[Review] Inferno by Dan Brown

Bry's Reviews, Reviews 0 Comments 15th February, 2014

[Review] Inferno by Dan BrownInferno by Dan Brown
Series: Robert Langdon #4
Published by Doubleday on May 14th, 2013
Genres: Historical Fiction, Thriller
Pages: 462
Source: Purchase
In his international blockbusters The Da Vinci Code,Angels & Demons, and The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown masterfully fused history, art, codes, and symbols. In this riveting new thriller, Brown returns to his element and has crafted his highest-stakes novel to date.

In the heart of Italy, Harvard professor of symbology Robert Langdon is drawn into a harrowing world centered on one of history’s most enduring and mysterious literary masterpieces . . . Dante’s Inferno.

Against this backdrop, Langdon battles a chilling adversary and grapples with an ingenious riddle that pulls him into a landscape of classic art, secret passageways, and futuristic science. Drawing from Dante’s dark epic poem, Langdon races to find answers and decide whom to trust . . . before the world is irrevocably altered.

Books like Inferno are my ultimate guilty pleasures — some people read trashy romance novels or watch reality TV, but I geek out HARD to the ‘historical detective: clue solving, traversing Europe using the knowledge of the historian to uncover wondrous things or save the world’, type genre. Throw in my favourite buzzwords – Medici, Florence, Italian Renaissance, Dante – and I am one sold fan-girling historian.

In the latest installment of the adventures of symbologist Robert Langdon, we are transported to Florence, Italy – though even Robert does not know why, or how he has arrived. Soon, Robert is deeply enmeshed in a race against the clock to stop a potentially catastrophic worldwide massacre, by uncovering and navigating the clues laid out by a madman obsessed with Dante Aligheri’s Inferno.

So yes, while Dan Brown is a very formulaic writer, and Robert Langdon is perhaps the man that Brown always wished that he was, but this did not at all take away from my reading pleasure. But have you noticed how everyone seems to uncannily observe how handsome Robert is? Amusing.

Perhaps it is because of my intense passion for the subject matter of Medicean Florence and the legacy of the Renaissance that the characters were simply the purveyors of the more exciting historical notes of the story, but they were likable (and unlikeable) enough that I found little fault with their construction for that eventuality.

Brown’s writing style allows for a fast-paced, constantly moving plot that never has time to lag or dip off, to the point where I finished the entire book within a day due to my hesitance to put it down. It was not a cumbersome or tiresome read, and likely will be one I return to several times, just to indulge that guilty but thoroughly enjoyed pleasure.

[Manga Mondays]InuYasha

Carol's Reviews, Reviews 0 Comments 10th February, 2014

Genres: Adventure, Fantasy, Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction, Manga, Paranormal, Romance, Young Adult
Kagome Higurashi was just an ordinary high-school girl. Then, one day she falls down the Bone Eater's Well, and is transported back in time! There she discovers she's the reincarnation of a priestess, and the protector of the Sacred Jewel of Four Souls. When the jewel is shattered, she must recover the pieces, with help from a half-demon boy named InuYasha.

Title: InuYasha

Author: Rumiko Takahashi

Publisher: Viz Media

Genre: Graphic Novel

Subgenre: Action/Adventure

Welcome to another Manga Monday! This week I’m reviewing InuYasha, by Rumiko Takahashi. First, let’s have a look at the cover. We see the manga-typical Japanese 1-1School girl, wearing a green and white uniform, freefloating near the bust of an apparently ‘cat-eared’ teenaged boy with golden eyes, while an insect-like body fills the void space behind them. The colors are from the old manga-standard Copic markers and ink pens, with graphics added of course by the publishers.

This story is MASSIVE. It ran in the Shounen Sunday magazine from November 13, 1996, to June 18, 2008, and exists in 56 volumes, with over 500 chapters. It is by far one of Takahashi’s most well-known and largest mangas to date, and it has a following that is as large as its many chapters.

And now the story: It begins long ago, during the medieval ages of Japan. The boy from the cover, InuYasha, is a half-dog-demon who wishes to become a full-fledged demon. To do that, he must get the powerful and sacred Jewel of Four Souls (aka, Shikon Jewel, Shi-kon no Tama, the Sacred Jewel). He attacks the village and shrine that houses the jewel but is thwarted by the temple’s priestess, Kikyou. As she dies from terrible wounds, Kikyou asks that the jewel be burned with her body, to keep demons and other corrupt souls from abusing it. Fastfoward to the 1990’s, and we meet our main protagonist, Kagome Higurashi. Living with her mother, brother, and grandfather in the shrine in the modern-day, Kagome’s just wanting to pass her exams, attract a cute, nice guy, and just be an ordinary girl. One day, while helping her brother find their cat, she is suddenly grabbed by a centipede monster that was hiding inside of the old, dry well on their property. Kagome is then pulled in to the well, which transports her back in time to feudal times. Once there, she not only comes upon the sleeping InuYasha (pinned to a tree and still as young as ever), but when the villagers come, they note that Kagome bears an eerie resemblance to Kikyou.

