Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Moribito the book, in my hands!

I have almost all of my Moribito anime post finished, and it's LONG. Sorry about that, but there was so much to write about - it's one of those shows that just grew on me. If I can write up the read-alikes section fast enough, it'd be nice to have that post published this weekend, in celebration of my having the book version in my hands. When I heard that the anime was based on a book, I figured I couldn't possibly be so lucky as to find that it had been translated into English. Not only was I so lucky, I was also able to get the book only a day after making my ILL request.

So, I'm eating a slice of chocolate pie (I've added pie to the list of baked goods I can now make, although I still wimp out and buy pre-made crusts), staring at the book, and grinning like an idiot. Despite an evening that included three public printers simultaneously having problems (including one that took me 30 minutes to fix, with people asking, "Are you going to fix that?" every few minutes), weird error messages, and more reference questions at one time than I've had to answer in weeks, I still feel like it's been a good day. It's amazing what a book and some pie can do.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Swallowing Darkness (book) by Laurell K. Hamilton

I had this book checked out for a long time before I was actually able to bring myself to open it up and start reading. It's gotten to the point where reading one of Hamilton's books is a chore for me, which is sad, because I used to really enjoy her stuff. The very first signing I ever went to was one of hers, and, even though I was loopy from sleep deprivation (I had done an all-nighter on my part of a group project, just so that I'd have the time to go to the book signing), I loved every minute of it. Ms. Hamilton was so nice that my mom, who I'd dragged along with me, decided to try her books out, and she fell in love with them, too. Now, though, we can't even talk about the books together - it's too embarrassing. Actually, I'm not even sure if my mom still reads Hamilton's new books, or if she's quit like I should have by now.

I know from things Hamilton has said at her signings (I've gone to one of her signings since she started writing her Meredith Gentry series) and during interviews that her Meredith Gentry series, unlike her Anita Blake series, has a set ending. I was kind of hoping that this was the last book, despite the various things left unfinished by the end of it. I just checked her site, though, and it looks like there's at least one more book to go. Darn.

Synopsis:

I couldn't remember what had happened in the previous book, but that's okay, Hamilton made sure that wouldn't be a problem - all the pertinent bits get mentioned, often multiple times. Princess Meredith is in the hospital, recovering from being raped by her uncle, Taranis, king of the Seelie Court. She doesn't actually remember any of it, but it's still horrible for her that he did it. To make matters worse, although all her other men are alive and unhurt, Frost is now a stag and won't change back into a man for a long time, longer than Meredith expects to live. There's some good news, though - she's pregnant, and neither of the babies are Taranis's.

You'd think that pregnancy would spell the end of Meredith being able to have multiple lovers, since the Fae (or is that only the Sidhe?) are expected to marry whoever it is that gets them pregnant. You'd be wrong, though, because, through the wonders of magic, each of Meredith's babies has multiple fathers. It baffles and bothers the hospital staff, and even Meredith's beloved Gran doesn't like all of the fathers of Meredith's children, particularly Sholto. This has the possibility of making things very uncomfortable between her and Meredith. However, when a spell makes her a danger to Meredith and her various lovers, Meredith's Gran is killed, effectively neutralizing any future familial strife.

Meredith calls the Wild Hunt and hunts down and kills her cousin Cair, who put the spell on Gran on the understanding that she would get a chance to bear the child of and marry a Seelie Sidhe, thereby truly becoming part of the Seelie Court. Meredith finds out that Mistral is in danger, so she goes to save him. Then she finds out that Doyle is in danger, too, so she goes to save him. Then she finds herself having to deal with the sluagh, who have decided that Sholto may have become too Sidhe for them. Someone else tries to take his place as king, but the power of the Goddess swoops in, and Meredith and several of her men are given terrible weapons that prove they are Goddess-chosen and meant to have the positions of power they've been given.

Although that problem is now taken care of, another one has cropped up - there are Seelie Sidhe outside the sluagh mound, claiming that Meredith is being held prisoner and must be saved. Meredith decides that the best way to deal with the problem is to invite human soldiers over to be her escorts. She figures that even her uncle Taranis wouldn't be so crazy as to break the treaty the Fae have with American humans by starting a war with the sluagh right in front of them. It seems like a nice idea, but Meredith forgot that her cousin Cel is, in fact, completely and utterly insane. He doesn't care what kinds of problems he causes - all he wants is the throne, and Meredith stands in the way of that.

Cel and what few followers he still has start killing people. Meredith, terrified that she'll lose even more men (remember, Frost, 'though not dead, is basically gone), wades into the fray. Once again, the power of the Goddess comes to the rescue, and Meredith finds herself miraculously healing lots of human soldiers, who all become intensely loyal towards her. She and the soldiers are also joined by a bunch of Red Caps. By the end of the battle, Meredith and Queen Andais learn that Cel personally killed Essus, Meredith's father. Meredith kills Cel, officially bears the crown of the Unseelie Court, and then chooses to give up her crown in order to save Frost, who sacrificed himself for her. Meredith and all her men go back to L.A. where, for now at least, things are safer for them.

Commentary:

I'm so glad I finally finished this book - now I can get it out of my apartment. I really shouldn't check out any more of Hamilton's books, although I'm sure I will anyway. But, who knows, maybe I won't - I think I might be to the point where I don't really care how the Meredith Gentry series ends or what happens to Anita Blake next.

Unlike some of the earlier books in this series, this particular one doesn't have a whole lot of sex in it. There's some talking about sex (for instance, an awkward conversation in which Meredith tells Mistral she doesn't want him to kneel before her, except under certain circumstances, and, because Mistral doesn't get it, Doyle must explain that she's referring to oral sex), accidental Red Cap groping, accompanied by a Red Cap hard-on, and one actual sex scene involving Meredith in a threesome with Ash and Holly. That leaves an impressive number of pages for actual plot. Unfortunately, it seems as though all the sex in the previous books really did serve a purpose - it obscured how boring and mechanical the plot was. With nothing to hide behind, all that comes to the surface in this book. One of Meredith's men ends up in danger, and Meredith and the power of the Goddess move in to save him. Repeat. Sprinkle in lots of long, excruciatingly detailed conversations in which characters explain things to each other so that everything is always very clear. If the explanations involve sex, that's great, right? Sexy. Yup. And if you don't think so, you're a prude.

