Saturday, November 2, 2019

REVIEW: Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice from My Bipolar Life (nonfiction graphic novel) by Ellen Forney

Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice from My Bipolar Life is a mental health self-help graphic novel. I got my copy via interlibrary loan.


Forney was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1998. It took her years to get stable, but she managed it. After she published Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, & Me (which I haven't read), comments from readers inspired her to write this book.

I requested this in order to read up on mental health-related graphic novels for work. This was much more text-heavy than I expected - not so much fun to read cover-to-cover, which I needed to do fairly quickly in order to finish it in time to write up some impressions for coworkers. But I'll admit that I got through it more quickly and easily than I probably would have if it had been a more traditional self-help book. The large comic-style text and illustrations were appealing and usually easy to follow.

Forney covered lots of topics: different therapy options, coping tools, dealing with insomnia (or the opposite, hypersomnia), dealing with meds (tips for remembering to take them, traveling with meds, side effects), identifying your warning signs, and the importance of setting up a support system and ways to do it. Although her advice was geared towards folks with bipolar disorder, those with other mood disorders or anxiety could probably also find useful information. As someone who, only this afternoon, had to deal with an anxiety-induced panic attack, I can confidently say that Forney's "put your face in a tub of ice water" trick actually does help.

REVIEW: The Collector (book) by K.R. Alexander

The Collector is Middle Grade horror. I got my copy via interlibrary loan.


Although Josie loves her grandmother, she isn't thrilled about moving in with her. She misses Chicago and, since her grandmother doesn't have internet, she can't contact her old friends. However, Josie's mom recently lost her job, and Josie's grandmother has been displaying worrying signs of Alzheimer's, so Josie's mom decides that this move is for the best.

Josie's grandmother has several odd rules. First, Josie and her sister Anna are not allowed to leave any windows open after dark. Second, no dolls are allowed in the house. And third, Josie and Anna are not allowed to enter the woods behind Josie's grandmother's house. Josie's grandmother also keeps talking about someone named Beryl - Beryl is hungry, and wants to take Josie and her sister away. Part of Josie wants to dismiss this as signs of her grandmother's Alzheimer's, but part of her worries that there might be some truth to it, especially after she and Anna have nightmares about a doll and a creepy house in the woods.

But then Josie makes her first friend at school, a girl named Vanessa. Vanessa is kind, cool, and a vegetarian just like Josie. She lives alone with her aunt. Who collects porcelain dolls. And whose house just happens to be located in the woods, and look just like the one in Josie and Anna's nightmares. But surely it's just a coincidence.

REVIEW: The Haunting of Tram Car 015 (novella) by P. Djèlí Clark

The Haunting of Tram Car 015 is steampunk. I got my copy via interlibrary loan.


This novella takes place in Cairo in 1912. Agent Hamed Nasr and his new partner, Agent Onsi Youssef, work for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities. Their newest case appears, initially, to involve a haunted tram car. However, they soon realize that there's something else going on. Unfortunately, knowing what they're dealing with isn't the same as actually solving the problem, considering the shoestring budget the Ministry has given them. The agents find themselves having to get a bit creative, with the assistance of some local women.

This was decent, and featured a few aspects that made me want to read more by this author. It's steampunk that, for once, isn't set in London. In fact, London didn't even come across as being particularly important - magic first entered this world via the work of a Sudanese man, who used a combination of alchemy and machinery to open a doorway to the world of the djinn. And although the book starred two male agents, women's suffrage was constantly in the background, and women played an important part in dealing with the being in the tram car. The few appearances of "boilerplate eunuchs" (robots) also fascinated me - some appeared to possess this world's version of artificial intelligence.

I'd happily read more stories starring Hamed, the experienced and somewhat grumpy agent, and Onsi, his shinier and more cheerful new partner, although I'd really love to read a full novel set in this world. From what I can tell, there's currently just one other story, "A Dead Djinn in Cairo," which stars Fatma el'Sha'arawi, the one female agent in the Ministry.

REVIEW: If It's for My Daughter, I'd Even Defeat a Demon Lord, Vol. 1 (book) by Chirolu, illustrated by Truffle, translated by Matthew Warner

If It's for My Daughter, I'd Even Defeat a Demon Lord is a slice-of-life fantasy Japanese light novel series (at least in this first volume - not sure about the rest). It's licensed by J-Novel Club. I purchased my copy.

This review includes spoilers for later books in the series. I haven't experienced those spoilers myself, but they were an important part of my decision whether or not to continue on with the series.


