Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Happy Snak (e-book) by Nicole Kimberling

Happy Snak is a science fiction novel published by Samhain Publishing.

Review:

I bought this book on a whim almost a year ago. There was some kind of Samhain sale, I wanted to beef up my sci-fi e-book collection, and this sounded like quirky fun.

Ever since her divorce, Gaia has been focused on one thing and one thing only: making her space station snack bar a success. Gaia, her hamster, and Happy Snak are managing to get by, until the alien Kenjan dies on the floor of Happy Snak one morning. The human portion of the A-Ki space station exists only as long as the Kishocha want it there, and Kenjan was the only Kishocha at all interested in interacting with humans. Kenjan's death puts the space station's human population at serious risk. Luckily, Kenjan chose Gaia as its guardian before it died, meaning that Gaia is now the single most important human on the A-Ki space station. Unfortunately for Gaia, this means that she has to live in a snack bar/shrine for the rest of her life, feeding and protecting Kenjan's ghost so that the rest of the humans on the space station can continue to live.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

B&N's latest bone-headed decision

I have no idea how widespread this news is outside my usual reader/book blogging sites, so I figured I'd mention it here. A few days ago Barnes & Noble made the bone-headed decision to remove download links from the "My Nook Library" section of their site. Nook Books can now only be downloaded to Nook apps or devices - no more downloading to your computer and sideloading.

The best theory I've heard is that they're trying to protect against piracy. Way to go, B&N! Treating your paying customers like potential pirates sounds like a great way to do business. Dear Author's Thursday News post has more info, including workarounds (that may not necessarily work).

I've owned a Nook ever since I took the plunge and began buying and reading e-books. Despite this, I've only ever bought two e-books from B&N, because the site makes it impossible to see what has DRM and what doesn't. I had been considering breaking down and buying some Tor e-books from B&N, because I knew they were going to be DRM-free. Also, B&N seemed like the best place to get M.C.A. Hogarth's e-books after she made the decision to remove her stuff from Smashwords. None of that's going to happen now, because I'm firm in the belief that I should be able to download any e-book I buy to my computer and back it up. You never know when a retailer will go belly up, taking with it all your purchases. Considering that B&N seems determined to go out of business as quickly as possible, I'd especially insist on the ability to download and backup anything bought from them.

I still have three of Hogarth's books and several short stories that I haven't yet read. After that, I have to figure out what to do next. My choices seem to be 1) buy from Kobo after checking first to make sure the files are EPUB and not KePub, 2) buy from Amazon and hope the files convert smoothly to EPUB, or 3) give up and accept that I won't be reading any more of Hogarth's books. Crud.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Perfect Match (live action movie), via Netflix

Korean romantic comedy movies keep not working for me, and yet I keep trying. I just want something with the fun, sweet, enjoyable moments that a good Korean drama can have, only many hours shorter. Is that too much too ask?

A Perfect Match was my latest attempt to find a good fit for myself. The thumbnail image looked cute, and the setup appealed to me. Hyo-jin, a talented matchmaker at a dating agency, hasn't had much luck in her own love life. She tells everyone, including her coworkers and even her best friends, that she's dating a wonderful guy, but, in reality, that guy left her ages ago. Now, she finds herself falling for her latest client (Hyun-soo, I think?), a guy who doesn't seem interested in going on any of his arranged dates and who can never remember his dates' names.

I could see what this movie was going for, but it fell flat. The main characters had zero chemistry and just did not work as a couple. I felt bad for Hyo-jin, who reminded me a little of the depressed heroine of I Am a Flower Too (no review, because I couldn't manage to watch more than three or four episodes). She was an excellent matchmaker, able to find the perfect person for just about anyone, but her personal life was a mess. Her female friends never noticed her reluctance to talk about her boyfriend, her best male friend was a bit of a loser, and her home was strewn with reminders of her ex. She looked unhappy throughout most of the movie.

