I know that when I say I should just drop a series, but the reality is unless I get so pissed off by it, I’m probably going to stick it out until theI know that when I say I should just drop a series, but the reality is unless I get so pissed off by it, I’m probably going to stick it out until the bitter end. There are things about Kiss of the Rose Princess that I do really like—I like the idea of the plot, it’s a reverse harem (and I love me reverse harems), and I think although the character designs are super-busy, I still think that they’re cute. And the plot has actually began to show up, starting with the last volume’s introduction of the false Roses and Mutsuki’s locked memories and the Seal of the Demon Lord and how it relates to the Rose Princess (although that still hasn’t been answered.)
The problem is that instead of getting into or explaining any of the plotlines, Shouto Aya is more interested in the comedic elements rather than advancing the plot.
This starts off really strong. I really liked the fight between the Knights and Haruto in order to save Seiran, I really loved that end of the Yellow Rose arc is Haruto choosing to sacrifice himself to save Anise from getting pulled into the seal (although I don’t like the fact that we get a fairly emotional scene followed up “Oh, he’s okay! He’s in Hong Kong!”). I had kinda guessed what the purpose of the Rose Knights and the Rose Princess was going to be, given out what we found out about the Yellow Rose’s history in volume 2. I really liked the scene when Anise summons Kaede because she’s lonely and she wants someone to talk to. I liked that there’s a new threat that the group has to face as Anise’s father appears at the school and two new Roses.
And all of this would be great on its own, except that the majority of these plot points revolve around a chapter about wacky sports day hijinx that manages to throw in a bit of plot at the end. It’s made even more frustrating with the fact that one of the big reasons why this happens is that Schwartz does want to find out what the Roses’ abilities are, so Anise has to make sure that they act completely and utterly normal! (Except I’m going “But…he knows about the Roses already and who they are and ow my brain.”) This is volume 3. Yes, there’s been some development in the plot and getting into the history of the Rose Knights and their relationship with the Rose Princess but we still don’t know enough to figure out what’s going on. I don’t feel a threat coming from Schwartz (and to be honest, he doesn’t seem that threatening, especially when he answers “Why, I just want to see my cute daughter.” Skeevy, yes; threatening, no.), and I don’t like that Anise’s reaction to him showing up is “GUYS YOU CAN’T BE SUPER SPECIAL” and not, “Crap, what is he doing here we’re so screwed.”
This feels like a lot of padding, especially this early on (and I know, serialized storytelling), and it feels like Shouto doesn’t have a focus on whether or not she wants an action romance or magical romantic comedy. (Plus added in the factor of “We have to catch all the Clow Arcana Cards!”) It is bumpy, and although I do like that we are seeing elements of an actual plot line appearing, I still don’t think there’s enough to entirely work so far in this series. ...more
In the end, an overall “meh.” This isn’t a bad little two volume series, it’s very cute, it’s very sweet, but it just didn’t work for me in the end. In the end, an overall “meh.” This isn’t a bad little two volume series, it’s very cute, it’s very sweet, but it just didn’t work for me in the end. There’s really no big character developments throughout the series, and this is really just one wacky romantic hijinks story with aliens after another. With bonus rival character and concerned family members who just don’t really understand. I actually reread Hino Matsuri’s Meru-Peri a few months ago, and I think that that was is a better version of the “Mysterious being from another world declares Ordinary Girl to be his True Love!” Yes, Meteor Prince is a light fluffy series that’s heavy on the comedy until the last burst of drama in the final three chapters, but in the end, it just wasn’t for me....more
So, I just found out that there’s only one volume left in this series, and I’m a little sad. I’ve really enjoyed Library Wars since it first came out,So, I just found out that there’s only one volume left in this series, and I’m a little sad. I’ve really enjoyed Library Wars since it first came out, and although the story did meander at times with the Iku/Dojo love-hate relationship, I still thought it was a lot of fun and I really do enjoy reading the series, even though the releases are so far apart. (I think one volume left—someone asked about simultaneous releases on the Shojo Beat Tumblr page, and I think they said volume 14 is going to be the last one? Also the fact that the anime is coming out in the States later this year! WOO! I mean, it’s the vanilla, subtitled only edition, but still.)
Volume 13 does definitely read like the beginning of a final arc. Iku and Dojo have come to some understanding about their feelings for one another (although they haven’t fully admitted that they love each other yet), and things between the Library Defense Force and the Media Betterment Committee are beginning to come to a head with the targeting of Toma-sensei. There are still a number of threads that don’t feel as explored yet, especially with Director Kawahara, but I do think that the ending is in sight.
The thing that got me interested in Library Wars in the first place was the light-dystopia angle of the Media Betterment Act and how it’s affected this world since its implantation. Although this series has examined the negative effects of the MBA and how the general public has spoken out against it, there really hasn’t been a nationwide outcry against it in the series until now. I really like that this series not only explores the characters’ reactions to political developments, but also the civilian aspect as well. We get a few man on the street reactions throughout this volume, and I think this has shown a lot more of the civilian outrage than the previous volumes. I don’t know if the series will end easily for any of the characters, given the tendency for the MBC to either stall important developments or to go in with guns blazing. (I also like how it’s Iku who unknowingly comes up with the best solution for Toma-sensei to continue writing while still adhering to the MBC ruling.)
The other thing that I really enjoy about Library Wars is that I really don’t know how the story is going to turn next, so while the long wait between volumes doesn’t keep me excitedly jumping up and down (and admittedly going “Okay, what happened last time?”) , it does surprise me whenever the story goes into a different place. (Really, I ought give the entire series a big reread before the final volume comes out. The problem is that the majority of my manga collection is in storage bins and until I move out of my house and I can actually go through and arrange everything, I can’t really do a reread and clean some stuff out.
…my manga collection is large and terrifying. So much shojo manga. So many sparkles and flowers.)
