Thursday, May 31, 2012

Digital Manga, Inc. on All Romance Ebooks!

I was doing a quickie check of the All Romance Ebooks site...and spotted a Digital Manga, Inc. title. That's right, Digital Manga is apparently starting to sell stuff through ARe. Even better, from my perspective: the files are plain old EPUB, no DRM protection, which means I can buy them without breaking my personal e-book buying rule. There are only two titles available right now, The Selfish Demon King by Kyoko Wakatsuki (see Digital Manga's page for more info) and Better Than a Dream by Raica Sakuragi (see Digital Manga's page for more info).

Since I have made this mistake before myself, I feel it necessary to make this clear: these are novels, not manga. They'll have a few illustrations, but that's about it. Unfortunately, someone has already incorrectly tagged ARe's Better Than a Dream page with "graphic novel" and "manga."

I wish the descriptions and excerpts sounded more appealing, but I may end up buying at least one of these anyway, in the hope of encouraging Digital Manga to sell more through ARe. I'm curious about how good these will look on my Nook. Because of the images, the results could potentially be wonky, since I own a First Edition, not Color or tablet (although Project Gutenberg e-books with images have looked fine, so who knows?).

UPDATE, 7/17/12 - I went ahead and bought both books. I didn't even bother to read reviews, which was maybe a mistake, but reviews probably wouldn't have stopped me either. The books display just fine on my Nook. Here's hoping that Digital Manga adds more of their books to ARe (or finally emails me an answer to the question I sent them, asking about whether the books they sell through B&N have DRM - B&N's response was that all their e-books, even their free ones, have DRM, which is incorrect).

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Homesteader's Sweetheart (book) by Lacy Williams

Lest you think I no longer write book reviews, here's one. My first one in three weeks!

This book is part of Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line. It's an inspirational historical romance, which basically means that the romance is sweet (no sex scenes) and there are some religious elements.

SLIGHT SPOILER WARNING: There are a few things that some might consider spoilers in my post. I think they're fairly minor, though.


This book is set in the Wyoming Territory in 1890. Penny Castlerock's father wants her to marry a man she dislikes, a business partner of his. Her father won't listen when Penny says there's something about the man that disturbs her, so, in order to escape for a little while, Penny visits her grandfather in the country, taking her younger brother with her.

The man they pay to take them to their grandfather is Jonas White, who had hoped to convince Penny's father to give him a loan. Jonas' daughter, Breanna, occasionally has seizures, and Jonas has found a doctor who says he can cure her. However, the doctor expects the full payment right away. Jonas, who, in addition to Breanna, has 7 adopted sons (yes, really), barely has enough to take care of himself and his family. He doesn't have the kind of money the doctor is asking for, and he's discouraged when Penny's father sends him away without hardly even listening to him.

What Penny doesn't at first remember is that Jonas used to work as a bricklayer's apprentice near the finishing school she attended in Philadelphia (a nice coincidence, I know, but just roll with it). She thought he looked handsome but otherwise never paid him much attention. Jonas, for his part, developed a huge crush on Penny but could never even bring himself to talk to her, certain that someone with his background was completely beneath her notice.

During Penny's stay at her grandfather's house, Penny gets to know Jonas and his family more, and she begins to fall in love with all of them. She's used to the finer things in life and at first resists falling for a poor man like Jonas, but, as she adjust to life in the country, it becomes easier to imagine life without the luxuries she's used to. Unfortunately, Penny's father's business partner may not be so willing to give her up.


I hadn't realized that Lacy Williams had another book out, until I read a review of The Homesteader's Sweetheart on The Misadventures of Super Librarian. While I enjoyed Marrying Miss Marshal and could trust that the religious aspects of her newest book would be fairly light, I was a little leery of reading a romance with that many children in it. I'm not usually a fan of romance novel children.

As you can tell, I decided to give the book a shot anyway. I'm glad I did. Although I didn't like The Homesteader's Sweetheart as much as Marrying Miss Marshal, I still enjoyed it a lot.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Kaze, Ghost Warrior (CGI animated movie)

I own this on DVD. It's approximately 22 minutes long. As far as I know, there is no longer any way to buy this, not even from Timothy Albee's site. It has been uploaded onto YouTube in three parts, although there's no indication that I can see that it was uploaded with Albee's permission.

