Book Review–Roar by Cora Carmack

Roar (Stormheart, #1)Roar by Cora Carmack
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I can’t even with this book right now.

Why did I DNF? Despite finding some kind of problem on every single page and not enjoying it as much as I thought I would be able to, I didn’t want to give up on this book. I found it randomly while browsing at the used bookstore and was just like “This book is so gorgeous AND it’s a romantasy AND I love the voice! Buying!” It’s been a while since I bought a book instead of just getting them from the library, so I really wanted this one to be good.

Hahaha, Corinne, how foolish you are.

I DNFed because the love interest is a douche who disrespects the FMC’s boundaries and obsesses over her body and curves, the FMC has zero agency and just lets him mistreat her, and when another male character starts disgustingly flirting with her, she doesn’t tell him to eff off or try to defend her own honor in any way, shape or form.

The one saving grace this book had was the magic system. Except that also sucked.

Usually with my book reviews, I’ll give three good things, three bad things, because I don’t want to just rag on something forever and I want to say something nice about everything I read, but this literally did not have anything good going for it. The cover design, yes, it’s nice. The magic system is kind of intriguing and if not for the terrible characters and very very bad romance and slow pacing, I could have really enjoyed the worldbuilding and the way the magic system worked. Except I had problems with that, too.


(Me when thinking about this book)

I’ll go ahead and give a summary of my thoughts, separated into categories: logical/inner consistency issues, issues with the romantic relationship, general WTF moments, and spelling and grammar problems. And OHMIGOD THERE’S A LOT THE MS WORD DOC WHERE I WROTE MY NOTES IS 3000+ WORDS OKAY I’LL TRY NOT TO INFODUMP HERE WE GO

(me anytime I write a review: )

Let’s start with the issues I had in terms of inner consistency and logic… I’m just going to list them off in bullet point order, provide the page on which they occur, and maybe occasionally throw in a GIF.

Rora is dealing with an injury caused by a knife to the arm and up until this point it’s been completely fine but all of a sudden it’s bothering her again for no reason? (p. 72)
Rora’s hood is falling backwards so slowly that it takes three whole paragraphs and then it doesn’t even fall back enough for her face to be seen? (also p. 72)
We find out that there’s a group of storm hunters who are literally competing with the royal family to tame the storms, but Rora apparently doesn’t know about them. She doesn’t even question why she doesn’t know, like “Does my mother know about this? Was she hiding it from me? Does my mother not know about this, either?” So then we’re just left to wonder why the royal family doesn’t know about this or if they do and kept it hidden from Rora, etc. (page 78)
Locke insists on showing her the way out, but all this time, we’re under the impression that she’s on the edge of the marketplace, so shouldn’t she be able to find her way out by herself? And this continues onto page 100, when he lets her leave the marketplace by herself. Does she or doesn’t she know how to get home on her own? (page 79)
Locke gets the first view of her face when she drops her hood, but earlier her hood was up and he was like “She’s so beautiful.” So could he or could he not see her face before? (p. 80)
The condition of her arm is all over the place. First it’s in pain, then it’s completely healed, then it’s making her faint because of the blood loss (which, let’s be honest, Locke manhandles her, forcing her wound to reopen) then it’s okay again, then it’s all of a sudden bleeding once more. (p. 91)
We get a flashback from Locke’s POV. Why does everything have to remind Locke of something in his past? Too many effing flashbacks when I still have yet to care about him in the present-day. (p. 93)
Yet another flashback. Everything has to remind Locke of something in the past. A long time ago, I read and DNF’ed a book called Lost in Tokyo where literally every other sentence the narrator was sending us into a multi-paragraph flashback, and this is getting to be Lost in Tokyo levels of unnecessary flashbacks on Locke’s part. (p. 94)
At every single chapter break, we get an excerpt from the origin myths of the land, or a quote of some kind. But no one ever references these origin myths or quotes or books or anything that are showcased. So by about page 100, I was literally just skipping these.

NOPE.
Novaya is worried about the princess being dead or lying unconscious somewhere. Then why did you let her go out when she was so injured that she fainted anyway?? I’m not buying the bit about Rora being like “You can’t stop me” because Nova could have told someone. (p. 104)

I still don’t get how Rora’s cloak covers her entire face Strider-style so absolutely none of her features can be discerned. And this is relevant because Rora comes back, her head covered by her cloak, and none of her servants, who have been working for her for years, recognize her. (again on page 104)

Novaya finally tells us about how the crown knows about the vigilante storm hunters but ignores them, but again, why didn’t Rora question this earlier when she first met them?? That is such a missed opportunity. (page 105)
Cassius is waiting in Rora’s rooms when she returns, and Rora isn’t aware he’s there. Can you say “stalker”? Also hasn’t she ever heard of locking her door? Yes, he tells her that the maid let him in, but then why doesn’t she go find the maid in question and exact royal punishment? She does have that power, after all WHY DOESN’T SHE DO ANYTHING GODDAMMIT (see my note below about Rora having approximately zero agency) (p. 106)
Novaya tells Aurora more about the marketplace but how does she know this? We don’t have any explanation for how Novaya would have access to this information so it just reads as authorial intrusion. (p. 107)
“Novaya did not know what had happened the night she found the princess crying outside her room” but we never saw the crying scene happen, so this comes out of nowhere and draws me out of the story. Whereas if we had seen that happen, it could have served a double purpose in that it could have solved the earlier problem of solidifying Novaya and Aurora’s relationship. (p. 109)
I don’t have a good read on how she feels about Cassius. First she’s head over heels for him, then she hates him, then she’s indifferent… her emotions have been so completely all over the place that by this point we’re not sure how she feels about him. Which is relevant because she’s about to follow him and see where he’s going, so that whole scene has no impact. (p. 114)
Rora’s telling us how her mom is strict, but not excessively cruel and is finding it hard to believe that the queen would send people into exile for not paying their taxes, but we haven’t seen enough of Rora and her mother’s relationship to be able to feel that disbelief with Rora so that scene has no impact, as well. (p. 118)
I wasn’t aware that she was disguised, especially since about four paragraphs earlier, she talks about being fitted for her wedding dress, but all of a sudden, she’s “donning her disguise again.”? (also page 118)
Rora tells Novaya about “Cassius’ betrayal” but we don’t remember what the betrayal is to begin with, so we should have had an actual scene of her telling it to Novaya and having Novaya gasp in horror along with us so that “Cassius’ betrayal” makes actual sense. (page 135)
Locke is surprised at her hair having changed from how it used to be, but as far as we know, he didn’t actually see her hair before she cut it Mulan-style. So how does he know what her hair looked like when it was covered by her hood the entire time? (p. 140)
We’ve got a scene with about ten various side/minor characters and I don’t know any of them or give any craps about any of them, so I don’t care about the scene at hand, and it drew me out of the story to have to keep track of all these characters. (p. 150)
Now Rora is traveling with the vigilantes and we see Locke trying to plot out their course, but where are they going? Do they have a destination in mind? He thinks about how he doesn’t want them to fight a storm until Rora is ready, but we haven’t seen him training her and we don’t know how ready she would be. (p. 163)
The vigilantes are using a contraption known as “the Rock” which is a mechanical automatic driving thing. But who built it? How did they come to possess it? Especially since earlier (we’re talking a few dozen pages), they insisted that although they have the ability to invent new things, they couldn’t invent anything because it would attract too much attention by the royal family. (p. 164)

Phew, sorry for all the infodumping.

