Sunday, January 15, 2017

REVIEW: The Second Mango (e-book) by Shira Glassman

The Second Mango is fantasy containing both f/f and m/f romance. It's very short - I don't know the word count, but it came out to 140 pages on my Nook Simple Touch.


The Second Mango is the first book in Glassman’s Mangoverse series. I’m reviewing the Torquere edition. The author has since gotten the rights back from that publisher and rereleased it, and I don’t know if the two editions differ in any way.

The Second Mango stars Shulamit, the new queen of Perach, and Rivka, a female warrior for hire who travels disguised as a man. Shulamit’s father died two months prior to the start of the story, and since then she has both been trying to deal with her grief and find herself a lover - a difficult task, since she’s a lesbian and the only other lesbian she’d ever met was Aviva, who’d been her first and only lover and who had left her without explanation. Rivka agrees to help Shulamit find a woman who might love her and who she might love in return. Their journey brings them to a temple filled with nuns who have been turned to stone by an evil sorcerer. Rivka and Shulamit are the only hope the nuns have of breaking free of their curse.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

REVIEW: Servant x Service (manga, vol. 1) by Karino Takatsu, translated by Amanda Haley

Servant x Service is a four-panel comedy comic strip series licensed by Yen Press.


I know it seems like I’m on some kind of four-panel comic strip series kick, but it’s mostly by accident. I’m trying to get through more of my manga collection, and they looked like the quickest reads and the volumes most likely to help me free up some shelf space. Unfortunately for my shelf space situation, this actually turned out to be pretty good.

Servant x Service is primarily set in a public service office building in Japan. The cast includes several newly hired employees in the Health & Welfare Department: Yutaka Hasebe, a carefree and lazy guy who is also somehow brilliant at everything he does; Lucy (etc.) Yamagami, a woman who became a civil servant in order to find the civil servant who approved her amazingly long name and give him a piece of her mind; and Saya Miyoshi, a woman who can never get her paperwork done because elderly people love talking to her and she doesn’t know how to gently disengage. They are overseen by Taishi Ichimiya, who hasn’t been around that much longer than them. The cast is later joined by: Megumi Chihaya, a temp who cosplays in her free time; Touko, a teenaged civil service geek; and an adorable stuffed bunny.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

REVIEW: The Ancient Magus' Bride (manga, vol. 1) by Kore Yamazaki, translated by Adrienne Beck

The Ancient Magus' Bride is a fantasy series. It's licensed by Seven Seas.


This starts with the heroine, Chise Hatori, being sold in an auction. Her new owner is Elias Ainsworth, a mage with some kind of animal skull (bull?) for a head. Elias tells Chise that she’s to be his new apprentice. He removes her chains and even gives her her own room. It’s hard to believe that all of this doesn’t come with strings attached - and then Elias tells Chise that he also plans to make her his bride.

You’d think that’d be the start of something awful and creepy, except Elias doesn’t actually do anything. He takes Chise to town, where she meets Angelica Purley, an artificer and one of the world’s last witches. Chise also meets other acquaintances of Elias, including Simon Cullum, a priest, and Lindel, caretaker of dragons, and learns more about what Elias meant when he called her a “sleigh beggy.”

Saturday, January 7, 2017

REVIEW: Rocket Raccoon, Vol. 1: A Chasing Tale (graphic novel) written by Skottie Young, art by Skottie Young and Jake Parker

I picked this up during the "going out of business" sale at Hastings.


Note: Everything I know about Rocket and Groot I learned from the Guardians of the Galaxy movie. I've had no other exposure to these characters.

There are three stories in this volume. I’ll write about each separately.

The first one begins with a flashback to a time, three years prior to the story’s present, when Rocket saved Princess Amalya. Fast forward to the present, and Rocket is taking his latest date to a wrestling match starring Groot and some giant green thing. The date gets cut short when Rocket is arrested for murders he doesn’t recall committing but that were definitely done by someone resembling him. The thing is, as far as Rocket knows he’s the last of his kind.

This story was a bit messy, with lots of characters and a few different story threads, but it was also fun. There was the mystery of the identity of the murderer, Rocket’s fragile hope that he might not be the last of his kind after all, and the vast murderous horde composed of Rocket’s ex-girlfriends (I felt kind of iffy about how that aspect turned out). I liked the weird organic getaway vehicle.

In the second story, Rocket and Groot are with what appears to be a Space Boy Scout Troop for some reason. The kids want Rocket to tell them another story, and Groot suggests “the one with the map.” Rocket refuses and says Groot should tell it instead, so Groot does.

This one was kind of weird, what with everything Groot saying sounding like “I am Groot.” Still, like the first one it was fun - lots of action scenes, shooting, a Deadpool cameo, a sword fight, and a ship guided by (?) a severed eyeball. The ending was cute, and I could see why Rocket didn’t particularly want to tell the story. Ha! And the little leaf-headed scout was adorable.

