Saturday, April 24, 2010

Freud for Beginners (non-fiction graphic novel) by Richard Appignanesi & Oscar Zarate

I don't think it's actually correct to call this a graphic novel, but comic strip book doesn't seem appropriate either, and "comic format" seems a bit awkward. So, lacking something better, I'm calling it a graphic novel. I read this as part of a project to read all the graphic novels and comic strip collections that the library I work at has in its collection - I'm hoping to do a little marketing via our blog and a few other places to encourage their circulation. If they start circulating better, I might be able to justify asking our Acquisitions Librarian to buy a few more graphic novels classics (we have Maus and Persepolis, but our collection is so small that I'm sure we're missing other well-known titles) and educational titles (like The Stuff of Life and Freud for Beginners). There really are graphic novels and comic strip collections out there for every kind of library.

Freud for Beginners was something I never even realized existed. This being a book about Freud, there were occasionally images that made me want to cry, "Gah! My eyes!", but, overall, it was an interesting, quick read that I would probably have appreciated even more if I had needed a review of Freud's theories and life. As it was, I enjoyed it even though it's been more than 7 years since my Intro to Psychology class.

Synopsis:

This book covers Freud's life, from his birth to his death. It shows how he came up with his various beliefs and theories, and how events in his life and things he learned caused him to modify and add to those theories. In certain instances, Freud's theories and discoveries are laid out clearly in small blocks of text, often making good use of lists, but the bulk of the book uses images (some of which are either based on or taken straight from other sources, if I'm not mistaken - I recognized imagery from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, although I'm not sure where most of the other stuff came from) and short comics. Occasionally, some of Freud's more famous cases, such as the Rat Man, are covered in more depth.

Commentary:

I have to admit, this is a much more interesting introduction to Freud and his ideas than I remember getting in my Intro to Psychology textbook in college. The authors not only clearly state Freud's ideas, they also put them into the context of his life and times, allowing readers to see how and why his ideas evolved. The only complaint/concern I have is that this book is in no way critical of Freud's ideas - Freud and his theories are presented completely, sympathetically as the truth as Freud saw it. Although the book mentions his fall-outs and disputes with some of his followers, particularly Jung, there isn't a whole lot of detail about the particulars of these disputes. Since this is such a short book, I guess you can't expect the writers to cover everything, however - just keep in mind that some things are left out.

One major concern for librarians thinking about buying this for their collections is the imagery - this book is about Freud, remember? Although the imagery could be worse - because so many of them are cartoony, they tend to be more amusingly crude than disturbing - I can still imagine this book making some parents mad if it were bought for a public library's young adult collection. I think it's perfect for academic libraries with introductory psychology courses, though, and the occasional anthropormorphized penises, drawings of vaginas, drawings and reproductions of paintings with sex, breasts, and penises, and the giant pile of poop (pg. 79, "The Anal Stage") might actually be a selling point for some students. The drawing on pg. 92 frightens me a little, though. ::shudder::

A nice feature of this book is the short dictionary at the end that explains various terms used in psychoanalysis - this would be particularly helpful as a reference to students reading this book, because, unfortunately, there is no index. Readers may also appreciate the recommended reading lists at the end of the book - one section covers books by Freud, including the helpful suggestion not to start with An Outline of Psychoanalysis, another section covers books about Freud, and a third section covers books that will help readers further their understanding of psychoanalysis and what others have said about it and in relation to it.

So, overall, I think this is probably a great introduction to Freud and his theories. It's not exactly a balanced look at his ideas, but, for balance, readers could look for books by and about some of the people with whom Freud had disputes.

I wasn't really sure if I should include a read-alike list for this - I mean, what can I say? If you want more books about Freud, get more books about Freud. If you want more educational graphic novels, you might want to try other books in the same series, like Darwin for Beginners, or Marx for Beginners. Ah well, I'll write up a little list anyway.

Read-alikes:
  • Freud for Beginners (non-fiction graphic novel) by Richard Osborne and Maurice Mechan - Wow, who'd have thought there'd be more than one comic-format introduction to Freud? From the sounds of things, this is not quite as thorough as Appignanesi and Zarate's book, but it's another option for those looking for more in the same format on the same topic.
  • Freud: A Very Short Introduction (non-fiction book) by Anthony Storr - Another short introduction to Freud and his theories. I haven't read this book, but I've read others in the Very Short Introductions series, and I've usually found them to be pretty good - although I don't remember any of them being nearly as interesting to me as a graphic novel. However, this book may provide readers with slightly more details than Freud for Beginners. At the very least, there's an index.
  • Psychology: A Graphic Guide to Your Mind and Behaviour (non-fiction graphic novel) by Nigel Benson - Calling this a graphic novel is probably a bit much - this seems to be even less a "graphic novel" than Freud for Beginners, although "comic format" would probably be appropriate. Like Freud for Beginners, this book takes concepts that might otherwise be difficult to process and makes them go down a bit easier with plenty of images and comics. Those who'd like a broader view of psychology than just Freud might want to try this.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Actual plans tomorrow

Just like last year, I'm going to be acting as a grader for a spelling contest. I think that'll take up a good chunk of my day tomorrow, but, through the magic of scheduled posts, there will still be a post tomorrow. Look forward to an example of the weirdness that can be found in educational graphic novels.

Now, I'm off to bed so that I can wake up super early and hopefully get my grocery shopping done before all the grading stuff happens. I'm still trying to decide if I want to buy stuff for a new kind of pie, a pie I've already made before, or a new kind of bread. It's a toss-up between lemon meringue pie (I will not let meringue defeat me!) and pepperoni bread. I made brown sugar pie last week - incredibly good (it tasted a bit like cookie dough), but horribly bad for you. The thing was basically brown sugar and butter in a crust, with a couple other ingredients added to the mix - actually, in terms of ingredients it's kind of similar to the chess pies I was gagging about a while back. Plus, I have a chocolate chess pie recipe that's fairly good-tasting. With all of these, I just have to not think about what I'm putting into my system, and I'm good to go. Seriously, we're talking about 1 cup of something that's bad for you (sugar, butter) in every pie. It's a good thing I walk to and from work and brush my teeth twice a day. I should probably find myself a different pie recipe book to work from.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A sign that Hell is freezing over?

The other day I was browsing small publisher websites and thinking, "I maybe need an e-book reader."

What?! No!

I'm still very e-book resistant. I like knowing that, if I've bought a stinker, I can sell it to a used bookstore and hopefully get something better. I like knowing I don't have to remember to recharge batteries, and there are never any worries about equipment breaking. If I spill something on a book, I'll, at most, only lose the book. If I were to somehow damage an e-book reader, I'd lose the ability to read all my e-books until I got a new reader - sure, I could probably read them on my computer, but that'd just suck. Also, I'm not too wild about the idea of my e-books eventually going the way of the files I still have stored on some floppies. And I'd like e-books to either offer nifty features print books can't offer, or I'd like them to be significantly cheaper than print books. And I'd like e-book readers to be much, much cheaper.

