Sunday, February 25, 2024

REVIEW: How to Survive Your Murder (book) by Danielle Valentine

How to Survive Your Murder is a YA thriller. I bought my copy new.


Alice's sister Claire was murdered on Halloween, and Alice saw it happen. A year later, she's about to take the stand as a witness in the trial of Claire's killer when she meets a girl who looks exactly like Scream's Sidney Prescott. NotSidney says she's an angel and sends Alice back in time to go after her sister in the cornfield maze where she was murdered, so that she can finally learn the truth about what really happened that night.

This has loads of horror movie references and yet is conspicuously missing any mention of Happy Death Day, a movie with a similar premise. Anyway, this was an impulse purchase that I expected would be mediocre at best. I did not predict how angry it would end up making me.

REVIEW: Deal with the Elf King (book) by Elise Kova

Deal with the Elf King is fantasy romance. I bought my copy new.


Luella has devoted her whole life to becoming her village's healer, until Eldas, the Elf King, arrives and she learns that she's the Human Queen, our world's payment for peace with the elves. Now, with none of the preparation that Human Queens usually receive, Luella must go with Eldas to his lands, which need her life force in order to live and bloom. Her only hope of freedom and returning to her family and village is to find a way to end the cycle of the Human Queens before it's too late.

A couple things attracted me to this book: the gorgeous cover art (Eldas looks very much like Hades in Linda Sejic's Punderworld) and a line I read somewhere in an ad or a review that said this had elements of the Hades and Persephone myth. "Elements of" is definitely more appropriate than saying this is an adaptation of the myth - the only thing the two really have in common is that Eldas, whose powers are linked to death, is essentially king of a dead land (Hades-like) and that Luella's powers are linked to life and growing things (Persephone-like). The seasons in Eldas' land are dependent upon Luella's presence or absence.

REVIEW: Everything Is Fine (graphic novel, vol. 1) by Mike Birchall

Everything Is Fine is a dystopian graphic novel series. I bought my copy of this volume new.


This is the story of a couple living in an ordinary suburban neighborhood. Everyone wears cute animal masks on their heads, but somehow this is ordinary as well. Everything is fine, even though it clearly isn't - everyone's being constantly monitored, "freedom" can only be attained if you sell out your neighbors, and Winston the dog has been dead for a while.

I was hesitant to try this because the art wasn't really to my taste. It's simple and bland, and if you just flip through the volume you might think that people's animal heads are their actual faces, so all facial expressions are uniformly happy and cute in a stale sort of way. It works very well for the story, though, so I'm glad I gave this a shot.

REVIEW: The Stand-In (book) by Lily Chu

The Stand-In is contemporary romance. I bought my copy new.


Gracie is trying to get her mother, who has Alzheimer's, into a better nursing home, but the one she wants for her is more expensive and has a huge waiting list. Gracie's job is a nightmare - she's being subtly harassed by her boss but doesn't feel she can do anything about it because 1) no evidence and 2) she really needs the money. Then she receives a nerve-wracking offer she can't really refuse: get paid handsomely to act as the double of famous Chinese actress Wei Fangli. This puts Gracie in frequent contact with Fangli's best friend, the gorgeous and equally famous actor Sam Yao, who disapproves of this plan but will do whatever is necessary to help Fangli.

REVIEW: Sugar Apple Fairy Tale, Vol. 2: The Silver Sugar Master and the Blue Duke (book) by Miri Mikawa, illustrations by Aki, translated by Nicole Wilder

Sugar Apple Fairy Tale is Japanese fantasy with romantic elements. I bought my copy of this volume new.


Anne is in a bind. She won't survive the winter if she can't save up a decent amount of money right now, but since she didn't attain the status of Silver Sugar Master, it's difficult for her to get many clients or ensure that she's paid what her work is worth. She's barely managing to scrape by, so she's immediately intrigued by news that a duke is offering 1000 cress to any candy crafter, not just Silver Sugar Masters, who can make what he wants. But what if what he wants is impossible?

Saturday, February 24, 2024

REVIEW: The Japanese Yokai Handbook: A Guide to the Spookiest Ghosts, Demons, Monsters and Evil Creatures from Japanese Folklore (nonfiction book) by Masami Kinoshita

The Japanese Yokai Handbook is a guide to various Japanese supernatural beings. Most entries consist of only one page, which has a trading card-style image on it with a rarity level, ratings for scariness, danger, immortality, speed, and intelligence, a couple paragraphs of information, and some brief info, if known, about the yokai's origins, size, place it can be found, and general characteristics. Each chapter focuses on a general type of yokai (scary, mysterious, powerful, weird, cute, simple, sad, kind, evil, and stupid). In between chapters, the author answers some basic questions about yokai and gives brief overviews of locations known for particular yokai.

