Friday, November 3, 2017

REVIEW: How to Take Off Your Mask (game)

How to Take Off Your Mask is a fantasy romance visual novel. You play as Lilia (name customizable, although I think if you choose something other than the default the characters don’t say her name in spoken dialogue). Lilia lives with her grandmother and helps out at her bakery. Lilia hasn’t had parents around for years, but she’s kept it together by focusing on her young friend Ronan and being the best “big sister” she can for him. They’re now in their late teens (I think? Or maybe early 20s) and Lilia still treats Ronan like a younger brother who needs constant supervision and protection. However, things are starting to change.

Lilia wakes up one day to discover that her body and speech have entirely changed. It turns out that she’s half-luccretia. Luccretias are feared and hated by many humans, and anti-luccretia sentiment has been growing lately. Half-luccretias look human until their first transformation, at which time they transform into their luccretia body, which has cat ears and a tail. Some luccretias talk like normal humans, while others end their sentences with “mya” or “nya.” Lilia is one of the “nya” types. Her luccretia form also happens to be several years younger than her human form, maybe 13 or 14.

As the anti-luccretia group makes its first moves, Lilia interacts with Ronan both as herself as as “Leea” (name customizable), her luccretia form. Because Ronan has no idea they’re both the same person, Lilia gets to see another side of Ronan and realizes they’ve both been hiding things from each other. Will they be able to take off their masks and finally be honest with themselves and each other?

REVIEW: Cardcaptor Sakura, Standard Edition, Vol. 1 (anime TV series)

Cardcaptor Sakura is a magical girl TV series that originally aired in Japan in the late ‘90s and, in heavily edited form, in the US from 2000 to 2001 (according to Wikipedia - I could have sworn I was younger when I watched it, but apparently my memories are faulty). I caught a tiny bit of it back when it was on TV, but for some reason it never captured my interest.

I was excited to learn that this series was finally being released in the US in unedited form, but I was a little wary. I had fallen in love with it via the manga but wasn’t sure the anime would be to my tastes since, like I said, what little I’d seen of it on TV hadn’t gotten me hooked. Buying the full thing (because I almost always buy the full thing) would be a serious monetary commitment. But then Right Stuf had their anniversary sale and I finally caved.

Cardcaptor Sakura stars Sakura, a 10-year-old girl. She lives with her father, who’s a professor (of ancient history? Egyptian history? not sure), and her older brother, Toya. Her mother died when she was very young. One day, Sakura finds a book in her home’s basement. It contains Clow Cards, almost all of which escape. With the help of the cards’ guardian, Kero, Sakura is able to capture one of the cards. Kero tells her that she is now a Cardcaptor and must collect all the rest of the cards before they do any harm - all the cards have some sort of magical ability and some of them can be very mischievous and/or actively harmful. Each card she collects gives Sakura new abilities that can help her capture more cards.

Along the way, viewers are introduced to other characters: Yukito, Toya’s best friend and Sakura’s not-so-secret crush; Tomoyo, Sakura’s best friend; and Xiaolang (I prefer Syaoran, but I’ll go with the romanization these DVDs used here), Sakura’s rival for both Yukito’s affection and card capturing. Most of the episodes are very “Card of the Week,” but some of them focus more on Sakura’s relationships and family history.

Vacation

I'm about to go on vacation for a couple weeks. I'll still have access to the Internet, but it'll mostly be via my phone, so don't expect anything in the way of reviews. If I post at all, it'll be over at Booklikes, although I'll probably add books and ratings to LibraryThing and maybe Goodreads as well.

I plan on reading lots of manga volumes, so you can expect lots of spoilery review posts in late November and December.

As for today, I have to clean, pack, and take care of a million other things before I leave for the airport. I have a few reviews I might finish up and push out, as well.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

REVIEW: The Moai Island Puzzle (book) by Alice Arisugawa, translated by Ho-Ling Wong

The Moai Island Puzzle is a Japanese mystery novel. I got it via interlibrary loan.

Review:

Alice Arisugawa is the third Honkaku Mystery Writers Club of Japan author I’ve tried. I thought Arisugawa would also be my first female honkaku mystery author, but I didn’t bother to research that and, as it turns out, the author is actually male.

He also wrote a male character named after his pseudonym into The Moai Island Puzzle. I don’t like when authors write themselves into their own books, even if all they and their character have in common is their names, so this was a bit of a red flag for me, but I figured I’d let it pass. I was really hoping this book would be as good as the one that led me to it, Soji Shimada’s The Tokyo Zodiac Murders. Or even Yukito Ayatsuji’s The Decagon House Murders, which had some issues but was still decent.

The Moai Island Puzzle starts by introducing readers to the members of the Eito University Mystery Club. The club’s only female member, Maria Arima, invites the other members to take a week-long holiday at her uncle’s villa on a tiny island. Only Alice Arisugawa (the narrator) and Jiro Egami are able to join her, but that doesn’t mean they’re alone: ten of Maria’s family members and family friends also take a holiday on the island at around this time every three years or so.

Alice and Egami arrive at the island with every intention of having fun. In particular, they’d like to solve the puzzle that Maria’s grandfather left behind. Before he died, Maria’s grandfather had several wooden moais, statues similar to the ones on Easter Island but much smaller, installed all over the island, each facing in a different direction. These statues are somehow the key to finding a treasure that Maria’s grandfather left behind.

Hideto, Maria's beloved cousin, was supposedly close to solving the puzzle three years ago but drowned before he could locate the treasure. Maria would like to finish what he started. Unfortunately, just as a typhoon is about to reach the island, a couple people are found shot to death inside a locked room. Was it suicide, or murder?

REVIEW: Land of the Lustrous (manga, vol. 1) by Haruko Ichikawa, translated by Alethea Nibley and Athena Nibley

Land of the Lustrous is SFF manga that's still ongoing in Japan. It's published by Kodansha Comics. I checked it out via interlibrary loan.

Review:

Land of the Lustrous is set on a world that has been battered by meteors several times over the course of its history, to the point that all life was driven into the ocean. Some of the surviving beings eventually sank to the bottom and were consumed by microorganisms, transforming them into inorganic substances that eventually formed into crystals (I know, it’s bizarre, but just try to accept it). Those crystals eventually became 28 (ish?) genderless gemstone-based beings that washed up onto the shore. Those gem beings are the series’ good guys. Beings from the moon, called Lunarians, periodically attack the gem beings so that they can capture them and break their bodies down into weapons and decorations.

The series’ main character is a gem being named Phosphophyllite (Phos). Phos desperately wants to become a member of one of the watcher and fighter pairs that protect everyone against the Lunarians, but unfortunately Phos is so brittle that that’s out of the question. So far, Phos has been unsuited to every task they’ve been assigned to, which is why I suspect the latest task Kongo, the group’s leader, has come up with is probably just busy work. Kongo asks Phos to compile a natural history.

Phos starts off by talking to the tragic and dangerous Cinnabar, because that’s who everyone keeps saying they should start with. After that, Phos spends some time with the Diamond fighting pair, Bort and Dia. And then there’s an incident with a giant snail.

Monday, October 30, 2017

REVIEW: Gone Home (game)

Warning: this review includes one very spoiler-filled paragraph. I provide another warning just before you get to it.

Like Tacoma, Fullbright’s newest game, Gone Home isn’t so much an adventure game as it is an interactive story, although the story is even slimmer here than it was in Tacoma.

