Always quirky, sometimes sweet speculative fiction

Category: Raves, Reviews and Rants (Page 1 of 7)

if I love it, hate it or want to rate it you’ll find it here.

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?

Alita: Battle Angel – My Thoughts

some of my earliest anime/manga purchases – yes, that is a VHS tape ;p

I’ve been a Battle Angel Alita fan for over 20 years. I first saw the anime while still in high school and I’ve been collecting the manga for 18 years (it was one of the first manga I ever bought!). As if I wasn’t going to go see the movie.(it did take me a couple of weeks to get to it though, with camping, road trips, and getting away from the children ;p )

I went in wary, after all western adaptions of anime hits have not always produced the best results…  I went in curious to see what would be changed, how much would be added, how much of the world and its future and history would be put in. I went in cautiously optimistic because of my long held love for this series.

And I was not disappointed.

The movie wasn’t without flaw. It suffered a bit from ‘put all the things in!’ syndrome, but it felt more like an enthusiastic I’m-a-big-fan driven urge, not wanting newcomers to miss out on any of the coolness that is Alita. This did cause it to get a bit shuffled around, and sometimes subplots lost traction because there were so many that sometimes the romance subplot or the motorball subplot wouldn’t even get a mention for six or seven scene. The problem didn’t  reach movie-ruining levels for me (though I’m left wondering if someone with no knowledge of the world might have felt somewhat lost).

Several of the iconic moments (Ido pulling Alita’s remnants from the scrapyard, Alita holding Hugo’s hand hanging off the side of cables of Tiphares/Zalem, ect) were beautifully rendered, and though only touched on it was fun seeing some of the little nods to the fans (like the quick look at Jashugan). The special effects are great – but you probably already knew that considering who made it and the availability of trailers.

I was a little irked by some of the name changes, Daisuke to Dyson is understandable for an American audience (though why ‘Dyson’ is he a vacuum cleaner?’) but what kept niggling at me was Tiphares to Zalem. It threw me every damn time.

just try and tell me she isn’t weirdly perfect for the role

I love love loved Rosa Salazar as Alita. Her voice, her acting, her look (which admittedly is largely cg, but shh) were all great fits for one of my all-time favourite characters.

The emotion remained there well too, (SPOILER ALERT y’all) I still teared up as Hugo’s elbow joint breaks and he plummets away, even though I knew it was coming (and have seen and re-seen that scene into probably the triple digits by now between the anime and manga), and I really enjoyed the romance elements (though the scene with the heart didn’t work quite as strongly as I think it was supposed to).

Overall I was pretty happy with it, and would be up for any sequels, but worry a bit how non-fans might struggle with it.

 

ps. if you liked it and haven’t read the manga do it! Do it because Sechs is AWESOME. (also say that last bit out loud to a friend beside you on the couch like I did and you’ll have a great long-running in-joke ;p )

The Magic of Differing Opinions OR Why Beta-readers Rock

imagine this is me, and that book is my beta-reader feedback

So I’m finally (yeah, I know, I’m bad) getting around to compiling up the beta reader feedback on Nothing Charming. Four  people sent me back their feedback and it’s wonderful because I’ve now got four different opinions on it.

One reader is all in on the romantic sub plots, another confessed she’s hardcore shipping the couple I intend to get together, but another person struggles with some of the relationships and the clarity of what happening, while another really didn’t get anything from any of the relationships. Which sounds bad, but it’s GREAT! Why? Because he identified himself as not being a fan of the particular type of fantasy I’m writing, so I have identified someone who is not my target market. He still found plenty to like(and his enthusiasm for those things has spurred a few spin-off short story ideas), but I now know what sort of reader these books won’t appeal to and can avoid promoting/advertising to that section of fantasy fans.

Another great thing about the differing opinions is I can balance them against one another. If most of them say the same thing in feedback, I’ve obviously got a problem I need to get onto. If two people disagree, I ponder which of them is closer to my idea of my ideal reader. And just because that one reader isn’t my target audience, doesn’t mean I ignore every note he’s made (and not just because that would be rude ;p ) but also because that different view could be just the right spice to offset elements of my story.

I love feedback, critiques, and beta-readers. It’s all so helpful to see how other people see my writing, and I’m excited to keep moving forward with editing Nothing Charming (even though I’m a little bit behind plan (and yet here I am blogging about it and not doing it, the fine art of procrastination ;p ))

Xander and How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

For those who’ve been around a long time, you may remember my post on how my son, Xander, reacted when seeing How To Train Your Dragon 2 in the cinema. He still sometimes refuses to watch the movie even now, four years later (we have it on blu ray and do watch it every now and again).

