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Otaku Prescribed ⇉ Best Manga In Recent History {Secret Files from the Round Table of Otaku Knights}

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A new fact about me for blog readers: I'm the anime club sponsor at my school (well, one of two). This week, I've invited club members over to Imaginary Reads to talk about their favorite manga. This is the unveiling of the secret files straight from the minds of the Round Table of Otaku Knights.

Some of them are club favorites (like One Punch Man, which we reviewed as a club here). Others are hotly debated (and shall not be named here).

In fact, some have been so hotly debated, that club members have asked YOU to vote for your favorite manga in the comments below.

Our Question of the Day is two-fold:
  1. What is your favorite manga from the list presented below? 
  2. What is a manga (or anime) that is not on the list and you would like to recommend to us?

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ⇉ The First Star Wars Standalone Seems Too Familiar

Monday, January 30, 2017


With our second Disney Star Wars film, it has become clear that they intend to take the franchise in a safe, nostalgic direction.

The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst ⇉ Blood, Tragedy, and Feels - Where's book two when you need it???

Friday, January 27, 2017
A world where the very elements of the land are out for human blood? Where young women must put their lives on the line to train to become the next queen that protects humanity? Speak no more and let me read this awesome book in peace. (Seriously, I carried this book everywhere I went until I finished it.)

I don't remember the last time I was this excited to read a book. Longtime followers of this blog know that fantasy was my first love, and it still holds a special place in my heart. While it has its flaws, The Queen of Blood contains many elements that I look for in an epic fantasy. I need book two yesterday.


WHAT I LIKED


Don't trust the fire, for it will burn you.
Don't trust the ice, for it will freeze you.
Don't trust the water, for it will drown you.
Don't trust the air, for it will choke you.
Don't trust the earth, for it will bury you.
Don't trust the trees, for they will rip you, rend you, tear you, kill you dead.


- a child's chant in Renthia

Fascinating world
Do I want to live in this world? NO NO NO. It's scary and terrible and filled with so many awful ways to die. But do I enjoy reading about it? Yes, yes, I do love reading about it.

I appreciate how Sarah Beth Durst introduces this world to us through the eyes of young Daleina. Like her, we're a child learning how scary spirits can be. It also allows us to understand why she wants to be queen so bad, though she's lacking in conventional talents. I wish more time was spent building this world (specifically, during Daleina's academy days) before we were thrown into the tragic events that spur the plot to move forward.

A Sharp-Minded, Hardworking Heroine

Daleina is not a prodigy, but she has the will and determination to put in the effort to learn what it takes to be queen. Her work ethic reminds me of Alanna from Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness quartret, which is one of my favorite epic fantasy series of all time.

Many of us can relate to Daleina's feelings of not being good enough, of being overshadowed by so many other prodigies. I love how her story shows us that we can forge a place for ourselves no matter what has happened to us and no matter what gifts we're born with (or without).

A Complex Villain (Who I Can't Hate)
Queen Fara is a lady whom I am reluctant to hate. She's beautiful and talented, sure, but she also has her fears and insecurities, which are the driving forces behind her actions. I can't help wondering if things had turned out differently, would she have shown us the woman that garnered so much support in the past?

Even the spirits . . . sure, they do so many terrible things, but are they really bad? The way Daleina is able to manipulate the spirits makes me think they're cute—especially that ermine air spirit. Who else wants to invite it to play?

Little things come back to haunt blow our minds away!
You know those cute details you notice while you're reading? What if they weren't just fun little additions to the novel? What if they came back during important moments and played a pivotal role? Or what if it foreshadows a larger tragedy to come?

Mind blown. That's what.

I love how Sarah Beth Durst uses such details to bring the story together.

Tragedy upon Tragedy upon Tragedy
Sarah Beth Durst is not afraid to kill off people, including people that are close to the MC (too many books engage in plot shielding). You thought the realm couldn't be drenched with more blood? You thought all was going to be well? Oh, you thought wrong. #feels

A Breathtaking Cover 
Who else is in love with that cover? I am a fan of fantasy covers featuring artwork in which the focus is on the world (long tired of covers featuring girl in pretty dress or cool outfit), and The Queen of Blood delivers. This cover gives insight into the world in which they live and how Daleina and Ven are up against the very land itself.

