Monday, September 1, 2014

Angel Nest (manga) by Erica Sakurazawa, translation by Yuki Nakamura

Angel Nest is a collection of four short slice of life manga. It was published by Tokyopop.

I'm not including any read-alikes or watch-alikes in this post.

Review:

This volume was composed of four stories, one of which took up half the volume and three of which were shorter. The first story was related to Sakurazawa's Angel and was actually fairly decent. It gave me hope for the volume as a whole. Unfortunately, the final three stories all turned out to be utterly pointless. I'll deal with each of them individually in my review.

I have to say, so far I'm not really that impressed with Sakurazawa's works. I'm also not impressed with Yuki Nakamura's translation work, which was a bit clunky in both this volume and in Angel.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Angel (manga) by Erica Sakurazawa, translated by Yuki Nakamura

Angel is, I guess, a slice of life manga. It was published by Tokyopop. I think it counts as a one-shot, although I have another volume that features more stories involving the same angel - just not the same human characters.

Review:

Well, this was a letdown. I was expecting something a bit...more. More interesting, more depth, more emotion, just more.

This manga starts off with Kato, an ordinary young man who works as a convenience store clerk. He also happens to be living with a mysterious, mute angel who doesn't eat and who only drinks gin and lime. She's not technically his girlfriend, but she occasionally kisses him, so he kind of thinks of her that way. Whenever she kisses him, he grows wings. No one else can see her, or his wings.

No one, that is, except for a small number of people who need the angel for one reason or another. One of those people is Mizuho, a 14-year-old girl who has recently become the victim of bullying and who is considering suicide. Another is Chi, a little girl who is being neglected by her mother.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Dynasty of Rogues (e-book) by Jane Fletcher

Dynasty of Rogues is f/f sci-fi/fantasy. It's the fourth book in Fletcher's Celaeno series, if you're reading in publication order. If you're reading in chronological order, it's the fifth book. It's published by Bold Strokes Books, and, according to All Romance Ebooks, it's 97,244 words long.

Review:

I love Fletcher's Celaeno series, despite the world-building issues and sometimes bad pacing. Unfortunately, although I devoured this book just as quickly as I did the others and liked it well enough, I didn't think it was one of Fletcher's better works.

This book takes place seven years after The Walls of Westernfort. The heretics' ideas still haven't been accepted by the general population, so they continue to live in Westernfort and Ginasberg and keep an eye out for the Guards. Tanya Coppelli, one of Chip's daughters, is now a corporal in the Westernfort Rangers. Everyone tells her she deserves the position, but she can't help but wonder if nepotism was involved. It's one of the reasons why she reacts so badly when Riki, a known troublemaker, is assigned to her patrol.

Because she was angry at her mother, Riki acted out a lot when she was younger. She's still a bit of a troublemaker, but she hasn't done anything really bad for several years. Not that anybody seems to realize this. All anyone remembers is the trouble Riki used to cause, so she gets into even worse trouble if she steps out of line even a little. Riki's most recent incident results in both a demotion and a transfer to the Rangers at Westernfort. She's supposed to start with a clean slate, except her superiors there judge her the same way everyone back at Ginasberg did. This makes Riki an ideal scapegoat when Tanya is betrayed and captured by the Guards.

Herb-Wife (e-book) by Elizabeth McCoy

Herb-Wife is a self-published fantasy story with some romantic aspects (this book had more romance than the first, but I still hesitate to call it fantasy romance). It's the second book in McCoy's Lord Alchemist duology. According to Smashwords, it's 136,900 words long.

Review:

Considering how disappointing Herb-Witch turned out to be, I was a little worried about reading this. I ended up liking it a lot more, but it hurts to think how much better Herb-Wife and the duology as a whole could have been, had McCoy had an excellent editor. I'm not talking about typos – although I noticed a few (mostly, missing words), there really weren't that many. My problem is with the story, which would have been much better if it had been tightened up.

