Sunday, August 31, 2008

Blood and Chocolate (book) by Annette Curtis Klause

Vivian is a werewolf, part of a community of werewolves living in secret among humans. When a member of her community breaks the rules and kills a human, drawing too much attention, several members of the pack are killed, including Vivian's father. A year later, the pack is almost ready to leave its temporary home and go somewhere everyone can hide better. Before that can happen, however, a new pack leader must be chosen. The new pack leader will be chosen in the traditional way, with the strongest male taking the role, and Vivian isn't happy that Gabriel, who is nothing like her father, seems the one most likely to become leader.

Vivian doesn't feel quite like she fits in. She still grieves for her father and doesn't understand and is embarrassed by her mother, who seems determined to throw herself at Gabriel (Gabriel is 24, Vivian is 16, and Vivian's mother, Esme, is probably at least in her late 30s - the age difference seriously upsets Vivian). She no longer feels like she can be friends with the Five (five male werewolves who are about her age and who have grown up together - the pack delinquents) - for one thing, they now see her as a potential mate, and for another, they were involved in the mess that eventually resulted in the death of her father. Vivian desperately wants friends, however, and can't understand why none of the humans at school have the guts to approach her. Finally, she seeks out Aiden, whose werewolf-themed poem, which appeared opposite her artwork in the school's literary magazine, intrigues her.

Vivian and Aiden begin to fall in love, and Vivian finds herself wanting to reveal her secret to him. When she finally does, things go badly - Aiden doesn't react with the acceptance Vivian expected. When Vivian wakes up the next day, she doesn't remember what happened, but the human blood on her skin make her fearful that she's killed someone. Although Aiden is fine, someone else is dead. Vivian's feelings of guilt and fear become oppressive as the pack tries to find out who's responsible for the murder before more humans get killed.

I loved this book when I first read it - I think I was 16 years old at the time. I still love this book now, although I have the same wish I had then, that Klause had written more, especially more about Gabriel. I never really could see what Vivian sees in Aiden - the "faux hippie" look has never appealed to me, and I didn't find his behavior quite as heart-melting as Vivian did. I know she believed that he would be able to accept her, and I think the main reason he appealed to her was because he treated her differently than she was used to. The Five had no problems leering at her or even trying to cop a feel, and Gabriel was more mature and confident than Vivian was ready to handle. With Aiden, Vivian was the mature, confident, and strong one - I can see how that might appeal to her, even though Aiden didn't appeal to me personally.

Gabriel, on the other hand, did appeal to me. Not at first, though - it's a bit off-putting that he spends the beginning of the book flirting with Esme and Astrid, Vivian's mother and a woman old enough to be Vivian's mother, and then starts flirting with Vivian after he is chosen as the new pack leader and Vivian is chosen as his queen. Although he's certainly a sexy character throughout the book, it's not clear how kind and caring he really is until the end of the book, when he offers Vivian his help, comforts her when she's confused and upset, and explains his painful past to her. There are signs of this other side of him throughout the book, if you know to look for them, so this reread was nice in that way.

I imagine that the age difference between Vivian and Gabriel might be considered a cause for concern by some, since Vivian is only 16 and Gabriel is 8 years older than her. I don't remember thinking much of it when I first read this book. I think that's because of the way Klause depicts this werewolf culture. Vivian acts disgusted at the age difference between Esme and Gabriel, but she's really the only werewolf character in the whole book who finds an age difference like that at all objectionable. When Vivian is named Gabriel's mate at the Ordeal, that's that, as far as the other werewolves are concerned. Because none of the characters focused on any perceived mismatch between Vivian and Gabriel, I didn't really see anything wrong with it either. I also think that the fact that they're both werewolves helps a bit - the normal rules of reality don't necessarily apply when fantasy elements are added to the mix.

A movie version of this book, also called Blood and Chocolate, was released not too long ago. If you read and enjoyed this book, I'd advise against seeing it. The movie's creators picked out whatever elements they wanted from the book and discarded or changed the rest. More action was added, and a European setting was chosen (maybe they thought Europe seemed cooler?). Blood and Chocolate the book was a coming of age story in which Vivian had to come to terms with her feelings and herself. In the end, she chooses Gabriel as her mate, someone she can be with and love in all her forms. In Blood and Chocolate the movie, the coming of age aspect is removed. Vivian lives in an oppressive and violent society that regularly kills humans too lowly for others to notice they're gone. Although Aiden doesn't accept Vivian at first, he quickly learns to do so, and suddenly they're Romeo and Juliet. Vivian ends up with Aiden, because Aiden is good and Gabriel is bad (not to mention dead).

Now that I've got that off my chest, it's time for the read-alike suggestions.

Read-alikes:
  • Owl in Love (book) by Patrice Kindl - Owl is a shapeshifter. By night, Owl assumes her owl form, but by day she is a regular high school girl who happens to be a bit of a misfit. Owl is in love with her science teacher, Mr. Lindstrom, but it's not a love that's meant to be. Still, this young adult novel has a happy ending. Those who'd like another young adult novel featuring a shapeshifting high school girl with ill-fated feelings of love for a human might like this book.
  • Bitten (book) by Kelley Armstrong - Elena found out that werewolves are real when her boyfriend bit her while in wolf form and turned her into one. Since then, she's worked hard to gain enough control over herself and her abilities so that she can pass as human. She's now living in Toronto, trying to have a pleasant and ordinary relationship with a man who has no idea what she is. However, she's called back to the Pack in order to help out with murderous mutts (the name used for werewolves who aren't affiliated with the Pack), and she's forced to deal with her unresolved issues with her Pack and her feelings for the werewolf who made her what she is. Those who'd like another story with a werewolves who must blend in with regular humans, a strong, introspective female main character, and a bit of romance might like this book, the first in a series. Be aware, however, that the intended audience for this book is adults.
  • Companions of the Night (book) by Vivian Vande Velde - Sixteen-year-old Kerry didn't know vampires existed until she became involved with a handsome one named Ethan. Kerry tries to help save Ethan from a vigilante committee bent on killing him, making the committee believe that she's a vampire as well. They kidnap her brother and father in retaliation, and Kerry suddenly finds herself having to trust the not entirely trustworthy Ethan to help her get her family back. Those who'd like another young adult paranormal fantasy that features a contemporary setting, suspense, and romance might like this book.
  • Hawksong (book) by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes - This is the first book in Atwater-Rhodes' Kiesha'ra series. In the world of this book, there are two main kinds of shapeshifters: avian and serpienten. A war has been going on between the two kinds of shapeshifters for ages, but it might be possible to achieve peace with a marriage alliance. Danica Shardae, the heir to the avian throne, is forced to marry Zane Cobriana, the heir to the serpienten throne. These two young shapeshifters must learn to overcome their differences if their people are to follow suit and finally live in peace. Those who'd like another young adult novel featuring shapeshifters, a proud young female main character who has to come to terms with a forced match (marriage, mating, whatever you want to call it), and romance might like this book.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Mane Event (anthology, book) by Shelly Laurenston

This book contains two novellas, "Christmas Pride" and "Shaw's Tail." I'm calling it an anthology because I don't think either of these novellas were ever released on their own. The back of the book calls this a paranormal romance, but I think it would more accurately be called a paranormal erotic romance - in the first novella sex is more important than romance (whatever Laurenston may try to claim), and in the second novella sex is nearly as important as romance. I was a bit disappointed, since I hadn't been expecting that - I was browsing the shelves of new books at my public library, saw "paranormal romance" on the spine, and assumed I'd get something like Sherrilyn Kenyon's books. No such luck. While lion shapeshifters are fun, and while I found Laurenston's attempts to combine human behavior and lion/wolf behavior in her shapeshifter characters interesting, I tend to like my romance with more romance - no matter what some might think, sex is not romance.

As far as the read-alikes go, I'll be listing them all the way at the bottom of this post, since I didn't feel the two novellas were different enough that they would each need their own read-alike lists.

"Christmas Pride":

Mace Llewellyn, a lion shapshifter, has just come back to his Pride after being in the Navy. He plans to break things off with his Pride and go off on his own - male lion shifters in the Pride are expected to have sex with all the women and get as many of them pregnant as possible, but Mace is unusual in that he would like to settle down with one woman. Specifically, he'd like to settle down with Dez, an Irish-Puerto Rican woman he was friends with as a kid and who he hasn't seen since. When Mace gets home, he discovers that one of the Pride's males has been killed, his sister, the head of the Pride, is one of the suspects, and Dez is part of the investigating team. Mace isn't particularly upset about the murder, and he hates his sister, so, rather than get worked up about the murder investigation, he flirts heavily with Dez. Mace's sisters have made it clear that they don't consider Dez to be worthy of Mace, but Mace is determined to convince Dez that they're perfect for each other. Soon, however, Mace finds himself having to show Dez what he is - she's a little freaked out at first, but it isn't long before the two of them are having sex. Dez's objectivity is blown, so she can no longer work on the murder case, but she finds herself getting involved in it anyway. She and Mace have to deal with the danger this puts her in.

I disliked parts of this novella so much that I almost quit reading it at several points. I'm not very good with erotic romance - I don't like it when the main characters of a story use the word "f**k" when they talk about having sex with each other, and I want main characters of a romantic story to actually engage in activities that show that they like each other and have more in common than sex. If I remember right, Mace and Dez don't actually have sex until at least half way through the novella, but they think about sex all the time. Mace frequently says that his feelings for Dez are about more than sex, but there's little proof of that. When he's around her, all he can think about is her breasts and having sex with her. Dez feels pretty much the same way when she's around Mace. The only things they do around each other than don't involve sex or thinking about sex are talking about the murder or about their past or the bit where Mace finds Dez watching Cops.