That said, I do really love Library Wars as a manga series—it’s had a spot in my heart since I’ve read the first volume, and I’m really sad to find out that it’ll might be ending soon. But I have high hopes as what may happen in the next-hopefully-not-last-volume and I’ll wait patiently until it finally makes its way over stateside. ...more
My one thing about going into a new manga series is looking into how long or if it’s still ongoing in Japan. My general rule of thumb is usually no loMy one thing about going into a new manga series is looking into how long or if it’s still ongoing in Japan. My general rule of thumb is usually no longer than 20 volumes—not that I have issues with long-running series (Kimi ni Todoke, Fruits Basket, Nana in its never-ending hiatus), but the chances of hitting filler volume after filler volume tend to get more likely. (Otomen. Vampire Knight.)
I say this because I do like how Voice Over! has been clipping along, and for my hesitations at the beginning of the series, I do really like how the pacing of the story and how the characters have developed along the way. There’s still some filler points in here, but it hasn’t gotten to the point where I’m just yelling at the story to get on with it.
For example, Hime’s acting career and how it’s progressed since the first volume. I’ve really liked the fact that Hime’s voice acting abilities isn’t solely reliant on this one special thing that she needs to do to unlock her special voices—there are still elements there, like Hime needing to wear glasses when she’s doing a character, but it hasn’t really been commented on since their first appearance. I also like that Hime’s shown to be a diligent worker who takes her criticism and figures how to improve on it without, again, having Senri or Mizuki or Yamada say that one thing that makes her motivation click into place. I really loved the arc of Hime getting her first really big role and how she gradually improves on that character’s voice throughout the story, instead of relying on a special “thing” to grasp the character and his motivations. And I like how things have built up to the point where Hime is becoming more skilled at voice acting, and that she has the potential for a very wide range.
We’re also beginning to see some endgame elements in this volume, with Senri finally meeting “Shiro” during a recording session, and Hime’s increasingly awkward attempts to deflect Senri’s suspicion of her suddenly knowing everything about him. Which is fine, seeing as it really underscore Senri’s backstory of the last two volumes of not being able to make real friends because he cannot people. The only thing that I’m really not a fan of is the Senri-Hime-Mizuki love triangle starting to come to a head, just because it’s one of the things that haven’t really grabbed me in this series. (There are some shojo series where I really don’t care about the romance aspect, mainly because it just feels by the numbers. Unfortunately, this is one of them.)
As I said in my review for Volume 9, this is a really cute series that I’m having fun with, but I’m not completely frothing at the mouth for it every single month. I do like that I have been surprised by the character development and the plot progression. And it’s a cute enough series. Give it a shot, you might be as surprised as I was. ...more
I don’t know why I’ve really clicked on to Voice Over! but it’s so good and since the story’s kicked into gear, I’ve really enjoyed it. Especially sinI don’t know why I’ve really clicked on to Voice Over! but it’s so good and since the story’s kicked into gear, I’ve really enjoyed it. Especially since this is an overly complicated plot—Hime has to cross-dress because reasons that I still haven’t figured out (because female voice actors don’t voice boy characters? Ogata Megumi, anyone? Paku Romi?)? And then she can’t get close with Senri and Mizuki can’t confess his feelings, and everything is just complicated. It’s not the story itself that I wouldn’t typically like, it’s just that everything has a tendency to be overly complicated.
What helps is that the story really started kicking in around volume 4 or thereabouts, and it’s just been so good since then that I’ve become invested in all of these characters. And especially now that we’ve finally gotten Senri’s backstory and how much his mother’s view on life really messed him up. (I want Sakura Aoyama to actually show up in the series at some point, because she has some massive apologizing to do.) The fact that Senri really can’t make a meaningful relationship because he thought that everyone is just acting all of the time is heartbreaking, and the fact that he had people who wanted to be friends with him just hurts even more. I really see Senri and Hime/Shiro as really good friends and I want to go more into that angle rather than “Oh, I thought you were a boy but you were secretly this girl from school! Confusing feelings!” (It’s shojo manga. I have a feeling of where this is going to go.)
The other thing that I’ve really liked about the progression of the manga is the development of Hime’s goals. I do think that Hime’s character has stayed the same since the early volumes, but I do like the fact that she’s not pushing herself to ignore her strengths as a voice actor. I like that she’s getting rougher, non-cute roles, and that she is actively improving and taking criticisms and suggestions. (This gets expanded on more in the next volume.)
I wouldn’t say that Voice Over! is a brilliant or even a must-read manga, but it’s cute and fluffy enough that I would say if that’s your thing, definitely check it out. I do think it’s worth going through the first few volumes until the story picks up, and although the majority of development has been mainly with the side characters (well, Senri and Tsukino mostly), I still like how the story’s been developing so far. It’s not a manga for everyone, but it’s still fun. ...more
I went to my local anime con last month and I got into a discussion after a josei panel with the panelist aboutMy Love Story!! summed up in one meme:
I went to my local anime con last month and I got into a discussion after a josei panel with the panelist about why I still read shojo manga, and I said “Because I just need something fluffy that just makes me happy.” Not that josei can’t be fluffy or happy either, but there’s just something about shojo that makes me want to roll around squeeing.
And My Love Story!! is just the pure epitome of this. Yes, it’s about these two pure teenagers who absolutely adore one another and there’s really nothing that’s standing in their way as a couple, but it’s just so adorable and shut up give me more. (I’ve only watched the first episode of the anime so far, but OMG PERFECTION.)
