Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Mistaken Masterpiece (book) by Michael D. Beil

This is another ARC I picked up at a conference - it's scheduled to be released on June 14th. It's the third book in the Red Blazer Girls series. I haven't read any of the earlier books in the series, but I thought this book stood on its own just fine.

Synopsis:

At the beginning of this book, Sophie, one of the Red Blazer Girls (a group of mystery-solving 12-year-old friends who are also part of a band), is at swim practice, where her nose is broken (accidentally? on purpose?) by Livvy, her nemesis. Soon after getting her nose broken, Sophie finds out that her father has not only met Nate, her celebrity crush, he has also arranged things so that she and the other Red Blazer Girls (Margaret, Becca, and Leigh Ann) can meet him. This would be 100% good news if Sophie didn't feel a bit self-conscious about her nose.

Sophie's meeting with Nate is brief. Without checking with her parents first, she agrees to watch out for Nate's dog, in exchange for the possibility of continued contact with Nate and the $50/day pay he offers her. To further complicate things, Father Julian (if I remember right, he's a teacher at her all girls' Catholic school) has given Sophie and her friends more mysteries to solve. One of those mysteries involves two identical signed baseballs: one is real and one is a fake, and the girls are asked to figure out which one is which. Another one of those mysteries involves a family heirloom, a painting that may or may not be a real Pommeroy. Father Julian wants the girls to try and figure out if the painting is real by using a bunch of photographs to prove that his family owned it prior to Pommeroy's death in 1961.

Commentary:

Even though I had some serious suspension of disbelief problems as the story progressed (so many convenient doubles, and so many potentially valuable items given to a bunch of twelve-year-old girls), I enjoyed myself so much that I didn't really care. Sophie's "voice" (the book is written in the first person, from her perspective) is likable and fun.

The snappy, fast-paced writing was just what I needed to help get me out of a nasty reading slump. Had I been in a different mood, the book might almost have felt too busy and fast-paced. There were tons of things to keep track of, and, although I was sure that fakes and doubles would prove to be an important part of the book's ending, I wasn't sure how much of what was going on would end up being related. There were the baseballs (it occurred to me after I finished the book that it was never revealed who created the fake baseball, and why), the repeated hints that there was more than one little black dog named Tillie, people's comments that Livvy and Sophie looked remarkably similar, the painting that may or may not have been painted by Pommeroy, and the strange, shy artist who was so terrified of a certain someone that he never left his gallery. It was fun trying to put all the pieces together, but sometimes I just had to sit back and go with the flow, there was so much going on.

Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You (manga, vol. 1) by Karuho Shiina

Synopsis:

All Sawako wants to do is make friends with everyone in her class. However, she bears an unfortunate resemblance to Sadako (the girl with long black hair in The Ring), and, although she doesn't realize it, everything she does has a tendency to come across as creepy.

Sawako is sure that, if she expresses her thoughts and feelings honestly, someday someone will understand her. In the meantime, she tries her hardest to make those around her happy, so she's usually the one who volunteers to do the things her classmates don't want to do. Her goal is to do at least one good deed every day. She doesn't seek recognition for the things she does and doesn't actually see her actions as anything special.

Someone has noticed her, however - Kazehaya, the friendliest and most popular boy in her class. She is shocked when he tells her that he admires her - how could he admire her when, from her perspective, he inspires people to do better just by being around them? Sawako gradually starts to open up to Kazehaya, completely unaware of his crush on her, and unable to recognize that her feelings of admiration for him are becoming something more.

Commentary:

I have heard many good things about this series. It's been on my TBR list for a long time, but I wasn't really looking forward to the time it would take to get yet another series one volume at a time via ILL. I finally decided to break down and buy it, or at least the first volume, just to try it out. Well, I've tried it out, and now I want the whole thing. It's fantastically cute and sweet - I only hope that it's just as good several volumes into it as it is right now.

Some Kind of Stranger (e-book) by Katrina Strauss

As far as I can tell, it's not currently possible to buy this as a physical book.

Loose Id's website calls this a novel, but it's really short - just over 100 pages on my Nook and, according to All Romance's website, only 35,656 words. This book features enough of my personal red flags that I wouldn't have touched it if I hadn't already read and enjoyed some of Strauss's other works.

