Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Wallflower: Volume 25

by Tomoko Hayakawa, 161 pages

Despite Kyohei's exasperated explanations of the panicked, social-situation-rescue smooch he landed on her at the end of the previous volume, angry Sunako is convinced he was just harassing her and puts all her negative energy into casting a powerful curse on him. Non-believer Kyohei just sighs at her over-reaction to the misunderstanding and goes about his day. But it's not long before the boys are wondering if there might not be something to Sunako's black magic skills, after all. Even Sunako, at first quite thrilled with her success, starts to worry it may have gotten a little out of hand...or even a lot. But will she be able to undo her own handiwork before it's too late?

Poor Kyohei really takes a beating this time and Sunako takes the biggest step yet toward normalizing her human relations. Pity no one else knows about it. :) Also in this volume, the specialness of handmade gifts, the lengths Sunako will go for something she really wants, and the dangers of carelessness while mushroom hunting. Silly, as always, and sweet. Could there actually be some teeny, tiny, giggle-inducing plot development in the romance department?! :D

Time and Again: Volume 6

by JiUn Yun, 211 pages

There's rent to be paid and clients to help, so Ho-Yeon drags a reluctant Baek-On out to investigate a ghost appearing in a young girl's room. It's a simple enough matter to resolve, but the encounter unexpectedly dredges up Baek-On's most painful memories and breaks his heart all over again.

Owy. Beautiful and wrenching, this. I cried when I read it the first time and then cried again when I re-read it. The series' title suddenly makes sense as we finally learn what weighs so heavily on Baek-On's soul and why he both wishes to die and refuses to kill himself, choosing instead to live tortured by the past and the futures yet to come. Both he and Ho-Yeon have experienced such personal tragedies, yet their friendship now makes at least this one life a little more bearable and their solitary paths less lonely. I can only hope that Ho-Yeon's soul reincarnates close to Baek-On's in all their next lives, too, so the former can keep the latter company through the too-familiar tragedies ahead and, just maybe, help him someday lift the curse that follows him. Hopefully, Ho-Yeon will find his own peace along the way, too.

I also hope JiUn Yun keeps writing such lovely books and that they make it to these shores so I can linger over their pages and sigh happily-sadly as I have over these.

The Red Book Barbara Lehman

32 pgs/2004

I came across this wordless picture book while shelving picture books one day. It's a Caldecott Honor Book and deservedly so! A magical Red Book connects new friends from around the world. This is an excellently illustrated book that will make you look for the details in each picture to tell the story. Pair with Flotsam for a fantastic wordless journey.

Always Listento Your Mother by Florence Parry Heide & Roxanne Heide Pierce ; illustrated by Kyle M. Stone

32 pgs/2010

Ernest is a good little boy who always listens to his mother. So when a new neighbor boy moves in next door, Ernest must listen to his mother and make friends. Ernest has to listen, even when it means trying new exciting games and hanging out with the strange Vlapid. Obeying has never been this much fun!

A funny picture book that is great for preschool and school age picture book readers. Ernest obeys, but the twist that Ernest has fun listening to his mother will make readers giggle. The illustrations add a nice touch, making the book have an old fashioned folktale feel to it.

Bride of the Water God: Volume 2

by Mi-Kyung Yun, 174 pages

Soah is determined to learn the truth about certain persons' identities, but when Mui collapses and confuses her with Haebek's much-beloved late wife, she gets more uncertain of things than ever. What was he to Nakbin? What is he to Haebek? What is he to Soah?? Whispers hint at secrets all around her even as she desperately keeps a very dangerous one of her own.

What are all these people up to, eh? Handsome Huye and his comb gift; goofy-wise Tae-Eul-Jin-In and his sometimes blunt, sometimes riddle-like answers; jealous Mura and her tricksy spell-weaving; that creepy dude in the mask and his information-gathering; Haebek's scary mother and her sudden desire to "help" him? And what is Soah so desperate to hide from everyone? I want to know!

Middle School The Worst Years of My Life

By: James Patterson & Chris Tebbetts & Art work by: Laura Park, 281 pp.

