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.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

REVIEW: Who is Mike? (game)

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

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

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

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

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

Review:

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

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017

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

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

Review:

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

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

Saturday, June 10, 2017

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

Thursday, June 8, 2017

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

REVIEW: The Friday Society (book) by Adrienne Kress

The Friday Society is YA steampunk.

Review:

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 3, 2017

REVIEW: Fault - Milestone One (game)

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

Review:

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 22, 2017

REVIEW: Hitogotchi (game)

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

This review includes a spoiler.

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

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

Saturday, May 20, 2017

REVIEW: Decision at Doona (book) by Anne McCaffrey

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

This review includes a slight spoiler.

Review:

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

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

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

REVIEW: Redshirts (book) by John Scalzi

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

Review:

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

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

Thursday, May 18, 2017

REVIEW: Salamandastron (book) by Brian Jacques

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

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.”
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