World Trigger 15 by Daisuke Ashihara

With World Trigger 15, we go fully into the Galapoula infiltration arc. This means new triggers, new battles, and new ways that our Border agents can distinguish themselves. Of course, the real reason to read is to see how Jin’s prediction from the last volume (Tachikawa will get chopped in half) comes true.

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Story: Galapoula has begun their stealth invasion. They have one target in mind: the Meeden away ship – and to ensure that Meeden can’t launch any incursions into Aftokrator. But Border has a secret weapon: Jin’s foresight. Now that the battle is small, he can more accurately predict the future. But even Jin isn’t omniscient as a certain young boy is about to surprise everyone by entering the fray.

The Galapoula arc is a nice contrast to the Aftokrator invasion arc. Instead of battles in a large scale, we have Border trying to keep the battle small and discreet so as not to alarm the populace. It could be dangerous, though, to not have all the participants there. Osamu and his squad, for example, aren’t seen in this volume since they are getting ready for the next rank battle.

As the Galapoula strengths are revealed, it makes for some great battles. Unlike Aftokrator and their ego-driven and aggressive style, Galapoula are stealth based and use strategy. They are also much more team oriented; you almost want to root for them. They use as few resources as possible to get the mission accomplished. Ashihara gives us some great characters with the infiltration unit and it is especially fun to see who of Galapoula will get paired up against whom in Border.

With Border having two fronts – melee at the base of the HQ (and inside) and then the snipers up above, there are some really interesting battles. In this volume, we get to see Nasu Squad’s strengths, very fun stuff with Ninomiya and Kako squad interactions (Inukai playing with Futaba’s ponytails is priceless!), Suwa taking charge(!) and especially the mysterious Amo and his unique abilities (Ashihara describes amo as a sad stray puppy).

This is a volume you want to take your time really checking out the images or you will miss important small details that lead up to a surprise action a few panels later. A pivot from Konami’s foot here or a ‘snick’ sound from Kazama there lead to some great twists. And as always, our upstanding knight Murakami to the rescue!

In previous volumes, we’ve pretty much only seen how teams work against other teams. With this volume, we see how the teams work together, either as a unit or singly, during the battles. It makes for some great synergies. I also love the humor – from Galapoula assuming Kazama is a kid to Ninomiya and Kako bickering like a married couple. Now, if only we get to finally see Kusakabe A04!

As of the time this review is written, World Trigger has been on hiatus in Japan due to health issues with the author. Since this is one of my favorite series, I hope we won’t have to wait too long after volume 18 marks the beginning of the hiatus.

Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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My Fairy Godmother Is A Drag Queen by David Clawson

Admittedly, I did not enjoy reading My Fairy Godmother Is A Drag Queen as much I had expected. While the dialogue is crisp, often quite funny, it was also unrealistic and none of the characters ever really felt fleshed out and full of nuances. As well, the Cinderella aspect was missing all the magic and warmth that made the source fairy tale so endearing. If anything, I felt like someone had binge watched every episode of RuPaul’s drag race and then tried to force a marriage between several of the characters in there and Cinderella. In the end, it just didn’t work for me.

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Story: Chris lives what should be a fairy tale life in Manhattan – prestigious family, gorgeous house, and he’s not bad looking himself. But his family is nearly out of money, his father committed suicide after the stockmarket crash, his social climbing stepmother loves her wine more than her family, Chris is single handedly keeping the family going now that there are no servants any more, and there is a push to marry his stepsister to the high society ‘big catch’ J.J. Kennerly. But a chance meeting on the street with a drag queen with connections allows him to attend the big society ball – and meet Kennerly in person. Turns out, it is love at first sight for the two boys. But how will these two ever get to be together when J.J. can’t come out of the closet and Chris is too anxious and unsure to go after what he wants?

