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Monday, April 30, 2012

It's Just Another Manga Monday: Haruka - Beyond the Stream of Time by Tohko Mizuno

Got the Monday Blues?  Everything go wrong that possibly could? What you need is a nice refreshing dose of manga. Not only is it a great escape, you can read a book in about an hour and then there is that wonderful sense of accomplishment I talked about earlier. It always makes my day better. While I haven't gotten any novels read this week, I did manage to read about 10 manga books, so I'm catching up. Ten down, probably about 200 to go. It feels like it anyway. But once again I digress. Today's delectable little title is a manga series that started as a video game. It's sort of like a choose your own adventure, but in the game you get to choose which hottie Akane is going to end up with. There are different endings to the game. Sadly, I believe it is only available in Japan. I have had to content myself with the manga and the anime. Now while there is one manga series, there are several anime series, but I'm getting ahead of myself. For your reading pleasure, I present Haruka - Beyond the Stream of Time by Tohko Mizuno.

Series Description:
Reads R to L (Japanese Style), for audiences T+.
Akane is your typical teenage girl...until she swallows the Dragon Jewels, which transport her to the Heian period of ancient Japan! There in the capital city, Akane learns that she has been foreordained to lead the people as the Priestess of the Dragon God!

Publication Date: February 7, 2012 | Series: Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time (Book 15)
The Eight Guardians have lost their memories of each other and Akane, shattering the mystical bond between them. Akane's only hope is to find the Curse Seed, which has the power to restore their memories. But can she fight the Demon Clan, protect the Capital and break the curse without the Guardians by her side?

My Review:
To sum up, Akane is a high school girl who, while on her way to school, hears a voice which she follows and ends up getting sucked down into a portal by a demon. While in the void between worlds, she is approached by the dragon god and is given the 8 dragon jewels which she will bestow upon her guardians. Her friends Tenma and Shimon are with her and they also get sucked through the portal while trying to fight off the demon. The three eventually reunite, and Akane finds out she is priestess of the dragon god who has been prophesied to be the savior of the Capital, a lace much like feudal Japan. She was brought to this world by the leader, Akram, of the demon clan. As far as I can tell, they just have blond hair and blue eyes, but Akram is cruel and he does have some minions who will stop at nothing to make him happy. He has brought Akane to his world so that he may manipulate her power as the dragon priestess and destroy the Capital. She is at first manipulated to believe he may care for her and finds that she is attracted to him, but over the course of the series, finds that his cruelty has diminished her attraction to him. He will stop at nothing, though, to make her power his.
During her stay, she makes friends of some of the locals. There is Yorihisa, a samurai who is commanded to be her bodyguard, Takamichi, who is a government official, General Tachibana the ladies man, Inori the Blacksmith's apprentice, Eisen the monk who is also the Emperor's brother and Yasuaki, who is not exactly what he seems. These 6 along with Tenma and Shimon have a dragon jewel bestowed upon them when they act to protect Akane. They are the 8 guardians. Together with Akane, they must find a way to break the demon hold on the city. Akram has sealed away the power of the guardian beasts of the Capital.
The guardians and Akane have been on a quest to find four sacred talismans, one for each of the guardian beasts, so that they can free them from demon clan. Once they have located them, the plan to hold a ritual to unlock the power of the guardian beasts and return them to the Capital. Akram is one step ahead, as he always is, and he lays a trap for Akane and her guardians. A curse is cast that makes them forget Akane and that they are guardians. She is faced with the fact that for the first time she is going to have to fight for herself without the help of her guardians. She does find assistance, though, for an unexpected source. Will she be able to break the curse on her guardians and return their memory to them? We will just have to wait for Vol 16.
And no shojo manga is complete without some romantic tension. At least half the guardians are in love with her, Tenma being one of them. Four of them have already confessed their feelings to her. I do wonder who in the book series she will end up with. My money is on Yorihisa, at least that is who I hope she ends up with, but I'll just have to wait and see.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Feature & Follow hosted by Parajunkee's View & Alison Can Read

I would like to take a minute to thank my friend Terri over at Alexia's Books & Such. She has taken pity on me and has taken me under her wing. She is trying to get me to spread my wings and fly. Her assistance has been immeasurable, so thanks, Terri! I am a newbie and while I find I do have a lot to say, I have to find more people to say it to. So, I signed up for Feature & Follow Social Hop hosted by Parajunkee's View & Alison Can Read. 

This week's question: Have you had a character that disappointed you? One that you fell in love with and then "broke up" with later on in either the series or a stand-alone book? Tell us about him or her.