Turns out it’s 50 years since Kikyou’s death, and Kagome is her re-incarnation, and the Sacred Jewel was hiding inside of Kagome’s body. After a massive adventure that throws the unlikely duo together, and rips the Sacred Jewel out of her side, Kagome accidentally shatters the jewel, causing it to fragment in to many pieces. With no other way of getting the jewel, Kagome and InuYasha team up to find the pieces and reform the jewel. Along the way, they become allies with Shippo, a small, orphaned fox-demon child, the perverted Priest, Miroku, and the daughter of demon hunters, Sango (with her cat-demon pet, Kirara). They also make many enemies, among them being the wolf-demon Kouga, and InuYasha’s own brother, Sesshoumaru. But none are as terrible as the series antagonist, Naraku, who also desires the jewel, and will stop at nothing to gain it and its power.

This story is really, at it’s heart, a classic ‘hero’s tale’, with both InuYasha and Kagome taking the mantle of the hero. If you don’t know what the hero’s tale is, it is the essential archetype of all fables, and has a sequence of events that all such stories must take. There is first, of course, the call to adventure, and the rejection of the call, with them both. InuYasha’s comes years before when he seeks out the Jewel to be able to make himself a full-fledged demon (only to fall in love with Kikyou and reconsider), and again when he is revived later (he wants the jewel. Done and done); Kagome’s comes after she figures out how to go back and forth through time via the magic well. She returns home, intent on staying there. However, afterward is the moment that forces both in to going on the journey. For InuYasha, it is when he realizes that he cannot fight the demons that find shards alone, and for Kagome, it is when she realizes that she is still drawn toward the past. When both are unable to fight the call, the move onward. They each receive magical boons- InuYasha’s is his father’s sword, and Kagome’s is her ability to sense the Jewel- and meet allies. Miroku fills the role of ‘lovable rogue’, and Sango the ‘stoic warrior’, while Shippo is the youthful helper. Together they form a band and go through battle, the valley of death (Literally! Twice!) and they face the great evil (many, many, many times). They even have temptations that come their way. For Kagome it is in the form of opportunities to go home and stay home. For InuYasha, it comes in the form of former lover, turned bitter enemy, Kikyou, when she is revived in a clay body made from sorcery.

What makes this comic such a pull for girls (though it is initially a ‘shounen’ comic- geared towards boys with action, danger, and plenty of partial female nudity) is the love-story that develops. Yes, there’s a love story here. Very much pulling upon Beauty and The Beast, it entails Kagome’s growing friendship and reliance on InuYasha, as well as his own acceptance of her by his side. Eventually, they come to love each other, though Kagome is more obvious in her feelings. What stands in their way, of course, is Kikyou. Not only does InuYasha see her often in Kagome’s face and her own growing spiritual powers, but when Kikyou is actually revived, he is torn between the girl who has become a friend and a fighting partner (and partner whom he fights with), and the woman he first came to love.

My personal favorite aspect is that here there are other stories. We do follow the main narrative, but we also follow the antagonist, Naraku’s story, as well as InuYasha’s brother’s story (which makes him less of a villain and more sympathetic as time goes on), and my absolute favorite story, the tragedy of the Priestess Kikyou.

Kikyou is my FAVORITE character in the whole series. She’s young, and beautiful, and raised from childhood to be a priestess. To be pure in mind and body, to go with her kind and pure heart, so that she can protect the village from demonic forces. When she is asked to guard the Sacred Jewel, she devotes her whole life to it, only to have mercy on a dog-demon half-breed who comes along one day. She sees in InuYasha some good, and it makes her unable to hurt him. When she and InuYasha fight side-by-side during a very grueling battle, they grew in to close friends, and then finally lovers. Her kindness and pure heart makes him decide, for a time, to use the Jewel to become human, so he can be with Kikyou, and she decides to give up being a priestess to be his bride. Their happiness is shattered, however. An injured bandit, nursed by Kikyou and grown lustful for her, trades his soul for a demon’s body and become the demon, Naraku, then he ensures that Kikyou and InuYasha hate one another, and (seemingly) forever tear them apart. What’s more, Kikyou can’t have peace in death, and has her bones stolen, her body remade from clay, and has to feed on the sad and unhappy souls of the dead in order to stay ‘alive’, all so she can have revenge against the demon that destroyed her future. She becomes corrupt, and a shadow of the pure woman she once had been.

This manga gets 5 stars from me. I know, 56 volumes and such a huge story-line is a bit daunting, but given that the points I’ve hit just BARELY scratch the surface of the manga’s full plotlines (just about EVERYONE has a tragic story and tale, including the Jewel’s creation), and that the artwork (again, all hand-drawn) is just magnificent in detail and design, you’ll easily find the time invested worth it. And trust me, it’s far easier to read through 56 issues than watching 167 episodes of the FIRST anime series, also called ‘InuYasha’, and the 28-episode second series, ‘InuYasha: The Final Act’ (the first series only covered 36 issues of the manga- OI!). Besides, I fangirl HARD on this series, and it is still a dream of mine to save money and purchase the wig and costume needed to cosplay as Kikyou. Someday… Someday v.v

Definitely invest some time and pick up this series today!

