Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You (manga, vol. 2) by Karuho Shiina

I think I managed to keep the spoilers to a minimum.

Synopsis:

Persistent rumors are flying around. Supposedly Yano went out with a hundred guys in middle school, supposedly Yoshida was a major delinquent in middle school, and supposedly Sawako is the one who started and spread all these rumors. Yano and Yoshida refuse to believe this at first, but then Sawako's behavior causes them to doubt her.

Sawako is, at first, unaware that anything is going on. Then she starts to notice that Yano and Yoshida are unhappy. When she finally learns about the rumors, she blames herself for their unhappiness and worries that, even if she can clear up the misunderstanding that she believed caused the rumors, her presence will only continue to bring them more unhappiness. She also worries that she will cause Kazehaya to become unpopular.

Miserable, Sawako is unsure of what to do. She was alone prior to meeting Kazehaya, Yano, and Yoshida, so she thought she could just go back to being alone, but she misses them too badly. At the same time, being with them seems selfish, since she thinks her presence will only cause them problems.

Meanwhile, Kazehaya has noticed the change in Sawako's behavior and is worried about her. Yano and Yoshida are miserable, too. Deep down, they feel that Sawako can't possibly be the one who started the rumors, but they haven't even been able to solidly confirm that Sawako really does like them.

Review:

Whereas Kiyo Fujiwara's Wild Ones continues to get a "so so" response from me, this series is solidly in the "absolutely love this" end of the scale for me.

This volume made me cry. I don't mean "It made me tear up." I don't mean "It put a lump in my throat" (although it did do that, too). No, I mean I had to actually wipe the tears away so I could keep reading. A while back, there was a blog I read called The Otaku Librarian (which sadly has not had any new posts in ages). It had a post on female friendships in anime and manga, which in turn linked to an Anime News Network post on female friendships in anime and manga. This manga, or at the very least this volume, would have been perfect for those discussions.

This entire volume is about the friendship between Sawako, Yano, and Yoshida. Shiina could have chosen to just spend a chapter on their friendship and then gone back to the romance slowly developing between Kazehaya and Sawako, but she didn't. Which I think is just awesome, and something you're still more likely to see in shounen manga than shoujo. Kazehaya is there, but (proving how great he is and how worthy he is of eventually ending up with someone as sweet as Sawako), although he frets a little about not getting to spend more time with Sawako, he purposefully stands aside so that Yano and Yoshida can be the ones to come to Sawako's rescue and so that Sawako can have more girl time with her new friends. Kazehaya was there for Sawako, but he was more there as the only person her age who was willing to talk to her, listen to her, and give her advice, rather than as her love interest (although there was that bit early on where she was fascinated by his forehead).

Wild Ones (manga, vol. 3) by Kiyo Fujiwara

There are a few spoilers in this post, but I don't think they're too major.

Synopsis:

This volume starts off silly and perhaps a little creepily, with a panty thief storyline. A couple of the yakuza guys find sexy underwear lying on the floor in the house and immediately assume they are Sachie's. Rather than give them to her or pretend they didn't see them and somehow arrange for her to find them, the guys pick them up and then have to find a way to get them back into her underwear drawer. Meanwhile, a panty thief is on the loose, but who would be so stupid as to break into a yakuza household?

In the next part of the volume, Sachie wins two free tickets to a hot spring, but in the end everyone goes with her because she can't possibly ask only one person to go. While there, Rakuto has a period of emotional instability after he overhears Sachie's grandfather saying, "I want Sachie to be with an honest, good man. Not yakuza like us..." Then Sachie is kidnapped by a man from Rakuto's (and Sachie's mother's!) past. On the kidnapper's orders, Rakuto must get to Sachie in time, all on his own.

In the final part of the volume, Sachie decides to cheer for Rakuto at one of his kendo matches and asks him if he'd like her to give him anything. He asks for a bento box. Unfortunately, the bento box she puts together gets a bit messed up after an encounter with a rude little boy, but Rakuto happily accepts and eats it anyway. The rude little boy, Koh, turns out to be the spoiled, lonely son of an important yakuza guest of Sachie's grandfather's. Sachie and Rakuto do their best to treat Koh more nicely than he deserves, but when Sachie tries to help him out and he knocks a bunch of food to the floor, she can't take it anymore. Surprisingly, Koh's indulgent father is impressed by Sachie's behavior towards his son...so much so that he asks her to be Koh's bride.

