A Peek at Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha–December 3, 2012

Thanks to the generosity of Viz, I have a subscription to Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha.  Starting January 21, 2013, there will be a simultaneous US release to coincide with the Japanese release of the magazine.  I am curious to see how that’s going to work, and to see what new series will be added to the magazine, so here is the first of my weekly looks at Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha.  The magazine looks great on my iPad, though I did have a bit of a headache before I was able to get my first issue loaded.  All it took was an update to the Viz Manga app, but I didn’t think of that until after wasting about 15 frustrating minutes.  Always check for a software update! Note taken.

This issue kicked off with Bleach Ch 516.  Whoa!  I haven’t read Bleach in ages, even though it is one of my favorite series.  For shame!  I spent the pages here wondering what the heck was going on, but by the last panel, had it figured out.   I think.  There will soon be an epic confrontation with Squad Zero, a squad comprised only of Squad captains.  No peons in this group of warriors!  There still has to be some kind of pecking system, some top dog to lord over the other squad members, right?  Unless they are all so bad ass that they have a mutual fear and respect for each other.  I am looking forward to learning more about them and catching up with Ichigo in future issues.

Naruto Ch 609 was next. Ch 609, folks!  I am hopelessly out of my depth with this one, but there was fighting!  Which I like.  And Kakashi!  Who I like.    Naruto and Kakashi are duking it out with the bad guy Obito, who hates Kakashi.  That is enough right there to elevate him to evil bad guy.  Who could possibly hate Kakashi?!  After a little help from Nine Tails, it looks like Kakashi is ready for more fighting, so next week, the battle with Obito and Madara will continue!  This is comfort reading for me – mindless speed lines, over exaggerated poses, and endless wells of energy to keep up that toe-to-toe action. 

Nisekoi Ch 51 followed.  This is a new series for me, and I believe it just started it’s run in the magazine.  Raku, one of those impossibly hopeless, hapless guys who can barely comb his hair, has attracted a gaggle of girls, I think by being nice, which in manga usually means wimpy.  Raku’s gangster father has him engaged to Chitoge, who hated him at first sight, but she’s come around and realizes that he’s not such a bad guy and that she might really, really like him.  To cast some mystery over his love life, Raku made a childhood promise to a girl, but he can’t remember who the girl is!  Her identity is locked in his prized pendant, but the lock is broken, so he can’t open it to reveal his childhood love.  You’d think he would remember the first girl he fell in love with!  No wonder these manga boys are always single!  I am actually going to have to read the sample that’s on the Viz website to help wrap my head around this one. 

Toriko Ch 22 – I don’t have much to say about this one, because the entire chapter is nothing but character introductions for the upcoming Cooking Festival.  I usually love cooking manga, but the endless parade of contestants bored me.  Better luck next week.

Wrapping up this issue is Cross Manage Ch 10 is a sports manga about a girls’ lacrosse team.  I liked this story the best.  It was easy to follow for a new comer, the art is engaging, and the characters are likable.  Ex-soccer player Sakurai reluctantly agrees to manage the high school girls’ lacrosse team.  They need a lot of help!  They can barely fill the roster, and they all pretty much suck at the game.  I’m sure that under Sakurai’s guidance they will quickly overcome their shortcomings.  I love sports manga, especially with an underdog team, so I am looking forward to more of this one.

No One Piece!  It’s on break until the next issue, which is a bummer, because Luffy always makes me laugh.

To purchase Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha, click here. You can check out the free Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha starter pack here.  Viz is having a sale on their digital manga. You can get 20% off until January 8th!  Click here for the deets.

Novella Review: From the Ashes by Adrien-Luc Sanders

 

 

Title: From the Ashes

Author: Adrien-Luc Sanders

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Sociopath. Killer. Deviant. Monster, devoid of morals, incapable of human emotion. The villain known as Spark has been called that and more, and as a super-powered aberrant has masterminded countless crimes to build his father’s inhuman empire.

Yet to professor Sean Archer, this fearsome creature is only Tobias Rutherford–antisocial graduate researcher, quiet underachiever, and a fascinating puzzle Sean is determined to solve.

One kiss leads to an entanglement that challenges everything Tobias knows about himself, aberrants, and his own capacity to love. But when his father orders him to assassinate a senator, one misstep unravels a knot of political intrigue that places the fate of humans and aberrants alike in Tobias’s hands. As danger mounts and bodies pile deeper, will Tobias succumb to his dark nature and sacrifice Sean–or will he defy his father and rise from the ashes to become a hero in a world of villains?


