Bobby Sky: Boy Band or Die by Joe Shine

Joe Shine’s previous book, I Become Shadow, was a favorite of several of us in our reading group. Fun, snarky, and full of action, it was a book you couldn’t help but love. Sure, there were some suspension of disbelief moments – but who cares when the reading experience was so good! With Bobby Sky: Boy Band or Die Shine returns to the same world with a story taking place concurrently to Ren’s in Shadow. The difference is that Boy Band’s main character actually likes and appreciates what FATE is doing – perhaps a bit too much.

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Story: Hutch is the eternal disappointment of both his mother and the local police – he isn’t above theft or beating senseless a father hitting his young son with a baseball bat. But it appears he’s gone too far and ended up in an extended stay in Juvie. When a woman visits him and tells him he will die the next day, he’s given a choice – ignore the lady and take his chances tomorrow or be recruited into a program to save those who will influence the future. Hutch goes through the program swimmingly though he hates certain aspects. When he gets his first assignment, he’s told it will involve following a member of a boy band and ensuring the lead singer survives to fulfill his destiny. But there is much more to the picture than Hutch could have envisioned.

First and foremost, this isn’t a romance – boy/boy or boy/girl. Hutch is definitely hetero and spends most of the book falling in and out of lust with various girls. He’s a very interesting character in that regard – he knows what he wants but lacks the emotional depth to really see it through. Those who read the first book will recognize how it works with the important person – our main characters aren’t out to romance them at all.

Second, this story is set in the same timeline as the first book – concurrently, to be specific. So there is one moment when Hutch comes in contact with Ren as she is going through the program as well. Otherwise, this is a stand alone and can be read without needing to read the first book. By the end, though, you’ll want to have read both books since the timelines converge.

The boy band aspect takes up a surprisingly small amount of the plot. The first half is about FATE, the middle about preparing to join a boy band, and the last is full on action. We never really get to know the rest of the boy band much, including the lead singer. But I found it amusing that in both books, the important person was a bit of an innocent and sheltered person. It made a nice contrast to our reality grounded and more aggressive operatives.

All the snarky fun of the first book is here. Hutch is just as complicated yet simplistic a character as Ren and all the witty bon mots are intact. Hutch might be a bit harder to get into since he operates on a fairly shallower level than Wren. The book flows so well and really is a pleasure to read. There is a surprise at the end – I can’t wait for book three!

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Unofficial Guide To Walt Disney World by Bob Sehlinger

This book is pretty much a one-stop planning assistant; it contains everything you need to make the right choices when planning your Walt Disney World Vacation. Unlike the sponsored guides like Birnbaums, the authors are given free reign to give honest evaluations that aren’t all rainbows and unicorns. You’ll get the most out of it if you read BEFORE you book your trip since it contains really useful information such as resort information, crowds, weather, dining, and more. More importantly, there’s no fluff. The authors have really thought long and hard over each edition on what to include and what to leave out to ensure you aren’t overwhelmed.

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Families have two great options when planning a WDW vacation: use a respected travel agent or resources like this book. Those that prefer to make the decisions themselves will appreciate what this book offers. Those that are overwhelmed by all the choices will likely find a travel agent most helpful. A travel agent can help find deals better and they can also use their clout if something goes wrong while you are on your vacation in Florida. But this book gives you all you need to plan out your day, which rides to go on and when, and how to make the most of the trip once you are there. If anything, a travel agent AND this book are a great way to ensure a really successful and less stressful trip. But I have admittedly never needed a travel agent and really prefer to do all the planning myself so I can tailor it most effectively to what I want to get out of my vacation.

I bought my first Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World back in 1993 for a honeymoon trip. The information from that earlier edition was incredibly valuable – it helped me save time and money and made the vacation that much better as a result. I learned how to avoid long wait times for attractions as well as which restaurants are worth my time and which are not. Now, returning for the first time since 1993, it was a no brainer to get this book. I have to say that the difference between then and now is social media: I can youtube to see walking tours of the resorts and what the rooms look like as well as go on Facebook forums like the Walt Disney World Insider to ask questions in real time and get immediate answers and opinions. Anything the book doesn’t cover I can find out immediately in a forum or video. As well, just following Vloggers as they visit the Parks really helps me decide which rides to Fast Pass and how to navigate/enjoy the Walt Disney World Experience.