The one bit that I thought had promise was Gran's reaction to some of the fathers of Meredith's children. All the other problems in the book were magicked away so often that "the power of the Goddess" became something of a joke, but Meredith loved her grandmother, so emotional strife with her would actually have to be worked through for things to really work out. Or so I thought. It turns out that, what the power of the Goddess can't fix, death can.

One other thing that kind of, well, pissed me off about this book was Meredith's attitude towards her relationships (which, since Anita has the same sort of attitude, is part of my general problem with Hamilton's recent works). First, there's the whole "love" issue. Meredith frequently notices how sad several of her men become when they realize that they'll never be her "one and only." At one point, if I remember correctly, Meredith thinks of it as a queenly thing - she can't love just one person, because, as a queen, her love has to be spread out more. And yet, by the end, it's clear that, at the very least, she loves Doyle and Frost more than her other men - but she also loves her other men. Lucky her, rather than having to choose between any of them, she gets to have all of them. Even luckier, none of them rebel too much, which brings me to the next thing about this whole situation that pisses me off.

At one point, Sholto does rebel. Faerie handfasts Meredith and Sholto - even though several other men are also the fathers of her children, Faerie only handfasted Meredith and Sholto at that point. Sholto, Doyle, and Mistral all point out that this means that Sholto is now Meredith's husband, and it is technically his right to choose not to share her with the other men. It's their people's law. However, it's not a law Meredith particularly wants to follow, so she refuses to listen and cites a legend about a goddess that she thinks proves Sholto doesn't have sole rights to her. Also, in her words to Sholto: "...you wouldn't like what would happen if you tried to make me be monogamous with just you" (p. 163). I really, really wanted to smack her after she said this. She's allowed to sleep with multiple men (and, in the case of Ash and Holly, even men who aren't the fathers of her children), and they're supposed to put up with it. Plus, I'm pretty sure she wouldn't react pleasantly if any of them decided they wanted to sleep with other women in addition to her.

I can't really say that I hated this book, I think because I was so relieved that it wasn't filled with horribly detailed sex scenes (the suggestive title was worrisome). I disliked it, though. If I do read the next book, it'll only be because I want to appease the part of me that forces me to plod through terrible things just so I won't have a partially finished story nagging me in the back of my mind.

My read-alikes list could be better - I know there are plenty more books out there featuring the Fae and court politics, but I can't seem to think of any. As always, if you think of more, or better, read-alikes, feel free to mention them in a comment.

Read-alikes:
  • Darkfever (book) by Karen Marie Moning - This is the first book in a series. MacKayla Lane travels to Ireland to track down her sister's murderer, determined not to give up despite the difficulties she encounters. She begins to learn about a hidden side of the world, a dangerous side filled with vampires, Fae, and other beings. She discovers that she can sense these beings and finds a mentor in the mysterious and unwelcoming Jericho Barrons. Those who'd like another dark fantasy book featuring magic and the Fae might want to try this.
  • Full Moon Rising (book) by Keri Arthur - This is the first book in the Riley Jensen Guardian series. Riley Jensen and her twin brother are half vampire, half werewolf. In Riley, the werewolf side is pretty strong, but she does have a few gifts courtesy of her vampire side. In this fast-paced book, Riley's twin goes missing and a naked vampire turns up on her doorstep. Riley and Quinn team up to find her brother and end up uncovering lots of scary stuff about clones of supernatural creatures (cloned vampires are only the tip of the iceberg). Those who'd like something else that's a bit dark, with supernatural complications and lots of sexy male characters (and a good deal of sex), might want to try this.
  • The Queen's Bastard (book) by C. E. Murphy - In this fantasy set in something like Elizabethan Europe, Belinda is the illegitimate child of Queen Lorraine. When she is older, she becomes a spy and assassin for the Queen and secretly learns how to use her magical abilities, which allow her to make herself invisible and affect others' minds. During the most recent mission she's been sent on, she finds herself falling in love with the man she's supposed to be gathering information from. In the end, Belinda must decide whether she will act according to her duty or according to her heart. Those who'd like another dark fantasy (at times very dark) featuring magic and court politics might want to try this.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A dream, which has nothing to do with books or DVDs

I dreamt I had a dream about scary guys with guns breaking into my apartment and stealthily cleaning my bathroom. This wasn't a good thing, because they'd apparently done something horrible in my bathroom that required cleanup afterward. I woke up (from the dream within the dream - weird, I know) and, paranoid, peeked out my windows only to see the guys from my dream sitting in a van outside my apartment. They looked very surprised to see me, and I thought, "Hah, I'll just get things over with," so I invited them in. A little girl with long, curly blond hair and a cute little girlie dress was part of their group. She scared me half to death by jumping up about 8 or 9 feet to latch onto a tree branch like a monkey or a squirrel and sliding down. To be clear, it wasn't the height she was able to jump that scared me, but rather the fact that, if the tree branch had broken, she would've fallen a long way.

So, I let the scary guys with guns into my apartment and directed them to my bathroom. They politely took a look, but, to my surprise, what they were really interested in was my stove. Actually, stoves, plural - in the dream I had two of them. They were very concerned with whether or not any of my burners were on, so I tried to show them they weren't, but even I could feel heat coming from somewhere. I realized all four burners on one of the stoves had been on for hours, so I shut them off.

Then the dream ended.

The first thing I did when I woke up was check my stove. Nothing was on. My dreams are weird.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Too much manga at once is probably bad for you, but who cares?

The weekend's nearly over, and I've read almost half of the manga I recently bought. All I can say is wow, an "Ages 16+" rating can apparently mean just about anything.

Most of it's going to be fun to write about, but some of it's different enough from what I usually read that I'm going to have problems coming up with read-alikes. The only volume I flat-out disliked was a horribly angst-filled one-shot that seemed like a giant excuse for physically and emotionally fragile characters to splash blood and tears everywhere (Glass Wings by Misuzu Asaoka - not part of my 16+ group, by the way). A few other volumes are a bit like watching a train wreck - they inspire in me feelings of morbid fascination, prompting me to consider looking for later volumes even though I'm not entirely sure I actually like the ones I have, just because I want to know how far the author is going to take things (primarily thinking of Gakuen Prince by Jun Yuzuki). Then there's the flat-out guilty pleasure fun stuff - shallow, silly goodness, sometimes it just hits the spot, but boy am I going to feel stupid writing about it, lol (I'm not even going to mention any titles, but there were quite a few in this category).

