Monthly Archives: November 2010

The October/November Roundup

I didn’t read a ton during October and November, so they’ve been combined into one post.

Score: 5/5 (Books I loved and will definitely read again)

Score: 4/5 (Books I liked and might read again)

Score: 3/5 (Books that are alright)

Score: 2/5 (Books I’ll probably get rid of)

Score: 1/5 (Books I actually hated, or couldn’t finish)

  • None, thank goodness

________________________

Fun Stats: Over the two combined months, I read 22 books, totaling 6,386 pages. 1 of them was an anthology, containing 13 stories. I had 1,076 blog-views. I gave away 3 books!

What books did you really enjoy this month? (Or last month?) What books are you looking forward to reading?

4 Comments

Filed under Not a Book Review

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.

Leave a comment

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

Othello (Volume 3)

Ikezawa, Satomi. Othello 3 (2005). 192 Pages. Del Rey. $10.95

Previously: Volume 1, Volume 2

Yaya and Nana are one person, sort of. They are opposite extremes, two very different personalities sharing one body. Nana tries to protect Yaya and bring vengeance down upon the heads of those who hurt her. Most of the time, this is okay, but sometimes, it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Meanwhile, Yaya doesn’t have a clue what’s going on.

In This Volume

Things just don’t seem to get better for poor Yaya. She’s more and more concerned about her blackouts as they become more frequent, and she’s not sure what’s going on.

Nana, on the other hand, has decided that she is interested in pursuing Yaya’s dream of becoming a singer. What this eventually leads to is her singing for Black Dog as a “guest singer,” which is a mixed blessing. It attracts the attention of Shohei Shingyoji, a manager-of-sorts for Moriyama’s band (Black Dog) and the enmity of Megumi Hano, the president of Moriyama’s fanclub.

Thoughts

Yaya doesn’t seem to be able to get control of her life, which makes her the sort of character you want to protect. She’s sweet and innocent, and exactly the sort of girl who would drive you crazy if you met her, but who makes you worry about her in a comic.

The series slows up a bit with this volume, introducing several “love-rivals”– classic shoujo archetypes– which promise to make the story even more crazy and angst-ridden than it is currently.

This volume gets a 4/5.


Leave a comment

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

Othello (Volume 2)

Ikezawa, Satomi. Othello 2 (2004). 208 Pages. Del Rey. $10.95

This is book 2 in the series; click here for book one.

The back cover on this particular volume is… not well done. It uses names we don’t know yet, references things that don’t happen, and generally messes up its description.

Yaya is still painfully shy and timid, but this year, she’s wise to Seri and Moe’s tricks; she spends her time avoiding the cruel girls. Things aren’t better though; people keep mentioning things Yaya doesn’t remember doing, and every time she sees her reflection, or bumps her head, she forgets what’s been going on. What’s a girl to do, when she thinks she’s having a breakdown?

In this Volume

Yaya is confused and bewildered by her blackouts. Seri and Moe are evil. Moriyama is a bit clueless, but starts to figure things out by the end. A mysterious stranger is interested in Nana. And there is more “justice”, more concerts, and more mystery in this volume.

Thoughts

Othello starts out strong, and keeps up the pace. Yaya is starting to realize that something is not completely right in her world, and Nana realizes that she needs a hobby; something besides beating up the people who have hurt her.

Part of what makes this series so interesting to read is the fact that Yaya and Nana are on opposite ends of the spectrum; Yaya is the girl who fits in, who may be bullied, but who is exactly what a Japanese high-schooler should be while Nana is outrageous and over-the-top, and incapable of blending in anywhere. (This dichotomy is discussed here)

This volume gets a 4/5.

 

Leave a comment

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

Othello (Volume 1)

Ikezawa, Satomi. Othello 1 (2004). 208 Pages. Del Rey. $10.95

From the Back Cover

Yaya’s high school friends haven’t been very nice. They call her “Yaya the cry-ya! Yaya the misfi-ya!” But no matter how badly they act, Yaya is just too naive and trusting to believe the worst of them. Hard-rocking, butt-kicking Nana is just the girl to grab hold of Yaya’s timid demeanor and turn it upside down. Nana exposes Yaya’s “friends” as slimeballs, doles out punishment, and does it all with style. Can there be anything that terminally shy Yaya and hyperconfident Nana have in common? Well, for one thing, they’re the same person.

Yaya Higuchi is, in a lot of ways, your typical Japanese high-schooler. She goes to school, and sometimes goes out with her “friends*” Seri and Moe. She is especially typically Japanese in that she is completely determined to fit in at all costs. It frequently seems like she has a clue that Seri and Moe are up to something bad– even if she doesn’t know what, exactly– but Yaya doesn’t want to be alone.

