Monday, December 30, 2013

Ultraviolet (book) by R.J. Anderson

Ultraviolet is a young adult mystery with some science fiction elements. I got it via ILL.

I'm so proud of myself - I managed to avoid including any major spoilers.

Review:

This book starts off as a weird mystery. Alison wakes up in a psychiatric treatment center with no memory of why she's there. All her life, she has experienced sensations that other people don't, like tasting the color blue, knowing that each letter of the alphabet has a color, and knowing that the name “Victoria” tastes like cough medicine. This has always frightened her mother, so she assumes that her mother has somehow found a way to get her committed. Then she remembers what really happened: she killed Tori Beaugrand.

Ever since they first met, Alison heard Tori's presence as a painful buzzing noise. One day, the two of them fought, and Tori...disintegrated. Now, Alison feels guilty and confused. She wants to make sure she never does anything like that again, but she's not even sure how she did it in the first place.

The overall mystery sucked me in right away. I guessed Alison's condition almost immediately (she's a synesthete), but that didn't explain the strange, indescribable color she sometimes saw, the “birthmark” on Tori's arm that no one else could see, or Tori's disintegration.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Attack on Titan (manga, vol. 1) by Hajime Isayama, translated and adapted by Sheldon Drzka, lettered by Steve Wands

Attack on Titan is a dystopian fantasy series. I got this volume via interlibrary loan.

Synopsis:

One hundred years ago, the Titans appeared and began eating humans. Humanity built three concentric walls to hide behind: Wall Maria (outer wall), Wall Rose (second wall), and Wall Sina (innermost wall). For a hundred years, those walls allowed people to live relatively peacefully. However, a few people, like Eren, resented essentially being caged. Why shouldn't humans go outside the walls, learn more about the Titans, and try to reclaim the world? Some people, like Armin, theorized that the walls might not last forever.

Then one day a colossal Titan appeared, breached Wall Maria, and allowed other Titans to enter.

Review:

Here's the thing: I've seen both seasons of the anime, and I loved the show. I disliked Eren, the main character, but that didn't seem to matter. The action scenes were fabulous, and the plot twists were so gripping I couldn't stop watching. Unfortunately, season 2 ended with lots of questions still unanswered and, right now, the best way to get answers is to read the manga.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Coyote's Creed (e-book) by Vaughn R. Demont

Coyote's Creed is urban fantasy. I suppose you could call it m/m urban fantasy, but Spencer, the main character, is bisexual. For those who'd like details: he only ever has on-page sex with a man, although he kisses a couple women; also, he's not at all conflicted about his sexuality.

This book is published by Samhain Publishing and is 91,526 words long. It's the first in Demont's Broken Mirrors series.

Review:

I bought this book ages ago and only just now got around to reading it. I had some trouble with it, at first. Although I usually like snarky first-person POV in urban fantasy, Spencer was almost too “gray area” for me, and his relationship with Rourke was too much, too soon. I sometimes had trouble following what was going on, because snark tended to win out over clear descriptions, and I wish some things had been explained sooner (I never did catch what the deal was with Shiko and Spencer's coat). By the end, though, I was enjoying myself and happy that my weakness for Samhain's “new releases” sales meant I already owned the next two books.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Star ratings

When I read books, I usually mentally assign letter grades to them. These grades range from F- (I am embarrassed for the author that this is available for other people to read, and/or I'm furious that the author/publisher charged money for this) to A+ (I forgot to write notes because all the fabulousness made it impossible to stop reading).

When I cross-post on sites like BookLikes or LibraryThing, I then convert my letter grades into star ratings. I'm thrilled that both these sites allow half-stars, but even that isn't always good enough. For example, I mentally give a book a B+, but then I balk at giving it 4.5 stars, because it feels too much like giving it an A- and the book wasn't quite that good. My inner perfectionist has a meltdown, I give the book 4 stars, and then I feel guilty because it wasn't really a 4-star book either.

In 2014, I want to be better about saying “These are how my star ratings work, and if someone mistakes 4.5 stars for an A- when it was actually a B+ book, that's not my problem! I'm going to assign this star rating and then not think about it anymore!”

So there. And, yes, I know I tend to overthink things. I can't help it.

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened (book) by Allie Brosh

I went to my friend's apartment to go take care of her cat while she was gone and discovered that she'd left me a copy of Hyperbole and a Half to borrow. It was a bribe to make sure I'd give her cat a few hours of company (I'm not sure her cat likes me, but, after five years, I think she now tolerates me), and it worked.

What can I say about this? I can't remember when I started reading the Hyperbole and a Half blog, but I do remember that I read a huge chunk of it on the first day I discovered it. I loved it, and, like so many other Hyperbole and a Half fans, worried about Brosh (Allie? Brosh feels weird, but Allie feels too informal...) when she posted about her depression and went on hiatus for a while. I was thrilled when she eventually posted again and when the book came out.

It's been a while since I read through the entire blog, so I'm not sure which of the entries in this book were new and which weren't. I recognized some old favorites, like the story of the simple dog and how moving nearly broke both the simple dog and the helper dog's minds. The animal stories were among my favorites, although I also enjoyed Allie Brosh's tales of her childhood.

My least favorite chapters were the ones in which Brosh wrote as though she were talking to her younger self or to her dogs. The humor felt a bit more forced in those chapters, although the dog chapter still had moments that made me laugh.

All in all, I enjoyed this. I probably loved the drawings the most. The facial expressions and body language (on both people and dogs) were wonderful and hilarious. I do think the stories and drawings work better in blog form, however – needing to scroll down means that “what happens next” is a bit more of a surprise, while, in book form, having the next page right there blunts the full impact a little.

Sorry for the short read-alikes list. I am lazy. Although, if you'd like me to list a few funny sites you should check out, I could totally do that.

Read-alikes:
  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames (book) by David Sedaris – You could really just pick up any of his books – I only listed this particular one because it was the last one I read. Like Brosh, Sedaris writes memoir-style humor (without the funny pictures). Also like Brosh, he sometimes covers more serious topics. I've written about this and several of Sedaris' other books.
  • How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You (book) by Matthew Inman – I haven't read this, but I probably need to. If you need funny pictures with your funny words, you might want to give this a shot. Check out The Oatmeal first, to see if the humor works for you.

Mindline (e-book) by M.C.A. Hogarth

Mindline is a self-published science fiction novel, the second in Hogarth's Dreamhealers duology. It's 101,600 words long.

Absolutely do not read this book until you've read Mindtouch.

Review:

I really enjoyed Mindtouch and was thrilled when I saw that Mindline had been released. In Mindtouch, Jahir was given a choice between remaining near Vasiht'h and developing their budding mindline, or leaving his new friends and the mindline behind and accepting a residency at Mercy Hospital on Selnor. He chose to go to Selnor. Mindline picks up where Mindtouch left off. Vasiht'h has decided it was a mistake to send Jahir off on his own and has arranged to finish up as much of his education as possible through distance learning on Selnor. While he is traveling to Jahir as quickly as his limited funds allow, Jahir, unaware that his friend is coming after him, is rapidly running himself ragged. Not only is the residency program extremely difficult, Selnor's higher gravity is making every day feel like a grueling marathon. Things only get worse when a large number of mysteriously comatose patients start showing up at Mercy.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Bishop's Isle: The Complete Collection (e-book) by Luke Shephard

Bishop's Isle: The Complete Collection is a horror novel. It can be purchased in three parts, but I wouldn't recommend doing that, since they're less like standalone stories and more like parts of a serial. I couldn't find a word count for this. I suspect it's novella length but decided to call it a novel.

This review contains SPOILERS. Consider yourself warned.

Synopsis:

The first sign of the zombie apocalypse at Bishop's Isle is a body washing up near Mark's lighthouse. Soon, the entire island is overrun. The survivors gather together and desperately try to find food, shelter, and a way to the mainland.

Review:

Since I'm not off visiting my family, I decided I needed something to take the edge off all the Christmastime cheer. This did the job maybe a little too well. It's practically the anti-Christmas.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Post-Goodreads, Part II: LibraryThing

In Part I, I covered BookLikes. Now, I'll write about LibraryThing.

Again: I haven't deleted my Goodreads account or reviews, primarily because the transfer to BookLikes and LibraryThing didn't go perfectly – certain books were either not uploaded properly or not uploaded at all. So, my account still exists, I just don't update it.

