Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Gakuen Alice (manga, vol. 2) by Tachibana Higuchi

Mikan is now officially a student at Alice Academy, having proved in the previous volume that she possesses the extremely rare Alice of Nullification. In this volume, Mikan learns a little bit more about how Alice Academy works, and not everything she learns is good and fun. Many of the students have become more accepting of her now that she's proven that she has an Alice, but there are still several students who are determined to hate her. Mikan learns about the academy's star ranking for students and soon becomes the only student in her age-group to get the lowest star ranking possible. This makes her situation especially miserable, since a student's star ranking determines just about every luxury they get in their life, from the food they get to eat to the condition of their bedroom. For some reason, one of Mikan's teachers hates her and seems determined to make sure that she doesn't have an easy time at the academy. However, Mikan begins to enjoy herself a little more when she is assigned to her ability-type class and meets a lot of kind and friendly students there. By the end of the volume, however, Mikan discovers another upsetting fact about the school and begins to wonder whether her favorite teacher, Narumi, is really the friend she thought he was.

By volume two, I'm still feeling good about this series. Once again, this series mixes together lots of humor with just enough seriousness, and it works really well. Mikan, as usual, is determined to be cheerful and optimistic - I think she's actually less annoying in this volume. She wasn't too annoying in the first volume, but it's still nice that some of the more self-centered aspects of her character were toned down just a smidgen. However, Mikan is still an idiot. Despite the fact that she learned in the previous volume that students at Alice Academy aren't allowed much contact with the outside world, she's incredibly shocked when she discovers what Narumi's been doing with her letters. She's a very trusting girl who doesn't always put two and two together.

I liked the little revelation in this volume that there was a previous student at this school with the Alice of Nullification who apparently caused a lot of trouble. Although Higuchi isn't always great at writing about mysterious things and actually keeping them mysterious (I figured out what Mikan's Alice was way before Higuchi officially revealed it in the manga, for instance), this is one mystery that does sound really interesting and mysterious. I look forward to finding out more.

The ability-type class was a nice addition, too. Up until now, Mikan's pretty much been hanging onto Hotaru as much as possible, but her ability-type class will provide her with the opportunity to develop good friendships with other people - that means there'll be more characters for us readers to get to know and like. Mikan's ability-type class seems really nice, and I imagine there's more than a few readers who'd love to end up in that class. Natsume's class, on the other hand, seems a little scary. Considering that his class is the "dangerous ability type" class, and considering what one of his teachers said about a mission having come up, I have a feeling that the government is already using children like Natsume to do their dirty work for them, without even waiting for them to graduate first. There might not be a lot of dark moments in this series so far, but the ones that come up seem to be pretty intense.

This paragraph might not be the best thing to read if you haven't actually read this volume yet, so consider skipping it if you haven't. Anyway, I'm kind of wondering if Narumi is Mikan's father. This speculation is probably a bit premature, but this volume drops several clues that I've been playing around with. First, the school used to have another student with the Alice of Nullification, who I think might possibly have been Mikan's mother. I don't think anything's been said so far in the series about her parents - she lives with her grandfather. Second, Narumi seems to be really focused on Mikan. This might be due to the fact that he brought her into the school, but I'm wondering if there's isn't more to it than that. He's the one who first noticed what her Alice might be, he goes out of his way to be friendly to Mikan, and he protects her pretty fiercely at the end of this volume. Third, Narumi's the one who suggests that Mikan call him dad - sure, he might have made the suggestion in order to get out of being called grandpa, but I still think it's telling that he was the one who made the "dad" suggestion. Fourth, at the end of the volume Higuchi shows us the Mikan was apparently adopted by somebody. Narumi could've been her father and not known it, because Mikan's mother could've given her up for adoption before Narumi found anything out.

Oh, speculation is fun, and I think the ability to speculate about things is a sign that a story is engaging and interesting. I can't wait for my public library to get more volumes of this series.

As far as extras go, this volume has an author freetalk sidebar in the form of a short comic, a more in-depth explanation of Natsume's power limiters as well as a few other kinds of power limiters, a few character profiles, and in-depth descriptions (with illustrations) of the Junior Division uniforms.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (book) by J.K. Rowling - After spending 10 years with his uncle, aunt, and their bully of a son, all people who hate him, Harry Potter learns that he is a wizard and has been invited to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Although things don't exactly become easy, as he tries to deal with a new magical world he knows nothing about, his celebrity status in the world of witches and wizards, and a powerful enemy who tried to kill him when he was just a baby, Harry still manages to enjoy himself and make friends. Those who'd like another fantasy series with a school full of children with special abilities and a detailed fantasy world might like this book, which is the first in the Harry Potter series. Like Mikan, Harry has a teacher who despises him for unknown reasons. Also, similar to the "ability-type classes" in Gakuen Alice, this book has different Houses, which each have their own special characteristics.
  • Arrows of the Queen (book) by Mercedes Lackey - Talia is part of a very restrictive community that she doesn't feel she fits in with. She dreams of being able to leave and serve Heralds (sort of like travelling peace-makers, although they do much more than that) and their Companions (beings that have bonded with humans and that look like horses, but that are at least as intelligent as humans). Talia's wish is granted when a Companion finds her and bonds with her, taking her away to be trained as a Herald and the new Queen's Own (emotional advisor to the queen). This is the first book in Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar series. Those who'd like a story with a school for special children and teens might like this book. At one point, Talia attends classes that teach her about her own special abilities - these classes remind me a little of Gakuen Alice's ability type classes. Like Mikan, Talia never even knew that she had abilities that could get her into such a school.
  • The Strange Power (book) by L. J. Smith - This is the first book is Smith's Dark Visions series. Kaitlyn Fairchild is a psychic whose drawings predict the future. The only problem is, her drawings usually don't make sense until after whatever they predict has happened. When she finds out about the Zeetes Institute, a place where she can learn to control her abilities, she decides to go, but the institute may have have more sinister intentions than Kaitlyn realizes. Those who'd like a story with romance, psychic abilities, and a school with secrets might like this book and series. Like Natsume, the main male character, Gabriel, is dark and dangerous, a complex character.
  • Fruits Basket (anime TV series); Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya - Tohru had been living with her grandfather after her mother died, but circumstances and Tohru's own desire not to be a burden meant that she ended up living alone in a tent for a while. However, she gets taken in by the Sohma family, who are hiding a secret - certain members of the family turn into animals in the Chinese zodiac when they're weak or hugged by a member of the opposite sex. Both the manga and anime are good - the anime follows the manga pretty closely (except for a few things, and the last episode), but it ends well before the manga does. Those who are looking for a fantasy manga series that is mostly light-hearted (at least at the beginning), with a cheerful, likable, and determined heroine who has a tendency to be a bit oblivious, might like this series. The manga series gets a little darker later on, as the author starts revealing various characters pasts and secrets, but this is overall a light and gentle series. The anime series also has its darker moments, but it stops well before the story's biggest secrets are revealed.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Gakuen Alice (manga, vol. 1) by Tachibana Higuchi

Mikan is a cheerful and energetic 10-year-old who doesn't always think things through very well. Her best friend is Hotaru, who's pretty much the opposite of Mikan - she's intelligent, cool, and greedy. She's not very good at showing her feelings, although she really does like Mikan. One day, Mikan finds out that Hotaru is going to become a student at Alice Academy, a special and mysterious place that people say is a school for geniuses. Students at Alice Academy aren't allowed to have much contact with those outside it, and Mikan becomes determined to become a student there in order to see Hotaru again. Fortunately for Mikan, the meaning of "Alice" isn't "genius" but "gift." All the students at the school have special gifts, like being able to start fires with their minds, easily invent amazing things, or fly. A nice teacher at the school gives Mikan a chance to attend Alice Academy, but she must prove that she has an Alice if she wants to stay there. Mikan tries her best, but there are already several students who hate her and try to make her life difficult.

Okay, so this isn't the most original premise for a story. I liked this manga anyway. Mikan can be annoying occasionally, since she's completely oblivious to a lot of things and has a tendency to be a bit self-centered, but her cheerful idiocy can be pretty endearing. Hotaru balances her out a little and keeps her from getting herself killed.

Although the premise, a mysterious government-controlled school for children with special powers, isn't really all that original, it's still a lot of fun. So far, each student has a different power (although it's mentioned that some powers are more common than others), so it's fun to see what other powers people at the school have. Personally, I don't think Mikan's power is all that interesting, but I'm sure Higuchi will find lots of ways to make it interesting, especially since Mikan's power means there's lots of potential for a sweet kid romance between her and Natsume (who at this point in the series hates Mikan). By the way, Higuchi tries to make Mikan's power a mystery in this first volume, but, if you're paying attention and think about it a bit, it's pretty easy to figure out what her power is within a few pages of her first meeting with an Alice Academy teacher.

The teachers are probably going to be a lot of fun. The main teacher that stands out in this volume is Narumi (it drives me crazy how similar his name is to Natsume - I kept getting their names mixed up in my head). His Alice is "Pheromone Sensitive," which means that he exudes pheromones that make him charming and attractive to both males and females. He mostly uses his ability to subdue overly aggressive children at the academy - basically, his pheromones are too overwhelming for young children, so they pass out if he kisses them (don't worry, it's nothing icky, just a peck on the cheek or something). Narumi's got lots of comic potential, so the scenes he's in tend to be pretty light in tone, but it's also obvious that he knows more about what's going on in the school than he's willing (or able?) to tell Mikan. This results in flashes of seriousness that are a lot of fun as well.

