Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Worst things I've read and watched in 2014

Except for the movies and TV shows, which I didn't privately grade this year, these are things that got 1.5 stars or less (although not all of them - again, based on "gut feelings"). I hate that it's so much easier to explain why I disliked something than why I liked it.

Books and stories:
  • A Lot Like a Lady (e-book) by Kay Springsteen and Kim Bowman - I was expecting a fluffy and forgettable historical romance. Instead, I got a bunch of characters who didn't react in ways that made any sense. This e-book is no longer being sold, and, quite frankly, nobody's missing out on much. Correction: this book is now available for purchase, although it wasn't when I reviewed it.
  • Spoonfuls of Sugar (e-short story) by Elizabeth McCoy - I keep trying McCoy's stuff, hoping to find something as good or better than her Queen of Roses. So far, things haven't worked out, but most of her works have eventually grown on me. This one, however, had some serious problems.
  • Wings of Destruction (e-novella) by Victoria Zagar - I knew, going in, that this post-apocalyptic asexual romance would probably not be very good, but I was still disappointed. Also, I now have an extremely low opinion of Less Than Three Press. Congratulations, you put out a typo-free e-book. However, a well-edited work is more than just typo-free.
  • Trusted Bond (book) by Mary Calmes - Change of Heart was a guilty pleasure of mine. I was hoping for more of the same from this, the next book in the series. Instead, I got a confusing, rape-y trainwreck.
  • The Paratwa (book) by Christopher Hinz - A huge chunk of this book was just plain boring, and Hinz did badly by all his female characters. This trilogy started out great and ended so badly that I was left angry with myself for all the time I wasted on Books 2 and 3.
  • Die, Snow White! Die, Damn You!: A Very Grimm Tale (audio book) by Yuri Rasovsky, featuring a full cast - This featured good voice acting, but everything else was pretty bad. I loved Rasovsky's Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls, so I was very disappointed by this one.
  • Flying Solo (e-short story) by Wade J. McMahan - This was a pointless short story that wanted to be funny and wasn't.
  • A Promise of Romance (book) by Kyoko Akitsu, illustrations by Tooko Miyagi, English translation by Translation By Design - This is supposedly a m/m romance. It was a "meh" read with a silly premise, right up until one of the male leads raped the other one. The guy who was raped hated his rapist until he suddenly decided he loved him. So much NO.
  • Snap! And the Alter Ego Dimension (e-book) by Ann Hite Kemp, illustrated by Zak Kemp - This was a stiff, clunky read, with characters that never felt like real teens to me.
Manga and graphic novels:
  • No Matter How I Look At It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular! (manga, vol. 1) by Nico Tanigawa, translated by Krista Shipley and Karie Shipley - I didn't see the slightest sign that Tomoko might later grow as a person, and I couldn't bring myself to read past this first volume. I loathed her and the way she constantly judged others, whether they were strangers or "friends." At the same time, I hated that readers were expected to laugh at her.
  • The Devil Within (manga series) by Ryo Takagi, translated by Christine Schilling - The only good thing about the series was that it was short. The romance was gross, and the supernatural stuff made no sense. Even the art could have been better - Takagi had zero torso-drawing ability.
  • Angel Nest (manga) by Erica Sakurazawa, translation by Yuki Nakamura  - I had seen Sakurazawa's works recommended a lot, so I was surprised at how bad this was. The art was nice, and Sakurazawa does an amazing job with curly-haired characters, but the stories themselves were pointless.
TV series:
  • Diabolik Lovers (anime TV series) - So much blood rape. Did anyone out there actually want Yui to end up with one of these monsters? If so, why? Why would you want something like that? I honestly do not understand.
Movies:
  • Time Traveller: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (live action movie) - "I really want to save my mother, except now I've fallen in love with this guy who I just found out is going to die. Because of that love, I'm totally okay with the idea of being stranded in the past!" And the ending was pointless.
  • Babylon 5: The Gathering (live action movie) - As much as I like the series as a whole, this is not a good movie. Thank goodness this isn't where I initially started watching the show, or I'd never have continued on.

Best things I've read and watched in 2014

Although it felt like I hated a lot of things this year, according to my stats I actually loved more books than I hated. These lists are based mostly on my 4.5- and 5-star ratings, although there are a few 4-star ones I felt deserved a mention. Everything is listed in no particular order, and I've chosen not to list everything I rated highly, for reasons that mostly boil down to "gut feeling." I also opted not to force myself to list a certain number of works.

Books and stories:
  • Nine Goblins (e-novella) by T. Kingfisher - This Pratchett-esque story about a war, a bunch of goblins, and an exhausted elven veterinarian was wonderful.
  • First Test (book) by Tamora Pierce - This one was a reread. I adore this book. It's a fantasy middle grade (?) novel about Keladry, the first female page of Tortall (not counting Alanna, who had to pretend to be a boy).
  • Kei's Gift (e-book) by Ann Somerville - A m/m fantasy book featuring slowly developing relationships and romance. A healer and a general invading the healer's country fall in love.
  • Code Runner (e-book) by Rosie Claverton - I loved this book even more than Binary Witness, although I have yet to review it and will probably need to reread it (such a hardship). It's a mystery starring an agoraphobic hacker and her ex-con assistant. Their relationship is wonderful, although they're going to have to sit down and have a good, long talk about things if it ever develops from a loving friendship into a romance.
  • A Lily Among Thorns (e-book) by Rose Lerner - A historical romance starring an ex-prostitute turned inn keeper and a chemist with a passion for dyes and clothing. I'm still a little surprised I liked this one as much as I did, considering how off-the-wall some aspects were.
  • Happy Snak (e-book) by Nicole Kimberling - This science fiction book featured a fabulously interesting look at an alien culture, from the perspective of a capitalistic snack bar owner.
  • Sea of Wind (book) by Fuyumi Ono - This was a reread. My favorite book in the Twelve Kingdoms series.
  • The MacGregor Grooms (book) by Nora Roberts - Another reread. This one is odd - the individual novellas aren't really all that strong on their own, but, taken as a whole, they become this warm, fuzzy blanket in book form that makes me ridiculously happy each time I read it.
  • Liege-Killer (e-book) by Christopher Hinz - This violent sci-fi thriller had me at the edge of my seat. Sadly, the next two books in the trilogy didn't live up to the promise of this first one.
Honorable mentions:
  • 14 (audiobook) by Peter Clines, read by Ray Porter - The ending had moments that struck me as being somewhat silly, but overall this was still a wonderful book to listen to.
  • Queen of Roses (e-book) by Elizabeth McCoy - A sci-fi book with an AI main character. I really enjoyed this one and hope McCoy writes something else starring an AI, even if that AI isn't Sarafina. If she announced another book with Loren in it, my poor little heart would probably explode. 
  • Be With You (book) by Takuji Ichikawa - This is a lovely book that seems like it might be a ghost story but is actually sort of science fiction. A widower trying to raise his young son while dealing with severe anxiety stumbles across an amnesiac woman who appears to be his dead wife.
Manga and graphic novels:
  • Saga (graphic novel series) written by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Fiona Staples - I read two volumes of this, and both were excellent.
  • Chi's Sweet Home (manga series) by Konami Kanata, translated by Ed Chavez - If you love cats, you really need to try this series. It's full-color and has been flipped for left-to-right reading, so Japanese manga newbies should be just fine.
  • Skip Beat! (manga series) by Yoshiki Nakamura, translated by Tomo Kimura - I suppose this is technically a romance series, but it has an almost shounen manga feel. It's long, and still ongoing, but it's totally worth it.
  • Naoki Urasawa's Monster (manga series) translated by various people - A complicated thriller in which a doctor inadvertently saves the life of a killer and then devotes himself to trying to stop him. This one is best read in big gulps, so you don't start thinking too much about how terribly convenient it is that nearly everyone seems to be connected to Johan.
  • What Did You Eat Yesterday? (manga, vol. 1) by Fumi Yoshinaga, translated by Maya Rosewood - A food manga focused on the daily lives of Shiro and Kenji, a gay couple. I really wish I could try Shiro's cooking - it all looked and sounded so delicious.
  • Olympos (manga) by Aki - This one was bittersweet enough that I don't see myself ever rereading it (even glancing at my review was tough). However, I'm glad I at least read it once.
Unfortunately, this year I completely slacked off on my practice of privately giving grades to TV shows and movies, so I don't have ratings for any of that. However, I looked through my blog at what I reviewed in the past year, and here are the ones I still feel pretty good about.