To be honest, I've spent far more time playing around on BookLikes than LibraryThing - BookLikes has been much more social and fun for me, while LibraryThing is mostly just the place I go to cross-post a review or check the occasional bit of book-related information. LibraryThing has many features, and they're all scattered several clicks away throughout the site. What this means is, it's quite possible that I have some of the details about what can and can't be done on the site wrong. If that's the case, please say so in a comment.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Post-Goodreads, Part I: BookLikes

It's been three months since I signed up for my BookLikes and LibraryThing accounts in the wake of Goodreads' review and shelf deletion fiasco. I've decided that it's time to write about how those months have gone and how I've adjusted to using those two sites.

I haven't deleted my Goodreads account or reviews, primarily because the transfer to BookLikes and LibraryThing didn't go perfectly – certain books were either not uploaded properly or not uploaded at all. So, my account still exists, I just don't update it.

I'll start this off by writing about BookLikes. The post is a little longer than I originally intended, so I'll save LibraryThing for a second post.

Jaynell's Wolf (e-novella) by Amber Kell

Jaynell's Wolf is m/m fantasy/paranormal romance. It's the first work in the author's A Wizard's Touch duology. The new Totally Bound Publishing version is approximately 30,057 words long. I have the version put out by Silver Publishing. I have no idea what sorts of changes have been made in the newer edition.
 
Synopsis:

Twenty-four-year-old Jaynell, aka Jay, has been homeschooled his whole life. At his father's dying request, he has enrolled in Mayell Wizarding Academy. He's not sure why his father wanted him to be there, though, since he already knows more about magic than most of the students and teachers there. Werewolves are the only blank spot in his schooling, something he discovers after he meets Thomas, who declares that they are mates. Jay thinks Thomas is hot, but he's not quite ready to be bonded with someone for all eternity.

Jay's new school life is interrupted by an enemy who seems to have it out for him. Can he find and defeat this person before it's too late?

Review:

I bought this a long time ago and only just now got around to reading it. I wish I could say that I should have read it sooner, but I can't. It was awful.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Rose Point (e-book) by M.C.A. Hogarth

Rose Point is a self-published science fiction novel. It's approximately 102,420 words long.

Review:

Yes, I'm still on a Hogarth glom. Rose Point is the second book in Hogarth's Her Instruments trilogy. Although it has its problems, I think it's even better than the first, and I will snatch up the third book when it comes out.

While visiting a horse-crazy colony on Kerayle, Hirianthial learns that he has a terrifying new power: he can kill people with his mind. He heads back to his homeworld for what help his people can give him, and Reese and the rest of the crew of the Earthrise accompany him, determined to support him in any way possible. However, the Eldritch homeworld has problems of its own. Liolesa, the Eldritch queen, has been scheming for centuries in an effort to keep her people's own xenophobia from killing them, and she had decided that the crew of the Earthrise will be perfect for her next move.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Kitty and the Midnight Hour (book) by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty and the Midnight Hour is the first book in an urban fantasy series.

There are some spoilers in this post, but nothing major.

Synopsis:

Kitty Norville is a night-shift DJ for a Denver radio show. She's also a werewolf, although nobody knows this but her pack. One night, she starts talking to callers about supernatural stuff, like vampires and werewolves, debating with them about whether any of it's real and occasionally giving advice to people claiming to be supernatural beings themselves. That one night is such a hit that it spawns Kitty's own show, “Kitty and the Midnight Hour.” The show gives her a little more exposure than she bargained for, and it's not long before one of the local cops comes by to ask if she can confirm whether or not a recent “animal attack” was actually the work of a werewolf.

Review:

I picked up an ARC of Kitty's Greatest Hits a while back, but decided to put off reading it until I'd at least read the first book in the series. When I spotted Kitty and the Midnight Hour at a used bookstore, I snatched it up. It was a quick read, and Kitty's “voice” was appealing enough, when she wasn't cringing around Carl. Unfortunately, it didn't really work for me.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

In My Skin (e-novella) by Cassidy Ryan

In My Skin is a contemporary f/f romance story. It's approximately 20,800 words long and is published by Torquere Press.

Review:

Anna is a 28-year-old lawyer with an unexpected crush on a coffee shop owner named Chaise – “unexpected” because, up until now, she'd always believed herself to be strictly heterosexual. She and Chaise begin dating and are happy together, but one worry stands out in Anna's mind. She's already a bit of a black sheep in her family because of her choice to pursue a career in law rather than a family. Can her traditional Catholic family accept that she has fallen in love with a woman?

I've read several “gay for you” books and stories, but I think this is the first “lesbian for you” one I've come across (strike that, Olivia Stowe's By the Howling might count – it was just focused way more on the mystery than the romance). So, that aspect was a surprise. I'm not sure it was a welcome one. Because the story was written in the first person, from Anna's perspective, I got to see exactly how much this shift in her life did not bother her. She fretted over being good in bed, but that was about it. She didn't even worry about what her family would think until she was waiting outside her parents' house to introduce Chaise to them for the first time.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Attack on Titan, Seasons 1-2 (anime TV series), via Crunchyroll

Attack on Titan is a dystopian fantasy series.

One hundred years prior to the start of the series, giant humanoid creatures called Titans appeared. Although Titans technically don't need to eat, they seem to enjoy devouring humans. The little that remained of humanity after the Titans attacked retreated behind three concentric walls. The innermost wall is where the most wealthy live. Wall Rose is the middlemost wall, while Wall Maria is the outermost. Life for most inside the walls in fairly peaceful. The only ones regularly exposed to Titans are the Survey Corps, which makes trips outside Wall Maria in order to study and, when possible, capture Titans.

At the start of the series, Wall Maria falls, breached by a Colossal Titan so large that it's able to look over the wall. As much of the population as possible is evacuated to the area inside Wall Rose, but that still leaves many to die. Eren, Mikasa (a girl Eren's family took in years ago), and Eren and Mikasa's friend Armin are all part of the evacuated group. Eren, who watched his mother die in the attack, swears that he will kill all Titans. When the three of them are old enough, they join the Training Corps, the first step to becoming part of one of three groups of soldiers: the Survey Corps, the Military Police Brigade, or the Garrison.

This was the show my dad and I watched after finishing Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and it turned out to be a fabulously good choice for both of us. We watched most of it in two or three marathon sessions and only stopped when my mom asked us if she could use the TV for once.

Considering how much I disliked Eren, it's kind of surprising how much I enjoyed this show. He was obsessed with the Survey Corps, he wasn't always very bright, and the only reason he made it out of some of the fights he ran headlong into was because Mikasa backed him up. My dad and I nicknamed him Crazy Eyes Eren – he was basically powered by insane rage. Mikasa was a much more appealing character. Unfortunately, Mikasa and Eren were a package deal.

Eren, Mikasa, and Armin's training was fascinating, and I especially enjoyed seeing the 3-D Maneuver Gear in action. The moment that most hooked me on the show, however, came several episodes in (episode 5?). It was a moment so unexpected that my dad and I were in shock. I still wasn't very attached to the characters, but I needed to know what was going to happen next.

The series' biggest draws were its WTF moments and its battle scenes. I'm so glad I waited until the first two seasons had been completely aired before watching them, because waiting for new episodes would have been excruciating. As it was, my dad and I were extremely disappointed that there wasn't a third season – season 2 ends with lots of questions left unanswered.

The animation was a mixed bag. On the one hand, there were moments when you could tell the director (or whoever) was trying to save money – I recall quite a few “panning across stills” scenes. On the other hand, money saved in some scenes was put to great use during battle scenes. I thought those looked absolutely fabulous. On the whole, I really like the look of the series. It certainly looked much, much better than the four volumes of the manga I flipped through.

I'm really glad I watched this series and would jump at the chance to see a third season. As it is, I think I might suffer through Eren again just to rewatch some of the battle scenes.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Puella Magi Madoka Magica (anime TV series), via Crunchyroll

Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a magical girl series, but darker than such series usually are. I had watched most of it at the beginning of 2013, but eventually gave up because Crunchyroll was working so incredibly badly. While I was on vacation, my dad suggested that we spend some time watching anime together and left it up to me to pick what we were going to watch. This was the first of two shows that I picked. I chose it because it was short (only 12 episodes long) and because I knew it had some great action scenes.

