📚 Small reviews

Here's some thoughts on things I've finished and felt like I wanted to capture for my future reference.

⭐: actively disliked this
⭐⭐: meh
⭐⭐⭐: enjoyable but not notable
⭐⭐⭐⭐: really great; would recommend
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐: utterly brilliant!

2023 | 2022 | 2021

Books read this year

Games played this year

📖 The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin

Finished: 19th September 2023

Ooof, this was a slog. I finally finished this at 4am and it helped me get back to sleep, which pretty much summed up how I felt about the book. One of my biggest issues was the structure. The book's divided into very few sections, each of which are a particular slice of time. But apart from that it's just a wall of text, which for me made pacing feel really dreary. I never felt "ooh just one more chapter", and it also didn't help pace as I could give up whenever I wanted rather than pushing through to a break. Aside from that I didn't care about any of the characters, and found them forgettable. The plot picked up as it moved forward in time, but I found myself generally disappointed in the Wallfacer reveals, and other than that it all felt like it lacked a bit of cohesion.

Based on this and the last book I decided I couldn't face reading the third (even though it's already in the house!), so read the wikipedia summary instead. And yep, glad I made that call. Overall this series really wasn't for me.

🎮 Return to Monkey Island

Finished: 31st August 2023

Another short little gentle time-passer. You can tell I'm both waiting for a big game (hello Starfield) and not enjoying my current book by the way I'm procrastinating with these!

Blasphemy to some, but I've never actually played a Monkey Island game before, or if I did, I don't remember it. Despite that I didn't feel like there was too much to miss, but also it wasn't that good, so maybe I am missing something key. The puzzles of the last two games I've played were much more satisfying (although I was only on Casual), and I found some of the traipsing back and forward a bit tedious. But it was... fine. Solid three stars for me.

🎮 A Short Hike

Finished: 20th August 2023

Very cute little gentle game, which is basically Animal Crossing plus loot and mountain climbing. It's very short, although I enjoyed doing all the side quests and mopping up all the collectibles. I don't have much to say about it apart from the (minimal) story and dialogue were sweet, the view from the top was pretty, and it was a nice thing to dip into on a few baby breaks.

🎮 Tunic

Finished: 11th August 2023

I completely stumbled across this game. I was in the Rewards screen, it offered me some meagre points to play this, and because isometric foxes are up my street I gave it a shot on cloud gaming. I knew nothing about it and was intrigued. There's no tutorial, you pick up pages of an instruction manual as you go along, but most of it is written in the game's made-up language so you're basically left to work out what to do and how to do it.

I played it for a little bit as intended, but the exploration and puzzle solving was by far the most interesting part, and the clunky combat just felt like it was getting in the way and slowing me down too much. After that I used the accessibility settings (hooray!) to turn on invincibility and endless stamina, which allowed me to focus on the many, many mysteries rather than getting annoyed at having to get past hard enemies when I just wanted to retraverse the map. Despite invincibility, I still managed to die twice from hitting kill spots in the environment 🤷🏻‍♀️

For a game that's all about working things out yourself, it can be surprisingly unforgiving. For example, you pick up things from chests that you have no idea what they are, including how rare. I ended up speculatively trying a few, but then hoarded most things because I had no idea if or when I could get more. I wasted items like bombs and potions from trying them out, and I smashed a money box in battle when I was thinking it could be a more helpful item. I had invincibility turned on later on, but after falling into an arena and not knowing what it was, I accidentally triggered the only health reset before summoning enemies. I won't say anything about the ending, but I accidentally triggered it when searching for something else, leading to a whoooole lot of confusion and some grumpiness before I went back again armed with internet knowledge. Approach your explorations the wrong way, and this can be a HARD game.