Review:

I love super-hero stories, so when I saw that Entangled Publishing was releasing some super-hero novellas, I was excited to check them out.  I loved the first one that I read, Playing with Fire by Tamara Morgan, so I dove into From the Ashes with a great deal of anticipation.  I was sucked into the story on the first page, thought there were a few pacing issues in the middle, and enjoyed the ending, so this is another successful read.

Tobias is an aberrant.  He can control electrical currents, and his father, a sociopath, has nurtured his talents and used him in a weapon in his war against humans.  Tobias, as his alter-ego Spark, has done some terrible things.  He has wiped out an entire city for his father’s ambitious dream of ruling the world, and now he longs for a quieter, less destructive life.  A student at UC Berkley, he is researching the DNA sequence that manifests in aberrants.  If the US government learns how to destroy the genome that makes super-humans like him, they will be able to control, and ultimately, wipe them out.  When he is ordered by his father to assassinate a Senator, Tobias has serious soul searching to do.  Does he have to be evil just because he is an aberrant?

I haven’t read a M/M romance in a while, so this was a nice switch up to my normal reading habits.  Tobias makes the mistake of getting to know Sean, one of his professors, a little better than is wise.  Struggling with his feelings of helpless against his father’s domineering control, Tobias is looking for a fling.  He’ll have some fun with Sean, and then put the night behind him.  Their relationship can’t go anywhere; Tobias is a monster, and Sean is a normal, quiet human.  Tobias doesn’t think he is capable of love, and he certainly doesn’t believe that he is deserving of it, so he has never made lasting, meaningful attachments.  His other relationships were at his whim, and he never felt emotionally invested in any of them.

I think I liked Tobias so much because he was so damaged.  He didn’t think he was capable of feelings, but he had a cat that he obviously doted on.  My belief is that if you can love an animal, there is no reason why you can’t take the plunge and love something as complicated as a human.  Tobias’ problem was that his exposure to love and tenderness ended abruptly when he was a child, after his mother was killed.  Suddenly under his father’s control, he was groomed to be his father’s right hand man in his desire to conquer and subdue the human race.  While Tobias was able to put on a good front, he wasn’t actually as committed to his father’s goals as he pretended.  He was more than content to be a graduate research student, but the threat of the aberrants becoming subjugated to normal humans propels him down a path he doesn’t want to take.  His confusing relationship with Sean only manages to complicate matters, because he is afraid his father will kill Sean if he doesn’t tow the line.

The pacing felt a little off in the middle of the book, but otherwise this is a satisfying read, with an action-packed ending that hints at more adventures.  I liked the characters, even Tobias, who considered himself irredeemable.   The world-building seemed a bit light, but I’m hoping for more in the next installment of The Fires of Redemption series.  If you enjoy super-heroes (or villains, as the case may be), and angst, this is a great, short read.

Grade:  B/B-

Review copy provided by publisher

Interview with Jeramey Kraatz, Author of The Cloak Society

 

Jeramey Kraatz stopped by the Café to introduce himself and his new book, The Cloak Society.  I am excited about reading this book because I love super villains!  Especially super villains who are really good guys at heart.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Jeramey Kraatz] Writer, Reader, and all-around nerd. Avocado and cat enthusiast (separately). Likes to pretend he’s in music videos when no one’s around.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about The Cloak Society?

[Jeramey Kraatz] Of course! The book follows Alex Knight, a 12-year-old boy with telekinetic powers born into The Cloak Society—a secret team of supervillains in Texas. Alex is fourth-generation Cloak, so he’s got a lot to live up to. Cloak was defeated ten years ago by the Rangers of Justice, a team of much-loved superheroes, and now the villains have been lying in wait, looking for the perfect moment to enact their revenge.

Alex is part of the Beta Team—the other Cloak Society members around his age—and the book starts off on their first mission, which should be a routine bank heist. But it goes terribly awry when the heroes show up and Alex saves the life of a Junior Ranger named Kirbie. From there, Alex’s world gets…complicated.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Jeramey Kraatz] The initial concept came from me joking around with another writer about genre adaptations of Shakespearean works. I proposed a superhero Romeo and Juliet where instead of the Montagues and Capulets you had, say, the Masters of Evil and the Avengers. Weeks went by and I couldn’t get the premise out of my head. The problem was that to make the story compelling, I’d have to make the supervillain lead likeable in some way, which was the idea/challenge I really latched onto—I didn’t want to write a run-of-the-mill superhero origin story like I’d read in comics and seen in movies countless times. As the world and characters got fleshed out, the Shakespeare fell away, and Alex and the Cloak Society became the focus of the novel.