And I've had enough e-book converts try to tell me that e-books are way more awesome than print books and will kill off both print books and libraries that I kind of don't want to get an e-book reader just because all of that pisses me off.

So why did I have a moment of weakness? Turns out there's lots of fun-sounding stuff at those small publisher sites, and either the print versions of titles cost three times more than the e-book versions, or certain titles are only available as e-books. Ugh. Still resisting, but I'll have to see if I can scrape together the money for print versions of some of those books.

After School Nightmare (manga, vol. 9) by Setona Mizushiro

....

Once again, everything I thought I knew about what was going on in this series turns out to be wrong. This is one of those volumes that really needs to be read to be believed. Wow.

Synopsis:

Mashiro can't stop thinking about how Kurosaki, the upperclassman he admired so much, told him that he hates him. Meanwhile, in the dream class, Kurosaki is cowering away from the black knight, who has just killed the gossiping parasite girl. The black knight kills Kurosaki and Kureha. When the black knight finds Mashiro, Mashiro discovers that the black knight is not Sou, as he has always assumed, but rather Kurosaki. In the dream class, the black knight manages to fight back, brutally, against the people in his life who have made him act like something he isn't. Finally, there's only Mashiro left. Mashiro comes to the conclusion that all the different Kurosakis he's seen are all really just different sides of the same person and that being able to see this about Kurosaki means that he/she (Mashiro has the body of a girl in the dream class) must really love Kurosaki. Kurosaki's response is to rip open Mashiro's chest with his bear hands and rip out the key. After he finds the key (in a scene rather reminiscent of a rape scene), he gently kisses Mashiro on the lips, takes the key, and graduates. Mashiro wakes up with his special teacher looking down on him, telling him "good job," but all he can think, with tears in his eyes, is that he really needs to see Sou.

The first thing he does when he sees Sou is ask him why he lied about being the knight (apparently, he remembers this part of the dream, even though he probably no longer remembers Kurosaki). Sou explains that it was a convenient way for him to test Mashiro and see how ready Mashiro was to get involved with him. Sou explains part of his past. Although his sister was one of the most important people in the world to him, when they were children he believed that she abandoned him in favor of a puppy. Feeling rejected, he went off on his own and was awakened by his sister - the opposite of his sister. Rather than wearing a white dress, his new sister wore a black dress and promised never to leave him. No one else but Sou could see his new sister, and Sou chose to be with her rather than his real family, his real sister.

Sou assumed that one day he would grow out of his new sister, but he never seemed to, so he began searching for someone who loved him more than she did, so that he could leave her behind. Mashiro is shocked. Suddenly, a comment from Kureha about a blank note that upset Sou so much makes sense. Sou tells him that his sister Ai is right there in the room with them, even though Mashiro can't see her. Suddenly, Sou claims it was all a joke and leaves. Later, Mashiro sees a dog outside of school and stops to pet and hug it. Unfortunately, he is seen by Sou, who, in his mind, compares this scene to the time he believed his sister abandoned him for a puppy.

It turns out that Sou's sister Ai is really, really pissed. Sou skipped the dream class because he knew that Ai would try to kill Mashiro. Now, in the waking world, Ai pushes Sou off the dorm roof (to punish him for trying to protect Mashiro?). Mashiro is distraught when he goes to visit Sou and is upset with Ai, but Sou doesn't blame Ai for anything, admitting that his problems are a result of his own weaknesses. Mashiro tells Sou that he wants to talk to Ai at the next dream class. Although Sou knows that Ai may hurt Mashiro (there's a really creepy image of a silhoutte of Ai watching Sou and Mashiro through the window, a silhouette that only Sou can see), he has to be there - he can't miss another dream class, since he's already missed two. Mashiro kisses Sou goodnight, and I guess it's a date.

In the dream class, Mashiro is almost immediately stopped by what looks to be the black knight, even though the black knight has graduated. Kureha stops the imposter and tells Mashiro to go and find Sou. This new black knight turns out to be someone in the kendo club, who I guess must have looked up to Kurosaki's strength too.

Mashiro comes across Ai, who allows him to see what she says is Sou's true dream form, the sick, collapsed child he was when this new Ai first found and saved him so long ago. Ai believes she has won, but Mashiro calls for Sou, and the teddy bear Ai holds, that stands for her love for Sou, begins falling apart. Suddenly the scene changes to a broken, forked bridge. At one side of the fork, chained to a pole, is Ai. At the other, also chained to a pole, is Mashiro. The bridge is crumbling, and Sou must choose which one he will save.

Mashiro is crushed when Sou goes to Ai instead of him, and one of his beads breaks. Ai believes Sou has chosen to stay with her, but Sou's next words, "I take full responsibility," make her realize that Sou choosing her doesn't mean what she thinks it means. Sou hugs Ai to him and jumps off the crumbling bridge with her, so that he can hold her under the water and finally be free of her, free to find out for himself if someone really loves him.

In the waking world (I'm pretty sure it's the waking world), Sou finds out that his real sister Ai has died, apparently around the same time he killed the fake Ai in the dream class. At the funeral, Sou decides to forgive his mother for all the time she has spent concentrating on her career instead of her children, and he admits to himself that his sister probably never abandoned him, but was rather just being a child that he expected too much from at the time.

Meanwhile, Mashiro, who had passed out in the dream world under the weight of all that rejection, wakes up to discover that he has apparently fallen asleep in class in the waking world - except that this may not be the waking world. Sou is laughing, Kureha and Sou interact in little ways that indicate that they may be a couple, Kureha and Sou don't seem to know him like they used to, as though all the dream class stuff never happened, and, most amazingly of all, Mashiro is a girl, wearing a girl's uniform and addressed by classmates as a girl (Mashiro-san, rather than Mashiro-kun). What's going on?

Commentary:

The bit where Kurosaki rips open Mashiro's chest to get to the key is drawn and laid out a bit like a rape scene. What Kurosaki is actually doing isn't shown clearly, so the reader sees the sound effects ("thrust," "shove"), Kurosaki straddling Mashiro's body, and the sounds (Mashiro crying out in pain, and the wet sounds as Kurosaki digs around in his/her chest cavity). At the end, after he finds the key, Kurosaki gently kisses Mashiro and graduates. It's hard to watch, especially since it's clear from Kurosaki's expression that he feels nothing, while Mashiro feels pain - both physical and emotional, as the man he/she respects and thinks he/she loves rejects him/her again.

