Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Drops of God: Volume 2

by Tadashi Agi (story) and Shu Okimoto (art), 410 pages

Shizuku Kanzaki stumbles upon a family-run French restaurant that's in danger of closing down from loss of business following a scathing review a year earlier from none other than Shizuku's bitter rival, Issei Tomine, with whom he's supposed to compete for his inheritance.  Shizuku vows to help the owner get a glowing review when his former critic returns for a second opinion and sets out to figure out what went wrong the first time.  Meanwhile, Shizuku and his friend Miyabi Shinohara are also trying to put together a trio of inexpensive French wines to beat out his outspoken co-worker, who's a militant supporter of Italian wines (and, for some reason, a hater of all things French), in a tasting at their offices--and the future of their new wine division could depend on the results.  And then, of course, there's the race for the inheritance, which the boys have been putting off...till now.

I may not retain all the information about names and vineyards and classes of wine that these characters are trying to teach each other, but little bits (like the concepts of mariage and terroir) are starting to sink in and make me feel ever so slightly more knowledgeable than I was before.  (I wish I had a well-stocked wine cellar!)  I'm also enjoying the characters and the story that goes along with the lessons.  Funny, (melo-) dramatic, and enlightening, this series.  There's certainly a high incidence of coincidence and a definite cheeze factor, but I'm finding that's all part of the fun, too.  I'm excited now that Shizuku and Tomine have officially begun the search for the first of the Twelve Apostles.  They've got three weeks to track down a single wine from nothing but a flowery, metaphor-ridden description.  I'm sure they'll find it, but who'll get there first?  And what other life-lessons will they learn along the way?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963

by Christopher Paul Curtis
210 pages

Kenny is a nerdy African-American boy in the fourth grade.  He and his zany family live in Flint, Michigan.  Much of this novel tells funny anecdotes about Kenny and his family life.  Kenny's older brother, Byron, is constantly getting in trouble.  One time, Byron crosses the line one too many times, and his parents decide to send him Birmingham to live with his grandmother for awhile.  The whole family packs up in a car to go to Birmingham.  Life is very different there, and it soon becomes clear that conditions are unsafe.

I enjoyed this book.  It was laugh-out-loud funny in many places, but it also had a very serious side.  Kenny grew as a result of his experiences in Birmingham.  I'd definitely recommend this one.

Club Dead

Charlaine Harris
258 pages

This is the 3rd book in the Sookie Stackhouse series.  Bill has become distant and has been working long hours on a top secret vampire project.  When Bill leaves town, he lies to Sookie about where he is going.  Bill ends up being kidnapped, and Eric seeks Sookie's help to save Bill, even though Bill has been cheating on her.  Sookie agrees to help, even though she realizes her relationship with Bill may be over.  Alcide, a handsome werewolf, is enlisted to help Sookie rescue Bill.

Overall, this was an interesting one.  I am glad that Sookie is standing up for herself, and I hope she doesn't go back to Bill.  I am wondering how her new love interests will develop.

Bloody Bones

Laurell K. Hamilton
328 pages

Anita Blake is by a real estate firm to raise a mound of dead corpses that had accidently been disturbed by construction equipment.  This brings Anita to the Branson area.  In the mean time, many young boys have been the victims of vampire attacks in the area.  This leads Anita to ask for Jean-Claude's help in order to bring the Branson vampires under control.  Anita also runs into some new "monsters" in this story, including faeries.

There was a lot of blood and guts in this novel.  Anita is still dating too men, but things have not heated up yet.  Overall, the bad guys seem to be getting badder, and Anita is getting badder with them.  I just don't like her as much as I did earlier in the series, and I'm not sure I will read anymore.

Essex County: Volume 3: The Country Nurse

by Jeff Lemire, 125 pages

In this final volume of Lemire's Essex County trilogy, an official caretaker of the elderly (and unofficial caretaker of her small rural community's hearts) carries on in her ancestor's path as she works patiently to heal the hurts that don't get better with Band-aids.

For more information on this quietly powerful trio of graphic novels, please see my full series review on!

Essex County: Volume 2: Ghost Stories

by Jeff Lemire, 223 pages

As he's moved from his farm to a nursing home, an old man suffering from dementia looks back on his life and his relationship with his younger brother in this second volume in Jeff Lemire's moving Essex County trilogy.

Sad and yet ultimately hopeful, this.  Lemire excels at making me teary-eyed and yet not bitter about it.

