chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

Well, it's been a while. I have been reading like crazy, but I doubt I can remember all I've been reading off the top of my head. Here's what I can recall at the moment:

For whatever reason, I have never previously read anything by Tamora Pierce. Recently, Big South American River had all three volumes of the Beka Cooper series on sale as ebooks for a pittance, so I bought them. And after a re-read for a writing project, I read them. And read them. Until I finished the whole thing.

Rebakah (Beka) Cooper is a child of the slums, but she, her siblings, and her mother come under the protection of a powerful nobleman and are taken into his household. The mother dies, and the children are trained in jobs that befit their station: the boys as couriers, the girls as maids ... except that Beka wants to be a Dog, one of the constables that their patron commands. She has a natural aptitude for it, as well as some supernatural powers that come in handy on the job (mages of various kinds are not uncommon in this world). The series opens as Beka as become a Puppy: a Dog trainee. It follows her as she becomes a full Dog and then one of the most skilled in her city's company.

It's very absorbing reading, vivid and enjoyable. I had a very strange feeling about the first two books versus the third, though. It was as though Pierce had conceived of and possibly even written the third book first, and then went back and wrote the first two. The first two are written as though they are the diary of teenaged Beka, and they work pretty well in that way. The third, where the stakes are much higher and where Beka and her team are crossing miles and miles of countryside, gets less plausible as a diary and also somewhat less engaging for me. There's also a plot twist that I'm not sure I buy as in-character for the person involved.

Is anyone here a Pierce fan? Which of her other books would you recommend?

I've also picked up the most recent volumes of the manga Black Butler (vol. 26) and The Ancient Magus Bride (vol. 9). When they arrived, I discovered that I had completely lost the plot of both series, and the previous volumes were lost somewhere in the house. The Mr. finally tracked them down for me.

Black Butler takes a serious turn after the arc about the mysterious doings in the popular music hall, in which we saw Victorian "boy bands" captivating the crowds (anachronisms mean nothing to mangaka Yana Toboso) as a front for far more sinister activities. Ceil discovers something momentous about his past... although this being Black Butler, I'm not sure of the truth of what he has discovered.

The Ancient Magus Bride covers the final part of the arc in which Chise has suffered grave effects after preventing a frightened young dragon from laying waste to London. She, Elias, and some fairy allies also put their main adversary to rest, at least for the time being. This is apparently not the end of the series, but a new major story arc seems to be next.

chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

I should have mentioned earlier about reading the first volume of the manga My Brother's Husband, by Gengoroh Tagame. This is about a single dad in Japan who, after his twin brother's death abroad, gets a surprise visit from the brother's Canadian husband. Mike Flanagan has traveled to Japan to meet his husband's family and learn about his early life. Yaichi is extremely unnerved by this hulking, hairy foreigner, but his young daughter Kana likes him almost instantly. Mike ends up staying with them for a while, and from interactions with him and other people's reactions, Yaichi begins to confront his own attitudes toward his late brother's homosexuality.

The book presents a lot of truths about Japanese society, not all of them positive. Gay people still cannot marry in Japan, people with tattoos are not welcome in a lot of gyms or public baths, and one of Kana's friends is told she can't visit Kana anymore because Mike is a bad influence.

Tagame's usual genre is erotic manga for gay men (he is gay himself). His drawings are very bold and clean, yet at the same time detailed. People tend to be a little short and blocky, but Tagame line work is attractively sensitive in a way that reminds me most of recent work by Fumi Yoshinaga (!).

I also read, weeks ago, A Skinful of Shadows, by Frances Hardinge, which is up for to new YA not-a-Hugo award. This is a grim but gripping historical fantasy set in England just before the Civil War. Makepeace lives in London with her single mother, both of them sharing a closet of a space in the house of some relatives who barely tolerate them. Mother subjects Makepeace to harsh, weird discipline, making her stay overnight in a cemetery chapel at one point. It becomes clear that Makepeace can perceive ghosts, and that her mother is both trying to hide her daughter and make her strong. The first turns out to be futile: mother dies, and Makepeace's father's family come for her. Although they clearly despise her, she has some sort of mysterious value. Eventually, to her horror, she finds out why. I will say that the ending, although hardly sunny, is not completely tragic, and I intend to re-read the book at some point: it's very good.

