Friday, December 30, 2016

All Romance Ebooks is shutting down

Smart Bitches Trashy Books has a good post on what's going on right now. The site gave authors, publishers, and customers mere days worth of notice that they'll be shutting down 12/31 on midnight. Even worse, authors won't be paid the full amount they're owed, and any books purchased after 12/27 are basically free money for ARe (that's got to be illegal, right?). They're outright stealing from authors, as well as from readers who pre-ordered books and don't send a refund request through before January 1st.

All Romance Ebooks is where I started buying ebooks. I really liked their "buy 10, get 1 free" deal, as well as their occasional rebate sales (you got a percentage of what you spent back in Ebook Bucks, which you could apply to future purchases). I bought a lot of books from them that I probably wouldn't have gotten otherwise - books published by Bold Strokes Books, for example, tend to be a little pricey. Same with Loose Id's books. Without ARe, I might not have discovered Jane Fletcher's largely wonderful Celaeno series, or many other favorite books.

That said, I've used the site less and less in the past few years. There seemed to be a significant drop in the frequency of their 50% rebate sales. I started buying a lot of books direct from Samhain Publishing, Carina Press, and even occasionally Bold Strokes Books. I started using Smashwords, learned about Humble Bundles and Story Bundles, and began buying ebooks from Kobo. ARe's closure shrinks the pool of places I can buy ebooks, but I've found lots of other options, so this doesn't hurt as much as it would have a few years ago. It also helps that my romance reading has gone way down - I've been more of a sci-fi/fantasy reader lately.

I have all the books I bought from ARe downloaded and backed up, although it makes me a little nervous that my backups will be it from here on out. Looking on the bright side, my reading tastes have changed a lot since I first started using ARe, and many of the books I got from them are ones that I'm no longer interested in reading. But still.

I checked my Ebook Bucks situation, and thankfully I only had a few pennies. I tended to spend my Ebook Bucks during sales, turning 50% rebate sales into 50% off sales with a little help from spreadsheets.

So, I guess that's it. ::sigh::

Currently rewatching: Big Windup!

Yuri on Ice left me with a craving for more sports anime, so I snagged a copy of the newly released (in the U.S., at least) Big Windup! 2. Since I figured it might pick up where Big Windup! left off, I've been rewatching that. I've somehow managed to get through 2/3 of it in only 24 hours, despite having also gone on a "big city" used book shopping trip.

Some things:
  • I had forgotten that Tajima likes to loudly talk about his masturbation habits. The dude has no shame.
  • I had also forgotten that Abe was kind of a jerk at the beginning of the series. I'm glad that Coach Momoe put a stop to his "use Mihashi like a puppet" mindset, although one thing that Yuri on Ice got me to thinking about was the healthiness of Abe and Mihashi's relationship. Is it okay that, even 17 episodes in, Mihashi is still convinced the only reason he's doing well as a pitcher is because he has Abe giving him signs? And Abe telling Mihashi not to worry, that he'd make sure never to get sick or injured so that he could catch for him the whole three years, had me fretting a little. I don't recall anything happening to Abe in Big Windup, but I wonder if Big Windup 2 will shake things up a bit and force Mihashi to have to work with another catcher, even if only for a little bit.
  • Yuri on Ice is a series about men's figure skating, and it still manages to have a larger and more varied female cast than this series. So far we have the mothers, Coach Momoe, the cute team manager whose name I can never remember, and Ruri, Mihashi's cousin. The mothers are all varying degrees of excited and motherly. Ruri only just appeared on the scene. The team manager kind of depresses me - she apparently became the team manager because she used to really love softball, but the series never even shows her getting involved in the team's mental training exercises. By comparison, Mihashi's one friend, who became head of the team's cheering squad, was immediately asked to join the team's meditation practice. Then there's Coach Momoe. She seems awesome, but I have all kinds of questions about her that I doubt the series will ever answer. For example, if she's pouring all her part-time job money into the team, how does she pay her own bills? What inspired her decision to start Nishiura's baseball team? Will we ever see flashbacks to her days playing baseball? 
  • I can't remember how any of the games turned out! The game with Tosei is freaking me out. Does Nishiura win? I can't remember! So much tension.
  • I still love it when the catchers try to analyze their pitchers' emotional states and mentally debate how to handle them.
  • I had thought that Yuri's anxiety and Viktor trying to deal with it was something new to me in anime, but actually it's here in Big Windup too. Mihashi is painfully anxious and prone to self-doubt. Unfortunately, like I noted earlier, his way of dealing with it maybe isn't healthy - Abe becomes his security blanket. Crossing my fingers that there's a sign, later in the series, that he can still function without Abe, the way Yuri showed that he could function without Viktor.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

REVIEW: He's Just Not That Into You (live action movie)

He's Just Not That Into You is a romantic comedy based on a self-help book by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo.

Review:

This movie is entirely about the character relationships, and I kind of feel like it would best be described with a diagram. Lacking that, I’ll try a list.
  • Gigi: A single woman who is desperately waiting for her latest date to call her back, not because she particularly likes him, but rather because she wants to not be single.
  • Alex: A bar owner who takes pity on Gigi and gives her advice that mostly boils down to “that guy isn’t interested, so stop throwing yourself at him.”
  • Janine: Gigi’s coworker and friend. She’s married to Ben.
  • Ben: Years ago, Janine gave him an ultimatum: either he needed to marry her or she’d leave. So he married her. He begins to falter after he meets Anna, a flirtatious singer.
  • Anna: Anna’s friend Mary tells her a story about a friend of her sister’s (or something) who met a guy who fell in love with her even though he was already married. The guy left his wife and he lived happily ever after with this new woman. So Anna takes a chance and calls up Ben, even though he already told her that he’s married and doesn’t want to cheat on his wife.
  • Conor: Anna’s sorta-boyfriend. “Sorta,” because he sees the two of them as a couple while she sees him as more of a platonic friend she once had sex with. Conor is the guy Gigi went on a date with and who she’d hoped would call (he never had any plans to call).
  • Mary: Anna’s friend. She only ever seems to connect with guys online, and then they either refuse to actually talk to her or meet with her in person, or they turn out to be players.
  • Beth: Gigi and Janine’s coworker. She’s been with her boyfriend Neil for 7 years. Although they’re living together, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Neil has no plans to ever propose, and Beth has had enough.
  • Neil: Beth’s boyfriend and Ben’s friend.

Monday, December 26, 2016

REVIEW: Kamisama Kiss: The Complete Series (anime TV series)

Kamisama Kiss is a supernatural romance series. Despite what this boxed set says, it's actually only the complete first season, not the complete series. It contains 13 episodes plus several extras.

Review:

Nanami is an ordinary 17-year-old girl whose life is turned upside down after her horrible parents abandon her and she’s kicked out of her home because of her dad’s gambling debts. While trying to figure out where to go from there, she helps out a random guy who was chased up a tree by a dog. That guy turns out to be Mikage, a land god who abandoned his shrine 20 years ago. He gifts Nanami with both the powers of a land god and his shrine. Later, Nanami also acquires his former familiar, Tomoe, sealing their new contract with a kiss.

At the beginning of the series, Nanami listens to a few prayers and engages in some of the supernatural matchmaking that is her duty as the new god of the Mikage Shrine. However, most of the series is devoted to her various encounters with other supernatural beings (several of whom are hot guys who develop an interest in her) and her growing love for Tomoe. Unfortunately for Nanami, Tomoe is dead set against romance between yokai and humans.

REVIEW: Aron's Absurd Armada (manhwa, vol. 2) by MiSun Kim, translated by Jackie Oh

Aron's Absurd Armada is a humorous Korean manhwa.

Review:

In some ways, this was better than the first volume. MiSun Kim cut way back on the gay and transgender jokes and instead focused on things like Aron’s stupidity, Ronnie’s love for good-looking men (not just Robin this time around), Vincent’s terrible cooking skills, and Robin’s love of money. Luther Nelson was still deeply and incestuously in love with his niece, Dorothy Nelson, but readers who skipped the first volume or read it a while back could easily forget about the incestuous aspect since there were no reminders of it in the text.

