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Book Review: The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike, #1)The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I always suspected, from how cleverly JK Rowling laid her little trail of breadcumb clues in the Harry Potter series (especially the truth about Sirius Black in book 3--what a reveal!) that she'd be a fantastic mystery novelist, and now that I've read her first Cormoran Strike book, I can say she's proven me right. A fantastic mystery with all you'd expect from JKR in terms of crisp, engaging writing and astute, pat insights into a grand cross-section of human beings--except this time, a cross-section of very real, modern-day, and wildly diverse (and I don't just mean in terms of race--though I loved seeing her detective's beautifully dispassionate and impartial observations of all types of people, and how universal traits some of the traits they shared were, even if they were people Hollywood could never dream of putting in the same universe, much less the same movie) human beings, rather than the magical, sometimes whimsically outrageous folk we saw in the fantastical Harry Potter series.

Along with the fascinating and dizzying (and always authentic-feeling) leaps between characters and social stratospheres that this wonderfully complex, compelling case requires of our private eye are the many vastly different and all perfectly described venues all over London that we get to see through JKR's (again, perfectly pat) powers of description. She always lights on just the right, minute details of sound or color or weather or texture, etc, to give you a powerfully visceral understanding of the room/atmosphere that Strike is visiting. Anytime I stepped briefly out of the book to cook or eat or take care of whatever other minor necessities of living I had to attend to over the two days I read this book, I felt that surrealness that comes the day after you've come home from a vacation somewhere vastly different--it's hard to get your head back to the present because it's been so immersed in this utterly different place for so long. That was how I felt--like I'd been in London going to all these different, extremely vivid places, following this fascinating puzzle and getting increasingly caught up in its stakes and the story of the murder victim that was slowly unweaving. And I really can't recall the last time a mystery novel has done that to me (outside of a good Agatha Christie, I mean).

I'm absolutely thrilled there are two more books in the series already in existence and am looking immensely forward to returning to London and the company of the very likable Strike and Robin (his Hermione-bright secretary/assistant) to see what satisfying new mysteries we'll be solving next.

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Book Review: END OF DAYS by Susan Ee

End of Days (Penryn and the End of Days, #3)End of Days by Susan Ee

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars.

Having read the full series now, I feel ANGELFALL is still the strongest of the three, but END OF DAYS continues impressing with the massive imaginativeness, breathtaking scope, and amazingly solid-feeling world-building that Susan Ee has blown me away with from book one. I admit EOD has a few small cracks in the verisimilitude (and yes, despite how out-of-this-world crazy and up-ended this post-Rapture Apocalypse world is, Ms. Ee's deep understanding of real people and real emotions, both the ugly/self-serving and the beautiful/heroic/loving, makes you believe and buy absolutely every word and grisly detail Penryn encounters on her journey) that I hadn't seen in either of the first two books. They were generally minor quibbles (the overly contemporary/smart-alecky speech of certain angelic characters of the distant past (trying to keep this spoiler-free), for example), but unfortunately, the ending was peppered with quite a few of them, so that the twists felt slightly too-convenient/not fully believable at times.

Especially in and around the "final battle" and the conclusion, the relentlessly stacked and sometimes hard-to-buy twists made it ironically a little less suspenseful and satisfying than it could have been. I kind of got the sense while reading that entire last fourth of the book or so that Ms. Ee was finally getting fatigued--which, given how humongous a task writing such a huge and heart-wrenching series must've been, I can't blame her for at all. (I mean, seriously--can you imagine how much she must've had to edit and workshop the first book to death, just to make sure a wide audience would be able and willing to take the gigantic leaps of faith and imagination the subject matter demanded from the outset?)

