Monday, December 30, 2013

Ultraviolet (book) by R.J. Anderson

Ultraviolet is a young adult mystery with some science fiction elements. I got it via ILL.

I'm so proud of myself - I managed to avoid including any major spoilers.

Review:

This book starts off as a weird mystery. Alison wakes up in a psychiatric treatment center with no memory of why she's there. All her life, she has experienced sensations that other people don't, like tasting the color blue, knowing that each letter of the alphabet has a color, and knowing that the name “Victoria” tastes like cough medicine. This has always frightened her mother, so she assumes that her mother has somehow found a way to get her committed. Then she remembers what really happened: she killed Tori Beaugrand.

Ever since they first met, Alison heard Tori's presence as a painful buzzing noise. One day, the two of them fought, and Tori...disintegrated. Now, Alison feels guilty and confused. She wants to make sure she never does anything like that again, but she's not even sure how she did it in the first place.

The overall mystery sucked me in right away. I guessed Alison's condition almost immediately (she's a synesthete), but that didn't explain the strange, indescribable color she sometimes saw, the “birthmark” on Tori's arm that no one else could see, or Tori's disintegration.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Attack on Titan (manga, vol. 1) by Hajime Isayama, translated and adapted by Sheldon Drzka, lettered by Steve Wands

Attack on Titan is a dystopian fantasy series. I got this volume via interlibrary loan.

Synopsis:

One hundred years ago, the Titans appeared and began eating humans. Humanity built three concentric walls to hide behind: Wall Maria (outer wall), Wall Rose (second wall), and Wall Sina (innermost wall). For a hundred years, those walls allowed people to live relatively peacefully. However, a few people, like Eren, resented essentially being caged. Why shouldn't humans go outside the walls, learn more about the Titans, and try to reclaim the world? Some people, like Armin, theorized that the walls might not last forever.

Then one day a colossal Titan appeared, breached Wall Maria, and allowed other Titans to enter.

Review:

Here's the thing: I've seen both seasons of the anime, and I loved the show. I disliked Eren, the main character, but that didn't seem to matter. The action scenes were fabulous, and the plot twists were so gripping I couldn't stop watching. Unfortunately, season 2 ended with lots of questions still unanswered and, right now, the best way to get answers is to read the manga.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Coyote's Creed (e-book) by Vaughn R. Demont

Coyote's Creed is urban fantasy. I suppose you could call it m/m urban fantasy, but Spencer, the main character, is bisexual. For those who'd like details: he only ever has on-page sex with a man, although he kisses a couple women; also, he's not at all conflicted about his sexuality.

This book is published by Samhain Publishing and is 91,526 words long. It's the first in Demont's Broken Mirrors series.

Review:

I bought this book ages ago and only just now got around to reading it. I had some trouble with it, at first. Although I usually like snarky first-person POV in urban fantasy, Spencer was almost too “gray area” for me, and his relationship with Rourke was too much, too soon. I sometimes had trouble following what was going on, because snark tended to win out over clear descriptions, and I wish some things had been explained sooner (I never did catch what the deal was with Shiko and Spencer's coat). By the end, though, I was enjoying myself and happy that my weakness for Samhain's “new releases” sales meant I already owned the next two books.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Star ratings

When I read books, I usually mentally assign letter grades to them. These grades range from F- (I am embarrassed for the author that this is available for other people to read, and/or I'm furious that the author/publisher charged money for this) to A+ (I forgot to write notes because all the fabulousness made it impossible to stop reading).

When I cross-post on sites like BookLikes or LibraryThing, I then convert my letter grades into star ratings. I'm thrilled that both these sites allow half-stars, but even that isn't always good enough. For example, I mentally give a book a B+, but then I balk at giving it 4.5 stars, because it feels too much like giving it an A- and the book wasn't quite that good. My inner perfectionist has a meltdown, I give the book 4 stars, and then I feel guilty because it wasn't really a 4-star book either.

