Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Fullmetal Alchemist

written and illustrated by Hiromu Arakawa

Grade: 4 1/2 stars
Story summary: Far too complicated to explain the whole thing. The gist of it is, there are two brothers who lost all or parts of their bodies through a dangerous alchemy experiment, and now they're searching for the philosopher's stone to help them get their bodies back. Also there are anthropomorphic personifications of the seven deadly sins, political intrigue and military overthrows, centuries-long plots, and really funny bonus strips at the back of each volume.

Thoughts: The plot! Wowee. I don't want to spoil too much about the plot details, but it seemed to me to be one of the more well-plotted series I've seen (including TV series). As far as I could tell, most of the questions were answered by the end. All the little things you'd forgotten about popped up again near the end and clicked with everything else.

And the characters! The main relationship of the series is the two brothers, Edward and Alphonse, which I love. Sibling relationships are always my favourite. Colonel Mustang is just one of the coolest people ever, and I'm thinking of writing a Top Ten (Or So) list of people associated with fire, mostly so he can be on it (with Zuko from A:TLA). Unlike Death Note, there are tons of great female characters as well. My favourite would Lt. Hawkeye. In fact, all the military characters were great, and I greatly appreciated the nuanced take on the military. They tend to be either decidedly the good guys or the bad guys in most things, while here they were very, very flawed good guys who contrasted nicely with the central brother characters. Here are the best of them, in their cool blue uniforms:

Whatever you do, by the way, don't just read the first volume and think, "Ah, this review was all nonsense," and never pick up the second volume. The first volume was by far my least favourite, and didn't seem to have much to do with the rest of the series.

Also, like Death Note, there is some philosophical weirdness, especially at the end. I might not bother with mentioning it, except that it centres around one of my top theological pet peeves. There is this view of God, which pops up all over the place, as essentially a creature--someone or something inside of creation that whose powers can be grasped and taken. Totally non-transcendent. Anyway, I can go on about this for ages, but I won't, because it only comes up in a few small places and didn't really detract from my reading pleasure. (However, you can read this article for clarification on what exactly I mean, if you want.)

Now, for your pleasure, the seven deadly sins incarnate. SPOILER ALERT FOR THIS PICTURE!!! (I hope it isn't already too late... Try to forget what you saw, ok? I know I shouldn't have put it up in the first place if I was going to say all this, but I couldn't help it! It was such a good picture! And they're so cool!)

Friday, January 25, 2013

This Is Not a Test

by Courtney Summers

Grade: 2 stars
Story: It's the zombie apocalypse. Six teenagers have managed to seek refuge in an abandoned school.

Thoughts: Really not my kind of book.

1. Zombies. I don't like them. I don't like the characters that seem to show up in books about them. I don't particularly like the plots that generally surround them. Even the epic show-down between zombies and unicorns, Zombies vs. Unicorns, edited by Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black, couldn't bring any love of zombie fiction into my heart.

2. Teenagers. Stuck together. At the end of the world. Making out and drinking games ensue. Not really my cup of tea.

3. Seriously, it's really depressing. Now here's where I actually liked one aspect: the central character, Sloane, is abused and suicidal, and it goes into her thought processes a fair bit. This was really interesting and (along with the well-done suspense) raised it to 2 stars, but when you add tons of death and gross dead people walking around to an abused and suicidal main character, the results are not particularly pleasant.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ordinary Magic

by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

Grade: 4 1/2 stars
Story: Magic, special schools, large families, kidnappers, subtle romances, close friendships. As Abby is now twelve years old , it's finally time for the Judgement to determine her magical skill level. She gets an extremely unusual result, and then of course, everything changes.

Thoughts: That was one of the most delightful books I've read in ages. So delightful that I'm having a hard time writing about it, because it seems that everything I try to say either makes it seem too normal and underwhelming, or accidentally makes it seem like the greatest book of the 21st century. But let's say this: it was the best book of that sort that I've read since I finished off Diana Wynne Jones. Before her recent passing, DWJ was one of my favourite living authors, and one of the few authors I would buy on the spot if I found an unread one. The similarities are many, but hard to pinpoint exactly: there is the great assimilation of magic and the real world, unique and loveable characters, families who actually love each other, and a young main character who finds out they are extremely special when it comes to magical abilities.

