Tag Archives: recommended

The Raven, The Elf, and Rachel (Rachel Griffin #2)

Title: The Raven, The Elf, and Rachel

Author: L. Jagi Lamplighter

Series: Rachel Griffin #2

Things have barely quieted down at Roanoke Academy since the battle with the dragon. Now that the Wisecraft know there is a geas that can control people without them remembering it, everything is in an uproar. Rachel is desperate to be in the thick of things, but the adults are trying to keep students in the dark—even though the students themselves are the ones most likely to be hurt. If no one will tell her anything, she’s determined to keep investigating herself . . .

I really like how Vladimir Von Dread and Gaius are shaping up as the book goes on. Pretty much all the adults have written Vlad (and by extension, his loyal henchman Gaius) off as evil, but as the first book showed, that’s oversimplifying things by a lot. Now Rachel is finding that the people she trusted so well are brushing off serious concerns, but Vlad is willing to take her warnings to heart.

As for Gaius, he’s enough older than Rachel to make dating a concern—which even Rachel admits. So she teeters between wanting to keep him as a friend, and wanting him to be more. I like how Gaius is, even more than Vlad, ambiguous.

But nobody beats Siggy when it comes to making me laugh.

Rachel sighed. “Sigfried, you’re a human being. You don’t have glands like that.”
Yet!” said Siggy stubbornly. “You told me people can’t turn into dragons—but look at Dr. Mordeau! If she can do it, I can do it. I have great hopes for alchemy class. I can’t wait to perform alchemical experiments on my head!”
“It’ll work out great!” Lucky added loyally. “You’ll overcome many naked monkey boy handicaps! When have horrible experiments with unknown magical forces ever gone wrong?”

The scene where Mr. Burke is trying to explain about dangerous areas to Sigfried is another bit of comedy gold. Siggy and Lucky take all his warnings as if they were signs on attractions, and wants to see them all.

This is a darker book than the previous. Although the event itself happens offscreen, a student was raped, and she’s struggling to heal.

The Raven also gets some interesting bits of development. Rachel’s always seen it as a harbinger of doom, but once she knows a little bit more of who he is and what he’s doing, her feelings get more complicated.

Overall the story continues to build and improve. I rate this book Recommended.

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The Rising of the Shield Hero (Anime)

Title: The Rising of the Shield Hero

Episodes: 1-25 (focusing mostly on 13-25)

Naofumi is struggling to get the other three heroes to take him seriously as the Waves continue to strengthen. But the Waves aren’t the only threat—political and religious conflict explodes against him, and he’s stuck defending some of the people he hates most.

The second half of the series highlights some of the best and worst of the story. I really like L’Arc and Therese, who show up right at the end (they were awesome in the books and even better on screen). L’Arc is still basically the only competent male character who gets a significant role in the action. He’s a bit of a prankster, but he knows how to be serious when it counts, and he’s every bit the hero Naofumi is. I very much hope the anime gets another season so we can get the arc where they meet again.

The conflict with the corrupt noble who used to own Raphatalia was changed in some disappointing ways, but overall that arc was still well done, especially with the music. Her backstory was as tragic as expected, but the use of visuals and music really elevated this above the source. I just wish she’d still kicked him out the window.

The middle arc with the Pope, though, is where most of the problems are. This was not great writing in the books, with how much standing around and monologuing at each other is happening in the middle of a fight, but on screen, with the ability to feel time wasting (and a lot of recap animation because characters keep bringing up old events) makes it even more tedious. In this case, being a little less faithful to the source would have been a good idea, as a lot of the needless exposition and bickering could have been cut for a stronger fight.

This was overall still a fun ride, and I do hope they make a second season so they can adapt my favorite arc (Naofumi visiting the world where L’Arc originates). I rate this show Recommended (although possibly watch the Pope’s fight on fast forward).

One Punch Man (Anime)

Title: One Punch Man

Episodes: 1-12

Saitama was once an ordinary man, but he trained hard and became a hero. The only problem is that he’s gotten too strong. Now everything he faces dies in a single punch. Can he find any meaning to being a hero?

It’s hard for me to summarize this show because it’s a comedy whose central gag is in the title: everything dies to Saitama in a single punch. I don’t generally like comedies because I tend not to have the same sense of humor, but there were a few pieces of this one that did make me laugh.

Genos is easily my favorite character in the series. I don’t find Saitama either relatable or funny, but that changes when he interacts with the overly-serious Genos, who pretty much worships him. Saitama might have gotten into the hero business to help people out, but that’s really hard to tell these days. Genos is the one with all the raw emotion behind his every action, and the fact that most of the time he fails miserably despite his incredible firepower can also be funny. His repair bills must be enormous.

Other characters like Sonic the ninja offer a good bit of amusement with how very much they get into their fights.

The animation is also particularly good for a TV show, especially the last episode. The fights are big and bombastic, and a lot of fun to watch (at least, until Saitama gets involved, generally).

