Thursday, October 11, 2018

REVIEW: We Have Always Lived in the Castle (audiobook) by Shirley Jackson, narrated by Bernadette Dunne

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a mixture of mystery and horror. It was one of my library checkouts.

Review:

The Blackwood family used to be much bigger, but now there is only 18-year-old Mary Katherine (Merricat), her older sister Constance, their Uncle Julian, and Merricat's cat, Jonas. Merricat is the only Blackwood who ever leaves the house. She does all the grocery shopping and tries her best to act normal and unafraid, but inside she is a seething mass of rage and fear, quietly wishing all the townspeople dead as some of them taunt her. When she is not running errands, she spends all her time playing with Jonas and devising protections for her home that usually involve burying or hanging items around various places on Blackwood land. Meanwhile, Constance cheerfully and patiently cares for her and Uncle Julian, who is unable to walk and who spends his days writing about and obsessing over an event that occurred several years ago. The delicate balance of all their lives is disturbed by the arrival of Charles, Merricat and Constance's cousin and Julian's nephew.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

REVIEW: Blue Spring Ride: Complete Collection (anime TV series)

Blue Spring Ride is a high school drama/romance series. It's 12 episodes long. I haven't read the manga it's based on, but I suspect this is only an adaptation of a portion of the series.

Review:

When Futaba was in middle school, she was a shy and cutesy girl who had a crush on a boy named Tanaka (Kou). They were supposed to meet up for something like a date when he abruptly moved away. Futaba's middle school life deteriorated as the other girls became jealous of how much her cutesy behavior appealed to boys, and the end of her middle school life was miserable.

When Futaba entered high school, she decided things would be different. She became a loud slob, as far from her cutesy middle school self as she could manage, and did her best to be unappealing to boys. Her new personality gains her a couple friends, but cracks begin to appear in her facade when she runs into a guy at her school named Mabuchi who happens to look an awful lot like Tanaka. But is it really him? He's colder and more dismissive than Tanaka was. Although he does nothing but sneer at her, Futaba can't bring herself to leave him alone.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

REVIEW: La Mante (live action TV series)

La Mante is a short French thriller TV series, only 6 episodes long.

Yes, I know my tag for this post includes the initial article for the series even though I normally skip initial articles in my tags. 

Warning: my review will include major spoilers, but I'll save those for the very end and will make sure to note when I'm getting to the really spoilery part. If you're really worried about spoilers, this review will be cross-posted to LibraryThing, where I have the ability to use spoiler tags.

Review:

Content warnings for this series (not necessarily a complete list): torture, gruesome deaths and bodies, transphobia, references to rape, and references to child abuse and pedophilia.

Years ago (Wikipedia says 25), Jeanne Deber, La Mante (the Mantis), brutally tortured and killed several men who were, in one way or another, guilty of harming their families. She was eventually caught and imprisoned. In the present, a copycat killer is exactly copying Jeanne's murders. Jeanne says she might be able to help the police identify and capture the killer, but she will only speak to them via her son, Detective Damien Carrot.

Damien wants nothing to do with his mother, but he does want to stop the killer. He agrees to meet with Jeanne and be part of the team hunting the copycat killer, but he had a condition of his own: no one on his team (except the man who was originally responsible for capturing La Mante) is to be told that Jeanne is his mother and that he's meeting with her regularly to collection information.

Monday, October 1, 2018

REVIEW: The Pretender, The Complete First Season (live action TV series)

The Pretender is a drama/mystery series with what could be viewed as SFF elements, depending on your feelings about the main character's abilities. I own this on DVD.

Review:

Jarod is a Pretender, someone with the ability to become anyone he wishes to be. With a few days or weeks of preparation, he's able to become a surgeon, a cop, a pilot, and more. When Jarod was just a child, he was taken from his parents and kept at the Centre, where he was forced to do various simulations under the direction of Sydney, a psychiatrist. The Centre funds its activities by selling the results of its simulations to various governments and individuals.

At the start of this season, Jarod has long since escaped the Centre and is currently on the run, trying to find out as much as he can about his past and his parents, who, contrary to what he was always told, may still be alive. Because the Centre is Jarod's primary link to his past and because Sydney is something like a surrogate parent to him, Jarod keeps in touch, playing a game of cat and mouse with one of the Centre's operatives, Miss Parker, and her team.

