Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark (e-book) by Harry Connolly

A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark is a standalone urban fantasy novel.

This review includes mild spoilers.


I bought this because I loved the idea of an urban fantasy starring a 60+ year old pacifist. At the start of this book, the eccentric and rich Marley Jacobs is holding a fundraiser at her house. Aloysius, her sleazy nephew, stops by and tries to convince her to give him a love potion so he can win back Jenny, his ex-girlfriend and Marley's current assistant. Marley has always found Aloysius to be tiresome, and now she's finally had enough. She forces him to see himself for who he really is. It seems like a change for the better, except she never sees him alive again.

Although she didn't particularly like Aloysius, Marley still wants to find out who killed him and why.  For one thing, Jenny is being blamed for his murder, and Marley is convinced she didn't do it. For another, Marley is worried that her last words to Aloysius might have played a part in his death. With Albert, her nephew and Aloysius's half-brother, acting as her new assistant, she plans to figure out the truth and stop any more killings from happening in her city.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Lifecycle of Software Objects (book) by Ted Chiang

The Lifecycle of Software Objects is science fiction. Although I labeled it as a "book," it's very short, only 150 pages. If you don't mind reading something that length in a browser, Subterranean Press has made it available for free online. As far as I can tell, the entire text is included, although the illustrations are not.

The Lifecycle of Software Objects is an exploration of what might happen if AIs capable of learning, and possessing an unknown level of potential, were released as a toy. The closest real-life equivalents I can think of at the moment are Furbies and Tamagotchis, but 1) digients have far greater flexibility and potential and 2) digients have a primarily virtual existence, although they do acquire the option of real-world bodies later on.

The story follows two human characters. Ana Alvarado used to work at a zoo until she was hired by a company called Blue Gamma to train and test its digients. Derek Brooks is one of Blue Gamma's animators, charged with giving the digients avatars that are endearing and cute but not cartoonish. Over the course of several years, the digients develop personalities and new abilities, copies of their “infant” selves are released to the public for purchase, and some people adopt them wholeheartedly while others grow frustrated with the difficulty of training them. Eventually, new companies with different philosophies pop up, Blue Gamma folds, and Ana and Derek adopt their favorite digients (Ana's is Jax, a digient with a robot avatar, and Derek adopts both Marco, whose avatar is panda-like, and Polo, Marco's younger copy/sibling). A small community of digient enthusiasts tries to keep things going.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Manga Tag

After reading Ash Brown's post over at Experiments in Manga, I decided to join in on the fun. It gave me an excuse to look through my manga collection, which is now large enough to be worth writing about.

1. What was your first manga?
It was either the first volume of Rumiko Takahashi's Inuyasha or one of the Battle Angel Alita volumes, I can't remember which. I do know that the first volume of Inuyasha was the first volume of manga I ever owned. I was too new to manga to realize that I'd never be able to afford to keep buying the whole series.

2. What is your most expensive manga?
I don't own much in the way of expensive manga. If a series goes out of print, I either read it via the library or keep an eye out for cheap volumes at used bookstores or online. Yen Press's hardcover releases of A Bride's Story are probably the most expensive individual manga volumes I've ever purchased. If I answer this question on a series level, however, things get a little more interesting. I've probably spent more on Fruits Basket than I have on any other series in my collection. I own all the volumes and bought almost all of them brand new, as they were being released.

3. What was your least expensive manga?
I don't recall ever having been given manga as a gift, so that leaves the $1 clearance volumes I've picked up over the years. The only one I can remember at the moment is a random volume of DNAngel.

4. What is the most boring manga you own?
This one's tough to answer, since I try to avoid buying manga I think will be boring. Maybe Masayuki Takano's Blood Alone? The first omnibus volume is awfully dull for something starring a young vampire. I've kept it because I keep intending to read the next volume, but I still haven't gotten around to it. If I expand this question to include things I've read or tried to read, the answer would either be Japan, Inc. (a manga based on information from a Japanese economics textbook) or The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology.