At this point, I am wading (ha!) through Kim Stanley Robinson's New York 2140, climate sci-fi set in New York City after the sea level has risen 50 feet (~15 m). This is so not going at the top of my Hugo vote for Best Novel. Info dump, info dump all the way home. KSR plainly thinks I should be interested in his Big Ideas about economics and how it interacts with climate and so on. He's wrong. Also, for the first 20% of the book, I was completely uninterested in any of the characters, especially the so-brilliant young financial wiz Franklin Garr, who speculates in half-drowned real estate and is clearly meant to be (as much as anyone is) Our Hero.

The binding thread for the eight viewpoint characters is that they all call a single building home. The descriptions of this building and its neighbors, and the waterways that make drowned NYC the "New Venice," can be pretty cool at times. There are a couple of entertaining young boys, but I'm 80% of the way through the novel at this point and I still can't tell them apart, aside from their names. The society depicted here is rather odd too. We have men and women of all ages, but aside from our two young rapscallions, I can't recall any children. No one of any consequence seems to have a family. Two of the characters have exes, but that's about it. And that, to me, is just wrong. Conventional marriages may be on their way out, but all the people *I* know still have some sort of family.

Anyway, having come this far, I am bound and determined to finished this book, but it is a slog. I am certainly not this doorstopper's intended audience.

chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

My, it's been a while since I've done this.

Last week and the first of this were spent having the flu, followed by bronchitis. This would have seemed a great opportunity to read, but I was too miserable. I read fanfiction and magazines and that's about it. The new manga series I meant to start (bought the first few volumes of each at Katsucon) remain untouched.

I did do a bit of manga series catchup:

Natsume's Book of Friends vol. 21 remains Natsume-ish: poignant little stories with gentle humor. There is one chapter with a young Natori/young Matoba flashback that is likely responsible for the lashings of Matobe/Natori slash and pre-slash fanfic I've been seeing. Matoba is the kind of dark, perhaps evil character that many fangirls love to love (like Ukoku in Saiyuki, yuck), but I'm not one of them, so the mangaka is going to need to give me more reason to like Matoba.

Behind the Scenes!! Vol. 5 explores high school crushes with a keen eye and much tenderness. We usually see Goda through Ranmaru's eyes as a charismatic and even brilliant leader, but at the end of the day, he's just as much of a geek perfectionist as rest of the Art Squad. It's unsurprising that he's not terrible perceptive about the nature of Ruka's reactions to him lately, nor that he's awkward in responding to her when he finally gets a clue. Mangaka Bisco Hatori (Ouran High School Host Club) is so sensitive in portraying these situations that I really wish se would cover even more groups of geeky teens. Still, I guess one series at a time, done well, is all I can reasonably demand.

Also, Goda's superpowered multifunction watch invention is all kinds of hilarious, especially to a former theater crew geek like me.

BTW, does anyone know the proper genre category for this manga? I would guess shoujo, like its elder sibling Ouran HSHC, but I can't find any such info.

And I remembered that my bro-in-law gave me (at my request) for Xmas the first of the "Rivers of London" comics volumes, Rivers of London: Body Work. The depictions of the characters aren't bad (although Nightingale really doesn't look like my idea of him), and the main story (about a strange sort of haunting involving an automobile junk yard and chop shop) was decent. Not enough Beverly, IMO (but Sahra Guleed does play a large role). But I really enjoyed the little one-shot side scenes at the end, There's one involving Molly, Toby, and an old car that never would have worked from Peter's POV, but as a comic, it's just delightful.

chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

So I have finished not only The Invisible Library but also its sequel, The Masked City. At this point I am enjoying the series enough to continue. And yet, and yet ... I keep feeling that author Genevieve Cogman is not making as good use of her elements as might be. There are bits and pieces here that remind me of many other fantasy works, ranging from Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" comics series through Diana Wynne Jones' Multiverse books (both Magids and Chrestomanci) to Jim C. Hines' "Magic Ex Libris" book series, and as I mentioned last week, the tone and settings remind me somewhat of Martha Wells' "Fall of Ile Rien" series. That's not meant to be a negative: I feel pleased rather than otherwise every time I spot a resemblance.

