Sunday, September 25, 2016

REVIEW: Halo: The Fall of Reach (animated movie)

First, some info: I haven't actually played any of the Halo games. I started reading Halo: The Fall of Reach after someone said that the series had some good AI-human interaction moments, but I stalled almost halfway through for various reasons. In an effort to renew my interest in the book, give me a better foundation on the visuals, and maybe clarify some of the more confusing aspects, I decided to watch this. I was sure it would spoil certain aspects of the book for me, but I was okay with that.

Yeah, what I didn't realize was that this movie only adapts a small portion of the book – up to page 154 of my copy, to be exact. I'm currently on page 168, so I suppose I'll have to muddle through the rest on my own.

The movie covers the origin of Master Chief, the protagonist and playable character of the games. Dr. Catherine Halsey first identifies him as a candidate for the SPARTAN-II program when he is only six years old. John and other children are kidnapped from their homes and replaced with short-lived clones. It is then that their military training begins. However, Dr. Halsey has more in mind for the children than just training. There are dangerous augmentations that will turn them into true super soldiers, if they're able to survive the process.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

REVIEW: Foreigner (audiobook) by C.J. Cherryh, narrated by Daniel Thomas May

I first read and reviewed a paper copy of Foreigner only a few months ago, so there's a lot I won't go into again, and I won't be writing another summary. However, it's worth writing a second review. I have some comments to make on both the audiobook experience and on the rereading experience. As a result, I'll be touching on some spoilery things.

The audiobook doesn't include the pronunciation guide or the glossary that can be found in my paper copy of the book. Although I missed the glossary a little, the pronunciation guide wasn't necessary. I didn't actively compare Daniel Thomas May's pronunciation to the guide, but I do know that his pronunciation of “Jago,” at least, followed what Cherryh wrote in her guide. Maybe I'll finally start mentally pronouncing Jago's name correctly while reading the books.

Although I had some issues with May's narration, overall I enjoyed it. He was particularly excellent when narrating Bren's thoughts and dialogue (basically most of the book), infusing the lines with just the right amount of emotion. His atevi voices didn't work quite as well for me, but I'm not sure there was much he could have done about that. After all, atevi aren't supposed to do much obvious emoting.

FYI, this next bit is where the spoilers come in.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

REVIEW: Atelier (live action TV series)

Mayuko is a “fabric geek” who gets a job at Emotion, a high-class custom-made lingerie shop. Her first days there are nerve-wracking, as her new boss, Mayumi Nanjo, tells her that she doesn't understand beauty and dresses horribly. She eventually adjusts and learns to love the place and her coworkers. However, as much as Mayuko and the others admire Nanjo and her work, her way isn't always their way.

I really enjoyed this series, much more than I expected. I had thought it would be a sort of Japanese The Devil Wears Prada, but it was much warmer and kinder than that. Even though Nanjo was pretty blunt with Mayuko at times, she was also gentler than I would have expected – some of the things Mayuko did when she first started working there (like talking back at the boss) would probably have gotten her fired from any other place.

REVIEW: Black Butler (live action movie)

Oh look, it's my first review in over a month. Sorry, I've been in a horrible funk for a while now. Everything is hard: writing reviews, reading, and even watching TV. The only thing I've been doing is working, sleeping, and playing Stardew Valley. Here's hoping that this review is a sign that things are going back to normal, because I'm tired of doing nothing much. And also, I have an ILL book that's due in a week or two.

Anyway, yes, a live action Black Butler movie exists and I have watched and reviewed it. Contrary to what that movie poster might lead you to believe, it actually takes place in a modern day setting.

No watch-alikes, because I figured writing the review itself was hard enough. Also, warning, this review includes major spoilers.

Review:

I watched this out of morbid curiosity. To be honest, I was expecting it to be horrifically bad. I knew that the story and characters had been drastically changed in several areas, and I vaguely remembered reading something about Mizushima Hiro (Sebastian) losing weight for the role, because obviously the most important thing about Sebastian is his thinness.

In the end, this wasn't as bad as I originally expected it to be, but it wasn't great either. It helped a lot that I already knew it wouldn't be a redo of either the anime or manga story, and that the characters wouldn't be quite the same.