It's symbolic. It has meaning.


WHAT I DISLIKED


Fast Pacing
The Queen of Blood skips time a lot. It moves from Daleina as a six-year-old child to a young woman pretty quickly. As a result, I don't feel like I really got to the full of Daleina's story or an understanding of the people around Daleina, though her later actions suggest they're people she knows  very well.

I understand that much of her backstory as a child is to help us understand her origins, but I wish more time was spent on her academy days. I would have loved to see more of her academy life, including the classes, her friends, and their struggles. It would have make me feel more for them later on.

I can easily see this single novel stretched into a series of its own (with the addition of the first part of Daleina's rule to close it out). In the publisher's notes sent with The Queen of Blood, it's mentioned that book two was written first, so I understand that the author was intent on setting the backstory for book two. It does mean that there is quite a bit of lost potential with this one.

Lackluster Secondary Characters
Other than Daleina—and Ven and Queen Fara to a lesser extent—the other characters were just names to me. This goes back to the fast pacing. The author doesn't take the time to develop Daleina's relationships with other characters or show their growth over time. Which is too bad because so many of them seem pretty likable.

I'm especially curious about Merecot's story and hope to see more of her in book two. (Though it's disappointing that I may not be able to see her from Daleina's perspective given that The Reluctant Queen has a new heroine.)

Love Kiss At First Sight
The romance aspects blindsided me. Completely.

It felt like we were just being introduced and then . . . smooch. Daleina and guy are getting real cozy. It was awkward.

Frankly, I could have done without the romance. It didn't contribute to the story except maybe to question how your relationship (with someone you quite frankly didn't seem to spend time getting to know outside of how good he is at kissing and making you feel warm) will be influenced when . . . well, you'll see.


FINAL THOUGHTS


The Queen of Blood is marketed as an epic fantasy with YA and adult crossover appeal, but the age of the characters and the writing style, with its minimalistic world building and character development, feels more appropriate for a YA audience. (Given that the second novel features an adult heroine, that may be the one with the greater adult appeal.) Overall, despite the fast pacing and lackluster secondary characters, the world built in The Queen of Blood is so compelling that I've been hooked by it. I'm looking forward to book two and the world that Daleina has helped shape through the events of this first novel!

You can preview the first two chapters of The Queen of Blood on Sarah Beth Durst's website here.

★★★★☆


An idealistic young student and a banished warrior become allies in a battle to save their realm.

Everything has a spirit: the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow . . .

But the spirits that reside within this land want to rid it of all humans. One woman stands between these malevolent spirits and the end of humankind: the queen. She alone has the magical power to prevent the spirits from destroying every man, woman, and child. But queens are still just human, and no matter how strong or good, the threat of danger always looms.

With the position so precarious, young women are chosen to train as heirs. Daleina, a seemingly quiet academy student, is under no illusions as to her claim to the throne, but simply wants to right the wrongs that have befallen the land. Ven, a disgraced champion, has spent his exile secretly fighting against the growing number of spirit attacks. Joining forces, these daring partners embark on a treacherous quest to find the source of the spirits’ restlessness—a journey that will test their courage and trust, and force them to stand against both enemies and friends to save their land . . . before it’s bathed in blood.



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What kind of queen would you champion? (A naturally talented and powerful queen, a not-so-gifted but hardworking queen, or ...?)



Publication Info
  • The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst
  • Published by Harper Voyager
  • On September 20, 2016
  • Genres: Epic Fantasy
  • Pages: 353 Pages
  • Format: Hardcover
Series: The Queens of Renthia
  1. The Queen of Blood
  2. The Reluctant Queen
  3. The Queen of Sorrow
Content
  • Kissing
  • Some nudity (mentioned, not described in detail)
  • Sex (mentioned, not shown)
  • Violence, death, gore

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.

