Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Worst things I've read and watched in 2014

Except for the movies and TV shows, which I didn't privately grade this year, these are things that got 1.5 stars or less (although not all of them - again, based on "gut feelings"). I hate that it's so much easier to explain why I disliked something than why I liked it.

Books and stories:
  • A Lot Like a Lady (e-book) by Kay Springsteen and Kim Bowman - I was expecting a fluffy and forgettable historical romance. Instead, I got a bunch of characters who didn't react in ways that made any sense. This e-book is no longer being sold, and, quite frankly, nobody's missing out on much. Correction: this book is now available for purchase, although it wasn't when I reviewed it.
  • Spoonfuls of Sugar (e-short story) by Elizabeth McCoy - I keep trying McCoy's stuff, hoping to find something as good or better than her Queen of Roses. So far, things haven't worked out, but most of her works have eventually grown on me. This one, however, had some serious problems.
  • Wings of Destruction (e-novella) by Victoria Zagar - I knew, going in, that this post-apocalyptic asexual romance would probably not be very good, but I was still disappointed. Also, I now have an extremely low opinion of Less Than Three Press. Congratulations, you put out a typo-free e-book. However, a well-edited work is more than just typo-free.
  • Trusted Bond (book) by Mary Calmes - Change of Heart was a guilty pleasure of mine. I was hoping for more of the same from this, the next book in the series. Instead, I got a confusing, rape-y trainwreck.
  • The Paratwa (book) by Christopher Hinz - A huge chunk of this book was just plain boring, and Hinz did badly by all his female characters. This trilogy started out great and ended so badly that I was left angry with myself for all the time I wasted on Books 2 and 3.
  • Die, Snow White! Die, Damn You!: A Very Grimm Tale (audio book) by Yuri Rasovsky, featuring a full cast - This featured good voice acting, but everything else was pretty bad. I loved Rasovsky's Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls, so I was very disappointed by this one.
  • Flying Solo (e-short story) by Wade J. McMahan - This was a pointless short story that wanted to be funny and wasn't.
  • A Promise of Romance (book) by Kyoko Akitsu, illustrations by Tooko Miyagi, English translation by Translation By Design - This is supposedly a m/m romance. It was a "meh" read with a silly premise, right up until one of the male leads raped the other one. The guy who was raped hated his rapist until he suddenly decided he loved him. So much NO.
  • Snap! And the Alter Ego Dimension (e-book) by Ann Hite Kemp, illustrated by Zak Kemp - This was a stiff, clunky read, with characters that never felt like real teens to me.
Manga and graphic novels:
  • 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 - I didn't see the slightest sign that Tomoko might later grow as a person, and I couldn't bring myself to read past this first volume. I loathed her and the way she constantly judged others, whether they were strangers or "friends." At the same time, I hated that readers were expected to laugh at her.
  • The Devil Within (manga series) by Ryo Takagi, translated by Christine Schilling - The only good thing about the series was that it was short. The romance was gross, and the supernatural stuff made no sense. Even the art could have been better - Takagi had zero torso-drawing ability.
  • Angel Nest (manga) by Erica Sakurazawa, translation by Yuki Nakamura  - I had seen Sakurazawa's works recommended a lot, so I was surprised at how bad this was. The art was nice, and Sakurazawa does an amazing job with curly-haired characters, but the stories themselves were pointless.
TV series:
  • Diabolik Lovers (anime TV series) - So much blood rape. Did anyone out there actually want Yui to end up with one of these monsters? If so, why? Why would you want something like that? I honestly do not understand.
Movies:
  • Time Traveller: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (live action movie) - "I really want to save my mother, except now I've fallen in love with this guy who I just found out is going to die. Because of that love, I'm totally okay with the idea of being stranded in the past!" And the ending was pointless.
  • Babylon 5: The Gathering (live action movie) - As much as I like the series as a whole, this is not a good movie. Thank goodness this isn't where I initially started watching the show, or I'd never have continued on.