[ARC Review] Must Love Dukes by Elizabeth Michaels

Amy's Reviews, ARC Reviews, Reviews 1 Comment 6th February, 2014

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

[ARC Review] Must Love Dukes by Elizabeth MichaelsMust Love Dukes by Elizabeth Michaels
Series: Tricks of the Ton #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on February 4, 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Lillian Phillips could not imagine how her quiet, simple life had come to this. Blackmailed by the Mad Duke of Thornwood into accepting one wild dare after another...all because of a pocket watch. Desperate to recover her beloved father's pawned timepiece, Lily did something reckless and dangerous and delicious—something that led to a night she'd never forget.

He has a Reputation for Scandal

When Devon Grey, Duke of Thornwood, runs into a mesmerizing, intoxicating, thieving woman who literally stole from his bedchamber—with his new pocket watch—Devon plots his revenge. If the daring wench likes to play games, he's happy to oblige. After all, what's the use of being the Mad Duke if you can't have some fun? But the last laugh might just be on him...

This book was short and sweet, therefore my review will also be short. Must Love Dukes had everything I look for in good historical romance, or just in romance period. It had a steamy love affair, witty banter, and above all else, it had a very romantic and happy ending.

I don’t read historical romance novels for historical accuracy. I read them, like so many of the other books I read, to escape. In Must Love Dukes, Lily follows a strange man into a tavern, gets drunk with him, and follows him home to his bed. In the morning she steals his pocket watch, which was sold out from under her, and flees out into the wee hours of a London morning. A year later, after miraculously and luckily not getting pregnant, her brothers have decided to take her to London to get a husband. Of course being female she has no choice in the matter. Whom should she meet in a ballroom but the Mad Duke she had a passionate night with so long ago. The shenanigans begin then and there.

I really really liked this book. It was oh so sweet, oh so silly, and oh so romantic. I loved the antics the duke goes through to save his Lily from loveless marriages. The prospects were hilarious. The scene in the horse barn when one of the would be suitors compares Lily’s hips to a horse and comments on her breeding skills like she is livestock had me in stitches. Must Love Dukes is predictable, but it is a nice escape from reality. This book in the end left me floating on a nice cloud of happy. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series. To find out how the duke’s friend will win his lady love.

[Arc Review] Death Sworn

ARC Reviews, Fry's Reviews, Reviews 0 Comments 5th February, 2014

I received this book for free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.
[Arc Review] Death SwornDeath Sworn by Leah Cypress
Series: Death Sworn #1
Published by Greenwillow on March 4th, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 352
Source: Edelweiss
When Ileni lost her magic, she lost everything: her place in society, her purpose in life, and the man she had expected to spend her life with. So when the Elders sent her to be magic tutor to a secret sect of assassins, she went willingly, even though the last two tutors had died under mysterious circumstances.

But beneath the assassins’ caves, Ileni will discover a new place and a new purpose… and a new and dangerous love. She will struggle to keep her lost magic a secret while teaching it to her deadly students, and to find out what happened to the two tutors who preceded her. But what she discovers will change not only her future, but the future of her people, the assassins… and possibly the entire world.

Finishing this book didn’t give me any elation. Though the first chapter was gripping and interesting, the book continued in the same vein of discovery and banter almost the entire way through. I kept giving it one more chapter to see if it impressed me, and though it picked up around chapter sixteen, it didn’t ever reach a point where I connected with the characters or their plight.

For a book that is the first in a series, this is a problem. Sure, Ileni was a strong heroine with a no nonsense attitude, and in the beginning, she cares little for her assignment or even her well being. Eventually she relents and decides that she does care a little bit. Not an awful lot, mind you, just a little.

Ileni was a powerful, well versed sorceress before her powers abruptly dwindled. Despite the finite nature of her magic, she’s still able to mutter enough spells to stop herself from dying at the drop of a hat. At one point, she healed her own sliced throat. How one does this when her magic is directed by words and all her airflow is seeping through her neck wound, I couldn’t tell you!

She is sent to a cave system full of assassins to teach those with skill magic that they could harness on their missions. It is part of a truce between her peace loving mage settlement and the assassins, and Ileni is the third mage sent within half a year. Someone is killing her fellow mages, and she must find out who and why. She is issued a protector, Sorin, who believes in his purpose in the larger scheme of things, and keeps his word to see to her safety.

Despite spending pages upon pages discussing, learning, fighting and otherwise interacting, the romance still abruptly sparks between Ileni and Sorin. By the time it does, it matters not in the least. It is just one more jumbled plot thread required to run its course.

