Thursday, May 5, 2016

Alice in the Country of Diamonds: Bet On My Heart (book) story by Sana Shirakawa, concept by QuinRose, illustrations by Nana Fumitsuki

Alice in the Country of Diamonds: Bet On My Heart is a novel based on Japanese visual novel/otome game. I decided not to include any read-alikes.

Review:

In this book, Alice experiences a “move” and ends up in the Country of Diamonds. Although many of the people are familiar, no one seems to know who she is. The very first people she sees are Elliot and the twins, all of whom try to kill her. Even Blood is suspicious of her, and only starts to unbend a tiny bit after she saves the life of one of his Faceless employees. Alice gradually comes to the conclusion that the Country of Diamonds is Wonderland's past.

Alice settles into the Hatter Mansion as best she can, arranging books in the Hatter family library, attending Survey Meetings, and getting to know this unsettlingly different Blood. Diamonds Blood is a little rougher around the edges than the Blood Alice remembers being friends with in Hearts and Clover, less composed and secure in his position. Part of her wonders if it would have been better for her to stay in someone else's territory, but part of her kind of likes this version of Blood. Still, is it a good idea to get too close to him, or anyone in Diamonds for that matter, when she doesn't have a clue how long she'll get to stay before the next move?

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Sensation (book) by Nick Mamatas

Sensation is science fiction, but set in the present.

I decided not to bother to include a separate read-alikes/watch-alikes list, because I could barely think of anything to list. A couple I'd suggest, however, are The Matrix (the robots are significantly more sinister than the spiders, but the result is similar) and A. Lee Martinez's Emperor Mollusk Versus the Sinister Brain (more B movie sci-fi than literary sci-fi, but, like the spiders, Emperor Mollusk has a huge amount of influence and tends to ride around in a fake body).

Review:

It all starts with a wasps' nest in Raymond's mother's basement. The wasps are Hymenoepimescis sp., which usually reproduces by attacking the Plesiometa argyra spider and laying its eggs within the spider's abdomen. As the larvae feed off the spider, they change its behavior, compelling it to create a web that can allow them to finish their development. When the spider is done with its work, the larvae kill it. (The spider and wasp species are real – nature is freaky and horrifying.)

Hymenoepimescis sp. doesn't usually build a nest or use humans as its hosts, but in this case it was affected by the unusually high radon levels in Raymond's mother's basement. Julia, Raymond's wife, is attacked by one of these wasps and unknowingly has its eggs injected into her. Over the course of the next few months, the larvae gradually affect her behavior in various ways, until one day she decides to leave Raymond. From that point on, she proceeds to become famous, carrying out an assassination and inspiring a nameless political movement which has no apparent goal. What neither she nor Raymond realizes is that they are both pawns in an ancient war between Hymenoepimescis sp. and Plesiometa argyra.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Dragonsinger (book) by Anne McCaffrey

Dragonsinger is technically sci-fi, but it reads like a fantasy school story.

Review:

This book picks up right were Dragonsong left off. Menolly arrives at Harper Hall on the back of a bronze dragon, with the Masterharper himself as her traveling companion. The whole thing is more than she could have ever dreamed, but then comes the hard part: making a place for herself at Harper Hall. The Masterharper said that girls could be harpers, but part of her still doubts him and worries that she's only getting a warm welcome because of her fire lizards.

This was another nostalgia reread. Of all the Pern books, this is the one I've reread the most, and not just because I adore Elizabeth Malczynski Littman's cover art. I love fantasy school stories, and that's basically what Dragonsinger is (although the series is technically sci-fi, if you handed this particular book to someone unfamiliar with the series as a whole, they would almost certainly classify it as fantasy). There are no dangerous villains or races against time, just Menolly being tested and then taught by various Masters, making friends and dealing with bullies, and trying to figure out where she fits in.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Out (book) by Natsuo Kirino, translated by Stephen Snyder

Out is a Japanese thriller.

I've opted not to include any read-alikes, but my review does include a few spoilers. Read at your own risk.

Review:

Warning: This book includes on-page instances of rape, torture, murder, and corpse dismemberment. On the plus side, there is a cat, and it is neither hurt (at least not that I remember) nor killed. I spent the whole book worrying that something was going to happen to that cat.

