Saturday, April 27, 2013

Hold the Dark (e-book) by Frank Tuttle

Hold the Dark is a short fantasy novel published by Samhain Publishing. It's 52,545 words long, according to All Romance Ebooks. According to this page, it's the fourth work in Tuttle's Markhat series. I think it would be possible for newbies to the series to start with this book, if they wanted, although I have no idea if later book refer to the events of the first three works in the series.

Synopsis:

Markhat's newest clients are the Hoobin brothers. They're looking for their sister, Martha Hoobin, who has disappeared. The Hoobin brothers are convinced someone has kidnapped, hurt, or killed her, and they'd like her found. Markhat privately wonders if she ran away, maybe found herself a young man. The Hoobin brothers say she worked as a seamstress at the Velvet, a high-class brothel - as much as the brothers swear otherwise, what if sewing wasn't all Martha did?

Despite Markhat's initial suspicions, Martha does seem to have been exactly what her brothers claimed she was. Everyone was charmed by her, and her sewing skills were prized at the Velvet. However, Markhat and Martha's brothers aren't the only ones trying to find her - Markhat soon finds himself reluctantly joining forces with vampires from House Avalante. The vampires have a secret they'd desperately like to keep, and that won't be easy if Martha dies and her death is investigated.

Review:

I've mentally divided this book up into the first two thirds or so, which I loved, and the last third, which was a bit of a disappointment.

The Loop (book) by Shandy Lawson

The Loop is sorta kinda a YA time travel thriller - it's not exactly time travel, but it's close. I picked up an ARC of it at a conference. It's published by Hyperion and should be available on April 30, 2013.

Synopsis:

Although Benjamin keeps having mild deja vu, it's not until he meets Steve, and then Maggie, that he learns he's stuck in a loop.

Time usually moves linearly, but sometimes, for unknown reasons, it starts to loop for certain people. Benjamin's lasts for a few days, during which he meets Maggie, Maggie shoots Roy, he and Maggie run from Roy and the cops until they can convince an adult to bet on some horses for them and win them a lot of money (Maggie knows which horses will win), and the two of them are killed by Roy in Shreveport. After that, everything starts over again.

Benjamin's memory of previous repetitions of their loop isn't very good. Even so, he recognizes Maggie and knows, the instant he meets her, that he cares about her. He's not sure how she feels about him, but he knows that he wants her to survive. Together, they try to find a way to break out of their loop, but will they be able to do it when everything around them seems to be forcing them to Shreveport, where Roy has killed them every single time?

Review:

I had problems with this book's premise right from the start. I tried to ignore them and just enjoy the ride, but it was hard – my brain kept interrupting with questions that the book never satisfactorily answered. For example, since Steve's loop lasts less than a month, what happens to him after that time is up? Does he die at the end of his loop, the way Maggie and Benjamin did? If not, then how could he continue to exist past the end of his loop? If he did die at the end of his loop, how could he ever manage to break it? Unless every single individual who has ever gotten stuck in a loop has created multiple parallel timelines or something? Just trying to figure out the logic of the loops makes my brain hurt.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Good Witch of the West, Vol. 1: The Girl of Sera Field (book) by Noriko Ogiwara, illustrations by Haruhiko Momokawa

The Girl of Sera Field, the first volume of Ogiwara's The Good Witch of the West, is a fantasy light novel. I found it at a used bookstore. It was published by Tokyopop, which, unless it has lurched to life again, no longer publishes anything in North America.

My review is a bit spoiler-y.

Synopsis:

Firiel is excited: now that she's 15, she can celebrate Queen's Birthday by attending the ball at the Count of Rualgo's castle. She has spent her whole life in tiny little Sera Field, cared for mostly by Madame and Master Holy, and now she'll get to wear a bit of finery and dance among aristocrats. Madame Holy has made her a beautiful new dress, but the biggest surprise is something Rune, her father's apprentice, brings her: a beautiful necklace with a blue gemstone. All Rune can say is that it may have belonged to her mother, who died long ago.

The ball isn't what Firiel expected. Her dress doesn't look quite as gorgeous next to the clothing of the aristocrats, and no one seems eager to ask her to dance. Her friend Marie goes looking for Lady Adale, hoping to impress her enough to one day become her lady's maid, and Firiel goes with her. Firiel catches the eye of Eusis (Lord Eusis Roland? Also, the next Count of Rualgo), who is sure he's seen her somewhere before. Firiel and Marie are both flustered and have no clue what Eusis is talking about. Eusis' friend, Baron Lot Chrisbard, lightens things up a bit and encourages Eusis to ask Firiel to dance, while he dances with Marie.

