The Lost Scroll Of The Physician by Alisha Sevigny

This is a nice whodunit with your typical mustache-twirling-evil-guy-in-power and the plucky kids who foil his/her plans. There is just enough of the plot given throughout that kids can begin to decipher for themselves, though adults will likely find the answer pretty easily. The author sticks to the historical milieu nicely and also attempts to do a bit of educating about the Pharaohs and especially mummification.

43261542._SY475_.jpg

Story: Sesha and her brother Ky are children of the grand physician to the Pharaoh. Their father had been working on deciphering a very important medical scroll for Pharaoh when their house burned down, killing both parents, and the kids wound up on the streets, afraid to return home. But desperation returns them to the court scene since Sesha’s brother has fluid in his brain that could kill him if Sesha cannot find the lost scroll her father was transcribing. As they search the palace and temples, it becomes clear that someone was working against Pharaoh and that their parents’ deaths was not accidental. And Sesha is running out of time to find the scroll and invaluable info given by Imhotep that could save her brother’s life.

Most of the book takes place in the Pharaoh’s palace. Sesha is friends with Pharaoh’s daughter and Ky is best friends with the crown prince. Because Ky is younger, he plays more of a carefree part in the book – he’s tired of being ‘babied’ by his sister, even with his ever-worsening condition. Sesha wants to be a scribe or physician and so is taking scribe training; but being female, she is instantly bullied for her efforts despite her father giving her advance training. But her medical knowledge will be key as she unravels the mystery.

Quite a bit is explored in Egyptian culture – from the gods to the Nile creatures, life in a palace and even life on the streets. Some is more believable than others; e.g., it is unlikely anyone would name their pet dog or pet snake after sacred gods. But those kind of nitpicks are minor and certainly this is a nice introduction to ancient history.

The reading is smooth, there is a lot of action, and our heroine Sesha is brave and bold and a likeable heroine. The book ends on a bit of an abrupt note but this is meant to be several in a series so the author wants to make sure you come back for the next book. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

Posted in ARC, Book Reviews, children's, childrens, Historical | Leave a comment

Penric’s Progress by Lois McMaster Bujold

Penric’s Progress collects the first three (in chronological order) novellas in Bujold’s delightful Penric series, set in the World of Five Gods (the series starting with the Curse of Chalion). It’s not necessary to have read the earlier books in the series as we are set in a different time and place, but some of the background information can give useful insight – there’s very little exposition given on the world itself.

50089232._SX318_SY475_.jpg

In the first novella, Penric’s Demon, our titular hero (a minor noble of little import) accidentally gains a powerful ‘Demon’, which essentially is a group or spirits, each representing a previous host. The collection is passed on to a new host when the old host dies – and this is to the nearest person, which Penric happens to be. In addition to providing the experience and skills of previous hosts, the demon also provides the host the ability to perform magic – all sorcerers in this world have a demon. Desdemona, the demon in question, is particularly old and powerful and was intended to be passed on to a trained host. Penric coming to possess (or rather, be possessed by) her causes a bit of havoc.

The second novella, Penric and the Shaman, depicts Penric’s first mission. He is still getting used to his new position and skills. Penric is sent on a manhunt after a presumed murderer and in the remote mountain village not everything is what it seems.

The third novella, Penric’s Fox, is a whodunnit set near Penric’s base of operations. However, even if the main plot is a murder mystery, the feel of a the novel is more of a slice of life with a very nice, serene feel to it. Of the three stories, this one is my favorite.

This set of the first three novellas is very enjoyable – each story is fully self contained and it is not even necessary to read the others to be able enjoy each novel. Bujold is supremely talented author and her short stories are some of her best work in general. I especially enjoy the Penric stories as they have a very ‘comfortable’ feel to them – perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon read. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

Posted in ARC, Book Reviews, Fantasy | Leave a comment

The Demon Prince of Momochi House volume 15 by Aya Shouoto

With this penultimate volume, we head into the final arc of the series. The Momochi house residents have had to face their pasts and ‘ultimate sins’ in Kasha’s fire and all have emerged stronger and wiser for it. But there have been continual warnings that Aoi has seen the future and it is grim – and Himari will continue to fight and do everything she can to defeat that future.

index.jpg

Story: Kasha enveloped Nue/Aoi in his black flames, forcing them to see images of their ultimate sin. But Himari jumps in to protect Aoi – forcing her to also have a vision. She is puzzled to find that her ultimate sin is herself. As the crew is able to fend of Kasha in his own home, they return to Momochi House and a period of idyll. Aoi and Himari become closer and Aoi appears reconciled with being half ayakashi. But then time passes in a dream as the cherry blossoms bloom….

This novel is a transition from the close of the previous Kasha arc and into the next and final arc. The new arc has to do with Aoi having seen his future and making decisions without Himari based on what he saw. This involves not only Himari but Momochi House as well. We also get a better understanding of why Aoi was chosen as the Nue of Momochi House despite having no Momochi blood.