5. What is your favorite manga series?
I have so many I love that this question is extremely hard. Maybe Kaoru Mori's Emma, even though parts of it are a bit melodramatic. Mori's artwork is gorgeous, and she can pack so much into her characters. I love Mori's A Bride's Story, too, although I'm behind on reading that one. Oh, and I also love Yoshiki Nakamura's Skip Beat!, which somehow still hasn't gotten old after so many volumes. I haven't bought any of it, because of the expense and the shelf space it'd take up, but I probably should.

6. What is the most relatable manga series you own?
Another hard question, mainly because “relatability” is not really something I look for when I'm manga shopping. I'm going to go with Tramps Like Us for this one. No, I'm not keeping a young man as a pet in my apartment, but I can relate to the need to find someone with whom you can just relax and be yourself.

7. What is one manga you own that is based off an anime?
I could be wrong about this, but I don't think I own a single manga based on an anime. Not one. I own manga based on visual novels and light novels, but nothing based on anime. I don't think I've even checked out very many from the library. In most cases, I look at them and decide I'd rather just re-watch the anime.

8. What is your rarest manga?
I own quite a few manga that are now out of print, but a few quick searches on Amazon tell me that none of them really qualify as rare.

9. What is the most reprinted manga you own?
I'm having trouble coming up with a good answer for this one, because I know that many of the series I own have had at least two different releases (either single volume vs. omnibus by the same publisher, or releases from two separate publishers due to a license rescue), but I'm not sure if any of them have had more releases than the rest. I suppose I'll list Alice in the Country of Hearts and Loveless. In both cases, I own at least some of both different releases. I have the entirety of both the Yen Press and Tokyopop releases of Alice in the Country of Hearts, although the Tokyopop release was incomplete. I have the Tokyopop volumes of Loveless up until the point when Tokyopop fell apart, after which I continued with the VIZ volumes.

10. What is the most popular manga you own?
Which is more popular, Naruto or Fruits Basket? I own all of Fruits Basket and a single volume of Naruto (volume 53, which I purchased entirely because both of Naruto's parents were on the cover).

11. What is the most damaged manga you own?
My copy of the first volume of Hikaru no Go has writing in it – I bought it used and didn't notice the writing until it was too late.

12. Which manga has the most amazing art?
Kaoru Mori's A Bride's Story. I like to flip through the volumes and just sigh over the artwork. The detail she puts into textiles and characters' outfits is amazing.

13. What is the oldest published manga that you own?
Maybe CLAMP's Tokyo Babylon, which Wikipedia tells me originally ran from 1990-1993. I only have one volume of it, though.

14. What is the newest published manga you own?
Volume 6 of A Bride's Story. It was originally released in Japan on January 14, 2014, and the English release date was October 28, 2014.

15. What are some of the most recent manga you have purchased?
I just bought some today. UDON Entertainment's The Scarlet Letter (not sure if it counts, though), volume 1 of Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit, volumes 1-3 of xxxHOLiC: Rei, and volumes 3-4 of Bride of the Water God (Korean manhwa).

I wouldn't know who to tag, so I'm just going to say that whoever wants to join in should do so. And let me know! I'd love to see your responses.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Toad Words and Other Stories (anthology) by T. Kingfisher

Toad Words and Other Stories is a collection of three poems and eight stories. Almost all of them feature familiar tales that have been twisted or tweaked somehow. Be warned, my review spoils some of those twists.

If you like the cover, I should mention that there's a cute toad illustration on the title page as well.

“It Has Come To My Attention”

A poem about a person who isn't interested in the aspects of fairy tales that they're supposed to be. This was okay, but, honestly, I'm not a poetry person.

“Toad Words”

This story is a twist on the “Diamonds and Toads” tale, in which one daughter speaks and jewels fall out of her mouth and one speaks and toads fall out of her mouth. In this version, neither daughter is a particularly terrible person, and both have long since adjusted to their gift/curse. The POV character is the one who speaks and frogs and toads fall out of her mouth. When she learns that various amphibians are going extinct, she decides to do something about it.

This was nice and actually made me wish a curse like that could exist. The main character certainly made the best use of it that she could.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Lock In (e-book) by John Scalzi

Lock In is a sci-fi thriller. It was one of my library e-book checkouts.