Despite all that, and playing it toned down... I really enjoyed it. There is a ton of depth if you're after it, and some of the fights would be big challenges if you want them to be. I never ever would have finished a load of the puzzles without guides, and I have serious respect for people who have gone deep into this game. However I really enjoyed the gorgeous visuals, slow reveal of the instruction booklet, the exploration, puzzle solving, and general having to work out what my goals were. And as always, big props for accessibility settings that let everyone customise their own experience.

📖 Leviathan Falls (The Expanse book 9) by James S. A. Corey

Finished: 8th August 2023

I got as far as the first page of another book before realising I just really wanted to read the end of this, and switched. And... now I don't know how to write this without spoilers, so there will be mild ones.

After the events of the last book I was a bit worried as it didn't feel like there was going to be a happy ending, but I'm actually quite gutted about how some of it played out. Maybe I'd just got used to our heroes stumbling though disaster after disaster and everything ending up ok, but I certainly wasn't left with the warm and fuzzies. If anything I feel like it'll stick in my mind with a bit of a sense of unease, which is maybe what they were going for, I don't know. I think I'll cling on to the TV show end and write my own head canon.

With all of the shades of grey with characters, it was almost surprising to meet one here who was just an utter dick to the end, with zero nuance. Even Singh had a bit of that. Her narrative felt a bit unnecessary, and didn't add a lot for me. I was also disappointed that whilst one character from waaaaay back made a reappearance, we never found out what happened to Filip, or even Kit past a point in this book (did he even go to the system Alex thought he was in??). Again, I guess this is by design, and it's a challenge to wrap up when you have such a big cast, but there were definitely some gaps that I was hoping could have been filled with little references.

That said, I enjoyed this as I'd enjoyed all the others. Holden's mental health and the reaction to the trauma he went through was a big kick in the feels but felt well-written, the parallels between the, er, connectivity and the way that the Roci's crew all understand each other was powerful, and generally there was lots to enjoy. It's been a fantastic series, and I utterly love the characters which is why I'm I think I'm just a bit down on this one.

🎮 Escape Academy

Finished: 1st August 2023

This was a fun (if short) little distraction with some decent puzzles, some of which felt really quite satisfying to figure out. The graphics are very clunky and budget-feeling, and that carries through into the controls at points, giving some frustration when I lost time to messing about with the interface or not being able to find where the item I was clearly searching for could be. The story was basic but with a semi-amusing and weird twist, and I enjoyed the variety between the different styles of levels. I played this on Game Pass and probably wouldn't have ever bought it otherwise, but if I could pick up the DLC for cheap in future I'd definitely enjoy playing a few more levels.

📖 Tiamat's Wrath (The Expanse book 8) by James S. A. Corey

Finished: 22nd July 2023

Oooof this book! It started slow and melancholy, but after a certain point it was all go. I can't actually say too much because there's so many spoilers, but it kicks up a gear so much with various important things happening that it kind of felt like a finale in its own right. You find out a lot, and it's nicely set up for the last act. I nearly had to put it down at one point as I was so taken aback by something, and had some genuine emotional reactions. I've become so attached to the characters now, and I'm both really looking forward to and dreading the end of the series.

📖 The Three-body Problem by Liu Cixin

Finished: 14th July 2023

Another book my husband never finished and I eventually nicked. He'd bought three in the series and there was enough in this to move on to them at some point, but it wasn't a classic for me. It felt a bit clunky to read at points, in the way that translated things often do, but I appreciated the translator's postscript saying that 'the reader sees a glimpse of another culture's pattern of thinking, hears an echo of another language's rhythms and cadences, and feels a tremor of another people's gestures and movements'. The strange in-game scenes reminded me of something else but I can't remember what, and I enjoyed flicking between that and the real world with everything explained by the end, but I did find some of the science a bit hard to wrap my tired brain around at points. Still, some interesting concepts and I'll read on.

