Saturday, January 16, 2021

REVIEW: Alpha and Omega (audio novella) by Patricia Briggs, narrated by Holter Graham

Alpha and Omega is urban fantasy with romance aspects. It's technically the first work in Briggs' Alpha & Omega series, although the first full novel is actually Cry Wolf and Briggs' Mercy Thompson series, which is set in the same world, came first.

Review:

When Anna spots a particular newspaper article, she realizes that her pack may have murdered someone and should be reported to Bran, the Marrok. Ever since she was turned into a werewolf against her will, Anna's life has been a struggle - her pack abused her, and her pay is barely enough to feed her and cover the money she's required to give to the pack - so she isn't sure the Marrok will listen, but he does, and tells her that Charles, his son and Enforcer, will deal with the problem and protect her. 

Monday, January 11, 2021

Hades game, 8 hours in

I am indeed terrible at this game. I managed to encounter Megaera for the first time about 3 or 4 hours in and have seen her several times since then, but still haven't beaten her, although I survive a little longer each time. I'm just not agile enough with keyboard and mouse (in my defense, I've learned that I have to wear braces on both hands rather than just my mouse hand in order to avoid being in pain after playing this game, and the braces do inhibit movement some). I'm thinking of a giving a controller a shot, and if that doesn't result in any noticeable improvements I may just have to accept that it's time to turn on God Mode, because the NPCs have started repeating themselves and I'd like the game to start giving me more story soon.

On the plus side, I'm still enjoying myself, even with all the dying. I suppose I could just keep going and see if collecting more Mirror upgrades helps. I just unlocked a new weapon - "Twin Fists of Malphon," which looks terrible for me since it doesn't appear to have any long-range capabilities, but I may try it anyway and just accept my certain death. So it's not like I've run out of new things to explore yet.

REVIEW: The Black Gryphon (audiobook) by Mercedes Lackey, narrated by Gary Furlong

The Black Gryphon is fantasy, the first book in Lackey's Mage Wars trilogy but only one book out of her much larger Valdemar series. I checked this out via one of my Overdrive accounts.

Review:

This takes place during the war between Urtho and Ma'ar, which began for reasons I can't recall (because Ma'ar wants world domination?). Most of the book is focused on life in one of Urtho's army's camps, far enough away from the fighting that no one there is in immediate danger but filled with humans and nonhumans healing from injuries and dealing with PTSD.

Urtho used his magic to create gryphons to help him in the war, and Skandranon (Skan), the "Black Gryphon," is one of the best of them. His closest friend is a human named Amberdrake, a kestra'chern (an empath/healer who uses a combination of methods to heal others emotionally and physically). The book follows their life and the development of their relationships in the camp, as Urtho attempts to figure out how to turn the tide of the war against Ma'ar.

REVIEW: Three Complete Novels: Daring to Dream, Holding the Dream, Finding the Dream (book) by Nora Roberts

This is an omnibus edition of Nora Roberts' Dream trilogy, originally published back in 1996-1997. The books are contemporary romance, although the trilogy framing storyline (Seraphina) has the slightest hint of the supernatural to it. I'm pretty sure I bought this book used, ages ago.

This review includes potential spoilers.

Review:

This was technically a reread, although I first read this trilogy long enough ago that I could only remember a few scenes here and there.

I'll start by talking about the trilogy as a whole, and then cover each book individually. As is usual with Roberts' trilogies (or at least the older ones - I haven't read many of her newer works), each book features a different couple, although the trilogy as a whole is held together by a particular framing story. In this case, I suppose there are two framing stories: first, the story of Seraphina, a young woman who jumped off a cliff in 1846 after learning that her soldier lover had been killed; and second, the story of Laura Templeton, who once dreamed of having a fairytale marriage like her parents.

The Templetons are rich, but Roberts assures us that they're the good kind of rich: they view their staff as family and don't let them go just because they're getting older (unless they wanted to retire - but it seems that no one who works in the Templeton household ever wants to do that), they donate generously to charity, and they take good care of each other and those they love. The first book deals with Margo, the Templeton housekeeper's daughter, who was practically treated like Laura Templeton's sister. The second book deals with Kate, who was taken in by the Templeton family after her parents were killed in an accident when she was eight. The third book deals with Laura Templeton. All three women are very close friends, and their friendship is given a prominent place in the narrative and is one of the reasons why I wouldn't recommend reading this trilogy out of order.

