Book review: The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue

The Boy Who Drew Monsters was my Halloween read, although I started it a day early. The first few chapters really sucked me in, but near the middle of the book it lost me, and reading the last chapters just dragged on and on because the story both loses momentum and does a terrible job of answering the questions its posed.

Jack Peter, or JP, or Jip, is an autistic boy who hasn’t left his house since almost drowning three years before the start of the book. Only that’s a lie the blurb tells, and he frequently leaves his house for trips to his therapist. Another lie the blurb tells is that he’s just recently started to draw monsters and they somehow come to life. Also not true.

Jack is a boy with extraordinary powers that he has always had, but no one noticed before, somehow. The circumstances of his near drowning are murky, but seem to be an attempted murder that backfired. His parents are friends with the parents of his best friend Nick, although I’m not sure how that can be when Tim had an affair with Nick’s mother, and everyone seems to know it even if it’s never explained when this all came out.

I guess that’s my real problem with the book. All the things I had questions about were glossed over, and the only question that did get answered in the end felt like a really, really stupid answer. I had so little interest in the story that it’s taken me this long just to write up a review.

I’m giving The Boy Who Drew Monsters 2 stars. If this is horror, it’s the kind of crappy PG-13 horror someone might make for a kid’s movie (assuming the one dull sex scene was edited out, that is). It’s never scary and wastes the potential it started out with. I can’t even think of anyone I’d recommend this to. There are better ways to waste time with. Navel gazing, for instance.


Game Review: Bloodborne for PS4

I took every last old game I could pry from behind the entertainment center to the game shop and traded them in for a copy of Bloodborne. It wasn’t enough, so I had to pay half the price in cash to get it. But I figured the game had to be worth it. I mean, I liked Dark Souls III, so From software could do no wrong, right? Wrong. They could do just about everything wrong.

When I first put in the disc I found the patch required 3.9 gigabytes and would take five hours to download. So I said, “Screw it, I’ll play without the patch to see what the difference is.” Without the patch, there is no offline mode. Without the patch, the loading screen will remind you every single time what game you’re playing. Aside from that, I can’t really think of anything the patch did. Either way, my character’s run animation can randomly drop to a treacle slow shuffle for no apparent reason. (I thought this was some kind of loading trick like in Max Payne 3, except I could hit the sprint button and move normally without the shuffle stepping.) My character can still catch the finger of a dead enemy and drag their stupid floppy bodies around like a giant piece of toilet paper. All the wonk I encountered in the first run is present in the patched game. I’m thinking the bulk of the patch was probably the DLC being added in case I felt like buying it, but I don’t. In fact after I beat the game, I ejected the disc and promptly put Dark Souls III back in.

“Aw, Zoe, you didn’t give it a fair chance,” say the From Software lovers. Yes, yes I did. I played every maze-like area with its collections of copy pasta enemies, beat every single boss, and played the chalice dungeons, even. I decided that if I’m going to play this only once, I might as well fight the last two bosses and get the “supa-secret” ending. (It’s not much of a secret for me because I’ve watched the whole game played on YouTube ages ago.) In total I’d spent close to 150 hours playing this, and you can’t give a game more of a chance than to try everything it has to offer. Continue reading


Book review: The Ice Twins by S.K. Tremayne

The Ice Twins is one of the books I picked up to try and read outside my comfort zone, and the blurb certainly made it sound interesting. Nearly a year after a twin dies in an accident, the other twin suddenly starts claiming that her parents have mistaken her identity. Yep, interesting.

I was maybe 75 pages in and really not liking it when Cinzia, a friend of my husband, came over for dinner and was raving about how this was so, so good. I told her, “I’m trying to read it, but nothing is happening.” She said, “Yes, it’s slow to start.”

I think we have vastly different tastes and understandings of slow to start, because this book continues to grind on and on for roughly half its length before it decides to attempt shifting into second gear. And it fails and slips back into first before making another attempt one hundred pages later. It doesn’t help that the whole book is one long struggle with unreliable narration, or that the book has some really strange choices about comma and colon placement that had my inner editor making baffled sounds like “buh-wha-da-fu-is-dis-shi?” Continue reading


Game update: Galak-Z for PS4

Let’s get out of the way that this is not a proper review. If you want my review of Galak-Z, you can find it here. But as I wrote in that post, I planned to come back and give this another shot when season 5 came out as a patch, something set to coincide with the PC release. That came to pass finally and…folks, I am so, so angry.

The patch notes listed a new Arcade mode that claims to make the game less punishing, and a new endless mode with daily challenges and leaderboards. This sounded okay to me. Spelunky has daily challenges and leaderboards, and while I don’t play them every day, it has given me a reason to keep dusting it off every few weeks on my Vita and PS4. It adds life to a game I might have otherwise deleted long ago. It shows promise, in other words.