Hyun-soo was kind of a jerk. I'm assuming he was only using the dating agency because his mother made him, because he put absolutely no effort into his dates. He seemed amused by his own inability (or refusal) to remember Hyo-jin or his dates' names, flat out saying that he never bothered to remember things that weren't important to him. Halfway through the movie, when Hyo-jin indicated that she might be interested in Hyun-soo, I wondered why. The few times they'd spoken, he'd either been annoying or they'd had, at best, vaguely pleasant chats.

There were a few cute moments, but they could have been done so much better. At one point, for example, Hyo-jin hurt her foot and Hyun-soo took her to a hospital. Throughout the whole movie up until that point, he walked quickly and left Hyo-jin and his dates in his wake, and he'd answer his phone while someone else was talking to him. At the hospital, he actually made an effort to listen to Hyo-jin, he deliberately chose not to answer his ringing cell phone in her presence, and he helped her hobble out. I could see that this was supposed to be the “jerk becoming a sweet guy” moment, and I knew I was supposed to be sighing with pleasure, but the movie had already lost me.

This was the most conflict-free romance ever. In theory, there were two things keeping Hyo-jin and Hyun-soo apart: Hyun-soo's ex (who was also Hyo-jin's newest client) and that fact that Hyun-soo and his ex were Hyo-jin's clients. However, Hyun-soo showed absolutely zero signs of still caring for his ex, and his ex let him go without a fuss. The only one trying to push them together was Hyo-jin.

Overall, this was a lukewarm romance at best. As a couple, Hyo-jin and Hyun-soo reminded me of While You Were Sleeping's Lucy and Jack, only with all the warmth and sweetness sucked out. The comedy aspects were mildly interesting, but some of it got old. I had little patience for Hyo-jin's drunken male friend, and it was depressing to see so much of Hyo-jin's accident prone nature and so little of her supposed prowess as a matchmaker (she matches very few couples up on purpose in the movie). Still, it was nice to see all the matched-up couples at the end.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Lily Among Thorns (e-book) by Rose Lerner

A Lily Among Thorns is a historical romance. It was re-released by Samhain Publishing and is 96,234 words long.

Review:

I love the pretty dresses that grace the covers of many historical romances. I also hate them, because every book tends to look the same. When I spotted this in Samhain's New Releases section, the author's name sounded familiar, but I couldn't remember whether I'd heard bad things or good things. Then I spotted a post on Gossamer Obsessions, describing Solomon as “one of the sweetest, handsomest, smartest, amazingest, chemist-tailor-detective Beta heroes EVER,” and decided that I at least needed to read the excerpt. I love sweet romance heroes. And, oh, was he ever.

Serena is an ex-prostitute turned inn keeper and has a reputation for knowing all sorts of criminal types. Solomon, a chemist with a passion for dyes and clothing, asks for her help in finding a family heirloom, a pair of earrings, without which his sister refuses to get married. Serena takes the job, hoping that this will be enough to repay her debt to Solomon. Five years earlier, a young, drunken Solomon saved her by giving her 125 pounds, and she has been looking for him ever since. Part of her is besotted with him, and part of her just wants the debt repaid and him out of her life. Even if he doesn't remember her or the debt she owes him.

That's just the very beginning. Later, there are threats from Serena's horrible father, threats from Serena's former business partner, spies, and a few enormous secrets.

Upon a Midnight Clear (e-short story) by Ian Thomas Healy

Upon a Midnight Clear is a sci-fi Christmas story. It's 6,170 words long.

I'm not doing a read-alikes list for this one, although, if you'd like another sci-fi Christmas story, allow me to point you to my post for M.C.A. Hogarth's Snow Maiden, or The Case with the Holiday Blues.

Review:

I usually pass short stories by anymore, even free ones, but I was in a downloading mood. This was free and was tagged with “artificial intelligence.” It didn't really work for the reason I downloaded it, but it was an okay short story.

A prospector named Rob Stabler is out working in the Asteroid Belt when he sees a flash of light. It might be a ship in trouble, so Stabler, as the closest prospector available, opts to go to it first while the other prospectors in the area join him ASAP.

I had hoped this would be a story about artificial intelligence, but it wasn't. Stabler brought up “Turings” occasionally. One of the other prospectors married his, but Stabler had no such feelings for Mona, his own ship's onboard Turing. Mona had a speaking role, but she and Stabler don't really chitchat, and her being an AI wasn't hugely important.

