Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Kuroshitsuji/Black Butler Episode Twenty-Four "His Butler, Swift"--Review

The episode begins with Ciel and Sebastian in a small boat. Ciel wants to know where they are going, and Sebastian claims that there are bridges in England that have been made by demons known as "Devil's Bridge." Sebastian is taking Ciel to the London bridge which is a "Sacred Bridge" since it was something the Queen had caused to be built while under the influence of Ash. When they reach the bridge we see that it is covered by faces that are wailing and groaning in misery. Ciel asks if human sacrifice is what makes the bridge sacred. Sebastian does not answer directly, but states that the believers who "entered here" are worse than demons. (This could mean just about anything.)

Sebastian tries to leave Ciel in the boat, but Ciel demands to go with him. Sebastian points out that Ciel is a burden since he is badly injured but Ciel states that the fire is kind of scary. (Okay, actually he says the fire is something Sebastian can't fight again.) Sebastian relents, and takes him up to the bridge. Ash is standing on the railing and seems really happy with the work he's done so far. When Sebastian makes an appearance with Ciel in tow, he says hello.

Ciel demands to know why Ash killed the Queen. Ash says it's because the Queen was mortal and he decided to purify her.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Shiki, "Nineteenth Coffin" --Review

The episode opens with a montage of scenes from the last few episodes, and resolves on Chizuru, when she was still human. Then we flash forward to the present day. A villager has managed to hit her with a rock and she falls to the ground, she is next shown lying on a stage in the festival area, and then we go to credits.

Once back from credits, Toshio gives the villagers a demonstration on vampire detection and slaying. He does not get very far into his demonstration before Chizuru wakes up, shows fang and attempts to attack him. Unfortunately for Chizuru, she's severely weakened by being so close to the shrine and Atsushi's father is easily able to force her back down onto the stage. Then Megumi's dad takes the hammer and Toshio holds the stake, and they manage to pound the stake into her. (Special note: Yes, it is actually possible to do this, provided you have a thick stake with a sharp point, a heavy hammer and a good swing. It's a three for three special here.) Chizuru dies in a very messy very bloody fashion and does not obligingly disintegrate into ash or dust.

Toshio continues his presentation and successfully turns the villagers into a mob to hunt shiki.

The scene shifts to Seishin, who appears to have been donating blood. He's having tea while keeping Sunako company. It seems like a nice quite night at home for Sunako until Tatsumi shows up to tell Sunako that Chizuru was slain by the villagers. Tatsumi recommends immediate escape, but Sunako states that this isn't possible, because there would be no way for all of them to escape since their numbers have increased to quickly, and they don't have an escape route. (The Little General appears to have burned her boats at the river, and is now having to deal with the consequences.)

Gosick Episode Eight, "Howling Echoes from the Kingdom of the Past"--Review

We open with a very distraught Derek, who is upset that his friend Raoul has been shot by the old man. The old man denies having shot the Raoul, and Ambrose is trying to explain that this was certainly an accident. Derek does not care if it was an accident and continues to wail over the death of his friend. Unnoticed by everyone, Victorique picks up a hazelnut. This would be a Clue.

After the credits, Kujo, Victorique and Ambrose are talking about the shooting. She asks what Ambrose thinks of the case, he replies that Elder Sergius will have to show proof that he had not shot Raoul. Victorique states that she has the "proof" concerning the crime, and that she can explain it to both Ambrose and Kujo.

"Howling Echoes from the Kingdom of the Past"

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Changeless by Gail Carriger

374 pp.
Changeless (The Parasol Protectorate)In Changeless, Our Heroine is rudely awakened by her husband who rushes off without telling her what’s going on, which is quite a lot. The pack regiment is currently camped out on the front lawn, Alexia is once more being accused of random acts of exorcism and soul sucking while dodging mysterious assassins. Then Lord Maccon rushes off to Scotland to deal with a situation involving his former pack. To make things more interesting, the commander of the regiment is a insufferable twit, her best friend is having romantic adventures, one of her sisters is visiting and there is a hatter who is a mad scientist.