If that doesn’t turn you off reading this book, let’s move onto my next category… THE ABUSIVE ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIP THAT IS COMPLETELY UNHEALTHY. Same as before, I’ll just list them off and pepper them with memes and GIFs when I feel like it’s relevant.

Rora wakes up from fainting and has to force herself to remember Locke but recognizes Jinx immediately. Yeah, I’m really inclined to root for this romance when she doesn’t recognize her love interest with whom she’s spent multiple pages but recognizes a background character who she’s met literally once. (p. 96)
General manhandling of Rora by Locke causes her wound to reopen. She asks him to let go and he doesn’t. This is a sign that Rora is in a bad relationship.
Locke isn’t the only one guilty of general manhandling without prior consent; Rora manhandles him as well. Great. Fantastic romance. #sarcasm

Locke holds her hips, pulls her close until her cheek brushes his chest, and she doesn’t object to being groped. Ew. Fucking object, why don’t you. (p. 79)
Locke keeps comparing Rora to his little sister which awakens his protective instinct toward her but then keeps obsessing over her body, noticing her breasts, her curves, and of course, not letting up with the manhandling. This is a sign that Rora is in a bad relationship. (p. 90-ish onward)

Locke calls Rora a naïve little girl and disregards what she’s saying. This is a sign that Rora is in a bad relationship.
Physical abuse of Rora by Locke. Manhandling me no likey. This is a sign that Rora is in a bad relationship. (p. 166)
More general manhandling of Rora by Locke. Especially when Rora obviously doesn’t want it. This is a sign that Rora is in a bad relationship. (p. 167)
In this whole section, he keeps comparing Rora to his sister but then is obsessed about her body. This is a sign that Rora is in a bad relationship.

Still think this book is a good one to pick up and read? Here are some more general WTF moments that didn’t fit into either of the above categories.

Rora has less agency than Bella Swan

RORA HAS NO EFFING AGENCY OHMIGOD. She’s got no magic, so she’s resigned herself to marry another Stormling so her country will remain safe. I actually really admire and respect that. But the entire first ten pages or so, when she’s thinking about all this stuff that’s about to happen, she’s like “I’m going to remain strong and fulfill my duty to my country” and I really respected her. Then she meets her fiancé, who is an actual asshole, and insta-love happens so bad that the cringe can’t even be described. He’s making her breath catch, she can’t think straight around him, etc. It’s one thing to be attracted to someone upon meeting them, but this is like “Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to be married to him after all” despite the fact that he shows his douchebaggery outright by manhandling her against her will—when her dress is causing her to walk slower than he would like, he picks her up and throws her over his shoulder like a bag of rice or something and she’s just like “Ooh, what a big strong handsome man.” And later on, when she’s being manhandled by her actual love interest, she does nothing to defend her honor, tell him to stop, or DO ANYTHING. She’s so effing passive it hurts, other characters have to tell her what to do or tell her information that SHE SHOULD KNOW ALREADY OHMIGOD.

Possible sequel baiting

After I DNFed for sure, I peeked ahead to the ending and I’m very suspicious. It looks strangely like a cliffhanger ending to me. You know, where we end in the middle of a huge action sequence without any conclusion to the battle at hand so you have to buy the second book to find out what happens. Of course, it might not have been a cliffhanger ending after all, but it looked way too suspicious for me not to mention it here.

THE CHARACTERS SUUUUCK AND WHY DOES THE ROMANCE SUUUUCK

All the characters in this book kind of sucked arse. I felt a little sorry for Rora at times, being the victim of circumstances, but then her absolute disinterest in fighting for her own future when she had the opportunity to (like when she was being manhandled against her will) really didn’t endear her much to me. And except for her, I hate every single character in this book. Cassius and Locke can go fuck themselves, the douchebags. I have no opinion about any other characters because all other side characters (yes, even Novaya, who was kind of a sidekick with a major role in the beginning up until my DNF) had no presence in the story. Considering that a romance book, of which this is not Cormack’s first, has to have good characters who have a strong presence, and the characters in this book are really awful, I have to question if any of her other romance books have the same issues. I actively hated the male love interest and gave zero fucks about the female love interest. Apparently this is Cormack’s first fantasy but she’s written romance books before this? Well, why is it that her worldbuilding and magic is more tolerable than the awful relationship she builds in this book??

RORA IS A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE

Yet another man, aptly named Bait, throws himself at Rora. Either we’re supposed to take it seriously, in which case Rora is a Mary Sue with guys literally falling at her feet, or else it’s a vain attempt at comic relief provided by the author, in which case it’s not funny. Either way, Rora needs to reply in some way, telling him to knock it off, and she doesn’t. >.< (p. 139) This repeats itself on page 150, when Bait shamelessly flirts with Rora and she doesn’t tell him to eff off or give him a bit of good old-fashioned snark that we all know she’s perfectly capable of. Locke has to be the one to get Bait off Rora’s back. BARF. Way to have agency, Rora. Good job. #sarcasm

I’m almost out of room in this review, but it’s worth mentioning a few SPaG (spelling and grammar) issues because this book was published by Tor, a huge traditional publishing house, but had so many typos I’m cringing thinking about how many people must have worked on this book and how these still made it to final publication. I would quote each of the sentences that caused me to note these, but I don’t have enough room. If you would like the specific examples, I would be more than happy to provide them in the comments of this review.

Page 63: Pronoun disagreement

After this, my editor brain went on high alert and I couldn’t help but stop reading to take note of the following pages needing line edits:

Page 67: Unclear prose

Page 69: Weak prose

Page 77: Unclear prose

Also page 77: Unclear prose

Page 82: Unclear prose

Page 85: Redundant prose

Then we have an actual typo…

Page 87: Verb error “she listed to the side”

Editor brain continued to not shut up, and I marked the following pages:

Page 97: Weak prose

Page 98: Repeating “moaned” twice in rapid succession, not to mention that “moaned” immediately denotes sexual pleasure, regardless of the fact that this scene was a completely non-sexual one and she was eating food and moaning in satisfaction.

Then we have more actual typos.

Page 103: Verb conjugation error

Page 138: Capitalization error

Page 150: Everyone calls Bait a “novie” but that’s not a real word. Not even Google or Urban Dictionary have a definition that could give you an idea of what it really means. So you assume that it’s one of those made-up words that only exists in the world of the story, but then Rora doesn’t question what it means nor tell us what it means, so we’re just left with a huge WTF.

