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review 2020-06-09 06:33
Six Cats a Slayin' (audiobook) by Miranda James, read by Erin Bennett
Six Cats a Slayin' (Cat in the Stacks Mystery) - Miranda James
Charlie has an uncomfortably flirtatious new neighbor, Gerry, who seems interested in buying up homes in the area. When she invites him to her big Christmas party, he decides to go in order to be polite but makes sure to take Helen Louise, his girlfriend, with him. Both of them are shocked when the party ends with Gerry's death, quite likely due to poison.
 
Kanesha's in charge of the investigation, and Charlie does his best to stay in her good graces by keeping his nose out of it. Mostly. It helps that he has a lot on his plate. His daughter-in-law is running herself ragged trying to take care of her new baby and might land herself in the hospital soon if she doesn't accept help. Also, in addition to Diesel, Charlie now has five mystery kittens to take care of. Someone, quite possibly a scared child, left them on his doorstep, and he's determined to find out who it was and see if they can be reunited.
 
Content warning for this book:
Transphobia, although not on the part of the main character or any of his friends.
(spoiler show)
 
The only other book I've read in this series was the first one. I normally like to read series in order when I can, but this was the only audiobook in this series that my library owned, so I figured I'd give it a shot. Honestly, skipping eight books wasn't too much of an issue. I could tell character relationships had changed: Kanesha has softened towards Charlie, Charlie now had a girlfriend, and his relationship with his son was better. There was even a part where Charlie thought back to what his life was like at the beginning of the series, so if there were any gaps in my memories of him and his relationships, they were filled in pretty neatly.
 
I read the paper version of the first book, so this was my first audiobook experience with the series. Bennett was a good cozy mystery narrator, but maybe not the best choice for this particular series, which features a first person male POV. Most of the secondary characters are female, so maybe that was a factor, but I still think a male narrator would have been better.
 
Anyway, now for the story itself. Oddly enough, the primary mystery seemed to be the kittens and the identity of the person who dropped them off. The murder was more secondary - although Charlie chatted with friends about it and did a little bit of research, he did mostly stay out of it, and as a result, most of the resolution happened off-page. While it was certainly a tragic story, I found it to be a bit weak.
 
The kitten storyline, on the other hand, was nice. Diesel got multiple opportunities to act as their adorable giant babysitter, and Charlie tried to resist being charmed by Ramses, the only one of the bunch with a distinct personality. I enjoyed Charlie's efforts to figure out who left the kittens, and the whole thing was resolved in a very warm and fuzzy way.
 
All in all, this made for a decent listen. I wish my library owned more audiobooks in this series, although thankfully I do own a used copy of Book 8 that I haven't read yet.
 
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)
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review 2020-05-23 18:03
Ascendance of a Bookworm: I'll Do Anything to Become a Librarian!: Part 1: Daughter of a Soldier, Vol. 1 (book) by Miya Kazuki, illustrated by You Shiina, translated by quof
Ascendance of a Bookworm: Part 1 Vol. 1 - Miya Kazuki,Karuho Shiina,quof

Urano is a Japanese college graduate who's absolutely obsessed with books and reading. Both she and her mom are thrilled when she gets a job at a library, but before she even has a chance to start, an earthquake causes Urano's book collection to fall on her and kill her. She wakes up in the body of a sickly 5-year-old child named Myne.

Although Myne's memories tell her that she loves her parents and older sister and they love her back, it's a little difficult for her to connect with them emotionally, since they feel mostly like strangers to her. Still, she tries to adjust to her life as best as possible, arranging things so that both she and her new family's cleanliness is improved and trying to make something resembling Japanese food without any of the proper ingredients, not even rice. The thing that's hardest for her to take, however, is the complete lack of books. The nobility can afford books, but poor commoners like her own family can't. Rather than succumb to despair, however, Myne/Urano (who I will refer to as Myne from here on out, although the real Myne is technically dead) decides that she will somehow make her own books.

As is the case with many, many recent light novels, I like the idea behind this series more than its execution. In the afterword, the author says they (I think the author is female, but I'm not 100% sure) refused to abridge Part 1 into a single volume, which I think was a mistake. I wish Japanese light novel publishers/editors were a bit firmer with their authors - far too many light novels are filled with self-indulgent bloat, and Ascendance of a Bookworm is no exception.

