Sunday, November 29, 2009

Antique Bakery (manga, vol. 4) by Fumi Yoshinaga

Sadly, this is the final volume of Antique Bakery. I really enjoyed this series and will have to see about hunting down the anime (although I'm not a huge fan of what I've seen of the color scheme, which appears very pastel).

Sorry about the long post, but I couldn't help it. This is a great volume, and there's a lot packed into it.

Synopsis:

As usual, Tachibana wakes up from a bad dream about the time when he was abducted as a child. All he can remember is that his abductor forced him to eat cake every day and that he stabbed the man in the thighs. He thinks the man who took him probably said something to him, but he can't remember what it was, and that really bothers him. Thankfully, Chikage is still staying with Tachibana - Chikage's kind, but not very bright, and so manages to keep Tachibana's mood from getting too dark.

This volume follows the usual pattern of having a few scenes involving characters who will probably later be shown to be much more important (in this case, very important). An elderly lady has just returned home (or whatever - I'm not sure if this is her home or the man's home or a part of her store) from the Antique Bakery. She gives the cake to a silent, bearded elderly man who gives her some money for it, although she tells him that he doesn't need to. As she puts on makeup and otherwise pretties herself up, she talks to the man, telling him that she's thinking of closing her own shop up and moving to Sendai, where her brother and his wife live. She asks the man if he'd like to come with her, but he's not listening - he's offering cake to an invisible Atsushi, his son, who's been dead for 20 years. The woman is sympathetic but gets upset when the man slaps her hand away and continues to pretend as though she's not there while he coos over his invisible son. When she pushes the fact that his son is dead in the man's face, he acts as though he will stab her. Crying now, the woman begs him to go away with her. For some reason, the man stops, puts the knife away, and quietly leaves the shop/house/whatever, much to the woman's surprise.

Meanwhile, back at the bakery, Kanda's cakes have become pretty popular. Deko compliments both him and Ono on their cakes (climbing happily onto Ono's back, much to his horror) and even says she thinks she might one day want to bake cakes like the two of them. Although Deko frightens Ono (he's much better with women than he used to be, but Deko would be a bit much for a lot of people), Kanda thinks she's really cute. In fact, he asks Ono, "how old does a girl have to be to get married?" while gushing over Deko (who is, by the way, 10 years old, although she looks much older).

All of this is interrupted by a surprise visit to the bakery by Nagako, one of Ono's sisters. She's come to tell him that she's getting married and would like him to come to her wedding. He hasn't seen her or any of his family in years, and he thinks she might not want a gay family member at her wedding, but that doesn't bother her. Nagako had always thought that Ono had left and not come back because he knew that their father was having an affair with another woman and didn't want to be around his messed-up family anymore. The news shocks Ono a little - he knew their mother had been having an affair (something his sister still doesn't know), but he hadn't realized about their father (or so I'm assuming). He recovers quickly, though, and agrees to attend her wedding. The first chapter ends with Chikage and Tachibana seeing a news story about a kidnapped 9-year-old. Also, the woman from earlier is still waiting in her house/shop for the man.

In the next chapter, Kanda is upset when Tachibana and Ono tell him they've signed him up for French lessons. Kanda has never liked studying, but Ono thinks this is a good next step, since he eventually expects Kanda to spend some time in France in order to study authentic French cuisine. Tachibana, who's paying for the classes, is a little worried that Kanda isn't actually going to them or paying attention when he does. When Tachibana comes across Kanda beating up a random thug one night, his worries increase. Kanda's bad mood gets worse when he gets back to the shop after class one night to discover Tachibana helping Ono with the cakes and pastries - and doing well enough to earn Ono's praise.

Eventually, Ono puts a stop to Kanda's thug-beating activities and sits him down for a talk. All of Kanda's bottled-up insecurities come pouring out. Boxing made Kanda feel good because all he had to do was win in order to feel useful and wanted. He's been abandoned before, though, and he's terrified that Ono is preparing to abandon him too. He doesn't think there's anything about him that makes him vital to Ono - he's not Ono's type (I couldn't help but wonder if he'd have slept with Ono if he were Ono's type, just so he could feel more necessary), and, although Ono praises his work at the bakery, he praised Tachibana too. Ono calms Kanda down and boosts his confidence by assuring him that he is very talented and has been a valuable and eager apprentice. This chapter, like the first, ends with Tachibana and Chikage seeing a news report about the 9-year-old boy - unfortunately, he has been found dead.

The next chapter begins with a flashback to Tachibana in class studying law, thinking about how the statute of limitations for his kidnapping has expired - there is no way that the law will ever bring his abductor to justice. Now, in the present, he's trying to deal with his parents, who are telling him that his grandmother would like him to meet a certain young woman (a sneaky way of trying to arrange a marriage for him) - although Tachibana makes it clear he doesn't want to meet the woman, his parents understand and it's a pretty relaxed exchange. Meanwhile, Kanda is doing fabulously well in his French class and is now on friendly terms with his teacher. Ono has gone to visit his favorite gay bar after a long absence and, to his horror, meets the guy he broke up with in volume 2. He's terrified that his ex is still upset with him, but the man has actually settled down nicely with a new lover. Ono, now in something of a reflective mood, finds himself to be a little jealous of their happy, comfortable relationship. In another reminder of the more serious stuff going on just under the surface, Chikage and Deko see yet another news report, this one about the discovery of the body of a 10-year-old who had disappeared.

