Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 in numbers

I like looking at statistics, but my tolerance for putting them together is limited, so I'm going to try to keep things simple this year.

Watching:

In 2016, I may start trying to use LibraryThing to catalog my TV and movie watching as well as my reading. For one thing, I'd love to have an exportable list of everything I've watched. For another, I'm terrible at remembering to keep up with my "things I've watched" spreadsheet. I have almost no data for the past year beyond what my blog can tell me.

Here's what I do know:

I watched and reviewed 14 different TV shows and 19 different movies - not surprising, since I spent a good chunk of the year trying to watch and review (and offload) as many of the DVDs I owned as possible. Of the 33 things I watched, 24 were live action and 7 were Japanese anime. A few months ago, I started subscribing to DramaFever, and I've been watching a lot of Asian live action TV (particularly Korean) since then.

Reading:

I figured out how to export stuff from LibraryThing using tags and collections to filter the results, which helped a lot. The only problem was that I didn't always tag things with an eye towards being able to pull useful/interesting data out at a later date. There were also a couple spots where the numbers didn't quite seem to match up, and I didn't really feel like sifting through it all to figure out the reason why. This is supposed to be for my personal enjoyment, not a journal article.

Average Ratings:

I don't include ratings on this blog, but I do in LibraryThing and on Booklikes. Out of the 137 (although BookLikes says 138) things I read in 2015, I gave ratings to 135 of them. My average rating was 3.25 stars.

However, I've always thought I go easier on graphic novels and manga than I do on everything else, so I decided to take a look at that too. Of the 137 things I read, 62 were graphic novels, manga, manhua, or manhwa, and I rated 61 of them. My average rating was 3.47 stars.

My tagging system didn't make it easy to pick out the novels, short stories, and novellas - my final spreadsheet had 75 works in it. Of those, 74 had been rated. My average rating was 3.07 stars.

So my average rating for manga and graphic novels is nearly half a star higher than for novels, novellas, and short stories. Either I tend to seek out better quality manga and graphic novels than I do novels and short stories, or I'm rate novels and short stories more harshly than manga and graphic novels.

Paper books vs. E-books vs. Audiobooks:

I still read graphic novels and manga almost entirely in paper form, due to most of the publishers I know refusing to (or not being able to) offer DRM-free versions, so I'm not going to be factoring those in.

Of the 75 works I read and listened to, 21 were paper books (28%), 36 were e-books (48%), and 18 were audiobooks (24%). I read more e-books than paper books, but paper books still haven't disappeared from my regular reading, and at this point it doesn't look like they're going to.

Of the paper books I read, 6 were purchased brand new, 6 were purchased used, and 9 came from the library. Of the e-books I read, 29 were purchased (all new - it's not currently possible to buy used e-books), 3 were freebies, and 4 came from the library. Unfortunately, none of this lines up very well with the huge amount of books, both used and new, that I bought in the past year. Oops.

Things got a little more interesting as far as my audiobooks were concerned. This past year, I started an Audible subscription. Instead of dropping it a couple months after I started, the way I'd originally planned, I kept going, and it shows in my stats. Of the audiobooks I listened to, 1 was a freebie, 7 came from the library, and 10 were purchased brand new (all Audible audiobooks).

That's about all the numbers I'm willing to crunch at the moment. Here's hoping I can work up the energy to put a few "best" and "worst" lists together soon.

Flower Boy Next Door (live action TV series), via DramaFever

http://www.dramafever.com/drama/3851/Flower_Boy_Next_Door/
Flower Boy Next Door is a Korean romantic comedy series.

Review:

I loved this series more for its characters than for its romance. I blew through all 16 episodes in about a week.

The story: When Dok Mi was in high school, something happened that gave her social anxiety and led to her basically becoming a recluse. In the present day, she works at home editing other people's manuscripts while dreaming of one day writing something all her own. During a brief outing, she falls in love at first sight (literally – they never even speak to each other) with a gorgeous guy who turns out to live in the apartment across the street from hers. She watches him for months, even matching her daily schedule to his as much as possible considering she rarely leaves her apartment. Then one day she thinks she sees his dog get hurt and wants so badly to help it that she even ventures outside.

Dok Mi's path crosses with Enrique (a famous game designer), Jin Rak (a webtoon artist who has loved Dok Mi from afar), Dong Hoon (Jin Rak's roommate and fellow webtoon artist), Do Hwi (Dok Mi's former bully/best friend), and many others. Dok Mi has to decide whether to retreat from the world again, or whether to go farther out into a world where things are unpredictable and those around her could make her happy or hurt her.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

One-Punch Man (manga, vol. 1) story by ONE, art by Yusuke Murata, translated by John Werry

One-Punch Man is an action comedy series. It's licensed by VIZ Media.

Review:

This was an impulse buy – I happened to see it while grocery shopping, and I vaguely remembered hearing good things about it. It turned out to be pretty funny.

As far as the premise goes, I'll just quote the bit on the table of contents page: “My name is Saitama. I am a hero. I got too strong. And that makes me sad. I can defeat any enemy with one blow. I lost my hair. And I lost all feeling. I want to feel the rush of battle. I would like to meet an incredibly strong enemy. And I would like to defeat it with one blow. That's because I am One-Punch Man.”

Although that's somewhat incorrect, because what Saitama would really like is an enemy that takes a bit more to defeat than one punch. Someone who could get his adrenaline flowing, even just a little bit.

In this volume, we learn One-Punch Man's origins. He was jobless, had just failed his most recent job interview, and happened to come across a guy who turned into a crab monster after eating too many crabs. Saitama didn't really have anything better to do, and becoming a powerful hero seemed like a nice hobby.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Clockwork Gold (e-novella) by Jenny Schwartz

Clockwork Gold is self-published steampunk romance.

I'm feeling lazy at the moment, so this post doesn't include a read-alikes list.

Review:

First, full disclosure: the author and I follow each other on BookLikes and have occasionally commented on each other's posts. When she announced that Clockwork Gold would briefly be free, I snatched it up, because steampunk romance appeals to me. (This was a year or so ago – it's no longer free, but it is cheap.)

Rebecca Jones is a dirigible pilot with a rock solid reputation among the miners and prospectors in the Goldfields of Western Australia. Because they trust her enough not to shoot her down as a potential spy, she's able to go where many other dirigible pilots can't. However, she knows it'll take more than just her word to deal with the corruption in Kalgoorlie. She needs proof, but the arrival of Nathan Burton, Special Agent to the Crown, makes the situation more complicated than she expected.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Alice in the Country of Joker - Circus and Liar's Game, The Nightmare Trilogy (manga) story by QuinRose, art by various, translated by Angela Liu

I had two Alice in the Country of Joker sets in my giant pile of vacation manga, and I unfortunately chose the wrong starting point, The Nightmare Trilogy. Circus and Liar's Game did a much better job of explaining how the Country of Joker worked and what made it different from the Country of Hearts and the Country of Clover. Overall, though, I don't think the Alice in the Country of Joker stuff was as good as some of the past entries in the franchise. Either that, or I read way too many Alice in the Country of volumes during my vacation and just overdosed on the franchise in general.

Warning: There are spoilers from this point on. Also, yay, I'm finally done with my post-vacation reviews!

Neverwhere (audio drama) by Neil Gaiman, narrated by a full cast

Neverwhere is urban fantasy. This is not a full-cast production of the book - it's a radio drama, an adaptation of the original story.

Review:

My first exposure to Neverwhere was via the book. I read it ages ago, but I remember enjoying it quite a bit. Sometime after that I watched the TV series, and I've been wanting to listen to the radio drama since I first heard it existed. I bit the bullet and picked it up during a recent Audible sale.

Neverwhere stars Richard Mayhew, an ordinary man whose life is turned upside down when he helps an injured young woman named Door. Soon after Door leaves his life, Richard discovers that he seems to have become invisible. His apartment is rented out to someone else without anyone asking him for permission, and his coworkers and girlfriend no longer remember who he is or that he ever even existed. Richard's quest to get his life back takes him to London Below, where he joins up with Door, who is trying to find out why her entire family was killed and why their murderers, Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, are after her.

The Twelve Clues of Christmas (audiobook) by Rhys Bowen, narrated by Katherine Kellgren

The Twelve Clues of Christmas is a historical cozy mystery.

