Saturday, February 28, 2009

Food lessons learned

This has absolutely nothing to do with the blog, although I suppose you could consider some of it related to an earlier blog post I wrote about muffin-making and recipe books. Today I learned several new food lessons:
  1. Two cups of uncooked brown rice makes WAY too much cooked rice for one person. Here's hoping that I can finish the left-overs before it goes funky.
  2. "Jam Surprise" muffins - The surprise is that all the jam will melt and run out of the sides of the muffin tins, leaving very little of it actually inside the muffins. However, I made the darn things, and I still plan on eating them.
  3. My muffin pan can more than survive baked-on jam. Soap, water, and lots of scrubbing, and it looks good as new.

Friday, February 27, 2009

After School Nightmare (manga, vol. 3) by Setona Mizushiro

Mashiro still has to decide if he's going to help Shinonome in order to discover the knight's identity. Things are still rocky between Mashiro and Kureha, and Shinbashi, who has a crush on Kureha, begins a phone calling relationship with Kureha, who needs someone to talk to while Mashiro waffles between her and Sou. Mashiro ends up agreeing to Shinonome's terms (do what he says, and guard him in the dream world). Mashiro does his best to defend Shinonome (who takes the form of a paper giraffe in the dream world), but his actions draw Kureha's wrath. Horrified at having hurt Mashiro, even if only in the dream world, Kureha is convinced that Mashiro will hate her, while Mashiro is sure that she's avoiding him because she's still angry with him.

The giraffe discovers Mashiro's secret, that his bottom half is that of a girl, and needles Mashiro about it. Mashiro forgets his pact with Shinonome and kills his dream form - although he had gotten the key for Shinonome, Shinonome now has to wait for the next class session to graduate. Instead of being angry with Mashiro, Shinonome still wants to continue with their pact - if Mashiro's not willing, Shinonome is willing to blackmail any of the other classmates to get him or her to do his bidding and help him graduate. In the next class session, Shinonome almost doesn't make it, but Kureha puts his paper form back together. The giraffe, now stronger, manages to defeat the black knight and obtain the key. Before he uses the key to graduate, Shinonome offers to tell Mashiro the knight's identity, but Mashiro says he no longer wants Shinonome to tell him. Shinonome graduates, and Mashiro and Kureha make up (for now). By the end of the volume, however, Mashiro has once again attempted to confront Sou, and Sou kisses him - unfortunately, Shinbashi witnesses the kiss.

This is one of those series I feel I could write about forever. There's just so much going on, and so many mysterious thing to unravel. I wish that Shinonome had been around longer. I wonder why Kureha put him back together after his paper form was torn - did she look like herself (as opposed to looking like a wild girl in a raincoat) in that moment because she managed, for a brief time, to overcome her personal problems? What was the significance of Shinonome's giraffe form? And why was he stronger after Kureha fixed him? I think this is also the first time Mizushiro has shown readers more of what's beyond the graduation gates. When Shinonome goes beyond the gates, he falls into blackness, surrounded by a loud "dong" noise. Was that the sound of a clock striking the hour, or was it something else, and what's the fate of those who graduate? I wonder if Shinonome really graduated legitimately. I mean, I remember something about students only getting to graduate after they oversome their personal issues, and I'm not sure Shinonome really overcame his.

Mashiro's swords turn up again in this volume, and I wonder about those, too. The black knight calls them male and female swords - those names don't surprise me, since this fits with Mashiro's gender issues. However, I wonder what kind of significance the appearance of the swords has. To me, each sword looks like one half of a giant split feather. In another volume, Mashiro is frustrated because the cord connecting the swords makes it difficult for him to fight, since he's not used to using two swords at one time. He'd like to get rid of one of those swords, but he can't, which is a pretty good metaphor for how he feels about his body. His body combines features of both a male and female, and he wants to rid himself of his female side, but he can't, something that his obsession with Sou makes painfully obvious. Maybe the appearance of the swords hints at a way Mashiro can overcome his own issues. If the swords are two halves of a whole, couldn't they be combined to be wielded more comfortably? If Mashiro were able to accept both his male and female aspects as parts of the whole that is himself, he'd be much more comfortable with himself, as well.

In this volume, Mizushiro makes the conflict between Mashiro's male and female sides a literal thing - at the beginning of the volume's final special class session, a male and female Mashiro fight each other inside a giant cage suspended in blackness. The female Mashiro feels she is stronger and tries to get rid of the male Mashiro so that the combined weight of them both doesn't take them both down, but the male Mashiro manages to win. Despite that, however, I doubt that Mashiro's internal conflict has been resolved.

One final note before I wrap this up - in my post for volume 2, I mentioned that one of the students who soon graduated was able to see a black moon in the waking world sky that no one else could see. In this volume, the same thing happens to Shinonome. Maybe being able to see the black moon indicates that a student is about to graduate, or maybe it doesn't. At any rate, the black moon makes me doubtful that the waking world the students experience is really the real world. In the real world, people don't see black moons or have their existences completely disappear, so what's actually going on?

Man, I love the mysteries in this series. Sure, the conversations and tension between Sou and Mashiro can get more than a little repetitive, but I think the overall weirdness and mysteries more than makes up for that. As far as extras go, there are three full-color pages (including a 2-page spread in which Sou and Kureha are drawn as servants tending to the every need of a Mashiro dressed as a princess - pretty fitting), the usual author's note at the very end of the volume, and a page of translator's notes. Although there's not much in the way of translator's notes, one of them, an explanation of the name of Mashiro's school (Kokoku) is very interesting. Besides meaning "large swan," it apparently also serves as a way to call someone a "great and mighty person." According to the translator, this will be very important in the future, so I wonder, is this school a crucible intended to produce great and mighty people? I'm not sure that everyone who graduates succeeds at becoming better people than they were...

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Xxxholic (manga) by CLAMP - Watanuki is a high school student who is plagued by the ability to see spirits. One day, he meets a woman named Yuuko who can help rid him of this ability. Anybody who receives her help must pay a fair price in return, so Watanuki becomes her cook, housekeeper, and errand boy for an undetermined amount of time. Until he has worked enough to earn her help, Watanuki will continue to have to deal with his abilities, which often come in handy when Yuuko gives him special errands to run. This series includes lots of mini-stories, as Yuuko deals with clients who need her special skills and knowledge. Sometimes things turn out well for the clients, and sometimes things end badly, and, due to these experiences, Watanuki gradually grows and changes. Those who'd like something else that's often strange, sometimes a little dark, and has a tendency to deal with characters who have secrets and personal issues they have to overcome might want to try this series.
  • King of Thorn (manga) by Yuji Iwahara - A mysterious disease called Medusa is sweeping the world, slowly turning those afflicted with it into stone and shattering them into bits. A group of people with Medusa are chosen to be cryogenically frozen while scientists attempt to find a cure. Among them are Kasumi, a girl who had to leave her twin behind in order to join this group, Marco, a dangerous-looking man with secrets, a child, and others. The group is awakened too soon and find the island they're on to be overrun by thorny vegetation and monsters. They try to figure out what went wrong, where all the scientists are, and how to get off the island before Medusa claims their lives. They begin to discover each others' pasts and secrets and have to deal with their own dark sides. Those who'd like another somewhat dark story with plenty of weird happenings might enjoy this series.
  • Loveless (anime TV series); Loveless (manga) by Yun Kouga - Twelve-year-old Ritsuka's life isn't very normal - his older brother died not too long ago, his mother is physically abusive, and a strange 19-year-old man named Soubi has shown up, claiming to have known his brother. Soubi says he is Ritsuka's Fighter, while Ritsuka is a Sacrifice. Ritsuka slowly comes to understand what this means, as he learns to battle other Fighter-Sacrifice pairs who may be able to lead him to knowledge about his brother's death. Those who'd like another story with mystery, twisted relationships, and emotionally damaged characters might enjoy this title.
  • Paranoia Agent (anime TV series) - A mysterious kid with a bent golden bat has been going around attacking people. Two detectives are investigating, so that they can stop this kid, dubbed Lil' Slugger. Lil' Slugger's actions sometimes reveal the (often strange) secrets and private lives of his victims. Those who'd like another weird and possibly paranormal mystery that is heavily character-focused may enjoy this series.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Nice, brief "Manga 101" article

I just read Robin Brenner's really excellent article, "Manga 101: Tips for the Curious, the Confused, and the Clueless." I don't fit any of those three categories, but I still enjoy seeing how others explain manga (or anime) to those who either may know little to nothing about it, or those who have only heard worrisome things about it. For me, the most useful part is the last portion of the article, where Brenner includes lists of suggested titles, organized by age group and sex (kids and tweens, teen guys, teen girls, women, men). That's 25 suggested titles - even with the amount of manga I've read, I've only read 11 titles from these lists (however, I've at least heard of 8 other titles, which only leaves 6 I have no experience with).

I can't possibly afford to buy all the manga I'd like to read - even if I only limited myself to buying used volumes, that's still around $4 or $5 per volume, with each series anywhere from 1 volume to more than 30. I've started experimenting with trying to get manga through ILL. I requested the first volumes of Angelic Layer (which I haven't read any of yet) and Chobits (which I've read and enjoyed). I believe both titles have been available in the US for several years now, so, in theory, I should be able to get them more quickly than, say, the latest volume of Naruto. So far, I've been waiting a week, but at least I haven't gotten an email saying that the request has been cancelled.

