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Familiar Diversions

I'm a librarian who loves anime, manga, and reading a wide variety of genres.

Currently reading

The Ghost Bride: A Novel
Yangsze Choo
Progress: 150/360 pages
My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!, Vol. 2
Satoru Yamaguchi, Nami Hidaka
Progress: 24/171 pages
Graphic Medicine Manifesto
MK Czerwiec, Kimberly R. Myers, Scott T. Smith, Michael J. Green, Susan Merrill Squier, Ian Williams
Progress: 26/172 pages
Ao Oni: Mutation
Kenji Kuroda, Karin Suzuragi, Alexander Keller-Nelson
Progress: 30/152 pages
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal
Christopher Moore
House of Leaves
Mark Z. Danielewski
Progress: 22/709 pages
On Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety
Andrea Petersen
Progress: 80/260 pages
Gorgeous Carat, Volume 01
You Higuri
Progress: 40/170 pages
Princess Prince
Tomoko Taniguchi
Progress: 310/336 pages
FREE: Locke & Key
Tatiana Maslany, Audible Studios, Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodríguez, Kate Mulgrew, Haley Joel Osment, Full Cast
Progress: 91/806 minutes

Off*Beat (OEL manga, vol. 3) by Jen Lee Quick

Off*Beat, Vol. 3 - Jen Lee Quick

This volume begins immediately after the previous one, from the point where Colin hit Tory. The two of them finally sit down and talk about the things they've been hiding...for the most part. Colin talks about the Gaia Project and his involvement in it, and Tory no longer tries to hide the fact that he's been keeping tabs on Colin. The one thing they dance around, however, is their feelings for each other.

I didn't think I was going to get to read this volume. Physical copies are no longer available for purchase, and I don't like buying electronic manga or comics. I wasn't sure interlibrary loan was going to work out since the number of libraries that own this volume is in the single digits, but thankfully one of those libraries was willing to lend it to me.

I wasn't wild about the first two volumes, but I was interested enough in Tory and Colin's story to want to know how it ended. Folks who liked the first two volumes more than me should definitely try to read this last volume - it's the best one in the series and does a fairly good job of wrapping things up.

After two volumes of not even being sure what genre I was reading, it was nice to finally get some answers. I still think the overall pacing and clarity could have been better - I understand that the Gaia Project was a mysterious thing Tory could focus on and tell himself was the real reason he was interested in Colin, but readers got so little information in those first two volumes that it really did look like the Gaia Project might end up being more important than it actually turned out to be. Honestly, Colin's explanation of it sounded kind of silly - I still don't understand why he, in particular, had to be involved, and I agree with Tory that whatever Dr. Garretts (whose name was spelled with one t earlier in the series but is now spelled with two) was doing with him sounded illegal.

Tory and Colin's awkward attempts at recognizing and exploring their feelings for each other were sweet (and completely lacking in any sort of gay angst, even after other characters found out), and Tory demonstrated that he'd grown a lot since the first volume. His reaction to Colin's actions and later announcement was better than I'd expected. I braced myself for a bittersweet ending and was glad the series wrapped up on a happier note, but at the same time I felt a little let down. I'd have preferred it if the bonus story at the end had focused on Tory and Colin after the time jump, to provide a little more closure, rather than on Paul and his girlfriend.

Extras:

  • A 5-page bonus story starring Paul and his girlfriend.
  • A letter from the editor.
  • A message from Jen Lee Quick.
  • Four 4-panel bonus comics.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

Non-book post: The pizza turned out okay!

So I got to have pizza tonight, instead of a can of soup. The pizza was definitely preferable. This time around, I made it exactly according to the recipe (from the King Arthur Flour site), but next time I'll probably make it with sausage or pepperoni. And yes, I do think there will be a next time, even though this takes way more advance planning than I normally put into my meals. I could see myself making the dough on a Thursday or Friday and baking the pizza sometime on the weekend.

 

 

Reading progress update: I've read 166 out of 166 pages.

Off*Beat, Vol. 3 - Jen Lee Quick

I'm currently in the last steps of my first attempt at making pizza from scratch. The dough's final rise doesn't seem to have gone the way the recipe describes. I'm giving it another 20 minutes, and then I'm putting the toppings and sauce on, hoping for the best, and resigning myself to the possibility I might have to have canned soup instead.