In This Volume

We meet the dramatis personae; Yaya, Seri, Moe, Moriyama, and Nana.

We learn about Yaya’s weekend hobby, and learn who Mimi is. Yaya gets a letter from her 10 year-old self, asking if she’s a singer yet. Nana makes an appearance at Moriyama’s concert, and Yaya’s class goes on their end-of-term trip.

Thoughts

Yaya is an interesting character in a lot of ways; she is Yaya, Nana and Mimi, which are all repetitive names, which are not very common.

This is a series which is simultaneously a great and terrible place to begin reading manga; it works within many established conventions, which can be confusing to first-time readers, however it also has cultural notes, which will help with things readers may not be familiar with; the beginning explains Japanese honorifics, –chan, -kun, -senpai and the like. The back explains specific references which they have preserved; for example, an explanation about why Moriyama is incredulous about Yaya, Seri, and Moe going out to party on New Years**.

One thing which makes this relatively unique is the fact that Yaya has a split personality which she is completely unaware of. It is not something which occurs as the focus of a manga series very frequently.

For being a fairly fun read, and being extra informative, this volume gets a 4.5/5.

________________________________

* I don’t know when “frenemy” came around, but I think this is the situation it was made for.

** In Japan, Christmas is the party holiday, New Years is the quiet, family holiday.

2 Comments

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

Happy Thanksgiving

On a holiday which is supposed to be about taking time to appreciate what you have, and giving thanks for all the good things which have come your way– though this is not how the holiday started*– I would like to say Thank You to all of my readers. Whether you’re American (in which case, Happy Thanksgiving) or not (for you, I say have a beautiful day) I appreciate you taking the time to read my blog. It makes me feel important.

I am also going to say thank you in the general sense to all the authors who have written books I have appreciated, and those I have not. Without bad books, you cannot appreciate the good ones, and were I not to have some good books, I might be crazy by now, so thank you.

_________________________________________

* I am carefully resisting the urge to rant and rave about the massacre of Native Americans, the celebration of gluttony which the holiday has become, or any of the other “ugly” sides. However, if you’d like to discuss it, please comment. I’m always interested in other people’s opinions about this particular holiday.

3 Comments

Filed under Not a Book Review

Otomen 2

Kanno, Aya. Otomen Volume 2 (2009). 192 Pages. Viz (Shoujo Beat) $8.99

From the Back Cover

Asuka Masamune is a guy who loves girly things– sewing, knitting, making cute stuffed animals and reading shojo comics. But in a world where boys are expected to act manly, Asuka must hide his beloved hobbies and play the part of a masculine jock instead. Can Asuka ever show his true self to anyone, much less to Ryo Miyakozuka, the girl that he’s falling for?

Asuka’s mother shows up with a surprise announcement– it’s time for Asuka to meet his fiancée! What kind of girl does she have in mind for him? And how will Ryo respond to the match?

In This Volume

The first part of this volume deals with Asuka’s stalker; Yamoto Ariake, a young, cute boy who really wants to be manly. He sees Asuka as the pinnacle of manliness, and follows him to study his ways.

The second part of the volume is about Christmas. Winter time forces Ryo, Asuka, and Juta to find a new place to have their lunches. They find a wintertime lunch room, and a place to celebrate a small Christmas party.

The third part is about Asuka’s fiancée. Having decided that her business could use an alliance, Asuka’s mother has arranged an engagement for Asuka. Determined to make his mother happy, Asuka goes along with it.

Thoughts

Asuka, realizing that he has found some good friends, has relaxed a bit, and enjoys their acceptance. He has seemingly calmed down a lot, which makes this volume all the more difficult for him, because every 2/3 stories involve him hiding his true nature.

Asuka’s mother is manipulative, and distant. She seemingly doesn’t care about her son, so long as he remains manly enough for her, which is pressure he really didn’t need. Asuka’s fiancée is crazy, and her parents overly-indulgent, which is a classic shojo trope.

I do like this series, but I foresee it becoming one which drags out the romance, and throws in unnecessary complications before it eventually resolves itself. This volume gets a 4/5.

Leave a comment

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

Sunshine

McKinley, Robin. Sunshine (2010 ed). 405 Pages. Speak. $8.99

Sunshine is not a vampire story the way Pegasus is not about winged horses. Sunshine is about Rae Seddon– commonly called Sunshine– a young woman whose life is forever altered by her choice to go out to the local lake, alone, and at night. It is there that she is grabbed by Others and dragged to a remote, abandoned house.

At first Sunshine is confused, because she isn’t dead yet, and Vampires don’t usually play with their food for long. However, she is not alone in the abandoned mansion; she is to be dinner for Con, a vampire no freer than she is.