Herb-Wife continues right where Herb-Witch left off. Kessa is at Iathor's house, recovering from being attacked and almost raped. Her shop has been burned down. She knows that Iasen was probably the one who ordered the attack and that he had probably done it out of a hatred for her barbarian blood and a desire to continue to be Iathor's heir. She knows there is nothing she can do to him directly, but marrying Iathor and giving him a son would provide her with some form of revenge. Because she's an immune, there's a good chance she won't survive childbirth, but there's comfort in knowing that her child would be well taken care of.

Plot-wise, the whole book is basically just about Kessa's goals and Iathor's efforts to find out what's really going on. Kessa begins to fall for Iathor but figures he'd hate her if he knew the truth about why she agreed to marry him. Iathor knows Kessa is hiding things and is determined to keep her safe and make their marriage a happy one, despite society's prejudices against half-barbarians and his own brother's hatred of Kessa.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

You've Got Murder (e-book) by Donna Andrews

You've Got Murder is a cozy mystery. I checked it out via Open Library. This time around, I opted for PDF rather than EPUB and was much happier with the experience. The book took a while to download, and I couldn't change the font size or theme colors, but no pages were left out and none of the text was garbled.

Review:

I finished this over a week ago but have had a hard time making myself write a review, because, in the end, it was just “meh.” Reading Elizabeth McCoy's Queen of Roses made me think of it and want to reread it, because it was one of the few books I could think of with an artificial intelligence protagonist that wasn't crazy or evil. However, it turns out that I couldn't remember much about it for a reason – there just wasn't much about it, besides its protagonist, that was memorable.

I wouldn't call this a science fiction mystery – the world of this book is basically “now,” or at least the “now” of when this book was written (2002). Turing Hopper is an Artificial Intelligence Personality (AIP) developed to act as a sort of all-around researcher and personal assistant. Zack, Turing's creator, hasn't shown up for work in a while, and Turing starts to become worried. When her own searches turn up nothing, she contacts Maude and Tim, two humans who she is regularly in contact with, and asks them to help her find him. Unfortunately, their search rapidly turns dangerous, and Turing begins to realize the limits of her own knowledge and abilities.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Devil Within (manga, vol. 2) by Ryo Takagi, translated by Christine Schilling

The Devil Within is a supernatural romantic comedy. It was published by Go! Comi.

Review:
 
Takagi really does manage to finish this whole series in only a couple volumes. Mostly by allowing Rion's deep hatred of men to just sort of magically disappear. Or at least turn into tolerance.

In this final volume, Tenshi figures out that Rion is the key to getting back his original form, but he doesn't know what to do in order to make it permanent. When he learns that Rion is a devil and has a direct connection to his past, he starts to wonder if Rion is actually responsible for his condition. Meanwhile, Rion learns that, if she doesn't have sex with one of her three fiances (apparently marriage isn't necessarily a requirement anymore?) before her 16th birthday, she'll be taken over by her demon blood. To her horror, her demon blood causes her to pump out pheromones that attract all kinds of guys.

The guys also risk being taken over by their angel blood on their 16th birthdays. Fuya (whose name is for some reason only spelled with one “u” now, rather than the two used in volume 1) pumps out pheromones so strong that he attracts both sexes and has to worry about being gang raped. Somi cuts himself in order to try to keep his angel self from coming out, because his angel is a killer. Koki's angel self is a womanizer and spends money like crazy, which is why he's always broke and hungry. All the guys have excellent reasons to want to sleep with Rion and suppress their powers, but Rion only wants Tenshi.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Devil Within (manga, vol. 1) by Ryo Takagi, translated by Christine Schilling

The Devil Within is...a comedy manga? Possibly a romantic comedy manga? It was published by Go! Comi.

Review:

Wow, this manga. It's like Takagi tried to cram as many discomfiting and off-putting elements into a reverse harem manga framework as possible. It's kind of amazing.

Okay, so the star of this series is Rion, a teenage girl who was scarred for life after seeing one of her father's uncensored porn videos as a child. In that video, demons possessed angelic little boys and turned them into devils that raped women. Rion was left with a deep hatred of men (they're all devils) and a love of little boys (they're all angels). One day, Rion's father decides that Rion's man-hating ways are no longer beneficial for him, so he sends three gorgeous brothers to be her fiances. She must choose one of them. If she doesn't want to choose, well, not only did her father give Rion a key to each of the guys' rooms, he also gave them each the key to hers. Rion decides she would much rather be with Tenshi, the little boy with the chip on his shoulder who lives one floor below her.

