Aug 14, 2017

Yotsuba&!

Vols 5 and 6
by Kiyohiko Azuma

Yotsuba is kinda crazy with the reactions. Her eagerness and innocent misunderstandings get her into some funny situations too. In volume 5 Yotsuba meets a life-size robot at Ena's house. Miura likes to trick Yotsuba, and Asagi is still a tease, but the one who really gets to Yotsuba is an acquaintance of Koiwai's who shows up- he really messes with her. Yotsuba and the girls nextdoor go stargazing with her dad and Jumbo. There's a very mundane but still amusing episode where Yotsuba and her dad walk in the rain to the DVD-rental place. Yotsuba mishears something her dad says and invites all the neighbors to go with them to the beach- when he hadn't planned to go at all. But they do. Fun in the waves, Yotsuba searches for shells with the girls, finds a hermit crab and pokes a jellyfish.

Volume 6 opens with Yotsuba experimenting with recycling. She collects unwanted objects from family and neighbors- and makes something! Her dad buys her a bicycle and she is super enthusiastic about it, but has trouble remembering to follow the rules. Like: don't go anywhere alone! She wants to do errands, and goes on a bike ride with Asagi and her friend. When she does take off by herself, it was for a good cause- she wanted to share something special with Fuuka, so followed her to the school. Grounded. (Except she calls it "dirted" in one scene which really made me laugh). In the last episode here, she helps Daddy and Jumbo make a bookshelf. Ha, I liked that part.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5             208 pages each, 2006

Aug 13, 2017

Wild Sex

The Science Behind Mating in the Animal Kingdom
by Dr. Carin Bondar

Brief segments dense on information about the wide variety of ways in which animals find partners, mate, and care for their young. I knew there was a lot of different stuff going on among animals- but not quite how much. Especially with invertebrates, wow some crazy things sure glad not to be a female insect. All the things we humans think of as degraded or unnatural sexual behaviors are actually fairly common among animals, according to this author. A few really interesting facts stuck with me: did you know that female birds can control what type of nutrients and hormones their eggs receive? It depends on the species- for some, they put more nutrients into an egg if they mate with a preferred, healthy male. If the male is of lower quality, they lay smaller eggs- not putting as much into them. For other birds whose chicks must face varying competition (a later hatchling, or a brood parasite in the nest) the mother can control how much testosterone each egg receives, to prepare her chick if needed.  The section of the book that I found most interesting- that about how the animals vary in their parenting styles- was the shortest. Also I found it kind of odd that while the source notes and glossary are extensive, there is no index. The book is based on a web series and you can tell- it reads similar to a book sourced from a blog.

I gave this one a 2 because while it was interesting, some of the information was just too much (I did not want to know about frustrated male sea lions taking advantage of penguins for example) and there were a few parts I skimmed over. Had to read it in pieces over several weeks (interspersed with Yotsuba) This book was originally published with the title: The Nature of Sex: the Ins and Outs of Mating in the Animal Kingdom. Personally, I like the original title better.

Rating: 2/5      366 pages, 2015

Aug 11, 2017

Yotsuba&!

Volume 4
by Kiyohiko Azuma

More fun seeing everyday events through the eyes of five-year-old Yotsuba. She is eager to play games with her Daddy- but gets upset because he always wins- even when she changes the rules. Jumbo takes the girls fishing. You'd be surprised which one was squeamish when it came to cleaning the fish. Yotsuba goes shopping with her dad for a special dinner- and when he finds he left his wallet at home, she steps right in to solve the problem- to his embarassment! Yotsuba discovers Fuka is very glum because she felt rejected by a boy she likes- and tries to console her. Then blabs Fuka's secret to the entire family when she decides to be a news reporter and has to think of some real event to announce. She does group exercises in the park with other kids. She wants to be a milkman and 'makes' milk out of water and paint- then gives it to her unsuspecting dad. And misunderstanding the onomatopoeic word for a cicada that also sounds like a word for a pointy hat- whom everyone says signals the end of summer- she dresses up in a triangular outfit and dances around like a fairy to magic the change of the seasons. That part was a bit hard to get sometimes, but the translator's notes help. It's hard to explain why the books is so charming and funny- you'd have to read it!

Rating: 3/5                 192 pages, 2005

Aug 8, 2017

Yotsuba&!

