Nagasaki -Susan Southard

NAG-2
1945 – The story of five teenage survivors from the atomic  bombing of Nagasaki told through each injury, thought, fear and emotion you can imagine

Story

On August 9th, 1945

Barely three days after Hiroshima, an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. More than 74000 people died and a further 75000 were injured. The aftermath was just as painful for those who lived through it however since it changed their lives forever. For five teenagers, at the stage of their lives where their entire futures lie unstained and free in front of them, the changes must have been especially hard to bear least of all to try and understand.

How do you move on from something so devastating and evil? How do you learn to live in such a world when you have faced such horrific murder and barely escaped with your life?

When your life has barely begun…

Place and Setting

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What you have read in history books or in history lessons, this book takes you to the heart of one of the most devastating events in human history. Did these people survive in every sense of the word or are they just living with evil?

Nuclear war may have ended global wars but has devastated so many lives in the process and unlike the initial explosion, the effects linger on for many many years and down through many generations.

This books allows you to experience a part of history by talking to those who were there, who felt every shudder, every blast, every consequence of that horrific day.  Susan sits with you and each of these five survivors in turn and gives a full and heartbreaking account of the impact of war.  They even have a name for these people – those who survived are known as hibakusha (“bomb-affected people”) and seem to live through a sense of shame and the stigma of having survived when so many people did not.

What makes this especially interesting is that of course in the Japan of 1946, the freedom of press or even thought was very different to what it is today and what you might imagine. Such a horrific turn of events and no freedom with which to try and get through it and make sense of it as best a teenager can.

Review

There are some books that you read and remember and others that sear each and every word on your heart. This is definitely both but certainly the second.

Now although I love reading history and about real life war situations, I did come to this thinking that I knew about Nagasaki and wondering what I could really learn afresh. We studied this at University and I’ve read and studied many accounts and interviews. Not like this though. The research is impeccable and I just can’t imagine the effort on behalf of the author and the raw emotions which the survivors had to dig deep to recover.

There are pictures dotted throughout this book but to be honest the real horror is between each and every word. It is an honour to spend time with each of these people and to peer inside their minds and hearts.

An intimate and heartbreaking portrayal of one of the most horrific war times acts and a new insight into what the consequences of this single event had on the teenagers of the day.

Can bombs ever be the answer? They end one war but start quite another.

Author info:

http://www.susansouthard.com/

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The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – London, Japan, Oxford – Natasha Pulley

filigree street

Why a booktrail?

For the most unique of journeys into Victorian England, oriental Japan, academic Oxford and all via a mysterious pocket watch….

Story in a nutshell

London 1883

Thaniel Steepleton works as a telegraphist at the Home Office. They have just received a bomb threat and so tension at work is high. One evening he returns home to find his tiny dwellings apparently burgled. Cautiously he looks around and all he can find out of place is a gold pocket watch which has appeared on his pillow.

Back at work one day and the watch starts to emit an alarm. Panicked, Steepleton leaves the building only to see Scotland Yard blow up behind him. Feeling that something is very wrong, he goes in search of the watch’s owner, a Japanese immigrant who opens the door of his watchmaker’s store in Filigree Street and to a world of clockwork, music and wonder.

Meanwhile a scientist in Oxford also comes across one of these watches. When she and Thaniel later meet up, their joint curiosity leads them into a world of intrigue.

But danger is just a tick tock away…

Place and setting

 Filigree Street A real life watchmaker and jewellry shop in Camden town Hyde Park Where the Japanese show village is located WhiteHall The seat of government where Steepleton works Millbank Steepleton’s boarding house where he finds the watch is close to Millbank Prison in the Millbank area Knightsbridge Fictional Fligree Street is close to here and he and Mori pass by Harrods on their way to breakfast one morning

Filigree Street
A real life watchmaker and jewellry shop in Camden town
Hyde Park
Where the Japanese show village is located
WhiteHall
The seat of government where Steepleton works
Millbank
Steepleton’s boarding house where he finds the watch is close to Millbank Prison in the Millbank area
Knightsbridge
Fictional Fligree Street is close to here and he and Mori pass by Harrods on their way to breakfast one morning

This is a journey via London, Japan and Oxford and weaves its way through a story of clockwork, music, and mythical moments.