Still ... we have a series set mostly in a parallel Europe (or rather, a series of parallel Europes), we have a recurring minor character from India, we have dragons that are mostly based on Chinese legend ... but I don't have a feeling that somewhere across the ocean are the Americas, that there is Africa off to the south, that east Asia includes also Japan and Indonesia. The Fae are mostly the British Isles Fae: we don't even seem to have any of the European mythological peoples. The settings we see are fairly well drawn, but I don't have a feeling that anything lies beyond them. I'm not sure what Cogman could have done about this, but it's a lack I felt.

I will say that the series does turn out to have a bit of wit I'd been missing when I wrote last week; still, Irene is not as amusing a viewpoint character as (say) Martha Wells' Tremaine Valiarde. I think part of it is that Irene takes herself more seriously.

I realize that I never wrote about the new-to-me manga series I'd started. Golden Kamuy is a seinen (young men's) series about a whole heap o' gold that's hidden somewhere and the people who are trying to find it. It's set in the early 20th century, right after the Russo-Japanese War, and the two main characters are Saichi Sugimoto, known as "Immortal" Sugimoto, a former Japanese soldier with remarkable powers of recovery, and a petite young Ainu girl named Asirpa who is a superlative hunter and tracker. Weirdly, the series also has a dash of cooking manga: Asirpa's cooking is described with the same enthusiastic reverence shown toward traditional Japanese cuisine in the famous food manga Oishinbo. The rest of the series reminds me of Blade of the Immortal more than anything else, although the artwork is not quite as gorgeous as that (it's still well-drawn, though).

Complex Age is about a cosplay enthusiast, Nagisa Kataura, who is starting to have second thoughts about her hobby. She's 26, older than most of the other cosplayers she knows, and she is keeping her hobby a secret from her co-workers at the office and even to some extent from her parents, with whom she lives. The second volume is mostly taken up with a possible cautionary tale about her stern supervisor at work, who also turns out to be a cosplayer. When people at the office find some pictures online of the supervisor in revealing costumes, the disapproving gossip and sidelong looks get to the supervisor, and she quits. I have to say that this really hit home for me: mainstream folks can still indeed be obtuse and unkind about fannish pastimes. I find myself rather worried with where the series might be going with Nagisa. Note that this is also a seinen series (this is something that confused the hell out of me when I first encountered the idea, with the girls' kendo team series Bamboo Blade), so there are a certain number of panty shots etc. — although the series is self-aware enough that this very subject becomes a plot point in the first volume (someone takes an up-skirt photo of Nagisa when she's in costume).

chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

A digression. When I was a little cho, I loved books with main characters like Dido Twite in Joan Aiken's Wolves series and Goth in James Schmitz' The Witches of Karres: wiry, adventurous girls who could almost be mistaken for boys. I knew I would never be any of those girls, because I was chunky and unathletic and bookish and shy and near-sighted.

Last night I finished Provenance by Ann Leckie. People who wanted more hardcore space opera (and yes, I think it's OK to call it that) like the Ancillary trilogy have been grumpily posting their displeasure with the book around the Intarwebs. Because although Provenance is set in the same universe, and people in the story are talking about the events that occurred in that series, the star of Provenance is not an unstoppable corpse soldier turned engine of vengeance, like Breq. The protagonist is, instead, a chunky, self-deprecating, messy, naive young woman named Ingray Aughskold. And whether you enjoy Provenance, I suspect, will have a lot to do with whether you sympathize with Ingray or think she's a fool.

Ingray has Mommy issues. Mom is a powerful politician who adopted three children, intending to eventually make the most suitable one her heir. This is not an uncommon practice on the world of Hwae. One child made herself scarce as soon as she could legally do so, leaving Ingray to complete with their confident and obnoxious brother Danach. Both Ingray and Danach are certain that Danach will be the heir; nevertheless, Ingray would like to secure some of their mother's regard for herself. So she invests all her own money in a scheme that starts with breaking a famous thief out of the smarmily named prison world Compassionate Removal and goes on from there. As [personal profile] james_davis_nicoll puts it, it is "a very bold scheme, a scheme so well planned that it does not go off the rails until shortly before the book begins."

If the book sounds like a caper novel, that is indeed one part of what it is. It is also a coming-of-age story, a story that addresses the idea of symbols and what part they play in our personal and national stories, a novel that explores families and what parents can do to children, and a science fiction story full of aliens and robots and stolen starships. I enjoyed it quite a lot.