Review:

I'm getting more of my review backlog out of the way, because, one way or another, I plan on starting the new year with a clean slate. I'd like to leave anything I haven't reviewed by then behind.

Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie (aka “Georgie”) doesn't want to spend Christmas with family members who don't really want her around, and she's been forbidden from going to visit her commoner grandfather and spending the time with him. When she spots an ad for a position as hostess at a party in a little village, she jumps at the chance for a more enjoyable Christmas. Everything seems to be going well, except Georgie keeps hearing about apparently random and accidental deaths. She can't shake the thought that there's something sinister behind it all.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Android's Dream (audiobook) by John Scalzi, narrated by Wil Wheaton

The Android's Dream is humorous science fiction. I got it through Audible.

Warning: this review includes spoilers.

Review:

I should have reviewed this right after I finished listening to it, but I just wanted to move on to something else. My memories of certain details may be a bit fuzzy, but I'll do the best I can.

The story: A human diplomat figures out how to use his own farts to get revenge against the Nidu diplomat who played a part in his father's death. The incident results in both diplomats' deaths and might lead to war, unless Earth's government is able to locate a breed of sheep known as “Android's Dream” and present it to the Nidu for use in their upcoming coronation ceremony. Unfortunately, someone's been killing off every Android's Dream sheep in existence. Harry Creek, a war hero and brilliant hacker, will have to push his skills to the limit in order to locate the last remaining suitable specimen and save Earth.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Milkyway Hitchhiking (manhwa, vol. 1) by Sirial, translated by HyeYoung Im

Milkyway Hitchhiking is an episodic manhwa (Korean graphic novel) that's hard to assign to any one genre, since it changes a bit from one story to the next. It's licensed by Yen Press.

I won't be including any read-alikes with this. Also, be aware that some of the things in this review could be considered spoilers.

Review:

Milkyway Hitchhiking is composed of 11 short stories and one bit that I suppose could be called an interlude. Milkyway, a cat named for the gorgeous star-like pattern on her back, is the only thing most of the stories have in common.

I picked this volume up primarily because I loved the cover. Luckily, this is one of those cases where the artwork on the cover gives you a good idea of what to expect in the volume as a whole. All the artwork is in color, except for one story that purposely starts out in shades of gray. Sirial's style has a dreamlike quality to it, and I found myself repeatedly thinking that a Sirial-illustrated picture book would be an absolutely wonderful thing.

The artwork definitely did not disappoint, but what about the stories? That's where things got a bit more “meh.” I did enjoy them, but at one point I put the volume down and didn't pick it up again for months – in fact, I waited so long that I decided to just start over from the beginning when I picked it up again.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Black Butler (manga, vols. 15-20) by Yana Toboso, translated by Tomo Kimura

I had some issues with this particular vacation read, but Toboso's art tended to make up for it all. She really does some lovely work, and her panels are always clear and easy to follow, unlike some of the stuff I read during my vacation.

I keep forgetting that, technically, this series has an overarching storyline. I have no idea if Toboso ever plans to give this series an ending, or if Sebastian and Ciel will be participating in short story arcs forever. As far as longer-running series go, Skip Beat! has done a better job than Black Butler at keeping me feeling excited and engaged, but Black Butler is still pretty good. This is another series I definitely plan on continuing during my next vacation.

All right, on to the specific volumes. As usual, warning, this post contains spoilers.

Wandering Son (manga, vols. 1-5) by Shimura Takako, translated by Matt Thorn

I had heard a lot of good things about Wandering Son and went into it with high expectations. Maybe too high. It turned out to have far more relationship drama (mostly romantic drama) than I expected, and it got to be a bit too much for me. That said, I suspect teens would enjoy that aspect.

This is one of those series that I definitely plan on continuing next time I'm on vacation, even though it sometimes makes me want to scream at the characters in frustration.

Warning: this post contains spoilers.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Naruto (manga, vol. 55) by Masashi Kishimoto, translated by Mari Morimoto

All the hidden villages are united in a war against the Akatsuki, which means people from different villages are teamed up together and need to learn to work with each other. The teams find themselves fighting Kabuto's reanimated puppets, and some of the battles are bitter – for example, Sai must fight his brother, and Kakashi finds himself facing off against Zabuza and Haku. Meanwhile, Naruto is continuing to train with Killer Bee, unaware that all of this is going on.

I have less that 20 volumes to go before I'm done with this series. I've been reading it for so long that it feels like I need to make it to the finish line, but this volume made me wonder if I'm going to be able to manage it.

Part of the problem is that it's been so long since I read the volumes prior to this one. The result was confusion – so many characters I either didn't know or could barely remember. Personally, I think Kishimoto is better at depicting one-on-one battles than large-scale wars. I miss the days of reading extended battles that were really just an excuse to reveal characters' thoughts and emotions and to maybe throw in a flashback or two. It should have been a more emotional experience, seeing characters I knew and loved, like Haku and Zabuza, reanimated and forced against their will to fight. Instead, I had to struggle to feel anything. There was just too much going on.

I continued to dislike Killer Bee's efforts to rap all his lines. I can't wait until Naruto is finally done training with him, because I would like him to go away. Why does such an annoying character have to be so important?

I'll wrap this up with a quickie comment about the jutsu Kabuto used to reanimate people. We're told that it can't be broken, even with the caster's death, and yet Sasori (a master puppet user who was killed a while back) and Sai's brother crumbled to dust after, what, dealing with their unresolved issues? For Sasori the key was his mother and father puppets, and for Sai's brother the key was seeing Sai's drawing of the two of them together. How could Kabuto not know about that little problem with his supposedly unbeatable jutsu?

Secret (manga, vol. 1) by Yoshiki Tonogai, translated by Alexis Eckerman

In Secret, an entire class was in a bus accident that killed all but six students. Their post-accident counselor calls them in for one last session, in which he says that there are three murderers among the six students. Those three have one week to find a way to answer for their crimes, and then he, Mitomo, will take his evidence to the police. The students all become afraid, and one even attacks another, Odzu, who admits he saw a student standing among all the accident victims after the crash. Another student blackmails that student, telling him to kill Mitomo, but he ends up getting caught. He admits to killing one of the students on the bus due to feelings of shame about a crush and then jumps off a building.

Well, the premise is kind of dumb, unless Mitomo has something he's hiding. I wish I had written down his exact wording, because now I'm wondering if maybe he's one of the three murderers. Otherwise, I can't think of a good reason for him to announce to people who have killed before that he knows what they've done and has evidence, and that they could always kill him if they decide they don't want to atone and don't want to get caught. Also, I'm just generally disgusted at Mitomo's complete disregard for ethics and for the safety of the students he was, in theory, supposed to be helping.

This could have at least been tense and suspenseful fun, despite the problems with the premise, except that the execution was incredibly boring. Also, the artwork made it too hard to tell the students apart. Instead of sitting back and enjoying the story, I kept having to flip back and forth through the volume in an effort to figure out which characters were which.

One thing I wondered: what was up with all the rabbit masks? Sanada had one, as did Shuma. The cover art indicates that they're going to be important, but so far there isn't any info on why certain students have them and what they mean.

At the moment, I have no plans to continue reading this series.

The Legend of the Morning Star (e-short story) by Elizabeth McCoy

"The Legend of the Morning Star" is a self-published fantasy short story. It's 3,520 words long.

I opted not to include any read-alikes for this.

Review:

I'm not sure what you'd call this. A fantasy world's folktale? Myth? Anyway, “The Legend of the Morning Star” is the story of how Kiro, the servant of the sun god Alyyon, fell in love with a beautiful human girl named Kasinda and defied his master. It also tells the story of how a particular star came to be created. It's set in the same universe as McCoy's story “The Bear Prince,” which means it'd be a story characters in McCoy's Lord Alchemist series might tell each other. However, it's not necessary to have read any of that in order to enjoy this story.

I can't really say much about this except that I really enjoyed it and think it's better than the fantasy folktales/fairy tales in McCoy's The Bear Prince collection. And, unlike that collection, this story is free.

Also, although it was jarring at first, I loved that the narrator occasionally interrupted the story in order to make a few comments. It gave me a mental vision of someone talking to a Lord Alchemist series version of the Brothers Grimm.

