Writing Echoes

Delijah's Writing Blog

Category Archives: Review

Transmedia StoryTelling course – Review

I’ve recently taken I’ve recently taken a Course called `Transmedia Storytelling’ through the platform FutureLearn and I’ve been thinking for a while that I wanted to write a review. The problem was that I was not sure what to say about the course. I mean. It was not bad, and it did follow what it said it would do in the introduction page. And yet… and yet it was lacking something, and I am not sure of what. I think – after quite a bit of wondering – that it lacked the practical approach, or the case studies, which were only mentioned in the last week, where ‘successful example of transmedia’ were mentioned.

The course, by Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) , provided quite a lot of information and definitions, but I’d say it was a bit locked – it barely spoke about anything that was not cinema-based, with some mentions of video games, and books only were brought up to speak about adaptations. And yes, while the Avengers have been a massive success, they haven’t been the first example of transmedia in the world. it surprised me that even if the course was taught by a South Korean institution there was no mention to the platform jump between cartoon – real life drama – films – comic – novels etc that part of the Asian creations seem to take quite easily.

The most interesting part was the differentiation between the idea of adapting a concept to different media and creating a world that can tell different stories in different media. This is an intriguing concept.

On the other hand, it focused a lot in the ‘consumer as creator’ angle, which I am not sure I understood. I am guessing it referred to videogames, especially building ones. There was a non-committal silence regarding fanfiction, too.

The course gave me the idea, however, that the creator was relegated to someone in second place, and I don’t really agree with that. Gee, I wonder why.

All in all, I took the whole course, although I won’t buy the certificate because it’s quite expensive… But it made me want to compose music for the story I’m working on… and I have discovered music is hard…

NaNoWriMo Sponsor Offer Review: Fastpencil Paperback Proofcopy

Everyone is entitled to mistakes, and in my opinion, FastPencil made one when they launched the NaNoWriMo 2015 Sponsorship. My initial idea had been reviewing it as “run you fools”, but I have decided that such a thing was not fair to them. While other times I have screencapped the process, I lost my patience with this, so, it did not happen this time.

fastpencil_offer15The offer (which at the time of speaking can be located at https://nanowrimo.fastpencil.com/nanowrimo2015) shown in the image promises a free proof copy and a 70% off in a distribution package for winners. Nothing that we haven’t seen before, but always nice to try a new service.

fastpencil_startYou sign up and you have two options, either using their web-based software or uploading your own pdf. For people who already have a preferred formatted style, like yours truly, the pdf option is the preferred one. Before uploading your file you have to:

  1. Create the project. Fair enough.
  2. Adding titles, descriptors, reviews and such
  3. Listing authors and contributors
  4. Choose a category for your book
  5. Add legal details

Of course, this is my own opinion here, but before spending time filling forms, I want to see whether you take my file or not, just in case what happened happens. And what happened? That FastPencil expects you to upload a pdf/x file, i.e., one created with Adobe Professional or the pdf export tool from Microsoft Word in Mac. Both are professional tools towards the higher end of the spectrum. Most NaNo Writers won’t be using either, as the tendency is among the amateur pool. And the professionals usually have their own distribution channels by the time they are so.

Hack: you can use the Adobe Professional trial, active for 30 days in order to go around this problem. It will work for one time, but okay. You can walk around the problem (for me, it meant reformatting the whole \LaTeX file in OpenOffice, export as pdf and convert to pdf/x in Adobe Pro). Not convinced by the result, I decided to try their manual formatting.

fastpencil_formattingImporting the rtf files screwed the formatting up, so I found myself having to work on the html front to adapt what I wanted to one of the default styles they have. This is not “friendly” nor easy for most people, FastPencil (I show you html though, because is how I worked. You could work with rich text too).

