Tag Archives: rating 3.5 of 5

Othello (Volume 7)

Ikezawa, Satomi. Othello 7 (2006). 192 Pages. Del Rey. $10.95

Previously: Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, Volume 4, Volume 5, Volume 6

The Story This Far…

Yaya Higuchi is your typical Japanese teenager; she goes to school, hangs out with friends, and tries to fit in. Unfortunately, in her efforts to fit in, Yaya has taken it too far, and has become an incredibly quiet, timid girl who gets picked on because she takes it.

Enter Nana, a loud-mouthed opinionated girl who thrives on violence and will enforce Justice upon those who deserve it. She confronts school bullies of varying calibers; from Yaya’s “friends” Seri and Moe to the Hano the pimp, Nana cleans the school. But Nana’s work is never done; there are gropers and molesters and perverts and all sorts of icky people for Nana to beat.

However, there’s more going on for Nana than just Justice; she longs to be a singer, a real rock-star. When an opportunity presents itself (in the form of an invite from Shohei himself) Nana takes it, determined to follow through, no matter what.

Yaya, meanwhile, has withdrawn, unable to comprehend everything which has been going on in her life; she cannot handle the turmoil, and reality is just too upsetting. This leaves Nana in charge of their body until further notice. Will Yaya ever come back? And if Yaya does come back, what will happen to Nana?

In This Volume

Moriyama is worried that Yaya will never come back to him, can he do anything to coax her out? Nana, meanwhile, is pursuing her dream, and wondering what will happen to her if Yaya never returns. Everything comes to a not-so-surprising conclusion.

Thoughts

The series as a whole is very interesting; Nana and Yaya are opposites, completely different people stuck in the same body, yet they need each other. Without Yaya, Nana wouldn’t have restraint, and without Nana, Yaya would lack the courage to do nearly anything. Having been forced to abruptly come to terms with the fact that there she has another personality which she is not aware of is difficult, at best.

Interestingly, the two share the same dream, though Nana pursues music with a more single-minded determination than Yaya, who would not go against her father’s wishes to chase her dream.

There are some issues; characters fade in and out as convenient, setting is frequently established in one frame, and then the characters float in empty panels for a while, and sometimes the story doesn’t seem to know where it’s going. However, the story still fights on through all this, and ends up being a very fun, interesting approach to discovering your identity.

This volume gets a 3.5, because it was a bit rushed, and got a little too cheesy right at the end. However, the series gets a 4/5.

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Filed under Book Review, Contemporary Romance, Graphic Novel, Shojo Manga, Young Adult Fiction

Othello (Volume 4)

Ikezawa, Satomi. Othello 4 (2005). 192 Pages. Del Rey. $10.95

Previously: Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3

The Story This Far…

Quiet and timid Yaya Higuchi doesn’t know it, but she has another personality– the outgoing and determined Nana. Unfortunately, quite a few people are very interested in the very noticeable Nana, most notably Shohei, Yaya’s idol.

So far, Nana has gotten Yaya into as many bad situations as she has gotten her out of. Sure, she got rid of Seri and Moe, but her attention-grabbing ways have brought her to Megumi Hano’s attention, and that may not be a good thing. Meanwhile, Moriyama has figured out that Nana and Yaya are the same girl, and does his part to try to protect the innocent Yaya from Nana’s mistakes.

At the end of volume 3, Megumi Hano asks Yaya to help her track down Nana, and Yaya agrees, wondering what she’s getting herself into. In volume 4, we find out.

In This Volume

Hano convinces Yaya to help her find Nana at their school, which is no mean feat, considering how many students there are.

Yaya gets a job with Hano’s father’s talent agency, which is not exactly what it seems, and may not be the good idea Yaya initially thought it was.

Nana gets Yaya out of some financial troubles.

And Hano gets suspicious of the relationship between Yaya and Nana.