Either this mostly covered yokai I've never heard of, or the author's depictions were so different from what I've seen in manga or anime that I didn't recognize them. Unfortunately, most of the information was so brief that I didn't feel like I learned very much, although some of the yokai covered were definitely intriguing. There was one modern yokai (first mentioned on internet forums in the 21st century), Kunekune, although its information was just as brief as all the rest.

One of my biggest issues with this book was that it was riddled with typos - misspellings, grammatical errors, and even partial sentences. Pages 34-35 had a particularly confusing example. Page 34 ends at the end of the last sentence of its sole paragraph. Page 35 begins with the last two words of a sentence that doesn't exist on page 34. 

This is definitely written for younger audiences (one of the questions the author addresses is "There are scary stories of ghosts at school. Are those yokai?"), but they might be even more frustrated and confused with the errors in the text than I was.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

REVIEW: City Under One Roof (book) by Iris Yamashita

City Under One Roof is a mystery. I bought my copy new.


When a couple body parts are found near Point Mettier, Alaska, Cara Kennedy is hopeful that there might be some connection to the disappearance and death of her husband and young son. She arrives at the town just before a terrible snowstorm cuts it off from everything - although, truth be told, it's a fairly isolated place even at the best of times. You can only get there via a tunnel so narrow it only allows one-way access (the direction changes on a schedule, when the weather permits it), and everyone lives in one enormous building. It's the kind of environment where everyone knows everyone's business, and outsiders are kept at an arm's length.

You don't willingly live in a place like this without good reason, and most of the residents have big secrets in their pasts. Did one of them commit murder in order to keep their secrets hidden? And, if so, what's the connection to the murder of Cara's husband and son?

REVIEW: Unordinary (graphic novel, vol. 1) by uru-chan

Unordinary is an SFF graphic novel series originally published on Webtoon. I bought my copy of this volume new.


John is a Zero, the only person without superpowers at his school. He spends his days trying to avoid bullies, and his only friend is Sera, an extremely powerful girl who used to be at the top of the school's food chain but who, for some reason, completely quit caring about being the best at everything after an encounter with John. When John isn't able to avoid his bullies, Sera is usually able to step in and either help or deescalate things. Unfortunately, the two of them are separated when it's discovered that Sera has a copy of Unordinary, a banned book about a person with superpowers in a world of Zeroes who uses his superpowers to defend those weaker than him. 

Their separation puts a huge strain on John, who no longer has anyone around to watch his back. As he tries to deal with bullies determined to beat him to a pulp, cracks start to appear in his facade. What he doesn't realize is that one of his classmates, Arlo, has begun to suspect that he isn't who he says he is.

REVIEW: Disquiet (novella) by Julia Leigh

I've seen Disquiet labeled as gothic fiction. I'd call it an understated domestic drama, if you can consider a woman literally carting her baby's corpse around everywhere "understated." I checked my copy out from the library.


Olivia married her husband and left her family against her mother's wishes. Now, more than a decade later, she's back with a broken arm and two children in tow. Unfortunately, it's not exactly the best time to be coming back to the family. Olivia's brother Marcus and his wife Sophie arrive home shortly after Olivia does, but not with the happy, healthy baby they expected. Sophie isn't handling her stillborn baby well, and for some reason the doctors thought it was a good idea to let her take the baby's corpse home with her. The idea is that she'll get some time with it before the funeral, at which point it will be buried and life will go on. Sure.

I don't understand what I was supposed to get out of this, besides the fact that no one in this family could properly communicate with each other. I'd have cheered at the ending, except that everything that happened then should have happened way earlier. Preferably before the baby's corpse started decomposing.

Overall, this was a frustrating and weird read about people who generally made my skin crawl, and not in an entertaining or even terribly interesting way.

REVIEW: A Good Girl's Guide to Murder (book) by Holly Jackson

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder is YA mystery. I bought my copy new.


Five years ago, pretty and popular high school senior Andie Bell disappeared. A short while later, his alibi in tatters, Sal Singh, her boyfriend, confessed to killing her and then killed himself. Although it was never proven in a court of law, everyone in town accepted that Sal was the murderer.

Everyone except Pip. Now that she's a high school senior herself, Pip plans to use her senior capstone project to investigate the truth behind Andie's disappearance and apparent murder. The Sal she knew was a nice guy - she's never been able to accept that he might have killed his girlfriend, and it's always bothered her that the entire town so readily accepted this narrative. She convinces Ravi, Sal's brother, to help her, and the two of them begin picking at the various threads of the original investigation, trying to find things that the police missed. 