So when How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World came out down here in Australia, releasing on his birthday, we really wanted to take him, but weren’t sure if he’d want to go. After a long fun day of meeting Shaun the Sheep at Paradise Country and shopping for Bendy figurines, we showed him his cinema picture and the movie poster and asked him if he wanted to go. The answer was a resounding yes. We also showed Harley and she became super excited (she and I have been watching the tv series recently).

The kids loved it, and Xander has now grown enough to be able to understand that what he is watching is fiction, that the dragons being tied up and taken away aren’t real creatures suffering before his very eyes. You can still see him get tense and worried, but it isn’t the near meltdown levels of anguish he would experience before.

It’s wonderful to see him grow and mature, and it’s also fantastic when certain triumphant scenes happen he claps and cries out ‘yay!’ in the cinema he’s so happy. (and the patrons directly behind us thought it was cute <3 ). Also you should definitely check the movie out.

My Favourite Books Read In 2018

I read 101 books this year, so obviously I can’t rave about every last one of them here, but you can access any and all of my 2018 reviews by checking out this link to my Goodreads 2018 ‘Year In Books’. I am however going to highlight some of my stand out favourites here.

shut up and take my money memeMost of these books had premises that pretty much had me screaming ‘Shut up and take my money’ but there were a couple of surprises too, as well as an old favourite.

The Cruel Prince: It’s early January, and my good friend Jake messages me and tells me ‘shut up and read this’. So I do. And he knows me sooo well that it was my first five star of the year, and so early in the year ;p Wicked fairy people, half breeds, political machicinations you do (and don’t!) see coming and TWISTS. Damn son. The next one comes out soon(like seven days from today ;p ), and you better believe I have it preodered on Audible.

The Obernewtyn Chronicles: ok sure, it’s not ‘new’ but the audiobooks (most of them) came out this year, so you know I was there ;p Doubly because Isobelle Carmody read them herself and does a damn good job.

I got into this series when I was about 15 (not perfectly sure, mid teens ). Not long after I read the first book was when I learned that the author had been my age when she wrote it. It blew my mind and that was when I first realised I could actually write for a living, I wasn’t ‘too young’, because here was this amazing story written by someone my age, published and in my hands.

The Calculating Stars & The Fated Sky: An alternate 1950s timeline, a space race not merely against other countries but for the sake of humanity, and a super clever female lead – shut up and take my money. I was extra excited to find out that when I finally got around to reading The Calculating Stars, the Fated Sky had just recently come out, so I could binge them like they were a show on Netflix ;p

Girls Made of Snow and Glass: Such a good reimagining of Snow White, and expanded far beyond the originating fairy tale so you have so much more to enjoy, plus deep insight into the ‘evil queen’. When I was done I started scrabbling around for the author’s other books and… couldn’t find them. I want more of your stuff Ms Bashardoust!

To Kill A Kingdom: Funnily enough this one popped up as a recommendation after reading Girls Made of Snow and Glass. I read the description and promptly threw my money at it. A very wise decision evidently. Sirens instead of little mermaids, cursing queens, pirate princes, enemies to lovers, star crossed lovers – omnomnomnomnom.

The Poppy War: This one is going to sucker punch you. Even with this warning it will STILL sucker punch you. There are some serious themes in this one, severe violence, war crimes, drug use, but the character arcs and the characters themselves are amazing!

Stuff & Nonsense (The Threadbare series): I’ve finally started reading litRPG, after all this gaming, and loving anime set in game worlds, I finally started a few litRPG books, and for the most part I’m loving them. Especially this series! I seem to have a thing for typically non-playable races as main characters, perhaps because they’re so out of the box. Also,this one doesn’t go overboard with the stats, there will be regular level ups with little bits to follow, but no big character sheets slapped between every single chapter murdering the story’s pacing in cold blood. It’s hard not to love a book which is about an animated teddy bear who just wants to be with his little girl, and leveling up while doing it ;p

I also read the last of The Heartstrikers series that was in this same list for last year ‘Last Dragon Standing‘ and it is a smashing ending to the series, seriously that book is a masterclass on how to satisfyingly finish a series(though you’ll have to read the whole series as well to see what a bang-up job she really did – not that’d you’d be complaining).