Except of course, this book has one hugely important difference: the magical ability is actually a lack of any magical abilities whatsoever. This is cool twist on the common trope of "specialness", and there were all sorts of surprising plot developments that came out of it.

But the thing I loved most, more than anything, was the characters. Every single one of them, from Abby and her friends and her family to the teachers at the school and the main villains of the story, were indisputably awesome. The central family...well, this is where I find it difficult to describe, as I stated at the beginning. I don't want to spoil too much either. But they were so cool. And it was fascinating how cleverly the villains were given motivation and sympathy, while remaining entirely villainous and disagreeable.

MAIN, GLARING, HUGE ISSUE: It ends with several loose ends, so I don't think it's a single book. And I want the sequel. Now. Right now. Give it to meeeeeeeeeeeee.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Retro Friday Review: The Masqueraders

by Georgette Heyer

Retro Friday introduction: This great book blog called Angieville started a meme called "Retro Friday", where one reviews old favourites. I thought this would be a great chance to talk about books that I read before starting this blog and am now re-reading, and perhaps to redo old blog posts that are sadly lacking in quality. Without further ado, here is Angie's regular Retro Friday intro followed by my thoughts on "The Masqueraders", which I recently re-read.

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie @ Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be a favourite, an under the radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print etc.

Grade: 5 stars
Story summary: Two adventuring siblings on the run from their involvement in the Jacobite rebellion cross-dress in order to avoid detection. Then follows adventures! escapades! duels at midnight! love and romance! shenanigans!

Thoughts: This is one of my favourite Heyers, along with Cotillion, A Civil Contract, The Grand Sophy, and Friday's Child. And as with the rest, it surprised me how much I liked it. Romance (and Historical Romance) is not generally my "thing". But Heyer manages, with those five at least, to make it so fun and interesting that I actually rather love it. Cotillion and A Civil Contract because they are so unusual for Romances, The Grand Sophy because Sophy is indeed one of the Grandest things there is, and Friday's Child because I have rarely read a romp so innocent and fun and lovely.
With the The Masqueraders, my love is for the relationship between the brother and sister, Robin and Prudence. I love good, strong sibling relationships in fiction--there are FAR too few of them. And together these two dazzle and deceive the upper-class with their wit and consummate acting skills.

Really, it's just so darned fun. There are tons of stories out there with girls masquerading as boys (from Shakespeare to many a modern YA book), but rarely any with boys masquerading as girls. And usually if that does happen, it's because the male in question is particularly feminine in some way. But here, though both siblings are much better than normal at passing for the opposite sex, they truly shine as their own. Plus, did I mention the duels at midnight? And shenanigans?  And last but not least, Robin and Prudence's father. He. is. amazing. I think it would have been awesome to have a book about all three of them having adventures together before the events of this book.

One unfortunate downside is that it can be pretty darn confusing at the beginning, before everyone is revealed to be who they actually are. I know people who have stopped reading it right near the beginning because of this. But once you get past that, or once you're at the re-reading stage, it's alllll good.

P.S. Robin and Prudence are so awesome that they made it onto my list of Top Ten (Or So): Conmen.

Saturday, January 5, 2013


by Alethea Kontis

Grade: 2 1/2 or 3 stars
Story summary: Basically every single fairy tale you can think of mashed up into one story. Behind it all is the story of a girl named Sunday and her eccentric, magical family.

Thoughts: Rather a strange book. I must admit, I was never really sure what the heck was going on a lot of the time. And even by the end, I hadn't really figured everything out. What exactly was going on with the prince's cousin Velius? Is Sorrow evil or just mixed up or what? Why did all that weird stuff happen to the king again? I heard that Alethea Kontis wrote this for NaNoWriMo, or some other challenge of some sort, which was perhaps why she did the checking off of fairy tales thing.

There was a somewhat sweet romance, which was unusual in the fact that after the first few pages it was mostly settled and lacking tension. But that actually made it much more bearable for me (who tends to get rather annoyed at romances in books).

The characters were all really great though, especially the central family. I kind of wished it could have spent more time on them and less time on all the random fairy tale references. I could have used a whole other book just on Sunday's older sister Thursday, who ran off to marry the Pirate King. Saturday deserves her own adventure as well, we know next to nothing about Peter, and what was Monday's story exactly?