🎮 Hi-fi Rush

Finished: 13th July 2023

Another game that's finished-but-not-finished as there's a zillion achievements and I may mop some more up, but my enthusiasm is waning a bit now as there's just too many to get through. This was a fun little game which was very up my street in terms of puns, silly references, and 4th wall breaking. I laughed when Left Shark made an appearance, but it was even better to get to add that as my costume. Gameplay and story-wise it was very enjoyable if a bit repetitive, and the main things that let it down for me were mostly technical niggles: not having a way to calibrate the audio, the music being really monotonous and samey at times, wishing I could replay just individual fights rather than 1h+ entire levels, achievements not stacking, general collectables being locked behind some bloody hard SPECTRA doors, and needing at least 5 full play throughs just to be able to get everything is silly. But it's a silly game, and I forgive it purely on the basis of the 'kenkyuu very much' pun in the Japanese audio.

📖 Persepolis Rising (The Expanse book 7) by James S. A. Corey

Finished: 25th June 2023

This was the first book where I didn't know what was going to happen, and it was somewhat strange and exciting because of it. The time leap threw me off – everyone's suddenly got older and I felt a bit of a sense of disconnection, but I guess that's what all the novellas are for (I haven't read any yet as I don't really like e/audiobooks). Despite that, this was a meaty story with lots going on on different fronts, and it feels like it put a lot of time into setting up the last couple of books. It's definitely left everything on a bit of a cliffhanger. Lots of action, lots of political wranglings and lessons, and lots of "oh just one more chapter then"s.

🎮 Star Wars Jedi: Survivor

Finished: 10th June 2023

I haven't been able to finish finish this as I'm a victim of the bounty hunting never triggering properly, and am eagerly awaiting Patch 6 so I can clean that and the last two achievements up. But I loved this. I was recently asked why I only gave the previous game 3 stars, which made me look back. And they've basically fixed all of the things that annoyed me before. Ok, so the first time I had to fly a birdthing I found it incredibly unintuitive, some of the platforming was still janky, but there was so much to love that I could put that aside this time. The big, open worlds were a joy. The huge amount of collectables were right up my street, coupled with being marked on the map to mop up at just the right pacing. The map is actually useful! There is fast travel! Riding things! The story was great, and I actually spoiled it for myself because I now really like Merrin and I was getting worried she may not be ok. Some of the force tears were wickedly hard, but I managed them with some persistence. Really great game, can't wait for more.

📖 Sea of tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

Finished: 14th May 2023

I liked this more as it went on and all the strands came together, and it was a decent time travel read that wrapped up all the mysteries nicely... but overall something still left me a little bit cold. I think it may have been that I just didn't care about the characters very much. I actually felt a bit like Gaspery at the point where he still felt able to be detached about knowing how and when the people would die. They never really properly came alive for me. However I also definitely find pandemic-related content a bit less fun to read nowadays, and I think this probably suffered a bit in the same way as how I felt about 'How high we go in the dark' in terms of the setting.

📖 Redshirts by John Scalzi

Finished: 11th May 2023

This was a holiday read, and was perfect fluff for that kind of situation. It's lighthearted and silly, and leaves you with good feels on various fronts. However it didn't feel massively memorable or like I'll look back on it as a highlight, but that's ok because it completely served its purpose!

📖 Babylon's Ashes (The Expanse book 6) by James S. A. Corey

Finished: 25th April 2023

I think I'm getting a bit Expansed out now. I still enjoyed this one, but felt like I was running out of steam a bit. The sheer range of characters who took point on chapters made this almost feel like a collection of short stories, as some of them were real nobodies who never got another chance to narrate, just popping up in other characters' goes. That said, I did actually enjoy that we got to see a bit from the Free Navy on Medina's perspective of how it all went down. Seeing Filip develop was also interesting to read, and I enjoyed how him and Marco read slightly differently to the other characters.

📖 Nemesis Games (The Expanse book 5) by James S. A. Corey

Finished: 28th March 2023

After the previous one, I flicked through this before I started and was excited to see all the chapters were from the perspective of the core group... hooray! It delivered too, I actually felt like this was probably more effective than the TV show in describing how everyone split up and went on their own journeys. Naomi's journey in particular was really great to revisit in written form.

