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.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

REVIEW: The Course of Honour (e-book) by Avoliot

The Course of Honour is original m/m sci-fi romance posted on Archive of Our Own. It has a word count of 117,499.

Warning: one of the main characters was in an abusive relationship prior to the beginning of the book - mostly emotionally abusive, but a little physical.

Review:

The Course of Honour stars Prince Kiem of the planet Iskat and Count Jainan of the planet Thea. Five years ago, the Theans sent Jainan to marry Iskat’s Prince Taam in order to secure an alliance. A month before the start of the book, Taam was killed in a flybug (personal aircraft) accident. Kiem learns to his horror that, according to the terms of the treaty, Jainan must remarry and he’s been chosen to be Jainan’s next partner. Jainan’s certainly attractive, but Kiem has never even spoken to him before. Plus, Kiem figures he’s probably still grieving. Not that he and Jainan have any say in the matter - the marriage is scheduled to happen tomorrow.

Right from the start, their marriage is complicated by assumptions and secrets. Jainan and Taam’s marriage wasn’t nearly as solid as they’d led everyone to believe, and Jainan is sure he’s in for more of the same from Kiem. Kiem, meanwhile, just wants to make things as easy as possible for Jainan.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

REVIEW: Star Surgeon (book) by James White

Star Surgeon is medical science fiction, the second book and first full novel in the Sector General series. I picked up a used copy during a particularly successful used book shopping trip.

Review:

Star Surgeon starts off with Conway treating an alien of a sort he’s never seen or heard of before. It turns out that his newest patient’s species is seen as somewhat godlike by those aliens that know of them. They’re purported to be immortal, and they have a habit of gradually making themselves the supreme ruler of a world, solving its problems (I was left with so many questions), and then leaving. They are always accompanied by a companion of a different species.

Conway’s efforts to treat his patient, Lonvellin, impress it so much that it later insists he help it and the Monitor Corps with a problem it’s having on the planet Etla, which is part of a larger Empire made up of several planets. Etla used to have a thriving population before it was hit by one horrible illness after another. To make matters worse, Etla’s natives are deeply suspicious of beings that look different from them, so they refuse to accept help from anyone except the Empire’s Imperial Representative, who rarely stops by. Earth humans and Etlans just happen to look very much alike, so Conway and the Monitor Corpsmen are able to sneak in, assess the situation, and try to help. Unfortunately, the situation is much worse than anyone realizes and deteriorates to such a degree that Sector General finds itself caught up in an interstellar war.

REVIEW: Against the Paw (book) by Diane Kelly

Against the Paw is supposedly a cozy mystery. To me, it felt more like a light police procedural.

Review:

This was an impulse buy. I saw it at the grocery store and was immediately drawn in by the dog on the cover. Even though I knew it wasn’t the first book in the series, it sounded like something a newbie should be able to jump into fairly easily.

Against the Paw is set in Fort Worth, Texas and stars police officer Megan Luz. Megan used to be partnered with Derek Mackey until he made one crude and sexist comment too many and she tased him. Megan was assigned a K-9 partner named Brigit, and Derek’s job was saved by his friendship with the chief of police. In this entry in the series, Megan and Brigit are investigating reports of a peeping tom at Berkeley Place. There’s a possibility these incidents may be connected to Ralph Hurley, a parolee who recently cut off his ankle monitor.

I'm playing a reading game

I'm currently involved in a reading game that's taking place on Booklikes. Moonlight Reader, another Booklikes user, developed the game (along with another user, I think?). Most of the rules can be found here, although alterations and clarifications have been posted in this discussion group.

So far, it's been a lot of fun. I've finished three books for the game and have brought my total gameplay money up to $28. One of the books I read had been sitting in my TBR for almost two decades. The one thing that has suffered: my review writing. I've written almost no reviews since beginning the game.

I think Moonlight Reader set the game's end date for sometime in June or July, but I'm hoping there are plans to do a second round. The different spots on the game board have been forcing me to look at my book collection in an entirely new way, and I've really enjoyed that aspect.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

REVIEW: Robo-Tea: Misten Minicups (game)

Robo-Tea: Misten Minicups is a free/pay-what-you-want visual novel, available here. I don't know that it really matters much, but I'd probably recommend playing Robo-Tea: 1 Cup first, just to get a bit more information about the setting and a brief glimpse of Cors (who, in that game, is a minor character who briefly appears at the end of one of the routes).

Review:

I decided I could use a bit of cute robot time, so I debated between my remaining Robo-Tea games and decided on Robo-Tea: Misten Minicups. According to the description, its events happen at the same time as Robo-Tea: 2ndServing (which is currently only available in demo form, although the full game is supposed to be out sometime soon).

