Sunday, June 9, 2019

REVIEW: Convenience Store Woman (book) by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

All right, I'm going to try to jump back into this reviewing thing. Let's see how well this goes.

Convenience Store Woman is Japanese literature. I think it's the only one of Murata's works available in English. The only genre I can think of that it fits into is maybe humor, but, due to some stuff that happens at the end, I'd say it isn't so much a comedy as it is a story with occasional moments of humor. It might also be considered women's fiction? I don't know.

This review contains slight spoilers.

Review:

Keiko is a non-neurotypical Japanese woman. As a young child, she learned that she didn't view the world the same way as other people. When she saw a dead bird, for example, other children grieved over it while she thought that it would make a nice dinner for her father. When two boys were fighting and someone yelled that they needed to stop, Keiko hit one of the boys over the head with a shovel. It certainly stopped the fight, but it definitely wasn't considered an appropriate solution. As her parents became more and more concerned about Keiko's inappropriate reactions, Keiko tried to become as normal as possible by being quiet, almost never taking any initiative, and imitating the words, actions, and facial expressions of those around her. For the most part, it worked.

When Keiko was 18, she got a part-time job at a convenience store that just opened up. The store's clearly stated rules and guidelines for employees, which covered everything from what to say to customers to what sorts of facial expressions to wear, instantly appealed to her, and she achieved a relatively peaceful life. Unfortunately, Keiko is now 36, still working at the convenience store (with no desire to leave), single (with no desire to be otherwise), and childless (with zero interest in having children). It's becoming increasingly apparent to her that her way of life doesn't fit in with societal expectations. The question is: what, if anything, does she want to do about it?

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Games I've played in the last month: adventure, RPGs, sims, and visual novels

I was going to list all of the games in the post title, but there are so many that the length got a little ridiculous.

Anyway, I'm going to try to group these together by genre. The games I'll be covering are: World's Dawn, Stardew Valley, Equilinox, Unavowed, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy (again), Blush Blush, Lovers of Aether, and Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator.

Update

It's been over a month, and I still can't seem to bring myself to write reviews, although I've read and listened to quite a few books and finished an anime TV series. I'm not sure what's up, but it's probably at least partly due to stress and general tiredness.

Work...could be going better. After very nearly stressing myself to pieces training my new staff member (see this post - yes, it's only been a couple a months), I learned that she applied for a different position in my library. I was shocked and unhappy when I first found out. I eventually learned more about the reasons behind it all - it wasn't anything I could fix or do anything about, and if she didn't get that other position, it was very likely I'd lose her to something else in the near future. When a different position in my library opened up, I agreed to have her moved into that one, an option she was also fine with.

So the situation is about as amicable as possible, considering, but it means I'm going to continue to be deeply anxious and stressed out for a while, and I have periods where I feel like an utter failure even though there was nothing I could have done to prevent what happened. There are also a lot of other changes coming down the road, and I'm currently in "wait and see" mode as I decide whether they're changes for the better or changes that reveal more of the cracks in the foundation.

I'm going to sit down today and write something review-ish. Lately, I seem to be dealing with stress by trying new games, so I've played a lot of games in the past month. I haven't actually finished anything, but I've at least enjoyed nearly everything I've tried.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Currently playing: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy, Garden Paws, and The Caligula Effect: Overdose

I'm very bad about not finishing games I've started, so it's rare for me to write full final reviews of them. But I thought some kind of update post about games I'm currently spending a lot of time playing might be nice.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy

I've heard so many good things about this series, but until recently, it was only ever available to play on systems I didn't own. I was very excited when I saw that a PC version was coming to Steam, even though the price was considerably higher than I tend to be comfortable paying for games.

I don't think I've managed to finish the first game in the trilogy yet, but I've made it through several cases, and I'm really enjoying it overall. It's structured to be part "collect items and question people" adventure game and part "pay attention and find the inconsistencies" logic game. The periods where you look at crime scenes and question witnesses/potential suspects can occasionally get tedious (during the case involving the murdered actor, there was a brief period where I seemed to be stuck, because I hadn't done whatever was required to get some new characters to suddenly appear), but the stories and characters are generally interesting.

During trials, there's an opportunity to fail: if you don't object at the right moments, or bring up the right piece of evidence at the right time, you're gradually penalized until your client is declared guilty. I haven't found the game's logic to be too difficult, however, and I like that you're allowed to press a witness without being penalized.

Just be aware that the story and characters can get a bit wacky.

