Sunday, June 26, 2016

REVIEW: A Centaur's Life (manga, vol. 1) story and art by Kei Murayama, translation by Angela Liu

A Centaur's Life is a slice-of-life fantasy series. It's licensed by Seven Seas Entertainment.

My read-alikes/watch-alikes list is a stretch, and mostly focused on watch-alikes. I can't seem to think of any slice-of-life fantasy (or even sci-fi!) manga series that are similar to A Centaur's Life in overall feel/tone.

Review:

Himeno (nicknamed “Hime”) is a shy, pretty, and somewhat ditzy centaur currently attending high school. Her best friends are Kyoko, one of the goatfolk, and Nozomi, a draconid. In this volume, Hime deals with the awkwardness of having an angelfolk guy give her a love letter, starring as a princess in a school play, and everyone's differing physical abilities in gym class. Readers also get a peek at her family life and other everyday aspects of living in a world populated entirely by fantasy beings.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

REVIEW: Heart Dance (book) by Robin D. Owens

Heart Dance is futuristic/fantasy romance. It's the 6th book in Owens' Celta series.

Review:

In Heart Quest, Saille T'Willow gave his HeartGift to Trif so that she could deposit it in a public area. The HeartGift got picked up by a variety of people before finally finding its way to Saille's HeartMate, Dufleur Thyme. Unfortunately, the timing was awful, and the sudden fluctuation in Dufleur's Flair brought her to the attention of a group of people who were ritually killing people with unstable Flair. She almost died.

This book continues Saille and Dufleur's story. Saille now knows who his HeartMate is and hopes to pursue Dufleur more openly. First, though, he has to wait for her to officially accept his HeartGift (or at least keep it in her possession for long enough to satisfy society and the legal system). The problem? She keeps throwing it out or locking it up. Dufleur wants nothing to do with HeartMates and love. All she cares about is her work. Although her beloved father blew himself and the Thyme Residence up while conducting his time-related experiments, Dufleur remains convinced that his experiments weren't dangerous. In an effort to clear her father's name, she illegally uses her Flair to continue her father's research and prove the usefulness of his work.

Saille has more hurdles to overcome than just Dufleur's unwillingness to accept his HeartGift. First, there's his discovery that his grandmother, the previous D'Willow, was so determined to keep him from taking over as the new head of the Family that she spent years matching couples even though her matchmaking Flair no longer worked. If this information gets out, it could ruin the Family. Second, there's the fact that D'Willow is technically still alive, held in stasis until a cure can be found for the disease that's killing her. If she's ever cured, it's guaranteed that she'll try to take over as head of the Willows again.

REVIEW: Horimiya (manga, vol. 3) by HERO and Daisuke Hagiwara, translated by Taylor Engel

Horimiya is a romantic comedy. It's licensed by Yen Press and is based on a web comic.

Review:

Things are a little awkward between Miyamura and Hori, as they both try to process that they told each other “I like you” at the end of the previous volume. Because they're enormously frustrating characters, they manage to convince themselves that the other person didn't really mean it, so the awkwardness doesn't last long. Then Miyamura buys something for Hori while purchasing a magazine with an article about his family's bakery in it, and Hori decides to pay him back. After that, the whole gang gets together with the student council (free AC!), and there is embarrassment and relationship angst galore. This only increases when Miyamura reconnects with his best friend from middle school, who thinks Hori is Miyamura's girlfriend.

REVIEW: Horimiya (manga, vol. 2) by HERO and Daisuke Hagiwara, translated by Taylor Engel

Horimiya is a romantic comedy. It's licensed by Yen Press and is based on a web comic.

[Note: starting with this one, I'm putting the word "review" at the beginning of all my review blog posts. See this post for an explanation. Yes, the problem is only affecting my anime posts so far, but I can't guarantee it won't ever be an issue for everything else. Making sure that the word "review" is included in my post URLs and titles is the only way I can think of to combat sloppy bots. This won't help me with the hundreds of other posts I've written, but it'll hopefully help protect my future posts.]

