Monday, May 30, 2011

The Kane Chronicles #2: The Throne of Fire By Rick Riordan

Ever since Carter and Sadie Kane found out that the world of Egyptian Gods and Egyptian magic was real, they have been focussing on a last-ditch effort to beat back the forces of Chaos and save the world from dissolution. Now, Sadie and Carter are focussing on retrieving the Book of Ra. But it won't be that easy. Even now that they have students learning their own brand of Egyptian magic under the tutelage of Sadie and Carter, their uncle Amos is recuperating with the rest of the Egyptian magicians in Cairo after the events of the Red Pyramid, the first book in the series.

Carter and Sadie are convinced that the Book of Ra will lead them to victory and allow them to triumph over the forces of Chaos and save the earth and all the people on it. But when they go after the Book, they discover that the book has been sundered into three pieces, and each piece is well-guarded, both by magic and magical guardians, like a Griffin. But after they have retrieved the first part of the book, Sadie calls for a well-earned rest. Her birthday is tomorrow, and she's taking off from the search for the book to go to London and spend time with her friends.

Carter is upset with her, but he decides to let her do what he wants while he gets on with business. Unfortunately for them both, the forces of Chaos aren't going to let Sadie off the hook, even on her birthday, and she ends up in a confrontation with two minor Gods so that Carter and one of their students, an amulet-maker named Walt, must rescue Sadie with the help of another Egyptian minor God, Bes, the God of Dwarves. He can also help them get the next piece of the book, which is located in Russia. But that piece is guarded by the Russian magicians, and they are not going to let, Carter, Sadie and Walt just waltz out with the Scroll. The Keeper of the Scroll, Vlad Menshikov, apparently once wanted to bring Ra back as well. But by using only one part of the scroll, it caused massive burns to him inside and out, leaving him heavily scarred and with a raspy voice.

Now, however, he just wants revenge on the God whose scroll disfigured him, and he is working with Apophis to destroy the world. When the three young magicians appear to take his scroll, he summons actual demons to try and kill them, and Carter is forced to release the Red-Headed God, Set, to help them escape. Set may be bad, but at least he doesn't want to destroy the world like Apophis does. However, during their escape, Carter is bitten by a two-headed snake whose venom will soon kill him, and Sadie bargains with Set to help them by giving him back her knowledge of his secret name. Set agrees, and Sadie uses Carter's secret name to heal him.

In addition, Set gives Carter and Sadie a gift- the true location of Zia, the girl who Carter fell in love with in Red Pyramid, the first book in the series. At the end of that book, it was revealed that the girl he fell for was actually a Shabti, a servant made of clay who was linked to the real Zia by magic. Carter is desperate to revive the real Zia, and so he and Bes go to where she is buried beneath the Red Sands of her home village, while Sadie and Walt end up going after the third piece of the scroll, buried amidst a tomb of Roman mummies. When the mummies attack, Walt, who Sadie has come to like and feel something for, tells her that he is dying. Those of his family are fated to die young, because his family descends from Akhenaten, who was cursed by the Priests of Amun-Ra. So even though his using magic makes his curse happen more quickly, he does like Sadie and wishes he could be with her longer. They are saved by Ptah, the God of the World, and manage to retrieve the last piece of the Book.

Meanwhile, Carter and Bes manage to find where Zia is buried beneath the waters of the Nile. But she is not happy that Carter uses mouth-to-mouth to revive her, and he finds that she was buried with the rod and flail of Kingship. But they are attacked by Vlad and Desjardins, the current Lector of the Egyptian magicians. Vlad has convinced Desjardins that Sadie and Carter are trying to bring about the end of the earth, and while Desjardins doesn't seem to completely believe it, he still dislikes the two, so has no problem attacking them. Carter, Zia and Bes manage to escape and make their way to Cairo where they meet Sadie and Walt. While they are there, Carter spends some time with Zia and manages to make her at least end up liking him.

But when a Ba dream tells them that the Brooklyn house is under attack, Walt and Zia leave to help, leaving Carter and Sadie to try and save Ra alone. But they will have to discover the location of the God and resurrect his sun Barque, then travel the length of the Underworld in twelve hours, as Ra once did on his journeys through the Underworld. But can Carter and Sadie accomplish all those things, and even if they do, will Ra's sanity and mind return so that he can lead his fellow Gods into battle against the forces of Apophis and the chaos-snake itself? Or should Horus lead the fight and Sadie and Carter forget about Ra? What is the right choice, and what are the consequences of being wrong? And can Carter make the right choice for the battle to come?

Well, this was certainly an eventful novel! So much happened, and even though it's a thick book, the amount of story that goes on in the book was rather amazing, as the characters travel from Brooklyn to London, Russia, Egypt and the underworld itself in search of Ra. Ra is a powerful God, but when Isis made him step down from his job to install his son Horus in his place, Ra lost much of his mental power and went senile. But even if he is returned to his former position as the head of the Gods, can it reverse the inevitable mental transformation that took place when Isis stripped him of his power and Kingship?

I personally, hoped it would happen, but suspected it wouldn't. Ra's senile ramblings actually do make a bit of sense at the end, but wouyld you trust a senile God to lead the rest of the Gods in battle? Horus tries to convince Carter to abandon his plan and let Horus lead the Gods, but Apophis is such a threat that Carter doesn't know if the Power and Might of Horus will be enough. And this time they have allies. Not just Zia and Walt and Bast, but Bes himself joins Carter and Sadie on their journey. But can even Gods survive the trip through the underworld, and the destruction of their mental faculties?

And yet again, we find the Egyptian magicians fighting on the wrong side of the battle, and against Carter and Sadie. Though they manage to end the problem of Vlad Menshikov, they also lose an unexpected ally, and the new lector of the magicians may not be able to support them as fully as he likes because of the perception that the Kanes want to take over the Magicians and pervert them to the will of the Kanes, whose motives are suspect. This was a taut, suspenseful and well-plotted book that made the story exciting and almost real.

Rick Riordan's books are one of the best series for kids I have ever read. And the fact that he's writing these while also extending and filling out the Percy Jackson series is amazing and I would find it hard to write two such series, about two so very different pantheons, simultaneously. If you haven't checked out these books and this author, do so now. You will not be disappointed in any way. Highly recommended for all ages who love a cracking good adventure story. Read them now.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Devil at Midnight by Emma Holly

Grace Gladwell is a happy young teenager on a date with the handsome Johnny Dorsey. Their date is over, but Johnny wants to kiss her. Grace is happy, but reluctant- her father doesn't want her to do anything, but she lets herself be persuaded- only to meet her father's fist when she comes in the door. He hits her so hard that he knocks her into the fireplace, so hard that she bleeds from the head. While her father accuses her of faking, her mother screams at him for taking away her daughter.

Soon, Grace finds herself in another place, where a man she thinks is an angel (he calls himself a "Guide") tells her that she has someone she meets up with again and again. Grace wants to see this boy, and then we meet Christian. Christian is a mercenary raised by his father, a hot-tempered, violent man who is also a mercenary. He leads a band of men from their home in Lac Lemán. But he is a terrible and brutal man, taking out his rages on his own men, and even more often, on his own son.

He's so terrible that some of his men have pulled away from him to follow Christian instead. But when Christian's dog ruins his father's hunt, Christian's attempt to save the dog earns him a flogging- which he takes without complaint. This makes his father happy, but unsettles him at the same time, wondering what Christian will do when his father grows weak. For this reason, his father is of two minds about his son. He wants him strong and ruthless, but not so ruthless that Christian will seek to do away with him. But at the same time, he is disappointed that Christian doesn't do exactly that, so that he can beat Christian down while his son is still weaker, and have Christian as a devoted follower forever.

But that isn't going to happen. When Christian meets Grace, he at first thinks she is a malicious ghost sent to torment him, but she is soon able to make him feel differently. Christian soon comes to have feelings for Grace, and then to fall for her, hard. But he must keep Grace's presence a secret, for people will think him mad if he goes around talking to the air.

But Christian's father isn't the only one with designs on his son. Nim Wei, in the guise of a traveling minstrel, meets Christian and thinks he would make a fine Upyr, but he is devoted to Grace and won't even give her a second glance. To try and persuade the young man into seeing things her way, she hires him and his father, and their men, to be her bodyguards on a trip to Italy. Since Christian is determined to be faithful to Grace, his angel, he won't respond to her advances, and her attempts to try and control him mentally are rebuffed by the mere Presence of Grace. But when Christian's father divines her intent towards his son, to have him. Gregori looks at the effects of her sleeping with Christian's men, which has made them temporarily stronger and brought out conflicts between them, and bargains with her for the same for his own men- in exchange for turning Christian over to her for her use.

And when Grace disappears and his father's men kill his own men, who happen to be Christian's close friends, what will Christian, in his rage and despair, be forced into? How far will he go for revenge on his own father, and will he lose his soul in the process?

This is the prequel to a book I had previously read, Angel at Dawn, and even though it came out before Angel, I read it second, not realizing that Angel was a sequel book. As it is, it feels a bit unfinished at the end of the story. Grace and Christian don't have any kind of happily ever after, and the book ends on a rather downer note. And if you've read the Angel at Dawn review, or even the back of the book in the bookstore, you are going to know the ending to this book without me having to spoil it for you.

This book is wonderful at keeping up tension throughout the story. The conflict between Christian and his father is well done, with Christian wanting to be a dutiful son, but only up to a point, as he is waiting for his father to step down so he can still be a mercenary, but a less cruel and brutal one than his father is, and more honorable as well. It's significant that the mercenaries on his side are all around his own age, and those who support his father are all older as well. It's a very effective generational conflict on both sides, but even then, his father can't win against his son without cheating, And the brutality of his friend's deaths shows just how cruel and brutal his father is.