Speaking of Dez's breasts... They were mentioned a lot, and apparently they are huge. Like, porn star huge. Laurenston couldn't seem to decide whether to make Dez shy about her body (a little chubby; she was self-conscious when she was a girl because she developed early) or really bold (wearing a leather corset for Mace, tricks with her breasts, etc.), so she tried to do both, and it didn't really work. Laurenston wrote about Dez as though she were making sure that potential male readers would have something to drool over, and, who knows, maybe she does have a lot of male readers. That would explain the emphasis on sex over romance.

The most romantic parts of this book were the bits where Mace or Dez thought about their relationship when they were younger. Their relationship sounded really sweet. Mace was the funny, skinny boy with the wild hair whom Dez befriended. If Laurenston had spent more time on those parts and used them to develop scenes where Dez and Mace get to know each other again (after all, it's been a long time since they've last seen each other - 17 years?), I think I would've liked this novella much more.

I don't really know for sure, but I felt like Laurenston went a little over the top when she wrote about Dez and dogs. When Dez was in the military (yes, she was in the military, too), she trained dogs. Her dog was so vicious that it scared even her, but she managed to get the dog under control. When the dog was given to a different handler, however, it apparently took the handler's hand off. Tell me, if Dez was such a good trainer, wouldn't a dog she'd trained be able to handle being with another trainer? I don't really know for sure, but it seems to me like that would be the case.

"Shaw's Tail":

Brendon Shaw, a lion shifter and wealthy hotel owner, got into trouble during the events of the previous novella. A wolf shifter named Ronnie makes sure he stays safe while he recovers from his wounds and a fever, and she is both amused and dismayed when the feverish Brendon acts attracted to her. Wolves and lions don't generally mix, and, besides, Ronnie is trying to clean up her act and be a good girl - she's spent years as a wild child, doing dangerous things, getting banned from whole countries, and sleeping with anything attractive and male. She's decided that she should be a proper female wolf shifter and find another wolf shifter to settle down with. Things don't go as planned, though, because Brendon is still interested in her, even after he gets over his fever, and Ronnie is attracted to him, too. Brendon has to convince her they'd make a good couple, and they both have to overcome the objections of their family members.

After the previous novella, I was afraid of what I was going to have to deal with in this one, but I enjoyed this novella much more than the previous one. That doesn't mean I thought it was great, but it certainly was a quicker and more enjoyable read.

Brendon and Ronnie actually manage to have fun with each other and get to know each other a little. Granted, during a good portion of the "getting to know each other" part, Brendon was delirious with fever - I loved how goofy the fever made him, and I actually liked Brendon better in his lion form than in his human form sometimes. Later on, after Brendon has recovered from his fever and after he and Ronnie have begun something of a relationship, Brendon takes Ronnie to meet his children. I enjoyed that scene, and it wasn't as weird and tense as it could have been, since the mothers of Brendon's children weren't upset that he had a new woman and Ronnie wasn't jealous and upset that Brendon had had children. It was just understood that these children were part of the life Brendon had to lead as part of his agreement with the Pride - he didn't like having to be a breeder, and was getting out of that life, but he loved his children. In addition to Ronnie meeting Brendon's kids, Brendon gets to meet Ronnie's family. Unlike in the previous novella, where Mace and Dez can barely keep themselves from pawing each other when her family is over for Christmas dinner, Brendon and Ronnie behave themselves when they're around her family (for the most part), and I liked that.

Ronnie wasn't always presented in such a nice way as Brendon - she of the Tennessee accent came across as a bit of a hick sometimes, and she frequently thinks about her mother and others calling her a whore because of her tendency to sleep with lots of men. Laurenston had already established in the previous volume that female wolf shifters tend to have big feet, and she continues that with Ronnie. I found the references to her big feet somewhat distracting, but at least it wasn't as annoying as Dez's breasts.

As with the previous novella, Laurenston went a little over the top with some things, particularly in her presentation of Ronnie's "wildness." Ronnie tells Brendon that her behavior has gotten her banned from several countries. Laurenston later continues the joke by having Brendon complain about the list of places he can't take Ronnie to, because she's been banned. While I'm sure it's possible to be banned from a country, it's a little over the top for Laurenston to act like Ronnie has managed to get herself banned from a long list of places.

Oh, as an added note, in case you are interested in the sex in this book, the second novella has something that I don't think I've ever seen before in erotic romance (or any other romance, for that matter): role play. A couple times during the story, Ronnie pretends to be an inexperienced schoolgirl who's come over to tutor Brendon, who's role playing as a bad boy jock. It was a bit weird, and it wasn't really something that interested me, but it's worth mentioning. Bondage comes up a lot in erotic romance; role playing does not.

Although I hated the first novella, I liked the second novella enough that I might give Laurenston another chance and try something else by her. In a final note, unrelated to the content, the copy of this book that I read had a publishing error - pages 329-360 were repeated. It's not too big a deal, because no pages were actually left out, but it confused me a bit at first.


Read-alikes:

  • Megan's Mark (book) by Lora Leigh - This is the first book in Leigh's Breeds series. Megan Fields is a Sherrif's Deputy in the deserts of New Mexico. She'd prefer to work in a more populated area, but her empathic abilities make this impossible. She rarely has to deal with real trouble, until the day she comes across two dead Breeds (Breeds are genetically engineered blends of human and animal DNA). When someone starts shooting at Megan, her rescue comes in the form of Braden Arness, a Lion Breed. Megan's not sure who to trust and is suspicious of Braden, who only wants to protect her, find out who killed the two Breeds, and discover their reasons why. Braden and Megan are attracted to each other - Braden knows that Megan is his mate, but he also knows that if he kisses her she has little choice but to be his, and he'd rather that she choose him of her own free will. Those who'd like another erotic paranormal romance featuring werelions might like this book.
  • Night Play (book) by Sherrilyn Kenyon - This is the 6th book in Kenyon's Dark-Hunter series, but I think it's her first book starring one of her world's shapeshifters. Vane Kattalakis, a shapeshifter who can change into a wolf, is alone - he can't return to his pack and his brother is in a coma. However, things start to look a little up (and become more complicated) when Vane meets Bride, a store owner who has problems believing someone as gorgeous as Vane could really be interested in her. Bride is Vane's mate, and if he can't get her to accept him he'll spend the rest of his life (many decades) alone and impotent. Unfortunately, this means Bride has to accept Vane's non-human status and survive the danger that surrounds him. Those who'd like another paranormal romance featuring shapeshifters, a mixture of humor and action, and a writing style similar to Laurenston's might like this book. Although this is not an erotic romance, there are quite a few steamy sex scenes.
  • Master of the Night (book) by Angela Knight - According to KDL What's next, this book is the first in Knight's Master series - according to Amazon.com, it's the second in her Mageverse series. It's been a while since I've read this, so I can't really say which website is correct. Anyway, Knight re-imagines the legend of Arthur and Merlin, combining it with vampire lore. This particular book stars Vampire Knight Reece and Erin Grayson, a woman determined to seduce Reece under the mistaken impression that this will help her get her revenge against a murderous organization. Reece and Erin are attracted to each other, but this attraction is a danger to Reece, who will be put to death by his own people if he sleeps with her three times, since this would turn her into a Maya (another kind of mortal that has a symbiotic relationship with vampires) without the permission of the Council. Those who'd like another erotic paranormal romance might enjoy this book.
  • Full Moon Rising (book) by Keri Arthur - This is the first book in the Riley Jensen Guardian series. Riley Jensen and her twin brother are half vampire, half werewolf. In Riley, the werewolf side is pretty strong, but she does have a few gifts courtesy of her vampire side. In this fast-paced book, Riley's twin goes missing and a naked vampire turns up on her doorstep. Riley and Quinn team up to find her brother and end up uncovering lots of scary stuff about clones of supernatural creatures (cloned vampires are only the tip of the iceberg). Those who'd like another story with steamy sex scenes and shapeshifters of all sorts might like this book and series.
  • Mine to Take (book) by Dara Joy - In this futuristic romance, beautiful Jenise will do anything to escape being married to her late stepfather's evil brother, Karpon. She discovers that Karpon has captured a shapeshifter named Gian Ren and makes him an offer he can't refuse - she offers him her virginity in exchange for his help in escaping. What Jenise doesn't know is that she is Gian's mate, and he doesn't plan to let her go. The two of them journey together, fleeing Karpon and his soldiers and gradually getting to know each other. Those who'd like another romance with steamy sex scenes and feline shapeshifters that display a mix of feline and human behavior might like this book. This is not the first book in the series, although it should still be understandable overall.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bleach (manga, vol. 22) by Tite Kubo

Everybody's keeping secrets in this volume. Kon, while in Ichigo's body, has discovered that Ichigo's father is a Soul Reaper, one who seems to know Urahara pretty well. Both Urahara and Ichigo's dad know about Vizards (rogue Soul Reapers who've acquired Hollow powers) and Arrancars (Hollows who've had their masks removed and who have gained Soul Reaper powers). Uruyuu is told by his father that he can get his Quincy powers back, but he has to first agree never to gete involved with Soul Reapers again. Ichigo is trying to deal with a new student at his school who wants him to join the Vizards - in fact, he claims that Ichigo is already a Vizard, since he's beginning to show the symptoms. Ichigo is terrified, because he can feel the Hollow part of himself growing stronger. He's afraid it will overwhelm him.

He doesn't get a chance to deal with his fear before a pair of Arrancars arrive and start killing people - Chad and Orihime try to deal with the problem before Ichigo arrives, but they are seriously outclassed. Ichigo, fighting with the Hollow part of himself, also has problems, but luckily Urahara and Yoruichi arrive in time to keep the whole group from being killed. Afterward, in addition to worrying about the Hollow part of himself, Ichigo has to deal with his guilt at failing to properly protect Orihime. Rukia fans will be happy to know that Rukia turns up and talks some confidence into him.