The evening suddenly becomes much lovelier for Firiel and Marie. Lady Adale's arrival should make things even better, except that Adale recognizes Firiel's necklace. It's the necklace of Princess Edilene, who disappeared at around the same time Firiel was born. In fact, Edilene was Firiel's mother. However, Edilene relinquished her title, so nothing has really changed: Firiel is still a commoner. The only difference is, she can now consider Adale her cousin (Adale was adopted into the Roland family).

When Firiel goes home, she figures this will be the last of it. Lady Adale may be her cousin, but she'll still have an ordinary life in Sera Field. Unfortunately, her life takes a rapid turn for the worse: someone's been murdered, her astrologer father has disappeared and may be the murderer, and people are after both her and Rune.

Review:

I might have liked this book better if the beginning hadn't been such a slog to get through. The pacing was kind of bad, and Firiel was so very beloved by everyone. It seemed like the only blemish in her life was her relationship with her father, but, since she barely lived with him, it didn't seem to matter much. Thankfully, the story picked up a bit after Firiel met Eusis and found out her mother's true identity.

The Sheik (e-book) by E.M. Hull

The Sheik is a romance novel and is credited with launching the popularity of the "desert romance" sub-genre. It was originally published in 1919, and I downloaded it for free via Project Gutenberg.

This post contains spoilers.

Synopsis:

Lady Diana Mayo grew up primarily under her brother's care. He had no clue how to raise a young girl, so he treated her as though she were a boy. As a result, Diana is fairly independent and strong-willed. She is beautiful but barely notices or even cares about the effect she has on men. While visiting the Algerian city of Biskra, she convinces her brother to let her travel in the desert with a small party of natives. He gives her one month to do as she wishes.

Unfortunately for Diana, her guides have been bribed. They are soon overtaken by Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan's men, and she is kidnapped. Ahmed repeatedly rapes her. Although Ahmed's people, particularly his French servant, Gaston, treat her with kindness, their loyalties lie entirely with the sheik. There is no chance they will help her to escape, and there is no sign they believe that what Ahmed is doing is wrong.

At one point, Diana almost manages to escape. Unfortunately, Ahmed catches up to her, shoots her beloved horse out from under her, and captures her again. It is at this point that she decides she loves him. Right at the beginning, he told her that if she ever falls in love with him, she will cease to interest him. She does her best to hide her love for him in order to stay with him. By the way, just because she loves him doesn't mean she has stopped fearing him.

Ahmed's hereditary enemy, Ibraheim Omair, kidnaps Diana after learning that Diana is precious to Ahmed. Ahmed gathers up his men and rushes to take Diana back, having finally realized that he loves her. He arrives in time save her from being raped by his enemy but gets wounded while killing everyone around him. After he heals from his injuries, Diana lives in fear that he will send her away, as his coldness towards her seems to indicate he will. It's not until after she nearly commits suicide that she learns that Ahmed has come to love her. She chooses to stay with him and be his wife.

Review:

I don't know how this is possible, but somehow I liked and was horrified and repelled by this book, all at the same time. I started reading it after reading snippets of Janet's Dear Author post, “Can't Find My Way Home.” I have read very few older romance novels and no sheik/desert romance novels (although I do own an as-yet unread copy of Marguerite Kaye's Innocent in the Sheikh's Harem). I figured I might as well give this one a try since I could get it for free. I knew to expect racism and a rape-y male protagonist, but that didn't seem to help me much once I was actually reading the book. I almost DNF'ed it a couple times, and yet I can't say I truly hated it. It's weird.

Gamerz Heaven (manga, vol. 2) by Maki Murakami

Gamerz Heaven has action, comedy, and fantasy elements. It was licensed by ADV Manga, which no longer exists.

Synopsis:

The previous volume ended with Kaito and Nata facing the final boss. Things don't look good for Kaito, even after all his friends suddenly join his party. Fortunately, Kaito notices that the final boss is actually a fake. He defeats her and the group moves on.

Their primary goal, at the moment, is keeping others from identifying Nata as the Navigator. They stop at a cosplay/item shop to pick up some equipment, only to learn that the shop uses a bartering system. They have nothing to barter, so they agree to be the shopkeeper's errand boys and deliver a package for him. This soon lands them in trouble, as they run into Tada and his buddies, the bullies from Kaito's school in the real world. Their boss turns out to be Itsuki, the girl who, in the real world, secretly hated Kaito and directed the bullies to act against him. Itsuki is the new area boss.

