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Book Review: Twentieth Century Boys, Vol 2 by Naoki Urasawa

Twentieth Century Boys, Vol 2: The Prophet     

Author: Naoki Urasawa

Publisher: Viz Media

American release date: April 21, 2009

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/manga/paranormal/216 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

As children, Kenji and his friends were terrorized by Yanbo and Manbo, the “evilest twins in history”.  There was only one person who could put them in their place, a scrawny looking girl who would knock the stuffing out of the two boys. And they’ve just run into her at the airport, none other than Yukiji!  Apparently she’s a customs officer who has a dog for a partner. The boys are thrilled to see her, although she seems less enthusiastic about the chance meeting.

Two attorneys approach a man named Manjome Inshu regarding complaints from parents about their children being involved in an organization this man is part of. They want their children back. However, he is very evasive, and won’t give the name of the organization or of its leader, known simply as friend. Strangely, after Manjome’s departure, the attorneys notice something odd—all the spoons on the table are bent!

Yukiji shows up unexpectedly at Kenji’s convenience mart, and tells him she remembers the symbol they were asking about, and also who came up with it—their friend Otcho. When Kenji tries to question her, the franchise district manager chooses that unfortunate time to come in and demands Kenji’s time. She invites Kenji to the victims’ meeting, and he says he’ll try to make it.

Cho is a long-time policeman whose dedication to his job has caused problems in his personal life, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. He buys his grandson a Pikachu for his birthday, because apparently that’s what he wants and it’s all the rage.  Cho is investigating the disappearance of the Shikishima family. He runs into his colleague, Yama, who is working on the death of the professor’s student, but learns that the case was taken out of police hands. Cho is concerned about being late to his grandson’s party. His daughter, who hasn’t spoken to him in years, has personally invited him, so he can’t mess this up. He shares the details of his investigation with Yama before leaving for the party.

Kamisama is a homeless man who sometimes has nightmares. But his dreams aren’t like that of other people—his are often prescient. He shows up at Kenji’s store to check the stock prices and tells him things are going to get hard for him, but doesn’t explain why. Sometimes he tells his friends about his dreams, but this last one, he’s keeping that to himself.

While rooting around in his absent sister’s desk, Kenji finds a hidden envelope containing a strange message… and the same mysterious symbol he’s been asking about! He asks his mother about the symbol and it’s then he learns why his sister has always taken such good care of him, even before he was born. Which is why he won’t give up on raising her only child for anything. He also learns about the rich man who once courted her and what became of him.

Kamisama and his friends find an injured man in their midst. He won’t leave, no matter what they say, and insists on seeing the Great Kenji. Kamisama devises a plan to get Kenji to come to them. Hopefully he’ll understand what the man wants and will be able to do something about it.

Things are certainly getting strange and mysterious in this second volume of Twentieth Century Boys. Unexplained deaths are occurring, and we are getting more of a glimpse into the organization led by Friend. Not so friendly, are they? Is their leader one of Kenji’s old group of friends, who came up with the symbol originally, and had a plan to save the world… if only they could remember what that was. How will Kenji’s band figure into this? Could Friend be the missing Otcho, or did he disappear for a more sinister reason?

Also, am I wrong in thinking there’s an attraction between Kenji and Yukiji? If so, will they ever act on it? And who the heck is Kanna’s father? So many questions, so few answers. All we know for sure is the fate of the entire world depends on the answers!

Looking forward to volume 3!

 

Wednesday Briefs: August 5, 2020

Here is a list of all the authors flashing this week, along with a brief snippet from their latest free work. Click the link after the snippet to be taken to the complete story on the author’s home page.

Phases of Moon: Part 20 by J. Alan Veerkamp

Tonight would be the new moon and Jimmy should have been at his most calm, but the sight of the young banker perked up his wolf. He didn’t like the way the trees had been chopped out to make room for the house on this land. It had been stripped back far enough, he couldn’t sneak in close even with the lack of moonlight. A wolf his size needed more than darkness to hide. Instead, he had to settle for a distant view through the window, while the underbrush dug into his underbelly.