Approximately 24 years prior to this book's present, the first Haden's syndrome cases began appearing. Many people got sick and died. Some got better and experienced no permanent effects. However, a portion of those who survived the second stage experienced lock in – they were still alive, but were essentially trapped inside bodies they could no longer control. An even smaller number of those who survived the second stage were outwardly unchanged, but had the ability to become Integrators, people who could allow those who were locked in to briefly borrow their bodies. Decades later, the disease still has no reliable vaccine.

Chris Shane is one of the best-known Hadens in the U.S., maybe on the entire planet. He became locked in when he was only a baby and was one of the first Hadens to regularly use a threep, an android body. In the book's present, he has joined the FBI in an effort to get out of his family's shadow and be more than a Haden celebrity. His very first day on the job includes a man who was possibly murdered by an Integrator, and a bombing at a facility researching drugs that might allow Hadens to have voluntary control of their bodies again. Meanwhile, tensions between Hadens and non-Hadens are rising as a bill is scheduled to go into effect that will cut many of the programs and subsidies that Hadens have depended on.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Alpha and His Ace (e-short story) by Ana J. Phoenix

The Alpha and his Ace is a free m/m paranormal romance.


Brandon is the alpha of his werewolf pack, but lately he's had trouble holding onto their respect. Everyone knows a good leader needs a mate by his side (don't look at me, I'm just writing what the story said), and Brandon still hasn't managed to find his. Since going to gay bars doesn't seem to be cutting it, he decides to try regular bars, too. Almost immediately he's hit on by a very drunk woman named Ruby. He's not interested, but it's also pretty clear that she's drunk enough to get herself into trouble, so he helps her get back to her apartment only to discover that her roommate, Aidan, is his mate. Just one problem: Aidan is asexual. Brandon's not about to run away, but, as he learns more about asexuality, he wonders if his mate will ever be able to become a werewolf, a process that would involve having sex.

This was apparently based on a prompt from someone in a Goodreads group. If the picture I saw was what the story was based on, it's a good thing it wasn't included with this e-book file, since I'm reasonably certain it's someone's Wolf's Rain fan art.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Car Hacker (e-short story) by Rosie Claverton

Car Hacker is #2.5 in the Amy Lane Mysteries series. It's 11,000 words long.

I'm not including a read-alikes list for this one.


This short story takes place after Code Runner and can be obtained for free by signing up for Rosie Claverton's newsletter. If you loved the first two books in Claverton's Amy Lane Mysteries series, it's worth the occasional extra email to get this story.

It's time for Jason's 24th birthday, and he has plans that include getting out of Amy's house and going out for a drink with friends. What he doesn't realize is that Amy has plans of her own. She has staged a car theft for Jason to investigate while his mother makes him a surprise birthday cake and dinner. It seems like the perfect way to keep Jason busy and entertained, until things go wrong.

I love Jason and Amy. They're a perfect match. Jason understands the intent behind Amy's actions and appreciates what she does for him, even when she goes overboard. Amy desperately wants to keep Jason safe but also doesn't want to stifle him. I love how well these two work together, and I hope nothing ever messes that up.

There were appearances from Cerys (Amy's co-conspirator in the birthday plans), Bryn (reluctantly involved in the plan), and Jason's mother. Things were still awkward with Owain, but, aside from that, it was like a little “Amy's family reunion.” Very nice.

I had hoped that I'd finish this and then get to snatch up Captcha Thief, Book 3 in the series, not long after, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen. Captcha Thief was originally supposed to be released on July 20th but has now been delayed until who knows when. I'll try to be patient, but it would be easier if I knew how long the wait was going to be.

The Lotus Palace (e-book) by Jeannie Lin

The Lotus Palace is historical romantic suspense, the first in Lin's Pingkang Li Mysteries series.

I'm going to be lazy and skip out on including a read-alikes/watch-alikes list, since the only thing I could easily think of was Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame. It doesn't have much in the way of romance, but it does have mystery and a historical Chinese setting.


