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review 2017-07-24 00:01
Visual novel review - Mermaid Splash! Passion Festival

 

Mermaid Splash! Passion Festival (MSPF) is a “pay what you want” f/f visual novel.

CiCi the mermaid has decided that she’s going to finally take part in the Passion Festival. There’s only one problem: although CiCi has many interests, she’s never really focused on one particular hobby. In order to make a good showing at the festival, she’ll need to pick an interest (martial arts, gardening, dance, or painting) and stick to it. Will she be able to hone her skills in time, and maybe even find love along the way?

When I first heard about this, it sounded like it could be my next Robo-Tea, cute, sweet, and relaxing. While I did end up liking the game overall, it didn’t quite turn out to be what I’d expected. Almost all of the character routes involved jealousy of some sort, usually creative jealousy. As a result, MSPF wasn’t quite as fluffy and relaxing as I’d hoped.

When I first started playing, I was worried that this would be a stat-building game like Roommates and similar visual novels. It wasn’t, despite the “plan out CiCi’s week” screen. Gameplay was pretty simple. The entire thing took place in the space of four weeks, and each week you could choose which hobby CiCi spent time working on and who she’d spend time with on the weekend. After you made your choice, it was time to sit back and read as CiCi interacted with one of her four friends - there were absolutely no decision points or conversation choices.

This threw me off a bit, because almost every route had a tense moment that made me feel like I’d done something wrong, even though there were no conversation options and therefore nothing I could have done differently. Angie the anglerfish responded badly to gentle criticism of her habit of never finishing her comics writing/illustrating projects. Delora the sea slug was upset when CiCi told her she should quit her day job and pursue her true passion. Bea the cuttlefish didn’t take well to being defeated in a practice bout. The only one who never got upset with CiCi was Maka the shark, which was a large part of the reason why I liked her route the best. Although CiCi and her friends made up on the weekend or at the start of the next week (if you were focused on one particular hobby and friend), I still found myself wishing there were dialogue options that could allow me to handle those conversations differently.

Although a single playthrough didn’t really take that long, I’m the sort that likes to try to get all of a visual novel’s endings unless I get emotionally invested to the point that hunting down the “bad” endings becomes too painful. In this respect, the game turned out to have far more to it than I originally realized. I hadn’t bothered to reread the product page, so I missed that there were 23 endings, 8 unlockable outfits (which had no effect on the story, but were cute), and 52 random events. The unlockable outfits were easy enough to get, and I didn’t have the patience to try to get all 52 random events, but I really, really wanted to get all 23 endings. This wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.

Each playthrough usually resulted in two endings: the Passion Festival ending (how CiCi did in a particular Passion Festival event) and the romance ending (whether CiCi ended up in a romantic relationship with someone). Each of the four romance options also included “friendship” endings, which, sadly, I disliked. It wouldn’t have been hard to write these endings as true close friendships, but instead every single one of them included CiCi feeling like she’d missed out on something and thinking she’d have preferred her Passion Festival outing with her friend to be a date. It was a little depressing.

The gardening route was probably the biggest stretch for me. I found it hard to believe that CiCi could produce a prize-worthy specimen in only four weeks, even considering that it was a transplanted plant. Still, since I loved Maka so much I was willing to ignore that. I initially found her multiple rows of teeth to be more than a bit off-putting, but she was so cheerful and awkward that I ended up loving her anyway. I also enjoyed her romance ending: her choice of date activity was wonderful and very fitting. My second favorite route was probably martial arts and Bea, my third was dancing and Delora, and my least favorite was painting and Angie.

Bea was a little too prone to bragging for my tastes, but her story was one of the more interesting ones. CiCi struck me as being way too immature for someone like Delora to be happy with for long, and Angie’s route reminded me that it is often a bad idea for friends to critique each other’s creative works. It bothered me that, after Angie got mad at CiCi the first time she attempted to voice a bit of criticism, CiCi censored herself during a later scene and said that she wouldn’t change a thing about Angie’s work. I also worried about CiCi’s repeated insistence that she and Angie collaborate on a project - Angie didn’t seem to be completely on board but at the same time appeared to be unwilling to say so and, plus, I felt the two of them would be better off doing their own thing, artistically.

