Revisiting: 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors

999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine DoorsVisual novels are a niche genre in the West. Not as many people play them as they do in Japan. That comes back to cultural differences — reading isn’t as valued or encouraged here as it is elsewhere, and many gamers in the U.S. prefer the fast action of headshots — shooting aliens, zombies, and wartime combatants in the face — over the slow pace of character-heavy experiences.

From the few visual novels I’ve played, I’ve found that many are very anime-centric as well. Games like Fate/Extra and Corpse Party: Book of Shadows depend too much on Japanese tropes. Maybe serious anime fans would disagree with me, but I don’t want to see two young girls flirt with each other for a half-hour and then share a bathtub in a lengthy, detailed scene. (And yes, you could make that illustration your background on the PlayStation Portable. Seriously. Don’t rush out to buy it too fast now.)

999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (for Nintendo DS, 2010) from North American publisher Aksys Games and Japanese developer Chunsoft is different. Whatever hypersexuality it sneaks in is reduced to a few almost-hidden innuendos that actually feel more Westernized than most content in Japanese games. And as much as I support LGBT relationships, relating to heterosexual characters who are love interests is probably easier for American gamers than trying to follow two tween girls or two androgynous guys who are more than good friends.

That’s anime, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But not everyone cares for those drawn-out, “innocent”/perverted romantic focuses. I like that 999 keeps that stuff to a minimum and actually considers the audience playing it.

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BookRx recommends books in 140 characters or less, plus e-readers going out of style

BookRx

This post comes to you in four parts!

Part 1:

Need some books to keep you busy during all that holiday downtime? Considering trying out Knight Labs’ new BookRx, which selects potential new reads based on your Twitter account. Just enter your handle, and voila! BookRx generates a list of recommendations from specific words, users, and hashtags that you’ve mentioned in your tweets.

Here’s a preview of one of mine:

BookRx preview

Of course, I’ve already ready a few of these. So it’s not a perfect tool, but it is fun. BookRx separates titles by genre, such as mystery, fiction, and romance. One of its picks for me is Fifty Shades of Grey — a book I would never read. But I’ve previously tweeted about at least one blog post that focused on the book, so it’s little wonder that BookRx noticed my “interest” in it.

What books does it recommend for you?

Part 2:

Do you like the new blog header? I wanted a change. :) But if you guys hate it, let me know and I’ll create some others.

Part 3:

If you’re looking for today’s book cover selection, it’s one post down!

Part 4:

e-reader girl

In a bit of news, the e-reader market is apparently shrinking. Data from the International Data Corporation shows that this year, worldwide shipments of e-readers will fall to 14.9 million units from 23.2 million units last year — a 36 percent decrease. Forrester Research recorded a similar trend specifically in the United States, and these numbers are expected to keep falling in 2013 and beyond.

The explanation? People are buying more multiversatile tablets, smartphones, and PCs — an increase of 27.1 percent from 2011, according to IDC. They’re more willing to spend more money on a high-tech device than a “primitive” e-reader in exchange for the extra features, and those often include Kindle and Nook apps.

“It’s looking like e-readers were a device for a particular moment in time that, more rapidly than we or anyone else thought, has been replaced by a new technology,” Sarah Rotman Epps, a Forrester analyst, told The New York Times. Here’s the full scoop.

Are you ready to trade in your e-reader, or are you surprised by these findings?

[Image credit: via CNET by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, public domain; CBSi]

Awesome book cover Friday: The Boy in the Snow

Today’s cover pick is The Boy in the Snow, part of the Edie Kiglatuk Mysteries series by M. J. McGrath.

The Boy in the Snow

Here’s a description:

In The Boy in the Snow, half-Inuit Edie Kiglatuk finds herself in Alaska with Sergeant Derek Palliser, helping her ex-husband Sammy in his bid to win the famous Iditarod dog sled race. The race takes a grim turn when Edie stumbles upon the body of a baby left out in the forest. The state troopers are keen to pin the death on the Dark Believers — a sinister offshoot of a Russian Orthodox sect — but Edie’s instincts tell her otherwise. Her investigations take her into a world of corrupt politics, religious intolerance, greed, and sex trafficking. But just as she begins to get some answers, Edie finds herself confronted by a painful secret from her past.

I love the simple color scheme here and how the boy and the dog look as one. What do you think?

McGrath’s other book in this series, White Heat (her debut novel), uses the same blue-white-black pattern. Take a look.

White Heat by M. J. McGrath

Awesome book cover Friday: Tattoo Shop Mysteries

For something a little different today, I want to show you a series of cool book covers: the Tattoo Shop Mystery books, of which there are now four.

The latest, Ink Flamingos, has not only a hot cover but also a character that shares my last name: Carmichael. (That makes two I’ve spotted this year.) Her name is Dee Carmichael, actually, and she’s the lead singer for pop sensation The Flamingos. Sounds good except for the being dead part.

Ink Flamingos by Karen E. Olson

Here’s a description of the book from mystery author Karen E. Olson’s website:

Dee Carmichael, lead singer of the hot pop sensation, The Flamingos, has been one of Brett’s most dedicated customers — or was. Allergic to red dye, Dee has been discovered dead in her hotel room with a pink flamingo tattoo and surrounded by ink pots and needles — and a tall redhead was seen leaving the crime scene.