I think this was the first of Jeannie Lin's books not to show up in the books section at my local Walmart – had I seen it, I'd certainly have bought it, because I've liked or loved everything of hers that I've read so far. Instead, I ended up checking it out through my library.

This book is set in Tang Dynasty China but, as far as I know, has nothing to do with any of Lin's Tang Dynasty Harlequin Historicals. Yue-ying is the maidservant of a courtesan named Mingyu. Bai Huang, the privileged son of a noble family, appears to be interested in Mingyu but really only has eyes for Yue-ying. Unfortunately for him, Yue-ying is determined not to forget their respective positions. Whatever romantic notions Huang might have, any relationship between the two of them is almost certain to end in heartbreak.

Bai Huang has a reputation for being carefree and foolish. What no one realizes is that he's his father's spy. When a courtesan asks for Huang's help only to be murdered a short time later, Huang and Yue-ying team up in an effort to find her killer.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Ancillary Justice (book) by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justice is science fiction, the first book in a trilogy.


Ancillary Justice has been on my TBR for a while, because books with prominent AI characters that aren't evil are my catnip. Then the whole thing with the Sad Puppies and the Hugo Awards blew up. Ancillary Justice was one of two works that kept coming up again and again as one of the works most hated by the Sad Puppies, so I suppose I should thank them for reminding me I hadn't read it yet.

Before I write anything else, I need to talk about one thing that no review of Ancillary Justice would be complete without: the gender thing. The Radchaai language doesn't have gendered pronouns, and the Radchaai have no real use for gender in their society, not even when it comes to reproduction. Breq, the main character, is Radchaai (although she would disagree with this) and thinks like one of them. However, the book is written in English. Leckie chose to communicate Breq's way of seeing gender by having her refer to everybody using feminine pronouns, even in those few cases where others confirmed for her that certain characters were male. I'll be sticking to feminine pronouns in my review as well.

Now for the summary. Twenty years ago, Breq was Justice of Toren, a Radch starship with hundreds of thousands of ancillaries, so-called “corpse soldiers” that could act as additional bodies for her. In between that time and the book's present, something happened to reduce her to just one lone ancillary segment. The only thing she wants is to locate a particular gun, convince its owner to part with it, and then use it to kill Anaander Mianaai, the supreme ruler of the Radch Empire. It's an impossible and suicidal goal, because Anaander Mianaai has thousands of bodies.

Along the way, Breq picks up a stray, a Radchaai named Seivarden who should have died a thousand years ago. Breq remembers her from when she was stationed on Justice of Toren, but she, of course, doesn't recognize her. She's a drug addict, and more trouble than she's probably worth, but Breq takes her along anyway. Not even Breq is sure why.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Jurassic World (live action movie) - at the movie theater

I saw Jurassic World today. This isn't a review so much as it's a bunch of notes, but it'll remind me how I felt about it when it comes out on DVD and the Velociraptors tempt me to buy it.

The basic story: A couple parents whose marriage is on the rocks send their two sons to visit Claire, their aunt, at her workplace, the Jurassic World amusement park. Claire, meanwhile, is trying to get a newer, bigger, and more dangerous genetically modified dinosaur ready for its park debut. Things go awry, the children are in peril, everyone is in peril. Thankfully, an ex-Navy Velociraptor tamer is there to save the day.

Ugh. I already knew from reviews and comments on Twitter that the movie was going to crap on its few female characters, but what I didn't expect was how upset the dino-on-dino violence would make me. The field of dead dinosaurs. The baby triceratops being lifted up in the air by its saddle. The Velociraptors getting smashed.

Up to a certain point, the vast majority of deaths were dino deaths. The one human death that bugged me was during the flying dinosaurs bit. That kind of prolonged and detailed death is normally reserved for characters the audience is supposed to want to see die, but this character barely had a name and certainly hadn't done anything to warrant a terror-filled, multi-minute, multi-dino death.