Extras:

The story ends with an “author's afterword” that confirms that, yes, this does take place in the same world as “The Bear Prince.” Also, there's a tiny “about the narrator” section that gives the story's narrator a name. I thought the narrator, Ches, was maybe in Herb-Wife, but I wasn't able to find that character. However, Kessa and Iathor did have a Wind priest at their wedding.

One Hit Wonder (e-novella) by Elyssa Patrick

One Hit Wonder is a self-published contemporary romance novella. I got it for free a couple years ago.

Review:

Jane Timmons has been Damon Suarez's personal assistant for two years now, and she has been secretly in love with him for most of that time. It's gotten harder and harder for her to hide how she feels, so she has decided that it's time for her to leave and open up her own PR firm.

Damon is shocked when Jane gives him her two weeks' notice. In the past two years she has proved to be an invaluable assistant, and Damon had counted on her to be there to help him revitalize his career and become more than just a one hit wonder. In the process of trying to figure out how to change Jane's mind, Damon realizes that, somewhere along the line, he's fallen in love with her. But can he convince her that he's serious?

Burning Up (e-short story) by Z.A. Maxfield

"Burning Up" is m/m romance (or erotic romance?). I bought it via All Romance Ebooks, but it appears it has been pulled from that site. The publisher is Torquere Press and, oddly enough, I can't find it on  their website either. It's also not listed on the author's website.

Review:

Robin, a fire knife dancer, gets burned when his act is disrupted by a drunken heckler. The drunken heckler's ex-boyfriend, Kelly, makes sure Robin gets home okay and then helps him treat his burns.

This story would have been a heck of a lot sweeter if 1) Robin hadn't been burned and 2) if Robin and Kelly had actually known each other for more than a few hours. It wasn't so much that Maxfield forgot Robin's burn as it was that it seemed like his burn should have interfered with the sexytimes portion of the story more. As for the “they only just met” aspect...

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Alice in the Country of Clover - Cheshire Cat Waltz, Ace of Hearts, Nightmare, The Lizard Aide, March Hare (manga) story by QuinRose, art by various, translated by Angela Liu

I believe the Alice in the Country of Clover volumes are based on a sequel to the original Alice in the Country of Hearts game, but I'm not entirely sure about that. I haven't actually played any of the games, although I'd probably snatch them up if they ever popped up on Steam.

Anyway, as the beginning of each Country of Clover volume will tell you, these volumes star an Alice who never fell in love in the Country of Hearts. She has gotten to know everybody, so any romance that happens in these volumes is supposed to come across as more “friends to lovers” than “passion with stranger she's still getting to know.” One other detail: Wonderland has moved from the Country of Hearts to the Country of Clover. During the move, Gowland and his amusement park and Julius and his tower were expelled. They still exist, but Alice and the residents of the Country of Clover can no longer visit them. This causes some characters angst, which becomes more or less relevant depending on which subseries you're reading.

I really wish I had started with Cheshire Cat Waltz, where the move, the way it happened, and the effects it had were clearer and easier to understand. Unfortunately, I made another mistake: I started Cheshire Cat Waltz thinking that I had all the volumes, not realizing that it was actually a 7-volume series. I need to request the seventh volume sometime soon, before I completely forget what the previous volumes were like.

Alice in the Country of Hearts: The Clockmaker's Story (manga) story by Quin Rose, art by Mamenosuke Fujimaru, translated by Angela Liu

I've decided that I'm going to try to review all those Alice in the Country of manga volumes I read during my vacation as much in the order that they should be read as possible, rather than in the order I actually read them. That means I need to start with any Alice in the Country of Hearts volumes, and this was the only one out of the bunch. I should note that there is a multi-volume Alice in the Country of Hearts release that is probably the best place to start. Although I read most of it several years ago, I haven't reviewed it.

If you're not familiar with Alice in the Country of Hearts: it deals with a girl named Alice who ends up being transported to the Country of Hearts, which is filled with characters who are locked in violent territory disputes and who all almost immediately adore Alice. The various manga volumes are based on a visual novel of the same title, and it helps if you approach each manga subseries (?) as though it were a route in the game – nothing except the basics of the situation and world carries over from one subseries to the next.

The Clockmaker's Story is a one-shot in which Alice falls in love with Julius, the Country of Hearts' clockmaker. To get away from Peter and the violence at both the castle and the Hatter Family's mansion, Alice moves in with Julius. She worries that she might be getting in his way, and she knows he's keeping something from her. Still, he's kind, letting her use his bed because it's the only one in the tower. What Alice doesn't know is that there's a secret behind the clocks Julius is constantly fixing.

All Cats Are Gray (e-short story) by Andre Norton

"All Cats Are Gray" is a science fiction short story originally published in 1953. I downloaded it for free via ManyBooks.

Warning: my review includes a major spoiler. No read-alikes this time around, sorry.

Review:

“All Cats Are Gray” tells the story of Steena of the spaceways, a woman who'd blend into the background and be completely forgotten if it weren't for her amazing store of knowledge. Her only companion is her cat, Bat. Steena is a loner who rarely says anything, but every spacer knows to pay attention the few times she does talk. This time around, Steena has some info for a spacer named Cliff Moran, and she's not content to just sit back and watch him act on her info on his own.

The Twisted Tale of Stormy Gale (e-novella) by Christine Bell

The Twisted Tale of Stormy Gale is a time travel romance with a historical setting. It was published by Carina Press and is 25,900 words long.

Carina Press also has this in their Steampunk category, but I don't know that I agree with that. If it does count as steampunk, that element is extremely light.

Review:

The year is 1836. After her younger brother, Bacon, loses his time travel mechanism to the Loony Duke of Leister in a drunken card game, Stormy comes up with a plan to get it back. Although the mechanism has been disassembled just enough so that there's little chance of anyone accidentally activating it, it's too risky to go back to the 21st century and leave it behind.

Stormy's plan involves dressing as a gypsy fortuneteller, somehow luring the Duke into her tent (assuming he even walks by, and that she can recognize him despite never having met him), and then drugging him and robbing him blind. Unfortunately, things don't go quite the way she expected.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

December Skoshbox

It's time to review the next Skoshbox! This month's box was amazing, but gone way too quickly. It included: 1 Blueberry Collon (blueberry cream-filled crispy shell), 1 Pejoy: Cookies & Cream (cookies & cream filled biscuit sticks), 1 Bisco Cafe Au Lait (cafe au lait cream filled biscuits), 1 Pocky Demitasse, and 2 Mini Caplico Cones (these possible flavors: vanilla, strawberry, or chocolate). The box also came with a mini Pocky keychain pen.

Blueberry Collon:

If I had to pick a least-favorite snack in this box, it would be this one, although I enjoyed it too. It was a little baggie of crispy cookie (waffle cone-like?) cylinders filled with blueberry-flavored cream. They were delicious, although several of them had half of their crunchy shell broken off. Also, the little cylinder shapes kind of reminded me of dog treats.

Pejoy: Cookies & Cream:

Hollow chocolate cookie sticks filled with vanilla cream. These were very good. One advantage they had over Pocky sticks was that the cream went all the way through, so every bite included both cookie and cream. Also, since the outside of the sticks weren't covered in anything, I didn't have to worry about getting melted chocolate or cream on my fingers.

Bisco Cafe Au Lait:

Another delicious snack! The little package included five cookie sandwiches – coffee-flavored cream sandwiched between crunchy plain (vanilla-flavored?) cookies.

Pocky Demitasse:

I had actually been given these as a gift before, so I knew what to expect. They were basically shorter-than-normal Pocky sticks. The flavor: chocolate cookie sticks dipped in rich chocolate (maybe semi-sweet chocolate?). These were so good, and gone so quickly.

Mini Caplico Cones:

The two flavors that came with my box were strawberry and chocolate. They didn't look like they'd be that great – they were basically tall waffle cones with what looked like brown or pink (depending on the flavor) Styrofoam at the top. Thankfully, they were tastier than they looked. The Styrofoam-like part was actually some kind of aerated filling. Although it wasn't soft or creamy to the touch, it melted in my mouth and tasted better than I expected. The strawberry flavor started out with strawberry at the top and turned into a little core of chocolate by the time I hit the bottom of the cone. The chocolate-flavored one was chocolate all the way through.

