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Book Review: Blue Morning, Vol 3 by Shoko Hidaka

Blue Morning, Vol 3     

Author: Shoko Hidaka

Publisher: SuBLime Publishing

American release date: November 12, 2013

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Manga/Yaoi/224 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

Akihito is beginning to take greater control of Kuze family matters, much to Katsuragi’s surprise. All letters in regard to bank business are to go straight to Akihito. Meanwhile, Akihiko is paying his court to the fifteen-year-old Chikako, of the Sajo family, and spends their time together playing games with her. He realizes the gap that exists between the Sajos and the Kuzes, and intends to call upon the —Moriyama, as well as the Ashizakis. Meanwhile former houseboy Amimaya is visiting with the retired housekeeper, Kiku. He reveals to her some of his thoughts regarding Katsuragi, but the older woman makes no direct comment.

Akihito requests that Ashizaki act as his agent in the matter of his proposed marriage, explaining his reasoning behind this decision, which Ashizaki concurs with and agrees to help. But that help will come with a steep price. Is Akihito willing to pay such a price? Afterward, Akihito goes to Katsuragi, and initial conflict becomes into their usual method of resolution—lovemaking. Later, Katsuragi thinks on the original plans he made when he was first put in charge of Akihito’s education, the revenge he intended to extract for promises made to him but never kept, for unforgivable behavior toward him.  Has something changed now?

Akihito is not pleased that Katsuragi no longer dines with him. He tells the two highest ranking servants that they will dine with him from now on, which makes them uncomfortable. When Katsuragi arrives, Akihito informs him that he will be joining them as well.

When Amimaya returns to visit Kiku, he learns she has returned to her hometown, to his dismay. Furthermore, she has left instructions for him to clean every corner of the storehouse. Furthermore, her instructions emphasize papers that he will find there, given to her by Lord Kuze. Is this significant? Amimaya grasps what he perceives to be the meaning behind Kiku’s actions and agrees to do as she has requested. Maybe his lifelong dreams will come true after all.

Akihito seeks Katsuragi’s opinion on household matters, and as they work together, the butler does something quite unexpected—he kisses Akihito. A thrilled Akihito responds in kind, kissing Katsuragi’s hand. But the moment is spoiled when Katsuragi demands Akihito release him, and he walks away, to Akihito’s dismay.

The next day, Katsuragi receives a request for him to go to the storehouse, where Amimaya has something to tell him. Meanwhile, at school, Ishizake searches for and finds a despondent Akihito, who is no mood to talk. Ishizaki can only imagine what has him so upset, what is usually the cause of his upset—Katsuragi. Ishizaki knows what is being asked of Akihito, and he asks can he actually go through with it, but Akihito doesn’t want to listen and asks, instead, what message Ishizaki has from Katsuragi’s brother.

Amimaya lets loose some rather nasty accusations at Katsuragi. Akihito goes to see Katsuragi’s brother, and learns the former houseboy has made accusations of his own. But the elder Katsuragi also warns Akihito not to trust Tomoyuki.

Back at the Kuze manor, Akihito and Katsuragi now dine alone, as the other servants have begged off, due to their discomfort. Alone, they can talk more freely concerning what Amimaya has alleged.  Will this new information tear them apart or drive them closer together? What is Akihito willing to do in order to stay by Katsuragi’s side and raise the Kuze house, as he has sworn to do?

In this volume of Blue Morning, we learn about Katsuragi’s parentage, and we also get a glimpse into the boy he was, and the expectations he was raised to have by Akihito’s father. There are still pieces of that puzzle that are missing, and if they include, as I suspect, Katsuragi’s sexual abuse by the older Kuze, that will explain much. At the same time, we see more of Katsuragi’s own feelings for Akihito, as his tightly wound façade beings to unfurl at Akihito’s continued tenderness and unswerving loyalty, something he has received from no one before and certainly did not expect from the target of his own ambitions. No wonder he’s becoming confused and uncertain, as he never saw this coming. Will he embrace his feelings for Akihito or deny them in order to proceed with his plan? I’m leaning toward the former, but I am also a hopeless romantic. I’ll be very disappointed if this series ends and these two are not together and very much in love. Guess I’ll have to wait and see.

As usual, the artwork is superb, the story excellent. Both men are very lovely to look upon, but especially Katsuragi. I’m looking forward to the next volume.