Other things:
  • So many Jurassic Park references. And, unfortunately, all they did was remind me that I liked that movie more. And also, that opening up another dinosaur park was a really stupid idea.
  • The only movie I remember much about is the first one. Did the other two end in ways that made opening up yet another park filled with dangerous dinosaurs seem like a good and plausible idea? Because I kept getting stuck on that.
  • I know this has been said before, but it was incredibly dumb for Claire to be wearing high heels through the whole movie. Some of the areas they trekked through would have been difficult enough in sneakers or boots. Whenever she ran, I squinted at the screen, trying to figure out if she had briefly switched shoes. If she could run that fast in heels, imagine what she could have done in more appropriate footwear.
  • Something about the way the Velociraptors and T. rex reacted and fought didn't seem quite right.
  • The justifications for using Velociraptors in warfare made no sense to me. That goes double for tiny Indominus rex.
  • A big "no" to the Owen and Claire romance. I was mentally debating how long it would take them, after the events in the movie, to remember that they can't stand each other. I give them no more than a week or two.

Murder in Mystic Cove (e-book) by Daryl Anderson

Murder in Mystic Cove is a mystery published by Carina Press. It has a word count of approximately 90,000.

My read-alikes list isn't very good. I had trouble thinking of books that would fit that I had actually read, so I ended up listing books with similar settings.


Addie Gorsky used to be a homicide detective in Baltimore but is now Chief of Security at Mystic Cove, a retirement community in Florida. It's not her favorite place to be, but it does mean she's around to help out her dad, who has cancer.

At the start of this book, Addie discovers the body of Mel Dick, one of Mystic Cove's more annoying residents, with gunshot wounds indicating that he was murdered. The police think the most likely suspect is the man's wife, but Addie isn't so sure. Mel had been acting oddly in the months prior to his death, and he certainly wasn't lacking in enemies. Addie decides to conduct an investigation of her own, risking the ire of both her boss and Sheriff Spooner.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Cold Sleep (book) by Narise Konohara, illustrations by Nanao Saikawa, translated by Douglas W. Dlin and Iori

Cold Sleep is m/m romance, I suppose. As you'll see in my review, I'm not really comfortable applying the “romance” label here.

This is published under Digital Manga, Inc.'s Jun̩ imprint and is one of their yaoi novels Рnot manga.


Cold Sleep is composed of three stories, two of which are related. “Cold Sleep” is the longest, taking up 166 pages of the volume. “Class Reunion” is 24 pages long, and the related story, “The One I Love,” is 27 pages. I'll be writing about each part separately, with a little bit at the end about the volume as a whole.

“Cold Sleep”

Tohru Takahisa (who'll I'll refer to as Tohru from here on out) wakes up in a hospital with no memory of who he is or how he got there. He is told that he was in a car accident and that Keishi Fujishima (who'll I'll call Fujishima, since that's usually how Tohru thought of him) is his friend. After Tohru gets out of the hospital, Fujishima takes him in. Tohru is grateful, but he also feels awkward about it. What if Fujishima throws him out for some reason? Where would he go? He's been told that he has no family or other friends, and he doesn't even have a job.

That last bit, at least, he can do something about. He finds a part-time job at a convenience store, starts making friends, and becomes more curious about his past. There are indications that Fujishima hasn't been completely honest with him, but, at the same time, Fujishima appears to be a good person.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Moon Embracing the Sun (live action TV series), via Netflix

The Moon Embracing the Sun is a Korean historical-ish (meaning that it has period costumes, but no actual historical events are depicted) romance series with fantasy elements. It's 20 episodes long.


Here's Netflix's description for the show: “Years after she's assumed dead by the palace, a young noblewoman, now trained as a shaman, returns to court to reclaim her rightful position as queen.” This is not quite accurate. It makes it sound as Yeon Woo returns with the intention of regaining her rightful position. In reality, Yeon Woo does little except exist and be virtuous and good – it's only through the actions of others that she even remembers what her rightful place is, and then regains it.

Let's back up for a moment. Here's my description of the show: Yeon Woo, the 13-year-old daughter of a government official, inadvertently catches the eye of both the Crown Prince (15) and his illegitimate brother, Yang Myung (17). I'm not sure if she ever realized that Yang Myung loved her, but the one she fell in love with was the Crown Prince. The Crown Prince's grandmother plotted Yeon Woo's death and arranged for Bo Kyung, the daughter of one of her supporters, to become queen instead. Yeon Woo was saved by the trickery of Nok Young, a shaman, but lost her memory.