Heartstone by Elle Katherine White ⇉ Pride and Prejudice and Dragons

Monday, January 23, 2017
Quite frankly, it was this gorgeous cover that piqued my interest in this novel. I'm in love with it, and I can't begin to express this love in coherent words. It's beautiful and says so many things about this novel.

I was also interested by the promise of "elements of Jane Austen's beloved Pride and Prejudice" (as advertised in the synopsis), but I wasn't prepared a full-blown retelling. That came as a surprise. I wasn't thrilled by how closely this novel follows the original storyline as it made the romance and general plot much too predictable (the author has crafted a fascinating world, and I was hoping to be more surprised by it). That said, there so many other compelling elements of this world that it more than made up for it. (And I can see other readers enjoying the P&P retelling much more than I did.)

Fascinating World Building
My favorite aspect of this novel is the world itself. Elle Katherine White has crafted a fascinating world in which magical creatures are divided among the Shani (friends of humans), the Tekari (who kill humans), and the Idar (indifferent to humans, for the most part). Some of my favorite characters are Shani. (I especially love how the hobgoblins are introduced.) I'd love to talk more about this world, but I'm going to refrain from further comments to avoid spoilers.

Compelling Secondary Characters
Many of the secondary characters are much more likable than their P&P counterparts. It delights me that these characters are given a chance to shine and to show growth (Leyda in particular). One in particular I detested and am happy that he's even more villainized in this classic retelling, though I can't morally support what happens to him in the end.

A Likable, if Bland, Heroine
Aliza Bentaine, our heroine, is a generally likable character. For the most part, Aliza seems smart and capable, and I love her friendship with the hobgoblins (they're delightful little people) and Akarra (now, that's a dragon with a personality). However, there's not much else to her. She doesn't have any dreams for the future as far as I can see, and she spends her time nosying about other peoples' business until she gets caught up with the battle (because: Alistair Dareid). It's the world and her adventures with the others that make this a compelling read.

A Solid Male Lead
Though Alistair is arrogant and prideful, he means well. As a Rider who fights Tekari as an occupation, I'd expect him to be blunt and down to business, so I was fine with him not being all sunshines and rainbows. Aliza's prejudice towards him isn't well developed and seems unfounded after all these nice moments (that is, until everything comes out following the failed proposal). Out of all the characters, Alistair shows the most growth. I would have loved to see his perspective added to the story.

Fast Pacing with Unresolved Storylines
For retelling of such a long novel, Heartstone wasn't long enough to do the whole story justice, especially given all the fantasy elements that are incorporated into the story. I feel like the author is too focused on retelling P&P for much of the novel and forgets to followup on other elements of the novel. The plot moves forward rather quickly, and some storylines fall through. In particular, it's disappointing that the storyline with the mysterious stranger is never fully resolved.

The epic battle at the end also begins and concludes rather abruptly. I wish that the buildup was more gradual and consistent with more hints at the fight to come. It also doesn't help that Aliza misses out on much of it and isn't able to tell us what happens. I would have loved to see another character's view on it, preferably one on the frontlines like Charis (now, that's a character whose backstory and perspective I'd love to see).


QUICKLIST: WHAT I LIKED



  1. Fascinating world building
  2. Compelling secondary characters
  3. Beautiful writing (with some poetic descriptions)
  4. Solid male lead
  5. Gorgeous cover



QUICKLIST: WHAT I DISLIKED



  1. Predictable plot
  2. Flat, one-dimensional characters
  3. Fast pacing
  4. Epic battle not so epic
  5. What happened to Wydrick
  6. Whatever happened to the mysterious stranger?



FINAL THOUGHTS


I wasn't thrilled by how predictable my knowledge of P&P made much of the novel. Furthermore, many of the characters lose opportunity to be more fleshed out given how closely the novel follows the original story. I did love the fantasy elements and wish that more time had been spent building up to the final epic battle (and concluding it). Elle Katherine White has created a compelling world in her debut novel. I am interested in seeing what she sends our way next!