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Evermore (book) by Alyson Noel

I'd been intending to read this book for a while now, but I didn't actually request it via ILL until after I saw it mentioned on Unshelved. I was really, really not impressed with it. I may read the next book, just to see if the series gets any better, but there are so many other things I could be reading (there's a glut of paranormal YA romance that I have only been able to scratch the surface of) that I might just stop at this book.

Synopsis:

Ever was a pretty, popular girl whose life was going great, until a car accident killed her parents and younger sister and left her, the sole survivor, with the ability to see auras, hear people's thoughts, and see a person's entire life story just by touching them. Unable to control her new abilities, Ever deals with them by making friends with outcasts (a gay guy and a girl who dresses Goth but is really just desperate to be noticed and liked), constantly listening to music to block out the sound of others' thoughts, and dressing in ways least likely to attract attention. The only bright spot in her life in her sister Riley - somehow, Ever is able to see and talk to her sister's ghost.

Then Damen Auguste arrives. He's a wealthy and drop-dead gorgeous new student. Haven (Ever's Goth friend) decides that he's going to be hers and is hurt when he seems only to have eyes for Ever. Ever is insistent that she neither wants nor tries to attract Damen's attention, but there's something about him that draws her. For one thing, he seems to be able to block her powers, allowing her a few blissful moments of silence. For another...well, he's hot.

Unfortunately, in addition to being hot, Damen also sends confusing signals. First, he seems focused on Ever, attracted to her despite all the work she's put into not being attractive. Then he's cold towards her, instead paying attention to other girls. Then he's interested in her again. Then Ever sees him apparently on a date with a gorgeous girl, and there also seems to be something going on between him and another gorgeous girl named Drina.

Suddenly, Drina seems to have her claws in all kinds of areas of Ever's life. Not only is it possible that Damen keeps seeing her in secret, but Haven has also become something like her follower, dressing like her, spending lots of time with her, and doing her best to look like her.

Eventually, Ever and Damen end up as a couple (probably, since Drina still seems to be an issue), and Haven doesn't seem to react as badly as Ever feared she would. However, lots of mysteries still surround Damen, and things come to a head when Ever sees Damen apparently hurting Haven, not believing Damen's insistence that he's actually keeping her from dying. Although Damen tries to make Ever forget what she saw, Ever gets her memories back and finds out that Damen is an immortal (which is not the same thing as a vampire). In fact, he's the one who helped her survive the car crash that killed the rest of her family, allowing Ever to become an immortal like him if she chooses. Because Ever fears him now and doesn't want him to be around her, Damen leaves. Ever enters a downward spiral filled with booze, the only thing that seems able to muffle her abilites once Damen is gone.

While attempting to find her friends, Ever is instead found by Drina, who has decided that it's time to kill her. Drina is an immortal and is apparently responsible for killing Ever during several of Ever's lifetimes, in order to break the bond that seems to keep forming between her and Damen. Damen originally made Drina an immortal so that she could be his wife, but his feelings for her have waned, and Drina believes that he'd return to her if Ever were dead. Just when it looks like Drina's going to manage to kill her, Ever accepts that she's going to die and remembers her last happy moment with her family - which is the key to transporting herself to Summerland, a safe place where Drina can't find her. Damen is there, and he shows her how she can create anything she can think up in Summerland. Eventually, if she wants and if she chooses to continue down the path to becoming an immortal, she could do the same thing outside of Summerland.

Ever decides to go see Ava, a psychic she met earlier who told her she could help her learn to control her powers. Although Ever doesn't entirely like Ava, because Ava believes that Ever needs to help Riley move on rather than continue letting her stay around, Ever still learns what she needs to from her - how to create a psychic shield. She doesn't let Ava teach her how to undo the shield, however. Eventually, Ever realizes that Ava is right about Riley, and, even though it hurts, Ever convinces Riley to finally cross over.

Unfortunately, all the stuff with Drina isn't quite over yet. Ever learns that Drina was responsible for the car crash that killed her family. Despite being outmatched, Ever focuses on fighting back and manages to kill Drina by striking her in her vulnerable spot, her fourth chakra ("her lack of love is what killed her," according to Damen). With Drina dead, there is now nothing standing in the way of Ever and Damen being a happy immortal couple forever.

Commentary:

The snippet about this book in Unshelved says "I'd give it to...Eliza, who needs to find another fictional boyfriend besides Edward Cullen." Granted, I'm no longer a teenage girl so I could be wrong, but I think it's highly unlikely that a teenage girl with a crush on Edward Cullen is going to read this book and decide Damen is just as worthy. As much as certain aspects of Stephenie Meyer's books make me cringe, I can see Edward's appeal. He's got the whole brooding self-loathing thing going, and he only acts cold towards Bella in the beginning because he was trying to resist biting her - but he's so attracted to her that he can't help but be around her, despite the danger that he might bite her. Not everyone gets the lure of vampires in paranormal romance, but I do. Yes, Edward Cullen is appealing.

Damen Auguste, however, is not. He's good-looking and rich, but it takes more than that for a character to be an appealing romantic hero. While I was reading the book, I found Damen's hot and cold behavior towards Ever to be annoying, but I was willing to put up with it, figuring that Noel's explanation would make everything better. It didn't. Damen acted coldly towards Ever and started giving flowers to another girl because he wanted to make her jealous. He's a 600-year-old immortal playing games with a teenage girl - that's not romantic, that's lame.

The situation with Drina makes things even worse. It's not that Drina assumed there was more between her and Damen that there really was - the two of them were married, are still married (as Damen says, it'd be difficult for them to get a divorce, but this does make Drina's...confusion understandable). Damen made Drina immortal so that the two of them could be together, and then he ends up deciding he'd rather be with Ever. It didn't take much of a leap for me to think, "And what happens when he decides that he'd like to have someone else more than Ever?" Not that this occurs to Ever, although it should. If he can grow tired of one woman/girl, he can grow tired of another. I certainly don't see Ever and Damen lasting long as a couple when Damen grows bored of acting like a teenager so quickly - since he already knows everything taught at school (suspension of disbelief issue: even after 600 years of life, how can someone possibly know everything and be able to do everything?), he encourages Ever to skip class to have fun with him and gamble. He seems to have forgotten that, although he's had 600 years to learn all kinds of useful things, Ever is still just a teenage girl.

