Saturday, June 30, 2012

Arata, The Legend: Volume 9

by Yuu Watase, 192 pages

Hinohara's infiltration of sho Kugura's territory gets complicated due to a too-successful disguise, and then things get much worse with the arrival of Kadowaki, who's set on making Kuguru submit to him.

I like the Hinohara storyline just fine (minus the hokey bits, which are admittedly many), but I seriously want to know what's going on in the normal world with Arata and Oribe and scary Harunawa.  All we get here is a little portal-side chat between Arata and mopey Kotoha, who's trying to let go her crush on him.  Is there just nothing happening over there?  *sigh*  And now we're going to have Mikusa, a warrior woman who lives as a man for clan security reasons, starting to look at Hinohara as her destined partner.  The romantic melodrama just makes both her and Kotoha look a little foolish (in Kotoha's case, make that a lot).

Blue Exorcist: Volume 7

by Kazue Kato, 187 pages

Rin's temper flare-up gets him the worst possible response from the execution order.  But is Mephisto, the bearer of the bad news, actually telling Shura and the kids to break Rin out?  If they're going to help Suguro's dad and stop a deadly epidemic, they'll have to do it fast.

Woo hoo, sneaky Mephisto.  And we get to see Father Fujimoto's heart get a little nudge in the right direction in the previous volume's continued flashback.  Bonds are strengthened and desperate measures taken as the younger generation pools its resources and prepares to fight evil.  (That's what I like to see!)  But now I'm worried for Rin's level-headed brother Yukio....

Blue Exorcist: Volume 6

by Kazue Kato, 201 pages

Because he'd like to stay alive, Rin's on his best behavior as his classmates and fellow exorcists try to sniff out a rat in their midst before it's too late.  Some of his friends are even starting to talk to him again, but when an angry Suguro yells at his father, Rin's memories of his own hurtful last words to his adoptive parent Father Fujimoto snap his control over his temper.  His fiery remonstration of Suguro might do the other boy some good, but it also sets off alarms back at the zero-tolerance Vatican...

Flashbacks via a letter from Suguro's father to Rin begin to give us a little background on the old man's true motives and his fateful encounter with Father Fujimoto.  And it's nice to see the family environment the other boys grew up in, as it adds a little more depth to their characters and the setting.  Ah, siblings.  So much fun (to annoy).

Blue Exorcist: Volume 5

by Kazue Kato, 195 pages

When a dangerous artifact is stolen by a traitor in the ranks, the exorcists travel to the location of the artifact's equally dangerous partner, which happens to be under the protection of the home temple of Rin's classmate Suguro.  Tensions among the students are already high, as the others appear to have shut Rin out, but he does his best to be useful now that his secret's out and hopes they'll eventually accept him.  Clan conflicts within the temple family don't help matters, nor does the fact that Suguro's extra tense due to his rocky relationship with his aging father (whom he sees as irresponsible for having given up leadership of the temple years ago).

This series has definitely improved its pacing and transitions since the first volume.  It's also starting to diverge from the anime, which appears to have split off with its own ending after its schedule surpassed the available book volumes.  And that's fine with me, as I'm enjoying having no preconceived notions of what's coming next.

Switch: Volume 13

by Naked Ape (Saki Otoh and Nakamura Tomomi), 193 pages

Kai's partner Hal learns that his long-missing and presumed-dead father is still alive...and working for a splintering drug gang?  As betrayal from within once again threatens members of the team, the guys have to think fast and keep their focus if they want to survive, stay sane, and stop an all-out drug war.

Kai and Hal's fathers' revealed past leads into the final showdown in the present in this last volume of the series.  Kai's got some psychological issues to work out, as, in his own way, does Hal, but the two of them have relied on each other for backup and friendship before (even if neither of them remembers at the moment).  Despite all the unlikely melodrama the authors put them through, I'm glad I read their story and wish them many successful busts in the future.  But my eyes are soooo glad I don't have to read another volume....

Switch: Volume 12

by Naked Ape (Saki Otoh and Nakamura Tomomi), 174 pages

Narita, an investigator in the Special Anti-Organized Crime Unit, recalls his days as a rookie 16 years ago and his first encounter with Kai, then just a child still reeling from the trauma of witnessing his parents' murder.  How do Narita's dead partner's betrayal, now-rookie Kai's father's investigations, and Kai's missing memories of that time link to the current upheaval in the world of illegal drugs?

The art in this series is its biggest drawback, but if you can put up with it and make out the most important bits, the plot's pleasantly knotty and interesting.

