Thursday, December 31, 2009

So sorry, a dream, and goodbye, Mr. Despair!

Here's a post that truly fits the "random stuff" label:

I just realized that my last full post with a synopsis, commentary, and read-alikes/watch-alikes was nearly a month ago. Forgive me, I am lazy! I have lots and lots of almost finished posts, but I haven't been finishing them. I'll try to work on some of them before it's time to go back to work. And yet, here I am, inflicting another "random stuff" post on everyone...

Last night, I had a dream I was helping someone at the reference desk. Some frustrated, stressed-out girl needed to find a particular issue of our student newspaper. I vaguely remembered that the archives for the newspaper are available on the newspaper's website, but the website wasn't easy for me to locate. Also, not everything has been archived yet. For some inexplicable reason, it wasn't until after I had been helping her for some time that I asked her which issue she needed. The one she needed was from 11/11/09 (our student newspapers come out on Thursdays, and yet this is a Wednesday), too recent for the website archives. I asked her if she had looked through our current print newspapers and she said she had. Then I realized that the newspaper is also available on microfiche (it's not), and she said she knew that, but hadn't gone to look yet. She went to go do that, and it was then that I realized that the reference desk was located in my bedroom, which, to my horror, had dirty clothes everywhere. Then I got a surprise visit from my middle school math teacher. I can guess what inspired most of this dream, but how does my math teacher fit in?

As far as anime goes, I'm plowing through Soul Eater - if I didn't have to go back to work, at the rate I'm going, I could probably finish this series in a week. Antique Bakery will just have to wait, because I just started Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei. I've only seen the first episode so far, but, considering that it began with an attempted suicide (or, depending upon your perspective, an attempt to become taller), it's surprisingly funny. It's short, only 12 episodes long, so even if the series is just a bunch of jokes and no coherent plot, it may still be watchable.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Anime - moving on again

I'm appalled at my anime attention span right now. I finished Black Butler, true, but I'm still working on the first season of The Story of Saiunkoku. I've only finished a tiny fraction of Shugo Chara (too much "egg of the week" going on), I'm halfway through Nabari no Ou (I'm afraid of the depressing ending I can see coming), I'm way behind with Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and I just started Soul Eater. Soul Eater may take me a while, not only because it's got lots of episodes, but because I can't figure out whether I want to watched it dubbed or subtitled. There are lots of characters I like in both the sub and dub, although I like Maka better in English dub (maybe it's just that I don't know Japanese, but her Japanese voice actor seems to have problems putting the proper amount of emotion in her voice) and Death the Kid better in Japanese. The people who subtitled the episodes made some very different decisions than the people who dubbed the episodes, giving viewers "kishin" in one version and "afreet eggs" in the other, plus all the other little differences. Any Soul Eater viewers out there with a preference that doesn't boil down to something like "watch the sub because all dubs suck"?

Oh, and did I mention that I may also start watching the Antique Bakery anime? There's just way too much stuff to watch out there. One of the reasons I buy so much anime is because it allows me to put those titles "on hold" while I watch other stuff online that could potentially be pulled at any moment. All of the titles I mentioned in this post, except The Story of Saiunkoku, are ones that I'm watching online.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A lazy movie post about Avatar

I'm too lazy to write something long and complete up for Avatar (plus, I strongly suspect I'll be buying the DVD when it comes out), but I wanted to at least write something. I saw the movie yesterday and really enjoyed it (although, again, probably not good for my hearing...). The visuals were gorgeous - I liked it all so much that I actually got teary-eyed when it was all being destroyed. There were times when it was easy to forget that the Na'vi weren't humans dressed up with prosthetics, the movements and facial expressions were that good. As a general lover of romantic stories, I loved the romantic storyline. One of my favorite parts was when Neytiri first got to see Jake in his real body and not his Na'vi body. Seriously, if someone hasn't already written romantic Na'vi fanfic, it's probably only a matter of time.

Now, let's say the movie hadn't looked as good as it did, and let's say I weren't a sucker for romance. The movie's basic story has been done before. One example would be Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough's Powers That Be. A damaged military-type person going to a strange new planet because he/she doesn't have much of a choice? Check. A planet where everything is connected and alive, threatened by people who just want to take what they view as its only riches and leave it a dead husk? Check. A main character who slowly learns the local ways, even as he/she is supposed to be betraying new friends, and ends up falling in love? Check. There may be more similarities that I haven't thought of, but you get the idea. I'm sure there are other books or movies out there that also share a lot of similarities with this movie. No, it's not exactly an original story. Also, with all the time what was spent on shots of the scenery, Jake learning stuff, and Jake and Neytiri being together, there wasn't time to give everything else the same attention, so some aspects suffered from that. Several of the military guys and the corporate guy were cardboard bad guys. Cardboard bad guys kind of annoy me.

Considering the time frame in which this was all supposed to be happening (a little more than three months for all of it, I think), some things were just unbelievable. Other than a bit of stumbling at first, Jake got used to an entirely new and differently proportioned body (with a tail and "hair" that can interface with almost anything on the planet) in a few minutes, maybe a few hours. For some unknown reason, Jake was allowed to be a guard for a sample-collecting research group despite the fact that he apparently had had no training on the planet's flora and fauna. When Jake is taken in by Neytiri's people, he manages to learn everything he needs to know, including how to speak their language fluently, in only three months. I'd have to see the movie a few more times to get a better idea of the language, but, at the very least, it seems to have a very different sentence structure than English, either Object Subject Verb or Object Verb Subject. Either way...he learned it in three months?!

And still, I enjoyed the movie. I only saw it in a regular movie theater - I'd probably go see it at an IMAX theater if the closest one weren't two hours away.

Packed in like sardines, some of which might eat each other

I just found out that, since I'm not going home for Christmas, my parents will probably be coming to me. And bringing their two dogs. Depending on how all the plans (ha, plans!) work out, I may have to figure out how to cram three people, two dogs, and one rat into my tiny apartment for a couple days. Since the thought freaks me out a little, I'm looking into hotels that accept pets. Miracle of miracles, it looks like there are still rooms free, but for how much longer I don't know. I can afford to put everyone up in a hotel room for a couple days, but can I convince my mom to let me do that? Who knows.

One phone call: all it takes to instantly and simultaneously ramp up stress, worry, and happiness levels.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Hearing, movie time, and grief

I might have to cut back on my movie theater visits. My ears have been ringing for the past 4 days, and loud movie theater audio probably won't improve the situation. I did, however, cave and go see The Blind Side yesterday. I enjoyed it a lot, although that may partially have been do to my intense need for something "feel good." I got my pet rat's ashes yesterday and needed a pick-me-up. Thankfully, my remaining rat is doing fine and has gotten over the "destroy everything" phase he went into after his brother died.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"It's not you, it's me..."

"...or maybe it's just you."

Wendy over at The Misadventures of Super Librarian has a great post right now that made me realize that I am not alone with a particular problem - breaking up with an author. Have you ever come to the realization that an author, or maybe just a series, that you used to love is now a chore to read? Having come to that realization, do you still continue with the books?

I admit it, I have that problem. I should have stopped reading Laurell K. Hamilton at Narcissus in Chains, book 10 of her Anita Blake series. She is now up to book 17. I've read up to book 16 and will probably read book 17 at some point. Part of me resents her Meredith Gentry series - it seemed like her Anita Blake books changed at around the same time she started putting out her Meredith Gentry books, taking on the, er, feel (i.e. excessive, long, detailed, plot-killing sex scenes) of her new series. It's possible that the change would've happened regardless, but I still can't help being resentful.

Hamilton is the first author that comes to my mind when I think of authors I really should just break up with, but there are other authors that are coming dangerously close to being on that list (or maybe they already are on the list and I'm just deeply in denial). Names that come to mind are J.D. Robb, Janet Evanovich...depressing. I don't spend any money on them (ILL is awesome), at least, but I do spend time.

I can only think of three major author/series break-ups in my life. Try not to laugh too hard at this first one - my earliest was with the Baby-sitters Club books. That one was pretty painless. I remember devouring those books and then, one day, opening one that I think had some kind of environmental theme and realizing I didn't want to read it. I quit cold turkey and didn't look back. Then (again, try not to laugh too hard), the next one I can remember was Christopher Pike. Although that one was more recent, my memory of the exact moment I broke up with Pike isn't as clear. I think it had something to do with suddenly discovering a love for the fantasy genre. The only big break-up I can think of that happened when I was an adult was Mercedes Lackey. That happened, I think, after I read Exile's Valor - I remember being stunned that she had basically written herself into her own series and made another, well-established character (one I had loved, until this point) fall in love with the character that was her. That was the last straw for me. I still have some of her earlier books, because I still like them and reading them gives me warm fuzzy feelings, but I squash any urges I have to try her newer ones.

So, anybody else have any good author/series break-up stories?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Doubting the posts again

Right now I can smell my upstairs neighbors cooking their dinner. Whatever it is, it smells good and probably has meat in it. I'm so jealous! I'll be eating a dinky cheap pot pie with stuff in it that the box calls meat and vegetables, but, with all the chunks being so small, who can really tell?

Anyway, I'm behind on writing for this blog, as usual. I'm currently in the process of watching two anime series, the first season of The Story of Saiunkoku and the first season (there's going to be a second?!) of Kuroshitsuji (Black Butler). I'm seriously hooked on The Story of Saiunkoku and will have to figure out how to scrape together the money for the next season. Kuroshitsuji had me at "sexy demon butler," even if certain other aspects of the series kind of weird me out a bit. Hopefully I'll have full posts for both of these series up in, oh, less than 6 months. I'm starting to think I need to rework the way I do posts. The synopses may be long, but they're sometimes the only way I can remember what happened in a book, movie, or anime a few months after I read or watched it. I usually have at least one of the three main sections of my posts done well before I ever publish them, so I was tossing around the idea of making each section its own post, except that might just make things even more annoying. At least each post would be a more readable length, though. Hmm, I don't know...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Dexter: The Second Season (live action TV series)

I finally got the newest Dexter book via ILL - I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next to Dexter and the people around him. While the first season of this show definitely used the first book as its guide, the second season isn't anything like the books. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and I wasn't too surprised by this, because I figured that there would be problems with putting the second book's killer (and victims) on TV. It was a relief to me, not to have to see that. If you're wondering what I'm talking about, go read the books - and beware of that second one if you have a good imagination and a weak stomach.