In a not-terribly-successful effort to keep the jokes from becoming too stale, Kim introduced a couple new characters: the Phantom Thief, a master thief who joined the crew in order to escape being forced to steal from the rich and give to the poor, and Wendy the Witch, a sickly woman who created medicines that were simultaneously poisons and antidotes that were also poisons.

REVIEW: Arisa (manga, vol. 1) by Natsumi Ando, translated by Andria Cheng

Arisa is a mystery series licensed by Kodansha Comics.

This review technically includes spoilers, since the class's secret isn't revealed until the second half of the volume.

Review:

Tsubasa and her twin sister Arisa have been separated for three years, ever since their parents got divorced. They’ve managed to keep in touch via letters, but Tsubasa is still understandably excited about getting to secretly visit her sister soon. Tsubasa, whose habit of getting into fights has earned her the nickname “the Demon Princess of Higashi Junior High,” absolutely idolizes her seemingly perfect and popular sister.

During the visit, Arisa convinces Tsubasa to pretend be her for a day. The experience is just as wonderful as Tsubasa expected it to be, so it’s a complete shock when Arisa tries to kill herself. Her tipping point appears to have been a note she was given by someone at school: “Arisa Sonoda is a traitor.” What does it mean, and what secrets have Arisa and her classmates been hiding? Tsubasa decides to continue pretending to be Arisa while Arisa is in a coma, in order to solve the mystery and protect her sister.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

REVIEW: The Earth Kingdom Chronicles #2: The Tale of Azula (book) by Michael Teitelbaum, based on original screenplays written for Avatar: The Last Airbender, illustrated by Patrick Spaziante

The Tale of Azula is a children's novelization of the second season of Avatar: The Last Airbender, from Azula's perspective.

Review:

It’s been about 5 years since I last saw Season 2 of Avatar: The Last Airbender, so I had to check Wikipedia for reminders and, holy crap, this 89-page book covers the entire season. It’s ridiculous.

The way events were crammed in, it felt 1) like barely any time had passed, even though it was obvious that couldn’t be the case, and 2) like Azula had the attention span of a goldfish. At the start of the book, she was after Zuko and Iroh. Then she spotted Aang and decided it’d be great if she could catch him and Zuko and Iroh. Her father would be so proud, and he’d totally make her his heir! By page 70, she decided that it’d be even better if she acquired the whole Earth Kingdom.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

REVIEW: Yuri!!! on Ice, Season 1 (anime TV series)

Yuri!!! on Ice is a sports anime focused on men's figure skating. At the moment, it's one season (12 episodes) long, although I've heard that there may be a second season.

This review contains spoilers. I tried not to talk too much about how the skating worked out, but there were things I wanted to say about the character relationships that meant I had to go into spoiler territory. Reminder: I've begun posting my TV series and movie reviews on LibraryThing, where I'm able to use spoiler tags.

Review:

I know I said I was probably going to wait a while before writing my review for this series, give myself more time to process, etc. But I think I’m just going to get it out there. I may write another one after it comes out on DVD.

Yuri on Ice is a sports anime starring Katsuki Yuri, a Japanese figure skater who is trying to recover after completely flubbing the Grand Prix Final. In order to get his love of figure skating back, he imitates the latest performance of Victor Nikiforov (spelled “Victor” in Crunchyroll and “Viktor” by a lot of fans). A recording of his performance is uploaded to the internet, sparking a lot of talk in the skating world, and Victor himself inexplicably arrives and announces he’s taking a break from skating in order to be Yuri’s coach. It’s like a dream come true for Yuri.

The bulk of the series is devoted to the newest Grand Prix Final, but throughout it all are the threads of the characters’ various relationships, including the possibility of romance between Yuri and Victor.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Yuri on Ice - I have now seen the final episode

(This post is somewhat spoiler-y, so if you haven’t seen the final episode of Yuri on Ice and are avoiding spoilers like the plague, you should maybe move on for now.)

I got myself another guest pass for Crunchyroll, and I just finished the last episode. I think I feel good about it? I mean, besides the tears that were streaming down my face during most of the performances.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

More Yuri on Ice

I love this show and hope its final episode won't break my heart. Since the overall series is warm, fuzzy, and lovely, I don't think that's going to happen, but you never know. Crossing my fingers.

I haven't read many of people's analyses of the show, because I haven't seen episode 11 (the most current episode) yet and didn't want to risk coming across too many spoilers. Although I did break down and watch a clip of the scene that made the whole fandom wail in anguish, so I'd know what to brace myself for. Anyway, I've still managed to read a few relatively non-spoilery things. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Courtney Milan writing about Viktor Nikiforov as a depiction of depression - Although episodes 10 and 11 are mentioned, there's nothing here I'd call a spoiler. Yuri's issues with anxiety are pretty clear in the show (although I'm definitely going to hunt down other people's analyses after I've finished the series, because I'm sure others have caught details I've missed and come up with interpretations I haven't thought of), but Viktor's are more subtle and I thought this was a nice take. And now it irks me even more that so many people keep telling Viktor to stop playing at being a coach, and that he couldn't possibly be a good one.

An Interview with Johnny Weir: His Thoughts on "Yuri on Ice" - This one's also pretty spoiler-free, although it does reference episode 10 in a vague way. Okay, so while I enjoy watching figure skating during the Winter Olympics, the extent of my figure skating knowledge prior to watching this show was somewhere in the realm of "zero" and "ooh, pretty." I don't actually know the names of a lot of figure skaters and only heard about Johnny Weir after Yuri on Ice fans started talking about how he was going to watch the show (more on that here: Johnny Weir Is Going to Watch Yuri on Ice, Everyone Is Excited).

After reading this interview, I'm pleased that Yuri on Ice's depiction of the figure skating world is apparently pretty accurate, pleased that someone besides me dislikes Chris (the characters keep saying how sexy he is, but he just makes my skin crawl), and I have to laugh about the banquet. Yeah, I figured that banquet had very little connection to reality. In real life someone probably would have called security. This bit in the interview was great: "The drunken dance offs happen in the hotel rooms once all the old people go to bed."

And that's it for now.

Dark days

I've only mentioned the election in passing, first because this blog is almost entirely a place for me to post reviews and second because just thinking about the final results makes me feel panicky, angry, and sick. I feel like the US failed a very basic decency test.

I've been trying to figure out what to do from here on out. I made room in my budget for a few monthly donations (the ACLU is one), and I'm working on my phone anxiety for phone calls to my reps. It feels like nothing I could possibly do would be enough, but I'm trying not to let that weigh me down to the point where I don't do anything. I wish I didn't feel like I was surrounded by potential landmines – I know that there are likely a lot of people in my daily life who don't share my horror and who maybe even think that our new president will do great things.

And that's basically it. I don't really know what else to say. The next post will be something Yuri on Ice related, because I'm clinging to that show like it's an emotional lifesaver.

Monday, December 19, 2016

REVIEW: Mars Rover Curiosity: An Inside Account from Curiosity's Chief Engineer (nonfiction audiobook) by Rob Manning and William L. Simon, narrated by Bronson Pinchot

I haven't been very good about writing reviews in a timely manner for the past few weeks (months?). This is one of those that I should have reviewed soon after I finished it, and I just...didn't. At least I'm finally getting around to it, I guess.

Anyway, I checked this out via my library's Overdrive service. I have to admit that I didn't really know much about Curiosity before listening to this. I knew that it existed, I knew a few fun things related to it (pictures, it singing itself Happy Birthday, etc.), and I knew that it continues to function well past its 2-year mission. Recent(ish) news about things like the Juno mission and the Philae lander, plus my enjoyment of Andy Weir's The Martian, led to me wanting to read space-related nonfiction, and this book looked like a good one.

Now, let's see if I can remember what topics were covered. The book didn't actually start with Curiosity, but rather with an earlier project Manning worked on, the Sojourner Rover. This allowed him to compare and contrast the thought processes that went into Sojourner with the ones that went into Curiosity, a much larger and heavier rover with a different set of scientific instruments. I found it all fascinating, and Manning did a great job of describing the problems and most of the solutions in a way I was able to understand.

I really liked this book when it was covering the problems that needed to be solved to get a rover safely to Mars and make sure it could function in extreme cold. I also liked a lot of the stuff on Curiosity's (and its instruments') capabilities, as well as the team management stuff. However, I winced a bit during Manning's repeated mentions of budget issues. Even the “cheaper, faster” mission budgets seemed enormous to me.

