Book review: Into a Dark Land by Walter Shuler

Into a Dark Land picks up immediately after the events in Gods of Sand and Stone and follows Conn, Mur, and Aerlyn in their quest to find a way to destroy a mad god, Cernunnos. At the start of the story, I thought there might be the chance of a somewhat darker take on the classic four-person RPG party, but the sidhe warrior basically walks off after saying, “Sure, the gods might kills us, but they’ll kill you stupid humans first, and that won’t be so bad.” (I’m paraphrasing heavily.) So that leaves Conn’s party as a trio, who upon stepping out of the sidhe’s territory discover that they’ve lost two years in human time, and that things are going very badly for the locals.

While Conn and his friends stop in at a small town to get information, Cernunnos approaches a grieving king, Tigernmas, and seduces him with promises of power and a return to prosperity for his kingdom. The two sides amass armies destined to meet, and in the following weeks of training, Conn also learns the origins of his spear, the real reason why Cernunnos has become corrupted, and that there are many more gods involved in this war than he’d previously believed.

The book concludes with a massive battle between the two armies, though it would be hard to declare either the victor at this point. This sets the stage for book three, where I’m sure there will be more gods introduced, more bodies, and more revelations.

I’ll give Into a Dark Land 4 stars. It’s a short, fast-paced novel that should appeal to fans of dark fantasy, though I’d suggest reading the first book in The God Wars series before delving into this episode.

Game review: Project Diva f 2nd for PS Vita

Project Diva f is one of my favorite PS Vita games and remains one of the few I keep going back to whenever I need something to do for a few minutes of quick distraction. It’s also one of the few games I own multiple copies of, as I bought the English language version as soon as it became available in Europe. It’s just loads of fun to play with a simple “Simon Says” premise, and I’ve logged in well over 200 hours at this point. In my original review, I said that I might never unlock Hard mode, but I’ve been able to pass 70%, leaving only Extreme mode untouched. (Well, I did give the songs I unlocked an effort, but it was a bit like trying to dodge machine gun bullets…while swimming in a pool of molasses. In December. With lead boots on.)

I say this because I was extremely happy to see that Project Diva f 2nd would be getting an English language release relatively quickly, so I skipped the Japanese import and waited patiently, only to discover that I very much HATE the new game. I want to love it for many of the reasons I love the first, but the game steadfastly refuses to let me have fun with it. In fact it hurts me to play and insults me for not being fast enough to keep up with its unforgiving pace.

What this second game still gets right is the graphics and sound. The music is nice and varied, and the videos are all bright and flashy, if a bit surreal at times. Playing through the game on Easy mode, I frequently marveled at the number of songs available and their diverse range. There’s not quite as much variety as in the first game, but I didn’t mind losing a few of the pop metal styles in favor of some lighter synth-pop fare. Continue reading

Book review: Elven Blood by Debra Dunbar

Well! That certainly started off my new year of reading with a bang! I’ve very much enjoyed the first two books in the Imp series, but Elven Blood may be the best book yet. Maybe it’s partly because the first two books have me deeply invested in Samantha already, but I also feel like this was a solid story with plenty of twists and turns, many of them pleasantly surprising.

Samantha is now the Ha-Satan, but the demons of Hel aren’t exactly bowing down to her authoritai. Actually, one in particular keeps sending hired hit men to try and take her out. The angels don’t seem to care much for her either, with the possible exception of Gregory, and they don’t seem to like what she brings to their council meetings. Well I certainly did.

I can’t discuss much of anything without spoiling this book or previous books, but I will say that this had a lot of great humor. I was frequently reading sections to hubby to explain my outbursts of laughter, and near the end, I whooped over a borrowed line from Army of Darkness. I read it to hubby, and he got a big cheesy grin, too.

I like that the romantic triangle remains a triangle, and that even if Wyatt and Gregory don’t like each other, neither is asking Samantha to make a choice to stay loyal to them. Gregory even manages to show some signs of mellowing out, and Wyatt…well he’s still delightfully himself, even though at times it seems like his faith in Samantha has been shaken. Continue reading

Game review: The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth for PS Vita

I’ve been playing The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth off and on between other games, with about 20 hours put into it at this point, and I still don’t know how to feel about it. Once I’ve got it started, I might play until I drain the Vita, or I might just play one seed and put it away for later. The controls are simple enough, and the enemies have a lot of variety. But the game’s setting is…well it’s a bit awkward.

Isaac is a young child of indeterminate age, but given his dream sequences in between levels, I’m not really sure if he’s a toddler or somewhere around 5 or 6. In any case, Isaac’s mother hears a voice that says he’s God, and he doesn’t like Isaac much. So after a set of severe punishments, “God” tells her that Isaac must be sacrificed. Isaac somehow figures out that he’s about to die, and he finds a trap door into the basement level of his room and must fight through a bunch of monsters and bosses, eventually leading to a fight with his mother using his only available weapon, his tears.

