Saturday, December 29, 2012

Helen (live action movie), via Netflix

Helen is an understated drama. Very, very understated.

This post includes some spoilers.

Synopsis:

When 18-year-old Joy goes missing, the police decide to film a reconstruction of her last moments. They plan on showing it on TV in the hopes of jogging people's memories. Out of several volunteers, they select Helen, a girl who attended Joy's school, as the best stand-in for Joy.

I'm not sure if the police ever actually do the reconstruction, but they do walk Helen through what she'll be doing. All she'll really have to do is wear the clothes Joy was wearing, including a bright yellow jacket, and walk where they tell her to walk. Helen goes further, however, visiting Joy's parents after they invite her over with a promise of helping her with her math studies (Joy was good at math), looking around Joy's house, and getting to know Joy's boyfriend.

Eventually, Helen, who lives in a care home (foster care? some sort of orphanage-like institution?), decides that she would like to know more about herself.

Review:

This movie does not end in a satisfying way. There is no payoff. All those many quiet scenes did not culminate in anything I could comfortably call an ending.

Alphas, Season 1 (live action TV series), via Netflix

Alphas is a science fiction series. The first season is 11 episodes long.

Synopsis:

Psychologist Lee Rosen leads a small team composed of what he refers to as "Alphas." Alphas are people with enhanced abilities. Gary, who has been diagnosed with high-functioning autism, can read electromagnetic wavelengths with the power of his mind - this means he can access security cameras, cell phones, and more without even touching them. Bill is a suspended FBI agent whose "fight or flight" response triggers enhanced strength. Rachel can enhance or shut down any of her senses, basically making her the team's walking crime lab. Nina can, via eye contact, override others' willpower and make them do whatever she wants. Cameron, who becomes the group's newest member, has enhanced hand-eye coordination, balance, and motor skills.

The group works to find and stop dangerous Alphas before the public can become aware of them and their abilities. As the season progresses, they begin to wonder if they're doing the right thing. The government they work for seems to be willing to do whatever they please to Alphas, even the Alphas in Rosen's group. However, Red Flag, a group of Alphas resistant to being shut down and labeled by regular people, doesn't seem to be much better.

Review:

Alphas gets a “meh” from me. It wasn't bad, but I kept being reminded of other, better works. Also, those who get twitchy about lots of science-y hand-waving being used to explain superpowers should probably stay away from this show. I think I flinched when I realized that Rachel's ability to enhance her senses allowed her to see at a microscopic level. And I flinched again when it seemed as if the show's writers forgot that, in the first episode at least, enhancing one of her senses meant her other senses no longer worked – that drawback quietly disappeared in later episodes.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Stepford Wives (live action movie), via Netflix

The Stepford Wives (2004) is a dark comedy.

I haven't seen the original 1975 version, but I somehow already knew what the "Stepford wives" were. I think maybe my mom told me when we were talking about the newer version after it first came out?

This review contains SPOILERS. Read at your own risk.

Synopsis:

Joanna, a successful TV network president, has a nervous breakdown after being fired from her job. Her husband, Walter, quits his position as vice president at the network and tells her they're going to settle down in a nice, quiet community in Connecticut called Stepford.

Although Walter seems to fit right in, Joanna is a little horrified by Stepford. All the wives are perky, perfect, and brainless. They're completely devoted to their husbands and children and enjoy doing housework. It's all radically different from what Joanna is used to. She feels a little better when she meets a couple friends - Bobbie, a brash novelist, and Roger, a flamboyant gay man - but her rocky marriage makes her wonder if maybe she shouldn't give the Stepford way of life a try.

Joanna soon realizes that things aren't quite right in Stepford, but will she be too late to save Roger, Bobbie, and herself from being turned into creepily perfect Stepford spouses?

Review:

Every time I saw this movie in stores, I was tempted to get it, but I always passed it by, figuring it wasn't going to be something I'd want to rewatch. When I noticed that Netflix had it and that it would be removed from their catalog soon, I decided to finally give it a try. By the way, one of several things I already like about Netflix over Crunchyroll is that you can see when something is due to expire just by scrolling through your queue online. Now if only Netflix had a less pathetic collection of anime...

Okay, back to The Stepford Wives. I'm not sure what, exactly, this movie was going for. Joanna's “women are better than men” behavior and thinking was over-the-top. She was entirely career-minded, to the point that she barely saw her husband and children for over a year. Stepford was over-the-top, too, in the other direction, with gaggingly perfect wives who had no minds of their own and who acted  happy to be that way. I assumed that a happy ending, if there was one, was going to involve husbands and wives meeting each other halfway. If the actual ending was supposed to be seen by viewers as being a happy one, and I'm guessing it was, then I was wrong.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Eden of the East the Movie I: The King of Eden (anime movie), via Netflix

Eden of the East the Movie I: The King of Eden is a mystery/thriller set in an alternate history in which Japan was hit by several missiles in the recent past. The anime TV series, Eden of the East, set up the story, and this movie continues it.

Synopsis:

This movie takes place 6 months after the events of the Eden of the East TV series. Saki has spent the whole time searching for Takizawa, who disappeared shortly after saving Japan. She only has a few clues to go by: Takizawa's phone and a message from him saying that he'll meet her at their special place. Saki is convinced that their "special place" is in Washington, D.C., but new developments indicate she is probably wrong, and so she heads to New York instead.

Before disappearing, Takizawa ordered Juiz to turn him into a king. Then he had his own memory wiped. Juiz's method for fulfilling Takizawa's request to become king finally starts to become clear: she is slowly erasing Akira Takizawa's identity and replacing it with that of a new Akira, one who is supposedly the illegitimate son of the prime minister of Japan. Juiz seems to be aiming at having Akira become the prime minister's successor after he steps down.

Unfortunately, several other Selecao are still in play, and not all of them wish Takizawa well. One Selecao leaks information that links Takizawa's new identity as the prime minister's illegitimate son with his past actions dealing with the missiles that struck Japan, making the amnesiac Takizawa a very sought-after young man. Not even the help of Number 11 and Saki's friends at the now-successful Eden of the East project may be enough to save Takizawa and Saki and get them safely back to Japan.

Review:

I realize that there are a lot of people out there who are absolutely wild about this series, and I can see why. For once, we have a (nearly) contemporary-set anime starring young adults who are still trying to find their place in the world. No high school students who suddenly discover they have super powers. No fan-service moments every 5 minutes. Very little in the way of the usual anime cliches. The original TV series sets up a fairly solid mystery/thriller...which just happens to end before everything has been wrapped up. For those who were frustrated by that, watching the movies is the next natural step.

Terry Pratchett's Going Postal (live action TV series), via Netflix

Terry Pratchett's Going Postal is a 3-hour long fantasy TV series (miniseries?) based on Terry Pratchett's book. I've reviewed the audiobook version of Going Postal.

There are some slight spoilers in my post.

Synopsis:

Moist von Lipwig is a con man who finds his choices drastically reduced when he is captured and presented before Lord Vetinari. Faced with either certain death or becoming the new Postmaster and resurrecting Ankh-Morpork's postal service, Moist understandably chooses to become the new Postmaster. After a failed attempt to escape his new job, Moist gets to work and keeps an eye open for ways he might come out on top. One of the first things Moist does is learn what makes his two employees tick. To the elderly Tolliver Groat, the most important thing is being promoted. To Stanley, it's pins. Stanley is a very enthusiastic pin collector.

It's not long before Moist finds out that the fates of the previous Postmasters, and he begins to worry that the curse that got them will get him too, especially when the letters crammed into the Post Office start making him see visions of all the victims of the supposedly victim-less crimes he committed. Unfortunately for him, one of those victims turns out to be Adora Belle Dearheart, the woman he has fallen head-over-heels in love with.

Somehow, Moist has to get the postal service running smoothly again, deal with some truly cutthroat competition, actually deliver everything he promises, and convince Miss Dearheart to trust him again after she finds out the truth of what he did.

Review:

I had a lot of fun with this one, which is not to say it didn't have its issues. I do consider it to be better than the other Discworld adaptation I've seen, The Colour of Magic. Rincewind, the main character in that one, is probably my least favorite character in the entire Discworld series. Moist is so much more fun to watch than him.