The story finally turns to the police who have been investigating these murders. Because of the similarities in the cases, they believe the same person was responsible for all of it. Akutagawa, the cake and pastry gourmet and former cop, is consulted because of his knowledge of fine cakes and pastries (the kids had been fed cake of some kind), and he is able to pinpoint the Antique Bakery as the only bakery that sells the kind of cake one of the children ate. Akutagawa and the cops visit Tachibana in order to discuss putting the store under surveillance and to apologize for the way his own kidnapping was handled (Akutagawa and one of the cops were both involved in investigating Tachibana's kidnapping). It's at this point that it's made absolutely clear that Tachibana planned every detail of the store to make it perfect for something like this.

Remember how I chided myself for trying to relate everything to the kidnapping during my post for volume 2? Oh, I laugh. Here is what Tachibana thinks as he considers the police's request to put the store under surveillance: the store is small, so that he can keep an eye on the entire interior, its hours are as late as possible, so that anyone and everyone can visit it, and its cakes and pastries are delicious enough to draw customers from all over. Yes, Tachibana naturally agrees to the police's requests, and yes, it really is all about the kidnapping, or at least it started out that way.

Two cops keep a watch over the store (one of them has a sweet tooth and can't help but drool over the bakery's offerings). Aside from Miss Urushihara's husband (from volume 2 again, with Miss Urushihara first appearing in volume 1), no one suspicious-looking comes by. A drunk guy comes by and harasses Chikage a bit, but he cools down after Chikage spends some time trying to find his supposedly missing contact lens (a scene I found very odd, one which apparently is moving to everyone who sees it but Tachibana - perhaps it was moving to them because he tried so hard, even though his eyesight is so bad?).

Before the store closes for the night, a woman comes by - Tachibana's last girlfriend, the one who he proposed to after she was fired. She's now engaged to be married to Honma of all people, and she wants to know if Tachibana is going to hold a grudge against his old friend for hooking up with one of his former girlfriends (Honma had gone to her to try to talk her back into being with the heartbroken Tachibana again, but ended up falling in love with her). Tachibana, resigned, says it's all fine and that the bakery would love to cater their wedding reception.

After she leaves, happy, Tachibana, on autopilot, helps out a female customer who seems to be feeling a little clumsy and faint. He drives her home, but, before he can leave, he sees little things that make him suspicious. There are bruises on her throat and she seems afraid. Heedless of her demands that he leave, he enters her home (not taking his shoes off, thereby tracking dirt into her home) and marches in, at one point even dragging her behind him as she hangs onto one of his legs, until a little boy rushes out of a room and into his arms. The woman's 24-year-old son had kept the boy captive and had intended to kill him after feeding him the bakery's cake. Haruka, of the Tammy and Haruka duo in volume 3, reports this on TV - yay for her, her first big break.

Tachibana seems to be feeling a bit off about the whole thing. He knows that the boy probably won't ever really be fine, although he's alive. He thought he might be in trouble with the police for barging into the woman's home, but they have no intention of punishing him for that. The 24-year-old gave the police a long story about how his father used to give him cake and how his mother sometimes got the wrong ones (he sometimes hurt her for that, which explains the bruises on her throat). All the employees at the bakery rushed back after the found out what Tachibana had done, all of them wanting to know if the guy was caught and if the boy was still alive - all of them know about Tachibana's past, but that isn't spoken of.

At the bakery, things are changing. Kanda leaves to go to France for a few days to spend some time with his French teacher and her family, who own a bread shop that is also sometimes a cake shop. It'll only be a matter of time before Kanda will want to strike off on his own, so, although Kanda will be coming back, this is still a bit of poignant moment. Also, Chikage is moving out of Tachibana's place - he's decided that Tachibana is doing fine on his own now and doesn't need him to be around all the time. Tachibana, who still has nightmares, feels differently, but Chikage doesn't move far away, and he'll be coming back to the bakery just as soon as he gets himself settled in his new place.

The man from earlier, the one who almost stabbed the woman who brought him cake, is selling his home and will apparently be moving to Sendai. Before he goes, he visits the Antique Bakery to pick up a cake, which I'm guessing will be for the woman (maybe an apology?). It's at this time that readers are shown the past that Tachibana can't remember. This man was Tachibana's abductor. Young Tachibana, scared and wanting to get back to his family, stabbed him in the thighs but was then horrified at the thought that he might have killed a man. His abductor, who had been yelling at him that he wouldn't forgive him for being so terrible after he had been treated so well, tells him to go, that he was never his son to begin with. His words before young Tachibana leaves, the words present-day Tachibana struggles so hard to remember are, "Leave...and forget all this!!" In the present day, this man, who now walks with a limp, visits the Antique Bakery and buys a cake from Tachibana, and, although there's something about him that tickles Tachibana's memory, he doesn't connect this man with the man from his past. Then Honma arrives, and the moment is lost forever.