A classic Pretender episode generally has Miss Parker and Sydney finding Jarod's previous location just a little too late and combing it for clues as to his current whereabouts. Meanwhile, Jarod is at some new location, pretending to be someone in a particular field (doctor, cop, lawyer, EMS driver, etc.) while investigating some sort of local injustice. He always escapes just before Miss Parker is able to find and apprehend him, and he generally leaves behind clues or a message for Miss Parker or Sydney, possibly involving whatever children's toy he played with in the episode (silly putty, barrel of monkeys, Rubik's cube, fake dog poop, etc.). In some episodes, aspects of this structure are either done away with or pushed into the background so that the overarching storyline of Jarod, Sydney, and/or Miss Parker's past can be given a bit of screentime.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

REVIEW: My Neighbor Totoro (anime movie)

[This post includes spoilers.]

My Neighbor Totoro is a fantasy movie. I watched it (or, more accurately, re-watched it) as part of the Fathom Events Studio Ghibli Fest.

Satsuki (11 years old), Mei (4 years old), and their father, a university professor, move to an old house in the country in order to be closer to the hospital where the girls' mother is currently staying (and also potentially for the mother's health once she's out of the hospital?). It's never stated what illness the mother is recovering from, but whatever it is has been going on for some time. The girls are holding up fairly well, but there is an undercurrent of fear that their mother is going to die.

While exploring the area near their new house, Mei discovers a path that leads to a giant furry being she calls Totoro. Satsuki eventually meets Totoro as well, and their new friend helps them through a difficult period.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

REVIEW: Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, Episode 1 (live action TV series)

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is a Japanese live action TV series adaptation of Nahoko Uehashi's fantasy book of the same title. I was very excited when I spotted it on Amazon Prime, but the kicker here is that it isn't a movie, like I at first assumed it was. It's the first episode of a 22-episode series (three seasons), the rest of which is not available on Amazon. It also isn't available on Netflix or Dramafever, the two other streaming services I use.

So I'd like to start this review off with a great big thumbs down to Amazon. If you can't get the rights to stream a full series, or even just a full season of a series, you shouldn't be streaming it at all. This isn't the first time I've seen something like this on Amazon. Their listings will say that they have an entire season available on Amazon Prime, but when you actually click through, they've really only provided access to a few random episodes. This Moribito thing is particularly annoying, however, because it wasn't clear from the outset that this was only the first episode of a much longer series.

But I watched it, so I'm going to review it. (Conveniently ignoring all the things I've read and watched that I have yet to review...)

This first episode introduces Balsa, a female spear-wielding bodyguard. She saves young prince Chagum from drowning and is immediately arrested and beaten. Chagum's mother, the Second Queen, manages to arrange to meet with Balsa and says she'll help her escape if she agrees to be Chagum's bodyguard. Chagum's father, the Mikado, is determined to kill him because he's possessed by a water demon. Balsa has multiple helpful connections in town, but she and Chagum can't evade the hunters chasing them forever - the episode ends during Balsa's first encounter with them.

REVIEW: The Wild Robot (audiobook) by Peter Brown, narrated by Kate Atwater

The Wild Robot is a Middle Grade sci-fi/survival/talking animal book. I had seen it before and considered getting it, but I have too many books as it is. When I saw that my local public library had added it to their Overdrive audiobook collection, I pounced on it. I believe my checkout included access to accompanying files with illustrations, but I didn't attempt to find and open those files.

The Wild Robot begins with a terrible shipwreck during a hurricane (although the words "climate change" are never used, this is definitely a vision of the near future that includes some of the effects of climate change). The ship's cargo included several robots, only one of which survived the wreck. That robot, Roz, is activated by a group of curious otters. Over the next few months, Roz gradually learns how to survive in the wild and communicate with the animals around her. Can a robot somehow make friends and find a home in such a wild place?

Monday, September 24, 2018

REVIEW: Land of the Lustrous (manga, vol. 4) by Haruko Ichikawa, translated by Alethea Nibley and Athena Nibley

Land of the Lustrous is SFF manga.