We do get more into the atypical shojo romance tropes that the first volume touched on, and I do like that it’s Takeo who gets the brunt of the girls falling all over him. I actually thought it was sweet that Sunakawa’s older sister has a crush on Takeo, but she makes the decision to accept that Takeo and Yamato are together. (Not that Ai is completely over Takeo, but she keeps her distance and decides to try to move on.) I was afraid that the storyline with Shuei was gonna to go down the more typically path of “Oh, but she actually really does like Takeo!” (and I don’t think that this is going to stay platonic and friendly in the future), but I did like that it didn’t end that way. I really like that Takeo is all for encouraging everyone around them and willing to help them do their best, even if it occasionally means pushing them too much. (Also I can’t decide which panel was funnier in that story: Takeo doing the Hawkeye Initiative pose during the relay race, or Yamato’s sheer look of joy when she tries to get the GIANT cell phone charm plushie. “Rinko, no.” Oh my god these two. I need this bit animated so much.)
I also thought that the bonus story was adorably sweet, especially with the reveal at the end. Yes, it could be seen as too coincidental or too sappy, but it’s just so sweet and scared but being brave baby Takeo is precious.
This is slowly overtaking Kimi ni Todoke as my sweetly saccharine “I’M GONNA VOMIT RAINBOWS AND SPARKLES” fluffy shojo manga, because it just makes me so happy whenever there’s a new volume out. It’s adorable and funny, and I just get the biggest smile on my face whenever I’m reading it. ...more
I picked this up about nearly two months ago when I grabbed my copy of Razorhurst, because I’m at one of those points where I just need to pick somethI picked this up about nearly two months ago when I grabbed my copy of Razorhurst, because I’m at one of those points where I just need to pick something new and just give it a read. And despite my initial assumption of “Okay, this’ll just sit in the stacks until I either need something for vacation or I just need to read something new that’s not by one of my twenty authors that I normally read.”
The thing about books about depression is that while not everyone’s depression is 100% exactly the same, I still relate to them because I know what it’s like to not want to be here and that it would probably be easier if I just wasn’t here at all. And I think that Aysel’s character comes across really well in this regard—she already feels out of place in her small Kentucky town, and with her father’s crimes haunting her only adds more to her stigma. But I think that Warga does a good job of illustrating Aysel’s detachment not just with these outside details, but how Aysel tries to detach herself from the rest of her family. Aside from her half-brother, Mike, Aysel doesn’t want to reconnect with her mother and sister and has a hard time even seeing her classmates or Ronan as people at first. I did like that Aysel was trying to push people away, not just so she could be hurt, but so they wouldn’t be hurt by her, because it felt natural to her character. Aysel sees herself as this massive time bomb, so afraid of becoming her father, but she doesn’t know how to communicate to anyone about her depression that she’s afraid of making her mother afraid of her. (view spoiler)[I don’t think that anyone close to Aysel personally blames her for her father’s crime, or truly believes that she’ll end up the same way—there are definitely people who probably do think that way, but I think it’s also worth mentioning that we’re seeing this story through Aysel’s eyes, and how much she’s twisted her self-worth at this point. (hide spoiler)]
And this is really a book about hauntings. Both Aysel and Ronan are dealing with their own ghosts, and the only solution that they can see is being dead rather than facing their pain. (view spoiler)[But what I really like about this book, and particularly as events lead up to the final day is the realization that Aysel and Ronan aren’t alone in their pain, and that their families feel like they’re just as responsible or guilty for the ghosts that linger over the book. And not just Aysel’s or Ronan’s or their families’ ghosts, but there’s ghosts for the entire town as well.
I will also make the argument for this—I don’t think teen romance is the sole reason why Aysel changes her mind halfway through the book. You definitely see her beginning to grow up and realize that even though killing herself will stop her pain, there’s still going to be consequences for her family and the people she knows. And yes, she does say that she likes Ronan, but it really came more across to me that Aysel realized what she was going to do and what that actually meant.
One of the things that I noticed about this is the number of people who reach out to Aysel throughout the course of the book. Her sister tries to reconcile with her, Aysel’s classmate Todd notices Aysel’s suicidal drawings and does try to bring up his concern about them. (Not well, because teenager, but the fact that someone noticed and is worried about Aysel means a lot.) The part that really hit it home for me was when Aysel confessed to her mother about her depression and that she needed help. (hide spoiler)]
I wasn’t a big of a fan of Ronan at first, and to be honest, at the beginning of this book I thought I was going to hate him. I’m really glad that I didn’t but he does come off as fairly pretentious and “Oh, no one can understand my pain.” But once Aysel and Ronan start opening up to each other and we learn why Ronan feels guilty (view spoiler)[over the death of his little sister. (hide spoiler)] I did end up liking him in the end (view spoiler)[and my heart broke whenever Aysel realized that Ronan was planning to go through with his suicide. I also really liked that although Ronan does attempt suicide, he does realize that he’s doing a greater disservice to his sister’s memory.
And what I really like about the ending is that even though there is a lot left unresolved plotwise—we don’t know what’s happened with Aysel’s father, we don’t know the lasting effects of Ronan’s suicide attempt—but I like that with all of those loose ends, there is still hope at the end.
I think that it would really be remiss to say that this book is about “How the power of love defeats depression!” especially if people are referring more towards “The power of romantic attraction defeats depression!” Because I think this is a book about love, not only about loving yourself, but accepting the love that other people give you, especially when you believe that you’re unworthy of it. And for how bleak and haunting for the first half is, I really loved that Aysel strives to be better, and looks for a future pretty early on in the plot (about halfway through or so. Sorry, it’s been a long month since I’ve read this). (hide spoiler)]
This is a book that ought to be read, not because it’s a book about depression and What to Do, but really more for the promise of hope and that a future is possible after the terrible things in someone’s past. And it works for me because this isn’t a last minute affirmation shoved in the last few chapters, but something that the characters realize throughout the course of the book. And yet, there’s still downfalls and hesitations before you can admit to someone “I have depression.” I really liked this book, and I can’t wait to see what Warga comes out with next. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
There are certain tropes and character archetypes that populate chick lit, as with all literature: The plucky relatable herLet’s talk about chick lit.