You play as Katie, who has just arrived home in the very early AM after a trip abroad. The family just moved to this home and I’m pretty sure Katie has never been there. At any rate, the house is empty - no one else is home, and you don’t know why. There are a few cryptic notes from your younger sister indicating that something has happened and that you shouldn’t tell your parents anything. There are also a couple phone messages, one of which is particularly worrisome. In order to find out what happened, you have to explore the house, reading any notes you find and picking up keys and combination lock codes so that you can open new doors and learn more secrets. Touching certain items triggers voiceover narration from your sister, explaining a little of what happened to her while you were gone and how things got to the point they are now.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

REVIEW: The Bishop's Pawn (e-book) by Don Gutteridge

The Bishop's Pawn is a historical mystery. It's Book 7 in Gutteridge's Marc Edwards Mysteries series. I downloaded it for free during a sale.

Warning: My review includes one significant spoiler. If you'd like to read a version of this review where spoilers are hidden, I suggest you check my pages on LibraryThing, Goodreads, or Booklikes.

Review:

This is set primarily in Toronto in 1839, although some of the characters take a brief trip to New York City later on. At the start of the book we meet Dick Dougherty, a massively overweight man who was once a lawyer in New York City but who, after some vague and mysterious trouble, was able to relocate to Toronto. Since then, he’s been taking care of his two wards, Brodie and Celia, and slowly taking control of his life again. A recent courtroom success has inspired him to apply for admission to the Bar (he wasn’t disbarred back in New York), and with Brodie and Celia’s help and encouragement he’s slowly regaining his mobility. He now takes daily walks that are so regular and predictable people can practically set their watches by him.

Unfortunately, although the common folk of Toronto love Dougherty, the same can’t be said for some of the area’s political leaders. There are rumors that Dougherty’s relationship with Celia isn’t entirely proper, and Dougherty’s refusal to give any details on the events that got him run out of New York City inspires even more whispers. Things come to a head when Archdeacon John Strachan delivers a fiery sermon that accuses Dougherty of “vile and abominable” behavior. Not long after the sermon, Dougherty is discovered dead, with one of his eyes removed and a note with “Sodomite” written on it pinned to his chest.

Marc Edwards and others suspect that one of Strachan’s parishioners was influenced by his sermon and killed the man. They even find a likely suspect, drunk and covered in blood. However, some of the details don’t add up. Marc suspects there’s something else going on, but the tense political situation makes it difficult to discover the truth.

REVIEW: The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't (nonfiction book) by Robert I. Sutton

The No Asshole Rule is a nonfiction book. I checked out a library copy.

Review:

In this book, Sutton 1) defines workplace assholes, 2) describes the damage they can do to their workplaces and to themselves, 3) outlines how workplaces can try to implement a “no asshole” rule, 4) describes how you can keep from being an asshole, 5) provides tips for dealing with workplace assholes if your workplace isn’t making a concentrated effort to keep them out or deal with their behavior in some way, 6) and describes some of the benefits of occasionally being an asshole and/or having one around. And probably a few other things I forgot to list.

Sutton’s workplace assholes are basically what other books call workplace bullies, although I agree with Sutton that “asshole” is probably a better word to use. I think the average adult would probably connect with it more.

I started reading this in the hope of learning more and better strategies for dealing with workplace assholes. Unfortunately, although this was an engaging read that I largely agreed with, it didn’t really give me what I’d hoped for.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

REVIEW: Vintage: A Ghost Story (e-book) by Steve Berman

Vintage is YA m/m horror. I got it as part of a Story Bundle a while back.

Review:

Vintage’s protagonist is an unnamed mostly closeted gay teen, who I will call MC (short for “Main Character”) from here on out. MC ran away from home after his parents reacted badly to learning that he was gay, so now he lives with his aunt, who he’s afraid might do the same thing. The only people who know his secret are his new friend Trace and several other friends she introduced him to.

His life here is better than it had been back with his parents. He has friends, he’s convinced his aunt to let him drop out of school and get his GED and work instead, and he likes his job at the vintage clothing shop. Still, a part of him is always afraid that the wrong person will find out he’s gay and ruin everything and, at the same time, he desperately wants a boyfriend. When he sees a cute boy in vintage clothes walking alone, he takes a risk and talks to him. And even though he’s a weird goth kid talking to a guy dressed like a jock, it doesn’t go badly! Unfortunately for MC, Josh, the cute boy, is a ghost.

At first, MC and Trace are delighted at the prospect of meeting a real ghost. However, things soon take a turn for the worse. Josh follows MC home. Although MC is excited that a boy is finally interested in him, Josh’s touch could literally suck the life out of him. Josh’s raging jealousy is another problem. If MC and Trace can’t figure out how to put Josh to rest, MC and anyone he cares out could end up dead.

REVIEW: The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (book) by Soji Shimada, translation by Ross and Shika Mackenzie

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders is a Japanese mystery novel.

Review:

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders starts off with a “last will and testament” written by Heikichi Umezawa in 1936. In this document, he detailed his belief that he is possessed and how he came to the realization that killing six of his daughters and nieces would solve his problems. Using their zodiac signs as a guide, he’d take one body part from each young woman and construct Azoth, the perfect woman.

The story then fast forwards to about 40 years later. Kazumi, a mystery fan, is describing the facts of the Tokyo Zodiac Murders to his friend Kiyoshi, an astrologer and occasional detective. The six young women were, in fact, killed and mutilated in the manner described in Heikichi’s will, but Heikichi couldn’t possibly have done it: he’d been dead for several days prior to the murders. In addition to Heikichi’s murder and the Azoth murders, one of Heikichi’s other stepdaughters was also killed. No one is sure whether that murder was related to the others or not.

After Kiyoshi takes on a client with a distant but potentially embarrassing connection to the case, Kiyoshi and Kazumi end up with a one-week deadline to solve a mystery that no one else has managed to solve in 40 years. Diagrams included throughout the text invite readers to solve the mystery along with them.

REVIEW: Hot Steamy Glasses (manga) by Tatsumi Kaiya, translated by Sachiko Sato

Hot Steamy Glasses in a one-shot yaoi manga - I suppose you could call it m/m contemporary romance. It's licensed by Digital Manga Publishing.

Review:

Hot Steamy Glasses features two stories, although the second one is extremely short, more of an extra than anything. Most of the volume is devoted to the story of Takeo and Fumi. Takeo is the president of a successful I.T. company. He’s been in love with his friend Fumi for the past 17 years. He lives in hope that, despite being heterosexual, Fumi will one day agree to live with him and go on a date with him. Fumi’s younger brother, Shogo, is doubtful of this but does want something to change: either for Fumi to finally give Takeo a chance or for Takeo to move on and fall in love with someone who isn’t quite so mean to him.

Takeo’s an otaku, specifically one who’s into moe characters (romanized here as “moeh”), and Fumi isn’t shy about expressing his annoyance and disgust. Still, Takeo persists and does what he can to appeal to Fumi and make him happy.

REVIEW: Tacoma (game)

I purchased Tacoma on sale via the Humble Bundle store and played it on Steam.

Review:

I suppose you could call Tacoma an adventure game, although it more of an interactive story than a game. There are a few instances where you need to figure out people’s passcodes, but they’re so easy to figure out that they don’t really count as puzzles.

You play as Amy Ferrier, a contractor sent to Tacoma station by Venturis, the company that owns Tacoma. A short while ago an accident happened and the station, which had housed six human employees, one AI named ODIN, and a cat, is now abandoned. Your job is to explore the station and retrieve AI-recorded data and ODIN’s wetware.

The AI-recorded data takes the form of recordings that your augmented reality device allows you to see as though you’re glimpsing into the station’s past. All the characters are represented by colored silhouettes of themselves. You can rewind and fastforward in order to follow different people and occasionally access their emails and other files.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

REVIEW: Hatsune Miku Graphics: Vocaloid Art & Comic, Vol. 1 (artbook) English translation by Jocelyne Allen

Meh. I considered buying this and related Vocaloid titles a while back, and I’m now glad I didn’t. It’s not bad, it just doesn’t have anything in it that I think I’d want to pore over again at a later date. For those who are wondering (because I wondered, back when I was considering getting it), it’s primarily an artbook. There are only a few comics.

