the famous National Geographic cover“!

So that ‘nerdy’ sleuth, Amanda, and her grandfather/”henchman,” Kabel (an acronym of his real name Blake), regularly play a computer-facilitated game called Ripper with a group of motley teens scattered around the world. They’re the first to discover that the gruesome murders plaguing San Francisco are the work of a serial killer, long before Amanda’s father – “deputy chief of homicide detail” – and his team catch on. Meanwhile, Amanda’s long-divorced mother Indiana – that “plump” protagonist – is caught between two men, leaving her rather oblivious to the rest of reality; after eight murders, she goes missing …

Mystery/thriller aficionado I’m not, but I had the whodunnit figured out as soon as the character appeared, with hours upon hours to go as yet. Because the murderer was so obvious, I convinced myself I couldn’t possibly be right, so I gritted it out to the bitter end; thank goodness at least I was multi-tasking because I’m never, ever going to get those hours back! Finally finished, I guess I can only claim temporary insanity.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2014

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The Incredible Adventures of Dog Mendonça and PizzaBoy (I and II: Apocalypse) by Filipe Melo, art by Juan Cava, colors by Santiago Villa, translated by Raylene Lowe (I) and Philip R. Simon (II)

Incredible Adventures of Dog Mendonca and Pizzaboy 1.2

While watching evening TV that’s been interrupted by a special bulletin about the unending “wave of child abductions in Lisbon,” Eurico nods off, only to be jarred awake by the ringing telephone. He’s late again to his pizza delivery job, where his boss thinks he’s “a half-wit,” his best (only?) friend Vasco mops floors, and he dreams about asking out the love of his life Ana.

Finally out on delivery, Eurico gets his scooter stolen. When the police laugh off his sketch of the hooded culprit, Eurico seeks the help of “occult detective” Dog Mendonça who works with a chain-smoking little girl named Pazuul (who’s really a 6,000 year demon kicked out hell for not being “bad enough”). Eurico doesn’t exactly get his scooter back, but he does get the thief – at least the guilty gargoyle’s head whose missing body doesn’t deter his chatterbox tendencies.

Then child-like Pazuul – remember those kiddie kidnappings? – disappears and Dog, Eurico, and Gargoyle head for the sewers, where they end up having to save the rest of the city while they’re looking for their girlish demon buddy. Who needs a night job when you’re suddenly a superhero?

Alas, hero-ing apparently doesn’t pay the bills because five years later in Volume II, Eurico is stuck at a desk providing technical support. Dog and Pazuul reappear to rescue him from boredom, collect Gargoyle after severing his loquacious head yet again from the rest of his regrown body, and visit a bookstore (they’ll be needing a certain holy book). Thus begins their battle to save the world, this time taking on the Apocalypse (you did notice the subtitle, right?) in an epic battle of biblical proportions (couldn’t resist!). The volume ends with a bonus prequel, The Untold Tales of Dog Mendonça and PizzaBoy, which reveals how the original gruesome twosome (Dog and Demon) came to be – via family circus, immigration, ‘the code,’ and even the Loch Ness Monster.

So you could read these ‘incredible adventures’ – the two volumes are 2/3 of a trilogy – for the sheer guffaw-inducing, over-the-top entertaining stories that they are, splendiferously enhanced with eye-popping, jaw-dropping art … and be utterly satisfied. But, of course, these saturated pages hold so much more. Take, for example, who wrote the forewords: Volume I by John Landis (think Animal House, Thriller, An American Werewolf in Paris) and Volume II by George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead and the zombie genre that never died). Those are major hints to some deeper references and meanings.

Then you have multi-levels of sly humor: that first German scream on p. 67 in Volume I roughly translates to “If you read this, then you understand German!” which actually has nothing to do with the action on the page; the type in the dialogue bubbles is printed upside down when the speakers are thusly hanging; in Volume II the would-be saviors choose a cuddly cutesie kiddie Bible because it’s not $30 and it “looks much better”; and I can only barely mention the whole religious (or not) meta-narrative going on. Oh, be still my ongoing giggles!

“[H]ow long do we have to wait for the next one?” Landis asks in Volume I; with II+just out, the question begs asking again. Our answer: Volume III: Requiem hits shelves November 10, 2014. Click here for the sneak-peek trailer, but before you hit play, be warned – you’ll be wanting more, more, more. Patience certainly isn’t my virtue!