Netflix

My parents decided to indulge my love of movies and TV shows by gifting me with a 3-month Netflix subscription. That means my viewing options have expanded a little, while my reading time has probably dropped like a rock. I had planned to plow through a couple thick books in my TBR pile during my break from work, and it looks like that's not going to happen. Maybe I'll at least start one of them?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Inu x Boku Secret Service, Season 1 (anime TV series), via Crunchyroll

Inu x Boku Secret Service (aka Inu x Boku SS) mixes comedy, romance, and the supernatural with a bit of drama. It's 12 episodes long and is based on a manga series.

There are some slight spoilers in this post.

Synopsis:

In the world of this series, there are certain families which are partially descended from supernatural beings. In each of these families there is one member who is a "throwback" - the blood of their supernatural ancestor runs more strongly in them than anyone else, and they are essentially a reincarnation of that ancestor. Ririchiyo is a throwback and has spent her whole life well-cared for, but unloved. Her parents do not view her as their child, and her family as a whole takes care of her primarily because legend has it that throwbacks bring their families prosperity.

Ririchiyo's defense mechanism against all of this has been to act like a haughty, stuck-up princess. Her prickly behavior is designed to keep others from getting too close and potentially hurting her, and yet she hates herself for hurting those around her. When she reaches high school age, she decides to live on her own at Maison de Ayakashi. Outwardly, Maison de Ayakashi is a home for the super-rich, with each resident rating a personal bodyguard. In reality, all the residents, including their Secret Service bodyguards, are descended from supernatural beings.

Ririchiyo intends to keep to herself, but this become impossible almost immediately. Despite not requesting one, she finds herself with a super-loyal bodyguard named Soushi, who asks that she make him her dog. No matter what she says to him, he smiles and stays by her side. As the series progresses, Ririchiyo makes friends and finds herself wishing to become closer to Soushi. Unfortunately, between her prickly-ness and his overly-formal behavior, becoming closer is not an easy task. An arranged marriage and darkness in Soushi's past complicate things further.

Review:

This is a tough review to write. On the one hand, I liked this series, a lot more than I expected to. On the other hand, aspects of it made me feel icky.

Kimi ni Todoke - From Me To You, Seasons 1-2 (anime TV series), via Crunchyroll

Kimi ni Todoke is a slice-of-life romance series. The first season is 25 episodes long, although I should note that, for some reason, Crunchyroll failed to include episode 16. From what I've read, episode 16 was just a recap episode with a bit of filler, so I don't mind not getting to see it. The second season is technically 13 episodes long, but episode 0 is a recap episode.

This post includes some spoilers.

Synopsis:

Season 1: Sawako is a gentle, sweet, naive girl who wants nothing more than to be friends with everyone in her class. Unfortunately, she bears a striking resemblance to Sadako, the creepy girl with long black hair in The Ring. Everyone in Sawako's class calls her Sadako, and the more she tries to connect with them, the more she creeps them out.

The only exception is Kazehaya, the most popular boy in Sawako's class. He goes out of his way to be nice to her, and he understands her when no one else seems to. Ayane and Chizuru decide to befriend Sawako as well, and Sawako finds herself overflowing with gratitude that she has met such nice people. Although Sawako eventually realizes that Ayane and Chizuru have grown to genuinely care for her, she continues to think that Kazehaya is only treating her as nicely as he does everyone else in their class. What she doesn't realize is that Kazehaya has a huge crush on her.

With Ayane and Chizuru's help, and the interference of a rival, Sawako finally recognizes that her feelings for Kazehya have grown from admiration into love.

Season 2: Once Sawako realizes her true feelings for Kazehaya, she finds it impossible to treat him normally. Kazehaya notices this and has no idea what it means or how to deal with it. Does Sawako no longer want to be around him? Is he bothering her? Kazehaya feels guilty as he realizes he's always done whatever he wants around Sawako and never taken into account her feelings (I disagree with this, but it's how he stated he felt). That never seemed to be a problem before, but now Sawako barely even looks at him or talks to him anymore.

Interference from a well-meaning-but-clueless classmate named Kenta only makes things worse. Kenta misunderstands a comment of Kazehaya's and tells Sawako that Kazehaya is in love with someone else. Kazehaya becomes more and more concerned that he's causing problems for Sawako. As the misunderstandings pile up, it seems like the rift between Kazehaya and Sawako will widen until nothing can bridge it.

Review:

When I first heard that NIS America had licensed this, I couldn't wait to get it on DVD. Then I learned that buying the whole series would set me back anywhere from $140 to $210. They looked like nice boxed sets, true, but that's still a lot of money, so I resigned myself to waiting, possibly forever, for a more affordable release. Then Crunchyroll announced that it had acquired the streaming rights to the series, and I thought to myself, “Hurray, a way to at least watch it without breaking the bank!”

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Fenton: The Loneliest Vampire (e-short story) by Kate Aaron

Fenton: The Loneliest Vampire is a m/m fantasy short story. It's 9,300 words long, which came out to 23 pages on my Nook, not counting the "here is some other stuff by the author" page at the end. This is work 1.5 in Aaron's Lost Realm series.

I'm not sure what counts as spoilers in a work this short, especially one that doesn't actually tell a story (more on that in my review). So, I'll just be safe and say my synopsis has spoilers.

Synopsis:

Ever since he was a child, Fenton knew he wasn't like everyone else. He wasn't interested in girls. Not only that, although he liked men, he didn't have any desire to have sex with them. This becomes a problem when he meets Alec. Although Fenton loves Alec, he feels no more desire to have sex with him than with anyone else. This puts a rift between the two men that only widens after their relationship is discovered and they're cast out of their village.

Eventually, Alec leaves Fenton for someone else. A distraught Fenton ends up in the arms of Kali, a vampire who swears he can give Fenton what he needs, desire demonstrated not through sex, but through blood drinking. However, even as a vampire by Kali's side, Fenton still doesn't feel he belongs. When Kali leaves him for someone else, it seems as though Fenton might be alone forever. Then he hears of Prince Skye, a fae so compassionate that he spared the vampire Azrael after finding him in the hands of a bunch of witches. For the first time in centuries, Fenton feels hope, and he is consumed with a need to meet Skye.

Review:

When I saw that this story and the next work in the series, Fire & Ice, were tagged “asexual,” I decided to give them a shot. I wanted to see how an asexual character would be handled. Since I hate reading series out of order, I bought the first work, Blood & Ash, as well. If you've been keeping track of my recent reviews, you already know I was disappointed by Blood & Ash. Fenton: The Loneliest Vampire (hereafter, FTLV) wasn't an improvement.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Blood & Ash (e-novella) by Kate Aaron

Blood & Ash a self-published erotic m/m fantasy novella, the first in Aaron's Lost Realm series. It's 34,000 words long, which came out to 115 pages on my Nook.

My synopsis is a little spoiler-y, but there isn't really all that much story to spoil.

Synopsis:

The fae are at war with a group of powerful witches that wants to have the fae Realm for their own use. While the King of the Fae and Prince Skye are off fighting the witches, Skye has left Azrael, a vampire, to protect his younger brother, Ash. Ash is instantly attracted to Azrael, and confused by that attraction - he's never heard of men being interested in other men before. Azrael comes on to Ash but then backs off, worried that his feelings for Ash might cause him to succumb to bloodlust.

When Ash is captured by the witches, Azrael frantically searches for him. Although they finally give into their feelings for each other, can their relationship last in the face of Ash's status as the prince of a people that distrusts vampires and that historically has only ever been heterosexual? (This question is not answered in Blood & Ash, by the way.)

Review:

I wanted to like this, I really did. I bought it because the other two works in the series, Fenton: The Loneliest Vampire and Fire & Ice, had aspects in their descriptions/tagging that appealed to me, and I hate reading series out of order. Taking a chance, I bought all three. Now I wish I hadn't. I can only hope that Aaron's writing improves as the series progresses.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Draykon (e-book) by Charlotte E. English

Draykon is a fantasy novel, the first in a series. I got it for free via Smashwords. On my Nook, it was 276 pages, not counting the glossary and excerpt for the next book in the series.

Synopsis:

Llandry, a young, painfully shy jeweler, becomes an overnight sensation after selling a few pieces of her "istore" jewelry. "Istore" is what Llandry called the strange jewels she found in a little cave, and now everyone wants some of it.