Aside from the downer ending, Christian survives the machinations of his father, and we know, from the Guide that Grace talks to that she and Christian will meet again. But when and where that is, that's the mystery in the book- which comes about in the sequel, Angel at Dawn. This is prime Emma Holly, hot lovemaking and really good story, all wrapped up with supernatural elements from the Upyr. Recommended.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Tiger's Curse by Colleen Houck

Kelsey Hayes is a girl with a sad history. Her parents were killed back in a car crash when she was only a freshman in School. Now graduated, she is living with a foster family and trying to find a job for the summer. When the placement officer asks if she likes animals, she says yes, and finds herself becoming the live-in animal carer for the Maurizio family traveling circus, especially their white tiger performer, Ren, who acts almost tame around her. And when his owner, an Indian man named Mr. Kadam, sees how well Ren likes her, he offers to let Kelsey come along to India, where Ren will be returning to in just a few days time, all expenses paid.

But Ren and Mr. Kadam have a vested interest in Kelsey making the trip to India, because Ren is not just a tiger- he's an Indian Prince imprisoned long ago in a tiger form by a magician named Lokesh. And Kelsey and Ren must go on a quest through India, led by the Goddess Durga, to bring him back to human form-permanently. This isn't without danger, either for Kelsey or Ren, and the two of them may be alone for weeks at a time in the jungle.

Kelsey finds the whole idea rather strange, but if Ren is an actual person, she can't just leave him alone in a tiger form for the rest of his life- she has to help him. And truth be told, she is finding the human form of Ren, which she gets to see in small bits and pieces at night for about an hour at a time, strangely fascinating. And while Ren appears to be falling for her just as hard, she is troubled by sights of a tiger who is a black tiger, the mirror opposite of Ren, who seems to have his own reason for wanting Kelsey to come over to his side, and who turns out to be his brother, Kishan, imprisoned in Tiger form the same way that Ren was, but Kishan wants Kelsey as his own, and in between fighting immortal sea-monsters and bloodthirsty monkeys, he pursues Kelsey with a steadiness that might bode ill for Kelsey and Ren's success.

Is Kishan on the side of his brother, or is he on the side of Lokesh? Or is he only serving himself by playing Lokesh and Ren and Kelsey against each other? And can Kelsey trust his answers if she dares to ask him for the truth? And will her story have a happy ending with Ren? Can a normal girl from America find happiness with an Indian Prince who was turned into a tiger three hundred years ago?

I enjoyed this book, it presented a fairly normal girl who gets tapped to try and break the curse on an Indian Prince. In a way, it kind of has shades of "Twilight" in it, but Kelsey is older than Bella Swan, and isn't nearly so helpless on her own. It has a bit of the same sort of wish-fulfillment aspects in falling in love with someone who is way, way out of your league, but Kelsey can definitely stand on her own, and makes friends because she is able to keep her head and land on her feet.

Tension is set up by the fight against the strange culture of India itself, the appearances of Ren's brother Kishan, and the various supernatural creatures that Kelsey and Ren must fight against, befriend, or whatever, and Lokesh, whose shadow overlays the entire story. But the secondary characters are wonderful as well, like Mister Kadam, who is Ren's owner/protector, but used to be his father's vizier.

I loved this book. I liked how Kelsey could take care of herself, that she didn't kick herself for stuff that happened outside her control. She got dragged into this situation, but she doesn't let that make her upset- she actually takes on the responsibility for helping Ren and helping him become human again rather than having it thrust upon her- she claims back agency for herself and becomes a stronger character for it. Highly recommended.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Angel at Dawn by Emma Holly

In the late 50's and early 60's, Nim Wei, a female Upyr, decided to go into filmmaking, specifically in Hollywood. To make her film a success, she needs the help of one of her children, an Upyr named Christian Durand, who she made back in the Renaissance. But Christian isn't happy about being made a vampire/Upyr. He only did it to avenge his men who his father killed. Back then, he was a mercenary, the son of a mercenary as well, and his father wanted Christian to follow in his footsteps, but at the same time, he never wanted to be supplanted by his son.

Now, Christian lives on his own on a ranch he owns in Texas. Nim Wei doesn't want Christian to turn her down, so she brings her assistant, Grace, to try to convince Christian to come to Hollywood and make a movie with her. Christian finds himself attracted to Grace, for she reminds him of another Grace, a woman who came to him like a ghost when he was human and who was supposed to save him. Save him from what, she had no idea, but when she suddenly disappeared, he fell into Nim Wei's clutches, and he saw that as her abandoning him. Ever since, he's held a grudge against that Grace, who suddenly abandoned him when he needed her love and support the most.

But, finding himself attracted to Grace, he finally agrees to make the film just to be near her. He travels to Hollywood with his ranch foreman, a man named Roy. He knows that Grace has actually done most of the writing on the film he is to make, and to be honest, the thought of having her at his beck and call is not an unpleasant one. But he also knows she is almost exactly the same as the woman he thought of as his angel, and when she appears not to know him, he wonders if she is lying about not knowing him and not remembering what happened. The longer he is around her, though, the more he finds himself being able to forget that she left him in the past, and just enjoying their relationship in the here and now.

But there are troubles on the film that have nothing to do with Christian and Nim Wei (now known as Naomi) being vampires. Or does it? Someone is trying to kill the film by killing the young actors who are taking part in it, and Christian, being one of them, is also under attack. Who is it trying to kill him off, and do they know anything about vampires, or is it just someone who doesn't want the film to be made, for some reason? And when the killer targets Grace, can he keep the woman he is beginning to love again safe, or will her possible death drive him back down into the pit of self-hatred and despair it took him centuries to crawl out of the first time? And will Grace ever remember meeting this young man that she loves, and why did she leave him that first time?

I have to admit, that at the time I read this book, I hadn't read the one before it, which was a prequel to this one. So all I knew was what the story told me about the two characters and how they met- not much. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, because this book can stand on its own. I never felt like I was missing much simply because I hadn't read the prequel book. This story fiowed and worked on its own even as Christian remembered and pined for the love he had lost.

Grace, too, is her own person, almost completely self-made. The child of an abusive father (whose last rampage put her in the hospital near death and which was the cause of her spirit going back to meet Christian in the first place), she left home soon after she recovered and worked to make it on her own before she was tapped by Naomi Wei to be her assistant. Grace is somewhat flummoxed by her attraction to Christian, and although she can't remember meeting him, sometimes she feels like she should know him, and they have to work together to protect the film from those who would bring it down while they rediscover their love for each other.

At the end, when she accepts who and what Christian is, and she explains why she wasn't able to return to him, the explanation made me smile happily, as did their rekindled love. I really enjoyed reading this book. The story captured and held my interest, from how Christian was able to deal with the restrictions of filming, right up to the end, when the film was premiered in front of the cast and crew, and I loved the happy ending with Grace. I will definitely read more by this author and in this series. It's just too good not to. Highly recommended.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Art of Dale Chihuly by Timothy Anglin Burgard

Dale Chihuly is the foremost glass artist of the modern day, with glass installations that have been seen around the world. Some of his more famous works include a bunch of blown glass chandeliers that were installed in Venice that looked like giant, feathery confections rather than glass. But from the very beginnings of his art career, Dale Chihuly has done a lot more than just followed the crowd when it came to artistic inspiration. He's set trends himself, and always moved on to new directions and new inspirations that make the rest of the world sit up and take notice.

This book is part biography and part art book, following the life and career of Dale Chihuly through his first beginnings with glasswork, which he attempted after living on a Kibbutz in Israel. Returning to college after his time away, he submitted as an artist, a woven wallhanging which incorporated several pieces of glass, turning it from a textile into something more like a stained glass window. And blowing that glass awoke something inside him that said this was the path to follow.

There were several more workings with glass, like one which reproduced a butcher shop with everything, including the sides of meat hanging, were all made of glass. There followed another exhibit produced in collaboration with another artist, James Carpenter, known as "20,000 pounds of ice and neon", where neon tubes were inserted into ice, which slowly melted away over ten days, showing the ephemeral nature of art, and mocking the museums that attempted to preserve it long after the original artist was dead.

Another of their collaborations was "Glass Forest", where Chihuly blew glass that was allowed to run like water, creating long tubes that almost looked organic as they were allowed to cool. From there, Chihuly was off on explorations on everything from Native American pots and blankets, to explorations of light, color and the sorts of aquatic forms that dominate his work today. Today, even though he is in his seventies, he is still creating, although some say that because he no longer blows or creates his work alone by hand (his depth perception is gone since losing an eye) means that his works can no longer strictly can be called "his". Instead, other glassblowers work under his direction, something he calls "Studio-style" glasswork.

The rest of the book is taken up with large color plates of his most famous works, symphonies in glass of light, color and form. Every piece is interesting and colorful and beautiful, allowing us a long look into the mind and sensibilities of the artist.

This book, frankly, blew my mind when it came to glass art. Most glass is done to be utilitarian, whether it is for a drinking glass or something like a vase. But Dale Chihuly's art is in a class by itself when it comes to making you feel something or just to be astonished by the many different colors and shapes hiding in his work.

I was especially impressed with the section called "Millefiori". Millefiori is a type of Italian glass whose name means "A thousand flowers", and usually consists of flower-shaped spots of color in a clear glass globe or other form. But Chihuly's millefiori actually *is* glass flowers, amidst other shapes and objects, each one vibrant with color, and yet all the colors and shapes form a harmonious whole that I couldn't stop looking at. It was amazing.