Rafe Khatchadorian is entering into middle school. To make things more interesting and fun, Rafe (along with his friend, "Leo the Silent") is putting together a game that will need to collect a certain amount of points by the end of the school year. Can Rafe complete this game? Or is he getting into too much trouble before he can get the opportunity to finish his "goal?" This game consists of breaking every rule in the school's code of conduct.

James Patterson teams up with Chris Tebbetts and Laura Park to create this fun book. It is in Rafe's point of view and it is as if Rafe is really speaking to the reader.

Enjoy this fun, emotional read! I sure did!

Natsume's Book of Friends: Volume 6

by Yuki Midorikawa, 191 pages

Always the softy, Natsume follows the sound of crying into an abandoned house and discovers a little boy trapped in a box. But when Natsume releases him, the child mistakes Natsume for his captor and runs away. The older boy worries that the real culprit may still be after the boy and keeps an eye on him. His fears prove justified when he encounters a creepy axe-wielding yokai lurking about, but the closer he gets to the mystery the more uneasy he feels as something doesn't quite add up right.

Oh, poor Natsume just wants everyone to get along. He's a natural protector, comforter, and snuggler, and doesn't hesitate to tousle hair and hold hands and dispense hugs...or throw himself between the vulnerable and danger. That's why it's so hard for anybody not to love him, be they adorable little fox spirits or cynical exorcists or lonely river gods (or drunken tubby yokai cats). The foolish few who don't jump on the warm-fuzzy wagon have a tendency to get their comeuppance, so really it's wiser just to give in and make friends. Hee.

This volume also contains a funny little flashback about Natsume's grandmother Reiko and an unrelated short story about first love and high school.

"iZombie: Dead to the World" by Chris Roberson and Mike Allred

144 pages

Gwen Dylan is a 20-something zombie. About once a month she must eat a human brain to keep from losing her memories and turning into your traditional lumbering, flesh-craving monster. Fortunately, she got a gig as a gravedigger in an eco-friendly cemetery so she's got access to plenty of sustenance. She spends her free time hanging out with her best friends: Eleanor, a swinging ghost from the '60s who is young and beautiful but a little behind on the times; and Scott, a were-terrier who has a crush on her and is a bit insecure about turning into a friendly dog rather than a fierce wolf during the full moon. One problem is that when Gwen eats a corpse's brain, she obtains some of the memories of the person the body belonged to. This is, obviously, distracting, and as it so happens, can be dangerous. When she eats the brain of a young man who was murdered, she becomes determined to use the victim's memories to find the killer. With the help of her buddies, she sets out to put the pieces together and solve the mystery.

I loved every page of this thing--I wish it were longer! It's refreshing to have a story where the zombies and other supernatural creatures are the protagonists rather than the villains. Gwen, Eleanor, and Scott are fun, likable characters who made me laugh and the artwork is creative and interesting. There are supposed to be at least two more volumes of the iZombie series, and I can hardly wait for them to get here.

Friday, August 26, 2011

"How They Croaked" by Georgia Bragg and Kevin O'Malley

184 pages

Here are the stories of nineteen well-known politicians, public figures, scientists, and other famous people--but not the tales that we usually hear about them. These are the facts about how they died rather than how they lived. From George Washington being "treated" by doctors draining more than 80 ounces of blood from his body to Beethoven having his stomach drained by a pipe screwed in from the outside, some of these famous people took some bizarre exits from this world.

I enjoyed "How They Croaked," but not as much as I thought I would. The writing at a lower level than I expected from a young adult book, and some of the deaths were interesting but some didn't seem exceptionally noteworthy to me. However, I did learn some cool things, and I liked the extra information at the end of each entry. It was like a short appendix with supplementary information about the historical person's situation. I think this is a good book to recommend for reluctant tween/teen readers, especially boys. Each entry is pretty short so they can read small parts at a time, and the subject matter will appeal to lots of kids that age.

