Madness Treads Lightly

Author: Polina Dashkova

Translator: Marian Schwartz

My rating: 4 of 5

When Mitya Sinitsyn is found hanged in his apartment, nearly everyone seems to arrive at the obvious conclusion that he committed suicide. But considering how strongly his wife denies the possibility of such a thing happening, family friend and journalist Lena Polyanskaya begins to pick at the threads of his death . . . and finds the obvious begin to unravel before her. The clues she discovers begin leading her on a dangerous trail going back fourteen years to a trip she, Mitya, and his sister Olga took as young professionals together. Because somehow, something that happened on that trip was significant in a way she never realized–if she can only figure it out before she ends up dead because of it.

Madness Treads Lightly is the first Russian psychological thriller/crime novel I’ve ever read. Actually, it’s one of only a few Russian novels I’ve read, period. I should probably remedy that. In any case, this was a worthwhile read, one that would likely be enjoyed by most people who enjoy crime novels in general. Plotwise, you’ve got an interesting story–not really a mystery, since it becomes pretty clear what happened and who committed the crimes. But it’s intriguing to watch Lena go all amateur detective while still being at heart a mom and a journalist–an ordinary woman, not some insanely skilled crime fighter or anything. There’s a lot going on, and a number of interlocking plot threads to follow, but it all comes together quite well. I honestly found the native look at everyday Russian culture and society in the 1990’s to be nearly as interesting as the actual plot, though. Things like the way capitalism and crime were interconnected, foods that were common, polite social customs, etc. are fascinating to see displayed in such a way that they’re clearly just a normal, unremarkable part of the characters lives. But Russian naming conventions, though; I still don’t understand. . . . One more thing of note is that, although I would certainly consider this a thriller of sorts, it has a pacing that wouldn’t fit with the typical Western conception of that genre. It’s more of a slow, steady unfolding of one plot element after another, which sounds kind of dull when I say it, but it actually fits the story and works. Recommended.

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Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja (2012-2015 Cartoon)

Titmouse, Inc. & Boulder Media Limited with Disney XD

Status: Complete (50 episodes)

My rating: 4 of 5

For 800 years, an evil sorcerer has been imprisoned beneath the town of Norrisville, prevented from escaping and destroying the world by the equally ancient ninja . . . or so the town’s citizens believe. In actuality, a new ninja is chosen every four years from among the students attending the high school that is now built over the site of the sorcerer’s imprisonment. Randy Cunningham–high-school freshman and ultimate Ninja fanboy–finds this out to his surprise when he is chosen to become the new ninja. Now, with the help (okay, mostly sarcasm from the sidelines) of his best friend Howard Weinerman, Randy must protect his school and town from not only evil monsters created by the sorcerer (because, really, that would be too easy), but also from rampaging robots created by his new archnemesis Hannibal McFist (or, well, his assistant Viceroy) who has allied himself with the sorcerer because he was promised–wait for it–a superpower of his own if they win. So yeah, Randy’s got his hands a bit full, but he’s determined to make the most of his high-school days regardless . . . even if it means maybe misusing his ninja powers just a bit.

Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja is one of those shows that I’ve seen recommended for people who like shows like Danny Phantom, Miraculous Ladybug, and American Dragon: Jake Long–you know, teen superheroes, secret identities, that sort of thing. I put off even trying it for a good while. I mean, you can tell just from the episode titles that it’s more of a shounen story on the grosser side of things–bad puns, fart jokes, and general derpiness seem to be the norm. And I’m not going to like, that’s totally a major part of this cartoon, but in spite of that I’m so glad I actually gave it a try. It took me a few episodes to get into it, but this series definitely grew on me. Mostly, I love it for the great characters. Randy and Howard have a ton of personality (even if it’s a nerdy, derpy personality), and they tend to defy expectations, which is fun to watch. Howard honestly kind of annoys me, and a lot of times I feel like he’s not a good friend for Randy. But then, he goes and proves just how wrong I am. Like, these two have some serious bromance going on. And Randy starts off seeming like just some nerdy goofball who’s barely going to wing it through to graduation, much less actually be a hero. Actually, he stays that way a lot of times, misusing his powers and influence or completely misreading the (admittedly cryptic) advice of the “Ninjanomicon,” a book of ancient ninja wisdom passed down with the ninja abilities. But then, Randy will figure out that he’s made a mistake and will be surprisingly intense about making things right. My point is, these two are actually interesting characters that really make the series so much more fun than it seems like it would be at first glance. Also, tying into the good characters, the voice acting for this series is phenomenal–so much better than I’m used to seeing with a lot of cartoons. Ben Schwartz’s work with Randy’s voice in particular is quite subtle, but in general, all the voice acting is well done. The art style is kind of weirdly angular and stylized, but it suits. Likewise, the episodes generally fall into a pattern of monster/robot/other problem showing up, Ninjanomicon giving cryptic advise, Randy ignoring said advice, big epic fight, things going generally to pieces, Randy finally figuring out advice and taking it, dorky ending; it’s weird but it suits the series and is surprisingly enjoyable, and there’s enough variety within the predictable pattern that it doesn’t get boring. Also, the series doesn’t drag on forever and lose interest, which was smart I think. Overall, although it doesn’t seem at the surface like a series I would particularly like,  I found Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja to be a lot of fun, and I would recommend it.

