Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Moon Maze Game by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes

Cowles Industries is one of the premiere entertainment venues on the planet, running live-action roleplaying games complete with costumes, holograms and sets that put most Hollywood movies to shame. Partnered with the IFGS, the International Fantasy Gaming Society, they run games that, in addition to being run for the players of the game, are also simulcast to entertainment venues all over the planet. And now, they have pulled off the biggest coup in the history of gaming- their latest game will be played on the Moon itself, in one of the habitats that has been constructed both on and below the surface.

But Cowles industries and the fans and other players of the IFGS are not the only ones looking forward to the Moon Maze game. This time, an actual celebrity, Prince Ali Kikaya of the African nation of Kikaya, is taking part in the game. And two expatriates of Kikaya have received word of his coming, and are making plans to capture him and use his abduction to overthrow Ali's father, once democratically elected to be ruler of his people, only to betray them all by declaring himself King and making Ali his heir.

But Ali isn't going into the game alone- Scotty Griffin, the son of Alex Griffin, former head of Security at Dream Park, will be coming along as Ali's bodyguard. Scotty once lived on the Moon Colony with his wife, Kendra, until a horrible accident nearly killed him and left him with several phobias, including the sight of the stars. His resulting problems broke his marriage apart, but Kendra still lives on the Moon Colony and is the Administrator there. Returning to the Moon is going to make Scotty have to really face his fears, and the emotional turmoil from his broken marriage.

Also going to the Moon for the game is the Game Master, Xavier. He's a weird and eccentric man who is happy that two former friends are among the gamers chosen for the game. Alexandra Chan and Wayne Gibson. But not because he will be happy to see them again- Xavier has always blamed Wayne for reporting his cheating on his thesis, and Alexandra for choosing a relationship with Wayne over one with him. They had once bonded over their love for games, but Xavier is intending to use this game to destroy them both as gamers and to have his cheerful revenge on both of them.

But when a group of professional kidnappers act in the early stage of the game to seize Ali and shut off the dome in which the game is being run to use as his prison until they can transport him back to earth to use him as a pawn in a play against his father, the kidnappers make their first mistake by imprisoning the gamers as well, along with a Moon Colony native hired to play a guide NPC named Darla, someone who helped construct the dome that they have been playing in. Now, the gamers are in a real adventure, one being played for keeps, and it is going to take all their bravery and wits to prevail against the kidnappers.

Defeating game foes and thugs is usually a snap for the gamers-but the kidnappers, known as Neutral Moresnot, aren't running to a script, and their weapons are for real. Can Scotty keep Ali safe, and can Wayne lead the group into triumphing over foes that are more ruthless than any they have faced before? And can they trust Xavier, who wanted the entire group to fail, to work with them and help them succeed in the most ruthless game of their entire lives?

I started reading the Dream Park books back when the first one was released. It was right up my alley, as I was an avid roleplayer of Dungeons and Dragons, and I loved everything about it. That continued with the Barsoom Project, the California Voodoo Game and even the Role-Playing Game version of the Game. I love the world that both authors have built, and how they have skillfully interwoven mysteries into each of the novels.

But while other books have interwoven the game and the mystery, in this book, the mystery itself (the kidnapping and hostage situation) becomes the game that the players must play, and the backdrops for the game become both obstacles that they must work together to pass, and opportunities to turn the tables on their attackers and take them down while making their way to an exit and unttapping it so that allies can enter the dome to help defeat the kidnappers. The related mysteries of who is helping the attackers and working to ferret out the connections that made the entire attack possible are interwoven into the plot and make the cuts away from the gamers equally tense in their own way.

I really enjoyed this book, which grabbed my attention from the start and never let it go. the book's tension made me never want to put it down once I started it, which was hard, since I started reading it at work. I had only intended to read the beginning, but that didn't work out very well for me. I blasted through this book in only about two to three hours and was entertained every step of the way. The narrative kept pulling me along right to the end, and as the book escalated in danger, it kept me on the edge of my seat in every sense of the word.

This is an excellent book that will appeal to those who love all sorts of Roleplaying Games, books set in the universes of RolePlaying Games, people who love videogames and people who just love tense thriller/mysteries and a near-future setting. One of the best books I have read this year, if not the best, handled with a light, deft touch that makes everything even better. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

Harry Dresden had just gotten his daughter back, and killed all the Red Court vampires who were behind her abduction. But just when it seemed as though his life might be his own again, he was shot and died in front of the boat that was going to be his new home, after his apartment had been torched, But is death the end for Harry?

Harry ends up in the afterlife, ready to move on, but it seems life isn't done with him yet. He winds up in a nearly-deserted, twisted echo of Chicago, and is informed that if he doesn't find out exactly who killed him, three of his friends are fated to die in a nasty and horrible way. And Harry, ready to rest as he is, finds that he still can't bear to leave his friends behind like that, and so he reluctantly agrees to go back and save his friends. But since he's dead, and his body is missing, Harry will have to go back as a Ghost- immaterial, formless and unable to be seen or sensed by any of his friends.

And that isn't the only shock that Harry gets. It seems that while only a short time has passed subjectively for him in the afterlife, six months have gone by on Earth, and Chicago has gone to crap in that time. While his friend Murph is trying to keep the city safe from a pantheon of supernatural menaces, helped by Harry's werewolf friends, and Harry's apprentice, Molly, has been taking on too much and nearly turning herself inside out to become a menace feared by the other Supernatural menaces just so she can protect people. But that's not really Molly's strength, and she is becoming more and more cut-off from her friends, family and former allies because of her obsessive need to try to fulfill Harry's role.

And this is one magical cataclysm that Harry is very much responsible for. Because when he killed the entire Red Court by a family curse that started with their newest full member (his ex-girlfriend, Susan), he also created a power vacuum where they once were, and now the supernatural menaces fighting over their former place in the world is creating turmoil that even the normal humans can sense.

And that's not all that Harry has to worry about. For among the dead spirits that haunt Chicago are those that would just love to get their hands on him and take him down... and in his ghostly form, Harry has no magic to fight with. None at all. But, as he finds, there are compensations for being a ghost. The question is, can Harry repair the situation that he created through his own ignorance without any access to his magic or the friends he usually relies on? What happened to his body, and what will happen to him if he does manage to solve the problem? Will Harry somehow be granted a whole new life, or will he decide to go on to whatever afterlife really awaits him? The outcome is by no means certain, but can ghostly Harry prevail?

I honestly thought that the last book was somehow going to be the end of the series, but when Ghost Story was announced, I was very happy, because I loves me some Harry Dresden. But I have to hand it to Butcher, he pulled off a great story where I wasn't sure there could even be a story. It was amazing to see how much had changed in the relatively short time since Harry had been away, making this story, in effect, something of an "It's a Wonderful Life" for Harry, as he sees how his presence has changed and enriched Chicago.

But never let it be said that the afterlife is dull. Despite being dead and bodiless, Harry finds ways to interact with all his old friends, and even finds a way to kill other evil spirits gunning for him. He also gets some compensatory powers of being able to walk through walls and teleport short distances. But even though the book starts out slow, the ending of the book speeds up to Harry's more usual to deal with speeds, and you can see why the slow beginning made it a much better book in the end. I was also surprised on two fronts: who really killed Harry (and why), and the source of the unnatural cold that is gripping Chicago, even when it should be the end of Spring by the calendar.

This is not a good first book to read for the series, since so many of its characters are introduced in earlier books in the series. It's also not the usual "Hits the ground at Grand Prix speeds and never stops" pacing the books usually enjoy, but I feel there will be a definite change in tone in the series to come, given the ending of this book. It makes me want to read even more now, and I am sure Harry's fans will feel the same. Highly recommended.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Shirt On His Back by Barbara Hambly

When every bank in the country crashes in the wake of a Presidential election, Benjamin January is one of the people affected in New Orleans- but not as badly as some. While he loses everything in the bank, he was far-sighted enough to have paid off his mortgage on his house where he lives with his wife, Rose, and which she uses as a school. But times are hard for each of them. Ben taught the children of the wealthy to play the piano during the lean times in New Orleans, while Rose ran her school year-round. Now, both of them have lost their students, and with it, their income, as everyone has been affected by the crashing banks.

And his other source of income, playing at parties around New Orleans, is also slipping away because of the bank crash. And that's when Rose drops the most stunning news of all- she is pregnant with Ben's child, making their monetary situation truly dire. But Salvation for Ben comes in the person of Abishag Shaw, the local lawman who Ben has often helped with his murder cases, and most of the time, ended up being the one who actually found the culprit. But Abishag Shaw doesn't need help with a New Orleans murder, but something more personal: someone has killed (and scalped) his younger brother, Johnny, and he wants Ben's help in finding the murderer. Best of all, he is willing to pay Ben for the help, so Ben quickly agrees, leaving Rose behind to weather the insect and sickness-filled summer in New Orleans while their child grows inside her. He promises to write down everything he sees in a journal to share with Rose, but at the same time, Ben cannot help but remember his first wife, Ayasha, and how she died of sickness while he was gone at his job in a Paris hospital as a Doctor, something that has haunted him ever since.

Coming along with Ben and Abishag is Ben's friend and former opium addict Hannibal Sefton. In their previous case together, Hannibal had met his son, but his son never knew Hannibal, and Hannibal wouldn't let Ben tell his son who Hannibal was. But the sight of the child left behind by circumstance made Hannibal kick his habit, and that of drinking as well, even though both came about through Hannibal trying to mitigate the conditions of his Tuberculosis/"Consumption". But even though his sickness still afflicts him, he has made the journey from New Orleans to what is now Wyoming, determined to make something better of his life.

