Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Sign of the Four (e-book) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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

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

Review:

I've only ever read a handful of the original Sherlock Holmes stories and novels, and I keep meaning to fix that. Although it's been a while since I last read A Study in Scarlet, I remembered enough to know that I wasn't a huge fan of it, so I decided to skip to the next one, The Sign of the Four. I downloaded it for free from Project Gutenberg.

This one starts with Holmes injecting cocaine into himself while Watson, appalled and disapproving, watches. Holmes is bored, bored, bored, and unless something interesting comes along, he plans to float on a layer of drugs, Watson's worries about the possibility of lasting damage be damned. Thankfully, Miss Mary Morstan arrives with a reasonably interesting case.

Miss Morstan's father has been missing for nearly ten years. Six years ago, she began receiving mysterious packages every year, each one containing a large pearl. Only that morning, she received a letter saying that she was a “wronged woman” and that she would have justice if she went to a particular meeting place. She could bring two friends, but was asked not to notify the police. Holmes and Watson decide to assist her, Holmes because he's intrigued and Watson because Miss Morstan is pretty. Luckily for Holmes, the case quickly becomes more complex.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Saronna's Gift (e-book) by Carmen Webster Buxton

Saronna's Gift is a sci-fi romance set in Buxton's ThreeCon Universe. As far as I've been able to tell, most of the books could be read in any order – only a couple of them deal with the same characters or worlds. Those who'd like to start with this book shouldn't have any problems understanding what's going on.

Be warned, this review contains some spoilers.

Review:

Disclaimer: The author offered me a free copy of this book in exchange for a review. She has commented on a few of my reviews in the past, but we don't otherwise know each other.

The other books by Buxton that I've read were all marketed as sci-fi, although they all had some romantic elements. I was interested to see what Saronna's Gift, her first book marketed as sci-fi romance, would be like.

This book takes place on Krueger's World, which was colonized by Adolph Krueger. Krueger started off as leader of a fundamentalist Christian group and, from there, sort of became the head of his own cult. The people of Krueger's World rejected a lot of Earth history, technology, science, and medicine. Women  basically became property – if it wasn't possible to marry them off, their patriarchs could sell them. If I remember correctly, men could only have one wife, but they were permitted, even encouraged, to have multiple women.

When we first meet Saronna, her father is taking her to the off-world quarter to meet Vladimir Trushenko, a prospective buyer. To Saronna's dismay, the sale goes through, and she learns that Vladimir intends for her to be his son Duncan's woman. Just one thing: Vladimir didn't bother to tell Duncan about all of this. Duncan is horrified to learn that his father bought another human being for him, and learning that Vladimir primarily intended Saronna to be company for Naomi, his native girlfriend (sort of – it's complicated), only mollifies him a little. Since he can't send Saronna back to her family without risking that she'd be punished, he tells her she can stay as long as she wishes and he won't ask anything of her. She can leave anytime she likes, and he'll even help her get the education she'd need in order to live independently among off-worlders. This is all well and good until the two begin to fall for each other.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Aquarian Age: Juvenile Orion (manga, vol. 1) by Sakurako Gokurakuin, original concept by Broccoli, translated by Rie Hagihara

Aquarian Age: Juvenile Orion is a 5-volume fantasy series based on a trading card game. It was released in English by Broccoli Books. I let a coworker of mine borrow a couple of my live action Japanese DVDs, and she let me borrow her Aquarian Age: Juvenile Orion box set.

Review:

If you'll remember, I hated the live action Aquarian Age: Juvenile Orion movie. It looked awful, it was confusing, it completely skipped out on its own climactic battle, and then it just ended. I was curious to see how well the manga would work for me, and whether it would make more sense than the movie.

As it turns out, the live action movie and the manga only have a few similarities. However, like the movie, this first volume of the manga jumps back and forth between a lot of different characters. There are Kaname and Naoya, two friends. Kaname has weird dreams and back pains, and there are hints, early on, that Naoya isn't a normal teenage boy. There's Tsukasa, a gentle teen with amnesia, and Tomonori (I called him Nakaura in my review of the movie, but I'm switching to his given name now), who is both a priest (I guess?) and the mathematics teacher at the school everyone goes to. Mana is a teen who has recently transferred to the school – she desperately wants to find and reconnect with Kaname, who was both her childhood friend and her savior. Isshin is the oldest of the students. He develops a crush on Mana the instant he meets her, which is unfortunate, since she seems to be completely fixated on Kaname (who keeps telling her to leave him be).