Since this is the first in a series, nothing is actually resolved (except for the murders, but those just expand out into something else) but nothing is left in a cliffhanger either. I felt no more unfulfilled by the ending than I had throughout the entire novel. Doubtless, it was a lackluster start and I doubt I’ll be continuing the series unless the plot develops drastically.

[Arc Review] Panic by Lauren Oliver

ARC Reviews, Fry's Reviews, Reviews 0 Comments 4th February, 2014

I received this book for free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

[Arc Review] Panic by Lauren OliverPanic by Lauren Oliver
Published by HarperCollins on March 4th, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Thriller, Young Adult
Pages: 416
Source: Edelweiss
Panic began as so many things do in Carp, a dead-end town of 12,000 people in the middle of nowhere: because it was summer, and there was nothing else to do.

Heather never thought she would compete in Panic, a legendary game played by graduating seniors, where the stakes are high and the payoff is even higher. She’d never thought of herself as fearless, the kind of person who would fight to stand out. But when she finds something, and someone, to fight for, she will discover that she is braver than she ever thought.

Dodge has never been afraid of Panic. His secret will fuel him, and get him all the way through the game, he’s sure of it. But what he doesn't know is that he’s not the only one with a secret. Everyone has something to play for.

For Heather and Dodge, the game will bring new alliances, unexpected revelations, and the possibility of first love for each of them—and the knowledge that sometimes the very things we fear are those we need the most.

I want to like Lauren Oliver’s books, I honestly do. They all have really interesting premises and colorful characters. Yet, somewhere between point a and point b, the ball gets dropped and I never end up enjoying the books as much as the summary would make me believe.

Panic is no different. Though I wasn’t as disappointed with this one as I was with Delirium. Where Delirium was romance driven, this book mainly focuses on Heather and her attempt to carve out a place for herself in the universe. Even the chapters with Dodge –  while a nice break from Heather’s point of view – mainly held action and mystique instead of his own unique plot arc. He’s out for revenge, sure, but that seems to be all he’s got. Once that is gone, he deflates like a balloon.

Why the cover of the book is some girl standing there with windswept hair on a black background, I’ll never know. The premise offers so much more than the cover ever will. In a somewhat small town, the graduating seniors play a game of high stakes Fear Factor. It’s played over the whole summer and the winner takes home a hefty amount of money. The people running Panic are always anonymous, chosen the year before by the previous management. It has an air of mystery about it, as one never knows when the next challenge will be announced, or what it will be. Even the solo challenges are a mystery. Eventually, the challengers are whittled down through these tasks, via fear or injury and the last one standing takes the pot.

Heather decides to compete in the challenges, an impulse decision that diverts her summer’s course. She wants to prove her worth and her mettle. Even though she competes, the entire book is Heather trying to accomplish both those things. She lives in a trailer with her dead-beat mom and her younger sister, Lilly, whom she provides motherly support to. When Heather loses her job, a stroke of luck has her in the right place at the right time to meet Anne, a widower with a ton of land and animals who could use a farmhand.

Anne owns two tigers, who obviously come into play at the climax, culminating in trust issues for everyone involved. Even Heather’s best man friend (she’s got another friend named Nat, but Nat was annoying and inconsequential), Bishop, who is a terrible cliché and disappointment on most levels, takes this point to expound upon all the obvious things we’ve figured out about him. And while that’s supposed to be the romance mentioned in the summary, I was surprised and disappointed to find that it wasn’t between Heather and Dodge. I mean, that’s how dual narrators work, right?

All through this Dodge is having feels about the game and his sister’s demise in it several years earlier. He is battling his conscience and his thirst for revenge throughout the whole book, though he mostly sets up the action and acts as the hero for Heather’s idiotic strategies.

I could digress for hours on this book, but why bother? It wasn’t that bad of a premise and could have delivered far more intense action. Sadly, it flounders around for footing that it never really grasps. If you’re into a book that delivers obvious plot developments that you can see forming halfway through the book, this one’s for you.

[Manga Mondays]Glass Mask (or Glass no Kaiman)

Carol's Reviews, Reviews 0 Comments 3rd February, 2014

by Suzui Miuchi
Genres: Graphic Novel, Manga
Source: Purchase
Maya Kitajima has a special gift. She can recreate and recall any drama or show she has seen, and can embody the natural character of any role in a play. Former actress Chigusa Tsukikage discovers her and dubs her 'The Girl with A Thousand Masks'. Maya is swept up in to the world of acting and showbusiness, enduring hardships and triumphs she never thought she would see. All in the goal to be chosen as the new actress of the legendary role, 'The Crimson Goddess'.

First Issue Cover of 'Glass Mask'

The first thing that you notice about this manga is the cover-art. The image is that of a young girl, with large ‘manga typical’ eyes, and a small pointed nose, yet there the colors that come from obvious hand-painted marker and ink in her glittering eyes and her shining hair, and the sparkle of the glass mask in her hands, makes you very interested. There is a determination in this girl’s eyes that makes you curious about her, and seek to open the cover and read on.