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2012 and 2013 (United States)

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Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Dark PlacesIf Gillian Flynn isn’t already a household name, she will be sure enough. The film version of her mega-bestselling 2012 novel Gone Girl is due to hit screens in October with Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike starring as the troubled couple. Since Flynn herself wrote the screenplay, any grumbling about Hollywood’s cinematic makeover might be unwarranted, although apparently Flynn has changed the ending …?! Huh? Guess we’ll have to check out the results come fall.

Oh, but I’ve digressed. Maybe because I’m avoiding the horror factor here. While Gone Girl and Flynn’s first novel, Sharp Objects, seemed to be more psychological brutality, Dark Places – her novel in between – is the most viscerally violent of all.

At age 7, Libby Day survived when her mother and two older sisters were slaughtered in the family farmhouse. She managed to escape into the frigid cold, and hid in the bushes for so long that she lost three toes and half a ring finger to frostbite. Her 15-year-old brother was eventually convicted of the multiple murders.

Almost a quarter century later, Libby is broke, desperate, and no longer able to live off the kindness of strangers. She hasn’t seen her brother in all that time, her deadbeat Dad is floating out there as useless as ever, and she’s estranged herself from the one relative – her maternal aunt – who stood by her in spite of all of Libby’s betrayals (including murdering her aunt’s dog). When the horrendously-named Kill Club offers her money for her time – and her memories – she’s desperate enough to play along. They’re convinced her brother is innocent … which would mean that Libby’s eyewitness testimony couldn’t possibly be true.

To find out what really happened that night – I had NO idea! – readers will wade through satanic rituals, spousal abuse, pedophilia, bovine sacrifices, teenage hormonal rages, entitled wealth, and so much more. Yes, you’ve got almost 400 pages of humanity at its worst; if you choose to go audible, a full cast of notable narrators read with just the right blend of blasé observation and urgent shock. Horrible, gruesome, unbelievable, yes … but like the best train wrecks, you won’t be able to turn away.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2009

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Nijigahara Holograph by Inio Asano, translated by Matt Thorn

Nijigahara HolographLong before the latest translated-into-English title from award-winning transgender manga creator Inio Asano is due to hit shelves (fabulous Seattle-based publisher Fantagraphics lists an unspecified February pub date; Amazon lists March 19, 2014 and B&N March 5 for available shipping), the internet has been abuzz for years with fascinating discussions attempting to piece together what happens here. The Japanese original debuted in 2006; I’m not sure how long an English version has been available in the virtual world [forget Google –support the book!], but guessing from the dates of the substantial postings, I would say at least a couple of years, if not more. Having now read the book through thrice, I’m still not certain as the order and details of all the events, but I can say without a doubt that this is one head-spinning, un-put-downable, almost-300 pages of disturbing intrigue.

Composed as two overlapping narratives set some eleven years apart, the first page begins with butterflies, a set of crying twins, an open notebook, and a dark tunnel to nowhere. Dreams and reality become interchangeable over the decade-plus that separates elementary-school-aged childhood from adulthood for those infant twins who will witness mysterious, brutal occurrences that define their lives.

When a body turns up in the entrance to the Nijigahara (literally ‘rainbow meadow,’ certainly rife with meaning!) tunnel, rumors start circulating. The town’s young children insist that a monster lurks deep within: in a fit of terrifying violence, they decide to ‘sacrifice’ Arié – the daughter of a single father and the just identified corpse – and throw her down a long well.

While Arié lies in a coma, a new boy joins her fifth grade class; Amahiko, too, has survived violence, hospitalization, and is trying to fit in as the ‘new boy.’ Their teacher Miss Sakaki recognizes Amahiko as a troubled soul, and attempts to offer him special care. She has secrets of her own, however, least of all the cumbersome bandaging over one eye (again, certainly rife with meaning!) due to a recent injury.

