Bleach 71 by Tite Kubo

By Volume 71 and in the final story, Kubo is using these these minor arcs to give us more backstory of the main characters. Completing the Kurotsuchi and Nemo story as they continue their battle and then on to former 8th Division captain and now commander Kyoraku Shunsui’s and squad vice captain Nanao’s turn.

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Story: Nemu has sacrificed herself for her captain and Kurotsuchi can only watch as her flesh is devoured. But Nemu’s physique has a secret that will change the tide of battle. Meanwhile, a flawless sniper is keeping Kyoraku and his group on the run. But he’s tired of the game and turns to battle – only to find there is much more to the sniper. Can his own Bankai and squad vice captain Nanao save him in time?

In this volume, we get Kyoraku’s backstory – why he wears a woman’s kimono and hairpin and how it relates to Nanao. We also get his very capricious Bankai Sakuranosuke – and its female representative Ohana. They are an interesting couple, captain and sword, considering neither can figure out how they were paired together since they have such different temperaments. And yet, they make perfect sense as well.

We are also given a glimpse of Nanao now that she finally has the sword that has been kept by Kyoraku for safe keeping. We’ll get more about her bladeless, mirrored sword and its very unique powers in the next volume. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Tokyo Ghost by Rick Remender, Sean Gordon Murphy, Matt Hollingsworth, Rus Wooton

Tokyo Ghost takes many modern inspirations and combines them into one fairly seamless story. From A Clockwork Orange to Princess Mononoke, Nineteen Eighty Four to Idiocracy, author Remender takes us to a dystopian hell where technology has run rampant and the masses are drugged with inanity. Our codependent main characters navigate this brave new world while seeking their own paradise. The storyline is hard hitting and doesn’t pull any punches – graphic sex, violence, and debauchery is offset by beautiful illustration work and a very alarming view of the future.

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Story: Debbie has a strong moral code and followed her upstanding father by remaining unplugged – thereby avoiding the despised addiction that ruined her mother and most of society. As a young girl she friends neighbor Teddy – a boy nearly abandoned by his disaffected parents. Together they grow up and grow in love – until the day Teddy is unable to protect Debbie from anarchists and she must protect him. Thus Teddy spirals into self loathing over his weakness and he enlists in a program to make him nearly invincible so he can protect Debbie. But he loses himself in the process – and that’s where our story begins, with Debbie and Teddy (now called Led) working as constables for the City. When they are given an opportunity to infiltrate a luddite city in old Tokyo, Debbie grabs at the chance to finally detox Teddy and get him back from Led. But what they find is what neither expected – nor can they escape bringing their own poison to the paradise.

The story has three main settings: first in a Los Angeles of 2089, a city drugged by mindless programs that ease people into an oblivion of escape. Then to Japan where they find a culture grown up around Bushido and honor. Then back to Los Angeles. Each of these arcs is distinct and have their own story but of course are part of the large picture. Most of the book is Debbie’s struggle to bring Teddy back from Led while also separating him from the technology and those who manipulate him through it.

Remender does not pull any punches. From a “Hentai” amusement park where women ‘ride’ the octopus tentacles to Led completely destroying his foes in very violent methods. This is coupled with a very dark, hopeless, and fatalistic storyline; much as with a horrific car crash that one cannot turn away from while driving by, Tokyo Ghost sucks you in while also making you feel more than a bit sick from it all.

There are many statements being made throughout the story. One theme that came up the most, though, was A Clockwork Orange (the main villain bore more than a striking resemblance to Alex the Droog). From the sex to the ultra violence, masses drugged into stupidity by broadcasts/shows rather than chemicals, where sex and nudity is as casual as mass destruction. Each panel is a statement and worth exploring for all that is being said, and not said, about modern society. Not just American – but many societies around the world.

The artwork conveys the story perfectly. Debbie is beautifully drawn and Led is, if perhaps a bit too Judge Dredd Square jawed, captured neatly in his addiction. Imagine kids in front of a TV or YouTube screen for hours and you get the idea – it’s impossible to drag them away and they have tuned out the world. The art is truly top notch – everything is very well done from character designs, to locations, to the panels themselves. It’s hard not to appreciate just how much artistry went into the book and how well the artist and the author worked to create the final story.

This deluxe edition is a large book – I set aside a large block of time to read it because quite a lot happens. It’s a book that greatly rewards on rereads, especially if one takes the time to really analyze and appreciate the statements being made in the art and the dialogue. There’s a lot being said or shown and a lot to think about afterwards.

