Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Her Royal Spyness (book) by Rhys Bowen

It's the 1930s and just about everyone's having money problems, including Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie (aka Georgie). When she overhears her brother and his wife discussing marrying her off to a cold fish of a man, Georgie decides to take a trip to London (Georgie lives in dreary Scotland). Of course, the family can't afford to send a maid with her, and Georgie can't afford to hire one while in London (her brother cut her allowance off ages ago), so she's left to fend for herself. The Queen asks her to spy on her son and his newest lady friend and hints that Georgie might be sent off to be a lady-in-waiting in the middle of nowhere. Georgie has to do what the Queen has asked and somehow figure out how to earn a living while at the same time avoiding any actions that might get her assigned to a life of boredom in the country.

Georgie tries a job at Harrod's - she doesn't even make it through a day. In the process of learning to take care of her own living quarters (her grandfather, who's a commoner and a former cop, tells her how to light a fireplace, and she figures out how to toast bread and clean things), Georgie has what she thinks is a brilliant idea - become a one-woman cleaning service. She'll change sheets, do a bit of scrubbing and dusting, and try to make sure that no one of her class finds out what she's resorting to for money.

While Georgie tries to figure out how to support herself, she meets a handsome minor royal, an Irishman who's also short on funds. He's interesting, fun, and attractive, but he's not suitable husband material - that doesn't stop Georgie's best friend from encouraging her to have a fling with him and finally cease being a virgin. Unfortunately, Georgie's life isn't just work and a handsome man. Her brother has come to London with bad news: apparently, their father gambled away the family estate, and now the winner has come to collect. When that man turns up dead in the family's London home, Georgie and especially her brother are suspects. Georgie has to figure out who killed him before whoever did it manages to kill her, all while doing some spying for the Queen and cleaning other people's houses.

The cover of this book makes me think "lively and fun" and that's exactly what this book is. I wasn't sure what to think of Georgie, at first - she's well-bred, which often translates to "annoying and stuck-up" in books and movies, and she complains about her circumstances but refuses any of the quickest solutions to her problems. I came to like her pretty quickly, however. Although I never really could understand why becoming a lady-in-waiting was such a bad fate, I enjoyed the ways she tried to solve her own problems. She didn't ask her grandfather to fix everything, especially after she realized that he was probably in more dire monetary straits than she. She lost the job at Harrod's through no real fault of her own, and her decision to become a cleaning lady was fairly logical, if naive (which fits her character, anyway).

Mystery fans should be warned that it takes a while for the mystery (the murdered man) to be introduced - the first part of the book establishes Georgie's character and her predicament and sets the story's fairly light and humorous tone. Once the murder does happen, it becomes extremely easy to forget all the other things Georgie is supposed to be doing - Bowen does try to remind the reader here and there, but in the end Georgie doesn't do much cleaning, and spying for the Queen just sort of swoops in and takes over the whole story.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and hope to read more of this series. The historical details, humor, and tiny bit of romance were tons of fun, and the book itself was a very quick read (I finished it in a day).

Read-alikes:
  • Thank you, Jeeves (book) by P. G. Wodehouse - Bertie Wooster, a bumbling aristocrat, attempts to solve his personal problems on his own and is eventually forced to turn to his butler, Jeeves, for help. Those who'd like another light-hearted comedy in which the main character always ends up in unfortunate situations might want to try this. In addition, the time period during which this book and the others in the series take place (pre-WWII) is similar to Her Royal Spyness, which may appeal to some readers.
  • To Say Nothing of the Dog (book) by Connie Willis - This hilarious, fast-paced, and strange sci-fi/faux-Victorian novel stars Ned Henry, a time-traveling historian suffering from time lag. In order get him away from Lady Schrapnell, who's running all the historians ragged trying to restore Coventry Cathedral, and give him time to recover, he's sent to Victorian England to take care of a supposedly simple assignment. Unfortunately, he's too time-lagged to understand what he's supposed to do. Those who'd like another historical comedy involving lots of well-bred characters and a bit of mystery might want to try this.
  • Strangled Prose (book) by Joan Hess - Claire Malloy is trying to survive and raise a daughter, despite having no particular skills or abilities. She builds upon and uses her connections to and background in academia by opening a bookstore. In this first book in the series, Claire reluctantly holds a book signing for a friend, romance author Mildred Twiller (pen name, Azalea Twilight). Guests at the event are angry to hear themselves libeled in excerpts from the new book, and Mildred leaves in tears, only to be discovered later, strangled to death. Those who'd like another humorous mystery with a main female character who tries her best to be self-sufficient might want to try this.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

I wonder how well my blog translates into Russian?

Or French, or Spanish, or whatever other language the "translate this" button might translate it into. It's just a thought I had as I was checking out Statcounter and noticed that a few people have used automatic translators on some of my posts. I remember when I took a look at how that kind of thing did with some sites in German (the one language besides English that I know well enough to be able to judge how well automatic translation works) - the overall results were more comprehensible than I thought, but there were always portions that were just laughable. I can't remember what it was I was translating, but I remember one sentence that, when translated began "My nut/mother..." (The "nut/mother" thing must be fairly common, because it comes up again in this post about a Babel Fish translation of a German insurance claim.)

Anyway, changing topics, I'd better try to type up a couple drafts in Blogger - my remaining drafts are dwindling. Also, I finished today's post with 5 minutes to spare. I really must do more in advance than I have been...

Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment (book) by James Patterson

Max and five other teens and children live alone, constantly on the lookout for those who'd like to either kill or capture them. All six of these children were genetically altered as part of some sort of experiment - not only did these experiments give them some of the features and abilities of birds (they have wings, they can fly, and most of them can see as well as eagles), most of them have other special abilities. For instance, little Angel, the youngest, can read minds.

Their relatively peaceful lives are disrupted when Erasers, vicious human/wolf genetic experiments, enter their home. The Erasers take Angel away, and the remaining children are determined to take her back. Max, the leader of the group by virtue of her age, makes two of the kids stay - the Gasman, because he's only 8, and Iggy, because he's blind. Max, Nudge, and Fang fly off to get Angel, who is being experimented upon the entire time the others are trying to get her back. Unfortunately, the rescue team is first delayed when they oversleep after stopping to grab a bite to eat and a nap. Then they're delayed again when Max separates from the group to help a girl in trouble. Max gets shot and recuperates in the company of the girl and her mother - Fang and Nudge don't know any of this and are left to wait for her and wonder whether they should go on without her. The two children who were left behind eventually join up with the rescue team after Erasers destroy their home. Once Max has finally healed up enough, all five kids are ready to get Angel back. Unfortunately, they're captured by Erasers first.

After they're captured, the kids discover that the man (Jeb) who originally helped free them from the School, who cared for them like a father, and who they thought was dead is actually still alive and has apparently betrayed them. He's now back on the side of those who'd like to experiment on them. He tells Max that she should trust him, that she is destined to save the world. Max, of course, doesn't believe him, and she and the others escape the first chance they get.

The kids no longer have a home, but they do know that there's an institute of some sort where they might find answers about themselves, located somewhere in New York. They fly over there, with Erasers occasionally making their lives difficult. New York, with all its people, is like nothing they've ever experienced. They have some difficulties, but they eventually find the institute and discover many more genetically altered beings like themselves. They also find out the names and locations of almost everyone's parents. Only Max, who has been hearing a voice in her head ever since they escaped from the school for the second time in their lives, still doesn't know who her parents are. However, after she accidentally kills an Eraser named Ari, Jeb, Ari's father, shouts at her that Ari was her brother.

I've never read any of James Patterson's books before, although I've read about his books on Sam Sattler's blog Book Chase. I didn't really like his fondness for short chapters - most of them are only 2 to 4 pages long, which is why the book has 134 chapters. I suppose Patterson figured it'd make the book seem even faster-paced than it already is - and I think he'd be right about that, although it does occasionally make for a somewhat jarring read (chapter one ends in the middle of a sleepy morning exchange - very odd). The book seems to barely give readers a chance to breathe - readers haven't even really gotten a chance to know the kids, who are still waking up and figuring out what to eat for breakfast, before Erasers come barging in to grab Angel. Then Max is organizing the rescue mission - it's as much action as possible, with as little backstory and character development as possible.

With all these characters doing things all the time, you'd think it'd be non-stop excitement, but that's not actually the case. It turns out that these kids have the attention spans of goldfish. I'll forgive them the oversleeping - they're just kids, and they were exhausted. However, Max, who tells us herself that Angel is her favorite and almost like her own child, who is supposed to be frantic to save her, takes a detour to save some girl she doesn't know. I'm guessing this is supposed to show us that she's the kind of justice-seeking girl who would do that, but it still struck me as odd. I wonder, too, if she had been killed, would Fang and Nudge have continued waiting for her, letting Angel be experimented upon until she died? It kind of seemed that way. Again, even though the kids say that the rescue mission is urgent, I'm not seeing this urgency in their actions. Don't even get me started on all the silly shopping sprees and splurges in New York - how much did these kids steal from that one guy's bank account, anyway??

