Book Review: Durarara!! vol. 1 by Ryohgo Narita

You know, I’ve become rather curious about publishing standards in Japan. Ever since I finished the first light novel of Durarara!! just a few days ago, I’ve been kind of stunned as to how it got published in the first place.

Compared to the Herculean effort it takes for writers in the English speaking world (at least) to get their stories marketed and published in the first place, it’s amazing how light novel writers can churn out product that any agent worth their salt would expect to find at the bottom of their pile during the first week of December. (That’s the week after NaNoWriMo, in case you’re wondering.)

I was actually quite excited to see Narita’s novels finally published in English by Yen Press. I picked up the Durarara!! manga a few years back, I love both the anime of Baccano! and Durarara!!… And it’s such a shame that their source material just isn’t worth looking over at all.

I haven’t read the official translation of Baccano! yet (because I downloaded a fan translation from Baka-Tsuki many years ago, sorry), but there seemed to be very little difference between the two. Seriously, the writing is still very simple, and what bugs me about light novels is that they can’t seem to decide whether or not they’re screenplays or actual novels.

Every single moment of reading Durarara!! felt like somebody had just written the first few episodes into a novel-ish format. And yes, I’m aware that Japanese readers, at the time of the novel’s original publication in 2004, did not have the anime or manga to inform them in the way I (and later readers) did. But I still struggle to comprehend what makes this so compelling.

I know that manga are published in magazine format in Japan and novels are sometimes released in miniature editions to make them easier to read on the subway commute, but come on.

I’m hardly a snob as to what constitutes a “book”, but there’s very little meat on the bones of the Durarara!! light novel. And Baccano! And Spice and Wolf, although that’s by a different writer. I remember when I was really into Slayers and .Hack as a teenager, I had my fingers burned by the novels Tokyopop put out.

That should have been my warning, but I really love Durarara!! as a concept? I mean, it’s really fun, frenetic and contains elements of the super-heroic, the fantastical and the malaise of contemporary life in Tokyo. There’s a motorcyclist who’s actually a Dullahan, a headless Irish harbinger of death. There’s the doctor who sincerely loves her and does medical jobs for criminal organisations. There’s a guy with super strength but no invulnerability, there’s an information broker with a real nihilistic mean streak, there’s a black Russian guy who sells sashimi and has ties to the mob, and in the midst of all of this craziness is Mikado Ryuugamine, who’s about as normal as one could expect… up until the face heel turn, of course.

But yes, there’s so much bizarre and wacky things going on in the world of Durarara!! that reading the novel just feels like: “Hey, I should go put on the first five or so episodes of the anime!” The chat logs that every character participates in are far more interesting in the show, and of course, they’re translated a bit better.

I don’t begrudge the translator, and coming up with a decent translation is a difficult and often thankless task. From my brief studies in translation theory, depending on the publisher or the writer’s instructions, one has to stick to the original to some degree, but you’re aren’t always allowed to add in any flourish or polish up the odd sentences that are too short or way too long… Hence the really simple dialogue and writing style in this novel, I presume.

I get it, light novels are done for a specific audience that just wants a story rather than anything too mentally taxing during the morning commute or whatever. There’s no real equivalent to a light novel in mainstream Western publishing, so my criticism is probably a bit unfounded.

But I was just expecting a little bit more. Even if I’ve seen the adaptation, it’s nice to return to the original work and see if there’s any little secrets or things you can take away that didn’t make it into the adapted product. There’s no such thing in Durarara!!, which reads like, again, just a novelised screenplay of the first few episodes of the show.

I’m sure there’s a lot more to the fantastical worlds Narita has created within the rest of his light novels, but the first novel of Durarara!! does not leave a good first impression, and like I said earlier, it just seems far too typical of light novels for them to contain little substance and read in the dull, simplistic way that they do. The characters and setting are just much better fleshed out by the adaptation, I find.

Final verdict: D

Review: Worst X-Man Ever vols. 1-5 by Max Bemis

28472710So… I really got back into X-Men last year. Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s , but seemingly overnight I went from: “Oh yeah, I like them,” to proudly wearing a Xavier Academy shirt, listening to the X-Plain The X-Men podcast, re-watching two of the three animated series and the movies, reading as many comics as I can get my hands on, and seriously looking forward to Apocalypse.

