Book & Show Review: MADOFF TALKS by Jim Campbell & MADOFF: THE MONSTER OF WALL STREET (2021 & 2023)

Financial fraud that ends in negative consequences for the perpetrators remains one of my key hyperfixations. I also enjoy painting while having a document on in the background. So, it was perfect when Netflix dropped a new document on the largest Ponzi scheme in history, executed by Bernie Madoff, which left literal bodies in its wake and the disappearance of billions of dollars in savings and long term accounts. A friend tipped me off about the book that inspired the documentary, so naturally, I queued that up on my TBR immediately.

I think watching the show and reading the book in parallel helped my understanding of the both the people involved and the execution of the fraud. With its interviews and depictions, Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street definitely focuses more on the human element while Madoff Talks does a good job distilling the finances, economics, and (lack of) governmental oversight that made a fraud this huge possible.

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Light Novel Review: BAKEMONOGATARI Part 01 by NISIOISIN (illust. Vofan) (2016)

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy
Year Release in English: 2016
Source: Physical Copy

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content warnings: Mention of an attempted rape, death of a child, cults, injuries, blood, threats of violence

This light novel series starts off with a fairly simple premise: a former vampire catches his classmate who slipped on a banana peel, only to find that she weighs literally nothing. And if full of stationery. And haunted by a crab. In the second half of the book, the two of them encounter a little girl haunted by a snail aberration, but there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Full of friendship, interesting exchanges, strange happenings, and explorations of past trauma that don’t get resolved with the resolution of the haunting, there is so much to like and see in this work told almost entirely through dialogue but does not at all feel like reading a script.

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Light Novel Review: VAMPIRE HUNTER D Vol. 2 Raiser of Gales & Vol. 3 Demon Deathchase by Hideyuki Kikuchi & Yoshitaka Amano (2005)

Genre: Adult Dark Fantasy Science Fiction Western
Year Release in English: 2005
Buy Link: Barnes & Noble (Initially received via Humble Bundle)

Review of Volume 1 can be found here

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content warnings: Blood, kidnapping, incest, rape (fades to black, but unequivocal), dismemberment, nonconsensual medical experimentation

The mystery in this one is so engaging. We start off finding a young girl who has been selected by her town to go off into the capital as part of a special program that gets her a higher status in human society while the village of Tepes gets more resources. But there’s more to the precocious young woman than meets the eye, and gnarly is just one word for it.

What really shines here is how monstrous the humans are especially juxtaposed to the Nobles. I won’t spoil the mystery, but there is a horrific arc in which we learn more about Lina and the mayor who took her in. Please heed the content warnings for that portion of the story.

The action is incredible, and I really liked how less animalistic the vampires were in this one. The conspiracy is a years’ long literal medical experiment in eugenics. It’s very horror, and highlights Kikuchi’s ability to blend genres and use tropes to great effect. I can’t say too much without spoiling the entire story arc.

Content warnings: Blood, kidnapping, dubious consent, body horror of John Carpenter’s The Thing variety

This entry is absolutely the gnarliest one I’ve read so far, and, yes, I am aware that I am only on volume 3. While Demon Deathchase is the lightest on lore so far, the mesh of science fiction and dark fantasy is at its tightest. There are death cars and possessed carbuncles that grow into fully sentient tumors. It’s disgusting. It’s incredible.

There is no stone Kikuchi will leave unturned when it comes to the horrific scientific possibilities plaguing the world eleven thousand years into the future. We have flesh-possessing carbuncles that are eerie like ghosts and unsettling in the way flesh distorts with science that feels like magic.

The women within this work show a range of strength, from the lovelorn dhampir mechanic Caroline to the gearhead hunter Leila. I love them all, especially how they relate to D. The purple prose really works throughout the series to draw attention to D’s terrific power and ethereal beauty. The interactions and obsessions only highlight it further, and seeing the variety of personalities attracted to him definitely keeps me engaged in the new characters regardless of gender and whether or not they label their attraction love.

The ending to this one is brutal, gross, and eerily beautiful.

Manga Review: DICK FIGHT ISLAND Vol. 2 by Reibun Ike (2022)

Genre: Fantasy Josei
Year Release in English: 2022
Source: Physical Copy

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Review of Volume 1 can be found here
Content warnings: Dubious consent with lots of male sexuality on display; fantasy prejudice

The second half of the story of Pulau’s political system of having a coming tournament every four years focuses on the relationships between its chosens and the origins of the Great Wyrm Tournament. It’s earnest, it’s sexy, and there are so many men in love with other men.

We get the full introduction to Harto and his lover, Matthew, who were roommates in college. They got along as more than just students, with Harto telling Matthew about his culture to comedic and earnest effect. The way their relationship develops is swoony and romantic.

Then we cut to others who also had chance encounters connected to some loosely developed mythology. Bulan had been saved by a stag that loosely reminds him of Roro, and years later, the two get stuck in a snowstorm and there’s only one bed. Another couple are gifted a whole lot of lube to improve their “technique.” There’s even a wedding. It’s a wonderful snapshot of different types of relationships, and, honestly, this had me smiling and flailing from cover to cover.

Very fluffy, raunchy, and full of gay earnestness.