Although Tachibana is a bit upset that Honma has the happy relationship he's been seeking for so many years, he and Honma part on friendly terms. Once they're alone, Ono asks for some time off to go to his sister's wedding, some high school girls mistake Ono and Tachibana for a gay couple, and Tachibana and Ono have a moment in which they remember graduation day, when Tachibana was so hurtful towards Ono. Ono's words to Tachibana, that he's grateful to be working at this bakery because it's the first time he's felt glad he became a patissier, seem to me to be something like him granting Tachibana forgiveness.

In the end, Tachibana still has nightmares, still can't get over his past, and still can't remember what he's forgotten, but he can appreciate a nice day and his job at the bakery.

Commentary:

Goodness, that was a long synopsis, and I mixed more commentary into than I should have, now that I'm trying to have that sort of thing in its own discrete section. However, it's the last volume, and there's just so much I want to write. Just reading through the synopsis gives me shivers. I really enjoyed this series and, at some point, I need to buy it all. This is one that I can see myself wanting to reread.

One of the things I liked about this ending is that it wasn't really an ending. Usually this sort of thing drives me crazy, but, in this case, it worked. The characters in this series had their goofy and strange moments, but they still felt like people, and the events and troubles in people's lives don't always get wrapped up all nice and neat. Yoshinaga took care of the important things (showing readers the ways the characters have developed, finally showing readers what happened to Tachibana, etc.), but it's still easy to imagine everyone living their lives after the series is over.

I loved the flashbacks to Tachibana and Ono in highschool. When I read the first volume, I though Tachibana was a jerk for what he said to Ono back then, but the flashbacks in this final volume really make it clear that things were much more complicated than they appeared. I had always wondered how Yoshinaga would wrap things up between Ono and Tachibana. I think I was expecting something a bit less subtle than what Yoshinaga actually did, but I kind of like how things turned out. That bit at the end of the volume, with what might be forgiveness, is so sweet. Ending the scene on a funny note, by having Ono purposefully get those high school girls to think he and Tachibana are a gay couple by putting his arm around Tachibana at just the right moment, was great. Tachibana's expression is priceless.

The revelation about Tachibana's past is heartbreaking. His horror that wakes him up at night is not over what was done to him, but over his fear that he killed a man. He wasn't a bad kid, and he was upset that he stabbed the man who abducted him. In the end, I suppose it was a kind of love that allowed the man to tell him to go and forget what happened - he took Tachibana in order to have him act as a replacement for his son, and then he let Tachibana go because he wasn't his son and he didn't want him to be upset over the stabbing any more. Tachibana doesn't remember him, but part of me thinks the man remembers Tachibana. Or maybe he doesn't, and it was like two siblings, separated by adoption, passing in the street. Either way, just thinking about it...well, I don't think I can name too many manga volumes or series that pack quite the emotional punch this one does.

Kanda - again, heartbreaking. Who knew he was hiding so many insecurities? He can be scary, but when he was crying to Ono he was like a child. I'm glad that he became more secure and willingly asked to go to France on his own. Ono is probably the only one I don't think had a heartbreaking ending. He's mending things with his family through his sister's wedding, but it doesn't feel like things are finally fixed with him - he's definitely a character I can imagine living and growing after the series is over. Maybe that scene at the gay bar is a sign that he's eventually going to settle down, too. I wonder with who? Chikage? It'd kind of be perfect if he ended up with Tachibana, except Tachibana's not gay.

Since I've mentioned Tachibana again...Tachibana discovering the kidnapper was kind of odd - he must've just gone in the woman's house on a hunch, because the bruise wasn't really much of a sign of what was going on in there. For all he knew, she had an abusive husband or something. Tachibana going in was like an unstoppable force - it was a bit chilling, him tracking dirt in, dragging the woman behind him, remembering his own parents after he was brought back to them. The end, with the 24-year-old was anti-climactic - the guy didn't look like much of a killer. I suppose, though, that the anti-climactic feeling could have been intentional, a way of making the reader feel what Tachibana was probably feeling.

Oh, and speaking of chilling moments, the moment when the police are asking Tachibana to let them surveil his shop is also chilling, because it's finally made clear just how much thought Tachibana put into turning his shop into a trap for his abductor. I think that this scene was something of a shock to Tachibana because, although this was his original intention for the shop, it has since become so much more to him - it was a bit of a shock for him to get a reminder of what he originally wanted to do with it. It had to give the other employees chills too, knowing what they knew about his past.

Overall, I love this series and will miss it. I loved the humor (Kanda's crush on Deko, though funny, was a bit icky, but there are so many other parts that are just plain good), the drama, the characters, the pastries, and the artwork. It was a better and more interesting series than I think I expected when I started it.