And considering how the first two books, where it counted most, wildly succeeded at this (I've often described this series (especially book 2) as almost a "travelogue" because it smacked of such truth even in its most outlandish details that it felt like I was reading about a real place far removed from the places I knew, but which existed nonetheless in all its logic and beauty and ugliness), I honestly didn't feel at all upset/annoyed by the small cracks toward the end of EOD. In fact, if anything, given the amount of fatigue it must have taken to make such a perfectionist of a writer make slightly less than the 500 editorial passes I imagine the first two books got, I'm actually impressed that it held together as solidly as it did, even if it would've been nice to finish on as strong and epic/unforgettable a note as a series this huge deserved. (I wanted to call it a series "of Biblical proportions" just now, but given the decidedly liberal approach to the Christian canon this series takes, would that be wrong? ^^;;;;; I feel like it's richly deserved though--you could probably hold this series up besides Milton's "Paradise Lost" in its scope and epicness.)

Overall, it was still a perfectly satisfying ending, and the book as a whole continued to deliver the kinds of thrills and emotionally wrenching moments/choices that one would expect of the last book in this series. There were many beautifully written moments along the way (including Penryn's frank, brave, and vulnerable coming-to-terms with her own sexuality, etc). I can't recommend this bold, brilliant, wildly imaginative series with its unique, strong and sharp-witted but flawed/growing heroine enough and will wait with bated breath for whatever Susan Ee puts out next! :-)

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To all the male SFF writers who write awful female characters...

So a few months ago, I wrote a very negative review of a SFF book that was attempting to write inclusive female characters but ended up being atrociously misogynistic instead. The author was apparently baffled by my response and actually replied to my review, asking what he'd done wrong. I began writing him a full breakdown of the truly awful things he had said and implied about his female characters in his book, but the list was so long and probably so antagonistic-sounding that I figured it wouldn't do any good to send it.

Today, though, I found an article on that addressed a lot of my issues with this guy's writing. So I wrote him a response at last, linking the article and adding what, in the end, is the core problem with his character writing as well as so many male writers' portrayals of ficitional women:

Hi [Redacted],

I saw your reply to my review a while back but didn't have the time to make the full breakdown of all the many, many problematic details about your female characters I encountered while reading your book. But I ran across this article today and thought of you--some of this you already seem to know and are trying to do, but the latter half of the article may have some food for thought for you:

In short, all I can say is... would YOU want to be any of your female characters? Do any of them have that "cool" factor that your male heroes do? Are their story arcs as fun and empowering as your male characters' arcs are? Do they have friends or young people who look up to them and admire them like your male heroes do? Or, to flip it around, if you could be any of your characters, who would it be? If the character you end up picking for each of your books is a male character, are you starting to see what I mean? There are uniquely interesting things about women and women's lives/thoughts/actions that you can't see or appreciate until you REALLY learn how to empathize with women and your female characters. In short, until you can see what's actually *cool* about women, you're never going to write women characters who are anything but baggage and one-dimensional tripe.

Also, please don't judge women who are sexually promiscuous as somehow morally lacking. [Noble-born male protagonist of his SFF book] was getting it on multiple times with a KITCHEN MAID (low-born person, maybe diseased/without proper hygiene), but it's his sister who gets cock-blocked AND judged as a gutter-level slut by [male protagonist] and by the book itself (I think [male protagonist]'s brother literally calls her a "whore" for that? [Male Protagonist]'s the one who was *actually* gutter-diving, but I didn't hear anyone calling him a whore...) when she tries to get it on with a LORD (high-born person, even if he is apparently an *actual* slut who sleeps around).

Anyway, that's way more time and effort than I should be giving a person whose book essentially devalues me and my life, but since you cared enough to ask, here it is. Hope you will be able to grow as a writer going forward.