In Robo-Tea: Misten Minicups, you are Mitra (the blue robot). You’re in a band called Misten, which is going to be performing at MusiFest 59 soon. You’re in a happy polyamorous relationship with your two other bandmates, Alren (the red robot, pronouns: he/him) and Twinst (the green robot, pronouns: she/her). One thing the three of you would really like to do while you’re visiting the planet Verdande is see your crush, Cors (pronouns: xe/xir), for the first time in a little over a century and give xir a gift.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

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

Robo-Tea: 1 Cup! is a short free/pay-what-you-want visual novel, available here.

Review:

Robo-Tea: 1 Cup! is a cute little dating sim. You play as Galine, aka “Gal,” a guardbot at a SpacePort on the planet Verdande. At the start of the story, Gal is in the breakroom at work, having a snack and fantasizing about being somewhere more exciting. Vals, Gal’s supervisor (I think?), asks Gal to watch over a bot who was recently picked up from a damaged ship. The bot, Revek, is scheduled to be shipped back to their home. Your choices determine whether Gal goes out on a date with Vals, spends time with Revek, or does something else entirely.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

REVIEW: K: Missing Kings (anime movie)

K: Missing Kings is one of the many entries in the K franchise and is, I think, the direct sequel to Season 1 of the K anime.

Review:

If you’d like to watch this but haven’t seen Season 1 of the K anime yet, stop what you’re doing and go watch that first, because this movie isn’t going to make any sense to you otherwise. Characters briefly mention events that happened in the past, but no one bothers to explain things in any depth.

All right, so K: Missing Kings takes place about a year after the events of Season 1 of the anime. Scepter 4 is still acting as sort of the police force of the various clans, and they rush to the Gold Clan’s main building after hearing reports of an attack. Green Clan members are trying to locate Yashiro for some reason and are attempting to do so with Gold Clan’s resources (I think - honestly, Green Clan’s plan was a little confusing).

The Green Clan is also trying to get Anna from HOMRA to help them, but her powers have been unstable for a while. No matter - the Green Clan attempts to kidnap her anyway. Kuroh and Neko, Silver Clan members who have been trying to locate their King, Yashiro, since after the events of the anime, join forces with the few remaining members of HOMRA in an effort to protect Anna.

Friday, March 17, 2017

REVIEW: Daughter of Mystery (e-book) by Heather Rose Jones

Daughter of Mystery is f/f historical fantasy.

Review:

Daughter of Mystery is set in the fictional European country of Alpennia, sometime in the early 19th century. Chapters alternate between Barbara’s perspective and Margerit’s. Barbara knows she’s of noble birth but has no idea who her parents are. Her father lost everything due to his gambling debts and sold her to Baron Seveze when she was only a baby. She is now the baron’s armin (formal bodyguard/duelist).

Margerit Sovitre is the baron’s goddaughter, although he generally hasn’t been in her life much. Margerit is an orphan who was taken in by her aunt and uncle. She has no interest in attending balls or getting married, but that’s the direction in which her life seems to be going, until Baron Seveze dies and everyone learns to their shock that he has left her his entire fortune. He also left her Barbara, despite his promise to free her, and made it so that Margerit cannot free her before she (Margerit) comes of age without most of the baron’s fortune going to the Convent of Saint Orisul instead. Margerit is willing to do this, but her uncle, who still controls her life, isn’t willing to let her. However, Margerit’s efforts win her Barbara’s loyalty. With Barbara at her side, Margerit pursues her heart’s desire: studying philosophy and theology at the university in Rotenek. Meanwhile, Barbara digs into the mystery of her own past.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

REVIEW: The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: And Other True Stories of Trauma, Madness, Affliction, and Recovery That Reveal the Surprising History of the Human Brain (audiobook) by Sam Kean, narrated by Henry Leyva

The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons is nonfiction and was one of my library checkouts. My library has it via Overdrive.

Review:

This is going to be short, because I never really bother to take notes while listening to audiobooks, and I finished this audiobook almost three weeks ago. I had to look up nearly all of the names used in this review.

This book used specific examples and case studies of individuals with brain injuries to explain how the brain works. The examples included people I’d heard of before, like Phineas Gage and his iron rod, and people I had not, like Daniel Carleton Gajdusek and his work on kuru (and his conviction for child molestation, holy crap). The author included a wide variety of examples, although at times I felt that his choices were a little U.S.-centric. At least two examples involved U.S. presidents.