This world has five factions, plus the mind breakers. The factions are: Arayashiki (Asian magic), WIZ-DOM (Western priests), Darklore (the guys with black wings), E.G.O. (humans, mostly girls and women, with special powers), and the Erasers (alien beings with white angel wings).

If I'm interpreting things correctly, mind breakers are able to act as the masters of members of these various factions, allowing them full access to their powers so that they can use them in battle. In this volume, Naoya suspects Mana of being a mind breaker, so he attacks her in an effort to force her to reveal her powers. Kaname jumps in to protect her, accidentally revealing that he is a member of the Darklore faction. Meanwhile, there's some stuff with Tomonori, who seems to consider Darklore to be his enemy, and Tsukasa, who secretly has the ability to grow white wings where his ears should be.

Fated to Love You (live action TV series), via Netflix

[This is a spoiler, but I feel it needs to be mentioned: this series features a miscarriage about halfway through. It and the aftermath turned me into a sobbing mess, and I don't even have any personal connection with miscarriages. I can only imagine what it would be like for someone who did to watch this show and be blindsided by it.]

Fated to Love You is a contemporary romance. I watched the Korean version, which is a remake of a Taiwanese drama I've never seen. The K-drama version is 20 episodes long.

The series is about Kim Mi Young, a shy office worker whose nickname is “Post-it Girl” because everyone tells her to do stuff for them via post-its. She can never bring herself to say “no,” and nearly everyone around her abuses this aspect of her personality. When she wins a trip for two to Macau and a handsome guy in her office offers to go with her, it seems like a dream come true at first. However, everything goes wrong, and she wakes up in bed with Lee Gun, the wealthy heir to a successful hair product company, with no memory of how she got there.

Gun is just as surprised as Mi Young is. He had traveled to Macau with the intention of proposing to Se Ra, his girlfriend. However, she canceled her travel plans in order to accept an offer that would help her ballet career. It isn't until later that Gun and Mi Young learn they were drugged (Gun on purpose, Mi Young by accident) and that Mi Young is now pregnant.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Yukikaze (book) by Chohei Kambayashi, translated by Neil Nadelman

Yukikaze is a Japanese military science fiction novel. This English edition was published by Haikasoru. I bought my copy used online.

Review:

I actually bought Good Luck, Yukikaze, the sequel to this book, first – the mention of AIs in the publisher description piqued my interest. After I realized I'd screwed up, I of course had to buy Yukikaze, but the whole thing made me a little nervous. If I hated Yukikaze, its sequel would probably have sat on my shelves, taunting me and collecting dust, until I finally guiltily added it to my “sell to used bookstore” pile unread. But I did not hate it. I loved it.

Thirty or so years ago, the JAM, mysterious aliens, invaded Earth using a strange portal located in the Antarctic. We managed to beat them back, and, in the book's present, the war now takes place entirely on Faery, the planet just on the other side of the portal. The war has absolutely nothing to do with the average, every day lives of most human beings, and most of the people fighting the JAM are actually convicts from various countries, serving their time on the Faery Air Force (FAF) base.

Rei is one such convict. He's part of the SAF (Special Air Force), and Yukikaze, his fighter plane, is a Super Sylph. Super Sylphs have powerful central computers that collect combat activity data, and their duty is to always make it back, even if it means watching while FAF comrades die. SAF pilots like Rei are selected for their ability to be as cold and detached as possible.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Rurouni Kenshin: Voyage to the Moon World (book) original concept by Nobuhiro Watsuki, written by Kaoru Shizuka, translated by Cindy Yamauchi & Mark Giambruno

Voyage to the Moon World features stories starring characters from Nobuhiro Watsuki's manga, Rurouni Kenshin. The English translation was published by Viz Media.

I'm opting not to include any read-alikes or watch-alikes for this one.

Review:

This was one of my used bookstore finds. Although you wouldn't guess it from the description on the back of the book, this is actually a collection of two stories. The first is “Voyage to the Moon World,” the one that gave the book its title. The second is “Sanosuke and Nishiki-e.”

“Voyage to the Moon World”

Sekihara Tae, one of the daughters of the owner of Akabeko, a beef-pot restaurant, visits the Kamiya Kasshin-ryu dojo with a request: help one of the restaurant's regular customers find a book that was stolen from him.

Okuma Daigoro had arrived at the restaurant with a copy of Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon. After his meal, he decided to help out at the restaurant for a bit, and that's when the book was stolen. Daigoro doesn't know why someone took it – maybe they planned to translate it into Japanese and sell it, or maybe someone thought its ideas about traveling to the moon had merit – but he does know that his sensei will kick him out if he doesn't get it back. Kenshin and the others agree to help him.