Shifting was risky territory these days after the last time his wolf almost didn’t give him back.

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Book Review: Bleach, Vol 21 by Tite Kubo

Bleach, Vol 21         

Author: Tite Kubo

Publisher: Viz Media

American release date: October 2 2007

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Manga/Supernatural/200 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

In the aftermath of Aizen’s dramatic departure (as if his being there isn’t drama enough alone), the 4th Squad tends to the wounded, including the Ryoka. Captain Unohana is amazed to witness Orihime’s healing skills as she tends to Ichigo. Rukia is stricken at Byakuya’s injuries, sustained while protecting her. He calls her to his side, and proceeds to tell her truths he has previously withheld.

A week passes. Uryu has sewn new clothes for his group, so Orihime wishes to personally take the new dress to Rukia… but she can’t find her. She and Ichigo begin a frantic search, even as some of the captains and lieutenants (including Shunsui, of course lol), at Matsumoto’s suggestion, get down to some serious drinking. They invite Ichigo and Orihime, but they decline the invitation, being busy (and also being underage). Ichigo has an idea where Rukia is, and he turns out to be correct.

The time comes for Ichigo and the others to return to the Living World. They drop from the sky only to find a penitent Uruhara waiting for them. Ichigo lets Kiskue know what he thinks of what he did to them. Before he left the Seireitei, Captain Ukitake gave Ichigo something special, told him to hold onto because it would be useful in all kinds of situations.

Ichigo arrives home to find Kon lounging in his bed. He reclaims his body and tells Kon he’ll listen to his complaints the next day, all he wants to do now is rest. But that isn’t happening when his dad unexpectedly appears, ready to rumble.

Back to school for everyone, back to normalcy. Or is it? Ichigo is shocked when Tatsuki can see his deputy soul reaper badge. But he has no time to think about it, as they keep getting calls about Hollows. On top of that, there’s a new kid in class. His name is Shinji (but I’ll refer to him as Dutch Boy). He takes a seat near Ichigo and hopes they will become friends! That’s not creepy at all, is it?

When Ichigo leaves in the middle of the night on Reaper business, leaving Kon in his body, Kon decides to take the opportunity to kick up his heels a bit, but he gets more than he bargained for. Uryu, who is also out and about, encounters an unexpected blast from the past. And if that’s not enough, a Soul Reaper’s true identity is revealed!

So… Captain Aizen… huh. That happened. Who saw that coming? I sure didn’t. I remember watching the anime and boohooing over “poor Aizen”. And then he wasn’t dead and I texted my daughter, overjoyed, only to be confused the next moment when he stabbed poor Hinamori. (My daughter said she couldn’t wait for that to happen, knowing what she already knew that I didn’t.)  So Aizen, Gin, and Tosen have vamoosed, off to nefarious things no doubt. I don’t believe they specifically say what’s up in the manga, but I remember Aizen telling the Soul Society that his plan would take a year and then he’d be back. I guess that was their way of explaining why the story was about to veer off into filler arcs lol

His departure is almost an anti-climax, as its back to normal business. Well, as normal as Ichigo’s world ever gets. There does seem to be a lot of Hollows, wonder if that means anything? And now we have Dutch Boy in the picture (when you read this volume, you’ll know why I call him that lol). And then a couple of major revelations at the end of the book, keeping us in suspense, waiting for the next volume. Pretty heavy stuff going down. Plus the revelation from Byakuya at the beginning.  As usual, another great volume of Bleach. One reason I love the manga so much, even though I’ve seen the whole series, is that you do learn things that either aren’t mentioned or go by too fast to catch.

Looking forward to the next volume!

Wednesday Briefs: July 29, 2020

Here is a list of all the authors flashing this week, along with a brief snippet from their latest free work. Click the link after the snippet to be taken to the complete story on the author’s home page.