There are certain tropes and character archetypes that populate chick lit, as with all literature: The plucky relatable heroine. The best friend (who can be fat, married, or desperately single). The Rival who must be a whore because she has a lot of sex. The nice guy love interest. The asshole with a heart of gold that only the heroine can uncover. I really don’t expect a lot from these books, or their characters, or their plotlines—not that I’m going in thinking that they’ll be bad, or even lesser, but I just know what I’m going to get with them.
I’ve noticed, though, that in the last few years, I’ve been liking adult chick lit less and less. I don’t think that the heroines are likable—they seem to be banking on the fact that since the heroine is a good girl, who works hard and wears sensible clothes and therefore isn’t a “slut,” but every other woman is aside from her designated best friend and mother. (The mother is usually just a horrible woman because “she doesn’t understand me!”) The romantic chemistry between the Heroine and Designated Love Interest feels nearly nonexistent most of the time, and the hijinks of complicating the relationship seem to get more ridiculous and nonsensical. Not to mention the fact that it seems to me that the so-called professional adult characters act more like teenagers than the books with actual teenagers in them.
(Meg Cabot toes the line on this, especially with her earlier Boy series. However, she’s gotten a lot better with her adult leads and growing out of a lot of problematic tropes thank God.)
Such is my list of issues with About a Girl. I am expected to immediately relate to Tess because she’s an “everygirl,” meaning she slags off on every single woman in this book at one point or another. Including her best friend and so-called mentor. The only shred of sympathy I have for her is her untimely and admittedly unfair firing, but that shred is lost very quickly when she goes into “Oh, woe is me. I am single, and yet my sisters are all sex-obsessed housewives who keep popping out children. Ugh.” Tess gets upset that her cartoonishly evil roommate Vanessa has slept with Tess’s longtime crush, Charlie, and yet, we’re expected to sneer at Paige when Tess does the same thing to her. (Oh, but Paige is more understanding because Tess isn’t that bitch Vanessa!)
Again, this book with professionals in their thirties reads more like high school dramatics than any of the contemporary young adult books that I’ve read in the last three years. And frankly, this mindset is really beginning to piss me off. I’m in my late twenties, and I do not have everything figured out, much less in any sort of regular relationship. But I know that acting like this isn’t realistic, much less acceptable. Having characters who are supposed to be mature adults running around and screaming “OMG YOU SLEPT WITH HER I HATE YOU I HATE YOU!” makes me want to throw the book across the wall and tell the writer to write about fucking grown-ups here.
Plus the fact that Tess has two separate love interests (of course there’s an immature love triangle. OF COURSE THERE IS), and she has zero chemistry with either one of them. She has a friendly banter with long-time crush Charlie, but that’s really all that their relationship amounts to. (STOP WITH THE “MEN AND WOMEN ARE ONLY FRIENDS BECAUSE OF LINGERING SEXUAL TENSION AND THEY SECRETLY WANT TO BANG EACH OTHER.”) There is no chemistry, friendly or sexual, whatsoever between Tess and Nick. Nick’s characterization is that he is the Asshole with a Heart of Gold. That is it. We learn nothing about his character throughout the book, and he doesn’t really grow beyond that.
What also doesn’t help is that this book is way too long for even the ridiculous premise, and given that this ends with a sequel hook, it managed to piss me off even more. I’m given to agree with Designated Best Friend (Singleton variety) Amy that Tess spends half the book whining about how she’s in paradise with a really hot guy and that she’s whining about running away from her problems before going off to frolic on the Hawaiian beaches some more. Also the ridiculous premise even falls apart because it’s continually mentioned that Cartoonishly Evil roommate Vanessa is allegedly an It Girl, and yet, she’s apparently so detached for a full week that no one is going “Wait, I just heard from this chain that you’re supposed to be in Hawaii on a shoot, why are you doing a spa week?” Just because your character eschews social media and modern technology doesn’t mean that the rest of the world hasn’t. This only adds to the horrendously bullshit ending. Which, by the end, Tess’s identity theft is only revealed because she slept with Nick, who Paige has had a thing for the entire time but never acted on! (AGAIN. PROFESSIONAL WORKING ADULTS. There was a similar ridiculous petty blow-up in Meg Cabot’s Boy Next Door, but at least that main character got reprimanded and told to grow up when that happened.) But all is forgiven because Tess won the respect of the mysterious old gentleman who was really the photography subject and it turns out that the Cartoonishly Evil Roommate built her career on Tess’s photographs, so Tess wins!
I haven’t begun to touch the colossal fuckton of issues that made me want to take a lighter to my copy. Like, oh, the native Hawaiian manservant who waits on the completely British cast and talks about how beautiful Hawaii is when he’s not acting as a “fairy gaymother” (legit term used in this book. Also he makes fun of waitstaff at one point, which dude seriously). Or that Tess can’t abhor the fact that Nick prefers to eschew pop culture but she’ll sneer that a friend’s sister named her child “Bella and Katniss” and reads “those kind of books.” (Extra shot because Tess only knows about Pride & Prejudice because of the 1995 miniseries!) Or this:
“It just never made sense to me,” he said with a chuckle. “Male models aren’t as rich as female models because men don’t want to look at a better version of themselves in a jumper they’re about to buy. And yet women insist on putting these perfect-looking creatures in clothes that have been pulled and pinched and altered beyond all recognition and then spend six months out of the year starving and crying because they don’t look like the model in the dress when they buy it. Of course they don’t look like the model! No one looks like a model. You’re all mad.” (pgs. 289-290, American ARC)
FUCK OFF YOU MISOGYNSTIC FAT SHAMING OLD BASTARD.
Oh, but this is all okay! Because Tess is a “relatable, likable heroine!”