From the moment the door of the Filigree Street jeweller opens with anticipation, the world opens to a new and exciting world, where a clockwork octopus and the creatures of the watchmaker’s world introduce Steepleton to a new and hidden London.

This London, as well as being a scene of terror with the threat of Irish nationalist  bombings, is awash with new mechanical and electrical inventions, the music of Gilbert and Sullivan and a watchmaker with a secret. Inside the shop are wonders to behold-

Hello? he called into the empty workshop. His voice was spider webbed with racks. Electric lights hummed on as he came in.

Across the wall beside him was a tall pendulum clock, its movement regulated by the joined wings and knees of a golden locust. A mechanical model of the solar system spun in mid-air, bronze birds sat perched on the edge of the desk.

The overall setting from upmarket Knightsbridge area to the Japanese show village and the grim smoke ridden underground really bring the era to life.

Japan

 Matsumoto Castle - http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6051.html 4-1 Marunouchi Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture 390-0873 Japan - Tokyo Shinbashi Station Hibuya Park Mori and Ito walk here Shibuya where Mori lives near to a monastery annd keeps bees

Matsumoto Castle – http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6051.html
4-1 Marunouchi
Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture 390-0873
Hagi Castle – where the Japanese story starts
Tokyo
Shinbashi Station
Hibuya Park
Mori and Ito walk here
Shibuya
where Mori lives near to a monastery annd keeps bees

This is the world which takes Steepleton into the world of its maker Keita Mori whose own story starts back in Imperial Japan a country undergoing extreme poltical change and upheaval

Hagi Castle  for example is home to Lord Takahiro and is where English is banned, and “commoners unrelated to or unemployed by the Mori clan were forbidden entry.”

Keita Mori therefore is not just your average watchmaker – he starts his story deep inside the political corridors of Japan where he was once the former assistant to the interior minister of Japan. He is also related to a Samurai lord and always said he planned to move to London where he now creates the finest watches in the city. But are the mechanisms behind them being used for political means?

Keita Mori is a magical marvel – he can remember the future. There are some random events he cab’t predict but his octopus Katsu more than makes up for its with its random gears and sock stealing hobby.

National identity, racism of Asians, japanese living in London, Irish nationalism and a sense of belonging create a world of complex relations. And at the centre, a marvellous sock stealing octopus named Katsu.

Bookish musings by Clare @thebooktrailer

You know the feeling that you think you’re going to like a book for one reason but then end up loving it for another reason entirely? A book that suprises and excites you in equal measure? A world where when you close the last page you immediately want to go back and stay there?

This is that book. With such a mix of Japanese culture, history and setting to Victorian clockmaking, this is a book of surprises and then some.

Plot and characters are as vividly evoked as if you were seeing them on screen. Katsu, the mechanical octopus is perhaps one of the most amazing inventions, no characters that I’ve ever come across. Now I know where all those missing socks go..

Mori and Thaniel are like a Japanese- London hybrid of a Sherlock Holmes double act with Katsu as their side kick. The mix of adventure, fantastical elements and a watch which could predict the future was mesmerising.

More please!

The Snow Kimono – Japan, Paris, Algeria – Mark Henshaw

snow book

Why a booktrail?

There is a saying in Japan that if you want to see your life you have to see it through the eyes of another….

Story in a nutshell 

A retired police officer August Jouvert living in Paris comes across a Japanese professor standing outside his appartment one day. And what the Japanese man tells him could change his life forever…

Auguste has just received a letter from a woman claiming to be his daughter. Now this mysterious  Japanese man starts to tell him the story of his own lost daughter

If you want to see your life you have to see it through the eyes of another goes the saying in Japan. But then what happens if you don’t like what you see?

