Early Review: Wildfire by Ilona Andrews

Review by Poo Penny

May Contain Spoilers

Dragons. Beasts. Legacies. A teeeeny tiny spoiler, but I don’t think it will ruin anything.
Do I really need to sell this book to you, if you have read Burn for Me and White Hot then you KNOW what to expect, kind of. Except it’s better. It’s more. I just hope that there is another book, or some kind of short story after that epilogue. I need more.

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A Early Look at Red River Vol 21 by Chie Shinohara Manga Review

Title: Red River Vol 21

Author:  Chie Shinohara

Publisher:  VIZ

ISBN:  9781421510014

May Contain Spoilers

Wah! What’s going on here?  Yuri’s about to become Mrs Ramses?  Now, don’t get me wrong, Ramses is every bit as hunky as Kail, and he looks so gorgeous in his loincloth, but still!  Have you no shame, Yuri?  Oh, wait, it’s all just a scheme to expose Nakia and Nefertiti’s unlikely alliance as the two old biddies maneuver behind the scenes to change the outcome of the war between their countries.

I thought the art was top-notch in this volume – I love the Egyptian costumes and jewelry.  Even the architecture had me longing to dig out some of my old textbooks from the basement – I wanted to be an Egyptologist in my younger days, don’t ya know.   I soon realized that I would need to choose another profession if I wanted to be able to keep up my book habit, though, so bean counter I became.  It just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?

Yuri’s impulsiveness gives Nefertiti the excuse she’s been looking for to have the young general dragged into her lair like a spider pouncing on a fly, and things aren’t looking so good for Ramses.  While he’s being tortured, Yuri has the perfect opportunity to escape and be re-united with Kail.  I would have been very disappointed if she had just turned tail and run, but no, she remembers her friends – if Ramses could be called a friend.  Anyway, she sets out to match wits with the cruel older woman to force her to release her new play thing.  Though I still find that it stretches the imagination that Yuri could be such a tactical genius, she did look exceptionally cool sitting on that camel. 

Grade:  B+

Rated for Older Teen

Review copy provided by Viz

An Early Look at Boys Over Flowers Vol 29 by Yoko Kamio Manga Review

Title:  Boys Over Flowers (Hana Yori Dango) Vol 29

Author: Yoko Kamio

Publisher:  VIZ

ISBN:  9781421517162

May Contain Spoilers

Tsukushi was uncharacteristically decisive in this volume, determined to confront Tsukasa’s mother after she has her son whisked away to New York.  What starts as an afternoon connecting with her boyfriend ends with the Domyoji matriarch unsheathing her claws in another show of the family’s wealth.   Free tickets to a baseball game spell doom for the young lovers, as Tsukushi is caught on TV catching a record-breaking home run ball.   Tsukasa’s evil mother just happens to catch a glimpse of them together, and she sets her minions off to collect her errant son before he does anything else to besmirch the good Domyoji name.

After Tsukasa fails to show at school the next day, Tsukushi realizes that something is up, and soon puts 2 and 2 together.  She takes her meager savings, buys a ticket to New York, and is all fired up to duke it out with Tsukasa’s mom.  Her good intentions go awry, but she never loses her drive to confront Mrs Domyoji.  Despite having her belongings stolen, she remains steadfast and continues to look for a way to both find Tsukasa and to bring him home with her.

I liked this focused Tsukushi, who has finally accepted her feelings for Tsukasa, and more impressively, is determined to fight for him.  She’s not going to meekly turn tail and run from the overbearing Domyoji family; instead, she’s going to seek out the intimidating Kaede and try to convince her to send Tsukasa back home.  It sounds impossible, even to Tsukushi, but she’s not going to give up without a fight.  Go get her, Tsukushi!  You can do it!

Grade: B+

Rated for Teen

Review copy provided by VIZ

An Early Look at Fullmetal Alchemist Vol 15 by Hiromu Arakawa

Title:  Fullmetal Alchemist Vol 15

Author:  Hiromu Arakawa

Publisher:  VIZ

ISBN:  9781421513805

May Contain Spoilers 

As the civil war rages on, the horrors of war are witnessed by Roy Mustang.  Longing to use his alchemy for the good of others, he is instead forced to use it to bring death and destruction on the Ishbalans.  Will he be able to retain his humanity, or will he turn into the monster that his enemies fear?

This was a powerful installment of the series.  It was so engrossing, I could not put it down.  Hiromu Arakawa delves into the background of several of the characters, and we watch as they learn to deal with the civil war, each in their own way.  Roy starts out an idealistic young man, eager to help humanity and to use his alchemy for the good of every one.  Instead, he’s thrown into a violent and senseless war, forced to slaughter innocent people for “good” of his nation.  Slowly, he’s turned into a bitter, disillusioned soldier, but now he’s turned his eyes on another goal.  He longs to knock King Bradley off of his throne, and take up the mantle of leadership.  I wonder if, once he attains the top of the rat’s nest, to borrow Hughes’ words, he would still retain any of the good intentions that have slowly been purged away, or would his quest have totally corrupted him?