Dengeki Daisy: Volume 10

by Kyousuke Motomi, 190 pages

Teru's friend Rena has resigned herself to her upcoming arranged marriage to a powerful young businessman, but when Teru accidentally runs into and is attacked by Akira at the hotel where she was supposed to be lunching with the happy couple, Rena worries that her fiancé's suspicious behavior may be linked to Akira and the others seeking to force Kurosaki's hand.

Yay, Teru's friends (and former harassers) at school look to be getting some page time!  Although we don't see nearly enough of them, the teen side characters of this series are one of its selling points, as they regularly surprise the reader by not filling the roles their "types" normally do.  I appreciate that Motomi makes the effort to slip in a little unpredictability in the character development of even minor members of the supporting cast.

Dengeki Daisy: Volume 9

by Kyousuke Motomi, 192 pages

Teru desperately wants to find Kurosaki, but he's too guilt-ridden to come back.  She does know one way to convince him to come running, but will she really throw herself to the wolves just to see him again?

Ha ha ha.  Teru's always been a little foolhardy, but she's not stupid.  I like that she can be pragmatic and unconcerned about pride (hers or Kurosaki's) when the result is a healthy smack upside the head and a return to togetherness.  Romantic melodrama is not in short supply in this series (especially that loooong stretch in the middle before everybody admitted they knew what they knew), but that's easily dispensed with in favor of more satisfying progress now that everything's out in the open and everyone's on the same page.

A Devil and Her Love Song: Volume 3

by Miyoshi Tomori, 205 pages

Hana's the cutest, sweetest, most diplomatic person in the whole classroom, but she's been out ill since before Maria transferred.  Now that the two finally meet, will Maria be able to count Hana as a friend?

Maria's misunderstood bluntness is further complicated by others actively trying to poison her reputation and isolate her.  Hana's a nice enough girl, but nobody's immune to pride, insecurity, and jealousy.  Maria's solution, though, is surprisingly creative.  It's getting easier to see what her little pod of real friends see in her.  A little uneven, this series, but worth the sit-down to read if you've nothing better to do and want a break from heavy reading.

Black Bird: Volume 14

by Kanoko Sakurakoji, 191 pages

The brothers battle it out as Misao tries to find a way to comfort where she can't fix things.  What kind of impression does Sho really want to leave when he's gone?

A side story gives us the background on how Sagami (a daitengu, and Hoki's older brother) and Ayame met and fell in love.

I like Sho much more now that he's moody and suffering than I did when he was moody and power-hungry.  And that makes his involuntary resurrection and ultimately voluntary fate that much sadder.  *sigh*  The willingness to occasionally thoughtfully delve into non-romantic seriousness is one of the reasons I stuck with this series when the lead couple's respectively wussy and selfish personalities would otherwise have convinced me to drop it.  Thankfully, they've both grown a bit along the way, which makes reading about their trials and tribulations less eye-roll-inducing.

Black Bird: Volume 13

by Kanoko Sakurakoji, 192 pages

Hoki, a young member of Kyo's daitengu guard who betrayed his master in order to save one of their own, prepares to accept his fate behind enemy lines.  But his master may have other ideas.
Sho's second life is painful and empty and the only thing that might keep him in it is the one person who's ever shed tears for him--his brother's gentle-hearted wife.  But conflict can only be put off for so long, and he and Kyo begin a final battle that will only end when one of them is dead.

Misao's random teleportation of sorts (it has to do with the out-of-control wards they originally used to protect their domains) right into Sho's hideaway at a moment of weakness for him is certainly convenient, but I guess the author thought that was the easiest way to get him and Misao in a place where they could talk things out without Kyo around to get all bent out of shape about it.  The result is even more sympathy for secretive Sho, as well as a little more approbation of once hot-headed Kyo, who has been gradually more reasonable and understanding the last few volumes.

"172 Hours on the Moon" by Johan Harstad

335 pages

It's been decades since anyone set foot on the moon. Now, as part of a revolutionary new space project, NASA is sending three teenagers along with a regular crew. The teens will be picked by an international lottery available to anyone between the ages of 14 and 18. The three astonished winners each have their own reasons for wanting to go. Mia from Norway wants to use the fame the trip brings to put her band in the spotlight. Antoine from France needs something big to make him forget about his ex-girlfriend. Midori from Japan thinks it's the perfect opportunity to escape her life of poverty and cultural restraint. The teens and the crew, however, are in for a terrible surprise when they arrive on the moon. Something sinister is waiting for them...and in the deep vacuum of outer space, thousands of miles from home, no one is coming to save them.