Character creation was so much fun for this book since most of the main cast has superpowers. They came about in two ways: Either I had a superpower I wanted to use in the mix and had to think “What would a person who could control temperatures act like,” or it was the opposite, and I had a character in mind and had to find a power that complemented their personality. I wanted to make sure that all of the powers in some way reflected who these characters are, to have shaped them in some way.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Alex?

[Jeramey Kraatz] Full. Of. Potential. I think that’s probably cheating, but it couldn’t be more apt.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are three things Alex would never have in his pocket?

[Jeramey Kraatz] 1. Keys (Cloak’s security system is SO beyond simple locks)

2. A cell phone (too traceable)

3. A lockpick (he’s got telekinetic powers—he’s totally outgrown those)

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If Alex had a theme song, what would it be?

[Jeramey Kraatz] Young Men Dead by The Black Angels. The guitar line is kind of creepy and foreboding, and the lyrics are really battle oriented. I listened to it a lot when working on the first draft. Bonus points for being a Texas band!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences?

[Jeramey Kraatz] For this book, I’m definitely drawing on a lifetime of reading comics. It probably shows on every page, in every little nod or Easter egg dropped in that only comic book readers will pick up on. Joss Whedon’s work, for sure. Claremont’s “Dark Phoenix Saga” is probably the biggest influence in terms of specific stories. I interned at Marvel in the X-Men editorial department while I was in grad school, and seeing how big story arcs were scripted and planned was definitely invaluable when I was working on the original outline.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Jeramey Kraatz] Caffeine, room to pace, and snack rewards. I’m very food motivated. Finish a chapter, and I get the piece of cake. I always feel really out of shape by the time I finish a big draft or edit.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Jeramey Kraatz] I finally got around to reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke after years of staring at it on my bookshelf and being scared by its size. It was such a complex, engrossing novel…probably the first time in a while that I’ve finished a book and immediately thought “I have to read that again.”

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Jeramey Kraatz] I learned to read using The Foot Book and never stopped.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Jeramey Kraatz] Reading a ton, from comics to YA to scholarly nonfiction—I try to keep it varied. I’m a sucker for bad horror movies and Netflix TV marathons. I work in the anime industry, so as part of my job I sometimes get to watch cartoons all day. So really, I’m living the geek dream.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Jeramey Kraatz] I’m all over the place. You can contact me directly through jerameykraatz.com, or follow me on twitter @jerameykraatz. I love hearing from other readers and writers, so feel free to be get in touch with me!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!

You can preorder The Cloak Society from your favorite bookseller, or by clicking the widget below.  Available in print and digital.

Under the Sea Giveaway Hop! Win Cuttlefish by Dave Freer!

 

Welcome to my  Under the Sea Giveaway,  hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and The Musings of ALMYBNENR.  This hop runs from September 14th to September 20, and you can win lots of new reads.  Click here for a complete list of blogs participating in the hop.

I am giving away a finished copy of Cuttlefish by Dave Freer.  I enjoyed this seafaring adventure, and I think you will, too!

The smallest thing can change the path of history.

The year is 1976, and the British Empire still spans the globe. Coal drives the world, and the smog of it hangs thick over the canals of London.

Clara Calland is on the run. Hunted, along with her scientist mother, by Menshevik spies and Imperial soldiers, they flee Ireland for London. They must escape airships, treachery and capture. Under flooded London’s canals they join the rebels who live in the dank tunnels there.

Tim Barnabas is one of the underpeople, born to the secret town of drowned London, place of anti-imperialist republicans and Irish rebels, part of the Liberty – the people who would see a return to older values and free elections. Seeing no further than his next meal, Tim has hired on as a submariner on the Cuttlefish, a coal fired submarine that runs smuggled cargoes beneath the steamship patrols, to the fortress America and beyond.

When the Imperial soldiery comes ravening, Clara and her mother are forced to flee aboard the Cuttlefish. Hunted like beasts, the submarine and her crew must undertake a desperate voyage across the world, from the Faeroes to the Caribbean and finally across the Pacific to find safety. But only Clara and Tim Barnabas can steer them past treachery and disaster, to freedom in Westralia. Carried with them—a lost scientific secret that threatens the very heart of Imperial power.

 

Sounds good, doesn’t it?  Just fill in the widget below for your chance to win.  Earn extra entries by following.  US shipping addresses only, please.