To get out of this alive, Sunshine needs his help, and strangely enough, he needs hers.

First Lines

It was a dumb thing to do but it wasn’t that dumb. There hadn’t been any trouble out at the lake in years. And it was so exquisitely far from the rest of my life.

Monday evening is our movie evening because we are celebrating having lived through another week. Sunday night we lock up at eleven or midnight and crawl home to die, and Monday (barring a few national holidays) is our day off. Ruby comes in on Mondays with her warrior cohort and attacks the coffeehouse with an assortment of high-tech blasting gear that would whack Godzilla into submission: those single-track military minds never think to ask their cleaning staff for help in  giant lethal marauding creature matters.

Thoughts

While Sunshine’s world is similar to ours, it is not ours. It is a sort of parallel dystopia, in which the Voodoo Wars– a battle between the Humans and the Others– have left humanity struggling to rebuild in a wasteland. This world is simultaneously eerily similar to, and startlingly different from our own*. There is a lot going on here; the human population has been decimated, Others are discriminated against, part-bloods held responsible for their heritage, cities are slowly growing, around the “bad spots,” and places like Charlie’s Coffeehouse are small havens from the insanity.

I think the world-building may be my favorite part of this book, actually. The characters come second to the world for me. I wanted more about the world, more about the why, the what, the how. Things are hinted at, bits are mentioned, there are “bad spots” where humans dare not go, left-overs of powerful magic. But why are they there? My curiosity was not completely satisfied, which was a little frustrating, because I’m usually quite content with her worlds.

I do like Sunshine, but she is not the strongest female McKinley has ever written, and I have an affinity for the strong girls. At first, Sunshine is rather inactive, she is victimized, and spends a lot of time recovering from the trauma. She struggles with her sense of self, with needing support and being afraid to reach for it, with the ramifications of what exactly she has done, and with her bond.

Something which is particularly problematic to me are the relationships in this book. Sunshine is dating Mel**, but they seem stuck in a sort of loose dating, where they’re together when it’s convenient. Sunshine never seems to talk about things to him, and though he could be there for her if she just asked, she doesn’t. There are hints about her heritage, things which her mother may have been hiding, but it is never verified, it remains Sunshine’s theory, and is never really tested. She’s surrounded by family and friends and people who care about her, and some of them are powerful enough in their own right that they could protect her, but she doesn’t turn to any of them. She instead relies upon a Vampire who she has only known for a brief amount of time.

When I first read this book, I remember really liking it. I was on a vampire kick, and I was reading everything I could. This was not a YA book then, but that didn’t stop me. Looking at it, and having read it, I wonder if it is a YA book now. There is a fairly explicit scene around page 250 which left me wondering if it should be called YA. I don’t necessarily feel that teens need to be protected from everything sexual, but I felt a little awkward reading this scene, and I’m an adult. I imagine most teens would either be titillated or would feel as awkward as I did.

It is sad, knowing that I will never know more. McKinley doesn’t write sequels. She may eventually venture back into the same world, if her muses drag her there, but this is the only guaranteed book in this setting. It’s a pity, because there is so much you can do with a post-apocalyptic world. There are options, and ideas, and worldwide locations.

Anyway, this volume gets a 4/5. There is a lot more that could have been done with Sunshine, and I wasn’t wholly satisfied (and not just because I wanted more, which is a good sort of unsatisfied.) It is worth reading, because it is enthralling, and it’s very different from what you expect, if you’ve been told it’s a vampire book, because it’s not. There are vampires, but ultimately, this book is about Sunshine.

_____________________________________

* It left me thinking of Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan world, actually.

** I like Mel, a lot. He’s got magical tattoos, which remind me of Pritkin’s tattoos from Karen Chance’s books.

4 Comments

Filed under Adult Fiction, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy

The Outlaws of Sherwood

McKinley, Robin. The Outlaws of Sherwood (2003 ed.). 342 Pages. Firebird. $6.99

From the Back Cover

He never meant to be an outlaw. But a split second changed everything.

In the days of King Richard the Lionheart, a young forester named Robin sets out one morning for the Nottingham Fair, but he never arrives. By the end of the day a man lies dead in the King’s Forest, and Robin is an outlaw with a price on his head.

From then on, Robin is on the run, hiding deep in Sherwood Forest– but he is not alone. First joined by his friends Much and Marian, then by more and more people who despise the Norman lords who tax them blind, Robin builds a community of outlaws in a forest who risk the gallows and the sword for the sake of justice. As he does, he gains a new name: Robin Hood.