Due to Kaito's stupidity, it's not long before Itsuki and her minions figure out that Nata is the Navigator. Strangely enough, Itsuki doesn't seem all that interested in taking Nata. All she really wants to do is kill Kaito. What no one realizes, though, is that Rush and a new character, Lost Soul, are watching everything. Lost Soul kills Itsuki for being a traitor (i.e. for not being interested in capturing Nata) and, soon after that, things go from bad to worse as the entire city is wiped out as though it never existed.

Review:

I had a lot of fun with the first volume of this series. This volume wasn't as good.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

By the Howling (e-novella) by Olivia Stowe

By the Howling is a cozy mystery published by Cyberworld Publishing. All Romance Ebooks says it's 26,132 words long.

Synopsis:

Retired, divorced, and newly-moved to a small village, Charlotte thinks her crime-solving days are over. She gets involved in as many activities as possible (including becoming mayor of the village) in the hope of keeping her mind from stagnating, and she enjoys frequent visits from Sam, her neighbor's friendly husky.

Then life becomes a little more complicated. Brenda, a famous former actress, moves to the village. Susan, one of the village's more annoying residents, is missing and may have been murdered. And several people, including Charlotte, believe they may have had valuables stolen from them.

Review:

I bought this back when I was looking for non-skeevy f/f books. The description sounded promising, more focused on the mystery than on the main character jumping into bed with another woman. Now that I've finished it, I can say that the f/f aspects are pretty light. I think Charlotte has sex maybe once, but you can't even call it a sex scene, because it's completely skipped over.

When I first started reading this, I thought I was going to really like it. Charlotte was relatively new to the village, so I looked forward to seeing her inadvertently (or on purpose) stir up some trouble just by not knowing where all the eggshells were located. She was divorced and retired and, although she didn't really miss either her job or her husband, she worried that dementia might set in if she didn't fill her days with activities to keep her mind sharp. One of those activities was sailing. Another one of those activities was occasionally taking care of Sam, her neighbor's husky, because Susan, Sam's temporary caretaker, could barely be bothered to do anything for him. The sailing scenes were okay, but I loved the scenes with Charlotte and Sam. He was a sweetie.

Unfortunately, there were a lot of things about this novella that didn't work for me, annoyed me, or confused me.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

I now have a tablet!

It's a Google Nexus 10. To be accurate, I've had one for a little over a week, more than that if you count the one I had to return mere days after I bought it. The first one I bought had battery issues - it took 12 hours to fully charge it from 50%. The one I exchanged it for takes maybe 5 hours to fully charge it from 15%, a definite improvement.

I'm still deciding how, exactly, I'm going to use it, but at least I'm a little bit more comfortable with it now. When I first got it, I kept having an urge to right-click, and the lack of ability to do so was frustrating until I figured out how to delete things and find app options.

So far, my most-used apps are Goodreads, Moon+ Reader, and a couple games. I have YouTube, Netflix, and Crunchyroll installed as well, although I don't use them much. I do use the browser a lot - it's great for checking various websites in the morning without having to wait for my computer to start up.

The Goodreads app is great for reading reviews and sorting my books to decide what to read next. Oh, and if I ever wanted to catalog everything I own, the barcode scanner would be perfect. I'm tempted, but I don't know that I want an exact count of all the books I own that I haven't read yet. I'm sure it would be depressing.

I wasn't a fan of the first EPUB reader app I downloaded (sorry, can't remember what it was called). I had seen Moon+ Reader recommended as a good EPUB reader on a couple blogs, so I gave it a shot next. I just have the free version at the moment, but so far I like it. I was right that a tablet screen would be more of a strain to read on than my e-ink reader's screen, but changing the page and text color helped a bit. I've got Moon+ Reader set to one of its daytime themes, sort of a dark red/brown text on a pink background. As far as the actual reading experience goes, I still prefer reading on my Nook 1st Edition versus reading on my tablet. However, it's possible I might start doing more of my e-book reading on my tablet than on my Nook. Here's why: my tablet allows me to do both my reading and my note-taking in one place, and I can take notes more quickly.

With my Nook, I have to make sure I have my notepad and a pen nearby. Then, if I want to quote a particular passage, I have to at least write down enough words so that I can find that bit of text again when I'm on my computer. Then I have to write down my notes. I could do all of this in my Nook, but the controls are too annoying for anything more than adding a bookmark.