Confessions of a Shopaholic (live action movie), on DVD

Confessions of a Shopaholic is a romantic comedy based on the Shopaholic book series by Sophie Kinsella. I haven't read those books and, considering how badly this movie stressed me out, I doubt I ever will.

Rebecca is deeply and horribly addicted to shopping. It's okay if she can't afford any of it – that's what credit cards are for! Except she has credit cards in the double digits, they're all maxed out, and the magazine she currently works for is closing up shop. Collection agencies won't stop calling, and she has 16 grand worth of debt. When Luke, the editor of a financial magazine she drunkenly accidentally sent a sample of her writing to, offers her a job, she takes it because 1) it's money and 2) it could be her stepping stone to Alette, the fashion magazine she has always dreamt of working for. Rebecca soon has  chance at both success and romance, but her addiction and lies threaten to destroy all of that.

I'm so behind on reviews

I'm currently behind by 2 book reviews (Voyage to the Moon World by Kaoru Shizuka, Saronna's Gift by Carmen Webster Buxton), 2 manga reviews (Aquarian Age: Juvenile Orion vols. 1-2), 1 audiobook review (The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett), and 1 movie review (Confessions of a Shopaholic).

I haven't been this behind in a while. Part of the problem, I think, is that I just want to keep plowing ahead with new stuff. Except that just makes me fall more behind. Ugh.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Much Ado About Nothing (live action movie), on DVD

I only bought this version of Much Ado About Nothing because I recognized (and love) so much of the cast, and because Joss Whedon adapted and directed it. I've maybe seen the Kenneth Branagh version, but I don't remember much about it, and I don't think I've ever read the play.

I was a little concerned I wouldn't be able to follow along with the story, and, during the first half hour of the movie, it looked like my concern was justified. I kept getting confused about who everyone was, how they were related, and what their motives were. It all just looked like a big, messy party that happened to include a bunch of people I knew from other things. For a while, Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof were just Fred and Wesley in my head, and not Beatrice and Benedick, and Agent Coulson occasionally joined them.

But then I hit that 30-minute mark and things started to click. I still couldn't remember most of the characters' names, but I remembered who they were and their relationships, and things finally began to make sense. Well, except for the fact that I still don't understand why Don Pedro brought Don John, Borachio, and Conrade with him if he already knew he was going to need zip ties just to get them all the way there.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

She's Gotta Be Mine (e-book) by Jennifer Skully

She's Gotta Be Mine is a mix of women's fiction, romantic comedy, and romantic suspense. It's the first book in Skully's Cottonmouth series and has a word count of 99,550.

Review:

This was one of my freebie downloads from a couple years ago, although it looks like it's no longer free. It was better than I expected it to be, but I was not the right audience for it.

Roberta Jones Spivey is upset. Warren, her husband of fifteen years, has left her for Cookie, the high school sweetheart he never got over. Roberta is forty years old and has felt unloved and unattractive for years, and this is the last straw. She decides to remake herself as Bobbie, a sexy and adventurous redhead, follow Warren to the small town of Cottonmouth, California, and show him what he's missing.

Bobbie gets herself a job as a waitress, learns about the locals and their complicated relationships and histories, and flirts with both Nick, a supposed serial killer, and Brax, the sheriff. Everything's going great until she starts to wonder what it is she's really trying to accomplish. Then someone turns up murdered, and Bobbie, afraid that the wrong person will be blamed, starts asking everyone uncomfortable questions.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Another (book) by Yukito Ayatsuji, translated by Karen McGillicuddy

Another is a Japanese mystery/horror novel published by Yen Press.

Review:

This book was adapted into an anime, which I've already seen and reviewed. It's been a while since I last saw the anime, but I think it was a fairly faithful adaptation, with the only differences I can recall being a trip to the beach that was entirely invented for the anime and slight differences in the way some students died at the end.

This book is set in 1998 and begins with Koichi in the hospital, recovering after one of his lungs spontaneously collapsed for the second time. He had previously been a student in Tokyo, but, with his father gone to India for his job, he temporarily moved to the small town of Yomiyama to live with his grandparents and Reiko, his aunt. He was supposed to start as a transfer student in third-year Class 3 at North Yomi middle school, but his health issues delayed things.

When he's finally able to start school, Koichi soon notices that his classmates and teachers are behaving strangely, but he isn't able to pinpoint what's going on. Are they all acting oddly because he's new, or is it something else? Koichi finds himself drawn to Mei, a mysterious girl with an eye patch who keeps issuing vague warnings and who no one besides Koichi ever seems to talk to. It isn't until far too late that he learns the details about the curse that has affected North Yomi's third-year Class 3 for 26 years.