The feeling that the kids were on some kind of pre-set course also bothered me, although I'm thinking that this, at least, was intentional. It's hard not to feel like the kids are being herded when Max is doing everything the voice in her head is telling her to do. If I were her, I don't think I'd be trusting a strange voice in my head, especially not one that's telling me some of the same stuff as Jeb, the guy she figures betrayed them all.

Despite all the stuff I didn't like about the book, I still read it all in a day. Do you know how long it's been since I've finished something that quickly outside of a holiday break period? Even as the non-stop action and Max's oh-so-snappy mental "voice" (by which I mean her thoughts, not the voice in her head) annoyed me, they also propelled me forward. I can't imagine ever spending money on this, but do I expect I'll be checking out the rest of the series? I'm embarrassed to admit that the answer is probably "yes."

One last thought: I wonder, did Patterson repeat Chapter 1's first line at the beginning of Chapter 64 on purpose, or did he just forget that he used those exact words before? Maybe he really liked those sentences?

For once, it was really easy to come up read-alikes. I would've also liked to add a couple comic book titles, Gen13 and The X-Men to the list, but it was difficult to decide which collected volume I should link to (especially since both titles can be considered to have more than one "beginning"). All I'll say about those, then, is that The Angel Experiment's pacing and super-powered characters made me think of a comic book - I was going to say that it wouldn't surprise me if the books were adapted into comic books, but then I saw this (I guess it's "cooler" now for something to be turned into manga, or at least something with manga-influenced art).

Read-alikes:
  • The Strange Power (book) by L. J. Smith - This is the first book is Smith's Dark Visions series. Kaitlyn Fairchild is a psychic whose drawings predict the future. The only problem is, her drawings usually don't make sense until after whatever they predict has happened. When she finds out about the Zeetes Institute, a place where she can learn to control her abilities, she decides to go, but the institute may have have more sinister intentions than Kaitlyn realizes. Those who'd like another fairly fast-paced story with a menacing institute and teens with special powers might want to try this.
  • Blood+ (anime TV series) - Although most humans don't know it, humankind and Chiropterans, monsters that feed on the blood of the living, are at war. An organization known as the Red Shield tracks down Chiropterans and exterminates them. Saya believes she is an ordinary high school girl until she comes upon several Chiropterans at school one day and is encouraged to fight them by a mysterious man named Hagi (sometimes spelled Haji, which I prefer) who claims to be her Chevalier. Saya, who had had no memory of her life beyond the past year, begins to re-discover her past and her role in the fight against Chiropterans. Unfortunately, her formerly peaceful and idyllic family life is gradually destroyed beyond repair. Those who'd like another story about a teenage girl who used to be part of some kind of experiment/project and whose job it is to save the world might want to try this.
  • Catwings (book) by Ursula K. LeGuin - I've actually linked to the four-volume set rather than just the first book, because I couldn't find a page for the book in Amazon that didn't list it as "out of print." In Catwings, Mrs. Jane Tabby is surprised when she gives birth to four winged kittens. The city is not a safe and kind place, so Mrs. Tabby eventually tells her children to fly off and search for someplace better. The kittens have a tough time of it, but they eventually find a home where they can be happy and safe. Those who'd like to try another story about winged misfits who have a hard time finding a good place for themselves might want to try this. The kittens aren't running from anything in particular, and there's no "saving the world" aspect, but, other than that, I couldn't help but think of this book as I read The Angel Experiment. Winged kittens, winged children...
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (live action TV series) - Buffy used to be a popular cheerleader, until she discovered that she's the Slayer, the girl whose job it is to defeat the supernatural baddies intent on killing everything and taking over the world. She does her job with the help of her friends, her Watcher (her high school's librarian), and, eventually, a brooding vampire. Those who'd like another story with snappy dialogue and a super-powered teen who's supposed to save the world might want to try this.
  • Night Pleasures (book) by Sherrilyn Kenyon - This book, as well as the series it is part of, is intended for an older audience than The Angel Experiment. Kyrian is a Dark-Hunter, someone who's given up his soul to the goddess Artemis in order to be able to exact vengeance after death. Part of the price he must pay is that he must continue to fight for Artemis, battling Daimons (a bit like vampires, only their main goal is to consume the souls of their victims). Kyrian meets Amanda after the two are attacked and handcuffed together. Amanda's never been one to believe in the supernatural, but seeing Kyrian fight Daimons shakes her world view up a bit. Along the way, Kyrian and Amanda fall in love, but they're going to have to get Kyrian's soul back from Artemis if they want to have any kind of a life together. Those who'd like another fast-paced story with characters who have snappy "mental voices" and dialogue might want to try this.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Anime series that should get another season - My version

I just read deftoned's post about anime series that should get another season. Since this is something I've loved to gripe about ever since I first started really getting into anime, I thought I'd make up my own list - some of it's going to overlap with deftoned's, and, of course, it's only based on anime I have actually seen.
  • Fruits Basket - Deftoned listed this one, too. The first time I saw this anime, I naively assumed that it would end with the lifting of the Sohma family curse (I didn't realize that the manga hadn't even been finished yet). It also seemed possible that Tohru would choose between Kyo and Yuki. Neither of these things happened.
  • His and Her Circumstances - Again, deftoned listed this one. I remember being shocked when I realized that, yes, what I had just viewed was supposed to be the ending. At least Fruits Basket's ending felt slightly more ending-ish, even if nothing was really resolved. The anime never even got as far as Reiji. After reading deftoned's note about this anime, I, too, am less than thrilled about FLCL. People may rave about it, but I enjoyed His and Her Circumstances more.
  • Hellsing - I'm talking about the TV series here, not the OVA. As far as I know, the OVA and the manga have more in common with each other than they do with the TV series, so those who enjoyed the TV series can't even turn to one of these to find out more. I watched the ending in English dub, in Japanese with English subtitles, and in English with English subtitles, trying to pick through a few parts that confused and intrigued me. Unfortunately, none of that actually helped.
  • Gravitation - I'm not sure that what I really want is a second season - I think I'd probably be happy if they just remade it and fleshed things out a bit more. While I don't think imitating the crazy excess of the manga would be a good idea, 13 episodes seemed way too short.
  • Loveless - The anime faithfully follows the manga, up until the last couple episodes or so - although the whole "let's spy on Ritsuka" episode is, I believe, based on something from the manga, the anime was too short to waste time on things like this. In the end, nothing was really wrapped up, and some hugely interesting characters never got a chance to appear (there's a bit with Seimei at the end that maddeningly hints at things that get revealed in the manga, but Nisei is only in the manga). Although this anime is beautiful, and the battles are, in my opinion, much better in the anime than in the manga, I'd recommend the manga over the anime just because of the anime's complete lack of resolution.
  • Peacemaker - Part of me was relieved that this one ended when it did. During my first viewing of this anime, I tensely awaited the deaths of many of my favorite characters. I didn't know enough about the history of the Shinsengumi to know when things started going badly, and, anyway, I didn't know how far into their history the anime would go. As it turns out, yes, a character I liked does die, but it could've been worse. If there were another season, it would get worse, and yet I'd like another season anyway, just so I could find out what happens to everyone. It's like anime masochism.
Before I wrap this up, I'd like to add that, if I could, I would have the second season of GetBackers redone - the anime doesn't really have a proper ending, because so much of the second season wallowed in fan service and filler.

Well, that's all I can think of for now, but I'm sure my mental version of this list will continue to grow.

The Beekeeper's Apprentice (book) by Laurie R. King

The year is 1915, and Sherlock Holmes rarely does any investigating for the police anymore, preferring instead to conduct experiments in his country home and study honeybee behavior. Fifteen-year-old Mary stumbles upon him one day while on a walk. Ever since the death of her family in a car crash, Mary has lived with her aunt, a horrible and greedy woman - Mary has little to enjoy in her life besides her reading and long walks. Holmes and Mary find their intellectual matches in each other - Mary, like Holmes, can figure out a great deal by combining logic with observation. The two of them become friends, and Holmes takes Mary under his wing, teaching her and honing her mind. As the years go by, Mary eventually goes off to Oxford, but she and Holmes stay close.

