Saturday, December 31, 2011

Romancing Mister Bridgerton (book) by Julia Quinn

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

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

Synopsis:

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 30, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Never a Bride (e-book) by Amelia Grey

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

Synopsis:

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

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

Bunraku (live action movie)

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

Synopsis:

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

Sunday, December 18, 2011

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

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

Synopsis:

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

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

Review:

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

Saturday, December 17, 2011

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

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

Synopsis: 

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

Sunday, December 11, 2011

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


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

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

Synopsis:

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

Friday, December 9, 2011

Otome Yokai Zakuro (anime TV series), via Crunchyroll

Synopsis:

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Basilisk (e-novella) by Kate Cotoner

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

Synopsis:

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

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

Review:

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

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

Saturday, December 3, 2011

On Apology (non-fiction book) by Aaron Lazare

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

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

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

Friday, December 2, 2011

Catman (anime), via Crunchyroll

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

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

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

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

Synopsis:

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

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

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

Review:

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