Sunday, July 29, 2012

Book Review: Mameshiba - We Could Be Heroes!

My rating: 4/5

From Amazon:
"Meet Mameshiba! The Japanese sensations are coming to the U.S. in their first-ever graphic novel series! Now that these irresistibly cute, irrepressibly curious characters have been unleashed, there’s no telling where they’ll turn up!
"Once upon a time….
"A monster growled from under the bed.
"An almond was super-duper-sized.
"A chili bean fell in love.
"Mameshiba are back for more laughs, more trivia, and more adventure!"

Either I adapted to liking the style of Mameshiba: On the Loose!, or this newest installment of the Mameshiba books was more entertaining. Either way, I enjoyed it. It's humorous and adventurous, and whereas On the Loose! seemed more appropriate for younger children, this one is great for kids and adults alike. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Video Game Review: Women's Murder Club - Death in Scarlet

My rating: 1.5/5

This game, which is based on a series of books that I have not read, is pretty awful.  The end!

No, I'll go on a rant here, but seriously, you can stop reading if you want. All you need to know is that it's bad. Even if you're way into hidden picture and puzzle games and think "Aw, it can't be that terrible, can it?"

Yes. Yes it can.

On the one hand, this game gets some props for having an all-female cast in the law enforcement department, which is rare. However, I remember at least one conversation between the characters about shoes or shopping or both, and so those props pretty much disintegrate. The ending, which I won't spoil here (just in case; though again I'm warning you, don't play it), is also weirdly almost-misogynistic and doesn't really resolve much.

The hidden picture parts aren't bad, but they get a little bit repetitive. The other puzzles are simple but fun the first time they come up... and then you have to do them over, and over, and over again, to the point that I'm surprised I didn't uninstall the game before beating it.  Especially the lab puzzles. Omg the lab puzzles....  And the two maze puzzles were weird and difficult to figure out what you were supposed to be doing, let alone figure out how to beat them.

Long story short: I was bored but finished it. I uninstalled it. I'll try to sell it at our next garage sale, passing it along to some unfortunate soul who will now be out both $0.25 and a couple long hours of his or her life.

Apparently there are also sequel games to this, to which I can only ask why.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Book Review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 4/5

From Amazon: "Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge."

For the most part, this book was great and lived up to my expectations of a sequel to The Hunger Games, and I will still definitely be reading Mockingjay in the near future.

I've heard and read a lot of complaints about the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale (though unless Peeta and Gale are considering a relationship with each other, I suppose it really isn't a triangle, but anyway), and usually that sort of thing doesn't interest me; but in the context of this book, and especially in the way Katniss at least considers the third option of remaining single because she never wants to have children who might be forced to participate in the Games, it wasn't a turn off for me.  A *lot* of focus is put on this relationship drama, especially in the first half of the book, but since Katniss is not a drama queen and Collins is such a good writer, I didn't really get sick of it. 

I can suspend my disbelief, in this book and the previous one, enough to believe that each District has been subdued enough by the Capitol to allow their children to be sent to the Hunger Games each year.  What I can't believe though is the way Katniss acts when...


... she returns to the games and starts pretty much offing, or trying to off, people when she's been so disgusted and traumatized by the Games and the deaths and punishment of others previously. Collins tries to explain this away by Katniss thinking Peeta's the only good one of the bunch, with her and the other tributes just built to kill basically, but it doesn't jive.  Also, there did not seem to be any good reason that she and Peeta were not trusted to know what was going on with the rebellion, especially in light of the facts that Katniss thought about and tried to kill people who might've been important, and she just happened to be in the right place at the right time and to intuit what to do to pull off their escape without knowing anything that was going on.  That is way too much coincidence to ignore.

However.  Because it was so well-written otherwise, I can't give it any lower than a 4.  I really did love this book, even if the ending bugged me, and I'm still excited to read Mockingjay.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Book Review: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

My rating: 4.5/5

From Amazon: "Kurt Vonnegut's absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut's) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden. Don't let the ease of reading fool you--Vonnegut's isn't a conventional, or simple, novel. He writes, 'There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters...' Slaughterhouse-Five (taken from the name of the building where the POWs were held) is not only Vonnegut's most powerful book, it is as important as any written since 1945. Like Catch- 22, it fashions the author's experiences in the Second World War into an eloquent and deeply funny plea against butchery in the service of authority."

I wanted to read this book simply because it was one of the classics I'd always heard about but somehow missed reading in school. (Catch-22 and To Kill a Mockingbird are on that list too.)  Once I started reading it, I had a hard time putting it down.  It's an easy read, and a difficult one all at once: well-written but confusing. The time-traveling that Billy Pilgrim does is however not at all confusing, and I can't express how impressive that is; his story is all over the place but always makes sense. And knowing that the author really experienced parts of this story makes it even more powerful. It gets confusing though when some characters seem both real and caricatured at the same time, or when Pilgrim's belief in alien abduction and time travel start melding with sci-fi books he's read, or events that have happened to him, and it's never clear if he's truly experiencing time travel or if it's all some kind of post-traumatic stress after his experiences in World War II. I have a feeling that, for the point Vonnegut was trying to make, it doesn't really matter.

I have to agree with those who say this isn't just an anti-war novel. It is anti-war, but it doesn't brow-beat, and it seems to me to be more about the absurdity and cruelty of people in general, not just during wartime.  To take the Tralfamadorians as an extension of humanity, they refuse to observe anything that upsets them; they only pay attention to times that are beautiful and happy. And in doing so, they refuse to stop the destruction of the universe, which is caused by one of their own. They know it will happen, and how; but they don't want to think about it. This idea can certainly be applied to war, and especially to World War II in more ways than one; but it can also be easily applied to anyone in everyday life.

I wish I'd read this book in high school, but I'm glad I read it now. There are some cases of swearing and sexuality, so I wouldn't recommend it to a younger audience. But otherwise, I recommend it.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Movie Review: Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

My rating: 4.75/5

From "Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, discovers vampires are planning to take over the United States. He makes it his mission to eliminate them."

Throw in horse-hurling vampires and President Lincoln kicking a decapitated head off a train like a soccer ball, and that pretty well sums it up. It isn't especially gory (I can't stomach movies that are), but enough so that everything is excitingly dangerous and death-defying.

Don't go into this movie expecting any kind of serious treatise on Lincoln, the American Civil War, or history.  Don't even expect a good treatment of vampires (though I do appreciate an anti-Twilight treatment), as the movie's explicit rules governing their behavior are broken (which is the main reason I didn't give this movie a straight 5/5; that and some pretty terrible acting in the very beginning). Do expect this movie to take itself so over-the-top serious, while surreptitiously realizing its own ridiculousness, that you burst into laughter on multiple occasions. Which, in my honest opinion, was done on purpose, and was done beautifully.

The best movies I can compare this to are the campy '80s vampire/horror flicks, like Fright Night and Lost Boys, that were goofy, scary, funny, and good, all at once. The martial arts-style fight scenes and the special effects here are much better though; jaw-droppingly so and physics be damned.

Rarely do I love a movie so much more than the book it's based on (see my review here). I have not been so entertained by a movie in a very long time.