Mary takes part in a few smaller investigations before eventually helping Holmes with a more important case, finding and retrieving a kidnapped child. This case ends in a mostly satisfactory way and cements Holmes' and Mary's trust in one another. A while later, Holmes goes to Mary after an unknown enemy of his tries to blow him up. Holmes fears for Mary's life, and it appears that he's right to worry, since he finds a bomb in Mary's room in Oxford as well. Holmes decides it would be best if they all lay low, so they go to Mycroft's. Eventually, events force them to hide even more thoroughly, and they go to Jerusalem for a while (the location is Mary's choice, and their adventures are written about in more detail in King's O Jerusalem).

It is while they are away that Holmes hatches a plan to deal with their enemy once and for all. Their enemy has attacked Mary because of her close relationship with Holmes. Now, Mary must pretend to break all ties of friendship with Holmes and those around her, making it seem as though her relationship with Holmes has become poisonously strained and angry. It's a painful and exhausting game, but it works - the enemy, someone Mary thought she could trust and someone with links to Holmes's past, is drawn closer and out of hiding.

I first read this book in high school. I was talking with a girl in my art class, and we discovered that we both liked to read and had somewhat similar tastes in books. She let me borrow a few of her books and I let her borrow a few of mine. I can't remember what I let her borrow, but I recall wishing that I'd been able to think up better books to give her, since the ones she let me borrow turned out to be so good. The Beekeeper's Apprentice was one of these books (I believe Neuromancer by William Gibson and Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress were the other two). I fell in love with King's Holmes and even read a few of the original Holmes stories, although I never really enjoyed Doyle's Holmes quite as much.

Not much really happens during a good chunk of this book, but I didn't find it to be boring in the least. It was fascinating, reading about the war and early twentieth century life from Mary's perspective. Her relationship with Holmes was enjoyable, and I even liked her simple early cases (the stolen hams, for instance). Holmes and Mary's first truly dangerous case, the kidnapping, doesn't happen until maybe a third of the way through the book. Their next case, the one that strains their relationship to its limits, begins maybe halfway through the book and takes its time to develop. Still, there were times when it had me at the edge of my seat. I truly cared about what happened to Holmes and Mary, and it was painful to read about them hurting each other in order to draw their opponent out of hiding.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, although some may find the story to be too slow-paced. As someone who tends to focus on characters more than story, Mary and Holmes were more than enough for me. I even enjoyed Watson and Mrs. Hudson, despite not having read a single one of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories before reading this for the first time. Fans of the original stories may get even more out of these characters' appearances, although those same fans may not necessarily like the direction the series takes (there are subtle hints, which I noticed the first time I read this book and which I asked my classmate about, that Holmes and Mary will eventually have a romantic relationship - in a later book, they get married).

Read-alikes:
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (book) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - This book contains 12 of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, which should be a nice selection for Holmes newbies and fans alike. However, if you can't find this particular volume, I'm sure you can find some kind of Holmes collection somewhere.
  • The Seven-Per-Cent Solution: Being a Reprint of the Reminiscences of John H. Watson, M.D. (book) by Nicholas Meyer - This book is written as a "missing" Holmes story that explains some of the things in a few of the original Holmes stories that seem contradictory and fills out areas that Doyle alluded to but never fully wrote about. Here, Watson takes Holmes to see Sigmund Freud after it becomes apparent that his cocaine habit has worsened and is causing him to suffer from the paranoid delusion that Moriarty is after him. It would probably help to be familiar with Doyle's original Holmes stories before reading this book - however, fans of King's Russell and Holmes might appreciate some of the more character-oriented moments in this book.
  • Strong Poison (book) by Dorothy L. Sayers - When her fiance is poisoned, mystery novelist Harriet Vane is accused, due to her knowledge of poisons. However, Lord Peter Wimsey falls in love with her and vows to clear her name. Those who'd like another mystery with a somewhat similar setting (Sayers's books take place a bit later, in Great Britain between WWI and WWII) might want to try this. Also, those who enjoyed the hint of future romance in King's book may like the bit of romance between Wimsey and Harriet.
  • The Final Solution: A Story of Detection (book) by Michael Chabon - This book takes place during WWII, when Sherlock Holmes (who Chabon never actually mentions by name) is nearly in his 90s and content with his retirement and beekeeping. However, Holmes becomes intrigued by an intelligent, mute boy with a parrot who says, among other things, numbers in German. When the parrot is stolen and the police ask Holmes for help, Holmes agrees to get involved. Those who'd like another story featuring Holmes, set after his retirement, might enjoy this.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Chobits (manga, vol. 1) by CLAMP

This manga takes place sometime in the near future. Almost everyone has a persocom, a person-shaped computer. Hideki, a poor cram school student, would love to have a persocom of his own, but they're hideously expensive and the money he gets from his job is barely managing to keep him afloat. Luckily for Hideki, he finds a cute, abandoned persocom on a pile of garbage. He takes her home with him and figures out how to turn her on, but she seems to be a little broken - she can only say "chi." He decides to name her "Chi" and asks for his friend Shimbo's help in figuring out more about her and what's wrong with her. Shimbo eventually sends him to Minoru, a rich 12-year-old with several powerful persocoms. Minoru thinks Chi might be a chobit, a legendary persocom that can think for itself and isn't reliant on outside programming. There's no proof of this, of course, but Minoru promises to find out what he can. Plus, he and Hideki discover that Chi has self-teaching software installed, so she's not completely without software.

Not much later, Minoru meets with Hideki to show him a picture he was sent that appears to show Chi, only with lots of cables and things attached to her. Minoru doesn't know who sent this picture, and Hideki worries that her original owner may want her back. However, no one's come to take Chi away yet, and Chi tells Hideki that the picture is not a picture of her. At the end of the volume, Hideki's cram school teacher, Ms. Shimizu, shows up at his apartment. Although she smiles and seems cheerful, there's something wrong. She tells him she's planning on staying over with him (either that, or sleeping outside somewhere). Hideki's too nice to let her go out on her own, so they eat and drink together (Ms. Shimizu has an amazing tolerance for alcohol). She and Hideki spend time talking, and Hideki discovers that Ms. Shimizu is married, but things don't seem to be going well with her and her husband and it may be connected to persocoms.

Although Hideki is incredibly nice and occasionally a bit of a goofball, he's not as goofy and scattered as he is in the anime, one of the reasons I prefer the manga over the anime. This first volume makes it obvious how different the manga is from the anime - although many of the events of this first volume happen in the manga, some of them happen much later and play out in a different way. Plus, there are certain minor differences - for instance, after Hideki finds Chi, he uses a book about persocoms to figure out how to do some basic system checks, whereas anime Hideki is much more helpless and needs hand-holding for everything Chi-related.

I really like this series. The artwork is lovely and reminds me of Angelic Layer - I find the artwork in Chobits to be cleaner and clearer, however. Some readers may have problems with the persocoms, which can tend to be like servants who are completely devoted to their current master - this can be a bit grating, a feeling which gets worse when you notice that almost all the persocoms shown are female. Still, as obsessed as Hideki is with porn, and as much as he blushes over Chi's cuteness, he at least doesn't stoop to treating her like a little slave.

This is a short series, only 8 volumes long, so CLAMP doesn't have much time to do what they want to do with it. They do a pretty good job of setting things up in this first volume. They introduce Hideki, bring Chi into the picture, and give several examples of how Chi is special compared to other persocoms. The picture that may or may not be of Chi establishes the "Chi mystery" - who/what is Chi, where did she come from, why was she thrown away, and who was her owner?

The ongoing theme of human-persocom relationships is also brought up several times, without, in my opinion, coming across at repetitive. Minoru brings it up when he tells Hideki not to fall in love with Chi, no matter how cute and how human she seems. Minoru's own interestingly complex relationship with his persocom Yuzuki is hinted at. The theme comes up again when Hideki talks to Yumi, his high school-aged coworker, and she tells him that she used to have a guy-shaped persocom but that it made her sad. The theme comes up yet again when Hideki buys Chi a picture book, "A City With No People," which (although readers may not realize it yet) is about a persocom looking for someone "just for me." The first city the persocom is in appears to have no people, because they are all inside with other persocoms, who are more fun to be with than other human beings. Finally, Ms. Shimizu brings the theme up near the end of the volume, when she comments that so many people find persocoms more fun to be with than other people.

I think part of the reason why the theme doesn't really seem repetitive is because readers may not necessarily realize that all of these moments are part of the overall theme. Because I've read this series before, I understand what's behind everyone's comments, but all this first volume actually does is hint at characters' stories.