Review:

The panty thief thing was not a strong beginning for this volume. It had its funny moments (I loved the image of Sachie's grandfather freaking out over needing to get girls' underwear, and it's worth a giggle to see the usually perfect Rakuto get embarrassed), but a lot of it just emphasized how...not very bright...the people in Sachie's grandfather's gang are. It makes me wonder if they're maybe the poorest yakuza in all of Japan - I can't imagine most of them are successful at anything more than being thugs. And yet, they can somehow scrape together the money to send everyone to a hot spring in the next part of the volume.

So, in the next part, Sachie and Rakuto once again teeter just on the edge of acknowledging that they would like to be a couple. Once again, Fujiwara tries to turn status into a good romantic obstacle (Rakuto is just another member of the gang and Sachie's servant, and Sachie is the boss's daughter), and once again it doesn't quite fly with me. Fujiwara hasn't revealed much about Sachie's mother's relationship with her former caretaker yet, but I'm not entirely sure their situation was like Rakuto and Sachie's, so Fujiwara's attempt to link the situations of the two pairs of characters seemed like a bit of a stretch. All this part and its few revelations did was make me wonder who Sachie's father is, since it didn't look like her father was her mother's caretaker - I'm thinking any feelings he had for Sachie's mother were one-sided, although it did seem as though she at least felt affection for him.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

This post is brought to you by the color red

Looking at the cover art used in my last few posts, I seem to be going through a "red" period. I'm toying with the idea of purposefully having periods where I concentrate on reviewing works with cover/container art that is primarily of a single color. Unfortunately, I figure as soon as I decided on something like this, I'd want to do anything but read or watch things with that color. Plus, there are interlibrary loan items and library checkouts to consider.

I may still try out the color thing, but, even if I don't, I thought it might be fun to list everything I could find in my collection that looked predominantly red to me, or where the red really stood out. It turned out to be a longer list than I expected. I've organized the list according to whether something is animation, live action, manga, or books, but that's it. I thought about organizing it all alphabetically, too, but there turned out to be so much to list that I abandoned that idea. That's also why there are no links.

So, what's red in your collection? Any thoughts about color-themed posting?


Wild Ones (manga, vol. 2) by Kiyo Fujiwara

The synopsis is a bit spoilery, so beware.

Synopsis:

Sachie, Rakuto, and the rest of the yakuza gang go to the beach, where Sachie attracts the attention of a hot young cook at a food stand. Rakuto intervenes, and Sachie of course does not understand why. This little love triangle isn't anywhere near over, however, as Rakuto and Sachie later learn that the hot young cook, Azuma, is actually the grandson of the guy at whose inn they're staying. The grandfather, a friend of Sachie's grandfather, asks that they take care of Azuma for him while he's being hospitalized.

Now Rakuto has to deal with a romantic rival living right underfoot. In fact, they have to share a room. Sachie continues to be completely oblivious to the sparks flying between the two of them, but even she starts to wonder if Rakuto might really have feelings for her after he tells her, "Just let me be by your side. No one else but me by your side..."

When the student council at Sachie's school hosts a 3-day camping trip for everyone, regardless of what grade they're in, Sachie finds herself a little jealous of how popular Rakuto is with all the girls, and a little depressed/hurt that he can't spend time with her because he's so busy with his duties as student council president. There's a tradition in which people give their name tag to the person they'd like to dance with on the last night of the camping trip, and Sachie would like to give hers to Rakuto, but he's too busy to accept it...so she gives it to Azuma instead. Rakuto is hurt, and Sachie is miserable, but things work out in the end (for Sachie and Rakuto, anyway).

Next up is a school festival storyline, in which Sachie's class decides to do a netherworld cafe. Meanwhile, Rakuto is trying to fend off the president of the Film Club, who'd like to do another Rakuto-themed movie in order to drum up funding for her club. When Rakuto refuses to let himself be fangirl bait again (last year's film had him wearing glasses, standing in the rain, and starring in a shower scene), the Film Club president gets the bright idea to try to follow him around every second of the day and get whatever footage she can. She gets more than she bargained for when she catches Sachie in tough girl yakuza mode, going up against a guy who was taking surreptitious panty shots with his cell phone. The film becomes hugely popular at the school festival, and Sachie is horrified at the thought that she has inadvertently outed herself and Rakuto. Thankfully, some quick thinking on Rakuto's part saves the day.