If my little experiment seems to go ok, I'd like to try requesting a few of the titles Brenner mentioned. In particular, I'm interested in Antique Bakery, Cowa!, The Palette of 12 Secret Colors, Tramps Like Us, Suppli, and With the Light. If it doesn't go ok, I'd consider buying Antique Bakery and Tramps Like Us. It won't be long before Fruits Basket, one of the few titles I buy regularly, wraps up, so I could replace it with something else.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

After School Nightmare (manga, vol. 2) by Setona Mizushiro

Sou still insists on pursuing Mashiro, despite the fact that Mashiro has a girlfriend (who's getting more than a bit unhappy with the Sou/Mashiro relationship) and Mashiro's insistence that he's a guy. Sou's sister shows up - she doesn't think things are going to work out between Sou and Mashiro (in fact, she warns Sou to stay away from him), and she's more than willing to continue to be Sou's lover until he finds a girl who'll love him. During the "special class," Midori, the girl with a hole for a face, appears to have given up. In the dream world, she jumps from a balcony - this upsets Mashiro, but Midori actually feels peaceful and whole for the first time in ages. While Mashiro is freaking out over Midori, the black knight comes and rips the key (the one that allows students to graduate) right out of Mashiro's body. Mashiro's not completely down yet, however. He uses his willpower and imagination to provide himself with a weapon, which appears in the dream world as two strange swords (one short and one long - a female and a male sword) bound by a cord. Mashiro manages to defeat the knight and, in the process, the key the knight took ends up in Midori's hands. Midori uses the key to graduate.

After Midori graduates, all signs that she existed disappear, and no one remembers her. Mashiro talks about it with Sou, who flusters him again by telling him for the umpteenth time that he loves him. Later, Mashiro and Kureha meet someone new, a guy named Shinbashi. Kureha is afraid of him, as she is of all males, but Mashiro tries to befriend him, even after Shinbashi confesses that he has a crush on Kureha. Mashiro hopes that Shinbashi can help Kureha become more comfortable around men. However, Shinbashi also becomes his sounding board after he and Kureha start having fights (mainly about Mashiro's inability to have any kind of intimate relationship with Kureha). Mashiro also talks to Sou about interacting with girls (is Mashiro dumb, or what?), which of course leads to the usual "I love you" talk that always makes Mashiro so uncomfortable.

In the dream world of the "special class," Mashiro comes across a new student, one who takes the form of a paper giraffe and who can see the true identity of all the other students. The giraffe is cruel to Kureha but is eventually defeated by a bit of rain. Mashiro also ends up getting defeated in the dream world, and the black knight finds the key after Mashiro is gone but doesn't use it to graduate. In the waking world, Mashiro finds out that there's a new student at his school, a 14-year-old child prodigy named Shinonome. Mashiro tells Kureha that he plans to ask the giraffe about the black knight's true identity, which sets Kureha off - for one thing, she believes that students' true identities are private things, and, for another, if the knight turns out to be Sou she's suspicious of what Mashiro plans to do with that knowledge. Kureha confronts Sou and doesn't exactly come out of it a winner. Meanwhile, Mashiro meets Shinonome, who admits that he's the giraffe and offers to tell Mashiro the knight's true identity for a price - Mashiro has to agree to do whatever Shinonome says.

After getting several volumes into the series, I'm glad to finally get to read volume 2 - I had to skip volumes 2 and 3 because those weren't available at my library yet.

Since I've already read several future volumes, the confrontations between Sou and Mashiro feel very "same old, same old" to me - it's pretty much the same thing over and over again. Sou won't take no for an answer, Mashiro doesn't help with all his blushing and obvious obsession with Sou, and Kureha is stuck in the sidelines, jealous and suspecting that something's going on between Sou and Mashiro, but unable to really do anything about it. I do feel sorry for Kureha, but I think it's also important to remember that Mashiro's not just using her (being her boyfriend and protector makes him feel more male), she's also using him. Because Mashiro isn't quite male, Kureha feels he's the perfect boyfriend for her, but then she gets upset because he's not behaving like how she feels a boyfriend should (kissing her, etc.).

What does intrigue me about this volume are some of the details and more minor characters. Midori, for instance, is pretty interesting. She doesn't really do much in this volume, but some of the things that are revealed in her scenes may be important clues that could help explain some of the mysteries of this school. Early in the volume, she mentions seeing a black crescent moon, one that Mashiro is unable to see. I can only remember one other character in the series seeing a black moon, since that's a detail I haven't paid as much attention to as a should have, but the other character I can think of also graduated shortly after seeing the black moon. It's possible that a black moon is a sign that a character will be graduating soon.

Speaking of graduation, I wonder about Sou's sister's comment that she knows what happens after graduation. She talks about this again later in the series, but she doesn't give any more details then than she does now. I still wonder what happens after graduation - is it really so bad, and why don't the other students remember those who've graduated? Is the waking world of the story really the waking world at all, or is it another kind of dream world?

Besides volume one, the earliest volume I got to read before I read this volume was volume 4, so I only knew about the giraffe character from the "our story so far" sections. He's an interesting and creepy character. In the dream world, he has no weapons and could, in some ways, be considered the weakest student in the class. However, his ability to see through students' dream selves gives him lots of power in another way, and he quickly demonstrates that he has no problems with using that power in whatever way he can. I wonder about his dream form, though. The fact that he's made of paper may indicate that, no matter how tough and ruthlessly he talks, he's actually really weak and easily hurt. Why is he a giraffe, though?

I'll wrap this up by talking about two other characters that show up in this volume, Sou's sister and Shinbashi. Apparently, the incestuous relationship between Sou and his sister is made fairly clear earlier than I thought, but I still think that it's presented in a much more shocking way in a later volume. She's a very mysterious character - powerful enough in the dream world to graduate any time she wants to, yet unwilling to graduate, and she seems to know more about what's going on than the other students do. As for Shinbashi, I can't believe how Mashiro acts with him. Shinbashi is right - a normal boyfriend would be more reluctant to encourage a guy who admits to having a crush on his girlfriend to befriend that girlfriend. Mashiro's intentions are good, but it's bizarre behavior for a boyfriend. It's yet another thing that hints that Mashiro is merely playing a part with Kureha.

Overall, I thought this volume was interesting - it's too bad I've had to read this series a little out of order. As far as extras go, there are 4 full-color pages at the beginning of the volume and a page of translator's notes - not too interesting.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Xxxholic (manga) by CLAMP - Watanuki is a high school student who is plagued by the ability to see spirits. One day, he meets a woman named Yuuko who can help rid him of this ability. Anybody who receives her help must pay a fair price in return, so Watanuki becomes her cook, housekeeper, and errand boy for an undetermined amount of time. Until he has worked enough to earn her help, Watanuki will continue to have to deal with his abilities, which often come in handy when Yuuko gives him special errands to run. This series includes lots of mini-stories, as Yuuko deals with clients who need her special skills and knowledge. Sometimes things turn out well for the clients, and sometimes things end badly, and, due to these experiences, Watanuki gradually grows and changes. Those who'd like something else that's often strange, sometimes a little dark, and has a tendency to deal with characters who have secrets and personal issues they have to overcome might want to try this series.
  • King of Thorn (manga) by Yuji Iwahara - A mysterious disease called Medusa is sweeping the world, slowly turning those afflicted with it into stone and shattering them into bits. A group of people with Medusa are chosen to be cryogenically frozen while scientists attempt to find a cure. Among them are Kasumi, a girl who had to leave her twin behind in order to join this group, Marco, a dangerous-looking man with secrets, a child, and others. The group is awakened too soon and find the island they're on to be overrun by thorny vegetation and monsters. They try to figure out what went wrong, where all the scientists are, and how to get off the island before Medusa claims their lives. They begin to discover each others' pasts and secrets and have to deal with their own dark sides. Those who'd like another somewhat dark story with plenty of weird happenings might enjoy this series.
  • The Sandman (graphic novel series) by Neil Gaiman - The first book is the series is called Preludes and Nocturnes. This series focuses mainly on Morpheus, the Sandman, a dark figure who watches over dreams and makes sure they stay separate from reality. Despite this, several of the stories in this series involve the blending of reality and dreams. Morpheus' various siblings make the occasional appearance, and they're fascinating as well. Those who'd like another character-oriented series that deals with dreams might enjoy this title. The series often takes a look at aspects of human characters' lives and personalities and how these intersect and blend with their lives in the dreaming world.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Staying on track, but feeling wobbly

The blog's going ok, and I'm almost done with my "health checklist" (doctor visit, check; dentist, partial check; eye doctor, check). I've been avoiding taking my car to the dealership to get it looked over so that my warranty doesn't get voided, but I think I'm going to need to arrange to do that next month - I'm so not looking forward to that. I'm nearly done with my taxes. Maybe. I haven't decided yet - it's turned out to be potentially more complicated than I expected.

So, I'm mostly on top of things. Unfortunately, the universe may be throwing me a bit of a curveball again. One of my little rat boys may need to visit the vet - he's got a little lump on his tail. I'm not sure how long he's had the lump and it doesn't seem to be bothering him, so, for now, I'm just going to keep an eye on it. It reminds me a bit of the lump my other boy had on his belly before my big move. That lump turned out to be an abscess and basically took care of itself within a week or two. I'm hoping things will go the same with this lump. I hate it when my boys have strange health issues that I know little to nothing about. Actually, I hate it when my boys have any health issues at all. They're much too cute to get sick or hurt.

