Review: Blissful Land vol 1 by Ichimon Izumi

My thanks to NetGalley and Kodansha Comics for a review copy of this one.

Blissful Land is a manga comic/graphic novel set in eighteenth-century Tibet, and it was this setting that essentially drew me to this book. This tells the story of Khang Zhipa, a thirteen-year-old “doctor-in-training”, who lives with his father, a doctor/farmer, his mother, also a farmer, and younger sister Pema. He is somewhat obsessed with the herbs that he collects, and prepares medicines to treat whoever is in trouble. He in fact dreams of helping not only his village but other villages around. When the story opens, he is returning home from another herb collecting excursion accompanied by his Yak and Sangay, his dog when he tries to help a farmer who’s been suffering exhaustion. They notice a party of travellers heading to their village, which is bringing a bride all dressed in her finery. When Khang arrives home, he is surprised to find the travellers there, and after a day or so, to find that the bride is in fact here to be married to him in due time, and will be staying with his family till then. The story is basically a very simple one with each chapter giving one a peek into the kind of life people in Khang’s position may have led every day, the things they did, the food they ate, and of course how Khang and his bride-to-be, Moshi Rati, get to know each other better, learn of each other’s interests, and importantly, learn to communicate with each other as time passes. This is of course only the first volume so the story stops part way.

This was a really pleasant and charming story—and a pretty quick read. Despite having nothing much in terms of plot, it is wonderful to see what life may have possibly been like in a small mountain village of Tibet of that time. I loved the artwork, which is really very beautiful–the buildings and the surrounding mountains, and especially the costumes of the characters—I wonder if the final product has coloured pages because that would really make it so much better (like the cover, which is gorgeous). I also really liked how the author incorporated information on the various herbs and plants that Khang used in his treatments, and also the time and effort the actual preparation of various medicines took. Also the way the characters are introduced to the reader is fun. There is also some additional information at the end about the names used, some customs, Yaks, and even a recipe for butter tea. This was overall very pleasant to read, though I would have liked if the story didn’t stop somewhat abruptly even though it has a second part. 3.75 stars.

Review: Tokyo Tarareba Girls, Vol. 1

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My thanks to NetGalley for a review copy of this one.

 

This was my very first manga read. I have watched some of the animated versions of course, Fushigi Yuugi (Curious Play), Nodame Cantabile, Emma, and Yatitake Japan, among them but had never really read any. So when I saw this on NetGalley, and the cover looked like fun, with a theme/plot something that could be interesting, I decided to give it a shot.

 

This is the first volume of the Manga, and the author is known for her other series, Princess Jellyfish (which makes an ‘appearance’ in the book as well–something I thought cute). The title roughly translates to the Tokyo ‘What-if’ Girls’. This one features three girls/women—Rinko (who is our ‘heroine’) and her friends Kaori and Koyuki who she has known from high school. Rinko is a reasonably successful screen writer for web series and has set up her own office, but remains single at 33 as do her two friends, and the three often spend their evenings getting very drunk, gorging on snacks (their favourites being milt with ponzu sauce and liver), and discussing ‘What-if’ we had done this or that scenarios. A young man who observes them at the bar quite often, tries to talk some sense into them but to no avail. Then Rinko’s career begins to take a downward turn as well. The book also has two interesting ‘food’ characters, the Codfish milt (tara) and Liver (reba) who appear to speak to Rinko, when she is under the influence, always raising the what-if, what-if, what-if…

 

So as I said, this was my first time actually reading manga, and when I started reading, for about 16–17 pages I read the… er… normal way, and wondered why things were not quite sitting right, why Rinko would graduate after she had become a successful writer, and only then remember that Manga was supposed to be read the other way (right–left), and then went straight back to the start and things began to finally make some sense 🙂

 

