Sunday, April 30, 2023

REVIEW: Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation: Mo Dao Zu Shi, Vol. 2 (book) by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu, translated by Suika and Pengie

Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation is a fantasy danmei series. I bought my copy of this volume new.


Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji follow the dismembered body's trail to Yi City, where they learn the tragic story of A-Qing, Xiao Xingchen, his friend Song Lan, and Xue Yang. This then leads to Jin Guangyao and, finally, to the discovery of the dismembered body's head.

I definitely preferred the first half of this volume, in Yi City, to the second half. The supernatural aspects were fabulous, and both Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji got to be awesome. Wei Wuxian acting as a confident and calm mentor/babysitter for the younger cultivators was fun. Also, I enjoyed the massive tragedy that was Xiao Xingchen and Song Lan's story, even if I had trouble remembering what any of it had to do with the series' larger story. My heart hurt for pretty much everybody but Xue Yang.

The second half of this book was mostly cultivator politics, which I wasn't nearly as interested in. All I really cared about were the details surrounding the dismembered body.

Not a very informative review, I know, but I wanted to finally get this off my plate so I could move on to the next volume and eventually let myself do the thing I really want to do, which is read Heaven Official's Blessing. Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation is okay, but definitely my least favorite of MXTX's works. It just doesn't have enough fun character interaction. I need more than the occasional "Lan Wangji is hilariously drunk and Wei Wuxian is oblivious" scene.


A couple full-color illustrations, a character and name guide, a glossary, and black and white illustrations throughout.

REVIEW: Nothing More to Tell (book) by Karen M. McManus

Nothing More to Tell is a YA mystery. I bought my copy new.


A stupid mistake may have cost Brynn the future in journalism that she'd planned. In an effort to make up for it, she's become an intern with Motive, a true-crime show. She's hopeful that they'll use her idea for a show, investigating the murder of Mr. Larkin, her favorite teacher at Saint Ambrose. 

Four years ago, three Saint Ambrose students, Tripp, Charlotte, and Shane, found Mr. Larkin's body in the woods behind their school. Around the time of the murder, Mr. Larkin was looking into the theft of some money. After his death, the envelope of money was discovered in Charlotte's locker. The fingerprints of Shane, the boy Charlotte had a huge crush on, were found on the rock that killed Mr. Larkin. Things weren't looking good for them, especially Shane, except Tripp's account of events matched theirs. Tripp wasn't a friend of the two other kids at the time, so what motive would he have had to lie?

Brynn is convinced that there's more to the story than the three of them ever shared, and now that she's back at Saint Ambrose she's determined to find out the truth.

REVIEW: The Boxer (manhwa, vol. 1) by JH, translated by WEBTOON

The Boxer is a sports series originally serialized online. I bought my copy of this volume new.


K, a legendary trainer of world champion boxers, has gone to a certain gym in search of his final student. At first, he thinks that person might be Baeksan Ryu, a naturally talented young fighter whose unpredictable and fluid movements allow him to hold his own against larger and more experienced opponents. However, then he sees a group of bullies beating up a boy outside, and something in that boy's empty eyes tells him he's looking at something above and beyond any fighter he's ever trained before. Unlike Baeksan, Yu doesn't feel any sort of need to dominate others or be better than them - he simply exists, and is bored with that existence.

REVIEW: Severance (book) by Ling Ma

Severance post-apocalyptic literary fiction. I bought my copy new. 


In the present, Candace Chen is traveling with a group of other former white collar workers to the Facility, a destination chosen by the group's leader, Bob. Shen Fever has overtaken the world, and most of the fevered are either dead by now or in the process of dying, stuck in meaningless routines until their bodies can no longer manage.

In the past, Candace's parents were Chinese immigrants who were eventually able to bring her over to the US with them as well. After her parents died, Candace lost touch with the rest of her family and lived a rootless life in New York City. She enjoyed photography and, for a while, kept a photo blog called NY Ghost that became her way of documenting Shen Fever's effect on the city. Before that, though, she worked in Bible production, a job she was good at but didn't particularly enjoy.

I'm not sure what to say beyond that. The book explores Candace's memories and past - her relationship with her family, how she got her job, how things began and ended between her and her boyfriend, how things went at work when Shen Fever started taking over, and how things turned out between her and Bob's group.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

REVIEW: There's No Such Thing as an Easy Job (book) by Kikuko Tsumura, translated by Polly Barton

There's No Such Thing as an Easy Job is Japanese workplace fiction that occasionally hints at fantasy elements. I bought my copy new.