"The Forest of Hands and Teeth" by Carrie Ryan

310 pages

Mary has never seen the world outside her village in the forest. For generations, her ancestors have lived in the fortified community under protection from the relentless undead, who have been rising after death since the Return centuries earlier. The Forest of Hands and Teeth, as they call it, is full of the zombies, and anyone who accidentally gets bitten is pushed out into it before he or she can turn into a monster. The Sisterhood keeps the village in order with religious and practical rules designed to promote the good of everyone, even at the cost of the individual. When Mary comes of age and is not "claimed" by a young man, her only option is to become an apprentice to the Sisters. Meanwhile, Travis, the boy she loves, has become engaged to her best friend, Cass. As if that weren't enough doom and gloom for Mary, she notices some strange things going on in the Sisters' cathedral and begins to figure out that the Sisterhood is keeping some dark secrets about the world outside the village. When the unthinkable happens and the undead break through the village's protection, Mary has to figure out how to save herself and the ones she loves.

I thought this book was alright, but it's definitely not my favorite zombie lit. First of all, it's more focused on the romance than the zombies, which isn't my thing, and I also couldn't get into the characters. I'm not sure why, but I just didn't care about them very much. Maybe it's because there's not enough backstory. That said, this story did hold my attention and I like that the author isn't afraid to kill off major characters. I'm interested in seeing what happens in the rest of the series.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


by Melissa Marr
(2011 | 324 p)


Rebekkah Barrow has always been close to her grandmother Maylene. Bek's incurable wanderlust has kept them apart for years but time has only strengthened their shared connection. Maylene Barrow never leaves Claysville; Bek would rather be anywhere else. Despite her aversion to home, Bek respects her grandmother's reverence for the place and for its dead. Maylene attends every funeral, tends to every gravesite, keeping the town's strange traditions. Only the brutal murder of Maylene can finally bring Bek home. But even Bek's strong feelings for the son of Claysville's undertaker isn't enough to make her stay there very long. Until she learns that the town has a secret.

My Take

I was very excited to read this book and, unfortunately, was very disappointed. The first 100 pages or so are spent detailing Bek's confusing need for (and aversion to) Byron, the undertaker's son. It was enough come hither/no go away to make me dizzy. And while they're doing this odd dance that was supposed to be building romantic tension but wasn't there's a zombie on the loose eating people. Once the story got going after page 120ish it was more engaging. I wish those first 100 pages had been spent building up the characters of Alicia and Charlie, now THEY were interesting. But other than learning that Alicia was once a graveminder and was in some sort of eternal struggle with the charming face of death that was Charlie, not much more happened. And the sudden realization that Bek's step-aunt, Cissy, is a crazy murdering, dead torturing psychopath just came out of left field.

I really do hate to give bad reviews. Part of the issue may be that this novel has for some reason been branded as a fantasy. So a fantasy fan like myself is picking it up with a completely different set of expectations than would, say, a fan of horror. Someone else may read this book and think it's the best thing ever, but I've got to call it how I see it. This book let me down.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hot Six

By: Janet Evanovich, 294 pp.

Stephanie Plum is in need of money again; so she goes into her cousin, Vinnie, to get an FTA (Failed To Appear in court). She is given a couple; one is Ranger, the one who has shown her how to catch her FTA's. She refuses to go after him. She says give it to someone else - even if it is Joyce Barnhart (her enemy)! The other one is of an old classmate of hers.

Stephanie runs into trouble yet again while on the hunt for her old classmate. He isn't very bright though so it makes it really easy for Stephanie to get her "body receipt" on this one.

Even though she has refused to go after Ranger, he still keeps coming to her for help on solving his case - he has been framed.

Find out how this one all turns out when you read Hot Six.

"The Book of Even More Awesome" by Neil Pasricha

390 pages

A few years ago, Neil Pasricha was struggling. Soon after his marriage failed, one of his best friends committed suicide. After feeling depressed for a while, Neil started a blog called 1000 Awesome Things ( to celebrate the little things that make life better, such as the smell of bakery air, snow days, and finding money you'd forgotten about in your pocket. He did it to pull himself out of his funk, but it turned into much more than that. Before long he had a book deal for "The Book of Awesome," which became a bestseller, and now there's "The Book of Even More Awesome."