One of the things that I kept thinking while I was trying to keep calm and not audibly yell at this book is that it feels like the kind of teen books I was slammed with when I was a teenager, and that I’ve largely grown out of reading. There is a definite shift in the young adult landscape that not only encompasses an incredibly diverser audience, but also destroying the notion of what “good girls” are, and are by and large much more mature than most of the adult chick lit that I’ve read in the last few years. (I’ve just started Courtney Summers’ All the Rage, and given what I’ve heard about the early buzz, it does seem like an immensely more mature conversation than what I find in adult romances or chick lit.) It feels like a lot of these authors are still in the mindset of “These are the good girls and every other women are bitches and whores” and it’s so incredibly narrow-minded that I cannot relate to these characters. I could ten or fifteen years ago, but I also know that I was a lot more sheltered when I was younger, and I know that the world doesn’t work that way. And plus the fact that so many of these characters are so immature—yes, I want to read about women who have terrible runs at relationships or terrible jobs or they don’t have their lives in order. But when you bring this petty, immature mentality to how they deal with the world, I really don’t like them, and I like them even less when the plot hinges on women being petty about relationships. (Again, see Meg Cabot—there are a lot of her books where she falls into these traps, but she’s improved her writing and her characters’ worldview immensely. It’s not 100% perfect even now, but she’s still so much better than a lot of the stuff out there.)
I have said many times in the past that the big reason why I don’t read a lot of adult mainstream fiction (chick lit or Literature or what have you—anything that’s not explicitly genre fiction) is that so many of those characters feel much less developed and underused than what I get out of YA characters. And it makes those characters unlikable and I can’t relate to them because I just feel like no one would realistically act this way (and yes, this is excepting the ridiculous plot threads) or even get away with it in the end. One could argue that I’m overanalyzing “escapist” literature and not to think too much on it, but there’s a point where I can’t take it anymore and I do feel like I need to call the book out on being terrible. ...more
It’s not…an entirely well-kept secret of mine that I am still to this day a massively huge Backstreet Boys fangirl. I’ve seen them more times in the lIt’s not…an entirely well-kept secret of mine that I am still to this day a massively huge Backstreet Boys fangirl. I’ve seen them more times in the last five years than I did at the height of their popularity (although to be fair, I was fourteen back then, and my mom wasn’t too wild about driving me two to four hours for a concert at the time), I own all their albums (including the solo ones!), and let’s just say out of the last five concerts I’ve been to, I was more excited for the three Backstreet shows I went to than seeing Springsteen for the twelfth time.
I have also mentioned before that I cut my fanfiction teeth on reading bandom RPF back when FF.Net had a fairly impressive RPF output. I spent a lot of time trawling for decent fanfiction, and I have said in the past that I really wasn’t entirely a fan of “OMG I’ve met x from the band and HE’S FALLING IN LOVE WITH ME SQUEEEEE” even back then. (I liked the sci-fi/paranormal/horrorish fic a lot better. There were a lot of fics based solely on the music videos for “Everybody” and “Larger Than Life.”) And before you ask, I did write one RPF for Backstreet. (Crossover fic with Sailor Moon. Everyone who knows me is completely shocked.) It’s buried in the depths of my disused AOL Mail account. We Do Not Speak of It (except when we totally do). I was fourteen. It’s not very good.
So when I say that half of this book reads like a thirteen year old’s fan fiction, believe me, I know what I’m talking about.
The other half of this book is so carefully marketed to specific idea that the publishing company is going to stick to this plan that it feels so wooden and see-through that I honestly didn’t find anything genuine. The whole idea of the Backstage Pass series (of which this is the first book) feels like a calculated attempt to cash in on the One Direction P2P fanfiction craze, but with an actual copyright and marketing plan and without the winking and nudging to the fanbase. Hell, Seconds to Juliet is pretty much a One Direction riff, with the backstory of their creation being via a reality show competition. (Although because I’m of a certain age, my mind went “Reality show boy band = O-Town.” At least S2J doesn’t seem to produce anything like “Liquid Dreams.”) Not to mention the overinstance in-universe usage of the band members’ “nicknames” to set up the rest of the series’ titles in the future- the “bad boy,” the “big brother,” the “shy one,” the “baby” (which clearly Marketing didn’t think this through down the line) and book one’s titular “heartthrob.”
The two main problems with this book is that it is incredibly bland and there’s a point where my reality meter can shatter into a million pieces. When I say that this is a thirteen year old’s fanfic, I’m more referring to the fact that this reads like someone who has no idea how this would actually go down in real life. For example, the fact the security detail on this group is nonexistent. Miles and Aimee frolic around hotel room corridors while somehow managing to dodge the paparazzi and hotel cameras the whole time and the one time that a tabloid journalist does show up, it’s a null point that barely moves the plot. They have the band tour around in a giant tour bus with their half-naked picture emblazoned on the side, but apparently “Well, no one knows which bus the band’s really in! We’re trying to keep things quiet.” Because you know, giant half-naked pictures of pop stars on the side of a bus are incredibly subtle.
(There is also…”The Rain Dance.” The Rain Dance is a very particularly choreographed dance number for the band’s super-secret, never before seen (until after the first concert when everything gets posted online) encore that they can only do in all but one or two venues.
Aimee spends a lot of her time backstage waiting for this number so she can watch Miles and the band run all the way to their bus in their soaking wet clothes so that they can immediately leave the show and avoid the fangirl rush. Apparently, nobody thought that this might be an insurance risk.)
There’s also a major character plot point for Miles that he’s had a troubled past—his mother’s an illegal immigrant from England (btw the way the tabloid journalist threatens to get her deported and compares Miles’s accent to the Obama Birthers. Yes, they’re going to deport the lily white English pop star.), and he’s had drug and anger issues stemming from his father’s abandonment that landed Miles in juvie for a year. Either S2J’s manager Lester is paying off the band’s legal team amazingly well to keep this information out of the papers or this book’s version of TMZ isn’t good at their job. Really, the only reason this plot point exists is to create more manufactured drama between Aimee and Miles.
