REVIEW: The Boys From Brazil

This is probably the most random book discovery I’ve ever made. I’m a big fan of the adult cartoonArcher and when first watching the show back when it started, I was always curious about the jokes being made towards the scientist character, Kreiger, about his being “a boy from Brazil” and the other strange Nazi-related digs directed at him. Back then when I googled what they meant, I learned that while most of the jokes are related to the monstrosities committed by Dr. Josef Mengele – the Nazi known as The Angel of Death – the “boy from Brazil” references are from this book written in the 70s by author Ira Levin (best known to the world as the author being Rosemary’s Baby that was later adapted into an incredibly success horror film directed by Roman Polanski and starring Mia Farrow).

It’s been years since I’ve thought of the existence of this book but while re-watchingArcher on Netflix, I figured maybe it was time to change it up a little and give The Boys from Brazil a read.

Levin’s book is set in the 70s as the trials of Nazi war criminals are mostly coming to a close in Germany and Austria. Meanwhile in Brazil, Mengele and several of his SS collegues have formed an Organization to carry out a secret plan that will re-introduce the Reich: kill 94 seemingly random men across the globe that are in civil servant professions and are approximately 65-years-old. When “Nazi hunter” Yakov Liebermann gets wind of what is happening, he is determined to learn what Mengele is up to, no matter what.

Despite the content, this is a fairly easy book to get through and I enjoyed the sci-fi twist in the events that explain who “the boys from Brazil” are. I was invested in the story from the start and the way Levin combines fiction with reality was very well done. The only thing that got to me was his depiction of Mengele. The man was made of cruelty and evil, one of the most terrifying and dangerous people to come out of WWII, and yet there were moments of him talking to portraits or photos of Hitler (and at one point, the sky) in a way that honestly felt like a child confessing their undying love to a poster of their favourite celebrity. It made me laugh and roll my eyes every time it happened because it just felt like such a caricature. That aside though, I did appreciate that the content wasn’t too heavy in regards to the things Mengele actually did, as even in 2021, his “research” gives me the chills. 

If you’re a fan of spy-like thrillers and are looking for a WWII twist, I definitely recommend this book. I’ve yet to see the film adaptation, but I have also heard that is worth watching.

The only other thing I will say – as it is hard not to spoil what happens – is that I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I wish this book was how Mengele actually died. His real-life drowning was too good for him and he should have been taken out like he was in this book.

MANGA MARATHON REVIEW: One Piece [ part three]

So in February, I fell behind on my One Piece marathon, so I did my damnedest to get all caught up in March. Thankfully, I succeeded with getting back on track and oh boy do I have so many thoughts!

Volumes 21 through 23 brought us to the end of the Baroque Works/Alabasta arc and, believe me when I say I cried at the Straw Hats raising their X-marked wrists up for Vivi when she decided to stay with her people in Alabasta. The fight with Crocodile was so intense and it really set Luffy up to look absolutely incredible. But from there we have Nico Robin joining the crew just because she “has nowhere else to go” but something about her at this point just rubs me the wrong way and I’ve gotta say that I side with Zolo when I say I’ve got a bad feeling about her. Of course, Luffy doesn’t mind and thinks of Robin’s devil fruit powers as entertaining (the panel where she makes hands sprout from the top of Luffy’s head and he turns around like “HEY USOPP, I’M CHOPPER!” had me dying of laughter). 

Back on the seas again, it’s time to head to the next adventure.

The Merry-Go lands on the next island, a place full of ruthless pirates who care only about money and power and the hierarchy of power is determined by whoever has the highest bounty on their head. With Robin on board, the Straw Hats have a total of over $200,000,000 berries on their heads but – of course – with Luffy’s demeanor no one is about to take that seriously. It was a fun mini-arc for sure about not giving up on dreams and holding true to your beliefs. It was awe-inspiring to see Luffy seriously acting like a captain. When he tells Nami to stop carrying on about fighting because she’s being shameful to them and when Luffy and Zolo both stand their ground, refusing to fight without cause, are now two of my favourite moments to have happened.

