Sunday, August 30, 2015

Expelled from Paradise (anime movie), via Netflix

Expelled from Paradise is a science fiction anime movie. I watched it in Japanese with English subtitles.

This review includes some spoilers

Review:

Angela Balzac is one of the inhabitants of DEVA, a space station where everyone has an entirely online existence. When someone hacks DEVA to deliver a message, DEVA's ruling body sends Angela and others down to Earth to try and track them down. Because it's her first time in a physical body, Angela is paired up with Dingo, a man on the planet who has done jobs for DEVA in the past. Angela's time on Earth causes her to doubt the superiority of life on DEVA.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Ancillary Sword (book) by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Sword is the second book in Leckie's Imperial Radch trilogy. I highly recommend reading Ancillary Justice first.

Review:

I've basically been wallowing in Ann Leckie's books, especially this one, since July. I finished Ancillary Sword in a day, giving myself a whopper of a headache, but I haven't been able to review it because nothing I wrote seemed adequate. I decided to do a more leisurely reread, and then I signed up for Audible so I could listen to the audiobook. However, I need to finally get this review off my To Do list, so I'm giving it another go.

Ancillary Sword picks up where Ancillary Justice left off. Breq has grudgingly accepted Anaander Mianaai's offer of a ship, Mercy of Kalr, the rank of Fleet Captain, and even the name “Mianaai” and the advantages that come with it. Her goal is to travel to Athoek Station and find Basnaaiad, Awn's sister. Breq knows she could never make amends for killing Awn, but she'd at least like to make sure Basnaaiad is as safe and comfortable as possible. Keeping the Athoek system safe from Anaander Mianaai (it doesn't matter which one) is one way to do that.

Breq starts by doing what Awn would have done, finding the most marginalized people on the station and living among them. As a result, she becomes intimately involved in the tensions and conflicts between the Radchaai and the various ethnic groups that, 200 years after the area's annexation, should be doing better and be more smoothly integrated into Radchaai society than they are.

Bride & Prejudice (live action movie), via Netflix

Bride & Prejudice is an Indian/American romantic musical.

Review:

This movie was recommended to me a while back by a coworker, so I was excited when it popped up on Netflix. It looked cute and fluffy, so I decided to give it a try.

This was actually a fairly nice blend of Pride and Prejudice and Indian family issues. I was able to recognize who almost everyone was, well before events in the movie made it obvious. Mrs. Bennet translated well as an Indian mother obsessed with her daughters' marriage prospects. Darcy was re-imagined as a wealthy American who looked down his nose at India and Indian culture, and Elizabeth was re-imagined as a young Indian woman who was proud of her country and culture. I'm not a huge Jane Austen fan, but I remembered the original story enough to worry about Lakhi (a re-imagined Lydia Bennet), and I was glad that that was one of the areas where the story was tweaked a little.

Unfortunately, this movie didn't work nearly as well for me as I had expected it would. William Darcy was incredibly bland, and his early comments about India made me grit my teeth. He won Lalita (Elizabeth) over more easily than he did me. Even then, he and Lalita didn't really have much chemistry – while her annoyance with him was plain, her gradual attraction was less so.

As far as the song and dance numbers went, I was somewhat disappointed. Some of them were fine, but others came across as incredibly cheesy or just plain awful. I actually had to pause the movie and take a break when the incredibly bad “No Life Without Wife” bit came up. As the movie progressed, I also became more and more aware of the fact that Martin Henderson, the guy who played Darcy, wasn't singing. The song that played when he and Lalita went out on a few dates featured her voice (and, weirdly enough, a gospel choir), but Darcy was just there.

All in all, I expected more from this movie than I got, and I cringe a little at the thought that this gets recommended to people as “a good Bollywood movie.” If you want a good cross-cultural romance, the director's Bend It Like Beckham is much better. If you want a fun Bollywood movie, maybe try Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (my favorite so far), Jab We Met, or Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Na.

Raising Steam (audiobook) by Terry Pratchett, read by Stephen Briggs

Raising Steam is the last Discworld novel published before Pratchett's death. I don't think it would be a good place for newbies to start. Maybe go with Going Postal instead?

I've opted not to include a read-alikes list with this post.

Review:

This is the third Discworld novel to feature Moist von Lipwig as a protagonist. I've listened to the first, Going Postal, many times and fully expected to love Raising Steam. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work for me.