Each color plate demands looking at over and over, and you can spend longer absorbing the pictures than the words of the biography from the first part of the book. This book is a delight for the eyes, and now I want to see these works of art with my own eyes, a feeling which will probably be evoked for every reader of this book. Stunning, fascinating, and highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Black Butler, Volume 5 by Yana Toboso

Sebastian Michaelis is the Butler to Ciel, the young Earl of Phantomhive. He basically runs the house and tells the staff what to do. In fact, Sebastian does his job so well because he isn't strictly human, but a demon, a demon that Ciel has created a bargain with. If Sebastian keeps Ciel safe until the young Earl can find and bring to justice those who killed his parents, Ciel will let Sebastian take his soul. But in the process, Sebastian must sometimes take on the impossible, like now.

Ciel is being visited by an Indian Prince,Soma Asman Kadar, who has brought his servant, Agni, a man with the Hand of God to serve him. But Agni has left to work for Harold West, a man who wants his own company to receive a patent to make curries from the Queen. Having the Royal Patent would assure his company of success, but Agni challenges Sebastian to compete in this curry-making competition. With only a few days to prepare, can Sebastian's dish out-do a man who not only comes from India, but who is an expert at making curries?

Sebastian turns his hand at everything to do with making curries, from the cooking to the blending of spices and selection of ingredients, but when he recreates Agni's Curry that is the Prince's favorite, can he improve it enough to make it something distinctive and make it his own? And during the competition, can Sebastian win over the judges when he faces not only Agni, but two other professional chefs? And when it seems that neither competitor may win over the other, will the appearance of Queen Victoria hand victory to one of the two cooks?

And when the Prince finally finds the girl he came to England to find, will he find the ending he wanted, or will he have his dreams and fantasies cruelly killed by the girl who he loved and missed so much? And when it comes time for Ciel to reveal to the British Police at Scotland Yard who exactly killed all those people in the streets, will Agni's overdeveloped sense of honor cause him to falsely confess to the crimes? And what do the Scotland Yard feel about Ciel? And how did Ciel's servants come to work for him? When Queen Victoria sends Ciel some tickets to the Circus, what will be the story, and the crime, behind its members?

Well, the Prince has found the girl he wanted to find, but the ending for him isn't as happy as he would wish. In the end, it causes him to decide to make some changes in his life, but as most of thebook shows, he's pretty much an idiot, so that even his attempts to make some sort of changes in his life come smack up against his basic naivety and over-enthusiasm. But in the process, through his servant Agni, we discover why the three servants in the household are so dire at their jobs: none have held the posts for long, and Mei-Rin the maid, for example, is very far-sighted, but cannot bear to give up her glasses, which are the wrong prescription, because Ciel bought them for her.

In fact, it was nice to see that the reason that the servants were so bad at their jobs had some sort of reason beyond "but he's got Sebastian as a Butler, so he doesn't NEED competent servants." I did wonder where the rest of the Prince's servants and hangers on had gotten to. I think he may have sent them back to India once he decided to learn to be a gentleman and make his own way in the world, not being a sponge on his parents. It's just not mentioned in the manga.

In any case, this story took a strange and unique turn towards the end. It may have been intended strictly to be funny, but the jokes, if they were intended to be jokes, fell rather flat for me. I still am enjoying the series, but it's one of more subtle amusement than laugh-out-loud humor, and I am hoping that the end may be somewhat happy, but given the conditions laid out for Sebastian's service, I wouldn't be surprised if it had the same sort of ending as "Godchild" by Kaori Yuki, which this series somewhat resembles for me (though much less dark, certainly). I do enjoy the story and the characters, and I will continue reading this series to see where it goes. Recommended.

Warrior by Zoë Archer

Captain Gabriel Huntley, late of the army, is on his way to a future he isn't sure he wants, one in which he has retired and taken a stable and settled job and taken a wife. It's true he's left the army, but he isn't sure that he wants to be saddled with a wife so soon. So when he comes across a fight in an alley, with one man fighting off multiple attackers, he jumps in on the side of the lone target, to both save the man's life, and to find his own saved as well.

But when a chance strike takes the man down, that man, Anthony Morris, implores Gabriel to deliver a message in person. And not just any message, but one that could determine the fate of the world- and the destination is Mongolia, even further than halfway around the world. But Gerald knows he owes Anthony his life, and agrees to take the message, even if the message makes no sense to him.

The man whom the message is for is Franklin Burgess, and he is one of the Blades of the Rose. Normally, he'd gladly take on the job of finding the object mentioned in Anthony Morris' letter, but an accident has left him with a broken leg, so he assigns the job to his daughter, Thalia, and her servant, the Mongol known as Batu. Gabriel himself is unsure that sending out a woman to do the job is wise, and he respects Burgess' knowledge in this, but at the same time, he feels that Thalia would be safer with someone like him along to be her protector.

So when she leaves early in the morning, he follows her. She, with her senses trained from her life in Mongolia, can feel that Gabriel is following her, but she doesn't also know that two of the Heirs of Albion are also on her trail, along with some Mongols who have betrayed their country and heritage by trading their knowledge of the Source for money. So when Thalia is attacked on the road by the Heirs, it is Gabriel who rides to her rescue, and who helps her deal with the loss of her innocence over taking a life, which he has had to do many times in his stint in the Army.

Afterwards, she reluctantly lets him accompany them, but doesn't actually tell him about the Blades, the Heirs and Sources until all of them nearly die in a storm raised by one of the Sources that the Heirs control, the Hammer of Thor. When he saves not only Thalia, but Batu as well, she bows to necessity and tells him all about those subjects, and about the Source they are going to find- as much as she knows about it, anyway. The only part she knows is that they must find "she that feeds the turtle", and while she doesn't know who the "She" is, Thalia does know where to find the turtle, the ruined city of Karakorum.

Once they find the turtle, and the mysterious woman who feeds it, they next must find the source, and a mysterious red banner that will surround it. With that done, they must take part in a Mongol festival and win the right to be the guardians of the mysterious source from all the tribesmen who come to win that right for themselves as well. Including the Mongol who is travelling with the Heirs, Tsend, who cares nothing for magic, but only money and power. And once they have won the right to protect the source, can they keep it safe from the Heirs, or will they lose it to Brigands, only to have them lose it to the Heirs?

Will Thalia realize her greatest dream, to become a Blade of the Rose, and will she win the love of Gabriel, who she has come to love in their time together? And will he be able to overcome his shyness in matters of the heart, and profess his love to Thalia by finally be asking a woman to marry him and being comfortable with the fact?

This is the first book in the Blades of the Rose series, and its a strong introduction to the characters and groups that will dominate later books, like Bennett Day, who is the Hero of "Scoundrel", and even Catullus Graves, who comes into his own in "Stranger". The characters from the second book, "Rebel", are generally not mentioned until the very end, but it's nice to see them all mentioned here. Despite having read the last two books first, if I had read this book first, it would definitely have made me want to read more, whereas before, I had already wanted to read them all.

I liked the way that both the characters were portrayed. Thalia and Gabriel are strong characters, but as they come together as comrades and lovers, each of them grows stronger, and they were not afraid to show parts of themselves which would have been discounted had they met in more genteel surroundings. For example, Gabriel is rough and ready, with a tongue that is too blunt to suit women unused to adventure, whereas Thalia is used to dressing like a man and riding astride, and would come off as too mannish and uncouth in "polite" society, but both suit each other down to the ground, and neither minds the other having traits and skills that the other does not. It's nice to see them appreciating each other for what they are, and not putting each other down for skills they either don't possess or which they are unused to using, like polite conversation.

In short, the book was a grand adventure, as well as a romance. And it wasn't like one part could be picked out wholesale. leaving the other alone, the romance and the adventure were interwoven skillfully, and reinforced each other, so that reading the book was a sheer delight. I also loved seeing the different sources, and the magic, at work, from the source that shot golden bees like bullets at the beginning of the book to the Strength of Antaeus enchantment that Gabriel had to fight when beating Tsend in the wrestling portion of the naadam that gave him and Thalia the right to be protectors of the ruby. I recommend this book, and the entire series, highly. It's fun to read, and the romance is excellent.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Black Bird, Volume 8 by Kanoka Sakurakuji

Misao is learning to deal with the presence of Raikoh, the boy who once had an interest in her and is now an exorcist specializing in demons, in her home. Because while she loves Kyo, Raikoh hates him and wants to kill him. Misao still draws back from Kyo whenever it seems like they might do more than just kiss, but she loves him- she just wants to stay with him forever, and he might devour her for the power that her power as Senku maiden would give him. And he doesn't want to lose her, either.

Raikoh returns with a special sword, known as Dojigiri Yasutsuna, which has the power to kill demons. He agrees to meet with Kyo to discuss their disagreement over Misao, and Kyo tells her that if they cannot reach some other sort of agreement, he will take away Raikoh's memory of the demon attack on his family that made him hate all demons. Misao doesn't exactly trust Raikoh not to try and kill Kyo, so she attempts to steal the sword and its case, since the case has a special lock that needs a code to open. But Raikoh halts her attempts by letting her know that the case is bugged with a locator chip so that even if she attempts to steal and get rid of the whole case, he could still find it.

Foiled, Misao tells him that Kyo wishes to meet with him, and he agrees, and sets the date in several days. Raikoh also shows Misao water he brought with him from his temple to drink- her mother has been making tea with it for some days now. He gets her to try some, and she says it just tastes like water, but a little soft, and he agrees with her. He then turns to her, startling her and making her drop the knife she was using so that she cuts her leg open. He says she can get Kyo to heal her, but she doesn't want to, simply pressing on it until the bleeding stops and then using a bandage.

But when she, Raikoh and Kyo meet, he notices the bandage first thing and insists on treating her wound by licking it right away. However, when he drinks some of her blood, he winces, and Raikoh tries to kill him with the blade, which he had concealed on his body. He then reveals to Kyo that the water from his temple is the water of God, which curses and kills demons. By making Misao and her family drink it, he turned them into secret weapons against Kyo, and now that Kyo has drunk her blood, which is infused with the essence of the Godly water, it will slowly leech away his power until he dies.