Right off the bat, I find myself asking what drugs the dude who made this must have been taking. There’s a kind of biblical tone to this story, and a little bit of Carrie as well, given the “they’re all going to laugh at you” dream sequences. I find myself asking if Isaac’s mother is delusional or really hearing God. Because if all these demons and monsters are hiding out in this woman’s basement, maybe the God of this world is petty enough to ask for a child as a human sacrifice. Then again, maybe’s she’s insane and it’s just a coincidence that her house seems to be sitting on top of a hell mouth. Continue reading

Saying goodbye to 2014

Here we are, the last blog post of 2014, in which I look back and try to decide if it was a good year or bad. But I think I’ve already made up my mind that it wasn’t so bad for me. This is not to say it wasn’t a shit year for a lot of folks, but with me locked away in my own little corner of the world, it wasn’t so bad. For every bad little thing that I can think of, I can also think of something good that kind of balances it out. And really, it’s not possible to make it through a whole year without some bad raining on the good, right? Right, one must look for balance of the two, not an overabundance of one or the other. Expecting a year to only be good is unrealistic, and finding a year to be all bad could possibly be a sign of too much cynicism. So, split the middle and take both in moderation, is what I say.

I wrote a lot less this year. It’s due not to a lack of creative energy, though, more like a lack of energy. I napped a lot, taking away from my writing time. And now that the weather has turned cold, I find it’s very hard to stay at my desk for more than a few minutes at a time before I want to run to the living room and shut the door to bask in the glow of the electric heater. It’s taken me two days to write this post with several escapes to the living room to that out, and I don’t see that improving until March, possibly even April.

I don’t really consider this a bad thing because I have a big queue of stories to release sometime next year, and when spring rolls around, I can get back to editing and writing to keep the backlog sufficiently full. I still don’t think I want to do anything with Mystical World Wars because of a lack of interest, but I might eventually return to it just to amuse myself. The muse seems content to leave that world alone to focus on smaller series, and I’m grateful that she’s no longer the relentless task mistress that she used to be. We’re in a good place, the muse and I, so I hope to continue that trend in 2015. Continue reading

Book review: Traitors by Carrie Clevenger

Crooked Fang was one of my favorite books this year, so I was excited to be getting back to Xan Marcelles and his complicated life. This outing however is very straightforward, and I feel a little let down. Traitors is not a bad story, but compared to the many twist and turns of the first book, it plays out pretty straightforward without any surprises. Xan is contacted about killing a group of vampires, and he does, and that’s the story.

Coming along on this bloody road trip is Nin, a vampire from the first book, who provides a bit of balance to Xan’s rough character. She’s an interesting lady, and I think she makes a fine partner for Xan. But I do admit, all throughout this book, I kept wondering, what happened to Tabitha? She’s briefly mentioned near the end, so I know she’s okay. But I rather liked her in the first book, and I was holding out hope that she might make an appearance this time around. Alas, no such luck.

The ending sets up the premise for the next book, a mission that Xan has no choice but to accept. I hope Nin will still be along for the ride in the next book, and I hope to see Tabitha again.

I give Traitors 4 stars, and I’d suggest it and Crooked Fang to fans of vampire fiction.

Game review: Tetris Ultimate for PS4

The other day I got a pleasant surprise browsing the PSN store for new games. Tetris Ultimate hit my nostalgia bone hard, so it became an instant buy as soon as I had some cash available.

You have to understand, Tetris was one of my first Game Boy games. It was the game I showed to my mother, who was always going on about games rotting the brain. But she liked Tetris so much that I had trouble prying the Game Boy from her at times. After moving back in with my dad, I showed him Tetris, and he became an instant addict as well. It’s a game with a simple premise and a wide appeal, and I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like to waste some time with it.

This Ubisoft update brings in several co-op and versus modes along with the classic single player mode. I wish I could say it was all good, but some of the modes were a little annoying. I don’t have PS Plus (yet), and so I can’t play online with other people. Ubisoft’s answer to this is a set of bots of varying skill levels. All of these are fine for a basic battle mode, but they have some problems when it comes to co-op. The problem is, they slam tiles on their side of the “matrix” without consideration of what my half looks like, or whether or not I might need the pieces they’re taking at the rate of one per second. So by the time I’ve finally managed to set up even one tetris, they’ve filled their entire side of the screen, and we lose the game around level two. Continue reading

Book review: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

This review is going to be shorter than my usual rambles for two very good reasons. One is more practical, in that my room is about 2 degrees warmer than the outside air, and the outside air is currently -2 Celsius. So even as I type this, my fingers are slowly freezing into curly talon-like claws. But my other reason is more that I don’t wish to spoil anything in this third Raven Boys novel, and there is absolutely NOTHING I can talk about without spoiling something. Just go read the blurbs, and then start with book one, Raven Boys. Read book two, The Dream Thieves, and then read Blue Lily, Lily Blue. It might take you a while, but the series is worth your time.

