Sunday, June 25, 2017

REVIEW: CatStronauts: Race to Mars (graphic novel) by Drew Brockington

CatStronauts: Race to Mars is the second volume in Drew Brockington's CatStronauts children's graphic novel series. I bought it for my eldest niece.

Review:

The CatStronauts are back and...they're kind of bored. And not really doing much besides accepting awards and going to free lunches and dinners held in their honor. But then the CatStronauts are called back into action. It turns out that several other space programs around the world are planning Mars missions, and the CatStronauts are the last ones to get involved. Will they lose to the CosmoCats or one of the other two groups, or will they triumph and be the first cats to land on Mars?

Steam Summer Sale game recommendations

In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a Summer Sale going on at Steam until July 5th. I figured I’d write a game recommendation post in honor of that.

First, some background info. I’m a Windows user, so the games that play on my computer might not be available for Mac users. The types of games I generally gravitate towards are adventure and puzzle-solving games, RPGs, and visual novels (not strictly games, but more like “choose your own adventure” stories, sometimes with additional elements). I strongly prefer games that are low-stress, with a few exceptions. I won’t be listing any free games, since the goal is to make the best use of the Summer Sale period.

Okay, here we go! I’ve arranged these by genre, although some technically fit into more than one category. Every one of these games is something I've played, although maybe not recently. You'll also notice that I haven't finished a lot of these - I get distracted pretty easily and don't have good game stamina, so not finishing isn't unusual for me and doesn't mean I disliked the game.

I've included 13 game recommendations: 2 adventure games, 3 puzzle games, 3 RPGs, 2 strategy games, and 3 visual novels.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

REVIEW: Who is Mike? (game)

Who is Mike? is a short free mystery/thriller visual novel available for download here and on Steam. Gameplay is “choose your own adventure” style - you occasionally have the option of choosing between one of two responses. The Save slots are helpful, as is the “skip” feature.

You play as Mike. You wake up in your own home with an aching head and missing glasses. You’re confronted by someone who, once you find your glasses, turns out to be you. Or at least someone who looks exactly like you. Which one of you is the imposter and which one of you is the real Mike? What’s going on?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

REVIEW: Princess Princess Ever After (graphic novel) by Katie O'Neill

Princess Princess Ever After is a children's graphic novel with fantasy and f/f romance.

Review:

When Princess Amira stops to save Princess Sadie from the tall tower she’s been imprisoned in, Sadie almost turns her away. So many others have tried to save her, but all have failed. However, Amira is enthusiastic, determined, and in possession of both a grappling hook and an incredibly strong cookie-loving unicorn.

That’s just the beginning of Amira and Sadie’s adventures. Along the way, they make some new friends, Amira learns more about being a hero, and Sadie finds the courage to face her sister and rule her kingdom.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

REVIEW: Jewels of the Sun (book) by Nora Roberts

Jewels of the Sun is a contemporary romance novel with supernatural aspects. It's the first book in a trilogy and was originally published in 1999.

Review:

Surprising herself and nearly everyone who knows her, Jude Murray quits her job as a psychology professor, rents out her Chicago condo, and flies to Ireland to live in a little cottage once owned by a relative of hers. She hadn’t even reacted this drastically when her husband asked for a divorce only a few months after they’d gotten married. All she knows is that she’s stressed and unhappy with her current life, and she has no idea what to do about it. She intends to stay at the cottage for six months, write an academic paper about Irish legends, and somehow figure out what to do next.

The village of Ardmore awakens a part of Jude that she’d thought long since squashed out of existence, a dreamer willing to believe in romance and magic. She’s baffled and pleased when two local women, Brenna O’Toole and Darcy Gallagher, decide to befriend her. Then there’s her attraction to Darcy’s charming and gorgeous brother, Aidan. And the beautiful and sad ghost who seems to be residing in her cottage.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

REVIEW: No Longer Human (book) by Osamu Dazai, translated by Donald Keene

No Longer Human is a Japanese novel I requested via interlibrary loan. I'd call it literary fiction. Apparently it may also be autobiographical fiction.

Review:

I’ll start this off with some content warnings. This book includes several suicide attempts (one successful), a main (POV) character who becomes an alcoholic and a drug addict and who is probably depressed, and several mentions of rape and child molestation. Most of these things aren’t described in much detail, but they’re there.

