What have I been up to? December

Screenshot from the Webtoon Spirit Fingers

Confession time. This new school year has been super busy. Therefore, my posts are slowing down. I hate when this happens especially because I’m in the middle of a Classic Movie marathon.

Oh well. I will try to be better in the future and accept that things are different when I’m working.

That aside, This month was great for books but not so much for shows. . . or movies. (There is one!)

Books

Abarat, by Clive Barker (5/5)

Candy lives in Chickentown USA: the most boring place in the world, her heart bursting for some clue as to what her future may hold. She is soon to find out: swept out of our world by a giant wave, she finds herself in another place entirely…

The Abarat: a vast archipelago where every island is a different hour of the day, from the sunlit wonders of Three in the Afternoon, where dragons roam, to the dark terrors of the island of Midnight, ruled by Christopher Carrion.

Candy has a place in this extraordinary world: she has been brought here to help save the Abarat from the dark forces that are stirring at its heart. Forces older than time itself, and more evil than anything Candy has ever encountered.

Synopsis via Goodreads

Reading this on my part should come as no surprise. I re-read Abarat and its sequels once a year. I mean, it’s one of my favorite book series of all time.

The reason I have it listed here is because I actually listened to the audiobook instead of reading the physical copy. I am happy to report the audiobook, read by Richard Ferrone, was just as magical of an experience as usual.

What I noticed, especially hearing it, was how well Barker sets up his characters. Not only does he provide beautiful illustrations on almost every page of the book itself, but his prose gives wonderful descriptions that are easy to picture in the mind EVEN without the pictures.

Maybe I’m biased, but this book is pretty fantastic. Who am I kidding, I’m totally biased. If you are interested in quirky fantasy, especially in children’s books, give this a listen or read!

Dark Waters by Katherine Arden (3/5)

Having met and outsmarted the smiling man in Dead Voices but fearful of when he’ll come again, Ollie, Brian, and Coco are anxiously searching for a way to defeat him once and for all. By staying together and avoiding remote places, they’ve steered clear of him so far but their constant worry and stress is taking a toll on their lives and friendship. So when Ollie’s dad and Coco’s mom plan a “fun” boat trip on Lake Champlain, the three are apprehensive to say the least. They haven’t had the best of luck on their recent trips and even worse their frenemy Phil is on the boat as well. But when a lake monster destroys their boat, they end up shipwrecked on a deserted island. This isn’t just any island though. It’s hidden from the outside world in a fog and unless everyone works together to find a way to escape, they won’t survive long.

Synopsis via Goodreads

Don’t get me wrong, I really loved Small Spaces and Dead Voices in this same series. This third installment felt a little incomplete to me. I just kept thinking there should be more to talk about and explore on the creepy island they land on.

I also wanted to learn more about Brian, especially since he was the narrator.

Plus, I guessed everything too easily. This doesn’t mean it was NOT well written or enjoyable for me. It’s just my experience felt a little unsatisfying because I wanted MORE.

Cinders and Sparrows by Stefan Bachmann (4/5)

When a scarecrow climbs over the garden wall, delivering twelve-year-old orphan Zita Brydgeborn a letter saying she has inherited a distant castle, she jumps at the chance of adventure. But little does she know that she is about to be thrust into a centuries-old battle between good and evil. Blackbird Castle was once home to a powerful dynasty of witches, all of them now dead under mysterious circumstances. Zita is the last of her line. And Zita, unfortunately, doesn’t know the first thing about being a witch.

As she begins her lessons in charms and spells with her guardian, Mrs. Cantanker, Zita makes new allies—a crow, a talking marble head, two castle servants just her age named Bram and Minnifer, and the silent ghost of a green-eyed girl. But who is friend and who is foe? Zita must race to untangle her past and find the magic to save the home she’s always hoped for. Because whatever claimed the souls of her family is now after her.

Synopsis via Goodreads

Such an engaging story! The mystery was quite engaging and I didn’t guess everything that would happen. (If you haven’t noticed, this is usually a big deal for me. I don’t like mysteries and plots to be too easy to figure out.)