Now Brett has been branded as the prime suspect. This can’t be good for business. …

Meanwhile, a blog has been showcasing Dee’s deadly tattoo. Things get worse when pictures of Brett start appearing on the blog. Turns out someone isn’t merely following her, but impersonating her all over town.

Brett must act fast to find out who’s out to get her before the killer puts the dye in dying once again. …

And here are the other covers from books one through three (The Missing Ink, Pretty in Ink, and Driven to Ink, respectively):

The Missing Ink

Pretty in Ink

Driven to Ink

For the witchy fashionistas: a review of Secondhand Spirits

Too giddy and stunned from our triumph to go to bed right away, we popped popcorn and brewed nothing more magical than hot chocolate.

Secondhand Spirits by Juliet BlackwellConfession: I usually consider the mystery section one of the “passable” parts of my bookstore browsing. That might have to change.

A couple weeks ago, when shopping with a friend, I decided to venture into the unloved rows, only to spot a colorful and fun book by Juliet Blackwell. Secondhand Spirits won me over with its gorgeous cover — an inviting blend of blues, yellows, greens, and pinks with a smoky wisp of glitter around the illustrated girl with long, wavy black hair. “Love the vintage, not the ghosts,” the tagline reads.

I was charmed.

This 325-page paperback — a great breather from the near-1000 page A Clash of Kings, which I had trouble fitting around my hectic schedule — is quickly addictive. I went in not expecting much and found myself loving every page. Blackwell knows how to keep the reader going with a cliffhanger at the end of nearly every chapter.

If you like Harry Potter, then you’ll probably like Blackwell’s first book in her Witchcraft Mystery series — not that it is anywhere near a ripoff of Rowling’s books, but Blackwell does share a few tools of the witchy trade. The main character’s familiar reminds me a lot of Dobby the house elf, and one of the plotlines deals with a screaming mandrake and how to pull it out without going insane (remember that part in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets?). Blackwell invents her own rules, too, and I adored her every time she compared real witchcraft to superstition and stereotyping within the fiction she creates. The book also explores the paranormal, and the combination gives the book so much potential and room for expansion.

I can’t recommend it enough. And not to mention, the hunky mythbusting character is named Max Carmichael. :)

The story isn’t anything particularly amazing: Lily Ivory is a witch who recently moved to San Francisco, and little by little she assimilates into a nice circle of friends and wiccans as she opens up and helps the community. She also puts others in touch with their inner fashionistas by tapping into the auras and vibes that clothes give off to a witch of her caliber, and that’s a talent that any girl knows can’t be undervalued. But what’s great about Secondhand Spirits is that there is a lot of emphasis on community, both culturally and in terms of companionship, and it’s just a heartwarming book. The quote at the top comes from the beginning of the last chapter, and it really made me smile. That’s how well Blackwell will have you invested.

Bottom line: A quick, endearing mystery for beginners or those who love to shop and dabble in magics on the side.

The perfect pet: a review of The Caline Conspiracy

His arms were outflung and his mouth was a wide, lipless—no, his mouth was closed, it was his throat that gaped in a ragged, cheerless grin.

Last week Margaret Yang and Harry R. Campion, who write together as M. H. Mead, got in touch and offered me a review copy of their latest book. By the sounds of it, The Caline Conspiracy wasn’t something I’d normally pick up, and the cover screamed the nineties, but I agreed to give the book a shot. Sometimes we need to step out of our comfort zones.

As silly as the plot felt at times—it’s a murder mystery in which a genetically enhanced pet (a “caline”) is the only suspect—the writing was, well, good. Nothing ground-breaking, but better than a lot of the books I’m handed to read on assignment. I didn’t have to parse the prose to discover the kernel of worth within it. The Caline Conspiracy is written by two clearly talented people.

Of course, M. H. Mead might be writing about the perfect pets (and the not-so-perfect pets), but that doesn’t mean their book is flawless. The writers brush on a futuristic gloss at will, rather than building a believable sci-fi world from the ground up. You can’t have your character make tea or order pizza and then have her use some sort of holo-vid system without making readers wonder if maybe the science fiction part wasn’t a high priority after all. If you’re going to set your story in the future, you have to simulate the future down to the very last detail. Or at least have a robot ringing the doorbell with a steaming pie.

The story held my interest regardless of its slips, but I have to wonder about the scene with Aidra, Edo, and the perficats. The grand realization that occurs then doesn’t seem to have much purpose overall, other than to maybe foreshadow how crazy meddlesome scientists are with things that shouldn’t be meddled in.

I’m not sure I entirely believe a few other plot threads, either: Aidra’s totally lax, “cool mom” treatment of her son had me cringing; and the explanation for their new family member at the end was surprising but not entirely convincing.The backstory about their old dog Nutmeg gave the characters and story some valuable context, but it was never explored as much as I would have liked. A few minor characters could have used more attention after their biggest scenes—like Quinn’s unexpected trip to the hospital and Freddy and his wife. These characters deserve more than a passing role.

These failings in plot aren’t as extreme as they might sound—the only parts I was rolling my eyes at were the one near sex scene that didn’t belong and the aforementioned introduction of Aidra’s son Jon. I can’t recommend The Caline Conspiracy to everyone, but if you like the suspense of mysteries or you’re just a huge animal enthusiast, then you’ll likely find enjoyment in its story.

Thanks to the authors for reaching out and providing a review copy!