Almost all of this book is written as though it was the notebook of a man named Oba Yozo (I’m pretty sure that’s the original name order, with family name first, although I could be wrong). Yozo writes about his life from his early childhood days to what I’m assuming is near the end of his life. The book ends and begins with a chapter written from the perspective of someone who did not personally know Yozo but read his notebooks and met someone who did know him.

When Yozo was a very young child, he became convinced that he did not qualify as human. The thought that someone else might realize he wasn’t human so terrified him that he began to behave like a clown. If others were laughing at his antics and jokes, then they weren’t looking at him too closely. Unfortunately for him, he occasionally met individuals who seemed able to see beneath his clownish mask. Beginning in his college years, he was also taken aback by how attractive women seemed to find him.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

REVIEW: CatStronauts: Mission Moon (graphic novel) by Drew Brockington

CatStronauts: Mission Moon is a graphic novel aimed at children ages 6 to 10.

Review:

Energy consumption is too high, and in only 60 more days the world is due to run too low on  power to keep everything going. The World’s Best Scientist’s coolest plan is to build a solar power plant on the surface of the moon, because it will always be exposed to the sun. Major Meowser (the leader), Waffles (the pilot), Blanket (the technician), and Pom Pom (the scientist) are called together and tasked with training for and completing the mission.

I bought this as a birthday present for my niece, along with the sequel, CatStronauts: Race to Mars. It was cute, although I had some problems with it, mostly due to my being unable to make my brain shut up about the internal logic issues. For some reason I could accept that the cats' spaceship came out of a giant box and included instructions, and yet it bugged me that a power blackout during the day could cause complete darkness, and that Waffles was able to eat a sandwich through his spacesuit helmet.

Blanket was probably my favorite CatStronaut - I particularly enjoyed Blanket’s love for his little robot friend. Waffles was probably my second favorite. It made me smile to see that Waffles and Blanket had such similar levels of affection for completely different things.

My few issues with it aside, this was a nice little volume, and my niece enjoyed looking at the cats. I haven’t heard from her yet about whether she liked the story.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

REVIEW: The Friday Society (book) by Adrienne Kress

The Friday Society is YA steampunk.

Review:

The Friday Society is set in London in the year 1900 and stars three different girls: Cora, Michiko, and Nellie.

Cora used to sell flowers on the streets but now has a comfortable and endlessly interesting life as Lord White’s lab assistant. Unfortunately, it looks like Lord White might be planning on replacing her.

Michiko ran away from home when she was 11 and spent a few years as a retired geisha’s servant before running away yet again and becoming a samurai trainee. Frustrated at her teacher’s unwillingness to give her her own sword, she agreed to go to London with a man named Callum and work as his assistant. Callum was nice enough, at first, but it soon became clear that he was using Michiko’s skills to trick rich Londoners into paying him enormous fees for his self-defense courses.

Nellie used to work at a burlesque house and is now a magician’s assistant. She’s strong, flexible, and never forgets anything. She’s also incredibly beautiful and hates the attention this attracts, even as she is aware that her looks help draw a crowd and add to the Great Raheem’s act.

The three girls’ paths cross when they meet at a ball and discover a severed head. They gradually realize that this murdered man may be connected to other recent deaths, so they decide to team up and find the killer.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

REVIEW: Fault - Milestone One (game)

Fault - Milestone One is a visual novel originally published in Japanese and later translated into English. It's fantasy, although with some slight sci-fi elements (sort of) that crop up later on in the story.

Review:

Fault - Milestone One stars Selphine and Ritona. Selphine is the kind-natured Princess of Rughzenhaide, while Ritona is her bodyguard. Rughzenhaide is a country whose people use mana to do everything from learning languages to crafting weapons. Mana-powered telepathy is considered perfectly normal and helps with everything from communicating a restaurant’s entire menu to its customers to long-distance communication. In fact, communication via mana is an integral part of the country’s monarchy. Rughzenhaide’s monarchs can use something called the Path-down to directly transmit their memories and knowledge to their heirs.

The Path-down must not be interrupted. When the palace is invaded and most of its inhabitants are killed, Ritona uses a special teleportation technique she’s spent years developing and escapes with Selphine at her side. Unfortunately, they end up someplace completely different from where Ritona planned: the Outer-Pole. The Outer-Pole is best known for its lack of mana. People from the Outer-Pole can’t travel to mana-rich areas without developing mana-sickness and dying, while people from mana-rich areas only have three to five days in the Outer-Pole before mana-sickness either robs them of their ability to use mana or kills them.