Monday, January 4, 2021

ER billing "fun"

Content warning for blood and medical issues.

During the weekend just prior to Thanksgiving, I had the worst nosebleed of my life and went to the ER to try to get it stopped. It looked at first like their efforts worked, although my sinuses felt alarmingly sloshy when I left. Unfortunately, minutes after getting home, the bleeding started up again, just as bad as before, so I went back to the ER. Several hours and some vomited blood later, they finally packed my nostril and I was actually able to go home and get some rest.

Fast forward a few weeks, and the bill from the ER arrived. It was more than I'd have liked to pay but at least less than my rent, and the itemized version I hunted down (or thought I hunted down) made it look like it covered both visits. Just this past weekend, I unexpectedly got yet another bill. After some checking, it seemed like it was the physician's bill (which is apparently separate from the ER bill, because US medical billing is awful).

I decided to make a few phone calls to my insurance and the ER just to double check things, though, and it turns out it's even worse than I thought. Those first two bills were just for the first ER visit. There are another two claims for the second ER visit that insurance has currently denied - the ER has sent them stuff to convince them that, yes, it's a second visit and they didn't mistakenly send two claims for one visit.

So I can definitely expect another couple bills, and there's currently no way to know if they'll be approximately the same as what I've already been billed, or more. Either way, it's looking like I'd owe a lot less if I had just refused to leave that first time until I was sure the sloshy sensation wasn't going to get worse (it literally took only 20 minutes for the bleeding to start right back up again).

At this point I'm thinking that anyone who's against moving the US to a single payer healthcare system has never had to deal with this kind of thing. And also that anyone who blows off COVID-19 as no big deal hasn't considered that if they end up in the ER, they'll probably have medical debt for the rest of their life (you know, assuming they don't die - but I guess if they die it'll be their family on the hook for the debt). A simple nosebleed is going to cost me at least half a month's paycheck, if not more, so I can only imagine what a hospital stay for COVID-19 must cost.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

REVIEW: Mal and Chad: The Biggest, Bestest Time Ever! (graphic novel) by Stephen McCranie

Mal and Chad: The Biggest, Bestest Time Ever! is a Middle Grade graphic novel featuring humor and time travel. It's the first in the Mal and Chad series.

Review:

Mal is an elementary school student who doesn't want anyone to find out that he's secretly a genius, because then he might be forced to go to college. He wouldn't have time to be a kid anymore, and he definitely wouldn't get to see Megan, the girl he likes.

So he lets his mom think he's just off playing when in reality he's trying out his various inventions with Chad, his best friend and pet dog, who he taught how to talk. You'd think a secret genius might have an easy time, but unfortunately he has to deal with Zachary, who makes fun of him and thinks he's smarter than everybody, the possibility that Megan thinks he's a dork, and an essay assignment about what he wants to be when he grows up.

REVIEW: The Magnolia League (book) by Katie Crouch

The Magnolia League is a YA paranormal fantasy. My copy is an ARC (a very old one, since this was released in 2011).

This review includes slight spoilers.

Review:

Alex has lived her entire life at the RC, a hippie commune in California, helping her mother grow medicinal herbs. Sure, the RC grows a little marijuana, but Alex's mother's medicines are what really make the RC famous.

Then everything changes after Alex's mother dies in a car crash. The rich grandmother she didn't even know she had sends a lawyer to pick her up and take her back to Georgia, ripping her away from her new boyfriend and the only life she's ever known. Suddenly she's supposed to be part of something called the "Magnolia League," a sort of club for Southern debutantes. Except that Alex has dreadlocks, is chubby, and has no intention of trading in her t-shirts for designer dresses. However, she might not have much of a choice. Once you become a Magnolia Girl, you're one for life.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Hades game comments, a little further in

Yeah, I'm still nowhere near escaping - in fact, I haven't even encountered the first boss yet, and am still just basking in the glow of finally having figured out how to more effectively use one weapon (the shield) and not get killed by the Inferno-Bombers. Let's see if I can do it a second time. At the moment, I'm reserving God Mode for whenever the fighting starts to feel more frustrating, or if I run up against a noticeable wall when it comes to getting to know the NPCs in between runs.