  • Item: out of the six offered styles, 4 are completely unprofessional, and look tremendously ugly. But that is personal opinion, you might disagree with me.
  • Item: You must have chapters. They won’t take a one-shot, and the chapters must be sequential. While they do have a “short story” style, for some reason this separates the title on one page and the story on the next.
  • Item: Dragging and rearranging “chapters” is a good idea, but the different types of “chapters” are not clear. What’s the difference between a “front matter” and a “back matter”? Why does something called “blank” allow you to insert code there, shows you results and just prints a blank page? If you let me insert code in the blanks, I will assume that you’ll allow me a no-number page that I can use as separator. I’ll obviously assume wrong.
  • Item: The preview takes me through the whole compilation project, and I have to download a file every time. This would not be so annoying if the process worked every time and not just 50% of the times. And I like seeing what I’m doing. Shame on me, that I need to check that everything is according to what I design.
  • Item: Erasing blocks will take me back to the project page so I have to start the process over again.

Finally! The project is “finished”. By now I’ve dropped two designs, my lovely \LaTeX-pdf, a short story, the kanji separators that I made for between-stories and my hope of getting a non-link-blue table of contents and spent about 7 hours (in different days) in the whole project since I started the FastPencil part.

Now it’s time to go through steps 2 – 5 that we did for the pdf, as this is a “new” project, render the pdf (and here apparently people other than me have been stuck for hours) and if you want a physical copy agree that it’s going to be $9.99, just because + an extra which will depend on how many pages you’ve got ($0.04 per page). This is for both “marketplace” and “private copy”. The “publishing package” is over $200, and you have to “commit to buy” now (you would be able to change your mind later, but yes…).

Then you make covers, you’ll have to upload your png of pdf according to the sizing, but the spine is automatic. Make sure you have a look before you choose your cover fonts, you don’t want them to clash too much (again, people have complained about long rendering times. I did not have that issue).

You check the preview, you approve it and you get to ordering (and yet again, people have been complaining about issues here). You introduce the code and the $9.99 + pages. In my case, 60 pages added up to $13.61, plus $1.50 handling, a grand total of $15.11. I type in the NaNoWriMo discount code and… $13.61 go away. The handling stays. “Free copy”? Nope. Not if I have to pay $1.50. But okay. I’ve gotten this far, I can spare $1.50. I click order.

Shipping charges: $85.53 from USA to Spain. Screw you, FastPencil.

fastpencil_85bucks

For the record, though, I did contact them and asked if there was a chance for a more reasonable shipping method, but as I started looking into the forums and Twitter, I saw that it was the tendency. Other charges I’ve come across: $40 to Canada, $144 to Sweden, $76 to the UK and my favourite:

Obviously, FastPencil did not think this through. They did not take into account international shipping at all. they did not realise that their target was not a pool of professionals. I am a bit savvy with computers, and it took forever to get everything to work. FastPencil claims that they offer “publishing made simple”. If that is simple, give me complex code, anytime.

No, I did not order the book. No, I’m not planning to. Hell, I only have three more words to say about FastPencil: “Run you fools”. And now you know the whole story why: Everyone is entitled to mistakes, and giving FastPencil a chance was mine.


 

fastpencil_deleteEdit: I thought that the review would end here, but no! There’s still more to it. As I was not going to use their service, and concerned with privacy, I decided to delete my content and my trial experiments from the site and their servers. I was able to erase the “project” but I was stuck with the “publication”. This means I was able to eliminate the editable part, but not the generated pdf.

Thus I took to support and found the page to the right (now updated after this Twitter exchange), printed and thumbnailed for convenience. After looking up and down for the “delete” button I contacted support and reached out via Twitter. Apparently, no, you can’t erase your own content on your own, which for me is a bit unsettling. Once I provided the url and title, the “project” does no longer show. However, this process makes me feel uneasy about the whole content management idea.

Of course, the easy version of this would have been to just edit the project blank, but I did not know at the time that I was going to be unable to delete the generated pdfs. Erasing content when the file was an uploaded pdf was easier, as the only thing I had to do was removing the upload.