Created by Jed Elinoff & Scott Thomas/Directed by Mike Milo, Shaun Cashman, Joshua Taback, & Chuckles Austen/Starring Ben Schwartz, Andrew Caldwell, Tim Curry, Ben Cross, John DiMaggio, & Kevin Michael Richardson

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EXPIRED | Deal Alert: Manga to Anime Humble Bundle

If anyone’s interested, Humble Bundle is currently offering a nice selection of Kodansha manga (for manga that have been adapted into anime at some point). Titles include Cells at Work!Domestic GirlfriendFire ForceVinland Saga, and Attack on Titan, among others. A nice feature of this particular bundle is that most titles offer a good few volumes of the series, not just a sampler volume or two. There’s also an exclusive digital artbook available as part of this bundle. If you’re interested, you can find out more here.

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Moonstruck, vol. 2: Some Enchanted Evening (Graphic Novel)

Author: Grace Ellis

Illustrator: Shae Beagle

Moonstruck, vol. 2

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Werewolf barista and (secretly) aspiring author Julie and her friends score an invitation to a fairy frat party. It’s one of the hottest parties of the year–literally. The entire frat house is bespelled to be a little piece of summer in the midst of Blitheton winter. Fortunately, Julie’s girlfriend Selena is smart enough to keep their entire group from eating or drinking anything. Julie’s friends, the idiot band that the run into at the party . . . not so much. Two of the band members manage to get themselves stuck in the frat house, unable to leave unless the entire band performs at the fraternity’s next party–which would be a lot easier if Mark would get his scrawny vampire butt back to the fraternity instead of refusing to go anywhere near. Naturally, because they’re way too accommodating, Julie, Selena, Chet, and Manuel somehow find themselves trying to sort this all out, only to find themselves caught in a bigger plot–a party war between two separate fairy fraternities. As if they didn’t have enough drama and complications to sort out between themselves already!

I really love the cute fluffiness of this graphic novel series. If you’re in the mood for epic, intricate plots and high stakes, this isn’t really the story you should be picking up. But if you want sweet relationships where the characters are trying to make it work, even as they deal with real struggles like trust issues, then Moonstruck is perfect. Of if you love casual urban fantasy, where all sorts of magical/supernatural beings live normal lives playing computer games, working in coffee shops, playing in bands, and hanging out with friends. Some Enchanted Evening does a good job of showing the growing relationships between this group of friends while providing some solid humor (Mark is an idiot–the whole band are idiots–and Chet’s whole Newpals thing is ridiculous but also amusing). Again, the plot isn’t so much a high-stakes, intense thing, although it does push the characters to deal with some of their issues, which is nice to see. It really does seem like it’s setting us up for something major in the next volume or two, though, especially Cass’s ominous and untold visions being thrown into the mix. The art is consistently super-cute–lots of pastels and fun extras thrown into the background. Recommended.

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My Life as a Broken Bungee Cord

Author: Bill Myers

The Incredible Worlds of Wally McDoogle, vol. 3

My rating: 3 of 5

Wally and his pals Wall Street and Opera get the chance to take a trip out to visit Wall Street’s older brother . . . which would be super cool and fun, except for the fact that her brother has forsworn the faith of his family and chosen a lifestyle that his family definitely doesn’t approve of. Which makes the whole trip just a bit AWKWARD. And of course, any given day isn’t complete without Wally’s notorious clumsiness and dorkiness getting him into some kind of trouble. So, naturally, when you expose him to great stuff like hot air balloon races, mad bulls, and the great outdoors, disaster is bound to strike. But somewhere in the midst of all the craziness, Wally and his friends may just find out what trusting God is really all about.

