Saturday, December 31, 2011

Romancing Mister Bridgerton (book) by Julia Quinn

I was first introduced to Colin Bridgerton in Quinn's When He Was Wicked and just knew I had to read the book in which he starred. This is that book. While I'm glad I finally got to read it, I'm disappointed with how it turned out.

By the way, the title is a bit misleading. It makes it sound as though Penelope purposefully seduces Colin at some point in the book. She does not. What she does is be herself, and Colin finally starts to notice her as more than just a fixture in his life.

Synopsis:

Penelope Featherington fell in love with Colin Bridgerton just before her 16th birthday. He was gorgeous, well-liked, and charming, and she was the awkward wallflower who could barely hold a conversation with people she didn't know. She knew that nothing would ever come of her feelings for him, but that didn't stop her from dreaming, until she overheard him telling his brothers that he wouldn't marry her. It hurt her feelings and crushed her dreams, but she and Colin did remain friends, mostly because Penelope was still friends with his sister Eloise.

Years later, little has changed. Colin travels a lot, and Penelope, now 28 years old, has resigned herself to being a spinster. Lady Danbury (a delightful elderly woman who has popped up in other books by Quinn) has made the exciting announcement that she will give 1000 pounds to the person who figures out Lady Whistledown's identity - Lady Whistledown is the pseudonym for the person who has been publishing gossip about the ton for the past 11 years. While everyone is speculating about Lady Whistledown, Colin is finally starting to realize that Penelope is more intelligent, witty, and fun to be around than he ever gave her credit for.

Review:

Oh, what a difference the second half of a book can make.

I want to be clear on this: when I was still only halfway through the book, I considered it a keeper. Penelope was wonderful: truly shy around anyone she didn't know well, with a few horribly painful/embarrassing moments in her life that Quinn actually took the time to show. I cringed in sympathy when Penelope came upon Colin just as he was telling his brothers that he wouldn't marry her and Penelope did what she could to preserve her dignity and not make it too obvious that he had just crushed her dreams. I enjoyed watching Penelope blossom as she resigned herself to being an old maid. Her friendship with Lady Danbury warmed my heart, and I loved it when they both confessed to attending horrible Smith-Smythe musicales so that the one Smith-Smythe girl who realized they were awful would have someone in the audience who was not making fun of her.

I loved Colin, too. He was a nice guy, and never hurt Penelope on purpose. He felt miserable when she overheard him saying that he wouldn't marry her – it's just that he was too immature, at that point in his life, to know how to best handle the situation. Later on in their lives, when there was another moment when he could have accidentally hurt her feelings, she stopped him, and he took that time to think about the potential consequences of his actions and how Penelope might be hurt by them. Then he deliberately did his best not to hurt her. Colin wasn't in love with Penelope then and hadn't yet realized that a wonderful person had been right under his nose for years, but he still liked her, and I could have hugged him for the kind and thoughtful way he handled that moment.

There's no way I can properly gripe about what Quinn did in the second half (last third?) of the book without spoiling things, so, if you don't like spoilers, stop reading this review at this point (or, don't click the “Read more” link).

Friday, December 30, 2011

A posting update: political marriage, an intersex character, and more

As usual, I'm behind on my posting. I'm seriously considering starting review posts that consist of nothing but bulleted lists of things that worked and didn't work for me. This is how I sometimes put together my notes on what I'd like to write, prior to writing full paragraphs, but I've never quite been comfortable with the idea of making those lists my review. It'd probably make it easier for me to finish my posts, though, and maybe easier to read as well.

So, what's currently in the posting lineup?
  • Dawn of the Arcana (manga, vol. 1) story and art by Rei Toma - Two warring countries attempt to make peace through marriage. It's an uneasy peace, though, and Princess Nakaba and Prince Caesar's marriage has a rocky start, to say the least. I'm not sure, at this point, whether I like or dislike Caesar. Toma tries to make him a sympathetic character, but he did one thing in this volume that was, for me, a big, fat mark against him. I'm currently rooting more for Nakaba to end up with Loki, her servant, although I don't seriously think they'll become a couple in the end.
  • Amaranth & Ash (e-book) by Jessica Freely - I bought this because it had one aspect that was different from anything I had ever read before - it's a romance where one of the main characters is intersex (has both male and female genitalia). Loose Id charges too much for its e-books ($6.99 for something under 200 pages, with several editing errors?), but this was still an enjoyable book. I only wish it were part of a series. I would have preferred a sequel to the "4 years later" epilogue.
I'm also a little over halfway through Julia Quinn's Romancing Mr. Bridgerton, which I have wanted to read since finishing When He Was Wicked. So far, it has lived up to my expectations - hurray for truly shy heroines who blossom as the story progresses! I think Amanda McCabe's The Shy Duchess was my last attempt at satisfying my "shy heroine" craving, and that one turned out not to be what I was looking for.

As far as streaming anime goes, I'm nearly finished with Uraboku (if the anime gets licensed and released on DVD in the U.S., its title will probably be The Betrayal Knows My Name, so as to match the manga) and Chi's Sweet Home: Chi's New Address. I'm happy I decided to watch both of these shows at the same time, because they really balance each other out. Uraboku drips with angst, while Chi's Sweet Home: Chi's New Address is so cute and sweet that, if it were possible to get a cavity in one's brain, I would have brain cavities by now.

I hope to be writing more about physical things (DVDs and paper books, as opposed to e-books and streaming shows), because I need to offload some things and make room on my shelves. We'll see how that goes.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Never a Bride (e-book) by Amelia Grey

I got this when it was being offered for free and without DRM on All Romance eBooks. I like reading the occasional Regency romance, the cover art is lovely, and the description intrigued me, although it would have intrigued me less if I had known exactly how long it was going to take for Mirabella to finally turn to her long-lost fiance for help.

Synopsis:

Although I think others in the family besides Mirabella know that Mirabella's friend Sarah committed suicide, only Mirabella knows that she didn't do it out of despair at the thought of being a spinster all her life. No, Sarah committed suicide because some cad who had no intention of marrying her got her pregnant. Now Mirabella is determined to find that man and keep him from seducing other women, even if it means ruining her own reputation.

All she knows about him is that he's shorter than most men, has a scar on his neck, and danced with Sarah. Fortunately, Mirabella still has Sarah's dance cards. Unfortunately, most men have their necks hidden by neckcloths. The best way Mirabella can think of to check them is to find a moment alone with them, get them to kiss her, and then stick her fingers under their neckcloths while they're distracted by the kiss. The rumor mill seems to be a bit slow, so Mirabella's reputation may make it through the Season, but then something horrible happens...Mirabella's fiance comes back.

Catching his fiancee kissing another man seems, to Camden, to be as good a reason as any to call his marriage off. Since his last fiancee was caught doing the very same thing, he might even be better off not marrying at all. However, his family, nearly ruined by his father's gambling debts, really needs Mirabella's dowry, so Camden sets his teeth, swallows his pride, and asks Mirabella to at least pretend to be his fiancee for a while longer. At first, Mirabella refuses, much to Camden's shock. With her reputation close to being ruined, why wouldn't she agree to marry someone? Mirabella eventually relents, however, out of worry over her father's fragile health.

Although Mirabella doesn't continue kissing men in order to check under their neckcloths, she does do other outlandish things, like pretending to be a maid and even a man, in order to continue her quest for the man whose actions led to Sarah's death. Because she refuses to tell Camden why she's doing what she's doing, out of fear that he'll tell her to stop, Camden is convinced that, as much as he enjoys Mirabella's company and is attracted by her, she's entirely the wrong sort of woman to marry. Even if Mirabella does find the man who seduced Sarah, will her efforts ruin her chance at finding happiness with Camden?

Review:

The best thing I can say about this book was that it was very readable – I got through it fairly quickly.  However, it was definitely not the book for me, for several reasons.

One of those reasons was Mirabella. I hated Mirabella. I hated her for not thinking things through, for not seeing all the possible consequences of her actions, and for abusing the power she had over her maid. She didn't care what happened to her reputation, but she worried that it would affect her father's health if he heard what she had been doing. And yet she kept on kissing men anyway, and didn't stop until after Camden came back. Even after Camden came back, she continued to do things that could have ruined her reputation and would have upset her father. Who made sure things didn't go hideously wrong? Camden. He got her out of the club before anyone realized there was a woman dressed as a man among them, and he hushed up anyone he found out had kissed her.

Bunraku (live action movie)

Okay, so this is the movie poster, and not the DVD box image, but they're almost the same. Imagine little white text that reads "This move flat out blew me away!" underneath the title. See? You're not missing much.

Synopsis:

This movie is set "east of the Atlantic," sometime in the future, after a catastrophic war prompted the outlawing of all guns. Of course, just because guns have been outlawed doesn't mean that people don't continue to kill each other with knives, hatchets, swords, arrows, their fists, and whatever else they can think of.

A Drifter (Josh Hartnett) arrives in a town ruled by Nicola the Woodsman (Ron Perlman) and his nine Killers. The Drifter wants to get revenge against Nicola for having killed his father, but first he has to get close enough - hard to do, considering that most people never meet Nicola in person.