Kurosaki has graduated (into an ice cold bastard??), Sou took what I imagine was probably a huge step towards graduation, and Kureha could probably graduate at any time. The only one left, of the main characters, is Mashiro, who, despite Kureha's comment that he (that they both) have come a long way, seems hardly any different than he was when the series first started. He keeps looking for someone to love, and crumbling when he gets rejected. What he really wants is some kind of ideal person he can gravitate towards - a Kurosaki who, though not the perfect person he imagined, is at least someone who has that perfect person inside him, or a Sou that he can save from Ai and who would love him as completely as he once loved Ai. Basically, Mashiro kind of sucks. Grow, Mashiro, and become less of an idiot!

I'm proud of Sou for finally choosing to get beyond Ai. Holy crap, Ai was never real! This is like finding out that Bruce Willis is dead in The Sixth Sense (sorry if I ruined it for you, but the movie's been out for a while, so I figure it's fair game). What does it say about Sou that the sister he made up like some kind of imaginary friend is also his lover? Was there some kind of pent-up lust for his sister that could only come out when he made up a new one, or was Ai really a separate being, and this is how she chose to act and make Sou her own?

Another shocker - the black knight wasn't Sou?? Again, holy crap! The only indication I had that that was so was the previous volume, in which suits of armor were all around Kurosaki. It was so common to see Ai with the black knight that I had just figured that they were Sou and Ai, not Kurosaki and Ai with Sou inside. Nothing had prepared me for the possibility that Kurosaki could have multiple presences in the dream class. Now I kind of feel like I need to reread the earlier volumes in order to look at how Ai and the black knight interacted, so that I can see what's really going on and not what I think is going on. I suppose I'll have to see if I can get all the volumes of this series on the cheap sometime.

Extras:

There are a few author side panels, in which Setona Mizushiro talks about some of the early plans for this series, including a few drawings of characters and character personality descriptions.

My read-alikes and watch-alikes aren't anything new - if you've seen my posts for previous volumes in this series, you've already seen what's in this list.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Loveless (anime TV series); Loveless (manga) by Yun Kouga - Twelve-year-old Ritsuka's life isn't very normal - his older brother died not too long ago, his mother is physically abusive, and a strange 19-year-old man named Soubi has shown up, claiming to have known his brother. Soubi says he is Ritsuka's Fighter, while Ritsuka is a Sacrifice. Ritsuka slowly comes to understand what this means, as he learns to battle other Fighter-Sacrifice pairs who may be able to lead him to knowledge about his brother's death. Those who'd like another story with mystery, twisted relationships, and emotionally damaged characters might enjoy this title.
  • Xxxholic (manga) by CLAMP - Watanuki is a high school student who is plagued by the ability to see spirits. One day, he meets a woman named Yuuko who can help rid him of this ability. Anybody who receives her help must pay a fair price in return, so Watanuki becomes her cook, housekeeper, and errand boy for an undetermined amount of time. Until he has worked enough to earn her help, Watanuki will continue to have to deal with his abilities, which often come in handy when Yuuko gives him special errands to run. This series includes lots of mini-stories, as Yuuko deals with clients who need her special skills and knowledge. Sometimes things turn out well for the clients, and sometimes things end badly, and, due to these experiences, Watanuki gradually grows and changes. Those who'd like something else that's often strange, sometimes a little dark, and has a tendency to deal with characters who have secrets and personal issues they have to overcome might want to try this series.
  • The Sandman (graphic novel series) by Neil Gaiman - The first book is the series is called Preludes and Nocturnes. This series focuses mainly on Morpheus, the Sandman, a dark figure who watches over dreams and makes sure they stay separate from reality. Despite this, several of the stories in this series involve the blending of reality and dreams. Morpheus' various siblings make the occasional appearance, and they're fascinating as well. Those who'd like another character-focused series that deals with dreams might enjoy this title. The series often takes a look at aspects of human characters' lives and personalities and how these intersect and blend with their lives in the dreaming world.
  • Kare Kano (manga) by Masami Tsuda; His and Her Circumstances (anime TV series) - Yukino is a vain and greedy (albeit likable) girl who has spent years making herself seem like a perfect, elegant, and humble student, just so that she can be praised and loved by others. One day, Arima, a boy she views as a rival, sees beneath her mask and uses this knowledge to blackmail her into helping him out with his tremendous volume of work. Arima appears to be the real deal, a good-looking, perfect, and humble student, but he has his own secrets, some of which are far darker than Yukino's. As Yukino spends more time with him, she begins to fall in love with him and wants to help him deal with the darker parts of himself. Several of the characters in this series have secrets, hidden selves, and insecurities that may appeal to some fans of After School Nightmare. This title is most like After School Nightmare when it's at its darkest, but it does have a tendency to be lighter in tone than Mizushiro's series.
  • King of Thorn (manga) by Yuji Iwahara - A mysterious disease called Medusa is sweeping the world, slowly turning those afflicted with it into stone and shattering them into bits. A group of people with Medusa are chosen to be cryogenically frozen while scientists attempt to find a cure. Among them are Kasumi, a girl who had to leave her twin behind in order to join this group, Marco, a dangerous-looking man with secrets, a child, and others. The group is awakened too soon and find the island they're on to be overrun by thorny vegetation and monsters. They try to figure out what went wrong, where all the scientists are, and how to get off the island before Medusa claims their lives. They begin to discover each others' pasts and secrets and have to deal with their own dark sides. Those who'd like another somewhat dark story with plenty of weird happenings might enjoy this series.
  • Paranoia Agent (anime TV series) - A mysterious kid with a bent golden bat has been going around attacking people. Two detectives are investigating, so that they can stop this kid, dubbed Lil' Slugger. Lil' Slugger's actions sometimes reveal the (often strange) secrets and private lives of his victims. Those who'd like another weird and possibly paranormal mystery that is heavily character-focused may enjoy this series.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Mountains of stuff to watch and read, growing bigger all the time

After some baking failures today (my whole wheat bread collapsed and the meringue on my cinnamon sugar pie wept), I sat and contemplated all the books I own that I haven't read yet. There are many. Many, many. And I keep finding out about books that I didn't know were out, written by authors I really like. And my pile of DVDs that I own but haven't yet watched is enormous, which is kind of funny when you consider that, only a year and a half ago, I was desperate to get more DVDs because I was dealing with TV withdrawal and had watched everything I owned at least a couple times.

So much stuff to get through, and only a normal human lifespan in which to get through them. Plus, the list grows all the time. Right now, if I could choose to be immortal, I would, just so I could stand a chance of getting through my TBR and TBW piles. Of course, unless I was also filthy rich, I'm sure that work would still interfere with my ability to get through those darn piles. ::sigh:: No win, then.

