Category: guilty

I read the manga Battle Royale last summer, and now that I’ve read the first novel in the hit trilogy The Hunger Games, I can’t resist making a bit of a compare-and-contrast review.

Synopsis for both: A cruel government keeps its citizens in check by having a yearly “game” pitting dozens of teens against each other in a battle to the death.  This brutal game is shown on live TV.  There can be only one victor.

Checkouts: 10
Series checkouts (trilogy): 22
Typical reader: This ranges from older elementary boys, to high school girls, to classroom aides. There is no typical reader.
Source: Follett for the school, gift for my copy
Checkouts: Rated M, this does not belong in a school library.
Series checkouts (15 manga): Seriously. This puts “graphic” in graphic novels.
Typical reader: Fans of Japanese gore fests
Source: Local public library
My Goodreads rating: 5 stars My Goodreads rating: N/A

While reading Battle Royale, I realized that what I’d heard about The Hunger Games sounded a lot like this manga.  That’s absolutely true, at least on the surface.  The plot, as shown in the synopsis above, is interchangeable.  What’s different, besides the medium used to tell the story and the language/country of origin?

The main characters: Katniss of The Hunger Games is one of those YA heroines that I can really get behind.  She’s a survivor, strong and tough.  When her little sister’s name is drawn to participate in the Hunger Games, she refuses to let that happen and volunteers in her stead.  She is a skilled huntress and keeps her wits about her throughout the ordeal.  And she remains true to herself!  I don’t want to give anything away, but I was proud of how she handled things at the end of the book.

Shuuya of Battle Royale is a student in an ill-fated class that’s drugged on a field trip and sent to a deserted island for this story’s battle to the death.  He is a musician – which is rebellious in this dystopian Japan – and quite nonviolent; he would prefer to avoid killing his classmates at all costs.  Joined by a female classmate, Noriko, whose wound he dresses after she is shot before the game even begins, Shuuya tries to recruit and save other classmates in an alliance.  Only the transfer student, Shogo, joins them for long.

Perspective and style: The Hunger Games is a novel written in limited third-person, focusing on Katniss.  Most of the deaths occur “off-screen,” except for the battle near the end of the Games.  Battle Royale covers every one of the 42 students in the game, including offering back-stories on several of the contestants.  It is one of the most graphic, explicit sequential art pieces I’ve ever seen.  Most of that is violence, but there’s also some nudity and sexual situations.

This is one of the less gory death scenes.

Outside aid and restrictions: The students in Battle Royale each start with a backpack of supplies and one random weapon.  They are equipped with collars that track their movements and transmit their vital statistics to those who run the show.  If no one dies in a 24-hour period, someone’s tracking collar will detonate; this will also happen if a student strays into an area announced as being off-limits.

The competitors in The Hunger Games have it easier by far – if they survive the initial rush for supplies, and the bloodbath that ensues.  Katniss grabbed a bag and ran, narrowly escaping death.  After that, those who impressed the audiences in the Capital may be sent gifts via their sponsors.  These can really come in handy.

Movies: Battle Royale was made into a movie before it became a manga; both are based on a novel of the same name.  The movie was released in Japan in 2000.  The Hunger Games movie will be in theaters next month.

Sequels: The Hunger Games is part of a trilogy; I look forward to reading the next two books.  Battle Royale has a sequel manga series, Blitz Royale.  I’ve seen some art from it, and it’s not as good or realistic.

Who I would give the book to: As I said in the statistics, there are older elementary students who read The Hunger Games.  That’s pretty acceptable.  Battle Royale, on the other hand, fits well into my “Guilty Pleasures” category and would best go to mature adults who like manga filled with violence and social commentary, and Quentin Tarantino’s films.


Life’s too short to read bad books.  They’re sometimes unavoidable; we’ve all had to read a book for a class at some point that we absolutely couldn’t stand.  But once you get past the requirements, there’s no reason to waste your time on books that aren’t worth reading.

Here are the books I simply could not finish in 2011.

It’s Elementary: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

This book won the Newbery Medal in 2010.  Normally, that’s a sure sign of quality.  You can typically rely on books that win the medal, or honor (runners-up), to be excellent.  When You Reach Me just bored me, though.  I put it down at about page 39.

