Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Die, Snow White! Die, Damn You!: A Very Grimm Tale (audio book) by Yuri Rasovsky, featuring a full cast

Die, Snow White! Die, Damn You! is a retelling of the Snow White story, with elements from a few other stories, such as “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and even “Aladdin.” I really enjoyed Yuri Rasovsky's Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls, and so I was looking forward to listening to this. Unfortunately, it didn't work for me at all.

This was a full-cast production, almost like a play, but with very little in the way of sound effects. The voice acting was fairly good, probably one of the best things about this audiobook. I'd likely have enjoyed it even more if Rasovsky had either refrained from including German words and phrases or if more of the cast had been able to pronounce those words and phrases without mangling them. Despite using the English version of Snow White's name in the title of the audiobook, Rasovsky named her Schneewittchen in the production. Everyone pronounced it as Shnee (rhymes with knee) vitshen, even the people who could pronounce the other German words just fine (maybe they were aiming for production-wide consistency?). It grated on my nerves a little.

The way the various story elements were blended together was pretty nice (although the Goldilocks reference was completely unnecessary), and the production even made use of some of the less popular aspects of the Snow White story, such as the stepmother eating the huntsman's evidence that he killed Snow White.

Queen of Roses (e-book) by Elizabeth McCoy

Queen of Roses mixes sci-fi and suspense. It's self-published and 103,420 words long.

Review:

I bought this book primarily because the main character is an artificial intelligence. I'm happy to say it worked out really well for me.

In the world of this book, AIs are basically indentured servants. If they end up with decent-paying jobs and manage to avoid having to pay for too many of their own upgrades, they have a chance of becoming free AIs. Sarafina is an accountant AI who ends up becoming the main AI of a cruise ship after her bank is bought out. It's not at all the kind of work she's used to or would prefer to do – accounting didn't prepare her for dealing with biologicals on a daily basis – but she tries to adapt. At least the ship has one other AI, Pilot, who she can talk to, and she's delighted to learn that one of the ship's newest passengers is a free AI. Unfortunately, Sarafina's first cruise has problems right from the start, including stowaways, glitches that keep taking out security cameras (Sarafina's primary “eyes”), a drunken captain who hates AIs, understaffing, rapidly growing Life Support-generated algae paste, and trouble-making child-passengers.

It took me a while to realize that this book was not just going to be about Sarafina desperately trying to keep all of the ship's problems hidden from the passengers and somehow keep the passengers happy at the same time. There were significant mystery/suspense elements, although it took Sarafina a while to realize that some of the passengers weren't just odd.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Written in Red (e-book) by Anne Bishop

Written in Red is urban fantasy. It was one of my library checkouts.

Review:

Wow. I just spent an entire day reading this book from start to finish. Clearly I should have read it sooner. However, that doesn't mean this review is going to be a squee fest. I have some criticisms, and I'll get to them in a bit.

This book's world was fascinating, an alternate universe in which humans and Others coexist. The humans make and develop new things. The Others (vampires, shapeshifters, Elementals, and more) tolerate humans because they like those new things. If the humans become too dangerous, if they start to think they should have more space than they've been allowed, the Others can easily put them in their place. Not only are several Others incredibly dangerous and destructive, the Others also have complete control over the natural resources humans need in order to survive and create new things.

Meg is human, but she's a special sort of human – a cassandra sangue. When her skin is cut, she sees visions. The euphoria that often follows the visions can be addictive, and so cassandra sangue are kept in captivity “for their own good.” Meg manages to escape and get a job as the Human Liaison at the Courtyard, an area ruled by the Others and where human laws do not apply (meaning that, if you break the rules, you might end up becoming the “special meat” at the local butcher shop).

Friday, July 25, 2014

Flying Solo (e-short story) by Wade J. McMahan

I checked this out from Freading in order to test whether they had fixed their problems yet. Sadly, the answer was no. I hate this - Freading used to be fabulous, and now I consider it to barely be usable. Their app has gotten worse. This time around, I couldn't even get font size changes to stick, and the default font size was abnormally small. All I'd like is for things to go back to the way they were before Freading updated their site, when it was possible to use something other than their crappy app.