My synopsis is spoilery, if you can call it that when the film itself is so short on actual story. I just thought I'd warn people anyway.


I'm not entirely sure what to write - as I'll discuss in my review, one of Kaze, Ghost Warrior's biggest problems is that it's more tell than show. Not much happens during its 22 minutes.

The film is set in what appears to be something along the lines of feudal Japan, except instead of people there are furries (anthropomorphic animal characters - think Disney's Robin Hood). It starts off with an innkeeper telling the story of the royal family. Sometime in the past, the entire family, including Bay, was killed. Bay and Kaze, a guardsman, were in love, and it is said that Kaze still roams the land, looking for Bay's murderers.

An anthropomorphic tiger character, who we later learn is Kaze, enters the inn, and a rowdy group that I'm pretty sure works for the ones who killed the royal family tries to goad him into a fight. Kaze saves the server they dragged into the fight and gets one of the villains to tell him who he works for. After the fight is over, the innkeeper, who is still loyal to the royal family, treats Kaze's wounds. He gets Kaze to admit his true identity by revealing the picture of Bay he keeps hidden. Kaze thanks him and leaves to mourn Bay and is attacked again by the villains. Although he would have preferred not to, Kaze kills them all. I think. This film was...a little confusing.


IMDb has one sentence that sums up what drove this film's creation: “Made by one person, on two home computers, in six months of production for $5,000.” The ending credits are unintentionally hilarious, separately listing every role and task (music, production design, director of photography, etc.), almost always with Timothy Albee's name.

Back when this first came out, I saw a few screenshots and thought they looked gorgeous. When I heard that Kaze, Ghost Warrior was intended to show that one person could, in a reasonable amount of time, create an animated movie on par with movies in the past that have taken dozens or more people to create, I was excited. I can't remember what other details Albee gave out at the time, but I do remember somehow getting the impression, possibly due to my assumptions about the word “movie” and the DVD's price tag (a whopping $17.95), that it was a full-length movie. The film's 22-minute length was a disappointment, but I might still have been happy if those 22 minutes had actually been good. Unfortunately, they weren't.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

4th Anniversary

This is one of three blogs I've created, and it's the only one that's still going strong.

When I first started blogging I had an...excessive...amount of time to read and watch things and blog about them. I wasn't sure what would happen to this blog after I got a full-time job, but I think I've managed to keep up with my posting fairly well. Sort of. I at least manage to post something almost every week, even if I can't seem to get caught up.

Sometimes it's been tempting to quit, but I keep writing posts because, in the end, it's a great way to encourage myself to think about the things I've read and watched. Some of my posts are really easy to write and some of them are much less so. I've been working on an e-book post for a couple weeks now that just doesn't seem to be coming out right - I'm crossing my fingers that I'll finally have that ready to publish by this weekend.

As you can tell, I really didn't plan out anything for my anniversary post. It's been a rough week, it will probably be an even rougher year, and there's been a lot for me to think about lately. I've been debating changing my review post structure to something shorter, or maybe just doing short posts for the things that give me the most trouble (like that e-book). With manga, I might write posts that cover multiple volumes, since writing single-volume review posts doesn't seem to be working for me. Well, I'll think it over some more.

Now I'm going to go ignore that e-book blog post some more and get some sleep.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Thor (live action movie)

I watched this on DVD. My copy is bare bones and includes only the movie, plus a digital copy I will probably never use.


A long time ago, the Asgardians won a war against the Frost giants and took a Frost Giant power casket back to their world. Since then, the Frost Giants and Asgardians have had something like a truce. When a small group of Frost Giants breaks into Asgard and tries to take back the casket, Thor, one of Odin's sons, becomes enraged and argues that the Frost Giants have broken the truce and need to be punished. Odin disagrees, seeing no need to get his people involved in another war. Loki, Odin's other son, convinces Thor to disobey their father. Things go badly and, after saving Thor, his friends, and Loki, Odin strips Thor of his powers and banishes him to Earth as punishment for his arrogance.

