Sunday, July 28, 2013

How to Date a Henchman (e-novella) by Mari Fee

How to Date a Henchman is a mix of romance and superhero fantasy. It's published by Carina Press and is 26,000 words long. I bought it after reading a review of it on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

This review contains some spoilers.

Synopsis:

Gina is a college dropout who's bored with her dead-end job. It seems like everyone at EnClo Corp. but her has access to the mysterious B2, the basement level where all the important stuff happens.

Things get a little more exciting when Mr. Sparks, the owner of EnClo Corp., visits. Mr. Sparks makes Gina a little uncomfortable, but Burke, his tough-looking assistant, is kind of hot. Gina is excited when Burke asks her out to dinner, but their date is cut short when Glimmer, a superhero, arrives. That's when Gina learns the truth about her employer: Mr. Sparks is actually Static, a supervillain, and Burke is his henchman.

Review:

Let's face it: “superheroes and supervillains as regular folks who happen to have superpowers” is no longer an original idea. That said, I still enjoy this setup. In the world of this novella, superheroes and supervillains exist and tend to cause a lot of damage. In America, superheroes are considered perfectly legal and even get corporate sponsorships. In Canada, superheroes are few and far between because their activities are generally considered to be in violation of anti-vigilante laws.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Heart of Aces (anthology)

I am annoyed. Not only is this the most shoddily edited print book I've ever come across, I've just learned that it contains at least one P2P fanfic. I did not know this when I purchased it, and I did not know this when I reviewed it. I hate P2P fanfic with a fiery passion. That said, I went to the effort of writing this very long and detailed review, so I'm keeping it up.

Here are the P2P details:

Andrea R. Blackwell's "An Asexual and a Hypersexual Walk Into a Bar" was originally round_robin's Sherlock fanfic of the same title. Here's the link: http://archiveofourown.org/works/402827

You have got to be kidding me. You couldn't even bring yourself to write a brand-new, original short story? If I learn that any of the other stories in this anthology are P2P fanfic, I'll include the details for those, too.

My review, otherwise unchanged, is below.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Strobe Edge (manga, vol. 3) story & art by Io Sakisaka

Strobe Edge is a romance manga series. I got this volume via interlibrary loan.

Synopsis:

In the previous volume, Ando freaked Ninako out by suddenly kissing her. This volume starts where the last one left off. Ren, without knowing the full situation, helps Ninako hide from Ando and regain her composure. However, he's still trying to keep his distance from her so that other girls at their school will stop bullying her, so he makes her leave him alone by telling her she annoys him.

Ninako soon figures out this was a lie, and their relationship goes back to the way it was: Ninako continues to be friends with Ren while also nursing unrequited love for him, while Ren continues to be friends with Ninako while also still dating his girlfriend.

Ando is very much part of the mix now, though, and he's determined not to stand by and watch as Ninako and Ren's relationship potentially becomes something more. He has realized that he's in love with Ninako and wants her to feel the same way about him. His first step is to make sure he spends at least as much time around Ninako as Ren does, so when Ninako and Ren get a job at a cafe, he makes sure to get a job at the same cafe.

Review:

The first volume of this series was so-so, but the second was fabulous. Sadly, this one took the series back to so-so.

White (live action movie), via Netflix

White is a Korean horror movie.

I liked the thumbnail art (also used in my post), but, you know, I really should just delete all horror movies from my Netflix queue. I am wimpy, and they are not good for me. As stupid as parts of this movie were, it still had me hiding my eyes and checking the dark corners of my apartment.

Eun-ju is the oldest member of a failing girl band, Pink Dolls. The three other girls in the group badmouth her, insult her, and refuse to listen to her, and yet she's expected to keep everyone in line. The band has come close to hitting rock bottom when they are moved to a new studio, which was owned by their sponsor's father. Eun-ju discovers a mysterious music video hidden away in the studio, and her band's manager likes the song and decides that they'll claim it as their own. It's an instant hit and propels the group into stardom, but things quickly begin to go wrong. The song requires that one girl be the “main,” the lead singer, and, of course, most of the girls want this spot. Unfortunately, each girl chosen to be the “main” quickly breaks down and spirals into madness, hallucinating horrible things and nearly winding up dead. When Eun-ju becomes the last girl in the group still standing, she knows she has to figure out who the “main” in the mysterious music video is and how that girl died, if she wants to stand a chance at breaking the curse and surviving herself.