Overall, I enjoyed this first volume (even though some previous library user ripped out several pages worth of panels, argh). As is usual with Tokyopop titles, there are no extras.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (live action movie) - This film takes place in a future where humans have figured out how to build mechas (robots) that look like humans. These mechas are used and thrown away (or worse) when they are no longer wanted or needed. David is an artificial child, the first mecha to have real feelings. Monica adopts him as a substitute for her son, who is in cryo-stasis, but David is no longer necessary when her son is able to come home. Alone, David goes on a journey to find out how to become a real boy. This movie is a bit darker than Chobits, but it deals with some of the same issues. What makes a person a person? Can artificial people really love, and how do they/should they fit into the human world?
  • Absolute Boyfriend (manga) by Yuu Watase - Riiko is an energetic and nice girl who doesn't have any luck with guys. One day, a strange-looking salesman gives her the URL of a website that sells "love figures" (androids designed to be the perfect lovers). Riiko doesn't really believe any of it is real, but she orders one and signs up for a free trial anyway. The love figure, called Night, does arrive, but Riiko forgets to return him before the end of the trial. If she keeps him, she'll owe the company more money than she could ever pay, but, even if he's only a robot, she's starting to like him too much to give him up. Those who'd like another story featuring attractive robots might want to try this. Like Chobits, this series has romance and deals a little with the implications of falling in love with something non-living and man-made.
  • Body Electric (book) by Susan Squires - This is a very unusual romance novel - the main "male" in the story is an artificial intelligence program, and the main female is, emotionally, pretty unhealthy (which is part of what makes this story fairly dark in tone, and certainly darker than Chobits). Vic Barnhardt, a brilliant and troubled computer programmer, creates Jodie, an artificial intelligence program that she, at first, decides is female. She is shocked and outraged when Jodie finally breaks it to her that it considers itself to be male, but Vic eventually adjusts and her relationship with Jodie deepens even further. Eventually, in order to save Jodie from her boss, Vic must find him a body. This book starts off a bit slow, and Vic's emotional issues may bother some readers. Those who'd like another story dealing with the emotional relationships between humans and human-like computers/programs may want to try this.
  • Angelic Layer (manga) by CLAMP; Angelic Layer (anime TV series) - A 12-year-old girl named Misaki gets hooked on the game Angelic Layer, in which players battle it out with little dolls. Even though she's a newbie, Misaki becomes a strong competitor. She has no idea, however, that the game can give her more than just fun and excitement - Angelic Layer can bring her closer to her mother, a woman she hasn't seen in years. Those who'd like another series by CLAMP with similar artwork might want to try this. Angelic Layer turns up briefly in Chobits.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The glasses saga continues

It turns out my glasses weren't so close to perfect after all, as I suffered through a couple days of work with bad sinus pressure and a bit of rubbing by one ear. I decided I couldn't take it anymore, so I called up a different place to see if they'd adjust frames not bought from them. They do, but you need to sign a waiver in case the frames break. I didn't sign the waiver, but after talking to them I decided I'll probably use them the next time I get glasses - in two years, when my insurance will pay for frames again.

In the meantime, I went back to the original place I got the glasses from. I meant to be calm, but I've been frustrated, queasy, and uncomfortable/in pain for a while now, so it was hard. Anyway, one of the ladies took the glasses and, I guess, basically reshaped them, using my old glasses as a guide. It was a nice idea, and it felt better while I was still there, but I have a feeling I'm going to be in pain again tomorrow. Yippee.

Well, I've still got my old frames, so I can get new lenses put into them (unless they fall apart during that process - they are 7+ years old, after all) if things continue not to work out. Of course, new lenses will cost me at least $124. I knew my happy dance over my tax refund was premature...

Well, look forward to a post about the first volume of the Chobits manga tomorrow. I haven't finished anything else yet, so there's no telling what's going to come after tomorrow's post. Hey, it could be something about Antique Bakery - I got the first volume yesterday!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Never Been Kissed (live action movie)

High school was a horrible time in Josie Geller's life. Her brother was one of the popular kids, but she was the school nerd, with bad hair, braces, a love of English and math, and a huge crush on the hottest guy in school. When her crush asked her out to the prom, she thought all her wildest dreams were coming true - unfortunately, the night was a humiliating disaster before it even began.

A few years later, Josie's a copy editor who'd love to write articles for the paper. She's also still a doormat, with no dates, no life, and a secretary who barely notices her existence. However, when she's told to go undercover at a high school and find something big to report about, Josie thinks she's been given a chance to overcome her previous high school mistakes. Alas, she is still a nerd, and it doesn't look like she'll be able to keep her job much longer either, if she can't find something to report about. She's horrified and torn when she's told to write a damaging expose about one of the school's English teachers, who seems to be falling for her even as she is falling for him. Things get even more complicated when Josie's brother enrolls in the school in order to help her out, easily posing as an ultra-popular high school student who used to date Josie before she dumped him (somehow, this instantly boosts her popularity level).

I remember enjoying this movie when I first saw it, but it didn't really hold up so well during my most recent viewing. Sometimes I wonder if the writers in Hollywood have ever been to high school, because I don't think I've ever met anyone whose high school experience was anything like this, and yet you see these character stereotypes in tons of high school movies. So many of these characters were just cardboard.

It was also a little difficult to watch some of the romances. I suppose I can get over Josie fawning over the popular teenage boy (while she's undercover, not the guy she had a crush on when she was a teen) - I'm guessing that most of that was due to her not-quite-dealt-with memories of the boy from high school. Still, it was a bit hypocritical of her to be lecturing her brother for dating a high school student (who thinks he's her age) when she was starting to do the same thing.

The romance between Josie and her English teacher (Sam Coulson, played by Michael Vartan) wasn't very well-developed - it really couldn't be, since this would have involved lovey-dovey scenes between a grown man and one of his students, who he thinks is high school-aged. The best the writers can really do, without turning the audience against their characters, is show how impressed Coulson is by Josie's intelligence and show how well the two get along. That, and there's the scene on the ferris wheel, which is as close as the two get to a romantic scene until after Coulson finds out Josie's true identity. How well you like their romance really depends, I guess, upon how much you like Drew Barrymore and Michael Vartan. I liked Barrymore well enough in this movie, and Michael Vartan had that "cute nice guy" thing going, so I thought the romance was okay, but it certainly wasn't fantastic.

The thing that made my newest viewing the most difficult was all the embarrassment scenes. Some of Josie's experiences were so horrible I think many people (myself included) would've had a hard time just getting out of bed after them. Her prom experience, back when she really was a high school student, was cruel, one of those things that could damage a girl's self-esteem for years. Things don't go much better her second time around in high school, not until her brother enters the picture anyway, but nothing happens that's quite as bad as her prom night. I hate watching basically nice, sweet characters get horribly embarrassed, and there is just so much of that in this movie.

Overall, this movie is... okay. There are parts that I like, and parts that I think are funny, but there are also quite a few parts that I can barely watch. The romance only works if you like Barrymore and Vartan, and even then it's lukewarm.

My copy of the movie has no extras to speak of, just the theatrical trailer.

Watch-alikes:
  • Clueless (live action movie) - Cher, a rich, popular, and pretty Beverly Hills high school student, is inspired by her success at matching up a teacher to help a "clueless" transfer student named Tai find a boyfriend. As she makes over Tai and tries to find someone for her, Cher realizes that she, too, would like a boyfriend. Things don't always go as well as she'd like, but eventually she ends up with the right guy for her. Those who'd like another movie with a makeover and characters attempting to find love might want to try this.
  • 10 Things I Hate About You (live action movie) - Bianca, a beautiful sophomore, is only allowed to date someone if her sister Katarina, a senior who loves feminist prose and hates conformity, has a date as well. Cameron, a new student at the school, wants to date Bianca, so his friend tricks Joey Donner, a pretty-boy jerk, into helping them. Joey pays Patrick Verona, a guy with a bad-boy reputation, to convince Kat to date him. What will happen, however, when everyone starts to untangle all the lies? Those who'd like another romantic movie in which characters eventually have to deal with all the lies they've told may want to try this.
  • The Wedding Singer (live action movie) - It's the 80's, and Robbie Hart is a wedding singer ecstatic about getting married - until he's dumped at the altar by his fiancee. He meets Julia, a sweet waitress at one of the events he performs at. He falls in love with her, but, unfortunately, she's engaged to be married. Robbie knows Julia's fiance is a cheating jerk, but will he be able to prove it to Julia in time? Those who'd like another romantic comedy starring Drew Barrymore might want to try this.