Uncertain posting future

On the plus side, I've just finished enough posts to carry me through this entire week. On the minus side, I'm almost out of drafts to finish and I haven't really been reading or watching enough to keep my draft count up. It's possible that there may soon come a time when I can no longer keep up my "every other day" posting schedule. Well, a lot can happen in a few days, so maybe I'll be able to generate a lot of drafts. I own a lot of manga that I haven't written posts for - I can read one of those in an hour or so, so the most time-consuming part would be writing the actual posts.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

After School Nightmare (manga, vol. 7) by Setona Mizushiro

Kureha and Sou are still having lunch together, talking about the things that Mashiro does that upset them, and considering going out with each other in order to get revenge. They don't know that Mashiro already thinks they're going out. In the next special class session, Mashiro is shocked when he sees that the number of his beads has mysteriously doubled. Soon Mashiro discovers that the increase is due to a parasitic student that has attached itself to him - Sou kills it and Mashiro at the same time. Later, Mashiro accidentally hurts Kureha's feelings, and Sou retaliates by kissing Kureha in front of Mashiro - this causes Mashiro pain, because he's now convinced that the two of them are dating and/or lovers. Mashiro doesn't really have anyone he can talk to, so he ends up talking to Koichiro, his sempai, in an attempt to sort through his feelings and figure out what to do. After Kureha and Mashiro get into a fight, Kureha decides that she's going to take the next step in her quest to overcome the ugly part of herself that she hates, the part of herself that's still the scared and hateful rape victim: she's going to go home and see her parents.

After Kureha leaves, Mashiro invites Sou to his room to talk to him and decides he's going to see him while wearing his girl's uniform. Unfortunately, Koichiro visits Mashiro's room before Sou does and Mashiro is forced to explain why he's wearing girl's clothing. Koichiro is surprisingly accepting, which appears to be good news for Mashiro, but now Mashiro and Sou's relationship seems to be on worse footing than ever before. Meanwhile, Kureha is having trouble coping with the fact that her parents are acting as though nothing has ever gone wrong in their family - no one talks about her father's earlier abusive behavior towards her mother or Kureha's rape. By the end of the volume, Mashiro is even more confused after Koichiro kisses him, and he finds himself wondering if his behavior towards Koichiro encouraged that kiss. Also, Mashiro and Sou's sister have a heart-to-heart during the special class, as Mashiro reveals his discovery that Sou's sister isn't even a student at this school and Sou's sister tells Mashiro that she was Sou's first lover. Sou's sister is afraid that Mashiro will make her go away, and she may be right - Mashiro finally tells Sou that he loves him.

A few volumes ago, I might've gotten more exciting about Mashiro's declaration of love, but I'm over that now. Considering Mashiro's track record with relationships, I'm not yet convinced that Mashiro is telling the absolute truth when he says that he loves Sou - after all, Mashiro has yet to deal with the new developments in his relationship with Koichiro. However, Mashiro's declaration does appear to have had an effect on Sou, who blushes and looks shocked/surprised, so it seems likely that the poor guy is going to be inadvertently crushed by Mashiro again.

It was nice seeing more of Sou and Ai's past (Ai is Sou's sister's name). Although it's still clear that the incestuous relationship between the two of them is unhealthy, the brief glimpse into their past reveals a little of the reasons why the whole thing started in the first place. Ai is very, very protective of Sou, overcompensating for their parent's lack of interest in him, which eventually developed into a sexual relationship. I don't think she can ever grow beyond her own issues until Sou is with someone else, because it doesn't seem like Sou is strong enough, at this point, to say no to her unless he's got a really good excuse, like a girlfriend he actually cares about. Although I don't yet believe that Mashiro means it when he says he loves Sou, I hope that he'll mean it eventually, since I'm really starting to root for Sou.

The parasitic student is interesting. Currently, my theory is that Koichiro, Mashiro's sempai, is the parasite, since he appeared with a missing bead after Sou killed the parasite and Mashiro. I'm not entirely convinced that my theory is true, however. When Koichiro appears near the end of the volume during a special class session, he has the parasite on his body and a doubled number of beads, too - if he were really the parasite, his beads wouldn't be doubled. Maybe he only had two beads in that earlier class session because of the shock of seeing one of his classmates killed - after all, he'd only recently started attending the special classes, so maybe he hadn't yet had time to become comfortable with the way the classes work.

Whether he's the parasite or not, I wonder what inner ugliness Koichiro has to deal with that's resulted in him getting added to the special class. The brief glimpse of his home life that readers are given indicates that he's constantly criticized and yelled at by his very proper father. I imagine that Mashiro's adoration is both an ego boost and annoying, since Koichiro knows all too well that he's not perfect. If he's the parasite, does that mean that he has a constant internal commentary going, gossiping about all the other students?

As far as extras go, there are a few author sidebars (mostly just sketches) and a page of translator's notes.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Loveless (anime TV series); Loveless (manga) by Yun Kouga - Twelve-year-old Ritsuka's life isn't very normal - his older brother died not too long ago, his mother is physically abusive, and a strange 19-year-old man named Soubi has shown up, claiming to have known his brother. Soubi says he is Ritsuka's Fighter, while Ritsuka is a Sacrifice. Ritsuka slowly comes to understand what this means, as he learns to battle other Fighter-Sacrifice pairs who may be able to lead him to knowledge about his brother's death. Those who'd like another story with mystery, twisted relationships, and emotionally damaged characters might enjoy this title.
  • Xxxholic (manga) by CLAMP - Watanuki is a high school student who is plagued by the ability to see spirits. One day, he meets a woman named Yuuko who can help rid him of this ability. Anybody who receives her help must pay a fair price in return, so Watanuki becomes her cook, housekeeper, and errand boy for an undetermined amount of time. Until he has worked enough to earn her help, Watanuki will continue to have to deal with his abilities, which often come in handy when Yuuko gives him special errands to run. This series includes lots of mini-stories, as Yuuko deals with clients who need her special skills and knowledge. Sometimes things turn out well for the clients, and sometimes things end badly, and, due to these experiences, Watanuki gradually grows and changes. Those who'd like something else that's often strange, sometimes a little dark, and has a tendency to deal with characters who have secrets and personal issues they have to overcome might want to try this series.
  • The Sandman (graphic novel series) by Neil Gaiman - The first book is the series is called Preludes and Nocturnes. This series focuses mainly on Morpheus, the Sandman, a dark figure who watches over dreams and makes sure they stay separate from reality. Despite this, several of the stories in this series involve the blending of reality and dreams. Morpheus' various siblings make the occasional appearance, and they're fascinating as well. Those who'd like another character-oriented series that deals with dreams might enjoy this title. The series often takes a look at aspects of human characters' lives and personalities and how these intersect and blend with their lives in the dreaming world.
  • Kare Kano (manga) by Masami Tsuda; His and Her Circumstances (anime TV series) - Yukino is a vain and greedy (albeit likable) girl who has spent years making herself seem like a perfect, elegant, and humble student, just so that she can be praised and loved by others. One day, Arima, a boy she views as a rival, sees beneath her mask and uses this knowledge to blackmail her into helping him out with his tremendous volume of work. Arima appears to be the real deal, a good-looking, perfect, and humble student, but he has his own secrets, some of which are far darker than Yukino's. As Yukino spends more time with him, she begins to fall in love with him and wants to help him deal with the darker parts of himself. Several of the characters in this series have secrets, hidden selves, and insecurities that may appeal to some fans of After School Nightmare. This title is most like After School Nightmare when it's at its darkest, but it does have a tendency to be lighter in tone than Mizushiro's series.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

After School Nightmare (manga, vol. 6) by Setona Mizushiro

Although Mashiro has finally slept with Kureha, it hasn't completely fixed the problems in their relationship. While Mashiro is still trying to figure things out, he goes to another special class session and meets a new student, a girl who appears as a mermaid and is confined to a wheelchair in the waking world. Mashiro does his best to rescue her, and the girl repays his attempt to play hero by killing him for the key within him so that she can graduate. After the special class session, things become even more strained between Mashiro and Kureha, and Mashiro starts skipping school in order to avoid her and everyone else. In the next special class session, Kureha gives Mashiro one last chance. Although he tries to keep her and prove that he really cares for her, but his dream body won't let him lie, and Mashiro and Kureha are finally over as a couple.

Mashiro begins skipping the special classes and hangs out with a wallflower of a girl named Ohara, not realizing that Ohara is also a student in the special class who is skipping in order to spend time with him. Ohara is the one who appears in the special class as the grabbing hands, and she knows something that Mashiro doesn't, that special class students will disappear if they miss more than three class sessions. Unable to deal with the jealous and lonely part of herself that wants to hang onto those around her, Ohara decides to let herself disappear, but before she goes she leaves Mashiro a gift, one of her school uniforms. Meanwhile, Mashiro is upset because he thinks Sou and Kureha may have become a couple, and he's sure he can't compete with Kureha in girly perfection.