If you have the Blu Rays, they came with 6 OVA episodes, which are generally minor bits from the series expanded from someone else’s point of view, or adventures involving other characters. Those were good, but due to the content I’d recommend watching them after watching the regular series.

Overall I did enjoy this, although I needed to get past the first episode to find anything I liked enough to want to continue. I rate this show Recommended.

The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin (Rachel Griffin #1)

Title: The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin

Author: Jagi L. Lamplighter

Series: Rachel Griffin #1

Rachel is excited to finally be attending Roanoke Academy, a prestigious school for arcane arts. As the youngest of her family, she’s got a big reputation to live up to, and she’s hoping to be just as brilliant in her own way. But all she really has is a perfect memory, which brings her into bigger mysteries than she ever expected . . .

I liked this, but I think certain conventions of genre or form made a few things much more obvious than they needed to be. For example, it was immediately apparent to me as soon as the defeated evil was mentioned that this would factor heavily into the current problems.

That said, it was still a lot of fun. I lost track of probably half the characters, but the ones I do remember were good. Siggy and Lucky were particular favorites. Sigfried is a teen new to the world of magic, who instantly became famous and wealthy when he slew a dragon and took over its horde, and Lucky is a small fuzzy dragon he befriended and later makes his familiar. They have the sort of interests typical to young men—that is, collecting treasure and burning people’s faces off.

Nastasia was another fun character. As the princess of Magical Australia, she’s dignified and proper. Unfortunately her father has a habit of doing crazy things like declaring Monopoly money to be their country’s currency.

It did feel like the plot happened rather fast. The whole story only covers about five days. In addition, some things that felt like they should be key (Rachel’s discovery of the angel statue, among others) end up going nowhere.

Overall, it was a good read, and very funny. I rate this book Recommended.

The Phoenix Ascension (Eve of Redemption #10)

Title: The Phoenix Ascension

Author: Joe Jackson

Series: Eve of Redemption #10

The war is in full swing. Kari, Kris, and their allies are pushing to conquer the desert kingdom of the shakna-rir as fast as possible, so they can take down an ancient evil before it unseals itself. This is complicated by the simultaneous wars on two other worlds Kari holds dear, but slowly, things are starting to pull together . . .

I received a review copy of this book for free, but I bought it anyway because I love the series.

This is a book best suited to being read shortly after the previous, as it picks right up where those left off and wastes no time throwing the dozens of characters we’ve come to know into play. The epic scale shines, although in contrast to most of the rest of the series, the grand nature of the constant battles leaves little time for anything else.

Despite the raw power commanded by many of the individuals in Kari’s army (least of all Kari herself) it was interesting to me to see how war changes things. Whether it’s Kari turning down Ashanti’s plans to fight 17-to-1, or to have the focus more on the position of troops than any individual fighter, it was clear that the sheer numbers of soldiers involved changes the game considerably. And that’s without considering Kari’s desire not to wipe the “enemy” out, as she’s mostly interested in curtailing the demon activity involved in the usurpation.

“Then we shall have to clear a path,” Ashanti said.
“I like your determination, but not your sense of self-preservation,” Morduri said with a roll of those amethyst eyes.
“No kidding,” Kari said. “Sheesh, it’s one thing to die for a cause, but can we set our sights a little higher than foot soldiers and maybe aim for fighting something like this idiot?”

There’s also still a bit of humor, even though the circumstances lend themselves less to banter.

I was happy to see several longstanding plot threads resolved—and some of them in very surprising ways (Kari’s reaction to the portal at the end was priceless). Although the plot is bending in a few new directions, it feels like the series will resolve soon.

Overall this is another strong book, though not my favorite in the series. The focus on battle does mean less opportunity for characterization, and the huge cast means it’s hard to stay emotionally connected with them all. But this is a necessary chapter in the ongoing saga, and it will be interesting to see what comes next. I rate this book Recommended.
Other favorite quotes:

Kris blinked. “I didn’t mean go there to fight, Kari. You’ve got a much tougher job than that. You’ve got to go do cleanup detail after the fight’s won. But then again, if our friends fail… kill everyone you can, and we’ll figure it out afterwards.”

Raven (Shadows #2)

Title: Raven

Author: Sam Blood

Series: Shadows #2

Phoebe is desperate to get a job at Cameron Technologies. Not only would it mean working under her idol, Melissa Cameron, but it’s also her chance to get off the streets. But the interview doesn’t go as planned, and soon she’s got far more pressing issues occupying her thoughts. Strange creatures have appeared, a killer stalks the streets, and someone is out to make Melissa Cameron pay. If Phoebe can’t unravel the mystery in time, she may lose everything she cares about.

This is an unusual second book because it actually takes place 11 years before the first book. That means both that this would be just as good a starting point for a new reader, and that returning readers will immediately tie this to the muddled images Griffin remembers in his own prologue (as well as a few things his brother told him later). So for a returning reader, a sense of tragedy overhangs even the happiest moments, because although we didn’t get the details, we know the important points of the conclusion.

Once again the characterization is very strong. It was fun seeing Melissa Cameron through the eyes of those closest to her—all her different roles leave her an open question right up until the end. Is she truly on the right side, or is there something more?