This sci-fi Christmas story was actually more about alien life. It got a bit too cutesie for me (seriously, Stabler, that's what you're going to call it?), and I couldn't help but wonder what was going to happen later. The cynical part of me doubted that it would be anything good, but the story itself would probably best be called heartwarming.

I never really know what to say about short stories. It was okay, and Healy's descriptions of Stabler's life were pretty good. The image I had in my head was actually a lot like the life of a trucker – lonely, smelly, and cramped, with something that reminded me of CB radio allowing for a loose connection between the nearby prospectors.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Anime on Netflix

I have a love/hate relationship with Netflix's anime catalog. On the one hand, they occasionally get some great titles, sometimes even ones I don't have access to any other way (haven't purchased, not on Crunchyroll), and I've had fewer bad streaming experiences with them than with Crunchyroll. On the other hand, they go through periods where they hemorrhage all those great titles and are left with almost nothing.

I ignored them for a few weeks, and here's what they have that I'd like to watch and don't already own:
  • Noragami - I haven't heard much about this, but it was recommended to me by a friend.
  • Ghost in the Shell: Arise - I have to admit, I hate the Major's new hairstyle. But I'm always up for at least trying a new entry in the Ghost in the Shell franchise.
  • Sword Art Online - This series has many obsessive fans. I plan to read the first light novel one of these days, and I'm still trying to decide whether it would be better to read it before or after watching the show.
  • Fate/Zero - I watched the first episode on Crunchyroll a while back. It was gorgeous, but incredibly confusing. If I watched it on Netflix, I'd at least be able to pause an episode an come back to the same spot later (a thing that the Crunchyroll app on my TV didn't allow me to do). This is another series with scary, obsessive fans.
  • Chaos;Head - I've heard a bit about this show and have wanted to see it for some time.
  • Eden of the East: Paradise Lost - I think this is the last movie. I'm still debating whether to see it or not, because the last Eden of the East entry I tried was disappointing.
  • Deadman Wonderland - Another one I've been wanting to see for a while, although its level of violence may be too much for me. We'll see.
Considering how little TV I've been watching lately, this list is a little daunting, and I doubt I'll be able to get through it all before Netflix starts yanking things. Still, I've added it all to my monstrous queue.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Babylon 5, The Complete First Season: Signs and Portents (live action TV series)

Babylon 5 is one of my all-time favorite live action sci-fi TV series. I wasn't a fan from the very beginning – I think I got hooked around season 3, and then watched reruns to get up to speed. Sadly, this was probably the best way to go. It took a while for this series to really get going, and this first season is not the best.

Season 1 was at least an improvement upon the pilot movie, Babylon 5: The Gathering. The makeup and prosthetics looked better, and J. Michael Straczynski didn't feel he had to cram quite as much info in all at once. The characters had more room to breathe, and they were one of the big things that kept me watching. G'Kar's behavior didn't make me cringe quite so much, Delenn was vastly improved, and Susan Ivanova was a nice addition. I enjoyed seeing Ivanova gradually thaw and become more comfortable on B5. Many of the characters played really well off each other. While I didn't always care for Garibaldi on his own, he was great when paired with Sinclair or Londo.

One of the strengths of this series as a whole is its “5-year arc” structure. Unfortunately, in this first season it wasn't always apparent what would be more important later on and what might get dropped. As someone who has seen the whole series, I enjoyed noticing how JMS was already laying the groundwork for various big events, some of which happened several seasons later. I had forgotten, for example, that Londo became involved with the Shadows in Season 1, and that there were so many early signs of Earth's growing xenophobia and shift in politics.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Sandman Slim (e-book) by Richard Kadrey

Sandman Slim is urban fantasy.

Review:

I recently purchased my very first Humble Book Bundle, and this book was part of it. I had wanted to read it for a long time and was excited to get a copy. In the end, my feelings about it were mixed.

When we first meet Stark, he has just managed to make it out of Hell, after having spent 11 years there. Adjusting to the human world again is hard, but Stark has a goal. He plans to track down all his former magician buddies and kill every last one of them, not just because they sent him to Hell, but because one of them killed his girlfriend, Alice.