Review:

I have to admit, I have a certain fondness for love triangles, depending on how they're done. I like the one Fujiwara introduced in this volume. Sachie probably considers Azuma a friend, but I'm not sure she recognizes that he likes her, and she absolutely doesn't realize that she has sparked a rivalry between him and Rakuto. What I particularly like about Rakuto having someone he feels is a rival for Sachie's love is that it puts cracks in his mask and forces him to show his true emotions more often. He also gets several great moments where he gets to demonstrate that he knows Sachie better than Azuma does - at this point, there's no doubt in my mind that Fujiwara still intends for Sachie to end up with Rakuto. Azuma isn't a true romantic rival so much as a way to stir things up a little.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Prisoner of Zenda (e-book) by Anthony Hope

It's another Project Gutenberg book! You can download it here.

I decided to read this because I remembered a bit in Kaoru Mori's Emma where Vivi read it and got all excited about it.

Synopsis:

Rudolph knows he is distantly related to the King of Ruritania (there's a whole long story about it - I had trouble keeping everything straight), but it's still a shock when he encounters the King and discovers that they look almost like twins. This turns out to come in handy when the King is drugged right before his coronation. If the King doesn't make it to his coronation, Michael, his villainous half-brother, can claim the throne in his stead, so Rudolph is asked to temporarily impersonate the King.

Michael has the real King kidnapped and kept prisoner in a castle in the small town of Zenda. The few people who know what Michael has done can't call him out without revealing that the man who actually attended the coronation was an impostor. Michael can't say anything about the "King" being a fake, because then he'd have to admit to drugging and kidnapping the real King.

Rudolph is doing his best to try to help rescue the King, but, while pretending to be the King, he falls in love with Princess Flavia, the King's betrothed. Princess Flavia, who had previously not been much interested in the King, now begins to fall in love with him, not realizing that she is falling for his impostor. Michael is in love with Princess Flavia and is not pleased that she favors Rudolph more. And, as if this love polygon weren't complicated enough, Antoinette de Mauban, a woman Rudolph originally met while on the train to Ruritania, is Michael's mistress. She is not at all pleased that Michael loves Princess Flavia more than he does her.

This all comes to a dramatic conclusion in which Ruritania and its King are saved, Michael is defeated, his traitorous henchman Rupert of Hentzau escapes (and gets a sequel), and Princess Flavia and Rudolph must tragically separate for the good of Ruritania.

Review:

At first, I enjoyed this book. I could barely follow all the long paragraphs about the connection between Rudolph and the Ruritanian royal family, and Rudolph himself was a bit too driftless for my taste, but I got excited when more hints of the “impostor” storyline I knew was coming began to turn up. When Rudolph and the King finally met, I settled down for an adventure I was sure was going to be fun.

The problem was, it wasn't as fun as I expected. Rudolph seemed to love rushing into battles, the dashing hero doing his part to avenge fallen comrades and save Ruritania and the King from Black Michael. Unfortunately, all I could think was, “Why is he risking his life? And is the risk even worth it?”

Rudolph is not a Ruritanian. He had barely even met the King before he was suddenly enlisted to become the impostor King. I suppose I could see why he might have initially agreed. At first, all he was really agreeing to was being the King at the coronation – it was a short-term thing, and probably not too difficult. After the King was kidnapped, though, continuing to be the impostor King meant he was risking his life for a country that wasn't really his and for a man he hardly even knew. I'm guessing this was supposed to be admirable, dashing, and heroic. I just thought it was a bit stupid, in large part because I couldn't see why anyone, much less a near stranger, would want to risk their life for this particular king.

Wild Ones (manga, vol. 1) by Kiyo Fujiwara

Synopsis:

All her life, Sachie's mother told her that she didn't have any other family, so imagine her surprise when, soon after her mother's death, a man claiming to be her grandfather arrives and invites her to live with him. She suspects something's up when she notices that he's missing a pinkie, but even that doesn't prepare her for the reality: her grandfather is the head of a yakuza gang.

Sachie's grandfather assigns the princely-looking Rakuto, the member of the gang closest to her in age (he's 16, she's 15), to be her bodyguard. He's a huge flirt, and all the girls at school love him (they have no idea he's a yakuza member), but Sachie can't even begin to guess what he's thinking.

What she doesn't realize is that Rakuto has cared about her since they first met, when they were children. Unfortunately for Rakuto, Sachie is the boss's daughter. He doesn't want to overstep his bounds when Sachie's grandfather has done so much for him. Sachie is the beloved princess of everyone in the gang, not just Rakuto - he can't just monopolize her, and he knows it.

In this first volume, Sachie tries to adjust to her strange new life. She invites Rakuto to the movies, gets a bit jealous when Rakuto receives a New Year's card from a person he calls his "first love," and tries to deal with the whole gang when they overdo things a little trying to get her a gift for her birthday.