I tried not to be too harsh, lest my good advice go unheeded/rebelled against. But yeah... wish I could say something like this to all the awful, unconsciously-hostile-toward-women male writers out there...
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Book Review: "The Lyon's Den"

The Lyons' DenThe Lyons' Den by Kyle Michel Sullivan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm torn between 3.5 and 4 stars for this book; the premise was very interesting (a mystery novel in which a mystery writer's story is narrated by his own character, who also accompanies him and interacts with him throughout the book) and I *adored* our protagonist, Daniel--he's amazingly sympathetic without being pathetic, interesting, and his ruminations on love are very insightful and moving. His devotion to his douchey (and yet, strangely well-fleshed-out and interesting) ex-boyfriend is really sweet and smacked of such truth that it didn't feel like just another strawman romance (you know--MC is pining for an awful ex just so that the new man/woman who is about to enter their life and win/heal their heart will be all the more awesome)--UP until the end, that is....


...when Tad (the ex) finally shows his hand and turns into this utterly one-dimensional, almost comedically villainous bad-guy character that is so one-note and soulless, I was nearly thrown out of my suspension of disbelief. If not for a novel's worth of strong writing and characterization, that mustache-twirling cartoon villain that Tad behaves like at the end of the story would have had me... well, no, I was too invested in the story and Daniel by this point to stop reading, but I do have to say that the "one-dimensional villain" character writing of a major character was sloppy and unworthy of this book.

Actually, truth be told, some of the minor characters suffered from this one-dimensionality as well. Granted, there was a good reason for them to be pretty stereotypical, but I won't mention it here because that's a MAJOR spoiler. But while I'll buy those characterizations from the various people who show up to cause mayhem for Daniel later in the book, the characterizations of the main charas (Daniel and Tad) were so strong and nuanced in the beginning of the novel that I couldn't buy Tad's end-of-book character.

Same thing for Van--he's just too perfect in every way. I know we don't get to spend too much time with him in a post-cabin setting, but his perfection, along with how utterly perfectly everything works out at the end feels a little... I dunno, self-indulgent? It wasn't that I didn't want Daniel to succeed and be happy and find that warmth and love he so richly deserved, it just... felt too much like an escapist/almost made-up "happy ending." I feel like, with the way the story began and how much there was really left unresolved between Daniel and Tad, and how very, VERY much Tad had to grow as a human being (and Daniel too--NOT going into "servant mode" around Tad would only do the bugger good), the ending we got which managed to dodge most of these issues, was kind of a cop out.

And yes, I do realize I keep whining about Tad (oddly enough, I DID like him despite his many horrible actions and shortcomings--the author's characterization of him in the first half of the novel made him a deeply flawed but amazingly nuanced, interesting, 3-dimensional character for whom SUCH a rich growth arc would've been possible), because story-wise, I feel like the *real* hard work and emotional climax the novel should have undertaken at the three-quarter mark was some crisis event that would cause both Tad and Daniel to reevaluate and change themselves, and hopefully reconcile as wiser, more mutually appreciative lovers (or even just friends). Instead, the book's climax is just the climax of the slapstick action plotline... which wasn't bad, I guess (the reveal was definitely interesting), but because Daniel was dealing with (intentionally) one-dimensional, forgettable/can't-take-them-seriously minor characters in that conflict, rather than the REAL antagonist (Tad), it didn't have the kind of soaring emotional stakes it could've had.

Speaking of emotional stakes--Van is nice, but c'mon, we JUST met him. And all he even did was be attractive-looking and listen to Daniel's tragic history sympathetically. We don't know him well enough to care that much about his possible betrayal, whatever Daniel says. It's a huge difference between the "tell" of Van and the "show" that the first half of the book did with Tad and his honeysuckle anniversary surprise, and the melting-at-Daniel's-lost-puppy-look thing, and so on--you can see for yourself (rather than just being told by Daniel) how precious he was/is to him, and how high the stakes of losing his love forever were.

So, because I'm just rambling at this point, I'll stop myself and let it suffice to say that I started this novel with such relish and high hopes--there was such strong writing, conflict, and characters, it could have been literary GOLD. What we ended up getting was a fun and clever novel with a fairly satisfying conclusion. But it could have been a *devastatingly powerful* novel with a *supremely* satisfying conclusion, and I guess that's where my grumbling comes from. I still loved Daniel and Ace and Carmen and (first-half-of-the-novel)Tad and will remember them for quite some time. But I guess I really wanted just a little bit more...

