Monday, December 31, 2012

Jiu Jiu: Volume 2

by Touya Tobina, 191 pages

Takamichi, Snow, and Night make some odd new acquaintances as Takamichi creeps further and further out of her protective, isolating shell.  (Although not as much as the risque cover would jokingly lead you to believe....)

For more details on this surprisingly substantial fantasy / action / dramedy about a wounded demon hunter and her devoted wolf boys, please see my full review of the first two volumes at!

Jiu Jiu: Volume 1

by Touya Tobina, 191 pages

Young demon hunter Takamichi loses her will to participate in life after her brother's death, but her father's having none of it and, instead of letting her wallow, makes her responsible for the care of two abandoned half-demon wolf pups.  Can two eager, loyal, puppy-eyed shapeshifters save her from her self-imposed loneliness?

Ha!  Snow and Night, Takamichi's wolf boys, provide both humor and effective warm fuzzies, especially when they come up against her short-tempered, no-nonsense facade and wriggle their way under it.

Natsume's Book of Friends: Volume 13

by Yuki Midorikawa, 184 pages

Deliciously creepy Matoba, a mysterious, unscrupulous exorcist with his eye on Natsume (and his enigmatic tubby yokai kitty), writes the boy and then shows up in front of his house to ask for help rooting out a yokai that's been preying on powerful exorcists.  Natsume's not too keen on doing anything for Matoba, but his concern for what might happen if he doesn't outweighs his revulsion at cooperating.

Ooh, that Matoba is so bad!  What was in that letter?!  We don't even know what he's really up to, but it doesn't matter.  Whatever it is, it isn't good.  I love how Midorikawa just lets him think his sneaky, self-serving thoughts and scheme to his cold heart's content without letting us know much more than Natsume--which isn't much, as Matoba keeps pretty mum about such things and just smiles and watches and waits.  It's when he acts that we get nervous--and excited!  The joy of seeing him look angry or surprised by Natsume's (or his allies') disruption of his carefully laid plans is worth the wait, even if we just get one little panel of him taken aback and glaring before he gets himself under control.  Sweet.  He'll be back, the clever villain.  And so will this reader!

This volume also has two shorter chapters relating how quiet Natsume came to be friends with schoolmates Nishimura and Kitamoto.  Yay for warm, fuzzy backstory!

Banana Fish: Volume 4

by Akimi Yoshida, 188 pages

The gang heads first to Ash's hometown, where they encounter painful reunions and even more painful goodbyes, and then to L.A. on the trail of the mysterious "Banana Fish."  But what they find there, and what they don't, may just complicate things even more.

Ouch.  Ash has had a life of one tragic hardship after another and it just keeps getting worse.  Despite knowing it's "for the best," I think he needs to not push his friends away for their own good.  Besides, if they're Eiji, I've a feeling they'll find a way to turn up again, anyway (either because they don't follow directions well or because the bad guys know good bait when they see it).  Besides, those party shirts have got to have a positive effect on him psychologically. They just brighten up the room!  Hee hee hee.  Also, there's a snake in the grass, but he seems just as trapped by his circumstances as those whose hands he's forcing.  I do enjoy sympathetic bad guys....

Kimi ni Todoke: Volume 15

by Shiina Karuho, 179 pages

Chizu doesn't know how to act around Ryu since he told her how he feels, Sawako doesn't know how to act around Kazehaya since the school trip to Okinawa, and Ayane doesn't know how to act around Kento since he comforted her after her breakup.

Ryu and Kento both make declarations (one loud and to the point, one quiet and subtle) that leave their companions wide-eyed and speechless (and the reader woo-hooing!).  Meanwhile, Sawako's getting gentle advice from Kento and will hopefully do her best to buck-up, be honest, and clear up any misunderstanding between her and the one she loves.  Karuho once again does an excellent job of giving equal time to her equally deserving supporting cast.

The Wallflower: Volume 29

by Tomoyo Hayakawa, 154

First, Sunako is forced to go on a no-chocolate diet, with predictably unpredictable and disastrous results.  Next, Kyohei throws the world off-balance when he lets a little responsibility go to his head.  Then frugal Sunako refuses to turn on the air conditioner at the height of summer--and gets a houseful of unrepentant nudists in retaliation.  And lastly, Sunako has a little Twilight Zone-ish experience with what appears to be Kyohei when he was just a little boy.

*pffft*  This volume is sadly shorter than normal, but the stupid humor is returning to its usual caliber of snorts and guffaws.  And Hayakawa even manages to stick in a semi-serious warm-fuzzy chapter, a feat which she seems as surprised and amused by as the reader.  :P

State of Wonder

by Ann Patchett, 353 pages

When a strangely dispassionate letter arrives announcing that her colleague at her pharmaceutical company has died in the Brazilian jungle, Marina is sent in his footsteps to discover what really happened...and finish the job he couldn't.

This a beautifully written, heart-wrenching example of literary fiction that leaves the reader with a lot to think about (and talk about, if you do as I did and read it for a book club).  Patchett's characters are sympathetic, deeply flawed, and tragically and / or triumphantly human.  She brings up complicated, messy, no-win cultural, social, and personal issues and doesn't try to force a pat answer for any of them, though you can't help but get caught up in the debate and lean this way and that depending on your own compass.  Without doing the work for you, she gives you tools and materials that let you imagine possibilities beyond the last page.  I wanted to hit some characters very hard at the end and wrap others up in protective hugs while my brain dug backwards trying to see at what point or points this path could have been altered.  Not everything here will work for every reader, and not everyone will imagine the same future, but that just makes discussing it with friends that much more rewarding.