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Cover Shot! The Cloak Society by Jeramey Kraatz

Cover Shot! is a regular feature here at the Café. I love discovering new covers, and when I find them, I like to share. More than anything else, I am consumed with the mystery that each new discovery represents. There is an allure to a beautiful cover. Will the story contained under the pages live up to promise of the gorgeous cover art?

Supervillains.  I love them.  Especially when they are, deep in their heart, good guys.  Look at this guy.  Does he look like a devious doer of evil?  Nope!  I can hardly wait to get my hands on The Cloak Society by Jeramey Kraatz, to see just how bad Alex really is.  Or isn’t.  In stores October 2012

 

The Cloak Society: An elite organization of supervillains graced with extraordinary powers. Ten years ago they were defeated by the Rangers of Justice and vanished without a trace. But the villains of Cloak have been biding their time, waiting for the perfect moment to resurface. And twelve-year-old Alex Knight wants to be one of them.

Alex is already a junior member, and his entire universe is Cloak’s underground headquarters, hidden beneath an abandoned drive-in theater in Sterling City, Texas. While other kids his age are studying math and history, Alex is mastering his telekinetic powers and learning how to break into bank vaults. His only dream is to follow in his parents’ footsteps as one of the most feared supervillains in the world. Cloak is everything he believes in.

But on the day of his debut mission, Alex does the unthinkable: he saves the life of a young Ranger named Kirbie. Even worse . . . she becomes his friend. And the more time he spends with her, the more Alex wonders about the world outside of Cloak—and what, exactly, he’s been fighting for.

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Novella Review: The Ravenous Dead by Natasho Hoar

 

 

  Title: The Ravenous Dead

  Author: Natasha Hoar

  Publisher: Carina Press

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

This time the dead are hungry…

Rachel Miller doesn’t just see dead people, she rescues them. As a member of The Order of Rescue Mediums, she spends most of her time helping stubborn spirits move on from the world. But after she learns the details of three brutal murders, she knows the culprit can only be a reaper, an undead monster that relentlessly stalks its victims to feed on their souls.

A reaper once consumed the soul of Rachel’s mentor as she watched frozen in fear. Now, Rachel is in the role of teacher to Kit Elkeles, a rodach just learning to control his wraithlike powers. After Kit and Rachel rescue a half-vampire, they work to protect him while searching for a way to stop the reaper. But when Rachel realizes who the monster is really after—and just what kind of dark magic she’ll need to stop it—will she be able to do what is necessary before it devours one of her friends…or even herself?

27,000 words

Review:

I love this series!  The pacing is fast and furious and guarantees that the pages will turn rapidly.  I started The Ravenous Dead when I had a couple of free moments, but then I had to put it down because I had social obligations to attend to.  All I could think about was getting back home and hunkering down with Rachel, Kit, and new guy Luke.  How could they possibly out muscle a horrifying monster that literately rips the soul out of its victims?  I couldn’t wait to find out!

One of the things I like best about this series is how we are given little snippets of background information about the characters and the weird, alternate Vancouver that they reside in, while chasing around with Rachel as she tries to stay alive long enough to unravel the latest mystery she’s stumbled into.  Paranormal beasties try to blend in with normal humans, and when they don’t, it’s Rachel’s job to find out why, and if necessary, help put an end to any dangerous behavior.  The world building is believable, without being heavy handed.  It’s almost like Rachel deals with all of these nasty creatures so I don’t have to even be aware that they are standing in line next to me at Taco Bell.

The Ravenous Dead pits Rachel against a reaper, an undead being that feasts on souls.  She believes that it’s the same reaper that  she failed to destroy years before, causing the death of her partner.  She is consumed with guilt, and she has a driving need to free the souls trapped inside the reaper.  The only problem?  It is a terrifying monster, fueled with the souls of its victims, and Rachel must overcome her mind-numbing fear of it, which leaves her frozen and incapable of calling on her supernatural powers.

This is a quick, exciting read with relatable characters and a paranormal world I would like to know more about.  The focus is on the intense action and character interaction, with small breadcrumbs scattered throughout the narrative to help make the setting feel real and believable.  Rachel is a strong, smart lead, and she’s given just enough flaws to ensure that she doesn’t have things too easy when she’s going toe to toe with a cantankerous spirit.  I can’t wait for her next adventure!