I adored Taylor and his snark.

“We’re not stupid,” Taylor agrees. “There’s no way we’re getting into a car with a stranger unless you give us lots of candy.”

Gecko was also a treat. Seeing him here, so much younger and more open than he was in the first book, is one of the many interesting juxtapositions. And the Shadows that appear are all such fun.

“Seriously? Seriously?” Ember cocks her head incredulously. “First field assignment with Human Relations, and I meet the girl with a fire phobia. I’m made of fire. This is going to be hard. Um, please don’t freak out. We’ll get past this. Somehow.”

I think this quote is the one that sums up the whole book. The exploration of this is what drives so much of the plot.

“Do you know what real love is, Phoebe?” Melissa says intently. “It’s noticing the bad parts in the people we love, and believing they can rise above their flaws. It’s seeing them as real people, not just who we want them to be. And it’s finding the good in them, even when we don’t recognize who they are anymore.”

I could never get behind Phoebe’s rants about homelessness, though (although I do think it’s in character for her to make them). Even without finding out that she HAS a home she could go back to, her disdain of the foster system and demand for the adult amenities she’s currently denied just strike me as incredibly self-centered. She wants the freedom of being homeless but blames the system for not providing things she by her own choices gave up. Even beyond that, her arguments lack nuance. There’s a balance between taking care of people that have gotten a bad set of circumstances and trying to erase the consequences of bad decisions (which is where I put Phoebe).

There were also several grammatical errors that detracted a bit from my reading.

Overall, though, this was another fantastic adventure that somehow managed to spoil the end from the very beginning due to the first book, yet still keep surprising me the whole way through. I rate this book Recommended.

More favorite quotes:

“I exist, you know,” Taylor says dryly, clearly feeling ignored in the conversation. “I have many interesting qualities.”

And:

“Oh, great,” she says, “dead birds. Phoebe, when I die, will you stuff me and pose me for strangers to show how much you love me?”
“Only if they pay me. I swear.”

Saga of Tanya the Evil (Anime)

Title: Saga of Tanya the Evil

Episodes: 1-12

In an alternate world in the middle of its own WWI, a young girl named Tanya is a formidable member of the military. With a harsh standard and a reputation for success in the worst circumstances, she eventually gains the nickname “Devil of the Rhine.” But Tanya is actually the reincarnation of a sociopathic businessman, and her current life is the result of an unintentional wager with a supernatural entity she calls Being X.

There’s a lot about this show that initially put me off. I mean, what kind of military allows a 9-year-old to enroll, even if it is for a magic division? I’m amazed Tanya managed to pass the physical (even mages have equipment to haul around, so presumably there are SOME standards). It feels like pandering. Thankfully the plot never sexualizes Tanya, focusing instead on the disparity between her age and looks, and her sociopathic personality.

I also wasn’t sure what to make of the religious angle to the conflict, although after watching the show I agree with Tanya that whatever she’s arguing with isn’t God, despite the trappings. The whole show is basically a narcissist versus a sociopath—Tanya’s whole life happened because the man he used to be told Being X only poor people in hard life circumstances had faith in God. So he got a one-way ticket to exactly that life. The interesting thing is that Tanya is, in some sense, refusing to budge from her position no matter what evidence is presented to the contrary—but on the other hand, the God Being X is pretending to be is also supposed to be a supporter of free will, which Being X is definitely not.

Visually, it’s a fun series. I really like flying scenes, and it’s also fun seeing the various adapters each country uses to fly. (Full disclosure: flying scenes are why I picked this up at all.) Tanya’s country uses a boot-like apparatus tied to something like a battery pack. Others use pseudo-horses, skiis, etc. It’s interesting to see how this affects their aerial mobility and tactics.

I’m not a history buff so I can’t say how closely this hews to actual events. Tanya is on the basically-Germans side, and it’s pretty easy to identify all the major players because the names weren’t changed all that much.

There were some weird visual bugs in the first episode especially, mostly around Viktoriya’s face, but after that the art stays pretty good. The air battles are the best part, but the series offers a lot of variety in the kinds of missions Tanya and her company are assigned. (The mad scientist whose research she’s validating makes this all the more hazardous.)

Tanya’s personality was another interesting facet. She knows what the rules are and in most cases abides by them scrupulously, but she also knows how to twist the rules around to get what she wants (or say what she wants). So on the one hand, she’s an ideal soldier—and she’s also someone pretty much nobody wants to work with or under. She’s incredibly hard on her troops, but most of the situations she’s exposing them to are a good mirror of what they will run into in the future.

Other than Tanya, though, I found most of the characters forgettable. The most distinct secondary character is an officer who distrusts her and is looking for reasons to discredit her. Some of the members of the opposing armies get more personal detail than any of Tanya’s subordinates or superiors.

Overall if anything about the premise sounds interesting, give it two episodes, as the second episode provides most of the setup that contextualizes the first. The first episode is a misdirection in several parts. I rate this series Recommended.