Best things I've read and watched in 2014

Although it felt like I hated a lot of things this year, according to my stats I actually loved more books than I hated. These lists are based mostly on my 4.5- and 5-star ratings, although there are a few 4-star ones I felt deserved a mention. Everything is listed in no particular order, and I've chosen not to list everything I rated highly, for reasons that mostly boil down to "gut feeling." I also opted not to force myself to list a certain number of works.

Books and stories:
  • Nine Goblins (e-novella) by T. Kingfisher - This Pratchett-esque story about a war, a bunch of goblins, and an exhausted elven veterinarian was wonderful.
  • First Test (book) by Tamora Pierce - This one was a reread. I adore this book. It's a fantasy middle grade (?) novel about Keladry, the first female page of Tortall (not counting Alanna, who had to pretend to be a boy).
  • Kei's Gift (e-book) by Ann Somerville - A m/m fantasy book featuring slowly developing relationships and romance. A healer and a general invading the healer's country fall in love.
  • Code Runner (e-book) by Rosie Claverton - I loved this book even more than Binary Witness, although I have yet to review it and will probably need to reread it (such a hardship). It's a mystery starring an agoraphobic hacker and her ex-con assistant. Their relationship is wonderful, although they're going to have to sit down and have a good, long talk about things if it ever develops from a loving friendship into a romance.
  • A Lily Among Thorns (e-book) by Rose Lerner - A historical romance starring an ex-prostitute turned inn keeper and a chemist with a passion for dyes and clothing. I'm still a little surprised I liked this one as much as I did, considering how off-the-wall some aspects were.
  • Happy Snak (e-book) by Nicole Kimberling - This science fiction book featured a fabulously interesting look at an alien culture, from the perspective of a capitalistic snack bar owner.
  • Sea of Wind (book) by Fuyumi Ono - This was a reread. My favorite book in the Twelve Kingdoms series.
  • The MacGregor Grooms (book) by Nora Roberts - Another reread. This one is odd - the individual novellas aren't really all that strong on their own, but, taken as a whole, they become this warm, fuzzy blanket in book form that makes me ridiculously happy each time I read it.
  • Liege-Killer (e-book) by Christopher Hinz - This violent sci-fi thriller had me at the edge of my seat. Sadly, the next two books in the trilogy didn't live up to the promise of this first one.
Honorable mentions:
  • 14 (audiobook) by Peter Clines, read by Ray Porter - The ending had moments that struck me as being somewhat silly, but overall this was still a wonderful book to listen to.
  • Queen of Roses (e-book) by Elizabeth McCoy - A sci-fi book with an AI main character. I really enjoyed this one and hope McCoy writes something else starring an AI, even if that AI isn't Sarafina. If she announced another book with Loren in it, my poor little heart would probably explode. 
  • Be With You (book) by Takuji Ichikawa - This is a lovely book that seems like it might be a ghost story but is actually sort of science fiction. A widower trying to raise his young son while dealing with severe anxiety stumbles across an amnesiac woman who appears to be his dead wife.
Manga and graphic novels:
  • Saga (graphic novel series) written by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Fiona Staples - I read two volumes of this, and both were excellent.
  • Chi's Sweet Home (manga series) by Konami Kanata, translated by Ed Chavez - If you love cats, you really need to try this series. It's full-color and has been flipped for left-to-right reading, so Japanese manga newbies should be just fine.
  • Skip Beat! (manga series) by Yoshiki Nakamura, translated by Tomo Kimura - I suppose this is technically a romance series, but it has an almost shounen manga feel. It's long, and still ongoing, but it's totally worth it.
  • Naoki Urasawa's Monster (manga series) translated by various people - A complicated thriller in which a doctor inadvertently saves the life of a killer and then devotes himself to trying to stop him. This one is best read in big gulps, so you don't start thinking too much about how terribly convenient it is that nearly everyone seems to be connected to Johan.
  • What Did You Eat Yesterday? (manga, vol. 1) by Fumi Yoshinaga, translated by Maya Rosewood - A food manga focused on the daily lives of Shiro and Kenji, a gay couple. I really wish I could try Shiro's cooking - it all looked and sounded so delicious.
  • Olympos (manga) by Aki - This one was bittersweet enough that I don't see myself ever rereading it (even glancing at my review was tough). However, I'm glad I at least read it once.
Unfortunately, this year I completely slacked off on my practice of privately giving grades to TV shows and movies, so I don't have ratings for any of that. However, I looked through my blog at what I reviewed in the past year, and here are the ones I still feel pretty good about.