I couldn't put this book down--I read it in one day. It starts a bit slowly, but that all the info from the first part is necessary or the second half wouldn't have made sense. Then, about halfway through, the action starts and doesn't stop for the rest of the story. It creeped me out like nothing I've read in quite a while. The ending was awesome, but I would have liked more details about how it all went down. Overall, this is a fun, fast-paced thriller that should please anyone who likes stuff like "The Twilight Zone."

"Paper Towns" by John Green

305 pages

Margo Roth Spiegelman has always lived next door to Quentin Jacobsen, and he has always been enchanted by her. You know those people who just have something intriguing about them? The people you get almost obsessed with? Margo is that person for Quentin. Unfortunately, she hasn't paid too much attention to him since they were little kids, but Quentin has made his peace with it and is content to admire her from afar. Then, out of the blue, Margo shows up at his window in the middle of the night, dressed like a ninja, with an elaborate, brilliant plan for getting revenge on her cheating boyfriend. It looks like things are finally starting to go Quentin's way with Margo...and then she disappears. Margo, who has always been mysterious, is now literally a mystery. But she's left clues for Quentin, and he's determined to use them to find her. 

This is my least favorite John Green book. Granted, that's like saying it's my least favorite kind of pie; there really isn't a bad book in the bunch. Due to my very high John Green expectations I was disappointed, but by any other standards it's a fantastic story. What I didn't like: Margo. I think she's selfish and just looking for attention. Although I understand that teenage crushes don't always exactly make sense, I got annoyed with Quentin because he became so obsessed with her and ignored his friends because he was so busy tracking Margo down. And then I got more annoyed when it turned out she was just camped out up north, making everyone worry. Since this is basically the entire point of the story, it obviously distracted me a bit. I'm probably not being fair to Margo, who obviously had some major problems, and perhaps I just read this book at a time when I wasn't focused enough to pull out the deeper aspects of her character. Still, I'm calling it like I see it; maybe if/when I reread it I will have different thoughts about Margo. 

Despite all that, I gave this book four stars. Why? Because as much as the things I just mentioned annoyed me, I loved reading this book. I couldn't put it down. This is because John Green could probably rewrite the dictionary and I'd still read it. His descriptions, his dialogue, and his characters are so unique, so humorous, and so meaningful that I enjoy the simple act of reading nearly each and every sentence. Basically, John Green's writing feels like real life, only funnier and with the meaningful parts highlighted. Can you tell that I like John Green? So, even though this particular story wasn't my favorite, I still loved the book as a whole.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Hikaru no Go: Volume 23

by Yumi Hotta (story) and Takeshi Obata (art), 189 pages

The Hokuto Cup draws to an exciting conclusion and the players are already looking ahead to the next chance to challenge themselves and take the go-world by storm.

The series may be over, but the reader can easily imagine Hikaru continuing to strive forward and catch up to Akira for a lifetime of mutually-fulfilling rivalry.  I do wish we could have seen Sai (the go-playing spirit who inspired Hikaru to play in the first place) again in something more than a flashback, but I'll have to settle for hoping he shows himself in a new player whenever the world once again needs its go-fire rekindled.  Besides, Akira's dad's waiting to play him (or whoever's channeling him) again, too.  Still, I kinda wish there were more volumes, as I'd rather see it than have to imagine it.  *sigh*  :)

Hikaru no Go: Volume 22

by Yumi Hotta (story) and Takeshi Obata (art), 189 pages

The first games of the Hokuto Cup are underway.  And because of Yong Ha's comments, Hikaru's all fired up and determined to play against him--but his team captain isn't sure that letting Hikaru play the match will be in the team's best interest.

I don't understand the minutia of the game play, but it sure is fascinating to see the inside of this real-world field.  I want Hikaru to play Yong Ha and teach him some respect!

Hikaru no Go: Volume 21

by Yumi Hotta (story) and Takeshi Obata (art), 189 pages

As Hikaru and the others prepare for the Hokuto Cup, an international youth competition, proud Ochi puts his place on the team on the line to prove a point, one of the players on the Korean team insults Japan's go heritage (according to the inexpert interpreter, at least), and star Akira's dad surprises everyone by retiring from the he can play in international amateur tournaments?

