Saturday, November 29, 2008

Any Given Doomsday (book) by Lori Handeland

(Update, 10/8/09 - I received this book as an ARC through Shelfari. As you can see, this did not positively influence my review, but, even if this were a glowing review of the book, the glowing review would not have been the result of receiving the book for free through Shelfari.)

Elizabeth Phoenix is a psychic, with the ability to see things before they happen, although not always with enough warning to stop them. One day she gets an urge to go see Ruthie, her foster mother, and finds her lying in a pool of her own blood. Before Ruthie dies, she tells Liz, "The final battle begins now." It's not long before Jimmy, Liz's ex-lover, turns up. The police consider Jimmy a suspect in Ruthie's death, but Liz is sure he didn't do it. That doesn't really make her want to be around him any more than she has to be, though - the reason he's her ex-lover is because he was cheating on her.

Liz is going to have to see an awful lot of Jimmy, however. Ruthie was a seer, someone who had visions that would reveal demons hiding behind human faces. Before Ruthie died, she passed her abilities on to Liz, but Liz is only able to identify demons if she touches them - very inconvenient. Seers are protected by and accompanied by their demon killers, or DKs. Jimmy was Ruthie's DK, so now he's Liz's. Liz has to learn how to use her new powers better, and both she and Jimmy have to learn how to overcome their rocky past.

My description makes this book sound like it might be paranormal romance, but it's not. I'd mainly call it contemporary fantasy, with a couple main characters who have some serious relationship history. There's lots of sex, but the first really graphic sex scene does not involve Liz and Jimmy, but rather Liz and another character - that surprised me a bit, since, by that point, I was still a little unsure if this was going to turn out to be a more traditional paranormal romance.

As far as the fantasy portion of the book goes, I'd say it's... okay. Quite frankly, too much of this book reminded me of other, more enjoyable books. Liz was tough as nails, except when she was vulnerable. Jimmy was a sexy jerk, whose jerk behavior may be mostly due to feelings of self-loathing stemming out of a secret he's hiding from Liz. Later in the book, Liz gets powers that depend upon her having sex. All this and more reminds me of other books. Those who haven't really been keeping track of the stuff coming out recently by Laurell K. Hamilton, Karen Marie Moning, Patricia Briggs, Karen Chance, and others might read this book and find it fascinating and original. For anyone else, it's a bit ho hum.

If I could've liked Liz and Jimmy, I might've been able to forgive the book's lack of originality, but unfortunately that wasn't the case. The two characters hovered at the edge of becoming appealing, but I think Handeland's handling of their relationship was what kept them from reaching it. Over and over throughout of the book, Liz says that she had been really in love with Jimmy back when they were together, and his betrayal broke her heart. Near the end of the book, the Jimmy Liz knew is nearly gone, and Liz tries to bring him back by reminding him of what they had together. That sounds nice and all, except that Handeland never really showed what they had together - all readers really know is that Liz and Jimmy had, and still have, really great sex. Sorry, that doesn't paint a good enough picture of the emotional relationship they once had. Handeland needed to show that Liz and Jimmy didn't just enjoy sex, but also each other's company. She was on to something when she wrote about Liz comforting Jimmy after the two of them discover a massacre, but there was precious little of this sort of thing in this book.

Of course, Handeland might've felt that developing the non-sexual sides of relationships would be too boring for her readers. She certainly set things up so that future books starring Liz Phoenix could have lots and lots of sex. Specifically, I'm referring to the power Liz acquires which allows her to gain powers from anyone she has sex with. On the back of my copy of this book, Handeland writes about being inspired by Laurell K. Hamilton, and this is one of those times when that inspiration is obvious - after all, the overarching storyline of Hamilton's Meredith Gentry series is also set up so that Meredith can and will have lots of sex (if she is to survive the series, Meredith must eventually get pregnant) and Hamilton's Anita Blake has the ardeur (she needs sex the way vampires need blood). I read a lot of romance, and romance is one of my favorite genres, so I'm no stranger to books with sex, but I like that sex to be the result of some sort of emotional connection, not a convenient plot device.

Overall, I wasn't impressed with this book. It's possible that later books in this series will be better, as Handeland further develops the storyline and the characters' pasts and relationships with one another. Right now, however, it's a bit disappointing. With the current glut of contemporary/urban fantasy starring a strong female main character and her pack of sexy men, it takes a lot for a new book to stand apart from all the rest, and Handeland wasn't able to manage it.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Darkfever (book) by Karen Marie Moning - This is the first book in a series. MacKayla Lane travels to Ireland to track down her sister's murderer, determined not to give up despite the difficulties she encounters. She begins to learn about a hidden side of the world, a dangerous side filled with vampires, Fae, and other beings. She discovers that she can sense these beings and finds a mentor in the mysterious and unwelcoming Jericho Barrons. Because Moning has primarily been a writer of romance, paranormal and otherwise, the lack of romance (although there are a few explicit sex scenes) may turn some of her regular readers off. However, those who enjoyed Handeland's book will find that Moning's has a similar feel.
  • A Kiss of Shadows (book) by Laurell K. Hamilton - This is the first book in Hamilton's Meredith Gentry series. It introduces Meredith Gentry, a faerie princess who's been working for a supernatural detective agency and hiding her identity from everyone. When her identity is revealed, Meredith discovers that she has a chance at the Unseelie throne, but only if she can manage to get pregnant before her cousin can get someone pregnant - you see, faeries are notoriously infertile, so pregnancy would prove the fertility of either candidate, and a fertile ruler means that the Unseelie in general will be more fertile. Those who'd like another fantasy with a dark edge, a contemporary setting, lots of sexy non-human men, and quite a few explicit sex scene might like this book and series.
  • Guilty Pleasures (book) by Laurell K. Hamilton - This is the first book in Hamilton's Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series, set in an alternate history where vampires, werewolves and more are now a (sometimes uncomfortable) part of society. Anita Blake is a vampire executioner, an animator (she can raise the dead), and a consultant to the police on all things supernatural. In this first book, someone's killing innocent vampires, and, although Anita's killed her share of vampires, she does her best to find the killer. Those who'd like another fantasy with a darker edge, vampires and werewolves, and a large cast of sexy men might like this book and series. Those who liked Handeland's sex scenes may want to try skipping ahead to book 10 (Narcissus in Chains), which is, I believe, the point where the series' sex scenes suddenly become extremely detailed and explicit. Be warned, however - readers who skip ahead will be missing out on a lot of character development and world-building.
  • The Matrix (live action movie) - A hacker finds out that the "real" world is only a construct designed to keep people docile, so that they can be used as living batteries by robots - this hacker discovers that he is the only one who can free humanity from these robots and the constructed world. Those who liked the idea of a special person who is suddenly recruited to be part of a hidden battle to save the world might want to try this movie - in addition, Ruthie reminded me of an elderly female character in this movie.
  • Moon Called (book) by Patricia Briggs - This is the first book in a series. Mercy is a mechanic and a skinwalker, someone who can turn into a coyote at will. Mercy is smart and tough, but she's definitely no Mary Sue - she may be able to shapeshift or not whenever she wants, and she may be fast and have a good sense of smell, but she's also weaker and more human than most of the beings she's around. In this book, Mercy and others investigate attacks on local werewolves - although fairies have revealed their existence to humankind, werewolves haven't yet, and random killings could unveil werewolves before they're ready. Those who'd like another fantasy with a strong female main character, a few handsome male characters, a contemporary setting, and lots of werewolves, vampires and more might like this book and series.
  • Touch the Dark (book) by Karen Chance - This is the first book in Chance's Cassandra Palmer series. Cassie is a gifted clairvoyant whose entire life since she was a little girl has been controlled by vampires. Three years ago, she managed to run away from the vampires who both raised her and had a part in her parents' deaths, and she's been in hiding ever since. Now the vampires are closing in, and Cassie learns that the mages are after her as well. Cassie has to figure out who she can trust, stay alive, and figure out why so many people want to kill her. Those who'd like another fantasy with a contemporary setting, a darker edge, a strong female character who gains unexpected powers, and handsome but dangerous men might like this book and series.
  • Full Moon Rising (book) by Keri Arthur - This is the first book in the Riley Jensen Guardian series. Riley Jensen and her twin brother are half vampire, half werewolf. In Riley, the werewolf side is pretty strong, but she does have a few gifts courtesy of her vampire side. In this fast-paced book, Riley's twin goes missing and a naked vampire turns up on her doorstep. Riley and Quinn team up to find her brother and end up uncovering lots of scary stuff about clones of supernatural creatures (cloned vampires are only the tip of the iceberg). Those who'd like another fantasy with a darker edge, vampire and werewolf characters, and quite a few handsome men might like this book and series.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A day off at the movies

I had today off, and it was grand. I woke up really early and did a little bit of shopping. My Black Friday store of choice was Wal-Mart, because I was too lazy and tired to go anywhere else - I'd have to go to another town to shop at many of the stores I used to enjoy, and I think the nearest mall is about 2 hours away. I could only stand to be in Wal-Mart for about an hour before all the people got to me. The cashier I spoke to was extremely nice, though, and nothing seemed to faze her.

In the afternoon, I went to see Twilight. No, I'm no longer a squealing teenage girl, but it's going to be a while, if ever, before my inner teenage girl goes away. I enjoyed the movie - I think I might actually like it better than the book, although I've got gripes about both. I suppose I should get around to finishing my blog entry for Twilight the book, but, since it's not done yet, I'll just say that my biggest gripe about it is Stephenie Meyer's writing style. What teenage girl thinks and speaks the way Meyer has written Bella thinking and speaking?! With the movie, I only had to put up with that during Bella's voice-overs - I thought Kristen Stewart (Bella) did an excellent job of making Bella's dialogue sound reasonably realistic. I also found that I liked Bella better when I didn't have to hear what she was thinking all the time. All that "the guys in Forks are practically falling over themselves for me and I can't fathom why" thinking in the book really got on my nerves.