Also, isn't that the creepiest packaging ever? It's not the blood spatters or his smile, so much as his blank, soulless eyes combined with the blood spatters and smile. Actually, I think his eyes would be creepy regardless.

Synopsis:

After killing his brother at the end of the first season, Dexter has a bit of a problem - he can't seem to kill anymore. He needs to kill, but he can't bring himself to do it. When he gets over that problem, a new one crops up - Rita starts to wonder about Dexter's habits and behavior and comes to the conclusion that he's a junkie. She tells Dexter that he either has to attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings and stay clean, or he can no longer have her and the kids in his life.

Narcotics Anonymous introduces Dexter to another complication - Lila, his beautiful, reckless sponsor. Although Rita does approve of Dexter doing something about his addiction (Dexter didn't technically lie when he said he had one, but he didn't tell her that killing is his true addiction), she's not happy about his sponsor. Things come to a head when Rita finds out that Dexter and Lila went on a trip together. Dexter took Lila with him as support while he confronted his mother's last remaining (not in prison, not dead) killer, but Rita assumes they had sex while they were gone. Unfortunately, Dexter actually does have sex with Lila not long after he assumes he and Rita are over. When Rita decides to hear him out about the trip, finding out that they really had sex after the trip is the last straw for her. It looks like she and Dexter are over.

While Dexter is dealing with all of this personal stuff, his life as a serial killer is falling apart. His dumping ground has been discovered, and his sister, his coworkers, and brilliant FBI agent Lundy are all working to find the Bay Harbor Butcher, aka Dexter. It's a stressful situation for Dexter, whose first rule, Harry's first rule, is "don't get caught." Then Dexter has something of a crisis when he discovers that Harry not only knew his mother, he got her killed (not on purpose, but still) and he was having an affair with her.

There's no one Dexter can really talk to. He can't tell his sister any of this, because too much of it touches on what he is and does in his free time, plus there's a whole lot of never-to-be-resolved issues between Dexter's sister and Harry. He can't tell Rita, because there's too much she doesn't know about him and because their relationship is in a seriously rocky phase. The closest Dexter comes to someone he can talk to is Lila. Lila knows his mother was murdered in front of him when he was a child, and she knows that there's a lot of darkness inside him, although she doesn't know that he kills people. Even so, she seems to understand him better than anybody. It's unfortunate that she's a master manipulator with no conscience. She becomes obsessed with Dexter, much to Dexter's annoyance and, later, anger.

Just as Dexter becomes sure that he's been identified as the Bay Harbor Butcher, a stroke of luck - Doakes has been acting suspiciously enough that, combined with the discovery of Dexter's blood slides in Doakes's car, he becomes the prime suspect in the Bay Harbor Butcher case. Unfortunately for Dexter, everyone decides that Dexter is in danger and needs to be put under protection. Although he eventually gets that protection to back off, the extra attention does make it hard to deal with the remains of a recent kill and Doakes, who Dexter has locked up in a remote cabin.

Dexter wavers between the "don't get caught" rule, which encourages him to frame Doakes for his murders, and a strange new desire to quit being a ticking time bomb in his relationships with the people that he, well, kind of cares for. He knows that Deb (his sister), Rita, and the kids will all be horrified and devastated when his murderous identity is revealed. His code doesn't make him comfortable with the idea of killing a relatively innocent man like Doakes (Doakes isn't a killer in the same way Dexter's usual victims are), and it also doesn't make him comfortable with framing him. Dexter wants to do the right thing and turn himself in, but admitting what he is to the people in his life isn't easy.

In the end, Lila makes things easy for Dexter. She finds the cabin where Dexter keeps Doakes locked up, discovers what Dexter is (and, rather than being horrified, feels even more like Dexter's soulmate), and blows up the cabin with Doakes still inside it. Doakes's charred body is found with the remains of Dexter's latest victim, so it seems clear to police investigators that Doakes is truly the Bay Harbor Butcher.

When Rita decides to allow Dexter back into her and the kids' lives, most of Dexter's problems are solved. All that's left to deal with is Lila, who still won't leave Dexter alone. After a botched attempt at killing her, Lila kidnaps the kids and escapes, leaving Dexter and the kids to die in her burning apartment. Of course, everyone survives (although poor Deb misses out on her chance to be with Lundy, with whom she had developed a romantic relationship), and Dexter eventually hunts Lila down and kills her, removing her from his life once and for all.

Commentary:

I wasn't sure what to expect with this season, since I figured it wasn't going to follow the book. It was...okay, but I kept having to take breaks. For a while, I was only watching one episode every few days, at least until the end, when I started watching several episodes at a stretch. I think it was the tenseness of things that got to me. In the first season, the overarching plot dealt with the Ice Truck Killer. There were individual episodes where Dexter had to fear being caught (the one with the little kid was amusing), but, as far as I can remember, nothing like the amount of stress that was heaped upon Dexter in this second season - and when I'm really into a show/book/whatever, when the main character is stressed, so am I. By the end of the season, the "need to find out" overwhelmed the stressed feeling, and I was able to watch more at one time, but it still took longer to get through this season than I thought it would.

I have to say, I liked the first season more. When taken with that first season, the second season had too many inconsistencies. Plus, some things were kind of...meh.

First, the inconsistencies. Whatever happened to the NA meetings? Sure, Dexter had no excuse to keep going to them after he and Rita broke up, but what about after they got back together? Are they just going to pretend that the whole "junkie" thing never happened and that Dexter is now all better on his own without any outside help, even though Rita thought he needed something like NA and a sponsor in order to stay clean? Also, what happened to Dexter's aversion for blood? He still chopped his kills into pieces and neatly packaged the pieces in plastic bags, but he made no attempts to keep his kills from being massive gore fests. The man who killed his mother, in particular, was killed in a way that could not avoid splattering blood everywhere. I suppose you could argue that, in that case, he was dealing with his mother's murder by killing the man in the same way he killed her, with a chainsaw, but I'm not really convinced. This is the guy who wigged out after walking into a crime scene filled with blood in the first season - it's hard to believe that he could chop a guy into pieces with a chainsaw and be unaffected. Another thing - why did Dexter stay with Lila for so long? He might not necessarily love Rita, but I think he cares for her, and he definitely cares for her kids. It didn't make sense to me that he'd completely abandon them for Lila, even for a little bit.

Now, the "meh" stuff. The relationship between Deb and Lundy was...weird. I'm sure the show's writers, and maybe Showtime, were hoping for it to come across as edgy and unusual. Depictions of relationships between older men and younger women are pretty common, while the reverse is less common (more common than it used to be, though). It might have been more interesting and less icky if Deb hadn't had all that daddy baggage, and if the writers hadn't made sure to remind the audience of that baggage. At one point, before she started sleeping with and dating Lundy, Deb told her current boyfriend (a nice guy who had nothing wrong with him except he wasn't really adding to the story) that she couldn't possibly have a crush on Lundy because he reminded her too much of her dad. In fact, for the longest time I thought that she followed Lundy around like a puppy because she saw him as a surrogate father figure. She never got the approval and attention from her father that she craved because her father was always more focused on Dexter. Then she and Lundy jumped into bed together, and my brain started screaming "Elektra complex!"

Another thing that I didn't really like so much was all that Lila stuff. I hate it when I can see a character being painfully, obviously stupid about something, and yet they keep on being stupid. Dexter was that way with Lila. Dexter's not always very good at divining others' emotions, so it didn't bother me too much that he didn't seem to realize that Rita didn't like him hanging around Lila all the time. However, nearly from the beginning, Dexter knew that Lila was wild, a risk-taker, the exact opposite of what he had to be to keep from being caught. Despite that, he kept hanging out with her. Okay, so she "understood" him better than anyone he'd ever met, but that didn't mean she wasn't bad for him too. I was like Deb, I could've smacked Dexter for leaving Rita for Lila. Lila was either the cause of or contributor to a lot of Dexter's problems in this season. By the time he realized what an annoying snake she was, it was too late.

Quite a few people found out about Dexter's secret this season. Two of Dexter's failed kills got to run around with that knowledge (one of them was blind, but still), Lila found out, and Doakes found out. I was surprised it took Lila so long to find out, considering how well she could read Dexter, but I was also kind of surprised that she reacted so well. I figured for sure that all her talk about there being no monsters in the world was really just talk, and that she'd crumble in the face of what Dexter really was. Instead, she not only went all "poor, lonely Dexter," she helped him out by killing Doakes. I wonder, if Doakes had gotten free or if Dexter had voluntarily freed Doakes, would Doakes really have taken Dexter in, or would he have just killed him. After Dexter killed his mother's killer in front of Doakes with a chainsaw, I figured it was possible he'd just kill him, but I was never really sure. I guess now I'll never know - I can't believe he was killed off.

Extras:

Most of the extras are only available if you pop the final DVD into your computer. I wasn't willing to do that, so it felt, to me, like there was only one extra - a couple episodes of the second season of Brotherhood. I haven't seen the first season. I tried a little of the first episode of the second season, hated it, and shut it off.

The list below was a bit of a cheat for me, since I actually focused on Jeff Lindsay's books as part of my final project in my readers advisory class. Sorry there aren't any watch-alikes (unless you count Silence of the Lambs), but I haven't really watched anything very similar to this show and my usual resources for watch-alikes are no help.