But as Ben Abishag and Hannibal search for Frank Boden, Johnny Shaw's former roomate at the fort where he worked, and the one who everyone believes killed him, they run into another mystery at the gathering of the Mountain Men and fur trappers. For one thing, the body of an older man, naked except for a pair of black leather gloves, is found one night at a camp near the gathering, and a local wild man named Manitou flees the gathering. But what has he to do with the man's dead body? Was he the killer, or did he see the deed done? And what was this man doing out in the wilderness, as it is trenchantly obvious that he is a man who was not at home in the wilderness. Add to that the possibility of contagious disease wiping out the gathering when one group of trappers is found dead, and a band of Indians who would like nothing more than to wipe out every white man at the gathering for coming in and trapping the same animals for skins that the local Indians themselves once caught, and Ben and his companions are caught up in several situations that might kill him.

But as Ben does his best to resolve all the mysteries besetting him and find the murderer of Johnny Shaw, he finds himself enjoying a situation he never experienced in New Orleans- people accepting him for himself and not caring about his skin color. But just like any group of people, there are secrets among the trappers that would lead to them gladly killing Ben and his friends, and it is going to take all of Ben's skill at ferreting out secrets and keeping himself alive to bring the guilty to justice. And how can he do that when his fear that he will come back to New Orleans and find Rose and their baby dead is forever on his mind? Can he focus himself long enough to keep his mind on the case, or will the circumstances Ben finds himself in lead to his death in the lonely western mountains?

Benjamin is finally taken out of his comfort zone, and out of the city where just about every other novel in this wonderful series has been set, and here he finds himself finally accepted as just a man, and at the same time, in some of the most dangerous situations he has ever been in. Some of this is played for a bit of humor, with some of the local indians referring to Ben as a "White Man" despite the color of his skin, which he finds exasperatingly humorous. But it becomes clear that the Indians mean that in attitude, he's the same as a white man, and don't mean his skin color.

I found the stories of both deaths, John Shaw, and that of the old, dead man in the small camp, to be interesting. While the last book explored much of Hannibal's background, this did the same for Abishag Shaw, showing why he alone among his brothers John and Tom, received such an unusual name, and why he ended up leaving his home in the wilderness to become one of the city Police in New Orleans. We also see the depth of his commitment to the law after working as a guard for many years, and how that inevitably estranges him from his remaining brother by the end of the book. Mixed in with all this is the treatment of the insane and the view of Indian tribes towards the whites, and the puzzle of how committed Hannibal Sefton is to maintaining his sobriety in the midst of the Wilderness, with the temptations of strong drink and debauchery all around him.

I found this book fascinating to read, and amazing in how it shows us the Wild West through the eyes of an outsider- Benjamin January The worldbuilding in this novel is fascinating and I loved every moment, even when Ben and his friends were fighting for their lives. The strong backstories that underlay the book are amazing and meticulously crafted, bringing plenty of strong characters to the fore and providing as intricate a setting as any of the novels set in New Orleans, with a strong sense of time and place. Highly recommended.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Silk is for Seduction by Loretta Chase

When Marcelline Noirot tracks down the Duke of Clevedon in Paris, it's with a particular purpose in mind. But that purpose isn't seduction or to task him with supporting an illegitimate child-it's to persuade him to make his future countess patronize her dress shop. But her way of getting his attention is to make herself unforgettable. She shows up at the same balls and parties that he does, and makes sure that she attracts every eye-including Clevedon's. And as soon as he takes her off for a tete-a-tete, where they make a wager: his diamond stickpin for her pearl brooch. She wins that wager, and Clevedon finds himself inexplicably attracted to her.

Marcelline, for her part, finds herself equally attracted, and even as she cold-bloodedly schemes to keep his interest because she wants to dress the woman who is to be his countess, Clara Fairfax. But when he realizes that his patronage is all she wants, Clevedon becomes both dismissive and incensed. He wants to bed her for the deception she has wrought on him, and Marcelline is savvy enough to realize it. She attempts to flee Paris for London, bluffing her way onto the earliest ship leaving for England, but Clevedon follows her and her maid and confidante and boards the same ship for a trip across the channel.

Unfortunately for them both, the ship is caught in a bad storm, and both Marcelline and her maid are taken sick during the voyage. Though he wants nothing more right then than to strangle her, he nurses her through the affliction and insists on conveying them both back to her shop in his carriage. And there he makes another discovery: her shop is no mere hole in the wall, but a respectable shop in a modestly respectable area of London.

It is not without its problems, however. Marcelline and her sisters are locked in battle with another modiste, a Mrs. Downes, who has been in business longer, and who caters to all the patrons of high status. But Marcelline and her sisters are much better designers, and want to cater to the same crowd, which is why Marcelline wants the business of Clara Fairfax. But even as Clevedon makes the introduction and shows off the dress she wore to a most important ball in Paris, Clevedon has made another conquest in the Noiret shop- Marcelline's daughter, Erroll, who is most interested in the Duke and knows just the right way to cozen her way into his heart.

But as Mrs. Downes bribes one of Marcelline's seamstresses into stealing Marcelline's book of designs, and thus, her business, the Seamstress is nearly caught and ends up starting a fire that burns down the shop. Clevedon, who had caught Marcelline in the back and was in the process of making love to her, is caught in the fire and rescues Erroll from being burned alive. Knowing that he is in some small way responsible for the fire, he takes Marcelline and her family into his home and helps her salvage her business, allowing his maids to help her finish the gown she is making for Clara in an effort to show off her best sides, and then helps her find a new shop to set up her business in, one in an even better, more fashionable area of town, in a property that he owns, and helps her set it up and decorate it.

This makes Marcelline break down and take him as her lover, if only for a night, but Clara's brother is not happy with Clevedon's actions, and they get into a public brawl in the street over what Clevedon has done in taking Marcelline as his lover. But Marcelline won't marry him, and she goads him into the perfect marriage proposal to Clara. But Clara is feeling the lack in Clevedon's treatment of her, and she turns down his marriage proposal in front of a full ballroom of people despite Clevedon finally doing everything right. But with that plan scotched, and with Marcelline having won Clara's patronage, and those of others of the Ton for the change she's made in Clara's appearance, can Clevedon convince Marcelline to become more than his lover or mistress, but his wife?

And will Marcelline, who comes, along with her sisters, from parents who were both schemers and confidence people, tell Clevedon of her background without having him reject her for that? Can there be a truly happy ending for this mismatched couple who truly do feel something for each other? Or will the forces of duty and propriety tear them apart for good?

It took me a bit to get into this novel, and that was mostly because of Clevedon, who basically got on his high horse fairly early on in the novel and spent so much of the time in high dudgeon that I just wanted to slap his face and tell him to "grow up already, stupid!" Perhaps it was meant to signal that his emotions were already engaged far too much with Marcelline, but it just seemed like incessant whining to me, and I'm of the "Cry me a river, build a bridge and get over it!" feeling, myself. It didn't endear me to his character much, to be honest.

But Marcelline definitely came across as the more adult, and yes, more scheming member of the couple. She attempts to go through with her cold-blooded scheme with a clear head, but as soon as she starts falling for Clevedon, her plans are hampered by her suddenly feminine heart, who would like to dream about being with Clevedon, even if her head knows such dreams are impossible. But as the novel moved along, Clevedon showed honor even as he worked through his emotional confusion over what he really wanted, and the ending made me happy that the two had found a way to be together, even as one of Marcelline's sisters and Clara's brother were sequel-baited.

In the end, I did end up enjoying the book's ending, but much of the early and middle were merely "meh" material. My annoyance with Clevedon's character made me not care about him much for a lot of the book, and while the ending redeemed those feelings wonderfully, I felt the book was slightly uneven because of it. Slightly recommended.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Nine Rooms of Happiness: Loving Yourself, Finding Your Purpose, and Getting Over Life's Little Imperfections by L. Danzinger & Catherine Berndorf

Just as you have rooms in your house, so also you have rooms in your mind, and just like the ones in your house, they accumulate the baggage you pick up during your life. But if your mind, just like the rooms in your real house, get too messy, they can make it impossible for you to live a normal and fulfilled life. This isn't to say that all the rooms should be obsessively neat and spic and span clean, but as long as the rooms are relatively neat and clean, you will be much happier in your life.

This book divides problems in your life into one of nine areas, just like the nine main rooms of a house. While a real life house may have multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, your mental house has just one of each, and problems in your life are analogous to a mess in one of the nine rooms. The Basement is your earliest memories. The Family Room is for just that- your family, while the Living Room is for friends. The Office contains your job, while the bathroom stands for issues with health, beauty, vanity and aging concerns. The Bedroom is for love and sex and intimacy, not just sex, but closeness with people you love. The kitchen, of course, has places for issues with food and taking care of oneself and others. The Kid's Room is for issues left over from your childhood, where you are forever the child and forever wrong, and also where you deal with issues from your own children. And the Attic is for your expectations of and for yourself, for your dreams and wishes, mainly the unfulfilled ones.

Each of these rooms and their baggage can mess up your life and cause you to feel stress, and the authors show you how to find which room or rooms are causing your problems and how you can work to, if not solve them, at least realize what those problems are and how they are rooted in your psyche. While a problem may seem to be based in one room of the house, it could have its roots in more than one room. For example, a problem with how you raise your kids can be based on expectations of how your parents did it, or in trying to recreate the same memories you had as a kid, which is all but impossible, and you can kill yourself trying and never have it feel the same.

There is also a tenth room, a room of one's one, where you can just be yourself and shrug off what other people want you to be or need you to be and just be yourself. What that room is, is up to you, and you can decide for yourself. It's there for you to be you, whoever you are.

I found this an interesting book and an interesting way to approaching problems in your life. In addition to laying out where your problem or problems lie, you can also see if your problem is in any way influenced by other things in your life. But it's not neccessary to spend hundreds of dollars in therapy to try and solve your problems. You just need to see them with some measure of objectivity, define the problem, and work towards a solution.

Breaking down the problem into what rooms of your mental house it falls into can go a long way towards helping you see the problem objectively and see what needs to be done. And maybe help you deal with and feel better about your problems without forcing you to see a therapist.