Not knowing what else to do and having a sincere desire to find out what the heck is going on, Alexia goes after her husband.

The sequel is a strong continuation of the previous book. (Very strong, there is no sense of it being “transitional” or of any filler “filler” scenes and situations.) It is very fast paced and while there is an occasional feeling that the character is being tossed from situation to situation instead of acting on her own, it does not get in the way of the story. (I generally find passive characters who don’t seem to take any action for themselves to be boring at best and obnoxious at worst.)

I enjoyed the introduction of Madame Lefoux, who has to be one of the quirkier and entertaining characters in the series beside Alexia herself. (Lefoux comes in a close third behind Lyall, Lord Maccon in my list of favorite characters. Alexia of course is number one.) I liked the exchanges between Madame Lefoux and Alexia, and loved the way the connection between Lefoux and Alexia’s maid was introduced. (The progression to catty remarks to the revelation of the former relationship was subtly done and there was no feeling that the writer was trying to make a point of some kind. It was just extremely natural and organic, which impressed me a great deal.) Another thing I liked was a scene where Lefoux is being extremely exasperated at her son--the combination of “mad science” with “domestic” was fun and strangely adorable.

There was a lot of interesting world building involved with this story, where we learned a lot about Alexia’s nature as a “preternatural” and how it makes her different from ordinary humans and the supernatural varieties. There was also a lot of fun scenes of Alexia trying to wrangle her best friend and her sister while navigating through a very unhappy meeting with her technical in-laws. After drawing the reader in with a lot of humor and sarcasm Gail Carriger manages to finish the reader off with a fairly gut wrenching cliffhanger as the mystery is solved and the situation with Lord Maccon’s family is settled, but everything else blows up in Alexia’s face. (The ending is sufficiently traumatic and horrible that I’m glad that I was able to get the first three books all at once because I think otherwise I wouldn’t have enjoyed the third book very much if I’d had to wait between the second and third--I was that unhappy with the ending. And by “unhappy,” I actually mean “emotionally invested in Alexia proving to Conall that he is an ass.”) This was a great book of the “can’t put down for any reasonable amount of time because I want to find out what happened next,” variety.

Kuroshitsuji/Black Butler Episode Twenty Three "His Butler, Ablaze"--Review

We open this episode with Tanaka writing in a diary. He notes that this is the second fire he has experienced while working in the mansion. As he completes the entry, he notes that his duty of writing about the house is coming to an end. As the scene pulls back, we see that the building has sustained some severe fire damage.

The scene shifts to Ciel, who has stowed away aboard the ship. For some reason, the Undertaker is there as well and seems to be pleased to see Ciel. He has a little cauldron full of dog biscuits which Ciel is more than happy to eat, since he is starving. As he eats, the Undertaker fills him in on something that is about to happen in London: apparently, there will be a very great many deaths in the city and the grim reapers are on a special alert. Then Ciel hears a shout about something happening in the city.

Ciel heads up to the deck and sees that the city is in flames. The Undertaker heads off to do whatever it is a semi-retired grim reaper does. Before he goes, Ciel asks why the Undertaker had come to him. The Undertaker doesn't answer directly, though he does warn Ciel that he's going to die. Then we go to opening credits.

Read the rest of this recap at Associated Content.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sample: The Book of Night With Moon, by Diane Duane

This novel is a spin off from the Young Wizard series. It features the adventures of a team of cat wizards. (In the Young Wizard's series there are several kinds of animals who are smart enough to have wizardry. Cats are one of them.) Cat wizards have a special affinity for creating and maintaining magical gates that enable you to travel anywhere in the world (or the universe for that matter), and this particular team are in charge of the Gates in Grand Central Station.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Shiki, "Eighteenth Death" --Review

We open with another mini-montage that resolves to two shiki who are talking about having to move the body processing operation to various huts in the mountains. They are complaining about having to be on body burial detail. Apparently, the funeral home has reached maximum occupancy.

