Sunday, January 7, 2018

Azumanga Daioh, Volumes 1-4

Azumanga Daioh, Volumes 1-4 Kiyohiko Azuma (2000-2004)

I had a recent assignment in the Library of the school to which I'm currently assigned. I spent part of that day organizing the manga shelves. Part of the reason for this was to scope out something new to read.

Oddly, despite all the volumes, the choices where slim. I wanted something where the first volume wasn't missing nor were there any early gaps in the sequence in case I got interested and the story dragged out for multiple books. Of the ones that qualified, quite a few were romance books, which I wasn't interested in. And one seemed to be about chess, which was a maybe. But I saw the four volumes of Azumanga Daioh, so I took the first one. It wasn't objectionable, so I borrowed the other three as well.

First off, I'm not the target audience. Secondly, I understand that there's animation of the series (doesn't surprise me), and if it were available on some platform I currently subscribe to, I might check it out.

Basically, the four books tell the story of a group of girls as they go through high school, each book being roughly a year in the life. There are boys at the school, but rarely seen, and there's no romance (or lovestruck teens, wishing from afar) to be found in these pages. Also, there are two teachers, one the girls' homeroom teacher and the other the P.E. teacher, are important. (I originally thought it was going to deal more with them.) As for male teachers, the only one there, which I guess would've been comic relief back then, is a little too creepy today. Although he's married with a daughter, he likes looking at teen girls. (He doesn't try to date them or anything, but it's creepy.) Also, he's drawn in a style that suggests that he's an anime character that always SHOUTS his lines. I didn't like him.

As for the girls, well, some of them were a little interchangeable. The artwork was small and the characters wore uniforms. Between some of them, the only difference is the way their hair is drawn and maybe their eyes or mouth -- until they're shouting or being expressive, when I wasn't sure who was who. (At least once, I didn't know if it was a student or the teacher.)

One exception was Chiyo Chan, who at the age of 10, was placed in high school. She was also wealthy and had a summer home that the girls and their two teachers went to each year. She didn't seem to get any bigger over the four years.

Another is Sakaki, who was the tallest. She was quiet, brooding one who actually wanted to be friends and included in things. She also wants to pet stray cats, but they always bite her hand. It's a running gag, which takes an interesting turn later on.

Yomi is the second tallest, has lighter hair, and wears glasses (sometimes you can see her eyes through them). Her main concern is her weight, although her later concern is getting into college or university.

Tomo and Osaka round out the cast, except that Osaka is not her real name, it's where she's from. They except her to have a certain attitude (in the English translation, it might as well be a Brooklyn attitude), but she isn't like that at all.

The format of the books looks like four-panel vertical strips, two columns to a page. Each column had its own title, but I stopped reading those for the most part. At least once in each book, the format would switch up to a more traditional comic format, which was welcome. The biggest problem I had was the small print was sometimes a killer on my eyes, even with reading glasses. Yes, I used my phone's camera's zoom lens a couple of times.

While I enjoyed these books, they weren't anything great for me. They had good moments and I'm not sorry I read them. The four books are the entire series.

I'm assigned to this school until the end of the month, so I might try to sneak in a few more books. Oddly, one comic I considered taking out was checked out by a student before I had a chance. (I can't deny the students -- it's their library!) However, it's supposed to be back this week. I'll make an exception for Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy because I've read the first book and there were two graphic novels on the shelf. However, I didn't want to read the second without re-reading the first to get familiar with the characters again.

Friday, January 5, 2018

A Reminder for People Finding this Blog through Search Engines

Thank you for visiting my blog. This blog is a list of my recently read books. It's actually meant for me to keep track of the things I've read with a few notes about what the book was about or the characters involved.

That's how it started. I don't mean for it to be a "book review" site, although it will sometimes read like that. I try to avoid spoiling ending or anything in case someone stumbles onto this page by accident. Once I remind myself what a book was about, I should remember the ending. And if I don't, well, then it wasn't worth remembering.

Comments are welcome, as are suggestions based on other things I've read.

Fact checking is welcome, as well, as I type from memory. For the purpose of this blog, while I desire accuracy, it is not mandatory. However, corrections can be made if I'm way off on something.