Synopsis:

Derek Graves likes the darker side of sex. In the past, his partners have been short-term, briefly held "prisoner" in his apartment. None of them have ever wanted or been able to go as far as he has wanted to go.

Derek gained a new perspective on the impact his tastes could have on his partners when an impulsive decision to try a partner who didn't fit his usual tastes went horribly wrong. He was drugged and raped, and the experience left him with a desire to get revenge on the man, as well as a desire never to do anything like what was done to him to another person.

Derek spots his captor and rapist at Blue Ruin, a gay bar. Unfortunately, the young waiter who caught Derek's eye also catches the attention of that man. Derek manages to save the waiter, whose goes by the name Blue, and takes him to his home to recover from the drugs he was given. Blue wakes up handcuffed and blindfolded - although Derek wanted to make sure he was okay, he also wanted to make sure word didn't get out that he was the one who beat Blue's would-be rapist into a coma. However, Derek's efforts are useless, because Blue remembers what Derek looks like. Blue works out a deal with him - if he gets to stay with him, Blue won't tell anyone what he's seen, particularly not his father, the city's corrupt and strongly anti-gay DA.

Derek seems to have found the perfect partner in Blue. Blue wants to stay with him and submits to Derek's darker desires, but he trusts Derek not to ever cross the line into true cruelty. The two gradually get to know each other, and Blue is encouraged by signs that Derek might actually love him and want a long-term relationship with him. Derek feels protective of Blue, but isn't quite sure whether he wants to make himself vulnerable to him by admitting he loves him, or telling him what happened between him and the man who tried to abduct Blue. Unfortunately, Blue and Derek may not have as much time to work things out as they think.

Commentary:

In case the synopsis and cover haven't made it clear, this book features m/m BDSM. As for genre, I'd probably call it erotic romance.

The few BDSM books and stories I've tried in the past tended to go in directions I really didn't like, and they didn't manage to overcome my difficulty understanding the appeal of BDSM. When some of them tried to explain the appeal and how things worked in a more realistic way, the results tended to feel a bit clinical and not terribly sexy. Plus, there was still the issue of things going in directions I couldn't stand.

Katrina Strauss has managed to make it onto my short list of authors who I feel I can trust to write about things that are potential red flags for me, in such a way that I know I'm not going to find myself wishing for brain bleach. Some Kind of Stranger is heavy on sex scenes, and, while BDSM is still not really my thing, I thought the sex scenes still came across as sexy.

What really made this book work for me is that it isn't just about the sex. The storyline involving Derek's former captor/rapist added a bit of suspense at the end, but the suspense was less of a draw than the way this storyline developed Derek's character. In the other BDSM books and stories I've read, I never felt quite sure that the dominants wouldn't end up going too far. I was also bothered by the feeling that, if they did end up going too far, they might not feel a lot of remorse and would probably even end up liking it. I didn't feel like they had actual relationships with their submissives. Derek's experience of being drugged and forced to be a submissive gave him an intense desire never to go too far. As dark as his desires might be, he honestly didn't want to be like the man who had hurt him.

Eden of the East (anime TV series), via Hulu

I tried to keep from spoiling anything, but the structure of this show makes that hard. However, you can actually find out more than what I reveal in this post just by reading the Wikipedia article on the series, so I don't think I did too badly.

Synopsis:

A guy who decides to call himself Akira Takizawa (Takizawa Akira) turns up in Washington, D.C., right near the White House. He's completely naked, holding a gun and a cell phone, and he has no memory of who he is. The first person he meets is Saki, a young Japanese woman on a graduation trip who he saves just as she was about to get in trouble with the police. Saki lends him her coat so that he won't attract as much attention, only to realize after he's gone that her passport was in her coat pocket. Takizawa sees things that make him wonder if he might have been a terrorist before he lost his memory, but he doesn't tell Saki about any of that when she manages to catch up with him. All he tells her is that he's lost his memory.