I keep wondering how long it's going to take Mashiro to stop trying to save people in the special classes, since the classes are practically designed to encourage everyone to just look after themselves. This time, trying to save a classmate really backfired for Mashiro, and it seems he's finally starting to realize that he has to look at the world and the people around him as a real person, and not as an ideal he hopes to become. Unfortunately, I suspect that Mashiro still has a long way to go. After all, he's moved from obsessing over Kureha and wanting her acceptance to doing the exact same thing with Sou (I suppose that's not actually anything new, since he's been obsessing over Sou since pretty much the beginning of this series).

While Mashiro seems to still be stuck in his usual pattern, Kureha appears to actually be growing. She still cares for Mashiro, but she wants a healthy and loving relationship. Mashiro can't provide that, and Kureha can no longer make herself put up with that. Although I feel kind of sorry for Mashiro, and I still feel like Kureha's sudden change in behavior towards Mashiro feels a little out of character, I was cheering for Kureha. I'm glad that someone in this manga seems to be becoming more emotionally healthy.

Ohara's story really touched me, maybe because she's one of the few special class students who has a problem that feels more... normal. Although there are people out there who'd share Sou's incest problem, there are likely far more people out there who can relate to Ohara's problem. Ohara seems like a nice girl, but she's unfortunately too shy to make new friends when he old friends start to change and leave her behind. It's sad, and I wish she could have developed beyond her problems and graduated, rather than allowing herself to disappear.

I've wondered before what happens after graduation and where students go when they disappear, and now I find myself wondering what happens to students like Ohara, who just disappear. Maybe all these students are dreaming, and the special classes are dreams within that dream - when they disappear, they wake up.

As far as extras go, there's just a page of translator's notes.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Loveless (anime TV series); Loveless (manga) by Yun Kouga - Twelve-year-old Ritsuka's life isn't very normal - his older brother died not too long ago, his mother is physically abusive, and a strange 19-year-old man named Soubi has shown up, claiming to have known his brother. Soubi says he is Ritsuka's Fighter, while Ritsuka is a Sacrifice. Ritsuka slowly comes to understand what this means, as he learns to battle other Fighter-Sacrifice pairs who may be able to lead him to knowledge about his brother's death. Those who'd like another story with mystery, twisted relationships, and emotionally damaged characters might enjoy this title.
  • Xxxholic (manga) by CLAMP - Watanuki is a high school student who is plagued by the ability to see spirits. One day, he meets a woman named Yuuko who can help rid him of this ability. Anybody who receives her help must pay a fair price in return, so Watanuki becomes her cook, housekeeper, and errand boy for an undetermined amount of time. Until he has worked enough to earn her help, Watanuki will continue to have to deal with his abilities, which often come in handy when Yuuko gives him special errands to run. This series includes lots of mini-stories, as Yuuko deals with clients who need her special skills and knowledge. Sometimes things turn out well for the clients, and sometimes things end badly, and, due to these experiences, Watanuki gradually grows and changes. Those who'd like another sometimes spooky, often weird manga series with high school students as main characters might like this series. As with After School Nightmare, some parts of the series can get a bit dark and involve a lot of emotional anguish.
  • The Sandman (graphic novel series) by Neil Gaiman - The first book is the series is called Preludes and Nocturnes. This series focuses mainly on Morpheus, the Sandman, a dark figure who watches over dreams and makes sure they stay separate from reality. Despite this, several of the stories in this series involve the blending of reality and dreams. Morpheus' various siblings make the occasional appearance, and they're fascinating as well. Those who'd like another character-oriented series that deals with dreams might enjoy this title. The series often takes a look at aspects of human characters' lives and personalities and how these intersect and blend with their lives in the dreaming world.
  • Alice 19th (manga) by Yuu Watase - Sixteen-year-old Alice has always felt overshadowed by her older sister Mayura, but never more so when she develops a crush on her sister's boyfriend. Not long after Alice finds a rabbit who tells her that she's been chosen to be a "Lotis Master," Alice has a big fight with her sister. As a Lotis Master, Alice's words have power, and Mayura disappears after the fight. Alice works with Kyo (Mayura's boyfriend) and others to try to find Mayura and free her from the evil that has taken her over. Those who enjoyed Ohara's part in this volume of After School Nightmare may like Alice in Alice 19th, who has a similar inability to tell the guy she likes (and just about everyone else) how she feels.

Two seconds of almost-fame

My latest entry about After School Nightmare has for some reason gotten me a recent brief mention (among many, many other blogs and websites) in two blogs, Mangablog and When Fangirls Attack. This has slightly more than doubled my (admittedly pathetic) daily visitor count. This is pretty nifty - maybe one day the number of repeat visitors to this blog will number in the double digits.

Yeah, I dream big.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

After School Nightmare (manga, vol. 5) by Setona Mizushiro

Mashiro tells Sou that he's chosen Kureha. Sou, who's more hurt by Mashiro's decision than he lets on, leaves and runs into his sister. Sou's sister has always been against Sou's interest in Mashiro, and now we find out why (or at least, I found out why - those who got to read the earlier volumes may already have known) - apparently, Sou and his sister have an incestuous relationship (one which seems to deeply upset Sou). Mashiro does his best to be a perfect boyfriend for Kureha, but he's brought to tears not long after Sou tells him that he's no longer interested in him. Sou even tells his sister that he's over Mashiro. That's all well and good, but Sou's sister is not dumb. She knows that Mashiro's presence hurts Sou, so she tries to helps Mashiro find a key during one of the special classes. Although the key would allow Mashiro to graduate and finally become the man he always dreamed of being, he chooses not to use it so that he can stay with Kureha. In the meantime, Mashiro experiences more difficulties with Kureha when she lets him know that his chaste and princely behavior is no longer enough for her. Mashiro proves his manliness by sneaking over to Kureha's room and sleeping with her.

As with volume 4, I need to begin by saying that I have yet to read volumes 2 and 3 - keep this in mind if it looks like something I'm writing seems to be wrong or incomplete.

After this volume, I've got a little better understanding of why Sou acts the way he does. His family life is less than ideal, what with having his older sister for a lover (he seems both pliable and unwilling - it's very messed up) and a mother who doesn't know anything about what's going on. I wonder how Mashiro would've reacted if Sou had managed to tell him about the situation with his sister. The way Mashiro acts, he might have decided to choose Sou out of pity. There are times when it seems as though the only reason Mashiro stays with Kureha is because being with her looks manly, and Kureha is the only girl who wouldn't mind Mashiro's gender issues. Mashiro never seems to make decisions for the right reasons.

I was surprised that Mashiro was so shocked at the revelation that the knight in the special class is Sou - I had assumed that the knight was Sou since the first volume, and I had thought that Mashiro knew his identity, too. I know that my guesses and assumptions for this series haven't always been correct, so I suppose I shouldn't have assumed that the knight and Sou were the same person, especially since I guessed wrong for the identity of Sou's sister. Oh, well.

The revelation about the relationship between Sou and his sister came as much more of a shock to me. I knew that Sou was probably damaged in some way, because his attitude towards sex and the girls he dated was so empty and indifferent, but I hadn't expected this. I think that if I had gotten to read volumes 2 and 3, I might feel differently, since certain parts indicate that Sou has actually talked about his sister with Mashiro before. However, with the limited knowledge that I've got, this is especially shocking. I always thought she was just overprotective in a sisterly sort of way. Eww.

I was not quite as shocked, but still surprised, when Mizushiro and Kureha slept together. Actually, I wasn't sure that Kureha would ever want to have sex, since she still has nightmares about the rape she endured as a child. The parts where Kureha pressured Mashiro to be more passionate in his physical affection felt a little out of character to me. Then again, as I've already mentioned, I missed a couple volumes - who knows what kind of growing Kureha's been doing during that time. I continued to be a bit upset that Mashiro seems to be going along with this relationship with Kureha because he feels it's something he has to do. I'm sure that he likes Kureha, but when it comes to passion, all he's doing is immitating the things that Sou did with him.

Overall, this wasn't my favorite volume (my "ick" reaction to incest storylines tends to be too great for that), but I didn't think it was a bad volume. I loved that Mizushiro revealed so many interesting things about different characters, and Kureha's behavior with Mashiro, although stronger than I expected, had the benefit of moving the plot forward.

As far as extras go, there's author sidebar notes and sketches (early Sou and early Mashiro!) and a page of translator's notes.