Place and setting

 PARIS - Rue St Antoine Auguste Jouvert lives here and where he first meets the Japanese stranger PARIS  - 36 Quai des Orfevres Where the police staton is where Jouvert used to work JAPAN - Kamakura Where the kite festival takes place ALGERIA - Setif Omura goes here and  it’s where Jouvert’s daughter lives - in Algiers JAPAN -Tokyo and the Imperial University of Japan Omura once worked here Osaka Omura lives and where they get off the metro in Togetsu

PARIS – Rue St Antoine
Auguste Jouvert lives here and where he first meets the Japanese stranger
PARIS – 36 Quai des Orfevres
Where the police staton is where Jouvert used to work
JAPAN – Kamakura
Where the kite festival takes place
ALGERIA – Setif
Omura goes here and it’s where Jouvert’s daughter lives – in Algiers
JAPAN -Tokyo and the Imperial University of Japan
Omura once worked here
Osaka
Omura lives and where they get off the metro in Togetsu

The setting is several things in this book – both the actual settings of Japan, Paris and Algiers but also the deep recesses of the human mind and the human conscience –

Memory is a savage editor. It cuts time’s throat

Paris

Where the mystery begins and where Auguste received his letter and meets the Japanese professor. A snowy city on the Rue St Antoine where Auguste lives close to the Bastille. Belleville is the Algerian part of town not far away from his home and his mind. For his past is about to confront him on his own doorstep –

“The street lamps were lit. Rain still fell in a thin mist. The roads shone. To anybody else it would have been obvious – accidents hovered like hawks in the air”

Japan

Japan shows up two characters – one a respected professor and the other a party boy who only thinks of himself and disregards women as nothing more than conquests. The second a novelist called Katsuo Ikeda uses people to further his career. Remember the Japanese saying?

”Look at people, Tadashi. Just watch them. If you want power over people, you have to get inside them, find out what they are afraid of. Be them. It’s the only way.”

Omura is the wise man in the tale who speaks of life as being similar to a traditional Japanese jigsaw puzzle

“Some pieces are small, others large, but all are calculated to deceive, to lead one astray, in order to make the puzzle as difficult, as challenging, as possible. In our tradition, how a puzzle is made, and how it is solved, reveals some greater truth about the world”.

The Japanese setting represents wisdom, forgiveness and closure. The descriptive prose is oriental and flowing –

The events of the day jostle in her head. They settle for a moment. Then, like a flock of birds at dusk, they take to the air, whirling round and round in the sky above her”

And what of the Snow Kimono of the title? Made and sold in Osaka, its threads weave throughout the story. The Kite festival  in Kamakura is both uplifting and evocative of the joy and innocence which once existed

Algiers

The story strand which links the two man – for Auguste worked in Algiers and led a double life as an undercover government officer. His secret past comes to light and he has much to hide. During the country’s war of independence, there was a lot of pain and a sense of abandonment –

It is here where the labyrinth of Algiers’ alleyways evoke the puzzle theme of the book and the confusion of Jouvert’s mind. Logic is not present here and he struggles with both the backdrop and the ethical dilemma which he now finds himself in.

A story of many strands

The Guest Cat – Tokyo – Takashi Hiraide – Translator: Eric Selland

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Written by Japanese poet and novelist Takashi Hiraide, the book won Japan’s Kiyama Shohei Literary Award, and was a bestseller in France and America.

Story in a nutshell- 

A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo;  they might work together ( at home as freelancers) they have relatively little to say to one another. The day a cat arrives at their door and into their lives however, things change. Their relationship changes as they accept the cat into their lives and things for a while seem to be going well.

Something however is about to happen.