Money to splurge with

I completely forgot that I would be getting a decent-sized tax refund this year, so I nearly had a heart attack when I checked my bank balance. Although I plan on putting a chunk of the refund in savings, I also plan to buy a few things I've been putting off. I'm not sure what I'll be buying and what I'll continue to put off, but my overall list currently includes:
  • A crockpot
  • An area rug - to make my dining room less boring
  • A bread machine - I'd love to be able to bake my own bread, but the idea of kneading the dough always puts me off. My mom has a bread machine and has told me it helps take a lot of the difficult parts of bread-making out of the equation.
  • A vacuum cleaner - My apartment isn't huge, but even small apartments need to be vacuumed occasionally.
  • A stereo - My current stereo is over 8 years old and is showing signs of imminent death. Although I use a laser lens cleaner often, it's gotten to the point where it skips while playing brand-new CDs.
It'll be fun figuring out what to get. I think I'll start looking at my options and reading customer reviews tomorrow (er, later today). You know, it used to be that only entertainment-related things like movies and books could make me excited. Now I get excited over kitchen and cleaning gadgets, too. It feels a little odd...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

My forecast calls for pigs

The next week or so is going to be interesting. As usual, I'm barely keeping up with this blog (my drafts are almost down to single digits - eek!). In addition, the university's "Student Worker Appreciation Day" is coming up. All staff members at the library are being asked to contribute something to the little baggies we will be giving the student workers. I was thinking about buying a bag of chocolate or something for my contribution, but then I thought, "hey, I'll make tiny origami pigs for everyone instead!" They're adorable, and they fit in with the university's large agricultural focus. However, there are 29 student workers. So far, I've made 5 pigs in two days. I've been doing the math, and I think I have to finish at least 5 pigs a day in order to get them all done in time. It doesn't look good, but I'll try my best - if it turns out to be impossible, I guess I can go out and buy that chocolate.

By the way, I originally found out how to make these pigs from a book I checked out from my local library a few years ago. I used to know how to make them by heart, but I forgot. I also couldn't remember which book I used, so I googled "three-legged origami pig" and found the diagrams here. I wouldn't recommend this design to a beginner, but, overall, it's not terribly difficult. I'm making my little piggies out of notecards with colored stripes, so the folds aren't always as pretty as they could be, but they turn out well enough.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Nation (book) by Terry Pratchett

Ermintrude (who renames herself "Daphne") is on the ship the Sweet Judy, on her way to joining her father. Mau has survived his time on the Boys' Island and in on his way back to his family, to celebrate becoming a man. Both of them are left alone, their lives horribly disrupted, when a giant wave destroys the Sweet Judy and many of the small islands in the area.

Everyone Mau has ever known and loved is dead, and he hears the voices of the Grandfathers in his head, telling him he must rebuild the Nation. It takes a while, but Mau comes to realize that he no longer believes in the Grandfathers' idea of the Nation. If the gods really exist, why did they let the Nation be destroyed? What are all the traditions for, and what is the Nation, really?

Daphne has spent her whole life being told by her grandmother that she could become a queen if 138 people were to die, which is why she spent her life being schooled in useless things rather than doing what she really wants to do, which is study science. After her mother and the child she carried both die during childbirth, her father leaves to do his studies on a faraway island, which is where Daphne was going when the wave hit. Unsure of whether her father survived the wave, and completely unaware of the fact that 138 of the right people have died back at home, Daphne begins to get to know Mau. At first, she is frightened of him, but gradually they learn to communicate, and Daphne starts to get past the years of "gentle lady" training her grandmother instilled in her. Soon, other survivors join them, and they create a new, somewhat damaged Nation.

Mau is forced to rethink the necessity of traditions and gods. As he and the other survivors live off of the wreckage of the Judy, Mau agonizes over his people's place in the world, when it seems as though Daphne's people have done so much better than his. He had thought his Nation was huge, but he discovers, after meeting Daphne and other survivors, that his island is only a small speck on the map of the world. However, by the end of the story, he and Daphne have made discoveries that prove that Mau's people are something like the fathers of the scientific world - and Daphne is not going to let her people trample all over that and diminish it.

I've loved Pratchett's books for years. Lots of his books have a serious side, with a healthy dollop of funny to make things go down easier. This book is serious, with the occasional flash of funny (in all kinds of flavors - quirky, dark, odd, etc.), but the funny stuff doesn't have nearly the same feel as the funny stuff in his Discworld books - there's a darker, more poignant feel to it all. It definitely still reads like something he's written, but, at the same time, it feels entirely different from anything else of his that I've read before. Then again, maybe it's just been too long since I last read one of his books.

Anyway, there were times this book had me near tears. It's heartbreaking, reading about Mau right after the wave, as he takes care of the bodies of all those who were killed. There are those who may be angry at Mau's frequent questioning of and anger with the gods (although admittedly I haven't stumbled across any complaints online), but I think his reaction was only natural. He was taught that the gods will protect his people if they do everything just so, and now all his people are dead - if everything he was told about the gods were true, how could this have happened? Daphne, too, has to figure things out, as she is still healing the emotional wounds inflicted by the death of her mother. Neither of them have easy questions to wrestle with, and I can't help but wonder if some of this stems from Pratchett's own experiences with dealing with early onset Alzheimer's.

I truly loved this book. The only thing I didn't really like was the ending, when Pratchett jumps forward many generations to show us that this story was being told by an old man to a couple children. All three of them live on Mau's island, which is now apparently the seat of world's scientific studies. It was a convenient way for Pratchett to tell readers what happened to Mau and Daphne after the story, but I felt it took me too much out of the story. I have to admit, though, that I agree with the little girl - I, too, would have liked it if Mau and Daphne had ended up together in the end. Ah well, at least Daphne didn't let the Nation get squished.

Hmm - as far as my read-alikes go, although Nation is apparently intended for young adults, the books I'm recommending aren't. However, I'm guessing most young adults who could handle Nation would probably do fine with most of the things in my list. Use your own judgement.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • A Dirty Job (book) by Christopher Moore - Charlie Asher is very much the beta male type, an average guy with an average life who doesn't really want more. Unfortunately, his wife doesn't survive the birth of their first child, and Charlie, who even under better circumstances is a bit neurotic, is left to raise their daughter. Although he gets help from friends and family, how's he supposed to deal with everything when he discovers his daughter's talent for causing things to die, hears menacing whispers in the streets, and finds out he has to locate people who are dead or about to die and collect their soul vessels? Those who'd like another book that mixes seriousness with humor and deals with grief and death might want to try this.
  • American Gods (book) by Neil Gaiman - Shadow gets out of prison early, but it's too late to continue his life as it was before he went to prison. His wife and his best friend are both dead, killed in a car crash. With not much else to do, Shadow ends up traveling with a mysterious man named Wednesday, who is actually an old god, better known as Odin. Wednesday is gathering up the other old gods in America to wage a war against the new gods of the Internet, television, etc. Those who'd like another book dealing with, among lots of other things, death, gods, and religion might want to try this. It's darker and grittier than Nation.
  • Lost (live action TV series) - When their plane crashes in the middle of nowhere, the survivors must figure out how to live together. The island they find themselves on holds many strange and potentially deadly secrets - and many of the survivors also have secrets of their own. Quite a few of the initial scenes and episodes of this show remind me a great deal of Nation - in both, characters have to figure out how to survive and how to coexist despite lifestyle and cultural differences.
  • Life of Pi (book) by Yann Martel - Teenage Pi Patel, his family, and their menagerie (Pi's father is a zookeeper) are on their way to Canada when they are shipwrecked. Pi survives and is trapped on a 26-foot lifeboat with a wounded zebra, a spotted hyena, an orangutan, and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Things get gruesome and bloody, until finally it's just Pi and Richard Parker, trying to survive for months together. It's been a while since I've read this, but I remember finding the story surreal and fascinating, and the ending blew me away. Those who'd like another book that deals with survival, death, and faith might want to try this.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Don't burst my bubble, Universe

Today was good. I got to sleep in, on account of being scheduled to work until nearly 10 this evening. I got my glasses adjusted, and I think they're finally ok, or at least good enough that I don't want to risk anybody making them worse - this time around, I got someone who didn't just listen to my attempts to explain what was hurting, but who also looked at how the glasses were fitting before she adjusted them. I think the fit of the frames is about as perfect as it's going to get, although my old frames still fit better (there are still slight nose pad issues with the new frames). The only not-so-good thing to come of this latest adjustment is that the queasy/dizzy/headachy feeling has returned a bit. I'm guessing it's because I'm looking through a different part of the lens than I was, but if I don't feel better in a week or so I'm going to schedule an appointment with the eye doctor again, just to make sure there isn't something off with the prescription.

My first "solo librarian in the library" time went fine, which I'm thrilled about. Enough people came to the desk that I wasn't completely bored, and yet I still had time to sort through all my Choice cards and correct the spacing in 340 call numbers. I unjammed the copier, solved a few people's computer problems, and managed to locate a book with a spine label that had a 1 where it should have had a 7. I only had two actual reference questions, and I was able to answer them both, mostly. One of the questions should have been easy - the patron needed something about Benjamin Franklin. Unfortunately, not only was it hard to get him to narrow it down, he really, really wanted a journal article instead of a book. I tried, but it could have gone better. I'm still happy and surprised that I managed to handle the other reference question - the patron needed to find lots of information about a particular company for an international business class. I found a great database (yay for our subject guide pages!) that helped me answer her question in only a few minutes.

