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Familiar Diversions

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

Currently reading

Lying in Wait
Liz Nugent
Progress: 28/310 pages
The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro, Daniel Kraus
Progress: 72/313 pages
To Siri with Love: A Mother, Her Autistic Son, and the Kindness of Machines
Judith Newman
Princess Prince
Tomoko Taniguchi
Progress: 310/336 pages
Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness
Peter Godfrey-Smith
Progress: 41/255 pages
FREE: Locke & Key
Tatiana Maslany, Audible Studios, Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodríguez, Kate Mulgrew, Haley Joel Osment, Full Cast
Progress: 91/806 minutes

Humble Manga bundle - 1 day and 6 hours left!

Nostalgia tempts me to get the full thing - Battle Angle Alita was one of the first manga series I ever read. However, my manga reading tastes have changed significantly since then, and I'm not actually sure I'd enjoy the series now. That leaves the lower tiers. I remember reading The Ghost in the Shell a while back and disliking the amount of text Masamune wanted readers to wade through. The first volume of Inuyashiki was unpleasant and, judging by reviews, it only gets worse from there. The first volume of The Seven Deadly Sins was generic fantasy and an enormous amount of boob grabbing.

 

That leaves the first tier, with Ajin: Demi-Human. I've seen a good chunk of the anime, and as long as it follows the manga fairly closely, I'd say Ajin would probably work reasonably well for me.

The Seven Deadly Sins (manga, vol. 1) by Nakaba Suzuki, translated by Christine Dashiell

The Seven Deadly Sins 1 (Seven Deadly Sins, The) - Nakaba Suzuki

The Seven Deadly Sins stars Meliodas, a tavern owner who serves utterly terrible food and whose only companion is a talking pig named Hawk. One day a mysterious "Rust Knight" arrives at Meliodas' tavern. The Knight, who turns out to really be Princess Elizabeth, is looking for the Seven Deadly Sins, a chivalric order made up of seven criminals who each bear the mark of a beast upon their bodies. The Holy Knights disbanded the Seven Deadly Sins years ago after they were accused of plotting to overthrow the kingdom.

Now, however, the Holy Knights have done what they accused the Seven Deadly Sins of trying to do, and Princess Elizabeth believes the Seven Deadly Sins are the kingdom's last hope. Luckily for her, Meliodas is not only one of those famed warriors, specifically the Dragon Sin of Wrath, he's looking for the others too.

I got this first volume in PDF form via a Humble Bundle a while back. Interestingly, the file was formatted in such a way that changing to "two page layout" actually properly placed the pages for right-to-left reading - definitely a step up from the Inuyashiki volume formatting.

This was technically okay. The artwork was actually pretty good, more detailed than I expected. I loved the way Suzuki drew the foggy forest. I occasionally had trouble following some of the action, but I think that was more due to the size of the PDF pages on my monitor (I didn't feel like zooming in) than to any problems with the artwork.

The fantasy aspect felt a bit generic, but that could change. This first volume was light on details as to what, exactly, each of the Seven Deadly Sins could do. Meliodas appeared to have super-strength - I wasn't sure if his broken sword was anything special or really just a random broken sword. One of the other Seven Deadly Sins, Diana, was a giant, but apparently that had nothing to do with the mark she bore (Serpent Sin of Envy) as a member of the Seven Deadly Sins. No information was given as to what the different beasts signified, although I assume they're important in some way and are maybe tied in to what each of the members of the group can do.

Hawk, Meliodas' animal companion, was reasonably cute and got points for calling out Meliodas' frequent gross behavior. Unfortunately, the character also added to the series' overall generic feel. I was reminded of Fairy Tail's Plue and Happy - it seems like every shounen fantasy adventure group needs at least one cute and comedic animal character.