Also, I hate Damen for saving Ever after the car crash that killed her family, and yet standing by and doing nothing every time Ever gets beaten to a pulp by Drina. Ever is outraged by this, for a bit, but she forgives him far too quickly.

One thing I did really like was Ever's relationship with her sister. That felt more real to me than any of the stuff with Damen, and I could understand Ever's fear that her sister was going to leave her forever, as well as her eventual decision to let her sister go. By the time I realized what a bastard Damen was, I much preferred the scenes between Riley and Ever to the scenes between Ever and Damen. I shouldn't forget to mention Ever's "friends," either. I can't decide whether I like the scences with them more or less than the scenes with Damen. As far as I can tell, Ever's relationships with her two friends don't go very deep. Her friendship with Miles (the gay one) is pleasant enough, but she doesn't confide in him. Haven is so emotionally damaged that I'm not sure she's capable of healthy friendship - she spends a lot of the book angrily jealous of Damen's attraction to Ever, and her "friendships" with Drina and others are anything but. Ever's closest relationship is with her ghost sister.

This book kept reminding me of other much better books - one passage felt like it was taken straight out of Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse books ("But that's what's so great about Damen. He's like an off switch. He's the only one I can't read, the only one who can silence the sound of everyone else...[H]e makes me feel wonderful and warm and as close to normal as I'll ever get to be..." (p. 79)), another felt like something from L.J. Smith's Soulmate (Drina: "'I've been responsible for your demise for, let's see--how many lifetimes?'" (p. 236)), and the whole thing felt like an attempt to ride on the current popularity of paranormal YA romances like Stephenie Meyer's books and others. This makes it easy to come up with a list of read-alikes, but it's never good when I find myself thinking things like, "This is just like in [fill in a book title], only I liked that book better." Had Damen been less of a jerk, I might have felt differently.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • 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 something else in which a formerly popular girl gains supernatural powers and ends up hanging out with the social outcasts she would previously have ignored might like this. Plus, there's supernatural romance.
  • Twilight (book) by Stephenie Meyer - Bella doesn't expect her move to the small town of Forks to be at all exciting, until she meets Edward Cullen. At first, Edward seems repulsed by her, but eventually the two of them can't seem to stay away from each other. The more time Bella spends with him, however, the more odd things she notices about him, leading her to the impossible conclusion that this boy she is so drawn to is actually a vampire. Those who'd like another YA paranormal romance with a brooding supernatural hero might want to try this.
  • Dead Until Dark (book) by Charlaine Harris - This is the first book in Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series. Sookie is a telepathic barmaid. Most of the people in her small Southern town know about her special abilities, but most people can also forget about it a bit because Sookie makes an effort to either not read people or not show that she's read someone. It's an exhausting life, however. Before the beginning of this book, vampires revealed their existence to the world, and in this book Sookie discovers something she thinks is wonderful - it's very hard, if not impossible, for her to read the thoughts of most vampires. Soon, Sookie is dating a vampire, but, unfortunately, being around him gets her involved in more danger than she's ever experienced before. Those who'd like another book featuring a heroine who can hears others' thoughts and who falls in love with a supernatural guy might like this. Be warned, this is not a YA book.
  • Soulmate (book) by L.J. Smith - This is the 6th book in Smith's Night World series. Hannah thinks she's going crazy - she keeps finding notes she doesn't remember writing, written in her own handwriting, telling her that she's going to die before she turns 17. What she discovers is that she's an Old Soul, someone who's been reincarnated many times. In many of those times, she fell in love with a vampire (named Thierry in her most recent lifetime), one who also may possibly have had a hand in her deaths. Those who'd like another YA paranormal romance featuring a sexy, rich, immortal hero who is possibly bad for the confused heroine might want to try this.
  • Blue Bloods (book) by Melissa De La Cruz - This is the first book in a series. Schuyler is treated like an outcast by the clique of popular, athletic, and beautiful teens made up of Mimi Force, her twin brother, and her best friend. At the age of 15, Schuyler learns that she is a "blue blood," a very special vampire who is descended from a very old line. Unfortunately, lots of blue bloods have been dying, and Schuyler has to find out why before she, too, ends up dead. Those who'd like another YA book involving rich, often popular characters, supernatural stuff, and romance may want to try this.

Friday, March 19, 2010

I'm a liar

You know how I said I'd be cutting back on the book, manga, and anime buying? Well, I guess I lied. Or I fell off the wagon or something, 'cause yesterday was a majorly successful manga buying trip. I ended up with 25 volumes of manga, most of them only a dollar each, plus a DVD, plus a few books. And I'm currently trying to ignore the lure of "limited time only" coupons for an entertainment store.

So far, I've read 2 and a half volumes of the 25 I bought (I'm currently on volume 2 of Shinji Wada and You Higuri's Crown, which I had never even heard of before I spotted it in the clearance section). I know most of them will eventually end up as posts on this blog, but probably what I'm going to do is just read them and only write posts for them during my rereads. I can read these way faster than I can write posts for them, and I'd rather not delay my reading because I'm procrastinating on post-writing.

And that's the current status of my reading. My Shelfari widget is wrong - I finished all that stuff a while ago (I'll update the widget after I get back from getting the recall stuff taken care of on my car). The only non-manga thing I'm currently reading is What the Librarian Did by Karina Bliss. An academic librarian! A secret baby put up for adoption! A former rockstar! Yes!!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"I like largeness..."

I just drank two cups of tea and am hoping that I'm not getting sick. I can usually stop sickness at the "mildly sore throat" sore throat stage by drinking lots of cups of tea. Granted, we're getting a nice little break soon at work, so I suppose there's time to be ill, but I have things I plan to do with that time, some of it fun (book shopping! I know I said I'd cut down on this...but we're going to a big used bookstore...and I'm such an addict) and some of it necessary (it's either an upgrade or a safety recall or nothing at all, depending on which day I call the car dealership).