Place and setting

Is this the south west line they take from the Shi terminal to their home among the alleyways where Chibi comes into their lives
Is this the south west line they take from the Shinjuku train terminal to their home among the alleyways – in the alley way they call Lightning Alley –  where Chibi comes into their lives

The book is very Japanese in many ways and not just because it was a major bestseller in Japan or that its writer is of course Japanese. No, this is a book which manages to get snippets of Japanese culture into each and every page – whether it be the people in the book, places or the way that the cat comes into their lives and their homes. One thing is described at a time which is not like books in the West but then this seems to be the Japanese way of contemplating things aand describing things in detail taking time to appreciate them. The owners look to Chibi, the cat and its world to appreciate their own –

Chibi was able to sleep comfortably whenever she wanted.And from then on we got in to the habit of laying out the futon early in the evening so that we too, the human residents, could sleep any time we wanted as well.

The house and guest house as well as the other places where the couple live and the cat wanders are described and evoked so well that you can see what the cat sees. The husband explains that his wife is the cat lover but that he is starting to see things differently too –

“What’s interesting about animals, my wife explained, is that even though a cat may be a cat, in the end, each individual has its own character.

‘For me, Chibi is a friend with whom I share and understanding, and who just happens to have taken on the form of a cat.’”

A short gentle visit to Tokyo and a lyrical magical world where a cat might be the symbol of a life and existence of all of us. If the story doesn’t get you then the cover will! The green glisten of the eyes, that face, the fur that just needs to be stroked and cuddled……

The book is short and compact – that you can just pick up and appreciate in a short time – just like picking up a cat, stroking it and appreciating it before it jumps away, leaving you with the memory of it and the impressions of its paws on your heart.

guest_cat_cover-v2

The Haiku Murder -Tokyo, Japan – Fran Pickering

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Following on from the Cherry Blossom Murder, Josie Clark is once again getting herself in involved in even more tricky situations

Story in a nutshell

Josie Clark is a British expat in Tokyo  who goes on a Haiku Country tour with people from a company called Ando investments. It’s to be a getting to know you trip away for new clients and they’ll be visiting places well known for Haiku fans as well as being the ideal getaway. Writing poetry is on the agenda for every evening and the trip looks set to be relaxing as well as enjoyable.

But when the party arrive at Matasuyama castle, one of the participants of the trip, a charismatic financier is found dead at the bottom of a castle. A tragic fall! they cry, but Josie has other ideas and believes he was pushed.

Place and setting

Follow Josie around Japan on a Haiku Murder Mystery tour
Follow Josie around Japan on a Haiku Murder Mystery tour

Tokyo – where the trip departs from

Ishite temple/Dogo hot spring – first stop on the tour

Matsuyama castle – where Mr Ando falls to his death  – or does he?

Saitama – where the Ando family runs a bookshop

Yokohama – the best and  biggest Chinatown in Japan where Josie eats with Dave

We’re sure that poetry is not normally as deadly as that portrayed in the book but it was very interesting to find out about the Haiku trip and to go on the itinerary with them. It was like a poetry booktrail so was right up our street and getting to know the array of characters was interesting too. The scenes at the airport befor they even depart set the scene well with descriptions of quirky characters with hidden agendas.

As the tour progresses, we find out more about Haiku – such as lovers would converse in haiku and

Jimbocho and Saitama seem to be the places where the bookshops are in the bookand how we wanted to linger here for longer. Makes us want to learn Japanese now too.

Japanese culture seems so fascinating in Fran Pickering’s hands – the funeral traditions for one were interesting to read about as was the yuzu icrecream and the yuzu flavoured sweet bean paste that was the Matsuyama speciality.

The gesture of standing on a bridge and dropping a camellia in to the water on one side and then making a haiku before it appeared on the other side seemed like a lovely thing to do and this is one image that stayed with us.