In 2014, I want to be better about saying “These are how my star ratings work, and if someone mistakes 4.5 stars for an A- when it was actually a B+ book, that's not my problem! I'm going to assign this star rating and then not think about it anymore!”

So there. And, yes, I know I tend to overthink things. I can't help it.

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened (book) by Allie Brosh

I went to my friend's apartment to go take care of her cat while she was gone and discovered that she'd left me a copy of Hyperbole and a Half to borrow. It was a bribe to make sure I'd give her cat a few hours of company (I'm not sure her cat likes me, but, after five years, I think she now tolerates me), and it worked.

What can I say about this? I can't remember when I started reading the Hyperbole and a Half blog, but I do remember that I read a huge chunk of it on the first day I discovered it. I loved it, and, like so many other Hyperbole and a Half fans, worried about Brosh (Allie? Brosh feels weird, but Allie feels too informal...) when she posted about her depression and went on hiatus for a while. I was thrilled when she eventually posted again and when the book came out.

It's been a while since I read through the entire blog, so I'm not sure which of the entries in this book were new and which weren't. I recognized some old favorites, like the story of the simple dog and how moving nearly broke both the simple dog and the helper dog's minds. The animal stories were among my favorites, although I also enjoyed Allie Brosh's tales of her childhood.

My least favorite chapters were the ones in which Brosh wrote as though she were talking to her younger self or to her dogs. The humor felt a bit more forced in those chapters, although the dog chapter still had moments that made me laugh.

All in all, I enjoyed this. I probably loved the drawings the most. The facial expressions and body language (on both people and dogs) were wonderful and hilarious. I do think the stories and drawings work better in blog form, however – needing to scroll down means that “what happens next” is a bit more of a surprise, while, in book form, having the next page right there blunts the full impact a little.

Sorry for the short read-alikes list. I am lazy. Although, if you'd like me to list a few funny sites you should check out, I could totally do that.

Read-alikes:
  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames (book) by David Sedaris – You could really just pick up any of his books – I only listed this particular one because it was the last one I read. Like Brosh, Sedaris writes memoir-style humor (without the funny pictures). Also like Brosh, he sometimes covers more serious topics. I've written about this and several of Sedaris' other books.
  • How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You (book) by Matthew Inman – I haven't read this, but I probably need to. If you need funny pictures with your funny words, you might want to give this a shot. Check out The Oatmeal first, to see if the humor works for you.

Mindline (e-book) by M.C.A. Hogarth

Mindline is a self-published science fiction novel, the second in Hogarth's Dreamhealers duology. It's 101,600 words long.

Absolutely do not read this book until you've read Mindtouch.

Review:

I really enjoyed Mindtouch and was thrilled when I saw that Mindline had been released. In Mindtouch, Jahir was given a choice between remaining near Vasiht'h and developing their budding mindline, or leaving his new friends and the mindline behind and accepting a residency at Mercy Hospital on Selnor. He chose to go to Selnor. Mindline picks up where Mindtouch left off. Vasiht'h has decided it was a mistake to send Jahir off on his own and has arranged to finish up as much of his education as possible through distance learning on Selnor. While he is traveling to Jahir as quickly as his limited funds allow, Jahir, unaware that his friend is coming after him, is rapidly running himself ragged. Not only is the residency program extremely difficult, Selnor's higher gravity is making every day feel like a grueling marathon. Things only get worse when a large number of mysteriously comatose patients start showing up at Mercy.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Bishop's Isle: The Complete Collection (e-book) by Luke Shephard

Bishop's Isle: The Complete Collection is a horror novel. It can be purchased in three parts, but I wouldn't recommend doing that, since they're less like standalone stories and more like parts of a serial. I couldn't find a word count for this. I suspect it's novella length but decided to call it a novel.

This review contains SPOILERS. Consider yourself warned.

Synopsis:

The first sign of the zombie apocalypse at Bishop's Isle is a body washing up near Mark's lighthouse. Soon, the entire island is overrun. The survivors gather together and desperately try to find food, shelter, and a way to the mainland.