 

While waiting, I decided to read this. The verdict: Volume 3 is the best volume of the series, but it's still somewhat disappointing. Also, considering how things turned out, I'd much rather have read an epilogue devoted to Tory and Colin than one devoted to Paul and his girlfriend who was only ever mentioned once in the series and had never previously had an on-page appearance.

Reading progress update: I've read 150 out of 360 pages.

The Ghost Bride: A Novel - Yangsze Choo

I know Li Lan is all moony over Tian Bai, and he certainly seems like a better prospective husband than Lim Tian Ching, even if Lim Tian Ching weren't a ghost. But she's only seen Tian Bai in person a grand total of three or four times now, and also, he might potentially have feelings for some girl back in Hong Kong. I vote that she marry neither of those two and find someone else. Unfortunately, her family doesn't seem to know any other young unmarried men.

Missing: Letter of Misfortune by Gakuto Coda, translated by Andrew Cunningham

Missing (Novel) Volume 2: Letter of Misfortune - Gakuto Coda

The Literature Club is back the way it was, for the most part - the main difference is that Ayame is still around, still nonhuman but much less powerful, and magically tied to Utsume by the events of the previous book. However, now Aki is having supernatural problems of her own. There's an urban legend about a cursed fax, a chain letter that the recipient receives for several days in a row and must send on in the same order if they want to avoid dying. It seems that the fax is real, and Aki has just begun receiving it. Not only is it creepy, arriving out of the blue at 2 AM, it's somehow causing Aki actual physical harm. The paper cut she got from the first fax showed signs of infection only a few hours later.

At the same time, there are rumors going around at school that there's a pack of wild dogs loose in the area. One of the teachers was bitten, and signs of the dogs can be found all over the school grounds, although no one has actually seen one of the dogs. Yomiko, the school witch, freaks out both Ryoko and Aki, warning Aki that she will be torn apart and eaten by dogs that no one can see. Somehow the Literature Club has to figure out what's going on and save Aki before it's too late.

If you haven't read the first book in this series, Missing: Spirited Away, I'd recommend starting there. Although these two books deal with entirely different supernatural beings, Missing: Letter of Misfortune references a lot of characters and events from the first book and doesn't devote a lot of time to explaining things for the benefit of newbies to the series. The entire Literature Club is back, of course, but so are Ayame, Yomiko, Jinno, and the men in black. The first book also mentioned something about Aki that turned out to be extremely important in this book.

As far as its supernatural aspects went, I liked this book a good deal more than the first. The cursed chain letter, demon summoning via fax, the invisible dogs - all of it was much more my jam than the fairy-like "spirited away" stuff in the first book. Aki was also my favorite character in the first book, so I was looking forward to a book that focused on her.

Unfortunately, that's one of the areas where this fell kind of flat. Although there were scenes from Aki's POV, for some reason it was harder to connect to her this time around. It also seemed like Coda had forgotten certain aspects of her character that he'd established in the first book. Yes, she was still cold and sharp on the outside and fragile and lonely on the inside, but all that stuff about her secretly being in love with Utsume seemed to be absent. I mean, I didn't entirely mind that, except that it introduced a few plot holes.

I distinctly remember Aki being jealous of Ayame in the first book. Her hidden feelings for Utsume and jealousy towards Ayame should have become an issue in this book, especially during the climactic battle, and yet none of that ever came up. It was as though those feelings had never existed and Utsume was just another friend of Aki's in the Literature Club. Heck, Ryoko was depicted as being more important to Aki than any of the other members of the club.

I really enjoyed the creepy scenes inside Aki's apartment, and the bit with the sender of the cursed fax reminded me a little of that scene with the tiny dinosaurs in the first Jurassic Park movie. Unfortunately, the story was a bit bogged down by Utsume's frequent lecturing. He gave the Literature Club a multi-page lecture on magic - granted, it contained useful information that both they and the reader needed to know, but it made Utsume seem decades older than his friends. Utsume even interrupted the climactic final battle to announce that he was going to give another lecture. Again, it turned out to be a useful lecture, but it made for a weird and slightly ridiculous moment.