But hey, I guess insurmountable TBR and TBW piles are better than not having any piles at all, right? :)

Btw, in TBR pile-related news, remember What the Librarian Did by Karina Bliss (post is forthcoming)? I found another librarian romance while browsing the shelves of yet another used bookstore - The Librarian's Passionate Knight by Cindy Gerard. You know I bought it, oh yes, terrible cover and all.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology (manga) by Masaharu Takemura, Sakura, and Becom Co., Ltd.

Back when I wrote my post on The Stuff of Life, I said I'd be reading this, and I did. I'm not really sure how I feel about it, though. This is probably a subjective thing, but the artwork in The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology seems cleaner, prettier, and less cluttered-feeling than the artwork in The Stuff of Life. Both books are basically giant biology-related infodumps made more interesting with characters and plot. However, The Stuff of Life's plot, such as it is, is more interesting than this book's plot. Plus, this book's infodump nature is even more obvious than The Stuff of Life's.

I don't think I can bring myself to ask our Acquisitions Librarian to buy this, not even to advance my super sneaky "more graphic novels and manga in the library" agenda (an agenda which is now on the back, back burner, due to hideous budget cuts). It's pretty and contains lots of information, but there are a few things about it that put me off. I think we'll probably be fine with just The Stuff of Life, although I do still plan on checking out other No Starch Press manga guides.

By the way, I had wondered whether this should really be called manga, or if it was actually OEL (Original English Language) manga. Silly me, I should have checked the title page verso (cataloger-speak for the page after the title page) - it says it's a translation of the Japanese original, which was published in 2008.

Synopsis:

Ami and Rin are going to fail their molecular biology class, and it doesn't help that they don't even bother to attend class. Professor Moro (or Dr. Moro), who teaches the class, has had enough. If they want to pass the course, they have to take his special mandatory make-up classes, which will be held on Dr. Moro's private island. Happily for Rin and Ami, Dr. Moro is busy with...something, so they'll be spending most of their time with Marcus, his cute assistant. That doesn't mean Dr. Moro is entirely absent, however - he takes great delight in scaring everyone with his sudden virtual appearances via giant video screens and more.

Since Rin and Ami haven't been attending class, they don't really know much. Marcus starts things off by teaching them about cells - what they are, their different parts, the different kinds of cells, etc. Then he talks about proteins, amino acids, genes, and DNA. That leads into DNA replication, cell division, proteins, transcription, RNA, tRNA, recombinant DNA, transgenic animals, gene therapy, and more.

Although Rin and Ami occasionally have trouble with some concepts, it's not long before things begin to make sense. The make-up classes, which are taught primarily via Dr. Moro's amazing virtual reality machine, are fun. They get to travel through a cell membrane in order to see all the organelles inside the cell. They get to watch a simplified version of what happens when alcohol is broken down inside the liver - think Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers vs. Drinkzilla. Don't worry, that part's accompanied by a slightly more complex and less silly explanation, but the silly version is still fun. Anyway, Rin and Ami get to experience molecular biology in an entertaining and memorable way.

Near the end, they discover the true reason why Dr. Moro was never physically around for these make-up classes. It turns out that he has some kind of incurable disease (much like the beings in The Stuff of Life, actually) and is dying. His only hope is that future generations of molecular biologists will discover the cure for his condition. Because it's possible that any student taking his Molecular Biology 101 course might one day become the molecular biologist responsible for finding the cure, Dr. Moro doesn't want even a single student to fall through the cracks. Now, as Dr. Moro prepares to use a cold sleep machine that he invented to wait out the time until a cure is found, Rin and Ami both tearfully promise that they will become doctors and find a cure. And, years later, they do (make sure to flip past the index!).

Commentary:

(If my commentary includes any factual errors, please forgive me - it's been a while since my last biology class. Feel free to correct me in a comment.)

Although this book is much thicker than The Stuff of Life, it somehow manages to feel like it has less information.

For instance, when this book uses alcohol as an example of what a specific kind of cell, a liver cell, can do, there is never an explanation of the "why." It's been a while since my high school and college biology courses, but I remember one of my teachers making sure to mention (probably as part of her mission to keep us all from participating in underage drinking) that the body considers alcohol a poison, which is why it's broken down inside the liver, an organ which includes detoxification among its many functions.

Sometimes information is left out (perhaps because the author wanted to keep things simple?). The book explains that males have an X and a Y chromosome and females have two X chromosomes, but there's no mention of people who have more than two sex chromosomes. In fact, there's little mention of what can go "wrong" during cell division, and how such things are even possible.

Sometimes important information is left out. I believe that the book's detailed illustration of cell division shows only meiosis, since the chromosomes don't double and seem to just divide. I don't think there's any mention of the two types of cell division, other than the mention that sex cells are different. There's another detailed depiction of cell division that's different (autosomal cell division), but why it's different isn't explained or even noted.

The book doesn't seem to cover why people fear transgenic animals (or plants) very well, although it does note the controversy over them. It mentions personalized medicine (tailoring your medical treatment to your known risk of diseases based on your genes) and all the good things about it, but it doesn't adequately cover the concerns people have about it. It mentions that gene therapy doesn't often work well, but it doesn't explain why, and it still makes gene therapy sound like a miracle cure. While it's true that introductory works like this can't cover everything, in my opinion the author glosses over controversial topics a bit too much.

Overall, the book has lots of information, pretty artwork (although the highlights in people's hair annoyed me a little, since they were always just dots, no matter the lighting), and an actual index. Unfortunately, it seems to cover the pros of new discoveries and technologies better than the cons, and the infodumps were so bad in some places that it wasn't much different than having a textbook (rather than being a manga straight through, it would sometimes change into a primarily text format, with floating character heads in the margins to indicate who's talking). Plus, Dr. Moro is a bit of a selfish jerk - I mean, he's probably not the only guy in the world with this disease, but I bet he's the only one with a cryo machine.

Read-alikes:
  • The Cartoon Guide to Genetics (graphic novel) by Larry Gonick and Mark Wheelis - Those who'd like to try another fun and interesting take on some of the same topics covered in The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology might want to try this. I've only seen a few sample pages, but it looks like calling this a graphic novel might be a bit of a stretch - it seems to be composed of short and not necessarily related cartoons - so, unlike The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology, no plot. Still, the short comics look amusing and would make for a similarly relatively painless way to learn biology-related topics.
  • Genetics for Dummies (non-fiction book) by Tara Rodden Robinson - Those who liked that The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology is less intimidating than textbooks on similar topics but would like more information might want to try this.
  • The Stuff of Life: A Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA (graphic novel) by Mark Schultz, illustrated by Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon - An alien from another planet visits our own in the hopes of discovering a way to cure a disease that is widespread on its own planet. In the process of trying to find a cure, it learns about things like pedigrees, genetic counselors, the various modes of inheritance, the Human Genome Project, the Cancer Genome Atlas, mutations, recombinant DNA technology, gene therapy, transgenic crops and animals, and cloning. Those who'd like another entertaining introduction to biology-related topics might want to try this.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Spoilers - What's better, hidden or not?