So, the story. The movie is set in some kind of alternate history modern day Japan. Genpou Shiori is a girl pretending to be a boy so that she can be the Genpou family heir. Several years ago, her parents were killed and she was kidnapped. She escaped by entering into a contract with Sebastian, a demon. Since then, her goal has been to find and punish those who killed her parents. In the meantime, however, she serves as a secret investigator for the Queen of England (I think?), for reasons that make no sense unless you have some familiarity with the original series and what's been twisted to fit the movie. Anyway, people are being spontaneously mummified, and no one is sure how or why. Shiori is tasked with looking into the murders, and her investigation unexpectedly touches on her past.

Monday, August 15, 2016

REVIEW: The Mysterious Lady Law (e-novella) by Robert Appleton

The Mysterious Lady Law is a steampunk thriller. It's published by Carina Press and is 31,600 words long.

No read-alikes this time, because I don't feel like it. Also, the very end of my review includes some spoilers.

Review:

This takes place in late 19th century London. Julia works as a waitress and dancer on an airship, while Georgina, her sister, cleans houses. Julia is utterly shocked to come home one evening and find her sister dead. Although Constable Aloysius (Al) Grant gives her as many updates on the case as he's able, there isn't much for him to say. The police keep hitting dead ends.

Just when it looks like Georgy's killer will go free, Lady Harriet Law shows up on Julia's doorstep and offers to take the case pro bono. Julia accepts the offer. After all, Lady Law has a phenomenal success rate, having solved 100% of her 650 cases. It's that same success rate that, in part, inspires Grant's distrust. How does Lady Law come to her conclusions? Why did she offer her services to Julia in particular? And how does the disappearance of Josh, the young assistant of the famed explorer Horace Holly, figure into all of this?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

REVIEW: The Coelura (book) by Anne McCaffrey, illustrated by Ned Dameron

The Coelura is sci-fi with strong romantic elements. It was originally published in 1983.

No read-alikes for this one, sorry.

Review:

Caissa is the body-heir of Baythan, an exceptional hunter and all-around perfect specimen of manhood (no really – much is made of his excellent genetic pattern). Caissa is now old enough that she should start considering bearing her own body-heir, but she isn't happy with the man her father suggests she at least establish a temporary heir-contract with. She has a feeling that his recommendation is tied to an undisclosed clause in his heir-contract with her womb-mother, the haughty and vain High Lady Cinna.

Out of loyalty to her father, Caissa agrees to at least meet the man he recommended, but the meeting leaves her feeling so insulted that she decides to leave the city for a bit to blow off some steam. Unfortunately, she didn't bother to check her fuel first and ends up briefly stranded in the ruins of Yellow Triad City. It's there that she meets a mysterious man named Murell and learns more about coelura, beings able to spin beautiful living cloth that responds to its wearer's mood.

REVIEW: The Stinky Cheese Caper and Other Cases from the ZPD Files (book) by Greg Trine, illustrated by Cory Loftis

Yes, I have read another Zootopia book intended for children in an effort to get a new Zootopia fix. One of these days I'll break down and dive into the fanfic.

After reading the junior novelization, I wasn't expecting much from this. The cover made it sound like it would be composed of four standalone stories (“Four stories in one!”). Since it was only 75 pages long, I figured those stories would have to be extremely simple.

In “The Stinky Cheese Caper,” Judy and Nick investigate the theft of a very expensive and very stinky cheese. In “There's Dirt in Your Eye,” Judy and Nick investigate a report of someone dumping dirt of the Old Outback Bridge. The dirt landed on a boatload of tourists and could have hurt someone. In “No Noise Is Good Noise,” Judy and Nick investigate reports of incredibly loud and horrible music coming from a cafe. All the local shopkeepers feel it's hurting their businesses. Finally, in “The Dig's Up,” Judy and Nick investigate a prison break.

This book takes place several months after the end of the movie. Judy and Nick are partners, assigned mostly to traffic duty or cases that none of the other cops want to work on. Astute readers will guess that the four stories are probably related after finishing the first one. Readers who aren't able to figure out that the stories are connected by the beginning of the second one will probably not enjoy this book because, individually and taken at face value, most of these mysteries are pretty dull.

Monday, August 8, 2016

REVIEW: Another Episode S/0 (book and manga) novel by Yukito Ayatsuji, manga by Hiro Kiyohara, translation by Karen McGillicuddy

Another Episode S/0 consists of a short supernatural mystery novel (novella?) and a manga. It's published by Yen On.

