Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Last post of the year

I couldn't resist doing this. It's been an interesting year - I've had long periods of boredom, with short periods of frenzied activity and hope, which all finally came to a head when I got my first full-time job. I'm unbelievably happy that I'm no longer in the pit of despair that is post-graduation joblessness (or joblessness in general, I guess). I'm unhappy about my plague of bad luck - multiple car troubles, the death of two pets, etc. Still, it's nice to know that I'll actually be doing something in the coming new year, even if it's only a lot of copy cataloging. Anything is better than sitting at home, trying to force myself to finish more job applications and wondering how many of them will result in immediate rejections.

I won't say what my personal New Year's resolution is, but my work-related resolution is to get more cataloging done. I get so caught up in catalog maintenance work that I don't do as much actual cataloging as I should. Usually, I tell myself I'll do an hour of maintenance work in the morning and then move on to cataloging - that hour often turns into 3, which messes with my schedule even more if my supervisor brings in some surprise original cataloging. Every day, I'm going to try to get at least 20 books done before I even consider doing maintenance work.

Typos, argh

I usually read every post I write completely through at least twice before I publish it. Before those read-throughs, I use spellcheck. You'd think with all of that that I'd manage to catch all my typos. Oh no, of course not. Later on, I'm always finding things I missed. It's so embarrassing - I swear, I really do know the difference between "they're" and "their," "no" and "not," etc. Then there's the stuff that happens mysteriously, like chunks of text getting cut from one part of a post and pasted into another part. That still happens occasionally, and I have no idea why - maybe I'm accidentally touching my touchpad when I don't intend to?

Please forgive my typos...

House on Hope Street (audio book) by Danielle Steel

(This has spent over 5 months in my "drafts to be finished" pile - now it finally gets to see the light of day.)

Liz and Jack Sutherland have been married for 18 years and have five kids, one of whom was born prematurely and is learning-delayed. Liz and Jack have a thriving family law practice, and they usually work very well together. Unfortunately, things go wrong with their latest case, and the ex-husband of a client kills Jack. Liz tries to pick up the pieces of her life and keep everything going just as it had been before Jack died. She keeps her and Jack's practice going, despite the fact that she is coming hate family law, and she helps her youngest son train for the Special Olympics, just like Jack did when he was alive. Outside of work and caring for her family, she doesn't have much of a life, and that doesn't bother her until she meets Bill, the doctor who takes care of one of her children after he's injured. Liz comes to care for Bill, and her relationship with him helps her to further overcome her grief over Jack's death. Unfortunately, some of Liz's children, especially Megan, see her relationship with Bill as a betrayal of their father. Bill, who's used to being alone and having no commitments to anyone but himself, also has a hard time adjusting to being the new and not always liked man in this still-grieving family.

For the most part, Steel handles this story in a believable and sensitive way. This slow-paced story lingers over Liz's attempts to deal with both the emotional impact of Jack's death and the practical matters (arranging the funeral, what to say to friends and family, what to do about Jack's things). For me, there were times when it felt like Steel laid it on a bit too thick, dwelt on things a little too long. All in all, though, I thought she handled the story decently well, and I certainly enjoyed it more than H.R.H.

Jamie, Liz's youngest son, brought a groan out of me when he was first introduced, but he actually turned out to be more fun to read about than I thought. I had expected him to be used as a device for bringing Liz and some man together and for giving readers the warm fuzzies. Although Steel does use him in this way, she's not as ham-handed about it as I was expecting, making Jamie a fairly enjoyable character. Liz's eldest child, Peter, is fairly level-headed and mature, making him a nice balance for Liz's less mature (and nastier-tempered) daughters. I understood the motivations behind the daughters' behavior towards Bill, but that didn't necessarily make Megan's nastiness towards Bill and her mother easier to listen to.

Although Liz is a lawyer and Bill is a doctor, and both their jobs play a part in how they conduct their lives and react to certain situations, this book is more about Liz and her attempts to get past Jack's death and grow stronger than it is about occupations. Both their jobs provide a little bit of a backdrop, but don't expect much in the way of details.

As with H.R.H., I noticed that Steel has a tendency to be a bit repetitious, repeating characters' conclusions, ideas, thoughts, and sometimes even the things they say. However, Steel doesn't do this to same same extent in this book as she did in H.R.H. Also, (I'd have to check a print copy of this book to be sure) Steel seems to be fond of having the narrator or characters thoughts tell us what's going on and what people are feeling, rather than using characters' dialogs or actions.

Once again, as with H.R.H., someone decided that this audio book would be better read by a man (Joseph Siraro) than a woman. I wouldn't go as far as to call this a romance novel, but it was a woman's story, told primarily from the third person perspective of a woman. It would've made sense for a woman to read the book. Also, although Siraro's voice was pleasant, he often reminded me of a TV newscaster reading the evening news - he didn't always put the kind of emotion into characters' words that he should/could have, even though that might've improved the book.

I keep reading readers' reviews in Amazon.com that indicate that Steel's earliest books are probably her best. I still haven't read much by her, but the fact that I found this book to be better than H.R.H. indicates that I might be able to find something by her that I could actually enjoy. I also think I'd be better off trying one of her books in print - all these male readers for her books may be part of what's turning me off them, and certain faults (like repetitiveness) are less noticeable when you're reading a book versus listening to it.

Read-alikes:
  • Nights of Rain and Stars (book) by Maeve Binchy - Four strangers on holiday in Greece band together and become friends after witnessing a tragic boating accident. Those who'd like another character-driven story that explores the relationships between people with unsettled lives might enjoy this book.
  • A Bend in the Road (book) by Nicholas Sparks - Deputy sheriff Miles Ryan is left to raise his son Jonah alone when his high school sweetheart, Missy, is killed in an unsolved hit-and-run accident. Sarah's husband leaves her when he discovers that she can't have children, and she goes elsewhere to become a teacher. Sarah and Miles meet at a parent-teacher conference, and romance is guaranteed, but their relationship could be ruined when Missy's killer is revealed. Those who'd like another story in which someone finds love again after the death of a spouse, and in which everything works out gently and happily in the end, might like this book.
  • Above and Beyond (book) by Sandra Brown - After Kyla's husband, Sergeant Richard Stroud, dies while stationed far away, all that's left is the love letters Kyla sent him and the newborn son Kyla must now take care of on her own. Trevor Rule had been Richard's best friend, and he now carries with him the letters Kyla sent her husband. With each one he reads, he falls more in love with her, and he becomes determined to convince her of his feelings and that they both have a right to be happy after Richard's death. Unfortunately, Trevor's prior reputation could nip any potential romance at the bud. Those who'd like another story involving a widow who must figure out how to move on, deal with new love, and care for a child might like this gentle romance.
  • Good Grief (book) by Lolly Winston - At 36, Sophie feels far too young to be a widow, and this gentle romantic comedy explores how Sophie tries to get past her grief, reexamine her life, and deal with her feelings of loneliness (along with the help of a troubled, pyromaniac teen and a charming actor). Those who'd like another story that believably and heart-breakingly explores (with a bit more humor than Steel's book) a young widow's attempts to deal with her grief and move on with her life might enjoy this book.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Daughters of Darkness (book) by L.J. Smith

Rowan, Kestrel, and Jade, three vampire sisters, have lived their whole lives on an island meant to be a safe place for members of the Night World to be themselves. Unfortunately, society on the island is highly restrictive and conservative, meaning that women aren't allowed off the island, men are in charge, etc. The three sisters want more freedom, so they leave the island in secret in order to go live with their aunt in a small town in Oregon. Unfortunately, when they get there they discover that someone has staked their aunt. To make matters worse, Ash, the girls' brother, has come to take them back, whether they want to go or not.

Mary-Lynnette is an ordinary human girl who loves astronomy and is a bit protective of her younger brother, Mark. When Rowan, Kestrel, and Jade arrive, it isn't long before Mary-Lynnette starts to wonder what's happened to their aunt and what these beautiful new girls might have done. In the process of poking around for information, Mark and Jade end up falling in love, and Mary-Lynnette discovers to her dismay that she and Ash are soulmates. Now that the girls have told Mary-Lynnette and Mark about the Night World, they've broken one of the Night World's laws (Jade and Mark falling in love broke another law - "don't fall in love with humans"). That means that, even if they did go back, they could be put to death, and Mary-Lynnette and Mark would be killed right along with them. Somehow, they all have to find a killer and figure out a solution that will allow everyone to survive and the girls to stay in Oregon.