As I learned with My Next Life as a Villainess, though, I can be more forgiving of problems in light novels if aspects of them overlap with my interests. In this instance, the book got points for having a book-loving heroine, and the self-indulgent bloat was mostly focused on Myne's efforts at bookmaking. I was interested to see what she'd come up with next and how she'd manage it, considering that it took her weeks just to work up the strength to walk to the forest on her own.

But was it really necessary to go into that much detail on several of Myne's attempts to make something paper- or book-like? Probably not. Same with Myne's various food-making, cleanliness, and personal hygiene efforts. Literally every idea Myne had involved a long, multi-step process to figure out if this world even had the supplies she needed, if those supplies were accessible in some way to commoners, and then how to get those supplies and use them, considering that Myne's body was so weak that overexerting herself could result in being bedridden with a fever for multiple days.

Myne won me over at the very beginning due to her love of books. She was the sort of person who'd find a way to read whenever she could, and she didn't care about anything except making sure she continued to have access to books and reading time. It didn't bother her if other people thought she was odd. However, this single-minded focus eventually began to wear on me. For one thing, in a world like the one she ended up in, it made Myne seem immensely selfish. Her family was literally dirt poor, and she kept asking for things with barely a thought as to whether they could afford them or spare the time to get them. For another, she'd occasionally have tantrums more appropriate to her physical age than supposed mental age when things didn't go her way. Honestly, Tuuli, Myne's 6 or 7 year old sister, usually came across as more mature than Myne, whose mind was supposedly that of a college graduate.

Like many recent light novels, this was unfortunately written primarily in the first person. The author knew enough about POV to realize that different first person narrators would have different sets of knowledge (there were a couple bonus stories written from a couple non-Myne POVs), but not enough to create truly distinct voices (or maybe that was a translation issue?). Also, as with other J-Novel Club books I've read, there were several typos that really should have been caught before this made it to print - a sentence with really odd comma usage, a stray "1" at the end of a sentence, incorrect words like "first" instead of "fist," etc.

Despite my issues with this book, I'm glad I have the next one and can continue on. The end of the volume introduced a few characters and a shift in the storyline that I'm very interested in seeing play out. Although I'm sure that Myne will continue to be more focused on books than anything else, it looks like the series may add some economic aspects, similar to Spice & Wolf and Accomplishments of the Duke's Daughter. And since that may mean more appearances by one of my favorite characters in this book, a traveling merchant turned soldier named Otto (whose level of devotion to his wife makes him this series' version of Maes Hughes), I'm looking forward to it even more.

I really wish this had been the more tightly written novel it could have been, but so far this is decent.

Extras:

A folded page with full-color illustrations on both sides, black-and-white illustrations throughout, a map of the portion of the town Myne has access to, a drawing of Myne's family's home, and two bonus short stories, one from Lutz's POV and one prequel from Urano's friend Shuu's POV.

 

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

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review 2020-03-08 01:17
A Man and His Cat (manga, vol. 1) by Umi Sakurai, translated by Taylor Engel
A Man and His Cat, Vol. 1 - Machiko Sakurai,Taylor Engel

Fuyuki Kanda is a widowed music teacher who decides to buy a homely one-year-old cat at a pet store. The cat, who he names Fukumaru, is worried that his new owner will take him back or abandon him, but luckily for him, Mr. Kanda adores him.

This series is sweet, gentle, and warm, and I absolutely love it. I found out about it via a review on The Manga Critic, and then I kept coming across it via other sources until I finally broke down and bought it. I'm so glad I did.

This had some of the usual things you'll find in cat manga: a newbie cat owner who has to learn some of the basics, shopping for supplies at the pet store, and kitty antics, like scratching on things they're not supposed to, being goofy, and inadvertently making a mess. However, this first volume was as much about Kanda as it was about Fukumaru, and watching these two lonely characters love each other, become accustomed to each other, and form a little family together was a treat.

There were flashbacks for both Fukumaru and Kanda. Fukumaru's showed him as a kitten - remembering his mother and gradually realizing that no one wanted him. Kanda's showed him and his wife, and what their lives had been like over the years. They'd intended to get a cat together but never got around to it. They had children, and readers haven't yet been given enough information to know whether they just live too far away to regularly visit or whether Kanda's estranged from them. At any rate, he lived alone, and it was apparent that both the cat and the man had become a little depressed before they came into each other's lives.