In this book, the Discworld gets its first locomotives. Dick Simnel, a self-taught engineer, invents and improves the things, spending a great deal of time on his pride and joy, Iron Girder (while listening, I thought it was spelled Iron Gerda). Sir Harry King, looking for something more respectable to attach his name to than waste and sanitation, agrees to finance Dick's project, and Vetinari assigns Moist von Lipwig to the project as a government representative. Moist's charm and quick thinking come in handy as he struggles to get the land agreements necessary for the locomotive project to be successful. Meanwhile, Vetinari is adamant that the train must go to Überwald, and his timetable may be tighter than even Moist can handle. Dwarfish fundamentalists in Überwald and Ankh-Morpork add another level of difficulty.

Skip Beat! (live action TV series), via DramaFever

Skip Beat! is a Taiwanese drama based on Yoshiki Nakamura's manga of the same title. Most places I've checked list it as being 15 episodes long with an hour or more for each episode, so I guess DramaFever must have cut the episodes differently, because the series is 23 episodes long there, with each episode only 45-46 minutes long.

The TV series follows the manga fairly closely (with some differences that the series then had to scramble to explain), covering events up through volume 13, for the most part. The most significant difference is that nearly everyone has been renamed. Ren is Dun He Lian, Kyoko is Gong Xi (once called Xiao Xi, for reasons I didn't understand), Sho is Bu Po Shang, Moko is Qin, Yashiro is Mr. Du, Lory is Luo Li, etc.

Shang was supposed to inherit his family's inn but ran away with Gong Xi in order to become famous. Gong Xi was his devoted supporter, working multiple jobs so that he could live in luxury, until she found out that he just saw her as a maid. Determined to get her revenge by becoming more famous than him, she auditioned to join LME, a rival talent agency.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Aftermath (live action TV series), via DramaFever

Aftermath is an 11-episode Korean series. I'm not sure what genres I'd put it in. Maybe thriller, fantasy/paranormal, and romance?

Like I said in my previous post, I signed up for a DramaFever membership. The membership started with a short free trial, so I figured I'd pick a short series and test out how well the app worked on my TV. Aftermath was ideal – not only did it have a small number of episodes, each episode was only 8-11 minutes long. I liked the premise, too.

The series follows Ahn Dae Yong, a high school student who accidentally falls off a building while trying to look calm and cool in front of a cute girl named Joo Hee Kyung. After he's released from the hospital, Dae Yong notices that his vision has somehow changed. To his eyes, a person who is about to die has white skin and red eyes. With the help of a man with similar abilities, he also learns that those who are about to commit murder have white skin and blue eyes.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Trying out new things: Audible and DramaFever

In the past week, I've decided to give two different services a try: Audible and DramaFever.

Audible

I admit, I signed up for this primarily because I've been wanting to listen to the audiobook versions of Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch books, and I wasn't sure if I'd ever be able to get them through my library.

The free trial is available with the Gold Monthly Membership, which is $14.95/month. The membership benefits that interested me the most were the 1 credit per month and 30% off additional Audible purchases.

Before I logged in, it looked like I could get both Imperial Radch books read by Adjoa Andoh via Audible. Unfortunately, the site is a little deceiving - the version of Ancillary Justice read by Andoh disappeared after I logged in, leaving only the one read by Celeste Ciulla and Ancillary Sword read by Adjoa Andoh. I used my free trial credit on Ancillary Sword but the sample of Ciulla's reading of Ancillary Justice grated on my ears so much that I doubt I'll be getting that. I haven't decided yet if I'll continue my membership past the free trial. I'll have to look through the catalog for a bit and see what would be worth getting with credits or the 30% membership discount. Happily, according to the site anything I get during my membership should stay in my library if I decide to end my membership.

Even if I continue my membership, I imagine that library checkouts will still provide the bulk of my audiobook listening. Audible seems like a nice option for those audiobooks I would either have difficulty getting via the library (for example, audiobooks put out by my favorite self-published authors) or ones that I know I'd probably be interested in listening to multiple times.

DramaFever

DramaFever has more Korean dramas than anything else, but I also saw Taiwanese, Chinese, Latino, and British shows and movies as I was browsing their catalog. At least part of the site could be used for free, with ads, but I prefer to watch things on my TV, and the DramaFever Samsung Smart TV app only works with a premium membership.

If DramaFever sounds at all interesting to you, I'd recommend jumping on it right now, because they're currently having a sale. From now until the end of the month, you can get an annual Premium membership for 40% off. DramaFever was too expensive for me at its original price, but with the current deal it cost less than what I used to pay for Crunchyroll. I liked that the membership started with a free trial, because it allowed me to see how well their app worked on my TV.