TV series:
  • Natsume's Book of Friends (anime TV series) - Just thinking about this series makes me want to give Natsume a hug.
  • My Girlfriend is a Gumiho (live action TV series) - Every time I talked to someone about this series, they laughed at the title. ::sigh:: Anyway, it takes a few episodes to get going, but, once it does, it's lovely.
  • The Great Doctor (live action TV series) - This may have ruined me for other K-dramas. I'm watching City Hunter right now, and, although I'm enjoying it, I kind of wish I could just erase The Great Doctor from my brain and watch Lee Min Ho as Choi Young for the first time all over again. In addition, once you make it past the first four episodes, Eun Soo is a wonderful, mature, and strong heroine.
Honorable mentions:
  • Inu x Boku Secret Service (anime TV series) - This series has many, many problematic aspects, but the last two episodes are incredibly good. I wish the characters had been as complicated and wonderful throughout the whole show as they were in those final two episodes, although that still wouldn't have erased the age-gap issue.
  • Noragami (anime TV series) - I didn't review this one, although I wrote briefly about it. It was a bit too short, but I'd now really like to read the manga.
Movies:
  • Maleficent (live action movie) - I was surprised at how much I liked this one, considering that I don't really like Angelina Jolie. It definitely has its problems (the cheek bone CGI; Aurora will forever and always be the most boring Disney princess), but it's honestly the best movie I've seen all year - which isn't really saying much, since my movie-watching this year was bad-to-mediocre.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Wings of Destruction (e-novella) by Victoria Zagar

Wings of Destruction is a post-apocalyptic asexual romance involving angels. It's published by Less Than Three Press and is 19,130 words long.

Review:

I bought this, after considerable internal debate, because it was tagged “asexual romance.” The reasons why it took me a while to finally hit the “buy” button included reviews that said it wasn't very good, its price-to-word count ratio (it cost about twice what I would normally be willing to pay for something this long), and angels (I don't read much angel fiction).

Anyway, this novella takes place an indeterminate amount of time in the future. An economic collapse plunged the world into chaos, and now everyone is either affiliated with a gang or living in fear of the gangs. If you're with one of the gangs, you're either a sex slave or you have a mate and are marginally protected. Martin, an asexual man, is scared and depressed. He's just been left by his latest mate – every one of them ends up wanting more from him than he's willing to give. Seeing no other acceptable options, he decides to kill himself by jumping off Spire Rock. He is saved by the angel Anael, who has been sent to evaluate humans and determine whether it would be best to destroy everything with Black Rain, thereby wiping the slate clean for God's next new world. The angel decides that Martin will be his guide as he makes his final decision.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Games keep sucking me in

I keep reading reviews of Dragon Age games that make me want to give one of them a try (looks like it'd have to be Dragon Age: Origins via Steam, because I haven't had a game console of any kind in over a decade). The reviews of Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II on Gossamer Obsessions make them sound particularly good. I have to keep reminding myself that the battles would probably turn me into a wreck. But the character interaction aspect sounds really interesting...

Speaking of gaming, I've now beaten the Demon Lord in One Way Heroics four times or so. I literally have his heart in a box, I think because I made him be my friend for a bit before I killed him. I guess that makes me an Evil Hero?

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Dangerous and Unseemly: A Concordia Wells Mystery (e-book) by K.B. Owen

Dangerous and Unseemly is a historical cozy mystery. It's the first in a series and is 89,170 words long.

Review:

If I remember correctly, this made it onto my radar when I spotted one of the newer books in the series on Smashwords (although the author needs to do a bit of cleanup – Smashwords lists books 2 and 3 on one K.B. Owen page and book 1 on another). The cover intrigued me, I liked the excerpt, and the price wasn't bad.

