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I should have been born a cat
Welcome to Working Title. This is a public journal, but old posts (and the rare new post) are friends-only.

Information about me can be found on my user page. New LiveJournal friends are welcome: feel free to friend me, but please do leave a note (here or otherwise) and introduce yourself if you would like to be friended in return.
As I post more of these boys, it's getting harder for new readers to catch up on what's come before. So for everyone's ease, I finally offer:

Ghost and Aaron: A Sims 3 Story
Introduction and Master List

Aaron (with freckles and dyed black hair) is brash and rude, but behind his bravado is certain vulnerability. Ghost (with white hair and pale eyes) is inward-turned, expressing himself through the arts—but his passivity hides depth. They are cousins who, for most of their lives, were only casual acquaintances. Two years ago, Aaron moved in with Ghost and his mother, and the boys quickly became close friends. But one day, after they had moved into a filthy suburban home in Sunset Valley, Aaron kissed Ghost—changing their relationship forever, and beginning their chronicled story.

From their first spontaneous kiss onward, Ghost and Aaron's story has been almost entirely autonomous. I set up premises, and they provide plot—and the boys have a strange magic that makes it all possible. I post lightly annotated, image-heavy chronicles of their daily lives, supplemented with text-only, non-chronological storybits that fill in gaps in their daily developments and backstory. Storybits in particular may contain explicit sexual content, so consider yourself warned.

The list below contains every post where Aaron and Ghost appear, from cameos to major developments. The numbering system is completely meaningless (but keeps things in order); storybits are often non-chronological and tangentially related, but add significant depth. I have no posting schedule—updates come when they come. Comments and discussion are always welcome. Enjoy!

Master List — The time when...
001 They first appear.
002 Aaron kisses Ghost.
003 Aaron sets fire to the TV.
004 Their romantic relationship gets going.
005 Ghost quits his job.
006 They finally have sex.
          Bonus House tour.
007 They cameo during their honeymoon period.
008 The repoman comes.
          Bonus Family photos and Storybit 01: Aaron on the doorstep.
009 Ghost says "I love you."
           Bonus Storybit 02: Ghost dreams of death.
010 Ghost's dreams get worse.
          Bonus Storybit 03: Aaron says "I love you."
011 Storybit 04: The second round, while Ghost should be sleeping.
012 They have a surprising amount of sex.
          Bonus Storybit 05: Aaron picks Ghost up from work.
013 Ghost started to come to terms with Aaron's thievery.
          Bonus Storybit 06: Aaron questions Ghost's sexual history.
014 They cameo at the Silverman-Moore wedding.
015 Storybit 07: Aaron bottoms for the first time.
016 They visit Mouse.
          Bonus Storybit 08: The night with Nathan.
017 Everything's going well, so Aaron's parents show up.
          Bonus Storybit 09: The rings.
018 Things do not happen in France.
019 Aaron's parents visit.
          Bonus Storybit 10: What does not happen after Aaron's parents leave.
020 Previous update outtakes.
021 They spend a couple irresponsible days.

You can also browse my tags for Sims 3 and Sims 3: Ghost and Aaron for some supplemental discussion and photo logs of my other Sims. All my Sims photos are gathered in galleries on my Flickr.
I should have been born a cat
Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab Website.

bpal_feedback avaliable here.

BPAL I have up for swap (locked).

My BPAL wishlist

I'm always willing to try new BPAL scents or to stock up on my favorites, but there are some scents that I desire more than others. I generally collect imps/decants because I go through oils slowly. You can fund my BPAL obsession through Paypal (swiftskyes AT hotmail DOT com) or ship them to me directly (can't see my contact info? want to? just ask).

I've included information about my favorite scents and notes (to give you an idea of what I like) and my wishlist for both limited edition and general catalog imps. Asterisks denote my highest priorities.

My favorite scents, notes, and tastesCollapse )

Limited Edition/Retired/Unimpable/etc WishlistCollapse )

General Catalog WishlistCollapse )

Non-BPAL & Miscellaneous WishlistCollapse )
I am sitting here after very little sleep, waiting for August's bloodwork to come in—

—thinking about affect, and the fact that, whenever a bad thing is happening, one part of me is having an emotional reaction and another part of me is judging my emotional reaction: is this appropriate? is this authentic? am I performing "sad" or "scared"? When my outward expressions are insufficient, I'm never sure if it's because I'm still processing or because my reluctance to express creates an inability to experience. And always is the certainty that all of it is pretense, even when there's a concrete, external cause. This complicates the experience of bad things, becomes a sort of meta-anxiety.