Review:

I was a little wary of this book. I've read or watched every version of Another that's officially been made available in English, starting with the anime, then the original novel, and finally the manga. I noticed I was burning out on the story by the time I got to the manga. Could a sequel novel work for me? Would it be fresh and new enough?

First, I should mention that this book actually collects two different works: Another Episode S, a lengthy story that takes place during the events of Another but isn't directly related to the curse affecting North Yomi's third-year Class 3, and Another Episode 0, a short prequel manga starring Reiko, Koichi's aunt. I'll write about them separately, but my final verdict is that this had some interesting moments but was largely a disappointment.

Warning: Do NOT read this review if you haven't read or watched Another. My review will include major spoilers for that work.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

REVIEW: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore (audiobook) by Robin Sloan, narrated by Ari Fliakos

This is another one of those that I should have reviewed sooner after finishing it. It's been a couple weeks, and my memories are fuzzier. Plus, I took a break while listening to the book, so my listening experience was pretty stretched out.

So, what can I say about the story without revealing too much? Clay, desperate for work after losing his Web design job, stumbles across a little place called Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. It's in a seedy location (next to a strip club), there don't seem to be many customers, and the store itself is a little strange, but Clay needs the money. Besides, he's kind of intrigued. Most of the store's visitors never actually seem to buy anything, but rather check out mysterious volumes from a collection Clay is specifically told not to browse or otherwise look at too closely.

Clay's curiosity gets the better of him, and he starts to investigate. Slowly, at first, making a three-dimensional model of the store in order in order to see if there's a pattern to the checkouts. But then he involves other people and begins to dig more deeply.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

REVIEW: Jurassic Park (live action movie), on DVD

I re-watched this a few months ago and should have reviewed it back then. But I kept putting it off because I wanted to include comments about the extras, but then I dragged my feet and eventually ran into problems. So I'm finally just going ahead and reviewing it.

A synopsis feels a little unnecessary, but I'll include a short one anyway: A billionaire invites several people to his not-yet-open theme park (or is forced to invite them – the lawyer is there because a worker's family is suing and there are now questions being asked about how safe the park really is). Amazingly, the park includes real, live dinosaurs. Unfortunately, the park's tech geek decides to make a little extra money by stealing and selling some of the park's dinosaur embryos. Things go wrong, and a bunch of the dinosaurs accidentally get free, putting the lives of everyone on the island in danger.

REVIEW: Ghostbusters (live action movie) - at the movie theater

I was hesitant about seeing this, for a lot of reasons. I vaguely remembered having seen at least one of the original Ghostbusters movies but didn't have any particular attachment to or love for the franchise. I haven't been wild about the last few hyped movies I've seen, and I was a little worried that this one was getting most of its viewer hype because of the all-female main cast. Also, a lot of the people who were raving about it were also fans of several of Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy's other movies. I loathed Bridesmaids, winced a lot during Spy, and just generally didn't want to see a repeat of the sort of humor I saw in those movies. Thankfully, this turned out to be a lot better than I was expecting.

The story: Erin is a professor who's being considered for tenure. Unfortunately, an embarrassing piece of her past, a book on the paranormal that she co-wrote years ago with her best friend Abby, has come back to haunt her. She's worried that she'll be seen as a crackpot, so she tracks Abby down in order to ask her to please stop selling the book. Abby has since teamed up with Jillian Holtzmann, a nutty and brilliant scientist, and Erin accidentally gets all three of them involved in a paranormal investigation at a museum. The team is later joined by Patty, a transit worker who is an absolute fount of historical facts and knowledge, and their new receptionist, Kevin, who is gorgeous but very stupid. The group finds themselves dealing with more and more ghosts, not realizing that all these recent incidents are due to the machinations of a nobody who feels he isn't getting all the recognition and attention he deserves.

REVIEW: Amnesia Labyrinth (manga, vol. 1) story by Nagaru Tanigawa, art by Natsumi Kohane, translation by Nan Rymer

Amnesia Labyrinth is a short mystery series licensed by Seven Seas.

Review:

I'll start by saying that the description on the back of the volume contains several incorrect statements. There is no evidence that Souji's sisters' clingy behavior is anything new. Also, I don't know if Souji and Yukako start dating in the next volume, but Yukako is not Souji's new girlfriend in this one. Now, on to my description.