Volume 3
by Kiyohiko Azuma

More daily fun through the life of Yotsuba, this odd little five-year-old who tackles everything with enthusiasm. Part of the fun of Yotsubato is seeing how the ordinary things amaze this little girl, the summer is all one big eye-opening adventure for her. There's a hint at the very end that Yotsuba and her dad recently moved from somewhere more rural (they call this 'the big city' and one of the other kids protests: "it's not that big!").

Yotsuba experiences fireworks for the first time- initially doing some on the street with her neighbors, later attending a festival and seeing a fireworks show. She goes to the zoo with her dad- that was pretty funny- the things Yotsuba noticed about the animals as well as her dad's made-up facts. (Oh, and she punches a goat). Yotsuba tries to learn to play badminton. She hops on a city bus by herself- freaking out Fuka who had taken her along on errands. She meets a police officer, and finds out that Jumbo is a florist (who in a fit of pique fills her house with discarded flowers from the shop). The father of the three girls next door makes an appearance- he's not separated or deceased as they seemed to be joking/hinting at, but apparently just absent due to working all the time.

Looks like my library has the first twelve volumes; I am plowing through them with enjoyment.

Rating: 3/5                  176 pages, 2004

Yotsuba&!

Volume 2
by Kiyohiko Azuma

Cute, spunky kid. She doesn't get some ordinary things, puzzles at the meaning of big words. Eager for fun every day. There's an episode in here where she goes off with the older girls from next door to draw at the park. I liked that. There was an oh-so-familiar incident where Yotsuba insists the other girls tell her if her drawing is good- because of course her dad always says so. One of them is bluntly honest and says no, it's bad. The other girl of course doesn't want to hurt Yotsuba's feelings - so then Yotsuba is convinced one of them is lying! Because her art can't be both good and bad, can it? Yotsuba tries to draw a picture of Jumbo but it runs off the paper onto the table. So to make it properly big she draws out on the street.

She insists on having cake with the neighbors. She is left to her own devices when her dad is sleeping off an all-nighter. Ends up drawing on his face with marker, and then is terrified at the possible repercussions. There's almost just as much in here about the neighbor family as there is about Yotsuba- I'm starting to wonder what the story is behind the always-absent father, I suppose the backstory will be revealed eventually... They all go to the pool, and find out that neither Jumbo, Koiwai (Yotsuba's dad) or Fuka can swim. Yotsuba endeavors to teach them- hilarious. Turns out Jumbo really likes Asagi- the oldest girl next door- who is rather a tease (to her siblings).

Yotsuba tries to catch frogs and Miura (friend of the youngest neighbor) objects. We find out that Yotsuba is terrified of a bull's-eye thing that is in someone's yard (it looks like a target to me, but it's used to frighten away birds). Miura uses this against her in what turns into a uproarious fight- a teddy bear is the main casualty.

Slightly-disturbing episode in here where Yotsuba watches a gangster movie on tv with her dad and Jumbo. Then she immediately grabs her water pistol and goes off on a 'mission of revenge' in the neighborhood. The girls next door play along- to some extent. You could see this as a suggestion that violence on tv causes the same in kids' behavior, or just showing her having some good old pretend fun. This episode was in the beginning of the book, and on the last page Asagi comes home from a trip, finding Yotsuba's drawing of Jumbo on the pavement outside- which if you don't know the origins, looks rather like the outline of a murdered body. She stares. I couldn't help it, I laughed out loud.

I still don't quite know why Yotsuba's hair is green- but found out that her name includes the word 'four' and her hair is always tied into two short pigtails- reminiscent of a four-leaf clover. There's a brief part in here about something in the past between Asagi and her mom over four-leaf clovers. I'm delighted to find there are some twenty volumes of Yotsuba&! Must look up how many are actually in my library system.

Rating: 3/5                 192 pages, 2004

Aug 6, 2017

Yotsuba&!

Volume 1
by Kiyohiko Azuma

I can see right away why people compared this manga to Bunny Drop. Both are about a girl being raised by a young man who's not her father. This story is a lot more casual and fun. It really made me laugh in some parts. Starts out with Yotsuba moving with her adopted dad to a new house- we meet the little girl just as abruptly as her new neighbors do. She's energetic, crazily enthusiastic about nearly everything, and oddly surprised at everyday objects like - swings in the park, air conditioner unit in her neighbor's house, items on the shelf in the store. You get the idea there's some strange story to her past. At the end there's a small revelation- basically the dad found her while travelling abroad, admired her spunky optimism and brought her home.