After 22 volumes, I still enjoy this series, even though it's getting pretty complicated. I'm glad that Kubo actually chose to do something with Ichigo's hints of Hollow, which started showing up many volumes earlier, rather than just letting them go unexplained and unused. It's going to make things tough on poor Ichigo, but stories are often at their most enjoyable when their characters are having the most problems. I'm also interested to see how things turn out with Uryuu (is he really going to avoid all contact with Ichigo from now on?) and Orihime (who seems to want, more and more, to be able to contribute more during fights, rather than just as a healer afterward).

The revelation about Ichigo's dad, which actually occurred in the previous volume and was only continued in this one, was the most surprising for me - he's been such a goofball throughout the whole series, so it's weird seeing him as a strong warrior. Kubo's revelation, through Captain Hitsugaya, that there are three classes of Menos was interesting, but seemed a bit tacked on - Ichigo had been around several Soul Reapers and former Soul Reapers during that time when he fought a Menos alongside Renji, and no one had ever even hinted at different classes of Menos back then.

I like that Kubo is still able to come up with great character designs. Yammy, the biggest of the two Arrancars in this volume, wasn't my favorite sort of character design, but his design fit his personality ("brute force can deal with anything"). I really liked the other Arrancar's design - Ulquiorra is pretty and sad-looking. Sure, he could probably grind Ichigo into the pavement, but that doesn't mean I can't admire how he looks. As for the two Vizard in this volume, there's something about their designs that just creeps me out.

I know that I mentioned that Rukia fans will like that she shows up for a bit, but the appearance that got me excited was Urahara. Urahara not only appeared several times throughout this volume, he got to act mysterious (in his talk with Ichigo's dad) and he got to briefly battle one of the Arrancars. If it weren't for the fact that, according to Hitsugaya, an Arrancar like Ulquiorra is probably stronger than Captain-class Soul Reapers like Urahara, I would've liked to see Urahara and Ulquiorra fight. Unfortunately, from the sounds of things, even Urahara would probably die in a one-on-one fight with someone like Ulquiorra.

As far as extras go, this volume continues the funny story involving poor Hanataro using sketched comics inserted between chapters. Other than that, there's nothing much. However, for those who like to buy manga, this volume is fairly thick (a little over 200 pages) and has one of the best manga prices out there, $7.95. Basically, if you like Shonen Jump titles like this one, you're in luck - I don't think there are any other publishers out there that sell manga as cheaply as Viz does its Shonen Jump titles. Of course, you pay in the long run, because these titles often run for more than 20 volumes...

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:

  • Naruto (manga) by Masashi Kishimoto; Naruto (anime TV series) - Naruto, a young ninja, is determined to become the best ninja in his village, but he must first learn teamwork and better fighting techniques in order to survive all the tests he needs to pass in order to become a full-fledged ninja. Those who enjoy Bleach's battles, characters with amazing abilities, and fantasy elements may enjoy this manga series. Like Bleach, this series features action, humor, and drama.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist (manga) by Hiromu Arakawa; Fullmetal Alchemist (anime TV series); Fullmetal Alchemist: The Movie (anime movie) - In a world where alchemy is considered science, Ed and Al, two young brothers, have broken the primary rule of alchemy, the law of equivalent exchange, in an attempt to resurrect their mother. As a result, Ed lost an arm and a leg, and Al lost his whole body. Now they're on a journey to discover the Philosopher's Stone and use it to restore their bodies. Those who'd like another series with fantasy elements that features humor, drama, and action may enjoy this series. Both the anime and the manga are good, although the anime is very different from the manga after a certain point. Once you finish the anime, there's also a movie that wraps things up in a grand battles and multi-world spanning way - it's not advisable to watch the movie before finishing the anime TV series.
  • D.Gray-man (manga) by Katsura Hoshino; D.Gray-man (anime TV series) - Akuma are monsters born from the souls of the dead that are mistakenly recalled to the world of the living by their loved ones. The Millennium Earl uses Akuma as weapons in his quest to destroy the world. Standing against him are the Exorcists of the Black Priest Organization. Among them is Allen Walker, who has been cursed since his youth with an anti-Akuma weapon as his left arm and an eye that sees the former souls of Akuma. Those who like Bleach's villains (Hollows of various sorts that feed off of the souls of the dead and Soul Hunters who take on some of the abilities and characteristics of Hollows) and mixture of comedy, action, and drama might like this series. FUNimation has licensed the anime series, but it has yet to be released in the US.
  • Saiyuki (manga) by Kazuya Minekura - In this fantasy series, the peace between humans and demons has been broken - experiments conducted by a corrupt and evil demon are causing all demons to go crazy and kill everyone, especially humans. Genjo Sanzo, a gun-toting, trash-talking monk, is teamed up with Son Goku, a young-looking 500-year-old food-loving demon, Sha Gojyo, a half-demon, half-human with red eyes and hair, and Cho Hakkai, yet another demon. They are told to deliver a sacred scroll, the Maten Scripture, to India. Those who found Ichigo's feeling that he can't trust the Hollow-aspect inside of himself interesting may enjoy this series, in which the demon and half-demon main characters fear that they could go blood-thirsty and insane at any moment. There are several anime adaptations, prequels, and sequels for this series, as well as alternate manga retellings, and a manga prequel and sequel. I didn't want to list them all (it gets confusing), so I suggest that, if you're interested, you click on the "Saiyuki" link that I've listed and look through Anime News Network's list.
  • Blood+ (anime TV series) - Although most humans don't know it, humankind and Chiropterans, monsters that feed on the blood of the living, are at war. An organization known as the Red Shield tracks down Chiropterans and exterminates them. Saya believes she is an ordinary high school girl until she comes upon several Chiropterans at school one day and is encouraged to fight them by a mysterious man named Hagi (sometimes spelled Haji, which I prefer) who claims to be her Chevallier. Saya, who had had no memory of her life beyond the past year, begins to re-discover her past and her role in the fight against Chiropterans. Unfortunately, her formerly peaceful and idyllic family life is gradually destroyed beyond repair. Those who found the Hollow part of Ichigo, which is strong, scary, and not human, interesting and who enjoy the sword-fighting in the series may like this series. Saya, like Ichigo, has to learn to deal with and control the more dangerous part of herself that has stayed dormant for so long.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Black Cat (manga, vol. 14) by Kentaro Yabuki

Train and Eve have gone to meet someone who can supposedly give them information about Creed's location. However, a sweeper (bounty hunter) named River challenges Train to a fight first - Train's gun against River's fists. Train wins, of course, but unfortunately Glin, the man River was with, won't tell them anything about Creed yet. Glin gives Train and River each a disk and invites them to join an alliance of sweepers, united by their goal to beat Creed. The disk turns out to be a game disk, and Train struggles, with Eve's help, to beat it and thereby earn the instructions to the meeting place for the sweeper alliance. Meanwhile, Train's partner, Sven, is working hard to improve his ability to use the Vision Eye, which allows him to see just enough of the future to stay out of immediate trouble (dodging bullets, that sort of thing). Train, Sven, and a whole group of other sweepers, all part of the new alliance of sweepers, go on a trip to infiltrate the hideout of the Apostles of the Stars (Creed's group), but things go very badly. Some people end up dead, and those who live are separated.

I enjoy Yabuki's artwork and usually find this series to be interesting, despite the fact that it's not very original (I've heard of people saying that this series ripped a lot off of Cowboy Bebop, but, as for myself, I notice more similarities with GetBackers). This volume wasn't what I would consider the most interesting of the series, but it wasn't bad either. This isn't the best volume for those who most enjoy action - Train and River's fight is action-packed, but it's short and not very interesting, and the last part of the volume isn't a fight, because there's no time for anyone (besides Train) to do much fighting back. For the most part, the appeal of this particular volume is its humor - it was funny seeing Train, who is incredibly competent with a real gun, completely fail when he is confronted by a shooting game.

There's not really all that much I can say about this volume, since not much happens. The only real revelation (this is a spoiler, but not, I think, an earth-shattering one) is that Glin is actually X, a member of Chronos - I wonder if the alliance of sweepers is Chronos' super-sneaky way of giving Train some resources and getting him to do their dirty work, killing Creed, for them. Then again, X could also be doing this on his own - Yabuki hasn't revealed much about this character yet, so it's tough to know what his motivations might be.