Artwork:

There were a bunch of Vocaloid illustrations from various artists. Hatsune Miku was the most common subject, but there were also lots of works featuring Len and Rin and a few featuring Luka, Meiko, and (very occasionally) Kaito. Each artist got a line or two to introduce themselves, and some of them included commentary for the individual illustrations. Unfortunately, each artist only got one or two pages, so the more illustrations and commentary they included the smaller the illustrations were.

Dark days, continued

Remember this post I wrote back in December? My day-to-day life is basically the same, although I have since become more comfortable with calling my representatives. Also, I live in fear that I or people I know will survive a natural disaster only to learn that the president is too incompetent or childish to see to it that the federal government provides aid in a prompt manner. And I worry that we're one presidential tweet storm away from war. I used to worry a lot more about Friday news, but I've since become numb to that.

The reason why I'm writing this post is to include some links - then I promise I'll go back to posting nothing but reviews.

Monday, October 9, 2017

REVIEW: Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You, Volume 2, Standard Edition (anime TV series)

Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You boxed set 2 includes episodes 13 to 15 and 17 to 25 on both DVD and Blu-ray discs (episode 16 was omitted because it was a recap episode). It’s a high school romance series.

Oddly, the info on the back of the case indicates that Disc 2 of the Blu-ray portion has episodes 9-12 and Disc 1 has the episodes after that. I’m going to say that’s probably an error, because I think I watched Disc 1 and then 2, and I don’t recall there being any episode order issues.

This post includes a few spoilers.

Review:

Again, I’ve previously reviewed this series, so I won’t say too much here. This set picks up right where the first one ended. Kazehaya and Sawako continue to be adorable together, and their romance continues to move at a snail’s pace. The bit where Sawako fell asleep on Kazehaya’s shoulder was wonderful - as was Ayane’s continued enjoyment at embarrassing Kazehaya by taking a picture of the moment.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

REVIEW: Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You, Volume 1, Standard Edition (anime TV series)

Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You boxed set 1 includes episodes 1 to 12 on both DVD and Blu-ray discs. It’s a high school romance series.

Review:

Right Stuf had a huge sale and I ended up buying this and a few other normally prohibitively expensive series, figuring that if I didn’t do it during the sale then I’d probably be passing on those titles forever. For the record, the series I picked up were Kimi ni Todoke, Cardcaptor Sakura, My Love Story!!, and Chihayafuru. Sentai Filmworks and NIS America are budget destroyers, although it could be worse. I could be pining for Aniplex of America titles. (Actually, there is one I want: Erased. $180 for a 12-episode, 5-hour-long series means I’ll likely never get it.)

This particular boxed set contains what I consider to be the best episodes in the series: the introduction of the series’ main characters, the beginnings of Sawako and Kazehaya’s friendship and romance, and the cementing of Sawako’s friendship with Ayane and Chizuru. I wish I could say that you could buy this boxed set and skip the rest in order to save money, but this first boxed set ends at a terrible spot and can’t stand on its own, if you’re at all invested in Kazehaya and Sawako’s romance. At the point the set ends, Kazehaya is running towards Sawako and Ryu, convinced that Sawako has feelings for Ryu and is about to confess those feelings to him.

REVIEW: The Dark Victorian: Risen (e-novella) by Elizabeth Watasin

The Dark Victorian: Risen is a f/f steampunk paranormal mystery, the first work in Watasin's The Dark Victorian series. It's self-published and 33,860 words long.

Review:

The Dark Victorian: Risen is set in a steampunk London with magic and paranormal aspects. Jim, an agent of Prince Albert’s Secret Commission, is given a new partner: Artifice, a Quaker and artificial ghost (meaning that she can turn incorporeal at will). All agents of the Secret Commission were once criminals - they were executed and then brought back to life, bound into service, with no memory of who they once were. They are able to guess some things about their past selves, but that’s about it. It generally isn’t a good idea for them to find and communicate with people they once knew.

Artifice, who chooses to go by the name Art, and Jim begin investigating their first case, the disastrous reanimation of several corpses. The culprit started with animals but appears to have moved on to humans. In each instance, the corpses manage to kill someone before either being destroyed or escaping.

REVIEW: My Love Story!! (anime TV series)

My Love Story!! is a 24 episode high school romance/comedy series. It’s licensed by Sentai Filmworks.

My review includes spoilers.

Review:

Takeo Goda is the kind of guy other guys look up to: strong, honorable, and kind. Unfortunately, he’s also the kind of guy girls steer clear of. Even though he’s just a high schooler, he’s huge and looks like he might be some kind of gangster. For years, every single girl Takeo has been interested in has fallen in love with his handsome best friend, Suna, even though Suna always rejects them. It’s gotten to the point that Takeo is resigned to this.

Then one day Takeo comes to the rescue of a girl being molested on the train. The girl, Rinko Yamato, brings Takeo baked goods as a thank you, but he immediately sees what’s really going on: she must be interested in Suna, just like all the other cute girls Takeo has liked in his life. Takeo really likes Rinko, so he decides to do the honorable thing and act as matchmaker between her and Suna. But does Takeo really understand Rinko’s feelings as well as he thinks, or is something else going on?

Friday, October 6, 2017

REVIEW: Invader (audiobook) by C.J. Cherryh, narrated by Daniel Thomas May

Invader is science fiction, the second book in Cherryh's Foreigner series.

Review:

I don't have much to say about this that I didn't already say in my review for the paper book and my review for the first audiobook. It was nice knowing all the things Bren didn't know this time around, and man I really wanted him to get some rest and read his post-surgery care instructions. I had forgotten how much of the beginning of the book involved Bren dragging himself from one problem to another when all he desperately wanted to do was sleep.

I continued to enjoy Daniel Thomas May's narration. As in the first audiobook, I loved him as Bren and was a bit iffier about some of his atevi voices. At any rate, I have the next four books in audio form and am looking forward to listening to them.

REVIEW: Unseemly Pursuits (e-book) by K.B. Owen

Unseemly Pursuits is a historical cozy mystery.

Review:

Concordia Wells is back for another year of teaching and trying to keep mischievous students’ pranks to a minimum. Hartford Women’s College has a new lady principal, Olivia Grant, who already has a reputation for being overly strict and who seems to hate Concordia in particular. Then there’s Madame Durand, a spirit medium who has started a “Spirit Club” on campus and who Concordia worries is taking advantage of her mother’s grief over the death of Concordia’s sister.

Everything takes a turn for the worse when an Egyptian amulet donated to the college is stolen and the man who donated it, Colonel Adams, is murdered. His daughter and Concordia’s best friend, Sophia Adams, confesses to the murder, but Concordia is convinced she didn’t do it. Finding the real killer will involve finding the amulet and learning more about her own father’s unexpected past as an Egyptologist.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

REVIEW: Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel (audiobook) by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor, narrated by Cecil Baldwin, guest starring Dylan Marron, Retta, Thérèse Plummer, & Dan Bittner

Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel is an often surreal mixture of horror, fantasy, and humor.

Review:

I’ve been a fan of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast for a while (although I’m woefully behind at the moment), so I was very excited when this book was first announced. I’ve owned it in two different formats since it first came out in 2015, but I kept putting off reading it because I couldn’t decide which format to start with, audio or paper. I finally settled on audio, figuring that something that started as a podcast would be better that way. Now that I’ve finished it, I feel like I made the right decision.

Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel stars Jackie Fierro, a nineteen-year-old pawn shop owner, and Diane Crayton, a single mom with a shapeshifting teenage son named Josh. As far as Jackie knows, she’s been nineteen forever and has owned her pawn shop forever. She doesn’t really think too hard about any of that until a strange customer, the Man in the Tan Jacket, comes in and gives her a slip of paper she literally can’t put down. Whenever she tries to get rid of it, it ends up right back in her hand. All it says is “King City.” Even worse, Jackie suddenly can’t write anything except “King City,” making it impossible for her to do her job.

Meanwhile, Diane’s life seems perfectly normal until one of her coworkers disappears. No one but her even remembers he existed, and it’s a mystery she can’t bring herself to leave alone. Her situation is further complicated by her son’s sudden desire to talk to his father. Diane would rather never talk about Josh’s father. Unfortunately, she keeps seeing him everywhere she goes. It gradually becomes apparent that the solution to both Jackie and Diane’s problems lies in the mysterious and possibly unreachable King City.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

REVIEW: Lure of the Mummy (short story) by Janis Susan May

Lure of the Mummy is horror. It's published by Carina Press and is approximately 23,000 words long.

My review includes spoilers.

Review:

Bert Carmody is a translator who specializes in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. He dreams of fame but seems destined to slog through boring grunt work for the rest of his career. Only handsome, young, and athletic guys like Rick Hamilton get the interesting assignments. Nothing in Bert’s life will ever go right as long as guys like Rick are around. Even gorgeous and sweet Melanie Kerry is more interested in Rick than in him.

Things begin to change when Bert acquires a mummified cat from one of the locals. Fame and Melanie might finally be within reach, if the consequences don’t catch up to him first.

Friday, September 22, 2017

REVIEW: Death Note: Another Note: The Los Angeles BB Murder Cases (book) by NisiOisin, original concept by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, translated by Andrew Cunningham

Death Note: Another Note is a prequel to Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata's Death Note.
 
Review:

I’ll start this review off with a warning: the book assumes you’ve read (or watched) most of Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s Death Note. I’m going to be writing this review with the same assumption - there are major spoilers for the series from here on out.

Okay, so this book stars L and Naomi Misora. If you don’t remember who Misora is, she was the FBI agent who began investigating Kira after her fiance, FBI agent Raye Penber, was killed by him. The book’s narrator is Mello, who has decided to write down some of L’s cases after his death, starting with this one. You know, in between hunting down Kira or something.

Anyway, Misora is trying to decide whether to resign from the FBI after a particular event that got her suspended when she receives an email from her fiance that actually turns out to be from L. L wants her help with a case he’s currently working on: the Los Angeles BB Murder Cases, also known as the Wara Ningyo Murders or the L.A. Serial Locked Room Killings. There have have been three murders so far and, due to the murderer’s pattern, L believes there may yet be a fourth and even a fifth, unless he and Misora can find the killer first. L sends Misora to be his eyes and hands, although it’s not long before she’s joined by Rue Ryuzaki, a suspicious and strange private detective who has a habit of crawling around on all fours and eating disgustingly sweet snacks.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

REVIEW: You'll Be the Death of Me! (book) Stacia Wolf

You'll Be the Death of Me! is a contemporary romantic comedy published by the now-defunct Samhain Publishing. I read a used paperback copy.

My review includes a few minor spoilers.

Review:

You’ll Be the Death of Me! stars Allison Leavitt, a successful mystery author, and Jay Cantrall, a Los Angeles police detective who’s been temporarily transferred to Spokane after a scandal. They happen to be neighbors in the same apartment building, and although they’re both instantly attracted to each other, they also don’t entirely trust or like each other.

Allison is leery of men who only want to date her for her money, doesn’t really think that sex (aside from masturbation) is all that great, has body issues (due to some scars and, possibly, her curviness), and is still working through her feelings of guilt and terror over a past traumatic event. The only man who interests her anymore is fictional: Detective Ben Stark, one of the main characters in her mystery series. Shockingly, Jay looks like both Allison’s mental image of Ben and the image of Ben on the proposed cover art for Allison’s next book. She can’t decide whether she’s interested in Jay because he looks like Ben, or because she’s just interested in Jay.

Meanwhile, Jay is leery of women who are more interested in his celebrity twin brother than they are in him. To be honest, he has trust issues with women in general at the moment, since it was his ex-girlfriend’s lies that resulted in the scandal that got him sent to Spokane. But there’s something about Allison that keeps drawing him in. Allison, her best friend Paige, and a landlady with an annoying Chinese crested dog that she believes can do no wrong make it hard for Jay to keep to himself.

REVIEW: Parasite Eve (book) by Hideaki Sena, translated by Tyran Grillo

Parasite Eve is Japanese horror. I got it via interlibrary loan.

Warning: my review includes significant spoilers. I cross-post to Goodreads, LibraryThing, and Booklikes, all places where I have access to spoiler tags, so if you'd like to read a spoiler-free review I suggest checking one of my accounts in those places.

Review:

Parasite Eve begins with the death of Kiyomi Nagashima. While driving, she suddenly blacks out and has the same dream she had previously only had on her birthday, a dream in which she is a worm-like being swimming through fluid. She recovers from her dream just in time to hit a telephone pole.

Toshiaki Nagashima, Kiyomi’s husband, is a researcher specializing in mitochondria. When he hears about Kiyomi’s accident, he drops everything and rushes to the hospital. Unfortunately, Kiyomi is brain dead. Toshiaki and Kiyomi’s parents agree to honor Kiyomi’s desire to be a kidney donor, but Toshiaki has one secret request of his own: he would like a sample of Kiyomi’s liver.

Kiyomi’s kidneys go to an unnamed man and a 14-year-old girl named Mariko Anzai, and Toshiaki gets the liver cells he so badly wanted. While Mariko struggles with guilt and fear over her latest transplant, Toshiaki is happily convinced that since Kiyomi’s liver cells are still alive and thriving, she isn’t actually dead. What no one realizes is that there is a monster hiding inside Kiyomi’s cells, and it’s slowly becoming strong enough to take the next step in its evolution.

Monday, September 11, 2017

REVIEW: The Drops of God (manga, vol. 2) story by Tadashi Agi, art by Shu Okimoto, translation by Kate Robinson

The Drops of God would be considered food manga, I guess. I got this copy via interlibrary loan.

And hey look, it's my first review written on my new computer. I finally replaced my old one after it had a few "mysterious blackout" moments and stopped being able to go into Sleep mode or consistently turn off.

Anyway, this review includes some spoilers.

Review:

Most of the volume is devoted to Shizuku selecting French wines for the “Italy vs. France” competition sponsored by his company’s new Wine Division, although it isn’t immediately apparent that the first part of the volume has anything at all to do with the competition.

In the first part of the volume, Shizuku helps a struggling French restaurant. Their business was nearly killed off by a bad review from Issei Tomine, and now he’s scheduled to come reevaluate the restaurant. The restaurant’s owner is confident about his food but has no idea what to do about the wine menu - his wife used to handle that, but she died some time ago. In order to figure out where the restaurant owner went wrong, Shizuku must discover how to properly pair wine and food.

Shizuku’s efforts help him select one of the wines for the “Italy vs. France” competition, but he still needs two others. He finds the second one after visiting a bizarre wine shop staffed by twin brothers with very different opinions about wine and the third one after being approached by Maki Saionji, a wine importer and Issei Tomine’s occasional lover. The volume wraps up with both the competition and Shizuku and Issei finally reading the first part of Shizuku’s father’s will, which gives them the clues necessary to find the first of Shizuku’s father’s “Twelve Apostles.”

