Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark (e-book) by Harry Connolly

A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark is a standalone urban fantasy novel.

This review includes mild spoilers.

Review:

I bought this because I loved the idea of an urban fantasy starring a 60+ year old pacifist. At the start of this book, the eccentric and rich Marley Jacobs is holding a fundraiser at her house. Aloysius, her sleazy nephew, stops by and tries to convince her to give him a love potion so he can win back Jenny, his ex-girlfriend and Marley's current assistant. Marley has always found Aloysius to be tiresome, and now she's finally had enough. She forces him to see himself for who he really is. It seems like a change for the better, except she never sees him alive again.

Although she didn't particularly like Aloysius, Marley still wants to find out who killed him and why.  For one thing, Jenny is being blamed for his murder, and Marley is convinced she didn't do it. For another, Marley is worried that her last words to Aloysius might have played a part in his death. With Albert, her nephew and Aloysius's half-brother, acting as her new assistant, she plans to figure out the truth and stop any more killings from happening in her city.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Lifecycle of Software Objects (book) by Ted Chiang

The Lifecycle of Software Objects is science fiction. Although I labeled it as a "book," it's very short, only 150 pages. If you don't mind reading something that length in a browser, Subterranean Press has made it available for free online. As far as I can tell, the entire text is included, although the illustrations are not.

Review:
 
The Lifecycle of Software Objects is an exploration of what might happen if AIs capable of learning, and possessing an unknown level of potential, were released as a toy. The closest real-life equivalents I can think of at the moment are Furbies and Tamagotchis, but 1) digients have far greater flexibility and potential and 2) digients have a primarily virtual existence, although they do acquire the option of real-world bodies later on.

The story follows two human characters. Ana Alvarado used to work at a zoo until she was hired by a company called Blue Gamma to train and test its digients. Derek Brooks is one of Blue Gamma's animators, charged with giving the digients avatars that are endearing and cute but not cartoonish. Over the course of several years, the digients develop personalities and new abilities, copies of their “infant” selves are released to the public for purchase, and some people adopt them wholeheartedly while others grow frustrated with the difficulty of training them. Eventually, new companies with different philosophies pop up, Blue Gamma folds, and Ana and Derek adopt their favorite digients (Ana's is Jax, a digient with a robot avatar, and Derek adopts both Marco, whose avatar is panda-like, and Polo, Marco's younger copy/sibling). A small community of digient enthusiasts tries to keep things going.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Manga Tag

After reading Ash Brown's post over at Experiments in Manga, I decided to join in on the fun. It gave me an excuse to look through my manga collection, which is now large enough to be worth writing about.

1. What was your first manga?
It was either the first volume of Rumiko Takahashi's Inuyasha or one of the Battle Angel Alita volumes, I can't remember which. I do know that the first volume of Inuyasha was the first volume of manga I ever owned. I was too new to manga to realize that I'd never be able to afford to keep buying the whole series.

2. What is your most expensive manga?
I don't own much in the way of expensive manga. If a series goes out of print, I either read it via the library or keep an eye out for cheap volumes at used bookstores or online. Yen Press's hardcover releases of A Bride's Story are probably the most expensive individual manga volumes I've ever purchased. If I answer this question on a series level, however, things get a little more interesting. I've probably spent more on Fruits Basket than I have on any other series in my collection. I own all the volumes and bought almost all of them brand new, as they were being released.

3. What was your least expensive manga?
I don't recall ever having been given manga as a gift, so that leaves the $1 clearance volumes I've picked up over the years. The only one I can remember at the moment is a random volume of DNAngel.

4. What is the most boring manga you own?
This one's tough to answer, since I try to avoid buying manga I think will be boring. Maybe Masayuki Takano's Blood Alone? The first omnibus volume is awfully dull for something starring a young vampire. I've kept it because I keep intending to read the next volume, but I still haven't gotten around to it. If I expand this question to include things I've read or tried to read, the answer would either be Japan, Inc. (a manga based on information from a Japanese economics textbook) or The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology.

5. What is your favorite manga series?
I have so many I love that this question is extremely hard. Maybe Kaoru Mori's Emma, even though parts of it are a bit melodramatic. Mori's artwork is gorgeous, and she can pack so much into her characters. I love Mori's A Bride's Story, too, although I'm behind on reading that one. Oh, and I also love Yoshiki Nakamura's Skip Beat!, which somehow still hasn't gotten old after so many volumes. I haven't bought any of it, because of the expense and the shelf space it'd take up, but I probably should.

6. What is the most relatable manga series you own?
Another hard question, mainly because “relatability” is not really something I look for when I'm manga shopping. I'm going to go with Tramps Like Us for this one. No, I'm not keeping a young man as a pet in my apartment, but I can relate to the need to find someone with whom you can just relax and be yourself.

7. What is one manga you own that is based off an anime?
I could be wrong about this, but I don't think I own a single manga based on an anime. Not one. I own manga based on visual novels and light novels, but nothing based on anime. I don't think I've even checked out very many from the library. In most cases, I look at them and decide I'd rather just re-watch the anime.