I only knew a little bit about K-pop bands and how they work before watching this movie, but the Pink Dolls situation seemed spectacularly messed up. None of the girls liked or trusted each other, and the happy face they put on for the public was a complete facade. If any one of them had been told that they could be stars simply by ripping out the throats of their band members, most of them would have gladly done just that. Technically, the situation their new hit song put them in was very much like that. One of the girls even made a point of saying that the “accident” that happened to the first “main” could have been engineered by another band member.

Several of this movie's scares were a little laughable in how they played out. For example, I don't think it's possible to sing high notes and projectile vomit while being hanged (and why did no one clean the vomit off the window afterward?). Also, I rolled my eyes during a scene in which one of the Pink Doll members took part in a game show (reality TV episode?) and, spotting something scary in the dark, ran away from the people standing around her so that she could be all alone with the scary thing. Some of that may have been the result of hallucinations on her part, but it still seemed so contrived. The same went for all the song splicing and reversing near the end of the movie.

Even so, like I said, I'm a horror wimp. I tensed up whenever I spotted the pop singer's ghost hiding in the background, where the other characters couldn't see her, and I held my breathe as I waited to see if Sun-ye, Eun-ju's friend, could get to Eun-ju in time to save her. The last scare at the end was pretty stereotypical and made no sense as far as the movie's overall logic was concerned, but the movie as a whole did a decent job of scaring me. I laughed a little, though, when the song that got everyone killed played during the closing credits. Separated from the movie's events, it was just a catchy but incredibly forgettable song, nothing at all special about it.

This Girl is Badass (live action movie), via Netflix

This Girl is Badass is a Thai comedy. It's the first Thai movie I've ever seen – a big mistake on my part. With comedies, it's usually best if you have some understanding of the culture they come from, and I have zero knowledge of Thai culture.

Jukkalan is a bike messenger who often delivers things for various groups of gangsters. The movie begins with lots of action scenes, presumably to demonstrate that she is, in fact, “badass.” She can do amazing tricks on her bike (I was left wondering how many of those tricks were even possible) and, when one of the gangsters sends his men after her to cheat her out of the money she just earned from him, she beats all of them up.

In addition to Jukkalan, the movie has a fairly big cast of characters:
  • Two groups of gangsters, one headed by a guy with an absurdly high voice and one headed by a guy who seems to mostly employ women (he has a group of female assassins on hand).
  • Uncle Wang, who is basically Jukkalan's surrogate father. He has a huge crush on a lady who owns a laundry cleaning business.
  • Duan – A guy who has been in love with Jukkalan ever since she saved him from a bunch of bullies when they were kids.
  • The handsome musician Jukkalan is in love with.
  • Jukkalan's boss, who dresses in embarrassing costumes.
In general, Jukkalan was badass. She fought multiple guys in several action scenes, and, although she did get an assist near the end of the movie, she was primarily the one who saved herself and everyone around her. And none of her fight scenes were set up to make her look like a sex goddess. I liked that. However, I disliked Jukkalan's tendency to lose a few brain cells whenever she was around the musician she had a crush on – it knocked her badass ranking down a few notches. Thankfully, Jukkalan's reaction to him was at its worst the first time she had a scene with him and got better later on, but that first scene was so bad that I wished the entire romance storyline had been left out. It's not like it even amounted to much beyond an ongoing joke.

The humor in this didn't really work for me, although it's entirely possible that the translation had a lot to do with it. Humor is difficult to translate well, and I don't think whoever wrote the subtitles for this movie was up to the challenge. There were a few lines that even I could tell were clumsily translated, and the time it took my brain to figure out what was being said meant that the humor, what there was of it, was lost on me.

Considering the subject of some of the jokes, though, I'm not sure how much I would have liked them even if awkward translation hadn't been a factor. The humor in this movie is pretty broad and, at times, dark. There are sexual jokes (one gang boss accuses Jukkalan of stealing from him, but his wording makes it sound like he's saying that she gave him a blow job), and jokes that rely on the audience finding particular aspects of characters funny (the high-voiced gang boss, little people training as boxers, Jukkalan's horrifyingly dressed boss, etc.). It just didn't work for me.

