Saturday, November 29, 2014

Blue Skies by Tamara Allen - Free!

I saw this on Dear Author. If I didn't already own the book, I'd be snatching it up right now. I've only read Allen's The Only Gold, but that one was excellent.

Here's the link to get Blue Skies via Smashwords. The deal should also be available at Amazon and elsewhere.

The Story of Saiunkoku (manga, vol. 7-9) art by Kairi Yura, story by Sai Yukino, translated by Su Mon Han

This is one of those series that everyone else seems to adore and that I only like. I have to be in the mood for the series' slower pace and general wordiness. Also, while a heroine that isn't really interested in romance is a nice change, I can't help but be somewhat disappointed that the story has mostly left the romance aspects behind. I think part of the problem is the “mostly” bit – Shurei is ready to be a government official and has never really had thoughts of romance, while Ryuki still wishes she could be his consort. If he could just get over her, I think I'd feel better about the whole thing, but, as it is, I'm a little worried that he'll either continue to pine for her and never marry (meaning “no heir”), or that he'll marry someone else but never fully love that person (how incredibly depressing). I'm at least glad that he's a good enough person to let Shurei go. He could easily have let his own emotions override Shurei's desires and opted to hobble her career in order to keep her close.

Once again: my synopses include some spoilers. Read on at your own risk.

No more Crunchyroll for me for a while, plus a forum thread recap

Like a lot of Crunchyroll subscribers, I was planning on renewing using their usual Black Friday deal. Except they opted not to offer it this year. I haven't made much use of my subscription in the past few months (not since I reviewed Pandora Hearts back in May, in fact), so, although my subscription expired a few days ago, there's really no reason for me to resubscribe anytime soon. Goodness knows I have enough unwatched DVDs to start my own anime channel.

Reading the Crunchyroll Black Friday forum thread has been a fascinating (or, depending on your perspective, painful) look at how not to do customer service and communication. In case you can't bring yourself to go through the 341 comments (I'm sure the number will have grown by the time I hit “publish”), here's my take on some of it:

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Twelve Kingdoms, Vol. 2: Sea of Wind (book) by Fuyumi Ono, translated by Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander

Sea of Wind is a Japanese fantasy novel. It was published under Tokyopop's Pop Fiction imprint and is now out of print.

I won't be including any read-alikes for this. Take a look at my first review of this book (which I've linked to at the start of my review) if you'd like some.

Review:

I loved this book when I first read it in 2010, and my recent reread of it didn't disappoint. Although I reviewed it when I first read it, I decided I'd write a brand new review for my reread because 1) my reviewing style has changed since then and 2) I had some new things to say.

My first read of Sea of Wind took place several years after reading the first book. This time around, I read it right after finishing Sea of Shadow, and this had a definite effect on my understanding of what was going on and my feelings about it all.

Sea of Wind is set several years prior to Sea of Shadow and has a tighter focus. At the start of the book, we see a little boy who has been sent outside into the snow as punishment for what his grandmother believes is a lie. When he feels a gust of warmth and sees an arm beckoning him, he goes to it, and is taken to the world of the Twelve Kingdoms. The boy is told his name is Taiki and that he is the kirin of the Kingdom of Tai. He doesn't really know what's going on, but he feels safe around Sansi, the lamia that was born to protect him until he reached adulthood.

The entire book deals with Taiki adjusting to life among the oracles at the Brush-Jar Palace. Although they tell him he's a kirin, he doesn't feel like one, and he's worried that he'll never be able to do what these nice people expect of him. He can't shift into his kirin form, he can't see kirin auras, he can't pacify even the tiniest of demons, and he's sure he'll never have the revelation that is supposed to help him choose the next king of Tai.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Chi's Sweet Home (manga, vol. 9-10) by Konami Kanata, translated by Ed Chavez

Chi's Sweet Home is one of my favorite slice-of-life and animal series. It's the manga equivalent of a warm, snuggly blanket. Chi and the other animals are wonderful, and the Yamadas are a nice family that manages not to be too cutesy, despite the fact that nothing all that bad ever seems to happen to them.

I plowed through a huge chunk of this series during my vacation the year before, so it was nice to be able to continue from where I left off.