I found the book helpful on my own part, and decided my tenth room is a library, where I keep the books I've read, the stories I've told and the things I've experienced, and this book may also help you as well. It's an interesting concept and works well with some good self-assessment. YMMV, but this book did help me a great deal. Recommended.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Cast in Ruin by Michelle Sagara

Private Kaylin Neya is a Hawk, an agent of law and order in the City of Elantra. Kaylin is a human, instead of a cat-like Leontine, Elf-like Barrani, or the Hawk-like Aerians, or even a dragon, but no one who knows her would make the mistake of calling her a "mere" human. Because Kaylin, whose arms and body are covered in mysterious and magical sigils, has had the misfortune to be at a confluence of events that is changing the very face of her city.

Born in the fiefs, those semi-kingdoms independent of Elantra and also serving as its first line of defense against the forces of choas and darkness that live in the unclaimed lands. The fief she was born in is now the property of a Barrani named Nightshade, who shares a mysterious connection with Kaylin. But a new fief has recently been claimed by a Dragon, with Kaylin's aid, and the fief itself is aware, also thanks to Kaylin. And a new race of people who have appeared from another world, also with Kaylin's help, have sought some shelter there because the inhabitants of Elantra at large don't trust them.

But now a new mystery has occurred. In the new Dragon fief, seven corpses have turned up, all identical. And when Kaylin goes to take a look at the bodies, she discovers that the woman may, in fact, be a dragon, which sets the entire court at odds. For there are no female dragons... are there? And the possibility that one might exist sends the court into turmoil. And the new race apparently revere the woman as their mentor and savior, the one who taught them how to reach into other worlds to escape the destruction of their own.

But who is killing off these women, and are they copies or real? And if she somehow appears again, can Kaylin keep her alive and rescue her from who or what is killing her over and over and over again? And can her allies keep Kaylin alive as well? The only solace for Kaylin is that all these problems keep putting off her audience with the Dragon Emperor, something she almost certainly would not survive. But is dying on the streets any better? Or can she somehow win a victory in both arenas and save another champion of the new race?

Kaylin has come far from the still frightened orphan she was, no matter her service to the Hawks and the Hawklord, but she still has lots of areas to improve in. She is deathly scared of her audience with the Dragon Emperor, and with good reason, but everything she has done for Elantra may not mean much to him or his court when he meets her, because she still can't speak Dragon properly, or give the necessary deference smoothly and elegantly.

But new concerns come up that may move up that meeting- the survival of what seems to be a single female Dragon, and the precursor of the arrival of the unnamed shadows that were chasing the newly arrived race to the city. Even though she thought she defeated the Shadows the last time, this proves not to be the case. But even if she defeats this new threat, how many more shadows will show up to bedevil Elantra and the Fiefs?

And Kaylin is finally growing up, able to finally deal with some of the trauma of her past, and aided by two new friends, she is beginning to see that her refusal to learn etiquette is only holding her back, and she has to do it or be called on her stupidity and refusal to learn. I can't wait to see what happens to Kaylin and Elantra next, the only problem is settling in for the wait for the next book to come out! Highly recommended series and book.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Naked City: Tales of Urban Fantasy by Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, Melissa Marr, Holly Black and others

This anthology collects tales about cities and the people who live in them, whether they are human, supernatural or something else. Cities are their own places, and they have their own rules. These are stories of what goes on in cities.

Curses by Jim Butcher has Harry dealing with an actual curse on the Chicago Cubs. When someone comes to Harry to get the curse lifted, Harry must find out not only who cast the curse and why, but what can be done to make it go away. But what if the curse isn't really a curse after all? Can Harry understand the motivations of the Fairy King who cast the curse?

How the Pooka Came to New York City by Delia Sherman explains how a real live Irish Pooka managed the trip from Ireland to New York. Traveling with a human horse trainer by the name of Liam Casey, the Pooka must repay the debt of his life before he can bid goodbye to the man he traveled with. But in a city as full of iron and as against the Irish as New York, can Madra the Pooka save Liam's life and help him find a job? And can he find a way to survive the city on his own?

On the Slide by Richard Bowes follows an actor who plays a cop in a historical cop drama. But he feels as though he was born in the wrong era. When a chance event has him slip back into the past, will he enjoy his fate, or dread it?

The Duke of Riverside by Ellen Kushner has Alec, a scholar from the Hill, who idolizes a swordsman named DuVier. But when he is disappointed that DuVier isn't running around killing people every day and he calls him a phony, will the swordsman kill him, or adopt him?

Oblivion by Calvin Klein by Christopher Fowler is about Helen Abbott, a woman addicted to shopping, who views shopping as sex and who indulges in it every day. When she catches her husband cheating on her, she goes on a fresh orgy of shopping. But when she and her cards finally hit their limit, will her world come crashing down around her?

Fairy Gifts by Patricia Briggs has Thomas, a vampire who has been imprisoned by the Fae, and finally released. But when he returns home to Butte, he becomes enmeshed in a dispute among the fae over a girl imprisoned in a mine. But can Thomas find his way through the murky waters of Fae double-dealing and discern the truth?

Picking up the Pieces, by Pat Cadogan has a girl following her sister to Europe. Her sister has followed her boyfriend, Martin, to Berlin, and the wall is about to come down. But now he's disappeared and Quinn, her sister, is desperate to find him. But in the chaos of the city, can they find Martin, and if Quinn disappears with him, will her family ever be the same?

Underbridge by Peter S. Beagle follows a young professor who moves to Seattle and encounters a real troll under a Bridge. But when he commits himself to helping the troll's keeper, will his sanity be able to take it?

Priced to Sell by Naomi Novik follows the trials and tribulations of two real estate brokers in New York city who try to keep their clients satisfied and happy ina city where building and unbuilding and rebuilding trouble everyone. But can they keep a vampire, a Kitsune and Jekyll and Hyde happy?

The Bricks of Gelecek by Matthew Kressel follows a being of Destruction who destroys cities along with his brothers. But when he takes a break from destruction, he discovers a girl whose songs bring back to his memories visions of cities he destroyed. And after a while of visiting her, he falls in love with her. But will his attempts to protect her end up destroying her as well?

Weston Walks by Kitt Reed, follows a damaged young man named Weston who gives walks showing parts of the city most people have never seen. But when he sees a young woman on one of his walks who shouldn't be there, he feels he must track her down. But when his obsession with pursuing her destroys his life, will he ever see her again?

The Projected Girl by Lavie Tidhar follows a young Jewish boy who wants to learn magic, and an incident of real magic, of a girl somehow drawn into a painting painted on a wall. But as he struggles to understand what really happened, can he save her, or is it already too late?

The Way Station by Nathan Balingrud follows a homeless man named Beltrane who is haunted by the shadows of his past, and of the daughter he neglected and ultimately left behind. but when his body starts birthing his memories to the world, can he find a way to reconnect with her?

Guns for the Dead by Melissa Marr follows a gun shop owner in the Land of the Dead, and a man named Frank who comes to her for a job. But can he find his way around in the sometimes contrary land of the Dead?

And Go Like This by John Crowley is about a couple new to the city, and how they go on living there. But how can they live in a world of overpopulation?

Noble Rot by Holly Black follows a dying Rock Star and a strange woman who comes to visit and feed him. Despite her seeming soft-heartedness, is she really there to help him, or will he end up on her strange menu?

Daddy Long Legs of the Evening by Jeffrey Ford is about a spider who once burrowed into a boy's brain and took him over, spinning its web and utterly controlling him. But when that boy grew up, his body was not enough for the Spider. But what else can it control?

The Skinny Girl by Lucius Shepard follows a Hispanic photographer who discovers and chronicles the story of a real saint, Santa Muerte or "Saint Death". But who is she really, and what does she really want? Can he discover that on his own?

The Colliers' Venus (1893) by Caitlin R. Kiernan follows Professor Jeremiah Ogilvy, and the pitch-colored woman who he discovers at the bottom of the excavation shaft beneath the city. But who or what is she, and what does she want from him?

King Pole, Gallows Pole, Bottle Tree by Elizabeth Bear follows a man who can see ghosts in Las Vegas. But when he finds a woman with a bottle tree, which is used to trap ghosts, can he figure out why she has it and who set it up? And who is using the spirits trapped inside it?

"Cities" is a very broad subject, so most of the stories in this volume really run the gamut of types of stories. Most of them are serious, with the exception of "Priced to Sell", and some of them almost cross the line from fantasy and into horror. But despite the wide variety of stories in this volume, I did enjoy many of them, and my favorites include "Curses", "How the Pooka Came to New York City", "Priced to Sell" and "The Bricks of Gelecek".

The stories in this volume do occasionally seem uneven, with the stories being all over the place, but I think that while I have my own favorites, other readers will enjoy other stories more or perhaps find different ones becoming their own favorites. As a whole, while I would definitely recommend some of the stories in this volume, others I would suggest skipping, so altogether, this story collection wasn't one of my favorites overall.

This one came up as "Meh" to me, even though there were stories I really enjoyed, others I simply didn't, and the broad nature of the volume didn't work in its favor for me. Too broad, too many stories I found uninteresting. YMMV, of course.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Hiss of Death: A Mrs. Murphy Mystery by Rita Mae Brown

Mary Minor "Harry" Harristeen is at the top of her game. Newly re-married to her beloved husband, Pharamond or "Fair" Haristeen, she's got her farm to look after, people and animals that love her, and a lot of stuff to do. But when she goes in for a routine health checkup, she gets the shock of her life. Somehow, she has breast cancer.

This is a complete and total shock to her system. She must go in for a biopsy to see if the small mass in her breast is cancerous, and deal with one of the worst health scares of a woman's life. But, as her Doctor reminds her, she is 40, in good health otherwise, and doesn't have any complications that would prevent her from healing properly once she gets things taken care of. But if it is cancerous, she will still have to deal with radiation and perhaps some chemotherapy. And she's lucky- she has lots of friends and people who love her, and who won't let her sink into despair and lethargy. And there are plenty of support groups- she's not the only one who has gone through such a problem or fought with cancer.