Jukkalan's fight scenes were, for me, the best parts of the whole movie, although I couldn't help but wonder how she had managed to get so good with a gun, since it didn't seem like Uncle Wang would have been willing to teach her. I might have reached the end of this movie just feeling so-so about it, except for several things that happened near the end. One, who was the random guy being beaten while Jukkalan was in the warehouse avoiding being killed? Two, one of the fights between a random gangster woman and random gangster guy was absolutely disgusting. The guy fondled the woman's breast as they were fighting and then, when they simultaneously killed each other (or passed out?), they fell in such a way that their bloody lips pressed together. Not funny. Three, if I understood things right, Uncle Wang used to be an assassin and was responsible for the death of the husband of the woman he's currently in love with. You'd think the woman would find out at some point, there'd be lots of drama, and either she'd push him away or somehow come to forgive him. Instead, Uncle Wang and the woman ended up together without this bit of nastiness ever being dealt with.

All in all, this movie did not work for me.

Making War Horse (documentary), via Netflix

Making War Horse is a documentary about the making of the play “War Horse.” I almost never watch documentaries – I have too many movies and TV shows I'd rather watch – but, when I saw that Netflix had this, I immediately added it to my queue.

I haven't seen “War Horse” and probably never will. What put it on my radar was a book I cataloged for my library a while back: The Horse's Mouth: How Handspring and the National Theatre made War Horse by Mervyn Millar. It didn't have nearly as many color photographs as I would have liked, but the ones it did have intrigued me. I read a little of it and learned that the wooden animals in the  photographs weren't props, but rather puppets, characters in their own right.

Photographs are all well and good, but they can't show you how puppets move. This documentary could. I wasn't really interested in learning about the play's lighting, set design, and music, but seeing the puppets move, learning about how they were constructed, how the puppeteers communicated with each other, all of that made watching this documentary worth it for me. Seriously, the puppets are amazing. The documentary touched on a few of the other puppets in the play, like some of the wooden soldiers and a goose, but the horses received the most attention – understandable, since one of the horses was the play's main character. The horses require three puppeteers: one person to control the head, one to control the front half of the horse, and one to control the back. Two of the three puppeteers are inside the puppet and can't see much, if anything, of what's going on, and yet all three puppeteers have to work together to make their puppet seem like a living, breathing horse.

If “War Horse” ever played anywhere near me, I'd go see it for the horse puppets alone, although I'd bring along a few packages of tissues. I have a feeling this would be one of those “work so hard to hold back the tears that you give yourself a headache” productions.

The documentary talked a little about the story, which was based on the book War Horse by Michael Morpurgo, and it sounded hugely depressing. The main character, Joey, is a horse taken away from his original owner, Albert, in order to serve in World War I. I couldn't tell from the documentary if Joey ever made it back to Albert or not, but, even if he did, there were still lots of opportunities for heartbreaking scenes. For example, one scene from the play showed Joey getting himself tangled up in barbed wire. The author of the original book spoke a little about his research – the things he learned that inspired that barbed wire scene, how many horses died during the war, etc. You know, exactly the kind of the stuff that is the reason why I rarely read animal books anymore. I hate having to clear tears out of my eyes just so I can keep reading.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

A Cat in Paris (non-Japanese animation, movie), via Netflix

A Cat in Paris (Une vie de chat) is a French children's adventure movie. The main characters are a little girl named Zoe, her mother, a thief named Nico, Zoe's cat, and Victor Costa. Zoe's mother is a cop, and so was her father. Costa killed Zoe's father, and Zoe hasn't said a word since then. Zoe's mother desperately wants to reconnect with her daughter, but she's battling her own demons, in the form of her desire to catch Costa. Zoe's cat goes out every night and, one night, Zoe follows. It's then that Zoe learns her cat is also a thief's assistant.

I had this movie in my Netflix queue for a while before finally watching it, because the style of artwork in the thumbnail didn't appeal to me. I'm glad I did watch it, though, because it was so much fun!

The visuals were the sort I'm more used to seeing in paintings than animation and took while to grow on me. However, I came to enjoy them. I loved that Nico moved differently than Costa and his gang – Nico was more agile, and he sometimes became almost boneless, flowing from one hiding place to the next. Some of the scenes were very clever, such as one that showed Nico moving through a completely dark building. I also loved the scene near the end of the movie, in which Nico tried to evade Costa and climb to safety while dangling from parts of a cathedral. The colors were gorgeous, and the action was wonderful.

Anime lovers, take note: Steve Blum, who has voiced Cowboy Bebop's Spike Spiegel, Naruto's Orochimaru and Zabuza, and many, many other characters, voices Nico. I hadn't realized that going in, so, when I recognized him, there was much fangirl joy on my part.

Netflix doesn't give the option of watching this in French with English subtitles, so I don't know how it compares to the English dub. The English voice acting sounded really good to me, though, even after I got over my initial “yay, Steve Blum!” reaction.