I've been suggesting L.J. Smith's books an awful lot in this blog, especially lately, so I figured it was time to post about some of the ones I own (I don't own them all, unfortunately, and some of them are still extremely difficult and/or expensive to get). This one happens to be one of my two favorites in her Night World series - the other is Soulmate. Mary-Lynnette and Ash are my favorite Night World couple.

Although this is one of my favorite Night World books, I admit that it's incredibly short, when you consider all the different characters and the various conflicts that need to be wrapped up. I first read L.J. Smith's books when I was in my teens, and not everything by her has held up to a re-read now that I'm in my twenties. However, this book still brings me enjoyment, and I'm pleasantly surprised at how well the romance between Ash and Mary-Lynnette is done, since they don't even meet until a little over a fourth of the way through this 228-page book.

Actually, if it hadn't been for the Mary-Lynnette/Ash romance, I'm not sure how much I would have liked this book. The "who's the killer?" storyline seemed a little weak (there's maybe two actual suspects, that's all) and, of the three vampire sisters, only Jade gets much significant story time. I remember, when I first read this book, wishing that Smith's Night World books were longer, and that's something I still wish today. She has so many great characters in this book, and most of them turn out to be throw-away characters - Quinn gets his own book later on, but none of the sisters do.

Which brings me to one of my other gripes: this series' lack of an ending. I remember reading that there were some very good reasons that the final book(s) in the Night World series were never written/released. However, it's a little bit depressing to have been waiting for the end of a series for over 8 years (especially since the series ending had ties with the end of the millennium, which would just make it odd if the ending were release now). It wasn't even that I necessarily cared how the series was going to end - what I really wanted was for Ash and Mary-Lynnette to finally get back together. It's very unusual, for any kind of romance, but Ash and Mary-Lynnette don't end up with their happily ever after at the end of Daughters of Darkness. Instead, they both decide to spend some time growing up and, in Ash's case, atoning for past actions and behavior. Although Ash shows up again in the series, he and Mary-Lynnette are left in limbo. Well, unless you look at L.J. Smith's website - there, she posts a story in which the two of them finally meet again. Hurray! Of course, I would've liked to have read that a few years ago, back when I actually could remember everything that was going on in the series.

Well, if I take the book as it is, I have to say that I loved it. The characters are fun and interesting, and the series itself is not yet to the point where there's the whole Apocalypse thing going on (I preferred the series when it was just about vampires, witches, shapeshifters, werewolves, and romance). As a teen, L.J. Smith's books were my first introduction to paranormal romance. It's been a little over a decade since this book was first published, but it's aged well and I'd recommend it to teen and adult paranormal romance fans. Well, I wouldn't recommend the copy I own - the 1996 cover (actually, all the first Night World covers) is pretty awful, with all the characters looking overly made-up and Ash looking like some kind of cheesy stage magician.

I have to say, I'm thrilled at some of the side-benefits of the popularity of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series - it means L.J. Smith's books are finally getting some attention again, since something by her (usually her Vampire Diaries series) is almost always included in library Twilight read-like lists. I don't know for sure, but it might also explain why some of her books are being re-released. At any rate, I hope to buy the ones that I don't currently have in my collection - when I first started reading Smith's books, I got them through my public library, never thinking that there might come a time when I couldn't just put myself on hold for any one of her books whenever I felt like getting another fix. Even after all these years, and even though I'm no longer in the target age-group that Smith's books are intended for, I still love them.

Read-alikes:
  • Twilight (book) by Stephenie Meyer - Bella doesn't expect her move to the small town of Forks to be at all exciting, until she meets Edward Cullen. At first, Edward seems repulsed by her, but eventually the two of them can't seem to stay away from each other. The more time Bella spends with him, however, the more odd things she notices about him, leading her to the impossible conclusion that this boy she is so drawn to is actually a vampire. Those who'd like another young adult romance featuring vampires and werewolves might like this book, the first 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 young adult romance involving supernatural creatures and a bit of "who's the killer?" mystery might enjoy this book.
  • Sunshine (book) by Robin McKinley - Rae Seddon, nicknamed Sunshine, lives a quiet, peaceful life working at her stepfather's bakery. Unfortunately, that all comes to an end when she is captured by some vampires and chained up in a mansion as a feast for a similarly chained-up vampire named Constantine. However, Constantine doesn't feed on her, and the two of them eventually escape. They'll have to somehow face the vampires who are after them together. Those who'd like another story involving vampires and a strong, independent main female character might enjoy this book. It's not really a romance, although I remember thinking that it wouldn't have taken much for McKinley to turn it into one.
  • Vampire Knight (manga) by Matsuri Hino - Yuki's earliest memory is of being attacked by a vampire and then saved by another, the gorgeous and mysterious Kaname. Ten years later, Yuki, now the adopted daughter of the headmaster of Cross Academy, spends her time blushing over Kaname and protecting the Day Class students (all humans, unaware of the vampires around them) from the Night Class (all vampires). She is aided by Zero, a brooding teenager hiding a dark secret. Those who'd like another story involving romance between a human and vampire (or someone who's partially a vampire) might enjoy this series. By the way, it has also been made into an anime, which has not yet been made legally available in the US (which, um, hasn't stopped me from seeing the first four episodes - it's a lot of fun).

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Easy and Yummy Cookbooks and Recipe Books



What do I do when I'm depressed/upset/nervous/frantic? When I can, I bake. I figured, after seeing the damage to my car (and calling up my insurance company and the police), that it was time to bake, so I made up a batch of rye muffins. The picture is awful and blurry, but you get the idea.

The recipe I used is from Muffin Recipes: Veggie-Fruit-Nut by Darlene Funkhouser. I got it at an arts and crafts sale, and I absolutely love it. Even I, who am less than wonderful in the kitchen, can make delicious things using this cookbook. What's even better, considering my apparently accident-prone nature and my tiny little paychecks, is that most of these muffins are really cheap to make. In order to try out a new recipe I, at most, have to buy one or two new ingredients. For instance, to make these rye muffins, I had to buy some rye flour and caraway seeds. Since I plan on making more than just one batch, the cost really isn't so bad.

So far, I've made sausage muffins, sausage and cheese muffins, and french toast muffins (they taste like donuts). They've all turned out wonderfully. I hope to make chocolate muffins sometime this week.

If I were more knowledgeable about recipe books and cookbooks, I'd make some kind of book list for them. However, at this point all I can do is list the ones that I've been able to get the most use out of:
  • Muffin Recipes: Veggie-Fruit-Nut (ISBN 978-1-57166-167-8) - As I've already said, I love this book. I don't imagine I'll be trying out all the recipes (Blueberry Pineapple? Ick.), but this book is still more than worth the $6.00 I spent on it.
  • Clueless in the Kitchen: A Cookbook for Teens by Evelyn Raab - My very first regularly-used cookbook. This book gave me the courage to try new things in the kitchen. Actually, it gave me the courage to even just use the kitchen, since it works off of the assumption that the reader knows nothing about preparing food. I've only failed with a couple of the recipes. The quiche recipe alone makes me love this book - I just wish it had been possible to get a hardcover copy.
  • Jell-O/Cool Whip Recipe Cards - Don't laugh, I know this shouldn't really count. Most of the "recipes" basically involve adding Cool Whip to Jell-O pudding, with maybe a few things added (like hot fudge chocolate) to increase the yumminess. I don't really care - with my limited skills, anything that doesn't involve buying something completely prepared from the store counts as cooking/baking/etc. So far, the Chocolate Dream Pudding Pie has been a hit at all the parties I've taken it to.

Unlucky with cars...

I seem to be having the worst car luck since I moved. Within days of getting here, my car got rear-ended. Now, I finish up with my grocery shopping only to discover that someone hit my car's front passenger door with either a shopping cart or their car. There's a great big dent, although the door thankfully still works. I've talked to my insurance company. Now my biggest worry is that I'll have to pay the deductible, which will make my already laughable savings almost non-existent. Also, I'm worried about what this might do to my insurance premiums. My car is only 3 months old!!!

The people around here that I've talked to about public transportation say they don't mind not having any because of how costly and inconvenient it is. Well, so far I'd have to say that owning a car has been more costly and inconvenient than public transportation has ever been for me, even when I wasn't living in an area with a stellar public transportation system. If I could, if it were feasible, I'd sell my car before it got banged into something completely worthless and go back to using buses.