Sunday, August 20, 2017

REVIEW: Ring (book) by Koji Suzuki, translated by Robert B. Rohmer and Glynne Walley

Ring is a Japanese horror novel. I own a used copy.

This review includes a few spoilers. I tried to keep them vague.

Review:
 
Warning: This book includes multiple mentions of rapes and a main character who is likely a rapist. Also, one of the main characters deliberately misgenders another character.

Kazuyuki Asakawa is a reporter who got into a bit of trouble in the past. From what I could gather (it was a little confusing), he wrote an article that exacerbated oddly widespread public reports of supernatural sightings. That’s why his boss is reluctant to okay his most recent project: an investigation into several disturbing simultaneous deaths. One of the victims was his niece, who tore out her hair as she died. Her death, like the others, was ruled “sudden heart failure,” but would that really cause a teenage girl to rip out her hair like that?

Asakawa’s investigation leads him to a difficult-to-get-to cabin, where he watches a mysterious videotape that warns him that all who watch the tape are fated to die exactly one week later. Those who do not wish to die must follow the tape’s instructions...except that the instructions were taped over. Asakawa would laugh it off it weren’t for those four simultaneous deaths.

In an effort to save himself, Asakawa enlists the help of the one man he knows who'd actually enjoy this strange task: Ryuji Takayama, a creepy and gross philosophy professor with a grating personality.

REVIEW: Night Shield (book) by Nora Roberts

Night Shield is romantic suspense. I own a used copy.

Review:

Jonah Blackhawk is a former juvenile delinquent whose life got on the right track with the help of Boyd Fletcher, the man who eventually became Denver’s police commissioner. He loves Boyd like a father and feels like he owes him a debt he’ll never be able to repay, which is why he agrees to Boyd’s latest request: work with the investigating team looking into a string of robberies committed by people who seem to be using Jonah’s clubs to scope out their victims. Specifically, he’d like Jonah to allow the detective in charge to work undercover at his newest place.

What Boyd doesn’t immediately mention is that the detective in charge is Ally Fletcher, his daughter. There’s an immediate spark between the two of them, but Ally’s a professional and Jonah isn’t really a fan of cops (other than Boyd) and secretly feels that his past makes him unworthy of someone like Boyd’s daughter. Still, Ally’s undercover work puts her and Jonah in frequent contact, and it isn’t long before Jonah’s employees put two and two together and decide they must be dating.

REVIEW: The Dinosaur Lords (book) by Victor Milan

The Dinosaur Lords is fantasy. I purchased a copy a while back.

Review:

Warning: this book includes on-page rape and detailed descriptions of violence. Many characters die.

In the world of Paradise, humans exist alongside dinosaurs. The tame (or, in some cases, relatively tame) dinosaurs are treated much like our pets and livestock. People breed and train dinosaurs for hunting, riding, and fighting.

When I first heard of this book, it was described as Game of Thrones meets Jurassic Park. There are the dinosaurs plus medieval-ish fantasy politics - as far as tone and overall feel goes, it's more like Game of Thrones than Jurassic Park. The four main players are: Karyl Bogomirskiy, a famed dinosaur knight who is one of the few to ride a Tyrannosaurus rex; Rob Korrigan, a minstrel and dinosaur master (trains and cares for fighting dinosaurs and dinosaur mounts); Jaume, famed dinosaur knight and poet, the Imperial Champion of Emperor Felipe, and the fiance of Princess Melodia; and Melodia, who is eager to do important things but seems doomed to waste away in the palace.

REVIEW: Fall Into Darkness (book) by Christopher Pike

Fall Into Darkness is a YA mystery/thriller. I checked it out via interlibrary loan.

Review:

Sharon McKay is on trial for her best friend Ann Rice’s murder. Never mind that there’s no body, no real witnesses, and no evidence. Sharon and Ann’s friends saw them hike up to the cliff that night and heard Ann scream “Don’t!” before she either fell or was pushed off the cliff. Everybody seems to be convinced that Sharon killed Ann.

Scenes of the trial from Sharon’s POV alternate between scenes prior to the accident/murder from Ann’s POV. What Sharon didn’t know was that Ann was obsessed. Ann’s brother, Jerry, had loved Sharon and had killed himself after their relationship ended. Ann blamed Sharon and wanted her to suffer. What better way to do that than frame her for murder, thereby ruining her bright future? (I’m sure you can think of better and less risky ways she could have gotten her revenge, but just roll with it.)

Saturday, August 5, 2017

REVIEW: Animal Lover (game)

[This review includes spoilers. I tried to avoid giving too many details, but it probably isn't too hard to figure out at least some of what ends up happening.]

Warning: this game includes a death, references to suicide, and references to homophobic bullying.

Animal Lover is a visual novel created by Trainwreck Studios. It's primarily fantasy with some romance aspects later on. There's no sex, not even fade-to-black, implied, or text-only - the romance is limited to a date and an on-screen kiss or two. I considered this a plus. If you're particularly interested in games with LGBT aspects, one of the romanceable guys is revealed to probably be bisexual later on in the game (I say "probably" because the word is never used, but he does talk about a past relationship with another guy).

Now for the summary: You play as Lucy (the default character name, which you can change), an intern at a veterinary clinic. Lucy loves animals and is immediately charmed by the hamster a little girl brings into the clinic. Because it reminds her so much of the hamster she used to have, Lucy briefly forgets herself and gives him a little kiss before putting him back in his cage. Shockingly, the little hamster then transforms into a human being. A good-looking and very naked young man.

The hamster’s owners run out in horror, leaving Lucy to figure out what to do with the guy, whose name turns out to be Edmund. Edmund used to be a prince until he was transformed into a hamster (or something very like one) hundreds of years ago. Since then, he has repeatedly lived and died as a hamster, with no end in sight. Until now. Lucy agrees to help him find and free another human-turned-animal, eventually resulting in her having to clothe, feed, and house five good-looking guys from a variety of time periods. Not only that, but it looks like her kisses don’t have a permanent effect: a random guy keeps transforming back into an animal each time the sun sets. They need to figure out a way to undo the curse for good. Especially before Charlie, whose animal form was a bear, transforms.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

REVIEW: The Drops of God (manga, vol. 1) story by Tadashi Agi, art by Shu Okimoto, translation by Kate Robinson

I'm not sure what genre to assign to The Drops of God. I'm not surprised that its Wikipedia page just says "wine." Anyway, I requested it via interlibrary loan. Although it doesn't say its an omnibus volume, it collects the first two volumes of the series.

Review:

Shizuku Kanzaki is the son of Yutaka Kanzaki, a world-famous wine critic. Ever since he was a child, Shizuku was exposed to a variety of sights, smells, sounds, and tastes, all the things he’d need in order to properly appreciate wine. Unfortunately for Yutaka Kanzaki, it backfired. The relationship between father and son became strained, and Shizuku eventually went to work for a beer company without ever once tasting a drop of wine.

Shizuku has been estranged from his father for two years when he learns of his father’s death from pancreatic cancer. His father left a will describing 12 great wines and one legendary wine called “The Drops of God.” Shizuku can only inherit his father’s property if he is able to correctly identify the wines and their vintages before the end of a one-year time limit. Not only that, but he has a rival: Issei Tomine, “the prince of the wine world,” a famous young wine critic. Issei convinced Yutaka to adopt him a week before his death, so Issei is legally Yutaka’s son and also gets a chance at inheriting everything.

Issei and Shizuku’s first task is to identify and describe a particular wine set aside by Yutaka. The person who comes up with the most appropriate description will get to live in Yutaka Kanzaki’s mansion. Although Shizuku drops his glass before trying the wine, something about its appearance and smell brings to mind a wisp of memory. He seeks out the one friendly face in the wine world that he knows of, apprentice sommelier Miyabi Shinohara, to help him figure out what that wine is and why it affects him so strongly.