At around the same time the Drifter arrives, so does a samurai named Yoshi (Gackt), who wants to find the gold dragon medallion that was his father's dying request. Yoshi's uncle is against his quest, because he thinks it will result in Yoshi becoming the same horrible kind of person his father was, but Yoshi is determined. Yoshi's quest causes him to cross paths with the Drifter, and eventually they team up together to go after Nicola, who, as it turns out, has the gold medallion. There's also a bit of a sidestory involving Nicola's girlfriend/favorite whore (Demi Moore), who used to be the girlfriend of the Bartender (Woody Harrelson) who knows both Yoshi and the Drifter.

Review:

This movie...oh dear. Well, at least I can say I wasn't expecting much when I popped it into my DVD player.

I didn't buy this movie for the best of reasons. Basically, all it took for me to ignore the voice in my head that said this was going to be terrible was seeing one name in the cast lineup: Gackt. For those of you who don't know who Gackt is, he's primarily a singer. He used to be in a band called Malice Mizer, has had a solo career for a while, and has done some acting. I don't own any of his CDs and don't consider myself a huge Gackt fangirl, but it looks like I can't resist buying his movies. A note for Gackt fans out there: he speaks both Japanese and English in this movie, he has long hair worn in a ponytail, and he fights with various weapons, including a sword and bow and arrow. One or more of these things should cue a fangirl squeal of approval.

One of the few reasons I'd recommend getting this movie is if you absolutely must own/watch everything featuring one of the actors or actresses in it. I recognized almost all the people playing the more sizable parts, so, while I got this movie because of Gackt, I could definitely see others getting it because of Josh Hartnett, Woody Harrelson, Kevin McKidd, Ron Perlman, or Demi Moore.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Murder Can Spoil Your Appetite (audio book) by Selma Eichler, read by Barbara Rosenblat

I think this book would be included in both "cozy mystery" and "food mystery" categories, although food mystery lovers should be warned that while this book has lots of references to food, it includes only one recipe.

Synopsis:

Under normal circumstances, private detective Desiree Shapiro would never accept a job from an organized crime boss. However, Desiree is curious in spite of herself, Vito de Silva won't take no for an answer...and the amount he offers to pay her is very, very nice.

A friend of de Silva's was murdered, and de Silva wants to find out who did it and doesn't trust the cops to do as thorough an investigation as he would like. De Silva swears to Desiree that he will let the law punish whoever is found to be the murderer. De Silva had been helping his friend rise in politics, but it doesn't seem like anyone killed him for that reason. Desiree and Lou, her partner from the local police, investigate a lot of different possibilities, including a drug deal gone bad or jealousy on the part of one of de Silva's people, but nothing seems to pan out. Desiree can't shake her suspicion that the up-and-coming politician's beautiful wife had something to do with his murder.

Review:

I had never read or listened to one of Selma Eichler's books before, and I hadn't realized that this was book 7 in her Desiree Shapiro series. However, I thought it stood well enough on its own. Eichler established fairly early on that Desiree, short and a bit overweight (not that too big of a deal is made of this), was not what people usually pictured when they thought of private detectives. Also, Desiree is a widow and is dating Al, a guy who is nice and comfortable, but, from Desiree's perspective, not much besides.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Going Postal (audio book) by Terry Pratchett, performed by Stephen Briggs

This is the 33rd book in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, but that doesn't mean those who are new to the series can't read it, too. In fact, I'd recommend this over the first book in the series.

Synopsis: 

Moist von Lipwig is a con man who has stolen a lot of money and gotten caught. Lord Vetinari, Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, gives him a choice between certain death and becoming Ankh-Morpork's new Postmaster. Moist understandably chooses the latter option.

Ankh-Morpork's Post Office used to be a well-oiled machine, reliable and respected. However, it has seen better days, and all previous efforts to build it back up to its former functioning glory have failed. The two remaining employees, Tolliver Groat and Stanley Howler, stick around pretty much because they have nowhere else to go and nowhere else they'd like to be. The Post Office itself is stuffed full of undelivered mail.

Although Moist is a criminal, he has never purposefully hurt anyone, and he's not really a bad person. The longer he works at the Post Office, the more he starts to enjoy his job. He hires anyone he can find to help deliver the mail. He invents stamps, which immediately become hugely popular. Things seem to be going well, until his rival, the guy who owns Ankh-Morpork's clacks (the Discworld's version of telegraphs), decides he's had enough of this new threat to his communications monopoly.

Review:

It's been a while since I read any Discworld books. I had forgotten how enjoyable and funny this series was, and Going Postal was an excellent reminder. This wasn't the first time I read it, but I read it long enough ago that I had forgotten most of it.

One of the things I loved about this book was that Pratchett was able to take something that, in our world, is ordinary (stamps) and make it a revolutionary new idea in the Discworld. Plus, Moist's idea for stamps came about in a natural way. He didn't suddenly think, “Well, we could get the bank back on track by selling little squares of paper. We'll call them 'stamps.'” He first learned how things worked at the Post Office, then questioned the way things had always been done. His previous experience as a forger gave him ideas for what he wanted the new stamps to be like, and he revised and expanded his ideas as he received input from various citizens. Instead of feeling tacked on, Discworld's new stamps felt like a natural and believable part of the world.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Among the Living (e-novella) by Jordan Castillo Price


The first half of this novella is available for free on the author's website.

Among the Living is 29,000 words long, which comes out to approximately 93 pages on my Nook.

Synopsis:

Victor Bayne can see and hear dead people. The only way he stands a chance of shutting them out is with drugs, and, when this novella begins, Vic is well into an Auracel daze, trying to remember how many pills he's taken, and trying not to be too obvious about how many pills he's taken.

Vic is the psychic half of a PsyCop team, and he's at his long-time partner's retirement party, so he doesn't expect to have to go back to work soon. Unfortunately for him, before the party's even over he's assigned a new partner, Lisa Gutierrez, and sent off to talk to any ghosts he can find at the scene of a gruesome murder. The murder victim was almost certainly gay, adding to Vic's discomfort - besides the amount of Auracel he takes, Vic's other secret is that he's gay, and he's paranoid about the possibility of doing or saying something that will give himself away. Vic's discomfort only worsens when he realizes that, for the first time, he's unable to see the spirit of a murder victim.

After Gutierrez is taken off the case, Vic is assigned to work with another Psy Cop team, Detective Jacob Marks (a Stiff - the non-psychic half of a PsyCop team) and Carolyn Brinkman (a psychic who can tell when people are lying). More gay men turn up gruesomely murdered and displayed, and Vic continues to be unable to contact their ghosts - who or what, he wonders, could have killed them so completely? On a personal note, Vic has the hots for Detective Marks, and, to Vic's shock, the feeling appears to be mutual.

Review:

I was iffy about this novella at first. I got it because I had heard lots of good things about Jordan Castillo Price's writing, and because the review of this novella on Dear Author intrigued me. However, Vic did not immediately endear himself to me. I wasn't a fan of his clearly habitual overuse of Auracel, and his quickie sexual encounter with Detective Marks in the bathroom at his partner's retirement party had me wincing.

I'm not quite sure when it happened, but Vic grew on me, and now I really, really want the rest of this series. I absolutely loved Vic's “voice” (the novella is from his perspective). He was so paranoid and frazzled that I had to laugh, at times. The way he went through suits reminded me a little of Stephanie Plum's habit of going through cars. I began to understand his habit of taking a little too much Auracel after reading about a few of his spirit encounters. It's not something Price beats readers over the head with, but it's clear that Vic regularly sees lots of things that would make the average person wonder about his sanity, and much of what he sees is less than pleasant. At one point, he strains hard enough to see the ghost of a dead goldfish, and there's a part where he encounters the ghost of a baby who was left to die in a stairwell in his apartment building.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Otome Yokai Zakuro (anime TV series), via Crunchyroll

Synopsis:

In this pseudo-historical fantasy series, Japan is just starting to embrace Westernization, and not everyone is happy. Spirits and humans coexisted relatively peacefully in the past, but now more and more humans are turning away from spirits in fear.

The Japanese government assigns three soldiers to the brand new Ministry of Spirit Affairs, which is tasked with looking into any incidents involving spirits. Each soldier is partnered with a half-spirit. Agemaki, a charming young man who secretly fears spirits, is paired with Zakuro, a half-spirit who loudly proclaims her dislike of humans and Westernization. Riken, a strong, silent kind of guy, is paired with shy, sweet Susukihotaru. Ganryu is the only soldier partnered with two half-spirits: Bonbori and Hozuki, bubbly twins who are absolutely delighted with boyish Ganryu.

Together, the humans and half-spirits have to deal with clashes between spirits and humans while at the same time getting over their own fears and prejudices. As romance starts to bloom, the group is threatened by an enemy from the past, an enemy who knows what happened to Zakuro's mother.