Tokyo Ghost is, in every regard, the very modern graphic novel – a story of its time though set in the future. I couldn’t help but think of the movie Idiocracy and how this is a prescient and all too believable future, especially considering our modern politics. History tells that societies always love their dictators. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Texas Slow Cooker by Cheryl Jamison

This is a hard one to review because it’s hard to give a higher rating to a book that doesn’t have pictures of the recipes. On the one hand, there isn’t much exotic in here since we are so familiar with Tex Mex foods. But scrolling through endless text is frustrating when I’d like to just look at an image to show the family so they can choose what I make (and so I know how it should ultimately look). That said, there are a solid set of recipes here and they are cleanly, if very blandly, laid out for ease of use.

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The book is broken down by categories: Breakfast, Starters, Snacks, Soups, Chili, Stews, Beef, Bison, Venison, Pork, Goat, Poultry, Gulf Seafood and Freshwater Fish, Beans, Vegetables, Sides, Desserts. There is an introduction of a good length that gives tips about safety as well as cooking different types of foods together.

Recipes vary from Chile Relleno Casserole to Mexican Style Macaroni and Cheese, Chiltepin Sesame Peanuts to Praline Bread pudding. The recipes are cleanly laid out and very unfussy. There is a large title, yield, cooking time, introduction paragraph, large font ingredients list and mercifully short and numbered block paragraph steps (the easiest to use and follow). This is very friendly for tired eyes and very easy to ready and follow.

There are roughly five photographs heading some of the chapters and that’s the sum total of images for the book. That is, admittedly, a deal breaker for me. As much as I appreciate the clean and unfussy presentation, I also rely heavily on images. Without the photographs, it too often feels like one is going in blind to the recipe.

I appreciated the variety and nearly all the recipes were very easy to follow and use. I had great results and I think I got them right – hard to tell without hitting some more Mexican restaurants in my area to see what the dishes are supposed to look and perhaps taste like. But for those who love Tex Mex, this really hits the spot. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Prudence By Gail Carriger

Those who had read both the Soulless and the Finishing School series could probably have seen this coming in the progression of books and how their tones changed. What started as an independent but absurdly interesting main character eventually morphed into a fairly stupid and airheaded school girl who at least had some dash. The culmination unfortunately is our lead in the Custard Protocal – a complete clueless unique snowflake twit that everyone instantly loves and adores despite her intellectually challenged self obsession. Not even Moira Quick’s inspired narration could save this very hot mess of an unlikable set of characters.

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Prudence is unique in the world – the daughter of a Soulless and a Werewolf, she is a metanatural. When she is given a dirigible, she promptly flies it to India in order to find outstanding tea for her beloved ‘uncle’ Dama. She chances upon a conspiracy there and sort of accidentally ends up helping the situation from getting out of hand. Lots of endless fashion discussions ensue.

There really isn’t a plot and the book is mostly Prudence “Rue” bossing people around, insulting her friends and the natives, and pondering endlessly about clothing with companion Prim. Prim’s brother, Percy, is smart and has great ideas to help India and the law but most of the time is insulted or disregarded by the women (after all, he knows nothing of fashion). Meanwhile, love interest Quensal is just as unappetizing a person as Rue and I spent most of the book hoping one or the other would fall out of the dirigible and spare us any more of their drivel.

Prudence felt very much like the entire purpose of the book was to create situations where author Carriger could play around with words, bon mots, witty rejoinders, and Victorian fashion. It was at the expense of creating even one likable character or a semblance of a plot. Farting dirigibles are mildly amusing once but get old fast. As does the constant picking on the only intelligent person in the cast and the boring cliche of an alpha male love interest.

As always, Moira Quick is an impressive narrator. I just wish she was given something better than this story.

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Wondering Sight by Melissa McShane

I am greatly enjoying the Extraordinaries series for its strong female characters who use their intelligence and patience to solve the problems they are presented. McShane has done an excellent job of giving us stories that are thoroughly researched and with ‘magic’ systems fully explained and explored. The plot is nuanced, the characters rich, and the concept especially fascinating. The series is satisfying on so many levels.

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Wondering Sight gives us a very different character and situation than in Burning Bright. Where the first book was an action/adventure on the high seas, Wondering Sight is a psychological thriller set in the noble estates of Regency England. The characters from the first book are referenced but do not make an appearance, though a recurring character in this book will be the heroine of book 3.

Each of the Extraordinary talents are given excellent thought as to how they should work as well as the important limitations so they are not all-powerful. With Wondering Sight, we have a seer as the main character, though she works with a bounder and shaper. Smartly, having extraordinary talents gives the women a bit more freedom/leeway than was historically possible in the milieu yet they are also confined in many ways. McShane does an excellent job of making it work.

In the first book, we learned quite a bit about the pirates and military of the era. With this book, we go deep into banking and counterfeiting as well as the haute ton. In book three, we visit the British Raj and the effects of colonization in India. Each of the topics is very well researched yet also without annoying info dumps – McShane seamlessly integrates her research with the story and never trumps one for the other.

