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review 2019-09-01 06:11
A Prince on Paper by Alyssa Cole
A Prince on Paper (Reluctant Royals #3) - Alyssa Cole

Although you could potentially start the series with this book and manage okay, I'd recommend that folks at least read A Princess in Theory, which introduces Nya Jerami, the main character of this book, and shows readers the events that resulted in Nya's father being put in prison. I skipped A Duke by Default, Book 2, which, from what I could tell, resulted in me missing out on the introduction of Johan von Braustein, the hero of this book, but didn't otherwise interfere with my ability to understand what was going on.

Okay, so this book stars Nya, a shy royal who's trying to break away from her father's lingering toxic influence. Living in New York City for a while hasn't really accomplished much - she dated a bit but still feels like her same awkward self. She's now heading back to Thesolo for Ledi and Prince Thabiso's wedding, only to find herself face-to-face with Johan von Braustein, the sexy, womanizing step-prince of Liechtienbourg, the same guy that the character in the royalty-themed otome game she's currently playing in based on. As she spends time with him, she gradually realizes that the person the media sees is very different from the person he actually is in private.

I'm trying to review this after having finished it a couple months ago, and it's dawning on me how much of the story was focused on Nya and Johan just getting to know each other and become comfortable with each other, because I'm looking over my notes I can't figure out what else, if anything to add to my summary. I mean, Johan was also dealing with a Liechtienbourgian referendum to abolish the monarchy, and there was a fake engagement between him and Nya. And also some stuff related to Johan's suddenly strained relationship with his younger sibling, who was the reason why he constantly got himself into the tabloids - if they were speculating about him and who he was with, they weren't focused on Lukas.

I'm a big fan of "shy heroine" romances, as well as flirty heroes who are secretly vulnerable and insecure. This book definitely worked for me on that level. It also helped that some of my own geekiness overlapped with Nya's. I loved the brief reference to a game that sounded very much like Hatoful Boyfriend, the best joke dating sim in existence. And the game Nya was currently playing, One True Prince, had gameplay that was very similar to one of my top favorite otome games, Mystic Messenger. Both games have real-time gameplay that requires players to answer phone calls, texts, and chats from the game characters at various times throughout the day and night - which resulted in some misunderstandings on Johan's part, as he mistook her frequent phone checking for signs that she had a secret lover (meanwhile, I cringed in anticipated embarrassment at the thought of how Johan might react once he found out she was actually "dating" a fictional version of himself).

I preferred the romance aspects of this book more than in the first book in the series, although I wish there hadn't been quite as much sex (the sex at the opera just made me roll my eyes). Johan and Nya were usually a pretty sweet couple. The book's nonromantic stuff, like the referendum, was dealt with more happily and easily than I could quite bring myself to believe, however.

If there was anything that might have prompted me to quit reading, it was the linguistic aspects. Johan occasionally used Liechtienbourgian words and phrases. It was clear that Liechtienbourgian was at least somewhat related to French and German, and some words and phrases, when plugged into Google Translate, registered as Luxembourgish. However, it used French and German words in ways that didn't fit or make sense, seemed to be doing weird things with Luxembourgish (I don't know that particular language myself, so I'm basing this off of Google Translate), and wasn't even always internally consistent. Some examples:

On page 30, Johan sends this message to Lukas: "Ça va, petite bruder?"

So we have something that looks like a mishmash of French and German and treats what looks like the German word for brother as though it were a feminine word.

Also, there were a couple instances of a phrase that looked like it was supposed to mean "good day" and seemed to mean that in context as well. However, this phrase was inconsistently written:

"Gudde jour" (46)

"Gutten jour" (117)

Unless they looked similar but meant different things - but again, the context indicated that they both likely meant something like "good day." When I tried plugging them into Google Translate out of curiosity, I was amused to learn that, in Luxembourgish, the first phrase apparently meant something like "good news," while the second one meant something like "boys are on duty."

Thankfully, I eventually either adjusted to the linguistic stuff enough to ignore it, or Cole gradually cut back on it.

The book included some LGBTQIA+ rep I wasn't expecting but thought was nice to see in a mainstream romance: Johan was bisexual, something I caught hints of early on in the book and that was unambiguously confirmed later on, and another character was nonbinary. Johan's bisexuality was worked into the text so smoothly that I found myself wondering whether homophobia and biphobia just didn't exist in this world. The stuff with the nonbinary character was a lot more heavy-handed, like when books introduce asexual characters with a chunk of unnatural-sounding "Asexuality 101" dialogue.