The series' overly generic feeling is part of the reason I'm not sure I want to continue on. My other issue with this series was how much fan service and boob and butt grabbing it contained. The first time Meliodas met Princess Elizabeth, he groped her breasts while she was still unconscious, supposedly to confirm that she was female. From that point on, it felt like the story was a series of action scenes glued together with boob and butt grabbing jokes. Readers were supposed to laugh at Meliodas' antics and Princess Elizabeth's reactions (she mostly either didn't notice what he was doing or dismissed it as harmless - Hawk was more disgusted and upset than she was). I not only didn't think it was funny, I found myself becoming increasingly annoyed. It was a lazy and gross way for Suzuki to try to get some laughs.

There's a Humble Bundle available for another 24 hours that has volumes 1 to 22 of this series. Wikipedia tells me that The Seven Deadly Sins is still ongoing and is currently up to 31 volumes, so this is a pretty significant chunk. That said, I'm not sure that I want to take the plunge.

Extras:

Eight pages of design sketches for The Seven Deadly Sins.

 

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

Reading progress update: I've read 28 out of 310 pages.

Lying in Wait - Liz Nugent

My pile of conference ARCs makes me feel guilty. At least this book has only been out for a few days. I've had some of my ARCs for a few years and still haven't read them.

 

So far we have three POVs: Lydia, Karen, and Laurence. Lydia is the wife of Andrew, a judge, and has been wealthy her whole life. Until now, anyway. Andrew blew it, and now they have a mountain of debt that they're desperate to hide. They met up with a prostitute named Annie for reasons that have yet to be revealed (something to do with money). They totally didn't intend to kill her but, well, Andrew choked her and Lydia finished her off.

 

Karen is Annie's sister, the "good" sister. She was supposed to meet up with Annie, but Annie never showed. This wasn't unusual, so it took Karen a bit to start to worry about her.

 

Laurence is Lydia's son, her pride and joy. He's 17 but, to me at least, reads younger. He's bullied at school because of his weight. He knows his dad has lied to the police but he doesn't know why.

 

We'll see how this goes. I don't read thrillers much, but I'm in the mood for one right now.

Reading progress update: I've read 100%.

To Terminator, With Love - Wes Kennedy

This was not at all what I expected. I had thought that Dexter's robot would play a bigger part, but instead it was just some background thing meant to explain all the action. As far as the asexuality aspects went, it was okay I guess, but if I had been Dexter, the way everything played out would have made me incredibly anxious.

"8 Books with Bi or Homoromantic Asexual Women Characters"

I need to check this list out a bit more later. There are a few books on it that I either haven't read yet or didn't even know existed. One thing, though: when was it ever mentioned that Every Heart a Doorway's Nancy is biromantic?

Reading progress update: I've read 76%.

To Terminator, With Love - Wes Kennedy

"Because he wasn't Neville Longbottom. He wasn't even Jar Jar Binks; he was Leeroy fucking Jenkins."

 

I had to google Leeroy Jenkins, but otherwise I've mostly been doing okay with this story's pop culture references. I could see the past few pages being annoying for someone who only knows one or zero of the references, though.

Team Phison by Chace Verity

Team Phison - Chace Verity

Phil is a grumpy restaurant owner who spends his free time playing first-person shooters and going on unsuccessful dates. He's playing his newest favorite FPS one night when he meets an enthusiastic newbie player, BisonFalls, and agrees to give him a few tips. He figures that's the end of it, but then Bison sends him a friend request and the two men eventually start talking about more personal stuff. It turns out that Bison's real name is Tyson, he's bisexual, and he's currently single. Phil finds himself arranging time to play with Tyson, texting him, calling him, and just generally thinking about him a lot. But the guy's just a gaming buddy. A young gaming buddy, 28 to Phil's 55. Surely there's no way he'd ever be interested in someone like Phil.

This was pretty sweet. For the most part, Phil and Tyson's romance was light and fluffy. The main things keeping them apart were distance and Phil's own doubts about his attractiveness to Tyson and worries about the difference between their ages. 

Tyson was like a friendly Golden Retriever in human form. Phil had a tendency to jump to conclusions and be a bit judgmental, but he was willing to listen, reevaluate his ideas, and apologize if necessary. Watching Tyson slowly turn Phil into putty was adorable, and I loved the encouragement Phil got from his friends and staff (even as I raised an eyebrow a bit at the hypocrisy of Phil texting Tyson during work hours while telling his staff they shouldn't be on their phones at work).