I tend to be really bad about starting to read nonfiction books and then never finishing them, so it's usually audio or nothing for me. However, audio nonfiction doesn't always work well. Mars Rover Curiosity was doing fine, up until the list of all of Curiosity's scientific instruments. It made for very dry listening, and I imagine I'd have skimmed that part if I had been reading a paper version of the book instead. The narration itself was okay – not terribly exciting, but Bronson Pinchot's voice fit the text well enough that, since I didn't know what Manning sounded like, it was easy to forget that it wasn't Manning himself narrating the book.

All in all, this was an interesting look at the work, planning, testing, and, at times, politics that went into Curiosity.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

REVIEW: Skip Beat! (manga, vols. 35-36) by Yoshiki Nakamura, translated by Tomo Kimura

Sadly, there weren't enough volumes of Skip Beat! published in the past year for me to be able to go on a giant binge during my vacation. It's too bad, because this series is consistently enjoyable. It's rare for me to still love a series that's been running for so many volumes, but Nakamura somehow manages to keep the characters and story from stagnating.

That said, these two volumes were pretty weak. I still enjoyed getting to see the characters again, but Ren disappointed me in volume 35, and volume 36 was enjoyable more for what it seemed to be setting up than anything else.

This is the last of my post-vacation reviews. As usual with these, there are lots and lots of spoilers. Read on at your own risk.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Currently watching: Yuri on Ice

I don't normally post about shows before I've finished seeing the entire thing, but in this case I have all kinds of feelings and they need an outlet. So, here we go!

Yuri on Ice is a sports anime about men's figure skating, with a side of something that might be romance (my current theory: Yuri is ace, or possibly demi - thankfully Viktor seems to be fine with that). It's wonderful. The first two or three episodes have some rough points (I hated how Yuri's gut kept getting used purely for humor), but it just keeps getting better and better from there.

I almost broke down and got a Crunchyroll subscription so I could watch episode 10 and then binge the whole series up to that point, but then I found out that neither Crunchyroll nor Funimation (the other site currently legally streaming the show) have Samsung apps anymore, so I'd still have to watch it on my computer rather than on my TV. But hey, 48-hour Crunchyroll guest memberships are a thing, and I managed to get one.

Episode 10 is the best. I think my poor heart came close to exploding. My favorite moments: the "lucky charm," Phichit's instantly joyous reaction, and the entire ending credits (but particularly Viktor's reaction at the very end).

If this series doesn't end happily, I'm going to be a wreck. At the moment though, it's a lovely bright spot at the end of this horrible year, and I'm absolutely planning on getting the DVDs once they become available. My favorite episodes so far: 6, 7, 9 (go, Sara!*), and 10 (♥).

ETA: This article (which has huge spoilers for episode 10, so watch out) does a much better job than I could of laying out some of the main things that make episode 10 so great. I hadn't thought much yet about episode 10's implications for a series rewatch, but now I'm even happier.


* - Crunchyroll's subtitles call Viktor "Victor" and Sara "Sala," but I have a feeling that "Viktor" and "Sara" would be more appropriate spellings.

REVIEW: Aron's Absurd Armada (manhwa, vol. 1) by MiSun Kim, translated by Jackie Oh

Aron's Absurd Armada is a humorous Korean manhwa.

Review:

Aron is a nobleman who decided (with encouragement from his mother) to go off and become a pirate. He was bored and thought it might be fun. Since he's his family's heir, he's accompanied by a bodyguard named Robin. Robin only cares about money and is kind of pissed that this job isn't as cushy and simple as it originally sounded like it would be.

Along the way they're joined by several new crew members: Ronnie, a girl who instantly falls in love with Robin because he's good-looking, and who everyone on the ship thinks is really a gay guy; Anton and Gilbert, two ordinary pirates who join Anton in order to avoid being killed by Robin; Mercedes, who specializes in magical makeovers and who is either a transwoman or a cross-dresser (I'm not sure the author thought about it very deeply, but I suspect the answer is “cross-dresser”); and Vincent, a man who looks like a dangerous pirate but who is actually an incredibly terrible chef.

Other characters occasionally join the story: the King, who is gentle, generous, and may have psychic powers; Aron's incredibly mismatched parents; Luther Nelson, Aron's childhood friend and occasional enemy; Admiral Nelson, Luther's father and Aron's mother's enemy; and Dorothy Nelson, Luther's niece and also the one he secretly loves. Yeah, you read that right – Luther's brother is only his half-brother, and also old enough that Luther and Dorothy are about the same age, which is how Luther justifies his incestuous feelings for her.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

REVIEW: Space Battle Lunchtime, Volume One: Lights, Camera Snacktion! (graphic novel, vol. 1) by Natalie Riess

Space Battle Lunchtime is a sci-fi cooking/baking graphic novel.

Review:

The little cafe Peony works at gets a strange new customer, a woman who looks a bit like a frog. The woman, Zonda, suddenly has to get a new contestant for her cooking show, and Peony seems like the best available choice on such short notice. Peony agrees to go with her, not realizing that Zonda is really an alien and that the cooking show, Space Battle Lunchtime, literally has viewers all over the galaxy.

Contestants on SBL are given mystery ingredients that they have to turn into foods (savory or sweet) the judges will like. Peony is the first human who's ever been on the show, the ingredients and kitchen tools are completely unfamiliar to her, and she doesn't even know how to use her kitchen appliances. Still, she'll try her best (and Zonda will get fired if she doesn't). Unfortunately, her best might not be good enough as one of her fellow contestants tries to sabotage her and the others.

Friday, December 9, 2016

REVIEW: Fairy Ponies: Unicorn Prince (book) by Zanna Davidson

Fairy Ponies: Unicorn Prince is children's fantasy.

Review:

Holly is a young girl who is visiting her great-aunt during summer vacation. At some point earlier in the series, I'm guessing she must have gone exploring or something and figured out how to visit the magical world of Pony Island. In this book, she goes to Pony Island to meet Puck, her fairy pony friend. They're having a picnic together when they hear someone crying for help. It turns out it's a unicorn named Willow who's being attacked by several bad fairy ponies. Shadow, the ringleader, is preparing to do a spell that will give him unicorn powers and allow him to take over Pony Island. He stole the first few ingredients from Willow, and now he plans to trick the Unicorn Prince so that he can get the final ingredient.

I was told it wasn't necessary to read these books in any particular order. A bit of searching tells me that this is probably Book 5 in the Fairy Ponies series, although the only thing I felt I was missing out on was how Holly found Pony Island in the first place.

Booklikes issues

I don't know that many people who read this blog also followed me via Booklikes, but I figured I'd talk about it a bit here just in case. Booklikes has been having serious problems for the past year or so. If you recall, I wrote a post back in May about it possibly having been sold. This was later denied by a Booklikes employee, although no one from Booklikes ever contacted The Hundert to ask them to issue a correction about the bit that said one of the site's founders had sold it, so who knows what's really going on. What it comes down to is that the site has been working like crap, or not at all, for months. Also, neither I nor any of the other users I've spoken to have had any contact with a Booklikes employee since sometime in July 2016 - no one responds to emails, Facebook posts, Twitter comments, posts in Booklikes discussion groups, or anything else.

The site was down for me a day or two ago, and it's down for me again today. I had hoped to continue using it until at least the end of the year, so that I could finish up my yearly reading challenge, but it's looking like that might not be possible.

I'm still considering what to do. I've removed the Booklikes widget from this blog because the site is down so often now that it's basically useless. I have no plans to close my Booklikes account or delete my Booklikes blog (if I even could, what with the site being down), but I might not be updating it anymore. It's sad, because in the past few years I've been posting there more than here. I loved the community, chatted with a lot of great people, discovered lots of new books, and got hooked on loose-leaf tea.

I think I'll probably start posting on Goodreads again. I still have issues with the mindset of those in charge of the site, and I hate that at least one of the people I got to know via Booklikes is banned from GR and doesn't even have the option of going back, but it's the only book site I can think of with even halfway decent social features, and it's the best way I know of to keep in touch with the majority of the folks I got to know via Booklikes.