📖 Cibola Burn (The Expanse book 4) by James S. A. Corey

Finished: 5th March 2023

This one was definitely a bit more of a slog. It continued to have fewer of the core team narrating chapters, the on-planet bits really dragged, and for large chunks of the book both Elvi and Basia were pretty annoying. However, I did enjoy both Basia and Havelock being a continuation of previous appearances, unlike in the TV show. Still very enjoyable, but I'm hoping for a bit more excitement and a bit less moping and mud in the next book.

📖 Abaddon's Gate (The Expanse book 3) by James S. A. Corey

Finished: 16th February 2023

Ok so I'm fully invested now, and just continuing the binge. This one I felt like I enjoyed slightly less, but the thought of giving it anything less than a 4 felt daft, so 4 it is. I think it was because so much of this one focuses on non-core characters, although Melba/Clarissa was my favourite. On finishing I went and read all the TV summaries to compare, and a lot differs in this, especially with the weird smushing of Pa/Ashford/Drummer/Sam/Bull. Lots of action, lots of pace, and heading straight into book 4 to keep it up.

📖 Caliban's War (The Expanse book 2) by James S. A. Corey

Finished: 9th February 2023

Unlike book 1, I just kept wanting to read this and frequently found myself slipping into the next chapter despite meaning to stop. Which I guess was kind of like the TV show when it reached this point. My memory is a bit hazy, but there are definitely some divergences from the adaptation in here, which did keep it more fresh for my brain than book 1. But also, the writing and characters are just so rich, and I loved spending more time with them. Avasarala and Bobbie were my faves in this book (obviously), but I'm also enjoying reclaiming being able to like Alex. Just great writing, and I couldn't resist ordering book 3 to jump into next.

🎮 Townscaper

Finished: 30th January 2023

This had been in my backlog for ages, and I finally downloaded it when looking for something throwaway that I could pick up and put down quickly whilst the baby napped. This was perfect, it was very cute and surprisingly fun. You're chucked straight in, no guide to the controls, and no explanation. Initially I found some frustration with things like not realising the grid wasn't straight... but soon that changed into "oh cool, it did that!". What you build, and how that relates to the structures and grid around it means you get little delighters, like buildings changing into a lighthouse, or washing being hung out between two towers. I loved that birds settled on my wooden struts and roof of another large building. I played longer than I expected, and really enjoyed the gentle exploration it encouraged.

📖 To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

Finished: 28th January 2023

On starting this (unexpectedly thick!) book, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to stomach it for so many pages. The early pages are sickly sweet cheese, focusing on two characters who "babe" each other and generally seemed extremely annoying. Thankfully (mild spoiler) one gets killed off shortly after (hooray!), and the clumsy writing only reared its head a couple more times (the description of period pains was classic). It felt like a bit of a slog to get through, as whilst there's several acts and stuff happens, none of it felt super captivating to me. The story is interesting enough though, and it's very well thought out in terms of all of the hard details, for me it just could have done with being a bit more punchy and a bit less clumsy when it comes to a man writing about a woman.

🎮 Deathloop

Finished: 16th January 2023

I thought this was a bloody great game. It was tons of fun. The sense of play and exploration it gave me when the world opened up properly and I could start to experiment with cause and effect was brilliant, and I'm still enjoying mopping up the last few bits I'd missed. The story was fun, the combat was fun, the powers were fun. I found it hard without being annoying, although at one point (ClassPass/Juliana issues) I was sorely tempted to up my number of Reprises but thankfully couldn't figure out why it was locked so didn't (I later realised it unlocks in between levels...). Now the game's over I feel horrendously overpowered, and I've been enjoying trying to get missing achievements in ways which make me use non-standard loadouts and play styles to get them done. More than once I fell asleep at night thinking about how to run part of a level, and I think this game will be genuinely memorable for me.