But there is one elephant in the room with this second novel and that is the character of Sophia, our heroine. We get a nicely different person from Elinor in the first novel but Sophia can be very hard to like. She is stubborn to the point of detriment and her very strong willed personality can be frustrating. She’s very unlikable as a result and I think readers may be put off a bit by her obtuse stubborness. Too much emphasis was on the cat and mouse game and how she was so obsessed with petty revenge/insult to her pride that she would physically injure herself and even those around her. As well, the romance felt forced since she was so difficult a person to really like.

But even with the above reservation, I still enjoyed Wondering Sight. I just wish the cover was better – it doesn’t look Regency at all and didn’t feel reflective of the Sophia character or the story’s essence. I listened to the Audible version of the book and the narrator did an ok job – she wasn’t distracting from the story but I didn’t connect with her voice acting.

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The Vegan Cookbook by Adele McConnell

I am always looking to get away from meat dishes and appreciate cookbooks geared toward a better food lifestyle. While I did not find The Vegan Cookbook as useful as I would have liked, there are still many great recipes here and the book is has a wide variety of dishes from around the world.

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The book breaks down as follows: Introduction, The Plant Based Diet, Breakfasts and Brunches, Lunches, Snacks and Treats, Main Meals, Desserts. Recipes are in black and white only, with a box of italicized ingredients list, separate prep time, cook time, and serving amount.

The steps are in small font size, paragraph format that is very hard to read – they aren’t numbered and they aren’t separated by blocks. Beneath the recipe are some tips/thoughts. Each page is color coded with symbols denoting: soy free, seed free, raw, gluten free, nut free, sugar free – for easy reference.

Most frustrating is that the book has fairly exotic recipes but only half or so actually have images of the recipe. I had no idea how to present the dish or how it should look, which was frustrating. As with most Vegan cooking, the ingredients list is vast and you’ll have to track some items down or make them from scratch yourself. Each recipe has a lot of ingredients and I have to admit, I found most to not be very filling. Nor could I interest the children in any of the items I was presenting (though my husband is willing to try anything happily, fortunately). It’s definitely not a family friendly book and feels very much like something I would use as a bachelor or a newlywed.

I rated this fairly low (only 3 of 5 stars) for several reasons. One, the book has small type and is hard to use/follow. Two, there aren’t enough images for a book of this type. Three, it seems geared more toward singles rather than families. Four, the ingredient list is large and expensive – it feels like something you have to fully commit to or not. And five – this isn’t written with the reader in mind and I feel this would have been greatly improved had the author spent time with a larger audience giving feedback. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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The Dinner Plan by Kathy Brennan, Caroline Campion

Despite the generic sounding title, The Dinner Plan nicely ticks the boxes of what I hope/expect from a cookbook: beautifully presented, smartly designed/executed/indexed/referenced, interesting recipes that are easy to make and don’t require an expensive list of one-time-use ingredients, and a family friendly bias. I had no issues with any of the recipes and especially appreciated specific brand-name recommendations for useful products that make the cooking/storing job easier.

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Right from the beginning, it is obvious that the book is intelligently cross referenced. The recipes are broken down by main ingredient (Fish and Shellfish, Chicken and Turkey, Beef and Pork, Eggs, Rice and Meatless, Pasts, Soups, Sandwiches, Dinner Salads, Vegetables, Starches and Grains, and the Forgotten Meal). But they are also categorized by preparation requirements: Make Ahead, Staggered, One-Dish, Pantry Friendly, and Extra-Fast. The latter categories are color coded on each recipe page as well as indexed in the back of the book.

Most, but not all, recipes have photographs, many are full page and all are professionally presented. Each recipe has a serving amount, introduction/description, bold face ingredients list, paragraph (not numbered) instructions, and a large section for tips/more info/variations. At the side of the page are the color coded cross reference categories (e.g., Shrimp Scamp is cross referenced as Pantry friendly and Extra-Fast).

Because one of the authors comes from a Japanese background, there are some great Asian-inspired recipes like Okonomiyaki and Peanut Sauce that are kid friendly. But the classic North American dishes/European dishes are well represented as well. From Beef Stew in a hurry to Bolognese Sauce.

The tips are great – whether a full page stand out on Asian ingredients/recipes or the 5 recipes from the book that you can always have ready with minimum time. Even the recipes have separate and very detailed tips on various options, things like rice cookers, making your own cutlets, easy dinner parties, etc. etc.

The back of the book has a beautiful ‘recipes by category’ index in six colors – and then a full page pantry ingredients checklist of items that have long shelf times and mean you don’t have to do special shopping every other day for the recipes.

In all, I was very impressed with this book and have enjoyed the recipes. Nothing too exotic, with easy to find ingredients, friendly and easy-to-follow recipes and very smart choices about how to present the information. This is a book written for the reader and not one that the author writes only from his/her experience without regard to how the reader will actually use the book. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

 

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