That said, I'm probably going to use GR differently than I used to. Back when I first got started with it, it was my personal reading catalog as well as a place to mirror my reviews. Now, however, LibraryThing has taken over that role, and I think it does a better job than GR. No one but me (with very rare exceptions) can change my data, my cover image choices, etc., and I actually get to edit my own data instead of having to make do with something that isn't quite correct. Instead of being my primary catalog, GR is just going to be a place where I can interact with other readers. That means it doesn't matter if my data isn't quite right or if I haven't posted everything I've reviewed over there. I doubt I'll be importing all the reviews I've written in the past three or so years, for example.

So, that's basically it. Even if Booklikes magically comes back online by tomorrow, I'm to the point where I don't trust that it will still be there the day after that.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

REVIEW: Attack on Titan: The Movie, Part 1 (live action movie)

Attack on Titan: The Movie is a live action adaptation of a post-apocalyptic manga series.

This review includes spoilers.

Review:

If you're on the fence about whether to watch this or not, you can add me to the “not” column. This movie is terrible. I'm no longer even the slightest bit tempted to get Part 2.

I haven't really been able to get into the original Attack on Titan manga, but the franchise as a whole interests me and I loved the anime. One thing fans of this series need to know is that this movie isn't the same as the manga or the show. Humanity is still living inside three concentric walls, a huge titan still knocks a hole into the outer wall, lots of people get eaten, and the whole storyline about plugging the hole in the wall still exists. However, many important details have been changed or completely dropped from the story.

Eren, Mikasa, and Armin are still friends at the start of the movie. Armin enjoys inventing things, even though advanced technologies are forbidden (never mind that several groups of people travel in armored cars later in the movie). Eren and Mikasa appear to like each other, but Eren is too busy dreaming about visiting the world outside the walls and being angry that humanity is trapped to do much more than show off and give Mikasa his scarf. Not one bit of Mikasa's original backstory is evident, and Eren's parents apparently died a while back.

Monday, December 5, 2016

REVIEW: A Silent Voice (manga, vols. 3-7) by Yoshitoki Oima, translated by Steven LeCroy

I'm so torn on this series. I use star ratings on other sites, and every single volume left me questioning which rating I should go with.

I feel like this series would spark some great conversations, but parts of it are incredibly unpleasant to read. And I understand that parts are supposed to be unpleasant to read, but it just got to be so much. I also feel like most normal people would have just gone their separate ways and made new friends rather than try to untangle the horrifically snarled knots that these characters kept picking at. The final volume was pretty good, but there was so much awfulness to get through before that. Not surprising, I guess, considering that this series deals with both bullying and suicidal thoughts, but somehow I thought that the first volume would be the worst of it. It wasn't.

This post contains major spoilers.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

REVIEW: Natsume's Book of Friends (manga, vols. 9-10) by Yuki Midorikawa, translated by Lillian Olsen

This is one of those series I'd have read more of, if my vacation had been a few days longer. I had a pretty large stack of them. I started reading them in an effort to deal with my post-election funk, and the overall gentleness of the series brought me to tears.

I wish I knew how many more volumes I'd have to read it make it past the point at which the anime stopped. Or at least the point at which Season 4 stopped – I recently learned that there's a Season 5 now. I'd love to see some completely new-to-me moments in this series, although I should add that seeing the anime first has in no way lessened my enjoyment of the manga.

Warning: this post includes spoilers.

REVIEW: Rurouni Kenshin, Part 1: Origins (live action movie)

Rurouni Kenshin, Part 1: Origins is a live action adaptation of the Rurouni Kenshin manga. Although it says "Part 1," rest assured, it doesn't end in a cliffhanger.

Review:

I'll start this review off by answering a question: Do I plan on buying and watching Part 2? The answer is “yes.”

Okay, now for the details. As far as my Rurouni Kenshin background goes, I've read the entire manga, although long enough ago that I've forgotten a lot, I've seen the first season of the original TV series and most of the second season, and I've read one related light novel. I'm definitely a fan of this franchise, but I had concerns about how well it might work as a live action movie. Happily, I thought it worked out pretty well.

The characters and general story were all faithful to the original. Of them all, I most enjoyed Kenshin. Other than a few moments during the last big battle with Jin'e, I felt that Takeru Satoh did a wonderful job portraying him. The box art image of Emi Takei as Kaoru worried me because she was only recognizable as the character by a process of elimination (I knew the woman in the corner was definitely Megumi). However, in the movie itself she was great and really brought the character to life, although I had forgotten how ridiculously and sometimes painfully naive Kaoru could be. Seriously, fighting Jin'e with a wooden sword? Yu Aoi as Megumi, Yosuke Eguchi as Saito, and Munetaka Aoki as Sanosuke were also pretty good, although they didn't fit my mental images of the original characters as well.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

REVIEW: Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun (manga, vols. 1-3) by Izumi Tsubaki, translated by Leighann Harvey

I didn't know much about this series, going into it. I had heard some complaints that the romance never went anywhere in the anime adaptation, so I expected it to be a romantic comedy. I was surprised, but not displeased, to discover that it was actually far more focused on humor than anything. If I had had more volumes of this available during my vacation, I'd definitely have read them. Now I have to decide if I want to continue this series via purchases or have it be one of those series I catch up on once a year, whenever I take a vacation.

Just as I've done in the past for my big vacation manga binges, I'm going to include all the volumes I read in one post. Each volume will include a synopsis and short review. This post is technically spoiler-filled, but I don't know that any of it would really ruin the volumes for anybody, since the visuals are such a big part of the humor. Still, consider yourself warned.

Friday, November 25, 2016

REVIEW: Kobato (manga, vol. 6) by CLAMP, translated by William Flanagan

This post includes lots of spoilers (the description included).

Kobato meets with Okiura without telling anyone, but Fujimoto finds her anyway and overhears her telling Okiura that she believes Fujimoto hates her. That isn't true, of course, but that doesn't stop Kobato from fulfilling Sayaka's wish, to be free of Okiura's father, in the belief that Fujimoto would be happiest if Sayaka were happy. Fulfilling the wish leads to Kobato's death, but that's okay, because she gets reincarnated. Her new incarnation remembers Fujimoto and all the people in her past life, so she heads to them, even knowing that they probably won't remember her. What she doesn't realize is that Ginsei made a wish for Fujimoto to remember her, and so the two love birds are reunited (never mind that Kobato is 16 or so and Fujimoto is maybe in his late 30s). Suishou, the angel who helped Kobato live a little longer, is still within her until at least her next life, but after that the angel will be reunited with Iorogi.

REVIEW: Haven't You Heard? I'm Sakamoto (manga, vol. 1) by Nami Sano, translated by Adrienne Beck

Sakamoto, a new and popular student, coolly and calmly deals with jealous bullies, a wasp, a kid who keeps getting bullied for his lunch money, a scheming girl who wants to make him her boyfriend, and a guy who uses him and other students as his slaves. There's also an extra story called “Broad Shoulders” that I think is unrelated to this series, but it's hard to tell because the main character looked an awful lot like Sakamoto. At any rate, the kid in that story was being bullied for his shoulder pads for some bizarre reason.

I found out about this series via a review somewhere, and I was really excited about it. I figured it would be humorous and weird. Instead, the humor generally fell flat, and the whole thing was weird in an uncanny valley sort of way. The characters looked just “off” enough that I was too busy being creeped out to enjoy this much. I really wasn't a fan of the artwork, which was a little too stiff for my tastes.

REVIEW: Chi's Sweet Home (manga, vol. 12) by Konami Kanata, translated by Ed Chavez

This post contains lots of spoilers (right down to the description).

The Yamadas are going to France, and they have a difficult decision to make: should they notify Chi's original owner that they have her, or should they just continue on as they have been? The decision is basically made for them when they find Chi's mom, hurt after being hit by a car (don't worry, she's fine). Although Yohei is resistant, the Yamadas eventually give Chi up to her original owner. What they didn't count on was that Chi would miss them enough to try to go find them.

I probably wouldn't have minded if this series had gone on to be as massive as Skip Beat! or Naruto, so I was a little sad to have reached this final volume. My expectations were also maybe a bit too high. In the end, I felt this volume was a little too rushed and pushed some of its emotional buttons a bit too hard.