One of the first people Thor encounters on Earth is Jane Foster, a scientist who, along with Erik Selvig (another scientist) and Darcy Lewis (a political science major who I think is Jane's intern), was studying aurora borealis-type phenomena. At first everyone assumes Thor is just a random crazy person, but Jane starts to have doubts. What if the phenomena they saw was actually a gateway to another world, and what if Thor somehow came to Earth from that world?

Meanwhile, back on Asgard, Loki has learned shocking things about his own history. Now, after years of being jealous of Thor, Loki schemes to become king in Thor's place. His position won't truly be secure, however, until Thor is completely out of the way.


When Thor first came out, I passed it by because the trailers made Thor look like a testosterone-filled jock who lacked the charisma that managed to make Tony Stark enjoyable in the first Iron Man movie. After seeing The Avengers and finding both Loki and Thor to be more fun to watch than I had expected, I immediately picked up a copy of Thor.

I really wish that I had seen this prior to watching The Avengers – this movie provided much more background information than I realized. That said, seeing this movie not long after seeing The Avengers gave me a better appreciation of The Avengers. That movie was, overall, better-looking and more enjoyable than Thor.

The Farmer's Wife (live action movie)

I'm pretty sure this is the first silent film I've reviewed on this blog. It's part of the same Alfred Hitchcock collection I own that contains The Lady Vanishes.

I thought about calling this a romantic comedy, but, considering that the romance doesn't come up until the last 30 minutes of the movie, plain old "comedy" is probably more appropriate.


At the beginning of this movie, everyone in Farmer Samuel Sweetland's household is deeply upset, because the farmer's wife is ill. After she dies, some time passes, and the farmer's daughter gets married. That puts the idea in his head that it's high time for him to be remarried, so, with the help of Minta, his housekeeper, he makes a list of the area's eligible women. He starts off convinced that he'll only need to visit the first lady on the list, but things don't go at all as he expected them to. Will he give up and stay a lonely widower, or will he notice that lovely, sweet Minta cares for him and is the kind of woman he's been looking for?


Before I watched this, I hadn't realized that Hitchcock ever did anything but thrillers. From my “modern movie viewer” perspective, The Farmer's Wife definitely had its weaknesses, but it was funnier than I expected and, although it had what seemed to me to be very few title cards (not that I have many points of comparison, not having seen many silent films), I never had any trouble understanding what was going on.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Avengers (live action movie) - at the movie theater

I just saw the new Avengers movie - thankfully, I had also previously seen both Iron Man movies, both Hulk movies (the one featuring Eric Bana, which kind of sucked, and the one with Edward Norton, which was better), and the Captain America movie. What can I say, I like superhero movies. Anyway, the movie was full of backstory dialogue that might have been intended to help out those who hadn't seen all the superhero movies leading up to this one, but I'm guessing that anyone who went to this movie without having seen any of the other movies was probably a little too lost to enjoy this one. It'd help to at least know the basic backstories of all the characters. I'd also probably recommend watching the first Iron Man movie, the Captain America movie, and maybe the Thor movie. The Thor movie was the only one I hadn't seen, although I picked up a copy and plan to watch it soon.

The Good:
  • It was funny. Surprisingly, most of my favorite funny bits featured the Hulk, who has never really been my favorite Avengers member. The Hulk and Thor had what might have been a bonding moment, had it been Thor and any other character, and I loved the bit with the Hulk and Loki. Oh, I laughed so much. Hulk smash, indeed.
  • Black Widow. I vaguely remembered seeing her in one of the other superhero movies (according to IMDb, it was Iron Man 2). I mostly remembered being underwhelmed by her. In this movie, she was actually pretty awesome. If the Black Widow movie I heard is on the horizon really does come out, I hope that it features both her and Hawkeye.
  • Big, flashy battles between the superheroes. I have a feeling these came about after a few "Who would win?" conversations. As in, "Captain America vs. Thor - who do you think would win?" Anyone who's ever wondered things like that should enjoy the bulk of the movie's battles. Just don't expect any answers. Mostly the movie's answers boil down to "I'm not sure, but the damage to the surrounding area would be considerable."
  • Agent Coulson. His fanboyish excitement around Captain America was both cute and embarrassing.
The Bad:
  • I was never a big fan of the Avengers in general, because I enjoyed some characters and not others and hated it whenever the series wasn't focused on the characters I enjoyed. While I actually liked most of the characters in the movie (the only exception being Captain America, who annoyed me a tad), I still had problems with the cast feeling like it was too large. I don't know if the problem was too many main characters, or lots of characters but no main character.
  • The death of one particular character. My hope is that a future movie will reveal that Nick Fury lied about his death in order to give everybody more motivation to fight, but somehow I think that hope is futile.
This movie had some really great, fun moments, but, now that I'm out of the theater, I kind of think it was not anywhere near the best of the superhero movies I've seen. My first "bad" bullet point is a big part of the reason for that.