Using Moon+ Reader on my tablet, I touch the passage I want to highlight/add notes to, in order to select it. I'm frustratingly slow with the tablet keyboard, so I was thrilled when I discovered that I can dictate things to my tablet. It's not perfect: some things are recorded perfectly, while other things come out horribly garbled no matter how clearly I try to say them. Still, it's usually better than typing everything out. I say what I want to say, correct the errors with the keyboard, and go back to reading. The notes section of Moon+ Reader lists the notes I took, plus the passage of text they're tied to.

That's it so far. I'll probably figure out more things later on down the line, but I think I'm doing decently well so far. If anybody out there has any Android reading/book-related app recommendations, let me know in a comment!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Fountane Of (e-short story) by Doranna Durgin

Fountane Of is science fiction. It's very short, only 2,313 words long. Like Feef's House, I picked it up when it was a freebie and probably wouldn't have gotten it otherwise.

Synopsis:

Augie is a bitter janitor who feels that he is wrongly looked down upon because he doesn't have the proper level of education. His need to be recognized for his natural ingenuity prompts him to try something everyone says can't be done.

At the facility where Augie works, Historians use a time machine to go back in time, but no one ever even tries to go forward. Augie secretly does, however, and the discovery that this does not result in his instantaneous death makes him giddy. He gradually grows bolder in his explorations of the future before finally coming across something he's sure will make him famous and respected in his own time.

Review:

This was different from Durgin's usual stuff. No animals, and kind of dark. Maybe darkly humorous?

Augie was not a sympathetic character. To me, he seemed to be the sort who grasped at “get rich quick” schemes and thought himself clever for doing so. He didn't bother to get the LitEd (reading) education that his workplace offered because he didn't feel it was necessary. Also, he resented those who were educated and didn't want to become like them – he didn't realize it, but he judged educated people just as much as he believed they judged him.

The ending was clever and tied in several things that had previously been mentioned – even the story's title served as a clue. If I had to name one complaint about the story, it would probably be that what the pills truly did was kind of...silly? That's probably not the best word for it. These pills were supposed to be future tech, but they did something that people could easily do right now if it weren't for the politics and ethical concerns. The future tech...wasn't.

Anyway, I thought Durgin did well with the short story format and wasn't left feeling that Fountane Of should have been longer.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • To Say Nothing of the Dog (book) by Connie Willis - The whole "historians learning about the past by traveling to it" bit reminded me of this book. I'd say it's lighter in tone than Durgin's story, however. I've written about this book.
  • The 10th Kingdom (live action mini-series); The 10th Kingdom (book) by Kathryn Wesley - Okay, so this doesn't have all that much in common with Durgin's story, but if you enjoyed "Augie The Unappreciated Janitor," The 10th Kingdom has a similar character. Tony is a janitor who's tired of putting up with his employers' treatment of him. When he is given a magic wishing bean, he makes some wishes that have unfortunate consequences.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Feef's House (e-short story) by Doranna Durgin

Feef's House is science fiction. According to Smashwords, it's 7,183 words long. It's also included in the anthology The Heart of Dog, which I don't own.

I downloaded this when it was being offered as a freebie. I doubt I'd have gotten it otherwise - I don't generally buy things with such a low word count.

Synopsis:

Shadia has medical bills she needs to pay off. All she wants to do is get a temporary job, make enough to pay her bills off, and then move on. She prefers to live the life of a drifter, attached to and responsible for nothing and no one.

Once it's learned that she has experience with real animals, however, she is practically forced to take a more permanent position as a caretaker for the pets of the more affluent residents of Toklaat Space Station. She continues to resist becoming attached to the place and people around her, until a disaster prompts her to re-examine her way of living.

Review:

The descriptions I've seen on Goodreads and Smashwords all led me to believe that this story would focus more on the bonding process between Shadia and Feef, one of the pets Shadia regularly took care of. That didn't turn out to be the case. While the descriptions of the various pets and their individual characteristics and needs were really interesting, not much attention was paid to any one pet, at least until the disaster. Shadia didn't seem any closer to Feef than she was to Gite or any of the other pets.

For me, this story was so-so. It was too brief to do much more than scratch the surface of anything. Shadia, a loner, is rarely shown interacting with anyone. A short paragraph described some of the gifts her clients gave her, and I found myself wishing that the story had continued, even just a bit, past the ending. I wanted to see her begin to make connections with others more. I felt like I barely got to know her, any of the pets, the space station, and the other residents of the station.

