Saturday, January 18, 2020

REVIEW: Missing: Letter of Misfortune (book) by Gakuto Coda, translated by Andrew Cunningham

Letter of Misfortune is the second book in Coda's Missing series. It's a Japanese light novel, and sort of a blend of horror and fantasy. Tokyopop had planned to publish more of the 13-volume series, but then it restructured in 2008 and this series and others ended up in limbo.

Review:

The Literature Club is back the way it was, for the most part - the main difference is that Ayame is still around, still nonhuman but much less powerful, and magically tied to Utsume by the events of the previous book. However, now Aki is having supernatural problems of her own. There's an urban legend about a cursed fax, a chain letter that the recipient receives for several days in a row and must send on in the same order if they want to avoid dying. It seems that the fax is real, and Aki has just begun receiving it. Not only is it creepy, arriving out of the blue at 2 AM, it's somehow causing Aki actual physical harm. The paper cut she got from the first fax showed signs of infection only a few hours later.

At the same time, there are rumors going around at school that there's a pack of wild dogs loose in the area. One of the teachers was bitten, and signs of the dogs can be found all over the school grounds, although no one has actually seen one of the dogs. Yomiko, the school witch, freaks out both Ryoko and Aki, warning Aki that she will be torn apart and eaten by dogs that no one can see. Somehow the Literature Club has to figure out what's going on and save Aki before it's too late.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

REVIEW: X-Day (manga, vol. 2) by Setona Mizushiro, translated by Shirley Kubo

X-Day is a 2-volume psychological drama. It's an old Tokyopop release, meaning it's now out-of-print, but it looks like it's still fairly easy and cheap to find online.

This post contains major spoilers.

Review:

The members of the little Ursa Minor chat group are getting more keyed up - Rika (11) has done something she regrets, Mr. Money is forcing himself to be more open about the situation with his mother and what it's done to his state of mind, Polaris is going to be forced to take part in a swimming relay race and feels anxious just thinking about it, and Jangalian still doesn't know how to gracefully put a stop to his obsessed stalker and the rumors she keeps spreading. Things are coming to a head now that everyone's been pushed into a corner.

REVIEW: X-Day (manga, vol. 1) by Setona Mizushiro, translated by Shirley Kubo

X-Day is a 2-volume psychological drama that was licensed and translated into English by Tokyopop.

Review:

Content warnings for physical abuse, attempted suicide, and stalking/harassment.

Rika injured herself a while back and took some time off the track team as a result. She's now in her third and final year of high school and, although she's technically all healed up, she's left the track team and keeps resisting the pleas of her former coach and teammates to rejoin. What one of her former teammates doesn't realize is that her new boyfriend used to be Rika's boyfriend - he dumped Rika not too long ago.

Rika feels depressed and disconnected from her school life but is intrigued when someone in an anonymous school chat room suggests blowing up the school (why this isn't an immediate red flag for school officials, I don't know - I find it difficult to believe that a school chat room wouldn't have some form of monitoring in place). Following some clues, she eventually ends up meeting and getting to know several people from the chat in real life.

REVIEW: Missing: Spirited Away (book) by Gakuto Coda, translated by Andrew Cunningham

Missing: Spirited Away is the first book in Coda's 13-volume Missing series. The series was originally licensed by Tokyopop, and only two volumes were ever translated and published in English. The third volume was scheduled to be released in September 2008, but since that's about when Tokyopop imploded, it never happened.

Review:

When Kyoichi Utsume was a child, he and his younger brother disappeared. He somehow managed to return, but his little brother did not. Ever since then, he's been obsessed with death and kamikakushi, mysterious beings that are said to spirit people away.

Rumors start flying at Utsume's high school that he, the guy who supposedly doesn't believe in love and romance, has found a girlfriend and is introducing her to everyone. Utsume's friends in the Literature Club discover that the rumors are true when he brings Ayame, a cute but oddly easy to overlook girl, to meet them. Ryoko and Takemi, two members of the Literature Club, decide to follow the couple and come back with gaps in their memories and a strange story of visiting a terrifying other world. Since there's no longer any sign of either Utsume or Ayame, it looks like Ryoko and Takemi's story may be true. Can the members of the Literature Club somehow retrieve their friend from the other world? Will he even want to come back?