Friday, July 28, 2017

REVIEW: Cube Escape: Arles (game)

Cube Escape: Arles is a puzzle solving game in the Cube Escape series. Art buffs in particular might find this entry exciting, since you play as Vincent van Gogh in his bedroom in Arles. You have to collect various objects and use them to solve puzzles in order to try to get out of the room.

One content warning that also counts as a spoiler, sort of: at one point in the game van Gogh must cut off his own ear. There’s no emotion that goes with this - it’s just something he does, and he doesn’t seem particularly concerned about it after the act is completed.

As far as I can tell, the only way this relates to the other games is that Laura had a print of this particular painting in her home in Cube Escape: Case 23. It doesn’t seem to add much to the overall Rusty Lake story, beyond providing another confirmation that mental illness is likely the start of the creation of corrupted souls. I do hope that one of the later Cube Escape games demonstrates that there’s a way to purify (?) corrupted souls, because otherwise this series appears to be making a pretty bleak statement about mental illness.

I turned to a walkthrough for guidance a couple times while playing this, but for the most part this was another game in the series that I was able to play through on my own. Much of the game involved collecting various items and using them in different places in the room, and I don’t recall any puzzles that particularly stood out for me or that I particularly liked. I did enjoy the slightly creepy feeling that the “alternate” room inspired, though, and the painting puzzle was nice.

Overall, this doesn’t really add anything to the larger Rusty Lake story, but it’s a decent puzzle game with an interesting setup. It would probably make for a good first Cube Escape game for those who haven’t tried the series before.

REVIEW: Cube Escape: Harvey's Box (game)

Like all the other Cube Escape games, this one can be downloaded for free. I’d recommend playing some of the other entries in the series before this one - at least Cube Escape: Seasons - because otherwise it’ll probably come across as extremely random.

Anyway, in this game you play as Harvey the parrot. If you’ve played the other games, you know that Laura is going to Rusty Lake Mental Health and Fishing. For some reason she decided that the best way to transport her parrot was to stick him in a box with some of her other belongings. Your job is to complete a few puzzles in order to find a way out of the box.

Although it didn’t add much to the overall Rusty Lake story, this was still a nice little game. The puzzles were just difficult enough to be interesting, but not so difficult that they frustrated me and drove me to check a walkthrough (and I have a pretty low frustration threshold when it comes to puzzle games, anymore). My absolute favorite puzzle was probably the fly and maggot one. It took me a beat to figure out what I was supposed to do, but then going through line by line and thinking through the logic turned out to be extremely satisfying.

I wouldn’t recommend this as anyone’s first Cube Escape game, and it’s not terribly interesting story-wise, but it’s a nice little entry if you just want spend some time solving puzzles.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

REVIEW: Cells at Work! (manga, vol. 1) by Akane Shimizu, translated by Yamato Tanaka

Cells at Work! is an action and comedy manga series with educational elements. It's licensed by Kodansha Comics.

Review:

Cells at Work is a semi-educational series that takes place inside a human body and stars a bunch of anthropomorphized cells. Red Blood Cell is a cheerful delivery girl who takes oxygen to cells (I suppose they’d qualify as the “ordinary folks” of this world) and carbon dioxide back to the lungs. There are lots of potential dangers along the way, so different kinds of White Blood Cells protect everybody. One recurring character, for example, is White Blood Cell (Neutrophil) 1146, who is part of the force that acts as the body’s initial defense against foreign invaders and infectious diseases. He’s depicted as a savagely violent man who is nevertheless polite and maybe even a little friendly towards Red Blood Cell.

In this volume, readers get to see White Blood Cell and others deal with Streptococcus pneumoniae, cedar pollen, Influenza virus, and a scrape wound. This results in the introduction of characters like Helper T Cell, the violent and manly Killer T Cells, hilariously intense and dramatic Memory Cell, Mast Cell, Macrophage, the adorable Platelets, and more.

REVIEW: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World (audiobook) by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, narrated by Abigail Revasch and Tara Sands

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World is a Middle Grade (probably?) superhero book. I picked it up on Audible with one of my remaining credits when I decided to end up subscription.

Review:

I’m going to start this off by saying that I’ve never read any of the Squirrel Girl comics. I wouldn’t even know she existed if it weren’t for people’s reviews on Booklikes. I bought this because the excerpt I listened to sounded good and because I vaguely remembered Squirrel Girl seeming like a fun character when I read those comics reviews.

I should also mention that I took a lengthy break in the middle of listening to this audiobook - not because it was bad, but because I got into one of my “I don’t want to listen to audiobooks” moods. I think I slid back into it and remembered things pretty well, but if I get some details wrong that's probably why.

In this book, Doreen Green is 14 years old and has just moved from California to New Jersey. Going to a new school and making new friends isn’t easy, but Doreen happens to have the most powerful positive attitude on the planet. And also the powers of a squirrel, complete with the tail and teeth. All her life, Doreen’s parents have told her that she has to hide her tail and abilities - after all, they’re so awesome that everyone around her would instantly be jealous and sad that they weren’t like her. But Doreen can’t help herself and accidentally reveals what she can do while dealing with a local group of troublemakers.

Thankfully Doreen’s identity is safe. It seems that her tail has magical attention-diverting powers. While it’s out, she goes by the name she has always secretly called herself: Squirrel Girl. Unfortunately, even though Squirrel Girl isn’t technically a superhero (you can’t just call yourself a superhero, right?), it isn’t long before she finds herself dealing with what appears to be an actual supervillain.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

REVIEW: Mermaid Splash! Passion Festival (game)

Mermaid Splash! Passion Festival (MSPF) is a “pay what you want” f/f visual novel.

CiCi the mermaid has decided that she’s going to finally take part in the Passion Festival. There’s only one problem: although CiCi has many interests, she’s never really focused on one particular hobby. In order to make a good showing at the festival, she’ll need to pick an interest (martial arts, gardening, dance, or painting) and stick to it. Will she be able to hone her skills in time, and maybe even find love along the way?

REVIEW: No Longer Human (manga, vol. 2) by Usamaru Furuya, based on the novel by Osamu Dazai, translated by Allison Markin Powell

I checked this out via interlibrary loan.

This review includes a few spoilers.

Review:

[Content warnings: this volume includes on-page sex, and there’s a deliberately disturbing sequence in which a children’s manga character is given an enormous penis, has sex, and is then killed and left to be eaten by birds.]

This volume picks up where the previous one left off. Yozo has survived his attempted double suicide with Ageha. The idea of being punished for her death gives him the sense of purpose he craves, but this is snatched from his hands by the police’s decision to set him free and deliver him to the hands of one of his family’s former servants. Yozo blames his father and stews in his own bitterness while essentially living trapped in the former servant’s home.

Yozo manages to escape one prison only to end up in another. Having no other place to go, he ends up living with his friend Horiki's editor, Shizuko. She dotes on him, seeing his pretty face and nothing else. Although outwardly things appear to be going well for Yozo - he now has a roof over his head, a job as a children’s manga artist, and somebody willing to fork over money anytime he wants to go out and buy booze - he feels stifled by Shizuko’s love and her young daughter’s wish for him to be her real father.

By the end of the volume, Yozo has finally found something like happiness. Will it last? Ha ha, of course not.

Monday, July 17, 2017

REVIEW: The Disappearance of Hatsune Miku (book) story by Muya Agami and cosMo@BousouP, art by Yuunagi

The Disappearance of Hatsune Miku is a Japanese novel based on a song. It's licensed by Seven Seas Entertainment.