Read-alikes:
  • Darkly Dreaming Dexter (book) by Jeff Lindsay - I shouldn't have to say this, but, if you like this TV series, you really should try the books. The first book introduces Dexter, a serial killer who follows a strict code to only kill criminals the law is unable to deal with. Dexter is fascinated by a serial killer who has entered his area - someone who may know more about Dexter's past than he himself does.
  • Whale Season (book) by N.M. Kelby - This black comedy set in fictional Whale Harbor, Florida begins with a poker game between a used-car dealer and a man who claims he’s Jesus and continues with the threat of grisly murder. “Jesus” is actually a Cuban-American doctor and serial killer who views murder as an act of mercy. Those who'd like another serial killer story with a sense of humor might want to try this.
  • Florida Roadkill (book) by Tim Dorsey - In this darkly funny novel, fifteen varied criminals make their way through Florida in order to get to a suitcase full of drug money. Lindsay fans may like the Florida setting, writing style, and Serge, a goofy serial killer.
  • The Silence of the Lambs (book) by Thomas Harris - In this thriller, Clarice Starling, a young FBI trainee, is trying to catch a serial killer and seeks the expert advice of the imprisoned Hannibal Lector, a pleasant and well-mannered sociopath. Like Dexter, Hannibal can get into the mind of a killer because he is one himself. I haven't actually seen the movie (this is one of those where I'm not really sure how many others besides myself know about the movie but have never seen it), but it might also be a good watch-alike.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Antique Bakery (manga, vol. 4) by Fumi Yoshinaga

Sadly, this is the final volume of Antique Bakery. I really enjoyed this series and will have to see about hunting down the anime (although I'm not a huge fan of what I've seen of the color scheme, which appears very pastel).

Sorry about the long post, but I couldn't help it. This is a great volume, and there's a lot packed into it.

Synopsis:

As usual, Tachibana wakes up from a bad dream about the time when he was abducted as a child. All he can remember is that his abductor forced him to eat cake every day and that he stabbed the man in the thighs. He thinks the man who took him probably said something to him, but he can't remember what it was, and that really bothers him. Thankfully, Chikage is still staying with Tachibana - Chikage's kind, but not very bright, and so manages to keep Tachibana's mood from getting too dark.

This volume follows the usual pattern of having a few scenes involving characters who will probably later be shown to be much more important (in this case, very important). An elderly lady has just returned home (or whatever - I'm not sure if this is her home or the man's home or a part of her store) from the Antique Bakery. She gives the cake to a silent, bearded elderly man who gives her some money for it, although she tells him that he doesn't need to. As she puts on makeup and otherwise pretties herself up, she talks to the man, telling him that she's thinking of closing her own shop up and moving to Sendai, where her brother and his wife live. She asks the man if he'd like to come with her, but he's not listening - he's offering cake to an invisible Atsushi, his son, who's been dead for 20 years. The woman is sympathetic but gets upset when the man slaps her hand away and continues to pretend as though she's not there while he coos over his invisible son. When she pushes the fact that his son is dead in the man's face, he acts as though he will stab her. Crying now, the woman begs him to go away with her. For some reason, the man stops, puts the knife away, and quietly leaves the shop/house/whatever, much to the woman's surprise.

Meanwhile, back at the bakery, Kanda's cakes have become pretty popular. Deko compliments both him and Ono on their cakes (climbing happily onto Ono's back, much to his horror) and even says she thinks she might one day want to bake cakes like the two of them. Although Deko frightens Ono (he's much better with women than he used to be, but Deko would be a bit much for a lot of people), Kanda thinks she's really cute. In fact, he asks Ono, "how old does a girl have to be to get married?" while gushing over Deko (who is, by the way, 10 years old, although she looks much older).

All of this is interrupted by a surprise visit to the bakery by Nagako, one of Ono's sisters. She's come to tell him that she's getting married and would like him to come to her wedding. He hasn't seen her or any of his family in years, and he thinks she might not want a gay family member at her wedding, but that doesn't bother her. Nagako had always thought that Ono had left and not come back because he knew that their father was having an affair with another woman and didn't want to be around his messed-up family anymore. The news shocks Ono a little - he knew their mother had been having an affair (something his sister still doesn't know), but he hadn't realized about their father (or so I'm assuming). He recovers quickly, though, and agrees to attend her wedding. The first chapter ends with Chikage and Tachibana seeing a news story about a kidnapped 9-year-old. Also, the woman from earlier is still waiting in her house/shop for the man.

In the next chapter, Kanda is upset when Tachibana and Ono tell him they've signed him up for French lessons. Kanda has never liked studying, but Ono thinks this is a good next step, since he eventually expects Kanda to spend some time in France in order to study authentic French cuisine. Tachibana, who's paying for the classes, is a little worried that Kanda isn't actually going to them or paying attention when he does. When Tachibana comes across Kanda beating up a random thug one night, his worries increase. Kanda's bad mood gets worse when he gets back to the shop after class one night to discover Tachibana helping Ono with the cakes and pastries - and doing well enough to earn Ono's praise.

Eventually, Ono puts a stop to Kanda's thug-beating activities and sits him down for a talk. All of Kanda's bottled-up insecurities come pouring out. Boxing made Kanda feel good because all he had to do was win in order to feel useful and wanted. He's been abandoned before, though, and he's terrified that Ono is preparing to abandon him too. He doesn't think there's anything about him that makes him vital to Ono - he's not Ono's type (I couldn't help but wonder if he'd have slept with Ono if he were Ono's type, just so he could feel more necessary), and, although Ono praises his work at the bakery, he praised Tachibana too. Ono calms Kanda down and boosts his confidence by assuring him that he is very talented and has been a valuable and eager apprentice. This chapter, like the first, ends with Tachibana and Chikage seeing a news report about the 9-year-old boy - unfortunately, he has been found dead.

The next chapter begins with a flashback to Tachibana in class studying law, thinking about how the statute of limitations for his kidnapping has expired - there is no way that the law will ever bring his abductor to justice. Now, in the present, he's trying to deal with his parents, who are telling him that his grandmother would like him to meet a certain young woman (a sneaky way of trying to arrange a marriage for him) - although Tachibana makes it clear he doesn't want to meet the woman, his parents understand and it's a pretty relaxed exchange. Meanwhile, Kanda is doing fabulously well in his French class and is now on friendly terms with his teacher. Ono has gone to visit his favorite gay bar after a long absence and, to his horror, meets the guy he broke up with in volume 2. He's terrified that his ex is still upset with him, but the man has actually settled down nicely with a new lover. Ono, now in something of a reflective mood, finds himself to be a little jealous of their happy, comfortable relationship. In another reminder of the more serious stuff going on just under the surface, Chikage and Deko see yet another news report, this one about the discovery of the body of a 10-year-old who had disappeared.

The story finally turns to the police who have been investigating these murders. Because of the similarities in the cases, they believe the same person was responsible for all of it. Akutagawa, the cake and pastry gourmet and former cop, is consulted because of his knowledge of fine cakes and pastries (the kids had been fed cake of some kind), and he is able to pinpoint the Antique Bakery as the only bakery that sells the kind of cake one of the children ate. Akutagawa and the cops visit Tachibana in order to discuss putting the store under surveillance and to apologize for the way his own kidnapping was handled (Akutagawa and one of the cops were both involved in investigating Tachibana's kidnapping). It's at this point that it's made absolutely clear that Tachibana planned every detail of the store to make it perfect for something like this.

Remember how I chided myself for trying to relate everything to the kidnapping during my post for volume 2? Oh, I laugh. Here is what Tachibana thinks as he considers the police's request to put the store under surveillance: the store is small, so that he can keep an eye on the entire interior, its hours are as late as possible, so that anyone and everyone can visit it, and its cakes and pastries are delicious enough to draw customers from all over. Yes, Tachibana naturally agrees to the police's requests, and yes, it really is all about the kidnapping, or at least it started out that way.

Two cops keep a watch over the store (one of them has a sweet tooth and can't help but drool over the bakery's offerings). Aside from Miss Urushihara's husband (from volume 2 again, with Miss Urushihara first appearing in volume 1), no one suspicious-looking comes by. A drunk guy comes by and harasses Chikage a bit, but he cools down after Chikage spends some time trying to find his supposedly missing contact lens (a scene I found very odd, one which apparently is moving to everyone who sees it but Tachibana - perhaps it was moving to them because he tried so hard, even though his eyesight is so bad?).

Before the store closes for the night, a woman comes by - Tachibana's last girlfriend, the one who he proposed to after she was fired. She's now engaged to be married to Honma of all people, and she wants to know if Tachibana is going to hold a grudge against his old friend for hooking up with one of his former girlfriends (Honma had gone to her to try to talk her back into being with the heartbroken Tachibana again, but ended up falling in love with her). Tachibana, resigned, says it's all fine and that the bakery would love to cater their wedding reception.

After she leaves, happy, Tachibana, on autopilot, helps out a female customer who seems to be feeling a little clumsy and faint. He drives her home, but, before he can leave, he sees little things that make him suspicious. There are bruises on her throat and she seems afraid. Heedless of her demands that he leave, he enters her home (not taking his shoes off, thereby tracking dirt into her home) and marches in, at one point even dragging her behind him as she hangs onto one of his legs, until a little boy rushes out of a room and into his arms. The woman's 24-year-old son had kept the boy captive and had intended to kill him after feeding him the bakery's cake. Haruka, of the Tammy and Haruka duo in volume 3, reports this on TV - yay for her, her first big break.

Tachibana seems to be feeling a bit off about the whole thing. He knows that the boy probably won't ever really be fine, although he's alive. He thought he might be in trouble with the police for barging into the woman's home, but they have no intention of punishing him for that. The 24-year-old gave the police a long story about how his father used to give him cake and how his mother sometimes got the wrong ones (he sometimes hurt her for that, which explains the bruises on her throat). All the employees at the bakery rushed back after the found out what Tachibana had done, all of them wanting to know if the guy was caught and if the boy was still alive - all of them know about Tachibana's past, but that isn't spoken of.

