Sunday, April 29, 2012

Howl's Moving Castle (anime movie)

I own the 2-disc DVD set.

Synopsis:

Sophie doesn't think she's particularly beautiful and doesn't really see anything exciting happening in her future. As the eldest sister, she feels it's her duty to work in and take charge of her family's hat shop. One day, on her way to see her sister, she encounters a handsome young man who saves her from some creepily flirtatious soldiers. The young man, on the run from some blob-like creatures, flies himself and Sophie through the air and deposits Sophie safely at her sister's workplace. Although he is more than likely a wizard, and therefore potentially dangerous and likely to steal and even eat young women's hearts, Sophie can't help but feel a little dreamy over him.

Unfortunately, Sophie's encounter with the young man has brought her to the attention of the Witch of the Waste, who visits the hat shop and puts a curse on her that turns her into an old woman. Sophie begins a journey into the Waste to try to find someone who can break her curse, only to end up inside Howl's moving castle. Howl is a terrifying wizard with a reputation for eating beautiful young women's hearts. Sophie is a little afraid, but figures that someone like Howl wouldn't be interested in the heart of an old woman. Then she learns that Howl is the handsome young man she met while on the way to see her sister.

Sophie makes a bargain with Calcifer, the fire demon who powers Howl's castle. If Sophie can break the curse binding Calcifer and Howl together, Calcifer will break the curse on her. In the meantime, Sophie hires herself as Howl's new cleaning lady, taking it upon herself to clean Howl's entire home. Howl mostly takes this in a stride, and Sophie finds herself forming a new family with Howl, Calcifer, and Markl (Howl's young apprentice).

Unfortunately, the prince of the neighboring kingdom has gone missing, and war is becoming a more serious threat. Howl has been ordered to appear before the king and join the war.

Review:

I saw this movie several times prior to reading the book. It's been so long since I last read the book (although I recently started rereading) that all I can really remember about it is that it's pretty different from this movie. So, if you're looking for the perspective of someone who read and enjoyed the book first, you should probably look elsewhere.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Secret Adversary (e-book) by Agatha Christie

I downloaded this for free from Project Gutenberg. It's the first of Christie's Tommy and Tuppence books.

Synopsis:

I'm not sure exactly when this took place, but it's sometime after the sinking of the Lusitania and the end of World War I. Prudence Cowley (known as "Tuppence" to her friends) and Thomas Beresford (Tommy) are two childhood friends who meet after a bit of time apart. Tuppence was, among other things, a nurse, while Tommy was in the military. Both are now at loose ends and more than a little strapped for cash.

Tuppence sees a man named Mr. Whittington about a job that sounds a little too good to be true. When she tells him her name is "Jane Finn," a name Tommy told her he'd overheard, Mr. Whittington angrily retracts the job offer, and Tuppence inadvertently becomes his blackmailer. Tuppence hopes to continue getting more money out of Whittington and maybe find out more about Jane Finn and why she's so important, except Whittington vanishes. Tommy and Tuppence put out an ad asking for anyone with information about Jane Finn to contact them, which is how they get into contact with Mr. Carter and Julius Hersheimmer.

Mr. Carter, an important man in British intelligence, tells Tommy and Tuppence a little more about Jane Finn. Apparently, in 1915 America and England drew up a secret draft treaty. Danvers, an American, was aboard the Lusitania, responsible for taking the document to the American Embassy in England. When the Lusitania was torpedoed, he gave the document to an American girl, Jane Finn, reasoning that a woman would be more likely to get a spot on a lifeboat than himself. He was right.

Although there was evidence that Jane Finn survived, no one was ever able to find her and the document was never recovered. After the war, Jane Finn was forgotten about, but now someone wants the document in order to discredit a few English statesmen and add fuel to the current Labour unrest. Mr. Carter's people have been unable to find the document or Jane Finn, so he hopes that Tommy and Tuppence will have a fresh way of going about things. He, of course, offers to pay them and provide them with whatever funds they require to get the job done, but, if they are caught by the enemy, they can expect no help from him.

Julius Hersheimmer turns out to be a filthy rich American who claims to be Jane Finn's cousin, looking for her so as to give her a fair share of his inheritance. Julius, Tommy, and Tuppence team up to try to find Jane Finn and the document, but they find themselves facing a terrifying and brilliant foe: Mr. Brown.