★★★★☆


They say a Rider in possession of a good blade must be in want of a monster to slay—and Merybourne Manor has plenty of monsters.

Passionate, headstrong Aliza Bentaine knows this all too well; she’s already lost one sister to the invading gryphons. So when Lord Merybourne hires a band of Riders to hunt down the horde, Aliza is relieved her home will soon be safe again.

Her relief is short-lived. With the arrival of the haughty and handsome dragonrider, Alastair Daired, Aliza expects a battle; what she doesn’t expect is a romantic clash of wills, pitting words and wit against the pride of an ancient house. Nor does she anticipate the mystery that follows them from Merybourne Manor, its roots running deep as the foundations of the kingdom itself, where something old and dreadful slumbers . . . something far more sinister than gryphons.

It’s a war Aliza is ill-prepared to wage, on a battlefield she’s never known before: one spanning kingdoms, class lines, and the curious nature of her own heart.



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Publication Info
  • Heartstone by Sarah Beth Durst
  • Published by Harper Voyager
  • On January 17, 2017
  • Genres: Epic FantasyClassic Retelling
  • Pages: 352 Pages
  • Format: Paperback
Series
  • N/A
Content
  • Kissing
  • Violence

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel for review from the publisher. All thoughts expressed are my honest opinions.

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackon ⇉ Babies Die and So Does My Heart

Thursday, January 19, 2017



WHAT I LIKED


The characters are real
The characters' talk and mannerisms look like real people in urban communities. I'm a teacher in an urban school district (with a predominantly Hispanic and black population), and it was refreshing to read about teenagers who look and act like my students.

It feels weird to be happy about having real characters. I wish that we had more minority authors and more books with real minority characters whose lives reflect those of living, breathing minorities.

Mary has big dreams
There's a stereotype nowadays that you can't have a baby and pursue your dreams. Mary is pregnant, wants to keep her baby (and take care of him eventually), and she hasn't given up on her dreams of going to college. #rolemodel #respect

It talks about real issues
There are issues on top of issues on top of issues, some of which I've listed in the content section at the end of this review (so no spoilers right now). This novel gets into the heart of urban life, and unfortunately when you have one issue, there's bound to be more. I love how Jackson isn't afraid to get real with us.

It stabs you in the heart while you're down ...and then some
This novel doesn't pull any punches. It packs quite the emotional punch, and it will keep stabbing you in your bleeding heart. You will feel for Mary as the whole universe seems to turn against her. Or you'll hate her too and wonder why the world is such a terrible place. Either way, your world will be shaken.

Welcome to Planet Earth.

There are good people in this world
Allegedly might remind us that the world is a terrible place, but it remembers that there are (a few) good people out there. And that we should fight for the better good for the sake of our children.

(Seeing Mary fight so hard for her baby really made me attached to the little bean.)

What's up with that ending?
After everything this novel put me thought . . . that ending was really crazy and messed up. Mentally (because I don't scream at fictional characters in real life), I was screaming no no no no no nononoononononono). How can you do that to us???

At the same time, I respect—to a certain extent—Jackson's decision to end the novel this way. Because real life doesn't wrap our stories perfectly or top it with a pretty ribbon. In real life, Prince Charming isn't there to sweep us off our feet and carry us away on a white horse (...okay, that's just kidnapping now). Our mothers won't know exactly who to call to give us a happily ever after (except maybe treat us to a girl's day out, but that's a temporary fix).

Therefore, I can be okay with the ending even if I wasn't really happy with it.


WHAT I DISLIKED


Cuss words go off like fireworks
I know I know. I said that I like how the characters talk and act like real people. I'm still not comfortable with the language (and I know for a fact that my students kindly watch their language around me).

Cuss words go off like fireworks in this novel, and they don't stop. If you're not comfortable with a few d**ns, s**ts, and b***hes, then you might want to seriously reconsider this novel because it gets much worse.