After they both get back to Japan, Saki tells Takizawa a little of what has happened recently. On a date now known as "Careless Monday," ten missiles struck Japan. Amazingly, not one person was hurt. In the process of investigating his past, Takizawa begins to suspect that he was responsible for "Careless Monday." He also believes that he was responsible for the disappearance of 20,000 NEETs ("Not in Education, Employment, or Training" - these people are, I believe, considered to be both a big societal problem in Japan and also a sign of other problems). All Takizawa really knows is that he has a cell phone that is his direct connection to a mysterious concierge named Juiz, who can give him absolutely anything he asks for, and his cell phone is charged with 8,200,000,000 yen (approximately 101.5 million dollars right now).

Juiz won't tell Takizawa anything about himself, but Takizawa does learn that there are 11 others like himself, each with cell phones that have access to a huge amount of money. If Takizawa can find those other people, he might be able to figure out more about himself and what he has done. He gradually learns that he and the others have been given the task of somehow saving Japan. Only one person can win the game, and everyone who fails or is judged to be misusing their power and money will be killed.

Commentary:

On the one hand, this show was amazing - twisty, complicated, and mysterious, with a really likable main character. On the other hand, it was missing whatever element was necessary to grab my attention and not let go - had this show gotten yanked off of Hulu before I could finish it, I can't say that I would have felt compelled to buy it just to find out how things were going to end.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Spice & Wolf II (anime TV series), via Hulu

Synopsis:

In the first half of this season, a rift begins to grow between Holo and Lawrence. Then Holo learns that Lawrence has been keeping painful information from her, information relating to their journey to her home in the north. This seems to be the last straw for Holo, who begins staying with a young merchant who is "manly" in ways that Lawrence is not: he puts Holo on a pedestal and challenges Lawrence in order to save her (he believes that Holo was forced to stay with Lawrence due to debts she had accrued).

Although it feels like Lawrence has lost Holo, he's not willing to give up without a fight. Lawrence challenges the young merchant to a merchants' duel involving fool's gold. Fool's gold has recently become very sought-after. If the price of fool's gold continues to stay high, the young merchant wins. If the price plummets, Lawrence wins. Even if the young merchant wins, there is no guarantee Holo will really want to stay with him and marry him, but the young merchant has no doubt about their love for each other. It looks unlikely that the merchant could possibly lose, but if Lawrence can get enough money at just the right time, he might stand a chance.

In the second half of the season, Holo and Lawrence stop at a town in order to try to find out more information about the location of her home. One of the town's primary commodities is fur, but for some reason no one is allowed to sell fur at the moment - fur merchants are camping out right outside of town. Lawrence and Holo learn a bit more about what's going on and meet a female merchant who has a plan that could earn them all a nice profit. Lawrence finally has a chance at the shop he's always wanted, but it's a chance that only comes at great risk. The female merchant appears to be hiding something. Not only that, but the merchant's plan hinges upon selling Holo. In theory, Lawrence should be able to buy her back, but that's only if everything goes according to plan.

Commentary:

I liked the first half of this season so much that I found myself thinking that this season was actually better than the first. As far as the economics went, I could (sort of) follow what was going on, and it was so much fun watching Lawrence scramble in a situation where, technically, there wasn't much risk to him as a merchant but a lot of risk to him as a man.

Then came the second half of the season. It's been a while since I watched this, and I probably delayed writing the post for too long, but I do think my fuzzy memories of the second half of the season are at least in part due to it not being as interesting as the first half.

Bleeding Violet (book) by Dia Reeves

There's no cover image because the ILL copy of this book that I got had no book jacket, just a plain black cardboard cover.

Synopsis:

Hanna is bipolar (or, as she prefers to call it, manic-depressive) and sometimes has hallucinations, particularly when she doesn't take her meds. After her father died, she went to live with her aunt. When her aunt decides she needs to be sent to a psych ward, Hanna hits her over the head and runs off to find her mother, who lives in Portero, TX.

Rosalee, Hanna's mother, is not a motherly person. She'd rather Hanna wasn't even near her at all. Eventually, Hanna convinces her to give her a probationary period: if, in a week, Hanna can adapt to life in Portero, fit in, make friends, survive, etc., she can stay. If not, she has to leave.

Hanna is determined to stay, but it's not going to be easy to win the bet she made with her mother. There are lots of ways she doesn't fit in - although it used to be that the biggest thing that set her apart from others (other than her bipolar disorder, although I'm not sure if that developed before or after her father's death) was her mother being black and her father a white Finnish guy, in Portero she's even more different. Everyone calls Hanna a transy (short for "transient") and no one expects her to live long so no one makes an effort to care about her.