No-Nonsense Nonfiction: In the Company of Cheetahs by S. K. Niel

Oh, I wanted to like this book!  I love cheetahs, and practically did a happy dance in the public library when I found this on the shelves.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t get even ten pages into this book.  I really wanted to read about the Cheetah Conservation Fund and its work.  This is badly in need of proofreading!  I could not get past the horrible writing or the overuse/misuse of italics.

Guilty Pleasures: Hit List by Laurell K. Hamilton

(Sorry, this one gets a little long and rant-y.)

I put up with the Anita Blake series as long as I could.  (Granted, I started reading the series only a couple years ago, but I read 19 and a half books.)  The first several books, written before 2000, were really good.  Anita was an interesting character – a strong heroine that could really kick butt, and had high morals.  Back then, she was a good necromancer who had a lot of plots surrounding her job for a company that helps settles wills and the like by raising zombies to answer questions and such.  She was a love interest to a powerful vampire in her hometown of St. Louis, Jean-Claude, who she inadvertently helped into power in the excellent first book, Guilty Pleasures.  A few books in, a hot new guy by the name of Richard Zeeman entered the picture.  He was not only hot, but also a closeted werewolf who was powerful enough that Anita didn’t realize for most of the book that he was a werewolf.  A love triangle emerges, then a power triangle, bonding the necromancer, werewolf, and vampire together.

Then around 2000, Laurell K. Hamilton went nuts.  There’s an interesting obsession with rape that crops up in both this series (despite the author’s insistence to the contrary, we fans know that when Micah didn’t take “no” for an answer in Narcissus in Chains, it was rape) and in the first book of the Meredith Gentry series.  The series took a turn from good plots and enjoyable writing to erotica with a dash of plot.  One or two books after this were okay to good, such as Skin Trade.

I kept holding out hope for the series because I liked Anita Blake so much as a character, despite how much I hated what the author was doing to her.  After the nineteenth book (Bullet), I was fed up with the lack of plot – or in that book, the recycling of old plot – and the lack of proofreading/fact-checking against previous novels.  But then I read good reviews of this year’s release, Hit List.  It features Edward, the all-human, mostly-psychopath, bounty hunter that trained Anita and would love nothing more than to have a fight to the death with her someday.  I gave it a shot.

Really, I got two-thirds of the way through this before I gave up.  I was probably being far too generous with my time on this one.  But then the book introduces a character for a second time, and when a mixed-color weretiger up and loses one of his established colors, 100 pages after he’s been established, I just can’t take anymore.  Plus, Edward’s been pretty much neutered.  But hey, that’s what this series has gone and done with every flipping male in the series.

Don’t worry.  Laurell K. Hamilton hates her fans as much as we hate her.  I’m glad I never bought one of her books.  She has nothing but contempt for her readers, and there’s proof on her web site.

Now that the book fair is over, I can get back to book reviews!  I’m also focusing on a particular topic this month for various reasons.  Welcome to “Dystopias and Dead Things,” where I will be reviewing books that fall into these categories.  More on this after the book review.

Here is my opinion on 99 Coffins by David Wellington, the second in his in his Vampires series starring Laura Caxton.

Checkouts: I own this one; there’s no way I’d put this series in a school library.  Actually, you can’t find any of this series in -any- U.P. library.
Typical reader: Horror fans, people that like their vampires to actually be scary

Synopsis: After the events of 13 Bullets, Laura Caxton wants nothing more to do with vampires.  Ever.  So of course an archaeology class in Gettysburg finds 100 coffins buried under the famous Civil War battlefield, all with a vampire with its heart removed inside.  When Caxton and the quintessential curmudgeon of a vampire hunter, Jameson Arkeley, investigate, one coffin is destroyed and the vampire from within has vanished.  Caxton must save the historical town from a potential army of the nastiest vampires literature has ever seen.