This is how I became interested in Glass Mask, also called ‘Glass no Kaiman’ in Japanese. The serial is written by Suzui Miuchi, and was first published in the Hana to Yume magazine in 1976, and continues onward today. There are currently 49 volumes in the series and the author has stated that she intends to finish the series ‘soon’ (though I hope not too soon).

The artwork in the manga is indicative of the 70’s style of artistry for Shojou mangas (or novels geared toward teenage girls). The main characters have ‘sparkling eyes’ that reveal deep emotion, men are long and tall, while women are usually willowy and spritely (with exceptions for very young children and older adults). Stock characters or minor characters tend to look more like caricatures, but are still easily identifiable. The backgrounds, all hand-drawn (yes, even the sweeping forests and spiraling city landscapes), and the detail is incredible. This manga series is very special in that its style and setting are still consistently taking place during its original release-era. So, even the 2008 and beyond releases hold on to this glittering, romantic style, and still incorporate references and images evocative of the 1970’s. That is dedication to continuity!

Now, on to the plot! The story is about Maya Kitajima. She starts as a 13-year old middle-school girl who loves TV dramas, films, and plays. However, she works and lives above a Chinese restaurant, with her mom, and usually makes the deliveries of food. One day she is discovered by former star of stage and screen, Chigusa Tsukikage. Tsukikage sees in Maya the ability to ‘wear 1000 masks’- an idea that an actor or actress can put on any face and become any character flawlessly and entirely. She decides to take Maya under her tutelage, with the intent of using Maya to revive a stage-play that once only Tsukikage could perform: The Tale of the Crimson Goddess.  From here, we are introduced to a true cast of characters, from Maya’s rival in show-business and acting, Ayumi Himekawa, who plays ‘perfect characters’, to the acting troupe that Tsukikage gathers, to the enigmatic businessman Masumi Hayami. Maya even gains an anonymous patron who sends her purple roses after every one of her performances, gaining the nickname ‘Mr. Purple Rose’.

One of the subplots of the series is Maya’s relationship with Hayami. He begins as an antagonist who seems overly concerned with Maya’s talent and growing career, beginning from the time he meets her when she is 13 and he is 23. That’s right. He’s 10 years older than her. Their interactions are always fiery, full of sniping and bites of wit, and the passionate exchanges don’t stop as Maya grows from promising ingénue to the feared and respected ‘Stage Storm’ (a nicknamed gained from her overpowering presence on the stage). Even when Maya becomes aware of a growing attraction to Hayami, she feels conflict concerning the various ‘wrongs’ he has done to her, and resolves to hold on to her grudges.

This manga is a joy. You get in to the process that comes with becoming an actress or actor, from formal training in theatre companies, to the audition process for commercials, plays, and television, all the way to the harsh realities and glowing triumphs of being a professional. It isn’t easy, and they make that clear, but Maya forges on with enthusiasm and hope, wanting to obtain the right to play her mentor, Tsukikage’s, legendary role, and win out against her rival, Ayumi. And while Maya’s story is thrilling and epic in its own right, we don’t just watch her tale! We see the story at times from Ayumi’s perspective, as well. As a daughter to two well-known film and stage legends, Ayumi strives to show that her talent is all she needs to gain roles, and not her mother or father’s names and wealth. She also desires to play the Crimson Goddess, and envies Maya’s natural, seemingly effortless ease with slipping in to the mask of her roles.

We also get the perspective of Masumi Hayami, as he seeks to buy the rights for The Crimson Goddess, and struggle with his own internal conflicts concerning Maya. He grows to care for her, but his age and his position, and his own need to hide behind acidic insults and barbs, make it nearly impossible for him to connect to Maya except as a bully and a force that makes her become better to spite him. He too wishes to step out from under the eyes of his adoptive father, but his sense of duty and his desire to show his own worth become his own stumbling-blocks.

We are even given the tale of Chigusa Tsukikage, who rose from the streets as an orphan and a beggar, to be taken in by a famed script writer and stage director, whom became like a father to her, and then with whom she began a tragic and deeply moving love affair. Chigusa’s troubles do not end with her fame, as an accident on stage is what takes away her beauty and her strength, causing her to give up and, it seemed, retire the role and play that her beloved wrote just for her.

These various story-threads build up a world that keeps you pulled in and entirely overwhelms you! You’re taken along to every audition, filming, and performance. Through Maya and the rest of the characters you not only get to see their stories, but some of the best plays and novels acted out in front of your eyes. From Shakespeare to Bronte and beyond, the stories told through the manga’s cast are astounding, and completely believable as a real performance. And every story connects and manages to weave their way in to others within, and makes you concerned for just about everyone that you, and Maya, come across.