It's probably a good thing I live alone - I'm not good company right now. Christmas was depressing, I miss my family, and now there's this. I hope things go quickly enough that I won't need a rental car - with my luck, that would get hit by something, too.

Well anyway, this is supposed to be my holiday time (ha ha). I had planned to finish lots of blog posts, but in reality I've only manged to finish a handful. I've got another week of holiday time, so maybe I'll manage to finish more. I think I'll go numb my brain with some DVDs for a while.

Emma (manga, vol. 4) by Kaoru Mori

William continues to attend parties and act like his father's perfect heir, pretending that he doesn't think about Emma, but the strain of this is really starting to show. Eleanor is still mooning over William and mistakenly believes that some of the things he says and does indicate a potential interest in her. William makes matters worse by actually asking Eleanor to marry him, and he realizes how big a mistake this was when he meets Emma at a party. Emma is only at the party because her employer has instructed her accompany Mrs. Trollop, who, unbeknowst to Emma, is William's mother. Emma and William's reunion is a great shock to both of them, and they suddenly find themselves having to actually figure out what to do about their feelings for each other. The only bright side is that Mrs. Trollop may actually be willing to help them out.

I love this series, I really do. It drives me crazy sometimes, how slowly the plot moves, how many things Mori forces the reader to guess about, and how little has actually happened so far in terms of William and Emma's relationship. Instead of getting frustrated, however, and throwing any one of the volumes aside, I instead eagerly reread sections, examining each character's dialogue, expressions, and body language, trying to figure out what they're thinking that they're not saying. It's both fun and aggravating, and I desperately want to get my hands on the anime in the hope that it will provide information I haven't been able to glean from the manga (this post was written way back in July 2008 - I now own the first season of the anime, but haven't yet watched it).

As far as William and Emma's relationship goes, this volume has some great emotional scenes. I loved the bit in the beginning where William is thinking about Emma and his decision to act like the perfect society gentleman until he actually breaks down and cries. The same goes for when Emma and William meet again at the party - it's a good thing Emma faints, or their relationship might've become embarrassingly public right there. As it was, they were both pretty flushed. William and Eleanor's recent engagement only heightened the emotion of this scene, especially since Emma didn't know about William's engagement before the party.

I have to say, though, that William's proposal of marriage to Eleanor had me actually yelling at the book. It was pretty obvious that his decision would cause problems later on, and it was a dumb thing for him to do after only recently wondering how much longer he could stand to live this lie. He could easily have used Eleanor's sister's reaction as an excuse for backing out of a more permanent relationship with Eleanor - after all, Monica (Eleanor's sister) is somewhat scarily attached to and protective of her sister. Maybe he was hoping Monica would stab him in his sleep or something, putting him out of his misery?

I did kind of like Monica, though. When she first showed up, I actually kind of thought she was a guy. It's too bad that she turned out to be both a woman and related to Eleanor, or she could have swept poor Eleanor off her feet after William broke her heart (which is what I'm figuring he'll do by the end of the series). Monica seems stronger and scarier than Eleanor. Maybe it's actually a good thing that she's not a guy, or she would've run roughshod over Eleanor and put her in a gilded cage. She would probably have also challenged William to a duel over Eleanor's hand in marriage...

Hakim shows up for a bit in this book, looking amused about Monica (she definitely can't walk all over him) and disappointed in William after he proposes to Eleanor. Even though he never really feels like a person (he's one of the least fleshed-out characters in the series), he's still one of my favorite characters, mainly because he's much more likely to say what he's thinking than William.

There's a little part in this volume where the servants at Emma's employer's house do a bit of work and chat about Emma - apparently, the men in this house are just as attracted to Emma as the men in London were. My favorite bit was the discussion about Hans. After the previous volume, I had speculated that Hans (another one of the servants) was interested in Emma, and the servants in this volume speculate about the same thing. Unfortunately, in this volume, as in the previous volume, Hans doesn't actually do anything that confirms this speculation - this is another one of those areas where I end up reading and rereading scenes, trying to figure out what characters are thinking and feeling.

For the most part, I'd recommend this series to anybody looking for a slow-paced cross-societal romance set during the Victorian Era. The artwork is gorgeous, with lots of little Victorian details (beautiful clothing, objects, servants cleaning things and caring for clothing, etc.). In this volume, there are a few lovely pages illustrating a portion of The Barber of Seville, an opera William and Eleanor have gone to see. At this point in the series, the romance is finally heating up - William has mucked things up by proposing to a nice young lady before he's managed to get Emma out of his system, and the whole thing was a problem to begin with because of the class differences between William and Emma. The characters are all fascinating. Besides the historical details and the romance, the characters are one of the big attractions of the series. About the only reason I might be reluctant to recommend this series, particularly this volume, to some people is a few panels worth of nudity (Emma's lady employer stands around naked for a bit, before she is finally dressed by Emma and her husband, who pitches in by tightening her corset). Some readers might also not like Emma and William's passionate kiss after William has only recently wished his somewhat tipsy fiancee good night after the party.

There's not much in the way of extras, just a 4-page afterword manga written and drawn by Kaoru Mori, discussing the manga, Mori's obsession with maids and all things British, and a little bit about Mori's time at the Esquire Club (famous for its bunny girls).

As with King of Thorn, I seem to have a miserable time trying to come up with read-alikes/watch-alikes for this series. I don't have much personal experience with slow-paced historical romance, and all my usual favorite places to look for potential read-alikes/watch-alikes have failed me for this series. I can only hope that I'll be able to flesh out this list one day.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Fruits Basket (anime TV series); Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya - Tohru had been living with her grandfather after her mother died, but circumstances and Tohru's own desire not to be a burden meant that she ended up living alone in a tent for a while. However, she gets taken in by the Sohma family, who are hiding a secret - certain members of the family turn into animals in the Chinese zodiac when they're weak or hugged by a member of the opposite sex. Both the manga and anime are good - the anime follows the manga pretty closely (except for a few things, and the last episode), but it ends well before the manga does. Those who'd like another story with a slowly developing (and seemingly doomed) romantic storyline might enjoy this title.
  • Maria Watches Over Us (anime TV series) - Yumi is a first year student at the Lillian School For Girls, an exclusive all girl's catholic school. She admires Sachiko, who will likely become one of the heads of the student council. When Sachiko asks Yumi to be her soeur (older girls take on a younger girl as their little sister, or "soeur," and instruct them and watch out for them), Yumi finds herself having to figure out the relationships between the girls in the student council and her own feelings for Sachiko. As this is apparently a shoujo-ai series (romance between girls), it's not for everyone. However, those who'd like a slow-paced drama/romance involving a strict social environment might enjoy this series. I have yet to see it, but the many (two or three) ads that RightStuf has sent me have worked their way into my brain, and I'd like to.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sorry, no porn or free manga here

I always find it interesting, the ways people find this blog and the searches that get them here. By the way, yes, I can tell, somewhat, how people manage to find this blog. I'm not sure how complete and accurate this information is, but it's still fun information to know.

The top five searches that bring people here:
  1. Hikaru no go man
  2. Xing alchemy
  3. Dorothy of oz manhwa
  4. Patricia briggs read alikes
  5. Tail of the moon (japanese animation) the series
Number 4 makes me happy, since it means that the people who used that search might have actually found what they were looking for. What throws me off are some of the more recent searches that bring people here.

Here's a few of the ones I'm talking about:
  • Sex-story with the ups-driver
  • Bleach manga nemu nude
  • Read online dorothy of oz vol. 2 by son hee joon
  • Yumichika and ikkaku romance
  • Girl arrancars naked
  • Read dorothy of oz online manhwa
  • Where can I read vol. 15 of tail of the moon manga?
This is just a sample from December - all of this was mixed in with "sookie stackhouse read-alike" and "read-alike code geass," so it's not like everyone was looking for porn and free online manga. Still, there was enough of this sort of thing that I feel like I need to put up a sign saying, "No, sorry, you cannot read manga or view porn here." I will say, however, that the Yumichika/Ikkaku search was interesting - that was not a pairing that had ever occurred to me. Oh, the things I learn while working on this blog.

King of Thorn (manga, vol. 4) by Yuji Iwahara

(There's really no way I can do a decent summary without some spoilers, so beware.)