Eventually Hanna starts to realize that the weird things she's seeing in Portero aren't just her usual hallucinations - Portero really is crawling with danger, monsters, and general weirdness. In her quest to fit in and win her mother's approval, Hanna makes friends, starts dating and sleeping with a badass Porterene named Wyatt, and kills some monsters. Things start to fall apart, however, when Hanna realizes that something is very wrong with her mother. Afraid that the Mortmaines, Portero's ruthless protectors (of which Wyatt is one), will kill Rosalee, Hanna tries to figure out a way to save her on her own. In the process of doing this, Hanna learns just how far she'll go to protect the people she cares about and figures out how to do things that no one, not even Porterenes, thought was possible.

Commentary:

I've done things a little backwards. Although this is the first of Reeves' Portero books (and her first YA book), I read Slice of Cherry, the second book in the series, first. I don't think this ruined much for me. I probably would have figured out Portero's weirdness wasn't just in Hanna's head fairly quickly on my own, and I liked knowing that Wyatt and Hanna were still together in the next book, because it meant that Bleeding Violet's ending had to be at least a little happy.

While Bleeding Violet didn't resonate with me on as personal a level as Slice of Cherry did, that's not necessarily a bad thing. I found it to be a much more comfortable read. While I might hesitate to recommend Slice of Cherry to someone, I think Bleeding Violet is much more likely to appeal to a broader audience. Although Hanna may be prone to violent behavior, she doesn't set out to kill anyone on purpose - that automatically gives her a few points over Fancy. The Mortmaine tendency towards ruthlessness bothers her, and, although she does terrible things out of a desire to help her mother, her goal is understandable and she doesn't necessarily feel good about the things she does.

Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes: The Authorized Adaptation (graphic novel) by Ron Wimberly, introduction by Ray Bradbury

At one point, I mentioned all those ARCs I got at a conference. I was going to try to post about them before they came out, or at least during the same month they came out. That hasn't been working out so well for me. Trying to shake myself out of my reading slump, I decided to pick an ARC I actually wanted to read, regardless of when it was going to be coming out. This graphic novel won't be released until July 19, 2011.

I tried my best not to include spoilers, although I do occasionally refer to scenes that occur late in the story.

Synopsis:

Will and Jim, two 13-year-old friends, are sitting outside Jim's house when they are approached by a lightning rod salesman. The man gives Jim a free lightning rod, telling him his house will soon be struck by lightning. After the salesman leaves, things only get weirder. A carnival has come to town, a strange carnival that Will, the more cautious of the two boys, wants nothing to do with, but that Jim is fascinated by. The carnival has a house of mirrors that almost kills the boys' teacher, Miss Foley, and a merry-go-round that has the power to make people become older or younger. The boys attract the attention of Dark, also known as the Illustrated Man, and Mr. Cooger. After a terrible incident involving Mr. Cooger, it's not long before the entire carnival starts hunting for them.

Commentary:

As far as I know, I haven't read the novel this was based on, and I haven't watched the movie based on the book, so I can't say how it compares to either one of those versions. I can say that I really didn't like this graphic novel.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Something new: Subscribing to labels

It took me a lot longer to figure out how to do all this than I thought it would, but I have now not only created my very first Blogger Page, I have also set up links that can be used to subscribe to RSS feeds for posts that have been assigned particular labels. You can find all of this near the top of my blog, under the tab "Subscribe To My Blog."

I had to learn several new things to get everything to work. For those of you who might be interested, here are the sources of all the information I used that resulted in my new page:
  • Offer RSS feeds for Blogger search labels - This page showed me how to format URLs for RSS feeds for particular labels. As far as I can tell, Blogger does not currently have a quick and easy way to allow people to subscribe to feeds for particular labels - you can click a label, and all posts with that label come up, but when you click on the "Subscribe to this page" button on your browser, it defaults to subscribing to the entire blog (if I'm wrong about any of this and have managed to make this more difficult than it needed to be, then please let me know). I did not follow the step involving FeedBurner. I was tempted, but I'd like to read up on it some more first.
  • Reuse Blogger pictures in future posts - This blog post showed me how to get the URL I needed in order to incorporate the RSS feed image into my blog's CSS, for reuse as a bullet in a list.
  • Code snippets for displaying a list of feeds - This is where I got the code that let me create a list of feeds, with the feed icon as a bullet point.
I think that's it. Like I said, if I made this all harder on myself than I needed to, please let me know. While this made for a fun puzzle-solving session, if Blogger has an easier way to set up feeds for individual labels I'd love to know.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Chi's Sweet Home (manga, vol. 1) by Konami Kanata