This list of read-alikes and watch-alikes isn't great - in fact, it's pretty lazy - but every single volume before this one has given me trouble, and this one is no exception. I basically just put together a list using suggestions I made for the previous volume. Yes, very lazy.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Yakitate!! Japan (manga) by Takashi Hashiguchi - Azuma Kazuma's goal is to make Ja-pan - every country except Japan seems to have its own national bread, and Azuma wants to correct this by making bread that would fit in with Japanese cuisine and be loved as much as rice. In pursuit of this goal, Azuma finds work at a branch of Pantasia, a famous bread-making chain. Bread-making isn't a sport, but you wouldn't always know it from reading Yakitate!! Japan - in this wacky manga, people bake the craziest things (which usually have some sort of basis in real-life breads), competing rabidly against one another. The feel of this manga is nothing like Antique Bakery - although this manga is also humorous, its humor is wackier than Antique Bakery's, and it doesn't have that same undercurrent of seriousness. However, readers who'd like another manga featuring mouthwatering foods might want to try this.
  • Honey and Clover (manga) by Chika Umino - (This popular manga has spawned both anime and live action shows, none of which I've listed here - check out Anime News Network if you'd like to know a little more about them.) This "slice of life" manga focuses primarily on a group of art college students - their friendships, dramas, and loves. Those who liked Antique Bakery's mix of humor and seriousness, character-driven story, and focus on relationships may enjoy this manga.
  • Bartender (manga) by Araki Joh (story) and Kenji Nagatomo (art); Bartender (anime TV series) - Ryu Sasakura is a genius bartender who makes the most incredible cocktails anyone has ever tasted. Customers of all kinds come to his bar, and Ryu uses his talents to help each one with their worries and problems. This is another character-driven "slice of life" story. In addition, those who enjoyed Antique Bakery's lovely and well-described pastries and cakes may enjoy Bartender's various drinks. (It is very bad of me to include this in the list, because neither the anime nor the manga are available in the US yet. But, oh, I wish - I've read some very nice blog posts about the anime.)
  • 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. Like Antique Bakery, this series has a fairly "calm" feel to it overall - also like Antique Bakery, it occasionally hits you with some jaw-dropping revelations that make it clear there's more to the characters than their light, fluffy surfaces let on.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bone Crossed (book) by Patricia Briggs

This is not the best of the Mercedes Thompson books, but it's still a good series. Currently, Patricia Briggs in one of the few authors whose books I still buy - everyone else's books I get via ILL, thereby allowing me to spend my money on anime and the occasional few volumes of manga. If I read a book good enough that I find myself wanting to request it again, I put it on my "to buy" list. Even Briggs's "worst" books have been good enough that I just buy them as they come out.

As usual, my synopsis is long and probably gives more detail than those who haven't read the book would want to know. Even so, it still doesn't include everything. If you'd like, you can just skip it and go to the commentary or read-alikes.

Synopsis:

In the previous book, Mercy was raped at the end. She's still trying to overcome the trauma of that in this one - she has agreed to be Adam's mate, but she's still too emotionally damaged for sex. Adam is patient, however - he's just happy that she's agreed to be his mate, he can wait for the rest later. Mercy isn't entirely sure of the effect this will have on her life (will she live with Adam or not?) or on Samuel (if she moves out, who will keep Samuel's fragile emotional state intact?).

Unfortunately, Mercy doesn't have the luxury of just focusing on healing. Marsilia, the head of the local vampires, has found out that she and Stefan killed one of her people (in Blood Bound, I believe) - she's tortured Stefan, killed his people (his food), and sent him to Mercy's house to kill her (he's so thirsty for blood that he'd risk draining anyone dry he drank from). Luckily, Mercy has a few werewolves with her. Instead of killing Mercy, as Marsilia likely intended, Stefan drinks from a few werewolves.

Aside from just being plain terrible, one awful aspect of the rape is that everyone in the nation has seen the tape of her being raped (side note: wouldn't that cause all kinds of ethical and legal problems for the stations that aired it?). Amber, an old acquaintance of Mercy's from her college days, comes knocking at her door, saying, "sorry you were raped" and asking for help with a ghost. When things start to get uncomfortably dangerous in her own area because of the vampires (they put a warning on the door of her garage and almost get one of Adam's werewolves killed), Mercy decides to leave town for a bit with Stefan and investigate Amber's ghost. She's not able to do much - all she manages to do is convince Amber's husband that their deaf son isn't just acting up and that there really is a ghost. Mercy's presence seems to make the ghost worse (it tries to hurt Chad, the son), so she and Stefan leave again. She's still worried, however, because Amber has worse problems than a ghost, problems Mercy can't tell her about. Amber has been food for a vampire named Blackwood for a long time, and that vampire had been snacking on Mercy as well while she stayed at Amber's house. In order to break Blackwood's hold on her, Mercy exchanges blood with Stefan.