It's been a while since I've played around with fancy stuff on my blog ("fancy" meaning anything not automatically provided by default templates or the various options available in "Compose" mode). The last time I did anything interesting, I added a third column to a Blogger template and fiddled with column sizes.

Now I'm experimenting with a way to deal with the most spoiler-heavy portion of my posts, the synopsis section. I found a bit of code on another blog that can hide the entire synopsis section, or just a portion of the section, until you click on some text to reveal it - see this blog to try this out, since I haven't implemented any of it here yet (although I might, so you can see how the same thing would work, with a lot of the CSS stripped out or modified so that it blends better with the look of my template).

I tried this out on my test blog, and it worked perfectly. I'm still playing around with the CSS - I'm not sure exactly how I'd like this to look or how well I want it to blend in with the rest of the text in a post.

Right now it's all just playing. I haven't added any of it to this blog, and I'm not sure I will, because the question is: are the synopsis sections ok? Aside from their spoileryness (word invention fun!), they tend to be the longest parts of my posts - posts might look a little less daunting if those parts were invisible unless you clicked to reveal them. Still, I know some people come to this blog because it has spoilers. Also, really, I tend to write my posts on the assumption that people reading them will be ok with spoilers - my commentary sections aren't necessarily going to be any more spoiler-free than the synopses, so why bother hiding the synopses then?

::sigh:: What I really should do is mess with the color scheme. The default color scheme is boring, but, at the same time, I'm convinced that I'll create an eyesore if I mess with it. At least the cover images relieve all that whiteness...

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit - Complete Collection (anime TV series)

(I said I'd publish this post sometime this weekend, and now I have. Two posts in one week - and this one is very long, as I said it would be. If you haven't seen this show, skip the synopsis. I can't promise that the commentary won't spoil things for you, but at least you won't get a description of all the main events in the series.)

In a previous post, I mentioned that I got my copy of this series from Walmart - it's missing the production art booklet that the back of the box says it's supposed to have, and I never got around to trying to contact Anime Works about it (I'm not even sure how to contact them, since there appears to be no contact form, number, or address on the Media Blasters website...). It's too bad, because I imagine the production art is gorgeous.

My first exposure to this show was via Adultswim - I watched the first 3 or 4 episodes and then gave up, because I kept falling asleep during it. Granted, I had to stay up pretty late to see any of the shows I wanted to see on Adultswim (I remember one show that was on at 4 in the morning), but I even had trouble with this show during my first viewing of the DVDs.

Notice how I said "first viewing"? I've now watched the entire show twice, and the final DVD at least 5 times. I think part of my initial problems with this show stemmed from an assumption (Maybe based on Moribito commercials shown on Adultswim? Not sure...) that this was going to be a fast-paced, action-oriented show. Although it has some fairly awesome action and isn't as slow-paced as some shows, it turns out I was expecting it to be something it's not - and, once I got past my original expectations, I really liked this show.

Well, if I'm not careful, I'll start writing everything I wanted to say in the commentary. So, on to the synopsis...

Synopsis:

Balsa, a female bodyguard, returns to the city she left two years previously. All she wants is to see some old friends and get her spear fixed, but, after saving young Prince Chagum from drowning, she finds herself quickly caught up in court politics. It seems that Prince Chagum has been possessed by what is believed to be a water demon, and, in order to prevent the drought the water demon will cause, Chagum's father, the Mikado, had ordered him to be killed. So far, all attempts to kill Chagum, including the most recent near-drowning incident, have failed. Chagum's mother asks Balsa to take Chagum away and protect him for the rest of his life. It means Balsa may be on the run for the rest of her own life, and she almost refuses, but, in the end, she accepts the job. She has sworn an oath to save as many lives as were taken to protect her when she was a child: Chagum will be her eighth and final life.

In order to protect Chagum, Balsa must evade everyone the Mikado sends after her, including eight skilled hunters. Luckily, she has several friends she can count on: Toya and Saya, two orphan children Balsa saved from being sold as slaves, Tanda, a healer Balsa has known since they were both children, and Torogai, an elderly magic weaver. They help her teach Chagum how to blend in and act more like a commoner, and they help her figure out what's inside Chagum and how to deal with it.

It turns out it's a good thing Balsa prevented the Mikado and his eight hunters from killing Chagum, because the being inside Chagum isn't a water demon at all, but rather a being that, once hatched, makes the clouds that provide the land with rain. Once the people at the palace discover their error and learn that Chagum is still alive, they try to find him and get him back, but Balsa refuses to give him up - she, Torogai, and Tanda have learned something that the people at the palace don't know, that, when it's time for the egg to hatch, a being from Nayug (sort of a spirit world that exists symbiotically with Sagu, the world in which humans live) will come and rip Chagum apart. This appears to be the only way the being inside Chagum can be born, but, again, Balsa isn't just going to stand there and let Chagum die. By this point in the show, Chagum is more than just her eighth life, he's almost like her son.

When winter comes, Balsa, Chagum, and Tanda live together almost like two parents and their child. Chagum, who, after learning of his older brother Sagum's death, had begun to chafe at being in Balsa's care and away from his mother, finally learns about Balsa's childhood. When she was only 6 years old, Balsa had to flee her home country of Kanbal. The eight men sent to kill her were all friends and comrades of Jiguro, the man who, for reasons unknown to Balsa, had agreed to leave behind the good life he'd had in Kanbal in order to protect her. Jiguro taught Balsa to wield a spear, so that she could protect herself, and, at great personal cost, he eventually killed all eight men who were after her. Even though Jiguro tells Balsa to forget it, Balsa can't help but feel a great debt toward him. Jiguro has long since died, but Balsa still seeks to atone for the lives he was forced to take for her sake.

Chagum sees the similarities between his current situation and what Balsa and Jiguro went through, and, in fact, protecting Chagum has led Balsa to new realizations about Jiguro. Unfortunately, the peaceful family existence between Chagum, Balsa, and Tanda can't last forever - Spring is coming. Chagum finds himself drawn to a place everyone believes is the location where the egg will hatch.

By this point, the people from the palace (the eight warriors and Shuga, a star reader) have decided to work together with Balsa, Torogai, and Tanda, because they all want the same thing, for Chagum to survive. Shuga has learned that the monster that will attack Chagum is vulnerable to fire - unfortunately, the monster is also invisible and impossible to touch until it's almost too late. When the egg takes Chagum over and makes him run away, everyone assumes that Chagum is only trying to evade the monster until morning, when it's time for the egg to hatch. However, what the egg really had Chagum do was attract the monster - the true hatching place is elsewhere, and it's still necessary for the monster to rip Chagum apart in order for the egg to hatch.