My tell: I am in love with the Tiger's Curse series by Colleen Houck. [Warning: Spoilers] I can't wait until the next volume comes out in September, but I am also filled with trepidation. The story centers around Kelsey, who is trying to help two brothers break a centuries old curse that turns them into tigers for some of each day. There are mysteries to solve, dangers to face and love to find. She falls in love with Ren, the older of the two brothers and they are seemingly happy. However, in Book Two, Tiger's Quest, Ren is captured and tortured by another immortal who is trying to find Kelsey. When Ren is rescued, his mind is broken and loses all memory of Kelsey. He vows to make a fresh start with her and tries to love her, but he is under a spell that makes it painful  for him to be in her presence. He basically throws her at his brother, Kishan, who is also in love with Kelsey. When Kelsey finally commits herself to Kishan, the spell on Ren is broken. He fights to get her back, but she is remaining fixed in her position. She feels she can no longer trust Ren to stay by her side as she knows he would leave her to save her. She has decided she wants someone who is more constant. So, she chooses Kishan. I really love the characters, but I can't remember being so angry at the end of a book that I wanted to throw it. Kelsey and Ren share a powerful bond that Kishan will never have with her, but because she fears rejection again at the hands of Ren, she decides to play it safe. Perhaps the greatest love requires the greatest risk, but I find the risk to be worth it. I hope in the end Kelsey will too, but I am not very happy with her right now.

Monday, April 23, 2012

It's Just Another Manga Monday - Skip Beat by Yoshiki Nakamura

So, I was consulting my lists, (I live in Excel), and I realized I might be missing a couple volumes of manga. So, I printed out my spreadsheet and set to the attic. Yes, that's right. There is absolutely no room on the main part of the house except for the few volumes I am trying to read,, so all the manga is upstairs in the attic. It's a walk-in attic, so it's not really too much of a hardship. Anyway, I sorted out my list, found which books I was missing and resolved to order them straight away. I did realize one thing, though. I am woefully behind on my manga reading, so I am trying to do a little catch up. One thing I really like about manga is that it takes about an hour to read one volume. So, I can start a book and end a book in the same day. It gives me quite a sense of accomplishment, but I digress. So, today, I am going to write about one of my favorite series, Skip Beat by Yoshiki Nakamura. It's funny, not ha ha, more like funny strange?, anyway, it's funny because I started ordering the book, but never got into the series right away. The publisher is Viz and I have to say, they publish some of the best Shojo comics (for girls) and I usually give pretty much every title a try. Anyway, I didn't start reading until about 10 volumes were out. I had decided it was do or die time and I wasn't going to order anymore volumes until I caught up or decided I didn't like. Well, once I started reading, I couldn't put the series down.

Series Description:
Kyoko Mogami followed her true love Sho to Tokyo to support him while he made it big as an idol. But he's casting her out now that he's famous! Kyoko won't suffer in silence - She's going to get her sweet revenge by beating Sho in show biz.

My Review:
What is not to like? Girl falls for guy, guy takes advantage of her feelings, he leaves for the big city, she tags along, but as soon as he starts to become famous, he throws her out. She vows revenge on him by beating him at his own game. It's like American Idol, only Japanese and not a game show, but I do have to wonder what it is about J-Pop? There are quick a few series about girls wanting to break into show biz by becoming an idol. I think I'm getting off track, though. Anyway, Kyoko has a lot to learn out the show biz industry. She manages to land a job at a talent agency, but she is not hired as talent. She is hired as the newest (and only) member of the Love Me section of the talent agency. She has to work for the talent in whatever capacity they need, whether running errands, getting them to a shoot, getting them food, whatever it takes. She then receives points based on how good a job she does. Eventually she does start to get acting work, but she lands a roll in a miniseries that is kind of pigeon-holing her and she is trying to break out of that mold. She meets a fellow actor that works for her agency, but he is a star and he gives her a hard time in the beginning with her Love Me assignments and consistently gives her low scores. Eventually, they become friends and he seems to take her under his wing, but he is harboring a dark secret and hiding something else from his past, something relating to Kyoko. Sho, the object of her revenge plot, comes back into the picture and he decides he wants her back, but only because Ren is his rival in the ratings game and he wants to beat him. As the series progresses, Kyoko seems to be giving up on her revenge plot little by little as she realizes she wants to becoome a great actress, one who Ren would be proud of. She respects him and looks up to him, but she would never presume to get too close. He is, after all, a star.

