Book review — Reiko Momochi: Confidential Confessions

When I bought some second-hand copies of Fake off eBay, the same seller had a copy of Confidential Confessions 1 for a dollar, so I thought I might as well get it to try. This is a shoujo manga series and thus aimed at teenage girls, but rather than being the stereotypically light and fluffy, this one is fairly dark and tackles some serious issues. The first volume has a long story about bullying at school and teenage suicide; there’s also a shorter story about teenage prostitution.

I couldn’t get into it at all, but I think mostly because it’s not my sort of thing, and as a middle-aged Brit I’m not the target audience anyway. Skimming through it, I can see why it has great reviews on Amazon — it’s neither soap opera nor preachy, but takes a realistic look at problems that a lot of Japanese teens face in real life. That also means that it doesn’t have a guaranteed happy ending. This may be depressing for some people; for others it will be helpful, as when you’re depressed yourself it can make things worse to be reading fiction that tells you that everyone else gets a happy ending. This manga appears to be aimed at providing fiction that comforts by saying “You’re not alone in feeling this way.” As it says on the cover, “because real life doesn’t always have a happy ending.”

This particular volume is also very, very blunt about what attempted suicide actually means, and what goes through the minds of people considering suicide. It’s going to be an emotionally tough read, and there is the possibility that it could be a trigger for someone, although I think it’s much more likely to help than to harm.

Not my thing, and I suspect that it’s not going to be one for most of the people I know, but I’ll provide the Amazon links for volume 1 anyway. There seem to be six volumes.

Confidential Confessions, Book 1 at Amazon US
Confidential Confessions at Amazon UK

Book review: Sanami Matoh — Fake

This is a yaoi manga series about a pair of New York cops, mostly UST over the course of the seven volumes, but consummated in the final volume. But there’s more than the sexual tension to sustain interest, as there’s a good chunk of plot in there as well.

Randy Maclean arrives for his first day at his new assignment to the 27th Precint, and is promptly teamed with Dee Laytner, mostly because their Captain wants both of them out of his office right now. Dee is loud, casual, and over-friendly — starting with noticing that Randy has black eyes even though he’s blond, asking if he’s part-Japanese, and then insisting on knowing Randy’s Japanese name. And from then on it’s Ryo, not Randy. Dee’s not someone the quiet, reserved Ryo would have expected to like, but there’s something about Dee that makes Ryo feel comfortable. And the feeling’s mutual. They may have been partnered purely on whim, but they make a good team.

Dee is openly bisexual, and openly interested in Ryo — mostly as a joke to begin with, but gradually becoming a lot more serious. By the end of the second volume Ryo’s realised that Dee’s interest in him isn’t a joke any more, but he’s not quite sure how he feels about it. He likes Dee, a lot, but he’s also always thought of himself as straight. As the romance plotline develops, Ryo’s no easy conquest; more or less tolerating Dee pouncing on him but pushing him away if he goes further than Ryo’s comfortable with. And for a long period he’s not even comfortable with Dee kissing him. But there’s a strong bond of friendship between them, and rather than simply freaking out about Dee’s passes, Ryo actually thinks about how he feels about Dee. For several volumes…

If that was all there was to the series it would be too thin to sustain seven volumes, but there are also strong storylines about their jobs as cops, and about their personal lives apart from the potential sexual relationship. These storylines interact with each other, and one of the notable things about this series is that while the early volumes appear to be mostly independent stories, there are details and characters which are later shown to be part of an overall story arc. This means that each volume is a satisfying read in its own right, with closure for the two to four stories included in the volume; but the series as a whole is more than just a string of unconnected episodes, and forms a complete story overall.

The series does require a lot of willing suspension of disbelief, given a setup with a New York police station full of openly gay cops, and a writer whose knowledge of New York police procedure is somewhat scatty. But it’s well worth putting aside a desire for realism, as this series has humour, interesting stories, solid plot development, and rounded characters.

As for the sexual content, the guys are hot, and the UST is played very well, with Sanami Matoh doing more with a kiss than some manage with full-on sex. When it does finally get to the sex, it’s plausible, and very hot. I was also pleased to find that while Dee can be very pushy, he accepts that no means no — unlike much yaoi manga, there’s no rape for titillation in this series. And there’s a satisfyingly romantic ending. It’s sweet, and maybe even soppy, but the guys have worked for it rather than being handed it on a plate.

The art is good, although there’s a fair bit of heavily stylised art which isn’t to my personal taste. What *is* to my personal taste is that the men are pretty, but they’re still depicted as adult men, both physically and emotionally.

If you’re looking for a yaoi manga that has both romance and action plot, you could do a lot worse than try a volume of this series to see if it’s to your taste. Ideally you should read it in order, but the first few volumes can each be read as a standalone if necessary.

Fake series from Amazon US:

Fake (Fake), Vol. 1 (Fake) | Fake Vol. 2 | Fake Vol. 3 | Fake Vol. 4 | Fake, Vol. 5 | Fake 6 (Fake) (Fake) | Fake, Vol. 7

Fake series at Amazon UK:

Fake: v. 1 (Fake) | Fake: Volume 2: v. 2 (Fake) | Fake: Volume 3: v. 3 (Fake) | Fake: Volume 4: v. 4 (Fake) | Fake: Volume 5 (Fake): v. 5 (Fake) | Fake: v. 6 (Fake) | Fake: Volume 7: v. 7 (Fake)

Book review: Chaz Brenchley — Dead of Light

Benedict Macallan doesn’t share his family’s talent — nor their taste for power and violence. He turned his back on them; walked out of the family, if not out of the town that they control. But when a cousin is murdered in a manner that promises danger to the whole family, he’s pulled back in against his will. Only for the funeral, only for long enough to say goodbye to a cousin he loved in spite of everything — but then the body count starts to mount, and whatever Ben may feel about his family, they’re his *family*.

The publisher calls it a horror novel, but it’s more of a story about a Mafia-like family, seen through the eyes of a dropout member who understands how they look from both the inside and the outside. The horror element comes in the weapon used by the family to maintain control of their territory, one that’s only hinted at initially, and gradually revealed during the first half of the book. Power corrupts, and the Macallan clan has held power for a very long time. Now someone is reflecting that power and threat back at them, killing Macallans as casually as they’ve killed others. Ben’s left trying to protect a family he despises and that mostly despises him; and the outside friends who are afraid of him now they’ve been reminded exactly who he is; and himself. But Ben has no power of his own…

Brenchley deftly interweaves a coming of age story with a murder mystery, gradually building a picture of a strange but only too human family, and Ben’s love-hate relationship with them. There’s some fine world-building and character development to back up the rising tension as Ben tries to solve the lethal riddle. And the use of language is superb, making the book a joy to read for the pure pleasure of the prose. It’s not exactly your traditional whodunnit, but the magic elements are never used to cheat the reader, and the clues are there for those who want to play the game. Dead of Light is both lyrical and a gripping, fast-paced read.

Dead of Light — hardback at amazon uk
Dead of Light (New English Library (Hodder and Stoughton).) — paperback at amazon uk
Dead of Light (New English Library (Hodder and Stoughton).) — paperback at amazon us
Hardback and paperback direct from the author