Not only that, but the main character Zita had a refreshing amount of wit and spunk to her, which made the story all the more interesting to me. Kudos to Justine Eyre for being a wonderful narrator as well!

All in all, this was a very enjoyable read and I recommend it for those who like magic and mystery.

Manga/Webtoons

Gakuen Babysitters by Tokeino, Hari (5/5)

Ryuuichi Kashima has always taken care of his little brother Kotarou due to their parents traveling most of the time. After the Kashimas suddenly die in a plane crash, an elderly woman named Youko Morinomiya offers to become the brothers’ guardian until they both become adults. It turns out that she lost her son and daughter-in-law in the same tragedy. The teenage Ryuuichi can also attend the school where Youko works as chairwoman, on one condition: he must be part of the “babysitting club,” which serves as a place to look after the children of professors.

At first, it may seem like a rough start for Ryuuichi, but with the help of his classmate Hayato Kamitani and many others, he will experience novel adventures with the children in the club.

Synopsis via Myanimelist

Honestly, by the end of the day, I don’t need drama or intense shonen manga. Therefore, manga like Gakuen Babysitters is perfect for my tired, beaten brain.

What I like about this series is it really isn’t about romance like most shojo manga. Plus, the main character Ryuuichi isn’t some crime-fighting action hero. He’s just a regular high school boy who works in a nursery.

I have a soft spot for male characters who are HEALERS.

Anyway, if you like really down-to-earth manga give this one a look! It’s cute and has plenty of adorable children to soothe your soul.

Love Quest For a Servant Girl by Danalee and Jeongdam (3.5/5) so far. . .

To pass the time before surgery, Hwayoon read a romantic novel for some steamy scenes. Little did she know this would lead to her reincarnating into the story as an insignificant maid that’s executed soon after. The goal is to survive, but things get out of hand.

Synopsis via Myanimeplanet

So, strangely enough, I read this and had a lot to say about it. From the synopsis, it seems like it’s supposed to be a steamy romance. But, between who? The main girl, who goes into the novel, is actually only 14. Which does not make her the prime visual eye-candy you’d expect for a story such as this.

So far, there isn’t anything steamy about it. But a lot has been said about strange expectations people have FOR these kinds of stories. You know, prisoner becoming lover and healer to their abuser kind of stories. (Aka Stockholm Syndrome)

The servant girl knows the king is supposed to have an erotic relationship with the woman who becomes his prisoner because of her gift to elevate the heat and pain he carries because of his magic. But such a relationship doesn’t develop. Instead, the king becomes attached to the servant girl instead. She doesn’t elevate his pain. Rather, he feels warmth and peace when he touches her.

Whether this is meant to be a romantic plot or not is yet to be seen. What I found interesting is how the woman who becomes the servant girl starts to see and understand how unhealthy the relationships she read about for fun really are.

Once it finishes I’ll probably have more to say about it. Until then, I’ll keep my skepticals on. I feel like every time I read one of these webtoons I’m undergoing a cultural study.

He Can’t Be This Dumb! by Navi (3.5/5)

Renowned for its exclusivity, only the children of Korea’s elite can attend International Island High. But when Kang Doha, an ordinary girl from an average family, is given a lucky chance to enroll, she’s thrust into an unfamiliar world of money and power. Despite trying to fly under the radar, she somehow ends up in the same dorm as Rowoon, the most popular guy in school! He seems to have it all, but when it comes to girls, he’s completely clueless. Can Doha teach him how to win a girl’s heart?

Synopsis via mangahasu

I included this Webtoon for a similar reason as I did Love Quest For a Servant Girl. For this story, the expectations are a little different. There is always a filthy rich, smart, hot idiot who the main heroine meets and changes because of her goodness.

Yes, you’ve read this type of story before if you’re familiar with manga, teenage romance novels. . . or manhuas.

I wasn’t expecting much from this story. I think, I just needed something different than the “person waking up in a fantasy novel” trope I kept finding.

Now, this story, like its title, is NOT dumb. But it could prove me wrong. (It’s happened before.) So far, what’s intrigued me is the main guy Rowoon. He’s kind of clueless but not unkind. The author is very upfront about his problem. His friends are enabling and don’t correct him or go against anything he says or wants.