Miss Concordia Wells is a junior instructor at Hartford Women's College in 1896. The college is going through some bad financial times, so it's not entirely a shock when the bursar is found dead, an apparent suicide. Her death turns out to be just the start of a very hard year, however. The president and lady principal of the college become targets of threatening notes and pranks. Also, Concordia learns that her sister is suffering from a mysterious illness. Concordia's personal life is further complicated by her attraction to Julian Reynolds, who occasionally teaches at the college.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Great Doctor (live action TV series), via Netflix

The Great Doctor (also known as Faith) is a Korean historical drama featuring romance, time travel, and even a few people with something like superpowers (one woman can burn people with her touch, Choi Young can produce lightning, one guy has super hearing and can kill people with his flute playing, and another guy can freeze people with his touch).

Review:

I started watching this series after reading Hello Book, So Long Sleep's review of it. It had previously been in my Netflix queue, but I'd avoided it because Lee Min Ho was in it. Lee Min Ho played Goo Joon Pyo in Boys Over Flowers, and I was worried about having to watch another smirking jerk of a love interest. Thankfully, Choi Young, Lee Min Ho's character in The Great Doctor, was about as far from Goo Joon Pyo as you could get.

At the start of this series, King Gong Min and his new Queen are traveling together with Choi Young and several others as their body guards. The Queen is badly injured and their doctor is only able to slow the bleeding. Without help, she'll soon die. There are signs of the magical gate that a legendary great doctor is supposed to have used in the past, so the King sends Choi Young to find the great doctor. The gate takes Choi Young hundreds of years into the future, to our time (which he mistakes for Heaven), where he finds Yoo Eun Soo, a plastic surgeon. After wounding a random man similar to the way the Queen was wounded and making Eun Soo save him, Choi Young drags Eun Soo back through the gate.

Eun Soo is convinced, at first, that she's just at the set of some kind of elaborate movie, but she eventually realizes the truth. As she gradually adapts to life in this new and dangerous time, others learn of her existence and either want to use her for their own ends or to kill her. Meanwhile, Choi Young tries to fulfill his duty to his king while dealing with his growing feelings for Eun Soo and doing his best to keep the promise he made to help her get back to her own time.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Playing games, watching K-dramas

To be accurate, I've only really been playing one game these past few days: One Way Heroics. I highly recommend it, especially at Steam's current sale price (only $0.87!). There isn't much of  a story - darkness is creeping in on the left side of the screen, eating everything in its path, and you have to keep journeying right until you finally meet and hopefully defeat the Demon Lord. I have yet to defeat the Demon Lord, despite having battled him several times, and yet I continue to love this game. According to Steam, I've spent 8 hours playing it. It hardly feels like it.

There are lots of things that add to the replay value of this game. There are special maps that change each day, as well as standard randomly generated maps. If you find a really good item in one map, when you die you can store it for use in a future game. You also have the chance to acquire "Hero Points" that give you the ability to buy Perks (new/better abilities) and Classes (Knight, Pirate, etc.). The game is turn-based, so, even in battle, you have time to think before you act - as someone who's not a fan of adrenaline-fueled, fast-paced battles, I especially like this aspect.

The only other game I've played recently is Sid Meier's Civilization V. I think I bit off more than I can chew with that one. It's also turn-based, but it's about a thousand times more complicated than most games I play. I haven't even made it through the tutorials yet, and even those are daunting.

Now for the Korean dramas. I've been trying the Viki app on my TV, which is actually not too bad. Yes, there are commercials, but only for two or three minutes at the beginning of an episode - after that, it's non-stop show. The only thing I don't like is that there's no way to stop an episode and start it again from that spot. You have to watch all the way through in one sitting. I tried to fast forward once, and my efforts were a complete failure.

