Saturday, February 27, 2016

Heist Society (e-book) by Ally Carter

Heist Society is a YA heist story. I got it via my library's Overdrive collection.

Review:

Heist Society stars Katarina Bishop, a teenage thief who has spent her whole life surrounded by thieves and con artists. Three months prior to the start of the book, Kat enrolled in a boarding school in an effort to go straight. The arrival of W.W. Hale the Fifth derails her plans. Hale tells Kat that someone has stolen several paintings from a very bad man named Arturo Taccone, and Taccone believes that Kat's father was responsible. Kat's father couldn't have done it – he was busy with a completely different theft at the time – but Taccone refuses to believe that and wants his property back. If Kat wants to save her father, she'll have to find the paintings, steal them back, and return them to Taccone.

Ex-Heroes (audiobook) by Peter Clines, narrated by Jay Snyder and Khristine Hvam

Ex-Heroes is a zombie apocalypse book with superheroes. It's the first in a series. I got it on Audible during one of their sales.

Review:

I like superheroes and I like zombies – a book that combined the two seemed like a good fit for me. Unfortunately, I had some issues with Ex-Heroes, to the point that I ended up taking a multi-week break from it part of the way through. Had this been a library checkout rather than a purchase, I probably would have DNFed it.

The plot was fairly simple but took such a long time to get going that I feel like almost any synopsis I might write would give too much away. I will say that the basic setup should be familiar to any fan of zombie apocalypse stories: a group of survivors tries to continue surviving, hopefully find a cure, and maybe even forge something like a normal and fear-free existence. This particular group of survivors (really, enough people to count as a little town) just happens to be guarded by a few surviving superheroes.

One of those superheroes is St. George, a guy who can breathe fire and glide for a long enough distance that it looks like he can fly and who, more importantly, is completely invulnerable. Then there's Gorgon, a man whose gaze can suck the energy out of people and temporarily give him greater power. Cerberus is the name given both to an enormous armed mecha and to the woman who operates it. Zzzap is a man in a wheelchair who can transform into a flying being made out of energy. Stealth is mysterious, athletic, and coldly cerebral.

Sad news from Samhain Publishing - they're shutting down

Or at least that's what I've heard via this link and others. No exact date, but...crud. I own about a 100 Samhain titles, some of which are part of series that I don't own in their entirety. I suppose it's time to consider which gaps I should try to fill and which ones I'll leave alone and risk never being able to finish if I end up falling in love with them later.

If you're considering buying some Samhain titles but need recommendations, here are a few I've enjoyed:
  • Happy Snak by Nicole Kimberling - Standalone sci-fi, essentially a first contact story with lots of alien culture stuff - not much in the way of romance. I loved this book and have reviewed it here. I might see about snagging myself a paper copy of this one.
  • Frank Tuttle's Markhat series - Urban fantasy, would probably be good for fans of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files books. I really enjoyed the first three, stumbled a bit at Hold the Dark, and haven't continued on since then. Now I get to debate whether or not to buy the few entries in the series I don't yet own.
  • Hemovore by Jordan Castillo Price - Standalone m/m vampire story in which vampirism is a highly infectious disease. My review is available here.
  • Pricks and Pragmatism by J.L. Merrow - Standalone m/m romance. My review is available here.
  • Charlie Cochrane's Cambridge Fellows Mysteries - I've only actually read the first one, and I never did get around to reviewing it, but I enjoyed it. I own a paper copy but bought several (all? I guess I should check) of the rest of the books in e-book form. 
I think what I'll miss most is Samhain's sci-fi and fantasy stuff, both the ones with romance and the ones mostly without (although it wasn't always easy to tell which was which). And their decent-sized "new releases" discount.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Jughead (comic book, #3) written by Chip Zdarsky, art by Erica Henderson

Jughead is an "all ages" humorous comic book series. I bought this issue on Comixology.

I opted not to include a read-alikes list. I'll also add a spoiler warning to this, since I talk about about enough of the issue that there's probably something here that qualifies.