Just like I had trouble following the events at the very end of the first book, I also had a little trouble figuring out what was going on at the end of this one. Some of the things Yomiko said didn't make much sense - I don't know if it's because of the translation, or if it was one of those things that would eventually have been cleared up by a later book in the series. Since none of the later books were ever translated and published, I guess I'll never know.

It's sad because, despite my complaints, I'd definitely continue on with this series if I could. I'd have loved to see what else Coda had planned for these characters. Utsume and Aki were the only characters that the men in black had identified as having some kind of connection to supernatural beings, but I recall Yomiko saying something intriguing about Toshiya that could potentially have been the focus of one of the series' books.

Even though I'll likely never get to read more of this series, I'm still glad I read these first two books. They were interesting and a nice change of pace from vast quantities of "reincarnated as a [random thing] in another world" Japanese light novels currently getting licensed and translated.

Additional Comments:

There were some glaring translation and editing issues. A couple of the worst ones:

"And slowly, the cursed child emerged." (101)

It's possible that this was an accurate translation, but I strongly suspect that this sentence was actually supposed to be "And slowly, the cursed fax emerged." A child did not emerge, Sadako-like, from the fax machine.

"The spell will not work if it is doesn't use the same base knowledge." (203)

I wonder, did Tokyopop's 2008 novels have more typos? I don't recall Missing: Spirited Away having similarly glaring errors.

Extras:

An excerpt from the third book in Coda's Missing series. I didn't bother to read it - what's the use, when the book was never published?

There was also an afterword by Coda, in which he mentioned that a friend of his had accused him of ripping off the Men in Black movie after hearing about the men in black he included in his books.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

Love, romance, and library metadata

I'm trying to put together a "top 5 romance novels at our library" list for work, because it's almost that time of year again, and the way love in general and romance in particular have been handled in library metadata (and the fact that systematic cleanup hasn't been done in our catalog yet) is making the task difficult. And occasionally hilarious. For example, I stumbled across several children's picture books marked as "Romance fiction." At least two of them were about friendship, and one was about parental love.

 

I will eventually have this Top 5 list completed, once I finish wading through tragic love stories in which at least one half of the couple is dead by the end of the book, stories in which married people yearn for people who are not their spouses, and other stories that contain romantic feelings but aren't necessarily genre romance. ::sigh::

Non-book post: Humble Sweet Farm bundle

These are games, not books, but I'm posting anyway. Out of all the stuff in this bundle, I've played Equilinox and Stardew Valley.

 

Equilinox has a bit of a learning curve but is kind of soothing once you get the hang of it and your ecosystems start taking care of themselves. My most traumatic mistake involved putting my first chickens in an environment they weren't suited for. They all started to die and I just kept adding more plants, hoping it would save them. It did not. But when everything is in balance,  you can just sit there and watch your pixel animals bounce around, eating stuff and having little pixel babies. Kind of nice.

 

Stardew Valley is one of my top favorite games ever. I think the bundle price is only a little bit of a deal, but the game is absolutely worth it even at full price. Your character moves from the city to an overgrown little cabin and begins farming, getting to know the townsfolk, etc. It's tough, at first, but better once you level up your skills. I'm currently at 330+ hours of total gameplay time and still love it. It's my comfort game. 

X-Day (manga, vol. 2) by Setona Mizushiro, translated by Shirley Kubo

X-Day, Book 2 - Setona Mizushiro

The members of the little Ursa Minor chat group are getting more keyed up - Rika (11) has done something she regrets, Mr. Money is forcing himself to be more open about the situation with his mother and what it's done to his state of mind, Polaris is going to be forced to take part in a swimming relay race and feels anxious just thinking about it, and Jangalian still doesn't know how to gracefully put a stop to his obsessed stalker and the rumors she keeps spreading. Things are coming to a head now that everyone's been pushed into a corner.

Mizushiro managed to wrap this up better than I expected. Even though I had some issues with the way things played out, everyone's motivations and actions seemed more solid and believable in this volume than they did in the first volume. That said, I still had issues with how things worked out.