With the movie, my main complaints were that most of the Cullen family looked fake (although maybe they were made to look that way on purpose, in an attempt to make them look perfect?) and that Robert Pattinson (Edward) is really bad at snarling and looking scary. If you've read the book and worried about whether the filmmakers would change things drastically in the movie, I think you can relax. Scenes and lines were left out, and a few minor (in my opinion) details were changed, but otherwise this was an amazingly faithful adaptation. One thing that surprised me: I don't think I've ever seen a movie with this many intensely awkward moments before. Stewart does uncomfortable well.

Well, I don't consider this my "official" blog post about the Twilight movie, so I don't feel particularly compelled to write much about it (or to list read-alikes/watch-alikes). I enjoyed the movie enough that I think I'll eventually be getting it once it comes out on DVD - I can write the blog entry then.

I really should get around to finishing more blog posts. Unfortunately, I've also got to work on writing up my job qualifications. I really hate that form.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Case of the Missing Books (book) by Ian Sansom

Israel Armstrong has traveled to Ireland to begin his very first full-time, long-term job as a librarian. Unfortunately, when he arrives he discovers that the library he was supposed to work at has closed down. His new boss convinces him to agree to drive the mobile library as an "Outreach Support Officer." What she doesn't mention is that the mobile library hasn't been driven in ages and is a little rusty. In addition, all 15,000 books in the closed library have disappeared. Israel, in well over his head and lacking in decent people skills, is told that it's his job to find the library books - his boss won't accept his resignation (in fact, she threatens to extend his contract) unless he finds the missing books first.

This book wasn't quite as funny as I expected it to be. Israel, a vegetarian living in a place that doesn't appear to have ever heard of vegetarianism, is an awkward character, and, for me anyway, the awkwardness often left the realm of "funny" and became more uncomfortable instead. Israel is just awful at dealing with people. He doesn't deal with the missing book situation very well, actually inspiring his first best suspect to punch him in the face. The situation with Israel's girlfriend is pathetic - his girlfriend stayed back in London, and, well before Israel realized it, I knew that their relationship was over. I'm not even sure how they ended up together in the first place, because, from the little Sansom revealed about her, she seemed a lot more confident, successful, and together than Israel.

One thing I did like about the book was the quirkiness of Tumdrum, a very rural place where everyone knows everyone and likes messing around with newcomers like Israel a bit. Just about everyone there has a large pile of overdue books (although the overdue books don't all add up to 15,000). They're also not a very trusting lot. They loved their public library and felt betrayed when it was closed, so a few of the townspeople got together and stole and hid the mobile library in order the keep the Rathkeltair Borough Council from getting ride of it. They then sold the council their own mobile library back when the council decided they needed it again, a detail that had me laughing.

Overall, it was a nice enough book, but not nearly as interesting as I thought it would be. I would mainly recommend this book to anyone interested in reading something involving libraries, humor, and bumbling main characters, since the mystery is one of the least impressive aspects of the book.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • The Color of Magic (book) by Terry Pratchett - This is the first book in Pratchett's Discworld series, although it is by no means necessary to start with the first book when tackling this series - feel free to begin wherever you'd like. This particular book stars Rincewind, an incompetent wizard whose greatest skill is in running away. He involuntarily becomes a guide to Twoflower, a rich and naive tourist, and ends up on a journey around the Discworld. Those looking for another book starring an awkward and incompetent main character who seems to be somewhat disliked by the universe might want to try this book.
  • To Say Nothing of the Dog (book) by Connie Willis - This hilarious, fast-paced, and strange sci-fi/faux-Victorian novel stars Ned Henry, a time-traveling historian suffering from time lag. In order get him away from Lady Schrapnell, who's running all the historians ragged trying to restore Coventry Cathedral, and give him time to recover, he's sent to Victorian England to take care of a supposedly simple assignment. Unfortunately, he's too time-lagged to understand what he's supposed to do. Those who'd like another comedy of errors might enjoy this book.
  • Vicar of Dibley (live action TV series) - To the shock of many in the small town of Dibley, the new vicar turns out to be an energetic and open-minded woman. The vicar, Geraldine Granger, has her hands full dealing with all the kooky characters in Dibley, plus David Horton, who'd like nothing more than for her to leave. Those who'd like another humorous story in which someone new arrives at a nosy and kooky village might like this title.
  • 44 Scotland Street (book) by Alexander McCall Smith - Pat, 21, is a student on her second gap year and a source of some worry for her parents. She becomes employed at a minor art gallery and is accepted as a tenant at 44 Scotland Street, where she meets and deals with various roommates and neighbors. There's also a low-level mystery involving a possibly valuable painting Pat discovers. Those who'd like another story featuring a large cast of quirky characters and a lighthearted mystery might want to try this book.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A little cataloging digression

I've thought about starting a whole new blog just for posts about cataloging, but I don't think I'll ever end up writing enough to justify its existence. However, I'm a cataloger and love what I do, so cataloging is a large part of what I think about, and there are occasionally things that are nice to get off my chest. For the moment, I'll publish those occasional posts here, and label them all "cataloging" or something like that - if my cataloging posts ever start to get out of hand, I can see about starting a separate blog. That makes two labels, "cataloging" and "blog updates," the only two labels I use in this blog that have nothing to do with movies/books/etc. I'm writing about.

If you're not particularly interested in cataloging, you might want to skip this post and others like it. Well, you've been warned, so now on to the topic that inspired me to create a new post label: RDA (Resource Description and Access).

The review draft was made available for downloading in PDF format early last week, not long before I left for the conference. RDA is enormous, and I've been busy compiling my qualifications for being the cataloger at my library (the form is long and feels like an invasive job application), so I haven't been able to read through as much of it as I would like - at this point, I've read Chapter 0, Chapter 1, and portions of Chapter 2, the appendices, and the glossary. AUTOCAT, the RDA Discussion List, and more have been buzzing with opinions about RDA, which I've been trying to keep track of.

So far, those who think RDA is a monumental mess seem to be the most vocal of the lot. I think the strongest support I've heard for RDA lately has been that it's a "step in the right direction."

My own opinion of RDA? Well, I'm more on the "monumental mess" side of things. The little I've been able to get through of RDA so far has worried me. I can't skillfully dissect RDA's problems the way some AUTOCATers have - I recognize the problems when these people point them out, but I haven't necessarily noticed these problems when I've read through these sections on my own. I know I'd recognize potential problem areas in RDA a lot easier while actually using RDA to catalog something - and therein lies my problem with RDA. How is one supposed to actually use RDA to catalog something? RDA's structure doesn't really seem to have been created with practicing catalogers in mind...

As the primary cataloger at my library, I worry about what's going to happen when/if RDA gets implemented. If RDA is widely implemented, my library will definitely be implementing it as well - there's no way around that, because there would simply be no time to take every RDA record and edit it according to AACR2.

Will my library be able to afford RDA? The only reason we have a completely up-to-date copy of AACR2 is because I brought my personal copy to work with me - otherwise I'd be using a copy of AACR2 missing, at the very least, the most recent update. I'm not sure how affordable RDA is going to turn out to be, and, if it's more expensive than AACR2 and its various updates, it may become a problem.

Will I be able to get any training in the use and application of RDA, or will I be forced to somehow teach myself how to use it? I really don't know. I guess it depends upon whether any training opportunities will be available in my state, and how close they'll end up being to my town.

I have lots of other worries about RDA, but it's late and I'm tired. This is supposed to be a fun blog about books, movies, and such, so I'll try to make this my one and only RDA post. It does feel nice to get a little of that off my chest, though - I haven't been brave enough to post to the listservs much, yet.

Tail of the Moon (manga, vol. 2) by Rinko Ueda

At the start of this volume, readers get to find out a little about Usagi and Goemon's past (Goemon is the one who proposed to Usagi at the end of the previous volume). Young Goemon was told that he had to carry infant Usagi on his back until she spoke her first word, which is part of the reason why the two of them are so close now. However, Usagi is now in love with Hanzo and doesn't want to marry Goemon. She knows that Hanzo is in love with Princess Sara, so she enters a ninja skill contest in the hope of winning a love potion for him, so that he can be happy with the princess. Once Goemon hears her reason for entering the contest, he agrees to help her (she's so clumsy she'd have no chance of winning on her own), but Goemon's leg hurts too badly for him to do the final event, a race, for her. Usagi tries to do it on her own, but she's really bad at it.

Meanwhile, Hanzo is determined not to go chasing after Usagi, but he can't help but go after her when he hears from Mamezo that Usagi is doing fine and is going to marry Goemon. Hanzo finds Usagi while she's attempting the race and carries her on his back in order to help her finish it. After the race, Goemon kisses Usagi, causing Hanzo to run off. Usagi runs after him, but Goemon's bad leg won't let him follow. While following Hanzo, Usagi almost drowns to death, but Hanzo saves her.

Later, Hanzo finally agrees to consider marrying Usagi and having her bear his child - but only if she can qualify as a ninja by the end of this year (the same goes for Yuri, so don't get all excited - and no, Yuri hasn't actually qualified as a ninja yet, no matter what she's said). Goemon agrees to train them both. Not long after that, Goemon gets in trouble for trying to kill Sara, who is apparently an Oda assassin.

