Monthly Archives: April 2014

Vagabond by Inoue Takehiko

Author’s Note:  For consistency, all Japanese names in this review will be in traditional order – surname first, and given second.

 

13Vagabond

 

Inoue Takehiko has created a masterpiece in Vagabond – not just for the breathtaking artwork, but for the story as well. A loose retelling of Yoshikawa Eiji’s 1935 novel Musashi, in turn loosely based on history, this manga series follows Miyamoto Musashi as he follows the way of the sword, testing his skill in mortal combat, ultimately transforming him through introspection into a more whole and compassionate human being. Yet, despite the action-heavy premise, characters drive the plot and interest.

 

Slam Dunk

 

The author’s previous experience with the high school basketball saga Slam Dunk informs the fight scenes with the crackle of tension and physical struggle, yet the characters and their development through slow growth and sudden insight hold just as much interest, if not more, as duels to the death. Tightly plotted encounters and fleshed-out characters illustrate facets of the journey to enlightenment in the way of the sword. What to do with pain and rage or even kindness in an unfair and often violent world – this question, and the success different characters have in answering it, lies at the heart of the story. Is it possible to run away forever, from pain and responsibility, as Matahachi tries to do? What if rage grows unchecked, as it does for Gion Toji? Grief, love, and death stand as open and complex questions underpinning the plot. Despite characters’ places in the story as questions or foils, they each grow, or fail to, thrive, or die, in a vivid and electrically realistic way.

Inoue has taken liberties with the original novel, but even those update and refresh aspects that would not be as relatable to a modern audience. The character Otsu, for example, while a blank, rather flat archetype of a love interest in the original novel – is a much more developed, complex person in Vagabond, struggling to transcend her own abandonment and rejection, first by her birth parents, then by her fiancée, and even her own adopted mother.

21Vagabond

It takes a lot of guts for an author to adapt a classic and acclaimed work of literature from the past for the present. In addition to the pitfalls inherent in re-telling a well-known story (how to keep it fresh?), every decision the author makes comes under microscopic scrutiny (what to change, what to keep?). Even more challenging, then, is an adaptation across media, such as turning a Shakespeare play into a film. Adapting a beloved work of the modern literary canon for a comic book, however, is audacious, bordering on career suicide. Yet, Inoue Takehiko has done just this, and triumphed. Whether you love manga already, or if you have never tried the medium, Vagabond is a thrill to read – intelligent, sophisticated, and driven by the sensitive depiction of its characters.

 

Editor’s Note:  If you are new to the Japanese format of manga (or its sister format anime), check out the author’s FAQ (which is also available on the Reader’s Corner’s Comics and Manga page).

Formats Available:  Manga

Reviewed by Katherine, Highlands-Shelby Park Branch

Don’t Look Back by Jennifer L. Armentrout

dont look back

What would you do if you woke up in the hospital, not knowing who you were, and also learning that your best friend went missing on the same day and hasn’t been found? Do you try and solve the mystery on your own or do you just give up?

When I first began reading Don’t Look Back by Jennifer L. Armentrout, I thought to myself that is seemed like I had read it before. The storyline seemed to be a little bit overused. But once I got past the first three chapters, I could tell that it was going to be nothing like I had ever read.

This book had mystery, intrigue, love and horror, all wrapped up into one crazy book. The main character, Samantha, known to her friends as Sam, wakes up in the hospital, not knowing who she is, where she was when they found her, and how she got to the hospital. She also finds out that her best friend, Cassie, is also missing. We learn that she has suffered some form of traumatic amnesia and she must learn who she is all over again. As she starts to talk to the people that were closest to her, including her twin brother Scott, she finds out that she was the queen bee of a group of mean girls who “ruled the school.”

As the story progresses, Sam begins to disassociate with her previous “friends” and begins the task of trying to mend some broken friendships, including that of Carson, whose father works for Samantha’s family and whom she learns used to be her best friend. Of course, she was an utter crazy person to him but he begins to see that maybe she has changed for the better.

As new facts begin to surface, Samantha begins to see that things were the way they were in her life because she was trying to be someone that she wasn’t.  Once she took her life in her own hands, the people around her begin to drastically change. All the while, she is trying to figure out what happened the night that she and Cassie disappeared and, more importantly, where in the heck was Cassie?

There are so many things in the book that make it exceptional. If I write too much, I would give the story away and then what would be the point of you reading it on your own? Let me just say this, you will be very shocked to find out the surprise twist. I would highly recommend this book to teenagers over the age of fifteen. The reasoning behind this is because there are some subject matter in the book that is very mature. I would almost say that it borders on being a New Adult book, but older teenagers would find it very intriguing.