Matsuyama Castle
Matsuyama Castle

Review

Fran Pickering’s passion for Japan really is the way in which she is able to write about the country with such skill. Her writing is easy to read and flows well and the snippets of Japanese life fit well into the case Josie gets herself involved with. I had images of a Japanese style of Nancy Drew kind of girl as Josie got herself further and further into the case despite David’s protestations. She’s a curious girl -I like that- and I urged her not to listen to the boyfriend and to get solving the case.

Some would call this cosy crime – like Grantchester or Nancy Drew but do we always have to have horrifc graphic murder everytime? It makes a nice change for the setting and the investigation side to come out on top and to  focus on the person solving the mystery. There’s lots of conversations and inner thoughts that Josie shares throughout which make it easy for us to get on side early on and I was willing her to get the criminal. To do so in a landscape that is so tricky to navigate, one where we learn about the culture along the way is really interesting.

I like Josie Clark, I really do. Poor girl gets herself into a lot of scrapes but she uses her love of Japan and the Japanese language to full effect.

Josie if you would ever like to come on a booktrail, we’d love to have you! Safer than Haiku tours we assure you!

Australia – Barracuda – Christos Tsiolkas

Barracuda

Set in Loch Lomond, Brisbane and Japan!

Danny Kelly is a working class boy who attends a private school in Australia on a swimming scholarship.

He’s not a popular nor likable character and is bullied. Danny however has dreams and wants to be the best swimmer there is and eventually go on to win a medal  – Gold if possible – at the Olympics. That will show the bullies he thinks to himself.

However when he tries for the Australian Swimming Championship he misses out on a place for the Olympic team and to say he is upset is an understatement.

Life goes downhill from that moment onwards.

Danny is a character I found hard to like. As many teenagers can be, he is somewhat self-obsessed and when he fails to get a place in the Olympic squad, he becomes worse.

Having said that Danny shows us what it is like to go through all those struggles whilst suffering bullying, violence and shame. Danny for me had potential but one failure led to him making some decisions which made his life all the more unbearable.

The Australian cover
The Australian cover

Danny seems confused and troubled and his life was revealed in this way too – events aren’t in order and the places and settings dot around in a way that a teenager boy’s thoughts probably do. Not easy to read at times – sometimes the settings and dates aren’t even mentioned at the start of chapters which did add to the confusion slightly. Danny is also known by several different names and nicknames – another sign of the boy’s inner confused  thoughts?

The thread throughout the book  – you know at the beginning that Danny has a secret – something is to be revealed that will explain things….or will it? It’s not revealed until much later on.

As you might expect, there is some graphic and offensive words in the book and it slaps you in the face at times.  Again, it makes you react to the book’s subject. Right from the start too – so if you are offended, be warned.

What it leaves behind however are the memories of the joy of swimming (which I know nothing about) and the joy of reading (which I totally agree with)

And the dream of one boy to swim in the Olympic Games…

Cuppa and a cake with Fran Pickering – Cherry Blossom Murder – Japan

cherry book

It’s a lovely sunny day here at Booktrail towers and we have a lovely lady coming over for a cuppa and a cake – Fran Pickering author of the Cherry Blossom Murder which we feature in a booktrail has come over to see us for some cake (cherry of course) and a cuppa of Japanese tea…

Hi Fran.

Fran has popped over for a slice of cherry pie
Fran has popped over for a slice of cherry pie

Here, you sit there, I’ve fluffed up the cushions – now you have a choice of cakes today – cherry cake I made or a cherry bakewell or a cherry pie (I got a bit carried away after watching the Great British Bakeoff yesterday)… Why not have a taste of all three?

Your book The Cherry Blossom Murder, is really evocative of Japan and I’m intrigued to know what your connection to Japan is and your interest in it?

I’ve always been interested in Japan but never expected to actually go there – it always seemed impossibly far off. But then my husband and I took our courage in both hands and went there for a short holiday and found we liked it so much we kept going back. We made a lot of Japanese friends and learned to speak and read Japanese, which led to my being sent there as part of my work, so it just grew and grew. Now I think of it as a second home.