All in all, this was a nice entry in the Reluctant Royals series. I liked Johan and Nya as a couple more than Thabiso and Ledi, although this book's story was a lot weaker than the overall story in A Princess in Theory. I'm looking forward to reading more of this series, but I still have zero desire to go back and read A Duke by Default. I'm guessing that Sanyu and Shanti will be getting a book soon. They seemed miserable in this book, so it'd be nice to see them either fix their marriage or end up happily married to other people, if that's what Cole has planned instead.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2019-08-25 03:30
My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!, Vol. 2 by Satoru Yamaguchi, illustrations by Nami Hidaka, translated by Shirley Yeung
My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!, Vol. 2 (light novel) - Satoru Yamaguchi,Nami Hidaka,Shirley Yeung

This volume covers, I'm pretty sure, Katarina's entire first year at the Academy of Magic, which is also the entirety of the otome game that Katarina played when she was a 17-year-old girl living in our world. She finally meets Maria Campbell, the commoner who can use Light magic, who happens to be the otome game's protagonist, and is convinced that Jeord, Alan, Keith, and/or Nicol will fall in love with her. After all, Maria's so sweet, beautiful, and kind, who wouldn't fall in love with her? Katarina is so focused on avoiding Maria-related Catastrophic Bad Ends that she doesn't notice some disturbing and possibly deadly developments at the school.

I had figured that Yamaguchi would milk the humor surrounding the mismatch between Katarina and the other characters' POVs for all it was worth, so it was surprising when this volume took a more serious and poignant turn. I was also surprised that the Catastrophic Bad Ends storyline was wrapped up so quickly - two volumes and that's it. I assume that the next few volumes either start a new story arc of some kind (focused on what?) or read like unnecessary filler. I'll hope for the former but expect it will be the latter.

At any rate, after finishing the first book, I was wary that this one would follow the same pattern of having a scene from Katarina's POV and then showing everything a second time from someone else's POV. Although Volume 2 still switched between Katarina's POV and others', the repetitiveness was drastically reduced - Yamaguchi made slightly more effective use of the new POVs and instead focused more on flashbacks to important times in those characters' lives.

The first POV switch was a shock, revealing something that caused me to question the series' setup and everything that was going on. Yamaguchi then did absolutely nothing with that massive revelation until close to the end of the book. It felt a bit like cheating on the author's part, even though it tied in with Katarina's past life in our world, the Fortune Lover game, and the book's friendship theme.

I liked the friendship that developed between Maria and Katarina and the effect it had on Maria's relationship with her mother. And the "hidden character" storyline was interesting and unexpected. Still, I missed seeing Katarina interact with the characters from the first volume. They were definitely there, but they didn't feature as prominently as I had hoped. That said, I loved Katarina's conclusions about her "Friendship Ending" - otome games in general could use more emotionally satisfying Friendship Endings that aren't treated like another sort of Bad Ending.

The writing/translation, while less repetitive and less riddled with typos, was still pretty bad. I was glad to only see one instance of the word "abode," but its status as most popular word in the translation was taken by the word "snack." Surely a more specific word, like "cookie" or "cake" or "tart," could have been used occasionally. By the end of the book, I could feel myself suffering from bad writing fatigue, so rather than starting the third book right away, I'm opting to take a break from the series for a bit.

This second volume wasn't quite what I expected (or, honestly, what I wanted), but it did wrap up the Catastrophic Bad Ends storyline pretty nicely, and I'm very much looking forward to reading the manga adaptation of this part of the story, considering how much of an improvement the first volume of the manga was over the source material. I expect I'll be reading Volume 3 in the near future, once I've had a little time to recover, but I'll be approaching it with some trepidation. How will the series continue when the main storyline has already been concluded?