Nabari no Ou: Volume 12

by Yuhki Kamatani, 209 pages

Raikou overhears a disturbing conversation in the office of the Grey Wolves that undermines everyone's faith in Kotarou's motives all this time.  He, Raimei, and Gau also discover that the Grey Wolves have on their side a familiar deadly skill in the person of a being who seems to share the longevity of the Hakutaku.   A short time later, just as Kumohira and the others set out to reveal the past sensei has kept hidden in preparation for ridding Miharu of the Shinra Banshou once and for all, immortal Kouchi and Shijima's wish for death comes head-to-head with Raiko and Raimei's vow to stop anyone who tries to use the Shinra Banshou.

I think I'm just going to be on (or over) the verge of tears till the end of the series.  Everyone's so conflicted!  They care about each other, but they believe whole-heartedly in the rightness of their own puroses.  But I fear they will have to destroy one another to achieve them, and then how can any of them truly say they've prevailed?  Miharu's caught in the middle and doesn't yet know just how messy it's all gotten.  What will he do once he does?  Will it change his decision?  Do we even know what decision he's made that may be changed?  Waghhhh!

Nabari no Ou: Volume 11

by Yuhki Kamatani, 192 pages

Things have quieted down since Miharu gave in and used the Shinra Banshou, but it feels like the storm can't be too far off.  Yukimi tries to help the boy regain his anchor in the real world--and keep him from being desperate enough to use his power again--by making him his assistant, since taking photos for his articles is harder to do now that he only has one arm.  Meanwhile, Kumohira works with the others to find a way to free Miharu from his power before he's tempted to use it to either undo his first wish or help his two immortality-cursed acquaintances find their own closure.

Everyone's trying to put together their own pieces, but not all of their completely understandable desires are compatible and I don't know what I'm going to do when it comes down to having to take sides.  Well, except for the Grey Wolves guy and his stand-ins.  They're pretty much evil, even if they think they're in the right.  Also, watching Yukimi and Miharu navigate the pain of their shared loss, seeing the links they sense but don't recognize, just hurts; but it's all part of the grieving process and I can only hope they come out on the other side as at peace with what they have left as they can be.

Banana Fish: Volume 3

by Akimi Yoshida, 189 pages

As his friends try to find a way to legally get him released from prison, Ash is coming up with his own plans to break out, get information, and get his revenge.

Sheesh.  This is why friends need to talk to each other before they do risky things.  But Ash is nothing if not stubborn and independent, so the result probably would have been the same, regardless.  Besides, they all end up on the same page, anyway.  I enjoy seeing the gang interact as a group and hope they're able to stick with each other when things get noisy again.

Saga: Volume 1

by Brian K. Vaughan (story) and Fiona Staples (art), 161 pages

A generations-long war between the winged race of the planet Landfall and the horned race of the moon Wreath has spread well beyond the limits of the latter's orbit around the former.  Then one day fate brings an unruly winged soldier named Alana face-to-face with a tired horned prisoner of war named Marko on a muddy little planet called Cleave.  The two argue, bond over a trashy romance novel, come to realize they have the same view of this endless war, and run away together.  Only their respective home-worlds won't let them off so easily.  With bounty hunters and zealous soldiers perpetually on their heels, it's a wonder they have enough time to bring a daughter into the universe, but they do just that before setting off across the stars in hopes of giving her a future free of the death and destruction that is all they've ever known.

Ooh, this is quite lovely and different and unafraid to be either.  It's also violent and unsettlingly graphic, but the unpleasantness is sadly part of everyday existence for these people.  Happily, so is snark.  I love that this series isn't just about the romance or the adventure--it's about family and hard work and life and death and all those ongoing things that are the reality usually ignored by "happily ever after."  Alana and Marko's daughter, Hazel, provides intermittent commentary from some unknown point in the future as we watch her parents struggle to keep her and each other alive through labor and firefights and "haunted" forests and unexpected visits from her grandparents.  Just like in the real world, the politics are crazy (there are winged-race-aligned royals with computer monitors for heads who, like royalty anywhere, don't seem to have much control of their own lives).  And the bounty hunters and other pursuers are scary but complicated, themselves.  I've been looking forward to reading this for many months and am excitedly awaiting the next trade paper installment.

Sailor Twain: or The Mermaid in the Hudson

by Mark Siegel, 400 pages

Over a year ago, the steamboat Lorelei's well-liked owner disappeared without a trace, leaving his careless, erratic brother Dieudonné in charge, much to the worry and frustration of her conscientious captain, Twain, whose humble, capable hands seem to be the only thing keeping the company above the waterline.  But when he finds a beautiful injured mermaid clinging to the empty, fog-enshrouded deck, Captain Twain's orderly, familiar world begins to slip deeper and deeper into the murky depths of the Hudson River.

This is a lovely, creepy, haunting mystery that wraps the reader in its hazy, otherworldly atmosphere from first page to last and beyond.  The characters are exaggerated and cartoonish figures visually, but their intense, complicated personalities and motives bring a sense of realism that pairs unsettlingly well with what would normally be goofy features to further blur the line between fantasy and reality for the reader as much as the inexplicable events of the story do for the characters.

Banana Fish: Volume 2

by Akimi Yoshida, 189 pages

It's out of the frying pan and into the fire for Ash, as he goes from the hospital to prison thanks to string-pulling by his enemies.  If he was in danger out on the street, he's doubly so on the inside.  Luckily (?), he's got an unexpected connection of his own on the wrong side of the bars--if he doesn't kill the guy first.

Ha ha!  Poor Eiji.  I guess that's one way to secretly pass on a message--though the lengths hardened Ash is willing to go to set such a plan in motion are pretty extreme.  The fact that he doesn't seem to think anything of it if it saves his life in the end just makes him that much more pitiable.  But then there are more party shirts!  Shunichi's the worst offender, but even hip young Eiji must have been unduly influenced by his senior's questionable fashion sense.  I don't think Ash would be caught dead in a giant pineapple print, though.  *snicker*

Blue Exorcist: Volume 8

by Kazue Kato, 183 pages

As Yukio faces off against a silver-tongued demon, his brother Rin battles to find the heart of an amorphous plague while simultaneously protecting his friend Suguro, who's desperately trying to keep the poisonous clouds from spreading.

