Tag Archives: 3.5★

As the Last I May Know (Short Story)

Author: S. L. Huang

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Ten-year-old Nyma stands as the last line of defense preventing her country from doing the unthinkable and wiping out entire cities full of innocents in the name of victory . . . a fate her own country experienced years ago. In fact, her own order was established in reaction to the horrors they experienced then. It’s something she believes in, a fate she willingly agreed to . . . but that doesn’t mean she isn’t terrified, trapped and manipulated between opposing parties, never knowing which day will be her last.

First off, I must say that I had no idea what this story was about when I picked it up; I probably wouldn’t have chosen something this dark intentionally right now. But Huang’s writing in The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist was good, so. . . . I guess I should have been prepared, considering the dark ending of the aforementioned story. As the Last I May Know is first and foremost an anti-war story focusing in on the high costs in innocent lives, the costs no one can calculate or determine in advance. I had to read some similar stuff years ago for school, but it’s been a long time since I’ve read something so directly focused on that particular subject. It’s pretty dark, and the way the story’s written, quite disturbing. It’s supposed to be. But Huang gives this story layers, creating a sympathetic protagonist in Nyma. She’s determined and his strong convictions. She’s young and scared. She writes poetry and watches the peach blossoms falling. In spite of the darkness, I enjoyed reading her voice, which just makes the context even more dark and disturbing. This was a good, if pointed, story; perhaps more recommended to read in a more cheerful, less worried time, but still worth reading.

Note: You can read this story for free at https://www.tor.com/2019/10/23/as-the-last-i-may-know-s-l-huang/.

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The Alchemist Who Survived Now Dreams of a Quiet City Life, Vol. 1 (Light Novel)

Author: Usata Nonohara

My rating: 3.5 of 5

In what seems to her to be only a short sleep, young alchemist Mariela finds herself 200 years in the future. You see, she put herself in a state of suspended animation in order to survive a huge monster stampede, but something went wrong and she slept waaaay longer than she was supposed to. Upon waking, Mariela finds that the world around her has changed significantly; the monster stampede destroyed a lot of the town where she lived, alchemy is no longer commonly practiced in the area, and the potions that she once was barely able to subsist by selling are now a premium item. Only, she’s going to have to be careful and keep her abilities secret from all but a select few if she wants to settle into a quiet, everyday life like she wants to.

The Alchemist Who Survived Now Dreams of a Quiet City Life is a mostly tranquil seinen slice-of-life fantasy light novel. I enjoyed its easygoing pace, the fairly extensive worldbuilding, and the “just ordinary folks” characters that grace its pages. There’s definitely a lot of focus on (what is for Mariela) the mundane–gathering ingredients, going shopping, making business deals, meeting people, making potions. I can see that being boring for some people, but I found the placid pace to be relaxing. There were, however, a few things that I didn’t love about this story. For one (and this is quite possibly just me), I found it a bit hard to get into the story right at the start. Also, the author tends to repeat certain bits of worldbuilding information when concepts crop up in different chapters, making me tend to think the sections may have been originally published separately. In any case, it can get mildly repetitive. Additionally, while Mariela’s perspective in the most common (and best, in my opinion), the author does throw other characters’ perspectives in, sometimes seemingly at random, and it’s sometimes hard to tell where one stops and the other starts. My final issue with this story is that slavery is a part of this world, so much so that characters we’re clearly intended to see as “good people” are actively a part of the slave trade. And that just morally bothers me, even though the author builds up excuses like the only slaves are really bad criminals and such. It still gets under my skin. Still, on the whole, I enjoyed this story–enough so that I went ahead and picked up the second volume to start right away, so. . . . Recommended for fantasy lovers who enjoy a quieter-paced, slice-of-life sort of story.

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Campfire Cooking in Another World with My Absurd Skill, vol. 1 (Light Novel)

Author: Ren Eguchi

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Mukouda was perfectly happy enjoying a quiet life in Japan with convenient food delivery right to his door and fun web novels to read on his weekends off work. But somehow, he got accidentally caught up in a hero summoning to another world . . . only, his stats are waaaay weaker than the others who got summoned, plus the kingdom that did the summoning is incredibly sketchy seeming to him. So, since he can’t go home, he decides it’s time to set off into this new world on his own. Turns out, his summoned stats may not make him a hero, but they do come in pretty handy–especially the random ability to order food and other supplies from the same online market he used back home, which are not only delicious but, when consumed in this world, also have cool and unexpected stat benefits!