“So where are your usual complaints?” you may ask. I have none. Well, I have one minor quibble about the bad guy, but again, spoilers. And it’s really such a minor thing that I don’t feel it’s worth bringing up. There is however quite a lot I wish I could gush about without ruining the book. There’s surprising twists and revelations, an unexpected death, strong character development, dialogue so fantastic that I was reading whole pages aloud to hubby to explain my sudden outbursts of laughter, and a dreadful cliffhanger. (Dreadful because the next book will be a while coming out, and that ending will pick at me until it does.)

I had a minor quibble with the second book for drawing my interest away from the main characters and into a subplot, but this book corrects course and makes me care all over again about Blue, Gansey, Adam, and even Ronan. It’s a strong story that manages to happen very quickly while at the same time giving each of the main characters time to shine in their own unique ways.

So if I had any complaints, it is only that I now have a long, long wait before the fourth book comes out. I’m giving Blue Lily, Lily Blue 5 stars, and if you haven’t picked up the series yet, I’d highly recommend you do so. It’s easily Stiefvater’s best series, even better than the Wolves of Mercy Falls, and I loved that series. Seriously, do give this a shot, and like me, you may soon find yourself hooked.

Game review: Dragon Age: Inquisition for PS4

Edit: I went back over this review and realized that I kept referring to Dragon Age: Origins as Awakenings, the DLC campaign. Derp. Fixed it now, and sorry for my confusion.

Most early reviews for Dragon Age: Inquistion came from a single playthrough clocking in at 80 to 85 hours. Pffft! Rank amateurs. I got the game on the first day it was available here in Europe (November 18) and have now completed a first run with a mage totaling a whopping 170 hours, started another run with a dual-blade rogue that clocked in 20 before I realized the easy mode was too easy, and another dual-blade rogue playthrough on normal mode that ran for 111 hours. While I still have other options as far as race and class go, I now feel confident in my ability to evaluate the game. A warning, though, this will be a long, long, long post, as I cannot sum up 300 hours in my usual 2,000 word limit.

You may be thinking that after putting in 300 hours on a game, I love it and will give it 5 stars. In truth, I feel extremely conflicted about this sequel. Dragon Age: Origins is one of my all-time favorite games, and this had a lot to live up to even before factoring in all the hype that surrounded it before release. A lot of my review will be comparing Inquisition to Origins, and ultimately, the sequel fails to deliver on some of the most important aspects of the original.

Let’s get the plot summary out of the way. An Ultimate Evil Bad Guy attacks a conclave set up by the head of the Chantry, Divine Justinia, and his plan to destroy everything ever is thwarted by the arrival of your character. This thwarting leads to an explosion that kills a few hundred magi, Templars, and Chantry clerics, and leaves the sky with a new gaping green asshole leading into the steamy bowels of demonland supreme, the fade, and so your character is first blamed for the whole mess. You set out with a small collection of ridiculously over-sized weapons to deal with the rift and gather a plucky and unlikely band of allies to Save The World, possibly along the way finding romance and a good bottle of hooch. Pretty standard fare for fantasy games, really.

Normally, I like to list all the things I loved, and then list the things that didn’t work for me. But this review will have a lot of buts because even the things I loved had some caveats. I’ll try to avoid spoilers as much as possible, but there will be some mild spoilers here and there.

Lastly, even with all my complaints, it would be fair to say that I plan to play this game several more times. I have yet to sample several other classes and two races, and there are choices along the many hours of plot that I would like to take another option just to see what happens. So while this isn’t a perfect game, I do think it’s worth the money given the amount of hours that can be invested in it. If you prefer reviews to only be glowing or scathing, you might want to skip this. You can also skip it if you just wanted a fast impression before running off to buy your copy. Because this isn’t a short review. No, it’s almost a small novel. If you do read it all, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Continue reading

Book review: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

By a strange coincidence, I started playing The Wolf Among Us after I began reading Scarlet, the second of the Lunar Chronicles trilogy, so I ended up being entertained by two modernized interpretations of the big bad wolf. In The Wolf Among Us, Red only gets a passing mention, while in Scarlet, she’s one of the stars. I think because of that, Scarlet ends up being the stronger of the two interpretations.

Scarlet builds on Cinder, and so chapters bounce between Linh Cinder and the new characters. While Cinder tries to keep ahead of the police and the military with the help of a new ally, Captain Thorne, a space pilot who deserted and stole a gigantic cargo ship, Scarlet Benoit is just starting on her own journey to locate her missing grandmother Michelle, who is also a former military pilot, and who vanishes only a few weeks before the start of the story. Already the police have given up the case, but Scarlet finds a possible lead in a street fighter named Wolf. He agrees to help her, and they set off with several Lunar agents on their tails.

Eventually all these characters meet up, but in between, Scarlet learns several things about Wolf that make it hard to trust him. Despite this, she also feels drawn to him, just as he is drawn to her. This was for me the best part of the story, the conflict and tension between Scarlet and Wolf. Cinder’s journey with Captain Thorne is certainly entertaining, but at times their chapters almost feel like padding between Scarlet and Wolf’s. I’d reach a point where the narration switched characters and felt frustrated because it was getting away from the good stuff. Continue reading