Okay, moving on to the story itself. I'm not going to list any read-alikes, because the story is so short.

Review:

Flying Solo was a short fantasy story about two fairies meeting each other in a bug bar. The one fairy, Rupert the Low, had been sent by the fairy queen to criticize the slovenliness of the other fairy, Larry. Specifically, his hairy legs, which he refused to encase in tights.

I'm not much of a short story reader, and this kind of story isn't the sort to make me change my mind. It seemed kind of pointless. It's listed as “comedy” on the publisher's site, but it didn't strike me as being very funny. I suppose Larry could be considered clever, for finding a way to wriggle out of getting in trouble. In all honesty, though, it wasn't so much that Larry was clever as Rupert was just not very bright.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thoughts about my e-book shopping requirements

This post is partly information and partly a rant. And it's also kind of long. Sorry about that.

One of my favorite self-published authors, M.C.A. Hogarth, recently announced that she'll no longer be distributing her works via Smashwords. Her reasons made sense and fit with what I've seen other authors say about Smashwords – it sounds like it's a complete pain in the butt to work with. But I'm not an author, and I have my own requirements for online bookstores. Hogarth's post got me to thinking about those requirements, and I figured I'd post some of those thoughts.

When I first started buying e-books, one of my big rules was that I would not buy DRM-protected e-books. I bought my very first Nook a little over three years ago and, since then, I've only broken my rule only once. I wanted to see how hard DRM would be to deal with, particularly if I purchased a DRM'd e-book from somewhere other than Barnes & Noble. The answer was “very hard.” There was a glitch when I tried to authorize my Nook via Adobe Digital Editions, and I couldn't figure out how to transfer my book from my computer to my Nook. This meant that my legally purchased book could only be read on my computer, unless I stripped the DRM off.

I know there are lots of people who buy DRM-protected e-books and then merrily strip the DRM off. One, I'd rather not have to deal with that. Two, I don't want my dollars to make it look like I support DRM. So, I specifically look for sources of e-books that make it easy for me to avoid DRM.

Here is a list of the places where I shop and why:

Monday, July 21, 2014

What Did You Eat Yesterday? (manga, vol. 1) by Fumi Yoshinaga, translated by Maya Rosewood

What Did You Eat Yesterday? is a slice-of-life and food manga. It's published by Vertical.

Review:

I've had this on my “To Buy” list ever since I saw it was by Fumi Yoshinaga. The price was a bit steep considering the thinness of the volume, but I've learned that Yoshinaga's stuff is usually worth it for me.

Shiro Kakei is a lawyer who loves to cook. Every day, he leaves work as soon as he can, so he can hunt down the best grocery bargains and make good meals for himself and his boyfriend, Kenji Yabuki. He and Kenji seem like complete opposites. Whereas Shiro is a saver, Kenji's a spender. Everyone at the salon Kenji works at knows he's gay and has a boyfriend. Shiro's still in the closet at his workplace.

This volume has eight chapters showing aspects of and events in Shiro and Kenji's daily lives. In every chapter, Shiro makes something delicious, thinking about the process and the ingredients as he does so. The chapters each end with a bit of cooking-related advice or a recipe. The translator converted all the temperatures and measurements so that they'd be even easier for Americans to follow. Part of me wished that I had easy access to all the ingredients Shiro mentioned, but I suspect I'd be too chicken to try making any of the meals included in this book. I'm primarily a baker for a reason – I don't do “add a dash of this and a pinch of that, and then let it simmer until X has happened.” I need exact instructions, at least the first few times around, or I'm a nervous wreck.

For the most part, it was nice getting a peek into these characters' lives. If I had to state an overarching theme for this volume, it'd be “The process of cooking a good meal lets you emotionally reset yourself.” Or at least that's the case for Shiro and, to a certain extent, Kenji, as the recipient of those meals. Some of the chapters showed stressful moments in their lives, but Shiro's daily cooking ritual managed to calm things down.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Paratwa (book) by Christopher Hinz

The Paratwa is a science fiction book, the third in Hinz's Paratwa Saga. I got it via interlibrary loan.