First and foremost, I really disliked how the Cinderella theme was handled. The entire Cinderella story is only loosely used and mostly finished by 25% into the book. There’s no ‘search’ for the owner of the lost Ferragamo and Chris’ identity is never a secret. As well, we have a case of insta’sex as J.J., despite supposedly needing to be cautious, quickly moves in on Chris, blows hot, then backs away fast as the attention is returned. It goes from insta kiss to butt pinching, to insta tearing off clothes. There’s no time spent on emotional attachment, it is pure lust at sight for the boys and, while perhaps more modern, really begs the question of why bother with Cinderella in the first place?

Also problematic for me were the characters. Author Clawson does try to give us more than evil stepmother with idiot children. The stepmother is a pampered princess who has to deal with a reversal in fortune. The stepsister is a social climber but not without a conscience. The other sibling, the stepbrother, is a meathead jock who says whatever comes to his brain, without preamble. He ended up being the most entertaining as a result. There are some good observations on human nature but at the same time, I didn’t believe any of the characters at all. There was a serious lack of warmth and pathos of, e.g., a Becky Albertalli or Adam Silvera novel.

As for the plot – there were several things that really set the wrong flavor for me. J.J. Kennerly being so obviously modeled after John F. Kennedy Jr. was imprudent and a really poor choice. Yes, he was America’s ideal of a prince but I’d still rather have stayed in the fictional realm here without needing to use such an obvious reference to someone recently and tragically deceased. And drag queen Coco Chanel Jones was so perfectly an amalgamation of RuPaul Drag Race contestants that he ended up feeling ‘off’ – never a nuanced whole so much as a construct. Chris himself is all confused bundle of insecure hormones – more of a Marty Stu than a sweet character we want to follow.

The writing is dense and something you need to follow closely in order to get the ‘in jokes.’ It ended up being a chore after awhile and I had to keep going back to reread after missing key points in chunky paragraphs. A stream of consciousness approach did not really allow a reader to get deep into the character of Chris.

I know I’ve gone over the negatives quite a bit. On the plus side, the dialogue is very funny, laugh out loud “Oh snap!” at times. The author definitely knows his subject well. And this would probably make a funny movie if trimmed down quite a bit. Certainly, it wasn’t a terrible read even if I really had to press myself to finish it. I think the big factor, for me, was that it wasn’t magical or fun. It tried too hard to be sharp and au courant – at the expense of heart. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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The Water Dragon’s Bride by Rei Toma

Those who like Rei Toma’s other series, Dawn of the Arcana, will find many of the same themes here. Oppression, adults preying on children, helplessness, moments of kindness, ambivalence, pain, and callous torment/despair. Indeed, the overall theme here in this dark fantasy is even more oppressive than Dawn of the Arcana, which is saying quite a bit. But at the same time, so many conventions were ejected by author Toma to create a wholly unique story without the platitudes one would typically see in the shoujo genre.

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Story: Little girl Asahi is happily living with her family in the modern world – until the day she approaches a pond and is taken from the present to one resembling a feudal era Japan. Confused, scared, alone, she is found by a boy her age – Subaru. He brings her home to his village to protect her. But his mother sees an opportunity to use her as a sacrifice to the water dragon and ensure prosperity for the village. Saved by the water dragon god as a source of possible entertainment, Asahi is confusing to the god and he is unsure how to even keep her alive. Now a pawn of the gods of the realm, Asahi seeks to return to the village and eventually to her own home in modern Japan. But the villagers don’t take kindly to a sacrifice returning – and Subaru may not be able to save her from the villagers cruelty once again.

The recurring theme here is that humans are greedy and the gods are capricious. This is no heartwarming story of a god who falls in love with a mortal; Asahi is nearly starved to death and emotionally tormented by the gods who are unsure what to do with the mortal in their midst. Petty jealousies and rivalries among the gods makes this feel more like a Greek tragedy than a Japanese shoujo manga.

In the feudal era human world, motivations are purely for survival and then subsistence. Sacrificing a child for the ‘greater good of all the villagers’ is an acceptable act, of course. Subaru objects but is easily manipulated and gone around by his mother, the instigator of much of Asahi’s torment. An “if the witch burns she must be evil” type of scenario only adds to the ugliness of the scene.