Basically, this first volume feels mostly light-hearted. There's a lot of humorous moments (including a homicidal teddy bear and a kid who produces animal pheromones) and Mikan's not really capable of being serious for too long. However, there's also lots of indications that this series could take some pretty serious turns before it ends. As I mentioned earlier, this is a government-controlled school that's so concerned with protecting these children that they aren't allowed hardly any contact with the outside world. Students who act up are made to wear an "Alice nullification mask" which makes it difficult or impossible for them to use their special abilities.

Overall, I really liked this first volume. The mix of humor and seriousness is interesting, and I enjoyed reading about what this school is like and what kind of Alices each of the students have. Although some of the characters didn't always appeal to me (like Mikan and Hotaru, whose personalities are a little over-the-top in different ways), there are also several characters I enjoy and who intrigue me (Narumi and Natsume, for instance). I'm looking forward to seeing how this series develops.

As far as extras go, there's in-depth explanations and illustrations of Alice Academy's Elementary Division uniforms, author freetalk sidebars in the form of short comics, and a less-than-lovely map of Alice Academy that looks like it was probably originally in color (it's different shades of gray and somewhat fuzzy in this edition).

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Kodocha (anime TV series) - Sana Kurata, a cheerful 5th grader who's the star of the hit TV comedy "Child's Toy," is determined to win back control of her classroom from her arch-enemy, Akito. Akito has organized the classroom boys, encouraging them to be noisy, violent, and generally unpleasant, and Sana won't stand for it. The more Sana learns about Akito, however, the more she comes to like him and see other sides to him. Those who'd like another comedy/romance/drama series starring a very cheerful girl and a complex male character might like this series. In addition, Kodocha and Gakuen Alice have very similar art styles.
  • Ceres: Celestial Legend (manga) by Yuu Watase - Aya and Aki are twins who think they have normal, everyday lives, until they turn 16 and everything changes. They come from a line that carries the blood of tennyo (heavenly maidens), and the females in the family that have this blood most strongly are killed when they turn 16 so that the family can avoid the tennyo's wrath. Aya is possessed by the tennyo, Ceres, and manages to escape. She continues to evade her family's plans with the help of a mysterious young man, another woman with weaker tennyo blood, and the woman's brother. Those who'd like another story with people who've got sudden amazing abilities might like this series. As with Gakuen Alice, characters with special abilities often find them to be uncomfortable (emotionally, mentally, etc.), but this series focuses on this idea much more than Gakuen Alice, resulting in an overall darker tone.
  • The Strange Power (book) by L. J. Smith - This is the first book in Smith's Dark Visions series. Kaitlyn Fairchild is a psychic whose drawings predict the future. The only problem is, her drawings usually don't make sense until after whatever they predict has happened. When she finds out about the Zeetes Institute, a place where she can learn to control her abilities, she decides to go, but the institute may have have more sinister intentions than Kaitlyn realizes. Those who'd like a story with romance, psychic abilities, and a school with secrets might like this book and series. Like Natsume, the main male character, Gabriel, is complex and dark.
  • Midnight for Charlie Bone (book) by Jenny Nimmo - This is the first book in Nimmo's Children of the Red King series. When Charlie Bone is 10 years old, he discovers that he can look at a photograph and hear conversations and even thoughts that people had when the photograph was taken. Charlie hears one conversation that prompts him to search for a girl who has been missing for years. When he begins attending Bloor's Academy, an elite school for the rich and endowed (that's what people with special abilities are called), Charlie makes friends who try to help him solve the mystery of the missing girl. Unfortunately, the Bloors and Charlie's horrible relatives try to make things difficult for him. Those who'd like another fantasy story with a mysterious and restrictive school for children with special abilities might like this book.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Yakitate!! Japan (manga, vol. 11) by Takashi Hashiguchi

The Japanese representatives continue the Monaco Cup semifinals (in bread-making). In this volume, the Japanese representatives, Azuma, Kawachi, and Suwabara, tackle their next task: baking a sports bread for the drivers of the F1 Grand Prix that is easy to digest and provides stamina. Each of the three agonize over their bread, even Azuma, who says he has already created such a bread and can't think of how to improve upon it. Meanwhile, Sophie reveals her tragic past and the reason why she hates her father so much - it also seems as though the King of Monaco might know her father. When the volume finally gets to the showdown between the sports breads created by the Japanese representatives and the sports bread created by the French representatives, the Japanese representatives (minus Azuma) finally discover the freakish break-making horror that lies underneath the cloak the French representatives wear. What they learn shakes their confidence, but the Japanese representatives must still try their best. Unfortunately, Azuma may show up to the competition too late to bake his bread.

I enjoyed this series a little more in the earlier volumes, when it felt like the breads being produced were actually somewhat possible. However, I still had a lot of fun with this volume. I had a little trouble following the storyline involving Sophie's father, which may be due to the fact that it's been a month or two since I read the previous volume. This wasn't too much of a problem, since the majority of the volume was taken up by the Japanese representatives' quests to come up with and then explain their breads. The explanations were interesting, but I wasn't really sure how plausible they were. I also wasn't entirely sure how tasty any of these breads might be. The characters claim that certain individual ingredients are delicious, but how would they taste when combined in one bread? Also, would certain ingredients still be as nutritious after having been combined with other ingredients and then baked? There are no notes at the end of this volume explaining any of this.

Nearly everyone's bread was worth reading to the end for. I think the only bread I found kind of disappointing was Kawachi's. He didn't really think his ingredients through very well, and even he was so lacking in confidence in his own bread that he told the judge not to even bother trying it. Kawachi's basically comic dead-weight in this volume.

Overall, though, I liked this volume. Even after 11 volumes, this is still an enjoyable series. This particular volume is a little less weird and wacky than some of the previous volumes, but it's definitely not lacking in strangeness. For one thing, this is a manga about competitive bread-making - how can that not be weird? For another, there's the bit about the freakishness of the French representatives. That part has to be seen to be believed. Seriously.

As far as extras go, there are three bonus funny comics at the end (a single page for each comic) and a note with information about the hydrangea plant chosen as one of the ingredients in this volume.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Hikaru no Go (manga) by Yumi Hotta (story) and Takeshi Obata (art); Hikaru no Go (anime TV series) - Twelve-year-old Hikaru is looking through his grandfather's things for something he can sell when he comes across a haunted Go board. Sai, the ghost of a long-dead Go instructor, is delighted that Hikaru can see him and basically forces him to give him opportunities to play Go. Hikaru is reluctant, at first, but he gradually learns to love the game and starts on the path to becoming a professional Go player. I'm sure that Japanese readers don't consider the premise of this manga (focusing on a board game and professional Go playing) to be nearly as odd as Yakitate!! Japan's professional bread-making competitions, and it's really not. However, Western readers unfamiliar with Go may find a manga about a board game just odd enough to be interesting. Those who'd like a manga series with exciting one-on-one competition might like this manga. Yes, I did say that a manga about a board game has exciting competition - Hotta and Obata do an excellent job of making the Go matches both exciting and believable.
  • Gin Tama (manga) by Hideaki Sorachi - Gintoki is a broke samurai in a world that no longer needs samurai. His life gets a little more complicated when he starts living with Kagura (a super-strong alien girl who looks tiny and cute) and Shinpachi. The group takes odd jobs, trying to save people and earn enough to eat and pay the rent. Those who'd like another manga series with weird and sometimes crass humor might like this series.
  • Eyeshield 21 (manga) by Riichirou Inagaki (story) and Yuusuke Murata (art) - Sena, a freshman in high school, has been bullied for years and, as a result, has learned to run really fast. His talent is spotted by Hiruma, the hilariously sadistic president of the American Football Club, who forces Sena to join the club as the mysterious "Eyeshield 21." Those who'd like another manga series with weird humor that focuses on competition might enjoy this series. Even if you don't like football, I'd still suggest this series - Inagaki, aware that many Japanese readers might not know how football works, explains many of the rules (so even American readers who don't know the rules can follow along) and keeps things fun, even for non-football lovers, by cranking up the wild and weird humor.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Specials (book) by Scott Westerfeld

This is the final book in Westerfeld's Uglies Trilogy (or the next-to-last book, if you consider Extras to be part of the series). Tally has been turned into a Special, and readers will probably quickly realize that the changes she has undergone have affected not only her body, but also her mind. Tally is stronger, faster, and more dangerous than any Pretty or Ugly could ever be, and her mind has been changed so that she's quicker to anger and more likely to react with violence. She also can't help but view Pretties and Uglies with disgust - to her, they lack the sharpness and perfection of Specials.

Tally, Shay, and the Cutters from the previous book are all now Specials and are given the task of finding the Smokies and destroying the New Smoke. Smokies have been giving out the cure for brain lesions in amazing amounts, and the Specials are frantic to stop the changes that are threatening to topple society as they know it. Tally and Shay get their chance to stop the Smokies when they free Zane and secretly follow him and his group as try to locate the New Smoke. However, the New Smoke is stronger than anyone in Special Circumstances realizes, and the things Tally and Shay do while trying to find it spiral out of control and threaten to bring harm to the whole world, not just the New Smoke and their own city. In the end, it's up to Tally to try and figure out how to make everything better.