And really that’s all this book’s plot is—manufactured drama. Aimee and Miles give into their poor, starved hormones and then blow up over any detail that they uncover about each other over the course of two hundred and some pages. Rinse and repeat. Aimee’s not sure if Miles really likes her because, oh, he’s a “playa” and flirts with all of the girls (because that’s…kind of his job? Again, I’ve been to five BSB shows in the last five years. They’re all married now, and they still hit on the girls in the audience.), but no! He really likes her, but he know she hates him for whatever reason!
It doesn’t help that none of the characters in this book have any personality whatsoever to speak of. Miles is supposed to have this very particular and polished onstage persona, but he’s always battling his inner anger (LIKE THE HULK. Miles is very much like the Hulk because he can’t control his anger! And he needs to be more like Banner and not let the Hulk be unleashed! Have I mentioned that he’s like the Hulk? Because Miles is like the Hulk). And that he really wants to be a versatile artist like Prince. Because he really likes Prince and is inspired by him. (He even picks Aimee up for their date in a Little Red Corvette, get it?) And he’s so super close to his bandmates—Trevin and Ryder and… those other two guys—they’re just like brothers! So super close that Miles has no qualms about repeatedly ditching his bandmates and his responbilites like interviews and band meetings but they’re not that important. The only time that we actually to get to see the entire band interacting together is towards the end, when Trevin and Ryder finally call Miles out for repeatedly ditching them. (I honestly forget Nate’s name for three-fourths of the book, because he’s only mentioned once until the end.)
Look, I get that this is a romance novel between Aimee and Miles, and that’s where the focus is going to be on. But there’s a point where I become disinterested in the constant “You got it (the right stuff)” and “As long as you love me,” only to be marred by not-that-dramatic ~drama!~ especially considering that neither one of the involved characters are strong enough to carry the romance and/or the drama.
Because Aimee is just as bland. Aimee has the character description of an audience self-insert Flavor of the Moment—plain, quiet brunette who’s a good girl (not a slut like Miles’ exes or any of the girls Ryder would date) who likes Taylor Swift-esque dresses and is a book vlogger. And I wouldn’t have such a problem with Aimee’s characterization if she had any character to speak of. She doesn’t really do much but get pushed around by other characters and is so incredibly naïve to the point that I was slamming my head against the wall every time she would be shocked—SHOCKED!—when she learns that Miles has been “keeping” something from her.
My main problem with Aimee, however, is the revelation that she has written fanfiction about her and Miles. Now, we can argue about the creeper implications of RPF in general (especially once you start involving people in the celebrities’ personal lives, or RPS which I’m not touching with a tenth foot pole. Y’all do what you do, I am not interested). But given there is the whole premise that Aimee and Miles grew up together. He is her brother’s best friend, she thinks that he thinks of her as a little sister.
I DON’T CARE IF HE’S FAMOUS NOW. YOU DO NOT POST FANFIC OF PEOPLE YOU KNOW OR FRIENDFIC ON THE INTERNET. IN FACT, YOU SHOULDN’T BE WRITING IT IN THE FIRST PLACE. Yes, of course, Miles is going to think that Aimee’s a stalker and that she’s only interested in him for the fame! But the second they clear up the misunderstanding, oh no, isn’t it totally sweet and romantic! (Oh, and this is the reason why Aimee forgives her friend Becky for leaving up said fanfic on their SHARED SITE for TWO YEARS that Aimee somehow conveniently NEVER NOTICED. It’s one thing when I say that my terrible fanfic is floating in the ether somewhere because I haven’t used those accounts in forever. It’s another if you have a website that you run FOR THAT LONG.)
Not to mention the constant slut-shaming from both Miles and Aimee—more from Aimee, but Miles has a pretty gross comment about “Oh, how can I resist you tempting me in those short little dresses of yours.” Aimee just constantly slut-shames every single girl, including jokingly calling her friend Becky a slut a few times. (Not that I wish slut-shaming on anyone, but I don’t buy the reassurance at the end that “Miles’s fans are totes cool with this and they love Aimee!” No, sorry, Aimee, but karma is going to be a bitch.)
(Can I also talk about the writing and dialogue? DOES ANY TEENAGER ACTUALLY TALK LIKE THIS? Aimee constantly switches between such gems as “Nutty nut-burgers!” and “assjacket,” plus Miles’ constant descriptor of “playa” and there’s a lot of extraneous x’s and z’s, not only in the dialogue, but in the actual prose itself. Like “pix”—you can say pictures or pics, you don’t have to be hip with the kids.)
As far as the first book goes (because I have committed myself to reading this whole series for…whatever reason. Mainly reliving my RPF days), this was just bad. The first half was at least a little fun, albeit cheesy, but the second half went steadily downhill that I was just getting ready to DNF it or plow through the end. Unfortunately for this book, I do not want it that way, because it’s bland and boring while sometimes trying too hard. We will have to see that if I want a good book, I should be getting myself a bad boy.
I do actually like Aya Kanno’s work, but between her first two series published in America, my feelings toward them are dramatically split. I really lI do actually like Aya Kanno’s work, but between her first two series published in America, my feelings toward them are dramatically split. I really liked Otomen (although I will say that that series went on for about eight volumes too long), and I thought that Blank Slate wasn’t really that great. So when Viz announced that they were bringing over her newest series, I had figured that I would flip through it and maybe buy the first volume. And then I read that was going to be a reimagining of Richard III and I am sold. (Even though I haven’t actually seen or read most of the original play. YES BAD ENGLISH MAJOR BAD. I’ve seen the Reduced Shakespeare Company version, though? If that counts?)
I will say that I thought that this was good and I’m really interested in picking up the next volume whenever it came out. However, there were a lot of moments of “Wait what” in this that distracted me from the story and my brain trying to figure out how certain plot elements were going to play out in the future.