REVIEW: The Caves of Steel (book) by Isaac Asimov

The Caves of Steel is a sci-fi mystery. I got it via interlibrary loan.

Review:

A while back, Audible did this thing that I think they called “blind date with an audiobook” or something like that. I got matched up with Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel. I opted not to buy the audiobook, but the idea of a sci-fi mystery starring a human cop and a robot partner intrigued me, so I requested it via ILL.

The Caves of Steel is set in a future where the Earth’s population has reached the point where people must either live efficiently or die. Everyone lives in great steel-enclosed Cities, eats together in communal kitchens, and uses communal bathrooms, and only robots go out into the open air. Elijah “Lije” Baley, a New York City police detective, is well aware of the kind of life he could have had if his father hadn’t been declassified. He’s also well aware that his job will continue to exist only for as long as he is able to prove that robots can’t do it better, so it’s with significant wariness and distaste that he agrees to work with a Spacer robot on a murder case.

The victim is a Spacer named Roj Nemennuh Sarton. Tensions between Earth humans and Spacers, humans who long since left Earth for other planets but still maintain a small Earth presence, are already high, and this murder threatens to push things to a breaking point. The Spacers believe that one of the City humans killed Dr. Sarton. Although they could insist on their own investigation, they agree to let the New York City police handle it, on the condition that the robot Daneel Olivaw, Dr. Sarton’s creation, be included.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

REVIEW: The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie (book) by Jennifer Ashley

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie is historical romance.

Review:

As usual, I regret that I didn’t review this sooner. My memories of this book are fuzzier than I’d like, but at least I took notes while reading. I’ll do the best I can.

Beth Ackerley used to be an elderly woman’s companion until the woman died and left everything to her. Now Beth is a wealthy but lonely widow. She thinks that marrying Lyndon Mather will help relieve her loneliness, until Lord Ian Mackenzie warns her about Mather’s mistresses. Since her idea about remarrying didn’t work out, Beth decides to travel to Paris and spend her time painting instead (never mind that she has never painted before in her life).

The thing is, Ian has decided that Beth is going to be his wife - not because he has fallen instantly in love with her, but rather because he wants to have sex with her, and sex with a respectable lady like Beth requires marriage (even Beth wonders at the logic of this). He follows her to Paris, where she asks that the two of them be lovers, but nothing more. The situation is complicated by several murders. An inspector warns Beth that Ian is probably the killer and can’t be trusted, while Beth finds herself unable to believe that Ian could ever murder anyone. But Ian is definitely hiding something

REVIEW: Haikyu!! Collection 2 (anime TV series)

Haikyu!! Collection 2 includes the second half of the first season of this series - episodes 14-25.

Review:

I picked up the second half of the first season of Haikyu!! before I’d completely finished the first half, but it took me a couple weeks to get around to watching it. I probably should have watched both parts back-to-back, but it worked out anyway.

This second half of the season features the series’ first non-practice matches. If Karasuno can win every single one of their upcoming matches, they’ll get to go to the nationals. Their first match is against a so-so team that includes an old friend of Karasuno’s captain. Their second match is against Date Tech, the team that temporarily crushed Azumane’s will to play. Their third match is against Aoba Johsai, the team Karasuno played a practice match against earlier in the season. Although Karasuno has played against them before, they have almost no experience facing off against Aoba Johsai’s primary setter, Oikawa.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

REVIEW: City of Strife (e-book) by Claudie Arseneault

City of Strife is fantasy. I read an ARC copy, which probably differs from the final book.

Review:

City of Strife is set in the bustling city of Isandor and stars a huge cast of characters, each with intersecting storylines, histories, and paths. A few examples:
  • Arathiel, a human whose ill-fated journey to find a cure for his sick sister transformed him, dulling all his senses and giving him a much longer lifespan. It’s been over 130 years since he last set foot in Isandor, and he now feels like an unwelcome stranger there. The one place he feels comfortable: the Shelter, which provides food and a place to sleep to anyone who needs it. It’s there that he becomes friends with Larryn, the Shelter’s owner, Cal, a halfling, and Hasryan, a dark elf.
  • Nevian, an apprentice mage in the Myrian enclave. He lives in constant fear of Master Avenazar, who killed his previous tutor and now regularly abuses him. Nevian’s only ally is Varden, a High Priest of Keroth and former Myrian slave. Unfortunately, Varden, too, must tread carefully around Avenazar.
  • Lord Diel Dathirii, an elf and head of the Dathirii family. When he witnesses Avenazar publicly torturing Nevian, he decides that it’s time to finally take a stand against the Myrians, who have thus far been permitted to live by their own laws while in their enclave in Isandor. The rest of his family will stand by his decisions and support him, but that may not be enough if Isandor’s other noble families decide to abandon House Dathirii to face the Myrians alone.
City of Strife is one of the very few (perhaps only?) ARCs I’ve ever requested from an author. I was interested in the book’s LGBTQIA+ cast and “found family” aspect, and the author had a nice online form that, if I remember correctly, only asked for interested reviewers’ email addresses (easy! low stress! didn’t require NetGalley or a Twitter DM!). The long book description concerned me a little and made it difficult to tell what the book would be like, but I figured I’d give it a shot.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