Overall, this is a so-so volume in a series that is usually fun, if not exactly original. As far as extras go, there are character drawings from Yabuki's manga debut, Yamato Gensouki, a few character drawings from Black Cat, and a funny annotated drawing of Yabuki's new workplace.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Cowboy Bebop (anime TV series) - Spike Spiegel is a bounty hunter with a laid-back attitude, amazing fighting skills, and a dark past. He's partners with Jet Black, a former cop, and, as the series progresses, his group grows to include Faye Valentine (a sexy, tricky gambler who can't really remember her past) and Ed (a weird and cheerful young hacker). There are a couple manga series based on this anime, but they're not nearly as good as the anime. In addition, there's a movie that takes place fairly late in the series timeline - I'd recommend watching the series before seeing the movie. Those who enjoy Black Cat's characters and who'd like another story featuring a group of bounty hunters might like this series.
  • Loveless (anime TV series); Loveless (manga) by Yun Kouga - Twelve-year-old Ritsuka's life isn't very normal - his older brother died not too long ago, his mother is physically abusive, and a strange 19-year-old man named Soubi has shown up, claiming to have known his brother. Soubi says he is Ritsuka's Fighter, while Ritsuka is a Sacrifice. Ritsuka slowly comes to understand what this means, as he learns to battle other Fighter-Sacrifice pairs who may be able to lead him to knowledge about his brother's death. Overall, this series has very little in common with Black Cat, but those who liked this volume of Black Cat's use of a video game as a way to discover important information may want to try Loveless, in which a similar situation occurs. In addition, Loveless, like Black Cat, features some pretty cool battles between characters. The anime is beautiful and follows the manga pretty closely, but it ends well before the manga does, and therefore doesn't actually resolve or explain much of anything. I own both (at least, as much of the manga as has been published so far in the US) and consider it worth it.
  • GetBackers (anime TV series) - Ban Mido and Ginji Amano are the GetBackers, people who will get back for their clients anything that has been lost or stolen from them. Both men have useful powers - Ginji, the cheerful and goofy one of the duo, can generate thousands of volts of electricity from his body, while cool and mysterious Ban has the "Snake Bite" (hands with a gripping power of 200 kg) and the "Evil Eye" (with certain limitations, he can make anyone who looks into his eyes experience powerful hallucinations). Those who particularly like the characters in Black Cat may enjoy this series. Just to give some examples of similarities, Ginji, like Train, is a light-hearted guy whose cheerfulness hides an incredible fighting ability, and Ban, like Sven, is a guy with magical eyes. This anime is based on a manga series, but I haven't read it yet and can't comment on how similar or different it is from the anime.
  • Hunter X Hunter (manga) by Yoshihiro Togashi - Many people in the world aspire to be hunters, for the fame, wealth, or special privileges they would receive, but few people are able to pass the qualification test. Gon, whose father was one of the greatest hunters in the world, begins his quest to become a hunter and find his father. Gon befriends others along the way, including a member of a renowned assassin family, someone who wants to become a hunter in order to avenge the deaths of his tribe members, and an aspiring doctor. Those who enjoy Black Cat's characters, action, and humor might like this series. What a hunter does depends on what type of hunter he or she is - they can hunt for rare items, archaeological ruins, criminals, and more. The Blacklist Hunters, who are a lot like bounty hunters, may interest fans of Black Cat the most. For those who are interested, there is an anime series based on this manga, but I haven't seen it yet and therefore can't really comment on it.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Naruto (manga, vol. 29) by Masashi Kishimoto

Gaara, who is now Kazekage, has been kidnapped by the Akatsuki. Two teams have set out to rescue him: Guy, Lee, Neji, Tenten, and Pakkun in one team, and Naruto, Sakura, Granny Chiyo, and Kakashi in the other. They have to hurry, because apparently the Akatsuki plan on removing the demon inside Gaara (which are apparently called Biju - tailed beast spirits), which would have the unfortunate side-effect of killing him. Guy's team runs into Kisame, and Kakashi's team runs into Itachi - both teams are forced to fight these incredibly powerful opponents, but things are not as they seem.

It wasn't long before this volume that the Naruto timeline jumped ahead two years, and so far I'm enjoying the change. It's difficult to tell, but it seems as though Naruto might've mellowed out during the two years that were skipped. I'm enjoying seeing how everyone has changed and grown. Any growth in fighting ability would likely best be shown in one-on-one battles, which don't happen in this volume, but readers do get to see Naruto and Kakashi working together in battle, which is a treat by itself. I was kind of hoping that Neji, one of my favorite characters, would get more of a chance to do some fighting, but no such luck (whenever I see him in the manga now, all I can think of is the anime AMV I saw in Youtube titled "A Tribute to Neji's Hair").

Some readers may be disappointed that the battles with Itachi and Kisame weren't what they appeared, but I was relieved - if beating those two, especially Itachi, had really been that easy, it would've felt like a letdown. I have to admit that the battle with Kisame didn't interest me nearly as much as the battle with Itachi - I just don't find Kisame to be as interesting as Itachi, and Guy, the one who fights Kisame the most in this volume, is not my favorite ninja to see in battle. However, Guy fans out there may enjoy the battle in this volume, since Guy uses a technique readers have so far only seen Lee use - and, unlike Lee, he uses it without crippling himself.

Itachi's battle was lots of fun for me - how can a battle with a guy who can mess with people's minds not be fun? For reasons that get explained at the end of the volume, Itachi can't use his full abilities against Kakashi's team, but that doesn't stop him from getting into Naruto's head and making him hallucinate. Many of the worries and fears Naruto has about Sasuke and how the people he cares about view him after his failure with Sasuke come out in the form of hallucinations. Sakura and Granny Chiyo help him snap out of it, and then Kakashi pits his Sharingan against Itachi. Once Itachi is distracted, Naruto joins in the fight - it's a great display of teamwork, and it occurs to me that Naruto is often at his coolest when he's teaming up with strong fighters like Kakashi or Sasuke.

Unfortunately, by the end of this volume it appears very likely that Gaara is dead. I can't help it, though - I went and looked up spoilers, and, if the spoilers I read are correct, Gaara is dead, but he'll be resurrected. I can't wait to read about it.

Overall, I enjoyed this volume. This is a series that would probably be on my "to buy" list if I couldn't get it at the public library (and if I could actually afford it). At the beginning of the series, I thought that the artwork was often crowded and confusing. At that point in the series, I preferred the anime, which presented all the action in a much clearer and easier to understand fashion. Now, however, I think that the manga is at least as good as the anime, if not better (anyone wading through the seemingly unending filler episodes in the anime - Naruto, not Naruto Shippuden - would probably say that the manga is better, and I would agree).

As far as extras go, there are the usual "The World of Kishimoto Masashi" pages inserted throughout the volume. In this volume, Kishimoto mostly writes about himself and his assistants, and the weirdness that ensues when they're all particularly sleep-deprived. Even though this makes for fairly pathetic extras, I really enjoyed the writings in this particular volume.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Fullmetal Alchemist (anime TV series); Fullmetal Alchemist (manga) by Hiromu Arakawa; Fullmetal Alchemist: The Movie (anime movie) - In a world where alchemy is considered science, Ed and Al, two young brothers, have broken the primary rule of alchemy, the law of equivalent exchange, in an attempt to resurrect their mother. As a result, Ed lost an arm and a leg, and Al lost his whole body. Now they're on a journey to discover the Philosopher's Stone and use it to restore their bodies. Like Naruto, this series features humor, drama, and action. As with this volume of Naruto, the series includes the occasional character who can mess with other characters' heads - one such character, Envy, can look like anyone he/she wants. Both the anime and the manga are good, although the anime is very different from the manga after a certain point. Once you finish the anime, there's also a movie that wraps things up in a grand battles and multi-world spanning way - it's not advisable to watch the movie before finishing the anime TV series.
  • Bleach (anime TV series); Bleach (manga) by Tite Kubo - Ichigo Kurosaki has been able to see ghosts for as long as he can remember, but it's not until he meets Rukia, a Soul Reaper, that his life really gets strange (not to mention dangerous). When a battle with a Hollow goes badly, Rukia tries to lend Ichigo some of her Soul Reaper powers but ends up accidentally giving him everything. Now a full-fledged Soul Reaper, Ichigo battles Hollows with Rukia's help and guidance and gradually becomes even more powerful. Like Naruto, this series features battles between characters on different sides. In the later volumes of Bleach, there are, as with Naruto, instances where characters minds get messed with a bit - for example, Ichigo finds himself having to fight against the Hollow part of himself. The anime and manga versions of this series are very similar, although the anime features more filler.
  • GetBackers (anime TV series) - Ban Mido and Ginji Amano are the GetBackers, people who will get back for their clients anything that has been lost or stolen from them. Both men have useful powers - Ginji, the cheerful and goofy one of the duo, can generate thousands of volts of electricity from his body, while cool and mysterious Ban has the "Snake Bite" (hands with a gripping power of 200 kg) and the "Evil Eye" (with certain limitations, he can make anyone who looks into his eyes experience powerful hallucinations). Those who found Itachi's abilities particularly interesting may enjoy this series, particularly Ban's abilities. This series, which features action, comedy, and drama, was originally a manga, but I haven't read that yet and can't comment on how similar or different it is from the anime.
  • Black Cat (manga) by Kentaro Yabuki - Ex-assassin Train and Sven are a bounty hunting team constantly trying to earn enough money for a decent meal. Their lives are mostly normal until someone who knew Train back when he was an assassin tries to recruit him into a new and dangerous crime ring full of people with amazing abilities. As with Naruto, there are quite a few one-on-one battles and fights between small groups of people. Those who'd like another action-packed story featuring characters with fantastic special abilities might like to try this series. There is also an anime based on this manga series, but I haven't seen it yet and can't comment on how similar or different it is from the manga.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Book and reading blogs

I'm starting to come up with a pretty nice collection of book and reading blogs - not bad, considering I haven't been actively looking for them. Mostly, I just stumble across them while looking for read-alikes for the things I've read or watched. If it looks like the blog is primarily about books/reading, rather than just something with the occasional book/reading post, I add it to my blog list.

Part of me hopes that curious people from those blogs will come visit my own blog after either noticing that I've linked to them (Technorati, Statcounter, and other things can reveal that kind of information) or after noticing that I've commented on their blogs (not likely, since I don't comment often). I think I've managed to attract one or two people through others' blogs - hi there!

Mostly, though, I just like getting a quick look at what other people are writing about. Among other things, looking at book and reading blogs has increased my "to be read" list (not that I need that).

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Male Call (book) by Heather MacAllister

Marnie LaTour works for Carnahan Custom Software in San Francisco, California. She writes code and designs websites, and she's good at what she does. She's hopeful that one of her coworkers might become her boyfriend, at least until he tells her that she's "not the girlfriend type." On an impulse, Marnie rents an apartment from a struggling playwright and agrees to get tips from him on how to improve her appearance and become the kind of girl that men would want to whistle at (or at least the kind of girl men recognize as female - the way Marnie dresses, her gender can sometimes be difficult to determine, and she gets mistaken for a homeless person). Her landlord starts things off by having her try on a skirt that may or may not have the magical power of making its wearer attractive to the opposite sex.