Selphine and Ritona have to get away from the Outer-Pole and back to Rughzenhaide. Before they leave, however, they want to help Rune, the first friend they made after arriving at the Outer-Pole. Although everyone keeps insisting that slavery has long since been abolished and that Rune is definitely not a slave, that’s certainly what she seems to be. In an effort to free and protect her, Selphine and Ritona learn more about life in the Outer-Pole, Rune, and the terrible history of the Zhevitz family.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

REVIEW: Robo-Tea: 1 Sip! (game)

Robo-Tea: 1 Sip! is a short free visual novel, available here.

Review:

I had a crappy day at work. I needed to de-stress but couldn’t seem to concentrate on anything, so I decided to give the last full Robo-Tea game I hadn’t yet played a shot (that just leaves one demo, and I’m trying not to touch it since I’d prefer to play the full game once it’s out).

And hey, it worked! I’m still not feeling 100%, but I can concentrate enough to write this review and I no longer feel like I’m at the edge of frustrated tears. The Robo-Tea games are magical oases of sweetness and calm.

Robo-Tea: 1 Sip! takes place sometime after Robo-Tea: 1 Cup! It’s very short and not much happens, along the lines of Robo-Tea: Misten Minicups, but in this case the few choices you’re able to make actually do have an effect on the game. Just like in Robo-Tea: 1 Cup!, you play as Gal. The game only has two choices total for each route. Your first choice determines which robot Gal is on another date with, Vals or Revek. The game only has three endings total, one for Vals and two for Revek (a bit of a bummer for Vals fans, but I’m a Revek girl so ha!). However! One of the choices for Vals results in an incredibly adorable image of Gal, so I think that helps make up for Vals only having one ending.

There isn’t really much more to say. Gal and Vals/Revek drink sparkle shakes together, talk about a future date, and are all generally adorable. I think I preferred Gal + Vals over Gal + Revek this time around, because of that cute picture and Vals’ offer for their next date. However, Gal + Revek was still pretty good. Oh, I love Revek.

If you want a sweet and simple visual novel with cute candy-colored graphics and no wrong choices, check this out. But start with Robo-Tea: 1 Cup! so that Vals and Revek are more than just random robots Gal happens to be dating. A part of the appeal of this game was its continuation of the relationships from the first game. Gal and Vals were definitely more comfortable with each other, and while there was a bit of awkwardness with Revek (depending on which option you went with), it was a nice kind of awkwardness.

Monday, May 22, 2017

REVIEW: Hitogotchi (game)

Hitogotchi is a short horror/romance visual novel created by OnionBlaze and ApplePaddle. It can be downloaded for free here.

This review includes a spoiler.

Review:
 
In this visual novel, you play as a monster who’s just gotten a new caretaker, a human named Nadine. You can ask Nadine to talk to you, play with you, feed you, or help you get to sleep - similar to the things required to take care of a Tamagotchi, which, according to the description, was part of the basis of this game. However, unlike a Tamagotchi pet, you have a real-world physical form, and there are serious consequences if Nadine doesn’t take good care of you.

Warning: everything on the screen moves a bit, even the choice buttons. I eventually decided that I liked the way this contributed to the game’s overall unsteady mood/atmosphere, but I wish there had been an option to turn this movement off. I was a little worried that focusing on constantly moving text might activate my motion sickness.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

REVIEW: Decision at Doona (book) by Anne McCaffrey

Decision at Doona is science fiction. It was originally published in 1969.

This review includes a slight spoiler.

Review:

I’ve read many of Anne McCaffrey’s books, but for some reason I never got around to her Doona books. This first one primarily stars Ken Reeve. Earth is enormously overcrowded, so Ken is excited to learn that Doona, a planet uninhabited by intelligent sentient beings, has been discovered and that he and his family have been picked to be some of the first colonists.

The “uninhabited by intelligent sentient beings” part is important. Two hundred years earlier, a botched first contact situation led to an entire alien species, the Siwannese, committing suicide. This led to the Non-Cohabitation Principle, which stated that humans could only colonize a planet if there was no evidence that intelligent beings already lived there. Doona seems perfect - until the human colonists come across a settlement of cat-like aliens known as Hrrubans.

