The Empty Sea

The Empty Sea

The Empty Sea (Into the Realms #2) by Craig Michael Curtis

Released originally April 30, 2013

Daniel, Eleanor, Immy and Oka have spent two years traveling through the perilous Labyrinth in the Fifth Realm before they finally managed to escape, only to be betrayed by a temporary member of their party. Eventually they make it to the oceanic Sixth Realm, only to be separated almost immediately. The boys are press-ganged onto a Yellow Star Guild Ship, while the girls end up with the opposing New Start Guild. This trip around the Sixth Realm is a real test of faith for both Daniel and Eleanor, and they find themselves continuously questioning themselves and their decisions. After a very circuitous route and acquiring a few new companions, they finally manage to make it to the Seventh Realm and meet back up again. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

Overall, I really enjoyed the story. There were several spelling/grammar errors that I feel could’ve been corrected with some good editing. The beginning up until they got to the Ocean of Storms in the Sixth Realm was rather exciting, then the story really dragged in the middle, and picked back up again in the end.  It took me forever to finish this one because I ended up reading a couple of ARCs in-between. Even though I didn’t understand all of the sailing ship references, different parts of the ship etc, I enjoyed the Horatio Hornblower/Master and Commander feel to it. In that respect, it reminds me of L.A. Meyer’s Bloody Jack series, which I adore. The map in the beginning of the book was very helpful as each group of characters jumped around in the Sixth Realm a lot, and I had trouble keeping track of where they went. 

I know the separation between Daniel and Eleanor was great for the story-building, but it was also super frustrating. This is especially true during the part where they literally missed each other by a couple hundred feet but didn’t meet. I know I wasn’t the only reader to scream out “No!” at that moment. Despite their separation, or maybe because of it, there was a lot of growing up done by both Daniel and Eleanor. I feel like they’ve really learned what they are capable of and what each of them can endure, which will become more important the further into the Realms they go and especially with their sort of forced separation (when Eleanor goes back to the Fourth Realm with Oka because of her promise). 

Disclaimer: I received a copy from the author in exchange for my honest review.

 

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Kimi Ni Todoke Vol 28

Kimi Ni Todoke Vol 28

Kimi Ni Todoke: From Me to You, Vol. 27 by Karuho Shiina

To be published: Jan 2, 2018

Ayane refuses to tell Pin (Mr. Arai) that she likes him because he is respected teacher at their school, even though she’s completely fallen for him and told her friends all about it. Meanwhile Sawako and Kazehaya are enjoying their Christmas break and spending more time together outside of school. Chizuru and Ryu are also spending time together when she realizes that Ryu hasn’t told Toru (his brother and Chizuru’s first love) about them yet, which makes Ryu a little jealous. However, when they tell Toru he is so happy for them. Over by the school, Pin is not coping well with being single on Christmas, especially with all the couples he keeps seeing. He runs into Ayane, and chides her for being hit on by so many guys. He offers to walk her home to get rid of the horde of men asking her out. But she gets mad at him after he calls her a kid.

Toru and his wife Haruka come with their baby daughter Ayu to visit the family and Chizuru falls a little in love with her. A snowstorm develops on New Years Eve, which also happens to be Sawako’s birthday, but neither she nor Kazehaya can wait to see each other so they both brave a snowstorm to do so. Kazehaya gives her a ring and promises to give her a wedding ring in the future, as they ring in the New Year together. The whole gang gets together the next day for New Years Day at their local shrine to pray for good fortunes and Chizuru has invited Pin, which makes things super awkward for Ayane after their last meeting. The girls reminisce about the last couple of years they’ve been friends and wish each other well on final exams to graduate high school. Recommended for ages 14+, 5 stars. 

If I didn’t already love this series, I can see how this series could drive a person crazy with its saccharine-y sweet scenes of first love and teen angst. And this volume had both by the dozen. I however just see it as just a fun shoujo series and being a hopeless romantic at heart, the adorable parts are even more adorable. 

There were so many sweet and hilarious scenes in this volume. For example, the line that Sawako says early on, “Everything I dreamed when I entered high school came true with you [i.e. getting more friends and a boyfriend so she has people to hang with].” And then she and Kazehaya exchange gifts and they get so embarrassed just holding hands. It is too cute! And oh my goodness, when Sawako can’t go home because of the snowstorm and has to stay at Kazehaya’s house and their faces are priceless, especially after he gets a sex talk lecture from his mom twice! Then there is the gift-opening scene, which was so sweet I wanted to cry, but also laugh a bit because they’re still so awkward together after all this time. 