A few other character POVs popped up here and there: Kobayashi, Kanda's dog-loving childhood friend, Yoshiharu Moriyama, one of Kanda's energetic young coworkers, and Miss Sato, the pet store employee who assisted Kanda. They all provided different views of Kanda and/or Fukumaru, which I appreciated. For example, Moriyama saw Kanda as the epitome of cool elegance and idolized him, while Kobayashi knew the loneliness his friend had been going through and appreciated the joy that Fukumaru added to Kanda's life, even if he didn't personally understand what Kanda saw in Fukumaru.

I loved the artwork. Fukumaru's cartoonish looks were initially a bit odd, but I got used to it. And oof, Kanda. It was easy to believe that his younger male coworker would idolize him and younger female coworkers would crush on him a bit.

I absolutely plan on preordering the next volume. I'm looking forward to seeing Fukumaru and Kanda make each other happy, and I'm interested to see what Sakurai plans on doing with this series.

Extras:

A couple pages of full-color artwork and a full-color four-panel comic, as well as a one-page comic-style afterword by the author.

 

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

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review 2020-01-04 21:25
Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) by L.C. Rosen
Jack of Hearts (and other parts) - Lev A.C. Rosen

Content warning for stalking, victim blaming, homophobia, suicidal thoughts, on-page drug use and drinking, and graphic discussions of sex.

Jack is a gay teen who likes casual sex and isn't interested in being in a committed relationship. Maybe one day - he isn't completely ruling it out - but definitely not right now. While he enjoys having sex, he doesn't enjoy people gossiping about his sex life, and for some reason his sex life is a hot topic among the gossips at school. When his friend Jenna suggests that he write a sex advice column for her personal blog, he reluctantly agrees. Maybe if he works in some true stories about his sex life, the rumors about stuff he's never done will go away. And the posts will be semi-anonymous, written by "Jack of Hearts," so there's no way some future college or employer will google him and see them.

For the most part, the advice column goes surprisingly well, but things take a turn for the worse in his private life. Someone keeps putting notes in his locker. At first they look like love notes, but as time goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that Jack has a stalker.

I got an ARC of this at a conference a while back and only just now got around to reading it. The book came out in October 2018, so that gives you an idea of how long I've had it. It looked good, but I was a little afraid it'd have more sex in it than I wanted to deal with. Now that I've read it, I can say that, yes, the advice columns were extremely explicit and did mention, in graphic detail, some of Jack's past sexual experiences as context for whatever advice he was giving. However, even though Jack has sex multiple times in the story, there were no on-page sex scenes. I appreciated that. The advice columns were one thing, but first person present tense on-page sex scenes, especially in a YA novel, would have felt voyeuristic and gross.

Okay, I'll start with the good. I thought that most of the advice columns were well-done. I could imagine the topics and explicitness crossing lines for some folks - I, personally, thought that the last one about roleplay and BDSM would have been more appropriate in a book aimed at adults than teens - but for the most part I liked the way the topics were handled, with an emphasis on communication and consent. There was even one column addressing the fears of a letter writer who was probably asexual, as well as a column that discussed the fetishizing of gay men by straight women.

I liked Jack reasonably well, even if he occasionally made me want to scream in frustration, and I thought his friend Ben was an utter sweetheart. Although most of the prominent characters in this book were very much into sex, usually casual sex, I liked that there was an effort to say "it's okay for teens to not want to have sex, or to want to wait until they meet the right person or feel like it's the right time." And the story's pacing was good and definitely kept me hooked.

However, here's where I get into the things I wasn't as wild about. The stalking plot had several moments that made me incandescently angry. Yes, I understand that there were teens who would not want to tell anyone if they were being stalked, who, like Jack, would want to just wait and see if the problem would go away on its own. And yes, I understand that there are horrible adults out there who'd react like Jack's principal and not do anything particularly helpful. However, it just kept going on and on and becoming more and more awful. The message the book was communicating boiled down to "there's nothing that could possibly be done to make your situation any better, no one will help you, and even the people who try to help you won't be able to accomplish anything." It did resolve in a positive way, but it felt like a stroke of luck on Jack's part, and even then it almost didn't work out. Things got so bad that I was worried the book was going to end in Jack's suicide.

