Novel Review: Agnes and the Hitman

Agnes and the HitmanAgnes and the Hitman

by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Despite my stumbling over several grammatical issues and the author’s definite love of the word, “coital”, I heartily enjoyed the story. It was cute, funny, and light-hearted. Plus, the ending caught me off guard. I’m not usually surprised by fiction, so that was a nice feature.

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Novel Review: The Tenth Gift by Jane Johnson

The Tenth GiftThe Tenth Gift

by Jane Johnson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed the story in this novel about a 16th century Christian Maid who falls in love with her Moroccan Muslim slave trade captor. She was an interesting strong character — and although brutal, her captor had a very human and relate-able side.

I had a hard time connecting with the main modern day character with her heart broken after nearly a decade of sleeping with her best friend’s husband. I just didn’t have any heart for her — but I appreciated that the romance that she does find is just that… romance. It makes the connection between her and her Moroccan guide that much more real. The only thing that really bugged me was that she attempts to exorcise some demon from the past. It was ridiculous and didn’t really match with the rest of the story.

Non-Fiction Review: Is That a Fish in Your Ear? by David Bellos

Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of EverythingIs That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything

by David Bellos

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

He starts off the book by defining translation, the other solutions to dealing with language barriers, and whether translation actually exists (just because we’ve given it a name). Brilliant! It reminded me of my “Modern Art” history class at university — I put it off for several years because I took the stance that everything has been done before — it’s just a rehash. and what were the first words out of my prof’s mouth? “I’m going to take this semester to explain to you that Modern Art Does Not Exist!” YES! I know there were at least a few students who were NOT happy with this remark. For me, that was the best modern art class I ever could have hoped for!

Anyways, I don’t have much to say about this book — except that I’ll probably buy it and read it again. I kept wading through the text and was excited by so many passages. I kept thinking to myself, “I need to write this quote down…” This doesn’t happen that often to me with non-fiction works. I can’t explain it. All I can say is, I’d love to read some fictional works translated by David Bellos, his explanation of the how’s and what’s of translation were fascinating.

Manga Review: Pokemon Diamond and Pearl Adventure by Shigekatsu Ihara

Pokémon: Diamond and Pearl Adventure!, Vol. 1Pokémon: Diamond and Pearl Adventure!, Vol. 1

by Shigekatsu Ihara

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

No previous knowledge of Pokémon or the Pokémon world is needed to enjoy this energetic new epic in the growing Pokémon dynasty. A story about a naive new Pokémon trainer and his companion on a quest to meet the god-like Pokémon Dialga.

How Shigekatsu Ihara has created a new Pokémon adventure and kept it fresh and interesting is a mystery. The Pokémon are cute, the bad guys are hopeless, the hero is energetic; and there is some interesting back history on an unusual candidate. Geared for a younger audience. Worth some applause.

Manga Review: Cigarette Girl / by Masahiko Matsumoto

Cigarette GirlCigarette Girl

by Masahiko Matsumoto

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took time for me to like this book. I nearly put it down. I just wasn’t sure what to make of it. But, as the stories progressed they built on each other. Not so much as they were connected (although some were), just that it took time and effort for me to get into the rhythm of Matsumoto’s writing. By the half-way point, I was completely hooked.

Matsumoto was a contemporary (And friend) to Yoshihiro Tatsumi, but unlike his contemporary his work is subtly lighthearted, and almost comical. It’s not quite the serious dramatic pictures that you get from Tatsumi’s work. There’s a richness to be found in the absolutely uneventful moments in less-than-ordinary life that he writes about. He’s not portraying the ordinary life of ordinary people, but more the people who are on the outskirts of ordinary: from geisha to modern=day door-to-door condom sales girls (apparently, that’s a thing).

I wouldn’t say the artwork is stunning, but I kind of loved it. It was subtle enough to display complicated emotions, and to distinguish between characters, and weird enough to lighten-up the mood.

The only real complaint I have about this book is its lack of “cultural commentary”. Usually in manga, especially titles with harder topics, there are footnotes on cultural specific situations, phrases, events, and reasons for translation decisions. There were several times in the comic that I knew I was missing the “cultural significance”. And, in a title as subtle as this, any additional help would have been greatly appreciated.

And, because of the obscure nature and the lack of footnotes in this comic, I would probably recommend getting into gekiga with something a bit easier (like Tatsumi’s “Black Blizzard”) before you tried this one. Certainly I think that this is a worthwhile read, but it’s not an easy first-comic. I would probably recommend this title, if you already like gekiga, alternative or art comics, or are a fan of Yoshihiro Tatsumi (there’s a nice foreword written by Tatsumi about his friend Matsumoto).

It took a while for me to get into this book, but it was absolutely worth the work. I’ve certainly never read anything like Masahiko’s, Cigarette Girl, and am definitely planning to read it again, and excited to read more by him in the future.

