Saturday, July 14, 2018

REVIEW: To Siri With Love: A Mother, Her Autistic Son, and the Kindness of Machines (nonfiction book) by Judith Newman

To Siri With Love is a memoir. I got my copy via interlibrary loan.

Review:

Prior to moving to my current town, I was part of a really good sci-fi/fantasy book club. I recently decided that it would be nice to attend face-to-face book club meetings again, so I looked into my options. My local public library has a book club, and their next meeting is in late August. Unfortunately, they selected To Siri With Love for that meeting.

Ignore the book's title - this is primarily a mom's memoir of raising her autistic son, with occasional mentions of her husband and neurotypical son. Technology does come up, but not as much as the title implies it does.

I've had one other exposure to Judith Newman's writing that I know of, her New York Times article "To Siri, With Love." I liked it because 1) the parts about Siri interested me, 2) it made me recall my fascinating, enjoyable, and occasionally frustrating attempts at conversing with chatbots, and 3) it didn't automatically dismiss technology as bad and detrimental to social interaction.

I had heard of this book but decided not to read it after hearing about autistic adults' boycott of it and reading a few 1-star reviews that included quotes from the book. One bit that particularly repulsed me was the author's stated desire to forcibly sterilize her child when he turns 18 (more on this in a bit). I didn't want or need to read more than that. But then my idea about joining a book club happened.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

REVIEW: The Lives of Ants (nonfiction book) by Laurent Keller and Élisabeth Gordon, translated by James Grieve

The Lives of Ants is nonfiction.

Review:

I was cataloging a newer edition of a biology book and happened to come across this while I was hunting down the older edition for possible weeding. I don't read a lot of nonfiction - according to my records, I've only read or listened to approximately 13 nonfiction books in the past 10 years - but this looked reasonably interesting and social insects intrigue me.

My knowledge of ants is pretty limited. I've read a few popular science articles and I played SimAnt a lot when it came out (anybody else remember that game?). That isn't enough to judge whether the information in this book is any good.

That said, I found The Lives of Ants to be very readable, if not terribly well organized. The beginning of the book felt like the authors were throwing around information confetti. The bits and pieces of information were fun, but so brief and varied that it was clear the authors were only scratching the surface of an enormous topic. Also, I had trouble keeping track of which ant species were mentioned, and whether some of them had come up more than once. Species that were outside the norm in some way tended to get more attention. I suppose that's understandable since "weird" tends to make for more interesting examples, but it sometimes made it hard to get a good feel for just how far outside the norm they were.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

REVIEW: Thirteen Ghosts (live action movie)

Thirteen Ghosts is a horror movie.

My review includes a few spoilers.

Review:

Arthur Kriticos hasn't been doing well since his wife was killed in a fire. He and his remaining family barely get by, and their current apartment is small and crowded. He's shocked and cautiously thrilled when a lawyer drops by to tell him that his family has inherited a house from his deceased uncle, Cyrus Kriticos.

Cyrus was a ghost hunter who, at the time of his death, had been in the process of capturing and caging several ghosts. As Arthur, his teenage daughter Kathy, his young son Bobby, and his housekeeper/babysitter Maggie all tour the house, they're unaware that they're about to be trapped in Cyrus' greatest accomplishment, a house-shaped cage with mysteriously moving parts and a bunch of violent ghosts.

REVIEW: A Rational Arrangment (e-book) by L. Rowyn

A Rational Arrangement is a self-published poly fantasy romance.

Review:

Nikola Striker, the Lord of Fireholt, is being pressured by his parents to marry. They have settled on Wisteria Vasilver for him. The match would probably save his family from financial ruin, but Nik really doesn't want to marry, and Wisteria's looks aren't to his taste in any case. Her personality, though... After Wisteria inadvertently offends his parents, Nik finds himself thinking about her more than he expected. Her tone and facial expression are impossible to read, but her words are refreshingly direct and honest. Shockingly so, sometimes. Nik can't stop thinking about her scandalous marriage contract, which not only covers how many "marital encounters" she expects them to have, but also, intriguingly, indicates that she'd be fine with infidelity as long as all parties are kept informed and behave discreetly.

Nik has been in a secret relationship with Lord Justin Comfrey for years. He cherishes their time together, a welcome break from his duties as one of the Blessed, those who are able to use the Savior's power to help others. Even so, he and Justin don't always have a good handle on each other. Although Nik still doesn't want to marry Wisteria, he finds himself talking with her more and more freely, and wishing he could tell her his biggest secrets.