After they learn how to interact with Nayug so that they can see and fight the monsters, the eight warriors and Balsa find themselves fighting a seemingly unending sea of monsters. Chagum, in pain and afraid the egg will die, wants them to just let the monsters get to him, but Balsa won't let that happen. In the end, Tanda arrives, having learned a spell from Torogai that allows him and Balsa to safely remove the egg from Chagum's body. The egg is carried away by a bird, and that's that.

Rather than getting to live the rest of his life with Tanda and Balsa, Chagum must now go back to the palace and become the new crown prince, since his brother has died. So as to preserve the country's mythology for the present and the future, Chagum must pretend that he alone is the hero who allowed the spirit within him to be born, even though he knows he wouldn't have survived without Balsa's help. Although he wants nothing more than to run away with Balsa, Chagum has grown up and knows what his duty is.

Commentary:

I can't wait to read the book this anime is based on, although my past experience with English translations of Japanese novels has not been good. I imagine I'll like the additional details the book will provide me with but, in the end, I'll probably prefer the anime to the book.

I was very pleased with how the subtitles were done for this show - a good thing, since the dubbing was less than stellar. First, I thought some of the casting decisions were very bad. Mona Marshall as Chagum was one of my least favorite, since something about her voice made Chagum seem more whiny than royal, and I hated Peter Doyle as Tanda because his voice came across to me as slightly dorky, rather than nice-guy-next-door sexy like Kouji Tsujitani's voice. Second, I think the dub translation lost some of the emotional impact, particularly the parent-child connection between Balsa and Chagum. Third, maybe it was just my DVDs, but there were some parts where the English dub was just plain awful, production-wise. During the bit where two of the eight warriors are visiting the swordsmith, a few of the English dub lines are almost impossible to hear, and there's a slight echoing quality to the swordsmith's voice. There are no such problems with the Japanese language track. As a result, I have only watched portions of this show in English - my two complete viewings of this show were both in Japanese. The subtitling is usually so good, though, that it was easy for me to forget I was reading off a screen.

During my first viewing of this show, for the first 9 episodes or so, I had the terrible feeling that I had wasted my money. I had hoped that my memories of this show being boring were the result of sleepy early morning viewing - I forget what time Adultswim showed this, but I think it was after all the other stuff I planned to see, so it was probably pretty late/early in the morning. Although there are some exciting scenes at the beginning of the series (Balsa saving Chagum from drowning, Balsa fighting the eight warriors), I just couldn't seem to stay interested.

Then came episode 10. In that episode, Balsa asks Toya, the orphan boy she saved, to show Chagum how to act more like the other boys in town. As part of the experience, Toya shows Chagum a gambling game, which Chagum quickly figures out is fixed. Using a combination of observation, intelligence, and guts, Chagum proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the game is fixed and manages to win back everyone's money. Maybe it's my love of shonen anime like Hikaru no Go and Naruto, but this episode really struck a chord with me. Suddenly, Chagum was no longer a slightly blah character who must constantly be protected by others, but rather a character who could believably one day become someone who could take care of himself, and I wanted to watch him grow. Once I began to like Chagum, I also began to like watching Chagum, Balsa, and Tanda become a little family, and I liked getting to see the hints of romance between Tanda and Balsa (romance fans, don't hope for too much, or you'll be sorely disappointed).

The main storyline is about Chagum and the egg, so, in my first viewing of the show, it felt like there was a lot of filler. It wasn't until I watched the show a second time that I realized that even the episodes that felt like filler contained information that laid the groundwork for later events and details. For instance, in one episode, Saya's soul ends up leaving her body because of a flower wine she drank and her own distress. Later on, Tanda realizes that certain flowers can allow Balsa and the warriors to interact with Nayug and protect Chagum. In one episode, there's a moment where Chagum stares at a bear cub for a long moment. A few episodes later, a bear cub also carrying an egg inside it is torn apart by a monster. I had originally thought he maybe saw himself and Balsa in the bear cub and its mother, or maybe he saw the bear cub as a sign of Spring, but now I wonder if it wasn't an unconscious part of him recognizing another being with an egg inside it. There's tons of other examples I could name. Even if episodes don't directly advance the plot, they develop the characters, their relationships, and the world they live in. Now that I can recognize that, I appreciate it - in fact, I can't help but want more, which is why I'm looking forward to getting to read the book.

This show had the feeling of something that would end with a tragic-but-noble death, so I was afraid to watch it all the way to the end the first time. I'm very glad that it ends happily, even though the way it ends may still annoy some people. I admit, a part of me wanted Balsa, Tanda, and Chagum to become a happy family together. However, Chagum would have had to abandon his duty for that to happen, and he had matured too much by the end of the series for that to be believable. The romance lover in me would have liked for something more to happen between Tanda and Balsa - it looks like they end up right back where they started, with Tanda waiting for Balsa, and Balsa not willing to settle down, although I like to believe that they'll somehow find a way to make a relationship work without Balsa having to abandon being a tough and skilled warrior.

Which brings me to my next comment. At first, it looks like this show falls into the same trap that some other stories with strong female main characters have - the female main character is kick-butt awesome, and the main male character is weak and boring, possibly so that the female main character will look even more awesome by comparison. However, instead of just making Balsa the strong one and Tanda the weak one, it turns out that they actually each just have their own strengths - Balsa is physically strong, protecting Chagum and others with her spear, and Tanda is spiritually strong, protecting Chagum and others with his knowledge of Nayug (even though he's not nearly as good as Torogai, it's him, and not Torogai, who figures out that the flowers will help Balsa and the others protect Chagum). Both Balsa and Tanda are intelligent, and, although Balsa may be less inclined to talk about her feelings, neither one of them are what I'd call emotionally stunted.

Ok, one more comment. One thing I realized during my second viewing of this series is that this series doesn't really have any villains. At the beginning, you might think that the Mikado, the eight warriors, and most of the star readers are the show's villains, but they're really only guilty of acting before fully researching the situation. Yes, they were trying to kill Chagum, but they thought that by doing so they'd save the land from a terrible drought. I had initially thought that Chagum really was possessed by a water demon, which would have made for a much more intense and probably depressing show, since a "good" ending would have been difficult - had Chagum lived, the land would have been plunged into a drought, and had he died, everyone would have mourned him and Balsa would have never saved her eighth life. With the way things actually turned out, there is really no villain, only nature. The only truly "bad" person Balsa encounters is the man from her past who threatened to kill innocent travelers if she didn't fight him - in the end, he's reduced to a pathetic shell who realizes he's beneath someone like Balsa's notice and can hardly remember what used to be driving him (I can't wait to read about this part in the book - does Balsa somehow now have a weapon that doesn't kill, but rather literally only "cuts the bonds of karma"?).