Kyo's bodyguards want to kill Raikoh, but Kyo makes them release him, and they promise Raikoh that if Kyo dies, so will he. Meanwhile, Misao blames herself, and decides to go through with sleeping with Kyo, no matter the outcome, because even if it ends up killing her, she cannot bear to see him die. But will Kyo go through with the act, or will he find some other way to save himself? And will their mating kill Misao? Or will the mating force her and Kyo to part?

I have enjoyed this series from the start, and it's great to see it finally come to some kind of conclusion of the Kyo/Misao storyline. I hope that the ending of the sexual tension between them won't mean the end of the manga as well, as I enjoy the romance and situations between the two of them, not to mention those of Kyo's bodyguards and servants. It's really cute and I enjoy it all.

And even if it is the end, I will hope that Kanoka Sakurakuji writes something else I can enjoy, as I have really enjoyed this series a lot and to be honest, the thought of it ending saddens me. Maybe not as much as some other series, but I have really enjoyed this series for a while now. I found the use of a Tengu as a supernatural creature to be very interesting, and while Kyo doesn't have the sort of strict Tengu features from myth, I find him an interesting character, Misao as well, even if she sometimes falls into the "Princess who must be rescued" trope.

I really like this series, which is fresh and fun and introduced me to some new creatures from Japanese myth that I wasn't really too familliar with before (Okay, Tengu showed up in the AD&D Oriental Adventures supplement, but that was a while ago. A LONG WHILE ago.) With a cute romance and more supernatural creatures than you can shake a stick at, as well as a girl with a really unique problem, if you love supernatural romance, you might want to give this manga a try. Recommended.

Frostfire: A Novel of the Kyndred by Lynn Viehl

Lilah is an animal control officer, but she is also a Kyndred, and her power is that she can read and control the minds of animals. With that kind of power, she should be perfect at her job, but her boss is angry with what he sees as her grandstanding, and so he fires her. She is completely blindsided by his hatred, and since it is just before Christmas, she has nowhere to go, and very little money, having always lived hand to mouth.

With her relative fame, she knows that she will have to move again, and spends her night eating a peanut butter and banana sandwich and drinking a cup of cocoa. But before she can secure herself, she falls asleep. Only to dream of an imprisoned Wolf who calls himself "Guide" who is imprisoned in a cage made of snow. She speaks with him, only to have him tell her to save herself. But she already acknowledges it is too late/

Walker is a soldier who was in Afghanistan, terribly wounded, and used by an Afghani farmer as a scarecrow in his fields. Bought by scientists from Gen Hance to use in their experiments, Walker is loaded into the back of a refrigerated truck and driven across the country to pick up another body- the woman named Lilah. But far from freezing, when Lilah encounters Walker, she grows warmer, breaking through the stasis his body is in and freeing him from his half-dead state. It's too bad that Walker can't remember much of his life before that last morning when he and a bunch of other soldiers were blown to bloody ribbons and left to die, but once he encounters Lilah, he knows he must help her escape.

It takes them a while to recover from what was done to them and to free them from the handcuffs that hold them together. But their escape into the wilderness in Colorado brings them into contact with a tribe of secretive creatures that have plenty of reasons to want to remain hidden. But when Walker and Lilah get a glimpse of them through the storm, will they have to die to keep the secret?

And meanwhile, Lord Richard sends two of the Darkyn, Nicola and Gabriel, to find a dangerous Rogue who has entered America unnoticed. They must track him down and kill or otherwise dispose of the Rogue without the knowledge of Michael, the Seigneur of America, who must not be allowed to know about or confront the rogue. And meanwhile, one of the women working for Gen Hance has decided to buy her way out of the company, by faking her own death and stealing a body and a woman intended to be experimented on, in short, Walker and Lilah. But when she comes in search of her missing assets, can they fight her off and remain free?

This woman isn't the only one after Lilah. Another of the Kyndred, a man named Samuel, is looking for her as well after connecting with her and other Kyndred through the internet. But when he finds Walker with her, will he continue to try to help Lilah, or will his enmity with her lover and companion take precedence?

I was rather surprised to see this book on the shelf when I went to the book store, since it has been so long since I have seen or read one of the Darkyn/Kyndred books. This one focusses on Lilah, a woman with amazing power to read the thoughts of animals. But it was unusual in that both main characters are lying about who they are and what their real names are, either knowingly or unknowingly, but both have many good reasons for doing so, and you do find out who they really are at the end, and both accept each other willingly for who and what they are.

Despite the clues given as to who they both are, the story identifying them as only who they present themselves to be for most of the book allows you to feel quite deeply for both of them through what they are subjected to and what they experience for most of the story. You may not know who they really are, but the experiences they go through are horrible and terrifying, and you quickly come to identify with them and hope and wish for them to succeed in surviving and being with each other.

Gen Hance crops up again as the series villain, but in this book, they are kept mainly in the background. The people trying to capture them are far more villainous people than they are employees of an organization, and that makes the menace feel more up close and personal than somewhat removed, as the previous Gen Hance villains are. I found it so good that I couldn't put the book down to stop reading, and I read it in a little over two hours of steady reading. I would definitely recommend it, and both series that lead up to it, the Darkyn and the Kyndred. Highly recommended.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Bid by Jax

Vejhon Mach, leader of the Valiant, the forces of the planet Wite, has been captured by his enemies and sold into slavery on the other side of the galaxy, on a planet which supports slavery because it needs the genes and virility of slaves whose bloodlines haven't been affected by an endless war and slaughter. Taken and put in stasis, Vejhon is auctioned off for a high price, with the Baron Mejum being the highest bidder, until an outrageous bid by a slave named Najir disrupts the bidding and takes Vehjon for his master, Hanna Drakoulous.

Mejum is furious at losing a slave he wanted so much. The last slave he wanted so badly was Najir himself, and Hanna outbid him for Najir as well. He already hates her, for their two houses were once at war, and he got his revenge on her then by slaughtering both her parents just hours before a vote went through that ended the feuding between houses forever and which also put aside all punishments for such crimes in hopes that the feuding will end. But Mejum hasn't forgotten the enmity between their houses, nor stopped wanting to extirpate her house from the surface of their world.

Nor does Hanna like Mejum, but having voted for an end to the feuding, she intends to hold up her end of the agreement. She doesn't like that Mejum killed her parents, but she isn't going to go into banishment for 50 years merely to get revenge, either. But she will do anything to prevent another slave from ending up in Mejum's hands. Even if Vejhon hates slavery and her, for owning him, she will do her level best to make him see that living in House Drakoulous is hardly the worst thing that could happen to him. But first, she must ram some home truths into Vejhon's head, like what exactly he could expect living in another house as a slave, and how they could use his own body against him. And how he has been dosed with a targeted virus that ensures that trying to return to his home planet, or coming in contact with any of its animals or plants, is now a death sentence for him.

But Hanna has no use for another slave- no use for slaves at all, really, given that her entire house staff except for Vejhon and Najir are paid employees rather than slaves. And while she doesn't want a slave for a bedmate, she has something much more unusual in mind for Vejhon than merely a bed partner. But can he trust her and what she says long enough to believe what she has to teach him? And when Mejum threatens one of her employees to try and get close enough to kill her, can Vejhon and Najir save her life when she willingly enters Mejum's house to free the children the Baron has imprisoned? And can Hanna rise above her own concerns to save her planet and her people by abolishing slavery and making a different way to save her people?

This erotic novel is actually written by Jacquelyn Frank under the pen name of Jax. Unlike the rest of her novels, those written as "Jax" are much more erotic and closer to erotica than straight romance. But unlike most erotica I have read, there is no real hot sex straight from the beginning of the story. Sexual content begins in the third chapter, and despite the sex being written both sensually and descriptively, the book still comes off more like a regular romance rather than erotica. The cover might make you think that the book is written as a threesome, but it's all straight one male-one female, and despite Najir having had sex with Hanna in the past, once she takes up with Vejhon, he never touches her in that way again.

And also apparent from the cover is that this book is Science Fiction erotica. Hanna and her people are blue-skinned (and apparently have four fingers and a thumb, just like straight humans, from the cover), thus when she tells Vejhon that if he attempts to escape, he will stand out like a sore thumb, he believes her straight off. But Vejhon is useful to Hanna not only for his experience and fertility, but also for the color of his eyes, which becomes quite a subplot in the novels. I can't spoil it here, because that would give it all away, but I will say I found it interesting, and how the problem worked was unusual, even if I had to shrug off exactly how it worked to alleviate a problem as magic that was never really explained other than "It just happens that way."

I found this book to be very enjoyable and read it in only a few short hours. I was forced to take a break out of exhaustion in the middle, but I picked it right back up and read the last 100 pages in about 30 minutes. It was a wonderful read, and I would definitely pick up other books by "Jax" in the bookstore if I saw them, although this appears to be the first by this author under this pen name. Highly recommended.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Quicksilver by Amanda Quick

Virginia Dean is a very powerful glass reader talent, but she has no idea why she comes to at Midnight in a room completely sheathed in glass, half-naked, with the body of Lord Hollister lying dead beside her in the same bed. As she is dressing and trying to make sense of her sudden (to her) appearance in the room, the hidden door to the room opens and a man named Owen Sweetwater steps in.

Sweetwater is a hunter-talent, and he has been following Virginia, thinking that she is either working with Hollister, or is being menaced by him. Luckily for her, he believes her when she tells him she doesn't know how she got here, and he helps her escape the room, and she, in turn, helps him stop a strange device, a carriage that radiates a malign energy in the spectrum of glasslight. Owen is all set to ignore the carriage and go around it, but a voice calling out for help from the corridor beyond makes him, and Virginia, have to deal with it.