I doubt I'll ever get attached enough to specific Skoshbox snacks to order them through the site, but December's box was certainly a winner. There were no snacks I disliked, and the little keychain pen was cute.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Attack on Titan: No Regrets (manga, vol. 2) story by Gun Snark, art by Hikaru Suruga, translated by Lindsey Akashi

Yet another vacation reading review. Warning: this post contains spoilers.

Levi, Furlan, and Isabel are secretly planning to steal some documents from Erwin, so that they can live a good life in the capital. However, Levi and Isabel find themselves getting caught up in the Survey Corps members' passion for their work and their goals. They can't steal the documents and kill Erwin outside the wall without seriously risking everyone's lives, something they're no longer willing to do, so they opt to put their work on hold for a bit, at least until the latest outing is over. That decision lasts until it starts raining heavily. The rain makes everyone's flares useless and cuts all the squads off from each other – it's too perfect an opportunity to pass up. Levi goes off to get the documents on his own, so that Furlan and Isobel won't leave their squad shorthanded. Unfortunately, they're killed. Levi then learns that Erwin always knew about their mission but wanted them in the Survey Corps anyway, because of their talent with the 3D maneuvering gear. And so Levi joins the Survey Corps for real.

Meh. I was right, Isabel and Furlan were nothing more than cannon fodder. However, I was not right about the way things would work out between Erwin and Levi. Erwin did almost nothing to try to win Levi over – it felt like Levi started following him primarily because he had no other options left, rather than out of a sense of loyalty. Not at all what I was expecting, and it left me feeling disappointed.

The artwork was nice, certainly better than the artwork in the original series, but the story was a bit of a letdown.

There were two shorts after the main story, both of them set prior to Levi, Furlan, and Isobel joining the Survey Corps. In the first one, Levi wins an arm wrestling contest and is allowed to pick any prize he wishes. On the one hand, I liked that Levi's choice was so very practical. On the other hand, I disliked that the story seemed designed to set a middle-aged woman character up to be the butt of a joke. In the second short, Isabel hears a ghost story and gets scared. I think this was meant to be funny, but it just seemed pointless.

Are You Alice? (manga, vols. 1-2) by Ikumi Katagiri, original story by Ai Ninomiya, translated by Alexis Eckerman

Are You Alice? was one of the bigger disappointments of my vacation. I had a huge stack of volumes, and I just couldn't bring myself to read more. Even as I was reading volume 2, I had the sneaking suspicion that I was wasting time I should be devoting to other more enjoyable series.

I doubt I'll be returning to this series during my next vacation. It just didn't grab me.

Warning: this post contains spoilers.

Skip Beat! (manga, vol. 33-34) by Yoshiki Nakamura, translated by Tomo Kimura

I continue to adore this series and wish I owned it all, so I could go back and reread the earlier volumes. However, I have no clue where I'd keep 34+ volumes, so I continue not to buy any of it. I wish I had floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

I'm amazed that, even after this many volumes, this series still hasn't gotten stale. Nakamura appears to have an endless supply of exciting ideas and developments. I only wish there had been more than two new-to-me volumes available for me to read over my vacation.

This post contains spoilers, so proceed with caution.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Beautiful Friendship (audiobook) by David Weber, narrated by Khristine Hvam

A Beautiful Friendship is YA science fiction, part of Weber's Honorverse. I did a bit of research, and it looks like Stephanie is an ancestor of Weber's Honor Harrington character.

I got this via Audible, during their recent Cyber Monday sale.

Review:

Twelve-year-old Stephanie isn't happy that her family has been relocated to the planet Sphinx. It's a dangerous and fairly recently colonized place, so her parents don't feel comfortable about letting her run around on her own all the time. In order to keep her occupied, Stephanie's mother gives her a mystery to solve: missing celery. Greenhouses and gardens all over Sphinx keep getting small amounts of celery stolen from them, and no one's been able to figure out who's been doing it. Stephanie's investigation leads to the discovery of a whole new sentient species, beings she ends up calling “treecats.” She forms an empathic bond with one particular treecat, Climbs Quickly, and becomes a fierce protector of her new friend and his clan.

From Pack to Pride (e-novella) by Amber Kell

From Pack to Pride is m/m paranormal erotic romance. It's about 17,390 words long. My copy was published by Total E-Bound Publishing.

My review includes a slight spoiler.

Review:

Adrian is outraged when he learns that his brother and pack alpha, Kade, has arranged for him to live with a lion-shifter pride in order to protect him from Olson, a wolf who hates him and plans to challenge him. For the next six months, Adrian's supposed to at least consider the possibility of mate bonding with one of the lions. If he doesn't find anyone suitable and isn't happy living with the pride, he can go home. He's sure that will be the final outcome, but then he meets Talan, the pride alpha, and is instantly attracted to him. He and Talan get along well, but then Olson arrives. Talan's over-protectiveness causes Adrian to question whether a mate bond with Talan would be a good idea.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Timeless Innocents (e-novella) by Janis Susan May

Timeless Innocents is a horror story published by Carina Press. It's 26,000 words long.

No read-alikes, because I'm lazy and not very familiar with the horror genre anymore, although I figure that any horror in which dolls/figurines play a large part would probably work.

Review:

Brianna Forte's father would have been the executor of Ralph and Bette's estate, except the same car accident that killed Ralph and Bette also put Brianna's father in critical condition in the hospital. And so Brianna finds herself having to deal with everything on her own...including the one room in Ralph and Bette's house that she never got to enter when she used to visit as a child.

Although the couple had lived frugal lives, to the point that they still had dial-up Internet, they apparently had spent a small fortune amassing an enormous collection of Timeless Innocents figurines. The locked room in their house is filled with them. Although each one is clearly well-made, Brianna finds them to be distasteful, for reasons that seem to go beyond her usual dislike of kitschy knick-knacks.

Recruiting Drive (e-short story) by Elizabeth McCoy

"Recruiting Drive" is a self-published science fiction story.

No read-alikes or watch-alikes this time around, since this story is a bit too short for that.

Review:

This takes place after the other Kintaran story I read, “Spoonfuls of Sugar.” Klarin-yal is now in command of the clanship Choosaraf, and she has a problem. Not only does the Choosaraf need more crew (which in turn means that the clan needs more members), most of the younger members of the current crew would prefer to leave and live planetside. At this point, that would destroy the clan.

Klarin-yal and her fraternal twin sister, Coli-nfaran, are able to find a few new crew members on Kintara Station, but not a Negotiator. That's when Coli-nfaran gets an idea: if their younglings were born on a ship but would prefer to live on a planet, couldn't it work the other way around? And so Coli leaves the Choosaraf in order to search Kintara for younglings that dream of living on a spaceship.

I liked this more than “Spoonfuls of Sugar,” but it was still disappointing. McCoy's greatest strength, in her novels, is her characters, and yet this story was too short for the characters to shine much. Also, Coli's strategy for finding suitable Kintarans was somewhat lacking. She basically just walked around on the planet until she stumbled into a clan, and then hoped that one of them would be interested in leaving with her.

I should mention that I still have zero familiarity with GURPS, which, according to a note in the copyright info, inspired at least parts of this story.

Extras:

The story begins with a glossary and names list. Even though “Recruiting Drive” was very short, I found that I had to flip back to the glossary a couple times to check the meanings of certain words, because those meanings were not evident in the text.

There were at least two errors in the names list. First, both Ch'ichat and Neeri were listed as Coli-nfaran's mother. I thought maybe they were lesbians or that Kintaran family structures resulted in all females in the clan being younglings' mothers, but then the story mentioned that Neeri was Coli-nfaran's grandmother. Second, Coli-nfaran's grandmother's name was spelled a couple different ways, and I have no idea which one was correct. She was “Neeri” in the glossary and “Neerri” in the story.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Natsume's Book of Friends (manga, vols. 1-8) by Yuki Midorikawa, translated by Lillian Olsen

If you count the Alice in the Country of stuff separately, I read more volumes of this series during my vacation than any other.

The words I'd use to describe Natsume's Book of Friends are: warm, gentle, bittersweet. It's such a lovely series. I already knew that from watching the anime, and the manga didn't change my feelings. I had expected I'd get bored with the series, since, even eight volumes in, I still wasn't able to make it past events covered in the anime (although I think the anime may have shuffled some events around a bit). However, I really enjoyed it and would have read more if I had had the time. I'll definitely be reading more of this, next time I go on vacation.