Who knew reading about a bunch of kids playing a traditional strategy game could be so interesting?

Blade of the Immortal: Volume 24: Massacre

by Hiroaki Samura, 202 pages

What the title says, man.  What the title says.  Just not where / how the reader (or most anybody else) expected it.

Wow.  I guess that's one way to get your point across.  Anotsu's one crazy, sneaky, cocky guy.  I had to laugh at all the dropped jaws (including my own) in his wake.  I also had to stifle a few giggles with the shinobi duo and Rin and Manji.  But I did not laugh one iota when Kagimura's boss's unfortunate envoys encounter the cockroach on the road.  I hate him so, it makes me ill.  I can handle sex and violence in my reading, but I do not so much handle them well together, and Shira revels in mixing the two in the most horrible ways (and as much as I love Samura's beautiful, detailed artwork, I do wish he'd leave just a little more to the imagination when it comes to this monster).  Until he's well and truly dead so I may mentally stomp on his ashes, a little piece of me is going to be a nervous wreck every time I open a new volume.

Blade of the Immortal: Volume 23: Scarlet Swords

by Hiroaki Samura, 218 pages

After the Ittô-Ryû lay a clever trap for Kagimura and his men, everybody's on the road and hot on their trail.  But Anotsu still has a trick or two up his sleeve.

Arg!  Whom do I root for, here?  I like so many of these people and feel at least a little sympathy for most of the ones I don't.  Stupid bureaucracy and vengeance and indebtedness, pulling everybody into messes.  Kagimura's still a "villain"--as most definitely are some of the people previously or presently in his employ (including the vilest of the vile)--but, dude, you can't help but pity him a little after this volume.

The Color of Heaven (Colors Trilogy: Book 3)

by Kim Dong Hwa, 310 pages

Ehwa grows into a confident, strong-willed young woman as her mother passes into a new stage in her own life.

I recommend reading all three volumes of this quietly beautiful series to appreciate the author's nostalgic, lyrical depiction of childhood's transformation into adulthood.  His imagined rural Korea may be a bit rosier than the real thing, but he doesn't shy away from some of the hardships of the time.  Characters like Ehwa's mother, an ill-fated retainer, and Ehwa's childhood friends all show how class and gender and marital status all had an effect on a person's daily struggles and future prospects.  Ehwa's growing understanding of her mother's and others' positions helps her to better understand her own and make sound judgments as she moves forward.

The Color of Water (Colors Trilogy: Book 2)

by Kim Dong Hwa, 308 pages

As her mother waits for her travelling "picture man" and puts up with the crude remarks of her tavern's male patrons, Ehwa continues to mature and continues on her own meandering journey of the heart.

This series is full of symbolism involving imagery from nature, including flowers, water, and butterflies.  It's interesting to go back through and see how they all connect together in their variations and who and what they're linked to.

The Color of Earth (Colors Trilogy: Book 1)

by Kim Dong Hwa, 319 pages

A young widow and her daughter experience new / first love in their small rural Korean village.

Lovely, this.  Inspired by his mother's memories of her own youth, Kim recounts young Ehwa's coming-of-age as she ventures out from her and her mother's tavern porch to explore the world around her and the young woman she's destined to become.  The backgrounds are beautifully detailed, the figures more stylized and simple, drawing attention to the symbolic role of the natural world and its processes over the passing seasons and emphasizing the archetypal nature of the characters.

It amuses me that I picked this first volume of the trilogy for my graphic novel discussion group before I knew that ALA had listed it among the top challenged books of the year for two years running.  *shrug*  This is a coming-of-age story.  Puberty.  It happens.  *sigh*

Hark! A Vagrant

by Kate Beaton, 166 pages

This excellent collection of short comic strips riffing on history and literature made me cackle hysterically.  Beaton makes jokes of Macbeth, Andrew Jackson, polite Canadians, and Medieval courtly love.  She contrasts Jane Austen with the Bronte sisters.  She takes classic Edward Gorey (he of the PBS Mystery! series intro animation) cover illustrations and classic Nancy Drew book covers and extrapolates ridiculous plots from the art alone.  The French Revolution.  The travails of Tesla.  And loads more.  Even if you've forgotten a lot of what you learned in school, you'll get the gist of these (and her occasional snarky little commentaries just make it that much funnier).  You'll feel smart!  Your blood pressure will drop to healthy levels!

I got sucked into re-reading bits while trying to write this.  Not the way to be productive, Jennifer!