Sunday, January 5, 2020

REVIEW: Off*Beat (OEL manga, vol. 2) by Jen Lee Quick

This time around, I'm going to say that Off*Beat is drama/mystery with potential (but problematic, due to the stalking and lying) gay romantic elements.

Review:

Colin confronts Tory about his stalking, but Tory lies and pretends that everything Colin noticed is a coincidence. They agree to meet up at Tory's house for another tutoring session (Tory doesn't even bother to ask Mandy to join them this time around), and Paul gets on Tory's case for his hidden motives for "befriending" Colin. It surprises Tory when Colin goes out of his way to spend more time with him. What he doesn't know is that Colin now has his own hidden agenda.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

REVIEW: Off*Beat (OEL manga, vol. 1) by Jen Lee Quick

Off*Beat apparently counts as a "boys love" drama. I had to look this up on its Wikipedia page, because at this point in the series it's a little tough to tell what I'm dealing with.

Review:

Tory is an intelligent and imaginative 15-year-old boy who becomes obsessed with Colin, a mysterious new neighbor of his, to the point of recording anything even remotely odd about his life and activities and convincing his mom to enroll him in a private school that he has to spend two hours commuting to just so they'll both be attending the same place (yes, Tory is basically a stalker). Tory is convinced that Colin may be hiding something and, after a year, finally begins to find evidence that he may be right. His efforts uncover something about a mysterious Gaia Project. Then there's the fact that Colin seems to be sick a lot.

REVIEW: Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) (book) by L.C. Rosen

Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) is YA LGBT contemporary fiction with mystery/thriller elements.

Review:

Content warning for stalking, victim blaming, homophobia, suicidal thoughts, on-page drug use and drinking, and graphic discussions of sex.

Jack is a gay teen who likes casual sex and isn't interested in being in a committed relationship. Maybe one day - he isn't completely ruling it out - but definitely not right now. While he enjoys having sex, he doesn't enjoy people gossiping about his sex life, and for some reason his sex life is a hot topic among the gossips at school. When his friend Jenna suggests that he write a sex advice column for her personal blog, he reluctantly agrees. Maybe if he works in some true stories about his sex life, the rumors about stuff he's never done will go away. And the posts will be semi-anonymous, written by "Jack of Hearts," so there's no way some future college or employer will google him and see them.

For the most part, the advice column goes surprisingly well, but things take a turn for the worse in his private life. Someone keeps putting notes in his locker. At first they look like love notes, but as time goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that Jack has a stalker.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

REVIEW: Breed To Come (book) by Andre Norton

Breed To Come is science fiction. I bought my copy at a used bookstore.

Review:

Furtig is one of the People (cat people), a descendant of Gammage. Gammage was physically different - his fur was sparser and his fingers longer. He also believed that the tools and knowledge left behind by the Demons (human beings) could be useful. It was he who developed metal claws that allowed the People to more effectively hunt, as well as fight against the Barkers, Tuskers, and Rattons. When Furtig fails his Trial and chance to secure a mate, he opts to leave his tribe and go to Gammage, who is rumored to somehow still be alive and seeking to unite the People and even ally with the Barkers and Tuskers against a common enemy...the Demons. The Demons disappeared or died out long ago, after killing many of the People in their madness. Could they really be returning?

Monday, December 30, 2019

REVIEW: Greenthieves (book) by Alan Dean Foster

Greenthieves is science fiction. As far as I know, it's a standalone. I bought my copy used.

Review:

Broderick Manz is an insurance adjuster who's just been assigned to a particularly tricky case. Although the security measures are thorough and should be impregnable, three shipments of expensive pharmaceuticals have somehow been stolen. While he was being given a tour of the security for a fourth pharmaceutical shipment, that was stolen as well. How had the thieves managed to nab the drugs right from under his nose, from a completely sealed and airless room? As he, his beautiful colleague Vyra, his humaniform Moses, and his AI Minder investigate, the case rapidly becomes more than just theft - whoever's doing all of this isn't above committing murder as well.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

REVIEW: Star Healer (book) by James White

Star Healer is medical science fiction, part of the Sector General series. I bought my copy at a used bookstore.