I've been having some difficulty coming up with read-alikes/watch-alikes for this series. The only read-alike/watch-alike below that I'm truly confident about is Loveless.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Loveless (anime TV series); Loveless (manga) by Yun Kouga - Twelve-year-old Ritsuka's life isn't very normal - his older brother died not too long ago, his mother is physically abusive, and a strange 19-year-old man named Soubi has shown up, claiming to have known his brother. Soubi says he is Ritsuka's Fighter, while Ritsuka is a Sacrifice. Ritsuka slowly comes to understand what this means, as he learns to battle other Fighter-Sacrifice pairs who may be able to lead him to knowledge about his brother's death. Those who'd like another story with mystery, twisted relationships, and emotionally damaged characters might enjoy this title.
  • When They Cry - Higurashi (anime TV series); Higurashi no Naku Koroni (manga) by Seventh Expansion and many different artists - Keiichi is a transfer student who has moved to a small and seemingly peaceful village, where he befriends several pretty girls. Life seems good, until he uncovers the village's dark secret - every year, during the Watanagashi festival, one person dies and another goes missing. As Keiichi investigates this mystery, it becomes evident that his new friends may have a part in the deaths and disappearances. Those who'd like another story that starts off relatively normal on the surface and gradually becomes stranger and darker may enjoy this title. This is horror of the blood-curdling (and bloody) "I'm afraid to turn off the lights" sort, rather than the more psychological horror of After School Nightmare, so it may not appeal to all fans of After School Nightmare.
  • Guilty Pleasures (book) by Laurell K. Hamilton - This is the first book in Hamilton's Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series, set in an alternate history where vampires, werewolves and more are now a (sometimes uncomfortable) part of society. Anita Blake is a vampire executioner, an animator (she can raise the dead), and a consultant to the police on all things supernatural. In this first book, someone's killing innocent vampires, and, although Anita's killed her share of vampires, she does her best to find the killer. Those who'd like a story that at times deals with the problems that result when someone tries to be someone they're not might enjoy this series. The various somewhat dysfunctional relationships in this series crop up after the first few books and become more important as the series progresses. A warning, however - there is some very explicit sex in this series, especially in later volumes.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Midnighters Vol. 2: Touching Darkness (book) by Scott Westerfeld

I'll start this off with a warning - this post has spoilers, so don't read it unless you don't mind that.

This book picks up where the first one left off. Jessica Day and Jonathan are still a couple - sort of. Jessica's not entirely happy that Jonathan only seems to want to hold hands with her during the secret hour (or blue time, or whatever you want to call it). Dess is still obsessed with math, especially the math of Bixby, OK. Rex and Melissa still have secrets they're keeping from all the other Midnighters - although Rex does reveal something new to everyone, that at some point just a few decades ago, back when Bixby was smaller, most of the town knew about the secret hour. The town had lots of Midnighters. Then, for some unexplained reason, all the Midnighters disappeared. It's a mystery that has obsessed Rex for years.

Not long after Rex reveals all of this, Rex and Melissa stumble upon something horrific. Not only is there a group of regular humans communicating with and aiding darklings, the darkling they're communicating with is a horrible hybrid, a darkling fused with the still-living body of a former Midnighter. Melissa, with her psychic abilities, can tell that the former Midnighter is dying and that she was a seer - once the girl is dead, the darklings will want someone to replace her, and Rex is their best bet. The Midnighters scramble to keep Jessica (their best weapon in the secret hour) and Rex safe, somehow free or kill the trapped Midnighter, and stop the humans who are aiding the darklings.

Instead of working together, the Midnighters often tend to stick with their own little groups. Jessica is almost too wrapped up in her worries about her relationship with Jonathan to think about all the danger she and everyone else is in. Rex and Melissa share a terrible secret that they can't/won't let the other Midnighters know about - plus, they're testing out actually touching each other, which, considering Melissa's touching phobia, pratically counts as kissing. Dess has known for years that Rex and Melissa have been hiding things from everyone, so she's determined to keep her mathematical exploration of Bixby a secret - and when she actually stumbles across something big, her secrets start to rival Rex and Melissa's.

This was a very exciting continuation of the Midnighters trilogy (just found out there's a third book - yay!). While the perspective switching can still be a bit odd and distracting, I'm glad that Jessica isn't the main focus of the story. Had that been the case, it would've been a boring book, since she most definitely did not have the most interesting part of the story. True, I'm a romance fan, but there's only so much "does he really like me when we're not in the secret hour?" that I can take, especially when the only thing complicating the issue is Jessica's fear of talking about her feelings with Jonathan (and, I guess, Jonathan's obliviousness to Jessica's worries). One thing I did find intersting about Jessica's part of the story was her relationship with Beth, her sister, which made me feel a little sister-needy myself. The relationship felt very real - however annoyed the two may get with each other, they still worry about each other and stick up for each other. I'm looking forward to seeing how Beth is going to deal with knowing about the Midnighters in the next volume - will she be jealous that she can't see the secret hour herself?

I found Rex and Melissa to be the second-most fascinating group in this volume. Their experiments with touching were filled with more awkwardness, nervousness, and tension than I think any scene between Jessica and Jonathan has ever been. I do hope that being closer to Rex will help fix whatever is a bit twisted or wrong inside Melissa, but I'm kind of doubting it will. In fact, the more confident Melissa gets after touching Rex, the more willing she seems to be to abuse her powers.

The secret they share, that Melissa, with Rex's help, is responsible for Rex's dad's condition, is pretty bad, but I somehow thought it would be worse. For one thing, it sounds like Rex's dad was pretty awful, psychologically torturing the poor kid. For another, some of the things Melissa seems to be thinking lately seem to be leading up to something even worse than what happened to Rex's dad. I have a feeling that during the third book she's going to start seriously abusing her power - after all, she already does that when she takes what she wants from Dex's mind without permission at the end of this book. One could argue that she only did what she did to Dex because she desperately wanted to save Rex, who she probably loves more than anyone else in the world. However, I'm thinking that it won't be long before she starts doing this sort of thing just because someone annoys her a little, or because she thinks it might be fun. The teacher who annoys her in the last half of this book will likely be first on her list.

Madeleine is one of the reasons I think Melissa is going to go bad. So far, mindcasters seem to be the most unstable of all the Midnighters (although, granted, we haven't really gotten to see many Midnighters). Melissa seems to be a bit unstable, and she's certainly cold. Madeleine has that same coldness; she's also ruthlessly pratical and possibly about as sane as Melissa, considering the years she's spent in self-imposed confinement. There seems to be something about the nature of the mindcasting ability that just twists people.

Speaking of Madeleine - I found Dess's chapters to be the most interesting ones in this book. Dess is the one who finds Madeleine and therefore discovers that she and the other Midnighters are not, in fact, alone, and never actually have been. For years they stumbled about on their own, figuring things out through trial and error (maybe with an occasional secret mental push from Madeleine?) when, only a short walk or drive away, there was someone there who could have been helping and guiding them. I could both understand and not understand why Madeleine didn't reveal herself to them - I was a little amazed that they weren't angrier with her, especially after they found out her part in the erradication of Bixby's Midnighters (which she seemed determined to blame primarily on air conditioning and TVs). Even before all of that was revealed, I was surprised that Dess let Madeleine put that block in her head. Dess doesn't have the same mindcaster phobia that Jonathan does, but still. I do have to say, though, that the block was really fascinating, and I enjoyed the way Westerfeld wrote about it, although I still don't understand how Dess could remember how to turn it on and off when she couldn't even remember that it existed.

Overall, I'm enjoying this trilogy and I can't wait to see how it ends. I still don't think it's quite as good as some of Westerfeld's other books, but it's certainly not bad.

Read-alikes:
  • 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. Those who'd like another story about teens with special powers trying to deal with the dangers that surround them might enjoy this book.
  • Jennifer Scales and the Ancient Furnace (book) by MaryJanice Davidson and Anthony Alongi - This is the first book in the Jennifer Scales series. Jennifer Scales has no reason to believe she isn't an ordinary girl in an ordinary family - until she suddenly develops the ability to shapeshift into a dragon, and her parents admit that she's half-dragon, half-Beaststalker. As if her life wasn't complicated enough, Jennifer has to figure out how to protect herself and her family from beings who view her as their natural enemy. Those who'd like another story involving teens with special powers who live in a town with lots of secrets might enjoy this book.
  • After School Nightmare (manga) by Setona Mizushiro - Ichijo Mashiro is one of several students at his school who are made to attend a special class, in which students battle each other in a dream world. Almost everyone's dream selves look nothing like their waking selves, but, unfortunately, this is not the case for Ichijo. His dream self reveals his most closely guarded secret, that he is neither male nor female. As the series progresses, more students' secrets are revealed. Those who'd like another story with a similar tone and characters (some are more emotionally damaged than others, they have special powers only in a specific environment, etc.) might enjoy this series. Be warned, the sexual elements in this story are stronger than in any of Westerfeld's books.
  • Coraline (book) by Neil Gaiman - I'm not sure if I've actually managed to link to an edition of the book, or if what I've linked to is only a retelling of the story in a new format, so beware - I was a little surprised that the edition I read is no longer available. Anyway, in this strange and creepy story, Coraline and her family have recently moved into a new home. While exploring her home on her own, Coraline ends up stumbling into a version of the world much like her own, only freakier. Her other mother and other father (her mother and father in this alternate world) want Coraline to stay and be their little girl. Coraline becomes trapped in this other world and must figure out how to free her real parents and escape. The intended audience for this book is a bit younger than for Midnighters. Although older readers will likely be able to figure out where Coraline's parents are well before the ending, this world Gaiman describes is just creepy enough to keep those same readers hooked. Those who'd like another story with a mix of mystery and creepy horror might want to try this book.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Lie to Me and Westerfeld's Extras

I've recently started watching Fox's new show Lie to Me, about a small group of people whose job it is to figure out when people are lying. One of those people bases his evaluations on facial expressions (he's a huge fan of microexpressions), one bases her evaluations on linguistic analysis (using contractions or not, distancing language, etc.), and one person has no special training but is naturally good at telling when people are lying. There's also a fourth person, a guy who practices Radical Honesty. Radical Honesty is a movement in which people tell the truth all the time. Not only that, they say exactly what they are thinking. Ordinarily, when someone tries to be truthful all the time, he or she might make sure that every word was truthful and just not say anything that he or she might want to lie about. Those who practice Radical Honesty have no such loopholes (in theory, anyway - if you read the Esquire article I've linked to below, you'll see that lying is considered ok in certain specific circumstances).