Page 151: Comma disagreement

Then more line edits…

Page 153: Unclear prose

Page 159: Cormack specifically wants us to notice Rora’s breasts in a book where we’re already worried about the male love interest comparing her to his little sister yet obsessing over her body.

Page 164: “Kept” is repeated two sentences in a row

Page 165: Cormack specifically mentions Rora’s breasts in a scene from Locke’s POV and again, we’re already worried about him obsessing over her body and manhandling her inappropriately.

In conclusion, this book promotes unhealthy, abusive relationships where men manhandle, grope, and disrespect women and women aren’t allowed to defend themselves or tell the men to shut up. This particularly worries me because this is a YA book aimed at impressionable teenagers. I not only don’t recommend this book to anyone, but I urge you not to read it because it purports that these sorts of abusive relationships are acceptable and should be aspired to.

Have you read Roar? What did you think of it? Leave in the comments below. Also recommend me good romantic fantasy books that don’t have abusive relationships! Please. I need to read something good.

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Book Review: Losing Kei by Suzanne Kamata

Losing KeiLosing Kei by Suzanne Kamata
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I’m reluctant to give this book only one star and put it on my “just barely read” shelf because that’s equating it to about the same as the mess that was Flame in the Mist, but… it kinda was a hot effing mess. (For anyone unaware, a “Just Barely Read” book is exactly how it sounds: a book I really want to DNF yet keep pushing through anyway for various reasons. This one I didn’t want to DNF due to my high hopes for it and the admittedly-mistaken feeling that the ending would turn everything around and redeem this whole book.)

There weren’t enough good parts of this book for me to do my usual three good things, three bad things review, so I’ll give more of a play-by-play and general thoughts. I’m also not going to bother with spoiler tags, because no one should ever read this book. I mean, you can if you want, I’m just not going to take responsibility for it if you do.

Let’s start with one good thing I noticed about this book. None of the characters were very remarkable in any way, but the author did get me to hate the in-laws, who were implied to be the antagonists of the story. (as much as antagonists can be in a literary-style story)

And… that’s it. That’s all the good stuff that was this book. Now we get down to the biscuits.

Let’s start with my immediate reaction upon finishing this book, and that was… WTF EVEN IS THIS BOOK???

Yeah, I can’t even with this book right now. I almost want to just come back in about a year and write this review because I’m that frustrated with this book. I had such high hopes for this book and it just fell flat in every aspect.

Let’s start with my first WTF moment on page 22:

On Valentine’s Day, I’d heard, Japanese women gave their men chocolate and got nothing in return.

And yet apparently, this author has never heard of White Day?

Le sigh. So that’s what kind of book this is going to be.

(though to this book’s credit, aside from this one moment, I didn’t find any other issues with cultural accuracy.)

So the premise of this book was that Jill lost her son, Kei, and was fighting to get him back… how is she fighting again? Is she going through the process to find a stable job that sponsors a visa for her? Is she saving up money so that the courts can see she can take care of her child? Is she giving up drinking, smoking, and other bad habits that could endanger the life of her child?

*checks book*

It’s morally wrong, but as her lawyer points out to her, it’s not a crime in Japan to kidnap your own child. So does she kidnap Kei and take him back to America with her? Because that’s also a thing. Once she gets him back on American soil, then US law comes into play, and she has just as much of a claim to Kei as Yusuke would. We’ve seen this in multiple real-life scenarios of foreigners taking their half-Japanese child back to their home countries, at which point the Japanese parent can’t do anything to get their kid back. So does she enact this most obvious solution?

*checks book*

And why doesn’t she do this, you ask?

It’s not as if she’s a goody-two-shoes who doesn’t want to disobey any laws, because she spends approximately 99% of this “book” working illegally on a tourist visa at a shady hostess club when she could easily get a lucrative, legal job teaching English or even translating or proofreading. Not only is she friends with a foreigner who works at an English school who could give her resources for job hunting, visa advice, etc., but there also just so happens to be an organization called Hello Work that’s an agency that helps foreigners find work in Japan. Maybe my earlier note about cultural accuracy was wrong…

Okay, we started out bad, but it surely can get better, right?

Yeah, I didn’t think so…

On about page thirty, I suddenly stopped reading because literally nothing was happening. This book is so, so slow. Yes, it is a literary-style story that relies more on character growth and decisions to drive the plot forward, but there’s no character development, no growth. Everyone stays the same from start to finish. There are events that happen occasionally, but nothing ties into the next one. When Yusuke’s father dies, after the funeral, life just goes on as normal. A plot is defined as “a series of events that lead into one another and have a string of cause and effect.” Take any chapter from this book and remove it and the story wouldn’t change, really. Meanwhile, we have an entire missed opportunity in the arc between Jill and Philip. They have a whirlwind romance, then break up suddenly because Philip doesn’t love her anymore? Not counting the fact that I totally wasn’t buying their whirlwind romance, they have no reason for breaking up, either. Early on in the book (early meaning page 23), we’re told how Jill “remember(s) sitting on a beach on the other side of the world, (her) elbows sunk in the sand, the day Philip told (her) he no longer loved (her).” Yet when they break up, it’s at a restaurant, not at the beach. Way to follow inner logic, story. Their arc makes no sense and is such a missed opportunity.

And speaking of story logic, this “book” (if you could really call it a book) doesn’t seem to understand that concept.

On page 24, we see our main character Jill speaking almost perfect Japanese with no communication errors whatsoever. Then, not two pages later, we see her struggling to understand what’s being said to her in Japanese, in a scene that takes place later than that one. Then again, on page 34, she’s “trying to explain (it) in bungled Japanese,” but not two paragraphs later, she’s speaking fluently in Japanese, using vocabulary like “visitation rights” that even I would have to look up in a dictionary first. Either that or the author sucks at writing, because that scene should have read more like this:

I paused, wondering if there was a Japanese equivalent to “visitation rights.” “In America, divorced…” I suddenly remembered that “divorced” was “rikon” in Japanese. “Rikon shita hito… they still can see their child. There are laws that say so.”

I haven’t even mentioned the blatant use of the term “Oriental” even though that term isn’t P.C. now, wasn’t P.C. in 2008 when this book was published, and wasn’t P.C. even back in 1989 when the scene takes place. Or all the damn typos.

Pages 43, 63, and 168: we have a book published in the US by an American publishing company, with US spelling and punctuation used throughout, yet for some reason the UK version “week-end” is used instead of “weekend.”

Page 62, again, UK spelling when it should be US: “step-mom” versus “stepmom”

Page 117, awkward sentence:

I must black out for a second.

She’s trying to imply that she’s supposing she blacked out but grammatically it implies that she’s required to black out for some reason. It should be “I black out for a second.”

Page 119, missing word:

My scent began to linger in those rooms

Also on page 119, we’ve got a misspelled word:

the hole in the floor where we hung out legs

Page 171, we’ve got a punctuation error (missing an end quotation mark):

“Kei, do you understand what I said?