This was a very satisfying ending to the trilogy. Although it took a lot of adjusting to read about how much Tally had changed and how much she was enjoying being a Special, after everything in the previous books had shown how scary they were and how much she feared them, it was still fun reading about Tally's new abilities. Her new strength and speed, plus her heightened aggression, means that there are plenty of opportunities for some great action scenes. The previous books had exciting action scenes, too, but in this particular book Tally barely even needs to worry about getting hurt. She's got a heightened metabolism, specially altered muscles, nanos that kick in and automatically start healing her when she gets hurt (although it might take several hours for things like broken bones to mend), super-tough ceramic bones and teeth, senses heightened to the point where clarity is almost painfully sharp - the list goes on. With all of the cool futuristic technology and body modifications throughout this book and the entire series, it's no surprise that the first book, Uglies, is being made into a movie.

Specials is more than just action scenes and cool futuristic details, however. There are also quite a few thought-provoking moments. For instance, there's the various issues that Tally must deal with in her personal life. As a Special, Tally finds herself unwillingly disgusted by the boys she once loved, Zane and David. That doesn't stop her from wanting to protect Zane, whose motor skills were damaged by events in the previous book, and Tally's protectiveness and left-over love for Zane are part of what prompt her to, once again, act in ways inconsistent with the brain modifications that have been forced upon her. It's a little unbelievable that Tally is the only one in the entire city who is capable to thinking her way out of brain modifications - it's the usual teen fiction cliche of the one girl/boy who can do something amazing that no one else can. However, that thought didn't interfere with the fun I had reading this book.

The other big issues in this book (as well as in the previous books) are the environment and free will. According to this trilogy, the people of our time, called Rusties, nearly destroyed the world in our reliance on oil and the ways we try to change the environment for what we view as our benefit. In Westerfeld's vision of the future, many cities, including Tally's, tightly control their populations and have small government groups that watch over the safety of larger groups of beautiful, useless, idiotic populations of Pretties. Hardly anyone really has free will, and no one really misses it. In Specials, the pills the Smokies hand out give everyone back their ability to think for themselves. In theory, this is a good thing, but only Tally is able to see the problems that arise from too many people doing as they please.

In the earlier books, Westerfeld made it clear that, although the environment is recovering from the damage perpetrated on it by the Rusties, it's still fragile. If the cured people from Specials decide to go back to Rusty ways, the environment won't stand much of a chance. Tally must decide where she will stand in all of this, and what she wants to do - by the end of the book, she's made her choice, and I think it's one that shows some hope for the direction the future will take. Although Westerfeld's future is something of a dystopia, the ending to this trilogy won't necessarily send readers spiraling into a deep depression, something that I appreciate.

Unlike in previous books, where most of Tally's problems were the result of her continued lying, Tally does make an effort in this book not to lie, another thing that I, and probably other readers, appreciate. I did get tired of other things that Tally did in this book, however - for most of the book, she didn't do anything that someone (usually Shay) hadn't already told her to do, making her a bit like a dangerous sheep. She eventually began thinking for herself again, but it took a while. Still, I really enjoyed this book overall, and I hope to get the related book, Extras, from the library soon.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Feed (book) by M. T. Anderson - This chilling young adult science fiction novel takes place in a future where almost everyone has a "feed" implanted directly in their brain, allowing them constant access to the internet (and all the woes that go with it, including brain spam and pop-ups). Titus, the narrator, never thinks to question his world, but then he meets Violet, who has been home schooled and gotten her feed late. Those who'd like to read another science fiction book that's critical of a society that encourages people not to think might like this book. As with Specials, there's interesting technology and a little bit of romance.
  • The Matrix (live action movie) - A hacker finds out that the "real" world is only a construct designed to keep people docile, so that they can be used as living batteries by robots - this hacker discovers that he is the only one who can free humanity from these robots and the constructed world. Those who'd like something with lots of action scenes and characters doing amazing and impossible stunts might like this movie. As in Specials, people are trying to break free of restraints that most people don't even realize exist.
  • Ghost in the Shell (anime movie) - This movie takes place in a future where just about everyone has some sort of cybernetic implant, if not entirely cyberized bodies. Unfortunately, this leaves people vulnerable to brain-hacking. Section 9, a group of cybernetically enhance cops, is called in to investigate a brain-hacker called The Puppetmaster. The sound effects and look of this movie are a little dated, in my opinion, but it's still an excellent movie (although it may require more than one viewing in order to figure out what's going on), and it's a great place to begin before trying any of the newer incarnations of this franchise. Those who'd like something with futuristic body enhancements, lots of fast-paced action, and a story that encourages viewers to think about the impact of all this futuristic technology might like this movie.
  • Blue Bloods (book) by Melissa De La Cruz - Schuyler is treated like an outcast by the clique of popular, athletic, and beautiful teens made up of Mimi Force, her twin brother, and her best friend. At the age of 15, Schuyler learns that she is a "blue blood," a very special vampire who is descended from a very old line. Unfortunately, lots of blue bloods have been dying, and Schuyler has to find out why before she, too, ends up dead. Those who'd like another book with a "change at a certain age" aspect and a cool secret group might like this book. This is the first book in a series.
  • Be More Chill (book) by Ned Vizzini - Jeremy Heere is smart and nerdy, and he doesn't consider himself to be very cool. When the girl he secretly loves is cast opposite him in a school play, he tries to win her by purchasing a "squip." He swallows it, and it embeds itself in his brain, telling him all the cool things to say and do in order to impress the girl. Those who'd like another book focusing on teens and teen emotions, with futuristic technology, might like this book. This book is not for everyone, as it has teen drug use (at one point, Jeremy takes Ecstasy, which messes up his "squip"), sexual themes, and profanity.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Trying to achieve a regular publication frequency

I'm hoping to eventually get this blog to the point where it publishes on a regular frequency. I originally tried to publish one post a day, which worked well for a while, but fell apart at the slightest complication to my schedule. I'm now attempting an "every other day" publication frequency - I'm hoping this will work out a little better, with fewer interruptions, but we'll see. While I enjoy writing posts for this blog, I've got other things that are more important for me to work on, so this blog isn't exactly my highest priority. However, I hope to one day have a few hundred posts on a variety of different titles and books. Once I manage to get a job that gives me a steady and sufficient income, I'd like to take control of my blog posts and host them somewhere on my own, so that there isn't the chance that Blogger/Google might decide to delete all the work I've done - I might have to switch to different blogging software at that point, but I'd be willing to do that if necessary.

The Gentlemen's Alliance Cross (manga, vol. 1) by Arina Tanemura

Haine Otomiya is a 15-year-old student at Imperial Academy, a private school for the aristocracy. Haine was actually born to the prestigious Kamiya family, but her family allowed the Otomiya family to adopt her in return for a business loan of 50 million yen. At the time, the Otomiya family needed an heir, even if that heir was a girl, but, since her adoption, a boy had been born to the family. Now, Haine doesn't really have a place, since she is no longer the Otomiya family's heir and she hates the Kamiya family for selling her. In the past, Haine dealt with her feelings by becoming a yanki (a juvenile delinquent or young gangster), but she changed her ways (mostly - she still knows how to be scary when she needs to be) after a chance meeting with Shizumasa. Now, Haine and Shizumasa go to the same school. Haine loves him from afar, but he hates her for some reason. However, Shizumasa is the student council president, and Haine gets to be around him a lot more when she is suddenly made a member of the student council. Unfortunately, Haine discovers that Shizumasa has a lover - a boyfriend, actually. She's a little shocked at first, but she recovers and is determined to continue loving him, even if he can never return that love.

Everyone at the school is ranked from Bronze to Gold, with money being the fastest way to rise in the ranks. Shizumasa, as the president of the student council, is the only Gold ranked student. Haine is a Bronze ranked student who can't afford to pay her way to Silver - she has to work her way up, something that's nearly impossible.

Tanemura crams her art with lines and layers of screentone - it's not a look I liked, at first, but it's grown on me. It must take her and her staff ages to create this manga. It's rare for a panel to have areas of pure white, since Tanemura usually uses some sort of screentone or has drawn something to fill up just about every bit of space. Surprisingly, this doesn't make her story difficult to read. Actually, the biggest complaint I have about Tanemura's art is that Haine and Ushio (Haine's best friend) look a lot alike - the easiest way to tell them apart is by personality, sometimes.

I liked Haine - she's undaunted, even when she believes that the boy she loves is gay. It's not that she's determined to convince him otherwise - she just adores him so much for the way his words affected her in the past. I enjoyed Haine's yanki aspect, once I got used to it - she looks so pretty and perfect that it's hard to believe she used to be a yanki, but when she gets truly angry, Tanemura does such a good job with her expressions that it's suddenly not so hard to believe.

I love the relationships between the characters! Haine and Ushio are very cute together - Ushio is a very serious and unemotional looking girl, but a hug from Haine can make her smile like nothing else. As for Maora (a member of the student council), there's not too much to know about her yet, other than that she's strange, but I think she's trying to match Haine and Shizumasa - that alone makes me like her, at least on a superficial level. Toya (an employee of the Togu family - that's Shizumasa's family, by the way) is also a nice character - he has yet to reveal his exact reasons, but he believes that Shizumasa needs Haine. Toya is so adorable when he tells Haine he's rooting for her! (God, I am such a fangirl.) Shizumasa seems to have a boatload of secrets, which makes him automatically interesting, even if I didn't already like him as Haine's future boyfriend.

I know he's a minor character, and I don't think he's even been given a name yet, but I really liked the postman. He's so cute and cheerful all the time. I wonder if Tanemura is going to reveal that he actually likes Haine? There are hints that he might, but it's unclear whether the occasional ambiguous panel is just due to the fact that he cares for her as a friend or it's really an indication of something more romantic.