The pain of being with ambivalent gods and cruel mortals definitely creates a pall that can make this title very hard to read. It’s one cruelty after another heaped on our young lead character and then Asahi’s utter confusion and even despair in understanding why her wonderful life was supplanted without warning.

Because of the very heavy themes, I have to admit I’ll probably not continue this series. The writing is excellent, the illustrations well done, and this is just as good as Dawn of the Arcana. But at the same time, I tend to read manga for adventure and as a feel-good experience. This is just a bit too harsh an indictment on life for me. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Simply Clean by Becky Rapinchuk

Simply Clean is a way to approach cleaning to make it easier and less frustrating. Author Rapinchuk zeroes in on the big problem with housecleaning: it’s easy to let it snowball until tasks become a day long episode of unfriendly burden. By breaking tasks down into 5-15 minutes a day, she creates a plan for keeping the house consistently clean but without becoming overwhelmed by the scope of it all. This also ensures that the home is always clean – rather than messy until the monumental weekend cleaning rage occurs.

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The book breaks down as follows: Part one delves into
the Simply Clean plan of breaking tasks down into small bits as well as the initial ‘big clean’ to get the house ready for the plan. Part Two is the 28 day challenge – with 4 weeks dedicated to different parts of the house (kitchen, living spaces, bathrooms, bedrooms). P:art Three is about customizing the plan for your particular lifestyle. Part Four gives tips for organizing, cleaning options, and decluttering.

The book is quite thorough on the subject and the author covers nearly all topics – from making your own cleaning solutions to how to wash window. Lifestyle changes include eg., a decluttering plan of attack (to make dusting easier) to organizing your socks and undies.

Because there is a clear plan in the 28 day period to get the house ready for easy cleaning for years afterwards, I feel this is a good book for those having trouble keeping their houses in shape. But for those who love the warmth and ‘hominesss’ of chochkis and clutter, they may find the spartan approach to keeping a home a bit anti-intuitive. That said, though, there are great tips in here that are well worth the read alone. The information is nicely presented, broken down in small chunks, with a friendly tone and easy to follow. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Shadow Run by by AdriAnne Strickland, Michael Miller

Shadow Run fits into the category of Romantic Sci Fi rather than Sci Fi with a touch of romance. Depending on your preferences, that distinction will become important since the focus really is on the romance rather than the sci fi aspects. But Shadow Run is a very enjoyable read that never feels insipid or overly melodramatic: a trap into which so many heavy romance sci fi fall.

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Story: Nev is undercover – trying to recruit Qole, a freighter captain with a secret, to help stabilize his family’s empire. But things will soon spiral out of control as his past soon endangers both. Getting her trust will be the least of their problems, however, as Qole becomes a hot property in the galaxy – and wanted dead rather than alive.

As noted, this is very much a romance. The cliches are there: main female character is a ‘speshul snowflake’, gets kidnapped and needs to be rescued multiple times, thinks about the guy all the time instead of her mission/reality/danger, love interest guy is a ‘prince’/in touch with his feelings/thinks about how beautiful the girl is all the time, lots of characters sniffing each other and thinking how nice they smell, one or another character walking in and finding the other underdressed and thinking how sexy they are, characters with supposed tough pasts but very well adjusted, black and white evil and good characters, a ball where our heroine gets to wear a fancy dress and dance with the ‘prince’, etc. etc. I like romance in my books as much as the next person but I also prefer to avoid so many of the cliches. Especially that our supposedly ‘tough’ female character is continually rescued/saved by the guy. But there are also some frustrating sci fi/adventure cliches as well: the ship’s crew being full of people with perfect abilities to push plot points: ultra talented hacker, super-navigator, super skilled pilot, mysterious person with amazing connections, etc. etc. So those are the downsides that keep this from being a 5-star read.