REVIEW: Haikyu!! Collection 1 (anime TV series)

Haikyu!! is a sports anime that focuses on high school volleyball. It's licensed by Sentai Filmworks.

This review includes slight spoilers.

Review:

Hinata becomes obsessed with volleyball after seeing a short player, the “Little Giant,” score in a National Championship on TV. He practices as much as possible but has to do most of it on his own or with the girls’ volleyball team. He barely manages to get a team together before his very first match, so it’s no surprise to anyone but him when his team is thoroughly defeated. However, his athleticism and determination to win do at least make an impression on Kageyama, one of the opposing team’s players.

Hinata spends the rest of his time in junior high training, looking forward to the day he can join Karasuno High’s volleyball team, the same one the Little Giant used to play on. What he didn’t expect was that his greatest enemy, Kageyama, would also be joining the team. Even worse, neither of them will be allowed to join if they can’t learn to work together.

REVIEW: Otters in Space (e-book) by Mary E. Lowd

Otters in Space is a self-published sci-fi novel. It's 60,130 words long.

Review:

This is set sometime in the future. Humans have long since abandoned Earth. The dogs and cats they left behind eventually attained sentience and built their own societies in and around humanity’s ruins. They have jobs, government, cars, phones - basically, their lives look a lot like ours today.

Unfortunately for cats, this is largely a dog’s world. Cats are considered second-class citizens and have to struggle to get decent-paying jobs. Kipper, the book’s main character, doesn’t really expect that things will ever get better, but she tries to support her sister Petra’s political aspirations anyway. Then Kipper and Petra learn about a possible secret cat utopia in Ecuador, which they dub “Cat Havana” (never mind that Havana isn’t in Ecuador). After Petra suddenly disappears, apparently to go see Cat Havana for herself, Kipper decides to join her.

Monday, January 30, 2017

REVIEW: The Galloway Road (e-novella) by Catherine Adams

The Galloway Road is a fantasy story published by Less Than Three Press. It's only 19,000 words long.

Review: 

Renna is a young mage on her way to her first job. Her traveling companions include a pair of musicians specifically requested by Renna’s new employer, plus Brett, the mercenary hired to protect them all. Brett is closed mouthed about himself and his past, and Renna has secrets of her own. However, none of that may matter if they can't manage to survive the Galloway Road’s deadly horrors.

This story takes place over the course of 11 days and mostly features the group traveling from one inn to another. The beginning was boring, dull, and a little confusing, although the Galloway Road’s creepy atmosphere eventually grew on me, as did Renna and Brett (sort of). A word of warning: some of the descriptions are gruesome. The Galloway Road is called that because it's lined with gallows and gibbets. Sometimes the people Renna, Brett, and the musicians pass are dead, and sometimes they're not. Honestly, if I had been Renna or the musicians, Galloway Road alone would have had me questioning the wisdom of agreeing to work for Lord Galloway.

REVIEW: Big Windup! 2 (anime TV series)

Big Windup! 2 is the second season of Big Windup!, a baseball anime. Although the first season was licensed by Funimation, it apparently didn’t sell well enough for them to license the second season. Instead, Right Stuf licensed the second season and released it only a couple months ago.

Review:

This second season picks up right where the first one left off - the game between Tosei and Nishiura ended only a few hours prior. Nishiura plays against Sakitama in the first half of the season, and against Bijou in the second half. There are also a few prominent themes and storylines: Bijou’s assistant coach, an ex-Tosei player who wants to win so badly that he encourages a Bijou player to cheat and to injure other players; Abe and his efforts to properly communicate with Mihashi; and Mihashi’s blind obedience to Abe.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

REVIEW: Justice, My Foot (live action movie)

Justice, My Foot is a Hong Kong action-comedy movie.