This review contains enormous spoilers. I've included another warning just before they start.

I've opted not to list any read-alikes. If you'd like some, you can check out my post for Liege-Killer. Just be warned that they don't entirely work as read-alikes for this book.

Review:

I really liked Liege-Killer, the first book in this trilogy. The pacing was great, and I enjoyed the sci-fi mystery and suspense aspects. Ash Ock, the second book, wasn't as good, but I reminded myself that it was the second book in a trilogy, and Hinz probably needed to do some setup for the events of the third book. Now that I've read the third book, I wish I could go back in time and tell myself to stop at Book 1.

This book was incredibly painful to get through. For long stretches, all anyone seemed to do was sit around and talk. Timmy, Susan's mentor, lectured Susan, Gillian, and Empedocles about Sappho's origins, motives, and plans for almost 100 pages. Information necessary for certain scenes to make sense wasn't revealed for hundreds of pages. For example, the Os/Ka/Loq were mentioned long before they were explained, and the phrase “This kascht reeks of the lacking” was overused before it even meant anything to me.

The other reasons why I didn't like this book are almost entirely enormous spoilers. You've been warned.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Protector of the Small: First Test (book) by Tamora Pierce

First Test is a YA (middle grade? I've seen it marked as both) fantasy school story. It's the first in Pierce's Protector of the Small Quartet, and part of her Tortall universe.

My read-alikes list is the same one I used in my First Test audiobook post from several years ago, because I am lazy.

Review:

I almost burst into tears when I finished this book. My reaction took me by surprise because I've read First Test at least four or five times. It shouldn't still affect me like this, but it does. It's a fairly simple story, but I love it so very much, and I adore Kel.

The only thing I can recall being interested in when I was younger that was "for boys only" was comics. There was this comic shop right near my high school that I used to go to during my lunch period. It had a fabulous bargain section, perfect for someone just starting out and still trying to figure out their tastes. I'd buy something every week or two and put up with the grumpy guy who owned the place. Except I eventually figured out he wasn't grumpy with everyone, just me. He was nice and helpful towards adults and teenage boys, while I got lectured about the way I touched the comics, or about being in the store too long without buying something. After a while, I stopped buying individual comics and just read graphic novels, which I could get at bookstores or libraries. No more grumpy comic shop guy.

Kel dealt with a lot more than just lectures. After Alanna the Lioness became the first female knight (by spending several years pretending to be a boy), it was proclaimed that girls could become pages. Ten years later, Keladry of Mindelan became the first girl to request to become a page. Her request was granted, but, to satisfy Lord Wyldon, the hidebound training master, she was put on probation for a year.

Like I said, this story was pretty simple. There were no “dark political intrigue” subplots, just “can Kel make it through her training and be accepted back next year?” She had an uphill battle. The boys wrecked her room, hardly anyone wanted to be her sponsor, and bullies picked on her whenever the teachers weren't looking. No one expected her to be around next year.

Of Swine and Roses (e-short story) by Ilona Andrews

Of Swine and Roses is a short, self-published fantasy (urban fantasy?) story. It's only 20 pages long on my Nook.

No read-alikes for this one. It'd probably take me longer to come up with the list than it did to read the story.

Review:

Alena Koronov reluctantly agrees to go on a date with Chad Thurman after her mother tells her it will increase their family's chances of getting a desperately needed loan. The date goes badly and ends with Alena covered in clay and coal dust, in possession of a pig, and possibly in trouble with the Thurman family. But even bad dates can have some good consequences.

I bought this a long time ago, I think from All Romance Ebooks, although it doesn't appear to be for sale there anymore. It's such a short story that I'm not really sure what I can say about it without spoiling things.

The world was filled with magical family politics that was so sensitive a teenager's date could make or break an alliance. I liked Alena and was glad things turned out well for her in the end. This was a quick, cute read with a resolution that reminded me a little of a fairy tale.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Promise of Romance (book) by Kyoko Akitsu, illustrations by Tooko Miyagi, English translation by Translation By Design

A Promise of Romance is m/m romance. It's published by Digital Manga Publishing and Taiyoh Tosho Publishing.