REVIEW: Embers of War (book) by Gareth L. Powell

Embers of War is science fiction. From what I can tell, it's the first in a series, or possibly a trilogy.

Review:

Three years ago, Conglomeration and Outward forces were at war. One of their most terrible battles was fought on and around the planet Pelapatarn. On the orders of her superiors, Captain Annelida Deal directed Conglomeration ships to lay waste to everything on the surface of Pelapatarn. The planet's sentient jungle would die, as would hundreds of thousands of civilians and both Outward and Conglomeration troops, but Captain Deal's superiors believed that this one terrible move would end the war, and Deal agreed with them.

In the book's present, the war is indeed over, but the peace between the two sides is wary and tense at best. Sal Konstanz, formerly a member of the Outward forces and a horrified witness to the carnage at Pelapatarn, is now a member of the House of Reclamation, a politically neutral group dedicated to rescuing survivors of damaged/wrecked ships. She's the captain of the Trouble Dog, an ex-Conglomeration ship seeking to atone for the bombing of Pelapatarn.

When a passenger liner mysteriously shuts itself down, the AI equivalent of committing suicide, the Trouble Dog is the closest House of Reclamation ship available to rescue any survivors. Unfortunately, this mission has more complications than the Trouble Dog or any of her crew realizes.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

REVIEW: Pom Poko (anime movie)

Pom Poko is a fantasy and environmental movie. Once again, I've waited longer to review this than I probably should have. I watched it as part of the 2018 Studio Ghibli Fest.

The movie is set at the site of a suburban development project in Japan (New Tama, which Wikipedia tells me is a real place). Although the project will help with the local housing crisis, it will also destroy the natural habitat of the area's wildlife, which includes a large number of tanuki (referred to as raccoons in the film, even though the two animals are not the same thing). The local tanuki band together to try to stop the construction project. There's some disagreement as to how far they should go, and one group in particular doesn't care if humans die as long as the project is halted.

Warning: This review includes spoilers.

REVIEW: All Systems Red (audiobook) by Martha Wells, narrated by Kevin R. Free

All Systems Red is science fiction.

Review:

This will be a short review, focused entirely on the narration. I reviewed the e-book version of All Systems Red last month, if you'd like more details about the story and how I felt about it (spoiler: I loved it).

I'm torn on Kevin R. Free's narration. I disliked him quite a bit, at first. He had a gentle and laid-back voice that I suppose fit with Murderbot's general laziness but that also made it difficult to imagine Murderbot ever killing anyone, on purpose or by accident. It was also hard to imagine Free's Murderbot ever becoming passionate about its favorite serials, although I still really enjoyed the scene where Murderbot accidentally demonstrated just how invested in Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon it was.

Free's narration eventually grew on me, and I've now listened to All Systems Red a couple times. I'd listen to Artificial Condition, the sequel, also narrated by Free, if it were available, but I'd prefer my first time through to be either in e-book or paper form.

I only noticed one mistake in Free's narration. He pronounced the word "tear" (a rip in clothing) as though it were "tear" (the water that comes out of your eyes when you're crying).

REVIEW: Lying in Wait (book) by Liz Nugent

Lying in Wait is a thriller.

My review includes slight spoilers.

Review:

This takes place primarily in the 1980s, in Ireland. On the surface, Lydia, her husband Andrew, and her son Laurence appear to have a perfect life. The whole family lives in Lydia's family home, a beautiful mansion. Lydia is a stay-at-home mom who is devoted (overly so) to her son, and Andrew is a respected judge.

This happy life is a facade. Andrew and Lydia hired Annie, a prostitute, to help them with a problem, and when Annie tried to blackmail Andrew he choked her and Lydia finished her off. Lydia proposed that they bury Annie in their garden, a perfectly safe spot since of course they'd never sell off her family home. Unfortunately, the family also has money problems, brought on by Andrew placing his trust in the wrong accountant. Cracks are beginning to appear in their pretty little life, and those cracks widen when Laurence sees news reports about Annie and begins to suspect that his father had something to do with her disappearance.

REVIEW: The Incredible Hulk (live action movie)

The Incredible Hulk is a superhero movie. I'm pretty sure it's the second Hulk movie, a reboot after Ang Lee's Hulk.