Mizushiro's handling of Mr. Money and his family situation struck me as being overly simplistic.

I disliked the way Rika and Mr. Money's relationship was presented as positively resolving their storylines. So, what, Rika's anxiety about track team and her ex-boyfriend were all resolved by her getting a new boyfriend? And we're supposed to believe that Mr. Money's abusive home life is no longer a problem, and he's magically no longer afraid of women? Uh, no.

The way Jangalian's issues were dealt with also seemed pretty simplistic, although there was at least a brief mention that things weren't quite over yet. Still, I was surprised that there wasn't more of a fuss made about even just the appearance of a relationship between Polaris and Jangalian. And Polaris, who has now tried to commit suicide twice in one year, could use a supportive adult in her life who isn't Jangalian.

(show spoiler)


All in all, this series got off to a shaky start but managed to find its footing by the end, even though I wasn't always comfortable with the way everything played out.

Extras:

The last quarter of the volume was devoted to a short called "The Last Supper." Oh man, this story was dark, weird, and horrifying.

It's science fiction in which humans struggle to survive a plague that keeps cropping up every few years. The sky is now lit by an artificial sun, and the weather, too, is artificially controlled. Cows have long since died out and have been replaced by cow-human hybrids. Which we still raise for food, and eat. Lambda 26 is one such cow. After his father is slaughtered and eaten, Lambda tries to escape but ends up being found by Mitsuhiko, the rancher's son. Mitsuhiko insists on having Lambda as his playmate and servant, thereby protecting him from being killed and eaten. Lambda initially wants to be free but eventually begins to care for Mitsuhiko. (Major spoilers from this point on.)

Unfortunately, Mitsuhiko catches the plague and guess what? Medicine made from cow organs turns out to be the best treatment. Mitsuhiko has refused to eat beef since Lambda became his friend, but now Lambda badly wants to help him. Mitsuhiko can't face the idea of Lambda dying for him and gives Lambda everything he needs in order to escape. However, Mitsuhiko's father manages to obtain some cow organs, which are turned into medicine for Mitsuhiko. He's convinced to eat it, only to discover that the cow used in his medicine was, in fact, Lambda.

(show spoiler)


That last story was definitely not my kind of thing, and I feel icky just thinking about it.

 

Rating Note:

 

If I could rate X-Day's conclusion separately from "The Last Supper," I'd give the former 3 stars and the latter 1 star. "The Last Supper" only takes up a quarter of the volume and therefore maybe shouldn't have as much weight, but since it had a pretty significant negative emotional impact on me, I'm just going to average the two ratings and give this 2 stars.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

X-Day (manga, vol. 1) by Setona Mizushiro, translated by Shirley Kubo

X-Day, Book 1 - Setona Mizushiro

Content warnings for physical abuse, attempted suicide, and stalking/harassment.

Rika injured herself a while back and took some time off the track team as a result. She's now in her third and final year of high school and, although she's technically all healed up, she's left the track team and keeps resisting the pleas of her former coach and teammates to rejoin. What one of her former teammates doesn't realize is that her new boyfriend used to be Rika's boyfriend - he dumped Rika not too long ago.

Rika feels depressed and disconnected from her school life but is intrigued when someone in an anonymous school chat room suggests blowing up the school (why this isn't an immediate red flag for school officials, I don't know - I find it difficult to believe that a school chat room wouldn't have some form of monitoring in place). Following some clues, she eventually ends up meeting and getting to know several people from the chat in real life.

I recall Setona Mizushiro's After School Nightmare being an interesting series, albeit not really one I enjoyed (although, looking back, my reviews say otherwise, huh). It was a little too dark and unsettling for my tastes, and the character relationships made my skin crawl.

So far, X-Day seems to be a bit more straightforward. Rika, who goes by the name "11" in the chatroom, appears to be an accomplished student with no reason to hate school, but in reality she feels like her former track teammate is taking everything from her. She desperately wants to stop feeling anything about track team and her ex-boyfriend. The various visitors to the Ursa Minor chatroom, controlled by a girl who uses the name "Polaris," also have things in their lives that are stressing them out and depressing them and have decided that blowing up the school (at night, when no one is around to get hurt) will somehow help.