In books on the craft of writing my stand out for the year was The Story Equation. There were some ones I know would be good for newbies, but for me this one had the most fresh information and certainly came at it all from a different angle.

I also read quite a few biographies of trans people so I could do better justice to my trans characters rather than just basing them on my trans friends. I especially liked Janet Mock’s, Redefining Realness and Surpassing Certainty (the second extra much because it’s focused on life post transition, whereas nearly every other book I read was very pre- and during with only a tiny bit of post). I also enjoyed Being Jazz and wish that every trans child’s parents could be as supportive as hers. I’ve still got a long-ish list that I want to read still too ;p

Were there any stand out books you read in 2018? Any recommendations for me to read in 2019?

My Top 8 Anime I Watched In 2018

Most people know I’m an otaku, and this year I actually had some time for anime. While this list will largely be 2018 releases, there will be a few anime that I only watched for the first time in 2018. Also, this is in no particular order.

Like a true anime snob, I watched most of them in sub form, but this time mostly because I was watching late at night after most/all of the family was asleep(and while I tried to get the final one down for the night) so I had the volume barely audible, and needed them. 

The Ancient Magus’ Bride

I’ll call this a 2018 one since it didn’t finish until early 2018 ;p

Y’all probably already know I love anthropomorphic skeletons (and this fact will come up again later in this post ;p ) and I was really intrigued by Elias’ design.

I was really into the way the story took actual myths and worked with them, embracing that many fairy stories are actually dark, eg/ I *knew* those little fairies were trying to trick her. I also enjoyed seeing Titania and Oberon and their interactions and Leanan Sidhe. The way the magic was worked into the real world was quite cool too.

I love unusual male leads for the romantic roles (hence casting a skeleton and a troll  as romantic leads in my own stories) so Elias is my kind of leading man, not to mention broody backstories are such a hit <3

Their romance is so cute and adorkable, but also they themselves as individual characters are so rich, as are the others around them.

If you don’t mind a bit of dark in your romance (a bit? scratch that, fairly sizeable is more accurate) and unconventional male leads then you’ll love this one.

Cells at work

I was LIVING for the vibe between White Blood Cell and Red Blood Cell.

I’ve never found something so educational to also move me. Seriously the number of times I was edge-of-my-seat during this show was surprisingly high, even moreso considering the content. I mean they’re cells – why was I so emotionally involved? Seriously, 2 million blood cells died inside me in the time it takes to put the period on the end of this sentence.

One problem though was I was constantly wanting there to be an opportunity for Red Blood Cell to save White, but thanks to my (limited) knowledge of biology I knew it was never going to happen and it was frustrating to know that but still have the want deep inside.

A slight heads up for those who aren’t a fan of gore, White Blood Cell spends half his screen time covered in blood, typically from slashing his way through various bacteria and germs.

Wotakoi

For serious, this was soooo good. It was my Friday morning treat for when I finished my word count and trust me, the words never flowed faster any other day of the week for those couple of months ;p

A gamer for the male lead and a fujoshi for the female – I was instantly connected to both of them. Every episode had both at least one ‘problem’ for the characters where they dealt with something nerd related that I almost always sympathised with fully, and one romantic moment which left me swooning. Such a good combo. I could watch this show forever, but I have a sneaking suspicion it’ll never get a second season, so I’ll just content myself with the manga.

Also, I definitely fell in love with Hirotaka <3 and that’s when it dawned on me: I have a type. My favourite characters in anime I watch consistently have:

  • glasses
  • dark hair (this is occasionally a missable option eg/ Shiho Kimizuki from ‘Seraph of the End’ and Yuta Sakurai from ‘Recovery of an MMO Junkie’)
  • adorakble

Extra points awarded for broody backstories and hyper-competence at something(especially if that leads to cluelessness in other things enhancing the requirement of adorkable).

Masculinity is not a requirement though, as I also love Mirai Kuriyama from Beyond The Boundary  (glasses + adorkable + broody back story).

See here for a small strip of some of my favourite characters.

 

*character walks on screen wearing glasses/puts on glasses*

me:

Violet Evergarden

Wow, the emotional depth in this one is amazing. The way it handles the effects of war on people, both soldiers and civilians and takes the care to show how not everyone responds and reacts the same too. I can’t even tell you how regularly I cried watching this.