Once again, a warning: my synopses include some spoilers. Read on at your own risk.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Naruto (manga, vol. 51-54) by Masashi Kishimoto, translated by Mari Morimoto

I have to admit, I'm basically limping along with Naruto. While it's reassuring that there really is an end in sight, this series has gone on way longer than any other I've ever read, and I'm a little tired of it. I keep going because I've gotten this far, so I might as well see it through to the end. However, I'm to the point where I don't expect most of the volumes to be more than average at best.

I actually had more volumes available during my vacation than just these four, but nearly everything else I had on hand looked more interesting. Which should tell you something.

Okay, now for my reviews. A warning: my volume descriptions include spoilers. Read on at your own risk.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Skip Beat! (manga, vols. 31-32) by Yoshiki Nakamura, translated by Tomo Kimura

These were not my favorite Skip Beat! volumes ever, but they were still fun. I found myself returning to them again and again during my vacation, in order to reread my favorite scenes.

Every time I dive into Skip Beat!, my enjoyment of it always seems to take me by surprise. I really need to start buying it. And I'm sure I've said this multiple times in the past – the length of the series always holds me back, even though I know I'd be getting my money's worth.

As always with these "vacation reading" posts, my descriptions contain spoilers. Read on at your own risk.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Twelve Kingdoms, Vol. 1: Sea of Shadow (book) by Fuyumi Ono, translated by Alexander O. Smith

Sea of Shadow is a Japanese fantasy novel. It was published under Tokyopop's Pop Fiction imprint and is now out of print. Happily, you can still find it in libraries, and it's possible to buy relatively inexpensive copies via Amazon Marketplace and elsewhere. I keep hoping that some company - maybe Yen Press, since they're big on light novels right now - will suddenly announce that they've licensed the series and will be releasing new translations of the first four books and first-time-in-English editions of the next four.

Review:

The Twelve Kingdoms is one of my top favorite Japanese light novel series, although it's not without its problems, and it took reading the second book and seeing the anime for me to start feeling that way. I wanted to finally read the fourth book, but it's been four years since I read the second and third and more than six since I read the first, so I decided that it'd be best to start from the beginning.

This book introduces the world of the Twelve Kingdoms via Yoko Nakajima, a high school student in Japan. When we first meet her, Yoko is as bland and inoffensive as she can make herself. Pretty much the only thing that makes her stand out and that she refuses to change is her hair, which is red enough to look like it's been dyed. She prefers to wear it long, even though it looks redder that way, and even though her mother keeps pushing her cut or dye it so she'll blend in better.

Then one day a man with strange clothes and golden hair appears at Yoko's school and tries to take her away. She refuses, at first, until terrifying creatures she'd previously only seen in her dreams suddenly attack. The man, Keiki, hands her a sword and tells her to fight. When Yoko protests that she doesn't know what to do, Keiki tells Joyu, a jellyfish-like creature, to attach itself to her and help her, forcing Yoko to kill for the first time in her life. They escape to a strange new world and are soon separated. All Yoko wants is to go home, but first she has to find Keiki and figure out how to survive in a place where everyone and everything seems to either want to kill her or betray her.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Attack on Titan: No Regrets (manga, vol. 1) story by Gun Snark (Nitroplus), art by Hikaru Suruga, translated by Ben Applegate

Not match happens in this volume, but I'll add a spoiler warning anyway - my description of this volume covers almost everything that happens.

This takes place prior to the original Attack on Titan series. Survey Corps squad leader Erwin recruits Levi, Isabel, and Furlan from the underground slums because he believes they have great potential. They trained themselves to use the 3D maneuvering gear that they stole, something that's difficult for many Survey Corps members to believe. Erwin also ensures that the Survey Corps continues to get the funding it needs to head outside the Walls and try his idea to reduce Survey Corps casualties (the long distance enemy scouting formation). During their first trip outside the walls with the Survey Corps, Levi and his friends do awesomely, much to the surprise and annoyance of the regular Survey Corps members that hate them.

I'll probably continue on with this series just because of Levi, but so far this is kind of dull, and Levi and friends are a bit too amazing right from the get-go. Keep in mind, they have had zero Titan-fighting experience prior to their first trip outside the walls with the Survey Corps, and they handle an Aberrant perfectly.