Review:

An anime in which female characters with animal ears (I initially thought cat, but they're actually fox ears) are paired off with gorgeous male soldier characters, clearly for the purpose of leading straight into romance....this show could easily have been an icky collection of fetishes and fan service. The Ministry of Spirit Affairs could have been little more than an excuse to parade cute girls with fox ears around, and the soldiers would, of course, have accidentally seen those girls naked (with strategically-placed steam or plants, or whatever) at some point.

I'm so glad that's not what this anime turned out to be. Yes, the characters are very clearly partnered off for romantic purposes, to the point that I snickered and found myself thinking that the military and Ministry of Spirit Affairs should have advertised themselves as matchmakers. However, the fears and prejudices mixed in with the romance made for some enjoyable watching. I found myself wishing that the show had focused entirely on characters' histories and the internal conflicts they had to get over in order for their romances to work out.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Basilisk (e-novella) by Kate Cotoner

This novella is in Torquere Press's Everyday Spectres line. It's 26,400 words long, which comes out to 70 pages on my Nook.

Synopsis:

Clayton King doesn't know how long his work will keep him in London, but he's determined to make the most of his time there. During a lunch break, he spots a gorgeous young man in snakeskin jeans and decides to follow him, hoping to get a chance to talk with him and maybe score a date (and more). The man, Anthony, invites Clayton to come with him to his job that night, and so Clayton does. He's surprised and delighted to learn that Anthony works at a club where everyone has dressed in the most amazing costumes.

Little does Clayton know, those are no costumes. The club is filled with beings straight out of Greek mythology, and Clayton has attracted the attention of a dangerous one: Echidna, Anthony's mother. Will Anthony sacrifice Clayton as he has so many others, or will something about Clayton finally prompt Anthony to stand up to his mother?

Review:

I really hate the cover image for this novella – I find it to be both cheap-looking and boring. What attracted me to this work instead was the pet shop aspect of the description, which reminded me vaguely of Pet Shop of Horrors (which this story has absolutely nothing in common with – the pet shop could have been a flower shop and it wouldn't have made a difference). Also, I've always been interested in stories that derive their inspiration from Greek mythology. I couldn't remember ever reading much about Echidna, but I was intrigued by the thought of a basilisk main character.

I'm not really sure what the author was trying to accomplish with this novella. If she was aiming for erotic romance, she failed. The “erotic” part was definitely there, but the “romance” was less than stellar. This is one of those stories where the main characters declare their love for each other before they've even known each other for a full 24 hours.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

On Apology (non-fiction book) by Aaron Lazare

My posting took a nosedive for a while, for a lot of reasons. One of those reasons inspired me to read this book. My hope was that it could help me get a better mental/emotional grip on one aspect of the things that have been going on, and on my feelings about it all.

At some point, I realized I couldn't remember how the book was organized or whether the chapter I was reading had a particular focus that was different from the other chapters I had read. It didn't really matter – I enjoyed this book anyway. I'm sure my response was due at least in part to currently being in a situation where many of the things Lazare writes about apply and could have been (could still be?) helpful. However, I think I would have enjoyed this book regardless – I just might not have been as likely to read it.

This book takes a very thorough look at apologies: their importance, what they accomplish for the person needing the apology and the person making the apology, the components of apologies, the reasons why people do and do not apologize, the timing of apologies, negotiated apologies, and forgiveness. Every chapter is filled with examples of apologies, from brief, simple apologies to more elaborate ones, from apologies between individuals to apologies between nations, and everything in between. Some stories of apologies were given to Lazare by people who had attended his workshops. Sometimes Lazare told stories in which he was the person apologizing or being apologizes to. Some of the apologies were taken from the news, history, or even literature. Some apologies were successful and some weren't.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Catman (anime), via Crunchyroll

According to MyAnimeList, what Crunchyroll has lumped under a single title, Catman, is actually Catman, Catman Series II, and Catman Specials. I caught the title change from Catman to Catman Series II, but when the specials started I got confused, because they used the title Catman.

Episodes, in general, run 3-5 minutes long. Crunchyroll has 22 episodes total.

There is no spoken dialogue (unless you count the reporter in the "shoot at the sun" episode), just subtitles and music from the Planet Smashers.

If you want to watch this series on Crunchyroll (I'm not sure where else it's available), you'd better watch it soon, because it's going to be removed by the end of this month.

Synopsis:

There's not much of a plot, although there are a few recurring characters. All characters in this series are anthropomorphized cats - they drink, smoke, talk, gamble, etc. like human beings and don't seem to have any feline-specific behaviors, although that didn't keep me from becoming nervous on behalf of the bird and mouse that showed up in a couple episodes.

Catman tends to live in the moment, which, unfortunately for him, often results in him doing things that leave him hurt, lonely, and/or penniless. He tends to be dissatisfied with his life and wants to run away to someplace different and, hopefully, better. Episodes in the first part of this series show moments in Catman's life. He also captures the interest of a female cat-person.

Wanting to be free, Catman leaves the lady cat-person behind and spends much of the rest of the series engaged in self-destructive behaviors (drinking, angering gangsters, gambling away all his money). Will Catman ever stop running away from all his problems?

Review:

This series is not for everyone. At the very least, you really, really have to be okay with slice-of-life stories. When I said there wasn't much of a plot, I meant it. In the first episode, Catman does nothing but jump from one place to the next. In another episode, Catman is so hot he tries to shoot down the sun. Even the more action-oriented episodes are brief and simple. For example, one episode is almost entirely about Catman running from a guy after stealing one of his apples.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Second Son of a Duke (e-novella) by Gwen Hayes

This self-published historical romance novella is 47 pages long on my Nook. I'm not sure when it takes place - All Romance (ARe) has it in its Historical Other category, and I'm not historically savvy enough to guess the time period from story details.

If you're good at reading between the lines, there are SLIGHT SPOILERS near the end of the review. I tried to avoid flat-out spoilers, though.

Synopsis:

Teddy Middleton is only the second son of a duke, but you wouldn't know it by his behavior. Because his brother Derek, the actual heir, is completely unreliable, Teddy does his job for him.

Juliette is in a similar situation with her brother Peter. Because neither he nor their mother can be trusted to take care of anything of even minor importance, Juliette takes care of everything.

Derek and Peter may be mostly useless, but the two of them do manage to plan out one thing: a marriage between Teddy and Juliette. Without consulting either of them or even letting them know what was happening in advance. The novella begins with Teddy and Juliette's disastrous wedding night. They barely know each other (cleaning up after their brothers' messes did not give them much time for socializing), and now they have to figure out how to live together. Both of them are braced for the worst...only to find, as they get to know one another, that maybe they make a good match after all.

Review:

This sat in my wishlist for ages before I finally bought it. I thought the cover image was gorgeous and eye-catching, and the excerpt seemed interesting, but I'm wary of self-published works, and I couldn't find many reviews for Second Son of Duke, beyond the customer reviews on Amazon. What ended up tipping the scales was the price. I was buying e-books during one of ARe's sales, and, even though this novella wasn't part of the sale, I decided it wouldn't hurt to add $0.99 to my total. If my purchase ended up being a bad one, lesson learned, and I would just make sure not to buy anything else by this author, no matter how pretty the cover image. I've now read Second Son of a Duke twice, and, thankfully, I don't feel the need to kick myself over my purchase. I've even bought a couple more of Hayes' works.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Rupert of Hentzau (e-book) by Anthony Hope

I read this for free via Project Gutenberg. It's the sequel to The Prisoner of Zenda, which I read and reviewed a while back. I didn't really like that book, so I didn't hold high hopes for Rupert of Hentzau. To my surprise, I thought it was better than the first book.

There are some mild spoilers in this post.

Synopsis:

This book takes place 3 years after The Prisoner of Zenda and is told from the perspective of Fritz von Tarlenheim. Queen Flavia and Rudolf Rassendyll have not seen each other since the end of the events of the previous book, although, every year, Queen Flavia sends Rassendyll a letter.

This year, there is trouble. The letter is stolen by Rupert of Hentzau's people. If you read the previous book, you'll probably remember that Rupert managed to escape. He was exiled and has, ever since, tried to convince the King to let him come back.

The King hasn't fared too well in the past few years. His imprisonment still weighs on him, and the people closest to him, who should be his best support, see him and can only think "Rassendyll would have made a better king." The King has no idea that his wife is in love with Rassendyll, but he'll certainly know if Rupert can get the Queen's letter to him. That is something Fritz von Tarlenheim and Sapt want to stop at all costs. Rassendyll decides to come out of him self-imposed exile to join them.

The rest of the book is spent trying to get Queen Flavia's letter from Rupert, in order to save her reputation and keep the King from finding out about her secret love. Rassendyll once again impersonates the King. Although Queen Flavia's reputation is indeed saved, the book's ending is tragic.

Review:

One of the reasons why I didn't like The Prisoner of Zenda was because I didn't believe that Rassendyll had much reason to go to the lengths he did to save the King and Ruritania. In terms of motivation, I thought Rupert of Hentzau was a much better book. I could believe that Rassendyll would do all that he did to prevent Flavia's jealous husband from reading the love letter she wrote.