Jack was so frustrating. Every time one of his friends suggested going to someone for help, he trotted out reasons why that wouldn't do any good or just plain said no. No cops, no telling his mom. Considering the principal's reaction when he was first alerted to the problem, I could understand, but as the notes got darker and more threatening, I had a harder time seeing why he wouldn't try again, with a different adult. His mom would have been perfect, but no, he didn't want to worry her. Jack and his mom often felt more like roommates whose paths occasionally crossed than like parent and child. Giving your son space to grow and figure himself out is one thing, but Jack's mom didn't seem to have any rules beyond "don't get blackout drunk and make sure you practice safe sex." And what good was having a "cool" mom, anyway, if Jack still didn't feel comfortable enough to tell her that a stalker was blackmailing him and making his life hell?

The high school experience depicted in this book was more like what I see in movies than what I remember of my own high school life. It seemed like everyone was having huge parties, drinking, smoking pot, and having sex. Yeah, there were mentions of kids who wanted to take it slower, like Ben, and that asexual letter writer, but the bulk of this was just...are there really people out there whose high school experience is like this?

And while I do think it's good that sex positive YA books exist, there were certain things in this one that crossed the line. For example, there were multiple instances where Jack admitted that he'd used Grindr to find partners, that he'd lied about his age, and that at least one or two of his partners were probably adult men who didn't realize that he was still a minor. The problems with this were never addressed. Honestly, the "hooking up with older men via Grindr" stuff could have been cut from the book without hurting anything - Jack had zero problems finding people his own age to hook up with via parties.

Anyway, it was a quick read, but I definitely had issues with it and am not really sure I enjoyed it. I could see the advice columns being helpful to some readers, though.

 

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

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review 2018-08-12 23:31
To Terminator, With Love by Wes Kennedy
To Terminator, With Love - Wes Kennedy

Dexter Wu isn't a terribly social guy. He's a grad student whose life currently revolves around his big project, a robot named HAL that's supposed to be able to read stories to children. He has one close friend, Sandhya, who's about to move back to India. He's trying not to let that fact utterly wreck him, but it's hard. He's tired, stressed out about finals and HAL, and...suddenly in a confusing and terrifying amount of danger.

According to a powerful device owned by a shadowy group known as the Agency, HAL is going to destroy the world. Dexter's work on it must be stopped at all costs. The Agency's people don't normally try to kill their targets, but for some reason protocol is being broken this time around, and Dexter's running for his life. Luckily he has one agent on his side, Andre Jackson.

I bought this because it was listed as sci-fi with an asexual main character and its description sounded decent. The title and relatively vague description made me think that HAL would be prominent and that there would be time travel. This turned out not to be the case. There were a few brief Terminator references, but the nature of the Agency's secret device meant that it had more in common with Minority Report.

Sci-fi and fantasy pop culture references were all over the place. The one I enjoyed the most had to do with Dexter's efforts to figure out his role in this action story he'd suddenly been plopped into:

"Because he wasn't Neville Longbottom. He wasn't even Jar Jar Binks; he was Leeroy fucking Jenkins." (76%)

It's the kind of line that's fun if you know who Dexter's referring to but that would be completely incomprehensible to every one else. As it was, I had to google the Leeroy Jenkins reference - I'd heard the name before but that was it. The text is peppered with this sort of thing. I mostly liked it, but I could see it being annoying and exhausting for anyone who doesn't have the right pop culture background.

I was a bit iffy about the asexual rep. While it was nice that there was zero drama and nastiness over Dexter being ace, it felt really weird that he and Andre didn't talk about it at all beyond a brief mention. The two of them started making out, Dexter paused things to tell Andre that he was asexual and that he enjoyed kissing but wasn't interested in having sex, Andre calmly accepted this, and they never talked about it again. Granted, I'm not sure if they could be considered a couple since the story only takes place over a couple weeks, but it ended with Dexter hoping they could keep in touch and continue their relationship. I don't know.

In the end, I wanted to like this more than I actually did. Andre and Dexter were adorably geeky together, and the humor was decent. Unfortunately, the story was so-so, Andre and Dexter's relationship didn't really work for me, and I was disappointed that HAL was ultimately unimportant, little more than another one of the story's many SFF references.

 

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

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