Both Riza and Armstrong are victims of the war, and their descent into hell is carefully explored as well.  Armstrong just doesn’t have the hard-edge necessary to survive in such an environment, and he balks when he’s ordered to murder defenseless civilians.  There are plenty of cold-blooded murderers surrounding him to pick up the slack, and he’s not even allowed the satisfaction of saving two helpless refugees.  As the slaughter wears on him, he becomes desperate for an escape from the bloodshed.

Riza is more of a puzzle.  The daughter of Roy’s former mentor, she’s entered the academy out of a flare of patriotism.  Too bad she’s such an excellent marksman.  Now she’s a sniper, dispatching Ishbalans with lethal ease.  She also carries the secret to flame alchemy, and after seeing Roy’s ruthless powers firsthand, she never wants another to learn the deadly craft.  Not only does she bear the guilt of her own assassinations, she also gave Roy the key to mercilessly wipe out helpless women and children with the snap of a finger.  She’s willing to go to painful lengths to conceal the secret.  Maybe she feels that her sacrifice will bring her a measure of atonement?

I thought the set up for the flashback was very well done; Ed approaches Riza and asks her what happened in Ishbal, all those years ago.  Roy had refused to discuss it with him, and certain that there are clues to his own quest hidden in the war, Ed turns to Riza for help.  The events were smoothly eased into the storyline, and the tale was told with gripping emotions.

Fullmetal Alchemist Vol 15 will be in bookstores in December.

Grade:  A

Rated for Teen

Review copy provided by VIZ

An Early Look at Boys Over Flowers Vol 27 by Yoko Kamio Manga Review

Title: Boys Over Flowers (Hana Yori Dango) Vol 27

Author: Yoko Kamio

Publisher: VIZ

ISBN:  9781421509907

May Contain Spoilers

Even as Tsukushi struggles with her relationship with Tsukasa, she’s shocked to learn that Yuki has fallen head over heels for the womanizing Sojiro.  She warns her friend away from certain heartbreak, but Yuki has already decided that she’ll take Sojiro any way she can get him.  Tsukushi has troubles of her own, as she learns that her family will soon be moving again.  It sucks to be poor!

When Tsukasa continues to voice doubts about her love for him, Tsukushi is forced to publicly declare her feelings for her one time rival.  Now that their relationship is out in the open, they can finally act like a couple, and Tsukasa takes his role seriously.  Though he’s still difficult and, at times, unreasonable, he’s at Tsukushi’s side whenever she’s in trouble. I like this side of Tsukasa.  He’s really trying to make things work.  Even though he acts like an overprotective guard dog, his intentions are in the right place; he just doesn’t know a better outlet for his emotions.

I am enjoying the Yuki and Sojiro plot thread that’s been woven into the series.  Hopelessly in love with a terribly callow guy, Yuki has decided that she can’t just give up on Sojiro, and she’ll settle for any relationship with him, no matter how fleeting.  Sojiro, to his credit, is trying to avoid the temptation she’s offering.  He doesn’t want to cause any rifts between himself and his best friend’s girl.  I wonder how long that will last, with Yuki constantly throwing herself at him – will she be able to break down the wall of indifference that he’s erected around himself?

Things got a little cheesy near the end, but it wasn’t enough to ruin the overall feeling of the volume.  Tsukasa showed again just how serious he is for Tsukushi, even bucking up and joining them on a visit to the local public bathhouse.  He surprises Tsukushi by showing her how easily he can fit into her world – now, can she make a better effort to fit into his?

Grade: B+

Rated for Teen

Review copy provided by VIZ

An Early Look at Japan Ai: A Tall Girl’s Adventures in Japan by Aimee Major Steinberger

Title:  Japan Ai: A Tall Girl’s Adventures In Japan

Author:  Aimee Major Steinberger

Publisher:  go comi!

ISBN: 9781933617831

May Contain Spoilers

This is another book that I picked up to flip through the pictures and then put down for when I had more time to actually sit down and read it.  I just returned from a short jaunt out of town, and my house is just screaming for attention.  The dust has been given a reprieve, because once I opened this book, I couldn’t close it again until I finished reading it.  I don’t think go! comi knows about the insidious allure of spirals, so I’m not quite sure how this happened.

Japan Ai chronicles the author’s journey to Japan, the Mecca of every otaku, with cute illustrations and a wealth of cultural notes.  Along with her two friends, they created a battle plan to visit many of the magical destinations that anime and manga fans dream of seeing.  A trip to an onsen?  It’s in here.  Shopping – yup, complete with maps.  Even primping in Harajuku, in costume!  These guys had a blast, and it’s evident that Aimee is as passionate about her dolls and cos-play as I am about my manga.  Thank goodness for indulgent spouses!

The narration is fast paced and engrossing, and the accompanying illustrations captured the feeling of the situations and events covered in each chapter.  From having her luggage lost to the simple joy of the view of sakura blossoms outside the window of their room at the onsen, the author effectively conveyed her emotions during her adventures in Japan.  Her tall stature helped her to stand out during her travels, though some of these experiences were less than enjoyable.