As Harry soldiers on with her health problem, she joins a local support group and plans to join a run for cancer survivors. But something strange is going on at the hospital- One of the nurses there apparently dropped dead without a mark on her, and with no prior diseases to account for such a fate. Everyone is shocked and stunned by the death, but views it as something of an act of God or accident. However, when another worker, a doctor, also in perfect health, dies without a mark on him, Harry smells a rat. But what could get two people killed? Is it some form of drugs or steroids? And how could they die without any mark of damage?

Something else weird happens when the local records storage burns to the ground. Harry feels that it is significant, especially since one of the victims stored all her records there, along with many others in the town. Unbeknownst to many, though, some of the records are stored in brick rooms that shielded the records from the burning and the heat. But the records can only be released to family, so if there is something in those rooms that might have led to the deaths, Harry has no chance of accessing it.

But someone in town is doing murder, and Harry knows she has to stop it... because otherwise, she herself might end up on the murderer's hit list. But can she stop the murderer and figure out why they are killing people, before she becomes a victim?

This was... kind of a new experience for me, in reading about Harry. Harry has always been in such perfect health, because she takes care of herself, and gets a workout by doing chores around her farm. I never expected her to fall sick to something as insidious as cancer. But there's hope since they caught it early, and after she has a lumpectomy, she has to deal with chemotherapy, which is incredibly debilitating, and do weight training and core-strengthening exercises to get back into shape.

And at the same time, she is faced with a new mystery to solve, so for this one, she is really going to need the help of her animals and the other animals of the town. I found the reveal of who the murderer was, and what they were doing that was so illegal, to be interesting and rather unexpected, and I liked how the animals once again saved Harry's life. I liked that this time it was *all* her animals, not just her dog and cats, who jumped in to save her. It was wonderful to read, even if it did make me wince.

So far, I liked this book the best out of all of the Mrs. Murphy mysteries. It's compelling because of what is happening in Harry's life as well as the mystery, and the mystery is something not easily solved. It's literally one you won't see coming, and that makes it all the more interesting. I enjoyed this book a lot, and I think other readers will as well. Highly recommended.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Batman/Planetary Deluxe Edition by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday

Elijah Snow, Jakita and the man known as "Drummer" are the travelling troubleshooters of the Organization known as "Planetary". Now, they have come to Gotham City on the trail of a man known as John Black. Black seemed ordinary, but his parents were killed when he was young, and it triggered his psychic power of reality warping. Within an area, he can bring himself, and any other people near him, into a different reality, or bring things from other realities into our own. Through use of his powers, he's inadvertantly slaughtered a number of people.

Elijah Snow has seen this sort of thing before, when several multiverses crashed together and fused the bodies of the people living in them together, quite messily. The three agents are assigned to work with Dick Grayson and Jasper, both assigned to the local office. Snow, though, has no good opinion of either Gotham City or the local members of Planetary, especially Jasper, a Green-haired, white-faced and purple-lipped man. It's he who deduces John Black's reality warping powers, and he abandons the local men to try and track down John Black himself, along with Jakita and Drummer.

But when they confront him in the back Alley known as "Crime Alley", the shock of being attacked makes Black use his powers to send them all to a different Gotham, one where a man known as "Batman" is alive and well. As Elijah Snow and Drums attempt to grapple with Black and bring him back to their world and dimension, Batman sees the commotion and assumes that they are all responsible for men Black has killed and ends up attacking Jakita when she resists his attempts at "taking them in".

But as Drummer is nearly taken out by the shock of switching realities (he can read the world's information streams, and being shunted from world to world is horrible for him. But as Snow tries to reasn with John Black and make him see that he needs to be contained for his own good and the good of others, he continues switching worlds on them, causing the Batman that Jakita is fighting to change along with the worlds, from the 60's era TV/movie Batman, to several iterations of the comics Batman. Finally Jakita is able to deiver a knockout blow, but Batman isn't out for long, and when he comes to, this version of him is able to sympathize with John Black, and perhaps ease a little of his mental trauma. But can Black retain enough sanity to return them to their home dimension?

I have only read one book of Planetary, so I didn't know the characters very well, and since I read it a good, long time ago, well, what I remembered about Planetary and the other characters is vanishingly small. But Planetary wants to uncover the secret history of the world, and sought out Elijah Snow because they needed his detective skills. But those skills aren't all he has- he can manipulate heat and cold and seems to be ageless/immortal. The fact that he has a high level of detective skills sort of make him like his own world's version of Batman, albeit with one sort-of superpower. And this made it amusing that he seems to consider Batman with something like scorn.

I really found the comparisons of the different Batmans (Batmen?) amusing, as the script of the comic is included afterwards, presumably so that readers who aren't familiar with all the different iterations of Batman can figure out who is who. I really laughed when I recognized the Adam West Batman (most noticeably for the helmet and how he calls everyone "citizen" and carries "Bat Female Villain Repellent Spray") and some of the more interesting iterations, like the Facist Dark Knight Batman, the 30's and 40's vigilante Batman (who carries a gun despite his own parents being gunned down), and it's the final, gestalt Batman, who manages to connect with John Black and bring some sort of closure to his life.

My biggest problem with the graphic novel is the high cost of the book versus the short version of the story. The script pads it out to "usual" graphic novel length, but the story is almost over in a blink. I, and I think a lot of readers will feel that the story should be longer- not because it's missing anything, but just that you want it to go on and have more happen than just a fairly short encounter with Batman that mostly consists of Jakita fighting Batman.

This is a great story and well-told, but the high price of the graphic novel makes it feel like a horrible value for the money. Even with the included script, it just feels unnecessarily padded and expensive. The story is great, and the art is also great (Cassaday can ape the styles of other artists and still retain his own for the rest of the characters). But the price... and I don't mean to keep harping on that, but one issue for $22 is just not a good deal, even with the script. Highly recommended for the story, but not recommended at the price.

Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol

Anya is a Russian girl trying to grow up in America. While her mother prepares fatty Russian treats, Anya is trying to lose weight and look like the lissome American girls who all the boys seem to go for. But she doesn't have a lot of friends, and she's fixated on Sean, a handsome, totally American guy. But he only seems to have eyes for Elizabeth, his current girlfriend, who is very tall and very blonde. Still, he seems to occasionally pay attention to Anya, but while she thrills for those moments, most people tend to pair her in their minds with Dima, a short Russian boy whose mother is friend with Anya's mother.

But one day Anya, seeking to run away from her school responsibilities from School for a while, falls into a hole in the ground and is trapped. She's not alone in the hole, but finds herself face to face with a real ghost. Terrified by the experience, she tries to deny what she is seeing, but when her cries for help are finally heard, it's after she has somewhat come to terms with the situation and actually begun to talk to the ghost. Once she is rescued, she forgets all about how she promised to help the ghost in the well find out who murdered her- until she finds the ghost manifesting in her house as well.

It turns out the Ghost, named Emily Reilly, can't go far from her bones. But somehow, one of her fingerbones fell into Anya's backpack while she was trapped in the well. Anya doesn't really want any reminders of her time in the well, but when Emily helps her out at school, Anya agrees to let Emily stay around, and turns Emily's fingerbone into a necklace so she can keep her always near. In return for her help in school, Anya starts educating Emily about the modern world, and Emily decides to help Anya find happiness with Sean in return for everything she's learning about modern life and help in finding her killer.

But Anya's experiments in attracting Sean don't go very well, and when she invites herself to a party that Sean and Elizabeth are attending, she finds out firsthand that her dreams are not going to come true. Sean is gay, and Elizabeth is acting as his beard for reasons of her own which she refuses to explain. This turns Anya way off Sean and sours her on the whole idea of a romance with him. But Emily isn't put off by Anya's disinterest and tries to keep putting them together, insisting that Anya will be much happier if she just lets Emily guide her into finding love with Sean. In fact, it soon stops being Romantic and starts getting creepy, and Anya quickly wants to get rid of Emily for more reasons than just solving her murder and helping her find her ultimate rest.

But as she researches Emily's past, Anya soon comes to the realization that Emily has lied to her. Not only has lied to her, but has been lying the entire time, and her obsession with bringing Anya and Sean together comes out of her own past life, which went horribly wrong and ended up with her dying. But as Emily resorts to terror tactics to try and bring Anya around and make her do what Emily wants, Anya realizes that Emily has grown stronger for being around Anya. Perhaps too strong for Anya to deal with. But how can she deal with the now-malevolent ghost of Emily and get rid of her for good, and what lessons will dealing with Emily bring to Anya's own life?

I really enjoyed this book. The frustration that Anya has with being who she is and how her mother just doesn't get that Anya wants to fit in with the kids she sees around her and not be as firmly Russian as her mother is. But she's allowed her wanting to be like the rest of her classmates to obscure her connection to those who truly love her- her mother and little brother. It takes her association with Emily, and her disillusionment with young love with Sean to make her see what really matters. And then she has to become an adult and deal with what she has unwittingly unleashed.

Being someone who didn't fit in myself, I understood what Anya was feeling, and by the end of the book, not only does Anya see being strange or unlike others to be not a bad thing, but she actually enjoys it. Mainly this is a tale about being grown up and having to accept who you are to be happy. There are things you can change about yourself, and maybe things that you should- but there are also things you can't nor should you try to change, and being able to accept them is a good thing, this story tells us, with the additional messages that getting good grades by cheating isn't as satisfying as earning them yourself.

This was an interesting ahd enlightening book, and while the parts at the beginning where Anya is being upset at her life and dissatisfied with who she is was slightly painful and unpleasant to read, the book soon changed and lifted me up through to the end, which I enjoyed a great deal. Young readers will find a lot to enjoy, and the narrative is never heavy-handed or preachy. Recommended.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mage: The Hero Discovered by Matt Wagner

Kevin Matchstick is a man in his late 20's or early 30's, with no particular direction to his life and nothing much to live for. One night, wandering drunk down the streets, he encounters a young, seemingly homeless man who asks him about himself and to whom he gives the deepest answers he has ever given. Shortly afterwards, he sees a homeless man being beaten up in an alley and jumps in to save him.

