Juni Taisen: Zodiac War by NisiOsiN

Juni Taisen: Zodiac War is a battle royale type of novel in which 12 warriors representing various Chinese Zodiac animals battle in a fight to the death. Although from Viz, this is not a manga – the only illustrations are collected on the cover and used as chapter headings. The novel itself is what we’d come to expect from a light novel type of story: minimal world building and twisty turns as each contestant is eliminated.


Story: 12 combatants are required to come every 12 years to fight in a battle royale to the death. Each represents a zodiac sign and mysterious ‘god like beings’ bet on the results. Only one is allowed to survive until the end and that person will be granted any wish.

The book is cleverly organized by viewpoints: each chapter starts with a graphic of the character and their background. Then it follows their viewpoint until they either kill or are killed. The killings are, of course, imaginative and each character’s unique (and supposedly hidden) talent/ability/strength is often used against them to create their end.

The world building is non existent – everything is ‘mysterious beings’ etc., who will clear out an entire town in order to create their betting coliseum of death. The focus is more on each character, how they think they will win, and how they eventually die. The special abilities felt lazily written – they didn’t really tie in nicely to the Zodiac sign and I admit I was disappointed that the characters didn’t tie in to the zodiac aspect strongly. The ‘power up’ abilities were more about how the author could find ways to use it against the characters rather than for the characters to win.

The book is a fast read, about two hours. At 250 odd pages, it sounds like a lot but this is not densely worded and the pace moves quickly. You have enough time to get into one character and then they are probably going to die. The shifting POVs allow the story to move at an interesting pace; it’s almost like reading a compendium of short stories though it all unfolds chronologically that day of the battle.

The ending was a bit disappointing and more like an O Henry short story rather than a Battle Royale manga or Hunger Games. The lack of world building and very light tone make this ultimately a quick but fairly unsatisfying read.

There is a companion anime to this released the same time as the English license. Author NisiOisiN is best known for his Bakemonogatori and Medaka Box – psychological thrillers and horror. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Gangsta: Cursed Volume 3 by Kohske

Cursed volume 3 continues the story of the Hunters all out war on the Twilights. Caught in the middle, Spas (later Marco) continues his journey of doubt and discovery as he realizes more and more that he may actually be on the wrong side of the war. Doubting all he had been taught, he’s still loyal to his Hunter friends, though he doesn’t actively seek out Twilights to kill any more.


Story: Spas is on the run – trying to escape Twilights and Hunters both as he reevaluates his stance in the war. Monroe is protecting the Twilights as best he can but several key battle victories by the Twilights is revealing harsh and unexpected news from prisoners – the mastermind behind the war may just be the most devastating and heartbreaking news of all.

In Gangsta: Cursed, the parallels of the modern day with this past story are starting to become very apparent. And it seems the mistakes of the past are being revisited in the present as well.

As with the original series, this is well drawn and beautifully written. Full of brutality and pathos, heartbreak and hope, this is the perfect companion to the series. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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The Scarecrow Princess by Ferico Rossi Edrig

I spent some days thinking this review through because honestly I feel like there is some underlying message to the story that I am not understanding. What started as a story about a feisty 14 year old moving to a new location and finding something mystical instead turned into a tale about sexuality and sexual awakening/temptation. And while that is a worthwhile topic, it is in the ‘how’ the metaphor was delivered that seemed very gratuitous and even disconcerting in its abruptness.



Story: Morrigan is a bit forgotten in the family as they move to a new home – her mother and adult older brother are so wrapped up in researching local fables that they often oblivious to her. When a crow steals her hairclip, she is drawn into the world of the Crow King – and the one object that can defeat his wickedness, the scarecrow mantle. But in taking on the mantle, she begins to lose sight of herself and her humanity. And she knows she will eventually have to face an epic battle with her enemy the Crow King but without the knowledge of how to do so.

Morrigan’s family is captured and Morrigan herself is captured by the Crow King fairly early in the story. She has a lengthy discussion with the Crow King (he’s the King of Monologues as well, apparently) with him trying to convince her to not fight and instead enjoy his way of living. When she escapes, she runs home and masturbates. The panels are quite obvious, full page, and not graphic although there is no doubt what she is doing. But the ‘why’ this random and scary meeting led her to do that is never evidenced; it felt so random that I felt there had to be a reason somewhere for this to be so prominently depicted. Later, the Crow King would try to tempt her to join him again by suggesting she ‘give in to her instinct like she does with her body every night” but again, I’m not sure what the author was trying to convey with this recurring masterbation topic? Add in the Crow King using an apple he’s bitten out of as the teasing lure to which she almost succumbs and one has to wonder if the author is writing a story about puberty? I’m guessing here because I just don’t get it.