8. What is your rarest manga?
I own quite a few manga that are now out of print, but a few quick searches on Amazon tell me that none of them really qualify as rare.

9. What is the most reprinted manga you own?
I'm having trouble coming up with a good answer for this one, because I know that many of the series I own have had at least two different releases (either single volume vs. omnibus by the same publisher, or releases from two separate publishers due to a license rescue), but I'm not sure if any of them have had more releases than the rest. I suppose I'll list Alice in the Country of Hearts and Loveless. In both cases, I own at least some of both different releases. I have the entirety of both the Yen Press and Tokyopop releases of Alice in the Country of Hearts, although the Tokyopop release was incomplete. I have the Tokyopop volumes of Loveless up until the point when Tokyopop fell apart, after which I continued with the VIZ volumes.

10. What is the most popular manga you own?
Which is more popular, Naruto or Fruits Basket? I own all of Fruits Basket and a single volume of Naruto (volume 53, which I purchased entirely because both of Naruto's parents were on the cover).

11. What is the most damaged manga you own?
My copy of the first volume of Hikaru no Go has writing in it – I bought it used and didn't notice the writing until it was too late.

12. Which manga has the most amazing art?
Kaoru Mori's A Bride's Story. I like to flip through the volumes and just sigh over the artwork. The detail she puts into textiles and characters' outfits is amazing.

13. What is the oldest published manga that you own?
Maybe CLAMP's Tokyo Babylon, which Wikipedia tells me originally ran from 1990-1993. I only have one volume of it, though.

14. What is the newest published manga you own?
Volume 6 of A Bride's Story. It was originally released in Japan on January 14, 2014, and the English release date was October 28, 2014.

15. What are some of the most recent manga you have purchased?
I just bought some today. UDON Entertainment's The Scarlet Letter (not sure if it counts, though), volume 1 of Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit, volumes 1-3 of xxxHOLiC: Rei, and volumes 3-4 of Bride of the Water God (Korean manhwa).

I wouldn't know who to tag, so I'm just going to say that whoever wants to join in should do so. And let me know! I'd love to see your responses.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Toad Words and Other Stories (anthology) by T. Kingfisher

Toad Words and Other Stories is a collection of three poems and eight stories. Almost all of them feature familiar tales that have been twisted or tweaked somehow. Be warned, my review spoils some of those twists.

If you like the cover, I should mention that there's a cute toad illustration on the title page as well.

“It Has Come To My Attention”

A poem about a person who isn't interested in the aspects of fairy tales that they're supposed to be. This was okay, but, honestly, I'm not a poetry person.

“Toad Words”

This story is a twist on the “Diamonds and Toads” tale, in which one daughter speaks and jewels fall out of her mouth and one speaks and toads fall out of her mouth. In this version, neither daughter is a particularly terrible person, and both have long since adjusted to their gift/curse. The POV character is the one who speaks and frogs and toads fall out of her mouth. When she learns that various amphibians are going extinct, she decides to do something about it.

This was nice and actually made me wish a curse like that could exist. The main character certainly made the best use of it that she could.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Lock In (e-book) by John Scalzi

Lock In is a sci-fi thriller. It was one of my library e-book checkouts.

Review:

Approximately 24 years prior to this book's present, the first Haden's syndrome cases began appearing. Many people got sick and died. Some got better and experienced no permanent effects. However, a portion of those who survived the second stage experienced lock in – they were still alive, but were essentially trapped inside bodies they could no longer control. An even smaller number of those who survived the second stage were outwardly unchanged, but had the ability to become Integrators, people who could allow those who were locked in to briefly borrow their bodies. Decades later, the disease still has no reliable vaccine.

Chris Shane is one of the best-known Hadens in the U.S., maybe on the entire planet. He became locked in when he was only a baby and was one of the first Hadens to regularly use a threep, an android body. In the book's present, he has joined the FBI in an effort to get out of his family's shadow and be more than a Haden celebrity. His very first day on the job includes a man who was possibly murdered by an Integrator, and a bombing at a facility researching drugs that might allow Hadens to have voluntary control of their bodies again. Meanwhile, tensions between Hadens and non-Hadens are rising as a bill is scheduled to go into effect that will cut many of the programs and subsidies that Hadens have depended on.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Alpha and His Ace (e-short story) by Ana J. Phoenix

The Alpha and his Ace is a free m/m paranormal romance.

Review:

Brandon is the alpha of his werewolf pack, but lately he's had trouble holding onto their respect. Everyone knows a good leader needs a mate by his side (don't look at me, I'm just writing what the story said), and Brandon still hasn't managed to find his. Since going to gay bars doesn't seem to be cutting it, he decides to try regular bars, too. Almost immediately he's hit on by a very drunk woman named Ruby. He's not interested, but it's also pretty clear that she's drunk enough to get herself into trouble, so he helps her get back to her apartment only to discover that her roommate, Aidan, is his mate. Just one problem: Aidan is asexual. Brandon's not about to run away, but, as he learns more about asexuality, he wonders if his mate will ever be able to become a werewolf, a process that would involve having sex.