From the maze of corridors, they rescue a prostitute named Becky, who was snatched off the street, and who knows who killed Lord Hollister. It wasn't a man, but a woman, mad as a Hatter, and Virginia knows in an instant it was Lady Hollister, for she was hired by the lady to find out how her beloved daughter died. Virginia has worked as a medium, but all she really does is read any glass in the room for captured images to find out what may have happened in the room where something happened. She does try to explain to people what she really does, and that she doesn't contact dead spirits, but many believe what they wish to, regardless.

Owen, as a hunter-talent, has been hired by the Arcane Society, specifically their new investigative arm of Jones and Jones, to find out why so many glass reader talents have been going missing. He was watching Virginia because he believed she might also go missing, and because she is so powerful a talent. He also finds himself attracted to her, and this is of interest to him because if he cannot find a woman to marry or have a relationship with, he will fall prey to the family condition, where the hunt becomes all, and he spends all his time on the hunt, day and night, until he dies or is killed by one of his prey.

As for Virginia, at the age of twenty-six, she knows she is on the shelf, but devotes her life to saving prostitutes from the street at a placed called Elm House, mainly because she knows that if her father's death when she was 13 hadn't included a bequest that allowed her to finish her schooling, she, too, might have ended up on the street. She is somewhat wary of Owen, because he has outed as fakes some of her colleagues, and if she is seen as aiding him in his outings, her professional name will be mud.

She is not a member of the Arcane Society, as they have a tendency to look down on those who use their talents to make a living. This is all well and good when you have plenty of money and don't need to work to survive, but those who are not so fortunate find that the attitude rankles severely. Instead, Virginia has joined the Leybrook Institute, as it has a less jaundiced attitude to those talents forced to turn to their talent as a means to survive.

But something is up with the Leybrook Institute, and Owen believes that someone there knows more than they are telling about the deaths of the Glasslight readers and the strange clockwork contraptions that keep showing up at the houses of the dead Glasslight readers. But can Owen and Virginia find out who has been killing the Glasslight readers and why, and stop them before Owen and Virginia become their next victims? And can Owen find it in his heart to make Virginia return his affections and marry him, when she has such strong negative feelings on the subject of marriage? Now that Owen has found the woman for him, can he win her forever?

I always enjoy the Arcane Society novels, and this book was no exception. As has been the case in recent books, we see that not everyone enjoys the attitude of the Arcane Society. it's not just the Winters family or the Tallentyres who dislike the Arcane Society, but many rank and file psychics, many of whom, truth be told, are fakers that the Arcane Society takes down because of the harm they do to people with real psychic talents. If they are outed as fakes, people will be more likely to assume that all psychics are faking it, which will harm the Arcane Society. But they also have a distaste for people using their talents for money, a hidebound attitude that doesn't endear them to those not well-off already.

I liked this book for the real villain, who had some psychic powers, but who was killing off Glasslight Readers when they turned down the villain's offer of work, because the villain didn't want anyone knowing what they were up to. And the villain had assistance from another person with a weak will, someone with charisma who hated their lack of power and merely sucked up to get what they feel they didn't have.

I found this an enjoyable book with an enjoyable story and characters. The Arcane Society books, no matter the pen name they are written under, are all wonderful and enjoyable books, and this one is one of the better ones. I loved the romance between Owen and Virginia, and how these two characters came together in romance, and later into marriage. Highly recommended.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Emma, Volume 3 by Kaoru Mori

Emma is on the train with her new friend, who is amazed that Emma is not only a maid, but that she worked for the same woman for almost six years. Her friend has never worked for the same house for more than two years at a time, and wonders if it is because she isn't up to snuff. Still, she finds the place she is working for now to be very pleasant and enjoys working there.

Edward, meanwhile, is back in the bosom of his family, getting thrown together with Eleanor on a riverboating party. While Edward's sisters matchmake with Edward and Eleanor, Edward is thinking of maids, or one in particular, since even a picnic on a riverbank requires the assistance of maids to lay out and serve. But he is also starting to worry his family. Ever since Emma left, he has become a paragon, doing all the work he once shirked out of boredom, attending parties, balls and invitations to tea that he once would have declined, and always coming to dinner with the family, not to mention staying up late at night to finish his work. But is it because he misses Emma, or is it because this is the only way to impress his father with his being grown up and a real man so that he can get his father's approval to marry the woman he wants- Emma?

Meanwhile, Emma is hired on at the Manor house owned by the same woman who is Mistress to Tasha, her friend from the train. The household is staffed by people both English and German, and although Emma is used to being a maid, she isn't quite used to the way that this household does things, nor of being one of over thirty servants and one of eight housemaids. But in addition to her new duties, there also come new compensations. For example, when the daughter of the house has a birthday, the servants, after her party, can have a party of their own.

Emma is unused to parties and drinking, so she ends up washing glasses with another servant named Hans during the party. Neither of them are used to parties, and from him she finds out that the Household and half of the servants are actually from Germany. Emma drinks some rum, thinking it is tea, gets tipsy, and goes to bed. The next day, she finds out that the daughter of the house wets her bed, and the son has a pet squirrel, which she helps get down when he gets tangled in the bed curtains. And then she becomes the one who is assigned to accompany the mistress of the house when she goes visiting.

But the woman that Dorothea visits, Mrs. Trollop, is a mystery, heavily into the orient in decoration, with a pet monkey, takes an interest in Emma. Could it be for her own son, and why would an aristocrat want a maid for her son? Or is she just interested because Emma is beautiful?

Well, now Emma is out of her comfort zone. No longer serving the only woman who has ever employed her as a maid, Emma has shown that she can survive in the world of a much larger house, with other servants. It's the other servants who seem to be immature and childish, getting drunk and partying like college kids on a bender. But it's Emma's levelheadedness that makes her invaluable to the head servants, and may get Hans interested in her. Away from Edward, will she fall for someone else?

And Edward has his own problems, like his family, to deal with. But is his little hissy fit having the effect he wants it to have? Will his parents realize that his behavior is due to having an upperclass version of a tantrum? Or will they just enjoy the effects? So far, it hasn't made anyone see the pain he is feeling, except for his old friend, Hakim, and Edward isn't talking, and is still thrown together with Eleanor more than he wants to be. But she seems to be truly falling for him, so how can he be with Emma without causing her pain?

Both Emma and Edward's stories are interesting, and I want to see and read more of both of them, and so I will. It's a quiet story, very much like my favorite series, Fruits Basket, and I like that it is set in Victorian/Edwardian times, which gives it a different feeling from modern day stories. I really like it, and I think that other readers will as well.

Emma. Volume 2 by Kaoru Mori

Emma is a maid in Victorian-Era London, where the divide between the working class, like Emma, and the upper class that she serves, is distressingly wide. Emma has fallen in love with Edward, a young man of the upper class and one of the former students of her current employer, Mrs. Kelly Stownar, an old nanny who is retired from service.

Emma asks for the day off so she can go on a date with Edward, and he takes her to the Crystal Palace. Unfortunately, they get locked in all night. For a while, they talk, but in the end, they end up kissing. In the morning, they are let out, and go immediately home. Meanwhile, Edward's father takes the liberty of inviting a Miss Eleanor Campbell to be Edward's date at the next dinner party he attends, and she agrees gladly.

But afterwards, Emma is gloomy because she knows that the distance socially between her and Edward is too wide. But he wants to convince his father no matter the cost, and Mrs. Stownar tells Emma that it will all work out, because of who Emma is. But the rest of Edward's family no more wants him to be with Emma than his father does, and at first they are convinced that it is Eleanor whom he loves. His friend Hakim is the one who spills the beans, which Edward doesn't like.

But when Mrs. Stownar finally passes away, Edward is no closer to convincing his father to let him marry Emma, and when Emma comes to see him, Edward's little sister, Vivi, tells Emma that Emma is just a fortune hunter and that Vivi hates her for trying to ensnare Edward in her "web". Emma is greatly disheartened by this lecture, and leaves, even though Hakim tells her she should wait and speak to Edward herself. Meanwhile, Edward has gone to Mrs. Stownar's house to try and speak to Emma, but she is no longer there.

Meanwhile, we get to see how Emma, who was born in the country, came to London and became a maid. Taken in by an ungrateful aunt. she was slapped and mistreated, before being kidnapped and sold into a brothel. Escaping that, she went into a life on the streets, selling flowers in Covent Garden before being taken in by a woman who used her to do odd jobs, and then she was taken in by Kelly Stownar herself. Now that she is once again without work, she must find a new situation before she starves once more.

So, when she bumps into another servant on the train leaving London, can she use her friendship with the girl to get a job with the same family? And what problems and opportunities will her new situation bring her? And after missing her at the station, what will happen to Edward?

This is another manga I found myself enjoying, and the story of Emma is compelling and interesting, because it shows so much of what Victorian life was like for servants. Emma for so long was the servant of one old woman, and it is very different serving in a big house with many multiple servants. Emma will just be one of many, and the former close relationship she enjoyed with her employer is going to be very different.

And she already knows that a love match between her and Edward is impossible, but to be railed at by his sister, even if she is very young, must be very disheartening for Emma. And Edward must deal with the disappointment of wanting to rescue the woman he loves, and being unable to. And now he has nothing but the emptiness in his heart of not having her and not knowing where she is. Will he give up and end up marrying Eleanor, or will he hold out for Emma, the woman he may never see again (okay, it's a manga. We all know that is never going to happen!)?