I gave the book four stars and not five because the amnesia story has been done so many times. As a matter of fact, there was a book published recently with the same premise, girl has amnesia, finds out she is super rich and that she was a super-bitch. You know, been there, read that. I almost put it down and did not finish but I also wanted to see if it had any redeeming qualities and if it was like any of the others that I ever read and I’m glad I did. It completely blew my mind. I’m super glad that I didn’t judge this book by the storyline.

Formats Available:  Book

Reviewed by Damera, Okolona Branch

Key series by Nora Roberts

Sometimes family isn’t just about the blood that runs through your veins.  Sometimes family is also the bond you form in your most desperate of hours when it seems like all hope might be lost, and the love that grows from that, that could last a lifetime. This is what I often call my heart family, the ones who’ll stand beside me no matter what happens, not because we share blood, but because we share our hearts.

So, if you take that concept of a heart family, throw in a couple of Welsh and Celtic gods, cursed sister souls trapped in a box for a few thousand years and throw in the incredible writing skills of  Ms. Nora Roberts, what do you come up with?  Why that would be the KEY series of course.

keyolite

So our trilogy begins with three beautiful strangers who all live in Pleasant Valley but have never actually met, all of them twenty-something professionals on the verge of a major career change… or possibly a crashing and crushing end of those respective careers?  The first story (Key of Light) focuses on Malory Price, the art expert and manager for the town’s most successful gallery.  She knows her art and her customers too well, and quickly tangles with the owner’s new trophy wife (who, well, doesn’t know art) and puts her career and her future on the chopping block.  

keyoknowledg

Second comes (Key of Knowledge) and Dana Steele, the town’s highly skilled and super well-read librarian, and the go to girl for world class trivia challenges, who’s fighting both nepotism and budget cuts within the ;system’.  Third comes (Key of Valor) and Zoe McCourt a struggling but talented hairstylist, and warrior hearted mother to 9 year old Simon who has a jealous salon manager who’s bent on seeing her fired.

keyovalor

All three ladies are brought together on one dark and stormy night (yes, the classic line is finally brought to life in this series) for a cocktail party hosted by the mysterious Rowena and Pitt, an old souled couple who own Warrior’s Peak, the ethereal fortress of stone high up on the hill that overlooks Pleasant Valley… guardians of the valley, or so it seems. Shockingly, they are the only three guests to be invited, and there seems to be no connection between the three ladies at first, other than, of course their eerie and striking resemblance to the ‘Daughters of Glass’ a trio of demi-goddess sisters whose souls were cursed three centuries ago.

And therein lays the challenge of the gods…literally.  Can this valiant trio of women of women, in just one short cycle of the moon, find one of three lost keys?  These keys can, when brought together, unlock the prison box, and release the souls of those three trapped demi-goddesses before it’s too late and the curse lasts forever.

And what is their reward, just for accepting the challenge that they, at first, think is totally crazy?  Why $25,000 of course…each, upon acceptance of the contract, with an ultimate prize of $1 million for each woman should all them succeed in their quest.

And little do these three ‘sisters’ know that they are beginning the quest of a lifetime, (of many lifetimes and of many trios of women as it turns out) a friendship and sisterhood is quickly formed, and a family (of sorts) is born.

Enter Simon, the spitting image of his ‘pulled herself up by her bootstraps’ mom Zoe, whose spirit simply cannot be tamed and whose curiosity and energy knows no bounds.  Then there’s Flynn, Dana’s step-brother and his incorrigible beast of a dog Moe (if that’s what you dare to call an animal which is more wooly mammoth than actual pooch).  Flynn falls hard for, and ON, Malory the first time they met, with the help of Moe who has so much energy to burn he might be considered a hazard.  He’s a flirt (Flynn and Moe) and may just be more than Malory bargained for.  So, can she, the woman who’s planned her life out in detail and reset her plan yearly get passed the goofiness of Moe to fall for Flynn too. 

And Flynn is only the beginning.  He’s also one part of a ‘trinity’ himself, with two childhood best friends who all share a long history in the valley. 

One, Jordan, is the famous author and golden child success story of Pleasant Valley. He has a heart filled with regrets over a decision made in haste when he was no more than a boy, who, as a man, still pines for the woman whose heart he callously broke and for the love of the one woman he cared for, but sacrificed far too easily because he didn’t understand that real love, with that one, good woman (Dana) could cure any pain in his heart, even that of the loss of a parent.  Can Dana forgive the man, and risk her heart again to the boy who broke it?

The other friend is Brad, the rich boy from town and the heir apparent to the town’s lumber dynasty.  He fell head over heels for a woman he never met (Zoe) just from seeing her face in a painting.  Zoe, the poor white trash girl, who’s mom cut hair out of their trailer to feed her family, who never believed someone like him could fall so hard and so fast for a girl like her, much less the 9 year old that’s part of the package. But, alas, those are stories for the two sequels…ones well worth getting to know.

Formats Available:  Book, Audiobook

Reviewed by Tracie, Southwest Branch