Soon after trying on the skirt, Marnie catches the eye of sexy construction worker Zach Renfro - oblivious to his interest, Marnie asks him to also give her advice about attracting men and dating. Gradually, Marnie realizes that Zach really is interested in her, but she also realizes that a relationship between the two of them wouldn't work out - Zach is married to his Victorian restoration business, and Marnie wants to settle down with someone who'd have her at the top of his list of priorities. Zach knows Marnie is the woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with, but he's got to convince her first.

I'm a little embarrassed to say that I really enjoyed this book. There's an earlier edition of this book than the one I read that would make this admission even more embarrassing - on the cover of that edition, a woman who's supposed to be Marnie (Marnie has dark hair and this woman is either blond or has light brown hair) is laughing while lying in bed (I think) with a guy who is either naked or at least shirtless (this is probably Zach). I suppose you could say something like this happened in the book, but it didn't happen until nearly the end. It's covers like this that help give romance novels such an bad reputation. The cover illustration on the copy I read (published by Harlequin in 2003) is boring, but okay - a blandly pretty close-up of a woman straightening a man's tie, with both their faces mainly obscured. I'll admit that I got this book from the library because the cover wasn't too embarrassing, the book was short (217 pages), and the title sounded like good cheesy fun.

I enjoyed reading about an otherwise competent young woman who needs help being more girly and sending out the right signals to men she's interested in. Think "What Not To Wear" with a dating component and a specific goal. Marnie was a sweet, quirky character who should've figured out a lot sooner than she did that Barry (the coworker who didn't consider her to be the girlfriend type) wasn't worth that much effort. Whenever I pictured Marnie in my head, the word "cute" always came to mind. I think the only thing I didn't like about her was that she figured out the principles of dating and attraction a lot faster than I liked - I think I would have preferred it if she had been more awkward and managed to succeed in spite of that.

I enjoyed Zach the most in the earlier parts of the book. I laughed when his thoughts revealed his confusion about Marnie's gender (Marnie was attracted to him before they ever officially met and had a habit of hanging around Zach's construction site, admiring him, and shouting out her attraction to him while he used loud power tools) and when he mistook her for a homeless girl. I also loved when the two of them met after Marnie tried on the skirt - he was hilarious in how smitten he was, even after he discovered that Marnie was the person he thought was a homeless girl.

Later in the book, Marnie and Zach have to deal with Marnie's need to get Barry to see her as a desirable woman and Zach's overpowering interest in his job. The whole Marnie/Barry thing got a little old after a while, for me and for Zach. Once Marnie realized that Zach and other men found her attractive, it shouldn't have mattered so much what Barry thought. Zach's interest in his job was a little more complicated. Marnie enjoyed seeing the joy that Zach's job brought him, but she didn't want that to overpower his interest in her. I can understand that, but it's a hard balance to achieve, and I'm not really sure that the ending of the book proves that it actually has been achieved. I'm also not sure that someone like Zach could change that fast - adjusting your priorities takes time. I guess this book really needs to be viewed as a kind of fairy tale, a bit like Cinderella - Marnie puts on her magical skirt, she and Zach fall in love, things happen, things work out, and Marnie and Zach live happily ever after, the end.

The Cinderella thing reminds me of another thing I wanted to talk about, the skirt. I'm not sure if the skirt is actually magical, but, when she has it on, Zach actually notices Marnie as a woman for the first time and men gravitate towards her when she goes to a bar. In addition, the only time Marnie doesn't think the skirt feels perfect is when she's wearing it while she's alone with Barry in her apartment - apparently, the skirt can recognize the man its wearer should be with. It's interesting, but the skirt felt kind of unnecessary. Couldn't Marnie attract Zach's interest without the help of a potentially magical skirt? Since MacAllister has other books involving this skirt, I guess it was a convenient way for her to set up a theme for a series, but it still felt unnecessary.

If you can accept this book for what it is, a light and mostly cheerful romance novel that doesn't demand much in the way of thought from it's readers, then this book is pretty enjoyable. The characters are likable, even if it does take them an awfully long time to get over their various issues, the story is pretty simple, and the only thing gumming up the works of Zach and Marnie's romance is themselves (there's no villain).

This is one of three books featuring the magical skirt, so readers who liked this book might like to try MacAllister's other two skirt books, Tempted in Texas and Skirting the Issue.

Read-alikes:
  • A Whirlwind...Makeover (book) by Nancy Lavo - This Silhouette romance focuses on Maddie Sinclair, an account executive at a marketing firm, and Dan Willis, a famous fashion photographer. Maddie is 5'11'' and built for her height. She's had her size and height criticized for so long, by her own mother no less, that she now believes that she's ugly. Dan bumps into her one day and falls immediately in love with her. The two of them become friends and Dan, who sees what a beautiful person she is inside, does his best to help make Maddie over so that she can believe in her own beauty. Meanwhile, Maddie has a major crush on a gorgeous, charming, and self-centered colleague. As Maddie starts to blossom emotionally, she learns to see Dan and her crush in the proper light. Those who'd like another makeover romance featuring love at first sight and a heroine who takes a little time to realize which guy is right for her might like this book.
  • Nerd in Shining Armor (book) by Vicki Lewis Thompson - Genevieve can't believe her luck when Nick Brogan, her sexy employer, asks her to accompany him on an overnight business meeting in Maui. Unfortunately, things don't go as planned - Jack the computer nerd is coming with them, and Nick turns out to be a murderous psychopath with plans for both Jack and Genevieve to die in a plane crash. Luckily, Jack has played enough flight simulator computer games to crash-land the plane. Not only has Jack just become their hero, but he also turns out to have a great body and a sense of chivalry, and Genevieve finds herself falling for him. Those who'd like another contemporary romance featuring a gorgeous character who falls for a nerd might like this book. Be warned, however, the sex scenes in this book are much more frequent and steamy than anything in Male Call. This book is the first in a series of books featuring nerdy main characters.
  • Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (book) by Ann Brashares - An ordinary pair of thrift-shop jeans becomes extraordinary after four teenage friends with very different sizes and builds try them on and discover that they fit each of them perfectly, making each girl look and feel sexy and confident. The girls are about to be separated for the summer, each doing different things (going to Greece, soccer camp in Baja, CA, visiting divorced father in South Carolina, staying home to do minimum wage job), so they make a pact to share the jeans equally, mailing them back and forth. Those who'd like another story featuring a seemingly magical item of clothing that makes the wearer feel beautiful and confident might like this book.
  • Unzipped (book) by Karen Kendall - In this Harlequin Blaze romance, Hal Underwood, a computer nerd, reluctantly hires Shannon Shane, an Image Consultant and Media Trainer, to make him over so that he can present a better image for the company he works for. Hal is immediately interested in the beautiful Shannon, but he's convinced that she's out of his league. He's shocked when he discovers that she has her own insecurities - she feels that no one takes her intelligence seriously, and she thinks that her attempts at making Hal over pale in comparison with the things that Hal has already accomplished. Those who'd like another romance featuring a computer nerd who gets made over by the gorgeous person he/she falls for might like this book.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Vampire Knight (manga, vol. 1) by Matsuri Hino

Yuki Cross is a member of the Disciplinary Committee at Cross Academy and a Day Class student. She and the other member of the Disciplinary Committe, Zero Kiryu, have been given the task of keeping the Day Class away from the Night Class as much as possible, not an easy task considering the beauty of the members of the Night Class. What most of the Day Class students don't know is that the Night Class is composed of vampires - the headmaster of Cross Academy hopes that this school can foster peace between humans and vampires. This volume introduces the main characters and sets up a lot of the relationships between the characters.

Kaname Kuran, a pureblood vampire, found and rescued a bloody and amnesiac 5-year-old Yuki from a vicious vampire. Since that day, Yuki has had something of a crush on Kaname. Yuki was adopted by the headmaster of Cross Academy, and their "family" grew a bit when the headmaster took in Zero, whose entire family was killed by vampires. Although Yuki has a crush on Kaname, she also cares for Zero, which complicates things. In addition, Zero is hiding a terrible secret.

I first started reading this series in the magazine Shojo Beat, so I know a bit more about where the plot is going to go than is revealed in this volume. As far as the artwork goes, this is a lovely manga. Hino does a wonderful job at capturing the beauty of her vampires. Even when Kaname and Zero do things that I don't like (I believe one of the editors for Shojo Beat mentioned that Zero's nickname among some of the staff is "Neck Rapist" - he earns that nickname in this volume, by the way), I can still appreciate their character designs. I recently found out that this series has been made into an anime that I think has only just started airing in Japan - I hope that it eventually makes its way to the US, because I think this would be an enjoyable series to see in action and in color.

As far as the story goes, it's sometimes hard to tell what Hino is trying to do. I've never seen any of Hino's other works, but her freetalks in the sidebars of this volume indicate that she's mostly done romantic comedies. It's still possible to see that influence in Vampire Knight, which is part of the reason why this volume is so odd. It's clear that Hino is trying to write a serious story, with dark character pasts and lots of blood. However, there are lots of panels in this first volume where Yuki and Zero are like some kind of comedy team. The headmaster is also a big source of comedy, as he teases Zero, gushes over Yuki, and sparkles with the force of his apparently naive dream to promote peace between humans and vampires. The difference between the more light-hearted scene and the darker scenes is so great that the more infrequent light-hearted scenes become jarring.