In the third story, a telepathic dog being named Cosmo calls in a favor and asks Rocket to help an ex-battle mech rescue its ex-battle mech comrades before they can be reprogrammed and forced to act as weapons again.

This one was both cute and oddly sweet. I liked the robots.

Now for the volume as a whole: It was okay. It didn’t leave me clamoring for more, but I’d read another volume if I had one on hand. The art style wasn’t really to my taste, although it had a lot of energy and fit the stories well.

  •  Four pages of variant covers, 10 covers in all.

REVIEW: Standoff (book) by Lauren Dane

Standoff is paranormal erotic romance, the fifth book in Dane's Cascadia Wolves series.


Cade Warden is the Alpha of the Cascadia Pack. Feeling what it’s like to have a mate secondhand through his anchor bond to Nina, his brother Lex’s mate, is no longer enough for him. He’s lonely and wants a mate of his own, but it’s still a surprise, to say the least, when she turns out to be Grace Pellini, the sister of his biggest enemy.

Grace hasn’t had a real home and Pack for years. Even now, she's only gotten closer to her brother again in order to spy on him and analyze the dangerous virus he’s been testing out on random humans and werewolves. Although she hasn't yet managed to create a vaccine, she finally has enough info to help the National Aligned Packs in their war against her brother and his people. Her plans to continue spying on her brother are derailed when she realizes that Cade is her mate. Grace may have finally found the home and family she’s been longing for, if Cade’s pack members will accept her, and if they all manage to survive this war.

REVIEW: Azumanga Daioh Omnibus (manga) by Kiyohiko Azuma, translated by Stephen Paul

Azumanga Daioh is (primarily) a four-panel high school comedy comic strip series.


I first read Azumanga Daioh back when it was released in four volumes by ADV Manga. Although I had fond memories of it, I probably wouldn’t have gotten Yen Press’s omnibus edition if I hadn’t spotted it in the midst of a “going out of business” sale shopping frenzy. Happily, it made for a really nice reread, even though the ending didn’t affect me quite as strongly this time around.

Azumanga Daioh is a comedy series consisting primarily of 4-panel comic strips. It doesn’t really have what I’d call a plot. Instead, it follows the high school years of several girls in the same class from beginning to end, as well as the daily lives of some of their teachers. A few of the characters:
  • Sakaki: A cool-looking, quiet, and athletic girl who secretly loves animals and other cute things.
  • Chiyo: An adorable and smart 10-year-old who skipped a few grades.
  • Yomi: A girl who worries too much about her weight, but who also doesn’t let that stop her from eating the foods she loves.
  • Tomo: An energetic and annoying girl who tends to do things without thinking them through first.
  • Osaka: A transfer student who has a weird way of viewing the world and tends to live life at a slower pace than everyone else around her.
  • Kaorin: A girl with a huge crush on Sakaki.
  • Yukari: The class’s homeroom teacher. She’s so immature and lazy that it’s surprising she hasn’t been fired.
  • Kurosawa (aka Nyamo): The physical education teacher, and Yukari’s best friend.
The strips deal with everything from lunch, to hay fever, to several students’ bizarre dreams. It’s pretty light-hearted and fluffy throughout, although there’s one male teacher who’s extremely creepy.

Worst of 2016

2016 wasn't a great year for reading or movie-watching for me.

Worst Books:
Worst Shorter Works (Novellas and Short Stories):
Worst Graphic Novels (Manga, etc.):

Although my links go to the whole series, the entire series might not have been bad - it was just that certain volumes were bad enough to prompt me to include the series in my "worst" list.
Worst Audiobooks:
Worst Movies:
Worst TV Series:
Honorable Mentions:
  • Dramaworld (live action TV series) - I never wrote a post about this one or even managed to finish it, but I still feel like it should be included on this list. The premise made me extremely uncomfortable. A white girl who's a huge fan of Korean dramas gets sucked into Dramaworld, a fictional world where all Korean dramas take place. People are magically able to understand her, and she them, via automatically generated subtitles. The main character is supposed to act as a background facilitator of the romances that drive Dramaworld, but she promptly inserts herself into a prominent romantic story. This review does a great job of detailing how incredibly awful this setup is. 
  • I kind of want to list Yuri!!! on Ice here, which would make it the first series to ever appear on both my "Best of the year" and "Worst of the year" lists. I enjoyed it too much to call it one of the worst shows I watched in 2016, but I don't think it's unfair to say it was one of my biggest disappointments. This part in an interview with the creator, in particular, irked me: (about the kiss/hug) "As for me, I don’t want to say 'this is what actually happened' and force an interpretation on people. Everyone can imagine the future they want to believe in that scene, and I won’t stop them (LOL)."