-- Christopher Burke

O is for Outlaw (Grafton)

O is for Outlaw Sue Grafton (1999)

Up until now, we've only had glimpses into the earlier life lived by Kinsey Milhone before she became a detective, and we've even discovered, as she did, that what we knew wasn't totally true. We know she'd been orphaned, and raised by her aunt. We know that she'd been a cop, and married twice. We thought we knew that she had no other living relatives, until they suddenly showed up and we learned more about them.

Now we get to learn more about her ex-husband from her short-lived first marriage. First off, his name is Michael Macgruder, aka Mickey, and secondly, well, we learn about his past more than his present. He doesn't get to say much in the here and now.

Kinsey doesn't have a case this time. She's on her own. In fact, she'll even be a suspect before it's over. The novel opens with Kinsey getting a call from someone who has a box of her old possessions, report cards, yearbooks and the like. The caller had bid on the contents of an unpaid storage locker in the hopes of finding treasure, and now he's offering to sell Kinsey back her stuff so he can make back what he overpaid. Kinsey realizes that the locker must've belonged to Mickey, her first husband, who she walked out on. This bothers Kinsey because Mickey was always good with managing money, so, she believes, he must've fallen on hard times. This spurs her on to investigate, if she can just get a fix on where he's living, because he's also good at hiding in plain sight.

To further complicate matters, in with her possessions is a note from an old acquaintance from 15 years earlier, pretty much admitting that she had had an affair with Mickey during their brief marriage, but also that it coincided with an infamous incident that got Mickey kicked off the police force. Mickey had an alibi for a death that Kinsey thought he might've had a hand in. Mickey even wanted her to lie for him regarding the events (without telling her the truth of where he was). That was the end of the marriage.

Now feeling guilty, she starts tracking down the folks who hung out at the old bar back then. It isn't long she finds out that Mickey has been shot with a gun that he had bought her but that she had left behind. He's on life support, and she is a suspect. Now she has more reason to find out what happened to Benny Quintero, a Vietnam vet, that night 14 years earlier.

As with the rest of Grafton's books, you have to keep in mind when they take place. Even though it was 1999 when published, it takes place in the mid-80s. In fact, there's even a reference to the events of L is for Lawless happening only a few months earlier. In this case, the action takes place 14 years after some events that occurred during the Viet Nam War.

Go with it, and you won't find yourself "doing the math" when she's in Louisville, Ky (on her own dime), looking through high school yearbooks.

As with her other books, I enjoyed reading it. I did put it down for a couple of weeks in the middle (due to real world events, really). I would have liked a little more information about Mickey, maybe some exchange between him and Kinsey, closure or whatever, but I won't complain about what we got.

On a sad note, I finished it one night at the end of December, right before bed, and the next day, I read that Sue Grafton had passed away. I don't know if she had planned a finale for the characters in any way, or if "Z is for Zero" would have been just another case, but now we'll never know. I wouldn't want Kinsey's swan song ghost-written by someone else. Better than it remain unpublished.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

2017 -- The Year in Review

One of the problems I always have with lists of the "best" books of any given year is that I rarely get to read books in the year that they are published. I guess I rely so much on word of mouth for new things, and if they are popular, I won't see a copy of it.

Secondary problem, I'm at a point where I have way too many books, so I don't purchase too many. I might get a new book as a gift, or if I'm getting it signed by the author, which hasn't happened for a new release since I worked in midtown Manhattan.

My reading time could be summed up as follows: before bed, on the subway (not buses), and lying around in the pool. (Yes, in the pool, so my choices are limited -- no ebooks, obviously.)

Looking at this blog, there were 20 entries from 2017. One of those had two books, and another mentioned 30 volumes of manga read over a 12-month period. Assuming half of those were read in 2017, that's 35 books, which isn't bad.

Add to that a few more books that weren't written up yet, and that brings the total to 40. Not horrible, actually.

I think that my summer challenge turned into an interesting experiment, but too many of the books at my local library were reference books, not suitable for summer reading, and I found myself picking up quite a number of "young adult" selections. Nothing wrong with that, in general, but at least one was aimed at a middle school audience.

I'm not looking into any "goals" or "challenges" this year. If one comes along that interests me, fine. Otherwise, that's fine, too.