If you like cats and if you like reading graphic novels and/or manga or have ever considered reading graphic novels  and/or manga, you must try this series. Really, you must. Unlike most manga you can find in stores and at the library now, you won't even need to learn how to read panels from right to left - manga newbies will be relieved to find that Vertical flipped this series so that it can be read from left to right.

Synopsis:

Chi, a little gray kitten, is separated from her family after she is distracted by a bird. Alone in a dangerous world filled with dogs and fast-moving cars, Chi doesn't know what to do. Hungry and exhausted, she is found by Mrs. Yamada and her young son, Yohei.

Although the Yamada family takes Chi in, they don't, at first, intend to keep her, mainly because pets aren't allowed in their apartment. However, they can't find anyone willing to take Chi, and she's so young they don't want to put her back outside on her own. Despite the risk of eviction, they decide to keep her.

This is a slice-of-life series, so everything that goes on is ordinary, everyday stuff. The Yamada family feeds Chi, bathes her, names her, litter box trains her, plays with her, takes her to the vet...you get the idea. In this first volume, the family has a few moments when their new kitten is almost discovered (the landlady hears Chi meow when Mr. Yamada is preparing to take her to the vet, and Chi develops a love for sitting on the windowsill), but luck and a bit of cleverness keeps them in the clear.

Commentary:

As you can tell from the way I began this post, I think very highly of this series so far. True, not much goes on, but Chi is delightful. If you have ever lived with a cat, you will probably find quite a bit of Chi's behavior and the Yamada family's experiences to be familiar. And, if you're like me, you may find yourself wishing you could have a big Chi poster to plaster on one of your walls.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Maria Watches Over Us, Season Two (anime TV series)

Synopsis:

You should definitely watch the first season before watching this - it explains the setup (the soeur system, the Lady Roses, etc.).

In this season, the Lady Roses of the previous season are all graduating. One episode focuses on Rosa Foetida and rumors that she is going on dates with older guys, but, other than that, the season quickly moves into graduation preparations and, finally, graduation. It's a sad time in general for the students who will be left behind, particularly for those who looked up to the Lady Roses.

After the Lady Roses have graduated, Shimako, Rei, and Sachiko become the new Lady Roses and must get used to their roles. The two petite soeurs, Yumi and Yoshino, are now Rosa Chinesis en bouton and Rosa Foetida en bouton, respectively. The group will not truly be complete until Shimako has chosen her petite soeur, but she was so wrapped up in the previous Rosa Gigantea that it doesn't look like she really wants anyone as her petite soeur. The others worry that, without Rosa Gigantea, she is slowly withdrawing from all of them. Eventually, however, Shimako meets someone she bonds with and decides to have as her petite soeur.

After Shimako's problems in this season are dealt with, the show moves on to Rei and Yoshino, who are again butting heads over Rei's protectiveness. Yoshino wants to join the kendo club, which upsets Rei, who can't concentrate for worry that Yoshino, who was physically fragile prior to her surgery in the previous season, will overdo things or otherwise get hurt.

After Rei and Yoshino comes the season's big emotional blowup: Yumi and Sachiko's relationship appears to be falling apart. From Yumi's perspective, it looks like Sachiko may be cheating on her and might be thinking of choosing a new girl, a relative of hers, as her new petite soeur. Sachiko, as coolly uncommunicative as ever, doesn't volunteer information about what's going on and keeps brushing Yumi off. Yumi doesn't want to be a bother, but she doesn't stand a chance of fixing things if she can't even find out why Sachiko is drifting away from her. Unable to figure out what's gone wrong between her and Sachiko, Yumi falls apart, thinking she has lost her soeur. The whole situation is explained and resolved in the end, but the journey to that ending is a real emotional wringer.