My post title comes from a movie I saw recently, Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. It was ok plot-wise and very pretty. I liked Mia Wasikowska as Alice. Johnny Depp's eyes distracted me, and anytime he had to react in horror to something he bore a strong resemblance to an overacting Jim Carrey. Anne Hathaway, although mostly lovely, had distractingly black eyebrows and lips, and the arm waving was a bit much - plus, I couldn't help but look at her and think "Anne Hathaway" rather than "White Queen." LOVED the Cheshire Cat, although isn't it supposed to be his smile that's the last thing to disappear? Stayne went straight into the realm of ickiness when he hit on Alice (his "I like largeness" still makes me shudder).

Ok. I'd better get ready for work now.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Death of a Witch (book) by M.C. Beaton

This Hamish Macbeth book was a bit darker, in some ways, than the previous ones I've read.

Synopsis:

Hamish Macbeth gets back from a horrible vacation in Spain to find that someone new has moved to Lochdubh - a woman named Catriona Beldame. She's got the local women all upset because the local men have been visiting her late at night. However, they haven't been visiting her for sex, as Hamish first assumed, but rather for her own herbal version of Viagra, which, unfortunately, has some nasty side effects and doesn't work as well as she leads the men to think it will.

Hamish can't legally do much about her, since he can't seem to get his hands on any proof of what she's doing. It's not long before Hamish finds Catriona dead in her cottage. When the cottage mysteriously goes up in flames before more police can arrive to gather evidence and take the body away for an autopsy, the villagers think it's yet another sign that Catriona is a witch, and Hamish has a hard time getting anyone to talk to him because of that.

Even when the perfectly mundane (and sinister) reason for the fire is uncovered, Hamish still has a hard time getting anyone to talk. There are secrets in Lochdubh that, to Hamish's shock, he wasn't even aware of, and it's those secrets that lead to multiple deaths in the area. Ina, a local woman who, by all accounts, had a happy marriage and was about as inoffensive as you could get, is also found murdered, as is Fiona, a woman several of the local men had been seeing for sex. A fourth woman is killed when she tries to make herself seem more interesting and important by claiming that she knows something about the identity of the killer that she hasn't revealed.

Catriona was hated by so many people that narrowing the list down is more than a bit difficult. If her and Fiona's murders were committed by the same person, it would seem that the motive had something to do with sex - possibly the killer felt Catriona and Fiona's behaviors were morally offensive. That doesn't explain Ina, however, and Hamish is stumped.

When the truth is finally revealed, Hamish is shocked and horrified. Hamish had hoped that the killer wasn't a villager, but that turns out to be the case. Tilly, Ina's friend and next door neighbor, was responsible for all four murders. Both Tilly and Ina had been beating their husbands to keep them in line. Their husbands had, out of shame, never told anyone, and they had been raised not to hit women, so they didn't fight back. Tilly killed Catriona because her husband had disobeyed her and gone to see her. Tilly then killed Ina because Ina felt that she should tell the police about the murder. She killed Fiona because she found out Ina's husband had been going to her, and she killed the fourth woman because she was afraid she really did know something.

On the more personal side of things, Hamish has lots of women issues, as usual. This time around, there's a new woman in town, Lesley Seaton, who's also the newest forensic investigator in the area. Hamish tries his luck with her, but things seem a bit hot and cold with her. What Hamish doesn't quite realize at first is that Lesley thinks he's good-looking, but, like the other women in his life, she doesn't think he's ambitious enough. She thinks she can change him, and it takes a while for her to realize that's unlikely to happen. Meanwhile, Priscilla and Elspeth show up, inciting Lesley's jealousy. Hamish is jealous as well when it seems as though both Priscilla and Elspeth have developed an interest in Perry, an extremely good-looking new reporter.

In the end, Hamish realizes that Lesley only wants the him she thinks she can turn him into. After Perry mistakenly comes to the conclusion that Hamish is trying to hit on him, Elspeth and Priscilla both realize that the man they'd been fawning over is actually gay. Not only that, Perry turns out to be an unethical reporter - he writes an article that makes it seem like no one has any sex in Lochdubh at all and claims that may be the reason for all the recent murders. Elspeth digs up proof that his various quotes were taken out of context, Perry is fired, and the villagers are all monetarily compensated for the embarrassment the article caused.

Oh, and also, Hamish deals with a couple poachers. Actually, it'd be more accurate to say they deal with themselves - one of them accidentally kills the other, and then the remaining poacher falls to his death from the helicopter that was going to take him away.

Things do end relatively happily for Hamish, though. Hamish's mother shows up and gifts him with another trip to Spain, this time supplied by an olive oil company because of a slogan she wrote. Reluctantly, Hamish takes this second vacation, sure it will be as horrible as the one he took before the start of this book. The olive oil company doesn't give him much time to himself, and he's forced to pretend that he was the one who wrote the winning slogan. When it finally seems as though Hamish might get some female company his own age, one of the elderly ladies who took up all his time during his previous vacation finds him and ruins things. It's not until the vacation is nearly over when he meets Caroline, a Welsh woman, that things get fun for him. The book ends with Hamish probably finally getting lucky while on vacation. I have no idea if Caroline will show up in any future books.

Commentary:

For a cozy, this book revealed an awfully dark side of the village - I don't think I've read a single Hamish Macbeth book yet where the murderer was actually a villager. Husband beating is something I don't see mentioned a lot in books in general, much less cozy mysteries (if I'm wrong about classifying this series as a "cozy mystery series", do let me know). And widespread, secret prostitution on Hamish's beat...? Wow.

Hamish really isn't lucky with women - all of them sneer at his love for his pets, and everyone either wants him to loosen up about them or wants to completely change him. No one likes that he just wants to stay in Lochdubh, living just the way he always has. I did like that he finally explained what made him want to become a Lochdubh police officer, and this is the first book I've read that had his mom in it. I began this series very late and have yet to read most of the earlier books, so, while none of this may have been new to long-time readers of this series, it was new to me.