(view spoiler)[The major change that Kanno brings to the story is that Richard is actually biologically female, and was raised as male. (Biologically female or they’re a hermaphrodite. The artwork suggests the former, the writing and other characters’ description of Richard as a “demon child” suggests to me that it could be the latter. I am leaning towards the former explanation to be honest.) And I actually really like this angle, if Kanno develops well enough in future volumes. Richard’s characterization is still largely ambitious and power-hungry, if only towards their father’s sake. Richard is the one who pushes their father to pursue the English throne and to goad the House of Lancaster to battle. And considering how this volume ends, I’m interested in how that will develop.
And I do like that even though Richard is presented as being more sympathetic, they’re still ambitious and potentially ruthless instead of being a straight villain. And it also works because we get such a great exploration of Richard’s relationships, not just with their mother and father, but with their brothers and Henry as well. I like that Richard’s desire that while their “deformity” is one of the reasons why Richard wants to be seen as a worthy son, I do like that their father does truly love Richard. (I don’t know exactly what’s going on with Richard’s mother on the other hand). And I like that Richard does get on with their brothers, and for the first volume, there’s really no sibling rivalry.
I also really like how Henry VI is shown in this, and his own personal struggles of being pious and being the king. I really liked the moments between Henry and Richard in the field, and how Henry is just ready to hand the crown over to Lancaster if that’s what will stop the war. (To actually be honest, when I saw the cover and read the cover copy, I did think that this was going to be a BL version of the play. It doesn’t quite go there, but things still get pretty subtext-y between Henry and Richard). And I really liked Margaret—I liked that she’s the one willing to go to war and the hint about her previous love affair made me really interested in how that will turn out in the future. But most of all, I’m really interested in seeing Kanno return to gender roles and constructs in a more serious examination of those themes. That we have Richard’s patronus Joan of Arc in this series (and I don’t know what’s going on with Joan’s characterization because seriously what the hell) and that there is an actual endgame going into this series makes me hope that maybe Kanno could pull this off. I don’t know if she’ll portray it perfectly, but there’s less of a chance of the plot being unnecessarily drawn out. (hide spoiler)]
As I said, I think there are just a few things here that jolted me out of the manga (manipulative patronus Joan of Arc, the reveal of Richard) which aren’t bad plot points, but the way they’re handled jolted me out of it. I am still interested in what’s going to happen in future volumes, and if Kanno’s twist on the material will largely effect the story. (I also have plans to give this to my Shakespeare-obsessed best friend to see what her reaction will be.) I’m definitely planning to pick up the next volume, and I really want to see what happens next. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I know this comes off as a massive backhanded compliment, but I do love it when a book that looks pedestrian on the outside manages to blow my expectaI know this comes off as a massive backhanded compliment, but I do love it when a book that looks pedestrian on the outside manages to blow my expectations for it away and surprises me. Looking at the synopsis for An Ember in the Ashes, there’s a lot here that feels like it’s been done before and fairly recent (alternate histories, oppressive governments, rebellions, blood sport games that decide a person’s future), but the writing and the characters are so well done that you want to keep reading.
This is also a lot of book- I was dreading that this would drag at times, but Tahir’s writing and plotting engaged me, even during the down moments in the plotlines. I read the last hundred or so pages in one go at work because I need to know what was going to happen next and after the literally explosive ending, I want more.
Yes, looking at the cover synopsis, one could easily describe this as “Marie Lu’s Legend trilogy meets HBO’s Rome meets Game of Thrones but with more blood games” but for all of the surface details, there is so much more to this book than just those. Tahir barely scratches at the surface of the universe she’s created in here, drawing heavily both on Middle Eastern folklore and Ancient Roman aesthetics to create the Martial Empire and the surrounding lands. There’s so much that gets alluded to in here but we only get to see a few of the details before the book ends. And although it is frustrating, it does make me want to see a lot more of it.
I will say some of the world-building and backstory are the weaker parts of this book—given that my ARC is about 436 pages, we really don’t learn that much about the world in here. There are some explanations given to the history of how the Martial Empire conquered the Scholars, and some attempts of explaining why there the Trials are occurring, but there’s still a lot left unanswered and unresolved by the end of this. I personally don’t think that the unresolved plotlines are as big of a problem as they could have been, but it’s still annoying to get to the end of the book and much of the plot threads haven’t been resolved, much less explored.
But that is not to say that this book is 436 pages of nothing happening. Flipping between Laia and Elias’s perspectives, Tahir weaves an detailed plot that takes two characters’ lives and separate goals—Elias, to come in second place at the Trials and get his freedom, and Laia, who’s joined the Scholar rebellion to save her imprisoned brother—and joins them together in a somewhat expected, but still surprising way. And it’s also immensely dense—there’s a lot of grey morality on the Rebellion side, and especially with how things are currently run.
And I also really liked that both Laia and Elias aren’t perfect characters who do selfish things, but they have guilt over their actions. This starts off with Laia abandoning her family to save herself, only to get into deeper trouble once she finds the rebellion. (view spoiler)[Then there’s the Third Trial, where Elias figures that the only way to win is to kill his best friend—and manages to sacrifice his other friends in the process. And the aftermath of that trial weighs on Elias. Although Elias doesn’t kill Helene and he’s a step closer to getting what he wants, but the deaths of his friends affect him badly. (hide spoiler)] And I like that this is pretty addressed through the whole theme of the book (and later quoted by one of the characters)—that there are two kinds of guilt: one that weighs you down until you give up or the one that you accept and you keep fighting. I like that Tahir addresses this, especially with the grey morality on top of it.
And I really liked both Laia and Elias as characters. They both can seem a little one-note—Laia is the oppressed girl with a hidden familial secret, and Elias being the soldier who hates his Empire—but the more we learn about them in the course of events, they really do grow into their characters. I loved the early reveal that Laia’s parents were once the leaders of the Rebellion (which split into opposing factions since their deaths), and that she wants to make them proud, but doesn’t feel like she can live up to their (well, her mother’s) expectations. And I really loved that Laia does try her best to spy on the Commandant and do her duty, but given that the Commandant has pretty much outclassed everyone in this book, Laia does fail her duty—but not without giving one or two surprises along the way. That, and I loved Laia’s friendships with Izzi and Cook, despite the three of them being in a precarious situation that would have ended badly had the Commandant been a lot crueler in the moment. (Next book ALL OF THE LAIA AND IZZI OMG THEY ARE ADORABLE.
