Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Swoop!, or How Clarence Saved England, a Tale of the Great Invasion (audio book) by P.G. Wodehouse, read by Kristin Hughes

Another book I listened to for free via Librivox. This book is also available via Project Gutenberg.

Synopsis:

When England is simultaneously invaded by 9 different armies, the country's fate lies in the strength of one of its biggest secret societies, the Boy Scouts. Clarence, a Boy Scout held in great esteem by his colleagues, has concocted a plan to overthrow the invaders.

Review:

This book was very different from the P.G. Wodehouse books I'm used to. Unlike Wodehouse's Jeeves books or Jill the Reckless, The Swoop!'s characters weren't really the focus of the story. The summary on the Librivox page indicates that this book has many references to well-known figures of Wodehouse's time – I caught not a single one of those references, but that would explain why, although characters, like Clarence and the German and Russian generals, do exist, they all felt more like caricatures than actual people. Maybe they really were caricatures.

Even though certain aspects of The Swoop! apparently went completely over my head, I still enjoyed this, although not nearly as much as some of Wodehouse's other books. It felt like the weird fantasies of a nerdy little Boy Scout who is convinced that he is unappreciated.

Jill the Reckless (audio book) by P.G. Wodehouse, read by Don W. Jenkins

I listened to this for free via LibriVox, which is like Project Gutenberg for audio books. Incidentally, this book can be downloaded via Project Gutenberg. It is also available via Project Gutenberg under its alternate title, The Little Warrior.

Synopsis:

Jill's life is good, and she is happy. She has money, and she's engaged to Sir Derek Underhill. Then she encounters Wally, who, when they were children, used to be a big bully. Wally admits that he was in love with her, and still is. Jill likes his company and thinks he's nice, but she loves Derek, so the two of them go their separate ways.

Unfortunately, Derek's mother doesn't like Jill, and Derek starts to doubt that marrying Jill is really the best thing to do. These doubts coincide with Jill's uncle losing all of her money. Heartbroken after Derek ends their engagement, Jill heads to America with her Uncle Chris, where she becomes a chorus girl in a production that seems doomed to fail. When Jill meets Wally again, she gets another chance at love, but first she has to get over Derek.

Review:

There are times when listening to audio books makes my work go faster. Jill the Reckless made for perfect work-time listening – it was light and funny, and if I happened not to hear every single word it didn't really matter.

When I first started this book, I wasn't sure I'd like Jill. She was very naive, believing that her and Derek's love could easily withstand anything Derek's mother might throw at them. When her Uncle Chris lost all her money, Jill felt more sorry for Chris than for herself, seemingly unaware that her life had just been turned upside down. Of course, at the time she still figured she'd be marrying Derek soon, so I suppose money really wasn't all that big of a concern to her. Jill was nice, almost to a fault – she didn't get even a little angry at her Uncle Chris, despite the fact that anger would have been a perfectly natural emotion for her to feel.

Considering how broke Jill was during most of the book, I'm still not quite sure how she managed to do some things, like traveling to New York to find Uncle Chris. I have no idea how much that would have cost, but I would have thought it was more than she could afford. Maybe if I had been reading the book, rather than listening to it, things like that would have bothered me more.

Because I was listening to it, I mostly just sat back and enjoyed the humor. I appreciated that, although the cast of characters was fairly large, it was still easy to remember who everyone was and what part they played in the story. Derek was a bit of a jerk. His friend Freddie was a genial sort, but not very bright. Uncle Chris was a con-man to his very marrow – one of his few redeeming features was his affection for Jill and desire to make things right by her again (although she wouldn't have had any money problems if he hadn't caused them in the first place). Even the more minor recurring characters tended to be easy to remember and tell apart.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Huntress (book) by Malinda Lo

Malinda Lo gets the best covers - I think this one is even nicer than the one for Ash. I don't think it's entirely accurate, though. Assuming that's Kaede, her weapons were a tiny dagger (which I supposed wouldn't look as impressive) and a bow.