Chi's Sweet Home (manga, vol. 11) by Konami Kanata, translated by Ed Chavez

Mrs. Yamada and Yohei briefly leave for a trip to Hokkaido, causing Chi to wonder if they've been taken away to a new home. They do come back, but Chi can't stop thinking about the whole “other home” thing. She keeps almost remembering her other home. Then she meets her real mom, who calls her Sarah, and Yohei discovers a “lost” poster with a picture of Chi on it. Mr. Yamada is going to be taking a job in France, so the family is running out of time to decide whether or not to return Chi to her original owner.

I can't believe this series will be over in only one more volume. I'll miss Chi and her adorable antics.

That said, this wasn't one of the better volumes in the series. There was a bit more anthropomorphizing than I'd have liked. Also, the increase in potential heartbreak made me long for the earlier volumes, when it was all just about the Yamadas learning to live with a cat and Chi running around doing kitten things. When I read this series, I'm looking for happy and uncomplicated fluff, darn it. Instead, I got a mama cat who's been missing her baby and looking for her all this time and the Yamadas contemplating moving to an entirely different country.

Champion of the Rose (e-book) by Andrea K. Höst

Champion of the Rose is a self-published fantasy book I picked up while the author was having an enormous sale on Smashwords.

Review:

Darest is a country in decline. When it still had Rathens and Rathen Champions, it was powerful, but it's been two hundred years since the death of the last Rathen. It's a shock to everyone when the Rathen Rose reacts to Soren, a nobody in the court, and proclaims her the newest Rathen Champion. Soren does her duty and begins her search for a baby Rathen who couldn't possibly exist, knowing that, once she finds the child, they'll both be in danger. While Darest may need its Rathens, Darien politics has moved on. The Regent and her son would not be happy to be displaced.

Strake, the Rathen Soren finally finds, is a grown man rather than the child Soren expected, and is filled with anger and bitterness. The Rose unfortunately makes things worse. Despite their strained relationship, Strake and Soren will have to work together if they want to survive Darien politics, the machinations of the Rose, and the being intent on killing the last Rathen.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Silent Voice (manga, vols. 1-2) by Yoshitoki Oima, translated by Steven LeCroy

I heard about A Silent Voice via a review I now can't seem to track down. I don't think I'd have touched this series, otherwise. The covers are, quite frankly, boring and make me think of visual novels, with static shots of the characters sliding on and off the screen.

However, I'd have been missing out, because this series is lovely and has the potential for a great deal of complexity. I'm a little nervous about how things will eventually turn out, since the series deals with some very heavy subjects, but Oima seems to be handling everything with the care and sensitivity it deserves.

Warning: my post contains spoilers.

I read a lot while on vacation

I didn't mention it on this blog, but one of the reasons why I didn't post for so long was because I was on vacation. If I counted correctly, while I was gone I read 50 volumes of manga. Not bad.

As usual, I plan on writing up posts that cover each of the series I read, with short synopses and reviews of each volume. It'll take a while, but it's pretty much the only way I'm able to get back into a series a year or so later and not be completely lost.

The 50 volumes I read were part of 18 different series. Here's what you can hopefully expect posts for in the coming weeks:
  • Alice in the Country of Clover: Ace of Hearts (one-shot)
  • Alice in the Country of Clover: Cheshire Cat Waltz (vols. 1-6) 
  • Alice in the Country of Clover: The Lizard Aide (one-shot)
  • Alice in the Country of Clover: March Hare (one-shot) 
  • Alice in the Country of Clover: Nightmare (one-shot)
  • Alice in the Country of Hearts: The Clockmaker's Story (one-shot)
  • Alice in the Country of Joker: Circus and Liar's Game (vols. 1-7) 
  • Alice in the Country of Joker: The Nightmare Trilogy (vols. 1-3)
  • Are You Alice? (vols. 1-2)
  • Attack on Titan: No Regrets (vol. 2)
  • Black Butler (vols. 15-20)
  • Chi's Sweet Home (vol. 11) 
  • Naruto (vol. 55)
  • Natsume's Book of Friends (vols. 1-8)
  • Secret (vol. 1)
  • A Silent Voice (vols. 1-2) 
  • Skip Beat! (vols. 33-34)
  • Wandering Son (vols. 1-5)
The best surprise was probably A Silent Voice, while the biggest disappointment was probably Are You Alice? As far as the Alice in the Country of stuff went, I made a huge mistake when I chose to tackle the one-shots first. I highly recommend starting with the multi-volume stories, because those cover new world rules in the best amount of detail. Also, try to start with all the Hearts stuff, then Clover, then Joker. I'm still trying to decide whether I'll review that series by title or by country, or if I should just put all of it on one giant post.

You Are Beautiful (live action TV series), via Netflix

You Are Beautiful is a Korean romantic comedy series. It's 16 episodes long.

I was actually planning on watching something via DramaFever, but the app on my TV was acting incredibly unstable, kicking me out if I so much as tried to look at the description of a show other than the one I was already in the process of watching (Tamra, the Island, which I've decided to abandon). Here's hoping it's behaving, because I'd like to try another DramaFever show now that I'm done with this one.

Review:

Go Mi Nyu is an orphan who lives in a convent and plans on becoming a nun. Her plans are derailed when her twin brother's manager finds her and begs her to pretend to be her brother. Her brother is about to become the fourth member of the popular band A.N.JELL, but he's busy recovering from plastic surgery gone wrong. Mi Nyu's brother, Mi Nam, planned to become famous in order to find their mother, so Mi Nyu decides to help him and briefly become Mi Nam.

What follows is a bit of a mess. One of the band members, Shin Woo, figures out Mi Nam is really a girl almost immediately, but hides the fact that he knows because he finds it entertaining to watch her try to keep her secret. Tae Kyung, the lead singer, also finds out but promises Mi Nam (Mi Nyu) that he won't tell anyone, for reasons I can't recall at the moment. Then there's Jeremy, who's the only one in the band who has no clue. Jeremy spends a few episodes in a homophobic panic, worried that Mi Nam has somehow seduced both Shin Woo and Tae Kyung. He then starts to fall for Mi Nam himself.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

November Skoshbox


For my birthday, my sister signed me up for 6 months of Skoshbox. At the level she chose for me, every month I'll get a package that's about the size of a trade paperback. This month's package included: 1 Sakupan-Land (almond cream filled choco biscuit), 1 Ichigo Milk Candy (strawberry milk candy), 1 Hitorijime Senbei (extra crunchy baked rice cracker), 2 Goma-Dango Chocolates (sesame mochi cake chocolates), 2 Hello Kitty Marshmallows, and 1 Bisuit Saurus (milk flavored biscuit cookies). I know all of this because the package also comes with a card listing what everything is, what it would cost to re-order the snack through the site if you enjoy it, and a list of each snack's ingredients.

Sakupan-Land:

These were delicious! The package included eight little cookie spheres. Each sphere had two halves - one half was a cookie with one of several pandas faces stamped on it, and the other half was almond cream-filled chocolate. The chocolate part was amazing, very rich. If I were to get more of one of the things in this month's box, I'd be getting more of this.

This particular snack also included a four-panel comic on the inside of the box (all in Japanese, so I'm not sure what it said), as well as a tiny pack of sticky notes in the shape of a heart with pandas at the bottom.

Ichigo Milk Candy:

This was probably my least favorite snack in the package. It contained little triangular strawberry-flavored hard candies. They were fragile enough that I could crunch them to pieces sooner than I expected. Maybe they had some kind of filling? The first one I ate made me think so, but I'm pretty sure I was imagining it.

Hitorijime Senbei:

This is not like rice cakes' Styrofoam texture - the crunch reminded me more of pretzel bites. The taste was a blend of rice and a hint of soy sauce and slight fishyness. This little package wasn't bad, although I could see myself growing to dislike the fishy aspect if I were to eat it more.

Goma-Dango Chocolate:

The first square of this that I tried had a mostly black wrapper, and I had seen the bit on the card that said this was chocolate, so I was surprised when I unwrapped it and saw that it was white. I bit it in half to see what was inside. It's basically a layer of clear/white-ish stuff that I think is the mochi part, with crunchy black sesame on top, all covered in white chocolate. If it hadn't been for the extremely chewy mochi layer, I would have said that the texture of this was a lot like a Nestle Crunch bar.