This was apparently based on a prompt from someone in a Goodreads group. If the picture I saw was what the story was based on, it's a good thing it wasn't included with this e-book file, since I'm reasonably certain it's someone's Wolf's Rain fan art.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Car Hacker (e-short story) by Rosie Claverton

Car Hacker is #2.5 in the Amy Lane Mysteries series. It's 11,000 words long.

I'm not including a read-alikes list for this one.

Review:

This short story takes place after Code Runner and can be obtained for free by signing up for Rosie Claverton's newsletter. If you loved the first two books in Claverton's Amy Lane Mysteries series, it's worth the occasional extra email to get this story.

It's time for Jason's 24th birthday, and he has plans that include getting out of Amy's house and going out for a drink with friends. What he doesn't realize is that Amy has plans of her own. She has staged a car theft for Jason to investigate while his mother makes him a surprise birthday cake and dinner. It seems like the perfect way to keep Jason busy and entertained, until things go wrong.

I love Jason and Amy. They're a perfect match. Jason understands the intent behind Amy's actions and appreciates what she does for him, even when she goes overboard. Amy desperately wants to keep Jason safe but also doesn't want to stifle him. I love how well these two work together, and I hope nothing ever messes that up.

There were appearances from Cerys (Amy's co-conspirator in the birthday plans), Bryn (reluctantly involved in the plan), and Jason's mother. Things were still awkward with Owain, but, aside from that, it was like a little “Amy's family reunion.” Very nice.

I had hoped that I'd finish this and then get to snatch up Captcha Thief, Book 3 in the series, not long after, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen. Captcha Thief was originally supposed to be released on July 20th but has now been delayed until who knows when. I'll try to be patient, but it would be easier if I knew how long the wait was going to be.

The Lotus Palace (e-book) by Jeannie Lin

The Lotus Palace is historical romantic suspense, the first in Lin's Pingkang Li Mysteries series.

I'm going to be lazy and skip out on including a read-alikes/watch-alikes list, since the only thing I could easily think of was Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame. It doesn't have much in the way of romance, but it does have mystery and a historical Chinese setting.

Review:

I think this was the first of Jeannie Lin's books not to show up in the books section at my local Walmart – had I seen it, I'd certainly have bought it, because I've liked or loved everything of hers that I've read so far. Instead, I ended up checking it out through my library.

This book is set in Tang Dynasty China but, as far as I know, has nothing to do with any of Lin's Tang Dynasty Harlequin Historicals. Yue-ying is the maidservant of a courtesan named Mingyu. Bai Huang, the privileged son of a noble family, appears to be interested in Mingyu but really only has eyes for Yue-ying. Unfortunately for him, Yue-ying is determined not to forget their respective positions. Whatever romantic notions Huang might have, any relationship between the two of them is almost certain to end in heartbreak.

Bai Huang has a reputation for being carefree and foolish. What no one realizes is that he's his father's spy. When a courtesan asks for Huang's help only to be murdered a short time later, Huang and Yue-ying team up in an effort to find her killer.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Ancillary Justice (book) by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justice is science fiction, the first book in a trilogy.

Review:

Ancillary Justice has been on my TBR for a while, because books with prominent AI characters that aren't evil are my catnip. Then the whole thing with the Sad Puppies and the Hugo Awards blew up. Ancillary Justice was one of two works that kept coming up again and again as one of the works most hated by the Sad Puppies, so I suppose I should thank them for reminding me I hadn't read it yet.

Before I write anything else, I need to talk about one thing that no review of Ancillary Justice would be complete without: the gender thing. The Radchaai language doesn't have gendered pronouns, and the Radchaai have no real use for gender in their society, not even when it comes to reproduction. Breq, the main character, is Radchaai (although she would disagree with this) and thinks like one of them. However, the book is written in English. Leckie chose to communicate Breq's way of seeing gender by having her refer to everybody using feminine pronouns, even in those few cases where others confirmed for her that certain characters were male. I'll be sticking to feminine pronouns in my review as well.

Now for the summary. Twenty years ago, Breq was Justice of Toren, a Radch starship with hundreds of thousands of ancillaries, so-called “corpse soldiers” that could act as additional bodies for her. In between that time and the book's present, something happened to reduce her to just one lone ancillary segment. The only thing she wants is to locate a particular gun, convince its owner to part with it, and then use it to kill Anaander Mianaai, the supreme ruler of the Radch Empire. It's an impossible and suicidal goal, because Anaander Mianaai has thousands of bodies.

Along the way, Breq picks up a stray, a Radchaai named Seivarden who should have died a thousand years ago. Breq remembers her from when she was stationed on Justice of Toren, but she, of course, doesn't recognize her. She's a drug addict, and more trouble than she's probably worth, but Breq takes her along anyway. Not even Breq is sure why.
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