Next, I've started a non-fiction book that is not much like anything I would have picked on my own, but a book club has started at work, and it involves some colleagues that I should get to know better, so. It's called The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds. The blurb describes it as "How a Nobel Prize–winning theory of the mind altered our perception of reality." I'm about 5% of the way into it, and so far author Michael Lewis has been discussing the idea of using statistics to help make better choices in selecting athletes for pro sports teams. I suppose this is a topic of great interest to many, but not to me, so I hope the book gets into something else quickly.

I also have waiting for me the first volumes of two new-to-me manga series, Golden Kamuy and Complex Age, and also the first collected volume of the comic The Wicked and the Divine.

chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

I've actually been mainlining new (new to me, anyway) fiction like nobody's business. I had a lot queued up for the vacation last month, and for various reasons, I didn't get to it. Now I have. Some quick takes:

The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin is everything most reviewers have said. Very satisfying ending to a very dark, sad series. Happy was not going to happen, but hopeful *did*, and beautifully so. It was a positive ending that was most definitely earned. And I really loved the world-building all over again.

City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett also ended its series well, if a trifle oddly. Alas, most of my favorite characters didn't survive. There were nods to all sorts of other works, including rather a lot of Terry Pratchett, I realized after finishing the book.

Murderbot: All Systems Red (novella) by Martha Wells was a lot of fun, about a snarky, introverted android that has circumvented its "restraining bolt" programming and becomes something of a sleuth+superhero on behalf of its humans. There are already three more Murderbot stories in the pipeline. Yay!

The Furthest Station (novella) by Ben Aaronovitch at first disappointed me because I didn't realize it was a novella. But viewed in that light, it was an enjoyable brief addition to the Peter Grant/Rivers of London series. The identity of the cute little tyke whom Peter encounters was absolutely no surprise to me, though.

The Gates of Tagmeth by P.C. Hodgell was OK. These most recent Kencyrath books have rather disappointed me. I respect Baen for acquiring and continuing this series, and even attempting to obtain suitable cover art in the last couple of volumes (although crap, I still think that even a casual persual of DeviantArt would turn up better choices), but holy crud, a good editor would have helped the last few a lot, I think. And Baen is not the publisher to supply that. Jame and her fated love still generate no heat that I can discern, sadly, and I wish PCH hadn't matched up Kindrie as she did. I like both characters, but not together. This makes me think of the manga Fruits Basket, where the mangaka seemingly decided that everybody needed to be matched up at the end, regardless of whether it made any sense. Also, poor Lyra is becoming a pawn of fate/God's chew-toy more than is necessary, IMO.

What Did You Eat Yesterday? vol. 12 by Fumi Yoshinaga continues Ken and Shiro's low-key relationship and Shiro's cookery. This volume seemed to have less melodrama/tension than the last few (nothing dire happens to either partner's family, for example), although someone makes Shiro a very interesting proposal ... and the results are both very funny and very realistic.

Ooku vol. 12, also by Fumi Yoshinaga surprised me because ... they solved the problem of the redface pox. And yet it is not the end of the series! I do have to say that in retrospect, I feel a little ... ticked off? that the solution comes under the reign of the first male shogun in ages (although his mother thinks she is still in control of things) and by the efforts of an exclusively male team (although they all constantly acknowledge the inspiration of the late lamented cross-dressing genius Hiraga Gennai, who was cis-female). That might not be a worthy way to feel, but that's how it is.

Reading Now

The Brightest Fell, which is the latest installment of Seanan McGuire's October Daye series. Speaking of people who are chew-toys of the divine: Toby continues to be messed with physically and magically, over and over. I do have to say that one of the events had me going "Oh, no, not again."

chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

Drive by:

Progressing slowly through Too Like the Lightning. Still reminds me of Diamond Age in the setting.

A Bad Bad Thing has happened in Stand Still Stay Silent, so I have had to resort to comfort reading: the manga Bunny Drop at the moment. The event in SSSS should not be discussed here, because it is a spoiler like whoa.

Finished with the reason for re-reading Fruits Basket, so I need to bundle them all up and put them back in the basement bookcase from whence they came.

chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

I finished All the Birds in the Sky. It wasn't bad, but it just sort of ended: too much build up, not enough resolution. And now I'm annoyed by the title, because although it sounds really nifty, it doesn't have all that much to do with the story. This is not going to be my top vote for best novel, I'm afraid.