I also like Senri Narumiya, the perverted school doctor at the academy - he'd be icky in real life, but in this manga he's funny, and I can't help but imagine that he and Ushio might end up together a few years down the road. He seems to like her and find her interesting. I wonder if Haine knows that Ushio was going to use her body to try to get on the student council (yes, I did say what you think I just said - when the doctor first met Ushio, she and another student had just finished something in the infirmary that had left their clothes in disarray). The doctor teases Ushio a bit (I think - either that, or he really is a pervert), and Ushio eventually gets angry with him - in a romance novel, this would be the perfect setup for a future relationship.

Finally, as far as characters go, I wonder if Tanemura is going to complicate things further by revealing that Kusame (Haine's brother in the Otomiya family, not related to her by blood) is in love with Haine. His objection to her affection for Shizumasa was so strong that I suspect that this is going to be the case. I'm not sure how I feel about that since, even though they're not related by blood, Kusame grew up with Haine and was basically raised to think of her as his sister. They're related by their upbringing, if not by blood, so the idea that he might have romantic feelings for her is kind of... icky.

I like this manga so much so far that I think I could write about it forever, but I think I'll wrap things up for now and get on to read-alikes. As far as extras go, this volume has a decent amount. There's a lot of writings by Tanemura at the beginnings of chapters with notes about those chapters, sidebars with character bios (I think just about every character is covered, including minor ones), and a couple pages at the end talking about how Tanemura created these characters (including what I think might be a few early drawings), the research she did, the Imperial Academy, and the storyline. There's also a short bonus manga at the end, focusing on Ushio and the doctor, with a cute bit between Ushio and Haine - it's nice, but it's not much of a story (it feels more like an outtake, actually). Finally, there are a few 4-panel comics - I have a feeling they're much funnier in the original Japanese, but I did like the image of Maguri giggling over butterflies. There are notes from all of Tanemura's assistants at the end, plus notes from the translator, discussing any translation difficulties and various Japanese cultural notes.

Actually, I guess that's a lot of extras... I'm betting they won't be able to keep that up throughout the entire series, but it's not bad for a manga volume that costs $8.99.

  • Wild Ones (manga) by Kiyo Fujiwara - After Sachie's mother dies, the grandfather she never knew takes her in. As if she didn't have to make enough adjustments, Sachie's grandfather turns out to be the boss of a yakuza gang, and he assigns one of the people in his gang, a handsome boy who's about her own age, to be her bodyguard. Those who'd like another romantic manga featuring a teenage heroine who can go from sweet and vulnerable to tough and scary when she needs to might like this series.
  • Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya; Fruits Basket (anime TV series) - Tohru had been living with her grandfather after her mother died, but circumstances and Tohru's own desire not to be a burden meant that she ended up living alone in a tent for a while. However, she gets taken in by the Sohma family, who are hiding a secret - certain members of the family turn into animals in the Chinese zodiac when they're weak or hugged by a member of the opposite sex. Both the manga and anime are good - the anime follows the manga pretty closely (except for a few things, and the last episode), but it ends well before the manga does. This is another series with a sweet girl who gets shuffled around by people who should be taking care of her (there's also another character in the series who, like Haine, is basically sold to someone else as a child). Like The Gentlemen's Alliance Cross, this series has romance, comedy, and drama (lots of people have secrets and personal pain that are gradually revealed), and Tohru, like Haine, has a special place in her heart for a boy she met when she was younger. For those who liked the yanki element in The Gentlemen's Alliance Cross, Fruits Basket has a former yanki as well, one of Tohru's friends.
  • Gakuen Alice (manga) by Tachibana Higuchi - When Mikan's best friend leaves to attend the mysterious and elite Alice Academy, Mikan goes after her and tries to become a student at the academy herself. Alice Academy turns out to be a special school for children with amazing abilities (like flying, telekinesis, etc.). Once Mikan manages to prove that she belongs at the school, she becomes a student. Unfortunately, students are allowed little contact with the outside world, and there are other secrets the school and its teachers are hiding. Those who'd like another manga set at an elite school with lots of rules and a ranking system that determines what priveleges students get might like this series. The tone of the series is usually light, but several characters have shadowy secrets, much like Shizumasa. This series also has some romantic elements.
  • Ouran High School Host Club (manga) by Bisco Hatori; Ouran High School Host Club (anime TV series) - Haruhi, the only scholarship student at an elite school for the rich, is forced to become a host in the Ouran High School Host Club after breaking an expensive vase. Unfortunately, Haruhi is actually a girl - in order to stay in the host club and pay off her debt, Haruhi must make sure that no one outside the host club finds out that she's not a guy. Those who'd like another manga featuring a main female character who doesn't quite fit in at her elite school for the rich might like this series. This series is more heavily comedic than The Gentlemen's Alliance Cross, and, although there are romantic elements, Haruhi is usually too oblivious to notice when guys are interested in her. Personally, I prefer the anime over the manga, but they're both good - FUNimation will finally begin releasing the anime in the US starting in October.

Added new label - young adult

I added a new label to my list - "young adult." I resisted using this label before, because I think that a lot of works that are considered to be for young adults can also appeal to adults, and vice versa. However, I decided that this label would be useful to me in the future, especially if I end up either getting a job as a teen librarian (here's hoping that interview works out) or if I get more interviews in the future for teen librarian positions. I won't give any anime or manga titles the "young adult" label - there are lots of libraries out there that classify all manga and anime as being intended for young adults, something I don't necessarily agree with, but I also think it's really difficult determining which titles are clearly for young adults and which are not.

Basically, if a book I've read was shelved in the young adult section at my public library, I'll consider it a young adult book. As for anime and manga, I've already got labels for those, so I think it's best to just use those and not worry about whether they're young adult materials or not.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Fearless Fourteen (book) by Janet Evanovich

Stephanie Plum's life, as always, is complicated. Romantically, things aren't going too badly. Her life with cop Joe Morelli is happy and nearly settled. Ranger still makes it clear that he'd like to get in her pants, but Stephanie continues to resist well enough and Ranger generally behaves himself. On the job front, things are more complex. Ranger has Stephanie help him out with a babysitting job, making sure that singer Brenda (who, if I remember right, is in her fifties or sixties - I couldn't relocate any of the bits in the book that say her age) stays out of trouble and reasonably sober - this is harder than you might think. Also, in the process of doing her job as a bond enforcement agent, Stephanie ends up having to take care of a teenager with a graffiti habit and having to find the poor kid's kidnapped mother.

If you've read all the other Stephanie Plum novels, you're not really going to find anything new in this one. As I said, Stephanie's relationships are in a holding state. Morelli almost slips up and proposes, but not really, so it doesn't count. Ranger flirts a bit and wonders aloud why he's continuing with this relationship when it's not really ending up where he wants it to end up, but he otherwise behaves himself. Grandma Mazur is, as usual, wild and wacky - in this book, Mario aka Zook, the teenager Stephanie ends up having to watch out for, gets Grandma involved in online gaming. Mooner shows up and, although he says he's drug-free, acts like his usual stoner self. About the only thing that's new is that Lula has decided she and Tank are going to get married, and Tank isn't required to have any say in any of it.

That's not to say that this book isn't enjoyable. I read this when I needed a laugh, and it did the job. It just didn't progress the series or the characters very much. In fact, this book reminded me very much of Lean Mean Thirteen. Both books have weird weaponry - that book has exploding taxidermied animals, while this one has a cannon used to shoot potatoes, tomatoes, and other edibles. Also, both books involve bad guys who are trying to find something that is either is Stephanie's possession or in the possession of someone close to her, like Morelli. It's a bit like Evanovich recycled the same plot points in two different books, which wouldn't be so bad if the books didn't come one right after the other in the series.

I think my biggest complaint about this book is that Evanovich didn't wrap everything up properly - it kind of made it seem like even she didn't really feel all that involved in the story. Unless I missed it, she never resolved Lula and Tank's rapidly deteriorating engagement - it's pretty obvious that the two shouldn't be getting married, since the very idea makes Tank want to pass out, but neither of them has called the engagement off by the end of the book. Evanovich also never explained where the severed toes came from (if you read the book, you know what I'm talking about), unless I missed that explanation. You'd think that at least Stephanie and Morelli would try to find out where the toes came from, since they had to come from an actual person who might now be needing some help, but no one really reacts in any way other than relief that the toes didn't come from the person they feared they came from. That doesn't make sense to me - it's a gaping plot hole left by Evanovich's desire to wrap things up happily without having to go through the effort of figuring out a plausible explanation that might make things unhappy again. The lack of explanation felt like a lazy cop-out.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • The Second Life Herald: The Virtual Tabloid That Witnessed the Dawn of the Metaverse (book) by Peter Ludlow and Mark Wallace - Those who were especially interested in Zook and Grandma Mazur's paranoid comments about griefers might like this book, although I think Evanovich's idea of what gamers and gaming are like is a little bit out there. This book is an interesting window into the kinds of amazing, interesting, and sometimes appalling things that can happen in virtual worlds like The Sims Online and Second Life. Personally, I enjoyed the descriptions of virtual terrorism (for example, a virtual bomb that managed to crash Second Life's servers) and virtual mobsters and hitmen (much like what you see in the Godfather movies, only entirely limited to virtual worlds). It's fascinating stuff, and, if I remember right, this book even has a few pictures.
  • While You Were Sleeping (live action movie) - A lonely ticket collector for the Chicago transit system falls in love with a man she sees getting on the train every day, even though she's never actually had a conversation with him. She ends up saving his life and goes to visit him at the hospital, where she is mistaken as his fiancee. She gets to know and love his family and worries about what will happen when he comes out of the coma. Those who like Stephanie's oddball family might like this movie - the family in this movie isn't nearly as strange, but it has the same general happy, supportive feel.
  • Cowboy Bebop (anime TV series) - Spike Spiegel is a bounty hunter with a laid-back attitude, amazing fighting skills, and a dark past. He's partners with Jet Black, a former cop, and, as the series progresses, his group grows to include Faye Valentine (a sexy, tricky gambler who can't really remember her past) and Ed (a weird and cheerful young hacker). A lot of the episodes, especially the earlier ones, are mostly humorous and include a lot of fast, madcap action - those who liked the action and humorous aspects of Fearless Fourteen might like this series.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

After School Nightmare (manga, vol. 1) by Setona Mizushiro

Ichijo Mashiro isn't exactly a boy or a girl - he looks like a boy and was raised as one, but then he gets his first period at the beginning of this volume. Ichijo is determined to be seen as a man, but he can't help but have doubts about himself. Things get worse when a mysterious woman at his elite school tells him that there is a special class he must finish in order to graduate. In this special class, students fight each other in dreams in an attempt to find a key. Each student also has a specific task they must complete - Ichijo's task involves his gender, but, beyond that, he doesn't know what he must do.