Yukio!  So much for being the "normal" twin.  I'm happy to see him finally show a little of his birthright, but I hope he's self-aware enough to avoid the emotional pitfalls that threaten to carry him over to the dark side.  He'd better start by having a real heart-to-heart talk with his brother so neither of them loses his footing.  Once the whole deathly plague thing is taken care of, of course.  And Kuro had better be ok, too.  Kitty!

Kekkaishi: Volume 27

by Yellow Tanabe, 185 pages

Karasumori is under attack, but by whom, exactly?  Masamori has an intense conversation with a prominent council member as Yoshimori fights for his home town, his friends, and his life and tries to focus on what's most important in the chaos erupting around him.

With enemies on two fronts and innocents caught in the middle, Yoshimori's going to have a lot on his plate for the foreseeable future.  I like that others on his team are chiming in to keep him grounded, with even struggling yet resolute Soji unconsciously earning confused support from a previously vocal detractor.

Kekkaishi: Volume 26

by Yellow Tanabe, 187 pages

Tensions are running high in the Shadow Council following the assassinations of a couple of members, and the resulting finger-pointing puts the pressure on Masamori to track down the truth and prevent disaster before the blame falls at his and his family's feet.  Back at Karasumori, Tokine has an uncomfortable cup of tea with an unpredictable and deadly enemy while Yoshimori must decide what to do with the assassin living under his roof.

Tanabe keeps adding substance and personality to her characters, with Yoshimori making a decision the reader doesn't see coming but that fits him so perfectly she can't imagine him doing anything else.

Kekkaishi: Volume 25

by Yellow Tanabe, 187 pages

As Yoshimori attempts to master the art of clearing his mind at will, he also tries to introduce enigmatic Shoji to things that might nurture emotion and human bonds not based on a master-and-tool relationship.  Meanwhile, Masamori prepares to finish the job he started against a powerful foe while other mysterious conspirators make their own preparations.

Oh, Shoji, the poor thing.  I love how Yoshimori's little influences register in the other boy's emotionless but observant eyes.  He may not know what to do with all this new information, but he's holding onto it and trying his best.  We just hope Yoshimori's example ultimately turns out to be more powerful than Shoji's master's cold conditioning.  Tanabe's inching toward making both Yoshimori and the reader care as much about Shoji's welfare as that of the lost friend he resembles.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Bad Hair Day (Kate Grable #2)" by Carrie Harris

240 pages

Kate Grable, the future doctor/genius who saved the world from a steroid-based zombie virus in "Bad Taste In Boys" is back. Things are going well for her: she's got a sweet and hot boyfriend, and she's about to start shadowing the county medical examiner as part of her school's pre-med program. But when Kate's brother, Jonah, discovers a mutilated corpse at a local gaming convention, it appears that something has gone wrong again. Particularly because the body seems to have been killed by something inhuman. Something really hairy, really strong, and with really huge claws. As the bodies keep coming, it seems that Kate's got to figure out how to take her mind of zombies and figure out how to defeat werewolves.

Silly, silly fun and I love it! Kate is great--in some ways, she's regular high school girl, worrying about her boyfriend and arguing with her brother, but she also has her mind on bigger things. It's refreshing to read about a girl who's got brains and ambitions but also has normal teenage fun. The plot is pretty straightforward and predictable, but it's great for a quick read. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"Mark of Athena (Heroes of Olympus #3)" by Rick Riordan

586 pages

Annabeth and her friends Jason, Pier, and Leo are approaching Camp Jupiter to attempt to make peace between the Greek and Roman demigods. The world is literally at stake, because if the heroes can't band together there's no way they can't find and close the Doors of Death. And if they can't do that, then they definitely won't be able to stop Gaia's monsters from taking over the earth. Despite all of that, Annabeth is still anxious about being reunited with Percy after six months of separation. And her mother's odd demand still rings in her ears: "Follow the Mark of Athena. Avenge me." And she's not the only one with doubts. All seven of the demigods are dealing with their own personal fears, insecurities, even unrequited love. It's going to take all they have to pull together and complete this leg of their quest.

I love this series, and almost everything about it. There's lots of action, but the characters are well developed, too. The humor is fun and cheesy as ever. The plot has several twists and turns. It's one of those that there's not a lot to say about, as it's just good simple fun. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"The Serpent's Shadow (Kane Chronicles #3)" by Rick Riordan

406 pages

In this thrilling conclusion to the Kane Chronicles, Carter and Sadie are down to their last chance to destroy the chaos snake Apophis. If they can't get rid of him once and for all, he will plunge the world into eternal darkness. The Kanes don't have much help, though, as the magicians of the House of Life are wasting time fighting with each other and the gods are divided by their own squabbles. It's up to Carter, Sadie, and the other young magicians of Brooklyn House to battle Apophis and his forces. Their only hope is an ancient spell that would turn the snake's own shadow into a weapon against him. Problem is, the spell has been lost for centuries...and time is running out.

This was my favorite book in the Kane Chronicles. I had trouble following the others, perhaps due to my lack of knowledge of Egyptian mythology, but I guess I'd learned enough from the previous books to help this story make sense. The action is pretty much nonstop, so I couldn't put the book down. Carter and Sadie both seem to grow up a little, which is good to see as the series concludes. I like the way everything came together for a very satisfying ending. Well done!