TV series:
  • Natsume's Book of Friends (anime TV series) - Just thinking about this series makes me want to give Natsume a hug.
  • My Girlfriend is a Gumiho (live action TV series) - Every time I talked to someone about this series, they laughed at the title. ::sigh:: Anyway, it takes a few episodes to get going, but, once it does, it's lovely.
  • The Great Doctor (live action TV series) - This may have ruined me for other K-dramas. I'm watching City Hunter right now, and, although I'm enjoying it, I kind of wish I could just erase The Great Doctor from my brain and watch Lee Min Ho as Choi Young for the first time all over again. In addition, once you make it past the first four episodes, Eun Soo is a wonderful, mature, and strong heroine.
Honorable mentions:
  • Inu x Boku Secret Service (anime TV series) - This series has many, many problematic aspects, but the last two episodes are incredibly good. I wish the characters had been as complicated and wonderful throughout the whole show as they were in those final two episodes, although that still wouldn't have erased the age-gap issue.
  • Noragami (anime TV series) - I didn't review this one, although I wrote briefly about it. It was a bit too short, but I'd now really like to read the manga.
Movies:
  • Maleficent (live action movie) - I was surprised at how much I liked this one, considering that I don't really like Angelina Jolie. It definitely has its problems (the cheek bone CGI; Aurora will forever and always be the most boring Disney princess), but it's honestly the best movie I've seen all year - which isn't really saying much, since my movie-watching this year was bad-to-mediocre.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Wings of Destruction (e-novella) by Victoria Zagar

Wings of Destruction is a post-apocalyptic asexual romance involving angels. It's published by Less Than Three Press and is 19,130 words long.

Review:

I bought this, after considerable internal debate, because it was tagged “asexual romance.” The reasons why it took me a while to finally hit the “buy” button included reviews that said it wasn't very good, its price-to-word count ratio (it cost about twice what I would normally be willing to pay for something this long), and angels (I don't read much angel fiction).

Anyway, this novella takes place an indeterminate amount of time in the future. An economic collapse plunged the world into chaos, and now everyone is either affiliated with a gang or living in fear of the gangs. If you're with one of the gangs, you're either a sex slave or you have a mate and are marginally protected. Martin, an asexual man, is scared and depressed. He's just been left by his latest mate – every one of them ends up wanting more from him than he's willing to give. Seeing no other acceptable options, he decides to kill himself by jumping off Spire Rock. He is saved by the angel Anael, who has been sent to evaluate humans and determine whether it would be best to destroy everything with Black Rain, thereby wiping the slate clean for God's next new world. The angel decides that Martin will be his guide as he makes his final decision.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Games keep sucking me in

I keep reading reviews of Dragon Age games that make me want to give one of them a try (looks like it'd have to be Dragon Age: Origins via Steam, because I haven't had a game console of any kind in over a decade). The reviews of Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II on Gossamer Obsessions make them sound particularly good. I have to keep reminding myself that the battles would probably turn me into a wreck. But the character interaction aspect sounds really interesting...

Speaking of gaming, I've now beaten the Demon Lord in One Way Heroics four times or so. I literally have his heart in a box, I think because I made him be my friend for a bit before I killed him. I guess that makes me an Evil Hero?

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Dangerous and Unseemly: A Concordia Wells Mystery (e-book) by K.B. Owen

Dangerous and Unseemly is a historical cozy mystery. It's the first in a series and is 89,170 words long.

Review:

If I remember correctly, this made it onto my radar when I spotted one of the newer books in the series on Smashwords (although the author needs to do a bit of cleanup – Smashwords lists books 2 and 3 on one K.B. Owen page and book 1 on another). The cover intrigued me, I liked the excerpt, and the price wasn't bad.

Miss Concordia Wells is a junior instructor at Hartford Women's College in 1896. The college is going through some bad financial times, so it's not entirely a shock when the bursar is found dead, an apparent suicide. Her death turns out to be just the start of a very hard year, however. The president and lady principal of the college become targets of threatening notes and pranks. Also, Concordia learns that her sister is suffering from a mysterious illness. Concordia's personal life is further complicated by her attraction to Julian Reynolds, who occasionally teaches at the college.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Great Doctor (live action TV series), via Netflix

The Great Doctor (also known as Faith) is a Korean historical drama featuring romance, time travel, and even a few people with something like superpowers (one woman can burn people with her touch, Choi Young can produce lightning, one guy has super hearing and can kill people with his flute playing, and another guy can freeze people with his touch).

Review:

I started watching this series after reading Hello Book, So Long Sleep's review of it. It had previously been in my Netflix queue, but I'd avoided it because Lee Min Ho was in it. Lee Min Ho played Goo Joon Pyo in Boys Over Flowers, and I was worried about having to watch another smirking jerk of a love interest. Thankfully, Choi Young, Lee Min Ho's character in The Great Doctor, was about as far from Goo Joon Pyo as you could get.

At the start of this series, King Gong Min and his new Queen are traveling together with Choi Young and several others as their body guards. The Queen is badly injured and their doctor is only able to slow the bleeding. Without help, she'll soon die. There are signs of the magical gate that a legendary great doctor is supposed to have used in the past, so the King sends Choi Young to find the great doctor. The gate takes Choi Young hundreds of years into the future, to our time (which he mistakes for Heaven), where he finds Yoo Eun Soo, a plastic surgeon. After wounding a random man similar to the way the Queen was wounded and making Eun Soo save him, Choi Young drags Eun Soo back through the gate.

Eun Soo is convinced, at first, that she's just at the set of some kind of elaborate movie, but she eventually realizes the truth. As she gradually adapts to life in this new and dangerous time, others learn of her existence and either want to use her for their own ends or to kill her. Meanwhile, Choi Young tries to fulfill his duty to his king while dealing with his growing feelings for Eun Soo and doing his best to keep the promise he made to help her get back to her own time.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Playing games, watching K-dramas

To be accurate, I've only really been playing one game these past few days: One Way Heroics. I highly recommend it, especially at Steam's current sale price (only $0.87!). There isn't much of  a story - darkness is creeping in on the left side of the screen, eating everything in its path, and you have to keep journeying right until you finally meet and hopefully defeat the Demon Lord. I have yet to defeat the Demon Lord, despite having battled him several times, and yet I continue to love this game. According to Steam, I've spent 8 hours playing it. It hardly feels like it.

There are lots of things that add to the replay value of this game. There are special maps that change each day, as well as standard randomly generated maps. If you find a really good item in one map, when you die you can store it for use in a future game. You also have the chance to acquire "Hero Points" that give you the ability to buy Perks (new/better abilities) and Classes (Knight, Pirate, etc.). The game is turn-based, so, even in battle, you have time to think before you act - as someone who's not a fan of adrenaline-fueled, fast-paced battles, I especially like this aspect.

The only other game I've played recently is Sid Meier's Civilization V. I think I bit off more than I can chew with that one. It's also turn-based, but it's about a thousand times more complicated than most games I play. I haven't even made it through the tutorials yet, and even those are daunting.

Now for the Korean dramas. I've been trying the Viki app on my TV, which is actually not too bad. Yes, there are commercials, but only for two or three minutes at the beginning of an episode - after that, it's non-stop show. The only thing I don't like is that there's no way to stop an episode and start it again from that spot. You have to watch all the way through in one sitting. I tried to fast forward once, and my efforts were a complete failure.