As I believe I've mentioned in the past, I'm not generally a fan of first-person present tense. It mostly worked okay here, other than a few moments that gave me fan fic vibes. And the sex scenes - first-person present tense sex scenes are weird.

 

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

We Are Legion (We Are Bob) (audiobook) by Dennis E. Taylor, narrated by Ray Porter

We Are Legion (We Are Bob) - Dennis E. Taylor

Bob just sold his successful tech company and is massively rich. One of the first things he does with his newfound wealth is sign up to have his head cryogenically frozen upon his death. Not long after that, he's killed in an accident...and wakes up more than 100 years later as an AI. He is now property, and he's been selected as one of four candidates for the job of exploring and colonizing space for FAITH, the government that owns him. It's a good thing that Bob views this as his dream job. First, however, he has to beat the other three candidates, keep from going crazy like so many other AIs in the past, and avoid being destroyed by one of the many groups that don't want this project to succeed. Although Bob does make it into space, it's a rockier beginning than he expects.

I can't remember if I bought this on sale or if I used an Audible credit, but, either way, it was a waste. I only managed to finish it in a reasonable amount of time because of Ray Porter's excellent narration. He made the lengthy technical explanations slightly more bearable. His range of female voices seems to be pretty limited (I think this is the third audiobook he's narrated that I've listened to), but since none of the prominent characters were female and there were maybe only three female characters with speaking roles, that wasn't really an issue here.

I picked this up because I like books with prominent AI characters. Bob was technically an AI, even though he'd started off as a human. For me, the best part of the book was the period between when Bob woke up as an AI and when he was launched into space. I enjoyed reading about him adapting to his new life and skills, even as I rolled my eyes a bit at how easily everything came to him.

The first part of Bob's life in space, before he started replicating himself, was tolerable, but not great. I wasn't a fan of Bob's decision to build a VR environment for himself. Taylor's reasoning for it sounded okay (AI craziness is at least in part caused by sensory deprivation, because the human minds the AIs are built from expect sensory input they aren't getting), but I didn't want to read about some guy living in his magical environment that he could change at will. I vastly preferred it when Bob was housed in a very nonhuman body that was little more than a camera and some manipulators.

When Bob began populating his environment with animals, including a beloved cat from back when he'd still been human, I began to worry that he'd start recreating people he'd known and loved when he was alive. My biggest fear was that he'd recreate his ex-girlfriend. I was surprised and relieved that it never once crossed Bob's mind to do any of this.

After Bob found a stopping point and began replicating himself, the story branched a bit and should have become more interesting. Instead, it became more tedious and considerably less focused.

Each Bob renamed himself in an effort to make things less confusing, and the book followed multiple Bob POVs. I did my best to keep count, and by the end the total Bob count was 30 and the total number of Bobs who got to be POV characters was up to 9 or 10. This was one of the few aspects where I regretted the audiobook format a bit, since the different Bob POVs were briefly identified at the beginning of a section/chapter and were often difficult to tell apart if I missed hearing Porter say their names. Although each Bob viewed the other Bobs as having radically different personalities, the personality differences weren't as noticeable in the different POV sections.

One of the Bobs (Bill) opted to stay in one place and act as a Bob factory, tech researcher, and communication center. One set of Bobs headed back to Earth to see how things were going and whether there was even any point in looking for habitable planets anymore. Most of the other Bobs went in different directions and began exploring - some of what they found tied in with the storyline involving Earth, some of it led to action scenes involving an enemy AI, and some of it had nothing to do with anything as far as I could tell. Probably setup for the next book.

The discovery of the Deltans, intelligent but low-tech beings on one of the Bob-discovered planets, fit into the last category. Sadly, I found it to be more interesting than the primary storyline involving the fate of humanity, even as Bob's actions and plans made me more and more uncomfortable.