So I fired up Galak-Z after a lengthy 1.8 gigabyte patch downloaded, and I went to look at the story mode. Wait, where’s season 5? I thought maybe the problem was, I needed to play season 4 over again to unlock it, and because it’s been forever since I’d played, I thought it best to just start over on the new Arcade mode to get familiar with the controls again before taking on the tougher levels.

This reintroduction was a painful reminder of why I ended up disliking a game I wanted to love at release, and it’s actually much worse in several ways. The lag that plagued the game even in moments with no enemies on screen is now even worse, with the screen randomly freezing for upwards of two seconds. With nothing on screen, this is already enough to get me swearing. In the middle of a dogfight with multiple enemies, it’s a death sentence. And it happens CONSTANTLY. How can a game get a patch this large and still not address one of the biggest issues the core game had? No, better yet, how can a game get a patch this big and feel even more broken than it did on release day? Continue reading


Game review: Transformers: Devastation for PS4

Okay, so this really, honestly should be my last game review for a while because at this point I don’t have many games left to trade in, and I want to keep most of those to replay when I need a diversion. As it turns out, this last game is one of those keepers. I’d read some unkind reviews of Transformers: Devastation that turned me off of it initially, mainly because they said the boss fights were ridiculously difficult. But hey, it’s a used copy for cheap, and I did beat Dark Souls III. So I can probably hack whatever the game throws at me, right? Yes, actually, I can. And I liked most of what I played.

I’m in agreement that some of those boss fights are ridiculously hard. It’s not so much the bosses themselves that make it hard for me, though. Sure, they have massive health bars and a plethora of attacks, but what makes it hard is the game’s intentionally wonky camera. It seems to me like if a game isn’t hard enough, the game makers mess with the camera to make it harder. Buh.

But so anyway, I should move on to the praise, because there is quite a lot to like in this little sliver of gaming goodness. First of all, being a fan of Transformers going back to the original 80s cartoon and comics, I can attest that it successfully nails the “feel” of the show and comics. The cut scenes merge pretty well with the combat, and the rendering style is almost a perfect match. While the game is really chintzy with ranged weapons ammo, the melee combat works pretty well, or at least well enough that I don’t feel like griping about not having more opportunities to shoot stuff. Continue reading


Book review: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

Oh, my God, a book review! FINALLY, I finished a book and can issue my report on it. I know at this point the Goodreads Challenge app is extremely disappointed in me for my crappy reading numbers. I’m 9 books behind schedule for Pete’s sake! But this year, reading and retaining anything hasn’t been my strong suit. It’s damned hard to read for pleasure if you don’t remember what you’ve read just a few minutes later, yanno?

The Raven King is the last book in the series that started with The Raven Boys. I actually got this on the day it came out, and I’ve read whenever I could manage to get my brain to play along. Was the ending worth the wait? Um, that’s kind of a loaded question.

In the previous books, the big bads for each book were always kind of a letdown. It’s more of a series about four private school friends and their relations to a certain public school girl named Blue. With this last book, a lot happens in the build-up that suggests that these big bads are really different. People are dying left and right. Every member of the Raven boys are being attacked by the forest they love so much. Blue gets a badass scar in a shocking fashion. So yeah, as the book reaches those final chapters, there’s a building sense that these big bads are the really real deal, y’all. Continue reading


Game review: Far Cry 4 for PS4

“Wait, Zoe, how can you do a game review RIGHT AFTER you said the Watch Dogs review would be your last for a while?” you may ask. Well, silent commenter who may potentially live in my head, I took the rest of my old games up to ye olde game shoppe and traded them in for a pair of “new” games because with the change of seasons, my brain isn’t up to the tasks of reading or creative writing. The alternative was sitting on my couch all day blowing raspberries, and while I like raspberries as much as the next random non-offensive example person, I can only do that for an hour or so before it becomes tedious. “But you lied to me, Zoe!” you say. “How can I ever trust you again?” Well, helpful commenter who helps keep these things moving along, life is full of bitter disappointments. For example, there’s Far Cry 4.

There’s so much in this messy little package that left me groaning “this game sucks,” and I did so often enough that my long suffering hubby was asking “then why don’t you stop playing it?” And that’s a fair question, but once I’ve got a game, I’m honor bound to see it through…no, wait, honor bound isn’t the right term. I’m flat broke and can’t afford to drop a game right after I buy it, even if I hate it. On the plus side, it means you get more reviews out of me, and that can’t be a bad thing, can it?

I started out by doing the so-called secret ending, which isn’t much of a secret and hasn’t been since the day after it came out. That more expedient ending provides some much needed context for everything else that happens in the proper game. You are Ajay Ghale, a young man tasked by your dead mother to return her ashes to Lakshmana in Kyrat. You’ve barely crossed the border into your home country when your bus is detained and you meet the king of Kyrat. And cue the secret ending. (To get said ending, just wait a few minutes when the king tells you to stay put. Yes, it’s boring, but it is quite enlightening, too.)