Commentary:

If you liked the melodrama of the first season, this season offers more of the same - I think it might be even more intense in this second season, because there is no longer any need to make room for explanations about the soeur system and what the school and its students are like. I settled in pretty comfortably during the pre-graduation and graduation parts, enjoying all the emotional intensity. I don't think I've ever been part of a graduation quite as emotional as the graduation of the Lady Roses - it was like watching someone's parents leave, possibly for good. Rosa Chinesis, in particular, seemed to take graduation particularly hard, and when Sachiko dissolved into tears and Rosa Chinesis tried to hold herself back from going to comfort her, I started to tear up, too.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Baka and Test: Summon the Beasts (anime TV series), via Hulu

It's been a while since I've written a synopsis this long, but the Summon system stuff is complicated enough that it felt necessary. The amount of space I devoted to explaining the system is a little misleading, though, since the show actually focuses primarily on its one-note characters and over-the-top humor.

Synopsis:

This series takes place in a special school where students are placed in classes A through F after their entrance exams. Students in A class scored the best on the entrance exam and get fabulous equipment and a lovely, spacious classroom. Students in F class scored the worst on the entrance exam and get a rundown classroom and must sit on the floor at rickety, breakable tables.

During the latest entrance exams, one of the girls, Mizuki, passed out due to illness and therefore automatically failed her entrance exam. Akihisa, who tried to argue on her behalf, failed the exam as well, probably due to idiocy. Both of them end up in F class, along with Minami, Yuuji, Hideyoshi, and Muttsulini. Minami spent most of her life in Germany and therefore has difficulty reading kanji, so her best subject is math. Yuuji is Akihisa's best friend and the class representative for F class. Hideyoshi is so pretty he's often mistaken for a girl - in fact, Akihisa collects racy photos of him. Muttsulini is a pervert who is always on the lookout for an opportunity to catch a glimpse of (and take pictures of) girls' panties (or whatever else - and also, Hideyoshi counts as a girl). He sucks at just about every subject, but his skills in Health and Physical Education are unmatched. F class also includes the FFF Inquisition, a group of F class students who severely punish any guys who get a lot of attention from girls.

The special thing about this school is its Summon system (I think that's what it was called). This system allows students to battle each other in various academic subjects. It is to a student's advantage to battle in a subject he or she is good at, so it's not uncommon for teachers in preferred subjects to be kidnapped or tricked into being in the right place for the battle, but the teachers don't seem to mind much. Battles are fought by students' avatars, adorable, chibified RPG character-like versions of themselves. A student's hit points and attack ability are determined by how well they did in their last test in the subject. Classes may declare war on each other every three months - if a lower-ranked class wins, they get the higher-ranked class's equipment, but if the lower-ranked class loses, they get worse equipment than before. F class ends up with cardboard boxes by the end of the first episode, I believe.

At any rate, F class causes a stir by declaring war on higher-level classes immediately after the entrance exams - Yuuji hopes to prove that academic ability isn't everything, while Akihisa feels it is unfair that Mizuki ended up in F class and wants to at least give her a chance to use better equipment. Although F class ultimately fails, they turn out to have several hidden strengths. The next few episodes focus on humor (particularly in relation to Yuuji's relationship with A class representative Shouko and Akihisa's love triangle with Mizuki and Minami), although the series eventually introduces some very slightly serious stuff (still with great big gobs of humor and over-the-top weirdness) involving the Summoning system, the lengths that some students will go to to advance academically, and F class's next attempt to beat A class.

Commentary:

Two episodes into this show, I almost gave up on it. Even though I pushed on, I could have quit at any time and I would hardly have felt a twinge. I can't really say why I kept watching, other than that I don't like starting something and not finishing it. It helped that this show was really short, only 13 episodes.