I don't know how this book was received at the time it was written. It wouldn't surprise me if it wasn't as popular as the first book, simply because it didn't start off with The Prisoner of Zenda's outrageous setup (an Englishman who looks just like the King of Ruritania is enlisted to pretend to be the King) and because of its tragic ending.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Dark Side Cat (anime), via Crunchyroll

This series is very brief, only six episodes long, with each episode running approximately 6 minutes (even less than that, I think, if you cut out the opening credits). Basically, if you find yourself at all interested in watching this, you should give it a try - it doesn't even take much of a time commitment.

Synopsis:

Wherever Dark Side Cat goes, there is mayhem. Even if he's just chasing a rat, he somehow manages to destroy property and bother humans along the way. The mayor is determined to rid the city of stray cats, especially Dark Side Cat. One of the series' few recurring human characters is a freelance reporter who finds herself fascinated by Dark Side Cat.

Review:

I added this to my Crunchyroll queue because it starred a cat, and because the image Crunchyroll used (which I have also used in this blog post) looked kind of cool. I didn't know how short the show was until I started watching.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

So very behind - plus, insects and PTSD

If I get a full review posted before the end of the day, I'll be really surprised. I just don't see it happening.

I've got a lot of things I could write about, but I read most of it long enough ago that I'd need a refresher before I'd feel comfortable posting anything. I still have to write something up about Maid Sama, Collection 2, but I'm trying to get a second viewing in first.

Here's what I'm reading/listening to right now:
  • The Adventures of Maya the Bee (audio book) by Waldemar Bonsels - I'm pretty sure that my first exposure to this work was via a German-language TV show (Die Biene Maja, which, amusingly, is not actually German, but rather Japanese anime). I kind of doubt I ever read the book, because the decapitation scene took me by surprise. Then again, it's amazing what sorts of things managed not to make an impression on my child self.
  • Rupert of Hentzau (e-book) by Anthony Hope - If you have PTSD or know and love someone who does, this may not be the best book for you - the king, who I believe is suffering from PTSD (although Hope of course doesn't put it that way) after the events of the previous book, is looked down upon by his own people for being less of a man and less of a king than Rudolph, his lookalike. Personally, I like this book better than the first one, because I can actually believe Rudolph's motives this time. I have a feeling, though, that I may end up less than pleased by the way the book ends.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Maid Sama!, Collection 1 (anime TV series)

Sentai Filmworks currently sells this 26-episode series in two separate collections. This is the first collection, containing episodes 1-13. There is no English dub. Extras are bare bones (see the "Extras" section after my review).

Synopsis:

Seika High School is a former boys' school that has recently become co-ed. Even so, the study body is still mostly male, and the boys haven't quite gotten used to having girls around. Misaki, the first female Student Council president, is determined to change things and make Seika High School a pleasant place for girls.

Misaki has a big secret, however: after school, she works as a maid at a maid cafe. Her family is poor, and the job pays pretty well, but Misaki is sure that she'd lose all the respect she worked so hard to gain at Seika if everyone found out about her job. When Usui, the boy all the Seika girls would most like to date, discovers Misaki's secret, she's sure she's doomed...except Usui doesn't tell anyone, and just keeps coming to the maid cafe.

These 13 episodes show Misaki trying to do her best both as president at Seika High School and as a maid at her job. Misaki and Usui are the main characters, but there are lots of minor characters who pop up regularly: the three former delinquents who become Misaki's biggest fans and are the only students aside from Usui who know she works at a maid cafe, Misaki's friends, Misaki's mother and younger sister, and more.

Review:

When I first started hearing about this series, I assumed it was a romantic series intended for a male audience. My assumption was based on the maid cafe aspect. Although I later learned that the series was really intended for a female audience, I continued to put off looking into it, primarily because of the maid cafe aspect. It wasn't until I saw some appealing clips from the show in a few anime AMVs that I finally broke down and bought it.

For those who aren't completists like me, I'm not sure Collection 1 will inspire a need to buy and watch Collection 2. There is very little about Collection 1 that sets it apart from other shoujo school romances, and there are quite a few areas where this show could have been improved.

Reaper (e-novella) by Mina Carter

If you don't count the author info and the extra stuff that Samhain puts at the back of its e-books, this novella is 77 pages long.

Synopsis:

Ten years prior to the beginning of this novella, some kind of war happened. During that war, bombs were dropped that somehow fundamentally changed the DNA of some, but not all, people on the planet. Those who were changed became paranormals: vampires, werewolves, ghouls, etc. Those who stayed human tried to survive in the midst of paranormals whose instincts often drove them to eat humans.

Mason used to be a soldier. Now, he helps the inhabitants of Sanctuary, a small town, defend themselves against whatever paranormals might come to bring them harm. When Andy arrives, Mason and the others aren't quite sure what to make of her. She seems human, but she knows a lot more about paranormals and ways to defend against them than the average human.

Andy is something the people of Sanctuary have never encountered before - a Reaper, a being who reaps the souls of those who have died or are about to die. Andy and Mason may be the best chance Sanctuary's residents have of surviving when werewolves descend upon the town.

Review:

I saw this novella when it still brand-new and had a reduced price on the Samhain Publishing website. I read the description, got excited when I saw that it was a post-apocalyptic story starring a woman who'd been turned into a Reaper, read the excerpt, and decided I had to buy it. Unfortunately, although there were aspects of it that I liked, this novella didn't quite work for me.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Still here

I'm still here! I've been reading, too, I just haven't been writing anything. The thought of writing coherent sentences has been too exhausting. I'm hoping to get back to post-writing soon, though, because I've read some fun stuff lately. And some not-so-fun stuff. Here's a list of things that might be on the posting horizon:
  • Jane Eyre (audio book) by Charlotte Bronte - I listened to LibriVox's version 3. Can you believe I had never read this book before? I knew about the mad wife, but that was about it. I would have never made it past the first 10 chapters if I had been reading this, rather than listening to it. Past that point, I had more fun, even though I occasionally wished Jane could be far, far away from Rochester.
  • Sea Change (e-book) by Darlene Marshall - A historical romance in which the heroine pretends to be a man so that she can continue to practice medicine. I loved this book and plan to read more of Marshall's stuff.
  • Wild & Steamy (e-book, anthology) by Meljean Brook, Jill Myles, Carolyn Crane - I got this primarily for Brook's story (it features Constable Newberry and his wife - so much yay!). I thought Brook's story was the best one in the anthology, although I liked aspects of Crane's enough to want to try the first book in her Disillusionists series. Myles' story wasn't bad, I'm just not a huge fan of threesomes. I should definitely have a post coming out for this one soon - all I have left to do is write about Crane's story.
  • Pigeons from Hell (e-short story) by Robert E. Howard - Technically, I'm not done with this one yet, but I had to add it to the list anyway. I mean, that title is awesome. I was hoping for a crazy, campy read, but so far the story itself hasn't been nearly as much fun as the title.
  • Some Kind of Magic (e-book) by R. Cooper - This romance stars a werewolf who's trying to resist being mated to a half-fairy, because fairies are known for being promiscuous. I read some worrisome reviews, but the book isn't as bad as I feared. However, I agree with everyone who said that the writing was confusing.
  • Pawprints (e-book) by Anne Cain - I admit it, I bought this one almost solely for its cover image, which I swear looks like Fruits Basket fan art. The contents of the book don't live up to the pretty cover, unfortunately. It's been long enough ago that I read this that I think I'll have to reread it in order to write a decent review. I'm not looking forward to the reread. It's not so truly awful that it'll be fun to write about, but it's also not so good that the reread will be enjoyable. It's a meh kind of book.
  • Unlocked (e-novella) by Courtney Milan - Very nice, but, again, I read this long enough ago that I think I'll need to do a quick reread. Those who like their romance to come with grovelling on the part of the hero will love this one. I do wish it had been longer, though.
  • Second Son of a Duke (e-novella) by Gwen Hayes - I had this one in my wishlist for the longest time. I was worried that my desire to read it was mostly due to my "ooh, pretty" reaction to the cover. I bought it, read it, and enjoyed it. Again, as with Milan's novella, I wish it had been longer. The hero and heroine of this one have both been cleaning up after their irresponsible brothers for as long as they can remember, but they never expected that their brothers would go so far as to force the two of them to marry. The wedding night is disastrous, but things get better as the two get to know one another.
It's amazing - I've only owned my Nook for a few months, and now most of the things I read and finish are e-format. I do still have plenty of print books lying around, but there's something appealing about picking up my Nook and knowing I can change my mind about what I'm reading without having to hunt through physical shelves. I still wish that my Nook allowed me to browse the covers of books not purchased through B&N, though.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Only Gold (e-book) by Tamara Allen

This book is available in paperback format, but it's definitely not cheap. Still, if you like historical m/m romance and prefer print books, it might just be worth it.

Synopsis:

Jonah lives and breathes his work at the bank. There is no doubt in his mind that he'll be promoted, so he's shocked when he's passed over in favor of Reid, a newcomer who, to Jonah's eyes, seems determined to push innovations onto the bank whether they're needed or not. Determined to protect the bank, Jonah keeps a close eye on Reid and fights him every step of the way. Reid takes this in a stride and even seems somewhat sympathetic towards Jonah, but Jonah refuses to thaw, even as everyone else at the bank falls for Reid's charm and easy way of dealing with people.

