Sunday, March 22, 2020

For US and Canadian folks: #CLOSETHELIBRARIES

You may not realize it, but even in the midst of a pandemic, a lot of libraries still have their doors open to users (the library I work for falls into this category). Even if they're closed, they might still be requiring all of their staff to come in (again, my library mostly falls into this category - in Technical Services, anyone who wishes to work from home due to concerns about the virus must make sure that someone else in their department is still working at the physical building). None of this is safe for staff members, their families, library users, or their communities.

This article provides strategies for getting libraries in your area closed. They link to a Google doc that includes a list of libraries known to still be open. It's a lot. Please do what you can to help your communities and get those libraries closed.

Without the context, all of this feels bizarrely Fahrenheit 451-ish. But here we are.

Monday, March 9, 2020

REVIEW: Hanasaku Iroha the Movie: Home Sweet Home (anime movie)

Hanasaku Iroha the Movie: Home Sweet Home is basically a side story in the Hanasaku Iroha series, which I saw and reviewed way back in 2012. It takes place prior to the Bonbori Festival, which I can't even remember at this point.

Ohana is still thinking about what she wants out of her life and struggling with her mixed feelings about her mother. When Yuina (a character I'd completely forgotten about - she's the heiress to a rival inn) arrives in order to learn more about how other inns are run, Ohana's grandmother makes her Ohana's problem. This leads to Ohana discovering an old logbook from her mother's teen days, back when her mother first met her father.

While that's going on, Nako is struggling with frustration and exhaustion. She's been left to take care of her younger siblings while both of her parents are away for work. She loves her siblings but struggles with the knowledge that, sometimes, what they really need is their real mother rather than their older sister acting as a surrogate mother. Minko isn't in the movie quite as much, but she does have her own problem: figuring out why Tohru keeps rejecting the meals she makes for Kissuiso's customers.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

REVIEW: Fullmetal Alchemist: The Valley of White Petals (book, vol. 3) by Makoto Inoue, original concept by Hiromu Arakawa, translated by Alexander O. Smith with Rich Amtower

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Valley of White Petals is the third book in a series of light novels based on Hiromu Arakawa's manga. I got my copy via interlibrary loan.

This review includes slight spoilers.

Review:

Edward and Alphonse Elric are essentially forced to do a bit of work for Colonel Mustang in this one. Mustang is super busy but has also been tasked with monitoring a little town called Wisteria and writing up a report, so he delegates the Wisteria report to Edward.

Wisteria turns out to be a mysterious place. Everyone seems to think it's a desert utopia, the kind of place no one ever leaves. The only people allowed in are those who have nowhere else to go. Raygen, the alchemist who founded the town, explains that it operates under the law of equivalent exchange. As long as everyone works and contributes, they'll have a place to stay and food to eat. The harder jobs, like mining gemstones that are later sold outside Wisteria, pay better, but there's also easier work available in the local tavern and elsewhere around town. It seems perfect, until Edward investigates a little more.

REVIEW: Dekoboko Sugar Days (manga) by Atsuko Yusen, translated by Christine Dashiell

Dekoboko Sugar Days (or is it Deko-Boko Sugar Days? it's listed both ways) is a "boys love" (m/m) romantic comedy. It's published by Tokyopop.

Review:

Rui is tall, energetic, sweet, and prone to fretting. Yuujirou is athletic, short, and has a complex about his height. The two high schoolers have been friends since they were children. Rui had fallen into a gutter and Yuujirou rescued him. At the time, Yuujirou thought Rui was a very cute girl...and fell instantly in love. Even after he found out that Rui was actually a boy, he couldn't shake his feelings, and it's getting harder and harder to hide them. What Yuujirou doesn't know is that Rui is starting to realize that his feelings of deep admiration for his friend might actually be love.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

REVIEW: A Man and His Cat (manga, vol. 1) by Umi Sakurai, translated by Taylor Engel

A Man and His Cat is a slice-of-life manga. It's licensed by Square Enix Manga, which I'm apparently going to have to keep an eye on - they have several interesting-looking works coming out in the next few months.