Sunday, February 11, 2024

REVIEW: Cells at Work! Baby (manga, vol. 4) by Yasuhiro Fukuda, based on Cells at Work! by Akane Shimizu, translated by Dean Leininger

Cells at Work! Baby is an edutainment manga. I bought my copy of this volume new.


It's the final volume of Cells at Work! Baby, which means it's time for the moment readers of this series likely saw coming since F's informational box changed in volume 2, or possibly even as early as volume 1 and the start of pulmonary circulation. But first, we have food allergies.

Although it's not that funny from the outside (I have a niece who has had eczema due to food allergies pretty much her entire life), I got a kick out of watching the regulatory T cell try to get everyone's attention as they were freaking out over the apparent invasion of a bunch of monster chickens.

The rest of the volume, dealing with RBC and F's relationship (more entertainment than education, here) and F's disappearance, was surprisingly emotional even though I was expecting it for a while. Yes, the edutainment manga made me tear up a bit.

I still need to complete all of the original Cells at Work!, but I felt that this spinoff found the perfect place to end things. Overall, I really enjoyed Cells at Work! Baby.


A short interview with Dr. Shirai, the medical advisor for the Japanese editions of volumes 3 and 4.

REVIEW: Cells at Work! Baby (manga, vol. 3) by Yasuhiro Fukuda, based on Cells at Work! by Akane Shimizu, translated by Dean Leininger

Cells at Work! Baby is an edutainment manga. I bought my copy of this volume new.


This volume covers the reabsorption of primary urine in the kidneys, diaper rash (injury + platelet involvement and immune system response), IgG from mom no longer functioning and then disappearing (baby begins making its own), first baby food, and some flashback stories to when F first met Red Blood Cell (RBC).

As usual, there is advice for parents in the informational boxes. I continued to get a chuckle out of the baby's cells wondering about the mysterious being (parents!) who must be watching out for the body they're in, since there are times that things turn out okay when there's very little the cells can do for the body they're in themselves.

The body all these cells are in is growing up, and we're seeing it in how the cells function. Everyone is learning to do their jobs better and more efficiently. The help provided by the mother's cells (IgG delivered to the fetus via the placenta) is starting to fade away, but it's okay, because everyone's been preparing for this time without realizing it.

I love the "nice lady from the placenta" character and how she's basically a mom stand-in. Yeah, there are elements to anthropomorphized cells that are kind of weird, but I have to admit that my heart squeezed a little when F and Nice Lady did an "in the air pinky swear" (because the mom's blood and baby's blood can't mix).

REVIEW: Cells at Work! Baby (manga, vol. 2) by Yasuhiro Fukuda, based on Cells at Work! by Akane Shimizu, translated by Dean Leininger

Cells at Work! Baby is an edutainment manga. I bought my copy of this volume new.


In this volume the baby deals with its first bump, gets its first vaccination, gets the RS virus, has constipation, and almost suffocates, presumably in its crib. We meet Killer T Cell, some rectal muscle cells, and Red Blood Cell (RBC) gets into a fight with F.

Once again, I don't know enough to say how accurate the information is or how good the advice for parents is.

Platelets are in this volume, and they're even tinier than they were in the original series. 

The author comments on this themselves, but wow, there are a lot of terrified immune cells in this series. White Blood Cell was a dedicated and frightening killer in the original Cells at Work! - here, White Blood Cell does his job while constantly terrified he's going to die. Killer T Cell acts like a big shot when in reality he doesn't 100% know what he's doing and worries that this will be obvious if he's ordered to do something.

The weirdest part of the volume was the section devoted to constipation, which includes RBC drooling in happiness at witnessing stools (represented as a pile of garbage bags) get expelled and several of the cells talking about how good it feels when feces are expelled.

REVIEW: Cells at Work! Baby (manga, vol. 1) by Yasuhiro Fukuda, based on Cells at Work! by Akane Shimizu, translated by Dean Leininger

Cells at Work! Baby is an edutainment manga. I bought my copy new.


As with the original Cells at Work! series, this stars anthropomorphized cells. This time we're inside the body of a baby. The volume begins shortly before its birth - its red blood cells receive oxygen and nutrients from the placenta. The main protagonist is a regular red blood cell (we'll call her RBC). A red blood cell bearing hemoglobin-f (called F from here on out) watches out for RBC - while the fetus is still in the womb, F is better at carrying oxygen, and he's presented as RBC's older, more competent brother/coworker. One of the mother's cells is represented by a nice lady wearing gloves and a mask, who only interacts with the fetus's cells via the placenta and never touches them.

After the baby's birth, we get the start of pulmonary circulation, baby's first meal (breast milk), and baby's first risk of infection.