Butterflies abound on many, many pages, fluttering in and out of the panels as if to gather the narrative threads together when they might seem to wander off too far. The winged prove uplifting and threatening both, children can’t fly, adults aren’t reliable, and the dead can still speak. Feeling lost? Go back to that first page to the bottom-left panels: the Nijigahara tunnel entrance with the handwritten journal pages. There you have the eponymous Nijigahara holograph: what follows is for you to decipher … do let me know what you find.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2006, 2014 (United States)

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The City of Death (Ash Mistry Chronicles, Book 2) by Sarwat Chadda

City of DeathOkay, so we’re skipping ahead here, because I had to read this for a book judging requirement – and, in reading out of order, also confirm that it can narratively stand alone even without its prequel. I can’t reveal any trade secrets, but I can confirm that Book 2 of Sarwat Chadda‘s Ash Mistry series doesn’t need Book 1 (The Savage Fortress), but if you decide to turn back time, you’ll appreciate filling in a few details. That said, to maximize your sense of adventure, I would definitely stick to the 1 – 2 – 3 (3 being The World of Darkness, available on the other side of the Pond, but a U.S. pub date is still pending).

After a serious makeover summer in India, Ash is back home in London with his old friends, starting a new school year. He’s lost his adolescent pudge, learned how to kill with a single touch, and can run to Edinburgh and back in a single night (those nightmares about past lives keep the shuteye away). He might be the reborn “eternal warrior” of Kali, goddess of death and destruction, but he’s also still the same socially awkward teenager he was before his transformation; alas, none of his newly acquired skills are helpful as he fumbles to ask the gorgeous Gemma out on a date.

Then his old friend Parvati shows up to warn him that their nemesis, evil Lord Savage, is after the legendary Koh-I-Noor diamond, part of the British Crown Jewels – it’s the last relic he needs to unlock the secret to eternal life. Savage’s hench-monsters wreak havoc hunting down the priceless jewel, and in the violent skirmish, Gemma dies in Ash’s arms. Bent on revenge – not to mention saving the world yet again – Ash returns to India with Parvati to stop Savage once and for all. His not-so-secret determination to resurrect Gemma repeatedly impedes him from thinking clearly, even as his trust meter is tested again and again. But being a superhero when you’re still just a kid – with ever-growing powers you haven’t quite mastered! – is no easy job, especially when those new skills just might come at the cost of your own humanity.

Chadda updates ancient mythology to fit into a brave new world of instant access driven by cell phones, video games, and the world wide web. Technology might have advanced, but the war between good and evil remains forever timeless: get ready for young Ash Mistry, the latest vanquisher-in-training the world has been waiting for …

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2013

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The Cemetery of Forgotten Books: The Shadow of the Wind, Angel’s Game, The Prisoner of Heaven, The Rose of Fire by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, translated by Lucia Graves

Cemetery of Lost Books 1.2.3 plus Rose

Well, crud. In spite of making a list and checking it twice, thrice, and more, I read these in about as ‘wrong’ order as I possibly could. But before I offer two preventative options, some quick background: the full Cemetery of Forgotten Books by internationally bestselling Spanish writer Carlos Ruiz Zafón;is a series of four volumes, plus a single (thus far) short story. For us non-original text readers, the series is translated by Lucia Graves, the daughter of renowned English poet and novelist Robert Graves (I, Claudius). While I can’t comment on word-to-word accuracy, more than a few phrases carried an anachronistic din; would a well-raised teenager in the 1920s (no matter how feisty) speaking to an older man thusly – “‘I’m cold and my bum’s turned to stone …,’” much less tell him to “‘shut up’”? Original readers, please do chime in.

But back to order. Literally. The first three Forgotten Books are pictured above, together with the short story, “The Rose of Fire,” which is available as a free download by clicking here. I can’t find any further information on the fourth and final Book – if anyone has any tidbits, do share! Nope, I’m not above begging!

So here’s two suggested paths through the Cemetery:

  1. You could choose the books in the order they were published: Shadow, Angel’s, “Rose,” Prisoner.
  2. Or, you could choose to read chronologically by narrative: “Rose,” Angel’s, Shadow, Prisoner.

Inexplicably, I ended up reading Prisoner, Angel’s, Shadow, “Rose.” I went audible (highly recommended!) with each of the three novels voiced by a different reader: Peter Kenny (Prisoner) was the trio’s best for his diverse characterizations, Jonathan Davis (Shadow) felt a wee bit subdued in comparison, and Dan Stevens (Angel’s) was the most memorable purely because of his star factor [Stevens is currently best known as the late – sniff, sniff! – Cousin Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey; he had hidden Kindle-sized pockets sewn into his Downton costumes so he could spend every available second reading for his 2012 Man Booker judging duties!].

