Fruits Basket Review

Summary fruits basket

Fruits Basket is a slice-of-life manga with the supernatural thrown in!

Tohru Honda is just a normal high school student.  That is until a fateful encounter with one of her classmates leads her into the mysterious world of the Sohma family…

After her mother’s death leaves her orphaned, tenth grader Tohru Honda was living in a tent in the woods and working her way through school.  When she bumps into her classmate Yuki Sohma, one of the most sought after boys in school, and he discovers her living arrangements he offers her a place to stay with him and his cousin Shigure.

Although flabbergasted at first Tohru eventually accepts their offer.  The Sohma seem like a normal family…but Tohru quickly discovers the Sohma Clan is anything but normal.

Shortly after arriving Tohru meets another member of the Sohma family, Kyo, after he crashes through a wall and challenges Yuki to a fight.  Surprised Tohru grabs on to Kyo’s back…and finds herself holding a cat.  It is then Tohru Honda becomes the first person outside of the family to learn the secret of the Sohma Clan.  The secret of the Zodiac’s curse.

Fourteen are chosen.  Twelve respected.  One outcasted.  One God.  All cursed.  The cycle has repeated for generations.  Now one ordinary girl will be lead into the Sohma family, and perhaps change things for the better.  But the question still remains, can the curse really be broken?

Thoughts on Fruits Basket

Fruits Basket has got romance, comedy, and a cursed clan based on the legend of the Zodiac.  I couldn’t put it down.  This is one of those mangas that makes you wish the next one would just hurry up and get here.

The story itself is expertly crafted.  On the one hand we’ve got a story about a young girl who has become orphaned after her mother’s tragic death, and is working as hard as she can to finish high school.  She’s got friends, exams, and homework as well as a job; and does all this with a carefree optimistic attitude masking an inner pain.

On the other hand we have the Sohma Clan.  An ancient family with problems of their own.  This family carries the curse of the Zodiac and every few generations certain people are chosen to host the spirits of those sacred animals.

They must obey the person who has been reincarnated as “God”, and must be careful of any outside contact they receive.  For if they are hugged by a member of the opposite sex outside the Zodiac they will turn into the animal they hold within them.  The regular twelve have it hard enough, but the ostracized Cat has even more problems to deal with.

When these two worlds collide we end up with a story that is both heartfelt and funny.  One of my favorite scenes throughout the entire series is in the beginning when Tohru first finds out about the Sohma’s secret.  Somehow not only does she accidentally turn Kyo into a cat, she manages to turn both Shigure and Yuki into a dog and rat, respectively.  She freaks out and then Shigure, still as a dog, must explain (yes they can talk as animals).

It’s such a comedic way to explain a rather serious issue in the Sohma, and to introduce the reader to the main plot of the series.  Even when the story becomes more serious, comedic scenes are well placed to break up the drama and ease the tension.

This type of comedy continues throughout the story as Tohru meets the other members of the Zodiac, and their leader Akito. The one with the powers of God.

Tohru is a wonderful heroine, mostly because she doesn’t know she’s the heroine and would probably try to decline the role if she knew, claiming that there must be someone better than her to play it.  Then she’d probably go and make everyone onigiri (Japanese rice balls).

Tohru has a very hard life and a lot of painful things in it, but she always manages to be optimistic.  Which is why so many of the hard-edged Sohma who carry so many scars take to her, open up, and let her in.  Tohru gives them more than just kindness, she gives them understanding.

Romance was another big thing in this manga series.  I really enjoyed all the relationships, though I must be honest it’s very unclear just who will end up with who until the end.

There’s so much back and forth and proclamations of love that might just be over dramatic friendship, but might be more.  You really need to read the entire series to find out for sure.  Very clever Natsuki Takaya.

The main relationship is kind of a love triangle between the main characters Tohru, Yuki, and Kyo.  But like all the relationships in Fruits Basket this love triangle may not be entirely what it seems.

In any case the relationship between these three, whatever it may be, carries the story through to its completion.

Yuki as the Rat, the first animal of the Zodiac, and Kyo as the outcasted Cat, the one that didn’t make it to the banquet, have been hated rivals their whole lives.  A rivalry Tohru may be able to heal.  Just as she may be able to heal everyone in the Zodiac.  Maybe even heal the curse.

