Hanger Manga Volume 1 by Hirotaka Kisaragi

This feels recycled from so many BL manga: good hearted but innocent young guy gets partnered with hunky alpha male and they are forced to work together where one falls for the other. Both have secrets, both will be targets of bad guys so they can save each other a lot, and one spends all the time cooking for the other and thinking about his feelings like a good waifu. I got bored fast.

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Story: In a future where nanites are addicting, some choose the enhancements they bring and go overboard, often berserking. Those individuals are either executed or become “Hangers” – the ones who brings the bad guys to justice using their souped up bodies. Each Hanger has a Handler – in charge of keeping the other in line. Enter a lot of mooney eyes.

The art is serviceable but there is a LOT of dialogue and none of it is very interesting. It’s mostly about our boyish lead thinking super positive thoughts and being sweet and genki, thereby winning over the ‘beast’ that is his handler. We don’t get much world building and the only other characters we really meet are another Handler/Hanger who are in a sexual relationship (because the nanites drive his lust up, natch).

I feel like the world/story was crafted around the specific of the two guys rather than having them exist in an organic and well developed setting. And I just got bored of reading the same story over and over again, just the window dressing have changed. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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The Privilege of Peace by Tanya Huff

By far, this has to be one of my favorite series of all time. While the first book (7 ago!) was serviceable, by the second book we got the series-long arc and some of the best characters in sci fi when Huff really hit her stride. If all military sci fi was this good, with snappy dialogue and extremely well-drawn characters, I would never read another book in any other genre again. And though The Privilege of Peace ends the series, it does so with aplomb.

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Story: Humans First want Torin dead and out of the way, especially leader Anthony Marteau. But Torin is a hard woman to kill, especially since she has a tight clan of friends around her. But when it comes time to return the ‘data sheet’ plastic to the plastic aliens, things are about to come to a head with General Morris, Anthony Marteau, all the elder races and all the younger races in for the wild ride.

There are so many laugh out loud or simple chuckle/snicker moments as to make this Peacekeeper series a treat. From Torin and boyfriend Craig bon mots, to sexual innuendos, puns, and observations about the aliens that inhabit the book. It’s so effortless and whip smart as to be almost an art form. You’d swear they were living and breathing characters, each nuanced and with their own ticks and quirks.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Torin Kerr is such a great female protagonist. Tough as nails but with a good heart and a smart head, she is a no-nonsense woman with an agenda of keeping her companions alive. You root for her and all her crew as they tough their way through all the series has thrown at them. Those wondering how this ends and if it is good need not worry – The denouement is allowed to happen organically but with all the action we have come to expect when Kerr is involved.

I listened to the Audible version and the narrator did an excellent job with all the characterizations. There was no doubt who was speaking and why they were an alien and not human. In all, definitely one of my all time favorite series and it is with bittersweet joy that I finished this ending book.

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Hush Hush Graphic Novel Adaptation by Becca Fitzpatrick

In all my years of reading graphic novels, I have never come across a book that is so perfectly bad in every aspect: writing, illustrations, adaptation, paper quality/presentation, even proof reading. The only saving grace here is that I found this at the library and didn’t actually pay for this horrendous waste of paper.

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Story: I would write a synopsis here but let’s face it, the original YA book was a fanfiction of Twilight and Twilight was a fanfiction of Harry Potter. But with angels. We’re not talking high prose here. It’s already sets a pretty low bar for storytelling.

So, here are the glaring issues:

– typographical errors on several pages
– issues in art such as the lead’s hairband appearing and disappearing with each page
– an adaptation that is so bad, you have no idea what is going on half the time. No segues, large jumps, unrelated conversations next to each other. BAAAD.
– Boring, uninteresting, and static panels
– Completely getting the source characters wrong. E.g., the shy, introverted girl with somewhat mousey medium length brown hair is now a tall leggy blonde who dresses like an amateur porn star trying to get attention. There is T&A everywhere – for a girl’s YA fiction. Don’t get me started on how bad the artist drew the other characters wrong – you can find that in other reviews.
– Cheap paper and binding – the library book was falling apart and I doubt it was from eager reading. The paper felt like thin construction paper.
– The story is too short and only tells a very small portion of the book – and certainly none of the interesting parts.
– It’s a terrible read – nothing happens and the characters have no life in the images.

