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:
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