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.
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