I totally love 1000 Awesome Things and "The Book of Awesome," and this second book didn't fall short of my high expectations. However, I think I liked the second "Book of Awesome" slightly less than the first because it seemed more cheesy at parts. I think a little cheese fits with the style of this book and I'm okay with that, but there's a line. Still, I loved this volume. Over and over I found myself thinking, "Oh yeah, I love that!" The little essays that Pasricha writes for each item on the list never fail to cheer me up when I'm having a bad day, and they've made me more appreciative of the little things in general.

Here's a little sample of the things you'll find in "The Book of Even More Awesome":
  • When batteries are included
  • When a cop finally passes you after following for awhile
  • Getting in the fastest line at the grocery store
  • Getting a hug from someone you didn’t know you were in a hugging relationship with
  • When the person you're meeting is even later than you
  • Finally peeing after holding it in forever
  • Looking at how much dirt came off something you just cleaned
  • When a work friend becomes an outside-of-work friend
  • When a social event you didn’t want to go to gets canceled
  • An extra hour of sleep for the end of Daylight Savings Time
  • A day with nothing on your schedule

The Rocky Road to Romance

By: Janet Evanovich, 266 pp.

Janet has done it again! She writes for her readers to keep wanting more.

The Rocky Road to Romance is a cute little story of Daisy Adams who has her own talk show where she is called the "Dog Lady." She is in dire need of money to help pay her college loans, so on top of her radio show, she also works as a crossing guard for the local school, she delivers newspapers, and now she has accepted to do the traffic reports with the radio station where she works.

Plus she is watching over her little brother while their parents are out of town, she is doing her internship with a nursing home, and she goes to school full time. With all this on Daisy's plate, how in the world does she find time for true love? She tries to deny it, but she cannot help the way she feels. She has fallen for her boss, Steve Crow. Her life is being turned upside down!

Never the Face: A Story of Desire by Ariel Sands

"He's way ahead of you, observed a small voice in my head. You don't often meet a man who makes you feel like an ingenue."

Our heroine, who is never named, is dissatisfied with her life and find everything, including sex, a bore. Over dinner with David, an old friend she's always had chemistry with, he quietly says, "I spent the weekend choosing a stick to beat you with." With these words a previously unknown world opens up to her. A world of submission and a dark intimacy that shakes everything she thought she knew about herself.

I am reading a lot of erotic fiction and erotica for a workshop I'm doing in September. Like our heroine, I am expanding my reading horizons even more so than usual. This book will not appeal to many readers. It is unflinching in its portrayal of Dominant/submissive relationships and there is no doubt that it is brutal and also much more. I came at it from the angle of understanding the characters involved and the intimacy and openness a relationship like this must posses. A hard and intriguing read that made me think outside my comfort zone. Ariel Sands is a pseudonym for an international bestselling nonfiction author. In an interview, she said she wanted to write with a pseudonym so there would be no preconceived notion of what the book would be like. 2011, 216 pages.

Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You: Volume 3

by Karuho Shiina, 181 pages

Sawako basks in the happy glow of hanging out with friends on a Saturday night (new experience!), stutters as she tries to get used to calling her friends by their first names (also new!), learns how to kick a soccer ball so that it goes where she intends for it to go (new!), and finds it suddenly very awkward to look at or speak to Kazehaya without blushing and having her mind go blank (oh, so very new!!). Luckily, she's somehow made another new friend named Kurumi, a beautiful, perfect girl who's known Kazehaya for years and who kindly offers Sawako advice on how to deal with her spontaneous nervousness. Protective Yano and Yoshida suspect Kurumi's motives may not be as pure as she claims, but, knowing Sawako, they wonder if ill-prepared Kurumi will really get the results she expects.