Bob (original Bob) discovered the Deltans and, at first, decided just to watch them. He gradually became more involved, to the point that he

considered culling one of the Deltans' natural enemies, the gorilloids, in order to make the Deltans' lives easier. Another Bob disapproved of this, although I got the impression that his disapproval was based more on his dislike of making the Deltans dependent on the Bobs and less on any qualms about genocide. Original Bob spent a lot of time studying the Deltans and almost no time studying the gorilloids. I wasn't as willing as he was to discount the possibility that the gorilloids were also sentient and sapient beings.

(show spoiler)


We Are Legion (We Are Bob)'s biggest problem was that it was boring. Taylor included a massive amount of technical detail, and I really just did not care. I say this as someone who largely enjoyed the scientific explanations and technical details in Andy Weir's The Martian.

It probably didn't help that I couldn't bring myself to care about the various Bobs and their storylines, either. The humans in Taylor's vision of the future were largely annoying and seemed determined to literally argue themselves to death. Rather than talk to each other, share knowledge and resources, and generally help each other out, they preferred to argue about who got to evacuate first and then refused to so much as share a planet. As for the Bobs, I never became very attached to any of them and

didn't even feel a twinge when any of them died. After all, the Bobs themselves barely mourned each other, and they could always just make new ones, even though the personalities wouldn't be the same.

(show spoiler)


Early on, Bob worried about losing his humanity and was reassured that he was still human when he regained his ability to grieve for the family members of his who'd long since died. Honestly, though, he should have continued to worry, because that moment of grief seemed to be his first and last deeply felt emotion in the entire book.

I don't currently plan on continuing this series. I'm not sure I could take another book filled with dozens of iterations of Bob, even with Ray Porter narrating it.

 

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

Reading progress update: I've read 72 out of 313 pages.

The Shape of Water - Guillermo del Toro, Daniel Kraus

Zelda's a better, more fleshed out character here than in the movie. In the book she actually has a dream for her future: she wants to own her own cleaning business. Lainie, Strickland's wife, is also a much better character here than in the movie, although in her case it feels unnecessary - unless the story is tweaked so that she has a larger part, she really doesn't have anything to do with the River God storyline.

 

And yay, the whole "I only wash my hands before using the urinal, not after" conversation doesn't exist here. Will the rotting fingers be edited out too? I doubt it, but I can always hope.

The Dark Maidens (book) story by Rikako Akiyoshi, art by Booota, translated by Kristi Fernandez

The Dark Maidens - Rikako Akiyoshi, Booota, Kristi Fernandez

The Dark Maidens is structured like a meeting of the Literature Club at St. Mary's Academy for Girls, a mission school in Japan. It begins with the current club president, Sayuri Sumikawa, opening the meeting by explaining its rules and purpose. This is both one of the club's infamous "mystery stew" meetings and also the first meeting since the club's previous president, Itsumi Shiraishi, either jumped to her death on school grounds or was pushed.

"Mystery stew" meetings are one of the club's traditions. Each member brings an ingredient to add to the stew. At some meetings only edible things are allowed, but at others, such as this one, inedible things may be added, as long as they aren't unsanitary, like bugs or shoes. Each member must eat the stew in darkness until the pot has been completely emptied. While everyone is eating the stew, members take turns telling stories. The theme, this time around, is Itsumi and her death.

I bought this knowing only that it was a mystery and that its author is a woman - my brief check for English-language reviews prior to hitting the "buy" button didn't turn up much. Happily, it turned out to be a quick and interesting read, despite its flaws.

I disliked the format, at first. Sayuri's introductory section was odd and a little awkward, as she described a room the club members she was speaking to should already know and discussed the death of her best and closest friend in what seemed to be a remarkably calm way. Readers were given no sense of what was going on in the room or how Sayuri or the other members were behaving unless Sayuri put those things into words. Fortunately, the stories the club members told were more traditionally written, and I eventually adjusted to Sayuri's parts.

The first character to tell her story was Mirei, one of the school's few scholarship students. After that came Akane, the club member who preferred baking Western-style sweets over reading, then Diana, an international student from a small village in Bulgaria, then Sonoko, a student aiming for medical school who was also Itsumi's academic rival, and then Shiyo, one of the club's first members and the author of an award-winning light novel. The book wrapped up with a story and closing remarks by Sayuri.