 

 

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Book Review: Ten Count, Vol 5 by Rihito Takarai

Ten Count, Vol 5     

Author: Rihito Takarai

Publisher: SuBLime Manga

American release date: August 8, 2017

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/mangaGLBT/162 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer:  Julie Lynn Hayes

 

Shirotani and Kurose are rescued from their elevator ordeal and emerge into falling rain. Cabs are scarce, so Kurose says he’ll walk, but Shirotani speaks up and offers to share a cab with him, which is a major step for him. Once inside the cab, Kurose prompts Shirotani to continue with what he began to say earlier, but Shirotani claims not to remember what that was, when the reality is he doesn’t feel comfortable bringing it up in that place. A disappointed Kurose has the driver pull over and gets out, since they are right by his apartment.  As he waits for the elevator, he’s surprised to hear his name and turns to find Shirotani there. Shirotani gives him an obviously fake story as to why he’s there before finally making what is a major admission for him, even if it’s phrased hypothetically. They go up to Kurose’s apartment and Shirotani requests that Kurose “make him dirty inside”.

As a child, Kurose’s parents were very busy, and he was left on his own most of the time. He strikes up an acquaintance with an older man named Nishigaki, and begins to hang out with him, even if the man claims Kurose is a pain. Kurose doesn’t understand Nishigaki’s idiosyncrasies, why he makes Kurose follow certain rules. Too late, he begins to understand what Nishigaki’s problem is. When Nishigaki disappears, Kurose blames himself. He studies all he can about germophobes, and makes a promise to himself to save the next Nishigaki.

Shirotani wakes the next morning in a strange bed. Kurose is already up and is very attentive to him, anticipating his every need. Shirotani tells Kurose he’s filled in number ten on his list and wants him to guess what it is, so then Kurose has to tell him why he is doing this. Kurose says he has feelings for Shirotani, but Shirotani knows there is more to the story than that, that it has to do with his being a germophobe. Will Kurose come clean with Shirotani?

The story is almost done, one more volume to go, and it’s so good as Shirotani and Kurose’s relationship grows stronger and stronger.  Now we know more about Kurose, and why he was initially drawn to Shirotani. It almost feels like closure for him with regard to Nishigaki. But he also says that Shirotani being a germophobe is not the only reason he is drawn to him, that he would love him anyway. Shirotani hasn’t told Kurose about his father, and what he witnessed that helped to make him the germophobe he is now. Hopefully he’ll do it in the next volume.  Ideally, I would love to see them move in together, and have an open and loving relationship. I think they can heal each other. I’m crossing my fingers for them.

Only one more to go, can’t wait!

Book Review: Bleach, Vol 1 by Tite Kubo

Bleach, Vol 1     

Author: Tite Kubo

Publisher: Viz Media

American release date: May 19, 2004

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Manga/Supernatural/200 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

Ichigo Kurosaki can see ghosts. This is something he’s lived with all his life, so dead people are a normal part of his existence. He’s sensitive to their sufferings. When punks break a floral offering for a young child, Ichigo shows them the error of their ways by beating it into them.  Ichigo lives with his father and two sisters, Karin and Yuzu, his mother having died some time ago. They run the Kurosaki Clinic. His father is strict, in that he demands the teen-aged Ichigo be home by 7, and he has a disconcerting habit of attacking his son without warning. It’s become something of a male ritual with them, each trying to get over on the other. The girls just roll their eyes and shakes their heads at them.

When a mysterious girl in black robes appears suddenly in Ichigo’s room, he is thrown for a loss. She is equally flabbergasted that not only can he see her, he was able to kick her. She explains to him that she is Rukia Kuchiki, and she is a Soul Reaper from the Soul Society. When Ichigo tries to have his dad remove the intruder, his father looks at him like he’s crazy. Apparently no one can see her but him, lending credence to her story. Rukia explains to Ichigo that there are two kinds of souls – the normal kind, whom she performs konso on so they can pass on to the Soul Society, and the hollows, who must be vaporized. Rukia is looking for a hollow now, in Ichigo’s house.

Ichigo realizes to his horror that his family is in danger, and they are being attacked by a Hollow. His guilt only grows when Rukia surmises the Hollow is looking for Ichigo because of his strong spirit pressure, unlike other humans. Ichigo is determined to fight for his family. Rukia only intends to lend Ichigo half of her power so he can combat this enemy, but to her dismay, he absorbs all of it, rendering her unable to use them.