Part of my problem with this series is that the characters' motivations seem so weak. Okay, so they're all having problems for one reason or another. However, only one or two of them are having problems that are directly linked to being at school (and whether blowing up the building would actually fix their problems is a whole other issue...). The rest of them just seem to be going along with the idea for some reason. Is it the social aspect? They all finally found someone they could talk to and be their true selves with, and since one or two of them want to blow up the school, they all decided to go along with it? I don't know. I suppose I could sort of understand it if the whole chatroom group were composed of teens, but one of the members is a teacher. It boggles my mind that he got involved in this too, even considering his situation.

Well, one more volume to go. Will they actually manage to blow up the school, or will they get found out before they do anything too drastic? Will Rika's actions drive a wedge into the group? Will that one teacher manage to get a job someplace else or will his obsessed stalker push him over the edge? I guess I'll find out soon.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

Missing: Spirited Away by Gakuto Coda, translated by Andrew Cunningham

Missing (Novel) Volume 1: Spirited Away - Gakuto Coda

When Kyoichi Utsume was a child, he and his younger brother disappeared. He somehow managed to return, but his little brother did not. Ever since then, he's been obsessed with death and kamikakushi, mysterious beings that are said to spirit people away.

Rumors start flying at Utsume's high school that he, the guy who supposedly doesn't believe in love and romance, has found a girlfriend and is introducing her to everyone. Utsume's friends in the Literature Club discover that the rumors are true when he brings Ayame, a cute but oddly easy to overlook girl, to meet them. Ryoko and Takemi, two members of the Literature Club, decide to follow the couple and come back with gaps in their memories and a strange story of visiting a terrifying other world. Since there's no longer any sign of either Utsume or Ayame, it looks like Ryoko and Takemi's story may be true. Can the members of the Literature Club somehow retrieve their friend from the other world? Will he even want to come back?

My first impression of this was that it was better than I expected. The translation was relatively smooth, and the lack of the usual anime cliches in the story was a welcome change of pace from many of the more recently published light novels I've read (no boob jokes! no harems composed of several well-worn character types!).

Utsume made me roll my eyes, with the way the other characters referred to him as "Dark Prince" and "Your Majesty." Utsume's personality was cold and didn't seem like the sort that would attract a bunch of devoted friends. It helped, a little, that Coda spent time establishing why the other members of the Literature Club cared so much about him. Toshiya had been around when Utsume and his brother originally disappeared and had seen the changes in him after he'd come back. Utsume had helped Ryoko through an exam-inspired panic attack. Aki was a prickly girl who recognized parts of herself in Utsume. Of all of the characters, Aki was probably my most favorite, but I wish she hadn't been quite so focused on Utsume.

The teens' efforts to rescue their friend took them in a couple different directions, and I'm hoping at least some of that comes up in the second book as well. One half of the Literature Club talked to a mysterious magician named Jinno, while the other half talked to a man who was essentially part of Japan's version of the men in black.

The books' ending was confusing. What happened? It seemed like one particular character had been shot, but then for some reason they were fine. Why did another one of the characters disappear? Was that Ayame's influence?

If it weren't for the confusing ending, I think I might have liked this a bit more. I'm still looking forward to reading the second book in the series, at any rate.

Extras:

A short afterword written by the author, an excerpt from the next book, and an excerpt from the manga based on this book.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

Interlibrary loan is great

Off*Beat, Vol. 3 - Jen Lee Quick

And so are libraries in general. Okay, so I'm a librarian and more than a little biased. Still. You can't buy this in a physical format from Amazon or even directly from the publisher anymore, but a library many hours away from me just let me check it out for the next few weeks for free.

 

Since this is the third and final volume in the series, hopefully it contains actual answers.

Reading plans

I had heard that an adaptation of Yangsze Choo's The Ghost Bride was going to be released on Netflix later this month, and the trailer looked interesting, so I decided to finally read the book. A copy came in yesterday via interlibrary loan. Crossing my fingers that I enjoy it.

