Thursday, October 31, 2013

A final test before graduating

In traditional video game fashion, Ran steals the sword and rescues the princess in this short story intro to the Shadow Warrior world, "The Sorcerer of Daigawa."

Ran is about to graduate from his training as a Shinobujin, or shadow warrior. Before he can be considered a full warrior, however, he must complete a mission assigned to him, to show that he can apply what he has learned.

So this is how we join Ran, waiting outside a castle that he's been casing for at least two weeks, planning his next move. He's watched the guards to see how attentive they really are. He's examined the walls during the light of the full moon so he knows their weaknesses now that the moon is new. He's memorized the interior layout, from plans stolen by another Shadow Warrior on his own final training mission. Everything seems perfect for a quick grab of the sword, and no one would never need to know how it disappeared.

That is, until Ran discovers a locked cell, with a princess being held for sacrifice within. And Ran learns the hard way that every action - even saving a princess from an evil sorcerer - has consequences.

Jon F Merz writes this story to tell us a story only alluded to in The Undead Hoardes of Kan-Gul. While the plot is tight and the characters are just as compelling, his attention to every stealthy detail perhaps isn't the best fit for a short work. Nevertheless, 'The Sorcerer of Daigawa" is a fun ninja adventure read, available for free at the Baen website.

Highs: Ran is written as a pretty good guy who has to reconcile his conscience with his rather ruthless training, which makes him utterly charming

Lows: The pacing started out very slow for a short story, but did pick up further in

Verdict: Another solid addition to the magic and zombie filled ninja world

Monday, October 28, 2013

Manga Monday: How to be a cat

Chi meets some new kittens and gets lessons from Auntie Calico and Blackie in Chi's Sweet Home Volume 10.

Note: Chi's Sweet Home Volume 10 is, of course, part of a series. Check out the review of Volume 1 here, or the review of Volume 9 here. Otherwise, read on!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Sometimes help comes from the most unexpected places

Miss Evelina Cooper finds herself in a new situation in Emma Jane Holloway's A Study in Darkness.

Note: A Study in Darkness is part of the the ongoing The Baskerville Affair series. For the first book, A Study in Silks, click here. Otherwise, read on!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Manga Monday: Learning to fight together

Armin's plan to retake Wall Rose isn't going exactly to plain in Attack on Titan Volume 3.

Note: Attack on Titan Volume 4 is, of course, part of an ongoing series. Check out the review for Volume 1 here, and Volume 3 here.  Otherwise, read on!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Remember when you had to work up the courage to hold a girl's hand?

Betrayal. Revenge. Sparkly vampires and emo witches. Recently, young adult romances have been very much like adult bodice-rippers, but with teenagers in high school instead of neglected housewives or lonely lasses on the Scottish Highland.

Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Park bucks this trend with the most realistic young adult romance in years.

Park is the son of an Army veteran and his Korean wife. They don't live in the best neighborhood but they get by. His mother sells Avon and takes pride in her house and her sons. His dad is hard on him, and tends to favor his more traditionally masculine brother, but is still involved in his life and does the best he knows how. He's hardly a popular kid, and Taekwondo isn't enough to make him sporty, but he has is place on the bus and headphones to block out most of the noise from his classmates.

For all that Park's family does the best with what they have, Eleanor's family is an all too common disaster. As the oldest child, she stilll remembers how it was when her parents were still together. She remembers her mother baking cookies and making Christmas dinners. She remembers the kids having their own rooms, not to mention their own beds.

She remembers a time before her stepfather Ritchie. Before being sent to their shared bedroom at 4:30pm. Before having her mother guard the bathroom without a door while she takes as quick a bath as possible. After a year's exile to the friend of the family's house, Eleanor is back with her mother and siblings, and is determined to make the best of it.

Like most relationships, it isn't love at first sight. In fact, it is nearly the exact opposite. Not hatred, but an almost complete indifference. But as Eleanor and Park share a bus seat, and English class, they both begin to thaw towards one another. In typical 1980s fashion it begins with mix tapes and comic books, and slowly it develops into one of the most truthful, honest relationships I've ever read.

High school is hard. Some people have money and charisma and it's not so bad for them. Some people don't, but a loving family can make up for a lot, and fore them it can be tolerated. Some kids go through hell; tortured at school because kids are cruel, and then go home each night to another kind of nightmare.

Sometimes, two kids from very different backgrounds find one another, and together pull each other through.

Highs: Everyone in this book, from the overenthusiastic teacher to to Park's mother, react in very authentic ways.

Lows: That said, Eleanor's siblings didn't always ring true to me.

Verdict: Eleanor and Park transports the reader to those days in high school when life was harder than it should be and you couldn't do anything about it.

Further Reading: Fangirl, Beautiful Creatures, Moribito

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

An adorable cat doing adorable things

It's hard work being a kitty, and we get to learn all about it in Clare Belton's I Am Pusheen the Cat.

Pusheen's a very active kitty! Her perfect weekend includes everything from blogging to partying. Unfortunately, she's also a kitty, so her plans end up being mostly a series of naps, but A+ for effort!

She also makes quite the argument for being a cat yourself. Who can turn down free food and free rent? And when you toss in sleeping as long as you want to, I think this whole 'human' thing is totally for the birds.

