Saturday, February 18, 2017

REVIEW: City of Strife (e-book) by Claudie Arseneault

City of Strife is fantasy. I read an ARC copy, which probably differs from the final book.

Review:

City of Strife is set in the bustling city of Isandor and stars a huge cast of characters, each with intersecting storylines, histories, and paths. A few examples:
  • Arathiel, a human whose ill-fated journey to find a cure for his sick sister transformed him, dulling all his senses and giving him a much longer lifespan. It’s been over 130 years since he last set foot in Isandor, and he now feels like an unwelcome stranger there. The one place he feels comfortable: the Shelter, which provides food and a place to sleep to anyone who needs it. It’s there that he becomes friends with Larryn, the Shelter’s owner, Cal, a halfling, and Hasryan, a dark elf.
  • Nevian, an apprentice mage in the Myrian enclave. He lives in constant fear of Master Avenazar, who killed his previous tutor and now regularly abuses him. Nevian’s only ally is Varden, a High Priest of Keroth and former Myrian slave. Unfortunately, Varden, too, must tread carefully around Avenazar.
  • Lord Diel Dathirii, an elf and head of the Dathirii family. When he witnesses Avenazar publicly torturing Nevian, he decides that it’s time to finally take a stand against the Myrians, who have thus far been permitted to live by their own laws while in their enclave in Isandor. The rest of his family will stand by his decisions and support him, but that may not be enough if Isandor’s other noble families decide to abandon House Dathirii to face the Myrians alone.
City of Strife is one of the very few (perhaps only?) ARCs I’ve ever requested from an author. I was interested in the book’s LGBTQIA+ cast and “found family” aspect, and the author had a nice online form that, if I remember correctly, only asked for interested reviewers’ email addresses (easy! low stress! didn’t require NetGalley or a Twitter DM!). The long book description concerned me a little and made it difficult to tell what the book would be like, but I figured I’d give it a shot.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

REVIEW: Haikyu!! Collection 1 (anime TV series)

Haikyu!! is a sports anime that focuses on high school volleyball. It's licensed by Sentai Filmworks.

This review includes slight spoilers.

Review:

Hinata becomes obsessed with volleyball after seeing a short player, the “Little Giant,” score in a National Championship on TV. He practices as much as possible but has to do most of it on his own or with the girls’ volleyball team. He barely manages to get a team together before his very first match, so it’s no surprise to anyone but him when his team is thoroughly defeated. However, his athleticism and determination to win do at least make an impression on Kageyama, one of the opposing team’s players.

Hinata spends the rest of his time in junior high training, looking forward to the day he can join Karasuno High’s volleyball team, the same one the Little Giant used to play on. What he didn’t expect was that his greatest enemy, Kageyama, would also be joining the team. Even worse, neither of them will be allowed to join if they can’t learn to work together.

REVIEW: Otters in Space (e-book) by Mary E. Lowd

Otters in Space is a self-published sci-fi novel. It's 60,130 words long.

Review:

This is set sometime in the future. Humans have long since abandoned Earth. The dogs and cats they left behind eventually attained sentience and built their own societies in and around humanity’s ruins. They have jobs, government, cars, phones - basically, their lives look a lot like ours today.

Unfortunately for cats, this is largely a dog’s world. Cats are considered second-class citizens and have to struggle to get decent-paying jobs. Kipper, the book’s main character, doesn’t really expect that things will ever get better, but she tries to support her sister Petra’s political aspirations anyway. Then Kipper and Petra learn about a possible secret cat utopia in Ecuador, which they dub “Cat Havana” (never mind that Havana isn’t in Ecuador). After Petra suddenly disappears, apparently to go see Cat Havana for herself, Kipper decides to join her.

Monday, January 30, 2017

REVIEW: The Galloway Road (e-novella) by Catherine Adams

The Galloway Road is a fantasy story published by Less Than Three Press. It's only 19,000 words long.

Review: 

Renna is a young mage on her way to her first job. Her traveling companions include a pair of musicians specifically requested by Renna’s new employer, plus Brett, the mercenary hired to protect them all. Brett is closed mouthed about himself and his past, and Renna has secrets of her own. However, none of that may matter if they can't manage to survive the Galloway Road’s deadly horrors.