Review:

Sung Sai Kit is the best lawyer around, willing to take any case (as long as he’s offered plenty of money) and say anything he has to in order to win. His wife, Madam Sung, appreciates all the finery that Sung is able to buy for her, but she also superstitiously believes that Sung’s work is the reason why 12 of their 13 children have died. When their 13th child dies right after Sung’s most recent court win, Madam Sung decides she’s had enough - Sung will retire, even if she has to push him every step of the way. She even goes so far as to curse the child she’s carrying. If Sung breaks his promise and goes back to being a lawyer, then their son will be born without a penis. (They just assume it’ll be a son, since all 13 of their other children were.)

However, it’s Madam Sung herself who eventually convinces Sung to go back to work. She meets a pregnant woman whose husband died under suspicious circumstances, and she argues on the woman’s behalf after the woman gives birth and then tries to kill herself. Sung takes the job on, but the corruption he finds himself up against may be more than even he can handle.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

REVIEW: Big Windup! (anime TV series)

I’ve already reviewed Big Windup! twice, but I figured a third time wouldn’t hurt.

Anyway, I’ve watched this twice in the past month. The first time was intended to be a refresher before watching Big Windup! 2, while the second time was a bit of presidential inauguration self-care.

This first season of Big Windup! introduces viewers to the Nishiura High School baseball team. The team barely has enough members, and they’re all freshmen. Mihashi, in particular, stands out. He says he doesn’t want to be on the team, but it’s obvious he desperately wants to be a pitcher. He pitched all throughout middle school, and his experience on that team was so bad that it emotionally scarred him. He’s now convinced that he’s a terrible pitcher and that no one could possibly want him on a team. However, Abe, the catcher, recognizes his determination and skill and wants him to stay on the team.

The first half of the season shows the whole team training and learning to work together, after which they play against Mihoshi, the team Mihashi would have been on if he hadn’t purposely transferred to another high school. In the second half of the season, Nishiura plays against Tousei, the winner of last year’s National Koshien Tournament.

REVIEW: Mayday: A Kaiju Thriller (e-book) by Chris Strange

Mayday: A Kaiju Thriller is a sci-fi thriller with a bit of a hardboiled detective story mixed in. It's self-published and 83,930 words long.

Review:

About 19 years ago, enormous monsters that were later dubbed “Maydays” appeared all over the world. Over the course of 9 years, they killed 1.1 billion people. Nothing anyone did seemed to have any effect on the Maydays, until Professor Nikolai Volkov unleashed his newly invented mind control technology. Humans still couldn’t harm Maydays, but now they could at least control them. Volkov decided to combine entertainment and punishment and created Volkov Entertainment Incorporated, a company specializing in broadcasting “Mayday vs. Mayday” battles.

The company has been doing pretty well for the past 10 years. Then something shocking and supposedly impossible happens: Yllia, one of the Maydays, dies. Jay Escobar, head of Volkov Entertainment’s Investigative Division, declares that Yllia was murdered. But who could murder a Mayday? Nukes couldn’t put a scratch on them, and even other Maydays are only able to do a little damage.

REVIEW: Tales from Outer Lands (e-book) by Shira Glassman

Tales from Outer Lands is fantasy.

Review:

My edition of Tales from Outer Lands was published by Torquere Press. The author has since rereleased it as part of Tales from Perach.

This collection contains two stories, which I’ll write about separately.

“Rivka in Port Saltspray”

This takes place a year and a half after Rivka left her home, so I think it’s maybe a year and a half prior to the events in The Second Mango. Rivka is stuck in Port Saltspray with no way to get her dragon-horse to Zembluss, where she’d been hoping to fight in a civil war and earn a much-needed paycheck. A man named Waterweed seems to be the answer to her problems: he wants to hire her to fight in a competition for him. The prize, he says, is his beloved’s hand in marriage - because he’s missing an arm, he’d never stand a chance on his own.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

REVIEW: The Second Mango (e-book) by Shira Glassman

The Second Mango is fantasy containing both f/f and m/f romance. It's very short - I don't know the word count, but it came out to 140 pages on my Nook Simple Touch.

Review:

The Second Mango is the first book in Glassman’s Mangoverse series. I’m reviewing the Torquere edition. The author has since gotten the rights back from that publisher and rereleased it, and I don’t know if the two editions differ in any way.