But anyway, as for the book itself, I liked the idea of the story, of characters who realise that a large part of their life seems to have passed them by, without quite realising where it all went, and the things you had thought you would do by now, haven’t really happened at all, and there seems no likelihood of them happening either. One can understand Rinko’s frustration, her need to vent (but then you also realise that only doing this is going to get you nowhere), but what I couldn’t connect with was her need to get herself so drunk every day that she ends up literally walking into things and hurting herself—and doesn’t seem to even stop to question this. Perhaps partly because of this, and also because of her near obsessive focus of needing to ‘find a husband’, I didn’t really take to Rinko or her friends very much. But I did enjoy the two ‘food’ characters and thought they were good fun. The explanations of local and cultural references at the end I also found really helpful. While this wasn’t a book I can say I loved or even liked very much, it was still an ok read, and I wouldn’t mind reading the next instalment to see how things pan out for them.

Children’s Book of the Month: Cairo Jim and the Secret Sepulchre of the Sphinx

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This was a chance find on the shop-soiled table in my local bookshop. The cover grabbed me because of the title—an Egyptian setting obviously, the Sphinx, and the ‘hero’—a Tintin-like character hanging onto the Sphinx’s nose. This is the sixth of a series of eighteen books (though according to some listings it’s the ninth) by Australian writer Geoffrey McSkimming, and features archaeologist–poet Cairo Jim who along with his ‘assistants’ Doris the Macaw and Brenda the Wonder Camel works at various dig sites and makes exciting discoveries. His patron is Gerald Perry of the Old Relics Society, and he also has a ‘good friend’, Joselyn Osgood, a flight-attendant with Valkyrian Airways, who appears occasionally (including in this one) helping him on his digs. Attempting to thwart his plans all the time is the arch-villain Captain Neptune Flannelbottom Bone. In this one, Jim patron, Mr Perry has left him instructions to dig at a site near the pyramid of Chephern at Giza but with no information on what he is supposed to be looking for. They later find that he has put them on the trail of clues left behind by Bathsheba Snugg, a founding member of the Old Relics Society, who had disappeared over forty years ago, and who was a translator of the writings of Herodotitis. Meanwhile it emerges that their nemesis Bone is dead and proof has been found. But of course, he isn’t really and when Jim makes an exciting discovery—a huge limestone floor which links to Pharaoh Amehetnehet—Bone puts into action his dastardly plans to discredit Jim’s findings, driving him underground (or rather into the Sphinx), and resurrect himself and his reputation.

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Image source: Sturm58 at the English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

When I started this book, I found it somewhat silly but soon enough I realised that this was probably to do with the way I was looking at it or expecting it to be—rather than only an adventure story this was also somewhat on the lines of a comic (as in a comic book/programme—like may be Scooby Doo or Penelope Pitstop), and when I began to look at it like that, I began to enjoy it far more. The book definitely has the feel of a parody or spoof though it isn’t wholly that either. The characters are pretty quirky—we have a macaw who reads, often quotes, Shakespeare, and can seemingly magically tell the time, and a Camel who reads Westerns and communicates with them telepathically, something neither Doris not Jim realises is happening, often thinking that the other has said something. The villain Bone is yet another of these, in fact much more than ‘yet another’—he is the classic comic book villain, all the way down to the ‘ha ha ha ha ha’ (I described him as such in my mind before he went ahead and actually did that) and the customary ‘arrrrhs’ as a Captain, thinking up dastardly plans. He also quite often speaks in alliteration, especially to his sidekick, a raven named Desdemona (for instance, ‘You blithering bundle of bunglingness!’).

The book has a fair few literary references/allusions which I enjoy in books but unlike say, the Lemony Snickett set (A Series of Unfortunate Events), many of the literary allusions/references in the book are more direct (mostly the Shakespeare ones). But then we do also have Desdemona the raven, who exclaims more subtly ‘Nevermore Nevermore Nevermore’.