Review:

I enjoyed this first volume, but there are already signs that the series probably won't be able to sustain itself very well for the 10 volumes I think it lasts. If Sachie weren't so blind, and if Rakuto weren't so averse to speaking about his true feelings, this series could have easily ended in one or two volumes. From what I could tell, Sachie's grandfather probably wouldn't mind if Sachie and Rakuto started dating – in fact, my current theory is that Sachie's grandfather is hoping they'll start dating. The other yakuza members would throw a fit, but they'd eventually be okay with it, too, as long as Sachie made it clear that Rakuto made her happy. There doesn't seem to be any obstacles keeping Rakuto and Sachie apart that they don't create themselves.

Even so, I found this volume appealing. There's not much here that lovers of shoujo romance haven't seen a million times before, except possibly the yakuza stuff that acts as background for everything, but then again the “criminals with hearts of gold” thing has been done before, too. “More of the same” isn't necessarily a bad thing, as long as you enjoy it and don't expect too much. This first volume hit some of the same notes I tend to enjoy in a lot of other shoujo manga.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Rose is a Rose (e-book) by Jet Mykles

As far as I can tell, this can only be purchased in e-book form.

Synopsis:

Carson is upset when Anthony, his boyfriend, breaks up with him just as he's considering suggesting that they move in together. All his adult life, Carson has been well taken care of by his boyfriends, and Anthony was no exception - during the six months they were together, Anthony helped Carson pay for his food, apartment, clothes, you name it. He also saw to it that Carson got a nice job as the "eye candy" at a burlesque show, even though Carson isn't much of a dancer or singer and doesn't have the ambition or willpower necessary to get better. Carson's primary talent is looking pretty - with the way he dresses and looks, it's not an uncommon occurrence for him to be mistaken for a woman.

Without Anthony, Carson's cushy life crumbles. He doesn't know if he can afford to pay for both his rent and food, and his job at the burlesque begins to go downhill. It would all be completely depressing if it weren't for Eddie, the superintendent of his apartment building. Eddie's a manly kind of guy: bearded, good with tools, likes sports. He's not the kind of man Carson usually goes for, and he's not rich enough to give Carson the kind of lifestyle he's used to, but...he's kind, quiet, and sweet. Even though Carson and Eddie are complete opposites, they make each other happy.

Carson's not sure what to do. He loves Eddie more than he has anyone else he's ever been with, but he also knows he needs to learn to stand on his own two feet. Plus, he feels that a great guy like Eddie could do a lot better than someone like him. When Anthony offers to take him back, will Carson succumb to the temptation to go back to the life he used to have, or will he take a risk and try to aim for something better?

Commentary:

The excerpt I read intrigued me, but as I started reading this book I wondered if I had made a mistake in choosing it. Carson seemed a bit like the male version of that perky blonde rich guys always seem to keep around like pets. I was a little surprised he actually had some idea of how to put together a budget and knew what all his bills were.

Amazingly, Carson turned out to be my favorite thing about this book. Instead of being annoyed that he let things get so bad by allowing himself to be completely taken care of by all his boyfriends, I found myself amazed that he actually recognized that this wasn't the best way for him to live. Nearly everyone in his life traded sex for money and pretty things and saw nothing wrong with doing so. In fact, Carson's mother encouraged him to find someone else who could give him the life he was accustomed to and, when Anthony returned and said he'd take Carson back, Carson's mother and one of his friends were thrilled and naturally assumed he'd go back to him. When Carson tried to talk about love with his mother, she dismissed it as foolish and unnecessary.

My impression of Carson was that he was basically a really nice, vibrant person who made a lot of mistakes and was easily blinded by pretty things. As bad as I felt for him, as his life quickly fell down around his ears, I think he needed for that to happen. Had Eddie been capable of giving him all the expensive gifts he was used to, Carson would probably have slipped into a happy, blind relationship with him, once again oblivious to how helpless he was without someone to take care of him. Since Eddie couldn't do that, since Carson liked being with him anyway, and since Carson's job was quickly becoming a source of unhappiness, Carson couldn't just continue to be blind to his own problems.

Change of Heart (book) by Mary Calmes

This is actually considerably cheaper to get as an e-book, but I've got the paperback version.

Although the cover makes it clear that this is m/m romance (the butt-grabbing of Shirtless Guy couldn't make it more obvious), it doesn't tell you much else. For those who'd like to know, this is a paranormal romance in a contemporary setting. The main characters are werepanthers.