First Lines

A small vagrant breeze came from nowhere and barely flicked the feather tips as the arrow sped on its way. It shivered in its flight, and fell, a little off course– just enough that the arrow missed the slender tree it was aimed at, and struck tiredly and low into the bole of another tree, twenty paces beyond the mark.

Robin sighed and dropped his bow. There were some people, he thought, who not only could shoot accurately– if the breeze hadn’t disturbed it, that last arrow would have flown true– but seemed to know when and where to expect small vagrant breezes, and to allow for them. He was not a bad archer, but his father had been a splendid one, and he was his father’s only child.

Thoughts

Robin Hood is a legend who changes with every telling. Every version has its own agenda, its own twists, and its own characterization. Some even throw in their own characters, to spice things up, and make it novel again. McKinley’s Robin Hood is a different sort; an unwilling champion, who becomes infamous simply by surviving, and becomes a legend by accident. He inherits an agenda from the beliefs of his fans, and this is what makes him so different.

Robin and Marian may be one of my earliest ships. It started with Disney’s Robin Hood, when you knew they were destined for each other, because they were both foxes, and continued through every version I’ve read since. Robin loves Marian, though he never says as much to anyone, and wants her to stay safe, even if it means staying away. Marian loves Robin, and persists with her visits because she cannot help herself, because she knows she is needed, and because she longs for the freedom the forest offers.

Perhaps my favorite plot which is unique to this version is that of Cecil– a boy who refuses to be stopped by anything. He becomes Little John’s protégé, dogging his mentor’s footsteps, and learning about survival. Cecil and Little John become very important toward the end of the book, when they are the only members of Robin’s band to attend the fateful tournament for the golden arrow. Every version does this scene differently, and it’s the sort of constant which allows comparisons between interpretations. This particular tournament is done well, and serves as a sort of climax to the novel.

All-in-all, I really like this version. I have not re-read it many times, because I read it very slowly. I am not sure why it takes me so much longer, but it is worth the time it takes. It gets a 4/5.

3 Comments

Filed under Adult Fiction, Book Review, Fairy Tales Retold, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Historical Romance, Young Adult Fiction

Spindle’s End

McKinley, Robin. Spindle’s End (2000). 422 Pages. Firebird. $6.99

Princess Briar-Rose would have been special even had her parents not been barren for so long before her birth. She was a Crown-Princess, to become the first queen in nearly 400 years. However, the evil fairy Pernicia has been waiting for a queen for a very long time. On the princess’s name-day, Pernicia takes the opportunity to curse the child; she will prick her finger and die on her 21st birthday.

Shocked, and a bit overwhelmed, nobody reacts but the fairy Katriona, a young woman from far away Foggy Bottom. With the help of another fairy, Katriona whisks the princess away, hoping to hide her, and protect her with “ordinariness.” This gives Rosie the time to grow up, into a strong young woman who has a chance against the dark fate she faces.

First Lines

The magic in that country was so thick and tenacious that it settled over the land like chalk-dust and over floors and shelves like slightly sticky plaster-dust. (Housecleaners in that country earned unusually good wages.) If you lived in that country, you had to de-scale your kettle of its encrustation of magic at least once a week, because if you didn’t, you might find yourself pouring hissing snakes or pond slime into your teapot instead of water.

Thoughts:

Everyone knows Sleeping Beauty. The infant princess, cursed by an evil fairy, saved by a good one. Doomed to prick her finger and die, but not truly. Spindle’s End is simultaneously Sleeping Beauty, and its own tale, and that is what makes it so wonderful. Rosie is anything but the weak-willed, doomed princess who is so often present in this tale. Katriona is far from the silly fairies of Disney fame. The two of them transform the story from a classic into something new, and a bit exciting.

One of the more interesting themes in this book is family, and how everything is about love, rather than blood. Katriona loves Rosie as her own, wanting nothing more than to keep Rosie forever, instead of having to give her back to the royal family, or lose her to the curse. Rosie feels loved, and accepted, but just a little different, a little outside of her family. And the royal family, as distant as they are, clearly love Rosie, too. Peony and Rosie are closer than sisters, the sort of friends who are together through everything.

There are many supporting characters who play a major role in either world-building, or plot-moving. There are very few characters who do not make multiple appearances, and every single character serves a purpose, which can be difficult when writing about an entire kingdom.

I find myself re-reading Spindle’s End periodically, enjoying it in a slightly different way each time. There are a few surprises, the first time, a few details you may have missed in the second read, a few more in the third, and each time, it becomes a richer experience as you get the chance to savor favorite scenes. It’s an enduring favorite, which of course gets a 5/5.

4 Comments

Filed under Book Review, Fairy Tales Retold, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction