My Happy Marriage, Vol. 3

By Akumi Agitogi and Tsukiho Tsukioka. Released in Japan as “Watashi no Shiawase na Kekkon” by Fujimi L Bunko. Released in North America Yen On. Translated by David Musto.

Good news! After two trauma-inducingly depressing volumes of this series, we finally get a volume of My Happy Marriage that is working towards the title. That’s not to say that this volume is all sweetness and light – honestly, this series is never going to be that, I expect, until the final 5 pages of the last volume. But compared to the first two books, this is a pleasant walk in the park. Indeed, I wonder if the author thought the same thing, given that the entire subplot that is being investigated by Kiyoka seems like something invented to give the book a bit more drama and heft. Miyo is still suffering, of course, but this time it’s straightforward, normal abuse that we’ve seen in many, many series like this – the abuse of a mother-in-law who hates her son’s choice of wife. And while she and Kiyoka are not quite on the same page yet, they do at least now understand how the other person thinks.

Kiyoka and Miyo are invited by his father back to the Kudou mansion, as there needs to be a “meet the parents” event. The only trouble is that Kiyoka and Hazuki seem to have minimal respect for their father, and they both absolutely despise their mother. Neither one wants Miyo to be anywhere near her. Unfortunately, Kiyoka also gets an investigation that’s in the same town that his family home is, so and and Miyo (Hazuki can’t make it) have to go and meet Mommie Dearest anyway. It goes about as well as you’d expect, especially since Kiyoka has to be away from the mansion for the investigation much of the time, leaving Miyo to deal with her all on her own. And while this is going on, there’s a huge horned monster terrifying people near an out-of-the-way shack…

How much the reader enjoys this probably depends on how much they can tolerate Fuyu, Kiyoka’s mother and a thoroughly unpleasant woman. Her verbal abuse towards Miyo is loathsome, and the novel’s resolution appears to be a combination of “I have seen that you can be useful so I will allow the marriage” and “I am a 50-year-old tsundere, the worst kind”. Miyo still has horrible self-hatred issues, which don’t help when Fuyu is belittling her (she simply agrees with everything Fuyu says), but she rapidly realizes that the reason Fuyu’s abuse actually hurts her is that she’s now experienced what it’s like to be loved. The joy of being accepted makes the pain of rejection harder to bear. That said, Miyo still tends to ignore her own emotional despair, something literally pointed out to her by Kiyoka… who, to be fair, does the same thing.

I can see people disliking this book, mostly as Fuyu does not really suffer any consequences for her abusive behavior. That said, it honestly felt like a lighter, softer volume? Which probably says more about the first two in the series than it does about this one. Still valiantly hoping for the title to be accurate one day.

The Holy Grail of Eris, Vol. 3

By Kujira Tokiwa and Yu-nagi. Released in Japan as “Eris no Seihai” by GA Novels. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Winifred Bird.

Boy howdy, this wrapped everything up just the way I wanted. OK, I admit, there was not enough Abigail, but I’ve come to terms with that. (And we also get Kimberly Smith, who is James Bond, as the author admits, and also wonderful.) And unfortunately the plot demanded that Connie essentially be stuck in a cell for the latter half of the book. But this actually turns out to be important as it allows us to see that a) everyone around her knows what a good and forthright person she is, and b) it allows Scarlett to have to take action on her own, rather than just stand behind Connie and snark (and occasionally possess her). And while we don’t get Abigail, we do get her daughter Lucia, who is made of 100% pure awesome and who I desperately want to see a sequel series about. She even has her own sidekick! Who is a foreign prince, sure, but let’s not sweat the details.

After discovering the truth of why Scarlett was executed ten years ago, Connie and Randolph go off to confront Scarlett’s father. That said, knowing this doesn’t actually CHANGE anything. Especially as Ulysses’ kidnapping is coming closer and closer to bringing nations to war. Not to mention that Princess Cecilia is still around. Oh yes, and Abigail’s daughter Lucia is also accidentally kidnapped, and added to the pile of children in danger. Connie is very good at running around, finding clues, and getting into trouble, which is what’s needed to find the real culprits… which is why the culprits decide to blame her for the kidnapping, lock her up, and execute her. Problem solved! Except that, unlike Scarlett ten years ago, everyone adores Connie…

By the way, if you are looking for a series with kickass women in it, this is a great choice. Even the villains kick ass, and get dramatic yet thematically appropriate death scenes. The throne war in the neighboring kingdom ends in a way that made me laugh, and also want to go back and read the second book again. The little ‘Character biographies’ that appear throughout the book, designed to read like otome game bios where they update as events happen, are laugh out loud hilarious. The climactic finale is heartwarming and heartbreaking. If there’s one flaw here it’s that I think the author and publisher wanted to leave room for a sequel, so we get a somewhat tacked on addition near the end, featuring the very first thorn in Connie’s side returning like Sadako. But I’ll forgive it, if only as it leads to what is essentially a polyamorous marriage. One man, one woman, and one ghost, as God intended.

The series ends here, but there is a fourth volume in Japan that has a sequel, with Connie and company going to the land of Scarlett’s late mother. However… it only came out in Japan digitally. I highly doubt that GA Novels would let Yen release a print book when Japan hasn’t, and I doubt Yen would license a digital-only 4th volume. So I suspect this is it. Oh well. Great finale, great series. Highly recommended for fans of thrillers.

Fox Tales

By Tomihiko Morimi. Released in Japan as “Kitsune no Hanashi” by Shincho Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Winifred Bird.

After getting a couple of books in the previous few years, this is definitely the year of Tomihiko Morimi in North America. The Tatami Galaxy, one of their most famous works, in finally getting a translation into English next month. Tower of the Sun, their debut work, came out in August (though I did not review it as I read the first 20 pages or so and decided that I hated the protagonist so much I wanted to burn the book). And now we have Fox Tales, a short story collection that came out the same year as The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl. But while that book was mostly whimsical fantasy with the occasional bout of melancholy, Fox Tales is straight up here to be scary and unnerving. It’s basically a yokai book, with four stories interconnected by a curio shop and also a mysterious fox/dragon creature that seems to act as a harbinger of bad things. The stories vary in quality, but the book is definitely worth a read.

In the first story, which is also the title story, a young man works part-time at a curio shop run by a middle-aged woman who falls under the dictionary definition of “mysterious”. Unfortunately, in an effort to protect her, the man gets involved with a nasty person who engages in trades, and has a way of making you REALLY want to make the trade. In the second story, our narrator falls in with a man who can’t stop telling stories of his past. The third story has a tutor of a high school boy run afoul of a mystery person who is going around beating people up, possibly due to something the family of his student did years ago. And in the final story, a young man (it’s always a different nameless young man, by the way) goes to his grandfather’s wake and ends up nearly drowning in family obligations and past sins.

One of the stories has a “twist” ending, but the twist is fairly easuy to figure out almost immediately, so I’d argue it’s not really meant to be a mystery. Mostly the stories set a mood, and succeed admirably. They have a lot of Morimi’s quirks, such as characters walking around back alleys, used bookstores, and how people actually feel buried in the things that they don’t quite say. It can also be scary – the first story is almost straight up horror, and the third story ends so abruptly I wondered if there were pages missing – it’s as if once we figure out the “why” there’s no reason to type any more. The final story was probably my favorite, digging deep into family history, the oppressiveness of funerals, and (as with all of these stories) the supernatural. The only story that didn’t work for me was the second one, which went for “melancholy” rather than “eerie” and didn’t seem to fit.

If you enjoy Morimi, this is a must buy. It’s also a good addition if you like spooky stuff.