I'm still loving the dialogue and characters, as well as collecting new items and boons and the thrill of figuring out how to do something just a little better. The developer has made the game welcoming for multiple types of gamers - God Mode is described in a way that recognizes there are lots of reasons someone might want to use it, and one of the NPCs even brings it up in a guilt-free way (this may be dialogue that only comes up if you've died a certain number of times early on in the game - what can I say, I'm terrible at this). 

I will say this, though: the Steam Discussions area can be disheartening. The game is as judgement-free as possible, so various commenters do their best to take up the slack and look down their noses at people whose runs take longer than X number of minutes, have died more than X number of times, or who can't beat whichever boss after however many tries. And of course they treat using God Mode like a mark of shame. ::sigh::

Thursday, December 31, 2020

A look back at 2020

I used to do more thorough "end of the year" posts, with "best" and "worst" lists, stats, etc. The last time I did anything like that was at the end of 2016/beginning of 2017. I figured I'd try to get back to something like that at the end of this year, but less methodical.

So, here goes. As with just about everybody, the pandemic was an issue for me this year, although thankfully it hasn't directly affected me or any of my family members. Neither I nor they have gotten sick or lost jobs so far (although I did have a couple ER visits that were made scarier by the knowledge that, if things got worse, there might not be anyplace else to send me). I worked from home part-time, which was nice in some ways and sucked in others, and I've been back to my physical workplace for some time now, although meetings are thankfully almost all still virtual. I didn't go visit my parents in October/November the way I usually do, so I didn't have my usual vacation manga binge, but I still got quite a bit read during the year.

I got into needle felting at the end of the year, although sometimes I think I like the supplies and the books more than actually doing the felting. We'll see if I'm still doing this craft by the end of 2021, or if I have just have a bunch of rusty needles and a tub of unused wool and doll eyes.

REVIEW: The Goes Wrong Show, Season 1 (live action TV series)

The Goes Wrong Show is a British comedy series. I watched it on Amazon Prime.

Review:

An amateur drama society performs a new play each week. Unfortunately, due to set disasters, actor personalities, script problems and other issues, the plays always go horribly wrong. The actors do their best to continue on, despite everything.

The first season has six episodes, each focusing on a different play. The order in which you watch the episodes doesn't really seem to matter, and in fact Amazon's order doesn't seem to match the original broadcast order at all.

REVIEW: Guardians of the Galaxy: Rocket Raccoon & Groot Steal the Galaxy! (book) by Dan Abnett

Rocket Raccoon & Groot Steal the Galaxy is an original Guardians of the Galaxy novel set in the Marvel Universe. I bought my copy brand new.

This review contains things that might be considered slight spoilers.

Review:

This is narrated in the present tense by Recorder 127 of the Rigellian Intergalactic Survey. For some reason, 127 has odd blanks in his memory. He knows lots of things and can apply that knowledge in useful ways, but he has no idea why Roamer, a Spaceknight mercenary, keeps showing up and trying to capture him.

Rocket Raccoon sees potential profit in Recorder 127, so he and Groot do their best to stay by his side and keep the Spaceknight from taking him. Plus, Rocket's happy to have an excuse to shoot at all the trouble that keeps following both him and 127 around.

Meanwhile, Timely Inc. is the most powerful corporation in the galaxy, and they have plans to become even more powerful still. They just need to get their hands on Recorder 127 first.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

REVIEW: What the Font?!: A Manga Guide to Western Typeface (nonfiction manga) by Kuniichi Ashiya, translated by Jocelyne Allen

What the Font?! is a one-shot edutainment manga. It's licensed by Seven Seas. I bought my copy brand new.

Although the story isn't the point, this review does include a potential spoiler for the story aspect of this manga.

Review:

Note: I realize that I use "typeface" and "font" pretty much interchangeably in this review, even though they're not really the same thing. But trying to figure out when to use one vs. the other was too confusing, so I left it as is.

Marusu works in the Sales department of a small company. The company's designer has gone AWOL, so Marusu is roped into laying out a proposal, the reasoning being that she can draw a little and is therefore best suited to fill in for the designer. However, she's definitely out of her depth and knows nothing about typefaces. That's when Helvetica, the personification of the Helvetica typeface, suddenly appears. He offers to introduce her to other typefaces, who can then each tell her a little about themselves, their specialties, and ways in which they've been used.