Eight years later, Yeon Woo and the Crown Prince, now the King, meet once more. The King is confused and upset because this girl who calls herself Weol looks so much like his dead first love, and yet she doesn't seem to know him. He works to uncover the truth about Yeon Woo's death, even as various government officials conspire against him.

Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy! (manga) by Fumi Yoshinaga, translated by William Flanagan

Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy! is a single-volume slice-of-life, food, and restaurant guide manga. The English translation is published by Yen Press.


Although I generally enjoy Yoshinaga's works, I dragged my feet over getting this one. I didn't think a restaurant guide/slice-of-life manga featuring restaurants I'd never be able to visit would work very well for me. I ended up buying this during a moment of weakness and a nice Right Stuf sale.

The manga starts with a disclaimer: “This story is a work of fiction. Any similarities to actual persons is purely coincidental. But all of the restaurants in this book are real.” It felt a bit odd, considering that the volume's main character is a foodie named F-mi Y-naga, “who makes her living by drawing men engaging in anal sex" (7). Which sounds awfully similar to Fumi Yoshinaga, if you focus primarily on a certain portion of her work.

Anyway, Y-naga spends most of her time working and likes to unwind by eating delicious foods. Her newest assignment involves introducing restaurants to readers, which gives her an excuse to eat out even more. Along the way, we meet various people she knows. Her current roommate is S-hara, a guy who ended up becoming her assistant because he couldn't get any other work. M-waki is a sweets fanatic who was Y-naga's roommate before S-hara. F-yama is Y-naga's foodie friend, and also her secret (sort of) crush. T-i is a guy who loves eating meat. The list goes on – there are a bunch more people who make brief appearances.

The structure of the volume is pretty simple: two or more people (usually Y-naga and someone else) have a reason to go out to eat, and so they do. Everybody talks about how good the food is and tries to describe what it is that makes it so good. Each chapter focuses on a single restaurant and ends with a page of information about that restaurant: its address, phone number, hours, directions, and parking availability. Yoshinaga also notes how much you should budget for and includes a few other comments about things she didn't have a chance to mention in the manga.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Shadow of the Knife (e-book) by Jane Fletcher

Shadow of the Knife is a f/f science fiction book that reads like fantasy. It's published by Bold Strokes Books. I have no idea what its word count is, although it came out to 250 pages on my Nook Simple Touch.

No read-alikes list for this one. I just can't. Check out my posts for Jane Fletcher's other books if you really want some.


Warning: this book contains some torture. Although I didn't consider the physical aspects to be very graphic, the emotional aspects are awful, and the book ends without giving readers a chance to see how well the character manages to recover.

Although most of Fletcher's Celaeno series could be read in any order, I would advise newbies not to start with Shadow of the Knife, even though it's chronologically the first book (it takes place 14 years before Rangers at Roadsend). While the overall story would probably make sense, I think this is the only book in the series that doesn't explain why there are no men on Celaeno, and how reproduction works there.

This was my last unread Celaeno book. I was both looking forward to it and dreading it, because, once I finished it, that would be it – I haven't been able to find any signs that Fletcher is still writing, much less that she plans to write more in this series. Okay, so the world-building has serious problems, the pacing often isn't very good, and the books tend to end too suddenly. I know all of that, and yet something about this series really works well for me. Rangers at Roadsend and The Walls of Westernfort were my favorites, and I was hoping Shadow of the Knife would be as good or better.

Shadow of the Knife stars Ellen Mittal, a rookie in the Roadsend Militia. Farmers in the area have had hundreds of sheep stolen from them, and the Militia hasn't managed to find a single one. Ellen, increasingly frustrated with the uselessness of the Militia's efforts, talks to a Ranger friend of hers and ends up becoming involved in a deeper investigation into the thefts, which may have something to do with a gang in Eastford led by a woman known as the Mad Butcher. Ellen's life is further complicated by Hal, a new farmer in Roadsend who is either genuinely interested in her or somehow involved in the sheep thefts.
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