Gokusen by Kozueko Morimoto

There are few manga I have enjoyed more than this series. Funny, rich, romantic – it has all the ingredients that make for a really great story. But the emphasis is on humor – there are so many laugh out loud moments throughout. This series spawned an anime and three live action tv seasons – it is greatly beloved and one of the best in the josei (intended for women, not girls) genre. Unfortunately, it is not available in English.

download.jpg

Story: Kumiko Yamaguchi is the grand-daughter of a Yakuza leader. But she doesn’t want to follow in his footsteps; instead, her dream is to be a high school teacher! When she enrolls as a homeroom teacher at a private all boys school with a very bad reputation, she will have to use all her street-smarts to keep the kids in line. Especially the exceptionally difficult Sawada – son of the police commissioner and her nemesis.

Much of the humor revolves around Yankumi (her nickname) trying to hide her yakuza heritage – from language slip ups (e.g., calling the police ‘coppers’) to keeping her students from learning that she is the heir to her grandfather’s empire. Eventually, she’ll have the most unorthodox romance imaginable with Sawada (though not until the story is over and he’s older, of course!) and Sawada’s down-to-Earth pithy observations with Yankumi’s head-in-the-clouds idealism are the heart of this fun manga.

It’s one I highly recommend and sincerely wish had been licensed in English.

Posted in Book Reviews, manga | Leave a comment

Code: Breaker 1 by Akimine Kamijyo

With Code: Breaker, we have a fairly typical urban fantasy that never really hits any high points in this first volume. The main characters are irrational and poorly written. The story is inert and has far too much tell over show. And the illustration work is very unimaginatively ‘seinen’. Honestly, I was bored.

7204652.jpg

Story: Sakurakoji is the perfect girl at her high school: highly interested in martial arts, beautiful, lively, and smart. But when she witnesses thugs being burned alive at a park – she sees one boy at the center of the conflagration. A boy who shows up at her school the next day and acts quite oblivious to her accusations. But soon she will discover he has a strange power and even more chilling mission.

What Code:Breaker tries to do is create an edgy, morally ambiguous tale. What we have, unfortunately, is a a nearly misogynistic story of the perfect girl overreacting constantly and creating scenes with her ‘suspicions’. it got old watching this supposedly smart and proactive girl being lobotomized by the mangaka.; I began to wonder if the story was written by a 12 year old boy as a Marty Stu.

The characters were odd, unlikable, and irrational. Anti heroes can be fascinating (e.g., Death Note) and make you want to follow them. With this story, I was kind of hoping the thugs succeeded and took both main characters out and ended our misery. This is standard shounen-manga fare here – fan service, stupid ‘smart girl’, and mysterious guy with super powers. Marty Stu ensues.

Posted in Book Reviews, manga, urban fantasy | Leave a comment

Inversion Point by Jenn Burke and Kelly Jensen

I really have fallen completely in love with this series. The authors have lovingly crafted a strong science fiction story replete with heart-pounding adventure and interesting worldbuilding. Yet they have also stayed true to the characters in the process. The result is a group of people that we want to follow long after the romance aspect was taken care of in the first book. Remarkably, the action continues to ratchet up slowly and organically, creating acute tension with exquisite pathos. Did I mention I love this series?

26804561.jpg

Story: Zed and Flick are thrown right into the deep end of things when the Guardians announce the arrival of a new species. Will they be friend or foe – and how will the hyper aggressive Stin deal with a human being the Emissary to greet the new species? It can all go very right or very wrong: only Zed and Flick’s strength of relationship will see them through the chaos about to erupt in the universe.

The writing continues to be smooth and the story flows quickly. Our main characters as well as their cohorts and adversaries continue to grow while still retaining some doubts and shortcomings. But most importantly, this fourth book is just as action-packed and riveting as the first three in the series. The authors have done an excellent job of continuing to escalate the plot while still keeping it relevant.

Our two main characters go through a lot in this book physically but we never veer into torture porn territory. There’s just the right amount of danger and suspense, heart and soul. Yes, there are still graphic sex scenes that I admittedly skip over since I’m more invested in the characters’ emotional interactions. But this was also a book with several heartstopping action and suspense scenes that had me flipping pages eagerly. The books always have just the right length – never overlong or too short.

I’ve already preordered the next book in the series and will have to wait frustrating months until it arrives. But ah, it will be so worth it when it does!

Posted in Book Reviews, sci fi, sci-fi | Leave a comment

Drug and Drop Volume 2 by CLAMP

With Drug and Drop Volume 2, we finally get some long awaited answers about Kazahaya’s and Rikuo’s pasts. Specifically, the two boys something unprecedented in a manga: they actually sit down and tell each other about their mysterious sisters.

23128380.jpg

Story: When Rikuo turns up badly beaten on the doorstep of the drug shop, everyone recognizes that things are about to change dramatically. At the same time, Kazahaya undertakes a private mission and ends up with revealing ties to a character from another CLAMP series.

The origins of Kei and Tsukiko (the sisters) are fully discussed here. Each has a very different story but also a very definite mystery. As well, we get the Drug and Drop owners finally revealing their demon and angel true personnas.