Unlike the email regarding shipping, which I sent on January 27th, this was dealt with swiftly. I think it was more efficient as I sent a support request from the page, logged in, rather than an email. Maybe public mention on Twitter helped, I don’t know.

Long story short: Erasing your content is not completely in your hands. The updated page does not even mention the possibility of erasing a project yourself.

NaNoWriMo Sponsor Offer Review: Lulu.com Hardcover

The other day I talked about Blurb’s BookWright Program as one of NaNoWriMo reward system. Today I bring you the review of Lulu.com’s offer for every participant:

Stand out with a professionally printed FREE HARDCOVER book.

Lulu.com is so thrilled to support all of the Wrimos again this year! We’re the only self-publishing company in the world that allows you to create hardcover, softcover, and eBooks, and distribute them globally.

This year we are excited to be bringing back our FREE HARDCOVER offering. Once you have finished uploading your manuscript and formatting your book cover […] (you can enter the code) for your free First Edition Hardcover! Start your book today!

Participants will also be entered to win free eBook conversions. We will be drawing one lucky name each week for 12 weeks beginning December 1, 2014.

The post did not specify date, which was however locked in another one:

The fine print: This offer must be redeemed by February 28th, 2015, is good for a one-time use, and does not include the cost of shipping.

Then in the Lulu.com forums, the date was changed to December 31st, 2014. Repeated tries to contact them were not successful, so I rushed through the process in order to get it done on time, it was a surely interesting New Year’s Eve! Let me tell you, I am not happy how the company has not answered anyone – not me, not anyone else, as people continue asking questions about it today. I have not heard of anyone getting the free eBook conversion.

Keep in mind that since the whole thing was so rushed in the end that I did not take screencaps to the process, and the ones shared here are from a recreation.

Formatting process

Content: Lulu takes mainly PDF files, so that was easy for me as I have my \LaTeX PDF templates tailored to my liking and the offer’s requirements. Truth be told, Lulu has an enormous amount of options that are great to get for free.

LaTeX formatting ♥

LaTeX formatting ♥


 
Creating the project: After choosing that you want to make a print book, the first step is creating the title, filling up the fields and choosing the options. The professional hardcover includes a dust jacket, which tends to look really cool. Once the project is created, the system allows you to upload the PDF (it needs embedded fonts, if you are using a regular word processor, but I never had trouble with that). The PDF is processed and converted to a PDF-print ready file. During this process requirements such as margins, image resolution, and fonts are checked.
Start creating the project

Start creating the project

Title, author and distribution

Title, author and distribution

Book options

Book options

Uploading the PDF file

Uploading the PDF file


 
The cover Wizard: After the PDF is ready, you can move on to the Cover maker. The online cover maker allows you to choose a design – my usual is free-style. You know the cover and backcover sides, of course, and the smaller images have a label which tells you which size they need to be. The inner cover font is chosen for you, and has a limited character number. The dust jacket spine cannot be personalised further than font and colour, but the default fonts are neutral, so it is quite nice. The process is in general quite easy. I haven’t tried the advanced cover making though.

Cover Wizard Loading (Flash-based)

Cover Wizard Loading (Flash-based)

Inner spine options

Inner spine options

Cover Wizard, photograph-only layout

Cover Wizard, photograph-only layout

Handy Size Notes

Handy Size Notes

Uploading images

Uploading images

Add pictures by dragging them into the cover

Add pictures by dragging them into the cover


 

Ordering process

As soon as you finish the process, it appears ready for ordering. You can make it available to the Lulu marketplace, too. The code is applied on checkout, without any further fuss (Note: for the code to work, you need to be on Lulu.com, and not the local Lulu if it exits).

Finished project details

Finished project details

Book page

Book page

Shopping Cart

Shopping Cart


 

The hardcover

Good and sharp quality printing for the interior, and high quality paper. However, the dust jacket did not turn out too well this time (the Axis 95/11 one came out much better). However, I am not sure whether the problems with the folding are due to the book being too thin, matte printing, or just a different kind of paper or processing for it. I think the thickness issue was important.