Isabel and Furlan practically have “cannon fodder” written on their foreheads – one of the drawbacks of setting a spinoff prior to the original series is that you know which characters don't carry over. It's possible that they just decide to quit the Survey Corps at some point, but, considering the Survey Corps' high mortality rate, it seems more likely that they'll die tragically. I'm going to guess that a good portion of this series will be devoted to showing how Erwin manages to thaw Levi and earn his undying loyalty, so staying interested in Isabel and Furlan is probably going to be a bit of a struggle for me.

This has much nicer (prettier?) looking artwork than the original series, while at the same time keeping the same character design style (other than big-eyed Isabel, who looks like a refugee from another series). The linework is cleaner and doesn't look constantly heavy and dark. So far, I like it.

Attack on Titan (manga, vols. 3-4) by Hajime Isayama, translated by Sheldon Drzka

I had a huge stack of Attack on Titan volumes available to me while I was on vacation...except for volume 3, which didn't come in until the last day. I had hoped to plow through a good chunk of the series, but two volumes were all I managed.

I'd still like to make it past the point covered by the anime. I'm curious to see where Isayama goes with this series, although some comments I've read indicate that he hasn't really revealed much yet, even in the current volumes. I hope he has a plan, and that it doesn't involve killing every fan-favorite character off.

A warning: I've included spoiler-y descriptions of each of these volumes. Also, I complain about Isayama's artwork in my reviews not once, but twice. Read on at your own risk.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

At All Romance Ebooks: Ann Somerville's Kei's Gift for $1

Here's the link to the book's product page, plus my review here. M/m fantasy with strong romantic elements, starring a general and a healer on opposing sides of an invasion/war.

The rest of the series is also on sale.

Soulless: The Manga (OEL manga, vol. 1) by Gail Carriger, art and adaptation by REM

This is an adaptation of the entire first Soulless book: starving made-vampires appear out of nowhere and have no clue what they are or how they're supposed to behave, there's a wax-faced man, and Lord Maccon is interested in Alexia. It even ends at the same place the book did, with the wedding.

That's a lot of stuff to cram into just one manga volume, but I thought the results were okay. I don't know that I'd have liked it as much if I hadn't already read the book – it fleshed out the world and characters a lot more. Just as with the book, I found myself wishing that the focus had either been entirely on the romance or entirely on the mystery aspect.

Some things:
  • There is an accidental boob grab. Was this in the book, or is it just a rule that, at some point, the male lead in a romantic comedy manga must accidentally grab the female lead's breasts?
  • One thing I noticed missing from the manga that was definitely in the book: all the issues surrounding Alexia being half-Italian. Alexia's father is barely mentioned, there's no hint that her skin isn't just as pale as every other girl's, and Alexia's belief that Lord Maccon couldn't possibly want her is based entirely on her age (she's 26, and therefore old) and the fact that she's an inexperienced spinster.
  • I mostly liked the artwork, although I admit that I enjoyed the color pages at the beginning more than the black-and-white art that made up the bulk of the volume. However, I should note that there was at least one inconsistent detail. “VIXI” was sometimes missing from the wax-faced man's forehead. Oops.
  • At one point, Alexia pulled a mirror (or glass) shard out of her cleavage. One, ouch. Two, due to stuff from the book being cut out, this no longer made any sense. Alexia explained the shard by saying she'd hidden it during a time when she was left alone, but the manga showed absolutely no moments when her captors might have been so stupid as to leave her on her own.

Kobato (manga, vols. 1-5) presented by CLAMP, translated by William Flanagan

This series was okay, but there were so many cameos. So many. I don't know if it's just that I've hit the point in my CLAMP reading where I can recognize more of the cameos, or if this really has more cameos than other CLAMP series I've read (except for Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, which is basically designed to have cameos).

It took me a while to find my footing. I assumed, at first, that it was going to be a “wounded heart of the week" series and was surprised when the kindergarten storyline continued on and on. Also, the connection with Wish threw me a bit.

I'm only one volume away from finishing, so I'm going to continue with it, but the more I think about this series, the more “meh” it feels.