REVIEW: Attack on Titan: Junior High (manga, vol. 1) by Saki Nakagawa, based on Attack on Titan by Hajime Isayama, translated by William Flanagan

In this Attack on Titan parody series, all the Attack on Titan characters are junior high students – including the titans. Eren still hates the titans with his entire being, but his reasons are now ridiculous and viewed by his fellow students as racist. Annie, meanwhile, loathes Eren because his ridiculous reason for hating the titans has now made it impossible for her to openly say what her favorite food is, for fear that she will be mocked.

Eren hears about the Survey Club, a secret club that works to learn the titans' weaknesses, and instantly wants to join. However, since the Survey Club is supposed to be a secret, he still has to join an official club and ends up in the Wall Cleanup Club. On the plus side, at least the Wall Cleanup Club has cool vertical maneuvering gear.

Armin enters the picture when he's forced to attend school in order to give his class a chance of winning special ramen. Later, all the first years battle against the upperclassmen. The losers will be forced to go to the school's folk dance with the titans.

REVIEW: Alice in the Country of Clover: Twin Lovers (manga) by QuinRose, art by Kei Shichiri, translated by Angela Liu

In the Country of Hearts, Alice thought of Dee and Dum as rambunctious little brothers. In the Country of Clover, however, they spend most of their time in their adult forms, and Alice is confused and embarrassed by her budding feelings for them. She's also worried that, at some point, they'll want her to choose between them. She likes them both equally and doesn't know how she could possibly do that.

The twins are fairly low on my list of favorite lover interests for Alice, for a lot of reasons. One, I'm not a fan of relationships involving a main character and twins – it comes too close to twincest, which I also dislike. Two, the twins are gleefully violent. Yes, a lot of the Wonderland guys are violent, but they don't all revel in that violence quite as much as the twins. And three, the twins are usually very child-like, even in their adult forms. I'd argue that it's actually a little worse in their adult forms, because the disconnect between their appearance and their behavior is so jarring.

REVIEW: Alice in the Country of Clover: The March Hare's Revolution (manga) story by QuinRose, art by Ryo Kazuki, translated by Angela Liu

This post includes spoilers.

In this Alice in the Country of Clover one-shot, Alice finds herself torn between dreams of home, in which her sister is disappointed in her for staying in Wonderland, and her budding feelings for Elliot. On the one hand, the violence Elliot is capable of when carrying out his work for the Hatter family scares her. On the other hand, she loves the side of him that's protective, goofy, and sweet. She doesn't know if he feels the same for her or if he's like her tutor back in the real world, just humoring her.

Elliot has always been pretty low on my list of favorite love interests for Alice, and this volume didn't change my mind. Her attraction to him in the franchise seems to mostly be based on her fascination with his rabbit ears. His personality, ranging from childish and joyful when with Alice and cold-blooded when working for Blood, has never really appealed to me. For some reason, even Dee and Dum, who are the most similar in personality to Elliot, appeal to me more.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Vacation reading summary

I didn't get through as many books during my vacation as I had during past vacations, but I knew in advance that that was probably going to happen. I still took notes on everything, though, so here's what I should hopefully be posting about soon:
  • Alice in the Country of Clover: The March Hare's Revolution (one-shot)
  • Alice in the Country of Clover: Twin Lovers (one-shot)
  • Attack on Titan: Junior High (vol. 1)
  • Chi's Sweet Home (vol. 12 - Finished!) 
  • Haven't You Heard? I'm Sakamoto (vol. 1)
  • Kobato (vol. 6 - Finished!)
  • Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun (vols. 1-3)
  • Natsume's Book of Friends (vols. 9-10)
  • A Silent Voice (vols. 3-7 - Finished!)
  • Skip Beat! (vols. 35-36)
That makes 18 volumes total, with 3 series finished up. Skip Beat!, Natsume's Book of Friends, and Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun were the best of the bunch. The worst was probably Attack on Titan: Junior High and Haven't You Heard? I'm Sakamoto.

Manga wasn't the only thing I read. I also got through a few pages of Helen S. Wright's A Matter of Oaths and all of M.C.A. Hogarth's Mindtouch. I think I can safely say that Mindtouch has achieved the status of "comfort read" for me, although I still wish that Hogarth had ended it at a different point.

REVIEW: Mr. Holmes (live action movie)

Mr. Holmes is drama with mystery elements.

Review:

In the movie's present, Sherlock Holmes is 93 and World War II has recently ended. He has just returned from a trip to Japan to acquire jelly made from the prickly ash plant, which he hopes will help his rapidly failing memory. While tending his bees and living a generally quiet life, Holmes strikes up a friendship with Roger, his housekeeper's inquisitive and intelligent young son. It is Roger who helps Holmes remember more details about his last case, the one that prompted him to retire to the countryside.

Viewers get glimpses of Holmes's trip to Japan (his memory so bad that he wrote his host's name on one of his sleeve cuffs so that he wouldn't embarrass himself) and also his final case. In that case, Holmes investigated a woman whose husband was worried she was being used. She'd had two miscarriages, and the only thing that seemed to help her grief was the music lessons her husband encouraged her to take. However, she became obsessed with the music and seemed to think it allowed her to communicate with her dead children. Watson's version of the case indicated that it ended successfully, but Holmes knows that can't possibly be true. If it were, why would he have quit being a detective afterward?

REVIEW: Battle Creek, Season 1 (live action TV series)

Okay, time to try to write reviews again. I'll start off with Battle Creek. After I got home from vacation, I couldn't concentrate enough to read anything except Twitter and current news articles, so I binge-watched this instead. It's a comedy-drama mystery show. It's been canceled, so these 13 episodes are all viewers get.

Review:

The Battle Creek, Michigan police department is an under-funded joke, limping along with broken or non-existent equipment. Detective Russ Agnew hopes for help and improvements, but FBI Special Agent Milt Chamberlain isn't what he had in mind. Milt is friendly, well-liked, and backed by FBI manpower and technology. Russ doesn't trust him and resents how instantly good he seems to be at everything. He knows there must be a story behind Milt's apparent demotion to Battle Creek. He's determined to find out as much as he can, and outdo Milt while he's at it.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Back from vacation

I'm technically back from vacation, but not quite ready yet to write quickie review posts for everything. Today will be all about mopping up some final To Do list items before dragging my butt back into work tomorrow.

I haven't done an official tally yet, but, between my sister's kids and my post-election funk, my reading total was pathetic. Maybe 18 manga volumes and 1 book (reread). For perspective, last year I read 50 manga volumes, and the year before I managed to plow through 44 manga volumes and 2 books. Well, at least the write-ups should be quicker and easier to get through this year.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

REVIEW: Inheritor (book) by C.J. Cherryh

Inheritor is science fiction, the third book in C.J. Cherryh's Foreigner series.

Review:

I waited too long to review this, and now my memories are a bit fuzzy, but I'll do the best I can.

In Inheritor, Bren is once again trying to make do with incomplete information. The book takes place 6 months after the previous one. Bren has been separated from Jase for a bit, and that separation makes their already strained relationship worse. Jase doesn't seem to be handling the culture shock of living among the atevi, living on a planet, and speaking mostly Ragi very well. Bren has his own frustrations and worries – after the events of the previous book, he doesn't dare go back to Mospheira for fear that he'll be arrested or otherwise prevented from leaving. Mospheira's conservative element has become more powerful, and the rift between Bren and his family (and all other humans) continues to grow.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

REVIEW: Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life (book) by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts, illustrated by Laura Park

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life is middle grade humorous fiction.

Review:

Rafe isn't thrilled with the way his first year of middle school started. At the suggestion of his best friend, Leo the Silent (the guy who rarely speaks and usually communicates via drawings that are incorporated into the book), Rafe comes up with Operation R.A.F.E. (Rules Aren't For Everyone). The whole thing is based on the school rules. Each rule that Rafe breaks earns him points depending on the level of danger, the amount of planning that went into it, who saw him, and what happened as a result of his actions. He does have one limitation, however, his “No-Hurt Rule” - Rafe's actions can't hurt anyone but himself. Unfortunately, things don't always go the way Rafe plans.

Monday, October 24, 2016

REVIEW: Illuminae (book) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Illuminae is YA science fiction. I got it via interlibrary loan and unfortunately reviewed it a few weeks after turning it in. I did the best I could, considering that I didn't have the book on hand to check details.