As always, the illustration work is superb: ethereal, gentle, and thoughtful. Shouoto has always been adept at including many breathtaking full-page panels in each chapter and that prowess is on show again here in this volume. There are as many hints as to the final arc plot in the art as in the words.

In all, although I am sad to see the series end, I can say that I have enjoyed every volume. I am greatly looking toward what the next volume brings for a finale. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

Posted in ARC, manga, urban fantasy | Leave a comment

Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku, Vol. 1 by Yuji Kaku

Hell’s Paradise is an interesting mix of horror and absurdity, comedy and gore. It does somehow work; likely due to the polarized leads who play so effectively off each other. In some ways, this feels very much like a more adult and grounded version of Deadman Wonderland, with the usual trope of our protagonists having to battle/survive an ever-escalating group of antagonists. In this case, though, they are fighting the island itself as well. There is something really good here in this first volume that has me very intrigued.

index.jpg

Story: In historical Japan, criminal ninja Gabimaru waits for execution with boredom. For some reason, all the ways they try to kill him are unsuccessful – swords break at beheadings, flames won’t touch him at burnings, they can’t even boil him alive in oil – the pots just break. He keeps telling them he wants to die since his clan betrayed him – but it just doesn’t happen. The execution attempts are recorded for the shogun by Yamada Asaemon Sagiri – a grim young woman who stays emotionless throughout the failed executions as she interviews Gabimaru afterwards. Turns out, her other duty is to be an executioner – the Asaemon clan is known for honing the ‘one slice’ beheading technique. When Gabimaru is given a stay of execution in order to find an elixir of life on a strange and hellish island, he joins a boatload of other fierce criminals who will all attempt to fight each other while looking for the elixir for a full pardon. The catch? Each criminal is assigned an Asaemon clansman who will neither help nor hinder the criminals and instead are there to behead them instantly if they stray from the path of finding the elixir. Sagiri is assigned Gabimaru – and the two will have to survive the island (and each other).

What’s so appealing for me are the two main characters. Sagiri is burdened by her role as beheader/killer, very grim and emotionless, and adheres to tradition much more than her clansman. She is considered to be a failure because she hesitates/regrets every beheading. Gabimaru, on the other hand, grew up indoctrinated to killing due to being raised in a ninja clan. When he kills, he is vicious and emotionless. But otherwise, he is insouciant and glib. Neither character is overly demonstrative and each do what they were brought up to do with brutal efficiency. But it appears that their character arc will be to a) learn respect for the other and b) learn that they are two sides of the same coin.

There is a depth and a surprise to the storytelling that is very unexpected. Neither character is what is expected from this type of genre; it’s for that reason I would label this as more adult. The story is told quite cleverly and with each character much less of a stereotype of the battle monster trope. The horror scenes are fairly graphic; e.g., each of the execution scenes are described in detail into why they would be terrible to have to experience (and then they fail, which is the humor).

The illustration work is quite clean and does an excellent job of showing the character/emotion/lack of emotion of the two leads especially. Sagiri’s melancholy is especially potent – the weight of her responsibilities are a juxtaposition to the lack of weight on Gabimaru (and the story explains why he is so ambivalent in a really neat way). Fight scenes are not confusing and are easy to follow.

In all, I am very hooked by this first volume and greatly look forward to the next. I’m not a fan of horror but there is something very clever here that has me curious to see what will follow. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

Posted in Book Reviews, Fantasy, manga | Leave a comment

The “I Love My Air Fryer” Low-Carb Recipe Book Michelle Fagone

This is a nicely presented cookbook with plenty of fairly easy dishes to cook. The recipes are broken down by type: breakfast, appetizers, sides, chicken, beef and pork, seafood, vegetarian and deserts. Many of the dishes will require extra parts for your fryer: kebab racks, perforated baking paper, special pans and dishes, etc. So check that your fryer sells accessories or that you can buy the accessories to make the dishes.

46407967._SX318_.jpg

The recipes have a large variety, with some staples and then more exotic dishes interspersed throughout. Each recipe has a large title, a short introduction, prep and cooking time, serving size, ingredients in a call out box, and then numbered short paragraph steps. Per serving info (sugar, carbs, salt, etc.) is also given at the bottom.

Nearly all the recipes are cooked in short steps – one of the benefits of a slow cooker is that it is pretty much ‘mix and then throw in the fryer.’ Sample recipes include: brunchy shakshuka bell pepper cups, barbecue turnip chips, bone marrow butter, broccoli tots, buddha bowls, vegan dogs and sauerkraut, almond ricotta lime cake.