He's quirky himself. Obviously a guy who never grew up- but in a completely different way from the father-figure in Bunny Drop. The banter between him, Jumbo (a friend who's really tall) and Yotsbua makes you realize these guys know each other well... In this volume Yotsuba meets lots of new people, wanders the neighborhood into a park (her dad doesn't seem alarmed when she just goes off on her own), learns about global warming (and thus for a brief period thinks a/c is evil), gets locked in the bathroom, goes shopping with her dad- usual kid stuff, right? But then they all go on a cicada hunt. Yotsuba wants to catch the biggest one. This was my favorite chapter. So fun.

Rating: 3/5       208 pages, 2003

more opinions:
Puss Reboots
Musings on YA Libraries and madness

Aug 4, 2017

A Starter Garden

by Cheryl Merser

This is the kind of gardening book I enjoy right now: more or less someone writing about their own garden, offering instruction using real-life examples. Outlining the pitfalls as well as the joys. Merser describes two gardens she started on new properties that didn't have much going for them at first. She talks a lot about plant selection- how to gauge what plant will do well in what spot, how to give the garden form and anchors using shrubbery, what works nicely (in her case) for groundcovers, accents, shady spots etc. She has a whole chapter about roses, another about water features. It's all a mixture of casual advice and very practical know-how. Her voice reminds me a bit of Thalassa Cruso. I had to laugh at some of her ingenuity, too. I grew scrawny seedlings for years in windowsills before building my first makeshift coldframe; she just puts hers in the trunk of a hatchback and lets the car heat them up! And for nighttime she moves them into a steamy bathroom. Clever. I share her hatred for japanese beetles, but not quite her enthusiasm for decorating with found objects. She discusses herbs but is mostly about flowers and shrubs and interesting plants to make the outdoor space beautiful and alive. Which is great inspiration, I need to work on that part of my yard too. I have a long list of plants to look up now- because the only thing the book really lacks is decent pictures. There's a nice glossary in the back that details every plant mentioned in the book, its scientific and common names, growing habits, light/moisture requirements, peculiarities and attractiveness, etc. One to read again.

Rating: 3/5                 254 pages, 1994

Jul 31, 2017

Bunny Drop

Volume 10
by Yumi Unita

This compilation of little shorts fills in some gaps from the main series. There are several cute stories from Rin's gradeschool and middle school years; I liked those the best. Showing how she and Kouki grew up together under Daikichi's struggles to figure out parenthood. Story behind the scar on Kouki's forehead. Some of the episodes explain things regarding other characters- there's one that goes into how Masako met her assistant who would become her husband. Nice to see a bit more about her conflicted, driven character. Another has details from the time when Kouki was considered a delinquent. And the last two chapters explore a bit of how both Rin and some of her friends have moved on in their relationships since the ending of book 9. True to pattern I enjoyed most the stories about Rin's childhood and Daikichi's awkward but heartfelt attempts to be a good dad. I found the few parts set in the teen years rather uninteresting, and the final chapter where Rin is settled into married life with Daikichi irritatingly distasteful, even though nothing bad happens. I just don't like it. Hm.

Rating: 3/5                     208 pages, 2012

Jul 30, 2017

Bunny Drop

Volume 9
by Yumi Unita

I don't think I can help it there will be SPOILERS below.

So- this final volume wraps up the storyline with Rin finding her own way of defining a family and staying where her heart is set. I didn't like it though. For several reasons. The conclusions and reasons for making this scenario work out felt too rushed. We find out that Rin really loves Daikichi -something I don't think would ever happen among two people who had been in a father/child situation for over a decade. Daikichi to his credit is appalled at the idea and protests. So are a few of Rin's friends, although others at this point don't know and it would be rich to see what the reaction of Daikichi's own family- parents and siblings- is. The only way I can figure it is that the author wanted to show how such a relationship could be possible and could be acceptable- the point is made that Rin always saw Daikichi's grandfather as her dad, so she never felt Daikichi was in that role but I don't buy that. He acted like her father, he raised her, end of story. (Supposedly research across several cultures shows that children raised closely together when they are under five years old will never develop romantic attachments to each other- they are naturally repulsed by the idea when older. After six, this isn't always the case. So maybe that's why this story has Rin go from her grandfather's to live with Daikichi when she's already six... I still don't think it could work out that way though)