The first story, Mirei's, made it crystal clear that this was not going to be a book about female friendship and support. No, these girls were going to verbally tear each other to shreds - apparently in a very neat and orderly manner, since there was never any mention of outbursts and denials in the breaks between stories (I assume there were and it just wasn't included in Sayuri's text, because I cannot imagine a bunch of girls keeping silent as they're each accused of murder).

The second story added an interesting, if not terribly surprising element, as it directly contradicted the first story. From that point on, I started keeping track of details that came up in more than one story, trying to sort the truth from lies. Literally everyone in the room was lying, but what they were lying about and why wasn't always easy to figure out. Also, some stories had more truth to them than I originally assumed.

I can't say whether the translation was very accurate, but it was pretty smooth and readable. I flew through this book like it was nothing, and I appreciated the way the differing styles of some of the stories reflected the characters. For example, Shiyo's story had a very bubbly and conversational style, while Sonoko's was more detached and stiff (at least at the beginning).

As much as I enjoyed attempting to sort out the truth and lies in the girls' stories, this book definitely had a few glaring flaws. The biggest one was the mystery stew. It wasn't believable in the slightest that the club members would willingly eat the stew when they all thought that one of them was a murderer. Heck, one of them even suspected that

another club member had been poisoning Itsumi's snacks! Since the meeting was supposed to be happening in the dark, it would have been easy for the poisoner to refrain from eating, or fake eating, and wait until the soup had done its job.

(show spoiler)

 
I also had trouble believing that the girls would have been as open about some things as they were. For example, one girl shared that she'd been in love with Itsumi, while another girl admitted that she'd lied to Shiyo about having read her book. Several girls said things they had to have known that others in the group would recognize as lies. Why didn't they worry about being called out for it?

Another problem was that Akiyoshi seemed to have trouble keeping certain details straight, or perhaps hadn't thought them through very well. For example, Sayuri said that the usual rule for "mystery stew" meetings was that club members could only bring edible ingredients and that the rule had been changed for this particular meeting, and yet only a few paragraphs later it was clear that inedible items had been allowed in the past. Also, club members were supposed to eat the soup "in total darkness," and yet the room had 1-2 lit candles in it (one by Sayuri, to allow her to put ingredients in the pot, and one by the spot where members were supposed to read their stories). There was enough light for Sayuri to notice that one girl's face had paled, even after she'd left the storytelling spot - hardly "total darkness."

Despite the book's problems, I had a lot of fun with it and could see myself rereading it in the future. Next time, I think I'll start with the final two chapters and then go back to the beginning, just to see if everything really does fit together.

Extras:

Several black-and-white illustrations. One of them shows all the girls at once. When I tried to attach names to faces, I realized that there wasn't enough descriptive information in the text to do that. I know what Sayuri and Itsumi looked like, because they were both introduced with illustrations, but, as far as I can tell, most of the others were never described.

 

Rating Note:

 

I feel like I'm probably giving this too high of a rating, because, oof, some of those flaws. But I really did have a lot of fun, especially during the last couple chapters, and I decided to reflect that in my rating.

 

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

Reading progress update: I've read 37 out of 313 pages.

The Shape of Water - Guillermo del Toro, Daniel Kraus

"Giles mazes into the queue. It's a weekday midafternoon, a peculiar time for pie, and he's second in line. He likes being here, he tells himself. It's cozy and warm and smells of cinnamon and sugar. He doesn't look at the cashier, not yet; he's too old to feel this nervous. Instead, he studies a five-foot glass tower, each level presenting a different dessert. Double-decker pies like department-store hat boxes. Sculpted pies like the bout of a cello. Pie puffs like a woman's breast. There is room for all kinds, all kinds."

 

The writing style isn't working for me. Also, I seriously doubt that Giles would mentally be comparing pies to a woman's breast. And this whole book is present tense, OMG.

Reading progress update: I've read 207 out of 207 pages.

The Dark Maidens - Rikako Akiyoshi, Booota, Kristi Fernandez

O_O

 

 

So. This was fucked up.