This is a slow-paced but engaging story that is a welcome change from all those modern-day high school romances with the amped up drama, tears and mean girls. For now, the lovers are parted, and something tells me that much time and distance will come between them before they meet again. Recommended.

Emma, Volume 1 by Kaoru Mori

Emma is a maid working for a woman named Mrs. Stownar, a former governess. When Mrs. Stownar gets a visit from Edmund, a former student, he also meets Emma and is immediately entranced by her good looks. And as his former governess asks him pointed and embarrassing questions about his life in the ten years since she has seen him last, she also begins to notice his attraction to her maid. So when she must go out to see someone and bids him goodbye, he manages to leave his gloves behind so that he can see Emma again, if only for a few more minutes. Mrs. Stownar realizes what he is up to immediately, but lets him continue.

He returns to a pub near where his former governess lives and manages to run into Emma again, and he leaves too large a note to pay for his beer- a sign that he is really smitten. She didn't see him, because she wears glasses, and the prescription is getting old and her eyes have gotten weaker. He offers to pay for new glasses for her, but she feels that is too much of an extravagance, and asks instead for a single lace handkerchief, which he buys her, and she remembers back when she first came to work for Mrs. Stownar and when her employer paid for her glasses.

Meanwhile, an old friend from India, Prince Hakim Atawally, arrives to see Edward and stay with his family for a while. But while he is supposed to be in the country incognito, he also arrives with a bunch of Indian Maidens in saris and a whole host of elephants, putting the "Incognito" part in a shambles. Hakim manages to persuade Edward to take a ride in the Howdah of an Elephant, but Edward is more terrified than exhilarated by the entire experience, and when Hakin orders his driver to make the elephant move at top speed, Edward is sickened, and when they pass Mrs. Stownar's house, he sees Emma and demands they stop. Thus, Hakim also meets Emma, and is similarly entranced by the beautiful maid.

But Edward and Hakim aren't Emma's only admirers, and when a present of Hakim's is delivered to the Jones estate, everyone assumes that Edward is the one who has commissioned the beautiful box. But Edward sees that it is Hakim's name on the order, and the box is engraved with "Beloved Emma", he becomes suspicious and a bit angry. He goes immediately to Mrs. Stownar's, and sees Hakim wearing completely Western dress and calling on Emma, who he has an interest in.

Hakim asks if she and William are in a relationship, to which she replies in the negative, and he tells her that he is in love with her, and he's glad that she and William aren't in love, because William is his friend, and he wouldn't do anything to hurt William for the world. Hakim tells Emma that he wants to protect her. She blushes, and doesn't reply. Meanwhile, at his club, Edward discusses Emma with his friends, and they all seem to know her because of her beauty, but all have been turned down by her when they sent her a letter or gift. In fact, she seems to spend a lot of time writing rejection letters.

Then a pipe breaks in the Stownar house, and Mrs. Stownar falls down the stairs when she is helping Emma move things out of the way of the leaking water. Afterwards, she reflects on her folly and asks Emma how she feels about Edward, if she is going to turn him down as well. Emma can only blush, and Mrs. Stownar thinks to herself that while their social classes might not be anywhere near each other, they are perfect in age and seem to like each other. Now, if only Edward's family might agree to their relationship...

But when Edward's father takes his son to visit Mrs. Stownar after her injury, he firmly discourages any thought of a romance between the two. Emma is a servant, while the Jones family is rich and of the upper crust of society. Besides, his father already has a girl of a similar family in mind for Edward. Is there any hope for the two young lovers to be together?

This manga shows the reality of the class divide in Victorian/Edwardian England. The Upper and Lower classes were like two different peoples in one country, and both looked down on either of the other attempting to marry up, with the member of the lower class either being a fortune or title hunter, or "having ideas above their station". It wasn't until after World War I that the classes really started to mingle, because so many young man had died off during the war and the Influenza that the class divide could not be maintained.

Men and women who had once seen nothing more or better than going into service with a rich family now had many more opportunities that it became extremely hard to fill positions on estates, and most of the jobs outside paid more and had more prestige, which led to the rich families coming into closer contact with the "lower" classes. So, this manga explores the time when the class divides were strict and strictly upheld.

Being people of the modern day, we as readers see no problem with a romance between Emma and Edward, and the resistance her father puts up to the idea seems merely obstructionist. But to him, his family would become laughingstock were he to allow Edward to romance Emma. And that is anathema to him. But I want to see how Emma wins over his family (if she does, and it would be a strange manga indeed if she doesn't in the end), so I will definitely read more of this series. Recommended, even if modern readers without a sense of history may find the romance aspect frustrating.

Mixed Vegetables, Volume 2 by Ayumi Komura

Hanaya Ashitaba and Hayato Hyuga each dream of being celebrated and world-famous chefs. The only problem is that each wants to be famous in the specialty of each other's family! Hanaya, whose family owns the Patisserie Ashitaba, wants nothing more from life than to be a sushi chef. And Hayato Hyuga, whose family owns Sushi Hyuga, would love it if he could spend all his days baking cakes and whipping up pastries.

But when they start dating, each of them seems to really feel something for the other, and Hanaya wonders if Hayato might actually feel something for her and not just want to marry for the business, like she does. But when she blurts out why she really accepted his romance on their first big date, he stuns her by revealing his own not-so- honorable motives. Realizing that neither is going to get what they want in the relationship, they abruptly break up. But knowing each other's secret dreams and aspirations makes them something more than just classmates, and something like actual friends.

Slowly, they begin to see into each other's worlds, and why each feels as they do about their chosen cooking profession. But decision time is coming up for each of them- the cooking teacher at the school has each student do an assignment where they lay out their future goals and dreams, so that he can discuss it with them and their parents. And this makes Hanaya very unhappy, because she knows that her dreams and aspirations will disappoint her parents greatly, and despite her dreams, she never wanted to make them unhappy.

As she struggles to recreate the Egg Roll Omelette that she first had at the Sushi shop where she conceived her desire to become a sushi chef, Hanaya decides to help Hayato with his baking. And when they pass that exam, he decides to return the favor and help her discover the Egg Roll Omelette that she loved so much. But will the unexpected ending of that cooking help bring them closer together? And what happens if they really do fall in love with each other? Who will lose out on the deal?

Like I said, when the reader can see a solution to the problems of the pair in the Shojo romance manga long before the characters can, that's not a good thing. In the first volume, because it's told almost entirely from Hanaya's point of view, Hanaya comes off looking bad and heartless, that she'd consider dating a boy just to be able to be a sushi chef. But now we see that Hayato is just as heartless- he went into the relationship for the same reason she did. And when it looks like neither will back down from their dreams, well, they decide to break up.

But the bond of wanting to be something they aren't brings them together, and each can help the other with their dream, so as they struggle to find someone to marry to each fulfill their dreams, they start getting closer and closer, almost acting more loverly than they did when they were actually dating each other! Is this a good thing or a bad thing, and will any feelings for each other be dismissed when they want their dreams more than love with another person?

Readers may start the volume thinking that Hanaya doesn't deserve Hayato, but it's soon revealed that each really deserves each other. There is something kind of off-putting in how each so easily decides to use the other. But I hope that the characters become more sympathetic in time. Some parts of their "romance" are sickening, but we can hope they make more of an actual connection later. Recommended, but be warned that this series may turn you off at first.

Mixed Vegetables, Volume 1 by Ayumi Komura

Hanaya Ashitaba is studying the culinary arts at the Oikawa High School cooking department, but her ambitions aren't what her peers think. Yes, she is the heir to the celebrated Ashitaba Patisserie, but her true ambition is to become a sushi chef. Unfortunately, she is the main heir to her family's restaurant, and the only other choice, her younger brother, is all set out to become a big name in baseball.

But Hanaya has a plan to deal with her problems. Also in her school is Hayato Hyuga, the heir to the prestigious Sushi Hyuga, and Hanaya dreams of marrying him and taking over her husband's sushi restaurant. Now all she has to do is get him interested in her, and learning slicing and chopping skills from him is one way to go about it.

Hayato Hyuga has dreams of his own, though, and even though he is the only heir to his family's sushi empire, he wants to fulfill his dream... of becoming a world-famous pastry chef! And to do that, he'll do anything, even romance and marry Hanaya Ashitaba. Especially when he becomes aware of who she is and that she seems to be interested in him. But neither have any real romantic feelings for each other, and both are only interested in each other for ulterior reasons.

But first, both of them have to pass their examinations to even begin to become any kind of chef, let alone sushi chefs and cake bakers. But can either of them see beyond the bright futures they dream for themselves or will their dreams make them unable to see the here and now? What would happen if they had to give up what they wanted most?

Hanaya, though, is having second feelings about what she is doing to Hayato. Is it dishonest to be in a relationship when all you want to do is marry into a family just so you can cook the food you want to cook? Does Hayato feel the same way, and how would be react if Hanaya confessed all to him? Does Hanaya have the kind of cast-iron heart that would allow her to mislead a boy she is actually coming to feel something for? Or will her newly tender emotions allow her to go on with her dishonest relationship?

This is a cute book about a couple who each wants what they will never get from their family: a chance to cook food that their family-owned businesses *don"t* specialize in. Each of them sails into a relationship with the other with the intent of deceiving each other into thinking they are interested for themselves, and not just for where they see themselves working. Regardless of your feelings on their deceptions, I could see a solution right from the start: Marry, combine the businesses, and each work in the other's section of the business.

And when the reader can see an almost immediate solution to the problem and the characters can't, I consider that a bad thing, because it means that the characters are a little stupid, which makes me care less about them. But as the story went on, I found myself in sympathy with both characters, especially that Hanaya is so uncomfortable with what she is doing to Hayato. Even if it's somewhat cliché that the girl is the more emotional one of the pair, it also shows she can't be as coldhearted as all that.