Apparently, someone is even willing to kill for istore. Llandry's customers start turning up dead, mauled by vicious whurthags, their istore jewelry stolen from them. One of the murdered people was a friend of Eva, a powerful summoner. While Llandry tries to keep her very last piece of istore safe, Eva works with a sorcerer to find and stop the murderer.

Review:

What initially attracted me to this book was its absolutely gorgeous cover, reasonably interesting-sounding description, and decent reviews. Unfortunately, it didn't work for me, and I ended up spending maybe two months slogging through it.

Friday, November 23, 2012

I'm on Goodreads now!

Just like the post title says, I'm on Goodreads now. Yup, I finally caved and got myself an account. I'm still figuring stuff out, but the statistical information alone makes me wish I'd gotten an account sooner. Plus, I love being able to easily compare my reading tastes to that of other users.

So far, I've only posted my most recent review. I've rated all the books I'd previously privately rated, which means everything I've read in the past year plus all of the e-books I've read. The only things I haven't included are audiobooks, since my ratings for those tend to be very influenced by my opinions about the reader(s). I may go back and add them anyway. I'm also considering retrospectively adding reviews to all those rated books.

Rat: How the World's Most Notorious Rodent Clawed Its Way to the Top (non-fiction book) by Jerry Langton

Rat: How the World's Most Notorious Rodent Clawed Its Way to the Top was one of my library checkouts. It's a non-fiction book.

Review:

I've been interested in rats for years, ever since an assignment in my undergraduate psychology class required me to train a rat to perform a series of tasks. Shortly after finishing that assignment, I got my first pet rat, and a year or two later I spent some time in Chicago, researching the city's rodent control program. When I spotted this book in the library, I decided to give it a shot. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a huge disappointment.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Day Break, The Complete Series (live action TV series)

Day Break could be classified as action, drama, a thriller, and possibly science fiction (tough to say). The DVD set I own contains all 13 episodes on 2 discs. I got it from a bargain bin, with no prior knowledge of what the show was about or how well it had been received. I figured the answer was probably "not well," since only 6 episodes were broadcast. I decided to give it a chance anyway, because sometimes good shows don't get decent treatment. Maybe Day Break was a secret gem that got stomped on by its network.

Synopsis:

Detective Brett Hopper wakes up after spending the night with his girlfriend, Rita Shelten, at her place. Rita heads off to work, and Brett begins going about his day, only to have a SWAT team capture him. It turns out he's been framed for the murder of Assistant D.A. Garza. That night, Hopper is forcibly removed from his prison cell and taken before a very bad man who seems to be behind everything that's going on. He tells Hopper that, if he doesn't confess to Garza's murder, everyone he loves will die. To prove that he is serious, the very bad man shows Hopper video footage of Rita being killed. The same thing will happen to Hopper's sister if he doesn't do as he's told.

The next day, Hopper wakes up in Rita's bed again. Rita is fine, and everything appears to be going exactly as it did yesterday morning. Hopper comes to the conclusion that he is somehow repeating that horrible day. As he keeps repeating that day, he tries to find out more about what's going on, protect those around him, and clear his name, figuring that, if he can fix everything, somehow time will start moving forward for him again.

Some of the other characters include:
  • Andrea Battle - Hopper's current partner. She's in trouble with Internal Affairs right now and also has some issues with Hopper.
  • Jennifer Mathis - Hopper's sister. She made many attempts to call him the night before the repeating day, but he never picked up.
  • Damien Ortiz - Hopper's informant, and a member of the Latin Disciples, a gang. The safe house Hopper put him in was ambushed on the night before the repeating day. He escaped, but now he'd like some answers from Hopper.
  • Chad Shelten - Rita's ex-husband, and Hopper's ex-partner. Chad thinks Hopper stole Rita from him, so his feelings for Hopper aren't exactly warm and fuzzy.
Review:

While interesting and watchable, Day Break had some very big, very basic problems that, I think, doomed it from the start. I'm not sure how anyone involved in its creation thought it would ever last more than one season.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Natsume's Book of Friends, Seasons 1-4 (anime TV series), via Crunchyroll

Natsume's Book of Friends (Natsume Yūjin-Chō) is a slice-of-life anime with lots of supernatural elements. Assuming the fourth season is the final one, this series is 52 episodes long. Crunchyroll is streaming the first three seasons here and the fourth season here.

Sorry for the long synopsis. Four seasons gave me a lot of material to cover, even though I did my best to avoid spoilers.

Synopsis:

When Natsume was very young, his father died, and he was sent to live with one distant relative after another. Everywhere he went, he was eventually called a liar, or teased for being strange, because he could see yōkai (various supernatural beings) that no one else could see. By the time Natsume was old enough for high school, he had almost given up on finding people who would accept him. Then the kind Fujiwaras took him in, and he inherited a book his grandmother, Reiko, left behind.

Reiko, like Natsume, could see spirits and was shunned by many humans. Whenever she came across any yōkai, she challenged them to a game or a fight. Whenever Reiko won, which was every single time, since she was pretty powerful, she made the yōkai write their names in her notebook. In theory, she could have used their names to call on those yōkai and force them to obey her, but she never did.

Rather than use the Book of Friends to turn yōkai into slaves, Natsume chooses instead to give the names back to their owners. Madara, a powerful yōkai, agrees to act as Natsume's bodyguard on the condition that he gets to have the Book of Friends and whatever names are left in it if Natsume dies. Because Madara usually takes the form of an adorable lucky cat, Natsume nicknames him Nyanko-sensei.

When Natsume gives a name back, he is usually able to see a little of its owner's past and how Reiko originally came to meet them. He is also occasionally able to see yōkai memories in his dreams. Although he had previously mostly been frightened and resentful of yōkai, now he begins to befriend some of them. His efforts to help various yōkai lead to him eventually befriending (or being befriended by?) several humans, including a boy who can detect spirits, although not nearly as well as Natsume, the class president, a girl who is a descendant of onmyōji, and an exorcist.

At one point, the series introduces an entire society of exorcists. The Matoba clan is composed of some of the most powerful ones. The head of the Matoba clan is very interested in recruiting Natsume, but his approach to dealing with yōkai (he believes in enslaving, killing, or exorcising them, not befriending them) is not something the much more gentle Natsume can get behind. The exorcists only take up a small portion of the series, however - most of the focus is on Natsume making both human and yōkai friends and gradually learning to trust and rely on them.

Review:

I've been finished with this series for some time now, but couldn't figure out how to word my review. While I'm still not sure I've adequately described how I feel about this series, it's time to finally get this out of my Draft section.

Pricks and Pragmatism (e-novella) by J.L. Merrow

Pricks and Pragmatism is published by Samhain Publishing and is included in their Gay Contemporary category. As far as I can tell, it's only available in e-format.

According to All Romance Ebooks, it's 25,581 words, which came out to 58 pages on my Nook, not counting the many pages of excerpts at the end.

Synopsis:

This story is told in the first person, from Luke's perspective. Ever since his father kicked him out of the house when he was 16, Luke has been staying with other people. As a poor student hoping to become a journalist one day, he doesn't have much money, so he pays for his places to stay by having sex with the people who let him stay with them. Some of the men are nicer than others, but the one thing they all have in common is that they all eventually ask him to leave. For them, Luke is good enough for sex, but nothing else.

Then one of Luke's past roomies hooks him up with Russell. Russell is different from anyone Luke has ever stayed with. He doesn't seem to want to have sex with Luke, even though he's gay and seems interested. He dresses badly, is a bit of a nerd, and doesn't have much of a social life. He's also really nice, and Luke finds himself growing to genuinely like the guy.

When Luke learns that Russell is a virgin, Russell's rejection of him finally starts to make sense. A great, sweet guy like Russell must be saving himself for someone special. And Luke, who puts out at the slightest opportunity, couldn't possibly be that "someone special," even if he's starting to wish he were.

Review:

I bought Pricks and Pragmatism a while back, after having seen it recommended by several people who liked authors I've enjoyed. I finally started reading it when I saw that Samhain was going to be releasing another one of Merrow's stories. I wanted to get an idea of whether I liked Merrow's work enough to take advantage of Samhain's “new release” sale price. Spoiler: Yes, I took advantage of the sale price.

Giant Killing (anime TV series), via Crunchyroll

Giant Killing is a 26-episode sports anime. In this case, the sport is soccer (aka football). Although this show is no longer streaming via Crunchyroll, it's still available via Hulu.

Synopsis:

East Tokyo United (ETU) has been doing badly for several years now in the Japanese professional soccer league. In a last ditch effort to turn things around, ETU's management hires Takeshi Tatsumi, a former ETU player, as the team's new coach. Tatsumi has spent the past three years in England, coaching an amateur soccer team to the point where it was able to go toe-to-toe against professional teams.

Although Tatsumi may be the coach ETU needs, ETU and many of its current fans won't accept him without a fuss. There's a bit of bad blood, due to Tatsumi having abandoned the team back when he was a player. Also, there are worries that Tatsumi's coaching methods will completely fracture what little cohesiveness and spirit the team possesses. Throughout it all, Tatsumi remains confident that he can turn the team around.

Review:

This wasn't originally in my queue, but when Crunchyroll announced that the show was going to be removed from their catalog, I decided to at least try it. I thought it was decent, but not necessarily the best sports anime I'd ever seen.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Black Rat (live action movie), via Crunchyroll

Black Rat is a Japanese horror movie. I'm sorry my first published post in a while is for something so bad. My only excuse is that I wasn't feeling well and felt like watching something that wouldn't take much thought and could be viewed in one sitting. This fit the bill.

Synopsis:

Six supposed friends (more on this later) receive email from Asuka, a friend of theirs who killed herself a short while ago. The email instructs them all to meet in a particular classroom at midnight. Four of them arrive as instructed, and they are met by a girl wearing a bloody rat mask. The girl seems to potentially be Asuka, because Asuka died wearing that same mask, which she had made in preparation for a modern version of a traditional rat dance she had planned to do with her friends.

The person in the rat mask explains, in writing, that vengeance will be had. To underscore her meaning and seriousness, she drags the bloodied body of one of the missing six friends into the classroom. The other four friends run from the person in the rat mask, only to be chased down, captured, made to participate in a "penalty game," and killed when they fail the game. As they try to survive, the big question all the friends are wondering is "Who is the person in the rat mask?" Is it really Asuka, back from the dead and out for vengeance? Interspersed throughout the movie are scenes from the seven friends' past, during the period just before Asuka killed herself.

Review:

The short version: this is a terrible movie. And not in a “so bad, it's good” kind of way. I can't even recommend making fun of it with a group of friends. It's just plain bad.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Another (anime TV series), via Crunchyroll

Another mixes horror and mystery. It's 12 episodes long.

Synopsis:

When Kouichi transfers to Class 3 in his new school, he can tell something strange is going on. Everyone seems to know something really important, but no one will tell him anything. Misaki Mei, a strange girl with a eye patch, keeps making vague, creepy comments, telling Kouichi that he should probably stay away from her.

The school has a mysterious story centered around Class 3. Twenty-six years ago, a popular student in Class 3, Misaki, died in an accident. Everyone in the class was deeply upset by Misaki's death, until, one day, a student pointed to Misaki's desk and said "Misaki's not dead!" It was just pretend, but everyone, including the teachers, decided to go along with it. Misaki was even given a chair at graduation. No one thought any of this would be a problem, until the class photo was taken and Misaki's ghost showed up in it. From that point on, Class 3 found itself closer to death. Some years, it would mysteriously end up with one student too many. One of those extra students was a person connected to Class 3 who had died in a previous year, but, since records and even people's memories were mysteriously altered, no one realized that person was dead. Anyway, once the current Class 3 ended up with one student too many, unless the proper countermeasures were followed, at least one person in Class 3 or connected to Class 3 would die each month.

When Kouichi joined Class 3, it suddenly had one more student than it should have had. Could Misaki Mei be this Class 3's dead student? And, once the "calamity" has begun, how can Kouichi and the other students stop each other and those around them from dying?

Review:

I bumped this up in my queue because I knew it was a horror show, and October seemed like the perfect month for that. I rarely watch simulcasts, preferring to watch series after all the episodes have already been released, so I can marathon the whole thing if the pacing and/or my level of enjoyment merits it. In this case, I'm glad I didn't watch the original simulcasts, because the wait between episodes would have killed me. I watched the entire series over the course of three days.

200 Pounds Beauty (live action movie), via Crunchyroll

200 Pounds Beauty (or 200 Pound Beauty, how it's written on Crunchyroll) is a Korean movie that's a little hard for me to classify. I suppose comedy, or maybe even romantic comedy, would be appropriate. The problem with "romantic comedy," though, is that it sets up viewers to expect something they're not going to get, namely an ending in which Hanna ends up with someone. This is a spoiler, but an important one, so I'm going to say this right now: no, Hanna does not end up with Sang-jun, nor anyone else. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and the ending was still a happy one, with the potential for a romance HEA (Happily Ever After) on the horizon. Still, this movie may disappoint those looking for a traditional romance movie ending.

Synopsis:

Hanna is an overweight young lady with a sweet voice and two jobs. One job involves providing phone sex to various clients. The other job, which Hanna sees as her primary job, involves providing Ammy, a famous pop star, with her voice. Ammy dances on stage and mouths the words, while Hanna sings in the back. Every one of Ammy's albums is actually sung by Hanna.

Hanna doesn't mind doing this, is even happy doing this, because it allows her to sing and because she has a huge crush on Sang-jun (Ammy's manager? producer? I'm not sure, but he seems to handle more of the business and talent-finding side of things). Sang-jun is so kind and supportive that Hanna can't help but think maybe he actually likes her back...until she overhears Sang-jun tell Ammy that they're only using her for her voice and must be kind to her so she doesn't leave.

A distraught Hanna first tries to kill herself and then heads off to one of her phone sex clients, a plastic surgeon, and demands that he perform full-body plastic surgery on her in order to make her beautiful. The doctor reluctantly agrees and, one year later, a much thinner Hanna heads out into the world. With the help of her friend, Jung-min, she gets her old job back by pretending to be a Korean American named Jenny. Sang-jun pretty much abandons Ammy in favor of Jenny, promoting her as an all-natural, fresh-faced beauty. Jenny becomes a huge star, but the lies she has to tell and the people in her life she feels she has to reject in order to achieve that fame all weigh heavily on her. With a jealous Ammy in the sidelines, doing her best to collect evidence than Jenny is really Hanna, and Sang-jun slowly connecting the dots, will Hanna's glamorous new life unravel?

Review:

I knew watching this would probably make me angry, but I added it to my queue anyway. Most of the movie did make me grind my teeth, although I have to admit that there were parts near the end that actually made me cry. I'm not sure, though, whether those parts near the end were worth the time it took to watch the whole movie.

Recorder and Randsell (anime TV series), via Crunchyroll

Recorder and Randsell is a comedy composed of two seasons, 26 episodes total. Each episode runs approximately 3 minutes long.
 
Synopsis:

This series is based on a 4-koma manga (comic strips with four panels), so there isn't much of a plot. The basic setup is this: Atsumi is a high school-aged girl who looks like a grade schooler. Her younger brother, Atsushi, is a grade school-aged boy who looks like a handsome young man. No attempt is made to explain why they are the way they are. Most of the series' gags rely on Atsumi or Atsushi (usually Atsushi) being mistaken for the age they appear to be. In Atsushi's case, this usually means being arrested by the police, as people mistake him for a potential pedophile whenever he's around his friends and classmates.

Other recurring characters include: Atsushi's teacher, a shy woman with ludicrously bouncy boobs and a tendency to blush whenever Atsushi does things that makes it difficult to remember he's actually a little kid; Take, Atsumi and Atsushi's neighbor, an unemployed guy in his early thirties who's a bit of a bad influence on Atsushi; and Sayo, Atsumi's friend.

There isn't much in this series that changes. The police never manage to remember who Atsushi is and keep arresting him, and Take never finds a real job. The second season is the start of a new school year for Atsumi and Atsushi, so there's a slight change in the jokes, as the newest students have to adjust to Atsumi and Atsushi's strange situation - students at Atsumi's school mistake her for a child genius, while students at Atsushi's school mistake him for a teacher. There's really only one thing that could be considered an ongoing, gradually changing storyline, and that's Sayo's crush on Atsushi. For a while, Sayo has no idea that Atsushi is Atsumi's grade school-aged brother, so she develops a huge crush on him. To my surprise, she did eventually learn the truth.

Review:

I was a little surprised that this series ran for as long as it did – I didn't expect it to last more than one season, considering how repetitive some of the jokes got. Atsushi was constantly being arrested, Sayo was googly-eyed over Atsushi, Atsumi's small size made her maturity overly adorable, and Take had a habit of giving Atsushi too-adult advice and clothing. It wasn't exactly a bad show, but I was glad each episode was only 3 minutes long, because there wasn't enough material being played with to support longer episodes.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

While You Were Sleeping (live action movie)

While You Were Sleeping is a romantic comedy. I own it on DVD.

My review includes a few spoilers, but I don't think they matter much for this type of movie. It's a romance, so it's pretty easy to tell who Lucy is going to end up with. What matters is how much viewers enjoy the experience of getting to that ending.

Synopsis:

Because she has no family, Lucy (Sandra Bullock) always gets stuck with working during the holidays, collecting Chicago "L" fares. This Christmas, her one bright spot is collecting the fare of the handsome man (Peter Gallagher) she fell in love with a while back. She has never actually spoken to him before and feels like kicking herself when he says something to her and she is unable to come up with a decent response fast enough. Then she spots a few guys attempting to mug him. She rushes over to him after he is pushed onto the train tracks, and narrowly saves him from being hit by the oncoming train.

At the hospital, Lucy desperately tries to get in to see the guy but is turned away, because she isn't a relative. One of the nurses misunderstands her and assumes Lucy is his fiancee. Lucy figures out the misunderstanding too late, after his enormous family arrives. Suddenly, everyone thinks Lucy is Peter's wonderful, life-saving fiancee. After learning that Peter's grandmother has a heart problem, Lucy is reluctant to reveal the truth. The more she gets to know Peter's family, the more she falls in love with them, and the more reluctant she is to reveal the truth and potentially lose them.

One of the people Lucy gets to know better while Peter is in a coma is Peter's brother, Jack (Bill Pullman). Jack is suspicious of Lucy at first, but he eventually warms up to her. At just about the same time, Lucy and Jack realize they're in love with each other, but the whole issue of Lucy being Peter's fiancee still stands between them. Then Peter wakes up, and things get more complicated. Somehow, Lucy has to make things right, but will she lose Jack and his family in the process?

Review:

This is one of my favorite romantic comedies. No, it's not one of those stellar, life-changing, rave-about-it-to-all-your-friends movies, but it does leave me with a nice warm feeling each time I watch it. Back when I had cable, it tended to pop up on TV each year around Christmas and New Year's, and I always watched it. Now I own it on DVD, for those times when I need a nice little pick-me-up.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Crystal Stopper (e-book) by Maurice Leblanc

The Crystal Stopper is available for free at several sites - I downloaded it from Project Gutenberg. It's part of Leblanc's Arsene Lupin series and, according to this timeline, takes place several years prior to the last Arsene Lupin book I read, Arsene Lupin.

Synopsis:

During an attempted burglary of Deputy Daubrecq's home, two of Arsene Lupin's accomplices are arrested and blamed for a murder. One of the men, Vaucheray, committed the murder, while the other, Gilbert, did not, but both men will go to the guillotine if Lupin doesn't do something.

Lupin's path crosses with that of Clarisse Mergy, Gilbert's estranged mother, and information she gives him allows him to put together the pieces that might allow him to save Gilbert. For some time now, Daubrecq has been blackmailing several people using a list of 27 names implicated in a financial scandal. If the list ever gets out, it would mean the ruin of many, but no one knows where Daubrecq keeps it. Lupin is determined to find it and use it to get Gilbert's death sentence changed to life in prison (which Lupin can easily free him from).

Getting the list is more difficult than Lupin anticipates, however. Daubrecq is a wily opponent, always one step ahead of him, always just a bit sharper and more observant. The list is cleverly concealed inside a hollowed out crystal stopper, but finding and taking that stopper isn't easy, and Lupin isn't the only person looking for it. As the date of the execution nears, even Lupin begins to wonder if he can free Gilbert in time.

Review:

In The Crystal Stopper, Leblanc tried to up the suspense by knocking Lupin down a few notches and raising his opponent up a few notches. Sadly, the result did not work as well for me as The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsene Lupin, Gentleman-Burglar, or even Arsene Lupin.

Downton Abbey, Season 1 (live action TV series)

Downton Abbey is a British historical drama. The first season, which I own on DVD, starts with the sinking of the Titanic and ends with the beginning of World War I.

I'm going to assume that there are still people out there who'd like to see this and haven't yet, which puts lots of limits on what I can write in my synopsis without spoiling things.

Synopsis:

After the heir to the title of Earl of Grantham dies on board the Titanic, the residents of Downton Abbey find themselves in a flurry of activity. Robert, the current earl, and Cora, his wife, have three daughters. The only way they could hope to have an heir is by marrying off Mary, the eldest daughter. When the first attempt to do that doesn't work out, the family gets into contact with Matthew Crawley, a distant relative who doesn't react well to the idea of inheriting Downton.

The series is filled with a variety of characters from both upstairs and downstairs, just about all of whom get a bit of attention throughout the season. Here's just a few of them:
  • Mr. Carson - The loyal, dignified butler of Downton Abbey.
  • Thomas - The footman everyone loves to hate.
  • Miss O'Brien - Cora's bitter lady's maid. Practically guaranteed to inspire viewer rage at least a couple times throughout the season.
  • Mary - Robert and Cora's eldest daughter, who both flirts with potential marriage prospects and spurns them. By the time she figures out what, and who, she wants, it may be too late.
  • Edith - Another one of Robert and Cora's daughters. They have no expectations for her, and she knows it. She's wildly jealous of Mary's easy popularity.
  • Sybil - Another one of Robert and Cora's daughters. She's a naive champion for women's rights.
  • Mr. Bates - Robert's new valet. He has a pronounced limp, which results in the rest of the staff treating him poorly at first.
  • Anna - The head housemaid. She's very kind.
  • Daisy - A somewhat simple-minded kitchen maid with a huge crush on Thomas.
  • William - A footman with a huge crush on Daisy.
  • Mrs. Hughes - The head housekeeper.
  • Mrs. Patmore - The cook. Although she often harshly berates Daisy, she also tries to look out for her and give her a nudge in the right direction (i.e., away from Thomas).
I've missed listing at least a handful of other characters, but you get the point. There are lots and lots of them.

Review:

The only reason I didn't sit down and watch this entire season over the course of a few days was because I wasn't physically capable of it. The addictiveness of its character dramas and the level of emotional investment it invites reminds me of soap operas, and the period visuals are a treat for the eyes.

Shaun of the Dead (live action movie)

Shaun of the Dead is a British film that mixes horror and comedy. I own it on DVD.

Synopsis:

Shaun (Simon Pegg) has a dead-end job, a girlfriend named Liz (Kate Ashfield) who wants more out of life, and a man-child best friend named Ed (Nick Frost). After Liz breaks up with Shaun, he becomes determined to somehow win her back. He is undeterred by the onset of the zombie apocalypse. Along with Ed, Shaun goes on a journey to find his mom and Liz, kill his stepdad (who's been bitten by a zombie), and hole up in what he assumes is the safest place he could possibly find, his favorite pub, the Winchester.

Review:

I can't remember if I saw this when it was showing in theaters, but I do know that my most recent viewing wasn't my first. My primary memory of the movie was that it was funny but had a slow start. I was curious to see how it held up for me on a rewatch.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Code:Breaker (manga, vol. 1) by Akimine Kamijyo

Code:Breaker is an on-going shounen manga series, although I haven't been able to confirm that new volumes are still being released in English (the first couple volumes were published by Del Rey). An anime adaptation will begin airing in Japan in just a few days.

Synopsis:

Everyone who sees Sakura assumes she's exactly what she looks like: delicate, elegant, graceful, and well-mannered. Every guy at school can't help but think "she's the kind of girl I'd like to protect"...except Sakura doesn't need their protection and isn't the slightest bit interested in their protestations of love. When she spots a mystery no one else seems to be paying attention to, she latches on and doesn't let go.

That mystery involves a murder Sakura is convinced she witnessed. Although police say it was just a campfire, Sakura is sure she saw several gang members get burned alive by blue flames. Only one person was still alive in those flames - and that person, Rei Oogami, turns out to be a new transfer student at her high school.