Dale is a skilled 18-year-old adventurer who's been traveling and defeating monsters since he was 15. One day he comes across a little devil child who's had one of her horns broken off, something that would usually be considered a sign that she was a criminal and had been banished from her people. She's so young that Dale can't think of anything she could possibly have done. The devil who was apparently her father or guardian died not far from where Dale found the girl, so Dale, not knowing what else to do and unwilling to kill or abandon her, takes her with him.

He can communicate with her a little, and she's a fast learner. He soon learns that her name is Latina. She doesn't seem to want to talk about her past much, but she takes well to Dale, as well as to Rita and Keith, the couple who run the inn where Dale had been staying up to that point. Dale also takes instantly to Latina, and it isn't long before he decides to become her adoptive father. Meanwhile, Latina learns to help out around the inn, improves her language skills, makes a few friends, and encounters anti-devil prejudice.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

REVIEW: Penny Dreadful is a Magnet for Disaster (book) by Joanna Nadin

Penny Dreadful is a Magnet for Disaster is a humorous children's book. I purchased my copy.


Penny Dreadful's actual name is Penelope Jones. It's the nickname her dad gave her because she is so often a magnet for disaster.

In the book's first story, Penny decides to become a hairstylist because she learns that hairstylists can charge $15 for a haircut. She would only need to do one and a half haircuts in order to pay her mom back for her last disaster and go to Monkey Madness safari park with her sister. (Penny's math was a little off since she needed almost $26, but whatever.) In the book's second story, Penny finds a dog, decides he's been abandoned, and tries to find a home for him after her mom refuses to let him stay with them. In the book's third story, a School Inspector is scheduled to visit Penny's school, and everyone is supposed to be on their best behavior.

REVIEW: My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness (manga) by Nagata Kabi, translated by Jocelyne Allen

My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is an autobiographical manga licensed by Seven Seas. I got my copy via interlibrary loan.


Content warning for this manga: discussions of cutting, binging, and anorexia, and, if it wasn't obvious from the cover, there's on-page nudity and sex.

This volume begins with the author's first sexual experience, at age 28, in a love hotel with a woman from a lesbian escort agency. Only a few pages in, Nagata interrupts this scene to explain how she got to that point. After high school, nothing seemed to go the way she expected. She dropped out of university after six months, became depressed, developed an eating disorder, and couldn't seem to hold down a part-time job, much less the salaried position that her family expected her to have by that point. She gradually comes to the realization that a lot of her internal pain was the result of wanting love, comfort, and unconditional acceptance from parents (particularly her mother) who seemed unable to really understand her. And yes, the story does eventually get back to the scene in the love hotel, and it is awkward.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

REVIEW: Quiet Girl in a Noisy World: An Introvert's Story (graphic novel) by Debbie Tung

Quiet Girl in a Noisy World is an autobiographical graphic novel. I got my copy via interlibrary loan.


Debbie Tung is an introvert, although she didn't always know that. At the beginning of this graphic novel, when she was still in grad school, she figured she was just weird. As she meets the person she'll eventually marry, finishes grad school, and deals with her first job and a work environment that seems to do nothing but drain her, she gradually figures herself out and becomes more comfortable with and less apologetic about her introversion.

This was a quick and largely relatable read. Her "what it's like to be an introvert" and "books make me happy" comics seemed really familiar, so I'm guessing I've probably seen Tung's comics shared on Booklikes and elsewhere.

Back to visual novels, nervously anticipating vacation time

I wish I could look forward to upcoming travel like a normal person. Instead, I'm worrying about stupid stuff (like how my apartment is horrible and will never be clean enough to leave) and all the possible things that could go wrong (setting up backup plans for backup plans, and worrying about the backup plans I haven't worked out yet). If I could just teleport to my location, everything would be fine. Or, if not fine, at least better.

Anyway, I'm still planning out what manga to read during my vacation. In the meantime, I made the mistake of getting hooked on a longish visual novel that I probably won't be able to finish before I leave and that I won't be able to continue reading at my destination. Ugh.

The visual novel in question is Hashihime of the Old Book Town, an absolutely gorgeous historical SFF time travel story with mystery, horror, and m/m romance elements. If you give it a shot, be warned, it takes several hours to really get going and contains explicit sex scenes (possibly only one per route? which is weird, because that's likely too little for those who like that sort of thing, but too much for those who enjoyed the previous 18 hours of story with zero sex in it). Also, pay attention to those content warnings at the beginning. If you're a gay or trans person who's depressed, experiencing suicidal ideation, etc., I'd recommend staying away from this visual novel. I've only played the first route so far, and it does manage to give the main character and one of his friends, Minakami, a happy ending, but the journey to that point grinds them to bits.