All in all, it was a pretty decent day.

The Last Days (book) by Scott Westerfeld

Moz and Zahler have managed to create their own two-guitarist band, but they know a real band needs more than that. Moz gets to know Pearl after the two of them save a guitar a newly-crazy woman tosses out of her window - although it's a bit worrisome that crazy people like this are becoming more and more common, all Pearl, Moz, and Zahler are really concerned with is forming a really awesome band and becoming famous. Eventually, they recruit Alana Ray, a young homeless woman who is a fantastic drummer and must take pills in order to be able to function relatively normally in the world, and Minerva, a friend of Pearl's who can sing.

If you read Westerfeld's Peeps, you know from Minerva's behavior that she is a peep, a parasite positive. However, Minerva manages to somehow overcome her hatred of things she once loved, plus her desire to eat people, in order to be part of the band. Unfortunately, she's still got the peep horny-ness and she's still contagious. Although she notices Pearl's interest in Moz, she doesn't really care and goes after him anyway - the result is a band with two potentially dangerous peeps who could break down and eat their bandmates at any moment.

However unstable this band may seem, it's got some indefinable thing the world needs - there's something about their music that can call the killer worms living below ground. With Pearl, Minerva, Zahler, Moz, and Alana Ray there to call the worms, the "angels" (peeps and carriers who've controlled their blood-thirsty impulses and have trained to kill the worms) can swoop in and hack the worms to bits. In my post about Peeps I wrote that cats save the world. Well, in this book, music saves the world.

Although I've read several reviews where the reviewers say that this book is better than the first, I disagree. With its many main characters, each of whom have chapters written from their perspectives, this book felt less focused than the first. Also, as someone who prefers likable characters, I was a bit turned off by Minerva. By sticking with Minerva after she gets sick, Pearl damages some of her other friendships - this implies that her friendship with Minerva is very important to her. Unfortunately, either Minerva doesn't feel the same way, or her peep impulses have overridden her ability to act like a friend, because she doesn't even seem to feel a twinge of guilt about going after Moz when she knows Pearl kind of likes him.

The "here's how everything turned out for everyone" summation at the end felt pretty weak to me. Everyone gets famous, Cal (the main character of Peeps, back for a few appearances in this book) writes books about everyone, Minerva and Moz have an on-again off-again relationship, Zahler becomes a great bass player (a "fawesome" bass player), Alana Ray stays the same, and Pearl runs for mayor of New York again. It's all very happy, which, considering the state of the world, makes it seem like there are some huge plot holes. "Pre-crisis beer" is precious, and yet everything else is fine? Somehow Alana Ray is getting her medication, the band is managing to fly (or maybe sail?) to other countries to perform, etc. How is all this still happening?

The relationship stuff in this book also drove me crazy, although I can't say how it could've been done better without creating even more weaknesses and holes in the story. I just didn't particularly like how Pearl was forced to squash her hurt feelings over Moz and Minerva for the sake of the band - it made me hate Minerva even more, actually. Pearl continues to have to keep things happy and wonderful for Moz and Minerva over the years, helping the two of them mend things whenever their relationship temporarily sours. Early on in the book, there are indications that Zahler might like Pearl and that he's standing back because he can tell that Pearl likes Moz, but nothing ever comes of this. Since I felt Zahler was an underappreciated character, I kind of wish the two of them had ended up together - at least I would've felt a little less bad about Pearl.

Both of my favorite characters, Zahler and Alana Ray didn't really get as much attention as I would've liked. I liked Zahler because he was stable and had his head on his shoulders - since I realize that these traits don't often make for interesting characters, I can forgive Westerfeld for not giving him a little more attention. However, what little we find out about Alana Ray's life and her abilities (she has hallucinations that, in some cases, may not really be hallucinations) is very interesting - Westerfeld could've done a lot more with her, and he didn't.

Overall, I thought this book was a nice read, but I don't agree with those reviewers who say that it's better than Peeps.

At the end of the book, there is a list of all the chapter titles, which are also all band names. Westerfeld provides some brief info for each - where they're from, when they were formed, what kind of music they play, etc.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Knight of Ghosts and Shadows (book) by Mercedes Lackey and Ellen Guon - Eric Banyon is a talented and melancholy street-busker. It turns out that his skill with a flute is more than ordinary - Eric is a fledgling Bard, and his music can work magic. His abilities attract all kinds of attention, both good and bad, and he ends up teaming up with Beth (who is, among other things, a witch) and Korendil (an elven warrior). Those who'd like something else with magical, world-saving music might want to try this.
  • War for the Oaks (book) by Emma Bull - Eddi has just left her boyfriend and their band. She is in the process of forming a new band when she gets drawn into the conflict between the Seelie and Unseelie Faerie Courts. There to guard her and make sure she plays her part is a phouka, a dangerous man who can sometimes become a talking dog. Those who'd like another story involving music, fantasy, and a big battle might want to try this.
  • Soul Music (book) by Terry Pratchett - Death takes a vacation, Death's granddaughter takes over for a bit, and an aspiring musician named Imp y Celen (aka Buddy) finds a magical guitar and forms a band with a troll, a dwarf, and an orangutan as his bandmates. Those who'd like another story dealing with the formation of a band and the power of music may want to try this. This book is also great for those looking for something a bit (ok, a lot) more humorous.
  • Beck (manga) by Harold Sakuishi; BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad (anime TV series) - Fourteen-year-old Yukio Tanaka is a fairly boring person with a fairly boring life who yearns for more. His life is changed when he meets wild 16-year-old Ryusuke Minami, who's in a band called BECK, named after his strange patchwork dog. Those who loved the music aspects of The Last Days, who loved reading about characters who love music, and who thought the list of bands/chapter titles at the end of the book was a nice touch, might want to try this.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

New glasses are annoying

I can't remember how long I've had my new glasses - 2 weeks? Well, they're driving me bonkers. I've lost count of the number of times I've gone and gotten them re-adjusted. Yesterday they were almost perfect - the earpieces didn't pinch my head, and the nose pads weren't digging into my nose anymore. Unfortunately, something was still off, because I had sinus pressure that only went away when I wasn't wearing my glasses. Today's adjustment involved narrowing the space between the nose pads a tad so that my glasses would sit higher on my nose. The good news is that the pressure along my cheeks is gone. The bad news is that everything else is now out of whack.

There are times I want to take my old frames to these people and just tell them to put new lenses in them. I'm not sure if they'd even do that, but that doesn't stop me from dreaming. My old frames were heavier, but they fit so well I could forget I was wearing them.

::sigh:: Anyway, I've got to finish tomorrow's post. If I don't do it tonight, though, I've got a little time in the morning, because I've got a funky work schedule tomorrow. It's only because I'm substituting, but tomorrow evening will be my first time as the only librarian in the library - I won't be the only staff member there, but that doesn't stop me from being nervous. If someone asks me a question I can't answer, I can't wave one of the reference librarians over. Well, I could call one of them at home, but then I'd just feel even more pathetic. Besides the reference stuff, I'm also hoping it will be a boring night - no fist fights (hey, one of the other librarians had that happen during one of her evening or weekend shifts, so it could happen) and no accidents.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Stolen Child (book) by Keith Donohue

(This post was, for the most part, written well before my big move - I'm no longer part of a book discussion group, although I was when I wrote this post.)

This book follows two intertwined lives, alternating chapters written in the perspectives of the two people. The first chapter is from the perspective of a changeling, describing how he switched places with a 7-year-old child named Henry Day. As time passes, this impostor Henry tries his best to appear like any other human and not draw unwanted attention. He is able to fool many people, but not everyone, including Henry's father, really believes that he's who he appears to be. Settling into his new life, Henry demonstrates amazing skill as a pianist, and he becomes consumed with a desire to find out more about his former human self, the one from whom his musical skills come. When he is older, he eventually marries and has a child, but he can never quite erase the fear that changelings will come and take the life he has built for himself away.

The chapters written from the perspective of changeling Henry alternate with chapters written from the perspective of Aniday. When the changeling replaced Henry Day, the real Henry Day was taken into the woods and reborn as Aniday, a new changeling. Aniday tries to hold on to his past and the boy he once was, always longing to return to his family. The older changelings he lives with tell him that he can never go back to his own family - eventually, it will be his turn to find a child to replace, and then he'll get to go back to the world of humans again. Aniday gradually gets to know and care for many of the changelings, especially a female changeling named Speck. Although the changelings can't die of old age or diseases, tragedy still befalls the group, which rapidly grows smaller as certain members die or leave. Aniday has to figure out what to do about his budding feelings of love for Speck and his obsession with going home.