Gradually, though, Jonah and Reid become friends and more. After years of smothering his attraction to men, Jonah finds in Reid a person who could become vital to him. Unfortunately for Jonah, Reid still has more secrets left to be uncovered, secrets that could destroy everything Jonah holds dear. (Okay, so this is a bit dramatic, and also a bit misleading, but I'm trying to keep spoilers to a minimum.)

Commentary:

I can't seem to help but judge books by their covers, and The Only Gold's cover did not make a good impression on me. The characters look wooden, and they are in what is probably the most uninteresting (and slightly creepy) pose ever. They're not looking at each other, touching each other, interacting with each other in any way, just staring at the reader (sort of - Reid, the guy on the left, seems to be looking at something just past the reader).

I would have never bought this book just based on the cover image. I bought it because 1) so many people in the comments section of one particular Dear Author post (sorry, can't remember which one) recommended her books that decided I should finally break down and try one and 2) All Romance E-books had a really great "applies to everything" sale going on.

I'm so happy that I listened to those recommendations, because, if I hadn't, I would have missed out on what I think is the first Dreamspinner Press book I've read that I feel is really, truly good. If my family members were interested in reading romance novels, I'd recommend this to them, it's that good.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Just in time for Halloween

Remember how I mourned the end of Tokyopop, and then mourned some more? Well, it looks like Tokyopop may be attempting to rise from the dead. Sort of. Rather than publish manga, the plan is to publish a newsletter and possibly work up to publishing manga (or such is my understanding - some of this stuff left me confused). That is, if Tokyopop's Twitter and Facebook accounts haven't been hacked, and all of this is really true.

Some links:
There are other links, but what I saw was either the same thing I had read in other articles and blog entries, or fluffy marketing for the newsletter.

I don't want a newsletter, I want manga. Happily, I also found out today that several series I enjoyed that were left in Tokyopop's dust have been licensed by other companies: Viz picked up Loveless, and Yen Press picked up Alice in the Country of Hearts (with Seven Seas Entertainment licensing Alice in the Country of Clover - yay!).

Skip Beat! (manga, vols. 5-6, 10-15, 17-18, 20-23) by Yoshiki Nakamura

This post took WAY longer to write than I expected. And it's long.... Thankfully, this is the last of my "manga I read during my vacation" posts.

This series was by far my biggest vacation winner: I read more volumes of it (14!) than any other series, I read all the volumes I had at my disposal, and I enjoyed it so much that it was painful not to have more available (and painful to have gaps in what I did have).

I love this series. I watched the anime and tried the first manga volume a while back, but I decided I probably wouldn't ever buy the manga, because I didn't want to commit to something long-running. I think I may have to change my mind about that. I had forgotten how much fun Kyoko is.

Somehow, Nakamura manages to draw things out without driving me completely crazy. There's no sign of how long it's going to take for Kyoko to accomplish her goal of becoming a bigger star than her ex-boyfriend. It may take a while for Kyoko to recognize that she has feelings for Ren. I don't care - I love this series anyway.

Kyoko is awesome, clueless one minute and pulling amazing acting skills out of thin air the next. Even though the formula for characters' awesomeness seems to be pretty much the same each time - the character has some sort of horrible acting block or obstacle, it comes down to crunch time, and the character pulls off a brilliant in-character improv session - I eat it up each and every time. It's so much fun to read!

The romance in the series is good, too, somehow made even better by Nakamura's decision to have it progress achingly slow and even take a backseat to all the acting drama. Ren realizes he loves Kyoko well before Kyoko has the same realization about Ren. Ren backs off a bit because of some dark stuff in his past I haven't read about yet (is it in one of the volumes I had to skip, or a future volume? I guess I'll find out some other time), but he seems to get over that a bit. Even so, he doesn't try to force Kyoko to admit she has feelings for him too. I loved that Yashiro freaked out about this, while Ren seemed barely phased by Kyoko's obliviousness.

Again, I love this series. It's shoujo with a nice sprinkling of shounen. There's romance and relationship drama, but then there's Kyoko, who would not be out of place as the main character in a shounen series, shouting "I want to become stronger" and being underestimated by others right up to the moment where she does something completely fantastic.

As usual, if you're leery of spoilers, you may want to avoid reading the descriptions below and just skip to the read-alikes/watch-alikes section at the very bottom.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Naruto (manga, vols. 32-43) by Masashi Kishimoto

(Edit: I realized I should start this post off with a GIANT SPOILER ALERT, too, since there are spoilers before I even begin the volume descriptions.)

This was one of my two big vacation winners - I finished 12 volumes and would have read more if my vacation had lasted a little longer.

This series is like popcorn. Once I get started with it, it's hard to stop. That said, I've resisted buying it. The series is currently over 50 volumes long and still growing. No matter how you get your volumes, used or new, on sale or not, omnibus or single volumes, the cost of 50+ volumes really adds up. My vacation reading has gotten me within 10 volumes of being completely caught up.

In one of the volumes, I think Kishimoto made a comment to the effect that he just needed to keep the end in sight, and all I could think was "does that mean he really has an ending in mind?" I have no idea what this series is working towards. An eventual future where Naruto has finally become the Hokage? A renewal of Sasuke and Naruto's friendship? Sasuke's death? The removal of the Nine Tails Fox from Naruto's body? I really couldn't say. Even if Kishimoto ever wrote an ending for Naruto, I could easily see him writing a spin-off series based on a future generation of ninjas.

The possible lack on an ending is daunting, but I enjoy reading this series is great big chunks. There's so much character history and drama, the battles are fun, and it's hard not to have a favorite character (or even just a favorite fighting style or jutsu) when there are so many to choose from.

As I was writing notes about the volumes, it occurred to me that it was getting to the point where I could describe certain volumes with a couple simple sentences: "Character A fights Character B. This is the volume in which Character __ dies." There is a lot of death in these 12 volumes. I don't know if Kishimoto decided the cast was getting too large, or if there's some kind of plan for future volumes, but it seems like hardly anyone is safe from being killed off anymore, except maybe Naruto and Sasuke.

All in all, I enjoyed these volumes, but but there were so many battles that things started to blur together. Also, darn it, Sasuke seems to have become little more than an icy mask. Since I always kind of liked him, that makes me sad. At least he still seems to be reluctant to kill people if he doesn't absolutely have to. I'll cross my fingers and hope he thaws in some future volume (and please let that volume not be something in the hundreds). The revelations about Itachi's reasons for killing his clan and saving Sasuke were heart-breaking, but also kind of messed up. He might've intended to protect Sasuke by not telling him everything and inviting his hatred, but the end result was a Sasuke working to destroy what Itachi had wanted to protect. Again, I'll cross my fingers and hope that bit of drama gets dealt with in a satisfactory way that won't make me bawl my eyes out.

Let's see, what else...? Sai, a new character and new member of Team 7, was introduced in these volumes. I'm not yet sure how I feel about him, but I like his ability to make the things he draws real. I also liked all the various tidbits about Naruto, his past, and the Nine Tails Fox. Kishimoto finally flat-out confirms that the Fourth Hokage was Naruto's father (although I don't think many people, including Naruto, know this) and gives Naruto's mother a name - yay! And Naruto can do at least two things that both make him stronger and risk killing or harming him.

One other thing: I tried watching the Naruto Shippuden anime a while back and stopped at the beginning of the events in volume 34 of the manga (before Team 7 finds Sasuke). While reading the manga, it became clearer and clearer how bad the anime is. The original Naruto anime almost killed itself with too much back-to-back filler, but Naruto Shippuden went too far in the other direction, drawing events from the manga out to such an excruciating degree that the energy and drama of the original story was lost. It's really a shame.

Again, GIANT SPOILER ALERT. Don't read the descriptions below if you want to avoid spoilers.

Black Butler (manga, vols. 2-5) by Yana Toboso

I enjoyed the first volume of Black Butler, but when events in the anime and manga overlapped, I tended to like the anime more. The first volume didn't have much in it that I hadn't already seen in the anime. Since my vacation put me near an excellent public library, I decided to read a few more volumes of this series. Based on some of the details in volume 5, I'm guessing that volume 6 is the point where the manga and anime completely part ways. If that's the case, I might start buying this series from volume 6 on, since I'll have the joy of not knowing what's going to happen next.

Black Butler will have to compete with all the other manga trying to snag my attention, and it's at a disadvantage in a few areas. While I like the artwork and love seeing Sebastian in action, I have to admit that I don't actually care about the characters all that much, as compared to the characters in some of the other series I read. I'm interested to see where Toboso will take the series, but Black Butler is missing whatever element makes me need to read what happens next.

I did, however, enjoy the snippets of Madam Red's life in volume 3 - if/when Toboso gets around to showing more about other characters' pasts, I'll probably start to care for them more, the same way I did for Madam Red. Even Madam Red, though, didn't grab hold of my emotions as much as she could have.