In summary, this manga is gorgeous in an aesthetic and artistic sense, and doubly so in its writing. You’ll follow all 49 volumes through, and hope and pray that the Mangaka (Manga Artist) will hurry up with the next installment so that we can learn how Maya and company fare in this overwhelming saga. I only hope that it doesn’t end too soon!

If my own review isn’t enough of an endorsement, consider this: Two anime adaptations of this manga exist; one made in the 1980’s (and set in the 70’s), and another that was made and set in the year 2005. Both are good, but do not tell the whole story (the first stops at just barely the beginning, and the second only half-way through!). What’s more, a live action version was made from 1997-1998. This is one of the staples of Manga, especially the Shoujo genre, and I would certainly recommend it.

Four and ½ Stars: Magnificent story, beautiful artwork, endearing and addictive characters, and I love it, but I’m not fangirling too much yet.

[ARC Review] How to Be Danish: A Journey to the Cultural Heart of Denmark by Patrick Kingsley

ARC Reviews, Bry's Reviews, Reviews 2 Comments 2nd February, 2014

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

[ARC Review] How to Be Danish: A Journey to the Cultural Heart of Denmark by Patrick KingsleyHow to Be Danish: A Journey to the Cultural Heart of Denmark by Patrick Kingsley
Published by Atria Books on February 4th, 2014
Genres: Travel
Pages: 192
Source: Netgalley
Denmark is the country of the moment. Recently named the happiest nation in the world, it’s the home of The Killing and Noma, the world’s best (and most eccentric) restaurant. We wear their sweaters, watch their thrillers, and covet their cool modern design, but how much do we really know about the Danes themselves? Part reportage, part travelogue, How to Be Danish fills in the gaps—an introduction to contemporary Danish culture that spans politics, television, food, architecture, and design.

Let’s begin by acknowledging that I am Danish. In fact, genetically, I am very Danish. My last name, Jensen,  is the most prevalent surname in all of Denmark, and the whole of my family has the very, very Danish look. However, I have never (yet) been to Denmark, and due to the obvious language barrier, I have very little contact with most of my extended family. So when the chance to read this book came up, I jumped, figuring this would be the perfect way to amuse myself and uncover more about the place from which I hail. Just how Danish am I really?

How to be Danish is an exploration of Danish culture as conceived by ethnic natives, first and second generation immigrants, and the outsider perspective of the author.The book explores the fundamentals of Danish culture from style and design, the social and economic structure of the socialist state, television, food, education, immigration, and even the Danishness of cycling. Together, the differing topics of discussion provide a unique commentary on what it is to belong in Denmark, and how the affirmed identity of the Danish people shapes their understanding of the larger world and their place in it.

This book is a very easy read, so much so that I finished the entire book while waiting for my hair color to set at the salon. Patrick Kingsley provides context, history, insight and reflection on the various aspects of Danishness without becoming bogged down in the dull droning quality that fact recitation can easily become. His chosen topics and colloquial styling kept this book light and interesting, and his anecdotes are accessible, even if you have never seen The Killing or Borgen (Danish shows that earned international acclaim). His evaluation of even sensitive polarizing issues such as racism are handled without pretension, or the condescending lens of an onlooker. Indeed, Kingsley’s style is very neutral and objective, removing his personal bias whenever possible, or acknowledging his personal opinions separate from the subject matter. 

Overall, what I learned from this book is that in many ways, I am quite quintessentially Danish, aside from the fact that I actually live in Canada. I view the social welfare structure of Denmark, which pays students to go to university and invests in their society to prevent economic inequality, as ideal and desirable, and even my aesthetic tastes are Scandinavian at their core. So if you’ve got Danish heritage, or are planning a trip to Denmark and want to know more about the people you’re going to interact with, How to be Danish is an easy, fun read that will inform you without feeling bored.

[Review] This is What Happy Looks Like

Amy's Reviews, Reviews 0 Comments 1st February, 2014

This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.
[Review] This is What Happy Looks LikeThis Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer Smith
Published by Hachette Digital, Inc. on 2013-04-02
Genres: Family, Film, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 416
Source: Amazon, Purchase
If fate sent you an email, would you answer?When teenage movie star Graham Larkin accidentally sends small town girl Ellie O'Neill an email about his pet pig, the two seventeen-year-olds strike up a witty and unforgettable correspondence, discussing everything under the sun, except for their names or backgrounds. Then Graham finds out that Ellie's Maine hometown is the perfect location for his latest film, and he decides to take their relationship from online to in-person. But can a star as famous as Graham really start a relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? And why does Ellie want to avoid the media's spotlight at all costs?

So, I picked up this book with the thought that it was probably going to be majorly corny.  By the end of this book I was pleasantly surprised to find I actually liked this book.  This is What Happy Look Like has one cheese, cheese, cheesy plot line.