So what didn’t go wrong? I guess I can say that the typeface wasn’t too hard to read? I know I’m groping here but this book is nearly a “How NOT to do a graphic novel 101”. A real tour de force in awfulness. Lest you be curious and buy the book to see how bad it is, let me warn you that it doesn’t even reach ‘bad as an art’ levels. It’s just poorly presented, poorly done, poorly adapted, and poorly scripted and paneled. Save your money. Provided as an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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The Spell of Whirldungen by A.J. Madelin

Sadly, this book really failed to connect with me at all. Problematic writing with a storyline that felt like a Harry Potter fanfiction after the writer binge watched Lemony Snickett; it was hard to get through.

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Chris Spratt is happy in his little town when one night something magical happens. No one seems to notice the strange occurrences except him – but what’s a young boy to do when no one believes you except your friends? When the town’s children receive an invitation to a prestigious boarding school that seemly sprouts up overnight, Chris knows that there is something evil about and that he may be the only person who could fix it.

For a children’s book, the writing feels very dense and unsophisticated. Paragraphs don’t flow, the obvious is overstated ad nauseum, people don’t react to the fantastical as they should, and everything feels like a fait accompli rather than an unfolding adventure. It’s one of those books that makes all the adults cardboard evil cutouts or doorknob stupid rather than giving us nuanced characters. Combine that with a plot that feels very recycled and you get an idea that there is something missing here. I found myself saying out loud several times, “Ok, we GET IT ALREADY! Move on!” in frustration.

I think most problematic for me is that I have read this type of book before but done so much better; e.g., Sage Blackwood’s Jinx is a perfect example of a story that doesn’t pander to its audience but has more than enough adventure to keep children invested. Whirldungeon feels like a debut book that needs a very firm editor to go through and streamline so that it understands its audience better. In all honesty, a rewrite might do wonders. The subject skews young but the writing is too dense for that audience to really sit through. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Karate Heat volume 1 by Eiichi Kitano

Perhaps I have become a bit jaded with sports manga over the years because this felt like every other book in the genre: energetic happy kid with good heart has a natural affinity for a sport but has some impediments – starts to get serious and then begins to ‘level up’ against various opponents, eventually leading to bigger and bigger tournaments. This does skew a bit young – definitely middle school rather than high school. For that reason, I think younger kids will enjoy this story about our plucky hero Shinya and his Karate ace new friend Takumi. But for me, I was bored pretty fast with the lack of originality.

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Shinya is a boy with great posture and who does athletics often. Visiting a new city, he is petting a cat when a pot almost falls on him. The pot is miraculously kicked away by another boy – Takumi. Takumi is impressed that Shinya would take a pot to the head in order to instinctively protect the cat and Shinya is impressed that Takumi could move so fast and annihilate the pot before it brained him. It turns out that Takumi is a karate champion and he finds an eager and promising student to mentor in Shinya. Enter a middle school Karate Club team and their quirky characters who add to Shinya’s adventures.

So yes, the illustrations are about what we would expect from this type of manga – kind of generic much like the storyline. Perhaps the appeal here is more in the sport itself – a Japanese Karate Kid but less about bullying and more about how cool the discipline can be, especially for a physically oriented kid like Shinya.

There plenty of challenges and level ups as well as action in this first volume. Younger kids will likely devour it while those a bit older will likely want something a bit more original and nuanced. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Tokyo Tarareba Girls by Akiko Higashimura

A Tokyo version of Sex in the City is perhaps the best indicator of what you will find in this manga. Three women, all in their early 30s, realize they are getting old and may miss their chance to find love and happiness with a partner. These are their adventures as they reconsider their lives and life choices. The manga was a hit in Japan and even turned into a live action J-drama.