I was fascinated by Violet herself, and wish we got to learn more about what happened to her before the Major came into her life (though maybe that’s covered in the light novels?). And what sort of stone heart wouldn’t be moved my her memories of him? *cue tears again*

Her mechanical arms were also really intriguing to me. I wanted to know so much more about the maker, the designer, whether this sort of prosthetic was common, or insanely expensive or unique to her alone. Some of the questions got a bit of an answer but largely even those answers felt a bit glossed over. Thinking about it all got me excited and gave me a story idea, though, so I’m not complaining.

I also enjoyed the special that came out after the series.

Magical Girl Ore

I do love me some magical girl anime, especially how more recent series are all trying to go in new and exciting directions. But lately the trend has been to darker paths, eg/ Puella Magi Madoka Magica, The Magical Girl Raising Project, and Magical Girl Site, which is all well and good, but I’m delighted to see some out of the box but still light-hearted fun.

It does lean a bit more toward the ridiculous though, with a yakuza for the ‘cute mascot’/guide, enemies with hella buff bodies but cute teddy bear-esque heads and the main two girls’ ‘singing careers’. There’s the trope of course of the lead girl being head over heels for a boy, but that boy, Mohiro, is hilarious oblivious and blase. Also, the magnificent tangled romance of it all, it’s like a romance dodecahedron rather than just a triangle XD

My Hero Academia

Ok sure this has been out a while, but I only just started. Considering my love for super heroes I should have been in on it earlier, I’ll blame the delay on my irritation with never ending series.

I binged the whole three seasons in four or five days. The kids were into it too and it was school holidays – that’s my excuse ;p

Something I really love though is how so many of the quirks are highly unusual and how quite a few have downsides and repercussions – something I love putting on my own super powered characters (read Short Circuit if you’re not sure what I’m talking about). It really makes me want to get back to writing in that world.

You can probably predict based on what I said about Wotakoi who my favourite character is (no prizes, cos it’s too obvious).

My one issue with the series though is even at the end of the third season they were still regularly putting the character names and their quirk up on screen for characters who had been primary characters from the start. I’m serious, yes, I freaking know who Todoroki and Ochaco are and what their freaking quirks are because I’ve been watching them for the last 60 something episodes.

Skull-face Book seller Honda-san

Obviously with my passion for anthropomorphised skeletons as characters I was 100% in for this show from the start, but add on how true to life the retail worker experience is between not just types of stores(Honda-san’s books store as compared to my video game store) but even in different COUNTRIES and I was impressed.

Honda-san sells comics, so there are lots of references and hilarious otaku characters, including fujoshi, in the show. All his fellow employees wear various monster ‘masks’ and are named for their masks, but as the character base expands they start to be almost anything sometimes, even a publisher asking ‘can i have a koala head’.

It’s also really fun to look at how book-selling works in Japan. I love learning about differences in industries like that, and would love to know as much about the Australian bookseller retail market as I’ve learned from Honda-san.

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime

I’m also enjoying a lot of the LitRPG style anime, like ‘That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime’. This goes back far though, to Konosuba, Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, and Log Horizon (no prizes for guessing who my fave is in that either).

The opening episode is awesome both in watching him sacrifice himself, but also how every thought he makes as he passes factors into his ‘reincarnation’.

It’s so fun to watch him rolling around as a slime and solving problems. Since it’s still coming out while I’m writing this, obviously there’s much more fun to come, and I’m definitely looking forward to it.

 

You’ve probably noticed I’m a bit all over the shop genre-wise, but to be honest that’s part of what I love about anime, so so so many sub genres for me to sink my teeth into and try out 😀

Were there any stand out series for you this year? Anything you’re hanging out to watch next year?

My Favourite Games In 2018

Games were the great escape for me this year. You get a lot of satisfaction out of gaming, and an unfinished game (at least for me) causes no pain, unlike unfinished books and (far, far worse) unfinished manuscripts. When I struggled with some personal life issues I did a lot more gaming this year. Not the best coping strategy, but fun at least.

So, my reviews:

Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom

Should be no surprise. I already wrote my review earlier in the year, here, and though that was written while I was still early on in the game, it all still holds true after having completed it: a cute , fun game, good story, but not totally gripping.

Octopath Traveler

I said last year this was one of the ones I was looking forward to and I was not disappointed. The many intertwined storylines is great fun, but can be a tiny bit frustrating when you only have so many people in your party at once but want to follow all the storylines, but don’t want to have to level all eight characters all at once. Also, the game didn’t make it easy for me to learn how to switch party members (I had to Google it ;p ) and your main character is locked in that spot until you finish their whole storyline. Lucky I took my time and chose who I thought would be my favourite character (and he totally is plus suits my gameplay style perfectly).