That said, this was a fantastically written, fun, humorous romp with a neat twist and all the hot guy-on-guy action and romance a girl could ask for, plus a cast of very lovable characters. I know I didn't really touch on Ace and the others, but the affection between Daniel and his imaginary friends is adorable, and just in general, the feeling and knowledge of love among this cast of characters was heart-warming and lovely to read. Despite my grumbles, I really do highly recommend this very enjoyable and well-written book.

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Breaking: New CLAMP "Tsubasa" series to begin in August!

Originally posted by chibiyuuto at Breaking: New "Tsubasa" series to begin in August
Breaking news for Tsubasa fans!

It's been announced that a new "Tsubasa" series will begin on August 20th in Kodansha's monthly Magazine SPECIAL.


The series will be linked to the currently ongoing XXXHOLiC Rei series.

Special thanks to Newsmangajapon for letting me know!

I have mixed feelings about this. I am sure the community will be more than happy to see this news, but I wish CLAMP would just move on. The least I can do I hope we will now get all the answers that we didn't get in the first place.
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Book Review: The Winter by A. Ka

The Winter (Isaac the Fortunate, #1)The Winter by A. Ka

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, excellent read! I would never have guessed this was a first novel (or, first part/novella of a first novel), or an indies title--the writing is so polished, the historical details and attitudes of the characters/setting so smoothly integrated and believable, and the competency of the pacing/plotting, dialogue, and so on. Plus the story is just so gripping and original--totally unlike anything I've read recently but so well-conceived! (for lack of a better way to put it)

The story, which has some elements of mystery to it, starts off with an old man named Isaac reflecting on death (the recent death of his beloved wife and his own imminent one) in a sunny cottage somewhere in medieval Spain. We soon infer that he and his (surprisingly cool, gutsy) wife have had a very eventful life, one which somehow involves a period of time travel/time looping and a monumental endeavor to stop a plague brought on by some kind of semi-supernatural being (a mysterious and charismatic Moor, though perhaps one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse).

However, beneath the paranormal adventure story is the even more extraordinary thing--a very richly woven and moving story of human connections/relationships, especially between lovers, but also arch-enemies, greedy interlopers, shaky allies, the Church and government and politics and people. It's really hard to describe this story as it feels so unlike your typical scifi/fantasy novel despite presenting such interesting speculative fiction and striking, interesting characters.

But despite how different/unusual The Winter is, it's so utterly easy to slip into this fascinating story with its extremely strong storytelling. The characters are fascinating, relatable, mysterious, and funny all at once. The writing and sensibility sometimes feel like literary fiction, but the novel is driven by such a strong, intriguing plot and populated by such likable characters, that you feel like you got your money's worth intellectually while still just utterly enjoying/relishing the read like you would with commercial fiction. I just can't recommend this novella enough and am DYING for the next part!

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Thoughts on New Ending of "Attack On Titan"

So news has recently hit the internet that Isayama Hajime, the mangaka of the wildly popular (and utterly amazing) Attack On Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin), is thinking of changing the original, horrendously tragic ending (where everyone dies) that he'd had in mind for his manga. His explanation is:

"I originally wanted an ending that would leave shadows in the readers’ psychological views. For example, in the movie The Mist, there is a scene where they killed off everyone that was seen without any differentiation (i.e. people were killed regardless of what role/morals they had); at the time, I wanted an ending similar to that. But now, since there’s been a lot of support since the anime, I feel as if I can’t draw such criminal-minded, malicious material, and I’m beginning to doubt if I want an ending like this as well.”