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Story: Rinko, Kaori, and Koyuki – three best friends who drink copious amounts of alcohol while commiserating over life, are forced to one day realize that they are in their 30s and yet none have found a lasting partnership. Rinko is attempting to create a career as a scriptwriter, Kaori has her own manicure salon, and Koyuki works in her father’s small restaurant – the hangout of the girls when they want to get drunk and complain about men. When a young man gets tired of their antics in the restaurant, he calls them ‘white if’ girls – women who have grown up but spend all their time thinking ‘what if’ rather than actually doing anything. Shocked and dismayed, the girls set out to change their lives.

Rounding out at 9 volumes, the heart of the story is each woman finding a guy who seems perfect for them but always has a fatal flaw. It is in this way that the appeal of Tarareba girls can be found: the author is unsparing in her portrayals of all three, showcasing their flaws and shortsightedness as easily as she does their charms. Indeed, most of the time they are being told just how silly, immature, clueless, and naive they can be. This isn’t the series you want to read if you want overidealized heroines; I love that josei manga (manga geared for women and not girls) can often eschew happily ever after endings in favor of more nuanced storylines with bittersweet denouements.

Those looking for a clean romance won’t find it through to the end. Instead, we have our flawed heroines and their flawed love interests flailing around trying to find their way in a complex world. But it is an entertaining read and grounded enough to keep readers invested to the end. The J-Drama made from this series doesn’t have the charm of the manga and so I encourage reading the manga first before seeing the live action adaptation.

The title of the story comes from a play on words: Rinko often has drunken episodes where a pair of talking food pieces (codfish milt and liver) scold her and torment her with reality. If you take the words in Japanese, the two food items sound like “tara reba” – what if. Hence, the theme of the story of the girls spending too much time getting drunk and giving what if stories.

Our heroines aren’t the brightest but they feel like real people; the author based the characters off her friends and it is an unflinching view of a society obsessed with youth. At heart is the idea that past the age of 27, a woman becomes a ‘fruitcake’ – something useless and tasteless that sits on a shelf forever because no one wants it. It’s an unflinchingly harsh view and perhaps Western readers won’t quite understand the seriousness with which these characters take the social norm of needing a man to be happy and fulfilled – to prove their worth as a woman.

In all, I enjoyed the series and the J Drama for it’s somewhat quirky but often harsh view of Tokyo women who have reached their 30s single. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Fathom Blue Descent by David B. Schwartz, Alex Sanchez, Scott Clark

Back in the 1990s, Fathom represented the new wave of comics: bold digital colors, facile storylines, and a soft porn approach to the illustrations. It was the Top Cow generation and Fathom was the flag bearer. We’re used to all of that these days so it is appropriate we are now delving further into the mythos by being given a backstory about Fathom main character Aspen’s parentage and unusual abilities. But be warned this book is excessively wordy with enough monologues to out pace a Shakespeare play. And as with all Fathom storylines, the writing is serviceable but never going to aspire to fine art prose.

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Story: Aspen finally comes to understand her past from a memoir written by her father. She will learn of her unique heritage, her mother’s sacrifice, her father’s regrets, and the loss of a civilization.

Interestingly enough, the story is both excessively long and overly short. That has mostly to do with the drearily endless musings of her father, each paragraph pretty much stating the same thing over and over ad nauseum. Perhaps in irony, the father felt he drained her mother of life – but seriously, if I had to listen to him endlessly focusing on himself, I’d feel my life draining away as well. After awhile (and after reading the same theme over and over), I started to skip the dialogue. I don’t feel like I missed much as a result.

The artwork is, as always, colorful and catching. There’s enough eye candy to keep readers happy but nicely enough, not so much that it feels like pandering to tittering 14 year old boys who can’t get access to daddy’s Playboy stash. Granted, Fathom has always been an equal opportunity type of fan service guilty pleasure but for once, the graphics didn’t completely distract from the somewhat simple storyline.

As a plot, it’s not very original and certainly not going to set any awards for great storytelling. But it’s a nice time waster and a nice gift to Fathom fans to find out more of Aspen’s history and how she came to be who she is. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the pub

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