As I’ve mentioned before, this is a classic series that I’ve loved since I was a kid, and My Life as a Broken Bungee Cord definitely continues the trends of the first two volumes of the series. You’ve got a hilarious, slapstick story that’s just good fun but that has distinctive spiritual and moral undertones that are fleshed out through the experiences the characters go through. Plus, the tone of writing in Wally’s voice is just too funny. I think this particular volume isn’t my favorite just because there’s too much of a dichotomy. I mean, in this series, there’s always that contrast between the humor and the actual point the author’s trying to make. But in this book, between the arguments Wall Street’s family have and the weight of the whole turning away from the faith thing, it just gets pretty dark (for a light-hearted middle-grade story, I mean), and it just doesn’t seem to fit–or rather, the slapstick seems an awkward fit in comparison. Still, My Life as a Broken Bungee Cord is definitely a good Christian middle-grade story that I would recommend.

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Living Dead in Dallas

Author: Charlaine Harris

Sookie Stackhouse, vol. 2

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience

Things in Sookie’s life had never been easy, what with her unwelcome gift/curse/whatever of telepathy, but they had definitely taken a turn for the stranger and more complicated once she started dating Bill, a vampire. Although the reprieve his presence gave her mind, what with being unable to read his, well . . . it certainly hadn’t been all bad, not by far. But Sookie’s life shows an extreme run of bad luck as she finds a coworker dead in the parking lot, gets summoned to Dallas to conduct telepathic interrogations, gets kidnapped, is attacked by a maenad, and fights with Bill. Not that she’s about to let all that stop her from investigating her friend’s murder and seeing justice done.

I found Living Dead in Dallas to be a solid follow-up to the first volume in the series, Dead Until Dark. It builds well upon the groundwork that was laid in the first book, developing Sookie and Bill’s relationship, getting Sookie further embroiled in vampire Eric’s schemes, and bringing some new mysteries and dangerous elements to add to the overall intensity of the story. The author does well keeping that small-town Southern girl vibe going, even when Sookie is dumped in the big city of Dallas and expected to manage. We get some solid character development in this volume as well–you’ve got a self-educated, smart woman who is very brave and has strong convictions . . . yet who is also remarkably brittle at times. She’s an interesting character. The story itself is kind of all over the place, but in a way that actually ties together eventually. There’s enough going on to keep things engaging, and the pacing is good. Other than a fair warning that this is definitely an adult book, I would generally recommend Living Dead in Dallas, especially to paranormal romance and mystery lovers.

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The Secret Identity of John Watson (Sherlock Fanfic)

Author: scifigrl47

FanFiction ID: 7968683

Status: Complete (3 chapters)

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Sam’s friends always tell her that she has the worst taste in men. But her newest boyfriend, Dr. John Watson, may be the worst so far. Or maybe the best. She’s not quite sure what to make of him, actually. When she first met him at her job as a bank clerk, he seemed so nice and normal. He still seems nice–polite, compassionate, competent. But he’s competent in the strangest situations. Like, normal people wouldn’t know how to respond in these situations, right? Sam certainly doesn’t, and ever since she’s met John Watson, she seems to keep getting dragged into stranger and stranger situations. And that’s not even taking into account all the people (who apparently know John far better than she does) who keep warning her away from him. Or the tall, dark, and creepy stalker who seems to be following John around everywhere.

I really love scifigrl47’s Sherlock stories in general. They’re well written, have a great sense of humor, and show a thorough and insightful understanding of the characters. The Secret Identity of John Watson in particular is an interesting case because it’s told entirely from an outsider point of view. And it proves a point that the author makes in the story notes quite brilliantly–the lives of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, to anyone not in the know, can only appear horrifying and bizarre. The brilliant thing is how this story makes the point. Sam and her friends are great characters–relatable and human and a great foil for the nearly superhuman existences that are Sherlock and John. And their theories on who John Watson is just keep growing more and more hilariously out there the longer they go. The whole thing is really quite funny. There’s some cute romance here too, although the humor element is certainly a greater focus. Fair warning for those of you who don’t care for OCs: this story is majorly focused on an OC and her relationship with Dr. Watson and Sherlock. Personally, I love outsider POV stories; they provide some great insights into characters that we often have grown too close to for us to see clearly anymore. And The Secret Identity of John Watson does just that to great effect and with great amusement. Recommended.

Note: You can find The Secret Identity of John Watson at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/7968683/1/The-Secret-Identity-of-John-Watson.

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