Pusheen's the kind of cat who doesn't care if she's a little extra fluffy. She'll still eat all the cookie dough before it has a chance to reach the oven, order in pizza when she fails to make it herself, completely fail at her new years' resolution to work out more, and still get all fancied up.

Pusheen's even (relatively) kind to her annoying younger sister Stormy. She might have to share her kibble, and get harassed to play while she's trying to sleep, but they're still best friends in the end.

Like other webcomics, I Am Pusheen the Cat loses a little bit when translated to the printed page. Part of the adorableness of the website is that the gifs are presented as little tidbits of cuteness, and as the book goes on you miss a bit of the surprise. The book doesn't drag on, though, and at 192 pages, the length is just about spot-on. A great book to give as a present, I Am Pusheen the Cat would be great for any cat-lover.

Highs: It's always adorable to watch what a cat thinks its doing, versus what the reality is.

Lows: I wish we'd seen more of Stormy.

Verdict: A great stocking-stuffer or gift card holder present.

Further Reading: Chi's Sweet Home, How to Tell if Your Cat is Trying to Kill You 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A small town with a big secret

Small towns everywhere have a few things in common. There's a group of overly-involved mothers who rule the town via a network of gossip. There's usually a relatively incompetent sheriff's department that gets lazy due to the lack of real crime to deal with. There's kids who will live out their whole lives there, and others who want to leave the day after they get their diplomas. Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl do a wonderful job at setting the scene of Gatlin, South Carolina in their novel Beautiful Creatures

Ethan Wate is one of the kids who can't wait to leave town. He has a map of all the locations in the books he's read that he wants to visit. He hides his books under his bed, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, since even though is family is more progressive than some of the other families in town, it's still not expected that one of the stars of the basketball team would have a bookwormish bedroom. He's had a hard time of it recently, following the death of his mother, and with his father retreating more and more into his study to work on his 'Great American Novel,' he's been relying on Amma more and more for advice and love. Good old Amma, with the little wards she leaves around the house, and her wise advice mixed with cryptic phrases.

He's been having nightmares recently. In them, a girl is falling, and her fingers slip out of his hand. He can never quite make out her face, and he's sure that he doesn't know her, but he also knows that he loves this girl more than he can believe. He can never remember how the dreams ends, and even stranger, no matter how sure he is that he shut the window at night, it's always open when he wakes up.

On his first day of school, after yet another one of these strange dreams, he finds a new song on his ipod. 'Sixteen Moons.' He tries to show it to his best friend Link, but when he goes to pull it up again it's vanished. But there's news at school: there's a new girl. An actual girl, named Lena Duchannes, that they haven't known since they were babies. Big news in such a small town. And even stranger, she's the niece of the town recluse, and living in the house that everyone's convinced is haunted. Arriving at school in a hearse probably didn't help the rumors much, either.

Later in the day, he hears the strains of the dream song wafting up from the band room, but again the person playing it is gone by the time he gets there. 

Driving home from a freak thunderstorm, Ethan almost runs over a shadowy figure in the road. It turns out that the person in the road is Lena, and her hearse broke down. As Ethan gets a good look at the new girl, he realizes something: this is the girl that he's been dreaming about.

Beautiful Creatures takes the typical YA romance story and infuses magic. Lena is overprotected for a reason: this year, on her sixteenth birthday, she will be Claimed as either a Light or Dark magic user, with huge consequences either way. Ethan learns more than he ever thought he would about the men he was named after, and each of the 'Families' of Gatlin have more skeletons in their closets than an anatomy classroom.

There's quite a few storylines in this book, possibly because it is the first of a quartet. As such, at times the book drags terribly. At one point, Ethan and Lena's lives turn into "try to find information, can't find information, hang out some more." And while this is how life usually is, it didn't need to be shown to the reader. Also, perhaps because both authors are women, at times Ethan seems to be more of a female character skinned as a high school boy than an actual guy. Both he and Link are completely idealized teenage boys, without any of the crudeness that one expects.

Despite its flaws, Beautiful Creatures is an engaging Young Adult romance, with a well thought out magical system and side characters that fascinate even more than the main ones.

Highs: The Caster Library is every bibliophile's dream.

Lows: Naming a librarian Marian is just too spot-on-the-nose for me.

Verdict: At an intimidating 560 pages, Beautiful Creatures drags occasionally but is still a relatively quick, entertaining read.

Further Reading: A Discovery of Witches, A Shimmer of Angels, Dust Girl

Monday, October 7, 2013

Manga Monday: Complicated families make for complicated emotions

Rin contemplates what it means to be a family in Bunny Drop Volume 8.

Note: Bunny Drop Volume 8 is, of course, part of a series. Check out the review of Volume 1 here, or the review of Volume 7 here. Otherwise, read on!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

An early Steampunk adventure gets a revisit

Mr. Dower is back in London, but it's hardly the city he remembers in K W Jeter's long-awaited sequel to Infernal Devices, Fiendish Schemes.

Note: Fiendish Schemes is the direct sequel to Infernal Devices: A Mad Victorian Fantasy. Check out the review of the the first book here. Otherwise, read on!