In public, Rei is a cheerful, seemingly normal teenage boy, who just happens to wear a black glove on his left hand. In private, he's much more menacing. When Sakura witnesses him burn several more gang members alive using blue flames that came from his left hand, she's not sure what to think. On the one hand, Rei's bloodthirstiness is terrifying, and there's a strong possibility he's a much a villain as any of those gang members. On the other hand, there was a moment that made her wonder if there might still be some humanity in him. Sakura becomes determined to get to the bottom of the mystery that is Rei Oogami and, hopefully, stop him from killing more people.

Review:

This review was requested by x3amykawaiix3, who may unfortunately be disappointed by my lukewarm reaction. This first volume of Code:Breaker wasn't necessarily bad, but had very little that made me want to continue reading.

Part-Time Pets (manga) by Reno Amagi

Part-Time Pets is a one-shot yaoi manga published by Deux Press.

Synopsis:

This volume is composed of four stories and something at the end that has the feel of an extra. The cover art features Soji and Tama, the characters from the volume's second story. It's important to note that the "animal-human hybrids" stories only take up half the volume, despite what the cover art may lead readers to believe.

First story: Norio Kameyama is the president of a company that has fallen on hard times. In an effort to save the company, Norio visits the Kemomimi Corporation, an elite placement service that provides human/animal hybrid workers (they look like people with animal ears) to animal-loving employers, and hires a bunny. Shiro Inaba can do, or learn to do, just about any job that needs doing at the company, and he quickly becomes a favorite of the others workers. When he's at home, though, he needs care and attention just like any other pet. Norio takes care of him, his jealousy over Inaba being so good at everything he tries at work warring with his reaction to Inaba's neediness and cuteness at home. Inaba's contract is only good as long as Norio's company needs help, however, so what will Norio do once Inaba needs to leave?

Second story: Soji Okana is the author of the hugely popular Momo the White Cat-Detective series, inspired by his beloved cat, Momono. When Momono died, however, Soji had difficulty continuing the series, so he sought out the Kemomimi Corporation, hoping to find the perfect cat (er, cat-human hybrid) to renew his inspiration. The cat he hires is Tama Mikezaki, a bad-tempered loner. Although their relationship has a rocky start, Tama gradually warms to Soji and tells him a little about his life prior to working for the Kemomimi Corporation. Tama decides he wants to be more than just Soji's temporary pet, but can he convince Soji to buy him?

The extra bit at the end of the volume is a continuation of Soji and Tama's story.

Third story: Makoto is a rich kid who has always wanted a pet dog. However, his lungs are weak, so being around dog fur all the time wouldn't have been good for him. One day, his father brings home a temporary pet from the Kemomimi Corporation, a dog-human hybrid named Kuroshiba. Unfortunately, Kuroshiba isn't cuddly and playful, the way Makoto thinks dogs should be, and it seems like all Makoto ended up with was a super-strict tutor who happens to have dog ears. Eventually, though, Makoto realizes that Kuroshiba's serious expression hides deeper emotions, and he remembers that he first met Kuroshiba years before.

Fourth story: This is the longest story, taking up half the volume, and it has nothing to do with the Kemomimi Corporation or animal-human hybrids. Enishi Amuba is a koimiko, a young priest with the power to grant love. Those who touch a koimiko grow more beautiful, those who kiss his lips will gain success in love, and those who have sex with him will find true love. As a result, Enishi is constantly sought after by people who only care what his body can give them. The only person who doesn't seem fazed by him is his homeroom teacher, Suzumori, a nice, friendly guy. Enishi realizes he has fallen in love with Suzumori, and, because a koimiko can't grant himself love, he offers himself to Suzumori so that Suzumori can find love elsewhere. It is only later that Enishi learns that the person Suzumori loves died five years ago. Somehow, Enishi has to stop the man he loves from killing himself.

Review:

I bought this one used. I was a bit nervous, because I knew nothing about it other than it looked like it might be cute. It was wrapped in plastic, so I couldn't even flip through it to get a sense of how I might like it. I just crossed my fingers and hoped it wasn't too rape-y.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

So Over You (e-book) by Gwen Hayes

So Over You is a self-published YA novel with a contemporary setting. If it had been written for adults, I might be tempted to call it chick lit, because, although it has romance in it, I don't think it quite qualifies as a romance novel.

According to All Romance Ebooks, it's 40,000 words long, which came out to 109 pages on my Nook, not counting the excerpt from Amanda Brice's Codename: Dancer at the end.

Synopsis:

Layney Logan, co-chief editor of her high school newspaper, the Follower, views Jimmy Foster, the newspaper's other co-chief editor, as her arch nemesis. Everything he does seems calculated to annoy her. It doesn't help that the two of them have history together - they used to date each other and broke up back in the 8th grade. If Layney had a choice, she'd be around just about anyone but Jimmy, but she'll put up with him for the sake of the paper.

Unfortunately, the paper's not doing too well. Due to school district budget cuts, the Follower technically doesn't exist anymore. Layney and Jimmy plan to put it out online, but they'll need to make money somehow if they want be able to afford the software they'd like to use. The journalistic staff of the Follower comes up with what everyone but Layney thinks is a great idea: a calendar featuring the 12 hottest guys from the school's various clubs and sports teams. Layney argues that the calendar would objectify the boys, so Jimmy shoots back that, in order to de-objectify them, someone on staff should go out on dates with each of them and then write about them as people, in a feature designed to explore what girls are looking for in teenage boys. Jimmy nominates Layney as the girl for the job.

Layney eventually agrees because the idea makes her uncomfortable - after all, a good journalist sometimes needs to venture outside her comfort zone. Most of the rest of the book deals with each of the twelve dates - some of the guys are nice, some of them are creeps, and some of them fall somewhere in between. Layney starts to really think about her relationship with Jimmy, where things went wrong, and the horrible event in her past that may be the real reason she broke up with him.

Review:

This was an unusual purchase for me, because, while I read YA, I so far have purchased very little YA fiction in e-book form. Also, I don't often read YA contemporary fiction - too much of a chance that serious/angsty real-life issues will come up (which basically is what happened in this one). After I finished Second Son of a Duke, one of Hayes' stories written for adults, I wanted to try more of her works, and the description of So Over You appealed to me.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Cloud Roads (e-book) by Martha Wells

The Cloud Roads was one of my purchases and was 306 pages on my Nook. I bought it because I kept hearing good things about Martha Wells and her Raksura books, both in comments on my blog and on Dear Author. I'm a little stuck on what genre term to use for it - I suppose either fantasy or soft sci-fi could work.

Synopsis:

Moon has essentially been alone since he was a child, when his mother and siblings were killed. He has lived in various groundling settlements, but none of those places have ever been home, because he has always needed to hide his abilities from everyone. Unlike everyone he has met since his family died, Moon can shapeshift from his groundling form into a winged form. He has no idea what he is and has long since given up on finding others like himself.

Until the day he meets Stone. Stone tells him he is a Raksura and offers to take him back to the Indigo Cloud Court. There are two main breeds of Raksura, each with different castes, and Indigo Cloud is short on Aeriat warriors (winged Raksura who act as scouts and guardians and protect the colony from Fell, beings that prey on all the various intelligent species). It just so happens that Moon is an Aeriat warrior.

Having no place else to go, and hoping to finally find people around whom he can be fully himself, Moon joins up with Stone. It's not long before he finds himself wishing he had asked more questions before agreeing to go anywhere. Unfortunately, Stone wasn't quite honest about the reason Indigo Cloud needs Moon, and he has plunked Moon right in the middle of a deadly conflict.

Review:

I enjoyed this book enough to finish it within 24 hours of starting it, although it wasn't without its issues.

Sword of the Guardian (e-book) by Merry Shannon

Sword of the Guardian is published by Bold Stroke Books, which includes it in its Romance, Action/Adventure, Romantic Fantasy, and Lesbian Fiction categories. For those who prefer print books, a paperback version is available.

According to All Romance Ebooks, this book is 135,013 words long, which came out to 346 pages on my Nook.

Synopsis:

At the start of the book, Talon and her sisters are working for a group of traveling entertainers. Lyris and Bria sing, while Talon is an acrobat. All three girls were orphaned when barbarians came and killed their parents. Since then, Talon has pretended to be a boy in order to protect her sisters. The only ones who know her true gender are Lyris and Bria.