This world is filled with terrible people
We learn that there are a few good people (albeit with their own agendas). We also learn that there are many, many more terrible people. It left a bad feeling in my gut. (Really? Really?)

This novel is important because it pulls off the blinds and doesn't put up pretty lace curtains to make us feel better. I still wish that we had a more conclusive outcome in which good could prevail, but it does leave food for thought . . . perhaps there isn't an answer yet, and we're being challenged to go out there and make one.

Fake religion is the new face mask
It's becoming increasingly popular to beat on religion. Not going to lie, it's getting pretty tiring to see stereotypical Bible beaters who act all goody two shoes in front of authority figures but act a different way in private. Some of the best people I know are devout Christians who live out biblical truths.

Note: I recognize that this is a stereotype for a reason, that there really are people like the Bible beater in this novel. It doesn't mean that I agree with it.

What's up with that ending?
The novel introduces us the mystery of what really happened that night and draws us closer and closer to it . . . only to bring us an ending that is questionably an ending.

Mary makes some decisions that unravels everything I thought I knew about her (which might have been the point?) and leaves me wondering what's going to happen to everyone else. It feels like most everyone was set up to fall and that Mary is the only one who's going to be happy with the "final" outcome, whatever it may be.

(And, no, there won't be a sequel; this is a standalone.)


FINAL THOUGHTS


Allegedly brings much-need diversity to the YA book market. I appreciate how Jackson isn't afraid to tackle heavy topics. That said, this isn't a novel to read if you're seeking character growth. The supporting characters end up falling through (or being kicked out of the picture by the MC, who doesn't seem to have any use for anyone who doesn't follow her agenda). The mature content is also a turn-off because of its pervasive, unavoidable nature.

THIS NOVEL IS NOT FOR THE YOUNG OR FAINT OF HEART!!!

★★★☆☆


Mary B. Addison killed a baby.

Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: A white baby had died while under the care of a church-going black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say.

Mary survived six years in baby jail before being dumped in a group home. The house isn’t really “home”—no place where you fear for your life can be considered a home. Home is Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home.

There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past. And her fate lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But who really knows the real Mary?



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What is a book that made you feel like you were reading about yourself? Do you feel more at home with contemporary or fantasy books?



Publication Info
  • Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
  • Published by Katherine Teagan Books 
  • On January 20, 2017
  • Genres: ContemporaryMystery
  • Pages: 400 Pages
  • Format: Hardcover
Series
  • N/A
WARNING: MATURE CONTENT
  • Lots and lots of cussing & language flying around
  • Abortion (mentioned)
  • Domestic abuse & violence
  • Gore
  • Group home
  • Mental illness
  • Murder
  • Psychotic roomies
  • Sex & Sexual Favors
  • Teen pregnancy
  • ...I'm probably missing out on some content. You get the picture.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.

The Goblin's Puzzle by Andrew S. Chilton ⇉ Delightfully Clever and Family Friendly

Thursday, January 12, 2017
The Goblin's Puzzle by Andrew S. Chilton
Published by Knopf on January 19, 2016
Genres: FantasyMiddle Grade
Pages: 279 Pages
Format: Hardcover
Rating: ★★★★★



THE BOY is a nameless slave on a mission to uncover his true destiny.
THE GOBLIN holds all the answers, but he’s too tricky to be trusted.
PLAIN ALICE is a bookish peasant girl carried off by a confused dragon.
And PRINCESS ALICE is the lucky girl who wasn’t kidnapped.

All four are tangled up in a sinister plot to take over the kingdom, and together they must face kind monsters, a cruel magician, and dozens of deathly boring palace bureaucrats. They’re a ragtag bunch, but with strength, courage, and plenty of deductive reasoning, they just might outwit the villains and crack the goblin’s puzzle.