Madoka is a bit of an airhead. She has two best friends and lives in an area that looks both rich and a little futuristic – I couldn't really tell if the series took place in the future or in an entirely different reality. Anyway, one morning she wakes up from a dream about a dark-haired girl who's in trouble. At school, she's shocked when that same dark-haired girl joins her class as a mysterious new transfer student. The girl, Homura, is standoffish, and Madoka soon has cause to wonder if she's some kind of villain. Madoka saves a cute white creature, called Kyuubey, from Homura and meets and befriends a girl named Mami. Mami and Kyuubey introduce Madoka and her friend Sayaka to the world of magical girls.

Magical girls are powered by Soul Gems and use their abilities to hunt witches. Kyuubey offers Madoka and Sayaka a contract, which will grant them each whatever they desire if, in return, they agree to become magical girls. Becoming a magical girl is serious business – is this really something they want to do? And why is Homura so determined to prevent Madoka from making a contract with Kyuubey?

The characters and world don't have a ton of depth. The series' biggest appeal is its visuals (especially the battle scenes) and the slow revelation of the truth behind Kyuubey and the magical girls. What starts off as a light and fluffy show gradually becomes much darker.

Back when I was first watching the show, several of its revelations came as a shock to me. However, my dad guessed much of what was going on within the first few episodes. I imagine the mystery about the magical girls will be more appealing to some (viewers like me) than to others (viewers like my dad).

During my first attempt to watch the show, I stopped just before the full truth about Homura's past was revealed, so that and the outcome of the final battle were as much a mystery to me as they were to my dad. Unfortunately, although I really enjoyed rewatching everything else and found the bits about Homura and her efforts to save Madoka to be fascinating (Homura's level of devotion to Madoka was insane), the very end of the final episode was a bit of letdown. It was all almost too big and grand, and Madoka's transformation and everything that went with it was disgustingly saccharine. I'm glad I got to see the whole show, but the ending wasn't as satisfying as I had hoped it would be.

The Host (live action movie), via Netflix

The Host is a science fiction movie based on Stephenie Meyer's book of the same title. I actually liked the book, even if the “love story” aspect of it often horrified me. The few things I'd heard about the movie hadn't been good, but I decided to give it a shot anyway.

I disliked Mel and Jared in the original book, and that dislike only became more pronounced while I was watching the movie. I didn't care about them, certainly not enough to want to watch them having sex only 11 minutes in.

The movie was often too cheesy to be as emotional as it wanted to be, and the acting sometimes made me cringe. I'm pretty sure I caught Mel's accent wandering a few times, and I absolutely hated Mel's cheesy voice-overs, of which there were a lot.

In my review of the book, I noted that the humans seemed far more awful than the souls. This was still true in the movie – it was the humans who threatened to hurt Wanderer, not the other way around, and it was the humans who conducted raids on the souls' peaceful “we'll give you anything you need, no questions asked” stores. However, the one violent Seeker was given so much screen-time that I think the peacefulness of the souls was somewhat de-emphasized.

Unfortunately, Wanderer had much less depth in the movie. Her history, experiences, and status as a peaceful soul teacher were, at best, only given brief mentions. I thought the movie also missed out on a wonderful opportunity to show flashbacks to the various amazing worlds Wanderer once lived on.

All in all, as brick-like and occasionally aggravating as it is, the original book is better. While the movie smooths out some of the book's more problematic elements (no unnecessary emphasis on how very young Wanderer's newest host looks and is!), it removes pretty much all of the most fascinating parts. The only character worth watching in this movie was maybe Jeb, Mel's uncle. Why is it that the older male characters are always the least annoying in all the movie adaptations of Meyer's books?

Jab We Met (live action movie), via Netflix

Jab We Met is a Hindi romantic comedy.

A depressed businessman meets a feisty motormouth of a woman on a train. The man, Aditya, has watched his girlfriend marry another man and has walked out on his corporate business. He has nowhere he wants to go and is even a little suicidal. The woman, Geet, barely even notices. She's going to visit her family and plans to sneak away at some point to elope with her secret boyfriend. Geet, worried, goes after Aditya when he leaves the train during a brief stop. She's stranded when the train leaves without her. After she's accosted by some men, she forces Aditya to get her back to the train or, failing that, back to her family's home. Aditya slowly finds himself enjoying and appreciating life again, and it's all due to Geet's bubbly nature. He falls for Geet, but, unfortunately for him, Geet still plans to elope with her boyfriend.

I almost quit watching this soon after I started it, because Geet was aggressively annoying. I'm not a fan of cheerful people who think everyone around them should be as cheerful as they are. Also, when I called her a motormouth, I meant it. She even kept talking to Aditya while she was asleep. Or maybe I should say “talking at” Aditya – he barely responded, and there was absolutely nothing about the way he held himself that signaled “yes, I'm interested in what you're saying, please keep talking.”

Both times Geet missed the train, it was her own fault. Especially the second time. But both times she insisted that it was Aditya's fault. Considering the mood he was in, he did an amazing job of putting up with her.

The latter half of the movie was better, even if it did make me roll my eyes more than a few times. Geet's great big happy bubble was burst, while Aditya morphed into the most perfect guy ever. For a good portion of the movie, I thought I was watching my very first Hindi romantic comedy without musical numbers, but there were actually a few songs once Aditya warmed up a bit.

The shift in the story, involving Geet's boyfriend, wasn't entirely a surprise, but it was still fun to watch. Geet's family's misunderstanding was worth a few laughs, especially since it put Geet's boyfriend, who I disliked, in an uncomfortable position.

All in all, this was an okay romantic comedy, but I wish Geet hadn't grated on my nerves quite so much at the beginning. Also, I was more than a little annoyed by the repeated reference to women who travel alone being “like an open treasure box” (aka, an attractant to would-be rapists). The men who accosted Geet said it, as did, I think, Geet's grandfather.

My favorite quote, said by Aditya to Geet: “I like you a lot, but that's my problem. You don't have to worry about it at all.”

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Kamisama Kiss (manga, vol. 1) by Julietta Suzuki

I'm pretty sure Kamisama Kiss counts as a supernatural romance series, although, so far, it's heavier on the supernatural part than on the romance. This was one of my vacation reads.

Synopsis:
Nanami's deadbeat dad abandons her after racking up gambling debt and losing their home. Wandering around with nowhere to go, Nanami meets Mikage, who says she can live in his home. What he actually did was make her the new tochigami (from my understanding, some kind of deity). Tomoe, who served Mikage, refuses to accept Nanami until she forces him to do so when she's attacked. Her first task as a human tochigami is to help a lovesick catfish yokai, Himemiko.

Review:

This volume was okay, but there was a slavery element to it that made it a bit discomfiting to read, especially since I'm assuming Nanami and Tomoe are going to fall in love at some point. It reminds me a little of the relationship between Inuyasha and Kagome in Rumiko Takahashi's Inuyasha series. I'm not entirely sure why Kamisama Kiss rubs me the wrong way when Inuyasha didn't.

At this point, there's very little indication that Tomoe likes Nanami. I'm not particularly enamored of Nanami yet, myself. I plan to continue this series, just to see if it gets better, but so far it hasn't really grabbed me.

Family (e-novella) by M.C.A. Hogarth

Family is a self-published soft sci-fi story. It's 25,360 words long.

Review:
 
After reading several Jahir and Vasiht'h short stories and vignettes, I was happy to see that this was novella-length – I seem to like Hogarth's longer works more.

Jahir and Vasiht'h have now been working together for 10 years or so. Their partnership is a comfortable one, but, because of the Veil and Eldritch xenophobia, there are lots of things Jahir has never been able to tell Vasiht'h. In Family, this changes. One of Jahir's cousins is getting married, and Jahir's mother specifically asked that Vasiht'h come with him as a guest. Aliens are not welcome on the Eldritch homeworld, but Jahir figures his mother has her reasons, so he and Vasiht'h set off to attend the wedding.

Nabari no Ou (manga, vols. 1-2) by Yuhki Kamatani

I own the anime adaptation of Nabari no Ou. I've watched a portion of it, but have yet to finish it because everything I've seen and heard indicates that it will likely end depressingly. I've been wanting to give the manga a try for a long time now and figured my vacation was a good time to do it.

I remember reading reviews that said this series is kind of boring to begin with and gradually gets better. Unfortunately, I never got past the boring part.