Talon and her sisters are performing for the royal family when an assassin kills Crown Prince Daric. Talon pushes Lyris out of the assassin's path and inadvertently saves Princess Shasta's life. King Soltran finds out that Talon is a girl and decides she would make a perfect bodyguard for Shasta - he figures there would be no chance of improper behavior.

Time passes, with Bria and Lyris acting as Shasta's maids and companions and Talon acting as Shasta's bodyguard. Talon realizes, to her shock, that she's attracted to other women. Shasta, for her part, has no idea that Talon is a woman and eventually develops a crush on her guardian. Things aren't completely relaxed in the kingdom, however - the assassin who killed Daric is still on the loose, and Shasta may still be in danger.

Review:

This was one of two books I purchased when I decided I wanted to give Bold Strokes Books' f/f fiction a shot. Sword of the Guardian was my first choice – when I read that it starred a princess and her cross-dressing guardian, I knew I had to have it. It was a surprise to me that I enjoyed Jane Fletcher's Rangers at Roadsend as much as I did, and I fully expected to enjoy Shannon's Sword of the Guardian even more. Unfortunately, Sword of the Guardian turned out to be a disappointment.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Mountains of Mourning (e-novella) by Lois McMaster Bujold

I've finally written a post. Enjoy!

I downloaded The Mountains of Mourning for free via the Baen Free Library. It's part of Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga and comes chronologically after The Warrior's Apprentice. It was 79 pages long on my Nook.

Synopsis:

This takes place 3 years or so after the events of The Warrior's Apprentice (Miles was 17 in that book, and he's 20 in this novella). Miles is on home leave and looking forward to getting a shiny new lightflyer as a graduation present.

His leave is interrupted by Harra, a woman who desperately wants to see Count Vorkosigan, Miles' father. Harra's baby had been born with a cleft palate, and she claims her husband killed her because of that. The village speaker refused to listen to her, claiming that the infant died of natural causes. Harra wants justice, and the Count sends Miles to deliver it.

This will be the case by which the Count shows his people that infanticide will no longer be tolerated. Although Harra is certain she knows who killed her child, Miles keeps an open mind, determined to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the right person has been convicted and punished.

Review:

While I didn't enjoy this novella quite as much as I did The Warrior's Apprentice, it was still a good read. Whereas The Warrior's Apprentice was a wild ride, with Miles piling lies upon lies to get himself and those around him out of trouble, The Mountains of Mourning was more of a mystery story. This time, Miles needed to uncover the truth rather than obscure it.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

This blog and the next few months

Hey, folks! It's been a while since I've written a more personal post. Anyway, this is mostly an FYI to let my handful of regular readers know that my posting schedule may get kind of wonky over the next few months. I recently started taking some nasty medication. So far, side effects have been relatively mild, and I'm hoping they will stay that way. Nausea, fatigue, and a couple other things have cropped up. Naps seemed to have helped with the fatigue, and, if ginger ale and crackers don't start working for my nausea, I'm hoping the meds my doctor prescribed will.

Currently, my last day of meds is supposed to be February 1, 2013. I have it marked on a calendar, and I'm counting down the days. In the meantime, I'd like to continue writing this blog, but I don't know how often I'll manage to post, or how often I'll finish something I can post about. It seems to be taking longer than usual for me to finish writing or reading anything.

Well, with any luck, I'll be writing a post soon about the first season of Downton Abbey. I started watching it over the weekend, and I love it. My mom has given me a few spoilers, and now I'm fretting over Mr. Bates.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sungkyunkwan Scandal (live action TV series)

Sungkyunkwan Scandal is a historical Korean drama that mixes romance, comedy, and a bit of mystery. It's 20 episodes long, with each episode running a little over an hour long, and can be watched for free on a variety of streaming sites. I watched it on Crunchyroll.

Synopsis:

Kim Yoon Hee has financially supported her family since her father's death. Although she has a brother, he, Kim Yoon Shik, has been sickly for a long time. Yoon Hee took to dressing as a boy and taking her brother's name in order to find work as a scholar, copying books and notes for a shady little bookstore.

When her family suddenly finds itself in need of more money, fast, Yoon Hee takes more risks than usual and is, unfortunately, caught helping someone cheat on an exam. Rather than turning her in and having her punished, the scholar who catches her, Lee Seon Joon, sets things up so that she has little choice but to become a Sungkyunkwan scholar (as far as I could tell, Sungkyunkwan is a school for future government officials). There's one problem: women aren't allowed in Sungkyunkwan. In fact, women aren't even supposed to receive an education.

Somehow, Yoon Hee has to keep all the Sungkyunkwan scholars and professors from finding out her true gender - since she's expected to spend almost all of her time with them and has two roommates, one of whom has a tendency to hiccup around women, that's not exactly easy. Things get even more complicated when the king gives her and her friends a secret mission: find Geum Deung Ji Sa, the late king's will, which was lost 10 years ago. The king wants to change the location of the capital and reshape it (and the country in general?) into a place where everyone is equal. Geum Deung Ji Sa is his best chance for silencing others' opposition.

Review:

I think this is the second K-drama (Korean drama) I've watched from beginning to end – the first was Coffee Prince. I chose to watch Sungkyunkwan Scandal because the image for the show, which I have used in this post, made it look light and fun. Also, I liked that, like Coffee Prince, it featured a cross-dressing heroine.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Spirits, Alaska, infanticide, and a cross-dressing heroine

It's been a while since I've written one of these posts. Anyway, as usual, I'm behind. If I get around to writing posts about all of these, here's what you can expect to see in the near future:
  • Spirited Away (anime movie) - I've seen this movie lots of times. I've liked every one of Miyazaki's films I've seen, but this is one of my favorites. The young heroine's parents get turned into pigs, so she works at a bathhouse intended for spirits while she tries to find a way to free them.
  • Northern Lights (live action movie) - A movie based on one of Nora Roberts' books. I haven't read the book, although I can see the bones of it in this movie. Just the bones, unfortunately. The hero moves to a small Alaskan town to get away from his past. The heroine has a chip on her shoulder due to her father leaving her family when she was younger.
  • The Mountains of Mourning (e-novella) by Lois McMaster Bujold - Now that I have finished this, I have officially finished all the Miles Vorkosigan stories and books in my possession. That makes me sad. I liked this, although maybe not quite as much as The Warrior's Apprentice. In this novella, Miles investigates an infanticide case.
  • Sungkyunkwan Scandal (live action TV series) - This is the second K-drama (Korean drama) I've watched from beginning to end. It's pretty, a little cheesy, and features a cross-dressing heroine. I liked it, but I think I liked Coffee Prince more.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Sixth Discipline (e-book) by Carmen Webster Buxton

The Sixth Discipline is a self-published science fiction novel currently being offered for free via Smashwords and other online bookstores. It's 143,776 words total, which came out to 356 pages on my Nook.

Synopsis:

This book takes place on a planet populated by three main groups of people: the Sansoussy, the city dwellers, and the Horde. The city dwellers have a very high tech and, among the upper classes at least, often cutthroat way of life. The Sansoussy live more off the land and have a low tech way of life. They also have very advanced meditation abilities, and some of them have special abilities, like empathy, telepathy, or even precognition. The Horde are widely known to be dangerous and barbaric, killing or taking prisoner anyone they come across.

Ran-Del Jahanpur, a young Sansoussy warrior, is kidnapped by Baron Stefan Hayden and eventually learns that Stefan plans for him to marry his daughter, Francesca. Ran-Del has no intention of doing as Stefan wishes, and, although Francesca finds Ran-Del to be attractive, she'd rather not marry some random illiterate wild man. Unfortunately for the two of them, circumstances outside their control make marriage unavoidable. The question, then, is whether they can make their marriage work, despite the way it began and the great differences between their cultures. Somehow, they also have to deal with outside efforts to force the House of Hayden to join one of the cartels.

Review:

I found this book to be kind of slow-paced, but still decent. The main thing keeping me from buying the sequel, No Safe Haven, is residual anger at Ran-Del and, to a certain extent, Francesca. More on that below.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Chibi Vampire: The Novel (book, vol. 5) story by Tohru Kai, art by Yuna Kagesaki

The English translation of this Chibi Vampire novel was published by Tokyopop, which is (sort of) no more. However, it shouldn't be that hard to get a copy - it looks like several libraries own this, and there are cheap copies to be had via Amazon. I found this on the clearance shelves at a bookstore.