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars

If you’re tired of the dreamy, moody vampires of modern paranormal romance or even the mysterious, villainous vampires of Dracula‘s ilk, and want vampires that are genuinely scary, you need to read this series.  No ifs, ands, or buts.  There’s no sparkle here.  David Wellington’s vampires are bald as cue balls, have teeth that are more similar to a shark’s than to a human’s, are far more likely to rip your head off than to daintily pierce an artery to get a drink, and dissolve into a disgusting soup of mush and maggots during the day.

This is the second book in the series.  The first is 13 Bullets, which is also a great read and I would highly recommend it.  99 Coffins picks up a year later, as Caxton, a Pennsylvania state trooper, is trying to escape the nightmares and avoid fans of the movie that was made about the events of the first book.  (Either Wellington dreams of movie deals for his books, or he likes toying with the fourth wall.)

I was a bit curious about this sequel, as it’s billed as a “historical vampire tale.”  It works!!  The story goes back and forth between Caxton’s investigation and dealings with the vampires and her incorrigible mentor, Arkeley, and accounts from soldiers 150 years earlier during the Civil War.  I was really impressed.

Please do yourself a favor and read this stuff in the right order.  -Do not- touch the third book in the series, Vampire Zero, because the back cover gives away a massive spoiler about what happens in this one.  There was probably a neat twist in this book, but alas, I had accidentally read the spoiler while trying to figure out which was the second book.  For what it’s worth, 23 Hours is the fourth book in the series.

If you like high-impact action with a bit of mystery and excellent, flawed characters, this series is second to no other vampire tale.

Now, about this month of dystopias and dead things.  It is my goal to read and review novels that are dystopian fiction, zombie/ghoul/vampire tales, or both.  I’ve got quite a selection to get through.  Anticipate hearing about the second in the Benny Imura series, Dust & Decay, by Jonathan Maberry.  Bite your nails while you wait for my review of a book I’ve been looking forward to since January when I read the first in the series – Crossed, the sequel to Matched by Ally Condie.  Await a critique of The Forest of Hands and Teeth, a zombie novel with an awesome title by Carrie Ryan.  And maybe more.

This goes together with my National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) project.  I’m writing a high fantasy medieval zombie apocalypse.  It’s day seven and I’ve got over 10,000 words written!  Maybe some day other book review bloggers will be telling you all about my work.

Happy November!

Happy Halloween!  I’ll try to get another seasonal book review up by the actual date, but I’m really busy these days.  Here’s a review of The Zombie Combat Manual by Roger Ma.

Checkouts: Definitely not owned by the library (though I could see far too many of my war and weapons obsessed 3rd grade boys wanting it)
Typical reader: Zombie fans
Do the Dewey: 818.607 (miscellaneous modern writing)

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars

According to the back cover of this book, most individuals will have to destroy this undead opponent without the aid of a firearm.  This is logical.  You’ll run out of bullets.  Your gun will jam.  You’ll wake up to find zombies breaking into your house and your gun will be out of reach.  What should you do?

You should read this book and be prepared to take on zombies with an assortment of melee weapons that are readily available and know how to fight at a variety of distances, as well as how far you need to run to get some down-time, the best infant protection/mobility options, and what’s fact and what’s fiction about the zombie plague.

I haven’t read other zombie survival guides, but this seemed like an excellent, well-rounded manual.  The anecdotes included are far superior to those in Max Brooks’ World War Z, because this book actually gives its characters flavor.  I was frustrated while reading World War Z because, while it was interesting for the history, it really lacked any differentiation between speakers.  A Texan would give an account with the exact same lexicon as a South African or a Japanese person.  The Zombie Combat Manual never had that problem.  The survivors’ stories were engaging and gave the book a decent plot, despite not being a novel.

The author really put a lot of thought into not only combat systems and survival tips, but also into how his zombies functioned and what happened in the zombie apocalypse.  The first chapter wastes no time in getting into the facts and myths about how zombies work.

If you’re worried about zombies, or need a good reference tool for writing your own zombies novels, this book is a must-read.

Patrick Rothfuss was in the area this weekend, doing an interview, reading and book signing hosted by the wonderful indie bookstore Snowbound Books.  My boyfriend has a copy of his first book and got it signed; I tagged along for the heck of it.  I’m glad I did!  The reading was of The Adventure of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle, a picture book that is -not- for children.  This book deserves to be highlighted as a “guilty pleasure,” because I sure can’t justify getting it for a school library collection!