Hm, there's not much more I can say. I still love Grelle, although, again, I'd rather watch him in the anime than see him in the manga. Oh, and although I knew that the anime diverged from the manga at a certain point, it was still a shock to actually see the Queen's face in volume 5. It was at that point that I figured I probably wouldn't be able to predict what will happen in future volumes. I think I've seen mild spoilers about the circus on YouTube, so I'm looking forward to seeing what will happen in volume 6.

As usual, don't read the volume summaries below unless you don't mind POTENTIAL SPOILERS. If you do, just skip down to the read-alikes/watch-alikes.
  • Black Butler (manga, vol. 2) - Ciel learns about a killer called Jack the Ripper, who kills prostitutes and then removes their uteruses. Ciel (dressed as a girl) first goes after the Viscount of Druitt, but a murder occurs during the man's party, so he can't possibly be Jack. That's when Ciel realizes that a human couldn't have committed all the murders - but an non-human being or something with such a being's help could have. He doesn't manage to save Mary Kelly, the final victim, however. Grelle, a Grim Reaper, kills her, according to Madam Red's instructions. Ciel tells Sebastian to hunt them down, even though Madam Red is his aunt. The inside-cover alternate Black Butler stuff that Toboso did in volume one appears to be a regular extra: this volume has Black Doctor.
  • Black Butler (manga, vol. 3) - Madam Red can't bring herself to kill Ciel, so Grelle kills her, and readers get to see her life up to that point (falling in love with the man her sister later marries, marrying another man and getting pregnant, only to end up losing her unborn baby and her ability to conceive). Ciel orders Sebastian to kill Grelle, but William T. Spears (Grelle's boss?) interferes. Then it's time for Madam Red's funeral. The volume wraps up with a visit from Lizzie's formidable mother, who has come to make sure that Ciel will be a fit future husband for Lizzie. They all go hunting, and Ciel protects Lizzie from a bear (which was really killed by Sebastian, although only Lizzie's mom noticed this). The inside cover alternate Black Butler in this volume is Black Ninja.
  • Black Butler (manga, vol. 4) - Ciel has unwanted house guests: Prince Soma and his servant Agni. The Prince has come all the way from India looking for Mina, the servant who raised him. Prince Soma is convinced that Mina was taken to England against her will by some man. It turns out that Agni is in league with that man, killing people for him. Agni knew all along where Mina was but didn't tell the Prince for reasons that won't be revealed until the next volume. In order to beat the guy who took Mina, Sebastian will first have to beat Agni in a curry-making contest at the Crystal Palace. The inside cover alternate Black Butler in this volume is Black Racer.
  • Black Butler (manga, vol. 5) - Sebastian takes part in the curry-making contest and wins with his curry bun, which even children can easily eat. However, Mina doesn't wish to return to India with Prince Soma - unbeknownst to him, she hated him and her life as a servant. Ciel figures he has now wrapped everything up, so he's less that pleased when Agni and the Prince decide to stick around. Ciel sends them both to his town house to get them out of his hair. The volume ends with something about a circus being in town. The inside cover alternate Black Butler in this volume is Black Chef.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Godchild (manga) by Kaori Yuki - It's been ages since I read this, and I never finished it, but I remember it being another dark mystery series with some occult aspects, set in Victorian England.
  • Count Cain (manga) by Kaori Yuki - I know even less about this series than I do about Godchild, but if Godchild interests you, then you might want to start with this series first. I think Godchild may be a continuation of this series.
  • Loveless (manga) by Yun Kouga; Loveless (anime TV series) - Another series in which a damaged young boy is the master of an older man. Ritsuka hasn't been the same since his brother died. He now no longer has anyone to protect him from his abusive mother, and he doubts he's even the same Ritsuka from before his brother's death. When a mysterious young man named Soubi comes and claims to have been Ritsuka's brother's friend, Ritsuka can't help but want to talk to him. Later, Ritsuka learns that his brother was involved with a strange organization that pits Sacrifice/Fighter pairs against each other. Soubi was Ritsuka's brother's Fighter and now considers himself Ritsuka's Fighter.
  • Emma (manga) by Kaoru Mori; Emma: A Victorian Romance (anime TV series) - Another series with a flashy Indian prince. This is a historical romance set in England, starring a maid and a member of the gentry. Unlike Black Butler, it dwells more on period details and is more of a slice-of-life story. I've written about the manga and the anime.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

King of Thorn (manga, vols. 5-6) by Yuji Iwahara

As with After School Nightmare, I realized a while back that I had come very close to finishing this series, so I decided I'd finish it during my vacation. I probably would have benefited from a reread of the previous volumes, and, as with After School Nightmare, all I had were the volumes I hadn't yet read.

At least the final volume of After School Nightmare made sense to me, even though I wished I could reread parts of the series after gaining new knowledge about what was really going on. The final two volumes of King of Thorn were just really confusing. Iwahara crammed a lot into six volumes. Although I wasn't quite as lost as a newbie to the series would have been, the events in the final two volumes were still tough to process. I'm assuming it would have been a little easier if I had read the first four volumes more recently - 3 years is a long time.

It's not surprising to me that King of Thorn was turned into a movie. This series has always had the feel of a big budget sci-fi action movie, and these final two volumes are no exception. Iwahara brings out more varieties of monsters and creatures and leaves things open enough at the end for a sequel (not that I've heard anything about there being a sequel in the works).

(Again, GIANT SPOILER ALERT, read the stuff below at your own risk!)

For those who actually read all the volumes in this series one right after the other, the ending is probably mind-blowing and awesome. I mostly just tried to keep my head above the water, and I think I've managed to get straight in my mind what happened to the twins. Iwahara kept up the hints of romance that appeared in the earlier volumes, but then, in my opinion, ruined that tiny romantic subplot by introducing elements of brainwashing to the series. I'm assuming readers were supposed to think that Marco would have come back from the dead to protect Kasumi even if he hadn't been brainwashed, but I couldn't help but doubt the romance anyway. I didn't think there was enough time for Iwahara to truly prove that Marco's actions weren't affected by the brainwashing, so what should have been an "aww, how sweet" moment was soured for me.

Finishing this series didn't give me the same urge to reread all the volumes that finishing After School Nightmare did, but I would like to see the movie one day. Six volumes seems like a lot to fit into two hours, but I think it's doable, and I think this is one of those series that could be even better in animated form. The monsters and action scenes would be a lot of fun to watch, and Marco would make for great eye candy.

Below are summaries (as much as I was able to figure out) for the volumes I read:
  • King of Thorn (manga, vol. 5) - Katherine dies, giving her body over to Medusa - her motherly instinct is born from her body, in the form of a bird creature with breasts. The creature almost dies while protecting Tim, so what's left of the group leaves Tim and the creature in a safe place. Kasumi finds Alice, the creepy little abused girl who was the first person to contract Medusa. Alice reveals to Kasumi that her form is just a hologram (or something similar) and takes Kasumi to her real body, which is in shocking condition. The only reason Alice is still alive is because of Medusa. Meanwhile, Marco is getting the crap beaten out of him by Zeus.
  • King of Thorn (manga, vol. 6) - This volume is chock full of stuff that confused me. Zeus has Marco killed. Zeus reveals that Kasumi's twin, Shizuku, has been around all this time...as a giant monster. He also reveals that everyone has been unconsciously trying to protect Kasumi because of brainwashing he (or possibly Shizuku - my notes aren't too clear on that) did to all of them while they were in cryogenic stasis. Marco drags himself back from death, with the help of the last of Alice's energy, and helps Kasumi get to the real Shizuku, who is somewhere inside the giant monster. In order to save everyone else in the group from being turned into Medusa monsters by Zeus, Kasumi has to get through to Shizuku, and when she does, she learns the truth: the real Kasumi is dead. When Kasumi was chosen to be put in cryogenic stasis, she tried to get Shizuku to commit suicide with her, and Shizuku accidentally killed her while resisting. As far as I can figure, Shizuku was already succumbing to Medusa when she was taken to the cryogenic stasis lab, and she used Medusa to create another Kasumi, sort of like bringing her back to life. Kasumi, of course, is shocked, but Marco seems to have suspected something like this, and he gets her through it. The series ends with everybody deciding to go out into the world and help anyone who hasn't already succumbed to Medusa fight the monsters and learn to control their Medusa powers.
See what I mean? That last volume in particular was super-condensed confusion for me. I felt like begging Iwahara to give me more time to breathe and think.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • After School Nightmare (manga) by Setona Mizushiro - If you'd like another series that may blow your mind, you might want to try this, even though it's got less of a "blockbuster movie" feel than King of Thorn and is less action-oriented. I have written about every volume in the series.
  • Avatar (live action and CGI animation movie) - When the newest Medusa monsters started running around, my first thought was "Wow, those guys look kind of like the aliens in Avatar." Plus, there's action, a bit of romance, cool creatures, and people doing stuff in artificially created bodies that they can't do in their own bodies. I've written a little about this movie.
  • Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle (manga) by CLAMP; Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle (anime TV series) - I haven't yet finished this series, but there are elements to it that I think are similar to King of Thorn. This series has action, romance (to a greater degree than King of Thorn), and some potentially mind-blowing events in the later volumes. I've written about volumes 17 and 18 of the manga.
  • Ceres: Celestial Legend (manga) by Yuu Watase; Ceres: Celestial Legend (anime TV series) - If you'd just like another messed up twin story, you might want to try this, although be warned that the twin drama is sorta kinda incestuous. On their 16th birthday, Aya, the sister, inherits the powers of and ability to transform into Ceres, a vengeful celestial maiden. Aki, her twin brother, has inherited baggage of his own: the personality of the man who Ceres loved and who betrayed her starts to take him over. This series is more romance-focused than King of Thorn, but there's still plenty of action, dark fantasy, and drama. I consider this one of Watase's darkest works, although I think the ending is at least bittersweet, if not completely happy.
  • The Matrix (live action movie) - This movie starts off with the mind-blowing stuff and then gives you action and coolness for the rest of the running time. Those who, like me, found themselves gasping for breath in that last volume of King of Thorn might appreciate a movie that gives your brain a chance to catch up.
  • Blue Gender (anime TV series) - I have to admit, I've never seen this series. I added it to this list because the basic premise sounds very similar to King of Thorn. The main character is diagnosed with a disease and is put in cryogenic stasis. When he wakes up 15 years later, alien bugs called the Blue have taken over Earth and a few select humans have moved to a space station called Second Earth.
  • Resident Evil (live action movie) - Another action-filled story with flesh-eating monsters (zombies!), survival horror, and a main female character who gradually regains her memory of how she came to be stuck in the middle of all of it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