I choose not to list any watch-alikes or read-alikes for this. Go watch some superhero or action movies and read some superhero comics/graphic novels. If you really, really need some recommendations, ask me for some in a comment - otherwise, I think I'll take a break on this one.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Brave 10 (anime TV series), via Crunchyroll

This series is 12 episodes long, with each episode running approximately 23 minutes.


Isanami, an innocent and energetic girl, was raised by monks at a shrine. Then one day the monks were all slaughtered, and Isanami found herself on the run, protecting both her life and the Kushimitama, her hairpin, which those who killed the monks seem to want. She comes across Saizo, a guy who is either a samurai or a ninja (I think he gets called both during the course of the series). Although he finds her to be annoying, he still protects her from her pursuers.

Isanami comes under the protection of a lord whose goal is to gather up 10 brave warriors. He names Isanami one of his braves and calls the unwilling Saizo another one of them. Rokuro, his extremely loyal servant, is another. As the series progresses, he gathers more of his braves together, although it's not until nearly the end of the series that he states what his purpose was in gathering them all together. The braves face various enemies who all serve a flamboyant lord who wants the power Isanami's Kushimitama could give him.


You have no idea how happy I am that I finally managed to finish this series and can now remove it from my queue. That'll teach me to start watching a show for purely shallow reasons. Or not. This isn't the first time I've made that mistake (see my review for Hakuoki).

Okay, I admit it, I started watching Brave 10 because I saw a preview that indicated it would be about a bunch of bishounen ninjas. I figured it would at least have some good-looking fight scenes. Hakuoki, for all its problems, managed that much. This show, not so much. I wish I had never even started watching it. It took way more effort for me to slog through than it should have.

The Mister Trophy (e-short story) by Frank Tuttle

According to this page, this is the first story in Frank Tuttle's Markhat series. I became aware of this series when one of Tuttle's works (The Broken Bell?) popped up on Samhain's new releases page and set off my "ooh pretty" reaction. The excerpt sounded good and reminded me a little of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. I passed it by when I noticed that it was a later book in a series that sounded like it might need to be read in order, although I did add Tuttle's books to my ARe wishlist. When a good sale came up, I took a chance and bought the whole series. Some, like this story, weren't available through ARe, so I ended up buying this direct through Samhain.

Samhain doesn't include word counts, so all I can tell you is that this story is approximately 38 pages on my Nook, if you don't count the 12 pages of excerpts that Samhain plopped at the end. It's getting to the point where I wish Samhain and other publishers would limit themselves to a couple pages of "if you liked this, you might try these works also published by us." That would make it so much easier for me to figure out when I'm nearing the end of a story or book.


Markhat is a finder, which I think is equivalent to being a private eye. He's at his favorite bar when a Troll approaches him and asks to hire him. Trolls are terrifying creatures, so Markhat isn't inclined to take the case at first, but the Troll offers him a lot of gold. Money is always nice.

Because its name is too difficult for Markhat to pronounce, the Troll adopts the name Mister Smith. Its companions are all Mister something-or-other. The Misters want Markhat to visit the Haverlock vampire clan, determine where they're keeping the stuffed and mounted Troll head they took as a trophy during the War, and deliver a message saying they want it back. This, of course, turns out to be a very dangerous job.