Speaking of new things, I wonder if Caroline will show up in any future books? I doubt he'll have more luck with her than with any of the others, and I'm thinking she's probably just a one night stand, but it's possible. She could shake things up a bit in his love life - things are getting a bit old with Elspeth and Priscilla. The whole "on again, off again" thing can be fun for a bit, but that's all that ever seems to happen between Hamish and either Elspeth or Priscilla. I don't know that I necessarily am wishing for him to end up with Caroline, but I wouldn't mind something new cropping up to complicate Hamish's love life, if he's going to continue not choosing between Elspeth and Priscilla.

I was really surprised that there wasn't more about Blair's new wife - also, it seems that Blair is actually kind of happy in his new marriage. She tries to get him to be healthier (eat better, quit drinking alcohol), and he tries to avoid her nagging, like any husband. Maybe Blair will settle into marriage better than I thought he would, considering that he didn't get married by choice.

Overall, it's a very twisty and interesting mystery, and I had fun trying to figure out why Ina was involved in all of this, although this isn't really the kind of mystery where the reader should be able to figure out the murderer - not enough information is given. With this series, it's the characters and the location that are the draw, as well as the humor. I do wonder, though, if Hamish will be able to look at the villagers the same way from now on, knowing what sorts of things might be hiding underneath the surface?

My read-alikes list is lazy - it's the same thing I used for the previous M.C. Beaton book I wrote about.

Read-alikes:
  • The Quiche of Death (book) by M. C. Beaton - This is the first in Beaton's Agatha Raisin series. Agatha Raisin has decided to retire from her London public relations job and live a quiet life in the Cotswold village of Carsely. Hoping to gain acceptance from the villagers, Agatha enters a local bake-off, undeterred by her inability to cook or bake. When Agatha's quiche turns out to be poisoned and kills the bake-off judge, she's determined to prove on her own that the judge was murdered (by someone other than her) in order to avoid having to admit that the quiche was store-bought. I know, it's cheating, suggesting a book by the same author. Still, if you like the village atmosphere in Death of a Gentle Lady, you might want to try this series.
  • Evans Above (book) by Rhys Bowen - This is the first book in Bowen's Constable Evans series. In this book, Evan Evans, a young, unattached North Wales police constable, becomes suspicious when two men die in separate mountain "accidents" on the same day and tries to convince his superiors that their deaths are connected and are the result of murder. The setting is a Welsh village rather than a Scottish one, and Evans is a newcomer to the village, but he deals with some of the same personal issues as Hamish, such as superiors who don’t trust his hunches and villagers who’d like to see him paired off with someone.
  • The Murder at the Vicarage (book) by Agatha Christie - Col. Protheroe, a generally disliked man, is found murdered, apparently shot in the back of the head while writing a note in the Vicar's study. The only problem is that this seems impossible - no one heard the shot, and no one saw anyone go near the study. It seems as though everyone had a motive for murdering Col. Protheroe, and several red herrings make things even more complicated. Those who liked Hamish's methods (using his insider status in the village and sensitive attention to how others react to his questioning to find out information that others could not) might like this book, also set in a small village.
  • The Cat Who Blew the Whistle (book) by Lillian Jackson Braun - This is actually the 17th book in the series, but, like the Hamish Macbeth series, you can start almost anywhere in the series and not be too confused. In this book, newspaper columnist Jim Qwilleran ("Qwill") and his mystery-solving Siamese Koko, are convinced that Floyd Trevelyan, the owner of a refurbished train that was supposed to become a new local attraction, did not leave town to escape prosecution for fraud and are determined to investigate. Meanwhile, Qwill also has cause to worry about his girlfriend Polly's health (I'm pretty sure she's his girlfriend, but correct me if I'm wrong). Fans of quirky characters, a quiet location (aside from all the murders), and Hamish’s soft spot for animals might want to try this.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Emma (manga, vol. 8) by Kaoru Mori

As far as I know, volume 7 is the end of the main story, but I had thought there was only going to be one volume of short stories involving characters of various minor-ness. Not so - there's a ninth and tenth volume, and there may be more to come that I'm unaware of.

I'm not listing any read-alikes for this one, in keeping with how I usually handle anthologies (which is basically what this is). Overall, it's nice, but only something I'd recommend to those who've read all of the main story and want to see more of some of the other characters. My favorite parts of the volume are Doug and Kelly's story and Eleanor's story - the other stories dealt with characters that were a tad too minor for my tastes.

"The Dream of the Crystal Palace" Synopsis:

The first story focuses on Kelly Stownar and her husband Doug, back when Doug was alive. Doug really wants to see the Great Exhibition - Shilling Day makes it more affordable for the masses, but a couple shillings is still a lot of money for Kelly and Doug (their food expenses are five or six shillings a week). Doug has been bringing his lunches to work in order to save up money, but even that won't save up enough fast enough. Kelly offers to sell their piano, but Doug won't hear of it. Besides, he likes hearing her play. He decides to no longer talk about the Great Exhibition at home and tells Kelly he's just going to forget about it. However, the idea has taken root in both their minds. When Doug gets the opportunity to earn a little extra money, he takes it, even though it means he has to work later. The job doesn't earn him quite enough, but then Kelly reveals her surprise - she's been saving up money, too! (By eating potatoes...) Between the two of them, they've managed to save up just enough for the Exhibition.

When the two of them go to the Exhibition, they're nearly overwhelmed by the sheer number of visitors, plus the cost of everything (souvenirs, people selling fish at the entrance, etc.). However, the wonder of the place clears all that from their heads. The Crystal Fountain, which played such a big part in Emma's story, is the first thing they see. They visit areas with beautiful jewelry, statues, amazing machinery, delicate china, fountains of perfume, colorful stained glass, and more.

They don't have much money left over after paying the entrance fee, but Doug convinces Kelly they should get a souvenir - in his words, it's "a once in a lifetime opportunity." Kelly picks out a thimble with the Crystal Palace on it. Years later, Emma finds it for her and Mrs. Stownar takes a moment to remember the event and her good memories of Doug, who became ill and passed away only a year afterwards. As she sits there thinking about this, Emma goes out to meet Will (which you'd only know if you read the original series) - I think she and Will might be going off to the Crystal Palace at this point.