Review:

You have no idea how excited I was to learn that 1) a Vocaloid light novel existed and 2) it was available in English. I ordered a copy for myself a few weeks after finding out about it.

A few years ago I was really into Vocaloid (singing synthesizer software). I wasn’t interested in using it myself, just in listening to other people’s songs and reading about the various Vocaloid and UTAUloid avatars. I gradually found a few Vocaloid/UTAUloid tuners I particularly liked (kyaami is my top favorite) and developed a few Vocaloid/UTAUloid preferences (Kaito was probably my first favorite Vocaloid, and Ritsu continues to be my favorite UTAUloid).

I went into this book with an okay background knowledge of Vocaloid in general and Hatsune Miku in particular. Also, I was familiar with the song the book was based on (here's one version on YouTube), enough to know that the book probably wouldn’t have a happy ending.

The Disappearance of Hatsune Miku stars Shinosato Asano, an ordinary university student who spends his days going to class and doing tedious work at a robotics lab and his nights working as a bartender at a nightclub. He’s shocked when the professor in charge of his research lab singles him out to do a field test of a very special new android named Hatsune Miku. The professor wants a student like Asano, who’s responsible, can keep a secret, and doesn’t know too much about artificial intelligence, to see how well Miku can pass for human out in the real world. He’s not supposed to tell anyone, not even his family members, what Miku really is, and he has to make sure Miku goes back to the professor for regular data collection and weekly maintenance.

Miku’s speech and behavior is a little odd and stilted at first, but it rapidly improves. Asano introduces her to everyone as his very intelligent cousin from England (in order to explain why a 16-year-old girl whose Japanese is still a bit rough is suddenly attending university classes), takes her on a tour of the university, and invites her out to lunch. Lunch becomes their regular activity together, and Asano gradually incorporates activities relating to music once he realizes that Miku particularly enjoys it. He starts to realize, to his dismay, that he might be falling for her. What will happen once the field test is over?

REVIEW: The Naturals (book) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Naturals is YA Criminal Minds with some of the usual “secret school for special teens” mixed in. I read an ARC copy I picked up at a conference several years ago (yes, I'm terrible about reading ARCs, which is why I rarely request them).

When Cassie was 12, she entered her mother’s dressing room only to discover a bloody crime scene, but no body. Her mother's body and murderer (because how could she still be alive after losing that much blood?) were never found. Cassie is now 17 and living with her father’s family. She doesn’t feel like she fits in, but she also doesn’t want to be the focus of her family’s often overbearing love and concern.

Ever since she was little, Cassie has had a knack for noticing little details about people and figuring things out about them using those details. She used to use her ability to help her mother, who worked as a psychic. Since her mother’s death, she hasn’t used her skills for much beyond privately guessing things about customers at the diner where she works, so she’s both intrigued and suspicious when a handsome boy gives her an FBI agent’s business card.

The agent presents her with an offer she can’t resist: she can become part of his “Naturals” program, a team of teens with natural skills that take most adults years of training to learn. Because the program members are all minors, they only get to deal with cold cases, but Cassie still jumps at the chance to do something good and useful with her abilities. However, she and the other program members can’t resist getting more and more involved in a difficult, and possibly personal, active case.

REVIEW: This, My Soul (game)

This, My Soul is a free sci-fi visual novel. The first time I saw it, it was listed as “in development.” I was cautiously excited - it looked slick and the android main character interested me, but there was no guarantee it’d ever be completed. I prefer to play finished products rather than demos.

Thankfully, this is now out of “in development” limbo. I’ve played it through three or four times since downloading it, and my final verdict is...meh. It has some really nice and ambitious aspects, but it doesn’t entirely follow through with all of them, and the android-human romance could have been better.

Backing up a bit, the story: You play as a woman who is the sole survivor of a spaceship accident of some sort. The game allows you to choose the woman’s name - if I remember right, the default is “Kyndle.” Kyndle was rescued by a laborer-class android named Silas, who put her in cryogenic sleep. Because the cryogenic pod is old, Kyndle can’t stay asleep for the entire trip back to civilization, but she also can’t stay awake for the full trip. The plan is for her to be awake at the beginning and then go back to sleep near the end.

In the meantime, Silas helps Kyndle get her strength and full range of movement back, and makes sure she regains some of the weight she lost. At times, Kyndle can’t even move without Silas’s help.

Players have several ways they can approach the game: they can be suspicious of Silas and resistant to the idea of being attracted to an android; they can be friendly towards Silas and more than a little attracted; they can be openly flirtatious; or they can be some combination of all three. There are three possible endings, which the developer/author called the Normal end, Friendship end, and Romance end. However, those aren’t really the best way to describe them.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

REVIEW: Cube Escape: Theatre (game)

In Cube Escape: Theatre, Dale Vandermeer is back and exploring more of his memories while in the endless elevator. This time he travels to 1971 and an event surreal enough that it (maybe) never happened. Dale finds himself at a theater with a bartender and a depressed man who wants to get drunk enough to drown out the past. Unfortunately for him, in the Cube Escape games “The past is never dead, it’s not even past.”

This game had lots of crossover with other Cube Escape/Rusty Lake games, especially Rusty Lake Hotel (Ms. Pheasant makes an appearance in human form!), Cube Escape: The Lake, Cube Escape: Seasons, and Cube Escape: Case 23. Part of me thinks it would be best to play this after playing all those other games, and part of me thinks that playing this one first might add a bit more weight to the other games. Cube Escape: The Lake now seems a bit less random to me, for instance.

This was one of the few games in this series that I had the patience to go through without a walkthrough. Well, almost: I broke down and consulted one after spending several fruitless minutes searching for a cube that turned out not to exist. I really enjoyed the various stage puzzles, even though it took me longer to catch on to what was going on with some of them than it probably should have. I wasn’t a huge fan of the “hunt for cubes inside the man’s head” bit (gross), but the part with him in the bathroom at the end was wonderfully creepy.

All in all, this was an excellent entry in the series, both from a puzzle-solving perspective and from a story perspective.

REVIEW: No Longer Human (manga, vol. 1) by Usamaru Furuya, based on the novel by Osamu Dazai

I checked this out via interlibrary loan. Warning: this review includes spoilers.

This is technically the first volume of a manga adaptation of Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human. However, in reality it’s more like a work inspired by Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human. It has a lot of the same characters and a lot of the same events, but also enough important changes that the impact of certain familiar scenes and characters is completely different. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

The volume begins with Usamaru Furuya as a character in his own manga. He’s trying, and failing, to think up an idea for his next serial when he suddenly gets an anonymous email pointing him to an online “ouch diary.” The website contains three images: one of 6-year-old Yozo posing with his family while wearing a wide fake smile; one of Yozo at age 25, his expression lifeless and worn down; and one of Yozo at age 17, cool and handsome. Furuya proceeds to read the diary that goes with those images, to learn how Yozo fell so far so quickly.

Then readers get the story of Yozo’s life, starting with a few pages showing him as a child and middle school student, behaving like a class clown in order to get people to like him. The story quickly progresses into Yozo’s high school years, when he is befriended by Horiki, who Yozo believes is truly what he has spent his life pretending to be, a friendly and shiftless clown. Although Yozo starts off with everything in life handed to him on a silver platter, things rapidly fall apart, and the volume ends with Yozo’s first suicide attempt (I’m assuming the manga will include the next one).

Thursday, July 6, 2017

REVIEW: The Edge of the Abyss (book) by Emily Skrutskie

The Edge of the Abyss is YA f/f science fiction.

Review:

This review will include spoilers for the first book. You’ve been warned.

At the end of The Abyss Surrounds Us, Cas decided to stay with the Minnow and her crew. I wish I had written down her reason for doing so, since one of my problems with The Edge of the Abyss was that I couldn’t remember why she’d have wanted to stay when staying seemed to cause her nothing but grief.