Anyway, Out tells the story of four women who work the night shift at a boxed-lunch factory in Tokyo. Yayoi is the mother of two small children. Her husband goes out drinking and gambling every night and has started physically abusing her. Kuniko hides her lack of self-confidence under expensive makeup and clothes she can't afford. She's so buried in loans that she struggles just to pay the interest. Yoshie is a widow, mother, and caretaker for her elderly mother-in-law. She works at the factory seven nights a week and, even so, only barely makes enough to support herself, her mother-in-law, and her increasingly rebellious and distant teenage daughter. Masako is the most mysterious of them all. She used to have a job at a company somewhere, and she seems too cool and composed to be working the night shift at the factory.

While these four women aren't exactly friends, they make a good team at the factory. That's why, when Yayoi suddenly snaps and kills her husband, the first person she can think of to turn to is Masako. Masako agrees to take care of everything and enlists Yoshie's help. Due to a stroke of enormously bad luck, Kuniko also gets involved. With all these people in on the secret, will they really be able to avoid being found out by the police? Then there's the question they didn't consider, didn't even know they had to consider: will they be able to evade Satake, the man to whom Yayoi's husband owed money?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Flower in a Storm (manga, vol. 2) by Shigeyoshi Takagi, translated by HC Language Solutions, Inc.

Flower in a Storm is a 2-volume romantic comedy series, although this volume has a more serious tone. It's published by VIZ.

Warning: this review includes spoilers.

Review:

Riko acts like she doesn't care when Ran comes back from a trip with Rinko, the fiancee his dad picked out for him, in tow. However, she can't bring herself to just stand back when Rinko admits she wants to marry Ran for his money. Then Riko and Ran celebrate Christmas together at one of Ran's swanky parties. As Riko sees Ran schmoozing with all the rich people, she begins to doubt that their relationship will last. Her fears appear to be coming to pass when Ran begins acting distantly towards her during a cruise, but Riko finds the courage to fight for Ran and their relationship when he's kidnapped by some terrorists.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

His Favorite (manga, vol. 6) by Suzuki Tanaka, translation by Ivana Bloom

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

I opted not to include any read-alikes in this post. Check out one of my past posts for this series if you'd like some.

This review includes slight spoilers.

Review:

In the first chapter, Sato tells Yoshida he wants Valentine's Day chocolate from him. He also enacts a plan to keep all the girls at school from giving him chocolate. Then Sato, Yoshida, and Yoshida's friends investigate the creepy rumors that have been going around the school, much to poor, easily frightened, ghost-fearing Yoshida's dismay. Finally, Sato, Yoshida, and friends “vacation” at Tsuyako's tropical island, leaving Yoshida with some intense memories.

The Bletchley Circle (live action TV series), via Netflix

The Bletchley Circle is a British historical mystery series set in the early 1950s.

I opted not to include any watch-alikes or read-alikes for this, although I should probably mention that David Leavitt's The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer was part of the reason why I was so excited to watch this. The Bletchley Park women interested me.

Review:

In Series 1, Susan, a former codebreaker at Bletchley Park, has mostly settled into a comfortable life as a mother and a wife. However, part of her can't help but look for patterns everywhere, and she's convinced she's found one in a series of murders. The problem is convincing the police that the pattern she sees exists, especially since her first tip turns out to be wrong. She enlists the help of Millie, Lucy, and Jean, other former Bletchley Park codebreakers.

Series 2 includes two different mysteries. In the first, Alice, a former colleague of Jean's at Bletchley, has confessed to a murder that Jean is convinced she didn't commit. Jean enlists Lucy and Millie's help in proving her innocence. Susan occasionally joins in, but the events that brought their previous investigation to a close frightened her very badly. She doesn't want to risk that harm might come to her, her children, or her husband. In the second mystery, Alice suspects that Millie has been kidnapped, possibly due to her involvement in the post-war black market.

The Goblin Emperor (e-book) by Katherine Addison

The Goblin Emperor is a fantasy novel set in an industrial steampunk world.