Monday, December 10, 2012

"The Leftovers" by Tom Perotta

355 pages

For more than two thousand years Christians have looked forward to the Rapture, believed to take all believers home to heaven before God’s judgment rains onto the Earth. Most believe that in that glorious moment, the physical bodies of the faithful will disappear in an instant, leaving even their clothes behind. In The Leftovers, the Rapture has happened…but it wasn’t like the Christians thought it would be. Some were taken, but plenty weren’t. In fact, the disappearances seem almost random—people of all ages, races, and religions—but they all happened at one instant. And there were millions of them, all over the world. Now, after it has become clear that the scientists can’t explain what happened, the ones left behind—also known as the “survivors” or the “leftovers”—must figure out how to move on. Almost everyone knows someone who disappeared, while some lost their entire families. And everyone is dealing with the question of why this happened and what the future holds. Some use alcohol and drugs to numb the pain and uncertainty. Some join extreme end-of-the-world cults. Some take advantage of the situation and grab power. This book is the story of a few ordinary people trying to make a life in a new world, changed forever in an instant.

I usually don’t like books that leave a lot of questions unanswered, but it didn’t bother me with this one. It’s pretty clear from the beginning that you’re not going to figure everything out and that’s not the point of the story. It’s sort of a character study in how people deal with tragedy, made even more interesting by the fear and uncertainty thrown in as well. Though I am myself a Christian, I like that this book puts quite a spin on the traditional view of the Rapture. Without too much preaching, it makes the point that no one can rightly judge other people because now matter how much someone thinks they know about God, or whatever divine being they believe in, no one can truly know what is going to happen. It’s also interesting that science offers no plausible explanations either. I walked away from the book with the feeling that no matter what we believe, we don’t have all the answers and probably never will. That’s a scary thought, but it’s worth thinking about. I found other aspects of the story pleasing as well. The characters are multidimensional and they feel real. Their reactions to the disappearances are fascinating and made me think about what I would do.  There’s not a lot of action, but I got sucked in just the same. The whole thing is going to stick with me for quite a while, for sure.

Friday, November 30, 2012

"Monster" by Walter Dean Myers

281 pages

Steve always wanted to make movies when he grew up and got out of his poverty-stricken, often dangerous New York City neighborhood. So when he's arrested and charged as an accessory to murder, he tells his story in the form of a movie script. This brings to life the events that led up to the robbery/murder. 

I was a bit disappointed with this one, but I think it's because my expectations were so high. Monster is one of those books I've been hearing about for a decade or so but just never got around to reading, and it's the first-ever Printz winner after all. I definitely provides a lot of food for thought--about the problems with our justice system, primarily--but it felt kind of flat. I didn't feel like I got to know the characters as much as I would have liked to, and the plot was also quite straightforward and one-dimensional. Still, I did enjoy the book overall, especially the unique format. It took me a while to get used to, but telling the story as a film script made the action come to life and feel more real. 

Banana Fish: Volume 1

by Akimi Yoshida, 191 pages

1973, Vietnam.  An American soldier inexplicably turns his gun on his fellow soldiers, killing several before he's shot by his best friend.  And the only clue he offers for his mindless rampage?  The mumbled phrase, "Banana Fish."

Fast-forward to 1985, New York.  Eiji Okumura, a young photographer from Japan, arrives with his senior, journalist Shunichi Ibé, to gather information for an article on youth gangs.  Using their contacts in the police department, Eiji and Shunichi set up a meet with a well-known local gang leader, Ash Lynx.  A decent enough young man ground tough by years of abuse and privation at the hands of his "patron"--sleazy crime boss, Papa Dino Golzine--Ash has developed deadly aim and a bleak outlook at odds with his pretty face; but he's good to those loyal to him, and his band of street kids look up to him.  Jealousy has turned a few of his boys against him, however, and when he stumbles on something bigger than his crew's usual small-time crime and lands on the wrong side of the powerful Golzine, Ash's enemies join forces to get back what he took, find out what he knows, and then take him out, starting with an assault on the gang's favorite hang-out.  Unfortunately for Eiji, that's just when he and Shunichi are sitting down for a chat with their wary subject.

This classic genre-blender (it's a shojo series written for older teen girls, but with enough bloody action to appeal to shonen's intended audience of boys) has been on my to-read list forever, so I'm excited to finally jump in.  The art is very eighties, with the mustaches and headbands to prove it, but you don't care because the story is complex and mysterious, the characters well-defined and intriguing, and the sparks between them--be they the kind that lead to gang wars or soul-deep bonds--effective.  The plot moves smoothly from jungle to precinct office to street corner to warehouse to prison and everywhere in between, leaving clues, adding personalities, and building a mystery as it goes.  The series doesn't tiptoe around sensitive subjects, like child prostitution, rape, murder, abortion, and drugs, but it doesn't sensationalize them, either, and while the language can get colorful, the in-panel violence isn't gratuitously graphic.  It all serves the story, builds the characters, and pushes the plot forward.  There's enough humor--among the kiddos, the cops, Eiji and Shunichi--to bring some levity to the proceedings, too, so as dark as it can be it never feels oppressively so.  Besides, it's hard to take some of those party shirts too seriously.  :P  I'm hooked already and look forward to reading more as it all plays out according to creator Yoshida's carefully-laid plans.

Yotsuba&!: Volume 12

by Kiyohiko Azuma, 222 pages

This time around, Yotsuba watches the local noodle shop owner make udon, eats too much pizza, plays with bubbles, gathers chestnuts, learns you should ask before taking someone's picture, and experiences depression over her injured teddy bear, Juralumin.

First off, this is one of my favorite Yotsuba&! covers--everybody's reading a book, even Juralumin!  As for the stories, they are crazily cute and imaginative, as usual.  Yanda brings the hilarious with him every time, and the bubbles are no exception--but just everyone scrambling to hide (badly) when they hear him coming, and his reaction, makes me cackle out loud.  Later, when Yots is all worried about her bear and doesn't respond to Yanda's taunts, he can't leave her alone till he gets a reaction--and, oh, that face!  Brilliant Azuma has got to have a kid, or do an awful lot of observing of them.  Yotsuba may talk a little above her years sometimes, but her energy and imagination and entertainingly influence-able thought processes feel pretty true to life with a dose of artistic exaggeration.  It helps, of course, that she's surrounded by sometimes immature adults who egg her (and each other) on.  I want the next volume already, as Koiwai and Jumbo are planning a camping trip.  Yots and company in the woods with tents and bugs and campfires?  Yay!  Bring it!