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Tenneil-The Raven

Image source:  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But really apart from these, it wasn’t that I wasn’t having fun with the book initially because it isn’t often that one comes across a children’s book in an archaeological setting—this is probably the only one I’ve read—and with digs and such described quite genuinely (perhaps the comparisons with Agatha Christie that Wikipedia mentions are on this account) even if the clues etc., may sometimes again enter comic book/ parody territory. The discovery they make I thought was pretty interesting and a little more properly archaeological than comic (I could even see that kind appearing in a book for ‘grown ups’, though the latter would have much more explaining to do about the physics of it) That was something I quite enjoyed plus the fact that this was set in Egypt, and I’ll probably read anything in that setting.

So this turned out to be a rather fun read after all, albeit slightly on the silly side (but then, it is meant for children). And of course, it fit perfectly with my theme of Light-hearted and fun reads, and as a bonus, also threw up a quite nice little quote which will appear as my Bookquote next week. Good fun!

Fay the performer, and Selina the artist!

I haven’t been doing very much reading this week though earlier in the week I finished All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor which I absolutely loved (my review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1716276635?book_show_action=false), and for the rest am part way through Sophie’s World (which I had started last year but stopped part way in because of reading challenges and things) and Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell which I am reading in instalments with a group on goodreads.

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So I thought this week, I’d write about some old picture stories that I really enjoyed reading when I first found them and revisit quite often. Bunty and Judy, Debbie and Mandy were Girls Picture Story Library comics, each carrying one complete picture story, their outer back covers with pictures of pop stars or sports people (at least the ones I have), and upper and back inner covers, each giving a quick glimpse into the story in the parallel issue of its sister magazine (Judy in Bunty, and Debbie in Mandy and vice versa) that month, and its own next issue. I haven’t got very many of these (though I’d like to find more)―only about 10 that I found many years ago second-hand, when I was travelling with my family. But my two favourites which I have read countless times are what I thought of writing about today.

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Fay of the Footlights is Bunty no 235, and tells the story of thirteen-year-old Fay Foster whose parents perform in the Victorian music halls. But her mother has been ill, as a result not performing very well and they end up losing their engagements at the halls, and before long Fay’s mother dies. But Fay and her father must still earn their living, and put together an act where the two of them perform. Luckily for them the audiences love their act but work is still slow in coming. They have had to move to cheaper lodgings which are owned my Mrs King whose daughter, Bella, about Fay’s age, is nursing her own dreams of becoming a famous singer. The Kings convince Mr Foster, who isn’t the strongest financially at the time, to take Bella into their act but Bella, whose talent is mediocre, seems to hurt their performances. The audience however, is keen to hear more of Fay. But spiteful (and very jealous) Bella and her mother seem to be prepared to go to any lengths for Bella to be the star of the show. Fay manages to outsmart them quite a few times but when Bella teams up with another performer who Mr Foster has scorned, Fay falls into a trap that is not as easy to escape. What I enjoy about the story is how Fay with her talent and wits manages to outsmart any ‘enemy’ and overcome any difficulty, bringing her and her father back on the path to fame and fortune.

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Which brings me to my other favourite, Debbie no 91, Selina’s Search which is about another very talented young lady, Selina James, and is also set in Victorian England. Selina and her father are quite poor, and are depending very much on Mr James’ earnings from a painting of the opening of the new Merchant’s Hall which he has been commissioned to make. But Mr James is ill and falls faint in the midst of painting the picture, six figures still missing from the picture, without completing which they will have no money. So it falls to Selina, also a talented artist to track down these six people and sketch them. The six missing people include a page, but also some illustrious persons like a Duchess and the French Ambassador, so how does Selina convince them to sit for her? Through her talent, of course. Her search takes her to various places across the city (and outside), and into many adventures, from tracking a thief to designing ‘Cinderella’ shoes, arranging flowers to entertaining street children. Selina is not only sharp and talented but also very resourceful, and it is great fun to see her use her talents in many different ways to not only get the pictures she so desperately needs but also in the process help out many others and have her own share of adventures. Of course, Mr James completes his picture at the end with the sketches Selina has made, and Selina―she gets a fitting reward for her pains! This is a really enjoyable one, and my favourite of all that I have.
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(Selina with her ‘Cinderella’ shoe design)
(Apologies for the not very good pictures)