Page 174, we’ve got a missing comma:

He doesn’t answer, but I catch him staring…”

Page 189, we’ve got a comma error:

“Try to imagine,” I say, “Growing up without a mother.”

(comma experts out there know that should be a period, not a comma)

Also I have to ask the question. How loose is Jill’s sphincter for her to actually be able to feel her bowels at all times when “my bowels freeze” or “ice forms in my bowels”?? Like, really??

Oh, and I haven’t even gotten started on the ending of this book yet. What a friggin’ deus ex machina.

Jill, to her credit, is taking Kei away to Indonesia to live there with Philip (despite their crappy and unbelievable relationship) when all of a sudden the airport security employees find marijuana in her son’s backpack.

…Um, what?

We keep reading, only to find out that she suspects Maya of planting it there because it was found inside of a little cloth charm from a temple and Maya is the one who put the charm in the bag. But we never saw Maya putting the charm in the bag.

Then we keep reading some more and we find out that Maya had no idea the marijuana was in there because she got that charm from her boyfriend, who must have put it in there. Yet we also never saw anything before of her getting the charm from her boyfriend, like showing it to Jill and saying “I got this from my boyfriend,” for example. There was nothing in the entire book that set up the Jill-gets-arrested-for-accidentally-possessing-marijuana situation. Which then becomes the catalyst for the resolution: Yusuke comes to the police station, bails her out, they reconcile, and then Yusuke agrees to allow her to see Kei every so often.

If you look closely at the cover of this book, you’ll see it’s of a bunch of schoolchildren in a group, and one kid is turning to look back at the camera. Due to the fact that we see a scene just like this taking place in the first chapter (Jill at a playground watching her son’s classmates file past and her son turns back and looks at her) we can safely assume that the cover is a depiction of this scene. But the kid who’s turning back is a girl. Female. Undeniably so. And our main character Jill has a son. Male. Undeniably so. One can only assume that the publishers were so desperate to find a cover that depicts this scene that, instead of spending extra time (and maybe extra money) trying to find a photograph that depicts a little boy turning backwards, they instead used a little girl and hoped no one would notice. The cover is essentially a metaphor for how I feel about the book: hoping that it’ll be a good one yet greatly disappointed when the proverbial rug is pulled out from under me.

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Book Review: The Illustrated Fairy Tale Princess Collection

The Illustrated Fairy Tale Princess Collection (Illustrated Classics)The Illustrated Fairy Tale Princess Collection by Hans Christian Andersen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Why isn’t this book more well-known?? The only bad thing about this book is that there aren’t illustrations on every single page!

This is a collection of fifteen princess stories, accompanied by manga style illustrations. OHMYGOD THESE ILLUSTRATIONS ARE GORGEOUS YOU GUYS. BUY THIS BOOK JUST FOR THE ILLUSTRATIONS BECAUSE THEY ARE AMAZING.

The fifteen stories in this book are all well-loved, classic tales that probably everyone has read a billion times. Me included. Y’all know I love fairy tales. Since these tales are so well-known, I’ll just give a one-sentence reaction to reading some of these (because some of these were different versions from the ones I’d read).

Story #1: Beauty and the Beast

In which Beauty’s father is really stupid, Beauty falls in love with her literal dream guy, and Beast commits suicide because Beauty won’t love him.

Story #2: Cinderella

Three balls means three times the fun, but Cinderella still forgives her stepsisters way too easily.

Story #3: The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood

Thank goodness Beauty has consensual sex with the prince rather than getting raped in her sleep, but if his mother’s an ogre, doesn’t that mean he’s also half-ogre, too?

Story #4: Rapunzel

Disney’s Rapunzel is 200x smarter than Grimm’s, and that’s saying a lot because Disney’s Rapunzel was kinda dumb, too.

Story #5: Snowdrop

Snowdrop/White still stupidly falls for the witch’s tricks… also resurrection in stories is kinda tropey.

Story #6: Snow White and Rose Red

In which two sisters make friends with an obviously evil dwarf and for some reason trust a bear.

Story #7: The Frog Prince

In which the princess has to, unlike other versions, not get angry at the frog in order to break the curse, but rather be kind to him for three days.

Story #8: Rumpelstiltzkin

In which the villain is stupid and that leads to his own demise.

Story #9: The Twelve Dancing Princesses

In which a basic white dude named Michael discovers that this story has no plot because the princesses are all one-dimensional and don’t have an actual reason for dancing the night away in the first place, but that’s okay because Micheal is a one-dimensional fairy tale hero so they should marry each other, right?

Story #10: The Princess and the Pea

This story is much shorter than I remember it being, and yet the problem still remains: why does being able to feel a pea under twenty mattresses prove she’s a princess?

Story #11: Little Thumbelina

In which Thumbelina pulls a Dory.

Story #12: The Little Mermaid

The one we all question the reason for existing because why the heck would a mermaid ever want to not be a mermaid??

Story #13: The Snow Queen

In which two children are implied to have a romantic interest in each other and you spend the entire story wondering how in the heck Frozen was inspired by this.

Story #14: The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Men not accepting the word “no”: In theaters circa 900.

Story #15: Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp

In which the Aladdin you all know and love becomes even more of a huge d*ck than he already was and he gets rewarded for kidnapping a girl by getting to marry her.

But HAVE I MENTIONED THE ILLUSTRATIONS, YOU GUYS. THE ILLUSTRATIONS ARE GORGEOUS. Any fan of fairy tales or fantasy/princess stories needs this book because THE ILLUSTRATIONS.

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Book Review–Love in Translation by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga

Love in TranslationLove in Translation by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not really sure how I feel about this book. I want to give it four stars, but two things are holding me back: one, that I read this book years and years ago and completely forgot about it (I only remembered that I read it after reading about 100 pages this time around. The relevance of that is because one significant aspect of my rating system is that if a book is four or five stars, it’s a book that stuck with me and that I could possibly reread in the future. I have a really good memory when it comes to books, so the fact that I completely forgot about this one is like “Well, it’s a really forgettable story, which is the expectations for a three-star read”) and two, all the pages I’ve marked where I got confused or lost interest in the story. And when I think about books such as Japanland, which I gave five stars, or Learning to Bow, which I gave four, I ask myself “Is this really as good as Learning to Bow?” And the answer is, kind of no. So, three stars it is.

As usual, I’ll discuss three things I liked about this book and three things I didn’t like so much that contributed to the three-star rating.

Good things

Accuracy. Of all the books I’ve read that were set in Japan, this one is the most accurate. I couldn’t find a single discrepancy between the Japan Tokunaga writes about and the Japan I know and love and have studied and experienced firsthand. Whereas with other books I’ve read, I’ve always seemed to find at least one thing (or in the case of some books, multiple things) that draw me out of the story because the author didn’t do her research.