I downloaded the first issue of this series through Comixology. Then I downloaded the other four. I had to read it all in one sitting, because sweet Christmas is this series fantastic. Even if you’ve soured on Marvel comics, this is great, and really reminiscent of what got me into comics in the first place.

Bailey Hoskins is an awkward teenager at a fairly normal school who doesn’t seem to fit in very well with his peers. One day, his parents call him downstairs and reveal that they are both mutants, and they take Bailey to the Jean Grey School so that Beast can do some genetic testing and discover what kind of power Bailey has.

Not-spoiler: it’s pretty goddamn terrible. Bailey has the ability to explode. But he has no healing factor, so he’ll die if he ever uses his powers.

Yeah, sorry kid! The well of really cool powers kinda runs dry after a good fifty years. Heck, there’s students at the Jean Grey School who have no abilities outside of having a lot of extra eyes growing on their body. Or having invisible skin with a paraffin coating. But still, Bailey gets to make friends and hopefully avoid getting into too much trouble…

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Oh.

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Oh no.

Until later issues, where the poor kid gets roped into whatever scheme Mystique or Magneto are hatching. As it turns out, when you run a terrorist group like the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Bailey’s powers could come in handy for mass “let’s rile up the human population and make them hate and fear mutants even more than they already do!”

The humour in this comic is spot on. It doesn’t fall into the trap of “oh, this premise is ridiculous let’s point out how ridiculous it is.” It’s actually genuinely heartfelt at points, and Bailey is such a sweet guy that you really feel for him when he tries to reconcile how he thought that being a mutant would be a happy, Harry Potter-style chosen one narrative when it clearly isn’t.

The plot eventually veers away from ‘wacky school adventures’ to ‘terrible future AU where this happens’:

(Seriously, I laughed out loud.)

And that’s where we need to talk about a character I adored the moment she was introduced — Miranda. She’s friends with Bailey essentially because their powers are just such opposite ends of the coin. She can warp reality to her own choosing, and Bailey can just… explode.


The humour in this series comes in at just the right points. I’ve seen the X-Men being accused of being this seriously dour, dark comic series that takes itself way too seriously, and this series just knocks that idea out of the park. Marvel’s own brand of humour is a lot more heartfelt and well done, it’s not the glib self-referential stuff from the movie adaptations, or Deadpool screeching “TACOS!!” like on that T-shirt you bought at Hot Topic.

The final issue is great, and I was actually genuinely sad that it was all over. But, at the same time, there was no other way it could have ended.

It’s only 5 issues long, and all on Comixology. Shoo, shoo, go read it! And while you’re at it, may I also recommend the current Spider-Man and Deadpool series?

Final verdict: A

Book Review: The Ocean At The End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

17026_413852478709121_1163712783_nWhat am I missing with Neil Gaiman? No, seriously, what is it that I am missing?

The man is an absolute darling among contemporary writers of fantasy, he’s co-written one of my favourite books (Good Omens), he has multiple books, radio plays, films and other media under his belt… and yet, here we are with yet another one of his novels that has left me completely cold.

Weirdly, two of my favourite books of his are the ones that are marketed towards children: Coraline and The Graveyard Book. I soured very quickly on the bland writing style and dull execution of American Gods, I much preferred Neverwhere and Stardust as their respective radio drama and movie adaptations, and it seems like The Ocean At The End of The Lane is no exception.

Okay, so, here goes the plot. There’s this adult guy who was once a quiet, bookish child who’s growing up in the 1970s, somewhere in a small village in Sussex. Going by Gaiman’s own childhood growing up in Sussex as a quiet, bookish child… Yeah, I love how we’d be calling foul if this were a female author daring to explore her childhood through the prism of more than thirty years of life experience, but nope!

My main problem with Gaiman’s childhood self-insert was probably the fact that he is the most saccharine and simple child to ever be immortalised in the pages of a book. With the short, simplistic sentences Gaiman uses to describe self-insert kid’s mindset, he reads as being much younger than he actually is, and there seems to be some issue with the way he processes huge or tragic events in his life. Sometimes he’s emotionless, sometimes he gets upset the way a regular person would. I mean, this is a kid who cares more about a slice of burned toast than the fact that his father has run down the lane by their house and discovered their former lodger committed suicide in their family car.