All that said, the most important detail to take from this multi-volume post is to read them all, in whatever order you can grasp your hands around. For now, let’s choose option 2. Why know more before you need to? Not only is ignorance bliss, but delayed gratification will surely keep you swiftly turning the pages.

Let “Rose” set the mood by explaining the 15th-century origins of the titular Cemetery of Lost Books, and introduces the literary Sempere family. The Cemetery and the Semperes – all ensconced in Barcelona, a darkly magical city with a terrible history – appear in every volume. Fast forward to the 1920s in Angel’s Game, in which a young writer, David Martín, survives a brutal childhood during which Sempere & Sons was his only refuge: “My favorite place in the whole city.” He begins his career writing newspaper articles about grisly murders, then moves on to his own popular horrific fictions published regularly under a pseudonym. He falls in love with an elusive woman he loses, but is forever adored by a young girl Isabella who refuses to leave him. When the one and only title that bears his true name is ignominiously dismissed, he begins to write a new book in fulfillment of a shockingly lucrative contract for a mysterious foreign publisher. And then the real-life murders begin … and multiply.

Almost three decades later, in The Shadow of the Wind, the Sempere son, Daniel, is on a quest of his own. After discovering Julián Carax’s novel of the same name, Daniel quickly learns that his is one of the very last copies in the world. But a devoted reader always wants more – even after learning that some monster is out there burning every Carax book – and Daniel decides he’s going to find Carax himself.

A few years have passed when the The Prisoner of Heaven begins with Daniel now a husband and father. His closest friend, devoted bookshop employee, and sworn bachelor, Fermín Romero de Torres, is about to get married to the one true love of his life. Although Daniel has never doubted Fermín’s love and loyalty to the Sempere family, he needs to find some definitive answers when a wealthy stranger makes a surprise purchase at the family bookstore and is eventually revealed to be using Fermín’s own beloved name. The real – or not? – Fermín’s confessions returnDavid Martín and his devoted assistant Isabella to the page, revealing a multi-layered past Daniel never even knew he had.

Concepts and constructs of authorship, identity, so-called truth, perspectives of good and evil and every grey zone in between, are all here just waiting to be questioned and challenged. Meanwhile, literature literally saves lives, from Great Expectations to The Count of Monte Cristo; the 2013 paperback version of Prisoner includes a “P.S.” section that ends with Zafon’s own eclectic list of “Dead Fellows You Should See and Read Frequently” (from Brontë to Faulkner to Dos Passos!). Yes, each novel stands alone, but when read together, the connections become sublime, even at the price of your own memory (sanity?!); interwoven and overlapping, whose story is reliable, who is even able to speak the truth, who will deceive you once again, prove to be the most daunting mysteries of all. Beyond the body count, go ahead and attempt to figure it all out … at least until the next book comes along and turns all theories to … well … fiction. Superbly done.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2004, 2009, 2012, 2012 (United States)

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The Case of the Love Commandos: A Vish Puri Mystery by Tarquin Hall

Case of the Love CommandosMysteries don’t get any more substantially delicious than this: Vish Puri voiced by Sam Dastor as written by Tarquin Hall, with just the right balance of page-turning entertainment and sociopolitical insight. Before you partake, however, you should know that this is #4 in a series; while each installment provides standalone delight, only reading in order – The Case of the Missing Servant, The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing, The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – will provide full satisfaction. Yes, they’re that good. So if you haven’t already, go catch up quickly!

Vish Puri, founder and leader of Most Private Investigators Ltd., is the “winner of six national awards and one international, also. … The Federation of World Detectives saw fit to name [him] super sleuth some years back. [His] picture was on the cover of India Today.” But for now, he’s taking a break from enjoying his laurels (although he always has time for a quick snack), as he’s convinced of “‘nazar lag gayi’ – the evil eye was upon him.” He’s actually failed to solve the Jain Jewelry Heist case, and now he’s somehow managed to get pickpocketed as he prepares to embark on a short family pilgrimage. Still, he insists, “‘My radar is working twenty-four hours a day, three hundred sixty-five days a year, only.’” And much to his wife Rumpi and his Mummy’s disappointment, Puri decides he can’t take that much-needed break, after all.