Extras:

  • Side Story: She Who is Dearest to Me - A Jeord POV story focused on a particularly harrowing portion of the story, although with some lighter bits at the beginning and end. It felt a bit fan service-y, complete with one of those cliched "character using their own mouth to give an unconscious character a drink" scenes. Still, it had some of the character interactions I missed and had wanted to see more of.
  • An afterword written by the author. Apparently, this book was published only two months after the first, which could explain the issues with the writing.
  • Bonus Editor's Column - Aimee Zink writes about "katakana nightmares," the problems involved with translating katakana (Japanese syllabary that is used for non-Japanese words) into English. My favorite example was Sirius Dieke, whose name could easily have been Serious Dick (I admit, this possibility occurred to me even before I made it to this bonus section).
  • Several black-and-white illustrations.
  • A cute color illustration.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2019-06-24 02:17
Accomplishments of the Duke's Daughter (manga, vol. 1) story by Reia, art by Suki Umemiya, translation by Angela Liu
Accomplishments of the Duke's Daughter, Vol. 1 - Michael Reia,Angela Liu,Suki Umemiya

The series' unnamed heroine is a young (youngish? one of her coworkers calls her ma'am) office worker at a tax firm who stayed up all night playing her favorite otome game. She has to work late and, on her way home, doesn't pay close enough attention to her surroundings and gets hit by a car. She wakes up in the body of Iris, the villain of her favorite otome, in the middle of a climactic scene that she knows will result in her banishment to a convent. She alters Iris's original choices just enough to prevent this from happening and is instead sent away to the family's fiefdom. Her father (Iris's father) develops a sudden progressive streak and makes her, rather than her older brother, the acting fief lord.

Iris is accompanied by her four most faithful servants, people she once rescued from terrible lives and fates. Her first goal is to inspect the various regions on the fiefdom, particularly the most and least prosperous cities.

I picked the first few volumes of this series up because I actually wanted to read a different series but couldn't. More specifically: There is a glut of "transported to another world" light novels starring ordinary guys, so when I heard that My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! existed and starred an otome-loving female main character who ends up reincarnated as the villain in her favorite otome, I really wanted to read it. It's currently available in e-book form, but I'd need to break my "no DRM" rule to get it, which I refuse to do. I thought it was coming out in paper form in August, but that may just be the manga adaptation.

So I bought a few volumes of this manga series, which also stars an otome-loving female main character who ends up in the body of the villain in her favorite otome, and which I believe was also based on a light novel series. I have no idea how the two series compare. I suppose I'll find out, eventually. If this isekai light novel/manga glut continues, I hope that it leads to the licensing of more series starring women. Crossing my fingers that they don't all star women being reborn into the bodies of the villains in their favorite otome games.

Anyway, this first volume of Accomplishments of the Duke's Daughter was...okay. The artwork was reasonably attractive but seemed to be a bit light on backgrounds. As for the story, there was nothing particularly bad about it, but also nothing particularly good or noteworthy.

I liked that it seemed to be part of the subgenre I call "economic fantasy" - at the moment, there's more emphasis on Iris learning the economic conditions of her new home than on Iris's love life. Which isn't to say that romance won't happen. I'd be surprised if it didn't, considering the series' premise, even if the heroine was reborn as the villain and not the protagonist.

Two of the four servants closest to Iris have gotten flashbacks to the time prior to their becoming part of Iris's household. I assume the others will get flashbacks soon enough. Right now my favorite of the four is Tanya, whose backstory makes me think of Kaoru Mori's Emma. If I had to pair Iris off with anyone at this point, it'd probably be Tanya, although I doubt the series is going to go in that direction.

So far, at least, the "reincarnated in an otome game" elements are so light as to almost be unnecessary. The heroine's past as an office worker at a tax firm allowed her to plow through large stacks of financial documents far more quickly than the real Iris would have been able to do, and her knowledge of the game helped her prevent Iris from getting sent to the nunnery. But the series could just as easily have been basic fantasy starring a heroine who secretly studied economics and accounting in the hope of one day getting to use that knowledge to help her family and her people. I have no idea if Reia plans to do more with the series' premise (either the otome game aspects or the things the heroine knows because of her real world life), or if it was only intended to get the ball rolling and smooth over anything that readers might have otherwise questioned Iris knowing.

I don't have too much to say right now about Iris's plans for the fiefdom. Well, I did roll my eyes a bit at Iris's discovery of potential source of income for one region. It struck me as demonstrating a colonial mentality. The locals used the product but viewed it as worthless to anyone but themselves, resulting in Iris being the first one ever to consider how to market it to others? Sure, uh huh.

I own the first three volume of this series, which I figured would give me more than enough time to figure out whether it's worth sticking with or not. It hasn't yet managed to win me over, but I don't regret having a couple more volumes in my collection to read.

