Always quirky, sometimes sweet speculative fiction

Month: January 2020

My Favourite Books In 2019

I polished off 136 books this year, so picking only a few favourites is a grueling task. I’ve tried as much as possible to stick to 2019 releases, but a few older books were just too good to skip over.

If you want to check out all my reviews you can access them through my Goodreads 2019 in books. Heads up though I fell into a bad habit of writing reviews weeks or months after having read the book (and therefore after having read sometimes ten or more other books since) so the reviews aren’t always quite as good as they should be.

Without further ado, my favourite books/series read in 2019:

Holly Black’s ‘Folk of the Air’ Series – since 2 of the three books of the trilogy came out in 2019 I definitely consider this a win for 2019.
The characters in these books are just so good, and political machinations of the *best* kind (definitely not the boring sort). So many twists, so much fae chicanery, and still the perfect level of romance. Even a few little references to anime as well ;p

If you want my more in depth feelings on each of the books my Goodreads reviews are here:

1. The Cruel Prince, 2. The Wicked King, 3. The Queen of Nothing

Tales of Varenia (The Lightning Struck Heart series) – I was on the hunt for high fantasy and or fairy tale fantasy with gay male leads and was recommended this one and oh boy it was a doozy. You will never laugh so much in all your life as when reading this series.

The voice of the POV character is very OTT modern gay which can be a little jarring with the distinctly medieval setting but before long you’re rolling with it and rolling on the floor laughing too.

The side characters are all pure gold too, Gary the gay af unicorn, Tiggy the giant, and Lady Tina D’Silva is the finest minor villain I may ever have read. Also, the romance is perfect, Havehart 4eva. (Heads up for explicit sex scenes though if that’s not your jam)

Spinning Silver – like Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle and a lot of my Retailored Fairy Tales,  this feels like a fairy tale retelling but isn’t, its a story existing in that fairy tale world but more than just a simple retelling or reimagining.

Three different women make up the main POVs and their stories weave beautifully together.

The plot is strong and the power Novik has to make you feel what the characters are feeling is mythic.

The fae-esque creatures in the story – the staryck – are a delight to read, their cold cruelty just perfect and when the king gets trapped by his own words by Miryem I was laughing so hard.

Red, White and Royal Blue – I rarely read outright romance and even rarer contemporary romance, but this one was recommended to me by too many different people to ignore. I might have been very late in finally getting around to it but was definitely worth it.

The plot is that sort of hilarious ‘of course I’m going to love this’ stuff where the son of the US president and a prince on England start up as enemies and (because it’s a romance trope ;p ) end up lovers. It’s a very believable path (unlike some enemies to lovers stories I’ve encountered), and both of the boys are such well-drawn characters. I love the text chains and emails, though I imagine they look better in a paper back than merely being read out in the audiobook. Also five stars for the narrator.

The Girl Who Drank The Moon – Wow.

No seriously, wow. So much fairy tale magic, beautiful characters, terrible villains, good people doing good things even though it might not win them what they want, all the things!

I am going to go out and buy a paper copy of this book so when Harley is old enough to sit still for it I can read this to her.

 

I also enjoyed going back into the DFZ in a new series by Rachel Aaron (previously I’ve raved about her Heartstrikers series in this same world).

Seanan Maguire’s novellas in her ‘Wayward Children’ series had another release and let me just say this series is so freaking good, anyone who likes portal fantasy and young people in fae worlds will love this series about children who find doors to other worlds then end up back here stuck, wanting to return to fae or whatever realm they came from but instead growing up n our world. I may be spending an entire Audible credit on a only 4 hour audiobook but I don’t care because they’re just that good.

I also finally discovered Leigh Bardugo’s books and yes! Why did this take me so long?

I read a lot more non fiction this year than ever before. I gobbled up 16 books on writing craft/mindset/business, 3 books for research (non-fiction books I mean, I read a lot of fiction in the niche my books fit in to help me suss out who the best authors are and who my books pair nicely with like a good red wine ;p ), 8 biographies/memoirs, and 19 different self-help titles not specifically aimed at writers – but you’ll notice the distinct majority are about time management and productivity, so you know it was still about my writing ;p, and even several just-for-fun books on the Apollo Nine mission and the Golden State Killer because my interest was piqued.