Puri’s operative “Facecream had never asked for his help before and he wasn’t about to turn her down.” Facecream’s latest assignment for the Love Commandos [a real-life volunteer organization "dedicated to helping India's lovebirds who want to marry for love"] has gone awry: would-be-groom Ram – of the Dalit, or ‘untouchable,’ caste – has been kidnapped from a Commandos safe house and his bride-to-be Tulsi – a “highborn Hindu” – is afraid her disapproving, all-too-powerful father will stop at nothing to keep the couple apart. And then Ram’s mother is found dead, and the case suddenly becomes far more than a missing persons report.

While Puri and Facecream take on India’s illegal caste system, political intrigue in the highest echelons, genome mapping without consent, marriage brokers, that rare ethical lawyer, and an evil Swedish medical director with heinous secrets, Mummy’s off in the remote mountains and shrines chasing a case of her own. Even as she recovers the stolen wallet in spite of being told by Rumpi that Chubby (her pet name for her inestimable son who only begrudgingly ever accepts her good help) did not want her involved, Mummy savvily realizes the pickpocket and his oversized belligerent wife have far greater riches in sight.

As proud as Puri is (when the evil eye has turned away, only) of his most excellent radar that eventually solves all, he’s not above accepting a few new truths. He knows to be humbly grateful (enough) when Mummy shows her sleuthing prowess once more – the chutney doesn’t fall far from the pakora, after all. And although he still frowns on marriage-without-parental-approval, Ram and Tulsi’s commitment to each other teach him plenty about true love … and thankful is he for Mummy, Rumpi, their three daughters, and a “house … filled with grandchildren and laughter.” He won’t be needing any pilgrimages to appreciate his many blessings.

There remains, however, one question left unanswered … oh mighty triumvirate of Vish/Sam/Tarquin: Where’s #5 already??!!

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013

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07-Ghost (vols. 1-4) by Yuki Amemiya and Yukino Ichihara, translated by Satsuki Yamashita

07-Ghost 1.4

Since we’re talking four volumes here, allow me attempt to offer a set-up without too many spoilers.

“One thousand years ago,” a boy named Teito Klein (not sure of the kanji for ‘Teito,’ but his last name means “small” auf Deutsch – you’ll find many German-inspired references throughout) is about to reclaim his larger-than-life past. Assumed to be an enslaved orphan who is now an elite teen soldier of the Barsburg Empire, Teito is frequently haunted by mysterious images that bear little resemblance to the slave narrative he’s always been told. A loner at Barsburg’s military academy, Teito accepts (and returns) the devoted friendship of a gentle comrade, Mikage Celestine; depending on the original kanji (not included in the translated manga), ‘mikage,’ in Japanese, can mean ‘beautiful shadow’ – hold on to that etymology, as Mikage will always remain at Teito’s side.

Teito’s dream-like (nightmarish) flashbacks finally begin to make sense when he overhears the Barsburg leaders talking about him – their words trigger a violent memory, and he recognizes Ayanami, the Barsburg Imperial Army’s Chief of Staff, standing over a murdered body. In blind reaction, Teito attacks Ayanami, gets thrown into prison, but escapes with Mikage’s help. He’s rescued and taken to Barsburg Church in District 7 – the “District of God” – where the military cannot touch him. Something about the glorious sanctuary seems familiar … and thus Teito’s quest for the truth begins …

The epic battle of good vs. evil is on. Here’s what Teito initially learns: Seven Ghosts (hence the name) prevent the god of evil, Verloren (meaning ‘the lost’), from world domination. Two kingdoms battle for control, although one needs some major restoring. Three swashbuckling bishops (one of whom has a propensity for hiding porn, ahem) take turns nurturing, teaching, bullying (sort of comically) young Teito as he learns to control the power he never knew he had.

Given the multi-layered rules and engrossing history of this millenially-aged universe, 07-Ghosts is undoubtedly one of the most intricate series I’ve thus far encountered. Apparently slated for 17 total installments, have patience and pay close attention: the numerology and meaning of names alone are noteworthy brain-ticklers. It’s also one of the most graphically gorgeous manga; even when the characters are at rest, nearly every panel overflows with swirling movement (the religious robes alone are better than any haute couture). If you find you can’t wait for the translated paper and ink to hit Stateside, you might check out the subtitled anime which seems to be readily available online. Oh, the powers of google; ask and ye shall be answered.

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2005-2007 (Japan), 2012-2013 (United States)
© Yuki Amemiya and Yukino Ichihara
Original Japanese edition published by Ichijinsha, Inc., Japan

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Translation, Japanese