Review:

Since I'm not off visiting my family, I decided I needed something to take the edge off all the Christmastime cheer. This did the job maybe a little too well. It's practically the anti-Christmas.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Post-Goodreads, Part II: LibraryThing

In Part I, I covered BookLikes. Now, I'll write about LibraryThing.

Again: I haven't deleted my Goodreads account or reviews, primarily because the transfer to BookLikes and LibraryThing didn't go perfectly – certain books were either not uploaded properly or not uploaded at all. So, my account still exists, I just don't update it.

To be honest, I've spent far more time playing around on BookLikes than LibraryThing - BookLikes has been much more social and fun for me, while LibraryThing is mostly just the place I go to cross-post a review or check the occasional bit of book-related information. LibraryThing has many features, and they're all scattered several clicks away throughout the site. What this means is, it's quite possible that I have some of the details about what can and can't be done on the site wrong. If that's the case, please say so in a comment.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Post-Goodreads, Part I: BookLikes

It's been three months since I signed up for my BookLikes and LibraryThing accounts in the wake of Goodreads' review and shelf deletion fiasco. I've decided that it's time to write about how those months have gone and how I've adjusted to using those two sites.

I haven't deleted my Goodreads account or reviews, primarily because the transfer to BookLikes and LibraryThing didn't go perfectly – certain books were either not uploaded properly or not uploaded at all. So, my account still exists, I just don't update it.

I'll start this off by writing about BookLikes. The post is a little longer than I originally intended, so I'll save LibraryThing for a second post.

Jaynell's Wolf (e-novella) by Amber Kell

Jaynell's Wolf is m/m fantasy/paranormal romance. It's the first work in the author's A Wizard's Touch duology. The new Totally Bound Publishing version is approximately 30,057 words long. I have the version put out by Silver Publishing. I have no idea what sorts of changes have been made in the newer edition.
 
Synopsis:

Twenty-four-year-old Jaynell, aka Jay, has been homeschooled his whole life. At his father's dying request, he has enrolled in Mayell Wizarding Academy. He's not sure why his father wanted him to be there, though, since he already knows more about magic than most of the students and teachers there. Werewolves are the only blank spot in his schooling, something he discovers after he meets Thomas, who declares that they are mates. Jay thinks Thomas is hot, but he's not quite ready to be bonded with someone for all eternity.

Jay's new school life is interrupted by an enemy who seems to have it out for him. Can he find and defeat this person before it's too late?

Review:

I bought this a long time ago and only just now got around to reading it. I wish I could say that I should have read it sooner, but I can't. It was awful.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Rose Point (e-book) by M.C.A. Hogarth

Rose Point is a self-published science fiction novel. It's approximately 102,420 words long.

Review:

Yes, I'm still on a Hogarth glom. Rose Point is the second book in Hogarth's Her Instruments trilogy. Although it has its problems, I think it's even better than the first, and I will snatch up the third book when it comes out.

While visiting a horse-crazy colony on Kerayle, Hirianthial learns that he has a terrifying new power: he can kill people with his mind. He heads back to his homeworld for what help his people can give him, and Reese and the rest of the crew of the Earthrise accompany him, determined to support him in any way possible. However, the Eldritch homeworld has problems of its own. Liolesa, the Eldritch queen, has been scheming for centuries in an effort to keep her people's own xenophobia from killing them, and she had decided that the crew of the Earthrise will be perfect for her next move.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Kitty and the Midnight Hour (book) by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty and the Midnight Hour is the first book in an urban fantasy series.

There are some spoilers in this post, but nothing major.

Synopsis:

Kitty Norville is a night-shift DJ for a Denver radio show. She's also a werewolf, although nobody knows this but her pack. One night, she starts talking to callers about supernatural stuff, like vampires and werewolves, debating with them about whether any of it's real and occasionally giving advice to people claiming to be supernatural beings themselves. That one night is such a hit that it spawns Kitty's own show, “Kitty and the Midnight Hour.” The show gives her a little more exposure than she bargained for, and it's not long before one of the local cops comes by to ask if she can confirm whether or not a recent “animal attack” was actually the work of a werewolf.