 

I also went through my LibraryThing catalog and marked everything that I could potentially read as part of my "manga and graphic novel backlog" project - anything I own one or two volumes of that I could read, review, and potentially offload. Thankfully, my choice of tags and LibraryThing's Power Edit tool made the work pretty simple and quick. I've identified 130+ volumes. Now I need to actually stick to this project. It'd be great if I could do one or two volumes every weekend.

 

While working on that, I also noticed that I have random middle volumes of a bunch of different manga series. I really need to go through those and decide whether to finally fill in the gaps or just get rid of them to free up space.

Status update: Some point in Disc 8

14 (Audiocd) - Peter Clines, Ray Porter

I'm doing my umpteenth re-listen of this, and I can't believe I never noticed the huge plot hole involving Mrs. Knight (Night?). Oskar (Oscar?) went to the store specifically to get her some tea. When he came back, yes, the supposed storm damage would have required his immediate attention, but he should have noticed that Mrs. Knight wasn't around more quickly than he did.

Cells at Work anime is on Netflix!

Cells at Work! 1 - Akane Shimizu

Why does Netflix make it so hard to keep track of their upcoming shows? I spend time on their "Latest" page, and yet this still managed to slip into their catalog without warning.

 

I've only read one volume of the manga, but I definitely plan on watching this. It's basically edu-tainment about cells and the functions of the human body. It's horrendously expensive to buy a physical copy of this series (Aniplex of America prices, ugh), so streaming is probably the only way I'll ever watch this.

Reading progress update: I've read 110 out of 226 pages.

Missing (Novel) Volume 1: Spirited Away - Gakuto Coda

I'm pretty sure Aki and Ryoko just found Japan's version of the Men in Black.

Off*Beat (OEL manga, vol. 2) by Jen Lee Quick

Off*Beat, Vol. 2 (v. 2) - Jen Lee Quick

Colin confronts Tory about his stalking, but Tory lies and pretends that everything Colin noticed is a coincidence. They agree to meet up at Tory's house for another tutoring session (Tory doesn't even bother to ask Mandy to join them this time around), and Paul gets on Tory's case for his hidden motives for "befriending" Colin. It surprises Tory when Colin goes out of his way to spend more time with him. What he doesn't know is that Colin now has his own hidden agenda.

Whereas almost nothing happened in volume 1, volume 2 had actual forward movement. That said, it's still unclear exactly which genre(s) this falls under. It's for sure a mystery. Tokyopop has "Drama/Romance" on the back cover...and I don't know that I agree. Yes, Tory blushed anytime Colin paid attention to him, and if his interest in Colin were purely about finding out more about the Gaia Project, he wouldn't have cared so much how his hair looked before meeting up with Colin. And yes, there was a line of dialogue that indicated that Colin felt drawn to Tory as well, and that it wasn't for a reason that made sense to him. And Mandy seemed like she shipped them, which was...kind of weird (I sincerely hope that there was more of a point to Mandy's existence in this series than noticing feelings brewing between Tory and Colin before they themselves did). So yeah, there could be mutual interest. But Tory's spent the whole series stalking Colin, and Colin spent a good chunk of this volume keeping things from Tory and checking up on him, so I'm not really comfortable with calling it a romance.

And speaking of Tory's stalking, what was with Paul? On the one hand, he lectured Tory about getting closer to the person he was stalking. On the other hand, he later gave Tory all the Gaia Project files he was able to rescue, knowing that this would only feed Tory's obsession.

Although this volume included a few peeks into Colin's home life, I still don't have a clue what sort of secret he might be hiding. He mentioned something called "atunement" (Tory apparently didn't have it) and repeatedly told Tory that he wasn't sick or sickly, even though he certainly seemed like it.

I'm frustrated enough with the lack of information and answers to try getting volume 3 via interlibrary loan. It looks like only 5 libraries own a physical copy, so there's a good possibility I won't get it, but it's still worth a try. And yes, I know I could buy an electronic copy. I don't want to do that. If that's my only option, then I'm just never going to finish the series.

If this is where things end, then I'm somewhat annoyed. Volume 2's pacing was a lot better than volume 1, to the point that I'm wondering whether this could have been a 2-volume series if it had been more tightly written.

Extras:

A short preview of a Tokyopop OEL manga series called Earthlight. I'm not interested in reading more of it.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)