The things I've been watching:
  • The Great Doctor/Faith - I've actually been watching this via Netflix. I just finished it last night. It took me ages to get through, not because it was bad, but because all that emotional content was sometimes too painful. I plan to review this soon, but, for now, I'll say I highly recommend it to romance fans. A few warnings: the heroine is fairly annoying in the first three episodes, and several beloved characters die throughout the series. On the plus side, there's a happy ending.
  • Dr. Frost - I've been watching this via Viki. It's about a seemingly emotionless genius psychologist/bartender who sometimes helps out the police. His assistant is energetic and bubbly. This one was kind of rough at the start but got better at around episode 3. Unfortunately, the latest episodes have been giving me fits - for some reason, quite a few subtitles are missing. I don't know if this is usual for Viki. I know the subtitling is mostly (always?) done by volunteers, but I don't know if missing subtitles is usual for the site and I don't know if they ever get filled in later.
  • The King's Face - I watched one episode of this and don't think I'll be watching more. The Great Doctor made me want to try another historical drama, but the premise of this one is just too out there for me. The king was told that he won't be a good king for his country because his facial features are all wrong, while his son's indicate that he would be a good king. There's also a cross-dressing girl whose facial features are supposedly those of a pure person. The first episode ranged from brutal (torture and killings) to silly (the king's son pretending to be a fortune teller), and the tone switches didn't work for me.
  • The Night Watchman - I've seen one episode of this via Viki and may watch more. Unfortunately, the one episode I saw cut off near the end (a blip in either the app or my Internet connection), so I'll either have the skip the last stuff or rewatch the whole episode just for those last few minutes. I might see if the website is better about allowing viewers to skip ahead in episodes. There are some interesting supernatural elements in this one, as well as a lot of fight scenes. It's just too bad that there was so much use of muted "eclipse lighting" - I actually thought there was something wrong with my TV at first, because who would think it's a good idea to make a fight scene that hard to see?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Hellcat's Bounty (e-novella) by Renae Jones

Hellcat's Bounty is a mix of sci-fi space opera, Western, and f/f romance. I'm pretty sure I originally bought it from Smashwords, but the author has since opted to sell it exclusively at Amazon. I've only downloaded a grand total of one e-book from Amazon, and trying to convert it so that it would work on my Simple Touch was more stressful than I expected, so I'm glad I got this book when I did.

My review contains some spoilers.

Review:

I didn't love this, but I liked it enough that I'd be interested in reading the next book in the series once it comes out.

This novella is a mix of sci-fi space opera and Western and is set on the Rosewood space station. As a bounty hunter, Anelace's job is to kill the ravenous blobs that are a constant threat to those on the station. The less-habited areas collect blobs in droves, and it's rare for Anelace to come back unscathed. The person who patches her up most of the time is Meidani. Anelace has been interested in Meidani for years, but, as far as she knows, Meidani prefers men. She also figures that a good girl like Meidani could do better than a trouble-making hellcat like herself. Then Meidani asks her out and forces her to start thinking about what she really wants out of life and her relationships.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Spoonfuls of Sugar (e-short story) by Elizabeth McCoy

Spoonfuls of Sugar is a short story set in McCoy's Kintaran universe. It's 10,270 words long.

Because this is so short, I'm not going to include any read-alikes. Also, warning: my review includes major spoilers.

Review:

I really liked McCoy's Queen of Roses. My feelings about her Lord Alchemist duology were more mixed, but I was hoping that her Kintaran stories would work better for me, since they're science fiction like Queen of Roses. McCoy's chronological listing of the stories indicated that "Spoonfuls of Sugar" would be a good place to start.

A couple things made me a little nervous right away. A section on the copyright page mentioned that some of the alien species and technology came from GURPS, which I'm completely unfamiliar with. Also, the “Glossary and Names” section, while short, was a little overwhelming. I was worried I might not be able to follow along. Thankfully, that didn't turn out to be as much of a problem as I'd feared, although I'm sure I pictured some of the aliens incorrectly as I was reading. The story was pretty light on descriptions.

Anyway, "Spoonfuls of Sugar" stars Coli-nfaran and Klarin-yal, two Kintaran sisters who decide to go off on their own for a while. The new leader of their clan wants to transform their clanship into a pirate-hunter. In order to oppose him and buy a controlling share in the ship, the two sisters need to make a lot of money, which is why they jump at the chance to become very well-paid medical research subjects.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Beastly (live action movie), on DVD

Beastly is a modernized retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story and is based on Alex Flinn's book. I haven't read the book, and this movie may have killed my desire to do so. Of course, The Last Airbender had a similar effect on me, and the cartoon turned out to be fabulous, so you never know. Anyway, this movie did not work for me.

Warning: this post includes major spoilers.

Kyle, Lindy, and Kendra are three students at a private high school. Kyle is an unrepentant, arrogant, vain jerk. Kendra is supposed to be an unpopular goth, I guess – she looks like she just left a high fashion runway, which we are repeatedly told means she's ugly. Lindy is a scholarship student. It's immediately apparent that she has at least a small crush on Kyle, although it's hard to see why.

Kyle plays a trick on Kendra that's designed to publicly humiliate her. She curses him, which soon leads to him going bald and developing facial scars and tattoos. Horrified by his own sudden ugliness, he retreats to his home. His father, who, like him, prizes good looks over all else, takes him to plastic surgeons and eventually has him exiled to a separate home, with only their Jamaican housekeeper and a blind tutor for company. Kendra tells him that he has one year to find someone who will love him. The one person he's repeatedly drawn to is Lindy, who no longer recognizes him as Kyle. He eventually arranges to have her live in his home and gives her all the gifts he can think of, but none of that may be enough to win her love.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Pandora Hearts (manga, vols. 1-3) by Jun Mochizuki, translated by Tomo Kimura

When I reviewed the Pandora Hearts anime, I wrote that it took a while to really get going and become more interesting. Unfortunately, the manga turned out to be similar to the anime, and the three volumes I was able to finish during my vacation all took place squarely in the less interesting portion of the series. I haven't decided yet whether I want to continue. I suppose I could skip ahead to the point where the anime ended, but I hate doing that. You never know when seemingly minor stuff that was cut for an anime adaptation will turn out to be more important later on in the manga.

As is usual with these vacation reviews, a warning: my descriptions of each of the volumes contain spoilers. Read on at your own risk.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Road to Ninja: Naruto the Movie (anime movie), on DVD

Road to Ninja: Naruto the Movie is, obviously, a Naruto movie. Still, I wasn't quite sure what it was going to be like, and the info on the back of the box wasn't very helpful. I vaguely remembered that the production artwork had inspired theories that it was an alternate universe Naruto. Would it be an alternate universe retelling of Naruto's story? The answer turned out to be “yes and no.”

First, a warning: this post contains some spoilers, although I think I managed to avoid the most major ones.

I'm not entirely sure when in the Naruto timeline this movie takes place. Certainly much later than what I've seen of Naruto Shippuden, and I think a bit later than I've read in the manga. Naruto knows who both his parents are, several of the Akatsuki are dead, Sai is there, and Naruto has saved the village from Pain. Naruto demonstrated one ability that I haven't seen yet in the manga: he released Nine Tails' full form and rode on his back during battle.

At the beginning of the movie, Kakashi, Naruto, Sakura, and several others from the village fight the Akatsuki and are confused, because they know several of their opponents have previously been defeated. The fight ends fairly quickly, which is a relief for everyone, but also somewhat suspicious. That doesn't stop the parents of the various chunin from talking about recommending them for jonin-rank. Naruto is once again reminded that he has no parents who could do such a thing for him. After Iruka refuses to fill out a jonin application for him (because he isn't even a chunin yet – you'd think they'd have made him an honorary chunin by now) and Sakura yells at him for not siding with her after she has a fight with her parents, Naruto storms off.

All fights are forgotten, however, when Madara suddenly appears and tries out an experimental jutsu called Limited Tsukuyomi. When Sakura and Naruto come to, Madara is gone and no one even seems to know who he is. Not only that, but everyone in the village is the opposite of what they normally are: Hinata is aggressive, Shikamaru is dopey, Kakashi is gung-ho and overuses his sharingan, etc. There are story differences, as well. For example, Sakura is now the daughter of heroes – her parents, rather than Naruto's, were the ones that gave their lives for the village.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Twelve Kingdoms, Vol. 3: The Vast Spread of the Seas (book) by Fuyumi Ono, translated by Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander

The Vast Spread of the Seas is the third book in Fuyumi Ono's The Twelve Kingdoms fantasy series. It was published under Tokyopop's Pop Fiction imprint and is now out of print.

I won't be including a read-alikes list for this. Take a look at my first review of this book (which I've linked to at the start of my review) if you'd like some. If I were to add anything to that list, I'd probably include something from Mercedes Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar series, another epic fantasy series in which magical beings (horse-like Companions) play an important part in the kingdom's government.