Goemon, Usagi, Yuri, and Mamezo all go to Hamamatsu (it's all very sudden, I know). Yuri pretty much falls out of the running for Hanzo's affections - she develops a huge crush on Goemon. Meanwhile, at Hamamatsu Castle, the group tries to convince Hanzou's father to let Princess Sara see him. However, Hanzou's father refuses (he even has Hanzou locked up until he promises to give up Sara). While trying to rescue Hanzou, everyone in the group ends up captured. It turns out that Sara was responsible for killing Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu's wife and son (I think Lord Ieyasu is Hanzou's father's lord, which explains the father's animosity).

Suddenly, Hanzo swoops in to rescue everyone. Princess Sara also shows up - she and Hanzou are allowed to be together, but only if Usagi stays at Hamamatsu Castle to act as an herbalist there. Hanzo is forced to admit that it's highly unlikely Usagi will ever qualify as a ninja, so he agrees to let her go, and Usagi agrees to stay (alone, unfortunately - none of her friends are allowed to stay with her). Usagi soon discovers that she's not the only herbalist at the castle. Yukimaru also makes medicines and is not happy to have competition. Things get worse when Hanzou's father's wife's condition worsens and Usagi says that the many medicines Yukimaru has been giving her are what's making her ill (too many medicines = medicines are likely to work against each other). Yukimaru plans to kill Usagi, but then she trips and almost dies on her own - Goemon saves her. Goemon offers to take Usagi home, but she refuses to go, since she now has a patient to care for. Later on, Usagi discovers something shocking - apparently, beautiful Yukimaru is not a girl, as Usagi had assumed, but rather a guy.

Wow, it feels like I just tried to describe an episode of a soap opera. Anyway, I still feel like Usagi's a little too stupid to be as attractive to all these guys as she is. I find it unbelievable how obsessed Goemon is with her, and it even looks like Hanzo's falling for her too (although he's the ultimate at hiding his feelings). The main thing Usagi has going for her is her sweetness and goodness. Still, she mostly comes across as a child to me, not the sort of person I could see a guy thinking of marrying.

Although it's sad for Usagi that she doesn't get to be around her friends as much while she's at the castle, I actually think it's the perfect place for her. I agree that it's unlikely she'll ever qualify as a ninja - it really would be best for her to concentrate on her skills as an herbalist. It's already an activity she enjoys, and it's something she's good at, so she'd finally be able to be useful to others. As a ninja, she's more of a burden than anything. She's the main reason everyone was captured, and she may have been given the love potion as a prize for the ninja skills contest, but she completed almost none of the contest on her own. I want her finally to be able to recognize her own skills and grow to be a competent person. I realize that I'm probably asking for more than this series will ever give - I doubt that Usagi is ever going to become anything but childlike. However, I don't think it's asking too much for her to become more than a dead weight.

I enjoyed the tiny amount of relationship development between Usagi and Hanzo - Hanzo seems to be coming out of his shell a little more. However, it's still frustrating that he's being so careful not to show too much favoratism. It's obvious that Usagi is special to him, since she's the only one he ever seems to worry about (although I guess that could just be taken as evidence of how completely incompetent Usagi is). I'm sure the scene where Hanzo is warming up a naked and nearly drowned Usagi with his body heat (he's also naked) will probably prompt quite a few fangirl squeals.

Overall, I felt pretty much the same about this volume as I did about the first - it had many of the same good and bad aspects.

There aren't many extras in this volume, just a two-page glossary of terms.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Kaze Hikaru (manga) by Taeko Watanabe - This story is set during the Bakumatsu period, which marked the end of the Tokugawa era and the beginning of the Meiji era. A young girl named Sei Tominaga disguises herself as a boy named Seizaburo Kamiya in order to join the Shinsengumi and eventually avenge the deaths of her father and brother. Those who'd like another historical manga with a decent amount of action and romance might want to try this title.
  • Fushigi Yuugi: Mysterious Play (manga) by Yuu Watase; Fushigi Yuugi: Mysterious Play (anime TV series) - Miaka is an ordinary middle school student (things are different in Japan, so Miaka is actually 15 years old, rather than 14 or younger) who wants nothing more than some tasty snacks and to be accepted into the same high school as her best friend (who, unfortunately for Miaka, has much better grades than she does - getting into the same high school is going to be tough). When she visits the National Library with her friend, she stumbles upon the book The Universe of the Four Gods and literally gets sucked into the story. She becomes the priestess of Suzaku, protected by her Celestial Warriors. If she can find all seven of her Celestial Warriors, she will be able to summon Suzaku and go home. Those who'd like another romantic story in which a stupid and sweet girl is the object of several guys' affections might want to try this title.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A source of cheap-ish manga

Today I discovered that the largest entertainment store in my new home town sells used anime and manga. Their anime prices usually aren't that great - I could get cheaper anime, brand-new, online, even considering the cost of shipping - but their used manga are pretty nicely priced. Unfortunately, the selection is limited. As far as I can tell, the store doesn't sell any new manga, although maybe I'll be able to find an employee to ask and confirm this the next time I'm there.

I either already owned or didn't really want most of their used manga. However, I didn't walk away from the store empty-handed (and I certainly spent more than I should have ^^;). Here's a list of what I ended up getting:
  • The Gentlemen's Alliance Cross, vol. 2 (Yay!)
  • Death Note, the first live action movie (I have no idea if this is even any good, but I loved the manga and liked the anime, so I thought I'd give this a try)
  • Tactics, the complete series (I've seen fansubs of the first five or so episodes, and I've watched almost all of the dubbed version on the Sci-fi Channel - now I finally get to see how it ends)
As usual, my buying leaned heavily towards DVDs. Since I now own this stuff, in theory I'll eventually be writing posts for it all. We'll see how it goes.

While I'm learning to love this store, I spend way too much money when I'm there, so I'm going to have to limit my visits to once a month or so. I have so little willpower when it comes to anime and manga...

I'm back from the conference!

I've finally gotten around to updating my Shelfari "Currently Reading" list. Not only do I not read as much as I used to, I'm also not very good about updating that anymore.

I'm back from the conference - it went well, and I learned a lot. For instance, I may soon begin cataloging in OCLC Connexion again - you can't know how happy it makes me that I'll be able to use spell check, do authority work quickly and easily, and validate my records again. Of course, I'll still be manually loading authority files into our system, but that's another story. Actually, it really is another story - one of the conference presentations was about outsourcing authority control. If I (and the Systems Librarian, who also loves authority control) can manage to convince the director of my library to part with at least $9,000 to start with, and then approximately $1,400 a year after that, my library's catalog could finally have decent authority control. As things currently stand, I spend hours every week on it, with hardly anything to show for all that work. At least we no longer have any records that use "European War" as a subject heading, rather than "World War."

I could write for hours about authority control, but I'd better wrap this up - it's late and there are still a few things I've got to do before I go to bed. One final comment: I'm still a little sick, but I'm nowhere near as bad off as I was, so hopefully I can keep things going steadily with this blog.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Good Luck Chuck (live action movie)

As a boy, Charlie Logan once attended a party at which one of the games was Spin the Bottle. When it was his turn, the bottle pointed at the scary Goth girl, who ended up cursing him so that every girl he ever sleeps with ends up marrying the guy she dates after him. He doesn't really think anything of this until years later, when the women around him start connecting the dots and realizing that all his ex-girlfriends have gotten happily married. Suddenly, all kinds of women are throwing themselves at him, wanting only to have sex with him so that they can find love afterwards. Unfortunately, Charlie's fallen for a klutzy young woman named Cam who knows his reputation and would prefer a monogamous guy. Charlie's willing to be that guy, but he becomes terrified at the thought his curse might cause Cam to end up with someone else after him. If he wants to keep the first woman he's ever really loved, he's going to have to figure out how to break his curse.

Somehow, it's possible for me to say that this is both a horribly raunchy movie and a very sweet movie. The raunchiness should be obvious. Charlie has sex a lot, and the filmmakers were very fond of having bare breasts on screen. Heck, Charlie's best friend is a cosmetic surgeon who specializes in breast implants - it's amazing that there are scenes in the movie that don't feature women's breasts.

And yet, in the end it's still a sweet movie. Charlie's best friend may be a disgusting sleazebag, but Charlie is a nice guy. His girlfriends get mad at him because he refuses to save "the l-word" (love) unless he really means it - not a happy thing to explain during sex. Charlie wasn't the one who spread the news about his curse. Charlie doesn't even want to take advantage of the apparent benefits of his curse (lots and lots of sex with no strings attached) at first - the main reason he does is because lots of unhappy women will be able to find love because of him (although I'm sure that the sex was an important factor in his decision too). A few of the women Charlie ends up sleeping with actually explain their reasons for wanting to take advantage of his curse, and those parts almost made me teary-eyed. I might not be able to imagine hopping into bed with a stranger on the off-chance I'd find love soon after, but I can feel for women who are desperate after years of feeling unattractive or years of dating jerks.

As nice as Charlie is, I can understand Cam's position, though. It'd be tough agreeing to date someone when you know that he's slept with a good percentage of the women in the city. One thing that's never brought up that I would have asked, if I were Cam, was whether Charlie had been tested for any STDs lately.

The penguin aspect of the movie was interesting, although I think the filmmakers took it a little too far. At one point in the movie, Cam explains to Charlie that she likes a certain kind of penguin because they're monogamous. When the male finds a female he likes, he searches far and wide for the perfect pebble to give her, and if she accepts it they're mates for life. The filmmakers carry this through to the very end of the movie, which was nice and sweet - I liked that. What I thought was a little over-the-top was Cam's obsession with penguins. It didn't really bother me during the actual movie. Yes, her bedroom was decked out with penguins, but so what? Then I made the mistake of watching the extra stuff during the ending credits. Boy, was that a mistake. I ended up fast-forwarding through almost all of it, so that I wouldn't end up quite so scarred by the sight of Cam and Charlie's stuffed penguin sex tape. Eww.