Yotsuba&!: Volume 11

by Kiyohiko Azuma, 224 pages

Among many other silly, adorable, everyday things, in this volume five-year-old Yotsuba learns how to make pancakes, wanders around the electronics store with a neighbor while her dad shops for a camera, and is taught a very effective lesson about lying--namely, don't do it.

Bah ha ha ha!  Koiwai, Yotsuba's dad, is both an awesome parent and kinda scary in his own wonderfully twisted little way.  His infinite patience with the pancake experiments is admirable, but that calmly imparted lesson about lying....  O_o  Hee!  I guess if it works, it works, no?  Also, he's got some unique friends wandering in and out of his house, using his kitchen and spontaneously sparring with / babysitting his handful-of-a-daughter so he can get some translation work done without her distracting him by playing at his feet under the desk.  Yotsuba's abrupt change to battle-ready-face every time she hears moocher Yanda's greeting as he lets himself in is priceless.  And appropriately-named Jumbo's just her human playground.  :P

Natsume's Book of Friends: Volume 12

by Yuki Midorikawa, 187 pages

Natsume runs into a bearded yokai who wants help with an old letter, a legged-teacup that's taken up residence under his house, an aging kami who wants to return a borrowed mirror, and a pair of yokai who trap him in a jar as a treat for their hungry master whose seal has recently been broken.

The other stories are sweet and sad in the gently hopeful way of the rest of the series, but Natsume stuck in a jar, helpless as Nyanko-sensei somewhat successfully pretends to be his charge so friends and family don't get worried, is a hoot!  Also, I love how Tanuma takes the opportunity to help his friend, despite the flak he knows he'll catch from Natsume after-the-fact for putting himself in danger.  And with another familiar face joining the fight, Natsume finds himself on the receiving end of a little lecturing, too.  Lovely, as always.

What a Wonderful World!: Volume 2

by Inio Asano, 214 pages

More individuals--and some of the same ones--make more choices at more crossroads in this concluding volume.

For more details about this oddly lovely philosophical look at the meaning not so much of life as of how to truly live it, please see my full review of the two-volume series at!

What a Wonderful World!: Volume 1

by Inio Asano, 205 pages

Lose everything in a fire?  Quit your job without a back-up plan?  Find yourself taken hostage by a guy in a teddy bear costume?  Characters face changes big and small in this darkly funny, deeply thoughtful, and cleverly-plotted manga about what it means to be alive.

This volume is only half the story, leaving the helplessly hooked reader wondering how it all fits together.

Kamisama Kiss: Volume 11

by Julietta Suzuki, 193 pages

It's almost the New Year and everyone's doing their best to prepare.  For the shrine, that means going to pick up their ofuda (a talisman that works as a kind of fortune / good luck charm) from the deity in charge of the coming year.  Nanami decides to tag along with Tomoe and Mizuki (partly to keep them from fighting) and finds that to get Mikage shrine's ofuda they each first have to walk through a gate that shows the deity what they've been doing the last twelve years.  This is nothing new for her shinshi, but Nanami has a harder time getting out and the other two have to enter her gate in order to retrieve her and finish their errand.  There, Tomoe gets to see a side of his headstrong tochigami he hasn't seen before and realizes she's not as tough, or as weak, as he thought.

Aw, little Nanami is cute.  She's had a rough life, but her mom taught her well.  This story reveals a lot about Nanami and Tomoe, both, including some plot-relevant hints that they don't pick up on but the reader does.  The other New Year's stories and snippets in this volume are good, too, and show us what various characters are up to and how they've grown, including a peek at conflicted Kirihito's continuing efforts to get his body back and Yatori's still-hazy involvement in everybody else's business.  Suzuki does a nice job presenting little seasonal side stories that still advance the larger plot and add to her characters' development.

Afterschool Charisma: Volume 6

by Kumiko Suekane, 201 pages

Kai finishes his tale and his audience learns what happened to their predecessors who were, and weren't, successfully auctioned off at their expo, revealing the birth of the Strikers, the terrorist group who attacked the school.  But the truth is still murky and the conflicting roles of their teachers and directors, and even Kai, are anything but clear.

Dude!  This is some dark, twisty, hard-to-wrap-your-brain-around-it-but-fun-to-try business of complex hidden motives, histories, and personalities.  And I am eager for the next one.  The jerk Rockswell gets a whack in the head, which pleases me, but he just laughs it off, which is frustrating.  I want to know why he thinks everything's going so swimmingly and how he and Kuroe and Dr. Kamiya (two staff members, the latter of whom raised Shiro as his son) are all connected and what the heck is going on!

Afterschool Charisma: Volume 5

by Kumiko Suekane, 201 pages

Kai, older Shiro look-alike and lone survivor of the terrorists who attacked St. Kleio Academy, tells the surviving students about his generation of clones at the school and their struggle to understand and deal with who and what they were.

You want to like this Kai, but you're not even sure which Kai he is and we've only heard the first part of his story, so judgment must be reserved until more facts are in.  Sheesh, these people are all in need of some serious psychological help.  Also, for some of them (Rockswell), jail time.