Hello Kitty Marshmallow:

It's been a while since I've had Peeps, but I think the marshmallow in this was firmer and more pillowy. There was a very tiny bit of chocolate in the center. I think I like this a bit better than Peeps, although, if I'm going to have marshmallow candy, I'd still prefer it to be chocolate-covered. The chocolate in the center just wasn't enough.

Biscuit-Saurus:

This tasted extremely familiar, like maybe animal crackers. The little dinosaurs on each of the cookies were adorable.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Ancillary Mercy (audiobook) by Ann Leckie, narrated by Adjoa Andoh

I enjoyed Adjoa Andoh's narration of Ancillary Sword enough to want to listen to her narration of Ancillary Mercy, and I loved Ancillary Mercy when I read the paperback version a short while ago. There isn't much I can write about the story that I either didn't already say in my review of the paperback version or don't want to write for fear of spoilers, so I'll stick to writing primarily about Andoh's narration.

Like Ancillary Sword, I feel that, if you have no preference for one format or another, it would be best to read Ancillary Mercy in print before listening to it in audiobook format. Although I loved most of Andoh's voices, I continued to dislike her Translator voices, and a particular Translator character is included in a large portion of this book. While I didn't love that character in the paper version of the book, I also didn't really mind her. In the audio version, she grated on my nerves somewhat. To be fair, Andoh's voice had the opposite effect as far as the Ghost Gate ship was concerned – I think I came to like her more in the audiobook than I did in the paper version.

As usual, there were a few songs that clearly weren't meant to be sung aloud, which made listening to them a bit painful. However, I did think that the “peep peep peep” song reached new heights of hilarity in the audiobook. I wonder, did Andoh really mean for it to sound that intense? Between that and Anaander Mianaai's tantrums, poor Andoh's voice really got a workout this time around.

There was one bit in the narration that was either a mistake or a choice on Andoh's part that I didn't agree with. At the beginning of the book, Mercy of Kalr spoke through Seivarden, and Andoh used Seivarden's voice to say those lines. Later in the book, Mercy of Kalr spoke through Seivarden, but Andoh opted to use Mercy of Kalr's voice. The inconsistency bugged me.

I'm sure I'll be listening to this again, but I prefer my paperback copy, if only because it's so easy to flip straight to my favorite parts. I tried to remember to bookmark my favorite parts as I listened, but it's not quite the same.

K (anime TV series), via Netflix

K is a 13-episode fantasy (urban fantasy?) series. I wanted to watch it after seeing clips of some of its battles in various anime AMVs, so I was thrilled when Netflix picked it up.

Review:

K stars a carefree young man who goes by the name Shiro. Although he acts a bit like a stray cat sometimes, begging for food from his fellow classmates and wandering in and out of just about everywhere, he appears otherwise normal. That's why it's such a shock when HOMRA, an infamous group of thugs, airs a video clip that appears to prove that Shiro killed one of HOMRA's most beloved members. Shiro finds himself on the run with a skilled swordsman named Kuroh and Neko, a Strain who, besides being able to appear as either a cat or a human, has other mysterious abilities. Kuroh has sworn to kill Shiro, who he believes is the corrupt new Colorless King, unless Shiro is able to prove that he is innocent.

The Decagon House Murders (book) by Yukito Ayatsuji, translated by Ho-Ling Wong

The Decagon House Murders (Jukkakukan no Satsujin) is a mystery. I got it via interlibrary loan.

Review:

The one other book by Ayatsuji that I'd read, Another, was interesting enough that, when I heard The Decagon House Murders (originally published in 1987) had been translated, I knew I wanted to read it. In some ways it turned out to be better than Another, but in some ways it was worse.

In The Decagon House Murders, we have a setup in which seven friends who are all part of their university's Mystery Club decide to spend a week on Tsunojima Island. They stay in the Decagon House, a house built in a decagonal shape. It had been designed by the island's previous owner Nakamura Seiji (the translator left all Japanese names in their original order).

Just as Seiji had designed the Decagon House so that it and everything in it, including the mugs in the kitchen, was decagon-shaped, so had he also designed the Blue Mansion. It and everything inside it had been entirely blue. However, it had burned down a while ago. The way the story went, Nakamura Seiji's gardener had killed Seiji's wife and cut off her hand, then killed Seiji and a servant couple that lived in the house, and then burned the entire house down. The gardener had never been found. The Mystery Club thought it might be interesting to stay on an island where such a thing had occurred, just a harmless thrill. However, on the second day they discover seven plastic plates with “The First Victim,” “The Second Victim,” “The Third Victim,” “The Fourth Victim,” “The Last Victim,” “The Detective,” and “The Murderer” painted on them.

Meanwhile, Kawaminami, a former member of the Murder Club, has received a strange letter claiming that Nakamura Chiori had been murdered by “all of you.” Chiori, another Murder Club member, had died over a year ago, from a combination of alcohol poisoning and a bad heart. Kawaminami learns that another club member got a similar letter, prompting him to begin investigating. Was it really sent by Nakamura Seiji, Chiori's father? And if he's still alive, then what really happened in the Blue Mansion?

Sunday, October 25, 2015

iZombie, Season 1 (live action TV series), via Netflix

iZombie is a TV series based on a comic book series of the same name. I have yet to try the comic book, so I have no idea how the two compare.

Review:

The series stars Liv, a medical resident who reluctantly agrees to go to a boat party only to end up in the middle of a scene straight out of a zombie apocalypse movie. Liv falls overboard, but not before she's scratched by one of the zombies. When she comes to, she's inside a body bag and experiencing a strong craving for brains. Some time later, Liv has abandoned her efforts to become a doctor and has begun working at the morgue instead, because it gives her easier access to brains. None of her family members know her secret – she even broke things off with her fiance rather than explain to him what she had become and risk turning him into a zombie as well. However, Ravi, her boss, figures things out. Rather than being shocked or disgusted, he's actually pretty delighted (by the way, Ravi is probably my favorite character in the whole series). He thinks that he might be able to find a cure for Liv's condition.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Part Two, Episodes 14-26 (anime TV series), on DVD

Just a short review this time, since I don't want to give too much away and don't yet know how the rest of the series will turn out.

If you manage to make it through the first 13 episodes and their super-condensed depiction of events that were already covered in the first TV series, you're set, because this boxed set is when things really take off. Episode 14 is the point when this series and the original TV series begin to seriously diverge.

This boxed set made me happy I continued watching this series, despite the somewhat disappointing first bunch of episodes. The action, revelations, and twists were tons of fun.

According to my blog, the last volume of Fullmetal Alchemist I read was volume 16, way back in 2008. This FMA: Brotherhood boxed set didn't get as far as the events from that volume, which meant I should have been familiar with everything that happened. However, I was not. Apparently I've forgotten quite a bit in the past seven years, because Mustang's battle with Lust (which was amazing, by the way) rang no bells for me. Neither did Wrath's past. However, I did remember the bit where Edward and Ling Yao ended up trapped inside Gluttony.

It's actually kind of nice that I've forgotten most of this, since it means I can watch everything like I'm finding out about it for the first time. I'm looking forward to seeing what else this series throws my way, and how things turn out for the Elric brothers in the end. I'm also looking forward to rewatching this stuff with the Japanese dub turned on, since this boxed set introduced several characters that never had a chance to be in the original TV series.

Extras:
  • Disc 1, Episode 14 commentary with Mike McFarland (Havoc, although here he's speaking more as one of the show's ADR Directors), Chris Patton (Greed), and Vic Mignogna (Edward) - There's a good bit of discussion on the ways that this episode differs from the same one in the original series, as well as the effects that this has. In the original series, Greed got a bit more screen-time and became a very popular character among fans.
  • Disc 2, Episode 23 commentary with Mike McFarland (Havoc)m Todd Haberkorn (Ling Yao), Monica Rial (May Chang), and Trina Nishimura (Lan Fan) - For this commentary they brought together most of the people voicing characters that didn't exist in the original TV series.
  • Disc 2, Second clean opening animation - I enjoyed the song, although the actual closing animation wasn't as wonderful as the animation for the first opening song.
  • Disc 2, Second clean closing animation - I didn't like this one as much as the first, but it wasn't bad.
  • Disc 2, Trailers for The Slayers, Initial D, Nabari no Ou, Soul Eater, Kaze no Stigma, Dragon Ball Z, and Full Metal Panic!
  • Four full-color illustrated postcards - These are actually only postcards in terms of size - the stuff printed on the backs of them prevents them from ever being used as real postcards. These aren't bad, although I've seen better FMA: Brotherhood artwork. It's too bad the image on the boxed set wasn't used on one of the cards.