My favourite craft book was Wired For Story, which uses brain science to show how story works on readers at a neurological level. I’m currently reading the companion books to it Story Genius as well

In 2020 I’m looking forward to:

  • The next Wayward Children book, Come Tumbling Down,
  • The next book in the Nikolai Lantsov duology (if it even comes out in 2020…)
  • The  (probably) final book of the Legacy of Orisha series
  • Ember Queen, the last of the Ash Princess trilogy
  • Any way The Wind Blows (the final Simon Snow book)
  • and Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust (author of Girls Made of Snow and Glass, one of my favourites of 2018)

Any books you were especially mad for last year or particularly keen for this year? let me know and make my TBR even bigger ;p

My Favourite Anime of 2019

Y’all, there was soooo much good anime this year, so don’t expect this to be a short list. Also I had a lot of forced-to-stay-up-late nights (when you watch subtitled shows so you don’t wake up kids or hubby) so I watched more than usual too, which doesn’t help limit this list’s length ;p

As usual these are in no particular order, but before we dive in let me say there were so many good OP and ED songs this year. Usually each year sees one or two new songs added to my anime playlist, but this year saw six ;p Also if you don’t want ‘Good Morning World’ by Burnout Syndromes as your new alarm ringtone I don’t think we can be friends any more.

But without further ado, here’s my favourites from this year and what rocks about them.

The Promised Never Land – If I was forced to name a single favourite this would be it for 2019. OMG the twists and suspense. I was watching this one as it came out weekly and DYING with the wait most weeks. So much of what happened I genuinely didn’t see coming, which is something I don’t get enough of. The characters are amazing too, everyone’s so well fleshed out, villains and side characters with as much care as the main trio. But I’m dying where it ended! I guess I need to collect the manga to find out what happens next >.<

The Rising Of The Shield Hero – I love portal fantasy. I love ‘people from earth ending up in game worlds’ especially much, so I was already highly likely to be on board with it, but the story really swept me up. I wanted to smack the other three heroes upside their heads so much my hand itched.

I enjoyed how the in-game system worked, and how Naofumi had never heard of the game unlike the other heroes so was thrown in the deep end. I was a little disappointed I never felt like I got any real motivations out of some of the villains (SPOILER: the princess in particular) though.

I was a big fan of the Naofumi’s redemptive arc and the fact that instead of yet another cat girl, Raphtalia was instead a tanuki girl ;p

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress: The Battle of Unato – I was 600% sold on Mumei and Ikoma’s relationship, it’s adorableness was the perfect offset for the gritty zombocalypse around them. I liked the take on zombies, how they were made, looked, and functioned and also the power tiers.

The world really felt so much bigger than the 3 episodes on Netflix so I chased it down and saw there was an originating series set before this series, best of all it was already streaming on Prime, so YAY binge time ;p

 

Stars Align: that ending song. definitely a new addition to my play list. Not to mention the credits it rolls over are great, the dance they all do showing off the characters personalities perfectly(video above^ ) is just ( ˘ ³˘) .

The show is a nice mix of slice of life and sports anime. You don’t get drowned in matches(I’m looking at you Haikyuu(still love you tho)), sometimes we’ll go a couple of episodes without even having a tennis match, just digging into the boys’ stories. And every one of those stories are so good, though heads up a LOT of complicated issues are covered, and the abuse some of these boys deal with ranges from true physical, to just about every kind of mental abuse. I want to adopt them all and be the mother they deserve (though holy crap I’d have a lot of children then).

Episode  8 has my heart though. It’s the one where the team manager(Yu) talks frankly to Maki about how they(singular they btw) isn’t certain if they’re a boy or a girl, and then Maki talks about his mother’s FTM friend and lets Yu know ‘I think it’s all right to not know for sure,’ and essentially, roll with it I got your back, and I was just YES please more of this in everything now. Thank you. Also, Shinjo you dummy, when Yu asked you your opinion they wanted a compliment! Gah!

I also really love the journey Mitsue is on, both her artists journey as well as coming out of her tsundere shell.

I really hope the season doesn’t end at episode 12 (the last episode to air before I wrote this) because its too sad, I can’t! Plus so many open threads, but too many anime do so IDK and if I look it up and find it out it might be more than I can take >.<  I want happy endings for all of them.