REVIEW: Goodbye, Eri (manga) by Tatsuki Fujimoto, translated by Amanda Haley

Goodbye, Eri is a one-shot manga by the creator of Chainsaw Man. The genre? Well, I'd say that's up to the reader to decide.

I bought my copy of this volume new.


On his twelfth birthday, Yuta is given a smartphone. His mother's request is that he film her as much as he can - she's dying of some sort of illness, and the video recordings will give him a way to see her again. We see a bunch of snippets of his video - his parents end up gifting him a computer as well, as his smartphone runs out of room for all that footage - but then his mother has one final request: she wants Yuta to film her until her dying breath. It's a request that Yuta can't/won't fulfill, and his decisions afterward result in him being ostracized by most of his classmates. Except one - Eri is fascinated with Yuta's documentary of his mother and becomes determined to help him make an even better movie that, rather than provoking everyone's disgust and/or outrage, will bring everyone to tears. 

REVIEW: Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands (autobiographical graphic novel) by Kate Beaton

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands is an autobiographical graphic novel about the period in Kate Beaton's life when she was working to get her student loans paid off. I bought my copy of this volume new.


This volume starts when Kate Beaton is 21. She's just graduated from university and has student loans to pay off. She's from Cape Breton, an area of Canada without a lot in the way of jobs. Faced with student loans and a family that isn't well off enough to give her a safety net, Beaton opts to do what so many around her have done and get a job in the oil sands. She figures she'll work there for a few years, pay off her student loans, and then get a (less well paying) job she genuinely loves using her degree.

REVIEW: Sugar Apple Fairy Tale, Vol. 1: The Silver Sugar Master and the Obsidian Fairy (book) by Miri Mikawa, illustrations by Aki, translated by Nicole Wilder

Sugar Apple Fairy Tale is a fantasy (fantasy romance?) Japanese light novel series. I bought my copy of this volume brand new.


Anne Halford is the fifteen-year-old daughter of a Silver Sugar Master - her mother, who died less than a month ago. Silver Sugar Masters are people who can craft beautiful, intricate candies out of silver sugar refined from sugar apples. It's believed that, once upon a time, fairies ate silver sugar candy to extend their lifespans. It doesn't work that way for humans, but a human who consumes expertly crafted silver sugar candy often finds that they become luckier.

The only way to become a Silver Sugar Master is to compete at the annual Royal Candy Fair. Anne is determined to participate and win, but in order to get there on time she'll have to take a dangerous route. She'll need help, so despite a lifetime of her mother's teachings that fairies should be treated as equals, Anne is going to buy herself the services of a warrior fairy as a bodyguard.

The fairy she finds is Challe Fenn Challe. As is the case with all enslaved fairies, when he was captured, one of his wings was removed. Anne can technically control him with this wing, although she'd much prefer that he help her willingly. Joining Anne and Challe are Jonas, his fairy Cathy, and Mithril Lid Pod, a fairy who feels indebted to Anne.

REVIEW: Emotions Explained with Buff Dudes (graphic novel) by Andrew Tsyaston

Emotions Explained with Buff Dudes is an Owlturd Comix collection. I've seen a good portion of the comics in this collection online already, but this volume still made me laugh a lot. It's a combination, I think, of the relatability of the topics, the fantastic facial expressions, and the subversion of various cliched inspirational messages.

REVIEW: Unbound by Shadows (book) by Avalon Griffin

Unbound by Shadows is a fantasy romance. I bought my copy new.


Selene has spent her whole life acting as the peacemaker for those in her life - watching out for her younger siblings when their workaholic father was gone and their mother was drunk, bending over backwards to help her boyfriend with his music career, etc. With her boyfriend having just proposed that they take a "break" from each other while he goes on tour, Selene thinks she'll have a relaxing weekend to herself. That's interrupted by her sister, Cass, deciding that they needed to go on a sudden roadtrip to Rubgy, Tennessee. Selene, as usual, is unable to say no. The trip turns into more than she bargained for when she's suddenly transported to another world, Aurelia.

She's told that the only way she'll be able to go home is if she and a demon bodyguard, Samael, visit a vampire named Zaybris, and ask him for the magical stone he has that's capable of transporting her back home (Zaybris owes Thema, the queen who found Selene, a favor). What Thema doesn't tell Selene is that this plan is actually intended to help Thema find her missing sister, Queen Lilith of the Goblyns. Samael's plan is to use the stone to get himself back to the Underworld, the home he was taken from as a child. However things turn out for Thema and Samael, there are no plans to get Selene back to her own world.

As Selene and Samael travel together, they find themselves drawn to each other, and Samael realizes that Selene is his mate. But what about his plans to go back to the Underworld, a place humans only enter after they die? And what will Selene do when she finds out the truth behind Thema and Samael's plans?