The Second Mango stars Shulamit, the new queen of Perach, and Rivka, a female warrior for hire who travels disguised as a man. Shulamit’s father died two months prior to the start of the story, and since then she has both been trying to deal with her grief and find herself a lover - a difficult task, since she’s a lesbian and the only other lesbian she’d ever met was Aviva, who’d been her first and only lover and who had left her without explanation. Rivka agrees to help Shulamit find a woman who might love her and who she might love in return. Their journey brings them to a temple filled with nuns who have been turned to stone by an evil sorcerer. Rivka and Shulamit are the only hope the nuns have of breaking free of their curse.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

REVIEW: Servant x Service (manga, vol. 1) by Karino Takatsu, translated by Amanda Haley

Servant x Service is a four-panel comedy comic strip series licensed by Yen Press.

Review:

I know it seems like I’m on some kind of four-panel comic strip series kick, but it’s mostly by accident. I’m trying to get through more of my manga collection, and they looked like the quickest reads and the volumes most likely to help me free up some shelf space. Unfortunately for my shelf space situation, this actually turned out to be pretty good.

Servant x Service is primarily set in a public service office building in Japan. The cast includes several newly hired employees in the Health & Welfare Department: Yutaka Hasebe, a carefree and lazy guy who is also somehow brilliant at everything he does; Lucy (etc.) Yamagami, a woman who became a civil servant in order to find the civil servant who approved her amazingly long name and give him a piece of her mind; and Saya Miyoshi, a woman who can never get her paperwork done because elderly people love talking to her and she doesn’t know how to gently disengage. They are overseen by Taishi Ichimiya, who hasn’t been around that much longer than them. The cast is later joined by: Megumi Chihaya, a temp who cosplays in her free time; Touko, a teenaged civil service geek; and an adorable stuffed bunny.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

REVIEW: The Ancient Magus' Bride (manga, vol. 1) by Kore Yamazaki, translated by Adrienne Beck

The Ancient Magus' Bride is a fantasy series. It's licensed by Seven Seas.

Review:

This starts with the heroine, Chise Hatori, being sold in an auction. Her new owner is Elias Ainsworth, a mage with some kind of animal skull (bull?) for a head. Elias tells Chise that she’s to be his new apprentice. He removes her chains and even gives her her own room. It’s hard to believe that all of this doesn’t come with strings attached - and then Elias tells Chise that he also plans to make her his bride.

You’d think that’d be the start of something awful and creepy, except Elias doesn’t actually do anything. He takes Chise to town, where she meets Angelica Purley, an artificer and one of the world’s last witches. Chise also meets other acquaintances of Elias, including Simon Cullum, a priest, and Lindel, caretaker of dragons, and learns more about what Elias meant when he called her a “sleigh beggy.”

Saturday, January 7, 2017

REVIEW: Rocket Raccoon, Vol. 1: A Chasing Tale (graphic novel) written by Skottie Young, art by Skottie Young and Jake Parker

I picked this up during the "going out of business" sale at Hastings.

Review:

Note: Everything I know about Rocket and Groot I learned from the Guardians of the Galaxy movie. I've had no other exposure to these characters.

There are three stories in this volume. I’ll write about each separately.

The first one begins with a flashback to a time, three years prior to the story’s present, when Rocket saved Princess Amalya. Fast forward to the present, and Rocket is taking his latest date to a wrestling match starring Groot and some giant green thing. The date gets cut short when Rocket is arrested for murders he doesn’t recall committing but that were definitely done by someone resembling him. The thing is, as far as Rocket knows he’s the last of his kind.

This story was a bit messy, with lots of characters and a few different story threads, but it was also fun. There was the mystery of the identity of the murderer, Rocket’s fragile hope that he might not be the last of his kind after all, and the vast murderous horde composed of Rocket’s ex-girlfriends (I felt kind of iffy about how that aspect turned out). I liked the weird organic getaway vehicle.

In the second story, Rocket and Groot are with what appears to be a Space Boy Scout Troop for some reason. The kids want Rocket to tell them another story, and Groot suggests “the one with the map.” Rocket refuses and says Groot should tell it instead, so Groot does.

This one was kind of weird, what with everything Groot saying sounding like “I am Groot.” Still, like the first one it was fun - lots of action scenes, shooting, a Deadpool cameo, a sword fight, and a ship guided by (?) a severed eyeball. The ending was cute, and I could see why Rocket didn’t particularly want to tell the story. Ha! And the little leaf-headed scout was adorable.

In the third story, a telepathic dog being named Cosmo calls in a favor and asks Rocket to help an ex-battle mech rescue its ex-battle mech comrades before they can be reprogrammed and forced to act as weapons again.

This one was both cute and oddly sweet. I liked the robots.

Now for the volume as a whole: It was okay. It didn’t leave me clamoring for more, but I’d read another volume if I had one on hand. The art style wasn’t really to my taste, although it had a lot of energy and fit the stories well.