At the bakery, things are changing. Kanda leaves to go to France for a few days to spend some time with his French teacher and her family, who own a bread shop that is also sometimes a cake shop. It'll only be a matter of time before Kanda will want to strike off on his own, so, although Kanda will be coming back, this is still a bit of poignant moment. Also, Chikage is moving out of Tachibana's place - he's decided that Tachibana is doing fine on his own now and doesn't need him to be around all the time. Tachibana, who still has nightmares, feels differently, but Chikage doesn't move far away, and he'll be coming back to the bakery just as soon as he gets himself settled in his new place.

The man from earlier, the one who almost stabbed the woman who brought him cake, is selling his home and will apparently be moving to Sendai. Before he goes, he visits the Antique Bakery to pick up a cake, which I'm guessing will be for the woman (maybe an apology?). It's at this time that readers are shown the past that Tachibana can't remember. This man was Tachibana's abductor. Young Tachibana, scared and wanting to get back to his family, stabbed him in the thighs but was then horrified at the thought that he might have killed a man. His abductor, who had been yelling at him that he wouldn't forgive him for being so terrible after he had been treated so well, tells him to go, that he was never his son to begin with. His words before young Tachibana leaves, the words present-day Tachibana struggles so hard to remember are, "Leave...and forget all this!!" In the present day, this man, who now walks with a limp, visits the Antique Bakery and buys a cake from Tachibana, and, although there's something about him that tickles Tachibana's memory, he doesn't connect this man with the man from his past. Then Honma arrives, and the moment is lost forever.

Although Tachibana is a bit upset that Honma has the happy relationship he's been seeking for so many years, he and Honma part on friendly terms. Once they're alone, Ono asks for some time off to go to his sister's wedding, some high school girls mistake Ono and Tachibana for a gay couple, and Tachibana and Ono have a moment in which they remember graduation day, when Tachibana was so hurtful towards Ono. Ono's words to Tachibana, that he's grateful to be working at this bakery because it's the first time he's felt glad he became a patissier, seem to me to be something like him granting Tachibana forgiveness.

In the end, Tachibana still has nightmares, still can't get over his past, and still can't remember what he's forgotten, but he can appreciate a nice day and his job at the bakery.

Commentary:

Goodness, that was a long synopsis, and I mixed more commentary into than I should have, now that I'm trying to have that sort of thing in its own discrete section. However, it's the last volume, and there's just so much I want to write. Just reading through the synopsis gives me shivers. I really enjoyed this series and, at some point, I need to buy it all. This is one that I can see myself wanting to reread.

One of the things I liked about this ending is that it wasn't really an ending. Usually this sort of thing drives me crazy, but, in this case, it worked. The characters in this series had their goofy and strange moments, but they still felt like people, and the events and troubles in people's lives don't always get wrapped up all nice and neat. Yoshinaga took care of the important things (showing readers the ways the characters have developed, finally showing readers what happened to Tachibana, etc.), but it's still easy to imagine everyone living their lives after the series is over.

I loved the flashbacks to Tachibana and Ono in highschool. When I read the first volume, I though Tachibana was a jerk for what he said to Ono back then, but the flashbacks in this final volume really make it clear that things were much more complicated than they appeared. I had always wondered how Yoshinaga would wrap things up between Ono and Tachibana. I think I was expecting something a bit less subtle than what Yoshinaga actually did, but I kind of like how things turned out. That bit at the end of the volume, with what might be forgiveness, is so sweet. Ending the scene on a funny note, by having Ono purposefully get those high school girls to think he and Tachibana are a gay couple by putting his arm around Tachibana at just the right moment, was great. Tachibana's expression is priceless.

The revelation about Tachibana's past is heartbreaking. His horror that wakes him up at night is not over what was done to him, but over his fear that he killed a man. He wasn't a bad kid, and he was upset that he stabbed the man who abducted him. In the end, I suppose it was a kind of love that allowed the man to tell him to go and forget what happened - he took Tachibana in order to have him act as a replacement for his son, and then he let Tachibana go because he wasn't his son and he didn't want him to be upset over the stabbing any more. Tachibana doesn't remember him, but part of me thinks the man remembers Tachibana. Or maybe he doesn't, and it was like two siblings, separated by adoption, passing in the street. Either way, just thinking about it...well, I don't think I can name too many manga volumes or series that pack quite the emotional punch this one does.

Kanda - again, heartbreaking. Who knew he was hiding so many insecurities? He can be scary, but when he was crying to Ono he was like a child. I'm glad that he became more secure and willingly asked to go to France on his own. Ono is probably the only one I don't think had a heartbreaking ending. He's mending things with his family through his sister's wedding, but it doesn't feel like things are finally fixed with him - he's definitely a character I can imagine living and growing after the series is over. Maybe that scene at the gay bar is a sign that he's eventually going to settle down, too. I wonder with who? Chikage? It'd kind of be perfect if he ended up with Tachibana, except Tachibana's not gay.

Since I've mentioned Tachibana again...Tachibana discovering the kidnapper was kind of odd - he must've just gone in the woman's house on a hunch, because the bruise wasn't really much of a sign of what was going on in there. For all he knew, she had an abusive husband or something. Tachibana going in was like an unstoppable force - it was a bit chilling, him tracking dirt in, dragging the woman behind him, remembering his own parents after he was brought back to them. The end, with the 24-year-old was anti-climactic - the guy didn't look like much of a killer. I suppose, though, that the anti-climactic feeling could have been intentional, a way of making the reader feel what Tachibana was probably feeling.

Oh, and speaking of chilling moments, the moment when the police are asking Tachibana to let them surveil his shop is also chilling, because it's finally made clear just how much thought Tachibana put into turning his shop into a trap for his abductor. I think that this scene was something of a shock to Tachibana because, although this was his original intention for the shop, it has since become so much more to him - it was a bit of a shock for him to get a reminder of what he originally wanted to do with it. It had to give the other employees chills too, knowing what they knew about his past.

Overall, I love this series and will miss it. I loved the humor (Kanda's crush on Deko, though funny, was a bit icky, but there are so many other parts that are just plain good), the drama, the characters, the pastries, and the artwork. It was a better and more interesting series than I think I expected when I started it.

This list of read-alikes and watch-alikes isn't great - in fact, it's pretty lazy - but every single volume before this one has given me trouble, and this one is no exception. I basically just put together a list using suggestions I made for the previous volume. Yes, very lazy.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Yakitate!! Japan (manga) by Takashi Hashiguchi - Azuma Kazuma's goal is to make Ja-pan - every country except Japan seems to have its own national bread, and Azuma wants to correct this by making bread that would fit in with Japanese cuisine and be loved as much as rice. In pursuit of this goal, Azuma finds work at a branch of Pantasia, a famous bread-making chain. Bread-making isn't a sport, but you wouldn't always know it from reading Yakitate!! Japan - in this wacky manga, people bake the craziest things (which usually have some sort of basis in real-life breads), competing rabidly against one another. The feel of this manga is nothing like Antique Bakery - although this manga is also humorous, its humor is wackier than Antique Bakery's, and it doesn't have that same undercurrent of seriousness. However, readers who'd like another manga featuring mouthwatering foods might want to try this.
  • Honey and Clover (manga) by Chika Umino - (This popular manga has spawned both anime and live action shows, none of which I've listed here - check out Anime News Network if you'd like to know a little more about them.) This "slice of life" manga focuses primarily on a group of art college students - their friendships, dramas, and loves. Those who liked Antique Bakery's mix of humor and seriousness, character-driven story, and focus on relationships may enjoy this manga.
  • Bartender (manga) by Araki Joh (story) and Kenji Nagatomo (art); Bartender (anime TV series) - Ryu Sasakura is a genius bartender who makes the most incredible cocktails anyone has ever tasted. Customers of all kinds come to his bar, and Ryu uses his talents to help each one with their worries and problems. This is another character-driven "slice of life" story. In addition, those who enjoyed Antique Bakery's lovely and well-described pastries and cakes may enjoy Bartender's various drinks. (It is very bad of me to include this in the list, because neither the anime nor the manga are available in the US yet. But, oh, I wish - I've read some very nice blog posts about the anime.)
  • 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. Like Antique Bakery, this series has a fairly "calm" feel to it overall - also like Antique Bakery, it occasionally hits you with some jaw-dropping revelations that make it clear there's more to the characters than their light, fluffy surfaces let on.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bone Crossed (book) by Patricia Briggs

This is not the best of the Mercedes Thompson books, but it's still a good series. Currently, Patricia Briggs in one of the few authors whose books I still buy - everyone else's books I get via ILL, thereby allowing me to spend my money on anime and the occasional few volumes of manga. If I read a book good enough that I find myself wanting to request it again, I put it on my "to buy" list. Even Briggs's "worst" books have been good enough that I just buy them as they come out.

As usual, my synopsis is long and probably gives more detail than those who haven't read the book would want to know. Even so, it still doesn't include everything. If you'd like, you can just skip it and go to the commentary or read-alikes.

Synopsis:

In the previous book, Mercy was raped at the end. She's still trying to overcome the trauma of that in this one - she has agreed to be Adam's mate, but she's still too emotionally damaged for sex. Adam is patient, however - he's just happy that she's agreed to be his mate, he can wait for the rest later. Mercy isn't entirely sure of the effect this will have on her life (will she live with Adam or not?) or on Samuel (if she moves out, who will keep Samuel's fragile emotional state intact?).

Unfortunately, Mercy doesn't have the luxury of just focusing on healing. Marsilia, the head of the local vampires, has found out that she and Stefan killed one of her people (in Blood Bound, I believe) - she's tortured Stefan, killed his people (his food), and sent him to Mercy's house to kill her (he's so thirsty for blood that he'd risk draining anyone dry he drank from). Luckily, Mercy has a few werewolves with her. Instead of killing Mercy, as Marsilia likely intended, Stefan drinks from a few werewolves.

