Sunday, December 31, 2023

REVIEW: Adulthood Is a Myth (graphic novel) by Sarah Andersen

Adulthood Is a Myth is a collection of Andersen's humorous comics about her experiences. I bought my copy new.


I don't have much to say about this. It wasn't groundbreaking or anything, but it was amusing and generally relatable, especially if you're a socially awkward introvert who has trouble adulting. 

I somehow like Andersen's scraggly gremlin self-portraits even more now that I've realized Andersen is also the person behind Fangs. The artistic styles are so completely different.

REVIEW: The Silence of the Lambs (book) by Thomas Harris

The Silence of the Lambs is a 1988 thriller. I checked my copy out from the library.


Clarice Starling, an FBI trainee, is sent to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter - Hannibal the Cannibal. There are indications that Dr. Lecter's unique position - he's a brilliant psychiatrist who's also a serial killer - might give him helpful insight into the murders committed by the serial killer nicknamed Buffalo Bill. 

This is one of many books I should have reviewed sooner after I finished it, but I've been in a reviewing slump for a while and it didn't happen.

I haven't seen the movie adaptation, and this was my first time reading this book. At some point, possibly due to Hannibal Lecter's enduring popularity, I came to the conclusion that Hannibal was a prominent character in the story. Imagine my surprise when he only made an occasional appearance. That said, he was such a vivid character that I understand his popularity. For much of the book, I only knew how dangerous Hannibal was due to his reputation and what everyone kept telling Starling (I need to see about reading Red Dragon) - his interactions with Starling still managed to be riveting. I was pretty much glued to the book when it started to look like he'd get a chance to spring into action (the stupidity of certain characters was mind-boggling).

Overall, this caught and kept my attention, even though certain aspects (the language, technology, etc.) were dated enough that trying to process some of it took more effort than I expected. The details of the investigation were intriguing, and everything moved at a nice pace.

REVIEW: Kiki's Delivery Service (book) by Eiko Kadono, translated by Emily Balistrieri, illustrations by Yuta Onoda

Kiki's Delivery Service is a Japanese children's fantasy novel. I bought my copy new.


Witches exist in the world of this book, but there aren't a lot of them, and magical knowledge and powers are starting to fade away with each generation. The only magic Kiki is capable of is flying on her broom. She also has Jiji, one of the black cats that all young witches are raised with.

Kiki is about to turn thirteen, the age at which young witches strike off on their own and find a new town to call home for a year. Although her mother advises her to not choose a big city, Kiki wants more excitement and ends up settling in Koriko. It's daunting at first - no one seems to be very interested in having a witch live in their town - but Kiki manages to carve out a place for herself by starting a delivery service. Her first customer, Mrs. Osono, helps by giving her a place to stay.

Throughout the rest of her first year, Kiki meets new people, delivers everything from a painting to a giant belly band, and gains more confidence in her abilities.

REVIEW: Rosebud (novella) by Paul Cornell

Rosebud is a science fiction novella. I bought my copy new.


Five sentient digital beings form the crew of a small survey ship that has been sent out by the Company to explore and report its findings back to the Company. They encounter a mysterious black sphere that they know they must report. However, something seems to be happening to their perceptions of time and reality.

This got on my radar due to its sentient digital beings. It initially comes across like a very quirky read - as digital beings, the crew members can present themselves pretty much however they'd like, so one of them is a foul-mouthed balloon, another is a ball of hands, and yet another one is a swarm of wasps. As readers learn about them, their situation, and their relationship to the Company, it becomes apparent that there's some self-editing going on, revealing darker undercurrents. 

I'm still not sure how I feel about the ending. It felt like is was aiming for "happy" but presented from the viewpoint of the character with the least to be happy about.

REVIEW: Ava's Demon, Book One: Reborn (graphic novel) by Michelle Fus

Ava's Demon is an SFF graphic novel series (originally a webcomic). I bought my copy of this volume new.


Ava's entire life has been ruled and ruined by the demon in her mind who occasionally controls her actions. She only had one friend, Maggie, and the being destroyed that relationship as well. Now Maggie doesn't want anything to do with her, and when a weird young man tells Maggie that she has to leave the planet with him for her safety, Ava ends up coming along. Things go from bad to worse, and the three of them end up crashing on another planet. In order to save her own life, Ava finally agrees to make a pact with her demon, who says she used to be a queen named Wrathia Bellarmina. Her homeland was destroyed by Titan, and the only plan she could come up with involved cursed wine that would allow her and the most powerful warriors in her empire to die and attach their souls to other hopefully more powerful beings and eventually take back their homeland.