During the dreams, each student looks the way he or she really is inside, and all their private issues are revealed. Ichijo is, unfortunately for him, one of the few students who looks almost the same in the dreams as he does in real life - the only difference is that he's wearing a girl's uniform, making his secret clear for all the other students in the special class to see. There are also five other students, most of whom have their identities revealed in this volume. During the special class, one student looks like a knight, another like a girl with a hole where her face should be, another like an enraged girl in a raincoat who hates all men, another like long, tangled arms, and another like a like a girl in an elaborate dress (I think maybe Lolita style clothing?).

Ichijo is almost immediately befriended by one of the girls in the class, Kureha (she's the girl in the raincoat) - of course, this is after she tries to kill him, believing him to be a man. For Kureha, Ichijo is the perfect man, someone who looks male but isn't really. Her interest in Ichijo angers another student in the special class, who had always been interested in Ichijo but hadn't been comfortable with that interest until he discovered that Ichijo might be considered female.

This is a very strange manga, but very interesting, and I'm looking forward to reading more volumes. Ichijo's gender confusion is fascinating, and I'm sure it will be put to the test even more as the series progresses. I wonder if Mizushiro will have Ichijo finally choose and feel completely comfortable with a single gender by the end of the series, or if Ichijo will somehow find a way to be comfortable being both genders at once? If Mizushiro has Ichijo choose a gender, this volume makes it seem as though, despite Ichijo's determination to be male, Ichijo involuntarily thinks of himself as more female.

I also enjoyed the psychological aspect of this series. Although several of the characters do physically battle it out during the special class, the focus of this series is not on their battles, but rather on their personal mental and emotional issues. Ichijo must deal with his gender confusion, Kureha must deal with her feelings about men and the rape she endured as a child, and another girl must deal with the results of her constant attempts to be whatever pleases others. I can only guess what issues the other students must work through - I'm sure it'll be fun to find out.

There's also an element of mystery, since Mizushiro doesn't reveal the identities of a couple of the special class students. I don't know if either of those students have already made an appearance outside of the special class dreams, but I enjoy believing that they have and trying to guess which students they might be.

Not surprisingly for a series that includes a character with such complicated gender issues, this series is pretty frank about sex. Ichijo thinks about it a bit, possibly because he believes that having sex with a girl would make him seem more like a boy. Kureha would be the only candidate for this, since she knows his secret and has made it clear that she thinks he's the perfect guy for her, but I wonder how she'd feel if things got as far as sex. Then there's Sou Mizuhashi, the handsome, emotionally-closed slacker who's been called the slut of Ichijo's school - Sou will have sex with just about anyone who asks him. In fact, Ichijo accidentally walks in on one such scene (it's obvious what they're doing, even though nothing shows - this is not a manga for kids or young teens, but neither can it be considered a pornographic manga). In addition to all that, Ichijo's male admirer is very persistent and is convinced that Ichijo will admit that he's a girl if he/she kisses and has sex with a real guy - very messed up stuff.

This isn't for everyone, but if you don't mind complex gender and sexual issues and want a good, mysterious psychological story, you might want to pick this manga up. This particular volume includes a few extras: a paragraph of writing by Mizushiro about this manga, an explanation of Japanese honorifics, a page of translator's notes, and six beautiful color pages.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • The Cell (live action movie) - A psychotherapist uses a revolutionary new technology to help patients by exploring their dreams. She enters the dreams of a comatose serial killer in an attempt to save his latest victim before she dies. Those who'd like another dark story in which someone's psyche is explored through dreams might like this movie.
  • Kare Kano (manga) by Masami Tsuda - Yukino is a vain and greedy (albeit likable) girl who has spent years making herself seem like a perfect, elegant, and humble student, just so that she can be praised and loved by others. One day, Arima, a boy she views as a rival, sees beneath her mask and uses this knowledge to blackmail her into helping him out with his tremendous volume of work. Arima appears to be the real deal, a good-looking, perfect, and humble student, but he has his own secrets, some of which are far darker than Yukino's. As Yukino spends more time with him, she begins to fall in love with him and wants to help him deal with the darker parts of himself. Those who'd like another manga series dealing with school life and the masks people wear might like this series. Overall, this is a much more light-hearted series than After School Nightmare (although, admittedly, I've only read one volume of After School Nightmare - it might lighten up later on, but I doubt it), but it does have its fair share of darker moments.
  • Loveless (manga) by Yun Kouga; Loveless (anime TV series) - Twelve-year-old Ritsuka's life isn't very normal - his older brother died not too long ago, his mother is physically abusive, and a strange 19-year-old man named Soubi has shown up, claiming to have known his brother. Soubi says he is Ritsuka's Fighter, while Ritsuka is a Sacrifice. Ritsuka slowly comes to understand what this means, as he learns to battle other Fighter-Sacrifice pairs who may be able to lead him to knowledge about his brother's death. Although, as far as I know, none of the characters ever have sex "on screen," this manga, like After School Nightmare, manages to deal with sex and sexuality fairly openly - characters all have cat ears until they lose their virginity, and the relationships between Fighters and Sacrifices tend to be emotionally intense. The relationship between Soubi and Ritsuka is very complex and, while interesting, may make some readers uncomfortable. Those who'd like another manga series intended for older teens or adults might like this series. Like After School Nightmare, the characters and their relationships are very complex and often dark series (although there are occasional flashes of humor to lighten things up). Like Ichijo, Ritsuka spends a lot of time confused and emotionally anguished. While the anime TV series is cheaper, those who can afford it should try to get the manga. The anime is beautiful and follows the manga pretty closely, but it ends well before the manga does, and therefore doesn't actually resolve or explain much of anything. I own both (at least, as much of the manga as has been published so far in the US) and consider it worth it.
  • Xxxholic (manga) by CLAMP - Watanuki is a high school student who is plagued by the ability to see spirits. One day, he meets a woman named Yuuko who can help rid him of this ability. Anybody who receives her help must pay a fair price in return, so Watanuki becomes her cook, housekeeper, and errand boy for an undetermined amount of time. Until he has worked enough to earn her help, Watanuki will continue to have to deal with his abilities, which often come in handy when Yuuko gives him special errands to run. This series includes lots of mini-stories, as Yuuko deals with clients who need her special skills and knowledge. Sometimes things turn out well for the clients, and sometimes things end badly, and, due to these experiences, Watanuki gradually grows and changes. Those who'd like another sometimes spooky, often weird manga series with high school students as main characters might like this series. As with After School Nightmare, some parts of the series can get a bit dark and involve a lot of emotional anguish.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Taming Natasha (book) by Nora Roberts

Single-father Spence Kimball has just moved to a small town with his daughter Freddie, determined to give her more attention and love than he gave her while his wife was alive. He takes her to Natasha Stanislaski's toy store - Freddie finds a nice doll, and Spence finds a determination to see more of the attractive Natasha, despite the fact that she despises him. Because Spence came to the store with a woman, in addition to Freddie, Natasha assumes Spence is married to that woman, and she is outraged at the idea of a married man flirting with her while his wife is only a little ways away. In addition to being a father, Spence is also a musician and a professor - Natasha signs up for one of his classes without realizing who teaches it and suddenly finds herself unable to avoid him. Although she does eventually get closer to him, Natasha's got her own painful past, and her determination not to tell him about it could damage their developing relationship.

I think this is the first book in Nora Roberts' short Stanislaski series, but it doesn't really matter which book in this series you start with, since each romance is self-contained. Because it's a Silhouette book, there are no sex scenes until about halfway through the book, and what sex scenes there are are vaguely described and traditional.

If one of the people in a romance novel has to have some sort of emotional baggage, I usually prefer it to be the man, but Roberts did a nice enough job that I didn't mind that it was Natasha who had a little more to deal with than Spence. One thing I didn't like, however, was Natasha's "he's a married bastard trying to get himself a mistress" snap judgement. It was annoying and could easily have been cleared up in the first few pages if Natasha had responded to his offer of dinner by icily saying something like, "Well, I think your wife might have problems with that..." Spence would've cleared everything up right then and there, something that makes Natasha's 50-page anger and disdain seem very unreasonable. It was a cheap attempt on Roberts' part to prolong the development of Spence and Natasha's relationship, which she might have viewed as necessary because there's no antagonist and only Natasha's issues to gum up the works.