From there, we get to learn more about the mythical island in the sky and Luffy meets Cricket, the descendant of a great liar who was executed for blathering on about a city made of gold. Cricket is determined to prove that his ancestor was not a liar or a disgrace and helps Luffy make the perilous journey into the sky.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Skypiea arc if I’m being honest. I found the world building of it to be really unique but the miscommunication plot of the rivaling peoples was just really frustrating considering the Alabasta arc was all about misdirection and miscommunication as well. The sky people vs. the accidentally abducted people of Shandians who were blasted into the sky was just so frustrating because if they only listened to each other, they could figure things out. Even with the god figure Kami Eneru getting closure to completing his plan of mass destruction of Skypiea as a whole, if only everyone would listen to each other, maybe things could have been prevented before they started. Now despite my desperate urge to just skip through the rest of this arc, the literally explosive ending of volume 30, I knew things were going to get better as we get close to the conclusion.

Volume 31 was primarily backstory of how things reached this point in Skypiea. Lots of legends of the people in the sky as well as what Cricket’s ancestor, Montblanc Noland, actual went through before he was branded a liar and executed but the very kingdom he served. This entire volume hit really different given how the Shandians are suffering from a plague they refuse to see the truth of. Noland instantly vows to help them but he is brushed off by several warrior leaders of the tribe who believe a blood sacrifice is what will cure them. His words hit especially hard in chapter 289 when he yells, “No matter how great your gods are, people’s lives are more precious!” So many people are dead or dying because of the current pandemic state we’re living through and yet there are far more people refusing to see the facts right in front of them than there really should be. It’s heartbreaking and I wish I could slap them with Noland’s words that are just so true I could scream. 

Once Luffy finds out that the bell of Shandia needs to be rung to let Cricket know that his ancestor was speaking truthfully, that the current Shandians fight to protect it so they can ring it and let Noland know they’re okay, he makes that the end game goal. If anyone knows the weight of a promise to a friend, it’s Luffy. In the next volume, when Luffy is successful, I was once again crying because he did it and Cricket will know he did it. The ending of this arc that I didn’t care for in the beginning was a weird melancholic punch in the gut as Cricket knew what Luffy did for him but wasn’t able to see him again. It was beautiful but sad and yet the adventure continues once again.

Our next mini arc was a volume long fight for crew mates as Luffy and the crew get sucked into a game of Davy Back where two rival pirate crews fight it out in a series of three different games. The wager on each game is a member of the crew who can be stolen by the winner or the very heart of the ship: the Jolly Roger. The games themselves were a lot of fun – I’m a sucker for Sanji and Zolo bickering at all times – but the “announcer” aspect of it made the chapters feel cluttered and made it drag out to the point where I just really wanted to get to the next real arc.

Even though I’m still reeling from what I’ve read from the next real arc.

The Merry-Go has been through hell and is in desperate needs of repairs so the gang make their way to Water Seven where they get into it with the Franky Family, a bunch of hooligans who dismantle pirate ships that make their way to the city famous for shipbuilding. Luffy, Usopp, and Nami are hit with a double whammy of bad news when they’re told that the Merry-Go has no chance of being repaired and then $200,000,000 of their $300,000,000 berries treasure is stolen by the Franky Family. The gut punch of distress the news of the Merry-Go hit me with was like when I saw the guild building destroyed for the first time in Fairy Tail

I love the rollercoaster of this arc so far as we see Luffy start to make some very real decisions for the sake of his crew and we have Usopp not only stick up for himself and man-up a bit, but we also see him truly fight for what he believes in. Usopp not only wants to prove his worth to a crew made up a basically superhumans as well as doesn’t want to give up on Merry. His fight with Luffy broke my heart into more pieces than I can count.

Obviously this arc is nearing the climax by the end of volume 40, but I’ll talk more about it when I’ve completed it.

But what I will say is that this arc really proves the point of why One Piece is not only still going, but why it is Big Three. Oda Eiichiro is the gold standard shonen manga needs to look towards. Volume 40 ends on Chapter 388 and it feels like I’ve buzzed through it. The pacing of not only the plot but the points where character development is introduced is so natural it’s perfection. Not only that, but the layering of the plot is what I find lacks in so many new series who attempt “Big Three energy”. Water Seven is three different arc combined into one large one that will further the main plot of Luffy becoming King of the Pirates. We have Usopp’s character development leading into the sub-plot of the Merry-Go’s death which further leads into Franky vs. Galley-La shiphands which furthermore continues into the grander plot against the CP9 and rescuing Robin. There are just so many layers all meticulously wrapped together and intricately intertwined, it’s like magic.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: I take back anything negative I’ve ever said about One Piece. Sure there have been moments in the near 400 chapters I’ve read so far that weren’t my favourite, but that doesn’t take away from the absolute perfection that it is.