If you play the game right, you will spend almost the entire romp thinking Lakshmana is a location. Not so. For those who hate spoilers, let me stop you now. After the cut, I’m going to spoil this game like a spoiling thing left on the kitchen counter to spoil forever. Or something. Continue reading


Game review: Watch Dogs for PS4

This will likely be my last game review for a while, and not because I’m flat broke. I have a huge stack of old games I could trade in for something new. The problem is, I haven’t seen anything new or used that I want to play. This last review is for a game I was tepid on to begin with, but decided to get it because it was steeply discounted.

Watch Dogs got a bad rap right after release because Ubisoft gave it a graphical downgrade from the demo shown at E3. Personally, I feel like bullshotting is so common among the big publishers that it’s not worth my anger. HOWEVER, there is something that pissed me off about this game, and that was the fact that it doesn’t work with the rest mode on the PS4. On all my other games, I could put the console to sleep and come back the next day at the same spot I left. But no, this game would shut down and drop whatever mission I was in. More infuriating was the intrusive U-play sign up. I actually have a U-play account, but I didn’t want to use it. I had to skip the setup on every. Single. Startup. UGH.

So, with that out of the way, Watch Dogs is a wannabe Grand Theft Auto with some phone “hacking” puzzles thrown in. This is hacking in the same vein as that 90s movie was, but I actually liked the puzzles, even the ones on a timer, and you know how I feel about timed missions. (If you don’t know…I hate them with the burning passion of a thousand supernovas.) The driving is mostly decent with some caveats that I’ll get to later, and despite the graphical downgrade, the world looks pretty damned good.

It’s a pity I can’t praise the story, because the story is pure shite. A lot of the blame is on main character Aiden Pearce, who is a tool in many different ways. He’s a tool in the sense that it’s impossible to like him, and he’s a tool in that everybody uses him so easily. The writers want me to believe this guy is so smart and capable, but in the story he is so stupid that he deserves everything that’s happened to him. But he can’t take all the blame for this. The other characters around him all hail from the book of action movie cliches, and every time the story went, “Ah ha, here’s a twist,” I sighed and thought, “Yep, saw that coming from the intro.” This is a clumsy string of delaying tactics, and as the story progresses, they just get more and more stupid as they go along. Continue reading


Game review: Mad Max for PS4

I know, I’ve been away a long while, and in the last few weeks I dusted off the Xbox to play every Bethesda game from hubby’s collection to completion. (We’ll just skip those reviews, m’kay?) I’ve played Fallout 4 six times now, and I finished that last run with a melee build and took a stack of games to trade them in. I got Mad Max because I guess I’m not totally sick of post-apoc games, but I felt like maybe they were missing some driving quests. So, what would I define this game as? A real shit show, that’s what.

It’s hard to know where to begin in listing all the problems with this game. I feel like all the work went into making the game look as pretty as possible, but actually being fun or diverse wasn’t on the checklist. And to be sure, this is a game designed by checklist. It’s got an open world, (check) pointless side quests, (check) endless piles of collectible crap, (check) completely forgettable NPCs, (check) and copy pasta enemies and bosses. (check, check, checkity check.)

The story starts off with Max losing his car again, something consistent with every one of the movies. The big bad, Scrotus Scabrous, takes a chainsaw to the brain, but somehow survives. Max gets led by the boss’ cast off dog to a hunchback named Chumbucket, who has a plan for building the ultimate car, the Magnus Opus. Off to a good start, so how could this possibly go wrong? Every way possible. Continue reading


Game review: Adventures of Mana for PS Vita

I know what you’re thinking. “Where the hell have you been, Zoe?” I’ve been here, actually, and I’ve been busy writing. How busy? I’ve written 100,000 words in two weeks, and averaged about 9,000 to 10,000 words per day. That kind of dedicated work doesn’t leave much time for anything else, but as I’ve gone three seasons without writing anything new, I had to take advantage of this sudden productive streak and hold onto it for as long as I can.

But I did spend a few minutes here and there gaming as a reward for meeting chapter goals, and my game this time around was Adventures of Mana, which was ported over to PS Vita from the iOS/Android version. At this point, that makes it a port of a port of a port, and the game itself is fairly old. So, how does it stand up after the passage of time? Not well at all.

My experience with the Mana series stops with the SNES title Secret of Mana, a game I liked so much that a few years ago I got a ROM and emulator to play it back through. In playing Adventures of Mana, I can see the story attempting to hit some of the same notes, and it doesn’t do a very good job of it.

Right off the bat, the hero (who you can name or go with the default choice) is a slave gladiator who after fighting one exotic beast is told by another slave that the tree of mana is in danger, and that he must seek out the last of the Gemma Knights to learn how to SAVE THE WORLD. Rrrrrrrriiiiiight. Additionally, someone a room over from this trite death scene totally heard this guy’s last gasping whispers and suggests that the hero can escape during his next fight because the gate the fighting animals enter the arena from leads directly outside to the front of the castle. (Which has no guards or traffic to notice an escaping slave.) I don’t care how generous you want to be, this is a level of stupid so powerful it generates its own event horizon. Continue reading