I have to admit, I felt uncomfortable. Not because we have a 14 year old masturbating and running around naked at the end of the story. But because I could not find a reason for the graphic sexual nature of the story. It was jarring and the message was lost on me – the reason for it to be there and what the author was attempting to convey by putting it in there. I couldn’t help but wonder if having Morrigan be attracted to the Crow King (which was never shown to be the case) would have been just as effective to show that she was in the throes of puberty as having her reaching into her pants and with an orgasmic look on her face.

There were other issues that felt unresolved in the story – e.g., what Morrigan later found in the attic of her neighbor’s house and its implication. Or even why she had such an unusual name. The brother and mother were also highly undeveloped and again, I was curious about their also very odd relationship (they felt more like husband and wife, which was ‘off’ as well). The fairly tale type of story is fine – remove the sexual references and we have some interesting good and baddies that are not really good or evil. It’s that ambiguity of nature that will likely bring references to Nail Gaiman’s work.

Odd story aside, the art was interesting in a very angular way. It conveyed the story well and give a nice style. But in the end, I just didn’t understand why the author wrote the story the way he did. I’m not a prude or have a problem with sex or nudity; I just did not see the raison d’etre for either in the story, especially considering the protagonist’s age (14 isn’t too young to masturbate but do they really know what they are doing like Morrigan did and is that the best way for the author to have told his story?). I can’t put my finger on it but there was something very disturbing underlying this read. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.


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Scorpio Hates Virgo by Anyta Sunday

Sometimes, you just want a Twinkie instead of a steak – a bit of empty calories that are oh-so-enjoyable but never going to be filling or much remembered after the next hour. The same applies for books – sometimes, it’s just nice to enjoy a slow burn romance that is a quick and easy read. With Scorpio Hates Virgo, Anyta Sunday has written a slice of life slow burn romance that is sweet enough to rot teeth but worth it all the same for the guilty pleasure experience it gives.


Story: Percy returns home to his beloved Aunt’s house for her funeral – the Aunt who cared for him and believed in him after he left his family when he came out. Percy always had a fractious relationship with neighbor Callaghan but all the neighbors on the cul-de-sac are a close knit group. Now, heartbroken over his beloved Aunt’s death and the recent breakup of his long term relationship, he feels it is best to sell the house and move on. But the neighborhood – and especially irascible neighbor Callaghan, may have something to say about that.

This is your typical slow burn romance – with both main characters invested in each other but through misunderstandings, miscommunication, and the usual past baggage are unable to recognize their attraction. It makes for a lot of amusing double entendres and longings hidden within innocuous-seeming statements. These are staples of the slow burn romance and author Sunday does it well.

Admittedly, there isn’t a lot happening in the book. It’s mostly about the boys being thrown together often and the warmth and quirkiness of the cul-de-sac residents. But that’s ok – we’re reading this for the slowly unfolding romance rather than for any drama or action.

The book ends on a nice note and leaves room for more characters in the future. In all, this is a very undemanding but enjoyable read – a guilty pleasure Twinkie to lift your spirits as you watch two nice guys fall for each other all over again. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

This is probably the highest star review I will ever give a book that I ended up not wanting to finish. Stiefvater’s trademark imaginative writing is coupled with a slavish devotion to magical realism. The result is a book that starts out great but by the half way mark, completely disenfranchises the reader into indifference for the characters or the plot. The writing was cyclical, measured, mannered, and at times it felt like a sweet round story was being ruthlessly hammered into a square stylistic hole.


Story: the Soria family are linked to saints due to a history of miracle creation running in the family. But there are rules to any magic and in this case, the ‘saint’ of the family can draw out a person’s darkness but only that person can then finish the process to find peace. If a saint helps out a pilgrim, his or her own darkness manifests and too often it wipes out several members of the family in the process. When Daniel, the current saint, makes an error, he goes on the run, leaving the family to pick up the pieces or risk his darkness consuming them.

It sounds very dark but really this is a study of characters rather than a character piece. By that, I mean that we are never really drawn into any of the characters and the book cheerfully bounces around various people and their very odd quirks. From the girl who has constant rain on her and is covered by butterflies to the man who becomes a wall. It’s all very imaginative but viewed so impassively as to be very mundane.