Most of the characters in this book are interesting, yet realistic, people. Gotta love Mariko (who is undeniably 235% more awesome than the last “Mariko” I read in a certain other book I don’t want to talk about), Takuya (at least in the first half) is cute and adorkable as a love interest, and while not my favorite character, Celeste didn’t suck as a protagonist like some other books I’ve read. (though she irked me in some ways, like how I detail in “the stinkers” portion of this review)

Some of the lines in this book just made me LOL. Antagonistic characters made me seethe with rage, and to this book’s credit, I read the whole thing in one sitting

Me when thinking about Emiko:

The stinkers

Various logical things tripped me up throughout the story. Like in chapter one when Celeste unknowingly propositions her host brother to marry her without realizing it, having been taught that phrase by her Japanese teacher as meaning “welcome home.” Lady, you didn’t bother to look up the meaning before you left? (I think this had to do with the format of the book; at the time, I was in total disbelief that she didn’t look up the meaning on her own, and it wasn’t until later that I saw how much she inherently trusted her Japanese teacher and didn’t see the point in looking it up. I would have preferred this book to be told in a completely linear style, rather than giving us a four-chapter flashback after the first two chapters of initial “setup.”) In the beginning of the book, before we know who Celeste is, she’s “had a fight with Dirk” and we don’t have any context for it yet we’re treated as if we know what the deal is with their relationship. Or when Celeste sees for the first time a picture of her six-year-old self and I just couldn’t bring myself to believe that she recognized the child in the photo as her. Or when an acquaintance of Celeste’s (who vanishes all of a sudden halfway through the story as if she’s been forgotten) offers to set her up with a homestay but calls it “stay home” even though “homestay” is the same in English and Japanese and there would be no language barrier when it comes to that. Or when Celeste is telling us that she doesn’t know her father and doesn’t mention whether or not she looked up her original birth certificate and we don’t learn until much, much later that her mother didn’t even know who Celeste’s father was. Or when Celeste brings a DVD from the States to Japan and just pops it randomly into a DVD player and I’m just like “DVDs are region locked you can’t just play the DVD randomly you have to adjust settings first.” I just kept finding little things that irked me.

The romance in this book was just… no. When I read a romance book, I want to get all the feels when they kiss for the first time, when the characters confess their love. I just didn’t get into this romance at all. We spend 100-some pages with Celeste as she tries and fails to discern how Takuya feels about her. We’re completely sold on Takuya not at all liking her. Then all of a sudden he’s kissing her and giving her loving gestures, and… the romantic pacing was just all off in this book. I got zero feels when they kissed for the first time, and I continued to not have any feels anytime they had a romantic moment together. I didn’t know whether to cringe or barf during those moments.

Celeste. Has. No. Agency. Ohmigod. She keeps complaining that she “doesn’t know Japanese” and “couldn’t find her way on her own” and that’s why she doesn’t go to the little village where her maybe-relative maybe lives. THEN WHAT DO YOU DO ALL DAY, LADY?? Pick up a damn textbook and put some effort in for once! This book would have been only half as long if Celeste actually DID SOMETHING rather than just sitting around and letting other people solve her problems for her!! I just wanted to tear my hair out because she frustrated me so much!!

Bonus: the ending wasn’t all that realistic. I mean, come on, something that convoluted doesn’t just come together so easily like that.

A rather unremarkable book that comes just above the line of mediocrity. Yeah, this one could be worth picking up, but try getting it from a library or something because it’s not really a book that can be enjoyed again and again and again.

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Book Review–Traitor’s Ring by Susan Stuckey

Traitor's RingTraitor’s Ring by Susan Stuckey
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

DNF

Now, Corinne, didn’t you say that, after you DNF’ed the Tales of Aldura short story collection, that you didn’t want to read any more books in this series for a while?

…but it was the shortest of all my TBR books this season so I kinda changed my mind…

Like with the Tales of Aldura short story collection, I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. However, my review was in no way influenced by the reception of said copy, the author herself, or any other third party.

Hoo, boy. Where do I start with this one? We’ve got Kari (can’t remember her last name for the life of me) who is being escorted by enemy soldiers to the mansion of an old flame for some unstated reason. Which would have been an interesting enough premise to draw me in, but then Kari doesn’t even want to know the reason he summoned her or anything. The way the situation was explained in the beginning made me think that he was summoning her so she could give him advice about his war councils or something. But then we learn she’s just a sheltered young lady who was married off at an early age and doesn’t know anything about war. But then the reason he summoned her, or even the question of why he summoned her, just remains unstated until the end of time. The entire first part of the book up until my DNF, Kari’s just like

And this nonchalantness towards EVERYTHING was on literal steroids. The captain who’s talking to her, escorting her to her destination, and is shooting her admiring glances has betrayed his people? DGAF.

The captain telling her about how the women are being raped and forced to bear half-Halurdow babies by their rapists?

The entire thing was just devoid of any emotional reactions from her. Inner thoughts. Y’know, the bits that make us care about the character. So as a result, when it comes to Kari…

Her entire role in chapter one was to be a plot device for the reader to learn about the world. That’s all. She tells us she’s been summoned by this guy she used to know, drops her fan in surprise, then asks a billion questions of the captain that are completely ineffectual because we assume she already knows the answers. Like, lady, you don’t know that the name of the capital city has been changed and using the old name is akin to treason? Or that the Kalieri can sense magic users but the Halurdow can’t? Or that the Halurdow don’t tolerate the worship of the Twin Gods? If she really doesn’t know any of this information, then she says hella contradictory things that say otherwise, like “Kalieri there, at least in western Heartholm, were allowed to live, not be broodmares, and don’t have to wear special clothing.” (p10)

Oh, and can we talk about those clothes for a minute? Apparently the women who have been captured and are now being held as breeding slaves have to wear a specific kind of clothing to indicate what they are. They have to wear, and I quote, “clothing and veils that cover everything besides their eyes.”

Sound familiar? If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, these clothes sound eerily similar to the niqab Muslim women wear. Yeah, maybe Stuckey was inspired by that religion, but in Muslim tradition, the hijab, niqab, and burqa are all worn to symbolize the wearer’s commitment to Allah and their faith. Here, they’re, and I quote, “To make them appear as the property they are.”


(yes, I do like this GIF a lot lol)

Way to rip off a religious community and then shit all over their traditions. *eye roll*

I kept going after this, but I was extremely disillusioned by the infodumping, lack of interesting character development (I swear, Bella Swan has more agency than Kari), unending typos and errors, having to dissect sentences rather than enjoy the story, and I still had not stopped cringing from this moment. At which point, by the time I reached the end of chapter one, I promised myself that I would only keep reading until I found either ten more typos or another big, glaring issue with plot or sensitivity issues. I got to the point where Kari was seeing her old flame again before I found the tenth typo (and to be fair, before that, I found another place where I was like, “Apparently, the women are being kept prisoner by these invaders, and they want to father children with the magic users so the kids will be able to sense Kalieri magic. Okay. But we still don’t know why. Why are they doing this? Why do they want to father these children? What do they actually get out of it?” Kari never questions her Halurdow overlords, not even in the privacy of her own mind. It makes no sense as to why they’re doing this. No one else seems to know what’s going on. And that’s just never resolved.)