When I asked my sister for a romantic comedy for my birthday and she gave me this, I wondered what was wrong with her, but, overall, I enjoyed this movie more than I thought I would. It's not the best romantic comedy ever, not by a long shot, but it has more heart than I expected.

Watch-alikes:
  • Employee of the Month (live action movie) - The hot new female employee at the Sam's Club-like store of this movie seems to have a thing of anyone who makes Employee of the Month, inspiring one of the slackers who works there to get his act together. Unfortunately, he's facing some stiff competition from an ambitious co-worker. Those who'd like another romantic comedy that uses crude humor might like this movie. In addition, Dane Cook (who played Charlie in Good Luck Chuck) plays the slacker.
  • Fifty First Dates (live action movie) - Henry Roth is a veterinarian in Hawaii who's afraid of commitment - he prefers to date vacationers, because there's little chance he'll ever see them again. However, when he meets Lucy, he finds himself wanting more. Unfortunately, Lucy suffers from short-term memory loss. If Henry wants a place in her life, he'll have to get her to fall in love with him again each and every day. To me, this movie feels like a less raunchy version of Good Luck Chuck. There's marine animals (I think Henry works at Sea World, but I'm not sure), a female lead who's a bit of a goof, and unexpected sweetness (when I think Adam Sandler I don't necessarily think "sweet").
  • Evolution (live action movie) - A meteor lands on Earth, bringing with it a rapidly evolving and eventually very dangerous organism. It's up to a fire-fighting cadet, a couple college professors, and a government scientist to defeat the aliens and save the planet. If you're interested in a funny movie that includes romance developing between a guy and a really klutzy girl, you might like this movie.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Garden (book) by Elsie V. Aidinoff

In this retelling of the story of Adam and Eve and their time in Eden, Aidinoff chooses to tell things from Eve's perspective, beginning with her creation. Eve is cared for and educated by the Serpent, while God cares for and educates Adam. The Serpent delights in Eve's creativity and her desire to question and explore her world. When Eve first meets God and Adam, she's in for a frustrating time, because God is not nearly as easy-going and accepting as the Serpent. God, although affectionate, created Adam and Eve for his own companionship and amusement and is frustrated whenever they don't act exactly as he expects them to act. In his impatience to see them perform one of their most important functions (second only to providing him companionship), God rushes the physical relationship between Adam and Eve, leaving Adam ashamed and Eve emotionally damaged. In its anger at God's treatment of Eve, the Serpent takes her away and forbids him and Adam from seeing her for a while. While her emotions settle and heal, Eve explores the world outside the Garden with the Serpent, explorations which eventually lead to the appearance of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and Adam, Eve, and the Serpent's banishment from the Garden.

Some might see this as a feminist book, since Eve is, in general, more thoughtful and clever than Adam. However, I don't think all this is really an indication that Eve is better than Adam - it's just that she was raised by someone who was more willing to encourage her to grow in whatever direction she felt comfortable. Had the Serpent raised Adam, he might very well have grown up more thoughtful. Actually, he didn't turn out too badly, considering.

In this day and age, I imagine that there are quite a few Christians who wouldn't necessarily be uncomfortable with the idea that Eve was not to blame for everyone being thrown out of Eden. However, I do imagine that there are many Christians who will be upset with Aidinoff's God and Serpent. Aidinoff's God is jealous, quick to anger, rigid in his ideas, lacks empathy for others, and likes the sound of others praising him. He's also awe-inspiring and nice when he's in a good mood. Whatever others might think of him, I thought he actually matched rather well with the God I remembered reading about in the Old Testament. In comparison, the Serpent was kind, level-headed, wise, and open to new ideas - it took me ages before I stopped watching carefully for some sign that the Serpent was going to turn out to be a liar. Actually, the Serpent rarely lies and cares more for Eve and Adam's well-being than God seems to.

Aidinoff's interpretation of this story, God, Adam, Eve, and the Serpent will probably limit the number of people who'd be willing to read this book and who would enjoy it. I found this book in the young adult section of my public library and, although I agree that young adults would probably enjoy it (the themes of dealing with authority, changing, and growing up would probably interest many teens), I'd probably only recommend this book to older teens. The two sex scenes, although not very graphic, might be too much for some younger readers. The first sex scene was upsetting. God encourages Eve and Adam to have sex, so that he can be assured that his design turned out as perfectly as he thinks it did. Adam doesn't really want to at first (he's tired out from running for fun), but God insists and Eve tells him it's okay, since the Serpent told her it would be enjoyable. Eve changes her mind when it becomes apparent that it's going to hurt, but Adam is caught up by then and doesn't stop, and God assures her that it can't possibly hurt, because that's not how he designed it to work.

Saying too much about the second sex scene spoils certain parts of the story, so you may want to skip this paragraph if you don't like that sort of thing - granted my summary spoiled a few things, too, but still. The second scene is much more pleasant for Eve, and in some ways it's less descriptive than the first, probably because Eve isn't entirely awake at the time. Although it was a good experience for Eve, it made me uncomfortable, because of who her partner was. I hadn't seen that relationship developing between the two of them, and, as a result, the whole thing felt uncomfortably incestuous to me. This statement practically gives away who Eve's lover was, but I always thought of this character as more of her parent than as a potential lover.

I thought that Aidinoff's idea of things getting away from God was really interesting. It kind of made me think of the clockwork view of the universe. Aidinoff's God would create things and then abandon them when he tired of them. Without his direct influence, these things would change in unexpected ways - new plants grew, blizzards came into being, etc. It's a view of the world that allows for a God who created everything, but that also allows for things to change and turn out differently than the plan that God originally laid out. Both good things and bad things in the world are therefore not the necessarily due to God's direct influence.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It had some weaknesses - I already mentioned how I felt about the second sex scene. Besides that, I thought that, in a book where the emotions and behaviors of the characters felt so real and believable, Adam and Eve's learning process and the naming of things ("I think we'll call that a blizzard," with no explanation for the naming choice) felt fake by comparison. I really enjoyed the characters, however. Eve felt very real to me, and the Serpent was wonderful and mysterious. I found God's childishness interesting, and even Adam, who seemed boring at first, turned out to be a character I wish Aidinoff had allowed readers to spend more time with.

Read-alikes:
  • Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal (book) by Christopher Moore - Biff, Christ's childhood pal, is brought back from the dead by an angel so that he can tell the the parts of the story of Christ's life that are missing from the Bible. Biff does so, and it is, for the most part, irreverent, touching, and funny. Biff's tale eventually overlaps with the the part of Christ's life that can be found in the Bible, which is where things get heartbreaking. Those who'd like another story that takes its inspiration from the Bible might want to try this book.
  • The Sandman (graphic novel series) by Neil Gaiman - The first book is the series is called Preludes and Nocturnes. This series focuses mainly on Morpheus, the Sandman, a dark figure who watches over dreams and makes sure they stay separate from reality. Despite this, several of the stories in this series involve the blending of reality and dreams. Morpheus' various siblings make the occasional appearance, and they're fascinating as well. Although the Christian religion is not one of the main focuses of this series, certain recognizable characters and places turn up - Eve, Hell, angels, etc. Those who'd like another story in which religious characters and places are presented in an interesting, new, and real-feeling way might want to try this series.
  • Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (book) by Gregory Maguire - This book tells the story of Elphaba, future Wicked Witch of the West, as she deals with childhood, college, and eventually the events of L. Frank Baum's book. The Wicked Witch of the West is re-imagined as a sympathetic and empathetic character that readers will want to cheer on - however, Maguire doesn't change Baum's original ending for the Witch. Those who'd just like a story that re-imagines a well-known story and character in an interesting new way might want to try this book.
  • Archangel (book) by Sharon Shinn - This book, the first in a series, is set in what appears to be a utopian society. Angels walk among regular human beings and sing to the god Jovah for whatever aid humans might need (for example, weather manipulation in order to end a drought). Gabriel is next in line to become the archangel, and he must have the wife Jovah has chosen for him singing by his side when it's time for him to assume his new position. Unfortunately, he's waited until nearly the last possible moment to find Rachel, the woman who is to be his wife, and she turns out to be a slave who hates all angels. Those who'd like another book that features a strong female character and an interesting twist on a Christian idea might like this.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Eyeshield 21 (manga, vol. 20) by Riichiro Inagaki (story) and Yusuke Murata (art)

This volume begins with several interviews with players from the various football teams participating in the Kanto Tournament. Then readers get to see Hiruma, Kurita, and Musashi's connection to Agon - it turns out all that all three of them had originally intended to join the Shinryuji Nagas, but went to Deimon instead after Agon prevented Kurita from taking one of the two athletic openings in the Nagas. The story jumps to the present again, as the teams prepare for the Kanto Tournament. The Nagas are convinced that there is no one among the Devil Bats who could stand a chance against them, although Hiruma seems to consider Yukimitsu, the Devil Bats' least athletic player and the only one who hasn't yet played in a game, to be the Devil Bat's secret weapon. Unfortunately, as the game progresses, it seems likely that the Nagas will win. By the end of the first half, the Deimon Devils Bats are at 0, while the Shinryuji Nagas are at 32. Even Hiruma tells the Devil Bats that they have no chance of winning.