In the last volume, Kasumi learned that there's a traitor among the small group of people who were cryogenically frozen during the attempt to deal with the Medusa Virus, and the things she saw led her to believe that Marco Owen was probably the traitor. In this volume, the few remaining people in the group discover the probable origin of the Medusa Virus and that it is not actually a virus at all. Medusa is something in a person's mind, and there is a slim chance that those in the group infected with Medusa (which means everyone except Marco) can cure themselves - one of the very first people to get the virus, a young girl, managed it. Marco has Kasumi watch a video and keeps her, the other young woman (Katherine), and the little boy (Tim) from following him as he goes off on his own to settle things with a hacker named Zeus. There are lots of flashbacks to Marco's past, showing him when he was asked to infiltrate the complex and showing him when he tried to follow through with NSA and CIA's plan - obviously, the plan didn't work. While Marco is gone, Kasumi continues to watch the tape and finds evidence that her twin sister is alive and probably somewhere in the complex. Kasumi's twin isn't the only one still alive - one of the people in the group who was recently killed is still kinda-sorta alive, in an "is he a zombie?" sort of way.

I'm still loving this series, even if parts of this volume confused me. Mainly, it was the stuff with Marco's past that confused me - I had trouble keeping track of what Marco was supposed to be doing for the NSA, and I couldn't remember what it was exactly that Zeus did to Marco (he set him up for something, but I can't remember what it was - it'd probably help to reread the previous volumes). By the way, if you've seen the Tokyopop cover for this volume and you're wondering, the guy on the lower right of the cover is Marco before he went to prison. As usual, Marco made me go embarrassingly fangirly, so I'm a little more forgiving of any confusion the bits about his past caused me than I might have been if those bits had been about another character.

The revelations about Medusa were great and kept me at the edge of my seat, although I don't have Marco's confidence that everyone in the group will figure out how to cure themselves. For one thing, the guy in the recording who was explaining things as much as said that it was no longer possible for people to cure themselves the same way the little girl who was among the first to catch it did. For another, Katherine is doing pretty badly by the end of this volume - I doubt it'll be long before she shatters herself on something. I did enjoy finally finding out who that creepy little girl is who's been following the group around, although it's hard to believe that she's the same cute girl shown in the flashbacks - she seems darker and meaner now than she looked to be then.

Once this volume reveals what Medusa is, the next question is "whose messed up mental image resulted in all those horrible monsters found throughout the compound?" Apparently, Zeus played a part in their creation, although it's not quite clear how he managed it and how they can be gotten rid of. This is bad, because these monsters aren't just in the compound - they're all over the world. Zeus's reason for making this all happen is either massively stupid or massively crazy. Maybe both.

Although there are a lot of explanatory flashbacks and video footage in this volume, that doesn't mean there isn't a lot of action. In fact, the flashbacks and video footage constitute most of the action in this volume. It all reminded me a lot of the movie Jurassic Park - everybody goes in, things go a little wrong in a planned way, then things go a lot wrong in an unplanned way, with lots of people dying quickly. The main difference is that in this manga, the dinosaur-like creatures can hurt you with more than just teeth and claws (although that's bad enough) and some or all of them can sprout more nasty creatures. I don't think this has been made into an anime yet, but it really should be - this would make a fun, adrenaline-fueled survival thriller. Marco's the lean and muscular convict who can handle himself in any kind of fight and then go hack into a computer system if he needs to. Kasumi and Katherine are the pretty women with painful pasts, Tim's a cute kid who needs to be kept safe, and then there are a few other characters to keep the mix interesting. The slowly unraveling mystery, as well as the question of whether any of them will actually survive Medusa, even if they survive the monsters, keeps this story from just being about all the action.

Overall, I really enjoyed this volume and this title in general. With this volume in particular, you get a lot of story for your money - I think there are probably at least 200 pages here for $9.99. You could also do what I've been doing (before I moved, anyway) and just get this manga from your local public library, if they're nice enough to have it in their collection. Personally, I'm hoping that this actually does get made into an anime - right away, it'd end up on my list of anime I plan on buying as soon as I'm able. I'm only hoping that the ending doesn't turn out to be a total letdown. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens to all the characters, whether they survive or not. I'd also like to know if there's now a zombie problem, if Marco will manage to kick Zeus's crazy butt, and what Kasumi's twin has to do with Zeus.

As far as extras go, the volume begins with four full-color pages and ends with a couple pages of the author's comments and random drawings. For those readers who are guys, the drawings include Katherine from the waist up, in a bikini, and Kazumi from behind, in her underwear and some kind of strapless top (there's probably a name for this kind of top, but I've never been a clothing fan, so I don't know it). The four full-color pages were depressing. The cover illustrations are always gorgeously colored, so I was expecting something of that quality, but the pages I saw looked a tad blurry and a little muddy here and there.

I continue to have problems coming up with read-alikes and watch-alikes for this series. My usual resources aren't much help, either - NoveList seems to choke when it comes to manga, WorldCat's list of supposedly related items (for another volume in this series) is just odd (a Tom Sawyer comic? Huh???), Amazon.com's "also bought" list isn't much better, and Anime-Planet doesn't even have this series.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Jurassic Park (live action movie) - A very wealthy man has the brilliant idea to create a park filled with dinosaurs. Unfortunately, things go wrong, and he and a bunch of visitors are suddenly trapped on an island with a bunch of large prehistoric reptiles, quite a few of which are carnivorous. Those who'd like another survival thriller with heart-pounding action and dangerous monsters might enjoy this movie.
  • Pitch Black (live action movie) - A group of space travelers are stranded on a seemingly lifeless sun-scorched planet. Unfortunately, when darkness falls they discover that the planet isn't as lifeless as they thought. Those who'd like another survival thriller with heart-pounding action and dangerous monsters might enjoy this movie. In addition, there's a convict character who, at times, reminds me of Marco Owens.
  • 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. Those who'd like another story that often deals with the strange and sometimes horrific things people's minds can produce might like this series. Unlike King of Thorn, however, this is not an action-oriented series, but rather a character-oriented one.
  • Red Garden (anime TV series) - There's been a lot of strange suicides in New York lately. One day, four girls with little in common wake up feeling tired and dizzy, unable to remember what happened the previous night. They discover that one of their classmates has committed suicide. Not long after that, the four girls are told that they all died the previous night and must fight when called to do so if they wish to continue to live. Those who'd like another horror-thriller with supernatural weirdness and dark and unnerving aspects might enjoy this anime. I'll admit, I haven't seen it yet, but I'd like to - I've read a few reviews, and it seems like it might be worth the money.
  • After School Nightmare (manga) by Setona Mizushiro - Ichijo Mashiro is one of several students at his school who are made to attend a special class, in which students battle each other in a dream world. Almost everyone's dream selves look nothing like their waking selves, but, unfortunately, this is not the case for Ichijo. His dream self reveals his most closely guarded secret, that he is neither male nor female. As the series progresses, more students' secrets are revealed. Those who'd like another strange horror story in which characters' secrets, as well as their environment's secrets, are gradually revealed may enjoy this manga.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

WorldCat search box

During an earlier post, I can't remember which one, I wrote that it would be impossible for me to somehow link to the catalog of whatever library a visitor to this blog might use. Since I couldn't do that, I chose to link my read-alikes and watch-alikes to Amazon.com, IMDb, and Anime News Network pages.

I'm going to continue doing that, but, in addition, I've now added a WorldCat search box to my blog. If you're interested in something I've commented on or suggested, you can search for it in WorldCat and find out if a library near you has it. WorldCat also includes readers' reviews and lists of related items (which I plan on mining for especially difficult read-alike lists).

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Kindaichi Case Files: The Undying Butterflies (manga, vol. 17) by Yozaburo Kanari (story) and Fumiya Sato (art)

While looking at a magazine article, Kindaichi, a crime-solving high school student, sees a murderer from one of his previous cases, someone who's supposed to be dead. Kindaichi, his friend Miyuki, and Itsuki (a reporter) travel to the Madarame Estate to check out this man they think is the murderer Eiji Touno. Shimon Madarame is a famous butterfly enthusiast - he has supposedly revived an extinct species of butterfly, one that is known for its ability to glow in the dark. Although Kindaichi and the others in his party have come to investigate the man who looks like Eiji Touno (Shimon Madarame's assistant, Hikage Miyama), there's something unsettling about the Madarame household. Shimon Madarame's youngest daughter hates him for some reason, and all Shimon seems to care about is butterflies - his daughters are even named after butterflies.