And putting aside my general sentimentality and passionate attachment to a number of characters in this series, I think this is fantastic. Because stories evolve as writers write them, and I get the feeling that seeing his characters through the eyes of others when AoT became an anime might have increased Isayama's own ideas of and affection/mercy for his own characters. For example, take that cover of Bessatsu Shonen Magazine that shows Eren in both manga style and anime style. Just the difference in expressions between the two Erens shows such a vastly different view of the character, though both are true faces of Eren Jaeger. It's just interesting which one Isayama chose to show and which one the anime artist chose to show.

Based on that and my own general impressions, I think manga!Eren was Isayama's "id"--an almost allegorical representation of humanity's lot and a vent for him/people to rage against how puny, fragile and futile we ultimately are in the grand scheme of things. But then, through the anime, Isayama finally got to see Eren from an external view, as his own person. I think seeing how other people respected and cared for Eren and the other AoT charas might have helped Isayama see the beauty of his own characters more (and perhaps, feel the tragedy of the horrible deaths he'd planned for them more). So I think it's very possible that his changing of the ending is a natural evolution of the story as his ideas/understanding of his own characters grew, and might actually be the "truer" ending now, based on the story as it has been written to this point.

Personally, I'd love it if he pleasantly surprised us by giving some of the characters a happy ending. After the long, long "night" of the titans' reign of terror, it'd be nice to see our heroes have some happiness.
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Article: Differences Between Male and Female Otaku

I came across a fascinating article describing a few differences between male and female Japanese otaku. Per a Japanese industry insider, no less--it seems pretty legit:

The bit I found most thought-provoking was this:

"Additionally, males tend to love their characters exclusively. Factors other than that character’s appearance or personality don’t really come into play. For females, character relationships, background, and the overall story-line in which the character is involved in all play a part in her feelings for the character."

For me personally, and from what I've seen in my interactions with online fandom (almost exclusively the female half), the female half of that statement seems fairly accurate. The male half is news to me, but if the insider is right (and I feel like the industry understands its audience--particularly the male half--very well), it might explain why we keep seeing those same cliche, derivative moe girl archetypes appearing in every new show every season. Guys like the girl for their looks and personality alone, ignoring all else about their background, actions, etc. But for me--while there are certain individual features (longish dark hair, a dignified cape- or coat-clad sugata, a serious-but-pretty face) that tend to catch my attention--I know a character's actions, personality/character and interactions with other characters are the real clincher in snaring my affections.

A good recent example--Captain Levi from Attack on Titan. Very little about his character design/physical appearance was immediately arresting to me (or most of his utterly HUMONGOUS and rabid female fanbase, I imagine)--standing at 5'3" (the second-shortest male character in the entire show--4 inches shorter than even the 15-year-old main character!) and sporting a retro/90's curtained haircut, a random cravat and a rather stressed and beady pair of eyes, you wouldn't give Levi a second look if he were standing next to Sebsatian Michaelis or any of the uberly pretty boys from Vampire Knight, etc, right? But (and perhaps this has something to do with the brutal world of AoT, in which mankind is in such dire straits that factors like gender, looks, etc, are fairly irrelevant when everyone's just, you know, trying to stay alive. When you’re being snatched literally out of the jaws of death, you’d be pretty grateful to your savior, be it man or woman, 6-foot-tall strong-jawed linebacker or five-foot-three delicate-chinned chibi ;-)) after hearing about the celebrated “humanity’s strongest soldier” Captain Levi, seeing his rather muted but cantankerous personality, his quietly fervent OCD tendencies, his SINCERELY kickass battle ability and grace with the 3D maneuver gear (the title is well-deserved and indisputable!), the fact that he is completely no-nonsense and appears detached/taciturn to others but knows and addresses all his soldiers by their first names, and his very surprising subtle kindnesses and lack of prejudice toward our ostracized main character show him to be such an interesting, complex, badass (but not annoyingly so in the typical loud, annoyingly testosteroney way), and yet believably compassionate/sentimental man that I really couldn’t help but fall for him. And considering Levi’s almost frighteningly universal and passionate adoration by fangirls (and fanboys, actually), it seems his actions/personality have trumped his so-so (at least initially—through the eyes of love, you can’t see him as anything but a sex god now ;-D) looks in general. So yes, the article’s claim holds water on that piece.