Review:

The first two thirds of this were better than I expected. The writing wasn't great, and details about English culture tended to be clumsily inserted, but the translation was fairly smooth and easy to follow. There were only a couple instances of misused commas and confusing pronoun usage. The premise was silly, but I was fine with that. Then one particular scene happened, and it ruined everything.

Edward, an English nobleman, is in a bind. If he doesn't get married before he turns 26, he'll lose control of the family estate and fortune. He doesn't actually mind this, because he figures his cousin Gordon (who'll get control of everything) will take care of him. However, others are planning on forcing him to get married, so he concocts a plan. He'll find the woman to whom he gave the family ring, pay her to marry him just long enough for him to secure his inheritance, and then pay her to divorce him. The situation becomes more complicated when he learns that the woman has already died and left the ring in the hands of Satsuki, a Japanese theater student. Eventually, Edward convinces Satsuki to dress as a woman and pretend to be his fiancee, in exchange for the equivalent of $600 a day.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Snakecharm (book) by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes

Snakecharm is YA fantasy. I got it via interlibrary loan.

Review:

I finished this a month ago but didn't get around to reviewing it until now.

This is the second book in Atwater-Rhodes' Kiesha'ra series. The peace between the serpiente and the avians is still holding, at least until Danica is pronounced pregnant. Avian and serpiente cultures are very different. Will the baby be raised as an avian or as a serpiente? Will Zane and Danica's people be able to put up with a future leader who is half serpiente, half avian?

Further trouble arrives in the form of Syfka, a falcon. Syfka is looking for a falcon criminal, who is probably using falcon magic to hide amongst the serpiente or the avians. Although she demands that the criminal be found, she refuses to say anything about what the falcon might look like or what crime he or she committed. Among the falcons, simply cursing in the Empress's presence is considered a crime punishable by being tortured to death. Zane and Danica want Syfka gone but are worried they might send an innocent person (according to avian and serpiente laws) to their death. Unfortunately, the longer Syfka stays, the likelier it becomes that she'll learn of Danica's pregnancy. Falcons value children, but only if they are pure bloods.

I liked the first book in the series, Hawksong. Unfortunately, Snakecharm didn't work nearly as well for me. While I was interested in finding out the identity of the secret falcon and the crime he or she committed, there were so many things in this book that did not add up.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Spice & Wolf, Vol. 2 (book) by Isuna Hasekura, illustrated by Jyuu Ayakura

Spice & Wolf vol. 2 is a fantasy novel set in a world much like Europe in the Middle Ages. I dislike the cover image I'm using in my post, but, thankfully, Yen Press wised up. This more "realistic" image is a dust jacket - underneath is a manga/anime-style cover.

Review:

The first volume of Spice & Wolf was one of the better light novels I've read. I finally decided to read the second volume. If you've seen the anime: the second half of season 1 covers the events of this volume. It's been long enough since I last saw the show that I'm not entirely sure which details differ, but the general events are the same.

Holo and Lawrence are still traveling together, and, with Holo's help, Lawrence is able to get a really good deal on a wagon-load of armor. Lawrence knows that, at this time of year, armor sells pretty well at their next stop, Ruvinheigen, and the money would bring him one step closer to his dream, settling down and opening a shop.

Then things turn very sour. Lawrence learns that his wagon-load of armor is now worth one tenth what he'd estimated. He has two days to repay his debt to the Remelio Company, which is itself close to bankruptcy because of armor's sudden drop in value. The guild Lawrence is associated with can't lend him money, and neither can other guild members. If he can't repay his debt, he'll be sold into slavery. Holo could transform into a wolf and help him escape the city, but his life as a merchant would be over and he would be on the run forever.

A good chunk of my description could be considered a spoiler, because Lawrence doesn't find out the bad news about the armor until halfway through the volume. That was one of the things I didn't like about this book: the pacing. Although the introduction of Norah, the shepherdess, was necessary, and it was nice to see Holo and Lawrence bickering and flirting, I wish Hasekura could have tightened all that up. The first half of the book was a bit of a slog for me, as I waited for something to actually happen. The second half was much more exciting.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Evans Above (e-book) by Rhys Bowen

Evans Above is a cozy mystery. I checked it out via Open Library.