The Martian (book) by Andy Weir

The Martian is sci-fi. It's also Andy Weir's first novel.

Review:

The Martian is a near-future look at what might happen if an astronaut were accidentally stranded on Mars.

NASA had already previously sent astronauts to Mars on two separate occasions, so Mark Watney's mission, while not danger-free, was supposed to be relatively uneventful. Then the sandstorm happened. The rest of Watney's crew had every reason to believe he died in it, and so they left him behind. Except that he didn't die, which meant that he had to figure out how to communicate with Earth in order to let everyone know he was still alive, and he had to figure out how to go from 300 days worth of food to enough food to last for four years, the amount of time it would take for the next scheduled Ares mission to arrive.

Goong (live action TV series), via Dramafever and Viki

Goong is a 24-episode K-drama set in an alternate universe in which modern-day Korea is run by a constitutional monarchy. It's based on a manhwa by Park So-hee – I haven't read any of it yet, so I have no idea how it compares to this show.

Review:

Shin Chae Kyung is an ordinary girl who dreams of one day becoming a famous designer. She happens to attend the same school as Lee Shin, the Crown Prince of Korea. However, other than the time she overheard him proposing to his girlfriend, their paths don't really cross much. That's why it's such a shock when she learns that she and Shin are engaged. As it turns out, Chae Kyung's grandfather saved the previous king's life, and so the two of them agreed that their grandchildren would get married when they were old enough. This marriage will save Chae Kyung's debt-ridden family and give the royal family the stability it needs, as the current king's health gradually worsens. Unfortunately, Shin's still in love with his girlfriend, and Chae Kyung's not sure she's ready for the restricted and closely-watched life of a royal.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Sign of Four (audiobook) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, narrated by David Timson

The Sign of Four is Doyle's second Sherlock Holmes novel.
 
Review:

I bought this audiobook when it was a Daily Deal on Audible.

I reviewed an e-book version of this way back in April, so I don't plan to write another synopsis or very much about the story itself. My feelings about the story didn't really change, although I was maybe more keenly aware of the giant pile of mush that Watson became every time he thought about Mary. Even though they'd only just met, and he barely even knew her. In his eyes, she wasn't so much a person as she was an angelically ideal vision of womanhood.

Another thing I noticed was that the racism even more cringe-worthy when read aloud. Christians could be trusted to keep their word, while Hindus were untrustworthy liars. Tonga was called a savage for killing people with poisoned darts in order to help the man who saved his life, whereas Jonathan Small was just a rough man who'd been wronged and carried a grudge. And I still can't believe Holmes couldn't see the logical fallacy in supposed cannibals killing with poisoned darts. Well, I suppose I can believe it, but it disappointed me nonetheless.

The main thing I liked about this audiobook was the narration. David Timson's voice worked well for both Watson and Holmes. I would gladly buy his narration of another one of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Extras:

The audiobook comes with a downloadable reference guide that includes a short essay about the story, English translations of the Holmes' few German and French remarks, and a list of the music used in the audio production.

Ancillary Sword (audiobook) by Ann Leckie, narrated by Adjoa Andoh

Ancillary Sword is the second book in Leckie's Imperial Radch trilogy.

Review:

I wrote a review of my paperback copy of Ancillary Sword a couple months ago. Since my feelings about the story haven't changed, I'm not going to be writing about that here. I'm also not going to write another synopsis. Instead, I'll stick to the audiobook narration.

Adjoa Andoh did a primarily wonderful job narrating this book. I most loved the voices she used for Breq, Mercy of Kalr, and Tisarwat. Seivarden's somewhat creaky voice took some getting used to, but I came to like her as well. My least favorite of her voices were probably Captain Hetnys, Raughd, Fosyf, and Dlique. Considering how things turned out with Captain Hetnys, I thought that her German accent was an overly stereotypical choice, although I admit that my being half-German may be a factor in that. Raughd and Fosyf's voices were just plain annoying. I'm sure this was entirely intentional, since they weren't supposed to be anywhere near likable, but it did make listening to them a chore. As far as Dlique went, I liked her well enough when I read the paper version of the book, but I found that her oddly nasal voice in the audiobook made me dislike her somewhat.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Ancillary Mercy (book) by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Mercy is the third book in Leckie's Imperial Radch trilogy.

No read-alikes section in this review, since I wouldn't be putting anything in it that wasn't already in the read-alikes sections for the first two books. Also, I seem to be running out of steam as far as reviewing goes, and I'm hoping that skipping read-alikes sections whenever I feel like it, at least for a while, will help me get some momentum back. Or at least help me not lose what momentum I have left.

Review:

This is not a trilogy you can read out of order – if you haven't read the first two books, I highly recommend you do so before reading Ancillary Mercy. And if you're not a fan of the pacing in those books, you probably won't be a fan of it in this one. Also, a note: I've found that I need to reread these books in order to catch everything going on. I haven't reread Ancillary Mercy yet, although I definitely plan to. I'm just so far behind on my review writing right now that I decided I wasn't going to wait to write this one too.

Ancillary Mercy begins not long after the events in Ancillary Sword. For some perspective: Queter hasn't been interrogated yet. The part of Anaander Mianaai that is angry at Breq has taken Tstur Palace and has almost certainly sent a portion of herself after Breq. Meanwhile, someone who may be an agent of that part of Anaander Mianaai is interfering with the efforts to repair the Undergarden and allow the Ychana who lived there to go back to their homes.

It's tough to know what to say that wouldn't count as a spoiler. However, I feel I should also mention that readers finally get to meet the ship from beyond the Ghost Gate, a Presger Translator makes an appearance, and there is “AI stuff” and “messy relationship stuff” (“romance” isn't really the right word) galore.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Emperor Mollusk Versus the Sinister Brain (audiobook) by A. Lee Martinez, narrated by Scott Aiello

Emperor Mollusk Versus the Sinister Brain is humorous sci-fi. I got it on Audible. It's almost seven and a half hours long.

Again, no read-alikes. I'm finally making progress on this review backlog.

Review:

Emperor Mollusk is a squishy super-intelligent cephalopod. He spends most of his time inside robotic bodies he built for himself, and he does not handle boredom well. He took over the planet Earth just because he could, but then found himself at a loss. His mind control turned all human beings into peaceful Emperor Mollusk fans, leaving the planet defenseless against outside attacks. Or Emperor Mollusk's inventions run amok. When you're constantly busy creating new things, it's easy to lose track of the occasional enraged genetically modified creature.

Mollusk is now a retired supervillain. He's not looking for forgiveness and doesn't particularly feel bad about what he did (except for maybe Saturn, that went badly). He just wants to continue inventing things and keep Earth as safe as possible until the humans have completely gotten over his mind control and are ready to take care of themselves again. Unfortunately, someone seems to be trying to kill him. Zala, a Venusian warrior who looks like a feathered reptile, becomes his reluctant bodyguard.

Like Clockwork (audiobook) by Bonnie Dee, narrated by Helen Stern

Like Clockwork is a steampunk romance published by Carina Press. The e-book version is about 31,000 words long, while the audiobook version was a little over 3 hours.

Again, I haven't included any read-alikes.

Review:

I was so happy when I realized that Carina Press has several audiobooks on Audible priced at less than $5. I identified a few with interesting-sounding descriptions, culled the ones with truly terrible narrators, and then selected one that I knew I didn't already own in e-book form. The book I ended up with was this one, Like Clockwork. I listened to the full sample, but I didn't bother to hunt down the e-book excerpt. Maybe I should have. Or maybe it wouldn't have made a difference.

At any rate, on the surface this seemed like a good fit for me. I like steampunk, and the narrator sounded fine. There would potentially be automatons. Nice, right?