Adam is relieved she's tied to Stefan and not Blackwood, but Samuel doesn't think either option was a good one - he thinks (and so does Stefan, actually) that Mercy trusts Stefan more than she should, considering that he's a vampire. Anyway, while Mercy was gone, the werewolves tried to negotiate with Marsilia. With the help of the horrible "truth chair," Marsilia finds out which of her vampires were the least loyal towards her - it is discovered that Stefan, despite his part in killing that one vampire, is loyal to Marsilia to a fault. He will not betray her, even though she has killed his people. It is painful to him, however, that he was tortured and his people killed just so that Marsilia could discover who among her people meant her harm.

Mercy ends up getting kidnapped by Chad's dad - it turns out Blackwood is holding Chad hostage. Unfortunately, Amber is dead, sort of - her body is dead and rotting, but it's still moving around. The remnants of her soul are sticking around in an attempt to keep Chad safe, even though she can't do anything contrary to Blackwood's wishes. Blackwood, it seems, has the ability to take on the power of whoever/whatever he drinks, and he wants Mercy's abilities. With the help of an oakman, who's been held captive by Blackwood for ages, and Stefan, who manages to find her, Mercy gets Chad to safety and kills Blackwood and, possibly, one of the dangerous ghosts who stays near him.

Commentary:

I think I'll start this off by writing about Mercy. I was wondering how Briggs would deal with the events that ended the previous book. Mercy came off as more than a bit fragile, which makes sense but was a little hard for me to read. I hate it when characters I like have something really bad happen to them - I'm too emotionally attached, I guess. On the plus side, although Mercy wasn't completely better by the end of the book, she's wasn't hopelessly damaged and showed signs of healing. She slept with Adam, for one thing, so the rape didn't completely screw things up between the two of them. On the minus side, Mercy kept doing stupid things, and her situation kept getting worse. I'm not sure what she could have done instead at certain points, but there are things (like tying herself to Stefan) that I don't think she thought out well enough. I don't know if her fragility made stupid decisions (or maybe it would be better to say "badly thought out decisions"?) more likely, but it seems possible.

Since I just mentioned the whole "tying herself to Stefan" thing, I'll say this, too: I totally didn't expect Adam to react as well to that as he did. I mean, Mercy only recently agreed to be his mate, so their relationship was still on shaky ground - by tying herself to Stefan, it seemed to me that she just put their relationship on even shakier ground. Mercy and Adam should have been aware of this, since they both also knew that Stefan had the hots for Mercy, and yet the only one who thought the whole thing was a mistake is Samuel.

I also wasn't really expecting Adam's pack to react so badly to Mercy being declared as Adam's mate. They had a pretty long time to get used to the idea, since Adam had been pursuing her for a while before things became more official, but I guess it was the "more official" part that really stirred things up. Even though her being a coyote (as a skinwalker, Mercy can change into a coyote) gets some pack members' backs up, I think Adam is probably better off with her than a regular human. A regular human would probably be dead by now - although, admittedly, a regular human probably wouldn't attract as much supernatural baddie attention as Mercy does. Oh, by the way, I cheered at the bit where Mercy finally held her own against those who didn't approve of her being Adam's mate. Go, Mercy!

As far as minor characters go, I liked Chad. Some authors write their child characters in ways that make them annoying and/or overly cute, but Briggs thankfully didn't do that with Chad. His being deaf added some interesting complications, since Mercy didn't know sign language and Chad's father didn't quite know how to handle him. I wonder if Chad's father would have been more likely to believe him about the ghosts if Chad hadn't been deaf. Anyway, even though he'll be massively messed up, I kind of hope Chad will show up in a future book. It'd be nice to see how he's doing.

Which leads me to Chad's mother. Ick. The bits with her near the end of the book made me feel a bit queasy - despite all the zombie books I've read recently (and the zombies in my NaNoWriMo novel), I'm really not that good with the idea of walking, talking, rotting corpses. I think what really put me off is that Amber didn't really realize she was dead. She followed Blackwood's orders because she had to, and some leftover part of her tried to protect her son, but everything she said and did was disturbingly "off". Usually, the zombies in books I've read or movies I've seen are more dead than Amber was. They not "off", they're just dead and still moving around, if that distinction makes any sense. It's disgusting, but less disturbing. Laurell K. Hamilton's books occasionally had zombies that were, like Amber, more alive, but that didn't disturb me as much as Amber, either. I think maybe it's because I didn't get to read about the zombies in LKH's books as they were before they became zombies. Or maybe it's because I didn't have to read about them in multiple scenes, as they slowly rotted more and more - LKH's Anita Blake can keep her zombies as "fresh" as she wants, and individual zombies are rarely around for long.

Basically, even though I have a fairly high tolerance for "ick" in books, there are still certain things that have the power to scar my brain. Amber was one of those things. Amber will probably make me shudder for quite some time. Amber, porcelin dolls, and moving spinal cords with heads attached (thank you, Kelley Armstrong, for also adding to my list of "things that have scarred my brain" - eww).