Nabari no Ou (manga, vol. 1) – Miharu, an indifferent boy, has the shinra banshou locked inside him – an awesome fount of knowledge and power that few can control. He wants to remove it, so his teacher and friends, who happen to be modern day secret ninjas, take him to a knowledgeable ninja. Unfortunately, they are attacked along the way.

What carried me through this volume was my memories of liking the first few episodes of the anime. So far, the manga isn't very promising. The characters are composed of a single joke slapped onto pretty character designs: the ninja teacher who's deathly afraid of traveling in vehicles (he even hates using bicycles); Raimei, who keeps mistaking people for being someone else; Miharu and his devilishness and massive indifference. As far as I can remember, the anime characters weren't any different, but for some reason it was more fun to watch them than it was to read about them.

Nabari no Ou (manga, vol. 2) – The Fuuma chief saves Miharu and the rest from Yoite's kira technique, which uses his own life-force to hurt and kill others. Everyone seems to want to use Miharu for the shinra banshou inside him. Tobari swears he wants to help Miharu remove the shinra banshou, but he's not strong enough to accomplish much. Then, Yoite captures Miharu, acting on his own rather than as part of a ninja group. His request: he wants Miharu to use the shinra banshou to make it so that he (Yoite) was never born.

Yoite ramps up the angst – a guy whose power kills him a little more every time he uses it, and whose greatest wish is never to have been born. When I'm in the mood, I'm partial to angsty characters, so I was glad he got a little more page time.

The character designs are still pretty, and I enjoyed Miharu's aggressive indifference. However, this volume was a little confusing. Even worse, it was boring. Reviewers I trust have said this series gets better, so I'd like to continue with it at some point. I don't know when that will be, though.

Captive Hearts (manga, vol. 1) by Matsuri Hino

Technically, this is composed of three stories – the beginning of Captive Hearts and a couple extra shorts.

This was one of my vacation reads, so I'm not listing any read-alikes.

Synopsis:

The actual Captive Hearts portion introduces readers to Megumi and Suzuka. Megumi is a carefree guy whose father served the Kogami family. Megumi has gotten used to living off the Kogami family's wealth since their apparent death, but then it's revealed that Suzuka, their daughter, is still alive. She comes back to take her rightful place as the Kogami family heir, and Megumi learns the horrible truth: a family curse makes him and his father utterly devoted to the Kogami family. Megumi's father is used to this and has even learned to love the Kogami family. Megumi is not so happy. Every time he makes eye contact with Suzuka, he loses control of himself and becomes her loyal servant. Megumi soon realizes, however, that Suzuka isn't so bad. Suzuka, for her part, hates the curse, because she's falling for Megumi and has no idea how to tell if he's nice to her because of the curse or because he's starting to like her back.

The first of the two shorts stars a girl dealing with a stalker, her own shyness, and her unrequited love for her teacher. It ends with indications that love may blossom between the teacher and the student at some point. The second stars a girl who's in love with her childhood friend. He's about to go off to college without her.

Review:

This was a light, funny read with over-the-top humor. I had heard of Captive Hearts before and, considering the premise and the author (she wrote/drew Vampire Knight), thought it would be a little darker than this. Even the part where Suzuka and Megumi learned why Suzuka must never give a member of the Kuroishi family an order was played relatively lightly.

The most disappointing thing about this volume was that only half of it was devoted to Captive Hearts. I hate it when I start a manga volume expecting an entire volume's worth of a single story, and then half of it (or more) is something else. The two short stories that made up the other half of this volume weren't bad, but still.

Both shorts were sweet, although fairly forgettable. The first looked like it was going to turn into forbidden student-teacher romance, so I was surprised when it focused mostly on showing the shy heroine's efforts to be strong.

All in all, this was an okay volume. I don't know that I'm interested enough in Captive Hearts to continue with it, though.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Emperor's Knife (e-book) by Mazarkis Williams

The Emperor's Knife is epic fantasy, the first book in Williams' Tower and Knife trilogy. I got it for free at some point, I think as part of a limited-time freebie package from the publisher.

Synopsis:

The Cerani Empire appears strong on the outside, but it is actually crumbling from within. The Emperor is ill, tainted by the pattern magic that eventually either kills those afflicted with it or turns them into Carriers. Carriers are mere shells of their former selves, spying and killing as the Pattern Master bids them to.

So far, few know that patterns mark Emperor Beyon's skin. Lord High Vizier Tuvaini wishes to change that and make himself emperor in Beyon's place. He thinks he can use the patterns and Pattern Master for his own ends, but this is a complicated game with many players: Eyul, the Emperor's Knife; Sarmin, the emperor's brother, who has been kept a prisoner since he was a child; Mesema, a Windreader from one of the Felting tribes, brought to the Cerani Empire to be Sarmin's bride; and more.

Review:

I started reading this during my vacation, figuring that it was different enough from my other vacation reads that I wouldn't get everything confused. One review I read described it as being like George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, except set in a fantasy Middle Eastern world. Unfortunately, although some of the magic and political intrigue was interesting, it turned out to be a bit of a slog. I couldn't connect with the characters and had trouble caring about what was going on around them.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer (non-fiction audiobook) by Siddhartha Mukherjee, read by Stephen Hoye

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer is a nonfiction book written by a cancer physician. In audiobook form, it's approximately 20 hours and 30 minutes long.

My read-alikes list is skimpy, because I'm lazy.

Review:

I can only stand cancer in fiction to a very limited degree. Too many childhood memories of my grandmother on my mom’s side and the lung cancer and treatments that eventually killed her. However, nonfiction books about diseases interest me, and I figured that nonfiction might have more distance and be less emotional than fiction. I needed an audiobook to listen to while I worked, and this one was long enough to keep me occupied for quite a while.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Snow Maiden, or The Case with the Holiday Blues (e-short story) by M.C.A. Hogarth

The Snow Maiden, or The Case with the Holiday Blues is a Christmas-y science fiction short story. It's self-published and 5,710 words long. It's another one of Hogarth's works starring Jahir and Vasiht'h.

Review:

This was more along the lines of what I was hoping for when I read The Case of the Poisoned House and Other Xenopsychiatric Studies. Whereas that collection was nice but ultimately unsatisfying, this felt like a full a complete offering. What can I say, vignettes just don't do it for me.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Case of the Poisoned House and Other Xenopsychiatric Studies (e-anthology) by M.C.A. Hogarth

The Case of the Poisoned House and Other Xenopsychiatric Studies is a collection of eight vignettes featuring cases Jahir and Vasiht'h have worked together as mindlinked xenopsychologists.

Since this is basically an anthology and I rarely list read-alikes for those, I won't be including any read-alikes in this post.

Review:

I hate writing reviews for collections of short stories or, in this case, vignettes. I'm never sure how I should tackle them. Oh well, I'll do my best.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Chi's Sweet Home (manga, vols. 2-8) by Konami Kanata

Chi's Sweet Home is a nice, sweet series that's perfect for cat lovers. If you don't mind stories that are about little more than watching a family care for a cat and seeing that cat do kitty things, you might want to try this out.

One thing that surprised me about these volumes was how different it became from what I remembered of the anime. Both the anime and manga feature Chi doing kitty things and meeting new friends, but the exact things that happen are different, at least based on what I remember. One development in the manga that I don't remember being in the anime at all is the possibility that Chi might actually meet her family again. I don't know when/if Kanata will have this happen, but I want to read it!

Read on for spoiler-filled synopses of each volume, plus a few more comments.

Earthrise (e-book) by M.C.A. Hogarth

Earthrise is a self-published science fiction novel. It's approximately 115,790 words long. It was originally serialized on M.C.A. Hogarth's website – I'm not sure if the two versions are identical, but I did some spot-checking, and they seemed pretty similar.

Synopsis:

Reese is captain of Earthrise, a merchant ship she only barely has the money to keep running. Years ago, she received a generous loan from a mysterious benefactor, and now that benefactor wants that debt repaid. Reese doesn't have the money, but it isn't money the person wants. Instead, Reese is instructed to find a captured Eldritch before he can be handed over to slavers.

Reese and her crew do find Hirianthial, who turns out to be a doctor in addition to a spy, but the situation is even more dangerous than they realized. Although they all manage to escape from captivity, the Earthrise is badly damaged, and the pirates who'd been holding Hirianthial may come after them all to seek revenge.