Review:

I picked up an ARC of Kitty's Greatest Hits a while back, but decided to put off reading it until I'd at least read the first book in the series. When I spotted Kitty and the Midnight Hour at a used bookstore, I snatched it up. It was a quick read, and Kitty's “voice” was appealing enough, when she wasn't cringing around Carl. Unfortunately, it didn't really work for me.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

In My Skin (e-novella) by Cassidy Ryan

In My Skin is a contemporary f/f romance story. It's approximately 20,800 words long and is published by Torquere Press.

Review:

Anna is a 28-year-old lawyer with an unexpected crush on a coffee shop owner named Chaise – “unexpected” because, up until now, she'd always believed herself to be strictly heterosexual. She and Chaise begin dating and are happy together, but one worry stands out in Anna's mind. She's already a bit of a black sheep in her family because of her choice to pursue a career in law rather than a family. Can her traditional Catholic family accept that she has fallen in love with a woman?

I've read several “gay for you” books and stories, but I think this is the first “lesbian for you” one I've come across (strike that, Olivia Stowe's By the Howling might count – it was just focused way more on the mystery than the romance). So, that aspect was a surprise. I'm not sure it was a welcome one. Because the story was written in the first person, from Anna's perspective, I got to see exactly how much this shift in her life did not bother her. She fretted over being good in bed, but that was about it. She didn't even worry about what her family would think until she was waiting outside her parents' house to introduce Chaise to them for the first time.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Attack on Titan, Seasons 1-2 (anime TV series), via Crunchyroll

Attack on Titan is a dystopian fantasy series.

One hundred years prior to the start of the series, giant humanoid creatures called Titans appeared. Although Titans technically don't need to eat, they seem to enjoy devouring humans. The little that remained of humanity after the Titans attacked retreated behind three concentric walls. The innermost wall is where the most wealthy live. Wall Rose is the middlemost wall, while Wall Maria is the outermost. Life for most inside the walls in fairly peaceful. The only ones regularly exposed to Titans are the Survey Corps, which makes trips outside Wall Maria in order to study and, when possible, capture Titans.

At the start of the series, Wall Maria falls, breached by a Colossal Titan so large that it's able to look over the wall. As much of the population as possible is evacuated to the area inside Wall Rose, but that still leaves many to die. Eren, Mikasa (a girl Eren's family took in years ago), and Eren and Mikasa's friend Armin are all part of the evacuated group. Eren, who watched his mother die in the attack, swears that he will kill all Titans. When the three of them are old enough, they join the Training Corps, the first step to becoming part of one of three groups of soldiers: the Survey Corps, the Military Police Brigade, or the Garrison.

This was the show my dad and I watched after finishing Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and it turned out to be a fabulously good choice for both of us. We watched most of it in two or three marathon sessions and only stopped when my mom asked us if she could use the TV for once.

Considering how much I disliked Eren, it's kind of surprising how much I enjoyed this show. He was obsessed with the Survey Corps, he wasn't always very bright, and the only reason he made it out of some of the fights he ran headlong into was because Mikasa backed him up. My dad and I nicknamed him Crazy Eyes Eren – he was basically powered by insane rage. Mikasa was a much more appealing character. Unfortunately, Mikasa and Eren were a package deal.

Eren, Mikasa, and Armin's training was fascinating, and I especially enjoyed seeing the 3-D Maneuver Gear in action. The moment that most hooked me on the show, however, came several episodes in (episode 5?). It was a moment so unexpected that my dad and I were in shock. I still wasn't very attached to the characters, but I needed to know what was going to happen next.

The series' biggest draws were its WTF moments and its battle scenes. I'm so glad I waited until the first two seasons had been completely aired before watching them, because waiting for new episodes would have been excruciating. As it was, my dad and I were extremely disappointed that there wasn't a third season – season 2 ends with lots of questions left unanswered.