Review:

Hori agrees to help out the student council, even though she's already overworked. She also starts to worry about the future – she can't even begin to imagine what she might do after high school, and it dawns on her that Miyamura might leave her life forever after graduation. Readers get a brief flashback to Miyamura's past, as he worries about whether he truly fits in with this new group of friends he's found himself. Near the end of the volume, Ishikawa hears something shocking and confronts Miyamura about it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The current status of my anime reviewing

Update (6/24/16): I've received my third DMCA takedown notice. The first one was on the 17th, so that makes three in just a week. This one was for my review of Taisho Baseball Girls, which I bought on DVD - watching stuff via streaming services definitely isn't the problem. I've written my third counter-claim and saved some default text I can copy and paste for the next DMCA takedown notice, because at this point I wouldn't be surprised if there were another one. I've written 110 anime reviews over the years, so there's a lot that could be targeted.

I'm starting to think that I should change the way I title my posts, maybe put the word "review" at the beginning. Nearly all of my posts are reviews, so it feels a bit silly, but it's the only thing I can think of that would help distinguish my posts from those with illegal downloads.

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Update (6/22/16): A discussion on BookLikes led to me deciding to submit counter-claims for both posts. They're both reviews and should both be covered under fair use (thanks to Libromancer's Apprentice for reminding me of this), regardless of my having watched the shows via streaming services. I had already edited the Angelic Layer post a bit and couldn't remember what it used to look like, so I'm crossing my fingers that doesn't turn out to be a problem. Now I get to see how long it takes to find out what happens next. At least I haven't gotten any more bogus DMCA takedown notices since that second one.

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I had been wondering why I had been getting so many pageviews in the past month, and I think I might finally know the answer: bots scanning my blog for possible copyright violations. In the past week, I've received two DMCA takedown notifications, one for my review of the Angelic Layer anime and one for my review of the This Boy Can Fight Aliens anime (the links point to the DMCA complaints to Google, so you can see just how little information I'm given).

The problem (besides the fact that the takedown notifications were issued in the first place): as far as I can tell, there's no way for me to find out what, specifically, prompted the takedown notices. I scanned both posts, and the only links they include are ones to Anime News Network encyclopedia pages. If that's a problem, a huge chunk of my blog is doomed, because ANN is what I link to every time I recommend an anime or manga series as a watch-alike or read-alike.

The other possibility is that I viewed both series via streaming services. I won't name them outright, because at this point I'm worried that the wrong combination of keywords might get this post taken down (yeah, I'm paranoid), but I'll say that Angelic Layer was viewed via a streaming service beginning with the letter J. I don't think it exists anymore. I'm pretty sure it was legal, but maybe I'm wrong. This Boy Can Fight Aliens, however, was most definitely viewed on a legal streaming service, a currently existing one beginning with the letter H.

The email I received tells me that "You may edit the post to remove the offending content and republish, at which point the post in question will be visible to your readers again." However: "If it is brought to our attention that you have republished the post without removing the content/link in question, then we will delete your post and count it as a violation on your account. Repeated violations to our Terms of Service may result in further remedial action taken against your Blogger account including deleting your blog and/or terminating your account."

Like I said, I can only guess that the mentions of the streaming services are what caused my blog posts to be taken down. I haven't decided yet whether it's worth risking my entire blog to edit out what I think is the offending content and repost, but at the moment I'm leaning towards "it's not worth the risk." I now own a DVD copy of This Boy Can Fight Aliens, so I might write a new post or heavily edit my old post with that in mind. My Angelic Layer post is likely going to stay in draft forever. I'm crossing my fingers that none of my other blog posts get a takedown notice, but since I'm still getting slammed with mysterious pageviews, I'm not holding my breath.

If you start to notice that more of my older anime reviews are missing, this is why. As far as any posts from here on out go, I think I'm going to drop my policy of stating where I watched shows and movies. If I watched something on DVD, Blu-ray, or at the movie theater, I'll say so, but that's it. And I might as well apply this to everything, not just anime.

I'm still trying to decide if I should stop linking to Anime News Network, in case that's the real problem. I suppose it depends on any additional takedown notices I'm given.

Oh, and if the problem turns out to be that I wrote reviews of series I wasn't supposed to review (a bizarre thought)...I may stop reviewing anime entirely, or experiment with only posting them on LibraryThing. Here's hoping it doesn't come to that.