Review:

I was 10 pages into this book when I almost quit reading it. It wasn't at all what I expected. Granted, I haven't read many of Agatha Christie's books – one Miss Marple and one Poirot, I think – but what I've read was enough to make me at least expect a mystery starring an interesting detective/amateur detective. Tommy and Tuppence didn't seem particularly interesting to me.

I'm glad I continued reading, though, because The Secret Adversary turned out to be a lot of fun. While I've seen the book referred to as a detective novel and as a mystery, now that I've read it I consider it more of a thriller.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Gosick: The Novel, Vol. 1 (book) story by Kazuki Sakuraba, illustrations by Hinata Takeda

This was one of my library checkouts, and it's an excellent example of why interlibrary lending is a Good Thing, so I'll take this opportunity to sing the praises of ILL.

This book has been out of print for some time. In the Amazon Marketplace, people are trying to sell used copies of it for $47+ and new copies for $84+. On Alibris, people are trying to sell used copies for $47+ and new copies for $117+. This wasn't available from my own library, but I was able to check it out via ILL. My 1-month checkout cost me $0.

Since I refuse to devote all my entertainment dollars to any one thing, I would not have read this book if I couldn't have gotten it from the library. Plus, since it's not exactly the best book ever, I would have been more than a little upset if I had spent $47+ on it. Libraries let you try out books that you may or may not enjoy, that may be in print or out of print. Most bookstores only give you what's in print. Used bookstores aren't guaranteed to have what you're looking for. Even if you broaden your search to what's online, you'll only get what you can afford to pay for. Libraries are for everyone to enjoy, no matter what you, personally, can afford to pay. If your library offers ILL, I encourage you to take advantage of it. Your local library may not have what you want, but another library might.

Okay, enough about ILL and libraries. Now, on to the book itself!

Synopsis:

[I forgot to write down what year this took place, but the anime took place sometime during 1924 or 1925.] Kujo is a transfer student at the prestigious Saint Marguerite Academy in the country of Sauville. Most of his classmates avoid him and whisper about him, because of superstitions they've attached to him, but he does have a couple friends: Avril Bradley, a lover of ghost stories, and Victorique, a beautiful, brilliant, and reclusive girl.

After Victorique solves a mystery involving the murder of an old fortune teller, Kujo is incensed to learn that Grevil de Blois, the detective in charge of the case, grabbed all the credit for himself. In order to keep Kujo from telling everyone who truly solved the case, Grevil invites Kujo and Victorique to spend time on the fortune teller's yacht, which Grevil was given as a gift.

At the yacht, Kujo and Victorique find an invitation for dinner on a cruise ship that was addressed to Roxanne, the fortune teller who was murdered, and they opt to go in her place. Unfortunately, their time on the cruise ship turns out to be more dangerous than either of them expected. The ship is booby-trapped, and there's no way to call for help or leave. Almost everyone on the ship turns out to have been involved in a similar incident. Ten years ago, they trapped a group of children on a ship and arranged things so that most of the children died. Now, 10 years later, it seems as though one of those children has decided to get revenge. Somehow Victorique and Kujo have to survive and make it to safety, despite the possibility that someone among them may be a killer.

Review:

I have read very few light novels that I'd recommend to someone who hadn't already seen the anime adaptations or who wasn't interested in anime/manga. Sadly, I can't add Gosick to my short list.

Fairest (audio book) by Gail Carson Levine, read and sung by Sarah Naughton and the Full Cast family

This was one of my library checkouts.

Synopsis:

Aza has spent her whole life painfully aware that she is not beautiful. Although her adoptive family loves her as she is, Aza is still hurt by those who call her ugly or who refuse to have someone who looks like her serve them at her family's inn. Her skin is milk white, her blushes are blotchy, her lips are blood-red, and she is overly tall. Her best features are her eyes and her magnificent voice. In the kingdom of Ayortha, having a fine singing voice is no small thing - just about anything can cause a person to break into song, and all events incorporate singing.

When the king announces that he will marry a commoner from outside Ayortha, Aza gets a chance to accompany a duchess to court. When the new queen learns of Aza's illusing ability (Aza can not only imitate sounds and voices, she can throw her voice), she threatens to throw Aza and her family in prison if she does not illuse for her. The new queen's own voice is not good, and she doesn't want anyone to find out.

The situation grows even worse when the king is hurt. The new queen rules in his place and does a terrible job of it, so terrible that her subjects whisper of rebellion. The one bright spot in Aza's life is her growing love for Prince Ijori, but what will happen once Aza's deception is uncovered?