The animation was a mixed bag. On the one hand, there were moments when you could tell the director (or whoever) was trying to save money – I recall quite a few “panning across stills” scenes. On the other hand, money saved in some scenes was put to great use during battle scenes. I thought those looked absolutely fabulous. On the whole, I really like the look of the series. It certainly looked much, much better than the four volumes of the manga I flipped through.

I'm really glad I watched this series and would jump at the chance to see a third season. As it is, I think I might suffer through Eren again just to rewatch some of the battle scenes.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Puella Magi Madoka Magica (anime TV series), via Crunchyroll

Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a magical girl series, but darker than such series usually are. I had watched most of it at the beginning of 2013, but eventually gave up because Crunchyroll was working so incredibly badly. While I was on vacation, my dad suggested that we spend some time watching anime together and left it up to me to pick what we were going to watch. This was the first of two shows that I picked. I chose it because it was short (only 12 episodes long) and because I knew it had some great action scenes.

Madoka is a bit of an airhead. She has two best friends and lives in an area that looks both rich and a little futuristic – I couldn't really tell if the series took place in the future or in an entirely different reality. Anyway, one morning she wakes up from a dream about a dark-haired girl who's in trouble. At school, she's shocked when that same dark-haired girl joins her class as a mysterious new transfer student. The girl, Homura, is standoffish, and Madoka soon has cause to wonder if she's some kind of villain. Madoka saves a cute white creature, called Kyuubey, from Homura and meets and befriends a girl named Mami. Mami and Kyuubey introduce Madoka and her friend Sayaka to the world of magical girls.

Magical girls are powered by Soul Gems and use their abilities to hunt witches. Kyuubey offers Madoka and Sayaka a contract, which will grant them each whatever they desire if, in return, they agree to become magical girls. Becoming a magical girl is serious business – is this really something they want to do? And why is Homura so determined to prevent Madoka from making a contract with Kyuubey?

The characters and world don't have a ton of depth. The series' biggest appeal is its visuals (especially the battle scenes) and the slow revelation of the truth behind Kyuubey and the magical girls. What starts off as a light and fluffy show gradually becomes much darker.

Back when I was first watching the show, several of its revelations came as a shock to me. However, my dad guessed much of what was going on within the first few episodes. I imagine the mystery about the magical girls will be more appealing to some (viewers like me) than to others (viewers like my dad).

During my first attempt to watch the show, I stopped just before the full truth about Homura's past was revealed, so that and the outcome of the final battle were as much a mystery to me as they were to my dad. Unfortunately, although I really enjoyed rewatching everything else and found the bits about Homura and her efforts to save Madoka to be fascinating (Homura's level of devotion to Madoka was insane), the very end of the final episode was a bit of letdown. It was all almost too big and grand, and Madoka's transformation and everything that went with it was disgustingly saccharine. I'm glad I got to see the whole show, but the ending wasn't as satisfying as I had hoped it would be.

The Host (live action movie), via Netflix

The Host is a science fiction movie based on Stephenie Meyer's book of the same title. I actually liked the book, even if the “love story” aspect of it often horrified me. The few things I'd heard about the movie hadn't been good, but I decided to give it a shot anyway.

I disliked Mel and Jared in the original book, and that dislike only became more pronounced while I was watching the movie. I didn't care about them, certainly not enough to want to watch them having sex only 11 minutes in.

The movie was often too cheesy to be as emotional as it wanted to be, and the acting sometimes made me cringe. I'm pretty sure I caught Mel's accent wandering a few times, and I absolutely hated Mel's cheesy voice-overs, of which there were a lot.

In my review of the book, I noted that the humans seemed far more awful than the souls. This was still true in the movie – it was the humans who threatened to hurt Wanderer, not the other way around, and it was the humans who conducted raids on the souls' peaceful “we'll give you anything you need, no questions asked” stores. However, the one violent Seeker was given so much screen-time that I think the peacefulness of the souls was somewhat de-emphasized.