Review:

Jughead gets expelled for bringing a knife to school, except he swears he has no idea how the knife got into his backpack. While his dad tries to get everything straightened out, Jughead passes the time by walking his dog and basically just hanging out. Cue the dream sequence (I'm guessing every issue is going to have one of these?).

Saturday, February 20, 2016

His Favorite (manga, vol. 2) by Suzuki Tanaka, translated by Ivana Bloom

His Favorite is basically a m/m romantic comedy. It's published by SuBLime.

Review:

One half of this volume is devoted to the main story, and the other half is mostly a couple completely unrelated shorts. I never know how to handle stuff like this, but I suppose I'll treat the shorts like extras.

The main story starts off with Yoshida and the other less popular (and less attractive) guys in his class being forced to act as cheerleaders in the upcoming school sports matches. After the sports stuff is over, Yoshida learns that Sato is modeling for one of the school's art students. Then Yoshida encounters a friend from junior high at his current school.

His Favorite (manga, vol. 1) by Suzuki Tanaka, translated by Ivana Bloom

His Favorite is basically a m/m romantic comedy. It's published by SuBLime.

Review:

I went into this not knowing much more about it than its premise and that, according to the “reception” section on its Wikipedia page, one reviewer mostly liked it but was annoyed by its lack of sex. I didn't even bother to read the full review – I just ordered a bunch of volumes in the series and hoped for the best. My wish was for it to be cute and funny fluff. Unfortunately, I didn't really get what I wished for.

First, the story: Yoshida is an awkward and funny-looking high school kid who would kind of like to have a girlfriend. However, all the girls hate him because Sato, the most popular guy at school, keeps turning them down, saying he already has plans with Yoshida. Which confuses the heck out of Yoshida, because as far as he knows he and Sato don't even know each other all that well. He hates being used as Sato's excuse. And why doesn't Sato ever throw anyone else to the wolves (girls)? Is the guy just messing with him or something?

Yoshida eventually realizes that he and Sato do know each other, which is about the same time that Sato starts hitting on him. It embarrasses Yoshida and freaks him out a little...but he also kind of likes it. Except Sato doesn't seem to be nearly as affected as he is, which upsets him even more.

Jughead (comic book, #2) written by Chip Zdarsky, art by Erica Henderson

Jughead is an "all ages" humorous comic book series. I bought this issue on Comixology.

I opted not to include a read-alikes list. I'll also add a spoiler warning to this, since I talk about more of the specifics of the dream sequence.

Review:

The new principal of Riverdale High, Mr. Stanger, continues to make unwelcome changes. In this issue, Jughead has to deal with Coach Eng, a tough guy who takes an instant dislike to him. Jughead doesn't want detention, but how's he supposed to avoid if the new rules seem designed to send everybody there?

I liked this issue even more than the first, I think because of the dream sequence. This time, Jughead was visited by January McAndrews, a member of the time police and a descendant of Archie Andrews from the 29th century. In her time period, her town was being destroyed by a descendant of Reggie Mantle. Jughead's first reaction was to assume that they'd have to kill Reggie to save the future (in his dreams he tends to be a bit more casual about the deaths of people he knows than I'd like), but January stopped that thought in its tracks. Killing Reggie would change the timeline, and they weren't allowed to do that, so they had to figure out another way to deal with the situation. I enjoyed all the action (January and her enormous gun!), Jughead's plan, and the idea it gave him for dealing with Coach Eng's obstacle course.

Like I said in my review of the first issue, one of the reasons I started reading this was because of the news that Jughead is explicitly revealed to be asexual in the fourth issue. Just like the first issue, this one has a hint of what's to come. It's an even stronger hint than the one in the first issue (this time around, Jughead avoids a kiss from January and says “Sorry, just not into kissing”), but yeah, the explicit mention coming up in the fourth issue is still a good thing, because even this could be interpreted multiple ways.

I'm interested to see how things go in the next issue, since Jughead is going to be faced with a bigger problem than the possibility of detention.

Extra:

Whoops, almost forgot the extra comic at the end. Just like there first issue, there's a classic Jughead comic at the end. This time around, I popped out of guided view and skimmed it. Still not to my taste.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Blood Alone (manga, vol. 5) by Masayuki Takano, translated by Nan Rymer

Blood Alone is a vampire manga that was licensed by Seven Seas. I got volume 5 via interlibrary loan.