The Black Butterfly of Death, a butterfly with marking that look a human skeleton's ribs, keeps getting spotted, and, one by one, Shimon Madarame's family turns up murdered, beginning with his youngest daughter. Shimon's middle daughter is barely saved by Miyama (the two are secretly in love with each other), and Kindaichi must race to discover the murderer before all his or her intended victims have been killed. In the end, it's discovered that something in Shimon Madarame's past is a vital clue to discovering the identity of the killer.

I was actually kind of shocked when I discovered who the killer was in this volume - I mean, the thought of it is kind of icky, when you think about his relationship to the Madarame family and what he was doing in order to get close to them. In some ways, I enjoyed this volume more than volume 16 - the ending was so tragic. The entire Madarame family was just so messed up and doomed. Even if those daughters hadn't been killed, this wasn't ever going to be a happy family.

I loved the artwork in this volume, too. The use of the butterfly patterns in the daughters' kimonos was lovely, even if it was also kind of creepy (another example of Shimon's obsession with butterflies).

One thing I did wonder about was the single page in which Shimon Madarame had his wife tied up on a wall, wearing a butterfly kimono. It was actually somewhat disturbing. Did he torture her to punish her for once having loved someone besides him? How could she continue to stay married to someone like that? I know she explains her reasons at the end of the volume, but that's some crazily long-term vengeance.

Overall, I really enjoyed this volume, even though I've never read the volume in which Touno was introduced (volume 6). I still found everything easy to follow, and I enjoyed trying to solve the mystery on my own. As far as extras go, there's not much, other than a page at the beginning introducing newcomers to the series to the premise and three characters (Kindaichi, Miyuki, and Detective Kenmochi, who doesn't even show up in this volume).

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Loveless (anime TV series); Loveless (manga) by Yun Kouga - Twelve-year-old Ritsuka's life isn't very normal - his older brother died not too long ago, his mother is physically abusive, and a strange 19-year-old man named Soubi has shown up, claiming to have known his brother. Soubi says he is Ritsuka's Fighter, while Ritsuka is a Sacrifice. Ritsuka slowly comes to understand what this means, as he learns to battle other Fighter-Sacrifice pairs who may be able to lead him to knowledge about his brother's death. Those who'd like another anime with a suspenseful aspect, in which butterflies play a role, might enjoy this series.
  • Case Closed (anime TV series); Case Closed (manga) by Gosho Aoyama - High school detective Kudo Shinichi is well-known in Japan as a genius crime-solver. Unfortunately, after he is drugged by two mysterious men in black, he wakes up to discover that his body is now that of a child. Shinichi hides his identity as he tries to find clues about the men in black through the clients and cases of a pathetic, second-class detective. Those who'd like another story involving a boy crime-solver and one-shot mysteries might enjoy this title.
  • Black Jack (manga) by Osamu Tezuka; Black Jack (anime TV series) - Black Jack is brilliant unlicensed doctor who helps those who'll pay him, those he takes mercy on, and those who touch his heart. He doesn't need to follow the same rules other doctors do, and he can do things for his patients that few other doctors are capable of. Those who'd like another series with an old school feel (actually, this really does count as old school) and one-shot stories might enjoy this title.
  • Descendants of Darkness (manga) by Yoko Matsushita; Descendants of Darkness (anime TV series) - Even after death, there's paperwork to do and criminals to catch. Tsuzuki Asato is a somewhat goofy (yet powerful) shinigami (god of death) whose job involves ensuring that the dead remain properly dead and out of the lives of the living. Tsuzuki gets a new partner, Hisoka, and the cases they investigate keep bringing them up against Muraki, a serial killer. Muraki seems to know an awful lot about Tsuzuki and Hisoka's darkest secrets. Those who'd like another story involving (at first, anyway) one-shot mysteries might enjoy this title.
  • Tactics (anime TV series) - Kantaro is a folklorist who can see monsters (in the loose sense of the word) that others can't. All his life, he's been determined to find and befriend the demon-eating goblin. One day, he does, but the relationship is a bit bumpier than Kantaro might have hoped. Those who'd like another series composed mostly of one-shot stories and mysteries might like this anime. In addition, there's an episode involving a mother and her two daughters that reminded me a bit of this volume of The Kindaichi Case Files.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Death Note (live action movie)

Light Yagami, son of a police chief, is an intelligent, hard-working student who has never caused his family any trouble and seems destined for a successful life. However, his strong sense of justice is offended by his discovery that many criminals in Japan go unpunished.

When Light finds a strange notebook, with instructions saying that anyone whose name is written in it will die, it is Light's strong sense of justice that prompts him to try the notebook out with a criminal's name. When the man dies, just as the notebook promised, Light continues to use it to kill off criminals. Soon, a being named Ryuk finds Light and introduces himself as a shinigami (god of death) and the former owner of the notebook. Ryuk is not on Light's side, but neither is he against him - all he's really interested in is the entertainment value of Light's actions.

It's not long before Light's killings are noticed by the media and the police, and this mysterious killer is given the name Kira. While Light hopes to one day convince Shiori, his girlfriend, that Kira's actions are just (she doesn't know he's Kira, by the way), the police are doing their best to track down and stop Kira. Eventually, the police find it necessary to team up with L, a brilliant, eccentric, and mysterious detective. It's L who figures out that Kira must be someone close to the Kira task force, and L and Light soon find themselves engaged in a battle of wits. Light will have to decide how far he's willing to go and who he's willing to sacrifice in order to keep his secret.

I didn't really have any idea what to expect from this movie. I absolutely loved the manga and I enjoyed the anime, but could a live action version of the story really be any good? Would Ryuk look so fake that it would be difficult to suspend my disbelief? Normally, when I'm this uncertain about something, I read lots of reviews before I buy it, but I happened to see this at the store while I was in the mood to buy some entertainment.

I watched this movie both in the original Japanese (with subtitles, of course) and in English dub. Watching it in Japanese was fun. Watching it dubbed in English was a little jarring - it's been ages since I've seen a live action movie dubbed in English. As far as I know, the English dub cast is the exact same cast used in the anime. This isn't mentioned anywhere on the DVD container or in the language selection menu, but it really should have been. The English dub cast is phenomenal, which is part of the reason why the dub was at all enjoyable. Unfortunately, like I said, it was a little jarring to watch a live action Japanese movie dubbed in English. Also, the English dub voice actors' voices didn't always seem to fit the actors. Chris Britton was perfect as Light's father in the anime, but his voice seemed a bit too old for Takeshi Kaga, the actor who played Light's father in this movie. Alessandro Juliani, who voiced L, is the main reason why I want to eventually own the anime - he did a fantastic job, and I wish he had more anime voice acting roles under his belt, so that I could hear him in lots of other things. He was still great as L in the live action movie, but his performance here wasn't as good as in the anime (he seemed... tired or bored, maybe?), and his voice didn't really seem to fit with the actor (not his fault, though). For me, though, Brad Swaile as Light took the most getting used to. Just as in the anime, he was wonderful, but it was hard to adjust to his voice coming out of Tatsuya Fujiwara's mouth.

The story is very similar to that of the manga and anime, with a few noticeable differences (the Death Note film Wikipedia page has a nice list of the differences). For me, Shiori was the biggest difference. As far as I've been able to discover, she exists only in the movie. Light seems to care for her, which makes what he does in the end of the movie seem all the more cold-hearted and horrible. Actually, Light's love (although maybe that's too strong a word) for Shiori was a bit of a shock to me - in the anime and manga, the people around Light are merely pawns in the game he plays against L (and, later, Mello and Near). I don't think he even really cared for his family members, not after he became obsessed with the Death Note.

This lack of caring for others seemed to be a symptom of his obsession with the Death Note, and maybe this movie confirms that to some extent. Not only does Light seem to have some affection for Shiori, he isn't quite as obsessive about the Death Note itself. In the anime and manga, Light devises all kinds of ways to keep others from getting their hands on the Death Note, none of which is present in this movie. True, two hours isn't enough time to fit everything in, but I still think it's interesting.

In the movie, Light also seemed to be in risky situations slightly more often than he was in the anime or manga. In order to condense the story a little, Raye's fiancee is actually there when he dies - if she had just looked up before the train left, she would have seen Light's face and the movie would have been over. Light should have panicked at that kind of close call, but he didn't. None of this was even an issue in the anime and manga, since the events happened differently.

The nice thing about the differences, however, is that they kept the story from being completely predictable for those who, like me, have already seen the anime and read the manga. Shiori has a big part in the ending of the movie, which is not based on any scene found in other versions of the story (although Shiori and her ending struck me as having a lot in common with Kiyomi Takada, a character in the manga and anime).