I know where that self-doubt comes from. It's the natural result of an adolescence and young adulthood being told that all my negative feelings and expressions were drama-mongering, and an adulthood with an invisible condition that likes to go stealth, leaving me with comorbid tremors and depression but unable to feel the underlying pain. But I wonder when that sort of armchair self-psychoanalysis has run its course; at what point does knowing the root of a problem fail to excuse or alleviate it?

—eating chocolate: Madécasse: Sea Salt & Nibs, 63% cocoa. Picked this up because it was on clearance, and to my surprise the company seems sincerely mindful. But the chocolate itself is only so-so. I'm a percentage snob and this is way below my grade; regardless, the soft, sweet, fruity chocolate doesn't work well with the crunchy, strong, salty inclusions. The inclusions are sprinkled on the back of the bar, which looks nice but makes for irregular flavor and texture. This isn't awful and I want to like it very much, but I wouldn't get it again.

—and getting August's results! All is well: her bloodwork is normal, other than indications that she may have been fighting something off, which is consistent with her stomach issues and is already being treated with medication (metronidazole). She's still on bland food and still not eating her normal amount, but her food intake is slowly increasing, all her other symptoms have cleared up, her water intake is fine, and she's had little behavioral change. Unless things get worse/fail to get better, she should be fine. We still don't know what caused this; probably an undefined stomach bug or indigestion.

Now I can sleep mindlessly watch Star Trek for a week.

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I should have been born a cat
When I woke up today (Saturday), as the weekend had rolled around and Devon had a break from homework and we could finally do anniversary-celebratory-things, I checked my email to find a message from Dee that began, "So I don't want to alarm you, and so far she seems to be okay, but I had to take August in to the vet this morning." Cut for some discussion of pet health and digestive issues: Read more...Collapse ) The vet thinks this is probably something that resolve itself, although the battery of tests can only help.

Obviously, Devon drove me back up this afternoon. My being here isn't essential but it is productive, if only because August is a one-person cat; having me back and restoring her status quo may help normalize her diet, and it will be less stressful if I'm the one pilling her. When I got back I lay down and pulled her to my chest and she pressed me back into the world and purred with me until we were both calm.

It's all terrifying, especially after losing Mamakitty last year (her decline began with eating issues, and we've been hypersensitive to our cat's food intake since then) and with the recent unexpected death of Casey, which is in all ways entirely unrelated but still has me paranoid. (Further bad timing: I was going to stop by and see my family and our old dog Jamie this weekend, and tell her I loved her and not to die; I should email them and ask them to pass on my message in my stead.)

But terrifying mostly because August is my heart and life and soul, and her wellbeing is the only thing in this universe in which I am truly invested and for which I feel responsible. I'm thankful beyond words that Dee was there, to deal with the pet-sitter's nightmare and make all the right decisions, and know me and my daughtersistercat so intimately that she could do exactly what I would have done.

I am okay because I have to be, because my anxiety can only disrupt August and contribute to her health issues; and because I have her with me. This is the only realm of my life in which I can do this: experience stress without falling to pieces, because someone else depends on my being whole. My heart my life my soul; the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life.

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Title: Birth of the Firebringer (Firebringer Book 1)
Author: Meredith Ann Pierce
Published: New York: Firebird, 1985
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 210
Total Page Count: 175,105
Text Number: 512
Read Because: mentioned here in a discussion on unicorns, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Jan is a wayward princeling in a highly-structured society of unicorns overshadowed by the prophesied arrival of a unicorn who will lead them back to the land of their birth. This is a gauzy, distant world, thoughtful in construction and escapist if only for the fact that it's peopled by unicorns, griffins, satyrs, dragons; mythic, with a particular metaphysical bent to its climax. But the predictable plot and Jan's tiresome immaturity spoil the experience, and Birth of the Firebringer is insufficiently different: this isn't Redwall-levels of "human by any other name," but nor is it the fantastic, new experience that I wanted a unicorn world to be. The end result is readable but forgettable, and I won't continue the series.