Ha ha ha ha! This series just gets better and better. Something's always going on in the background: somebody's scratching their belly or spacing out or making funny little asides. And that makes for a richer story and better developed characters and relationships. I laugh out loud and giggle and snort into the pages often. It's just too adorable! I especially want to "woo hoo!" for Sawako's naive, trusting, can-do attitude that lets her be both pathologically shy and willing to put herself out there at the same time. If there's one thing Sawako hates, it's a misunderstanding. And that innate drive to be honest--with herself and with others--is her strongest weapon. You go, girl!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Ôoku: The Inner Chambers: Volume 4

by Fumi Yoshinaga, 207 pages

The mantle of shogun passes from Iemitsu (Chie) to her first-born daughter Ietsuna (Chiyo) and thence to the latter's half-sister Tsunayoshi (Tokuko), each bringing her own strengths and weaknesses, competencies and deficiencies to her rule. And all the while the competition for positions of influence within and without the court continues.

I love watching how each shogun makes the title her own (even if not in a positive way), bringing her personality and experiences (or lack thereof) to the role. It's a little frightening to watch the tone of the entire country change with the whims of a single individual at the top who has the power to improve upon or undo the progress of those who've come before and to impact the futures of those who come after. The politics and intrigue here are fascinating, but even more compelling are the psychological profiles of the characters as they are molded by their environments and respond with either capitulation or rebellion.

Bride of the Water God: Volume 1

by Mi-Kyung Yun, 184 pages

Desperate in the face of a years-long drought, Soah's village determines its only salvation is to sacrifice her to the water god, Haebek, and pray he will be appeased and bless them with rain. But instead of being eaten or worse, Soah finds herself safely washed up on the shore of the land of Suguk, Haebek's otherworldly home. When she's brought through the palace to meet her new husband, he's not at all what she or her village expected. As Soah adjusts to her new home and its host of residents and visitors, all of whom are something more than human (or even gods, themselves), she finds some little happiness in having a place in which to belong, even if she is the odd one out. But the delicate equilibrium of her existence is disturbed by the arrival of a very powerful and much-feared visitor--Haebek's cold, deadly mother...who is very keen to meet her new daughter-in-law.

Mmm, pretty. The story's a little hard to follow at first, but once you get the hang of the author's tendency to go back and forth in time, it works. Mysteries and danger lurk everywhere and little is what it seems, including the secretive Haebek.

The Hunger Games

By: Suzanne Collins, 485 pp.

I have not read such a great book in a very long time! It is riveting, exciting, and an emotional ride! I plan on buying the triology for my daughter's next birthday!

There is so much happening in The Hunger Games that it would make for a great book discussion.

Sixteen year old, Katniss Everdeen, lives with her sister, Primrose (Prim), and her mother in a place called District 12 - just one part of a future North America. Once a year the rulers hold a televised "game"/battle among each of the districts (12 total) where each district must draw out one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 to 18 to be prepared for this battle. There is usually only one winner, but this year things change a bit. Katniss' sister, Prim (12), was chosen. However, Katniss stands in to take her place. Does Katniss survive the battle? Find out when you read "The Hunger Games!" I am excited to get to read second in the series "Catching Fire." The third in the series is "Mockingjay." Oh and wait, the movie "The Hunger Games" comes out in March, 2012!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Rosemary and Rue (October Daye: 1)

by Seanan McGuire
(2009 | 358 p)

October (Toby) Daye was an up-and-coming private investigator with a husband and young daughter at home counting on her to come back in one piece. And things were going well enough until she ran into a bad guy that put her out of commission for 14 years. Finally back on her own two feet, Toby's left with a new reality where her husband and daughter want nothing to do with her. Disillusioned with her old life, Toby's turned her back on the P.I. business and is barely making a go of it as an overnight cashier at the local convenience store. That is until Evelyn Winters, an old friend, is brutally murdered and it's up to Toby to find out who's responsible.

This sort of sounds like any other tough lady detective story, but Rosemary and Rue offers up a twist. Toby isn't just any other P.I., she's a changeling. Her mother was a pureblood fairy who decided to play housewife with a mortal man. The baddie that knocked her out of the loop for so long wasn't a standard villain, he was a pureblood who thought it would be amusing to turn Toby into a fish. She spent those 14 years in a koi pond with no recollection of who or what she truly was. Evelyn Winters was thousands of years old and, knowing her murder was coming soon, placed a curse on Toby. Toby is now compelled to solve this murder or she will be joining Ms. Winters in the great beyond.