I’m impressed with the presentation of this book.  The paper stock is nice and thick.  There are a ton of illustrations, some of them in color, and a glossary is thoughtfully included in the back.  Also included is an informative appendix, with  addresses, phone numbers, and websites for many of the locations covered in the book. 

Japan Ai: A Tall Girl’s Adventures In Japan is a fun travelogue recounting a geek’s journey to the Land of the Rising Sun.  It’s cute and an enjoyable read, and makes me want to pull out my passport and make the trip myself.  Maybe one day…

Grade:  A-

Rated for Teen 13+

Review copy provided by go! comi

An Early Look at Muhyo & Roji’s Bureau of Supernatural Investigation Vol 2 by Yoshiyuki Nishi Manga Review

Title:  Muhyo & Roji’s Bureau of Supernatural Investigation Vol 2

Author: Yoshiyuki Nishi

Publisher: VIZ

ISBN:  9781421513775

May Contain Spoilers

After helping their new friend Nana with a troublesome spirit, Muhyo and Roji head off to the Magic Law Association.  It’s test time, and Roji’s determined to pass his advancement test so he can be promoted to First Clerk.  Nana sneaks through the magic portal after them, too tempted by the thought of adventure to be left behind. When test time rolls around, it’s soon evident that someone’s out to get Muhyo, and that someone doesn’t care who gets caught in the cross fire.  Will Muhyo be able to protect his friends from his old enemy, Enchu?

Unlike the previous installment of Muhyo & Roji, this volume was less episodic.  The bulk of the story followed the heroes to the Magic Association, setting a better foundation for the world they live in.  Headquartered in  Nagano, there’s an entire town hidden in the the mountains that’s devoted to the study of magic law.  The Magic Law School is the place to study if a kid wants to become an Executor.  Roji wasn’t talented enough to pass the tough entrance exam, and a flashback to Muhyo’s school days shows a lazy and unmotivated student.  One wonders why he was accepted into the school, but the administration must have known what they were doing, as a stressful situation sparked his latent talents.

As Enchu wreaks havoc on the promotional examination, Muhyo and Roji attempt to derail his plans and prevent him for hurting anyone.  The history of boys is revealed, and we learn that Enchu and Muhyo were once as tight as peas in a pod, until jealousy and bitterness erupted into an unreasonable hatred.  I felt bad for Enchu, as ambition and a desire to elevate his family from poverty slowly twisted him into madness.

I still don’t care for the character designs. However, the action scenes were plentiful and easy to follow, with some creepy ghosts and a nasty skin infection that I hope remains fictional.  All of those mouths?  I mean, yuck, think of all of the lipstick you’d go through!

Muhyo & Roji’s Bureau of Supernatural Investigation Vol 2 will be in stores in December.

Grade: B

Rated for Teen

Review copy provided by VIZ

An Early Look at Suppli Vol 1 by Mari Okazaki Manga Review

Title:  Suppli Vol 1

Author:  Mari Okazaki

Publisher: TOKYOPOP

ISBN:  9781427803146

May Contain Spoilers

Minami is drifting through life, working long hours and taking for granted that her boyfriend of seven years will be waiting for her when she returns home.  Not really content with their relationship, she wonders if there’s something else out there, but she’s caught in a rut and doesn’t want to rock the boat.  When he dumps her, she realizes how isolated she’s allowed herself to become.  Will she be able to find love while juggling her career?

Minami’s life takes an unexpected turn for the worse when her boyfriend suddenly dumps her. They had been dating for seven years, and even though she wasn’t exactly blissful, she wasn’t eager to be on her own again.  An employee at an advertising firm, she longs to make a commercial that moves her audience, but her artistic inclinations are constantly shot down by her stodgy clients.  Frustrated with both her work and her relationship, she had considered breaking up, but her boyfriend beat her to the punch.

Even though they lived together, she had refused to give up her apartment, and she continued to pursue her career, often putting it ahead of her relationship.  When she’s alone again, she becomes unpleasantly aware of how separated she’s become from others.  Outside of her co-workers, she doesn’t have any friends, and suddenly her future is yawning, empty and devoid of companionship, ahead of her.  At twenty-seven, she’s afraid of becoming a spinster like one of her supervisors.  Will she only have her plants to greet her when she’s old and gray?

As Minami slowly and painfully adjusts to her new single status, she throws herself ever more completely into her work.  Along the way, she gets to know co-workers Ishida, handsome and younger than her, and Ogiwara, who was hired at the same time as Minami.  She’s drawn to both men, but lacking in confidence, she doesn’t want to be hurt again and tries to keep her distance.  Could it be true love is waiting just around the corner?

I wasn’t overly fond of the scribbly art.  The character designs are long and lanky, and at times, shockingly disproportionate.  I didn’t care for the line work that marred the characters’ faces.  The page layouts were interesting, though, and moved Minami’s chaotic life forward at a frenzied pace.

Suppli is a nice change of pace from the high school romances crowding the shelves.  Populated with characters who actually have to work for a living, it’s nice to see titles that skew toward an older demographic.

Grade:  B

Rated for  Mature 18+

Review copy provided by TOKYOPOP