Synopsis:

Jin Rayne, a werepanther, hasn't had a proper home since his tribe kicked him out for being both gay and a reah (very rare, the lifemate of a semel/tribe leader - Jin is the only male reah known to exist). Jin's best friend, Crane, chose to leave the tribe with him, so now the two of them travel from one place to the next. Although Crane would like to settle down and become part of a new tribe, Jin is afraid to, afraid that he'll possibly end up mated to a semel who won't want to have anything to do with a male mate.

Once the semels in the area find out there's an unmated reah in their midst, every single one of them wants to meet him face-to-face, to see if he's their mate. In spite of himself, Jin finds himself drawn to one particular semel, Logan. Even if Logan accepts him as his mate, however, will his tribe be able to accept a reah who can't possibly give their semel children?

Commentary:

Change of Heart is best for readers who enjoy or at least can tolerate Gay For You, paranormal romance that features the soulmate trope, and m/m romance that seems meant for those who'd just like to read about two hot guys who have the hots for each other (meaning, I'm guessing that those looking for realism would probably be disappointed).

This book was the very first m/m romance novel I ever read (unless you count Mercedes Lackey's The Last Herald Mage books – I don't, because, while they have strong romantic elements, I consider them to be more in the fantasy genre). I picked it precisely because I do like paranormal romance that features the soulmate trope. Whenever people start complaining about the soulmate trope on my favorite romance blogs, I can't resist jumping in to defend it, even though I sometimes start to feel like I'm the only one who still likes it.

Getting back on track: I have now read this book two or three times. Trying to say how I feel about it overall is...tough. On the one hand, I consider this book to be really flawed in a lot of ways. On the other hand, Calmes hit on enough of my favorite romance tropes that I was willing to put up with the flaws.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Your & My Secret (manga, vol. 1) by Ai Morinaga

Synopsis:

Akira, a good-looking but not very manly kind of guy, has a crush on Nakano, for reasons I don't really understand. Nakano looks like a lovely, sweet-natured girl, but anyone who gets in her way or talks to her quickly becomes aware that she's actually rude, violent, and direct to a painful degree.

When Nakano is called in sick at school, Akira volunteers to bring her the day's handouts. He learns that Nakano wasn't actually sick, but was instead being experimented on by her grandfather, who wanted to test something he invented that was supposed to make people smaller. Nakano volunteers Akira as a guinea pig instead of her, but then they both accidentally get zapped. Instead of becoming smaller, Nakano and Akira's personalities switch bodies.

Nakano seems perfectly fine with the situation, happy that she can do things without having to worry about being ladylike (never mind that she was never very ladylike anyway). Akira, on the other hand, is desperate to get back into his own body and frustrated that Nakano's grandfather doesn't even seem to be trying to fix the machine that could switch him and Nakano back.

In this volume, Nakano, in Akira's body, starts dating her best friend Shiina (who has no idea she's not dating Akira). Akira's best friend Senbongi falls in love (or would it be more accurate to say "in lust"?) with him, not realizing that he's dealing with Akira in Nakano's body. Also, Akira experiences his first period and learns how to bat his eyes and look cute in order to get his way with men.

Commentary:

This was recommended to me by a few people. I think this is only the second of Ai Morinaga's work I've ever tried, but it seems like Morinaga comes up with some great series premises. This bit of craziness was difficult for me to write about, because there were enough things I really disliked that I kind of feel like I shouldn't have liked it. Somehow I ended up enjoying it anyway.

If this volume's jokes had only centered around Akira being more feminine in his behavior and Nanako more masculine, I probably wouldn't have liked it as much as I did. What really got me laughing was Akira and Nanako's reactions to their body switch. Akira had the expected reaction – he's just enough of a teenage boy to be psyched at the chance to get to see his crush's naked body (hey, he has to undress and shower sometime), but he'd still like his own body and life back.

Nanako, on the other hand, revels in her new body. She approaches this situation like it's her ticket to try out any “guy thing” she might ever have wanted to do. For her, that means getting to do karate, having sex with a perfect stranger (technically, she didn't flat-out say she had sex, but it's implied and that's how Akira understands it), and dating Shiina, her best friend.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Nothing on books, manga, TV shows, or movies, but do try these cream biscuits

I haven't hardly watched anything lately (I think I burned out after frantically trying to watch all the shows FUNimation chose to remove from Hulu), but I've read quite a bit. I just haven't written anything. I'm behind by about 6 books/novellas (the line between the two seems to blur a bit in the e-publishing world), and, as far as manga goes, I've stopped keeping track of what I've read that I haven't yet written about.