Also, I think Cook is a lot closer to Laia than just being an old rebel who fought alongside Laia’s parents. I was thinking that the Cook is actually Laia’s mother, but I’m not entirely sold on that idea.)
I probably wouldn’t have liked Elias if he was just “Oh, he’s a soldier who hates the Empire because we need a sympathetic character on the bad side.” But because we do get his backstory about being raised by the Tribes after being abandoned by his mother, it does make his character less problematic for me. And I do like that he does genuinely care about people, not just Laia—he’s the one who makes sure that the younger Briarcliff students are safe, he’s the one who mourns for Demetrius, and although he ultimately has to make a specific decision in the Trials, it does haunt him immensely.
(I just realized that there’s a really interesting parallel between Laia and Elias’s mothers in this—both wanted to abandon their children for their own reasons (Laia’s to lead the rebellion, the Commandant for her own ascent to power), and both aren’t seen in a positive light. I wouldn’t say that Laia hated her mother, but there is some resentment there.)
What makes Laia and Elias work for me is that their relationship as it’s presented here isn’t 100% forbidden friendship and “We can’t! But we must!,” but rather these two people who find each other through their suffering and try to help one another. There is a natural chemistry between the two (and even commented as much on by Cain), but it runs a lot deeper than “Oh, I find you attractive and intriguing. Let’s look at each longingly while musing on a future that we think that can never be.” (There’s a not-quite love quadrangle between Helene-Elias-Laia-Keenan, but it’s not fully explored beyond Helene admitting her love for Elias and Cain’s comments on Laia’s feelings about Elias and Keenan. Please don’t mess this up.)
As I said, the weakest part is that there really isn’t much by way of plot in here. Most of the book is dedicated to Elias’s participation in the Trials to decide the next ruling family of the Martial Empire, and Laia’s attempts to uncover something as the Rebellion tries to give her the run-around about the whereabouts of her brother. We don’t really know what the Augurs’ grand plan for Elias is going to be in the long (I loved that Elias calls Cain out for being frustratingly vague, and Cain just sasses him back about destiny. As much as Cain frustrated me, I loved that he’s the mysterious ancient figure who sasses back whenever Elias snarks at him.) And by the end of the book, we really don’t know much about what the Commandant’s plans are, or how she’s involved with the Nightbringer. (view spoiler)[But what makes the ending of the book work is that we get the Empire Strikes Back ending in book 1—the Rebellion’s been manipulated to fulfill the Commandant’s plan to kill the Emperor Taius, and she has her puppet Aspirant, Marcus, in the position of current Emperor with Helene as his second-in-command. Both Elias and Laia are on the run with a scattered Rebellion, and we don’t know if Darin’s alive, if Izzi made it okay, or even if Cook’s going to make out alive. It is frustrating because we end on such a cliffhanger, but there’s enough that makes me really intrigued to see what happens next. (hide spoiler)]
(I also need to warn about that there are a lot of rape threats directed not only to Laia and Izzi, but to Helene as well. I know it’s supposed to underscore the fact that Marcus is a villain, but it…I think nearly scene that Marcus showed up, he threatened to rape either Helene or Laia and it felt like it was too overdone at points, we get it.)
Actually, what An Ember in the Ashes really reminded me of was Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass, in that they both set up this much larger plot in the first book that not much really gets resolved, but the dangling threads are still interesting that I want to read more. (And admittedly, the seemingly pedestrian plotline that manages to take me by surprise.) And An Ember in the Ashes is a lot of book, but Tahir’s writing and plotting are really well done, and kept me hooked throughout. I hope that we get to see more of this world, and I’m excited for the next book. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Well. I got to the end of this volume and thought, “Well that was a manga that I’ve read.” Manga Dogs isn’t a bad series overall, but there’s just somWell. I got to the end of this volume and thought, “Well that was a manga that I’ve read.” Manga Dogs isn’t a bad series overall, but there’s just something about it that I’m just not getting. And I don’t know if I want to go pick Toyama’s other series, Missions of Love (which I have glanced at in the bookstore and then put down because the description wasn’t clicking with me).
I really think it’s a matter of premise versus the actual execution. I am here for manga satire, and poking fun at shojo manga tropes, and the whole idea of what manga writers go through. (One of my favorite parts whenever I’m reading Arina Tanemura’s manga is her Pencil de Shakin columns, which is her wacky fun life with her and her assistants.) And Manga Dogs does hit on that (to a certain extent that the implication of the ending is that you’ve been reading the manga suggested to Kanna at the end this whole time), from Kanna’s perspective but the titular characters. I’m sorry, I just really don’t like the trio. They’re funny at times, and them realizing some of the other aspects of being a manga-ka or just in the otaku world are humorous, but as I said in the last volume, the horse is not just dead, it’s glue. I get it, they’re clueless. And the fact that they don’t learn anything until the very last chapter of this volume underscores how flimsy this is written. I like comedic gag manga—most of what I have is the four panel series like Azumanga Daioh and Lucky Star—but those series give their characters development and you see them grow throughout. This is just the same three chapters written over and over again—Kanna has a manga problem, the boys try to help. Wackiness ensues.
Manga Dogs isn’t so bad that I’m not going to say to avoid it at all costs, but there’s a lot better manga out there about manga and otaku, and while they’re not a gag series, they’re funny and interesting with really good characters. (Read Genshiken. And then read Genshiken Season 2 because I really love the second series so far.) If you need something light to pass the time, and you don’t mind wacky fun gag manga, sure go ahead, but there’s better series out there to definitely check out. ...more