Review:

I first became aware of this book when several people I follow on Booklikes added it to their “planning to read” lists. The cover was gorgeous and caught my eye. While I was checking out Mindtouch, I saw Earthrise again and realized they were by the same author. I bought both of them at the same time.

This book had a much stronger start than Mindtouch, and I appreciated that it had more of an actual plot. There is something addictive about Hogarth's writing, and it's pretty much guaranteed that I'll be reading more of her works. That said, I did feel that Earthrise was a slightly less enjoyable read than Mindtouch.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Black Butler (manga, vols. 6-14) by Yana Toboso

Back when the events covered in the Black Butler anime and manga were the same, I tended to like the anime more. The art and action looked better, plus I got to listen to all those wonderful voice actors. I'm now firmly past the point where the anime and the manga diverged, and it's turning out to be a lot more fun than I expected. Also, either Toboso's art has become even better or I'm more used to it, because some of the volumes I read during my vacation were beautiful.

This was one of the best manga series I read during my vacation. I finished every volume I had checked out and would have loved to have continued on if I could have.

Read on for spoiler-filled synopses of each of the volumes, plus a few more comments.

The Story of Saiunkoku (manga, vols. 1-6) story by Sai Yukino, art by Kairi Yura

I watched the first season of the anime version of The Story of Saiunkoku approximately three years ago. I had heard the manga was pretty good, so I decided to give it a shot during my vacation.

Although I could see lots of elements in the manga that I remembered enjoying in the anime, I have to admit that several of the early volumes were a bit too slow for me. I liked the overall story and wanted to eventually get past the point where season 1 of the anime stopped (assuming that the anime and manga were fairly similar), so I kept going. Unfortunately, I became hooked on the manga just a couple days before my vacation was over. I still had several unread volumes left – it hurt to leave them behind. This is a series I definitely plan to continue reading.

Read on for spoiler-filled summaries of each of the volumes, plus a few short comments.

The Runaway Roommate (e-book) by C.S. Mae

The Runaway Roommate is contemporary romance. Or possibly chick lit. I'm not sure which category fits best. Anyway, it's 31,650 words long, and I got it for free from Smashwords. It's the first in Mae's Kdrama Chronicles series.

This post includes some spoilers. Also, since this was one of my vacation reads, I haven't included any read-alikes.

Synopsis:

Casey is a 32-year old computer programmer with a mountain of debt and a roommate who's just moved out. When one of her coworkers says he has a cousin who could use a place to stay, she figures she'll at least meet the guy and see what he's like. David turns out to be a half-Korean hottie as well as a perfect roommate. The two of them gradually fall for each other as Casey deals with workplace drama and the return of an ex-boyfriend.

Review:

This is one of the two books I read and finished during my vacation. I remember being annoyed by several aspects of it while I was reading it, but my overall feelings upon finishing were more “meh” than rage-y. However, organizing my notes in order to write this review really highlighted for me just how many things I disliked about this book.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Guin Saga Manga: The Seven Magi (manga, vol. 1) story by Kaoru Kurimoto, illustrated by Kazuaki Yanagisawa

The Guin Saga Manga: The Seven Magi is a fantasy series. The Guin Saga originally began as a light novel series. I have no idea if the manga is an adaptation of that series or if it tells a completely new story.

Those who dislike spoilers should probably skip my synopsis and just read my review. Or not. I had a hard time making sense of this volume, so my synopsis is likely confusing.

Synopsis:

A plague has overtaken Cylon, the capital of Cheironia. Desperate people bathe in human blood in a vain attempt to heal themselves. Leopard-headed King Guin enters the Alley of Charms hoping to learn how to dispel the plague. On the way to Yelisha (a mage), he picks up a couple tagalongs: Als the Torq Rat (a guy who originally planned to capture him for one of those “bathing in blood” episodes I mentioned) and Valusa (a dancer/prostitute). Guin learns that he has caused the plague, what with his specialness and leopard head.

Review:

It looks like people either love this series or hate it. I'm in the latter group. This is by far the worst manga volume I read during my entire vacation. It simultaneously confused me and left me feeling like I needed to give my eyeballs a good cleansing.

I haven't read the light novels yet. I know I have the first couple volumes somewhere in my personal collection, and my intense dislike of this manga volume makes me wonder if I will ever be able to bring myself to read them. At any rate, I had almost no familiarity with this series, which may or may not have played a part in my confusion while reading this. What I do know for sure is that the manga's hideous artwork and occasionally difficult-to-read text (black on dark gray, for crying out loud) certainly didn't help any.

I cared about none of the characters in this, not even Guin or Valusa, who I think I was supposed to like at least a little. Oh, boohoo, Guin's wife thinks he's freakish because of his leopard head. Oooh, Valusa maybe has a crush on him. Whatever. The characters did things and, even when I was able to follow along with what was going on, I didn't really care.

Now, back to the artwork. I've seen sources praising Yanagisawa's artwork, but I, unfortunately, though it was hideous. Maybe it was supposed to be hideous. After all, this was set in a world with a goodly amount of bloodshed and plague-related death. Maybe the dark subject matter called for repulsive artwork. Maybe people's faces were supposed to look distorted and bizarre. Whether this was all intentional or not doesn't change the fact that I disliked looking at it. The women, by the way, looked at least as repulsively distorted as the men, so the idea that they were probably supposed to be titillating (why else would there have been so much focus on their breasts?) horrified me.

I have no plans to ever read more of this manga. As it is, I wish I'd never read this first volume. I sincerely hope the light novels are better than this.

Arata: The Legend (manga, vol. 1) by Yuu Watase

Arata: The Legend is a fantasy series.

Those who dislike spoilers may want to skip the synopsis portion of this post and go straight to my review.

Synopsis:

Fantasy world Arata is horrified to learn that he has to pretend to be a girl or he and his grandmother will be put to death. During the ceremony to name him as the new ruling princess, the current (previous?) princess is nearly assassinated. Arata runs off and somehow accidentally switches places with an Arata from our world, a boy who's been bullied and betrayed. Our world's Arata learns that he's the sho (sheath) of a hayagami (a god in the form of a blade).

Review:

When I was a teen, I practically inhaled Watase's Fushigi Yuugi: The Mysterious Play series. Her character designs were so pretty it almost hurt to look at them, and I loved the mix of melodrama, fantasy, and complicated love stories. I've read several of her works since then, and Watase will probably always hold a place in my manga-loving heart.

So of course I had to at least try Arata: The Legend. I knew nothing about it, other than that it was created by Watase. I had several volumes come in near the end of my vacation and decided to at least read the first one.

Unfortunately, the first volume turned out to be a “meh” kind of read. There was some over-the-top instant bullying (seriously, Arata started off as a hugely popular transfer student and plummeted fast). The little bit of cross-dressing was over much more quickly than I expected – I thought for sure that Fantasy World Arata was going to have to pretend to be a girl for at least a few volumes. The divided storylines, between the Arata of our world dealing with bullying, and the Arata of the fantasy world dealing with being framed for an attempted assassination, led to an overall unfocused feel.

It's possible that this series will get better. I have the next few volumes somewhere in my personal collection and will be giving this series another shot. Who knows, the hayagami aspect could turn out to be really interesting. At this point, though, the best thing I can say about it is that it has Watase's usual clean, eye-pleasing artwork. Although even that seemed a little bit spare to me, compared to what I remembered her artwork being like. I don't know if it's just been too long since I last read one of her works, or if I've officially grown out of her stuff. I may need to give one of my past favorites of hers a reread...

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Skip Beat! (manga, vols. 16, 19, 24-30) by Yoshiki Nakamura

Skip Beat! was my absolute favorite out of all the manga series I read during my vacation. I really need to buy it, because it's one of those series that I think would hold up really well on a re-read.

Kyoko is lots and lots of fun, steadfastly refusing to be a dreamy, wimpy romantic heroine. Ren loves her, but he also realizes that love isn't on her radar at all and does his best not to expect more than she's ready to give. Sometimes Kyoko and Ren read each other completely wrong (leading to much hilarity for readers), and yet Nakamura has them avoid a few Big Misunderstandings that other authors might have milked for at least a volume or two. Thirty volumes in, and this series has yet to feel stale. That's pretty amazing. I honestly think I could have spent my entire vacation reading nothing but this series and I would have been happy. It's that good.