As for Natasha's issues, it may seem, for a while, that what she is trying to hide involves either a miscarriage or an abortion in her past - close, but not quite. Actually, Natasha, a former ballerina, got pregnant by another dancer, who wanted nothing to do with the child and advised her to have an abortion. Natasha, although hurt by his rejection, wouldn't dream of getting rid of her baby and has her anyway. Unfortunately, the baby doesn't survive long, and Natasha is left with a wariness of men and the pain of a dead child.

One of my favorite parts of the Stanislaski books in general is the Stanislaski family, which is big, happy, and supportive. They're fairly recent Ukrainian immigrants - Natasha was old enough when they left that she still remembers how uncertain and frightening the journey was. Natasha lives far enough away from her family that they don't show up often, just a little bit in a scene where Natasha takes Spencer and Freddie to her family's for Thanksgiving. The whole family is so nice and happy that I imagine most readers would find themselves yearning to be a part of it, so it's no surprise that Spencer and Freddie fall in love with them.

It's not my favorite book in the Stanislaski series, but it's not bad. It's sweet, and no one, even Freddie (I'm not a big fan of most children in romance novels), is annoying for very long.

  • High Energy (book) by Dara Joy - Zanita is a zany, befuddled reporter for a small newspaper, trying to investigate a phony psychic. Her befuddled-ness makes itself known early, when she tries to research psychics by signing up for a college course on them and instead signs up for a course in physics. The professor of the course is brilliant, gorgeous, and eccentric Tyberius Augustus Evans, who quickly falls for the very non-linear Zanita and becomes determined to watch out for her as she pursues her story about the psychic. Those who enjoyed the "romantic relationship between a professor and his student" aspect of Taming Natasha might like this book - be warned, though, the sex in this book is significantly more graphic in this book than in Taming Natasha (not as graphic as what you'd find in an erotic romance novel, but more graphic and, er, creative than what you'd find in pretty much any Nora Roberts novel).
  • The MacGregor Grooms (book) by Nora Roberts - The MacGregor family, like the Stanislaski family, is big, happy, and emotionally healthy. The MacGregor Grooms is actually composed of three short romantic stories (100-140 pages each). Each story is about a different man in one of the more recent MacGregor generations. Daniel MacGregor, the grandfather of these men and the patriarch of the MacGregor family, enjoys meddling in their lives (i.e. matchmaking), and by the end of each story one of the MacGregor men is happily matched up with someone who's just right for him. Although none of the plots of each of the three stories are particularly similar to Taming Natasha, the overall tone and feel of the book should be a good match for anyone who liked this book.
  • Snowfall at Willow Lake (book) by Susan Wiggs - Sophie Bellamy, a divorced international lawyer, survives a hostage situation and realizes she's missing out on what matters most in her life, her children (Max, 12, and Daisy, 19 - Daisy has an infant son). She returns to them in Avalon, NY, discovers the rewards of small-town life, and begins a relationship with Noah Shepherd, the local veterinarian. Of course, things can't be entirely easy, and Sophie discovers that Noah is actually 10 years younger than her, 29 to her 39. Those who'd like another book in which one of the main characters is trying to keep a good relationship with their children (albeit older ones than Freddie) and dealing with a move to a less hectic way of life and closer community might like this book. This is the fourth book in Wiggs' Lakeshore Chronicles series, but it shouldn't be a problem to start with this book.
  • Irresistable You (book) by Francis Ray - This is the fourth book in Ray's The Graysons of New Mexico series - the first book is Until There Was You, but each book in this series sounds mostly self-contained, and the fourth book seems to be the closest match to Taming Natasha. This series is about five American Indian/African American siblings living in Santa Fe. In each book, the siblings' matchmaking mother does her best to match them up with the perfect person. The fourth book focuses on Pierce, who's determined to resist his mother's matchmaking until he meets Broadway actress Sabra Raineau. Pierce is determined to win Sabra's heart, but she doesn't want anything more than a temporary diversion. Her career keeps her busy, and she's had her heart hurt by a man before. Okay, so this isn't another romance novel involving an immigrant or a daughter/son of immigrants, but readers who are looking for romance with non-whitebread American cultural aspects and a main character with a large and loving family might like this book. Also, those who'd like a romance novel with a reluctant heroine who's been unlucky with men before might want to try this.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Labels now changed

Okay, it took longer than I expected, but I think I've finished removing any labels that don't specifically pertain to the work that each post focuses on. Not that anyone actually reads these "blog update" posts, but, if anyone does, please remember that you can try searching for a favorite author or title in the search field at the top of my blog (the very top, even higher than the header) - who knows, I might one day decide to put a search field somewhere in the sidebars, in the hope that one day someone might use it.

Since I've changed my labels, there are now a few authors who actually are mentioned in this blog who don't have their own label. C. E. Murphy is one, and you could find her (or any other author or work not mentioned in the labels) simply by searching for her using the search field. Most of my posts now have 2-4 labels - one for format (for example, "books" or "manga") and one for the author or work. If I write something about a movie based on a book, I decided the label for the work or author should be included (for example, my post on the movie The Golden Compass has a label for the author Philip Pullman). I haven't yet decided how to handle posts based on subjects, and I haven't decided if I'm going to be including genres.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Vampire Kisses series by Ellen Schreiber

This series focuses on the adventures of Raven Madison, the only Goth in the small town she calls Dullsville. She's got an odd sort of love/hate relationship going on with one of her school's jocks, her only friend is a girl named Becky who's nice but not Goth, and her family doesn't understand her. Then one day someone moves into the old abandoned mansion in Dullsville, and all Raven's wishes come true, because the new guy, Alexander, is hot, dresses in black just like her, and may be a vampire.

Every book in this series is short, under 200 pages (or at least not much over 200 pages), and probably won't be too daunting for those who don't generally enjoy reading. Readers who like vampires, a smidgen of romance, and adventure of the sneaking-around and clue-finding sort might like this series. Some readers may identify with Raven, who doesn't really feel like she fits in anywhere in her small town - don't worry, though, Raven may dress in black, but she's not the moping sort. She's energetic, determined, and curious, and she loves all things dark and creepy. Raven and Alexander occasionally end up in danger, but things always work out all right in the end.

If you'd like specifics about the storylines of each book and what I thought each book's strengths and weaknesses were, you'll have to click on the links below to get to the original posts I published.

I'm not going to mark down which of these read-alikes and watch-alikes apply to the series as a whole, since I think they all apply. If you're curious about specific information for these books, manga, and shows, click on the links - they'll take you to the posts I wrote for each of Ellen Schreiber's books. At the end of each of these posts are the read-alike/watch-alike lists, with more information about the recommendations and why I chose them.

Book 3 - Vampireville
  • Got Fangs? (book) by Katie Maxwell
  • Chibi Vampire (manga) by Yuna Kagesaki
  • Daughters of Darkness (book) by L.J. Smith
  • Secret Vampire (book) by L.J. Smith

Book 4 - Dance With a Vampire

  • Daughters of Darkness (book) by L.J. Smith
  • Got Fangs? (book) by Katie Maxwell
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (live action TV series)
  • The Wallflower (manga) by Tomoko Hayakawa

Shelfari and my Currently Reading list

I just started an account with Shelfari - I was looking for a way to show what I'm currently reading in an easy, but more aesthetically pleasing way. So far, the aesthetically pleasing bit seems to be working okay - the widget doesn't seem to be distorting my blog, the book covers are nice, and the title and author text fits well enough. As for the easy part, I had some problems figuring out how to get Shelfari to display what I want it to display, and it froze when I was editing the books in my list. However, it might still turn out to be better than my old method, adding and subtracting books in a blogger text list. I briefly put the Shelfari widget in my other blog and discovered that just by editing my book list in the Shelfari website I edit what's displayed in both blogs. That's great and removes the need to do the same edits two times, once for each blog.

I'll try out Shelfari for a while on this blog (a while might be as long as a month or as short as a day), and, if I like it, I'll keep it and add the widget to my other blog.

Another change to labels - nothing for read-alikes

I'm considering a drastic change to my labels that would probably shrink my list of labels down to about a fourth of its current amount. Since I haven't been getting any feedback in the form of comments to blog entries, I have to base my decisions about things like labels on my own thoughts and the information StatCounter gives me.

Here's what I know based on the statistics I've been getting: This blog doesn't get many visitors, and most of the people who do visit tend to visit only for a single post and only for a few seconds at most. Some people spend a lot longer here and actually take the time to explore (I think you guys are awesome). Of those few who do spend more than 5 or 10 seconds looking at my blog, several seem to find my labels a little confusing. For instance, someone wanted to find Bleach read-alikes and kept using my Bleach label (several times within a minute or so), despite the fact that there is only one post with that label. Many people never use the labels at all - they gain access to this blog through some sort of keyword search in a search engine (and I'm actually a little surprised at some of the searches that have brought people to my blog) and then only spend time on the blog entry their search brought them to.

My post labels aren't really all that complicated. Most of my posts have a label for the author/work that I read or watched, labels for the titles or authors of each read-alike and watch-alikes, and labels for the formats of everything. Just based off of what my statistics have been telling me, my labels could probably be even less complicated and it wouldn't make much of a difference. Also, using fewer labels would be good, so that my list of labels wouldn't soon become longer than the list of my 7 most recent posts.

My plan is to only use labels that apply to the main focus of the post. For instance, if I write a post about Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs, my labels would only apply to that book, and not to any of the read-alikes I list. My labels would include "Briggs (Patricia)" because she's the author of that particular book, but not "Armstrong (Kelley)", a potential read-alike. I'd also only use format labels that apply to the specific book I read as well.