ETA: I just came across this, posted by someone who has a similar experience, fought the DMCA takedown notice, and got their content reinstated. Hm. I'll keep it in mind in case more of my posts get takedown notices.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Cybernetic Tea Shop (e-novella) by Meredith Katz

The Cybernetic Tea Shop is f/f asexual romance (sci-fi romance?). It's 22,980 words long and is published by Less Than Three Press.

Review:

Clara is a drifter whose ability to repair Raises, Robotic Artificially Intelligent Synthetic Entities (sentient robots with animal forms), means that she can find work nearly everywhere she goes. When Clara visits the Cybernetic Tea Shop on the advice of her newest boss, she's shocked to see that the owner is a 278-year-old android named Sal. It has long been illegal to create sapient androids, and Sal is one of the few remaining models built prior to the law being passed. Although her owner died a long time ago, Sal does her best to see out the woman's dream: keeping the Cybernetic Tea Shop open for 300 years.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Heart Quest (book) by Robin D. Owens

Heart Quest would probably be classified as futuristic romance (a romance subgenre generally used for stuff that is technically sci-fi romance but feels a lot like fantasy romance).

Review:

Trif Clover desperately wants to find her HeartMate, to the point where she has decided to risk ridicule and embarrassment by going door to door throughout the city and looking for him with her charmkey. What she doesn't realize is that he's living in her apartment building.

Guardsman Ilex Winterberry made sure to wait until after Trif had searched her building before moving in. He wishes he could court her properly but 1) he's 25 years her senior and feels that he's far too old for her and 2) he's had visions that tell him he'll die soon, and HeartMates always die within a year of each other. He refuses to cut Trif's life short. All he'll allow himself to do is watch over her and be her friend. As he investigates a recent series of murders, he worries about Trif's similarity to the victims and does his best to keep her safe.

Black Gate (manga, vols. 1-3) by Yukiko Sumiyoshi, translated by Ajani A. Oloye

Black Gate is fantasy. This omnibus volume contains the entire series.

Review:

When people die, their souls move on via White Gates. However, there are also such things as Black Gates, Gates that forcibly suck the souls out of living humans, causing mysterious suicides, murders, or massive disasters. People known as Mitedamashi find Black Gates and close them.

Senju is a Mitedamashi taking care of a young boy named Hijiri, the world's only surviving Gatekeeper. In theory, Gatekeepers are even more powerful than Mitedamashi, possessing the power to close all Gates and end death forever, but Hijiri can't even manage to close the smallest Black Gate. This bothers him, but what he doesn't realize is that having his full Gatekeeper powers could put him in the same situation that ultimately led to his father's death.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

His Favorite (manga, vol. 8) by Suzuki Tanaka, translated by Katherine Schilling

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 my posts for volumes 1 through 5 if you'd like some.

Review:

I've written this review assuming that anyone reading it has either read the previous volume in this series or doesn't care about spoilers for past volumes. You've been warned.

Okay, so this volume basically has four separate stories. First, Sato is bummed because he's going to be forced to go on a family trip from Christmas to the start of the new year. Yoshida accidentally upsets him and then meets an old man who may or may not be Santa Claus. In the next part of the volume, Machiko, the student council president, comes up with a plan that she thinks will guarantee her a spot next to Sato at a warm kotatsu. After that, readers get to see where things stand between Azuma and Nishida. Sato proves to be more helpful than I expected. The volume wraps up with a class field trip, which is particularly special because it's Sato's very first field trip ever.

Guards! Guards! (audiobook) by Terry Pratchett, narrated by Nigel Planer

Guards! Guards! is fantasy, Book 8 in the Discworld series.

Review:

If you look up the wonderful “Discworld Reading Order” guide, this is listed as the first of the City Watch novels. The mostly ineffectual Night Watch, consisting of Captain Vimes, Sergeant Colon, Corporal Nobbs, and Carrot Ironfoundersson, the Watch's new volunteer, finds itself dealing with a secret brotherhood and the dragon the brotherhood has called into being. They receive help from Lady Sybil Ramkin, a swamp dragon breeder, and the Librarian of the Unseen University, an orangutan.

From the Heart (book) by Nora Roberts

From the Heart is a collection of three romance novels.

I decided not to include any read-alikes. Also, my post contains a slight spoiler for Endings and Beginnings, the third novel in the collection.