Readers who are looking for a lot of action may be disappointed by this series. Although there are occasional action scenes throughout this first volume (and later in the series), the focus is on character development and the relationships between the characters, making this a slower-paced story than some might expect.

I'm sure every reader will have their own preferences for how things should turn out with Yuki and her guys (at this point, Zero and Kaname - no idea if the number will grow). Despite my love of tragic characters like Zero, I, personally, am rooting for Kaname - he's just so cool and elegant. I do worry, though, since there are indications, even this early in the series, that Kaname might not be the nice, trustworthy vampire Yuki thinks he is. I sometimes wonder if he wasn't responsible for whatever it was the wiped 5-year-old Yuki's memory - if, in some later volume, I find out that he was, I imagine I'll end up siding with Zero. Until then, yay for the long-haired vampire aristocrat!

As far as the extras go, there's author freetalks in the sidebars focusing on how Hino developed this series and its characters, notes on the Day Class uniform, a 3-page humorous continuation of the volume focusing on the Night Class, a few humorous 4-panel comics, notes explaining the kanji used in several characters' names (Aido Hanabusa, Kain Akatsuki, Souen Ruka, Kiryu Zero, and Kuran Kaname), plus notes on a couple terms (-sama, Xocolatl).

I kind of wish that the notes for the names had gone into a little more depth - as far as I can tell, the order of the names in the notes reflects the original Japanese order (Kuran Kaname), while the order used in the manga reflects Shojo Beat's decision to use a Western order (Kaname Kuran). This sort of thing is really confusing, especially when Shojo Beat decides not to even mention anything about their decision to go with a Western name order everywhere but in the explanations in the back. Another thing I would've liked is a few cultural notes - I believe that the magazine had several useful notes that weren't included in this volume (like a little bit about Kaname's comment to Yuki: "You always speak so formally to me. It makes me feel a little lonely...").

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Hellsing (anime TV series) - This bloody and action-packed series focuses on the two non-human members of the Hellsing Organization, an English vampire-extermination group: Alucard, an anti-hero and ancient and powerful vampire, and Seras Victoria, a police officer-turned-vampire. In the anime series, the Hellsing Organization deals with random murderous vampires and tries to stop someone who is creating artificial vampires. Those who'd like something that focuses more on vampires and lots of bloody action might like this anime series. This anime was inspired by a manga series, and there's also an anime OVA that is more closely based on the manga than this TV series - however, both the manga and the OVA glory in bloodshed even more than the TV series does, so they might not appeal to fans of Vampire Knight quite as much.
  • Fruits Basket (anime TV series); Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya - Tohru had been living with her grandfather after her mother died, but circumstances and Tohru's own desire not to be a burden meant that she ended up living alone in a tent for a while. However, she gets taken in by the Sohma family, who are hiding a secret - certain members of the family turn into animals in the Chinese zodiac when they're weak or hugged by a member of the opposite sex. Both the manga and anime are good - the anime follows the manga pretty closely (except for a few things, and the last episode), but it ends well before the manga does. Those who'd like another romantic fantasy series featuring a nice and determined heroine and lots of characters with secrets might like this series. Both Vampire Knight and Fruits Basket have a mixture of drama and humor, but Fruits Basket takes a lot longer to get darker than Vampire Knight does. Several of the characters in Fruits Basket remind me of character in Vampire Knight: for instance, Shigure, a member of the Sohma family, is often like the headmaster, and Kyo and Yuki, other members of the Sohma family, share similarities with Zero.
  • The Awakening (book) by L. J. Smith - This is the first book in Smith's Vampire Diaries series. Elena is a beautiful, popular high school girl who is intrigued by Stefan, a brooding and mysterious newcomer who is the only one to ever resist her. Damon is Stefan's sexy and dangerous brother, who, in order to get revenge against Stefan, is willing to take Elena from him by whatever means necessary. What Elena doesn't know at first is that both Stefan and Damon are vampires - by getting closer to them, she's involving herself, her friends, and her family in their dangerous world. Those who'd like another story involving high school romance, vampires, and a brooding vampire character who hates what he's become might like this book and series.
  • Trinity Blood (anime TV series) - In a distant future, vampires and humans are at war. The Vatican has allies and a special group designed to keep the peace as much as possible and to protect humans. Abel Nightroad, a deceptively clumsy and absent-minded priest with a secret, travels from place to place as a representative of the Vatican. Esther, a young woman he meets, may be the key to peace between humans and vampires. Those who'd like another story that mixes humor, action, and drama and involves vampires might like this series.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Dorothy of Oz (manhwa, vol. 2) by Son Hee-Joon

Mara is lost in the world of Oz, where magic might actually exist, people use technology that has effects like magic, and people keep calling her Dorothy. She finds out that she might have visited Oz 10 years ago, but she doesn't remember anything from that time. She learns a little about Oz from a powerful woman named Selluriah, but, before she can learn more and (more importantly) find out how to get home, Selluriah's castle is attacked. Before dying, Selluriah tells Mara/Dorothy to take a few things with her, including a pair of boots that can giver her magic-like powers, and follow the yellow brick road, her best chance to get home. Even if Mara wanted to stay, she couldn't, because Selluriah's people think she was the one who killed her. During her journey, Mara comes across a strange young man tied up like a scarecrow.

I haven't read much manhwa, mainly because my public library doesn't have much in its collection. I always feel a little weird reading everything from left to right, after getting used to the Japanese right to left format. As far as this series goes, if I ever read the first volume before, it was long enough ago that I don't remember it, so I was a little confused by the story at first. Once I adjusted to this world, I started to like the story more.

This volume starts off like a comedic fantasy and soon becomes a bit darker, as several characters are killed off and Mara/Dorothy finds herself alone, with hardly any idea of how things work in this world. Both deaths were a big surprise to me. Selluriah seemed like a character who'd be sticking around for a while and injecting a lot of comedy into the story, and the other character seemed to have a slim chance of becoming a love interest for Dorothy (I'm never sure what to call her, but she seems to have adjusted to being called Dorothy by the end of the volume). I suppose the little snippet from the author in the inside front cover should've tipped me off that something like this was going to happen, but it really didn't fit with what seemed to be the established tone of the series. I mean, some bits are really goofy, like when all the men drool over the naked transformation scenes (it made me think of the stuff you find in magical girl anime).

The first 6 pages of this volume are in color, and Hee-Joon's coloring work is so pretty that I kind of wish that the entire volume could've been in color - I'm sure it would've looked gorgeous. In addition to the color pages, there are also a few extra pages at the end of the volume with extra art and funny comics. I think they were drawn by Hee-Joon and people who are probably Hee-Joon's assistants.

Read-alikes:
  • Van Von Hunter (manga) by Ron Kaulfersch (story) and Mike Schwark (art) - I hesitated at calling this manga, since it's created by Americans imitating Japanese manga style, but it's less complicated calling it manga than it would be to figure out what else to call it (Amerimanga? OEL manga? Every label has been criticized by somebody). This humorous series parodies Japanese manga and American fantasy and stars Van Von Hunter, a clueless slayer of evil things, who is accompanied by a nameless, amnesiac sidekick. Those who'd like another humorous story in which the characters go on a journey in strange world might like this series.
  • Kyo Kara Maoh (anime TV series) - Yuri is a pretty ordinary kid who tries to save a classmate from a bunch of bullies and ends up getting flushed down a toilet into a different world (yes, you read that right). In this other world, Yuri is told that he's the new Demon King, just because his eyes and hair are black. Yuri's goal is to find a way home, but he becomes more and more entangled in this new world, accidentally acquiring a male fiance and coming to realize how important his role in this world is. Those who'd like another humorous story that takes place in a strange and magic-filled fantasy world might like this series.
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (book) by L. Frank Baum - Those who are interested in the original inspiration for Dorothy of Oz might want to try this book, the first in Baum's Wizard of Oz series. Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Lion each travel through the strange and complex land of Oz in search of his or her heart's desire.
  • Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (book) by Gregory Maguire - This book tells the story of Elphaba, future Wicked Witch of the West, as she deals with childhood, college, and eventually the events of L. Frank Baum's book. The Wicked Witch of the West is re-imagined as a sympathetic and empathetic character that readers will want to cheer on - however, Maguire doesn't change Baum's original ending for the Witch. Those who'd like another story that uses Baum's creation as its inspiration might like this book.
  • Tin Man (live action mini-series) - In this science fiction update of Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a young Midwestern woman named D.G. ends up in the land of OZ, a once-beautiful place under the iron rule of a sorceress named Azkadellia. D.G. goes on a journey to find the mystic man, a person who's supposed to have all the answers she needs, and is joined by several others, a scarecrow, a tin man (OZ's version of a cop), and a gentle manimal. Things don't go as Dorothy hopes, but she eventually discovers a lot of secrets about her own past and her connection to OZ. Those who'd like another story that uses Baum's creation as its inspiration might like this mini-series.

Friday, August 15, 2008

No interruptions in posting frequency

Well, it was a near thing (I think I finished today's post about 30 minutes before it was posted), but there won't be any interruptions in posting frequency in the near future. I've got an in-person interview in about 3 weeks, so I've been working hard to make sure I've got plenty of posts scheduled to be published. So far, it's been going pretty well - as I mentioned in my previous blog update, I've got over 40 nearly finished posts, and I was able to finish enough posts for slightly over 2 weeks today. Hopefully I can finish another 2 weeks worth of posts tomorrow - that'll give me a nice cushion.

Second Lives: A Journey Through Virtual Worlds (non-fiction, book) by Tim Guest

In this book, Tim Guest writes about his experiences in virtual worlds like Second Life, his interviews with people who take part in virtual worlds, the different ways virtual worlds get used, and more. It's not a systematic exploration of topics pertaining to virtual worlds, but it's often interesting. My favorite parts of this book were Guest's interviews and anything that discussed some of the creative ways virtual worlds have been used.

