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Familiar Diversions

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

Currently reading

Scavenger Hunt
Christopher Pike
Progress: 73/215 pages
The Gene: An Intimate History
Siddhartha Mukherjee
The Firm
John Grisham
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

Reading progress update: I've read 73 out of 215 pages.

Scavenger Hunt - Christopher Pike

Oh look, Pike managed to squeeze surprise incest into this. Eww.

Reading progress update: I've read 44 out of 215 pages.

Scavenger Hunt - Christopher Pike

This started with a boy (probably Carl?) running from demons and maybe some kind of cult. Shortly after that, the story rewound to some earlier point. There's a scavenger hunt being held by a boring teacher and his group, whatever they are. The teacher has been described as looking like a vampire, so maybe he and his group are the upcoming cult? And Carl has a brain-injured friend who used to be a football player and who no one ever seems to remember without at least a little prompting. Suspicious...

 

I had thought I'd read most of Christopher Pike's earlier works, but this one isn't even vaguely ringing a bell, although the cover looks somewhat familiar (but don't they all?).

Reading progress update: I've read 161 out of 161 pages.

Accomplishments of the Duke's Daughter, Vol. 2 - Michael Reia, Suki Umemiya, Angela Liu

By the end of the volume, the heroine has been in this world for approximately 2 years. In that time, she has become the same workaholic she'd been in the real world. Also, she "invents" a new banking system, double-entry accounting, public schools, hair conditioner, lemongrass herb tea, and probably some other stuff I'm forgetting.

 

There's a short story at the end that shows that she (and therefore the author) is aware that she's become the same workaholic she used to be, so there's some hope that the series will address this.

 

This has one more volume to really win me over. While I like the "everyone appreciates the heroine's business skills and sexist attitudes get steamrolled" wish fulfillment, I kind of wish the series would slow down and focus on the characters a little more.

Komi Can't Communicate (manga, vol. 1) by Tomohito Oda, translated by John Werry

Komi Can't Communicate, Vol. 1 - Tomohito Shinoda

Hitohito Tadano has somehow been accepted to Itan Private High School, an elite prep school, despite being average in every way. His primary goal is to blend in and not make any waves.

This becomes difficult after he meets Komi, the cool, distant, and elegant girl who sits next to him in class. Tadano gradually comes to the realization that Komi isn't actually cool and distant, but rather incredibly socially anxious and bad at talking to people. Forgetting his own goals, Tadano becomes determined to help her.

I'm not sure how I feel about this series yet.

Komi was cute and, as a socially anxious person myself (although not nearly as bad), I really felt for her. And Tadano was super sweet - I loved the chalkboard conversation he had with Komi, and the way he forced himself to do something he wasn't really wild about, talk to Najimi, to help Komi make friends and connect with others. I wasn't happy about the occasional sexual jokes involving Najimi, though, and I hope Najimi's ambiguous gender doesn't become some kind of ongoing joke.

The various attempts to help Komi gain new friends and do "normal" social things were hit-or-miss for me. I loved the storyline involving Komi, her new phone, and her efforts to create her first contacts list, but I was unmoved by the group games story. Najimi's "go buy me a Frappuccino or I won't be your friend anymore" quest was a bit painful to watch, but at least Najimi realized after it was over that they'd been cruel and rightfully apologized to Komi. And while Himiko Agari, another anxious student, should have been a great new friend for Komi, that entire storyline was ruined by her off-putting "I want to be your dog" moment.

I'm a little worried that, since this is a comedy series, its focus will be on "Komi's ridiculous new friend of the week" and "watch Komi somehow make friends despite being unable to speak" rather than on any sort of character growth or even deepening of Komi's friendships. I'm not a fan of Komi's "make 100 friends" goal, and I hope that, at some point, she realizes that deepening her relationships with the friends she currently has might be more worthwhile than making a few dozen new "friends" she barely knows.

The premise reminds me a little of Kimi Ni Todoke, only more focused on humor than on romance (so far, at least). At the moment, I prefer that series, because of its focus on the heroine's POV and her deepening friendships with those around her, to this one, which feels more focused on Tadano and his perception of Komi. I'll probably read the next volume of Komi Can't Communicate at some point, to get a better idea of where Oda might be taking the series, but it'll more than likely be via a library checkout rather than another purchase.

Extras:

A couple pages of extra comics that basically boil down to "Najimi and Komi are complete opposites and likely incapable of ever understanding one another."