Extras:
  •  Four pages of variant covers, 10 covers in all.

REVIEW: Standoff (book) by Lauren Dane

Standoff is paranormal erotic romance, the fifth book in Dane's Cascadia Wolves series.

Review:

Cade Warden is the Alpha of the Cascadia Pack. Feeling what it’s like to have a mate secondhand through his anchor bond to Nina, his brother Lex’s mate, is no longer enough for him. He’s lonely and wants a mate of his own, but it’s still a surprise, to say the least, when she turns out to be Grace Pellini, the sister of his biggest enemy.

Grace hasn’t had a real home and Pack for years. Even now, she's only gotten closer to her brother again in order to spy on him and analyze the dangerous virus he’s been testing out on random humans and werewolves. Although she hasn't yet managed to create a vaccine, she finally has enough info to help the National Aligned Packs in their war against her brother and his people. Her plans to continue spying on her brother are derailed when she realizes that Cade is her mate. Grace may have finally found the home and family she’s been longing for, if Cade’s pack members will accept her, and if they all manage to survive this war.

REVIEW: Azumanga Daioh Omnibus (manga) by Kiyohiko Azuma, translated by Stephen Paul

Azumanga Daioh is (primarily) a four-panel high school comedy comic strip series.

Review:

I first read Azumanga Daioh back when it was released in four volumes by ADV Manga. Although I had fond memories of it, I probably wouldn’t have gotten Yen Press’s omnibus edition if I hadn’t spotted it in the midst of a “going out of business” sale shopping frenzy. Happily, it made for a really nice reread, even though the ending didn’t affect me quite as strongly this time around.

Azumanga Daioh is a comedy series consisting primarily of 4-panel comic strips. It doesn’t really have what I’d call a plot. Instead, it follows the high school years of several girls in the same class from beginning to end, as well as the daily lives of some of their teachers. A few of the characters:
  • Sakaki: A cool-looking, quiet, and athletic girl who secretly loves animals and other cute things.
  • Chiyo: An adorable and smart 10-year-old who skipped a few grades.
  • Yomi: A girl who worries too much about her weight, but who also doesn’t let that stop her from eating the foods she loves.
  • Tomo: An energetic and annoying girl who tends to do things without thinking them through first.
  • Osaka: A transfer student who has a weird way of viewing the world and tends to live life at a slower pace than everyone else around her.
  • Kaorin: A girl with a huge crush on Sakaki.
  • Yukari: The class’s homeroom teacher. She’s so immature and lazy that it’s surprising she hasn’t been fired.
  • Kurosawa (aka Nyamo): The physical education teacher, and Yukari’s best friend.
The strips deal with everything from lunch, to hay fever, to several students’ bizarre dreams. It’s pretty light-hearted and fluffy throughout, although there’s one male teacher who’s extremely creepy.

Worst of 2016

2016 wasn't a great year for reading or movie-watching for me.

Worst Books:
Worst Shorter Works (Novellas and Short Stories):
Worst Graphic Novels (Manga, etc.):

Although my links go to the whole series, the entire series might not have been bad - it was just that certain volumes were bad enough to prompt me to include the series in my "worst" list.
Worst Audiobooks:
Worst Movies:
Worst TV Series:
Honorable Mentions:
  • Dramaworld (live action TV series) - I never wrote a post about this one or even managed to finish it, but I still feel like it should be included on this list. The premise made me extremely uncomfortable. A white girl who's a huge fan of Korean dramas gets sucked into Dramaworld, a fictional world where all Korean dramas take place. People are magically able to understand her, and she them, via automatically generated subtitles. The main character is supposed to act as a background facilitator of the romances that drive Dramaworld, but she promptly inserts herself into a prominent romantic story. This review does a great job of detailing how incredibly awful this setup is. 
  • I kind of want to list Yuri!!! on Ice here, which would make it the first series to ever appear on both my "Best of the year" and "Worst of the year" lists. I enjoyed it too much to call it one of the worst shows I watched in 2016, but I don't think it's unfair to say it was one of my biggest disappointments. This part in an interview with the creator, in particular, irked me: (about the kiss/hug) "As for me, I don’t want to say 'this is what actually happened' and force an interpretation on people. Everyone can imagine the future they want to believe in that scene, and I won’t stop them (LOL)."

Best of 2016

I separated out rewatches, rereads, and relistens because otherwise the lists probably would have been heavily weighted towards those.

I relied heavily on my LibraryThing ratings data to come up with these lists, although that doesn't mean that everything with a high rating got listed.