How did you research your book? By going to the places that you mention in it?

Pic courtesy of Fran Pickering
Pic courtesy of Fran Pickering

I didn’t need to – I knew the places so well already. I’ve been a member of a Takarazuka fan club like the one in The Cherry Blossom Murder since the 1990’s and I visit Japan often to see the shows and catch up with my friends, so the settings came naturally. If there were any details I couldn’t recall I’d check them on Google street view. Places I describe in Tokyo are based on places where I used to live and work, and Josie’s friends are composites of people I know. I’ve been to Takarazuka in cherry blossom time and it’s so lovely. This picture is of the Flower Path, near where Mai-chan’s body is found in the book.

the cherry blossom in the parks and streets
The Flower Path near where Mai- Chain’s body is found in the book

Tell us about the Takarazuka Revue

The Takarazuka Revue is amazing – four hundred actress putting on spectacular song and dance shows with fabulous over-the-top costumes twice-daily in two massive 2,000-seater theatres, one in Tokyo and one in Takarazuka town, just outside of Osaka. It’s so popular they even have their own television channel. All the actresses are young and so talented. The stars are hugely popular, especially the ones who play men in the shows; hundreds of fans wait outside the theatre to see them arrive and leave. It’s the opposite of the kabuki, where men play women, just like actors used to do in Shakespeare’s day. This is year is the Takarazuka Revue’s hundredth anniversary, so I just had to go over and see a show.

What is your character, Josie, like?

Josie likes to think of herself as  a down-to-earth, feet on the ground sort of person, but actually she can’t say no to the chance of an adventure, like going to live and work in Japan, or investigating a murder. She knows she’s an oddity in Japan because she’s so tall, but she tries hard to fit in and be accepted, and she’s secretly rather proud of how well she speaks Japanese. She has a long-term English boyfriend, Dave, who she cares about more than she likes to admit and she misses her Mum back home in London, but she’s determined to make a success of her Japanese life.

You write a blog about the Japanese related events and places to visit in London. Where can we go to read The Cherry Blossom Murder to place ourselves in Japan?

I would suggest the Kyoto Garden in Holland Park. It’s a beautiful and calm space with a waterfall and a lovely little lake where colourful carp swim. There are stone Japanese lanterns by the lake and a little bridge that you can walk across. 

the Japanese garden - Photo from Fran Pickering
the Japanese garden – Photo from Fran Pickering

Or else, if you’re lucky enough to be reading the book in cherry blossom season (roughly early to mid-April), then I’d suggest Kew Gardens. It has dozens of varieties of cherry trees and the great white cherry in the Japanese landscape garden is a fantastic sight in full flower. 

Or, if you prefer to stay indoors, you can find some great Japanese restaurants in London. I’d recommend  Koya in Soho for wonderful noodles (but be prepared to queue) or Sake no Hana on St James’s Street for excellent sushi and sashimi.

What should we eat and drink when reading your book? (any Japanese delicacies that you want to tell us about?)

Josie loves Japanese food, and she has a lot of typical Japanese meals while she’s out and about investigating the murder.  In meetings at work the office lady will often serve green tea with mochi (little buns filled with sweet bean paste). Josie has a bad coffee habit but she also likes Yuzu tea (yuzu is a sort of cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange). So I would suggest Yuzu tea and green tea chiffon cake like the one Josie has at cafe West in Ginza. 

Ooh please tell us about your next book!

My next book is called The Haiku Murder and it’s coming out this October. Josie goes on a haiku-writing trip to Matsuyama in Shikoku, the smallest of the five Japanese islands, and one of her party falls off the top of Matsuyama castle and is killed. Everyone thinks it’s an accident, but Josie knows it’s murder and her investigations lead her to uncover a web of deceit with money and jealousy at its heart. Who’d have thought that poetry could be so dangerous?