This was kind of a depressing volume - usually, even when the Devil Bats are outclassed, they do at least a few incredible things along the way. In this volume they get thrashed, and nothing anyone does seems to be able to overcome the other team's strength. Agon has inhuman levels of endurance, so it's not a hardship for him that he does everything himself - this is not the kind of game where one player is going to learn the value of teamwork. The fact that Hiruma ends up telling the team to give up is especially depressing - Hiruma never tells his team to give up, because there's always a sliver of a chance that they can make it.

The main consolation is that Hiruma has yet to bring Yukimitsu into the game. Inagaki has emphasized that Hiruma considers him to be a secret weapon, and even other people on the Devil Bats team don't know how Hiruma intends to use him. If the team had really been at the end of their rope, Hiruma would've brought him in before now. I'm convinced that Hiruma has some sort of great and sneaky plan he's going to unleash in the next volume. The cryptic preview for the next volume seems to back me up - the words "There was one who would never give up" next to a picture of a somber Yukimitsu, with pictures of determined players from both teams (including Hiruma, with his usual devilish smile).

As depressing as this volume is, it makes me look forward to the next volume even more. Long live the Devil Bats, and all that.

As far as extras go, there's more short interviews with various characters, more Devil Bats investigations (like "What does Yuki's sister look like?"), a picture of a Devil Bats cake made by a fan, the Kanto Tournament lineup, and a few character profiles.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • The Prince of Tennis (manga) by Takeshi Konomi; The Prince of Tennis (anime TV series) - Ryoma Echizen is a tennis genius and a new student at Seigaku High School. He soon becomes a member of his school's famous tennis team and proves that he's capable of beating 2nd and 3rd year students. Those who'd like another exciting sports manga might want to try this series. In addition, Agon's determination to crush untalented players reminds me of at least one opponent in The Prince of Tennis.
  • Whistle! (manga) by Daisuke Higuchi - In this series, a hard-working boy named Sho transfers to a new school just so that he can get a better chance to play soccer. Although he isn't very good at soccer, he practices long and hard and gradually improves his skills. Others begin to notice him, and Sho becomes part of his school's team. Even though he isn't usually the best player, people notice him because his cheerful, determined presence tends to improve moral and his flashes of brilliant playing hint at future greatness. Those who'd like another series featuring exciting sports competition might like this title. In addition, I think this manga has a "you can't play on your own when you're on a team" theme at one point, which is something I had expected would come up with Agon in Eyeshield 21 (except that he apparently has super-human endurance).

Monday, November 17, 2008

Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox (book) by Eoin Colfer

By the end of the previous book in this series, Artemis had disappeared from his own time and place for 3 years. Now that he's back, and still only 14 years old, he has to adjust to living a crime-free life with his parents and his young twin brothers, who were born while he was gone. He's doing reasonably well, but then his family is hit by tragedy - his mother is dying, and not even fairy magic can save her. The only cure for his mother's illness involves the brain fluid of the silky sifaka lemur. Unfortunately, the last of these animals died several years ago, as a result of a bargain Artemis made with an Extinctionist, someone who believes that any animal not directly contributing to the comfort and survival of humans should be killed.

Desperate to save his mother, Artemis enlists the help of Holly Short and his other fairy friends in order to go back in time and save the lemur. Artemis and Holly think they can manage this without causing irreparable damage to the timeline, but it isn't long before their plan unravels and things start happening that Artemis doesn't remember. Soon, Artemis finds himself up against not only the Extinctionists, but also his 10-year-old self. Fourteen-year-old Artemis might have the advantage of greater maturity and experience, but 10-year-old Artemis is a good deal more ruthless. Eventually, Artemis and Holly even have to deal with an old enemy, Opal Koboi.

Although I enjoyed this book, I don't think it's quite as good as some of the earlier Artemis Fowl books. Time travel stories have an increased potential for problems and plot holes, and this book was no exception.

I enjoyed getting to read about Artemis interacting with his younger brothers. I imagine one of the twins will turn out very much like Artemis. The other twin is more like a normal child, so one can only hope that he'll help to balance out the other twin and keep him from the life of crime that Artemis has pretty much abandoned - I suppose the other possibility is that he'll end up being his twin's sidekick or henchman.

I also enjoyed reading about a younger and older Artemis going head-to-head. I didn't remember Artemis from the first book being quite this ruthless, but it's been a while, and the pressure Artemis was under at age 10 makes his behavior believable. Overall, it was a wonderful way to see how far Artemis has come, emotionally.

There's a few hints of possible romance between Holly and Artemis in this book. Although I'd always thought Colfer might pair them up, after the previous book I had thought they'd just stay friends. My reason for thinking this is a character Colfer seems to have conveniently forgotten, Minerva Paradizo. The end of the previous book made it seem likely that Minerva and Artemis might start dating, or at least spend more time getting to know one another. However, Minerva doesn't show up at all, and Artemis doesn't ever think about her. While it might be interesting to see Holly and Artemis deal with romantic feelings for each other (despite the fact that Holly is quite a bit older than Artemis, even if you convert her age to human years), Minerva is a loose end from the previous book that should be dealt with in some way. Yes, Artemis spent most of this 6th book in the past, but it wouldn't have been odd for him to think about her. By not mentioning her in any way, Colfer seems to have taken the easy way out.

Actually, Colfer did a lot of things the easy and convenient way in this book. Many of the things Artemis and Holly did in this book could have caused a time paradox (hence the title). I was pretty sure I knew how Colfer was going to handle that situation, but I thought he might come up with something more clever. I was wrong. For those who are wondering, magic is involved in making everything better.

Depending on what Colfer does in later books, this book also ends with an enormous plot hole. The plot hole I'm talking about is Opal Koboi, who comes forward with Artemis from the past and then escapes before she can be taken back to her own time. Unless she's returned to her own time in a later book, with her memory wiped, the events of the 4th book in the series, Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception, can't happen.

Yes, I still had fun reading this book, especially when I didn't try to think about Minera and the Opal Koboi plot hole too much. However, this may be the sloppiest book in the Artemis Fowl series so far.

Read-alikes:
  • H.I.V.E.: The Higher Institute of Villainous Education (book) by Mark Walden - Thirteen-year-old Otto Malpense, a genius orphan, is among several children with interesting talents taken to H.I.V.E., located on a remote island. Some of the children excel at science, some are master thieves, some are inventors, and some are incredible fighters. Otto makes a few friends and eventually discovers that he and the other children are there in order to be trained to become the next generation of supervillains. Otto and his friends make plans to escape, but they may all be out of their depth. Those who'd like another story starring a genius criminal mastermind and featuring lots of action might like this book (which, from the look of things, is the first in a series).
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (book) by J.K. Rowling - After spending 10 years with his uncle, aunt, and their bully of a son, all people who hate him, Harry Potter learns that he is a wizard and has been invited to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Although things don't exactly become easy, as he tries to deal with a new magical world he knows nothing about, his celebrity status in the world of witches and wizards, and a powerful enemy who tried to kill him when he was just a baby, Harry still manages to enjoy himself and make friends. Those who'd like another story starring a young boy and featuring action and fantasy might like this book and series. In addition, the feel of Rowling's writing is similar to Colfer's.
  • Uglies (book) by Scott Westerfeld - This young adult science fiction novel takes place in a future where, at age 16, "uglies," teens who haven't had any cosmetic surgery yet, are put through a major surgical procedure that turns them into "pretties," gorgeous, placid, fun-loving, bubble heads. Tally Youngblood is an Ugly who wants nothing more than to become a Pretty, but things become complicated when she is asked to betray a friend who has decided to leave the city and remain an Ugly. This is the first book in the series - next are Pretties, Specials, and Extras (the only book not featuring Tally as a main character). Those who'd like another young adult series with plenty of action, a smidgen of romance, and an ecological/environmental message might want to try this.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Upcoming conference, fighting off a cold

Amazingly enough, I managed to write just enough posts to get myself through the conference without any breaks in this blog's posting frequency. I can't guarantee anything after that, though - I've managed to catch a cold, and I'm just crossing my fingers that I'll be healthy enough to get through the conference. If I can't manage to get some sleep tonight, I might find myself taking my very first sick day at work tomorrow... At the moment, I can't breathe through my nose, I'm tired all the time, and my appetite is gone (today I've eaten chocolate, popcorn, and canned pears - yum!). On the plus side, my throat is less sore than it was, and my coughing seems to have gotten a little looser.

Anyway, look forward to the next few days of posts. I've still got slightly over forty drafts waiting to be finished - unfortunately, I've exhausted all the ones that could be finished quickly and easily.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Monkey High! (manga, vol. 2) by Shouko Akira

Haruna and Macharu go to the Dreamland amusement park for their first date. Although Haruna takes a while to warm up to the whole idea, and things don't go entirely as planned, the date is, overall, a success. In the next part of the volume, Macharu and Atsu accidentally break the school principal's expensive and precious vase. Several of the students decide to earn the money to replace the vase by entering a quiz show championship, and Haruna gets dragged along. Haruna does try to contribute, but the experience is a little awkward for her, since she is recognized by one of the reporters as the daughter of jailed Diet member Shinichi Aizawa. Of course, Haruna's friends protect her, but they can't help her with everything. Macharu starts to realize that there's a lot Haruna isn't confiding in him (mainly, her feelings about her father), and it causes problems in their relationship for a bit. They patch things up right as Haruna's father comes back home, and both Haruna and Macharu make it to the final round of the quiz show championship in time to help out (not that they can do any good, tired out from running as they are).