Also in Hugo reading, I read through Ursula Le Guin's Words Are My Matter, a collection of recent short non-fiction pieces. I love Le Guin as an essayist, and the first part of the book contains some good examples. But the back half-and-a-bit is introductions to books and book reviews, and I found those less interesting. A number of them were for non-genre literary or magical realism works that didn't sound as though they'd appeal to me. She did mention a couple of Western (as in, Western U.S.) novels that I might want to look up, which I will mention here partially for my own reference: Crazy Weather by Charles McNichols and The Jump-Off Creek and The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss. Also, although Perdido Street Station pretty much put me off China Mielville for life, her review of Embassytown is making me reconsider.

Overall, unless the rest of the Related Works are very mediocre, I don't think this will be my top pick in that category.

I have just started Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer, which is short-listed for Best Novel. A number of the readers on File 770 had trouble with this book, but I'm not finding it problematic thus far. Possibly the fact that I actually like Anthony Burgess' A Dead Man in Deptford (link goes to Kirkus review), which was also purposefully written in the style of an earlier era, has something to do with this. I'll have to see where the book goes, of course.

Finally, I'll be re-reading some of Fruits Basket, Because Reasons. Does anyone recall the number of the exact volume in which Machi shows up? It's when she wrecks the student council room, if the Wikia is to be believed.

chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

So actually I have been doing quite a lot of reading, much of it trying to get caught up to make Hugo nominations (which I did do, yay).

I'm going to be doing really quick write-ups here, because I'm covering several weeks. If anyone wants to discuss any of this in more detail, I'll do my best!

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers – Enjoyable ensemble cast SF: an accountant/business manager joins the crew of a small, independent working ship and finds a family of sorts. The setting is vaguely reminiscent of David Brin's Uplift series, in that Earth is a backwater planet joining a larger universe of many other sentient beings.

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers – Nominally, the sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, although it follows only two of the characters from the original book. A ship's AI ends up in a humanoid (robot/android) body and has to learn to live with all that this implies; alternate chapters follow the backstory of the AI's new mentor/engineer as she grows up as a child slave in a robot-run factory. I actually enjoyed this more than the first book, but YMMV.

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett – Interesting fantasy of an emerging industrialized world (trains are pretty well established, but rifles are new) that until recently featured living, active gods. The action takes place in the lands that used to be god-protected, now conquered by its former slaves. The equivalent Earth civilizations used for the cultures seem to be Eastern Europe (formerly god-protected) and South Asia (former slaves), which gives a different flavor from the usual Extruded Fantasy Product. Diplomat and operative Shara Thivani, of the now-ascendant culture, investigates the murder of an academic in the central city of the former ruling nation and discovers something very disturbing. Strong female characters, including the lead. Warning: the opening scene is deadly dull … but it's meant to be, I think.

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett – Takes place a few years after the previous novel. Former general Turyin Mulaghesh, an ally of Shara in the first book, is pulled out of her increasingly inebriated retirement to investigate the disappearance of an operative in backwater Voortyashtana, where an important new harbor is being built by the conquerors. Mulaghesh finds that the mysteries of what's happening in Voortyashtana have more significance to her than she could ever have imagined. I like Mulaghesh even better than Shara.

Natsume's Book of Friends, Vol. 20 by Yuki Midorikawa – This series remains its usual comforting, mildly spooky self, bless it. I do wonder whether the mangaka is ever again going to pick up the threads about the sinister exorcist Matoba, but he doesn't make an appearance in this volume.

Right now, I'm re-reading The Secret Garden as a break. Reading lots of new things tires me, even when I enjoy it. I have Cherryh's latest Foreigner book on my Kindle, and I'm still trying to make myself finish volume 1 of the manga A Case Study of Vanitas by Jun Mochizuki, which looks like something I *should* like (but as you can tell, it hasn't really grabbed me).

chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

This past weekend was Katsucon, so I have a stack of new manga. Most were recommended by "Year's Best Manga" lists on various sites, but one was something that looked intriguing when Great Big South American River brought it up in response to something else I was buying. As might be expected, I'm finding them a mixed bag.