Review:

Maia is the unloved half-goblin son of the elven emperor, Varenechibel IV. He has spent his whole life essentially exiled to a remote manor, with only a couple servants and Setheris, his abusive drunkard of a cousin, for company. Then a courier arrives with a shocking announcement: the emperor and all his other heirs were killed in an airship explosion, with the result that Maia is now the new emperor.

Maia's education and training is spotty at best. His knowledge of court etiquette is good, for example, but polite conversation is difficult for him, because Setheris tended to punish him if he spoke too much. He knows too little about the court and is painfully aware of his shortcomings as an emperor. To make matters worse, the airship accident that killed Maia's father and brothers might not have been an accident after all.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Flower in a Storm (manga, vol. 1) by Shigeyoshi Takagi, translated by HC Language Solutions, Inc.

Flower in a Storm is a romantic comedy. It's licensed by VIZ.

My review doesn't include any spoilers for the main story, but it does for the unrelated short. As for read-alikes, I opted not to include any for this volume, but I might come up with some for volume 2.

Review:

I finally made myself finish reading this. Yay! Except I still have to get through volume 2...

Riko Kunimi wants nothing more than to be an ordinary high school girl. Unfortunately, her amazing physical abilities (super strength, ability to survive a three-story fall without injury, etc.) bring her to the attention of Ran Tachibana, the 17-year-old heir of one of the world's richest families. Ran is determined to marry her. He tells her he'll give up if she can evade him for the next 25 hours, but the deck is stacked against her. As Riko spends more time in Ran's world (because she has no choice), she learns that he's constantly in danger. And now that Riko is his fiancee, so is she.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Poseidon of the East, Vast Blue Seas of the West (e-book) by Fuyumi Ono, translated by Eugene Woodbury

Poseidon of the East, Vast Blue Seas of the West is Eugene Woodbury's fan translation of the book Tokyopop translated as The Vast Spread of the Seas. It takes place 500 or so years before Youko's books, although I'd still highly recommend at least reading Youko's first book before this one. Otherwise, you'd end up missing out on a lot of context.

Anyway, this book focuses primarily on an event 30 or so years into Shouryuu's rule as emperor of En. The kingdom is becoming more stable, although it still has a long way to go before it's as beautiful and prosperous as it is in Youko's time. Unfortunately, not everybody is happy with Shouryuu and his laid-back style of governance. Atsuyu, the son of a province lord, tries to seize power by having Rokuta kidnapped. Interspersed with all of that is the story of how Rokuta came to choose Shouryuu as the emperor of En.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Midnight Riot (audiobook) by Ben Aaronovitch, narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith

Midnight Riot is urban fantasy.

My read-alikes/watch-alikes list is a lazy, slight edited version of what I included in my review of the paper version of this book.

Review:

Probationary Constable Peter Grant wants to become a murder cop but seems far more likely to become a paper pusher. That all changes after he speaks to a ghostly witness at a crime scene and his abilities and willingness to keep an open mind bring him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, the only member of the London Metropolitan Police who is also a magician. Peter becomes Nightingale's apprentice and tries to get a handle on magic and its rules, even as he investigates brutal murders and attempts to keep the peace between feuding river gods.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Dragonsong (book) by Anne McCaffrey

Dragonsong is technically a science fiction book, although it deals with a low-tech colony on a far-away planet and includes dragons, so it reads like fantasy. I don't know if it was marketed as YA when it was first released in 1976, but it certainly could be today.

Review:

I think this was the very first Pern book I ever read. A friend let me borrow it during our required reading hour in school (maybe middle school?), and I was hooked. No wonder: the Harper Hall trilogy had a lot of features that I tended to gravitate towards.

In this first book, Menolly is a nearly 15-year-old girl living is an isolated fishing village on the planet Pern. Harper Petiron, her friend, teacher, and the one who most understood her love of music, has just died. Her parents grudgingly allow her to continue teaching the village's children, at least until the new Harper arrives, but they absolutely forbid her to create or sing any of her own songs, fearing that she will disgrace the village and confuse the children into thinking they're real Harper-composed songs. Although Menolly has been told her whole life that girls can't be Harpers, music is so much a part of her that she can't bear to let it go, and life at Half-Circle Sea Hold starts to become more and more unbearable.