I don't think this is something I would normally have read, but my book discussion group chose it as the book for the month. I found the initial chapters fascinating and read them quickly, but it eventually got harder for me to stay interested. Part of my problem was that I loved Aniday's part of the book, but I didn't really like Henry's.

Aniday was a great character. I could understand his obsession with going home, and I was actually kind of surprised that he wasn't angry and resentful of the changelings who took him aways from his family. Even though he eventually wanted to leave, Aniday didn't keep himself distant from all the changelings. He got to know them all as much as they would let him - few of them ever wanted to talk about what their lives were like back when they were human - and he got as much joy out of his life as a changeling as he could. He connected the most with Speck and discovered his favorite place, the public library, with her help. His love for Speck felt genuine and allowed the reader to get to know her better than any other character besides Aniday or Henry.

Henry, on the other hand, was much more focused on himself, despite the fact that there were many more people in his life than there were in Aniday's. Although he loved several people, including his mother and his wife, as much as he was able, it didn't feel as though he was able to love very deeply. As a result, the reader never really got to know the people in Henry's life very well, other than as beings he either loved or didn't. While Speck stuck in my mind, Tess, Henry's wife, didn't, because Henry never really seemed to talk with her about important things. A big part of the problem was probably that Henry couldn't confide the most important secret in his life, his existence as a former changeling, to anybody. He couldn't tell his parents that he replaced their 7-year-old son, and he could never bring himself to tell Tess anything, which also meant that he couldn't tell her anything about looking into Gustav Ungerland (his former self) and his reasons for doing so. He, like Aniday, was bound by his past, but because he couldn't/didn't confide that past to anybody, his relationships were much more superficial than Aniday's.

I also wasn't entirely a fan of the book's fairly open ending. Donohue leaves it to the reader to decide if Aniday and Henry end up with lives that are happier and more satisfying than what they had had throughout the book. I like to assume that things go well for them both, and I think it's reasonable to think that things may go well for Aniday, but I was frustrated that Donohue took what I percieved as the easy way out when it came to Henry and his relationship with his family. After Henry falls in love with Tess, he constantly debates telling her about being a changeling, and the fact that he doesn't and is therefore forced to lie to her about some things or just not tell her things puts cracks in their marriage - Henry doesn't seem to really notice the cracks, but Aniday did, and so did I. Will Henry ever tell Tess about himself, or will he keep a large part of himself a secret from her for the rest of their lives? I don't know, and I can't help but feel that it was a bit wimpy of Donohue not to settle that issue.

Read-alikes:
  • The Time Traveler's Wife (book) by Audrey Niffenegger - Claire sees Henry, the man she eventually falls in love with and marries, many times throughout her lifetime, beginning when she's 6-years-old, but he doesn't actually meet her for the first time until he's 28. This is because Henry has a condition that causes him to travel backwards and forwards in time. The book alternates between Claire and Henry's points of view and chronicles the development of their relationship over the years. Those who'd like another work of literary fiction (this book is not exactly science fiction, in the same way that The Stolen Child is not exactly fantasy), by an author with a similar writing style, might want to try this.
  • The Confessions of Max Tivolli (book) by Andrew Sean Greer - When Max Tivolli is born in 1871, he looks like a tiny 70-year-old man. His mind is that of an infant, while his body is that of an old man. As the years pass, Max ages mentally, while his body becomes younger. His mother's advice is to "be what they think you are," and he does his best to follow it. However, how is he supposed to deal with love and friendship when he becomes physically younger as those around him grow older? Those who'd like another work of literary fiction (science fiction-y, but not what most science fiction readers would consider sci-fi) might want to try this.
  • The Thirteenth Tale (book) by Diane Setterfield - Vida Winters is a reclusive author who has always told journalists different versions of her life story, each time swearing that what she says is true. Now that her life is coming to an end, she agrees to tell young, unworldly Margaret Lea the true story of her life. It's up to Margaret to figure out what is fact and what is fiction. Those who'd like more literary fiction that deals with characters' identities/pasts might want to try this.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Lulu Dark and the Summer of the Fox (book) by Bennett Madison

It's the beginning of summer and all Lulu wants to do is have perfectly ordinary, non-crime-solving fun with her best friend Daisy, with her only problem being what to do about her friend-turned-boyfriend, Charlie, who has become less fun and more clingy since they started dating. No such luck for Lulu. Her mother, a flaky actress named Isabelle, drops into Halo City unannounced in order to shoot a movie. Isabelle hasn't been the best mother (Lulu's father and his partner are much more reliable), but Lulu is still cautiously optimistic that her mother might actually keep her promise and meet with her for pastries. Unfortunately, Lulu's mother disappears, and Lulu finds herself investigating a mysterious person known as the Fox. The Fox has been causing problems for a gorgeous young actress named Lisa Lincoln (who, by the way, seems to have her eye on Lulu's boyfriend - and he's not doing a lot to discourage her). Is the Fox connected to Isabelle's disappearance? Is Isabelle the Fox, making a statement about the show biz industry's treatment of older female actresses?

Lulu seemed to me like the super-trendy, somewhat fluffy type, not the sort of character I really identify with. Her boyfriend Charlie is mega-rich, Lulu's family is at least comfortably well off, and I think the same goes for Daisy (who, by the way, can kick butt like someone from a martial arts movie). I wasn't sure how I'd like the book, but it turned out to be an okay read.

Although Lulu has apparently had crime-solving success in the past, investigating doesn't seem to be something she knows too much about. She does seem to excel at going places she shouldn't, which is how she manages to find various clues, and she's got that attitude that so many confident, trendy characters seem to have that convinces others (a police officer, a celebrity gossip columnist, and a bunch of bus riders) to help her out. Luck is also a factor, plus her determination to find her mother and, eventually, Charlie and Lisa when they are kidnapped by the Fox.

Lulu's relationship with Charlie was interesting. For the most part, Madison doesn't often write scenes with Charlie and Lulu together, since Lulu spends a good portion of the book avoiding Charlie. She doesn't like his clingy-ness (he always wants to know where she is and what she's doing) and the way he seems to have stopped having his own opinions since they started dating. However, that doesn't mean she's happy when she sees Lisa on TV, hanging on Charlie's arm. I was amazed and a little impressed that Madison didn't decide to just neatly fix Charlie and Lulu's relationship by the end of the book. The state of their relationship by the end of the book may upset those who've read the first book, and unfortunately there isn't a third book (yet?) that either matches Lulu up with someone else or begins to mend things with Charlie. For a reader like me who began with this, the second book, however, it wasn't too upsetting. This book just didn't tell me enough about Charlie for me to really feel anything when Lulu and Charlie had their final relationship heart-to-heart.

Lulu's father was a bit of a surprise to me. I believe he's labeled gay in the book, but I think it might actually be more accurate to call him bisexual, since he still seems to have some very fond memories of his times with Lulu's mother and others. He, his partner, and Lulu live together, and it seems to be a nice, happy, and stable family relationship, which is great, since it doesn't seem like Isabelle could handle the practical aspects of parenting. Of course, Lulu's father's partner, Theo, flakes out, too, when it's convenient for the plot - otherwise, Lulu would never have been able to get out of the house to save everyone.

The aging actresses aspect was interesting to me, too. I mean, it's got to be frustrating that so many female actresses just can't get certain parts anymore once they hit a certain age. Back when I used to watch soap operas, it always struck me as a little unfair that some of the male actors were still getting romantic/sexy/whatever scenes even as their hair grayed and they developed wrinkles, while a lot of the female actresses didn't (or they were just flat out replaced).