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A week ago: While sitting up in bed, I threw out my upper back. How? with magic? a perverse force of will?? My trapezius on both sides were just gone, goodbye; everything hurt, but the worst offenders were sleep and the computer. I have a huge pain tolerance and endless experience with back pain, but it resisted every one of my treatments. (In retrospect, I should have iced it—the one thing I never do for my lower back, because it causes cramping.) What is it about a different pain that's somehow worse than chronic pain, not so much because it is worse or even more debilitating, but because these carefully honed coping mechanisms are now inapplicable. I've been dealing with my lower back for 15 years; I should either be exempt from other pain, or equipped to deal with anything. I was not. It went about 4 days without improvement, but is now back to normal anxious-person's-muscles level of ow.

A few days ago: Dee's mother's dog, Casey, died suddenly. Cut for brief discussion of pet death: Read more...Collapse ) This is not my immediate pain, but I still care immensely. All dogs are good dogs, but he was such a good dog, surfeit with love, content if he could just lean on you or lay against you and be touched. And so obedient, especially when I knew him and his puppyhood awful (of which I've heard horror stories!) was gone. And so engaged with his people. The loss hasn't quite registered for me, yet; but I've never been so glad that I had Thanksgiving with him and Odi. This was Casey: one, two, three, four.

Last night: Dreamed the mother of all anxiety dreams: I was back in school, living simultaneously-via-dream-logic at Devon's parents's house and in a boarding environment, and became convinced that the environment was so unhealthy and I was so stressed that I shouldn't have pets anymore, so I drowned August by luring her into a swiftly-flowing river with treats. Cut for suicidal ideation: Read more...Collapse ) I know what factors underlay all aspects of this dream; it was still singularly awful.

Tomorrow: Taking the train down to see Devon, to celebrate our 13th anniversary. (See: dreaming about his parents's house.) This is absolutely a good thing! It also bring with it "I have to leave the house" anxiety and "why do I have to travel to see him after thirteen years?" anxiety. It has been a long and strange week, an unearthly haze of blurred vision and intense pain and abstracted loss and anxiety. It will be good to make a clean break with it by traveling.

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26th-Jan-2016 03:33 pm - Book Review: Hild by Nicola Griffith
Title: Hild
Author: Nicola Griffith
Published: New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 560
Total Page Count: 174,895
Text Number: 511
Read Because: fan of the author, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: In 7th Century England, a land divided into seven kingdoms and undergoing conversion to Christianity, one woman is a nexus of change: Hild, king's adviser and future saint, here coming into her power. This novel is entrenched in its setting, and the density of names, politics, and daily detail makes for a slow start and always threatens to become overwhelming. (The appendix helps; historical context would, too.) But Griffith knows how to pinpoint the moments when worldbuilding, character arcs, and themes coincide. This book is never easy to read but it develops an immersive rhythm, long, slow, thudding; intricate, intimate; fueled always by Hild, by her active mind and her needs and her knowledge that she is the light of the world. I'm only disappointed by the ending—not in itself bad, but feeling like (because it is!) only half the story. But that half we have is singular.

(that moment when it doesn’t occur to you to mention in a review that Hild has diverse, dynamic representations of gender, gendered roles, and sexuality, women with political power, with physical power, changing the world; not because you didn’t notice, not because it wasn’t the point, but because you take it for granted from Griffith; Griffith, who wrote about a single-gender world that faced down the trope’s longstanding sexism to instead provide diverse cultures and relationships and lives because she has always insisted that women are people

is actually a pretty good moment)

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The Great British Bake Off (The Great British Baking Show), series 5, 2014
There's something reaffirming about British reality TV. It's certainly edited for drama, as this series's Bingate proves. But it feels less exploitive and competitive, more heartfelt. This was just so lovely to watch, playful and passionate and with engaging variety. I'm not sure I'd feel the same if I watched multiple series, but all reality TV dulls with repetition. I enjoyed this for what it was, and didn't need more.

Jessica Jones, season 1, 2015
My dislike of Daredevil made me hesitant to watch this, despite positive fan response. I should have listened to my gut. It does so many things right in its depiction of rape and trauma survival, even female characters—female showrunners help immensely, who would have thought!—and I appreciate that. But the larger story failed me: the noir/action styling is tiresome, the tie-ins to Marvel movie-verse out of place, and the plot is a string of twists motivated by unreliable characters—sometimes unreliable because of Kilgrave's mind control, as often unreliable for unrelated reasons, all of it off-putting. It's not you, Marvel (okay, well, sometimes it is); it's me. This isn't my thing. (Longer thoughts on what didn't work for me here on Tumblr.)