One of my greatest worries about seeing this movie was Ryuk. How would they do him, and would he look any good? Well, he was better than I expected. The first scene where he appears is a bit painful to watch - there's something about the way that Ryuk's movements were done that makes him look very fake. However, later on the in the movie he actually looks pretty good. The only thing about him that made him look not quite there was the way his lighting was handled, and that might have been done the way it was for artistic reasons. Ryuk had the same light source as anything else in the scene, as far as I could tell, but his lighting wasn't always as bright as the lighting on the real-life objects and people around him.

I think I'll wrap up my discussion of the movie itself by talking about Misa Amane. My copy of the movie includes a sheet with a list of the main actors and actresses in the movie (plus the voice actors in the English dub). This list of Japanese actors and actresses includes the people who played Light, L, Light's father, Misa, and Shiori. This led me to believe that Misa might have a bigger part in this movie, but that wasn't actually the case. In fact, if you haven't read the manga or seen the anime, during Misa's scenes you'll probably spend most of your time wondering why she's even there. It isn't until the end of the movie that it becomes clear that she's going to have her own Death Note in the second movie.

This movie includes a few extras. The interview with the director isn't very informative, nor is it very lengthy. There's also a trailer for the Death Note anime, and previews for a few other Viz Pictures titles. In addition to the list of actors and actresses included with the DVD, there's also an ad for the second movie, Death Note: The Last Name, and a 25-page preview of the first volume of the manga, which is nice if you haven't already read it.

Overall, I don't think this was the best version of the Death Note story. The original version, the manga, is still the best, in my opinion, followed by the anime (which was almost comical in its overdramatization, at times). However, I still enjoyed the movie, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well Ryuk was done.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion (anime TV series) - In this alternate history (?), the Empire of Britannia has invaded Japan. Japan is now referred to as Area 11, and its people are 11's. Lelouch appears to be an ordinary, if extremely intelligent, high school student, but in reality he's hiding many secrets. One of those secrets is the power of Geass, which was given to him by a mysterious young girl who was some sort of military secret. Geass allows Lelouch to make anyone obey his orders, and he uses it great deal as he begins living a double life as Zero, the masked leader of a rebellion to combat Britannia's tyranny. Those who'd like another anime starring someone with maybe a little more power than is good for him might want to try this series.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist (manga) by Hiromu Arakawa; Fullmetal Alchemist (anime TV series); Fullmetal Alchemist: The Movie (anime movie) - In a world where alchemy is considered science, Ed and Al, two young brothers, have broken the primary rule of alchemy, the law of equivalent exchange, in an attempt to resurrect their mother. As a result, Ed lost an arm and a leg, and Al lost his whole body. Now they're on a journey to discover the Philosopher's Stone and use it to restore their bodies. Those who'd like another story that deals with ethical shades of gray might enjoy this title.
  • Paranoia Agent (anime TV series) - A mysterious kid with a bent golden bat has been going around attacking people. Two detectives are investigating, so that they can stop this kid, dubbed Lil' Slugger. Lil' Slugger's actions sometimes reveal the (often strange) secrets and private lives of his victims. Those who'd like another story in which cops are chasing after someone who seems to have amazing powers might enjoy this anime.
  • Descendants of Darkness (manga) by Yoko Matsushita; Descendants of Darkness (anime TV series) - Even after death, there's paperwork to do and criminals to catch. Tsuzuki Asato is a somewhat goofy (yet powerful) shinigami (god of death) whose job involves ensuring that the dead remain properly dead and out of the lives of the living. Tsuzuki gets a new partner, Hisoka, and the cases they investigate keep bringing them up against Muraki, a serial killer. Muraki seems to know an awful lot about Tsuzuki and Hisoka's darkest secrets. Those who'd like another story in which cops are chasing after a somewhat supernatural killer might enjoy this title.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Kindaichi Case Files: The Magical Express (manga, vol. 16) by Yozaburo Kanari (story) and Fumiya Sato (art)

Hajime Kindaichi is a high school student who is regarded by his classmates and teachers as something of a loser. However, he's actually a brilliant crime-solver, and the grandson of Japan's most famous detective, Kousuke Kindaichi. In this volume, the police have received a mysterious puzzle box containing a twisted marionette and a note from "The Puppetmaster" saying that something bad is going to happen on a certain train, on a certain date. The police enlist Hajime Kindaichi's help and plan to ride the train on that date. Also on the train at the same time is a magic troupe - after the Puppetmaster employs some misdirection, the first victim is discovered to be one of the members of the magic troupe, whose body is staged to look just like the twisted marionette.

Kindaichi and the police continue to investigate after the train has reached its destination, even as more members of the magic troupe continue to die. It eventually becomes clear that the deaths are linked to the magic troupe's past and the death of one of its former members.

This is the first time I've ever read anything in this series. It's not really the kind of thing I'd buy, since I doubt I'd ever want to reread it, but it was still fun. Basically, it's got an old school mystery feel, with the kind of clues that allow you to either solve the mystery yourself or at least get most of the way there. At certain places in the volume, previous events are summarized and all the characters are listed - the ones who have died and can therefore no longer be considered suspects are grayed out.

Overall, I liked this volume. The artwork and story are both clear and easy to follow, which is a plus for a mystery. Even though I jumped into this series at a rather late stage, the character info at the beginning of the volume helped me understand some of the character dynamics. Besides, it's not like the character dynamics and premise of the story are all that complicated (or very original) - the important thing is the mystery, and that was entirely self-contained in this volume.

As far as extras go, there's really nothing besides the page of stuff at the beginning designed to introduce new readers to the recurring characters and the series. However, since this volume costs the same amount as Tokyopop's other titles ($9.99) and is maybe twice as thick as the volumes of other Tokyopop series, there's still a lot here for your money.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Tactics (anime TV series) - Kantaro is a folklorist who can see monsters (in the loose sense of the word) that others can't. All his life, he's been determined to find and befriend the demon-eating goblin. One day, he does, but the relationship is a bit bumpier than Kantaro might have hoped. Those who'd like another series composed mostly of one-shot stories and mysteries might like this anime. In addition, there's one particular episode involving a doll-maker that might appeal to those who enjoyed the marionette dolls in this volume of The Kindaichi Case Files.
  • Case Closed (anime TV series); Case Closed (manga) by Gosho Aoyama - High school detective Kudo Shinichi is well-known in Japan as a genius crime-solver. Unfortunately, after he is drugged by two mysterious men in black, he wakes up to discover that his body is now that of a child. Shinichi hides his identity as he tries to find clues about the men in black through the clients and cases of a pathetic, second-class detective. Those who'd like another story involving a boy crime-solver and one-shot mysteries might enjoy this title.
  • Descendants of Darkness (manga) by Yoko Matsushita; Descendants of Darkness (anime TV series) - Even after death, there's paperwork to do and criminals to catch. Tsuzuki Asato is a somewhat goofy (yet powerful) shinigami (god of death) whose job involves ensuring that the dead remain properly dead and out of the lives of the living. Tsuzuki gets a new partner, Hisoka, and the cases they investigate keep bringing them up against Muraki, a serial killer. Muraki seems to know an awful lot about Tsuzuki and Hisoka's darkest secrets. Those who'd like another story involving (at first, anyway) one-shot mysteries might enjoy this title.
  • Black Jack (manga) by Osamu Tezuka; Black Jack (anime TV series) - Black Jack is brilliant unlicensed doctor who helps those who'll pay him, those he takes mercy on, and those who touch his heart. He doesn't need to follow the same rules other doctors do, and he can do things for his patients that few other doctors are capable of. Those who'd like another series with an old school feel (actually, this really does count as old school) and one-shot stories might enjoy this title.
  • The Prestige (live action movie) - Robert and Alfred are rival magicians obsessed with coming up with the ultimate magic trick. When Alfred performs a trick so fantastic that it appears to truly be magic, Robert desperately tries to figure out his secret. Those who'd like another story in which characters will do just about anything to get the secret of an ultimate magic trick might enjoy this movie.
  • Murder on the Orient Express (book) by Agatha Christie - An American businessman is stabbed to death on the Orient Express, and Hercule Poirot is determined to discover who murdered him and why. Those who enjoyed the "murder on the train" aspect of this volume of The Kindaichi Case Files and who would like to try to puzzle through an even more complex mystery might like this book.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Transcription and a webcomic about libraries

If you read Unshelved, you may already know this, but they're enlisting the help of volunteers to transcribe all their comic strips so that they can become searchable. A webcomic about a library probably has tons of fans who'd love to do just this sort of thing, but I thought I'd put the word out on my own blog (granted, Unshelved has far more readers than my blog, but it's possible I'll reach someone they haven't). I've done a grand total of two so far. It's very simple, and it's the kind of thing that library nerds like myself love to do. Pick a strip and give it a try!