If you’re hesitating on trying the manga because of the chapter count, stop it. Just jump in and fall in love with these goofballs. Naruto was 710 chapters. Bleach was 686. The Dragon Ball franchise totals at a little over 550. 1008 current chapters is nothing. Believe me when I say you won’t regret it.

乾杯、尾田ーせんぱい。長生き、モンキー・D・ルフィ。

REVIEW: Vampire Hunter D #1

The last few days I had a reader’s craving for vampires but no love story. I was also hoping for something with a darker aesthetic while still being light. Despite how overly specific that want is, I was able to check all of the boxes with the Japanese classic, Vampire Hunter D by Kikuchi Hideyuki with illustrations by Final Fantasy‘s own, Amano Yoshitaka.

Originally published in the 80s, Vampire Hunter D is a sci-fi western featuring the ever classic story of humanity against the creatures of the night. Ten thousand years have passed since the human race destroyed itself in a nuclear arms race and regressed to Frontier times. But vampires and artificially created other monsters are trying to regain control so it is up to the various classifications of Hunters to wipe them out by the request of their employeers.

This first book follows the plight of Doris Lang and her brother, Dan, who hire the mysterious D to act as protector after Doris is attacked by the local Count Lee. But there’s more to the job than a simple vampire slaying as Doris is also plagued by the ruffians of her town and D has unknowingly attracted some negative attention from a gang of especially skills bandits. With a lot of strangeness on the line, both D and Doris may be in over their heads. Or are they?

I loved the ol’ fashion Western vibe of this first book and the way it combines the classic aesthetic of the traditional vampire story just made me so happy. The story is action packed but still light enough to get through without having to think too hard about what’s going on. Doris was a sweetheart and the mystery surrounding D is too intriguing to stop here. The translation was so incredibly smooth, I would have thought it was originally written in English so a major shout out to translator Kevin Leahy. I loved the combination of traditional vampire lore with new additions due to the crazy world building. The idea that the vampires are scientific geniuses who can create their own servants through genetic engineering as well as robotics, was super cool to me and I look forward to hearing more about that side of the story as the series continues.

Needless to say, it was just what I wanted right now and I’m so happy to have found something that fit my incredibly niche reading wants.

ARC REVIEW: Solo Leveling #1

Thank you to YenPress and NetGalley for a copy of the eARC

For the last few months, I have been following closely along with YenPress and their marketing for the official translation for the incredibly popular manhwa for South Korean series Solo Leveling. Based on the best selling webnovel by Chugong, I’ve been very excited for both.

Solo Leveling follows Sung Jin Woo in an alternate reality where “gates” full of monsters are opening up around the world and people have awakened as hunters to clear and close them. The ranking system goes from E (the bottom rung where hunters are little more than regular citizens) to S class and Jin Woo is at the bottom, known around his city as “the worst hunter ever” for his habit of constantly getting himself into trouble. When a raid goes wrong, Jin Woo awakens with unmatched abilities right out of a video game – leveling system included.

Japanese light novels have been my jam lately, so the chance to review a Korean light novel was definitely something I was excited to do. It took me a brief second to adjust to the name format (it always throws me off when I try to figure out if translations put the names in traditional order or adjust for English readers) but I was sucked into the story right away.

I love the characters and the way Jin Woo stumbles his way through figuring out the new leveling system is so original. I do find it interesting how light novel fantasy (whether isekai or otherwise) seem to be very focused on video game like levels and the way those levels are incorporated into a story is always neat to compare. Having never read the manhwa I had visions of this being similar to Sword Art Online, but believe me when I say this is entirely a brilliant original story. I love Jin Woo, a protagonist who is equal parts sweet and cocky, and Jin Ho is so adorable I just want to give him a hug for trying his best.

With an ending that is the calm before the coming storm, I can’t wait for volume 2 of the novel. At least in the meantime, I have YenPress’s edition of the translation for the manhwa to look forward to reading.