Warning: the rest of my post is a volume-by-volume look at what I read, complete with spoiler-y descriptions. Read on at your own risk.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

No Matter How I Look At It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular! (manga, vol. 1) by Nico Tanigawa, translated by Krista Shipley and Karie Shipley

Tomoko is 15 years old and has no real friends. She thinks that both friends and a boyfriend will just fall into her lap once she enters high school. Sadly, this does not happen, so she tries to figure out why not and fix it. That is, when she's not mentally grumbling about slutty girls and the stupid guys who gravitate towards them.

In this first volume, she forces her younger brother to speak to her for a certain amount of time each day, because she's out of practice talking to people. She meets with a friend from middle school, who now goes to a different high school, and is at first pleased that they still share an interest in geeky things like anime. However, she, too, has managed to find a boyfriend where Tomoko has failed. When the rain briefly strands Tomoko with a couple good-looking guys, she finds herself unable to talk normally to them. At school, she's horrified when she's assigned to do a make-up assignment with a male student in her art class.

This was the worst thing I read during my recent vacation. Tomoko was the female version of the stereotypical male geek who silently stews over his inability to get a date with one of the popular girls, obsessing over them while scornfully referring to them as sluts. Flipping the gender did not make that stereotype any more appealing.

The depth of Tomoko's lack of popularity was painful (she considered herself to be popular in middle school because, during those years, she interacted with guys a total of six times), as was her complete lack of knowledge about how to fix it. For example, at one point her appearance was better than normal. When she thought about it, she decided she looked better because she'd spent the night playing a really good otome game. She'd heard that sex makes people look more appealing, so she figured that a game that made her feel sexually aroused would work the same way. So she played it nonstop until her hair and skin were oily. I think this was supposed to be funny, but I didn't feel like laughing.

I both loathed and pitied Tomoko. To her, all pretty girls were fluff-brained sluts, and all good-looking guys were probably idiots who'd only be interested in makeup slathered sluts. Even as she thought these things, she tried to make herself look more like those “sluts” in order to become more popular. And failed miserably. She was interested in manga, and yet she viewed the other people browsing manga in the same store as her with disdain, labeling them all probable NEETs. Yu, Tomoko's only friend, confused her by still being a fan of anime like her, and yet also having a boyfriend and looking like one of the pretty “sluts.” Personally, I felt Yu could have done better when it came to friends and was glad that she didn't have the ability to peek into Tomoko's thoughts. At one point, Tomoko thought of her as a “sow.” I'm not kidding.

It's possible that future volumes show Tomoko growing as a person. It's possible, but the series title tells me it's not likely. I opted not to read the other two volumes I had available, and I doubt I'll ever continue with this series or watch the anime adaptation.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Murder of Crows (e-book) by Anne Bishop

This is the second book in Bishop's The Others series. The dangerous drugs that popped up in the first book become more widely used in this one, although it takes everyone a while to piece together what's happening and who's behind it. Drugged up humans begin killing more and more terra indigene. If someone doesn't put a stop to the drug manufacture and distribution soon, the terra indigene might very well decide that humans aren't worth keeping alive. Meanwhile, Simon accidentally makes his and Meg's relationship more complicated by climbing into her bed in his human form. No romantic relationship yet, but they're both forced to think more deeply about how they feel about each other and whether they really want to be more than friends. Also, Meg's former captors continue to try to get her back.

I didn't like this book as much as the first, although I still enjoyed it. I prefer Bishop's sweet/funny character interactions, and there was a lot less of that here. Instead, the characters spent an awful lot of time thinking, guessing, and debating, as they tried to figure out what was going on, how they felt, and what Meg's various visions meant.

It seemed like the same thing kept happening over and over again: a group of humans would rebel against the terra indigene, and then I and the characters would wait to see if the terra indigene would respond by killing everyone. I became more and more frustrated with how the humans in this book acted. These were people who had supposedly grown up knowing the story of how humans came to be allowed to live in terra indigene lands. They knew that entire cities could be, and had been, wiped out for not following the rules set down by the terra indigene. The people in the Lakeside area had experienced a sudden terra indigene-caused blizzard in the previous book. And yet they cheered for terra indigene deaths and discriminated against terra indigene and those close to them. It made no sense.