But the man's attacker isn't human. He's something in a trenchcoat, with white skin and spurs on his elbows. Kevin manages to defeat the thing, but the old man dies, not before saying a strange word, "Grackleflint". Kevin calls the cops, but doesn't stay around to answer questions, especially when he realizes that the old man's attacker is gone. When he gets back to his own place, he finds the same young man he talked to earlier there, one who seems to know about the attack, and who tells Kevin some pretty strange things.

For one thing, Kevin is meant to be a Hero. Not a small "h" hero, but a Hero, with a destiny. The young man, whose name is Mirth, is meant to be his guide, and happens to be a magician as well. He tells Kevin that the thing that attacked him is known as a Grackleflint, and it is one of the children of the Umbra Spirit. The spurs on their elbows are poisonous, and can kill incredibly swiftly, even someone like Kevin. Kevin himself has power, and now that he has met Mirth, that power can protect him in some situations, but not in all.

Kevin wants nothing to do with being a hero, but the Umbra Spirit, and his five sons, the Gracklefints, are not content with just avoiding Kevin. They actively seek to kill him, summoning horrible monsters with the hope of destroying Kevin and those who might support him. Among them are Edsel, a young black woman with a thing for Edsel cars, who prefers Edsel to her real name, and a ghost named Sean who died in the 50's and lived for decades not realizing he was a ghost until he was confronted by Mirth and an attack on Kevin by Fae Redcaps.

But the Umbra Spirit and his sons won't rest until they have done away with Kevin and his allies, for his presence alone disrupts all their plans to take over the world. But unless Kevin accepts his role as a Hero and believes in himself and what they are fighting for, he has no chance to save the world and those he thinks of as his friends. And when it all comes down to it, can Kevin find it in himself to believe that he is a fated Hero and that the world is his to save, along with the Fisher King and everyone else? Or will his flaws of anger and disbelief bring about his downfall?

I first read this series as one of the first independent comic studios comics I had ever read. Before that, I had read some books by Marvel. including the Avengers, the X-Men (when they were reprinting the second X-men Team stories, with Beast before he had the whole Blue-Hair or Cat-like look and when Wolverine joined the team) and even some DC comics, but Comico was my first Indie Publisher. I got into not only the Mage series, but Grendel as well (though I never found Grendel to be as interesting as Mage).

There is so much interesting stuff in Mage, from Arthurian stuff to actual bits and pieces of Matt Wagner's life. The story, while mired in the everyday and here and now, hints at mythological and lyrical stuff beneath the surface, and its message is all about embracing what you are every single day. Your destiny may not be to vanquish dragons, but everyone can be a hero in their own way and in their own life. And despite Kevin not believing in himself, his hope is expressed in shirts that have the logo of Captain Marvel, a comic about an ordinary boy gifted with the power to become something special, and a hero as well. Once could say that Kevin wanted to be a Hero all along, but it was not believing in himself that made him what he called, "An active spectator."

This was one of Matt Wagner's first comics, and he threw a lot of himself. and a lot of love into this work. The story works as both a straight story, a myth, and a cosmic retelling of the story of Arthur. It's incredibly enjoyable, and while there was an entire issue with no action and just a conversation between Mirth and Kevin, it still sparkles and is not boring to read in the slightest. Any comic creator would be pleased to have this as one of their works and it still holds your attention and interest incredibly well today. Highly recommended.

Edge of the Moon by Rebecca York

Kathryn Reynolds is a responsible businesswoman and homeowner who is renting out part of her home to a woman named Heather DeYoung. Heather is something of a flake and can be exasperating, but when she disappears without a trace, Kathryn does the responsible thing and calls the police to report her disappearance. But when Detective Jack Thompson shows up at her house, there is a moment when they meet each other where time seems to stretch and distort into a bubble, and the two of them feel different around each other.

Jack finds himself immediately attracted to Kathryn and struggles to keep his composure and his professional tone. He talks to Kathryn about Heather, and aside from hearing about how well they got along, he soon realizes that landlady and tenant were nothing alike. But while Kathryn has only good to say about Heather, the same isn't true about her boyfriend, Gary Swinton, who she viewed as a user and a very unlikeable individual. For example, when Heather got pregnant, Gary insisted she get an abortion, or he would stop seeing her, and then made her pay for it on her own. He also borrowed money from Heather and never paid her back.

Jack searches Heather's apartment and discovers a stash of S&M magazines in her things. This manages to freak Kathryn out a little, and she begins to reflect that maybe she didn't know her tenant very well at all. Jack leaves her with his card, but despite leaving, he almost can't stop himself from thinking about her. And neither can Kathryn stop herself from thinking about Jack, or finding herself from desiring him in the most elemental of ways.

But their attraction to each other isn't natural. They are being brought together by a demon from another dimension to throw a Satanist who desires to summon and control a demon from summoning him to the human dimension. This magician, a man who calls himself Simon Gwynn, is going to use Heather DeYoung as a sacrifice to bring through a demon. Heather wasn't exactly his first choice- he really would have preferred Kathryn, as she reminds him of a former girlfriend who once dumped him for another man, but Heather will have to do for now.

The demon will do anything, even manipulate the lives of Jack and Kathryn, to keep Gwynn from succeeding in his summoning. But when Gwynn's first plan is foiled, and he realizes that the Demon is using the two humans against him, wittingly or unwittingly, he will do anything to summon the demon and rid himself of the two thorns in his side. Now, it will be up to Jack, Kathryn and their friends, including a werewolf working as a private eye, to track down this demon-summoner turned serial killer and keep him from summoning the demon, because if he manages to do so, the Demon will suicide rather than give a human control over him, and obliterating most of this universe along with himself. Can Jack and Kathryn keep the demon from being summoned and stop Gwynn before he succeeds in his mad plan?

This was a new series for me I'd never seen before, and this book is second in the series. The first one, Killing Moon, is about the werewolf detective character, and the woman he eventually ends up marrying. It was nice to see those characters being part of a significant subplot in this book and not just be used for "and they are living happily ever after, isn't that nice?" scenes that some writers use their past characters for. I got a sense of those characters as characters and not just former plot events. Again, a nice touch.

But even more are the sense of both Jack and Kathryn as characters. Yes, their coming together was influenced by the demon, but in the end, they manage to rise above the "Manipulated into a relationship" kind of vibe and find things about each other to appreciate and enjoy. My only quibble is that they never really dealt with the beginning of their feelings for each other being more or less coerced, which certainly would have given me pause if I had been in that situation. But the romance is done well, and the mystery plot really kept my attention the whole way through. Simon comes off as legitimately scary and a threat, using both magic and normal means to threaten both characters.

He's also not without flaws, and said flaws do bring him down in the end. There are some nice scenes dealing with Jack's kids, who have to adapt to their father finding a new relationship with a new woman, and also his housekeeper having to do the same. It's only at the end, when Kathryn is instrumental in saving Jack's daughter, Lily, that she finally unbends, but all the plots and subplots acted together to make the book stronger, and I found myself unable to put the book down.

I really loved this book, and I enjoyed every moment of reading it. While the supernatural element is less focussed on the wider world, the plot comes across as not so much supernatural at all. Even the "demon" part isn't a standard reading of what the word usually means when it shows up in supernatural fiction. The truth is something far different, although summoning one could mean the Apocalyptic end to the universe. This is a taut story, engaging and very realistic feeling although its underpinnings are firmly in the supernatural genre. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Arisa, Volume 3 by Natsumi Ando

Tsubasa and Akira have started working together to find out the identity of "the King". "The King" has stripped down the number of people who can make wishes in the class from the entire class to just five people, one of whom is Tsubasa, still posing as her sister Arisa. Among them is also Arisa's friend Mariko, who came from a troubled background. Her schoolmates from her last school seem to see her as invisible, or nearly so.

This caused her great pain, so when she becomes one of the five chosen students at a visit to the planetarium, the power rushes to her head, and she decides to lord it over the other students, telling them that she will wish for them to disappear one by one, which stuns them. But when Tsubasa asks Mariko if Mariko was the one who tried to kill her at the pool, Mariko flees to the mirror room, where the King, stunningly, repudiates her and tells *her* to disappear. Mariko can't handle this, and runs back to the rest of the class, trying to ingratiate herself with them again, but they ignore her as if she isn't there, and she suffers a breakdown.

For the next three days, she doesn't come to school, and then there are rumors that she will be switching schools once again. Tusbasa goes to see her and asks Mariko if it is true, and Mariko says it is. That soon, she will be gone from the memories of the students at this school just as she is in the memories of the students in her grade school. She says all she wanted was to have a good friend, but she doesn't think she can ever have that.

Tsubasa is shocked, and tells Mariko that she will always remember her, and grabs one of the pictures of her and Mariko before Mariko can burn them like the rest. Mariko thinks to herself that she had forgotten you didn't always need the King to make your wishes and dreams come true, and she tells Tsubasa that the King is one of the five remaining students who can make wishes.

And soon enough, it turns out that Midori Yamashita, Arisa's boyfriend, is one of the people whose number has been chosen. Those disenfranchished by the recent changes all want him to make the wishes for them, but he refuses to do so. Then, there comes a text from the King. Because someone didn't make a wish, no wish will be granted, but they can make them again on Friday. Midori reveals that he is the one who didn't make a wish, and that he hopes this game will soon end, because he doesn't want such infighting over the wishes to go on.

The King has said that if no one makes a wish, "King Time" will end, but not everyone wants it to end. As Tsubasa goes on a "date" with Minori to an amusement park, "The King" tells another student with poor grades to steal Midori's phone. If he does it, his wish to go on a date with a beautiful classmate will be granted. Otherwise, he is just useless. But the student can't find Midori's cell phone, and must confess defeat. "The King" tells him to try again, and castigates him for his failure.