Follow Tohru, Yuki, and Kyo, along with the other members of the Zodiac as they work to break the curse, find their place in the world, and maybe even fall in love.  Fruits Basket is a funny romantic ride that you’ll never forget.

Other Details

My Recommendation:  This manga series is rated T, for ages thirteen and up.  There’s not really that much violence or sexual scenes (though there are a lot of innuendos), but with all the cursing I’d say that rating is probably accurate.

Manga-ka: Natsuki Takaya

Genre(s): romance, comedy, fantasy, slice-of-life

Publisher (in US): Tokyopop

Volumes Released (in English): 23; this series is complete

First Released (in English): 2004

 

 

The Heretic Queen Review

Summary the heretic queen

The world of Nefertari is brought to life in Michelle Moran’s exciting work of historical fiction, The Heretic Queen.

In Ancient Egypt as the star of the nineteenth dynasty takes the throne, it is from the previous, despised, dynasty he will take his queen.

The eighteenth dynasty of Egypt has burned.  The hated Nefertiti and Akhenaten along with their monotheistic regime are gone.  Nefertari, niece of Nefertiti, is the only remnant of this royal family that remains.

Taken in by Seti I and raised in his court she is given free reign to run wild and do as she pleases.  But as she grows older Nefertari realizes she must find a stable position in the dynasty or be cast aside.

Under the guidance of the Priestess of Hathor (and Seti’s sister) Nefertari is taught and cultured.  Learning everything a queen would need to know.

When Ramses II becomes pharaoh it is Nefertari that catches his eye, and the two wed.  But Nefertari comes from a family of branded heretics; from a dynasty the people of Egypt fear will be repeated.

As tensions run high and with scheming political adversaries around every corner, Nefertari will have to work quickly and cleverly to save the man she loves, and prove to the people of Egypt that she is deserving of being his queen.

Thoughts on The Heretic Queen

This is an excellent work of historical fiction.  It keeps the suspense up even as it pulls from legitimate and well researched historical fact.

I really enjoy Michelle Moran’s work, especially how she always finds a fairly well known period of history, and then tells it from the perspective of a not well known character.

Although she was queen to Ramses, not much is known about Nefertari.  Part of that is because Ramses the Great kind of eclipsed everything, but another reason is because Nefertari herself is kind of a mystery.  Even though her tomb has been discovered, archaeologists still debate over who she actually was and where she came from.

The most likely theory is the one Michelle Moran uses in this book: that Nefertari was the niece of Nefertiti.  Having the story told by Nefertari herself was also very well done and I highly enjoyed it.

It is clear that Moran did her research as Nefertari’s thoughts and actions are so believable that sometimes you have to remember that this is fiction!

Nefertari herself I loved.  She was a very complex character just as the real Nefertari was a complex woman.  I liked how you got to see from the perspective of an actual wife of a pharaoh, how that job description was much more involved than people think.

Obviously as his wife you have to give him children, preferably male children, and for a Princess of Egypt that is as far as it goes; but not for a Queen.  I like how this book showed Nefertari’s intelligence, cleverness, and tactfulness in matters of politics especially with other empires.  She was not just a pretty face.

The romance in this story was eye-opening.  I never considered that the pharaoh in Ancient Egypt who had so many wives could legitimately love one of them.  I suppose that’s modern bias, but reading this book changed all of that.

Underneath all the political tension and battles with invading empires, this is a love story at heart.  There are numerous occasions in the book where Ramses shows that he truly loves Nefertari; especially when he favors her over his other wife Iset.  Reading this romance gave me goosebumps it was so beautiful.

Of course it wasn’t all a bed of roses as Nefertari finds herself working against many adversaries who will do anything to make sure Ramses does not name her his Chief Wife, and thus Queen of Egypt.

Her main allies include her beloved nurse Merit who raised her and Woserit Priestess of Hathor and one of Pharaoh Seti’s sisters.

But it is Pharaoh’s other sister, Henuttway a Priestess of Isis, Nefertari must watch out for.  She is backing Iset to become Ramses’s queen and will do anything to make sure it happens; even betray him.