Review:

Although I remember seeing and being interested in the print version of the book, I ultimately passed it by after flipping through it and noticing all the song lyrics. I am not a fan of song lyrics in novels at all. Since I can't imagine the lyrics put to music, song lyrics in novels tend to strike me as flat and cheesy.

This is one of those times where the decision to read the book versus listen to it is an important one. This audiobook version of Fairest is read by a full cast (with Sarah Noughton, who plays Aza, doing most of the reading) and features all of Gail Carson Levine's lyrics put to music. If you're like me and have issues with reading lyrics in books, listening to Fairest may be the best way to go.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya (anime), via Crunchyroll

From what I can tell, this series was probably originally shown on the Internet, specifically YouTube, which means neither my "TV series" tag nor my "OVA" tag applies. I don't really want to make yet another tag, so, for now, it's just going to be "anime."

The show is composed of 25 episodes, each of which runs from 2 to 5 minutes long.

Synopsis:

This is a parody series featuring the entire cast of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, only almost everyone is a little different. Nagato was a quiet alien in the original series. In this series, she's more mischievous and plays erotic/pornographic games. Mikuru is even more pathetic and emotional, Haruhi is louder and more abusive towards Kyon, and Koizumi is even more capable of calling up whatever help is needed. Arakawa and Mori, Koizumi's comrades, can do amazing things, and Tsuruya, Mikuru's friend, suddenly exhibits fantastic fighting skills. Oh, and Asakura, the other alien in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, is back, except she's trapped in chibi form and has been renamed Achakura. And there's also a sentient little yellow-green balloon dog.

Review:

I wouldn't recommend this series to anyone who isn't at least a little familiar with the original The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya series. A good portion of the humor in The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya depends upon knowing what the original characters were like, so you can better appreciate how those characters have been warped. Plus, this spin-off references the occasional scene from the original series, like the part where Asakura attacks Kyon, and doesn't bother to explain, even at the most basic level, how all the characters came to be together, who and what they are, and why they're doing what they're doing. The assumption is that you've watched the original series, already know all of that, and are primarily interested in watching all the characters be funny.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sherlock, Season One (live action TV series)

Synopsis:

This series takes several of the characters from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes series and reimagines them in contemporary London.

Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman) was wounded while serving in Afghanistan and is not adjusting as well as he could to life as a civilian. Not knowing anyone with whom he's willing to stay, he ends up renting a place with a man he just met, a brilliant, hyper-observant consulting detective named Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch).

Season 1 is composed of 3 episodes, each of which is approximately an hour and a half long (so, more like 3 made-for-TV movies). In the first episode, "A Study in Pink," Holmes and Watson meet. Watson begins getting used to Holmes' quirks, following him around and helping him out as he works on a case involving people who appear to have committed suicide but were actually murdered. In the second episode, "The Blind Banker," Watson starts dating someone and Holmes investigates a strange symbol spray painted inside a bank. The third episode, "The Great Game," brings Holmes head to head against Moriarity, as Moriarity challenges Holmes to solve various cases within a certain amount of time. If Holmes doesn't solve the cases in time, the bomb Moriarty's current hostage has been forced to wear goes off.

Review:

It has actually been a while since I first finished this series. I've just been reluctant to write about it. A short version of my review could be something along the lines of “OMG! I ♥ Sherlock and John!” You know, useless fangirl squeeing.

I've now watched this first season two times, not counting the times I watches episodes 1 and 3 with the commentary turned on. The show was just as much fun the second time around as it was the first. Plus, the second time around, I knew the cliffhanger was coming and my outrage had had some time to lessen. For those who don't know, Season 1 ends with a nice big cliffhanger. Happily, you can now order Season 2 and continue on your way. At least until you hit the cliffhanger that I've heard Season 2 ends with.

Doctor's Delight (e-book) by Angela Verdenius

[Long Review Warning: I had problems reining in my word count.]

This is the first book in Verdenius' Big Girls Lovin' trilogy, which stars plus-sized heroines. It's self-published, and 64,188 words long. I think that came out to 149 pages on my Nook (my Nook has taken a dislike to this file, so I'm afraid to open it up and check).

Synopsis:

Cherry is a shy, 35-year-old, plus-sized virgin who has given up on finding someone who will love her, no matter what she looks like. Now, all she wants is to have sex at least once, and one of her friends has the answer: why not call a male escort? (Apparently, prostitution is legal in Australia, which is where this book is set.)