Thoughts

I don’t really like the fake-friends that seem to make so many appearances in these series, I consistently think of Sae from Peach Girl when looking at Hano– who calls herself “Hano-chan” which is approximately the equivalent of speaking about yourself in third person constantly. Giving yourself honorifics just isn’t done, and Hano’s use of it is one of the more obvious displays of how unhinged she might be.

Yaya has more issues, and Nana seems to be getting her into a lot of trouble, even when she tries to protect her. The dynamics are interesting, and because this is the 4th book of 7, things are really beginning to build toward a climax.

This particular volume gets a 3.5/5, because I am so very annoyed by parts of it.

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Alchemy and Meggy Swann

Cushman, Karen. Alchemy and Meggy Swann (2010). 159 Pages. Clarion Books. $16.00

Margaret Swann has never been a normal girl. Deformed since birth, she has been treated as an outcast, as a tainted soul, cursed by a demon while still in the womb. She’s called “witch” or other more awful names. When Meggy leaves her small town for London, there is no love lost between herself and those she is leaving behind. Despite that, she almost immediately wants to go home, back to her mother’s alehouse, back to what is familiar, if not welcoming.

In London, she is told she has been “summoned” by a man Meggy only knows as “Master Peevish.” It is revealed to her that Master Peevish is an Alchemist, that he expected an able-bodied boy, not a crippled girl, and that he is her father. Her relationship to her father is distant– he never knew anything about her, having been too absorbed in his “science” to stay at a small alehouse in a small town. When he realizes that Meggy’s legs will stop her from being the ideal servant, he ignores her. There is little to say about Meggy and her father, and what there is to say should be read about, rather than spoiled here.

Because people from Meggy’s old village were superstitious, and fell into the category of “cripples were cursed by the devil,” she has never really had friends. The one exception to this is Louise, her pet goose, who was also crippled in a way. Unfortunately, one of the first things Louise does in London is annoy Master Peevish, so Meggy must re-home her only friend. With some help from Roger (her father’s ex-servant/apprentice) Meggy manages to find a place for Louise where nobody will eat her.*

Then, Meggy must learn to make her own way in London. Roger has always been friendly to her, but he is busy now, working with an troupe of players. The cooper next-door is kind, but has his own problems to worry about. There are many other people that Meggy meets while running errands for her father, or trying to fill her stomach. Through her adventuring, she figures out that people can be kind, and that she, herself is kind sometimes.

There are more life-lessons for Meggy before the book is through. Things happen which make her realize that she is strong, despite her disability, and that she can make her own fate instead of having it made for her. Like Cushman’s other heroines, Meggy is a strong girl, and she does alright, in the end.

In Conclusion:

Meggy is the sort of heroine you’re rooting for, despite her being a bit of a jerk in the beginning. She softens, over time, as she realizes that not everyone hates her. The language is a bit dense at times, but if you just keep going, you adjust, (much like Scones and Sensibility) and by the end the language feels natural. There’s a bit of a blurb at the back about the history included in the story, which crams a bit of extra education in there.

Overall, I feel like this was a good book, though I definitely prefer some of Cushman’s other titles a bit more. It scores a 3.5/5– I liked it, but I’m not going to be rushing out to buy my own copy any time soon.

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* When I was a kid, my parents got me one bunny. But, they thought, the bunny might be lonely. We’ll get him a friend! Which might have been fine, if the bunnies hadn’t then err… bred like rabbits. We went from one, to two, to five, to thirteen or fourteen at the peak. I gave away bunnies to anyone who would take them if they would promise to never eat it. Of all the animals I’ve kept as pets, chickens are the only ones I’ll eat, because they were dumb and smelly and annoying. Bunnies are soft and snuggly and friendly, and the idea of eating one freaks me out.

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Shakespeare’s Storybook

Ryan, Patrick & Mayhew, James. Shakespeare’s Storybook: Folk Tales that Inspired the Bard (2001). 80 Pages. Barefoot Books. $19.99

We all know that it’s only recently that plagiarism really became “bad,” and that playwrights and novelists borrowed liberally from folk tales, novels, and reality to create a lot of their works. I’m sure any of us who have studied any of Shakespeare’s work are aware that he did not think up everything. Rather, he took what was available and adapted it into the very special plays which we know (and mostly love) today.