Volume 1 of both the light novel and the manhwa are available now!

REVIEW: All Together Now

In April 2020 I was supposed to see Alan Doyle at Copps Coliseum (I guess people nowadays call it the 1st Ontario Center though) here in Hamilton, Ontario. The last time I saw him live was back in 2013 for a Great Big Sea anniversary tour, and while that night ended up horribly, the time I spent in the plush theatre seat singing The Night Pat Murphy Died at the top of my lungs while a drunk couple next to me did a jig in the aisle was one of the best concert experiences I’ve had.

I grew up on his music and on Great Big Sea.

And then the pandemic hit.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, 2020 was a hard year for a lot of us. It was – and still is in 2021 – isolating and hopeless and just hard… So when I heard that Alan Doyle had a new book meant to be full of silly stories he’d tell at the pub I thought maybe that would cheer me up. Seeing it was called All Together Now: A Newfoundlander’s Light Tales for Heavy Times had me hitting “purchase” immediately.

Right off the bat, this book had me smirking and it wasn’t long before I was actively laughing while reading along with the audiobook narrated by Alan himself playing through my headphones. Not even a full story in and all I could think about what how aggressively and heartwarmingly Canadian this book is. I’ve never been the most patriotic of people but I do love my country and many of these shorts reminded me why. Right now our government is failing us and while there are more regular people that are also failing us than I’d like to count, a lot of what Alan wrote about reminded me of the good in Canada. The people that come together to help one another, the strangers who ask if you’re okay on the street or in a store, the people in a pub who chat over a pint or something stronger like they’ve known you for years.

I miss a lot of my friends. I miss my family. I want to be there for the people in my life who are not only struggling mentally to keep going but the handful who are at their physical limits, too.

These silly shorts by a goofy Canadian folk-rock star lifted my spirits when I was reading. It reminded me of the pleasant things in the world after so much of it is dark and sad.

Maybe one day I’ll get to see Alan Doyle in concert again and maybe I’ll be one of those lucky fans who meets him at the pub. If that ever comes around, I want to thank him for this book. It truly was light tales for heavy times and if you’re a Canadian like me who’s having a rough go of things, I highly recommend picking it up.

Cheers.

REVIEW: Rashomon & Other Stories

I have been wanting to get a hold of some of Akutagawa’s short stories for a while now, and finally got my hands on the Tuttle collection that contains six stories. Considering I started reading this on March 1st (Akutagawa’s birthday) and finished it on the third (an important date in the final story), it seemed like fate brought this collection to me.

As much as I would have loved to have bought a larger collection, Tuttle Publishing always has really quality translations and I love supporting a company that does so much work producing educational material and language studies books (like 90% of my self-study Japanese textbooks are from Tuttle). Of course, that being said, I think this is a great edition for anyone who wants to get a taste of not just classic Japanese literature, but also a taste of Akutagawa in general. The stories in this edition include In The Grove, Rashomon, Yam Gruel, The Martyr, Kesa & Morito, and The Dragon.

I primarily wanted to read this collection for Rashomon and In The Grove as they are the most famous of his work due to the Kurosawa Akira film adaptation of the latter (although it was called Rashomon). Both stories were exactly as I expected them to be. Rashomon is a story of morals and while being short and cynical, really forced readers to question what they would do if they were starving and the choice was between your own survival or the survival of others in the same situation. In The Grove was a classic murder mystery with nothing but unrealiable narrators and the lack of closure is so interesting and unique as it leaves the decision up to the reader. The lesser known stories in the collection were are so different from each other while keeping that cynicism towards human nature and human desire that gives Akutagawa his edge.

What I found the most interesting is how, despite the difference in translators, I can see where Akutagawa influenced the works of my personal favourite, Dazai Osamu. Dazai held Akutagawa in a high regard (the two even died the same way) and I can see where their questions towards human nature crossover. That was my main reason for wanting to read these stories and I’m so happy I was finally able to. I look forward to tracking down more of Akutagawa’s work in English and – hopefully with some help from my textbooks – Japanese when translations are not available.

Happy [belated] birthday, Ryuunosuke.