Commentary:

This is so sweet. Kelly and Doug were married for such a short time, but everything Mori shows us about their marriage is good, the kind of stuff that makes you smile and warms your heart. Kelly and Doug are perfect together - Kelly always looks so cool and collected, and Doug is so overflowing with cheerfulness that he just doesn't care. He makes her blush several times with his openness, kissing her hard on the lips when she shows him the money she saved up, commenting that she looks better naked than the statues they see at the exhibition (making her blush, because others can hear him). He's so sweet, it's easy to see why she fell in love with him.

Another thing I liked about this story was the reference to Kelly's necklace. At one point in the exhibition, Kelly is smiling over a necklace, and Doug comments that she must want one. Kelly thinks these are a bit too exquisite, so Doug asks her if she'd like something more down-to-earth. She agrees with him, in an offhand way, that she'd be happy if she were given something like that - readers who've read the other volumes know that, before he died, Doug did manage to give her such a necklace, and she treasured it.

One last thought - maybe it's just me, but Doug looks an awful lot like William. I wonder if she ever looked at William and thought of Doug? The two are kind of similar in behavior (William also keeps wanting to give Emma gifts, although he's got quite a bit more money at his disposal in order to do so).

For those of you who like Al, he makes a few brief appearances. His gruff behavior over the things Doug does for Kelly always amuses me. I love seeing him young. I love seeing Kelly young - she's so pretty when she smiles and blushes a little. I think, of all the things in the exhibition, the stained glass gallery appealed to her the most.

"Brighton by the Sea" Synopsis:

Although embarrassed about how she looks in her bathing outfit (I can't call it a swimsuit, it looks too much like a dress), Eleanor goes for a swim. Unfortunately, when it starts to rain she can't find her maid or the cabana they rented. She starts to enter a cabana, but it's the wrong one, and there's a man inside getting dressed. Upset and embarrassed, Eleanor tries to go but ends up falling into the water. The handsome young man, whose name we later learn is Ernest Liebe, helps Eleanor find her maid.

Ernest goes home, late for his appointment with his tutor. Actually, he's already finished all his work, and it doesn't really seem as though he even needs a tutor, but apparently his grandfather worries about him. In order to make sure that he's known in society, Ernest is also supposed to attend a soiree at Mrs. Lorraine's that evening. It's not something he looks forward to, but he finds that the evening holds a pleasant surprise - Eleanor arrives with her two sisters (both of them cool, elegant, and married). Ernest rushes over to her, and his uncle decides to encourage things by asking Eleanor's sisters if they'll allow him to speak to her for a bit. Amazingly (if you remember Monica, you know how amazingly), they do. Ernest does all right with Eleanor at first, but then he begins to talk about college - William Jones was apparently one of his friends in college at one point. Ernest has no idea that Eleanor had recently been engaged to William before he broke things off with her, and he's confused when Eleanor wants to stop talking and Monica, the overprotective sister, breaks in to take her away.

Later, Ernest figures things out when he overhears some women gossiping about Eleanor's broken engagement. He joins Eleanor at her table and Eleanor's maid finds an excuse to leave the two of them alone for a bit. Ernest asks Eleanor about all kinds of things he's heard she enjoys, before finally telling her that he condemns William Jones for what he did and had thought William was a better man than that. Eleanor stops him and tells him that the incident was as much her fault as anyone's - she was young and foolish and wanted to be loved and took his kindness the wrong way.

Eleanor, her sisters, and Ernest go for a ride - Eleanor seems to enjoy herself, and Monica shows surprising signs of loosening up towards Ernest. Eleanor's other sister asks Monica about this as Monica is drawing Eleanor - Monica, as usual, is adoring towards Eleanor. Her response is that she just wants Eleanor to be happy, and Ernest "seems to lift her spirits a bit." Ernest and Eleanor share a moment enjoying the beauty of their surroundings, under the watchful eyes of Eleanor's sisters.

Back at her home (or wherever it is she's staying), Eleanor talks with her maid about her outing and Ernest. Eleanor now has a bouquet of flowers (I'm guessing picked by Ernest while they were outside, and given to her). Eleanor's maid says Ernest is a "fine young man" and Eleanor says, with a soft smile, that she'd "like to become like Mr. Liebe." It suddenly occurs to Eleanor that she'd like a dress made of lighter material. When her maid asks if she'd like her to call a dressmaker, she says yes. Looks like Eleanor is ready to live her life again.

Commentary:

Ernest Liebe's name got me - "liebe" means "love" in German, so it's like his very name is proclaiming him to be Eleanor's new love. Although I came to somewhat dislike Eleanor in the anime, I mostly just pitied her in the manga, so it's nice that manga Eleanor seems to have found a nice, intelligent, good-looking guy.

I liked the little ways Eleanor's maid tries to encourage her new relationship, by shouting at Ernest not to go (Eleanor would've let him leave after the gossipers left) and letting Eleanor and Ernest have alone time. I do hope she gets someone for herself - just not that overly touchy-feely French guy. Anyway, I think Eleanor's found the guy for her, so I hope William won't have to feel guilty about her. William didn't exactly handle things well with Eleanor, but he never intended to hurt her - I'd like for there to be a happy ending for everyone.

Monica's reaction was a bit of a surprise. She's always been a bit like a dragon, where Eleanor's concerned - it's like all of the protectiveness and love that their parents should have had for their children is contained inside her and directed towards Eleanor. I figured, after Eleanor got her heart broken by William, Monica would become even more protective, but she actually seems to have mellowed out a bit.

"The Times" Synopsis:

This is actually a series of short snippets structured around ads and articles people are reading in The Times. The first is a snippet about poor children. A pair of them go to a well-to-do house - the maids ask if they can give them a bit of food, and the lady of the house (under the watchful eyes of her visiting friends) tells them they may - it makes her look charitable. A series of starving children are shown visiting the house - fans will recognize a young Emma getting a bowl of stew or something. The lady's friends comment of the charitable reputation she's getting - she doesn't mind that, but she hadn't known her maids were giving away so much behind her back. Rather than punishing them, she tells them to give the children food by the entryway from now on, rather than letting them inside, and she continues to reap the benefits of a reputation as a philanthropist.