Synopsis:

If you're not familiar with this series, its stars are Karin and Kenta. Karin is a reverse vampire whose body makes blood. If she doesn't bite someone and give them her excess blood, the blood forcibly leaves her body via a massive nosebleed, leaving her weak and anemic. Karin's blood tends to increase more when she's around unhappy people, and when she gives those people her blood, their personalities change, making them temporarily more energized and able to overcome whatever it is that makes them unhappy. Kenta is a human classmate of Karin's who has learned her secret. He doesn't seem to mind what she is and has even given her permission to bite him (because he's dirt poor, he's often hungry and unhappy, which caused Karin's blood to increase). Karin finds the idea of biting him terribly embarrassing, however, because she sees him on a regular basis and has a crush on him.

So, that's the series' basic setup. In this book, an accident brings Kenta to the attention of Ayaha Ougimachi, a beautiful, rich, and spoiled girl who goes to his and Karin's school. After Karin inadvertently bites Ayaha, Ayaha becomes more outgoing and able to speak her mind. She promptly throws herself at Kenta, horrifying and upsetting Karin, who starts to worry that Kenta might like Ayaha. Added to that are Karin and Kenta's worries about being evicted - Ayaha's father is planning to build an expensive retirement home in the same place as Kenta and Karin's homes, and there's not much they can do about it.

Review:

If you're a big fan of this series, you might like this novel. Maybe. Almost all of the series regulars make at least a brief appearance - the only character I missed was Karin's little sister, Anju, who, as far as I can remember, only had a few mentions and no speaking part. Kai stayed true to the original characters, and the story felt like something that could have happened in the manga.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Warrior's Apprentice (e-book) by Lois McMaster Bujold

I got The Warrior's Apprentice for free via the Baen Free Library. Although I wasn't entirely happy with the formatting of another Baen Free Library e-book I read (The Lark and the Wren by Mercedes Lackey), the formatting in this one was fine.

In case the cover doesn't make it clear, this is a science fiction novel. I think it might be the fourth book in Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga (according to the series' internal chronological order), and the first one starring Miles Vorkosigan.

Synopsis:

An attempt on his mother's life while he was still in her womb left Miles Vorkosigan with brittle bones. Even so, it has always been Miles' dream to qualify for the Barrayaran Service Academy and begin a military career, just like any other Barrayaran male. For someone of Miles' intelligence, the oral and written exams are a piece of cake. The physical tests are another matter. After he breaks both of his legs while taking part in an obstacle course, effectively failing the physical portion of the examination, it seems to Miles as though all his hard work has been for nothing. He's 17 years old, and he has no idea what he's going to do with the rest of his life.

With nothing better to do, Miles visits his Betan grandmother with his bodyguard, Bothari, and his bodyguard's daughter, Elena, in tow. It's not long before Miles finds himself in possession of a jump ship, a jump ship pilot, a Barrayaran deserter, and a desperate need for more funds. Miles concocts a plan to make the money he needs by bringing a shipment of weapons into a war zone. When things get out of control, Miles layers lies upon lies and gradually finds himself in command of more and more ships and soldiers, all of whom think Miles is a high-ranking officer in the Dendarii Free Mercenaries. Except the Dendarii Free Mercenaries are just something Miles made up, and Miles has no money to pay any of his new recruits.

Review:

It looks like I've found another series to glom onto – this book was lots of fun, and I can't wait to read more, particularly more about Miles.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Well, this looks awesome

Over at Snug Nugget, you can get a pay-what-you-want, DRM-free 5-e-book bundle. A portion (14.3%) of whatever you choose to pay for the bundle goes to Book Aid International.

The books in the bundle:
  • Intrigue in Italics by Gayle Wigglesworth - A mystery starring a "librarian-turned-travel-bookstore-owner." I'm not familiar with this author, but that's enough to make the book sound attractive to me.
  • Mankind's Worst Fear by David L. Erickson - I'm not familiar with this author, either. This one's a science fiction novel.
  • Smilodon by Alan Nayes - A thriller/suspense novel in which an expert animal tracker comes across a smilodon. A prehistoric cat prowling around contemporary human beings. Depending on how that's explained, it could be fun.
  • The Plight of Angels by Ian Hodge - This is listed as being epic fantasy. Again, another author I'm not familiar with.
  • Wistril Compleat by Frank Tuttle - I've reviewed a couple of Frank Tuttle's works. I enjoyed them both, so I'm excited this is part of the bundle.
[Learned about via Dear Author]

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Box Man (book) by Kobo Abe

The Box Man was one of my library checkouts. It was originally published in Japan in 1973. The English translation was published in 1974.

I'm not sure what to call this. Surrealist fiction? It's very much not the sort of thing I usually read.

Synopsis:

How do you write a synopsis for something like this? Not much actually happens, and it's unclear whether any events that happen are real or just figments of the narrator's imagination. The same goes for the characters.

Here are the characters as I understand them. Some (or all?) of these characters may be the same person.
  • The Box Man, a man who has chosen, for the past few years, to live with a box over his head. The box reaches just to his hips. I don't think he ever leaves it. The average person might call him a homeless man, but he sees himself as different from other homeless people, because of the box he has chosen to live inside. He used to be a photographer, before he became a box man.
  • A man who has shot a box man (the Box Man? or perhaps the shooter is the Box Man?) with an air rifle. He was offended by the box man's presence near his window, so offended that he shot at him in order to frighten him away. However, he may have unintentionally wounded him. Something about the experience prompted him to become a box man himself.
  • The doctor. He cares for the wounded Box Man, but then finds himself wishing to become a box man himself, to the point that he pretends to be one. He proposes to switch places with the Box Man and even offers the Box Man 50,000 yen to dispose of his box. To sweeten the deal, he also offers the use of the nurse's apprentice. It's unclear whether she cares what either man decides to do with her.
  • The nurse's apprentice. Her legs hold great allure for the Box Man. She was an art student who went to the doctor for an abortion. She couldn't afford the abortion, so she asked the doctor if she could work for him in order to pay him back. She and the doctor became lovers, which displeased the current nurse, who also happened to be the doctor's wife.
  • The nurse's true husband, who became a drug addict, and whose identity the doctor assumed.
Review:

My first reaction, after I finished this: What did I just read?

I like the books I read to make some sort of sense, even if it's only at the end that everything comes together. The Box Man felt like it was composed of pieces that would eventually form some kind of bizarre whole...except then they didn't. Or at least that's how I felt. This is the kind of book that reminds me why I so rarely venture outside of reading genre fiction.

Son of the Mob (book) by Gordon Korman

Son of the Mob was one of my library checkouts.

Synopsis:

Vince Luca wants to live his life just like any other guy in high school. Unfortunately for him, the Lucas happen to be big in organized crime. No matter how hard Vince tries to escape his family's criminal activities, there's always something that invades his life. Like that time he found a guy, out cold, in the truck of his car while he was out on a date. The FBI has most of his house bugged.

Then Vince meets Kendra. He's wild about her, and the feeling is mutual - too bad her dad is one of the FBI agents assigned to spy on the Lucas. Kendra has no idea what Vince's family does for a living, and he's not about to let her find out. If that wasn't stressful enough, Vince also has to deal with his best friend's jealousy, a web design project, and the results of his efforts to try to help a guy who owes his dad money.

Review:

The son of the head of a mob family falls in love with the daughter of an FBI agent - that's all it took for me to know I had to read this book. Happily, it turned out to be just as enjoyable as I had hoped.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Reorganizing my e-books

Yesterday I reorganized my e-books (on my Nook - Calibre is a whole 'nother story). Previously, I had shelves for genres, as well as shelves for books I'd purchased, finished, reviewed, and was in the process of reading. E-books can be on more than one shelf, which meant I sometimes had books on my "bought" shelf as well as one or two genre-specific shelves.

The thing was, I rarely used the genre-specific shelves. All having my books on those shelves did was increase the number of pages my e-book collection took up and increase the amount of time it took to assign my books to shelves after I loaded them onto my Nook. So, yesterday I got rid of all the genre-specific shelves and set up shelves for "free" and "free and old" (older, out of copyright books I've gotten from Project Gutenberg and elsewhere). I'll have to wait and see how it works out for me, but I think those shelves will more closely fit how I browse through my collection. It's still better than my physical books, I guess - those have zero organization. I may catalog books for a living, but my personal collection is a mess.
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