ARC REVIEW: Date a Live – Tohka Dead End

Thank you to YenPress and NetGalley for a copy of the ARC

Despite this series being around for several years now, the first I heard about it was when Sword Art Online author, Kawahara Reiki, was tweeting about the mobile game in Japan. Knowing he enjoyed it, I requested to review this light novel that’s being translated into English at long last.

Going in completely blind like I did, I can’t exactly say that it wasn’t what I was expecting, but… Date-a-Live was definitely not what I expected.

The series – as described by the author, Tachibana Koushi – is a big “what if a dating sim was the key to saving the world from an unearthly power?” In the future, there are tears in reality that cause mass destruction and chaos and death. These tears, known as “spacequakes” are caused by Spirits, beautiful girls with massive amounts of power, and an elite team of warriors are equipped with special gear to try and take them down. However, these warriors aren’t making much progress and a special team has decided to take matters into their own hands and having a high school-aged civilian seduce the Spirits into peace.

Shindo is a ridiculous protagonist who cares a lot for his younger sister and is absolutely useless with girls. So naturally he is tasked with seducing the Spirits. In the first third of the book, he reminded me a lot of Rentaro from Black Bullet, especially with his relationship with his adorable younger sister (whose appearance even reminds me of Enju from Black Bullet). And then the dating sim (for anyone unfamiliar with the term, it is like a choose-your-own-adventure video game where you date a cast of characters) aspect happened and I wasn’t buying it. At first it came off as very “this is just another gimmick to use towards the harem trope”, but then it continued on to when Shindo meets with the Spirit, Tohka for the first time and it got me intrigued.

It’s my own fault for expecting an all-out action story, but the comedy aspect of the novel was an unexpected bit of fun. I’m iffy on where the story is going since I’m not the biggest fan of the harem trope, but I think this is definitely a series worth giving a chance to. It’s goofy, the art for the illustrations is cute, and it’s a finished series over in Japan.

Back to Back with THE MOSQUITO COAST

One of the things I’m lucky to be able to do during lockdown is still being able to spend Friday nights having dinner and watching a movie with my mom. This past Friday we sat down to watch Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren, but of course once I heard it was a book, I needed to read it first.

The Book

Mosquito Coast follows the Fox family as the father, Allie Fox, decides he has had enough with the filth, corruption, and violence of the United States and moves his family to the depths of Honduras to begin anew. As the heat and the realities of living off the grid begin to settle in and Allie’s lofty ambitions grow more and more chaotic, the Fox family is pushed to their very limits in order to survive.

Told in first-person narration from the perspective of the eldest son, 13-year-old Charlie Fox, Paul Theroux’s novel is some of the most beautiful first-person writing I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading in my life. As Charlie watches his world – his father – falling apart around him, you truly feel like you know this young man who was forced to grow up in the blink of an eye simply because his father told him to. This book is clearly a classic you may never have heard of and Theroux just captures this young boy’s life in such a way that the depths are endless. It’s an adventure story, a family drama, and a question of how far you are willing to trust someone when that trust can get you killed just as much as walking away could.

It’s also an incredibly complex story. While everyone is very sympathetic, the Fox family is complicated. Charlie and his siblings are children so their choices cannot be judged too harshly by the readers, but when it comes to the mother – only referred to as Ma, Mom, or Mother – her dedication to Allie as he falls deeper and deeper into his own head is questionable at the very least. She’s someone I desperately want to understand but her loyalty reached a point where it could only be compared to a woman in a heavily abusive relationship that has been convinced she has nothing else but the man in her life. Allie as well. He is a lunatic who’s rantings and ravings are like that of a drunk throwing a temper tantrum or pleading for something that’s already there, but he cares about people. He wants to give better lives to those around him, whether it’s helping the immigrant workers in the states who live in squalor as if they were slaves or if it’s showing indigenous people of Honduras how to be self-sufficient without living in rags and huts that blow away with every storm.

I enjoyed how complicated of a character study this book is and how it forces you to make decisions about the world and about people as Charlie is making them. While I will say the language of this book is extremely dated, and is therefore uncomfortable at times for that reason, the points made about child labour and sweatshops as well as capitalism killing society as a whole are still incredibly relevant to today.

The Movie

Starring Harrison Ford alongside Helen Mirren, and with a young River Phoenix as Charlie, the film has a heavy hitting lead cast for the time it was released.