Best Books:
Honorable Mentions:
Rereads I'd Recommend:
Best Shorter Works (Novellas and Short Stories):
Best Graphic Novels (Manga, etc.):

A series is listed if one or more volumes got 4.5 or 5 stars. This may not mean that I think the whole series is that good, but I'm listing them by series anyway, because I am lazy.
Best Audiobooks:
Honorable Mention:
  • The Fold by Peter Clines, read by Ray Porter - I never got around to reviewing this one. I didn't think it was as good as its sequel, 14, but I still enjoyed it.
Relistens I'd Recommend:
Best Movies:
Best TV Series: 
Honorable Mention:
Rewatches I'd Recommend:

2016 in numbers

My 2016 reading and watching didn’t quite go as planned. For the first time since I started having yearly reading goals, I wasn’t able to meet my goal. Unfortunately, it’s also tough to say how far off I was, since my primary reading site, Booklikes, has been on the fritz for weeks/months now. I haven’t actually added a review or book to that site in several weeks, and I imagine I’ll be dropping it completely in 2017. Despite my issues with Goodreads, I've gone back to using it, although I still consider LibraryThing my primary cataloging site.

Here’s how the numbers break down, according to my LibraryThing data:

Watching:

I watched 10 different TV shows and 16 different movies - 4 fewer TV shows and 3 fewer movies than last year. Of the 26 things I watched, 19 were live action and 7 were animated (only 4 Japanese anime). Most of what I watched (15) was streaming stuff. I got excellent value out of my Netflix subscription (12 out of the 15 streamed things), but should probably drop my DramaFever subscription (0 shows or movies) before it comes up for renewal. I broke down and used Crunchyroll for the first time in ages, but didn’t actually go so far as to get a subscription. I did start an Amazon Prime subscription, although I haven’t decided yet whether I like it. If I keep it past the one-year point, it probably won’t be for the streaming TV options, since I’m not wild about Amazon Prime’s selection.

Takeaways for 2017: watch more physical media and either start using my DramaFever subscription more or drop it.

Reading:

Average Ratings:

I don't include ratings on this blog, but I do in LibraryThing. Out of the 133 things I read in 2016 (4 fewer than last year), I gave ratings to everything, although I didn’t quite manage to review everything. My average rating was 3.15 stars (last year it was 3.25 stars).

Last year I figured out what my average star rating was for novels, novellas, and short stories vs. graphic novels, manga, etc. I’m going to skip that this year, because trying to get the numbers to work out is annoying. I have a feeling that something might be off in my data, and I know for certain that at least one or two things had to be counted in more than one category (for example, Another S/0 includes both a novel and a short manga).

Paper books vs. E-books vs. Audiobooks:

Of the 133 works I read and listened to, 94 were paper books (71%), 25 were e-books (19%), and 14 were audiobooks (11% - all streamed digital audiobooks, even the 2 library checkouts). If you take out the graphic novels and manga, I think it works out to 37 paper works (63%), 22 e-books (37%). That means that in 2016 my e-book vs. paper reading was actually the reverse of what it was in 2015. Since I was purposely trying to get through more physical stuff in the hopes of offloading it, that makes sense. I'm probably going to try to continue that trend in 2017, for reasons that will be clear once you read the "Offloading vs. Acquiring" section of this post (ugh).

Used, New, or Library?

Of the 133 things I read, 39 (29%) were checked out from the library (interesting thing here: 2 of these were things I had donated to the library at an earlier date), 1 (<1%) was an ARC, 56 (42%) were new purchases, 29 (22%) were used purchases, and 8 (6%) were freebies (neither ARCs nor library checkouts).

Some takeaways: it’s probably a good thing I don’t really review ARCs, since I’m bad about reading them, and I should really stop getting freebies. Also, as a librarian I feel kind of guilty that I didn’t check out more stuff.

Offloading vs. Acquiring

I had hoped to offload more than I acquired in 2015. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. I noticed I tend to buy more stuff when I’m stressed, so there was that. Also, Hastings went out of business and I ended up going a little wild with their final sales. Here’s how the numbers worked out:

Total number acquired: 342 (approximately - includes e-books, but I wasn’t always good about adding all my Humble Bundle acquisitions to LibraryThing)

Total number offloaded: 76

Shelf space used by up by newly acquired stuff: 166.77 inches

Shelf space freed up by offloaded stuff: 64.81 inches

Takeaway: I really need to do better in 2017 - either acquire fewer items (or at least fewer physical items) or offload more. Also, I buy way too many DVDs/Blu-ray discs (24) for someone who mostly watches stuff via streaming services.
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