This story takes place over the course of 11 days and mostly features the group traveling from one inn to another. The beginning was boring, dull, and a little confusing, although the Galloway Road’s creepy atmosphere eventually grew on me, as did Renna and Brett (sort of). A word of warning: some of the descriptions are gruesome. The Galloway Road is called that because it's lined with gallows and gibbets. Sometimes the people Renna, Brett, and the musicians pass are dead, and sometimes they're not. Honestly, if I had been Renna or the musicians, Galloway Road alone would have had me questioning the wisdom of agreeing to work for Lord Galloway.

REVIEW: Big Windup! 2 (anime TV series)

Big Windup! 2 is the second season of Big Windup!, a baseball anime. Although the first season was licensed by Funimation, it apparently didn’t sell well enough for them to license the second season. Instead, Right Stuf licensed the second season and released it only a couple months ago.

Review:

This second season picks up right where the first one left off - the game between Tosei and Nishiura ended only a few hours prior. Nishiura plays against Sakitama in the first half of the season, and against Bijou in the second half. There are also a few prominent themes and storylines: Bijou’s assistant coach, an ex-Tosei player who wants to win so badly that he encourages a Bijou player to cheat and to injure other players; Abe and his efforts to properly communicate with Mihashi; and Mihashi’s blind obedience to Abe.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

REVIEW: Justice, My Foot (live action movie)

Justice, My Foot is a Hong Kong action-comedy movie.

Review:

Sung Sai Kit is the best lawyer around, willing to take any case (as long as he’s offered plenty of money) and say anything he has to in order to win. His wife, Madam Sung, appreciates all the finery that Sung is able to buy for her, but she also superstitiously believes that Sung’s work is the reason why 12 of their 13 children have died. When their 13th child dies right after Sung’s most recent court win, Madam Sung decides she’s had enough - Sung will retire, even if she has to push him every step of the way. She even goes so far as to curse the child she’s carrying. If Sung breaks his promise and goes back to being a lawyer, then their son will be born without a penis. (They just assume it’ll be a son, since all 13 of their other children were.)

However, it’s Madam Sung herself who eventually convinces Sung to go back to work. She meets a pregnant woman whose husband died under suspicious circumstances, and she argues on the woman’s behalf after the woman gives birth and then tries to kill herself. Sung takes the job on, but the corruption he finds himself up against may be more than even he can handle.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

REVIEW: Big Windup! (anime TV series)

I’ve already reviewed Big Windup! twice, but I figured a third time wouldn’t hurt.

Anyway, I’ve watched this twice in the past month. The first time was intended to be a refresher before watching Big Windup! 2, while the second time was a bit of presidential inauguration self-care.

This first season of Big Windup! introduces viewers to the Nishiura High School baseball team. The team barely has enough members, and they’re all freshmen. Mihashi, in particular, stands out. He says he doesn’t want to be on the team, but it’s obvious he desperately wants to be a pitcher. He pitched all throughout middle school, and his experience on that team was so bad that it emotionally scarred him. He’s now convinced that he’s a terrible pitcher and that no one could possibly want him on a team. However, Abe, the catcher, recognizes his determination and skill and wants him to stay on the team.

The first half of the season shows the whole team training and learning to work together, after which they play against Mihoshi, the team Mihashi would have been on if he hadn’t purposely transferred to another high school. In the second half of the season, Nishiura plays against Tousei, the winner of last year’s National Koshien Tournament.

REVIEW: Mayday: A Kaiju Thriller (e-book) by Chris Strange

Mayday: A Kaiju Thriller is a sci-fi thriller with a bit of a hardboiled detective story mixed in. It's self-published and 83,930 words long.

Review:

About 19 years ago, enormous monsters that were later dubbed “Maydays” appeared all over the world. Over the course of 9 years, they killed 1.1 billion people. Nothing anyone did seemed to have any effect on the Maydays, until Professor Nikolai Volkov unleashed his newly invented mind control technology. Humans still couldn’t harm Maydays, but now they could at least control them. Volkov decided to combine entertainment and punishment and created Volkov Entertainment Incorporated, a company specializing in broadcasting “Mayday vs. Mayday” battles.

The company has been doing pretty well for the past 10 years. Then something shocking and supposedly impossible happens: Yllia, one of the Maydays, dies. Jay Escobar, head of Volkov Entertainment’s Investigative Division, declares that Yllia was murdered. But who could murder a Mayday? Nukes couldn’t put a scratch on them, and even other Maydays are only able to do a little damage.

REVIEW: Tales from Outer Lands (e-book) by Shira Glassman

Tales from Outer Lands is fantasy.