I also love when Ryu and Chizuru are at his house, and he leans in for a kiss when Chizuru is fixing his Christmas antlers. Ooh and when Ayane sees Pin with his hair down and she gets so excited to see him, and then can’t help harassing him like old times. And later when they’re walking home together, I love when he tells her “to stop smelling so good,” like it’s something she could stop. After the snowstorm, on New Years Eve Day, Chizuru’s reaction to Sawako and Kazehaya-kun getting “lovey-dovey” was hilarious and reminded me of a similar reaction to Kyo in Fruits Basket with the protagonist’s two best friends. Overall, this was one of the best volumes yet and I can’t wait for volume 29, even though I know they will probably end the series in a couple of volumes. 

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from Simon and Schuster (Viz Media LLC) in exchange for my honest review. 

Banned Books Week 2017: Sept 24-30

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I love this year’s cover graphic from ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom that helps put on Banned Book week every year. I try to write about the week every year (or at least have since 2012). According to the ALA website, “It is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers — in shared support of the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.” I usually find that the books that people want to ban are usually really good books but for one reason or another people don’t agree with an issue that the book has brought up. If you would like to know more about banned books and fighting censorship, you can also visit this website, which co-sponsors the event with the ALA every year and this one because I love reading comics/mangas/graphic novels, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

I try to write about the week every year and encourage people to read banned books, and find out for themselves whether or not they think the book should be banned. I first got into banned books in graduate school when I was taking a class on YA literature and had to read a banned book. I picked Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher, whose books are notoriously getting banned and is therefore a big supporter against censorship. I really enjoyed the book, but would probably have never read as a kid because of the subject matter. I’m not gonna lie, the book is filled with reasons why a parent or concerned adult might want to ban it: the 30+ drops of the f-bomb and other curse words, discussions of physical/emotional abuse, suicide, abortion, masturbation, child neglect and more. It’s not an easy book to read at times, but there is a redemptive quality about the book that makes it awesome. In fact my mother was rather horrified when I described in detail while I was writing the paper for it. But as YA author Laurie Halsie Anderson has said,“Books don’t turn kids into murderers, or rapists, or alcoholics; Books open hearts and minds, and help teenagers make sense of a dark and confusing world. YA literature saves lives. Every. Single. Day.”

Updated infographic_Top 10 Banned Books for 2016_0

It’s not just Young Adult and Children’s books that are banned but Classics as well. According to the Office of Intellectual freedom, at least 46 books off this list of the top 100 books of the 20th Century have been banned. The ones in red are the ones I’ve read, and apparently I need to read many more. How many have you read? 

1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
3. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
5. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
6. Ulysses, by James Joyce
7. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
8. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
9. 1984, by George Orwell

11. Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov
12. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck – my review posted here

15. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
16. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley – my review posted on my previous blog, which also includes one for The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa (another banned book)
17. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
18. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
19. As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
20. A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway

23. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
24. Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
25. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
26. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
27. Native Son, by Richard Wright
28. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
29. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
30. For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway

33. The Call of the Wild, by Jack London

36. Go Tell it on the Mountain, by James Baldwin

38. All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren

40. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

45. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair

48. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence
49. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
50. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin

53. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote – my review posted here

55. The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie

57. Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron

64. Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence

66. Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
67. A Separate Peace, by John Knowles

73. Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs
74. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
75. Women in Love, by D.H. Lawrence

80. The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer

84. Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller

88. An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser

97. Rabbit, Run, by John Updike

The Prince and the Dressmaker

The Prince and the Dressmaker

The Prince and the Dressmaker written and illustrated by Jen Wang

To be published: Feb 13, 2018

The graphic novel is a historical fiction set in Paris in the late 19th Century, and stars Frances a talented but frustrated seamstress, and her employer, the shy Crown Prince Sebastian of Belgium who turns into the fabulously outgoing Lady Crystallia, fashion icon to all the young Parisians. Problems arise when Sebastian must keep his personal life very secret as his parents are trying to marry him off at the earliest opportunity, so he is meeting eligible young woman during the day and becoming one at night. Of course things become complicated, and Sebastian pulls a really douche bag move trying to save himself and his reputation. Will he be able to salvage his friendship with Frances and become the person he really wants to be? To find out, read this fabulous graphic novel. Recommended for ages 13+, 5 stars. 