Nichijou (Nichijou - My Ordinary Life) by Keiichi Arawi, vols. 1 and 2
Um, no. This comedy + slice-of-life high school series was billed as whimsical and surrealistic. It has a blocky, primitive drawing style that I'm presuming is deliberate. This does mean, however, that some of the surrealistic events have to be called out by the characters, or you wouldn't know what was up. When a wooden hand falls from the sky onto someone's head, for instance, it looks just as realistic as any of the characters' hands. And when the school principal tangles with a deer outside a character's classroom window, the student gazes at the spectacle with the same blank look she gives to just about anything.

The killer for me, however, was the treatment of the one character I found sympathetic, a robot schoolgirl who just wants to be a normal human being. Her creator, a child mad scientist, delights in tormenting her creation by refusing to remove the large windup key on the robot's back. She seems to have created the robot for just this purpose, plus some light housework. The whole thing left a bad taste in my brain. This one is going straight into the give-away pile.

Haikyū!! by Haruichi Furudate, vols. 1-3
On the other hand, I pretty much inhaled the first volumes of this shounen sports manga. While short, hyperactive Shōyō Hinata was in middle school, he saw a televised volleyball game featuring a player who was called the "Little Giant" for the way he dominated the game despite his small stature. Shōyō is inspired to nag and cajole his way to the creation of a boys' volleyball team at his own school. Despite their complete lack of a bench or any real experience or coaching, the team manages to avoid completely embarrassing themselves in their first and only real tournament, in which Shōyō encounters cerebral, athletically talented Tobio Kageyama.

In his mind, Shōyō paints Tobio as his nemesis, but when they both start high school, they find they're rookies on the same team. Not only that, but when their contrasting skills are put together, they become something special. At this point the story line kicks in for real as the remaining players on the team are introduced, along with their genial faculty sponsor who knows nothing about volleyball (and thus serves as the viewpoint character for similarly naive readers) and their coolly elegant manager, the only female character to make an appearance thus far. I especially enjoy the sweet senior player who has exiled himself from the team because, after freezing and woofing a key shot in a tournament, he feels he can't support his team mates properly (all the feels, Asahi!). This is probably nothing more than a typical example of its genre, but I'm enjoying the characters and their interactions.

chomiji: A chibi cartoon of Hotaru from the manga Samurai Deeper Kyo, with a book. Caption: Manga Joy (Manga joy!)

It's not that I haven't been reading actual books, but they have been re-reads: Gentemen of the Road,The Goblin Emperor. But the new stuff is manga and comics.

I got volumes 2 and 3 of Behind the Scenes!!; I have finished 2 and am about a third of the way through 3. I'm expecting that, like Ouran, this will eventually develop a running plotline, but at the moment, it remains episodic. Maasa, the girl who specialize in special effects makeup, is convinced that she ought to have a boyfriend, but her attempts in this direction always end in disaster because she's fascinated with gory horror flicks, and her interests always come out at inopportune moments. She tries again with a group date, fails, and drags herself back to the Art Squad, where her friends are sympathetic but not pitying. We also see more of Ranmaru's seemingly perfect and snooty cousin Soh (he lives with her family), a high school student: in fact, her life is not what it seems, and the Art Squad helps her find herself a little more. In vol. 3, the Art Squad participates in Film Camp, in which one of the uni film clubs goes to film full time on location while classes are on hiatus. The film features an actual paid actor: a 7-year-old prodigy who rubs Goda, the Chief, the wrong way. I'll have to see how this plays out.

I also read the latest Ms. Marvel volume, Civil War II. This series is certainly full of All the Feels. The first part of the story finds Kamala Kahn dealing with a squad of rather fascist-leaning do-gooders whose plans put Kamala's ethics through a veritable obstacle course. One of the pieces of fallout from this episode breaks Kamala's heart and sends her in search of a change of scene to Pakistan, her family's homeland, where she learns another lesson in why it can be tough to do good.

chomiji: A chibi cartoon of Hotaru from the manga Samurai Deeper Kyo, with a book. Caption: Manga Joy (Manga joy!)

Hey, long time no post, and this one will be short, but I've got to start getting back to posting somehow.

So I just started what looks like a delightful new-to-me manga series. It comes with an impeccable pedigree for being delightful: it's by Ouran High School Host Club's Bisco Hatori.