What really bugged me was when Monty went to Meg to ask her for a vision, and his question turned out to have a blindingly obvious answer. “What happens if we don't help the terra indigene?” You die. As a police officer in Lakeside, and as someone who'd had a lot of contact with Meg and the terra indigene, he should have known the answer to his question, and yet he asked Meg to cut another precious bit of her skin for it anyway. And no one snarled at him for it. You've got to be kidding me.

I plan to continue reading this series, because I enjoy the overall world and I like Meg and Simon. Okay, I admit it, I'm very much looking forward to future developments in Meg and Simon's relationship. I just hope that the next time a group of humans decides to poke the terra indigene, the setup is more believable.

Oh, and a warning: This book increases the monstrousness of the villain with cannibalism and rape. Actually, yet another thing that made me think of Bishop's Black Jewels books.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Last Firewall (e-book) by William Hertling

The Last Firewall is science fiction. I've opted not to include a read-alikes list, because I'm still in vacation mode.

Review:

I picked this one up while it was free. I like books with prominent AI characters, and it looked like a good fit for me. It's the third book in a series, but I was slightly reassured by reviews that indicated newbies could jump in at pretty much any point.

As far as I can tell, each book takes place at a different point in the history of humans and AIs. Book 3 takes place maybe 10 years after Book 1. Artificial intelligences are common, and there's a framework in place that's supposed to allow AIs and humans to peacefully coexist. AIs now have most of the jobs, but humans get a stipend, which can be increased if they do things like go to school or volunteer. AI income is taxed, which pays for the stipends. AIs are further restricted by their reputation scores. An AI with a high reputation score can increase its class number, which I think allows it to increase its processing power (or something – sorry, I'm not a techie). Not all AIs are happy with this system, although most don't say anything, for fear of hurting their reputation scores. Also, not all humans are happy with the effect that guaranteed stipends has on society.

This book follows a few different characters, whose paths eventually converge. There's Catherine, a young woman who is unusual in that she's had a neural implant since she was a baby and can do things with that implant that no human should be able to do. Catherine ends up on the run after she accidentally kills several people with her implant while defending a robot. There's Leon and Mike, two prominent people in the history of artificial intelligences. As part of an investigation into murders possibly committed by an AI, they travel to meet an eccentric AI named Shizoko. And then there's the ones behind the murders.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Vacation reading (and watching)

I'm back from vacation! Assuming I haven't counted wrong, I read 44 manga volumes and finished two books.

Manga:
  • Attack on Titan (vols. 3-4)
  • Attack on Titan: No Regrets (vol. 1)
  • Chi's Sweet Home (vols. 9-10)
  • Durarara!! (vols. 1-4)
  • Kobato (vols. 1-5)
  • Naoki Urasawa's Monster (vols. 1-2, 5-18)
  • Naruto (vols. 51-54)
  • No Matter How I Look At It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular (vol. 1)
  • Pandora Hearts (vols. 1-3)
  • Skip Beat! (vols. 31-32)
  • Soulless: The Manga (vol. 1)
  • The Story of Saiunkoku (vols 7-9)
Books:
  • The Last Firewall by William Hertling
  • Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop
  • I also started, but haven't yet finished, C.J. Cherryh's The Pride of Chanur and Rosie Claverton's Binary Witness.
My most enjoyable vacation read was Skip Beat!, followed by Monster. My least enjoyable read, hands down, was No Matter How I Look At It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular.

I also had some time for TV and movie watching:
  • Noragami – In case I don't get around to reviewing this: I enjoyed it. Hiyori was a boring character, but I enjoyed Yato and the world in general. The anime ends on a mostly satisfying note, but I'd still love another season. I plan to read the manga at some point.
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past – Time travel stuff is always iffy for me, and this one didn't really work for me. This entire movie is basically just a way to erase the horribleness that was the third X-Men movie.
  • My dad and I also watched a little bit of Samurai Flamenco (abandoned because one of the main characters' naivete was embarrassing to watch) and Ghost Hunt.
Here's hoping my review posts don't take the whole month to finish.
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