The narrator (who I don't think was ever named, but maybe I missed it) burned out from the work she'd previously been doing for about 14 years, so badly that she no longer even wants to work in the same field. She's been living with her parents and her unemployment insurance has run out, forcing her to seek some form of employment again. She tells Mrs. Masakado at the employment center that she wants an easy job located as close as possible to her home, and Mrs. Masakado finds her the perfect thing: a surveillance job located across the street from her house. Literally all she has to do, all day, is watch video footage of her assigned target, paying special attention to any deliveries he receives or any DVDs from his collection that he interacts with in any way.

It's a weird little job. It's technically easy and close to her home, just like she asked, but she finds that she has enough issues with it and its particular drawbacks that she doesn't want to stick with it when her contract is up. After that, Mrs. Masakado does her best to match her up with the perfect job for her. She takes on a bus advertising job, creating audio advertisements for businesses located along a particular bus route. After that, she works as the writer of interesting notes and messages on cracker packets. Then she switches to a job that involves putting up and switching out various informational posters. Finally, she ends up taking on something advertised as "as easy job in a hut in a big forest." Sounds kind of ominous, right?

Monday, April 24, 2023

REVIEW: Ace and Aro Journeys: A Guide to Embracing Your Asexual or Aromantic Identity (nonfiction book) by The Ace and Aro Advocacy Project

Ace and Aro Journeys is nonfiction. I bought my copy new.


This book covers a lot in a fairly small number of pages. The introduction states that it's intended for all ace and aro people, as well as those who'd like to be allies, but the authors particularly hope to reach people who might not already be involved in online ace and/or aro communities. If you're truly new to information about ace and aro identities, be prepared for lots of flipping to the glossary in the back as the authors use lots of terminology that isn't always defined in-text. (And, er, if you're like me and are having trouble finding a term in the glossary and it begins with either ace or aro, try chopping that part off and looking for the rest of the word. For example, aceflux or aroflux are under F for "flux.")

The first chapter goes over reasons people might identify as aro or ace, as well as the basics of various models and types of attraction and orientation. The next chapter broadly covers ace and aro history, culture, and communities, common symbols used, and representation in media. 

Then the authors lay out the identity development model they use as the framework for the rest of the book: "ignorance," "discovery of terminology," "identity confusion," "exploration and education," "identity acceptance and salience negotiation," "coming out," and "identity integration." To be clear, the authors aren't trying to say that everyone has to go through every part, in that order, and they recognize that some people will need to go through various parts multiple times throughout their lives.

REVIEW: One of Us is Dead (book) by Jeneva Rose

One of Us is Dead is a thriller/mystery. I bought my copy new.


Buckhead is the kind of place where beautiful, rich people smile at each other while giving each other backhanded compliments. Until recently, Shannon was one of the top ladies of Buckhead. However, her now ex-husband has remarried, replacing her with younger, fresher, and prettier Crystal from Texas. Olivia has decided to take full advantage of the shift in power dynamics and is doing her best to take every inch of Shannon's Buckhead political territory while her "friend" is still off licking her wounds. Karen, meanwhile, recognizes what Olivia is doing but is powerless to stop it.

At some point in this story, one of Buckhead's ladies will end up dead. And Jenny, the owner of Glow, the most exclusive salon in town, is there to see it all play out.

REVIEW: False Knees: An Illustrated Guide to Animal Behavior (graphic novel) by Joshua Barkman

False Knees is a collection on humorous cartoons. I bought my copy new.


Another webcomic print collection. It features animals musing about the world and their own existence, or otherwise doing things that realistically drawn animals wouldn't normally do.

To be honest, this comic's humor isn't generally for me. I like the occasional morbid moments, but there's a sameness to the animals philosophizing at each other. There were rarely any strips that made me laugh, although there were definitely a few that managed to surprise me (like the one with the rabbit announcing its plans for the future).

For me, the really appealing thing about this comic is its artwork. I love the colors and linework. It makes me want to get back to some of the creative activities I used to do, like needle felting and drawing.

REVIEW: Vivian Apple at the End of the World (book) by Katie Coyle

Vivian Apple at the End of the World is a combination YA road trip/post-apocalyptic story. My copy was an ARC, a very old ARC.

This review includes slight spoilers.


In this version of the United States, the evangelical Church of America and its leader, Beaton Frick, have become enormously popular. This book begins just before the date when Frick said the Rapture was supposed to happen. 