After School Nightmare (manga, vol. 10) by Setona Mizushiro

A while ago, I was adding this series to a list of read-alikes when I realized that I had stopped reading it only one volume before the end. I decided my vacation was the perfect time to finish the series. It probably would have been beneficial to have volumes 1 through 9 available, to remind me of things that had gone on before (and to reread after finishing the last volume, so that I could look at them with new eyes and search for clues pointing to the things revealed in the end). However, I didn't have those volumes. It's possible I would have enjoyed this volume more if I had.

So, first, a quick summary of the volume (and a GIANT SPOILER ALERT, for those who worry about spoilers, because I'm going to give stuff away). Mashiro finally decides to be comfortable as him/herself. In private, Mashiro basically chooses to embrace being a girl (and even has sex with Sou), although he/she still dresses and tries to act like a boy while at school. In the dream class, Sou (whose form is now a dog, which is weirdly cute, considering that form is basically a representation of Sou's desire to be loved and cuddled by Mashiro...although I still wish that Sou had found someone better for himself) and Kureha help Mashiro get the key - this is done via Sou ripping out Kureha's throat, and Kureha letting him. Mashiro can now graduate, and graduation turns out to be birth. Mashiro's dual-gender status was a result of being twins in one body. In the real world (?), Mashiro's mother is pregnant with twins, and the hospital she's staying in is on fire. The male twin dies before being born, but the girl twin lives - only one twin was going to live, and this is the reality of Mashiro's choice. Years later, the girl twin bumps into a stranger who looks a lot like Sou. Will they get to know each other, somehow drawn together by the relationship they had while they were still in their mothers' wombs? Who knows?

I thought this volume was good, but unsatisfying. I cared about the characters enough to want to see what happened to them, and Mizushiro's ending basically said "none of what you read really mattered." There is no evidence that character relationships have any bearing on how those characters interact with each other after being born, so all that intense drama and character growth seems to have been for naught. It makes me wish that the "years later" part had been a bit longer, and that Mizushiro had given the girl twin and the guy who looked like Sou some spark of "do I know you?" when they bumped into each other. Otherwise, what was the point of this series, of the characters' experiences and growth? This is almost as bad as a "and it was all a dream" ending.

I think I enjoyed the buildup to the ending more than the actual ending, although I'd love to reread the whole series again, so I could see graduating and disappearing characters from this new perspective. If I were to encounter another one of Mizushiro's works translated into English, I think I'd jump at the chance to read it. Even if the ending of that series turned out to also be a disappointment to me, I'm sure I'd at least enjoy the journey.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • King of Thorn (manga) by Yuji Iwahara - This is another manga that ends with a bit of a headtrip. It has much the same feel as a blockbuster action movie. I've written about the first four volumes and will have a post for the last two up shortly, since this is another series I chose to finally finish during my vacation.
  • Loveless (manga) by Yun Kouga; Loveless (anime TV series) - This is another series in which an overarching mystery slowly gets unraveled, although unfortunately the manga may never be finished in the U.S. because it was one of Tokyopop's titles. The anime is short, only covers some of the manga volumes, and doesn't have a true ending, so I'd probably recommend the manga over the anime (although my first experience was with the anime, and that was enough to get me hooked). Like After School Nightmare, this series has some cute moments, but the overall feel of it is kind of dark, and several characters have messed up relationships.
  • Xxxholic (manga) by CLAMP; Xxxholic (anime TV series) - I haven't finished this series yet, but it had gotten pretty strange at the point I stopped, and I wouldn't be surprised if this turned out to be another series that ends in a way that makes you rethink everything you thought you knew was going on. At least at first, this is a very episodic series. Generally, Watanuki encounters some kind of spirit, and/or Yuko deals with a client. Unfortunately, I think later events probably won't make as much sense unless you also read Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle at the same time. I have written about the first season of the Xxxholic TV series and volume 12 of the manga.
  • Perfect Blue (anime movie) - This is a dark and twisty psychological thriller about a pop singer-turned-actress who is being stalked. Those who'd like something else in which all is not what it seems might want to try this.
  • Paranoia Agent (anime TV series) - Like Perfect Blue, this TV series was directed by Satoshi Kon. It's another dark psychological thriller (or would it be better to call it a mystery?). Those who'd like something else dark, twisty, and strange might want to try this. If I remember correctly, unlike Perfect Blue, this series has some darkly humorous moments, so it might be better for those who also liked After School Nightmare's lighter moments.

Eyeshield 21 (manga, vols. 21-24) story by Riichiro Inagaki, art by Yusuke Murata

Depending on how you look at it, Eyeshield 21 was more of a vacation failure for me than Otomen. I think I had a stack of at least 6 more volumes that I decided not to read. Had my vacation been longer, I probably would have gotten around to them, but after 4 volumes I decided my time would be better spent reading something else.

Back when I first started reading this series, the main reasons it appealed to me were its general craziness (machine gun-toting Hiruma, weird training regimens, over-the-top player abilities) and the ease with which I could understand what was going on. I'm not a fan of sports in general, and I find football in particular to be very confusing. Inagaki made the basics of the sport fairly easy to grasp, and my general enjoyment of the series and its characters helped me overlook anything I didn't quite get.

Maybe it's because it's been so long since I last read the earlier volumes, but my understanding of football seemed to be particularly bad while I was reading volumes 21 to 24. When it came time to crack open volume 25, I realized I didn't really have much of an idea what was going on in the game and only vaguely cared about what the Deimon Devil Bats would do to beat the other teams.

One reason I might continue with this series in the future, though, is the possibility that Hiruma might be more humanized in future volumes. I flipped through some of the later volumes that I never got around to reading, and in one of them Hiruma was talking to Mamori - always interesting, because Hiruma seems more willing to reveal his weaknesses around Mamori, or at least he's not as good at hiding his weaknesses from her as he is from his teammates. While I enjoy Hiruma when he's being devilish, I'm intrigued by the idea of a Hiruma with layers. Plus, the romance lover in me can't help but wonder if Inagaki is setting things up for romance-inspired team tension. I can imagine Mamori falling for the more human side of Hiruma that only she gets to see, inspiring Sena to be jealous of Hiruma. Sena would then have to overcome that feeling so that it wouldn't start to affect his performance during games. Okay, so I read a lot of shojo manga, but it could happen, right?