Since I'm apparently not in the mood to write about what I've been reading lately, I thought I'd write about one of my current favorite recipes: super-easy cream biscuits. I added the "super-easy" bit myself, because it's true.

If you bake at all, you probably have several of the required ingredients on hand. The only things I didn't have were kosher salt (I haven't yet tried making these with regular table salt, so I don't know if it's vital that kosher salt be used) and heavy cream.

A couple numbers in this recipe are a bit wonky. The recipe says it makes 12, but the actual instructions say to cut the dough into 8 wedges. The first time I made this, I did exactly as the recipe said. The 8 wedges make some good-sized biscuits, each of which are pretty filling. I ate two of them in one sitting, which turned out to be a bit too much. The next few times I made these biscuits, I patted the dough into something like a rectangular shape and cut the rectangle into 16 pieces. Because my oven has a tendency to burn things if I bake them for even the minimum suggested time, I baked these for 9 minutes, checked them, and then baked for an additional minute. They were almost always done after about 10 minutes in the oven.

I'm used to baking bread in my bread machine, or at least having my bread machine knead my dough for me. Everything I've made with my machine's help has had yeast in it, which means all of it takes at least 3 hours, not counting cooling time. Biscuits that can be made, from start to finish, in about 20 minutes are amazing to me. I was a little nervous about kneading the dough the first time, but it was easier than I thought, and my bread machine taught me what good dough looks and feels like.

This really is a pretty forgiving recipe. I know I added too much heavy cream the first time (the cure: knead in more flour until the dough stops making wet sucking sounds), and I just finished baking some where I added a bit of the heavy cream to the dry ingredients before remembering that I had forgotten to thoroughly sift the dry ingredients together (the cure: stir as well as possible, then add the rest of the cream - the few biscuits I've eaten so far tasted fine, but I'm prepared for at least one to have too much salt or something).

Go, try these, they're easy and delicious. Now I'm going to go back to reading things I'll probably never get around to writing about.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Ooh, a way to turn RSS feeds into EPUB files

Just a quickie post - I plan to give more details later, once I've played around with this a bit more, but I'm excited enough to want to write a bit right now.

Out of curiosity, I was checking out some Firefox Add-ons and founds something called GrabMyBooks. GrabMyBooks lets you grab RSS feeds, web pages, bits of text on websites, and possibly other things I haven't learned about yet. Once you've grabbed what you want to read, it converts the whole thing into an EPUB file, which you can then read on your e-reader.

I've only tried it out a little so far, but it's pretty simple to use. I tried adding a couple feeds to it - it only works well if the feed is set to give you the full contents of posts, which isn't really surprising, but means that I can't just add Dear Author's feed. What I can do for a blog like Dear Author, however, is right-click on posts I'd like to read, choose "Grab this page," and GrabMyBooks will add the post to the list of things I want converted into an EPUB file.

From what I can tell, this add-on will only grab text, so if you're hoping to read something image-heavy on your reader using this tool, you're out of luck. Also, sometimes the grabs look a bit wonky. I tried adding the RSS feed for my own blog, and it couldn't seem to handle my bulleted lists of read-alikes and watch-alikes. Fortunately, GrabMyBooks has an easy-to-use editing feature that will let you go into each article and correct any formatting issues before you convert the whole thing into an EPUB file. It will also let you reposition the order that the articles are in, although you'll have to do this one by one.

I've only briefly looked at the results in my Nook. It looks like there might be some text-wrapping issues, but the results are still readable.

While I would still love it if the Nook's The Daily feature were a built-in RSS feed reader that allowed you to read whatever RSS feeds you wanted, online or offline (after getting online to refresh the feed), this seems like a good potential workaround.

------------------------
UPDATE, 6/11/11 - I did a bit more playing around with this add-on and the EPUB files it produces. No, it's not perfect. I would love if it had an option that allowed for the inclusion of images. I would love it if the title of the blog entry, article, web page, etc. were grabbed along with the body text - instead, you get the URL of the page. If you leave that URL as is and it's really long, it might not display in its entirety, or at least that's what happens on my Nook. Fortunately, you can change this bit of text using the add-on's edit feature. I would prefer it if the title were just automatically included, however.

I was wrong about a couple things. First, you can grab entries from RSS feeds that are set up to only display partial articles (up to the jump break). Second, that text-wrap issue turned out to only be a problem on one blog post. I'm not sure why that blog post had problems when none of the others did.

Another thing I like about this add-on - each "article" (blog post, grabbed web page text, etc.) is treated like a chapter, so, on the Nook, I can jump to a particular article (the default chapter title for each post/article/bit of grabbed text is "Article #", where # is a number, but I think you might be able to change this in the add-on's edit mode - I haven't tried this yet).