Review:

After the somewhat promising volume 4, the series has gone back to being mediocre. Each chapter is basically a separate story, which is, I think, how I'll tackle my review.

Chapter 1 wrapped up the enormous flashback that was volume 4.  I was very disappointed with how all of this ended. I had expected that it would go on long enough to show the moment when Misaki was turned into a vampire, but apparently volume 4's big, bad vampire was not the one responsible for turning her. In fact, a later chapter revealed that her maker is still out there somewhere, and that he could use her against Kuroe. I sense enormous angst in this series' future.

Chapter 2 was a cutesy little story about Misaki being afraid of thunder. Kuroe was planning on leaving to get some work done, and Misaki wanted him to stay but was reluctant to tell him why. This was disgustingly cute and would probably have worked better for me if it hadn't contributed to this series' general problem of not knowing what it wants to be. The entire previous volume was a darker vampire story, and yet this chapter was very much slice-of-life cuteness. Misaki really is the most useless vampire ever.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Jughead (comic book, #1) written by Chip Zdarsky, art by Erica Henderson

Jughead is an "all ages" humorous comic book series.

I opted not to include a read-alikes list.

Review:

The Jughead reboot made it onto my radar when I learned that Jughead was explicitly revealed to be asexual in Jughead No. 4. Still, Archie Comics has never even vaguely been my thing, so I was going to pass it by. Then Grimlock changed my mind by raving about the Jughead reboot even though she, too, didn't like the original Archie. She also let me know about a Comixology coupon code, which helped seal the deal. It's for 50% off and good until 11:59 PM EST tomorrow (2/14), if you're interested.

So I bought digital comics for the very first time, and single issues at that. I was a little nervous about what the reading experience would be like on my tablet, but I ended up liking the guided view (one panel at a time on the screen, rather than the whole page) quite a bit. In some ways, it increased the element of surprise in the story, since I couldn't see the full page and didn't know what was going to happen in the next panel unless I jumped out of guided view. It also made the comic seem longer than it was.

Okay, now to the comic itself. In this issue, Riverdale High is faced with unexpected and unpleasant changes. Jughead is apathetic about it all, until it affects something he really cares about: the cafeteria food.

Blood Alone (manga, vol. 4) by Masayuki Takano, translated by Nan Rymer

Blood Alone is a vampire manga that was licensed by Seven Seas. I got volume 4 via interlibrary loan.

Review:

In this volume, Blood Alone morphs into an action and cleavage filled vampire manga. It begins with Misaki watching out for some random kid while Kuroe is off searching for the kid's mother. No explanation is given for this case, and the volume never returns to it, because it's primarily intended to lead to the volume's true focus, Kuroe and Misaki's past. Misaki complains about the kid's behavior, Kuroe jokingly says that Misaki used to be worse, and suddenly we have a flashback to several years in the past, when Misaki was still human and Kuroe was a vampire hunter.

I had thought Kuroe worked alone, but he actually had a well-endowed partner named Jessie, who provided maybe 80% of the volume's cleavage. Jessie was Misaki's caretaker when Misaki's father was away, so after Jessie was injured during a hunt she sent Kuroe to temporarily take care of Misaki. They had a rough start, but Kuroe soon won Misaki over. Unfortunately, Kuroe was at a point in his life when he was resistant to using the powers that the vampire who took his sister left him with, and his hesitation meant trouble for both him and Misaki.

Friday, February 12, 2016

February Skoshbox


February's Skoshbox was overwhelmingly fantastic. My only wish was that there had been more of certain snacks. The box included: 1 box Pucca: Chocolate Crisps (crispy pretzel shell with chocolate filling), 1 Chibimaruko Marshmallow (grape jelly mini marshmallows), 1 Pekochan Parasol Choco (strawberry or chocolate parasol pop - I got chocolate), 1 Coffee Beat (creamy chocolate-covered coffee), 1 bag Veggie-Ottotto (puffed crispy veggie chips: consomme seasoning), 2 Soft Oreo: Vanilla (soft Oreo cakes-vanilla cream).