Pretty much the only thing I didn't quite like about this movie was the romance shoe-horned in at the end, between Nico and Zoe's mother. I could see it coming, in the way they met each other's eyes after all the action was over, but it didn't really make sense. Yes, Zoe trusted Nico, but Zoe's mother was a cop, Nico was a thief, and I got the impression that Zoe's father hadn't died that long ago. The movie skipped any attempt to explain how romance might be possible and just jumped forward a few months to show the happy family. Does that mean Nico quit being a thief and everyone turned a blind eye to his crimes? (And yes, I know, it's a children's movie and I'm probably overthinking it.)

All in all, this was a wonderful movie, and I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a light, fun adventure.

Moon Over Soho (book) by Ben Aaronovitch

Moon Over Soho is the second book in Aaronovitch's Peter Grant series. I'd call it urban fantasy plus mystery.

This review doesn't exactly contain spoilers, but some of the things I write about will probably make it easy to guess what happens, so read on with caution.

[Just noticed that I had this book down as being written by its main character. Whoops. I fixed it.]

Synopsis:

Peter Grant, apprentice wizard, spends most of this book primarily trying to solve one series of murders. Someone or something is using magic to kill jazz musicians just after or during gigs. Meanwhile, he's also helping out with another case involving vagina dentata: a woman whose vagina contains teeth. Sharp ones. Her victims die of blood loss after getting their penises bitten off during sex.

Review:

I loved the first book in this series, Midnight Riot, so I decided to read this one too. Sadly, I didn't like it quite as much as the first.

Peter's “voice” was still a lot of fun. I loved all the little snarky details, and I liked the scientific approach he took towards magic. I enjoyed the brief appearance of Ash, the river god exchanged for Beverley in the previous book, much more than I thought I would, and I loved how Aaronovich was able to turn London into a character in its own right. I love Molly enough that I hope she at least gets to have a storyline in a future book devoted to her. However, the mystery aspects made less of an impact than they did in the first book, and the stupidity level was unusually high.

Life, Seasons 1-2 (live action TV series), via Netflix

Life is a crime show where the “twist” is that the main character, Charlie Crews, is a cop who was framed for murdering his friend and most of his friend's family. He was supposed to be imprisoned for life, but he is exonerated after 12 years. As part of his settlement, he is given a huge amount of money (maybe 50 million dollars?). He also requests, and is granted, his old job back. When asked why he doesn't just retire with his mountain of cash, he says something to the effect that he's a cop down to his bones. In reality, he wants to track down the person or people responsible for framing him.

Netflix guessed that this would be a 4-star show for me, but I think it turned out to be more a 3-star one. It wasn't bad, but, after I finished the first season, I was iffy about starting the second. The show's gimmick was only mildly interesting, and I didn't really care one way or another if I found out the full truth about who framed Charlie and why. I did end up watching the entire series, all 32 episodes, but I'd probably have been better off using that time to try a different show.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Apples and Regret and Wasted Time (e-short story) by Cornelia Grey

Apples and Regret and Wasted Time is m/m romance...sort of. Don't go into it expecting a happy ending. It's published by Storm Moon Press.

At 6,100 words, this is shorter than most things I download for free, much less buy. It received a glowing recommendation in an All Romance Ebooks newsletter, which was what first put it on my radar. Its short length and price ($1.49 without any sort of discount) turned me off, but I eventually caved and bought it when ARe had a sale.

Synopsis:

An injured man enters the house of a man who used to be his lover, intending to use his shower and tend to his wounds. When the man's former lover comes home, old relationship wounds are reopened. The two men love each other deeply, but, unless things change, they can never be together. One man will forever find himself leaving a window open in the hope that his lover will come back, while the other man will forever hope that the window will still be open for him if he ever finds himself needing to go back.

Review:

I seem to be in the minority as far as this story is concerned – all the reviews I've seen so far have been glowing ones, while my feelings are more...restrained. It's not that I disliked this story. I actually thought it was pretty good. It's just that it read like a creative writing exercise.

Monday, July 1, 2013

When You Are Engulfed in Flames (audio book) by David Sedaris, read by the author

When You Are Engulfed in Flames is like all of the other books by David Sedaris I've read/listened to – a series of humorous moments from his life (probably written with a good dose of artistic license). As tends to happen when I listen to audiobooks, I can't remember everything about this particular book, but I'm pretty sure I liked the stories in the second half better than the first.