Aside from just being plain terrible, one awful aspect of the rape is that everyone in the nation has seen the tape of her being raped (side note: wouldn't that cause all kinds of ethical and legal problems for the stations that aired it?). Amber, an old acquaintance of Mercy's from her college days, comes knocking at her door, saying, "sorry you were raped" and asking for help with a ghost. When things start to get uncomfortably dangerous in her own area because of the vampires (they put a warning on the door of her garage and almost get one of Adam's werewolves killed), Mercy decides to leave town for a bit with Stefan and investigate Amber's ghost. She's not able to do much - all she manages to do is convince Amber's husband that their deaf son isn't just acting up and that there really is a ghost. Mercy's presence seems to make the ghost worse (it tries to hurt Chad, the son), so she and Stefan leave again. She's still worried, however, because Amber has worse problems than a ghost, problems Mercy can't tell her about. Amber has been food for a vampire named Blackwood for a long time, and that vampire had been snacking on Mercy as well while she stayed at Amber's house. In order to break Blackwood's hold on her, Mercy exchanges blood with Stefan.

Adam is relieved she's tied to Stefan and not Blackwood, but Samuel doesn't think either option was a good one - he thinks (and so does Stefan, actually) that Mercy trusts Stefan more than she should, considering that he's a vampire. Anyway, while Mercy was gone, the werewolves tried to negotiate with Marsilia. With the help of the horrible "truth chair," Marsilia finds out which of her vampires were the least loyal towards her - it is discovered that Stefan, despite his part in killing that one vampire, is loyal to Marsilia to a fault. He will not betray her, even though she has killed his people. It is painful to him, however, that he was tortured and his people killed just so that Marsilia could discover who among her people meant her harm.

Mercy ends up getting kidnapped by Chad's dad - it turns out Blackwood is holding Chad hostage. Unfortunately, Amber is dead, sort of - her body is dead and rotting, but it's still moving around. The remnants of her soul are sticking around in an attempt to keep Chad safe, even though she can't do anything contrary to Blackwood's wishes. Blackwood, it seems, has the ability to take on the power of whoever/whatever he drinks, and he wants Mercy's abilities. With the help of an oakman, who's been held captive by Blackwood for ages, and Stefan, who manages to find her, Mercy gets Chad to safety and kills Blackwood and, possibly, one of the dangerous ghosts who stays near him.

Commentary:

I think I'll start this off by writing about Mercy. I was wondering how Briggs would deal with the events that ended the previous book. Mercy came off as more than a bit fragile, which makes sense but was a little hard for me to read. I hate it when characters I like have something really bad happen to them - I'm too emotionally attached, I guess. On the plus side, although Mercy wasn't completely better by the end of the book, she's wasn't hopelessly damaged and showed signs of healing. She slept with Adam, for one thing, so the rape didn't completely screw things up between the two of them. On the minus side, Mercy kept doing stupid things, and her situation kept getting worse. I'm not sure what she could have done instead at certain points, but there are things (like tying herself to Stefan) that I don't think she thought out well enough. I don't know if her fragility made stupid decisions (or maybe it would be better to say "badly thought out decisions"?) more likely, but it seems possible.

Since I just mentioned the whole "tying herself to Stefan" thing, I'll say this, too: I totally didn't expect Adam to react as well to that as he did. I mean, Mercy only recently agreed to be his mate, so their relationship was still on shaky ground - by tying herself to Stefan, it seemed to me that she just put their relationship on even shakier ground. Mercy and Adam should have been aware of this, since they both also knew that Stefan had the hots for Mercy, and yet the only one who thought the whole thing was a mistake is Samuel.

I also wasn't really expecting Adam's pack to react so badly to Mercy being declared as Adam's mate. They had a pretty long time to get used to the idea, since Adam had been pursuing her for a while before things became more official, but I guess it was the "more official" part that really stirred things up. Even though her being a coyote (as a skinwalker, Mercy can change into a coyote) gets some pack members' backs up, I think Adam is probably better off with her than a regular human. A regular human would probably be dead by now - although, admittedly, a regular human probably wouldn't attract as much supernatural baddie attention as Mercy does. Oh, by the way, I cheered at the bit where Mercy finally held her own against those who didn't approve of her being Adam's mate. Go, Mercy!

As far as minor characters go, I liked Chad. Some authors write their child characters in ways that make them annoying and/or overly cute, but Briggs thankfully didn't do that with Chad. His being deaf added some interesting complications, since Mercy didn't know sign language and Chad's father didn't quite know how to handle him. I wonder if Chad's father would have been more likely to believe him about the ghosts if Chad hadn't been deaf. Anyway, even though he'll be massively messed up, I kind of hope Chad will show up in a future book. It'd be nice to see how he's doing.

Which leads me to Chad's mother. Ick. The bits with her near the end of the book made me feel a bit queasy - despite all the zombie books I've read recently (and the zombies in my NaNoWriMo novel), I'm really not that good with the idea of walking, talking, rotting corpses. I think what really put me off is that Amber didn't really realize she was dead. She followed Blackwood's orders because she had to, and some leftover part of her tried to protect her son, but everything she said and did was disturbingly "off". Usually, the zombies in books I've read or movies I've seen are more dead than Amber was. They not "off", they're just dead and still moving around, if that distinction makes any sense. It's disgusting, but less disturbing. Laurell K. Hamilton's books occasionally had zombies that were, like Amber, more alive, but that didn't disturb me as much as Amber, either. I think maybe it's because I didn't get to read about the zombies in LKH's books as they were before they became zombies. Or maybe it's because I didn't have to read about them in multiple scenes, as they slowly rotted more and more - LKH's Anita Blake can keep her zombies as "fresh" as she wants, and individual zombies are rarely around for long.

Basically, even though I have a fairly high tolerance for "ick" in books, there are still certain things that have the power to scar my brain. Amber was one of those things. Amber will probably make me shudder for quite some time. Amber, porcelin dolls, and moving spinal cords with heads attached (thank you, Kelley Armstrong, for also adding to my list of "things that have scarred my brain" - eww).

I'll wrap this up with vampires. I can't believe Mercy (even with help) managed to kill off Blackwood. He was wickedly powerful, after all. It kind of surprised me that he hadn't attracted the attention of even more powerful vampires. Briggs's vampires don't want humans finding out they exist, since their very existence would generate bad PR - even vampires like Stefan, who could potentially be painted as "good," keep humans for food. Vampires like Blackwood not only make all chances of future good PR go up in smoke, they increase the likelihood that vampires' existence will be made public. You'd think some other powerful vampire would kill him for the benefit of vampires as a whole.

Finishing up my vampire comments in particular and my commentary as a whole, I must mention Marsilia. I really hope she dies soon, although I'm sure that her death will only lead to an influx of more bad guys - that's just the way these things work. Sure, Marsilia didn't really kill Stefan's people, but she made him think she did, which is nearly as bad. When someone mistreats their own allies, you know that their death can't (and shouldn't) be far off.

Read-alikes:
  • Urban Shaman (book) by C. E. Murphy - This is the first book in the Walker Papers series. This book features another strong, somewhat supernatural main female character who also happens to be a mechanic. In a jarringly short amount of time, Joanne Walker makes a new friend, discovers she has shamanic powers (including the ability to heal herself by imagining she's fixing herself in the same way she might a car), and finds out she has to use those new shamanic powers to save the world from the Wild Hunt. The only help she's got in trying to figure things out is a cryptic coyote who shows up in her dreams. Like Mercy, Joanne is a competent woman who's in over her head a lot of times. There's a little less in the way of romantic subplots in this book and in the series in general than there is in the Mercedes Thompson books, although there are indications of a potential romance between Joanne and her boss (I can't remember how strongly it comes through in this book, but I do know it shows up in later books).
  • Tempting Danger (book) by Eileen Wilks - This is also the first book in a series. Lily Yu is a cop who's trying to figure out who's going around killing people in gruesome ways. It looks like werewolves might be involved, and maybe even the prince of the Nokolai clan, Rule Turner. This is especially unfortunate, because Lily and Rule have suddenly discovered that they are mates - the result is a compulsion to be near each other, and it'll look really bad if someone finds out Lily's having sex with the prime suspect. Lily, like Mercy, is a strong, competent female character who manages to use her own skills to accomplish things, despite being physically outclassed by supernatural beings like Rule. If you're not up to trying an entire novel by a new author, this series actually grew out of a short story featured in the anthology Lover Beware. Consider the story a different version of how Lily and Rule met and came to terms with each other - Lily is still the same basic character in the story and the novel (a strong, competent woman whose family is important to her), but Rule in the story is a somewhat different man from Rule in the book.
  • Dead Until Dark (book) by Charlaine Harris - This is the first book in Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series. Sookie is a telepathic barmaid. Most of the people in her small Southern town know about her special abilities, but most people can also forget about it a bit because Sookie makes an effort to either not read people or not show that she's read someone. It's an exhausting life, however. Before the beginning of this book, vampires revealed their existence to the world, and in this book Sookie discovers something she thinks is wonderful - it's very hard, if not impossible, for her to read the thoughts of most vampires. Soon, Sookie is dating a vampire, but, unfortunately, being around him gets her involved in more danger than she's ever experienced before. Those who'd like another story featuring supernatural beings (shapeshifters, various were-animals, vampires, fairies, etc.), the occasional murder, and a main female character with supernatural powers who's in a little over her head might like this book and series. As an added bonus, several male characters are interested in Sookie.
  • Touch the Dark (book) by Karen Chance - This is the first book in Chance's Cassandra Palmer series. Cassie is a gifted clairvoyant whose entire life since she was a little girl has been controlled by vampires. Three years ago, she managed to run away from the vampires who both raised her and had a part in her parents' deaths, and she's been in hiding ever since. Now the vampires are closing in, and Cassie learns that the mages are after her as well. Cassie has to figure out who she can trust, stay alive, and figure out why so many people want to kill her. Those who'd like something else with supernatural beings (vampires, mages, etc.), magic, and a main female character with supernatural abilities who's in a over her head might like this book and series. As is the case with similar books, several gorgeous guys are interested in Cassie. Unfortunately for her, these guys are generally untrustworthy.
  • Guilty Pleasures (book) by Laurell K. Hamilton - Once again, this is the first book in a series set in a world where the things that go bump in the night have recently revealed themselves to the world at large. Before American law gave vampires, werewolves, and other beings the same rights as humans, Anita Blake was a vampire hunter. Now she's a vampire executioner, in addition to her full-time job as an animator (raiser of the dead). Like Bone Crossed, this is a fast-paced book with a strong, competent female lead who's surrounded by dangerous beings. In this first book, we meet Jean-Claude, a vampire who is one of the many people throughout the series who will be competing for Anita's affection. The various supernatural societies in this series all have their own politics and culture, and the cast of characters is usually fun and interesting. The early books feel a lot like paranormal mysteries with a hint of romance. Be warned, though - at around book 10 or so, the tone of the series changes drastically, Anita becomes darker and harder, and the sex scenes become way more graphic and time-consuming, leaving little room for the mysteries that were part of the early appeal of the series. Those who particularly liked Bone Crossed's super-creepy zombie Amber might want to try the second book in the series, The Laughing Corpse, which focuses more on zombies than the first book.
  • Bitten (book) by Kelley Armstrong - Elena became a werewolf after the man she loved betrayed her (that's how she sees it, although it's not what he intended) and bit her while in wolf form - she had no idea what he was and never chose to become a werewolf. She leaves her pack as soon as she is able and begins as normal a life as she can in Toronto. Elena agrees to help her former pack members hunt down mutts (non-pack werewolves) who are leaving a conspicuous trail of carnage - humans don't know about werewolves, and they want to keep it that way. Unfortunately, Elena has to deal with her former lover (the werewolf who bit her) and finds herself drawn to him again. Those who'd like another book with a similar "feel" that features werewolves, a bit of romantic tension, and danger might want to try this. Other books in the series include witches, vampire, half-demons, and more.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I've been noticed...