Anyway, if you haven't read Ash yet, don't worry, you still should be able to read this book without any problems. I think it would stand alone nicely. The only thing those who hadn't read Ash would miss out on is the hints of King's Huntress stuff near the end of the book.

I'm going to warn romance lovers right now: although things don't end depressingly, you won't find a "happily ever after" for Taisin and Kaede in this book. I could see one for Kaede in a future book, though.

Synopsis:

This book takes place several centuries prior to the events in Lo's Ash, in the same world.

The human world is out of balance. The sun hasn't shone in years and people (except, of course, for those who are rich) are starving. Strange, horrifying, and dangerous creatures have started appearing. When the king receives an invitation from the Fairy Queen, he sends his son, Con, several trusted guards, Taisin, and Kaede on a journey to Taninli, the place where the Fairy Queen lives. Taisin, a prodigy at the Academy who hopes to one day become a sage, saw that she and Kaede would be part of the group going on the journey. Taisin's vision also showed her several things she hopes aren't true: one, that Kaede may die on this journey, and, two, that she will fall in love with Kaede. Sages must be celibate, so Taisin does her best to ignore her growing awareness of Kaede and keep an emotional distance between the two of them.

While on their journey, the group encounters many of the horrific creatures they were told about, and several of their members die. When they finally do make it to the Fairy Queen, they learn what must be done in order to restore balance to the world. And, um, after they do that they have one other thing to do before they're really done.

Review:

At first, I was all set to say Huntress was all-around a better book than Ash. It didn't take half the book for all the main characters to show up, and the various monsters the group encountered added a nice creepiness factor. I thought the bit with the “baby” was particularly horrific. Lo was also not shy about killing people off. I was pretty sure certain characters were probably not going to survive the whole book, but I wasn't absolutely sure, and that was enough to keep me on the edge of my seat, waiting to see their fates.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Complete Book 3 Collection (non-Japanese animation, TV series)

The short version: I love this series and really enjoyed most of this season. My post is heavy on the fangirly joy, and there are, as usual, a few spoilers.

Now for the (really) long version.

Synopsis:

This is the third and final season. The Fire Nation has taken over the Earth Kingdom, but Aang and his friends believe they still have one last chance to win: the Day of Black Sun. During the solar eclipse, Firebenders will lose their Bending, making them vulnerable to attack. Several members of Aang's group gain new abilities and get extra training, and Aang still has plenty of allies to stand at his back. It should be simple to win against the Fire Nation. Unfortunately, the invasion on the Day of Black Sun fails and most of Aang's allies end up as prisoners.

Now, Aang's only chance is to learn Firebending and defeat Firelord Ozai before Sozin's Comet, which will give all Firebenders unimaginable power, arrives. Aang doesn't know anyone who could possibly act as his Firebending teacher - until Zuko offers his help. Aang and his friends turn Zuko down at first, and it takes a while for them to learn to trust him.

Even after Aang has begun his Firebending studies, he worries that he won't be able to beat the Firelord. Most Avatars receive years of training in the various elements before declaring that they've mastered them, and Aang has had less than a year to learn Waterbending, Earthbending, and Firebending. If Aang doesn't face the Firelord, however, there may not be a world to save after Sozin's Comet leaves. Aang, a peaceful person at heart, doesn't want to kill anyone, not even Firelord Ozai, but what choice does he have?

Review:

I love this show so much I could easily write pages and pages about this final season, but I'm going to try to rein myself in. (Ha ha.)

I was trying to decide which was better, the second season or the third season. I think, in terms of scenes that made me go all squealing fangirl, the third season wins, with the jaw-dropping awesomeness of the second-to-last episode weighing heavily in its favor.

LinksWithin

I'm trying something new. I've added LinksWithin to the blog, which generates "You might also like..." suggestions based on other posts I've written for this blog. My main reason for doing this was that I wanted to make some of my older posts more visible. LinksWithin was easy to set up, although I'm not sure yet if I like it. It doesn't get hidden by my jump breaks, so I wonder if the "Read more" links will now be even easier to miss.