Visit Fran here – http://franpickering.com/ or on twitter  @franpickering

The Cherry Blossom Murder – Japan – Fran Pickering

cherry book

The booktrail goes to Japan

Welcome to the world of the world of the famous Japanese all-female Takarazuka revue

The spring resort a few miles from Osaka, home to the famous Takarazuka ….

but last night its peaceful streets were the scene of a real life drama..

This is how we are introduced to Japan and the famous Takarazuka in  a novel about murder and mystery…..and a Londoner called Josie who finds herself in the middle of it all……

This is what I love about fiction – the places it takes you to and the experiences it gives you from its very pages. A novel set not only in Japan but in the heart of Japanese culture? Yes please!

Sapporo, Tokyo and Tarazuka
A Sapporo, B -Tokyo and C- Takarazuka

Story in a nutshell-

Londoner Josie Clark gets more than the bargained for as she stumbles onto a  body beneath a cherry blossom tree.

She soon become involved with the investigation and once she starts to dig deeper, she finds out a lot more than she may care to know. Who is the stranger that the victim was last seen talking to; who is Ms Kato and who or what is the Takarazuka Revue hiding?

The famous Takarazuka

Pic courtesy of Fran Pickering
Pic courtesy of Fran Pickering

Now I had didn’t know much at all about the famous Takarazuka (shameful I know) and so I was very much wanting to know more..but first I wanted to find out.

This is the Takarazuka revue is amazing – around 400 actresses singing and dancing in elaborate costumes and putting on a spectacular of a show.  They’re all female dancers but some of them dress as men and play the parts of men in the shows (rather like in the days of Shakespeare I thought when women were banned in the theatre)

These dancers are treated like mega stars in their homeland and are reverred and followed whereever they go. Fran Pickering herself took this picture to give an idea of just how  elaborate a show this is.

In addition to the theatre setting however, the way in which Fran evokes not only the landscape of the country but the culture too is very interesting  – the Japanese fan club culture to the fore and really illustrates the culture and lifestyle of Japan itself. At one of the shows for example –

Nobody on the fan club staff have boyfriends. They don’t have the time

A few flashes went off from newspaper photographers but they were kept at a distance by fan club staff.

For if Josie is a foreigner in Japan there are no stereotypes or clichés here. What we get is a very interesting jaunt into a world so far removed that anyone (certainly at the book trail) has ever been into before. Josie is not your typical Brit ‘lost in space’ kind of tourist as although an outsider, she fully embraces Japanese customs,  and so can show us things that a complete novice might not see.

Fran waves her magic wand to conjure up Japan right before our eyes and even before you get into the mystery, the setting takes your breath away –

Shinjuku garden in Tokyo - Pic from Fran Pickering
Shinjuku garden in Tokyo – Pic from Fran Pickering
the cherry blossom in the parks and streets
Cherry blossom in the parks and streets – Photo from Fran Pickering

This is a murder mystery with the beautiful cherry trees and landscapes of Japan and it makes it all the more thrilling to read of murder in paradise and that a British girl should try to make sense of her new surroundings, a relatively alien culture to her despite her having lived there for a while before the murder, and it’s a great premise for what looks to be a cracking series of mysteries. The world Fran creates is unique and exciting and the location really comes into its own  – for its very beauty and cultural clash make the mystery of the murder all the more horrifying.

If you like red herrings, twists, lots of trying to fight against what you believe to be the truth – and a rollocking great murder mystery – then may we suggest you step on board The Cherry Blossom Murder train and take a ride to Japan. For the second mystery is pulling into the station October this year and we for one will surely be on it.

A World Book Trail on World Book Day!