The Betrayal of the Blood Lily

by Lauren Willig, 401 pages

Trapped by misunderstanding and circumstance, scandal-plagued Penelope has no choice but to marry and follow her cad of a husband back to his new administrative post in India.  She hopes being thrown together in the middle of a foreign country will give them a chance to salvage some happiness, but reality doesn't look to be granting her even that small comfort as he routinely abandons her for the card table and leaves her to fend for herself in an unfamiliar world of complicated--and often dangerous--politics.  Luckily, she has the unwilling company of their escort, Captain Reid, a no-nonsense soldier who doesn't care about her sullied reputation, doesn't cow-tow before power, and who may or may not be trying to kill her husband and sell out the English to the Indians and / or the French.

Willig moves all the action to India this volume, which is a pleasant diversion.  The history of England's colonial involvement in the country is less familiar territory for me and so an interesting addition to the slightly-more-scandalous-than-usual-for-the-series romance.  I don't know why I expect my romance novels to not be "romance novels," but I'm still disappointed when they fall into well-worn, too-easy patterns that sacrifice character development and emotional involvement for awkward, obligatory racy bits (mind you, I in no way mind the racy bits, as long as they fit who and when and where I think they should).  It's sad when formerly interesting personalities are suddenly unceremoniously forced into boring molds in which they don't fit and from which they emerge less than they were before.  I'm still enjoying the series, and I still like many aspects of the genre (witty repartee and guaranteed happy endings being two of them), but sometimes I get a little cranky and snooty and wish things could just be nudged into being a little more.  Ah, well.  I'm still happily putting myself on hold for the next one, so it mustn't bother me enough to put me off them all together.  And yet.  *sigh*

The Temptation of the Night Jasmine

by Lauren Willig, 388 pages

Quiet, naive bookworm Charlotte suffers the legions of titled dandies her  grandmother throws at her, but when she finds a long-absent childhood friend among them, she's sure she's found her true knight in shining armor.  Only she'll have to deal with his long-ingrained insecurity, self-loathing, and revenge-fueled plans--as well as a depraved gentleman's club, a handful of spies, and her own childish romantic illusions--before she has any chance of convincing him to stick around.  Meanwhile, in the twentieth century, Eloise overhears something that makes her wonder what exactly it is Colin really does for a living.

Willig adds repercussions of events in colonial India and her own imagining of a descendant of the Hellfire Club to her broader tale of the English and their protracted mutual distrust of those wily sneaks, the French.  Actually, the French spy here only makes a few brief appearances, but he's an amusing, odd enough duck that I hope we see him again in the future.  As I go through these, I find I have one eye on the principals and another on everyone else, wondering who might be up for a leading role in future volumes.  Robert and Charlotte's story has a sad beginning, an adventurous and rather melodramatic middle, and, obviously, a happy ending.  But I couldn't help but feel sorry for a few of their friends who get caught up in scandals or swept aside for less worthy rivals, so again with the hoping we find out what happens to them in their own stories later.

The Underwater Welder

by Jeff Lemire, 220 pages

Jack, an underwater welder, loving husband, and expectant father obsessed with the disappearance and death of his own father when he was a boy, feels uncontrollably drawn to the underwater depths of the bay in which his amateur treasure-hunter father drowned years before.  In the process, he risks losing everything and repeating his tragic family history.

This is an eerie, thoughtful tale that keeps you on the edge of your seat even when you've guessed at some of the mysteries it holds.  Lemire seems especially adept at depicting haunted places sparsely populated by equally haunted people.  Those inky scrawls communicate much and easily get inside the reader's head.  Good stuff.

The Nao of Brown

by Glyn Dillon, 204 pages

Nao is a smart, snarky, creative young woman who designs quirky doodads and novelties, meditates at a Buddhist center, rides her bicycle everywhere, and seems to have it all together.  But she also suffers from involuntary visions of herself inflicting graphic violence on people around her.  Terrified they won't just stay in her head where they (she) can't hurt anyone for real, Nao keeps her distance emotionally while she tries to do her "homework" and work through her issues.

Ooh, this is a lovely, weirdly wonderful piece of graphic literature.  The watercolor artwork is beautiful and realistic, the story imaginative and moving, and the characters engaging and intriguing.  The reader finds Nao's visions nearly as frightening and disturbing as she does and is just as desperate for her to find some peace from her mental demons as she is.  You worry for her, you worry for the people around her.  Are they good for her?  Is she a danger to them?  As more and more is revealed, you have no idea where it's all going, but you won't be able to put the book down till you find out.  I'm still thinking about it weeks later and look forward to sinking into more of Dillon's work in the future.

The Flame Trees of Thika: Memories of an African Childhood

by Elspeth Huxley, 288 pages

The author describes her early life on a Kenyan coffee farm with her parents in the years leading up to the first World War.

I watched the mini-series adaptation of this autobiography on Masterpiece Theatre when I was little and always meant to go back and read the book.  It's a fascinating look at the political, economic, and social issues of the period, especially as they pertain to race, as well as the physical and emotional struggles of starting a coffee farm from scratch in a world far-removed from one's own.  Huxley--who was just five at the time her adventurous but ill-prepared family moved to Thika in 1912--presents her story with a surprisingly non-judgmental perspective, observing without interpreting the actions and events she witnesses, acknowledging the faults of her contemporaries while focusing on the smaller-scale challenges, sorrows, and joys of day-to-day life in a land she has clearly grown to love (building a house, growing coffee, avoiding dangerous ants, hunting cheetahs, rescuing injured animals, negotiating with employees and neighbors of diverse backgrounds, and navigating the often-tumultuous currents of local, state, and world politics), resulting in a tale that has become a melding of cultural anthropology and personal history.

The Voyeurs

by Gabrielle Bell, 156 pages

This is an autobiographical look into the life of a comics artist living in New York, attending conventions, hanging out with colleagues and family and friends and boyfriends and exes in apartments and hotel rooms and the French countryside, always with a journal in tow and a natural, obsessive observer's unsparing awareness and insecure examination.