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by Carina Press

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Review: Batman: Super-Villains Strike by Michael Teitelbaum

 

Title: Choose-Your-Own-Fate Adventure Book Batman: Super-Villains Strike

Author: Michael Teitelbaum

Publisher: Starscape

ISBN: 978-0765364814

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Batman’s instincts tell him that Catwoman, The Riddler, Mr. Freeze, and Poison Ivy are all involved. But how could that be? They are all behind bars at Arkham Asylum. Batman knows these super-villains would never agree to work together…or would they?

Is a copycat criminal to blame? How could one person be in all these places at once? Follow the clues with Batman and then make your own choices for how the story will go. Can you help Batman solve this mystery? Will you be able to put the criminal—or criminals—behind bars and save Gotham City from chaos?

These DC Super Hero “interactive” stories will incorporate fabulous DC art along with puzzles and games to guide the reader through multiple outcomes of the story. The puzzles and games will appear at random chapter endings providing clues to help the reader decide where to go next. Familiar interactive elements, for readers otherwise absorbed with online games and other digital devices, these original concept books will add a new level of excitement and challenge for the reader.

Review:

I received this unsolicited Choose-Your-Fate Adventure Book, and since I am a big fan of both Batman and choosing your own fate, I sat down with it and put the book through its paces.  Intended for readers 7 – 10, Batman: Super-Villains Strike keeps poor Batman on his toes from the first page.  Four of the most dangerous criminals in the world are committing crimes in Gotham City, even though you, as Batman, are certain they are all still behind bars in Arkham Asylum.   Dodging one villain after another, you are desperate to catch Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Mr Freeze, and The Riddler red-handed and hustle them back to their jail cells.

While I love the concept of these choose your own adventure books, I am not fond of the execution of this one in particular.  The continuity is not smooth, and there were several paths I traveled along that jerked me from one location to another with no explanation, and worse, from one villain encounter to another without regard to events in the chapter I launched off from.  Several times I was chasing after Catwoman, picked a path, and was suddenly pondering riddles from The Riddler, even though I hadn’t encountered him previously in my adventures.  I didn’t even know he was out of jail yet.  This was frustrating when it happened.

To assist me in my crime-fighting journey, there are several puzzles that I had to solve that added variety to the adventure.  Word searches, mazes, and scrambled words gave the book a more interactive feel.  I enjoyed these little brain teasers, and would have liked to see more of them.

One thing I didn’t like was having to search for chapter numbers.  I wish instead that I had been directed to a specific page number, instead of the numbered chapters.

Continuity issues aside, this book will keep younger readers occupied during wait times or trips in the car.  Just don’t be surprised if they ask you where The Riddler or Poison Ivy suddenly came from!

Review copy provided by publisher

 

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Guest Review – The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

 

 

Title: The Hunger Games

Author: Suzanne Collins

Publisher: Scholastic

ISBN: 978-0545425117

From Amazon:

The New York Times bestselling The Hunger Games, with an all-new cover from the major motion picture!

The astonishing bestseller is now a fantastic movie. Here is the original novel with new movie artwork on the cover. (Original cover version also available.)

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

 

With the growing excitement over the upcoming release of The Hunger Games movie, this book seems to be the only one that I talk about anymore.  I have had Hunger Games discussions with no less than five different people at work yesterday alone, and that is a shocking number considering the lack of readers to be found there.

My barn buddies are not immune, either.  Elsa is eleven, and she’s in middle school.  She is a voracious reader, and she is getting old enough to read some YA novels.  She really loved The Hunger Games, and she asked if she could share her love here at the Café.  Who am I to deny a future book blogger??  Elsa, the floor is all yours!

My Review On The Hunger Games by Elsa:

The Hunger Games was a thrilling, exciting book. It showed how much love can stretch over distances,  and the importance of believing in what you want. I thought that the Hunger Games was about something different when  I heard about the book when I was in the fourth grade.   But now this year, after I’ve read it, it shows so much more than people killing other people for entertainment; it  explores how indecisive humans are and how ugly, despicable, and unruly we can be.  Even though this is a fiction book, it can help you realize what you want the most. I realized that I wanted to be stronger, not just physically, but mentally. I wanted to be my best, to be the strongest person that I can be for my friends and family.

I can confidently say that this is a great book and that I will want to read it over and over again. The Hunger Games is a book that I am officially obsessed with.  I had such a hard time putting it down and stepping away from Katniss and her struggles.  Would she survive the Hunger Games?  Would something even more horrible happen to her?  This is such a good story that even when I wasn’t reading it, I was wondering what was going to happen next!   I want to read the rest of Suzanne Collins’ books!

~Elsa,  age 11

Thanks, Elsa!  I dug out my copy of Catching Fire for you, so you can see what happens next!

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