I loved that this volume was all about self-acceptance and self-discovery. Being on a bit of similar journey myself, I was really drawn into the story. I found it fascinating that it was involving a cute but awkward prince who doesn’t see the value in himself as a boy, and only feels confident when he dresses in women’s clothing. There has been a lot of press with this sort of story lately, so it is nice to see such as well-thought-out handling of the subject matter. Frances is able to show him how beautiful he can be in her gorgeous dress creations.She finds someone a real friend who supports her dreams and wants her to grow and improve, and finds the same in Sebastian. One example of this, is when Sebastian meets one of Frances’ idols Madame Aurelia when he is dressed as Lady Crystallia, and they both get invited to the Paris Opera House to see her latest creations for the ballet, and the opportunity to show her work to a master dressmaker and he’s as excited as she is. Then he takes her out to eat as the Prince, treats her like a princess, and tells her how much he admires her tenacity. Squeee! That is so adorable!

I love the artwork, especially all the gorgeous dresses and the time period (which seems to have been set sometime during the Belle Epoque – circa 1871-1914). The story, as other reviewers have commented on, does have a lot of “awww” moments where you just want to hug them both and tell them everything will be alright, especially Sebastian. And the part at the end with his dad was so sweet, though I’m not sure if it would ever happen like that in real life, at least not with royalty (we can always hope!). The part that almost made me cry like a baby was at the end when the King says to Frances, “When I first learned the truth, I thought Sebastian’s life would be ruined. But seeing you, I realized everything would be fine…Because someone still loved him.”

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from First Second Books, in exchange for my honest review. 

The Other Side of the Gate

The Other Side of the Gate

The Other Side of the Gate (Into the Realms #1) by Craig Michael Curtis

Published: July 28, 2009

Fourteen year old Daniel Weaver arrives in a strange new world called the Realms one night by boat. He doesn’t know where he is or how he got there. He is not the first human to come there, nor will he be the last. He meets a local girl named Eleanor,  and together decide to travel through the sixteen Gates of the Realms on a “forward quest” in order to find out the truth about why humans have been coming to the Realms. Come explore the world of the Realms, and join Daniel and Eleanor as they begin their epic coming of age quest. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars. 

First I will discuss the things I didn’t like about the book. There were some obvious spelling errors and typos. The two spaces at the end of each sentence bothered me in the beginning, but I didn’t care so much about by the end of the book, probably because I got used to it. The biggest issue with the book, in my opinion, was the way the story dragged in the middle and end, and I felt like it could’ve been edited down a bit to help with that problem. 

On to the good stuff. I really liked the world-building in this book. I also liked the idea of getting a “Realm gift” from the prime-numbered Realms and a “power word,” which gives you another superhero-like power. The main character is transported to an unknown world and must survive by his wits and skills. He is good at helping people and encouraging them. Daniel meets Eleanor in a bit of an odd way, but they hit it off right away. I love both of these characters, and they really compliment each other. Their awkwardness as they start to fall for each other is adorable, the boy is a bit clueless and the girl is more forward (just like it usually goes in real life, at least in my experience). My favorite characters were the soul-bound couple, the Butterfields, because of the way they interact with each other – just like an old married couple even though they’re not. The most surprising character that I enjoyed reading about was Oka, the curmudgeon would-be wizard, who reluctantly helps Daniel and Eleanor at the end of the book. My favorite scene was probably the static electricity scene at the end of the book with the ghosts (can’t go into more or it will ruin it for everyone else). 

The end of the book especially had a Wizard of Oz theme to it, which I enjoyed as L. Frank Baum is one of my favorite authors. Think about the story summary: Two, and eventually four, teenagers go on a quest to seek knowledge and the help of a wizard. They finally find their wizard, who is actually not one (just like in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz), and is conveniently named Harry Baum. Daniel doesn’t exactly find the answers he is looking for in the Fourth Realm with his “magician” and so needs to continue all the way to the end to find his reason for being in the Realms. 

Bottom line for this book, and the series in general: Yes it is a long book but well worth a read and I personally am excited to see what he does with the next book in the five book series. 

Disclaimer: I did receive a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review. 