If you read my blog by actually visiting the blog (as opposed to reading it via RSS feeds), what do you think about this change? Do you use LinksWithin (or something similar) on your blog? Are there any huge benefits or drawbacks you've noticed?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Blood Alone, Omnibus Collection 1 (manga, vols. 1-3) by Masayuki Takano

Synopsis:

Misaki is a young vampire who lives with Kuroe, a young man who makes a living by writing novels and occasionally agreeing to do things like finding a person's lost cat. From what I could tell, he doesn't seem to be all that hard up for money, so I guess his books sell well.

Kuroe apparently used to be a vampire hunter (and a police detective?). Because of an injury Kuroe suffered when he tried to save his sister from being killed (?) by a vampire, his eyes are immune to vampire tricks. I'm assuming he became Misaki's companion/guardian not long after she was turned into a vampire.

A few chapters in this omnibus deal with supernatural-related things: a killer who can move to a new body after the body he's currently in dies; Kuroe worrying that Misaki might be killing people in secret; an assassin on the run from the Insegrod Sparuda, a league of vampiric assassins and mercenaries. However, most of the chapters read like something from a slice-of-life series: Misaki trying to find a lost cat; Sainome (a police officer?) trying to process her feelings of resentment and anger towards her father after his death; Misaki trying to figure out what to do when Kuroe gets sick. The description on the back of this omnibus volume is misleading, making it seem like it's more vampire/supernatural-focused than it really is.

Review:

I finished this several weeks ago and have been debating what to write about it since then. Prior to reading Katherine Dacey's review of this omnibus collection, I didn't know much about this series other than that I thought the cover looked kind of pretty. Dacey's review and all the various comments made me curious to see what I would think about this series.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Marrying Miss Marshal (book) by Lacy Williams

Synopsis:

The book is set in the Wyoming Territory in 1889. Chas O'Grady is a private detective, hired to look into reports of cattle rustlers in the area. He's a city boy, but he figures he'll do just fine...until he's nearly flattened by a stampede. He's saved by Danna Carpenter and doesn't react well to that. Danna assumes he's merely upset at being saved by a woman, but it's more than that. Four years ago, the woman Chas loved was killed, leaving him with paralyzing fear that other women in his life might be hurt. He left his parents and sister behind and did his best not to get to know any other women well, but he can't help but feel an immediate connection to Danna.

It isn't until later that he learns that Danna is actually the local marshal. Her husband, the previous marshal, had made her one of his deputies, and she had been made the new marshal after he was killed. Now, Danna is determined to find his killer and win the respect of the townspeople, but it's an uphill battle. No one will agree to be one of her deputies, so she's left to do her job all on her own.

Chas needs a job if he wants to blend in until his investigation is complete, but the only available job he's capable of doing is being one of Danna's deputies. Being Danna's deputy means possibly growing closer to a woman with a dangerous job, a woman he might have to watch die the way he watched the woman he loved die. Chas doesn't want to do that, but he has a job to do.

Review:

I originally heard about this book via a review over at Misadventures of Super Librarian. It's not something I would normally have read, because I tend to be leery of inspirational romance (well, Christian fiction in general, really) and because I'm not big on Wild West settings. I was reassured by Wendy's comment that the religious aspects of the book were pretty light, since I prefer not to feel like my recreational reading is preaching at me. I didn't immediately cave and buy the book, though, until I had a really crappy day. Some people buy chocolate or a tub of ice cream at such times. I buy a book. Actually, sometimes I buy ice cream or chocolate, but this particular bad day was a book kind of day.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens (live action movie)

Although I still go to my local movie theater a lot, I hardly ever write about the movies I see there anymore - it's usually just too much effort for me to keep what happened in my head. I just saw Cowboys & Aliens, however, and I really want to write about it, so here you go.

I waffled about whether or not I really wanted to see this movie. The weekend before last, I saw Captain America and the final Harry Potter movie, but I skipped out on Cowboys & Aliens. Last weekend, I skipped out on this movie again, because it was too hot outside for me to want to go anywhere. I read viewer comments and film critics' reviews, and I still couldn't decide whether I really wanted to see this movie. Comments ranged from "this movie sucked and I hated sitting through the whole thing" to "no, it isn't great, but it's still a fun time at the movies."