Review:

Although I've previously reviewed this, I decided I'm going to write a new review for my reread.

This is my least favorite book in the series, although it was less emotionally draining to read than Sea of Shadow. The fantasy aspects of the world of the Twelve Kingdoms seemed to be less on the forefront here. Instead, the focus was on politics. It had its good moments, but the first half of the book was a slog. Also, unlike Sea of Wind, where I could see how the events of the book would fit into the more present-day history of the Twelve Kingdoms, there was very little here that seemed relevant to Yoko's time.

Book 1 was set in the present day, and Book 2 was set a few years before that. The Vast Spread of the Seas takes place 500 years before Book 1. Readers are introduced to two boys, one living in Japan and one living in the Twelve Kingdoms. Rokuta, the boy in Japan, is only four years old when he's abandoned by his parents so that the rest of his family can hopefully avoid starvation. It turns out that he's a kirin who was born in Japan, just like Taiki. He is found by his lamia and taken back to the Twelve Kingdoms. Koya, the boy in the Twelve Kingdoms, is also abandoned. He is found by a demon beast that, for some reason, chooses to take care of him rather than eat him.

In the book's present, Rokuta/Enki (I'll just call him Rokuta from here on out) is frustrated with Shoryu, his king, who seems too lazy and laid-back. This is why he doesn't make much of a fuss when Atsuyu, the self-proclaimed regent of Gen Province, has him kidnapped – he figures that maybe this will force Shoryu to finally pay more attention to his people. Unfortunately, Rokuta didn't consider that his kidnapping might lead to the thing he hates most, war and bloodshed. Occasional flashbacks show how everyone met and became the people they are in the book's present, 20 or 30 years later.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Gentleman's Dignity (live action TV series), via Netflix

A Gentleman's Dignity is a 20-episode K-drama, in this case a contemporary romance. I don't know that I can say I loved it – I yelled at the TV a little too much for that – but it had me hooked right from the beginning and didn't let go.

The series focuses on the careers and love lives of four men who have been friends since they were in school together. Kim Do-jin is a successful architect who heads his own firm with his friend Im Tae-san. Do-jin falls for Seo Yi-soo, an ethics teacher. Unfortunately for him, Yi-soo has a secret crush on Tae-san. And unfortunately for Yi-soo, Hong Se-ra, a professional golfer and Yi-soo's housemate and friend, is dating Tae-san.

Do-jin and Tae-san's other two friends are Choi Yoon and Lee Jung-rok. Choi Yoon is a widower and a successful lawyer. There is some tension, because Tae-san's younger sister, Meari, has a crush on Yoon. She's younger than Yoon (I can't remember how much – maybe 10-15 years?) and very aggressively pursues him, even though both Yoon and Tae-san think she'd be better off concentrating on school and her eventual goal of becoming a handbag designer. Jung-rok, meanwhile, is married to Park Min-sook, the very rich woman who owns the building in which Do-jin and Tae-san's architectural firm is based. He's also a known cheater and is constantly close to being divorced by his fed-up wife.

Naoki Urasawa's Monster (manga, vols. 1-2, 5-18) translated by various people

Naoki Urasawa's Monster is best read in large chunks, so that the plot twists, cliffhangers, revelations, and drama can carry you along. I loved this series as I was flying through it, although some of it seems really far-fetched now that I've put it all together for this post. Pretty much everything and everyone is connected. There's a lot of suspension of disbelief involved. If you can do that, though, this series is quite a ride. I have a few volumes of Urasawa's 20th Century Boys on my TBR pile, and I'm looking forward to those even more now.

I had to skip volumes 3 and 4, because the library didn't have those for some reason. However, I had seen up to that point in the anime and at least had a general idea of what happened. I tried to follow my notes as closely as possible, without interjecting what I knew about later volumes into my reviews of the earlier volumes. It felt very weird, but I think I mostly did okay. Warning: my post includes major spoilers. Read on at your own risk.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Binary Witness (e-book) by Rosie Claverton

Binary Witness is a mystery published by Carina Press.

I started this at the end of my vacation, so I'm going to call it a "vacation read" and skip out on listing read-alikes.

Review:

I'm kicking myself for not reviewing this weeks ago, when my memories were fresher. Oh well, I'll do my best.

Back in 2011, Melinda Beasi wrote a post for Manga Bookshelf titled “Fanservice Friday: Intimacy porn.” In it, she writes about intimacy being a big draw for her, and includes a few examples. It took a few years of percolating, but I now think intimacy is what I look for too, in all kinds of stories. In my experience, intimacy tends to be easier to find in romance novels, but even in those it's not a sure thing. Binary Witness was a wonderful surprise – it's a mystery that doesn't have what most people would call a romantic subplot, and yet it's full of intimate moments.

The story is set in Cardiff. Jason is an ex-con who desperately wants to get a job so that he can get out of his mother's house a bit and do something useful. Amy is an agoraphobic hacker who helps the police by piecing together information she finds via social media, forums, CCTV, and more. Their paths cross when Jason gets a job as a housecleaner and is sent to clean Amy's place. She refuses to let him in, at first, but he's persistent, and it's not long before he's cleaning her kitchen and making her a cup of tea and something to eat. Amy is not very good about taking care of herself, by the way - things like personal hygiene and eating end up on the back burner a lot.

It's Amy who confirms that a couple missing young women are not only dead, but also probably killed by the same person. Jason starts off on the sidelines, but eventually becomes more involved in the investigation, helping Amy get whatever information the police can't give her and that she isn't able to track down with her beloved computer.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Durarara!! (manga, vol. 1-4) creator Ryohgo Narita, art by Akiyo Satorigi, character designs by Suzuhito Yasuda, translated by Stephen Paul

I've tried to watch the anime version of Durarara!! two or three times and have yet to make it all the way through. While I love looking through fan creations based on this series, the series itself doesn't seem to do anything for me. I was hoping things would be different with the manga, but that wasn't really the case. It didn't help that these volumes only briefly touched on the characters that most interested me in the anime.

Once again, a warning: my synopses are riddled with spoilers. Read on at your own risk.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Pride of Chanur (e-book) by C.J. Cherryh

The Pride of Chanur is science fiction, the first book in Cherryh's Chanur series.

I'm not going to include a read-alikes list, because I started this book during my vacation, so it's technically a vacation read. And also, I'm feeling a bit lazy.

Review:

I wanted to like The Pride of Chanur, I really did. Science fiction with a heavy emphasis on alien cultures and/or alien linguistics is like catnip to me, and, for that reason, I've wanted to try Cherryh's works for a long time. Unfortunately, her writing style didn't work for me. This is not a long book – the print edition is only a little over 200 pages – and yet I spent more than a month alternately slogging through it or avoiding it.

The story is fairly simple. Pyanfar Chanur is the captain of the hani spaceship The Pride of Chanur. She discovers a stowaway, an odd-looking being she quickly realizes is sentient. He's a human, and none of the aliens in the book have ever seen anything like him before. Pyanfar has him put together a translation tape and eventually learns that his name is Tully and he's an escapee from a kif ship. The kif tortured Tully and his friends, and he was the only one who survived. Pyanfar doesn't like the kif, who are widely known as pirates and slave-traders, so she decides to help Tully. This decision ends up putting The Pride of Chanur, other hani ships, and even the hani homeworld in grave danger.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Blue Skies by Tamara Allen - Free!

I saw this on Dear Author. If I didn't already own the book, I'd be snatching it up right now. I've only read Allen's The Only Gold, but that one was excellent.

Here's the link to get Blue Skies via Smashwords. The deal should also be available at Amazon and elsewhere.

The Story of Saiunkoku (manga, vol. 7-9) art by Kairi Yura, story by Sai Yukino, translated by Su Mon Han

This is one of those series that everyone else seems to adore and that I only like. I have to be in the mood for the series' slower pace and general wordiness. Also, while a heroine that isn't really interested in romance is a nice change, I can't help but be somewhat disappointed that the story has mostly left the romance aspects behind. I think part of the problem is the “mostly” bit – Shurei is ready to be a government official and has never really had thoughts of romance, while Ryuki still wishes she could be his consort. If he could just get over her, I think I'd feel better about the whole thing, but, as it is, I'm a little worried that he'll either continue to pine for her and never marry (meaning “no heir”), or that he'll marry someone else but never fully love that person (how incredibly depressing). I'm at least glad that he's a good enough person to let Shurei go. He could easily have let his own emotions override Shurei's desires and opted to hobble her career in order to keep her close.