The inner covers feel awesome though (^_^).

Front cover

Front cover

Inner content

Inner content

Inner cover and dustjacket lapels

Inner cover and dustjacket lapels


 

The TL;DR

Nice product, not too reliable company. I mean, as a sponsor who make an offer, they have every right to change the conditions of such offer. However, the way the whole date thing has been handled (read: not) would make it harsh for me to trust Lulu.com as a publishing company.

NaNoWriMo Sponsor Offer Review: Blurb’s BookWright Program, softcover and ebook

As part of the NaNo winning ‘prices’, some companies offer to print you one of your books for free (although you have to pay for shipping). This is totally clickbait, I know, but what the hell, I like it. This year I plan to review the process on the three companies that do it – CreateSpace, Lulu and Blurb.

The catch for Blurb’s offer is that you need to use their program, BookWright in order to get the following, as stated in the NaNoWriMo Winners’ page:

• One softcover copy of your novel in our 6×9 inch Trade format, up to 480 pages with Economy black and white printing (offer expires January 31, 2015). How do you do it? Just use Blurb BookWright™, our free layout software, to design your book. Try out our new novel templates to get a head start.
• Free conversion of your book from BookWright to a reflowable eBook for Apple® iPad® (EPUB3 format) or Amazon Kindle® (KF8 format).
• Entry into a draw where you could win free editorial services from a member of Blurb’s Dream Team network of publishing professionals.

Formatting process

I had been editing a couple of the short yakuza-centric stories with the idea of making a compilation of them, and this was my chance. The code was good until January 31st and I had two stories out of the four I wanted ready, and one halfway. Ready, for me, means proofread (at least by me, I do my best), formatted and converted into \LaTeX format.

Here comes my first surprise. BookWright does not take pdf, at all. It wants rtf formats. It wants me to format my document in a text processor and feed the formatted document to the program. The automatic index does not stay when I do the conversion, and neither can I do changing headers – those which are different for each chapter – I need to go with a static one, and aligning that is a nightmare so I give it up.

After fighting with the layout for ages – and discovering that the best way to “undo” is to close the program without saving your changes, I get a new surprise – there is no way to generate an index unless it is… the old way. Aka doing it by hand. Needless to say, I was less than impressed – I mean, even Microsoft Word can do your tables of content automatically, even if it blows sometimes. That should be something basic, imo. And by hand, I mean going to the page, writing it down, and making the dotted line and trying hard as hell to align it.

BookWright complained a lot about fonts, as apparently you need to license fonts for eBook creating? Not going to criticise that, although I was peeved at first at how much it complained about good ol’ Times New Roman. I decided to go with Arial in the end because it is always a safe option.

I finally managed to format everything, although it took a ridiculous amount of time. I had to make sure that all the chapters started on an odd page, make the index, and resize titles, things that my \LaTeX coding does for me, usually. I should have left a blank page before setting the title page, though, but I only realised that when I got the printed copy. We’ll get to that.

The next step was setting up the cover. I had the 6 x 9” cover in high resolution template, so that was no problem, and I managed to do both the back and front covers without trouble. The spine, however, gave me some trouble as I did not manage to find any indications on what size to measure. After a few educated guesses, I make the cover for the softcover book and the eBook (here I messed up a bit with proportions, my own fault).

BookWright has three main working focuses: covers, pages (main text) and background (where you set the layout, headers, page numbers, etc). Aside from the issues mentioned above, the program in general did not come through as too user-friendly for me, it was very slow and stopped responding at times. It would not adapt to my screen either. I did double-check that some of the things I wanted to do in the forums, and saw that they could not be done, but not all of them – it might be possible that you can do some of them and I just did not find the way.