The next scene is Tatsumi who is walking down the street toward Natsuno's home. When he gets to the door, Natsuno's father slams the door open and lunges at Tatsumi and stabs him. Tatsumi just stands there, looking bored while Natsuno's father cackles and cheers, declaring that he's killed an okiagari. Then he wanders around babbling about being dependable. Tatsumi asks to be invited in, and Natsuno's father does so.

Tatsumi has decided to have a friendly heart to heart chat with Natsuno. He chides Natsuno for concealing himself, and he explains that Sunako has named day walking vampires like himself as jinrou. He states that there is one other jinrou beside himself and Natsuno. The friendliness doesn't last long, since Natsuno is being extremely non-cooperative. Tatsumi mentions Akira being missing, but Natsuno acts as if he does not care. Seeing that this tactic isn't working either, Tatsumi moves on to physical threats. He tells Natsuno that his choices are join up or die, then walks off.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Gosick Episode Seven, "A Divine Revelation is Given at the Summer Solstice Festival"--Review

The Village of Gray Wolves is an extremely isolated, extremely insular community that prides itself in being entirely self-sufficient. They have had very little contact with outsiders for four hundred years. Their summer solstice festival is a very unique combination of vaguely pagan and Christian practices, leaning more toward "pagan" than "Christian." (Okay, basically it is like that movie The Wicker Man except not at all like that, okay?) The three gentlemen are not very gentlemanly at all when they start making fun of the village's religious practices. The village elder borrows a gun from one of the villagers and fires it, claiming that there are wolves in the mountain.

After the credits, everyone is taken to a mansion in the town where they will be staying as guests during the festival. One of the maids, a woman named Harminia has hysterics when she spots Victorique, instantly recognizing her as Cordelia's daughter. She continues to have hysterics until the village elder snaps her out of it.

That night at dinner, Sergius the village elder, gives a full account of what happened that resulted in Cordelia being exiled. (We also learn that Cordelia was only fifteen at the time she was exiled.) Other details concerning the murder are that Cordelia had entered the previous elder's study at exactly midnight and that there had been a scattering of gold coins on the floor. (For some reason, gold coins are not to be used in the village, and the village elder kept them in his study after confiscating them.)

1636: The Saxon Uprising, by Eric Flint


1636: The Saxon Uprising: N/A (The Ring of Fire)
Available on Amazon
In this book, Gustav Adolph’s cousin quietly investigates the circumstances around Chancellor Oxenstierna’s power grab and the ensuing succession crisis, Gretchen, the Committees of Correspondence defend Dresden, and various other groups, rise in opposition to Oxenstierna’s attempt to take over the government. (And are able to play it quite convincingly that they’re on the side of the angels--because they are--since Oxenstierna is deliberately trying to change the entire system that had already been decided upon by everyone, and everyone else are continuing to play by the rules already deciding on and more or less  fighting back to maintain those rules.)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Dark Companion by Andre Norton

410 pp.
Dark CompanionI really like that Baen has been reprinting Andre Norton’s works (though there are times when I wonder why they chose the novels they did to combine into each of the omnibuses). This would almost be one of those times, except that I can kind of see the logic since both novels deal with adults (or near adults) who are responsible for the welfare of children in a dangerous situation. Dark Companion is the omnibus edition of Dark Piper and Dread Companion. This is my first time reading both of these books because I generally kept to her Witch World novels with only occasional forays into her science fiction.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

It's the End of the World As We Know It...

Shiki, "Seventeenth Killing Spirit" --Review

The episode opens with another brief montage that resolves into a nightmare that Seishin is having. He dreams of Kyoko and Toshio. In the dream, Toshio declares that he made a decision and acted on it. Dream-Toshio asks Seishin what he's going to do. Then the scene resolves to Seishin standing outside his home, and shifts again to Toshio who is carving wooden stakes--and then we go to the opening credits.