After the main story, there's a somewhat lengthy special story starring Macharu's 13-year-old sister, Misato. Misato has a crush on Macharu's best friend, Atsu. When Misato finds out that her music class will be performing at the joint recital at the town hall, she practices long and hard until she thinks she's good enough not to embarrass herself and then asks Atsu to come along with Macharu to the recital. All throughout this story, Hiura, a tall, serious boy in Misato's class, has criticized her playing, and his words right before the recital stick in her head, causing her to drop her instrument during the performance. Although things seems pretty bad to Misato, everything works out in the end. Atsu is kind about Misato's embarrassing mistake, and Misato turns out to have more feelings for Hiura than she realized.

The premise of this series, a high school romance between the serious and elegant daughter of a disgraced Diet member and a cute, nice, monkey-like boy, was what originally attracted me. Akira is still working with that idea in this volume - Haruna is so good at hiding her feelings that it takes Macharu's baby monkey sweetness to make her open up and get her to smile. Still, I didn't think this volume was as strong as it could've been. The first date was nice, but the quiz show championship felt a little contrived and cliched. I guess I've read too many manga and seen too many anime where quiz shows pop up for some reason or another. I did really like that Macharu and Haruna had to deal with some difficulties in their relationship. I absolutely loved the part where Haruna calmly tells her father that Macharu is her boyfriend - her father's expression is wonderful and made me laugh.

It took me a little bit to figure out that the bonus story was still set in the world of Monkey High. Although it was nice and sweet, it didn't interest me all that much - I would've preferred it if this story had been cut and more had been added to the volume's main story. I hadn't remembered any mention of Macharu having a younger sister, so it was interesting seeing what she was like, and I thought her crush on Atsu was cute. I really felt for the poor girl when she messed up at the recital. However, I don't feel that Akira did a good enough job developing the relationship between Misato and Hiura. It was fairly obvious that they were going to end up with each other - in a story like this, with a boy who keeps criticizing and picking on a girl, that's pretty clear. I probably would've liked this story more if Akira had injected more sweet moments between Misato and Hiura in with all the criticizing.

Besides the bonus short story, there's a 4-page postscript in manga form in which the author talks about this volume a little, a thank you note accompanied by a drawing of the six characters who took part in the quiz show championship, and a page of translator's notes.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Gravitation (manga) by Maki Murakami; Gravitation (anime TV series) - Shuichi Shindo is a singer in a band that he hopes will become famous. One day, he loses a page of unfinished song lyrics. The handsome and caustic man who catches it insults the lyrics and sticks in poor Shuichi's mind. Schuichi later discovers that the man was Eiri Yuki, a famous writer, and seeks him out. The two eventually become lovers, but Yuki's emotional issues and Shuichi's rapidly developing musical career may tear them apart. Those who'd like another story featuring humor, romance, the occasional bit of serious drama, and a mismatched pairing (like Macharu and Haruna, Shuichi is the loud goofy one and Eiri is the quiet serious one) might like this title. In addition, there's even a part where Shuichi and his band members take part in a quiz show, similar to Monkey High. Gravitation isn't for everyone, since it features romance between two men - although neither the manga nor the anime are explicit, the anime keeps the physical aspects of the romance slightly more "off screen" than the manga.
  • Sand Chronicles (manga) by Hinako Ashihara - After her parents divorce, Ann Uekusa and her mother are forced to move to the small country town of Shimane and live with Ann's maternal grandmother. Ann has to adjust to living in a new environment while also dealing with a family that seems to be falling apart. Fortunately, she makes friends with Daigo, a country boy, and Fuji and Shika, the children of the town's most prominent citizens. Those who'd like another story featuring similar artwork (I thought, at first, that the two series were drawn by the same person), slowly developing relationships, and sweet (but sometimes complicated and painful) teenage romance might like this series.
  • Kare Kano (manga) by Masami Tsuda; His and Her Circumstances (anime TV series) - Yukino is a vain and greedy (albeit likable) girl who has spent years making herself seem like a perfect, elegant, and humble student, just so that she can be praised and loved by others. One day, Arima, a boy she views as a rival, sees beneath her mask and uses this knowledge to blackmail her into helping him out with his tremendous volume of work. Arima appears to be the real deal, a good-looking, perfect, and humble student, but he has his own secrets, some of which are far darker than Yukino's. As Yukino spends more time with him, she begins to fall in love with him and wants to help him deal with the darker parts of himself. Those who'd like another story featuring a sweet high school romance, humor, and drama might like this title.
  • Lovely Complex (manga) by Aya Nakahara - This series is also known as Love*Com. Risa and Otani have always been seen as a comedy act by others at their school - Risa is taller than the average girl, Otani is shorter than the average boy, and the two are always bickering with one another. As their friendship develops, so do Risa's feelings for Otani, but she's not sure she'll ever be able to get him to see her as more than a friend. Those who'd like another story featuring humor and a mismatched high school romance might want to try this series.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dragon Lovers (anthology, book) by Jo Beverley, Mary Jo Putney, Karen Harbaugh, and Barbara Samuel

The four stories in this anthology have in common dragon-related plots and romance (in half the stories, one of the lovers is a dragon). The first story deals with a virgin princess kidnapped by a dragon rider. The second story has a knight sent to slay a dragon, who is later persuaded to defend the dragon and the dragon's granddaughter. The third story deals with a Dutchwoman in 17th century Japan who meets a dragon and a samurai while considering her options for the future. The fourth and final story deals with a recently widowed young woman who moves to Santa Fe, where she finds new love and a house with a dragon that needs protecting.

This anthology will probably appeal not only to readers who enjoy romance, but also to readers who love fantasy and dragons. Personally, I preferred the first and third stories (Beverley's and Harbaugh's), but I don't really think any of the stories in this anthology were very weak.

"The Dragon and the Virgin Princess" by Jo Beverley

Princess Rozlinda is an SVP, a Sacrificial Virgin Princess. At the age of 19, Rozlinda has been the SVP for 7 years, and she's thoroughly tired of it. However, she's also very aware of her duty and cares about the fate of her people. Rozlinda's only job is to stay a virgin until either the next girl in line to be SVP starts menstruating or a dragon comes along from the neighboring country. The previous SVP selfishly risked war with the neighboring country by convincing the man she loved to kill the dragon when it came for her, thereby allowing him to win her hand in marriage when he would not otherwise have been able to. Rozlinda is determined to do things correctly this time around, even when the dragon comes earlier than expected. Unfortunately, the man riding the dragon has come to marry Rozlinda, whether she wants him or not, and take her back to his country in the hopes of using her to keep dragonkind alive.

My summary of this story is hideous, but I tried not to give too much away - that can be hard to do, sometimes, with short stories. I found this story to be pretty impressive, and I'd probably recommend it even to fans of dragons who don't normally read romance. For the most part, I enjoyed the characters, and, although there is certainly romance, the story involving the dragons was interesting enough by itself. I'd love to read something else featuring this country full of dragons and their riders.

Beverley writes from both Rozlinda and Rouar's perspectives (Rouar is the dragon rider mentioned in my summary), something that I always appreciate when I'm reading a romance. I liked Rouar and enjoyed reading about the conflict between his budding feelings for Rozlinda and his duty to his country's dragons. I felt that Rozlinda was a bit uneven, though. She's a strange mix of personality traits: she's resilient, willing to make the best of things, and kind, but she's also spoiled. She's much more willing to sacrifice herself for the greater good than her words and thoughts at the beginning of the story led me to believe.

Read-alikes:
  • The Blue Sword (book) by Robin McKinley - Harry Crewe is an orphan girl who goes to live in Damar, a desert country with secretive, magical Hillfolk. One night, Harry is kidnapped by Corlath, the Hillfolk king, who has Harry trained to fight and ride a horse because of a vision he has of the future. Damar feels like a country similar to Ruoar's, and Ruoar and Corlath are also similar, with their closed-mouthedness and sympathy for the resilient women they have taken. Although I wouldn't call this book a romance, there is a bit of romance between Corlath and Harry.
  • Dragonflight (book) by Anne McCaffrey - This is the first book in McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series. Pern is a planet with occasional falls of silver "threads" that wreak destruction and destroy all life they touch - the best way people have found to protect themselves is to rely on dragonfire. Thread hasn't fallen in a long time, and people have started to doubt the continued usefulness of dragons and their riders, but one dragonrider named F'lar believes that Thread will soon fall again. With that in mind, he has gone looking for a woman strong enough to bond with and ride a queen dragon. Those who'd like something else with dragonriders and a bit of romance might like this book.
"The Dragon and the Dark Knight" by Mary Jo Putney

Kenrick is a skilled knight whose frightening face and status as an illegitimate son keeps him from getting what he most desires: land, a wife, and children. At the moment, it's peaceful in England, so he and his squire are having a hard time finding a good place to stay during the winter. When Kenrick hears about a baron looking for a champion willing to kill a troublesome dragon, he decides to check things out. If Kenrick is able to kill the dragon, he'll be given the fief of Tregarth as a reward. However, Kenrick discovers that the dragon isn't as bloodthirsty and dangerous as he was led to believe, and he also begins to fall in love with the dragon's part human, part dragon granddaughter.

This story also wasn't bad, although I think non-romance lovers/readers may not enjoy this story as much as the first, since I don't think the overall non-romantic story is as strong. I did really like Kenrick, though. He's a nice guy with a strong sense of honor. Putney makes no attempt to make Kenrick's life seem glamorous - at the beginning of the story, it's clear that he's living hand-to-mouth and has been much-battered by his life as a knight. However, Putney also doesn't make things as gory as she could, either. Kenrick does kill a few people, but since this isn't a dark story by any means, the deaths aren't described in any stomach-churning way.

