Short Reviews #9: Playing Catch-Up (11 titles)

So, 2011 has come to a close. Other book bloggers out there are posting their “best of” lists at the moment. This is not one of those. This is more of a catch-up than a wrap-up. But my wrap-up will follow reasonably soon.

As the new year approached, I found myself reading a large number of things over the holidays and staring at an equally large pile of books that I hadn’t reviewed due to the major projects that led to my previous hiatus. This all came down to one ultimate decision–I gave myself permission not to review them. As much as I would like to have done so, I realized that it would be more productive to start fresh with my 2012 reads rather than slogging through a backlog of books and attempting to remember everything about them that would be relevant to a review.

So what I’m going to do, instead, is list what I read and provide the most micro of micro reviews. Which basically boils down to whether I liked it or not and why in two to five sentences.

SUMMER KNIGHT (Dresden Files, book 4) by Jim Butcher
Roc, 2002, 371 pages, 978-0451458926, Mass Market Paperback, $9.99

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Liked it: Yes.

Thoughts: A pretty good installment to the Dresden Files series. Harry’s lack of respect for the Council becomes even more obvious, and the peril he’s in becomes more apparent as well. My favorite aspect of the book, though, is the deepening relationship between Harry and Murphy. She’s a pretty cool lady, I have to say, and she’s quite reasonable, I think, about the fact that she can believe in what Harry does, but, as a person who has always lived with common “reality,” she’s not necessarily good at dealing with it (though I think she does a pretty fine job). I’m really itching to read the next volume, but, alas, it may have to wait.

BLACK BUTLER, vol. 7 by Yana Toboso
Yen Press, 2011, 176 pages, 978-0316189637, Paperback, $11.99

Genre: Manga

Liked it: Yes.

Thoughts: We’re mostly continuing the story, here, but we do get some resolution as far as the current arc. We also get a bit more about how Ciel and Sebastian came to be a pair. Good stuff all around.

NATSUME’S BOOK OF FRIENDS, vol. 9 & 10 by Yuki Midorikawa
Viz Media, 2011, 192 pages, 978-1421538877, Paperback, $9.99
Viz Media, 2011, 192 pages, 978-1421539393 , Paperback, $9.99

Genre: Manga

Liked it: Yes

Thoughts: Volume nine had more “plot” than ten as far as the furthering of Natsume’s character and his run-ins with Matoba. Ten was more a standalone volume with two episodic stories, though the second story did continue to expand Natsume’s relationship with Natori. As usual, Nyanko-sensei is hilarious.

GATE 7, vol. 1 by CLAMP
Dark Horse, 2011, 192 pages, 978-1595828064, Paperback, $10.99

Genre: Manga

Liked it: Definitely yes.

Thoughts: CLAMP has a habit of entertaining and amazing me but ultimately letting me down at the end of a series with their continually depressing and not-at-all-definite endings, assuming they finish a series at all, so I was leery of starting a new title from them. Alas, I’m a fan, so I did. And how happy am I (for now)! I like the characters very much, and their interaction is amusing. This should prove fun, especially since they’re weaving some historical bits into the story. I’m a huge sucker for stories that incorporate Japanese historical figures. I blame all of the Japanese art history I studied. I’m expecting great things from this manga, and I’m hoping CLAMP won’t disappoint.

BLUE EXORCIST, vol. 5 by Kazue Katou
Viz Media, 2011, 200 pages, 978-1421540764, Paperback, $9.99

Genre: Manga

Liked it: Yes.

Thoughts: I’m so glad this storyline is different from the anime. Which is to say, I like the anime but I’m glad I’m not reading the same events in manga form–I’d be bored. This volume takes the ex-wires on a new journey while also dealing with their new fear (or lack of fear) of Rin. It also briefly alludes to Yukio’s current “problem.” Looking forward to the next volume–they’ve got a mystery to solve and a villain to catch. And we’re getting to learn a lot about Bon’s family, which is nice.

Viz Media, 2011, 208 pages, Paperback, 978-1421539607, $9.99

Genre: Manga/Gothic

Liked it: More or less.

Thoughts: The final volume of Grand Guignol Orchestra had me massively confused, partly because I was never totally clear on parts of the story to begin with, and partly because it’s been a while since I read volume four. We rather unexpectedly find out that the world of the story comes after the modern world, which shocked me but also explained why they have things like chain saws. The ending is a bit complex, so good luck keeping up. But compared to Kaori Yuki’s other endings, it’s remarkably happy.