What this novel does is summarize the barest details of the play, and then introduce a folktale which it was likely (or is known to have been) based off of. It’s illustrated, and explained in terms that your average elementary schooler could understand. My sister Kim said “Hey, that’s cool, I guess.”* The illustrations aren’t bad, either. (They’re really done in a very nicely stylized way.)

We’ve got several stories: “The Devil’s Bet” for The Taming of the Shrew, “The Hill of Roses” for Romeo and Juliet, “A Bargain is a Bargain” for The Merchant of Venice, “Snowdrop” for As You Like It, “Ashboy” for Hamlet, “Cap-o-Rushes” for King Lear, and “The Flower Princess” for The Winter’s Tale.

The stories are nothing special, and most of them are at least passingly familiar. Several of them are Cinderella variations (something I’ve spent quite a bit of time reading) and a few are your standard folktales. A little is said about the origins of each of them, and it is a very cute book. (One which I will be donating to the library, since I don’t need to re-read a children’s book about Shakespeare when I have my massive Norton anthology of Shakespeare anyhow.)

I could explain the contents of the folk tales, but I’ll resist the urge. I’m sure most of you know most of them anyhow. The biggest issue I had with the book was the last story (“The Flower Princess”) in which a “wisest wise woman” calls a King and a Prince “You stupid idiots!” which just doesn’t seem very wise to me. Aside from the fact that her grammar is atrocious, and her vocabulary is hardly child appropriate, there is the fact that she just called two fairly powerful men “Stupid Idiots” to their faces. Before she leads them to “a painting” of their dead loves, only to find out that it’s not a painting when they start to sing. I mean, really. They couldn’t figure out they weren’t a painting? I realize that I’m obsessing over something which by fairy tale conventions I should be willing to ignore, but I’m just not sure I can ignore this one. (And Kim, said sister agreed with me.)

The Quick Version:

If you’re looking to introduce an elementary schooler to some Shakespeare, or want a light fluffy folk-tale read with some heavier literature relationships, then this is the book for you. It’s not terrible, actually. It gets a 3.5/5 and will be donated to the library when I have the time to drop it off.

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* She’s 10 next month, so “cool, I guess” is about as enthusiastic as she gets right now. She’s in her “whatever” phase.

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Scones and Sensibility

Eland, Lindsay. Scones and Sensibility (2009). 309 Pages. Egmont. $15.99

I came across Scones and Sensibility in someone’s blog, though I no longer remember where, exactly. They made it sound good, so I got it through Link+, which was definitely worthwhile. I’ve been cheap and broke recently, so the library has been my friend. Despite it taking over a week for me to finally get around to writing the review, I did really enjoy it.

Twelve year-old Polly Madassa longs for the perfect romance of her favorite novels– Pride & Prejudice and Anne of Green Gables. She longs to be a perfectly polished young lady like those in her novels. However, as a young girl who is expected to help out at her family’s bakery (by making deliveries), Polly cannot do things exactly the way she intended.

Chapter One: In Which My Family Is Introduced and I Contemplate the Less-Than-Desirable Traits of My Dear Sister’s Boyfriend*

It was upon turning the last delicate page of my leather-bound copy of Pride and Prejudice that my transformation into a delicate lady of quality was complete. (1)

Polly’s so-called transformation is the source of the entire plot. She tries hard to be a young lady of quality– she writes with a calligraphy set on old-fashioned stationery, she speaks in an “old fashioned” way, and she indulges in ladylike activities. She’s so blissful that she longs to help other people find her happiness– by setting them up for romance**. Her narration also follows this theme, lending her a lot of personality. Of course, as with all books which feature match-making, things don’t go the way she plans. (Especially not her own romance.) There’s a bit of self-realization, and Polly does seem to grow up a bit before the novel ends.