Vivian Apple isn't a Believer the way her parents are, but she doesn't know what to think when she gets home after a Rapture party and discovers both of her parents gone, with two holes in the roof above their bed. Her parents aren't the only ones who've disappeared - other Believers are gone as well. But only a small number of them, maybe 3000, leading to confusion, panic, and fear. 

At first, Vivian strives for some kind of normalcy. However, "normal" is never going to be the way it once was. The remaining Believers cling to the hope offered by Frick's prediction of a second Rapture, and there's still the issue of the end of the world, which Frick predicted would come several months after the first Rapture. With everything in chaos, Vivian teams up with her friend Harp and Peter, a guy she recently met who has connections to the Church of America, in an effort to find out the truth and hopefully reunite with her parents.

REVIEW: What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (nonfiction book) by Randall Munroe

What If? is humorous nonfiction. I checked my copy out from the library.


It's starting to look like Randall Munroe is my go-to author when I'm sick. Many of the What If? scenarios scratch something like a humorous sci-fi itch for me, but without the expectation that I keep track of groups of characters and whatever's going on with them in particular.

My absolute favorite chapter in this volume is "Periodic Wall of Elements," in which Munroe lays out what would happen if someone, somehow, built a periodic table out of bricks, where each brick was made of its corresponding element. However, as with What If? 2, I generally enjoyed any chapter that involved lots of destruction.

I don't really have much to say beyond that. This was technically a reread, but my first time through was in audiobook form. While I recall Wil Wheaton being an enjoyable narrator, the illustrations alone make this better to read in print. 

Oh, one thing I'll add: the chapter "Common Cold" ("If everyone on the planet stayed away from each other for a couple weeks, wouldn't the common cold be wiped out?") felt really weird to read after the past few pandemic years and the period of sorta kinda lockdowns (in the U.S., at least).

I have a copy of Munroe's How To waiting on my TBR for the next time I get sick. Hopefully it'll get to sit there until at least 2024.

REVIEW: No Apparent Danger: The True Story of Volcanic Disaster at Galeras and Nevado Del Ruiz (nonfiction book) by Victoria Bruce

No Apparent Danger is nonfiction. I checked my copy out from the library.


This book is an account of the November 1985 Nevado Del Ruiz eruption that killed more than 23,000 people and destroyed the city of Armero, as well as an account of the January 1993 Galeras eruption that killed six scientists and three tourists.

While the accounts were interesting (and horrifying), this was initially looking like a 3-star read for me due to what I saw as organizational issues and a lack of focus. Yes, the eruptions both took place in Colombia, and some of the same people, such as Colombian geologist Marta Calvache, came up in conjunction with both of them, but I had trouble keeping track of why they were related enough to base a book on both of them. The Nevado Del Ruiz eruption was horrific and resulted in an enormous loss of life. The eruption in Galeras was much smaller and only killed people because they happened to be in the crater (and, for the most part, not wearing proper safety equipment). I should add that I don't read a lot of nonfiction and tend to have attention span issues with it, so that could definitely have been a factor in my overall feelings.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

REVIEW: The Muse (book) by Emma Scott

The Muse is m/m fantasy romance. I bought my copy new.


Content warning for suicidal thoughts, mentions of past child abuse, and torture.

This is the second book in a series (duology?). I haven't read the first, but this book explains the setup well enough that I was able to follow along just fine. Basically, Ambri is a demon who once served another demon named Casziel. He helped Casziel free himself so that he could become human once more. This understandably caused other demons to question Ambri's loyalties, so at the beginning of this book Ambri is asked to prove himself by pushing a human to commit suicide.

The human Ambri picks is Cole Matheson. Not only does he have slight connections to Casziel (Ambri was a little in love with Casziel and not entirely happy when he opted to become human again), but he's also already feeling pretty depressed and hopeless. Cole is a struggling artist who's having trouble believing in his own talent, since nothing he does seems enough to capture anyone's attention and pay his bills. Ambri approaches him during a particularly low point and, instead of taking the easy route and giving him one last push into darkness, offers to become Cole's muse and patron. He's willing to pay for all of Cole's supplies and allow Cole to sell works depicting him in demon form, in exchange for a portrait of himself in his human form. Ambri was ostracized by his family before he'd even had an official portrait painted, and it's always upset him that his family members' portraits have survived while he isn't even a footnote in history books.