Unicorn Quests: Chapter Thirty-nine by Cia Nordwell

“You need sleep.” Londe had come before it was his turn. “You’ve been taking most of the night watches.”

It’d only been three nights since we’d finally defeated Balasamar, and since Wenn had given his life to save him. I still wrestled with the guilt, and it didn’t help that I refused to allow Londe to carry Wenn’s lifeless form.

The one we placed so carefully at the end of each trek so he could face the sky, his palms touching the earth of his birth. Tinn spoke words over him as we knelt. He’d been so brave, so willing

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Book Review: Bleach, Vol 20 by Tite Kubo

Bleach, Vol 20     

Author: Tite Kubo

Publisher: Viz Media

American release date: August 7, 2007

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Manga/Supernatural/232 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

When Matsumoto comes face to face with Kira, she learns what the power of his zanpaku-to, Wabisuke, really is.  Kira’s sword doubles the weight of anything it strikes, until the user cannot wield it and sinks to their knees, head in a penitent pose.  (Wabisuke means the Penitent One).

Hinamori is confused as to why Gin has brought her to the place where the 46 govern. But all is explained when she comes face-to-face with the last person she expected to see there. How can this possibly be? But the joyful reunion is brought to a sharp halt.

When Hitsugaya arrives, he too is thunderstruck to see the newcomer then chilled when he learns what has happened to Momo.  Battle is inevitable. It isn’t long before Unohana and Isane appear, having deduced this person’s whereabouts, and we learn what power he really possesses. One which has fooled many people for a long time. Except maybe Tosen, who is immune to it, being blind. Which means he has done what he did with knowing consent. Has everyone been subjected to this? Maybe the Ryoka are immune. Hopefully.

When the traitors disappear, Unohana deduces where they’ve gone and tells Isane to send a special message to all the captains and lieutenants, as well as the Ryoka, to assemble immediately… it’s an emergency!

The newcomer confronts Renji and Rukia and demands that Rukia be given to him. Naturally, Renji refuses. And just in the nick of time, Ichigo appears. More battle is inevitable, and along with it, much is learned, including the secret  of the object known as the Hogyaku. Where before, the object of the Thirteen Court squads was to defeat the Ryoka so that Rukia could be executed, now the common goal is to reclaim her from the newly revealed enemy in their midst.

There’s a lot going on in this volume, so put on your hip boots and wade into it. Don’t be surprised that things aren’t what they seem. You just can’t believe your eyes, apparently. And some people aren’t to be trusted. I think one character said it very well when he said, “Adoration is the state furthest from understanding.” I think that’s just another way of saying love is blind.

Lines will have to be redrawn, foes become enemies and enemies foes. Many things we’ve wondered about will become clearer, such as Kiskue’s place in the scheme of things, and a better understanding of Ichigo’s Hollowfication. The one thing that rather bugs me about this book is Rukia’s limp, wishy-washy attitude. Normally, she’s an in-your-face, don’t-mess-with-me kind of girl, but here she is almost a willing participant in what is going on to happen, as if she’s resigned to it or something. Maybe there’s a logical reason for this, but if there is, I don’t know what it is. Guess I’ll have to wait and see if she gets back the old Rukia spark.

Speaking of sparks, I suspect plenty will be flying in the next volume. Looking forward to it!

Book Review: Bleach, Vol 19 by Tite Kubo

Bleach, Vol 19     

Author: Tite Kubo

Publisher: Viz Media

American release date: June 5, 2007

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Manga/Supernatural/216 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer:  Julie Lynn Hayes

 

Soi Fon thinks she has the upper hand in her battle against Yoruichi, believing that her one-time commander has been sedentary for the past century. She is in for a rude awakening!

Ikkaku and Iba are drinking and arguing, as usual, when they speculate as to who Captain Kuchiki is fighting, up by the Sokyoku. Iba doesn’t recognize the spiritual pressure, but Ikkaku suspects it’s Ichigo, knowing how strong he is. And he is correct, for that battle is still being waged, even after Rukia has been safely removed from the playing field.