Loading

Loading

Choosing / Creating the project

Choosing / Creating the project

Formatting the text (1)

Formatting the text (1)

Formatting the text (2)

Formatting the text (2)

Adding page numbers

Adding page numbers

Background and layout

Background and layout

Designing the softcover

Designing the softcover

 

Ordering process

The uploading and ordering is easy enough, as is the ordering and paying process, which is done through the web. You obviously need an account with Blurb, though. You upload from BookWright and the wizard takes you through the correct steps. The code was easy to use, and the shipping was reasonable. What amazed me was the price they had for you to download the extra pdf.

Choosing formats to updload

Choosing formats to updload

Upload process

Upload process

Order finalised

Ordering and paying

End of the ordering process

End of the ordering process

 

The eBook

Looks neat. The white thing on the cover is my fault, I did not realise that I needed to resize the cover a bit. Regarding the inside, the index is not linked, which is annoying. The header is added automatically, which is nice. The reflowing one/two pages works pretty cool too (shown on my Kindle for iPad).

eBook Cover

eBook Cover

eBook Index

eBook Index

eBook - one page

eBook – one page

eBook - Two pages

eBook – Two pages

 

The softcover

The outside covers are very, very cool, they are not too shiny even if you are – as I am – a matte fan. The inside printing is well-defined and clear, however I find the paper a bit too thin, a lot can be read from the backpage. The gluing feels extremely good. However, not convinced by how the book came out a bit wavy.

One image is worth a thousand words so:

Softcover front cover

Softcover front cover

Softcover inner pages

Softcover inner pages

Softcover titlepage

Softcover titlepage

Softcover: wavy side

Softcover: wavy side

 

The TL;DR

I would not recommend them as a launching program, too much hassle. I am not sure if their pro package is better as I have not tried it though. The InDesign plug might be a solution, but as I mentioned, I use \LaTeX and I am pretty happy with it, so BookWright is not my best option.

I’m doing the whole formatting again with a friend soon, so I’ll let you know if the second time feels better.
ETA: Nope. Still a mess.

Research book review: DEADLY DOSES: A writer’s guide to poisons

deadlydosesTitle: DEADLY DOSES: A writer’s guide to poisons (The Howdunit Series)
Author: Serita Deborah Stevens with Anne Klarner
Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books
Pages: 298
Year: 1990
ISBN: 0-89879-371-8

Contents:

  • Chapter one: A short history of the dreaded art
  • Chapter two: The classic poisons: arsenic, cyanide and strychnine
  • Chapter three: Household poisons
  • Chapter four: Poisonous plants
  • Chapter five: fragile fungi
  • Chapter six: Snakes, spiders and other living things
  • Chapter seven: medical poisons
  • Chapter eight: pesticides
  • Chapter nine: Industrial poisons
  • Chapter ten: Street drugs
  • Chapter eleven: create your own poison
  • Appendix A: Poisons by methods of administration
  • Appendix B: Poisons by form
  • Appendix C: Poisons by symptoms they cause
  • Appendix D: Poisons by the time in which they react
  • Appendix E: Poisons by toxicity rating
  • Glossary
  • Bibliography
  • Index

I’ve had this book for a few years, and I think I left the review for ‘when I had read it’ because I never got around to doing it. This book is a very useful resource for me, but it is not a book ‘for reading’. It is built as a ‘think of [symptom], [method of administration], [time], etc… and look for the right poison. It is fun, I had completely forgotten that I had not reviewed it until I recommended it to someone else. Funnily enough, I was planning on using a poison in Secrets, and now when I reached the scene related to it, I just grabbed the book and decided to just write the review.

As I said, it is not a’ readable’ book, since it is a compilation of poison information. Each substance has a header with the mainstream name, followed by a small introduction. Then a few epigraphs: name, level of toxicity, form, effects and symptoms, reaction time, antidotes and treatments and notes. For living things other data, like location or deadly parts are added. The appendixes make search very convenient and even for the Age of the Internet it is a very powerful research tool.

This book is recommended for anyone who wants to poison characters. It promises to cut the research time in half and does not exaggerate.