When he learns this, he doesn’t lash out at them, or the common girl who brought it to his attention. Rather, he turns to her for HELP. He genuinely wants to change.

Imagine my shock when I saw this. So, I’m going to keep following it just in case it turns out to be groundbreaking . . . or something. 🙂

Spirit Fingers by Han Kyoung Chal (5/5)

What do you do if you’re going on 18, totally awkward and lacking in self- confidence? You could just sit in your room all day and all night and study and wonder why you never get asked out…OR, if you’re Amy Song you could join up with the Spirit Fingers – the strangest, hippest, coolest (yet most welcoming) art club ever. But as Amy is about to learn, discovering your TRUE colors is about more than just painting.

Synopsis via Webtoon

When I need a confidence boost and a little insight I tend to go back and read this gloriously, wonderful Webtoon.

I love the characters, how flavorful their personalities, motivations, and arcs are.

I love the colorful artwork, unique to the artist.

I love the many romances sprinkled throughout the story.

In this last read, I also realized what my taste in romance actually is. Romances need to be about more than falling in love. Characters need a variety of goals. Romances are also best for me when they show characters growing toward each other. (I’m talking about YOU Fruits Basket, my absolute favorite manga) Not falling all over each other once they realize they “love” each other.

Anyway, if you are looking for a fun time that will quite possibly make you cry as well this is the Webtoon for you.

Our Beloved Summer by Han Kyoung Chal (?/5)

At Midsummer High, Yeonsu Guk is at the top of her class, while Wung Choi is ranked dead-last. And it’s not just their grades — their personalities couldn’t be more different, as Yeonsu is a no-nonsense stickler and Wung is a care-free slacker. When a filmmaker comes to make a documentary about their school life over the course of a month, they’re not exactly thrilled to be spending so much time together. However, as the month goes on, they begin to discover each other’s hidden depths. At least one thing’s for certain — they’ll never forget this summer!

Synopsis via Webtoon

From what I know, this is also a pretty popular Korean drama at the moment. I started reading it because the author also wrote Spirit Fingers. So far, I don’t know what to think. It will take time for me to know exactly what I feel. So I’ll update it later once I’m certain.

Until then, I love the art and the story.

Movies

Encanto from Disney Studios (9/10)

Encanto tells the tale of an extraordinary family, the Madrigals, who live hidden in the mountains of Colombia, in a magical house, in a vibrant town, in a wondrous, charmed place called an Encanto. The magic of the Encanto has blessed every child in the family with a unique gift from super strength to the power to heal-every child except one, Mirabel. But when she discovers that the magic surrounding the Encanto is in danger, Mirabel decides that she, the only ordinary Madrigal, might just be her exceptional family’s last hope.

Synopsis via IMDB

Behold the one and only remarkable movie I watched in December. (The other is a classic film so it will have its own post.)

Everyone seems to be talking about this movie. It’s for good reason. It has such beautiful visuals, staging, and unique transitions between its musical numbers and dialogue.

The characters and Madrigal family are simply a delight to watch! Plus, I appreciated seeing not one but THREE healthy marriages and a lovely collection of kids to match.

That said I know what everyone who loves this movie really wants to know. What is my favorite song? (Bravo Lin-Manuel Miranda for yet another wonderful set of musical numbers for me to enjoy!)

Well. . . here they are.

5. Columbia, Mi Encanto, It’s catchy and I see such beautiful colors when I sit and listen to it. (No I’m not crazy! Try it sometimes. People usually see music in color.)

4. Family Madrigal, Beautiful and fun way to introduce not only the characters but the underlying drama underlying the whole story.

3. Surface Pressure, the staging in this animated sequence is incredible! I also really like the singer, I think her name is Sophia. . .

2. We Don’t Talk About Bruno, Of COURSE I love this song. I felt through the words and animation just as confused as Marabel. Plus, the more I listen to it the more nuances in the lyrics and music I notice. It’s a definite win for a musician who gets bored of music FAST.