Hopefully I can have a new book/anime/whatever post up soon. In the meantime, I'm being eaten alive by insects (no idea what kind or where they are, but I seem to have at least one new bite every other day), I'm woefully behind on NaNoWriMo, and the blog I keep that actually has my name attached to it has been noticed.

I won't mention any names here, since there's a high likelihood that, by using names, this blog would be noticed by the same people, but a certain Libraryland company noticed that I wrote a few posts about them on my less anonymous blog. How do I know this? Well, one of those posts got commented on by one of their employees, and a couple of my other posts rated emails from more employees. The latest email was very long and included links illustrating why the article I was commenting on (an article about the company) was wrong, although they appreciated that I sounded more level-headed than the article's author. Score for me, I guess. The person would like me to send him any criticisms of their company/products I might have so that they can make themselves and their products better. I'm trying to figure out what, if anything, I will say in response. So far, two of my coworkers know about the latest email. One is cheering me on, telling me that this is my chance to make my voice heard, while the other thinks I could respond or not, whatever I feel like.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

NaNoWriMo

I really did plan to write a new post earlier than this, but things kept coming up. Like procrastination.

Anyway, I'm involved in NaNoWriMo again this year - this would be my third year (non-consecutive - I skipped out last year because I'd only gotten hired a month before and was stressed out just trying to learn how to do my job). I'm SO far behind, though. I think I need to almost double my word count over the weekend just to even get caught up. On the plus side, I think I've already surpassed all my previous NaNoWriMo word counts. The last two times I did NaNoWriMo, I usually ground to a halt after the first week. Very sad, I know.

I've been talking with one of our Outreach Librarians about the possibility of doing some kind of NaNoWriMo-related library event next year. It's exciting to think about, but who knows if anything will actually come of it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dewey: the Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World (non-fiction book) by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter

I had never heard of Dewey before this book came out, although I had heard of library cats. Myron's assertion, throughout the book, that people far and wide had heard of Dewey and, in fact, sometimes visited her library in Spencer, Iowa just to see him was a little hard for me to believe. Still, just because I hadn't heard of Dewey didn't mean that all those other people hadn't.

Anyway, although I rarely read warm, fuzzy animal stories, because I don't like their tendency to make me cry, I decided to read this one. As a librarian, I felt like I should probably read this book, since it focused on a library cat. I enjoyed it, for the most part, but, yes, it did make me cry.

Synopsis:

On one especially cold morning in Spencer, Iowa, Vicki Myron, the director of the Spencer Public Library, opens the library book drop and finds a tiny kitten. The kitten had been in the book drop long enough that he not longer felt warm enough to be a living being, but Myron and the others at her library took care of the little kitten and took him to the vet.

Amazingly, the kitten, who is eventually given the name Dewey Readmore Books, survives, although it takes him a long time to recover (his feet are frostbitten). Even more amazingly, Myron gets permission to keep Dewey as the library's mascot - Dewey becomes Spencer Public Library's library cat.

For the next 19 years, Dewey greets and spends time with library patrons, forms bonds with people, and brings the library and the town of Spencer more recognition than anyone ever expected. People don't just come from all over Iowa, but all over the United States, to see Dewey, and Dewey is even in a Japanese documentary about cats.

The book isn't just about Dewey, though. It's about small town life, the Spencer Public Library, and Vicki Myron. Myron writes about what it's taken for Spencer to survive and what it's taken for the library to survive and thrive. Although Dewey wasn't solely responsible for both the town and the library making it through tough times, Myron believes that he definitely played a part. When unemployment rates rose, Dewey may not have gotten unemployed Spencer Public Library patrons jobs, but he was there to give them company and comfort while they conducted their job searches. For those who had to move away from Spencer, Dewey was a good memory they could take with them.

Myron writes about her own family and life. Several members of her family, and Vicki Myron herself, have had to deal with cancer. Myron had to deal with being married to an alcoholic husband. For years, she also had a rocky relationship with her daughter. When Myron brought Dewey home for the holidays, Dewey and Myron's daughter formed a bond that became something Myron and her daughter could share together - when it was hard to talk about other things, instead of ceasing to talk to each other at all, they could at least talk about Dewey.

Well, that's not nearly all of it, but I'm butchering the emotional impact of the book. This probably isn't a book that will rock most people's worlds, but quite a few people will likely be able to find something to identify with in it.

Commentary:

I'm a pet lover, a cat lover, and a person who has had a family member die of cancer. There was a lot for me to identify with in this book, even though I don't have the warm fuzzy feelings for small town America that Myron has and I've never been to Spencer. I read this book mainly because I'm a cat lover.

The parts I enjoyed the most, even as some of them made me roll my eyes, were the parts with Dewey. Myron describes him as a very friendly, very charismatic cat. The parts where I rolled my eyes were the parts where Myron described him in ways that made him seem more special than other cats. Apparently, Dewey was the best cat in the universe, and he understood exactly what his job as the library's official library cat was. Right. Myron occasionally admits that Dewey wasn't completely perfect (he was a picky eater and suffered from constipation, for instance), but the book as a whole tells a different story. I roll my eyes because probably everybody feels that way about at least one, if not all, of the pets they've had. My family used to have a cat who seemed like she could understand us, and I used to have a pet rat who would curl up on my lap and fall asleep. To Myron, Dewey was one of a kind. That's probably true, but I'd have to say that he was really just one special pet out of many.

Myron does admit that, although Dewey was the library's cat, he was also her pet. She cared for him like he was her personal pet. There was a bit of eye rolling again on my part, when Myron wrote about library patrons who all felt they had a special bond with Dewey, telling themselves that Dewey went to other patrons because that was part of his job. She writes that, and yet, of course, her bond with Dewey is special, more special than his bonds with others (except her daughter, who had an even more special bond with him). I wonder if there were any Spencer residents (or staff members at the library) who were upset about their own relationships with Dewey being minimized. Well, maybe not exactly minimized, but it's like every sentence or paragraph in the book has to be taken on its own - it's not possible for everyone to have the "most special" bond with Dewey, otherwise.

Even though I picked up the book because I'm a cat lover, the bits about Spencer were still interesting and certainly related to Dewey's story. The bits about Myron's own life and her personal tragedies were, for the most part, also related to Dewey's story, in that Myron was the one telling Dewey's story, but... Although a member of my family has died of cancer, I didn't pick this book up to read about others' cancer stories. I'm sure there are those for whom the parts of the book specifically about Myron were some of the most interesting, but that wasn't the case for me. I don't generally read memoirs, because it feels awkward to me, reading about others' personal lives.

Overall, I liked this book. This isn't a book I would reread, and there were parts I didn't like as much as others, but the cat lover in me enjoyed reading about Dewey. Myron's experience with Dewey reminded me of my experiences with pets I've had in the past and pets I have in the present. For those who need the warning, this book does deal with Dewey's death. When I read about Dewey getting old and eventually having to be put to sleep, I remembered the deaths of all the pets I've ever had. When Myron wrote about Dewey's relationship with her daughter, I remembered one of my family's cats, who had a similar relationship with me. I used up a lot of tissues reading this book.

The list below could include just about any animal or cat memoir, but, being only one person and not wishing to spend forever writing this post, I have only listed a few titles.