Review:

I wish I had a pile of these volumes to read all in a row. It's too easy to forget details. I may have to break down and start buying this series. Goodness knows where I'll keep the volumes.

If I remember right, the previous volume ended with what looked like a tragic memory loss on Phos's part - Phos gained new arms but appeared to have forgotten who Cinnabar was. This volume begins by telling readers this was a fake-out. Phos merely had a momentary memory glitch.

But that doesn't mean Phos is the same. Whereas Phos was previously childish, weak, and too fearful to engage the Lunarians in battle, they're now strangely competent and useful, to the point that Bort offers to pair up with them. It's an awkward offer. On the one hand, Phos could use Bort's strength and experience, especially since Kongo-sensei has just fallen asleep for who knows how long. On the other hand, Phos knows that there's a rift between Bort and Dia and that accepting Bort's offer may widen it.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

REVIEW: Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku (anime TV series)

Wotakoi is a romantic comedy series.

The eternal problem, when I'm writing reviews for anime or manga: should I refer to the characters by their given names, their family names, or the name I best know them by? In this case, I'm going with the name I best know them by, which is going to result in almost all of the characters being referred to by their given names.

Review:

Narumi is a fujoshi otaku: she likes otome games and reading and creating BL manga. She's been this way for years, but now that she's in her twenties it's become a real problem. She hides her interests in an effort to blend in, but slip-ups happen. Her previous boyfriend dumped her when he found out she was a fujoshi, and she eventually left the company they both worked at in order to make a new start. Things will be better at her new workplace, she's sure.

Unfortunately, on her very first day she runs into Hirotaka, a fellow otaku (game otaku) and her best friend back in elementary and middle school. He almost immediately reveals her otaku nature, not realizing she's trying to hide it. All is not lost, however. Koyanagi and Kabakura, the two employees who heard what Hirotaka said, are otaku themselves (and also a couple!). And as for the whole dating thing, Hirotaka proposes solving Narumi's problem by dating her himself.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

REVIEW: The Lemonade Crime (audiobook) by Jacqueline Davies, narrated by Stina Nielson

The Lemonade Crime is Middle Grade realistic fiction. It's technically legal fiction for kids.

Review:

Evan and his little sister Jessie are both in the fourth grade, not because they're twins, but rather because Jessie skipped a grade. Jessie is particularly good at math, very focused, feels strongly that things should be fair, and believes that rules are meant to be followed.

When one of their classmates, Scott, announces that he now owns a fancy new Xbox 2020, Evan sees red. He knows exactly where Scott got the money for it - Scott stole that money, over two hundred dollars, from Evan's shorts when they were swimming at a friend's house. Evan doesn't have any proof that Scott did it, but it's the only explanation. Then Jessie comes up with a plan: she's going to bring the truth to light in a court of law created by her and her classmates.

REVIEW: The Atrocities (e-novella) by Jeremy C. Shipp

The Atrocities is gothic horror. It's pretty short - it was only 75 pages on my Nook Simple Touch, and it ended on page 65.

Review:

The spooky house and governess heroine made me think this was a historical story at first, but it's actually contemporary-set. Danna has been hired to teach Mr. and Mrs. Evers' young daughter, Isabella. The Evers' home, Stockton House, is an odd place. It used to be a church, and in order to get to it, it's necessary to walk through a labyrinth populated by the Atrocities, statues depicting horrific violence and suffering. Stockton House's interior is no better - every wall and nook and cranny has something grotesque and unsettling on/in it.

Danna has her own horrors to deal with. At times, she slides into what she calls her "hospital dreams," vivid and twisted nightmares that feel terrifyingly real. She tries to focus on the job at hand, teaching Isabella, but it soon becomes clear that there's a lot the Evers didn't tell her about themselves and their daughter.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Nozomi Entertainment Kickstarter - English dub for Season 1 of Emma: A Victorian Romance


Look what I heard about today! If we're all very lucky and enough people back it, there could be an English dub of the first season of Emma: A Victorian Romance, and possibly the second (you have no idea how badly I want to hear English-dubbed Hans). Here's a link to the Kickstarter.