 

Happy World Book day everyone! After the excitement of the Book Oscars and the Read Regional this week, we just had to do a world book trail on World Book Day

And this is the book – a travel memoir with a difference –

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There are three different ones in three different countries – Spain, Japan and the Ukraine

So, do you fancy a trip around the world on World Book Day? The booktrail did!

the trail in Spain
the trail in Spain

Camino de Santiago in Spain

 

This was the most interesting one since it brought back many memories of my own backpacking and walking days. The etiquette of talking to other walkers of finding out their own reasons for walking such a route is as fascinating to the writer as it was to read about –

 

The major etiquette point on route is the phrase ‘Buen Camino’. It’s a salutation and a valediction, but its most important role is in establishing boundaries.’

We get buen camino’d with some frequency

 

I smiled at the latter quote – Buen Camino translates as ‘ Enjoy your walk’ ‘Have a good journey’ and is a nicer phrase than our English ‘ Hello’ that we tend to say to passing hikers. It’s nice to talk to people on your journey and wonder why they are doing it – are they there for the same reasons as you?

The Santiago de Camino is a very famous religious pilgrimage of tracing the route of an old roman road in Spain. This is perhaps the most traditional of the writer’s pilgrimages – he is accompanied by a friend and meets many people along the way which makes for some interesting observations –

If Catholics see the reward for arrival as full plenary indulgence, ‘The rest of us are cagey about what to expect. But almost every pilgrim we meet over the next thirty-nine days admits to some feeling, however muted or vague, of transition or crisis.

 

The scenery is vividly described –

 

The path is cut between the bald foothills of the Pyrenees on our right and some lowland pastures on our left.

Blue and yellow scallop-shell waymarkers…

 

In this sense, Spain’s Santiago pilgrimage is seen as moving in a straight line and getting on with the future –  the devout walker wants to get-out-of-purgatory.

And the booktrail was especially happy to read that the author and his friend were actually on their very own book trail and not just for the book they would later write. As Tom lies injured, he finds out about the medical practices described in a certain book –

 

Tom’s been rereading Homage to Catalonia and he finds the archaism appealing, but the medic insists that it will only result in infection.

 

I wanted to linger on this route, but we were off to Japan next….

 

Shikoku, Japan

The temples of the trail in Japan
Just some of the temples of the trail in Japan

 

The second is to 88 temples around the perimeter of Japan – a circle of discovery if you will.

At the gate of one of the temples –

 

Beyond the gate there’s a little spring under a roof with long-handled tin ladles for ritual hand washing….and tied in ribbons are pieces of green paper. These are  fortunes…

 

The trip around 88 temples sees the author visiting a world that not many of us have or will have the pleasure of visiting. I wish we could have spent more time looking and appreciating them as I didn’t think the author did sometimes but there is the little gems that he tells us about such as the Japanese tale of an old beggar and Temple 12 – Shozanji was a particularly nice travel anecdote.

Once again his travelling companion is reading a book to help him experience even more of where he is – by reading on location so to speak –

 

Max reads a book about Japanese Buddhism…

 

This part of the trail was fascinating if not for the exotic environment the author found himself in and the sheer challenge of attempting to visit so much Japanese heritage. Quite a remarkable journey to do no doubt.

Sorry but we have to leave it there although there is so much to read and experience here for yourself.

Next on the trails – Ukraine!

The route in Ukraine
The route in Ukraine

 

Ukraine 

 

This is a journey done for the celebration of Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year, where he is accompanied by his father and brother. Uman sits on the Kiev Odessa route –

It was already clear, if only by the costumes, that the journey to Uman was much closer to the medieval side of the pilgrimage spectrum than the contemporary one.

It is a story about Jewish persecution and is not a story I knew much about. The Jews take this trip in order to celebrate Rosh Hashanah at the grave of Rav Nachman of Breslov, the founding of the Breslov Hasidic movement of the Jewish faith. The history of what happened in the Ukraine to the Jews is not one really covered here but a quick Google search will tell you the raw shocking facts.

It has been said to remind many a reader of Eat Pray Love but this one is more inward looking and sometimes to the detriment to the flow of his travels. Yet he takes us around three fascinating places, ever searching for his sense of direction.

It has definitely made me want to go to these places myself.