Fire Force – I am not exaggerating when I say the first episode of this series is my all time favourite first episode of any anime ever, and possibly even any show ever (up there with Brooklyn 99’s first episode). It was just the perfect balance of everything storytelling as well as ticking a lot of my ‘I love it when…’ boxes. None of the episodes since have been quite as perfect, but it’s still a great show, and of all the releases that come out Saturday morning(or at least that’s when Animelab release it ;p ) it is the first I watch every time(though Dr Stone is a close second).

I love the steampunk-y world, the fact all magic is fire based yet everyone has wildly varied powers, spontaneous combustion, and especially the cavalcade of nutso characters. You can probably guess who my favourite is (hint: glasses, cooks, totally the group ‘mum’ and uber strict ;p ), but there’s a lot of hilarious characters to enjoy. TBH I didn’t like Arthur until ep 4 or 5 when his hilariously dumb ass was fighting a superior opponent and he kept saying ‘something’s off with me today’ and his opponent was all ‘bitch please you’re just weak’, then Arthur went ‘Oh I’m using the wrong hand’ and lol he was genuinely that dumb that he didn’t realise he was using the wrong sword arm the whole time. I laughed way too much and didn’t hate him any more after that.

I’m pretty confident that this is going to be one of those never ending series, which makes me weep because I’m already following enough of those and this year I’ve added a further two! Gah!

Let’s play a quick game of ‘spot the main character’

Dr Stone – To be frank I could go on forever watching just Senku do science in a stone age world. No need for Tsubasa and his crew to ever show up to the fight. Who needs dramatic tension when you have science? I especially love when he gets all calculating and pulls his ‘evil’ face. That hair is a whole ‘nother level of anime hilarity though XD I’ve been calling it ‘the spring onion anime’ to some of my friends who also watch it ;p

The science is really genuinely cool, and the clever way they source it in this stone age world is impressive. After the first episode I was not in the least bit surprised to see the disclaimer telling people to not try this at home.

There’s heaps of fun characters both among the good guys and the bad guys, though most of them aren’t quite as nutso as in Fire Force there’s still quite a few, shall we say ‘bold’ individuals ;p

this picture sums up nicely why I like this show so much

Kemono Michi: Rise Up – A pro wrestling champ is transported to another world in mid-match. Genzo is crazy strong and totally overpowered in the new world, but he quickly finds out he was summoned to this new world to defeat the ‘demon beasts’. Problem is he’s a hard core animal lover and would rather collect them, rub their bellies, and help them find forever homes than hunt and kill them. Seriously, dude keeps a menagerie of mythical creatures and loves animals of all kinds – obviously someone like me is 600% in. It’s hilarious too. I do wish some of his companions were better people(and occasionally even better formed characters(they get a little 2d, which is good for regular lolz, but less so for real story). I see why its done for comedy, but sometimes it just detracts. Also, clearly the world Genzo comes from is not our world, because pro wrestling is real ;p

Lolz aplenty and mythical creatures abound. Highly recommend if you are or ever were a fan of pro wrestling.

Do You Love Your Mother And Her Two Hit Multi-Target Attacks? – The description on Animelab had me wary because it described Mamako’s affection for her son as being ‘too much’ and I worried for the first few episodes that it was going to go into icky territory. For those (like me) who would not want to keep watching if that were the case let me assure you she’s just a doting mum, not creepy. There is a LOT of fan service (Mamako’s clothes melt off in the first episode), but she’s horrified and embarrassed, not wanting her son to see her like that and he’s also ‘OMG no son wants to see his mum like that’, and it remains that way every time there’s fan service.  This is a laugh put loud funny series. Mamako is hilariously overpowered and knows zilch about RPGs (or games period) so is forever just winning through sheer force of power but also inadvertently never letting her son get to show off or sometimes even fight.