The book begins with sans serif types (Helvetica, Futura, Gill Sans, Arial, Franklin Gothic, Impact, Frutiger, DIN, Optima, Gotham), then moves on to the Roman (serif) types (Caslon, Garamond, Times New Roman, Bodoni, Didot, Clarendon, Rockwell, Centaur, Jenson). After that, it covers a few examples of script (Zapfino, Mistral, Comic Sans), display (Trajan, Peignot), and blackletter (Fette Fraktur) fonts.

Each font is introduced with a few pages of four-panel comics in which Marusu gets to know their personalities, work, and history a bit better. The margins contain a little extra information. Then at the end of their section there's a page of notes about the font (or fonts - some are covered in pairs): their category, classification, year of creation, designer(s), foundry, more detailed information about their history and creation, and a usage example or two. After that, there's a page with the font's upper and lower case letters, as well as numbers.

Each larger section (sans serif, Roman, other styles) ends with additional notes and images of logos or other things that use those fonts. The book ends with an attempt to give a more chronological perspective of all the typefaces covered. And of course Marusu finishes laying out the proposal. A list of references is included at the very end of the book.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

REVIEW: Little Felted Animals: Create 16 Irresistible Creatures With Simple Needle-Felting Techniques (nonfiction book) by Marie-Noëlle Horvath

Little Felted Animals is a needle felting craft book.

Review:

I got a copy of this via interlibrary loan so that I could evaluate whether it would be worth buying for my personal collection.

This begins with a supplies and tips page (one specific item I haven't seen in other books: cotton piping cord), very brief info about wool (mentions combed and carded wool, but does not used the words "roving" or "batting"), and instructions for sewing on eyes. Then there are detailed instructions, with small colored photographs, for three basic body shapes: birds (example used: blackbird), short-legged animals (example used: rabbit), and long-legged animals (example used: cat - I would not have considered this a long-legged animal, but okay).

After that comes the patterns for the various projects. These are always set up the same way: first come the full-page photographs of each animal in the section, then two pages for each project, one with a photograph of the finished project and all the necessary supplies and one with a brief written overview of the steps, a life-size line drawing of the parts and the finished project, and a list of finishing touches you can do to make the final project look its best.

The various patterns included are: a penguin, a polar bear, a baby seal, a blackbird, a bunny, a Chartreux cat, a Welsh Corgi, a koala, a Turkish Van cat, a robin, a brown bear, a fox, a mouse. a sheep, a Dalmatian, and sitting and standing versions of a Jack Russell Terrier.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

REVIEW: Eternal Love (book) written by Mizumi Takaoka, illustrated by Yukariko Jissohji, translated by Translation By Design

Eternal Love is contemporary m/m romance published under Digital Manga Publishing's Juné imprint. I bought my copy used. I think it might be out of print in physical form, but copies are still available for relatively cheap, and the e-book is available for purchase. 

Review:

Tomoyuki works for the planning department of a Japanese trading company. When he's told that his company requires someone proficient in English and Arabic to travel to England for an emergency business trip, he thinks nothing of it. However, it turns out the trip is a sham arranged by Tomoyuki's ex-lover, Aswil al-Murshid. Six years ago, Tomoyuki had fallen in love with Aswil, only to have his heart broken at the revelation that Aswil was next in line for the throne of the country of Madina. 

There's no way Tomoyuki could ever have a future with a man like that, so he's confused and upset when Aswil suddenly shows up and has him kidnapped. The two of them can't marry, and Aswil will soon be marrying someone else, so does Aswil mean to keep him like some sort of mistress? As much as Tomoyuki still loves the man, he doesn't think he can live that kind of life. But will it be possible for him to escape?

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

REVIEW: A Perfect Square (book) by Vannetta Chapman

A Perfect Square is an Amish mystery. My copy is an ARC that I picked up at a conference years ago, so this has been out for quite some time. This is the second book in Chapman's Shipshewana Amish Mystery series.

Review:

A young Amish woman is found dead in a pond with the back of her head bloodied. Although it appears that she was a stranger to Shipshewana, there are indications that Reuben, the owner of the land where she died, knew her. Unfortunately, Reuben refuses to speak to the police, and Tobias (his cousin) and Esther (Tobias's fiancee) are worried that he'll be blamed for a murder they're sure he didn't commit.

Deborah (an Amish woman) and Callie (an Englischer - a non-Amish person) do what they can to help their friends, but with Reuben refusing to say anything in his own defense, their options are limited. Meanwhile, a young Amish man is hiding in the woods - he knew the dead girl, and he may be the key to this mystery.