Review:

From the Heart contains three of Nora Roberts' early romance novels: Tonight and Always (1983), A Matter of Choice (1984), and Endings and Beginnings (1984). They're not related in any other way – no characters in common, and even the tones are different. Tonight and Always is the lightest of the bunch, with conflicts that are either internal or rooted in family. A Matter of Choice is romantic suspense. Endings and Beginnings, like Tonight and Always, has more internal conflict, but includes bursts of adrenaline due to the characters' profession (they're both TV reporters).

I'll write about each novel separately and then end my review with a bit about the volume as a whole. If you want the short version: Endings and Beginnings is good, while the rest of the volume can safely be skipped.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Player of Games (book) by Iain M. Banks

The Player of Games is science fiction, the second book in Banks' Culture series. I normally try to start with the first book in a series, but I was advised by several people in a reading group to begin with this one.

Review:

Gurgeh is possibly the Culture's best game player. He has studied and played games his whole life (somewhere between 60 or 100 years, I wasn't quite sure). The problem is that he's bored. There are few truly new games for him to discover and learn, and few players who are a proper match for him. He yearns to do something no game player has ever done, and that yearning results in a mistake that allows a devious little drone to blackmail him.

Faced with the possibility of a ruined reputation, Gurgeh has no choice but to accept the secret mission Special Circumstances believes he's uniquely suited for. He is to travel to the Empire of Azad, a place outside the Culture, and take part in their biggest and most complex game, a game so important that the empire itself is named after it. The game determines everything, from one's place in the empire to what government position one may hold – and the winner gets to be emperor.

The Goblin Emperor (audiobook) by Katherine Addision, narrated by Kyle McCarley

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

Review:

I read and reviewed the e-book version of The Goblin Emperor only a month ago, so I'm not going to go into too much detail in this review. If you'd like info about the story and how I felt about it, check that review out. My feelings aren't that much different after listening to the audiobook. Here are some new things I can say:

Even though I loved this book enough to immediately look it up on Audible, I wouldn't have bought the audiobook if the narration had irked me. Kyle McCarley was a great fit – he sounded like he could be Maia, and he did a good job differentiating between the various characters. I didn't compare his pronunciation to Katherine Addison's pronunciation guide, so all I could really note was that the way he pronounced Maia's mother's name was correct (I distinctly remember that one, because I realized part of the way through the book that I'd mentally been pronouncing her name wrong, the way the elves would have rather than the way the goblins would have). His pronunciation of everything else seemed consistent, and I don't recall him stumbling over the names or fantasy words even once.

Little Robot (graphic novel) by Ben Hatke

Little Robot is a children's graphic novel.

I've opted not to include any read-alikes for this.

Review:

I recently cataloged this for the library where I work. I thought it looked cute, so I checked it out.

The story's pretty short: a little girl (we're never told her name) skips school and goes off to play on her own. A few hours earlier, a box fell out of a truck and landed in a river. The girl finds the box, opens it, and accidentally starts up the robot inside. The girl and robot have fun playing together, but their budding friendship is threatened by their differences (the little robot is aware that it's not human and wants to meet others like itself) and by the large and menacing robot that wants to take the little robot back to its factory.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Dragondrums (book) by Anne McCaffrey

Dragondrums is technically sci-fi, but it reads like fantasy. I don't know how it was originally marketed, but nowadays it could work as a YA novel.

I've opted not to include any read-alikes this time around. Also, my review includes character relationship spoilers and possible spoilers for the main storyline.

Review:

This final book in the Harper Hall trilogy stars Piemur, the young apprentice who became Menolly's first friend at Harper Hall. Unlike Dragonsinger, which took place immediately after Dragonsong, Dragondrums takes place about three years later (it's mentioned that Menolly has had three Turns of instruction from Master Shonagar).

Piemur is looking forward to singing Lessa's part in Master Domick's newest song, but then something horrible happens: his voice breaks. Piemur's voice was the best thing he had going for him, musically, and there's no telling if he'll still sound as good when it finally settles. In the meantime, Masterharper Robinton has a job for him. He wants Piemur to put his natural gossip collection skills to good use and act as his spy, gathering information about the Oldtimers while pretending to be a regular drum apprentice.
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