In Vol 27, the two of them are immersing in characters for Ren's next movie. He is playing a mafioso type thug and Kyoko was brought in to act the part of his sister. The trick is that no one is supposed to find out who he is. He will star in the film, but he won't be named in the credits, so they need to keep a tight lid on it. They are staying together and Ren is finding that it is very difficult to be so close to Kyoko all the time when he has feelings for her he is trying to keep bottled up. She's oblivious, of course, but can he really handle her treating him like a brother when he would wish for so much more?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Book Review: Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg

I was searching through new and upcoming book releases on Amazon when I happened upon a new book by Elizabeth Eulberg. I was pretty excited about it. The first book I had read by her was Prom & Prejudice, which was actually her second book. See? I talked about the whole Austen thing before. Prom & Prejudice is another such book taking the story of Pride and Prejudice and setting it in a modern private academy world. It was an enjoyable read, so I looked her up to see if she had any other books and lo and behold, I found The Lonely Hearts Club. It's about a girl that starts a friendship club for girls tired of getting their hearts broken. It's about the empowerment of women and how we don't need a man to make our lives meaningful. Of course, there's also romance on the mix. But I digress. Anyway, I ordered Take a Bow immediately and had to wait almost two weeks to get it. It was sad, though, because it only took me one day to read. It's like Fame only not with so much dancing on the cars in the streets of New York.

Book Description:
Publication Date: April 1, 2012
From the fantastic author of The Lonely Hearts Club and Prom & Prejudice comes a story of all the drama and comedy of four friends who grow into themselves at a performing arts high school.

Emme, Sophie, Ethan, and Carter are seniors at a performing arts school, getting ready for their Senior Showcase recital, where the pressure is on to appeal to colleges, dance academies, and professionals in show business. For Sophie, a singer, it's been great to be friends with Emme, who composes songs for her, and to date Carter, soap opera heartthrob who gets plenty of press coverage. Emme and Ethan have been in a band together through all four years of school, but wonder if they could be more than just friends and band mates. Carter has been acting since he was a baby, and isn't sure how to admit that he'd rather paint than perform. The Senior Showcase is going to make or break each of the four, in a funny, touching, spectacular finale that only Elizabeth Eulberg could perform.
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My Review:
Let me just preface this by saying that I really did enjoy the book. The story unfolds with four perspective voices. There's Sophie, Carter, Ethan and Emme. Each chapter is from a different perspective character which still moves the plot along in a linear fashion. I liked way the story was told. The voice was always fresh and new because it would be four chapters until we came back to that character's chapter again. And I liked that I could see the story through not just one pair of eyes. It was very well crafted.

I do have to say though, that starting out, the only character I really liked was Ethan. I couldn't stand Sophie. She's so completely absorbed in her own talent and importance. She sees the world as her stage and all the little people help her reach her goals. She has drawn out a plan to become famous, which also includes those around her. She uses every one she knows to her own end like she has the right to because she deserves it. An example is her relationship with Emme. She is Emme's best friend, but I can't say the feeling is mutual. Emme is a songwriter and she needs Emme to be a part of the plan so Emme will write songs for her to sing. No one can write songs like Emme can or make Sophie sound as dynamic as Emme does with her music. Emme doesn't sing her own songs because Sophie has convinced her that she doesn't sing very well. As it turns out, Emme does have a decent voice, but then she becomes competition. Even Sophie's choice in boyfriends is calculated. She is dating Carter who is a child star and currently starring in a soap opera. She like dating Carter because they go out often to premiers and such and there are lots of photo ops to get her face out there and her name. Carter is just one of the stepping stones that will help Sophie achieve her dream of fame and success. I found nothing at all endearing about her, but the character was very well written.

Carter is a bit more sympathetic. He is going through an identity crisis realizing that he really doesn't enjoy acting. It is unfortunate because no one will allow him the opportunity to explore any other career path other than acting. In any of the school productions, he is always told he is going to be doing a scene from a play. Even when he tried to suggest another talent to showcase, he was basically shut down. He feels trapped by a future he no longer wants and has no idea how to extricate himself from the situation he has found himself in. He finds that he is not just acting on the set, but he's acting through life. Playing the perfect boyfriend, playing the perfect student, playing the perfect son. Catering to everyone else's expecatations of who he should be. He knows Emme since he is dating Sophie, but in one evening they have a meaningful conversation where he confides in her his personal conflict and she is supportive. He wants to get into an art program and she encourages him. They become friends, but that is just another thorn in Sophie's side. The one issue I had with Carter is that it took him so long to figure out what a manipulative, conniving girl he was dating. He, as it turns out, can also play the perfect doormat.

Emme and Ethan are in a band together along with Ben and Jack. I really got a kick out of the sections in the book dealing with the band, name - Teenage Kicks. Before every show, or at least major show, Jack would pump up the band by telling stories about the demise of the band and all the members there in. They were tragic tales. I like the banter and you could tell that these were four people who cared for one another and supported one another and as the end of senior year gets closer, the realization that the band will soon break up is a little sad, but such is the way of life.
Emme is a loyal friend which is certainly a quality I look for in a friend, but she is also handicapped by her friendship with Sophie. Everyone keeps telling her that Sophie is just using her, but she gets angry and defensive. She makes excuses, allowances, even bends the rules slightly all to help her friend out. Sophie knows that a few tears will get Emme to do whatever she wants and Emme just lets her. I want to shake her silly. She is a talented songwriter who doesn't want to shine in the spotlight. She'd rather be in the back ground where she is comfortable. She has believed all the things Sophie has been telling her for years, so she is not very confident in herself. It takes Ethan to break her out of that. It wasn't until she finally realized for herself what Sophie is really like that I really came to like her as a character. I found that she is not a push over as I had thought, but is actually very strong and can stand up for herself when the need arises.