Read on for spoiler-filled synopses of the volumes, plus a few brief comments.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Shinobi Life (manga, vol. 1) by Shoko Conami

The cover art of the first volume of Shinobi Life caught my eye a while back. I think I've only ever stumbled across one review of it, which basically said "this was okay." Since I was going to be getting it via a library, I figured that "okay" was good enough.

I think I was able to check out the first three volumes, although the only one I ended up reading was volume 1.

Synopsis:

The heroine of the story, Beni, is a girl who blames her father for her mom's suicide and who is therefore determined to die in a way that would be her father's fault. Kagetora is a ninja from the past, transported to the present (Beni's time), who thinks that Beni is Benihime, the person he serves. He saves Beni, the two of them are transported back to Kagetora's time, Kagetora saves Beni again, and then they're both transported back to Beni's time.

Review:

This was mediocre. It reminded me a bit of Full Metal Panic! (clueless and serious military guy strives to protect spirited girl), except I remember Full Metal Panic! being more fun.

All my preconceptions about what this volume was going to be like were based on the cover art (I didn't even bother to read the blurb), so I figured there would be a modern day setting, with modern day shinobi (possibly similar to Nabari no Ou), and romance. The time travel aspect took me by surprise and was, generally, pretty lame.

Kagetora was mind-numbingly bland and not very bright. Beni was exceptional only in her initial determination to die. Yes, okay, so she blamed her father for her mother's death. Seriously, though, there had to be better ways to strike back at her father than trying to die in a way that could be considered his fault. While it's certainly possible that Beni becomes more interesting in later volumes, so far we have a heroine who constantly needs to be saved and whose hips keep giving out on her (so Kagetora can catch her, of course). Not exactly exciting. Also, isn't it usually a person's legs or knees that give out, rather than their hips?

I'll put up with a lot for pretty artwork, but even that wasn't all that great. I doubt I'll be continuing with this series.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Nightschool: The Weirn Books (OEL manga, vol. 4) by Svetlana Chmakova

Nightschool: The Weirn Books is a fantasy series that includes vampires, witches, demons, and werewolves. It's published by Yen Press.

Synopsis:

Alex discovers that the erasure of her sister's existence means that she no longer has a home. With no other options, she ends up at Rochelle's house. Unfortunately, Ronee has learned the details of Alex's curse and no longer wants her anywhere near Rochelle, in part because Ronee has a curse of her own to worry about.

Events begin herding everyone towards the Nightschool. Rochelle becomes the latest kidnap victim, prompting Ronee to rush to her rescue. Alex joins her, hoping to find her sister. And Marina and the young Hunters follow, in the hope of finding Alex and potentially helping save their friends' lives.

Review:

On the one hand, there were a lot of things I liked about this volume. On the other hand, I was right when I predicted that I would probably be disappointed by the series' ending.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Naruto (manga, vols. 44-50) by Masashi Kishimoto

During my last vacation, I sped through 12 volumes of this series and would have read more if I had had the time. During this vacation, I read all the volumes I had (7) and got through them fairly quickly, but...I think this series had lost its shine for me. I'm tired of battles that last multiple volumes. I'm tired of Naruto having to become more and more powerful so that there can be bigger and bigger battles to hold readers' interests. I'm tired of dealing with a story so huge that I can't remember all the details and what the motivations are of the dozens of characters.

That said, I don't imagine I'll be abandoning the series anytime soon. I won't ever buy it, but I'll keep reading it via the library. If Kishimoto ever ends the series, I want to see that ending. It's just not quite as enjoyable a ride as it used to be.

Read on for spoiler-filled synopses of the volumes, plus a few brief comments.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Mindtouch (e-book) by M.C.A. Hogarth

Mindtouch is a science fiction school/college story. I'd also call it science fiction slice-of-life. It's self-published and 121,680 words long.

I decided that nothing I read during my vacation will get a read-alikes list, so there are no read-alikes at the end of this post. Part of me feels a little guilty, because I've created read-alikes lists for almost every review post I've written for this blog, and part of me is glad, because coming up with a read-alikes list for this book would have been really hard.

Synopsis:

Jahir, an Eldritch, leaves his stagnant and secretive home world in order to study xenopsychology. His problems begin right away. He has been assigned to live with a roommate, and, because he is highly sensitive to the emotions and thoughts of others, particularly when they touch him, this will not do. He's limited in what he can do or say to find a solution to his roommate problem, however, because Eldritch are forbidden to reveal too many details about their people to others.

Vasiht'h, another xenopsychology student, offers to let Jahir stay in his apartment. He'd still be sharing some of his living space, but at least he'd have his bedroom all to himself. So begins the friendship between Jahir and Vasiht'h, two beings trying to figure out what to do with their lives.

Review:

I'm still on the lookout for decently written romantic stories featuring at least one asexual character. This was tagged with “asexual” in Smashwords. There was no guarantee it contained any romance, but the cover art looked good and I liked the excerpt well enough, so I decided to give it a shot. This is, I think, the first time I've purchased something through Smashwords without having at least read a freebie by the author, so it was a bit of a risk. I'm happy to say that it turned out to be a risk worth taking. Despite its incredibly frustrating ending.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Promise, Part Three (graphic novel) script by Gene Luen Yang, art and cover by Gurihiru, lettering by Michael Heisler

The Promise, Part 3 continues where Part 2 left off.

I'm not going to list any read-alikes or watch-alikes in this post. If you'd like some, I'd suggest taking a look at my Avatar: The Last Airbender TV series posts.

Synopsis:

The Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation are at the brink of all-out war. The Earth King wants all Fire Nation citizens kicked out of Yu Dao, which is historically an Earth Kingdom city. Fire Lord Zuko continues to defend his citizens' existence in Yu Dao, but, privately, he is in turmoil over his decision. Is he doing the right thing? Aang is just as torn about what to do. Should he side with Zuko or with the Harmony Restoration Movement? And, if he chooses the latter, can he bring himself to keep his promise and kill Zuko?

Review:

This volume ended the story arc in a way that worked but that somehow didn't entirely satisfy me.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Scarlet (book) by Marissa Meyer

Scarlet is science fiction, the second book in Meyer's Lunar Chronicles. This time around, the series takes some of its cues from the story of Little Red Riding Hood. However, this isn't as much of a fairy tale relling as Cinder was.

Synopsis:

Cinder's story continues, as she breaks out of her prison cell and, along with Thorne, a fellow escapee, tries to decide what to do next. Reluctant to do as Dr. Erland told her (join the resistance as Princess Selene), she instead opts to find the pilot who helped rescue and hide her when she was a child.

Meanwhile, a brand-new character named Scarlet is desperately looking for her grandmother. She is sure her grandmother was kidnapped, but no one will believe her. Then her alcoholic father shows up, wild and afraid, claiming that he and her grandmother were held captive and tortured. He was freed only on the condition that he find whatever it was his captors were looking for. Unfortunately, he has no clue what that is, and neither does Scarlet. Her father's rantings and ravings do at least point Scarlet in the direction of Wolf, a newcomer in town who may know where her grandmother is being kept.

Review:

I loved Cinder. I fully expected to love this book. It saddens me to say that I did not. It took a tremendous amount of effort to even finish it.

I'm back!

My vacation was nice, and now I'm trying to get used to being in my own apartment again. I posted absolutely nothing while I was gone (I didn't even check my email!), although I read lots and lots, and even watched a few TV shows with my mom and dad. I figure I'll do something much like the posts I wrote after my last vacation - one post per manga series, rather than per volume, with no promises that I'll write about everything.

Here's what I got through, along with brief comments in case I don't get around to writing posts:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Vacation!

FYI - I'm on vacation for the next couple of weeks and will soon be flying to my parents' place. I plan to relax, play with my parents' dogs, and read lots and lots of manga. I'm not currently planning on doing much, if any, blogging, but I might finish up a few of my draft posts and schedule them.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Nightschool: The Weirn Books (OEL manga, vol. 3) by Svetlana Chmakova

Nightschool: The Weirn Books is a fantasy series that includes vampires, witches, demons, and werewolves. It's published by Yen Press.

Synopsis:

While Daemon is off dealing with the werewolves, the Hunters are betrayed by one of their own. Meanwhile, Mr. Roi has finally remembered what it was that he and his colleagues sealed away long ago. Alex gets help in her search for her sister and continues to be unaware that the Hunters and Mr. Roi are looking for her.