Best of 2016

I separated out rewatches, rereads, and relistens because otherwise the lists probably would have been heavily weighted towards those.

I relied heavily on my LibraryThing ratings data to come up with these lists, although that doesn't mean that everything with a high rating got listed.

Best Books:
Honorable Mentions:
Rereads I'd Recommend:
Best Shorter Works (Novellas and Short Stories):
Best Graphic Novels (Manga, etc.):

A series is listed if one or more volumes got 4.5 or 5 stars. This may not mean that I think the whole series is that good, but I'm listing them by series anyway, because I am lazy.
Best Audiobooks:
Honorable Mention:
  • The Fold by Peter Clines, read by Ray Porter - I never got around to reviewing this one. I didn't think it was as good as its sequel, 14, but I still enjoyed it.
Relistens I'd Recommend:
Best Movies:
Best TV Series: 
Honorable Mention:
Rewatches I'd Recommend:

2016 in numbers

My 2016 reading and watching didn’t quite go as planned. For the first time since I started having yearly reading goals, I wasn’t able to meet my goal. Unfortunately, it’s also tough to say how far off I was, since my primary reading site, Booklikes, has been on the fritz for weeks/months now. I haven’t actually added a review or book to that site in several weeks, and I imagine I’ll be dropping it completely in 2017. Despite my issues with Goodreads, I've gone back to using it, although I still consider LibraryThing my primary cataloging site.

Here’s how the numbers break down, according to my LibraryThing data:


I watched 10 different TV shows and 16 different movies - 4 fewer TV shows and 3 fewer movies than last year. Of the 26 things I watched, 19 were live action and 7 were animated (only 4 Japanese anime). Most of what I watched (15) was streaming stuff. I got excellent value out of my Netflix subscription (12 out of the 15 streamed things), but should probably drop my DramaFever subscription (0 shows or movies) before it comes up for renewal. I broke down and used Crunchyroll for the first time in ages, but didn’t actually go so far as to get a subscription. I did start an Amazon Prime subscription, although I haven’t decided yet whether I like it. If I keep it past the one-year point, it probably won’t be for the streaming TV options, since I’m not wild about Amazon Prime’s selection.

Takeaways for 2017: watch more physical media and either start using my DramaFever subscription more or drop it.


Average Ratings:

I don't include ratings on this blog, but I do in LibraryThing. Out of the 133 things I read in 2016 (4 fewer than last year), I gave ratings to everything, although I didn’t quite manage to review everything. My average rating was 3.15 stars (last year it was 3.25 stars).

Last year I figured out what my average star rating was for novels, novellas, and short stories vs. graphic novels, manga, etc. I’m going to skip that this year, because trying to get the numbers to work out is annoying. I have a feeling that something might be off in my data, and I know for certain that at least one or two things had to be counted in more than one category (for example, Another S/0 includes both a novel and a short manga).

Paper books vs. E-books vs. Audiobooks:

Of the 133 works I read and listened to, 94 were paper books (71%), 25 were e-books (19%), and 14 were audiobooks (11% - all streamed digital audiobooks, even the 2 library checkouts). If you take out the graphic novels and manga, I think it works out to 37 paper works (63%), 22 e-books (37%). That means that in 2016 my e-book vs. paper reading was actually the reverse of what it was in 2015. Since I was purposely trying to get through more physical stuff in the hopes of offloading it, that makes sense. I'm probably going to try to continue that trend in 2017, for reasons that will be clear once you read the "Offloading vs. Acquiring" section of this post (ugh).

Used, New, or Library?

Of the 133 things I read, 39 (29%) were checked out from the library (interesting thing here: 2 of these were things I had donated to the library at an earlier date), 1 (<1%) was an ARC, 56 (42%) were new purchases, 29 (22%) were used purchases, and 8 (6%) were freebies (neither ARCs nor library checkouts).

Some takeaways: it’s probably a good thing I don’t really review ARCs, since I’m bad about reading them, and I should really stop getting freebies. Also, as a librarian I feel kind of guilty that I didn’t check out more stuff.

Offloading vs. Acquiring

I had hoped to offload more than I acquired in 2015. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. I noticed I tend to buy more stuff when I’m stressed, so there was that. Also, Hastings went out of business and I ended up going a little wild with their final sales. Here’s how the numbers worked out:

Total number acquired: 342 (approximately - includes e-books, but I wasn’t always good about adding all my Humble Bundle acquisitions to LibraryThing)

Total number offloaded: 76

Shelf space used by up by newly acquired stuff: 166.77 inches

Shelf space freed up by offloaded stuff: 64.81 inches

Takeaway: I really need to do better in 2017 - either acquire fewer items (or at least fewer physical items) or offload more. Also, I buy way too many DVDs/Blu-ray discs (24) for someone who mostly watches stuff via streaming services.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.
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