The things I've been watching:
  • The Great Doctor/Faith - I've actually been watching this via Netflix. I just finished it last night. It took me ages to get through, not because it was bad, but because all that emotional content was sometimes too painful. I plan to review this soon, but, for now, I'll say I highly recommend it to romance fans. A few warnings: the heroine is fairly annoying in the first three episodes, and several beloved characters die throughout the series. On the plus side, there's a happy ending.
  • Dr. Frost - I've been watching this via Viki. It's about a seemingly emotionless genius psychologist/bartender who sometimes helps out the police. His assistant is energetic and bubbly. This one was kind of rough at the start but got better at around episode 3. Unfortunately, the latest episodes have been giving me fits - for some reason, quite a few subtitles are missing. I don't know if this is usual for Viki. I know the subtitling is mostly (always?) done by volunteers, but I don't know if missing subtitles is usual for the site and I don't know if they ever get filled in later.
  • The King's Face - I watched one episode of this and don't think I'll be watching more. The Great Doctor made me want to try another historical drama, but the premise of this one is just too out there for me. The king was told that he won't be a good king for his country because his facial features are all wrong, while his son's indicate that he would be a good king. There's also a cross-dressing girl whose facial features are supposedly those of a pure person. The first episode ranged from brutal (torture and killings) to silly (the king's son pretending to be a fortune teller), and the tone switches didn't work for me.
  • The Night Watchman - I've seen one episode of this via Viki and may watch more. Unfortunately, the one episode I saw cut off near the end (a blip in either the app or my Internet connection), so I'll either have the skip the last stuff or rewatch the whole episode just for those last few minutes. I might see if the website is better about allowing viewers to skip ahead in episodes. There are some interesting supernatural elements in this one, as well as a lot of fight scenes. It's just too bad that there was so much use of muted "eclipse lighting" - I actually thought there was something wrong with my TV at first, because who would think it's a good idea to make a fight scene that hard to see?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Hellcat's Bounty (e-novella) by Renae Jones

Hellcat's Bounty is a mix of sci-fi space opera, Western, and f/f romance. I'm pretty sure I originally bought it from Smashwords, but the author has since opted to sell it exclusively at Amazon. I've only downloaded a grand total of one e-book from Amazon, and trying to convert it so that it would work on my Simple Touch was more stressful than I expected, so I'm glad I got this book when I did.

My review contains some spoilers.

Review:

I didn't love this, but I liked it enough that I'd be interested in reading the next book in the series once it comes out.

This novella is a mix of sci-fi space opera and Western and is set on the Rosewood space station. As a bounty hunter, Anelace's job is to kill the ravenous blobs that are a constant threat to those on the station. The less-habited areas collect blobs in droves, and it's rare for Anelace to come back unscathed. The person who patches her up most of the time is Meidani. Anelace has been interested in Meidani for years, but, as far as she knows, Meidani prefers men. She also figures that a good girl like Meidani could do better than a trouble-making hellcat like herself. Then Meidani asks her out and forces her to start thinking about what she really wants out of life and her relationships.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Spoonfuls of Sugar (e-short story) by Elizabeth McCoy

Spoonfuls of Sugar is a short story set in McCoy's Kintaran universe. It's 10,270 words long.

Because this is so short, I'm not going to include any read-alikes. Also, warning: my review includes major spoilers.

Review:

I really liked McCoy's Queen of Roses. My feelings about her Lord Alchemist duology were more mixed, but I was hoping that her Kintaran stories would work better for me, since they're science fiction like Queen of Roses. McCoy's chronological listing of the stories indicated that "Spoonfuls of Sugar" would be a good place to start.

A couple things made me a little nervous right away. A section on the copyright page mentioned that some of the alien species and technology came from GURPS, which I'm completely unfamiliar with. Also, the “Glossary and Names” section, while short, was a little overwhelming. I was worried I might not be able to follow along. Thankfully, that didn't turn out to be as much of a problem as I'd feared, although I'm sure I pictured some of the aliens incorrectly as I was reading. The story was pretty light on descriptions.