The books that I've been reading are generally large, and my time devoted to them (especially if I'm driving) is short. Not a good combo if the plan is to read N number of books. I mused the thought of tracking pages, but even this is silly given some content. For example, last year I read a book of poetry, a photo essay, and a book with large print. For that matter, I couldn't say how many pages ebooks have because it depends upon the font size.

So, no goals. Plans? Well, I have to read some more Eric Flint before Heliosphere, NY this year, where Mr. Flint will be one of the guests of honor, and a mini-1632 convention will take place within the larger sci-fi convention.

I will continue to read more of the recently departed Sue Grafton, eventually, though not likely in 2018, getting to Y is for Yesterday, which will, sadly, be the final letter of the alphabet.

I will finish at least two books of fairy tales that I've started but put aside because I can only read so many before my mind wants something else.

I will get more of the paper books off my shelf and out of the house even as I bring in my electronic ones.

There will be more manga and more math books, and possibly a manga math book!

There will be words, pictures, poetry, and whatever may come along that strikes my interest.

And there will be write-ups, summaries and reviews, even as I re-evaluate just who I'm writing this blog for.

Looking forward to 2018, which has already started, and I'm already reading.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

N is for Noose (Grafton)

N is for Noose Sue Grafton (1998)

After a couple of false starts going through some "between books" books, I returned to Sue Grafton, starting the second half of the alphabet. (I'd say the end is in sight, but, of course, the last two books have yet to be written.) As always, the action takes place a few months after the previous installment, so even though the book was published in 1998, the action takes place sometime in the 80s. Specific dates aren't mentioned, but you have to keep in mind the technology. Granted, even if it were 1998, Kinsey likely would not have had a cellphone (or even a Blackberry) and pay phones would still be around. The Internet, as we know it, would be in its infancy. But that doesn't exist here.

The story opens in Nevada, for a change, as Kinsey Millhone is caring for her boyfriend, Robert Dietz, who is recovering from surgery. Once he's able to get around on his own, there isn't any need for Kinsey to play the domestic, so she prepares to drive home to Santa Teresa, California. On the way back, she stops at Nota Lake, California to check in with a possible client, referred to her by Dietz.

Selma Newquist is a recent widow after her husband, Tom, who worked for the local sheriff's department, died out on the road. There's no murder mystery here -- Tom died of a heart attack. There isn't anything to suggest it was anything more that that. However, Selma is convinced that something was bothering Tom in recent months, and she hires Kinsey to investigate to see if she could find what troubled him. She reluctantly agrees, figuring that if no leads turn up in a few days, she'd call it off and go home.

Her inquiry has two sides: interviewing friends, family members and coworkers at the Sheriff's department, and going through the papers and bills in his office at home. The interviews review that Tom was well-liked, but Selma? Not so much. Also, there may or may not have been another woman involved. People are happy to help, but in a small town, no one likes a snoop.

The main clues are phone bills showing out-of-town calls, a missing police notebook and some doodles and numbers on a desk blotter, which include a noose, as in the title. Coincidentally, the odd phone calls go to Santa Theresa, giving Kinsey reason to go home. Another reason to go home: someone follows her car around the neighborhood one night, and then breaks into her rented room and breaks her fingers. So there's definitiely something there that someone doesn't want found, likely dealing with Tom's last case, but his notes are missing -- not in his house, the car, the scene of his death, or the sheriff's office.

There are minimal appearances by the usual Santa Teresa players, and the newfound family members don't get a mention this time. No weddings or any personal, non-investigation events of any consequence.

A murder in Santa Teresa links up with another five years earlier in Nota Lake. The victim in the second case was a person of interest in the first. But by the time Tom got there, he'd already run off. Next anyone heard, his body was found, months after his death.

So I enjoyed this one like I enjoy most Kinsey Millhone stories. Grafton usually finds a different take on a story instead of a straightforward procedural. (Her first novel in this series had her solving a crime for someone who had already been found guilty and served the sentence.) However, this one seems to lead Kinsey around until the facts fall into place when they're needed to. For instance, she interviews one hotel clerk, who has some information about another man who visited, but she didn't get to talk to the other one before being called back to Nota Lake. So a key piece of information isn't gathered -- in this case, a description of the man, where even knowing black or white could telegraph the ending. Likewise, when the notebook is finally found, along with the phrase "the key is on the desk", it's readily apparent that the "key" is a cipher key, not a physical one to a lockbox somewhere. (Because any physical key or physical safe would have been previously found and vetted by this point.)