Unfortunately, Wanderer had much less depth in the movie. Her history, experiences, and status as a peaceful soul teacher were, at best, only given brief mentions. I thought the movie also missed out on a wonderful opportunity to show flashbacks to the various amazing worlds Wanderer once lived on.

All in all, as brick-like and occasionally aggravating as it is, the original book is better. While the movie smooths out some of the book's more problematic elements (no unnecessary emphasis on how very young Wanderer's newest host looks and is!), it removes pretty much all of the most fascinating parts. The only character worth watching in this movie was maybe Jeb, Mel's uncle. Why is it that the older male characters are always the least annoying in all the movie adaptations of Meyer's books?

Jab We Met (live action movie), via Netflix

Jab We Met is a Hindi romantic comedy.

A depressed businessman meets a feisty motormouth of a woman on a train. The man, Aditya, has watched his girlfriend marry another man and has walked out on his corporate business. He has nowhere he wants to go and is even a little suicidal. The woman, Geet, barely even notices. She's going to visit her family and plans to sneak away at some point to elope with her secret boyfriend. Geet, worried, goes after Aditya when he leaves the train during a brief stop. She's stranded when the train leaves without her. After she's accosted by some men, she forces Aditya to get her back to the train or, failing that, back to her family's home. Aditya slowly finds himself enjoying and appreciating life again, and it's all due to Geet's bubbly nature. He falls for Geet, but, unfortunately for him, Geet still plans to elope with her boyfriend.

I almost quit watching this soon after I started it, because Geet was aggressively annoying. I'm not a fan of cheerful people who think everyone around them should be as cheerful as they are. Also, when I called her a motormouth, I meant it. She even kept talking to Aditya while she was asleep. Or maybe I should say “talking at” Aditya – he barely responded, and there was absolutely nothing about the way he held himself that signaled “yes, I'm interested in what you're saying, please keep talking.”

Both times Geet missed the train, it was her own fault. Especially the second time. But both times she insisted that it was Aditya's fault. Considering the mood he was in, he did an amazing job of putting up with her.

The latter half of the movie was better, even if it did make me roll my eyes more than a few times. Geet's great big happy bubble was burst, while Aditya morphed into the most perfect guy ever. For a good portion of the movie, I thought I was watching my very first Hindi romantic comedy without musical numbers, but there were actually a few songs once Aditya warmed up a bit.

The shift in the story, involving Geet's boyfriend, wasn't entirely a surprise, but it was still fun to watch. Geet's family's misunderstanding was worth a few laughs, especially since it put Geet's boyfriend, who I disliked, in an uncomfortable position.

All in all, this was an okay romantic comedy, but I wish Geet hadn't grated on my nerves quite so much at the beginning. Also, I was more than a little annoyed by the repeated reference to women who travel alone being “like an open treasure box” (aka, an attractant to would-be rapists). The men who accosted Geet said it, as did, I think, Geet's grandfather.

My favorite quote, said by Aditya to Geet: “I like you a lot, but that's my problem. You don't have to worry about it at all.”

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Kamisama Kiss (manga, vol. 1) by Julietta Suzuki

I'm pretty sure Kamisama Kiss counts as a supernatural romance series, although, so far, it's heavier on the supernatural part than on the romance. This was one of my vacation reads.

Synopsis:
Nanami's deadbeat dad abandons her after racking up gambling debt and losing their home. Wandering around with nowhere to go, Nanami meets Mikage, who says she can live in his home. What he actually did was make her the new tochigami (from my understanding, some kind of deity). Tomoe, who served Mikage, refuses to accept Nanami until she forces him to do so when she's attacked. Her first task as a human tochigami is to help a lovesick catfish yokai, Himemiko.

Review:

This volume was okay, but there was a slavery element to it that made it a bit discomfiting to read, especially since I'm assuming Nanami and Tomoe are going to fall in love at some point. It reminds me a little of the relationship between Inuyasha and Kagome in Rumiko Takahashi's Inuyasha series. I'm not entirely sure why Kamisama Kiss rubs me the wrong way when Inuyasha didn't.