 

Honey So Sweet, Vol 8

Honey So Sweet Volume 8

Honey So Sweet, Vol. 8 written and illustrated by Amu Meguro

To be published: Oct 3, 2017

Yashiro,  after weeks of teasing, finally kisses Misaki. Both are shocked by it, and Yashiro ends up avoiding him for a few days. Yashiro goes to talk to Nao about it and finally confesses that she likes Misaki but hadn’t intended on kissing him originally. Nao encourages her to tell Misaki how she really feels, and she does by kissing him again and swearing more in the future. Nao and Tai have been going out for a year, and go out on a date to celebrate. They see Sousuke, Nao’s guardian at a diner with Tai’s mom, and Nao realizes she’s never thought about him having any kind of love life or wanting to be with someone. This comes into sharp focus once Nao and Tai meet Aoi, a former high school classmate of Sou’s and they see the reaction Sou gives when they see each other. Is love in the air for Sou? The end of the book fasts forward to seven years after their second year of high school and it is now Nao and Tai’s ninth anniversary. What surprises are in store for the couple? To find out, read the exciting conclusion of the Honey So Sweet series. Recommended for ages 13+, 5 stars. 

I was so sad to learn that this was the final volume of this series! It seems way too short. Misaki and Yashiro’s budding relationship is so awkward and adorable, especially when he tries to be “be a man” and kiss her first, failing because she kisses him first again. But of course nothing is as cute as Nao and Tai together. The title is very appropriate in this volume, as we see how much the two of them care for each other – wanting to share the gifts they gave each other to other and being able to express their feelings to each other (i.e. Nao commenting that “just being with Tai makes [her] feel giddy”). I’m glad Sousuke gets some face time, he’s probably one of my favorite characters in the series because he’s so selfless, but there’s hardly any mention of him except in the context of Nao liking him more than an uncle in the beginning of the series, or as a passing mention when Nao does something stupid and he has to be her parent. Aww, I adore the part when Aoi tells Sou talk about how happy Nao looks and how that is entirely because of him and how he has raised her. And it was totally sweet when Tai told Sou that he is his role model, as Sou had been questioning himself being a good parent, and I think it was exactly what he wanted to hear. I’m not usually a fan of guys giving girls roses because it is pretty cliche, but I loved the enormous bunch Tai gave Nao at the end of the manga. 

Disclaimer: I received this ARC from Viz Media Inc. in exchange for my honest review. 

Kimi Ni Todoke: From Me to You, Vol. 27

kimi-ni-todoke-27

Kimi Ni Todoke: From Me to You, Vol. 27 by Karuho Shiina

To be published: Sept 5, 2017

Sawako has been thinking about Kazehaya-kun all summer, though they’ve not seen each other very much. When he suddenly calls her to tell her his mother is in the hospital and he’s been trying unsuccessfully to make dinner, she immediately jumps to his rescue bringing a full meal. She impresses his father, but he is less impressed with his son. Father and son get into a fight and Shota is finally able to express himself and get his father to really listen to him about what he wants to do with his life. Sawako and Shota go to visit his mother in the hospital and they talk about his dad and how similar the two of them are, and his mom reveals how proud his father is of him (even if he doesn’t show it). His father lets him attend university with one major condition, and Sawako wants to celebrate by taking him on a day trip far away, just the two of them. Soon it is time for final exams and everyone is studying hard to get into university. Ayane confesses to her friends that she likes Mr. Arai. Will Ayane be able to tell Pin how she really feels? Recommended for ages 14+, 5 stars. 

The last couple of volumes have been kind of hit and miss, so I’m glad the author/illustrator finally got into more meaty storylines, i.e. Shota and his father finally talking and him figuring out what he wants to do with his life. I wished that Sawako and Kazehaya-kun had made more progress towards a post-high school relationship, but hopefully that will come soon. The two of them are so freaking adorable together, the way they are always taking care of each other. I hope Shota proposes in the future and they can move in together. 

On to the parts I enjoyed. I liked it when Shota’s younger brother Tota kept teasing them about acting like newlyweds because they were acting so cautious and nervous around each other, when Sawako brought dinner to their house. I liked that Shota tells Sawako that she is his inspiration for telling his father the truth, that part was really sweet. I loved Shota finding that drawer full of stuff his father collected from him over the years to prove how much he really loved him. He really needed to know the truth – that his dad was not the hard ass he always pretends to be, but really cares deeply for him.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from Simon and Schuster (Viz Media LLC) in exchange for my honest review.