 

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

Accomplishments of the Duke's Daughter (manga, vol. 1) story by Reia, art by Suki Umemiya, translation by Angela Liu

Accomplishments of the Duke's Daughter, Vol. 1 - Suki Umemiya, Michael Reia, Angela Liu

The series' unnamed heroine is a young (youngish? one of her coworkers calls her ma'am) office worker at a tax firm who stayed up all night playing her favorite otome game. She has to work late and, on her way home, doesn't pay close enough attention to her surroundings and gets hit by a car. She wakes up in the body of Iris, the villain of her favorite otome, in the middle of a climactic scene that she knows will result in her banishment to a convent. She alters Iris's original choices just enough to prevent this from happening and is instead sent away to the family's fiefdom. Her father (Iris's father) develops a sudden progressive streak and makes her, rather than her older brother, the acting fief lord.

Iris is accompanied by her four most faithful servants, people she once rescued from terrible lives and fates. Her first goal is to inspect the various regions on the fiefdom, particularly the most and least prosperous cities.

I picked the first few volumes of this series up because I actually wanted to read a different series but couldn't. More specifically: There is a glut of "transported to another world" light novels starring ordinary guys, so when I heard that My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! existed and starred an otome-loving female main character who ends up reincarnated as the villain in her favorite otome, I really wanted to read it. It's currently available in e-book form, but I'd need to break my "no DRM" rule to get it, which I refuse to do. I thought it was coming out in paper form in August, but that may just be the manga adaptation.

So I bought a few volumes of this manga series, which also stars an otome-loving female main character who ends up in the body of the villain in her favorite otome, and which I believe was also based on a light novel series. I have no idea how the two series compare. I suppose I'll find out, eventually. If this isekai light novel/manga glut continues, I hope that it leads to the licensing of more series starring women. Crossing my fingers that they don't all star women being reborn into the bodies of the villains in their favorite otome games.

Anyway, this first volume of Accomplishments of the Duke's Daughter was...okay. The artwork was reasonably attractive but seemed to be a bit light on backgrounds. As for the story, there was nothing particularly bad about it, but also nothing particularly good or noteworthy.

I liked that it seemed to be part of the subgenre I call "economic fantasy" - at the moment, there's more emphasis on Iris learning the economic conditions of her new home than on Iris's love life. Which isn't to say that romance won't happen. I'd be surprised if it didn't, considering the series' premise, even if the heroine was reborn as the villain and not the protagonist.

Two of the four servants closest to Iris have gotten flashbacks to the time prior to their becoming part of Iris's household. I assume the others will get flashbacks soon enough. Right now my favorite of the four is Tanya, whose backstory makes me think of Kaoru Mori's Emma. If I had to pair Iris off with anyone at this point, it'd probably be Tanya, although I doubt the series is going to go in that direction.

So far, at least, the "reincarnated in an otome game" elements are so light as to almost be unnecessary. The heroine's past as an office worker at a tax firm allowed her to plow through large stacks of financial documents far more quickly than the real Iris would have been able to do, and her knowledge of the game helped her prevent Iris from getting sent to the nunnery. But the series could just as easily have been basic fantasy starring a heroine who secretly studied economics and accounting in the hope of one day getting to use that knowledge to help her family and her people. I have no idea if Reia plans to do more with the series' premise (either the otome game aspects or the things the heroine knows because of her real world life), or if it was only intended to get the ball rolling and smooth over anything that readers might have otherwise questioned Iris knowing.

I don't have too much to say right now about Iris's plans for the fiefdom. Well, I did roll my eyes a bit at Iris's discovery of potential source of income for one region. It struck me as demonstrating a colonial mentality. The locals used the product but viewed it as worthless to anyone but themselves, resulting in Iris being the first one ever to consider how to market it to others? Sure, uh huh.

I own the first three volume of this series, which I figured would give me more than enough time to figure out whether it's worth sticking with or not. It hasn't yet managed to win me over, but I don't regret having a couple more volumes in my collection to read.

Extras:

"Womanly Secrets" by Reia, a 5-page short story in which Iris's female servants try to set up a girls' day out but find themselves missing Iris. I found it to be a bit much. Also, it emphasized that Iris doesn't actually feel like an otome game villain - everyone loves her so much. It's tough to believe that the original Iris ever bullied the protagonist, even just out of jealousy, and there's no sign that any of the characters even vaguely suspect that the gentle and studious Iris they're speaking to now isn't the Iris they knew a week ago.