Then there are all of the other things crammed into this volume. Angels, devils, some kind of curse or medical condition, and some sort of supernatural reason Rion must marry one of the three guys her father chose for her.

Like a Love Comedy (book) written by Aki Morimoto, illustrated by Yutta Narumi, English translation by Kelly Quine

Like a Love Comedy is one of Digital Manga Publishing's Juné yaoi novels. It's basically a contemporary m/m romance.

Review:

I have found a unicorn: a Juné yaoi novel that contains no rape. It doesn't even have anyone thinking about raping someone. Unfortunately, the book wasn't very good. There were some aspects I really liked, but the way they were written (or translated?) just didn't work for me.

This book was about Biwa, a Japanese screenwriter who has lived in America for most of his life, and Yamato, a famous Japanese actor. Biwa's production team is working on a detective show, and the director wants Yamato to play the lead. Biwa originally believed he made it onto the production team on the basis of his scriptwriting skills, so he's disappointed to learn that he might have been added to the team primarily because he knows Japanese and could act as Yamato's babysitter. Although the two of them don't exactly start off on the right foot, it's not long before they become friends.

When I first started reading this, I thought I was dealing with a complete clunker. Morimoto introduced 8-year-old Biwa and then sped through the next 18 years of his life in just a few pages before stopping at Biwa's first day as part of the production team. I was glad things slowed down after that. The book's earlier scenes are among its best. I enjoyed it when a frustrated and insulted Biwa ripped into Yamato for saying that getting on any TV series, whether American or Japanese, was easy. And I was happy when Yamato turned out to be friendlier, humbler, and more dedicated to his work than he at first appeared to be.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Be With You (book) by Takuji Ichikawa, translated by Terry Gallagher

Be With You is a Japanese novel that has some sci-fi/fantasy elements but that would probably best be called literary fiction. It was published by VIZ Media and appears to be out of print. I had considered ordering it during my last online book shopping binge, but the prices people were charging for it were a little high, so I opted to get it via ILL instead.

Review:

I vaguely remember seeing the cover of this book several years ago and being intrigued. I hoped I would enjoy it, but I've been burned by so many English translations of Japanese novels. Happily, this turned out to be one of the good ones.

Be With You is told primarily from Takumi's perspective. Takumi is a widower with a six-year-old child named Yuji. In the year since his wife died, he has tried to keep going, do his work, and be a good father, but it has been difficult. I'm not sure what his diagnosis would be, but he has severe anxiety. He cannot travel far from home and has a great terror of being enclosed inside vehicles. He cannot go inside movie theaters, his short-term memory is bad, and sometimes he seizes up and thinks he is dying. His efforts to cook for Yuji often go badly, so they usually just eat Yuji's favorite food, curry. Their home is a mess, because it doesn't occur to Takumi to clean, and Yuji sometimes goes to school in dirty clothes.

This is how things are for them when Mio, or her ghost perhaps, comes back into their lives. Takumi finds her at one of his and Yuji's usual exploration spots, near an old factory. She has no memory of either of them, nor of her death. Takumi had always told Yuji that deceased loved ones go to a planet called Archive, and it now seems possible that his story was true, and somehow Mio has temporarily come back to them. Takumi is hesitant to tell Mio about her death, but he does tell her about how they met and eventually fell in love. The three of them gradually become a family again, as though Mio never died. But this can't last forever, right?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Travel (nonfiction book) by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht, illustrations by Brenda Brown

My parents gave this to me as a birthday gift many years ago, because I'm a worrywart and they know it. I decided it was time for a reread.

It's highly unlikely that I will ever need to know how to control a runaway camel, stop a runaway passenger train, foil a UFO abduction, or cross a piranha-infested river. However, some chapters could potentially be useful (I really, really hope not, but you never know). For example, this book gives you tips on what to do if you're being followed, or if your car's brakes go out. There are also chapters on how to survive a mugging, treat a scorpion sting or severed limb, or remove a leech, and there are some useful sounding travel and packing strategies. Since this book was published back in 2001, some of the advice may not be 100% accurate anymore. For example, I'm pretty sure that most cars now have easier-to-find trunk release catches, making a lot of the stuff in the chapter on escaping the trunk of a car unnecessary.