So, despite my initial feelings about the manga, I did find myself enjoying it. I only hope this isn't a story that's going to drag on and on. I want to see some closure fairly soon, and I hope I'll get it. I'd definitely recommend this manga to anyone who enjoys cooking or romance, since I have the feeling that Hanaya and Hayato will end up together, sooner rather than later. I just hope the story doesn't get stupid in the meantime.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle Volume 28 by CLAMP

Syaoran is facing off against Fei-Wang Reed when it becomes apparent that his clone is being used by the magician to power a spell to save Yuko, the Time-Space Witch. Before she opened a shop in Tokyo that everyone came to, she was loved by Fei-Wang, and when she died, he was desperate to save her, so he cast a spell to hold her frozen in time. While it was in place, she was able to operate the shop and help those who needed her, like Syaoran and Sakura and their companions.

But with the end of the spell, she at long last faces true dissolution and death, and Fei-Wang, having truly loved her, is desperate to try and get her back. So he reveals that he has not only cloned Syaoran, but Sakura as well, and he is using their magic to try and find her again within the multiverse and bring her back to be his love. But one of the reasons he has for doing so is to prove himself the greatest magician in the multiverse, better than Clow Reed, and because of that, it seems that Yuko no longer loves him, if she ever did- because he is not the man he was.

When she disappears, presumably for good, he seems to go a little insane, but Syaoran and Sakura fight him at that moment, and Yuko appears to their clones, telling them that because they are clones, they can come back from death and choose to be reborn on another world. They do so, and grow up apart, Sakura in Japan and Syaoran in Hong Kong, so that when Sakura's school travels to Hong Kong on a class trip, they meet again and are allowed to marry and live out their love. Sakura becomes pregnant, and their child, their son, becomes the real Syaoran, the one who travels to the Kingdom of the Clow and meets the real Sakura, falling in love with her and giving up his life on earth to try and prevent her from losing her soul in the first place.

But his absence must be made up somehow, and Watanuki Kimihiro takes Syaoran's place on earth, and eventually meets Yuko, becoming her servant to try and take away his ability to see spirits. When she is freed from the spell that held her after death, he also takes her place as the owner of the shop, and the souls of the Clone Syaoran and Sakura are put into an item in the shop, becoming that which powers the shop. But when Fei Wang finds them, he makes them fade away, leaving behind two feathers. This draws the real Syaoran and Watanuki into the space in time where they were being held by Fei Wang, and both must sacrifice something to escape. Watanuki gives up his ability to leave the shop and Syaoran must give up something similar.

But will Syaoran be forever alone, and will he and Sakura ever be free to just live out their lives together in peace and happiness? And what will become of Fei-Wang and his machinations? Will Yuko ever return to see Watanuki again? And what did the manga all mean?

Wow. This manga was one of the densest and twistiest of all the manga I have ever read. Its plot was incredibly convoluted, even by CLAMP standards, and the ending volume, this one, was long and sometimes hard to parse. So much was going on, and the fighting scenes had so many wavy lines that it was more than occasionally hard to figure out what was happening, and what the panels meant. It's also a rather recursive manga, in that the story wraps around to near the beginning in a way, but the universe it is happening in is changed due to the actions of the main characters.

Even the ending of the manga insinuates that more is or will be happening, as the ending words are "And the Adventure Continues...", which is fine for a recursive manga, but it makes the reader have to determine what is the true happy ending for him or herself. The ending of XXXHolic implies that the sacrifices that both Watanuki and Syaoran made were not permanent, but the timeline of that ending makes it still seem like something of a tragedy.

This is the ending of the series, and it completely fulfills everything readers may have wanted in an ending, with a lot more that might not make them very happy. But it's a series that takes a long time to parse and understand, and the ending will be something that readers will chew on for days, if not longer. This is also a very large, long volume, almost 300 pages, and the story serves up both ending and mindscrews enough to make you scream, while also making you want to scream for more yet. Recommended, although not a very easy read.

Kobato, Volume 2 by CLAMP

Kobato has a wish, and to fulfill it, she must collect an entire bottle full of pieces of broken hearts that she has healed. While the first part of her journey involved proving she understood certain human customs well enough to her mentor/guardian, Iyorogi, now that she actually has the bottle, she has to go around healing human hearts. Her first attempts at trying to find humans whose hearts needed healing was disastrous, to say the least, and now that she has found employment working for the grade school teacher Sayaka, she hopes to soon fill her bottle and have her wish granted.

But healing human hearts is a perilous business, and by no means as simple and easy as Kobato seems to think it might be. She thinks that simply working for Kobato will be enough, but when several days pass by and no broken heart pieces end up in her bottle, she thinks that this is going to take a while.

But the grade school has problems that might be greater than anything that Kobato can heal. For one thing, strange men show up at the school, claiming that they are there to collect on a debt. It turns out that the debt is Sayaka's, as she borrowed money from a moneylender to open the school, and because the school is so small and has so few students, she is unable to pay back the money she owes. And the moneylender seems to have ties to criminal families or mobs, and so he is resorting to extortion and threatening the kids she teaches to make her pay up or abandon the school, which she is unwilling to do.

The only person that seems to be on Sayaka's side is Fujimoto, who also happens to be Kobato's neighbor where she is living. He's sarcastic and playfully torments Kobato when she is even one and a half minutes late to work at the school, but Sayaka tells Kobato that if he really hated her, as Kobato believes, he would completely ignore her and not speak to her at all. It seems that he works at several jobs in addition to his job at the school, but we don't learn why.

Kobato earns her first pieces of broken heart when she speaks to one of the children at school after all the others have left for the day. He is waiting for his mother, who must support herself and him with a job, to pick him up. This makes everyone think that she must be a bad mother, but when Kobato tells him she thinks his mother is a wonderful mother, that is enough to heal his broken heart.

Kobato still wants to heal Sayaka's broken heart, but when Kobato suggests having a school bazaar, where the students bring in junk lying around their houses to sell and donate the money to the school, will that be enough to earn the money that Sayako owes? And when someone goes around changing the signs for the bazaar to make people think that the school's sale is next week, can Kobato inform everyone and save the day? And can she figure out what the sadness that Fujimoto hides is as well?

Well, another volume, with no real sign of who or what Kobato is or what she wants, but with plenty of background not only on the school that Kobato is working for, and Sayaka, who owns it, but also Chitose, her landlady, and her family. By finding a kitten that was abandoned, she gives the girls a pet, and receives a futon for her troubles. But the troubles at the school will resist such an easy solution. So how will she resolve them?

I liked to see Kobato finally getting pieces of the broken hearts in her flask/jar, although the wish that she wants is still not stated, nor is who or what she is and where is from ever stated. In fact, this story focusses far more on the people, like Sayaka, who Kobato is helping than Kobato herself. While this is good, it often seems that information doled out about Kobato comes in drops from an eyedropper, and the other characters get more time than she does. For this reason, I suspect that we won't find out all about Kobato until the final or penultimate volume in this series.

I like this series a lot, and Kobato is a strange and interesting character. The lack of information we get about her, and about her wish, make her even more interesting, as she becomes much of an enigma, and the little information we do know about her (that she is collecting pieces of broken hearts to fulfill a wish to go somewhere she very much wants to go), only make her that much more intriguing. I find myself wanting to read and learn more, and to know if she will manage to save the school somehow. I recommend this book, and this series.

Kobato, Volume 1 by CLAMP

Kobato Hanato is a young girl with a very clear wish, and she can have it granted, but to do so, she needs to fulfill a quest. The first is to understand society and its mores to get a special jar, which she will then have to fill with the pieces of broken hearts that she has mended. But to do that, first she has to get points to earn the jar from her trainer, which takes the form of a stuffed animal named Iyorogi-san, who is there to help her learn human customs.

Her first mission is to help someone by taking out the trash. But when she sees an admonition to help cut down on waste by cutting down on the amount of trash, she decides to offer the trash to the crows she sees, causing them to attack her and Iyorogi. Next, she attempts to help out a stall owner in serving his food to his customers, but when someone asks her to help cook their hot pot meal, can the inexperienced Kobato create something delicious, or will her attempt end in disaster?

At Christmas, she gets a job helping to sell Christmas cake from a bakery, but when her efforts get her the very last cake for her own, will she and Iyorogi end up eating it, or will she give it away to a woman who missed getting a cake that her daughter wants very much? New Years Day brings Kobato into the service of a female fortune-teller, who she spends the day with after helping the woman set out a lucky plant. But can a day of fun really gain her any points for understanding the holiday?

February brings Valentine's Day, and when Kobato finds some chocolates lost by a schoolteacher, can she find the woman to give them back, or will she end up enjoying them by herself? Next is the cherry blossom festival, where Kobato must show that she understands the holiday. But when she is asked to sing by the viewing party she joins, will her singing make or break their experience?

The comes a rainy day. When Kobato nearly loses her hat, her journey to get her wish granted nearly ends. But when the umbrella she was lent is taken, can Kobato make it up, or will she end the day badly? Summer brings heat, and Iyorogi wants beer. Can Kobato find him what he wants, and what is the wish that Kobato wants to make? Where does she want to go so badly, and will she ever get there?

However, now that she has gotten the bottle, finding wounded hearts to heal isn't so easy, nor is the act of fixing them. When Kobato attempts to go at her mission in a straightforward manner, she is nearly picked up for a day of sex by a businessman, but she is rescued by a short-tempered man who thinks that she is no better than a prostitute. But when she is hired by that man's friend, a female grade school teacher, to help out at her school, are prospects looking up for Kobato?