Ariane (the dragon's granddaughter) was... okay. It wasn't that I disliked her, it's just that I didn't find her very interesting. The romance between her and Kenrick didn't really grab me either. Although Kenrick tells her that he loves her because of her part dragon blood and not despite it, and Ariane is pleased by this news, I'm not sure I would've been as pleased by Kenrick's words if I were her. I think I might've liked it more if he had also talked about the things he liked about her as a person. There's not much that he could've said, though, since he doesn't really know much about her, other than that she can heal and knows how to cook. One of the drawbacks of romantic short stories, and one of the main reasons why I don't often read romance anthologies, is that there often isn't enough time for the hero and heroine to get to know each other and fall in love with each other for reasons that aren't shallow. Kenrick likes Ariane's dragon abilities and her kindness towards him, but I needed more than that for the romance to grab me.

Read-alikes:
  • Born in Sin (book) by Kinley MacGregor - Caledonia MacNeely has no choice but to marry the infamous and frightening "Lord Sin" - she is under orders by the English King, and the fate of her clan depends upon her obedience. Although Sin has spent years not caring what others have thought of him, he gradually finds himself longing to be the kind of man Callie would want to stay with. Those who'd like another story with action, romance, and a main male character with a frightening appearance and reputation might like this book.
  • You Slay Me (book) by Katie MacAlister - This is the first book in MacAlister's Aisling Grey series. All Aisling wants to do is deliver an old, gold dragon statue to her uncle's client in Paris. Instead, she comes across a dead woman and a mysterious and sexy man. The man (who is also a dragon), named Drake, disappears, along with the statue. Aisling has to prove she didn't kill the woman and recover the statue, all while dealing with the revelation that she is a Guardian (basically, the Keeper of the Gates to Hell). Those who'd like something else with shapeshifting dragons and a bit of romance might like this book and series.
  • Tapestry (anthology, book) by Lynn Kurland, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Madeline Hunter, Karen Marie Moning - The stories in this romantic anthology actually have less in common with each other than the stories in Dragon Lovers - each story has a tapestry in it, and that's pretty much it as far as their similarities go. Those who enjoyed Putney's story may like Kenyon's story, which stars a male shapeshifting dragon.
"Anna and the King of Dragons" by Karen Harbaugh
This story takes place in Japan in 1650. Anna Vanderzee is a Dutch physician whose parents have recently died. She is uncertain what to do with her life: it's unlikely she'll be able to practice medicine in either the Netherlands or in Japan, she's not sure she'd even fit in in the Netherlands anymore, and prostitution, the one job she'd have the best chance of getting in Japan, is not something she wants to do. While she's considering her position, Anna slips and almost falls and drowns in a pond, but she's saved by a dragon. The dragon lets her go after Anna promises to bring him books. On her way back to the inn she's staying at, Anna is attacked by bandits and saved by a samurai named Nakagawa Toshiro. Anna keeps her promise to the dragon and asks for Nakagawa's help again. Although the two are falling for each other, Anna doesn't see how it would ever be acceptable to Nakagawa's family for them to marry, and she prepares to go back to the Netherlands. However, there is more to Nakagawa than she realizes.
Of all the stories in this book, I think this one is my favorite. Part of the reason for that is the setting - I have to say, I'm a sucker for all things Japanese. Most of what I know about Japan, Japanese history, the Japanese language, and Japanese customs I learned from the vast amounts of anime I've watched and manga I've read, so I can't really say with any kind of authority how accurate Harbaugh's depiction of Japan is. She uses a little bit of Japanese in the story, especially in the beginning - the phrases and words I recognize seem to be correct, although, as I just mentioned, I'm no expert. Harbaugh also includes a few details of Japanese history and customs. One of my favorite bits in the story is the part where Nakagawa manages to get Anna better clothing from an innkeeper by talking about her status, knowing that the innkeeper is eavesdropping.
In addition to liking the setting, I also enjoyed Anna and Nakagawa. It's too bad more of the story wasn't written from Nakagawa's perspective. Overall, I thought Anna and Nakagawa made a nice couple, and Nakagawa's family had a pretty good reason to accept Anna as Nakagawa's wife.
Read-alike:
  • The Fox Woman (book) by Kij Johnson - This book tells the story of the intertwining fates of two families, one of humans and the other of foxes. When Kaya no Yoshifuji fails to receive an appointment in the Emperor's court, he decides to relocate to a rural estate with his wife and son. However, a family of foxes has their den there. Yoshifuji becomes obsessed with the foxes, and Kitsune (one of the foxes) falls in love with Yoshifuji. Those who'd like another story with romance (albeit strange and doomed), shapeshifters, and a Japanese setting might like this book.
  • The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Shadow (book) by Fuyumi Ono - This is the first book in Ono's The Twelve Kingdoms Series. Yoko is an ordinary high school student who's been having dreams that foreshadow great danger to her. Then one day at school, Yoko is saved by a young man and ends up getting taken to a strange and frightening world where she is in constant danger from demons and can trust no one. Those who'd like another story set in Japan (or, at least, a place with connections to Japan) starring a red-haired girl who doesn't quite fit in and a shape-shifting guy who protects her might like this book. The translation is a little clunky, but try to stick with it - the story gets better. I'm looking forward to reading the rest eventually.
"Dragon Feathers" by Barbara Samuel
Penny Freeman, widowed before she's even turned 30, has come to Santa Fe to learn to weave from Maria Libelula, a famous weaver who only takes 7 students at a time. Before beginning classes, she manages to find a house that seems perfect for her and that, for some reason, is much cheaper than it should be. In and near her new home, she discovers what appears to be pink-dyed peacock feathers. Her teacher's son, Joaquin, tells her not to show the feathers to anyone, and, sure enough, some of the people who've seen the feathers try to break into Penny's new home. Gradually, Penny discovers where the feathers came from and what her new role is to be. If she chooses to accept her role as a guardian, she can also choose to have Joaquin, the first man she's found attractive since her husband died, as her consort.
I'm not really sure how I felt about this story. Of all the stories in this anthology, it felt the least dragon-related - Penny doesn't see the dragon until late in the story, and, in appearance, the dragon seems like it might be more related to birds than anything lizard-like in appearance. Also, for all that Joaquin says Penny is in danger, it feels like a very sedate and slow-paced story. Mostly Penny floats along, adjusting to life in Santa Fe and life as a widow, learning about the feathers, and thinking about Joaquin. It felt a little like a set-up for a full-length novel that would have a great deal more action (and more romance). I didn't think it was a bad story, but, in my opinion, it was either the weakest or second weakest in the anthology.
Read-alike:
  • Summon the Keeper (book) by Tanya Huff - This is the first book in Huff's Keeper's Chronicles series. Claire Hansen, the Keeper, and her talking cat Austin are on their way to answer a summons when they get caught in a rainstorm and decide to stay at the Elysian Fields Guesthouse. The next morning, Claire finds out that she is the new owner of the guesthouse and has therefore been saddled with all its quirkiness and problems. There's a French ghost who'd like to get into Claire's pants, a hunky Boy Scout of a caretaker named Dean, a woman who's been sleeping in one of the rooms for decades, and a hole to Hell in the furnace room. Those who'd like something else with a house that holds a strange secret, a woman guardian, and a bit of romance might like this book.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Extras (book) by Scott Westerfeld

This book takes place approximately three years after the events of Specials. It's set somewhere in Japan with an entirely new cast of main characters (don't worry, Tally and others turn up later in the book). Westerfeld makes an effort to bring readers up to speed on events that occurred in previous books, but I still wouldn't recommend this book to those who haven't read any of Westerfeld's Uglies trilogy (series? -I'm really not sure what to call it anymore).

The main character of this book is Aya Fuse, a 15-year-old girl living in a city with something called a "reputation economy." In the reputation economy, the more famous you are, the more stuff you get. You can accomplish the same thing by collecting merits (doing something that benefits society in some way, like caring for children or becoming a doctor), but it's a lot easier and more fun just to publish stuff on your feed. Aya is a kicker, someone who hunts down stories to publish, in the hope that one of these stories will make her famous. So far, no such luck, but when Aya gets involved with the Sly Girls, an ultra-secretive group that does super-dangerous hoverboard tricks, she's convinced that she's found the story that'll boost her reputation into the top thousand. During her time with the Sly Girls, however, Aya discovers the story of a lifetime - there's someone (or something) out in the wild with something that might be capable of destroying cities.

Aya's society is very different from the one that Tally had to deal with in her three books. The book jacket compares it to a "gigantic game of American Idol," but I think it's more accurate to compare it to something like blogging or Youtube. Just like people in Aya's city all get their own free feeds, anyone can get a Youtube account or a free blog. What people do with those things differs, but a lot of people hope they'll get noticed - maybe one of their videos will be one of the picks of the day, or maybe their blog will get mentioned on the news or on some even more popular blog. I remember reading about a guy who quit being a doctor because his blog made him more money than practicing medicine ever had. In Aya's world, things are just taken to the next level. At one point, I found myself wondering how many people actually took the time to earn merits - near the end of the book, Tally calls the reputation economy "brain-missing" and Hiro (Aya's brother) tries to defend it by saying that it motivates people, but how many people are actually motivated to go out an learn to do something besides spread gossip in their feeds?

Although Aya definitely has her daring moments, I didn't think she was as daring and athletic as Tally. That's not necessarily a bad thing, although her main activity, trying to get footage for her stories, did annoy me after a while. I'm not sure that Aya ever really settled on how far she'd go for a story, either - her determination to get footage caused problems for herself and others several times, and, if they hadn't basically given her their blessing in the end, I'd say that she betrayed the Sly Girls. I did find it encouraging that Aya was eventually willing to admit that she got her story of a lifetime wrong, and she seemed to actively be trying to think through ethical issues by the end, but still... It felt like the book ended before there were any really good signs that Aya had changed.