When we get back, Seishin is taking a walk in the wood at night. (Apparently, he has not gotten the memo that walking outside at night is not safe for your continued health.) He comes across Toru, who warns him off. Seishin continues to talk to Toru, who apparently needed a shoulder to cry on (figuratively speaking; Toru is hiding behind a tree). Toru confesses to Seishin about having killed Natsuno, and is very obviously distraught. (Leaving us to wonder why Sunako is fairly murderous from the start, but the other shiki seem to need to be coerced.)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Sample: A Clash of Kings by George R.R Martin

A Clash of Kings is the second book in A Song of Ice and Fire.I ended up skimming this after reading A Game of Thrones so I don't have a clear idea of everything that happens.

Kuroshitsuji/Black Butler Episode Twenty Two "His Butler, Terminates"--Review

We open with Abberline's widow, who receives an unexpected load of gifts from a certain Earl of Phantomhive. After this brief scene we are shown the Phantomhive mansion which is bustling with activity due to the  servants getting everything packed so Ciel can go to the Exhibition. Ciel confirms that the gifts were received, and then Sebastian turns up to report that accommodations have been made. Something about Ciel's tone of voice causes Sebastian to frown--it's very clear that Ciel is still upset about the death of Abberline.

When the trip is underway, Sebastian calls Ciel on his depression and faltering of purpose. Ciel mentions the Queen's plans for a war, but when Sebastian asks if that's why Ciel wants to see the Queen, he says no. Then Sebastian asks if Ciel is upset because of Abberline's death Ciel says "no" and this time sounds a little angry. (Meaning I suppose that actually Ciel is upset by Abberline's death and is refusing to admit that is why he is upset.) Ciel claims to be upset because his "game pieces" have ignored their orders and he does not know what to do about the situation, or if can even continue the "game" since he can't understand the intentions of his game pieces.

Read the rest of this recap at Associated Content.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Gosick Episode Six, "The Gray Wolves Summon Their Brethren"--Review

We open with Avril and Kujo in town on an outing. She has learned all of the stories concerning the school and has a love of fairytales. She tells Kujo about a story involving a gray wolf that knows human speech, and says that it lives in the botanical garden above the library. She further claims that the gray wolf is attracted to shiny objects. Kujo states that the only "Gray Wolf" he knows is actually attracted to candy.

Avril drags Kujo off to find something suitably shiny and meet up with a magician who accidentally kills a pigeon instead of having it fly out of his hat. (Then he grabs Kujo's textbooks and turns them into a turban.) Then they come across a nun who is selling odds and ends, including a Dresden china plate. There's an explosion from a music box followed by more pigeons, and the plate disappears.

Kujo takes the turban to Victorique, who is eating candy and making a mess. He immediately starts trying to clean up and scolds her a little. (Victorique however does not care about such silly details.) Kujo decides to entertain her with the story of the theft, and she immediately solves the case with many complaints of boredom. Victorique is very demanding. Kujo tells her to put on the turban. Grevil shows up just as she puts on the turban, and stares at her in shock, calling her Cordelia Gallo. She takes the turban off and tells Grevil that it's her, which causes Grevil to be upset. Neither Grevil nor Victorique will tell Kujo who this Cordelia Gallo is.

"The Grave Wolves Summon Their Brethren"

Manga Review: Pig Bride Volume Four, KookHwa Huh/Sujin Kim

Pig Bride, Vol. 4
Available on Amazon
We open with a flashback to the first meeting between Si-Joon and Ji-oh. It turns out that they first met and became roommates in elementary school. Because Ji-oh’s mother was allergic to any kind of animal Ji-oh had an imaginary pet dog (whom he got expensive dog biscuits for). Ji-oh quickly discovers that his new roommate has a doglike appetite and decides to make Si-Joon his pet best friend. We see them grow up and watch Ji-oh continuing to buy Si-Joon’s friendship (and cooperation) with treats and snacks.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Shiki, "Sixteenth Skull" --Review

In this episode, we learn about Sunako's past. The episode begins with a brief montage, and Sunako telling the story about how she ended up becoming a vampire before we go to credits. After credits, we see Toru in front of Natsuno's bedroom window. The flowers he had placed in front of the window have all withered. He confesses to having killed again, and seems to be in the throes of grief. He's interrupted by Mr. Kirishiki, who makes fun of him for grieving. He is not just here to make fun Toru for being a wimpy vampire--he tells Toru that Sunako would like to have a little chat with him.