Review:

According to my records, I've skipped around in this series. I previously read the fifth and tenth books in the series. With Evans Above, I'm finally getting around to reading the first.

Bowen's Constable Evans series takes place in a small village in Wales called Llanfair. Constable Evan Evans is a relatively new addition to the village, having left his original position in a bigger city. He prefers living a quieter life, even though the village squabbles and attempts to set him up with eligible ladies sometimes get on his nerves. However, just because Llanfair is quieter doesn't mean it's crime-free.

In this book, Evans finds himself dealing with a couple dead hikers. While Evans' boss thinks their deaths are just a tragic coincidence, Evans isn't so sure. Even after he learns that both men were in the Army, however, he still can't quite make things fit. Meanwhile, Evans' superiors are busy with a high-profile case involving child molestation and murder, and one of Llanfair's residents is convinced her neighbor is spying on her and trying to ruin her garden.

Nine Goblins (e-novella) by T. Kingfisher

Nine Goblins is a self-published fantasy story. It's 41,730 words long.

Review:

I learned about this one when M.C.A. Hogarth posted some lovely fan art of a couple of the characters. However, T. Kingfisher is a pen name for Ursula Vernon, who is a friend of Hogarth's, so I initially passed Nine Goblins by. It's maybe not fair of me, but I tend to assume that rose-colored glasses are in play when authors recommend works written by their friends. Then I heard that Sings-to-Trees was an elven veterinarian, a very tempting detail. I tried the excerpt, liked it, and bought the whole thing. I'm so glad I did. This novella was wonderful, and I really hope the author publishes more works set in this world.

The story starts off split between two sets of characters: Sergeant Nessilka and her goblin troops, and Sings-to-Trees and his various patients. Goblins have been at war with humans and elves for some time, mostly because they don't have much of a choice. When humans moved into goblin lands, the goblins, preferring to avoid conflict, moved out. Eventually, though, there were no other places they could move. A few disagreements and misunderstandings later, and the war began. The elves joined in as allies of the humans.

When Sergeant Nessilka and eight of her troops accidentally end up trapped behind enemy lines, her goal is to get everyone safely home. Although Sings-to-Trees is technically an enemy, he's a very unusual elf. He's more concerned with taking care of his animal patients than with the war, and he has fond memories of the goblins that used to live near his home. He might be able to help, but first he and the goblins have to deal with whatever is mysteriously emptying out nearby farmhouses and villages before it gets them too.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Jokka Coloring Book (book) art and setting by M.C.A. Hogarth

I recently bought M.C.A. Hogarth's The Jokka Coloring Book, so of course I had to get myself some crayons. I went all out and got a box of 120 different colors, because why not? This post includes my first two attempts at using them. My favorite is the first picture. My scarlet crayon is magical.

It feels a little odd to review a coloring book, but I try to review as much of my entertainment as possible, so here goes. This book has 22 pages total (counting the title page, which has a small picture you could color). There are 17 full-page line drawings, two of which I've shown here.

Four pages are informational or activity pages. One page has a couple paragraphs on the three Jokka sexes (neuter, female, and male), plus illustrations of each. One page has information about coloring the Jokka, which basically boils down to “have fun, and color them however you want.” There are a couple small line drawings on that page as well. The last page identifies which characters in the coloring book pages come from specific Jokka stories. (ETA: Whoops, forgot one! There's also an activity page where you can write your name using the Jokka alphabet.)

The character page and info on Jokka sexes made me want to try these stories and books, so they're now on my TBR. The coloring book itself has been fun to use, and I've been getting a kick out of sorting through my crayons and selecting colors (“almond,” “pink sherbert,” “unmellow yellow,” and so many more!). My only complaint is that some parts of the illustrations are so tiny, and my crayon tips, even when they're at their sharpest, cannot stay between the lines. Much woe! But I'm learning to accept and enjoy coloring outside the lines every once in a while.

Examples of my coloring below:
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