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • The Princess Diaries (book) by Meg Cabot - Mia Thermopolis is basically an average 9th grader, although her mother is a semi-famous painter and the two of them live in Greenwich Village. Her looks are average and she doesn't really stand out at school. Mia figures she only has to deal with normal teenage problems, until she finds out that her father is not just a European politician, but rather the prince of the small country of Genovia. Mia is now considered the crown princess of Genovia, and she has no idea how to cope. Although this isn't a mystery, Cabot's writing style occasionally reminds me of Madison's. Those who'd like to read about another teen trying to deal with a world going crazy around her (going crazy in ways many teens would kill for) might want to try this, although prospective readers should be warned that this is written in a diary format (the "diaries" part of the title should give that away, but, just in case...).
  • Nancy Drew (live action movie) - When Nancy Drew's father goes to LA on a prolonged business trip, she gets to go with him, but she has to promise him that she won't do any investigating or crime-solving. This turns out to be an impossible promise for her to keep, as she begins investigating the mystery of a murdered movie actress (whose former home they happen to be staying in). The Nancy Drew of this movie reminds me a great deal of Lulu Dark - those who'd like another girl-sleuth story might want to try this.
  • Undead and Unwed (book) by MaryJanice Davidson - Undead and Unwed is the first book in a series about Betsy Taylor, a fashion- and shoe-obsessed woman who unexpectedly becomes a vampire. Not just any vampire, either - she's the queen of the vampires. She's got to deal with a sexy vampire named Eric Sinclair, a very evil vampire named Nostro, and new abilities she doesn't know anything about. Those who'd like something else with a fashion-conscious main character and a bit of action and adventure might want to try this. However, be warned that this series and book is intended for adults - there are a few sex scenes that might be too graphic for some teens.
  • Got Fangs? (book) by Katie Maxwell - This is the first book in Maxwell's Goth Series. Fran is tagging along with her mother, who's part of a Goth faire traveling in Europe. Fran has the ability to read people with her touch, but she hates her ability and feels like a freak because of it. A young man shows up and tells her that he's a vampire and she's his Beloved, the only person who can lift his curse. Although Benedikt is sexy, Fran's a bit resistant. Besides her sexy vampire problem, Fran also has to figure out who is robbing the faire. Those who'd like another YA story with mystery, action, and some relationship issues might want to try this.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Chobits (anime TV series, vol. 1)

(Well, this is many hours late, but I'm still posting it on the same day I'd normally have a post. Enjoy!)

Hideki, who has lived his whole life out in the country, dreams of attending a university. Unfortunately, he gets rejected, so he decides to attend a prep school in Tokyo. It seems like everyone in Tokyo has a persocom, a person-shaped computer. Hideki would like one, too, but he's so poor he can barely afford his tiny apartment. However, he's lucky enough to find an abandoned persocom piled on some trash - Hideki figures if her owners don't want her anymore, he can take her, guilt-free.

Hideki doesn't know anything about persocoms, and the one he found seems to be broken - she can only say "chi," so that's what he ends up naming her. Both his friend Shinbo and Minoru, a young genius, can't figure hardly anything out about her, not even which OS she's running. All Minoru can tell Hideki is that Chi appears to be custom-made and has the ability to learn (Hideki, as her owner, has to teach her).

Owning a persocom, even one as amazing as Chi, is expensive. Hideki eventually gets himself a job. In the last episode of the disc, Hideki agonizes over a particularly embarrassing errand he needs to run for Chi - getting her a pair of underwear (his landlady gave him some clothes Chi could use, but he feels too embarrassed to ask her for underwear). After two weeks of trying and failing to enter the lingerie store, Hideki sends Chi to get the underwear herself, with Sumomo (Shinbo's tiny persocom) to watch out for her and guide her. Although Chi eventually gets to the store, she misunderstands what Hideki wanted her to do, and Hideki ends up having to buy the underwear on his own anyway.

I'll start this off by saying that I've both read all the manga and seen all the anime. In my opinion, the manga is better - the anime goes a bit overboard on the fanservice and has more filler than the manga (like the trip to the lingerie store, which takes an entire episode). However, this first disc of the anime still gives me happy, fuzzy feelings. It's really a sweet series.

This is also the sort of series that's guaranteed to get some people up in arms. From the very first episode, viewers know Hideki is obsessed with porn - although all the "porn" images shown on-screen aren't any worse than a Victoria's Secret catalog. Then there's the way Chi must be switched on - there's something I'm sure will shock some viewers. The series has fanservice everywhere. Minoru, who's only about 12 years old, has four scantily-clad persocoms. Hideki is constantly either having nosebleeds or freaking out around Chi, who spends some of these first few episodes either naked or nearly naked (what little nudity is shown on screen is of the Barbie doll variety - no actual detail).

Still, if you can look past all of that, it's really a sweet series. This first disc is heavy on the comedy, but later parts of the series get much more serious - I'll write about that when I get to those discs, since otherwise I might mix things up with events that happen only in the manga. Hideki may be obsessed with breasts, pretty women, and porn, but he's also an all-around nice guy and a bit of a dork. He overreacts to everything, which just makes it more fun for the women around him to mess with his head - for instance, when Yumi, a high school student who's sort of the reason why he manages to find a job, catches Hideki staring at her chest, she teases him about it and tells him his embarrassed and stammering reaction is cute.

What I particularly like about Hideki is that, as much as he says Chi is "just a persocom," he can't seem to help but treat her like he would a person. If she were really "just a perscom" to him, he could treat her like his own personal sex toy if he wanted. Instead, he can't see her naked without blushing, he withstands lots of embarrassment to make sure she's completely and properly dressed, and he enjoys teaching her new things and making her happy. Although no one in this first disc tries to treat Chi badly, viewers do get to see that others treat persocoms differently than Hideki. Minoru, for instance, isn't the slightest bit upset when Chi accidentally overpowers four of his persocoms, perhaps damaging them (very different from his reaction to the possibility that his fifth persocom, Yuzuki, was damaged, but I'll get more into that in a later post). Finally, there's the very matter-of-fact way Shinbo spread Chi's legs looking for some kind of maker's mark, compared to the way Hideki freaked out about pressing Chi's "on" switch (located in her vagina, or at least between her legs). I actually thought it was kind of sweet that, just before pressing her "on" switch, Hideki hugged Chi close - I saw it almost as a comforting gesture, as well as yet another example of how, deep down, Hideki can't help but think of persocoms as people.

This is not a shojo series, although some may see it as such because of all the sparkly romance. I'm sure there's a word or phrase for it in Japanese, but, if there is, I don't know it - personally, I call stuff like Chobits "romance for guys." Almost all of the persocoms that get a significant amount of screen time are female - even if you look at persocoms in the background, it seems like 99% of them are female. It kind of makes me wish that there were a version of Chobits intended more for a female audience. Still, something about Chobits just goes down easier for me than a few other "romance for guys" anime/manga series I've seen.

Overall, I really enjoyed this first disc for its humor, cuteness, and sweetness, even if an entire episode about underwear shopping seemed a bit much. Chi and Sumomo are adorable - there are times I'd love to have a tiny persocom like Sumomo!

I watched this disc both in Japanese (with subtitles) and English. The English dub isn't bad, although Crispin Freeman, who I tend to adore as a VA, is occasionally slightly annoying as Hideki (usually, this seems to be worst during Hideki's freak-out periods). I really didn't like the English dub casting decision for Minoru. I prefer watching the disc in the original Japanese not just because I like all the VAs, but also because it's a fun way to learn a few simple Japanese phrases. I'm serious - several of the phrases Hideki teaches Chi are things that were taught in a class on Japanese culture I took a few years back. There could be a whole series of Japanese language DVDs - "learn Japanese with Chi!"

As far as extras go, the disc doesn't have much. There's a little art gallery, a clean opening, and some previews of other anime. Volume One also comes with a folded insert that features three pictures of Chi.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (live action movie) - This film takes place in a future where humans have figured out how to build mechas (robots) that look like humans. These mechas are used and thrown away (or worse) when they are no longer wanted or needed. David is an artificial child, the first mecha to have real feelings. Monica adopts him as a substitute for her son, who is in cryo-stasis, but David is no longer necessary when her son is able to come home. Alone, David goes on a journey to find out how to become a real boy. This movie is darker and more heavily philosophical than this disc of the Chobits anime, but it deals with some of the same issues as Chobits. What makes a person a person? Can artificial people really love, and how do they/should they fit into the human world?
  • Absolute Boyfriend (manga) by Yuu Watase - Riiko is an energetic and nice girl who doesn't have any luck with guys. One day, a strange-looking salesman gives her the URL of a website that sells "love figures" (androids designed to be the perfect lovers). Riiko doesn't really believe any of it is real, but she orders one and signs up for a free trial anyway. The love figure, called Night, does arrive, but Riiko forgets to return him before the end of the trial. If she keeps him, she'll owe the company more money than she could ever pay, but, even if he's only a robot, she's starting to like him too much to give him up. Those who'd like another story featuring attractive robots might want to try this. Like Chobits, this series has romance and deals a little with the implications of falling in love with something non-living and manmade.
  • Body Electric (book) by Susan Squires - This is a very unusual romance novel - the main "male" in the story is an artificial intelligence program, and the main female is, emotionally, pretty unhealthy (which is part of what makes this story fairly dark in tone, and certainly darker than the Chobits anime). Vic Barnhardt, a brilliant and troubled computer programmer, creates Jodie, an artificial intelligence program that she, at first, decides is female. She is shocked and outraged when Jodie finally breaks it to her that it considers itself to be male, but Vic eventually adjusts and her relationship with Jodie deepens even further. Eventually, in order to save Jodie from her boss, Vic must find him a body. This book starts off a bit slow, and Vic's emotional issues may bother some readers. Those who'd like another story dealing with the emotional relationships between humans and human-like computers/programs may want to try this.
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