Kamisama Kiss: Volume 3

by Julietta Suzuki, 197 pages

Nanami inadvertently gets symbolically engaged to another shrine's shinshi, so an exasperated Tomoe has to keep an extra eye on her at school to make sure the other shinshi doesn't try to collect on the deal.  But she's an unintentional handful, that Nanami, and steps out for a just moment to run an errand while her bored bodyguard's napping....

Hee hee!  This series is mostly light but with some nice touches of melancholy and a very few dark elements to give it some depth.  This volume has a little of everything, too.  For seriousness, there's the other shinshi's situation and Nanami's brief glimpse of a very different Tomoe back in his wild fox days.  For fun, there's Tomoe going to school looking like Nanami (who's home with a fever) and dealing with his tengu / celebrity-idol rival for her affections.  It was recently announced that this series is being adapted into an anime in Japan, so I'm hoping it gets streamed or released here so I can giggle through it as I have through the books.  :)

"The Art of Fielding" by Chad Harbach

528 pages

At tiny Westish College, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for major league greatness. He’s not the biggest or most athletic, but he has something special…a gift that is hard to put into words but is evident whenever he steps on the field. But then, as Henry is closing in on the record for consecutive games without an error, a routine throw goes disastrously off course. In that one moment, the fates of five people are changed forever.

I loved this book. The Art of Fielding is something special—a literary sports novel that captures the beauty of baseball and has a lot more to it as well. The characters feel so real that as I was reading I often forgot that they aren’t. I liked the way that their lives intertwine and how all of their choices and actions affect each other. The writing style fits the story perfectly, creating an almost nostalgic feel even though it takes place in the present. The baseball scenes are captivating and portray the mystical atmosphere of the sport. There are some surprises at the end and things are wrapped up rather nicely.  This is one that I recommend for all baseball fans…and everyone else.

Gate 7: Volume 2

by CLAMP, 182 pages

Chikahito's barely in his new home of Kyoto for a day before he's swept up into his new roomies' mysterious, magical business.

For more details, please see my full review at!

Pandora Hearts: Volume 10

by Jun Mochizuki, 180 pages

Oz and the others are separated from one another within the mind-affecting ruins of Sablier where it's hard to tell what's real and what's illusion.  Elsewhere, a solitary Vincent recalls his past and the role he played in the original tragedy.

Vincent and Gilbert's troubled relationship is given some context here and the result is a surprising amount of sympathy for both of them.  Even Glen Baskerville shows an echo of humanity in the midst of his coldly plotting catastrophic destruction.  Grief can turn people into monsters.  So yet again, the assignment of "true villain" shifts.  A major reveal also sheds some light on the past, the means of its unfolding, and the purposes of those trying to replicate it in the present.  We can only hope the others put together the pieces and figure out a way to stop it soon.

Ouran High School Host Club: Volume 18

by Bisco Hatori, 224 pages

Tamaki and Haruhi have finally confessed their love to each other, but they have yet to actually go on a date.  Haruhi's got something important to tell Tamaki, but he's been so busy lately, she's barely seen him outside of the host club.  Tamaki being obsessive Tamaki, though, there's a perfectly logical reason: he's majorly stressing over planning the perfect first date.  When they realize his problem, his dependable friends in the host club come to his rescue and promise to help him make it a most special and happy occasion (which naturally will involve a lot of covering for wacky Tamaki's wrong turns and excesses).

*waaaaaaaaaaaaaah*  This is the last volume!  I'm sad to leave these ridiculous kids, they make me laugh so.  But I will enjoy thinking of them as "adults" who've stuck together and gotten older and wiser and no less ridiculous.  And since Hatori kindly gives us little panels throughout with her scribbled thoughts on their futures as well as two little side stories of the months ahead, I've got plenty of fuel for imagined future shenanigans.  If they caused this much trouble as privileged teens with their own host club, think of the impact they're going to have on the world once they've got fulltime jobs with influence and have come into their trust funds....  :P  *squee*


by Alan Moore (story), Dave Gibbons (art), and John Higgins (color), 407 pages

Costumed adventurers (except those working for the feds) have been outlawed since the Keene Act in 1977.  But Rorschach never came in from the cold.  And now that a middle-aged sellout, one of his former colleagues--never exactly a friend, the Comedian, though they may have seen the world similarly--has been murdered, Rorschach takes it upon himself to investigate, suspecting a mask-killing conspiracy is at work.  But the more this lost soul digs, the bigger and more unbelievable the truth is revealed to be.