The story starts when a young Hollywood star accidentally emails the wrong person about walking his pet pig.  Then the person he emails responds to let him know that he got wrong address and just happens to be a seventeen year old girl.  They start an online pen pal relationship never sharing personal details like last names, just hopes and dreams.  The first couple of pages of the book is told in their emails.  Then Graham has to go on location to shoot his new movie and he just happens to convince the director to go to the small Maine town where Ellie lives so he can meet the girl who has helped bring him back down to earth after getting lost in the Hollywood glitz and glamour.  The plot line is basically a teen version of You’ve Got Mail meets Knotting Hill.

I am here to tell you don’t let that scare you away because this book is about so more than a Hollywood star falling in love with an average girl.  This is not a Cinderella story.  This story is about a summer of self discovery.  It is about forgiveness.   It is about the truth and reality of a summer romance.  Ellie is hiding secrets of own about her father’s identity.  With the help of Graham and his life in the spotlight she has to face those secrets.  I liked how she come to terms and takes some baby steps toward the path that leads to her father.  She is able to begin her own healing processes for wounds she didn’t even know were still open.

I liked how Graham has problems of his own because he is estranged from his parents because for him acting is a career.  For his parents, it’s like the trip across Europe every eighteen or seventeen year old takes before going  to college.  Maybe Graham will go to college and maybe he won’t but I liked how he is able to take baby steps back on the road towards his family.  I liked that Ellie doesn’t treat him like a movie star.  I liked that she is able to see past, after a while, and remember the guy who emailed her because for this summer they need each other, the friendship and understanding that each brings to table to move on and grow.

So, I liked this book a lot because it was so real.  I liked that it didn’t end with empty promises of declarations of forever love.  I liked that things are not completely resolved with their parents.  Both Graham and Ellie are only seventeen and they have the rest of their lives for forever love and healing.  This book is about possibilities and I like that it ends with a whole world of them, leaving the reader, me to imagine them all.  This is What Happy Looks Like left me floating on a nice cloud of happy.

[Arc Review] Fire & Flood

ARC Reviews, Fry's Reviews, Reviews 0 Comments 29th January, 2014

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.
[Arc Review] Fire & FloodFire & Flood by Victoria Scott
Series: Fire & Flood
Published by Scholastic Press on February 25th, 2014
Genres: Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller, Young Adult
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
A modern day thrill ride, where a teen girl and her animal companion must participate in a breathtaking race to save her brother's life—and her own.

Tella Holloway is losing it. Her brother is sick, and when a dozen doctors can't determine what's wrong, her parents decide to move to Montana for the fresh air. She's lost her friends, her parents are driving her crazy, her brother is dying—and she's helpless to change anything.

Until she receives mysterious instructions on how to become a Contender in the Brimstone Bleed. It's an epic race across jungle, desert, ocean, and mountain that could win her the prize she desperately desires: the Cure for her brother's illness. But all the Contenders are after the Cure for people they love, and there's no guarantee that Tella (or any of them) will survive the race.

The jungle is terrifying, the clock is ticking, and Tella knows she can't trust the allies she makes. And one big question emerges: Why have so many fallen sick in the first place?

Tella Halloway is annoying, and everything I despise in a protagonist. She’s not that bright, worried more about the shallow things in life like nail polish and fashion, and she’s stuck in the middle of nowhere with her family. Her brother is terminal, and her relationship with him is almost normal, considering.

Tella immediately receives a mysterious package, with instructions on how to become a Contender in something called the Brimstone Bleed. It’s a race, you guys, across several different and grueling biomes. The winner gets a cure for the terminally ill patient of their choice. Catch? Her parents are trying to keep the Brimstone Bleed a secret from her, and she’s got 48 hours to make it from middle of nowhere Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska.

She runs off without another thought in her pretty little head, except the one where she remembers to pack purple nail polish so she can look stellar. Never mind the fact that her parents didn’t want her to know about the competition or that they tried to cover it up as a joke and keep her at home. Never mind that she stole a car and trekked across country on the faith of a google search. She has to reach her destination and participate in selecting something called a Pandora!

Of course, Tella doesn’t grab an egg immediately and gets left with the broken one on the floor. Then she follows her mysterious instructions to a train station, takes a mysterious pill and wakes up in the jungle. Here, with the other Contenders, she’s expected to trek through the jungle and make it to base camp in order to continue to the next leg of the journey.

The jungle is full of surprises, none of which Tella is prepared for. She’s not prepared for flesh eating ants or leeches or killer chimps. Through this, she somehow survives and stumbles upon a campsite full of other Contenders who are more than happy to take her in. Her Pandora, or animal companion that hatched out of that egg she chose before the race started, is much smaller compared to the rest.

Her new group of allies are varied in their back stories, demographics and reasons for being in the competition. Despite these differences, they work well together and when they are attacked by a grizzly Pandora, they quickly subdue both him and his handler. The grizzly Pandora attack adds two more members to their group, the grizzly’s handler in order to keep an eye on him and the brooding and mysterious Guy Chambers.

Now, Guy Chambers is apparently the love interest. He is brooding and full of mystery and his motives for being in the Brimstone Bleed go far beyond saving a family member. He is described in a bipolar fashion. Sometimes he looks like a serial killer. Other times he has dreamy blue eyes. Always, Tella is compelled to follow, stare at or kiss him.