Ethan is my favorite character. He's flawed, but he seems to be the most balanced out of the four. He is the front man for the group. He accepted the roll reluctantly, but became comfortable with the attention. He was dating Kelsey, but they split up. He was living a true rock star life style in that he was drinking before the shows, cheating on his girlfriend with the groupies if she wasn't there and generally engaged in all kinds of self destructive behavior. His relationship with Kelsey took place off page and before the present story takes place, but it was an on again / off again relationship that finally ended with them calling quits. It left him shattered and he found himself in a very dark place. He didn't care about himself or much else. It took Emme losing it to shake him out of his downward spiral. He is not proud of how he behaved, but he is reformed and would like nothing more than to regain Emme's trust. He is in love with her, but feels like she could never reciprocate his feelings. She made her feelings on his infidelity very clear. He contents himself with just being friends until Carter starts hanging around, although Carter and Emme just become good friends. He can still handle it though, until Emme starts dating another student in the music program and he loses it again. His feelings run deep and he just doesn't know what to do with them since he feels he has a snowball's chance in hell of Emme ever returning his feelings. He starts to self destruct again and it seems as if Emme is the only one that can help pull him back together.

I would like to say that Sophie redeems herself, that Carter finds himself, that Emme can see Sophie for who she is and Ethan as well and that Ethan will at least find some happiness. You're going to have to read the book to find out, though.

Monday, April 16, 2012

It's Just Another Manga Monday - Library Wars by Kiiro Yumi

I have chosen to write about Manga on Monday's. It fits. Monday is the most difficult day of the week for me and manga is a quick read.  It makes me feel like I accomplished something.  It does require the willing suspension of disbelief I must say, though. I mean, come on. The main character is 16 years old, but the parents live abroad on business and she lives on her own? I mean, really? But I do love manga. Can't get enough. So I have decided to feature my favorite manga titles.

Today's highlight is Library Wars - Love & War by Kiiro Yumi. It is published by Viz and Volume 7 came out in February. I am a little behind in my manga reading because of all the books I've been reading. There's only so many hours in a day.

Series Description:
In the near future, the federal government creates a committee to rid society of books it deems unsuitable. The libraries vow to protect their collections and, with the help of local governments, form a military group to defend themselves - the Library Forces!

My Review:
The series deals with the censorship of printed material and freedom of the press. Book burnings aren't that far back in our cultural history. Should people be allowed to write what they will and is it up to us as individuals to choose to read it or not? That is the heart of the struggle in this series. The only issue I have with this series is that it sometimes does get a bit political in tone because there are warring factions within society, those that are in favor of censorship and those who protect the rights of people to be able to read what they want without fear of recrimination. I sometimes get lost among all the faction and movement names, but I kind of take that in stride. At the center of the story is a girl named Iku Kasahara. When she was younger she wanted to buy a book, but there was a raid in the store by the factions in favor of censorship and the book she wished to purchase was on the banned books list. She really couldn't stand up for herself and would have had the book taken away from her when a young man stepped in and saved her book on behalf of the Library Task Force. She has always admired him although she can't remember his face and so she decides to follow his lead and has decided to join the Library Task Force. They try to discourage her interest because it can be dangerous and she is a girl. She does prove herself and is assigned to the task force. The catch, though, is that she can't tell her parents because they would forbid her to join a military arm of the library. So, she does the only thing she can which is to lie to her parents telling them she is a librarian. She is passionate about her work, about books and the freedom from censorship she is fighting for. She is a really likable character. Her personality is a bit uncensored, and she often acts without thinking, but she has a very warm and generous spirit. She is the light that keeps her fellow team mates from the dark. She is always upbeat even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds and always seems to look on the bright side. Her superior office, Instructor Dojo, is constantly criticizing her and picking on her because of the situations she seems to find herself in. She is reckless and he is always there to save the day. While she does find Dojo to be attractive, she can't stop thinking about the man who saved her favorite book, a man she call her prince. Unbeknownst to her, her prince is actually Inspector Dojo. He is developing feelings for her, but he covers them up with his brusque manor Will they ever get together? Not anytime soon, but the bantering back and forth between Iku and Dojo as well as their other team members is amusing.