Review:

The day that Kady and Ezra break up is also the day their whole world falls apart. The illegal mining colony they call "home" is attacked by BeiTech, a rival corporation. The survivors, Kady and Ezra among them, end up on one of three ships: the Alexander, a battlecarrier that tried to come to the colony's rescue and was severely damaged in the process; the Copernicus, a freighter; and the Hypatia, a scientific exploration vessel. The three ships end up on the run from a BeiTech battleship, the Lincoln.

Because so many of the Alexander's crew were killed or injured in the initial attack, any civilian survivors with the right personality or training are conscripted. Kady is seen as being too angry, bitter, and closed off to work well with others. She stays on the Hypatia, even though her hacking skills are excellent and improving every day. Ezra is transferred to the Alexander and trained to become a fighter pilot. Unfortunately, the ships have more problems than just the Lincoln. The Alexander's AI, AIDAN, is damaged, some of the survivors might be sick, and it isn't always clear who can be trusted.

The whole story is told via interview and chat transcripts, video footage descriptions, memos, and more, all collected and arranged by a mysterious group for their equally mysterious employer.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

REVIEW: Only the Ring Finger Knows, Vol. 1: The Lonely Ring Finger (book) by Satoru Kannagi, illustrations by Hotaru Odagiri, English translation by Allison Markin Powell

Only the Ring Finger Knows is m/m romance. It was originally published in Japanese in 2001.

My review includes a few spoilers. Also, I'm still on my extended "not going to include read-alikes" break. I will say this, though, the relationship dynamics reminded me a lot of His Favorite. I wonder if that series was inspired by this one?

Review:

Yuichi seems like the most perfect guy at Wataru's high school. He gets good grades, has good looks, is good at basketball, and gets along well with everyone. However, a chance encounter at a water fountain shows Wataru another side of Yuichi, one that's cold and sarcastic. Wataru can't remember ever even talking to Yuichi, so why does the guy hate him so much?

The situation only becomes more awkward and upsetting when Wataru and Yuichi discover they've accidentally swapped rings. At their school, wearing matching rings and/or wearing a ring on your ring finger signifies that you're dating someone and, shockingly, Wataru and Yuichi's rings not only look exactly alike, but they also fit on each other's ring fingers. The matching rings are, of course, an indication that there is romance in Wataru and Yuichi's future.

REVIEW: Noble, My Love (live action TV series)

Warning: This review contains spoilers.

Noble, My Love is a Korean drama consisting of 20 episodes that are each about 15 minutes long. The short episode length was unexpected (I'm used to K-drama episodes being about an hour long). It was also the best thing about the series. I don't know that I'd have been able to finish it if it had been 20 hours long. I expected it to be about a cold and arrogant CEO whose heart was thawed by an unexpected encounter with a sweet and energetic veterinarian, and maybe a dog. What I got was...not quite that.

Cha Yoon Seo is a veterinarian who is struggling under a mountain of debt. Her practice is small and caters mostly to rural clients, and she has to be available 24/7 just to get by. She's proud of what she has accomplished, but things do get awkward whenever she talks to former classmates, several of whom now have high-paying jobs at more fashionable locations.

Lee Kang Hoon is a rich, successful, and handsome CEO. People love him, even though he's an arrogant jerk. He first meets Yoon Seo when the dog he's using in a commercial escapes – she finds the dog and gives him water (don't expect much from the dog - he never shows up in the series again). They meet a second time after Kang Hoon is stabbed while escaping a kidnapping attempt. Although they didn't exactly hit it off during their first meeting, Kang Hoon becomes obsessed with thoughts of the kind-hearted veterinarian who stitched him up. How can he win over a woman who seems so determined to turn down everything he offers her?

Monday, October 17, 2016

REVIEW: Hospital Station (anthology) by James White

Hospital Station is the first book in James White's Sector General series. It was originally published in 1962.

Review:

Alien Emergencies was my introduction to the Sector General series. It contained books 6 through 8, so I could have opted to read Book 9 next but instead decided to go back to the beginning, Hospital Station. Although several of the stories do reference each other, Hospital Station is basically an anthology containing five short stories, so I'll be reviewing it as one.

All in all this was...okay. “Medic” and “Out-patient” were good, but the other stories all disappointed me a bit, for various reasons. I'm kind of glad that this wasn't my first experience with the Sector General series. I missed getting to see the full cast of characters I'd gotten to know in Alien Emergencies.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

REVIEW: Ajin, Season 1 (anime TV series, CGI animation)

Ajin is a mix of action, mystery, and fantasy (sci-fi?). This first season is 13 episodes long.

Review:

It's been almost a year since I last watched and reviewed anime. I figured it was finally time to watch something new, so I checked my Netflix queue and picked Ajin.

Ajin stars Kei, a high school student who is completely and utterly focused on the bright future his mother has outlined for him, to the point that he even ditched his best friend Kai when his mother said Kai would be a bad influence on him. Kei never toes the line and never does anything wrong...but then he's hit by a truck and his whole world changes. Instead of dying or waking up in a hospital, Kei gets back up again like nothing happened, proving to everyone that he's an Ajin, an immortal being. Ajin are considered nonhuman, and it is Kei's fate, from that point forward, to be hunted down like an animal, captured by the government, and put through horrific tests. However, with a bit of help Kei manages to evade capture and soon learns that there are more Ajin out there than has been made public.

REVIEW: The Silenced (live action movie)

The Silenced is a Korean historical thriller movie with sci-fi aspects.

This review includes slight spoilers.

Review:

I wasn't aware of the history when I saw this movie, so some of the details of my description are the result of later online reading. Anyway, this movie is set in 1938, during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Ju-ran, assigned the Japanese name “Shizuko,” is sent to a Korean sanatorium because she has tuberculosis. The girls at the sanatorium are repeatedly told that they'll eventually be evaluated, and the two healthiest candidates will be sent to Tokyo and become Japanese citizens. It's something that many of the girls long for.

One of the two girls who seems most likely to be chosen, Yeon-deok (renamed “Kazue”) befriends Ju-ran. Yeon-deok takes her places the girls aren't supposed to go and generally encourages her. Ju-ran is given special medication, and her health begins to improve to the point that she starts to hope that maybe she'll be chosen to go to Tokyo with Yeon-deok. However, the sanatorium is hiding dark secrets. Yeon-deok used to have a friend who was also named Shizuko, but Shizuko disappeared, supposedly taken away by her family overnight. As Ju-ran begins seeing and experiencing strange things, she wonders what really happened to the first Shizuko.

REVIEW: Dragonbreath (book) by Ursula Vernon

Dragonbreath is children's fantasy. It's the first in a series.

Review:

Dragonbreath stars Danny Dragonbreath, a young dragon who hasn't yet learned how to breathe fire, and his best friend Wendell, a green iguana. Whereas Wendell studies, does his homework, and would probably never get into trouble on his own, Danny has waited until the morning bus ride to write his science paper. He was going to ask Wendell for help, but his topic was the ocean and Wendell's was bats. Danny's science teacher isn't particularly interested in Danny's paper on “the rare and elusive snorklebat” and tells him to turn in a better paper tomorrow. Library research isn't really Danny's style, so, at his mother's suggestion, Danny visits his cousin Edward, a sea serpent. Danny drags Wendell along with him.

REVIEW: Kizumonogatari: Wound Tale (audiobook) by NisiOisiN, narrated by Keith Silverstein, Eric Kimerer, Cristina Vee

Kizumonogatari is the prequel to Bakemonogatari (which I have neither read nor seen). It's one of Vertical's first two audiobook releases.

I go over the book's fanservice-y scenes in detail in my review but otherwise don't include much in the way of spoilers.

Review:

Kizumonogatari stars Koyomi Araragi, a 17-year-old loser. He avoids having friends because he believes they would “lower his intensity as a human” (although one wonders if this isn't just his way of making himself feel better because no one wants to be friends with him). His life seems to be going nowhere, until one day he comes across Tsubasa Hanekawa, class president and all-around model student, and accidentally gets an excellent view of her panties when the wind blows her skirt straight up. Instead of getting upset or fleeing in embarrassment, Hanekawa decides to be Araragi's first friend.