The next snippet deals with Edna, who used to work at the Molders' household as part of the kitchen staff (she was the one who said "before food, everyone is equal"). She now does all the cooking at her own restaurant (or is it a hotel?), and she's making a name for herself. She perks up when a customer comes in and orders chestnut cream soup, fillet of sole, and quail pie - it's Mrs. Dallimore, the head cook from the Molders household, come to see how she's doing and what her cooking is like. It's a comfortable snippet - Edna's staff comment that she's putting a lot of effort into the meal, while she replies that she isn't putting in more effort than usual. Mrs. Dallimore eats the meal and insists on paying for it (that "everyone is equal before food" thing) - before she leaves, she makes a few comments about little things that could be improved in the meal, but it feels less like criticism and more like a teacher making sure that a favored student knows she still has room for improvement. The thing that brought Mrs. Dallimore there: an ad for the restaurant in The Times.

The next snippet deals with Eleanor's father's former mistress, who he tossed out after he caught her with another man. She's naked and chatting with an elderly man, her new... patron? Anyway, he asks her if she wants to go to France with him. He understands, although can't say he'd really like, that she may have other lovers on the side, but he's getting old - he'd like a companion, and he likes her. He offers to support her until he dies, and she can have whatever of his money is left when death comes for him. It's a sudden offer, but life with him is good, as good as it's been since the viscount dumped her. It seems like she'll probably go with him. She asks him why he'd want to do all this for her, he turns that question around - why would she want to stay with him? Her response - she likes his beard. In this snippet, The Times comes up because that's what the old man is reading while they talk.

All of the characters in these snippets are minor, but I could remember most of them. I cannot for the life of me remember who the character in the final snippet is. This snippet is a sweet exchange via the paper. Bayer, who works in a pub, has put out a brief column congratulating an "S.B." In the paper from the previous day was a column announcing the birth of a baby boy to Mr. Stephen Borrower of Rochester Solicitors and Mrs. Borrower. Bayer explains that he used to be a butler and Stephen Borrower was the son of the family he worked for. He doesn't know if Mr. Borrower will see his column, but in the next paper is a column with a thank you from Mr. Borrower.

The last few pages are sort of a "life cycle of The Times" thing, with various examples being discarded, left behind, drawn on, burned, etc.

Commentary:

This bit fits with the "everyday life" feel of the series. It has a nice feel, and there are some good moments here, but the characters that come up are very minor ones from the series - while it was nice, at times, to see some of these characters, this snippet was occasionally hard to follow and hard for me to connect with the series.

"With Family" Synopsis:

Tasha arrives home for a visit only to find that things have been moving along rather well without her. Everyone in her family is working and doing fabulously in their various jobs. Little Leo is working at Mr. Mullet's store as a shop assistant. Ned, who's even younger, raises chickens. Andy is a pageboy at a nearby mansion. Joseph, who I think is the oldest, may soon be getting married. Tasha is the next oldest besides Joseph, and it's strongly indicated that she should also be thinking about marriage, that she shouldn't want to be a maid forever.

However, compared to her family members, Tasha seems to be failing at everything. She keeps trying to prove that she's a good, responsible worker who can help out around the house as well as anyone, but she keeps breaking things or messing things up. No one in her family wants her to help them with their jobs or chores because of this. As far as marriage goes, there's no one Tasha's interested in, and there's no one interested in Tasha. Everyone in her family has goals for themselves. Ned wants to own a big store one day and, in order to achieve this goal, plans to move from raising chickens to raising cows. Leo may one day be adopted by the couple who owns the store he works in, so that he can inherit the store, since the elderly couple doesn't have an heir of their own. Andy hopes to become a footman one day and is proud of the snazzy uniform he gets to wear as a pageboy. Andy encourages Tasha, telling her that the maids at his mansion all want to become head housekeeper, but Tasha knows this is probably impossible. Little Nancy, who tries to care for her looks, says she wants to become an actress because she thinks she'll become a beautiful woman. When Tasha tells her their father will never allow it, she says she wants to be a typist (which would require special schooling). Tasha offers to help her find a job with the Molders, but Nancy doesn't think it's glamorous enough.

In the end, Tasha, who can't sleep, has a quiet talk with her mother. She says she heard that maids who stay on long enough can get a pension. She's not so sure about marriage, but she knows she likes the feeling of being part of a family that she gets at the Molders. Her mother wants her to be happy, although she'd also like her to have a family of her own. The next day, Tasha goes back to the Molders and is pleased that lots of the servants have questions for her and want her help - she thinks, "it's nice to have people rely on you" (although they don't really rely on her).

Commentary:

Tasha is a nice girl, but I don't think she'd last long in anyone's household but the Molders's - I think they keep her around because they kind of like her, and she hasn't yet broken anything too expensive. Although this wasn't really one of my favorite stories in this volume, it at least further fleshes out another character in the series. Even if you don't see much of them, all the characters in Emma have lives, hopes, and dreams outside the events of the series' main story. It's nice.

Extras:

There's an afterword, with the usual crazy short manga by Mori.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The status of my reading, near the end of my big work project

I'm basically done with the enormous record maintenance project at work - all the editing has been done (4ish hours of work), and now they just need to be imported back into our system (5-10 minutes a day, with me resisting the urge to load more than our system can handle). I think the importing part will be done on Sunday. Yay!

In the meantime, I've been reading a book that has not grabbed my attention so thoroughly that I felt the need to skimp on things like sleep: James Patterson's When the Wind Blows. I figured that, since I read The Angel Experiment, I might as well read the book that inspired his Maximum Ride series. The Angel Experiment had some serious flaws, but When the Wind Blows is just plain awful: choppy, clunky writing, no real excitement (no, adding exclamation points and italicizing whole sentences does not equal excitement and suspense, Mr. Patterson), and characters who don't feel very much like real people. I wonder, if I read the two books back to back, would The Angel Experiment seem like fine literature in comparison? Anyway, I've remembered to put little sticky notes at certain spots so that I've got examples to talk about when I finally get around to writing what I'm sure will be one giant rant. It should be fun.

I've slowed down considerably on A Study in Scarlet, mainly because I own it, and therefore it has no due date. I've ground to a halt on Pattern Recognition, because it's been more than I could handle lately. Maybe once I finish When the Wind Blows I'll get into it again, in order to revive the brain cells that Patterson's book tried to kill.
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