He just remains tight-lipped and not really understanding until he’s herded into the farmhouse nearby, where he makes a new friend in Lettie Hempstock, a strange young girl who seems much older and wiser than she actually is, and whose mother and grandmother operate a small farm and start talking about magic and fairies and… quantum physics? Like, Mrs. Hempstock says she can sense certain particles and shift them around to her own whims. Lettie has a wand made out of a hazel branch and can speak with magical creatures, but not a lot really comes out of this.

It’s kind of strange when you expect a book to just be about childhood and then it veers off into magic territory while Gaiman’s childhood self-insert just passively watches.

It wasn’t terribly infuriating, but I would expect a child going through the bizarre and fantastical experiences that happen in this book (like a wormhole being located in his very foot) to carry a little more… oomph than they did. The reveal towards the end was about as well executed as this book could be, and I definitely enjoyed the story more and more as it went on and became more polished.

I don’t despise this book, and in fact, there are some moments that are really thoughtful and poignant and yes, Gaiman is eerily good at capturing life as a child in a rural British village, then coming back to said village in your later years, wistfully staring down the lanes you used to play in, the sites where buildings once stood, the fields where there’s now a new housing estate, etc. Though I remember distinctly less weird, magical things happening in my youth — and I live only a few short miles from Glastonbury! 😛

Oh well. I’ve still got Anansi Boys to read, so Gaiman may well impress me yet. We live in hope.

Final verdict: C

Things What I Went and Did in 2015

2016 is approaching closer and closer. So here’s a year end thingamajig, because why not. I posted more frequently this year, meaning I don’t have to explain away the three month gap between posts. On we go!

JANUARY

Panic about my undergraduate dissertation seriously kicked in, even though I got a really good grade for the proposal. I also got… kinda accidentally failed in one class’ assignment for misreading the word count and going over by approximately 3,000 words. Truly, only something I could achieve.

Since January ’15, I’ve recovered from a bout of sciatica (thank God), lost even more weight, and erased the horror that was Julie Kagawa’s Talon from my memory. Best book this month was Sarah Benwell’s The Last Leaves Falling, and Matthew Innman’s hilarious The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances.

FEBRUARY

February was a slump month, which it always is after the end of January and all your new year’s resolutions going kaput. I saw Jupiter Ascending with a friend and we laughed about how terrible it was, and I saw The Theory of Everything with another friend… and actually fell ill during the screening thanks to some kind of stomach virus that decided right then, in the middle of a good Eddie Redmayne performance, to make itself known. Sucked, but hey. I also went to see a screening of The Room in Bristol, and had an amazing time. (Though Tommy Wiseau’s bare behind is quite the vomit-inducing image.)

I reviewed three…ish books this month: an ARC of Sam Maggs’ Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy, the average and poorly explained Outcast by Adrienne Kress, and most of the Tokyo Ghoul manga, which did not get better despite assurances that “no, no, this character is introduced in ch. 67 and their arc is great!” Yeah, nah. I didn’t review it, but I did read a study on fandom by fan-fiction scholars… which basically focused on Star Trek zines. Never having seen an episode of Star Trek in my life (seriously… I haven’t, sorry), I appreciate the importance the show has to fandom and such, but it wasn’t presented in a particularly interesting way. And no, sorry, I still have no desire to watch Star Trek. I picked my low budget long-running sci-fi property quite wisely as a child. Doctor Who. (Speaking of, somebody phone me when that show becomes watchable again. Or when the Moff finally goes away and takes the hideous River Song with him too.)

MARCH

So, this year I vowed to read better books and stop just jumping on Bad YA bandwagons. (*eyes copy of Ghost House*) Meh. Can’t work up the energy any more, can’t get the haterade going… OH MY GOD THERE’S A TERRIBLE YA SCI-FI FANTASY BOOK AND I’VE BEEN APPROVED FOR THE ARC.

As I’ve gone over numerous times, Seeker was a pretty dreadful experience. It could have lived up to the hype if it were actually written decently, but nope! I don’t know how a publishing giant like Jodie Reamer could stand behind this first draft of a manuscript and say it would take the book world by storm, and secure movie rights… this whole thing was a mess.