Real: Volume 10

by Takehiko Inoue, 210 pages

As Takahashi and his friends avoid the dreaded pool (or, more accurately, the dreaded physical therapy coach who runs it), Nomiya readies himself for the pro tryouts and Togawa readies himself for an all together different kind of test.

Togawa's so strong, it's easy to forget he's got fears, too.  It makes me happy that his friend (girlfriend? I'm not sure they know, either) Azumi isn't about to be left behind and plans to strive toward her own goals.

Oh, Takahashi!  It's taken him so long to get to the point where he can let himself have a goal, let alone feel the ambition to fight for it.  I want to cry, and he hasn't even mastered picking a ball up off the floor yet.

Nomiya cracks me up!  And makes me want to give him a fist bump.  He's a little awesome.

And so is this series.  Read it.  *foist*

Real: Volume 9

by Takehiko Inoue, 206 pages

Nomiya is absolutely determined to play pro basketball.  But if he's going to play, he needs to decide what kind of point guard he wants to be and put all his energy into fulfilling that ideal.  Meanwhile, Takahashi's stratified world-view is further shaken up by the arrival of his new roommate, Shiratori, the larger-than-life (figuratively and literally) pro wrestler known to his adoring fans as Scorpion.  How can someone so intimidating and strong look to broken Takahashi as a mentor?

How I love Nomiya.  He's a dreamer who understands that dreams are only obtained by hard work and a clear, honest understanding of both himself and those around him.  That's how teamwork works, no?  By encouraging himself, he encourages others.  So when he goes and informs Takahashi--his former high school teammate with whom he was never friends--that he's going to overcome his past failings and accomplish greatness, he plants the seed of an idea in his dumbfounded audience's weary, frightened heart.  A chemical reaction, he says.  And he is going to be the catalyst.  The last three pages give me happy, hope-filled goose bumps.

A Devil and Her Love Song: Volume 2

by Miyoshi Tomori, 197 pages

Yusuke continues to try to coach Maria on being more "lovely" (that is, cute and girly) in her behavior and gestures in order to smooth her way with others, but such artifice does not come naturally to her.  Of course, sometimes being "lovely" just means considering other people's feelings before you open your mouth, which Shin does his best to get her to understand, too.  Meanwhile, an inter-school choir competition is coming up and Maria's teacher really has it out for her.

This volume is a marked improvement over the first one.  The character development of the lead quartet is coming along nicely and it's interesting to see how Maria's perceptive nature brings out the truth (and often the best) in the people who give her a chance and stick by her.  She's a little flat herself, still, but little glimmers of growth and expression surface here and there as she deals with and learns from those around her.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

by Alison Bechdel, 232 pages

This is a memoir of the author's complicated childhood with her closeted gay father who may or may not have intentionally jumped in front of a bread truck when she was nineteen.

Bechdel relates the gaps between her father's public and private lives and how his secrets affected her and her family over the years.  Despite his many affairs (some possibly with minors) and lifelong obsessions (art, architecture, gardening, literature) that seemed to take priority over emotionally connecting with his wife and children, he was still her father, and losing him shortly after coming out, herself, has left a hole in her life.

This cuttingly honest and thoughtful analysis of an imperfect life through the author's memories made me cry when I got to the last page.

A Devil and Her Love Song: Volume 1

by Miyoshi Tomori, 188 pages

High school transfer student Maria Kawai does not get off on the right foot with her new classmates.  She's beautiful, she's blunt, and she got expelled from her last school for hitting a teacher (doubly shocking in that it was a private Catholic school and the teacher was a nun).  Not exactly a recipe for making friends.  In fact, they rather quickly label her "Maria the devil."  Is there any hope of a normal, happy high school life for this chilly misfit?

This is shojo manga, so of course there's hope.  Firstly, it takes the shape of two boys, the outgoing nice-guy blond and the broody abrasive dark-haired boy, both of whom find themselves drawn to her awkward honesty--even when her critical words are directed at them.  But other than that, the popular girls hate her.  The boys (including her insecure teacher) feel threatened by her.  And Maria quickly discerns that the one girl who seems to be nice to her is hiding a lot of her real, less agreeable personality.

There are some surprisingly apt philosophical and emotional comments here, but this first volume is a little all over the place as it tries too hard to set up the premise.  There's enough newness and humor buried beneath the standard choppy elements to get me to try the next one, but I hope it improves soon.