Guest spoke with people at Linden Labs (the creators of Second Life), a Korean man who is the king of kings in Lineage II, a few people who managed to make money in virtual worlds in ways that would be clearly illegal if they were done in the real world (replicating virtual gold, for example) but aren't always so clearly illegal when done in virtual worlds, the man behind a virtual mafia don, and more. Many of these people were fascinating, and I found myself wishing that Guest would talk less about himself and more about these other people.

Although I realize that Guest's discussions about his own background were outnumbered by his discussions about everything else, it got to the point where I was a little annoyed about reading, yet again, about Guest's perpetual money problems, his bad luck, his girlfriend, and his mother (who was apparently in a cult, had a guru, and whose interests meant that her son grew up in a commune). Guest's own life and experiences color how he views virtual worlds - I thought it was particularly interesting how his experiences in the commune led him to see Linden Labs as something like a cult - but I picked this book up to read about virtual worlds, not about Guest, and I sometimes felt that Guest was getting a little repetitious when bringing himself up.

In addition to Guest's interviews, I also enjoyed reading about the various ways people have used virtual worlds. There are many people who might hear about virtual worlds like Second Life, EverQuest, and others and believe them to be just about entertainment, but they often get used and created for other reasons. People find love, make lasting friendships, and have experiences that they couldn't possibly have in the real world (the best example of this is Wilde Cunningham, a Second Life resident played by a group of nine men and women with cerebral palsy).

Real world reporters have given a lot of attention to those who manage to make a living in virtual worlds, and Guest discusses that as well, mentioning Anshe Chung (an incredibly wealthy avatar in Second Life, one of the many games where virtual currency can be turned into real world currency and back again) and others. However, he tries to balance his discussion by saying that very few residents of Second Life (and, presumably, other virtual worlds) actually make enough money to live off of in the real world. Later on in the book, Guest writes about virtual worlds that have been created for training purposes, such as virtual worlds used by the military to train people in tactics and strategy or to train people to more effectively evaluate situations (if players mess up in a virtual world, no one dies and they can try again until they get better, whereas similar mistakes in the real world are less forgiving).

In addition to some of the more positive ways virtual worlds get used by their players, Guest also writes about other ways players use these worlds. There are griefers, people who play these games simply to harass and aggravate other players - these players may view their style of playing as entertainment, but the targets of griefing often do not agree with them. There are virtual mafiosi - the activities of these people depend upon the game being played, but in Second Life, for example, they might be hired to make certain players violate the game's terms of service, thereby getting their accounts suspended. There's also the virtual sex trade - at one point, to get an idea of one aspect of Second Life's sex trade, Guest uses a Second Life avatar to hire a virtual hooker.

I started reading this book shortly after finishing The Second Life Herald: The Virtual Tabloid That Witnessed the Dawn of the Metaverse by Peter Ludlow and Mark Wallace, and I couldn't help but compare the two. Although I occasionally felt that Ludlow and Wallace's writing was a little confusing, I enjoyed their book more than I did Guest's. Like Guest, Ludlow sometimes wrote about himself, and he often wrote about his personal experiences in virtual worlds, but when Ludlow did this it was rarely repetitive and usually added something to the reader's knowledge of virtual worlds. Also, when Guest begins his book, he is in awe of virtual worlds, and this awe never goes away - he loves writing, again and again, about how someone in Second Life can pull a building out of his or her pocket, or fly, or jump off tall buildings for entertainment. This may sound like a good thing, but, as with Guest's writings about himself, it can get a little repetitive. It also makes Guest seem like a perpetual outsider when it comes to virtual worlds, despite the home he decided to purchase inside one. Ludlow, on the other hand, manages to be both an insider and an outsider, trying to stay objective as he investigates his stories, but investigating them as though the virtual world were any other place.

I imagine that some readers will prefer one style of writing over another, and, for me, Ludlow and Wallace's book was a better read. Both books cover many of the same topics and involve interviews with some of the same type of people (Linden Labs people, griefers, people involved in the virtual sex trade, etc.), but often one book covers certain topics better than the other.

Overall, Guest's book was nice, with some very interesting moments (I loved the interviews with Wilde Cunningham and Kyu Nam Choi, Lineage II's king of kings).

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • The Second Life Herald: The Virtual Tabloid That Witnessed the Dawn of the Metaverse (non-fiction book) by Peter Ludlow and Mark Wallace - This book is not just about the Second Life Herald, a virtual tabloid that reports on Second Life events and people, but about Peter Ludlow's experiences in and research about virtual worlds in general (Second Life, The Sims Online, etc.). Guest's book covers many of the same topics as this one, but the details and the amount of information tends to differ. This book has several pictures, which can help the reader visualize what's going on in these virtual worlds a little better.
  • Uglies (book) by Scott Westerfeld - This young adult science fiction novel takes place in a future where, at age 16, "uglies," teens who haven't had any cosmetic surgery yet, are put through a major surgical procedure that turns them into "pretties," gorgeous, placid, fun-loving, bubble heads. Tally Youngblood is an Ugly who wants nothing more than to become a Pretty, but things become complicated when she is asked to betray a friend who has decided to leave the city and remain an Ugly. This is the first book in the series - next are Pretties, Specials, and Extras (the only book not featuring Tally as a main character). Those who liked Guest's book might like this book and series, in which people can do for real many of the things that people can do in Second Life and other virtual worlds - change their appearance, be in weird cliques, etc. Even Second Life's Teen Grid has parallels with this series. Teens in the Teen Grid are automatically sent to the main Second Life universe when they turn 18, temporarily losing game contact with their younger friends, who must remain in the Teen Grid, in much the same way that teens who are turned Pretty are sent to New Pretty Town, a place where Uglies are not allowed.
  • .hack//SIGN (anime TV series) - This story is set mainly within a popular virtual reality RPG called the World. This particular story (there are several .hack//whatever series, manga, and games) revolves around a detached and introverted player character named Tsukasa. Many strange things happen around Tsukasa, and for some reason he can't log out of the game. Those who found Guest's descriptions of what it's like being in a virtual world interesting might enjoy this anime series.
  • My Life in Orange: Growing Up With the Guru (book) by Tim Guest - Those who found Guest's frequent references to his mother and his childhood in a commune interesting might enjoy this book, in which Guest writes about all of this in detail.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Negima! (manga, vol. 18) by Ken Akamatsu

The Mahora Festival finally concludes with the defeat of Chao and those who sided with her. Negi, being a nice boy, invites Chao to stay in this time period and become a Magister Magi along with him. Although she is touched by the invitation, she declines and goes back to her own time. Not long after the festival is over, Negi and the various girls with which he has temporary contracts go to Albireo Imma's home deep inside Library Island. Albireo confirms what Negi has always hoped, that Negi's father is indeed still alive. If Negi wants to find him, he should begin his quest by traveling to Wales.

The plot takes a brief break, while all the students stop by and confess at Misora's church - many of them aren't exactly sure what it means to confess, but that doesn't stop them from saying everything that's on their minds. Several of the girls express their deep concerns and feelings involving Negima while confessing, unaware that they're talking to Misora and not a priest. The plot continues to take a break with the next, nearly wordless story about Negi's attempts to rescue his ring from the other students with the help of Akira, a member of the swim team. After that, it's back to the plot, as Negi finally decides what he's going to do about the knowledge that his father is still alive. He will go to Wales, and he's not sure if he'll be coming back. He invites Asuna to go with him, but other girls with which he has temporary contracts also tell him they'll go with him.

I can't say how relieved I am that the Mahora Festival is finally over. It's not that it didn't have its interesting points, it's just that the whole thing took much, much longer than I felt it should have, and the whole time travel aspect made it even worse. I was disappointed that, after all that hinting about Chao's terrible past and her relationship to Negi (he's her ancestor), nothing actually came of any of it. Akamatsu never tells readers any of the specifics of Chao's past and he doesn't reveal who Negi will end up having children with.

I enjoyed the bit on Library Island. Not only was Albireo there (Albireo is one of my favorite characters), but this part also forced the plot to move forward. Beginning in the next volume, unless Akamatsu decides to bog things down with filler, things are going to change. Besides that, I also enjoyed the interaction between Albireo and Evangeline - I imagine that all that teasing (on Albireo's part) and anger (on Evangeline's part) is going to fuel a lot of Albireo/Evangeline romantic fan fiction.

The parts that weren't directly related to the plot at least had the benefit of showing emotions and relationships. The confessions part dealt with emotions a great deal. Several of the girls had a lot of things happen during the Mahora Festival that they couldn't actually process and deal with at the time, because of all the danger and action - their confessions gave them the opportunity to work through whatever was bothering them. For instance, Nodoka had to deal with her feelings of guilt over her jealous reaction to the bond between Yue and Negi. The nearly wordless story was much less related to the plot, but it was a nice, sweet way to show Negi's relationship with yet another one of his students, one who I don't think has gotten much story time before now.

Overall, this volume was okay, but it was really just setting things up for the exciting changes coming up in the next volume. I can't wait to see what happens when Negi and the girls travel to Wales. The squealing fangirl in me hopes that Albireo will somehow find a way to show up in future volumes, in flashbacks if nothing else (there's a preview of the next volume that is encouraging in this regard, since it shows Negi's father and his companions, including Albireo, battling something).