Research Book Review: Shinto: The Kami Way

Title: Shinto: The Kami Way
Author: Sokyo Ono
Publisher: Charles E. Tuttle Company
Pages: 116
Year: 1962
ISBN: 0-8048-0525-3

Contents

  1. The Kami Way: Introduction, mythology, Kami, Scriptures, Types of Shinto, Organisation
  2. Shrines: Shrines and Shrine Paraphernalia , Precincts, Architecture, Priests and Shrine Functionaries, Parishes and Parishioners
  3. Worship and festivals: Worship, Four elements of worrship, Worship in the home, Shrine Worship, Festivals
  4. Political and Social characteristics: Government Policy, the Arts, Economic Life, Relation with other Religions, Everyday Customs
  5. Some spiritual characteristics: Transmission of the Faith, Shrines and nature; World, Man, Salvation and Death, Universality of Shinto

 

I stumbled upon this book quite on accident, and it was not what I was expecting, then again, I am not sure what I was expecting anyway. For the first four chapters of the book Dr. Ono sounds like an anthropologist, describing aseptically, maybe even a bit sarcastically the beliefs of Shinto, while on the last part, he sounds like a fanboy. Neither of them seems very appropriate as he belongs to the Association of Shinto Shrines.

The conclusion one draws from the book is “I was supposed to explain Shinto but as nobody can understand Shinto, I’m going to skip that and describe what you can see of it.” At some points the book is a bit contradictory, classifying Shinto first as a religion, then not, then yes again. Towards the end, Dr. Ono states that Westerners can’t understand Shinto anyway, but it is a universal faith.

Now, I understand that this book was written in the 60s by someone whose first language was not English, so some expressions may be a bit phased out, but I did find some typos that made me chuckle. While interesting, it is a bit of a slow read, that touches many topics but does not delve into any.

All in all, it’s not a must-read, but a nice-to-have-read if you’re a little bit of a geek, I guess.

Research book review: Criminal Psychology

Title: Criminal Psychology
Collection: Topics in applied Psychology
Author: David Canter (Editor)
Publisher: Hooter Education
Pages: 304
Year: 2008
ISBN: 978-0-340-92892-9

I bought this book out of sheer geekiness and although I won’t say it was a mistake, I probably overestimated myself. The book is an actual manual thought for university students, and unfortunately it rounds up a little dull. Okay, more than a little.

The book contents as described in the index are:

  • The basis of criminality
    • Psychology and the criminal process
    • Individualistic explanations of crime
    • Social explanations of crime
    • Mental disorder and crime
  • Varieties of crime
    • Burglary
    • Domestic Violence
    • Rape
    • Homicide and serial killing
    • Criminal groups and networks
  • Dealing with crime
    • Interviewing and testimony
    • Detecting deception
    • Psychology and investigations
  • Areas of application
    • Police psychology
    • Psychology in court
    • Psychology in prison
    • Concerning victims
    • The future of psychology and crime

 
Each chapter is dealt by a personal author, and that’s why many concepts end up being defined more than twice – and sometimes under different lights. The book falls in one of the science publication traps, too: over-referencing oneself, or at least the editor of the book. Even if Mr. Canter is an obvious expert in the topic of criminal psychology, it is clear that his school of thought is not the only one – considering other books on the topics and different approaches.

It sheds an interesting light on the whole criminal process, and I read it (although I own up: I skipped the domestic violence chapter) with interest, but it is not an easy book. It is quite dry, and it does give that ‘study’ feeling that takes away the pleasure of reading sometimes.

I found few examples to draw from, which made it tough. However, I rarely encountered undefined technical terms or jargon, which eased the reading along. A chapter on cybercrime and not just a passing reference would have been great, too.

As it is a UK book, there was little reference to the mafia in general and the yakuza in particular, focussing on gangs. I also missed non-violent crimes and a clearer distinction between what the authors consider “crime” and what just “illegal”. Sometimes it gives the impression that the only focus provided is the one that agrees with the general theories defended by Canter.