Review: THE BOOKS OF JACOB by Olga Tokarczuk (trans. Jennifer Croft, 2022)

Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Year Release: 2022

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: antisemitism, child death, rape, pogroms, prejudice, discrimination, vomiting, death of a parent

Ambitious is not a big enough word to describe the majesty of this novel. At a whooping 955 pages, this book is not just about Jacob Frank. Tokarczuk paints a mosaic of eighteenth century Europe centering the rise and fall of a messianic cult leader Jacob Frank. Starting in a village in what is now Ukraine and stretching across Poland and Lithuania, this story isn’t just about Frank, but about the people around him as well, from priests to rabbis to princes to village folks and so much more.

Vast in scope, yet this work is simultaneously personal and deeply human, showcasing every possible perspective of class and religion in one narrow slice of Europe.

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Manga Review: ROSEN BLOOD Vol. 1 by Kachiru Ishizue (2022)

Genre: Fantasy Shoujo
Year Release in English: 2022
Source: Kinokuniya

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content warnings: Blood, attempted murder

Stella is on her way to start a new job after a freak accident takes out her carriage driver, and she wakes up in a Gothic mansion that’s more a thorned cage than a residence occupied by four men who are definitely vampires. They eat crystals, have strange mannequins, and barely leave the building. There’s a sense of dread but the boys and the art are swoony.

This first volume is horny in ways that are very befitting of vampire lore. There’s a fixation on taste and devouring, with sensual wound care, and one of the vampires gets put in a muzzle during one of the chapters. As far as the boys go, the work leans into tropes and archetypes in ways that are swoony and delightful. I had fun during this first read, and I’m definitely looking forward to more.

Light Novel Review: THE HOLY GRAIL OF ERIS Vol 2 by Kujira Tokiwa & Yunagi (2022)

Genre: Supernatural Secondary World Fantasy
Year Release in English: 2022

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content warnings: Beheading, murder, poisoning, kidnapping, suicide

We go back to the world of a cute blond girl haunted by a buxom woman executed under mysterious circumstances a decade prior to the events of the book.

This second volume features more of everything. More betrayals, more characters, more intrigue. I really enjoyed the pacing, which is not reflective of how long it takes me to get through. The chapters delve into backstories of characters we’ve heard of before, like Lily Orlamunde, and new players in the political games. There’s also a focus on the struggles of the working class, showing that the chaos has further reach than just petty rich people problems.

While there are villains in the sense of Scarlet’s antagonists, but there are much darker forces afoot. The crime syndicate of Daeg Gallus is a force to be reckoned with, being involved in threats and actual deaths of other nobles. It’s fascinating to see everything unfold, and the daggers and walls close in around on Connie, whose only crime coming into this story is being haunted by Scarlet.

It would introduce so many spoilers to talk more specifically about the title, but we finally figure out what the title refers to, and the conspiracy only thickens.

Review: DAY OF THE OPRICHNIK by Vladimir Sorokin (trans. Jamey Gambrell) (2012)

Genre: Adult Speculative Fiction (Translated)
Year Release: 2012
Source: Unabridged Bookstore

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Trigger Warning: gang rape, violence, state-sanctioned terrorism, drug use, a fish swimming up one’s veins into their brain, literal book burning, state censorship, beheaded dogs

Andrei Komiaga, our protagonist, is the fourth-highest ranking member of the oprichnina in a future version of Russia that’s a blend of Ivan the Terrible’s reign with Vladimir Putin’s current policies. We follow a day in Komiaga’s life which involves terrorizing aristocrats, censoring literature, bribery, and not one but two rituals with his fellow officers.

Disturbing, intense, and brilliant, this is one of those books where if the Wikipedia summary is enough to make you not approach this one, I do not blame you.

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Manga Review: THE KINGDOMS OF RUIN Vol. 5 by yoruhashi (2022)

Genre: Dark Fantasy Seinen
Year Release in English: 2022

Reminder: The star rating reflects overall opinion of the series. Click here for my reviews of the previous volumes.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content warnings: Gore, violence, blood, robot necrophilia (aftermath), beheading

After the levity of the previous entry into the series, Adonis and Doroka continue on their way through the wastes with Redian special forces hot on their trail. They come across several abandoned towns, each ruined by technology in different ways.

Despite Doroka using her love powers to defensive means, it’s charming to see that she hasn’t lost her faith in humanity (in the spiritual sense) while Adonis works extra hard to maintain his edge. Their rapport is so good, giving necessary levity to the bleakness of their surroundings. The landscapes are chilling, especially with the ways that decay is evident and what becomes of the people left behind. What’s almost as frightening are the super-powered humans chasing the witch and boy-witch, and that fight introduced at the very end of the volume is bound to be a doozy.

Review: EARTHLINGS by Sayaka Murata, Ginny Tapley Takemori (trans.) (2020)

Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: 2020
Source: Audible

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Trigger warnings: child sexual assault (graphic), incest, murder, suicidal ideation, child abuse, child neglect, depression, murder, cannibalism, vomiting

Don’t let the adorable cover fool you, this book is an exploration of trauma and never feeling quite human. Natsuki is essentially a child neglected by her parents and her best friend is the plush toy on the cover, Piyyut. Summer proves a reprieve when she spends time with her best friend and cousin Yu, while her city home life is a nightmare of being preyed upon by a teacher and her parents ignoring her. What ensues is a deeply interior journey of understanding “the factory” that makes the adults around Natsuki the way they are and the stark ways she does not want to partake in that system, either implicitly or explicitly.

Brutal in its prose and harsh in its indictment of the ways parents and society fail children at every turn, absolutely heed the trigger warnings before giving this one a read.

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