Read-alikes:
  • Amazing Gracie: A Dog's Tale (non-fiction book) by Dan Dye and Mark Beckloff - Dan, sad over the loss of his last dog and unhappy with his job, takes home Gracie, a deaf and partially blind albino Great Dane puppy. The book shows how, over the next 10 years, Dan's relationship with Gracie changes his life and inspires him to do work that he actually enjoys. Although it's not about a cat, animal lovers who enjoyed Dewey's story might like this one.
  • Clara: The Early Years: The Story of the Pug Who Ruled My Life (non-fiction book) by Margo Kaufman - Kaufman knew after her first meeting with Clara that she was a bit different. This book hilariously describes how Clara came to rule Kaufman's household and steal the show at book tours. There's some conflict when Kaufman and her husband decide to adopt a child, but things work out in the end. Again, not about a cat, but, again, animal lovers who enjoyed Dewey's story might like this.
  • Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog (non-fiction book) by John Grogan - I know, I know, another book with a dog. I promise, there's going to be a book with a cat in this list, really. Anyway, John Grogan and his wife Jenny decide to get a puppy, sort of as a way to ease into parenthood. The puppy, Marley, grows up into a hyperactive but lovable dog. Grogan writes about life with Marley, his wife, and the kids he and his wife eventually have. Animal lovers who liked Dewey's story might like this funny memoir (although, be warned, this one will require tissues, too).
  • The Cat Who Went to Paris (non-fiction book) by Peter Gethers - This is the first book in a trilogy about Norton, a Scottish Fold who won the previously cat-fearing Gethers over. Those who'd like another story about a Very Special Kitty might want to try this book.
  • A Lion Called Christian: The True Story of the Remarkable Bond Between Two Friends and a Lion (non-fiction book) by Anthony Bourke and John Rendall - Anthony "Ace" Bourke and John Rendall, two visitors to London from Australia in 1969, purchased a lion cub they named Christian from the pet department of Harrods. It quickly became clear that they couldn't keep him forever, so, when they eventually had the opportunity to have Christian flown to Kenya, they took it. A year later, John and Ace went to Kenya themselves and received a surprising and touching welcome from Christian, even though he was, by then, fully integrated into life in his new home with other lions. You've probably seen the video of their reunion on YouTube. Anyway, animal lovers who enjoyed Dewey's story might want to try this book.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Betrayed (book) by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast

[This series recently became a great discussion topic at the library I work at, when area newspapers revealed that the entire series has been banned at a local middle school library. Same goes for Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy series, which, if it weren't already on my TBR list, would now be added. Wholesale book banning always makes me curious.]

This is the second book in the House of Night series, and I was less than enthused. My problem is that, even though this is only the second book, the series seems to rapidly be going the way of the Anita Blake series and so many others - the heroine, Zoey Redbird, is suddenly finding herself with a surplus of men (males, boys, whatever) and a complete inability to decide between them. Of course, she wants to have her cake and eat it too. Probably my only consolation will be that this series is intended for young adults and will therefore (hopefully) not descend to the realm of frequent and graphic sex scenes loosely held together by story (I'm looking at you, LKH). It's not that I don't like sexy male characters. I do. It's just that I have problems being ok with heroines who won't choose between them. Plus, it feels a bit like laziness on the author's part, since the author is getting out of having to choose as well.

I haven't given up on the series, but I'm wary. Here's hoping that Zoey's Loren/Erik/Heath thing won't get even more annoying (or, worse, become Loren/Erik/Heath/etc.) in the next book.

Synopsis:

Zoey is now leader of the Dark Daughters and wants badly not to blow it. She knows that the Dark Daughters need to be overhauled - membership has to be based on behavior, not popularity.

Even as she tries to think up ideas for the new incarnation of the Dark Daughters, she has to deal with the horrible awkwardness of parent visitation. Her parents show up and are horrible, but at least her grandma is there too. Zoey also discovers, via some mostly accidental eavesdropping, that Aphrodite's parents are fairly awful as well. Aphrodite's father is the mayor of Tulsa. Aphrodite had been keeping her visions to herself, not because she hated humans, as Zoey had previously believed, but because her parents told her to keep them to herself. Her parents believe that Aphrodite's visions are her key to gaining power. They are coldly disappointed with her for losing her position as leader of the Dark Daughters and tell her that she needs to somehow get Zoey out of the way so that she can get her old position back.

This gives Zoey a lot to mull over - Aphrodite may not be quite so bad after all. While Zoey is in the library researching ways she might change the Dark Daughters, she has a...moment with Loren Blake, the Vampyre Poet Laureate. Loren is in his early 20s (maybe 21? I can't remember...), good with words (he's a poet, after all), and very sexy. Zoey's teenage heart races with excitement while she's around him, although she figures that anything she thinks happened between the two of them was really all just in her head. Still, it's nice to imagine, even if she's already got a boyfriend. Well, almost-boyfriend. At this point, she still refuses to think of Erik as her boyfriend, since they haven't gone on an actual date yet. Plus, if she doesn't think of him as her boyfriend, then flirting with Loren (and maybe more) doesn't count as cheating, does it?

Later, Zoey overhears Neferet angrily accusing Aphrodite of lying about her visions. It frightens Zoey, because she's never heard Neferet speak that way to anyone, and Aphrodite is clearly broken up by Neferet's accusation.

Going outside to think, Zoey runs into Loren and has yet another moment with him. It seems like he might be interested in her, and it's obvious that, if he hadn't turned politely away in the end, she would happily have thrown herself at him, Erik or no Erik. Frustrated by the encounter, Zoey heads back to her room, only to see a news report that a football player she knew when she was human has gone missing.

Zoey begins finding haiku poetry that she assumes Loren wrote for her, and again her heart flutters. She tells Stevie Rae, her best friend and roommate, about Loren, and Stevie Rae actually suggests that Zoey might want to try sneaking around and seeing Loren while she is also seeing Erik - after all, she's special in so many other ways that maybe the usual rules don't apply to her. However, Zoey just wants to be normal. She doesn't know what to do about her guy situation.

Later on, Zoey comes across Aphrodite, who is having a vision. The vision turns out to be about Zoey's Grandma Redbird, who, if something isn't done, will be killed when the bridge she will be driving across is damaged. Aphrodite agrees to give Zoey further details about the vision in exchange for Zoey owing her in the future. Zoey readily agrees. Knowing she can't just tell Neferet about the vision, since Neferet no longer believes Aphrodite, she goes to her friends. Together, they concoct a plan to close the bridge by calling in a bomb threat.

Some cops show up at the House of Night, wanting to ask Zoey some questions about the missing football players (or maybe player - I can't remember how many are missing at this point in the book). One of them has now been found dead, apparently killed by a vampyre. Found near his body was a necklace bearing the symbol of the leader of the Dark Daughters. This news shocks Zoey, but her own necklace isn't missing. Neferet defends Zoey against the cops and, when they ask about Loren, lies about where Loren was - Zoey knows it was a lie, because she and Loren were flirting together during the time in question.

Even though it's against the rules (fledglings can only leave the House of Night with the knowledge, permission, and accompaniment of an adult vampyre), Zoey leaves the House of Night on her own. It's almost time to call in the bomb threat. She runs into Heath, who, for the first time in a long time, isn't under the influence of either alcohol or drugs. He says he went completely clean for her, because he wants the two of them to be together again. He doesn't quite seem to grasp that Zoey becoming a vampyre will make the life he imagines for the two of them impossible. However, he and Zoey are Imprinted, so logic and sanity are in short supply during their interactions. Zoey isn't supposed to meet with him or even talk to him at all. Soon, though, he's in her car, where he cuts himself on purpose. Zoey hasn't yet learned to control her bloodlust, so she finds his blood impossible to resist. She licks his blood up, and for her and Heath the experience is like a really hot and heavy make out session. Luckily, they're interrupted, but now Zoey is back to texting Heath and agreeing to meet him again, even though she shouldn't be doing either. Despite all of this, Zoey does manage to remember to call in the bomb threat. The bridge is closed, and a news report reveals that the accident Aphrodite saw in her vision would indeed have occurred if Zoey hadn't acted.

A new student arrives at the House of Night, a guy who has chosen the name Jack Twist. He's not a major character in this book, but he's Erik's new roommate, and it soon becomes clear that he's gay and that he and Damien are probably going to become a couple.

Zoey finishes the preparations for her first ritual as the leader of the Dark Daughters. Just before the ritual, Neferet announces the changes Zoey made to the Dark Daughters, but she acts as though these changes were all her own idea. Zoey feels upset and betrayed, but she manages to keep her cool. Erik is now back (he'd been taking part in the final round of the fledgling international Shakespearean monologue contest), and, for the first time, Zoey is in the same room with Loren and Erik at the same time. She feels like she's having yet another moment with Loren and even flirts with him in full view of all the other fledglings, including Erik, but no one notices what she's doing and Loren doesn't seem to respond to her with any kind of interest. Zoey wonders whether her "moments" with Loren were really all in her head. She proceeds with the ritual, discovering that each of her friends have an affinity with the elements she has assigned to them. This is fantastic news, and everyone is ecstatic. The ritual is a great success, but, unfortunately, Stevie Rae dies right afterwards, her body unable to deal with the Change. She had been coughing for a while before the ritual, but no one had noticed or thought anything of it until it was too late (although everyone worried about Zoey's stress-induced stomach aches earlier in the book).

Neferet offers Zoey something to calm her and help her deal with her friend's death better, but, on Aphrodite's advice, she doesn't take it. Heath gets kidnapped right outside the House of Night, and Zoey uses the bond between them to track him down. It turns out he's been captured by the "ghosts" - fledglings who supposedly died after their bodies rejected the Change. Among them is Stevie Rae, who now barely retains any of her former self. Heath is terrified, because, unlike when Zoey feeds off of him, when these fledglings feed off of him it hurts. Zoey manages to get him out, though. She runs into Neferet, who she has realized is somehow in charge of these evil fledglings - she previously saw Neferet allowing one of the evil fledglings to feed off of her (a sight which repulsed Zoey, since there was a sexual quality to it). Neferet tries to make Zoey forget everything she's seen, but Zoey's connection to her friends helps her - their affinities the various elements helps her cleanse herself.

Zoey meets Detective Marx, who has so far been the friendliest of the cops who have spoken to her about the missing football players. She can't tell him hardly anything (nothing about Nefert, the fledglings, etc.), but she tells him that, if anyone else ever goes missing, she can probably help him find them. Detective Marx makes it clear that he'll help her whatever way he can. He has a twin sister who became a vampyre when they were teens. Even though vampyres are encouraged, for various reasons, to break off all ties with their human friends and family, Detective Marx and his sister stayed close, and he's learned a lot about vampyres from her. He warns Zoey, telling her that his sister mentioned that High Priestesses (like Neferet) can mess with a person's memory. I can't remember if this warning comes before or after Zoey has managed to deal with Neferet's attempt to erase her memory of recent events, but this at least indicates that Detective Marx might be keeping his eye on Neferet in the future.