My first exposure to Radical Honesty was Scott Westerfeld's book Extras, in which one of the characters actually had surgery performed on his brain that forced him to practice Radical Honesty (although Radical Honesty comes up in both Extras and Lie to Me, I haven't added Lie to Me as a watch-alike for Extras, because the two have little in common besides that). I hadn't actually thought Radical Honesty was something that real people did - I mean, lies do sometime have a purpose, they're not all bad. I could never see practicing Radical Honesty myself, and I don't really see how it can't hurt a person's relationships just as much as telling lies all the time, but it's still a fascinating idea.

More about Radical Honesty:

Friday, February 13, 2009

Smith's Vampire Diaries -- TV series?!

"The CW has picked up a pilot based on L.J. Smith's 'Vampire Diaries' series of books, reports Variety." -- 2/9/09, ComingSoon.net

I went looking for this article, or something like it, after flipping through some pictures on AOL Television and reading this:
"Robert Pattinson, beware: The CW is planning to air a vampire series of its own. The new pilot is titled 'Vampire Diaries,' and is about a woman who can't decide between vampire brothers, according to Variety. 'Diaries' will be co-written by Kevin Williamson of 'Dawson's Creek' fame. (Feb 6)"
Although Pattinson played a vampire in a movie based on Twilight, a popular YA vampire romance novel, this snippet doesn't bother to mention that the pilot is also based on a series of YA vampire romance novels. However, the title, plus the whole "can't decide between vampire brothers" bit, makes it pretty obvious - as a teen, I was a huge fan of Smith's books, and I still enjoy them. I hope the show does well and that it turns up somewhere online where I can watch it. Still, my cynical side says this is going to be awful. I do hope that the series at least gives Smith's books some more attention - her books have their faults (I can hardly stand some of her heroines now that I'm older, and the Vampire Diaries' Elena is one of those heroines I don't particularly like), but I still think they deserve at least as much attention as the Twilight books, if not more.

Bixby, Oklahoma

Even though the information I get from StatCounter has its problems, I still like looking - it's fun to see where visitor are (possibly) from, what they do, how long they stay, etc. Right now, approximately a quarter of my visitors actually stay and look for a little bit, which isn't too bad, since I don't put a huge amount of effort into this blog.

I'm getting off track, though. I'm writing this post because I looked at my stats today and I saw... a visitor from Bixby, Oklahoma! Not sure if this visitor is really from Bixby, or if that's just where StatCounter thinks he or she is from, but it's still fun to see. For those of you who are wondering why I found this interesting enough to write a post about -- I recently wrote about Scott Westerfeld's Midnighters series, which is set in Bixby, Oklahoma.

After School Nightmare (manga, vol. 4) by Setona Mizushiro

In case you hadn't already noticed, I've pretty much given up on blocking myself from writing all spoilers. Read this post (and others in this blog) at your own risk. Most of this post was written 6 months ago, prior to my big move, so the public library I mention is not the one I now have access to.

Mashiro Ichijo's friend, Shinbashi, witnesses Sou kissing Mashiro. He assumes that Mashiro is confused about his sexual orientation, and he urges Mashiro to make a choice, either Sou (who's known to go through girlfriends like potato chips) or Kureha (Mashiro's girlfriend). Because Shinbashi cares for (loves) Kureha, he wants her to be happy, and Mashiro's indecisiveness is not making her happy. Eventually, Shinbashi ends up in the special class. A key is finally found, and Shinbashi decides to take it and graduate so that Kureha and Mashiro can stay together - his only request is that Mashiro finally choose Kureha, even if he still feels conflicted and confused. Mashiro agrees. When he wakes up from the dream, he can't remember Shinbashi, who has now disappeared, but he discovers within himself newfound confidence and indifference towards Sou. For now, at least, he can resist the temptation that Sou offers.

I'll admit that I had to skip volumes 2 and 3 - I can't afford to buy them at the moment, and my public library has been buying this series out of order. The volume does begin with a "our story so far" section, but only the last two of the five paragraphs actually covered anything that I missed. Still, I guess it's better than nothing. As far as I can tell, the actual story hasn't progressed too far, although at least one of the dreamers I remember from volume 1 has apparently graduated.

Although this is primarily a dark and serious series, I thought the portions where Mashiro desperately wants to explain to Shinbashi that it's not his sexual orientation that's confusing him were pretty funny. The thing that's really confusing Mashiro is his gender - his top half is male, while his bottom half is female. He wants desperately to be male and has an idealized version of masculinity in his head that he'd like to follow, but his feelings for Sou confuse him. I think it's interesting how Mashiro feels he has to pick just one gender and then follow that role perfectly. It's too bad that he doesn't feel he can follow a third option (or maybe even recognize that other options besides male and female as he sees them exist), since I think he'd be a lot happier and more relaxed if he could just forget all that "ideal male/female behavior" stuff.

Shinbashi was an interesting character. I don't think he was in the first volume, so everything I know about him comes from this volume. It's obvious that he cares about Kureha, and he knows or suspects enough about her past to know and understand that she's not comfortable around men. Because of that, most of their interactions in this volume take place via cellphone. In my opinion, it was both sweet and horrible that Kureha was so important to him that Shinbashi took the form of a cellphone in the dream world. It left him able to find her no matter where she was and get help for her, but it also left him unable to help her himself.

As soon as I saw that Shinbashi was going to become a student in the special class, I figured he'd end up fighting Mashiro in the dream world. Instead, Shinbashi had a form that rendered him incapable of fighting. He chose to view Mashiro, flawed as he is, as Kureha's best chance to be happy, even better than someone like him (Shinbashi), who definitely loves her.

Sou, as usual, has no problems physically expressing his interest in Mashiro. In this volume, Sou kisses Mashiro, does some upper body fondling (Mashiro set the limitations, probably not realizing how intimate Sou could still make things become), and almost has sex with him (her? - it's too confusing to switch pronouns, so I'll just stick with "him"). Had they not been interrupted, Mashiro would have ceased to be a virgin in this volume.

In some ways, I'm kind of glad that they were interrupted. Sou is still guarding himself so much that it seems like Mashiro isn't much better than one of Sou's throw-away girls - at one point, he even makes it clear that he's mainly interested in sex and that it never occurred to him that he and Mashiro would go on dates. I'd like them to actually bond more before things go farther in their relationship. Then again, since I missed out on two volumes worth of the story, maybe they've done more bonding than I know about. It's certainly amazing that it's taken Sou four volumes to get as far as near-sex with Mashiro.

In other ways, though, I wish they hadn't been interrupted. This isn't the squealing fangirl in me talking, although I do think Sou is sexy when he's not acting like an unfeeling, chauvinist bastard. No, the reason why I wish they hadn't been interrupted is because I, too, would like Mashiro to settle on someone, and I haven't even gotten to see him waffle for three whole volumes. It's painful seeing him to try play the role of perfect boyfriend for Kureha. He likes Kureha, but he's in lust with Sou - if he can't decide which one to choose, then it might be better if he weren't dating anyone at all.

One last comment before I wrap things up: I loved the ending of this volume. Usually, Sou expects Mashiro to cave any time he comes over and makes some crack about Mashiro being a girl. These situations usually end with Sou kissing Mashiro and Mashiro barely resisting. Not this time, though, and Sou's expression was great. It's one of the few times when I feel like readers are actually getting to see a little of what Sou is feeling - it's hard to say exactly what emotion his expression is indicating, but it could be shock, upset feelings, or both, or more. I'm just thrilled that it's not his usual blank indifference.

Overall, despite missing out on volumes 2 and 3, I enjoyed this volume, and I can't wait to see what else happens in this series. Choose someone, Mashiro!

As far as extras go, there are four lovely full-color pages, a few author sidebar notes (the design of the necklace for the special class, a little information about Kureha's uniform, the "colorful" names), and a page of translator's notes. The sidebar about the "colorful" names is accompanied by a great drawing of Mashiro wearing a shirt, tie, and vest - Mashiro doesn't usually bring out the fangirl in me, but for some reason this drawing does.