At first, Sandman Slim worked really well for me. I loved Stark's “voice” and his dry humor. I enjoyed learning about how he ended up in Hell in the first place, and why and how he made it back out. He didn't make it out of Hell with many resources, but what he did have was really useful: a coin that would truthfully answer any question he asked, a magic knife, a key that could take him anywhere he wanted to go, and his own body, which was on its way to becoming indestructible. Unfortunately, I eventually realized something, and it reduced my enjoyment of the book a lot: Stark was not a nice guy.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

On sale for $0.99: Earthrise by M.C.A. Hogarth

I have no idea how long this sale is going to last, so if the book appeals to you at all, I'd snatch it up today. If you missed my review, you can find it here.

For those with Kindles, here's a link to the book on Amazon.

For those with Nooks and other devices that need EPUBs, here's a link to Barnes & Noble. The file should be DRM-free, but I can't guarantee it. If the book isn't DRM-free, I'd try emailing the author and asking her about it, because she has said that all her books from all vendors should be DRM-free.

Sadly, M.C.A. Hogarth no longer sells her stuff on Smashwords. I wish she hadn't done that - it's so much easier to shop there than on the B&N site, and it's easier to tell what you're getting.

Yargo (e-book) by Jacqueline Susann

Yargo is science fiction. I was originally under the impression that it was science fiction romance, but I'd now hesitate to call it that. I checked it out via Open Library.

My review includes slight spoilers.

Review:

I read this entirely because, when I was a young teen, I tried to buy it from a Friends of the Library book sale and was told that I couldn't. A librarian talked to my mom, and my mom told me I couldn't read it until I was thirty. I was determined to read it before then, but unfortunately forgot about it. Better late than never, right?

All right, moving on to the book. As a science fiction novel, Yargo is mediocre. As a science fiction romance, it is completely terrible. As a statement about feminism...well, I'm not entirely sure what it was trying to say. Yargo is probably at its best as an adventure story, but sadly that was only a small portion of the book.

Janet Cooper is an ordinary American woman. When she was younger, she longed to be a famous actress and to marry a handsome and romantic man. Instead, her dreams were shot down by her mother and, eventually, David, her fiance. David is a good man, a perfect future husband, although he's not as passionate as Janet would have preferred. Still, she considers herself lucky.

Then, while on a trip to her beloved childhood vacation spot, Janet is abducted by aliens. Gorgeous aliens. All the men are tall, bald, and have amazing green eyes, and all the women are visions of loveliness. Janet soon learns that her abduction was a mistake – the aliens had intended to abduct either Dr. Einstein or Dr. Blount and had settled upon Dr. Blount. Having realized their mistake, they now have to decide what to do with Janet.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Mad Love Chase (manga, vol. 2) by Kazusa Takashima, translated and adapted by Katherine Schilling

Mad Love Chase is a supernatural comedy. It was published by Tokyopop.

Review:

I think several of the characters in this series have forgotten the plot. And also possibly that Kujou is the main character. Still, I give this volume extra points for cuteness.

Mikage continues to be wildly jealous of Kujou because she likes Taiki and is under the mistaken impression that he's in love with Kujou. In her efforts to push the two of them apart, she gives Kujou alcohol while telling him it's juice and later takes a picture of Kujou and Touma engaged in something she thinks is sex (it's not).

Meanwhile, Taiki is pretty sure that Kujou is Kaito, but he doesn't want to see absolute proof and doesn't want other demons to see any either – he believes in taking care of his friends. Souya seems mostly uninterested in proving that Kujou is Kaito, but, unfortunately, Touma is very dedicated to their task. On the plus side, all three of them would prefer that no other demons find Kaito first, so they team up to protect Kujou when a new threat closes in.

Mad Love Chase (manga, vol. 1) by Kazusa Takashima, translated and adapted by Katherine Schilling

Mad Love Chase is a supernatural comedy. It was published by Tokyopop.

Review:

This was stupid. But also kind of fun. I'm having trouble understanding how Takashima managed to squeeze five volumes out of the premise, though. Since I own the whole series, I guess I'll get to find out.