Checkouts: This isn’t appropriate for a school library!
Typical reader: Unsupervised children

Synopsis: The Princess lives in a marzipan castle with her stuffed bear companion, Mr. Whiffle.  They have adventures, and the story has three endings.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

Oh my, what a book!  The story to the first ending would be appropriate for children.  The second is kind of creepy.  And the third … well, it’s quite the shock!  I heard Mr. Rothfuss read it, I saw it on the pages with the pictures to accompany the words, and I looked between the man and the book several times in disbelief.  It could not sink in for a while.  But if you read through the book again and look more carefully at the pictures, you’ll find that the outcome was foreshadowed.

To have seen this in the presence of the genius behind this, and to have heard him read this book, was a real treat.  But woe onto the parent who doesn’t notice the warning on the book.  Your child will probably have nightmares from this one.

I am in need of another category of reviews, for today I finished a book that I greatly enjoyed, but does not fall into the realm of school library material.  A school librarian cannot always restrict herself to books for a younger audience, and needs to indulge in a little guilty pleasure now and then.  Thus, I bring you the first installment of “Guilty Pleasures,” with Gail Carriger’s fourth Parasol Protectorate novel, Heartless.

Synopsis: Lady Alexia Maccon, soulless, is back for a fourth adventure in the supernatural/steampunk series, the Parasol Protectorate.  This time, she must investigate and hopefully stop a threat to the queen, while dealing with a suffragette sister, zombie porcupines, a werewolf pup who cannot grasp his new life, and much more, including being eight months pregnant.

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars (4.5 really, but there aren’t half-stars there)

This book could almost be considered for my “Yay for YA” reviews.  My local public library does in fact shelve the series in the teen/YA section.  Frankly, though, there’s just too much bodice-ripping in the first novel in the saga for it to be in a school library.

That said, I adore this series!  It is incredibly witty, in a proper Victorian British manner.  And it is appropriately witty too, perfectly capable of being serious in tone as needed.  The humor in the descriptions are probably the biggest attraction the Parasol Protectorate offers.  I often find myself tittering over some passage or other as I indulge in these tomes.

The mythology of the supernatural/preternatural beings is great.  Ms. Carriger put a lot of effort into planning what exactly vampires, werewolves, and ghosts are in her world, as well as that special being called a preternatural that the heroine Alexia Maccon, nee Tarabotti, is.  To sum it up, vampires and werewolves are undead creatures that had enough excess of soul to survive the transformation upon death.  Ghosts are the spirits of the deceased who also had an excess of soul, and whose bodies are reasonably preserved (or newly dead).  Preternatural beings are born, on the other hand, and are soulless.  Alexia, like her father before her, is apparently nature’s way of balancing out the supernatural – at her touch, vampires and werewolves are made human and ghosts are exorcised.

This well-concocted mythology is a deep spring, flowing with potential plot lines for the series.  And the depths are plumbed with fantastic results, ranging from little side-plots with clavigers and drones (werewolf and vampire servants, respectively, who wish to be eventually changed) to the running metaplot of what happens when a preternatural and a werewolf marry.  It may be a bit of a series spoiler to have already mentioned the fact that our heroine is eight months pregnant in this book, but believe me, there’s a lot of drama surrounding that little “infant-inconvenience” than just impeding movement.

The characters are enjoyable and well-rounded.  In this fourth book, we learn more about several characters who had previously been minor, including Alexia’s half-sister Felicity – who is quite not the blonde airhead Alexia thought she grew up with.  I enjoyed learning more about the indefatigable butler, Floote, and the werewolf pack’s Beta, Professor Lyall.

This episode of the life of Alexia (Tarabotti) Maccon is my favorite!  There is so much going on, with ample doses of mystery, intrigue, action scenes, and tea-drinking.  A couple little points seemed far too nicely tied up, but otherwise it was a wonderful yarn.

Now if only the covers matched the books!  The backdrops are lovely, but the damsel as pictured above is obviously not eight months pregnant and in possession of a healthy appetite.