Slice of Cherry (book) by Dia Reeves

Synopsis:

Fancy and Kit are two sisters whose father was arrested and put on death row for torturing and killing people in the basement of their home. Now their mother, Madda, works long hours to support the family, and Fancy and Kit are trying to make sure she never finds out that they're on their way to following in their father's footsteps. At the beginning of the book, a young man sneaks into their home, intending to steal some "Bonesaw Killer" souvenirs he can sell on Ebay. Kit stabs him and intends to kill him. Fancy talks her into merely keeping him locked up in the basement and cutting him up every once in a while. It's not that Fancy lacks a desire to kill - she has the same urges as her sister. No, Fancy is just terrified that her sister will be caught the way their father was caught. That's pretty much the only reason she does her best to make sure the guy doesn't die, and even stitches up his wounds whenever Kit is done with him.

Eventually, the guy, who is now so covered in sutured wounds that the girls have named him Franken (short for "Frankenstein"), develops a Stockholm syndrome-inspired attachment to Kit. Fancy wouldn't be so bothered by this if it weren't evident that Kit has grown to like Franken in return (which does not, by the way, stop her from cutting him up and asking if she can kill him). Even worse, Kit begins showing an interest in a boy named Gabriel, one of the sons of Kit and Fancy's father's last victims. The interest is mutual, and Gabriel's older brother, Ilan, seems equally interested in Fancy, much to Fancy's horror.

Fancy wants nothing more than for what's left of her family to stay together. She decides that the only way this is possible is if she can find a way for her and Kit to kill without any risk of being caught - then Madda would never find out their secret, no one would ever be able to send them to jail, and Kit would be able to kill to her heart's content and lose her newly-developed interest in Gabriel.

When Fancy gets her wish, everything seems perfect, at first. What Fancy is slow to realize, however, is that change is part of growing up. As Kit's world broadens to include more people than just her sister and Madda, Fancy worries that she will be left behind.

Commentary:

I read this book quite a while ago but delayed writing about it. Part of the reason for this is the discomfort I felt with how much I ended up identifying with Fancy. Even though it was Fancy's relationship with her sister that I identified with rather than her urges to kill (thank goodness, right?), it's still not a comfortable thing to see a part of yourself in a character who's a serial killer.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Blogger meltdown

Happily, I haven't posted anything recent enough to be affected by yesterday's Blogger meltdown, but I know that several of the blogs I keep track of lost their latest posts, possibly temporarily, possibly forever.

My first thought after reading about all of this was, "Huh, I guess I'd better be more diligent about backing up my blog." You can do that in Settings > Basic - there's a link near the top that lets you export your blog. This includes both posts and comments.

It occurred to me that I've never had an opportunity to try restoring a blog using a backup. That's where my test blog comes in handy. I have heaped all kinds of abuse on my test blog over the past few years, messing with its templates, fiddling with its code, adding widgets I'd heard about on other people's blogs. Anything I have wanted to do to this blog that in any way made me nervous was first tried out on my test blog - a good thing, too, since I sometimes messed up my test blog in spectacular ways.

So, I tried importing backups of this blog into my test blog. First, I imported a somewhat older backup. The import took a few minutes, possibly because I've got hundreds of posts. I did not have the "Automatically publish all imported posts" box checked, because I figure that, unless my blog is completely destroyed, I'd probably only want to publish a few posts. There is no option to just import a few posts, by the way - you can only import the entire backup.

All of my imported posts, plus their comments, ended up in the "Imported" area of Posting > Edit posts. At that point, I could choose which particular posts I wanted to publish, and then I could use the Select All feature to delete the rest a bit more quickly.

I was curious, though, about whether Blogger would be able to detect duplicate posts and prevent duplicates from being imported. That would really be helpful if you only had a few posts you needed to restore and wanted to use the "Automatically publish all imported posts" option. With that in mind, my next step was to try importing a slightly newer backup. The disappointing news is that it doesn't look like Blogger has any kind of duplicate detection - every single one of the posts imported, even when they were exact duplicates of older posts. I tried publishing a few duplicates, and they published just fine.

From the look of things, if you remember to back up your blog often enough, restoring it is pretty easy. I would advise not checking the "Automatically publish all imported posts" box, unless you were completely restoring your blog or adding you posts to another preexisting blog (importing your backup does not delete posts that have already been published - I had some test posts in my test blog that survived the import process just fine).

That said, even though I've tried to remember to back up my blog, I haven't made a practice of backing it up every time I post something - I could have been caught in the meltdown just as easily as anyone else. I guess I'll need to remember to export my blog more often. My last backup was from almost a month ago.