How to sum up this classic graphic tale?  It's dark (really dark), twisted, clever, violent, thought-provoking, and a turning-point in comics history.  Moore, Gibbons, and Higgins create an alternate history in which masked vigilantes were for a time a part of everyday life in America.  They also pull back the curtain and show the reader how sadly mundane and dysfunctional that nostalgically idealized era was and how those behind the masks have variously dealt with the changes in their circumstances over the years.  Not exactly "heroes," most of them.  Sunshine and bunnies this is not, though there are a few surprisingly good zingers.  The reader is challenged to feel for these imperfect people and to consider the weight of their responsibilities and the consequences of their decisions.  Do you agree with their choices?  Can you blame them for making them?  While I was getting ready for my book discussion on this title, I realized just how dense and complex a story it really is.  The artwork is riddled with motifs and symbolism.  The meticulously plotted story falls into place through multiple storylines and timeframes, flashbacks and meta-fiction, snippets of files and articles and tell-all autobiographies.  It's a bit insane, really.  And I think it's rather brilliant.

Black Bird: Volume 12

by Kanoko Sakurakoji, 192 pages

Sho goes after Kyo by going after members of his close-knit personal guard, the daitengu.  But he doesn't take into account that even the weakest links in a very strong chain are still tough to break.

I like that Kyo and Misao's relationship is pretty solid now.  Getting married has in no way derailed or deflated the story.  Actually, resolving the angsty romantic melodrama has only made their relationship and the broader story of clan bonds and tensions that much better.  I still think Misao's a wimpy thing, but she's getting tougher incrementally, which is an improvement.  She cries and worries about it every time, but at least she moves and is able to make the occasional independent decision now.

Kimi ni Todoke: Volume 14

by Karuho Shiina, 170 pages

The class trip to Okinawa is well underway and the kiddos take in the sites and snacks and enjoy the warm weather.  They also take in a lot of time with each other.  Everybody splits off during free time: Sawako and Kazehaya take a little craft class together, Ayane pushes the curfew envelope with her new boyfriend, and Chizu and Ryu run around with nonstop-talking Joe.  (And their loud, wise, man-child teacher Pin predictably chases after the hot tour guide.)  But under the surface, dynamics are changing.

Aw, poor Ayane!  She sees love, requited and otherwise, all around her and wants to know what it feels like, too.  She just doesn't see the potential in the shoulder she's crying on.  What's Chizu going to do with her new knowledge?  Personally, I'd like to see deadpan Ryu lose his cool just a little, but it's fun watching his perpetual calm make shout-first-think-later Chizu crazy.  And I get so happy and anxious watching Sawako and Kazehaya go from nervously cozy with one another to ridiculously self-consciously awkward.  Hee!  and D'oh!  Don't stress, kiddos, you'll figure it all out eventually.  :)  So good, so good.

Library Wars: Love & War: Volume 7

by Kiiro Yumi (story and art) and Hiro Arikawa (original concept), 188 pages

An investigation into the illicit burning of library books pulls in Ikku and isolates her from her colleagues--but not everyone turns their backs on her when she needs them.  At the same time, fellow force member Tezuka is troubled by family problems.  He takes his concerns to their trusted commanding officers: could his older brother be the one targeting Ikku and the rest of the force?

It makes me crazy that Ikku's so blind to Dojo's history with her and his present feelings.  And the fact that he just lets her bumble on without clearing things up only annoys me all the more.  But maybe this new intrigue with Tezuka's idealistically-opposed sibling and his shady inside connections will distract me from the dumb lovebirds.  It'd be nice to get back into a serious library-related plot thread, anyway, so I rather look forward to seeing how the freedom-fighting gang will face off with nefariousness in the war of ideas.

The Drops of God: Volume 1

by Tadashi Agi (story) and Shu Okimoto (art), 424 pages

Ever since he was a child, Shizuku's famous wine-critic father Kanzaki drilled him in the ways of wine.  And in protest, the young man has never actually imbibed a drop of the stuff, going instead into sales (of beer, no less!).  But when Kanzaki unexpectedly dies, Shizuku finds that he's still not off the hook.  At the reading of the will, it is revealed that his father has left him with one final test.  If Shizuku wants to claim his inheritance (chiefly his father's huge, priceless wine collection), he must first find the thirteen unnamed wines described in great poetic detail in the will.  He also learns that his father formally adopted another young man shortly before his death.  A young man who happens to be a very ambitious and talented up-and-coming wine critic.  And a young man to whom Shizuku will lose everything if he doesn't beat him to the finish line.