I'll wrap this up with vampires. I can't believe Mercy (even with help) managed to kill off Blackwood. He was wickedly powerful, after all. It kind of surprised me that he hadn't attracted the attention of even more powerful vampires. Briggs's vampires don't want humans finding out they exist, since their very existence would generate bad PR - even vampires like Stefan, who could potentially be painted as "good," keep humans for food. Vampires like Blackwood not only make all chances of future good PR go up in smoke, they increase the likelihood that vampires' existence will be made public. You'd think some other powerful vampire would kill him for the benefit of vampires as a whole.

Finishing up my vampire comments in particular and my commentary as a whole, I must mention Marsilia. I really hope she dies soon, although I'm sure that her death will only lead to an influx of more bad guys - that's just the way these things work. Sure, Marsilia didn't really kill Stefan's people, but she made him think she did, which is nearly as bad. When someone mistreats their own allies, you know that their death can't (and shouldn't) be far off.

Read-alikes:
  • Urban Shaman (book) by C. E. Murphy - This is the first book in the Walker Papers series. This book features another strong, somewhat supernatural main female character who also happens to be a mechanic. In a jarringly short amount of time, Joanne Walker makes a new friend, discovers she has shamanic powers (including the ability to heal herself by imagining she's fixing herself in the same way she might a car), and finds out she has to use those new shamanic powers to save the world from the Wild Hunt. The only help she's got in trying to figure things out is a cryptic coyote who shows up in her dreams. Like Mercy, Joanne is a competent woman who's in over her head a lot of times. There's a little less in the way of romantic subplots in this book and in the series in general than there is in the Mercedes Thompson books, although there are indications of a potential romance between Joanne and her boss (I can't remember how strongly it comes through in this book, but I do know it shows up in later books).
  • 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. Lily, like Mercy, is a strong, competent female character who manages to use her own skills to accomplish things, despite being physically outclassed by supernatural beings like Rule. If you're not up to trying an entire novel by a new author, this series actually grew out of a short story featured in the anthology Lover Beware. Consider the story a different version of how Lily and Rule met and came to terms with each other - Lily is still the same basic character in the story and the novel (a strong, competent woman whose family is important to her), but Rule in the story is a somewhat different man from Rule in the book.
  • Dead Until Dark (book) by Charlaine Harris - This is the first book in Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series. Sookie is a telepathic barmaid. Most of the people in her small Southern town know about her special abilities, but most people can also forget about it a bit because Sookie makes an effort to either not read people or not show that she's read someone. It's an exhausting life, however. Before the beginning of this book, vampires revealed their existence to the world, and in this book Sookie discovers something she thinks is wonderful - it's very hard, if not impossible, for her to read the thoughts of most vampires. Soon, Sookie is dating a vampire, but, unfortunately, being around him gets her involved in more danger than she's ever experienced before. Those who'd like another story featuring supernatural beings (shapeshifters, various were-animals, vampires, fairies, etc.), the occasional murder, and a main female character with supernatural powers who's in a little over her head might like this book and series. As an added bonus, several male characters are interested in Sookie.
  • 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 something else with supernatural beings (vampires, mages, etc.), magic, and a main female character with supernatural abilities who's in a over her head might like this book and series. As is the case with similar books, several gorgeous guys are interested in Cassie. Unfortunately for her, these guys are generally untrustworthy.
  • Guilty Pleasures (book) by Laurell K. Hamilton - Once again, this is the first book in a series set in a world where the things that go bump in the night have recently revealed themselves to the world at large. Before American law gave vampires, werewolves, and other beings the same rights as humans, Anita Blake was a vampire hunter. Now she's a vampire executioner, in addition to her full-time job as an animator (raiser of the dead). Like Bone Crossed, this is a fast-paced book with a strong, competent female lead who's surrounded by dangerous beings. In this first book, we meet Jean-Claude, a vampire who is one of the many people throughout the series who will be competing for Anita's affection. The various supernatural societies in this series all have their own politics and culture, and the cast of characters is usually fun and interesting. The early books feel a lot like paranormal mysteries with a hint of romance. Be warned, though - at around book 10 or so, the tone of the series changes drastically, Anita becomes darker and harder, and the sex scenes become way more graphic and time-consuming, leaving little room for the mysteries that were part of the early appeal of the series. Those who particularly liked Bone Crossed's super-creepy zombie Amber might want to try the second book in the series, The Laughing Corpse, which focuses more on zombies than the first book.
  • Bitten (book) by Kelley Armstrong - Elena became a werewolf after the man she loved betrayed her (that's how she sees it, although it's not what he intended) and bit her while in wolf form - she had no idea what he was and never chose to become a werewolf. She leaves her pack as soon as she is able and begins as normal a life as she can in Toronto. Elena agrees to help her former pack members hunt down mutts (non-pack werewolves) who are leaving a conspicuous trail of carnage - humans don't know about werewolves, and they want to keep it that way. Unfortunately, Elena has to deal with her former lover (the werewolf who bit her) and finds herself drawn to him again. Those who'd like another book with a similar "feel" that features werewolves, a bit of romantic tension, and danger might want to try this. Other books in the series include witches, vampire, half-demons, and more.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I've been noticed...