 

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

Baccano!, Vol. 2: 1931 The Grand Punk Railroad: Local (book) by Ryohgo Narita, illustration by Katsumi Enami, translated by Taylor Engel

Baccano!, Vol. 2: 1931 The Grand Punk Railroad: Local - Ryohgo Narita, Katsumi Enami

The year is 1931, and the Flying Pussyfoot, a limited express train bound for New York, has just acquired several groups worth of dangerous passengers, nearly all of whom think they'll easily be able to take over the train for their own ends. There's crybaby bootlegger boss Jacuzzi Splot (best name ever) and his misfit band of delinquents, who plan to steal some secret cargo. There's the Lemures group, a bunch of terrorists determined to take some hostages in order to free their leader, the immortal Huey Laforet. There's murder-loving Ladd Russo, the nephew of the head of the Russo mafia family, his bride-to-be Lua, and his group of fellow killers. There's the mysterious monster known as the Rail Tracer. And then there are a few less dangerous passengers, like the thieves Isaac and Miria.

All of these passengers have their own goals and motivations. Only some of them will make it to New York alive.

First, a disclaimer: I have seen (and enjoyed) the anime, which adapted several books in this series, including this one. I suspect it helped my ability to follow along with the characters and story. Normally, I'd suggest watching the anime prior to attempting these light novels, but the anime has gone out of print and, as far as I know, isn't legally streaming anywhere (to anyone who wonders why I still buy so much anime when streaming is an option, this is why).

As far as reading order goes: Although Narita wrote in his afterword that he planned to keep each volume as self-contained as possible, that doesn't mean the books can be read in any order - definitely read Volume 1 before starting this one, even though only a few characters from the first book make appearances in this one. Also, if you make it past Volume 1 and plan on reading Volume 2, you might as well buy Volume 3 as well, because Volume 2 isn't self-contained. It doesn't end in what I'd call a cliffhanger, but it does leave a good chunk of the story untold. Multiple characters show up, only to disappear again, the details of their fates saved for Volume 3.

In my review of the first volume of this series, I wrote that the writing/translation was bad but that this somehow didn't interfere with my enjoyment. That was sadly not the case with Volume 2. I don't know whether it was actually worse than Volume 1 or whether I was just less in the mood, but there were times when the writing literally ground my reading experience to a halt as I tried to figure out what Narita meant. One example:

"Nice objected to that idea. Since she was talking to Nick, even under the circumstances, she meticulously parsed out casual speech and polite speech to the appropriate listener; Nick received the latter." (147)

It would have been simpler to say that, even though she objected to Nick's idea, she still did so politely. Not only is the phrasing incredibly awkward, I'm not sure that "parsed" is the right word here. "Parceled out" might have been more appropriate.

Here's an example that just made me shake my head:

"Without giving an audible answer to that question, Lua nodded silently." (48)

Can we say "redundant"?

As in Volume 1, the writing was almost completely devoid of descriptions. Nearly all of the book's historical and setting details were limited to pages 61 to 62 - otherwise, it was all character introductions, dialogue, and action, pretty much in that order.

It's a sign of how excellent Ladd Russo's English-language voice actor was that I kept hearing him every time I read Ladd's dialogue. Of all of this book's many characters, Ladd and Jacuzzi probably stood out the most. Jacuzzi was a relatively fun and interesting character, a young man who tended to cry and panic about everything but who nonetheless inspired intense loyalty within his group. Ladd, unfortunately, just came across as an excuse for occasional mindless bone-crunching violence.

Isaac and Miria were a disappointment this time around. They continued their role as the series' comic relief, but instead of being oblivious to the violence around them, they were presented as being well aware of what was going on, but so used to it that they were unfazed. Honestly, it made them seem more creepy and disturbing than, say, a more in-your-face monster like Ladd.

I don't expect the series' writing to improve, but I'm hopeful that I'll like Volume 3 more than this one, because all of the fantasy elements that Narita only hinted at in this volume will actually be on-page in that volume. Also, my favorite character from the anime, Claire, will finally get more than just a few vague mentions.

I'll wrap this up with a couple things that made me go WTF. Was the fingernail thing in the anime? I can't remember, but in the book it made me wince. Fingernails don't work like that - I don't care how you shape or cut them, you're not going to be able to saw through multiple ropes with them, and certainly not quickly enough to do any good. Also, if you did arrange to have one of your nails shaped like a tiny saw, you would constantly regret it as you accidentally cut yourself or other people or even just got the nail caught on cloth or whatever. And then there was the thing under Nice's eye patch, which I know was definitely in the anime, although I'd completely forgotten about it. So much wincing. Just a bad, bad idea.

Extras:

Several color illustrations at the front of the book (with text that will likely only confuse readers who haven't yet read the volume and haven't seen the anime), several black-and-white illustrations throughout, and an afterword by the author.