The art style harkens back to older days in the character and monster sprites, but the backgrounds are so lush, it’s an interesting contrast. I’m always a fan of traditional turn based combat(as you can probably tell by the fact the vast majority of games I play are) and I liked the boost mode and how you could carefully play the long game with some bosses by saving it up and them smashing them utterly. Also, secondary jobs always make me smile.

I’m not fully finished yet, but the story lines are all wonderful, and well intertwined, as to be expected of SqaureEnix when they’re at the top of their game (pun intended ;p ).

The World Ends With You

Oh the nostalgia. I played this back when it first came out on DS and it was awesome then and is still awesome. The graphics, THE SOUNDTRACK (damn if I’m not still singing some of the songs even now months later)(not to mention I bought some of the soundtracks back when I was in Japan ;p that’s my collection right there), and the story. Oh man, such a good story. Now as an older person I can read the other characters a bit better, and characters I though were shallow are much deeper now. Still not into the tin pin slammer mini game though. Bleh.

The controls were extremely awkward when the Switch was in TV mode, and were still a bit tough even in tablet mode since instead of using the touch screen for Neku and the buttons for his partner it’s all controlled on the touch screen(the downside of it being a port from the mobile game version, not the original DS). This meant that sometimes I couldn’t activate my psych or get my partner to drop in as I’d planned, but I was still usually able to come out of battles with As or at least Bs so not too bad. Also the rest of it is so good a few awkward moments with the controls is far from a game killer.

Pokemon Let’s Go Eevee

I thought this would be one of my top picks, but the continuation of using the mobile game Pokemon Go’s catching method is far too random and annoying for me. I mean my team are all significantly higher levels than the pokemon to be caught, I’m using a freaking ultra ball and razzberry, I got an ‘excellent’ throw when the circle was super teeny tiny, and still no capture? FU game mechanics, FU. I significantly prefer taking my time to whittle down health with a battle , throw an ailment like sleep or paralyze on it then catch it with a basic level pokeball. However, catching now nets noticeably more exp than fighting other trainers, especially if you’re clever and stack bonuses. The story is nothing new either, basically just a Yellow port.

I do enjoy the graphics style though, and I love that I can actually see the pokemon so I can run to or away from them. Ultimately though, I’m watching for the 2019 core game. Just please let it use normal capture methods. I don’t want to feel like I’m going to throw my precious Switch across the room in a rage quit.

Atelier Lydie and Suelle

While Lydie and Sue are both suitably cute, alchemy is still fun, and the new method of jumping into dungeons is clever and cool there’s one big issue with this installment in one of my all-time favourite series: They took away the time limit completely (or at least some 35+ hours in and still not even a whiff of a real time limit).

Removing the time limit, means there’s no sense of urgency for me, so I’m left with no feeling like I have to rush to finish the game IRL. This has led to the fact I still haven’t finished it. It released in April here, and I got it immediately. Since getting it I’ve completed, Etrian Odyssey V, Persona 4 Golden, Persona 3 Portable, The World Ends With You, a full replay of Fantasy Life and its DLC(God leveled most jobs), and played some of Pokemon Let’s Go Eevee, Persona Q, most of Octopath Travelers(not to mention all the little time wasters and Otome games on my phone). So clearly, I need my time limits back ;p

The Persona series (in general)

OK, none of the Persona games are 2018 releases (except the dancing games ;p ) but I went a little Persona mad this year so thought it shoud be included. I played Persona 4 Golden, Persona 3 Portable, and some Persona Q and Persona 5. It all started when I thought I needed to get around to playing P4g before my Vita died from neglect on the shelf. Of course the high I felt after completing it lead me to get P3p so I could finally play the female MC route (date all the boys!!), and then the high from completing THAT lead me to start Persona Q. The fact this was all during the time when I was struggling with a lot of other stuff and feeling like I was ‘getting nowhere’ I got a lot of satisfaction out of these games.

Etrian Odyssey V

Like with Final Fantasy XV last year, Etrian Odyssey V officially came out in November last year, but of course I didn’t get around to it until this year. I really loved the ability to not just change skin, hair and eye colour, but to even have two different eye colours. Guess how many of my team had heterochromia ;p

Etrian Odyssey games are always tough. You never know when your whole party will get hit with a bind or ailment you can’t shake and suddenly you can’t attack that round and your healer is bound and bam, next thing you know, you’re dead. But that toughness is part of the fun. However, I rarely complete Etrian Odyssey games for this precise reason. This rarely hurts, because the storyline is not a major selling point for most of these games, so I never felt bad. But I finished this one! OMG. And when I got to the end I got the storyline that was so weak earlier in the game. Still not the strongest story line, but cool none-the-less. Plus, the sheer satisfaction of beating the final boss of a game where you can easily die repeatedly in the first dungeon; soooooooo satisfying.