I liked this manga. The books themselves are rather short, but the story is first rate, and while the tasks that Kobato sets out on are rather straightforward (understanding aspects of human society), the reasons why she is on this quest in the first place, and what Kobato is are by no means so clear. In just the first volume, we are introduced to the mystery of why her hat is so important, and where she wants to go so badly. I personally think that perhaps she is a ghost or some kind of animal that has been given human form, and that if she loses her hat, she will revert to whatever she was before with no way of going back.

We also get to wonder what her guardian/taskmaster Iyorogi is. Although he looks like a stuffed animal, he can speak, and at one point he fights with another, more animal-looking spirit creature that can also talk. Although the fight gives us some information (that Iyorogi is the same kind of spirit animal as the one he is fighting, he has taken on this appearance with his guardianship of Kobato, and that he and the other thing are rivals or foes), it never tells us what he really is. Also, the place where Kobato wants to go is concealed, and may be something like heaven or a place like a human life. Again, it is discussed, but Iyorogi cuts her off before she can completely express her wish, so it still remains a mystery.

These mysteries and the simple but charming story intrigue me and make me want to read more. I like the way the story keeps you guessing, and i love the art and the characters. I really want to see where this is going and what Kobato is and what her wish is. Simple, but deep at the same time. Highly recommended.

Otomen, Volume 9 by Aya Kanno

Asuka Masamune is an Otomen, a manly man who has girly interests. In his case, it is sewing, cooking and cleaning, but he also likes reading Shojou manga. He isn't the only Otomen at his school, though- his friend Kitora Kurokawa is interested in flowers, and his rival and sometimes friend Hajime Tonomine is an absolute wizard with makeup and can make any woman look her best. His friend and classmate Yamato Ariake has manly interests, but he just looks very girly, and he is picked on and sometimes rejected because of those looks, which he cannot help.

In the last volume, Asuka's mother returned to Japan and discovered that Asuka wasn't the only guy with girly interests in his school. Since her husband left her with the words that he always dreamed of becoming a woman, she freaked out and took control of the school board with one mission- to wipe out any Otomen or boys with girly interests in Asuka's school, Ginyuri. But when Asuka, Juta and Ryo show up, they are completely surprised by the change in the student body- everyone seems to be following the new rules!

That's when they find out that Asuka's mother has stacked the deck. Rumors are going around that anyone who scrupulously keeps to the new rules and embodies them will receive free tuition and increased grades. But there is more. At school assembly, some of the teachers have been fired to make room for new ones, and a special task force to ensure that the students are hewing to the new regulations are announced. Anyone who is found violating the new school rules can be expelled, and anything that violates the rules can be taken away. Kitora is despondent that the school has closed his garden, and will be using it for their "ideal woman" training program. And Yamato has been told that his face violates school rules, so he is planning to get a buzz cut to make himself look more manly.

But when the man that his mother has put in charge of the school, Asuka's cousin, Kasuga, has a reason of his own to dislike Otomen, going back to when he and Asuka were just children. Kasuga hates Asuka and means to bring him, and all his friends, down. But when he takes Juta's manga ideas book, he works out that Juta is actually the manga-ka known as Jewel Sachihana, the creator of Asuka's favorite Shoujo manga, Love Chick. Determined to use this knowledge to drive Juta out of school he confronts Asuka's friend, and Asuka decides that he will defend Juta's good name by getting Jewel Sachihana to show up in the same room as Juta, thus proving his friend's innocence! Little does Asuka know that not only is Juta really Jewel, but that he is using Asuka and Ryo's romance as the basis for his manga.

But how can Asuka get the "real" Jewel Sachihana to show up and meet Kasuga when Juta is really jewel? And can he save the day by manufacturing an authentic "jewel" for Kasuga to meet when Jewel fails to show up and the other girl standing in for Jewel fails to know the character of the manga-ka well enough to meet Kasuga's high standards?

Meanwhile, Ryo, a very tomboyish girl with manly interests, evokes the interest of one of the new teachers hired by Kasuga, a woman named Otowa Moematsu. She is so girly and feminine that at her last teaching job, she actually had students coming to blows over who had her affections. She attempts to teach all the girls at Ginyuri how to be feminine, but completely fails with Ryo. In attempting to prove her message that a manly girl will never attract a manly man, she runs into the little roadblock that Ryo is already in a relationship with Asuka Masamune, one of the most manly appearing guys at the school. Otowa is offended by the idea and schemes to steal Asuka away from Ryo to prove her point. But will she succeed at stealing Asuka's affections?

So the pressure is being ramped up at school, and I was amused at how much of the names used in this volume reflected Japanese ideas about sex and attraction. Yuri, part of the name of the school, is also a word used to describe a romance between two women (as opposed to Yaoi for two men) and Moe is a kind of attractiveness often characterized as "adorable" or "cute". Especially because Ginyuri is merely a rearranged Ginryu, a word that seems to be everywhere in manga and anime, and that Otowa might be pretty, but she is the least Moe character I have ever seen.

In fact, she is actually very repulsive, not necessarily in looks, but in attitude. As she is the first new teacher character that the series has focussed on, I don't wonder that the rest of her fellow teachers are going to be equally bad and repulsive, just in different ways- it's already stated that each of them was considered very much unemployable by other schools due to events in their pasts and past employment histories. I can see them eventually being defeated in their aims by Asuka and his friends, but given the rate at which things are happening, this will probably take a while. This is good for me, and other readers, because I am really enjoying this series, but given that I want a happy ending for Asuka and Ryo, this is bad for the characters.

I really love this series and how they explore the conflict between what society says people should be and what we want for ourselves and our interests. Japan is the perfect place to explore such contrasts as Japanese society comes down much more strongly on the "fit in and conform" side of the equation, whereas America is much more for individual choice and preference. Seeing how these things work out in a society so different to our own is fascinating, and I can't wait to read more. Highly recommended.

Otomen, Volume 8 by Aya Kanno

Asuka Masamune is an Otomen, a manly guy who loves feminine things, especially cooking and sewing. He tried to hide what he was when he was growing up, because his father left his mother after confessing that he always wanted to be a woman, and his mother freaked out over the news, so she made Asuka promise to always be a manly man. However, when Asuka met his classmate Ryo Miyakozuka, a very tomboyish girl, he feel in love with her, and her acceptance made him let out his inner Otomen.

Now, however, Asuka has discovered that Ryo is going to be switching schools, because her grandfather has fallen sick and she needs to go to Fukuoka, where he lives, to look after him. Her father wants her grandfather to live with them, but her grandfather staunchly refuses, and he needs to be looked after, so Ryo has volunteered to do so. Asuka is saddened, but their mutual friend Juta Tachibana has an idea- since there are only five days left until Ryo leaves, why not make her last days as fun as possible? So Asuka, Juta, their Flower Otomen friend Kitora Kurokawa and the girly-looking guy Yamato Ariake each plan one day of fun to bid goodbye to Ryo.

Yamato calls on the band Fra Fra to sing her a goodbye concert with himself as front-man, Kitora plans a day of planting flowers in the school garden in a pattern that forms the words "Welcome back" so that the flowers can greet her on her return, Juta plans a day at an amusement park and Asuka, knowing Ry's preferences, plans a day of training in the mountains. But when a bear appears ready to attack Ryo and Asuka, can Asuka defeat the bear with his offering of a teddy that he was planning on giving Ryo at the end of the day?

After she leaves for the semester, Asuka rubs along as best he can, but by the time of the winter break, he decides to spend it with Ryo at her Grandfather's house in Fukuoka. Her grandfather has a secret of his own, however, and it is behind the reason why he doesn't want to come to live with Ryo and her father. But can Asuka, with his talent for cooking and cleaning, discover her grandfather's secret and dissolve his resistance to coming back to Tokyo to live with Ryo and her father?

Meanwhile, Hajime Tonomine makes a connection with a girl with no ability to apply makeup online, and helps her through e-mail to try and get her ready for a big date that she is planning to meet a man she has never met in person. But when he meets a girl in the city who wears so much makeup she looks like a clown, is it the same girl he is schooling online, and can he help her tone down her look to make herself pretty?

And, after Ryo returns home, Asuka and his friends, including his rival and sometimes friend Hajime Tonomine, a makeup Otomen, throw a party to welcome her back. But Asuka's mother shows up first, and she is unhappy with the "corruption" she senses in her son and his friends, and takes control of the school board to deal with the "corruption" in its students. But what will this mean for Asuka and his friends?

I love this series, which is about the conflict in people between what society and family often expects of people, and their actual feelings and interests. Men are supposed to be strong and manly and women are supposed to be lovely, yielding and feminine, but people often have interests and talents outside what society thinks as strictly masculine or feminine traits. The question is, will you let society dictate what you like and your interests, or will you reject society's rules and do what you like anyway? That's a question that all the characters in the book have to deal with in their own way. Even Ryo, who is more interested in things that are masculine, like fighting and martial arts, has to deal with going against these expectations- but she doesn't reject the more traditional feminine qualities, she simply has no talent for them, which I suspect goes back partly to her upbringing by her very masculine father.

This is becoming more and more of a thread in this manga, and I suspect, given the last story, that matters are going to come to a head with Asuka's mother and her expectations. But this volume does introduce someone who might be on Asuka's side, if things get really bad. I just hope that this character will appear again, as they can show Asuka's mother that one can be manly and still indulge a softer, feminine side as well. I hope this character wasn't just a throwaway introduction, and that they actually do appear again.

This volume was wonderful, and I loved it a lot. In fact, this is one of the better manga out there, and I like the message it sends, that you should accept all the parts of yourself and your likes, no matter if society approves of them or not. I do hope the manga goes for many more volumes, but at the same time, I want Asuka's mother to be able to accept him and his likes at some point as well. I know she is set up as the main antagonist for the series, and once she is able to accept Asuka, the series is over. But I can still hope. Highly recommended.