 

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

Reading progress update: I've read 233 out of 233 pages.

Baccano!, Vol. 2: 1931 The Grand Punk Railroad: Local - Ryohgo Narita, Katsumi Enami

Well, I'm done. This barely squeaks into the $3 range, bringing my Booklikesopoly total to $34. Can I make it to at least $50? We'll see...

 

Although I admit the anime was confusing as heck the first time around, I really enjoyed it. I had originally hoped that reading the books the series was based on would add another level to my enjoyment. The first book was fun enough, despite the terrible writing, and I'm looking forward to getting to the point where the anime was left behind (Book 4? or Book 5?). But man, Volume 2. This time around the bad writing actually did interfere with my enjoyment, and it didn't help that Narita chose a confusing way to tell this portion of the story. All of the fantasy elements that could have been present in this volume as part of a big, climactic reveal were instead saved for Volume 3, something I only know because I watched the anime and know where all of this is going.

 

I'm reminded of this article about a Japanese editor who blasted the light novel publishing industry for being filled with authors who just plain can't write. “The version they put out on the Internet was the result of them using every last bit of their skills, and there’s no way they can do any better.” Ouch.

Reading progress update: I've read 147 out of 233 pages.

Baccano!, Vol. 2: 1931 The Grand Punk Railroad: Local - Ryohgo Narita, Katsumi Enami

"Nice objected to that idea. Since she was talking to Nick, even under these circumstances, she meticulously parsed out casual speech and polite speech to the appropriate listener; Nick received the latter."

 

::eyeballs and brain melting::

 

I'm pretty sure that this is just saying that Nice objected to Nick's idea, but that her words remained polite/formal rather than more casual (which is still an awkward way of putting it). I hate it when I'm moving happily along in this book and then stumble across a speed bump made of words.

Reading progress update: I've read 116 out of 233 pages.

Baccano!, Vol. 2: 1931 The Grand Punk Railroad: Local - Ryohgo Narita, Katsumi Enami

I'm going to be sitting in customer waiting areas for a while today, waiting for car stuff to be completed. Let's see if I can finish this while I wait.

 

There's one character, the "magician," that I don't recall seeing in the anime at all. No idea if he's just someone who slipped my mind, since it's been ages since I saw the series, or whether I'm in for some new-to-me content.

Reading progress update: I've read 189 out of 189 pages.

Komi Can't Communicate, Vol. 1 - Tomohito Shinoda

Komi is cute, and Tadano is sweet. I'm not sure how I feel about Najimi, though, and "I want to be your dog" Agari makes me uncomfortable.

 

The setup is a bit contrived. I feel like Komi's "I want to make 100 friends" goal is just a way for the author to stretch the series out for as long as possible. Here's hoping I'm wrong and this doesn't turn into "X new friends introduced per volume, look how Komi somehow manages to make friends without being able to talk!"

Reading progress update: I've read 33 out of 189 pages.

Komi Can't Communicate, Vol. 1 - Tomohito Shinoda

Komi, writing on the blackboard because she's too socially anxious to force any words past her lips:

 

"In junior high I had a hard time eating by myself at lunch. And watching everyone chat as they ate. It hurt. Every day for three years I tried to join. But I couldn't speak. No matter how hard I tried. I just couldn't speak. What should I do? How can I start a conversation? Then what happens? What if they reject me? What's the next conversation? What if they say I'm boring? What if I can't smile right? What should I do?"

 

I don't quite buy that she's telling Tadano all of this so soon after meeting him, even if he is the first person to ever notice that she isn't just coolly reserved, but actually really shy, and even if she's doing it via writing on a blackboard so that she doesn't have to look at him or say anything out loud. Still, I'm rooting for Komi. Here's hoping she can make some friends. This aspect of the series reminds me of Kimi Ni Todoke a bit.

Unusual book club meeting

A Man Called Ove - Fredrik Backman

This is my first IRL book club meeting (I've been to three now, I think) where all of us have liked the book. We all had at least one detail that we could think of that we couldn't quite buy, and several of us (like me) brought up the book's fairly obvious emotional manipulation, but we all managed to like it anyway.

 

Next up is Christopher Moore's Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal.* As a non-religious person living in a town where people think nothing of asking someone they just met what church they go to, I'm nervous about how this book club could turn out. I take comfort from knowing that I loathed To Siri With Love, one other person in the book club connected with it in a personal way, and yet that book club meeting somehow turned out well. Surely this one can too.