Once again: my synopses include some spoilers. Read on at your own risk.

No more Crunchyroll for me for a while, plus a forum thread recap

Like a lot of Crunchyroll subscribers, I was planning on renewing using their usual Black Friday deal. Except they opted not to offer it this year. I haven't made much use of my subscription in the past few months (not since I reviewed Pandora Hearts back in May, in fact), so, although my subscription expired a few days ago, there's really no reason for me to resubscribe anytime soon. Goodness knows I have enough unwatched DVDs to start my own anime channel.

Reading the Crunchyroll Black Friday forum thread has been a fascinating (or, depending on your perspective, painful) look at how not to do customer service and communication. In case you can't bring yourself to go through the 341 comments (I'm sure the number will have grown by the time I hit “publish”), here's my take on some of it:

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Twelve Kingdoms, Vol. 2: Sea of Wind (book) by Fuyumi Ono, translated by Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander

Sea of Wind is a Japanese fantasy novel. It was published under Tokyopop's Pop Fiction imprint and is now out of print.

I won't be including any read-alikes for this. Take a look at my first review of this book (which I've linked to at the start of my review) if you'd like some.

Review:

I loved this book when I first read it in 2010, and my recent reread of it didn't disappoint. Although I reviewed it when I first read it, I decided I'd write a brand new review for my reread because 1) my reviewing style has changed since then and 2) I had some new things to say.

My first read of Sea of Wind took place several years after reading the first book. This time around, I read it right after finishing Sea of Shadow, and this had a definite effect on my understanding of what was going on and my feelings about it all.

Sea of Wind is set several years prior to Sea of Shadow and has a tighter focus. At the start of the book, we see a little boy who has been sent outside into the snow as punishment for what his grandmother believes is a lie. When he feels a gust of warmth and sees an arm beckoning him, he goes to it, and is taken to the world of the Twelve Kingdoms. The boy is told his name is Taiki and that he is the kirin of the Kingdom of Tai. He doesn't really know what's going on, but he feels safe around Sansi, the lamia that was born to protect him until he reached adulthood.

The entire book deals with Taiki adjusting to life among the oracles at the Brush-Jar Palace. Although they tell him he's a kirin, he doesn't feel like one, and he's worried that he'll never be able to do what these nice people expect of him. He can't shift into his kirin form, he can't see kirin auras, he can't pacify even the tiniest of demons, and he's sure he'll never have the revelation that is supposed to help him choose the next king of Tai.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Chi's Sweet Home (manga, vol. 9-10) by Konami Kanata, translated by Ed Chavez

Chi's Sweet Home is one of my favorite slice-of-life and animal series. It's the manga equivalent of a warm, snuggly blanket. Chi and the other animals are wonderful, and the Yamadas are a nice family that manages not to be too cutesy, despite the fact that nothing all that bad ever seems to happen to them.

I plowed through a huge chunk of this series during my vacation the year before, so it was nice to be able to continue from where I left off.

Once again, a warning: my synopses include some spoilers. Read on at your own risk.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Naruto (manga, vol. 51-54) by Masashi Kishimoto, translated by Mari Morimoto

I have to admit, I'm basically limping along with Naruto. While it's reassuring that there really is an end in sight, this series has gone on way longer than any other I've ever read, and I'm a little tired of it. I keep going because I've gotten this far, so I might as well see it through to the end. However, I'm to the point where I don't expect most of the volumes to be more than average at best.

I actually had more volumes available during my vacation than just these four, but nearly everything else I had on hand looked more interesting. Which should tell you something.

Okay, now for my reviews. A warning: my volume descriptions include spoilers. Read on at your own risk.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Skip Beat! (manga, vols. 31-32) by Yoshiki Nakamura, translated by Tomo Kimura

These were not my favorite Skip Beat! volumes ever, but they were still fun. I found myself returning to them again and again during my vacation, in order to reread my favorite scenes.

Every time I dive into Skip Beat!, my enjoyment of it always seems to take me by surprise. I really need to start buying it. And I'm sure I've said this multiple times in the past – the length of the series always holds me back, even though I know I'd be getting my money's worth.

As always with these "vacation reading" posts, my descriptions contain spoilers. Read on at your own risk.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Twelve Kingdoms, Vol. 1: Sea of Shadow (book) by Fuyumi Ono, translated by Alexander O. Smith

Sea of Shadow is a Japanese fantasy novel. It was published under Tokyopop's Pop Fiction imprint and is now out of print. Happily, you can still find it in libraries, and it's possible to buy relatively inexpensive copies via Amazon Marketplace and elsewhere. I keep hoping that some company - maybe Yen Press, since they're big on light novels right now - will suddenly announce that they've licensed the series and will be releasing new translations of the first four books and first-time-in-English editions of the next four.

Review:

The Twelve Kingdoms is one of my top favorite Japanese light novel series, although it's not without its problems, and it took reading the second book and seeing the anime for me to start feeling that way. I wanted to finally read the fourth book, but it's been four years since I read the second and third and more than six since I read the first, so I decided that it'd be best to start from the beginning.

This book introduces the world of the Twelve Kingdoms via Yoko Nakajima, a high school student in Japan. When we first meet her, Yoko is as bland and inoffensive as she can make herself. Pretty much the only thing that makes her stand out and that she refuses to change is her hair, which is red enough to look like it's been dyed. She prefers to wear it long, even though it looks redder that way, and even though her mother keeps pushing her cut or dye it so she'll blend in better.

Then one day a man with strange clothes and golden hair appears at Yoko's school and tries to take her away. She refuses, at first, until terrifying creatures she'd previously only seen in her dreams suddenly attack. The man, Keiki, hands her a sword and tells her to fight. When Yoko protests that she doesn't know what to do, Keiki tells Joyu, a jellyfish-like creature, to attach itself to her and help her, forcing Yoko to kill for the first time in her life. They escape to a strange new world and are soon separated. All Yoko wants is to go home, but first she has to find Keiki and figure out how to survive in a place where everyone and everything seems to either want to kill her or betray her.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Attack on Titan: No Regrets (manga, vol. 1) story by Gun Snark (Nitroplus), art by Hikaru Suruga, translated by Ben Applegate

Not match happens in this volume, but I'll add a spoiler warning anyway - my description of this volume covers almost everything that happens.

This takes place prior to the original Attack on Titan series. Survey Corps squad leader Erwin recruits Levi, Isabel, and Furlan from the underground slums because he believes they have great potential. They trained themselves to use the 3D maneuvering gear that they stole, something that's difficult for many Survey Corps members to believe. Erwin also ensures that the Survey Corps continues to get the funding it needs to head outside the Walls and try his idea to reduce Survey Corps casualties (the long distance enemy scouting formation). During their first trip outside the walls with the Survey Corps, Levi and his friends do awesomely, much to the surprise and annoyance of the regular Survey Corps members that hate them.

I'll probably continue on with this series just because of Levi, but so far this is kind of dull, and Levi and friends are a bit too amazing right from the get-go. Keep in mind, they have had zero Titan-fighting experience prior to their first trip outside the walls with the Survey Corps, and they handle an Aberrant perfectly.

Isabel and Furlan practically have “cannon fodder” written on their foreheads – one of the drawbacks of setting a spinoff prior to the original series is that you know which characters don't carry over. It's possible that they just decide to quit the Survey Corps at some point, but, considering the Survey Corps' high mortality rate, it seems more likely that they'll die tragically. I'm going to guess that a good portion of this series will be devoted to showing how Erwin manages to thaw Levi and earn his undying loyalty, so staying interested in Isabel and Furlan is probably going to be a bit of a struggle for me.

This has much nicer (prettier?) looking artwork than the original series, while at the same time keeping the same character design style (other than big-eyed Isabel, who looks like a refugee from another series). The linework is cleaner and doesn't look constantly heavy and dark. So far, I like it.

Attack on Titan (manga, vols. 3-4) by Hajime Isayama, translated by Sheldon Drzka

I had a huge stack of Attack on Titan volumes available to me while I was on vacation...except for volume 3, which didn't come in until the last day. I had hoped to plow through a good chunk of the series, but two volumes were all I managed.