Ichigo is still pressing Kuchiki for an answer to why he is trying to kill his own sister. Byakuya is determined to crush Ichigo, confident that Ichigo can never hold his own against him. Seriously, even if he has to release his bankai, Ichigo can’t possibly do that…. can he?

Boy, does that arrogant s.o.b have another think coming…

Meanwhile, Uryu, Orihime, Chad, and Ganju are hastening toward the summit of the hill, not sure if that is where Ichigo is or not. Why is Ichigo still fighting, since Rukia has already been saved? Uryu explains “She won’t be safe until he’s broken the enemy completely.” Otherwise they will still try to execute her. Makes sense. But can he do it?

When the smoke of battle clears, who will be left standing?

Meanwhile, a horrific sight meets Hitsugaya and Matsumoto—the Council of 46 are all dead, murdered… and not recently. Who’s done this horrible thing? And since they were killed some time ago… who has been issuing orders in their name? Is someone trying to frame Hitsugaya for what has happened? Who would do such a thing… and why?

Just when you think the battle’s won, new battle lines are drawn, and new mysteries appear. I love watching them unfold, especially as I know what awaits in the next volume (one advantage of watching the anime first lol) In this volume, Byakuya is learning that Ichigo is more than he bargained for and not as easily dismissed as he might think.

I love Tite Kubo’s characterizations. His characters are definitely not one-note. There is no such thing as all good or all evil, there are many shades of gray. Not even Rukia’s brother is all bad, just has a mighty high opinion of himself. Even Ichigo has his dark side.

I love seeing the backstories of the characters. This time we got some insight into Soi Fon and  Yoruichi, the past shedding light on the present.

Looking forward to the next volume!

Wednesday Briefs: July 21, 2020

Here is a list of all the authors flashing this week, along with a brief snippet from their latest free work. Click the link after the snippet to be taken to the complete story on the author’s home page.

True Family by Carol Pedroso

Hector groaned as he woke. It was still dark outside and he couldn’t have been asleep for long. His phone started buzzing on his side table letting him know why he was awake at this stupid hour of the night. He rolled out of bed and took his phone out of the room to avoid waking his still sleeping lover.

Heaving a sigh he swiped the answer icon, she wouldn’t stop until he answered anyway.

“Hello.”

“How could you do this, you insolent brat.”

Hector held the phone away from his ear to protect his eardrums from the shrill tone.

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Book Review: Twentieth Century Boys, Vol 1: Friends by Naoki Urasawa

Twentieth Century Boys, Vol 1: Friends

Author: Naoki Urasawa

Publisher: Viz Media

American release date: February 17, 2009

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Manga/Mystery/Sci-fi/160 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

Kenji once dreamed of being a hero and doing big things, but middle-age finds him the co-owner of a former liquor store, along with his mother. And he’s raising the niece his sister dumped off on them before she ran away to who knows where. He loves Kanna with all his heart and wouldn’t have it any other way. What do long ago foolish dreams matter in the face of reality?

Kenji is annoyed to learn the police are investigating the disappearance of the entire Shikishima family, mostly because they owe him money. Hopefully if the police stake out the place, they’ll want to buy snacks from his convenience store, he reasons. In the meantime, his childhood friend Keroyon, aka Froggie, is getting married. Whodathunk it? He did get his nickname for a reason, after all.  While retrieving empty bottles from the missing family’s home, Kenji finds a strange symbol  by the door. Something seems awfully familiar about that symbol, but he just can’t place it. Kenji quizzes some of his childhood friends about it, but no one remembers anything.

The morning paper brings horrible news. Another of his old friends, Donkey, a science teacher, has jumped from the roof of the high school where he taught… to his death. Kenji doesn’t think Donkey would ever do something like that. A strange boy they befriended long ago, he was particularly known for being a fast runner who told them that you can run faster with your shoes off. Kenji receives a letter from Donkey to him written just a few days previously, although he’d not talked to him in a good long while. The letter contains a drawing and asks if Kenji remembers this symbol… the same symbol Kenji’s been wondering about himself! Could it be a coincidence, or something much more? And Donkey ends with talk soon… does this sound like someone who’s about to kill himself?