Anyway, "Spoonfuls of Sugar" stars Coli-nfaran and Klarin-yal, two Kintaran sisters who decide to go off on their own for a while. The new leader of their clan wants to transform their clanship into a pirate-hunter. In order to oppose him and buy a controlling share in the ship, the two sisters need to make a lot of money, which is why they jump at the chance to become very well-paid medical research subjects.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Beastly (live action movie), on DVD

Beastly is a modernized retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story and is based on Alex Flinn's book. I haven't read the book, and this movie may have killed my desire to do so. Of course, The Last Airbender had a similar effect on me, and the cartoon turned out to be fabulous, so you never know. Anyway, this movie did not work for me.

Warning: this post includes major spoilers.

Kyle, Lindy, and Kendra are three students at a private high school. Kyle is an unrepentant, arrogant, vain jerk. Kendra is supposed to be an unpopular goth, I guess – she looks like she just left a high fashion runway, which we are repeatedly told means she's ugly. Lindy is a scholarship student. It's immediately apparent that she has at least a small crush on Kyle, although it's hard to see why.

Kyle plays a trick on Kendra that's designed to publicly humiliate her. She curses him, which soon leads to him going bald and developing facial scars and tattoos. Horrified by his own sudden ugliness, he retreats to his home. His father, who, like him, prizes good looks over all else, takes him to plastic surgeons and eventually has him exiled to a separate home, with only their Jamaican housekeeper and a blind tutor for company. Kendra tells him that he has one year to find someone who will love him. The one person he's repeatedly drawn to is Lindy, who no longer recognizes him as Kyle. He eventually arranges to have her live in his home and gives her all the gifts he can think of, but none of that may be enough to win her love.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Pandora Hearts (manga, vols. 1-3) by Jun Mochizuki, translated by Tomo Kimura

When I reviewed the Pandora Hearts anime, I wrote that it took a while to really get going and become more interesting. Unfortunately, the manga turned out to be similar to the anime, and the three volumes I was able to finish during my vacation all took place squarely in the less interesting portion of the series. I haven't decided yet whether I want to continue. I suppose I could skip ahead to the point where the anime ended, but I hate doing that. You never know when seemingly minor stuff that was cut for an anime adaptation will turn out to be more important later on in the manga.

As is usual with these vacation reviews, a warning: my descriptions of each of the volumes contain spoilers. Read on at your own risk.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Road to Ninja: Naruto the Movie (anime movie), on DVD

Road to Ninja: Naruto the Movie is, obviously, a Naruto movie. Still, I wasn't quite sure what it was going to be like, and the info on the back of the box wasn't very helpful. I vaguely remembered that the production artwork had inspired theories that it was an alternate universe Naruto. Would it be an alternate universe retelling of Naruto's story? The answer turned out to be “yes and no.”

First, a warning: this post contains some spoilers, although I think I managed to avoid the most major ones.

I'm not entirely sure when in the Naruto timeline this movie takes place. Certainly much later than what I've seen of Naruto Shippuden, and I think a bit later than I've read in the manga. Naruto knows who both his parents are, several of the Akatsuki are dead, Sai is there, and Naruto has saved the village from Pain. Naruto demonstrated one ability that I haven't seen yet in the manga: he released Nine Tails' full form and rode on his back during battle.

At the beginning of the movie, Kakashi, Naruto, Sakura, and several others from the village fight the Akatsuki and are confused, because they know several of their opponents have previously been defeated. The fight ends fairly quickly, which is a relief for everyone, but also somewhat suspicious. That doesn't stop the parents of the various chunin from talking about recommending them for jonin-rank. Naruto is once again reminded that he has no parents who could do such a thing for him. After Iruka refuses to fill out a jonin application for him (because he isn't even a chunin yet – you'd think they'd have made him an honorary chunin by now) and Sakura yells at him for not siding with her after she has a fight with her parents, Naruto storms off.

