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review 2017-10-01 12:54
CAST FROM THE EARTH by Leandra Vane
Cast From the Earth - Leandra Vane Cast From the Earth - Leandra Vane

Cordelia ends up at the poor farm when she is accused of begging.  There she meets Sara, Dan, and Grace.  They flee the farm after destroying people who have become monster cannibals.  They travel to a town further west where Jack, a man from Sara's past, lives.  He helps them to establish themselves in his town.  But the monster cannibals, now called zombies, come calling causing their lives to disrupted again.

 

I enjoyed this story and I am not into zombies at all.  But this book is more than that.  It is a story of people overcoming disabilities and society's disapproval.  Sara, Cordelia, Dan, Grace, and Jack are outcasts by societal standards--some because of physical/mental disabilities, other by their sexuality.  I loved how they showed their strengths and became a family that protected, took care of, and loved one another.  They are a unit.  They worry about each other and, when circumstances cause them to be separated, they strengthen their bonds with each other.  I also liked the honesty and openness they show one another.

 

This is well done.  I was pulled into their world and story and read it in one sitting.  I would read Ms. Vane again.

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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 2017-07-06 12:55
The Edge of the Abyss by Emily Skrutskie
The Edge of the Abyss - Emily Skrutskie

This review will include spoilers for the first book. You’ve been warned.

At the end of The Abyss Surrounds Us, Cas decided to stay with the Minnow and her crew. I wish I had written down her reason for doing so, since one of my problems with The Edge of the Abyss was that I couldn’t remember why she’d have wanted to stay when staying seemed to cause her nothing but grief.

At any rate, she stayed - I think because she wanted to get more evidence on the guy who was trading Reckoner pups to the pirates, and because she loved Swift so much? Except the latter reason turned out to be less than wonderful, because right after deciding to stay with the Minnow, Cas learned that Swift had personally been responsible for Durga’s death.

So that’s Cas’s emotional state for much of The Edge of the Abyss: upset at Swift for what she did, upset at herself for essentially turning traitor and staying with pirates, and perversely drawn to Santa Elena and whatever scraps of praise she was willing to give out. Bao is somewhere out in the ocean, and Cas mistakenly thinks he’s the only free Reckoner. He very much is not - the crew of the Minnow discover others, which they nickname Hellbeasts. Every last one of them was a Reckoner pup illegally obtained and improperly raised by pirates, and they’re complete destroying the ocean ecosystem. If life in the ocean is to be saved, the pirates, all of them, will somehow have to band together, admit their mistakes, and defeat the Hellbeasts.

Considering that I disliked the first book, I should not have continued on with the series. However, I did, because I wanted to find out what happened to Bao. He was literally the only character I cared about - all the humans could have gotten eaten, for all I cared.

Unfortunately, it took half the book for Bao to show up. Until that point, I had to deal with Cas and Swift’s relationship angst. First Cas would be angry at Swift for being directly responsible for Durga’s death. Then Swift would be upset with Cas for effortlessly becoming Santa Elena’s favorite. Occasionally things would be okay between them for a short while, but it was never long before everything got fouled up again. All it took was one wrong look, or someone waking up on the wrong side of the bed, or Santa Elena smiling at the wrong trainee. I think Cas and Swift only had maybe 10 pages total in this whole book where they weren’t hurting each other in some way.

That’s really not what I want from a romance, and it didn’t help that Cas’s situation seemed more and more like Stockholm syndrome to me. Santa Elena had been manipulating Cas’s emotions from day one, and I hadn’t forgotten that Cas and Swift’s relationship had gone from dislike and wisps of something nicer to full-blown “I’m throwing away my entire former life for you” in the space of a day. I spent so much of this book wishing that Cas and Swift would just break up already. Cas had enough on her plate just trying to figure out what to do about the Hellbeasts and processing her dawning realization that she’d made a terrible mistake by staying on the Minnow.