The series isn’t nothing but lolz though (unlike Kemono-michi, above), there’s lots of looks at how different mothers approach mothering, what being a mum and a child means, and some genuinely touching moments too. I think mums like me who watch anime will get a lot of enjoyment out of this. Kids & teens, if you want your mum to like anime watch this with her perhaps ;p

Kaguya-sama Love Is War – In one word: Crack. In a few more words: romantic comedy crack. This show was soooo good. The pair are made for each other, in love with one another, but determined to NOT be the one who confesses so they are always setting things up so the perfect moment for the other person to confess is there and then when there’s a perfect moment for them to confess, resisting it and trying to flip the tables. They’re both terribly clever and manipulative, so don’t fall for each other’s ploys, but then in come the wild cards of the other members of the student council to toss everything on its head too. It’s the perfect blend of melty romantic moments and hilarious situations. Best of all the ending episodes are beautifully satisfying.

 

Of course I’m still enjoying shows like My Hero Academia, Black Clover, Attack on Titan, ect but as they’re on going I didn’t include them officially.

I really wish I could have listed Magical Girl Spec Ops Asuka, because I really love me some gritty magical girl anime (or you know magical girl anime of almost any variety ;p ), but there were just way too many torture porn moments. To be clear I don’t just mean torture, I mean torture combined with STRONG fan service in the same instant. Always a girl skimpily clad, writhing in a very sexual way with specific camera focus, but genuine agony screams while being tortured(like literally having her arm cut off in once scene). It didn’t not happen just once or twice either. It made me so uncomfortable I couldn’t finish watching the series. However I love the spec ops aspect, the costumes and powers, and the character interactions and the darkness that they did go that far sometimes. I enjoyed how grim it took some of the story lines, I just didn’t like the fact they sexualised the torture. TL;DR is you can torture someone, but don’t try to make it sexy at the same time or I’m out.

Anime I’m keen for next year:

  • More Fire Force and Dr Stone of course ;p (plus my usual never-endings like Black Clover, My Hero Academia, and Attack on Titan)
  • Magia Record – why would I not be hanging out for more dark magical girl anime?
  • Science Fell In Love So I Tried to Prove It – more lol romance, I’m so ready. I’m kinda expecting a secret love child of Dr Stone and Kaguya-Sama Love Is War ;p
  • More Haikyuu – because Haikyuu
  • Somali and The Forest Spirit – love the idea of humans brought to the brink of extinction by goblins and other fantasy creatures (that sounds horrible, I hope you know what I mean ;p )

Anything you’re hanging out for next year? Tell me, let’s get excited!

My Favourite Games In 2019

It’s been a tough last half of the year for me, but while my writing wasn’t so strong, I was still ‘filling the creative well’ by consuming tonnes of great story in my favourite mediums. So for the next couple of days I’ll be posting about my favourite books and anime of 2019 but up first is games.

Whoooo baby there were so many Atelier releases this year. First they served me up the 20th Anniversary celebration game Nelke and The Legendary Alchemists(more on how much I loved it below), then Atelier Lulua(with a return to Arland, but sadly not my thoroughly-missed time limits), and then as a surprise at the end of the year they released Atelier Ryza instead of holding onto it for a 2020 release (sadly I’ve not played much of it yet so couldn’t speak to anything but the graphics of thus far ;p ), so it’s like NIS was telling me to never stop throwing money at them. I obliged.

So let’s start with Nelke and the Legendary Alchemists: A city builder with every single alchemist (and a few other notable characters) from every Atelier game, clearly I was already there (with bells on!). The story tied it all together pretty nicely and all the side stories with each and every one of the alchemists were so much fun, especially for the characters I didn’t already know (I came into the series with Atelier Iris (the first one) on PS2) but knew a little about from the Atelier Series Chronicle art book (2009). The new characters were cute and I was sailing the hell out of the Nelke/Lotus ship too.

The game mechanics were fairly simple, but still fun, though in the early portion of the game, the exploration and combat was a little frustrating because of the time it took up, but you need those damn materials, but once you can send people out gathering through explored areas you could just dash though the area, and then send people there to gather when you got home, much easier. Easy enough that I managed to get the true ending on first playthrough ;p

Honestly, I had so much fun with it that immediately upon finishing my first playthrough I took my new game plus and started a second run. I’m fairly sure that a decent amount of my delight springs from the fact that we were back to time limits. The time limits aren’t excessively difficult, but just their mere existence gave me that little bit of challenge I think I’ve been missing from the last few releases of the franchise.

I’ve recently noticed they’ve made some DLC extra stories and am trying my hardest to resist jumping back in for a third play through to experience them!