Magical realism is about the little bit of surreality in a common set of lives. Stiefvater nails that here but forgets in the process to give us a reason to care for these people. With the introduction of every new character (and there are a few!) we get the same worded introductions (what they like most about themselves, what they fear the most, etc.) and the same impassive observation of their quirkiness. Each person is so odd that they feel more like a caricature than a living breathing person. Perhaps it is the one-dimensionality of their descriptions/lives or perhaps it is the way that we interact with them, but there never was any connection. After awhile, I felt like I was a rock at their Bicho Raro ranch observing the people coming and going but never interacting with them or caring if they succeeded or failed. Or even that they were people and not, e.g., a different rock in its own rain and covered with butterflies. If you have a god-complex, this is your book because that’s our perspective on their lives – distanced and dispassionate. The people were cardboard figures you were moving around the desert randomly.

Midway, I could not find a reason to continue reading. The endless repetition of the magical realism aspects crowded out any interest in the characters and the mystery wasn’t interesting enough to keep me engaged. Perhaps it didn’t help that one of the characters was known as the girl without feelings – because honestly it felt that way with all of them.

The writing was, as I noted earlier, beautiful. But it was a cold stark beauty that grated when repeated at length: A snowy landscape that’s beautiful initially but then gets boring and unpleasant the longer you stand out in the middle of it. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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The Self-Esteem Habit for Teens by Lisa M Schab

As with so many teens, my 14 year at times grapples with self esteem issues. I asked her to read and write a review of the book, with her thoughts of what was and wasn’t effective for her. Here is her review:


The book is a summary on some easy to do tips that you could use in various situations. It is easy to read and comprehend. All the points that are mentioned could easily be applied to real life situations. The book also repeated itself many times, which got boring quick. In some parts, the book was oversimplified, thus making it annoying to read.

The book first gives an example of a self-esteem problem and then it explains how to fix it. This is a nice and organized system of teaching helpful tips. The vocabulary was easily comprehensible. The ideas were expressed nicely and simply which made it fun to read. They were as easy to read as they were to use in real life situations. The solutions were quick and easy to repeat so the tips were even more helpful. As useful as these tips were, some of the ideas or processes were too similar. This repetition happened more than a few times, which proved to be quite annoying at times. In other instances, the steps of a process were so basic as to be silly, which broke the mentality of the reading. It is boring to read something that is too oversimplified.

In all, the book is good if you need a quick read and like to know some easily applied tips. The information given was nice and easy to use and try out in real life situations. Still, the book could be improved by taking out the unneeded repeats and oversimplifying paragraphs. It is a good book to show to teens and even adults.

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The Complete Color Harmony by Leatrice Eiseman

As a professional photographer, color theory in my work is extremely important. I am always looking for books that can help deepen my understanding of how to create the most impact with my images. When choosing this Pantone book, my first concern would be that it was directed at scientists or professionals in the color industry. As such it would have been dense and inscrutable since color theory is one of the most fascinating but difficult topics out there. However, I was not only pleasantly surprised but very pleased with this book. It is very friendly and written for the layman – and as such the applicability is endless. Whether you are looking to repaint or redecorate a room, create an artistic piece, or even organize your outdoor garden in a meaningful way with color, this book is incredibly useful.


The book breaks down as follows: Introduction sections on color harmony and defining the basic terms (what’s the different between a hue and a tint, for example), color wheel and temp, complex colors, discord and dissonance in color, and psychology of color.

The color terms is especially well done – beautiful graphics explain the color wheel in 3d form to get the understanding between, saturation, hue, light and dark. Then we have the temp of a color wheel – including primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. Everything is briefly and beautifully explained to make the concepts not only palatable but relatable for whatever uses a reader has for color. Then discord and complex colors are discussed to get an idea of how to harness chaos in color.

The psychology of the color section goes into detail about the 13 colors on the color wheel and how they are best employed/used. Then a huge chunk of the book discusses colors and how they create moods – with examples from earthy to playful, transcendent to powerful. Copious amounts of photographs make the ideas gel into concrete examples that can be applied in many ways by the reader.

The last portion of the book discusses personal colors and what they say about you, changing colors and lives, color trends and forecasting, naming colors, and marketing.

The layout of the book is quite friendly and easy to navigate – this makes an excellent resource you can pick up and find exactly what you need in a timely manner. As well, as a general information tool, the author has done an excellent job of condensing the information so there is a perfect balance of informative but not overwhelming.

This is a book written for everyone, not just professionals in any kind of artistic field. It’s both an informative book but also a reference that can be returned to when needed. As such, I find this an excellent and important tool to have ready and available for either professionals in the artistic field or for those interested in redecorating/remodeling. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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