As you can probably tell from the length of my commentary section, I love this show. There's so much to think about and write about, I feel like I should probably be writing multiple posts instead of just one. Well, tough, you can deal with one long post.

Extras:

There's a textless opening and closing (the closing bores me, but the opening grew on me to the point that I now love it), several Japanese Moribito trailers, promo films (that's what they're called on the back of my DVD case, but they just look like more trailers to me), a press conference (which includes the novel's author, the Japanese voice actress for Balsa, the Japanese actor for Chagum, who I had not realized was really a child, the director, and the woman who sang the closing song), and a discussion panel (primarily the director and the novel's author). There are also lots of previews for other shows.

Again, my DVD case says there should also be a production art booklet, but there wasn't one, and there wasn't one in another case a Walmart employee opened for me. Either the back of my DVD case is wrong, or some or all of these boxed sets were accidentally packaged without production art booklets. I'm a little peeved that contact information for Anime Works/Media Blasters appears to be unavailable.

Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  • Graceling (book) by Kristin Cashore - When she was only 8 years old, Katsa learned that she is Graced with killing. By the time she is 16, Katsa is in control of her abilities and has become King Randa's tool for punishing those who disobey and defy him. However, what Randa doesn't know is that Katsa has formed a secret council designed to right wrongs perpetrated by the kings of all the kingdoms. After Katsa rescues the elderly Prince Tealiff, she finds herself working with Prince Tealiff's grandson, Po, to try to uncover the motive behind his kidnapping. Those who loved Balsa and the early episodes, in which Balsa and Chagum try to evade capture, may like Katsa and, in particular, the last half of this book, in which Katsa, like Balsa, must also try to protect a child in danger.
  • Ghost in the Shell (anime movie) - This movie takes place in a future where just about everyone has some sort of cybernetic implant, if not entirely cyberized bodies. Unfortunately, this leaves people vulnerable to brain-hacking. Section 9, a group of cybernetically enhanced cops, is called in to investigate a brain-hacker called The Puppetmaster. The sound effects and look of this movie are a little dated, in my opinion, but it's still an excellent movie (although it may require more than one viewing in order to figure out what's going on), and it's a great place to begin before trying any of the newer incarnations of this franchise. However, those who prefer something newer might want to try the anime TV series (I know there's an updated version of the original movie, but I haven't seen it yet, so I can't comment). Something about Balsa's character design reminded me of Motoko Kusanagi, one of the main characters in Ghost in the Shell - they're certainly both the same in their kick-butt toughness.
  • Rurouni Kenshin (manga) by Nobuhiro Watsuki; Rurouni Kenshin (anime TV series) - During the violent Bakumatsu era, the assassin known as Hitokiri Battousai paved the way for the Restoration, killing many. Years later, this man, now known as Rurouni Kenshin, has given up killing and chooses to wander from town to town. After he helps a woman named Kamiya Kaoru, his wandering life becomes more rooted, at least temporarily. Like Balsa, Kenshin is also willing to fight to help others but does whatever he can to avoid having to kill.
  • Princess Mononoke (anime movie) - While fighting to save his village from an attack by a demonic wild boar, Ashitaka is inflicted with a deadly curse that forces him to leave his village in search of a cure. He ends up in the middle of a war between the forest gods (including a girl raised by wolves, or maybe wolf gods) and a village determined to continue producing iron. This movie's setting feels similar to the one in Moribito, a sort of fantasy-filled past. Those who enjoyed Moribito's environmentalist elements and wished more had been done with them may like this movie, in which the environmentalist elements are much more pronounced.
  • The Twelve Kingdoms (anime TV series); The Twelve Kingdoms, Vol.1: Sea of Shadow (book) by Fuyumi Ono - I admit, I have yet to see the anime, although I own it and have read two of the books in the series (the books would probably also make good read-alikes, particularly the first one in the series, upon which it sounds like the anime is primarily based). In this series, an unhappy high school student from our world encounters a strange man who swears allegiance to her. The two of them are attacked by demon-like beasts, and the student ends up being transported to another world, one in which there seems to be no one she can trust. Somehow, she must survive and figure out why she was brought to this other world. Like Moribito, the setting feels almost like something from a historical anime/book, with enough fantasy elements mixed in to make it clear that it's not quite an Earth setting. Although the high school student, Yoko, doesn't start off very strong, she becomes stronger because she must. Those who liked the survival elements of Balsa and Chagum's story may like this series.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Men of the Otherworld (book, anthology) by Kelley Armstrong

Even though this is technically an anthology, it didn't really feel like one to me, probably because so much book is composed of just Clay's story, and probably because all three stories are interrelated in terms of characters. The men focused on in this anthology are Malcolm (Jeremy's father), Clay (basically raised by Jeremy), and Jeremy. If you haven't read any of Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld books, particularly the ones that focus on Elena, you'll probably miss a lot, if you don't end up completely confused. If you've read the books and loved Armstrong's werewolves, you'll probably love this book. It had never occurred to me that I might like to read something written from Clay's perspective, although, ever since Jeremy and Jamie became a couple, I've wanted to read something from Jeremy's perspective. Armstrong, as usual, does an awesome job.

Synopsis:

The first story, "Infusion," is Malcolm's story. It's brief, and deals with Jeremy's conception and birth. Malcolm isn't a nice guy. He has sex with a Japanese woman he thinks is attracted to him, because, even though he dislikes the idea of having a "halfbreed" child, even a half-Japanese baby is better than no baby at all. His world is very simple - only the strong deserve to survive, and the strongest are those who win the most battles. Being a manly man, he wants children to mold in his image, especially sons (as far as born werewolves go, only a werewolf's male children will become werewolves). Instead, he gets Jeremy, who, even at birth, unsettles Malcolm with his quietness and calm behavior. After Malcolm kills his son's mother and the woman's grandmother, Malcolm's father (who Malcolm views as a weakling) vows to take care of Jeremy.

The second story (is that even the right word?), "Savage," is from Clay's perspective. It shows how he became a werewolf (he invited a werewolf to bite him, in the hope of escaping his life with drunken parents who didn't care about him), how he was found by Jeremy, and how Jeremy raised him. Jeremy, serious and responsible despite his young age, is patient and does the best he can with Clay. He helps Clay relearn how to speak, control his Changes, and act more like a normal human boy. Jeremy isn't quite so successful with the last part, although he isn't really given enough time - if he can't teach Clay to blend in enough so that he won't pose a danger to the Pack, Clay will have to be killed. Unfortunately, although Clay is incredibly bright, he doesn't realize he shouldn't do things like dissect his kindergarten class's deceased pet guinea pig in order to figure out where its vital organs are. The Pack Alpha thankfully dismisses that incident - although humans might think Clay's behavior indicates a budding serial killer, he's done nothing that makes him seem other than human. In the end, however, Jeremy is forced to break one of his personal rules, never to kill a human, in order to protect Clay and the Pack after a lab technician at a hospital notices something strange about Clay's blood.