Cherry is mortified at the thought, at first, but eventually she caves, calls an escort service, and arranges for a two-hour meeting at a hotel with a man named Damien. When a hot guy comes to her hotel room, she assumes it's Damien, and the two of them rapidly get down to business. Cherry keeps the lights low, both because she's uncomfortable with a man seeing all her physical faults and because she wants to lessen the chance that Damien might one day recognize her at her job as a nurse.

What Cherry doesn't realize is that the man she has sex with is not, in fact, Damien, but rather Rick Reed, a new doctor at her hospital. He got a little drunk after a party and assumed that Cherry was the "surprise" his friend Tim said he'd left him. He didn't realize until the next day, after he'd sobered up a bit, that Cherry was a virgin.

When they meet again, it takes Rick a bit to recognize Cherry, but when he does, he starts pursuing her, determined that their one night together won't be their last. Cherry, for her part, doesn't think a hunk like Rick could possibly be interested in her. Somehow Rick has to convince her that she's really the woman he wants.

Review:

The cover image for this book was what first brought it to my attention - it looked cute, and the female cover model was clothed, so I guessed the book was probably not written primarily for a male audience (ARe can be a minefield at times). I liked the excerpt, and a few of the reviews I read on Goodreads sounded encouraging. I looked forward to a story that would indulge my love for shy heroines, as well as my love for heroines with body image issues who meet heroes who like them just as they are.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Chihayafuru (anime TV series), via Crunchyroll

This series is 25 episodes long, but it is my great wish that there will one day be more seasons aired.

This series focuses on competitive karuta. I didn't really understand what that was at first. If you're not sure either, here's a quickie explanation (if I get any of this wrong, feel free to correct me in a comment – everything I know, I learned from watching the anime and reading a bit here and there on Wikipedia, and it's quite possible I missed or misunderstood some things): A karuta deck is composed of 100 cards, each of which has a portion of one of the One Hundred Poems written on it. The two players each get 25 of those cards (according to what I read on Wikipedia, 50 cards aren't in play) and arrange those cards on their side of the playing field. A third person, the reader, reads one of the poems, and the first player to touch the card that corresponds to that poem gets to have that card. The goal is to reduce the cards on one's side to zero. If a player takes a card from their opponent's side, he or she may move a card from his or her own side over to the other player's side.

Synopsis:

When she was in elementary school, Chihaya was introduced to competitive karuta by Arata, a transfer student. She became fascinated by the energy and intensity of the game. Taichi, her best friend, started learning to play along with her, at first mainly because he was jealous of the attention Chihaya gave Arata. The threesome was later separated, however. Chihaya continued to study and play karuta, Arata abandoned it after his beloved grandfather's death, and Taichi abandoned it due to his mother's insistence that he only concentrate on those things he could excel at and that would help his future. (My understanding is that, while there are Master and Queen levels in karuta, it's not possible to play karuta for a living, the way one can Go.)

When she enters high school, Chihaya wants to start a karuta club and is convinced that Taichi will, of course, be part of that club. Taichi is reluctant at first, but eventually joins, in part because he's still nursing a crush on Chihaya. Three other students are later convinced to join: Kana, a quiet girl who loves the One Hundred Poems upon which karuta is based and whose family owns a traditional clothing store; a boy nicknamed Nikuman-kun ("Porky"), a karuta player Chihaya and Taichi faced when they were children; and a boy nicknamed Desktomu-kun, whose greatest gift is his ability to study.

The more experienced members of the club work towards their goal of becoming good enough to compete in the Master and Queen tournaments, while the less experienced members learn the rules and do their best to rise in rank. The whole team also occasionally competes in team tournaments, learning to play as a group. Meanwhile, the subplot involving Arata and Taichi's interest in Chihaya continues, with Chihaya still completely oblivious to everything but karuta.

Review:

I'm so glad this show was recommended to me and that I listened and started watching it – of all the shows I've been watching in the past few months, this is one of the best. I thought, going into it, that I had some idea of what karuta was, but I definitely wasn't expecting what I saw. Although I couldn't follow along with some of the finer points of the game, the matches were still incredibly exciting to watch.

Dreams in the Witch-House (e-short story) by H.P. Lovecraft

I downloaded this for free via the Internet Archive. It's part of a collection of H.P. Lovecraft's works. We'll see how this goes, but currently my plan is to write about any works in the collection that are 20+ pages.