 

 

 

* I've read it once before and remember liking it well enough, although it's definitely not one of my favorites by Moore. I have zero clue what a devout Christian would think of it.

Reading progress update: I've read 48 out of 233 pages.

Baccano!, Vol. 2: 1931 The Grand Punk Railroad: Local - Ryohgo Narita, Katsumi Enami

"Without giving an audible answer to that question, Lua nodded silently."

 

Writing like this is why I can't bring myself to recommend these books to people who aren't already fans of the anime or at least generally inclined to want to try Japanese light novels.

Reading progress update: I've read 46 out of 233 pages.

Baccano!, Vol. 2: 1931 The Grand Punk Railroad: Local - Ryohgo Narita, Katsumi Enami

"'That's right: Why are you people all in white?'

 

This dumb question received a dumb answer. The answer was also more than enough to provoke a strong feeling of revulsion in anyone who heard it.

 

'We're on our way to kill several dozen people in a narrow train, see? If we're in white - the blood will show up better, and it'll look cool.'"

 

This particular quote comes from Ladd Russo's section. He kills people because it's fun.

 

The writing isn't the worst I've seen in light novels, but it could certainly be better. I've had to reread a few parts a couple times, in an effort to parse what's going on. Narita has been introducing characters at breakneck speed, and I wonder how well I'd be doing if I had gone into this cold.

 

It looks like this book is going to focus on my favorite storyline from the anime, the very messy train portion involving two idiotic thieves, a group of up-and-coming bootleggers, Ladd and his group of killers, and some revolutionaries. I don't know if Narita will manage to fit in the immortal child and Vinno, the assassin, or whether he'll wait for book 3. I'm relieved to see that the train storyline takes place over the course of two books, this one and the next one.

Booklikesopoly: Turn #2 - I roll doubles again

 

Bank: $26

Available wildcards: 1

 

After what felt like an eternity, I can finally roll again. First roll:

 

 

Lol. If only I were this lucky in other areas of my life. My second turn, and both times I've rolled doubles.

 

I indicated where I left off with a pink blotch - Spot 27. Rolling 10 gets me to my next (slightly darker) pink blotch, Spot 36. The requirements for that spot:

 

Read a book that involves travel to Europe, or that has an image of any European city or monument on the cover, or that the letters of the title can spell the name of any European city* that I visited on my trip *Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, Geneva, Rome, Florence, Venice & Barcelona.

 

I have a bunch of options that would work for this. One of the benefits of Japanese light novels with really long titles is that they can spell lots of things, I guess. A few possibilities:

 

- Masquerade and the Nameless Women by Eiji Mikage  - Spells Amsterdam

- How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom, Vol. 1 by Dojyomaru - Spells Rome

- That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, Vol. 1 by Fuse - Spells Rome

- Baccano!, Vol. 2: 1931 The Grand Punk Railroad: Local by Ryohgo Narita - Spells Barcelona

- So I'm a Spider, So What?, Vol. 1 by Okina Baba - Spells Paris

- Defeating the Demon Lord's a Cinch If You've Got a Ringer, Vol. 1 by Tsukikage - Spells Munich

 

See what I mean? At the moment, I'm leaning towards the Baccano volume because I know what to expect from the writing (not great, but the pacing and characters should make up for that). Unfortunately, this square does not apply to the book I really need to read, Christopher Pike's Scavenger Hunt. It isn't due for a few weeks, but still.

 

Since I rolled doubles, I get to roll again:

 

 

Rolling 8 takes me past start, which adds $5 to my bank. I end up on Square 7:

 

Read a book that has a house on the cover, or that is related to something unique about your community (for example, if your community has a strawberry festival, read a book with strawberries on the cover).

 

Ooh. I might be able to turn this into something that could allow me to read my ILL book for Booklikesopoly! Take a look:

 

Scavenger Hunt - Christopher Pike 

 

Mausoleums, unfortunately, probably don't count as houses (if you squint, it could maybe count as a house for the dead?). However. My town does a "cemetery walk" every year, in which people from the historical society, plus additional volunteers, dress up as local historical figures and talk about their lives and deaths. It's not a festival or anything, but I think it counts as something unique about my community, and it relates to the cemetery and gravestones on the cover.

 

If my reading speed continues the way it has been, this should cover me until at least July...

Reading progress update: I've read 320 out of 320 pages.

Planetfall - Emma Newman

This was so good, and then the ending happened. And now I'm annoyed.

 

On the plus side, I finally get to roll again. This gives me $3 in Booklikesopoly and brings my total up to $26. I'm moving so slowly in this year's game. ::sigh::