Review:

One volume away from the end of the series, and there is still lots of stuff going on. I suspect I'm going to be really disappointed by volume 4.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Nightschool: The Weirn Books (OEL manga, vol. 2) by Svetlana Chmakova

Nightschool: The Weirn Books is a fantasy series that includes vampires, witches, and shifters. It's published by Yen Press.

Synopsis:

Alex is determined to find her missing sister, but she quickly learns that she can't even enter the Nightschool unless she enrolls as a student. Meanwhile, the unconscious Hunters may be dying unless Daemon, their teacher, can find a way to save them. With no other options, he contacts Mr. Roi and asks for his help finding a cursed, white-haired girl - aka Alex.

Review:

I found this at a used bookstore.

This volume comes with a few more answers, although there are still lots and lots of questions. Now that Alex has enrolled in Nightschool in an effort to find her sister, who no one seems to remember exists, readers are given a more detailed look at how Nightschool works from a student's perspective. Alex has to fill out an application, take a tour of the school, and attend class. It all reminded me a little of Hogwarts – the school's floor plan doesn't stay the same from one day to the next, one floor of the school contains an actual forest and a lake, etc. There's even a teacher who seems to take an immediate dislike to Alex, patronizing her when she learns that Alex has been home schooled up until now.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Day Watch (live action movie), via Netflix

Day Watch (aka Dnevnoy dozor, aka Night Watch 2: The Chalk of Fate) is a Russian urban fantasy movie based on the second and third part of Sergey Lukyanenko's novel The Night Watch. I read The Night Watch years ago and remember liking it well enough, although apparently I didn't retain much, because almost nothing in this film was familiar to me.

So anyway, there are Light and Dark Others who maintain an uneasy truce and police each other via a Night Watch and a Day Watch. Anton is part of the Night Watch, and his trainee and love interest, Svetlana, has the potential to be a Great Light Other. Meanwhile, his son, Yegor, has the potential to be a Great Dark Other. While Anton and Svetlana are out patrolling, they go after a Dark Other who has been draining the life-force from his victims via a needle. The Dark Other turns out to be Yegor, who manages to escape.

The world is not meant to have both a Great Light Other and a Great Dark Other, and both sides are on edge. Anton finds himself on the run, framed for a murder he didn't commit, while Zavulon, the leader of the Dark Others, begins arranging things so that a war between the Light and Dark Others will be inevitable. The world may be destroyed, unless Anton can find the Chalk of Fate, a magical piece of chalk that has the power to change the past of whoever writes with it.

I wanted to like this movie. Unfortunately, I had lots of problems following along, even with the vague memories I had of the book. The characters seemed able to do just about anything, according to rules that were never really stated. It was cool stuff, but it all seemed to come out of nowhere. Teleportation via an ad board? No problem. Changing your face to look like someone else? Sure, just find a bit of snow. Many of the characters definitely weren't all-powerful, but I couldn't figure out what their limitations were.

Character goals also confused me. Zavulon seemed perfectly willing to destroy everyone and everything – what was the point of that? Yegor was a ball of anger. I thought, at first, that he hated his father, but later it seemed like he actually loved him and wanted him and his mother to be a family again. He seemed completely unaware of the difficulty that would pose, seeing as how Anton was a Day Other. Unless the implication was that he wanted Anton to give up being a Day Other and become a Night Other. Svetlana was disappointingly bland, considering how powerful she was. She loved Anton but wasn't sure how he felt about her, and she wanted to keep him safe. That was pretty much it. Olga, who barely spent any of the movie as herself, was more awesome and badass than her.

All in all, this movie was a disappointment.

The Gravedigger's Brawl (e-book) by Abigail Roux

The Gravedigger's Brawl is a fairly light m/m horror novel. It's published by Riptide Publishing and has a word count of 66,000.

Synopsis:

In an effort to get him to relax after a particularly bad work week, Wyatt's friend Noah introduces him to Ash, a bartender at Gravedigger's. Wyatt is a museum curator with a deep love of research and history. Ash is energetic, has almost rockstar status at the bar (he's one of its famous flair bartenders), has a tongue ring, and dresses in Gaslight style. They hit it off almost right away, but Wyatt panics and messes things up a bit.

While Wyatt attempts to simultaneously keep his job and win back Ash's trust, strange things start happening at Gravedigger's. The staff hear odd noises after closing time, the air conditioning is on the fritz, and Ash swears he keeps seeing a strange man. Is Gravedigger's haunted, or is something else going on?

Review:

I'm pretty sure I bought this one because it had some good reviews, I'd heard good things about Riptide Publishing, and I liked the cover.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Aristocrat and the Desert Prince (book) written by Haruhi Tono, illustrated by Ai Hasukawa, English translation by Karen McGillicuddy

The Aristocrat and the Desert Prince is part of Digital Manga Publishing's Juné Yaoi Novels imprint. It's basically a sheikh romance.

Synopsis:

Takeyuki is the youngest son in a wealthy family. He has no clue what he wants to do with his life but knows he's unsatisfied with the idea of taking over his father's company. He asks his parents to allow him to visit Cassina, a country in the Middle East, as his college graduation present, and they reluctantly agree.

Almost immediately upon arriving in Cassina, Takeyuki is warned to be careful – although Cassina is relatively peaceful, kidnappings have been known to happen. So of course Takeyuki wanders off on his own in a marketplace and is promptly kidnapped. He is saved by a mysterious man named Zayid. Although Zayid doesn't seem to want to harm him, he also doesn't want to take Takeyuki back to the Japanese embassy right away. As Takeyuki begins to fall for Zayid, he becomes more uncertain. Does he really want to go back to his family? Would Zayid even want him to stay?

Review:

I've been in something of a reading slump for a while, so I decided to try to break it up with what I figured would be a quick read. I found this at a used bookstore. I haven't had a lot of luck with Digital Manga Publishing's yaoi novels, so I tried to keep my expectations low.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Lone Wolf (e-book) by Louis Joseph Vance

The Lone Wolf is an adventure story originally published back in 1914. I think it's the first book in Vance's Lone Wolf series. Those interested in reading it can download it for free via Project Gutenberg.

Synopsis:

The main character was just a young boy when he was abandoned at a hotel called Troyon's by a man who may or may not have taken him from his parents. He was renamed Marcel Troyon, learned to speak French, and was raised without affection. As he grew older, he took to thieving and occasionally stole a few coins here and there from the guests at Troyon's. One such guest, Bourke, caught him. Rather than turning him in to Troyon's owners, Bourke took him under his wing. By 1910, when Bourke died, “Marcel Troyon” was long gone. In his place was Michael Lanyard, the Lone Wolf, whose guiding principles were to never have friends and never fall in love.

Years later, Lanyard returns to Troyon's after a few successful thefts. His intention is to lay low for a while, so he's a little startled to see Roddy, a detective from Scotland Yard. However, Roddy isn't after him. He's focused on Monsieur le Comte Remy de Morbihan. Seeing as how he has nothing better to do, Lanyard figures he'll watch De Morbihan too.

To Lanyard's shock, De Morbihan indicates that he knows who the Lone Wolf is. It's not long before Lanyard finds himself in the cross-hairs of the Pack, a mysterious criminal group De Morbihan is part of. He is given two choices: either join the Pack or cease operations in any of the Pack's territories and perhaps eventually be assassinated.

Review:

I was having trouble deciding what to read next and chose this book, out of all the ones in my e-book collection, using a random number generator. I couldn't even remember why I'd added it to my collection, but, now that I've finished it, I'm pretty sure it was one I downloaded after thoroughly enjoying Maurice Leblanc's The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsene Lupin, Gentleman-Burglar. Lanyard and Lupin had several similarities, and one character in Vance's book even said they were much alike. Unfortunately, Lanyard wasn't as enjoyable a character as Lupin.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Mail-Order Marriages (anthology) by Jillian Hart, Carolyn Davidson, Kate Bridges

Mail Order Marriages is a Harlequin Historical containing three short stories set in various places in America during the latter half of the 19th century. As you can probably tell from the title and cover, they're historical romances featuring mail-order brides.