Judging by others' playing time, I have anywhere from 15 to 25 hours to go before I'm done with the whole visual novel. I'm not sure I'll manage it all before going on vacation, so here's hoping I at least figure out a good place to stop. I just started what I think is probably Kawase's route, so I'll see how long that takes.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

J-Novel Club update: membership cancelled (for now)

My J-Novel Club reading has slowed down. Also, I'm going to be on vacation during a good chunk of next month. It seemed like a good idea to buy a bunch of J-Novel Club titles and cancel my membership. I figure I'll restart it when I've finished all or most of my final purchases, assuming I've found some good titles I want to continue.

Canceling was really easy - I just clicked a link, and my membership page updated right away to say that it was canceled and would end on the last day of my current membership (tomorrow). I wasn't asked any questions about why I wanted to cancel, and no attempts were made to keep me from canceling. Assuming I don't get charged tomorrow, the whole process was really painless. The only thing I wonder about is whether there's a way to completely remove my current payment method, but I'll worry about that later.

My best finds during my two months as a J-Novel Club member:
  • The Ao Oni series: It's disgusting and gruesome, but also oddly fun and not too badly written/translated. I haven't played the games, and yet I've still liked the books. 
  • My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! series: Okay, so these are not well written/translated at all, but they still managed to be fun.
  • Outbreak Company, Vol. 1: There was some "otaku who doesn't know how to behave around real girls" stuff that made me cringe, but this still showed signs of being the start of a decent series. I could see myself trying the next volume at some point.
 My final purchases:
  • The last (?) Ao Oni volume
  • Apparently It's My Fault That My Husband Has the Head of a Beast, Vol. 1: To be honest, this doesn't sound all that great, but I'm doing my best to read as many light novels with female protagonists as possible.
  • Ascendance of a Bookworm, Part 1 Volume 1: A "reborn into a fantasy world" series, but starring a sickly girl who really loves books rather than the usual ordinary guy who all the girls inexplicably love. The premise intrigues me, but the execution doesn't seem great, which is why I only bought the first volume.
  • Campfire Cooking in Another World with My Absurd Skill, Vol. 1: For when I need a "transported to another world" fluff story with (I think?) no romance.
  • Demon King Daimaou, Vol. 1: It looks like it's written in third person POV. I've now read enough Japanese light novels for this, specifically, to be appealing. I hate how many of them are written in first person when they'd be so much better in third.
  • JK Haru is a Sex Worker in Another World: Will I be able to handle this? I guess I'll find out. I read some of the free excerpt, and it's very explicit in an emotionally distant and ugly sort of way.
  • My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!, Vol. 3: I'd have picked up volume 4, too, but I'd like to know first how the author handles continuing the series past what could have been its natural stopping point. Especially considering the fact that the author doesn't seem to be a very skilled storyteller, at all. Still, I enjoyed the series and wanted to read a bit more.
  • Sexiled: My Sexist Party Leader Kicked Me Out, So I Teamed Up with a Mythical Sorceress!, Vol. 1: Reviews indicate that it's very heavy-handed with its messages, which some reviewers liked and some didn't. I guess I'll find out which side I'm on.
  • The Combat Baker and Automaton Waitress, Vol. 1: The excerpt seemed rough, but it has an AI as one of its main characters, so I really wanted to read it anyway.

Monday, October 7, 2019

REVIEW: The Wize Wize Beasts of the Wizarding Wizdoms (manga) story and art by Nagabe, translated by Adrienne Beck

The Wize Wize Beasts of the Wizarding Wizdoms is a one-shot (?) fantasy slice-of-life BL manga. It's licensed by Seven Seas Entertainment.


This is composed of eight short stories that take place in the same fantasy world. Main characters from some stories occasionally have cameo appearances in other stories. If I had to briefly describe this volume, I'd say it's slice-of-life m/m Hogwarts by way of Zootopia.

I really wanted to love this. Honestly, I expected to love this. It's by the creator of The Girl From the Other Side, a series I've enjoyed so far (I've read the first four volumes), the furries on the cover looked appealing, and I'd heard it was sweet.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

REVIEW: Olivia's Secret Scribbles: My New Best Friend (book) by Meredith Costain, illustrated by Danielle McDonald

Olivia's Secret Scribbles: My New Best Friend is realistic fiction with a hint of mystery. It's a chapter book intended for children ages 6 to 9.


Olivia has started a diary in honor of moving into her new bedroom, which is in the attic of her family's house. She's now in the perfect spot to keep an eye on her neighborhood's goings on, which is fun but also sad, because she can see the empty house where her best friend Lucy used to live.

But then Olivia notices that someone new has moved into Lucy's old house. There's also a new girl, Matilda, in her class. Is it possible that she and Matilda could become friends?