The next day Ichigo is confused to find his family have no memory of the attack and believe a truck drove into their home, causing extensive damage. He goes to school, wondering what’s become of Rukia. Did she return to her Soul Society? To his surprise and dismay he finds her as a new student in his class. What’s up with that? He confronts her in private and asks why she didn’t return to where she belongs, only to learn that she can’t because he took all her powers. So until she can get them back, he has to perform soul reaper duties in her place!

Ichigo and Rukia run into Ichigo’s friend, Orihime, who is something of a space cadet and a klutz but a super sweet girl. Rukia notices a strange bruise on Orihime’s leg, which she laughingly attributes to clumsiness, but Rukia isn’t sure that’s really the case. That night, Ichigo’s sister questions him about some missing items, such as her pajamas and a dress, but he has no idea where they are, why should he? In his room, he hears a phone go off, which turns out to be Rukia’s, and she is sleeping in his closet? No time to argue, a Hollow is nearby and they must confront it! When they find the monster, Ichigo is appalled when he recognizes who it is!

I’ve been watching the anime for several months now but am just starting to read the manga. It’s every bit as good as the anime, and I love seeing the characters in print. One thing I didn’t realize from the anime is that Ichigo has a nickname, which is Strawberry. My daughter explained that it’s because his name translates to strawberry. Learn something new every day!

In this first volume, we are meeting people, such as Orihime and Chad, and of course Rukia. Her sensing Ichigo’s spirit pressure is what starts everything moving.  The Kurosaki family is great, I love their interactions. Dad is really something else. But everything is done with love, and it shows. Ichigo may have been reluctant to take on the duties of a soul reaper, but once he’s agreed to do it, he goes into it wholeheartedly, as it’s his nature to stand up for other people who might not be able to stand up for themselves. He’s a good boy, he is.  The only criticism I can make (and it’s not something unusual to Kubo alone, it’s most of the male manga artists) is the tendency to draw women with huge breasts. But what can you do? I guess their primary target audience are teen-aged males.

Great first volume, lots to go, looking forward to it!

 

Book Review: Blue Morning, Vol 1 by Shoko Hidaka

Blue Morning, Vol 1       

Author: Shoko Hidaka

Publisher: SuBLime Publishing

American release date: May 14, 2013

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Manga/Yaoi/192 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

Akihito Kuze inherits the title of viscount at the tender age of ten, on the death of his father. Because of his mother’s frail health, he has always lived with her, apart from his father, who allowed Akihito to stay with her so she wouldn’t be lonely. Having never lived in his father’s home, he’s in for something of a shock on his arrival at the large mansion which is now his and meets the man who is in charge of raising him—butler Tomoyuki Katsuragi. Before he died, Kuze’s father told him to listen to Katsuragi on all things. Akihito is surprised to discover how young the butler is—only eleven years separates their ages. A reception is held in honor of the new viscount, who feels very much out of place. He notices, to his surprise, that most of the people there are drawn to Katsuragi, and actually seek him out. What sort of a man is this butler? Confiding to Katsuragi that he has never learned Western manners, the butler covers for him by telling everyone he is ill and sending him to his room.

Katsuragi takes control of Kuze’s education, and Kuze finds him a stern taskmaster. One day he notices a carriage belonging to a wealthy family seems to come to the estate often, bearing Master Shigeyuki. Curious about his reason for being there, Kuze investigates, and witnesses a kiss between Shigeyuki and Katsuragi! He also overhears the other man trying to entice Katsuragi to send Kuze away and come to live in his house! Kuze is overheard and the meeting comes to an end, Shigeyuki taking his leave. Kuze tries to get Katsuragi to explain things to him, but a clear explanation is not forthcoming. He merely asserts his desire for Kuze to be as perfect as possible.

A few years pass. Now seventeen, Kuze is taking classes at a prestigious academy, but he has permission not to sleep in the dorm. Arriving home early one night he learns Katsuragi is with a visitor and not to be disturbed. Kuze disturbs him anyway, only to find him with a woman of the noble class. Katsuragi insists that everything he does is for the Kuze family, even this. He purposely opens the door to reveal the woman’s presence, thus ensuring her cooperation in future matters concerning the Kuze.

Kuze has always sought Katsuragi’s approbation, but there’s more to that now. He finds himself attracted to the man. And when Katsuragi implies that all he has to do is command him to go to Kuze’s room, he will obey. Does he mean what Katsuragi hopes he means?