Nobody wants to go back to overcrowded Earth, but the Non-Cohabitation Principle is serious business. Still, it isn’t as easy as just packing up and leaving. They need the bigwigs back on Earth to believe what they’ve seen and reported, they need a ship, and they need orders on how to conduct themselves until a ship can come pick them up. Meanwhile, the Hrrubans don’t seem to care about any of that and are just as determined to interact with the humans as the humans are to keep their interactions with the Hrrubans friendly but brief.

REVIEW: Redshirts (book) by John Scalzi

Redshirts is science fiction. My review includes a few slight spoilers, but they start off with a warning so they should be skippable. If you're worried, I'd suggest reading this review on Booklikes, Goodreads, or LibraryThing, where I'm able to use spoiler tags.

Review:

Redshirts stars Ensign Andrew Dahl, newly assigned to the starship Intrepid. It doesn’t take long for him to notice that something weird is going on. Everyone reacts strangely to any mention of away missions, and the Intrepid’s crew has a much higher than normal mortality rate. In an effort to avoid a dramatic and untimely death, Dahl works together with several other new crew members and discovers things that seem too impossible and bizarre to be true.

I went into this book expecting it to be a combination black comedy and Star Trek parody. It started off that way, but then it morphed into something that packed more of an emotional punch than I expected.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

REVIEW: Salamandastron (book) by Brian Jacques

Salamandastron is fantasy. Probably Middle Grade fantasy, although I've also seen it tagged as YA.

Review:

(I finished this a month ago and should have reviewed it back then, but I was more interested in diving into my next book than writing a review.)

Salamandastron follows multiple groups of characters whose paths eventually converge. The primary storyline starts at Salamandastron. Ferahgo, a blue-eyed assassin weasel, has set his sights on that place and is convinced that there is great treasure to be found there. He knows it’ll all belong to him if he and his band can manage to defeat Urthstripe, the great badger Lord, and his skilled warrior hares. Urthstripe, meanwhile, is distracted by family problems: Mara, his adopted daughter, has been growing increasingly rebellious and restless.

The secondary storyline starts at Redwall Abbey. Everything there is good food and celebrations, with occasional light punishments for scamps like Samkim the squirrel and his best friend Arula the molemaid, until a couple stoats accidentally do something horrible. Suddenly Samkim finds himself suspected of killing someone. As if that wasn’t bad enough, many of Redwall Abbey’s residents then fall ill with the dreaded Dryditch Fever.

REVIEW: Baccano!, Vol. 1: The Rolling Bootlegs (book) by Ryohgo Narita, illustrated by Katsumi Enami, translated by Taylor Engel

The Rolling Bootlegs is the first volume in the Baccano! light novel series, which spawned the Baccano! anime. I've written a couple reviews of the anime, the most recent one being this one.

Review:

In the year 2002, a Japanese man has won a trip to New York, and he’s having a terrible time. A bunch of teens mugged him and took his most prized possession, his camera. If he wants to get it back, he’ll have to talk to a member of the Camorra (an Italian crime syndicate). Luckily, the man he speaks to is in a good and talkative mood, and boy does he have a story to tell. It starts in 1711, when an alchemist and his comrades summoned a demon who gifted the alchemist with the knowledge of how to make the elixir of immortality, and continues to New York in 1930.

In 1930, a young man named Firo has just been promoted to executive in the Martillo Family, a Camorra group. At that very same time, two cheerful and energetic thieves named Isaac and Miria have just arrived in the city, determined to right their past wrongs by doing only good deeds. Of course, they have a rather odd notion of what constitutes a “good deed.” And at the same time as all of that, an immortal old man named Szilard is being driven to a meeting by Ennis, his artificially created human servant. Szilard has spent the centuries since he became immortal trying to determine the recipe for the elixir of immortality, and it looks like he might have finally achieved his goal. Unfortunately, a fire makes things more complicated, and the two surviving bottles of the perfected elixir go missing.

Ennis has to track the bottles down or risk getting killed by Szilard. Of course, they just happen to look like regular wine, it’s the Prohibition era, and there are two different Camorra groups, a couple idiot thieves, some thugs, and several FBI agents in the area, so her job isn’t going to be easy.
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