Skip Beat: Volume 27

by Yoshiki Nakamura, 199 pages

Ren and Kyoko spend their first day as the black-clad, multi-pierced Heel siblings and are organically working out the details as they come up, but when some delinquent guys trying to pick up "Setsu" don't take the opportunity to back off, Ren and Kyoko find their adopted personas more difficult to maintain.

Ooh, we get to see a brief flash of old-school Ren surface from beneath both his role as "Cain" and his seemingly usual self.  And dude, is he a little scary.  Even Kyoko's not sure if he was in or out of character at the time.  I want to know more about Ren's dark days back in the States, before he remade himself and became an accomplished actor.  We've only gotten hints so far, and not too many of those, so it's exciting to get a more concrete chunk, even if it's still small.  This volume ends on a slightly ominous note, so I'm impatient for the next one.  I love these!

Blacksad: A Silent Hell

by Juan Díaz Canales (story) and Juanjo Guarnido (art), Katie LaBarbera (translation), Tom Orzechowski and Louis Bualis (lettering), 110 pages

Noir takes a Southern twist as feline detective John Blacksad heads down to New Orleans to look for a missing blues musician.

For more details, please see my full review on!

Daughter of Smoke and Bone: Book 1

by Laini Taylor, 418 pages

Enrolled in a Prague art school, Karou sports a head of shockingly blue hair and some unusual tattoos.  She also leads a very atypical personal life (most teenagers don't live with a quartet of chimaeras, get paid in tiny wishes, and travel the world via magic portals in search of teeth).  She tells her mundane friends all about the doings of her family, but lets them believe it's just entertaining back-story to go along with the fantastical drawings in her sketchbooks.  She has her moments of loneliness, but she knows she's lucky to have friends, even if they don't really know her, and a family, even if they're secretive beings no one else would believe existed.  But then she meets an angel.  And the angel tries to kill her.  And all of Karou's lives start to unravel at the seams.

Ooh, and here I thought I was getting a little tired of YA fantasy series.  The world-building is creative, the plot pleasantly unpredictable, and Karou's a pretty cool lead in that she is not a passive heroine.  She makes decisions (not all of them wise, but then whose are?) and isn't afraid to be proactive.  Sure, the romance is a little sudden in its onset, but it turns out there's a reason for that.  Besides, when you're talking angels and demons and all-out war, you shouldn't be surprised if emotions run a little high, no?

If you enjoy Cassandra Clare's urban fantasy The Mortal Instruments and its prequel series but would like a heroine with a little more independence and grit, you might give this a shot.  Karou may be a teen, and she may even act like one on occasion when her heart's involved, but this could just as easily be an adult series.  I hope the next book comes out soon!

Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites

by Evan Dorkin (story) and Jill Thompson (art), 180 pages

A group of neighborhood dogs (and one cat) find their lazy days hanging out in each other's yards disturbed by one supernatural mystery after another.  A haunted dog house is easy enough to handle with the help of a Wise Dog; but as the situation gets progressively darker and more deadly, the gang realizes they'll have to learn some magic, themselves, if they want to survive long enough to save their neighborhood.

At first glance this may look like it's for kids, but don't be fooled.  Cute, quirky talking animals solving often supernatural crime?  Sure.  However, the forces they're up against include evil witches, involuntary werewolves, zombie roadkill, graveyard golems, and, just to keep things real, serial animal-torturers.  Creative and dark and funny and sad, this.  I hope there's another one soon, because I want to know what's behind the upsurge in dark magic as much as the endearing principals do.

Afterschool Charisma: Volume 4

by Kumiko Suekane, 205 pages

The clones fight--some successfully, some not--to survive an attack on their school during their skills exhibition and are confused and frightened to find those trying to kill them are earlier generations of clones like themselves.

This is a rough volume in that a few of the people you've gotten to know through earlier volumes don't make it out the other side.  And of those left, not all of them are stable (Hitler!) or adjusting well as they try to understand what's happened and why.  The next volume promises to explain at least a part of that when the mysterious Kai, one of supposedly non-clone Shiro's older lookalikes, reveals what little he knows of his own story.  I want to know, too!  And then the kids need to kick their school director's soulless backside until he recognizes their equal humanity.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

"Dark Life (Dark Life #1)" by Kat Falls

304 pages

Ty has lived his entire life under the sea. His family is one of many who settled on homesteads below the surface after global warming caused ocean levels to rise and land became limited. When Ty turns eighteen, he'll stake a claim on some underwater land of his own. That's the plan, anyway, but now a group of bandits is threatening that dream. The outlaws are targeting government supply ships that go to and from the underwater colony, so the politicians are going to shut everything down and make residents move above the surface if the thieves aren't caught. Ty is determined to find them so they don't interfere with his future. With the help of his new friend Gemma, who has come to the colony to find her missing brother, he starts tracking the criminals. Before long, though, Ty and Gemma realize there's a lot more sinister activity going on under the surface than they realized--and the bandits aren't the only ones causing trouble.