Review:

Senior Physician Conway is giving a bunch of trainees a tour of Sector General, a vast hospital in space, when he encounters his friend, the empathic and physically delicate Doctor Prilicla. Prilicla is acting oddly and encourages Conway to seek out Chief Psychologist O'Mara, who tells him the big news: Prilicla has been promoted to take over Conway's position as head of the ambulance ship Rhabwar, while Conway is being given the opportunity to try for Diagnostician. First, though, Conway is being sent away to the planet Goglesk to rest, think about his options, and observe the situation on Goglesk.

The Gogleskans are friendly but deeply afraid of physical contact, to the point where even doctors must avoid touching patients. Conway tries to figure out what's going on and what he might be able to do to help, but eventually has to go back to Sector General, where he is assigned many more cases, some of which look hopeless, than he's used to dealing with at once. He's sent to work in the Hudlar geriatric ward, and put in charge of a pregnant Protector (a mindlessly violent creature that must constantly be beaten in order to remain healthy, whose fetus is sentient and telepathic until the moment of its birth). He's also put in charge of several Hudlar patients injured in a horrific accident.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Recommendations for Steam's 2019 Winter Sale

It's time for one of my favorite events of the year, Steam's Winter Sale. I like being able to buy goodies that I don't have to find physical space to store. FYI, my game tastes run heavily towards visual novels, casual games with little or no combat, and puzzle games, so those are the sorts of recommendations you can expect to find here.

Surprisingly, it doesn't seem like I've written too many game recommendation posts. There's this one for the 2017 Steam Summer Sale. All those recommendations still stand, especially Stardew Valley, which recently got an update that added a few things and improved what was already an amazing game. There's also my 2018 game recommendations post - those recommendations also still stand.