Meanwhile, a new student joins the class, and Tsubasa is given the duty of showing him around. He's a strange boy with a heart ailment and has already undergone surgery, but claims that he won't live long. What connection might he have to the King, and what does "The King" know about Arisa and Tsubasa? Can Tsubasa find out the identity of "The King" as unmask him before he kills or further hurts her sister?

Well, we finally get to see the King, but it seems to invalidate some of the statements made earlier in the series, like how the King was one of the class (because he wasn't until part of this volume), and we also learn that the King has switched identities. I won't be spoiling that for you, but I will say that the first King was someone who only had good in mind, and when they were deposed, the new King is the one who seems to have the compulsion to control the class and the people in it. And that this second King wasn't part of the class to begin with, has this been going on in other schools as well? The story doesn't tell us, but it seems likely that someone who wants to control people so badly wouldn't just stumble on this sort of situation by accident. It seems like something they might have done before.

I will say I was actually surprised by the identity of the first King, but the story is going to have to do a lot of explaining as to how and why the outside person learned about "King Time", as well as how they managed to move in and take over. I mean, you could argue that this person already went to the school, but considering that they seemed to know nothing about the school, that just didn't fly with me. I hope we get some sort of explanation that makes sense about this, because it could be done very badly, and I don't want it to be that way.

I find myself intrigued enough to keep reading, and finding out more about the new King and the changes they are making to "King Time". I just wonder why, except for being in the way, the new King hates Tsubasa. I mean, they really seem to hate her. But why? That remains to be seen, and I do want to find out. Recommended, and this story is getting good now.

Arisa, Volume 2 by Natsumi Ando

Arisa Sonoda is the twin sister of a girl named Tsubasa Uehara. For a long time, they were separated, but kept in touch by letters after their parents separated. Tsubasa, despite looking like her sister a great deal, doesn't share Arisa's calm and happy temperment, being known as "The Demon Princess" at her old high school. But when Arisa falls victime to an apparent attempted suicide, it pushes Tsubasa into going undercover at her sister's school, Himetsubaki Junior High. There, Tsubasa wears a wig that looks just like her sister's hair and style, and pretends she *is* her sister to find out what is really going on and who might have wanted Arisa dead.

Already, Tsubasa has discovered a mysterious person known as "The King", who is promising to make student's wishes come true, but who also uses the wishes and the making of them to rule over the class and enforce his or her sense of order and control. (Actually "The King" implies that the character is male, but in Japanese it's closer to "The Ruler", which is more gender-neutral. It's probably something like O, since that means something very like "Ruler".) But the "King" apparently thinks that Arisa is a traitor, either to the school or to him/her, and is trying to take out or kill her, which makes Tsubasa have to unmask the King to discover who hurt her sister.

While investigating who the "King" really is, Tsubasa has to deal with Midori Yamashita, Arisa's boyfriend who isn't aware that Tsubasa has switched places with her sister, and Akira Manabe, who Tsubasa thinks is her current top suspect to be "the King", since Akira has a definite dislike of the school and is the class outcast. Meanwhile, her own friend from her school, Takeru Udegawa, is working with her to uncover the real identity of "The King". So when Takeru breaks into Akira's room and finds a copy of the card declaring Arisa a traitor pinned to his corkboard, Tsubasa thinks she has found the identity of the King at last. But could it truly be this easy?

During the next King time, one of the class asks for Field Day to be cancelled. The King agrees to grant the wish, but tells the class that if someone gets injured, the Field Day is sure to be cancelled. When Tsubasa points out that this means someone in their class will get injured, the class refuses to believe that the King will cause one of them to get hurt. Even Arisa's best friend, Mariko Takagi.

But while someone does get hurt, and the day is cancelled, but the next King Day fulfilled wish is "Please return the Real Arisa Sonoda". But while Tsubasa wonders who knows the secret she is trying to hide, and who might know the truth about who she is. But is the person who wants "The Real Arisa Sonoda" back someone who means her harm, or someone who misses Arisa and thinks she's changed ever since Tsubasa took over the role of her sister? And can Akira ever convince Tsubasa that he isn't the King? And when Akira finds out Tsubasa's true identity after an attempt on her life, can she convince him that she means well? Or will the secrets she is hiding mean that no one will believe anything she says, and she'll be rejected by anyone who knew her sister?

I find this series kind of creepy. The whole idea of a class of kids who can be controlled by having their wishes picked at random to be fulfilled is horrible, and yet, freakishly plausible. When I was in High School myself, I could see some of my fellow classmates doing just about anything for that. Although in Japan, the schools are much more highly regimented than they are here in America. For example, most schools (at least as depicted in Anime and Manga) have a fairly strict dress code and lots of rules that students are expected to follow- again, much more so than American schools, even private schools.

So despite the schools being regimented, students, just like Kids anywhere, want to stand out and be different. In Japan, since the uniforms they wear are decided on by the school, they have to look to little things to stand out- how baggy their socks are, cellphone charms, or what they wear in their hair. So they want anything that make them stand out- and this is just one way to stand out and be different.

The identity of the King, whoever he or she is, is something that is still a mystery, though Tsubasa is slowly eliminating the suspects of who the "King" might be. But she's experienced several drawbacks in her search, and someone seems to think that she is a threat. The question is... who? And when will she uncover the truth about the King?

I have been enjoying the series so far, but I do find it disturbing in its implications about the nature of High School kids, yet at the same time, disturbingly plausible and close to reality. There is a ruthlessness in teenagers that this story brings into high relief that makes the story super-realistic. Highly recommended.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Treason at Lisson Grove by Anne Perry

Thomas Pitt, now working with Special Branch at their headquarters in Lisson Grove, is going to meet an informant who has information about a traitor seeking to bring down the English Government. He and another agent, Gower, find the dead body of their informant face down on the cobblestone, bleeding out from a horrendous knife wound. They follow the informant's supposed murderer to port, and then across the sea to France, but manage to send a message to their boss, Narraway, to tell him what is going on, and where they have gone to.

Narraway wires them money to keep themselves on while in France, and immediately goes to see Charlotte Pitt, who is busy taking care of their children. Meanwhile, Narraway finds that someone has been setting him up to take the fall for all that has gone wrong with Special Branch of late, and perhaps setting up thomas to take the blame as well, since he is Narraway's protege.

Narraway goes back to tell Charlotte of this new wrinkle in the proceedings. Because it is late at night, and Charlotte is still willing to receive Narraway, her maid decides to quit, thinking Charlotte is a loose woman. Charlotte, now worried about Thomas, is suddenly left to do all the chores in the house herself and must scramble for someone to help her, while at the same time having to worry about her husband, still in the South of France with West.

Narraway is certain that the author of his troubles was involved in a long ago case in Ireland, and is just now taking revenge on him for the actions he had performed while he was there. Since he is so well known, and well-loathed, among those who remember him, and since Charlotte wants to do her all to try and keep her husband out of danger, she decides to leave her children behind in the care of her new maid to go with Narraway and uncover the truth behind his abrupt sacking and who set him up to take a fall.

Meanwhile, Pitt and West must keep watch on the man they are following, and try and figure out what sort of treasonous trouble he might be fomenting with the aid of the French. But soon Pitt realizes that he and West have been purposely misled just to get them out of England. But can he get back in time to take over the department and oust the bungler given reign in Narraway's place? Can Charlotte and Narraway discover who means him ill in Ireland, and can they prevent a massive conspiracy to overturn the Monarchy and Government when they return to England? Or have the conspirators arranged matters so well, that even they will not be able to make a difference?

I usually enjoy Anne Perry's books, the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt ones especially. But for some reason, this book just didn't do it for me. I found the plot too nebulous and scattered to be interesting, and the separation of the main characters, and the two very different plots just made me annoyed every time the story switched between them. The Charlotte and Narraway story seems so much more interesting than what is happening to Thomas that I just felt annoyed when the action and narrative moved back to him.

Eventually, the two plots do come together, but so late that I never really felt invested in the story again as a whole, It wasn't a bad story idea, but the only characters in this that we really care about were Thomas and Charlotte. Narraway spends so much of his time being mysterious that I never felt that I should care about him as a character, and West remains a nonentity until much later in the story- I couldn't find myself caring much about him, either. The characters from earlier books only make very short appearances, and I just didn't find myself caring that much.

This book was, on the whole, rather a miss for me. Too much and too many new characters were shoehorned in and I just found myself not caring for anyone but Thomas and Charlotte, and they are best when they work together, not apart. I did not enjoy myself reading this novel, but if you've enjoyed Anne Perry's recent novels, you may feel differently. Not recommended, but YMMV.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Kitty's Big Trouble by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty Norville is a werewolf and a radio show host working out of Denver. Once she was an abused member of her local pack, but after fleeing the city, she found love and a spine. Now married to a lawyer named Ben, who is also a werewolf, she and Ben lead their local pack in Denver, having taken out the former abusive Alpha and his bitch of a wife (bitch being literal here).

In her last adventure, Kitty discovered that the military was using werewolves as "Supersoldiers" in Iraq. But when they returned stateside, they were having problems adjusting to their new lives, and they attempted to use Kitty to try and help the soldiers. During her time helping them, she discovered some interesting information, and wondered if any famous soldiers from the past might have been werewolves as well. In particular, she discovers testimony from a soldier during the Civil War that William Tecumseh Sherman might have been a werewolf, and she is fascinated by the possibility.

Taking off with Ben, and his brother Cormac, a former Vampire and Werewolf slayer and now sharing his body with Amelia, the spirit of a dead wizard, she takes off to Dodge City, Kansas to try and figure out if Wyatt Earp was a vampire or a werewolf. But in the National Park where Earp would have had jurisdiction, they discover a vampire rising from the grave in a former homestead site. The vampire isn't happy to see them and when they mention Earp's name, he attacks them, forcing them to kill him for good.