"Ascension" is also from Clay's perspective. Clay is now in high school, thinking about college. Jeremy has basically become the Pack's medic - he wanted to avoid, as much as possible, ever having to repeat the events at the hospital that ended the previous story. In the interest of learning how to become a better fighter, Clay accepts Malcolm's offer to teach him how to fight, and Jeremy allows it. Gradually, without Jeremy asking it of him (in fact, he probably would have asked him to stop), Clay begins doing what he can to make Jeremy's life easier. He accomplishes this mainly by becoming Jeremy's scary muscle. He kills mutts that stray into Jeremy's territory, so that there's no risk that Jeremy will have to kill them himself. Eventually, he gruesomely tortures a mutt, takes pictures, and has another mutt, a witness to what he's done, show the pictures to as many mutts as he can, thereby establishing his reputation as the scariest werewolf in the Pack.

There's one thing Clay can't do for Jeremy, however, and that is win the position of Pack Alpha for him. The Pack is fairly evenly split between those who support Malcolm and those who support Jeremy. Unfortunately for Jeremy, Malcolm doesn't fight fair. Those Pack members who could have broken the tie leave, in fear of their lives. Then Malcolm decides to try to kill Jeremy's supporters, or even Jeremy himself. He fails, however, and discovers to his shock that the bond he thought he'd managed to build over the years between himself and Clay was one-sided. Clay would have killed him then, but Jeremy doesn't allow it. Malcolm dies years later in a fight with some mutt.

"Kitsunegari," the final story, is from Jeremy's perspective. This story takes place after Jeremy and Jamie have become a couple: he's spending time with her in between interviews and shows. During one of Jamie's shows, Jeremy sees something strange. He follows a woman who looks like someone he recognizes, and his vision keeps playing tricks on him - he sees a forest instead of an alleyway, and he sees the person he thinks he knows turn into an unknown Japanese girl and also a fox. The young Japanese woman gets naked and offers herself to Jeremy, who refuses. Jamie steps in, and the woman leaves, pissed. Later, Jeremy discovers that Jamie has apparently been lured away by the woman and he goes after her. Jamie is fine, protected by the symbol she had tattooed on her ankle, a protective symbol that Jeremy has been unconsciously drawing for as long as he can remember. The woman from before is part of a whole group after Jeremy - they're kitsune, and Jeremy is the last of the Kogitsune. Female Kogitsune are expected to give kitsune a lifetime of service, while male Kogitsune are expected to be sex slaves and fathers of kitsune children. Jeremy manages to convince them that he has a son living somewhere else who would probably be happy to be their sex slave. Jamie knows better, and the two have a laugh after the kitsune women leave. Since Jamie's tattoo protected her, she figures it's time for Jeremy to get a tattoo of his own.

Commentary:

I loved this book. A lot. It gave me a powerful urge to reread Bitten, now that I can see Clay from a different perspective. I don't remember liking Clay very much when I read that book, and I think it's been a few years since I last read it. I never really noticed Jeremy much until he and Jamie got together, so I should actually probably reread all of the Women of the Otherworld books that feature the werewolves.

Malcolm's story didn't excite me all that much, beyond the intriguing mystery of Jeremy's mother. However, I loved Clay's part of the book. Reading about him and Jeremy together was lots of fun, even if, maybe especially because, Clay was such a wild child. I knew Jeremy was young when he found Clay, but Armstrong really managed to drive home how very young he was. Even though Jeremy always seemed to come across as a little older than he really was, his uncertainty did a perfect job of making him seem young. Under other circumstances, Clay would have seemed like a future serial killer, but his obvious love for Jeremy made up for that (well, depending upon your perspective, I guess). Everything he did, even the horrible things, was designed to make things better for Jeremy. The guinea pig thing was just...ugh. Oh, I also liked reading about Nick and Clay. I hadn't remembered that Clay and Nick were good friends, but I still liked reading about their friendship. Had everything just depended on Clay, I'm not sure their relationship would ever have gotten off the ground, but Nick was so unflaggingly nice that Clay couldn't help but be sucked in - so cute!

Jeremy's part of the book was the only part that felt like a traditional anthology story, rather than an excerpt from a book. I loved getting so see him and Jamie together, and getting to read about him being interested in, and slightly territorial over, Jamie. Nice.

I don't always include read-alike lists when I write about anthologies, but I decided to include a few read-alikes this time.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Darkly Dreaming Dexter (book) by Jeff Lindsay; Dexter (live action TV series) - Dexter and his whole family are cops, although he works as a technician specializing in blood spatter. Dexter is also a serial killer. Dexter's foster father realized what he was becoming when he was younger, taught him how to keep from getting caught, and taught him how to choose worthy victims (the bad guys that the legal system can't catch or keep). Dexter now has two lives, his life as a serial killer, and his life as a guy trying to look as ordinary and normal as possible. Those who most enjoyed the parts in which Clay tried to fake being a normal human being might want to try either the Lindsay's book, the first in a series, or the show (the first season is based on the first book).
  • Storm Front (book) by Jim Butcher - Harry Dresden is the only wizard in the phone book, probably because most of the world doesn't believe magic really exists. When he's not handling cases for his detective agency, he's helping the police out with weird cases. Storm Front is the first book in the series, and in this book Harry is helping the police out with a case in which a couple has had their hearts blown out of their chests. Unfortunately, trying to solve the case gets Harry in a lot of trouble, since it brings him too close to black magic. Those who'd like more urban fantasy from a male perspective might want to try this.
  • Wolf's Rain (anime TV series) - In the future, it is common knowledge that wolves have been extinct for a long time - however, this appears to be false, as some wolves still live and can occasionally take human form. Kiba, a lone wolf, is obsessed with the smell of Lunar Flowers, a scent which he believes will lead whoever follows it to paradise. The source of the scent is a girl named Cheza, who is kept in suspended animation in a lab. In order to keep Cheza safe and find paradise, Kiba and several other wolves band together and form a rough, shaky kind of friendship. Those who'd like something else in which characters display an uneasy mix of human and wolf behavior might want to try this.
  • The Witching Hour (book) by Anne Rice - This book follows a family of witches through several generations, a family that is haunted by its beginning and by its terrible twistedness (which leads, at times, to murder, incest, and other ugly things). Those who'd like another multi-generational supernatural story might enjoy this, although Rice's writing style and tone otherwise have nothing in common with Armstrong's.
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