In one sense, Campfire Cooking in Another World with My Absurd Skill is your typical isekai light novel, and yeah, there are so many of those around now that it’s kind of getting boring. But in another sense, it’s rather unique, which gives it a certain appeal. Like, the main character comes into the story fully aware of what’s happening–he’s actually read enough web novels about this sort of thing happening that he’s just like “nope” and runs off to do his own thing. Mukouda is an amusing combination of lazy and clever, such that he uses what he has–his online market skill, his ability to cook, his connections with others, whatever–to make his life more reasonable, guarantee his safety, and even turn a profit. A lot of the story is just him cooking and interacting with others about food, so if you’re not into that, you’ll likely find this pretty boring, although there’s definitely fantasy monsters, magic, fights and other isekai tropes here as well. But yeah, a lot of the stuff he makes even comes with paragraphs that are basically recipes describing how to make the thing. On the whole, it’s a very casually paced, easygoing sort of story, nice for when you’re looking for something relaxed. Other than the cooking stuff (which some folks may like and others not, obviously), the only big complaint I had was that there are so many unusual ways for depicting communication that it got kind of tangled and confusing at times–one specific character gets bold font, thoughts get another, telepathic communication gets another, oracles from a goddess another, plus with normal communication the speaker is sometimes only indicated in parentheses at the end of the statement. It’s a little annoying, but I got used to it as I read more. Generally, I would recommend Campfire Cooking in Another World with My Absurd Skill if you enjoy casual isekai stories and don’t mind the excessive focus on cooking; it’s actually a pretty fun story.

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Laddertop (Graphic Novel)

Authors: Orson Scott Card & Emily Janice Card

Illustrator: Honoel A. Ibardolaza

Status: Incomplete (One 2-volume Omnibus)

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Years ago, a benevolent alien race came to earth, bestowed technology on the people of the planet, and left. Most obvious and vital, they left four towers to space, called Ladders. However, there are some who doubt their good intentions. Whatever the case, there are parts of these Ladders that require maintenance that only children are small enough to perform, and the opportunity to go up and be a part of the work being done in the Ladders is something that the best and brightest students vie against each other for. Among those students, are two best friends–Robbi and Azure–whose destinies will take them to vastly disparate places yet will ultimately draw them to the same mysteries.

I enjoy Orson Scott Card’s writing in general, and I enjoyed Laddertop, but I should point out right from the start that this graphic novel is notably different from much of his writing. Namely, it’s actually appropriate for a middle-grade audience (although it would be enjoyable for older readers as well); I’m guessing that’s the influence of his daughter, Emily Janice Card. There are definitely themes that track with his other writing though–kids getting dragged into space and mixed into stuff way more dangerous than they should at that age, just for instance. The art is a cute, almost manga-like style that works well for the story. The plot of this graphic novel starts out fairly sedate, with fun friendships, school tests, and the typical jockeying for position between kids. But as things get going and we actually follow our characters into space, we begin to see all sorts of plots and mysteries developing, plus some fun and cute friendships (or maybe more?) between characters. It gets quite interesting, which leads to the major downside of this story . . . it’s incomplete. Just where the story is really getting intense, we get dropped at a cliffhanger ending, and it’s been long enough since the original publication (2013 for the omnibus) that I really don’t think we’re getting anymore, which is just sad. I would have enjoyed seeing where the rest of the story went. Still, if you don’t mind the cliffhanger, what we do get of Laddertop is cute, mysterious, and engaging science fiction.

Note: Also, the space robot monkeys are adorable. 🙂

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The Best Girls (Short Story)

Author: Min Jin Lee

My rating: 3.5 of 5

In 1980’s South Korea, a young girl has spent her entire life being told in a million ways that girls are simply not as important as boys. That her family’s hopes are all in her new baby brother. That she and the three younger sisters she’s responsible for will never be good enough, even if they excel. So when her already poor family’s fortunes take an unexpected turn for the worse, she makes a horrific decision in order to be the dutiful daughter her family needs.

Although extremely short, “The Best Girls” packs quite a punch. Since this is part of the “Disorder” collection of stories, I immediately expected some sort of horror story and was surprised to find instead a Korean family drama. It tells of a family making do in the face of poverty, one that preaches (perhaps, one can hope, unwittingly) an extremely patriarchal worldview in its every action. And it tells of a smart, dutiful young girl who has been immersed in this mindset from her earliest childhood. So perhaps we should take it as a warning that kids pay attention to what’s happening around them and draw their own conclusions. In any case, this girl makes a choice that is shocking . . . and yet kind of makes a terrible sense considering her background. It’s pretty horrifying and super sad. I enjoyed the writing, even if it was quite different from a lot of what I have read, and I would be interested in trying more of the author’s work.