The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince – I mentioned in my similar post last year I was hanging out for this game. I’m usually not into side scrollers all that much(I want to bash my enemies with a sword, not jump over them), but the art and the storyline overrode my usual objections and I gave it a try.

The story is so good. So good. The game is pretty quick to get to the final stage but a fun path there, but ARGH! the boss stage is such a bitch. I think I replayed the first portion of it for as long as I played the entire rest of the game trying to make it through. However the ending will make your struggle worth it. Fairy tale fans who aren’t afraid to Groundhog Day the hell out of themselves in the boss stage will love it.

Crystar – a magical girl style game, of course I’m there!  The graphics are super pretty. I love the set designs and the costume designs a lot, and I love little details like how the sisters have matching (but different coloured) argyle patterns at the top of their thigh-highs when in casual dress. I also like how occasionally they switch up the art style, with the memories sometimes flipping into the scratchy sketch style.

The story is dark, so heads up for a bit at the very start for those who have suicide related triggers as they hit that theme a few times with several of the butterflies right off the bat (though kudos to the voice actors for hitting the notes just right to make the lines resonate powerfully too). I haven’t gone very far yet though, because it only recently showed up in Aussie stores, but I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes.

Despite the grimness of the story line there’s still lolz aplenty, eg/ that line “I didn’t have my phone, not that I could use it as a butterfly’. And there’s a lot of sweetness too. Also, thank you whichever developer included the fact that playing with your dog warms your heart back up because yes, yes it does <3

Persona Q 2 – yass for Fem MC, my team was almost exclusively Akihiko, Chie, Shinjiro, P5 MC and Fem MC, except when quests demanded otherwise. Those first three as your front line team was a killer combo BTW, get Chie to Counter and Shinji to All Guard(with a persona who regularly nullifies physical damage ;p ) and bwahaha enemies are smacked down for even trying to hit me. I was genuinely frustrated when I started to play Etrian Odyssey Nexus and I couldn’t find a similar set up XD (for those not in the know The Persona Q series is the Persona characters thrown into Etrian Odyssey style gameplay with the combat, dungeon style and map drawing like in EO, hence my irritation when I switched to such a similar game but couldn’t get the same dynamic rolling).

It was a good story too, my heart went out to FemMC when they met up with the P3 team </3

Little Briar Rose – Ok, fairy tale game, killer ‘stained glass’ style art, and cheap as chips on the Nintendo store? Shut up and take my money (actually I think I ended using my Gold points to buy it, but shhh). If you don’t love the art in this game then I feel like you and I can’t be friends any more. (j/k of course, but we might be rocky for a bit ;p ) .

If you mess up you get cursed (I got the chimney wrong on the gnome house and was turned into a gnome ;p ) and another prince (also controlled by you ;p ) comes in and takes up the quest where you failed. The puzzles are funny and cute, and as I already mentioned the graphics are too beautiful.

My only issue is it never told me it was autosaving, nor gave me any self saving options. I played for quite  a while looking for save options or an ‘autosave’ icon to appear flashing, I never saw them and started to get worried about how long I’d played without saving and how if I exited I might lose it all and have to start over only to find the save point was just a few minutes further from where I was ;p It seems to autosave after most actions though.

Mistover – I downloaded the demo almost for the hell of it (I saw an anime style game had a free demo and was pretty much ‘why not?’), and to my surprise the game play when I tried the demo was EVERYTHING I needed in a game at that moment. The ever changing dungeons, the classes, the combat style, the group combo attacks, the town when you head back there, the difficulty, just yes. Please sir may I have some more. If you like Etrian Odyssey and/or Persona Q then you should like this.

I really like the edgy anime style art too, plus the premise and characters in town were good fun. Also, the demo is pretty extensive if you want to give it a try and not just take my word for it.

Pokemon Sword/Shield – naturally I grabbed the latest Pokemon game promptly (though I spent weeks agonising over which one, I mean Sir Fetch’d or gorgeous psychic-type Ponyta amirite!?), and TBH all the changes I heard people whinging about prior to release didn’t bug me at all. We’re back (after Let’s Go Pikachu/Eeevee) to proper old school catching, there’s fun gyms, I get to dress up all cute again, the Wild Areas are fun and great for leveling (plus who doesn’t love looking for that fishing chick and getting pearls off her over and over again ;p I’m rich, rich I tell you!).