All fights are forgotten, however, when Madara suddenly appears and tries out an experimental jutsu called Limited Tsukuyomi. When Sakura and Naruto come to, Madara is gone and no one even seems to know who he is. Not only that, but everyone in the village is the opposite of what they normally are: Hinata is aggressive, Shikamaru is dopey, Kakashi is gung-ho and overuses his sharingan, etc. There are story differences, as well. For example, Sakura is now the daughter of heroes – her parents, rather than Naruto's, were the ones that gave their lives for the village.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Twelve Kingdoms, Vol. 3: The Vast Spread of the Seas (book) by Fuyumi Ono, translated by Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander

The Vast Spread of the Seas is the third book in Fuyumi Ono's The Twelve Kingdoms fantasy series. It was published under Tokyopop's Pop Fiction imprint and is now out of print.

I won't be including a read-alikes list 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. If I were to add anything to that list, I'd probably include something from Mercedes Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar series, another epic fantasy series in which magical beings (horse-like Companions) play an important part in the kingdom's government.

Review:

Although I've previously reviewed this, I decided I'm going to write a new review for my reread.

This is my least favorite book in the series, although it was less emotionally draining to read than Sea of Shadow. The fantasy aspects of the world of the Twelve Kingdoms seemed to be less on the forefront here. Instead, the focus was on politics. It had its good moments, but the first half of the book was a slog. Also, unlike Sea of Wind, where I could see how the events of the book would fit into the more present-day history of the Twelve Kingdoms, there was very little here that seemed relevant to Yoko's time.

Book 1 was set in the present day, and Book 2 was set a few years before that. The Vast Spread of the Seas takes place 500 years before Book 1. Readers are introduced to two boys, one living in Japan and one living in the Twelve Kingdoms. Rokuta, the boy in Japan, is only four years old when he's abandoned by his parents so that the rest of his family can hopefully avoid starvation. It turns out that he's a kirin who was born in Japan, just like Taiki. He is found by his lamia and taken back to the Twelve Kingdoms. Koya, the boy in the Twelve Kingdoms, is also abandoned. He is found by a demon beast that, for some reason, chooses to take care of him rather than eat him.

In the book's present, Rokuta/Enki (I'll just call him Rokuta from here on out) is frustrated with Shoryu, his king, who seems too lazy and laid-back. This is why he doesn't make much of a fuss when Atsuyu, the self-proclaimed regent of Gen Province, has him kidnapped – he figures that maybe this will force Shoryu to finally pay more attention to his people. Unfortunately, Rokuta didn't consider that his kidnapping might lead to the thing he hates most, war and bloodshed. Occasional flashbacks show how everyone met and became the people they are in the book's present, 20 or 30 years later.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Gentleman's Dignity (live action TV series), via Netflix

A Gentleman's Dignity is a 20-episode K-drama, in this case a contemporary romance. I don't know that I can say I loved it – I yelled at the TV a little too much for that – but it had me hooked right from the beginning and didn't let go.

The series focuses on the careers and love lives of four men who have been friends since they were in school together. Kim Do-jin is a successful architect who heads his own firm with his friend Im Tae-san. Do-jin falls for Seo Yi-soo, an ethics teacher. Unfortunately for him, Yi-soo has a secret crush on Tae-san. And unfortunately for Yi-soo, Hong Se-ra, a professional golfer and Yi-soo's housemate and friend, is dating Tae-san.

Do-jin and Tae-san's other two friends are Choi Yoon and Lee Jung-rok. Choi Yoon is a widower and a successful lawyer. There is some tension, because Tae-san's younger sister, Meari, has a crush on Yoon. She's younger than Yoon (I can't remember how much – maybe 10-15 years?) and very aggressively pursues him, even though both Yoon and Tae-san think she'd be better off concentrating on school and her eventual goal of becoming a handbag designer. Jung-rok, meanwhile, is married to Park Min-sook, the very rich woman who owns the building in which Do-jin and Tae-san's architectural firm is based. He's also a known cheater and is constantly close to being divorced by his fed-up wife.

Naoki Urasawa's Monster (manga, vols. 1-2, 5-18) translated by various people

Naoki Urasawa's Monster is best read in large chunks, so that the plot twists, cliffhangers, revelations, and drama can carry you along. I loved this series as I was flying through it, although some of it seems really far-fetched now that I've put it all together for this post. Pretty much everything and everyone is connected. There's a lot of suspension of disbelief involved. If you can do that, though, this series is quite a ride. I have a few volumes of Urasawa's 20th Century Boys on my TBR pile, and I'm looking forward to those even more now.

