Saturday, May 30, 2015

Shadow of the Knife (e-book) by Jane Fletcher

Shadow of the Knife is a f/f science fiction book that reads like fantasy. It's published by Bold Strokes Books. I have no idea what its word count is, although it came out to 250 pages on my Nook Simple Touch.

No read-alikes list for this one. I just can't. Check out my posts for Jane Fletcher's other books if you really want some.

Review:

Warning: this book contains some torture. Although I didn't consider the physical aspects to be very graphic, the emotional aspects are awful, and the book ends without giving readers a chance to see how well the character manages to recover.

Although most of Fletcher's Celaeno series could be read in any order, I would advise newbies not to start with Shadow of the Knife, even though it's chronologically the first book (it takes place 14 years before Rangers at Roadsend). While the overall story would probably make sense, I think this is the only book in the series that doesn't explain why there are no men on Celaeno, and how reproduction works there.

This was my last unread Celaeno book. I was both looking forward to it and dreading it, because, once I finished it, that would be it – I haven't been able to find any signs that Fletcher is still writing, much less that she plans to write more in this series. Okay, so the world-building has serious problems, the pacing often isn't very good, and the books tend to end too suddenly. I know all of that, and yet something about this series really works well for me. Rangers at Roadsend and The Walls of Westernfort were my favorites, and I was hoping Shadow of the Knife would be as good or better.

Shadow of the Knife stars Ellen Mittal, a rookie in the Roadsend Militia. Farmers in the area have had hundreds of sheep stolen from them, and the Militia hasn't managed to find a single one. Ellen, increasingly frustrated with the uselessness of the Militia's efforts, talks to a Ranger friend of hers and ends up becoming involved in a deeper investigation into the thefts, which may have something to do with a gang in Eastford led by a woman known as the Mad Butcher. Ellen's life is further complicated by Hal, a new farmer in Roadsend who is either genuinely interested in her or somehow involved in the sheep thefts.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Inu x Boku SS (manga, vol. 2) by Cocoa Fujiwara, translated by Melissa Tanaka

Inu x Boku SS is a fantasy romance series licensed by Yen Press.

Review:

Ririchiyo is surprised to realize that, despite her continued prickliness, she has become friends with Watanuki and Karuta. Closing the gap between herself and Soushi proves to be far more difficult, however. Whereas the other client-agent pairs tend to be more relaxed around each other, Soushi is always the perfect and servile bodyguard. Ririchiyo decides that having a cup of coffee with him, as friends rather than as client and bodyguard, might bring them closer, but her plans are ruined by the arrival of Kagerou, her fiance.

This is the volume in which the details of Soushi's past and his reasons for being so devoted to Ririchiyo are revealed. It happened a little sooner than I expected – the anime saved this revelation for the very end – but I still loved it. I loved this evidence that Soushi was at least as vulnerable and lonely as Ririchiyo, and seeing them grow closer via the letters they exchanged was sweet and kind of heartbreaking.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Inu x Boku SS (manga, vol. 1) by Cocoa Fujiwara, translated by Melissa Tanaka

Inu x Boku SS is a fantasy romance series licensed by Yen Press.

Review:

My first exposure to this series was through the anime, which, as far as I can tell, means I know what's going to happen in this manga through at least part of volume 3.

In this first volume, we meet Ririchiyo Shirakiin, the sensitive daughter of a wealthy family. The Shirakiin family is one of a select few families with an ayakashi (supernatural being) ancestor, and Ririchiyo is considered to be a “throwback,” a sort of reincarnation of the Shirakiin family's ayakashi ancestor. Although she has spent her life coddled and protected, she has also felt isolated. Anyone who ever spoke up for her or was nice to her only did so because of her position within the Shirakiin family, and so, as a defense mechanism, Ririchiyo began adopting a haughty and prickly demeanor.

Ririchiyo knows that her behavior makes it that much harder for her to make true friends, but she can't seem to stop herself. In an effort to change, she requests to leave the Shirakiin family home and is allowed to go as far as Maison de Ayakashi, an apartment building whose tenants come entirely from families with ayakashi ancestors. Each resident of Maison de Ayakashi is protected by a secret service agent (no explanation is given for why some throwbacks are secret service agents and why some are clients). Soushi, Ririchiyo's agent, is surprisingly devoted to her. No matter how prickly she is towards him, she can't seem to push him away, so he accompanies her as she gets to know her new home and those who live there.

Maoyu: Complete Collection (anime TV series), on DVD

Maoyu is a 12-episode fantasy series licensed by Sentai Filmworks.