Even though this book had more Reckoners and Reckoner battles, it was somehow more boring that the first one. I missed Bao, and Skrutskie’s decision to write this series in first person present tense sucked the life out scenes that should have been exciting or painfully intense. Unfortunately, things didn’t improve much once Bao was finally found again - watching Cas remind him of his training wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as watching her train him in the first place. Also, one revelation about him really bugged me. If there was anyone I’d have liked to be exempt from this book’s great gobs of relationship awfulness, it was Bao. At least Cas treated him better in this book than she did in the first one.

I wish I had liked Skrutskie’s writing more, and I wish I had been more invested in Cas and Swift’s relationship. Since I didn’t and I wasn’t, The Edge of the Abyss was a drag to get through and an absolute relief to finally finish. However, I’d absolutely recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the first book and wanted Cas and Swift to work out as a couple. Cas and Swift had some really good scenes near the end, ones where they actually worked together. For me, it was too little, too late. I did at least appreciate that none of the characters I kind of liked died.

 

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

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review 2017-07-01 00:47
ASK, TELL by E. J. Noyes
Ask, Tell - E.J. Noyes Ask, Tell - E.J. Noyes
 

Sabine is a captain in the Army serving at a hospital on the battlefield in the Middle East. She is attracted to her CO, Rebecca, who is also attracted to her. Both try to fight their attraction but it becomes a losing battle.

 

A good story with a bit of history of the don't tell, don't ask policy in the military. I liked the characters, all of them. The scenes of the battlefield life are realistic. Solutions are sought and the tension is believable between what Sabine wants and what she knows she cannot have.

I would read this author again.

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review 2017-06-15 04:42
Princess Princess Ever After (graphic novel) by Katie O'Neill
Princess Princess Ever After - Katie O'Neill

When Princess Amira stops to save Princess Sadie from the tall tower she’s been imprisoned in, Sadie almost turns her away. So many others have tried to save her, but all have failed. However, Amira is enthusiastic, determined, and in possession of both a grappling hook and an incredibly strong cookie-loving unicorn.

That’s just the beginning of Amira and Sadie’s adventures. Along the way, they make some new friends, Amira learns more about being a hero, and Sadie finds the courage to face her sister and rule her kingdom.

I bought this because I heard it was a sweet f/f graphic novel. It was super cute, although a bit too short for my tastes. I wanted more pages devoted to Amira and Sadie getting to know each other - Sadie’s “I trust you” happened very early on and was a bit jarring. When the villain appeared and disappeared in the space of about a page, I started worrying that the pacing of this graphic novel just wasn’t going to work for me.

Thankfully, the story smoothed out after that. I really enjoyed Amira and Sadie’s encounters with the prince and the ogre, as well as the flashbacks to Amira and Sadie’s pasts. Amira and Sadie were cute together (complete with blushing, rose petals, and background roses!).

One thing I hadn’t realized until I started working on this review was that Princess Princess Ever After was originally published as a webcomic called Princess Princess, which is still available on Katie O’Neill’s website. I’ve clicked through it and there are some artwork changes between it and Princess Princess Ever After, some of which I liked and some of which I didn’t.

One thing I liked was that Sadie’s sister’s magic was changed from purple to black - it looks creepier in the print version. One thing I didn’t like was that the print version’s colors were slightly less bright than in the original web comic. Not only is this the sort of story that’s practically made for bright colors, some of the panels just weren’t as clear in the print version. Considering that this graphic novel had several black characters, a bit more attention should have been paid to whether they’d still show up okay in panels with darker backgrounds. The panels featuring Prince Taji were really dark - his skin color seemed to almost be the same shade as the wall behind him, resulting in him blending into the background too much. In the webcomic he was perfectly visible, and I could see that he actually had some shading.

The print version includes a 3-page epilogue that isn’t present in the original webcomic. I’m really glad that O’Neill added it. It doesn’t just serve as extra content for folks who’ve read the webcomic, it also makes it clear that, yes, Amira and Sadie are not only a couple, they also get a nice little happily ever after just like any other fairy tale couple.

This was a fluffy and sweet graphic novel about two different princesses becoming more capable in their own ways and falling in love in the process. I wish it were maybe twice as long and that the print version’s colors were a little brighter, but overall this was a good read.

 

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

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