At any rate, she stayed - I think because she wanted to get more evidence on the guy who was trading Reckoner pups to the pirates, and because she loved Swift so much? Except the latter reason turned out to be less than wonderful, because right after deciding to stay with the Minnow, Cas learned that Swift had personally been responsible for Durga’s death.

So that’s Cas’s emotional state for much of The Edge of the Abyss: upset at Swift for what she did, upset at herself for essentially turning traitor and staying with pirates, and perversely drawn to Santa Elena and whatever scraps of praise she was willing to give out. Bao is somewhere out in the ocean, and Cas mistakenly thinks he’s the only free Reckoner. He very much is not - the crew of the Minnow discover others, which they nickname Hellbeasts. Every last one of them was a Reckoner pup illegally obtained and improperly raised by pirates, and they’re complete destroying the ocean ecosystem. If life in the ocean is to be saved, the pirates, all of them, will somehow have to band together, admit their mistakes, and defeat the Hellbeasts.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

REVIEW: Cube Escape: Seasons (game)

In Cube Escape: Seasons, you explore your memories of four different time periods: Spring 1964, Summer 1971, Fall 1971, and Winter 1981. Spring 1964 is a good time. There are indications that things aren’t quite perfect (you’re on Prozac and have a note about something called Rusty Lake Mental Health & Fishing on your bulletin board), but life is decent. Things take a turn for the worse in Summer 1971, and everything is well and truly bad by Fall 1971. It appears that you may be a murderer. But wait! You may be able to go back in time and stop your terrible actions from happening!

I wasn’t fond of this game, at first. It seemed to be using mental illness as ham-handed shorthand for “disturbed future killer,” and I didn’t have much sympathy for the protagonist, who didn’t seem inclined to do much to prevent their actions until after they’d already done something terrible and (in a normal world) irrevocable.

I liked the game a lot more once the time travel aspect became a thing. I’m still a bit confused about what, exactly, happened, but I loved how the phrases from the weird person (?) over the phone became more than just random strange messages. “Everything you touch you change” indeed. Warning: my review includes spoilers from here on out.

REVIEW: Cube Escape: The Mill (game)

Cube Escape: The Mill starts with you apparently alone at the Rusty Lake Mill. You will eventually discover that 1) there is another person in the mill and 2) that there is a task you need to complete that requires the mill to be operational.

This game directly ties in with Cube Escape: Case 23, which I later wished I had played prior to Cube Escape: The Mill. Some parts of Cube Escape: The Mill might have made slightly more sense, if I had. Oh well.

I wasn’t really a fan of this entry, although I liked that it added a bit more to the overall Rusty Lake story and the mystery of Mr. Crow. The puzzle involving the old woman’s teeth was bizarre (also, wow is that woman a knitting machine), and I loathed the memory puzzle. I ended up frantically scribbling notes to myself during the few seconds where the game allowed you to see the cards.

FYI: I just remembered, this is another game in the series that includes a few animal deaths. And people deaths, although apparently the blonde lady was definitely dead (I guess?) when she arrived at the mill.

REVIEW: Cube Escape: Birthday (game)

Cube Escape: Birthday appears to be a direct sequel to Rusty Lake Hotel: it starts with the endless elevator scene that Rusty Lake Hotel ended with. You play as Dale Vandermeer (any relation to the Vanderbooms, I wonder?), who is transported back to his memory of his 9th birthday. Dale’s birthday includes several ominous moments and ends in a massacre. However, if Dale can figure out just the right things to do, he can change his past and prevent the tragedy.

This one was more violent than I expected, although I appreciated that the developer didn’t kill the cat. Actually, for the most part this developer tends to go out of its way to not harm animals in its games. I can only think of two, at the moment, where animals were harmed: Rusty lake Hotel and Cube Escape: Seasons.

This entry in the series was a bit weird (they all are, I guess) - I’m still not sure whether Dale actually changed the past, or just his memories of the past. The puzzles were pretty good and, for the most part, made sense to me. The only one that I hated was the poster puzzle. Even after I figure out what I was supposed to do, I hated having to do it - it’s not really difficult, but you do need to be able to think fast and have halfway decent reflexes.

The story was excellent, almost as interesting an entry in the series as Rusty Lake: Roots. I loved the “travel back to the past to fix the past” aspect, which seems to be a recurring theme in this series. Oh, and the code from Rusty Lake Hotel reveals a little scene that provides a bit more information on one character (who I hadn’t even realized was a recurring character).

REVIEW: Cube Escape: The Lake (game)

Guess who’s been playing lots of Cube Escape games in the past week? Me, that’s who.

Most of the games are really short, and all of them are free. From the look of things, they can be played in any order, although there’s some serious crossover between some of them. They’re all weird, and some are darker than others. I’m currently playing one where you can die if you don’t solve certain puzzles fast enough (Cube Escape: Case 23), but most of them allow you to complete the puzzles at your own pace.

Anyway, be prepared for lots of short reviews. Here’s the first one I played: Cube Escape: The Lake.

In this game, you’re in an abandoned cabin on an island in Rusty Lake. All you have is a knife, a fishing rod, and some other items.

This was one of the weaker entries in the Cube Escape/Rusty Lake series. I couldn’t figure out the logic behind the safe combination puzzle. I was only able to get through it with a walkthrough. The mirror clue was fairly helpful, but beyond that I couldn’t figure out why the safe combination was what it ended up being. The ending was very sudden and didn’t add much to the overall Rusty Lake story, as far as I could tell.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

REVIEW: Rusty Lake: Roots (game)

Rusty Lake: Roots is another puzzle/adventure game in the Rusty Lake series. Whereas I was unimpressed with Rusty Lake Hotel, I thought Rusty Lake: Roots was amazing. It had some problems - a few puzzles that were more annoying that difficult, occasional iffy logic, and an abrupt ending - but for the most part it was a wonderful and fascinating experience and a vast improvement over Rusty Lake Hotel.

Rusty Lake: Roots is a family saga with a dark edge to it. You watch over multiple generations of the Vanderboom family as they learn about their family’s magical/alchemical past and work to achieve their goals. You gradually learn more about yourself (it isn’t immediately apparent, but you are playing as a character in the game) and about the motivations of the various Vanderboom family members. Oh, and there’s a little immortal dog.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

REVIEW: Rusty Lake Hotel (game)

Rusty Lake Hotel is a puzzle/adventure game with a disturbing edge. I believe it started off as a mobile game, but I played it on my computer via Steam.

Warning: my review includes spoilers for a few of the game's puzzles.

Review:

[Note: I didn’t find this out until after I’d played Rusty Lake Hotel, but the entire related Cube Escape series of games can be downloaded and played for free on mobile devices. I don’t know what the Cube Escape games are like, but they might serve as a nice taste of what this series is like, if you’re reluctant to spend $2-3 on Rusty Lake Hotel or Rusty Lake: Roots.]

I got this on sale, as part of a Rusty Lake series bundle. You play as an employee (?) at the Rusty Lake Hotel, interacting with five guests at the direction of their host, Mr. Owl. You must provide the guests with food, which involves going into a different guest’s room every night, completing some puzzles in order to gather various ingredients, and ultimately killing that particular guest so that they can be the final ingredient in the meal.

Although this was labeled as “horror,” a genre I’m not fond of when it comes to games, it looked more creepy than scary. Now that I’ve played the game, I don’t know that I’d even label it “creepy.” You sometimes do some very terrible things to the guests before you kill them (or provide them with the means to kill themselves), but the end result was more disturbing or morbidly fascinating than creepy.

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.
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