Orange Planet 1 by Haruka Fukushima

There’s bland – and then there’s confusing, pointless, unrealistic, and boringly bland. This falls squarely into the latter category: a complete waste of time with an idiot protagonist, stupid boys, and plot-by-numbers harem romance. Perhaps 8 year old girls love this kind of Mary Sue – plucky young girl and all the guys inexplicably falling all over her. For me, I want more maturity, depth, nuance, and likeable (if not relatable) characters.

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Story: Middle School Rui has boy problems. Too many cute guys are in love with her and fighting over her. But hey, she’s cute and cheerful, so there are worse problems to have, right?

The drawings are uninspired and all the boys look alike. The panels are VERY difficult to figure out what is happening (which isn’t much, too!) and after awhile, it was just easier to give up. Life is too short to waste even 10 minutes on this manga. I could feel my brain melting into idiocracy after 10 pages.

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Tokyo Ghoul 8 by Sui Ishida

With Tokyo Ghoul 8, we get the full backstory on Touka and Ayato, the renewed Kaneki, and boss fights with Owl. Ishida carefully weaves pathos into his story of the siblings and their tragic upbringing. Love, betrayal, and conflict are the hallmarks of this important volume in the series; shifting our protagonist Kaneki from passive to active as he seeks to protect what is important to him.

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Story: As Ayato systematically destroys Touka, she flashes back to their childhood as outcasts – ghouls hiding in mainstream society by a gentle father. He tries his best to keep them safe and blending in with the neighbors. But when their peculiar habits are suspected and their father goes missing, those they counted on will turn on them. While Touka remains true to her father’s ideals, Ayato is resentful and hateful to the humans. Meanwhile, white haired Kaneki has awakened and he is fearsome in his determination. When he arrives and sees what Ayato is doing to Touka, true vengeance will be unleashed.

Another interesting volume in this graphically violent but well constructed series. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Wanderer by Roger Davenport

I wish I could say that Wanderer added something new to the dystopian YA genre; but I have to admit that I felt that I had read variations of this story several times now. Sheltered but rebellious girl in safe utopian society meets rough and tumble dystopian apocalypse survivor and they fight corruption inside and out. I could create a list of novels that meet that criteria in the last five years alone (e.g., Under the Never Sky series by Veronica Rossi and the Dust Chronicles by Maureen McGowan). Even the name and the cover are bland and generic.

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Story: the world is dry and devastated except in a pyramid city where water is carefully welled. Essa lives in the pyramid and its tightly controlled society. Kean scrapes a living with the Wanderers who move between watering holes. When a ‘season’ occurs – heavy rain and hurricane-like winds – the rebellious Essa and valiant Kean will meet and have to work together to survive.

The writing is straightforward and the plot moves decently, though it takes too long for the characters’ backstories to develop and the situation finally causes them to cross paths. Unfortunately, this hits too many tropes: Essa being rebellious against society (for no reason), the utopian society being as rotten as the outside lawlessness, heavily constricted/ruled citizens to induce ignorance (for no apparent reason), a dustbowl outside (I’d like a dystopian where the plants take over!), girl/boy saving each other and enacting revolution together despite not really being very effective/knowledgeable/useful other than having a special gift suitable for saving the world, and the bad guy pouring out all his nefarious plans and/or protagonists sneaking around and chancing upon the perfect conversation to reveal the dastardly plot. About the only good thing here is that at least one of the ‘bad guys’ didn’t appear to be evil or bear any malice. But yeah, the other bad guys were stinky, evil, greedy, ugly – because inside ugliness has to be on the outside too.

Something just didn’t connect with Wanderer. Not the terrible covers, not the tired plot, and not the rehashed characters. But that isn’t to say this is terribly written or can’t be enjoyed. Those that have read the aforementioned Rossi or McGowan books will likely find Wanderer a decent read as well. For me, I want something more original and distinct. Reviewed as an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Dragon Age: Magekiller by Greg Rucka

Dragon Age: Mage Killer remains very true to the Dragon Age world. In fact, it takes place during the entirety of the Inquisition game. The illustrations are well done and likenesses are true to the game. But the story is rather pointless and seems more like a way to introduce/give backstory on characters that may be the leads in the next game. Nothing much happens and it jumps around everywhere.

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Tessa is a friendly rogue and Marius is a deadly serious warrior/mage killer. He was once a Tevinter slave but claims he bears no special ill will to all Tevinter. When they are lured to a job, they become embroiled in Tevinter politics – and eventually become part of the Inquisition. After excursions to Inquisition locations with Dorian and the Chargers (minus Bull), they take assignments from Charter as the Inquisition deals with the hole the sky.

I appreciated seeing cameos of many characters – from the Chargers, of course, to Leliana and Dorian. But it was also great to see Charter in action; she is Leliana’s main spy and responsible for recruiting Scout Harding. Tessa and Charter have a little romance but we don’t see any of it – it’s only hinted at as off-jokes to oblivious Marius. And Marius himself seems like a mixture of Alistair’s obtuseness with Hawke’s gritty determination.

I wish the stories went somewhere. There really isn’t much of a story here yet it seems so obvious that one could have been built upon instead of throwing character and game vignettes around willy-nilly. I like a cameo as much as the next person (Hi Dorian!) but I have already completely forgotten what this graphic novel was about. That certainly never happened after playing the Dragon Age games.