What's strange is that the vampire wears a strange coin on a chain around his neck. The coin is so old that they can't tell where it is from, but it's marked with strange sigils, and Cormac's wizard friend wants to study it, so they take it with them. They also get in some minor trouble with the local pack, who view them as intruders, until they find out who Kitty is, and it turns out one of the members of the pack is a big fan of hers, so that pretty much gets them out of the trouble. But on the way out of Dodge, Kitty gets a phone call from Anastasia, a powerful vampire living in San Francisco.

Anastasia has put herself in opposition to Roman, another extremely old and powerful Vampire, and she needs Kitty's help to keep an important artifact known as the Dragon's Pearl, out of his hands. Roman has been using his powers to turn vampires of his line into an unstoppable force of soldiers, and he needs the Dragon Pearl to make enough amulets so that he can have complete and utter control over them. Anastasia wants Kitty's help in preventing Roman from achieving his goals, and she needs Kitty and Ben's help, since unlike Roman or Anastasia, Kitty and her pack can move around by daylight.

But the artifact in question may be more powerful than either Anastasia or Kitty know, and its theft by Roman might stir up more than just a few vampires or werewolves. Kitty knows that Vampires and Werewolves exist, but is she ready to admit that other things, even more powerful than Vampires and Werewolves, are interested in this conflict between Anastasia and Roman and ready to throw themselves into the breach on one side or another? And when she and Ben must fight an actual God of Chaos of the Chinese Pantheon, are they going to be able to face off against it, or will they just die before the might of an actual God? Can Kitty's worldview survive learning that more things than she ever dreamt of really exist? Or will she die if she can't change her mind,,, and her way of life?

I loved this book. Kitty, as usual, has gotten a bee in her bonnet, in this case, proving that William Tecumseh Sherman is a werewolf, and she throws herself whole-heartedly into finding proof or disproof of her suspicions. That's the question that hangs over the first 1/3 of the book, but then she is drawn into the conflict between Anastasia and Roman, and it's kind of forgotten in the battle to keep the Dragon's Pearl out of Roman's hand.

And here we get to see Kitty's world enlarge once again. Now, not only does she learn that Vampires and Werewolves are not the apex predators, but that there are things in this world ever more powerful than those roaming the world. Readers who are into manga or anime will twig to who the two characters Kitty meets in this volume are faster, but let's just say that one of them is Sun Wukong, the Chinese name of the character known as "Son Goku" in Japan. I won't say any more than that, because that's enough for some readers to figure out who these characters are.

This was an interesting volume. Kitty points out that once again, she is being treated like a mushroom, kept in the dark and fed on crap. But it's also clear that she will soon have to step into the spotlight once again to be a spokeswoman for Werewolves, to keep them from being used as pawns in the wars of Vampires, who have often used Weres as unthinking muscle. How Kitty will step into this role, or even get some kind of carte blanche from other Werewolves to speak for Weres as a whole, might take two or three more books. I imagine that her "stardom", such as it is, will have a great deal to do with her being accepted in this role. But what she might have to do to keep it... well, that's something else again.

I found this story interesting, and it yet again expanded the universe of Kitty Norville in new and very intriguing ways. Now that some new players have revealed themselves in her world, will Kitty end up becoming a believer, or will she somehow manage to retain her mostly-disbelieving ways? I can't wait to see what happens! Highly recommended.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee, Volume 5 by Hiroyuki Asada

In the town of Honeywaters, Lag and Connor went to deliver a message to someone that Gauche Suede once met, known as "the man who could not become spirit". Within the town, they met a man whose wife claimed that he eas that man, but she also called him "Hunt". Sara, the wife, was stirring up anti-government sentiment, blaming the Government, and the Letter Bees, for the attacks of the insect-like Gaichuu.

Chased by the residents of the town, except for a girl named Anne, Connor and Lag are saved by the timely arrival of Zazie, the Letter Bee who spends his time hunting Gaichuu. The townspeople try to attack him, too, but Zazie fends them off by threatening to use his Shindan on them. But they still need to take care of the Gaichuu, whose name is Cidre. Cidre is hard to defeat becuase he keeps his only weak point buried underground. Zazie directs Lag and Connor in a plan to bring Cidre fully to the surface and finally defeat him.

But when Connor detonates his bombs in the ground, he causes the ground to collapse, sending them all into a cavern built under the town. There, Cidre attacks Anne, and Lag and the others must save her from having her heart stolen away. Much to Lag's surprise, Hunt also comes to Anne's rescue, but he, too, is attacked by Cidre. We get to see bits and pieces of their lives- how Anne was raised by her father after her mother died, and that Hunt's arms were sewed onto him from a beast by the circus that he and Sara travelled with when they were young. He agreed to the operation so that he and Sara could stay together.

But as they battle, Lag also sees that Gauche fought Cidre with his own Dingo, Roda. Back when Hunt and Sara first arrived at Honeywaters, they saw Gauche fighting Cidre and were saved by him. Gauche drove the Gaichuu off, and afterwards, he encountered "The man who could not become spirit", the head of an organization known as "Reverse". He wanted Gauche to join his organization, and told Gauche that his sister being paralyzed was because of a secret the Government was keeping from them, but Gauche refused, and the man refused to give up.

Sara and Hunt claimed they had killed the Gaichuu when the townspeople of Honeywaters showed up, and when they saw Hunt's claws and thought he might be a monster as well, she claimed Hunt was "the man who could not become spirit", and that he was responsible for the dead Gaichuu. The townspeople adopted them, but now that the Letter Bees have killed Cidre, and seen Sara and Hunt with the Letter Bees, they decide to stone Sara. Lag protects her with his body, and she hugs him, grateful.

But when the townsfolk get angry at the people they formerly lionized, calling them "Con Artists", Sara reveals that all the money the townsfolk gave is buried under the altar- they haven't spent a penny of it. Sara is reconciled to the Letter Bees and Hunt, who had only gone along with her because he loved her, is happy.

As Lag is happy to find some trace of Gauche, he is surprised when a man looking very much like Gauche shows up to relieve him of the letter to "the man who could not become Spirit". Lag feels brief happiness, which ebbs when he realizes that Gauche has lost his memory, and no longer recognizes him, nor remembers Lag or even his beloved sister, Sylvette. He calls himself Noir.

Meanwhile, Niche is confronted by a girl named Roda, who is also a Dingo, and who castigates Niche for her failure to protect Lag. She tells Niche that Niche doesn't deserve to be a Dingo and fights with Niche. Lag tries again with Noir/Gauche, and although Noir claims he doesn't want to hurt Lag, when Lag won't leave him alone, he shoots Lag with his gun powered by the black spirit Amber.

Niche is upset to see Lag hurt, and when he revives, he reports to the leaders of the Beehive about what happened. He's sad and upset, but they won't let him blame himself. He's given them valuable information. But Niche is increasingly upset by Roda's words, and her inability to prevent Lag from being shot. He's put on sorting duty for the rest of his shift, but he remains sad and depressed. He asks to be let out early and returns home to tell Sylvette what happened, and is surprised to find Sylvette and the others throwing him a surprise party.

Sylvette, who has been told by Aria about what happened, doesn't blame Lag at all- she knows he tried his best. But Niche is missing, and she has left her pants behind. She feels she isn't good enough to be Lag's Dingo any more, and wanders the streets, despondant, until she is taken in by the people at Sinners, where she goes to cook and eat Steak.

Until the proprietress thinks she is a robber and comes out with her gun. Niche cuts it to pieces with her hair. She tries to run away and is caught by Jacob, the owner of the shop. Then her stomach rumbles because she is hungry, and he starts to laugh. He and his wife take her in and feed her, and ask her questions. But her answers give them the entirely wrong impression about her relationship with Lag.

But can Lag find Niche, and will she still be willing to be his Dingo? And will Jacob and his wife, who treat Niche as a daughter, be willing to let her go when they have grown so attached to her?

So, Lag has finally found Gauche, but Gauche no longer recognizes him- or even seems to remember his old life. But what caused Gauche to lose his memory, and was "the man who could not become spirit" to blame? It seems so. But does that mean that he is the one in charge of the Gaichuu, the one controlling them? Is he the one behind the anti-government sentiment, or is he just using it for his own ends? What does he want, and how is he using Gauche/Noir? To steal letters, at the very least, but Gauche/Noir called himself a "marauder", whatever that means...

This story is getting quite intriguingly complicated, and as the manga is still ongoing in Japan, it seems that there is no clear end in sight. With every turn, more things come up that we, as readers, want to know about, but the story is taking its own sweet time to get there. And I'm not complaining about that- the story is happening at its own pace, and I'm enjoying it a lot.

This is a slow-storied manga, but rich enough in that story that I don't feel like it is going too slow for words. That may change in the future, but for now, I am enjoying the slow unfolding of the story. There is so much to see and learn, and I want to learn all I can about Amberground and its people. Recommended.

Chiefs by Stuart Woods

In the early 1920's the small town of Delano, Georgia finally grows large enough to finally require a lawman of their own- the closest town with a sheriff is almost 20 miles away, and while they haven't had any big trouble yet, they decide to act *before* it comes to town and it is too late. The President of the local bank, Hugh Holmes, receives two applications for the job of Chief of Police on the same day. The first is from a local farmer named Will Henry Lee, who is worried about the Boll Weevil that will surely eat up his crop of cotton, and wishes to retire from farming into something more steady. The second is from a retired military man named Francis Funderburke, better known as "Foxy" to the locals. He thinks he's the one to keep the law in town, but Holmes knows that if he makes Foxy the Chief of Police, he'll use the position to try and rule over people.

Will Henry Lee, by contrast, is a man who always tries to talk things out first, and listens to both sides before making a decision, and Holmes considers him an all around better man for the job. Though he presents both names to the town council for a decision, both he and the town back Will Henry Lee, and he is given the job, along with a house in town and enough money added to his salary to buy life insurance, "just in case" for his family, as Will Henry and his wife have two young children.