Huh.  This is quite fun, actually.  If you like Oishinbo (a crazily-informative, long-running manga about Japanese food and beverage that also has a plot of sorts and leaves you hankering for real sushi or noodles or sake), you will enjoy this series.  It makes you want to visit the Big Brown Derby (that's the International Wine Center, for those of you with more class than I  *hee*) and stare at the pretty bottles, speculating about the romantic stories behind their tasty contents.  Shizuku's brain has been hard-wired for wine comprehension by his clever father, but he couldn't care less about the stuff (or the inheritance, though having to fight a stranger for it does hurt his pride a bit)...until he finally takes a sip of a truly good wine and learns its story.  Now he has to find them all--more for himself and his understanding of his father than for the material wealth in question.  And how will the search affect his cold-hearted competition?  I wonder if his daddy didn't do them both a favor by throwing them at each other's throats like that....  I look forward to more!  (And I wish I had an "in" with a sommelier who'd give me free samples...lucky Shizuku....  *sigh*)

Library Wars: Love & War: Volume 6

by Kiiro Yumi (story and art) and Hiro Arikawa (original concept), 188 pages

Ikku gets confused over whether or not to give Dojo chocolates on Valentine's Day and her roommate Shibuzaki struggles with the idea of letting herself be herself and accept the affection of those who care about her.  Meanwhile, the library has to figure out its stance on a censorship issue regarding an article about a minor convicted of a terrible crime.

Ikku is such a doofus.  She's earnest and strong and can shoot a gun with alarming accuracy, but she's also a bit of a klutz and a clown--most often when Dojo's around.  I like her, but she's also kind of annoying in her denseness regarding certain topics--namely, the aforementioned Dojo.  Sheesh.

Midnight in Austenland

by Shannon Hale, 272 pages

Anyone with enough Jane Austen love in their souls and money in their accounts can sign up for a period-immersion retreat at Pembrook Park, a carefully maintained estate in the English countryside where actors and visitors in period costume slip into character and mingle for picnics among the local abbey ruins, parlor games, and romantic balls.  But when divorced mother of two Charlotte Kinder (or, rather, tragically widowed Charlotte Charming at the moment) accidentally stumbles on what may or may not be a real dead body in a secret room during a game of find-the-murderer, she wonders if her imagination is getting the better of her.

As much as I enjoyed the author's first foray into this premise in Austenland, I liked this more complex follow-up even better.  Where the first book is more strictly a smart, fluffy romance that plays off of Pride & Prejudice, this one combines elements of several Austen favorites at the same time, most notably Northanger Abbey.  The lead is more mature (in years, responsibilities, and wisdom) and the story is, as well, as it combines mystery and personal growth along with the romance.  Unpredictable, intelligent, and fun.  I hope she keeps writing!

Black Bird: Volume 11

by Kanoko Sakurakoji, 190 pages

Sho's attendant Kaede helps him foment discord in the clan by encouraging villagers to ask for (or try to forcefully take) Misao's healing blood.  To shake things up even more, Sho offers to undo the block he put on Misao's memories ten years ago.  Could the truth change her relationship with Kyo?

I like the fact that Sho's not exactly voluntarily the villain anymore (he was quite content to stay dead after saving Misao's life a few volumes back, but one of his followers decided they still needed him).  But now that he's back, he feels he has no other purpose, even if his heart's not in it.  That Kaede, on the other hand, is an unpleasant, jealous young woman lacking in the empathy department.

Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei: Volume 2

by Koji Kumeta, 169 pages

In this second volume following the antics of a suicidal teacher and his class of head-cases, we meet yet another student, a creator of dojinshis (self-published zines and comics); but she doesn't write the kind of lofty essays Zetsubou-sensei remembers from his youth.  An impersonator of Admiral Perry, famous for "opening" Japan to the West in the 19th century, drops by--only this guy has taken the concept of "opening" to extremes.  Also, in his world-weariness, sensei often takes the chance (between attempts to throw himself from the window) to be a wet blanket and dispense (questionably sound) advice to the younger generation.  This time around, they discuss such topics as overshadowed things (like second-place athletes, siblings of celebrities, etc.), criticism training, and the benefits of instability.

So very silly and morbid.  Just don't read it when you're tired, as all that dense, rapid-fire text and flipping back-and-forth to the end-notes to interpret it requires more brain cells than I usually have at my disposal after, say, 8:00 in the evening.  If you're awake enough, however, and in a perverse, cynical mood, it's a hoot.

Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei: Volume 1

by Koji Kumeta, 176 pages

Serial optimist Kafuka is surprised when she bumps into her new school teacher, Nozumu Itoshiki, hanging by the neck from the bough of a lovely blossoming cherry tree.  As he'd been dangling there quite voluntarily, he's only more depressed when she "helps" him down (nearly killing him in the process).  Her cheerful declaration that he was just trying to make himself taller only adds to his frustration.  Resigned to finding an opportunity to kill himself later, he follows her to class and begins to meet the rest of his misfit students.  One's a love-obsessed stalker, another's a refugee, another can only communicate via rude text messages.  Split personalities, OCD, and even the dreaded curse of ordinariness--everybody has issues.  So their suicidal downer of a new teacher fits right in.

Such a weird little series, this.  Brimming with pop culture references (thank you, end notes!) and stupidly funny graveyard humor, it sports simplified, highly stylized line art with lots of solid black-white contrast, a minimum of screentone, and some nice little details (I love sensei's kimonos).  Making a play on his written name, the kids start referring to him as Zetsubou-sensei  (Mr. Despair).  And then he turns a questionnaire about their future aspirations into one about their future failures.  And it's all downhill from there.  :)

Blade of the Immortal: Volume 22: Footsteps

by Hiroaki Samura, 222 pages

A case of mistaken identity results in now one-armed Manji moving in with Rin and Sori-sensei while disgraced yet still deadly Kagimura's hand is forced by his wily replacement.  At the same time, what's left of the Ittô-Ryû regroups and Anotsu bargains with the authorities (though perhaps not on the terms they'd planned).

Ha!  Poor Manji can't catch a break and Rin's still so worried about him that she won't even let him feed himself.  Their amusing little moments (and those of Sori-sensei's odd-couple new art students) are a needed break after all the tension of the previous volumes, but Samura doesn't let the reader drop her guard too long.  Clearly, there's some sneakery afoot on any number of fronts.  And then there's the cockroach.  Samura didn't have to remind me about him.  Though I guess knowing where he is at any given time is better than letting my imagination fill in the blanks.  Or maybe not...?

Ohikkoshi: Takiteasy Comics Complete Works

by Hiroaki Samura, 246 pages

In the main story, "Ohikkoshi," a group of oddball college friends navigate the bumpy road of attachments with music, drinking parties, and silly, sweet awkwardness.  Tono's long been in love with Akagi, whose boyfriend has recently gone to volunteer overseas.  Will this be Tono's chance?  Will fiery little Kobarukawa ever admit that she's been in love with him for years?  Unrequited love and laughs make the rounds.

In "Luncheon of Tears Diary," a young struggling manga-ka's life takes a (more) surreal turn when she follows her masked editor's advice and changes the direction of her story--and gets dropped from the magazine.  As she goes about remaking herself again and again to pay the bills, the lines between fact and fiction get crazily, hilariously, darkly blurred.

The subtitle of this volume is a very silly pun / pseudonym for creator Samura (best known for the dark historical action series Blade of the Immortal), who pretends to hide behind the not very likely name "Takei Teashi" (sounds like "Take it easy"?  *pft*).

One of the goofy ads included for the first story lists the characters with these dramatic descriptions: "In a romantic comedy, the lead must (of course) be a virgin." "The hero's longed-for, nicotine-breathed woman with moles." "The mole woman's former roommate, the puny blonde." "The puny blonde's boyfriend." "The foreigner."  This is probably the safest Samura tale I've ever read.  The humor's silly and mostly harmless, even when there are guns and stalkers involved.  And most everybody's happy and / or well-adjusted at the end (with the exception of the ill-fated foreigner *snort*).  Woo hoo!

The second tale includes a little more of Samura's usual darkness, although it's still pretty funny.  It's just that the guns and other violence are a little more effective (yeek!).  Lose your job as a creator of serial comics?  But of course, you could wind up playing killer mahjong in smoky rooms and going after those who owe you money without mercy.  And that's just one of the many progressively darker possibilities.  Ha ha!  This one's a bit of a shocker, but I still enjoyed it.

Three Men in a Boat

by Jerome K. Jerome (original novel), Nidhi Verma (adaptation), K.L. Jones (art), Prince Varghese, Vikash Gurung, and Debu Payen (color), Bhavnath Chaudhary (letters), (Amit Tayal (cover art), Pradeep Serawat (cover color), 71 pages

Three bored Englishmen and one fox terrier go for an eventful float along the Thames in this rather awkward graphic adaptation of Jerome K. Jerome's comedy classic.

For more details, please see my full review at!

Batgirl: Year One

by Scott Beatty, Chuck Dixon, and Marcos Martin Illustrated by Alvaro Lopez       224 p.