As far as extras go, there's four pages of fan art done by fans in Japan, information about some of the 3-D backgrounds used, a page of Lexicon Negimarium (explaining Latin used in the volume, plus any spells), an updated Class Chart (several new comments), the line drawings used for the front and back covers, a little snippet by Akamatsu about the character Satomi Hakase, her voice actor, and the next volume, a page of translation notes (I wish there had been more), and a four-page untranslated preview of the next volume.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Sabriel (book) by Garth Nix - This is the first in Nix's Abhorsen Trilogy. Sabriel is in her last year at Wyverley College, which is located in an area where Magic doesn't work. When she finds out that her father is somehow trapped in Death, Sabriel must journey to the Old Kingdom, where Magic does work, in order to find him and save him. Sabriel, like her father, has the power to lay the dead to rest, and she must use this ability to save herself and those she befriends as she attempts to help her father. Those who'd like another story featuring magic, action, and a main character on a quest to find their father might like this book. Just be warned, it's not nearly as light and humorous as Negima.
  • Inuyasha (manga) by Rumiko Takahashi; Inuyasha (anime TV series) - Kagome is an ordinary schoolgirl living in present day Tokyo. One day, she travels to feudal Japan by way of an ancient well and discovers that she is the reincarnation of the priestess who once guarded the powerful Shikon Jewel. After the jewel is accidentally shattered, Kagome, a half-demon named Inuyasha, and others team up in order to recover all the shards. Those who'd like another series with magic, action, and romance might like to try this manga/anime. Also, Inuyasha, like Negi, has some father issues that he needs to deal with.
  • Love Hina (manga) by Ken Akamatsu - Keitaro Urashima has been trying to get into Tokyo University for two years because when he was a child he promised a girl that they could go there together, but he keeps failing the entrance exams. After he is kicked out of his parents' house he goes to live at his Grandmother's inn, which has apparently become an all-girls dorm. Keitaro becomes the dorm manager and gets into all kinds of trouble with the girls, including Naru Narusegawa, who has her own reasons for trying to get into Tokyo University. Those who'd like another manga in which one guy is surrounded by a bunch of pretty girls, many of whom like him, might like this classic harem manga, created by the same guy responsible for Negima. This manga is focused much more on romance than Negima.
  • Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone (book) by J. K. Rowling - After spending 10 years with his uncle, aunt, and their bully of a son, all people who hate him, Harry Potter learns that he is a wizard and has been invited to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Although things don't exactly become easy, as he tries to deal with a new magical world he knows nothing about, his celebrity status in the world of witches and wizards, and a powerful enemy who tried to kill him when he was just a baby, Harry still manages to enjoy himself and make friends. Those who'd like another story about a boy wizard with a mysterious past and questions about his parents might like this book, which is the first in a series.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Peeps (book) by Scott Westerfeld

Cal came to New York City a year ago as a somewhat naive undergraduate freshman biology student. Now, he spends all his time tracking down and capturing his former girlfriends. These girlfriends have become parasite positives, or "peeps" for short - the parasites within them cause them to hate sunlight (as well as anything they once loved), have great strength and senses, form bonds with rats, and crave blood. Cal isn't a full-blown peep, but he's a carrier. Carriers get a lot of the physical benefits of being a peep (longer life, better strength, etc.), but unfortunately the parasites make their carriers horny, and carriers' bodily fluids can transfer the parasites to other people - hence the peep ex-girlfriends.

Now that Cal knows he's a carrier, he does his best to stay away from temptation while he hunts peeps as part of the Night Watch, a secret organization mostly made up of carriers. It isn't always possible to avoid temptation, however, and Cal finds himself seeing more and more of Lace as he investigates the area where she lives. The person who first infected Cal used to live on Lace's floor, and something creepy and potentially very bad is going on in the basement of her apartment building. In order to save New York and the rest of the world, Cal has to find the woman who infected him, figure out what to do about the giant monsters that may be hiding under New York City, find out if the parasites have evolved so that cats can now become peeps, and deal with the frustration of being around Lace.

I think this book would probably make a good recommendation for older teens and even adults - it's an interesting twist on the vampire myth. I don't consider it as fast-paced as the books in Westerfeld's Uglies series, but it's not really slow-paced either. It's just that this book isn't as action-packed as you might expect - rather than spending a lot of time hunting peeps, Cal spends most of this book investigating what may be a new variety of peep-causing parasite. Chapters that further the story alternate with chapters that discuss various parasites - the parasite chapters are interesting, and informative, as well as frequently disgusting, strange, and horrific. These chapters may seem unrelated to the story, but the messages these chapters have are important and do actually apply to the rest of the book. The idea is that parasites can be good, bad, or neutral, depending upon your perspective, and a world without parasites would be unable to function in a nicely balanced way.

The whole book, including the parasite chapters, is written from Cal's perspective, and Cal is understandably interested in parasites. The parasite chapters were a lot more interesting than I expected, and reminded me of all the biology teachers I ever had that I really liked, the people who were so passionate about their subject that I couldn't help but become interested as well.

As both a lover of rats and cats, I enjoyed those aspects of this book. Rats appear early on in this story - they tend to cluster around peeps, so the presence of lots of rats, even in areas that have been thoroughly worked on by exterminators, is a good indication of the presence of a peep. Rats can infect people with the parasites, but they don't tend to go out and do that much unless the peep they are bonded to has been taken away. Cats are also a really important aspect of the story, although the extent of their importance won't be clear to most readers until nearly the end of the book. Simplifying things a bit, and without giving any details away, basically, cats save the world.

The relationship between Cal and Lace amused me. Since the book is written from Cal's point of view, readers know about as much as Cal does about Lace's feelings for him, which isn't much. Not that it really matters what Lace feels, since Cal spends most of the book knowing that he can't act on his feelings without infecting Lace. That doesn't stop poor Cal from agonizing over what he's wearing when he meets up with Lace - considering the number of girlfriends he had after he became infected, I found it kind of funny how awkward Cal was with her.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, and I thought that the science bits were really interesting and nicely incorporated. I was a little disappointed that there was so little action - there weren't many chances to see what a carrier like Cal was actually capable of. However, there is apparently another book that comes after this one called The Last Days. When I get a chance, I'll try it out. Eventually, I'd like to read everything Westerfeld's written - he's become one of my new favorite YA authors.

As an added bonus, this book includes an annotated bibliography, listing some books that those who enjoyed Peeps might want to try. Some of those same books are included in my list.

Read-alikes:
  • The Story of Rats: Their Impact On Us, and Our Impact On Them (non-fiction book) by S. Anthony Barnett - Those who found the aspects of Peeps involving rats interesting might like this excellent and readable book about rats. The author, who was Emeritus Professor of Zoology in the Australian National University at the time this book was first published, has had a great deal of experience with rats, with his interest in them beginning early in the Second World War. Barnett writes a little about rat/human history (early references to rats in human history, theories about how rats came to populate the world, etc.), rats and public health, rat behavior, rats in research, rat feeding habits, and more.
  • I Am Legend (book) by Richard Matheson - A terrible plague of some kind has turned almost all of humanity (and many animals) into blood-thirsty creatures of the night. Robert Neville, who is immune to the disease, appears to be the only remaining uninfected human, although he is hopeful that there are others like him out there and that he can find a cure for the disease. Those who'd like another story in which vampires are caused by something that is grounded in real-world science (virus, parasite, whatever) rather than magic might like this book. Similar to Peeps, things are not what they seem, and there is more to the vampire-like creatures than Robert Neville realizes. This book has also been made into a movie featuring Will Smith - the movie is, not unexpectedly, pretty different from the book, although it keeps the basic premise. Personally, I enjoyed the book more.
  • The Night Watch (book) by Sergei Lukyanenko - I'll admit that the "Night Watch" aspect was what made me think of this book in connection with Peeps, but they have more in common than a name. In this story set in contemporary Moscow, Anton Gorodetsky, a Night Watch agent, falls in love with Svetlana Nazarova, a troubled young doctor under a Dark Magician's curse. Anton's attention is divided between trying to encourage a young man to join the Light Side, helping Svetlana with her curse, and dealing with his own philosophical pondering about the relationship between the Light and Dark Sides. In Lukyanenko's world, the Light and the Dark have an uneasy truce, in which both sides must be allowed to do as their nature dictates, keeping the world in balance. Those who'd like another story dealing with a secret organization/world might like this book. As with Peeps, the mood of this book is a little lonely - Anton's position as a Night Watch agent keeps him removed from the world known by humans, and even his relationship with Svetlana can't be comfortable and nice forever.
  • Neverwhere (book) by Neil Gaiman - Richard Mayhew is any ordinary Londoner with an ordinary life, until he helps out a wounded girl named Door. Door is a resident of London Below, a lost and forgotten world filled with people and places that no one in London Above knows about (or even notices when it's in front of their noses). Richard joins Door, the Marquis of Carabas, and a mysterious woman called Hunter in Door's quest to find out who hired the assassins who murdered her family and want to murder her and why they did so. Those who'd like another book featuring a shadowy other world that exists overlaid on our own world might like this book. As with Peeps, there's a bit of action and romance.
  • Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures (non-fiction book) by Carl Zimmer - Those who'd like to find out more about parasites might like this book by science writer Carl Zimmer, which is also mentioned by Westerfeld in his bibliography. This work of popular science non-fiction is very readable, but also very disgusting - those with weak stomachs may want to avoid it. Like Peeps, this book argues that parasites can be either good or bad and are necessary for the balance and health of the environment.
  • Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants (non-fiction book) by Robert Sullivan - This book is basically New York City history through the lens of its rats - although Sullivan, a journalist, does write about rats, he doesn't write as specifically about rats as Barnett does in The Story of Rats. Besides writing about history, Sullivan writes about his attempts to observe New York City rats, his discussions with exterminators, and more. If you're wondering where Westerfeld got the bit about there being creatures living under New York City that have never seen human beings, this is the book. Those who'd like to read more about New York City and its rats might like this book (it's also listed in Westerfeld's bibliography).
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