Review:

Maoyu is technically a generic fantasy series featuring a war between humans and demons. However, the focus is more on commerce, agriculture, and negotiation.

Twenty or so years ago, the humans invaded the demon world and took control of one of their cities. Then the demons invaded the human world and took control of one of their small islands. This sparked a war that seemed to have no end, until a human hero and his allies appeared. The Hero, wanting to end things as quickly as possible, left his allies behind and sped to the Demon King's castle, only to discover that the Demon King was actually a beautiful woman who seemed to have no interest in fighting him. Instead, she wanted to partner with him (in a way that sounds rather like a marriage but never actually goes anywhere) and find a way to wrap up the war in such a way that there is neither victory nor defeat. The Demon King is a “big picture” person and knows that, even if the war was permitted to suddenly end, many would die of starvation and many would end up enslaved.

The Hero agrees, and so begins their partnership. The Demon King disguises herself as a human woman known as the Crimson Scholar and introduces various agricultural improvements to a human settlement. As the series progresses, her innovations have a butterfly effect, prompting merchants, religious figures, and more to get involved.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Virtuality (live action movie), on DVD

Virtuality is a science fiction movie that was originally intended to be the pilot of a TV series. However, the TV series was never picked up. This is a very important detail that the DVD case failed to mention, which meant I totally wasn't expecting the ambiguous ending.

Review:

Virtuality takes place on the Phaeton, a starship designed to go on a 10-year journey looking for intelligent life. The Phaeton's mission changed once mission control reported that conditions were deteriorating back on Earth – due to increasingly catastrophic weather conditions, Earth will be inhabitable in about a century. The Phaeton's new mission is to search for a new home for humanity.

The Phaeton's crew includes 12 men and women, each with vital roles on the ship. In a very short time, they'll hit the “go/no go” point, at which time Frank, the commander, will have to decide if they'll continue on or turn back to Earth. In the meantime, each of the crew members blows off steam using recreational virtual reality modules (which seem to be malfunctioning in disturbing ways), and viewers are introduced to everybody and their sometimes complicated relationships. As if “go/no go” wasn't making things tense enough, nearly everything on the ship is being filmed for reality TV viewers back at home.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Coraline (non-Japanese animation, movie), on DVD

Coraline is a stop-motion horror/dark fantasy movie based on Neil Gaiman's children's book of the same title.

Review:

Coraline's family has recently moved to the Pink Palace Apartments. On the suggestion of her busy and exhausted parents, Coraline goes exploring and finds a tiny door that opens up to a brick wall. That night, she wakes up (or dreams of waking up) and follows a jumping mouse to the door, only to find that it now opens to a tunnel that leads to a home just like hers, only better. Her Other Mother cooks delicious food, and her Other Father is more energetic and has time to play with her. The next day, Coraline is back in her original home.

Coraline gradually meets more of her neighbors in the Pink Palace, as well as a boy named Wybie. It's nice enough, but the more time she spends in her other home, the more she wishes she could stay there. Sure, everyone in the other world has buttons for eyes, but everything is so nice there. Until her Other Mother tells her she can stay, but only if she agrees to have buttons sewn onto her eyes.

The Bear Prince and Other Fantasy Folktales (e-book) by Elizabeth McCoy

The Bear Prince and Other Fantasy Folktales is a collection of three stories of the sort that might be told in the author's “Lord Alchemist” world. You have to note this as you're buying the e-book, because McCoy never specifically names that world in the text – she just says that it's a world where magic exists and alchemy has replaced chemistry. This is probably because McCoy published this work prior to publishing Herb-Witch, the first book in her Lord Alchemist series.

At any rate, I think this collection would work fine for someone with no familiarity with the Lord Alchemist series. However, those who are familiar with it would probably get more out of the author's afterword, which briefly explains some of the thought processes involved in creating stories that could conceivably be told in that world. The afterword was actually my favorite part of the e-book.  It made me wish McCoy had written “author's notes” sections for each of the three stories.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Hollow House (e-book) by Janis Patterson

The Hollow House is a historical mystery (with a gothic feel) published by Carina Press. It has a word count of approximately 88,000 words.

Review:
 
This one caught my eye when I was browsing Carina Press's mysteries. I loved the cover, and the setting, Denver in 1919, intrigued me, so I bought it. I'm very glad I did. It had its issues, but it was still a really enjoyable book.