I received a free digital copy from Netgalley for an honest review.

Manga Review: Venus in Love by Yuki Nakaji

Venus in Love, Vol. 01 (Venus in Love, #1)Venus in Love, Vol. 01

by Yuki Nakaji

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The story of Suzuna, a young woman and her group of friends as they begin university & fall in love. This is a perfectly nice series, but I gave it such a low rating because the translation is horrendous! It could be that the directness of the story could have been difficult to translate. I have a hard time believing that it was intended to be so straight-forward. Japanese is NOT a language that works like that! I think it was probably supposed to be more subtle; but, the subtleties didn’t work in the English language. Why do we have to be so boorish?

Because of the translation, you don’t get drawn into the story; completely impedes the “flow”. However, I have read this a number of times. Why? It’s actually because it is so easy to put down. The illustrations are charming, and it seems that every few panels there is a scene and story change. It packs a great deal of story into 8 short easy-to-read volumes. [There are more volumes out there, but CMX closed before it released any more… that’s all we got!]

So, not one I’d recommend, because there are definitely better English translated manga out there. Plus, this one is out of print so…you know.
But definitely one I like to read when I need something light & airy that won’t stay with me when I go to sleep. Sometimes you just need to read “fluff”!

I think I’d like to read the Japanese version someday to see if I’m actually right about it though. I just can’t fathom that Nakaji-san would have gotten away with writing so many volumes had she been so intentionally direct in her story-telling…

Manga Review: Demon Love Spell / by Mayu Shinjo

Demon Love Spell, Vol. 1Demon Love Spell, Vol. 1

by Mayu Shinjo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Demon Love Spell is a short 6 volume series by Mayu Shinjo.

The story follows Miko (a miko) and daughter to a famous Shinto priest who has abundant powers but no abilities to sense or see spirits… and Kagura (an incubus) the strongest demon from the demon world who gains his powers from the directed love and passion of women. Miko is surprised when she accidentally seals his powers, and they are both surprised when they begin falling in love with each other.

This story is so a-typical of Mayu Shinjo. And, if you were familiar with her work, you would know exactly what I mean. From the love/hate relationship of the main couple, the continual passionate declarations of love followed by complete denial and forgetfulness, and of course the classic art style with bizarrely over-proportioned features (particularly hands and torsos) – it is her work from start to finish.

Compared to some of her other works, this story tends to be lighter and fluffier. And, is nearly void of the rape, torture, and drug abuse that you would expect from her. Probably the most dynamic of Miko and Kagura fights lead to no more than a bit of pouting on Miko’s side. So unusual, but personally, also nice and refreshing.

I often have a hard time deciding whether the situations Shinjo writes belong in a shoujo or josei subgenre – this one I believe fits neatly as shoujo. Apart from the constant sexual references from a being whose entire life is supported by sex, this is no more than a silly high school fantasy of a romance. A handsome virile man who is suppressing his immoral nature because he is desperately in love with the plain, boring, moral, and slightly disconnected school girl… what girl can win against that combination??

The end for me was a failure. It ends, yes, and the solution is what you’ve been waiting for the entire time. But, with a story so focused on the “getting together” of the main characters (from page 1), you’d think there’d be a bit more romance at the end. Instead it just fizzles out, because well, it had to happen. Oh well.

Despite the ending, I actually enjoy this series. And, of Shinjo’s works it is probably my favourite. The best scene for me falls in the beginning of volume 4. Miko finds a baby/demon in a peach while bathing in a hotsprings (think Momotaro), and she and Kagura raise it as their own child. But, of course, as you read and as the source of the baby is determined, you realize that Mayu Shinjo has thrown together some of Japan’s most famous fairy tales and weaved them into one very strange outcome to the point that even the characters are left scratching their heads. It was a nice fun diversion.

For the most part it was a fun romantic series. And, I’ll probably read it over many times.

Manga Review: Shuriken and Pleats / by Matsuri Hino

Shuriken and Pleats, Vol. 1Shuriken and Pleats, Vol. 1

by Matsuri Hino

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hino is Hino. If you like her other work, you’ll like this. And, if you don’t, you won’t. She’s a solid 3 star read for me. Her characters never seem too deep, and the main love interest is usually at odds with itself. I’m never sure if I care if the characters get together, or feel like there is any chemistry between them. Usually the scenario is different enough from other series, and short enough that I’m relatively entertained and interested for the duration. Hino’s main draw for me is her art. Overall, her work just seems to be getting more and more sophisticated.

This title is odd in that it features a relatively depressed and emotionless main character. I wouldn’t call her tsundere — just kind of void of personality. I expect that the intention of the story is that she’ll change into a more “human” portrayal of a teenager. If you’re looking for a series with “cool” and “tough” ninja… I don’t think you’ll be super impressed.

I liked this well enough, and will probably pick up the next volume.