                     I never read comic books, but when I learned there was a librarian superhero I was intrigued and happened to find it on our branch's shelves. It was Batgirl's origin story I think. There was not much mention of anything library related. I had hoped she might use her reference skills to help solve crime more. It was alright and the illustrations were good.

Book of Madness and Cures

by Regina O'Melveny, 320 pages

A "road" novel set in 16th century Europe, Madness follows Gabriella Mondini as she travels across countries in search of her physician father. He left the family some years ago to complete research for his book of "madness and cures." Gabriella is also trained as a physician and worked on the book with her father. When he disappears into the north, she goes to look for him with her two loyal servants. They travel from Venice all the way to Scotland, and then back south to Morocco. Gabriella has to hide her profession most of the time, and the fact that she's a woman as well. While the descriptions are lovely, the action and character motivations are chopped and muddy. When a certain body turns up, I was sure there was another mystery to solve, but nothing ever came of it. Much of the action in the story seems pointless and sad.

In ways it reminded me of Ariana Franklin's Adelia Aguilar series (Mistress of the Art of Death) because the main character is also a woman physician who must hide her profession. Yet there is a warmth and sense of humor in Franklin's books that Madness lacks. I think the cover sucked me in  because it's so obviously based on Leonardo DaVinci's portraits.

Summer Knight: Book 4 of the Dresden Files

by Jim Butcher, 371 pages

Harry Dresden can't catch a break. He's broke, bereft and under surveillance by the White Council. While he searches for a cure for vampirism, he loses himself in the pursuit. One of his werewolf friends drags him out of his pit, and soon Butcher finds himself in a murder mystery. A murder that could bring the Fey Courts of Summer and Winter to a catastrophic war. When Harry tries to alert the White Council to the danger, no one listens to him, of course. So it's up to Harry and his few allies to solve the case and stop Fairy-geddon from happening.

What I like about the Dresden books is Harry's sarcastic and self-deprecating narration. They are steeped in geek references, yet the plot and action flows seamlessly along. One of these days Harry is probably going to get himself killed, but I think he will somehow manage to cheat death itself. Another Chicago setting too. Interesting.

Dust Girl: The American Fairy Trilogy Book 1

by Sarah Zettel, 304 pages

This is another teen fantasy, but it has enough differences to set it apart from an increasingly large pack. The narrator's voice is so vivid you instantly perceive her as a strong character, and the setting is the American Dust Bowl of the 1930's.

Callie is in a small town in Kansas which is being buried by the huge dust storms rolling across the prairie. When the doctor packs up and leaves, Callie and her distracted mother are left alone in a big empty hotel which has seen far better days. The dust pneumonia is killing Callie, but her mother won't leave town in case the girl's father comes back for them. Callie knows her mother is deluded, and they argue. The biggest dust storm ever blows into town, and Callie's mother disappears. In her place an enigmatic Indian appears, and he seems to know about Callie's past. She learns that she is part Fey, and has special powers which she has yet to figure out. A hobo boy named Jack arrives, and soon she and Jack are bound for "the golden hills" of California.

On their journey they meet malignant spirits and some helpful ones too. Nothing is as it appears, and Callie has to learn to use her powers of special sight to save herself and Jack several times. The book ends on a hopeful note, but you know there is much more to come. The thing I liked best about the book was the authentic backdrop of the Dust Bowl. I could tell the author had read The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan, which won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 2006. All in all, an interesting twist on the changeling theme.

Oh My Stars!

by Lorna Landvik, 389 pages

Since this was our book discussion title, I listened to it on audio. It has been several years since I had read anything of Landvik's, but this was an interesting read. The setting is something of a departure for her, since it is mainly set in the South and Midwest of the 30s. 

It's a coming of age story of a young woman named Violet Mathers. She has been abandoned by her mother, beaten by her father, ridiculed by her classmates and maimed by a machine at her job at a thread factory. This last event pushes her over the edge, and she decides to take the bus to San Francisco. When she gets there, she intends to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. Fate has something else in mind for her. The bus crashes on a rain soaked night in the middle of North Dakota, and Violet meets two young musicians who will change her life.

The story of Violet, Kjel and August follows a wandering path of successes and hardships, racism and tolerance, laughter and tears. So it does read like a Lorna Landvik book. I enjoyed meeting the characters and sharing their journey, for they are people worth knowing.

Cate K


by Veronica Roth, 525 pages, Sequel to Divergent

While this is a very long book, you are drawn into the story right away. The action is almost non-stop, so you don't have much of the characters sitting around and discussing their predicament. They are always on the move and facing danger.