Bell comes off as both surprisingly honest and curiously circumspect about her personal and professional life and relationships.  She's not exactly humble, but neither does she seem especially arrogant in her self-absorption.  She just is what she is.  Since this appears to be drawn from her journals, names of friends and colleagues are dropped as though the reader should know who they are; but not being particularly familiar with the indie scene in comics or film, I felt a little out of the loop.  Nevertheless, this is an interesting peek into the everyday existence of an artistic mind driven to look at everything going on around her, record it, and create something out of it.

Until Death Do Us Part: Volume 2

by Hiroshi Takashige (story) and DOUBLE-S (art), 436 pages

As the police try to piece together recent events and solve a kidnapping, Mamoru and the gang work to resolve things their own way.  And if that happens to involve knowingly walking into multiple traps in order take down the enemy, then so be it.

Genda, part of the police team investigating Haruka's kidnapping, seems to have some previous knowledge of Mamoru, making the reader curious about the blind swordsman's past and the two's history.  Between the bad guys who want Haruka and the bad guys who want the biochip and the bad guys who just want to make piles of money while taking out as much of the competition as possible (and backstabbing their own in the process), remembering who's scheming with whom and who's up to what can be a challenge.  Having multiple groups of maybe-good guys, like the cops and "The Wall" and, of course, Mamoru, just adds to that.  But I'll still read the next one when it comes out.  It's fun enough sci-fi-tinged action with gangsters and corporate conspiracies and international evil-doers pursued by differing interpretations of justice to keep me around for now.

Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths

by Shigeru Mizuki, 372 pages

On a Pacific island in the waning days of World War II, a unit in the Japanese army is ordered on an unnecessary suicide mission by their honor-obsessed commanding officer.  When some of them have the nerve to make it out alive, face-saving HQ declares they must finish what their superior set in motion.

According to the author, only 10% of this Eisner award-winning fictionalized memoir is actual fiction.  And that's a sad comment on the culture of war, whether there and then or here and now.  Having himself experienced the horrors of a suicide mission, Mizuki emerged from the war with only one arm and a lot of anger toward what he describes as the "too Japanese" culture of the time, when national honor trumped all and relegated citizens and soldiers both to the status of insects in the minds of those with power.  This moving tale of a doomed unit, first published in Japan in the seventies, is his heartfelt protest, and it's a shame it's taken it this long to come out in English.  The cartoonish figures seem harmless, vulnerable, and out of their depth against their sometimes photo-realistic surroundings of jungle, tanks, bombers, and flying bullets.  After watching them goof off around camp, tell morale-boosting jokes and stories about home as they try to get by in an unfamiliar environment, and attempt again and again to pull vengeful yet amusing pranks on their less-beloved commanders, the reader finds their fates all the more incomprehensible and the author's anger all the more understandable.

Nabari no Ou: Volume 10

by Yuhki Kamatani, 207 pages

The Grey Wolves are still after Miharu, but he and Yoite aren't alone anymore.  And they never will be again.  Driven to the edge, Miharu finally gives in and uses the Shinra Banshou.  But what exactly is it he wishes for?

Pardon me while I go cry.

*watches her holds list for the next volume, tissues in hand*

Nabari no Ou: Volume 9

by Yuhki Kamatani, 209 pages

Miharu and Yoite burn their bridges with the head of the Grey Wolves and set out on their own.  Meanwhile, Yukimi--Yoite's guardian since he joined the Grey Wolves--goes looking for his quickly-fading charge's past.  When orders go out to retrieve Miharu and dispose of the now obsolete Yoite, Yukimi and the others must decide which is stronger--their allegiance to their leader, or their connection to a dying young assassin.

Everybody's finally letting their true selves out of their tightly corked little bottles and the result is an emotional rollercoaster for the reader.  Kamatani has done such a wonderful job of slowly building relationships and deepening bonds.  It's a pleasure to watch her characters gradually realize just how much they all care about each other, too.

Nabari no Ou: Volume 8

by Yuhki Kamatani, 192 pages

Little by little, Yoite has been losing his senses as his body shuts down, but he's also been losing the wall that holds in all the emotions he's been hiding--even from himself.  And Miharu's not the only one who notices, nor is he the only one who cares.

Clearly, Yoite doesn't understand the full scope of his influence on the lives of those around him.  But all those worried glances in his direction aren't about what terrible thing he might be planning to do to the world at large--they're about  what he might be planning to do himself.  And the more he unconsciously reveals to Miharu, the more the latter questions his promise to make it all go away--and the more the reader wants him to question it.  So good.

Nabari no Ou: Volume 7

by Yuhki Kamatani, 205 pages

As the situation at Alya Academy deteriorates, the Banten and Grey Wolves find themselves fighting side-by-side with one another--and even with a good many of their former Kouga attackers--to stay alive.  In the process, already-weakened Yoite is grievously wounded, igniting Miharu's protective instincts and stirring the power of the Shinra Banshou that lies within him.  Meanwhile, both groups discover that the Kouga's sought-after Daya may not be the panacea they had hoped.

Blank-faced Miharu and Yoite have both been subtly growing more expressive, but this volume just jabs the reader right in the heart with desperate Yoite's frightened tears.  Gah!  No wonder Miharu's trigger flips.  Nobody even knows what the Shinra Banshou really does (well, maybe nobody but Kumohira-sensei, who's quick to tackle Miharu before he goes completely off the deep end), but you can't help but want to see it let loose if it will ease Yoite's pain.  If it's for Yoite, you trust Miharu's judgment even as you fear the unknown consequences.  There's a handful of emotional ups and downs and surprises this time around, but that one scene alone makes this volume well worth the read.