Art-wise, MSPF was absolutely wonderful. All the sprites were cute and pretty (although, if the product page hadn’t said that the characters were 24, 26, 35, and 43, I’d likely never have guessed it, since the sprites usually made them look much younger). The event art was great too, although I could tell it had been done by a different person, and I loved the pretty backgrounds. A couple routes seemed to reuse artwork more often than the others, but there was so much artwork packed into this game in general that I didn’t mind.

It was clear that a lot of work had been put into this. There were a few spots where I felt the writing could have been tweaked and the jealousy moments bugged me a little, but it was generally a fun and slick visual novel with lots for “ending hunters” to dig into. I was so proud of tracking down those final three endings! (Hint: the last ending can only be achieved after finding the other 22.) It’s too bad that the only romantic option I 100% enjoyed was Maka, but the others weren’t necessarily bad, just not my cup of tea.

Additional Comments:

 

- This probably counts as a spoiler since it isn't mentioned on the product page and doesn't come up until several weeks into CiCi's interactions with the character, but I feel I should mention that one of the romantic options is a trans woman, since this will probably be an appeal factor for some players/readers.

 

- Each character had their own dialogue sound effect, which I usually thought was a nice touch. Unfortunately, something about Bea's sound effect grated on my ears.

 

- I wish that the text colors had occasionally been a bit darker - sometimes the text was a little harder to read than it should have been.

 

I'll close with a screenshot of Maka being sweet, friendly, and helpful. She's the best. ♥

 

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2016-09-04 00:00
Rhodi Rising
Rhodi Rising - Megan Linski

*I received a free ecopy from Xpresso Book Tours and the publisher/author in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.* Thank you!

Cover: Beautiful!
Rating: 4 Stars!
Overall: Exciting and Enjoyable
Characters: Well Written
Plot: Dylan and Devin must find their masters, but who can they trust when they are betrayed be a friend?
Page Turner: Yes!
Series Cont.? Yes!
Recommend: Yes!

Short Review:
Another exciting adventure! Dylan and Devin are forced to stay with their aunt, uncle, and cousin Tristan. Determined to return to their masters, the twins devise plans to leave, but things don't always go as planned. On the run again, the twins meet new friends as well as some old friends, but who can be trusted?

See blog for more: Adventures Thru Wonderland

Source: www.goodreads.com/book/show/29755662-rhodi-rising
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review 2015-11-13 09:26
Fantasy fiction at its most powerful and cutting-edge
The Girl with Ghost Eyes - M. H. Boroson

The main character is a Daoist priestess named Li-lin in Chinatown at the turn of the century. Li-lin takes her place among Lisbeth, Katniss, and Hermione, unforgettably establishing herself as one of the most nuanced, resilient, BAMF fictional female characters around. That a Woman of Color has been placed at the heart of this visionary Hero's Journey is a fact that should be lost on no one.

From the brilliantly established hook and its crisis, the story rapidly plunges the reader into a highly complex world. Li-lin rapidly develops as a reliable and sensitive interpreter and translator of this culturally-immersive paranormal thriller. The story is loaded with Chinese magical rituals which seem to be extremely accurately depicted. Reading the exquisitely written descriptions of these traditional rituals is a rare joy.

The dialogue is credible, believable, culturally attuned, and engaging for the reader. From its dizzying beginnings grounded solidly in the conflicts suffered by Li-lin, The Girl with Ghost Eyes soars into a fascinating and gripping story that never ceases to engage and surprise, all the way through to the heartbreaking final resolution.

The wonderfully dramatic content is sustained throughout the entire story! The reader never knows who can be trusted or how far, constantly upping the ante of tension and suspense. The predicament grows worse by the minute, the stakes are clear and high, and information is only imparted as it is badly needed. The story is extremely unique and exciting.