Like the Tales of Aldura short story collection, this was ripe with all the typos ever. I couldn’t go two sentences without finding a comma error, or a missing comma, or awkwardly worded prose, or extra words that shouldn’t be there, or verb conjugation errors…

I got so tired of all the typos that when I reached chapter two, I promised myself that I could DNF if I found either ten more typos or one more glaring issue with plot or sensitivity. But really, that was just an excuse. I didn’t want to DNF this book so early that I would be accused of not giving it a fair chance, but I also just wasn’t enjoying it and the niqab thing was still bugging me. I got to about 11%, when Kari sees her old flame again and then curtsies to him, before I found the tenth typo (a comma error) and was just like “YAY I CAN DNF THIS WITHOUT GUILT NOW!!”

Sometimes if I DNF a book but still found some aspect interesting, like a character or a funny scene or something, I’ll give it two stars rather than one, but in this case, there’s just absolutely nothing redeeming about this book. The characters are bland and forgettable, there’s way too many plot holes despite a huge infodump in the very first chapter, and the author shows a blatant disrespect for Muslims and their religious traditions. Do not recommend. Do not read.

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Book Review–Tales of Aldura by Susan Stuckey

Tales of Aldura: a collection of fantasy storiesTales of Aldura: a collection of fantasy stories by Susan Stuckey
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

DNF

Tales of Aldura is a collection of short stories that tie in to Stuckey’s main fantasy series of the same name. I was unfamiliar with this series or the world within it before picking up this book. I belong to a group of book reviewers and the author pointed us to this book and asked us to review it on our platforms. I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, but my review is in no way influenced by that, the author, or my fellow reviewers.

Where do I start with this one? I was kind of excited to read it, and went into it with high hopes, in addition to the understanding that I hadn’t read earlier books in this series so I wasn’t going to hold anything against it in terms of “I don’t understand this particular bit of worldbuilding but I’m assuming it got explained already in the main series so it’s okay.” Yes, there were a few moments of that here and there, but… *cue Corinne sighing endlessly*

When I read a collection of short stories, I tend to treat each short as a mini-novel. I give each short story its own individual rating and then use those to average out my star rating for the book as a whole.

Story #1: Tears of a Seeress
Illyani (I had to go back and look at the book to remember her name) is a Seeress, whose powers can provide the tipping point for her people as they flee a plague and invading raiders. But her fate is to remain behind and die…

This story just lacked any emotional depth for me. Right on page one, we get her scrying a battle scene but she has literally no reaction to it. Until page two, when her son informs her that the battle is happening at that very moment, at which point she gets weak in the knees. Meanwhile, she knew the battle was in the near future, and she saw her husband fighting, so why didn’t she react that way then? There were various jumps in logic that made no sense (like does she call the king by his given name or “your Majesty”? Because she does both in this story and it’s not clear how she’s related to him or how she’s supposed to address him.) This was the only one of any of the stories I read all the way through to the end. Yeah, it was kind of interesting, but it lacked any depth. What was the actual plot of the story itself? Why is it necessary to add this to the Aldura universe? Where does it fit in? It wasn’t the best thing ever, but it was kind of interesting. Could have been a lot better, though. 2.5 stars.

Story #2 Phaedra
Phaedra is a Ranger on patrol and fights a strong sense of duty in order to be with the man she loves (I think).

Again, we have various jumps in logic here, like characters in the scene hearing pertinent information about themselves (a la the lone female in the group plotting to play a prank on them) but just sort of ignoring it and then falling for said prank. I did not care at all what was happening to any of the characters, I had no understanding of how the first story flowed into this one (like where in the timeline it falls, how long it’s been since Illyari’s story, etc.) Also this story was a huge missed opportunity; she was the only woman in her group of soldiers, so obviously the question is raised as to “Is she the only woman Ranger, or are there other women, too? Is being a Ranger an acceptable profession for women? Is she going against gender conventions to pursue her passion for fighting?” But no. It’s just mentioned offhand, like “Oh, I’m a woman, and all my compatriots are men and we’re just la-di-dah chilling.” The only plot in this story seemed to be the nonexistent tension and squabbling Phaedra had with her fellow soldiers, but that just got solved immediately. Oh, we can’t have Phaedra have any tension with her companions, oh no! She has to make a snide comment and win them over again completely!

She was supposed to have a secret relationship with the captain of her guard, and it’s implied that they knew each other before she joined this specific patrol group. But then he disappeared for literally twenty pages. During that time, we got a scene from a different (male) character’s POV and I got confused, thinking he was the captain she loved. Then all of a sudden he reappears just before the POV switches again to Phaedra and I’m like “well, where were you the past twenty pages?” And why did we need that scene to be from a third POV anyway? It didn’t seem to serve any extra purpose. Why are there people living at the dragon keep? There doesn’t seem to be any sort of anthropological reason for a large population of people to have settled there, as it’s far from the nearest civilization and it’s not like that part of the wilderness is known for its abundance of natural resources. And why is it a dragon keep? Apparently no one has seen dragons for thousands of years, and it’s not like dragons in this world make good pets, or are even keen on living harmoniously/being friendly with humans whatsoever. And then the captain-dude all of a sudden is like “You’re marrying me so don’t ask any questions” and then doesn’t let her have a say in it or ask any questions. DNF. 1/5 stars.

Story #3: “Choices”
Now the captain from the last story (don’t remember his name for the life of me) is going to visit his cousin who is living in an oppressed country of some sort. And apparently Phaedra is dead now?

By the time I got to this story, I’d found so many glaring issues with everything from worldbuilding to logic to unhealthy relationships to sentence-level errors that I promised myself if I found one more glaring issue, I could DNF the whole book. And I did. This one wasn’t as bad as the last one, and I almost started enjoying it, but then we learn that this captain guy is a total Gary Stu who can solve anyone’s problems using his magic and, oh, look, he’s befriended some wolves! They’re going to carry the children so the evacuees can escape! Then at one point one of the wolves starts using magic and I’m just like “Huh? Why are wolves able to use magic? Is this another thing that was explained in other books in this series that I don’t understand?” While it might not seem fair to hold something like that as the “reason” for DNFing, I was already 90% sure I was going to DNF by that point, so it was more like the last straw that breaks the camel’s back. Or in this case, the reader’s. I think I deserve to pull out my favorite GIF at this point…

Additional comments
Along with the issues I’ve mentioned above, I just found way too many things that tripped me up. Typos, errors, jumps in logic, etc. The writing read really juvenile, especially for a book that wasn’t specifically marketed as MG or YA. I kept having to dissect sentences and discern meaning rather than just jump in and enjoy the story as-is. It’s worth mentioning that this book is self-pubbed, and in self-pubbed books, sometimes I will forgive one or two typos. But I could not go two sentences without finding a missed comma, or a comma that shouldn’t be there, or a missing word, or an extra word that was added. It’s like the author didn’t even run the book through MS Word’s spellcheck, let alone getting extra eyes on it to proofread and catch remaining errors. Even if you can’t afford to hire a professional proofreader, if you’re going to send your work out into the world, you should at least get a grammar-savvy friend to give it a once-over and help you fix it up a bit.