Hopefully I can have a new book/anime/whatever post up soon. In the meantime, I'm being eaten alive by insects (no idea what kind or where they are, but I seem to have at least one new bite every other day), I'm woefully behind on NaNoWriMo, and the blog I keep that actually has my name attached to it has been noticed.

I won't mention any names here, since there's a high likelihood that, by using names, this blog would be noticed by the same people, but a certain Libraryland company noticed that I wrote a few posts about them on my less anonymous blog. How do I know this? Well, one of those posts got commented on by one of their employees, and a couple of my other posts rated emails from more employees. The latest email was very long and included links illustrating why the article I was commenting on (an article about the company) was wrong, although they appreciated that I sounded more level-headed than the article's author. Score for me, I guess. The person would like me to send him any criticisms of their company/products I might have so that they can make themselves and their products better. I'm trying to figure out what, if anything, I will say in response. So far, two of my coworkers know about the latest email. One is cheering me on, telling me that this is my chance to make my voice heard, while the other thinks I could respond or not, whatever I feel like.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

NaNoWriMo

I really did plan to write a new post earlier than this, but things kept coming up. Like procrastination.

Anyway, I'm involved in NaNoWriMo again this year - this would be my third year (non-consecutive - I skipped out last year because I'd only gotten hired a month before and was stressed out just trying to learn how to do my job). I'm SO far behind, though. I think I need to almost double my word count over the weekend just to even get caught up. On the plus side, I think I've already surpassed all my previous NaNoWriMo word counts. The last two times I did NaNoWriMo, I usually ground to a halt after the first week. Very sad, I know.

I've been talking with one of our Outreach Librarians about the possibility of doing some kind of NaNoWriMo-related library event next year. It's exciting to think about, but who knows if anything will actually come of it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dewey: the Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World (non-fiction book) by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter

I had never heard of Dewey before this book came out, although I had heard of library cats. Myron's assertion, throughout the book, that people far and wide had heard of Dewey and, in fact, sometimes visited her library in Spencer, Iowa just to see him was a little hard for me to believe. Still, just because I hadn't heard of Dewey didn't mean that all those other people hadn't.

Anyway, although I rarely read warm, fuzzy animal stories, because I don't like their tendency to make me cry, I decided to read this one. As a librarian, I felt like I should probably read this book, since it focused on a library cat. I enjoyed it, for the most part, but, yes, it did make me cry.

Synopsis:

On one especially cold morning in Spencer, Iowa, Vicki Myron, the director of the Spencer Public Library, opens the library book drop and finds a tiny kitten. The kitten had been in the book drop long enough that he not longer felt warm enough to be a living being, but Myron and the others at her library took care of the little kitten and took him to the vet.

Amazingly, the kitten, who is eventually given the name Dewey Readmore Books, survives, although it takes him a long time to recover (his feet are frostbitten). Even more amazingly, Myron gets permission to keep Dewey as the library's mascot - Dewey becomes Spencer Public Library's library cat.

For the next 19 years, Dewey greets and spends time with library patrons, forms bonds with people, and brings the library and the town of Spencer more recognition than anyone ever expected. People don't just come from all over Iowa, but all over the United States, to see Dewey, and Dewey is even in a Japanese documentary about cats.

The book isn't just about Dewey, though. It's about small town life, the Spencer Public Library, and Vicki Myron. Myron writes about what it's taken for Spencer to survive and what it's taken for the library to survive and thrive. Although Dewey wasn't solely responsible for both the town and the library making it through tough times, Myron believes that he definitely played a part. When unemployment rates rose, Dewey may not have gotten unemployed Spencer Public Library patrons jobs, but he was there to give them company and comfort while they conducted their job searches. For those who had to move away from Spencer, Dewey was a good memory they could take with them.

Myron writes about her own family and life. Several members of her family, and Vicki Myron herself, have had to deal with cancer. Myron had to deal with being married to an alcoholic husband. For years, she also had a rocky relationship with her daughter. When Myron brought Dewey home for the holidays, Dewey and Myron's daughter formed a bond that became something Myron and her daughter could share together - when it was hard to talk about other things, instead of ceasing to talk to each other at all, they could at least talk about Dewey.

Well, that's not nearly all of it, but I'm butchering the emotional impact of the book. This probably isn't a book that will rock most people's worlds, but quite a few people will likely be able to find something to identify with in it.

Commentary:

I'm a pet lover, a cat lover, and a person who has had a family member die of cancer. There was a lot for me to identify with in this book, even though I don't have the warm fuzzy feelings for small town America that Myron has and I've never been to Spencer. I read this book mainly because I'm a cat lover.