As in 1993, my 2018 trip was a success thanks in no small part to having purchased and read this book. Since I was going with my niece and nephew, I also purchased the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World With Kids, which had a bit more information on caring for and keeping young ones happy. Considering the cost of the vacation and how things can get very expensive, time consuming, stressful, or unhappy fast, this is probably the best dollars I’ve ever put into a vacation.

Of note is that those who want more personalized attention can subscribe to the book’s online sight for ten dollars or so. It gives you a planning countdown to-do list, at the moment crowd estimates, ability to fax your resort in advance for room requests (as well as room pictures), and more. You get email updates when park opening hours change, rides are closed, and more. You definitely don’t need to spend the money on the upgrade since the Facebook forums are so useful for asking questions and because the website feels primitive and can be difficult to use. I did get some use out of that ten dollars but learned a lot more from the Facebook forums, to be honest.

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Manga Shakespeare Romeo And Juliet by Sonia Leong

I have to admit, I’ve yet to find a manga adaptation of any classic to be worth the time. Somehow, they come off as infantile and overwrought; whether Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Les Miserable, or a Shakespeare play. I just haven’t been impressed with the adaptation or the illustration work. Sadly, this manga is no different and I only got to around 50% before I threw it down in disgust.

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The illustration work here was problematic for me – it felt more like it was a hot mess of manwha (Korean), manhua (Chinese), and manga (Japanese) rather than being actual manga. By that, I mean that the style was all over the place and used conventions across a wide range of Asian and American comics. So much coherency was missing and admittedly this didn’t feel like professional level work. It came off as very juvenile.

The character designs were also ‘off’ for me. Everyone (parents and kids) looked too young and simplistic; just comparing this to manga titles of a similar nature like Requiem of the Rose King or Ooku Inner Chamber is painful at best. Compounding the issue, the overly-simple drawings were paired with Shakespearean text, making it difficult to marry the text to the immature drawings. It was like I was reading one book but looking at another. I can’t say the adaptation was bad but no one is going to get inspired to read more Shakespeare from this. Rather, you’ll probably want to make sure you’ve read the Shakespeare play first or you are going to get very lost.

Most problematic for me was definitely the illustration work. I didn’t like it at all and I certainly never got into the characters, their motivations, or the tragedy of the story. It didn’t feel like the author took the story seriously or had a point of view in the drawing to make this adaptation worthwhile.

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Psycho Busters 1 by Akinari Nao

It’s very apparent this is from the creator of Get Backers – it’s exuberantly done, with some edginess, and with a set of characters that you instantly want to follow. This first volume barely sets up the premise and we’re given a LOT of mysteries that are going to likely be slowly revealed in following volumes.

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Story: Life is normal for Kakeru until a girl suddenly appears asking for his help. Not one to turn down a beautiful (and fanservicey) girl, Kakeru soon becomes embroiled with a small group of rebel teens who have psychic abilities. It seems they are on the run from a shadowy government organization that imprisons them so they can use their powers. As Kakero learns about the different abilities, he finds that he also has a connection to the teens and that meeting up with the girl was not random. More importantly, he may have the most special ability of all.

Of course, this being a shounen manga, their will be power ups and fights as our hero Kakeru learns of his powers and battles the enemy. We don’t learn from this manga what he can do – just that it was not by accident that he became involved with the rebel group. In the course of the first volume he becomes one of the hunted and is forced to battle psychics who don’t mind working for the government and might have their own morality and sanity issues.

The art is quite fun and lively and Kakeru would be very hard to dislike. Because there was so much mystery set up and so little revealed, there is much to look forward to in later volumes. Admittedly, I loved Get Backers so I am curious to see where this series will go.

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Trash volume 1 by Sanami Matoh

Trash is an unfinished series by the author of Fake. Taking a cue from Get Backers, we have a motley assortment of characters doing odd jobs. It’s your typical criminals with a heart of gold but the writing is solid and there are some interesting twists.

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Story: Will has a connection to the criminal underworld he would like to forget. When he inadvertently becomes involved with an ‘odd job’ crew, his life is about to take a new and very odd turn. Add in jewelry heists, confidence jobs, and a very large penguin – and you get a very unusual series.