1. Dos Oruguitas, my goodness this song is simply beautiful. I don’t speak Spanish and I still cried while listening to it when watching the movie.

All this said I’ll most likely flesh this movie out more later. It’s great! Give it a look if you love Columbian music and colorful visuals.

Anime

Komi Can’t Communicate animated by OLM (6/10)

Hitohito Tadano is an ordinary boy who heads into his first day of high school with a clear plan: to avoid trouble and do his best to blend in with others. Unfortunately, he fails right away when he takes the seat beside the school’s madonna—Shouko Komi. His peers now recognize him as someone to eliminate for a chance to sit next to the most beautiful girl in class.

Gorgeous and graceful with long, dark hair, Komi is universally adored and immensely popular despite her mysterious persona. However, unbeknownst to everyone, she has crippling anxiety and a communication disorder which prevents her from wholeheartedly socializing with her classmates.

When left alone in the classroom, a chain of events forces Komi to interact with Tadano through writing on the blackboard, as if in a one-way conversation. Being the first person to realize she cannot communicate properly, Tadano picks up the chalk and begins to write as well. He eventually discovers that Komi’s goal is to make one hundred friends during her time in high school. To this end, he decides to lend her a helping hand, thus also becoming her first-ever friend.

Synopsis via Myanimelist

People told me this was one of the cutest, most wholesome stories they’ve seen in a long time.

I don’t get it. Of course, I like Komi and her first friend Tadano. But most of the “friends” Komi finds are dysfunctional and toxic. No joke. IF you’ve seen it think about it.

Himika, who is shy and wears glasses, insists on becoming Komi’s dog rather than a friend. In short, she’s a masochist who wants Komi to do “bad” things to her. Why? How is that wholesome?

Ren is a stalker who kidnaps a classmate, threatens to kill him and hide his body, and has an unhealthy obsession with Kimi. It is not normal to plaster someone’s pictures all over your wall or makes sexual overtures at them over. . . and over. . . again. Plus no one told her parents about her behavior. She “apologizes” and somehow is included in the friend group. And she continues her horrible behavior! Agh!

Sigh. . . . . Komi has so many anxiety problems because the people she is surrounded by are TOXIC and pervy. Seriously.

Anyway, if you couldn’t tell I didn’t like this story. I tried to like it. But honestly, it isn’t a healthy example of true friendship.

Restaurant to Another World animated by SILVER LINK. (7.5/10)

Western Restaurant Nekoya is a popular eatery located on a street corner in a Tokyo shopping district. Serving both traditional Japanese fare as well as Western dishes, this eating establishment is popular among Tokyo’s residents. But this seemingly ordinary restaurant is also popular with another type of clientele…

While the restaurant is thought to be closed on Saturdays, the truth is that on this special day each week, its doors are instead opened to the inhabitants of other worlds. From dragons and elves to fairies and mages, this restaurant has no shortage of strange customers. Nevertheless, the enigmatic chef known only as “Master” will be waiting to serve up their favorite dishes with a kind smile and keep them coming back for many more Saturdays to come.

Here’s the thing. I actually really like this anime. It’s calming and fun to see people find food they enjoy. Most of the great things of this world happen through small and simple acts of kindness and service.

I have one thing I don’t like about it. The ridiculous fanservice. It is legitimately unnecessary. It adds NOTHING to the story or character development.

Animators most likely put it in there because . . . they thought they could sell the show better that way? Goodness, the story is great without it. I get tired of seeing women portrayed as sex objects.

The funny truth is the second season has NO fan service. I think the animators learned their lesson.

Thanks for reading!

What Have I Been Up To? November

5 Comments

  1. Yeah, I feel about the same as you with regards to “Komi Can’t Communicate”. I just don’t get the appeal.

  2. Thanks so much for bringing Abarat to my attention. Yes, Clive Barker is someone I’ve been meaning to take a closer look at. I just got the Kindle version and, alas, that edition is not illustrated! I think if it were to come out today, it would definitely include the artwork. Well, I can always get an actual printed book!

    1. aubreym3 says:

      Abarat is great as well as The thief of always. He does his own artwork.

      1. Yes, that sounds great! Thank you.

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