I was right when I said that this series seemed very much like Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. There's a similar level of snark, both series star a private eye who is resourceful but in over his head, and both series have a lot of fantasy elements. I'm not sure if Markhat has any magical abilities, but so far the answer seems to be “no.” However, he knows at least one person who can give him a bit of magical help.

Somatesthesia (e-book) by Ann Somerville

This book is published by Samhain Publishing and is included in their "Multicultural" and "Gay Alternate Worlds" categories. According to ARe, it's 71,752 words long. That came out to approximately 195 pages on my Nook, if you don't count the excerpts at the end. The print version, interestingly enough, is 272 pages, so this is one of those cases where one Nook page is most definitely not equivalent to one print page.


This book takes place in 2042. Devlin Grace only just recently switched from working as an investigator in Child Exploitation to being part of the elite Special Crimes Investigators program, part of the Federal Justice Agency (a combination of the FBI and NSA). He will be paired with an "enhanced" agent (basically, a cyborg).

His new partner is Connor, an agent whose previous partner had some kind of breakdown due to overworking. Connor's social skills are extremely lacking - his adoptive father, Dr. Tomizawa Toshiyuki, the inventor of the enhancements, hadn't encouraged displays of emotion. Devlin has his work cut out for him, trying to bond with Connor and encourage him to come out of his shell.

Before Devlin has even finished training, he and Connor are given a case involving the kidnapping, and sometimes killing, of the children of parents in a wealthy community. With Devlin's experience in Child Exploitation and Connor's abilities, they're considered the perfect pair for a crime like this. During the course of the case, Devlin continues to try to build his relationship with Connor...and fight his attraction to the man. What he doesn't know is that the attraction is mutual. Not that those feelings are anything they can act on - not only do they have work to do, the SCI has strict rules against relationships between agents.


The first thing that attracted me to this book was the cover – the model in the foreground looks so fantastic I barely even noticed that there was someone in the background. Which was maybe a good thing, because that guy looks nothing like how I imagined Connor would look.

The description reminded me a little of works like Jordan Castillo Price's Among the Living (cop/detective/whatever with special powers partnered with cop/detective/whatever who's an ordinary human being). It also made me think that the child kidnapping case might take the entire length of the book to solve. It doesn't, not exactly. Unfortunately, I think my own description probably perpetuates that expectation, so now I'm going to give a few more details while still, hopefully, avoiding big spoilers.

Nyoron Churuya-san (anime), via Crunchyroll

From what I can tell, this was first shown on the Internet, so I'm not applying my "TV series" tag. The show is 13 episodes long, with each episode running maybe 3 minutes long.


I'm not sure anything I write could possibly be called a synopsis, since there isn't really a plot. This is a parody series based on The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Churuya is a dumber, simpler, chibi-fied version of Tsuruya, Mikuru's friend. For some strange reason (perhaps more comprehensible to Japanese viewers or Haruhi fanatics?), she is obsessed with smoked cheese. She even gives it a cute little nickname: smochee.

If you watched The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya or read my post about it, you may remember Achakura/Asakura. Well, in this series she's Ashakura, and now the primary driving force in her life is her crush on Kyon. She is convinced that Churuya is trying to steal him for herself. Every time she tries to tell Kyon how she feels about him, she is rejected (or maybe he just doesn't notice how she feels?). By the way, although Ashakura is chibi-fied, Kyon isn't. It's a bit of a physical mismatch.

Seriously, there's not much more to the show than this - lots of Churuya drooling over smoked cheese, lots of Ashakura quivering with suppressed emotion over Kyon, and the occasional recurring joke about Churuya sucking up some adorable anthropomorphized dust bunnies with a vacuum cleaner.


When I watched The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya, my first reaction was something along the lines of “what the heck is this?” However, the show grew on me, and I came to enjoy it, although I probably wouldn't recommend it to anyone who wasn't at least a little familiar with the original series. This, on the other hand, I probably wouldn't recommend to anyone, even those who enjoyed the original series.

The Lady Vanishes (live action movie)

This is part of an Alfred Hitchcock collection I bought from Wal-Mart for $5. There are a few silent films in the collection, but this isn't one of them.