Some things I wish this add-on could do: I grabbed a couple blog posts, but didn't turn them into an EPUB file. I turned off my computer. When I turned my computer back on, there were no grabbed posts. It would be nice if there were a way to save your grabbed posts so you could accumulate however many you like and then create an EPUB file when you've decided you have enough things collected. I would also like it if there were a way to mark RSS feed entries as having been added to an EPUB file. At first, it looked like the ones that hadn't been added stayed bolded, while the ones that had were no longer bold. However, when I turned off my computer and then later got back on, all entries were bolded again.

For the most part, this seems to be a really nifty and useful Firefox add-on. Now I've got a whole bunch of posts I'd been meaning to catch up on saved on my Nook, for reading during spare moments here and there.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Bride's Story (manga, vol. 1) by Kaoru Mori

Synopsis:

This manga takes place somewhere in Central Asia in the 19th century.

For the most part, this first volume focuses on the daily life of the Eihon family, which has recently been joined by Amir, a young woman from a semi-nomadic tribe. Amir became part of the Eihon family after marrying Karluk, the family's youngest son.

Amir was a bit of a shock to her new family. They had been expecting someone closer to Karluk's age (he's 12 years old). At 20, Amir is less likely to bear Karluk lots of children than a younger bride. Even so, the two are married, and Amir tries to figure out her place in a new tribe that is, culturally, fairly different from the one she came from. Karluk's tribe used to be nomadic, but settled down in one spot several generations ago.

While Karluk and Amir are off looking for Karluk's uncle, whose tribe is nomadic, Amir's cousins and elder brother visit the Eihon family in order to ask for her back. They tell the Eihon family that a mistake was made, when what their tribe actually wants to do is marry Amir off to someone who will benefit them more.

Commentary:

This is only the first volume, but I'm already pretty sure I'm going to love this series as much as I loved Emma.

I'm willing to admit that this series might not be for everyone (although the thought brings me pain). Those looking for fast-paced action may find themselves bored by this volume. Amir's hunting skills add a little action, but a larger portion of the story is devoted to things like a child's fascination with an elderly woodworker's creations, Amir and Karluk looking for signs of Karluk's uncle, and Amir worrying about a sick Karluk.

If you're like me, though, and have a fondness for slice-of-life stories and lots and lots of character interaction that is as much about the characters' expressions, body language, and actions as it is about what they're saying, all of it made even better by gorgeous art...well, you'll probably love this.

Dreamlands (e-book) by Felicitas Ivey

Synopsis:

When Keno was 15, he hacked into a system he shouldn't have. Mason and Wolf were sent to kill him but couldn't bring themselves to do it, so instead Keno was kept prisoner at a facility run by a mysterious group known as the Trust. Mason, Wolf, and others who work for the Trust are sent out to kill monsters, but Mason, in particular, has begun to doubt that the Trust is any better than the monsters he's asked to kill.

Mason and Wolf do their best to protect Keno, but they can't be around all the time. When Keno is 19 or 20 years old, one of the higher ups in the Trust kills someone in order to open a Gate to another world, and then he rapes Keno. Tamazusa, one of the beings who lives in the other world, kills Keno's rapist and brings Keno back to her world, the Dreamlands, in order to present him as a gift to Samojirou. Although Tamazusa and Samojirou were (are?) consorts, they've never been lovers - Tamazusa was too badly mistreated by men when she was human to want to have anything to do with sex, and Samojirou prefers men.

Luckily for Keno, Samojirou prefers his lovers willing. While the Trust gears up to invade the Dreamlands by force, with Mason and Wolf as part of the initial invading force, Keno tries to heal both physically and emotionally. Because Keno is the avatar of Samojirou's former lover, who was the son of Fuse, a powerful being in the Dreamlands, it's not safe for him to be seen as himself. Keno is taught how to dress and act like a woman, and he finds himself surprisingly comfortable as "Sakura-chan." Although Keno gradually begins to trust and even love Samojirou, the memories of his rape still frighten him.

Once the Trust figures out how to send their people to the Dreamlands, what little peace and contentment Keno has been able to find may be in danger.

Commentary:

I pretty much flew through the first half of this book. I loved the balance between the fairly dark storyline involving the Trust and Samojirou's attempts to win Keno's trust. I loved pretty much everything that went on in the Dreamlands: the way Tamazusa and Samojirou interacted, Keno getting used to his new life in the Dreamlands, and Keno slowly building up confidence as Sakura.