Kaito, the prince of the demon realm, desperately does not want to marry his fiancee. He has hated her ever since she stood by while his beloved kitty Rebun almost drowned. Kaito opted to escape his impending marriage by traveling to the human world, where he ended up in a smaller, slighter human body, while Rebun ended up in the body of a full-grown human woman.

Kaito, now going by the name Kujou, isn't completely free yet, however. His father has sent three demons, Touma, Souya, and Taiki, after him. It's a good thing that they're mostly idiots. Souya has the hots for Haga, the school nurse, not realizing that she's actually Rebun, and Taiki is best friends with Kujou and thinks he's 100% human. Touma is smart enough to suspect Kujou's true identity, but the only way the three can know for sure that they've found their target is if Kujou has the prince's tattoo on his back. This, of course, means that they need to somehow strip his shirt off.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Angel Nest (manga) by Erica Sakurazawa, translation by Yuki Nakamura

Angel Nest is a collection of four short slice of life manga. It was published by Tokyopop.

I'm not including any read-alikes or watch-alikes in this post.

Review:

This volume was composed of four stories, one of which took up half the volume and three of which were shorter. The first story was related to Sakurazawa's Angel and was actually fairly decent. It gave me hope for the volume as a whole. Unfortunately, the final three stories all turned out to be utterly pointless. I'll deal with each of them individually in my review.

I have to say, so far I'm not really that impressed with Sakurazawa's works. I'm also not impressed with Yuki Nakamura's translation work, which was a bit clunky in both this volume and in Angel.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Angel (manga) by Erica Sakurazawa, translated by Yuki Nakamura

Angel is, I guess, a slice of life manga. It was published by Tokyopop. I think it counts as a one-shot, although I have another volume that features more stories involving the same angel - just not the same human characters.

Review:

Well, this was a letdown. I was expecting something a bit...more. More interesting, more depth, more emotion, just more.

This manga starts off with Kato, an ordinary young man who works as a convenience store clerk. He also happens to be living with a mysterious, mute angel who doesn't eat and who only drinks gin and lime. She's not technically his girlfriend, but she occasionally kisses him, so he kind of thinks of her that way. Whenever she kisses him, he grows wings. No one else can see her, or his wings.

No one, that is, except for a small number of people who need the angel for one reason or another. One of those people is Mizuho, a 14-year-old girl who has recently become the victim of bullying and who is considering suicide. Another is Chi, a little girl who is being neglected by her mother.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Dynasty of Rogues (e-book) by Jane Fletcher

Dynasty of Rogues is f/f sci-fi/fantasy. It's the fourth book in Fletcher's Celaeno series, if you're reading in publication order. If you're reading in chronological order, it's the fifth book. It's published by Bold Strokes Books, and, according to All Romance Ebooks, it's 97,244 words long.

Review:

I love Fletcher's Celaeno series, despite the world-building issues and sometimes bad pacing. Unfortunately, although I devoured this book just as quickly as I did the others and liked it well enough, I didn't think it was one of Fletcher's better works.

This book takes place seven years after The Walls of Westernfort. The heretics' ideas still haven't been accepted by the general population, so they continue to live in Westernfort and Ginasberg and keep an eye out for the Guards. Tanya Coppelli, one of Chip's daughters, is now a corporal in the Westernfort Rangers. Everyone tells her she deserves the position, but she can't help but wonder if nepotism was involved. It's one of the reasons why she reacts so badly when Riki, a known troublemaker, is assigned to her patrol.

Because she was angry at her mother, Riki acted out a lot when she was younger. She's still a bit of a troublemaker, but she hasn't done anything really bad for several years. Not that anybody seems to realize this. All anyone remembers is the trouble Riki used to cause, so she gets into even worse trouble if she steps out of line even a little. Riki's most recent incident results in both a demotion and a transfer to the Rangers at Westernfort. She's supposed to start with a clean slate, except her superiors there judge her the same way everyone back at Ginasberg did. This makes Riki an ideal scapegoat when Tanya is betrayed and captured by the Guards.
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