Ultimately, what is most rewarding about Shadow Run is that these are characters that you want to root for as they go through their trials. It lacks the grittiness of a Firefly since the character alignments are blatantly obvious and twists are well telegraphed. But we don’t have the endless amounts of plasma weapon descriptions and space technical terms to slog through either, which is a relief. So while this is not as strong as a Tanja Huff or Jack Campbell book, I’d say it is definitely on par with a Linnea Sinclair. There’s a nice mix of conflict and adventure vs the romance.

Shadow Run is a fairly quick read that doesn’t bog down anywhere and with good pacing. It has a definite arc in this first book in the series and ends on a satisfying note while also leaving enough intrigue to look forward to the next book in the series. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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The Demon Prince of Momochi House Volume 8 by Aya Shouoto

This was quite a thrilling volume – I could barely turn the pages fast enough as we are given a fascinating glimpse of Aoi’s past. Kasha, Nachi, Ise, and the Nue are all prominent as Himari is sent on a quest to discover Aoi’s history and help him fill in the holes in his memory. But, of course, it is never that easy.

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Story: Aoi has permanently transformed into the Nue thanks to Nachi’s interference. Himari is told that the only way to turn him back into Aoi is to help him discover the past that Nachi forcefully unlocked last volume. To do so, she will use her Momochi connections to find a path – one that certain Ayakashi in Aoi’s family would prefer she doesn’t find. For the longer Aoi stays as the Nue, the less likely Aoi will ever appear again.

As with so many of the past volumes, important pivotal plot information is given through red herrings and maguffins. What starts out as investigating a disturbance turns into a fantastic journey down a rabbit hole of discovery. Shouoto really knows how to tell a story and this Volume 8 was one of the best in the series thus far.

Of course, the incredibly beautiful illustration work continues to enchant. Through her simple style we get such a wealth of emotion and personality: the contrast of Kasha’s unpredictability and Nue’s implacability, Himari’s accepting personality and selflessness against the selfish and hunger driven ayakashi.

I also love that we get tantalizing clues to a bigger picture. Nachi, of course, has a whole interesting tale yet to be told. But apparently so does Himari as she is given hints that there is far more to her story and her parents’ story as well. And I always welcome Kasha as a foil for the Nue.

In all, a great volume. This remains one of my favorite manga. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Requiem Of The Rose King Volume 6 by Aya Kanno

With volume 6, we come to the events of the Battle of Barnet. Kanno captures the chaos of the early morning foggy rout, the confusion and false cries of traitors, and how the Lancastrians often ended up killing their own soldiers. It should be unsurprising that this battle takes part across most of volume 6 since it was one of the pivotal battles in the War of the Roses and set up the Yorkist rule in England. Of course, since this is a shoujo manga, Richard plays a much more interesting part and still has to deal with the demons chasing him inside.

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Story: Richard is caught between his affection for Henry and his own York loyalties. As Warwick the Kingmaker allies with the exiled Queen Margaret of Anjou, Richard’s brother George has a prophetic vision from his father: he must join up with Edward and bring the throne back under their family’s control. Finally allied, the brothers lead an army against Warwick and Margaret (Warwick by land, Margaret by sea). But a storm blows Margaret’s fleet of course and on a foggy early morning the Lancasters, including Warwick, are defeated by Edward and George. And on that fateful battlefield, Richard will be forced to confront his beloved and befuddled Henry at the end of his bloody sword.

Of course, this isn’t meant to be a history lesson and Kanno plays loose and fast with the historical facts. As with other historical shoujo like Rose of Versailles, we have an entertaining read on a fascinating period in history. I always recommend reading up on the time period to have an understanding of what’s going on or it can get very confusing. Certainly, Richard wasn’t intersex and only suffered from a scoliosis; and one can’t mistake Kanno’s beautiful bishounen characters from the actual images we have of the them. But Richard’s death at age 32 does mark the end of the medieval period in England and is a great story from which Kanno built Requiem of the Rose King. Historians may roll in their graves but this is a great way to visit the period without the heaviness of a history text or Shakespearean drama. Very entertaining and with all the melodrama and cackling evil women you’d want from a shoujo title. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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