Doing this would clean up my label list a lot, and maybe encourage people to use it more (yeah, sure). The main drawback would be that there would no longer be any way to automatically know all the authors and works that have been mentioned in the blog, even if only as read-alikes or watch-alikes. For instance, I've mentioned Anne McCaffrey as a read-alike in at least one post, but I have yet to write a post about one of her books - her books come up in the blog, but they wouldn't show up in my labels list. Until the list of books I've read and written about becomes more comprehensive, anybody who wants to find authors/works that have been listed only as read-alikes/watch-alikes will have to try the search field. Not only are those searches potentially going to retrieve stuff like these blog update posts (or nothing at all, if the author/work hasn't even been mentioned), I kind of doubt many people be persistent enough to try a search.

My idea has another potential problem. For instance, I'm not sure how I'd handle subject-based read-alike posts - you know, "If you like mysteries with dogs, you might like..." I don't think I'll be writing many of those kinds of posts, but I have been working on a few. I'll have to play around with some ideas for how I might handle those kinds of posts.

In addition to having author, work, and format labels, I'm considering starting genre labels. I know I said in an earlier post that doing genre labels might be too much work, but it might be easier if I'm just trying to figure out the genre of one book/movie/etc., rather than the genre of that one work and everything else in the read-alikes/watch-alikes section. I'll have to think about this. Sometimes figuring out the genre of something is really easy. Most romance novels are easy - I'm also pretty good at figuring out which subgenre just about any romance novel belongs in. Fantasy can be much harder, however, because there's a lot of crossover.

I may start the whole label clean-up thing today or Saturday, depending on how my application-writing goes. I'll think about the rest of it.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Psych: The Complete First Season (live action TV series)

The first season has no overarching storyline. In the first episode, Shawn Spencer is established as a flippant, irresponsible joker who, starting at an early age, was trained by his father to observe, remember, and analyze his surroundings (I think his father was hoping Shawn would become a cop). Shawn mostly uses his skills to solve crimes based on things he sees in news reports, calling in tips and trying to collect commendations for them. When his most recent called-in tip leads to the cops considering him a potential accomplice to the crime, Shawn explains his crime-solving success by claiming that he's psychic. A short time later, Shawn has rented office space and ropes his best friend Gus into helping him out with his new psychic detective agency, Psych.

I don't consider this show good enough to actually spend precious money on, but I did enjoy watching the copy I got from my public library. The biggest reasons to watch this show are the characters and the humor.

I've already mentioned Shawn a little - one of the things I like about him is that's he's not just an irresponsible joker who lies way too easily, he's also got a heart. In one of my favorite episodes, he helps a former cop who's developing Alzheimer's - the cop says he knows a murder was committed, but no one believes him except Shawn. During an incident when Shawn was little, this particular cop believed him when his own father didn't. It was a sweet episode. Also, despite the fact that Shawn's a lady's man who enjoys any time with a woman that won't lead to commitments, he refuses to be the rebound guy when he knows (using his powers of observation) that the woman could easily patch things up with her boyfriend.

Shawn's friend Gus is the perfect foil for him, making this a buddy show as well as a comedy and a mystery. Gus is pretty much the opposite of Shawn - he's geeky, responsible, and would prefer to follow the rules. However, they both find it very exciting to solve crimes, and so it's usually not too hard for Shawn to rope Gus into a new case.

Besides Shawn and Gus, there's Henry, Shawn's father, and the cops Shawn and Gus spend the most time with, Carlton Lassiter and Juliet O'Hara. Shawn's father is the only person he can't regularly fool. He's smart, cynical, and critical of others, especially Shawn. Lassiter sneers at everything Shawn does and gets annoyed that the department uses a "psychic." Of course, the success of this psychic undercuts his self-confidence a little, particularly in one episode, although he'd never purposefully let anyone know how he was feeling. Juliet is pretty, eager, smart, and fresh out of the academy. Although I don't think she entirely believes Shawn, she sees that he gets results and is willing to bend a little and let him help her and the department out.

There are many aspects to this show that people may not like, however (although I finished the entire first season, my mom didn't get past the first couple episodes). First, getting back to the characters, there's Henry's treatment of Shawn. He always criticizes him, and, when Shawn was a kid, he never let him play like a normal kid. He criticized Shawn on his sneaking skills when Shawn was playing hide-and-seek! There are moments when it's apparent that he really does love and care for Shawn, but you have to able to get past everything else first. Besides Henry's treatment of Shawn, there's Shawn's treatment of Gus. Considering the number of times Shawn has tricked Gus, lied to him, and roped him into dangerous things, it's a wonder Gus is still Shawn's friend. Some people might write this off as just their buddy dynamic, considering there are plenty of times when the two have fun together and Shawn balances Gus by forcing him to have fun every once in a while, but it's something that might bother other people.

Second, the people around Shawn aren't very smart. This is one of the main reasons Shawn is able to do as much as he does. The cops are nearly incapable of solving crimes without him and, in fact, might've arrested the wrong person a time or two if it hadn't been for Shawn. Everyone Shawn encounters is easily tricked by the most obvious lies - I cringed when Shawn and Gus tried to pass themselves off as wildlife experts with horribly fake accents and someone actually believed them.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Monk (live action TV series) - Adrian Monk is a former cop who's wife was killed. Most episodes of this show can stand alone, but the overarching plot, when there is one, is Monk's attempts to discover who killed his wife. Monk, like Shawn, is excellent at helping the cops solve crimes based on details he can see that no one else does, but he's crippled by his OCD and fear of just about everything. He travels with a nurse so that he can at least function in public and at crime scenes. Viewers who want another humorous and quirky mystery show with interesting characters might like this one.
  • Dexter (live action TV series) - Dexter and his whole family are cops, although he works as a technician specializing in blood spatter. Dexter is also a serial killer. Dexter's foster father realized what he was becoming when he was younger, taught him how to keep from getting caught, and taught him how to choose worthy victims (the bad guys that the legal system can't catch or keep). Dexter now has two lives, his life as a serial killer, and his life as a guy trying to look as ordinary and normal as possible. This show is more graphic than Psych (blood, cut up body parts), has more bad language, and the humor tends to be darker. However, if the thing that most interested you about Psych was the father-son relationship, you may want to give this one a try. Like Psych, Dexter has flashbacks to Dexter's childhood, showing how his foster father molded him into the person he is today.
  • One for the Money (book) by Janet Evanovich - One for the Money is the first book in Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. If you'd like something with lots of humor and quirky characters who manage to bring in the bad guys and solve crimes in spite of their aura of amateur-ness, you might like this book and this series. Although the main character is a woman and doesn't even have anything like Shawn's level of skills, she and her mostly incompetent friends (except Morelli the cop and Ranger the badass bounty hunter with a past) manage to get everything to mostly work out by the end of every book. In the first book, Stephanie, a resident of Trenton, NJ who's desperately in need of money, gets a job as a bounty hunter for her cousin Vinnie - nevermind that she doesn't know the first thing about being a bounty hunter and doesn't even own a gun. Her first assignment is to bring in Morelli, a cop who's been accused of murder and the guy who charmed her out of her virginity when she was 16.
  • Burglars Can't Be Choosers (book) by Lawrence Block - This is the first book in Block's Bernie Rhodenbarr series. Bernie is a professional burglar who's intelligent, ordinary, and as honest as someone in his profession can be. In this first book, he starts off on a job finding a leather-bound box in a house. Unfortunately, the box isn't there, there's a dead body in the house, and the police find Bernie in the place and assume he's responsible for everything they find there. Bernie doesn't know if he was set up or not, but he's got to stay ahead of the law and prove he didn't commit murder. If you'd like something with humor and a main character who is both likable and only honest according to a certain narrower definition of honest, you might like this book and this series.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Fairy Tail (manga, vol. 1) by Hiro Mashima

When the story begins, Natsu, a young man prone to motion sickness when travelling, and Happy, his talking cat, are looking for a fire dragon called Igneel. They encounter and eventually save a 17-year-old girl named Lucy, who wants nothing more than to be part of the wizards' guild Fairy Tail. Lucy can use Gatekeys, which can summon powerful beings, but she doesn't have the kind of connections that would get her on such a famous guild. Fortunately for her, Natsu is part of Fairy Tail, and it isn't long before Lucy joins Natsu and Happy in a dangerous mission to rescue another Fairy Tail wizard.

I remember when I first read the first volume of Hiro Mashima's debut series, Rave Master. Although the series had some charm, both the artwork and storytelling needed some serious improvement. I'm happy to report that, with his newest series, Mashima is starting off strong. His artwork has come a long way, and the story is still perfectly understandable, despite a large cast of characters and an unusual world that requires a decent amount of setup. I suppose my biggest complaint might be that many of the characters in this story resemble characters from Rave Master so closely that I thought, at first, that this world might somehow be the same as the world in Rave Master. I don't think that's actually the case, although Mashima does succumb to the temptation to give one of his Rave Master characters a cameo appearance: Plue the "dog" (his head looks like that of a snowman, so I refuse to refer to him as a dog without the quotation marks) shows up briefly as one of Lucy's celestial spirits.

This new world sounds like an interesting one. Most wizards in Mashima's world are organized into guilds, some of which are more popular than others. The wizards of Fairy Tail are so popular they show up often in Lucy's favorite magazine, Weekly Sorcerer. Of course, the main reasons Fairy Tail shows up so often is because of it's gorgeous women (Mirajane of Fairy Tail) and handsome men (Loke of Fairy Tail), how often its members (mainly Natsu) are responsible for destroying property, drunkenness (mainly Cana Alberona), public nudity (mainly Gray), and more. Although the guild's Master finds it annoying to have to deal with the anger of the Council, he doesn't really care what his guild members do as long as they work hard at their magic and follow they path they feel is right (sounds hokey, huh? Well, that's shonen manga for you...).