The heroine is wonderfully developed, thoroughly complex, and powerfully convincing. Her poignant realism as a deprecated widow cements the wildly surreal adventure she embarks upon firmly in the realms of reality and credibility. One “villain” is conflicted about the evil he is helping to perpetrate and therefore multi-dimensional as a dutiful son and inexcusably cruel cad. Why the other villain has elected to persecute this poor Third Aunt/madwoman/priestess seems hard to understand until

his need for a body to enact the most humiliating revenge on the heroine’s father

(spoiler show)

is explained. Then the whole story’s genius absolutely shines!

The writing is luminous and hauntingly evocative. This plot represents an exceptionally moving depiction of a human being discovering, questioning, and reversing her long-held beliefs, one after another, until the very final moment.

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review 2015-08-03 23:40
Review: Caged by Lorelei James

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for an honest review at The Romance Evangelist.

 

CAGED is the latest entry in the Mastered series by Lorelei James and one that continues the upward swing of my enjoyment in a series that started out rough for me but keeps getting better. In this book, we finally get an HEA for two previously introduced secondary characters, including the one whose initial violent encounter was the starting point for the entire series.

 

Deacon McConnell is famous in the local mixed martial arts community for his ability to read and exploit his opponents’ weaknesses in direct competition. Yet when it comes to making a claim on the woman he’s wanted for years, he’s still unable to follow through. Molly Calloway came to the dojo at her best friend Amery’s insistence for self-defense training after an attack that threatened her physical safety. Now that Amery is happily married to the dojo’s Sensei, it’s Molly who’s still working on defending herself from both physical and emotional threats, the greatest of which is her undeniable pull toward Deacon. When Molly finally confronts Deacon in the unlikeliest of places, the simmering attraction between them flares up hot and strong. But as demons from both their individual pasts threaten to come between them, it will take more than physical desire to stay true to themselves and each other to their happy ending together.

 

I’ll admit that I hadn’t paid much attention to either of these characters in previous books, other than when Molly was being stubborn about not wanting to go to the dojo when Amery agreed to participate in classes with her there in the first book. But CAGED has fleshed out the backgrounds of both Molly and Deacon almost to the point of overload, and shown that they do have more in common than just irresistible sexual chemistry. Both of them were rejected in almost ridiculously horrific ways by the people who should have loved and protected them, and each has managed to not just survive but succeed in spite of all that. It was wonderful to see them have each other’s backs as they had to re-fight their family battles one last time, even when the going got rough and inevitably faltered along the way.

 

The only part that didn’t quite work for me in CAGED was the early continuing emphasis on Deacon’s various confrontations with his trainer and a new but ultimately temporary competitor, and the constant misunderstandings from Ronin’s lack of transparency in his dojo management. I wasn’t sure who was supposed to be the bad guy and who wasn’t, and was still confused right up until a few pages of explanation much later in the book when Ronin deigned to make things clearer to both Deacon and the reader. Frankly, anything that isn’t directly related to the romance is of lesser interest for me, so I was happiest when Molly and Deacon were front and center together. Their personalities complemented each other well when they didn’t let external forces become a distraction, and the obstacles in their path to their HEA helped them grow emotionally as individuals and a couple. By the end of CAGED, I knew that they were going to stay together no matter what, and that it was the best possible ending for both of them. I can only hope that they and we as the readers will continue to enjoy seeing other members of the Black Arts dojo family find their own happiness as the Bound series continues.

Berkley / NAL Romance is giving one lucky commenter a free copy of the first two books in the Bound series (BOUND and UNWOUND). Just leave a comment here at the blog on this review between now (7/9/2015) and a week from now (7/16/2015). The winner will be drawn at random from all comments on this post and will receive this prize directly from the publisher.