I feel a bit weird about companies doing Kickstarters for things like this, but I ended up backing this anyway. It's only the second Kickstarter I've ever backed. Crossing my fingers that both seasons get funded and that the dub actually turns out well. I've only heard two English dubs Headline Studios has handled (based on this list), Gravitation and His and Her Circumstances. I don't recall liking the Gravitation English dub much at all, but His and Her Circumstances was great. That said, neither of those shows featured the kind of issues that Emma has - English characters from a variety of social classes and situations, an Indian prince, and, if Season 2 gets backed, several German characters.

At any rate, some of the higher level Kickstarter tiers have amazing stuff in them. I'm not even a cosplayer and the Housekeeper tier (includes a custom-made cosplay costume) sounds exciting to me. And I don't collect figures and still want one of those Emma figures. It's gorgeous. Not that my budget could withstand backing at that level. I can dream, though.

Well, I should get to bed so I can hopefully handle tomorrow morning better than I did today (some kind of stomach thing going around, I think?). I just wanted to make sure I posted about this first.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

REVIEW: The Haunting of Hill House (audiobook) by Shirley Jackson, performed by David Warner

The Haunting of Hill House is gothic horror. I checked this out via my public library's Overdrive.

My note at the end could be considered a spoiler.

Review:

I'll be brief, since I only just read and reviewed a paper copy of this back in June.

David Warner's narration was good, although I occasionally wished that a female narrator had been chosen instead, since he didn't always fit Eleanor and Theodora very well. From the look of things, both Audible and Kobo only have the version of this book narrated by Bernadette Dunn, which might potentially have worked better for me for that reason.

This is definitely one of those books that invites rereading. This time around, I knew what was going to happen and could therefore approach the story's events in a different way. Although I enjoyed that aspect and ended up with a new favorite interpretation of what happened, I was still frustrated with the way The Haunting of Hill House promised more of a ghost story than it actually delivered. It had some great creepy moments, and I just wanted more. Instead, I got several characters who became increasingly difficult to tolerate, and that ending.

I appreciated the ending more this time around than I did the first. In fact, taking my new interpretation of the story into account*, it was a perfectly logical and fitting ending. But I really wanted more creepy haunted house stuff, and ghosts.

REVIEW: Missing Abby (book) by Lee Weatherly

Missing Abby is YA suspense, but aimed more at the younger end of YA. It was an impulse library checkout of mine - I went looking for some YA or older Middle Grade mysteries or thrillers and this looked interesting.

Review:

I assume this is set somewhere in England, based on the author's bio. It's written from the perspective of Emma, a 13 (or possibly 14?) year old girl who realizes that she was likely the last person to see her former best friend Abby before she disappeared. She reports their encounter to the police and is forced to think about a time in her life that she thought she'd left behind and that she desperately hopes no one at her new school will ever find out about. Although a part of her wants to try to continue with her life as normally as possible, she can't stop thinking and worrying about Abby, Abby's last words, and the events that eventually drove them apart.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

REVIEW: Chi's Sweet Home (anime TV series)

Chi's Sweet Home is an adorable slice-of-life comedy. I watched the second season (series?), Chi's Sweet Home: Chi's New Address, six years ago, but between now and then I've also read the entire manga series. I picked up this particular boxed set during a sale and kind of wish I'd gotten the second one as well. I suppose I had a good reason not to, though. No shelf space!

Chi's Sweet Home adapts most of the first three volumes of the manga into 104 3-minute episodes. The Yamadas find Chi, a kitten that accidentally became separated from her family, and take her in despite living in an apartment that doesn't allow cats. They try to find a home for her but fail, and eventually realize they want to keep her themselves. Unfortunately, that may be a difficult decision to stick to if their apartment manager finds her and they're faced with the choice of either giving her away or being evicted.

Overall, the series is very light and gentle. There's the threat of Chi being discovered, Chi's occasional vague and slightly heartbreaking memories of her mother and siblings, and the part where Chi was accidentally locked outside during a severe storm. That's about it as far as stressful content goes, and even that stuff is depicted as gently as possible. There are no cats in Chi's Sweet Home that get run over by cars, or die of old age (or anything else for that matter).
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