Much like Emma, this is a series for which I have difficulty coming up with read-alikes/watch-alikes. Again, feel free to list your own read-alike/watch-alike suggestions in a comment.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Loveless (anime TV series); Loveless (manga) by Yun Kouga - Twelve-year-old Ritsuka's life isn't very normal - his older brother died not too long ago, his mother is physically abusive, and a strange 19-year-old man named Soubi has shown up, claiming to have known his brother. Soubi says he is Ritsuka's Fighter, while Ritsuka is a Sacrifice. Ritsuka slowly comes to understand what this means, as he learns to battle other Fighter-Sacrifice pairs who may be able to lead him to knowledge about his brother's death. Those who'd like another story with mystery, twisted relationships, and emotionally damaged characters might enjoy this title.
  • Legal Drug (manga) by CLAMP - Kazahaya is collapsed in the snow, on the verge of dying, when he is rescued by Rikuo and taken to a pharmacy called the Green Drugstore. Kazahaya doesn't always like Rikuo's attitude, but he feels indebted to Kakei, the owner of the pharmacy. He wants to continue to be able to stay there, so he agrees to do the strange jobs Kakei gives him and Rikuo. These jobs often require Kazahaya and Rikuo to use their special powers. Those who'd story with mystery elements, strangeness, and an often moody tone might enjoy this series.
  • Xxxholic (manga) by CLAMP - Watanuki is a high school student who is plagued by the ability to see spirits. One day, he meets a woman named Yuuko who can help rid him of this ability. Anybody who receives her help must pay a fair price in return, so Watanuki becomes her cook, housekeeper, and errand boy for an undetermined amount of time. Until he has worked enough to earn her help, Watanuki will continue to have to deal with his abilities, which often come in handy when Yuuko gives him special errands to run. This series includes lots of mini-stories, as Yuuko deals with clients who need her special skills and knowledge. Sometimes things turn out well for the clients, and sometimes things end badly, and, due to these experiences, Watanuki gradually grows and changes. Those who'd like another sometimes spooky, often weird manga series with high school students as main characters might like this series. As with After School Nightmare, some parts of the series can get a bit dark and involve a lot of emotional anguish.
  • The Cell (live action movie) - A psychotherapist uses a revolutionary new technology to help patients by exploring their dreams. She enters the dreams of a comatose serial killer in an attempt to save his latest victim before she dies. Those who'd like another dark story in which someone's psyche is explored through dreams might like this movie.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Emma series (manga) by Kaoru Mori

(Please forgive this post - I know, I know, it's basically cheating, since I didn't really have to come up with anything new. My only excuse is that I've been really busy so far this week, and I'm tired. I'm also starting to run out of drafts to finish - I really need to create drafts for all the books and movies I've finished in the past couple months!)

Emma, a young maid in Victorian London, meets William, one of the gentry, and the two fall in love. Unfortunately, William's family objects to his interest in Emma because of the differences in their social classes. In an effort to forget about their feelings for one another, Emma leaves London to work as a maid in a large household, and William tries to be a good heir and do as his social class dictates. William eventually ends up engaged to a young lady who's much more acceptable to his parents than Emma, but William finds it difficult to be happy about his engagement after he is reunited with Emma. Both William and Emma have to figure out what they're going to do about their feelings for each other, and their decisions will have repercussions not only for themselves, but also for those around them, especially in William's case.

This is a slow-paced, romantic historical drama. The characters are a big appeal of this series. They are almost all interesting, and many of the characters are well-developed. Mori uses extended flashbacks to show readers the pasts of certain characters, like William's parents. Since Mori often does not reveal characters' thoughts, these flashbacks provide readers with more information about characters' motivations.

Another appeal of this series is its historical aspects. Although it's difficult for me to say how accurate the Victorian details (behaviors, clothing, etc.) are, since I don't know much about that time period, Mori is very interested (some might say obsessed) with all things old and British, and she puts as many appropriate details as she can in her artwork and dialogue. In keeping with the slow pace of the series, Mori often takes the time to show characters performing everyday tasks - for instance, servants shining silver or caring for clothing.

The gentle romance is also an appealing aspect of this series. William and Emma's relationship develops slowly. In the first couple volumes, they don't actually see each other often, and, when they do, they blush a lot, talk to each other, and visit certain Victorian London attractions. It's not until much later that William and Emma kiss - this is as far as their relationship goes within the manga's drawings, although, by the end of the series, it's quite likely that Emma and William will soon be getting married.

This series is suitable to recommend to just about anyone, but those who recommend it should be aware that several of the volumes include female nudity (the characters are fully nude, although the most that readers see are bare breasts and butts). These characters aren't doing anything objectionable, however, just being dressed by their servants or taking a bath. Actually, the nudity made me think more of nude drawings in art books more than anything else...

Overall, this is a lovely, slow-paced historical series.

If you'd like to see more information about the different volumes and the read-alikes and watch-alikes (why they were suggested, what they're about), then click on the links for the different volumes. I had a really hard time coming up with read-alikes and watch-alikes for this series, so some of my suggestions are a better fit than others, and some of them are really off-the-wall.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:

Volumes 1-3
  • Boys Over Flowers (manga) by Yoko Kamio; Boys Over Flowers (anime TV series)
  • Ouran High School Host Club (manga) by Bisco Hatori; Ouran High School Host Club (anime TV series)
  • The Gentleman's Alliance Cross (manga) by Arina Tanemura
Volume 4
  • Fruits Basket (anime TV series); Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya
  • Maria Watches Over Us (anime TV series)
Volume 5
  • Romeo x Juliet (anime TV series)
  • Mushi-Shi (anime TV series); Mushi-Shi (manga) by Yuki Urushibara
  • Fruits Basket (anime TV series); Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya
  • Maria Watches Over Us (anime TV series)
Volume 6
  • The Prisoner of Zenda (book) by Anthony Hope
  • Fruits Basket (anime TV series); Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya
  • Maria Watches Over Us (anime TV series)
  • S.A (manga) by Maki Minami; S.A (anime TV series)
  • The Initiation (book) by L.J. Smith
Volume 7
  • Maria Watches Over Us (anime TV series)
  • Shirley (manga) by Kaoru Mori
  • Land of the Blindfolded (manga) by Sakura Tsukuba
  • Fruits Basket (anime TV series); Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya

Monday, February 9, 2009

Emma (manga, vol. 7) by Kaoru Mori

Monica, Eleanor's older sister, has come with Hakim to William's household in order to verbally flay him for breaking off his engagement to Eleanor. William doesn't have time for that, though - he convinces Hakim to let him borrow a boat in order to go find Emma. Although Emma's not doing too badly, she has no job, no one knows her, and she's filled with doubts about her relationship with William - she's convinced that she should just give him up and try to make things work out at her new location. However, William is determined and manages to find her. Emma is so upset and filled with doubt that she runs from him. William is hurt chasing after her, but he doesn't care about that as long as she returns with him. Meanwhile, life goes on at the household Emma worked in, but her friend Tasha still waits worriedly for her to return. When Emma returns, she asks her lady employer's advice on how to act like a lady - her employer (now former employer, since Emma will be leaving with William) and William's mother agree to help, but it's a difficult, confusing, and time-consuming experience for poor Emma.

Eleanor is still pining over William and her broken engagement, but Hakim's girls help bring her out of her funk, and soon Eleanor is, if not happy, at least eating again and speaking to her maid and Monica. William speaks to Eleanor's father, who is less than happy to see him, and discovers that he was the one responsible for Emma's kidnapping. William is understandably angry and takes the drastic step of breaking off relations with the Campbell family - unfortunately, the repercussions of this affect William's entire family, who now have to worry about who they can interact with in society and what they can do. Eleanor's father is as horrible to his own family as he is to William, kicking Monica and her husband out of the house and promising that Eleanor will be sent to a "health resort."

Fortunately for William, he still has a few friends who don't care about how the Campbells will react if they continue positive relations with William and the rest of his family. He's also got Emma, who loves him but hasn't yet agreed to marry him.

At over 250 pages, this is, I think, the longest volume in the series, and I feel that it could've easily been longer. After the leisurely pace of nearly all of the earlier volumes, Mori had a lot she had to get through and wrap up in this volume, and even then she doesn't completely wrap everything up - by the end of the volume, William's family is in a shaky position, socially, Eleanor has agreed to be sent to the health resort, and William and Emma haven't yet married. Although I'd say this was a mostly happy ending, I wasn't entirely satisfied with it, because I wanted to find out more of the story.

I was glad that Hakim came back for this story. Although, as I've mentioned before, he isn't really well-developed enough to seem like a real person, I still love him. He often injects a little humor into scenes. I particularly liked his scene with Emma near the end of the volume, when he's staring at her in much the same way that he did earlier in the series and tells her that she can come to him when she tires of William. It's hilarious, as is his instantaneous clothing change (from Indian style clothing to English gentleman clothing, in order to better impress Emma) when he realizes that Emma is there and goes to see her - it's not realistic, but it's funny.

Emma is... weak in this volume. She doesn't really know what she wants or should do. I suppose it's realistic, since most maids during this time wouldn't normally have to deal with this kind of situation, and they wouldn't have had the option of actually doing something about it and maybe marrying a member of the gentry. Still, Emma and William are suddenly on very unequal footing. Emma is meek and uncertain, mixed up in a situation she isn't really equipped to handle, and William is determined and decisive. It's a bit odd to see. As a maid, Emma is very sure of herself and her skills, so readers have never really gotten to see her so completely out of her element and lacking in confidence. William is also strange to see in this volume, since he has spent most of this series unsure of what his actions should be concerning his feelings for Emma and doing what other people and society tell him to do.

I think nearly every minor character that every appeared in this series appears again in this final volume. Hakim's silent girls are there - I think they're cute, but I imagine that some readers might find them a bit offensive. Mrs. Stownar even turns up in a flashback. I enjoyed finally getting to see what kind of man would marry Monica (Eleanor's sister) - Mori apparently enjoyed writing humorous scenes were Monica manipulates him with her theatrics and gets him to let her do whatever she wants. It's really the perfect relationship, at least for Monica, and her husband doesn't seem to mind so much, as long as Monica occasionally lavishes him with her attention.