Zootopia: The Junior Novelization (book) adapted by Suzanne Francis

Zootopia: The Junior Novelization is just what it says, a novelization of the movie.

Once again, I opted not to include read-alikes.

Review:

The first thing I did when I finished watching Zootopia for the second time was buy this. The story and characters were still in my system, and I wanted more. I knew that this book was aimed at kids and would probably only be a shadow of what I really wanted. Still, it seemed to be the best I could get as far as official fiction went. What with Zootopia being a kids' movie, there are no novelizations aimed at older teens or adults.

What I tend to hope for from novelizations is at least a little of whatever it was that made me love the original, plus extra stuff that couldn't be in the original for whatever reason – new scenes, info about the characters' thoughts and feelings, or expanded versions of events. Slight differences and alternative versions of scenes can be fun too. More often than not, this junior novelization felt like little more than a slightly more detailed version of the script.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Zootopia (CGI animated movie), via the movie theater

Zootopia is children's cop/mystery movie.

I opted not to include watch-alikes or read-alikes, although I'm now on the lookout for 1) decent furry (anthropomorphized animals) fiction that I haven't read before and that doesn't cost an arm and a leg and 2) fiction with prominent cross-gender friendships that don't become romantic (harder to find than I expected, especially since I'd prefer stuff written for older teens or adults). Feel free to recommend some in a comment, if you'd like.

Review:

I probably wouldn't have gone to see Zootopia if it hadn't seen all the positive viewer comments about it. People whose opinions I usually trusted said it was far better than they'd expected. Of course, some of those same people also said that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the best movie ever, so I tried to take their recommendations with a grain of salt.

Most of what I knew about Zootopia was based on the one theatrical trailer I'd seen, the clip of Nick, the fox, and Judy, the rabbit, at the DMV. This clip was okay the first time around, but it was almost painful to watch the second and third time. It also left me with the impression that Zootopia didn't really have much of a plot. Thankfully, the movie was much better than that clip led me to believe. In fact, I loved it so much that I went to see it a second time.

I'll keep my synopsis as spoiler-free as possible, but keep in mind that that means I have to leave out a lot. Basically, in the world of Zootopia, mammals have evolved to the point where they've become sentient. Predators and prey now live in peace, although prejudice is still a problem – animals who were traditionally prey are sometimes fearful of animals who were traditionally predators, and foxes, in particular, are looked down upon (why foxes and not tigers, lions, or any number of other predators? I have no idea).

Judy is a rabbit living in the rural town of Bunnyburrow. Although her parents would love it if she became a carrot farmer like them, Judy's greatest dream is to become a police officer, the very first bunny cop. She accomplishes her dream and is even assigned to Zootopia, the big city she's always wanted to visit, but reality isn't quite like she imagined. While doing her job and trying to keep her spirits up, Judy meets Nick, a cynical and street smart con artist fox. After Judy makes a rash promise, Nick becomes her best bet for finding the missing predators and keeping her job.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within (book) by Jane Jensen

Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within is a paranormal mystery based on a computer game.

I'm not including any read-alikes for this. Also, be warned, this review includes spoilers.

Review:

The events of the previous book/game left Gabriel Knight somewhat wealthy and in possession of a drafty castle in Germany. His writing career has finally taken off, but he's having trouble with his latest book, so the werewolf case that the local villagers bring him is a welcome distraction. The police think the killings are being done by wolves that escaped from the zoo. Gabriel, who found a giant paw print at one of the crime scenes, feels differently. His investigation gets him involved in a private hunting club whose members appear to have a lot of secrets.

Meanwhile, Grace has gotten tired of being Gabriel's shopkeeper. She put off getting her PhD for Gabriel and his supernatural investigations, so she's darn well going to make him involve her in his latest case. She flies off to Germany and, since Gabriel's off doing his own thing, devotes herself to the research she's so good at. She discovers that Gabriel's current case may have its roots in the events surrounding King Ludwig II's apparent descent into madness and his mysterious death.
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