But that was the only terrible book I reviewed in March. I got stuck into Barry Lyga’s I Hunt Killers, laughed ’til I cried with Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell’s tell-all The Disaster Artist… In the non-bookish realm, I saw Chappie, and wrote one of them #DearMe posts addressed to my 13 year old self. I’ll be 25 this year. What’ll I say to my 15 year old self? “Take advantage of that scholarship even though you won’t know anybody and will be in a completely alien environment where they continue to make you wear school uniform?” Who knows.

APRIL

Only one post this month, recapping a very busy month in which I travelled to Germany and Poland for my university trip, read a lot of my university required reading, and tried to put the finishing touches on my dissertation which… did not go over well and I wound up scrapping a great deal and needing an extension. Still, it was worth it in the end!

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^ To mental illness, y’all. I did it! I achieved something! And now I’m in two minds about doing further education, but hey. I’ve got until September of this year.

MAY

May was the month of finishing assignments and handing in the dissertation!

And one post I did on the recent chapters of Kuroshitsuji, which I have long dropped like a hot potato. I did check to see what was going on in the story around the end of November, and apparently Ciel and Sebastian are now called upon by Queen Victoria to… investigate some dude having a cult swarming around him because he’s an amazing astrologer. Ms. Toboso, I know you do a lot of research into the Victorian aesthetic and all, but in the 1890s, one lone guy wouldn’t have a cult following because he does tea leaf readings and claims to perform spirit mediumship. Ever heard of the Spiritualist Church? Which was quite extensively in Britain by at least the mid 1870s? (If I ever get around to sporking/dissecting Adornetto’s Hades, I’ll write about how Bethany and Ivy’s preaching about how ouija boards are evil and how humans should not be playing with the infernal forces when ouija boards are extensively used by the (Christian) Spiritualist Church and were commercialised in 1890 as an ‘innocent parlour game’.) Anyway. Glad I dodged yet another case of the Weston College Arc.

JUNE

I read and reviewed A Redtail’s Dream (which is HIGHLY recommended, seriously the art is just gorgeous), Howard G. Chua-Eoan and John Hargrove’s exposé on Sea World, and tried to get into a new manga — specifically, Wolfsmund by Mitsuhisa Kuji. Which I still haven’t continued. Oop.

JULY

I spent my free time in July eating ice cream, exercising, watching X-Men Evolution, and reading various non-fiction. And I finally got stuck into what has now become one of my favourite vampire books ever – J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla. Bloodsucking Feminists has an excellent podcast episode on it. Go on, shoo. Show them some appreciation.🙂

AUGUST

The trip to Japan with my best friend was finally booked! Oh, also, I got a job. Positive thoughts, Nessa, positive thoughts…

Oh yeah, I read Reawakened by Colleen Houck.

*screams*

SEPTEMBER

Off to Japan with the bestie! It was incredible. We managed to squeeze in so much! Cultural sites, a cat café, three theme parks (Universal Studios Osaka is AMAZING AMAZING AMAZING – according to the SMAP song that blares on the speakers of their terrifying Hollywood Backdrop ride), touring around Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, and back around Tokyo. Shinjuku and Shibuya were our favourite places to hang out. We walked down Akihabara at one point, and… er… well. I’m sure my weebier, younger self would have loved it. But it’s really not all it’s cracked up to be in anime, kids. Plus we saw an American guy with a body pillow and ehhh. I’ll leave it at that. Oedo-Onsen Monogatari in Tokyo Bay was an amazing day out. Just don’t be like this really rude American guy we saw, shouting in English at the staff because he’d paid good money to get here and they weren’t letting him in because he had a tattoo sleeve! It’s posted up in English and in pictorial formats all over the outside of the premises, it’s in EVERY Trip Advisor review, and I think it’s a pretty known fact that you can’t go to hot springs in Japan or Korea if you have large tattoos due to gang associations. (The most hilarious thing? He looked at us, the other two Westerners there, like trying to find some solidarity, like “can you BELIEVE these guys?” We literally just walked right past him, lmfao.)

So yeah, Japan was absolutely amazing. Just don’t trust the deer at Nara. Firmly and sternly walk away. They have to earn their shika-senbei one at a time, they can’t just crowd around and poke you with their antlers. Even if they do carry gods around on their backs.