The story: Geraldine Brunton's real name isn't Geraldine Brunton, but it will do, as long as it keeps anyone from connecting her with her past life in Boston. She wants to start a new life in Denver, but first she has to find a job. Unfortunately, she has no marketable skills and no references. It seems hopeless, until she stumbles across an ad for a companion to a semi-invalid lady. She takes a chance and applies. To her relief, Mrs. Stubbs, the lady, takes an immediate liking to her and is willing to overlook her lack of references.

Being Mrs. Stubbs' companion is sometimes boring and occasionally stifling, but Geraldine finds herself growing to like her employer. Her position gives her temporary security, but she knows things could change at any moment. This becomes especially apparent when one of the servants turns up dead and Mrs. Stubbs almost dies of what is either an accidental overdose or an attempt to poison her.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Mouse in the Mountain (e-book) by Norbert Davis

The Mouse in the Mountain is a hard-boiled detective novel. It came out to 110 pages on my Nook Simple Touch and can be read for free via ManyBooks.

Review:

This was originally published in 1943, and I downloaded it almost entirely because of the Great Dane on the cover. I should have investigated it a little more closely – I went into it expecting something like a cozy mystery about a guy and his dog, and I got a deceptively harmless-looking detective who had zero issues with killing people and who lied 99% of the time.

The beginning of the book fit in nicely with what I thought it was. Doan was a slightly pudgy, harmless-looking detective who happened to be vacationing in Mexico with Carstairs, his Great Dane. Carstairs was highly intelligent and not nearly as badly behaved as Doan kept insisting he was. I'm more of a cat person, but I imagine that fans of large breed dogs would be amused by Doan's efforts to ensure that Carstairs would be allowed on the tour bus to Los Altos.

Doan's fellow tourists included: Mr. and Mrs. Henshaw; Mortimer, their annoying little snot of a son; Janet, a schoolteacher hoping to see the same places as her historical crush, Lieutenant Emile Perona; Patricia Van Osdel, an heiress; Maria, Patricia's maid; and Greg, Patricia's boyfriend (?). I realized that this was not going to be a cozy mystery when the tour bus made it to Los Altos and one of the first things Doan did was casually shoot a guy. Granted, the guy had a gun, but his utter calm and complete lack of hesitation were still somewhat off-putting. Then Mortimer, the nasty little monster, described the wound in great deal and probably would have poked the body with a stick if his mom hadn't dragged him away. I really hated Mortimer.

Act Like You Love Me (live action movie), via Netflix

Act Like You Love Me is a romantic comedy. I hadn't realized this until after I started watching it, but Christian Keyes, the actor who plays Chad, is the same guy who played Julian, Robert's coffee salesman friend in Black Coffee.

Review:

Kelly is a dentist (orthodontist? I can't remember) who is still recovering from a bad break-up. She reluctantly allows her best friend to set her up on a date with Chad, an actor and gym teacher they recently met at a bar. The date turns sour when Kelly decides she's not ready to have sex, but the two find themselves paired up again when Kelly accidentally tells her mom she's bringing her (non-existent) boyfriend to her younger sister's wedding.

Susan, Kelly's sister, immediately suspects that Chad isn't really Kelly's boyfriend and does her best to make them slip up. Meanwhile, Kelly's mom has secretly started drinking again and suspects her husband is cheating on her, Kelly's dad is oblivious, Susan's fiance has a serious secret gambling problem, Larissa (Kelly's cousin?) is causing trouble, and Kelly's brother has contentious relationship with their father because he preferred music over becoming a dentist.

Robot Revolution (live action movie), on DVD

Robot Revolution is a sci-fi movie. I spotted it at Walmart and ignored it for a few weeks before I finally broke down and bought it. This was a bad decision.

The DVD box art looks decent, but don't be fooled: that is not what this movie is about. The only visible robots in the movie are the cleaning bot and Argus. Heck, that android isn't even Argus – in the movie, Argus's design makes him look a bit like he's wearing a WWII era gas mask.

Review:

Hawkins, a police officer, and her android partner, Argus, enter an apartment building looking for a woman named Vic who may be involved with a terrorist group. First, though, they have to scan and talk to every single person they encounter along the way. When they finally make it to Vic's apartment, they only have a short while to speak to her before her terrorist clients arrive. After that, the situation pretty much falls apart.

The thing Vic was working on was a nanovirus intended to infect and take over machines. This includes the chips that are implanted inside every person over the age of 18. When a shootout between Hawkins and the terrorists happens, the nanovirus is let loose. Hawkins, Vic, Argus, and several others find themselves having to battle nanovirus-produced zombies and an infected floor cleaning robot (which inexplicably has a laser cannon) in order to get out of the building.
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