For me, David Sedaris is at his best when he's writing about being in another country. I absolutely loved the “d'accord” tracks, in which he describes a period early on in his French-learning days, when he decided to respond to everything said to him with “d'accord,” or “I agree.” I also loved the long portion, at the end of the book, describing his efforts to simultaneously quit smoking and learn Japanese while in Japan, a country I don't think he'd ever visited before. This section of the book also demonstrated another thing Sedaris is good at, which is balancing humor and tragedy – his description of his visit to an atomic bomb museum (sorry, I can't remember if he was in Nagasaki or Hiroshima) was chilling and was left completely devoid of any attempts at humor.

This is not an audiobook to listen to if you are sensitive to swear words. Swearing is integral to a couple very funny parts of the book. My favorite of those involved Sedaris and a taxi driver who spent the whole ride talking about his own and Sedaris' sexual habits and preferences. Sedaris can come across as being very conceited, so another thing I loved about this particular part of the book is that it showed Sedaris taking himself down a peg – the line at the very end, after he visited with his sister, was wonderful.

Parts of the book are read by Sedaris in a studio, while other parts are performed in front of an audience. I liked him best when he was performing, rather than reading – I enjoyed how he reacted to the audience.

Probably my least favorite part of the book was the bit that research tells me was a commencement speech he gave at Princeton. Sedaris' humor is sometimes a little too over-the-top for me, and this was one of those times. I can't remember the wording, but he basically talked about his own college days like so: “Back when I was a kid, dinosaurs ruled the earth and we made our own toys out of sticks and rocks.”

All in all, this made for some great work-time listening, although the language in some parts meant that I'd have had to switch to headphones if I hadn't had an office with a door.

Read-alikes:
  • Running with Scissors: A Memoir (book) by Augusten Burroughs - I haven't read anything by this author, but his sense of humor and strange (and probably embellished, or at least exaggerated) childhood seems similar to Sedaris' - warped and strange.
  • I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence (non-fiction book) by Amy Sedaris - For those who are curious about the kind of insane hilarity other members of David Sedaris' family might be capable of, this book might be a good fit.  It's a humorous guide to entertaining, with a few helpful tips mixed in here and there. I think Amy was the sister Sedaris visited after dealing with the taxi driver who only wanted to talk about sex.
  • Kick Me: Adventures in Adolescence (book) by Paul Feig - I haven't personally read this one, although it sounds like a great fit for anyone who enjoyed Sedaris' tales of his childhood and his tendency to stretch the truth a bit (one would hope, at least) for comedic effect.  Feig's years in school were apparently horrible, embarrassing, and hilarious to read about.  I think I'll have to put Feig on my TBR list.

Shades of Empire (e-book) by Carmen Webster Buxton

Shades of Empire is science fiction with a dose of political intrigue. It's self-published and approximately 125,498 words long. It takes place in the same universe as Tribes but otherwise has no connection to that book.

Synopsis:

Emperor Lothar rules Gualle with an iron fist. Dissent isn't tolerated. He regularly sends his men to small villages to take children away from their families. The biggest boys are forced to become soldiers, while the prettiest girls are forced to become prostitutes. Alexander was one of those boys. He did so well during his training that he was eventually made one of the Emperor's Own Corps of Guards, a special soldier tasked with protecting the Emperor and his palace.

Although their brutal lifestyle and training changed many of the conscripted boys, Alexander, at least, retained some decency. Celia, one of the Emperor's concubines, reminded him of his sister. He couldn't stand to see her suffer, so he tried, and failed, to help her escape. Maddy, the captain of a merchant spaceship secretly supplying rebels with weapons, finds and rescues him. Even though it might mean his death, Alexander wants to go back and rescue Celia if she's still alive. His only hope in accomplishing his goal is to side with the rebellion, which seems doomed to fail.

Back at the palace, Emperor Lothar has his hands full dealing with his son, Antonio, who would like nothing better than to take power and then exert it by having sex with both his sisters. Vinitra would be only too happy to let him, except her mother, the Empress, is protecting her whether she wants to be protected or not. Cassandra, Antonio's half sister, is desperate to escape the imperial cage closing slowly around her.

Review:

What attracted me to this book was the author's description of it – multiple interesting-sounding characters whose paths intersect, plus lots of potential for political intrigue. Sadly, although it did turn out to be an interesting read, it's probably my least favorite of Buxton's works so far. The main reason for that? Two words: rape fatigue.
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