As with my Otomen post, there are potential spoilers in the volume summaries below. If you don't like spoilers, you might want to skip to the read-alikes/watch-alikes list.
  • Eyeshield 21 (manga, vol. 21) - Deimon is still playing against the Shinryuji Nagas and has to do risky, desperate things to survive the game, like over-relying on Sena's legs. Even so, it still doesn't look too good for them by the end of the volume. Yukimitsu wasn't the huge secret weapon I was expecting, just better than other people expected him to be. He's not athletically-inclined, so he instead used his excellent study skills to learn about the players he'd be facing.
  • Eyeshield 21 (manga, vol. 22) - More Deimon Devil Bats vs. Shinryuji Nagas. Deimon has to get at least 21 points, so they try to advance and then stop the clock after every play. In this particular volume, some of the most decisive moments are courtesy of Morita, Deimon's best catcher, because Sena's legs are just about useless. While reading this volume, I worried a lot about whether Sena might be permanently damaging his legs, and, although this concern came up, I don't think the other players (or Deimon's coach) worried nearly enough about it.
  • Eyeshield 21 (manga, vol. 23) - Deimon finally manages to beat Shinryuji. Then, for a brief period, it's the Hakushu Dinosaurs vs. Taiyo Sphinx. Hakushu's Gao has a reputation for putting quarterbacks in the hospital. Taiyo's linemen manage to protect their quarterback, but only at great cost - all of Taiyo's linemen end up hospitalized. Taiyo forfeits the game. After that, another brief game: Seibu Wild Gunmen vs. Misaki Wolves. Seibu wins. Shin of the Ojo White Knights has Seibu's Riku teach him the secret to his Rodeo Drive, turning Shin into an even fiercer opponent. Meanwhile, Deimon's players begin what training they are capable of doing, considering that they all have horrible muscle pain after the game against Shinryuji. They're playing against Ojo next.
  • Eyeshield 21 (manga, vol. 24) - Deimon studies Ojo for a bit, and then the game between Ojo and Deimon begins. Things don't look good for Deimon as Ojo's Sakuraba and Shin switch to playing both offense and defense. My only other note about this volume was that it confused me. I had a hard time grasping what, exactly, it would mean for Sakuraba and Shin to play both offense and defense, but apparently it's a risky move on Ojo's part and, at the same time, a reason for Deimon to worry.
As far as I can tell, manga about American football are few and far between, and none of those other works have been licensed and translated into English.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Hikaru no Go (manga) by Yumi Hotta (story) and Takeshi Obata (art); Hikaru no Go (anime TV series) - This series is about a board game, not a sport, but the overall feel is similar to sports manga. This is another one where, the further the main character (Hikaru) got into the world of his "sport," the less I understood about individual matches, but in Hikaru no Go's case that didn't seem to matter to me. I've seen all of the anime and loved it (I hate what I've heard of the English dub, though), and one of these days I'll read all of the manga. I've written about volume 12 of the manga.
  • Whistle! (manga) by Daisuke Higuchi - Less crazy than Eyeshield 21, but this may still appeal to those who'd like another sports-oriented series. In this case, the sport is soccer. I've written about volume 19 of the manga.
  • Yakitate!! Japan (manga) by Takashi Hashiguchi - Like Eyeshield 21, this series has some really outlandish characters and moments. In this case, the focus is competitive bread baking. Hashiguchi usually makes the breads the characters create seem at least somewhat possible. Those who'd like another crazy, competition-filled series might want to try this. I've written about volumes 11 and 12 of the manga.
  • Big Windup! (anime TV series) - Like Whistle!, this series grounds its players more in reality than Eyeshield 21 - if you want an outlandish cast, you need to look elsewhere. However, if you'd just like another sports manga starring an underdog team you can root for, you might want to try this. The sport, in this case, is baseball. I've written several posts about this anime.
  • The Prince of Tennis (manga) by Takeshi Konomi; The Prince of Tennis (anime TV series) - A sports series that is outlandish in a slightly different way than Eyeshield 21. These tennis players are intense, and, similar to Deimon's players, I don't think you ever see anyone in class - like Eyeshield 21, the focus is on the sport and how the players interact with each other via that sport. I've written about volumes 25 to 27 of the manga.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Otomen (manga, vols. 2-4) by Aya Kanno

During my last vacation, I tried volume 1 of this series and enjoyed it. Unfortunately, it didn't take long for Otomen to fall a little flat for me. I had 6 or 7 volumes of this series available to read during my latest vacation, and I only read 3 of them.

The premise has potential. Asuka appears to be a perfect manly man. Only a couple people know that he secretly likes girlie things, like sewing and cute dolls. One of those two people is Juta, who is secretly the artist/writer behind a hit shojo manga based on Asuka. The other is Ryo, the girl Asuka is in love with. Ryo likes manly things and her behavior isn't that of a stereotypical girl (she's not good at cooking, she's not interested in romance, etc.).

I like Kanno's art, and I was interested to see what sorts of stories she could squeeze out of the premise. I think my problems with this series lie in a few different areas. One, the romance is lackluster. I don't think Ryo likes Asuka as anything more than a friend, and, as a character, she's kind of boring, so I have problems even rooting for her to get over her obliviousness. Two, the stereotypes are so over-the-top that it gets to be a bit much. Asuka is more girlie than any girl I know, but he's also more manly than any guy I know. I know it's supposed to be funny, but it makes it hard to see him as a person, which in turn makes it hard to be interested in his relationships and the things he does. Three, this series has the feeling of something that could go on forever or end in the next volume. If I'm not engaged in the characters or the plot, I really hate that kind of thing.

The most interesting character in the series is Juta, Asuka's friend. I see Juta as the voice of the reader - at least, he tends to voice what I feel. His frustration with the complete lack of new developments in Ryo and Asuka's relationship is my frustration. Juta is probably the main reason I'm not going to completely abandon this manga. It's not going on my "to buy" list, but I may continue to read it via ILL.

Below are the volumes I read over my vacation, along with short summaries (so read at your own risk, there may be spoilers!):
  • Otomen (manga, vol. 2) - This volume has what amounts to 3 stories. In the first, a boy (Yamato) so cute he's mistaken for a girl idolizes Asuka, viewing him as the ideal man. The second story is a Christmas special, in which Asuka and Ryo have a heart-warming Christmas meal during a terrible snowstorm. In the third story, Asuka's mom suddenly comes home. Asuka's father left Asuka's mother after announcing that he wanted to become a woman, so Asuka's mother now freaks out at the slightest sign that her son isn't a stereotypical young man. In order to protect her health and peace of mind, Asuka must act as manly as possible. Unfortunately, this may mean marrying the girl his mother suddenly announces she has picked out for him. The girl happens to be uber-cute and kind of crazy.
  • Otomen (manga, vol. 3) - This volume has what amounts to 4 stories. Ryo gets Asuka to help her take care of some kids at a nursery. One kid hates Asuka at first, but eventually comes to see him as another mother (and Ryo as a father). The second story is deja vu - Asuka and Ryo go on another amusement park date. Their date is interrupted by a crazy guy who tries to kill himself. Asuka finally asks Ryo to go out with him and she says "yes" - which means they're now officially a couple, maybe. In the third story, Juta's girlfriends suspect he has one particular person he's most interested in, so they enlist Asuka's help in finding out who that person is. No one knows that the reason Juta's time is so booked is because he has manga deadlines coming up. In the fourth story, Asuka and Hajime Tenomine, Asuka's kendo rival, run into each other at a Lovely Beauty Fest, where they end up revealing their secret skills - Asuka improves the clothes of a woman getting a makeover, and Hajime does the woman's makeup.
  • Otomen (manga, vol. 4) - This volume has 3 basic stories. In the first one, Ryo's birthday is coming up, and Asuka bakes a cake with Ryo's dad. This is actually kind of a sweet story, but it's not exactly something new in the shojo world. In the second story, Asuka meets a guy named Kitora, who secretly loves flowers. This story has a "protect the garden" scene that reminded me a lot of Fruits Basket. In the third story, Yamato's uncle's beach business needs help, so he recruits Asuka, Kitora, Juta, and, if I remember right, Ryo. Asuka adds a cute, pretty new dessert to the menu, in order to attract more female customers. Hajime shows up and uses his makeup skills to steal those customers away, so Asuka and the others win the customers back by redecorating the shop and dressing Yamato up as a girl.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Ranma 1/2 (manga) by Rumiko Takahashi; Ranma 1/2 (anime TV series) - This comedy stars a guy who becomes a girl when he's splashed with cold water. Like Asuka, Ranma worries about his mother discovering his unmanly secret. This series also includes some romance, and, in my opinion, it's funnier than Otomen.
  • Ouran High School Host Club (manga) by Bisco Hatori; Ouran High School Host Club (anime TV series) - Like Otomen, this series stars someone who doesn't quite conform to their stereotypical gender role. However, unlike Asuka, Haruhi doesn't really care about that - it makes no difference to her if someone thinks she's a guy. This series also contains comedy and romance that doesn't really go anywhere (at least in what I've seen of the series). I've written about both the manga and the anime.
  • Princess Princess (manga) by Mikiyo Tsuda; Princess Princess (anime TV series) - More comedy and over-the-top feminine stereotypes, but this series at least recognizes that it's all over-the-top. The main characters attend an all boys high school that has something called the Princess system, in which the prettiest boys dress and act as girls in order to improve student moral. I've written about the first volume of the manga.
  • Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya; Fruits Basket (anime TV series) - This series has a bit of cross-dressing and at least one character who's not comfortable with his gender-ambiguous looks, so it might appeal to those who like the gender-related elements of Otomen. It also contains humor and romance, although the manga, at least, is a good deal darker in spots than Otomen.
  • Bleach (manga) by Tite Kubo; Bleach (anime TV series) - It feels a little odd adding this one to the list, but it might appeal to those who like the more action-oriented parts of Otomen. Also, sometimes Asuka seems like a cross between Ichigo and Uryu - when Asuka acts manly, he looks a lot like a gentle Ichigo, but he has Uryu's sewing skills (although it should be noted that Uryu isn't ashamed of his skills). Other than that, though, this series is really different than Otomen, so keep that in mind. I've written about several volumes of the manga.
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