Review:

Possibly because Ang Lee's Hulk was released only 5 years prior, The Incredible Hulk doesn't attempt to give viewers a movie-length origin story. Instead, the Hulk's origin story is sketched out in silent (and fairly cheesy) snippets during the opening credits. The rest of the movie is about Bruce Banner's quest to cure himself as General Ross, the father of Betty Ross, Bruce's ex-girlfriend and fellow researcher, tries to find and capture him. The General wants to examine the Hulk and use him to engineer an army of super-soldiers.

That's it, that's really all there is to the story. The story also has a breathtakingly unethical professor and a soldier who inexplicably decides to keep working with the General after the man purposely sends on him a mission with disastrously incomplete information.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

REVIEW: Haikyu!! 2nd Season (anime TV series)

Haikyu!! is sports anime focused on volleyball. It's licensed by Sentai Filmworks.

My review includes things that could be considered spoilers. Read on at your own risk. Reminder: I cross-post to LibraryThing, where I can use spoiler tags.

Review:

As in the first season, half of this season is devoted to practice matches, while the other half is devoted to Inter-High Preliminaries games. This time around, however, Karasuno's volleyball team is finally coming together and morphing into a force to be reckoned with. Hinata learns to be more than just Kageyama's weapon, and various other first- and second-year members of the team put more time and effort into developing their strengths. Oh, and if the first season's lack of glimpses into the players' school and family lives bugged you, you'll be happy to know that Season 2 rectifies that a tiny bit. The characters whose home lives get the most attention are Tsukishima and Yachi (Karasuno's newest manager, a timid girl who really grew on me).

REVIEW: The Seven Deadly Sins (manga, vol. 1) by Nakaba Suzuki, translated by Christine Dashiell

The Seven Deadly Sins is a fantasy series.

Review:

The Seven Deadly Sins stars Meliodas, a tavern owner who serves utterly terrible food and whose only companion is a talking pig named Hawk. One day a mysterious "Rust Knight" arrives at Meliodas' tavern. The Knight, who turns out to really be Princess Elizabeth, is looking for the Seven Deadly Sins, a chivalric order made up of seven criminals who each bear the mark of a beast upon their bodies. The Holy Knights disbanded the Seven Deadly Sins years ago after they were accused of plotting to overthrow the kingdom.

Now, however, the Holy Knights have done what they accused the Seven Deadly Sins of trying to do, and Princess Elizabeth believes the Seven Deadly Sins are the kingdom's last hope. Luckily for her, Meliodas is not only one of those famed warriors, specifically the Dragon Sin of Wrath, he's looking for the others too.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

List: Sports anime starring adults

My dad and I were chatting about anime, and I mentioned that I'm currently watching the second season of Haikyuu!!. We got to talking about sports anime, and how rare it is for them (the ones available in English, at any rate) to star adults. So I decided to try coming up with a list.

It wasn't easy. And I cheated a bit. But here you go, I managed to come up with four titles. (And feel free to mention others in the comments section!)

Giant Killing - I originally watched this on Crunchyroll. It's no longer available there, but it might be available on Hulu (I don't have a subscription and can't tell). It doesn't look like it's available on DVD or Blu-ray in the US.

Giant Killing features a professional soccer team that's been doing badly for a number of years. In an effort to try to turn things around, the team's management hires Takeshi Tatsumi, a former player on the team who created some bad blood when he left to go to England, to coach them.

I reviewed this way back in 2012 and honestly don't remember that much about it. I do remember that I managed to fly through it pretty quickly when Crunchyroll announced that they were removing it from their catalog, so apparently the pacing was decent enough.

Yuri on Ice!!! - This is available both streamed (Crunchyroll and Funimation, I think) and on DVD and Blu-ray in the US.

Here we have a series about professional figure skaters. Yuri is a Japanese figure skater who hasn't been doing well lately. He lacks confidence and has major anxiety. A viral video of him copying Victor Nikiforov's latest skating routine results in Victor himself visiting Yuri and declaring that he'll be Yuri's coach.

This is a fun one, but I'll just warn you right now that it very heavily teases viewers with a budding romantic relationship between Victor and Yuri and never completely follows through. (I suppose it depends on your definition of "follow through." I wanted actual words, explicit verbal recognition of a romantic relationship. Lots of other fans seemed to be perfectly happy with symbolic indications of a relationship, as well as the supposed "kiss.")

I was surprised by how much I loved the skating. Who would have thought that seeing the same routines over and over again could actually be thrilling and fun?