KOBATO, vol. 5 by CLAMP
Yen Press, 2011, 144 pages, 978-0316190718, Paperback, $11.99

Genre: Manga/Shoujo

Liked it: Yes.

Thoughts: This manga has been improving since volume three. Finally, some real substance and some explanation as to what has been going on. Things are getting interesting and definitely more complicated. Regarding the big reveal, I did see it coming, mostly because I know how CLAMP works. As for the secondary reveal that has yet to be made . . . I’m holding out to see what happens. Also, Kobato has some guts. Just sayin’.

RUROUNI KENSHIN (series) by Nobuhiro Watsuki
Viz Media, 28-volume series

Genre: Manga

Liked it: Yes.

Thoughts: When people say this manga is better than the anime, they mean it. I mean, it’s not extravagantly different, story-wise, until you reach the end–the real end where they wrap up the business of Kenshin’s past–but there’s a lot more emotion, and the characters have a little more personality. Saitoh, in particular, is much more intense (and amazing) than I remember him from the animation, which is astonishing, because I loved him already. Kaoru was even more obnoxious and weepy. And there’s my one problem–I understand that this manga is written for boys, but I don’t like how the female characters are portrayed as strong but not strong enough to stand beside the men of the series. Eh. Oddly, it was Megumi’s character who turned out to be the best female–she’s emotionally stronger than the rest, which I liked. But, anyway, if you’re a fan of the anime and haven’t read the manga version, I definitely recommend it. That said, I hear they’re doing a new series to finish out the Enishi arc. I hope so.

R.O.D.: READ OR DREAM (series) by Hideyuki Kurata and Ran Ayanaga
Viz Media, 4-volume series

Genre: Manga

Liked it: Eh….

Thoughts: This story had its good points, but overall I was a little bored. It was very episodic up until the end, when we find out how the three “sisters” ended up living together and running an investigations agency. Not my favorite series, but I suppose it was fun to read once.

VARIANT by Robison Wells
HarperTeen, 2011, 384 pages, 978-0062026088, Hardcover, $17.99

Genre: Young Adult

Liked it: Yes, certainly.

Thoughts: This book was a different reading experience than anything else I picked up in 2011. I enjoyed its almost sparse form of narration, and it was reminiscent of Japanese stories with similar concepts. I think that assessment has to do with the fact that it takes place in a school of questionable purpose, there are gangs, and there are <__insert major spoilers__>. The only thing that irked me a bit was the main character. He just seemed too overly intent on being non-conformist. Which isn’t necessarily wrong in this situation, but I’m not sure how far a real person would be willing to take his rebellious streak right off the bat. I imagine they’d work up to it, but the main character jumps into that role feet first. Still, he grew on me. The revelations about the reality of the school were unexpected and pretty cool. I’ll definitely look for the next volume when it comes out.

PRINCE OF THORNS by Mark Lawrence
Ace, 2011, 336 pages, 978-0441020324, Hardcover, $25.95

Genre: Fantasy

Liked: For the most part, yes.

Thoughts: This book was a fun read, but the squeamish should be wary. A lot of other reviewers have said they don’t believe a fourteen-year-old could commit all of the atrocities in the book, or that anyone would respect him enough to follow him. I’m not sure where I stand on that line, myself. Part of me wants to say the same, but if you read to the end and learn more about where Jorg’s rage and determination are really coming from, then I suppose it’s not terribly impossible. I mean, given that this is fantasy and crazy things exist. There were a lot of really surprising revelations about the nature of this world itself. I can’t say I saw that coming. Reconciling it with my preconceptions about “high fantasy” was initially challenging, but, ultimately, I think what Lawrence did was pretty cool. Good concept, very graphic, lots of slaughter, and a character who acknowledges his own changes. If that sounds like your cup of tea then have at it. I’m pretty sure I’ll pick up King of Thorns in August.

And there you are. A whole pile of micro reviews.

Full reviews of new reads will commence shortly. The first two will likely be The Rift Walker by Clay & Susan Griffith and The Daemon Prism by Carol Berg. After that, I can’t say. I have a rather overwhelming pile of requested reviews in addition to a pretty big stack of books that I, personally, have chosen for reading. I’m not sure what will swim to the top of the pile first.

Ta-ta! And look out for the year-end summary a little later.



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