At this point, there's very little indication that Tomoe likes Nanami. I'm not particularly enamored of Nanami yet, myself. I plan to continue this series, just to see if it gets better, but so far it hasn't really grabbed me.

Family (e-novella) by M.C.A. Hogarth

Family is a self-published soft sci-fi story. It's 25,360 words long.

Review:
 
After reading several Jahir and Vasiht'h short stories and vignettes, I was happy to see that this was novella-length – I seem to like Hogarth's longer works more.

Jahir and Vasiht'h have now been working together for 10 years or so. Their partnership is a comfortable one, but, because of the Veil and Eldritch xenophobia, there are lots of things Jahir has never been able to tell Vasiht'h. In Family, this changes. One of Jahir's cousins is getting married, and Jahir's mother specifically asked that Vasiht'h come with him as a guest. Aliens are not welcome on the Eldritch homeworld, but Jahir figures his mother has her reasons, so he and Vasiht'h set off to attend the wedding.

Nabari no Ou (manga, vols. 1-2) by Yuhki Kamatani

I own the anime adaptation of Nabari no Ou. I've watched a portion of it, but have yet to finish it because everything I've seen and heard indicates that it will likely end depressingly. I've been wanting to give the manga a try for a long time now and figured my vacation was a good time to do it.

I remember reading reviews that said this series is kind of boring to begin with and gradually gets better. Unfortunately, I never got past the boring part.

Nabari no Ou (manga, vol. 1) – Miharu, an indifferent boy, has the shinra banshou locked inside him – an awesome fount of knowledge and power that few can control. He wants to remove it, so his teacher and friends, who happen to be modern day secret ninjas, take him to a knowledgeable ninja. Unfortunately, they are attacked along the way.

What carried me through this volume was my memories of liking the first few episodes of the anime. So far, the manga isn't very promising. The characters are composed of a single joke slapped onto pretty character designs: the ninja teacher who's deathly afraid of traveling in vehicles (he even hates using bicycles); Raimei, who keeps mistaking people for being someone else; Miharu and his devilishness and massive indifference. As far as I can remember, the anime characters weren't any different, but for some reason it was more fun to watch them than it was to read about them.

Nabari no Ou (manga, vol. 2) – The Fuuma chief saves Miharu and the rest from Yoite's kira technique, which uses his own life-force to hurt and kill others. Everyone seems to want to use Miharu for the shinra banshou inside him. Tobari swears he wants to help Miharu remove the shinra banshou, but he's not strong enough to accomplish much. Then, Yoite captures Miharu, acting on his own rather than as part of a ninja group. His request: he wants Miharu to use the shinra banshou to make it so that he (Yoite) was never born.

Yoite ramps up the angst – a guy whose power kills him a little more every time he uses it, and whose greatest wish is never to have been born. When I'm in the mood, I'm partial to angsty characters, so I was glad he got a little more page time.

The character designs are still pretty, and I enjoyed Miharu's aggressive indifference. However, this volume was a little confusing. Even worse, it was boring. Reviewers I trust have said this series gets better, so I'd like to continue with it at some point. I don't know when that will be, though.

Captive Hearts (manga, vol. 1) by Matsuri Hino

Technically, this is composed of three stories – the beginning of Captive Hearts and a couple extra shorts.

This was one of my vacation reads, so I'm not listing any read-alikes.

Synopsis:

The actual Captive Hearts portion introduces readers to Megumi and Suzuka. Megumi is a carefree guy whose father served the Kogami family. Megumi has gotten used to living off the Kogami family's wealth since their apparent death, but then it's revealed that Suzuka, their daughter, is still alive. She comes back to take her rightful place as the Kogami family heir, and Megumi learns the horrible truth: a family curse makes him and his father utterly devoted to the Kogami family. Megumi's father is used to this and has even learned to love the Kogami family. Megumi is not so happy. Every time he makes eye contact with Suzuka, he loses control of himself and becomes her loyal servant. Megumi soon realizes, however, that Suzuka isn't so bad. Suzuka, for her part, hates the curse, because she's falling for Megumi and has no idea how to tell if he's nice to her because of the curse or because he's starting to like her back.