My top recommendations from those two posts, if you'd rather not click through:
  • Stardew Valley (on sale for $8.99) - This is a farming game that's largely pretty chill. You plant crops, catch fish, get to know villagers, explore the mines and fight monsters, etc. If there's a particular activity you don't like, it's usually pretty easy to work around it. The newest update adds some quality of life upgrades (when you build items like tree tappers, they stack now instead of taking up individual spaces in your inventory), a few fun things like new breeds of cats or dogs you can have around the farm, new fish, and probably other things I haven't come across yet.
  • Plants vs. Zombies (on sale for $1.99) - I haven't actually played this in years, but of all the games on my Steam account, this is maybe the third in terms of number of hours I've put into it. It's a fun little "tower defense" game in which you position plants to protect you against zombies. I'm terrible at stressful games, and even I found this enjoyable.
  • Hatoful Boyfriend (on sale for $2.49) - This dating sim/visual novel looks ridiculous - you're a human at a school for sentient birds, and you have the ability to befriend and date those birds. You're permitted to see them as their human equivalents at the very beginning of the game, and then that's it, you're romancing birds for the rest of the game. It turns out that this is actually a post-apocalyptic mystery/thriller, and it's surprisingly good. I ♥ sweet, sad Nageki.
  • The Rusty Lake games (complete bundle on sale for $5.07) - The best of the bunch are Rusty Lake: Roots and Rusty Lake Paradise. Weird little puzzle games set in an unsettling and strange universe. If you're not sure about taking the plunge, try out the various Cube Escape games, also set in the same universe. They're available for free on Android or iPhone.
  • 428 Shibuya Scramble (on sale for $14.99) - I highly recommend picking this up if you like visual novels. The price is fabulous right now. This is a mystery/thriller/comedy told from multiple POVs. The game requires you to switch between the different POVs in order to progress in the story - sometimes you can move forward in one POV unless a character in another POV has gone to the right location already, for example. The story structure alone makes this one worth checking out.
  • Hidden Folks (on sale for $2.47) - A Where's Waldo style hidden object game. The art and little scenarios are cute.
  • The Blackwell series (on sale for $7.84) - Do you miss old school adventure games? Then you're in luck, because this series will probably be perfect for you. You play as someone with the ability to see ghosts who has teamed up with a ghost. The games get better as the series progresses, although I would generally recommend playing them in order for story continuity purposes.
 What else do I recommend?
  • Donut County (on sale for $6.49) - It's a puzzle game that's probably going to be too easy for some folks to enjoy, but I personally think the humor makes up for it. You play as a racoon controlling a hole in the ground that gets bigger and bigger as it swallows things up.
  • Unavowed (on sale for $10.49) - I haven't actually finished this yet, but I still think it's great. Honestly, anything by Wadjet Eye Games (see the Blackwell series above) is generally going to be good. Compare this to the Blackwell games, and you can see how far the developer has come in terms of creating engaging stories and puzzles and working replayability into games.
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy (on sale for $19.79) - Uhh, another game I have yet to finish. That said, I've played several episodes of it, and I've found it to be lots of fun. The humor is great, as are the characters. It's stupid, but I always get a little zing of pleasure when I catch one of the characters trying to slip a particularly tricky lie through.
  • Animal Lover (on sale for $2.49) - I reviewed this a couple years ago. It's one of my top favorite visual novels. It takes a while to really get going, but I got really attached to several of the characters once I got past all the introductions and story setup.
  • Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to) (on sale for $4.24) - This isn't really a game. It's more a place where you can anonymously write about your problems and fears and get sympathy, advice, and encouragement back from other players. It does have some issues - sometimes the constant stream of problems is difficult to handle, especially if you're the sort that really wants to help people, and there's no way to make a more lasting connection with anyone, since you're limited to one response and the most the person can do in return is send you an in-game sticker as thanks. Still, the very limited setup seems to have left this game with little-to-no trolls, and the community is incredibly kind and thoughtful. 
  • Hashihime of the Old Book Town (on sale for $27.99) - No link to this one, because it's an adults-only game. The truly adult content takes a while to show up but is pretty graphic, FYI. Also, be warned, the first route in particular includes a LOT of suicide. That said, this is a beautiful, weird, and fascinating visual novel. It takes ages to really get going, but keep pushing and you'll be rewarded. This is another one I haven't quite finished yet - I've made it through two of the routes. It's very linear and features almost no choices, which I honestly find relaxing after some visual novels. 
  • Obduction (on sale for $10.49) - Another one I haven't finished yet - this is a pattern with me I know - but I highly recommend it if you're a fan of old school adventure games like the original Myst series. Like those games, the world of Obduction feels strangely dead and empty and, at first at least, it comes across as weirdly tiny. As you play, the areas you can travel to gradually increase until the world becomes dauntingly large. I love this game but, as with the Myst games, I don't seem to be smart enough for all of the puzzles. I got stuck on a few and ended up never coming back to the game. That said, I still highly recommend it, especially at this price.
  • Fran Bow (on sale for $7.49) - A puzzle game in which you're a little girl whose parents were killed and who is now being kept at an asylum. This game is occasionally extremely disturbing, so approach it with caution. Still, the story and puzzles are very well-done. It includes some mini-games, but if those aren't your thing, then no worries, because they aren't required in order to complete the game.

Friday, December 20, 2019

REVIEW: Greenfire (book) by Saranne Dawson

Greenfire is, according to its spine, a "futuristic romance." It's probably more appropriate to call it SFF with romantic aspects.

This review includes major spoilers.

Review:

Nazleen is the ruler of the Hamloorian people. Like all Lieges, she is Cerecian: a descendant of Stakezti, a mysterious golden-haired child who had special powers (telepathy, visions of the future, the ability to wield green fire). It was Cerecians who wielded their green fire against the violent Warriors and brought peace to this land. Since then, a female Cerecian Liege has always ruled Hamloor, reluctantly choosing a mate from among the Warriors when it comes time for her to conceive an heir.