Meaning (to go back to the article), the industry pro’s assertion about how/why male otaku fall for certain characters would shed a lot of light on how to create a character that is sure to be loved, fandom’d by guys. I see now why it seems as though boys prefer manga, anime and video games (e.g. visual media) over books, at least in terms of fandom-generation. And why women have no problem getting as attached to characters from books as those from anime, etc. Does that mean there really is no way to replicate the success of YA books for girls with boys as well? Would a boy-targeted YA adventure story in the vein of a shounen anime not find the sort of mass-audience Naruto does? Hopefully not! @_@
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Review: Saint Seiya The Lost Canvas GAIDEN Volume 1

聖闘士星矢 THE LOST CANVAS 冥王神話 外伝 1 (Saint Seiya The Lost Canvas Gaiden, #1)聖闘士星矢 THE LOST CANVAS 冥王神話 外伝 1 by Masami Kurumada

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a beautiful volume of manga this is! This is what I love about the Saint Seiya world--it can make you cry and smile at the same time at the beauty and tragedy of life. <3 And this particular story and its lead character are especially moving--the beautiful, solitary Pisces Albafica utterly won my heart with his heroic last stand in volume 3 of the original "Lost Canvas" manga, so I was THRILLED when I saw him featured on the first volume of the Gaiden series! This story does everything you hope it will--tells you much more about Albafica, his past/how he came to be the Pisces Saint, what his day-to-day life was like, how he feels about his destiny as the solitary Pisces Saint whose tainted blood doesn't allow him to live amongst people, etc. Ahh, and there's even two brief but wonderful scenes of interaction with Aries Shion--thank you so much for that, Teshirogi-sensei!!

As for the story itself, it recounts a certain mission Albafica was once sent on by the Pope of Sanctuary--to go to a nearby island where there lived a famed healer, said to be able to heal any illness in the world. However, an unholy star of Hades had appeared above the island of late, and the Pope sends Albafica to investigate.

Earlier that day, Albafica had saved a very raggedy, little farm boy named Pefko on the outskirts of Sanctuary, when he was being attacked by some Specter skeletons. The boy took an immediate shine to Albafica, but as usual, Albafica quickly distanced himself. Despite his coldly beautiful looks, he actually has a very kind heart and feels bad when he sees the child looking hurt at his curtness, but it's just easier for Albafica to make people think he's cold and superior, so that they won't feel sorry for his cruel lot in life and try to befriend him (and eventually die from exposure to his poisonous body).

Naturally, the "guide" the Pope sends Albafica off with (to the island) is little Pefko. The boy had made his way to Sanctuary specifically to ask for help after he'd noticed some ominous things happening on his island home. He turns out to be the apprentice of the famed healer, Luko, whom Albafica is shocked to see bears a striking resemblance to his own late master, the previous Pisces Saint Rugonis. He recalls the final days he spent with his master, allowing us to see the tragic fate of the Pisces Saints--how, as with the Sith in Star Wars, there can only ever be one master and apprentice, and how the completion of an apprentice's training ends with his master's death. It's a cruel fate, especially as Albafica chose to accept the poisoned blood of Pisces specifically to be with his master, who (like Albafica now) lived a horribly lonely, solitary life. Doomed to live the rest of his days alone at such a young age, it is little wonder Albafica's personality has become what it has.

But in any case, without spoiling the rest of this beautiful story, Albafica discovers Luko was Rugonis's younger brother, and that he became a healer specifically to heal his brother of his poisoned blood. He claims he has finally found the antidote and offers it to Albafica. Will Albafica choose to forsake the path of the Pisces Saint and return to human warmth and love? And what of the unholy star of Hades, and the mystery of the sudden influx of Specters in the area? You've got to read the volume to find out. ;-)

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