Souji is a high school student who left his family home some time ago. He had hoped never to return, but sometimes we don't get what we want. At any rate, his three sisters are thrilled he's back. Harumi, his stepsister, is sweet and quiet and clearly has a crush on him. The real problems, though, are Youko and Saki. Youko is Souji's full sister. She possibly has a split personality, and she's certainly a vaguely malevolent presence in the household, glaring daggers at Souji even as she cuddles up to him in a more than sisterly sort of way. Saki is the daughter of Souji's father and Souji's father's mistress. She works as one of the family's maids and, when the other sisters aren't around, sleeps with Souji. And possibly also Kazushi, Souji's older brother. Kazushi, meanwhile, may be lurking somewhere nearby.

At school, Souji instantly comes to the attention of Yukako, the self-proclaimed sole member of the student council's “Intelligence Committee.” It's Yukako who tells Souji of the three murders that occurred at the end of the summer, shortly before he arrived. The school's smartest student was stabbed. After that came the track team's star runner, also stabbed. Then the student council president was pushed in front of a train. Yukako wants to know why the killer chose those particular victims, especially since she had a crush on the student council president. She basically forces Souji to join her, but Souji secretly thinks he knows who was responsible: Youko, his sister.

Friday, August 5, 2016

REVIEW: The Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty's Prince (book) by Serena Valentino

The Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty's Prince is a prequel to Disney's Beauty and the Beast. My embarrassingly old ARC says it's intended for ages 10 and up, but I decided to tag is as a YA novel.

I opted not to include any read-alikes. Also, be warned, my review includes some spoilers.

Review:

The Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty's Prince takes place primarily before Belle met the Beast or even before the Prince became the Beast. Readers learn that the Prince (who is never given a name) was, in fact, once friends with Gaston. Also, the enchantress that the Prince rejected prior to becoming the Beast was actually his beautiful secretly-a-witch girlfriend, Circe, who had three wicked witch sisters. Circe's curse didn't immediately take effect, but rather gave the Prince time to meet and court another young lady, Princess Tulip Morningstar. Although lots of familiar characters make appearances, the story fans of the movie are familiar with doesn't really start until the last quarter of the book, and even then there are some changes.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

REVIEW: Invader (book) by C.J. Cherryh

Invader is science fiction, the second book in Cherryh's Foreigner series.

Review:

Invader picks up pretty much where Foreigner left off. Bren is barely out of surgery before he's called back to work. The starship Phoenix, the one that originally brought humans to the planet, has reappeared, and everyone is concerned. What do the ship folk want? Does Mospheira plan to deal with them and, if so, where does that leave the Treaty with the atevi?

Bren, still in a bit of pain (and, at the very beginning, foggy due to pain killers), finds himself in an extremely difficult position. Deana Hanks, his eventual successor, took over his job after Tabini stashed him away during the events of the previous book, and now she refuses to leave even though it puts her in violation of the Treaty. Hanks and her backers in the State Department believe that Bren has gone native and is no longer looking out for Mospheira's best interests. Hanks would oust Bren and become the new paidhi, except Tabini absolutely refuses to talk to her and would in fact have had her killed already if Bren hadn't specifically asked him not to. Although Bren is now getting much more information from Tabini and his bodyguards than he was in the first book, people are still keeping things from him, and he's almost completely blocked from communicating with the Foreign Office back in Mospheira.

Although he knows that he might be labeled a traitor, Bren offers to act as translator between the ship folk and the atevi. He has to convince the atevi that Mospheira won't automatically betray them in favor of the ship folk, clean up Hanks' political and linguistic messes, and figure out a solution to the ship problem that has the highest chance of being mutually beneficial to Mospheira and the atevi, all while simultaneously dealing with personal crises, terrifying gaps in his knowledge, and assassination attempts.

REVIEW: Himeyuka & Rozione's Story (manga) by Sumomo Yumeka, translation by Kaori Inoue

Himeyuka & Rozione's Story is a collection of four short works, two of them fantasy, one science fiction, and one a fluffy romance. It's licensed by Yen Press.

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

Review:

I found this in the clearance section during one of my used book shopping trips. The cover art reminded me of Yun Kouga, although the interior art wasn't quite as easy to follow as I remember Kouga's art being.

This was an anthology of four of Sumomo Yumeka's shorter works. I liked the second story the most, then the first story. The third story was passable, while the final story was confusing garbage. Unfortunately, the final story took up almost half of the volume.
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