We Need to Talk About Kevin, film, 2011, dir. Lynne Ramsay
A necessary DNF; I remembered at the halfway mark that narratives about unwilling mothers and problem children make my skin crawl. Half of the movie is enough to get a feel for it. Swinton's performance is powerful; other characters, even eponymous Kevin, feel stiff, their functions too singular. The jumpy piecemeal narrative is stressful, but creates tension. I have no doubt that this film does what it intends, but I feel like I've encountered the same narrative—as intriguing and unsettling, as ultimately unproductive—in more watchable form in Law & Order episodes, of all things. This was, intentionally, but for me fatally, unpleasant.

Hide and Seek (Amorous), film, 2015, dir. Joanna Coates
A group of young adults absent themselves from society to live in a beautiful house in the country and begin a closed poly relationship—my perfect premise. This does every predictable thing that can be done with this setup—a disruption by an outsider, the threat of monogamy—but it's unique in one respect: the relationship survives. That never happens in this sort of story! It's refreshing and idyllic. Otherwise: the plot is slim, characterization thin; the acting is acceptable, but sells the awkward start better than the established relationship. The style is light, hazy, sunny, indie-artsy. This isn't a profound film, but I appreciate that it exists. And! queer representation! that isn't entirely drowned out by hetero configurations! (but is somewhat.)

Hide and Seek: longer thoughts.Collapse )

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Title: The Bone Palace (The Necromancer Chronicles Book 3)
Author: Amanda Downum
Published: New York: Orbit, 2010
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 350
Total Page Count: 174,335
Text Number: 510
Read Because: continuing the series & mentioned here, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: When a royal signet is found on a murdered prostitute, necromancer Isyllt begins an investigation that takes her through vampire dens to long-buried royal secrets. The Bone Palace leaves me with a mixed mind. Downum's characters span races, genders, and sexual orientations; they have fluid, complex relationships; there are women everywhere, in positions of power, as protagonists. I'm glad this variety exists, and parts of it—the prince and his partners, in particular—I adored. But Downum's voice retains the repetitious pacing and descriptions that plagued The Drowning City and which strip character from an otherwise promising world, and the plot, while serviceable, leaves little lasting impression—it has mysteries but their solutions fail to feel personal or profound. This is a decent book, exceptional for doing right—albeit in glorious excess—what I wish I could take for granted: women, trans characters, poly dynamics; but otherwise unexceptional.

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Title: The Goblin Emperor
Author: Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette)
Published: New York: Tor, 2014
Rating: 5 of 5
Page Count: 446
Total Page Count: 173,975
Text Number: 509
Read Because: fan of the author & multiple recommendations, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After the sudden death of his father and his father's first three heirs, Maia, youngest son, half-goblin, and relegated to a backwater estate, suddenly becomes the emperor of elfland. Similar to Monette's Doctrine of Labyrinths series, this is a second world fantasy of manners; unlike those books, the focus here is on goodness. The worldbuilding tends towards steampunk but its aesthetic doesn't overrun plot; the court intrigues are only complex because of the confusing names. (For that and other reasons, the appendix is useful.) Perhaps the best bit of worldbuilding is the use of first and second person formal and informal, because—despite the fantasy setting, despite the intrigue—the true focus is interpersonal.

Maia begins the book uneducated, outcast, and traumatized, but he possesses a stubborn goodness. As he attempts to do right with the power he's been granted, he's rewarded with respect and friendship. That process is transparent but utterly satisfying—in the slow, intimate pace of the book's first half; in the heartstring-yanking interactions near the end. If the book has a flaw, it's that it's too good—the villains incompetent, Maia's luck superb, too many decent people in the cast—but that's a flaw I will happily accept, because makes for a welcome break from convention which is consistently delightful to read. I recommend it with enthusiasm, and will return to reread it.