Ava has been a disappointment to Wrathia, up to this point. The pact changes things. But do the warriors Wrathia is looking for really want the same things she does? It's unclear, and she's unaware that several of the people around Ava are likely exactly the ones she's looking for. One of them is with Maggie and is reluctantly helping her with her constant quest for romance with the cutest guy in her vicinity. Another is with a young doctor named Gil...who is unfortunately a devout new member of Titan's army.

REVIEW: Outback Hearts (book) by Susan Stoker

Outback Hearts is a contemporary romance. I checked my copy out from the library.


Sam becomes a reality TV show contestant, not realizing that it's going to be Bachelor-style. The contestants are all flown to the Australian Outback, where they're told that they'll be competing for the affections of Al, a rancher from Texas. To prove they have what it takes to be his wife, they do things like catch pigs, muck out stables, and more.

Although Sam thinks Al is attractive, she isn't in the mood for the kind of catty tactics most of the other contestants resort to. She figures it was probably an accident that she was chosen for the show and she'll get kicked off relatively early, so she's determined to do things her own way, even if the show's producer seems determined to do whatever he has to in order to get a drama-filled show.

Meanwhile, Al, who actually goes by Alex (the producer tweaks everybody's name to fit his vision for the show), is, unbeknownst to the contestants, given access to video of what the contestants are doing when he isn't around. He likes "Sammi" but quickly learns that this show isn't geared towards him choosing the person he really wants, but rather the person who'd make for the best TV.

REVIEW: The Horizon (manhwa, vol. 1) by JH

The Horizon is a war (possibly post-apocalyptic) comic. I bought my copy of this volume new.


The Horizon takes place during the aftermath of some kind of massacre (the Webtoon page says it was an apocalyptic event). A young boy is the sole survivor of some kind of event that kills his mother and pretty much everyone else in the city. With nothing else to do, he walks and eventually finds an abandoned school bus to sleep in. A girl his age also finds the bus, and the two of them become sudden traveling companions as more violence breaks out around them. Eventually they come across a third person, a grown man who seems to only be capable of screaming like a crow. Although the girl is fine with him following along, the boy can't help but be frightened and wary of the man.

REVIEW: In the Shadow of the Throne (graphic novel) by Kate Sheridan, art by Gaia Cardinali

In the Shadow of the Throne is a fantasy graphic novel with a hint of m/m romance. I bought my copy new.


Jordan is tired of always being his younger siblings' default babysitter, so he's excited to finally be on his own when his family's trip to a museum results in him somehow being transported to a fantasy world via a painting. In this new world, he trains as a knight and helps a young elven prince deal with a dark magic threat against his kingdom that is somehow connected to the queen's past.

The story was very basic and rushed. It made zero sense to me that a barely trained wannabe knight was sent after a trained assassin with the prince in tow and no one else. There wasn't a lot of time to flesh everything out, and even the light romantic elements felt like a bit much considering that Jordan and Astel didn't get along for a large chunk of the volume. 

Although I liked the monster design, for the most part the artwork wasn't to my taste. There were too many issues with anatomy and perspective.

REVIEW: Starter Villain (book) by John Scalzi

Starter Villain is a mix of humor and fantasy. I bought my copy new.


Charlie is a divorced former business reporter who is, at best, barely scraping by as a substitute teacher. The best thing in his life right now is his cat, Hera. When his estranged uncle, Jake, dies of pancreatic cancer, the only reason Charlie is aware of it is because Jake was a billionaire, and even boring billionaires get mentioned in the news when they die.

The news is barely a blip in Charlie's crumbling life, until Mathilda Morrison, Jake's former assistant, shows up on Charlie's doorstep with Jake's last request, that Charlie represent him at his memorial service. It seems like a relatively simple thing and comes with a reward that Charlie can't refuse, so he agrees...and eventually learns that his uncle was involved in a lot more than just parking garages. Showing up at Jake's memorial service puts a target on Charlie's back. Fortunately for Charlie, he's just inherited Uncle Jake's entire supervillain empire, complete with talented employees like Morrison, spy cats and dolphins, and a volcano lair.

REVIEW: One of Us Is Next (book) by Karen M. McManus

One of Us Is Next is a YA thriller/mystery. I bought my copy new. This review includes slight spoilers unrelated to the final twists.