OCTOBER

I read a ton while away in Japan, and then… kinda… nothing else. I did read the first few issues of Klarion on a friend’s recommendation, and didn’t really gel with it. Even though Klarion is a really fun character in the DC universe (and woefully under-utilised – he’s literally only in one episode of the old Batman animated series and partly in Young Justice… so… eh… where’s his movie, hmm? hOLD THE PHONE — NICHOLAS HOULT AS KLARION. (In a world where he’s not bound to his X-Men obligations for another studio.) So… some other Nicholas Hoult-alike. It’d be awesome. Even if Klarion just cameos in Justice League or something, it’d make my day!)

I read The Martian, which I enjoyed! Still haven’t seen the film, though, since work got very busy, requiring me to go on a hiatus of sorts. And then the Great Reading Slump of 2015 really kicked into gear.

NOVEMBER

One review on the blog. Mahou-Tsukai no Yome by Kore Yamazaki. Beautiful art, and a plot that’s actually laden with British folklore and really damn reminiscent of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and several Dianna Wynne Jones books. It’s just a shame I haven’t located a copy of vol. 2 just yet.

DECEMBER

Not gonna lie, Christmas wasn’t quite an easy ride this year for us, but my family and I made the most of it. And now as we ring in the New Year, we’re hoping for… y’know, some good cheer. Something good’s bound to come around, I hope. ‘Til then, I’m focusing on passing my driving test, getting some more qualifications under my belt, and progressing in my career.

Have a wonderful 2016. Peace!

Nessa’s Best and Worst Things of 2015

Well, everyone’s going to be doing these lists within the next few days. May as well join in a little early, if only to think about something other than the huge food-baby I’m currently carrying.

This will apply only to media, so I’m just counting films and books for the sake of brevity. Gonna limit them to about 3 or 4 things so this post doesn’t wind up getting too long.  I’m going to do a follow up post of all the stuff I got up to in 2015, why I’m feeling proud of myself for getting through this year even when it seemed everything was going to be miserable and awful. Also, I’ll do another post on Things To Look Forward To in 2016, since I’m filled with final-week-of-the-year zeal and it’ll be nice to get back into monthly blogging again, to keep myself positive.

So, without any further ago, away we go!

Film

BEST

Mad Max: Fury Road – This is far and away my favourite movie of the year. I hadn’t seen any of the Mad Max trilogy beforehand, but the trailer looked so damn good that I just had to watch it when it came out in May. The amazing cinematography and fast-paced, frenetic action, coupled with Junkie XL’s soundtrack was such a better experience than Avengers: Age of Ultron, which I saw the week prior. But yeah. Fury Road was absolutely fantastic, and I’ve just bought it on Amazon. Sure makes up for the tiny screen I had to watch it on during my flight back from Japan.

Chappie – I remember my brother telling me he was driving to work, listening to BBC Radio 1, and Fearne Cotton had a new record to play. “Now, these guys are from South Africa. Their sound is a little bit weird, but… seriously, bear with it, it’s amazing.” …Three Die Antwoord albums later… yeah, I like Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$$er as a super guilty pleasure. I love that they were such good actors in Chappie too, and their songs showed up in this film. (Though they’re not credited on the poster or the DVD. Strange.) Chappie is the story of a police robot who has an experimental human-style consciousness installed into him… but he’s kidnapped by Ninja’s gang and ‘taught’ to act bad, since Chappie essentially has the mind of an infant and needs to be taught right from wrong. Aside from some wonky plot decisions, it’s a fun, fantastic ride from start to finish.