Behind the Scenes!! stars awkward, terribly introverted Ranmaru Kurisu, who was the odd one out in his family of hearty, hardy fisherfolk. Now at university, he's been creeping around trying not to draw attention to himself. One day, he encounters an apparent Zombie Apocalypse and is so shocked that he passes out. When he wakes from his faint, he discovers that it was a movie scene and that he has been rescued by the eccentric, creative members of the Art Squad, who provide costumes, makeup, sets, and special effects for the university's three film-making clubs.

Can Ranmaru find himself with this bunch? The answer is, of course, yes, and it's as much fun for us as it is for him.

There are two more volumes so far (I only have vol. 1 currently), and I will be picking them up ASAP. It's a good (if temporary) antidote to the current sociopolitical horror show.

chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

Got very little serious reading done this week Because Reasons (sad RL event).

I read the openings to This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared, which I mentioned last week, and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain (which I had forgotten that I'd bought a couple of weeks ago to support our local bookstore after killing some time there between appointments). More power of concentration will be needed to continue with either.

I read volumes 2 and 3 of the manga A Silent Voice, and now I am on the horns of a dilemma. The mangaka has ticked me off in a couple of ways, and even though I love the idea of the story and have become very fond of Shoko's tough, neglected tomboy little sister, I may decide to abandon the series, which rarely happens with me.

First, ex-bully Shoya is trying to arrange for more friends for his former victim, Shoko. The first girl he digs up is at Shoko's request, a girl who was kind to Shoko when they were all in middle school and who ended up getting bullied herself. That works out well enough that Shoya sometimes feels a bit of a third wheel around them. So when he encounters another former middle school classmate about whom he has no definite negative memories, he assumes that she's another potential friend. Actually, she is a manipulative little schemer in a very stereotypically Mean Schoolgirl way, and I cringe away from the book whenever she's on the page. (Can you tell that I was bullied in middle school for befriending a girl who was in Special Education?)

Then, the author introduces a Profound Misunderstanding between Sho and Sho, just so things will become even sadder. It takes a really good author to do this without pissing me off. Yoshitoki Ōima is simply not on that level. See, the two of them are starting to understand each other pretty well in sign language ... so instead, Shoko suddenly decides that she has to start trying to speak aloud! And won't go back to Sign even when it's clear that Shoya does not understand the Startling Confession she has just made!

I swear, I was grinding my teeth when that happened.

Does anyone know if things improve in this series?

On an even more frivolous note, I also started reading fanfiction for Stand Still, Stay Silent.

chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

I have finished Hidden Figures. It was interesting and I am glad to have read it, but I wasn't enthralled. I realize that one of the factors in that was the lack of images. Most histories of recent times have photos and so on. This had absolutely none. I'm puzzled. NASA could have supplied a number of them, because you can find them online (examples here and here).

Next, I should start the book I just got in preparation for the Days of Awe: This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transfiguration, by Alan Lew (1944–2009). The author was a rabbi who was also an adherent of Buddhist thought: he's been called the "Zen rabbi."

However, I am sure that instead, I will start with volumes 2 and 3 of A Silent Voice, the manga I started last week.

chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

After I finished The Cuckoo's Song, I didn't feel like reading anything else substantive for a bit, which sometimes happens after I read something very involving. So I read some fanfiction, excerpts from a favorite comfort read (Rumer Godden's Thursday's Children), and magazine articles (in the Washington Post Magazine, National Geographic, and Washingtonian).

Monday (despite the holiday), I got some manga from Great Big River: Gangsta. vol. 7 (this is a hyper-violent and nihilistic seinen action series that deserves a more complete write-up) and vol. 1 of A Silent Voice.

A Silent Voice is about a restless, undisciplined young boy, Shoya, and the deaf girl he ends up tormenting and driving from their school. Actually, the most awful thing is how bad the other kids are, including the ones whom the teachers and administrators think are angelic. I'm hoping something humiliating happens to all of them eventually, especially the sweet-faced little meganeko who's the class representative. Butter wouldn't melt in her mouth, especially when she's saying tearfully (paraphrased) "How could you possibly think that I'd do anything bad to Shoko? You know I'm the perfect class rep!"

But! This is only the first volume of a series that has seven volumes out. At the end of the volume, there's a time skip. Shoya, now old enough to leave school, is totally aimless and (for lack of any other focus) obsessed by what he did. He cuts all his ties to his current life and travels to find Shoko. He encounters her again on the last page. So I clearly have to order some more of the series!

(Fact: it seems to be a shounen series. Huh.)