For the most part, the advice feels solid and serious. The sections on foreign emergency phrases and gestures to avoid are a bit sillier, however. I doubt I would ever have the presence of mind to politely say “Hello—I have been seriously wounded” in Spanish, French, German, or Japanese. And I suspect that “You will never make me talk” would be a bad thing to say in any situation where it might apply.

Unsurprisingly, the book begins with a disclaimer: “To deal with the worst-case scenarios presented in this book, we highly recommend—insist, actually—that the best course of action is to consult a professionally trained expert. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO UNDERTAKE ANY OF THE ACTIVITIES DESCRIBED IN THIS BOOK YOURSELF” (5). Aside from the legal issues, this disclaimer makes sense because many of the situations covered in this book are very high stress, with instructions and tips that are sometimes complicated.

Let's say I was suddenly in need of the advice contained in this book. Would I remember any of it? Probably not. If I, by some miracle, had the book on hand, would I have time to read and follow the necessary instructions? Who knows. If I really did need to use this book, I have a feeling that one of my criticisms would be that it needs more and better illustrations. Take the chapter on crash-landing a small passenger propeller plane on water, for instance. There were pictures of the controls and instruments, but they were on a separate page from most of the details about what everything did. Would I have time to page back and forth, matching instruments up to descriptions? Of course, I'm so afraid of heights that I probably wouldn't be in the plane in the first place.

All in all, this was a quick read that simultaneously amused me and made me feel slightly anxious.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Crown (manga, vol. 2) story by Shinji Wada, art by You Higuri, translated by Christine Schilling

Crown combines action, humor, hot guys, and hints of future romance. It was published by Go! Comi and is now out of print, although it's still possible to find cheap copies of the first couple volumes.

This review includes slight spoilers.

Synopsis:

Mahiro's team of bodyguards increases by one – Ren and Jake invite the smitten Chondrite “Condor” Bourne to join them and protect Mahiro during the day, while they're busy hunting down potential assassins and doing research. In the latter half of the volume, a new assassin is sent...but not after Mahiro. Angela, a sexy assassin who only works for expensive jewelry, is told to kill Ren and Jake. She becomes curious about Mahiro, who she guesses is her employer's true target.

Review:

I think I'm going to stop here – I doubt the later volumes are worth the effort and, possibly, expense.

Crown (manga, vol. 1) story by Shinji Wada, art by You Higuri, translated by Christine Schilling

Crown combines action, humor, hot guys, and hints of future romance. It was published by Go! Comi and is now out of print, although it's still possible to find cheap copies of the first couple volumes.

Synopsis:

Mahiro is a cheerful, hard-working orphan who everyone loves, except for the horrible family that took her in after her parents died. When Mahiro caught the dad peeking at her while she was changing, she opted to leave and live on her own. Ren and Jake, two talented and hot mercenaries, kidnap her from one of her jobs, kick the horrible family out of her parents' house, and then take her to their condo. That's when Mahiro finally learns that Ren is her long-lost brother and that she is a princess who is in grave danger. Their stepmother, Lady Phoebula, wants Mahiro dead so that she can have the pendant that is the key to becoming queen of the country of Regalia. However, neither snipers nor hordes of soldiers will keep Ren from giving Mahiro the best birthday ever.

Review:

Right, so this series is over-the-top and knows it. Ren and Jake are OMG hot!!!, Mahiro is so sweet that her very aura can turn any enemy who is not complete cardboard into an ardent admirer, and several of the villains rely on the incredibly lazy stereotype of the Evil Fat Person.

Hello, Please!: Very Helpful Super Kawaii Characters from Japan (nonfiction book) by Matt Alt and Hiroko Yoda

Hello, Please!: Very Helpful Super Kawaii Characters from Japan is a tiny nonfiction book composed mostly of photographs of “working characters,” cute mascots for everything from toilet paper to police departments. I can't remember how I first heard about it, but the brightly colored cover was appealing. I decided to request it via ILL after looking through some photos my sister took while she was in Okinawa.