Garden Paws

I picked this up during one of my "trying to find something similar to Stardew Valley, but different" efforts. If Stardew Valley's combat was an issue for you, you're in luck, because absolutely nothing in the world of Garden Paws will kill you, not even the bears. That said, although the NPCs will now occasionally chat with you (they used to not talk to player characters unless they needed something), in-game interactions aren't nearly as satisfying as those in Stardew Valley. There are no romanceable or even friendable NPCs here.

Still, I've put more than 40 hours into this game and am nowhere near tired of it. There are at least a couple hundred quests, lots of places to explore, treasure chests to find, and eventually museum collections to complete, and the developers are still adding new content. I haven't done much building yet, but that's my next goal, since I recently noticed that there are several islands that are too far away for me to get to using my favorite method of transportation, gliding.

The game still has a few issues - I had to turn off the animated grass because it was interfering with my ability to play the game, and I still worry that if I play for too many in-game days my computer will overheat. And I wouldn't recommend it to those who need games to have more to them than collecting items and exploring. But I've found that jumping in to play for a single in-game day (approximately 15-20 minutes depending on what you opt to do and how early you send your character to bed) is a nice way for me to wind down after work.

The Caligula Effect: Overdose

Another very expensive game, considering that most of what I buy is $20 or less. I really debated before buying this. The story sounded interesting enough, I liked the animated cutscenes, and turn-based battles seemed like a nice way for me to ease back into this sort of gaming. I tend to avoid games with actual combat, so this would be an unusual purchase for me.

Every review I looked at brought up the original release, which was apparently widely viewed as a failure. The general consensus seemed to be that Overdose (the original release was just The Caligula Effect) was an improvement over the original game, but that the new release still had problems, such as overly easy combat, a battle system that gets tedious a while, and way too many NPCs (more than 500!).

I've been playing it for about 4 hours now on the Normal difficulty setting, and while I'd agree with those who say that it's pretty easy, its easiness is part of its appeal for me. I'm slower on the uptake when it comes to figuring out battle strategies, and this game is, so far, super forgiving. We'll see how I feel once I take on my first big boss, but I just completed a battle against two enemies, one of whom was one level stronger than me and my companions and one of whom was 7 levels stronger, in only one attempt.

As far as the Causality Link aspect goes...eh. I haven't gotten far enough into it to unlock any quests yet, but so far I feel like the NPCs and the main characters efforts to "befriend" them are pretty weak.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

REVIEW: Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People - and Break Free (nonfiction book) by Stephanie Moulton Sarkis

Gaslighting is a psychology/self-help book.

Review:

I read this hoping for some decent "dealing with gaslighters" tips. I requested it via interlibrary loan after one particular incident with my own personal gaslighter. I hadn't previously realized that the word "gaslighting" applied to that person's actions, but for some reason it suddenly clicked.

In her introduction, Sarkis asks that readers not succumb to the temptation to skip directly to whichever chapter seems most appropriate to their situation, and I'd have to agree. While Sarkis organizes the book into chapters that, for the most part, each deal with a particular situation (you're in an intimate relationship with the gaslighter, the gaslighter is in your workplace, the gaslighter is a politician, you're in a cult and being gaslit by everyone close to you, etc.), and those chapters often have advice that's only applicable in those situations, there are tidbits of advice throughout the entire book that could be more broadly useful.

REVIEW: Monster (book) by Christopher Pike

Monster is YA horror. I got my copy via interlibrary loan.

Review:

Angela is a relative newcomer to the small town of Point. She moved in with her grandfather after her parents went through an ugly divorce. She figures that Point will be quiet and peaceful, but she's wrong. Angela is at a party when Mary, her best friend, bursts in and starts shooting people with a shotgun. It's horrific, but Mary doesn't seem out of control - she seems to have some kind of goal. She tries to make Jim, her own boyfriend, her final victim, but Angela and a police officer manage to stop her.

After the shooting (which is pretty graphic - be aware of this if school shootings and similar situations are an issue for you), Angela tries to find out why Mary did it. All Mary will tell her is that the people she shot were monsters. She warns Angela to stay away from Jim, but Angela feels herself drawn to him. She has secretly been nursing a crush on him, holding back only because he was dating her best friend. But now that Mary is a killer, Jim is fair game, right? Except what if Mary is right? What if Jim really is a monster?