The biggest issue this book has is that it should probably have been 50 pages or so shorter. It sort of drags toward the middle. However, the story as a whole is cute, our main character is charming and well-meaning, even if she sort of messes things up. Her speech gets a little old sometimes, too. The moments where she breaks character are actually more meaningful than pages and pages of other characters inexplicably accepting her eccentricities.

The Quick Version:

With a cute plot, and endearing characters, this book is a winner– if you can get past the language. It takes a while to get used to Polly’s narration, which (as Jenn from Books at Midnight points out) may be too difficult for its target demographic. The title makes me long for baked goods,*** and the story made me want to curl up with an actual Austen novel and relax. It gets a 3.5 out of 5, because the language is a rather large barrier.

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* I noticed the chapter titles first, and they set the tone for the whole book. However, there was an error I noticed (Chapter 14 refers to events in Chapter 15, and those in 15 refer to 14’s title) which was momentarily distracting, but not really a big deal.

**Despite the title, which is reminiscent of Sense and Sensibility, this particular novel is much more closely related to Emma, as Polly spends far too much time match-making to be any other Austen heroine.

*** I went back to my home-town for the 4th of July, and longed for an orange-chocolate scone from Moody’s. Unfortunately, I never got around to buying one, and this book just compounded the longing.

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The Lonely Hearts Club

Eulberg, Elizabeth. The Lonely Hearts Club (2009). 290 Pages. Point. $17.99

I never did like the Beatles. Or rather, I may have liked them once, before I heard their music so much that it started to drive me a little crazy. When you live in a town with three radio stations (one was country except on Sundays when it was latin, one was classic rock except on Sundays when it turned into Beatles, and one was NPR) you end up hearing the Beatles so much that you get a lifetime’s worth in a few years. Regardless of my feelings for the Beatles, I did enjoy the premise of this book. I say premise, because there are some very, very large plot holes and points which should not have been glossed over.

Penny Lane Bloom was five years old when she decided she was going to marry Nate. They spent summers together, grew up together, and were best friends. The summer before her Junior year of High School is when it all changed. Nate was “sexy,” and interested in more than the innocent kissing which Penny was comfortable with. The night Penny decides to have sex with Nate in order to “keep” him, she walks in on him with another girl, breaking her heart and convincing her that boys are evil.

Penny is the youngest daughter of Beatles fanatics, and grew up surrounded by Beatles music and paraphernalia, so it’s hardly surprising that she turns to the Beatles for comfort. She creates the “Lonely Hearts Club,” a sort of support group for teenage girls. The rules for the club are:

  1. No dating boys during high school
  2. You have to go to all “couple events” together– Homecoming, Prom, etc.
  3. Saturday nights are for club events, and you must be at them.
  4. Friends first. Be supportive of them, even when they make bad choices.

Violators of the rules are subject to membership disqualification, public humiliation, vicious rumors, and possible beheading. (I loved this bit, it sounds like something I would write.)

Penny finds her first member in the form of her ex-best-friend Diane, who (having just broken up with Ryan) is trying to find herself again, after losing her identity as “Ryan’s Girlfriend.”* Penny’s current best-friend Tracy also joins in, and from there the club keeps growing. Todd and Ryan both spend a lot of time flirting with Penny (and complicating matters). The club grows, as does the drama surrounding it, which is where I really start to have a problem with some plot points.

1) Penny: We never get a physical description of her, except that she’s “hawt,” she eats anything and stays thin, has a thoughtless funky style, and she has big enough boobs to get guys looking. We know nothing of her appearance. Sure, this is a first-person novel, but something about her besides boobs would be good.