Nabari no Ou: Volume 6

by Yuhki Kamatani, 177 pages

In order to help fulfill his promise to Yoite, Miharu has defected to the Grey Wolves, pretending their charismatic leader's philosophy has swayed his allegiance.  His first assignment is to accompany Yukimi, Raikou, and Yoite to negotiations at an academy run by the Kouga ninja in order to obtain that clan's secret art scroll, Daya.  But when they arrive (after unpracticed Raikou drives Yukimi's tiny car into a lake), they find they're not the only ones to receive an invite, as a very surprised Kumohira-sensei and the Banten gang are there, too, and with a similar agenda.  When nightfall brings out the school's youthful assassins, both parties get caught up in the chaos of messy internal Kouga politics and have to focus on surviving the night before worrying about getting their hands on Daya.

Yoite thinks Miharu's only helping him to save his Banten friends, but that original threat seems to have less and less bearing on the pair's cooperation and attachment to one another.  And it's that quiet character development that really latches onto the reader and holds her attention, even when the details of the present conflict are anything but clear.

Locke & Key: Volume 5: Clockworks

by Joe Hill (story) and Gabriel Rodriguez (art), 159 pages

Discovery of yet another key lets Tyler and Kinsey (and the reader) at last see the origins of the keys and some of the history of the house and the family, but will it be enough to help them--especially when the enemy is so much closer than they realize?

Ah ha!  So that's how the jar got in the wall and the soul got in the well house.  Also, ack!  The Omega key isn't as safe as it once was and now I think things are going to get very hairy very quickly.  This supernatural horror series succeeds at sucking the reader in and holding her anxious attention.  I want the next (last?!) book!

Pandora Hearts: Volume 11

by Jun Mochizuki, 1779 pages

The gang have little time to recuperate from their experiences in the ruins of Sablier before diving back into trying to get all the facts and wrest control of the situation from the Baskervilles and their agents.  But despite their apparent progress, they may still be losing ground to the forces of the enemy, as another terror from the past once again raises its head...and relieves others of theirs....

Ooh, scary!  As funny as the story and characters can be (and they do make me laugh), they can also be incredibly dark.  The Headhunter is just one example of that, and Vincent--with his attractive, smiling exterior contrasting so sharply with his violent internal observations--is another.  I like.

The Earl and the Fairy: Volume 3

by Ayuko (story and art) and Mizue Tani (original concept), 178 pages

Lydia is frustrated that her new employer, Edgar, seems more interested in showing her off at high society gatherings than in actually making use of her skills as a fairy doctor.  But when he brings her the case of a missing young noblewoman, Lydia finds the mystery may be entangled with Edgar's own dark past and fears his present involvement may be less about solving a crime than revenging one.

So far, this series is shaping up to be a nice blend of history and supernatural mystery.  There's still a lot the reader (and Lydia) doesn't know about Edgar's past and his present purposes, but just enough is revealed in the snippets we do get to keep us digging for more, piecing together what we have along the way.

It Was the War of the Trenches

by Jacques Tardi, 118 pages

From the muddy, labyrinthine trenches to the corpse-ridden No-Man's Land to the soulless tyranny of military bureaucracy, the horrors of war are glimpsed here in graphic vignettes inspired by stories the author gleaned over the years from the memories of his traumatized grandfather.

Everybody knows World War I's trench warfare was a horrible, protracted, generation-erasing stalemate, but these little details of just how hellish it was from the perspective of the helpless pawns being sacrificed for its sake offer a painful but important lesson in the folly and fragility of humanity.  The angry reader can only hope we never go there again, but given our propensity to ignore history and repeat it, the chances of that seem sadly remote.

It Was the War of the Trenches earned two Eisners and a Harvey award in 2011.

Until Death Do Us Part: Volume 1

by Hiroshi Takashige (story) and DOUBLE-S (art), 452 pages

Young Haruka Tooyama can predict aspects of her own future and of those closest to her, so when guys with guns kill her parents and kidnap her, hoping to profit from her skills, she knows which stranger in the crowd to run to for help.  A blind man may seem an unlikely choice for a body guard, but Mamoru Hijikata quickly proves the accuracy of her predictions as he draws a sword from his cane and handily dispatches her pursuers.  But those behind the attempt are still looking for her and now they've got their sights set on Mamoru, too.  He and his cohorts--as, of course, he has his secrets, too--wonder if spontaneously vowing to protect such a danger-draw was a good idea, but what's done is done and Mamoru brings Haruka into the fold.  After all, her powers of prediction may prove useful to their cause, as well.

The sci-fi elements here can be a little cheezy, as can the story, but I'm still enjoying this one, anyway.  The art is pleasant (though one review I read rightly noted that Haruka only has about two facial expressions), the characters are interesting, and the idea of international terrorism vs. high-tech vigilantism mixed with a little precognition is entertaining (it makes me think of the A-Team, only most of these guys take themselves way more seriously--happily, not so much so as to dampen the fun, though).  Also, I'm a great big geek and am tickled that Mamoru shares his family name with a famous sword-wielding officer of the law from history (Shinsengumi references make me squee!).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"Every You, Every Me" by David Levithan

245 pages

Evan is having a bad year. His best friend Ariel is gone. He can't sleep, tortured by guilt over his role in her disappearance. Then, to make matters worse, he starts finding black-and-white photographs in bizarre places. Photographs of himself. As he finds more and more images, he realizes that someone is stalking him. Someone knows what happened between him and April, and they are determined to make him pay for it. But who? As he tries to solve the mystery, Evan becomes more and more paranoid and his own sense of reality begins to unravel. 

I really got into this book as I was reading. I like the way that the actual images Evan finds are included in the text, as it made what was happening seem even more creepy and disturbing. The suspense builds well, as it's not clear how much is real and how much is Evan's paranoia. As much as I got sucked into the story and had trouble putting it down , I was ultimately disappointed with the ending. It felt rushed and unlikely to me. There aren't any particular holes in the conclusion other than some of the characters' behavior simply not making sense, but it bothers me when I don't understand characters' motivation. I felt that Every You, Every Me was worth reading due to the enjoyment I got from the first 75%, but I walked away with a bad feeling about it.