The best of the book? How to defeat a polygraph: “The polygraph can be beaten by intentionally eliciting stronger responses on the control questions than on the relevant question. The way to do this is by changing your blood pressure and heart rate by doing maths in your head, thinking of something frightening or squeezing your buttocks during the control questions” (Canter et al., 2008). The worst: Not a friendly and easy read.

In conclusion: While it is a very interesting topic, this is not good good writing-research material unless you are really familiar with textbook-writing style. In the end, it becomes dull and takes long to read, although some of the authors are easier to read than others. Finally, it focuses only in one perspective of criminal psychology, which may or may be not ‘on spot’ as it is very difficult to make science with human behaviour.


On a non-related note: Happy Birthday, Akira!.

Research Book Review: Butterflies of the Night

Title: BUTTERFILES OF THE NIGHT – Mama-sans, Geisha, Strippers and the Japanese Men They Serve
Author: Lisa Louis
Publisher: Tengu Books
Pages: 214
ISBN: 0-8348-0249-X

Contents:

  1. Job Hunting in the Water Trade
  2. A High-Class Affair
  3. The Geisha World
  4. A Special Kind of Sleaze
  5. Customers
  6. Outsiders: Token Whites
  7. Women at a Discount: Japayuki-san
  8. The gangster element
  9. Mizu Shobai, Past and Future

Butterflies of the Night deals with the issue of night entertainment in Japan, mainly hostesses (club-based companions that mostly chat, flirt, and pour drinks), mama-san (female club managers), prostitutes (funnily enough not in the title, is a “bad” word I guess) and geisha. It dedicates a few pages to the customer angle, but not enough to warrant the presence in the title, I’d say. The woman-based entertainment for men is called “water trade” (mizu shobai) in Japan, and there are many theories of why – it is not important for this post, anyway.

I have mixed feelings about the book. While I found it quite interesting, it took me ages to read, and it did not give me as much new information as I was hoping for. The style is plain, and the formatting is lacking at times, which I think put me off reading somehow. Regarding the “lack of information”, I need to note down that the book was written in 1992, probably being one of the first resources on the topic.

I am not sure whether this is a pro or a con, but it has to be said that the book is completely subjective – it is built from the author’s personal experience and an extensive interviewing job. This makes it interesting as it is a first-hand source of information. Unfortunately, it made me miss some hardcore objective data – which however would be terribly outdated anyway after 20 years. An interviewed Yakuza estimates that the gangsters have hold on about 20% tops of the sex trade in Japan, while recently the Polaris Project has been giving much higher numbers. I can’t tell whether that is subjectivity or twenty years of evolution.

In the Internet era, the book is not a must have, as most of the information it provides can be found online (see an example here), as well as sprinkled in other resources such as Tokyo Vice or Yakuza , both much more up-to-date. While it is a good topic-focussed book built on first-hand impressions that gives a glimpse into the softer side of the mizu shobai‘s world, it lacks an exhaustive study of the hardcore sex-trafficking and slavery that goes is part of the prostitution rings. Quite obviously, I doubt sex traders would sit down for a cozy interview.

Summing up: not a bad book on first hand softcore experiences, with a few interesting anecdotes. A nice add to an specialized library, but not indispensable.

Research Book Review: Yakuza Moon

Title: YAKUZA MOON – Memoirs of a gangster’s daughter (普及版 英文版 ヤクザ な 月)
Author: Shoko Tendo
Publisher: Kodansha International
Translation: Louise Heal
Pages: 197
ISBN: 978-4-7700-3042-9

Although this was one of the first yakuza books I bought, a couple of years ago already, I had not get around to reading it until now. I blame it on my zero capacity to sympathise with women, and Yakuza Moon is above everything the autobiography of a woman. The gangster’s daughter factor is secondary sometimes.

In her book, Tendo tells how she went from bullied kid to juvie delinquent and speed addict, how she kept falling in love with the wrong kind of men and paying high prices for every bad decision she made. Her father was a yakuza who fell into debt and went bankrupt, which of course caused one hell of trouble for her family. She accepted to be a salaryman’s mistress and a yakuza debt-collector’s lover, her sister fell in love with a gambling addict, her brother’s marriage was ruined because of the family connections.