2) Penny’s friend Kara the Anorexic: “Kara shifted uncomfortably and fiddled with her apple as the rest of us dove into our lunches. It was hard not to notice the fact that she had lost even more weight over the summer — if that was even possible…” (34). Kara then disappears for a few chapters, showing up around page 90 or so before disappearing again. She turns up to join the club after the Homecoming dance, and she gets a lot of mentions, but not a lot of lines. She vanishes again, and gets mentioned on page 208 when Tracy tells Penny that she’s going to counseling for the eating disorder that her best friends seemingly never noticed.

3) Ryan & The Student Advisory Committee: In the early part of the book, we learn that Ryan is on a “Student Advisory Committee” which means that he talks to Principal Braddock a lot to “give him a better sense of the concerns of the student body” (62). When Braddock unprofessionally pulls Penny in, he mentions that he “received some troubling reports from [his] Student Advisory Committee” (191). There’s only one person we know of in the Committee, and she never really gets properly mad at him, and he never properly apologizes for reporting her (or explains that he’s not the one who did it).

4) Principal Braddock: He used to be a football star, and created his advisory committee to keep track of things, and to reminisce about his high school days. He calls Penny & her Parents in to discuss his problem: “Dr. and Mrs. Bloom, the problem is that Penny is using her unfortunate experiences to turn the rest of the female population against the males at this school” (189). Why the hell would a principal care? He then stops the girls basketball team from having their fund-raiser on school grounds because it’s “Lonely Hearts Club Event,” which would mean it can’t be on school property. I find this to be weak. And the drama with Braddock is never really resolved.

Aside from those bits, it’s not a bad book though, and I did like it.

The Quick Version:

The prose is strong, the premise is good, but there’s some major plot issues for me. Kara especially feels botched; there’s no real motivation for her to suddenly want help with  her eating disorder. I’m glad she gets it, but she feels like she was thrown in to help examine more issues, rather than being herself. I do like the idea that girls need to learn to be, and to love themselves. I also love that Penny is a strong narrator, who seems like she’s got some real emotions and thoughts going on. It gets a 3.5/5 for being enjoyable, but needing a bit more polish. I think Elizabeth Eulberg will continue to grow, and she does have a talent with her narrators, so I hope to read a bit more of her stuff evenually.

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* This particular aspect struck a chord with me; I was the girl who became the football player’s girlfriend, who was friends with his friends because of him, who lost track of her current friends, and who had to re-find herself after the relationship ended. I was a bit lost, and I was lucky enough to find that my friends were willing to forgive me, and that I did actually like myself.

This book is part of the Local Library Reading Challenge!

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Sword & Sorceress (Anthology, #22)

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword & Sorceress XXII (2007). 269 Pages. Norilana Books. $9.95

I don’t know if I mentioned that I come from a town with a one-room library. It was the first floor of an old victorian, and it didn’t really have much in the way of books. My school had a library, and in elementary school, I believe I managed to read their entire collection, and then some. It was my preferred place to spend lunchtime. I’ve never had a library card before. (Small towns, they just write down your name, because they know you.) When I moved to the Bay Area, I had a school-ID library card, and then I got my first non-school card from the San Leandro Public Library, which was very exciting. I discovered that you can put books on Hold, and when you come in, they’re waiting for you.

I have abused this power to no end. I have a 20-book-long hold list, and every time I come in to turn some in, I’ve got more waiting. It makes life more fun, I think. (It also means that when I go to the library, I can limit myself to the holds shelves so I don’t leave with more than I can read in 2 weeks.)

Oh, there was a point to all this. Because I get my books by putting them on hold, I don’t really get to know what format the book is going to be in when I get there. (Or what shape– there have been several books that I’ve wanted to repair quite badly, but when I left the library*, I lost my access to book-repair and book-binding supplies.) Every other Sword & Sorceress novel has been a mass market paperback, but apparently when they switched publishers, they switched formats. Sword & Sorceress XXII is edited by Elizabeth Waters**

Anyway, there are sixteen stories in this volume, so as I’ve done in the past, I’ll choose a few that really stood out.