 

Source: mharvey816.mh2.org/?p=890
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review 2014-06-06 23:43
Review: In Your Corner by Sarah Castille
In Your Corner - Sarah Castille

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for an honest review at The Romance Evangelist.

This review may contain spoilers for On The Ropes, book 1 in the Redemption series. You should be able to read In Your Corner as a standalone book.

ON THE ROPES was one of the first Mixed Martial Arts themed romances I read back in 2013, and it’s still one of the best. So I was excited to learn that there would be additional books featuring other characters in the world of Redemption. IN YOUR CORNER picks up two years after the events of ON THE ROPES, and tells the story of that couple we saw break up so painfully before: Jake and Amanda. Back then, anyone could see that although they were from different worlds, they still had not only an undeniable sexual chemistry, but also an emotional affinity as two people who had learned the hard way not to trust anyone but themselves for protection and safety, especially of the heart. So when Amanda pushed Jake away for good after he made a terrible snap judgment in a moment of weakness, we knew they weren’t quite done with each other. And now it’s two years later, and they’ve both grown and changed in ways that will prepare them to write the ending to that story at last.

When Amanda discovers that Jake is her new client at the stuffy corporate law firm where she’s been working herself to death in an attempt to make partner just to please her never-satisfied parents, the shock is almost too much to bear. She’d never known Jake was from a well-off family with a large and successful business. Now he needs a lawyer, and quickly, but he quickly makes it clear that he won’t allow it to be her. His seeming rejection of Amanda triggers a series of events that begins with her being forced to quit her job and ends with her broken and bleeding in a dark alley just down the street from Redemption. Jake and his fellow MMA fighters at Redemption try to rescue Amanda from the downward spiral that pushed her into that near-fatal alley. But will Amanda finally ask for the help she needs even when refusing it means losing Jake for good?

Jake had tried to forget Amanda after their painful breakup, but losing both her and his brother Peter was too much to bear. Being forced to take over the family business after Peter’s death has isolated Jake from everything else good in his life, especially the people at Redemption who were his true family after his parents had rejected him. But now that Amanda is back, Jake isn’t going to make the same mistake a second time. And when he’s done, he’ll have everything he always wanted before: the professional MMA career, the camaraderie of his Redemption family, and Amanda. 

As much as I loved ON THE ROPES, I was even more blown away by IN YOUR CORNER. I think it’s because unlike Max (Torment) in the previous book, there’s no mystery about who Jake is or what really makes him tick. He’s a guy who came from wealth, but never found happiness until he discovered his love of MMA at Redemption and got his life turned in the right direction. There’s really no secret about who Amanda really is, either.. She’s spent her whole life striving for the wrong goals, all because her father wanted a son and both he and her mother were too busy with their own legal careers to spend much time making sure their only daughter was actually loved and cared for. It took the dramatic events put into play by Jake’s rejection of Amanda as his lawyer to force them both to give a chance at happiness together one more try, but it took all their good friends to keep pushing them back together every time one or the other started falling back into their old patterns of rejection and hurt feelings. 

Usually a romance where the hero and heroine keep splitting up and coming back together would annoy me, but IN YOUR CORNER neatly avoids the usual traps which would otherwise doom the book to failure. As corny as it sounds, each time Jake and Amanda seem to be taking a step back, they really do end up taking two steps forward, and the small successes start adding up. By the time we reach the final black moment where it appears Amanda will lose everything she’s fought for, including Jake, all the lessons she’s learned the hard way start to kick in, and she is able to step back from the abyss this second time. Both Amanda and Jake realize that they need to love each other as they are, and accept that what they have together is exactly what they need. Along the way, we learn more about the various characters who populate the Redemption world, and the impending setups for future romances in the series. Redemption may be an MMA training center, but its name represents more than that for the people who have made it a success, and IN THE CORNER is show how true that is for both Jake and Amanda. It’s a moving and passionate look at a couple who learn to fight for what they want until they win, both in and out of the Redemption ring, and one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Source: mharvey816.mh2.org/?p=578
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