Review:

Fuyuki Kanda is a widowed music teacher who decides to buy a homely one-year-old cat at a pet store. The cat, who he names Fukumaru, is worried that his new owner will take him back or abandon him, but luckily for him, Mr. Kanda adores him.

This series is sweet, gentle, and warm, and I absolutely love it. I found out about it via a review on The Manga Critic, and then I kept coming across it via other sources until I finally broke down and bought it. I'm so glad I did.

Friday, March 6, 2020

REVIEW: I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (live action movie)

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House is horror, a haunted house/ghost story of the creepy and atmospheric variety.

Lily is a live-in nurse hired to care for Iris Blum, a horror writer who has dementia. Iris wrote thirteen novels, her best known of which is The Lady in the Walls. Lily, knowing that she's a bit of a wimp, has never even tried to read one of Iris's books, but nearly a year after coming to Iris's house, she decides to give The Lady in the Walls a try, due to the fact that Iris keeps calling her Polly, the name of the main character in that book. Unfortunately, Polly's story may be too much for her to take.

Like Lily, I am also a horror wimp. I approached this movie with caution and a bit of research. It seemed like something that would be low on jump scares (it was) and low on gore (also true). Its atmosphere was wonderful: creaky old house, unsettling hints that Lily was sharing the house with more than just Iris, and intense focus on Lily and her fragile state of mind.

I had to look this up to make sure it wasn't an adaptation, because it felt like one. Specifically, it felt like a Shirley Jackson novel, with its deep focus on its heroine, disquieting atmosphere, and occasional ambiguity. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the director/writer was influenced by Jackson's works.

I really enjoyed the first part of the movie. On her first day at the house, Lily noticed a sign of some kind of leak. Nearly a year later, it had developed into a mold problem that freaked her out but that she couldn't do much about - Iris's estate manager wasn't interested in spending the money to fix the problem since he figured Iris was going to die soon, and Lily didn't have the money to take care of it on her own. It's tough to say how much of what happened next was due to Lily steadily worrying herself to pieces and how much was real (similar to Eleanor in The Haunting of Hill House), but Iris's house did seem to be haunted.

Unfortunately, while the director/writer knew how to build up the tension and milk the creepiness, things fell apart a bit when it came to the actual ghost and the movie's climax. Polly barely had a story, and yet the movie seemed to spend ages on the flashback to her last moments in the house. And the "big" scare might have had a lot of screaming on Lily's part, but it really wasn't that scary. I liked the idea of the house trapping all of them in one place together, each of their stories overlapping, but the execution could have been better.

This started off lovely and atmospheric and became oddly flat and empty by the end. I don't regret watching it, but I don't know that I'd recommend it.

Monday, March 2, 2020

REVIEW: The Pretender: A Blackguard in Disguise (book) by Ta'Mara Hanscom

The Pretender: A Blackguard in Disguise is the first book in Hanscom's Caselli Family series. It's a family saga.

Review:

In April 1975, Tillie Caselli is a starry-eyed 17-year-old artist and Noah Hansen is a 23-year-old Vietnam War veteran and charming alcoholic. Noah doesn't realize it, but his preacher older brother is about to kick him out, a last-ditch effort to hopefully scare him into straightening himself out. It turns out that isn't necessary, however, because all Noah needs is a little motivation in the form of the beautiful, sweet, and proper Tillie. They meet while Tillie is in town for an art show. Tillie technically isn't allowed to date until she's 18, and certainly not without a chaperone, and Noah doesn't realize that she's still a minor. But it's love at first sight, and Tillie, keeping her family's story about knights and blackguards in mind, keeps an eye on Noah's behavior and is sure that he's a knight. From the moment Noah meets her, he doesn't touch a drop of alcohol and behaves like a perfect gentleman.