Kinsey also "hangs a lampshade" on the fact that so many of the people she'd met in Nota Lake had five-letter names. I wish she hadn't. While she's trying to figure out want this string of coded numbers might mean, it might've been neon lights saying, It's a Name!

And I may not be the greatest sleuth, but I crack the code using the info provided at least a chapter before Kinsey. Granted, she might not have been at 100% at the time.

As with the last book, when the ending came, i thought it unraveled a little too quickly, and I might've like a little bit more of an epilogue. Sure, the case is over, but for all the added info in the middle of the story unrelated to the case, maybe a little explanation after the fact would be nice. Or even just a deputy showing up and making arrests? Maybe that's just television bias.

Moving on to O is for Outlaw soon. I'll check the library for an ebook.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Bleed, Blister, Puke, and Purge (Younker) -- Summer Reading Challenge

Bleed, Blister, Puke, and Purge: The Dirty Secrets Behind Early American Medicine J. Marin Younker (2016)

My Summer Reading Challenge was technically over, as was summer itself, but how could I pass up a title like this one?

This is definitely a case of Know our Audience. I'm sure there are pretty of kids interested in all the gruesome details when explained in such an icky way.

It was a quick read, and a quick look into how America was lagging in the field of medicine from the founding right through the Revolution. In many cases, the "cure" or "treatment" was worse than the illness, and patients were likely better waiting out a disease.

The colonies (and the States afterward) didn't have great medical schools, or medical training, or medical libraries, etc.

Spoiler: Things got better, of course. But in the meantime....

Library catalog number: YA 610.97 Y

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Society for the Preservation of CJ Henderson (Ackley-McPhail & Schauer, ed)

The Society for the Preservation of CJ Henderson Danielle Ackley-McPhail & Greg Schauer, ed (2014)

Disclosure: I've met CJ Henderson. I would have to say I knew of him, more than that I knew him. He was a fixture at a science fiction convention I'd gone to almost every year for over two decades. I can't say how much I'd actually talked to him in that time, but he was a person you could talk to, whether in the Dealers Room during the day or the Con Suite in the evening.

I can also add that in 2014, I was in his house with many other people, but he was only there in spirit. When CJ died in 2014, family and friends held an "Afterlife Launch Party" in his honor. The family had hoped for a large turnout, but many that he knew from the convention circuit lived anywhere in the tristate area as well as up and down the Eastern seaboard (and elsewhere, too, but those were the ones likeliest to make it). I also learned that he lived about a 15 minute walk from my house. So I made the trip, and met a lot of familiar faces, and a few not-so-familiar. I discovered a couple days after that I'd met a favorite artist of mine without knowing it was him. But I digress.

This anthology was put together when CJ was ill. He had even seen most (if not all) of it but didn't get to see it published. Shame on me for waiting three years to finish it, but I have a habit of putting down anthologies in the middle (because I can), reading something else that came along, and then getting back to the first book. (In my defense, Danielle, if you're reading this, some of those books were other eSpecbooks!)

The anthology includes stories by John L. French, Jean Rabe, Patrick Thomas, David Boop, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Jeff Young, Leona Wisoker Robert M. Price, Leona Wisoker, and James Chambers, and CJ's presence is felt in all of them. Stories are inspired by his works or his mythos and feature either a character based on one of his or a character based him CJ himself. (He appears in one story as himself, in another as a bard who is the son of Hender, etc.). All of pleasant to read -- with one exception. The foreword for one story included a warning that Henderson himself would've found the story disturbing, and warns the reader might wish to skip that one. I prefer to avoid disturbing things -- I have enough trouble sleeping -- so I skipped over that one.

Hard to pick a favorite, but I might possibly pick the lead-off story just for setting the tone for the rest of the book. But a later story hits home the theme of perseverance, particularly if you want to be a writer. If I didn't want to be a writer, I might not be writing these reviews. I'm not always sure whom I'm writing this reviews for: myself or the wandering web surfer? Never count out the flying monkeys.

Enjoyable anthology, possibly disturbing.