Just in case it isn't obvious, you shouldn't read this book, or even this review, unless you're comfortable with the possibility of getting major spoilers for the first book in the series, One of Us Is Lying. You've been warned.

It's been a year since the events of the first book, and although Simon copycats have occasionally popped up, none of them have stuck around for long - it's hard to be as devious as Simon was, and as well-informed about everyone's secrets. When Bayview High students suddenly get texts from yet another Simon copycat telling them that they're going to be playing Truth or Dare, everyone figures it'll fizzle out like the other times. The anonymous texter picks Phoebe as their first victim, and she ignores them...only for one of her most hurtful secrets to be revealed to everyone when she misses the deadline to play along.

Who is this person, and what's their goal? Those questions are on everyone's minds as the game goes from hurtful and/or dangerous to deadly.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

REVIEW: Lessons in Chemistry (book) by Bonnie Garmus

Lessons in Chemistry is historical women's fiction. I bought my copy new.


Content warning: sexual assault.

This starts in 1952 and ends in the early 1960s. Elizabeth Zott is a chemist whose primary research interest is abiogenesis. Unfortunately, her lab at Hasting Research Institute never gets much in the way of proper funding, attention, or supplies, and her first encounter with Calvin Evans, the Institute's rockstar chemist, is when she steals a box of beakers from his lab after he mistakes her for a secretary. Calvin eventually tracks her down and the two of them fall in love over discussions about chemistry, although Elizabeth steadfastly refuses to get married.

What follows is the story of how Elizabeth went from that in the 1950s to being a single mother starring in a wildly popular cooking show by 1961.

REVIEW: Bad Kids (book) by Zijin Chen, translated by Michelle Deeter

Bad Kids is a Chinese thriller. I bought my copy new.


Zhang Dongsheng, a teacher, arranges what he thinks is the perfect murder. Acting like a dutiful son-in-law, he takes his wife's parents to a nature park at a time when it's mostly deserted and pushes them off the mountain to their deaths. He'll claim it's an accident caused by his father-in-law's health condition, and since there are no witnesses, no one will be the wiser.

However, there are witnesses: three children who accidentally catch the whole thing on video. Thirteen-year-old Chaoyang and his new friends, two runaway orphans named Ding Hao and Pupu, initially think they should turn the footage in to the police. However, if they do that then Ding Hao and Pupu will be forced to go back to the orphanage where they were mistreated and nine-year-old Pupu was sexually abused. Chaoyang had briefly been letting the two orphans stay at his house while his mother was away at work, but the situation can't continue, so the kids hatch a plan to blackmail Zhang Dongsheng, who they believe must be rich because of the kind of car he drives (his wife and in-laws were rich, not him). They'll use the money they get from him to pay for food and a place to stay.

As the situation becomes more complicated, both Zhang Dongsheng and the kids have things to hide.

REVIEW: The Imperial Uncle (book) by Da Feng Gua Guo, translated by E. Danglars

The Imperial Uncle is a historical-ish danmei (Chinese m/m) novel. I bought my copy new.


First: each character has multiple names, and I'm not sure which, if any, are more appropriate to use in my review. For Prince Huai/Jing Weiyi/Chengjun, I'm generally opting for Chengjun except when his title feels like a better option. For Liu Tongyi/Ransi, I'm opting for Liu Tongyi, and for Yun Yu/Suiya, I'm opting for Yun Yu.

Prince Huai, uncle to the young emperor, Qizhe, is deeply loyal but knows that his loyalty will always be doubted due to the actions and reputation of his late father. Even knowing that it could lead to his downfall, he decides to act as a spy, collecting information on conspirators against Qizhe while acting like he's going along with their uprising.

Things are coming to a head now, and the conspirators are preparing to make Chengjun the new emperor. As Chengjun works to simultaneously help Qizhe while avoiding getting caught in the trap of his own making, he finds himself pondering his relationships and future and wondering if there will ever be anyone willing to stand by his side. For a long time, Chengjun has been in love with Liu Tongyi, a virtuous official whose reputation is as spotless as Chengjun's isn't. Is it even possible for anything to come of those feelings, or would Chengjun be better off focusing on Yun Yu, the man everyone seems to already think is one of his lovers? Yun Yu is one of the conspirators against Qizhe, simultaneously Chengjun's closest friend and the person he's preparing to betray, and who may therefore lose his life during the attempted uprising. It seems as though there's nothing but loneliness and tragedy in Chengjun's future...