Later, Araragi tries to wipe away the memory of Hanekawa's panties by buying some porn. On his way home, he comes across Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade (name found online, because otherwise I'd never have figured out how to spell it all), “the iron-blooded, hot-blooded, yet cold-blooded vampire.” Someone has removed all four of her limbs, and she is dying. She asks Araragi to save her by letting her drink him dry, and he, in a fit of pity and realization that he's a loser whose life, he decides, is probably worth less than hers, agrees. He expects to die but instead wakes up as Kiss-Shot's new servant, the one who now has to get her limbs back from the vampire hunters who took them.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

REVIEW: Halo: The Fall of Reach (book) by Eric Nylund

Halo: The Fall of Reach is military sci-fi based on a game franchise.

I opted not to include any read-alikes.

Review:

Like I said in my review of the movie based on this book, I've never played any of the Halo games. I got this because I'd heard that the franchise has some good AI-human interaction. Starting with the first Halo novel seemed like the best way to go.

This book covers the origins of the Master Chief, the series protagonist. Dr. Catherine Halsey selected John for the SPARTAN-II program when he was only 6 years old, arranging for him and many other children to be kidnapped from their homes and put through intense training and brutal modifications. It's all hugely unethical, but the end result is something humanity turns out to sorely need: a group of super soldiers known as the Spartans, of which John-117 is the best. Their first mission pits them against human rebels, but it's not long before they find themselves fighting a much deadlier enemy, mysterious aliens known as the Covenant.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

REVIEW: Halo: The Fall of Reach (animated movie)

First, some info: I haven't actually played any of the Halo games. I started reading Halo: The Fall of Reach after someone said that the series had some good AI-human interaction moments, but I stalled almost halfway through for various reasons. In an effort to renew my interest in the book, give me a better foundation on the visuals, and maybe clarify some of the more confusing aspects, I decided to watch this. I was sure it would spoil certain aspects of the book for me, but I was okay with that.

Yeah, what I didn't realize was that this movie only adapts a small portion of the book – up to page 154 of my copy, to be exact. I'm currently on page 168, so I suppose I'll have to muddle through the rest on my own.

The movie covers the origin of Master Chief, the protagonist and playable character of the games. Dr. Catherine Halsey first identifies him as a candidate for the SPARTAN-II program when he is only six years old. John and other children are kidnapped from their homes and replaced with short-lived clones. It is then that their military training begins. However, Dr. Halsey has more in mind for the children than just training. There are dangerous augmentations that will turn them into true super soldiers, if they're able to survive the process.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

REVIEW: Foreigner (audiobook) by C.J. Cherryh, narrated by Daniel Thomas May

I first read and reviewed a paper copy of Foreigner only a few months ago, so there's a lot I won't go into again, and I won't be writing another summary. However, it's worth writing a second review. I have some comments to make on both the audiobook experience and on the rereading experience. As a result, I'll be touching on some spoilery things.

The audiobook doesn't include the pronunciation guide or the glossary that can be found in my paper copy of the book. Although I missed the glossary a little, the pronunciation guide wasn't necessary. I didn't actively compare Daniel Thomas May's pronunciation to the guide, but I do know that his pronunciation of “Jago,” at least, followed what Cherryh wrote in her guide. Maybe I'll finally start mentally pronouncing Jago's name correctly while reading the books.

Although I had some issues with May's narration, overall I enjoyed it. He was particularly excellent when narrating Bren's thoughts and dialogue (basically most of the book), infusing the lines with just the right amount of emotion. His atevi voices didn't work quite as well for me, but I'm not sure there was much he could have done about that. After all, atevi aren't supposed to do much obvious emoting.

FYI, this next bit is where the spoilers come in.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

REVIEW: Atelier (live action TV series)

Mayuko is a “fabric geek” who gets a job at Emotion, a high-class custom-made lingerie shop. Her first days there are nerve-wracking, as her new boss, Mayumi Nanjo, tells her that she doesn't understand beauty and dresses horribly. She eventually adjusts and learns to love the place and her coworkers. However, as much as Mayuko and the others admire Nanjo and her work, her way isn't always their way.

I really enjoyed this series, much more than I expected. I had thought it would be a sort of Japanese The Devil Wears Prada, but it was much warmer and kinder than that. Even though Nanjo was pretty blunt with Mayuko at times, she was also gentler than I would have expected – some of the things Mayuko did when she first started working there (like talking back at the boss) would probably have gotten her fired from any other place.

REVIEW: Black Butler (live action movie)

Oh look, it's my first review in over a month. Sorry, I've been in a horrible funk for a while now. Everything is hard: writing reviews, reading, and even watching TV. The only thing I've been doing is working, sleeping, and playing Stardew Valley. Here's hoping that this review is a sign that things are going back to normal, because I'm tired of doing nothing much. And also, I have an ILL book that's due in a week or two.

Anyway, yes, a live action Black Butler movie exists and I have watched and reviewed it. Contrary to what that movie poster might lead you to believe, it actually takes place in a modern day setting.

No watch-alikes, because I figured writing the review itself was hard enough. Also, warning, this review includes major spoilers.

Review:

I watched this out of morbid curiosity. To be honest, I was expecting it to be horrifically bad. I knew that the story and characters had been drastically changed in several areas, and I vaguely remembered reading something about Mizushima Hiro (Sebastian) losing weight for the role, because obviously the most important thing about Sebastian is his thinness.

In the end, this wasn't as bad as I originally expected it to be, but it wasn't great either. It helped a lot that I already knew it wouldn't be a redo of either the anime or manga story, and that the characters wouldn't be quite the same.

So, the story. The movie is set in some kind of alternate history modern day Japan. Genpou Shiori is a girl pretending to be a boy so that she can be the Genpou family heir. Several years ago, her parents were killed and she was kidnapped. She escaped by entering into a contract with Sebastian, a demon. Since then, her goal has been to find and punish those who killed her parents. In the meantime, however, she serves as a secret investigator for the Queen of England (I think?), for reasons that make no sense unless you have some familiarity with the original series and what's been twisted to fit the movie. Anyway, people are being spontaneously mummified, and no one is sure how or why. Shiori is tasked with looking into the murders, and her investigation unexpectedly touches on her past.

Monday, August 15, 2016

REVIEW: The Mysterious Lady Law (e-novella) by Robert Appleton

The Mysterious Lady Law is a steampunk thriller. It's published by Carina Press and is 31,600 words long.

No read-alikes this time, because I don't feel like it. Also, the very end of my review includes some spoilers.

Review:

This takes place in late 19th century London. Julia works as a waitress and dancer on an airship, while Georgina, her sister, cleans houses. Julia is utterly shocked to come home one evening and find her sister dead. Although Constable Aloysius (Al) Grant gives her as many updates on the case as he's able, there isn't much for him to say. The police keep hitting dead ends.

Just when it looks like Georgy's killer will go free, Lady Harriet Law shows up on Julia's doorstep and offers to take the case pro bono. Julia accepts the offer. After all, Lady Law has a phenomenal success rate, having solved 100% of her 650 cases. It's that same success rate that, in part, inspires Grant's distrust. How does Lady Law come to her conclusions? Why did she offer her services to Julia in particular? And how does the disappearance of Josh, the young assistant of the famed explorer Horace Holly, figure into all of this?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

REVIEW: The Coelura (book) by Anne McCaffrey, illustrated by Ned Dameron

The Coelura is sci-fi with strong romantic elements. It was originally published in 1983.

No read-alikes for this one, sorry.

Review:

Caissa is the body-heir of Baythan, an exceptional hunter and all-around perfect specimen of manhood (no really – much is made of his excellent genetic pattern). Caissa is now old enough that she should start considering bearing her own body-heir, but she isn't happy with the man her father suggests she at least establish a temporary heir-contract with. She has a feeling that his recommendation is tied to an undisclosed clause in his heir-contract with her womb-mother, the haughty and vain High Lady Cinna.

Out of loyalty to her father, Caissa agrees to at least meet the man he recommended, but the meeting leaves her feeling so insulted that she decides to leave the city for a bit to blow off some steam. Unfortunately, she didn't bother to check her fuel first and ends up briefly stranded in the ruins of Yellow Triad City. It's there that she meets a mysterious man named Murell and learns more about coelura, beings able to spin beautiful living cloth that responds to its wearer's mood.