Kenji talks to Donkey’s widow, and she mentions that her husband told her that one of his former students was in trouble, but she only remembered his first name and where he went to school.  Through good detective work, and a little luck, Kenji finds the student, who seems to be on his way somewhere. The man is secretive and mysterious and tells Kenji if he’s reached the symbol, he’s only one step away from true friendship. What the heck does that mean?

Kenji and some of his old group of friends meet to toast the late Donkey, and he continues to grill them about the symbol.  Still no one recalls anything. Until Mon-chan remembers that when they were young, they buried something, but can’t remember exactly what that was. Not sure if that means anything or not, they decide to hunt it down, which isn’t easy as much has changed over the years. They’re surprised to find… (no spoilers here, gotta read it)

This is the first volume in a series about a group of young men who did something that helped to save the world. Kenji is the main character, through whose eyes we see most of the action. The story takes place across different time frames, so we see what’s going on at different points in the boys’ lives, 1969, 1997, and the present. The first volume lays the groundwork for everything and asks questions which need to be answered. Such as who are the Twentieth Century Boys? What did they do? Who is Friend? Is he friend or foe? And is/was he one of them?

I like the writing (I’ll have to read Monster too, which is by the same author), as well as the artwork. Kenji is a good character, just a simple normal guy, living out his life, even if it wasn’t the one he dreamed of. He’s unwilling to accept the truth that appears to lie on the surface of things, and insists on delving further down, to clear Donkey’s name, and to solve the mystery of the symbol. All the characters are well-drawn, including the horrible twins whom they refer to as “the evilest twins in history.” I really enjoyed reading this, although sometimes I had to re-read to keep things clear in my head because of the time jumps. But in the end it all made sense, and I look forward to reading the next volume.

 

 

Book Review: Baptism of Fire by Andrzej Sapwkoski

Baptism of Fire (The Witcher series)     

Author: Andrzej Sapkowski

Publisher: Orbit

American release date:  June 24, 2014

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Fantasy/400 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

Milva, the archer,  first meets Geralt, the Witcher, two weeks after the disastrous conclave on the Isle of Thanedd. To say she is not amused would be an understatement, especially as he has seen her face. But Geralt is a friend of Brokilon, and he is injured, so they care nothing for the politics of the situation. So when the leader of Brokilon requests that Milva assist Geralt, how can she refuse?  She can’t, although she doesn’t have to be happy about it. And she isn’t.

Dijkstra, the head of Redanian intelligence, is approached by the Nilfgaardian ambassador who seeks a criminal by the name of Cahir Mawr Dyffryn aep Caellach. Dijkstra feigns ignorance, but that man always knows more than he is willing to admit to. Once rid of the ambassador, Dijkstra writes to his sorceress, Philippa, revealing that he seeks the man as well. Not that he let slip that fact to the ambassador.

The sorceresses have their own agenda. The situation as they see it is going from bad to worse. It is only by some miracle that they were not all killed on Thanedd. They must take control of the situation before the men screw it up any more than they already have. But they must do it under the utmost secrecy as they work to reestablish the Chapter and the Council. They have to rely on one another, even the Nilfgaardian sorceresses, although there is a decided lack of trust there. They meet telepathically to lay the foundation and make plans to meet in person. Not everyone is pleased to see Assire of Nilfgaard among their number. And where is Yennefer?

Meanwhile, Ciri, who is going by the name of Falka, is having the time of her life, running with her little hoodlum pals, the Rats. So why does everyone else think she’s in Nilgaard, engaged to the emperor?

Having healed and left Brokilon, Geralt and Dandelion begin their journey. Although the Witcher think he’s inscrutable and mysterious, the poet can put two and two together and he knows where they are headed and why. And so the journey begins.