Ambri's demonic colleagues are understandably suspicious of Ambri's actions. Supposedly, Ambri plans to boost Cole's career before sending him crashing down into the abyss. However, as he and Cole get to know each other, the two begin to fall for each other. If Ambri goes through with his plans, he'll be responsible for the downfall of the man he loves. Even if he opts to sacrifice himself for Cole's sake, it may not be enough - there are plenty of demons who'd be more than happy to finish what Ambri started.

Monday, April 10, 2023

REVIEW: The Honjin Murders (book) by Seishi Yokomizo, translated by Louise Heal Kawai

The Honjin Murders is the first of Yokomizo's Detective Kosuke Kindaichi murder mystery books. I bought my copy new.


In the winter of 1937, the wealthy Ichiyanagi family was preparing for the wedding of Kenzo Ichiyanagi, the eldest son of the main Ichiyanami family, and Katsuko Kubo, a teacher at a girls' school. Kenzo's mother was disapproving of Katsuko, who she viewed as nothing more than the daughter of a tenant farmer, but Kenzo was determined to marry her.

Shortly before the wedding, there are rumors of a strange man with only three fingers on his right hand being sighted around town, asking for directions to the Ichiyanagi family's home. For some reason this man visits the Ichiyanagi family home the day of the wedding, delivering a note to Kenzo. That night, strange koto plucking sounds and a possible cry for help are heard, and the rest of the family, fearing an emergency, rushes to the Ichiyanagi annexe house where the newly married couple is staying. What they find is a katana embedded blade-first in the snow and no footprints anywhere. When they get inside, they discover Kenzo and Katsuko slashed to death. A knocked over folding screen is nearby, with a bloody, three-fingered handprint upon it.

Scruffy amateur detective Kosuke Kindaichi arrives at the request of Ginzo, the bride's uncle, to help with the investigation, which initially points firmly towards the strange three-fingered man as the most likely person to be the killer.

REVIEW: The Factory (book) by Hiroko Oyamada, translated by David Boyd

The Factory is, I guess, workplace literary fiction. Possibly surreal fantasy? I bought my copy new.


This relatively short work follows three characters: a guy who got laid off from his job working with computers and has taken a job as a temp proofreader at the factory; a woman who gets a temp job at the factory shredding documents; and a moss researcher hired to spearhead the factory's efforts at green-roofing. Each of them are doing what turns out to be meaningless jobs with no accomplishments, but they're being paid decently. As we learn about the three employees, we also learn about three not-quite-normal factory fauna.

REVIEW: The Escape Room (book) by Megan Goldin

The Escape Room is a workplace thriller/mystery. I bought my copy new.


This alternates between chapters in the past, from Sara Hall's perspective, and chapters in the present. Sara's chapters show how she became an employee at Stanhope, a big investment firm. The chapters in the present focus on four Stanhope employees, Vincent, Jules, Sylvie, and Sam, who have been told to take part in a mandatory team-building exercise, an escape room. They all reluctantly agree to do it because they know their positions at Stanhope are currently precarious, but as they enter an elevator and the lights go out, it's clear that there's something fishy about this assignment. What connection do the employees trapped in the elevator have to Sara Hall, and who's behind their supposed escape room invitation?

Sunday, April 9, 2023

REVIEW: How to Speak Chicken: Why Your Chickens Do What They Do & Say What They Say (nonfiction book) by Melissa Caughey

How to Speak Chicken is nonfiction. I bought my copy new.


I'll start by saying that I don't own chickens and am unlikely to ever own chickens. I read this primarily because animal communication interests me, and this looked like it would be a relatively quick and entertaining read.

This has lovely pictures and is certainly a quick read. It doesn't go into a lot of depth on anything - readers just get basic information on animal observation, chicken behavior and communication, and the emotional life of chickens. There are brief profiles of various backyard chicken keepers, and the author frequently mentions birds from her own flock. There's a tiny bit of info about egg development, but otherwise there's very little about chicken biology or development. This book is more about learning to connect with and appreciate chickens as individuals.

Although there's a brief mention that some people deal with aggressive roosters by "[adding them] to the soup pot" (65), it's pretty clear that this book is intended primarily for backyard chicken keepers who likely view their birds as pets. All mentions of specific aggressive birds end with them being rehomed.

One thing I wish the author had done in the backyard chicken keeper profiles was include labeled pictures of all the breeds mentioned as being in the keepers' flocks. True, I could look them up online, but this was otherwise such a well-illustrated book that the lack of breed photos was noticeable.