This was a fun little urban fantasy, but parts of it left me a bit cold. In one scene Toby battles with a doppelgänger in her living room, a gun is hidden behind the curtain only a few feet away. Toby knows the gun is there, but rather than grab it she runs to her bedroom where there's no escape. If she's as smart and sassy as she's written, she would have made a dive for the gun. It made no sense. She also has a confusing love/hate relationship with a weirdo who runs a flop house where she used to live. It's made clear that the guy is a creep, requiring sex as payment for favors from most of his young wards. He's just slimy. And still our headstrong heroine is stealing kisses from him even as she's promising one of his new victims that she'll help her escape. I was baffled. It was a quick read and had won a Hugo, so I stuck through to the end. I don't regret that I read it but I doubt I'll be finishing the series.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Wolves of Mercy Falls: Book Three: Forever

by Maggie Stiefvater, 390 pages

The third and final installment in Stiefvater's The Wolves of Mercy Falls series, Forever opens with Grace and Sam's roles in the previous volumes reversed: now she's alone in the woods and he's watching and waiting for her. He's also a prime suspect in her disappearance. As if the dormant-for-now werewolf doesn't have enough to worry about already! His roommate Cole is an insanely popular suicidal genius rocker whom the world thinks is dead. His adoptive father has probably shifted for the last time and will never again be more than a flash of grey fur between the trees, taking his secrets with him. And Sam doesn't know if his "cure," concocted by a startlingly industrious and invested Cole, will stick or if it will work on anyone else. Cole says he just needs time to work out the details; but when a girl's mauled body is found in the woods near his home, Sam and the others find time isn't something they have.

Ooh, I liked this one much better than the second book. Sam and Grace are interesting again as they try to reconnect and start their altered worlds over from scratch, facing challenges they couldn't bring themselves to deal with before. Cold Isabel gets some redeeming character development. And relationships with realistically imperfect parents of all sorts get re-examined. But the real draw for me this go-round is Cole. He's a great character, full of complex emotions, creative energy, wit, and surprises in spades as he tries to work out a cure and the question of who and what he is now and what he wants out of life (wanting life at all is a new concept for him). My one complaint here is the inartistically abrupt end. You finish a page and then start at the top of the next, thinking it must be a short, final wrapping-up chapter, only to realize it's the acknowledgements. Huh? You ought to know an ending is an ending when you read it! Ah, well.

If you haven't read the first two, do so (and even if you have, a refresher before diving into this one is recommended), as Steifvater gives no helpful, subtly inserted memory-joggers as to who's who and what's happened to them in the past. I think half of my frustration with the second book was that it had been too long since I'd read the first and was lost. This final one makes up for all that and then some.

"Nineteen Minutes" by Jodi Picoult

455 pages

On the morning of March 16, bullied teenager Peter Houghton goes on a shooting spree at Sterling High School, killing ten people (nine students and a teacher) and wounding many others. The book begins with the shooting and then goes back and forth in time to describe the events leading up to the massacre--from the time Peter was in the womb--and the aftermath of the event. Readers see the perspectives of several characters, including Josie Cormier, a popular student who was close to Peter as a child and injured in the shooting; Alex, Josie's mother, who is a superior court judge; Lacy, Peter's mother, who can't understand how her son became a murderer; and Patrick, a local detective who works on the investigation. At the end of the book, the details of the actual shooting finally come out.