This is my first time reading this author. I especially enjoy the artwork, it’s very well drawn, and Katsuragi is certainly easy on the eyes. There is so much more here than the average yaoi manga, wheels within wheels, and I find myself as confused as Akitio at times. I’m sure things will become clearer as we go along. Katsuragi is indeed an enigma. He entered the service of Kuze’s father when he was nine, and was told in no uncertain terms not to go to the Katsuragi house ever again, which he hasn’t. Akihito particularly doesn’t understand this, especially now that Katsuragi’s father is in failing health. He begins to ask questions, and even arranges a meeting with Katsuragi’s older brother, who is in banking.

Kiku has been the housekeeper for the Kuze household since before Akihito’s arrival, but she is older now and in ill health, so has left their service. She is the only servant left from the time of Katsurago’s arrival, the only one that knows about him. But what does she know?

Katsuragi drives Akihito crazy with his cold, inflexible exterior, and yet Akihito wants nothing more than to please him. What will it take to get through to the man? Ordering someone isn’t the same as having them want to do it. Will he be able to make Katsuragi want him the way he wants the butler?

I enjoyed this volume very much and look forward to reading more of the series.

 

Book Review: Ten Count, Vol 10 by Rihito Takarai

Ten Count, Vol 3       

Author: Rihito Takarai

Publisher: SuBLime Manga

American release date: February 14, 2017

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/manga/glbt/178 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

When Kurose takes Shirotani shopping for a new suit, he offers to take him by his apartment first so he can change out of Kurose’s clothes, which he is borrowing. Shirotani surprisingly refuses, citing the time that would be lost with the rituals he’d feel compelled to perform. This is a definite step forward for him. He does very well with the tailor, allowing him to take most of his measurements, which of course involves touching. An interesting situation arises when they take a break, and Shirotani finds himself unable to walk properly. Kurose takes him back to his apartment and helps him find relief. In the process, we learn that Shirotani is fearful that giving oral sex can lead to a bacterial infection. Where did he get this idea?

Shirotani has had as much as he can take and hurries home, unwittingly leaving a spare key with Kurose. The next day, he sleeps late and doesn’t have time to style his hair, leaving it more natural, which garners a compliment from Mikami. Feeling a little unwell, Shirotani leaves work early, in order not to exacerbate his condition. He goes to bed, feeling unable to do anything else, much less make dinner. A concerned Kurose, who hasn’t heard from him in a few days, calls. But when Shirotani suddenly stops speaking in the middle of their conversation, Kurose becomes very worried and bicycles to Shirotani’s apartment, even knowing the other man would be uncomfortable with someone else in his home. Using the spare key, he gain entry to the apartment.

Shirotani and Kurose go to an aquarium together, then arrange to watch a movie at Kurose’s apartment. Of course, one thing leads to another, and Kurose can’t help but touch Shirotani. And then he gives him an unexpected gift which holds a great deal of promise…

With each volume of Ten Count, I think we learn a little more about Shirotani. This time we witness a flashback to his childhood, and we see what he saw that was rather traumatizing and probably the beginning of his germophobia. On the other hand, we haven’t really seen what makes Kurose tick. I suspect there is more to him than meets the eye.

I think these two are really good together, and that they would make a great couple. Shirotani is already making great strides under Kurose’s tutelage. I think he has strong feelings for Kurose that he isn’t ready to express. He wants his touch and he enjoys his touch, but he has a hard time dealing with this knowledge because it also feels dirty to him. I think this all stems back to his boyhood trauma. I’m glad that Kurose established their relationship the way he did, as friends rather than therapist and patient. If it were the latter, he’d have been crossing a line, now they are equals.

Looking forward to the next volume!

Book Review: Ten Count, Vol 2 by Rihito Takarai

Ten Count, Vol 2           

Author: Rihito Takarai

Publisher: SuBLime Manga

American release date: November 8, 2016

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/manga/glbt/184 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

Shirotani is devastated after Kurose tells him they won’t be seeing each other any more. He curls up on his bed, and ceases to function, to the point where his boss and his co-worker/friend, Mikami, become concerned. He isn’t answering his phone. Mikami mentions to their boss that the only other friend he knows of is Kurose. The president gives him Kurose’s number and Mikami explains what is going on. Kurose texts as well, but receives no response. When Shirotani finally rouses himself, he realizes his phone battery is dead. After charging it, he discovers a number of messages, including one from Kurose telling him to meet him at the café on Saturday at 2 pm, and he’ll wait as long as it takes. But it’s already 7 pm! Surely Kurose isn’t still there? Shirotani can’t help but go to find out, expecting everything but what he sees—Kurose is there, waiting for him. Shirotani explodes at Kurose, in public no less, then rushes off, forgetting his train pass and his wallet in his hurry. Unable to do anything or go anywhere, he sits in the rain and despairs… until Kurose finds him.