Toru is not the only vampire with a guilty conscience. The next scene shows Nao brooding over the fact that not a single member of her family has risen as a vampire after she has attacked them. We learn that Nao comes from a troubled family background and she adored her in-laws because they were the family she never really had. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Betrayer, by C.J. Cherryh

328 pp.

Betrayer: Foreigner #12At 328 pages, this book was a very fast read, and follows very closely behind the previous book. Bren has been sent to negotiate with Machigi, the young leader of the Marid, a region that has been causing trouble, and was responsible for the recent coup. His situation is complicated by not having any clear marching orders from Ilisidi on what he can offer Machigi and further complicated by two Guild assassins who had managed to get on the wrong side of everyone by being extremely stupid. Finally, the presence of Barb, who had been kidnapped by unknown persons at the end of the previous book, creates its own unique problems (mainly problems involving Jago wanting to scratch Barb’s eyes out and Barb being hopelessly stupid).

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Sample: So You Want to Be a Wizard? by Diane Duane

I am kind of sad that I first discovered this series when I was in my twenties. Diane Duane's Young Wizards series doesn't have the popularity of the Harry Potter books, but these are solid, well written books with fun, engaging characters. (Who are a lot more...three dimensional in many respects than the Harry Potter books, which for me is a big reason why I prefer them over the Potter books.) In this series, kids are recruited to become wizards by "the Powers." The price for becoming a wizard is to help battle entropy, which was created by an entity known as the Lone Power.

So You Want to Be a Wizard? Nita discovers wizardry when she flees into a library after being chased by bullies. She gets "snagged" by a book with a silly sounding title. The contents of the book are no joke, and the magic really works. From there she ends up meeting and befriending Kit and they end up going on an adventure in a bizarre alternate Manhattan.

Variable Star, by Spider Robinson and Robert A Heinlein

318 pp.

Variable Star (Tor Science Fiction)Variable Star is a novel based off of notes by Robert A. Heinlein and written by Spider Robinson. I generally have a strongly negative reaction to books written after the death of a writer, but this is one of the cases where I had a more or less positive reaction. Spider Robinson and Heinlein are a good fit for each other style-wise so this felt more like collaboration within a shared universe instead of *awkwardly written fan fiction the writer is being paid for. (This would be my general opinion of all of Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson’s Dune books.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Library of Shadows, by Mikkel Birkegaard translated by Tiina Nunally

Black Swan
430 pp.

The Library of ShadowsMy general impression of this book for the most part was “maybe it’s the translation, because this book is doing nothing for me.” Another reason why I didn’t have much of a feeling for the book was that the writer has a dyslexic character who plays a pivotal role in the story, but couldn’t be bothered to actually research dyslexia. (The writer seems to believe that dyslexic people are across the board completely unable to learn how to read and need to have magical assistance in order to obtain even  *basic comprehension. What was I talking about again? Oh, right; the story and my inability to stay interested in it.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Kuroshitsuji/Black Butler Episode Twenty One "His Butler, Hires"--Review

We open with a mysterious red headed female sniper getting ready to take someone out. She fumbles slightly when she sees that her target has a family. She gets ready to shoot, but she's distracted by Sebastian, who addresses her as "Nike Shooter Tunke." (Special note: He is not calling her a brand of shoes. Nike is the Greek Goddess of Victory.) Sebastian has a job for her...as a maid. The new clothes and glasses give her new confidence and allow her to let out her inner four-eyed geek girl. Surprise! The maid is none other than our klutzy Maylene. This episode will be all about Ciel's extremely incompetent servants who are actually extremely competent in other areas.