Anybody have anything else to add about backing up and restoring Blogger blogs? Since it backs up the posts and comments, I'm assuming it also backs up the pages - can anyone who uses Pages confirm or deny this?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Soul Eater (anime TV series), via Hulu

This is a 51-episode series. When I was maybe 30 episodes into it, I took an extremely long break from it, only going back to it when I learned that it was about to be removed from Hulu, so my memory of some of the earlier episodes is not so good.

Synopsis:

I'm a little fuzzy on some of the details of this world, but, basically, there are Meisters and there are weapons. A Meister is someone who wields a weapon, while the weapons are actually humans who can turn into weapons that can be wielded by Meisters. At the Death Weapon Meister Academy, young Meisters try to turn their weapons into a Death Scythe, a weapon fit to be wielded by Death, the academy's headmaster. In order to do this, Meisters and their weapons must collect the souls of 99 evil humans and one witch. Any mistakes or failures mean that they must start all over again.

The series focuses on Maka, a Meister, and Soul, her weapon (who takes the form of a scythe), as well as a few of their friends. Maka is a studious, rule-abiding student, while Soul is more laid back and just want to act "cool." They are joined by two other Meisters, Death the Kid (Death's son, who has an almost crippling obsession with symmetry) and Black Star (a loud, arrogant ninja who feels he is destined to surpass God). Death the Kid's weapons include Patty and Liz, who take the forms of guns. Black Star's weapon is Tsubaki, who can take the forms of several different kinds of weapons.

I originally thought the series was going to focus primarily on Maka and Soul's journey to turn Soul into a Death Scythe (apparently this does happen in the manga the anime is based on), but instead the series eventually focuses on an enemy determined to spread madness throughout the world.

Commentary:

If the length of a series like Naruto or Bleach scares you, but you'd still like to try a shounen series, this show might be for you. Its shorter overall length also means that the storyline is a little tighter than some of those other shows.

But still not tight enough. One of the show's biggest weaknesses is its pacing, which I think contributed to me basically getting tired of it and taking that long break a little over halfway through it. Although some parts of it are very action-oriented and fast-paced, other parts drag on and on. The final battle, for example, drags on for several episodes before rushing to a conclusion that didn't feel in keeping with the world's rules.

Monday, May 2, 2011

RideBack (anime TV series), via Hulu

Synopsis:

In the near future, a group called the GGP has taken control of the world. Rin Ogata, however, didn't care about any of that. She wanted nothing more than to be a ballerina of her mother's caliber, but a torn ligament made that dream impossible. Now she's in her first year of college, happy enough with her best friend Shoko, but still undecided about what she's going to do with herself. Then she's given a chance to ride a Rideback, sort of a cross between a robot and a motorcycle, and it's like she can dance again. Entranced by one particular RideBack, a red Fuego, Rin joins her university's RideBack club.

Rin's abilities as a ballerina give her the balance, agility, and finesse necessary to be an incredible RideBack rider. However, those same skills get her into trouble with the GGP and attract the attention of anti-GGP terrorists. As Rin's friends and family end up in danger, Rin must figure out the best path to take. Should she give up RideBacks the way she gave up dancing, or should she continue, even though RideBacks seem to bring those around her nothing but pain and death?

Commentary:

I'm not a fan of mecha anime or manga at all. In fact, I've only ever seen a couple episodes of what is probably the classic mecha series, Neon Genesis Evangelion. Sorry, Evangelion fans, but it bored me. I've never seen a single Gundam episode.

I think the mecha anime genre might be the one genre I actively avoid. I tend to think of it as being mainly about "a boy and his machine," filled with incomprehensible techno jargon, and largely depressing in tone (I think I got this impression from the small amount of Evangelion I watched).

Occasionally, however, there are mecha shows that remind me that what I think I know about the genre isn't necessarily true. RideBack is one of those. I was willing to give this show a shot, if only because, for once, this was a mecha series about a girl and her machine. And the girl wasn't a sex goddess with boobs obviously meant to be stared at by male viewers. Her habit of wearing a dress on a RideBack did give several male characters a good view of her panties, but it should be noted that viewers weren't actually shown her panties all that often (from what I can remember). I was pleasantly surprised.

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