Overall, even though I would've liked it if this series had continued for at least one more volume, I enjoyed it and I'm okay with the way this series ended. There's probably enough packed into this volume that any fan of this series could find something enjoyable, no matter what aspect of the series they like the most. I wonder how well Emma will fare in her new life with William, after all the comparisons Mori has encouraged readers to draw between William's mother and Emma - maybe that explains why Mori has ended the series where she has, so that readers can get the "happily ever after" feel without getting to see all the realities of Emma's situation in action. It's encouraging that William doesn't seem to mind if Emma makes the occasional mistake (there's a sweet bit at the end where he corrects the placement of her hand on his arm) - they're a great couple, but that doesn't mean that society won't do its best to ruin things for them. I guess it's a sign of how much I like these characters that I worry about how things will go for them, even after the story's over.

As far as the extras go, there's just the usual short afterword manga, in which Mori reflects upon the series and mentions that there will be an eighth volume with a few side stories.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Maria Watches Over Us (anime TV series) - Yumi is a first year student at the Lillian School For Girls, an exclusive all girl's catholic school. She admires Sachiko, who will likely become one of the heads of the student council. When Sachiko asks Yumi to be her soeur (older girls take on a younger girl as their little sister, or "soeur," and instruct them and watch out for them), Yumi finds herself having to figure out the relationships between the girls in the student council and her own feelings for Sachiko. As this is apparently a shoujo-ai series (romance between girls), it's not for everyone. However, those who'd like a slow-paced drama/romance involving a strict social environment might enjoy this series. I have yet to see it, but the many (two or three) ads that RightStuf has sent me have worked their way into my brain, and I'd like to.
  • Shirley (manga) by Kaoru Mori - Ms. Bennett lives alone and needs help with her house, so she places an ad for a maid. The person who answers the ad is Shirley Madison, only 13 years old. Despite her misgivings, Ms. Bennett hires her. Those who'd like another maid manga by Mori may want to try this. I believe this manga takes place during a slightly more recent time period than Emma, so I'm not sure if there will be any cameo appearances made by Emma characters, but you never know.
  • Land of the Blindfolded (manga) by Sakura Tsukuba - High school student Kanade has a secret: when she touches someone, she can sometimes see a glimpse of their future. For years she's believed she's the only person with a secret like this, until she meets Arou, a boy who can see people's pasts when he touches them. Despite differences in their outlooks on life, the two of them grow close and eventually start dating. Like Emma, this is another series that's a bit slow-paced and sometimes bittersweet. Those who'd like another gentle romance with some drama in the mix might like this manga.
  • Fruits Basket (anime TV series); Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya - Tohru had been living with her grandfather after her mother died, but circumstances and Tohru's own desire not to be a burden meant that she ended up living alone in a tent for a while. However, she gets taken in by the Sohma family, who are hiding a secret - certain members of the family turn into animals in the Chinese zodiac when they're weak or hugged by a member of the opposite sex. Both the manga and anime are good - the anime follows the manga pretty closely (except for a few things, and the last episode), but it ends well before the manga does. Those who'd like another story with a slowly developing (and seemingly doomed) romantic storyline might enjoy this title.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Emma (manga, vol. 6) by Kaoru Mori

Poor Eleanor agonizes over how she will dress for a visit from William, her fiance, not realizing that he is visiting in order to call off their engagement. Eleanor is understandably upset when William breaks the news, but Eleanor's parents freak William out a little with their easy acceptance of the end to the engagement. What William does not realize is that Eleanor's parents in no way accept his decision - they tell Eleanor that it was a misunderstanding and arrange for Emma to be kidnapped and shipped elsewhere. Now that everyone in Emma's employer's household knows that she's in love with a member of the gentry, they're all wildly curious and bug her for any information they can get from her - after Emma disappears, the general consensus is that she eloped with William. Not everyone believes this to be the case, but there's little they can do about it.

When William discovers that Eleanor's parents haven't properly explained the situation to her, he makes it clear that there is no misunderstanding and their engagement is canceled. William's family members are not pleased, and his sisters are pretty vocal about their displeasure. William finally has the argument with his father that's been brewing ever since his father first found out about William's interest in Emma - this fight and its aftermath references the previous volume's revelations about William's parents' past. Although it was uncomfortable seeing William's mother in the middle of the fight, so pained and upset by the anger between two people she loves, I enjoyed seeing her interactions with William's father after the fight. William's parents seem to care for each other, but they have such as complex relationship - it's fascinating to watch it in action.

Since William has spent the past 5 volumes avoiding all the worst confrontations, I was very surprised and impressed at how thoroughly he went about taking care of all the impediments to his and Emma's relationship. While I think it would've been kinder of him to have canceled his engagement to Eleanor sooner - in fact, I think he should never have gotten engaged to her in the first place - I'm glad that he had the courage and decency to take care of that task not once, but twice in this volume. He didn't take the easy way out and just let Eleanor continue to think their engagement hadn't been broken. I did feel bad for poor Eleanor, though. I know, from her behavior in the previous volume, that she probably expected that something was wrong between her and William, but she didn't have the experience to know what to do about it - after all, she's a coddled young Victorian lady.

I found Arthur, William's eldest younger brother, to be really interesting in this volume. He hasn't really gotten much attention before now - about the only thing I knew about him before this volume was that he looks an awful lot like his father. In the beginning of the volume, he insults his sister Vivi's choice of reading (The Prisoner of Zenda), but then, amusingly enough, starts reading the book himself and seems to actually enjoy it. Later on, his biggest concern about William's revelation that he's broken off his engagement to Eleanor is that he might have to take over the family business if William is cast out of the family. Arthur wants to become a barrister, you see. Although his reaction is just as selfish as everyone else's in the family, at least the reader isn't forced to deal with another angry outburst - the same is not true when it comes to Vivi, who is screamingly upset that there won't be a honeymoon or future child for her to play with. Well, I guess that William is actually being selfish as well - his decision to follow his heart could harm his family's reputation in addition to his own.

Emma's fate is worrisome and confusing. Not much is actually made clear in this volume - she gets kidnapped by a scarily unemotional bearded man and wakes up on a ship. She is strongly encouraged by the man to write a letter apologizing for any trouble she might have caused and breaking off her relationship with William. The only clue that William has is that the letter was postmarked "Burnley."

Overall, this was a fascinating and exciting volume that definitely pushed the plot forward - a good thing, since the next volume is the last volume of the series (although there's apparently an eighth volume that will have a short manga stories focusing on various supporting characters). As far as extras go, there's a short afterword manga (Mori's usual obsession with all things British, plus some information about little details in the manga, like Eleanor's dress choices and Hakim's silent little brothers) and six lovely drawings of late nineteenth century urban London and the surrounding English countryside, created by Mori as the frontispieces for the first six volumes of the series. The drawings, with their hatching and cross-hatching, make me think of illustrations in old books and newspapers.

I'm still having problems coming up with read-alikes. Instead of repeating all the ones I've already listed for previous volumes, I added a couple that don't have a ton in common with Emma, but still have a particular aspect in common with it.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • The Prisoner of Zenda (book) by Anthony Hope - When the king is kidnapped, an English gentleman who is somewhat related to him must impersonate him. Those who liked this volume of Emma might want to try reading the book Vivi and Arthur enjoyed.
  • Fruits Basket (anime TV series); Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya - Tohru had been living with her grandfather after her mother died, but circumstances and Tohru's own desire not to be a burden meant that she ended up living alone in a tent for a while. However, she gets taken in by the Sohma family, who are hiding a secret - certain members of the family turn into animals in the Chinese zodiac when they're weak or hugged by a member of the opposite sex. Both the manga and anime are good - the anime follows the manga pretty closely (except for a few things, and the last episode), but it ends well before the manga does. Those who'd like another story with a slowly developing (and seemingly doomed) romantic storyline might enjoy this title.
  • Maria Watches Over Us (anime TV series) - Yumi is a first year student at the Lillian School For Girls, an exclusive all girl's catholic school. She admires Sachiko, who will likely become one of the heads of the student council. When Sachiko asks Yumi to be her soeur (older girls take on a younger girl as their little sister, or "soeur," and instruct them and watch out for them), Yumi finds herself having to figure out the relationships between the girls in the student council and her own feelings for Sachiko. As this is apparently a shoujo-ai series (romance between girls), it's not for everyone. However, those who'd like a slow-paced drama/romance involving a strict social environment might enjoy this series. I have yet to see it, but the many (two or three) ads that RightStuf has sent me have worked their way into my brain, and I'd like to.
  • S.A (manga) by Maki Minami; S.A (anime TV series) - This series is also often referred to as Special A. Ever since she was a little girl and Kei beat her in a wrestling match, Hikari has always been second to Kei and considered him her rival. What she doesn't realize, even though everyone else figured it out ages ago, is that Kei loves her. In her determination to beat Kei at something, anything, Hikari has become a member of the Special A, an elite group at their elite school, right alongside him - will she ever realize his feelings for her, and what will happen if she does? My main exposure to this series has actually been to fansubs of the anime - since I don't think this anime has even been licensed by any company in the US, I'm kind of breaking one of my personal rules by putting it on this list. However, there are portions of the series where Hikari comes smack up against the fact that Kei is rich and moves in a different part of society - those parts are very similar to Emma, although the general feel of the series is not (different time period, different pacing, different tone, etc.). Those who'd like a romantic series with a bit of social class complication might like this title. The manga, at least, is available in the US.
  • 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 enjoyed reading about a painful love triangle might want to try this book.
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