Review

The Goblin's Puzzle is a delightfully clever read that breaks away from traditional fairy tales to encourage young readers to consider logical questions, fate, slavery, and gender roles. Appropriately, the Afterward teaches young readers about some basic logical concepts that are used in the story (and explains them in light of the story). Yet, it is far from a heavy read. It's funny, light-hearted, and memorable. While it made me think (especially trying to figure out the goblin's puzzle), it was in a way that is appropriate for younger readers as well. I can easily see older readers engaging in this book alongside younger readers through read-a-louds and discussions about the story.

The characters are all engaging and memorable in their own rights. The story alternates between various points of view as appropriate, and there's always a gem waiting to be found and chuckled over in each character's story. There are too many funny lines for me to share, but I hope the first line gives you a taste of what this book has in store for you:

“Bread, left untended, will steal itself, or so people liked to say. But the boy found that sometimes it needed help.”

What I love best about this story, is the wittiness of it all. While there is adventure, dragons, ogres, goblins, a king, a princess, sorcery, to name a few, this isn't your traditional medieval fantasy. In order to survive, a protagonist must outwit the villain before them. Sheer brawn will not slay the dragon. Many of the characters are two-dimensional, but I'm willing to let this because we do have more fleshed out characters in The Goblin's Puzzle.

The boy and Plain Alice rise to the stage as the main protagonists. Many readers will find themselves drawn to Plain Alice and her cleverness, which saves herself and others on multiple occasions. While she wants to be a sage, the council is prejudiced against female sages, and she relentlessly fights this discrimination with impressive determination. (She's also really pretty, going against the stereotype of nerdy, glasses-wearing smart girls). My personal favorite is the boy. Having been raised as a slave, he's hopelessly naive, but he has big hopes and dreams that he hasn't let himself contemplate in the past. His search for answers will make young readers really think about fate and free will, slavery, and justice.

In the end, the goblin's puzzle teaches us that, while our stories may bear similarities to old tales, we must take the initiative in our stories and forge our own paths. As the goblin says, "The past is written in stone, but the future is written in water." The future will come to pass, but our lives still influence its flow.

I very much enjoyed this read and will be saving my copy to share with younger readers.


Series
  • N/A
Content
  • One character is murdered in front of the MC early on (he closes his eyes); towards the end, the MC is indirectly responsible for another character's death. The deaths aren't explicit.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel for review in return for my honest opinion.

Movie Monday: Doctor Strange

Monday, January 9, 2017



Doctor Strange

Directed by Scott Derrickson
Genre: Superhero
Running time: 115 minutes
Released: 2016
Produced by Marvel Studios

After his career is destroyed, a brilliant but arrogant surgeon gets a new lease on life when a sorcerer takes him under his wing and trains him to defend the world against evil.





Once again, Marvel has managed to deliver a solid superhero film. While it certainly had its own charm, however, Doctor Strange lacks the distinct Marvel charm that I’ve grown to love in their other films.

Review: The Crown by Kiera Cass ⇉ Princess Dilemmas: Having Too Many Boys to Love

Thursday, January 5, 2017


The Crown
Kiera Cass

Series: The Selection #5
Genre: YA DystopianRomance
Hardback: 279 Pages
Publication: May 3, 2016
by Harper Teen



When Eadlyn became the first princess of Illéa to hold her own Selection, she didn’t think she would fall in love with any of her thirty-five suitors. She spent the first few weeks of the competition counting down the days until she could send them all home. But as events at the palace force Eadlyn even further into the spotlight, she realizes that she might not be content remaining alone.

Eadlyn still isn’t sure she’ll find the fairytale ending her parents did twenty years ago. But sometimes the heart has a way of surprising you…and soon Eadlyn must make a choice that feels more impossible—and more important—than she ever imagined.


Review

My favorite part about The Selection series is that I can count on the books for a light, fluffy read that doesn't require much thinking. (That said, it's also my least favorite part about the series because of the lost potential to develop the politics, culture, and history of the world.) As a teacher, sometimes I just want to kick back after work with a light read; in fact, many of us know how to appreciate a light read for different reasons (such as a beach read as opposed to a de-stressor). The Selection provides just that.