I'd still like to make it past the point covered by the anime. I'm curious to see where Isayama goes with this series, although some comments I've read indicate that he hasn't really revealed much yet, even in the current volumes. I hope he has a plan, and that it doesn't involve killing every fan-favorite character off.

A warning: I've included spoiler-y descriptions of each of these volumes. Also, I complain about Isayama's artwork in my reviews not once, but twice. Read on at your own risk.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

At All Romance Ebooks: Ann Somerville's Kei's Gift for $1

Here's the link to the book's product page, plus my review here. M/m fantasy with strong romantic elements, starring a general and a healer on opposing sides of an invasion/war.

The rest of the series is also on sale.

Soulless: The Manga (OEL manga, vol. 1) by Gail Carriger, art and adaptation by REM

This is an adaptation of the entire first Soulless book: starving made-vampires appear out of nowhere and have no clue what they are or how they're supposed to behave, there's a wax-faced man, and Lord Maccon is interested in Alexia. It even ends at the same place the book did, with the wedding.

That's a lot of stuff to cram into just one manga volume, but I thought the results were okay. I don't know that I'd have liked it as much if I hadn't already read the book – it fleshed out the world and characters a lot more. Just as with the book, I found myself wishing that the focus had either been entirely on the romance or entirely on the mystery aspect.

Some things:
  • There is an accidental boob grab. Was this in the book, or is it just a rule that, at some point, the male lead in a romantic comedy manga must accidentally grab the female lead's breasts?
  • One thing I noticed missing from the manga that was definitely in the book: all the issues surrounding Alexia being half-Italian. Alexia's father is barely mentioned, there's no hint that her skin isn't just as pale as every other girl's, and Alexia's belief that Lord Maccon couldn't possibly want her is based entirely on her age (she's 26, and therefore old) and the fact that she's an inexperienced spinster.
  • I mostly liked the artwork, although I admit that I enjoyed the color pages at the beginning more than the black-and-white art that made up the bulk of the volume. However, I should note that there was at least one inconsistent detail. “VIXI” was sometimes missing from the wax-faced man's forehead. Oops.
  • At one point, Alexia pulled a mirror (or glass) shard out of her cleavage. One, ouch. Two, due to stuff from the book being cut out, this no longer made any sense. Alexia explained the shard by saying she'd hidden it during a time when she was left alone, but the manga showed absolutely no moments when her captors might have been so stupid as to leave her on her own.

Kobato (manga, vols. 1-5) presented by CLAMP, translated by William Flanagan

This series was okay, but there were so many cameos. So many. I don't know if it's just that I've hit the point in my CLAMP reading where I can recognize more of the cameos, or if this really has more cameos than other CLAMP series I've read (except for Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, which is basically designed to have cameos).

It took me a while to find my footing. I assumed, at first, that it was going to be a “wounded heart of the week" series and was surprised when the kindergarten storyline continued on and on. Also, the connection with Wish threw me a bit.

I'm only one volume away from finishing, so I'm going to continue with it, but the more I think about this series, the more “meh” it feels.

Warning: the rest of my post is a volume-by-volume look at what I read, complete with spoiler-y descriptions. Read on at your own risk.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

No Matter How I Look At It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular! (manga, vol. 1) by Nico Tanigawa, translated by Krista Shipley and Karie Shipley

Tomoko is 15 years old and has no real friends. She thinks that both friends and a boyfriend will just fall into her lap once she enters high school. Sadly, this does not happen, so she tries to figure out why not and fix it. That is, when she's not mentally grumbling about slutty girls and the stupid guys who gravitate towards them.

In this first volume, she forces her younger brother to speak to her for a certain amount of time each day, because she's out of practice talking to people. She meets with a friend from middle school, who now goes to a different high school, and is at first pleased that they still share an interest in geeky things like anime. However, she, too, has managed to find a boyfriend where Tomoko has failed. When the rain briefly strands Tomoko with a couple good-looking guys, she finds herself unable to talk normally to them. At school, she's horrified when she's assigned to do a make-up assignment with a male student in her art class.

This was the worst thing I read during my recent vacation. Tomoko was the female version of the stereotypical male geek who silently stews over his inability to get a date with one of the popular girls, obsessing over them while scornfully referring to them as sluts. Flipping the gender did not make that stereotype any more appealing.

The depth of Tomoko's lack of popularity was painful (she considered herself to be popular in middle school because, during those years, she interacted with guys a total of six times), as was her complete lack of knowledge about how to fix it. For example, at one point her appearance was better than normal. When she thought about it, she decided she looked better because she'd spent the night playing a really good otome game. She'd heard that sex makes people look more appealing, so she figured that a game that made her feel sexually aroused would work the same way. So she played it nonstop until her hair and skin were oily. I think this was supposed to be funny, but I didn't feel like laughing.

I both loathed and pitied Tomoko. To her, all pretty girls were fluff-brained sluts, and all good-looking guys were probably idiots who'd only be interested in makeup slathered sluts. Even as she thought these things, she tried to make herself look more like those “sluts” in order to become more popular. And failed miserably. She was interested in manga, and yet she viewed the other people browsing manga in the same store as her with disdain, labeling them all probable NEETs. Yu, Tomoko's only friend, confused her by still being a fan of anime like her, and yet also having a boyfriend and looking like one of the pretty “sluts.” Personally, I felt Yu could have done better when it came to friends and was glad that she didn't have the ability to peek into Tomoko's thoughts. At one point, Tomoko thought of her as a “sow.” I'm not kidding.

It's possible that future volumes show Tomoko growing as a person. It's possible, but the series title tells me it's not likely. I opted not to read the other two volumes I had available, and I doubt I'll ever continue with this series or watch the anime adaptation.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Murder of Crows (e-book) by Anne Bishop

This is the second book in Bishop's The Others series. The dangerous drugs that popped up in the first book become more widely used in this one, although it takes everyone a while to piece together what's happening and who's behind it. Drugged up humans begin killing more and more terra indigene. If someone doesn't put a stop to the drug manufacture and distribution soon, the terra indigene might very well decide that humans aren't worth keeping alive. Meanwhile, Simon accidentally makes his and Meg's relationship more complicated by climbing into her bed in his human form. No romantic relationship yet, but they're both forced to think more deeply about how they feel about each other and whether they really want to be more than friends. Also, Meg's former captors continue to try to get her back.

I didn't like this book as much as the first, although I still enjoyed it. I prefer Bishop's sweet/funny character interactions, and there was a lot less of that here. Instead, the characters spent an awful lot of time thinking, guessing, and debating, as they tried to figure out what was going on, how they felt, and what Meg's various visions meant.

It seemed like the same thing kept happening over and over again: a group of humans would rebel against the terra indigene, and then I and the characters would wait to see if the terra indigene would respond by killing everyone. I became more and more frustrated with how the humans in this book acted. These were people who had supposedly grown up knowing the story of how humans came to be allowed to live in terra indigene lands. They knew that entire cities could be, and had been, wiped out for not following the rules set down by the terra indigene. The people in the Lakeside area had experienced a sudden terra indigene-caused blizzard in the previous book. And yet they cheered for terra indigene deaths and discriminated against terra indigene and those close to them. It made no sense.

What really bugged me was when Monty went to Meg to ask her for a vision, and his question turned out to have a blindingly obvious answer. “What happens if we don't help the terra indigene?” You die. As a police officer in Lakeside, and as someone who'd had a lot of contact with Meg and the terra indigene, he should have known the answer to his question, and yet he asked Meg to cut another precious bit of her skin for it anyway. And no one snarled at him for it. You've got to be kidding me.

I plan to continue reading this series, because I enjoy the overall world and I like Meg and Simon. Okay, I admit it, I'm very much looking forward to future developments in Meg and Simon's relationship. I just hope that the next time a group of humans decides to poke the terra indigene, the setup is more believable.

Oh, and a warning: This book increases the monstrousness of the villain with cannibalism and rape. Actually, yet another thing that made me think of Bishop's Black Jewels books.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Last Firewall (e-book) by William Hertling

The Last Firewall is science fiction. I've opted not to include a read-alikes list, because I'm still in vacation mode.