Despite hardships, the team makes it through one leg of the race, only to immediately be thrown into the second biome, a desert. This leg of the race is full of hardships that extend past the obvious terrain induced ones. A few reveals are made involving some of the teammates. One is pretty obvious and I saw it coming from the point of meeting the character, but the other is a bit more subtle. There is only a passing mention that could even hint towards it, hiding in an offhanded snarky comment. The mention stood out at the time, as out of place as it was to me, making the reveal more of a, ‘duh’, moment than an actual reveal.

The finish line of this leg of the race also requires a surprise price. Tella got lucky and she was able to complete this leg of the race with her dignity and compassion intact.

After the race, the reason for the Brimstone Bleed and Guy’s ulterior motives are revealed. Yet, despite learning about them, Tella doesn’t ask any questions. She just blankly nods and accepts everything she’s told as fact. Sure, she speculates a little, but anyone else in that situation would be demanding plenty more than what she was given.

I enjoyed the book overall. Full of plot holes, questions and inconsistent heroines, it still wove a compelling, attention grabbing tale. It’s more of a summer blockbuster in literary form, than a wonderful literary masterpiece. It read quickly and kept me interested. We will have to see how the followup pans out.

[ARC Review] Alienated

Amy's Reviews, ARC Reviews, Reviews 3 Comments 28th January, 2014

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

[ARC Review] AlienatedAlienated by Melissa Landers
Series: Alienated #1
Published by Disney-Hyperion on February 4th, 2014
Genres: Adventure, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Two years ago, the aliens made contact. Now Cara Sweeney is going to be sharing a bathroom with one of them. Handpicked to host the first-ever L'eihr exchange student, Cara thinks her future is set. Not only does she get a free ride to her dream college, she'll have inside information about the mysterious L'eihrs that every journalist would kill for. Cara's blog following is about to skyrocket.Still, Cara isn't sure what to think when she meets Aelyx. Humans and L'eihrs have nearly identical DNA, but cold, infuriatingly brilliant Aelyx couldn't seem more alien. She's certain about one thing though: no human boy is this good-looking.But when Cara's classmates get swept up by anti-L'eihr paranoia, Midtown High School suddenly isn't safe anymore. Threatening notes appear in Cara's locker, and a police officer has to escort her and Aelyx to class. Cara finds support in the last person she expected. She realizes that Aelyx isn't just her only friend; she's fallen hard for him. But Aelyx has been hiding the truth about the purpose of his exchange, and its potentially deadly consequences. Soon Cara will be in for the fight of her life-not just for herself and the boy she loves, but for the future of her planet.

I started this book when I was on vacation and I ended up really liking it.  I was on a cruise boat, and I found this book provided just the right kind of vacation reading.  The story is light, full of action, and of course there is kissing.  It was one of those reads that drags you in and doesn’t let go until the end.  For me, I found Alienated by Melissa Landers quite a fascinating read.

The book is set in an alternate reality where aliens have made contact with Earth.  This alien race shares DNA with humans. They even look like humans with subtle differences. Their race is more advanced and possesses technology that can save Earth from a water shortage.  They even have the technology to cure cancer.  So when they agree to send exchange students to live on Earth, the politicians know they have to make the populace happy because Earth can benefit so much from the friendship with these aliens.

Cara is a straight A student who agrees to host the only alien exchange on USA soil.  Not everyone is happy about the exchange and becoming friends with aliens, and soon Cara and her alien find themselves in danger.  Angry mobs aren’t the only problem because Cara and Aelyx are falling in love.  Being a sucker for romance of course I was all over this plot line of star-crossed lovers like white on rice.  I really did like the book because while it was cheesy, it was the right kind of cheese that is believable, romantic, and leaves a swoony smile across my face.

I liked that Aelyx starts off hating the assignment and believes that humans are beneath him, to developing compassion and growing to love not only Cara, but the human race.  These traits that had been bred out his people after years of cloning and it’s good to see that everyone needs passion in their lives because it keeps the drive we all have going to try new things, fall in love, and better our lives.  I like that it is Cara’s loyalty and passion that helps him see the light.  It is that loyalty and passion that causes her to risk everything for love and leave behind everything she has ever known.  I felt the chemistry sizzled off page and their love was genuine and believable.

In the end, I really liked Alienated.   For me, this book was about two beings who think they can’t be more different, but realize that they each have something valuable to offer each other.  I liked the message in the book of finding one’s passion and tolerance.  This book is about tolerance and acceptance because every being has something valuable of offer.  The way the book ended was kind of bittersweet.  I am now eagerly awaiting the next installment because I can’t wait to find out what happens next in the Cara and Aelyx love affair.  Alienated is a book that made me cheer, swoon, and bite my nails in suspense. I recommend this book to anyone looking for a read that will take them on romantic adventure.