Memory Wiping for Fun and Profit

Do you like books/movies/TV shows/whatever where characters purposely erase or alter the memories of other characters? These characters usually have some sort of reason for doing what they do - maybe they're good people who only want to remove others' painful memories, maybe they're bad people who've done bad things and don't want to leave witnesses who remember them, or maybe they're somewhere in between.

This is by no means an exhaustive list (if you have your own suggestions, by all means, mention them in a comment). I had fun doing my previous list based on a topic, so I decided to do another one. Enjoy!

Anime/Manga:
  • Ghost in the Shell (anime movie); Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (anime movie); Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (anime TV series); Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig (anime TV series) - In the future, almost everyone has been cyberized, which, unfortunately, leaves them vulnerable to brain-hacking. The first Ghost in the Shell movie makes chilling use of this particular drawback of cyberization, and it comes up in other related works. The list of links I've given is not a comprehensive list of all the various Ghost in the Shell titles - for instance, there's also a manga (which is what all this anime stuff is based on) and another movie. Check out Anime News Network for more info.
  • Fruits Basket (anime TV series); Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya - One character in this series, Hatori, can use hypnosis to alter/remove memories. He does this to protect his cursed family's secret.
  • Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion (anime TV series) - Lelouch, the main character of this series, acquires the power of Geass, which allows him to make anyone obey his orders. Lelouch begins living a double life as both an ordinary student and Zero, the mysterious masked leader of a rebellion to free the Japanese people from Brittanian tyrants.
  • Bleach (anime TV series); Bleach (manga) by Tite Kubo - Soul Reapers are beings who protect the spirits of the dead and the world of the living from Hollows. As part of their job, Soul Reapers occasionally have to wipe/alter humans' memories.

Live Action (Movies, TV shows):

  • Heroes (live action TV series) - A bunch of people around the world suddenly have the ability to use various sorts of superpowers. Behind the scenes, one man, who happens to be the father of a girl with superpowers, looks into this phenomenon, captures people with superpowers, and has a mysterious Haitian man wipe people's memories.
  • Men in Black (live action movie) - The Men in Black are real, and they work behind the scenes to keep the rest of humanity from realizing that aliens are definitely among us. As part of their jobs, the Men in Black often wipe/alter people's memories.
  • Eureka (live action TV series) - In the small town of Eureka, just about everyone's a genius, which makes new sheriff Jack Carter seem a bit like the village idiot at times. On the bright side, his common sense is often just what Eureka needs. In one particular episode, a character uses a powerful invention to wipe people's memories and make himself look more brilliant than he really is.

Books:

  • The Queen's Bastard (book) by C. E. Murphy - In this fantasy set in something like Elizabethan Europe, Belinda is the illegitimate child of Queen Lorraine. When she is older, she becomes a spy and assassin for the Queen and secretly learns how to use her magical abilities, which allow her to make herself invisible and affect others' minds. Belinda tests her ability on her maid and a man she knows and later wipes both people's memories of what she made them do.
  • Undead and Unwed (book) by MaryJanice Davidson - Betsy Taylor, fan of shoes and shopping, is an unlikely Vampire Queen, but that is what she unexpectedly becomes. In this book, she doesn't have much of a handle on her vampiric abilities. Later on in the series, this becomes a problem, as she accidentally makes a cop her slave. Betsy's consort fixes things by wiping the man's memory, which eventually leads to even more problems.
  • Guilty Pleasures (book) by Laurell K. Hamilton - In this alternate history, Anita Blake is a former vampire hunter turned vampire executioner when vampires are legally declared people in the United States. One of the powers many vampires have is the ability to erase humans' memories in order to protect themselves.
  • Artemis Fowl (book) by Eoin Colfer - Twelve-year-old Artemis Fowl is a criminal mastermind, whose latest scheme involves getting gold from fairies. Of course, the fairies have plenty of magic and technology on their side, so they're not giving in easily. One of the abilities fairies have is mesmer, which allows them to erase and/or alter humans' memories.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Original cataloging fun

There are some days when I feel a little more like a professional cataloger than others. One such day was when I spent two days creating original records for some North Korean DVDs. I assigned subject headings and call numbers, and I read about the ethics of using the word "propaganda" (as description and/or genre, rather than as a subject) in bibliographic records. It was draining, but fun (and it totally messed up my copy cataloging schedule for the week).

Today was a similar day. I spent the entire day creating original records for chapbooks donated by a professor, who was also the person who wrote/produced them. Part of his requirements were that they all be shelved together. I came up with different options, none of which both followed the professor's requirements and followed LC classification rules. I had the same issue when it came to deciding whether to add or not add the same series title to all the records. It took a while, but I finally settled on what I'd do and passed it by my supervisor. Only 5 more chapbooks (and a couple stapled sheets) to go!

Eclipse (book) by Stephenie Meyer

I'll start this off with the usual spoiler warning - it takes too much energy to watch everything I'm writing, so don't read this if you want to avoid all spoilers for this book.

Edward and Bella are back together again, although, of course, that doesn't mean things are easy and danger-free. There seems to be an awful lot of killings going on in Seattle. Bella is a bit worried about that, since one of her high school friends will be going there after graduation, but she soon discovers that she has even more personal reasons to be worrying about the violence in Seattle. It turns out that the killings are caused by vampires, who may or may not be connected to the Volturi (who warned the Cullens, in the previous book, that they would be after them if Bella wasn't turned into a vampire) and who may or may not be after the Cullens.

Bella and the others later realize that the vampires are not, in fact, connected to the Volturi, although the Volturi will most certainly become involved if the killings go on much longer. These rampaging vampires are actually an army of newborn vamps created by Victoria, who still hasn't given up on her quest to kill Bella. Bella, as usual, is relieved that the baddie mainly wants to kill her, and not the Cullens. Silly Bella.

The sheer number of vampires, plus Bella's connections to both the werewolves and vampires of Forks, prompts an unprecedented alliance between the Cullens and the Quileute werewolves. Victoria is finally, finally dealt with - unless she rises from the ashes, she won't be showing up in the next book.

Besides the threat of death, Bella's also got lots of romantic and personal problems.

First, there's her volatile love triangle. Both Jacob and Edward love her, and Bella finally realizes that she loves them both (although she's always quick to say she loves Edward more). Sometimes Jacob and Edward are willing to share, and sometimes they're not. Edward had a few snarling jealous boyfriend moments, but he was mostly willing to share, as long as Bella was happy. Jacob was less happy with sharing, especially once he decided he had a chance at stealing Bella away from Edward.

Second, Bella wants to become a vampire. Maybe. She wants to be with Edward forever, staying eternally young with him, but she's worried about what she'll be like as a new vampire. She worries about possibly killing humans, and she worries that her thirst for blood will overpower her love for Edward, making her not herself for a while. She's also sad that she'll have to give up her family. Aside from all of that, there's also Jacob, who, in a fit of rage, tells her he'd rather she was dead than a vampire. What to do when one of the loves in your life says that?

Third, she wants Edward to be the one to turn her into a vampire, but he has conditions she must first satisfy. The main one is that he wants her to marry him. For some reason, the thought of everyone's whispers and stares when she announces she's engaged at such a young age upsets her more than just about anything else. Bella, as usual, seems to have her priorities out of whack. Bella's other difficulty is that, before the thirst for blood becomes her driving physical need, she wants to have sex with Edward. Edward is understandably freaked out by this idea - even if there weren't the possibility that he'd rip her throat out in the heat of the moment, he's incredibly strong and could accidentally hurt her.

I'd have to say that Edward is the most patient and understanding boyfriend in the world. He's practically textbook perfect. One minute, he's snarlingly jealous, willing to fight to keep Bella. The next minute, he's willing to either let her go or share her with Jacob, if only she'll be happy. Emotionally, he reacts in whatever way he believes is best for Bella. That's both sweet and incredibly...fake. When Jacob and Bella finally kiss (fairly passionately, too), does Edward get upset? Of course not. Perfect boyfriends don't get angry at their girlfriends for kissing other guys, oh no.