You definitely need to read Divergent first, or none of this will make sense. I can't give plot details away because there would be too many spoilers. Tris, Tobias and others from the Dauntless faction are being hunted down by the Erudite faction. 

<Mini Spoiler: skip the rest>

Time is running out for the free Dauntless and other factions, because the Erudite might gain access to a simulation which will affect everyone, including Divergents. And trust me, this would definitely be a bad thing. Its fast pace, a ruined futuristic Chicago and intriguing characters make this a book worth reading for all ages, not just teens. How soon before the next one comes out?

Supervolcano: Eruption

by Harry Turtledove, 420 pages

I am something of a geology and natural disaster buff, so when I saw this title by Turtledove it caught my interest. The premise is based on geological facts: Yellowstone Park sits in the vast caldera of a supervolcano. That's why it has the largest collection of geysers and hot springs in the world. It has a pattern of erupting every 640,000 years or so, and some geologists think it's overdue. When it does erupt, it covers a good portion of the country in heavy layers of ash. Surrounding states would be toast, and the whole world would feel the effects of massive amounts of ash in the atmosphere. It could trigger an ice age.

The book opens with Colin Ferguson, a jaded, recently divorced L.A. cop, visiting Yellowstone. A sizable earthquake jolts the shore of Yellowstone Lake, and he strikes up a conversation with a visiting geologist from northern California. She's something of an expert on the geology of the park, and they are soon exchanging emails. There are increasing warnings that Yellowstone has just been clearing its throat and an eruption is imminent.

But then the author steps back and introduces us to Colin's dysfunctional family,: his ex-wife, his daughter and two sons. Much of the book is devoted to the family and how they cope with the effects of the eruption. Turtledove places some of his characters in more jeopardy than others. Daughter Vanessa flees Denver, which is being smothered with ash. Son Rob is with his band in New England, where an early winter soon falls. The weather in L.A. changes a bit, and there are shortages of goods as transport lines are cut. Food and fuel become sought after commodities.

Then the book just ends. What? Obviously this is a set-up for a trilogy, a scenario in which large parts of the U.S. are uninhabitable.  I am assuming we will continue to follow the travails of the Ferguson family and friends in the next book. However, with a few exceptions, many of the characters are either unlikeable, or quite stupid. Would you travel to the wilds of northern Maine after the supervolcano erupts, knowing that the country will soon plunge into the deep freeze? Even if you didn't know it, the major news channels would be warning you 24/7 about the danger.

The best parts of the book deal with the lead-up to the eruption, especially when the geologists find themselves looking down the throat of an angry supervolcano about to blow. There is another gripping scene when a pilot struggles to keep his jet in the air after the volcano erupts. We needed more scenes like that and less about the characters' self-generated problems. Yet I will probably pick up the next book just to find out what happens next. In the meantime, I can go watch John Cusack's struggle to keep his family alive when he faces the Yellowstone supervolcano eruption himself. With a crazed Woody Harrelson as a bonus.

Friday, June 29, 2012

"unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity, and Why It Matters" by David Kinnaman

225 pages

This book reveals the results and conclusions of a major research project on the perceptions of Christians by outsiders, particularly young Americans. The research shows that Christians are best known for what they are against. They are perceived as being judgmental, anti-homosexual, and too political—specifically, too conservative. The majority of the young people contacted by the researchers believe that Christianity is no longer what Jesus intended. The authors break down the reasons that these negative perceptions are out there and assert that although some of these points are unfair, most of them are based on Christians’ “unchristian” behavior and attitudes. They use what they learned to offer suggestions for how Christians can fight their negative reputation and live more like Jesus, showing others that their faith is authentic.

I already knew a lot of the information that this book presents; there’s nothing earth-shattering here. We all know that Christians often don't practice what they preach, and society has noticed. Still, the statistics make it seem more real, and there are a lot of good strategies for changing the public’s perception of Christianity. Each chapter concludes with mini-essays from famous and celebrated Christians on that section’s topic, and I think the book as a whole benefits from this variety of viewpoints. Basically, this book isn’t going to change my life but it has motivated me to be more careful about how I present myself to others.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Steffan Piper
240 pages

Sebastien is a neglected 12-year-old boy, and his mother is about to marry for the third time.  His mother no longer feels like dealing with him, so she sends him alone on cross-country Greyhound bus trip to go live with his paternal grandparents.  Even in 1981, when this story takes place, this is considered risky and irresponsible.  However, Sebastien is not your ordinary 12-year-old.  Along the way he experiences several exciting and terrifying events and befriends an ex-con named Marcus.  The ex-con proves to be a better influence than Sebastien's parents and ensures that Sebastien reaches his destination in one piece.