Far From The Madding Crowd  – Two of the big summer blockbusters I really had my hopes on this year actually turned out to be damp squibs. (The aforementioned Age of Ultron and *sigh* Jurassic World.)  Anyway, the independent British film starring Carey Mulligan as classic #girlboss Bathsheba Everdene was actually one of the better movies I saw this year. I studied Far From The Madding Crowd when I was in high school, and it is a damn sight better than Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Thankfully, FFTMC stuck with me far more than… say…. Cider With Rosie or anything else I studied for high school English. Carey Mulligan is a star turn in absolutely any film she turns her hand to, and this film just felt like having a nice cup of tea. Just a nice, cosy, well-written and well-acted period drama, the kind I watch with my mother on rainy days.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Not my favourite of the Star Wars movies, but I just saw this last Saturday and it was great. Rey and BB-8. Finn and Poe. (<3) Kylo Ren being an emo who throws hissy fits. (The emo Kylo Ren Twitter feed is hilarious, btw.) Maz Kanata, Han Solo, Chewie… Oh man, it was nice to dip back into the Star Wars universe again. I’ve seen the older films again recently and they hold up amazingly well. I’ve got absolutely no fears for Episode VIII, even though I did see the odd article on the Internet floating around like “bluh bluh J.J. Abrams will ruin this like he did to Star Trek, lol lens flares” and “HAVE WE FORGOTTEN EPISODES I-III!?” (The latter argument is so out of proportion, the prequels aren’t amazing, but they certainly are not the worst films ever made.)

WORST

Jurassic World – Nothing like what I was expecting, and super boring for the most part. Indominus Rex wasn’t really an exciting addition, and although I loved Chris Pratt and his velociraptor squad, the writing seriously ruined the rest of the film. The kids were bland and lacked any form of personality, just the same old cynical jerk of a teenager and his happy-go-lucky baby brother, plus the added drama of their parents splitting up on top of being sent off to stay at an amazing theme park with their aunt. Who, by the way, was rather insultingly portrayed as the sort of childless, self-interested career woman that Hollywood should have dumped back in the 1990s or even further back than that.

Jupiter Ascending – I listen to a podcast called How Did This Get Made? and I laughed right along with the hosts when they discussed Jupiter Ascending back in June. (Did you all know that the script was 600 pages long? And that this film is potentially the death knell for the Wachowskis working with Warner Bros., whose patience has run thin after they’ve continually failed to make them the Matrix money they originally became famous for?) I saw this with a friend of mine, and I assured her that, y’know, Tumblr had been raving about the movie being really enjoyable and schlocky and… oh god did Mila Kunis really whisper “I love dogs” to herself upon Channing Tatum’s revelation that he’s got more dog DNA than human DNA due to alien gene splicing? Was that Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne delivering a line in such a hysterically over the top way that I still get the giggles when I think about it to this day? (You know the one. I CREATE… LIFE!!! and i destroy it.”) That afternoon, when @Shawty_Pap and I walked back to McDonalds and tried to recount that mess of a plot… We had a hilarious time, even if we were totally baffled by what we had just seen.

The Room – Okay, technically I first watched this film back in… 2011 or so? I inflicted it on a friend in 2013 (what can I say, I bond with people over bad movies ^^; ), and we decided to attend the Bristol Bad Film Club’s screening of The Room this year. The Room just absolutely defies explanation. One of my favourite books this year was in fact Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell’s The Disaster Artist, if only because it helped explain some of the more baffling decisions in the film’s writing, and it turns out that behind the scenes, working with Tommy Wiseau is about as frustrating and hilarious as you’d expect. (Frustrating because, y’know, Tommy would show up four hours later and then be super demanding to his actors, going as far as throwing a water bottle at one of his actresses, instigating a mass walkout. Hilarious, because… seriously, Tommy Wiseau is an enigma that cannot be explained and perhaps one of the most bizarre people to have ever walked the face of this planet.)

Books

BEST

The Last Leaves Falling – Sarah Benwell’s début absolutely broke my heart. Enough said.

Damsel to the Rescue – This was written by a friend from GoodReads (Kaia Sønderby) who seriously knows her stuff when it comes to fantasy, and has a hilarious razor sharp wit. I knew I was in great hands when I downloaded Damsel to the Rescue, a story set in a universe where girls are pushed into rescuing princes who can’t seem to stop getting themselves into trouble. Poor Terri simply wants to tend her garden and be among her books, but with her inheritance hanging in the balance, she has to don heroes’ garb, get a magical stave and set out with her best friend and their horses to go on an adventure. Along the way, she meets up with several friends and discovers there are much darker forces lurking in the shadows, forces that might bring the kingdoms to their knees. Seriously, if you’re looking for some fun, light-hearted fantasy, I can’t recommend this highly enough. Especially if you’re tiring of grimdark fantasy that seems to just follows a checklist of tropes and tries to outdo itself in terms of violence and general nastiness.

Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish – Perhaps the most informative book I’ve read, during a year in which I read a lot of non-fiction. I hate to sound like I’m preaching to the converted here, but if you haven’t seen Blackfish, then this book will absolutely set you against Sea World for life. I’ve read testimonies by Sea World employees stating that all these former workers who are telling their stories are liars looking for their 15 minutes of fame, but seriously. You cannot have so many hellish stories coming out of a big company without at least there being some grain of truth to them. Hargrove knows his stuff, and he’s seen pretty much everything awful that Sea World had to offer throughout the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s, studying up on killer whales and the other cetaceans in the park and just how unnatural this behaviour was for them… it’s shocking and heartbreaking, and if you love animals I cannot recommend it highly enough.

WORST

HOO BOY. I didn’t read nearly as many terrible YA novels this year, but I know what’s going straight to the top of my list!

Reawakened – Yes, who knew a Colleen Houck book would be absolutely dreadful? Woefully plotted and poorly researched (and no, saving images to a Pinterest board does not mean you’ve done historical research), I finished this book on a train journey and was so annoyed with it by the end that I… let my Kemeticist friend Gem read it, and she’s similarly infuriated by the book’s existence. Maybe one day we could do a feature on the blog about how awful it is in terms of portraying Ancient Egyptian mythology or even the history. Or even modern day workings. I highly doubt that hypnotism can get you through the layers of international security in airports, and how Houck can only ever seem to write countries as pretty backdrops, rather than living, breathing cultures. Easily the worst book I read in 2015. Seriously.

Seeker – Ah, yes, a novel that had publishing-savvy Jodie Reamer, famed for Twilight and The Fault in Our Stars at its helm. Marketed as a brand new chapter in YA, fusing science fiction and fantasy in ways that hadn’t been seen before and… yawn. Seeker was dull, uninspired, and quite frankly insultingly stereotypical when it wasn’t being racist. (Seriously, if you’re an Asian character in this book, expect to be typified as being ‘full of honour’.) My friend Ceilidh on Bibliodaze was pretty shocked when I told her about how stereotypical Dayton’s depiction of Scotland is. Highland estates! Talk of druids, standing stones, ancient rites and rituals! That’s the problem with building a world that’s both traditional fantasy and futuristic sci-fi. Just pick one or the other, and you wind up with a mishmash that makes no sense. Like this book!

Talon – Yeah, no surprises that I wouldn’t like this one. I lost interest in Kagawa’s Iron Fey series after just one book, and even though I love me some dragons, Kagawa couldn’t even pull that off correctly. Talon is tiresomely predictable and has absolutely nothing new to offer to the genre. Avoid.

…And that’s all she wrote! Hope you enjoyed reading this!🙂

Have yourselves a merry Christmas (if you celebrate it), or a joyous winter holiday/yuletide season.  Here’s to 2016 and better books and films!

What To Do…

What to do, what to do.

So I’m still on hiatus, still in a writing/reading slump. (I’ve literally just read comics this month and a few coffee table books. Well, I have read one fiction book that I enjoyed lately! It’s super enjoyable and one of my GR friends (Kaia Sønderby) wrote it. I’ll write a review when I have the spoons.) I’m just sort of taking things day to day, and this past weekend was pretty rough for me.

But still, better to just stick my head around the door and give a little update on things I’ve liked lately. So, in no particular order, here’s a few bullet points!