Further thoughtsCollapse )

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Yesterday I discovered bullet journaling, which sparked way more feelings than any journaling system should rightly warrant. I keep a Moleskine, for review drafts and notes; I love the efficiency of marking dates in my Google calendar; I keep an exhaustive list of media to consume and media consumed. There's an absolute appeal in the idea of a consolidated journal, especially written all pretty and neat, and tangible.

But. I switched my to read/watch/etc lists to a digital format because it was easier to annotate and to access, since I can use OneNote offline on my phone. Ditto a digital calendar, also because Devon/messenger systems can add to it, also because it provides alerts. My review notes are by necessity not amendable to bullets. And here's the thing about to-do lists, which is basically what a bullet journal is in long form: I don't have daily responsibilities, I don't have classes or deadlines or a social schedule; I have intentionally withdrawn from any level of society where I might have to do a certain thing or meet a person at or by certain time.

That withdraw was intentional, and it's what keeps me sane; I'm aware that, insofar as my starting point is "too crazy for real life," I'm lucky that I'm able to live this way. But this sort of hyper/aesthetic/tangible organization is so much my thing that realizing I have no use for it is a bitter reminder that my starting point sucks, that what I escape is also what I'm forbidden.

It does make me want to keep an index in my Moleskines, though, to mark the occasional unfinished thought/longterm reference item. It makes me wonder why there's no bullet journal equivalent software, because customizable calendars and entry formats are beyond the scope of printing but would be achievable digitally. And it makes me wonder how much tangibility matters—I write my review notes longform both for convenience and as a part of my thought process, but switching to digital for my media lists has made them significantly more useful and easier to maintain. How important is tangibility for to do lists? Depends on the person, I suppose.

And it makes me want to do what first popped into my head as "bullets chronicling each day," and keep not a list of to-dos but have-dones, not reviews but single statements about media ongoing consumption or moment by moment thoughts—the intended purpose of my Tumblr, but I'm so given to long-form writing and my anxiety makes me paranoid about talking about something while still consuming it, so my Tumblr never really gets used that way.

And it makes me think about the irony of thinking about doing a thing, any thing, instead of actually doing anything.

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Title: The Virgins
Author: Pamela Erens
Published: Portland: Tin House Books, 2013
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 281
Total Page Count: 173,539
Text Number: 508
Read Because: recommended as an autumnal novel, ebook borrowed from the Multhomah County Library
Review: At a boarding school in the 1970s, the intense romance between two misfit students, narrated here by a classmate, grows into a school-wide controversy. The Virgins is an intentional, effective unreliable narrative whose construction is frequently the book's most successful aspect. So little happens, and yet it remains compelling—thanks to the short chapters, the anticipation of a tragic end, and the biased view we have of the characters. But in retrospect, it leaves me wanting. All it really offers is a one-note thematic musing on virginity, its fetishistic cultural role, its symbol as a coming of age, neither of which is groundbreaking. I admire the authorial intent, but the result fails to leave a lasting impression. Not particularly recommended.

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Books Once More
Title: Deathless (Leningrad Diptych Book 1)
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Published: New York: Tor, 2011
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 352
Total Page Count: 173,258
Text Number: 507
Read Because: fan of the author, purchased from Powell's Books
Review: Young Marya waits for her husband to come to her: Koschei the Deathless, who will abduct her into his fairy tale set in World War II and the Siege of Leningrad. In many ways, this is Valente's most accomplished novel; in as many ways, one of my least favorites. It's a fluid dreamscape of a fairy tale retelling, historically entrenched, dark humored, beautiful and bitter, archetypal, rich with magic and Valente's distinctive prose. Its individual components are strong—most especially, Marya's marriages—but its larger narrative feels only piecemeal, making it difficult to grow invested in the work as a whole. And—intentionally, and enlivened by gallows humor—how grim. I recommend this but didn't particularly love it; it's not a novel I'll return to.

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Title: Shades of Milk and Honey (Glamourist Histories Book 1)
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Published: New York: Tor, 2010
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 300
Total Page Count: 172,906
Text Number: 506
Read Because: personal enjoyment, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Jane, a plain-faced glamourist on the verge of spinsterhood, is drawn into the romantic and social tangles of her small neighborhood. This is a regency/Austen pastiche given fresh life by the addition of magic, which doesn't alter the worldbuilding but adds to the aesthetic. Jane stands stubbornly unaware in the face of over-broadcasted plot points and emotional growth; alongside the overdramatic climax, this makes the book feel amateur. But the voice, atmosphere, and aesthetic are all spot-on, moreso for the addition of creative, pretty magics. It's frothy, engaging, and slight; too insubstantial for me, but a lovely bit of escapism.