A few months ago, I tried out the Viki app (another K-drama streaming service). I thought it was okay, but it had drawbacks like commercials and an inability to restart shows where I had stopped them during a previous viewing period. I was surprised to learn that paying for a membership would not improve the app in any way - there would still be commercials, and the functionality would be the same.

Happily, the DramaFever app is much nicer. So far, I've watched a short series called Aftermath and am over halfway through a Taiwanese adaptation of Skip Beat. Just like with Netflix, you can continue watching an episode from whatever point you previously stopped it.

I should note that I haven't tested how well the app does if you're trying to watch multiple series at the same time. It does have some features that are perfect if you prefer to binge watch a single series at a time, however. For example, when you restart the app, the first thing that comes up is a screen asking if you'd like to continue with the last show you were watching when you exited the app. I also like that the next episode in a show autostarts after you're finished with the previous one.

The app has been a little glitchy. Sometimes pressing the "stop" button on my remote stops an episode, and sometimes it kicks me completely out of the app. Also, the app once refused to let me go back to the catalog - it was either continue watching the episode I was on, or get kicked out of the app. However, it's worked well enough for me that I'll allow my membership to continue past the short free trial period.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Another (manga) original story by Yukito Ayatsuji, manga by Hiro Kiyohara, translation by Karen McGillicuddy

Another is a horror manga based on a novel of the same title. Yen Press released the entire thing in a single enormous omnibus edition.

I got this via interlibrary loan.

Review:

In 1998, Koichi Sakakibara transfers into third-year class 3 at Yomiyama North Middle School. Due to a collapsed lung, he's unable to start at the same time as the other students, making him even more of an outsider than usual. His classmates are mostly friendly, but sometimes behave strangely, and they appear to be keeping secrets from him. The person he's most curious about is Mei Misaki, a mysterious girl with an eye patch. Even though Mei's attendance is erratic, no one ever comments on it, not even the teachers. As Koichi tries to figure out what's going on, he finds himself wondering if Mei really exists, and if the supposed curse surrounding third-year class 3 is real.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

All That Glitters (e-book) by Elizabeth McCoy

All That Glitters is self-published fantasy with romantic aspects. It's the first in McCoy's Alchemy's Heirs series (duology?), which is set in the same world as her Lord Alchemist duology. It has a word count of 94,590.

Review:

This takes place quite some time after Herb-Wife – I can't remember if their exact age was ever stated, but my guess was that Kessa and Iathor's twin sons were at least in their late teens or early twenties. Jani is a grown roof-rat, hired to either assassinate Kessa (which she has no plans to do) or poison one of Iathor's servants. The poison is slow-acting, and the plan is to tell Iathor, who is known for being soft-hearted where his servants are concerned, that he can have the antidote if he disinherits Iontho, his heir.

What Jani doesn't realize is that the person she pegs as a servant is actually Iontho. Iontho is immune to the poison, but plays along and tracks Jani back to her hiding place, where she gives him what she thinks is either a temporary loyalty potion or a truth potion. Iontho is shocked to realize it's the dramsman's draught, a permanent loyalty potion. He drinks it all (again, he's immune) and plans to find out who Jani got the draught from, and why they wanted him disinherited or his mother dead. In an effort to test whether the potion has worked, Jani orders Iontho to kiss her (a moment of surprising stupidity on her part), which very slightly binds her to Iontho. Iontho, meanwhile, pretends to be a servant named Yan, and Jani's new dramsman.

So now Jani has (she thinks) an illegal dramsman and an employer who is involved in deadly politics and is therefore more trouble than he's worth. She comes up with a plan to cut herself loose and maybe make a bit of profit, while at the same time hopefully escaping punishment for having an illegal dramsman, however accidental.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Bake Sale (graphic novel) by Sara Varon

Bake Sale is a slice-of-life graphic novel. I checked it out from the library.

My read-alikes list is, unfortunately, pretty skimpy.

Review:

This is a low conflict story about friendship and baking. Eggplant is planning to visit his aunt in Turkey this spring and invites his friend Cupcake to come with him. Cupcake is very excited about the trip, because it will give him a chance to meet Turkish Delight, a famous pastry chef and his idol. First, though, he has to save up enough money to buy his ticket. While Eggplant is watching out for Cupcake's bakery, Cupcake sells some of his baked goods at various new places and events.

I've wanted to read this ever since I cataloged it for my library. The thought of a baked good creating and selling other baked goods was a little weird, but the artwork was bright, cute, and appealing.

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.

Review:

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.

Review:
 
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.

Review:

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.
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