Since there are many, many authors I am unfamiliar with in the e-book world, my e-book buying strategies have gone something like this: make a list of all books that have a style of cover art I like, read reviews of those books, and then read the excerpts of any books that are still in my wishlist after I read reviews. Yes, my very first step involves judging books by their covers - it was the easiest way to come up with a short list of e-books to potentially buy, because so many e-books have covers that don't appeal to me.

Being a manga and anime fan, manga and anime inspired e-book cover art is almost guaranteed to put a book on my initial list. That's how things went with Dreamlands. The reviews I read indicated that the book would have some things I might like, but I was a little worried when I read that Dreamlands featured first person perspective, alternating from three different characters' perspectives. First person from one person's perspective is hard enough for a lot of authors - first person from three different characters' perspective seemed like a recipe for disaster. I read All Romance's excerpt, which gave me a taste of Ivey's writing from each of the three perspectives, Mason, Samojirou, and Keno, and decided I was willing to give this book a chance.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

My first e-book buying mistake, followed by a nifty success

(Warning: the post below may be incredibly boring to anyone who isn't interested in file editing in general or e-book file editing in particular. I just wanted to get all this down in case I needed to remember it later. Plus, I'm proud that I managed to figure all of this out on my own. Yay!)

I haven't owned my Nook for long, and I haven't bought many e-books...up until a couple days ago, when I bought a whole slew of them in order to take advantage of some sales. With two of those books, I messed up.

I messed up differently with each one. With one, I was given a choice of file types and chose one that I thought worked on a Nook - html. I later realized that, no, html files can't be read on a Nook. With the other book, I didn't notice that the place I was buying it from didn't offer the book in EPUB format, or I would have bought it from another site instead. What I ended up with was a choice of 3 file types, only 1 of which could be read on a Nook.

Calibre turned out to be my savior in both cases.

With the html file, I first tried converting the file directly into an EPUB file. The results were ugly, and there were some formatting issues - if I remember right, some of the quotation marks, but not all, were not displaying. The site I bought the book from only allows buyers to download one file type, so I was stuck (although, if I had been really, really stuck, I could have emailed them, requested a file type I could use - in this case PDF would have been my only immediately usable option - and they would hopefully have helped me out). What I ended up doing was opening the html file, copying all the text, and pasting it into Open Office Writer. I saved it as a Rich Text file and then converted that into an EPUB file.

That looked much better than when I had converted the html file directly into an EPUB file, but there were still some formatting oddities I wanted to take care of. So, I went back into the Rich Text file, got rid of the extra spacing between paragraphs that I noticed when I converted the file into an EPUB file, indented the paragraphs, and then turned the Rich Text file back into an EPUB file. It now looks lovely, except for the copyright page, which is a giant blob of not-very-eye-friendly text. I could probably fix that, too, but I've already taken care of the problems I really wanted to take care of, so I think I'm done.

With the other book, I had three file types to choose from: PDF, .lit, and .prc. I can read a PDF file on a Nook, but the results usually aren't pretty at my preferred font size. I've read a novella in PDF format, but I didn't want to have to read a whole book in PDF if there was a better option. I tried converting the PDF file into an EPUB file using calibre. I can't remember exactly what was messed up, but I do remember that the results weren't good.

I vaguely remembered reading on one of the many book blogs I keep track of that calibre is good at changing .lit files into other file formats, so I decided to try converting that - the site I bought this particular book from let me download all file formats I wanted, not just one. When I converted the .lit file into an EPUB file, the results were lovely...except for one thing: all em dashes were turned into single question marks. Double question marks I can handle, but single question marks are too easily confused with question marks that are actually meant to be in the text.

I did some Googling, and what I read seemed to indicate that my problem would be solved if I specified what the character encoding of the original file was, so I tried that. The problem still wasn't fixed. I noticed that, weirdly enough, although the em dashes were displayed as single question marks on my Nook, they displayed just fine on my computer via calibre.

The file conversion screen in calibre has a section called Search & Replace. I had the .lit file open for viewing in calibre, so I copied the first em dash I found, pasted it into the first "Search Regular Expression" field, and typed "--" (two dashes, no quotation marks) in the replacement text field.

When I converted the .lit file into an EPUB file this time, the results were perfect - the double dashes I used to replace the em dashes were displayed as em dashes on my Nook.

It looks like my record editing skills are good for more than just globally editing large numbers of MARC records. I just hope I don't have to do this sort of thing often - I much prefer my e-books to be perfect and usable right away.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...