The Heretic Queen will keep you on the edge of your seat as you follow Nefertari through war, love, and political ambitions as she fights for her place at Ramses’s side.

From her own witty perspective Nefertari shares her story, and perhaps even sheds some light on the real Nefertari.  The only woman to ever enchant the heart of Ramses the Great.

Other Details

My Recommendation: This book can be found in the adult fiction section of any bookstore, but I’d say around sixteen and up would be fine to read it.  Remember just because something is in the adult section does not necessarily mean that someone under eighteen can’t enjoy reading it!

Author: Michelle Moran

Genre(s): historical fiction, romance

Pages: 382

Publisher: Three Rivers Press

First Released: 2008

The Betrayal Knows My Name Review

Quick info about this type of book review before I get started.  This book is a manga, and as anyone who reads manga knows the title is for the entire series not just one book.  As such for this and any other manga I look at it, the review will be of the series as a whole (whether finished or ongoing).

Summary the betrayal knows my name

The Betrayal Knows My Name starts with a boy named Yuki Sakurai.  He has been raised in an orphanage since he was a baby.  He has a kind heart and helpful nature, but has always felt somehow alone and constantly fearing that people will find out about his strange ability to see people’s deepest secrets and cruelest emotions.  The darkest parts of their hearts are open to Yuki through one simple touch.

Left in the bushes in front of the orphanage, no one ever saw or knew who his parents were or where he came from.  Yuki wants more than anything to be needed, and wishes to know what his purpose is.  Why was he born?  Just as Yuki turns fifteen and starts high school his questions will be answered in the strangest way.

Trying to aid a friend Yuki is nearly run down by a car, and saved at the last moment by a strikingly beautiful man with silver eyes.  Eyes that seem to tug at something deep in Yuki’s soul.

Before Yuki can even understand his sudden feeling of connection to a man he’s only just met, he is attacked by monster-like creatures.  He is saved by the silvered-eye man again as well as two high school students.

Then Yuki learns of the battle between the Giou Clan, a clan whose members have supernatural abilities like his own, and the Duras, or demons.  This battle has been raging for over a thousand years, with the same warriors of the Giou being reborn again and again until it is done.  It is a battle that Yuki has a large role in.  A role he has played many times before.

Moving to Tokyo to take his place among the Giou, Yuki must learn to control his powers if he is to help his new found family.  But far greater challenges than Yuki knows await him.  Will he be able to figure out why he feels such a strong connection to the silver-eyed Duras, Luka who seems to have joined the Giou solely to protect Yuki?  And when the true reason for this war comes to light will Yuki be able to handle a betrayal he never saw coming?

Thoughts on The Betrayal Knows My Name

I have read many a manga in my time.  So many in fact that at one point I found that I couldn’t get into them like I used to.  The Betrayal Knows My Name changed all that.  I could not put it down.  I read the first volume, and had to get the rest as soon as possible.

I’ve often said that the best characters in manga have tragic back stories.  It’s a sad fact, but if a character does not have a tragic back story (or no back story at all) they are not that great of a character in manga.

In this manga all the characters blew me away.  They all have perfect tragic back stories (with a bunch of past lives behind them of course they would).  This makes excellent fodder for the emotional depth of the plot as the characters must work out many hard things while already in the very hard situation of war.

I love them all really, but if I told you about all the characters we’d be here all day.  The main focus of this manga is the character Yuki and his relationship with everyone, especially Luka.

Those two have a very important relationship linking back to Yuki’s past life.  I won’t go into full details here because I want you to read it for yourselves, but their relationship is the one I really love the most.

Luka really is the perfect guy and Yuki you really just want to hug.  He’s always trying to solve everyone else’s problems no matter how much pain it causes him and never worrying about himself.  But never fear that’s what Luka is there for.

I really love both of these characters, and have reread their numerous scenes together just because I can’t get enough.  I really want them to be happy.  I really want all the characters to end up happy.

That’s the way this manga makes you feel.  Like you know them all and want them to be happy in the end because after a thousand years of war they deserve it.

The title was what drew me to this manga in the first place.  Even though I have read all the ones that are currently out (in English) I still haven’t quite worked out what it means.