REVIEW: The Stinky Cheese Caper and Other Cases from the ZPD Files (book) by Greg Trine, illustrated by Cory Loftis

Yes, I have read another Zootopia book intended for children in an effort to get a new Zootopia fix. One of these days I'll break down and dive into the fanfic.

After reading the junior novelization, I wasn't expecting much from this. The cover made it sound like it would be composed of four standalone stories (“Four stories in one!”). Since it was only 75 pages long, I figured those stories would have to be extremely simple.

In “The Stinky Cheese Caper,” Judy and Nick investigate the theft of a very expensive and very stinky cheese. In “There's Dirt in Your Eye,” Judy and Nick investigate a report of someone dumping dirt of the Old Outback Bridge. The dirt landed on a boatload of tourists and could have hurt someone. In “No Noise Is Good Noise,” Judy and Nick investigate reports of incredibly loud and horrible music coming from a cafe. All the local shopkeepers feel it's hurting their businesses. Finally, in “The Dig's Up,” Judy and Nick investigate a prison break.

This book takes place several months after the end of the movie. Judy and Nick are partners, assigned mostly to traffic duty or cases that none of the other cops want to work on. Astute readers will guess that the four stories are probably related after finishing the first one. Readers who aren't able to figure out that the stories are connected by the beginning of the second one will probably not enjoy this book because, individually and taken at face value, most of these mysteries are pretty dull.

Monday, August 8, 2016

REVIEW: Another Episode S/0 (book and manga) novel by Yukito Ayatsuji, manga by Hiro Kiyohara, translation by Karen McGillicuddy

Another Episode S/0 consists of a short supernatural mystery novel (novella?) and a manga. It's published by Yen On.

Review:

I was a little wary of this book. I've read or watched every version of Another that's officially been made available in English, starting with the anime, then the original novel, and finally the manga. I noticed I was burning out on the story by the time I got to the manga. Could a sequel novel work for me? Would it be fresh and new enough?

First, I should mention that this book actually collects two different works: Another Episode S, a lengthy story that takes place during the events of Another but isn't directly related to the curse affecting North Yomi's third-year Class 3, and Another Episode 0, a short prequel manga starring Reiko, Koichi's aunt. I'll write about them separately, but my final verdict is that this had some interesting moments but was largely a disappointment.

Warning: Do NOT read this review if you haven't read or watched Another. My review will include major spoilers for that work.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

REVIEW: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore (audiobook) by Robin Sloan, narrated by Ari Fliakos

This is another one of those that I should have reviewed sooner after finishing it. It's been a couple weeks, and my memories are fuzzier. Plus, I took a break while listening to the book, so my listening experience was pretty stretched out.

So, what can I say about the story without revealing too much? Clay, desperate for work after losing his Web design job, stumbles across a little place called Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. It's in a seedy location (next to a strip club), there don't seem to be many customers, and the store itself is a little strange, but Clay needs the money. Besides, he's kind of intrigued. Most of the store's visitors never actually seem to buy anything, but rather check out mysterious volumes from a collection Clay is specifically told not to browse or otherwise look at too closely.

Clay's curiosity gets the better of him, and he starts to investigate. Slowly, at first, making a three-dimensional model of the store in order in order to see if there's a pattern to the checkouts. But then he involves other people and begins to dig more deeply.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

REVIEW: Jurassic Park (live action movie), on DVD

I re-watched this a few months ago and should have reviewed it back then. But I kept putting it off because I wanted to include comments about the extras, but then I dragged my feet and eventually ran into problems. So I'm finally just going ahead and reviewing it.

A synopsis feels a little unnecessary, but I'll include a short one anyway: A billionaire invites several people to his not-yet-open theme park (or is forced to invite them – the lawyer is there because a worker's family is suing and there are now questions being asked about how safe the park really is). Amazingly, the park includes real, live dinosaurs. Unfortunately, the park's tech geek decides to make a little extra money by stealing and selling some of the park's dinosaur embryos. Things go wrong, and a bunch of the dinosaurs accidentally get free, putting the lives of everyone on the island in danger.

REVIEW: Ghostbusters (live action movie) - at the movie theater

I was hesitant about seeing this, for a lot of reasons. I vaguely remembered having seen at least one of the original Ghostbusters movies but didn't have any particular attachment to or love for the franchise. I haven't been wild about the last few hyped movies I've seen, and I was a little worried that this one was getting most of its viewer hype because of the all-female main cast. Also, a lot of the people who were raving about it were also fans of several of Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy's other movies. I loathed Bridesmaids, winced a lot during Spy, and just generally didn't want to see a repeat of the sort of humor I saw in those movies. Thankfully, this turned out to be a lot better than I was expecting.

The story: Erin is a professor who's being considered for tenure. Unfortunately, an embarrassing piece of her past, a book on the paranormal that she co-wrote years ago with her best friend Abby, has come back to haunt her. She's worried that she'll be seen as a crackpot, so she tracks Abby down in order to ask her to please stop selling the book. Abby has since teamed up with Jillian Holtzmann, a nutty and brilliant scientist, and Erin accidentally gets all three of them involved in a paranormal investigation at a museum. The team is later joined by Patty, a transit worker who is an absolute fount of historical facts and knowledge, and their new receptionist, Kevin, who is gorgeous but very stupid. The group finds themselves dealing with more and more ghosts, not realizing that all these recent incidents are due to the machinations of a nobody who feels he isn't getting all the recognition and attention he deserves.

REVIEW: Amnesia Labyrinth (manga, vol. 1) story by Nagaru Tanigawa, art by Natsumi Kohane, translation by Nan Rymer

Amnesia Labyrinth is a short mystery series licensed by Seven Seas.

Review:

I'll start by saying that the description on the back of the volume contains several incorrect statements. There is no evidence that Souji's sisters' clingy behavior is anything new. Also, I don't know if Souji and Yukako start dating in the next volume, but Yukako is not Souji's new girlfriend in this one. Now, on to my description.

Souji is a high school student who left his family home some time ago. He had hoped never to return, but sometimes we don't get what we want. At any rate, his three sisters are thrilled he's back. Harumi, his stepsister, is sweet and quiet and clearly has a crush on him. The real problems, though, are Youko and Saki. Youko is Souji's full sister. She possibly has a split personality, and she's certainly a vaguely malevolent presence in the household, glaring daggers at Souji even as she cuddles up to him in a more than sisterly sort of way. Saki is the daughter of Souji's father and Souji's father's mistress. She works as one of the family's maids and, when the other sisters aren't around, sleeps with Souji. And possibly also Kazushi, Souji's older brother. Kazushi, meanwhile, may be lurking somewhere nearby.

At school, Souji instantly comes to the attention of Yukako, the self-proclaimed sole member of the student council's “Intelligence Committee.” It's Yukako who tells Souji of the three murders that occurred at the end of the summer, shortly before he arrived. The school's smartest student was stabbed. After that came the track team's star runner, also stabbed. Then the student council president was pushed in front of a train. Yukako wants to know why the killer chose those particular victims, especially since she had a crush on the student council president. She basically forces Souji to join her, but Souji secretly thinks he knows who was responsible: Youko, his sister.

Friday, August 5, 2016

REVIEW: The Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty's Prince (book) by Serena Valentino

The Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty's Prince is a prequel to Disney's Beauty and the Beast. My embarrassingly old ARC says it's intended for ages 10 and up, but I decided to tag is as a YA novel.

I opted not to include any read-alikes. Also, be warned, my review includes some spoilers.

Review:

The Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty's Prince takes place primarily before Belle met the Beast or even before the Prince became the Beast. Readers learn that the Prince (who is never given a name) was, in fact, once friends with Gaston. Also, the enchantress that the Prince rejected prior to becoming the Beast was actually his beautiful secretly-a-witch girlfriend, Circe, who had three wicked witch sisters. Circe's curse didn't immediately take effect, but rather gave the Prince time to meet and court another young lady, Princess Tulip Morningstar. Although lots of familiar characters make appearances, the story fans of the movie are familiar with doesn't really start until the last quarter of the book, and even then there are some changes.
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