That being said, I felt that as solid the movie is, it misses out on a lot of Allie’s build up to complete insanity by leaving out the key moments that show just how manic he already was. Scenes where he pushes Charlie and manipulates Charlie’s faith in him we’re missing and while I know how difficult some of them would have been to film in the late 80s, I wish they had been kept.

Nitpicking aside, the cast is amazing. All of the people – actors or not – as the people of Honduras were fantastic and the children were all wonderful as well. Seeing a young Helen Mirren was neat as I’m only familiar with her more recent work, but this film makes it clear she’s always been a heavy hitter of an actress. Her love for Allie is so evident while her fears of what he’s capable of comes across even when her dialogue is limited. What I enjoyed best though was seeing Harrison Ford in a role that is entirely different from what he’s most famous for. Everyone knows smart-ass Han Solo. Everyone knows smart-ass Indiana Jones. But was anyone aware he can also be a villain? He is capable of playing a role full of manipulation and control and rage and passion and madness? Looks wise, I knew right away that Harrison Ford was the obvious choice for the role at the time, but seeing him pull it off was amazing. It was like seeing Tom Cruise in Interview with a Vampire and craving to see more of that evil from such an “all American action hero”.

While watching though, I found myself curious about how River Phoenix felt during filming. Not to turn this into a true crime op-ed or anything, but considering River Phoenix grew up in and was traumatized by the pedophilic cult known as The Children of God, I wonder what went through his mind playing a role of a helpless boy in the middle of nowhere, frightened by his commanding, controlling father. I can’t imagine that was easy for him.

All in all, the movie was worth watching but definitely read the book. Before, after, it doesn’t matter but it’s a phenomenal piece of writing and a fantastic piece of cinema.

ARC REVIEW: Reign of the Seven Spellblades #1

Thank you so much to YenPress and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this (now available) incredible light novel!

When this series was announced to be licensed by YenPress, I had it on my TBR instantly. The cover was so beautiful I was here for the character designs immediately and the little blurb that was shared alongside the reveal had me interested for sure. So when I received the email from NetGalley that I was approved for a copy, I was so excited!

Right away, this light novel wasn’t what I was expecting. Really cute and funny right off the bat, it gave me Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya vibes with how ditzy but determined Nanao was and Oliver’s exasperation with all of his new friends was very much like Kyon. However, the comparison is more of a personal one, and each of the characters is honestly so much fun and I loved all of them right away. Then we get to Kimberly Academy, a magical school where death is damn near imminent at all times and the risk of losing your mind to the darkness of magical studies is a constant threat. As fun and light-hearted as the first half of this book is, it does get dark around the half-way mark as the true dangers of Kimberly begin to show themselves and hidden traits are revealed in the students themselves.

I got entirely sucked into this light novel and, again, I loved everything about it. The ending was such a drastic 180° flip from the rest of the story but that only makes me more desperate to get my hands on volume two. I can’t wait to see what Oliver does and how his relationship with Nanao develops! Someone give this series an anime deal immediately.

ARC REVIEW: The Album of Dr. Moreau

Thank you to Tordotcom and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of the eARC

This novella was amazing. I 100% requested it because of the amazing, Warhol-style pop-art cover, but wow this book is just as wonderful inside as it is on the outside.

A douche of a music producer is dead, and the suspects are all the members of the band he managed. But this isn’t a regular boy band. Each other members is unique in an entirely different way… they’re all humanoid animals. Bobby the ocelot, Matt the megabat, Tim the pangolin, Devin the bonobo, and Tusk the elephant all make up the hit boyband known as the WyldBoyZ and now everything is at risk with Dr. M’s death. Not only that, but the investigating detective, Luce Delgado, only has 24 hours to figure it all out before the feds get involved and potentially cause even more trouble.

This novella is a fast paced, locked-room murder mystery full of twists and turns that kept me guess right up until the big reveal. Every major player is incredible sweet and fully developed, drawing you to their side with ease. Not to mention the anthro aspect of each of the boys is such a neat idea and done so wonderfully. This isn’t a “furry story”, but the furry part of my brain was on cloud nine reading about these characters. I wish there was more because I loved it so much, but it’s the perfect length for what the story was and I’ll definitely be purchasing a physical copy come May because wow. I loved this so much.