The layout is clean and occasionally there is an image to accompany a recipe (but only a few, unfortunately). The beginning has an introduction to air fryers that is very brief. The usual metric conversion chart ends the book. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

Posted in ARC, Book Reviews, cookbook, non fiction, nonfiction | Leave a comment

Samurai 8 by Masashi Kishimoto, Akira Okubo

Written by Naruto creator Masashi Kishimoto and illustrated by his long-time Naruto assistant Akira Okubo, Samurai 8 is a mashup of samurai and sci fi. The art is very Naruto-influenced and clearly this aims to do to Samurai lore what Naruto did with Ninja lore. This first volume has a LOT of heavy info dumping, the art can be extremely confusing, and most of the first chapters felt very disconnected. Characters were almost shounen-cliche worthy as well.

index.jpg

Story: In the far future, cyborg samurai have a duty to protect the galaxy. God of War Fudo Myo-o created ‘locker balls’ that will activate when they find a suitable candidate and turn that candidate into a Samurai. But the Galaxy is now threatened with extinction and it is said that only Pandora’s box, once opened, can save all life. The box can only be opened with 7 keys – pieces of certain Samurai’s cyborg backbone. Daruma, a cyborg, is searching for the keys when he encounters Hachimaru – a boy so feeble and weak he has never left his room and is permanently hooked up to a life support system. When Hachimaru actives one of the locker balls in order to save his beloved father, his weak body is replaced with a cybernetic one and he becomes a Samurai who will help Daruma find the other keys and save the galaxy.

Although this feels like bog standard manga theming, there are some fun/funny aspects. E.g., Daruma is a samurai from the dog school but he is inexplicably trapped in the body of a cyborg cat. Hachimaru’s dog, on the other hand, used to be a cat and still thinks he is one – he meows through most of the volume. There are several jokes around Hachimaru’s name (hachi = 8 in Japanese) – he was the 8th candidate Daruma interviewed, his first real meal as a Samurai is 8 takoyaki balls (from 8-legged octopus), and some other 8s that will come about in future chapters. This is in contrast to Naruto who had a lot of 7s.

The theming of chosen one (as with Naruto) is heavily foreshadowed in this first volume and likely we will find out a lot more about Hachimaru and why he and his father are special in future volumes. These first chapters are heavily about Daruma and his search for the Samurai key that will help open Pandora’s box. As such, a LOT of the exposition was info dumps about the search for the keys and then all the usual Samurai ethics and codes, drawing heavily on Samurai historical mythology. It gets to be boring after a bit and I’m not so sure that the Samurai mythos translated well into this sci fi setting. The sci fi and Samurai themes feel very disparate.

The artwork is incredibly confusing and the exposition and info dumping made the story even more puzzling. It’s odd that we have to sit through so much info dumping and yet it doesn’t elucidate and only serves to confuse further. Add that to the artwork that is extremely difficult to follow (thank heavens comics aimed at younger boys tend to repeat everything or I’d have no idea what was happening) and it was a frustrating and not very engaging first read.

There is a lot hinted at and foreshadowed but it feels like the series is just a bunch of samurai battles that aren’t really that interesting and the hero manages to defeat enemies fairly easily. Character wise, we have the almost cliche ensemble: wise-cracking eccentric teacher, genki student who puts his all into things, the clumsy but loyal female love interest, and a pet sidekick for comedic effect. Cue various over-the-top bad guys (e.g., baddies dressed in pig masks and driving a tank shaped like a birthday cake). For some odd reason, I was reminded of Flame of Recca a lot.

In all, I likely won’t continue to follow Samurai 8. It was just too confusing and I never really got the spark that I did from the first volumes of series like Bleach or World Trigger. It just feels overwritten and lacking an organic original spark. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

Posted in ARC, Book Reviews, manga, sci fi, sci-fi, science fiction | Leave a comment

The Promised Neverland 14 by Kaiu Shirai, Posuka Demizu

After several volumes of wandering and exploring, the story has begun to move again as a new arc has begun. This particular volume is full of surprises and yet also includes a lot of information about some of the mysteries of the demons and the current world. The art, story, plotting, and world building continue to be superb.

index.jpg

Story: Chris is very sick and needs medicine – but the kids are out of options until Hayato comes up with a simple solution: raid a neighboring farm and steal some supplies. It should be very simple: a low security human farm with few demon guards. Of course, things never go as planned. But what (and who) they encounter will open up a whole new world for them – and perhaps give them another sanctuary from which to stop running and fight. But what if not all of the kids want to actually kill the demons?

This particular volume had quite a few tear jerker moments but also a lot of background on what exactly is going on in their world. William Minerva (the cover subject) might actually be alive – and if so, is he perhaps not who they thought he would be? But once again, the specter of ‘can we trust him’ looms above all the refugees.

In all, another excellent entry and an important start of a new plot arc. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

Posted in ARC, Book Reviews, dysotpian, dystopian, manga, sci fi, sci-fi | Leave a comment