Extras:

"Womanly Secrets" by Reia, a 5-page short story in which Iris's female servants try to set up a girls' day out but find themselves missing Iris. I found it to be a bit much. Also, it emphasized that Iris doesn't actually feel like an otome game villain - everyone loves her so much. It's tough to believe that the original Iris ever bullied the protagonist, even just out of jealousy, and there's no sign that any of the characters even vaguely suspect that the gentle and studious Iris they're speaking to now isn't the Iris they knew a week ago.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2016-11-25 18:50
Alice in the Country of Clover: Twin Lovers (manga) by QuinRose, art by Kei Shichiri, translated by Angela Liu
Alice in the Country of Clover: Twin Lovers - QuinRose,Kei Shichiri

In the Country of Hearts, Alice thought of Dee and Dum as rambunctious little brothers. In the Country of Clover, however, they spend most of their time in their adult forms, and Alice is confused and embarrassed by her budding feelings for them. She's also worried that, at some point, they'll want her to choose between them. She likes them both equally and doesn't know how she could possibly do that.

The twins are fairly low on my list of favorite lover interests for Alice, for a lot of reasons. One, I'm not a fan of relationships involving a main character and twins – it comes too close to twincest, which I also dislike. Two, the twins are gleefully violent. Yes, a lot of the Wonderland guys are violent, but they don't all revel in that violence quite as much as the twins. And three, the twins are usually very child-like, even in their adult forms. I'd argue that it's actually a little worse in their adult forms, because the disconnect between their appearance and their behavior is so jarring.

As in The March Hare's Revolution, Alice once again finds herself saddled with love interests who say threatening things that are supposed to be romantic. At one point, one of the twins says “If you leave us, big sis, we might do something bad.” Of course, they're likely to do “something bad” whether she leaves them or not, because killing random people who try to enter the Hatter Mansion is their job.

Alice's internal conflicts about being attracted to the twins apparently weren't enough, so the story included Dee and Dum competing for Alice's love. It was a little odd, since, despite Alice's worries about having to choose between them, the twins themselves had previously seemed perfectly fine with sharing Alice. Their effort to get the best gift for Alice was still amusing, however, and worked out pretty much the way I expected.

This would probably have worked better for me if it had been more about friendship/family-building than romance, since that would have significantly reduced the squick factor. Parts of the story were actually pretty sweet. The artwork was also good, although I noticed that Shichiri's interpretation of Vivaldi was a little different.

 

Rating Note:

 

Why did The March Hare's Revolution only get 2 stars while this got 3? No idea. I just like the twins more than Elliot, I guess. They can be a fun pair sometimes, whereas with Elliot it's just him and his carrots and his extreme loyalty to Blood.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2016-11-25 16:20
Alice in the Country of Clover: The March Hare's Revolution (manga) story by QuinRose, art by Ryo Kazuki, translated by Angela Liu
Alice in the Country of Clover: The March Hare's Revolution - QuinRose,Ryo Kazuki

In this Alice in the Country of Clover one-shot, Alice finds herself torn between dreams of home, in which her sister is disappointed in her for staying in Wonderland, and her budding feelings for Elliot. On the one hand, the violence Elliot is capable of when carrying out his work for the Hatter family scares her. On the other hand, she loves the side of him that's protective, goofy, and sweet. She doesn't know if he feels the same for her or if he's like her tutor back in the real world, just humoring her.

Elliot has always been pretty low on my list of favorite love interests for Alice, and this volume didn't change my mind. Her attraction to him in the franchise seems to mostly be based on her fascination with his rabbit ears. His personality, ranging from childish and joyful when with Alice and cold-blooded when working for Blood, has never really appealed to me. For some reason, even Dee and Dum, who are the most similar in personality to Elliot, appeal to me more.

There were a few lines I didn't like. For example, at one point Elliot told Alice: “Look. I'm not telling you to fall in love with me. But if you tell me you've fallen for some other guy, I might kill him.” Um...that's not romantic. Alice also described Elliot as "Violence mixed with aching sweetness." Blergh.

Alice's dreams of her sister hint at some of the things that were better-covered in other volumes in the franchise. This volume never revealed what it was that Alice had forgotten, something that might disappoint some readers. If I remember correctly, other volumes indicated that

Alice's older sister had probably died. By retreating to Wonderland, Alice also retreated from her memories of her sister's funeral.

(spoiler show)


All in all, this was mediocre. It glorified some of the franchise's problematic elements a bit too much for my tastes, but beyond that it was more forgettable than anything, adding absolutely nothing to the mystery of Alice's past. I did at least like Ryo Kazuki's art, however.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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