Pucca: Chocolate Crisps:

Little shapes (jellyfish?) made out of a crispy cookie shell filled with chocolate. These were delicious and reminded me strongly of snacks I'd had in Germany years ago. After a bit of Googling, I learned that those were probably something called Koala's March, which actually started off as Japanese snacks. I guess the similarity between the two isn't very surprising, then.

Chibimaruko Marshmallow:

A little package of four marshmallows with a bit of grape jelly in their centers. This reminded me of the Hello Kitty Marshmallows from the November 2015 Skoshbox, except I liked those more. Have I mentioned that I'm not a fan of grape-flavored anything? This was the only snack in this month's Skoshbox that I disliked. I wish the jelly center in these had been any other fruit flavor but grape. Ah well, at least the grape part was relatively small and the marshmallows were good and soft.

Pekochan Parasol Choco:

Cone-shaped chocolate on a little plastic parasol handle - with its wrapper still on, this looked like a little parasol. This was chocolate, so I knew it would at least be decent. It reminded me of the little chocolate suckers I used to get as a kid. According to the little booklet that came with my subscription box, this snack comes in either chocolate or strawberry flavor, so I'm happy I got chocolate.

Coffee Beat:

If someone decided to release a coffee-flavored M&M variety, it might taste something like this. As far as appearance went, they looked like little coffee beans.

I had thought these were going to be chocolate-covered espresso beans, so the reality took a little getting used to, but they were pretty good. I also liked that they came in a resealable cardboard tube, so I could have a little and then save the rest for later.

Veggie-Ottotto:

Puffed savory snacks, very crunchy. These were yummy, but gone too quickly. The packaging made it look like they'd all be shaped like various vehicles, but in reality they tended to look like other things: a rabbit, a carrot, a duck, and even a whale wearing a hat. I have no clue if that's actually what those all were supposed to look like.

Soft Oreo-Vanilla:

Vanilla cream sandwiched between two soft chocolate cakes. These were small (and each package only included one) but they were delicious. Thankfully, if I get a craving for another one of these, it shouldn't be too hard to find something similar among, say, Hostess products. I hope.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Story of Rats: Their Impact On Us, and Our Impact On Them (nonfiction book) by S. Anthony Barnett

The Story of Rats is nonfiction, originally published in 2001. I may have owned it for almost that long.

I've opted not to include a read-alikes list.

Review:

I first became interested in rats after being required to train a rat to do various tasks in an Intro to Psychology class in college. I ended up getting myself a pet rat (not realizing at the time that they should at least be kept in pairs) and have had a total of five rats over the years. I also spent several months writing a paper on various aspects of rodent control. I've read a bunch of nonfiction books on rats, and S. Anthony Barnett's is one of my favorites. However, it's been maybe a decade since I last read it, so I figured a reread was in order. Also, my last pair of rats died long enough ago that I figured rereading this wouldn't make me too sad.

One-Punch Man (manga, vol. 2) story by ONE, art by Yusuke Murata, translated by John Werry

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

Review:

In the first half of this volume, Saitama and Genos learn more about the House of Evolution, the group behind the genetically modified beings they battled in the previous volume. The House of Evolution was founded by an evil genius who believes that humanity's continued evolution should be artificially assisted. Genos and Saitama battle the evil doctor's most powerful and least emotionally stable being, Carnage Kabuto.

In the second half of the volume, a terrorist group that believes that nobody should have to work decides to go after the richest man in town. The man's bodyguard, a ninja named Speed-O'-Sound Sonic, battles them – and also Saitama, who he mistakes for a terrorist because Saitama and the terrorists are all bald.

Blood Alone, Omnibus Collection 1 (manga, vols. 1-3) by Masayuki Takano, translated by Nan Rymer

Blood Alone is a vampire manga that was licensed by Seven Seas.

Warning: my review includes a Bunny Drop spoiler, mentioned because I thought the two series were worth comparing.

I've opted not to include read-alikes or watch-alikes. If you'd like some, please check out my first review of this volume.