If you think there was a lot going on in the last book, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet, b-b-b-baby.

The Witcher series has three main threads which twine and intertwine about one another, those three threads belonging to 1) Geralt, 2)Ciri, and 3)Yennefer. These three are bound by a fate they cannot escape. I can only hope and trust that they will end up together when all is said and done, but that remains to be seen.

Geralt has suffered much in his lifetime, beginning with his betrayal and desertion by his birth mother, to the pains he suffered in becoming the mutant known as a witcher. He had no choice in the matter, but he has certainly embraced this life, such as it is, and is renowned far and wide for his skill and prowess at slaying monsters. On the other hand, he has assumed a mask of indifference in the way he presents himself to the world, as if nothing and no one matters to him. Nothing reaches him or touches him. He is an emotionless killer of bad things.

But we know better, don’t we?

Despite pushing the troubadour away and keeping him at arm’s length, all the while commenting on his bad singing, Geralt considers Dandelion a friend, and has saved his bacon on more than one occasion. Dandelion may be a loud mouth who speaks first and thinks afterward, a braggart who feels that embellishment of the truth is often preferable to the facts, a narcissist who thinks he is irresistible to women… but truth be told, he has a good heart, and he would do anything for Geralt. Dandelion is the only companion Geralt has tolerated for many years, and I love to see them together (and yes, while I realize there is much fanfiction on the relationship between them being more than friendship, I don’t see that and consider it so much wishful thinking).

Geralt and Yennefer—ah, that is one complicated relationship. From the moment they met, something drew them together, almost as if they were magnetized, one to the other. And even though their lovemaking is often followed by separation and anger, they manage to find their way back together again and again, as if they are unable to help themselves. To be honest, I have no idea what he sees in her, and I would be happy if he were to find another love. Such as Triss Merrigold, for instance. But alas, I don’t feel that is meant to be, thanks in large part to the wish Geralt foolishly made (see The Last Wish, although I assume you’ve read it by this point). Whether they can stay together in the end remains to be seen. Yennefer has had a rough life, and I’m sure she feels something for the Witcher, but ultimately I don’t trust her.

Ciri is Geralt’s Law of Surprise gift, a serendipitous gift for Geralt cannot father a child, so Ciri is the child he cannot have. I don’t think he ever intended to go through with taking her on as his responsibility, and evaded doing so for as long as he could. But he couldn’t stem the tide of Fate forever, and having met her, he would do anything now to protect her. Woe betide anyone who comes between him and Ciri, or threatens to harm her in any way. As for Ciri, I worry about what will become of her after her time with the Rats. I think she likes killing a bit too much, and being a law unto herself. Will she be able to return to a more normal life, relatively speaking, or will she become more rebellious than ever? She’s always been a willful handful, but now…

There are some very interesting secondary characters in this book. If you’ve played the game (I’m only on the first one) you may recognize some of them, such as Zoltan Chivay.  And some interesting new friends, such as Regis. The plot is exquisitely intricate as the author spins an amazing web of intrigue, war, deceit, love, mystery, supernatural, and so much more.

If you love the books, watch the series. Henry Cavill plays Geralt brilliantly

Another great book in the series, looking forward to the next one!

 

Wednesday Briefs: July 15, 2020

Here is a list of all the authors flashing this week, along with a brief snippet from their latest free work. Click the link after the snippet to be taken to the complete story on the author’s home page.

Unicorn Quests: Chapter Thirty-seven by Cia Nordwell

We herded the foals between us. It was strange being back in my body, but at the same time, I’d lived most of my life as a unicorn. It should feel natural.

Why didn’t it? Maybe it was shock. My mind couldn’t quite catch up, and my horn ached.

I had to think about the placement of each hoof as I trotted behind my family, keeping them all in view as I swept the forest for threats at the same time. Dizzy spells swept over me, and I blinked rapidly trying to keep the forest in focus when the trees

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