Iris, a well-to-do young Englishwoman, decides it's time to give up her life of traveling and partying and get married. Just before boarding a transcontinental train to go back to her fiance, she is hit on the head. Another passenger, a elderly governess named Miss Froy, watches out for her.

Iris takes a short nap and wakes to find Miss Froy gone. What's more, no one she asks even remembers that she was there. A doctor on the train theorizes that her head injury made her imagine Miss Froy, and Iris becomes frantic to prove that Miss Froy existed and has been abducted. Although he's skeptical at first, Gilbert, another passenger, comes to believe Iris and joins her in her search for the woman.


I had an urge to re-watch this movie after I listed it as a watch-alike for Agatha Christie's The Secret Adversary. Part of the movie's appeal, during my first viewing of it, was not knowing what had happened to Miss Froy. There were at least four characters who had seen her but, for various reasons, lied and said they hadn't, so I knew Iris hadn't imagined her. There were lots of creepy moments, such as the way the other passengers in Iris's compartment stared at her, and the fact that all the train staff seemed to be in on whatever had happened to Miss Froy. I couldn't wait to find out what was going on.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The grading experiment

I think I'm going to give up on grading the things I read and watch - or, at least, I think I'm going to give up on grading them publicly. I've assigned grades on 9 posts in a row. Sometimes it was easy, and sometimes it was really, really hard. When it was hard, I tended to agonize over the grade too much, and my posts started to take even longer than they usually take. Since I'm not sure the grades would do anyone any good, what with my difficulties writing something up that explains what the grades mean (other than "A 'C' is not a bad grade, just an average one"), I think I'll just go back to writing reviews but not assigning grades. I do like assigning grades privately, though - it'll make it easier to come up with my personal "Best" list at the end of the year.

Whatever After #1: Fairest of All (book) by Sarah Mlynowski

Release date: May 1, 2012

This is one of the ARCs I got at ALA Midwinter.

I have now added a new tag to my list, "middle grade." I was going to use my "young adult" tag for this, but it's so inappropriate for this book that I finally just decided to create a new tag. I'll need to go through my blog sometime and re-tag a few things now...


Ten-year-old Abby has recently moved to Smithville and started attending a new school, and she hates all of it. She misses her old school and city, where people played freeze tag the right way and peanut butter and banana sandwiches were made by putting the sliced bananas on the peanut butter, rather than mashing the bananas and peanut butter into a gloppy mess. Abby doesn't like change. She likes things neat and orderly, and one day she wants to become a judge.

One night, Abby's little brother Jonah wakes her up to tell her that the mirror in the basement is hissing. The mirror was there when they moved in and Jonah, while exploring the house late that night (almost midnight), accidentally knocked on it. Abby goes with Jonah to take a look, wondering if maybe it was all in his imagination. Jonah knocks on the mirror once, twice, three times, and then the mirror starts to suck in both of them and everything else in the basement.

The next thing they know, Abby and Jonah are in a forest. Their parents' old furniture and law books are everywhere. Abby thinks they must still be somewhere in or near Smithville. When she and her brother see an adult, they go to her for help, but she only glares at them. They see the old woman knock on the front door of a house and offer the beautiful girl inside an apple, and they eventually figure out that the girl is Snow White and they've somehow entered a fairy tale. Well, Jonah figures it out first - to Abby, this idea is almost too fantastic to be believed.

On the one hand, Abby and Jonah are happy to have interrupted the old woman and Snow White before Snow White could eat the poisoned apple. On the other hand, they realize they have messed up the story and prevented Snow White from achieving her happy ending and marrying the prince. Somehow, they have to put the story right and find a way to get back home.


The very first thing I wrote in my notes for this book was: “Exhausting.” The story is told in the first person, from Abby's perspective, and I kept imagining her saying everything in a breathless and hyper voice. She had very particular ideas about how her world should be, and even went so far as to create a list of everything in Smithville that was uncomfortably not like how things back at her old home in Chicago were. A lot had changed in her life, very quickly, and she wasn't happy about it. Actually, being somewhat resistant to change myself, I could relate to that aspect of her quite a bit.