The thousand year war was started by a member of the Giou Clan (not saying who) who betrayed them to the Duras.  So I guess that’s the big betrayal, but within the story there are many other betrayals that are going on.

The Giou lie to each other, withhold information, and everyone seems to have a secret agenda.  It certainly makes a great story that keeps you guessing (despite the confusing title).

The element of the supernatural and a war between humans and demons going on in secret alongside modern day Tokyo makes for a great story in its own right, and the characters and their complex relationships carry it through.

The artwork in this manga is honestly some of the best I’ve ever seen.  It’s so beautiful and somewhat sad.  It’s like Hotaru Odagiri has taken the essence of the story and given it physical form in her drawings.  Just beautiful.  An overall superb manga in every possible way.

Other Details

My Recommendation: The official ranking on this is Older Teen.  Stick to that.  It’s not quite in the levels of the M rating (eighteen and up) but this series is definitely in the range of sixteen and up.  This manga is NOT for children.

Manga-ka (author): Hotaru Odagiri

Genre(s): fantasy, romance, shounen ai (this is a manga genre that features boys being intimate with each other in between friends and lovers) leading towards yaoi (this is the genre of boy love; I think and hope its heading this way anyway!)

Publisher (English): Yen Press

Volumes Released (in English): 6 (first five hold two volumes in one); this series is still ongoing

First Released (in English): 2011

 

 

Iceland Review

Summary iceland

In Betsy Tobin’s sweeping saga the ancient world of Iceland comes to life as myth meets reality, the bonds of family are tested by forbidden love, and gods come to earth as Iceland’s legendary volcano is about to blow.

The year is 1000 A.D. and Iceland is still a land with ancient traditions dating to the Vikings with rituals and beliefs that clash with those of the encroaching missionaries of Christianity.

Freya, a goddess of Asgard, has come to Earth in search of a necklace that may aid her in altering the course of history from the disaster she has heard prophesied.  She finds it in the land of the underground world of dwarfs where to obtain it she will have to make a deal with the four brothers who crafted it.

Meanwhile a young girl named Fulla is promised to man she hardly knows only to realize she is in love with a young man from a farm that neighbors her family’s.  A family that has been in a feud with her family for generations.

The bonds of love and faith are tested as the magic of the gods runs throughout Iceland as a clash between the ancient beliefs and Christianity grows closer.  A clash that could uproot all the ways of the Icelandic people, that is if the ever looming danger of the volcano does not uproot it first.

Thoughts on Iceland

When I first picked up this book I really wasn’t sure what to expect.  I just knew that I had a fascination with Iceland and a story that takes place back in the year 1000 always sounds good.  I am so glad that I found this book.  From its majestic view of Iceland to its look at the people of this land on the midst of a religious revolution with a little godly influence thrown in this book is one wild ride.

The overall story of Freya is actually based on a real myth from Iceland about how the goddess Freya met up with four dwarf brothers to broker a deal for their golden necklace.   Betsy Tobin’s tale adds more danger and magic to this myth which made for an exciting and crazy adventure for all the characters.  As whenever gods get involved in human affairs things are sure to get turned upside down.

Romance also is a big factor in this novel.  Fulla and Vili are basically the Icelandic Romeo and Juliet as they fight to be together despite their families’ feuding history.  The other great romance in this novel is that between Freya and Dvalin, one of the dwarf brothers who crafted the necklace. Honestly I enjoyed their relationship more than Fulla and Vili’s.  Neither one of them could stand the other at first and yet they couldn’t stop talking to each other.  It was funny and sweet seeing them play hard ball with each other but with an underlying tenderness.

The stories of Freya, Dvalin, Fulla, and Vili all intertwine throughout the novel. All come to a head when the final push for Christianity to take over Iceland is made and the disaster Freya was warned of sweeps across the land as the sleeping volcano awakes.

Other Details

My Recommendation: I would say this book is definitely for teens and up.  Personally I read it in college and was enthralled, so even if you’re past the teenage years this is still a book that would be well enjoyed.  I would say this is probably not a book for young children though.  Wait until they’re a little older before showing them this.

Author: Betsy Tobin

Genre(s): Fantasy, romance

Pages: 354

Publisher: Plume, The Penguin Group

First Released: September, 2009 (in US)