I had to skip volumes 3 and 4, because the library didn't have those for some reason. However, I had seen up to that point in the anime and at least had a general idea of what happened. I tried to follow my notes as closely as possible, without interjecting what I knew about later volumes into my reviews of the earlier volumes. It felt very weird, but I think I mostly did okay. Warning: my post includes major spoilers. Read on at your own risk.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Binary Witness (e-book) by Rosie Claverton

Binary Witness is a mystery published by Carina Press.

I started this at the end of my vacation, so I'm going to call it a "vacation read" and skip out on listing read-alikes.

Review:

I'm kicking myself for not reviewing this weeks ago, when my memories were fresher. Oh well, I'll do my best.

Back in 2011, Melinda Beasi wrote a post for Manga Bookshelf titled “Fanservice Friday: Intimacy porn.” In it, she writes about intimacy being a big draw for her, and includes a few examples. It took a few years of percolating, but I now think intimacy is what I look for too, in all kinds of stories. In my experience, intimacy tends to be easier to find in romance novels, but even in those it's not a sure thing. Binary Witness was a wonderful surprise – it's a mystery that doesn't have what most people would call a romantic subplot, and yet it's full of intimate moments.

The story is set in Cardiff. Jason is an ex-con who desperately wants to get a job so that he can get out of his mother's house a bit and do something useful. Amy is an agoraphobic hacker who helps the police by piecing together information she finds via social media, forums, CCTV, and more. Their paths cross when Jason gets a job as a housecleaner and is sent to clean Amy's place. She refuses to let him in, at first, but he's persistent, and it's not long before he's cleaning her kitchen and making her a cup of tea and something to eat. Amy is not very good about taking care of herself, by the way - things like personal hygiene and eating end up on the back burner a lot.

It's Amy who confirms that a couple missing young women are not only dead, but also probably killed by the same person. Jason starts off on the sidelines, but eventually becomes more involved in the investigation, helping Amy get whatever information the police can't give her and that she isn't able to track down with her beloved computer.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Durarara!! (manga, vol. 1-4) creator Ryohgo Narita, art by Akiyo Satorigi, character designs by Suzuhito Yasuda, translated by Stephen Paul

I've tried to watch the anime version of Durarara!! two or three times and have yet to make it all the way through. While I love looking through fan creations based on this series, the series itself doesn't seem to do anything for me. I was hoping things would be different with the manga, but that wasn't really the case. It didn't help that these volumes only briefly touched on the characters that most interested me in the anime.

Once again, a warning: my synopses are riddled with spoilers. Read on at your own risk.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Pride of Chanur (e-book) by C.J. Cherryh

The Pride of Chanur is science fiction, the first book in Cherryh's Chanur series.

I'm not going to include a read-alikes list, because I started this book during my vacation, so it's technically a vacation read. And also, I'm feeling a bit lazy.

Review:

I wanted to like The Pride of Chanur, I really did. Science fiction with a heavy emphasis on alien cultures and/or alien linguistics is like catnip to me, and, for that reason, I've wanted to try Cherryh's works for a long time. Unfortunately, her writing style didn't work for me. This is not a long book – the print edition is only a little over 200 pages – and yet I spent more than a month alternately slogging through it or avoiding it.

The story is fairly simple. Pyanfar Chanur is the captain of the hani spaceship The Pride of Chanur. She discovers a stowaway, an odd-looking being she quickly realizes is sentient. He's a human, and none of the aliens in the book have ever seen anything like him before. Pyanfar has him put together a translation tape and eventually learns that his name is Tully and he's an escapee from a kif ship. The kif tortured Tully and his friends, and he was the only one who survived. Pyanfar doesn't like the kif, who are widely known as pirates and slave-traders, so she decides to help Tully. This decision ends up putting The Pride of Chanur, other hani ships, and even the hani homeworld in grave danger.
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