This book, like Westerfeld's previous books set in this world, had some really interesting technology. There's a lot I could talk about, but I think I'm going to settle on my favorite: Radical Honesty. Frizz Mizuno, a guy who's slightly older than Aya and a lot more popular than her, invented Radical Honesty and had it done on himself - others in his clique followed suit. Anyway, Radical Honesty is a kind of brain surgery that makes it so that a person can't lie in any way. No half truths, no lying by omission. Amazingly enough, Frizz doesn't often say things that make others angry with him. Although Radical Honesty causes a few problems late in the book, it still comes in handy, because I think it's the main thing that brought Aya and Frizz together. If Frizz hadn't had Radical Honesty, Aya probably wouldn't have believed it when he said that he likes her "big nose" (Aya is still an ugly, meaning that she still has all the features that nature and genetics gave her).

For those interested in characters from the previous books, Tally, Shay, Fausto, Andrew, and David show up (I might be forgetting a few people...). Tally gets the most story time - it's weird seeing her from Aya's perspective. Aya doesn't know her and, after she gets over her idol worshiping, is rightfully a little worried about Tally's somewhat unbalanced behavior (Tally still has all her Special anger and violence, although she does her best to fight it). Tally seems somewhat grim, but there are signs that she might finally be warming up to David again. It's nice.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I'm not sure if I liked it better than the three Uglies books, and I kind of wished that there was a little more, but I still thought it was really good.

Read-alikes:
  • Idoru (book) by William Gibson - This cyber-punk thriller takes places primarily in 21st century Tokyo. When Rez, the lead singer of a popular rock band, is rumored to be engaged to Rei Toei, an "idoru," a virtual reality pop idol, 14-year-old Chia Pet McKenzie is sent by a chapter of his fan club to investigate. Meanwhile, Colin Laney, a man who searches the Internet for "nodal points" for a living, has been hired by Rez's security detail in Japan. His job is to discover who might be influencing Rez, and things get a lot more dangerous than he anticipates. Those who'd like another book with cool technology, ultra-famous people, and Japanese aspects might like this book.
  • How to Be Popular (book) by Meg Cabot - Steph, determined not to spend 11th grade as the unpopular klutz she's been known as for years, studies an old book she finds called How to Be Popular. She surprises herself and her long-time best friends with her success, but it's not long before she realizes that being popular isn't all it's cracked up to be. Those who'd like another story starring a girl who wants nothing more than to be popular might like this book.
  • Blue Bloods (book) by Melissa De La Cruz - Schuyler is treated like an outcast by the clique of popular, athletic, and beautiful teens made up of Mimi Force, her twin brother, and her best friend. At the age of 15, Schuyler learns that she is a "blue blood," a very special vampire who is descended from a very old line. Unfortunately, lots of blue bloods have been dying, and Schuyler has to find out why before she, too, ends up dead. Those who'd like another story with a bit of suspense and an outcast main character who becomes part of the "popular" group might like this book. This is the first book in a series.
  • Blood and Chocolate (book) by Annette Curtis Klause - Vivian is a werewolf, part of a small community of werewolves living in secret among humans. Vivian's father, the pack leader, was killed when the pack was driven out of its previous home, and all that remains is for a new leader to be chosen before the pack can move to a more permanent home. In the meantime, Vivian doesn't really feel at home with anyone in the pack. She begins dating a human, but how long will their relationship last if she tells him what she is? Even worse, people have been getting killed and Vivian can't be certain she wasn't responsible. Those who'd like another story involving a bit of romance, complications caused by lying, and a main female character who feels a little like an outsider might like this book.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

My Heavenly Hockey Club (manga, vol. 5) by Ai Morinaga

Contrary to what the title may lead you to believe, this series doesn't actually have much hockey in it, although the club actually does play in a match in this volume.

This volume (and others) is made up of several fairly self-contained stories. In the first one, Hana and the other members of the hockey club all stay at Hana's friend's inn. Hana doesn't realize it and doesn't believe it when Izumi tries to tell her, but Hana's friend has designs on her body. Izumi becomes determined to thwart him, but that may be harder than he realizes.

In the second story, Hana's cousin Mei, an elementary school-aged girl with the figure and clothing tastes of someone several years older, arrives and asks for Hana's help. Mei is determined to land a rich boyfriend, and she heard Hana's hockey club was full of rich guys. Mei focuses her sights on Takashi, who is appalled by her appearance and repeatedly tells her to dress and act her age.

In the third story, Natsuki's father, who dresses like a pirate and hunts for treasure, challenges Natsuki and the rest of the hockey club to a game of hockey - if they lose, Natsuki has to join him on his ship and hunt for treasure with him. Although the team practices hard (for maybe the first time ever...), they may still end up losing. Fortunately, Natsuki can be pretty crafty and ruthless when he wants to be. By the way, Natsuki's mom also appears in this story, and she and Natsuki are scarily alike.

In the fourth and last story of the volume, the hockey club ends up stuck on a small island and tries to save a beautiful farmer without the help of their vast hordes of money (all the better to be near her longer). She needs to pay a debt collector 10 million yen (about $100,000) or she'll lose her farm.

Like I mentioned before, this series isn't at all about hockey. It's more of a comedy with occasional romantic moments, if you can call them that (Hana is so oblivious and uninterested in romance that I doubt anything is ever going to happen between her and Izumi). Even though my descriptions of the stories didn't really get it across, all of the stories in this volume are funny in some way - there's no added layer of drama to darken things up. In the first story, I found Hana's friend kind of... icky, but I knew that there was no way he was ever going to get anywhere with her, so it was fun watching him try. I think the second story was my favorite of the volume, something of a guilty pleasure for me - while Mei's style of dress was horrifying, considering her age, Takashi is my favorite character, and I couldn't help but laugh seeing him almost burst a blood vessel in outrage.

The third story was also really funny - I have to say, however pretty his face happens to be, I now believe that Natsuki is the scariest member of the hockey club when he wants to be. The fourth story was maybe the least funny one of the entire volume - it also turned out to be a surprise romantic story (I'll just give it away - the debt collector and the farmer end up together). Although I didn't find the fourth story particularly interesting, I still liked it, for completely shallow reasons - for some reason, Gen, the debt collector, reminded me of Cowboy Bebop (even if he did have an annoying habit of saying "y'all" at every single instance others would say "you" - for example, "What're y'all crying for?" when speaking to the tearful farmer). I think it was something about his character design.

Overall, this volume was a fun read - it's what I'd call "brain candy." It's not a very original series, but, if it still manages to be enjoyable, who cares? As far as extras go, there are character profiles for Natsuki, Kinta, and Ginta, five pages of translator's notes, and an untranslated preview of the next volume of the series.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Beauty Pop (manga) by Kiyoko Arai - In Kiri's school, there's a team of three guys who transform random girls by doing their hair, make-up, nails, etc. It's said that any girl they make over is guaranteed to get a date with whoever she has a crush on. Kiri is also a master hairstylist, but she prefers to work anonymously, and she's more willing than the guys to help out girls who aren't already good-looking to begin with. Kiri usually acts pretty apathetic, but she's got a soft heart and can be persuaded to use her skills to improve people's self-esteem. Kiri, like Hana, doesn't seem to really be interested in guys, despite the fact that at least one guy does appear to be interested in her. Those who'd like another series involving an apathetic and romantically dense girl and a goofy/cool guy who likes her but won't admit it might like this manga. For those of you who like "guys with glasses" characters like Takashi, this series has Ochiai, who also happens to be similar to Takashi in terms of personality.
  • The Wallflower (manga) by Tomoko Hayakawa - When Sunako finally gathered up the courage to tell the boy she liked how she felt about him, he crushed her by telling her that he doesn't like ugly people. Ever since then, Sunako has surrounded herself with dark and scary things and stopped putting any effort into how she looks. She watches bloody horror movies, she's ghostly pale and dresses in dark clothing, and her room is filled with skulls, coffins, and other gruesome things. She lives alone in her aunt's house, which, unfortunately for her, is invaded by four beautiful guys who were promised free rent by her aunt if they could only turn Sunako into a lady. Those who'd like another story involving a girl who doesn't notice the potential for romance between her and one of the guys around her, as well as a story involving a girl constantly surrounded by hot guys, might want to try this manga. There is also an anime version, which I have not yet seen.
  • Ouran High School Host Club (manga) by Bisco Hatori; Ouran High School Host Club (anime TV series) - Haruhi, the only scholarship student at an elite school for the rich, is forced to become a host in the Ouran High School Host Club after breaking an expensive vase. Unfortunately, Haruhi is actually a girl - in order to stay in the host club and pay off her debt, Haruhi must make sure that no one outside the host club finds out that she's not a guy. Those who'd like another story starring a bunch of hot, filthy rich guys might like this series. Personally, I prefer the anime over the manga, but they're both good. Like My Heavenly Hockey Club, this is another humorous series in which there's the potential for romance, but the main female character is too oblivious for anything to really happen. For those of you who like "guys with glasses" characters like Takashi, this series has Kyouya, who also happens to be similar to Takashi in terms of personality.
  • Sokora Refugees (U.S. manga) by Segamu (story) and Melissa DeJesus (art) - if you liked the 2nd story with Mei, you might enjoy at least the first volume of this series, in which the main character magically gets transformed from a flat-chested girl into a large-breasted girl whose clothes don't fit anymore. Like My Heavenly Hockey Club, this series has lots of humor, but readers should also be prepared for a strong fantasy storyline.
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