As with so many CLAMP series, this looks like it won’t have a very happy ever after ending. But the journey is the point and this one has been fascinating so far!

Posted in Book Reviews, manga, urban fantasy | Leave a comment

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

The Lie Tree is an historical murder mystery with a hint of the supernatural at its heart. Drawing from a meticulously researched Victorian Milieu, the tone and world are authentic without a hint of a modern voice. But the pace is hobbled by a slavish attention to period detail; this is a mystery without thriller aspects and featuring a denouement that limped rather than intrigued. Admittedly, despite the beautifully writing and highly nuanced characters, I started skimming frequently.

26118377.jpg

Story: 15 year old Faith’s family is relocated from London to the isle of Vane; her rector father has fled scandal when his archaeological finds are revealed to be false. Faith is a curious girl and as she begins to uncover her father’s secrets, a murder at the island will upset her carefully ordered world. For hidden away by her father is a tree that, if one whispers lies, will provide a fruit of hidden truths. But both the price and the reward are diabolic.

There are several themes explored in the course of the book: a rector’s loss of faith in the era of Darwin’s discoveries; the place of an intelligent girl in a repressive Victorian society; the nature of lies and truths, and a subtle struggle between classes. At the same time, various aspects of the time period provide interesting counterpoints; this is perhaps one of the most historically accurate books I’ve read in many years. As well, there is a biblical underpinning here: our heroine has a pet snake and this is a tree of knowledge. The questions asked are often theological in nature and it is the women who are the downfall of the men.

The writing is exquisite – evocative but never devolving into purple prose. As well, the characters are extremely nuanced and realistic; all their foibles and strengths, desires and needs, good and bad traits are on exhibit. Even main character Faith is both grounded and doubting -smart enough to know she should have more but conditioned well to realize she will never get the respect of her male counterparts.

And yet, despite all those positives, the pace was off. Tension and anticipation were never grown or capitalized upon; the ‘reveal’ of the murder was so anticlimactic as to have been a throw away. Clearly, the book was never about the whodunnit and instead was more about the exploration of an evolving Victorian society and whether a fruit of ‘truth’ is really such a good thing. Ironically, I would have preferred less mysterious tree and more mysterious killer intrigue. There just wasn’t a pay off to the tree aspect of the story.

So, although a beautifully written story full of fascinating characters, it never engaged me as I had expected to happen after the promise of the first few chapters. But even then, this is leagues better than most YA-themed books on the market today. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

Posted in Book Reviews, Historical, urban fantasy, YA | Leave a comment

Drug & Drop 1 by CLAMP

Drug & Drop is technically Volume 4 in this ongoing tale; the original title is Legal Drug. CLAMP went through some publishing issues in the middle of the story some years back in Japan and changed name/publisher. Ironically, the same thing happened to the title in the US when Tokyo Pop closed and ceased publishing the story. What it amounts to is this: you’ll want to track down the first three volumes of Legal Drug before you start Drug & Drop.

23616445.jpg

Story: Kazuo is as inscrutable as ever – but still accompanies Kazahaya on his supernatural ‘jobs’ for the Drug Store. Interestingly enough, the employer this time is Watanuki from Xxholic -and he has a particular quest that will require both Rikuo’s destruction and Kazahaya’s psychic ability. At the same time, Kazahaya’s ‘readings’ of Rikuo’s past are becoming more pronounced; it all portends to unhappiness for both boys at the hands of the two lost girls who haunt them.

While the first three volumes dealt with hints, teases, and vague innuendos about the pasts of both, we are finally getting some answers now. It’s no longer ‘mission/monster’ of the week. Both Tsukiko and Kei are set to make appearances soon and it will likely be quite epic when it happens. Kei’s callous talks of death and murder combined with Tsukiko’s room of blood can’t bode well for Kazahaya or Rikuo.

Of note, this Dark Horse edition has beautiful full color inserts at the beginning. Although not on premium paper, it’s still a treat to see the color pages.

Posted in Book Reviews, manga, urban fantasy | Leave a comment

Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death Isue 1 of 5

With Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death we have a Pamela Isley attempting to concentrate only on her plants and avoiding the whole superhero/super villain scene. There is a lot of set up here but not much pay off until the last panel starts Isley’s quest. Unfortunately, we have to go through a lot of filler in order to get there. Especially considering how short this issue is to begin with, there’s not much to go on.

28400072.jpg

Story: Pamela Isley is assisting at the Gotham Botanical gardens, helping to cultivate and care for rate plants. She’s become a global Lara Croft in her spare time, tracking down rare specimens. A visit by Harley Quinn doesn’t convince her to go out creating chaos but a murder at the botanical garden later that day will start her on quest for vengeance.

Breaking down the issue into essential parts: Pamela Croft, Botanist Raider in random foreign location taking out bad guys. Pamela Ph.D. giving a tour. Pamela bored with Harley at a bar with random thugs who need a pounding. Pamela sex kitten posing in various positions at home near naked. Then Pamela striding a bike like it’s a…well, you get the idea. The issue feels like a series of vignettes and there’s really no Poison Ivy yet. I had hoped for more of a hook in the beginning to keep me motivated to check out the next issue. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

Posted in ARC, Book Reviews, graphic novel | Leave a comment