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11th-Jan-2016 06:27 pm - Best of 2015 in media
This is late! and I don’t care! This is way longer than usual—I suppose I just encountered a lot of strong stories this year—but it feels a shame to trim it down. So, I present: The best media that I encountered in 2015.

Best books:

Hexslinger Series by Gemma Files. The sequels live up to A Book of Tongues, as brutal, as lyrical, as distinctive in style. Chess's ruthless character growth exceeded my expectations, and there was no character not rendered complex. I expected this series to have a great voice and satisfying scale; I wasn't expecting it to be resonant, which came to be the quality I admired most.

Hannibal Lecter Series by Thomas Harris. There's a number of individual criticisms to be made of Harris's work—and Hannibal Rising in particular is an awful mess that should be avoided at all costs. But I find Hannibal compelling in all his iterations, and this source material provides invaluable context.

Octavia E. Butler. Butler's voice can feel raw, but her engaging speculative premises are grounded by unforgiving, confrontational issues of morality. It took me too long to discover her work, but I'm glad that I finally did. She's brilliant and intense and compulsively readable.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. Quiet, picturesque, luminescent; bittersweet and beautiful and a delight to read. Books are rarely this successful—this achieves its precise intent, and does so with grace.

Spindle's End by Robin McKinley. I love most of the McKinley that I've read, but this may be my favorite. A darling book, sweet but not quite saccharine, suffused with a playful domestic magic; and important, thematically heavy-handed, perhaps, but necessary, and with effective emotional appeal. Comfort reading of the highest caliber.

Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones. If there were just one book on this list, it would be Fire and Hemlock. Bittersweet, charming, magical, strange, and suffused with intent; easily the best book I read this year, and maybe one of the best I've ever read.

Goth by Otsuichi. As intimately familiar as I was with this story in its other iterations, the light novel still surprised me—it was just that good. The narrative techniques are manipulative but clever; the emotional register and atmosphere are subdued, amoral, thoughtful, and keenly compelling.

So Brilliantly Clever by Peter Graham. A rare non-fiction book! The Parker-Hulmes murder case is fascinating, and Graham's investigation is thorough, thoughtful, sympathetic but not forgiving—the best write-up I could have hoped on a subject I wished to know more about.

Honorable mentions in books:

The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb. While by no means "great" literature, this is one of the first second-world fantasy series that I've found compelling. I admire Hobb's attention to daily detail, which grounds the sometimes-angsty character building; the companion animal tropes are top-notch; these are id-level, rewarding books.

Jacob's Ladder Series by Elizabeth Bear. I loved Dust years ago when I first read it; it was worth rereading to finish up the series. The middle book is redundant, but the last is logical counterpoint to the first, viewing its culture from without in a way that forces it to change. Despite the evidence of this list, I'm wary of series; this one is more than a run-on story, instead pushing its premise beyond the confines of a single book.

Best video games:

Soma. This would be my pick for Game of the Year 2015, not for being flawless (it's not, and I often wish Frictional were more willing to leave their comfort zone) but for being bold: an unsettling, confrontational, somber narrative sold by earnest dialog, surprisingly well-written and aware, not at all horror but superb sci-fi. I watched this game twice in a row and still think about it constantly—it's stuck with me.

Dark Souls II. Dense, mournful, and quiet, in atmosphere as well as level design and worldbuilding; singularly punishing and intentional gameplay. It requires an active engagement both to survive combat and explore the world—few games are this consistently rewarding to play.

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa: Goodbye Despair. Bless these offbeat little games—there's a dozen missteps in both characterization and humor, but they're engaging murder mysteries (with such creative, grotesque deaths!) that feature a strong core cast, and the second game is a superb sequel especially on a narrative level: aware, self-referential, metatextual, clever and singularly satisfying.

Saya no Uta. I am never not impressed with Urobuchi. This early work is exactly what it sets out to be, questionable in all logical loli ways, but also grotesque, beautiful, and keenly romantic. I admire the interplay between the three endings, that each is most successful because of how it contrasts with the larger narrative/other ends.