Neferet threatens Zoey, telling her not to tell anyone anything that she's recently found out. Zoey fires back by revealing the new tattoos that the goddess Nix has bestowed upon her. Even though there's not much Zoey can do right now, and not too many people she can talk to about everything, at least Nix is on her side.

Commentary:

I didn't remember, at first, where Erik was supposed to be (he's barely even in this book), but I did think it was odd that he never even crossed Zoey's mind as she drooled over Loren. When Zoey referred to Erik as her almost-boyfriend (or something similar - I don't have the book on hand to check), I groaned, because she had done the exact same thing with Heath in the first book. In my post for that book, I mentioned that this seemed to me to be a way for Zoey to distance herself from Heath, so that she could flirt with Erik with a clear conscience. Now Erik is her almost-boyfriend, allowing her to flirt with Loren with a clear conscience. Things get more complicated when Heath reenters the picture, but that situation is made more acceptable via vampyre lore - Zoey and Heath are Imprinted, so she really can't help wanting to go after him. Even Erik, once Zoey talks to him about Heath, is fairly accepting of the difficulty Zoey has with leaving Heath behind once and for all. Plus, she and Heath have been friends since childhood, adding an extra layer to their bond.

Actually, all those things made me a little more accepting of Zoey's behavior as far as Heath is concerned, too. She really, really should have just left when she realized she'd just run into Heath, but I could accept that she chose to start up a conversation with him because her bond with him made it difficult for her to choose to do otherwise. Also, it was Heath who cut himself. At this stage in her development as a fledgling, Zoey doesn't have the skills to resist readily available human blood, so I could accept that she drank from Heath, even though it was a really stupid thing to do.

What bothered me most was her behavior as far as Loren is concerned. I was ok with her giddiness when she first met him in the library - I'm sure there are tons of teenage girls out there who have nursed fun, giddy crushes on completely unattainably older guys. Zoey gushed over Loren, and it didn't really feel like she was cheating on Erik, because even Zoey didn't expect anything to happen. However, the second time Zoey met Loren, things got a tad more heated. He asked to see the tattoos on her shoulders that she gained at the end of the first book, and Zoey made a sexy show of it. Suddenly, she felt all womanly. Then she became frustrated because Loren went all polite and left her be. Not once did she think of Erik. Oh, wait, at this point in the series Erik is still only her almost-boyfriend, so it's ok. I think it was Stevie Rae who commented, saying something like "what does it take for you to consider someone your boyfriend?", and I completely agree. Apparently, any guy who wishes to have anything resembling an exclusive relationship with Zoey must publicly announce that he is her boyfriend. And then get Zoey to publicly agree to it.

None of that even gets into the other issue with her flirtation with Loren, which is the age difference. Zoey thought about it at first, and it was one of the reasons why she was sure Loren was unattainable - why would a guy in his early twenties want to date a teenage girl? I can't remember Zoey's exact age, but I think she might be sixteen. However, the age difference was rapidly forgotten as Zoey started to feel all womanly around Loren. She flirted with him like a pro, until he ignored her at the ritual and she started to wonder why she thought she had a chance with him. Trying to give Zoey a little credit, I wonder if Loren didn't have something to do with Zoey trying to throw herself at him. I mean, what if he was somehow using vampyre powers to make her lust after him even more? It's a thought, and, if he's doing it on purpose, would make him a sleazeball. It's also possible that he could be doing it accidentally, which would explain why he seemed drawn in by Zoey at first and then made an extra effort to distance himself from her. That has interesting possibilities.

I still can't believe that Stevie Rae, of all people, suggested that Zoey secretly see both Erik and Loren. And saying that it might be ok because Zoey is special in other ways?! You've gotta be kidding me.

Since I've brought up Stevie Rae, I'll say that it really surprised me that she died. Well, "died." I'd read teasers for later books in the series and had seen her name, so I figured she'd be fine in this book, and then she went and died. I wasn't expecting her to become one of the bad guys. I'm looking forward to all that angst and drama that's going to inspire. I also wonder if "Bad Stevie Rae" is going to bring up the fact that no one even noticed her coughing, even though everyone worried over Zoey's stomach aches. If I were Stevie Rae, I'd be a little peeved by that. Then again, Zoey's friends seem remarkably immune to jealousy and envy.

Neferet's transformation into the (current) primary baddie doesn't surprise me. There were hints in the previous book that she wasn't the gentle, kind person she seemed to be. However, the sudden depth of her badness did surprise me. I kind of thought the Casts would slowly work up to it, or at least spend lots of time focusing on Neferet's motivations (which I'm guessing include her father raping her when she was a child). Instead, she was suddenly snarling at Aphrodite, having a nearly sexual bloodgiving session with a fledgling who supposedly died in the previous book, and apparently ordering the kidnapping and killing of lots of football players. No longer is she a nice motherly figure.

There are a few characters I'm really looking forward to seeing more of. Detective Marx could be fascinating - I'd love to hear more about him and his sister. Who knows, maybe his sister will show up in a future book? Also, the Equestrian Studies teacher, whose name I unfortunately can't remember, could be fun. She seems to at least suspect something about Neferet's activities, because she offers herself as someone Zoey can talk to if she ever feels she can't talk to Neferet. At the time, Zoey wonders about that offer, but she didn't know of Neferet's betrayal until later.

Overall, the guy-oriented storylines in this book annoyed me, but there are still quite a few things that intrigued me. Hopefully the Casts won't go too far down the "sex and a surplus of guys" path. I'd like more vampyres and intrigue, with enough romance to spice things up. Notice I used the word "romance" instead of "sex." Romance can include sex, but sex doesn't necessarily mean romance - sometimes authors forget that, or maybe don't care. Especially with books written in the first person, as the House of Night books are, sex scenes tend to feel a bit voyeuristic, or at least they do to me. I'd rather have romance, thank you.

Read-alikes:
  • Vampire Academy (book) by Richelle Mead - This is the first book in a series. Lissa is a mortal vampire princess and Rose is her half-human/half-vampire guardian. After having been on the run, they are forced to return to St. Vladimir's Academy, a private high school for vampires and the half-bloods who protect them. Rose and Lissa must deal with dangerous social politics, as well as the discovery that Lissa seems to have abilities that haven't been found in vampires for generations. Those who'd like another young adult book (and series) featuring main female characters who must deal with danger, intrigue, and complicated relationships might want to try this. Like Betrayed, this book is aimed at an audience mature enough to handle the occasional bit of steamy sex and "language."
  • The Summoning (book) by Kelley Armstrong - After Chloe Saunders suddenly starts seeing ghosts, her father and her aunt have her admitted to Lyle House, a home for troubled teens. All Chloe wants is to convince the adults at Lyle House that she's better and can leave, but it's not long before she starts noticing that there may be something sinister going on. A couple of the other teens at Lyle House are convinced that Chloe really can see ghosts and is, in fact, a necromancer - they may know what they're talking about, since one of them can do magic. Like Zoey, Chloe has to deal with sudden freaky changes to her life, new friends and enemies, people who can't necessarily be trusted, and potential romance (a very tiny part of the book, since Chloe is more concerned with getting to go home that finding herself a guy in the slim pickings of Lyle House).
  • The Initiation (book) by L. J. Smith - This is the first book in Smith's Secret Circle series, although it is no longer available on its own - the link will take you to the Amazon.com page for a volume combining the first book and half the second book (what were they thinking?!). Cassie isn't thrilled to move from sunny California to gloomy New England, but it isn't long before things get interesting for her. Her new school is practically ruled by a group of gorgeous teens who appear to be feared and/or respected by everyone around them. Cassie gradually discovers that, not only do these teens have special powers, so does she. As she gets involved with the group, she begins to fall for the boyfriend of one of the girls. Those who'd like another paranormal YA series/book involving magic, a school setting, a bit of romance, and lots of drama might want to try this.
  • The Strange Power (book) by L. J. Smith - This is the first book is Smith's Dark Visions series. Kaitlyn Fairchild is a psychic whose drawings predict the future. The only problem is, her drawings usually don't make sense until after whatever they predict has happened. When she finds out about the Zeetes Institute, a place where she can learn to control her abilities, she decides to go, but the institute may have have more sinister intentions than Kaitlyn realizes. Like Zoey, Kaitlyn finds herself dealing with potential romance and darkness and danger just under the nice surface of the Institute. It's not clear who Kaitlyn can trust.
  • Blue Bloods (book) by Melissa De La Cruz - This is the first book in a series. Schuyler is treated like an outcast by the clique of popular, athletic, and beautiful teens made up of Mimi Force, her twin brother, and her best friend. At the age of 15, Schuyler learns that she is a "blue blood," a very special vampire who is descended from a very old line. Unfortunately, lots of blue bloods have been dying, and Schuyler has to find out why before she, too, ends up dead. Those who'd like another story featuring high school-aged main characters, vampires, and a bit of suspense might like this book.
  • Vampire Knight (manga) by Matsuri Hino - Yuki's earliest memory is of being attacked by a vampire and then saved by another, the gorgeous and mysterious Kaname. Ten years later, Yuki, now the adopted daughter of the headmaster of Cross Academy, spends her time blushing over Kaname and protecting the Day Class students (all humans, unaware of the vampires around them) from the Night Class (all vampires). She is aided by Zero, a brooding teenager hiding a dark secret. Those who'd like another romance involving teens, vampires, and lots of hot guys who make the heroine's head spin might like this series. By the way, it has also been made into an anime, which has not yet been made legally available in the US (which, um, hasn't stopped me from seeing the first four episodes - it's a lot of fun).
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