After the opening credits, the servants are all lined up as Ciel wanders down stairs. He does not look to be in a good mood. Concerned, the servants try to plan a special surprise for Ciel. We get a brief look at some of Finnie's preparations and a demonstration of his unusual strength before we settle on Ciel and Sebastian. Ciel seems to be distracted and not listening to Sebastian mentioning an Exposition being held in France. When he responds only with "ah" and "yeah," to news that the Queen might be travelling to the Exposition incognito, Sebastian says something completely random, which causes Ciel to look up with annoyance, proving that he had been listening--just not very interested. He asks if the Queen has said anything about what had happened previously, but Sebastian says no.

Read the rest of this recap at Associated Content.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Manga Review: Kuroshitsuji Volume Three, Yana Toboso

Black Butler, Vol. 3
Available on Amazon
We open up with a flash back and some introductions. It turns out that Madame Red has some very intense issues centered on Ciel’s dad Vincent. She had a crush on him, and he helped her get over her dislike of her very flashy red hair. She has even more issues centered on her sister, who is the one who married Vincent and still more issues centered on Ciel.

After a carriage accident that resulted in the death of the guy she eventually married and her having a miscarriage then losing Vincent, her sister, her nephew, her husband and her child caused her to completely go around the bend and murder one of her patients, a prostitute who had gone to her for an abortion. This is how she first met Grell, and how they became partners.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Black Swan Rising, by Lee Carroll

396 pp. 

 Black Swan RisingIt is occasionally difficult to define why you don’t like a book. It might be otherwise well written and the story might be interesting, but there is something about the book--something in the narration or characterization maybe--that feels a little off. This was largely my reaction to Black Swan Rising. It was a difficult book to start, a difficult book to continue, and I didn’t much care for the ending which is of the “everything goes back to normal wrap-up” variety.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mahou Shojo Madoka Magica Episode Seven "Can You Face Your True Feelings?"--Review

Sayaka returns home. She is deeply unhappy concerning the revelation in the previous episode. She accused Kyuube of lying to them, but Kyuube seems puzzled and not at all concerned. He does not have a problem with the entire "turn girls into Soul Gems so their bodies can take more damage," thing, and does not understand why Sayaka does. Sayaka has hysterics, and Kyuube demonstrates why having been turned into a Soul Gem is beneficial by letting her experience the full amount of pain her body would be experiencing if she were inside of her body instead of outside it.

The next day, while Sayaka cuts class, Madoka questions Homura about the previous night's revelation. She wants to know why Homura had not said anything about it. Homura states that she had tried to before, but was never believed. Madoka wonders why Kyuube would do such a cruel thing, but Homura says that Kyuube is unaware that he is doing anything wrong in ripping out their souls, because the benefits of having a body that doesn't feel pain outweigh the inconvenience of having a body that is less durable and therefore less useful for fighting.

Read the rest of this recap at Associated Content

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Manga Review: Crusade Volume One by Daisuke Moriyama

Chrono Crusade, Vol. 1
Available on Amazon
Chrono Crusade is an eight volume manga series with a twenty four episode anime series that is completely different from the manga. (The manga is superior to the anime series, in my opinion. The anime goes off in a completely different direction and generally weakens a lot of the character interactions and relationships.) Our Heroine and Hero are Rosette Christopher and her partner Chrono.

The setting is the United States during the 1920s. Rosette is an exorcist working with a religious organization known as the Magdalen Order, and organization that fights various supernatural monsters. (Appearance wise they seem to be a Catholic Order though it is Extremely Clueless Japanese Nuns are Miko Manga Catholicism.) This is not a new series, but it is a favorite series and the one that made me actively interested in manga and anime. (I only had a very occasional interest due to not finding anything I really liked until I discovered this series at a library.)