So yes, I’d say a graphic novel for fans and hope this is a sneak of the characters we will get with the next Dragon Age game. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Throne of Novoxos by Tyler Chase

Admittedly, I had a hard time with this novel. Both the plot and the writing trod well worn tropes without really utilizing the sci fi setting. Characters were flat as cardboard, with the evil being eeeevil and the good so over-the-top angelic that I’d expect little birds to brush their hair in the morning. Alpha overbearing male lead, sweet and innocent (with a hidden past!) heroine, and a lot of undeveloped extras make up the bulk of this story.

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The writing was especially bland – within the first few pages we get clunky and cliche’d sentences such as these:

“I cannot be certain until we’ve interrogated the survivors. If House Bastionli is behind this, they will pay dearly for their meddling.”

“He jumped up onto the execution platform and retrieved the ostako swords still dripping with blood and bits of flesh.”

“…he stood nearly a head taller than most men and possessed a fierce look in his striking green eyes, while his raven-black hair contrasted sharply against his fair skin…”

Pretty much most of the plot is telegraphed and there aren’t any real surprises. Even by idealistic standards, this is fairy tale fluffy with some rather violent/aggressive sex thrown in. The sci fi aspects serve only so we can have royalty but not with the usual medieval fantasy trapping. They don’t really add to the story at all since the story is very generic.

Undemanding readers of the romance genre will find this to be a nice little time killer. But readers of the sci fi genre especially will likely be frustrated by the lack of depth and nuance.

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The Dragon Round by Stephen S. Power

With the Dragon Round, author Power has written a Count of Monte Cristo for the modern age. Literary but not overly wordy, this is a very carefully crafted story with nuanced characters and an intricate storyline. And although yes, this is a story about a sea captain in a Georgian type era fantasy setting who finds a dragon egg, the dragon is a tool rather than a character. Those expecting an intelligent talking beast who befriends an honorable and nice human (yes, I am referring to the Novik series) will be disappointed. But those who want a very grounded tale of revenge and greed will find The Dragon Round rewarding.

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Story: Jeryon is an unambitious captain content to pilot trade ships. When his ship encounters a dragon at sea, he makes a choice to fight rather than run. It will have consequences for his crew and passengers. How each one reacts in the battle and afterward will have lasting effects on all their lives. For Jeryon will face a mutiny; in surviving, he and an herbalist will find the tool needed on an undiscovered island to exact revenge: a baby dragon.

The story is about revenge and conflicted characters. It’s not about raising a dragon and riding off into the sunset. Most of the characters are fairly selfish and very true to the world in which Power has set them. It’s commendable that we aren’t given flat good and evil, honorable and dishonorable; some may even have trouble liking the taciturn captain and fatalistic apothecary companion. As well, the dragon is pretty much an instrument – a loyal dog to train to attack when needed.

Although the story mostly follows the captain and ‘poth’, we’re also given viewpoints from crew and others. I found that to be a bit indulgent, though, and so I did knock off a star on the review. I didn’t feel the side characters’ perspectives were needed and wish the focus was more on the mains. They were fairly inscrutable as it was and diverting attention from them exacerbated that feeling.

In all, I enjoyed The Dragon Round in much the same way I enjoyed The Count of Monte Cristo. Perhaps this is a bit more dreary and grounded than the adventurous Monte Cristo, but so much of the revenge story is similar. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Interference by Kay Honeyman

Interference is a YA romance inspired by Jane Austen’s Emma. The typical ‘matchmaking’ machinations are there but with a contemporary midwest US setting. But where Emma was a kind soul trying to help others, Kate in this book often feels manipulative and unpleasant. Readers who don’t mind that kind of character will likely enjoy this book, however, since it is an easy and romantic read.

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Story: Kate, the daughter of a DC politician, was betrayed by her ex; private photos of her were taken out of context and posted online to make her and her father look bad. Losing the election and tucking his tail between his legs, Kate’s father moves the family back to his small Texas home town. There, Kate meets Hunter, a quiet and unassuming guy. At the same time, she befriends shy Ana and tries to set her up with Kyle, the hot quarterback. But things don’t always go as planned….

The story is nothing new here – smooth talking city girl who can con anyone into doing what she wants ends up in the country helping cows give birth and avoiding rattlesnakes. Cue typical football jocks and mean cheerleaders and nearly every cliche is hit squarely here. Since Kate spends most of the book conning people (lying, manipulating, etc.) to meet her own desires, I had a hard time getting into her. We’re told she’s smart but don’t really see much of that. Add in the usual rancor and rudeness to the love interest Hunter and one has to wonder what Hunter (a simple guy who hates drama) would see in her.

Some smart choices were made in translating the themes of Emma (e.g., using politicians to replace nobility) and certainly readers don’t need to have read/seen Austen’s works to appreciate Interference. It’s enjoyable on its own as a light read with a nice moral at the end. Yes, it is highly predictable even if you don’t know the outline of Emma. But as an enjoyable way to pass the time, it works.

Because so much felt recycled (not so much from Austen as from every YA contemporary romance out there), I don’t feel comfortable rating this more than 3 stars. I didn’t really like the heroine Kate and felt Hunter was far too perfect and smug to really be interesting. Both could have used more character flaws other than those needed to create deus ex machina story drama. Side characters fared little better. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

Posted in Book Reviews, contemporary, romance, YA | Leave a comment