My verdict? If you haven't seen this yet and decide you'd like to, go with a friend. This is the kind of movie that's most enjoyable when you're making fun of it, and that always goes better when there's someone who can laugh along with you. It's a fairly crappy movie, but not crappy in a way that made me want to vomit or cry (see my post on Gamer for an example of a movie of that sort). My ticket only cost me $3, and I felt I at least got my money's worth in explosions and getting to watch the rich guy's annoying jerk of a son repeatedly get his butt kicked at the beginning of the movie.

Now for the details.

Synopsis:

A guy (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the desert with a wound in his side and no memory of anything about himself, how he got there, or how he got a big metal bracelet he can't remove clamped around his wrist. After stealing a horse, a gun, and some clothes, he heads to town, where he gets his wound treated and learns that he's a wanted man named Jake Lonergan. One of the people he stole a lot of money from happens to be the town's richest, meanest guy, Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford).

One of the women in town, Ella (Olivia Wilde), seems to know something about the things Jake can't remember, but, before he gets a chance to talk to her, an alien aircraft shows up and starts blowing things up and snatching various people away. Lonergan blows the aircraft up with his bracelet. The various survivors decide to band together to try to get their people back and kill all the aliens. Their group is later joined by Lonergan's gang (after some fighting) and some Indians (after some arguing and an Unexpected Event).

Review:

I have a feeling that someone at Hollywood originally came up with the idea for this movie after saying something like "Wouldn't it be cool if someone you totally wouldn't think could beat technologically advanced aliens did? Like maybe cowboys versus aliens?" So, there's the basic idea, but there still needs to be some kind of logic and story, right? What could a bunch of technologically advanced aliens possibly want from a bunch of Wild West folks?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Morning Glories (graphic novel, vol. 1) words by Nick Spencer, art by Joe Eisma, covers by Rodin Esquejo

I never know which of the many people involved in the creation of a graphic novel to list. These three names were listed on the cover and the spine, but there's also Alex Sollazzo (colors), Johnny Lowe (letters), Tim Daniel (design), and Jim Valentino (publisher/reprint editor).

Please note that the artist who did the covers and the artist who drew the actual comic are two different people - they have very different art styles, so don't assume that the cover image I included on the left is what the comic looks like.

Synopsis:

Morning Glory Academy, one of the most prestigious prep schools in the country, has gained 6 new students.
  • Ike - He's from a wealthy family and has been kicked out of seven schools. He's slick, arrogant, and highly intelligent, and he thinks he's God's gift to women. He has no respect for rules or authority. Actually, he has no respect for other people, period. He's quite possibly a sociopath.
  • Casey - Highly intelligent, with her best subject being physics. She comes from a very loving family and has wanted to go to Morning Glory Academy for years.
  • Zoe - She's an adoptee. Prior to going to Morning Glory Academy, she had multiple boyfriends, none of whom knew about each other. From the look of things, she dated them mostly because they gave her gifts and fawned over her.
  • Hunter - He has a good relationship with his stepbrother, but that's it. His father barely seemed to notice when he left for Morning Glory Academy.
  • Jade - Very, very emo. She baffles and kind of freaks out her family, but they put up with it.
  • Jun - From Tokyo. He knows how to fight.
Nearly from the start of the volume, it's clear that something's not right with Morning Glory Academy. Miss Daramount, the faculty liaison, seems particularly interested in Casey, doing her best to break her and force her to do as she's told. After Miss Daramount nearly drowns all the students in an attempt to get Casey to answer a question about Bell's Theorem, one of the new students is taken away. Casey becomes determined to get her back, but she can only do that with the help and cooperation of the other new students.

Review:

Reading this was, for me, like watching the first season of Lost. It's weird, freaky, and often horrifying, and I'm still not sure what's going on, but I'm totally willing to see where the series is going to go.

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