 

Kurose envelops Shirotani in his warmth and explains why he thought he needed to put distance between them—because he realized he was falling in love with Shirotani, and he finds it harder and harder to resist the urge to touch him. They discuss the situation and Shirotani reveals that he wants to keep seeing Kurose.

 

Shirotani arrives at their next scheduled meeting only to discover Kurose not there. He receives a text from him explaining he had to cover for someone at the clinic, and he didn’t know when he can get away. So Shirotani goes to the clinic instead. Alone in the clinic, Kurose, as he has warned Shirotani, cannot resist touching him, kissing his hands… and more. Shirotani is both disgusted and turned on by what is being done to him. They finally decide to meet for the dinner that never was, although Shirotani, as usual, doesn’t eat, but does drink some champagne. Perhaps it’s the influence of the champagne that loosens his tongue when he admits that he’s been thinking all day about Kurose touching him. Kurose tells him to come with him, he wants to take him somewhere he can do even more unpleasant things to him.

 

There is so much going on this volume. It’s obvious that Shirotani is both attracted and repelled by Kurose. The chemistry between these two men is palpable. The one thing that bugs me about Kurose, though, is that as a trained therapist, he has made no attempt to get to the root of Shirotani’s problems. It’s obvious to me that Shirotani has been abused, and he’s never dealt with what happened, which has led to his disgust with and inability to be touched. So far, Kurose is just treating the symptoms, not the disease. I’m worried that at some point, something he does is going to trigger something in Shirotani that might make him worse.

 

I’m sure Kurose has his own backstory, and I look forward to knowing more about both of them. This is not your typical m/m romance, and yet it is very romantic and sexy. I especially appreciate the artwork, and that the graphic scenes have not been erased in any way, as is the case with most yaoi manga. Four more volumes to go, can’t wait!

 

If you like men who are real and not perfect, and real romance, this maybe the manga for you!

 

 

Book Review: Ten Count, Vol 1 by Rihito Takarai

Ten Count, Vol 1   

Author: Rihito Takarai

Publisher: SuBLime Manga

American release date: August 9, 2016

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/manga/glbt/178 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

Shirotani believes that the whole world is dirty and contaminated. Handling certain objects is difficult for him, at best. Even so, he considers his beliefs to be his problem and no one else’s. But perhaps it’s time to readjust his thinking when he finds himself the cause of his employer being injured in an accident. Through the accident, Shirotani meets Kurose, who makes some very astute observations regarding Shirotani’s idiosyncracies. How does Kurose know? Kurose suggests Shirotani see a counselor and gives him a card, which Shirotani surprisingly keeps.

Not sure why, Shirotani finds himself in front of the address on the card. As he’s standing there, Kurose rides up on his bicycle. It turns out he’s a counselor at the center. He’s glad to see Shirotani there. But when Shirotani attempts to bolt, Kurose suggests that perhaps the two of them can meet, outside of the center, so he can help Shirotani. They end up meeting at a restaurant where they discuss Shirotani’s problem and some of the limits of what he can and cannot do. Kurose has him make out a list of ten actions or activities Shirotani has an aversion to, with number one being the one with the least aversion and so on. Shirotani leaves the number ten spot open, and Kurose says he can fill it in later. By the time he completes everything on the list, Kurose declares, Shirotani will be cured! Kurose assures Shirotani he need never come to the clinic. When he asks about a consulting fee, Kurose says there will be none, as he’s doing it on his own time. When Shirotani asks why he would do that, he’s surprised at Kurose’s answer—he wants to be Shirotani’s friend!

And so they begin with the first item on Shirotani’s list—to touch a door knob bare-handed.

I think the premise for this yaoi series is very unique. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I like the way it handles Shirotani’s compulsions, never making light of them. Kurose is a thorough professional and very understanding. When Shirotani is late, Kurose usually knows why that is, what he’s gone through just to get there. But I think he also realizes he has feelings for Shirotani that he isn’t about to reveal or burden him with while they are in this current relationship of counselor and counselee. Of course I’m hoping that Shirotani and Kurose will become a couple, and I’m hoping that the tenth unrevealed item on Shirotani’s list is to be able to fall in love, and that he will do so with Kurose. Time will tell. There are five more volumes to go, looking forward to reading them.