In conclusion, an ambitious project that just doesn’t do what it wants to do. Apparently each of these shorts is also available as a standalone publication? So you’d assume that they’re supposed to maybe draw the reader into the world so they’re temped to pick up more books in the series. But this doesn’t succeed at that, and I’m not inclined to read any more books in this series after reading this.

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Book Review–Moribito by Nahoko Uehashi

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit (Moribito, #1)Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars (rounded up to four for Goodreads purposes) The reason it’s 3.5 stars is because it’s not quite a four-star read, but it’s loads better than other books I’ve rated three stars. The reason it didn’t make four stars is because there were still some very memorable flaws with this book, which I’ll discuss in a moment.

For anyone unfamiliar with my rating system, feel free to click on the link below to see a complete breakdown of my rating system for books:
https://corinnejet.wordpress.com/giant…

I would like to make one note about the cover design before I leap into my usual “three good things, three bad things” review complete with all the memes. The cover of this book screams middle-grade fantasy, with its cartoonish image of a woman leaping across a river. (that’s a common cover design for middle grade, is to depict an actual scene from the book and put it on the cover) For the purpose of writing this review, I actually went to the library and grabbed a copy of the Japanese version of this book, and this is what the Japanese cover looks like:

“Now why couldn’t we have gotten this cover on the English edition, too?” I lamented for about five minutes, before realizing that this kind of cover would be more along the lines of YA for the US market and the actual cover that was put on the English edition was more along the lines of what a MG market would expect. Though it is also worth saying that while this book definitely could be considered middle-grade, my library shelved it in the regular fiction section instead of the children’s section. Hm.

Onto my review of the content.

The Good Bits

Balsa, the protagonist. She was a very intriguing character and I enjoyed spending time with her. I rooted for her to succeed, and even though the romance between her and what’s-his-name doesn’t get too much page time, I got cute feels from it and thought it was very believable. I also liked the connection that developed between her and Chagum, and how motherly she got towards him as the story went on.

Chagum (the prince Balsa is assigned to protect). For anyone familiar with RPGs, escort missions are the literal worst. Chagum could have easily just been a bratty, spoiled eleven-year-old who was a plot device for Balsa to go on her adventure, but instead, Chagum was his own character, transforming from a quiet, uncertain prince to a brave, self-sacrificing young man and an interesting character in his own right.

The ending. Most of my recent reads have been “Oh yeah this book doesn’t suck so bad” until the ending in which all the cliffhangers happen because of course we can’t answer any of the questions the reader has in only the first book because how else are we going to entice them to buy book two?

But in this case, the ending was satisfying and wrapped up pretty much all of my questions. I felt pretty satisfied with how the plot wrapped up, except for one thing: we never find out why the prince was possessed by the demon in the first place. Either that or it was explained but not well enough for me to actually remember it.

The not so good bits

Very much lacking in description. If a book is marked as “fantasy” I want to be taken away to another world, and I want a vivid picture painted in my mind. Except for the bare minimum, however, this book was very much lacking in description. I guess because it’s a MG book and younger readers won’t expect that, but I still found it a major disappointment; it feels like a huge missed opportunity.

The translation is kind of awful. Really bad. I have the Japanese and English versions right next to each other (and yes, I do read fluent Japanese) and the Japanese one is saying totally different things than the Japanese one. Yeah, the essentials of the story are the same, but there are details in the Japanese one (that can’t just be written off as “lost in translation”) that didn’t make it in English, while there are extra passages in the English one that don’t exist in Japanese. I guess because they figured kids can’t read Japanese so they didn’t really care? *shrug* But I have a bunch of notes I made about various things that I wanted to “check against the original Japanese version” and I literally can’t cross-reference the two because the English version is a different format.

More stuff needs explanation and yet we got all the infodumps. For those who are unaware, an info dump is when the author literally dumps a huge amount of information on the reader and you just kinda tune everything out. We got a huge infodump right at the beginning of the story in chapter two, I believe it was, and yet none of that was relevant information we needed to know. Meanwhile we needed more explanation about the magic system in this book because it was too confusing (see pages 101, 195, and 197 of the English edition), or how the hell the woman survived and jumped into the tree (page 103) or where Shuga came from in one scene (page 108), or the difference between the Mikado and the Master Star Reader (page 162), etc. The writing is very juvenile, there are so many jumps in logic that I’m sure even a kid would pick up on, like on page 238 when the hunters befriended the group too easily and I felt like everything wrapped up way too easily and neatly, or on page 229 when the egg suddenly appears out of nowhere and I’m just like “Where the hell did that come from?” I just wasn’t very satisfied with the technical level of the prose.

In short, an average read that has just a few redeeming qualities that put it over my other three-star ratings, but still way too many problematic elements to earn a solid four-star rating. This one is still worth picking up–I wouldn’t actively recommend it, but if someone came to me and asked “Hey, I found this book the other day, should I read it?” I’d be like “Yeah, it’s a good story.”

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Book Review–The Friends

The FriendsThe Friends by Kazumi Yumoto
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Picked this one up because it was set in Japan. While I was reading it, I was thinking this would be a four-star review, but after finishing it, it dropped to maybe a 3.5, and now, sitting at my computer and actually writing this review, it’s just a solid three.

I’ll go over three pros and three cons of this book that led to my final rating.

The good parts

Accuracy. Unlike my other recent reads set in Japan, this book was completely accurate to the Japan I know and love. Language, culture, etc. was all very well researched. However, that’s not saying much because the author is Japanese and the source language is Japanese, and this is merely a translation of that.

The narrator. He was an intriguing fellow and had a unique voice. Especially in books that are written in first person, (and this was first person present tense, which is normally something I stay far, far away from) it’s important to have a narrator with an engaging inner voice, and Kiyama (though it’s worth noting we never even learn his name until like, chapter twelve) narrated the story in a way that kept me interested in what was happening.

The old man (who never actually got a name). He was also an intriguing character and I wanted to know more about him. And at the end (view spoiler)

The stinkers

Basically all the other characters aside from the narrator and the old man didn’t have enough presence in the story and weren’t memorable. The most noticeable being Yamashita and Kawabe, Kiyama’s two friends. He might have just as well had one friend because they were both indistinguishable from each other in terms of characterization.

All the other characters–other kids from their class, the narrator’s parents, the seed lady (see note below) the older lady whom the boys were searching for (trying to avoid spoilers here), etc. all lacked the proper characterization and setup for me to remember who they were and what their deal was when they came in and did things that affected the plot.