Read-alikes:
  • Powers That Be (book) by Anne McCaffrey - McCaffrey's another good author for animal lovers and soft science fiction fans. Like Shadia, the main character of this book finds herself unexpectedly becoming part of a community and forming bonds with others.
  • Magic's Pawn (book) by Mercedes Lackey - Mercedes Lackey is another good author for animal lovers to try - quite a few of her books feature characters with birds of prey or horses as companion animals. Also, she has written many characters who are damaged in some way and derive emotional healing from caring for and spending time with those animals. There are several potential starting points for readers new to Lackey's Valdemar books - this is the first in her Last Herald Mage trilogy, which would get my vote for the most angsty books in the series.

Strobe Edge (manga, vol. 2) story & art by Io Sakisaka

Strobe Edge features a mix of romance and comedy. I got it via interlibrary loan.

Synopsis:

After Ren rejected her, saying he already had a girlfriend, Ninako asked him if they could still talk to each other like usual. Ren agreed. Although Ninako struggles to behave like his rejection of her never happened, Ren doesn't seem to have any such trouble. Ninako quickly realizes he probably feels awkward too, but is acting normally in an effort to make her feel better.

Unfortunately, things keep coming up that remind her of the fact that Ren rejected her. It seems like everyone knows Ninako was rejected. A group of girls who were also rejected by Ren begin to bully her a little because she refused to badmouth him along with them. Then, as if things weren't already difficult enough for Ninako, she meets Mayuka, Ren's girlfriend. Mayuka, too, sees the real Ren and loves him. She's cheerful, and nice, and pretty much impossible to hate.

Witnessing all these undercurrents of relationship drama is Ando, a friend (?) of Ren's since middle school. Ando is a player who flirts with pretty much every girl he sees and whose emotions for girls have apparently never been more than surface level. However, he finds himself wanting to help Ninako, intrigued and attracted by the way she continues to genuinely like Ren even after being rejected by him. As if things weren't already complicated enough, he seems to be falling for Ninako.

So, in brief: Ninako still likes Ren, who's dating Mayuka, who has no idea that Ninako likes Ren. Ando is beginning to fall for Ninako, which annoys Ren for reasons he's not ready to admit. Oh, and since I haven't mentioned him at all yet: Daiki still has feelings for Ninako, but there is definite evidence that he's falling for Sayuri.

Bonus Chapter - "Another Light":

This chapter takes place two years before the beginning of Strobe Edge and shows how Ren and Mayuka met.

Mayuka's family is going through a rough time: first her parents are separated, and then they decide to divorce. Ren starts off as someone comforting to talk to and develops into someone Mayuka loves. They eventually begin dating. Although Ren is two years younger than Mayuka, she feels like he's maturing much faster than she is, and it makes her anxious. Her anxiety prompts her to begin her modeling career, in the hope that Ren won't leave her behind. Her difficulty with telling Ren about her worries almost wrecks their relationship, but they make things right in the end.

Review:

You know how I was kind of iffy about the first volume? Well, I'm so glad I continued, because this volume was wonderful. I can't wait to see what happens next. Who would have thought that turning a love triangle into a love pentagon (?) could actually improve a story?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Postal (live action movie), via Netflix

Postal is a black comedy based on the game series of the same name. Not even my dad wanted to watch this. Since he enjoyed playing Postal 2, that should tell you something.

Synopsis:

Postal Dude's life kind of sucks. His wife is fat, nags him all the time, and sleeps around. He has no job and little chance of getting one, considering his prison record.

His Uncle Dave operates a "religious" compound that is basically just a thinly-veiled excuse to convince lots of women to have sex with him. Uncle Dave finds out he's in trouble with the IRS and asks for Postal Dude's help. At first, Postal Dude turns him down, trying to keep on the straight and narrow. He eventually changes his mind, I think after accidentally killing someone. Anyway, Uncle Dave's plan to quickly make a lot of money involves sneaking into the Little Germany theme park, where they will be selling some of the hugely popular Krotchy dolls. The dolls are so popular and their quantity is so limited that a single doll can sell for as much as $4000 online.

What Uncle Dave and Postal Dude don't know is that a bunch of terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, are also after the Krotchy dolls for their own reasons.
 
Review:

I've never played either of the Postal games, although I did watch my dad play the second one several years ago. So, I knew what I was getting into – I admit, I watched the movie mostly out of morbid curiosity. I can't say how much the movie drew from the first Postal game, but I noticed quite a few details I remembered from Postal 2.
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