The parts I enjoyed the most, even as some of them made me roll my eyes, were the parts with Dewey. Myron describes him as a very friendly, very charismatic cat. The parts where I rolled my eyes were the parts where Myron described him in ways that made him seem more special than other cats. Apparently, Dewey was the best cat in the universe, and he understood exactly what his job as the library's official library cat was. Right. Myron occasionally admits that Dewey wasn't completely perfect (he was a picky eater and suffered from constipation, for instance), but the book as a whole tells a different story. I roll my eyes because probably everybody feels that way about at least one, if not all, of the pets they've had. My family used to have a cat who seemed like she could understand us, and I used to have a pet rat who would curl up on my lap and fall asleep. To Myron, Dewey was one of a kind. That's probably true, but I'd have to say that he was really just one special pet out of many.

Myron does admit that, although Dewey was the library's cat, he was also her pet. She cared for him like he was her personal pet. There was a bit of eye rolling again on my part, when Myron wrote about library patrons who all felt they had a special bond with Dewey, telling themselves that Dewey went to other patrons because that was part of his job. She writes that, and yet, of course, her bond with Dewey is special, more special than his bonds with others (except her daughter, who had an even more special bond with him). I wonder if there were any Spencer residents (or staff members at the library) who were upset about their own relationships with Dewey being minimized. Well, maybe not exactly minimized, but it's like every sentence or paragraph in the book has to be taken on its own - it's not possible for everyone to have the "most special" bond with Dewey, otherwise.

Even though I picked up the book because I'm a cat lover, the bits about Spencer were still interesting and certainly related to Dewey's story. The bits about Myron's own life and her personal tragedies were, for the most part, also related to Dewey's story, in that Myron was the one telling Dewey's story, but... Although a member of my family has died of cancer, I didn't pick this book up to read about others' cancer stories. I'm sure there are those for whom the parts of the book specifically about Myron were some of the most interesting, but that wasn't the case for me. I don't generally read memoirs, because it feels awkward to me, reading about others' personal lives.

Overall, I liked this book. This isn't a book I would reread, and there were parts I didn't like as much as others, but the cat lover in me enjoyed reading about Dewey. Myron's experience with Dewey reminded me of my experiences with pets I've had in the past and pets I have in the present. For those who need the warning, this book does deal with Dewey's death. When I read about Dewey getting old and eventually having to be put to sleep, I remembered the deaths of all the pets I've ever had. When Myron wrote about Dewey's relationship with her daughter, I remembered one of my family's cats, who had a similar relationship with me. I used up a lot of tissues reading this book.

The list below could include just about any animal or cat memoir, but, being only one person and not wishing to spend forever writing this post, I have only listed a few titles.

Read-alikes:
  • Amazing Gracie: A Dog's Tale (non-fiction book) by Dan Dye and Mark Beckloff - Dan, sad over the loss of his last dog and unhappy with his job, takes home Gracie, a deaf and partially blind albino Great Dane puppy. The book shows how, over the next 10 years, Dan's relationship with Gracie changes his life and inspires him to do work that he actually enjoys. Although it's not about a cat, animal lovers who enjoyed Dewey's story might like this one.
  • Clara: The Early Years: The Story of the Pug Who Ruled My Life (non-fiction book) by Margo Kaufman - Kaufman knew after her first meeting with Clara that she was a bit different. This book hilariously describes how Clara came to rule Kaufman's household and steal the show at book tours. There's some conflict when Kaufman and her husband decide to adopt a child, but things work out in the end. Again, not about a cat, but, again, animal lovers who enjoyed Dewey's story might like this.
  • Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog (non-fiction book) by John Grogan - I know, I know, another book with a dog. I promise, there's going to be a book with a cat in this list, really. Anyway, John Grogan and his wife Jenny decide to get a puppy, sort of as a way to ease into parenthood. The puppy, Marley, grows up into a hyperactive but lovable dog. Grogan writes about life with Marley, his wife, and the kids he and his wife eventually have. Animal lovers who liked Dewey's story might like this funny memoir (although, be warned, this one will require tissues, too).
  • The Cat Who Went to Paris (non-fiction book) by Peter Gethers - This is the first book in a trilogy about Norton, a Scottish Fold who won the previously cat-fearing Gethers over. Those who'd like another story about a Very Special Kitty might want to try this book.
  • A Lion Called Christian: The True Story of the Remarkable Bond Between Two Friends and a Lion (non-fiction book) by Anthony Bourke and John Rendall - Anthony "Ace" Bourke and John Rendall, two visitors to London from Australia in 1969, purchased a lion cub they named Christian from the pet department of Harrods. It quickly became clear that they couldn't keep him forever, so, when they eventually had the opportunity to have Christian flown to Kenya, they took it. A year later, John and Ace went to Kenya themselves and received a surprising and touching welcome from Christian, even though he was, by then, fully integrated into life in his new home with other lions. You've probably seen the video of their reunion on YouTube. Anyway, animal lovers who enjoyed Dewey's story might want to try this book.
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