Well, all's fair in love and war, or at least Jacob seems to think so. He's no longer Mr. Nice Guy. He's willing to lie and steal kisses if that's what it takes to win Bella away from Edward. I missed Nice Guy Jacob - this new Jacob kind of pissed me off occasionally. I'm definitely on Team Edward here. However, the tension between Bella, Jacob, and Edward provided much of the conflict in this book, and it was usually pretty interesting conflict, so I guess I can't complain. I'm really surprised that Bella actually chooses between the two of them by the end of the book. Although I'm sure it's not over, it's still shocking that Bella manages to get over her own feelings about what she needs and finally cuts Jacob loose (not that he goes easy on himself after that).

Another interesting aspect of this book was the fleshing out Meyer did of vampire and werewolf cultures and history. Bella got to hear the story of the first Quileute werewolves (and then she went and identified with the self-destructive aspect of the story - what is with that girl?). The imprinting thing was also interesting (sort of a soulmate thing, although maybe more intense, since it seems to have the ability to alter the werewolf's previous emotions), although not something I could see any werewolf actually wishing for. I keep hoping that Jacob will imprint on somebody, not Bella. Besides the werewolf stuff, Bella also got to hear Rosalie's story (beautiful girl, killed by her beautiful monster of a new husband) and Jasper's story (soldier, turned newbie-vampire-cannon fodder). I hadn't really realized that Rosalie didn't like being a vampire and longed for a baby of her own, but, other than that, her story was only a bit interesting. Jasper turned out to be a more kick-butt than I expected.

I'm so very glad that Victoria is now dead. I never found her all that scary to begin with. Bella spends a lot of time terrified of her, but Victoria doesn't actually do much that's worth all of that terror. I'm not saying Bella shouldn't have been afraid of her (I'm actually kind of impressed that she managed to work up some fear for something she actually should be afraid of), but Victoria wasn't really all that frightening from a reader's point of view.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, although I really wish Bella could cut out all that melodrama and Edward could grow a spine. Despite my ever-present gripes about these things, I managed to read the book in about 5 days - I wonder how long the last one will take me?

Many of the read-alikes I listed for the previous books would work for this book. Since this particular read-alikes list is heavy on books intended for adults, that's important to keep in mind.

Read-alikes:
  • 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 found the whole werewolf imprinting thing interesting might enjoy this book/series - the werewolves in Briggs's books don't have quite the same thing, but they do have mates. Also, Mercy has something of a love triangle going on between her and a couple werewolves. This series is intended for adults, so there's sex scenes and graphic violence that may not be appropriate for younger readers.
  • Tempting Danger (book) by Eileen Wilks - This is also the first book in a series. Lily Yu is a cop who's trying to figure out who's going around killing people in gruesome ways. It looks like werewolves might be involved, and maybe even the prince of the Nokolai clan, Rule Turner. This is especially unfortunate, because Lily and Rule have suddenly discovered that they are mates - the result is a compulsion to be near each other, and it'll look really bad if someone finds out Lily's having sex with the prime suspect. Those who'd like more werewolf soulmate stuff might enjoy this book/series. This series is intended for adults, so there's sex scenes and graphic violence that may not be appropriate for younger readers.
  • The Strange Power (book) by L. J. Smith - This is the first book is Smith's Dark Visions series. Kaitlyn Fairchild is a psychic whose drawings predict the future. The only problem is, her drawings usually don't make sense until after whatever they predict has happened. When she finds out about the Zeetes Institute, a place where she can learn to control her abilities, she decides to go, but the institute may have have more sinister intentions than Kaitlyn realizes. Those who'd like another fantasy story with action and romance (Kaitlin has to choose between a bad boy and a nice guy) might like this book/series. Another series by Smith with a romantic storyline involving a girl who has to choose between two guys is The Forbidden Game, which begins with The Hunter - I didn't add it to this list because, unfortunately, it doesn't seem as though this title is one of the ones by Smith that has been recently re-released, which makes it harder to find.
  • 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 a story that, eventually, has a vampire-human-werewolf love triangle might like this series. Also, like Jacob, the werewolf in this love triangle starts off as a nice guy and gets bitter as the relationship stuff gets tenser. A warning, however - there is some very explicit sex in this series, especially in later volumes.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Anime/Manga Featuring Books, Libraries, and/or Librarians

I'm going to try something new - instead of a post based on one particular book/movie/TV show, I'm going to try writing a subject-themed post. Since the post will mostly be composed for read-alike and watch-alike suggestions, if I do those suggestions like I normally would, the post would take forever to write. Therefore, instead of giving a little summary for each suggestion, I'm just going to write a bit about why that particular book/movie/TV show was included in the list. If you want to know more about it, either see if it's been mentioned in my blog before, or click on the link and read the Amazon, Anime News Network, or IMDb page for more info.

For my very first post of this sort (and maybe my last, if I don't like how it goes), I'm listing anime and manga in which books, libraries, and/or librarians play a part.
  • Whisper of the Heart (anime movie) - Who is Seiji Amasawa, and how has he managed to read every book in the library before Shizuku? The answer to this question has serious implications for Shizuku's romantic future and the library's circulation statistics.
  • Read or Die (anime OVA) - No list of this sort would be complete without this anime. Yomiko Readman, the main character, is so in love with books that she has developed a magical affinity for paper. As a secret operative for the British Library, she uses her skill to try to retrieve valuable stolen books.
  • R.O.D. the TV (anime TV series) - Three young women with the ability to manipulate paper become bodyguards for the Japanese author Nenene Sumiregawa, whose long-lost friend happens to be Yomiko Readman. Yup, this series is related to Read or Die. There's also a couple manga related to these two titles.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist (manga) by Hiromu Arakawa; Fullmetal Alchemist (anime TV series); Fullmetal Alchemist: The Movie (anime movie) - Two brothers lose their mother at an early age and try to use alchemy, with disastrous results, to bring her back. Their interest in alchemy means they can often be found (in the manga or anime) with their noses in books. In fact, when Edward, the older brother, becomes a State Alchemist, the two get access to the National Library, with its extensive collection of books on alchemy.
  • Tactics (anime TV series) - The main character, Kantaro, is a scholarly author who specializes in Japanese folklore. He's forever in the midst of writing a book. In addition, his editor, Reiko, is so in love with reading that an entire episode is devoted to this favorite hobby of hers.
  • Fruits Basket (anime TV series); Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya - At one point, Tohru, one of the main characters, is at her school's library and has just checked out a few books with her friends in mind, when she gets some upsetting news.
  • Fushigi Yuugi: Mysterious Play (manga) by Yuu Watase; Fushigi Yuugi: Mysterious Play (anime TV series) - Two middle school students, Miaka and her best friend, visit the National Library, only to get sucked into the book The Universe of the Four Gods. Miaka has it relatively good. Her friend does not. Things only get more complicated from there.
  • Negima! (manga) by Ken Akamatsu; Negima! (anime TV series) - There are apparently lots of other versions - I'm not going to list them all, but Anime News Network does. Anyway, this series includes a couple members of Mahora Academy's Library Exploration Club, as well as a character named Albireo Imma, who is registered as a librarian at the Mahora Library Island. By the way, unless you want to risk dying, it's never a good idea to wander around the Mahora Library Island without a knowledgeable guide.
  • Chobits (manga) by CLAMP; Chobits (anime TV series) - Hideki, a poor prep school student, lucks out when he finds a persocom (a computer that looks like a person). He names her Chi. Throughout the series, Chi reads some very deep picture books, which delve into the nature of persocom-human relationships.
  • Gravitation (manga) by Maki Murakami; Gravitation (anime TV series) - Shuichi's not a reader, but he can at least recognize when someone's talking about the books written by his lover, super-popular, super-sexy, and super-cold Eiri Yuki.
  • Descendants of Darkness (manga) by Yoko Matsushita; Descendants of Darkness (anime TV series) - Even after death, someone's got to do paperwork and catch criminals. While Tsuzuki and his new partner are off doing what they can, the Gushoushin brothers, bird-like twin God librarians, try to provide everybody in the division with the information they need. This series is often also referred to by its Japanese title, Yami no Matsuei.
  • The Gentlemen's Alliance Cross (manga) by Arina Tanemura - As a young girl, Haine fell in love with the boy (Shizumasa) who authored the children's book that was her first and last present from her father. Now a student at the elite Imperial Academy, Haine must figure out how to deal with Shizumasa (who seems to hate her), as well as her own feelings for him.
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