Thursday, April 25, 2019

REVIEW: The Viscount Who Loved Me (book) by Julia Quinn

The Viscount Who Loved Me is historical romance, the second book in Quinn's Bridgertons series. I got my copy from a used bookstore.

Review:

When Anthony Bridgerton's father was 38, he was stung by a bee and died. Anthony idolized his father, and his death affected him deeply. When Anthony decides, at age 29, that it's time for him to settle down and produce an heir, his father's fate is constantly on his mind. He is convinced he won't live to see 39, and so he's determined to marry someone he is unlikely to fall in love with.

Edwina Sheffield seems like the perfect candidate - stunningly beautiful and reasonably intelligent, but with nothing about her that affects Anthony on a deeper level. Unfortunately, Edwina has publicly stated that she won't marry anyone her older sister, Kate, doesn't approve of, and Kate loathes Anthony for his reputation as a rake. As they get to know each other, Kate realizes that Anthony is a better man than she first thought, and Anthony realizes that Kate is very much a woman he could fall in love with. But there's still the issue of Edwina, and Anthony's bone-deep belief that he will die young.

Monday, April 22, 2019

REVIEW: Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (live action movie)

Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga is an Indian Hindi-language family drama/comedy with lesbian romantic elements. According to Wikipedia, it's the first Bollywood movie featuring a lesbian relationship. The movie itself treats the revelation that Sweety is a lesbian like a spoiler, since it isn't revealed until halfway through, which makes me wonder how it was marketed.

At any rate, the story: It begins at a wedding. Sweety is clearly uncomfortable as various people suggest that she should get married too. And hey, that guy over there would be a great candidate! He's going to London, and maybe she could go with him. Then the movie skips forward to the present. Sweety is running from someone and has briefly hidden inside a theater where a rehearsal is taking place. The play's writer, Sahil, helps her escape from a man who he later learns is her brother. From that point on, all Sahil can think about is seeing Sweety again.

The first half of the movie is a traditional "boy meets girl, complications ensue that prevent them from being together" story. Sweety's brother lies about what's really going on, leading his father to think that Sweety was trying to elope with a Muslim man, Sahil. Sahil thinks he and Sweety somehow fell in love during the few moments they spent together and hatches a plan to see her again. And poor Sweety is stuck in the middle of it all.

REVIEW: Slumber Party (book) by Christopher Pike

Slumber Party is YA horror, I guess. Or maybe it'd be considered a thriller. Not sure.

Review:

For the first time since their last fateful slumber party when they were all about 9 or 10 years old, Nell, Lara, Rachael, Dana, and Mindy are getting together again. The difference is that this time Nicole, Nell's little sister, won't be there. When everything went horribly wrong all those years ago, Nicole ended up dead and Nell was badly burned. Celeste, a quiet and shy new girl, is with them instead.

Lara is looking forward to skiing, maybe kissing a cute boy, and catching up with her old friend Nell. However, something has her on edge. How did that snowman in the shade manage to melt and refreeze? When one member of their group disappears, leaving behind a single ski and a patch of dirty ice, Lara starts to wonder if there's something supernatural at play.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

REVIEW: A Likely Story (book) by Jenn McKinlay

A Likely Story is the sixth book in McKinlay's A Library Lover's Mystery series. I borrowed it from a coworker (and just realized that I have yet to return it - I'll be doing that shortly).

Review:

I finished this about four months ago and just realized that I never wrote a review for it. Oops. All it took was starting a completely different cozy mystery series starring a librarian to remind me.

When Lindsey attempts to deliver books to a couple of her most reclusive library patrons, Stewart and Peter Rosen, she and Sully discover that Peter has been killed. Stewart is missing and seems to be the most likely suspect in Peter's murder. Lindsey can't imagine him having done it, however, and is concerned that Stewart is in danger. (And that is, unfortunately, about as much as I can remember of the book's overall plot. There was also a subplot involving Beth and a worryingly popular male children's librarian.)

REVIEW: Dramacon: Ultimate Edition (OEL manga omnibus, contains vols. 1-3) created by Svetlana Chmakova

Dramacon is a contemporary-set OEL romance manga with comedy and drama. I got it via interlibrary loan.

Review:

This omnibus contains the entire 3-volume series.

Christie is an amateur manga author with vague dreams of making it big one day. In the meantime, she just wants to have fun at Yatta Con, her first big manga/anime convention. Unfortunately, her boyfriend and artist (they're co-creating original English-language/OEL manga) is being a jerk, practically drooling over every pretty cosplayer who comes to their table. Matt, the good-looking cosplayer manning the table next to them, annoys her with his snarky comments, but she finds herself turning to him more and more as things deteriorate between her and her boyfriend. Matt's attitude may be a bit abrasive, but he and Christie just sort of click in a way that Christie and her boyfriend don't.