Review:

My edition of Tales from Outer Lands was published by Torquere Press. The author has since rereleased it as part of Tales from Perach.

This collection contains two stories, which I’ll write about separately.

“Rivka in Port Saltspray”

This takes place a year and a half after Rivka left her home, so I think it’s maybe a year and a half prior to the events in The Second Mango. Rivka is stuck in Port Saltspray with no way to get her dragon-horse to Zembluss, where she’d been hoping to fight in a civil war and earn a much-needed paycheck. A man named Waterweed seems to be the answer to her problems: he wants to hire her to fight in a competition for him. The prize, he says, is his beloved’s hand in marriage - because he’s missing an arm, he’d never stand a chance on his own.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

REVIEW: The Second Mango (e-book) by Shira Glassman

The Second Mango is fantasy containing both f/f and m/f romance. It's very short - I don't know the word count, but it came out to 140 pages on my Nook Simple Touch.

Review:

The Second Mango is the first book in Glassman’s Mangoverse series. I’m reviewing the Torquere edition. The author has since gotten the rights back from that publisher and rereleased it, and I don’t know if the two editions differ in any way.

The Second Mango stars Shulamit, the new queen of Perach, and Rivka, a female warrior for hire who travels disguised as a man. Shulamit’s father died two months prior to the start of the story, and since then she has both been trying to deal with her grief and find herself a lover - a difficult task, since she’s a lesbian and the only other lesbian she’d ever met was Aviva, who’d been her first and only lover and who had left her without explanation. Rivka agrees to help Shulamit find a woman who might love her and who she might love in return. Their journey brings them to a temple filled with nuns who have been turned to stone by an evil sorcerer. Rivka and Shulamit are the only hope the nuns have of breaking free of their curse.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

REVIEW: Servant x Service (manga, vol. 1) by Karino Takatsu, translated by Amanda Haley

Servant x Service is a four-panel comedy comic strip series licensed by Yen Press.

Review:

I know it seems like I’m on some kind of four-panel comic strip series kick, but it’s mostly by accident. I’m trying to get through more of my manga collection, and they looked like the quickest reads and the volumes most likely to help me free up some shelf space. Unfortunately for my shelf space situation, this actually turned out to be pretty good.

Servant x Service is primarily set in a public service office building in Japan. The cast includes several newly hired employees in the Health & Welfare Department: Yutaka Hasebe, a carefree and lazy guy who is also somehow brilliant at everything he does; Lucy (etc.) Yamagami, a woman who became a civil servant in order to find the civil servant who approved her amazingly long name and give him a piece of her mind; and Saya Miyoshi, a woman who can never get her paperwork done because elderly people love talking to her and she doesn’t know how to gently disengage. They are overseen by Taishi Ichimiya, who hasn’t been around that much longer than them. The cast is later joined by: Megumi Chihaya, a temp who cosplays in her free time; Touko, a teenaged civil service geek; and an adorable stuffed bunny.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

REVIEW: The Ancient Magus' Bride (manga, vol. 1) by Kore Yamazaki, translated by Adrienne Beck

The Ancient Magus' Bride is a fantasy series. It's licensed by Seven Seas.

Review:

This starts with the heroine, Chise Hatori, being sold in an auction. Her new owner is Elias Ainsworth, a mage with some kind of animal skull (bull?) for a head. Elias tells Chise that she’s to be his new apprentice. He removes her chains and even gives her her own room. It’s hard to believe that all of this doesn’t come with strings attached - and then Elias tells Chise that he also plans to make her his bride.

You’d think that’d be the start of something awful and creepy, except Elias doesn’t actually do anything. He takes Chise to town, where she meets Angelica Purley, an artificer and one of the world’s last witches. Chise also meets other acquaintances of Elias, including Simon Cullum, a priest, and Lindel, caretaker of dragons, and learns more about what Elias meant when he called her a “sleigh beggy.”

Saturday, January 7, 2017

REVIEW: Rocket Raccoon, Vol. 1: A Chasing Tale (graphic novel) written by Skottie Young, art by Skottie Young and Jake Parker

I picked this up during the "going out of business" sale at Hastings.

Review:

Note: Everything I know about Rocket and Groot I learned from the Guardians of the Galaxy movie. I've had no other exposure to these characters.

There are three stories in this volume. I’ll write about each separately.