They promise to meet again and properly introduce Noah to Tillie's parents, but a misunderstanding comes between them. Noah prepares for a future with Tillie, not realizing that her heart has been broken by the belief that he's actually a blackguard. Meanwhile, Alex, the young lawyer Tillie had a crush on before she met Noah, has decided to court Tillie properly.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

REVIEW: Hiroshima's Revival: Remembering How People Overcame Destruction and Despair (nonfiction manga) by Takeo Aoki, translated by Pauline Baldwin

Hiroshima's Revival is a nonfiction manga about the reconstruction of Hiroshima after the US dropped an atomic bomb on it. I bought my copy at a used bookstore.

Review:

This manga begins with a little about Hiroshima's history and then the dropping of the atomic bomb on August 6, 1945. Each chapter covers one aspect of Hiroshima's post-bombing reconstruction and revival.

The first few chapters were dedicated to more immediate reconstruction efforts: restoring electricity, water, and gas (Chapter 1), restarting a streetcar service (Chapter 2), and reopening banks (Chapter 3). The next few chapters dealt with activities that began soon after the bombing and covered more of their history up to the present: getting legal commerce going again in the midst of a thriving black market (Chapter 4), the history of the company now known as Mazda and its three-wheeled truck (Chapter 5), reopening schools (Chapter 6), and getting the municipal government up and running again and acquiring funding for Hiroshima's reconstruction (Chapter 7). The last few chapters felt a bit more removed from the bombing than the rest, but still tied into Hiroshima's overall revival: providing cinema, music, and books to citizens again (Chapter 8), evolving a new local food culture (Chapter 9), and the history of the Hiroshima Carp baseball team (Chapter 10).

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

REVIEW: In the Tall Grass (audiobook) by Stephen King and Joe Hill, narrated by Stephen Lang

In the Tall Grass is a horror novella. I checked it out via my library's Overdrive.

Review:

Becky and Cal are inseparable siblings. When Becky finds out she's pregnant, Cal is the most supportive member of their family. The two end up on a road trip that takes them by a field of tall grass out in the middle of nowhere. They happen to hear a lost young boy calling for help somewhere in the field, so they pull over. It's weird, though, because there's also a woman in the field, the boy's mother, and for some reason she keeps telling him to be quiet. By the time Cal and Becky realize there's something off about this situation, it's too late, they're already in the grass.

Monday, February 24, 2020

REVIEW: The Alchemist (audiobook) by Paulo Coelho, narrated by Jeremy Irons

The Alchemist is fiction with fantasy elements, if I wanted to work really hard to shove it into some sort of genre. In reality, it's a self-help book in fiction form. I checked it out via my library's Overdrive.

Review:

Santiago is an Andalusian shepherd boy who's on his way to see a girl he once met and fell a little in love with. Before he gets there, however, some stuff happens that I can only vaguely recall. Something about a fortune teller, who tells him that a dream he had about the pyramids in Egypt will lead him to a great treasure. A mysterious man who turns out to be something more convinces Santiago to abandon his ordinary and comfortable life as a shepherd and begin his quest - the pursuit of his Personal Legend.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

REVIEW: I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up (manga) by Kodama Naoko, translated by Amber Tamosaitis

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up is yuri (f/f) manga.

Review:

Machi is tired of her parents' constant efforts to match her up with a successful man and half jokingly says she should marry someone they'd hate just to spite them. Her friend Hana surprises her when she suggests that the two of them get married. The news so shocks Machi's parents that they do indeed back off, at least temporarily. The special partnership certificate requires that they both live in Shibuya, so Hana moves in with Machi, which also helps them maintain the marriage charade.

Machi can't help but wonder if Hana is actually serious about all of this, though. Back in high school, Hana confessed her love for her, and Machi turned her down. They've continued to be friends, but what if Hana hopes their fake marriage will become a real one? As Machi starts to ponder her and Hana's relationship, she also takes a long, hard look at her life.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

REVIEW: Firebug (graphic novel) story and art by Johnnie Christmas, colors by Tamra Bonvillain

Firebug is a fantasy graphic novel.