Nazleen knows that she will need to choose a mate soon. Her choice will almost certainly be Miklav, the Warrior Chief. He's a Warrior, so she'll never be able to fully trust him, but he seems to be a good man, and he's made some changes to Warrior society that she finds surprising, intriguing, and a little unsettling. However, first she must deal with news that may shift the balance of power more in Miklav's favor: there have been several sightings of aliens, some of whom might be male Cerecians. There have only ever been female Cerecians, and it's uncertain whether these possible male Cerecians are peaceful or as prone to violence as the Warriors.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

REVIEW: Murder in the Crooked House (book) by Soji Shimada, translated by Louise Heal Kawai

Murder in the Crooked House is a Japanese locked room mystery. It's technically the second book in a series (the first was The Tokyo Zodiac Murders), but it works fine as a standalone - the only thing the two books have in common is a Sherlockian detective-type character and his sidekick, and they don't show up until very late in this book.

Review:

Kozaburo Hamamoto, a rich businessman, invites several guests to stay at the Ice Floe Mansion, his eccentric creation, during the Christmas of 1983. The mansion consists of a main building with a confusing layout and very slightly sloping floors, as well as a tower modeled after the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Kozaburo's room is at the very top of the tower, reachable by a drawbridge. A couple of his family members, his staff, and his guests are all in various rooms in the main house.

Things are a little awkward and tense right from the start. Eiko, Kozaburo's daughter, flubs a few of the introductions: she completely forgets Ueda, Mr. Kikuoka's chauffeur, and manages to embarrass both Kumi Aikura (Mr. Kikuoka's "secretary," who everyone knows is also his mistress) and Hatsue Kanai (the wife of Michio Kanai, an executive at Mr. Kikuoka's company). Among the guests are also two rivals for Eiko's hand in marriage, Shun Sasaki and Masaki Togai. After one of the guests is murdered in a locked room, the police begin investigating. As in The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, readers are invited to follow the clues, look at various crime scene and building illustrations, and potentially solve the mystery themselves.

REVIEW: Save the Date (book) by Monica Murphy

Save the Date is, I'm pretty sure, a romantic comedy. It's self-published.

Review:

Caroline Abbott works at a high end stationary store that sells a lot of wedding-related stuff, like save the date cards, wedding invitations, and thank you cards. She's used to dealing with bridezillas, so her newest customer, Tiffany, doesn't throw her much, but the identity of Tiffany's fiance does. It turns out that Tiffany is getting married to Alex Wilder, Caroline's first crush. The last time they saw each other was when she was 12 and he was 14. He gave her her first kiss and then disappeared.

It's a shock to see Alex again, especially like this. When she was a kid, Caroline never realized that Alex came from a wealthy family. It's a bit strange that he's getting married so quickly, only a month or so after meeting Tiffany, and he doesn't even seem to like her much. But Caroline tries to be professional, do her job, and not ogle Alex, who is definitely no longer the gawky boy he used to be. Then she accidentally discovers that Tiffany is cheating on Alex, and things become even more complicated.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

REVIEW: Sorry for My Familiar (manga, vol. 1) by Tekka Yaguraba, translated by Andrew Cunningham

Sorry for My Familiar is fantasy comedy. It's licensed by Seven Seas Entertainment. I purchased my copy of volume 1.

Review:

Patty, a young devil girl, is too weak to summon a proper animal familiar, so she chooses a human named Norman instead. Norman is a daemon researcher who's absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to do field research in the devil world, so this arrangement works well for him. Unfortunately for Patty, Norman sometimes gets overexcited about all of these fascinating beings he encounters. He also has a somewhat creepy habit of wanting to intensely observe, sketch, and measure everything.

Patty's father is a deadbeat who recently left town in order to escape loan sharks. She's now on a quest to find him, which gives Norman lots of opportunities for research. In this volume, Norman enters a contest for familiars (lots of different familiars to observe, plus the possibility of winning free tickets for the devil world cross-continental railroad), and Norman and Patty attempt to cross the devil world desert.
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