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.

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.
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