There was apparently a side character of the lady who ran the seed store (gardening shop) who later comes into the story, but she also had no presence. Apparently her last name was the same as another woman the boys were trying to find and they pretended she was this other lady, but that entire bit just went way over my head because I didn’t remember who she was.

The various subplots weren’t well developed. There was a bit near the end of the boys finding someone from the old man’s past who could help him gain closure, but they just solved it way too easily. The old man told them her name, one of the boys rushed off to the phone company and looked up the phone numbers of everyone with that (admittedly unusual) surname, and they called each number until one of them was answered by a little girl who was like “Oh, that’s my great-grandma, you can find her at the nursing home.” I just wanted that mystery to be more drawn-out, or for it to be harder for them. Like if they’d called all the numbers and no one knew the woman they were searching for so then they had to go back to the old man and get more clues without letting him know that they were trying to search for her or something… meh. I just wasn’t very impressed with the conclusion of that mini-plot.


(I love this meme so much I used it twice in one review. #sorrynotsorry)

There was another subplot of apparently the narrator’s mother being an alcoholic, but again, it just didn’t have enough setup for me to care about it when all of a sudden it was introduced and then solved within about two pages in chapter thirteen or thereabouts.

An average read. This is one that I think is worth picking up and reading, but like my other three star reads, it’s one where you read it once, say “Oh, yeah, that was kinda cute.” and then never go back to it again.

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Utsunomiya and Nagano! (Christmas Part Two)

In case you missed it… From Iwaki to Aizu! (Christmas Part One)

The next morning, we woke up early and headed back to the train station. There was apparently a famous Buddhist temple higher up in the mountains that Ellie wanted to see, and she had looked up the bus route to get there.

That was when I realized that all buses in Japan are crap, not just the ones in my city. There were tons of buses at the terminal outside the station, and we were looking for a specific one. Google Maps at least told us the Japanese kanji characters we needed to look for on the front of the bus. I was able to speak and read Japanese, so after checking the front of each of the buses (and not finding the bus we wanted), asking a driver from a different bus (who apparently didn’t know what we were talking about), and asking someone else who was waiting at the bus stop, we figured out that our bus would come to that very stop in about five minutes. It pulled up, we got on, and off we went!

After about a thirty-minute ride, we got off again to see this lovely little shrine across the street:

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Roadside shrines: one more reason to love Japan!

And after walking about five minutes up the road, we found exactly the temple we were looking for. 大谷元観音, or “Ooyaji Kannon.”

IMG_2103
“Home to the world’s oldest stone Buddha. Ooya Kannon”

I had no idea what this place was or that it even existed. Ellie and I had agreed that we would each get to choose something during our time in Utsunomiya. Ellie chose this temple for the morning, while I had been responsible for the afternoon entertainment.

IMG_2105
I made a new friend!

We offered our respects with a prayer, then went inside and looked at the giant rock formation. Unfortunately, there were no cameras allowed inside, so I don’t have any pictures of it.

OR DO I??? MUAHAHAHAHA!!! 😃

IMG_2109
Snuck a photo of the stone guy inside!
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The rock formation in full

There was also this cool little cliff-thing outside the temple with a mini-shrine on it.

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Ellie climbed up to pay her respects.

There was also a garden in the back, with a cool little bridge. Unfortunately, we couldn’t use the bridge because it wasn’t allowed.

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Garden with the bridge.
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“The legend of the holy temple and the white snake.”
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This is what Ellie wanted to see most: a giant stone Buddha statue.
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She climbed to the top, but I stayed on the ground.

All in all, a pretty fun morning. After some quick lunch, we got a taxi to the place I wanted to visit most in Utsunomiya.

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I saw this place on Google Maps and got really curious about it. Can you guess what it is?

This is the not-so-famous Utsunomiya “sex museum.” I had no idea what to expect from a place like this, but curiosity got the better of me.

Cue eccentric Japanese guy leading us around talking about the history of sex and the different Asiatic cultures’ view of sexual activity.

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A map of all the sex-related festivals around Japan (yes, you read that right)
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Various documents showing ancient porn and antique dildos.

At the end of the tour, we were led to a small theater and convinced to watch a documentary that lasted maybe thirty minutes. Of course, it was all in Japanese, so I doubt Ellie got much out of it. (Sorry, Ellie!)

After a quick visit to the museum gift shop, where there were all sorts of… ahem… sexy souvenirs for sale, we headed back to the train station and made our way to our next destination… Nagano!

nagano

Our destination: Yudanaka, a small town outside of the capital city with a true traditional feel. AND SO MUCH SNOW!

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A cute little doll in the room of the ryokan where we stayed.

After a night of well-deserved rest, we woke up early the next morning, and the owner of the ryokan gave us a ride to Jigokudani. 地獄谷

Literally, this name means “The valley of Hell” in Japanese, but this valley was far from hell. Because what awaited us here were… CHRISTMAS SNOW MONKEYS!

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We had to walk about a mile along a flat path in order to reach the monkeys. While walking down this path, we met people along the way from all different countries. I even saw a lady in high heels, and Ellie and I had a good laugh at her foolishness after we had gone out of earshot of her.
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We finally made it to the monkey park!
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Christmas snow monkeys!

Jigokudani is a park where you can see the famous “hot spring monkeys” and take pictures of them. The monkeys let us get really close to them, but the park employees were very adamant about not touching the monkeys or getting in their way, and everyone followed this rule.

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The monkeys were cleaning each other.
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Cheeky snow monkey was being sassy.
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You can watch the monkeys from your home, if you can’t afford a ticket to Japan!
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A view of the whole park, blanketed in snow.

It was so much fun to watch the monkeys that I actually don’t have very many pictures of them–I was so engrossed with just watching them that I forgot to take photos!

We made our way back down the hill and found a cute little restaurant to have lunch.

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I had noodle soup with soba (buckwheat) noodles. So yummy!

During our travels together, Ellie and I had developed an inside joke. Anytime one of us made a cultural faux pas or a mistake of some kind, we would both exclaim in unison “We’re getting kicked out of the country!” and then crack up laughing. In my case, Ellie swore that I would get kicked out for how much I swore. (see what I did there Ya see?) Ellie’s reason was simply that she was a foreigner and didn’t know much about the culture, so even if it was a small mistake, we started joking that we would be the reason Japan would develop a hatred for foreigners and we’d get kicked out for not knowing how to do things.

In the afternoon, we packed up our things and hopped on the train again. Our next stop: Kyoto, the culture capital of Japan. We were going to spend three days there before having New Year’s in Tokyo.

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Tune in for Part Three, where we spend three days at a Kyoto AirBnB, meet a hilarious fellow, and I make a total fool out of myself in front of Ellie!

If you missed it, read Part One here!

From Iwaki to Aizu! (Christmas Part One)

That’s all for today, folks!

Corinne 乙女