The first one begins with a flashback to a time, three years prior to the story’s present, when Rocket saved Princess Amalya. Fast forward to the present, and Rocket is taking his latest date to a wrestling match starring Groot and some giant green thing. The date gets cut short when Rocket is arrested for murders he doesn’t recall committing but that were definitely done by someone resembling him. The thing is, as far as Rocket knows he’s the last of his kind.

This story was a bit messy, with lots of characters and a few different story threads, but it was also fun. There was the mystery of the identity of the murderer, Rocket’s fragile hope that he might not be the last of his kind after all, and the vast murderous horde composed of Rocket’s ex-girlfriends (I felt kind of iffy about how that aspect turned out). I liked the weird organic getaway vehicle.

In the second story, Rocket and Groot are with what appears to be a Space Boy Scout Troop for some reason. The kids want Rocket to tell them another story, and Groot suggests “the one with the map.” Rocket refuses and says Groot should tell it instead, so Groot does.

This one was kind of weird, what with everything Groot saying sounding like “I am Groot.” Still, like the first one it was fun - lots of action scenes, shooting, a Deadpool cameo, a sword fight, and a ship guided by (?) a severed eyeball. The ending was cute, and I could see why Rocket didn’t particularly want to tell the story. Ha! And the little leaf-headed scout was adorable.

In the third story, a telepathic dog being named Cosmo calls in a favor and asks Rocket to help an ex-battle mech rescue its ex-battle mech comrades before they can be reprogrammed and forced to act as weapons again.

This one was both cute and oddly sweet. I liked the robots.

Now for the volume as a whole: It was okay. It didn’t leave me clamoring for more, but I’d read another volume if I had one on hand. The art style wasn’t really to my taste, although it had a lot of energy and fit the stories well.

Extras:
  •  Four pages of variant covers, 10 covers in all.

REVIEW: Standoff (book) by Lauren Dane

Standoff is paranormal erotic romance, the fifth book in Dane's Cascadia Wolves series.

Review:

Cade Warden is the Alpha of the Cascadia Pack. Feeling what it’s like to have a mate secondhand through his anchor bond to Nina, his brother Lex’s mate, is no longer enough for him. He’s lonely and wants a mate of his own, but it’s still a surprise, to say the least, when she turns out to be Grace Pellini, the sister of his biggest enemy.

Grace hasn’t had a real home and Pack for years. Even now, she's only gotten closer to her brother again in order to spy on him and analyze the dangerous virus he’s been testing out on random humans and werewolves. Although she hasn't yet managed to create a vaccine, she finally has enough info to help the National Aligned Packs in their war against her brother and his people. Her plans to continue spying on her brother are derailed when she realizes that Cade is her mate. Grace may have finally found the home and family she’s been longing for, if Cade’s pack members will accept her, and if they all manage to survive this war.

REVIEW: Azumanga Daioh Omnibus (manga) by Kiyohiko Azuma, translated by Stephen Paul

Azumanga Daioh is (primarily) a four-panel high school comedy comic strip series.

Review:

I first read Azumanga Daioh back when it was released in four volumes by ADV Manga. Although I had fond memories of it, I probably wouldn’t have gotten Yen Press’s omnibus edition if I hadn’t spotted it in the midst of a “going out of business” sale shopping frenzy. Happily, it made for a really nice reread, even though the ending didn’t affect me quite as strongly this time around.

Azumanga Daioh is a comedy series consisting primarily of 4-panel comic strips. It doesn’t really have what I’d call a plot. Instead, it follows the high school years of several girls in the same class from beginning to end, as well as the daily lives of some of their teachers. A few of the characters:
  • Sakaki: A cool-looking, quiet, and athletic girl who secretly loves animals and other cute things.
  • Chiyo: An adorable and smart 10-year-old who skipped a few grades.
  • Yomi: A girl who worries too much about her weight, but who also doesn’t let that stop her from eating the foods she loves.
  • Tomo: An energetic and annoying girl who tends to do things without thinking them through first.
  • Osaka: A transfer student who has a weird way of viewing the world and tends to live life at a slower pace than everyone else around her.
  • Kaorin: A girl with a huge crush on Sakaki.
  • Yukari: The class’s homeroom teacher. She’s so immature and lazy that it’s surprising she hasn’t been fired.
  • Kurosawa (aka Nyamo): The physical education teacher, and Yukari’s best friend.
The strips deal with everything from lunch, to hay fever, to several students’ bizarre dreams. It’s pretty light-hearted and fluffy throughout, although there’s one male teacher who’s extremely creepy.
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