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Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea (Graphic Novel)

Author/Illustrator: Ben Clanton

Narwhal and Jelly, vol. 1

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Narwhal wanders into unknown waters and meets Jelly–who may or may not be imaginary, but who is definitely a good friend. Together, they do cool stuff like eat waffles (yum!) and make a pod of friends. And even though misunderstandings may sometimes lead to conflict between them, they’re the sort of friends who work things out together and still have lots of fun.

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea is an weird but adorable graphic novel for younger readers (I would say early elementary, primarily) featuring two super-cute sea pals. It is extremely random and whimsical at times (okay, most all the time), but in a way that’s fun and relatable . . . although it’s still a bit too random for me to be wholly on board with it. I can see it being a really fun read for kids, though. Plus, it includes some fun sea-animal facts and features some helpful conflict-resolution skills–something kids in the primary intended readership definitely need to be exposed to. The art is appealingly simple, although the random (again) photographs of waffles and strawberries throw off the vibe a bit . . . or maybe they make the vibe. I don’t know. A bit weird for my taste, but cute and fun. Recommended for early elementary readers.

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Loam (Novella)

Author: Scott Heim

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Three siblings travel back to a hometown they’d left far in the past, glad to forget it except in nightmares. They’re going to bury their father and handle his estate. But before they even get into town, they find themselves confronted with horrors from their childhood and with the guilt of what they had done all those years ago.

Loam is one of those stories that starts out reading like some slice-of-life family-drama sort of thing–relatively innocent and safe for the most part. But as the story proceeds and the author starts unpacking the skeletons in this particular family’s closet, the horror element begins building gradually, atmospherically, until by the time you get to their childhood home, you’re ready for something horrific to jump out at you. Nothing ever does quite jump out, which is almost worse, leaving a slimy feeling that it might at any time. The ending is kind of like that, too–open-ended enough that we don’t know if the horror is actually over or not. I’ve heard some people complain that the story “just ends abruptly,” but I liked the way it left things open for interpretation rather than tying everything up nearly, which I honestly think might have killed the story. Also of note, the author does a fabulous job of giving us a lot of backstory early on, so we’ve got context, without making it an info-dump. There’s a lot of detail woven seamlessly into the story in such a way that it’s just picked up on without even realizing it sometimes. The author also employs an interesting use of flashbacks mixed with the main storyline to give us more information and build the tension. The use of potentially faulty memories adds an interesting sense of uncertainty to the atmosphere as well. I will say that Loam feels like a story that would generally fit better in a short story collection than as a standalone novella, but it was still an enjoyable, eerie read.

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The Color of Magic

Author: Terry Pratchett

Discworld, vol. 1; Rincewind, vol. 1

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Welcome to the Discworld–a world quite unlike our own, in fact, a great flat disc spinning on the back of a giant space turtle. A world where the gods occasionally intervene (for their own amusement), where eight is a dangerous number, and where magic has its own color (octarine, in case you were wondering). Observe, if you will, Rincewind–a failed wizard who really would like to come out of this whole situation alive–and his companion, Twoflower, a the very first tourist in the Discworld–and a daft one to boot. Oh, and of course, the walking luggage that’s tailing Twoflower around, ready to eat anyone who isn’t nice to him. Somehow, these individuals manage to embark on a rollicking adventure (that Rincewind could have done very well without, thank-you-very-much) across the Discworld, inches from death (or, in Rincewind’s case, Death himself) at nearly every turn.

I’ve generally found Terry Pratchett’s writing to be quite enjoyable–very smart and funny or intense and insightful. In this particular case, it tends more to the absurd and clever. This is my first time dabbling in the (admittedly intimidating) Discworld universe. It actually took me a few tries to get into this story, and even at that, it wasn’t one that I could sit down and consume quickly. But I’m glad that I made myself keep reading; definitely worth it in the end, and I look forward to trying more of the series. Right off, you can tell that there’s some impressive worldbuilding going on here–granted, an absurd and logically impossible world, but that’s kind of the point. There’s a lot of cleverness that goes into the world, the word-building, the ridiculous situations that occur. I admit, sometimes it does feel like the author’s so caught up in his own cleverness that the reader gets a bit lost in the shuffle, which is probably part of why I had a hard time getting into the book at the start. The Color of Magic is definitely more world-building and adventure focused than it is character focused, but I did find Rincewind’s character to be interesting; he was definitely growing on me by the end, enough that I would like to read the rest of his sub-series at the very least. Recommended, especially for those who enjoy a touch of absurd humor and sardonic wittiness.

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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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