Then the latest October Daye installment, Once Broken Faith, arrived on my Kindle. I'm now about a quarter of the way through it. It starts with a very silly, enjoyable pajama party for the teen fae contingent at Toby's house, but in no time we're up to our ears in dirty court politics and new types of fae and Toby is defying royalty in her typical headstrong fashion. Some of the people she loves are in danger and others are not speaking to her. You know, the usual!

chomiji: Crazed Oda Nobunaga from SDK, with the caption Manga saved my sanity! (manga sanity)

Do y'all think I would like Tokyo Ghoul?

chomiji: A chibi cartoon of Hotaru from the manga Samurai Deeper Kyo, with a book. Caption: Manga Joy (Manga joy!)

Goofy, childish folklore scholar Kantarou Ichinomiya (the English translation uses Western name order) ekes out a living by writing books from his research, but his actual passion is encountering and befriending youkai. In his youth, his ability to see youkai caused him to be shunned by other children, and he became convinced that his problems would all be solved by finding the famous demon-eating tengu (a classic Japanese monster with birdlike characteristics, although the only birdlike thing about the two tengu seen so far in this series are their feathered wings). When Kantarou finds the tengu in the opening chapter of the series, he binds the creature by giving him a name, Haruka. The handsome humanoid becomes part of Kantarou's household, along with a fox youkai woman named Yoko who serves as cook, maid, and menial-of-all-work. She's the one who has to go out and earn them all a living when Kan-chan's slacking off.

The outline of the story sounds roughly like Natsume's Book of Friends, but notice that Kantarou is binding youkai, not releasing them. Also, instead of the touching, lonely little child Natsume that we see in flashbacks in that series, li'l Kan-chan is an absolute parody of a cutesy manga tot, and the English translation has him speak in the kind of twee childish lisp that Dorothy Parker parodied when she said (in her review of The House at Pooh Corner) "Tonstant Weader fwowed up." Kantarou is feckless, bossy, has no sense of boundaries, can't seem to acknowledge that he has enslaved Yoko and Haruka, and does things like drag them off to a hot springs resort (paid for by his editor) and then complain that they still look sulky.

Man, do I want to smack the living shit out of him.

I disliked him rather less on my re-read before writing this, enough so that I ordered the rest of this shounen series secondhand (Tactics was a victim of Tokyopop's demise and ends in official English translation with volume 8). The plot mainly involves Kantarou's investigations of strange phenomena that typically turn out to involve youkai. Sometimes things end relatively happily, but when they don't, Kantarou proves himself a true cousin of Yuuko (xxxHolic) and Count D (Pet Shop of Horrors) in arranging for unpleasant fates for the wicked.

Cut for more, including some spoilers )
chomiji: Revy, the violent yet appealing lead in Rei Hiroe's manga Black Lagoon: two guns, no waiting! (Revy - gun)
OMG, you guys! Volume 10 is out! Why didn't anybody TELL ME?
chomiji: A chibi cartoon of Hotaru from the manga Samurai Deeper Kyo, with a book. Caption: Manga Joy (Manga joy!)

Partners Shiro Kakei, a mostly closeted and uptight lawyer, and Kenji Yabuki, a genial and talkative hairstylist, live their lives in the pages of this seinen series, interacting with coworkers, neighbors, friends, and relatives as they face a variety of everyday complications and crises. As in Not Love but Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy, Yoshinaga's focus is actually food, but where that good-humored parody of the mangaka's own life emphasized restaurant dining, What Did You Eat focuses on modern Japanese home cooking. After a day at the office, Shiro likes to unwind by preparing dinner for the two of them, narrating his cooking to himself in a way that results in near-complete recipes for the reader. If you are any kind of a cook at all, it's likely you can follow his preparations in your own kitchen (given that you can figure out and obtain some of the convenience ingredients: "noodle sauce," for example, is a common flavor enhancer in his recipes).

Yoshinaga, honored with multiple awards for her beautifully drawn alternate history Ooku: The Inner Chambers, seems to me to be using this series much the way Shiro uses his cooking: a less stressful challenge with which to unwind. The artwork is pretty (although nowhere as elaborate as Ooku's) and the events diverting (although neither as humorous as Not Love nor as poignant as Flower of Life or Antique Bakery), but for me, this series lacks a certain something.

Cut for more, including some spoilers )

April 2019

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