Sunday, September 29, 2019

REVIEW: Ao Oni: Vengeance (e-book) by Kenji Kuroda, illustrated by Karin Suzuragi, translated by Alexander Keller-Nelson

Ao Oni: Vengeance is the second in a series of books based on the Ao Oni game/games (there are multiple versions, so I'm not sure whether it's correct to call it one game or many). It's licensed by J-Novel Club.


This review assumes you've read the first book, Ao Oni. If you haven't, be aware that I include major spoilers for that book.

Ao Oni: Vengeance takes place only a week after the events of the first book. Shun is the only one who remembers what happened. He has completely stopped going to school, instead choosing to focus on the next version of his game while keeping an eye out for any signs that someone else has been snared by the Jailhouse. He asks Hiroshi to make sure no one else enters the house, but it's already too late: two of their classmates have gone inside and met horrible fates. Takuro, with Takeshi and Mika in tow, goes as well. Hiroshi finds the building's European architecture too interesting to resist (yes, really) and ends up trapped inside the building with all the others.

As in the various versions of the game, the overall setup feels familiar, but there are enough differences to keep it from feeling like a rehash of the first book. Shun and Anna are safe at Shun's home, desperately trying to help the group trapped in the Jailhouse using the knowledge Shun gained from his time there. Meanwhile, the situation in the Jailhouse initially plays out similar to the way it did in the first book, but quickly goes a different route.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

REVIEW: Mr. Monk on the Couch (book) by Lee Goldberg, based on the TV series created by Andy Breckman

Mr. Monk on the Couch is Book 12 in the Mr. Monk mystery series based on the Monk TV series. I bought my copy at a used bookstore.


This book takes place a few months after the final episode of the Monk TV series and is written from Natalie's perspective. Monk investigates a series of murders and meets a group of crime scene cleaners, who he views as kindred spirits, while Natalie feels compelled to learn more about the life and death of a man both Monk and Stottlemeyer say died of natural causes.

The used bookstore I bought this from had a bunch of Mr. Monk mysteries, and, if I remember right, I pretty much grabbed this one at random. I didn't realize it was the twelfth book in the series, and the second book set after the series finale. I'm extremely behind on the series - I can't remember exactly when I stopped watching, but I know I definitely haven't seen any of the episodes in the last two or three seasons.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

J-Novel Club membership, nearly one month later

It's two days before my next billing date, and I think I'm going to let it go for another month and then reevaluate.

I misunderstood several things about what the membership would mean. It doesn't give you temporary access to J-Novel Club's entire backlist - the only things you can immediately read with your membership are the previews even non-paying members can read, and the pre-pubs (newest volumes, prior to completion, which I assume means they have more typos and awkward writing), which non-paying members don't have access to. And the Premium membership does not automatically give you a credit to buy one of J-Novel Club's e-books. I'm supposed to get my first "free" Premium membership credit today, actually, and I haven't received it yet. According to their forums, the credits are manually applied to Premium membership accounts (seriously? they don't automate this?), so the time when they show up varies. If I don't see mine by sometime tomorrow morning, I'll be contacting them about that, and I'll downgrade next month's membership.

So basically, the five J-Novel Club books that I've read in the past month were all books that I paid for, on top of my Premium membership fee. They were DRM-free, unlike the Kobo or Amazon options. Assuming that credit gets applied to my account sometime in the next few hours, the price per e-book this month has been about $6.82, cheaper than other options. (If that credit doesn't get applied the way it should be, it was actually about $8.19 per book.)

I made a list of all the J-Novel Club titles that looked even vaguely appealing, and the final total was about 22. I don't know if I'll make it through the whole list, but I'd for sure like to buy the remaining Ao Oni and My Next Life as a Villainess volumes. Beyond that, I haven't decided.

Edit: The credit has been applied to my account!

Saturday, September 14, 2019

REVIEW: This Is Your Brain on Anxiety: What Happens and What Helps (nonfiction book) by Faith G. Harper

This Is Your Brain on Anxiety: What Happens and What Helps is a self help book published by Microcosm Publishing. I got my copy through interlibrary loan. If I remember right, I requested it because I saw it in a Humble Bundle but wasn't interested in buying the bundle.


In this very short book (63 pages), Faith Harper briefly covers what anxiety is, how to tell if you have it, immediate and long-term methods for dealing with it, and how to help a friend dealing with it. I read it because I have anxiety and have spent most of my life "dealing" with it by either arranging things so that I can avoid my known triggers or somehow powering through the panic. But sometimes my triggers are unavoidable or unpredictable, and sometimes I'm not able to power through.
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