The mail-order marriages aspect immediately appealed to me and was the reason why I bought this book. I wanted to see how the various authors would handle the subject. I was a little surprised at how repetitious the stories felt, considering there were only three of them. The first two stories both include a "heroine inherits a lot of money and a man from her past chases after her" subplot, and both of them handle it in pretty much the same way.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Oh, Goodreads...

On Friday, I learned about Goodreads' latest announcement, which can be found here: http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1499741-important-note-regarding-reviews

The most worrisome part, to me, was that they then deleted several users' shelves (and sometimes also some of their reviews), notifying those users only after the deletions were finished. Goodreads later tried to explain their actions by saying the reviews they deleted weren't really reviews, but rather insults aimed at the authors. Even if that was the case, they could still have hidden the reviews and/or given the users who wrote them a couple days' warning before deleting them. As far as the shelves go, I've never had a "Badly Behaving Author" shelf of my own, but I can understand why others would want to have them. Those, too, could have been made private and were instead deleted without warning.

I have no current plans to delete my Goodreads account, since it's an incredibly useful way for me to keep track of the books I'd like to read. However, I'm on the fence about whether I still want to contribute reviews.

At least one of the people whose reviews I was following has left Goodreads and deleted her account. I'm currently exploring other options. Right now, the one I'm looking at most closely is BookLikes. It's really easy to import a Goodreads collection, although it takes forever - BookLikes has imported 16 of my books so far, with 764 more to go, and the estimated import time is 2009 hours. Also, imported reviews have all formatting removed - no paragraph breaks, no italics, no bolding, no links, and any Goodreads links you used morph into a mess.

I've only poked around on BookLikes a little so far. It looks like book-focused blogging, with a few social elements. I haven't been able to find a way to search for reviews across all BookLikes pages, which makes it harder to find other BookLikes users to follow, harder to decide whether specific books are worth reading, and harder to use BookLikes as a read-alikes tool. (I finally found the search box that lets me search more than just one specific BookLikes blog, although the results list is a bit of a slog.) However, that doesn't mean the site won't grow on me, and I do love that it allows me to give books half-star ratings, something Goodreads has always refused to implement. I'll take a better look around once more of my books have been imported. If you're curious about what a BookLikes blog looks like, here's mine. Books are still being imported, and the only post I've touched so far is the one for Deeanne Gist's Maid to Match.

Another option I'm thinking of trying is The Reading Room. The main thing holding me back is that it appears to have a very small community - many of the books I've looked up have no reviews. I'm also thinking of giving LibraryThing another go, although, since free accounts are limited to 200 books, I'd have to pay to upload everything I've got.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Nightschool: The Weirn Books (OEL manga, vol. 1) by Svetlana Chmakova

Nightschool: The Weirn Books is a fantasy series that includes vampires and witches. It's published by Yen Press.

Synopsis:

Although daytime students don't know it, at night a certain high school becomes the Nightschool, a place where witches and vampires learn all the usual subjects, plus spell casting and more. Sarah Treveney is the school's new Night Keeper. I'm not entirely sure what this job entails, but it puts her into contact with everyone from Mr. Roi, one of the Nightschool's most powerful (and hottest) teachers, to Ronee, who seems to be queen of the Nightschool students.

Alex is Sarah's younger sister. She insists on being home schooled, because of something serious that happened in the past that has yet to be revealed. She, like Sarah and many of the Nightschool's students, is a weirn, a kind of witch. While Sarah is at work, Alex decides to study outside, which unfortunately puts her in the path of a group of patrolling Hunters.

Review:

I found the first and second volumes of this series at a used bookstore and snatched them up. Although I never fell in love with Chmakova's Dramacon the way some others did, I liked it well enough. I enjoy fantasy and was interested in seeing how well she'd handle a switch to a new genre.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Amnesia (anime TV series), via Crunchyroll

Amnesia is 12 episodes long and based on a visual novel series. It mixes mystery, romance, and fantasy.

This post contains spoilers. This is one of the most disturbing "romance" stories I've reviewed in recent memory, and I didn't feel I could adequately explain why without spoiling certain parts.

Synopsis:

The female protagonist of this series is never given a name, so I'll refer to her as Heroine, the same way Crunchyroll's episode descriptions do.

Heroine wakes up and discovers that she no longer has any memories of who she is or any of the people around her. Orion, a fairy only she can see, tells her that her amnesia is his fault – he accidentally bumped into her spirit, thereby attaching himself to her and knocking out all her memories. According to him, in order to get her memories back, she must interact with people she used to know. He believes it's best that she not tell anyone she can't remember anything, because she doesn't know, at this point, who she can trust.

In the very first episode, Heroine starts having visions that may be memories. Her situation rapidly becomes more confusing, however, when she suddenly finds herself transported back in time, without Orion to guide her. The first time she's transported back, Shin, who seemed to previously just be a childhood friend of hers, is now her boyfriend.

And so goes the general pattern of the series: Heroine is repeatedly transported to August 1st, where one of the men in her life is revealed to be her boyfriend. Certain details, like her job at the maid cafe, are usually the same. However, other things differ. Sometimes a group of girls bullies her. Her boss's personality changes from one repetition to the next. Through it all, Heroine has to orient herself and try to figure out what's going on, so that her world can stabilize and she can regain her memories.

Some general info about the various guys:
  • Shin – A childhood friend of Heroine's. He's studying hard to get into a university. He may or may not have killed someone.
  • Ikki – One of Heroine's fellow employees. His eyes seem to have the power to cause any girl except the heroine to fall in love with him, and it's not unusual for him to be surrounded by a crowd of his admirers.
  • Kento – Very logical and analytical. Normal human interaction does not come easy to him.
  • Toma – Another childhood friend of Heroine's. He acts like an older brother figure to both Shin and Heroine.
  • Ukyo – A mysterious photographer who is sometimes kind towards heroine and sometimes dangerous.
Review:

I started this one because I'm a sucker for pretty artwork and male harem series, even though they're almost always awful. I can't really say that it defied my expectations, although it had moments where it was more interesting than I originally thought it would be.

Monday, September 2, 2013

My Little Monster (anime TV series), via Crunchyroll

My Little Monster is a romantic comedy based on a manga written and illustrated by Robico. It's 13 episodes long.

Synopsis:

All Shizuku is concerned about is her grades. She wants to study hard, be the best in every subject, and one day have a high-paying job. However, her life becomes more complicated when her teacher bribes her into bringing assignments to Haru, a boy who beat up a few students on his first day and then stopped showing up to school.

Because Haru has so little experience dealing with people in a nonviolent way, he tends to view kindness and positive behavior through the lens of cliches. Therefore, when Shizuku brings him his homework, he automatically decides she's his friend, because that's the sort of things friends do. Although Shizuku has no interest in becoming further involved with Haru, he refuses to leave her alone and she begins to warm to him.

Gradually, their circle of friends expands to include Sasayan (the most grounded and ordinary person in their group), Natsume (a ditsy, gorgeous girl who desperately wants to make female friends), Oshima (an extremely shy girl), and a group of delinquents, led by Yamaken (has a terrible sense of direction). Oh, and there's also a rooster named Nagoya.

Review:

This is one of those shows that grew on me. I liked it for its complex characters. I even found myself rooting for its romantic storylines...until something came up that reminded me how messed up those romances would be.

Mating Season (e-novella) by Allie Ritch

Mating Season is erotic paranormal/sci fi romance. It's published by Liquid Silver and is approximately 25,000 words long.

Synopsis:

All Koll wants is a wife, someone to love who will love him back. On his planet, eligible men offer their ribbon to potential spouses before winter, the mating season. Women can choose to either accept or reject the ribbons. Those who accept stay with their chosen men during the winter and then, by spring, decide whether to move on or marry whoever it is they stayed with.

Koll, unfortunately, has never been able to convince any women to accept his ribbon. His bear-like size and gruffness keeps scaring them off. He has become something of a joke in his village.

While on his latest quest to find someone willing to stay with him over the winter, Koll comes across Shila, on the run from two men. Although Koll doesn't learn this until later, Shila is a Child of Nanook - she can transform into a frost bear. She likes Koll's large size just fine, and Koll thinks he has finally found the woman for him. First, however, Shila and Koll have to deal with the male frost bear shifters who are after her.

Review:

I picked this up because I loved the idea of a gruff-looking outcast, who's really a lonely softy, meeting a woman who likes him just the way he is. Unfortunately, this was one of those times when I liked the idea of a story better than its actual execution.
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