I've noticed certain formatting and spelling errors in this collection (or, at least, the EPUB version of it - the "read online" version of it doesn't seem to have the same sorts of errors, at least not that I could see). The most prevalent and confusing error in this particular story was the spelling of Gilman's name as "Oilman." The first time this happened, I thought a new character had been introduced, and it made this already strange story seem even more bizarre.

Synopsis:

Gilman is a student at Miskatonic University. His primary areas of study are Non-Euclidean calculus and quantum physics, but he also studies folklore and believes there is a connection between mathematics and some of the fantastic legends he has heard. One particular local story that fascinates Gilman is that of old Keziah Mason, a supposed witch who had drawn strange curves and angles of the wall of her cell before vanishing. It is because of his fascination with Keziah that Gilman has chosen to live in her old room, in a place now referred to by locals as the Witch-House.

Prior to Gilman moving in, no one had wanted to live in the room for long. At first, Gilman lives there without a problem. He studies the irregular shape of the room and notes that there must be space between one of the walls of his room and the outer wall of the house, but no access to that space appears to exist, other than a few open and stopped-up rat-holes. There also appears to be a loft above his room, but there hasn't been any access to it for some time. Gilman's landlord refuses to let him explore either one of these closed-up areas.

After Gilman contracts some kind of fever, he starts having strange dreams. Some of his dreams are bizarre and difficult to describe. In other dreams, he is in his room when a horrific creature called Brown Jenkin pops out of one of the rat-holes. Keziah was rumored to have a familiar named Brown Jenkin, which looked almost like a rat, except with a sharp-toothed, bearded, almost human face and paws that looked like tiny human hands.

The dreams become more and more disturbing, but the truly worrisome part is that they might not be dreams at all.

Review:

 I'll start this off with a story from my grad school days. There is a point to all of this, I promise.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

I Hunt Killers (book) by Barry Lyga

[Since I just remembered what day it is, I feel this post update is necessary: This is not an April Fool's joke. I don't joke well. My job on this day is usually to fall for others' jokes.]

Release date: April 3, 2012

This is one of the ARCs I picked up at ALA Midwinter.

Synopsis:

Four years ago, Jasper "Jazz" Dent's father, Billy Dent, was arrested. Sheriff G. William Tanner figured out that Billy was a serial killer responsible for the deaths of 123 people (or 124, depending on how you counted). Billy considered Jazz his protege and taught him just about everything he knew.

Jazz, now 17, lives in fear that he will one day become just like his father. He knows how to identify "prospects," potential victims, he's an excellent liar and charmer, he doesn't see death and dead people the way others do, and his dad taught him a lot about killing people. He has a recurring dream, which might really be a memory, in which he is cutting a person.

Jazz knows no amount of good deeds he might do could prove that he won't become like Billy, because Billy did good deeds all the time, as a way of blending in. He also knows that having a friend and girlfriend doesn't prove he won't become like Billy, because there are examples of serial killers who formed attachments to certain people in their lives. All he can really do, he thinks, is look at local crimes from his unique criminal's perspective and lend the police a hand when possible. Not that the sheriff appreciates this - G. William thinks Jazz's job should be to act like a normal teenage boy.

Jazz becomes convinced that another serial killer has come to the small town of Lobo's Nod. With Howie, his hemophiliac best friend, at his side, Jazz gets a look at the first victim, police report, and crime scene (none of which G. William is happy about, after he finds out). G. William thinks Jazz just has serial killers on the brain, but when more bodies start showing up, it seems Jazz may be right.

Review:

If you're worried that Jazz becomes a YA version of Dexter, rest assured that, in this book at least (I'm assuming this is the start of a series), that's not the case. Dexter killed with no twinge of conscience, because he didn't have one, and his focus on criminals was more a reflection of his adoptive father's morals than his own. Jazz, on the other hand, worried all the time about what he might become. He was more than a little obsessed with serial killers, and he had thoughts about how easy it would be for him to kill someone, but he didn't actually kill anyone. Really, Jazz turned out remarkably well considering his life with his father and grandmother. I did worry, at first, that Jazz might become a killer, especially considering the thoughts he had about the first victim, but eventually I started to see all his worrying as a clear sign he wouldn't become like his father. I doubt his father ever worried or felt guilty about hurting other people.
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