Regardless of the possible rationales, it still doesn't sit well with me. Then there's the sudden revelation that she and Daikichi aren't related at all- the grandfather never was her dad to begin with- this is found out in a sudden outburst when Rin in distress visits her mother again and Daikichi follows her- and Masako reacts by practically yelling this information at Rin - there, go be happy now! in effect- and shoving her out into the hallway to figure it out with Daikichi. There's also a two-year timeskip so that Daikichi can wait and allow Rin to reach adulthood, giving her time to see if any guy her own age will catch her eye in college. Nope. The story doesn't even show a hint of this happening. She feels nothing for anyone else, and delightedly gives her guardian a big hug when she hits that legal age- happy at last to find her peace in being allowed to marry him.

Um, ewwww? I have to say the author fit this narrative together very cleverly to make these characters so endearing to the reader, and throw in all these little twists to make their living situation and romance (barely existent, only in Rin's professions of love, nothing shown) acceptable. But it's not. Not for me. It just all feels rushed and uncomfortable in the end, even though I'd prefer to like where they end up, I can't.

So overall: books one through five were great. Six was rather boring, just because I don't relate well to all the highschool drama. Book eight started to feel weird with the hints at what was coming, and nine was a dissatisfying shocker. However there is volume ten, which fills in some of the story from the ten-year skip when Rin was in middle school, so I'll see how I like that.

Rating: 2/5                       224 pages, 2011

Jul 29, 2017

Bunny Drop

Volume 8
by Yumi Unita

Warning: there are SPOILERS in the second paragraph.

Rin continues to navigate highschool- making curriculum choices, looking at future career options; she seems to want to stick close to home. Her friend Reina bounces between boyfriends, while Rin still doesn't have one- there's a guy who likes her but she doesn't return his interest, and Kouki of course is still pining for her- constantly rejected. Rin meets with her mother Masako again- who is now married and has a second child (there was an odd scene where it looked like the baby was nursing but then Masako said "it's time for her milk" and gave it a bottle- so I guess it was just snuggled against her near-naked bosom?) Rin seems to have accepted who her mother is, and is delighted to be a big sister.

Now the final direction of this whole storyline becomes clear, and it doesn't make any sense. Rin can never accept Kouki's attentions because having grown up alongside him, it just feels weird- she knows him too well, can't see him as boyfriend material. Yet she appears to be developing feelings for Daikichi. Ugh no no no no no. He's been her guardian, as a father to her all these years. This isn't possible. Surely someone in that circumstance would have the same complete lack of romantic attraction to their father-figure as she does to the childhood friend who was so close they 'felt like siblings' (a phrase Rin uses frequently when referring to Kouki). So while I continue reading, really liking these people as characters, I don't at all buy the premise anymore. It just would not occur. Not to mention being distasteful and shocking.

Rating: 3/5                 208 pages, 2010

Bunny Drop

Volume 7
by Yumi Unita

This one was better again. The focus is on Rin and Daikichi, more than the high school drama stuff. Rin notices the mothering tendencies of women around her and starts to wonder about her own mother. She becomes determined to seek her out although Daikichi, having met Masako himself (and disliking her), is afraid that she will just get hurt. Then Daikichi sustains a back injury and has to depend on family and friends to tend to his needs. His brief time as an invalid makes him really wonder about the future: what will it be like when he really gets old? Who will be there to care for him? Because of course he expects the best for Rin- a good college, marriage.... and Nitani has made it clear she's not interested in a relationship. He fears he will be a bachelor again into old age.

More serious stuff, and I started enjoying the series again. I particularly liked that despite Daikichi's negative impression of Masako, when she and Rin finally meet although it is awkward, Rin's natural politeness and friendly manner smoothed things over. Having no expectations of what her mother was like, Rin didn't perceive her as an unpleasant person at all. It's refreshing to see how good some of these characters are, what decent people.

Rating: 3/5                224 pages, 2010