Review:

I picked this one up while it was free. I like books with prominent AI characters, and it looked like a good fit for me. It's the third book in a series, but I was slightly reassured by reviews that indicated newbies could jump in at pretty much any point.

As far as I can tell, each book takes place at a different point in the history of humans and AIs. Book 3 takes place maybe 10 years after Book 1. Artificial intelligences are common, and there's a framework in place that's supposed to allow AIs and humans to peacefully coexist. AIs now have most of the jobs, but humans get a stipend, which can be increased if they do things like go to school or volunteer. AI income is taxed, which pays for the stipends. AIs are further restricted by their reputation scores. An AI with a high reputation score can increase its class number, which I think allows it to increase its processing power (or something – sorry, I'm not a techie). Not all AIs are happy with this system, although most don't say anything, for fear of hurting their reputation scores. Also, not all humans are happy with the effect that guaranteed stipends has on society.

This book follows a few different characters, whose paths eventually converge. There's Catherine, a young woman who is unusual in that she's had a neural implant since she was a baby and can do things with that implant that no human should be able to do. Catherine ends up on the run after she accidentally kills several people with her implant while defending a robot. There's Leon and Mike, two prominent people in the history of artificial intelligences. As part of an investigation into murders possibly committed by an AI, they travel to meet an eccentric AI named Shizoko. And then there's the ones behind the murders.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Vacation reading (and watching)

I'm back from vacation! Assuming I haven't counted wrong, I read 44 manga volumes and finished two books.

Manga:
  • Attack on Titan (vols. 3-4)
  • Attack on Titan: No Regrets (vol. 1)
  • Chi's Sweet Home (vols. 9-10)
  • Durarara!! (vols. 1-4)
  • Kobato (vols. 1-5)
  • Naoki Urasawa's Monster (vols. 1-2, 5-18)
  • Naruto (vols. 51-54)
  • No Matter How I Look At It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular (vol. 1)
  • Pandora Hearts (vols. 1-3)
  • Skip Beat! (vols. 31-32)
  • Soulless: The Manga (vol. 1)
  • The Story of Saiunkoku (vols 7-9)
Books:
  • The Last Firewall by William Hertling
  • Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop
  • I also started, but haven't yet finished, C.J. Cherryh's The Pride of Chanur and Rosie Claverton's Binary Witness.
My most enjoyable vacation read was Skip Beat!, followed by Monster. My least enjoyable read, hands down, was No Matter How I Look At It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular.

I also had some time for TV and movie watching:
  • Noragami – In case I don't get around to reviewing this: I enjoyed it. Hiyori was a boring character, but I enjoyed Yato and the world in general. The anime ends on a mostly satisfying note, but I'd still love another season. I plan to read the manga at some point.
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past – Time travel stuff is always iffy for me, and this one didn't really work for me. This entire movie is basically just a way to erase the horribleness that was the third X-Men movie.
  • My dad and I also watched a little bit of Samurai Flamenco (abandoned because one of the main characters' naivete was embarrassing to watch) and Ghost Hunt.
Here's hoping my review posts don't take the whole month to finish.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Freading's still broken, but I'm having fun with Overdrive

I'm on vacation at the moment, and enjoying all the extra reading time. I wowed my mom by showing her how to get Overdrive books to open in any Adobe ID authorized app you want, rather than just the Overdrive app. I decided to check Freading, to see if they had fixed their "will only open in the Freading app" problem. Sadly they still don't seem to think its a problem, because it's still not fixed. Argh. I wish my local public library used Overdrive instead. I'm on my second vacation read (not counting manga) and may make it to a third.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

My Kobo purchase...is not a success

[Cross-posted from BookLikes]

So I just bought my very first book from Kobo. I used Dear Author's tips for making sure I knew what I was downloading. DRM-free EPUB, great! I bought it, downloaded it, checked it out in Calibre, and...it was not the right book.

What I was trying to buy was Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente, one of the works I learned about while constructing my "Sci Fi/Fantasy Written by Women" list [located on BookLikes, and currently containing over 170 books]. It has an AI in it and sounds fabulous. What I actually got was Myths of Origin by Catherynne M. Valente. Right author, wrong title.

I've contacted Kobo's customer service, but I'm a little confused about what happens next, since the form I filled out directed me to a page instructing me to call between 9 AM and 9 PM from Sunday to Saturday (does that mean seven days a week?). I thought the point of filling out a form was that I wouldn't have to call, and would simply be emailed when the problem was fixed. I'm a little confused.

As a first Kobo shopping experience, I can say I was not impressed.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Samhain Publishing

(A quickie post, cross-posted from BookLikes. While I generally like Samhain Publishing, they've been trying my patience for several weeks now. Both of the books I purchased in the past month were corrupt when I downloaded them. I contacted customer service and was emailed working files, but I shouldn't have to do that. Then the store was down for almost a week - it was supposed to be up again this week Monday but didn't actually come back up until late Tuesday/early Wednesday. And then there was this that I wrote about below.)
 
I was going to post about a Samhain sale today, since it looked like everything on their site was on sale earlier this morning, possibly in honor of the site redesign. But there was no end date listed, and it appears it was a "until noon-ish only" sale. Or a mistake on someone's part. Dang it, I knew I should have at least bought Rose Lerner's books before leaving for work.

(And also, argh. Samhain, get your act together please. I think you're even confusing your authors right now. A bit embarrassing for the authors who just announced that their stuff was on sale, only for the sale to already be over.)

My first impression of the Samhain site redesign: I like that it puts Samhain's generally pretty covers front and center, and I like that the store is now the site's main page. I also think it's kind of cool that there's an "add series to cart" button on series pages. However, I'm not a fan of the text-less icons at the top (two circles with a heart is "Retro Romance"?). I also don't like that all the wonderful subcategories that used to exist are now hard to find and/or take multiple clicks to get to. If I want the Science Fiction category, I have to click on Romance, then Paranormal & Alternate Worlds, and then Science Fiction. And all of that is located in a tiny, easy-to-miss little area near the top right of the screen. And didn't there used to be a Science Fiction section that wasn't under Romance? Has that been lumped in with Science Fiction Romance now?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Happy Snak (e-book) by Nicole Kimberling

Happy Snak is a science fiction novel published by Samhain Publishing.

Review:

I bought this book on a whim almost a year ago. There was some kind of Samhain sale, I wanted to beef up my sci-fi e-book collection, and this sounded like quirky fun.

Ever since her divorce, Gaia has been focused on one thing and one thing only: making her space station snack bar a success. Gaia, her hamster, and Happy Snak are managing to get by, until the alien Kenjan dies on the floor of Happy Snak one morning. The human portion of the A-Ki space station exists only as long as the Kishocha want it there, and Kenjan was the only Kishocha at all interested in interacting with humans. Kenjan's death puts the space station's human population at serious risk. Luckily, Kenjan chose Gaia as its guardian before it died, meaning that Gaia is now the single most important human on the A-Ki space station. Unfortunately for Gaia, this means that she has to live in a snack bar/shrine for the rest of her life, feeding and protecting Kenjan's ghost so that the rest of the humans on the space station can continue to live.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

B&N's latest bone-headed decision

I have no idea how widespread this news is outside my usual reader/book blogging sites, so I figured I'd mention it here. A few days ago Barnes & Noble made the bone-headed decision to remove download links from the "My Nook Library" section of their site. Nook Books can now only be downloaded to Nook apps or devices - no more downloading to your computer and sideloading.

The best theory I've heard is that they're trying to protect against piracy. Way to go, B&N! Treating your paying customers like potential pirates sounds like a great way to do business. Dear Author's Thursday News post has more info, including workarounds (that may not necessarily work).

I've owned a Nook ever since I took the plunge and began buying and reading e-books. Despite this, I've only ever bought two e-books from B&N, because the site makes it impossible to see what has DRM and what doesn't. I had been considering breaking down and buying some Tor e-books from B&N, because I knew they were going to be DRM-free. Also, B&N seemed like the best place to get M.C.A. Hogarth's e-books after she made the decision to remove her stuff from Smashwords. None of that's going to happen now, because I'm firm in the belief that I should be able to download any e-book I buy to my computer and back it up. You never know when a retailer will go belly up, taking with it all your purchases. Considering that B&N seems determined to go out of business as quickly as possible, I'd especially insist on the ability to download and backup anything bought from them.