 

All up I think I earned my title of ‘Gamer mum’ quite thoroughly this year ;p (I’m a little too old to be a ‘gamer girl’ IMO

Titles I’m looking forward to in 2019:

The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince: oooooh, pretty, and I just love the fairy tale concept. I am keen to see how the story pans out(no spoilers please if you’ve already played it in Japanese).

Atelier Lulua: well duh.

Nelke and the Legendary Alchemists: a city builder in the Atelier world? Shut up and take my money.

Etrian Odyssey Nexus: another, well duh

The Princess Guide: looks like it could be good fun, but has a chance of going south if the writers do things too obviously. We’ll see, I’m willing to try for the potential alone.

Ragnarok Eternal Love: Ragnarok Online was my first MMO, sooooo many memories, I can’t wait to see what the mobile game is going to serve me.

Was there anything you particularly loved in 2018, or and 2019 releases you’re dying to play?

 

Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom – Review

You might remember I leaped upon the PS3 version of Ni No Kuni when it came out, so it’s no surprise the same is true for the new one on the PS4.

I’m breaking this up into sections and keeping it brief but here are some main points of how I feel about the game thus far.

Nostalgia Factor

You start out in Ding Dong Dell, so straight into the nostalgia, but you don’t get much time to enjoy it because there’s a coup and you have to get out of there fast. The graphics are wonderfully reminscent of the first and still beautifully Studio Ghibli.

Icing on the cake: the fanfare theme plays plenty in this game too 😀 I walk around the house cleaning things humming or ‘do-do-doo-ing’ it.

Gameplay

I’ve noticed more and more games these last few years are putting multiple combat systems and gameplay methods into the one game. Used to be some of these gameplay styles were a whole game in and of themselves. It’s fun to have the extras, but sometimes they feel really tacked on – mostly that’s not true with Ni No Kuni 2.

The combat system is similar in that there are three people on your team and you face a group of monsters. What changed is the familiars are gone, replaced with spells and swappable weapons. I’m not anti-swapping weapons, but I am saddened by the loss of the familiars, they were one of my favourite things in the earlier game.

The skirmish battles that occasionally pop up as side quests (and once or twice right at the start as story requirements) are interesting, but they aren’t high strategy at the point I’m at in the game. At first glance I thought it was going to be full RTS style, but the units just stick by Evan’s side following him where ever he goes on the field. If a unit stands too close to a barricade they’ll attack that, not the enemy unit you’re aiming for. Also, it’s really hard to find ways to level at the start. I have to fight the two low-level whamster battles(lvl 3 and lvl4) like eight times to get my team strong enough to take on the next skirmish(lvl 10) and again before the next (lvl 17).

Running the kingdom is so much fun for me. I love that sort of stuff, particularly when there are in game boosts from all the work you do. I’m not sure if I hate the fact the kingdom upgrades run on their own currency not the standard in-game currency, or I love it. Sometimes I leave the game running while I clean or something else to earn more Kingsguilders ;p

 

Story

I’m not finished yet, but the storyline thus far is much less strongly about how ‘our’ world connects to the fantasy world, and so far Roland(the person from ‘our’ world) has a lot less effect on the story compared to Oliver from the original (though he’s cool and he reminds me a bit of Col. Roy Mustang, so it’s largely forgiven ;p ).

The story revolves more around Evan, the child-king, and the new kingdom he wants to make. It’s fun so far, but apart from the highly exciting chapter one (with Aranella) it hasn’t been gripping – perhaps because those life and death stakes, the desire to revive a dead mother, aren’t in this one. I’m hoping that since I’m probably not even half way done that there’s going to be some great twists coming, since the first game had some rippers. Verdict on the plot thus far: good, fun, but not gripping (yet, still early).

 

Overall, I’m having a lot of fun and as I often do getting distracted with side quests (which get you more citizens and build our kingdom ;p ). It’s not as good as the first one, but it is probably suffering a bit from comparisonitis, and since I’m still enjoying it (and nowhere near finished like I was when I wrote the review for the first one) I won’t hold that against it.

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