Review:

I reread this so that I could read the next volume in the series and have a fresher memory of what had already happened. I'm rereviewing it because 1) my reviewing style has changed since I first reviewed this back in 2011 and 2) I'm even less impressed with it now than I was back then.

Blood Alone is an odd mix of vampire, crime, and sweet slice-of-life manga. The main characters in the omnibus are Misaki and Kuroe. Misaki is a young vampire - I don't think her age was stated, but I've seen guesses that range anywhere from 10 to 12, which is kind of horrifying when you consider how much of this omnibus focuses on Misaki's crush on Kuroe. Kuroe is a young man (maybe in his mid-to-late 20s?) who used to hunt vampires after one kidnapped his sister and possibly turned her. Now, though, he spends most of his time taking care of Misaki, writing, and doing occasional work as a private investigator. He seems to do everything from finding missing pet cats to tracking down serial killers, and his eyes are magically immune to trickery.

Misaki and Kuroe are aided by Sainome, Higure, and several others. Sainome was the daughter of the doctor who took care of Kuroe's sister, and she has the ability to see the last few minutes of a deceased person's life when she touches them. She often encourages Misaki's crush on Kuroe, while also being attracted to him herself. Higure looks to be about the same age as Misaki, but he's actually a much older and more powerful vampire. He acts as a sort of vampire mentor for Misaki.

Amphigorey (graphic novel) by Edward Gorey

Amphigorey is a graphic novel (?) featuring 15 different works by Edward Gorey. I bought it ages ago and might have read it before, although I can't remember.

Warning: this post contains spoilers. I don't personally think that matters much here, but some might. Also, I've opted not to include read-alikes.

Review:

This is basically an anthology of short, illustrated stories. As with any anthology, some stories are better than others. I found I tended to enjoy Gorey's longer stories more than his short poems. My favorites in this book were “The Unstrung Harp,” “The Hapless Child,” “The Curious Sofa,” “The Gashlycrumb Tinies,” and “The Remembered Visit.” In general, even when I didn't necessarily enjoy the stories, I loved Gorey's artwork.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer (nonfiction audiobook) by David Leavitt, narrated by Paul Michael Garcia

The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer is nonfiction. I checked it out from my library via Overdrive.

I opted not to include a read-alikes list for this.

Review:

This is a tough book for me to review, because at least 50% of it went in one ear and out the other. Don't get me wrong, it was interesting, it's just that I couldn't follow a lot of it.

Part of the problem was the diagrams. I'm pretty sure there were a lot of them, especially in the first half of the book, and the poor narrator had to read all of it out loud. I have a feeling that, even if I weren't a more visual learner, I still would have had trouble following the various long series of letters or numbers used to demonstrate Turing's ideas.

The other problem was that the first half of the book didn't seem to have a solid organizational structure. The author would discuss people or ideas that didn't seem to have much connection to Turing, then move onto another subject, and then another. It was interesting stuff, but I had trouble seeing how it all connected.

Thankfully, the latter half was much less confusing. I enjoyed the sections on Turing's cryptography work during World War II, and I loved the sections near the end on Turing's ideas about machine learning and artificial intelligence. While I didn't always agree with his theories about how a machine might best be taught, which were based on old-fashioned child rearing techniques (and which I recognize would not necessarily have been considered old-fashioned from his perspective), I found his way of thinking about machines to be fascinating.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Dum Laga Ke Haisha (live action movie), via Netflix

In Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Prem, a high school dropout, agrees to marry Sandhya, an overweight young woman, in the hope of improving his family's fortunes. Although Prem doesn't have a future beyond his family's cassette tape recording shop, Sandhya is educated and hopes to become a teacher soon.

Although Sandhya is eager to be a good wife and adapt to living with her husband's family, pretty much everyone is a jerk to her. Prem's aunt insults Sandhya at every opportunity, making fun of her weight and saying that she thinks she's too good for them. As for Prem, all he sees when he looks at Sandhya is a fat and therefore unattractive woman his father forced him to marry. He wants a different life, one where he managed to graduate high school and marry a slim young woman. Sandhya, meanwhile, becomes more and more fed up with the way she's being treated.

Warning: this review includes a few spoilers.
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