Just after he's sworn in, Will Henry deals with two young men who stole a car and guns and proceeded to rob the town's bank. But the booze they drank on the way to the crime makes them crash their car, and he has his first arrest on the same day he gets the job. But as he tries to keep the people of the town safe and deal with one man who beats his wife, he also has to deal with a killer in town. The first young man dies from running off a cliff in the middle of the night, and is found by the same boy who delivers Will Henry's newspaper. The second is discovered impaled on a barbed wire fence, somehow running into it, also at night.

These murders bother Will Henry, and he becomes obsessed with finding and catching the criminal who perpetrated them. He investigates as best he can, but when his life is cut short by being shotgunned by an old friend in the throes of malaria, the case, and his conclusions as to who is responsible for the murders, falls by the wayside.

Sonny Butts is a veteran of the second World War, and he returns to Delano with no clear idea of what he is going to do with his life. But the town council decides to give the returning white veterans jobs in local government, and Sonny gets his dream job as a police officer on the force. He's not the best sort of man, being virulently racist and apt to use his post to abuse and molest women and try and set up blacks so that he can abuse them at the local jail. But when he asks the chief if he can use the old rolltop desk that once belonged to Will Henry Lee, the chief gives his okay- so long as he cleans it out.

In the desk are the case files of the murders, and when Sonny reads them he gets fascinated by the case, and when the old Chief of Police dies of a heart attack on the steps of the church on Sunday, Sonny is appointed the Chief by the town council, over the objections of Billy Lee, William Henry's son and another returning veteran, who is not a racist man, but who also wants to go into politics. He's been aware of Sonny's predilection for racist acts, and trying to get Marshall Parker, a local black mechanic, arrested so that Sonny can get a little revenge on Parker for not dropping everything to fix his car when he went to Parker for service.

But when Sonny arrests Parker, and takes him back to the station house after being stopped trying to rape a young lesbian woman by her female lover, he goes too far and kills Parker by accident, but not before taking him to the town doctor and having the Doctor hear what really went on. Billy Lee tries to get Sonny axed from his position, and Sonny is concerned about losing his job and going to jail for the murder. But when he nearly beats a man to death at the local carnival in front of nearly the entire town, it is only then that the town is convinced to really do something about him. But before they can, Sonny goes off to confront the man he thinks is the murderer who killed not only the boys in Will Henry Lee's files, but who has continued killing young boys over the years. And as far as the town is concerned, he simply disappears. In reality, the killer kills him and buries not only his latest Victim, but Sonny Butts and the town's Police motorcycle.

In the late 60's it is time for a new Police Chief, and none of the cops in town are experienced enough to bump up into the position. Sonny Lee, now the Lieutenant Governor of Georgia, is looking for a new Police Chief of Delano, still having many ties to the town. He asks for recommendations of Chief Breen of Atlanta, and the Chief recommends an officer retiring from the army, Major Tucker Watts of the Military Police, who seems like he has the right stuff to be the right man for the job. Billy is overjoyed to hear this, and is impressed with his accomplishments. The only problem being that Tucker Watts is black. Billy doesn't have a problem with this, but he knows a lot of people in town will, as the town is still very racist.

Indeed, when Tucker moves to town to take the job, he's arrested on suspicion of stealing his car by the local police, and sets the standard quickly of someone who demands military discipline out of his officers. But he makes few friends when he roots out corruption in the Police force and protects his fellow blacks from being harassed by local business owners. But Tucker has a dirty secret in his own past that could sink him forever if it gets out, and when he discovers the files detailing the first murders from 1920, he's determined to see justice done.

But no one seems to believe that the real murderer could be responsible for the deed, and Tucker's investigation runs into many dead-ends and roadblocks when a local citizen accuses him of Police Brutality of an old white man who happens to be racist. But when Tucker goes to the FBI with his evidence, will it finally be enough to bring down the murderer, or will his last desperate gambit to bring justice to the criminal all come down in flames? Can Tucker trip up the murderer, or will he be the one tripped up?

I remember seeing a TV miniseries based on this book back in the early 80's and what I really remember about it is the ending (and if you remember the ending, I hope you'll forgive the joke I worked into the description of the story) and the fact that Billy Dee Williams played the part of Tucker Watts, and the murderer was played by Charlton Heston in all three eras/nights of the story. At the time, I wasn't aware that the story was taken from a book, and I probably would have remained ignorant until today, when someone donated that book to the library. I saw it and read the blurb and was like... "I remember this...!"

The book definitely fleshes out the story. I remembered most of the part about Tucker Watts, less about the abusive and molesting tendencies of Sonny Butts, and pretty much nothing about Will Henry Lee. But the story is a delight. The reader knows the identity of the murderer by the end of William Henry Lee's section of the book and waits for him to finally get caught through the rest of the story. Each character's obsession with stopping the killer impels the story and creates tension.

But it's also a story of politics, both the rise of Billy Lee to the Governorship of Georgia and the possible Vice-Presidency of the United States to replace Lyndon Johnson, and Hugh Holmes' role in founding, and then running the town and helping Billy Lee in his candidacy for politics. The two stories are interwoven skillfully, but I found myself more interested in the murder cases than in all the political stuff, even though that was still interesting to read.

In short, this was a taut, tightly woven thriller that takes place over about 50 years, of Police Chiefs struggling to bring down a serial killer and fighting racism in a small southern town. Though readers find the identity of the killer early in the book, the story is about how the killer is eventually brought down after years of murder, and the final body count is at least 45 young boys and men. I probably wouldn't read any other books by Stuart Woods, but I did enjoy this one very much. Highly recommended.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Arisa, Volume 1 by Natsumi Ando

Tsubasa Uehara is a twin, but when her parents separated, her and her sister had to live apart. Tsubasa is somewhat girly, but at the same time, she is known as the "Demon Princess of Higurashi Junior High" because of her temper and penchant for lashing out at those who annoy her. But Tsubasa's sister, Arisa, is the most precious thing in Tsubasa's life, even if they haven't spent much time in each other's company. Tsubasa remember her sister with great fondness, and also thinks that her sister has a perfect life, a thought which makes her happy.

When they finally meet again, Arisa is happy to see Tsubasa, and when she expresses an interest in finding out what Arisa's school is like, Arisa convinces Tsubasa to wear a wig and go to school as her so that she can find out for herself. So Tsubasa goes to school as Arisa, where she meets Arisa's boyfriend and all the rest of her friends, including a boy named Manabe, who used to be a bad boy but who mysteriously changed after meeting Arisa and talking to her. Just before leaving school, she finds a letter addressed to her sister, which she assumes is a love letter. But when she gets home, Arisa is no longer happy and laughing, and she seems disturbed that Tsubasa enjoyed pretending to be her.

As Tsubasa hands her the note, Arisa apologizes to her sister and throws herself out the window, falling twenty feet to the ground. Tsubasa is upset when she realizes the note she gave her sister says, "Arisa Sonoda is a traitor". And a week later, despite the fact that she fell into trees and bushes that broke her fall, and there is nothing wrong with her physically- she simply won't wake up. It's as if she simply doesn't *want* to wake up, and Tsubasa is feeling guilty about causing her sister to jump because she didn't realize how conflicted her sister was about her school.

But she is determined to do something about it, so she dresses up like her sister again and tells her father that she is going to be attending Arisa's school as Arisa to try and find out why her sister doesn't want to wake up. On the way, she gets help from one of her own classmates, Takeru, who wants to help her. And once she is in school, she pretends everything is okay, and gets a giant shock- in fourth period, everyone tells her "it's time", and they seem shocked that she doesn't know what they are talking about, but she explains it away as "spotty memory from her accident". It turns out that this is something called "King Time", when everyone in class makes a wish and sends it to the website on their cellphones. And out of all the wishes, one of them is chosen to be fulfilled.

Today's wish of the day seems to be for the gym teacher, Todoroki-sensei, to disappear. He's kind of a sleeze, spying on the girls and enjoying how they look in short gym shorts. But everyone seems convinced that he really will disappear. And the next day, Gym is first period, but is cancelled because Todoroki-sensi hasn't come in, and all his things are gone from the teacher's lounge with no explanation. Is there really a King granting wishes to the class? And yet, even though the class is happy about it, they quickly turn on a girl who suggests that the King and King Time may have gone too far in "disappearing" the teacher. It quickly becomes apparent that the power has gone to the heads of the students, and that it has turned some of them vicious. But what does Arisa have to do with "King Time" and why does someone in the class feel that she is a traitor? A Traitor to whom, or what?

And then, when talking to one of Arisa's friends by the lockers, she sees the girl get a note claiming she is a traitor, and the entire class sings to her a leave-taking song that leaves her crying and shocked. She doesn't want to leave, but seems convinced that she'll be forced to. Can Tsubasa, as Arisa, keep her from having to leave, or will the 'King' who may have caused Arisa to try and commit suicide have another victim?

This was an intriguing setup for a manga. Two sisters, separated, but still loving each other, are separated again when one of them is called out by a mysterious "King" denounces one of the sisters as a traitor. And since no one at Arisa's school appears to know she even *has* a twin, Tsubasa is able to pretend to be her. In fact, that's the only part of the scenario that I found questionable. Some of these girls are supposed to be Arisa's friends, and they don't know about her twin sister? The only explanation I could come up with is that they aren't as close friends as Tsubasa imagines them to be.

All the rest of it, the students using what was supposed to be something good to do increasingly bad acts, is all down to human nature. And the fact that Japanese students don't have as many freedoms as American students do, makes this even more likely. When they have found a source of power that is theirs, the impulse will be to exploit it and push the boundaries... and that's exactly what they are doing. The nature of the mystery is who is this 'King', and how is he, she or they (because it might be more than one person) accomplishing these actions? And the spooky way Arisa's classmates have treated anyone that the 'King' dislikes is made even more Spooky by how they ALL do it.

This book was amazingly good and strange, and the way the kids in Arisa's class are acting, especially when they gang up on the other girl and sing that "sad parting" song was full on creepy, and I can see why the girl was so freaked out, especially when you consider how some of these were probably considered her friends. I can't wait to read more. Highly recommended.