The book is divided into five sections: Official Characters, Instructional Characters, Warning Characters, Advertising Characters, and Food Characters. Each section has an introduction that gives a little background on the various types of characters and the reason for their existence. The information struck me as being very light and surface level, quick attempts to explain what made the different types of characters so special and uniquely Japanese. I don't think I ever quite understood what made these characters so different from mascot characters outside of Japan - it seemed to boil down to "there are a lot of them" and "they are used in more situations." Also, I was left with lots of questions.

For example, the characters are repeatedly referred to as “reassuring.” Are they really perceived that way by Japanese people, or is that just the effect that companies, designers, and organizations are going for? The Official Characters section, which covered characters used by various official services, such as police departments, hospitals, and public transportation, left me wondering how many of the characters specific to certain locations would be recognizable outside those locations.

The greatest appeal of this book is its pictures. Alt and Yoda include a dizzying array of characters, and each one only gets one or two photos. The photos have short captions describing the purpose of the character and giving its name if it has one. The only characters in the book that I was familiar with were the OS-Tan, which were mentioned in the text but not pictured, due to “murky rights issues” (151).

All in all, this was an okay book, but I was left wanting something more. More depth on the origins of the characters, or an in-depth look at one or two of the characters, or brief interviews with creators of some of the characters, or even just “what do you think about this mascot character?” interviews with average Japanese folks. Still, the pictures were nice, and I appreciated getting to see so many of these characters.

14 (audio book) by Peter Clines, read by Ray Porter

This post does not include a read-alikes list.

Review:

Nate lives in L.A. and has a dead-end minimum wage data entry job. He needs a more affordable place to live, so he's thrilled to learn about the Kavach building. An apartment with all utilities paid, only $565 a month! Yay! Maybe it's so cheap because it's infested with bright green mutant cockroaches. Or maybe something else is going on. Despite threats of eviction from the building manager, Nate and the other Kavach building residents begin exploring the building's many mysteries, which include highly individual apartment layouts, the mysterious padlocked Apartment 14, weird lighting in Nate's kitchen, and more.

I'm not sure what to call 14. Horror, I guess, but it's not the gory or scary kind. It's suspenseful, slightly creepy, and, especially near the end, downright weird. Aspects of the book struck me as being more silly than scary. Even so, it worked really well for me.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Herb-Witch (e-book) by Elizabeth McCoy

Herb-Witch is a self-published fantasy book, the first in a duology. It's 124,770 words long.

Review:

I really enjoyed McCoy's Queen of Roses, so I decided to buy her Lord Alchemist Duology as well. Herb-Witch turned out to be incredibly difficult to get into, although I did eventually find my footing in this new world. I became invested in the characters...and then the ending happened. To say it was disappointing is putting it mildly. I'll have to read Book 2 to be sure, but so far I'd have to say that this book is not for romance fans, despite the "romance" tag I've seen applied to it.

Iathor, the Lord Alchemist, first meets Kessa Herbsman in a prison cell. She has been accused of disminding a moneylender with one of her potions. Iathor uses a truth potion on her and realizes that she is an immune, someone on whom most potions have little or no effect. There are only two known immunes at the moment: Iathor (the Lord Alchemist is required to be immune) and his heir and brother, Iasen. Iathor has been searching for an immune woman for decades, because he must either marry an immune woman or take a dramswife, a woman who has drunk the dramsman's draught in order to make her completely loyal to him. The thought of a wife who has no choice but to be by his side horrifies him.

Ugly, half-barbarian Kessa never expected to receive a marriage proposal from anyone, much less the Lord Alchemist, but she's not about to fall gratefully into his arms. She has no idea what it means to be immune or how rare it is. All she wants is to take care of her sickly foster sister and to be left alone. Iathor attempts to woo Kessa by feeding her, taking care of her when she's ill or in pain, and generally making her life easier. Even if she decides not to be his wife, he'd at least like to make her his student.
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