For the first time ever you can catch eeveeloutions in the wild too! (Though by the time I could get over to the island I’d already bred my eevees and evolved them and was running around with my all eeveeloution team.

I got a bit frustrated by the ‘you can’t even catch the pokemon without certain gym badges’ thing. If I and my pokemon are good enough to whittle the wild pokemon’s HP to 1, then put it to sleep it doesn’t get a goddamn choice IMO (RAGE!!!). (this sounds very problematic on re-reading ;p I’m talking about catching pokemon I swear)

I love surprise trading too. (I’ve got a million level 1 eevees ;p ) Dynamaxing is pretty cool too. Definitely a solid addition to one of my longest gaming loves.

one must even be considerate of thugs ;p

Kuukiyomi(consider it) – an unusual little game with puzzles on how to be considerate, eg/ if you’re part of a pair just standing on the escalator side by side one of you drops behind or in front of your friend to let someone striding up the escalator go past you without slowing down.

It was far from expensive and I thought Id give it a try. I’m waiting for real quandries like ‘do you wash your neighbour’s side walk when washing your own? Because some neighbours see that as you making them owe you one, so it isn’t considerate ;p

I totally sat down too fast in the school ‘stand, bow, sit’ one and fell backward on the chair ;p I only wonder if there are other options, like different ways you might have been considerate. I’m also a little disappointed, I wanted to get rankings eg/ S-rank considerate or A/B/C/D-rank ;p

A shout out is owed to the re-release of Ni No Kuni Wrath of the White Witch, but it since it’s just a re-release, I’ll just include a link to my original review which stands true for this playthrough also.

You might notice more of my games were Indie titles compared to last year. I’ve been using my Switch a lot more and have been taking advantage of the Nintendo store and a few sales it’s had ;p

Games I’m hanging out for next year include:

  • Animal Crossing – OMG you guys, did you see you can make your own tools! And you can pole vault over rivers and and and, just give it to me NOW!
  • Final Fantasy VII Remake – haven’t we all been waiting too long for this?
  • Atelier Dusk Series Deluxe pack – hey NIS, Y U no give me physical copy to buy? Won’t stop me. Totally playing Escha to Logy as soon as I download it ;p
  • Cris Tales – that art, gimme gimme gimme
  • Re:Legend – looks pretty damn cute, did y’all see that screenshot where you’re riding an axolotl?
  • And lets face it we all know I’ll play Persona 5 Royal.

Any game you really loved this year, or are super keen for in 2020?

2019 Round-Up & 2020 Goals

Since  we’re also closing out the decade, I thought, rather than focus how much things collapsed in the last six months, I’d prefer to look at how much I achieved in this decade.

I went from someone who had completed the first draft of one novel and very little else to someone with 5 completed novel drafts (some edited and ready now, some that will never see the light of day), wrote over 39 short stories and novellas, and went from unpublished to published in both the traditional and indie settings (more in the trad than indie). I was also president of the Vision Writers Group for four years (and still a member). I also had two beautiful children, went on some wonderful travels (best of all a trip to Japan), and generally had a pretty good time, even reaching 15 years service with my day job employer.

Now we’re in 2020 both my kids will be at school, which means I can put more time into my writing, but also need to buckle down and get some more ‘day job’ work done too.

So now, without further ado, my writing goals for 2020:

  • Finish (at least) the next three books in the Charming for Hire series and get books 1-5 ready for publishing
  • Finish The Troll’s Toll sequel (I’ve had a few people asking after this but have been trying to get the two antagonists to stop being such limp noodles) and publish, then get a leg on with the final book of the trilogy
  • Keep on keeping on with the short stories
  • Keep learning
  • Work with more pro editors – I really want this. I plan to hire one or two for freelance work. Technically this could fall under ‘keep learning’, but I don’t want to let it slip into that and go missing.

With a stretch goal of – if time allows – fixing up Glass Slippers for publication

I’m really going to work harder on following Heinlein’s business rules for authors too.

How was your decade? What are your goals for 2020?

Keep an eye out for the next couple of days for my ‘Favourites of 2019’ in books, games, and anime.

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