It is interesting how at some point in the book she makes the connection “I was looking for my father in every man I dated”. From the insider’s point of view the reader travels through the sordid world of Japanese affection and consideration for women – at least four times she is offered to become a “kept woman”, some of them she accepted, some other times she refused. Tendo also describes how she got her full-body yakuza-like tattoo, and what it means for her – discovering her very own power and personality.

The book is not grand – and I for sure don’t share many of Tendo’s points of view -, but I think it has a tremendous human load. The narrative is direct, naked, and relates the ugly reality the way the author felt it – raw pain, self-denial… It is a chilly book at times, dealing with human nature first and yakuza nature second, but a good view of the dark hostess, criminal subculture and gender discrimination in Japan, from an insider’s point of view.

Book Review: The Ladykiller by Martina Cole

Title: The Ladykiller
Author: Martina Cole
ISBM: 978-84-206-5304-4 (0 7472 4085 X)
Summary: George Markham has a nasty little hobby, one that erupts into an orgy of viscous sexual depravity. Patrick Kelly is a hard man. His one soft spot is his daughter, and when she falls victim to the Grantley Ripper, Kelly wants revenge. The DI in charge of the case is Kate Burrows. She feels for Kelly but her growing involvement with a known villain is putting her career at risk… As the forces of law and order and London’s underworld converge in a huge manhunt, Kate fears she’ll lose everything she’s ever cared about… to the ladykiller. [From Martina Cole’s Webpage]

I’ll try to set aside that this book’s translation into Spanish is one of the worst I’ve ever read – and I have had my shares of bad translations – but I can’t get books in English from my family’s bookshelves and I wanted a thriller or two to read these days (it was disgracing, btw). I was done with The ladykiller in two days, but just because I read fast.

I think this is what they now call a ‘sexual thriller’. The murderer is a lust-triggered sadist rapist and murderer who in page 5 is 100% submitted to his wife and in page 50 is raping a waitress and smashing her brain in. Stylish… not. I read on Amazon that the author ‘does not fall in cheap gore’. Yeah, not. Descriptions of bloating and decomposing flesh cover the pages of the book. Fine, it is not running blood, but I read already once that ‘her open skull let him see her brain, and it was glued to the floor by the dried blood’. I don’t need that description for every damn body found.

The main character is supposed to be a female detective with a strong personality. Okay, note taken. I shall try to remember, because if that was the goal… mission was not accomplished. The only well drawn character is, unfortunately, the killer – you know the type: sadist, likes porn, especially BDSM, is into snuff… a bunch of clichés one after the other. Then there is the reported main male character who… okay, let’s say your daughter was brutally attacked and raped on Christmas Eve and died on Christmas morning. Would you be fucking the main detective by New Year’s Eve? This guy does.

Mrs. Cole did not do a lot of her research, either. A full DNA profile completed and compared in two hours in 1990??? No. I mean… no. Never mind a few glaring continuity errors, mostly relating to the detective’s daughter – it seems that the subplot around her was introduced later into the idea, and it never completely… managed to be fit in. The ex-husband is a completely expendable character and it seems that half of the area’s police exists just so detective Burrows can reinforce her opinion on all men being pigs.

Speaking of her… you’ve been divorced for over 10 years, change your bloody name, you idiot!! And strong, independent woman is not the same as cold woman who just melts when a guy touches her in the right places. ‘He pushed her little button’? Really? What’s this, a 14-year-olds’ fanfic forum? Urgh.

Bad thriller, bad ending, horrible last page wrap-up. I can’t speak how it works as a romance novel, but I wanted to shoot them both. Repeatedly. I hate the twist of pity about the psycho killer, as if the explanation should tell me that it was not his fault – and it’s not sympathy, you don’t feel pity for him. You are told that you should.

An example of what not to do, I’d say.