I still have three of Hogarth's books and several short stories that I haven't yet read. After that, I have to figure out what to do next. My choices seem to be 1) buy from Kobo after checking first to make sure the files are EPUB and not KePub, 2) buy from Amazon and hope the files convert smoothly to EPUB, or 3) give up and accept that I won't be reading any more of Hogarth's books. Crud.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Perfect Match (live action movie), via Netflix

Korean romantic comedy movies keep not working for me, and yet I keep trying. I just want something with the fun, sweet, enjoyable moments that a good Korean drama can have, only many hours shorter. Is that too much too ask?

A Perfect Match was my latest attempt to find a good fit for myself. The thumbnail image looked cute, and the setup appealed to me. Hyo-jin, a talented matchmaker at a dating agency, hasn't had much luck in her own love life. She tells everyone, including her coworkers and even her best friends, that she's dating a wonderful guy, but, in reality, that guy left her ages ago. Now, she finds herself falling for her latest client (Hyun-soo, I think?), a guy who doesn't seem interested in going on any of his arranged dates and who can never remember his dates' names.

I could see what this movie was going for, but it fell flat. The main characters had zero chemistry and just did not work as a couple. I felt bad for Hyo-jin, who reminded me a little of the depressed heroine of I Am a Flower Too (no review, because I couldn't manage to watch more than three or four episodes). She was an excellent matchmaker, able to find the perfect person for just about anyone, but her personal life was a mess. Her female friends never noticed her reluctance to talk about her boyfriend, her best male friend was a bit of a loser, and her home was strewn with reminders of her ex. She looked unhappy throughout most of the movie.

Hyun-soo was kind of a jerk. I'm assuming he was only using the dating agency because his mother made him, because he put absolutely no effort into his dates. He seemed amused by his own inability (or refusal) to remember Hyo-jin or his dates' names, flat out saying that he never bothered to remember things that weren't important to him. Halfway through the movie, when Hyo-jin indicated that she might be interested in Hyun-soo, I wondered why. The few times they'd spoken, he'd either been annoying or they'd had, at best, vaguely pleasant chats.

There were a few cute moments, but they could have been done so much better. At one point, for example, Hyo-jin hurt her foot and Hyun-soo took her to a hospital. Throughout the whole movie up until that point, he walked quickly and left Hyo-jin and his dates in his wake, and he'd answer his phone while someone else was talking to him. At the hospital, he actually made an effort to listen to Hyo-jin, he deliberately chose not to answer his ringing cell phone in her presence, and he helped her hobble out. I could see that this was supposed to be the “jerk becoming a sweet guy” moment, and I knew I was supposed to be sighing with pleasure, but the movie had already lost me.

This was the most conflict-free romance ever. In theory, there were two things keeping Hyo-jin and Hyun-soo apart: Hyun-soo's ex (who was also Hyo-jin's newest client) and that fact that Hyun-soo and his ex were Hyo-jin's clients. However, Hyun-soo showed absolutely zero signs of still caring for his ex, and his ex let him go without a fuss. The only one trying to push them together was Hyo-jin.

Overall, this was a lukewarm romance at best. As a couple, Hyo-jin and Hyun-soo reminded me of While You Were Sleeping's Lucy and Jack, only with all the warmth and sweetness sucked out. The comedy aspects were mildly interesting, but some of it got old. I had little patience for Hyo-jin's drunken male friend, and it was depressing to see so much of Hyo-jin's accident prone nature and so little of her supposed prowess as a matchmaker (she matches very few couples up on purpose in the movie). Still, it was nice to see all the matched-up couples at the end.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Lily Among Thorns (e-book) by Rose Lerner

A Lily Among Thorns is a historical romance. It was re-released by Samhain Publishing and is 96,234 words long.

Review:

I love the pretty dresses that grace the covers of many historical romances. I also hate them, because every book tends to look the same. When I spotted this in Samhain's New Releases section, the author's name sounded familiar, but I couldn't remember whether I'd heard bad things or good things. Then I spotted a post on Gossamer Obsessions, describing Solomon as “one of the sweetest, handsomest, smartest, amazingest, chemist-tailor-detective Beta heroes EVER,” and decided that I at least needed to read the excerpt. I love sweet romance heroes. And, oh, was he ever.

Serena is an ex-prostitute turned inn keeper and has a reputation for knowing all sorts of criminal types. Solomon, a chemist with a passion for dyes and clothing, asks for her help in finding a family heirloom, a pair of earrings, without which his sister refuses to get married. Serena takes the job, hoping that this will be enough to repay her debt to Solomon. Five years earlier, a young, drunken Solomon saved her by giving her 125 pounds, and she has been looking for him ever since. Part of her is besotted with him, and part of her just wants the debt repaid and him out of her life. Even if he doesn't remember her or the debt she owes him.

That's just the very beginning. Later, there are threats from Serena's horrible father, threats from Serena's former business partner, spies, and a few enormous secrets.

Upon a Midnight Clear (e-short story) by Ian Thomas Healy

Upon a Midnight Clear is a sci-fi Christmas story. It's 6,170 words long.

I'm not doing a read-alikes list for this one, although, if you'd like another sci-fi Christmas story, allow me to point you to my post for M.C.A. Hogarth's Snow Maiden, or The Case with the Holiday Blues.

Review:

I usually pass short stories by anymore, even free ones, but I was in a downloading mood. This was free and was tagged with “artificial intelligence.” It didn't really work for the reason I downloaded it, but it was an okay short story.

A prospector named Rob Stabler is out working in the Asteroid Belt when he sees a flash of light. It might be a ship in trouble, so Stabler, as the closest prospector available, opts to go to it first while the other prospectors in the area join him ASAP.

I had hoped this would be a story about artificial intelligence, but it wasn't. Stabler brought up “Turings” occasionally. One of the other prospectors married his, but Stabler had no such feelings for Mona, his own ship's onboard Turing. Mona had a speaking role, but she and Stabler don't really chitchat, and her being an AI wasn't hugely important.

This sci-fi Christmas story was actually more about alien life. It got a bit too cutesie for me (seriously, Stabler, that's what you're going to call it?), and I couldn't help but wonder what was going to happen later. The cynical part of me doubted that it would be anything good, but the story itself would probably best be called heartwarming.

I never really know what to say about short stories. It was okay, and Healy's descriptions of Stabler's life were pretty good. The image I had in my head was actually a lot like the life of a trucker – lonely, smelly, and cramped, with something that reminded me of CB radio allowing for a loose connection between the nearby prospectors.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Anime on Netflix

I have a love/hate relationship with Netflix's anime catalog. On the one hand, they occasionally get some great titles, sometimes even ones I don't have access to any other way (haven't purchased, not on Crunchyroll), and I've had fewer bad streaming experiences with them than with Crunchyroll. On the other hand, they go through periods where they hemorrhage all those great titles and are left with almost nothing.

I ignored them for a few weeks, and here's what they have that I'd like to watch and don't already own:
  • Noragami - I haven't heard much about this, but it was recommended to me by a friend.
  • Ghost in the Shell: Arise - I have to admit, I hate the Major's new hairstyle. But I'm always up for at least trying a new entry in the Ghost in the Shell franchise.
  • Sword Art Online - This series has many obsessive fans. I plan to read the first light novel one of these days, and I'm still trying to decide whether it would be better to read it before or after watching the show.
  • Fate/Zero - I watched the first episode on Crunchyroll a while back. It was gorgeous, but incredibly confusing. If I watched it on Netflix, I'd at least be able to pause an episode an come back to the same spot later (a thing that the Crunchyroll app on my TV didn't allow me to do). This is another series with scary, obsessive fans.
  • Chaos;Head - I've heard a bit about this show and have wanted to see it for some time.
  • Eden of the East: Paradise Lost - I think this is the last movie. I'm still debating whether to see it or not, because the last Eden of the East entry I tried was disappointing.
  • Deadman Wonderland - Another one I've been wanting to see for a while, although its level of violence may be too much for me. We'll see.
Considering how little TV I've been watching lately, this list is a little daunting, and I doubt I'll be able to get through it all before Netflix starts yanking things. Still, I've added it all to my monstrous queue.
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