I reviewed this in 2016. At some point, I need to write an updated review about the DVD/Blu-ray release. The English dub is actually pretty good, although I still prefer the original Japanese.

Hikaru no Go - At one point VIZ released this on DVD in the US, and I'm still kicking myself for not scraping together the money somehow and buying it. It appears to have gone out of print, and now your only option is streaming. It looks like you can buy it on Amazon Prime or stream it for free on VIZ. Hey VIZ, I want to give you my money for DVD copies! Can you make that possible again, pretty please?

Hikaru no Go is a series focusing on the board game Go. I'm cheating by including it because 1) it's not technically a sport series and 2) its main characters are kids. However, its competition aspects are very similar to sports series, and a large number of the series' prominent players are adults. There are a few times when the adult players face off against each other.

Hikaru is a 12-year-old boy who comes across an old Go board while going through his grandfather's stuff for things to sell. The board happens to be haunted by Sai, a Go prodigy from the Heian period who committed suicide after being accused of cheating. All he wants is to play the perfect Go game, called the "Hand of God," and he hopes Hikaru can help him do that. Hikaru knows nothing about Go, but surely that doesn't matter as long as Sai is there to tell him what to do.

I've only reviewed volume 12 of the manga on my blog, but I believe I've read the entire series. I've actually watched all the anime, but I think that was before my blogging days. I remember that I loved it and that the ending wrecked me.

Gurazeni: Money Pitch - This is the only series on this list that I have zero experience with. It's currently streaming on Crunchyroll. The main character is 26 years old and is a left-handed relief pitcher for a professional baseball team.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

REVIEW: Team Phison (e-novella) by Chace Verity

Team Phison is self-published m/m contemporary romance.

Review:

Phil is a grumpy restaurant owner who spends his free time playing first-person shooters and going on unsuccessful dates. He's playing his newest favorite FPS one night when he meets an enthusiastic newbie player, BisonFalls, and agrees to give him a few tips. He figures that's the end of it, but then Bison sends him a friend request and the two men eventually start talking about more personal stuff. It turns out that Bison's real name is Tyson, he's bisexual, and he's currently single. Phil finds himself arranging time to play with Tyson, texting him, calling him, and just generally thinking about him a lot. But the guy's just a gaming buddy. A young gaming buddy, 28 to Phil's 55. Surely there's no way he'd ever be interested in someone like Phil.

REVIEW: We Are Legion (We Are Bob) (audiobook) by Dennis E. Taylor, narrated by Ray Porter

We Are Legion (We Are Bob) is science fiction. It's the first book in a series.

Review:

Bob just sold his successful tech company and is massively rich. One of the first things he does with his newfound wealth is sign up to have his head cryogenically frozen upon his death. Not long after that, he's killed in an accident...and wakes up more than 100 years later as an AI. He is now property, and he's been selected as one of four candidates for the job of exploring and colonizing space for FAITH, the government that owns him. It's a good thing that Bob views this as his dream job. First, however, he has to beat the other three candidates, keep from going crazy like so many other AIs in the past, and avoid being destroyed by one of the many groups that don't want this project to succeed. Although Bob does make it into space, it's a rockier beginning than he expects.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

REVIEW: The Dark Maidens (book) story by Rikako Akiyoshi, art by Booota, translated by Kristi Fernandez

The Dark Maidens is a mystery. Vertical published this English translation a couple weeks ago and, for once, I purchased and read it in a timely manner. Amazing.

There are only one or two minor spoilers in this review, and no major ones. If you're worried about spoilers, I also cross-post on LibraryThing, Booklikes, and Goodreads, all sites that allow me to use spoiler tags.

Review:

The Dark Maidens is structured like a meeting of the Literature Club at St. Mary's Academy for Girls, a mission school in Japan. It begins with the current club president, Sayuri Sumikawa, opening the meeting by explaining its rules and purpose. This is both one of the club's infamous "mystery stew" meetings and also the first meeting since the club's previous president, Itsumi Shiraishi, either jumped to her death on school grounds or was pushed.

"Mystery stew" meetings are one of the club's traditions. Each member brings an ingredient to add to the stew. At some meetings only edible things are allowed, but at others, such as this one, inedible things may be added, as long as they aren't unsanitary, like bugs or shoes. Each member must eat the stew in darkness until the pot has been completely emptied. While everyone is eating the stew, members take turns telling stories. The theme, this time around, is Itsumi and her death.
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