I’m going to start at the back of the book with Sarah Dozier’s “The Menagerie.” It’s a good story, and it entertained me, except that it is so very, very similar to “Oulu” by Aimee Kratts, which was in volume XXI. It’s forgivable to use similar stories more than once in a series, but to do so in two volumes which are back-to-back is a problem. Yes, they do take very different approaches to a similar twist, but that does not make them sufficiently different from each other.

“Night Watches” by Catherine Soto re-introduces Biao Mei and Lin Mei– a pair of siblings who made their first appearance in Sword & Sorceress XXI (though, in a story I didn’t review). There was a hint of magic last time, but this time it becomes a bit more blatant; there are magical beings mincing around in this story. (And a bit of political intrigue.) In the first story, it was hinted that these siblings were seeking… something. We haven’t learned what by the end of this story, but it’s led us a little deeper into their world. I am very interested to see where they go, and what is going on with their world.

“Vanishing Village” by Margaret L. Carter has a little bit of a twist, and features a story that’s not quite what you expect. I don’t know how to say a whole lot more without saying too much, but there’s an interesting spell which made this town “vanish.”

Kimberly L. Maughan’s “The Ironwood Box” starts with a form of magic I’ve never read about, as well as a unique political system. It’s a little reminiscent of Robin McKinley’s Beauty or Rose Daughter in that there are three sisters living in a cottage in the forest. I suppose that’s not a very strong parallel, but one makes me think of the other. The characters are interesting, and their story intriguing, making this one of the hilights of the volume.

Dave Smeds has one of the more unique stories with “Bearing Shadows,” which I read while on BART. Aerise loses everything when her baby glows in her belly. It is a mark that she is carrying the child of a Cursed One, something which she is cast out of her village for. Not knowing what to do, and afraid for herself (and to a degree, the unwanted child she is carrying), she goes to the Cursed Ones for help. Slowly, she comes to understand why she was chosen, but she never quite forgives. It’s a very emotional story, with what I hesitate to call a happy ending, though it is hopeful.

When I was a kid, I had a book of short stories which included “The Lady, or the Tiger” which I found to be infuriating. When I later found its sequel, I was only more annoyed. To put it simply, “The Decisive Princess” by Catherine Mintz left me far, far more satisfied by the end of the story. I don’t want to say a lot more, because there isn’t a lot to say without spoiling it, but it’s a very good short story.

One of the darker stories in the series is “Tontine” by Robert E. Vardeman– a lone mercenary enters a bar, and proceeds to drink a very special bottle of wine. There are five glasses worth of wine, added to the bottle by herself and her four friends in their youth. With each glass, she not only remembers her fallen comrades, but relives their deaths through their eyes. Then, Jonna drinks her own glass, and without us ever knowing what she saw, she leaves the bar, off on journeys unknown. It’s brilliant, and unique, and like nothing I ever expected.

The Quick Version:

Elizabeth Waters is not Marion Zimmer Bradley, but she manages to continue the series with the same sort of spirit as her mentor. A lot of the stories were very good, though a few fell flat. It scores a 3.5/5, because there were some very, very good ones, but one too many were mediocre or forgettable enough that I don’t remember them today.

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* During College, I worked in the Library, and was a Periodicals and Processing Student Assistant. (Long title, I know.) The very best part about this job was getting to repair the really old books. The coolest one ever was The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, in large-format hard-back from the 19th century. It had the etchings in it. We got to re-do the binding, and it was the most amazing, satisfying, and fun thing I’ve ever done. Because when you’re done, you’ve helped preserve history, and while you’re doing it, you’re engaged– your mind, your hands, and all your skills. Ok, I think I should stop dorking out about book repair, because there aren’t a lot of people who share that passion with me.

** Elizabeth Waters was apparently Marion Zimmer Bradley’s editorial assistant from Sword & Sorceress II until she died. Ms Waters is about as close as you can get to MZB’s editorial style, so they chose her to continue the series. It works, I think.

This Book is part of the Local Library Reading Challenge! It is part of the Short Story Reading Challenge!

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