Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dark Magic

Christine Feehan
358 pages

Gregori has been waiting almost 1000 years to get a lifemate.  He has suffered through centuries of a bleak existence without emotions or color.  However, hope is in sight.  Gregori has found a lifemate.  Savannah is very young, only 23, and scared to be joined with somebody as old and powerful as Gregori.  Gregori has given Savannah five years of freedom, but he can wait no longer.  If he doesn't join with Savannah soon he will turn vampire.  However, he doesn't want to force her.  Savannah struggles but eventually comes to accept Gregori as her lifemate.  In the meantime, Savannah has attracted the attention of several vampires and a secret society of human vampire hunters, and it is up to Gregori to put an end to the threat.

I like the relationship dynamics at play here, and I'm a big fan of Gregori.  However, the plots of these novels are very predictable, and Feehan's use of language is getting VERY repetitive.  I think I'm going to have to take a break from the Dark series for awhile...

The Deception of the Emerald Ring

by Lauren Willig, 387 pages

Eloise decides to research the Pink Carnation by looking into one of the elusive spy's associates; but when she tries to find information on the young man by backtracking from documents regarding the beautiful socialite he was known to have been pursuing, she instead finds him linked with the woman's less celebrated younger sister.

The writing's still a little awkward sometimes, as Willig doesn't always remember to drop in narrative cues when transitioning between perspectives and time frames and the like, but it's still fun.  Also, despite the fact that she tweaks history a bit to make it fit her story, I feel like I'm learning a little something while also being entertained.  The modern-day framing story makes this series best read in order, since it covers only a few days each volume.  It amuses me that no matter how she describes Eloise's enigmatic source of historical documents, Colin, my brain insists that he looks like Colin Firth.  :P

Durarara!!: Volume 2

by Ryohgo Narita (story), Suzuhito Yasuda (character design), and Akiyo Satorigi (art), 175 pages

Celty dwells on her missing piece and Ryuugamine gets an unwelcome visit from some representatives of shady Yagiri Pharmaceuticals.

There aren't many passive characters in this series, though some do prefer to observe more than others.  But underneath, they're all acting on their own inclinations, following their intuition, and shaping their own stories.  It's just that they're all bound together by the interconnectedness of their crazy neighborhood, and so bound to influence one another.  Nothing's ever static in Ikebukuro, which is one reason Ryuugamine's so drawn to it in the first place (and why the reader doesn't mind hanging out on the corner to see what happens next).

Gente: Volume 3

by Natsume Ono, 166 pages

Loss--be it of a loved one or love, itself--finds comfort in this final collection of vignettes about the staff and customers of the Casetta dell'Orso.

One of the things I like about Ono is that she acknowledges that relationships are complicated, that we all grow older and change and lose and gain things and people along the way.  She doesn't neatly push people together or cruelly tear them apart here; rather, she lets them be and, eventually, accept themselves and adapt and find comfort, each in his or her  own way, with the ristorante providing them a second home and an extended family.

Gate 7: Volume 3

by CLAMP, 185 pages

Chikahito makes friends with the beautiful new transfer student as the others keep an eye out for their enemy, Iemitsu, and his deadly oni while facing off with other contracted individuals seeking Nobunaga's legendary oni.

This third volume of the series is more battles than anything else, but the interludes between confrontations offer just enough story and character information to keep the reader interested for now.  It helps, of course, that it's pretty, although the battles involve a lot of heavy inking, and that the character glimpses we do get are interesting.  Also, I do like the historical elements, as long as they don't get overused.  Still, I hope this doesn't turn into a lighter version of X-1999, with character development and story progression getting lost in the supernatural, magical warfare and mystical melodrama for pages / chapters / volumes at a time.

Batman: Year One

by Frank Miller (story), David Mazzucchelli (art), and Richmond Lewis (color), 135 pages

Batman's origins are revisited with gritty realism.

I read this because a.) it was on my list of must-read superhero comics and b.) I wanted to see how Mazzucchelli's artwork differed with his work in Asterios Polyp.  On point a.), yay!  I can see where this fits in nicely with Miller's The Dark Knight Returns as a turning point in the way superhero stories were told.  On point b.), holy cow, what a chameleon.  You think you know an artist or writer's style, but then you see what they can do when they're not bound by industry genre standards.  While Mazzucchelli's skilled art here is more realistic than what was common for the industry at the time, it bears little resemblance to the highly personalized style he reveals in Asterios and I doubt I ever would have realized they were drawn by the same hand had the name on the cover not told me.  That's one talented fellow.  Obviously, Miller's got kudos here, too, but my brain is focused on the visuals since I just read Asterios.

Courtney Crumrin: Volume 1: The Night Things

by Ted Naifeh, 125 pages

Young Courtney Crumrin is none too thrilled when her parents eagerly agree to become "caretakers" of her wealthy, eccentric great (?) uncle Aloysius and move the family to his creepy old house beside some spooky woods in a class-conscious town where things go bump in the night (and not everybody comes out of the woods who goes in).