Each of the next two volumes take place a year apart, at the next Yatta Cons, following the ups and downs of Christie and Matt's relationship, Christie's con-going experience, and Christie and her friends' prospective manga careers.

REVIEW: Hanna: Season 1 (live action TV series)

Hanna is an action TV series based on a 2011 movie of the same title. I haven't seen the movie and didn't even know about it until I began writing this post.

This review includes slight spoilers.

Review:

The series begins 16 or so years in the past. A man we later learn is named Erik breaks into a high-security facility that for some reason has a lot of babies in it. He takes one of the babies and meets up with a woman who we later learn is named Johanna. Erik and Johanna refer to themselves as the baby's parents, although it's not initially clear whether they're actually her biological parents or consider themselves her adoptive parents. During their efforts to escape their pursuers, Johanna is killed. Erik takes the baby into the woods.

For the next 16 years, Erik trains his daughter, Hanna, in survival techniques, combat, and evasion. Hanna knows her mother was killed by enemies outside the forest, but she still can't help but yearn to see the outside world. She eventually ventures outside, and it isn't long before her and her father are forced to abandon their home and split up. In order to see her father again, Hanna must navigate a world she's only ever heard about before, with dangers she only partly understands.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

REVIEW: Aggretsuko: We Wish You a Metal Christmas (anime TV series episode)

Aggretsuko: We Wish You a Metal Christmas is not, as I initially assumed, a standalone movie, but rather a special Christmas-themed 22-minute episode that is a direct continuation of the first season of the series.

This post contains slight spoilers.

Review:

Retsuko gets addicted to Instagram and the quick bursts of joy that come from random people liking her carefully staged photos of food and supposedly perfect moments in her life. Instagram both feeds her need for positive feedback and sets her up to feel like a failure in comparison to everyone else. Christmas and its requirement of happiness and some kind of plans with other people (friends or family, but a date would be even better) just makes her feel worse. Meanwhile, Haida wants to ask Retsuko out to a party but worries she'll turn him down.

REVIEW: Quiz from God, Season 1 (live action TV series)

Quiz from God is a South Korean medical crime drama. This review is just for the first season, which is all I've seen so far. I watched it via Netflix

Review:

I forgot to write down characters' names and am therefore getting them from AsianWiki, so apologies if the name romanizations don't match the ones in Netflix.

This is a medical crime drama primarily focused on a genius young medical examiner who used to be a surgeon and who has just been assigned to a crime investigation team based in a university (I have no idea whether this setup would be considered believable to South Korean viewers, but it seemed odd to me). The team concentrates on murder cases that might in some way involve rare diseases or medical conditions, either on the part of the victim or the perpetrator - they perform second autopsies after initial investigations have failed. As the series progresses, it becomes apparent that the genius medical examiner, Han Jin-Woo, may have a rare medical condition of his own. He manages to successfully hide it from most of his colleagues, but a mysterious person who's secretly watching him and keeping tabs on him seems to know quite a bit about his illness and other aspects of his life and is willing to use that knowledge against him.

Until the last few episodes of the season, the series tends to focus on individual murder cases that are introduced and wrapped up in the space of a single episode.

Being an anxious introvert sucks

I've been training a new staff member at work, my first new staff member ever. I knew it would be challenging, but I didn't foresee how difficult it would be for my emotional/mental well-being. I tend to prefer written communication over verbal, and I find talking to people I don't know to be draining. This past week, I've spent huge chunks of time talking to someone I don't really know all that well (my new staff member), sometimes training her to do stuff that I'm not great at either since it isn't part of my regular duties, while doing my best to keep on top of my normal work duties as well as due dates for things my new staff member can't currently be expected to do on her own.

It's incredibly draining, to the point that I went to the gym one evening to try to do some exercises to loosen up my hip (I have a little bit of arthritis) and had to leave 15 minutes later because being around all those people, even though I didn't have to talk to any of them, was almost physically painful. Today I'm dealing with what seems to be some kind of delayed anxiety. There's absolutely nothing going on today for me to be anxious about, and yet I'm completely swamped with it.

My new staff member will eventually be fully trained, but in the meantime hopefully I can figure out a better way to deal with my own reaction to training her.
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