It is stated that this was supposed to be an ongoing series but the author had to commit to other stories and therefore never got around to finishing this. As such, this first volume is all that has been published and can be considered unfinished. That is unfortunate since it seemed to just be hitting its stride when it abruptly ends.

We have the usual BL archetypes but the focus is on the characters rather than plot or interactions. It’s a diverse set of individuals each with their own over-the-top motivations and interests. Main character Will is unfortunately rather dull and the typical ‘clueless but with a big heart’ kind of guy who falls in with the wrong people (who end up being the right people, natch). Everything else in the story is rather incidental to creating crazy characters.

The giant penguin is a throwaway (it felt so random) and there’s nothing really new under the sun here. But the action is done right and the denouement of the ‘trash jobs’ is always quirky and unexpected. It’s a shame it was never followed up by the author.

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Hibiki’s Magic Volume 1 by Jun Maeda

How much you enjoy Hibiki’s Magic really depends on how much you balance uber cute vs brain dead. Because what we have here is the typical very sweet and cute girl with a heart of gold but who can’t seem to do anything useful. But someone powerful believes in her and she might just have a hidden gift more useful than the obvious – a pure heart. Thus, she wins over everyone and every situation. In many ways, this felt like Card Captor Sakura – but with a lobotomy and lacking bite. So while Hibiki’s Magic is so over the top cute as make your teeth hurt, it also feels very hollow inside.

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Story: Hibiki is an assistant to a powerful magician. Despite her inability to do any kind of useful magic, he believes in her and encourages her to also believe in herself. When something happens to her beloved Master, Hibiki is forced to leave her safe forest home and enter the city. There, she is encouraged to become a magic teacher and share what she learned from her powerful Master. But the students may not want to be taught by the somewhat clueless and innocent young girl.

Interestingly enough, this is a story where both nothing and a lot happens. The book is fairly thick but most of the pages are half thoughts and philosophical musings leading up to the Master’s ‘accident.’ We get no background on how the two came together or why the Master believes so much in Hibiki. The second half of the book ends up being a bunch of situations set up to let Hibiki’s innocent charm fix problem students and their issues. It felt heavy handed, though, and I didn’t buy any of it.

I’m honestly not a fan of ‘cute but stupid’ Forest Gump type of characters. CLAMP can take a character like this and create a lot of nuance and edginess to balance the character’s innate stupidity. Here, Maeda wants a bit of sweetness and innocence that makes for a bland read.

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Shrine of the Morning Mist Volume 1 by Hiroki Ugawa

While reading this, I couldn’t help but feel someone had taken the premise of Ranma 1/2 (1 boy and 3 sisters), removed all the humor and personality, and tried to create a Miyazaki romance out of it. In this case, we have a young boy with a fairly traumatic life returning to his home town after many years. Awaiting him are the three girls at the town’s temple – and a whole lot of supernatural hijinks.

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Story: Hiro has traveled the last sevearl years but is finally returning alone to the home town he left. He is taken up by the town’s shrine maiden family – 3 girls and their unusual father and mother. The middle girl, Yuzu, had a big crush on Hiro and is relentlessly teased by her sisters now that he has returned. But something has begun to target him in the small village – an evil that the shrine maidens are the only defense against. For there is a secret in both Hiro and Yuzu’s family – a secret that could turn deadly for Hiro.

There were many mysteries presented in the first volume – most having to do with Hiro’s unusual family. Ugawa has given us some interesting characters, though most feel rather cliche and rip-offs of Ranma 1/2 (because yes, the middle girl will be a Tsundere with strong physical prowess). And Hiro will be clueless about girls, despite the girls being fully obsessed with him. Add in the unusual father of the girls and a mother very over the top and this should have been more interesting than the premise sounds. Yet it somehow feels very understated.

I think what made it hard for me to like this is that Hiro is a complete emotionless cipher. What made Ranma so much fun was that he was so completely crazy and emotional. So he was a good counterbalance to Akane. But in Shrine, Hiro is a blank wall and so Yuzu has nothing really to play against. If anything, we were left questioning why she crushed on him in the first place.

The art is excellent and Tokyo Pop made a nice presentation of the book. The translation is decent as well. But it’s surprising that a story so much like Ranma 1/2 could be so lacking in any kind of real charm and interest.

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