I am still trying to figure out how I feel about "Nineteen Minutes" because it left me with so much to think about that it's going to take a while to sort out. At this point, my opinion is that although there are parts that are over-the-top with the drama (making some aspects seem unrealistic), this is a very interesting book. As she does in most of her books, Picoult takes a very controversial real-life issue and shows several aspects of it through a compelling fictional story. Bullying, mental illness, peer pressure, grief, guilt, drug use, homophobia, single parenting...there's a lot going on in this thing. Instead of portraying schools shootings as a clear-cut, black-and-white issue, Picoult shows the gray areas. I sympathized with almost every character--including Peter--at some point, and I also felt angry at almost every character at some point. Picoult does a great job of humanizing Peter without letting him off the hook for what he does. Perhaps "humanizing" isn't the right word--it's like she shows how Peter was dehumanized by the abuse he took from his classmates but doesn't take all of the blame off him (as lots of kids are bullied but most of them don't kill people because of it). The book is relatively dense and short on dialogue, yet somehow it seemed to move quickly and I couldn't put it down. I also enjoyed the big twist at the end and thought it was a satisfying conclusion. This is one that will stick with me for a while.

A Drifting Life

by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, 834 pages

This hefty graphic autobiography recounts the youth and early career of a manga-ka coming of age in the years following the end of World War II. Hiroshi Katsumi--Tatsumi's stand-in self for the book--grows up avidly reading and drawing comics, trading books and ideas with his older brother Okimasa, and idolizing the now iconic Osamu Tezuka. The brothers save up for book binges and mail off submission after submission of their own works to popular magazines in the hopes of being published and getting their feet in the door of an industry still in its infancy. Over the years, they experience setbacks and triumphs, rivalries and teamwork, all in pursuit of a paycheck and their passion for good stories told with pictures.

Tatsumi, a trailblazer in Japanese alternative comics, hesitates to call his work "manga," often preferring the term "gekiga" in an attempt to convey his departures from mainstream story, tone, and format. His style is heavily cinematic, working within the parameters of lots of variously-sized rectangular frames, sometimes with no (or, conversely with tons of) dialogue or narration, therefore spreading the telling of a story out over more pages than was standard at the time. This boxy, long-form style gives him more in common with American comic books of the day rather than the freer form, minimalist manga of many of his peers. The communicating of this creative ambition to his employers and fellow artists takes up a portion of this autobiography, but he also focuses on the personal details of his and his family's struggles within the context of the ever-changing nation around them as the Japanese adjust to post-war then post-occupation existence, economic booms and busts, and wave after wave of Western influence.

I found this look into Japanese history and one man's life in the comics world to be engaging, enlightening, and engrossing (oh, alliteration, I love you). Don't let the book's brick-like nature or industry-specific focus intimidate you. I didn't recognize most of the authors and artists (with a very few exceptions) whom Tatsumi mentions and I still enjoyed it muchly. Many histories on manga focus on the greatness of Tezuka alone, overlooking contributions of other talented creators who also shared popularity and wide readership at the time. It's good to see that gap filled a little by Tatsumi's ten-plus-years-in-the-making memoir, which won the 13th Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize in 2009 and, in the States, two Eisner Awards in 2010.

Shadowplay (Shadowmarch: 2)

by Tad Williams
(2007 | 656 p)

The ruling family of Southmarch has been scattered. King Olin Eddon remains a prisoner of the traitorous Lord Protector of Hierosol while his daughter, the Princess Briony, is chased from her childhood home by the family's power hungry cousins. All the while Briony's beloved twin, Prince Barrick, follows an ill-fated compulsion that's been laid on him by a powerful Qar warrioress. As Barrick blindly and eagerly does her bidding this fierce mistress sits at the front gate of his castle home with an army of blood thirsty fairy folk, her eagerness pulled taut as a bow string. Twilight, it seems, has finally descended on the Eddons.

Shadowplay is the second book in the most recent tetralogy from Master Williams. His intense and (what I consider) highly skilled world building offers plenty of substance for even the most die-hard fantasy reader. The story is told from many perspectives in alternating chapters so that what might otherwise be an overwhelming tome is very readable. I've read Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy and his Otherland sci-fi tetralogy and can't help but notice that recognizable themes and characters are being rewoven in Shadowmarch to create a different but familiar tale. While this should seem repetitious there are enough new ideas to make the well known bits very comfortable and enjoyable. I can't wait to get my hands on book three!