 

I figured out parts of it. I correctly guessed the identity of the murderer (more through murder mystery logic than any clues in the text), and I was mostly correct about the murderer's motive. And I expected this club to be a pit of vipers. I just didn't realize quite how bad it was. Dang.

Reading progress update: I've read 146 out of 207 pages.

The Dark Maidens - Rikako Akiyoshi, Booota, Kristi Fernandez

Story #4 was wacko.

 

There's been very little overlap so far between the different stories. I've been trying to keep track of details that have been mentioned in more than one story, on the assumption that those details are likely to be true and might be clues as to what really happened, but the list doesn't seem to be very useful so far.

 

Only two of the six Literature Club members haven't been accused of murder yet, and there are two more stories (plus closing remarks) to go. I'm interested to see how Akiyoshi wraps this up (hey, poisoned stew is still a possibility!), and I'm glad that this has turned out to be a quick read.

Reading progress update: I've read 90 out of 207 pages.

The Dark Maidens - Rikako Akiyoshi, Booota, Kristi Fernandez

I'm reading the third story now. Story #1: accuses one of the Literature Club members of murder. Story #2: directly contradicts Story #1. Parts of it seem unlikely, but other parts are pretty convincing. Story #3: Wow, these girls are just letting all their personal feelings out, aren't they? And now we have a third member accused of murder. Nothing in this story contradicts either Story #1 or Story #2 (yet).

 

And a quote from earlier, which seems to perfectly sum up the perspective through which this book approaches female relationships:

 

"Don't you find that friendships between girls our age exist within two extremes? If a girl is similar to you, you'll either hate her or love her; if she's your opposite, you'll either lover her or hate her. I imagine you learn how to gracefully handle these kinds of things as you become an adult: you learn that whether you are similar or different, get along or don't, these relationships provide us with the wisdom we need to survive in society.

 

But for our generation, this wisdom is impossible. All we care about are our own selfish emotions. We have to protect our feelings more than anything else. So, do we kill, or allow ourselves to be killed? Friendships between girls are always hanging in this balance. Life-or-death survival. This is especially true at an all-girls school like ours. Right, ladies?" (18-19)

Reading progress update: I've read 55 out of 207 pages.

The Dark Maidens - Rikako Akiyoshi, Booota, Kristi Fernandez

These girls are going to end up utterly destroying each other by the end of the meeting. I'm not ruling out the possibility of poison being added to the stew.

 

At this particular Literature Club meeting, everyone is supposed to tell a story about the death of the previous club president, Itsumi, who only died a week or so ago. Itsumi either jumped to her death on school grounds or was pushed. Itsumi's family did not permit any of the Literature Club members to attend her funeral and refused to give any details about her death.

 

I just finished the first story, told by one of the school's few scholarship students. She outright named one of the other club members as being Itsumi's murderer and outlined her reasoning for the accusation. Looking at the table of contents, the accused member will have to wait through two more stories before she gets a chance to respond. Can you imagine just sitting there in silence after a fellow club member has accused you of murder?

Reading progress update: I've read 18 out of 207 pages.

The Dark Maidens - Rikako Akiyoshi, Booota, Kristi Fernandez

So far this is written as though readers are attending one of the Literature Club's "mystery stew" meetings. The rules of mystery stew:

 

- Each club member can put one ingredient in.

- Members must not tell anyone what they've added, even after the stew has been eaten. (Trying to be more clear: the final list of ingredients is known, but who selected each ingredient is supposed to remain a mystery.)

- At some meetings, only edible ingredients are allowed. At this particular meeting, inedible ingredients may be added, but they must not be unsanitary, like shoes or bugs.

- Club members must each eat the stew in complete darkness.

- Everyone must eat until the pot has been completely emptied. However, each person's bowl may only be refilled if they've managed to eat it all, which naturally means that those with inedible items in their bowl can't completely finish their bowl.

 

Okay, so they have a really swanky club meeting room, but I still wonder how many new members quit immediately after their first "mystery stew" meeting. Also, I'm already wondering if the previous club president was killed by this stupid stew. Probably not, or they wouldn't do it again, but you never know.