Naifeh takes the old fairy tale tack of keeping the darker bits in order not to shield children from the more unpleasant aspects of reality and, so, doesn't pretend bad things don't happen or that protagonists don't have personality flaws like everybody else.  His heroine makes as many selfish, ill-advised decisions as the rest of us, but she has the pluck to sometimes succeed in getting herself out of fixes, too.  No little angel role model, is Courtney, but she's got what it takes (including luck) to face both the school cliques and the things lurking in the shadows.  If she gets a little in over her head now and then, well, that's when kids need to rely on grown-ups, right?  Or at least on the reliable ones who understand her.

Getting Married and Other Mistakes

by Barbara Slate, 154 pages

The author recounts her capitulation to parental and cultural pressures to get married, coming to terms with her past mistakes, and learning to listen to her own internal voice.

I wish the simple, Paintbrush-like art didn't rely quite so much on recycled panels, but it still helps relate the author's positive, snarky story of self-acceptance.  Her conversations with her Barbie lamp crack me up and the idea of a "sad brides" photo exhibition sounds fascinating.  "Listen to and be yourself" is good advice for anyone.

Asterios Polyp

by David Mazzucchelli, 334 pages

An arrogant academic architect looks back on his life and tries to regroup after his apartment building burns down.

I re-read this for our September graphic novel discussion here at BWD.  Mazzucchelli puts an incredible amount of care into the story and art here, with symbolism and allusions and layers and layers of meaning.  From the colors to the line styles, panel layouts, shapes, names, and motifs, there's more to discover and ponder every time you open the book.  Touching and sarcastic and sad and funny all at the same time, this is one of those titles that manages to both be an intellectual / artistic achievement and a good read.

Flower of Life: Volume 4

by Fumi Yoshinaga, 207 pages

Hanazono and Mikuni make their first attempt at trying to become professional manga-ka, Hanazono's shut-in older sister attempts to re-enter society, and relationships shift and grow as secrets are revealed, bonds are tested, and life moves forward.

A little something that's been niggling at the back of the reader's mind since volume one comes to the forefront with an emotional punch as the title's relevance becomes clear.  Fear and laughter, uncertainty and hope; life offers no guarantees, and family, friendship, and love are complicated--but that just makes them matter all the more.  Yoshinaga's a bit of a genius when it comes to the human condition, really.  She shows its weaknesses and dangers, but with an empathy and optimistic strength that make it feel worth fighting for.  The future may be scary and unknown, but her characters bravely face it, buoyed by each other and by their own inner strength.

Arata: The Legend: Volume 10

by Yuu Watase, 192 pages

Accidental body-swapping leads Hinohara and company to the home of Yataka, the shinsho responsible for the Princess's attempted murder.  How are they going to convince him to voluntarily submit to Hinohara so the latter can save her?

Ah, the schmaltziness of misunderstandings and a broken heart leading to unnecessary conflict.  I'm sure Hinohara and the gang will clear things up soon and move on to the next cheezy escapade on the way to their goal.  Sadly, we don't get any Arata-in-the-real-world or Kadowaki time at all this volume.

Blade of the Immortal: Volume 25: Snowfall at Dawn

by Hiroaki Samura, 220 pages

Manji and Rin set out on what they hope is Anotsu's trail, but they don't get very far before their search is interrupted by an all-too-familiar face.

See that guy on the cover there?  I hate him.

Also, I love this series.

The loathed one is at last face-to-face with his most hated enemy, but readers hoping for the former's permanent expiration (which has got to be nearly every single one of us) will have to wait for at least another volume (but April is so far away!) to learn the outcome.  The part of me that's terrified of the cockroach is frustrated about the waiting part, but the good-story-loving part of me is glad the face-off wasn't rushed to squeeze the whole thing into one book.  I just worry (and often with good cause) for all the other characters every moment longer he lives.  *sigh*  Patience, Grasshopper.

Samura has recently announced that, after nineteen years, the series is finally drawing to a close with the 30th volume (the last chapter will come out in the February issue of the Japanese magazine it's serialized in before being bundled for the book, so I'll have to be careful to avoid spoilers until the English release).  I'm both excited to see it all come together and sad that there won't be any more.  So conflicted!

Flower of Life: Volume 3

Fumi Yoshinaga, 190 pages

Shopping with friends (or better, without, and meeting up afterwards), creating manga together without breaking the friendship, planning a class Christmas party without letting each other down: the kiddos experience many new things and learn important lessons about consideration for others and responsibility and being honest about their feelings.  The usual silliness, a few surprises, and a shocker or two fill things out along the way.

No one will ever be able to accuse Yoshinaga of playing it safe and predictable, that's for sure.  My goodness.  I love how she knits together all these little plots and plans with one another and with telling snippets and moments that add depth and seriousness and character development.  You laugh hysterically one minute and then your eyes pop out of your head the next and then you want to scoop everybody up for a comforting hug the next after that.

Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide

by Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt, with illustrations by Tatsuya Morino, 205 pages

This book describes the origins, behavior, and weaknesses of different kinds of yokai, a term encompassing all sorts of legendary creatures and spirits in Japanese culture.  Well-known yokai like tengu, kappa, and kitsune are presented along with a host of others that may be less familiar to western readers.  The entries include recommended defensive actions and a mix of classic and newly imagined illustrations.

The authors try a little too hard to be chatty and quirky, here, resulting in some obvious filler patter and overuse of gimmicks like highlighting, hand-written notes, and post-its.  I also didn't much care for the rather random, inconsistent organization and would have preferred simple alphabetical order.  Other than one glaring editing error (a sentence is partially repeated when carried over to the next page), the book looks good and reads smoothly.  The information is interesting and I especially love the inclusion of classic artwork (actually, I'd happily exchange some of the newer pieces for additional old ones, but that's because yokai better lend themselves to old-school pen-and-ink style and lose some of their creepy coolness in the more brightly colored, cartoony modern depictions).  As a big reader of Japanese comics, and a fan of folklore in general, I found this an informative little volume that whet my appetite for more knowledge.  Now I just wish I had a bigger, more comprehensive, more "grown-up" reference on my shelf at home.

Lizzie Newton: Victorian Mysteries: Volume 1

by Hey-jin Jeon (story) and Ki-ha Lee (art), 149 pages

A dead man in a locked room reads as suicide to the untrained eye, but not to unladylike aristocrat Lizzie Newton.  And she refuses to keep quiet about it, drawing the attention of the inspector who takes on the case.  Can she prove her theory as well as change his opinion of a woman's value to science and truth-seeking?

The case here is not as interesting as the characters looking into it, but unfortunately the majority of the page-time is devoted to excessively re-iterating the facts of the murder and its revelations.  I'd much rather find out more about Lizzie's past and the circumstances of her steward / fiancé.  The former's not afraid to stick her finger in the bullet-hole of a corpse's head to test a hypothesis and the latter's clearly got reasons for leaving the law, his former field, for what amounts to a servant's position.  I like the inspector, too, as long as he doesn't just exist to give Lizzie someone to explain her theories to as a stand-in for the reader.  The mystery aspect is fine as long as it's kept in check, but it gets a little out of hand this volume.  We'll see if the next one gives us a little more character insight / development and a little less repetitive sleuthing.

A Devil and Her Love Song: Volume 4

by Miyoshi Tomori, 211 pages

Maria's managed to gain the support of most of the class, but how will they choose to act on that?  And with their insecure, desperate teacher still firmly in the "blame Maria for everything" camp, the choir competition and Maria's future at school remain vulnerable.

So cheezy, this, but I'm still reading it.  Maria seems to be singing "Amazing Grace" in solo a cappella every other chapter, and music is hard to translate into emotion on paper alone so it plays more hokey than anything.  Also, somebody needs to fire her teacher.  Sheesh.

The Wallflower: Volume 28

by Tomoko Hayakawa, 156 pages

The local market is in danger of closing down due to competition from a shiny new grocery store, Kyôhei suffers the attentions of a pitiful young man who says he reminds him of the girl who stole his heart, and a what-if? chapter relates the exploits of an Edo-era thief helping the downtrodden in a silly period piece cast with the series's characters.

This is not one of my favorite volumes of this series, sadly.  The first story is too similar to plots that have come before and the last one is just too silly and random (and that's saying something for a series founded on silliness and randomness).  I must admit, though, that the middle story with put-upon Kyôhei as romantic proxy made me snicker.  If only the rest of the volume had done the same.  Hopefully, things will return to fun form in the next one.

Kamisama Kiss: Volume 10

by Julietta Suzuki, 192 pages

Jiro the tengu is forced to reconsider his rigid survival-of-the-fittest philosophy when it comes to leading his clan as interloper Yatori's schemes come to light and Nanami decides to put things right.  Happily, her plan to do that includes lending her tochigami powers to Kurama and letting him boss proud Tomoe around.

This is a fun, hopeful little series of supernatural shenanigans and stubborn romantics served up with just a touch of depth, a nice tonic to the stresses and angst of a long day in the real world.

Gente: Volume 2

by Natsume Ono, 170 pages

This time the reader sees more evidence of how the ristorante has long been a homing beacon for those who need it, both staff and customers.  A broken-hearted young American, a bitter young chef, an insecure cameriere, and others find their confidence, their footing, and their place of belonging within its walls and in the relationships they forge there.

I love Ono!

The Masque of the Black Tulip

by Lauren Willig, 406 pages

Eloise once more throws herself into researching Napoleonic espionage, focusing this time on the lives of the Purple Gentian's sister, Henrietta Selwick, and best friend, Miles Dorrington, as they follow the elusive trail of Napoleon's deadliest spy, The Black Tulip.

Ha.  I liked this volume better than the first in the Pink Carnation series, as Hen and Miles's relationship has years of friendship at its foundation rather than a single big event / adventure.  It may take some danger to make them realize another dynamic has been sneaking up on them, but they would have figured it out eventually, even without the drama.  I also enjoyed the willingness to let the leads be a little doofy.  It will be fun to see which side characters get the spotlight next.