Young adult science fiction is hot right now and it's starting to get repetitive, since some authors have jumped on the bandwagon without having anything original. This story, however, is different and I've never read anything quite like it. It almost feels like a western, what with all the bandits and exploration of new territory, but there's obviously some cool new technology involved to keep everyone alive under the surface of the ocean. The idea of living underwater sounds far-fetched, but the author has obviously thought it out well. She has explanations and solutions that make sense for even the tiniest of details when it comes to "dark life." The plot is paced really well and kept me at the edge of my seat, with some surprises that I didn't expect along the way. The ending is satisfying but left be anxious to read the next book in this fresh, entertaining series. 

"Let's Pretend This Never Happened" by Jenny Lawson

318 pages

Jenny Lawson has had an interesting life, to say the least. As a kid growing up in rural Texas, she just wanted to fit in. It wasn't easy to do, though, with her dad being a professional taxidermist who had been known to create dead-squirrel hand puppets and throw live bobcats on people (as a joke, of course). Her mom was a little more tame--her main idiosyncrasies involved mild things like making winter shoes out of bread sacks to save money. Jenny thought she could escape all the weirdness when she grew up, but she was mistaken. Whether she's trying to identify pictures of employees' penises as part of her human resources job or having to dig up and rebury her beloved dead dog, goofy things just seem to happen to Jenny wherever she goes. Through it all, though, she learns that the crazy things make her the person she is...and, of course, provide hilarious material for her now-famous blog.

It has been a long, long time since a book--or anything, really--has made me laugh as hard as Let's Pretend This Never Happened did. I seriously could not read it in public because if I had I would have made a scene. Jenny's humor is definitely not for the faint-of-heart, as there are plenty of f-bombs and nothing--sex, bodily functions, cow vaginas, etc--is sacred. Nevertheless, her writing is just hilarious. I mean, she obviously has some good material to start with. Her family is nuts but totally lovable. Her childhood sort of reminded me of my own rural upbringing, and I too often find myself thinking, "This could only happen to ME." I think everyone can relate to that sometimes. The difference, though, is in the way Jenny tells these stories. I don't know how she does it, but she turns a situation that is pretty funny into a story that is downright hilarious. Reading her book reminded me that instead of being frustrated or embarrassed by the ridiculous, I should see the humor in it and recognize that life would be pretty boring without it. 

"Flesh and Bone (Benny Imura #3)" by Jonathan Maberry

448 pages

Benny, Nix, Chong, and Lilah have healed physically, but they're still mentally recovering from the horrific events they suffered at the end of Dust and Decay.  They've lost loved ones and seen human beings do terrible things that forever changed the way they look at the world. Now Benny and his friends are on their own, headed east through the Rot and Ruin in search of the plane they saw flying in that direction months ago. And things get only more dangerous as they go. It appears that the zombies are changing. Some are faster and even seem smarter than any seen before. Has the plague mutated, or is a more sinister force behind this development?  Before the group can figure it out, they come across a strange religious cult with a so-called holy mission of killing people to send them into the sacred Darkness. Benny and the others have gotten out of scrapes before, but this takes it to a whole other level. 

I can't get enough of the Benny Imura series. It has non-stop action, but there's a lot of depth to the stories as well. You really get to know and love the characters. They grow up a lot in this installment, and I like that--it bugs me when characters stay the same throughout a book and especially a series. There are a few moments that are a bit cheesy, but for the most part the characters, their emotions, and their reactions feel incredibly real. Flesh and Bone, like the previous titles in the series, not only entertains but also provides a lot of food for thought about standing up for what's right and having hope when all seems lost. Oh, and as a final thought, I have to mention that I LOVE the unexpected appearance of a crazy-cool character from one of Maberry's other series. I literally cheered when I figured out who he is (yes, I am that nerdy). I can hardly wait to see where the rest of this series goes.