Review:

Okay, I'm going to start off by saying that I got a little lost at times and wasn't always sure about what was going on. I'll try to describe the story as best I can, but I could be wrong about a few things.

Azar is a city located at the foot of a volcano. The people of Azar used to perform rituals to appease the goddess of the volcano, but that didn't stop the volcano from occasionally erupting and destroying everything. Eventually the Cult of the Goddess left Azar and established a new home for themselves, the Golden Capitol. It's now many, many years later, and there's a rebel group called the Third Wave that's convinced that the Cult of the Goddess is keeping the goddess captive, and they want to free her.

Keegan is the goddess's daughter. She tries to help the rebels, but something goes wrong, her mother ends up dead, and Keegan becomes the new goddess. At that point, she becomes determined to go back to Azar, the home of her ancestors. However, the Cult of the Goddess isn't her only enemy. An emissary from the water goddess is after her, and there's a prophecy that Keegan's return to Azar will mean its destruction.

REVIEW: Kevin Keller: Drive Me Crazy (graphic novel) by Dan Parent, pencils by Dan Parent and Bill Galvan

Kevin Keller: Drive Me Crazy is an Archie spinoff. It's one of three volumes total.

This review includes spoilers.

Review:

Kevin Keller: Drive Me Crazy is very episodic. In the first chapter, each of the characters has to present a report on an inspirational figure, and Kevin chooses George Takei. Takei finds out about his report and decides to pay Riverdale High a visit. In the second chapter, Kevin has some car problems that complicate a date at the drive-in movie theater. In the third chapter, Kevin is now dating his first ever boyfriend, Devon, but there's just one problem: Devon isn't out yet. In the fourth chapter, Kevin's secret admirer is back (his first appearance was in a previous volume I haven't read), and both he and Kevin are starring in Veronica's musical. Devon, meanwhile, struggles with jealousy.

REVIEW: Archie (graphic novel, vol. 1) by Mark Waid, art by Fiona Staples, Annie Wu, Veronica Fish

Archie is a reboot of the classic Archie comics. I bought my copy of this volume new.

Review:

Archie and Betty seemed like the perfect couple...until they broke up over "the lipstick incident." What's the lipstick incident? They refuse to say. Their friends try to get them to make up and get back together, but nothing seems to work. And now Veronica, a beautiful heiress, has moved into town, and Archie seems to be wrapped around her finger.

This was an impulse purchase. I have absolutely no nostalgic feelings for the original Archie comics. Neither their art style nor their humor worked for me. But then I tried and enjoyed the Jughead reboot. When I spotted the first volume of the Archie reboot while book shopping, I figured "hey, why not?"

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

REVIEW: The Forbidden Game: The Hunter, The Chase, The Kill (omnibus) by L.J. Smith

The Forbidden Game is a YA horror trilogy with romantic elements. I bought my copy used.

This review includes spoilers.

Review:

This omnibus edition includes all three books in the trilogy. In the first book, Jenny is doing some last minute preparation for her boyfriend Tom's birthday party and stumbles across a mysterious game store, where she buys a game in a blank white box. The game turns out to be a paper house, with paper figures you can draw on to look like the various players, and paper cards on which the players are expected to draw their worst fears. It seems like harmless fun, until the game becomes real, and Jenny, Tom, Zach, Dee, Audrey, Michael, and Summer are all trapped in the house and forced to face their fears if they want to survive. The one putting them through all of this is Julian, an evil but handsome being who wants to make Jenny his.

In the second book, everyone tries to adjust to the consequences of Book 1, and Julian's back for another game. In the third book, Jenny and her friends must travel to the Shadow World for a rescue attempt. They end up in a deadly amusement park, and this time around Julian isn't the only threat they need to worry about.
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