Overall, I liked this book.  Sebastien seems to grow up in this book, even though the novel only spans three days.  Marcus teaches Sebastien a lot along the way.  However, there were some incredible parts in this novel.  I find it hard to believe that all of the shenanigans that take place in this novel would have happened to one person on a three-day bus trip.  That being said, this was a heartwarming story.

"Red, White, and Blood (Nathaniel Cade #3)" by Christopher Farnsworth

383 pages

Nathaniel Cade, the President's Vampire, is facing the worst threat he's ever come across in his more than 150 years of serving American presidents. It's the one foe he has never been able to completely destroy...the Boogeyman. Yes, the Boogeyman. But not this is no hiding-under-the-bed children's myth; the horrific creature that calls itself the Boogeyman is real, and he comes straight from hell, resurrected in different bodies over and over by his faithful followers throughout the ages. He's been responsible for dozens of villains throughout history, including Charles Manson and Ted Bundy. Now he's back, just in time for the 2012 presidential election. For Cade and his young handler, Zach, the stakes have never been higher. They must protect the president on the campaign trail and stop the Boogeyman once and for all.

Okay, I know the plot sounds way out there. And it is. But I think it's done really well, and it's probably my favorite Nathaniel Cade novel to date (and I enjoyed the other ones, so that's saying something). I like that Farnsworth takes the Boogeyman--something that is traditionally silly and not taken seriously, at least by adults--and makes it truly fearful and disturbing. As usual, Cade is intriguingly mysterious (a vampire who is religious?) and goofy Zach provides some comic relief. However, he grows up a bit in this book, which is good to see. The action is nonstop and flows nicely, and there's a great cliffhanger at the end. This book is really bizarre, but it's a must-read if you like that kind of thing.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pride and Prejudice: graphic novel

by Nancy Butler and Jane Austen Illustrated by Hugo Petrus        120 p.

           When I found we had comic book versions of Jane Austen's works I had to check them out. It was okay, but as Austen is such a psychological-social writer it loses a lot in mostly pictures. However it could be a nice introduction to Jane Austen for younger readers. I also thought despite being in Georgian style clothes the Bennet sisters look very modern with their haircuts and lots of makeup.

Thank You Notes 2

by Jimmy Fallon and the Late Night writers             164 p.

           This is the second volume of Jimmy Fallon's Thank You Notes from the segment he does on Friday nights. Not every one of them is a laugh riot, but many are very humorous. I loved the touch that it played the music from the show on it.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Art of George R R Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, volume 2

by various artists, 189 pages

I just read Volume 2 of the Game of Thrones art series, and I realized why I hadn't heard of many of the artists. Most of the art was commissioned for the Game of Thrones game cards, which explains why so many of the artists are from Europe, as in outsourced. A good number of the images are from A Feast for Crows, which is the fourth book of the Song of Ice and Fire series. I am starting to be able to pick out some of my favorite artists by their style. I especially like the scenes painted by Michael Komarck and Christine Griffin.

If you are a fan of fantasy art in general, or a fan of Martin's, you should be interested in this series.

Above: Ned Stark by Michael Komarck and Sansa Stark by Christine Griffin

Sunday, June 24, 2012

"Looking for Alaska" by John Green

221 pages

Miles Halter is tired of his safe life at home in Florida, so he leaves for boarding school in Alabama to seek what the dying poet Francois Rabelais called the "Great Perhaps” (Miles is obsessed with last words, and Francois’ are some of his favorites). He’s in for more than he bargained for, however, in the form of his new classmate Alaska Young. She’s sexy, mysterious, and troubled. Alaska captivates Miles in a way that he can’t explain, but it turns out that her problems are big. Real-life big. Miles realizes that getting out of his comfort zone and stepping into the Great Perhaps can be both beautiful and tragic. 

Once again, John Green’s characters shine. He creates Alaska perfectly; as a reader, I understood Miles’ fascination with her because she feels like a real person but is also very mysterious. I love the cocky but sweet Colonel, and Miles with his quirky obsession with last words. I totally related to Miles’ restlessness and his desire to go out into the “Great Perhaps.” I, too, often feel like I’m wasting my life being “ordinary” and that I should be off doing something more meaningful or exciting. And, just like in real life, Miles discovers that putting yourself out there can hurt. Alaska, meanwhile, reminds us that even the people who seem like they have it all are sometimes struggling with worse things than we can imagine. The way that these characters’ stories come together is hilarious, beautiful, and heartbreaking all at the same time, and it’s a book that will stick with me for a long time.