Corpse Party: Book of Shadows. This fulfilled everything I wanted from a sequel, in ways I never expected: the metatextual vignettes create plentiful insight into elements left underexplored by base game, and, where it mattered most (Morishige), the game excelled.

E3 PC Gaming Show 2015. This talky, long-form new entry to the E3 roster was a breath of fresh air, allowing for more in-depth, less-hyped glimpses into some upcoming games. I'm not sure how sustainable it is, but it was my highlight of E3 2015.

Summer Games Done Quick 2015. My first time watching speedruns, and what an introduction. This was addicting, with a lively roster and great personalities and great games and a lovely variety of speedrun techniques; I barely slept for the week it was running and don't regret it.

Honorable mentions in video games:

Octodad: Dadliest Catch. SGDQ introduced me to this, and I've now watched four LPs of it and would happily watch more. It's charming and ridiculous and entirely to my sense of humor.

Dishonored. There are few fictional worlds which I find better designed or realized, from art style to flavor text: the worldbuilding is immersive and thought-provoking.

Halo 5. I am not as sold on campaign as I was Halo 4, but multiplayer, while it still warrants quibbles, introduces so many perfect additions: clambering and boosting makes for active and engaged gameplay, and I would find it hard to go back to any other Halo multiplayer.

Best visual media:

The Fall. This show succeeds where every other grim non-episodic murder mystery fails: it's an intelligent, pointed study of evil, confrontational even as it's romanticized, consistently compelling, and flawlessly cast.

How to Get Away with Murder. What a smart, tense, engaging show; how well-cast; how satisfying both in its diversity and in its smug id-level tropes. An utter delight.

Natsume Yuujinchou. There was a hole in my life I hadn't noticed, and this gentle, kind story fit right into that space; I can no longer imagine my inner landscape without it. The world needs more stories like this, small, private, bittersweet, about recovery from trauma and friendships forming and isolation and magic.

Honorable mentions in visual media:

Sense8. There's something captivating about this show, not in plot but in concept: it's a daydream of intimacy, dreamt with enthusiasm and sing-alongs and orgies. Flawed, but singularly satisfying.

Dead Ringers. An obscure little story that hit every single one of my buttons, absurd, intimate, discomforting, id-level, ridiculously indulgent. Is it good? I have no idea. Will I treasure it forever? Certainly.

Mirai Nikki. This fills a number of genre clichés, none the least in that it sparked a genre cliché, and yet: the core relationship surprised me, because it's authentically compelling, even romantic, not in defiance of but via the same aspects that make it unsettling.

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Title: Dreamsnake
Author: Vonda N. McIntyre
Published: Book Review Café, 2009 (1978)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 313
Total Page Count: 172,606
Text Number: 505
Read Because: mentioned by [personal profile] rachelmanija, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A healer travels through an inhospitable desert with her snakes, genetically engineered so that their venom can be used as medicine. Dreamsnake is kind but ungentle. Its protagonists are sympathetic and well-drawn, its world compelling and cruel, and the two mesh well: the focus is not on how the world came to be, but how individuals attempt to survive, and heal, within it, rich with personal struggles and daily details. That leaves many mysteries about the setting unresolved, which isn't a drawback but does (almost for the first time) make me want to read other books in the same setting. The human element can be slipshod—antagonists are particularly underwhelming—but the central trio is accessible and their victories hard won, enough even that the abrupt ending is satisfying. This isn't a perfect book but it's lovely, small and private and heartfelt; I adored it, and will read more from the author.

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Title: Daja's Book (Circle of Magic Book 3)
Author: Tamora Pierce
Published: New York: Scholastic, 2011 (1998)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 149
Total Page Count: 172,293
Text Number: 504
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: The Disciple Cottage students and their teachers travel to the Gold Ridge Mountains, where they are confronted by drought and a Trader caravan. This is a smaller book than its predecessor, more local in plot and scale. It has all the series's ongoing flaws: the "bad" characters are flat, the problems have obvious solutions, and the four-part narrative can be repetitive. But this is also the first book in the series that lives up to its name, with exploration of Daja's backstory and Trader culture creating some of the most focused character development so far. The bond between the four students is slightly underplayed as a result, but functions as foundation for Daja's difficult decisions. This isn't my favorite book in the series, but it's a strong installment—and while these books are limited by their middle grade status, they're still a delight.

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