Wrong. Right from the start, the heroine annoyed me. She was involved in the creation of the automatons (actually, from what I could tell, the only thing she invented was their realistically human exteriors, but whatever), but she was horrified at how quickly society had adopted them. She had intended for them to replace humans in dangerous jobs, that's it, but instead people started assigning them to service positions. (One more thing: why did the automatons need realistically human exteriors if they were just going to be doing dangerous industrial jobs? Victoria really didn't think this through very well.) Victoria grudgingly had one as a butler, and she even spotted one taking care of a child. The horror! What would become of children raised by stiff, soulless, emotionless machines? And what about those reports Victoria had gotten of automatons spontaneously attacking humans? Later examination revealed nothing wrong with the automatons, so what was going on?

Problems in Organizing Library Collections (nonfiction book) by Doralyn J. Hickey

Problems in Organizing Library Collections is nonfiction. I got it via interlibrary loan.

There are no read-alikes because this isn't fiction, although I have to admit that I read it more for pleasure than for professional development.

Review:

Not long ago, a couple people in one of the cataloging Facebook groups I'm part of were reading this, and I thought it sounded like fun. The series it's part of deals with many areas of librarianship, but this particular volume looks at the problems faced by those making decisions about the cataloging, processing, and organization of libraries. It includes 30 case studies featuring real-life problems and fictional libraries and people. It ends with written analyses of two of those case studies.

Unfortunately, this book was originally published in 1972 and is more than a little dated. Although my library science courses covered some historical information, they were understandably focused on current and future practice. I've seen the National Union Catalog books, but I don't have a clue what went into putting it together, and I was never required to use them. I've seen and used a card catalog in the past decade or so, and my cataloging classes briefly covered some of the ways that the current cataloging rules were meant more for printed catalog cards than for a computerized environment. However, I've never had to catalog on actual cards. And that's not even getting into the terminology I flat out couldn't understand.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Angel of Elhamburg (manga) by Aki

The Angel of Elhamburg is, I guess, a fantasy manga, although the fantasy aspects are very light. It’s published by Yen Press. I got it via ILL.

I'm super behind on my reviews, so I'm going to skip putting together a read-alikes list for this since I have a feeling it would take me a while.

Review:

The Angel of Elhamburg is about two friends, Madeth and Lalvan (or possibly Lalva – either someone at Yen Press screwed up, or "Lalva" is a nickname, because both versions are used in the text). When Madeth and Lalvan saw how the current lord was mistreating the people, they decided to do something about it. Lalvan was the one who fought the best and won all the battles, but Madeth was the one that everyone gathered around, leaving Lalvan secretly jealous of his childhood friend. A part of him couldn’t help but look down upon Madeth, who he saw as being less accomplished than himself. After all, Lalvan did everything for Madeth. He even wrote Madeth’s love letters for him, since Madeth couldn’t hardly read or write and cared nothing for poetry.

Lalvan is reminded of his jealousy every time he sees the Angel of Elhamburg. The angel kissed Madeth, blessing him the same way it had blessed the previous lord of the castle, but it kept its distance from Lalvan, even though Lalvan was the only one who could see it. Unfortunately, what Lalvan doesn’t realize is that he isn’t the only one hiding a secret, festering jealousy, and the next generation has to deal with the consequences.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

White Haired Witch (live action movie), via Netflix

White Haired Witch is a Chinese wuxia fantasy movie that Wikipedia tells me is loosely based on a novel. I spotted it in Walmart a while back and almost bought it several times, because the cover art was so pretty and because I thought it might be a gorgeous fantasy romance. Thank goodness I never caved, because it would be on my “to sell or donate” pile now.

Warning: this post includes spoilers.

This movie was complicated and confusing. I took a few notes here and there, but I'm sure my summary will get details wrong. Anyway, Zhuo Yihang is the movie's hero. He lived in some kind of monastery (or martial arts school? I have no clue). After he was declared the new head of the community, he was sent to deliver a red pill to the emperor (or king? I forget which title was used). Along the way, he met and was intrigued by a beautiful nameless warrior woman.

The emperor's eunuch secretly withheld the red pill from the emperor, resulting in the emperor's death. Yihang was accused of killing him, but Yihang had already left and ended up in Fort Luna. Fort Luna stood between two warring countries, and one side's army had been trying to take it over for ages. While at Fort Luna, Yihang met the nameless lady again and gave her the name Lian Nishang. Although Nishang had promised her teacher that she'd never fall in love, she ended up falling in love with Yihang. Unfortunately, the two lovers were soon separated, as the forces that had been sent to capture Yihang found him.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Part One, Episodes 1-13 (anime TV series), on DVD

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is a fantasy anime set mostly in the year 1914 of a sort of alternate universe. It's based on the Fullmetal Alchemist manga by Hiromu Arakawa. The manga had been made into an anime before, but because that anime aired before the manga was completed, it was forced to go in its own direction. FMA: Brotherhood is a reboot that's supposed to follow the manga more closely.

(A quickie note: I watched this boxed set with the English dialogue turned on, because I happen to love the English-language track for this series. I may rewatch the whole thing in Japanese later.)

The series is about two young brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, who lost their mother when they were only 11 and 10 years old. The brothers trained themselves in alchemy, secretly intending to perform the ultimate alchemist's taboo: using human transmutation to bring their mother back to life. Unfortunately, something went wrong. Al lost his whole body, and Ed lost a leg. A distraught Ed gave up one of his arms to bond Al's soul to a suit of armor. From that point on, the brothers' goal shifted. Ed became a state alchemist at the age of 15, so that he could more freely do research on the Philosopher's Stone, the one thing that might be able to get the brothers their bodies back.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

We Are All Completely Fine (book) by Daryl Gregory

We Are All Completely Fine could be considered either fantasy or horror. I checked it out via interlibrary loan.

I'm not happy with my read-alikes list, but I tried.

Review:

Dr. Jan Sayer is a psychologist who decides to put together a special therapy group composed of people who have been through things too strange for most to completely believe. Harrison is a retired monster hunter who is semi-famous as the main character of a book series about a boy who hunts monsters. Stan is a half-forgotten celebrity whose fame comes from having been held captive and partially eaten by cannibals. Barbara was held captive by the Scrimshander, who cut her open and carved messages on her bones that she has never seen but can't stop thinking about. Martin wears special glasses for reasons he refuses to explain, just as he refuses to take them off. Greta is covered in scars that are almost beautiful in their complexity.

All of these people feel isolated by their pasts, and Dr. Sayer hopes that group therapy will help them feel less alone. What she doesn't anticipate is that bringing them all together might set something terrible and dangerous into motion.

Expelled from Paradise (anime movie), via Netflix

Expelled from Paradise is a science fiction anime movie. I watched it in Japanese with English subtitles.

This review includes some spoilers

Review:

Angela Balzac is one of the inhabitants of DEVA, a space station where everyone has an entirely online existence. When someone hacks DEVA to deliver a message, DEVA's ruling body sends Angela and others down to Earth to try and track them down. Because it's her first time in a physical body, Angela is paired up with Dingo, a man on the planet who has done jobs for DEVA in the past. Angela's time on Earth causes her to doubt the superiority of life on DEVA.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Ancillary Sword (book) by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Sword is the second book in Leckie's Imperial Radch trilogy. I highly recommend reading Ancillary Justice first.

Review:

I've basically been wallowing in Ann Leckie's books, especially this one, since July. I finished Ancillary Sword in a day, giving myself a whopper of a headache, but I haven't been able to review it because nothing I wrote seemed adequate. I decided to do a more leisurely reread, and then I signed up for Audible so I could listen to the audiobook. However, I need to finally get this review off my To Do list, so I'm giving it another go.

Ancillary Sword picks up where Ancillary Justice left off. Breq has grudgingly accepted Anaander Mianaai's offer of a ship, Mercy of Kalr, the rank of Fleet Captain, and even the name “Mianaai” and the advantages that come with it. Her goal is to travel to Athoek Station and find Basnaaiad, Awn's sister. Breq knows she could never make amends for killing Awn, but she'd at least like to make sure Basnaaiad is as safe and comfortable as possible. Keeping the Athoek system safe from Anaander Mianaai (it doesn't matter which one) is one way to do that.

Breq starts by doing what Awn would have done, finding the most marginalized people on the station and living among them. As a result, she becomes intimately involved in the tensions and conflicts between the Radchaai and the various ethnic groups that, 200 years after the area's annexation, should be doing better and be more smoothly integrated into Radchaai society than they are.
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