The magical powers of the characters in this story are a big draw. I can't wait to see the other celestial spirits Lucy can call up, and Natsu, who was raised by a dragon, has a lot of interesting abilities as well. Mashima doesn't even get around to showing readers what all the other characters can do in this first volume, so there's still that to look forward to, as well. There are exciting battles, several (if not all) of the characters have painful pasts/secrets, there's plenty of humor, and there's lots of potential for dangerous/exciting/funny missions.

Because this manga is published in the US by Del Rey, it has the added bonus of a few pages at the end of the volume that further explain certain details and translation issues that come up during the story. The translator explains anything that was difficult or impossible to translate properly (in this case, puns provided the translator with the most difficulties). I really enjoy these sections because they tend to provide a lot of random information about the Japanese language and culture. Del Rey is always careful about providing good and informative notes, and this volume is no exception. Unfortunately, these notes may be part of the reason why Del Rey's manga is slightly more expensive than that of some of its competitors - brand new, no discounts, this first volume costs $10.95, in comparison to the $9.99, $8.99, or $7.99 prices offered by some other publishers.

  • Rave Master (manga) by Hiro Mashima - Haru is a teenage boy who lives alone with his older sister. After catching a weird-looking creature that everyone keeps insisting is a dog (it looks like a cross between a snowman and...something), Haru finds out about the power of the Rave Stone and receives a magical sword. He leaves his older sister in order to go on a journey to find the other Rave Stones and is eventually joined by a girl named Elie, who has no memory of her past. The story is a bit rough around the edges, especially in the earlier volumes, but those who liked Fairy Tail might want to try this series, which Mashima did before Fairy Tail.
  • One Piece (manga) by Eiichiro Oda; One Piece (anime TV series) - Luffy wants to find One Piece, the treasure left behind by the pirate Gold Roger, but first he's got to get himself a crew. Luffy is cheerful and willing to fight when necessary in order to do what he thinks is right, but his career as a pirate is made somewhat difficult by his ability to be like stretchy elastic - although this power comes in handy, it also means that he can't swim. The artwork of this series reminds me a lot of Fairy Tail. However, One Piece has other things in common with Fairy Tail, including lots of action, a sense of humor, and a hero with a heart. If you decide to check out the anime version of this series, be aware that this is a series with a history of heavy editing and censorship (now that FUNimation is handling it, however, I think things have probably gotten a lot better).
  • Moving Pictures (book) by Terry Pratchett - This is the tenth book in Pratchett's Discworld series. The alchemists of the Discworld have invented moving pictures, and this discovery leads to the creation of Holy Wood, home of the fledgling "clicks" industry. Everyone tries to get involved in moving pictures, but it gradually becomes clear that this new industry is having a bad effect on reality. Those who'd like something with quirky, laugh-out-loud humor that also occasionally involves magic and guilds might like this book. Actually, it's almost possible to start with any book in the Discworld series, so, if you don't like the sound of this book, look up some of the others and try whichever one deals with a theme that you like. Terry Pratchett's website has a chart that lists the main characters and themes or subjects of satire for each of his books.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Wallflower (manga, vol. 15) by Tomoko Hayakawa

As usual, this volume of The Wallflower is composed of several chapters that could basically be considered short stories. As long as you've at least read the first volume of this title, you'll probably be fine if you jump in anywhere else in this series, including as late as volume 15.

This volume includes chapters 59 to 62. In the first chapter, Sunako is invited to a mixer by some girls from her school, and she freaks out once she discovers what a mixer is. In the next chapter, Yuki's little brother and sister, who are twins, show up out of the blue - Sunako shows an impressive and motherly ability to deal with children. In the third chapter, Noi decides to help out the nice, wealthy girl Ranmaru is dating by helping her find a guy in a host club who's at least as charming and handsome as Ranmaru is. Ranmaru is the type who believes that women should be enjoyed, but that men like him shouldn't feel tied down by them, and the girl he's dating (whose name I cannot remember) deserves better than that. Takenaga, Noi's boyfriend, tries to go after her and ends up being forced to help out at the host club as a host. In the final chapter, Sunako freaks out again when she finds out she's been invited to a reunion that will be filled with all the people she knew before she became the weird and scary girl she is in this series. Why is she freaking out again? Well, if she goes to the reunion, she'll see the guy she used to have a crush on who turned her down by saying, "I hate ugly girls."

Basically, the first chapter is semi-serious, the second is sweet, the third is funny and a bit romantic, and the fourth is serious. I don't really like that the series still doesn't feel like it's going anywhere after 15 volumes - I wasn't kidding when I said you could read the first volume and then jump into the series at any point you felt like and not feel all that lost. Sunako's less introverted than she used to be, but not by much. The guys also haven't changed much - the only real changes are that Takenaga seems to be settling into the role of boyfriend really nicely and Ranmaru may have actually found a girl he can stick with. As far as Hayakawa's artwork goes, she seems to have gotten a little better at drawing Ranmaru and Kyohei so that it's actually possible to tell them apart most times - in earlier volumes, I often mistook one for the other.

With this volume, as with this series in general, I don't really have favorite stories as much as I have favorite moments. In the first story, I love it when the guys turn Sunako briefly into an ordinary-looking girl - her occasional loveliness is all the more wonderful when contrasted with the usual simple super-deformed way she's drawn. In the second story, I love it when Kyohei imagines Sunako as a mother laughing with her two children - it's moments like this that make it even more painful that Hayakawa is taking her sweet time allowing Kyohei and Sunako's potential romance to progress. In the third story, I love Noi (she is, in general, one of my most favorite characters in this series - she's beautiful and actually thinks Sunako is great) and Ranmaru's girlfriend. Ranmaru's girlfriend is so quiet and gentle that she seems to have almost no personality, but she's got some funny moments, like her "wealthy aura." In the final story, it was just sweet seeing Noi and the guys support Sunako.

Hayakawa is a huge fan of Japanese bands/musicians/singers like Miyavi and Dir En Grey, and it shows in her artwork - her main guy characters look like androgynous pretty boys. It took me some time to get used to that (I may think Miyavi looks gorgeous in some of his pictures, but it translates oddly into Hayakawa's artwork), and, like I said, Hayakawa occasionally has problems with drawing her men so that they look too similar. The main thing that won me over with this series was the humor - unfortunately, this particular volume is lacking in the massively funny nosebleed scenes that I loved so much in the earlier volumes. Another nice part of this series is the sweet, touching moments, of which there are a few in this volume.

Because of how little actually changes from one volume to the next, I don't think this is a series I would still be reading if I couldn't get it for free from the library. That doesn't mean it's not fun - it's just not worth $10.95 for the 15th volume of nothing new.

As far as extras goes, there are the usual author free talk boxes at the beginning of each chapter, plus, Japanese honorifics explanations, and a few pages of Del Rey's usual wonderful translator notes.

  • Moon Child (live action movie) - If you like the androgynous pretty boy look of the male characters in The Wallflower, you might like this movie. The main characters are played by Gackt and Hyde, two well-known singers in Japan. Basically, it's the story of the friendship between Kei, a vampire, and Shou, the orphan boy who was raised by him. Everything takes place in the near future. Shou and Kei drift apart after they fall in love with the same woman, but, years later, they team up again.
  • Alichino (manga) by Kouyu Shurei - Basically, this serious fantasy series revolves around Alichino, beautiful creatures that appear human and will grant any wish at a huge price, and a beautiful boy named Tsugiri, who has a terrible past. As far as its plot goes, Alichino doesn't have much in common with The Wallflower. However, if readers are looking for more pretty guys and artwork that is somewhat similar to Hayakawa's (only better - this is my opinion, and you're free to disagree), then they might want to try this series. It's lovely, but, unfortunately, not finished yet, with no date given when the fourth (and final?) volume will finally come out.
  • Ouran High School Host Club (manga) by Bisco Hatori - Haruhi is the only scholarship student in an elite school full of rich and spoiled students. One day, Haruhi discovers the Ouran High School Host Club, breaks a vase, and is forced to work for them as a host in order to pay for the vase. What the president of the host club doesn't realize for a while is that Haruhi is actually a girl - in order to continue being a host club member, Haruhi must hide her gender from everyone in the school. Those who'd like another humorous series with a main female character who doesn't care much about dating and guys, or those who specifically liked the chapter in this book with the host club, might like this series. Haruhi's not phobic about dating, like Sunako is, but she does happen to be completely oblivious. As the series progresses, several guys become interested in her, but she doesn't actually notice anything.
  • Kare Kano (manga) by Masami Tsuda - Yukino is an incredibly vain high school student who's been hiding behind a mask of perfection for years. She lives for the praise she gets when she acts like a perfect, elegant, humble, and effortlessly intelligent student. One day she meets a boy named Souichiro Arima who appears to be the real deal. He discovers her secret and blackmails her into helping him do his massive amounts of work. As Yukino gets to know him better, she begins to fall in love with him, but Arima has secrets of his own. In a way, both Kare Kano and The Wallflower are about self - Yukino voluntarily makes her public self look perfect, while Sunako is surrounded by guys who've been given the task of remaking her public self so that it's more lady-like and acceptable. In addition, readers who enjoyed the children in this volume of The Wallflower might like the older children that show up throughout this series - Yukino's sisters are pretty rambunctious, and there are several flashbacks to certain characters' childhoods.