Dune (audiobook) by Frank Herbert, read by Scott Brick, Orlagh Cassidy, Euan Morton, Simon Vance, and others

Dune is science fiction.

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

Review:

I started listening to this audiobook for several reasons. One, it was long (22 hours), which meant I wouldn't have to pick another book for a while. Two, it looked like a full-cast audiobook, and I was in the mood for one of those. And three, I had read it when I was a teen but couldn't remember much about it, so I figured a re-read (or re-listen) was in order. I think most of my memories of the series actually came from the 2000 miniseries.

Less happened in this book than I originally remembered. It begins when Paul Atreides is 15 and he and his family move to Arrakis, the harsh desert planet that is the center of spice production (spice being the most important and valuable substance in the universe). Paul and his mother, the Bene Gesserit Lady Jessica, barely survive one of their own people's treachery. They join a band of Fremen, waiting until the day they can drive House Harkonnen off Arrakis and Paul can assume his rightful place as Duke Atreides.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Arpeggio of Blue Steel (anime TV series), via Netflix

Arpeggio of Blue Steel is a 12-episode military sci-fi anime based on a still-ongoing manga series. It wasn't originally in my Netflix queue. I only decided to watch it after hearing that it featured sentient warships. I'm not much of a fan of naval battles, but I love the idea of sentient AI. Unfortunately, this series turned out to be far more focused on naval battles than on its characters.

Arpeggio of Blue Steel takes place in a world that has been brought to its knees by the appearance of a mysterious fleet of sentient warships armed with nanotechnology. Chihaya Gunzou (Japanese name order) is a frustrated student who suddenly finds himself with an opportunity to join the fight against the Fleet of Fog, as the warships are called. When he touches a captured and seemingly nonfunctional Fleet vessel, it activates. I-401's mental model (a human form created out of nanomaterials) approaches Gunzou and names him as her captain. Some time later, Gunzou has a whole crew and a mission: transport a powerful top-secret warhead to the U.S. in the hope of ultimately winning the war against the Fleet.

Alien, 1979 Theatrical Version (live action movie), on DVD

Alien is a sci-fi horror film. It's part of the dauntingly large Alien Quadrilogy box set I won in an auction at my workplace. I decided I'd review it one movie at a time, and do separate posts for the extras as I got around to watching them.

This box set includes a theatrical version and director's cut or special edition of each of the movies, which created additional problems for me. This was not a re-watch on my part – I've never seen any of the Alien movies – so I wasn't sure which version to start with. I did a quickie Internet search, and the general consensus for Alien seemed to be “watch the theatrical version.”

In this first movie, the commercial spaceship Nostromo receives something that may be a distress signal while on its way back to Earth, which triggers a premature awakening of its seven-member crew. A few members of the crew go out an investigate, and one person is attacked. They unwisely bring him and the creature attached to his face back onto the ship. Things get worse from that point on.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

K-20: The Fiend With Twenty Faces (live action movie), on DVD

K-20: The Fiend With Twenty Faces is a Japanese alternate history action movie. It was another one of my bargain bin finds. I'm happy to say that this one was more than worth what I spent on it. After the mess that was Aquarian Age: Juvenile Orion, I can honestly say that I'm so relieved.

Review:

According to the container, this movie is based on a book by Soh Kitamura, which, as far as I can tell, has not been translated into English. In this alternate history Japan, World War II never took place and the aristocrats continue to thrive while the poor grow poorer. The year is now 1949, and the only thing the aristocrats have to fear is K-20, a masked man who can perfectly assume anyone's identity and who has been stealing valuable artifacts from the rich. His latest theft is unusual: a creation of Tesla's (or based on one of Tesla's inventions? I can't remember) that could potentially either provide the world with cheap and wireless power, or bring the world to its knees. K-20's greatest foe among the aristocrats is Baron Akechi, the lead detective trying to capture him.

Heikichi has nothing to do with any of that. He's a circus acrobat and illusionist whose greatest worry after a successful show is whether all his doves are back safe and sound. His ringmaster's worsening health prompts him to accept a somewhat fishy job offer that requires him to use his skills to take a picture of Akechi's engagement to Duchess Hashiba (from here on out referred to as “Yoko”). Unfortunately, Heikichi was tricked, and he soon finds himself framed and imprisoned for K-20's crimes. If he wants to take down K-20, clear his name, and save the city, he'll have to become more skilled than K-20.
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