  • Jessica Jones. This show is great, although kinda… flawed at times in terms of writing. A friend of mine said at least it’s better than Netflix’s Daredevil in terms of plotting, but I’m seriously enjoying this at the moment. I’ve even reserved the anthology of Alias comics at my library. Seriously, there’s like a six week waiting list so I’ll have to let you know how I find it in 2016. Also, Kilgrave is absolutely despicable and can go DIAF.
  • Undertale, available for PC and Mac through Steam. So… uh… this game actually made me tear up a little. And I only played the damn neutral ending. (Speaking of that neutral ending, I actually said: “What the FUCK” out loud at Omega Flowey.) I am going to be a nervous wreck by the time I get around to doing a “genocide” run. Also, the game’s soundtrack is amazing and I’ve had it a lot on repeat lately.
  • Colouring books. So relaxing.❤
  • Civilization V with friends online.
  • X-Men. It all happened this summer, when my friend Cas told me he was re-watching X-Men Evolution and it was all available on Amazon Video. So I wound up watching it all over again and I never expected to enjoy it as much as I did. It even spurred me on to watch the older series and find out some of the comics this year. (I’m still not hugely keen on that recent Wolverine & The X-Men series though. The comic series is great though!) I’m also very, very excited for X-Men: Apocalypse. Though oh my god, the CGI in the most recent trailer (especially when Quicksilver is running through the manor) looks so ropey. Please let it be fixed in post, please let it be fixed in post… Oh! This brings us to…
  • Podcasts. I’m still not caught back up with Welcome to Night Vale, and I really need to finish Serial, but I’ve gotten into many podcasts over the past year.To whit: The Jimquisition, The Toon GoonsBloodsucking Feminists, The Message, The Black Tapes Podcast, How Did This Get Made?, The Dead Authors Podcast, The Arkham Sessions and one of the best of all? Rachel and Miles X-Plain The X-Men. Which ties in neatly with me getting back into the X-Men. Yay!

And that’s… it? As much as I can think of, at least.

I’m hoping to do a top 10 list on my best and worst books of the year, before December is over. I’ve read a lot less ‘bad’ books this year. I’m not really going to be reviewing much YA any more, sorry! We’ll see about dissections, though.

Hope you’re all doing well, happy holidays and have a wonderful 2016!

Manga Review: The Ancient Magus’ Bride (Mahou Tsukai no Yome) volume 1 by Kore Yamazaki

Hatori Chise has lived a life full of neglect and abuse, devoid of anything resembling love. Far from the warmth of family, she has had her share of troubles and pitfalls. Just when all hope seems lost, a fateful encounter awaits her. When a man with the head of a beast, wielding strange powers, obtains her through a slave auction, Chise’s life will never be the same again.

The man is a “magus,”a sorcerer of great power, who decides to free Chise from the bonds of captivity. The magus then makes a bold statement: Chise will become his apprentice — and his bride!

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Seven Seas Entertainment | The Book Depository

Hooray! A manga that’s actually really good and contains all of my favourite tropes in storytelling! Been waiting for this day for a while.

By the way, if you’re skeeved out by the whole slave/arranged marriage thing… yeah. I don’t get it either. It is never mentioned again outside of the first chapter. The ancient magus in the title (Elias Ainsworth, a name which sounds like it came out of Cassandra Clare’s “posh British name” generator from the Infernal Devices) respects main character Chise as her own person, and is impressed with her magical abilities. The marriage thing is about as toothless as Mr. Cat’s  marriage threats from Princess Tutu. (Seriously, there’s a show I kept thinking of while reading this.)

It’s nice to see a manga that actually has a few literary references here and there (I see dashes of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, as well as some Diana Wynne Jones), and for the author to have done their homework based on British mythology surrounding magic, fairies, etc… For example, there’s mentions of Tír na Nóg and Chise is called a ‘sleigh beggy’, which is apparently a Manx name for a particular type of fairy. (Sounds better than a scan I saw, where Chise is referred to as a ‘Slay Vega.’ Just… what?)

Chise is a Japanese orphan, captured into the slave trade. She doesn’t know why she’s been such a magnet for bad luck all her life (hint: it has something to do with her fairy heritage), but this ability makes her a prime target for supernatural creatures, along with supercharging her own latent magical abilities. During the slave auction, a mysterious man wearing the skull of a deer (oop, actually an antelope) comes out of nowhere and offers the final bid, before spiriting himself and Chise back over to England. There, he explains her origins, tests her abilities, and decides she’ll need to become his apprentice. I guess the whole ‘bride’ thing is an eccentricity of his, because I really don’t see them as any kind of romantic couple. Too skeevy for me.

The manga has gorgeous art and I’m really interested to see where the story goes. I really don’t understand why the story started out so grim — couldn’t Chise have met with Elias some other way, rather than a slave auction and jokes of arranged marriages and such? The tone of the first chapter doesn’t particularly match the rest of it.

Still. It’s one of the better manga I’ve read in a long while. 4/5.

(PS. On hiatus still, but going to post infrequently. This is one of those infrequent posts.)