The first of the two shorts stars a girl dealing with a stalker, her own shyness, and her unrequited love for her teacher. It ends with indications that love may blossom between the teacher and the student at some point. The second stars a girl who's in love with her childhood friend. He's about to go off to college without her.

Review:

This was a light, funny read with over-the-top humor. I had heard of Captive Hearts before and, considering the premise and the author (she wrote/drew Vampire Knight), thought it would be a little darker than this. Even the part where Suzuka and Megumi learned why Suzuka must never give a member of the Kuroishi family an order was played relatively lightly.

The most disappointing thing about this volume was that only half of it was devoted to Captive Hearts. I hate it when I start a manga volume expecting an entire volume's worth of a single story, and then half of it (or more) is something else. The two short stories that made up the other half of this volume weren't bad, but still.

Both shorts were sweet, although fairly forgettable. The first looked like it was going to turn into forbidden student-teacher romance, so I was surprised when it focused mostly on showing the shy heroine's efforts to be strong.

All in all, this was an okay volume. I don't know that I'm interested enough in Captive Hearts to continue with it, though.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Emperor's Knife (e-book) by Mazarkis Williams

The Emperor's Knife is epic fantasy, the first book in Williams' Tower and Knife trilogy. I got it for free at some point, I think as part of a limited-time freebie package from the publisher.

Synopsis:

The Cerani Empire appears strong on the outside, but it is actually crumbling from within. The Emperor is ill, tainted by the pattern magic that eventually either kills those afflicted with it or turns them into Carriers. Carriers are mere shells of their former selves, spying and killing as the Pattern Master bids them to.

So far, few know that patterns mark Emperor Beyon's skin. Lord High Vizier Tuvaini wishes to change that and make himself emperor in Beyon's place. He thinks he can use the patterns and Pattern Master for his own ends, but this is a complicated game with many players: Eyul, the Emperor's Knife; Sarmin, the emperor's brother, who has been kept a prisoner since he was a child; Mesema, a Windreader from one of the Felting tribes, brought to the Cerani Empire to be Sarmin's bride; and more.

Review:

I started reading this during my vacation, figuring that it was different enough from my other vacation reads that I wouldn't get everything confused. One review I read described it as being like George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, except set in a fantasy Middle Eastern world. Unfortunately, although some of the magic and political intrigue was interesting, it turned out to be a bit of a slog. I couldn't connect with the characters and had trouble caring about what was going on around them.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer (non-fiction audiobook) by Siddhartha Mukherjee, read by Stephen Hoye

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer is a nonfiction book written by a cancer physician. In audiobook form, it's approximately 20 hours and 30 minutes long.

My read-alikes list is skimpy, because I'm lazy.

Review:

I can only stand cancer in fiction to a very limited degree. Too many childhood memories of my grandmother on my mom’s side and the lung cancer and treatments that eventually killed her. However, nonfiction books about diseases interest me, and I figured that nonfiction might have more distance and be less emotional than fiction. I needed an audiobook to listen to while I worked, and this one was long enough to keep me occupied for quite a while.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Snow Maiden, or The Case with the Holiday Blues (e-short story) by M.C.A. Hogarth

The Snow Maiden, or The Case with the Holiday Blues is a Christmas-y science fiction short story. It's self-published and 5,710 words long. It's another one of Hogarth's works starring Jahir and Vasiht'h.

Review:

This was more along the lines of what I was hoping for when I read The Case of the Poisoned House and Other Xenopsychiatric Studies. Whereas that collection was nice but ultimately unsatisfying, this felt like a full a complete offering. What can I say, vignettes just don't do it for me.
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